Mrs. Luzhin in 2-D

While reading “The Luzhin’s Defense”, I often found myself hesitant to formulate a definite moral judgement towards Mrs. Luzhin. Although I was aware Nabokov did not necessarily want to create relatable or likable characters, I
realized that I was harboring contrasting feelings when reading about her.
On one side, I tried to empathize with her situation, acknowledging her as the only character in the book eager to help Luzhin out of a sense of genuine compassion/pity rather than out of self-interest. However, the more I read, the more she appeared to me flat and redundant. And this made me think that she represents for Luzhin the two-dimensional world he wants to escape, with her marriage, her parents and her travel plans.

Going back to the scene where Luzhin and his future wife meet for the first time, there are two things that captured my attention: firstly, this quote:”And suddenly there appeared from no one knew where a person who was so unexpected and so familiar, and who spoke with a voice that seemed to have been sounding mutely all his life and now had
suddenly burst through the usual murk.[…] He noticed with surprise that he was actually talking to her” (99). I am quite sure this is one of the first times Luzhin engages in conversation with someone, and I think that the beginning of his relation with Mrs. Luzhin represents a paramount shift in the novel’s narrative. Before that, Luzhin had isolated himself from the alienating real world, and this had prevented him from losing focus on his ideal world of chess. However, Mrs. Luzhin brings him back to the real oppressive world by talking to him, then deciding to marry him, and then by restricting him from playing chess.

Secondly, this quote:”Trying to unravel in his mind this impression of something very familiar he recalled quite irrelevantly but with stunning clarity the face of a bare-shouldered, black-stockinged young prostitute, standing in a lighted doorway in a dark side street in a nameless town” (99). This is a comparison with Phryne, whose reproduction in the Luzhin’s house was “particularly vivid as a result of the intensified light” (40). The fact that the first impression Luzhin has of her future wife is thus a 2-D painting, which I found rather interesting? Was this Nabokov’s way to flatten Mrs.Luzhin, making her a two-dimension “less pretty” copy of a “Turkish beauty” in Luzhin’s mind?

Valentine’s Day reminder:Luzhin and Luzhina’s love story is not one to be emulated.

A reading scene from The Luzhin Defense.

Here is the reading scene I found. It is in Chapter 1, pages 15-16.

They had moved around him in apprehensively
narrowing circles, but he had only to raise his head and his
father would already be rapping with feigned interest on the
barometer dial, where the hand always stood at storm, while
his mother would sail away somewhere into the depths of the
house, leaving all the doors open and forgetting the long,
messy bunch of bluebells on the lid of the piano. The stout
French governess who used to read The Count of Monte Cristo
aloud to him (and interrupt her reading in order to exclaim
feelingly ‘poor, poor Dantè!’) proposed to the parents that she
herself take the bull by the horns, though this bull inspired
mortal fear in her. Poor, poor Dantès did not arouse any
sympathy in him, and observing her educational sigh he merely
slitted his eyes and rived his drawing paper with an eraser, as
he tried to portray her protuberant bust as horribly as
possible.