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Invitation to a Beheading : Penguin Modern Classics - Vladimir Nabokov

Invitation to a Beheading

Penguin Modern Classics

By: Vladimir Nabokov, Dmitri Nabokov (Translator)


Published: June 2001
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Published: 1st March 2012
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Written in Berlin in 1934, Invitation to a Beheading contains all the surprise, excitement and magical intensity of a work created in two brief weeks of sustained inspiration. It takes us into the fantastic prison-world of Cincinnatus, a man condemned to death and spending his last days in prison not quite knowing when the end will come. Nabokov described the book as 'a violin in a void. The worldling will deem it a trick. Old men will hurriedly turn from it to regional romances and the lives of public figures … The evil-minded will perceive in little Emmie a sister of little Lolita … But I know a few readers who will jump up, ruffling their hair'.

About the Author

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was one of the great writers of the twentieth century, as well as a translator and lepidopterist. His works include, from the Russian novels, The Luzhin Defense and The Gift; from the English novels, Lolita, Pnin, Pale Fire and Ada; the autobiographical Speak, Memory; translations of Alice in Wonderland into Russian and Eugene Onegin into English; and lectures on literature. All of the fiction and Speak, Memory are published in Penguin.

Written long before Lolita, twenty five years ago, this is both a specific study in terrorism- and an allegory of Man in prison (Life) awaiting his own execution for the vague crime of being Different (Alive). As Nabokov says in his preface, he has been compared to Kafka, and there is a resemblance to Kafka, to many others, in the mysterious imprisonment, the impotent seeking, in the confused dream of officialdom. But the long, nightmare, hopeless quality of Kafka is actually quite different from this brilliant, fractured reality in which all ugly, ordinary things are present but displaced; all friends, foes; all escapes,- carefully planned delusions, in an incredibly detailed and propped stage set which the hero demolishes at the last possible moment by refusing to believe, any more, in the necessity of his own destruction. The evolution of betrayals, of private pleas for understanding, freedom and/or acceptance, makes this frequently an agonizing book to read, as is life itself for certain people. There is as well a desperate, farcical humor. As the author himself says of this book- "Most may not see it but I know a few readers who will jump up, ruffling their hair"... Obviously not for the market of Lolita- but critical attention should help to bring this to the attention of an intellectually fastidious audience. (Kirkus Reviews)

Vladimir Nabokov

Born in St. Petersburg in 1899, Vladimir Nabokov was the eldest son of an aristocratic and culturally educated family. Russian, French and English were spoken in the Nabokov household and as a child, Nabokov read authors such as Poe, Melville and Flaubert. Following the Bolshevik revolution, the Nabokovs moved to London before settling in Berlin. Nabokov stayed in England to study at Trinity College Cambridge where he completed his studies. He was married to his wife Vera in 1925. In the first twenty years of writing, Nabokov's writings were in Russian and it was not until later that his works were translated; many by his son Dimitri . In 1940 he moved with his wife and son to America where he lectured at Wellesley College from 1941 to 1948 before filling the post of professor of Russian literature at Cornell until 1959. His first novel written in English was The Real Life of Sebastian Knight written in 1941. Nabokov is arguably most famous for his 1955 novel Lolita. As well as writing novels, Nabokov wrote works of non-fiction; notably on Nikolai Gogol (1944) and Eugene Onegin (1964).

In an interview with Alfred Appel, Nabokov stated that 'the writer's art is his real passport and not his nationality' and that he was 'an American writer who has once been a Russian.' This reflects Nabokov as a writer of great linguistic flexibility and suggests that the early influence of foreign literature perpetuated throughout his life, giving him the tools to portray ideas in different languages. The ideas are the speakers in his work, not the language. This ability to disorganise space is also reflected in Nabokov's own compositional style where he purports in his early years as a writer to have constructed paragraphs in his mind to be re-written later and, later on in his career, to write sections on note cards to be later re-arranged and re-written; the final work appearing as a sequence of mental spaces materialised on paper.

Writers such as Martin Amis and Brian Boyd have positioned Nabokov as one of the greatest writers of the century. Amis has commented that 'to read him in full flight is to experience stimulation that is at once intellectual, imaginative and aesthetic, the nearest thing to pure sensual pleasure that prose can offer.'

Visit Vladimir Nabokov's Booktopia Author Page

ISBN: 9780141185606
ISBN-10: 0141185600
Series: Penguin Modern Classics
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 192
Published: June 2001
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 20.0 x 13.1  x 1.2
Weight (kg): 0.21
Edition Number: 1