Critical Context

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 213

This first novel looks so much simpler than Nabokov’s mature work that it may be easy to ignore the obvious signs of connection which are here, as in a five-finger exercise. Ganin has the marks of the later protagonists, not only in his “apartness” but also in his inclination toward...

(The entire section contains 213 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your subscription to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Start your Subscription

This first novel looks so much simpler than Nabokov’s mature work that it may be easy to ignore the obvious signs of connection which are here, as in a five-finger exercise. Ganin has the marks of the later protagonists, not only in his “apartness” but also in his inclination toward mild forms of outlaw conduct: The reader never learns his real name, and he is determined to cross the borders illegally. The male-female love triangle appears repeatedly in Nabokov’s work. Even his sometimes extravagant use of coincidence is evident in Ganin and Alfyorov living in the same boardinghouse, Mary arriving just as Ganin is to leave, and in a reference to Alfyorov and Podtyagin in one of Mary’s last letters to Ganin.

Mary’s generous evocation of young love and its celebration of sexual innocence and ardor seem somewhat too conservative for the Nabokov known through his later works. The ending, which may be read as a sentimental rejection of anything less than the ideal world, which can never be retrieved, may also be read as Nabokov’s ironic refusal to give readers what they want: the happy ending. The overall tone may be bittersweet, but there are intimations of acridity in the novel which anticipate stronger work to come.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Mary Study Guide

Subscribe Now