Nabokov on Lolita: “I leave the field of ideas to Dr. Schweitzer and Dr. Zhivago.”

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I had never heard Vladimir Nabokov speak, until I ran across this video while reading up my post a few days ago. In this late-1950s video, Nabokov discusses his novel Lolita – or appears to – with an unnamed moderator and the critic and author Lionel Trilling. I suspect much of what he’s saying is a leg-pull. If these comments and questions are typical of the kinds of interviews he faced, it’s no wonder he skived off to Switzerland with the cash he made on the appalling film version of Lolita with Sue Lyon.  (And the comments on the youtube video are a good indication of why he stayed.)

I learned a few things from these videos: According to Mr. Nabokov, I am a philistine.  I confess that I am, on occasion, “a user of cozies” – tea cozies, anyway.  Who knew it was so easy? On those who think his book is about sex? “But maybe they think in clichés. For them sex is so well-defined there’s a gap between it and love. They don’t know what love is, and perhaps they don’t know what sex is, either.” What does it all mean? “I leave the field of ideas to Dr. [Albert] Schweitzer and Dr. Zhivago.” He doesn’t miss a chance to get in a dig at Boris Pasternak.

Postscript on 3/8:  The Book Haven attracts a very broad readership, but never before have we attracted a fan from the tea cozy world.  This from a reader who identifies himself/herself only as FlockofTeaCosy: “This video is from Close Up, a CBC programme from the 1950s, and Nabokov is being interviewed by Trilling and Canadian author Pierre Berton.” There you have it. The name of the third man in the clips.  (And check out the avant-garde tea cozies here.) And from one of our more usual readers, Elena Danielson, “I think Nabokov would approve of your tea cozies – but not of Pasternak.” See their comments below.


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4 Responses to “Nabokov on Lolita: “I leave the field of ideas to Dr. Schweitzer and Dr. Zhivago.””

  1. Elena Danielson Says:

    Thanks so much Cynthia for finding this video, where VN is gleefully putting us on, and visibly enjoying LT’s cluelessness….VN left a lot of clues for future readers. Michael Maar identified one obvious source for Lolita, Heinz von Lichberg’s Lolita published in 1916 and widely available in Berlin where VN lived and frugally read novels in bookstores without buying them, including in German which he professed not to understand…Watching VN drinking out of a tea cup, I think VN would approve of your tea cozies…but not of Pasternak, note the snarky reference to Dr. Zhivago…which was competing with his beloved Lolita on the Time Magazine best seller list…VN had to leave for French speaking Switzerland just as Thomas Mann had to flee the US for German speaking Switzerland…Death in Venice is a more serious treatment of the Lolita theme…VN has a lot in common with Mann, whom he intensely disliked, both were competing divas who needed an American audience, but were horrified by the results…

  2. FlockofTeaCosy Says:

    FYI — This video is from Close Up, a CBC programme from the 1950s, and Nabokov is being interviewed by Trilling and Canadian author Pierre Berton.

    Naturally, I love the reference to cosies….

  3. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks. I’ll add a postscript to clarify. Do you have a name besides “Flock”?

  4. Jorge Says:

    The third man might not be Pierre Berton, but John Daly, the host of that program at that time. Just check Berton’s photographs, and the man hosting this show does not resemble him at all.

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