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The "Right" versus the "Wrong" Child: Shades of Pain in Bend Sinister and Pnin

From: Nabokov Studies
Volume 6, 2000/2001
pp. 35-50 | 10.1353/nab.2011.0047



Trying to determine why Bend Sinister goes into such excruciating detail in its portrayal of violence against the most vulnerable, the article will analyze the means by which Nabokov communicates the most language-resistant phenomenon-the intense physical pain of another. The article will show how the writer deconstructs the process of torture in order for the reader to then reconstruct it in his imagination, the result of which is a literal, physical feeling of pain. Continuously upsetting the reader's world, in Bend Sinister Nabokov transforms a nanny, a nurse and a female doctor, the figures traditionally associated with nurturing and mothering, into the members of a fine-tuned murder team. Followed by a curious reader, the trio of the Bachofen sisters (Mariette, Linda, and Doktor Amalia) carefully and professionally carries out specifically assigned roles in the torture and murder of the eight-year-old David. The article will discuss the figure of Arvid Krug, "somebody else's child," "the wrong boy," and its significance in Nabokov's challenge to the reader's compassion.

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