At 24-years-old Vladimir Nabokov wasn’t yet known as one of the most prominent and controversial Russian novelists in history. Instead he was a poet falling madly in love with 21-year-old Vera, who would later become not only his wife but one of the most important literary sidekicks. She gave up her own writing career to support her husbands and acted as Nabokov’s agent, editor, researcher, and stenographer in four languages throughout their time together.
He was so taken with Vera upon meeting her that he began writing her letters after the day they met and continued to write about her until the day he died. The quotes below are from the collection of his letters to her published last year that will make you swoon for an old fashioned romance when letter writing was still a thing.
“You came into my life—not as one comes to visit (you know, not ‘taking one’s hat off’) but as one comes to a kingdom where all the rivers have been waiting for your reflection, all the roads, for your steps. Fate wanted to correct its mistake. Fate wanted to correct its mistake—as if it has asked my forgiveness for all its previous deceptions.”
“Yes, I need you, my fairytale. Because you are the only person I can talk with about the shade of a cloud, about the song of a thought—and about how, when I went out to work today and looked a tall sunflower in the face, it smiled at me with all of its seeds.”
“I won’t hide it: I’m so unused to being — well, understood, perhaps, — so unused to it, that in the very first minutes of our meeting I thought: this is a joke… But then… And there are things that are hard to talk about — you’ll rub off their marvelous pollen at the touch of a word… You are lovely…”
“See you soon my strange joy, my tender night.”
“How can I explain to you, my happiness, my golden wonderful happiness, how much I am all yours — with all my memories, poems, outbursts, inner whirlwinds? Or explain that I cannot write a word without hearing how you will pronounce it — and can’t recall a single trifle I’ve lived through without regret — so sharp! — that we haven’t lived through it together — whether it’s the most, the most personal, intransmissible — or only some sunset or other at the bend of a road — you see what I mean, my happiness?
And I know: I can’t tell you anything in words — and when I do on the phone then it comes out completely wrong. Because with you one needs to talk wonderfully, the way we talk with people long gone… in terms of purity and lightness and spiritual precision… You can be bruised by an ugly diminutive — because you are so absolutely resonant — like seawater, my lovely.
I swear — and the inkblot has nothing to do with it — I swear by all that’s dear to me, all I believe in — I swear that I have never loved before as I love you, — with such tenderness — to the point of tears — and with such a sense of radiance.”
“Most of all I want you to be happy, and it seems to me that I could give you that happiness — a sunny, simple happiness — and not an altogether common one…
I am ready to give you all of my blood, if I had to — it’s hard to explain — sounds flat — but that’s how it is. here, I’ll tell you — with my love I could have filled ten centuries of fire, songs, and valor — ten whole centuries, enormous and winged, — full of knights riding up blazing hills — and legends about giants — and fierce Troys — and orange sails — and pirates — and poets. And this is not literature since if you reread carefully you will see that the knights have turned out to be fat.”
“I simply want to tell you that somehow I can’t imagine life without you…
I love you, I want you, I need you unbearably… Your eyes — which shine so wonder-struck when, with your head thrown back, you tell something funny — your eyes, your voice, lips, your shoulders — so light, sunny…
You came into my life — not as one comes to visit … but as one comes to a kingdom where all the rivers have been waiting for your reflection, all the roads, for your steps.”
“I love you very much. Love you in a bad way (don’t be angry, my happiness). Love you in a good way. Love your teeth…
I love you, my sun, my life, I love your eyes — closed — all the little tails of your thoughts, your stretchy vowels, your whole soul from head to heels.”
“I dreamt of you last night – as if I was playing the piano and you were turning the pages for me.”
“… all the little tails of your thoughts, your stretchy vowels, your whole soul from head to heels … You are made entirely of tiny arrow-like movements – I love every one of them.”