Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Albert Albinus

Albert Albinus, an independently wealthy German art collector and art critic. This shy, scholarly, middle-aged family man lives a staid upper-middle-class existence but has always longed for a passionate love affair. He foolishly falls in love with a trollop half his age whose treachery causes him to lose his wife, his daughter, his eyesight, much money, and finally his life. He is a well-meaning, good-natured victim of his repressed libido. Most of the story is told through his point of view.

Margot Peters

Margot Peters, an usherette who becomes Albinus’ mistress. Although only eighteen years old and looking more like sixteen, she has grown up in a tough environment and has had considerable worldly experience. She has been a prostitute and a kept woman. She is beautiful and bursting with sex appeal, however, which is why she captivates Albinus. She has no affection for him but tries to get him to divorce his wife and marry her. Her fierce motivation to escape from her sordid lower-class background, to live in luxury, and to have a film career provides the main impetus for the action in the novel. She is the personification of the adage that beauty is only skin deep.

Axel Rex

Axel Rex, a talented but improvident painter and cartoonist. He is about the same age as Albinus and shares his artistic tastes; otherwise, his character is diametrically opposite. He is ruthless...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The first paragraph, with its casual indifference to any pretense of realistic suspense, is the key to this novel. Nabokov is not interested in originality but in “making new” the age-old tale of the foolish, middle-aged male drawn to disaster by the heartless, gold-digging siren. Albinus fulfills all the qualifications for a bad film (in fact, his story often formed the plot of motion pictures of the 1920’s and 1930’s). Indeed, the film in which Margot so unsuccessfully acts has the same kind of lachrymose plot of sexual betrayal. Margot, reared in working-class squalor (with its hints of violence and vulgarity), cunning without being intelligent, and well aware of the monetary value of her brash prettiness, is Nabokov’s deliberate parody of the film vamp, just as Albinus is the feckless, stupid “fool for love.” When Albinus discovers the truth, he reacts as the film dupe would do: He is determined to blow out Margot’s brains. The blind man groping silently for his victim in a closed room, the roar of the pistol, the scuffle to the death are all of a piece with the overripe cinema of the period. Significantly, the last words of the novel are set in the language of a motion-picture script.

Rex, however, is more than a simple parody of a cinema villain, and he is the most interesting character of the three. He is an artist of considerable talent and some reputation, and he is dangerously intelligent. Moreover, he is doubly connected in the...

(The entire section is 428 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Appel, Alfred, Jr., and Charles Newman, eds. Nabokov: Criticism, Reminiscences, Translations, and Tributes, 1970.

Field, Andrew. Nabokov: His Life in Art, 1967.

Fowler, Douglas. Reading Nabokov, 1974.

Lee, L.L. Vladimir Nabokov, 1976.

Moynahan, Julian. Vladimir Nabokov, 1971.