Abstract

In composing The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Nabokov faced the challenge of transferring a distinctive literary persona into a foreign tongue. Appropriately, his debut English novel took the form of an obituary memoir by a surviving sibling in quest of the "real life" of a prematurely deceased writer. The rise of Vladimir Sirin coincided with the appearance in Berlin of Shklovsky's artistic treatise, Knight's Move (1923). Alluding to that shared moment of origin, Sebastian Knight's fictional remains, as reconstructed by his half-brother, display an unconventional talent of a decidedly Formalist cast of mind. In Nabokov's elegantly patterned novel, Sebastian's texts, V's quest, and Nabokov's biography appear to play a game of transferences in rapid lateral moves like the knight on a chess board. Read as a prismatic refraction of Nabokov's labile position between languages and cultures in 1940, RLSK performs the trick of side-stepping the end of a Russian literary career by translating V. Sirin into a "laughingly alive" afterlife in the "otherworld" of English prose.

Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-04
Open Access
No
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