Nabokov’s story is written in the form of a letter from an unnamed narrator to V., his Russian expatriate friend living as a novelist in the United States. The narrator begins by telling V. that he has arrived in America. While in New York City, he fortuitously met a mutual friend of theirs (Gleb Alexandrovich Gekko), who provided V.’s address.
After fondly recalling their days as young, eager poets, the narrator begins telling the story of his doomed marriage—the real subject of his letter. He was married “a few weeks before the gentle Germans roared into Paris,” which occurred in 1940. However, the narrator claims that he is “positive” that his wife “never existed.” Her name is “the name of an illusion” and he is therefore able to speak of her with “as much detachment” as he would a character in a story. When he first met her, he felt no great emotions, but one night she said something . . . Read More
Prior to the twentieth century, writers structured their works to reflect their belief in the stability of character and the intelligibility of experience. Traditionally, novels and stories ended with a clear sense of closure as conflicts were resolved and characters gained knowledge about themselves and their world. Many writers during the twentieth century challenged these assumptions as they expanded the genre’s traditional form to accommodate their characters’ questions about the indeterminate nature of knowing in the modern age, a major thematic concern for these writers. Through their works they raised the epistemological question, “how do we know we really know what we think we know?”
Alain Robbe-Grillet continues this inquiry in “The Replacement” as he explores different methods of gaining understanding of an experience or an object. Through his meticulous shaping of the story, he presents an intriguing metaphor for the act of . . . Read More
The New Novel
The term New Novel (nouveau romari) became associated with a group of French writers in the 1950s, most notably Nathalie Sarraute, Claude Simon, Robert Pinget, Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor, and Robbe-Grillet, who rejected literary traditions of plot, action, narrative, and characterization, and created a new novelistic form that presented an objective record of events. Robbe-Grillet coined the term New Novel in his published essays on the nature and future of the novel, later collected in his Pour un nouveau roman in 1963.
Originally this group of writers was referred to as romanciers du regard, “novelists of the glance.” Jeanine Plottel, in her article on Robbe-Grillet for European Writers, explains, “When the accuracy of this term came to be questioned and the diversity of these writers became more and more obvious, their novels more and more puzzling,” the term nouveau was . . . Read More
Robbe-Grillet constructs a nontraditional plot in “The Replacement.” He interweaves three fragments: the interaction between the teacher and the pupils in the classroom, the schoolboy peering intently at the tree, and the story that is being read aloud in the classroom. Robbe-Grillet continually moves among the three, which disrupts chronology and subverts readers’ understanding of the elements in the story.
The narrator does not make clear the relationship between the schoolboy looking at the tree and what is happening in the classroom. Readers are not sure whether the teacher periodically looks out the window to observe the boy or something else. Thus the schoolboy could be a figment of the teacher’s imagination, or the students’ imagination, as the students cannot see out of the frosted windows.
Robbe-Grillet again confounds readers’ expectations for an understandable plot . . . Read More
The main theme in “The Replacement” focuses on the attainment of knowledge. The story is about how people perceive the world and how they often become confused when they try to interpret it. Robbe-Grillet reveals this theme through the interweaving of three plot lines. The central story, that of the interaction between the teacher and his pupils, centers on communication problems. The teacher apparently has instructed the students on how to read a text by pausing for the punctuation. Yet when the students do this, the teacher is not satisfied, due to their monotone readings. The teacher has not been able to communicate his idea of how one should read a story.
The students’ lack of understanding could be due to their apparent boredom in the classroom. Every chance they get, they whisper among themselves and glance around the room, especially at the paper puppet that hangs in the front, instead of actively . . . Read More
The Children in the Classroom
The children in the classroom all exhibit similar behavior. Most of the time they reveal their inattentiveness. While the first boy is reading, they whisper among themselves instead of following along in the text. They also spend a lot of time staring at a paper puppet hanging at the front of the class. They apparently fear the teacher, as noted when they look toward the teacher and reveal “a vaguely questioning, or fearful, expression.” As soon as the first boy stops reading, their attention immediately returns to the book.
The first boy is one of three boys in the classroom to whom readers are introduced. At the beginning of the sketch, he reads aloud. As he is reading, he suggests that he is obedient as he has been following the teacher’s rigid directions about pauses for punctuation. When the boy suddenly pauses, the narrator . . . Read More
The narrative weaves together three separate scenes. The first involves a schoolboy who is standing by a tree, peering intently at something in the branches. He repeatedly tries to reach a branch that seems within his grasp. After failing to grasp it, he lowers his arm, appears to give up, and continues to stare at something in the leaves. He then returns to the foot of the tree and resumes the same position he took at the beginning of the story. The narrator describes the position of the boy’s body as he peers up at the branches. He holds a book satchel in one hand while the other hand is obscured, probably because he is using it to balance himself against the tree. His face is pressed to the tree and turned in such a way that it would not be visible to an observer. The boy scrutinizes something unidentifiable about a yard and a half above the ground.
The narrative then shifts to the second scene, which is inside a classroom. There a boy who has been reading . . . Read More
Adam Frost points out in a retrospective essay on Saki’s career appearing in Contemporary Review, that the author’s first published story, “Dogged,” ends in a “reversal [that] is typical of Saki”; in that story, the “owner becomes pet and vice versa.” Saki would repeat such use of a surprise ending throughout his career as a short story writer, perhaps most famously so in The Open Window. While that story’s ending brought about a comic effect, in “The Interlopers,” which Saki wrote at the end of his career, this pattern is now employed with a more vicious twist: the human hunters become the hunted. This motif is repeated in two different ways. Georg Znaym and Ulrich von Gradwitz are turned into game as each hunts the other, his lifelong enemy. More crucially, however, the men, pinioned under a fallen tree, are about to become the helpless quarry of a pack of wolves. A critic for the New York Times points out that . . . Read More
World War I
In the late 1800s and early 1900s rivalries between European powers began to intensify. Imperialist states were fighting over land in Asia and Africa, ethnic groups were struggling for self-control, and nations were competing to build larger and more powerful military forces. In addition the region had developed a system of alliances in which nations would help each other out in disputes.
In 1914 a Serbian nationalist shot and killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, which proved to be the spark that set off World War I. As tensions mounted between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, Germany (which was allied with Austria-Hungary) declared war on Russia (which was allied with Serbia). Germany expanded the conflict when it declared war on France and marched into Belgium to reach France, thus breaking an 1839 neutrality agreement. Great Britain declared war on Germany that same day. Other nations joined the fray, and . . . Read More
Point of View
“The Interlopers” is written from the third-person omniscient point of view, meaning the narrator sees and knows all. This point of view allows the narrator to present the history of the disputed land, explain how the similar personalities of Georg and Ulrich have brought the feud to a murderous brink, and explain the moral codes that govern the enemies. Each man’s perception of the events that have taken place are presented. Access to the thoughts and feelings of both men alerts the reader that the two are actually more alike than different, which further unites the men in their futile feud and even more futile impending death.
The dialogue in “The Interlopers” is important because it is the means by which the men express their willingness to step away from their feud. Ulrich, speaking first of the desire to “bury the old quarrel,” uses a . . . Read More