UW Today

This is an archived article.

November 18, 1999

UW professor’s legacy of letters enriches Nabokov-Pushkin exhibit

Correspondence from novelist Vladimir Nabokov to University of Washington history professor Marc Szeftel will be part of a fall quarter exhibit at the University of Washington’s Allen Library.

Letters between Nabokov and Szeftel — who died in 1985 — are among many artifacts used to celebrate the centennial and bicentennial of two geniuses of Russian and American literary culture: Nabokov (born 1899) and Alexander Pushkin (born 1799).

“Black King, White Knight: A Centennial Celebration of Two Russian Writers” displays items from the UW Libraries’ collections that highlight Pushkin’s and Nabokov’s achievements -as well as their mutual struggles with censorship and exile.

The exhibit is on display on the Allen’s mezzanine level until the end of fall quarter.

Items on display include a facsimile edition of Pushkin’s sketchbooks, a number of 1920s Nabokov first editions and, courtesy of Burke Museum, specimens of the butterfly family Lycaenidae (also known as Blues), on which Nabokov was an expert.

The correspondence between Nabokov and Szeftel began in the 1940s, when Nabokov and Szeftel were colleagues at Cornell University. The letters continued after Szeftel, a specialist in medieval Russian legal history, joined the UW faculty in 1961.

Literary legend has it that Szeftel was the model for the title character of Nabokov’s 1953 novel “Pnin,” an absent-minded Russian ?gr?ntellectual.

Two years later, Nabokov wrote his controversial masterpiece, “Lolita.” He died in 1977.

Szeftel died in 1985. His Nabokov letters are part of the UW Manuscripts and University Archives, said Michael Biggins, a librarian in the Slavic and East European section.

The exhibit was created by graduate students and faculty in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature, and received support from the UW?s Kenneth S. Allen Library Endowment.