Study Guide

A Russian Beauty What's Up With the Ending?

By Vladimir Nabokov

What's Up With the Ending?

Early in the morning, she came out again and sat down on the porch step that was already hot. Forstmann, wearing a dark blue bathrobe, sat next to her and, clearing his throat, asked if she would consent to become his spouseā€”that was the very word he used: 'spouse.' When they came to breakfast, Vera, her husband, and his maiden cousin, in utter silence, were performing nonexistent dances, each in a different corner, and Olga drawled out in an affectionate voice 'What boors!' and next summer she died in childbirth.

That's all. Of course, there may be some sort of sequel, but it is not known to me. In such cases, instead of getting bogged down in guesswork, I repeat the words of the merry king in my favorite fairy tale: Which arrow flies forever? The arrow that has hit its mark. (16)

We won't blame you if your first thought after reading the ending to "A Russian Beauty" is "what the heck?" We've spent all this time building up to the moment that Olga finally gets married, and we don't even get to see her accept the proposal. Not even a single wedding photo. Nada.

Just like in the beginning, when we fast forward from her childhood to her young adulthood, we fast-forward from the proposal to her death. In between those moments there must have been a wedding and a pregnancy, but we don't get to see any of that stuff. Even though this is pretty discomforting, it's actually the perfect way to bookend the story. It ends as awkwardly as it begins. Not to mention all of the historical stuff happening in the background that we talk about in Olga's character analysis and the Settings section.

But then there's the last paragraph. What's that about? Who knows? Our unreliable narrator becomes even more unreliable than ever before. There might be a sequel but they don't know about it? Seriously? Besides that, they references a king in a fairytale that doesn't exist. It's totally made up. Where did this person go to narrating school?

Yet somehow in spite of that (or maybe because of that) the last two sentences in "A Russian Beauty" have become widely quoted in the literary world. Honestly, we're not sure if everyone who quotes it really understands it, or if they just want to look cool. Either way the meaning is interesting. Obviously a bull's-eye isn't flying anymore if it's hit its target, right? But it still flies in the minds of the audience and the archer who remembers that great moment, much in the same way that anything which is successful continues to have influence even after it's over. Maybe this is a commentary on the Russian Revolution? Just like us, this story may leave you scratching your head long after you've finished reading it.

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