After Vladimir Nabokov’s death in 1977, the novelist John Updike included the following praise of him (reprinted in Critical Essays on Vladimir Nabokov) in an obituary:
The power of the imagination is not apt soon to find another champion of such vigor. . . . He takes with him the secret of an undiscourageable creativity, he leaves behind a resplendent oeuvre.
Updike’s admiration of Nabokov’s work is one shared by many readers. Although he is best known for Lolita, his 1955 novel about the perverse Humbert Humbert’s love for a twelve-year-old girl, Nabokov wrote seventeen other novels, dozens of poems, essays, lectures on literature, and over fifty short stories. He stands today among the ranks of Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf as one of the twentieth-century’s foremost literary stylists.
‘‘That in Aleppo Once . . .’’ first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1943. It was included in the 1958 collection Nabokov’s Dozen. The story’s title is an allusion to Shakespeare’s Othello, in which the title character, through the machinations of the villainous Iago, becomes so jealous of his innocent wife that he eventually strangles her and kills himself. Like Othello, Nabokov’s story explores the issues of jealousy, marital fidelity, and the ways that a credulous mind is affected by one more crafty.
The story is like many other works by Nabokov, which demand careful reading (and rereading) to understand. Upon first glance, the story seems to be one of an innocent man whose wanton wife makes a fool of him through her adulterous affairs. However, the story, like the narrator’s wife, proves more elusive and the events of its plot more difficult to pin down upon closer examination. Nabokov demanded readers tolerate ambiguity and examine the ways in which ambiguity affects the narrator.