A  second  exchange  with  Alden  Whitman  took  place  in
mid-April,  1971,  and was reproduced, with misprints and other
flaws, in The New York Times, April 23.

     You, sir, will be seventy-two in  a  few  days,  having
exceeded  the Biblical three score and ten. How does this feat,
if it is a feat, impress you? 

     "Three score and ten" sounded, no doubt, very venerable in
the days when life expectancy hardly reached one half  of  that
length.  Anyway,  Petersburgan  pediatricians  never  thought I
might perform the feat you mention: a feat of lucky  endurance,
of  paradoxically  detached  will  power, of good work and good
wine, of healthy concentration on a  rare  bug  or  a  rhythmic
phrase.  Another thing that might have been of some help is the
fact  that  I  am  subject  to  the  embarrassing   qualms   of
superstition:  a  number, a dream, a coincidence can affect roe
obsessively-- though not in the sense of absurd fears but
as fabulous  (and  on  the  whole  rather  bracing)  scientific
enigmas incapable of being stated, let alone solved.

     Has  your life thus far come up to expectations you bad
for yourself as a young man? 

     My life thus far has surpassed splendidly the ambitions of
boyhood and  youth.  In  the  first  decade  of  our  dwindling
century,  during  trips  with  my  family  to Western Europe, I
imagined, in bedtime reveries, what it would be like to  become
an  exile  who  longed  for  a  remote, sad, and (right epithet
coming) unquenchable Russia,  under  the  eucalipti  of  exotic
resorts.  Lenin  and his police nicely arranged the realization
of that fantasy. At the age of twelve my  fondest  dream
was  a  visit  to the Karakorum range in search of butterflies.
Twenty-five years later I successfully sent myself, in the part
of my hero's father (see my novel The Gift) to  explore,
net  in  hand,  the  mountains  of  Central  Asia. At fifteen I
visualized myself as a world-famous author of  seventy  with  a
mane of wavy white hair. Today I am practically bald.

     

     If  birthday  wishes  were horses, what would yours be for
yourself? 

     Pegasus, only Pegasus.

     You are, I am told, at work on a new novel. Do you have
a working title? And could you give me a precis of what  it  is
all about? 

     The  working  title  of  the  novel  I am composing now is
Transparent Things, but a  precis  would  be  an  opaque
shadow.  The  façade  of  our  hotel  in Montreux is being
repainted, and I have reached the ultimate south of Portugal in
an effort to find a quiet spot (pace  the  booming  surf
and rattling wind) where to write. This I do on scrambled index
cards  (my text existing already there in invisible lead) which
I gradually fill in and sort out, using up in the process  more
pencil  sharpeners  than  pencils; but I have spoken of this in
several earlier questionnaires-- a word whose spelling  I  have
to  look  up  every  time;  my  traveling  companion, Webster's
Collegiate Dictionary, 1970, defines, by the way, "Quassia"  as
derived from "Quassi," a Surinam Negro slave of the 18th centu!
ry, who discovered a remedy for worms in white children. On the
other  hand,  none of my own coinages or reapplications appears
in this lexicon-- neither "iridule" (a mother-of-pearl cloudlet
in Pale Fire), nor "racemosa" (a kind of  bird  cherry),
nor  several  prosodie  terms such as "scud" and "tilt" (see my
Commentary to Eugene Onegin).

     There has been a variety of critical reaction to  Ada.
Which   critics,   in   your  views,  have  been  especially
perceptive, and why? 

     Except for a number of  helpless  little  hacks  who  were
unable  to  jog  beyond  the first chapters, American reviewers
have  been  remarkably  perceptive  in  regard   to   my   most
cosmopolitan  and  poetic  novel.  As to the British press, the
observations  of  a  few  discerning  critics  were  also  most
welcome;  the buffoons turned out to be less clever than usual,
whilst my regular spiritual guide, Mr. Philip Toyn-bee,  seemed
even  more distressed by Ada than he had been by Pale
Fire. I am bad at remembering reviews in  detail,  and  for
the  moment  several mountain chains separate me from my files,
but generally speaking my wife and I have long stopped stuffing
clippings into forgettable boxes, instead of which an efficient
secretary pastes them in  huge  comfortable  albums,  with  the
result  that  I am informed better than before of current gloss
and ! gossip. In direct answer to your  question  I  would  say
that  the  main favor I ask of the serious critic is sufficient
perceptiveness to understand that whatever term or trope I use,
my purpose is not  to  be  facetiously  flashy  or  grotesquely
obscure  but  to  express what I feel and think with the utmost
truthfulness and perception.

     Your novel Mary  is  having  a  success  in  the
United  States.  What  have  been your feelings about seeing in
print a novel of so long ago in an English version? 

     In my preface to  the  English  translation  of  my  first
Russian  novel,  written forty-eight years ago, I point out the
nature of the similarities  between  the  author's  first  love
affair  in  1915 and that of Ganin who recalls it as his own in
the stylized world of my Mashenka. Owing perhaps  to  my
having  gone  back  to  that  young romance in my autobiography
begun in the nineteen forties (that is, at the  centerpoint  of
the  span  separating  Mashenka  from  Mary), the
strangeness of the  present  resurrection  cannot  help  losing
something  of  its thrill. Yet I do feel another, more abstract
though no! less  grateful,  tingle  when  I  tell  myself  that
destiny  not  only  preserved  a  fragile  find  from decay and
oblivion, but allowed me to last long enough to  supervise  the
unwrapping of the mummy.

     If  you  were writing the "book" for Lolita as a
musical comedy, what would you select as the main comic  point?


          The  main comic point would have been my trying to do
it myself.

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