‘An Affair Of Honor’ by Vladimir Nabokov

An Affair Of Honor by Vladimir Nabokov, 1927

The magic trick:

Putting the reader inside Anton Petrovich’s point of view

We close a great week of Nabokov fittingly enough with another great Nabokov story.

Anton Petrovich has gotten himself into a bit of a situation here – lashing out at his wife’s lover, challenging him to a duel. All very ill-advised.

The story does a remarkable job of putting the reader inside Anton’s point of view. There is plenty of plot here. But the most intense portions of the story are the sections that reflect Anton’s thoughts and fears. We feel every bead of sweat, every pang in his stomach, every cowardly thought.

I’m not sure it makes us more sympathetic to his situation, but it definitely engages the reader more and more into the story.

And that’s quite a trick on Nabokov’s part.

The selection:

At about ten he decided to go to bed. The bedroom, though, was taboo. With great effort he found some clean bedclothes in the dresser, recased the pillow, and spread a sheet over the leather couch in the parlor. As he undressed, he thought, I am going to bed for the last time in my life. Nonsense, faintly squeaked some little particle of Anton Petrovich’s soul, the same particle that had made him throw the glove, slam the door, and call Berg a scoundrel. “Nonsense!” Anton Petrovich said in a thin voice, and at once told himself it was not right to say such things. If I think that nothing will happen to me, then the worst will happen. Everything in life always happens the other way around. It would be nice to read something – for the last time – before going to sleep.

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