Nabokov – Wilson feud

One of the best things about feuds in the world of letters is that many of them are conducted in writing. Take the infamous feud between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson, for instance. The two were friends. And then (contrary to what I said earlier) Nabokov decided to let Wilson know what he really thought of his writing:

I have read your book Memoirs of Hecate County in one swallow. There are lots of wonderful things in it. You have given your narrator’s copulation mates such formidable defenses (leather and steel, gonorrhea, horse-gums) that the reader–or at least one reader, for I would have been absolutely impotent in your singular little harem–derives no kick from the hero’s love-making. I should have as soon tried to open a sardine can with my penis. The result is chaste, despite the frankness. I am really looking forward to seeing you. Your book is causing quite a “sensation” among my literary friends here!

From Wilson’s response:

Thanks for your letter. But you sound as if I had made an unsuccessful attempt to write something like Fanny Hill. The frozen and unsatisfactory character of the sexual relations is a very important part of the central theme of the book, indicated by the title, which I’m not sure that you have grasped.

The correpondence was collected in a book in April, 2001.


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