Dmitri Nabokov, who died last week, was more notable as an opera singer and a racecar driver than a writer, according to his Times obituary. But he was best known as the executor of his father Vladimir's estate, and as the translator of many of his Russian novels. Without Dmitri, anglophone readers might never have read Invitation to a Beheading or The Gift. And he’s given us Nabokov’s drafts for The Original of Laura, insisting as an honest executor on highlighting its incompleteness.
In honor of Dmitri, I’ve decided to round up more literary parent-child pairings—some canonical, some obscure—that have made our bookshelves fuller.
1. Kingsley Amis and Martin Amis
This duo has been unstoppable: the father was a renowned comedic novelist—Lucky Jim includes such gems as, “There was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones”—while the son has been an international heavyweight from his first novel The Rachel Papers (“Erections, as we all know, come to the teenager on a plate”) to the forthcoming Lionel Asbo.
2. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Hartley Coleridge
Admittedly, the son was very much overshadowed by his father, the great Romantic poet and compatriot of Wordsworth, but Anne Fadiman’sthorough and thoughtful essay, “The Oakling and the Oak,” makes for a fantastic and poignant read. “I have long been interested in what makes some oaklings thrive and others wither because, in a minor way, I’m an oakling myself,” the author writes, acknowledging her own filial relationship to the public intellectual Clifton Fadiman, before turning her eye back to the son who wrote sonnets and disappeared into relative obscurity.
3. Frank Herbert and Brian Herbert
Much like Nabokov and his son, Brian Herbert has followed in his father’s footsteps, writing a few science-fiction novels of his own before penning prequels and sequels to Frank Herbert’s Dune series. The desert planetArrakis, with its reserves of an extraordinarily rare spice called melange, was already well known to sci-fi enthusiasts upon Frank Herbert’s death, but his son has kept the saga alive (unlike the then young and hapless David Lynch).
4. Floyd Skloot and Rebecca Skloot
Two of America’s most brilliant nonfiction writers have taken fascinating trajectories: the father, Floyd Skloot, became an acclaimed writer of nonfiction even before suffering brain damage, and writing a memoir that articulates the experience. Meanwhile, his daughter, Rebecca Skloot, has written the runaway bestseller about “immortal” human cells, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. So, of course, the pair have co-edited the delightfully readable Best American Science Writing 2011.
5. Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
Fathers and sons, fathers and daughters...no such list would be complete without the famous mother-daughter pair of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. The elder was an outspoken feminist—the author, in fact, of A Vindication of the Rights of Women—who died in childbirth. After marrying Percy Bysshe Shelley, the daughter, herself an outspokenly feminist, wrote the seminal horror novel, Frankenstein, about a man’s monstrous attempt to give birth to a living thing. Mary Shelley’s son, unsurprisingly, bore no children of his own.
Philip Larkin memorably declared, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad, / They may not mean to, but they do.” True enough, but imagine a world without Marys, Martins and Dmitris. I can only feel relief and gratitude when I reflect that the elder halves of these pairs did not follow the childless Larkin's final exhortation: "Don't have any kids yourself."
Image: Henry Fuseli, Artist Moved by the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins (1778-9). Credit: englishare.net