The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

Nabokov's Language of Despair and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

Vladimir Nabokov manipulates language's ambiguous properties in Despair and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. By toying with words' sounds and meanings he creates an atmosphere of duplicitous layers that resonates with the novel's thematic overtones. Nabokov also peppers the two novels with what appear to be superfluous data and obscure allusions, then cohesively ties that information into an important plot point. Despair and Sebastian Knight should be read as a riddles one must decode; as Nabokov himself admits, "The attractively shaped Wiener-schnitzel dream that the eager Freudian may think he distinguishes in the remoteness of my wastes will turn out to be on closer inspection a derisive mirage organized by my agents" (xii). Nabokov clouds his clues with language and allusion so the reader, the hound, is forever thrown on and off the scent.

The evidence that later incriminates the protagonist of Despair, Herrman, a stick, is introduced to the reader as a curious verbal tic of his wife. "She is little educated and observant. We discovered one day that to her the term 'mystic' was somehow dimly connected with 'mist' and 'mistake' and 'stick,' but that she had not the...

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