The dying wish of Vladimir Nabokov

By Sujay Kumar


Tucked away in a Swiss bank vault is an unfinished, unpublished last work written by one of the greatest authors of the 20th century.

This story isn’t about Dan Brown’s next epic heart-thumping, histori-biblical fiction thriller. It’s not even another installment of Harry Potter and rest of J.K. Rowling’s gang at Hogwarts. The writer of the unfinished story is Vladimir Nabokov, the renowned author of “Lolita.”

Before Nabokov passed away in 1977, he wrote a note asking for his unfinished work, titled “The Original of Laura,” to be destroyed after his death. Today, the sole responsibility of deciding the fate of the novel has come to rest with Nabokov’s son, Dmitri.

For the last few years, as the literary world has watched anxiously, Dmitri has pondered the question of whether he should grant his father’s dying wish and destroy the “The Original of Laura.”

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    Chapter 1:

    To Publish, or, as Nabokov said, “The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.”

    It must be tempting for Dmitri to ignore his father’s posthumous wish and let the world read the manuscript.

    Dmitri has praised his father’s work, penned on about 50 index cards, as the most “concentrated distillation” of Nabokov’s creative mind. He adds that it would have been “brilliant, original, and potentially radical” and different from his other works.

    Words like this make Nabokov’s fans salivate at the very thought of getting their hands on a fresh copy of “The Original of Laura.” And if released to the public, hungry readers would show their love for Nabokov by digesting each and every word, looking for deeper meaning and a window into the author’s complex mind.

    Chapter 2:

    Or Not to Publish, or, as Nabokov said, “Style and Structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash.”

    But deep, or not so deep because it was literally a written request, Dmitri knows how horrified his deceased dad would be if the incomplete story was published.

    Dmitri has said that his father would consider a book in progress as an “undeveloped film.” It wasn’t ready to be viewed by others. He did not want his imperfect and incomplete vision to be released. This would explain why Nabokov asked that “The Original of Laura” be burned.

    Nabokov said no, so the story should be burned. It’s as simple as that.

    Chapter 3:

    The Question, or as Nabokov said, “Some people, and I am one of them, hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm.”

    The Nabokov dilemma at hand is clear. Who has more say over an artistic work, the multitude of eager fans or the artist himself?

    For instance, take the case of recently departed actor Heath Ledger. Few would say that this summer’s film “The Dark Knight,” in which Ledger plays the villainous Joker, should not be released. As an actor, Ledger probably would have wanted his film, which involves the efforts of countless other talented individuals, to be seen.

    At the same time, advertising campaigns will be watched closely. It’s likely that the producers will try to pay tribute to Ledger since it will be his final “blockbuster” film. But who decides when reverent tribute-paying turns into a marketing ploy to milk fans out of money?


    If “The Original of Laura” is released, it will most definitely be published and paraded as the last Nabokov novel. There will be millions clamoring to read it. Some of these avid readers will want to celebrate the work of a fine author. Others will thoughtlessly read the book just to add another notch to their literary bedpost.

    But none of that should matter. It’s not a big-budget Hollywood studio or a top-notch publishing house that has the power to decide the fate of the story. It’s the author’s son.

    And as Nabokov wished for, “The Original of Laura” should be destroyed.

    Sujay is a junior in biochemistry and he thinks “The Dark Knight” looks sweet.