Original Sin

Studio 360

Kids never do as they're told. The lauded novelist Vladimir Nabokov asked that his unfinished manuscript The Original of Laura be burned upon his death. But lucky for us, his son Dmitri didn't listen. This week marks Laura's inflammatory publication, which means that fans of Nabokov's will now have to decide whether to respect the master's wishes or run to the nearest bookstore to crack open the spine of this much-anticipated book and bite into some forbidden fruit.

Written on 138 index cards in the final years of Nabokov's life, mostly from a hospital room, Laura spent more than three decades under lock and key in a safe-deposit box somewhere in Switzerland. It's the story of the aristocratic Flora Lanskaya's life with her morbidly obese (and otherwise morbid) husband Philip Wild. After the passing of Nabokov's own spouse, Vera, the question of whether or not to publish 'Laura' fell upon Dmitri's shoulders. In the end, the thought of not sharing his father's final work with the rest of the world was apparently too much for Dmitri to bear... (coupled with the thought of not possessing the financial means to get from point A to point B: 'It's true that my wheelchair requires some costly modifications to fit into the trunk of a Maserati coupe,' he told The New York Times last year.)

The Nabokov Family

The Nabokovs: Vladimir, Vera, and Dmitri

Dmitri Nabokov

Dmitri in front of a portrait of his father. Photograph: Patrick Aviolat/EPA/AFP

This isn't the first time an author's wishes have been overruled in favor of publication. Kafka wanted The Trial incinerated after his death, and long before that, Virgil requested that The Aeneid be destroyed. 'Read the works!' journalist Ron Rosenbaum pleaded in 2005. 'Life is too short to care more deeply about the life of the one who wrote them, whose secrets are usually irretrievable anyway.' Playwright Tom Stoppard had a different take: 'It's perfectly straightforward: Nabokov wanted it burnt, so burn it.'