Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading

More Questions for Reading:

  1. How does having We in your memory impact your reading of Invitation? Another subtext is Charles Beaudelaire's poem "L'Invitation au voyage" ("The Invitation to a Voyage," see fleusdumal.org for the original and four different translations into English; this poem also casts a less creepy light on the character of Emmie).
  2. What other subtexts do you notice - be they literary or historical?
  3. How do you react to learning more about M'sieur Pierre's identity?
  4. Some scholars have suggested that M'sieur Pierre is to some extent a parody of Porfiry Petrovich, the persistent police detective in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Porfiry Petrovich is overweight and comments on how it's bad for him; he ties Raskolnikov up in small talk; he irritates Raskolnikov by calling him "голубчик" (literally "little pigeon" or "little dove," but "Duckie" isn't a bad translation, as Dmitri Nabokov renders it towards the end of this book). If you've read Crime and Punishment, do you see any merit to that suggestion?
  5. Note how often it happens that the reader can't be certain what is "really" happening, or has to decide among several options, or decide to suspend judgment. (Does this quality bug you?)
  6. To what extent does it matter (casting an extra pathos?) that the novel is set in a distant future?
  7. If you have read The Gift (Дар), how would you compare the scaffold at the end to the description of Chernyshevsky's scaffold (at his civil execution) in that novel?
  8. Note the open-ended ending: would you say this is typical of SF? How does the effect of the ending on the reader compare to that of the ending of We?
picture of Nabokov from the front of a book

Return to the syllabus for Russian and East European Science Fiction.