Who and what is Vladimir Nabokov (the author of Lolita) and why
by Helen Lawrenson
One of the more diverting aspects of Lolita, the most controversial best seller of the century, has been the considerable speculative curiosity about the private life and personality of Vladimir Nabokov, the virtually unknown university professor who now, at the age of sixty-one, finds himself world famous as the author of this nettlesome novel. The book, denounced in the British Parliament and formerly banned in France, has sold, midst a cacophonic medley of rapturous encomium and emetic distaste, an estimated three million copies in the United States, has been translated into fifteen foreign languages, including the Japanese, and is now, incredibly enough, being made into a Hollywood movie.
What manner of man is it whose mind could conceive a book like this? Among the wildly disparate views of the critics (“a great book,” “a distinguished book,” “the filthiest book I’ve ever read,” “exquisitely distilled sewage,” “the funniest book I’ve ever read,” “a sad book,” “undoubtedly one of the great comic novels of all time,” “dull, dull, dull”) there has been one point of unanimity: the subject matter is abnormal and decadent, J. Donald Adams, contributing editor of The New York Times Sunday book-review section, who found the novel revolting but not pornographic, wrote that he was reminded of John Randolph’s excoriation of Edward Livingston: “He is a man of splendid abilities, but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight.”
By all rights, Nabokov could turn out to be in real life either a sort of priapic pundit with a frosty contempt for the homely virtues or a demoniac neurotic whose past history reveals a flair for the cruel and the shocking. He seems to be neither. Nor is be merely a merry grig with a peculiarly audacious imagination. Instead, he appears as a disarmingly pleasant and serene man whose personal life has been untouched by even a wisp of scandal. He is a loving and proud father, a faithful husband who leads a snugly domestic Darby-and-Joan existence with his wife—to whom he has been married for thirty five years—and a gentleman scholar of simple, quiet tastes, whose wildest pleasure is chasing butterflies.
When I met him, he was staying with Mrs. Nabokov in a small residence hotel on the upper west side of Manhattan, comfortable but far from chic. More good-looking than his photographs indicate, he is a tall, well-built man with a strong nose, quizzical eyes, a dimple in his chin, and quite a resemblance to George Sanders, the movie star. One of his professorial colleagues has told me that when Nabokov first joined the Cornell University faculty in 1948, he was “an incredibly handsome man.” He must have been very attractive to women all his life, and still is, I imagine. There is no evidence, however, that he has availed himself of this attribute. His devotion to his wife, Vera, is something of a legend among their friends and is apparent even to the casual interviewer. Mrs. Nabokov is a slender woman with delicate wrists and ankles, snow-white hair worn unwaved in a cropped bob, an aquiline nose, and the bluest blue eyes I have ever seen. Her manner toward her husband is at once protective and admiring, tender and respectful—but no more so than is his toward her. One gets the feeling, almost immediately, of an unusual relationship.
During the interview, I found the Nabokovs friendly, charming and courteous. There was a cheerful unpretentiousness about them. They called each other “darling” and seemed delighted to talk about their son, Dmitri, an only child, now a tall, handsome young man of twenty-five, who graduated from Harvard with honors. His ambition is to be an opera singer—he is a basso profundo—and his parents were planning to send him to study in Italy, going along, themselves, in order to be near him. With obvious parental pride, they told me about his proficiency in sports-car racing, tennis, water skiing, mountain climbing—“He has led several climbing expeditions. We would encourage him, but then we would sit home and worry and wait and wait and wait!”—and the time when, on a youthful spree, he drove a pink hearse from Cambridge to Mexico in two days. (“You should have seen Nabokov when his boy was a child,” says a friend. “He was the most doting father in the world and bored everyone to death.”)
Our whole conversation was of such an innocent, sunshiny, wholesome nature that I hesitated even to bring up a subject like Lolita. I needn’t have. Both Nabokov and his wife reject with well-bred amusement any hint that they or their son or their professorial friends could regard the book with anything but proud delight and fond admiration. Between them, they manage to give the impression that anyone who would be so uncouth as to question Lolita’s value is indeed a Yahoo and beneath civilized notice. In fact, said Nabokov, after the novel’s publication and the ensuing hullabaloo, he was even invited to address the women’s auxiliary of the local Presbyterian Church in Ithaca, and he has received a whole slew of offers to lecture and teach, including one to give a course at the University of California in Berkeley. As to the situation at Cornell, he commented that not only the faculty but also the trustees and the students “were all quite interested in the book and its success,” which seems to me to have the earmarks of an understatement.
Mrs. Nabokov serves as her husband’s secretary and business manager. She writes his letters, makes his telephone calls for him, cuts out clippings about him and pastes them in scrapbooks, drives his car for him, keeps house and cooks for him, and even cuts his hair. During his tenure at Cornell, she went to class with him every day, sat on the platform while he lectured, cleaned the blackboard, collected the test papers, and, on occasion, gave his lectures for him when he was sick. After school, from three-thirty to five, they would go for a walk together, side by side, rain or shine. During summer vacations, for ten years, she chauffeured him around the western United States to pursue his scientific passion for butterfly chasing.
Hus idyllic domestic picture, with its almost folksy touches, is verified by their friends. No one, apparently, has ever seen them quarrel. The wife of one professor told me of an evening spent with the Nabokovs at the home of a third professor. During the evening, the host professor got in a snit at his wife and bawled her out in front of the guests. To assuage her embarrassment, the other wife said tactfully that her own husband often flew off the handle like that and she guessed all husbands were alike “No.” said Mrs. Nabokov calmly, “Vladimir isn’t. Perhaps it is because when we were very poor in Paris I supported him by working as a milliner, and he has always been so grateful that he never gets angry at me.”
In all this amiable and homey setting, as cozy as a teakettle and a purring cat on the hearth, there is little to suggest the emotional origins of Lolita. Why did he write it?
He certainly didn’t do so, as some other authors might have, because he was trying to write a sensational best-seller which would make a lot of money. He believed that it could probably never be published. Nor did he do it as a diabolic joke. He is a seriously creative writer who would hardly expend such a tremendous amount of time, energy, thought and caressing attention to detail just for a lark. It was in Paris in 1939 that he wrote the first version in Russian as a short story. He read it to some friends, who were horrified and advised him to tear it up. Instead, he put the manuscript in a trunk, but carried the story around in his mind and began work on it again at Cornell ten years later, this time in English. Much of it was written on slimmer cross-country butterfly hunts hi 1951 and 1952. He wrote the whole book in longhand on six-by-four-inch tiling cards, often working in motels or parked in his car, and finally finished it in the Summer of 1953 in a rented house in Oregon.
To one interviewer, he has explained that he had to write it, as a satisfaction of his need for self-expression. But again, why? Why did he have to write it? He, himself, has written, and he told me again that the original inspiration was an item in the French newspaper Paris-Soir, describing a scientist’s attempts to persuade an ape in the zoo to draw with charcoal. After months of coaxing, the animal produced a sketch which showed the bars of its cage. Nabokov told me that there was no rational connection between the item and Lolita. “My point.” He said, “is that in a sense the book, which is a kind of memoir, represents the grating of Humbert’s personality, which he tries to break through.”
It has been suggested by his admirers that the book is pure satire, representing variously “old Europe debauching young America,” “young America debauching old Europe,” and “Nabokov’s love affair with the romantic novel.” This. I think, is piffle. It is interesting, if not significant, that Lolita is not his first literary effort dealing with a sexual relationship between a grown man and a child. Twenty-five years ago, the original Russian version of Invitation to a Beheading was published in Paris. In this novel, twelve-year-old Emmie keeps darting into the hero’s cell to snuggle with him. Evidently aware that some might regard this as more than coincidence, Nabokov has added to the recently published English version one of his arrogantly caustic caveats to the reader, in which he attempts to head off any odious comparisons by flatly stating that it is “the evil-minded who will perceive in little Emmie a sister of little Lolita.”
This is all very well, but there was also another novel, Laughter in the Dark, published here in 1938, in which a married man deserts his wife and daughter to live—“in a thin, slime layer of turpitude”—with greedy, scheming, immoral little Margot, aged sixteen. This novel was described by critic Clifton Fadiman as “combining Chekovian lassitude with surrealist degeneracy.”
Delving further into Nabokov’s writings, we find another provocative similarity, this time between Lolita and an admittedly autobiographical short story. In Lolita, Humbert traces his perverse lust for nymphets back to his childhood when, at thirteen, he fell passionately in love on a Riviera beach with a child whom he calls Annabel Leigh: “We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives. She was, he said, “the initial fateful elf” in his life, and ever afterward he was to be haunted by her memory.
In the collection of short stories, Nabokov’s Dozen, there is one called First Love, written in Boston in 1948. Of this story, Nabokov says that, except for a change of names, “it is true in every detail to the author’s remembered life.” It deals with a summer spent at Biarritz when Nabokov was ten, and tells of a nine-year-old French girl, with green eyes and “delicate, downy forearms,” whom he met on the beach and with whom he fell in love.
Would it not seem possible that the tender memory of her, and not that artistic ape in Paris, was the true emotional impetus for Lolita? Just as it is impossible to shrug off a weird nightmare by saying, “After all, it wasn’t me; it was only a dream”—because you were the one who dreamed it! So is it true that everyone who writes a book reveals a great deal of himself in it (no matter how fanciful a product of the conscious imagination he may claim it) if only because he chose to write that particular book. It is interesting to toy with the notion that perhaps for all these years Vladimir Nabokov may have been faithful, in his fashion, to a little girl on the beach at Biarritz.
In attempting to unravel the riddle of Nabokov by interviewing his professorial colleagues—brilliant, perceptive men like Arthur Mizener of Cornell and Harry Levin of Harvard—one finds that these men who have known him at close range agree that none of them really knows him. “He is an incorrigible mystificator, a leg-puller,” said Levin, while Mizener described him as “wheels within wheels, whose writing is a joke within a joke within a joke, an enormously complicated and subtle joke which is deadly serious.”
Whether dazzling listeners with the eximious quality of his sophistication, or cultivating an attitude of excessively inefficient unworldliness, Nabokov manages to charm his associates into a mood of puzzled admiration. When it amuses him, he has a tendency to overplay the middle-age professor, walking with an exaggerated stoop and acting benign and innocent. One of his girl students once sought to curry favor with him by making conversation after class. “Isn’t it a beautiful day, professor?” she cooed. Nabokov assumed a beatific expression and intoned solemnly, “The little trees will love it.”
In a 1947 essay, Jean-Paul Sartre speaks of Nabokov’s writing as belonging to the “curious literature of the Russian émigrés or déracinés. They do not care for any society, not even to revolt against it, because they do not belong to any society.” He adds that Nabokov “never writes without seeing himself write, as others listen to themselves talk, and what interests him almost uniquely are the subtle deceptions of his own conscience … One would swear that he writes for masochism.”
To try to understand Nabokov, one must first try to understand his background, a difficult trick for any native American. He belonged to the aristocracy of Czarist Russia and until he was twenty he inhabited a fabulous world glimpsed by us only through the novels of Tolstoy or an occasional Hollywood super-spectacle. It was a world of enormous wealth, pomp, and luxury. His family had been for generations people of high position and influence: generals, diplomats, members of the nobility, privileged participants in the most glittering court life of the Western world. His grandmother was a baroness and his aunt a princess. It is not unusual for scions of the aristocracy to be cultural cretins, but Nabokov was fortunate in that his family were not only patrician but rich, not only but rich but cultured, scholarly and—for their era and social status—rather liberal. His father was one of the founders of the Constitutional Democratic Party in 1905 and later forfeited his court title, refused to drink the Czar’s health at a banquet, and advertised for sale his gorgeous court uniform.The Nabakovs At Work
Vladimir Nabokov (pronounced with the accent on the second syllable in both names) was born in 1899 in St. Petersburg and spent his childhood in his families palatial pink-granite townhouse or on their huge country estate, to which he now refers as “our pleasant house,” which is a little as if England’s Prince Charles should in future years look back on Buckingham Palace as “a nice place.” A permanent staff of fifty servants was kept at the country place alone, and Nabokov grew up surrounded by butlers, maids, footmen, coachmen, chauffeurs, valets, cooks, gardeners, and other lackeys. He had four or five female English governesses in turn, all of whom lived with the Nabokovs and, later on, two male English tutors who lived out. He also had a French mademoiselle, a Swiss tutor, a French boxing and fencing instructor, and a drawing master. When the Nabokovs traveled to Biarritz or the Riviera, an entourage of maids, valets, and tutors accompanied them. One of Vladimir’s early memories is of walking with his mother and an English governess in Nice when he was four and being stopped by the Queen of Belgium, who inquired about his grandfather’s health.
A great to-do has been made over how astonishing it is that Nabokov can write so well in English, but the fact is that he learned it before he learned Russian. By the time he was six, he could read and write in English, but not in Russian, so a schoolmaster was hired to come every afternoon and give him lessons in his native tongue. His father and mother, like many of the Russian aristocracy, spoke French to each other much of the time. They also liked to talk to the children in English, and his mother used to read to Vladimir in that language every night, after which he would be turned over to an English governess to be undressed and put to bed.
Nabokov’s favorite relative was his Uncle Vasili, a dashing diplomat who spent a lot of time riding to hounds in England and adorning society gatherings in New York and Paris. He owned a chateau near Paris, a villa near Rome and another in Egypt, and a country estate which had once been the home of Peter the Great’s son, the Czarevitch Alexei. Uncle Vasili died when Vladimir was seventeen, leaving him two million dollars and the country estate. It might have seemed as if Vladimir was well-fixed for life. But the year was 1916, and in Russia the vast political and social changes which were to alter the history of the world were already underway. The Nabokovs fled to the Crimea, taking with them jewels hidden in a can of talcum powder, and spent sixteen months there, living with a Countess. Other friends sent them money, and the time passed not too unpleasantly.
For a brief period Vladimir’s father served as Minister of Justice in Kerensky’s provisional government (Vladimir is still on close terms with Kerensky who now lives in California), but he resigned in 1917. When the Bolsheviks took the Crimea in 1919, Vladimir and his family left Russia forever on a small Greek cargo ship bound for Constantinople and Piraeus. Using the Nansen passports provided for stateless Russian, Armenian and Greek refugees, they arrived ultimately in London. Vladimir and his brother went to Cambridge on scholarships awarded, according to the former, “for political tribulation.” His brother went to Christ College, Vladimir to Trinity. After his graduation in 1922, he joined his father in Berlin, were the latter was editing a newspaper for Russian refugees. It was in that same year that the elder Nabokov, attending a political lecture, attempted to shield the lecturer from the bullets of two assassins and was himself killed. (Vladimir’s widowed mother died in 1930 in a suburb of Prague, where she lived for several years on a pension granted her by the Czech government.)
Vladimir stayed on in Berlin, eking out a living by giving lessons in boxing, tennis, English and French, writing poetry and fiction for Russian emigre publications, and performing various odd-job intellectual chores. He did a Russian translation of Alice in Wonderland, for which he was paid five dollars; he originated Russian crossword puzzles; he wrote a Russian grammar for foreigners, with exercise sentences like, “Madam, I am the doctor. Here is a banana.”
In Berlin, in 1923, he met his wife, also a refugee, the daughter of the former owner of the largest and most important publishing house in Russia. They were married in April, 1925. Mrs. Nabokov is Jewish, and they left Germany for France before Hitler came to power. Again, with the advent of World War II, they were forced to move on. Eventually, they escaped through Lisbon and arrived in New York in May, 1940. Shortly afterward, Nabokov became a Research Fellow in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, where he reclassified the butterfly collection and wrote technical papers on the subject. He gave lectures on Russian literature at Wellesley and continued to write poetry and fiction for the Russian-language Chekhov Press, which was sponsored by the Ford Foundation. In 1948 he got a job as European professor of Russian literature at Cornell.
Looking back, he seems rather proud of the fact that in his ten years there he never attended a single faculty meeting or official social gathering, never joined the faculty club or any other club, and lived only in furnished houses rented from other professors who were on leave, a temporary living arrangement resulting in the Nabokovs having to move sometimes twice a year. He has never had a house of his own since he left Russia over forty years ago.
Nabokov’s lecture courses were popular with the undergraduates, not only because he was known as one of the softest markers ever in Cornell, but also because the students were fascinated by him and genuinely fond of him in sort of a “My God. what next?” way. The publication of Lolita understandably increased this feeling. In the opinion of some of his colleagues, if the book had not been such a success, he would probably have been fired. As it was, the university trustees were inclined to view it as something of a publicity windfall. “If the most expensive public-relations firm in New York had been retained to handle the university, they couldn’t have done as spectacular a job,” commented one of the professors.
As almost everyone must know by now, Lolita was turned down by all the American publishers to whom Nabokov, mostly for the hell of it, sent the manuscript. One of them wrote the author a letter, urging him to burn all copies, while another suggested that it might be more acceptable if Lolita were changed into a small boy. The book was first published in Paris by Olympia Press, a firm which had made a living mostly by publishing pornography. Tourists began bringing home copies, and eventually booksellers in England and America were importing copies and selling them for $12 and $15 each. The United States Customs permitted importation of the novel, but the British government, viewing with alarm the number of copies brought home, sent a letter to the French Ministry of the Interior, calling attention to the International Convention for the Suppression of Obscene Publications. Subsequently, Paris gendarmes swooped down on the Olympia offices, confiscated all copies and forbade further sales. Olympia promptly issued a pamphlet, L’Affaire Lolita, reproducing the letter from the British Home Office in Whitehall and appealing to all loyal Frenchmen to rally round the cause of national sovereignty and liberty.
As a result of all the publicity, Lolita became more widely known in America and editor Jason Epstein published excerpts from it in the Anchor Review, with an enthusiastic introduction by F.W. Dupee, Professor of English at Columbia University. The magazine caught the eye of a tall, pretty, ex-Latin Quarter showgirl named Rosemary Ridgewell, who brought it to the attention of Walter Minton, President of Putnam’s, whom she knew. Although Olympia owned all the English rights and insisted on fifty percent of the basic royalties and thirty-three and a third percent of publishers’ profits on paperbacks, Minton took a gambler’s chance and brought the book out here in August, 1958. After that, the deluge.
Within five weeks after publication, Lolita had become the No. 1 bestseller in the country. It remained on the bestseller list for fifty-six weeks. Last December, Fawcett published the paperback edition with a prepublication printing of two million copies. For her historic part in the whole publishing saga, the statuesque Miss Ridgewell received a tidy nest egg: a sizeable equivalent of some of the author’s royalties for the first year, plus an equally sizeable share of the publisher’s subsidiary rights for the next two years. She has been quoted as saying, “I thought Nabokov had a very interesting way of writing, very, you know—crystalline?”
In general, the intellectual and emotional repercussions varied in vehemence. A state senator in Massachusetts tried unsuccessfully to prohibit the sale of “this vile book.” A staff member resigned in protest when the Cincinnati public library banned it from the shelves. In Lolita, Texas, a deacon of the First Baptist Church circulated a petition to change the name of the town to Jackson. A vice president of a major oil company announced that he had thrown his new copy into the wastebasket without reading it because “I didn’t want to carry it around with me.” On the other hand, Jack Kerouac called it “a classic old love story.”
In the torrent of critical appraisal which has appeared in print, Nabokov has been compared as a writer to Balzac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aristophanes, James Thurber, Freud, Krafft-Ebing, Lewis Carroll, Dickens, Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Oscar Wilde, Gogol, Conrad, Laurence Sterne, Henry Fielding, and Dostoyevsky crossed with Voltaire. Perhaps the most piquant suggestion of all was that of The New York Times’ Gilbert Millstein, who asked: “Who else is Humbert Humbert but Daddy Long Legs?”
(Incidentally, everything written about Lolita refers to a “middle-aged man and a twelve-year-old girl,” but the chronology in the book, itself, would make Humbert either thirty-five or thirty-seven, which is not exactly “middle-aged”—at least not from where I sit.)
Although now translated into Greek, Serbian, Hebrew, Dutch, Polish—to name only a few—Lolita had tough sledding for a while in France, where a French version was prohibited until last winter; in Argentina, which banned it last summer; and in England, where one publisher destroyed the copy sent him (he was reported to have torn it up, page by page) and another threatened to resign if his firm took it. In December, 1958, it was the subject of a two hour Parliament debate, in the course of which Mr. Nigel Nicolson, a Conservative from Bournemouth and also a partner in the firm which finally accepted the book, defended it by stating that, despite its theme, it carries a built-in condemnation since “it leads to utter misery, suicide, prison, murder and great unhappiness.” Mr. Nicolson, previously in hot water for opposing government policy on Suez, ran into a sticky wicket when he sought reelection to the House of Commons. “A director of a firm intending to publish this vulgar novel is no fitting representative for good Bournemouth citizens,” declared a member of his local political group, and a Conservative M.P. remarked, “Lolita is the main issue. Suez has been replaced.”
Nevertheless, the book was published in England last November by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and the whole edition sold out on the first day, despite the antipathy of the critics, who failed to duplicate the American relish for Nabokov’s elegantly randy wit. Typical of the reviews was that of the Daily Telegraph & Morning Post, which said: “Let us hear no more high-flown stuff about Mr. Nabokov having written a great work of art. His theme is unlikely to corrupt; his manner almost certain to anesthetize.” The Spectator’s acrid Kingsley Amis gave the book the old heave-ho by remarking that while “Few books published in this country since the King James Bible can have set up more eager expectation … it is thoroughly bad in both senses: bad as a work of art, that is, and morally bad.”
Although probably disappointed by the English reviews, Nabokov has remained imperturbably confident of his own talent, while anything but reticent about what he considers the lack of it in others. He has referred to both Conrad and Hemingway as “writers for little boys,” called Dostoyevsky “a cheap sensationalist, clumsy and vulgar,” attacked Balzac, Dreiser and Thomas Mann, and, at the mention of Thomas Wolfe, snorted, “Mediocrity!”
His opinions on other subjects are equally outspoken. Music bores him, and he has commented that it affects him “merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds.” Of psychiatry he has said, “I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud … what matters is what people think, not why” He dismisses all politics as bad and, of course, feels that in the good old days of the Czar, “a freedom-loving Russian had more freedom than under Lenin,” without, however, specifying whether he meant freedom-loving aristocrats or freedom-loving serfs.
While publishers were cagily rushing into print translations of his earlier works —he wrote eight novels in Russian before switching to English—and reissuing books like The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Nabokov, himself, put the final polish on a labor of scholarly love, his translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, on which he worked off and on for nine years. The Bollingen Foundation is publishing it in five volumes, of which one is the translation and the other four contain Nabokov’s commentaries. And Random House will publish The Song of Igor’s Campaign, one of the greatest epics of medieval Europe, which Nabokov has translated and annotated. The work of an anonymous Russian poet in 1187, it is, according to Nabokov, “a colorful, resounding poem, much more gusty than the Chanson de Roland”
Last spring Nabokov interrupted his European holiday to return to America at the request of James Harris and Stanley Kubrick, who bought the film rights to Lolita for $150,000, plus fifteen percent of the producers’ net profits. They persuaded Nabokov to go to Hollywood to write the script.
As far as the film version of Lolita is concerned, the burning question in everyone’s mind is: How in God’s name can they do it? However, Harris and Kubrick, both in their early thirties, are two of the brightest and most unorthodox of the new type of filmmakers and, if anyone can pull off the feat of successfully translating the book to the screen, they are about the likeliest candidates. They would prefer Sir Laurence Olivier or David Niven as Humbert, but justifiably feel that the casting of the title role presents a problem. All this year their offices have been besieged by ambitious mothers who want to see their small daughters play Lolita, while hundreds of others, unable to make the trek to Hollywood, mail in photos of their subteen female progeny, accompanied by enthusiastic sales pitch letters, a chilling commentary on American mother love.
Since Nabokov is a complex and protean man, he can probably latch onto the intricacies of Hollywood with more adaptability than would other men of his background. Indeed, one of the surprises of Lolita was that this foreign-born, aristocratic, elderly university professor should reveal such an astounding knowledge of our more coarsely demotic American slang. Coupled with his often irritating tendency to strew his text with unnecessary French phrases—as when he describes a trip south by saying, “we dipped deep into ce qu’on appelle Dixieland”—this produces an effect of which one might well say that vraiment, it is, comme on dit, a gasser.
Aware of these qualities, it was with a combination of confidence, hope and trepidation that Harris and Kubrick hired him to do the cinema version. They know that whatever else he may be, he is unpredictable—and a persistent intellectual prankster. At this writing, no one knows the eventual fate of the script. Producer Harris feels that Nabokov’s exposure to the film colony may open up an entirely new career for him and that he could develop into one of the titans of the movie world. On the other hand, it seems just as likely that his experiences there could imaginably result in an abrupt departure and, subsequently, the book on Hollywood to end Hollywood.
Esquire, August 1960, pp. 70-73.