NABOKV-L post 0018584, Wed, 16 Sep 2009 22:05:00 -0300

[NABOKOV-L] Bend Sinister and infidelity
In his introduction to the novel "Bend Sinister" Nabokov wrote: "The term 'bend sinister' means a heraldic bar or band drawn from the left side (and popularly, but incorrectly, supposed to denote bastardy). This choice of title was an attempt to suggest an outline broken by refraction, a distortion in the mirror of being, a wrong turn taken by life, a sinistral and sinister world. The title's drawback is that a solemn reader looking for 'general ideas' or 'human interest' (which is much the same thing) in a novel may be led to look for them in this one."

Nabokov's observation disconsidering the heraldic sign of bastardy seems to be authoritative but wherever I checked I always met the description of "a diagonal line across a shield signalling a bastard line." The title for Nabokov's novel, in German, is unambiguous: "Das Bastardzeichen."

Bend Sinister was written in America and its plot is centered about events in a totalitarian state, as VN described it "a sinistral and sinister world" and its main character, Krug, is a widower.
Bend Sinister was written after TRLSK, a novel sometimes associated to the story about an illicit affair.

In "Lust in Translation" (journalist Pamela Drucker's book about how marital infidelity is seen, practiced or described in various countries) there is a list of how these liaisons are named and we learn that the Japanese "leave the road", the Brazilians "jump the fence", the Irish "play to the right" whereas Swedes and Russians "take a turn to the left." I don't have access to the original popular terms in Japanese, Irish or Russian. A "turn to the left", indicating adultery, suggests a "sinister bend".

I wonder if Nabokov bore this association in mind when he chose the title for his novel or if the expression was used at the time he wrote it.

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