Nabokov on pathological indifference to bad reviews

Vladimir Nabokov, on the reception of a collection of his poems published in 1916:

….my poems were juvenile stuff, quite devoid of merit and ought never to have been put on sale. The book (a copy of which still exists, alas, in the “closed stacks” of the Lenin Library, Moscow) deserved what it got at the tearing claws of the few critics who noticed it in obscure periodicals. My Russian literature teacher at school, Vladimir Hippius, a first-rate though somewhat esoteric poet whom I greatly admired … brought a copy with him to class and provoked the delirious hilarity of the majority of my classmates by applying his fiery sarcasm (he was a fierce man with red hair) to my most romantic lines. His famous cousin at a session of the Literary Fund asked my father, its president, to tell me, please, that I would never, never be a writer. A well-meaning, needy and talentless journalist, who had reasons to be grateful to my father, wrote an impossibly enthusiastic piece about me, some five hundred lines dripping with fulsome praise; it was intercepted in time by my father, and I remember him and me, while we read it in manuscript, grinding our teeth and groaning–the ritual adopted by our family when faced by something in awful taste or by somebody’s gaffe. The whole business cured me permanently of all interest in literary fame and was probably the cause of that almost pathological and not always justified indifference to reviews which in later years deprived me of emotions most authors are said to experience.

(From Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited, by Vladimir Nabokov.)


Comments are closed.