The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: Chapter 9,10

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Summary of Chapters Nine and Ten


Clare and Sebastian were together for six years during which he wrote his first novels, The Prismatic Bezel and Success. He also composed the short stories collected as The Funny Mountain. Clare met him when she was twenty-two and stayed with Sebastian because it was so natural for them both, as if his life were her life, as V. describes it, though they did not marry. She was an art student with imagination. He composed during the day, and she would type the pages in the evening. Clare was able to understand his struggle with language, to make it clothe his thoughts. Some of his phrases were hers. The first novel flopped, but Sebastian was happy with his writing and his companion, the happiest time of his life. Clare took care of him, and they enjoyed themselves.


In 1926, when she joined him in Europe after he had been abroad for a month on holiday, he met her at a hotel in a changed manner. He finally admitted he had been to Berlin to see a doctor. He was beginning to suffer from heart disease, the Lehmann's disease his mother died of. This is also when he met the Russian woman.


His novels, including the later Lost Property, became famous. He expressed his serious ideas under the guise of satire. The Prismatic Bezel is a parody of a detective story, for instance. After Sebastian gets the reader's attention with absurdity, he makes the tale turn into something beautiful and human. At the end, he returns to parody. V. explains for those who do not understand Sebastian's style, that he is exposing his own methods of composition.


The novel, Success, is a complicated book about human fate. He uses the plot formula that certain lovers seem to meet accidentally, but he tries to discover how the lines of the two lives actually intersect.


Commentary on Chapters Nine and Ten


Like Nabokov's own writing in this novel, Sebastian writes novels that are calledmetafiction, or fiction about the process of writing fiction. Each of Sebastian's novels exposes the methods of construction of that type of plot. He likes to satirize the standard formulas, but his writing also surpasses parody by flights of beauty and philosophical reflection.


In the book on the fate of lovers meeting, for instance, Sebastian treats it as a math problem, or a chess problem as Nabokov liked to work on. How do the characters really intersect at a certain moment in time? Sebastian finds that their paths do not converge it a straight progression, but are wavy lines going towards and away from one another, all seeming the secret preparations of fate for the final meeting. The characters move together or apart for the slightest of reasons, such as getting a bee sting or a cold, and miss or lose one another when they should be on the way to meet. This also is a comment on V.'s search for the meaning in Sebastian's life. Why did Sebastian find Clare and how did he lose her? V. also has chance and missed meetings as he tracks Sebastian's career. He runs into Miss Pratt by accident, but though he sees Clare in the street, he knows he cannot approach her.


Chapter ten ends with a quote from Success. As a character is kissing his girlfriend good night, he reflects “I cannot bear that backward glide into the past. That last kiss is already dead” (Chpt. 10, p. 99). The man cannot hold on to the present moment; everything seems instantly in the past as soon as it happens. Only V. is subtle enough to find clues like this to what Sebastian was thinking or feeling. Sebastian feels the fullness of life, at the same time it is slipping away from him. His discovery of his heart condition underscores this fleeting quality of life.

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