You may have been able to tell from the past two days that Dreyer was my favorite character from King, Queen, Knave. He’s really a sweetheart: gives his weirdo nephew a job, practically adopts him into his home in Berlin, hopes like a little puppy dog for a kiss from his beloved wife, and takes delight in sitting with a dictionary on his knee as he tries to read English books. And thinking about Dreyer this week as I decided to blog the novel some more, I started to think about some unexpected parallels between this one and a much later work from Nabokov—Ada, or Ardor.
Dreyer is concerned with one of the stranger threads of the novel, that of the cosmopolitan inventor and the animated mannequins. Dreyer owns a men’s department store, and he’s approached by European of ambiguous origin who believes he can make moving, walking, plastic mannequins. Dreyer jerks the guy around a bit (because of his whimsical nature, it mostly seems), but he’s very interested in the idea and very interested in making money. So here and there the European pops up again, Dreyer calls him back, Dreyer checks out his progress, etc. It’s not what you’d call science fiction, but then again it is: it’s about an inventor who can make dolls walk! (Sort of.)
It felt sort of “inserted” to me into this rather humdrum story of a love affair, and I don’t think it’s dissimilar from the long section in the middle of Ada on Anti-Terra and all the rest of Van’s theories. I can tell I need to re-read Ada because of how little I remember of the details, but I also know I never really understood the purpose of that aspect of the novel. And the same goes here in KQK.
Dreyer himself also reminds of me another character in Ada, little sister Lucette. As Martin Amis noted (via Anthony), “the vice Nabokov most frequently reviled was ‘cruelty,’” and Dreyer and Lucette are subjected to extremely similar cruelties. Van and Ada exclude her from their activities and consider her largely as an annoyance in the way of their affair; Franz and Martha of course do exactly the same. Lucette is a younger sibling while Dreyer is himself the cuckold, but since the Ada relationship is incestuous Lucette is more betrayed than your average younger sister with a crush on your boyfriend.
One big difference is that Lucette knows she is being treated cruelly. She fights against it for decades, makes herself miserable, and never finds happiness in this life. Dreyer, blind to his wife’s faithlessness, continues in cheerful ruddiness day after day.
Another difference: I hated Lucette. I think Brian Boyd has argued very persuasively that Nabokov ultimately condemns Ada and Van through Lucette, and I do feel some sympathy for her. But she is annoying, where Ada and Van are brilliant (if, to some, overly so). In KQK, instead, we have Dreyer the teddy bear vs. the extremely unsavory Franz and Martha. Maybe this difference is in fact about more than just my personal preference (or my first-child prejudice against younger siblings).