The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

Excerpt

Vladimir Nabokov's backgrounds--Russia, Europe, America--break up into general clusters of twenty years' duration. Born in St. Petersburg in 1899, he left Russia in 1919, took a degree in Foreign Languages at Cambridge, and lived, prior to 1940, first in Berlin and then in Paris. He is now an American citizen and Professor of Literature at Cornell.

In exile, under the name of V. Sirin, Nabokov wrote the majority of his more than twenty books (novels, plays, poetry, criticism, a memoir). With the exception of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, which was written in Paris, 1938--in the bathroom of a one-room flat--and is the first of Nabokov's books to be done in English, all of his work through 1940 had been written in Russian.

He is not the author of only one book (Lolita) and only one masterpiece. He is not a literary curiosity.

Rather, he sustains a special strength and keeps a unique trust: the art of the perverse. The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is a perfect model of that art. As practiced by Nabokov, it has no familiar antecedents, and the present introduction seizes briefly on its main components. Nabokov does not lend himself to some discursive approach; he seems forever a step or three from the reader's furiously cohabital strangle.

In Nabokov's art, the author is God--in a way quite opposed to the ivory tower, the leaky objectivity and the savage distance of a Flaubert. He does not write out of hate, or disdain for anything but the surface of art. In the simple but . . .

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