Is this Nabokov's Inscription?

(2002.1.18, Update added 2004.9.2, Further Update added 2005.5.9. I think the mystery is virtually solved. Alas.)

So there is a collection of Vladimir Nabokov's Interviews, letters and miscelanous proses that I bought at a second-hand book store in Tokyo a long long time ago, last century around 1985. The book is Vladimir Nabokov Strong Opinions (1973, McGraw-Hill, New York). It's a hard cover book (which used to be really expensive in Japan), but this one had some funny scribbles in it, so they sent it to the bargain bin. It's a fun read, although the quality of the pieces vary. I think the most hillarious piece is the interview by Alvin Toffler.... Why in hell would Alvin Toffler want to interview VN? AT tries to "fit" VN into some socio-political-economical-cultural continum or whatever, and you can imagine VN's response. The conversation goes like this:

AT: Have you been psychoanalyzed?

VN: Have I been what?

You can see where the fun is. Do your homework, Alvin!

Strong Opinion inscriptionAnyway, the strange "scribble" in the book looks like this;

Author's Copy: Please

return to

Vladimir Nabokov
Palace Hotel
1820 Montreux

"Author's Copy"? You mean VN's? What on earth was VN's copy doing in Tokyo? The book also had a stamp of a Japanese copyright agency, so I guess some publisher got the book from the agency to check out if it was fit for publication, had someone in University of Tokyo to take a look at it, and probably that person accidentally sold it along with his other books (oh, the bookstore was right behind U of Tokyo). But still, why did the author's copy end up at this copyright agency in the first place? It seems much easier and sensible to get a copy from McGraw-Hill, rather than get it from the author. And as for VN, why did he lend such a book out, if it was so important? Why didn't he get an extra copy from the publisher, and just keep his own copy?

So I thought this was strange, and I wasn't quite sure who wrote this scribble. VN maybe, but why? But on the other hand, it would also be strange for anyone else to scribble in an authors book. Oh well. I didn't have any other samples of VN's autograph, so there was no way that I could be certain.

And then, nearly 2 decades later, I saw a real autograph of VN in a catalog of a Bookseller. It said that Books signed by VN are rare, and it shows a signed Lolita. Looking at the autograph there, I kind of think that it looked similar to the scribble in my book. The "tail" on the "N" of Nabokov is especially similar, and the way he cuts "Vladimir" into "Vladi" and "mir", and other minor points:
Strong Opinion inscription Strong Opinion inscription Lolita inscription
(from the left, the autograph in my book, the autograph in the Catalog, and the the sign on Lolita)

On the other hand, they also seem different, but then, the sign is a quick sign, where as the scribble in my book was intended to be more legible, so I don't know. What do you think? Is this Vladimir Nabokov handwriting? Do I have a fortune here or what?

Response to a Comment

A Japanese reader of this page pointed out that this might be Vera Nabokov's writing, since she did these paperwork type of things for VN. Hmmm, that's a possibility, and I'm not going to find any Vera Nabokov signatures lying around, so there's no way to be sure right?

Right, only... I DID find Vera Nabokov's signature. In 1969, a Japanese Literature Magazine did a questionnaire survey of writers around the world, asking what they thought about Japan and Japanese literature. I bought this issue because William Burroughs was in it, and found that VN was also there. And each entry showed a signature of the writeres on the response sheet. In the case of VN, however, it was Vera who sent back the survey sheet with the cover letter, so HER signature got into the issue.

Vera Nabokov Signature

Obviously, her writing is quite different. Note the V and the N. They are more deformed than the signature in my book. So, I suppose it was not written by Vera. Then, who? VN himself, after all?

Update! Curiouser and curiouser!

In the early summer of 2003, about a year after I put up this page, I got a note from Dr. Dragi Antonijevic in Germany (sorry it took so long to add this to the page). He happens to have another Nabokov book with almost the same scribble. This time, it's Bend Sinister.

It seems that my copy was not just a one time thing, or something temporary to fill a shortage on the publisher's side. Apparently, VN or someone around him has made such inscription for most of the published VN's books (but then, two books are not statistically significant, so we're looking for more.) Those books were later sold (by whom, we don't know), and it swarmed the earth.

I wonder why he did that sort of thing in the first place. I never did that to my books. Maybe he lend out many of his books, and was frustrated that was never returned? Could be, but the usual response to this would be to stop lending books altogether, and besides, judging from mine and Dr. Antonijevic's books, his strategy didn't quite work out.

Also, Dr. Antonijevic got his book in Belgrade. Belgrade?? Why? And Tokyo?? There seems to be no reasonable explanation. Dr. Antonijevic speculates that;

One really can imagine different scenarios. For example: The Inscription in Bend Sinister mention that the book should be returned to VN, Palace Hotel, Montreux after March 31 1974. In that time Nabokovs really lived in Palace hotel in Montreux. And they stayed there till VN's death in year 1977. Perhaps some boxes with books remained forgotten in the hotel after Vera had left. Perhaps after some years some hotel manager decided to donate these English books to some library, American center, etc... It would be really interesting to find out...

It sure would. Not that it would solve any major literally puzzles or prevent wars or save lives... Or who knows? Maybe a link to some international conspiracy? Former Ugoslavian secret police using Nabokov novels to communicate with Japanese left wing sects? Or, more realistically, the "return AFTER date" instruction in Bend Sinister seems to suggest that maybe he was moving to Switzerland, and was trying to avoid the book getting lost during transportation? (Note; no, this can't be it; he was there long before 1974. But then, why would he want to specify an AFTER date? What's wrong with Feb. 1974? The hotel would have gladly held the book for him. Also, this date specification suggest that this inscription was not general purpose, but for a single occasion...)

Further Update! And I think the picture is getting clearer.

Further surprise! We have more information. Isn't the Internet amazing? On April 2005, Marshall, an informant from the US, tipped me off on the following page: Things may get intersting here.... Go take a look, and don't let the Polish scare you! take a look at the image half way down the document. There, you'll find Vera Nabokov's passport (of all things. See image on the right, click to enlarge. Where the hell did they get this?) vera nabokov passportLooking at the signatuer there, it really resembles the one that was on my book. It is completely different from the one I found in the magazine. I'm now convinced that this is Vera's after all. I was also told that it's common to have a signature (for more business like stuff) and to have an "autograph" so to say, which would be more decorative and used in formal and social opportunities, so that also explains the difference.

In fact, there was another information. Someone posted this on a VN Mailing list where Dimitri Nabokov often lurks. Dimitri commented that the inscription in my book was his mother's, and that the autograph from the used book store must be fake. I wasn't quite convinced, since this wasn't much fun for me, and also because Dimitri always has this hot air snotty attitude to portray his father as some perfect noble out-of-reach-for-anyone-else-but-myself person. You often find this attitude with relatives of the rich and famous, who live off the inheritance. They have a motivation to maintain the value of their inheritance. But with this new evidence, I concede.

So, too bad, this wasn't VN's. Now, there's the issue of how it got into my hand, but I guess I'll never know for sure....

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