; Literary Encyclopedia

Recommended reading for Otchaianie

Davydov, Sergej.“\’Despair\’.” The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov. Ed. Vladimir E. Alexandrov. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995. 88-101. Print.

Recommended by Neil Cornwell

This 'Garland Companion' essay is based on Davydov's article 'The Shattered Mirror: A Study of Nabokov's Destructive Method in "Despair"', published in 'Structuralist Review', 2:2 (Winter 1981), pp. 25-38. Davydov concentrates, among other things, on the 'matreshka' construction of 'Despair', and its textual mirror symmetry, in the relationship between Hermann's 'tale' and Nabokov's novel, with some emphasis too on the Russian punning within the original (Sirin) text.

Cornwell, Neil.“Notes on Fantastic/Gothic Elements in Nabokov’s ’Despair’.” Neo-Formalist Papers. Ed. Joe Andrew and Robert Reid. Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1998. 168-180. Print.

Recommended by Neil Cornwell

The current version of the Literary Encyclopedia entry on this novel is taken in part from this essay. See the essay itself for a fuller version of many of the points raised: Nabokov's revision of the 'double' theme and use of a number of 'fantastic' elements.

Grayson, Jane. Nabokov Translated: A Comparison of Nabokov’s Russian and English Prose. Rochester and London: Oxford University Press, 1977. Print.

Recommended by Neil Cornwell

Chapter 4 of Jane Grayson's study (pp. 59-89) covers 'Major Reworkings: "Despair" and "The Eye"', with most of the chapter devoted to "Despair", and Nabokov's reworkings between the original Russian and the final English versions.

Shapiro, Gavriel, ed. Nabokov at Cornell. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003. Print.

Recommended by Neil Cornwell

Donald Barton Johnson fixes his attention on Hermann's crime itself in "Despair", comparing its details with newspaper accounts of actual crimes committed shortly before the time of its original writing - British and German cases - of which Nabokov may well have been aware.

Kanevskaya, Marina.“‘The Semiotic Validity of the Mirror Image in Nabokov’s ’Despair’’.” Nabokov at Cornell. Ed. Gavriel Shapiro. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003. 20-29. Print.

Recommended by Neil Cornwell

Marina Kanevskaya offers a detailed examination of Nabokov's use of the important motif of the mirror image in "Despair", taking her approach from Umberto Eco's chapter on "Mirrors", in his book "Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language" (Indiana UP, 1983). She concludes that real meanings of the mirror image 'remain closed for Hermann, and he remains confined to the reflecting surface of his own misconceptions'.

Meyer, Priscilla.“Black and Violet Words: \"Despair"\ and \‘The Real Life of Sebastian Knight’\ As Doubles.” Nabokov Studies 4 (1997): n. pag. Print.

Recommended by Neil Cornwell

This article compares Nabokov's treatment of the theme of doubles in two of his novels first written in the 1930s: "Despair" and "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight", looking closely at motifs, details,the Narcissus theme, and themes of the Russian past, art and life, death and immortality.

Dolinin, Alexander.“‘The Caning of Modernist Profaners: Parody in ’Despair’’.” Cycnos 12 (1995): n. pag. Print.

Recommended by Neil Cornwell

In this paper, Dolinin departs from the more usual practice of an intertextual reading of "Despair", centered on allusions therein to Dostoevsky and other figures, in order to read the novel, in its original Russian text (written in 1932-33), as a lampoon of Russian modernist fiction of the 1910s and 1920s, arguing for Nabokov's use of Hermann as a writer to parody a number of his contemporaries. An expanded version of this essay appears now on the Zembla website - see: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/forians.htm

Blackwell, Stephen H.“Nabokov’s Wiener-Schnitzel Dreams: ’Despair’ and Anti-Freudian Poetics.” Nabokov Studies 7 (2002): n. pag. Print.

Recommended by Neil Cornwell

Stephen Blackwell takes "Despair" as representing 'the first full development of Nabokov's artistic attack upon Freud'. Underlying this novel, he argues, the myth of Attis and Cybele displaces the Freudian centrality of the Oedipal myth - the former being a story 'involving infidelity, murder, madness, self-castration and resurrection'. Phallic symbols are seen to abound and the motif of self-mutilation, at one level or another, is perceived to be prominently developed. "Despair" is thus underlyingly permeated by Nabokov's approach to Freud, which is one encompassing both parody and critique.

Add Recommended Reading