Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

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.

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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 level of taste is satirically reflected in the slippers (hers red, with cute little pom-poms) placed by the newlyweds’ intended bedside on the throw rug, with its incongruous but prophetic motto, “We are together unto the tomb.” They stand in grotesque contrast to the sensitive Chorb, an artist caught up in his subtle perception of the wonder of reality. This sense of wonder is shared by his laughing, nameless bride, who is mysteriously and fatally linked with images of electricity and falling leaves.

Nabokov is justly famed as a master of the precise verbal detail (“The same black poodle with apathetic eyes was in the act of raising a thin hindleg near a Morris pillar, straight at the scarlet lettering of a playbill announcing Parsifal”). Detail is also sometimes used for narrative purposes. A good example is the “lovely blond hair” found in the hotel room’s washbasin by Chorb’s bride. The hair belongs to the blond prostitute, a frequent “guest” at the hotel, who later spends the night with Chorb. There is even a faint suspicion that Keller may have been her client at the time the hair was left. Also to be noted is the humorous irony in which the narrative’s elegiac tone is deliberately shattered by the abrupt if understated comic fiasco of the ending.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 230

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