This is a picture of the Nabokovs’ former home in New York City: 35 West 87th Street. They lived in this house for one year from 1940 to 1941, after fleeing Europe following the outbreak of World War Two.
I have this picture because I have a friend who lives in New York and I asked her to make the pilgrimage I am currently unable to, to this building, in order to take a photograph for me. Somehow, the making of this connection, this physical, tangible link between myself and the Nabokovs felt imperative.
I have previous in this kind of “literary stalking”. When my sister and I spent a month in Madrid in 2013 we followed the author Ben Lerner around the city via his novel Leaving the Atocha Station. I still remember the particular thrill of the moment when we finally found the building where he had lived for a year, and whenever I pass it now that I live in Madrid (which is fairly often, and often by design), it comes back easily.
I have already written about how much I fell in love with this book of letters from Vladimir to Véra, and how much it infiltrated my life, my thoughts, my feelings and my way of viewing the world whilst I was immersed in the experience of reading it. Such immersion isn’t always a choice, in that it can be unexpected, even unwanted, but when an author, or a novel, or both, take you in this way and elevate you, of course, I go with it, especially when the author is grand like Nabokov. Furthermore, it appears this instinct of mine to bring another dimension to reading, to bring an author tangibly to life and into your life in this way is not unique to me, but an opinion shared by Nabokov himself.
Writing from Wellesley College, where he was spending two weeks as a visiting lecturer in March 1941, back to Véra in New York City, Nabokov wrote:
All in all, everything here was unusually successful (except for one lapsus lingui during the discussion yesterday: student: ‘but don’t you think that a reader must live with the characters?’ I: ‘no, – with the author.’)