Friday, October 12, 2018
Alex Beam's The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship
After having read the correspondence of Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson (Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya, 1940-1971: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971), one might hesitate to read Alex Beam's The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship. Reading a second book on the same topic seemed unnecessary. However, The Feud complements the correspondence, and provides the reader with valuable biographical information for both men. Of course, Nabokov's life is well-known, and many other works, including Andrea Pitzer's The Secret Life of Vladimir Nabokov, could provide readers with biographical information about his life during the period of the two men's friendship. But the book reminds readers that Nabokov depended upon Wilson to get established in American letters, and probably became more fiercely contrarian after he published Lolita and became an international sensation. More importantly perhaps, the book provides a valuable reminder of Wilson's dominance of American letters for several decades after the Second World War. And demonstrates the complicated relationship of the American liberal intelligentsia with Russia, Russian exiles, and Russian Communism. As is well-known, the two men, formerly so close, fell out over both arcane matters of literary translation, and fundamental perspectives on Lenin and the Russian Revolution. Nabokov remained passionately opposed to every aspect of the Soviet regime throughout his life, and always opposed any collaboration with Soviet scholars. By contrast, Wilson demonstrated great sympathy for Lenin, and, to a great extent, with the Russian revolutionary project in general. In the end, the short book is worth reading. It sheds light both on the lesser-known man, Wilson, and the New York City literary milieu of a bygone era, and on the better-known man, Nabokov, and his integration (only temporary, at least in some ways) into American literary society.