Silent Love: The Annotation and Interpretation of Nabokov’s "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight"

Silent Love: The Annotation and Interpretation of Nabokov’s "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight"

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Gerard de Vries

ISBN: 9781618114990 (hardcover), 9781618118332 (paperback)
Pages: 232 pp. 
Publication Date: May 2016

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The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is one of Vladimir Nabokov’s most autobiographical novels and it has often been observed that Sebastian’s passionate affair with the femme fatale Nina Rechnoy is a dramatized extension of Nabokov’s infatuation with Irina Guadanini. In this book it is shown that the novel also conceals another, secluded, love affair Sebastian had with a man, which reflects the main episode in the life of Nabokov’s brother Sergey. By pursuing many biographical and literary references and allusions, and by disregarding the deceptive guiding by the narrator (Sebastian’s half-brother), this moving story about Sebastian’s silent love becomes brightly visible.

Gerard de Vries’ first paper appeared in Russian Literature Triquarterly in 1991 and he has written since many articles on Nabokov’s works, which were published in American, French and Russian academic journals. With D. Barton Johnson he wrote Nabokov and the Art of Painting (2006).


A strength of de Vries’ book is that he does not insist that his interpretation is definitive or prescriptive. He offers it as an example of Nabokov’s effort to inscribe multiplicity and indeterminacy into his works, producing a novel with more than one successful solution. … For those wishing to dive past the wind-rippled surface of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight into its murky depths, de Vries’ book will be an exciting, thought-provoking adventure.
— Stephen H. Blackwell, University of Tennessee (Knoxville), Slavic and East European Journal Vol. 62.3
This comprehensive analysis offers a very close reading of the text that proves to be particularly revealing in terms of Nabokov’s method. … After giving essential background information on the genesis of the novel, … de Vries illuminates its extraordinary complexity. His insightful comments unveil the scope of the novel’s references and allusions.
— Irina Marchesini, University of Bologna, SEER, Vol. 96, No. 2
Gerard de Vries offers an elegant and persuasive plea for the act of annotation ... [The Real Life of Sebastian Knight] seems to call out for the kind of scholarship and detective work already richly devoted to Lolita and Ada. This is precisely what de Vries provides. After a long chapter of notes on specific textual moments, he presents three chapters of comment on motifs in the novel, centering on questions of narrative, identity, and ‘death and beyond.’
— Michael Wood, Princeton University, The Russian Review vol 76 no. 2, April 2017
Gerard de Vries’ Silent Love, a new study of Vladimir Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, offers a stimulating analysis of Nabokov’s first novel written in English. This study makes two significant contributions to the existing body of criticism devoted to the novel. First, he has provided a detailed set of annotations that illuminate a broad range of literary, historical, and cultural allusions. Second, he provides a new theory for understanding the enigmatic conduct of the title character, the writer Sebastian Knight. This book will prove useful for any reader and student of Nabokov’s work.
— Julian W. Connolly, University of Virginia, author of Nabokov’s Early Fiction: Patterns of Self and Other and A Reader’s Guide to Nabokov’s ‘Lolita.’
With Silent Love, Gerard de Vries presents the first annotated study of one of Nabokov’s most opaque works. Insightful and illuminating, Silent Love details the novel’s carefully-wrought patterning of allusion to reveal not only its extraordinary complexity, but also the extent of its interpretive possibilities, even offering an original and provocative solution to the puzzle that lies at its heart—the inscrutable and enigmatic Sebastian Knight.
— Barbara Wyllie, UCL, author of Nabokov at the Movies and Vladimir Nabokov (Critical Lives)

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Annotations
Chapter 3. Motifs: Narrative
Chapter 4. Motifs: Identities
Chapter 5. Motifs: Death and Beyond
Chapter 6. Conclusion

Works Cited