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

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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 clichés,” 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...
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