Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

This story of unrequited love becomes much more than an intimate exploration of an imaginative man’s feelings when caught in such a situation, though that exploration, freshly worked out, does account for the slender structural line of the novel. As Shklovsky makes clear in the second (first Moscow) edition of the book, the frustrating love affair becomes a metaphor for his life in exile, while the frustration, at the same time, motivates him to write the story: Love and frustration have often inspired cultural artifacts.

The original idea for the book—a series of vignettes about Russian writers and emigre figures—still accounts for much of the content of the work. Yet that content is not simply a miscellany; it takes focus from the woman’s prohibition that the man may write, but not about love. In fact, all the vignettes subvert the prohibition, saying something about love at the same time that vivid pictures of the subjects emerge. That the main love affair is unrequited makes appropriate the theme of longing, separation, and misunderstanding that these Russians sense in their European exile. The contrast between East and West gets poignant treatment here: The pain and deprivation of war and revolution have given the Russians values which materialistic (though inflation-riddled) Berlin cannot share. The woman becomes an image standing for that contrast; her rejection of the writer becomes his rejection of the West. The form of the novel, he says...

(The entire section is 415 words.)