Today is the anniversary of an eminent death, that of the greatest writer in English of the twentieth century, Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, 35 years ago, in 1977, in Montreux, Switzerland. The circumstances were unpleasant. According to his son Dmitri, VN fell on one of his butterfly-catching expeditions in the Swiss Alps and, unable to rise, he lay on a mountainside for several hours, seen and even laughed at by numerous passengers in passing cable cars. He was finally taken to hospital and soon released, but his health never recovered; the congestive bronchitis to which he had always been susceptible became chronic. Later, when he was back in hospital, a careless nurse left his ward window open all night. This worsened his condition, and two or three days later he died, after giving (according to Dmitri) "three final gasps." Well, death seldom comes as or when we would like it to, and all too often it flouts dignity. But VN himself, via his character Timofey Pnin, remarked, "Some people—and I am one of them—hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the
norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above
the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically.” With his wife and son nearby and the world his admirer, his end was comparatively happy, after all.