The Books of My Numberless Dreams

The relationship between fantasy and reality, Part one

Posted on: August 20, 2007

I want to discuss fantasy and reality, and their mutual relationship. If we consider the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” story as an allegory — the struggle between Good and Evil within every man — then this allegory is tasteless and childish. To the type of mind that would see an allegory here, its shadow play would also postulate physical happenings which common sense knows to be impossible; but actually in the setting of the story, as viewed by a commonsensical mind, nothing at first sight seems to run counter to general experience. I want to suggest, however, that a second look shows that the setting of the story does run counter to general human experience, and thatUtterson and the other men around Jekyll are, in a sense, as fantastic as Mr. Hyde. Unless we see them in a fantastic light, there is no enchantment. And if the enchanter leaves and the storyteller and the teacher remain alone together, they make poor company.

The story of Jekyll and Hyde is beautifully constructed, but it is an old one. Its moral is preposterous since neither good nor evil is actually depicted: on the whole, they are taken for granted, and the struggle goes on between two empty outlines. The enchantment lies in the art of Stevenson’s fancywork; but I want to suggest that since art and thought, manner and matter, are inseparable, there must be something of the same kind about the structure of the story, too. Let us be cautious, however. I still think that there is a flaw n the artistic realization of this story — if we consider form and content separately — a flaw which is missing in Gogol’s “TheCarrick” and in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”. The fantastic side of the setting — Utterson, Enfield, Poole, Lanyon, and their London — is not of the same quality as the fantastic side of of Jekyll’s hydization. There is a crack in the picture, a lack of unity.

“The Carrick,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and “The Metamorphosis”: all three are commonly called fantasies. From my point of view, any outstanding work of art is a fantasy insofar as it reflects the unique world of a unique individual. But when people call these three stories fantasies, they merely imply that the stories depart in their subject matter from what is commonly called reality. Let us therefore examine what reality is, in order to discover in what manner and to what extent so-called fantasies depart from so-called reality.

From “The Metamorphosis”, an essay in Lectures on Literature by Vladimir Nabokov


3 Responses to "The relationship between fantasy and reality, Part one"

I really enjoy your Nabokov posts, they make me want to read his Lectures on Literature very badly.

I also agree with his assessment of what “fantasy” is.

I wonder what he made of Gabriel García Márquez (who maintains that there is nothing unrealistic about his work)?

Topher thanks, I’m glad they tempt you to read the book! I think they’re worth it, if only for the way Nabokov elegantly expresses his opinion, particularly in light of the fact that the essays were edited posthumously and in their original state not all together, or intended for publication.

Sylvia I haven’t read Marquez, but perhaps the second part of the excerpt will answer the question for you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: