Theatricality in Invitation to a Beheading- pg. 134

“No, you’re still only a parody,” murmured Cincinnatus.
She smiled interrogatively
“Just like this spider, just like those bars, just like the striking of that clock,” murmured Cincinnatus.
“So,” she said, and blew her nose again.
“So, that’s how it is,” she repeated.
They both remained silent, not looking at each other, while the clock struck with nonsensical resonance.
“When you go out,” said Cincinnatus, “note the clock in the corridor. The dial is blank; however, every hour the watchman washes off the old hand and daubs on a new one- and that’s how we live, by tarbrush time, and the ringing is the work of the watchman, which is why he is called a ‘watch’ man.”
“You oughtn’t joke like that,” said Cecilia C. “There are, you know, all sorts of marvelous gimmicks…”

Why “The Defense”?

Luzhin is a character who, outside of chess, has very little agency in his life. He seems to be like a chess piece himself, shoved around by his parents, Valentinov, his wife, and of course the grandmaster Nabokov, alternately moving in lines and circles. I think part of why the Turati game tips Luzhin over the edge and into his downward spiral is because it diminishes his power in the only realm in which he’s truly been able to exercise it. This made me wonder why Nabokov decided to call the novel “The Luzhin Defense” when “the defense Luzhin had worked out had proved an utter waste” (136). If this defense ended up falling flat, is there a different defense in the novel that could explain the title? Or is the point to highlight that Luzhin is ultimately defenseless, and the only way he is able to retaliate against the powers that constrain him is by jumping out of the window at the end?

Sight vs. Insight in the Vane Sisters

In my Spanish 101 class last semester, we read Aura by Carlos Fuentes, a novella in which (warning: spoilers ahead) a young man named Felipe Montero is drawn into a house occupied by two women, under the illusion that he is there to sort through the files of the older woman’s late husband. He becomes quickly fascinated with the younger woman, Aura. The house is completely dark, and she is his guiding light within it. Felipe soon realizes that Aura and the old woman, Consuelo, are involved in mystical or supernatural affairs. Eventually, he discovers that Aura is the younger incarnation of Consuelo, while he himself is the counterpart to the late husband. Fuentes suggests throughout the story that Felipe relies excessively upon his sense of sight, while the women in the story have a greater range of sensory ability, including “the sixth sense.” Upon entering the dark house, Felipe is forced to relinquish his sight and becomes immersed in the women’s witchy world, which ends up transforming him. The narrator of “The Vane Sisters,” is also fixated on sight and characterized by his lack of awareness of non-physical forms of seeing. When in his state of intense observation at the beginning of the story, he describes himself as being in “a state of raw awareness,” as though he were “one big eyeball rolling in the world’s socket” (619). Later, he dismisses Cynthia’s insight into the whims of the departed as “beyond logic,” and disdains her “ridiculous fondness for spiritualism” (625, 626). As the acrostic at the end reveals to us, his confidence is ill-founded; the role of the narrator is filled not only by the French professor who believes himself to be in charge but also by the two sisters, which means he does not have the ability to see what ends up being the story’s defining quality. The double identity of the narrator (being the professor and the sisters), as well as the theme of sight versus insight, reminded me of Aura. I’m not sure if Nabokov makes the issue as much of a gendered one as Fuentes does, though, because other male and female characters in “The Vane Sisters” don’t seem to fit neatly within one of the categories of sight or insight. Would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this!