The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: Characters

Captain Belov
Captain Belov is the friend of Sebastians and V.s Russian family in St. Petersburg. He is the second to Sebastians father in the duel with Palchin. Belov is shot by Bolsheviks helping V., his mother, and Sebastian get out of Russia during the Revolution.

Clare Bishop
Clare Bishop is the attractive Englishwoman Sebastian lives with in the first part of his career as an author. She is pretty, thin, wears glasses, and dresses in tailored clothes. She is intelligent, imaginative, and has a sense of humor. She is capable of being Sebastians partner. Selflessly, she types his manuscripts, advises him on English usage, and helps him make artistic decisions. She does his record keeping and helps him meet people and get along in the world and daily life. Her life blends into his, and when Sebastian dumps her, she walks around like a lost soul. She eventually marries a businessman, gets pregnant and dies in childbirth.

Lydia Bohemsky
Lydia Bohemsky is one of the women on the list given to V. by Silbermann. When V. sees her, a fat and unattractive woman, he knows she is not the mysterious love of Sebastians life.

Roy Carswell
Roy Carswell is the painter who attempts a portrait of Sebastian. V. dislikes it, for Carswell shows only Sebastians head looking at himself in a pool of water, like Narcissus. The image refers to the fact that Sebastian writes about the subjective experience.

(Sebastians) Father
Sebastians father is never given his name in Russian. He is a Russian aristocrat before the Revolution, with money, and a country estate. He is described as in the military and warm-hearted and manly. He rushes into a room with enthusiasm. He marries Virginia Knight, an Englishwoman beneath his class, without his familys approval. The father remarries after Virginia runs away when Sebastian is four. Later he finds out the man Palchin was the lover of his first wife and dies in a duel with him. Though the gesture was meaningless, Sebastian likes that his father died defending the honor of his mother. V. says that the energy of Sebastians writing came from his father.

Mr. Goodman
Mr. Goodman was Sebastians secretary after Sebastian broke up with Clare. Goodman was fired by Sebastian for trying to change his words. As soon as Sebastian dies, Goodman cashes in with his hurried and faulty biography, Tragedy of Sebastian Knight, arguing he was not a great author because he was too introverted and sensitive to understand the world. V. uses Goodman to satirize critics in general.

The Swiss governess of V. and Sebastian taught them French, but when V. visits her for memories of their childhood, she cannot remember anything. V. remarks on how there were many like her who came to Russia but never learned the language or appreciated the country.

Madame von Graun (Madame Lecerf, Nina Rechnoy)
Madame von Graun is one of the four names of women on Silbermanns list of those who stayed in Blauberg when Sebastian was there. It is possible she is the missing lover because,although she has a German name, she was Russian and sang Russian songs. She is described as cunning from a photo V. sees of her in shadow. When V. tries to interview her, she pretends to be her friend, Madame Lecerf. She does not try to help V. but rather, ensnare him in a hoax and possible seduction.

Helene Grinstein
Helene Grinstein is one of the four names given to V. by Silbermann. When V. sees her in West Berlin, he knows she is not the one who made Sebastian miserable, because, though pretty and intelligent, she is kind. She has been organizing a Jewish funeral at her home and yet takes care of V. V. notes that she does not smash lives; she builds them. She introduces V. to the Rosanovs who were V.s neighbors in Russia.

Sebastian Knight
Sebastian Knight is the subject of this fictitious biography of a famous author, containing autobiographical elements from Nabokovs own life. Sebastian is born when Nabokov was (1899) in St. Petersburg, Russia. Sebastian was part of the Russian aristocracy before the Revolution, as was Nabokov. He escapes and goes to England, his mothers country, where he attends Cambridge and begins to write novels and poetry in English. His biographer V., after Sebastians early death at 36 from heart disease, names and quotes from Sebastians novels, explaining things the critics are unlikely to understand. Like Nabokov, Sebastian is interested in the subjectivity of experience and rendering that experience into language. The mystery of why Sebastian left his compatible mistress, Clare, for a devilish Russian woman, and who that woman was, is the task V. pursues to tell the last days of the real life of Sebastian Knight. Sebastian turns out to be ultra-sensitive, open to the slightest impressions, making it difficult for him to live an ordinary life. He has no outlet but writing for his fantastic observations. V. also brings out that others constantly misinterpret him, another reason for his loneliness. Nevertheless, V. is not interested in showing Sebastians life as a tragedy. The whole biography, besides explaining Nabokovs views and methods, is also a take-off on the art of biography, contrasting V.s methods and Goodmans.

Virginia Knight
Virginia Knight, Sebastians mother, is a slim and restless Englishwoman whom Sebastians father met in Rome, married and brought home to Russia. She does not help his career in his military regiment. She is flighty and runs off with Palchin. She sees Sebastian for one day when he is nine, gives him some sugar coated violets, and then dies the next year of the same heart condition he inherits from her. V. thinks her restlessness was in Sebastian.

Madame Lecerf (Madame Helene von Graun; Nina ToorovetzRechnoy)
Madame Lecerf is the name Helene von Graun gives to V. when he visits her in her Paris apartment. She pretends to be the friend of Helene, so she can find out what V. wants. She tells him in an oblique way about the relationship between Sebastian and Helene, without giving names. Helene dumped the Sebastian character in her story because she was bored with his intellectual personality. Madame Lecerf is beautiful but tricky and leads V. on, always saying that Helene will come later. Meanwhile she toys with him. He finally unmasks her when he goes to Madames house in the country and realizes she herself is the Russian woman, Helene von Graun, formerly Nina ToorovetzRechnoy, by making her speak Russian. She likes being cynical and worldly, saying that all flowers wither at her touch. V. understands firsthand what she did to Sebastian, as he too, falls under her spell.

Alexis Pan and Larissa
Alexis Pan and his wife Larissa were Sebastians friends in Russia, whom he ran away with when he was seventeen, on a supposed journey to the East. Pan was a Futurist poet and liked to shock people. When they ran out of money, Sebastian returned home. The incident shows his desire for the literary life.

Palchin is the name of Virginia Knights Russian lover, for whom she left her husband and son. Later, when challenged by Sebastians father, he fought a duel and killed him.

Miss Helen Pratt
Helen Pratt is a London secretary, who has worked for Mr. Goodman, and knew both Clare and Sebastian. Since she is Clares best friend, she tells V. about their love relationship. He does not fully trust her version of it. Later, she shields Clare from meeting Sebastian in a bookstore near the end of his life, afraid it will upset her.

P. G. Sheldon
P. G. Sheldon is a poet friend of Sebastians in London. He, Miss Pratt, Sebastian and Clare did things together. Sheldon was upset when Sebastian left Clare and demanded to know why he did it, because he liked Clare.

Paul (PahlPahlich) Rechnoy
Paul Rechnoy is the first Russian husband of Nina (Helene von Graun). V. visits Rechnoy to find out about a Madame de Rechnoy who was on Silbermanns list of names.  Paul is now a poor Russian emigrant living in Paris with his current wife, child, and cousin in a dumpy flat. He tells the story of Nina and her wicked ways. She ran away from him, and he warns V. against her.

Natasha Rosanov
Natasha Rosanov was Sebastians first love when he was sixteen. It was a summer romance on the Russian country estates where they lived as neighbors. He read English poetry to her. When V. interviews her, she is a plump middle-aged mother.

Silbermann is an ex-policeman, a plain clothesman, who helps V. trace Sebastians lover by providing him with a list of likely suspects. He does this favor for free after meeting V. on a train. He has an accent and now sells various items. He is a comic and somewhat fantastic character.

Nina Toorovetz
Nina is the mystery woman in Sebastians life, known by many names, such as Madame Lecerf and Madame von Graun. She was the wife of Paul Rechnoy when young but ran away from him to become a high society “Mata Hari” as he calls her. She is treacherous and selfish and likes to destroy men.

V. is the half-brother of Sebastian Knight, who is never formally named in the book, but is the first-person narrator. Probably the V. stands for Vladimir (Nabokov). There are all kinds of hints, though V. is given a separate history, that he is a version of Sebastian. He was born in St. Petersburg six years after Sebastian to his fathers second wife. He becomes a Paris businessman but decides to learn enough English to write his brothers biography after he sees what a terrible job Goodman does. At the end of the book, V. seems to melt into his dying brother Sebastian until they are one character. V. claims he is not the genius of the family, but his descriptions are as poetic as Sebastians, and his satire is as biting.