The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight Essay Questions

  1. 1

    At the beginning of chapter fifteen, the narrator writes, "As the reader may have noticed, I have tried to put into this book as little of my own self as possible." In fact, the narrator never even reveals his name; only once does he refer to himself as "V." Why is the narrator so determined to conceal himself? Is this concealment successful? In light of his final realization (or decision) that he and Sebastian are the same, what does this determination suggest about the narrator's motives for learning and writing about Sebastian?

  2. 2

    Rather than describing Sebastian's life in chronological order, the narrator chooses to allow the timeline of his search dictate the timeline of the book. What does this chronology tell the reader about Sebastian that a more straightforward narrative would have concealed? What is the effect of having the reader learn so much out of order?

  3. 3

    The narrator provides detailed descriptions of three of Sebastian's novels. Pick one and explain how that description and exegesis sheds light on The Real Life of Sebastian Knight as a whole.

  4. 4

    In Chapter 11 the narrator describes one of Sebastian's characters; a man named Mr. Siller who helps three fellow passengers will while for a train. In Chapter 13, the narrator meets a man named Mr. Silbermann, who bears a strange resemblance to Mr. Siller, and who precedes to help him acquire the names and addresses of the women Sebastian might have known in Blauberg. Keeping in mind that the narrator never acknowledges this resemblance, what might have been Nabokov's purpose in creating this doubling? When the reader recognizes one of Sebastian's characters in the narrator's story, what is the effect on the reality of the book?

  5. 5

    Throughout the book the narrator argues with, reacts against and draws attention to Mr. Goodman's biography of his brother. What role does Mr. Goodman play in this book? How does the narrator use opposition to Mr. Goodman's book in order to substantiate his own?

  6. 6

    The question of nationality reappears again and again throughout the book. Sebastian attempts to become British, but he is repeatedly drawn back to his Russian roots. At the end of the novel, the narrator does not immediately learn of Sebastian's death, because he asks for the English, rather than the Russian, gentleman. Where is the source of this confusion about identity? Is Sebastian truly antagonistic to his Russian roots, or is this confusion imposed on him by his brother? Use examples from the text to support your argument.

  7. 7

    At least as the narrator presents it, Sebastian Knight falls in love with two extremely different women. Based on your knowledge and understanding of Clare Bishop or Nina Rechnoy, explain what Sebastian might have found so attractive about one of these women. In other words, what aspects of Clare or Nina made such different women attractive to Sebastian.

  8. 8

    Why does the narrator become so obsessed with learning the identify of the Russian woman whom Sebastian fell in love with? What will this knowledge absolve him of/help him come to terms with?

  9. 9

    Throughout the novel, the narrator insists that he has always loved and admired his brother, and that writing this novel has finally allowed him to feel close to him. Does the relationship that the narrator slowly reveals support the idea of close paternal affection, or is the narrator concealing a much more complicated relationship? Use evidence from the text to support your argument.

  10. 10

    At the end of the book, the narrator says: "I am Sebastian Knight. I feel as if I were impersonating him on a lighted stage, with the people he knew coming and going -- the dim figures of the few friends he had, the scholar, and the poet, and the painter". Given the narrator's role as the creator of this narrative about Sebastian's life, to what extent is his claim true? As the author of this book, about Sebastian Knight the author, does the narrator in some sense take on Sebastian's role in his own life? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.