Judith Thurman at The New Yorker:
Vera and Vladimir Nabokov were married for fifty-two years—a record, apparently, among literary couples—and their intimacy was nearly hermetic. When they were apart, he pined for her grievously. She was his first reader, his agent, his typist, his archivist, his translator, his dresser, his money manager, his mouthpiece, his muse, his teaching assistant, his driver, his bodyguard (she carried a pistol in her handbag), the mother of his child, and, after he died, the implacable guardian of his legacy. Vladimir dedicated nearly all his books to her, and Véra famously saved “Lolita” from incineration in a trash can when he wanted to destroy it. Before they moved from a professor’s lodgings in Ithaca, New York, to a luxury hotel in Switzerland, she kept his house—“terribly,” by her own description—and cooked his food. She stopped short of tasting his meals when they dined out, but she opened his mail, and answered it.
According to Véra’s biographer, Stacy Schiff, her subject had such a fetish for secrecy that she “panicked every time she saw her name in [Vladimir’s] footnotes.” It seems inapt to call Véra’s love selfless, however: the two selves of the Nabokovs were valves of the same heart. And extravagant devotion may sometimes be the expression of vicarious grandiosity. Schiff’s biography won a Pulitzer Prize in 2000, and Véra’s name has since entered English as an eponym. Last year, an article on The Atlantic ’s Web site concluded that the luckiest scribes are those married to “a Véra,” a spouse of either sex who liberates them from life’s mundane chores; the less fortunate long for a Véra between loads at the laundromat. There is also the option of a paid Véra, for writers of means—or of scruples.