Notable Quotes #6: Vladimir Nabokov describes Saint Paul circa 1942

[Vladimir and Vera Nabokov in 1923.]

The city of St. Paul is big, cold, with a cathedral in the style of St. Peter’s in Rome on the hill, with a stark view of the Mississippi (behind which is the other Twin City—Minneapolis). Today I spent the whole day at the university, looking around, talking and lunching with the faculty. To my horror it turned out that I had not brought along my lecture on the novel, which they wanted from me at ten-thirty—but I decided to speak without any notes and it came out very smoothly and well. Yesterday after the trip into the country I went, having got awfully bored, to the cinema and came back on foot—I walked for more than an hour and went to bed around eight. On the way a lightning bolt of undefined inspiration ran right through me—a passionate desire to write, and to write in Russian. And yet I can’t. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced this feeling can really understand its torment, its tragedy. English in this sense is an illusion and an ersatz. In my usual condition, i.e. busy with butterflies, translations, or academic writing, I myself don’t fully register the whole grief and bitterness of my situation.

I am healthy, eating plenty, taking my vitamins, and read newspapers more than usual now that the news is getting rosier. St. Paul is a stupefyingly boring city, only owls at the hotel, a bar girl who looks like Dasha; but my apartment is charming.

[From Nabokov's letters to his wife, Vera, written while visiting Macalester College on a two-month lecture tour.]

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