Russian or German? National self-identification in the novel ‘Despair’ by Vladimir Nabokov

In the twentieth century, the problem of national identity became relevant due to the onset of globalization, and the emergence of multi-ethnic societies. Another reason for attention to the problem of national identity was the spread of nationalist ideology. In the scientific literature there are concepts of ‘cultural identity’, ‘national identity’ and ‘ethnic identity’. Identification is associated with evaluation, with the comprehension or unconscious experience of a person of his place in the social and cultural world surrounding him. By Weber’s definition, ethnic identity is a sense of belonging to a particular cultural tradition. Identity implies a conscious acceptance by the individual of cultural values, language, norms and rules of behavior peculiar to his native culture and shaping his value attitude to himself, to other people, to society and the world as a whole. In modern anthropology, the concept of a ‘nation’ is regarded as being broader than ‘ethnos’. Therefore, identification means referring not to an origin, but to a type of a culture. However, ethnic identification does not completely coincide with cultural identity, since the basis for establishing identity can be physiological (congenital) correspondences.

National identification implies a correlation with the cultural tradition, although, the culture of the nation is not homogeneous; in the presence of national symbols and archetypes, the cultural codes of different subcultures of one society differ substantially. That is, cultural identification specifies the national, and it is significant, with what subculture, the subject of the word/thought identifies himself.

Identification is associated with self-awareness. According to Gori and Ivanova, every ‘image of oneself’ can be represented by three components: ‘others’ image of the individual’ , ‘image for oneself’ and ‘one’s self-image’. The ‘image for oneself’ is realized by society and represents a set of characteristics that are desirable for oneself. The ‘other’s image of the individual’, can be presented as a set of attributions attributed to oneself which are ‘translated’ into the language of other cultures. ‘One’s self-image’ is unconscious, but it is it who determines the consistency and rhythm of the actions of members of the ethnos. These provisions are the methodological grounds for analyzing the problem of national identification in Nabokov’s novel, which give an idea of the dynamics of the protagonist’s self-awareness. The hero’s ‘self-image’ becomes clear in the plot in the conditions of the discrepancy between his ‘image for himself’ and ‘others’ image of him’. The aim of this essay is to analyze the features of the national identification of the protagonist, the bearer of two cultures: Russian and German. Also, to identify the cultural orientations and values of the hero, explaining the addressing of his crime to the Germans, and his masterpiece to the Russians.

The problem of national identification is especially relevant for emigrant culture. Collision with non-native culture leads to a critical perception of this culture and to a reasonable desire to evaluate the native. The life of the diaspora, firstly, largely predetermines the marginal existence of a non-native state in society, and secondly, it nourishes nationalist ideas that affirm the importance of the native culture. Smenovekhovstvo (‘changing signposts’), Eurasianism, which developed the ideology of the Slavophils, asserted the existence of a special historical and spiritual mission of Russia in the modern world. The ideological guidelines of the Russian intelligentsia in Europe contrasted both with the values of mass culture, and with nationalistic ideas that have become the ideological basis of fascism. Eurasian ideology justified the identity of different cultures, which cannot be assessed by the level of European civilization. This context is easily discerned in Nabokov’s works, but against this background his alternative version of national self-determination associated with individualism emerges, with the realization of a heroic, personal and existential mission (in the novels Glory and The Gift). Nabokov’s ‘russianness’ manifests itself in a non-aggressive, open, non-pragmatic world-view; in a sense of nature and culture, where Pushkin is the ‘landmark’.

Cultural context of Nabokov’s works of the 1930s, allows the reader to see that the writer, not sharing the philosophical-Christian, Eurasian (nationalist in essence) philosophy, asserting (in interviews and autobiographies) his cosmopolitanism, entered into a dialogue with his contemporaries, giving his interpretation of the problem of national identification in the novels Glory, Despair, and The Gift. In these novels, national self-identification is brought to the fore in the minds of heroes. Self-determination in the context of modern history distinguishes Martin, Hermann and Godunov-Cherdyntsev from the heroes of the novels The Defense, The Eye and Invitation to a Beheading, where in the center, is the escape from reality into consciousness and creativity.

The novel Despair is interesting because national self-determination is committed by a man of half Russian half German origin, who was educated in Russia and feels himself the bearer of two unrelated cultures – Russian and German. In Germany, he feels himself not an emigrant, but a native; his negative emotions are connected not with Soviet power, but with tsarist Russia, where he was interned as a ‘German subject’ from St. Petersburg to Astrakhan, the cultural periphery, the place of exile. In the portrait of the protagonist of Despair, the features inherent in the German bourgeoisie are detected. First of all, it is self-confidence and a firm belief in his importance; the hero is a full member of the consumer society, believing that the surrounding reality is created for him (this right Hermann brings to the extreme, using for his needs human life). In the center of the model of Hermann’s world, he himself has no equal, his is an exception. His self-identification is complicated by the fact that he is looking for similarities, systems, correspondences, but unconsciously wants to remain unique and better than others.

The monologue of the character’s consciousness explains the way of narration in the novel. Hermann, perceiving others as objects of his interpretation, becomes Nabokov’s subject of narration, not capable of dialogue. Absence of the ability to perceive alternative versions of himself and facts of reality (this is shown in the episodes of the first meeting with his double, contemplation of his portrait, reading of the press about the crime committed by him) is combined in the character of the hero with the absence of clear life principles and goals. The main story collision is when Hermann meets Felix, a man like him, a double, as it seems to the hero. The design and implementation of the murder for the purpose of substituting and assigning someone else’s name, writing a text about it after the plan failed, has no direct connection with the national identity. The ability to commit a crime and creativity are related to the national mentality of the hero. The national identification of the hero proceeds subconsciously, it is reconstructed in a plot from his version of his origin, his assessments of works by Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Marx, from the memories of the past and the analysis of his literary work.

Hermann pays a lot of attention to describing his appearance and seeks to convey his visible appearance through words (in the plot, ekphrasis is used by Hermann to convince the reader of his text in his resemblance to Felix, but leads to the problem of self-identity). Defining his type of face, Hermann says that he ‘looked like Amundsen’ (Despair, 12) (Norwegian by nationality), who has distant features from East Slavic features, at the same time it is a sign of the Scandinavian (‘Varangian’) sub-ethnos, according to the legends that made up the ruling elite of Ruthenia. Nabokov gives a link to a specific visual appearance, not conforming how much the image of the hero corresponds to this image in reality. The main thing is that Hermann perceives himself like this; his self-portrait certifies his physiognomic correspondence to the European, Nordic type. His narcissism contrasts with the vision of his appearance by the artist, who in the portrait reflects the ‘ruddy horror’ (Despair, 43) of Hermann’s face. Although Hermann is pleased with his appearance, manners, the perception of the other pushes him to self-doubt, self-knowledge and deeper identification.

The name of the protagonist includes two connotations: first, der German – a German, and second, der Herr man or Mann – combination of a lexeme ‘Sir’ ‘Mr.’ with an impersonal pronoun or the nominal noun ‘man’. If the second meaning clarifies the cultural and social essence of the hero – he is a mass man, although he claims the status of an intellectual, the first indicates his connection with Germany. Should be noted that one of Hermann’s expected consequences of murder and substitution of the double should be the replacement of the name: ‘My real name will have died’ (Despair, 107). This can be interpreted as a subconscious desire of the hero to conceal or change his former essence, connected with Germany. It is important for Hermann to get out of the specific socio-historical, geographical, economic circumstances (from Germany in an economic crisis), and also to kill in himself the German bourgeois, freeing up the place for the poet. At the same time, the main point of disappearance/substitution is not in the non-acceptance of his second homeland, not in the rejection of German origin (Felix is also half German half Czech), but in the desire to ‘change life’, his existential-ontological situation of sudden instability, uncertainty, and duality. The assigned name of Felix, as Hermann himself emphasizes, means ‘happy’ (Despair, 9). The future happiness after the murder and the substitution of the double, in Hermann’s fantasies is associated with the disappearance from Germany, a withdrawal from business, the replacement of the status of the bourgeois on the ‘respectable rentier’ (Despair, 39), engaged in creativity in France. France stereotypically is perceived as a country of love, and it is on family happiness with his wife, without intrusive rivals (Ardalion) the hero counts, having disappeared from the previous environment. Profaning Pushkin’s poem ‘It’s Time, My Friend…’, Hermann, a ‘weary slave’ (Despair, 48), craves for liberation, escape from the existing social relations in nature and in creativity.

Another reference point for identification is the origin that Hermann reconstructs in the exposition of the narrative: ‘My father was a Russian-speaking German from Reval, where he went to a famous agricultural college. My mother, a pure Russian, came from an old princely stock.’ (Despair, 1). Hermann focuses attention, firstly, on his nationality: half Russian half German (his father does not come from Germany, but from Estonia), and secondly, on the social-class status of his origin. He speaks frankly about his father, and about the origin of the mother he lies: ‘that bit about my mother was a deliberate lie. In reality, she was a woman of the people, simple and coarse’ (Despair, 2). Origin, as well as personal destiny (born and raised in Russia, interned in Astrakhan in 1914, he left for Germany in 1920), connects Hermann not only with two cultures, but also with two axiological paradigms. In Europe, his life considerably changes, when he changed his social status. He achieves by his own labour a respected position in German society (he is the owner of a chocolate factory), having overcome the low social position of his grandfather (‘herded geese in his youth’ (Despair, 120)) and his father. Nonetheless, Hermann questions the significance of bourgeois life, because European values are not absolute for him, corrected by those ‘soaked’ in Russia, but which he does not match. The fantasies and regrets of Hermann (the version of the mother’s origin, forcibly interrupted schooling at the university) speak of his two orientations connected with Russia – the nobility and the intelligentsia, which correspond with the bohemian life, with the possibility of creating, placing spiritual values above material ones.

There is also a more pragmatic basis for Hermann to abandon bourgeois values: dissatisfaction arose during the European economic crisis (late 1920s), which also affected his affairs, when the stability of his position was in jeopardy. The desire to improve his material condition by killing the double, having received insurance for his own life, is one of the leading motives (although Hermann denies this) of the crime. In Hermann’s mind, the value orientations laid down in Russia, when he was a student, and then actual ones in Germany are constantly collapsing. He tries to convince the reader that outside the philistine life, hidden from the surrounding, is present his creative inner life. In his mind his social status (bourgeois) is associated with his German origin, and his creativity with the Russian half (in Russian he writes his story).

Hermann differentiates various aspects and phenomena of German and Russian national culture, opposing himself to his wife Lydia, whose national identity is realized within the boundaries of established stereotypes: ‘The only kind of tree she is capable of identifying is the birch: reminds her of her native woodland, she says.’ (Despair, 17). Her attitude toward foreigners is predetermined by judgments about the role of nations and states in establishing the Soviet regime in Russia:

She hates Lloyd George; had it not been him, the Russian Empire would not have fallen; and – generally: ‘I could strangle those English with my own hands.’ Germans get their due for that sealed train in which Bolshevism was tinned, and Lenin imported to Russia. Speaking of the French: ‘Do you know, Ardalion [a cousin of hers who had fought with the White Army] says they behaved like down-right cads in Odessa during the evacuation’ (Despair, 16-17).

Hermann identifies himself with the Germans when is asked by Felix, if he considers himself German. He is proud of his face and European appearance (clothes, accessories of the bourgeois) and assesses the merits of the German mentality manifested in the arrangement of everyday life. Hermann notices frugality, pragmatism in everyday rituals of German culture. An example is when Orlovius stirs his tea, ‘in the German fashion – that is, not with spoon, but by means of a circular motion of the wrist – so as not to waste the sugar settled at the bottom.’ (Despair, 38). He proudly contrasts his love for order, accuracy, quality of life and character (inherent in the Germans) with the domestic behaviour and irrationalism of Lydia. He does not question the priority of the German national mentality (organized, logical, coherent, civilized) over the Russian, but disparagingly refers to the Germans: ‘sullen-haired little man’ (Despair, 62), ‘Bismarck like worthy in frogged dressing’ (Despair, 25). The use of the name of the well-known German unifier in the nominal meaning also indicates the disrespectful attitude of Hermann to his second homeland.

Hermann has no memories of a ten-year stay in Germany, while memories of life in Russia are constant, intrusive and emotionally coloured. Hence, the identification of himself with the German nation, occurs at the level of profound behavioural attitudes and way of life. It is a space of social and physical existence (home, office). The axiology of German culture, given by philosophy and literature, is limited in his mind. From the German thinkers, Hermann mentions only Marx, who, in his opinion, accurately grasped the basis of modern bourgeois culture and social existence: ‘[…] (Marxism getting the nearest to Absolute Truth, as I always say) – the indecision of an owner who is always loath (such being his very existence) to part with property’ (Despair, 94). In the logic of this ideology, the reader can also consider the murder committed by Hermann. By killing Felix, Hermann regains his exclusivity, the sole right to appearance. The subsequent actions of Hermann (largely unconscious) are aimed at subjugating Felix, in order to make Felix a submissive thing, to establish his superiority. The successful solution of this task (Felix agrees to become a German double, that is, to play the role of a victim) leads to unexpected results for Hermann: he cannot forget ‘the ridiculous, brainless, automatous quality of his submissiveness.’ (Despair, 134); it is these memories that torment Hermann.

The Marxist theory in Hermann’s mind is connected with Nietzsche’s ideas, although Nietzsche is not mentioned in the narrative, and this is significant because the hero is not able to understand the relationship of his action with Nietzschean ethics, whereas Nabokov makes this connection quite transparent. Nabokov leads the protagonist to unexpected torments, although without repentance, refutes Nietzschean ethics, and shows its flaw – Hermann does not become better, stronger, or more talented, but feels ‘a grotesque resemblance to Raskolnikov’ (Despair, 144). Murder can be interpreted as a manifestation of the ‘germanness’ of Hermann. Firstly, it is an act corresponding to the ‘German idea’ (Nietzchean, fascist), which grew out of Darwin’s natural scientific concept – ‘survival of the fittest’ (according to Hermann, this also corresponds to Soviet ideology). Secondly, already being in France, Hermann intuitively ‘writes off’ the negative assessment of his deed on the stereotypical perception of the German nation (strengthened after the First World War) as unreasonably cruel and aggressive:

‘How dare you – Of my land, of my people… be silent! Be silent,’ I cried ever louder: ‘You!… To dare tell me to my face that in Germany – Be silent!’’ The other person interpret his reaction as a protest against the accusation of the Germans: ‘Only a misunderstand! I, with my usual saying that we’ve had our will of wars… You’ve got your defects, and we’ve got ours. Politics should be forgotten […] But appease yourself, my friend, it is not only in Germany that murderers exist’ (Despair, 143-144).

Thirdly, Hermann insists that the murder in his mind is an aesthetic act, he was intended to prove the genius of the murderer. The murder, perceived by the hero as a text, was intended for the German public, the main addressee of his message was the German (wider – European) society. Facing with misunderstanding of his plan, Hermann begins to write a text about himself, his actions and his motives, but he changes the addressee. He writes the text in Russian and expresses the hope that his ‘story’ will be known to the Russian-speaking reader: ‘but is written in Russian and not at all translatable’ (Despair, 119).

In both cases, Hermann is unsure of himself, therefore, he prefers to hide his authorship of both ‘works’. The impossibility to find the murderer of the ideal crime serves as a guarantee of his incognito in the first case, and he decides to publish the text not in his own name (this, of course, is due to the belief that the crime will not be revealed, and the text may become a clue), not under a pseudonym, but to hand it over to a Russian émigré writer who will probably assign authorship to himself. This position of Hermann can be explained by the desire to prove his worth to himself, and not to another, and the fear that his genius will not be appreciated. Hiding the authorship gives him the opportunity to read reviews, know the evaluation of his work, but at the same time remain unrecognized. Hermann sends various types of ‘texts’ to different cultures. In the history of Germany, he must remain as an unnamed genius killer, in the history of Russian culture – the hero of the brilliant work, the object of aesthetic evaluation (Russian readers will have an opportunity to appreciate not only the literary but also the criminal talent of Hermann): ‘in order to obtain recognition, to justify and save the offspring of my brain, to explain to the world all the depth of my masterpiece, did I device the writing of the present tale.’ (Despair, 149). In the choice to write a story about himself in Russian, his resentment against the Europeans comes out, and a derogatory assessment of a German society that is not capable (‘due to the inertia’ (Despair, 148)) of recognizing his genius. Hermann blames European society for the injustice and primitiveness of the attitude towards himself: ‘[…] mouths hidden, and snouts turned away, silent, but all aquiver, the ruffians, bubbling over with joy, yes, with an evil vindictive joy; yes, vindictive, jeering, unbearable’ (Despair, 143). From the Russian, especially the Soviet public, Hermann expects a ‘deeper and finer attitude towards masterpiece’ (Despair, 146), but his identification with the Russians is differentiated, and the attitude towards Russia is ambiguous. Hermann is associated with Russia by his education, knowledge of culture, language proficiency, and personal memories. He follows Russian norms of nonverbal communication, different from European ones: ‘I started removing – as the rules of Russian politeness request – the glove from the hand I was going to proffer’ (Despair, 100). A bare hand at the handshake can be interpreted as the Russians’ inclination to openness, to the unofficial relations. But this code is not updated in the situation, as, firstly, Hermann sees Orlovius only as a useful acquaintance, who should play a certain role in his plans. His openness before Orlovius is imaginary (he tells him that he suspects his wife of cheating on him, although he does not believe in it, considers it a good lie); secondly, this code is not read by the addressee (for Orlovius, a bare hand does not mean anything). Hermann habits form the basis of social behaviour, and Russian ones are irrelevant.

Hermann is not free from unconscious feelings connected with the Russian climate. He ironically notes that his wife constantly compares the Berlin weather with the Russian: ‘‘How lovely it ought to be in Russia now’, she said (similar utterances came from her in early spring and on fine winter days: summer weather alone had no action at all upon her imagination)’ (Despair, 47-48). The plot of the crime arises in the Berlin autumn, and Hermann quotes Pushkin’s poem, pondering the plan of ‘escape’ from the prevailing circumstances of his life (an allusion to the Boldino autumn); he commits the murder ‘in the cold wood’ (Despair, 128), at the beginning of March, when it is still cold, snow lies, and then it’s the snow landscape that inopportunely breaks into his other memories. It is clear that the distribution of events in time is not explained only by the memory of the Russian climate and associations with it. This distribution also coincides with the archetypal notions of the seasons: the implementation of the plan takes place in the autumn, and the murder is in March; and after, Hermann anticipates his spring ‘rebirth’.

In the memories of Hermann, two assessments of life dominate in Russia. He recalls adolescence in order to establish the development of his inclinations as exceptional; here a calm tone and self-satisfaction prevails. Memories of youth linked with exile, emerge regardless of Hermann’s will, under the impression of meeting people, with the realities of German reality. His painful reactions to memories of life in Russia suggest that there is no nostalgia for the humiliating past in the ‘Volga village’ (Despair, 52). He calls the realities that caused the memories, ‘certain refuse particles of my past’ (Despair, 54), ‘false-innocent combinations of details, which smack revoltingly of plagiarism’ (Despair, 54). These memories are not needed, but Hermann cannot get rid of them. Repetitions of memories show a feeling of untruth, of the effect of the mirror of life in Germany. Hermann, reflecting the mechanism of the formation of memories, realizes that the reality ‘obsequiously’ adapts to the images in his memory:

I went to the window and looked out: there was a dreary courtyard down there and a round-backed Tartar in an embroidered skullcap was showing a small blue carpet to a buxom barefooted woman. Now I knew that woman and I recognized that Tartar too, and the patch of weeds […] and when I turned to the window again it was no longer a Tartar whom I saw there but some local peddler selling braces, and the woman was gone. But while I looked there started afresh that process of fusion […] there reappeared, growing and clustering, those weeds in a corner of the yard, and again red-haired Christina Forsmann […] I could not discover what the kernel was, around which all those things were formed […] I should have finally found the trifle, which, unconsciously noticed me, had at once set going the engine of memory (or, again, I should not have found it, the simple, nonliterary explanation being that everything in that provincial German hotel chamber […] vaguely and uglily resembled something seen in Russia ages ago). (Despair, 51-52).

Hermann fears that his idea of the world and himself is false, but then the point of support of his existence disappears, and his own consciousness turns out to be subordinate to external reality. He perceives himself as a part of the Russian intelligentsia, opposing himself to the ‘Russian peasant’, whose features he sees in Ardalion: ‘fat-nosed’ (Despair, 26), ‘poor as a sparrow’ (Despair, 24), ‘hailed from Moscow, where people are fond of waggish slang full of lush trivialities’ (Despair, 25). In this comparison, it is not the nationality that is important but the social hierarchy. Ardalion is identified with Felix, the ‘German peasant’ (Despair, 70), a representative of the ‘plebeian’s backwardness’ (Despair, 70). Perceiving them as beggars with unrealized dreams, Hermann notes their ‘physical uncleanness’ and ‘spiritual squalor’. Nonetheless, they are with him in regard to duality, rivalry, that is, it is with them that identification takes place, provoking in Germany the desire to get rid of them. That is, not extreme individualism and the ‘sense of ownership’ (according to Marx) are pushing Hermann to murder, but the comprehension of ‘inferiority’ in himself and the desire to get rid of it.

There is a sense of unfulfillment related to Russia, the collapse of hopes of getting access to higher education: ‘During the war, I was interned as a German subject […] joly bad luck, considering that I had just entered University of St Petersburg’ (Despair, 2), and a state of neglect: ‘During the War, I moped in a fishing village not far from Astrakhan, and had it not been for books, I doubt whether I should have lived there through those dingy years’ (Despair, 36). Therefore, the return to Russia, through the text (his masterpiece) proving his genius, is very important for Hermann. However, this is not the only and perhaps not the main motive of the desire to return to Russia. Hermann received primary and secondary education in Russia, and it is Russian literature, of which he can become a part due to his book, is distinguished by Hermann. It reveals the main ‘landmarks’: Pushkin, and Raskolnikov’s doubles (the hero of Dostoyevsky). At the same time, the ideal of Pushkin’s ‘abode of pure delight’ (Despair, 48) is profaned by Hermann in order to do nothing, to be a ‘respectable rentier’ (Despair, 39). A repulsion from Dostoyevsky throughout the entire narrative in the finale, leads to an understanding of the correspondence of Raskolnikov. Eliminating the possible juxtaposition, Hermann says that ‘any remorse on my part is absolutely out of the question’ (Despair, 135), he does not doubt his ‘righteousness’, does not believe in God, and the external imperative does not function in his consciousness. The rapprochement with Raskolnikov is the realization of the senselessness of the murder, which has proved nothing to no one, but revealed a terrible thing in it, from which he hides, grows a beard and cease to look in the mirror. Reading his masterpiece becomes an alternative to Dostoyevsky’s finale, which revealed repentance and the possibility of redemption. Hermann remain within the boundaries of Nietzschean ethics, and the realization of the imperfection of his ‘self’, leads him to despair. The hero things out the fate of his story, which he begins to write after the recognition of his genius by the Germans, and ends with an escape to despair:

Having at last made up my mind to give my manuscript to one who is sure to like it […] I am fully aware of the fact that my chosen one […] an émigré novelist, whose books cannot possibly appear in the U.S.S.R. Maybe, however, an exception will be made for this book, considering that it was not you who actually wrote it. Oh, how I cherish the hope that in spite of your émigré signature […] my book may find a market in the U.S.S.R! (Despair, 120)

At the heart of the positive attitude of Hermann to Soviet Russia and the underlying ideology are not national, but ontological and ethical aspects. With Soviet Russia, Hermann has atheism, which led to Nietzschean morality, which is based on the human right to murder. Hermann considers himself entitled to deprive his non-ideal double of life, aestheticize death; the basis of the Soviet regime is the right to sacrifice the lives of some people for the sake of human happiness, for the sake of justice (these are variants of Raskolnikov’s plan). Such morality leads to a change in ontological landmarks; the life of an individual is deprived of the absolute value to which it was endowed in a humanistic culture. Soviet ideology operates with more general concepts of ‘humanity’, ‘society’, ‘class’, i.e. the life of the social system as a whole is more significant than the individual person. Hermann after the murder reveals a flaw in this ideology – murder kills the murderer. He feels similar to Raskolnikov’s feeling of devastation, the murder of a double has destroyed the illusions of satisfaction with himself: ‘Try as I may I do not succeed in getting back into my original envelope […] bits of my past litter the floor’ (Despair, 14).


Nabokov repeatedly in interviews and autobiographies speaks about his cosmopolitanism, about the perception of man outside his nationality. In artistic prose, he stably characterizes the German characters as carriers of mass values or seduced by them; plots of novels (Despair, Laughter in the Dark, King, Queen, Knave) about the Germans are invariably connected with the crime, they put forward ethical issues. This does not mean Nabokov’s idealization of the Russian nation, but the subjects of the novels about Russian emigrants are different. The perception of the nation according to Nabokov is historical. National cultures are mobile, changeable. By making the murderer of a pro-Soviet German, Nabokov reacts to specific historical events, to the trends of time. National self-identification explains the choice of the hero of Despair, but nationality does not determine fate, choice of values, personality, because any culture asks negative and positive guidelines. There is no national predisposition to crime or heroic deeds, it all depends on personal choice.


Primary sources:

Nabokov, V. (2012). Despair. London: Penguin Classics.

Secondary sources:

Bell-Villada, G. (2014). On Nabokov, Ayn Rand and The Libertarian Mind. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Connolly, J. (1999). Nabokov’s Early Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gilley, C. and Golczewski, F. (2009). The “Change of Signposts” in The Ukrainian Emigration. Columbia University Press.

Gori, M. and Ivanova, M. (2017). Balkan Dialogues: Negotiating Identity Between Prehistory and the Present. London and New York: Routledge.

Kellman, S. (2000). Torpid Smoke. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Marti, G. (2009). A Mosaic of Believers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Perry, M. and Schweitzer, F. (2002). Myth and Hate. New York: Palgrave.

Rodgers, M. and Sweeney, S. (2016). Nabokov and The Question of Morality. Springer.

Rossman, V. (2002). Russian Intellectual Antisemitism in The Post-Communist Era. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press for the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Tammi, P. (1999). Russian Subtexts in Nabokov’s Fiction. Tampere: Tampere University Press.

Thompson, W. (2012). Nordic, Central, & Southeastern Europe 2012. Lanham, MD: Stryker-Post Publications.

Wanner, A. (2011). Out of Russia. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

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