Books: Casting the First Shadow

Vladimir Nabokov has lived all his adult life as an endangered (and dangerous) species. Woe unto the literary pretender who does not get his facts and grammar straight. Titled men of letters must be particularly careful. Edmund Wilson audaciously questioned Nabokov's Russian and was mauled by return mail. Critic George Steiner was the victim of one of the neatest decapitations in literary history. Responding to a generously appreciative essay, Nabokov wrote that "Mr. Steiner's article ("Extraterritorial") is built on solid abstractions and opaque generalizations. A few specific items can be made out and...

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