‘A Russian Beauty’ by Vladimir Nabokov

A Russian Beauty by Vladimir Nabokov, 1934

The magic trick:

Editorializing the ending with a closing paragraph that shifts the reader’s feelings about the story

So much of Nabokov’s early fiction revolves around Russian history. This is another story that deals with the pain of exile. Olga is born in 1900, a Russian beauty with a life teeming with potential. She is forced to leave in 1919, and life goes downhill from there for her.

Perhaps most notable is the narrator. In many ways, the story is presented with the distance and authority of biography. However, the narrator occasionally offers brief glimpses of editorializing. Those brief glimpses turn in the last paragraph, when the narrator abruptly ends the story. “That’s all,” we get. “Of course, there may be some sort of sequel, but it is not known to me.”

This final heavy-handed editorial shifts the reader’s feelings about the story’s end, whatever they might be, in a new way.

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

The selection:

She was still the same beauty, with that enchanting slant of the widely spaced eyes and with that rarest line of lips into which the geometry of the smile seems to be already inscribed. But her hair lost its shine and was poorly cut. Her black tailored suit was in its fourth year. Her hands, with their glistening but untidy fingernails, were roped with veins and were shaking from nervousness and from her wretched continuous smoking. And we’d best pass over in silence the state of her stockings. . . .

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