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“A Reader’s Beheading: Nabokov’s Invitation and Authorial Utopia” argues that Invitation to a Beheading polemically outlines Nabokov’s position on the relationship between reader and writer: in other words, that writing and reading are difficult, elite pursuits whose meanings should necessarily be available only to those willing to face and surmount the magician’s challenges. Narratively, it operates as a kind of roman à clef in which Cincinnatus C. follows a trajectory towards artistic freedom (or authorial utopia) where he is liberated from the constraints of poor readers—among them literalists and Freudians—while Nabokov, ever the unaccommodating creator, frustrates that progression with the help of a haphazard narrator. The novel is ultimately a statement of artistic intent, one that grants the pleasures of the author’s puzzles to a select few. Nabokov, it seems, would rather be a “violin in a void” than a popular author misused and abused by his audience.


This work was originally published in Nabokov Studies.



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