Parker Bauer in The Weekly Standard:
In January 1944 the up-and-coming novelist Vladimir Nabokov sent the oracular literary critic Edmund Wilson a letter, with two enclosures. The first was a sample of Nabokov's new translation of the Russian verse novel Eugene Onegin; the second was a pair of socks Wilson had lent him. The translation, he disclosed, had been done by "a new method I have found after some scientific thinking." In one sock Nabokov had poked a hole, which his wife, Vera, had sewed up with "her rather simple patching methods."
Sometimes Wilson would tuck in a note to Nabokov a paper butterfly with a wound-up rubber band, which, on opening, "buzzed out of the card like a real lepidopteron," delighting Nabokov, whose sideline was the classifying of butterfly genitalia for the Harvard Museum. Mostly by mail, the two writers carried on discourse and disputation (and sometimes just carried on, needling one another) for a quarter-century. Alas, it all ended quite badly.
Pen pals forever, or so it might have seemed: two literary minds who meshed and yet clashed, both deeply engaged but different enough to keep it interesting, masters of the amicable insult. "We have always been frank with one another," breezes Nabokov in 1956, as a kind of keynote for their entire correspondence, "and I know that you will find my criticism exhilarating." Their letters—crackling with debate on diction both Russian and English, with pleas to read this or that overlooked novel, with a crossfire of critiques of their own works—were private, even intimate. Their breakup was anything but. At the end, the combatants were flinging their charges not in personal notes but in the letters columns of literary journals where, almost cinematically, the world could enjoy the spectacle.