NABOKV-L post 0021656, Sat, 28 May 2011 12:51:23 -0400

Nabokov's Inspiration for The Defense ...

Bardeleben the Chess Master: Vladimir Nabokov's Inspiration for The Defense66
rate or flag this page
By Anthea Carson
Curt von Bardeleben

Curt von Bardeleben
Aleksandr Luzhin, the main character from Vladimir Nabokov's "The Luzhin Defense," was based on real life chess master Curt von Bardeleben who lived from 1861 to 1924. Both the fictional character and the real person were strong chess players who competed at world championship levels, both were reclusive and socially awkward, both jumped to their deaths through a window. Curt is most famous for his game against Steinitz in which he (Carl) left the room instead of resigning. (I can relate).
An exploration of the madness of chess as seen in Nabokov's novel, written by Glen Downey is available, though unfortunately not online. The one quote available talks about the obssesive ritual of undoing through chess combinations... the undoing of disturbing prechess childhood events.
Steinitz vs Bardeleben

Source: Chessvideostv
Chess and Madness

Apparently Curt didn't like his position here against Steinitz, because it was his move, and the move he played was leaving the room and never returning.
I believe there is a correlation between chess and madness--as it really is an obsession. Whenever I talk to a chess player who has decided to give up chess I feel a sense of impending doom for them. I can't explain it. I just know it is the end, somehow. Not of their obsession, of course. There is no end to that. So it must just be the end, period, for them. Curt, or in Nabokov's novel, the character "Aleksandr Ivanovich Luzhin" decides that chess is the reason for his declining state and tries to give it up. Chess creeps back into his consiousness, however, and he feels it pulling him in. He tries to find the move that will get him out of the game. He finds that move by throwing himself to his death.
The Luzhin Defense (the trailer)

Vladimir Nabokov
The Luzhin Defense
Amazon Price: $7.44
List Price: $15.00
Luzhin Defense (Penguin Modern Classics)
Amazon Price: $9.20
La Défense Loujine
Amazon Price: $15.99

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: