The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: Chapter 11,12

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Summary of Chapters Eleven and Twelve


V. regrets that he has to struggle with English as he approaches a crucial moment in Sebastian's life. He feels, however, that Sebastian's spirit is helping him to write. He has also met P. G. Sheldon, the poet, who knew Clare and Sebastian between 1927 and 1930. V. met Sheldon a few months after he saw Clare pregnant on the street, and Sheldon informed V. that Clare had died in childbirth.


Clare had been delighted that Success was a success. Sebastian never paid attention to good or bad criticism. Clare, however, wanted to enjoy Sebastian's fame and have him mingle with people. By now he was not feeling well and having fits of temper. After he finished The Funny Mountain, he wrote Albinos in Black.  Sheldon thinks he began to be haunted by his own mortality in The Doubtful Asphodel, his last book. Clare was left behind in his sunshine days. She seems to have lost touch with where he was in his creative life.


V. finds passages in Sebastian's books that explain his feelings about life and sex. Sex for Sebastian was part of a whole experience of life, not a separate thing. All things are united: “The only real number is one, the rest are mere repetition,” a quote from Lost Property (Chpt. 11, p. 105).


A heart specialist, Dr. Oates, advised Sebastian to go to Blauberg, in Alsace, for a cure. Clare tried to go with him, but he refused. After Blauberg, he stopped in Paris in 1929 to see his brother, V., looking worn and ill. He looked the same to Sheldon when he got to London. Clare became like a ghost because Sebastian stopped speaking to her and ignored her. Clare found out that he was getting letters in Russian from a woman he met in Blauberg.


Sebastian soon left for six months in Europe without being in touch with anyone. Claire moved, and five years later, married. Sebastian began his book Lost Property at that time about things and people he had lost on the way. There is a good by letter in the book that explains to someone (Clare?) that they had been happy, but now it is all dead. Now he has another woman who makes him unhappy. He does not understand “this fatality which clings to love” (Chpt. 12, p. 113).


In 1930, Sebastian had a heart attack and returned to London. He missed Clare's help with his work and employed Mr. Goodman. V. then quotes Goodman's insulting passages from his biography of Sebastian, claiming Sebastian's worst sin was that he was aloof from the world. Goodman chiefly seems vexed, however, that Sebastian did not listen to his advice on how to write. V. finds out that Sebastian had fired Goodman for changing his words.


Looking at the portrait of Sebastian by the painter Roy Carswell, V. thinks the portrait incomplete, and he insists on finding the Russian woman as the missing link in the author's evolution.


Commentary on Chapters Eleven and Twelve


Once again, V. finds that other people cannot interpret Sebastian—not the poet, Sheldon, the biographer, Goodman, nor the painter, Carswell. As Sebastian's health declined, he met another woman who, he admitted, made him as unhappy as Clare had made him happy. He explains in the novel letter he writes with Clare in mind, that “the greater our happiness was, the hazier its edges grew, as if its outlines were melting, and now it has dissolved” (Chpt. 12, p. 112). He means the excitement of the love has dissipated. The stimulus of a new love perhaps makes him feel more alive, even if he is unhappy. There is also the idea that Sebastian has been exiled from Russia, the land he loves, and this woman is from there.


V. discusses with the painter, Roy Carswell, the portrait he has made of Sebastian. Carswell painted Sebastian as a giant head with no body, as Narcissus looking into the water. He refers to the myth of the youth who fell in love with his own reflection in the pool. V. is not happy with this image of his brother as being preoccupied with himself. Carswell had wanted to hint the presence of a woman behind him, but did not. That is when V. declares that missing shadow of a woman to be the key to his brother's later life.

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