Nabokov write-alike contest may hide genuine article

Has Nabokov's son sneaked snippets from his father's unpublished novel into an obscure journal?

Craig Offman
June 28, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

It seems that the tight-knit, secretive community of Nabokov scholars has yet another controversy brewing. The summer edition of The Nabokovian, a quarterly academic journal for those who study the author of "Lolita," features "The Nabokov Prose-Alike Centennial Contest," which consists of five passages. Readers are invited to pick out the imitations from the original writings of the Russian master. However, this exercise may be trickier than it seems.

Jeff Edmunds, a cataloging specialist at Penn State University and an insider in the Nabokovian scene, alleges that the genuine Nabokov extracts used in the contest have been taken from the author's unpublished, unfinished novel, "The Original of Laura." Edmunds was one of the select few present when Dmitri Nabokov, the author's son and executor, read aloud portions of the novel in Ithaca, N.Y., last fall.


Yet another Nabokov insider who was present at the same reading pooh-poohs Edmunds' observation. "It's more likely to be a baker's dozen -- rejected variants from different books," the scholar says.

While Dmitri certainly gave the journal permission to publish the excerpts, he recently told Salon Books that he hadn't decided what to do with the unpublished novel. As it stands, the Nabokov family only allows a very few scholars to look at "Laura."

Salon Books attempted to contact the Nabokovian's editor, Stephen Parker, for comment, but he was in France and could not be reached.


Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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