'One of the most exhilarating, engaging, and original works ever written by one writer about another' ELIZABETH HARDWICKNikolai Gogol was one of the great geniuses of nineteenth century Russian literature, with a command of the irrational unmatched by any writer before or since. His strange tales, though often read as forceful demands for social change, were displays of the fantasies of the human spirit. In this ideal marriage of subject and critic, Nabokov analyses his endlessly inventive compatriot, focusing on the masterpieces Dead Souls, 'The Overcoat' and 'The Government Inspector'.
Misunderstood by his contemporaries, mishandled by theatre directors and ending his life mistreated by doctors - with medicinal leeches hanging from his exceptional nose - it took Nabokov to give Gogol, 'the oddest Russian in Russia', the critical biography he and his singular, brilliant work deserve.
Nabokov described this novella, written in Paris in 1939 but only published twenty years later, as 'the first little throb of Lolita'. The plot is similar- a middle-aged man wedding an unattractive widow in order to indulge his paedophilic obsession with her daughter.
However, The Enchanter has an utterly different atmosphere, as time, place and even names remain a mystery. Nabokov transforms his protagonist's attempts to lull his twelve-year-old step-daughter into a state of 'enchantment' into a graceful, chilling fairytale.
Lev Ganin is a young officer sharing a boarding house in Berlin with a host of Russian émigrés. Alone in his room, he dreams of his first love, Mary. Awash with memories of youth and idyllic scenes of pre-Revolution Russia, Ganin becomes convinced that Mary is in fact the wife of a fellow-boarder, due to arrive at this very house soon. He longs for her arrival, when he can whisk her away and leave everything behind ...
This, the narrator tells us, is the real life of famous author Sebastian Knight, the inside story. After Knight's death, his half-brother sets out to penetrate the mystery of the famous English novelist's life, but he is impeded by the false, the distorted, the irrelevant. Yet the search proves to be a story quite as intriguing as any of Sebastian Knight's own books, as baffling, and, in the end, as uniquely rewarding. On one level, this literary detective story has pungent points to make about the role of the artist in a society basically hostile to the creative spirit. On another, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight probes the essential problem of the ambiguity of human identity: Just who was Sebastian Knight?
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