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Mary, p. 71: “an enchanting and elegant blond lady whose husband was fighting in Galicia”

November 29, 2009

Ganin is described as enjoying and then breaking up a “liasion with an elegant and enchanting blond lady whose husband was fighting in Galicia” while Mary has been taken to Moscow for several months.  This is one of Nabokov’s seemingly offhand historical references, in this case, to the Brusilov Offensive, the major Russian battle against the Central Powers in 1916 which took place in the former Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, now parts of Poland and the Ukraine.  The battle was considered a major victory for the Russian government, but it did not significantly forestall the onset of the Russian revolution a year later.  The casual reference to one of the bloodiest battles of World War I suggests the degree to which the narrator of Mary is immersed in the fantasy of ideal love, even as the “echo” of the war’s reality cannot be thoroughly erased from the background or memory.

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