Keepers of the flame – Writers and Writing –

How the descendants of greats have tormented scholars, biographers and fans

The Nabakovs

According to his obituaries, Dmitri Nabokov, who died in Switzerland last week, was a race-car driver, a basso profundo opera singer and a bon vivant. Above all, though, he was a literary executor, one of the most formidable of our time. That’s saying a lot. We live in an age of some very daunting keepers of the flame.

Dmitri, who translated and edited his father Vladimir’s work, was renowned for slapping down critics or biographers who dared to “misinterpret” that work or the man who produced it. Relatives who serve as the agents or the executors of a late author’s estate usually control the rights to reprint excerpts from the author’s published works and access to unpublished material. Appeasing them often becomes the most ticklish challenge facing anyone who wants to write about — or even merely celebrate — the author or the books.

Keepers of the flame – Writers and Writing –

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