January 26, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

Burn It

This post is the work of Rob Kunzig.–TM

The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov’s final work, rests secure in a Swiss Bank vault. The literary establishment is wetting their collective bib with lusty drool for the creative coda of the mind that produced Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada, or Ardor. Dmitri, son and sole heir, has the key, and for now, he’s keeping it–his father ordered Laura destroyed. No exceptions, conditions, or contingencies: Burn it.

In a recent slate.com article, Ron Rosenbaum unpacks the Laura situation, centering the spotlight on Dmitri. For the past two years, he says, he and Dmitri have discussed Laura: its contents, its namesake (Petrarch? Dmitri says no), its fate. Dmitri’s comment that he would “probably destroy it” ignited the most recent controversy, the fires fed by subsequent comments: that Laura is the “most concentrated distillation” of his father’s creativity; that it “would have been a brilliant, original, and potentially totally radical book, in the literary sense very different from the rest of his oeuvre.”

It’s one thing to lose a manuscript. It’s another entirely to lose one of such purported promise, one with the potential to crack open Nabokov’s reputation like a hot stone. Fifty index cards covered in Nabokov’s handwriting, amounting to thirty manuscript pages. And I think Dmitri will burn them all.

Why? Scholars, columnists and literary pundits have all but broken their backs in anguished howls at the moon, but I’m afraid the answer is simpler than any of us are willing to admit: duty. For us, V.N. is the author of Lolita; for Dmitri, V.N. is father. His is a dilemma that, despite our railing and pleading, we will never understand. Reputation, “importance,” and the concept of artistic ownership seem insignificant beside a deathbed commandment. To discuss the Laura situation in terms of “should” and “shouldn’t” is to assume that we have a stake in the decision at all.

The simplest answer to the Laura dilemma might be found within Pale Fire, a novel in which poet John Shade composes his poems on index cards and burns the unsuccessful drafts at dawn: “As a rule, Shade destroyed drafts the moment he ceased to need them: well do I recall seeing him from my porch, on a brilliant morning, burning a whole stack of them in the pale fire of the incinerator before which he stood with bent head like an official mourner among the wind-borne black butterflies“”

If Nabokov had lived to complete Laura, the precious index cards would have likely met the same fate; and the next set, and the next, until Nabokov, the relentless perfectionist, had the story as he wanted it.

Rosenbaum suggests that Dmitri is close to a decision. Until then, I think I’ll reread Pale Fire and continue the slow process of letting Laura go.

About the Program

The Kenyon Review Associates Program provides Kenyon students with valuable experience in literary editing, publishing, and programming. KR Associates work closely with Kenyon Review staff, gaining valuable experience in a number of editing, publishing, and programming areas including manuscript evaluation, publicity and marketing, copy editing, developing web site and social media content, outreach programming, event planning and promotion, and other creative and editorial projects

KR Associates attend regular seminars conducted by Kenyon Review editorial staff, visiting readers, and publishing industry professionals. These seminars cover a wide range of topics including editorial philosophy, evaluation of submissions, print and electronic production, marketing, and design.

KR Associates enjoy also enjoy exclusive access to visiting writers and speakers, free issues of The Kenyon Review, and valuable work experience and employment references.

This program is made possible through an initiative of the Kenyon Review, part of the mission of which is to contribute to the enrichment of the academic, cultural, and artistic life of the Kenyon College community.

Requirements and Expectations

  • Submission Evaluation: All Associates are required to read and evaluate eight Kenyon Review submissions per week. Associates who are not able to complete their weekly submission assignments for more than two weeks in a row may not be allowed to continue in the program.
  • Trainings and Seminars: In-person attendance is mandatory at all trainings and seminars. We plan on scheduling six to eight seminars per semester, and most will take place on Thursdays during common hour.
  • Literary Engagement: Associates are expected to participate in literary events on campus and throughout the local community.

Application Details

The application deadline for the 2023-24 program has passed. Applications for the 2024-25 program will open in the fall of 2024. Please check back then for more details.

Questions? Please contact Tory Weber for more information.