Loss and Death


Vladimir Nabokov

From The New York Times:

The Russian Revolution upended the lives of Vladimir Nabokov and his family. Leaving behind an aristocratic world of colossal wealth and privilege (a world about which he could speak of “the smallest and oldest of our gardeners”), Nabokov would become an exile in Berlin, where he supported himself as a tutor, teaching French, English and tennis. On March 28, 1922, his father, a liberal politician, was shot and killed at a Berlin lecture while trying to protect another man from an assassin — a loss that would reverberate throughout Nabokov’s life and fiction.

Loss and death are the two electrical currents that run beneath his polished, magical prose, and those themes — as well as the subject of revolution and its consequences — are the animating forces behind the play “The Tragedy of Mister Morn,” his first major work, written in the winter of 1923-24, when he was only 24.

In his astute introduction to this volume, the scholar Thomas Karshan notes that “Mister Morn” was never performed or published in Nabokov’s lifetime: the Russian text was published in a Russian literary journal in 1997 and a revised version (the basis for this first English translation, by Mr. Karshan and Anastasia Tolstoy) only became available to a wider Russian-reading audience in 2008. Shakespeare is the presiding muse in this play: from its use of blank verse to its fascination with disguised (or masked) characters, and its investigation of kingship and the relationship between personality and politics.

Though Nabokov’s hatred of the Soviet regime “is directly expressed in much of his writing,” Mr. Karshan argues, “he would never again write anywhere nearly so directly about the moment of revolution itself, or so probingly about ideology, as he did in ‘Morn.’

“Master’s Blueprint, Born of Revolution”, Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times