The Most Insightful Quotes from Vladimir Nabokov’s 1964 ‘Playboy’ Interview

“A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual, and only the individual reader is important to me."

Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita during a road trip across the western United States while he was collecting butterflies. The book turns 59 today.

“It’s a post-war road novel, the odyssey of a venerable European man and a prepubescent American girl bouncing across the United States, trying to outrun the past and find a future that doesn’t exist,” wrote Bret Anthony Johnston in 2006. “The prose is by turns passionate and playful, while the narrative is simultaneously lyrical and unsettling and erotic and violent. . . . The book, which can be viewed as an allegory for Europe’s relationship with America, offers a depiction of love that is as patently original as it is brutally shocking.”

Nabokov biographer Robert Roper described the author as “a perpetual child, playful and provocative, high-spirited and spontaneous—qualities central to the tone and turn of mind of Lolita.” Thankfully, this means Nabokov makes for a fascinating interview subject, which was evident in a 1964 chat with Alvin Toffler for Playboy. We’ve pulled the best excerpts from the lengthy interview, in which the author discusses his feelings about Lolita nearly a decade after its publication, his elaborate writing habits and routines, musings on art and artists, and the role of the literary critic.

“I shall never regret Lolita. She was like the composition of a beautiful puzzle—its composition and its solution at the same time, since one is a mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look. Of course she completely eclipsed my other works, at least those I wrote in English: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Bend Sinister, my short stories, my book of recollections; but I cannot grudge her this. There is a queer, tender charm about that mythical nymphet.”

“Whether or not critics think that in Lolita I am ridiculing human folly leaves me supremely indifferent. But I am annoyed when the glad news is spread that I am ridiculing America.”

“I don’t much care for furniture, for tables and chairs and lamps and rugs and things—perhaps because in my opulent childhood I was taught to regard with amused contempt any too-earnest attachment to material wealth, which is why I felt no regret and no bitterness when the Revolution abolished that wealth.”

“An ideal arrangement would be an absolutely soundproofed flat in New York, on a top floor—no feet walking above, no soft music anywhere—and a bungalow in the Southwest.”

“I awake around seven in winter: my alarm clock is an Alpine chough—big, glossy, black thing with big yellow beak—which visits the balcony and emits a most melodious chuckle. For a while I lie in bed mentally revising and planning things. Around eight: shave, breakfast, meditation and bath—in that order. Then I work till lunch in my study, taking time out for a short stroll with my wife along the lake. Practically all the famous Russian writers of the 19th century have rambled here at one time or another. Zhukovski, Gogol, Dostoievsky, Tolstoy—who courted the hotel chambermaids to the detriment of his health—and many Russian poets. But then, as much could be said of Nice or Rome. We lunch around one p.m., and I am back at my desk by half-past one and work steadily till half-past six. Then a stroll to a newsstand for the English papers, and dinner at seven. No work after dinner. And bed around nine. I read till half-past eleven, and tussle with insomnia from that time till one a.m. About twice a week I have a good, long nightmare with unpleasant characters imported from earlier dreams, appearing in more or less iterative surroundings—kaleidoscopic arrangements of broken impressions, fragments of day thoughts, and irresponsible mechanical images, utterly lacking any possible Freudian implication or explication, but singularly akin to the procession of changing figures that one usually sees on the inner palpebral screen when closing one’s weary eyes.”