NABOKOV, Vladimir (1899-1977). Autograph manuscript of The Original of Laura [published as The Original of Laura (Dying is Fun) (Knopf, November 2009)], Montreux, Switzerland, 1975-77, in pencil on the rectos of lined index cards (card 92 ['First (a)'] in blue ink), three on uniformly sized graph paper (cards 1, 65 and 134), numerous authorial corrections, deletions and emendations throughout, altogether 138 cards (110 x 150mm), 45 with pencil Xs on verso, mounted in a custom-made album, large 4to, blue cloth. Provenance: by descent from Vladimir Nabokov.
VLADIMIR NABOKOV'S UNFINISHED LAST NOVEL: THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA
Falling on a hillside in Davos in 1975 while pursuing his beloved pastime of entomology seemed to set off, in the words of his son Dmitri, Vladimir Nabokov's final period of illness. Despite this, a new work was burgeoning in the author's mind, and during the last two years of his life, Nabokov worked steadfastly on its composition: 'He was working on a novel that he had begun in 1975 ... an embryonic masterpiece whose pockets of genius were beginning to pupate here and there on his ever-present index cards'. As his illnesses progressed, the author instructed his wife Véra and his son to destroy the manuscript of The Original of Laura if he were to die without completing it. As with the chance intervention of Véra in the fate of Lolita, snatching a draft of the novel before her husband could burn it in an incinerator, The Original of Laura was likewise preserved: the final work of one the 20th Century's greatest literary stylists.
In his diaries, Nabokov made note of the work that would become The Original of Laura on 1 December 1974, then using the title 'Dying is Fun'. In the work, the scholar Philip Wild is married to a promiscuous woman named Flora. Death and the afterlife are key themes in the book, as in so many of Nabokov's works, but in The Original of Laura his language is concentrated, with a distilled poetic tautness of immense power. The work opens with a scene at a party, followed by four continuous scenes and finally fragmentations that reflect Wild's dissipation. His preoccupation with his own death sets him on a course of meditation wherein he sets out to erase himself from the toes up.
Certainly Nabokov's own sufferings as he aged influenced the content of his final work. His own pain, which he felt acutely in his toes, and that of Wild adumbrate one another. The word-play and witticisms, the tuned poetry of diction, the penetrating psychological insights into love and death -- hallmarks throughout Nabokov's career -- appear in The Original of Laura in crisp and concise form. More than an autobiographical shadow of the author's last years, the work is the final flowering of Vladimir Nabokov's mature art, the quintessence of his creative spirit.
According to American Book Prices Current, no significant manuscript by the author has ever appeared at auction. Nabokov's archive was acquired by the Berg Collection, New York Public Library, in 1991 and the Library of Congress collection of Nabokov Papers includes correspondence and manuscripts, including manuscripts or notes for his American novels Pale Fire, Lolita and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. The sale of The Original of Laura therefore constitutes the ONLY LIKELY OPPORTUNITY TO ACQUIRE A MAJOR WORK BY THE AUTHOR.