The Red Tophat

or, uncollected thoughts about Vladimir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading.

1. Why is the protagonist named Cincinnatus? Is he a noble protector of the republic (which has clearly been lost in the future world of the novel)? Can one be noble when one is trying to hide one's true self? I doubt that. What's in a name? I don't know in this case.

2. Does Nabokov expect us to read the preface? I think he does. If he doesn't think that his novel is informed by the repression in the Soviet Union and the Third Reich, why does he make a point of telling us he wrote Beheading after having experienced some of that repression? VN is disingenuous. Again.

3. Why is the prison cell painted yellow?

4. This novel is a farce, a circus ring full of murderous clowns. Reality, escapist daydreaming and metaphor all merge into one. It's self-contradictory in subtle, important ways. It's sloppy, too. Funny and grim and Kafkaesque though Nabby points out that when he wrote this, he hadn't as yet read any Kafka but he doesn't mind the comparison.

5. Oh, comparisons to other writers; aren't you funny with your Sebastian Knight joke, Mr N? Though apparently he was no fan of George Meredith.

What else? Loads, but I've no time at present. I wonder what my next Nabokov read will be.

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