“Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal’s black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.”
Apostrophes : Vladimir Nabokov invité de Bernard Pivot | Archive INA 30/05/1975
Bernard Pivot: He is the author of the famous Lolita but of many other books, such as Ada or Ardor whose French translation is released this week. He is a Russian man who spent his graduate studies in England, who is naturalized American, who’s living now in Switzerland and is tonight under the eyes of the French cameras, his name is Vladimir Nabokov. 21st issue of Apostrophes, special live issue dedicated to Vladimir Nabokov. Good evening Vladimir Nabokov, we are very happy to welcome you on the Apostrophes plateau and we know what rare favor you have granted us. So I’m going to ask you the first question straight away. It’s 9 hour 47 minutes 47 seconds. Usually, what are you doing at this time?
VN: At this time, sir, I am under my comforter with three pillows under my head wearing a nightcap in my modest bedroom which also serves as a study, a very strong bedside lamp, my insomnia’s headlight burns still on my night table but would go off in a moment. I have in my mouth a blackcurrant pellet and in my hands a weekly newspaper from New York or London. I put it aside, turn off, light it again, swear gently to stuff a handkerchief into the pocket of my shirt, and now begin the inner debate: to take or not to take a sleeping pill. How delicious is the positive decision.
BP: Vladimir Nabokov, what is your schedule in an ordinary day?
VN: I’ll pick a day in the middle of winter. In summer, there is much more variety. So I get up between 6 and 7 and I write with a pencil, with a sharp pencil, standing in front of my lectern until 9 after a frugal breakfast. My wife and I read our mail which is always quite large. Then I shave, I take my bath, I get dressed, we walk for one hour along the Montreux flowered quays. And after lunch and a brief nap, I start my second shift until dinner. Here is the typical program.
BP: When you were younger, did you already have this schedule or at the time you had, I don’t know what, some passions, captrices, impulses that disturbed your days and nights?
VN: How so, at 26, at 30, the energy, the whim, the inspiration, all that led me to write until 4am. I rarely got up before noon and wrote all day lying on a couch. The pens and the horizontal position have now given way to pencil and austere vertical. No more caprices, it’s over. How much I loved the dream of birds, the sound of blackbirds who seemed to applaud the last sentences of the chapter I just had composed.
BP: So writing has always been the big deal of your life, one can easily figures this out, but could you consider a second life in which you would not write?
VN: I can easily consider another life, a life in which I would not be a novelist, some happy landlord of an ivorian Tower of Babel, but rather someone just as happy but in another way, who I have by the way tried, an obscure entomologist who spends the summer chasing butterflies in fabulous lands and overwintering to classify his discoveries in a museum laboratory. [end of questions to Nabokov]