Health, Sports & Psychology

A reader's guide to The Luzhin Defence

Updated Tuesday 1st November 2005

Vladimir Nabokov's 1930 novel The Luzhin Defence follows a chess master and his decline in mental health.

Our Book of the Month for November is The Luzhin Defence. Its author, Vladimir Nabokov, was born in St Petersburg in 1899. Later the family moved to Berlin, and Nabokov subsequently went on to study at Cambridge University. His father was murdered by a Russian monarchist in 1922.

Back in Berlin after graduating, Nabokov worked as a translator, tutor, tennis coach, and compiler of crossword puzzles. In 1937 he moved to Paris, then in 1940 to the United States with his wife and child. He lectured, and also became an expert lepidopterist! However he is remembered mainly for his writing, his best known novel being the controversial Lolita (1955). From 1959 he resided in Switzerland, where he died in 1977.

Nabokov was talented at chess, and this interest inspired The Defence (1930) - originally written in Russian. Its protagonist is Alexander Luzhin, a chess player who competes for the world title. He falls in love, but becomes disturbed by the reappearance of the man who once regarded him as his protégé.

Chessboard Creative commons image Icon nestorgalina under CC-BY under Creative-Commons license

The book traces Luzhin’s mental breakdown. This fascinating character was based on the author’s friend, a German Count named Curt von Bardeleben. He was a chess master, who committed suicide in 1924 by jumping out of a window.

Prospective readers should note that the title now is usually The Luzhin Defense (using the American spelling). The book has been filmed, with John Turturro in the title role. A number of contributors requested that this intriguing novel should be athe subject of a reader's guide, and we are happy to welcome suggestions for future choices.


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