The Defense Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 35 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Defense.
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The Defense Summary & Study Guide Description

The Defense Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov.

Ten-year-old Aleksandr Ivaonich Luzhin, having proven too difficult for his governess, begins school. He is miserable and anti-social. The boy's father, convinced that Aleksandr will be the sort of gifted child that he writes about in his novels, is discouraged to hear academic reports indicating that his son is listless and apathetic. As the son of a famous author, Aleksandr is tormented by his peers. His misery persists until a chance encounter with a violinist introduces him to the game of chess.

Aleksandr begins ditching school to take chess lessons. His parents discover his truancy and put a stop to it, but in the meantime, the boy has become quite adept at chess. The father, having learned that his son has secretly been playing chess, puts Aleksandr's skill to the test. He is impressed, enlisting the aid of several skilled chess players to challenge his son. They are all defeated. Citing his newfound genius, Aleksandr refuses to return to school. His parents insist otherwise. The boy falls ill and is sick for quite some time.

Many years pass. Aleksandr begins playing chess tournaments at fourteen. For a time, the father travels with him, but eventually he abdicates his son's care to a clever man named Valentinov, who then abandons Aleksandr after just a few years. Nearly thirty years pass. The father dies, feeling abandoned by his son. Aleksandr, now a grandmaster visiting Germany for a tournament, strikes up a romance with a young Russian émigré.

Aleksandr proposes marriage, but the girl's mother doesn't care for the uncouth chess player. In the tournament, he plays extraordinarily well, but pushes himself too hard. A continuance is called during Aleksandr's game with Turati, his nemesis, after which he experiences a psychotic break and falls unconscious. Aleksandr wakes in the hospital, where a psychiatrist tells him that he must avoid chess from now on. He is released into his girlfriend's care. Her family rents him an apartment in their building.

Aleksandr recovers, spending a great deal of time with his fiancée's family. He and his fiancée are wed. The new wife does her best to distract Aleksander from thoughts of chess. A family friend of his wife visits from Soviet Russia. The visitor proves overbearing, monopolizing most of the wife's free time. With his wife distracted, Aleksandr finds it more difficult to resist thoughts of chess. By chance he stumbles upon a chess set and arranges it to the setup of the game with Turati.

With the visitor finally gone, the wife tries to engage Aleksandr with politics, subscribing to political newspapers and inviting intellectuals to gather at their apartment. Aleksandr shows little interest. Instead, he becomes convinced that he sees repeating patterns in his life, something akin to chess strategy. Someone or something is playing a game against him.

Despite his wife's intervention, Aleksandr is tricked into hearing a proposition from his old mentor Valentinov. Aleksander returns home in a highly agitated state. He explains to his wife that he has no choice but to leave the game. With that, he locks himself in a room, breaks a window and climbs out to the ledge. By the time the others force their way into the room, Aleksandr has already leaped to his death.

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