Deluded Worlds—King, Queen, Knave, Invitation to a Beheading, and Bend Sinister

  • Michael Glynn


In Pale Fire, Lolita, and Despair we were presented with deluded artist figures who used their art actively to distort reality and who were, to varying degrees, automatized beings. I now wish to turn to a second group of novels in which Nabokov inverts this scheme. In King, Queen, Knave, Invitation to a Beheading, and Bend Sinister, we encounter undeluded, non-automatized artist figures, each of whom is accommodated to reality but is unfortunate enough to inhabit a kind of deluded puppet world where, outside of themselves, automatism proliferates. I begin by discussing King, Queen, Knave in which Nabokov fashions a conventional tale of adultery with the deeper purpose of dramatizing the clash between the artistic vision and the inimical forces of automatism. Here, Nabokov’s artist figure is Kurt Dreyer, a middle-aged Berlin businessman who, as a child, had longed to create art “but instead had spent many dull years working in his father’s shop.”1 As the wealthy and somewhat complacent proprietor of a gentlemen’s outfitters, Dreyer is an unlikely embodiment of the Bergsonian/Shklovskyite artistic vision. Certainly, some critics have responded unfavourably to Dreyer, seeking to cast him as affectless automaton rather than artist. G.M. Hyde writes of Dreyer’s “real nastiness”2 and lack of humanity and Julian Connolly allies Dreyer with the automatous Martha and Franz and sees him as, potentially, “an indifferent aesthete or even a callous bully.”3 Jeff Edmunds


Material Reality Material World Artistic Vision Logical Hybrid Artist Figure 
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© Michael Glynn 2007

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  • Michael Glynn

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