Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Nabokov was one of the great twentieth century masters of structure and style, in both his Russian and his English works. “The Return of Chorb” is a good example. Nabokov employs an omniscient narrator who focuses on the Kellers in the opening and closing sections (both set in the present) and on Chorb in the longer middle section, which alternates between the present of Chorb’s return and the past of his memories. Events in the present trigger memories of related scenes from the past. The mention of the wife’s “illness” evokes Chorb’s reminiscence of her death and his slow return journey, the picture in the grubby hotel room, the lovers’ wedding and flight to the hotel, and Chorb’s walk, his wedding-eve stroll with his fiancé. The striking thing about Nabokov’s narrative technique is that it proceeds in two directions at once. The present-tense narration, beginning with Chorb’s return, moves in the normal forward direction; the past-tense narration stages Chorb’s tragedy in reverse order: the death and return trip, the wedding night, the wedding-eve stroll. The two time-lines proceed in opposite directions and are linked by the web of memories just as in the image of the two telegraph lines spanned by the iridescent spiderweb.

Nabokov’s development of the characters is also noteworthy. The narrator’s contempt for the unimaginative, bourgeois Kellers is evident. Both are stout, and Herr Keller’s face is “simian.” Their...

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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