Study Guide

A Russian Beauty "A Russian Beauty"

By Vladimir Nabokov

"A Russian Beauty"

  • We are proud to introduce you to Olga. She's born in 1900 to a wealthy family living in St. Petersburg, Russia. She is beautiful, her childhood is happy, and everyone loves her. Or at least for the first paragraph.
  • Jump to 1919 and it's a whole different story. Her mom is dead, so is her brother, and she's leaving Russia.
  • But that's not what's important. What's important is that she still very pretty. Nabokov takes up a whole paragraph reminding us of it. There's something weird going on here though, since despite her beauty and no lack of attention from young guys, Olga is still single.
  • Let's learn some more about Olga: she speaks French (kind of), has a picture of the tsar in her room, is religious (sort of), and likes to write poetry. She lives with her dad in a boarding house and spends most of her time hanging out. She and her friends make up all kinds of slang and dance the foxtrot. But Olga's still single.
  • Things get worse. Now her dad has died and she's super poor. She doesn't even want to hang out with her friends dancing the foxtrot or making up slang anymore. But she still beautiful. Sure, her clothes are old and threadbare, but she's still beautiful.
  • And she's not taking this whole poverty thing well. Olga remembers when she was young and rich, but now she has to force herself not to think about all the things that she can't afford to fix. Instead, she just dreams. Maybe someday she'll go on a cruise, somewhere with palm trees and sunshine. Yeah right.
  • Then bam! Olga runs into her friend Vera. Literally. Vera invites Olga to her summer villa, but Olga tries to tell her politely that she has no money and no clothes to go. Well, Vera doesn't care. She gives Olga some money and a new dress, and does her hair and her makeup.
  • Now Olga is sexified. Vera is planning on setting her up with a guy named Forstmann who likes kids and dogs. But Olga isn't having it. She does basically everything she can to make herself seem unattractive to the guy.
  • It doesn't work. The morning before he leaves the Villa, Forstmann proposes to Olga. We guess that she accepts because she dies in childbirth the next summer.
  • That's the end of the story. Yup. We are as confused as you are.

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