Vladimir Nabokov’s Spirited Jewish Wife


They say behind every great man is a great woman. In the case of the legendary Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov, that great woman must have been mighty busy, acting as the writer’s editor, translator, assistant, agent, archivist, researcher, and stenographer. Oh, and Jewish wife.

Nabokov first met Vera Slonim at an émigré charity ball in Berlin in 1923, where 21-year-old Vera allegedly marched right up to Vladimir, 24 at the time, and recited one of his poems by heart. The rest, as they say, is literary history. Though it was unusual for someone from Russian nobility, like the Nabokovs, to marry a Jew, this posed no problem for Vladimir, whose father was a noted opponent of anti-Semitism and whose younger brother would be killed in a concentration camp after publicly denouncing Hitler’s regime.

Putting her own writing aspirations aside, Vera was incredibly supportive of her husband’s career, often acting as his first reader and even his muse—Nabokov’s passionate love letters to Vera were anthologized in a collection last year. When Nabokov’s star eventually rose to fame (and scandal), Vera took on one more role—bodyguard—and carried a small pistol in her purse for his protection.

If you need any more proof of the pair’s eternal love, Nabokov dedicated every one of his books to Vera. Yes, even that one.



Recommended from JTA