Showing posts with label Vladimir Nabokov-Donald Cammell Correspondence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vladimir Nabokov-Donald Cammell Correspondence. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Nabokov Letter

In my and Rebecca’s book, Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side (FAB Press, 2006), we discussed Donald Cammell’s proposed film of Vladimir Nabokov’s “unfilmable” novel, Pale Fire (1962). As his biographers, we were told of a letter Donald had received from the famed author regarding Donald’s proposed adaptation of the novel, but the letter written by Nabokov—of which Donald was justly proud—was never recovered during the many years my wife Rebecca and I worked on our book, which went to press three years ago this month.

We are happy to report, however, that the letter from Vladimir Nabokov to Donald Cammell was discovered by David Cammell, Donald’s brother, just a couple of months ago, in December 2008, among his personal papers. During the writing of our biography, David assured us of the letter’s existence because he’d read it—but was unable to locate it despite his best efforts. Although the letter now has been found, its discovery, obviously, has occurred too late for inclusion in our book. And yet, now that the letter has been recovered, happily it is available for all the world to see. Although all of the late author’s work is closely guarded, Dmitri Nabokov has kindly given his permission for the letter to be distributed in cyberspace. We are deeply grateful to him for granting permission. If anyone wants confirmation of this permission, you may contact Dr. Stephen Blackwell, Professor of Russian at the University of Tennessee—Knoxville and moderator of the NABOKV-L discussion boards, with whom Dmitri Nabokov is in close communication. I have discussed Donald’s proposed adaptation at length on the NABOKV-L, and a copy of the letter was sent to all list members who wanted one.

Becky and I were mildly surprised by the date of the letter—July 30, 1971—as the treatment Donald had written of Pale Fire—the treatment we have a copy of and have read, anyway—is dated May 1974. Although we knew he was always at work on various film projects, we were confident that during the 1970-71 period Donald was entirely focused on a film project titled Ishtar (not to be confused with the Dustin Hoffman-Warren Beatty film released in 1987). But it is now clear that he had begun thinking of adapting Pale Fire during this period, perhaps even earlier. Donald admired Lolita and also Kubrick's film adaptation of it, and also admired Nabokov's novel Despair, filmed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1978. In July 1971, when the letter was received, Donald and Myriam Gibril were living in David Cammell’s flat on Old Church Street in Chelsea, literally just around the corner from Mick Jagger. Somehow, the letter must have subsequently remained in David’s flat, over the years eventually getting mixed in with David’s other papers, only to resurface thirty-seven years later, and almost thirteen years after Donald’s death in April 1996. As Nabokov was not profligate of praise, we can certainly understand why Donald was so proud of the letter. Below is a copy of the heretofore unpublished, and largely unknown, letter. Although Nabokov suggests a possible meeting, I am quite sure that no meeting ever took place between the two men.