There are other instances where Makowskynis on target. Yet, for the reader,nthe harvest is taxing, the yield hardlynworth the effort.nLoxley F. Nichols teaches English atnLoyola College in Baltimore.nEpistles From thenMasternby David R. SlavittnVladimir Nabokov: SelectednLetters 1940-1977nEdited by Dmitri Nabokov andnMatthew J. BruccolinNew York and San Diego: HarcourtnBrace Jovanovich; 582 pp., $29.95nWhat an inspiring book this is!nEven though the trials of thenliterary life are notorious and banal,nthere are few of us who are sufficientlynhardened to the blows that we don’t atnleast on occasion allow our guard to fallnand make the mistake of taking the kicksnand pricks personally. Old pro or youngntyro, we are all of us susceptible to thenwhine of sanity and reason, supposingnthat, at least on occasion, it may be thatnwe are wrong and the world is right, thatnthe combined judgment of all thoseneditors, publishers, reviewers, and professorsnmust have some substance to it.nAt those times of trial and uncertainty,nwe may in the future turn tonNabokov’s letters, in this handsomelynproduced volume — not just on thenbookshelf but close at hand, where wencan take courage and comfort from thengenial master, all silk on the surface butnsteel underneath, as he so suavely resistsnthe invincible ignorance of Viking; Farrar,nStraus; Holt; Doubleday; Harper’s;nThe New Yorker; The Atlantic; ThenNew York Times Book Review; and allnthe other hacks, timeservers, buffoons,nchurls, dimwits, dolts, dullards, andndummies whose absurd destiny andnonly purpose seems to be to annoyntheir betters.nHe is never ruffled, because thesenvermin just aren’t worth it, but annattentive reader can catch at least ansuggestion of his exasperation when henexplains patiently to Katherine White,nwife of E.B. and, for a time, the fictionneditor of The New Yorker, that shencan’t mess with his copy with the sameninsouciance that publication showednmost of the peons on the old finca.nToward the end of a long list of commentsnon Ms. White’s editorial tinkeringsnwith one of his Pnin stories, Nabokovnicily suggests, “34. This insertion isnimpossible. Nothing should be addednhere. I worked for a month on thisnpassage.”nLarge and small, early and late,nNabokov had to deal with these betises,nand he did so, gently but firmly, nevernfor a moment forgetting who he was (angreat writer) and who they were (fornthe most part, justifiably underpaidntradesmen obviously out of theirndepth).nIt is impressive to note how a distinguishedneditor (like the late PascalnCovici) at a distinguished house (Viking,nthen an independent publisher)ncould be so wrongheaded as to rejectnPnin, that most charming and leastnchallenging of Nabokov’s novels. Onnaesthetic grounds? Or commercial? Eithernjudgment today seems stupid, butnNabokov knew it was even then and,nwith a perfect certainty and faith, understoodnthat he might as well havenbeenldealing with members of anothernspecies. Similarly, at Doubleday, whichnpublished Pnin and Nabokov’s Dozen,neditor Jason Epstein and editor-in-chiefnKen McCormick not only couldn’t getnthe house to do Lolita, they couldn’tneven get Douglas Black, the presidentnof the company, to read the manuscript.nTo The New York Times Book Review,nwhich had commissioned a reviewnof Sartre’s La Nausee, he suggestsnan obvious truth: “May I add thatnif you could pay me more for this kindnof work, I would be able to devotenmore time to it,” and then, once thenwork is done, he writes to chide them:n”This is the first time in my life thatnsomething written by me has beennpruned by others without my consent.nWhen you asked me to write thenarticle, the very first thing I did was tondraw your attention to the fact that Inwould have to be consulted before anyncuts were made. This was a conditionn— otherwise I would not have writtennthe article at all. . . . [It] is all hopelesslynbotched and butchered and in gapingndiscord with my signature. I repeatnthat never before has any publicationnnnacted with such utter sans-gene towardsnme.”nThroughout all these trials by idiocy,nNabokov remains, relatively unrufflednand, in the best sense, gentlemanly. Itnis a rare moment when he allows hisnexasperation to show through — as hendid with Edward Weeks, editor of thenAtlantic, to whom he wrote in Octobernof 1948: “I have received your letter ofnSeptember 30 and can only excuse itsncontents by assuming that you were innyour cups when you wrote it. . . . Yournletter is so silly and rude that I do hotnthink I want to have anything to donwith you or the Atlantic any more.”nNabokov was not perfect. Nobodynis. Some of his opinions about art andnliterature, which he expressed innStrong Opinions (1973) but whichnnaturally appear here in the letters,nwere eccentric and wrong — he certainlynundervalued Faulkner and T.S.nEliot, for instance. But Nabokov was ancreative writer, not a critic, and if hisnenthusiasms and dislikes require anynjustification, the wide shelf of hisnnovels, stories, translations, and poemsnis more than sufficient. Indeed-, it is thenunquestionably high level of thatnachievement that gives this volume itsnparticularly therapeutic value fornyoung writers — or writers of any agenwho, at some moment or other of theirnlives, happen to be beaten down by thenwillfully shortsighted stupidity and cupiditynof the middlemen of the arts. Tonread these letters and see how Nabokovngot his share of the nonsense, and tonrealize how little he let it get to him, isnto be cleansed and strengthened. Henredirects our attention from thenephemeral annoyances to the lastingnvalues that lured us to the arts in then. first place.nL’affaire Lolita was a particularlynsevere series of trials. Nabokov maynhave been somewhat naif when henwrote to Maurice Girodias of OlympianPress (of all people!): “You and I knownthat Lolita is a serious book with anserious purpose. I hope the public willnaccept it as such. A succes de scandalenwould distress me.” There was such anscandale, not so much because of thenbook as because of the curious characternof that moment in Americanncultural history. It is my own theorynthat the relaxation of movie standardsnthat came about through the ratingnsystem (and the motion picture pro-nJANUARY 1990/45n