Barabtarlo, Gennady. By Trial and Terror. 2016

Bibliographic title
By Trial and Terror
Periodical or collection
Nabokov and the Question of Morality: Aesthetics, Metaphysics, and the Ethics of Fiction
Publication year

Ch. 6


Reading Nabokov’s novels as a series of epistemological experiments, Barabtarlo shows that they reveal the world’s mysterious beauty as well as the grave consequences for his protagonists for yielding to uncontrolled passion. Nabokov’s Russian fiction exposes characters’ moral rot by means of third-person narration; his English fiction does so more intricately through the protagonists’ own evasive, undependable first-person narration. Barabtarlo also reads Nabokov’s treatment of morality against the grain of Russian tradition by comparing his novels to those of Tolstoy, whose pronouncements on ethics and religion are much more direct than Nabokov’s. “By Trial and Terror” argues that Nabokov thought beauty preordained and its goodness axiomatic; the writer’s task, therefore, is to find the right expression for its truth and impart it to the reader.