parachute, Izumrudov, Andronnikov & Niagarin in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 12/28/2018 - 15:16

According to Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), he arrived in America descending by parachute:


John Shade's heart attack (Oct. 17, 1958) practically coincided with the disguised king's arrival in America where he descended by parachute from a chartered plane piloted by Colonel Montacute, in a field of hay-feverish, rank-flowering weeds, near Baltimore whose oriole is not an oriole. (note to Line 691)


In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Lasker arrives in Vasyuki (as imagined by the Vasyuki chess enthusiasts) descending by parachute:


Вдруг на горизонте была усмотрена чёрная точка. Она быстро приближалась и росла, превратившись в большой изумрудный парашют. Как большая редька, висел на парашютном кольце человек с чемоданчиком.

– Это он! – закричал одноглазый. – Ура! Ура! Ура! Я узнаю великого философа-шахматиста, доктора Ласкера. Только он один во всем мире носит такие зелёные носочки.


Suddenly a black dot was noticed on the horizon. It approached rapidly, growing larger and  larger until  it finally turned into a large emerald parachute. A man with an attache case was hanging from the harness, like a huge radish.

"Here he is!" shouted one-eye. "Hooray,  hooray, I recognize  the great philosopher and chess player Dr. Lasker. He is the only person in the world who wears those green socks." (Chapter 34 “The Interplanetary Chess Tournament”)


Lasker’s izumrudnyi parashyut (emerald parachute) brings to mind Izumrudov, one of the greater Shadows who visits Gradus (Shade’s murderer) in Nice:


On the morning of July 16 (while Shade was working on the 698-746 section of his poem) dull Gradus, dreading another day of enforced inactivity in sardonically, sparkling, stimulatingly noisy Nice, decided that until hunger drove him out he would not budge from a leathern armchair in the simulacrum of a lobby among the brown smells of his dingy hotel. Unhurriedly he went through a heap of old magazines on a nearby table. There he sat, a little monument of taciturnity, sighing, puffing out his cheeks, licking his thumb before turning a page, gaping at the pictures, and moving his lips as he climbed down the columns of printed matter. Having replaced everything in a neat pile, he sank back in his chair closing and opening his gabled hands in various constructions of tedium - when a man who had occupied a seat next to him got up and walked into the outer glare leaving his paper behind. Gradus pulled it into his lap, spread it out - and froze over a strange piece of local news that caught his eye: burglars had broken into Villa Disa and ransacked a bureau, taking from a jewel box a number of valuable old medals.

Here was something to brood upon. Had this vaguely unpleasant incident some bearing on his quest? Should he do something about it? Cable headquarters? Hard to word succinctly a simple fact without having it look like a cryptogram. Airmail a clipping? He was in his room working on the newspaper with a safety razor blade when there was a bright rap-rap at the door. Gradus admitted an unexpected visitor - one of the greater Shadows, whom he had thought to be onhava-onhava ("far, far away"), in wild, misty, almost legendary Zembla! What stunning conjuring tricks our magical mechanical age plays with old mother space and old father time!

He was a merry, perhaps overmerry, fellow, in a green velvet jacket. Nobody liked him, but he certainly had a keen mind. His name, Izumrudov, sounded rather Russian but actually meant “of the Umruds,” an Eskimo tribe sometimes seen paddling their umyaks (hide-lined boats) on the emerald waters of our northern shores. Grinning, he said friend Gradus must get together his travel documents, including a health certificate, and take the earliest available jet to New York. Bowing, he congratulated him on having indicated with such phenomenal acumen the right place and the right way. Yes, after a thorough perlustration of the loot that Andron and Niagarushka had obtained from the Queen's rosewood writing desk (mostly bills, and treasured snapshots, and those silly medals) a letter from the King did turn up giving his address which was of all places -- Our man, who interrupted the herald of success to say he had never -- was bidden not to display so much modesty. A slip of paper was now produced on which Izumudrov, shaking with laughter (death is hilarious), wrote out for Gradus their client's alias, the name of the university where he taught, and that of the town where it was situated. No, the slip was not for keeps. He could keep it only while memorizing it. This brand of paper (used by macaroon makers) was not only digestible but delicious. The gay green vision withdrew - to resume his whoring no doubt. How one hates such men! (note to Line 741)


Andron and Niagarushka mentioned by Kinbote are Andronnikov and Niagarin, the two Soviet experts hired by the new Zemblan government to find the crown jewels. In “The Twelve Chairs” the three main characters (Bender, Vorobyaninov and Father Fyodor) attempt to obtain jewelry hidden in a chair. Bender’s lecture on chess in the Vasyuki club Kartonazhnik (Cardboard Worker) is a parody of Valentin Katayev's story Lektsiya Niagarova (“A Lecture of Niagarov,” 1926) that appeared in Smekhach (a satiric magazine that came out in Moscow and Leningrad in 1924-28). The magazine’s name was borrowed from Khlebnikov’s poem Zaklyatie smekhom (“Incantation by Laughter,” 1909), in which the word smekhachi (pl. of smekhach, Khlebnikov’s neologism from smekh, “laughter”) is repeated five times:


О, рассмейтесь, смехачи!
О, засмейтесь, смехачи!
Что смеются смехами, что смеянствуют смеяльно,
О, засмейтесь усмеяльно!
О, рассмешищ надсмеяльных — смех усмейных смехачей!
О, иссмейся рассмеяльно, смех надсмейных смеячей!
Смейево, смейево,
Усмей, осмей, смешики, смешики,
Смеюнчики, смеюнчики.
О, рассмейтесь, смехачи!
О, засмейтесь, смехачи!


Smekhach rhymes with skripach (fiddler). In Pushkin’s poem K kastratu raz prishyol skrypach… (“The fiddler once visited the eunuch…” 1835) the rich castrated singer mentions his almazy, izumrudy (diamonds, emeralds) and asks the poor fiddler what does he do when he is bored:


К кастрату раз пришёл скрыпач,
Он был бедняк, а тот богач.
«Смотри, сказал певец <безмудый>, —
Мои алмазы, изумруды —
Я их от скуки разбирал.
А! кстати, брат, — он продолжал, —
Когда тебе бывает скучно,
Ты что творишь, сказать прошу».
В ответ бедняга равнодушно:
— Я? я <муде> себе чешу.


The poor fellow replies: “I scratch my testicles.” According to Kinbote, Gradus tried several times to castrate himself:


Gradus landed at the Cote d'Azur airport in the early afternoon of July 15, 1959. Despite his worries he could not help being impressed by the torrent of magnificent trucks, agile motor bicycles and cosmopolitan private cars on the Promenade. He remembered and disliked the torrid heat and the blinding blue of the sea. Hotel Lazuli, where before World War Two he had spent a week with a consumptive Bosnian terrorist, when it was a squalid, running-water place frequented by young Germans, was now a squalid, running-water place frequented by old Frenchmen. It was situated in a transverse street, between two thoroughfares parallel to the quay, and the ceaseless roar of crisscross traffic mingling with the grinding and banging of construction work proceeding under the auspices of a crane opposite the hotel (which had been surrounded by a stagnant calm two decades earlier) was a delightful surprise for Gradus, who always liked a little noise to keep his mind off things. ("Ça distrait," as he said to the apologetic hostlerwife and her sister.)
After scrupulously washing his hands, he went out again, a tremor of excitement running like fever down his crooked spine. At one of the tables of a sidewalk cafe on the corner of his street and the Promenade, a man in a bottle-green jacket, sitting in the company of an obvious whore, clapped both palms to his face, emitted the sound of a muffled sneeze; and kept masking himself with his hands as he pretended to wait for the second installment. Gradus walked along the north side of the embankment. After stopping for a minute before the display of a souvenir shop, he went inside, asked the price of a little hippopotamus made of violet glass, and purchased a map of Nice and its environs. As he walked on to the taxi stand in rue Gambetta, he happened to notice two young tourists in loud shirts stained with sweat, their faces and necks a bright pink from the heat and imprudent solarization; they carried carefully folded over their arms the silk-lined doublebreasted coats of their wide-trousered dark suits and did not look at our sleuth who despite his being exceptionally unobservant felt the undulation of something faintly familiar as they brushed past. They knew nothing of his presence abroad or of his interesting job; in point of fact, only a few minutes ago had their, and his, superior discovered that Gradus was in Nice and not in Geneva. Neither had Gradus been informed that he would be assisted in his quest by the Soviet sportsmen, Andronnikov and Niagarin, whom he had casually met once or twice on the Onhava Palace grounds when re-paning a broken window and checking for the new government the rare Rippleson panes in one of the ex-royal hothouses; and next moment he had lost the thread end of recognition as he settled down with the prudent wriggle of a short-legged person in the back seat of an old Cadillac and asked to be taken to a restaurant between Pellos and Cap Turc. It is hard to say what our man's hopes and intentions were. Did he want just to peep through the myrtles and oleanders at an imagined swimming pool? Did he expect to hear the continuation of Gordon's bravura piece played now in another rendition, by two larger and stronger hands? Would he have crept, pistol in hand, to where, a sun-bathing giant lay spread-eagled, a spread eagle of hair on his chest? We do not know, nor did Gradus perhaps know himself; anyway, he was spared an unnecessary journey. Modern taximen are as talkative as were the barbers of old, and even before the old Cadillac had rolled out of town, our unfortunate killer knew that his driver's brother had worked in the gardens of Villa Disa but that at present nobody lived there, the Queen having gone to Italy for the rest of July.

At his hotel the beaming proprietress handed him a telegram. It chided him in Danish for leaving Geneva and told him to undertake nothing until further notice. It also advised him to forget his work and amuse himself. But what (save dreams of blood) could be his amusements? He was not interested in sightseeing or seasiding. He had long stopped drinking. He did not go to concerts. He did not gamble. Sexual impulses had greatly bothered him at one time but that was over. After his wife, a beader in Radugovitra, had left him (with a gypsy lover), he had lived in sin with his mother-in-law until she was removed, blind and dropsical, to an asylum for decayed widows. Since then he had tried several times to castrate himself, had been laid up at the Glassman Hospital with a severe infection, and now, at forty-four, was quite cured of the lust that Nature, the grand cheat, puts into us to inveigle us into propagation. No wonder the advice to amuse himself infuriated him. I think I shall break this note here. (note to Line 697)


In Dostoevski’s novel The Idiot (1869) Keller mentions izumrudy (emeralds):


- Послушайте, Келлер, я бы на вашем месте лучше не признавался в этом без особой нужды, - начал было князь, - а впрочем, ведь вы, может быть, нарочно на себя наговариваете?

- Вам, единственно вам одному, и единственно для того, чтобы помочь своему развитию! Больше никому; умру и под саваном унесу мою тайну! Но, князь, если бы вы знали, если бы вы только знали, как трудно в наш век достать денег! Где же их ваять, позвольте вас спросить после этого? Один ответ: "неси золото и бриллианты, под них и дадим", то-есть именно то, чего у меня нет, можете вы себе это представить? Я наконец рассердился, постоял, постоял. "А под изумруды, говорю, дадите?" - "И под изумруды, говорит, дам". - "Ну и отлично", говорю, надел шляпу и вышел; чорт с вами, подлецы вы этакие! Ей богу!

- А у вас разве были изумруды?

- Какие у меня изумруды! О, князь, как вы ещё светло и невинно, даже, можно сказать, пастушески смотрите на жизнь!


“Listen to me, Keller,” returned the prince. “If I were in your place, I should not acknowledge that unless it were absolutely necessary for some reason. But perhaps you are making yourself out to be worse than you are, purposely?”

“I should tell it to no one but yourself, prince, and I only name it now as a help to my soul’s evolution. When I die, that secret will die with me! But, excellency, if you knew, if you only had the least idea, how difficult it is to get money nowadays! Where to find it is the question. Ask for a loan, the answer is always the same: ‘Give us gold, jewels, or diamonds, and it will be quite easy.’ Exactly what one has not got! Can you picture that to yourself? I got angry at last, and said, ‘I suppose you would accept emeralds?’ ‘Certainly, we accept emeralds with pleasure. Yes!’ ‘Well, that’s all right,’ said I. ‘Go to the devil, you den of thieves!’ And with that I seized my hat, and walked out.”

“Had you any emeralds?” asked the prince.

“What? I have emeralds? Oh, prince! with what simplicity, with what almost pastoral simplicity, you look upon life!” (Part Two, chapter XI)


In his speech on Dostoevski (delivered on the hundredth anniversary of the writer’s birth) Lunacharski (the minister of education in Lenin’s government) takes the example of water in order to explain Dostoevski’s treatment of man’s psyche. According to Lunacharski, to understand the dynamics of water one must imagine a fantastic Niagara Falls, a hundred times more grandiose than the real one:


Чтобы понять, что делает Достоевский с психикой - возьмём хотя бы такой пример - вода. Для того, чтобы дать человеку полное представление о воде, заставить его объять все её свойства, надо ему показать воду, пар, лёд, разделить воду на составные части, показать, что такое тихое озеро, величаво катящая свои волны река, водопад, фонтан и проч. Словом - ему нужно показать все свойства, всю внутреннюю динамику воды. И, однако, этого всё-таки будет мало. Может быть, для того, чтобы понять динамику воды, нужно превысить данные возможности и фантастически представить человеку Ниагару, в сотню раз грандиознейшую, чем подлинная. Вот Достоевский и стремится превозмочь реальность и показать дух человеческий со всеми его неизмеримыми высотами и необъяснимыми глубинами со всех сторон. Как Микель Анджело скручивает человеческие тела в конвульсиях, в агонии, так Достоевский дух человеческий то раздувает до гиперболы, то сжимает до полного уничтожения, смешивает с грязью, низвергает его в глубины ада, то потом вдруг взмывает в самые высокие эмпиреи неба. Этими полётами человеческого духа Достоевский не только приковывает наше внимание, захватывает нас, открывает нам новые неизведанные красоты, но даёт очень много и нашему познанию, показывая нам неподозреваемые нами глубины души.


Dinamika vody (the dynamics of water) brings to mind a certain stupendous Dynamo goalkeeper whose mannerisms Niagarin could imitate to perfection:


All this is the rule of a supernal game, all this is the immutable fable of fate, and should not be construed as reflecting on the efficiency of the two Soviet experts - who, anyway, were to be marvelously successful on a later occasion with another job (see note to line 747). Their names (probably fictitious) were Andronnikov and Niagarin. One has seldom seen, at least among waxworks, a pair of more pleasant, presentable chaps. Everybody admired their clean-shaven jaws, elementary facial expressions, wavy hair, and perfect teeth. Tall handsome Andronnikov seldom smiled but the crinkly little rays of his orbital flesh bespoke infinite humor while the twin furrows descending from the sides of his shapely nostrils evoked glamorous associations with flying aces and sagebrush heroes. Niagarin, on the other hand, was of comparatively short stature, had somewhat more rounded, albeit quite manly features, and every now and then would flash a big boyish smile remindful of scoutmasters with something to hide, or those gentlemen who cheat in television quizzes. It was delightful to watch the two splendid Sovietchiks running about in the yard and kicking a chalk-dusty, thumping-tight soccer ball (looking so large and bald in such surroundings). Andronnikov could tap-play it on his toe up and down a dozen times before punting it pocket straight into the melancholy, surprised, bleached, harmless heavens; and Niagarin could imitate to perfection the mannerisms of a certain stupendous Dynamo goalkeeper. They used to hand out to the kitchen boys Russian caramels with plums or cherries depicted on the rich luscious six-cornered wrappers that enclosed a jacket of thinner paper with the mauve mummy inside; and lustful country girls were known to creep up along the drungen (bramble-choked footpaths) to the very foot of the bulwark when the two silhouetted against the now flushed sky sang beautiful sentimental military duets at eventide on the rampart. Niagarin had a soulful tenor voice, and Andronnikov a hearty baritone, and both wore elegant jackboots of a soft black leather, and the sky turned away showing its ethereal vertebrae. (note to line 681)


Andronnikov is a character in Dostoevski’s novel Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875).  According to Kinbote, in a conversation with him Shade listed Dostoevski among Russian humorists:


Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 172)


At the beginning (and, presumably, at the end) of his poem Shade calls himself “the shadow of the waxwing.” In his poem Tam, gde zhili sviristeli (“There, where the waxwings lived…” 1908) Khlebnikov mentions besporyadok dikiy teney (a wild confusion of shadows) and staya lyogkikh vremirey (a flock of light timefinches):


В беспорядке диком теней,
Где, как морок старых дней,
Закружились, зазвенели
Стая лёгких времирей.


Khlebnikov’s neologism from vremya (time), vremir’ (“timefinch”) rhymes with snegir’ (bullfinch). Snegir’ (“The Bullfinch,” 1800) is a poem by Derzhavin written after Suvorov’s death. As pointed out by VN in his Eugene Onegin Commentary (vol. II, p. 310), Pushkin's poem Exegi monumentum (1836), in which the poet says net, ves' ya ne umru ("no, I'll not wholly die") and mentions the now savage Tungus (cf. the Umruds, the Eskimo tribe mentioned by Kinbote), is a parody of Derzhavin's Pamyatnik ("The Monument," 1796). One of Derzhavin’s greatest odes is Vodopad (“The Waterfall,” 1794). Niagara is a waterfall. Describing his stay in The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where he and Lolita spend their first night together), Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955) compares a neighbor's toilet to a veritable Niagara:


Every now and then, immediately east of my left ear (always assuming I lay on my back, not daring to direct my viler side toward the nebulous haunch of my bed-mate), the corridor would brim with cheerful, resonant and inept exclamations ending in a volley of good-nights. When that stopped, a toilet immediately north of my cerebellum took over. It was a manly, energetic, deep-throated toilet, and it was used many times. Its gurgle and gush and long afterflow shook the wall behind me. Then someone in a southern direction was extravagantly sick, almost coughing out his life with his liquor, and his toilet descended like a veritable Niagara, immediately beyond our bathroom. And when finally all the waterfalls had stopped, and the enchanted hunters were sound asleep, the avenue under the window of my insomnia, to the west of my wake-a staid, eminently residential, dignified alley of huge trees-degenerated into the despicable haunt of gigantic trucks roaring through the wet and windy night. (1.29)


Btw., it seems that the extravagantly sick man who almost coughs out his life with his liquor is Clare Quilty (who also stayed in The Enchanted Hunters and who offered Humbert Humbert a drink on the porch).


In his essay Yubiley (“The Anniversary,” 1927) written for the tenth anniversary of the October coup of 1917 VN mentions a gold bullion poorly hidden in the depths of a water-closet:


Я презираю коммунистическую веру как идею низкого равенства, как скучную страницу в праздничной истории человечества, как отрицание земных и неземных красот, как нечто, глупо посягающее на мое свободное «я», как поощрительницу невежества, тупости и самодовольства. Сила моего презрения в том, что я, презирая, не разрешаю себе думать о пролитой крови. И ещё в том его сила, что я не жалею, в буржуазном отчаянии, потери имения, дома, слитка золота, недостаточно ловко спрятанного в недрах ватерклозета. Убийство совершает не идея, а человек,— и с ним расчет особый, — прощу я или не прощу — это вопрос другого порядка. Жажда мести не должна мешать чистоте презрения. Негодование всегда беспомощно.


The author of Dar ("The Gift," 1937), Lolita, Pnin (1957) and Pale Fire, VN was one of the best Russian humorists. Kinbote is right when he says that Andronnikov and Niagarin will never find the Zemblan crown jewels that should be looked for in Blok's Foreword to his poem Vozmezdie ("Retribution," 1910-21):


Тема заключается в том, как развиваются звенья единой цепи рода. Отдельные отпрыски всякого рода развиваются до положенного им предела и затем вновь поглощаются окружающей мировой средой; но в каждом отпрыске зреет и отлагается нечто новое и нечто более острое, ценою бесконечных потерь, личных трагедий, жизненных неудач, падений и т. д.; ценою, наконец, потери тех бесконечно высоких свойств, которые в своё время сияли, как лучшие алмазы в человеческой короне (как, например, свойства гуманные, добродетели, безупречная честность, высокая нравственность и проч.)


Blok compares the infinitely high qualities, such as humanism, virtues, impeccable honesty, etc., to luchshie almazy v chelovecheskoy korone (the best diamonds in man’s crown). At the end of Chekhov's play Dyadya Vanya (“Uncle Vanya,” 1898) Sonya promises to uncle Vanya that they will see the whole sky swarming with diamonds. According to Kinbote, the sky turned away showing its ethereal vertebrae when Andronnikov and Niagarin sang beautiful sentimental military duets at eventide. The name of Zemblan capital, Onhava (cf. onhava-onhava, "far, far away") seems to hint at heaven.


In the first poem of his cycle Zaklyatie ognyom i mrakom ("Incantation by Fire and Darkness," 1907) Alexander Blok mentions tayna smekha (the secret of laughter):


О, весна без конца и без краю —
Без конца и без краю мечта!
Узнаю тебя, жизнь! Принимаю!
И приветствую звоном щита!

Принимаю тебя, неудача,
И удача, тебе мой привет!
В заколдованной области плача,
В тайне смеха — позорного нет!


In the cycle's second poem Blok compares the world to zvonkiy dar (a ringing gift) and zlata gorst' (a handful of gold) that he accepted:


Приявший мир, как звонкий дар,
Как злата горсть, я стал богат.
Смотрю: растёт, шумит пожар —
       Глаза твои горят.


The name of Blok's family estate in the Province of Moscow, Shakhmatovo comes from shakhmaty (chess). In "Retribution" Blok mentions all those who ceased to be a pawn and whom the authorities hasten to promote to rooks or knights:


И власть торопится скорей
Всех тех, кто перестал быть пешкой,
В тур превращать, или в коней… (Chapter One, ll. 211-213)


Tur (Gen. pl. of tura, obsolete for "rook") brings to mind the North Tower from which Baron Bland (the Keeper of Treasure) jumped or fell:


However, not all Russians are gloomy, and the two young experts from Moscow whom our new government engaged to locate the Zemblan crown jewels turned out to be positively rollicking. The Extremists were right in believing that Baron Bland, the Keeper of the Treasure, had succeeded in hiding those jewels before he jumped or fell from the North Tower; but they did not know he had had a helper and were wrong in thinking the jewels must be looked for in the palace which the gentle white-haired Bland had never left except to die. I may add, with pardonable satisfaction, that they were, and still are, cached in a totally different - and quite unexpected - corner of Zembla. (note to Line 681)


Baron Bland seems to blend Blok with Brand, the title character of a play in verse (1865) by Ibsen. At the end of "Retribution" Blok mentions nebo - kniga mezhdu knig (heaven - Book among the books) and quantum satis Branda voli (quantum satis of strong-willed Brand):


Когда ты загнан и забит

Людьми, заботой, иль тоскою;

Когда под гробовой доскою

Всё, что тебя пленяло, спит;

Когда по городской пустыне,

Отчаявшийся и больной,

Ты возвращаешься домой,

И тяжелит ресницы иней,

Тогда - остановись на миг

Послушать тишину ночную:

Постигнешь слухом жизнь иную,

Которой днём ты не постиг;

По-новому окинешь взглядом

Даль снежных улиц, дым костра,

Ночь, тихо ждущую утра

Над белым запушённым садом,

И небо - книгу между книг;

Найдёшь в душе опустошённой

Вновь образ матери склонённый,

И в этот несравненный миг -

Узоры на стекле фонарном,

Мороз, оледенивший кровь,

Твоя холодная любовь -

Всё вспыхнет в сердце благодарном,

Ты всё благословишь тогда,

Поняв, что жизнь - безмерно боле,

Чем quantum satis Бранда воли,

А мир - прекрасен, как всегда.


When you are cornered and depressed
By people, dues or anguish.
When, underneath the coffin lid,
All that inspired you, perished;
When through the deserted town dome,
Hopeless and weak,
You're finally returning home,
And rime is on thy eyelashes, -
Then - come to rest for short-lifted flash
To hear the silence of night
You'll fathom other life by ears
That's hard to fathom at daylight
In new way you will do the glance
Of long snow streets and foam of fire,
Of night, quite waiting for the lance
Of morning in white garden, piled.
Of heaven - Book among the books
You'll find in the drained soul
Again your loving mother's look
And at this moment, peerless, sole
The patterns on the lamppost's glass
The frost, that chilled your blood
Your stone-hold love, already past
All will flare up in your heart.
Then everything you'll highly bless
You'll see that life is much greater
Than quantum satis of strong-willed Brand
And the world is beautiful as always. (chapter III)


In Latin quantum satis means “the amount which is enough.” The 999 lines of Shade’s poem look insufficient. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished poem needs only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that Shade's poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Blok. Blok’s poem begins as follows:


Однажды в октябрьском тумане

Я брёл, вспоминая напев.


Once in the October haze

I shuffled, remembering a melody.


Bland + oktyabr’ = Blok + Brand + yat’


oktyabr’ – October; Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on October 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum)

yat’ – in the old Russian alphabet the letter ѣ (cancelled by the reform of 1918)


In VN’s play Sobytie (“The Event,” 1938) Lyubov’ (the wife of the portrait painter Troshcheykin) complains that she married the letter yat’:


Вера. Мне лично Алёша никогда не импонировал. Но мне казалось, что у тебя будет с ним замечательно интересная жизнь, а ведь мы до сих пор, собственно, не знаем, великий ли он художник или чепуха. "Мой предок, воевода четырнадцатого века, писал Трощейкин через "ять", а посему, дорогая Вера, прошу и вас впредь писать так мою фамилию".

Любовь. Да, вот и выходит, что я вышла замуж за букву "ять". (Act One)


Lyubov’ and Vera are the daughters of Antonina Pavlovna Opayashin, a lady writer whose name and patronymic hint at Chekhov. The characters of Chekhov’s one-act play Svad’ba (The Wedding,” 1889) include the telegraphist Yat’. Troshcheykin’s name and patronymic, Aleksey Maksimovich, hints at Gorki. Gorki's real name, Peshkov comes from peshka (pawn). The characters in Gorki's play Na dne ("At the Bottom," 1902) include Baron (cf. Baron Bland). In a letter of July 29, 1902, to Gorki Chekhov says that it is unclear why he is a Baron:


Из IV акта Вы увели самых интересных действующих лиц (кроме актёра), и глядите теперь, чтобы чего-нибудь не вышло от этого. Этот акт может показаться скучным и ненужным, особенно если с уходом более сильных и интересных актёров останутся одни только средние. Смерть актёра ужасна; Вы точно в ухо даете зрителю, ни с того ни с сего, не подготовив его. Почему барон попал в ночлежку, почему он есть барон — это тоже недостаточно ясно.

You have left out of the fourth act all the most interesting characters (except the actor), and you must mind now that there is no ill effect from it. The act may seem boring and unnecessary, especially if, with the exit of the strongest and most interesting actors, there are left only the mediocrities. The death of the actor is awful; it is as though you gave the spectator a sudden box on the ear apropos of nothing without preparing him in any way. How the baron got into the doss-house and why he is a baron is also not sufficiently clear.


One of the most interesting characters whom the author has left out of the fourth act, Luka brings to mind Caroline Lukin (the maiden name of Shade’s mother):


A Commentary where placid scholarship should reign is not the place for blasting the preposterous defects of that little obituary. I have only mentioned it because that is where I gleaned a few meager details concerning the poet's parents. His father, Samuel Shade, who died at fifty, in 1902, had studied medicine in his youth and was vice-president of a firm of surgical instruments in Exton. His chief passion, however, was what our eloquent necrologist calls "the study of the feathered tribe," adding that "a bird had been named for him: Bombycilla Shadei" (this should be "shadei," of course). The poet's mother, nee Caroline Lukin, assisted him in his work and drew the admirable figures of his Birds of Mexico, which I remember having seen in my friend's house. What the obituarist does not know is that Lukin comes from Luke, as also do Locock and Luxon and Lukashevich. It represents one of the many instances when the amorphous-looking but live and personal hereditary patronymic grows, sometimes in fantastic shapes, around the common pebble of a Christian name. The Lukins are an old Essex family. Other names derive from professions such as Rymer, Scrivener, Limner (one who illuminates parchments), Botkin (one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear) and thousands of others. (note to Line 71)


In Canto One of his poem Shade speaks of his dead parents and mentions a preterist (one who collects cold nests):


I was an infant when my parents died.
They both were ornithologists. I've tried
So often to evoke them that today
I have a thousand parents. Sadly they
Dissolve in their own virtues and recede,
But certain words, chance words I hear or read,
Such as "bad heart" always to him refer,
And "cancer of the pancreas" to her.

A preterist: one who collects cold nests.

Here was my bedroom, now reserved for guests. (ll. 71-80)


A futurist poet, Velimir Khlebnikov was the son of a celebrated ornithologist. "Cold nests" bring to mind ptentsy gnezda Petrova (the fledglings of Peter’s nest) mentioned by Pushkin in Canto Three of Poltava (1828):


И он промчался пред полками,
Могущ и радостен, как бой.
Он поле пожирал очами.
За ним вослед неслись толпой
Сии птенцы гнезда Петрова —
В пременах жребия земного,
В трудах державства и войны
Его товарищи, сыны:

И Шереметев благородный,
И Брюс, и Боур, и Репнин,
И, счастья баловень безродный,
Полудержавный властелин.


He tore ahead of all the ranks,

Enraptured, mighty as the battle.

His eyes devoured the martial field.

The fledglings of Peter’s nest

Surged after him, a loyal throng—

Through all the shifts of worldly fate,

In trials of policy and war,

These men, these comrades, were like sons:

The noble Sheremetev,

And Bryus, and Bour, and Repnin,

And, fortune’s humble favorite,

The mighty half-sovereign.

(trans. Ivan Eubanks)


There is Pnin in Repnin. The historical I. P. Pnin (1773-1805), a poet and president of The Free Society of Lovers of Literature, Sciences and Arts, was an illegitimate son of Prince Repnin (1734-1801). Na smert' I. P. Pnina ("On the Death of I. P. Pnin," 1805) is a poem by Batyushkov. Gradus kills Shade on July 21, 1959. In a letter of July 21, 1822, to his brother Lev and his sister Olga Pushkin asks his brother to refute the news that Batyushkov went mad:


Мне писали, что Батюшков помешался: быть нельзя; уничтожь это вранье.


Pushkin wrote his poem Ne day mne Bog soyti s uma... ("The Lord forbid my going mad..." 1833) after visiting mad Batyushkov. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade's "real" name). There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade's poem and commits suicide, Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin's epigrams, "half-milord, half-merchant, etc."), will be full again.


According to Kinbote, the King escaped from Zembla clad in bright red clothes. Krasnyi smekh ("The Red Laughter," 1905) is a novella by Leonid Andreyev. Its title brings to mind VN’s novel Laughter in the Dark (1932). In his novel Zashchita Luzhina ("The Luzhin Defense,” 1930) VN mentions Andreyev’s Okean (“The Ocean,” 1911), a tragedy in seven scenes:


Играя утром в теннис с приятельницей немкой, слушая давно приевшиеся лекции по истории искусства, перелистывая у себя в комнате потрёпанные, разношерстные книжки, -- андреевский "Океан", роман Краснова, брошюру "Как сделаться йогом", она всё время сознавала, что вот сейчас Лужин погружён в шахматные вычисления, борется, мучится, и ей было немного обидно, что она не может разделить муки его искусства.


All through those autumn days, while playing tennis in the mornings with a German girl friend, or listening to lectures on art that had long since palled on her, or leafing through a tattered assortment of books in her room - Andreyev's The Ocean, a novel by Krasnov and a pamphlet entitled "How to Become a Yogi"— she was conscious that right now Luzhin was immersed in chess calculations, struggling and suffering—and it vexed her that she was unable to share in the torments of his art. (Chapter Eight)


A celebrated writer, a very pale man in black overcoat, whom Luzhin’s wife saw in Finland is Leonid Andreyev:


И затем, в Финляндии, оставшейся у неё в душе, как что-то более русское, чем сама Россия, оттого, может быть, что деревянная дача и ёлки, и белая лодка на чёрном от хвойных отражений озере особенно замечались, как русское, особенно ценились, как что-то запретное по ту сторону Белоострова, – в этой, ещё дачной, ещё петербургской Финляндии она несколько раз издали видела знаменитого писателя, очень бледного, с отчётливой бородкой, все посматривавшего на небо, где начинали водиться вражеские аэропланы. И он остался странным образом рядом с русским офицером, впоследствии потерявшим руку в Крыму, – тишайшим, застенчивым человеком, с которым она летом играла в теннис, зимой бегала на лыжах, и при этом снежном воспоминании всплывала вдруг опять на фоне ночи дача знаменитого писателя, где он и умер, расчищенная дорожка, сугробы, освещённые электричеством, призрачные полоски на тёмном снегу. После этих по-разному занятных людей, каждый из которых окрашивал воспоминание в свой определённый цвет (голубой географ, защитного цвета комиссар, чёрное пальто писателя и человек, весь в белом, подбрасывающий ракеткой еловую шишку), была расплывчатость и мелькание, жизнь в Берлине, случайные балы, монархические собрания, много одинаковых людей – и все это было ещё так близко, что память не могла найти фокуса и разобраться в том, что ценно, а что сор, да и разбираться было теперь некогда, слишком много места занял угрюмый, небывалый, таинственный человек, самый привлекательный из всех, ей известных.


And later in Finland, which had remained in her heart as something more Russian than Russia, perhaps because the wooden villa and the fir trees and the white boat on the lake, black with the reflected conifers, were especially Russian, being treasured as something forbidden on the far side of the frontier. In this Finland which was still, vacation land, still part of St. Petersburg life, she saw several times from afar a celebrated writer, a very pale man with a very conspicuous goatee who kept glancing up at the sky, which enemy airplanes had begun to haunt. And he remained in some strange manner beside the Russian officer who subsequently lost an arm in the Crimea during the civil war — a most shy and retiring boy with whom she used to play tennis in summer and ski in winter — and with this snowy recollection there would float up once more against a background of night the celebrated writer's villa, in which he later died, and the cleared path and snowdrifts illumined by electric light, phantasmal stripes on the dark snow. These men with their various occupations, each of whom tinted her recollection his own particular color (blue geographer, khaki commissar, the writers' black overcoat and a youth all in white lobbing a fir cone with his tennis racket) were followed by glinting and dissolving images: émigré life in Berlin, charity balls, monarchist meetings and lots of identical people — all this was still so close that her memory was unable to focus properly and sort out what was valuable and what rubbish, and moreover there was no time now to sort it out, too much space had been taken up by this taciturn fabulous, enigmatical man, the most attractive of all the men she had known. (Chapter Six)


Leonid Andreyev died in Finland in 1919. According to Kinbote, John Shade married Sybil Swallow (as Kinbote calls the poet’s wife whose maiden name comes from the French word for “swallow”) were married in 1919. Lastochka ("The Swallow," 1794) is a poem by Derzhavin written after the death of Plenira (the poet's first wife). Sybil Shade's "real" name seems to be Sofia Botkin, née Lastochkin.


At the end of VN's novel mad Luzhin jumps to his death from the bathroom window:


Лужин, заперев дверь, первым делом включил свет. Белым блеском раскрылась эмалевая ванна у левой стены. На правой висел рисунок карандашом: куб, отбрасывающий тень. В глубине, у окна, стоял невысокий комод. Нижняя часть окна была как будто подернута ровным морозом, искристо-голубая, непрозрачная. В верхней части чернела квадратная ночь с зеркальным отливом. Лужин дернул за ручку нижнюю раму, но что-то прилипло или зацепилось, она не хотела открыться. Он на мгновение задумался, потом взялся за спинку стула, стоявшего подле ванны, и перевел взгляд с этого крепкого, белого стула на плотный мороз стекла. Решившись наконец, он поднял стул за ножки и краем спинки, как тараном, ударил. Что-то хрустнуло, он двинул еще раз, и вдруг в морозном стекле появилась черная, звездообразная дыра. Был миг выжидательной тишины. Затем глубоко-глубоко внизу что-то нежно зазвенело и рассыпалось. Стараясь расширить дыру, он ударил еще раз, и клинообразный кусок стекла разбился у его ног. Тут он замер. За дверью были голоса. Кто-то постучал. Кто-то громко позвал его по имени. Потом тишина, я совершенно ясно голос жены: "Милый Лужин, отоприте, пожалуйста". С трудом сдерживая тяжкое свое дыхание, Лужин опустил на пол стул и попробовал высунуться в окно. Большие клинья и углы еще торчали в раме. Что-то полоснуло его по шее, он быстро втянул голову обратно,- нет, не пролезть. В дверь забухал кулак. Два мужских голоса спорили, и среди этого грома извивался шепот жены. Лужин решил больше не бить стекла, слишком оно звонко. Он поднял глаза. Верхняя оконница. Но как до нее дотянуться? Стараясь не шуметь и ничего не разбить, он стал снимать с комода предметы: зеркало, какую-то бутылочку, стакан. Делал он все медленно и хорошо, напрасно его так торопил грохот за дверью, Сняв также и скатерть, он попытался влезть на комод, приходившийся ему по пояс, и это удалось не сразу. Стало душно, он скинул пиджак и тут заметил, что и руки у него в крови, и перед рубашки в красных пятнах. Наконец, он оказался на комоде, комод трещал под его тяжестью. Он быстро потянулся к верхней раме и уже чувствовал, что буханье и голоса подталкивают его, и он не может не торопиться. Подняв руку, он рванул раму, и она отпахнулась. Черное небо. Оттуда, из этой холодной тьмы, донесся голос жены, тихо сказал: "Лужин, Лужин". Он вспомнил, что подальше, полевее, находится окно спальни, из него-то и высунулся этот шепот. За дверью, меж тем, голоса и грохот росли, было там человек двадцать, должно быть,- Валентинов, Турати, старик с цветами, сопевший, крякавший, и еще, и еще, и все вместе чем-то били в дрожащую дверь. Квадратная ночь, однако, была еще слишком высоко. Пригнув колено, Лужин втянул стул на комод. Стул стоял нетвердо, трудно было балансировать, все же Лужин полез. Теперь можно было свободно облокотиться о нижний край черной ночи. Он дышал так громко, что себя самого оглушал, и уже далеко, далеко были крики за дверью, но зато яснее был пронзительный голос, вырывавшийся из окна спальни. После многих усилий он оказался в странном и мучительном положении: одна нога висела снаружи, где была другая - неизвестно, а тело никак не хотело протиснуться. Рубашка на плече порвалась, все лицо было мокрое. Уцепившись рукой за что-то вверху, он боком пролез в пройму окна. Теперь обе ноги висели наружу, и надо было только отпустить то, за что он держался,- и спасен, Прежде чем отпустить, он глянул вниз. Там шло какое-то торопливое подготовление: собирались, выравнивались отражения окон, вся бездна распадалась на бледные и темные квадраты, и в тот миг, что Лужин разжал руки, в тот миг, что хлынул в рот стремительный ледяной воздух, он увидел, какая именно вечность угодливо и неумолимо раскинулась перед ним.

Дверь выбили. "Александр Иванович, Александр Иванович!" - заревело несколько голосов. Но никакого Александра Ивановича не было.


The first thing Luzhin did after locking the door was to turn on the light. Gleaming whitely, an enameled bathtub came into view by the left wall. On the right wall hung a pencil drawing: a cube casting a shadow. At the far end, by the window, stood a small chest. The lower part of the window was of frosted glass, sparkly-blue, opaque. In the upper part, a black rectangle of night was sheened mirror-like. Luzhin tugged at the handle of the lower frame, but something had got stuck or had caught, it did not want to open. He thought for a moment, then took hold of the back of a chair standing by the tub and looked from the sturdy white chair to the solid forest of the window. Making up his mind finally, he lifted the chair by the legs and struck, using its edge as a battering ram. Something cracked, he swung again, and suddenly a black, star-shaped hole appeared in the frosted glass. There was a moment of expectant silence. Then, far below, something tinkled tenderly and disintegrated. Trying to widen the hole, he struck again, and a wedge of glass smashed at his feet. There were voices behind the door. Somebody knocked. Somebody called him loudly by his name and patronymic. Then there was silence and his wife's voice said with absolute clarity: 'Dear Luzhin, open, please.' Restraining his heavy breathing, Luzhin lowered the chair to the floor and tried to thrust himself through the window. Large wedges and corners still stuck out of the frame. Something stung his neck and he quickly drew his head in again — no, he could not get through. A fist slammed against the door. Two men's voices were quarreling and his wife's whisper wriggled through the uproar. Luzhin decided not to smash any more glass, it made too much noise. He raised his eyes. The upper window. But how to reach it? Trying not to make a noise or break anything, he began to take things off the chest; a mirror, a bottle of some sort, a glass. He did everything slowly and thoroughly, it was useless for the rumbling behind the door to hurry him like that. Removing the doily too he attempted to climb up on the chest; it reached to his waist, and he was unable to make it at first. He felt hot and he peeled off his jacket, and here he noticed that his hands were bloodied and that there were red spots on the front of his shirt. Finally he found himself on the chest, which creaked under his weight. He quickly reached up to the upper frame, now feeling that the thumping and the voices were urging him on and that he could not help but hurry. Raising a hand he jerked at the frame and it swung open. Black sky. Thence, out of this cold darkness, came the voice of his wife, saying softly: 'Luzhin, Luzhin.' He remembered that farther to the left was the bedroom window: it was from there this whisper had emerged. Meanwhile the voices and the crashing behind the door had grown in volume, there must have been around twenty people out there — Valentinov. Turati, the old gentleman with the bunch of flowers... They were sniffing and grunting, and more of them came, and all together they were beating with something against the shuddering door. The rectangular night, however, was still too high. Bending one knee, Luzhin hauled the chair onto the chest. The chair was unstable, it was difficult to balance, but still Luzhin climbed up. Now he could easily lean his elbows on the lower edge of the black night. He was breathing so loudly that he deafened himself, and now the cries behind the door were far, far away, but on the other hand the voice from the bedroom window was clearer, was bursting out with piercing force. After many efforts he found himself in a strange and mortifying position: one leg hung outside, and he did not know where the other one was, while his body would in no wise be squeezed through. His shirt had torn at the shoulder, his face was wet. Clutching with one hand at something overhead, he got through the window sideways. Now both legs were hanging outside and he had only to let go of what he was holding on to — and he was saved. Before letting go he looked down. Some kind of hasty preparations were under way there: the window reflections gathered together and leveled themselves out, the whole chasm was seen to divide into dark and pale squares, and at the instant when Luzhin unclenched his hand, at the instant when icy air gushed into his mouth, he saw exactly what kind of eternity was obligingly and inexorably spread out before him.
The door was burst in, 'Aleksandr Ivanovich, Aleksandr Ivanovich,' roared several voices. But there was no Aleksandr Ivanovich. (chapter 14)


In his apology of suicide Kinbote mentions a packed parachute shuffled off and calls it "shootka" (a play on shutka, "joke"):


Of the not very many ways known of shedding one's body, falling, falling, falling is the supreme method, but you have to select your sill or ledge very carefully so as not to hurt yourself or others. Jumping from a high bridge is not recommended even if you cannot swim, for wind and water abound in weird contingencies, and tragedy ought not to culminate in a record dive or a policeman's promotion. If you rent a cell in the luminous waffle, room 1915 or 1959, in a tall business center hotel browing the star dust, and pull up the window, and gently - not fall, not jump - but roll out as you should for air comfort, there is always the chance of knocking clean through into your own hell a pacific noctambulator walking his dog; in this respect a back room might be safer, especially if giving on the roof of an old tenacious normal house far below where a cat may be trusted to flash out of the way. Another popular take-off is a mountaintop with a sheer drop of say 500 meters but you must find it, because you will be surprised how easy it is to miscalculate your deflection offset, and have some hidden projection, some fool of a crag, rush forth to catch you, causing you to bounce off it into the brush, thwarted, mangled and unnecessarily alive. The ideal drop is from an aircraft, your muscles relaxed, your pilot puzzled, your packed parachute shuffled off, cast off, shrugged off - farewell, shootka (little chute)! (note to Line 493)


In Griboedov’s play in verse Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) Famusov, as he speaks to Chatski (who suddenly arrived in Moscow after a three-year absence), uses the phrases vykinul shtuku (played a trick) and gryanul vdrug kak s oblakov (suddenly arrived as if falling from the clouds):


Ну выкинул ты штуку!

Три года не писал двух слов!

И грянул вдруг как с облаков. (Act Two, scene 9)


Shtuka (thing; trick, etc.) is an anagram of shutka (joke). Prevratila vsyo v shutku snachala... ("At first she turned everything into a joke..." 1916) is a poem by Blok. In Blok's "Retribution" the hero's father (Demon) dreams of "Woe from Wit" in his cold and cruel dreams:


Его прозрения глубоки,
Но их глушит ночная тьма,
И в снах холодных и жестоких
Он видит «Горе от ума». (Chapter III)


The surname Valentinov (of Luzhin's tutor) comes from Valentin (a male given name) or Valentina (a female given name). In his poem Vdvoyom (“The Two Together,” 1908) Blok calls his mistress Valentina, zvezda, mechtan’ye ("Valentina, a star, a reverie"):


Чёрный ворон в сумраке снежном,
Чёрный бархат на смуглых плечах.
Томный голос пением нежным
Мне поёт о южных ночах.

В лёгком сердце - страсть и беспечность,
Словно с моря мне подан знак.
Над бездонным провалом в вечность,
Задыхаясь, летит рысак.

Снежный ветер, твоё дыханье,
Опьянённые губы мои...
Валентина, звезда, мечтанье!
Как поют твои соловьи...

Страшный мир! Он для сердца тесен!
В нём - твоих поцелуев бред,
Тёмный морок цыганских песен,
Торопливый полёт комет!


VN's first love ("Tamara" of Speak, Memory) was Valentina Shulgin.


Speaking of Lolita, I recommend you the updated version of my previous post, “Vient de & Stella Fantasia in Lolita” (there are many new finds in it).