Stacy Schiff tells us this story about the first time the manuscript for Lolita was saved from incineration in her biography of Véra Nabokov:
She stepped outside to find her husband had set a fire in the galvanized can next to the back steps and was beginning to feed his papers to it. Appalled, she fished the few sheets she could from the flames. Her husband began to protest. ‘Get away from there!’ Véra commanded, an order Vladimir obeyed as she stomped on the pages she had retrieved. “We are keeping this,” she announced.
Her husband tried to burn his manuscript several other times and was thwarted only by her interventions. Schiff continues:
Plenty of manuscripts have burned, among them early drafts of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Dead Souls. A three-person brigade intervened to save A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man from the flames; in Pale Fire, Kinbote looks on as John Shade indulges in a little backyard auto-da-fé. That Lolita did not meet with the same fate, in the context and climate in which Nabokov was composing in the early 1950s, is testimony to Véra’s ability to—as her husband had it—keep grim common sense from the door, shoot it dead when it approached. She feared that the memory of the unfinished work would haunt him forever.
“Without my wife,” her husband said, “I wouldn’t have written a single novel.”