Monday, March 16, 2009

Vladimir Nabokov's index cards

Index cards were gradually loading a shoe box with their compact weight.

Pnin (1957)


The manuscript, mostly a Fair Copy, from which the present text has been faithfully printed, consists of eighty medium-sized index cards, on each of which Shade reserved the pink upper line for headings (canto number, date) and used the fourteen light-blue lines for writing out with a fine nib in a minute, tidy, remarkably clear hand, the text of this poem, skipping a line to indicate double space, and always using a fresh card to begin a new canto.

Pale Fire (1962) [From Charles Kinbote's foreword to his edition of John Shade's poem.]


After a leisurely lunch, prepared by the German cook who came with the house, I would spend another four-hour span in a lawn chair, among the roses and mockingbirds, using lined index cards and a Blackwing pencil, for copying and recopying, rubbing out and writing anew, the scenes I had imagined in the morning.

Foreword to Lolita: A Screenplay (1973)

The photographs of Nabokov's research materials for Lolita and of the author at work with index cards are by Carl Mydans, taken in September 1958 in Ithaca, New York. I found them in the Life photo archive, here and here.

Related posts
Nabokov’s unfinished (Review of The Original of Laura)
Raymond Carver's index cards
Writing and index cards

comments: 5

Katie said...


Michael Leddy said...

I know what you mean.

Blog Admin said...

Nabokov is my FAVORITE...

did he use standard 3X5? Because I've got a stack of a few hundred myself and I don't see it filling up a shoebox (width-wise, i mean)..these must have been tiny shoes are super large index cards!

Michael Leddy said...

I’m not sure how to explain the photograph — that might be a cardfile, not a shoebox. The number of blue lines per card in the Pale Fire passage suggests that John Shade used 6 x 4 cards. It looks like Nabokov in the car has 6 x 4s too.

Den said...

Nabokov's cards are 6 x 4, looks to be. 5 x 3 is also useful, maybe "cozier" for records, ideas, to-do's, citations.

Google "Hawk Sugano" and "PoIC" for the reinvention and updating of a system much in use by the Japanese (Umedao author) and Germans (Buhmann author) in the Sixties and Seventies. Neither of these works has been translated into English...apparently Japan and Germany are jealously holding on to their State Secrets ;)