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Vladimir Nabokov: Отчаяние (Despair)

It is a relatively simple plot and one found elsewhere, particularly in Russian literature and particularly in Dostoevsky but, in Nabokov’s hands and with Nabokov’s sensibilities, it works well. Hermann Karlovich meets a tramp who look just likes him. He plans a clever plot. He will murder the tramp. His wife will collect the insurance and then they will go off together to start a new life with his new identity. Sadly, Hermann, like other Nabokov heroes, cannot see what is going on under his nose. Firstly, while he may think the tramp looks like him, he does not. Secondly, his wife is not devoted to him but is having an affair with someone else. Hermann commits the murder (on a plot of land that was owned by Nabokov at that time) and flees to Paris. By the time the police catch up with him, he is going mad. Another Nabokov hero fails to see what is going on and ends up causing the destruction of both himself and others.

Publishing history

First published 1936 by Petropolis, Berlin
First English translation 1937 by John Long