Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001375, Sat, 26 Oct 1996 16:08:38 -0700

EDITOR'S NOTE. Andrew Robinson has kindly forwarded the following
exchange from an "arts.rec" list.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Andrew Robinson <dragonfly@poboxes.com>

Thought you might be interested in this recent exchange from
the Newsgroup "rec.games.chess.analysis."
--Andrew Robinson
Newsgroups: rec.games.chess.analysis

Chess Club wrote:
> In article <mattg.224.538C1C51@indirect.com>,
> Matt Guthrie <mattg@indirect.com> wrote:
> >I believe that the original title of the book was "Luzhin's Defence." Or
> >maybe that was its title in the original language. Or something like that.
> >But yes, do read it.
> > Matt Guthrie
> Yes, the original title is "Zashtita Luzhina", or "The Luzhin Defense".
> However, this book is fiction, not a chess book. And a "Luzhin Defense"
> does not exist in chess theory.
> But, the book is one of the finest examples of chess-related fiction.
> It is generally believed that the main character, the Russian chess
> player Luzhin has been created having in mind the world champion
> Alekhin as a prototype. Also, one could find other characters in the
> book that bear resemblance to well-known players active in the
> '20s. E.g. Rubinstein, Grunfeld, Lasker etc.
> In any case, the book is worth reading.
> Greetings,
> --Svetlin Stantchev

I agree with most of this. However, it is certainly not "generally
believed" that Nabokov's character Luzhin is based on Alekhine, nor
have I even heard this idea mentioned before. Alekhine himself guessed
that Luzhin was based on Tartakower, on what evidence I don't know.
Rubinstein would seem to be a much more obvious model, both for his
style of play and his gradual withdrawal from reality. Most likely the
imaginary character of Luzhin mingles elements of several real-life
chessplayers with details created by Nabokov.

Those who are interested in Nabokov's use of chess themes in his
fiction may want to read the fascinating essay by Daniel Edelman,
"Cooks, Forks, and Waiters: Chess Problems and Vladimir Nabokov's _The
Defense_" (_American Chess Journal_ #3, pp. 44-58). Edelman is an
International Master who graduated from Harvard College with honors in
Russian Studies.

Timothy Hanke
Senior Editor
American Chess Journal