The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship

Alex Beam. Pantheon, $26.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-101-87022-8
In this intriguing and melancholy chronicle, Boston Globe columnist Beam (Gracefully Insane) traces the rise and fall of the friendship between Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov. The two men met in 1940, when Nabokov’s cousin pleaded with Wilson, an eminent critic and writer, to help Nabokov, a recent émigré from Russia to the U.S. Among other things, Wilson commissioned reviews from Nabokov, helped him secure a Guggenheim Fellowship, and introduced him to prominent editors. Over the years, the two spent holidays together with their families, exchanged affectionate correspondence, and even collaborated on a translation of Alexander Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri. By the time Wilson died in 1972, it had all fallen apart. The main cause was Wilson’s scathing review of Nabokov’s 1,895-page, hyperquirky translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (one of his many criticisms was Nabokov’s choosing the obscure term “sapajous” over the logical translation choice, “monkeys”), which began a protracted war of words between the two. Beam’s book evokes the strangely satisfying sensation of witnessing smart people bickering over seemingly small matters. It also provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse, full of anecdotal ephemera, of how Wilson and Nabokov interacted and why. But the more lasting sensation is the bittersweetness of this portrait of a fallen friendship—at its height, Nabokov wrote to Wilson, “You are one of the few people in the world whom I keenly miss when I do not see them.” (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 06/13/2016
Release date: 12/06/2016
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