Study Guide

A Russian Beauty Love

By Vladimir Nabokov

Love

Yet there was a time in her life, at the end of 1916 or so, when at a summer resort near the family estate there was no schoolboy who did not plan to shoot himself because of her, there was no university student who would not… (4)

What do you think the narrator is trying to tell us about Olga's affect on the boys around her? How would you finish this sentence?

In a word, there had been a special magic about her, which, had it lasted, would have caused… would have wreaked… (4)

Notice that the narrator says "had it lasted." Had what lasted? Later the narrator tells us that Olga keeps her beauty even into her 30s, so what's this "magic" he's talking about?

But somehow, nothing came of it. Things failed to develop, or else happened to no purpose. There were flowers that she was too lazy to put in a vase, there were strolls in the twilight now with this one, now with another, followed by the blind alley of a kiss. (4)

Why do you think Olga's dates don't progress? This quote says that she was too lazy to put flowers in a vase, so do you think she just wasn't interested in these guys?

How charmingly, how meaningfully she could raise the wineglass to her lips, secretly drinking to the health of a third party as she looked through her lashes at the one who had confided in her. How she loved to sit in the corner of the sofa, discussing with this person or that somebody else's affairs of the heart, the oscillation of chances, the probability of a declaration—all this indirectly, by hints—and how understandingly her eyes would smile, pure, wide-open eyes with barely noticeable freckles on the thin, faintly bluish skin underneath and around them. (8)

Compare this quote with the one before it. Here Olga seems almost desperate for the attention of her fellow partygoers. There, she is too lazy to even put away flowers she receives. What gives?

But as for herself, no one fell in love with her. (8)

For us, this is no big life deal, but for Olga this is a problem. Without a husband, most women during her time would be very poor. So this isn't just a romance issue, it's a finance issue. Although, you know, romance would be nice.

With his arrival Olga became difficult. Listless and irritable, she did all the wrong things and she knew that they were wrong. When the conversation turned to old Russia (Vera tried to make her show off her past), it seemed to her that everything she said was a lie and that everyone understood that it was a lie, and therefore she stubbornly refused to say the things that Vera was trying to extract from her and in general would not cooperate in any way. (14)

What is up with Olga? She was fine, but then once Forstmann arrives, she starts acting all weird. What do you think is her problem?

On the eve of Forstmann's departure they were playing cards on the veranda, as they usually did in the evening. Suddenly, Olga felt an impossible spasm in her throat. She still managed to smile and to leave without undue haste. Vera knocked on her door but she did not open. In the middle of the night, having swatted a multitude of sleepy flies and smoked continuously to the point where she was no longer able to inhale, irritated, depressed, hating herself and everyone, Olga went into the garden. (15)

Um, we know that blind dates don't always turn out great, but that's not a good reason to lock yourself in your room and smoke until you can't breathe anymore. Deep breaths, Olga.

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 spouse—that was the very word he used: "spouse." (16)

Even though we should be happy for Olga, after all that fussing she did and Forstmann's awkwardness here it's hard to think that things can go well for her. Call us old fashioned, but consent and spouse don't exactly scream romance and happy endings to us.

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