The “Olgalized” Otherworld of Bend Sinister

Completed in May of 1946, Bend Sinister is the first novel Nabokov wrote in America “half a dozen years after she and [he] had adopted each other.” In his “Introduction” Nabokov identifies the main theme of the novel as “the beating of Krug’s loving heart, the torture an intense tenderness is subjected to …” and further advises that “the book was written and should be read … for the sake of the pages about David and his father” (165). Daring to go beyond Nabokov’s specific instructions on how to approach Bend Sinister, this paper examines the novel “for the sake of the pages about David and his [mother],” “the beating of [Olga’s] loving heart,” the throbbing presence of which is felt throughout the novel. Mergent with iridescent “potustoronnost′” upon her death, Olga becomes the otherworld charging it with her special presence, feminizing, in a real sense, “Olgalizing” it.

Throughout the novel the “Olgalized” otherworld will appear to Krug and David in different shapes and forms carefully, but not unnoticeably disguised, trying to “steer [its] favorite[s] in the best direction, bringing them comfort, warning them of danger and showing that love survives death.” Olga will communicate with her son and husband through the medium of senses, painting the black and white world of Padukgrad into all the colors of the rainbow, comforting the grieving Krug with a tender kiss of a snowflake and reaching out to David as a warm touch of a sudden breeze. The world of “eternal caress manifests its presence in the novel through certain themes, among which are the maternal, the crushed tenderness connected with the accident, and finally, the beauty of childhood innocence and fragility of life.”

In an attempt to come to terms with the excruciating verisimilitude of the murder of the eight-year-old David, the paper explores the symbolism behind Chardin’s famous The House of Cards placed by Olga in her husband’s study before her death. One of Chardin’s most moving images of childhood, the portrait embodies the uncertainty and fragility of life itself, emphasizing the precariousness of our existence. Meant to act as a breath of wind in its most otherworldly sense, the portrait is seen as Olga’s own front cover illustration of the novel, in itself an initiation into Nabokov’s universe where love, compassion and tenderness are the norm.

With references to Nabokov’s later novel, Pnin, the paper discusses such Nabokov’s notions as love, “redemption from hellish despair,” and compassion as one of the main passwords into the writer’s world of “eternal caress.”