A possible source for If On a Winter's Night a Traveler.

In reading Calvino's "Se Una Notte d'Inverno Un Viaggiatore" I was struck by its similarities to a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight." This novel describes an unnamed narrator, V, in his pursuit to write a biography of his enigmatic brother who was a famous author, Sebastian Knight. What strikes me as similar between the two works is first the structure.

While I would say that Calvino's novel is more intricately designed (10 novels, 12 frame chapters focused on the reader's pursuit), Nabokov's novel follows a similar stylistic pattern: we follow "V" in his pursuit of his brother, as he recounts past moments and memories of Sebastian, while at the same time we read fragments of the novels that Sebastian has written. These sketches are drawn by V but they often include quotations from the actual (actually fictitious) works of Sebastian. This, of course, reminded me of Calvino's discussion of the levels of reality... You are reading a book by a fictitious narrator about his pursuit of a fictitious brother novelist and within all of this fiction you are reading words from supposed narratives of this author, that despite all of their fabrications present a high level of realism.

What also struck me is that these sketches or
vignettes are all plays on different genres: one is a mystery, one is an existential drama and so forth, just as the stunted novels in "Se Una Notte d'Inverno Un Viaggiatore" are plays (or parodies) on certain established genres.

The last thing I wanted to point out about the relationship between the two is that the way in which V is searching for his ever elusive brother is very reminiscent of the narrator in Calvino's work that is trying ever so hard to
grasp the elusive "other reader". What's more, this search is informed or is supposed to
be informed by the intermittent texts of his brother's novels - that is to say, the novels
we read within the novel reflect aspects of the elusive chase that is supposedly going on
within the 'real life' pursuit of the novel (a technique that in our discussions we called "mise-en-abîme").

More about Nabokov and Calvino...

Peter Friis

Silence, sand, story