For the first time in English, Vladimir Nabokov’s earliest major work, written when he was only twenty-four: his only full-length play, introduced by Thomas Karshan and beautifully translated by Karshan and Anastasia Tolstoy.
The Tragedy of Mister Morn was written in the winter of 1923–1924, when Nabokov was completely unknown. The five-act play—the story of an incognito king whose love for the wife of a banished revolutionary brings on the chaos the king has fought to prevent—was never published in Nabokov’s lifetime and lay in manuscript until it appeared in a Russian literary journal in 1997. It is an astonishingly precocious work, in exquisite verse, touching for the first time on what would become this great writer’s major themes: intense sexual desire and jealousy, the elusiveness of happiness, the power of the imagination, and the eternal battle between truth and fantasy. The play is Nabokov’s major response to the Russian Revolution, which he had lived through, but it approaches the events of 1917 above all through the prism of Shakespearean tragedy.
The variety, force and richness of Nabokov’s perceptions have not even the palest rival in modern fiction. To read him in full flight is to experience stimulation that is at once intellectual, imaginative and aesthetic, the nearest thing to pure sensual pleasure that prose can offer.
He did us all an honour by electing to use, and transform, our language.
The power of the imagination is not apt soon to find another champion of such vigour.