On the one hand, a promise was a promise. Nabokov may have felt that the manuscript was embarrassingly incomplete. Nabokov wanted it burnt, so burn it. Others speculated that it might have light to shed on accusations that Nabokov had plagiarized parts of Lolita or that it would address suspicions about his childhood abuse.
Tantalizing tidbits of the text kept popping up over that 18 years. Dmitri at one point read a few portions of Laura out loud to a centennial gathering of adoring scholars at Cornell.
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Some later claimed to have privately been permitted to read the entire, brilliant manuscript. Which were real?
Which were the imitations? In an essay on The Original of Laura by a Swiss scholar named Michel Desommelier was published on the Nabokov fan website Zembla, containing what were purported to be several excerpts from the novel. These were then verified as authentic by other scholars and even Dmitri himself. If it all sounds a little like something out of a Nabokov novel, that may be no accident.
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Unfinished books, unanswerable questions, meta-games of uncertainty and imagination were just the kind of thing Nabokov most liked to engage in on the page. And as long as Laura remained unpublished, Nabokov fans had an everlasting puzzle.
They could be like V. Perhaps because of my stumblings and fits of coughing, the story of my poor Laura had less success with my listeners than it will have, I hope, with intelligent reviewers when properly published. He certainly would not have wanted it destroyed. He would have finished it.
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Dmitri said his father had once told him that Laura was among his most important books. The Wall Street Journal compared reading the book to watching Lou Gehrig try to play baseball after his illness in Part of the story revolves around Flora, Aurora, and Laura. This is about all that can be said of what turned out to be not even a manuscript but handwritten notecards. Nabokov often used these for his first drafts before setting them into a final order for Vera to type up.
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The Laura cards had not yet been set in any kind of order, with only the first 60 or so forming any kind of linear narrative. Altogether the text totaled only around 30 typed pages.
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To those who had waited and wondered about Laura since the late s, it must have been a little underwhelming. To stretch 30 pages into something resembling a finished novel, the book was published by Knopf on heavy stock, with a color reproduction on each page of the original card, complete with scribbles and cross-outs, with the cleaned-up text typed below.
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