On  August  18,  1964, Jane Howard of Life magazine
sent me eleven questions. I have  kept  the  typescript  of  my
replies.  In  mid-September  she  arrived  in Montreux with the
photographer Henry Grossman. Text and pictures appeared in  the
November 20 issue of Life.

     What  writers  and  persons and places have influenced you

     In my boyhood I was an extraordinarily avid reader. By the
age of 14 or 15 I had read or re-read all Tolstoy  in  Russian,
all  Shakespeare  in  English,  and  all  Flaubert  in French--
besides hundreds of other books. Today I can always tell when a
sentence I compose happens to resemble in  cut  and  intonation
that  of  any of the writers I loved or detested half a century
ago; but I do not believe that any particular  writer  has  had
any  definite  influence upon me. As to the influence of places
and persons, I owe many metaphors and sensuous associations  to
the  North Russian landscape of my boyhood, and I am also aware
that my father was responsible for my appreciating  very  early
in life the thrill of a great poem.

     Have  you  ever  seriously  contemplated a career other
than in letters? 

     Frankly, I never thought of letters as a  career.  Writing
has always been for me a blend of dejection and high spirits, a
torture  and a pastime-- but I never expected it to be a source
of income. On the other hand, I have often dreamt of a long and
exciting career as an obscure curator of lepidoptera in a great

     Which of your writings has pleased you most? 

     I would say that of all my books Lolita has left me
with the most pleasurable afterglow-- perhaps because it is the
purest of all, the most abstract and carefully contrived. I  am
probably responsible for the odd fact that people don't seem to
name  their  daughters  Lolita  any more. I have heard of young
female poodles being given that name  since  1956,  but  of  no
human    beings.   Well-wishers   have   tried   to   translate
Lolita into Russian, but  with  such  execrable  results
that  I'm now doing a translation myself. The word "jeans," for
example, is translated in Russian dictionaries as "wide,  short
trousers"-- a totally unsatisfactory definition.

     In  the  foreword  to  The Defense you allude to
psychiatry. Do you think the dependence of analyzed on analysts
is a great danger? 

     I cannot conceive bow anybody  in  his  right  mind
should  go  to  a psychoanalyst, but of course if one's mind is
deranged one might try anything; after all, quacks and  cranks,
shamans  and holy men, kings and hypnotists have cured people--
especially hysterical  people.  Our  grandsons  no  doubt  will
regard  today's psychoanalysts with the same amused contempt as
we do astrology and phrenology. One of the greatest  pieces  of
charlatanic, and satanic, nonsense imposed on a gullible public
is  the  Freudian  interpretation  of  dreams.  I  take gleeful
pleasure every  morning  in  refuting  the  Viennese  quack  by
recalling and explaining the details of my dreams without using
one single reference to sexual symbols or mythical complexes. I
urge my potential patients to do likewise.

     How  do your views on politics and religion affect what
you write? 

     I have never belonged to  any  political  party  but  have
always loathed and despised dictatorships and police states, as
well  as any sort of oppression. This goes for regimentation of
thought,   governmental   censorship,   racial   or   religious
persecution,  and  all the rest of it. Whether or not my simple
credo affects my writing does not interest me. I  suppose  that
my indifference to religion is of the same nature as my dislike
of  group  activities  in  the  domain  of  political  or civic
commitments. I have allowed some of my creatures in some of  my
novels to be restless freethinkers but here again I do not care
one  bit what kind of faith or brand of non-faith my reader may
assign to their maker.

     Would you have liked to have lived at a time other than

     My choice  of  "when"  would  be  influenced  by  that  of
"where."  As  a  matter  of  fact,  I would have to construct a
mosaic of time and space to suit my  desires  and  demands.  It
would  be  too complicated to tabulate all the elements of this
combination. But I know pretty well what it should include.  It
should include a warm climate, daily baths, an absence of radio
music  and  traffic  noise,  the  honey  of  ancient  Persia, a
complete microfilm library, and the  unique  and  indescribable
rapture  of  learning  more  and  more  about  the moon and the
planets. In other words, I think I would like my head to be  in
the  United  States of the nineteen-sixties, but would not mind
distributing some of my other organs and limbs through  various
centuries and countries.

     With  what  living  writers  do  you  feel a particular

     When Mr. N. learns from an interview that Mr. X.,  another
writer,  has  named as his favorites Mr. A., Mr. B. and Mr. N.,
this inclusion may puzzle Mr. N. who considers, say,  Mr.  A.'s
work  to be primitive and trite. I would not like to puzzle Mr.
C., Mr. D., or Mr. X., all of whom I like.

     Do you anticipate that more of your works will be  made
into  films?  On  the basis of Lolita, does the prospect
please you? 

     I greatly admired the film Lolita as a  film--  but
was  sorry not to have been given an opportunity to collaborate
in its actual making. People who liked my novel said  the  film
was  too  reticent  and  incomplete.  If, however, all the next
pictures based on my books are  as  charming  as  Kubrick's,  I
shall not grumble too much.

     Which  of  the  languages you speak do you consider the
most beautiful? 

     My head says English, my heart, Russian, my ear, French.

     Why do you prefer Montreux as a headquarters? Do you in
any way miss the America you  parodied  so  exquisitely  in
Lolita^  Do  you  find  that Europe and the US are coming to
resemble each other to a discouraging degree? 

     I think I am trying to develop, in this  rosy  exile,  the
same fertile nostalgia in regard to America, my new country, as
I  evolved for Russia, my old one, in the first post-revolution
years  of  West-European  expatriation.  Of  course,   I   miss
America--  even  Miss America. If Europe and America are coming
to resemble  each  other  more  and  more--  why  should  I  be
discouraged?  Amusing,  perhaps,  and, perhaps, not quite true,
but certainly not discouraging in any sense I can think of.  My
wife  and  I  are very fond of Montreux, the scenery of which I
needed for Pale Fire, and still need for  another  book.
There  are  also  family reasons for our living in this part of
Europe. I have a sister in Geneva and a son in Milan. He  is  a
graduate  of Harvard who came to Italy to complete his operatic
training, which he combines with racing an Italian car in major
events and translating the  early  works  of  his  father  from
Russian into English.

     What  is  your  prognosis  for  the  health  of Russian

     There is no plain answer to your question. The trouble  is
that  no government however intelligent or humane is capable of
generating great artists, although a bad  government  certainly
can  pester, thwart, and suppress them. We must also remember--
and this is very important-- that the only people who  flourish
under  all types of government are the Philistines. In the aura
of mild regimes there is exactly as rare a chance  of  a  great
artist's  appearing  on the scene as there is in the less happy
times of despicable dictatorships. Therefore I  cannot  predict
anything  though  I  certainly hope that under the influence of
the West, and especially under  that  of  America,  the  Soviet
police  state  will  gradually  wither  away.  Incidentally,  I
deplore  the  attitude  of  foolish  or  dishonest  people  who
ridiculously  equate  Stalin  with McCarthy, Auschwitz with the
atom bomb, and the ruthless imperialism of the  USSR  with  the
earnest and unselfish assistance extended by the USA to nations
in distress.


     Dear  Miss  Howard,  allow  me  to add the following three

     1) My answers must be published accurately and completely:
verbatim, if quoted; in a faithful version, if not.

     2) I must see the proofs of the interview-- semifinal  and

     3)  I have the right to correct therein all factual errors
and specific slips ("Mr. Nabokov  is  a  small  man  with  long
hair," etc.)

Last-modified: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 06:11:39 GMT