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King, Queen, Knave : Penguin Modern Classics - Vladimir Nabokov

King, Queen, Knave

Penguin Modern Classics

By: Vladimir Nabokov, Dmitri Nabokov (Translator)


Published: May 2001
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'Of all my novels this bright brute is the gayest, ' Nabokov wrote of King, Queen, Knave. Comic, sensual and cerebral, it dramatizes an Oedipal love triangle, a tragi-comedy of husband, wife and lover, through Dreyer the rich businessman, his ripe-lipped and mercenary wife Martha, and their bespectacled nephew Franz. 'If a resolute Freudian manages to slip in' - Nabokov darts a glance to the reader - 'he or she should be warned that a number of cruel traps have been set here and there...'

This is Nabokov's second novel, written in 1928, which he has recently retouched and which he presents here in a new introduction as his "gayest." Certainly almost to the end, its tone of bonhomie - even buffoonery - prevails and the internal paradox of his later and more important works gives way to external parody. When the novel first appeared, many critics held that it was a "merciless satire of contemporary German bourgeois life" and, Andrew Field to the contrary, certainly it does purvey the heavy comforts of kleinburgerlich life, from roast goose down to the silver mustache brush. And as lived by Dreyer, a businessman with a successful emporium and grossly physical energies, and his bored if glisteningly sensuous Marthe. She's a Berliner Bovary (Mr. Nabokov readily admits the influence), but along with her husband, her villa, her automobile, she has reached a point of domestic tedium and is ready for a lover. The knave is none other than Dryer's nephew Franz, purblind behind his thick glasses, provincial, callow, but at first eager. The necessarily abbreviated if frequent amorous rendezvous lead on - to the willful Marthe's desires to have her freedom along with her husband's wherewithal; to her plan to kill him in which Franz is an increasingly uncomfortable collaborator; to the unexpected reverse in which fate holds the high trump card. . . . Toward the close, with the obsessive projections in the minds of Marthe (as she envisions Dreyer's demise) and Dreyer (his preoccupations with a mechanical mannequin) there are just traces of the later, quintessential Nabokov, and almost none of the stylistic subtleties. However, in terms of the general reader, this is one of his most open-faced entertainments and while Nabokov really plays the hand, he does so in a jauntily diabolical fashion. (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: 9780141185774
ISBN-10: 0141185775
Series: Penguin Modern Classics
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 288
Published: May 2001
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 12.9  x 1.7
Weight (kg): 0.21
Edition Number: 1