Summary of Chapters Seven and Eight
Goodman's biography, The Tragedy of Sebastian Knight, sells well. His intention is to show Knight as a postwar writer, a victim of the times, a devastated soul. V. thinks the book will “attract mediocre minds” (Chpt. 7, p. 62). Goodman claims Sebastian was too weak to deal with the cruel world. V. points out that several of Goodman's misinterpretations of his brother are based on literary jokes told to him by Sebastian that he doesn't get.
V. tries to explain that time for Sebastian was “never 1914 or 1920 or 1936—it was always year 1” (Chpt. 7, p. 65). He was interested in eternity, not politics or current events, but life itself was not a problem for him. He was just aware that “the rhythm of his inner being was so much richer than that of other souls” (Chpt. 7, p. 65). His associations were so unusual that he had difficulty communicating, but they served his art. He loved London, for instance, but saw it from a heightened perception of colorful and poignant details others would never notice.
In 1924 V. was surprised to run into Sebastian in Paris. V. entered the restaurant where his brother was speaking with an English woman, whom Sebastian introduced as Clare Bishop. She was pretty and wore glasses. Clare and Sebastian debated the name of his latest book, Cock Robin Hits Back. She urges him to return to the first title (The Prismatic Bezel). V. notices Sebastian is well dressed and acting happy. Clare tells V. that when she first met Sebastian, he looked like a doomed man.
Later, in 1936, Miss Pratt, Clare's friend, asks V. if any of Clare's letters were found with Sebastian's things. V. says he has burned them. Clare has been married for a few years now to someone else, and Miss Pratt says she knows that she will not want to talk to V. about Sebastian. Instead, Miss Pratt tells him about Clare and Sebastian, and about their break-up over the mysterious woman. V. is not satisfied. He feels he needs to hear Clare's voice. He calls on her at home, but her husband appears to say that though Clare remembers him, she does not want to see him. A few days later, he runs into Clare, and she is in an advanced state of pregnancy walking down the street. He realizes that he is unable to approach her. She does not recognize him.
Commentary on Chapters Seven and Eight
V.'s story is woven out of chance meetings and missed meetings, affording only glimpses of Sebastian's life. In the next chapter he recounts the relationship of Clare and Sebastian as he has pieced it together, setting it up here with the only personal contacts V. has had with Clare. V. does not like getting the facts secondhand from Miss Pratt, and says that one moment with Clare, or just hearing her voice, would tell him everything. What he has seen gives him a deep impression of Sebastian and Clare happy together and well suited in Paris. She is the partner he needed for his literary career. Yet, somehow, he broke it off for the other woman. Clare married a nice but common businessman, but does not look happy. What went wrong? Why did Sebastian leave Clare?
This is probably an autobiographical reference, for Nabokov was happily married to Vera, who, like Clare, helped him with his work in a brilliant and sympathetic fashion. Nabokov briefly had a tempestuous affair with a woman named Irina Guadanini before returning to his family.