Vladimir Nabokov Talks About Life, Literature & Love in a Meticulously Prepared Interview, 1969

“I think like a genius, I write like a dis­tin­guished author, and I speak like a child.” So begins Vladimir Nabokov in the fore­word to his 1973 book of inter­views and arti­cles, Strong Opin­ions.

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.

Releat­ed con­tent:

Vladimir Nabokov (Chan­nelled by Christo­pher Plum­mer) Teach­es Kaf­ka at Cor­nell

Vladimir Nabokov Recites His Ear­ly Poem, ‘To My Youth’

Nabokov Reads Loli­ta, Names the Great Books of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

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