‘A Dashing Fellow’ by Vladimir Nabokov

A Dashing Fellow by Vladimir Nabokov, 1930

The magic trick:

Showing the titular character to be impervious to external factors

“A Dashing Fellow” walks that fine line between celebrating and punishing bad behavior in art. The punishment here never lands, in fact. The dashing fellow’s pursuit of a woman on the train is lecherous and frightening from the start, but also presented almost as fun and games. We get a sense of dark comedy in the mix. I don’t want to ruin the story here, but I can at least say that as the story turns, any feeling of comedy dissipates. It’s just dark. His selfishness and misogyny are starkly evil. But – and this really is the key to the story – he is impervious to that change. This dashing fellow has a wall of rationalization built so far up, he can’t be touched by any external factors. He will never be punished or humbled.

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

The selection:

In the meantime Kostya reflected: We know all those parents and directors. She’s making up everything. Very attractive, though. Breasts like a pair of piggies, slim hips. Likes to tipple, apparently. Let’s order some beer from the diner.

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