To avoid speaking like a child in public, Nabokov took great pains to prepare his every word. “Throughout my academic ascent in America from lean lecturer to Full Professor, I have never delivered to my audience one scrap of information not prepared in typescript beforehand and not held under my eyes on the bright-lit lectern.”
When it came to giving interviews, Nabokov was horrified by the notion of sitting back and having a casual chat with a reporter. “It has been tried at least twice in the old days,” he writes, “and once a recording machine was present, and when the tape was rerun and I had finished laughing, I knew that never in my life would I repeat that sort of performance. Nowadays I take every precaution to ensure a dignified beat of the mandarin’s fan. The interviewer’s questions have to be sent to me in writing, answered by me in writing, and reproduced verbatim. Such are the three absolute conditions.”
So the excerpt above from a 1969 interview with the British journalist James Mossman should be understood as a carefully prepared performance. As Nabokov says in his own introduction to the full text version of the interview in Strong Opinions, Mossman submitted 58 questions on September 8, 1969, and “some 40 were answered and recorded by me from written cards in Montreaux.” In a conversation ranging from the pleasure and agony of composing fiction to Dostoyevsky’s “ghastly Crime and Punishment rigmarole,” the mandarin’s fan keeps a dignified beat.