Crossing a border between two worlds – whether physical or mental, spatial or temporal, literal or metaphorical – has always been one of Nabokov's major themes. A recurrent image in his work is that of a leap, a “knight's move” that transports a hero to a different reality, in some cases, even a realm beyond death. Thus it might seem surprising that he persistently underplays the turning point in the life of any expatriate – the moment when an exile crosses the state border and, like Byron's Childe Harold, says “Adieu, adieu!” to his native land. As Nabokov notes in his autobiography, at such a moment in his life he was concentrating on a game of chess with his father and “the sense of leaving Russia was totally eclipsed” by personal anxieties (SM, 251 [ch. 12]). When the hero of Mary is leaving the Russian shore, his memory registers some “trivia – and not nostalgia for his abandoned homeland … as though only his eyes had been alive and his mind had gone into hiding” (Mary, 101 [ch. 5]). Likewise in Glory, Martin “followed the Russian shore with an almost indifferent gaze” and only later, during his stay in Switzerland, “felt for the first time that he was, after all, an exile, doomed to live far from home” (Glory, 63 [ch. 15]). Another partial alter ego of the young Nabokov, Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev does not ever mention his crossing of the Russian border.
An obvious reason for this “almost indifferent gaze” lies in the cultural identity of Nabokov and his autobiographical characters.