The Beauty of the Fictional World in Nabokov’s Bend Sinister

Since the writer himself claims that Bend Sinister is neither “serious fiction” nor “literature of social comment,” I will refrain from making something out of nothing (for, though Nabokov does this through his fiction, I would not wish to offend him, even if he cannot socially comment on my offense, just as Karl Marx perhaps disliked the ruin of his own piece). Rather, I shall make the argument that literature to Nabokov is like beauty to life. It is not the story that matters, but instead “it is for the sake of the pages about David and his father that the book was written and should be read” (xiv).Hence, let us examine what makes Nabokov’s novel so beautiful: What begins as “An oblong puddle inset in the coarse asphalt” transforms into Padukgrad, a fictional and totalitarian state somewhere in Europe that hosts two men of differing philosophies yet similar power (1). Krug, the protagonist, immediately surfaces as a danger to the Ekwilist society, which Paduk rules as dictator.
Although there is a tendency to classify Padukgrad as a dystopia, one must note that Nabokov was highly critical of “Orwell’s cliches,” calling him a “mediocre English [writer]” (2).Nabokov argues that he is “neither a didacticist nor an allegorizer,” both of which could describe Orwell’s anti-totalitarian voice in 1984 (2). Rather, Vladamir Nabokov’s first American novel, Bend Sinister, presents his fictional dictatorship not as an entity on a path to Armageddon, but as a metaphorical chess game, wherein the main character can be interpreted as the White King and the antagonist as the Black King. Eventually, Krug learns that he is in fact playing a live game of chess, and that—ironically—he is the White King in an Armageddon-style chess match for his life. For Krug, a philosopher and professor, there is no draw.Nabokov conscientiously places Krug in Padukgrad, for it is with precision that chess players both set and move their pieces. Whereas a king piece is safest in its initial location, beside the queen and behind a row of pawns, Bend Sinister begins with Krug’s observing “a fancy footprint filled to the brim with quicksilver .
. . from a hospital window” (1-2). Nabokov details a rather wonderful scene of a puddle in November. Beauty, I argue, and the hospital are places of sanctuary, a place where one can reflect on “the beating of [his] loving heart” (xiv). The beauty ends, however.It becomes known that “the operation has not been successful and [Krug’s] wife will die” (2).

In the first chapter, to alight on the metaphor of chess, Krug essentially loses his queen and is subsequently forced to play the rest of the game without what is generally the most powerful piece. Also, it is interesting that he loses his queen in the first person. Throughout most of the novel, Krug is written in the third-person-omniscient voice, and only when the writer intends to remind the reader that Bend Sinister is not a contemporary novel, that it is truly an apocryphal work meant for beauty, does he switch his point of view.Perhaps, Nabokov is presenting the dramatic moment (of the chess game) through Krug’s (the king’s) eyes to convey the move’s gravity. However, Nabokov again shifts to the first person perspective on the second to last page, just after “another and better bullet hit” Krug (240). In this sense, Nabokov utilizes the third person to communicate his story and the first person to denote the loss of White’s two most important pieces—the King and queen, respectively. It is also this style that categorizes Bend Sinister as post-post-modernism literature, for Nabokov clarifies that, “among the chaos of written and rewritten pages .
. a big moth was clinging with furry feet” to his [the metafictional writer’s] window (240). Moreover, I shall use this style to make my own points: Orwell’s dystopic world is made real—Nabokov’s world is made fictionally.This is the greatest distinction between the two books. Bend Sinister remains very much a board of pieces that move according to the novelist. And his characters, in turn, are “absurd images” and “illusions” both to himself and “to Krug” (xiv). In essence, the writer is calling the shots—the balls and strikes, and they ‘ain’t nothing till he calls them.
By this, Nabokov creates Padukgrad, and in it, Krug and Paduk. Interestingly, Padukgrad’s Ekwilist philosophy of the everyman wishes to create a homogenous, clone-like society wherein each individual is equal and outliers are either integrated or removed. This society, like many totalitarian states, seeks unity through similarity. Thus, Nabokov presents Krug as the counterpart to Paduk—White King versus Black King, good versus evil. For example, Adam Krug is depicted as a “philosopher . . .
ith untidy, dusty, or faintly grizzled locks . . . suggestive of the uncouth chess master or of the morose composer, but more intelligent” and Paduk as someone who “never got over superficial neatness” (46, 80). This is important not only because of Nabokov’s explicit metaphor, but also because the Ekwilist philosophy preaches “a remoulding of human individuals in conformity with a well-balanced pattern,” the opposite philosophy of Krug [and Nabokov]. The duality is thusly created by Nabokov through philosophy—another ironic attribute.One pleasure of the book, as the writer would agree, is the humor.
For instance, Paduk institutes “the Party of the Average Man as based on Skotoma’s book,” which argues that “a certain computable amount of human consciousness [is] distributed throughout the population of the world” and that “the proudest intellect and the humblest stupidity depended entirely upon the degree of “world consciousness” (75-76). In this, I find that philosophy kills philosophy, king kills king, and the entire purpose of this book arises.That is, if the sake of the pages are for David and his father (Krug), then the genesis of the Ekwilist philosophy and of Padukgrad are highly significant. David is, after all, killed by both. Nabokov includes in Bend Sinister, after describing the origins of Ekwilism, that Skotoma “omitted to define both the practical method to be pursued and the kind of person or persons responsible for planning and directing the process” (76). I find this quite humorous for several reasons other than those listed afore. First, Paduk breaks Nabokov’s first rule.
Paduk not only takes Skotoma’s book to be “serious literature,” but then he also misinterprets it. To note, this is why I refrain in my introductory paragraph from making something out of nothing and why I mention Marx, whose philosophy like Skotoma’s is essentially ruined by a lesser, more common man. It is also a reason perhaps for Nabokov’s distaste of George Orwell. Second, it is ironic that the “kind of person” who instills this philosophy in Paduk is actually Krug, for Krug drives Paduk in their youth to this uniform extreme.On page 36, for example, Nabokov reveals that Paduk, “the Ruler, colloquially known as the toad, had been a schoolmate” of Krug’s. Then later, on page 50, Krug reveals to his scholarly peers at the University that he “was something of a bully” and “used to trip [Paduk] up and sit upon his face . .
. every blessed day for about five school years. ” This treatment of Paduk eventually leads him to favor the Ekwilist philosophy and form a totalitarian state. It also leads the reader to understand Krug’s and Paduk’s duality, their chess match, and the way in which the White King is losing.Moreover, on the topic of irony and humor (which is beautiful), Bend Sinister is a reflection of Nabokov. One might draw comparison to heraldry whereby the novel derives its name. A sinister is in fact a colored band running from the upper right side of a shield to the lower left side; its opposite is the bend sinister, which runs from left top to right bottom.
In the novel, Paduk represents the bend sinister of the shield and Krug represents the sinister, in that the Ekwilist philosophy (the extreme of socialism if you will) is a sinister (evil) bend to the left.Also worthwhile to point out is the name of the shield’s surface—the field. A chess match is a battle of kings and pawns on a battlefield. I make my final and daring argument here, as I still wish not to make something out of nothing, but I wish more to make something rather than nothing: Adam Krug is the metaphorical bend sinister to Nabokov. For instance, Adam Krug is “a non-smoker,” whereas Nabokov admits that his “daily consumption of cigarettes had reached the four-package mark” (36, xi). Also, the voice of the novel switches between the writer’s conscious thoughts and Krug’s story.In this way, Krug is Nabokov and Nabokov is Krug, but they are not entirely the same.
They are the duality of the writer. Just as the protagonist is the king of the book, so too is the novelist. But because Krug is the non-conscientious half, at least in reality, he is the bend sinister of what is good. Literature is often taken out of context or made to be something out of nothing, and Nabokov hated this fact. I have drawn references to Orwell throughout because he, to the abhorrence of Nabokov, wrote in protest to leftist totalitarian states.By doing this, Orwell is upholding the greatest mistake of making something out of nothing because all totalitarian states, like Padukgrad with Ekwilism, take literature or philosophy out of context, and thus, to make a story from nothing results in nothing. Nabokov, a man of true genius, does not present Krug as one.
For, although Krug is the greatest thinker in his own world, the fictional world is not real. The fictional world is merely aesthetics for the ‘real world. ’ And the sake of his presentation is merely for “David and his father,” Nabokov’s beautiful creations.

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