Gaston Godin in Lolita; New Wye in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 03/27/2019 - 08:05

At Beardsley Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN's novel Lolita, 1955) plays chess with Gaston Godin (a professor of French):

 

A word about Gaston Godin. The main reason why I enjoyed - or at least tolerated with relief - his company was the spell of absolute security that his ample person cast on my secret. Not that he knew it; I had no special reason to confide in him, and he was much too self-centered and abstract to notice or suspect anything that might lead to a frank question on his part and a frank answer on mine. He spoke well of me to Beardsleyans, he was my good herald. Had he discovered mes goûts and Lolita’s status, it would have interested him only insofar as throwing some light on the simplicity of my attitude towards him , which attitude was as free of polite strain as it was of ribald allusions; for despite his colorless mind and dim memory, he was perhaps aware that I knew more about him than the burghers of Beardsley did. He was a flabby, dough-faced, melancholy bachelor tapering upward to a pair of narrow, not quite level shoulders and a conical pear-head which had sleek black hair on one side and only a few plastered wisps on the other. But the lower part of his body was enormous, and he ambulated with a curious elephantine stealth by means of phenomentally stout legs. He always wore black, even his tie was black; he seldom bathed; his English was a burlesque. And, nonetheless, everybody considered him to be a supremely lovable, lovably freakish fellow! Neighbors pampered him; he knew by name all the small boys in our vicinity (he lived a few blocks away from me)and had some of them clean his sidewalk and burn leaves in his back yard, and bring wood from his shed, and even perform simple chores about the house, and he would feed them fancy chocolates, with real  liqueurs inside - in the privacy of an orientally furnished den in his basement, with amusing daggers and pistols arrayed on the moldy, rug-adorned walls among the camouflaged hot-water pipes. Upstairs he had a studiohe painted a little, the old fraud. He had decorated its sloping wall (it was really not more than a garret) with large photographs of pensive André Gide, Tchaikovsky, Norman Douglas, two other well-known English writers, Nijinsky (all thighs and fig leaves), Harold D. Doublename (a misty-eyed left-wing professor at a Midwestern university) and Marcel Proust. All these poor people seemed about to fall on you from their inclined plane. He had also an album with snapshots of all the Jackies and Dickies of the neighborhood, and when I happened to thumb through it and make some casual remark, Gaston would purse his fat lips and murmur with a wistful pout “Oui, ils sont gentils. ” His brown eyes would roam around the various sentimental and artistic bric-a-brac present, and his own banal toiles  (the conventionally primitive eyes, sliced guitars, blue nipples and geometrical designs of the day), and with a vague gesture toward a painted wooden bowl or veined vase, he would say “Prenez donc une de ces poires.  La bonne dame d’en face m’en offre plus que je n’en peux savourer. ” Or: “Mississe Taille Lore vient de me donner ces dahlias, belles fleurs que j’exècre .” (Somber, sad, full of world-weariness.)

For obvious reasons, I preferred my house to his for the games of chess we had two or three times weekly. He looked like some old battered idol as he sat with his pudgy hands in his lap and stared at the board as if it were a corpse. Wheezing he would mediate for ten minutes - then make a losing move. Or the good man, after even more thought, might utter: Au roi!  With a slow old-dog woof that had a gargling sound at the back of it which made his jowls wabble; and then he would lift his circumflex eyebrows with a deep sigh as I pointed out to him that he was in check himself.

Sometimes, from where we sat in my cold study I could hear Lo’s bare feet practicing dance techniques in the living room downstairs; but Gaston’s outgoing senses were comfortably dulled, and he remained unaware of those naked rhythms - and-one, and-two, and-one, and-two, weight transferred on a straight right leg, leg up and out to the side, and-one, and-two, and only when she started jumping, opening her legs at the height of the jump, and flexing one leg, and extending the other, and flying, and landing on her toes - only then did my pale, pompous, morose opponent rub his head or cheek as if confusing those distant thuds with the awful stabs of my formidable Queen.

Sometimes Lola would slouch in while we pondered the board - and it was every time a treat to see Gaston, his elephant eye still fixed on his pieces, ceremoniously rise to shake hands with her, and forthwith release her limp fingers, and without looking once at her, descend again into his chair to topple into the trap I had laid for him. One day around Christmas, after I had not seen him for a fortnight or so, he asked me “Et toutes vos fillettes, elles vont bien? from which it became evident to me that he had multiplied my unique Lolita by the number of sartorial categories his downcast moody eye had glimpsed during a whole series of her appearances: blue jeans, a skirt, shorts, a quilted robe.

I am loath to dwell so long on the poor fellow (sadly enough, a year later, during a voyage to Europe, from which he did not return, he got involved in a sale histoire, in Naples of all places!). I would have hardly alluded to him at all had not his Beardsley existence had such a queer bearing on my case. I need him for my defense. There he was devoid of any talent whatsoever, a mediocre teacher, a worthless scholar, a glum repulsive fat old invert, highly contemptuous of the American way of life, triumphantly ignorant of the English language - there he was in priggish New England, crooned over by the old and caressed by the young - oh, having a grand time and fooling everybody; and here was I. (2.6)

 

Because it supposedly tied up with her interest in dance and dramatics, I had permitted Lo to take piano lessons with a Miss Emperor (as we French scholars may conveniently call her) to whose blue-shuttered little white house a mile or so beyond Beardsley Lo would spin off twice a week. One Friday night toward the end of May (and a week or so after the very special rehearsal Lo had not had me attend) the telephone in my study, where I was in the act of mopping up Gustave’s - I mean Gaston’s - king’s side, rang and Miss Emperor asked if Lo was coming next Tuesday because she had missed last Tuesday’s and today’s lessons. I said she would by all means - and went on with the game. As the reader may well imagine, my faculties were now impaired, and a move or two later, with Gaston to play, I noticed through the film of my general distress that he could collect my queen; he noticed it too, but thinking it might be a trap on the part of his tricky opponent, he demurred for quite a minute, and puffed and wheezed, and shook his jowls, and even shot furtive glances at me, and made hesitating half-thrusts with his pudgily bunched fingers - dying to take that juicy queen and not daring - and all of a sudden he swooped down upon it (who knows if it did not teach him certain later audacities?), and I spent a dreary hour in achieving a draw. (2.14) 

 

While Gaston blends Gast (Germ., guest) with ston (Russ., moan), Godin combines "god" with odin (Russ., one; alone). According to Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962), his God died young. In Canto One of his poem Shade mentions the stars:

 

And there's the wall of sound: the nightly wall

Raised by a trillion crickets in the fall.

Impenetrable! Halfway up the hill

I'd pause in thrall of their delirious trill.

That's Dr. Sutton's light. That's the Great Bear.

A thousand years ago five minutes were

Equal to forty ounces of fine sand.

Outstare the stars. Infinite foretime and

Infinite aftertime: above your head

They close like giant wings, and you are dead. (ll. 115-124)

 

In Lermontov’s poem Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu… (“I go out on the road alone…” 1841) the desert harks to God and star with star converses. From John Ray’s Foreword to Humbert Humbert’s manuscript we know that Mrs. Richard F. Schiller (Lolita’s married name) died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest North-west.

 

In Russian god means "year." In his poem Brozhu li ya vdol’ ulits shumnykh… (“Whether I wander along noisy streets,” 1829) Pushkin uses the word’s archaic form, godina:

 

День каждый, каждую годину
Привык я думой провождать,
Грядущей смерти годовщину
Меж их стараясь угадать.

 

Each day each year

I have come to usher out in fancy,

Of my approaching death the anniversary

Intent to guess among them.

 

The first line of the preceding stanza, Mladentsa l' milogo laskayu (When I caress a dear young child), brings to mind the perversions of both Humbert Humbert and Gaston Godin. Zhukovski's Russian version of Goethe's Erlkönig (a ballad whose opening lines are a leitmotif in Pale Fire), Lesnoy tsar', ends in the line V rukakh ego myortvyi mladenets lezhal (the little child in his arms was dead). In his poem Borodinskaya godovshchina ("The Borodino Anneversary," 1839) Zhukovski calls 1812 godina russkoy slavy ("the year of Russian glory") and mentions general Bagration (who was felled in the battle of Borodino). In an attempt to save his life Clare Quilty tries to seduce Humbert Humbert with his collection of erotica and mentions the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island:

 

“Oh, another thing - you are going to like this. I have an absolutely unique collection of erotica upstairs. Just to mention one item: the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie Weiss, a remarkable lady, a remarkable work - drop that gun - with photographs of eight hundred and something male organs she examined and measured in 1932 on Bagration, in the Barda Sea, very illuminating graphs, plotted with love under pleasant skies - drop that gun - and moreover I can arrange for you to attend executions, not everybody knows that the chair is painted yellow -” (2.35)

 

There is Bard in Barda and Barda in bardak (a brothel), a word used by Mayakovski (VN's "late namesake") in one of his verses:

 

Все люди бляди,
Весь мир бардак!
Один мой дядя
И тот мудак.

 

All people are whores,

The whole world is a brothel!

Only my uncle…

But even he is a cretin.

 

Shakespeare (the Bard) said: “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Humbert Humbert finds out Quilty’s address from his uncle Ivor (the Ramsdale dentist):

 

A white-smocked, grey-haired man, with a crew cut and the big flat cheeks of a politician, Dr. Quilty perched on the corner of his desk, one foot dreamily and seductively rocking as he launched on a glorious long-range plan. He would first provide me with provisional plates until the gums settled. Then he would make me a permanent set. He would like to have a look at that mouth of mine. He wore perforated pied shoes. He had not visited with the rascal since 1946, but supposed he could be found at his ancestral home, Grimm Road, not far from Parkington. It was a noble dream. His foot rocked, his gaze was inspired. It would cost me around six hundred. He suggested he take measurements right away, and make the first set before starting operations. My mouth was to him a splendid cave full of priceless treasures, but I denied him entrance.

“No,” I said. “On second thoughts, I shall have it all done by Dr. Molnar. His price is higher, but he is of course a much better dentist than you.”

I do not know if any of my readers will ever have a chance to say that. It is a delicious dream feeling. Clare’s uncle remained sitting on the desk, still looking dreamy, but his foot had stopped push-rocking the cradle of rosy anticipation. On the other hand, his nurse, a skeleton-thin, faded girl, with the tragic eyes of unsuccessful blondes, rushed after me so as to be able to slam the door in my wake. (2.33)

 

“The cradle of rosy anticipation” brings to mind the beginning of VN's autobiography Speak, Memory (1951):

 

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. (Chapter One, 1)

 

At the beginning of Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), the Russian version of his autobiography, VN mentions seraya ot zvyozd dal’ (remote regions grey from the stars):

 

Сколько раз я чуть не вывихивал разума, стараясь высмотреть малейший луч личного среди безличной тьмы по оба предела жизни? Я готов был стать единоверцем последнего шамана, только бы не отказаться от внутреннего убеждения, что себя я не вижу в вечности лишь из-за земного времени, глухой стеной окружающего жизнь. Я забирался мыслью в серую от звёзд даль -- но ладонь скользила всё по той же совершенно непроницаемой глади. Кажется, кроме самоубийства, я перепробовал все выходы. Я отказывался от своего лица, чтобы проникнуть заурядным привидением в мир, существовавший до меня. Я мирился с унизительным соседством романисток, лепечущих о разных йогах и атлантидах. Я терпел даже отчёты о медиумистических переживаниях каких-то английских полковников индийской службы, довольно ясно помнящих свои прежние воплощения под ивами Лхассы. В поисках ключей и разгадок я рылся в своих самых ранних снах -- и раз уж я заговорил о снах, прошу заметить, что безоговорочно отметаю фрейдовщину и всю её тёмную средневековую подоплёку, с её маниакальной погоней за половой символикой, с её угрюмыми эмбриончиками, подглядывающими из природных засад угрюмое родительское соитие.

 

Over and over again, my mind has made colossal efforts to distinguish the faintest of personal glimmers in the impersonal darkness on both sides of my life. That this darkness is caused merely by the walls of time separating me and my bruised fists from the free world of timelessness is a belief I gladly share with the most gaudily painted savage. I have journeyed back in thought—with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went—to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits. I have journeyed back in thought—with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went—to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits. Short of suicide, I have tried everything. I have doffed my identity in order to pass for a conventional spook and steal into realms that existed before I was conceived. I have mentally endured the degrading company of Victorian lady novelists and retired colonels who remembered having, in former lives, been slave messengers on a Roman road or sages under the willows of Lhasa. I have ransacked my oldest dreams for keys and clues—and let me say at once that I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with its crankish quest for sexual symbols (something like searching for Baconian acrostics in Shakespeare’s works) and its bitter little embryos spying, from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents. (ibid.)

 

Seraya ot zvyozd dal’ brings to mind Gray Star and Mona Dahl (Lolita's friend at Beardsley school). According to Gaston Godin, he hates dahlias (the beautiful flowers given to him by Mississe Taille Lore). Taille Lore reminds one of Ball Zack (as Mona Dahl calls Balzac):

 

I am anticipating a little, but I cannot help running my memory all over the keyboard of that shcool year. In the meeting my attempts to find out what kind of boys Lo knew, Miss Dahl was elegantly evasive. Lo who had gone to play tennis at Linda’s country club had telephoned she might be a full half hour late, and so, would I enteretain Mona who was coming to practice with her a scene from The Taming of the Shrew. Using all the modulations, all the allure of manner and voice she was capable of and staring at me with perhaps - could I be mistaken? - a faint gleam of crystalline irony, beautiful Mona replied: “Well, sir, the fact is Dolly is not much concerned with mere boys. Fact is, we are rivals. She and I have a crush on the Reverend Rigger.” (This was a joke - I have already mentioned that gloomy giant of a man, with the jaw of a horse: he was to bore me to near murder with his impressions of Switzerland at a tea party for parents that I am unable to place correctly in terms of time.)

How had the ball been? Oh, it had been a riot. A what? A panic. Terrific, in a word. Had Lo danced a lot? Oh, not a frightful lot, just as much as she could stand. What did she, languorous Mona, think of Lo? Sir? Did she think Lo was doing well at school? Gosh, she certainly was quite a kid. But her general behavior was -? Oh, she was a swell kid. But still? “Oh, she’s a doll,” concluded Mona, and sighed abruptly, and picked up a book that happened to lie at hand, and with a change of expression, falsely furrowing her brow, inquired: “Do tell me about Ball Zack, sir. Is he really that good?” She moved up so close to my chair that I made out through lotions and creams her uninteresting skin scent. A sudden odd thought stabbed me: was my Lo playing the pimp? If so, she had found the wrong substitute. Avoiding Mona’s cool gaze, I talked literature for a minute. Then Dolly arrived - and slit her pale eyes at us. I left the two friends to their own devices. One of the latticed squares in a small cobwebby casement window at the turn of the staircase was glazed with ruby, and that raw wound among the unstained rectangles and its asymmetrical position - a knight’s move from the top - always strangely disturbed me. (2.9)

 

In VN’s novel Pnin (1957) Pnin discusses Pushkin’s poem Brozhu li ya vdol’ ulits shumnykhin the class:

 

On the chalk-clouded blackboard, which he wittily called the greyboard, he now wrote a date. In the crook of his arm he still felt the bulk of Zol. Fond Lit. The date he wrote had nothing to do with the day this was in Waindell:

December, 26, 1829

He carefully drilled in a big white full stop, and added underneath:

3.03 p.m. St Petersburg

Dutifully this was taken down by Frank Backman, Rose Balsamo, Frank Carroll, Irving D. Herz, beautiful, intelligent Marilyn Hohn, John Mead, Jr, Peter Volkov, and Allan Bradbury Walsh.
Pnin, rippling with mute mirth, sat down again at his desk: he had a tale to tell. That line in the absurd Russian grammar, 'Brozhu li ya vdol' ulits shumnïh (Whether I wander along noisy streets),' was really the opening of a famous poem. Although Pnin was supposed in this Elementary Russian class to stick to language exercises ('Mama, telefon! Brozhu li ya vdol' ulits shumnïh. Ot Vladivostoka do Vashingtona 5000 mil'.'), he took every opportunity to guide his students on literary and historical tours.
In a set of eight tetrametric quatrains Pushkin described the morbid habit he always had - wherever he was, whatever he was doing - of dwelling on thoughts of death and of closely inspecting every passing day as he strove to find in its cryptogram a certain 'future anniversary': the day and month that would appear, somewhere, sometime upon his tombstone.
'"And where will fate send me", imperfective future, "death",' declaimed inspired Pnin, throwing his head back and translating with brave literality, '"in fight, in travel, or in waves? Or will the neighbouring dale" - dolina, same word, "valley" we would now say - "accept my refrigerated ashes", poussière, "cold dust" perhaps more correct. And though it is indifferent to the insensible body..."'
Pnin went on to the end and then, dramatically pointing with the piece of chalk he still held, remarked how carefully Pushkin had noted the day and even the minute of writing down that poem.
'But,' exclaimed Pnin in triumph, 'he died on a quite, quite different day! He died -' The chair back against which Pnin was vigorously leaning emitted an ominous crack, and the class resolved a pardonable tension in loud young laughter. (Chapter Three, 3)

 

In Pale Fire Professor Pnin is the head of the bloated Russian Department at Wordsmith University (where Shade and Kinbote teach). The three main characters in PF are the poet Shade, Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) and Gradus (Shade’s murderer whose name begins with G and brings to mind Gaston Godin). Shade's birthday, July 5, is also Kinbote's and Gradus' birthday (Shade, who was born in 1898, is seventeen years Kinbote's and Gradus' senior). In the draft Pushkin’s poem Iz Pindemonti (<From Pindemonte>, 1836) has the date under the text: July 5.

 

Shade borrowed the title of his poem from Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. In his essay Sud’ba Pushkina (“The Fate of Pushkin,” 1897) V. Solovyov quotes Pushkin’s poem “Whether I wander along noisy streets” and mentions Shakespeare’s Timon Afinskiy (Timon of Athens):

 

В житейских разговорах и в текущей литературе слово «судьба» сопровождается обыкновенно эпитетами более или менее порицательными: "враждебная" судьба, "слепая", "беспощадная", "жестокая" и т. д. Менее резко, но всё-таки с некоторым неодобрением говорят о "насмешках" и об "иронии" судьбы. Все эти выражения предполагают, что наша жизнь зависит от какой-то силы, иногда равнодушной, или безразличной, а иногда и прямо неприязненной и злобной. В первом случае понятие судьбы сливается с ходячим понятием о природе, для которой равнодушие служит обычным эпитетом:

И пусть у гробового входа
Младая будет жизнь играть,
И равнодушная природа
Красою вечною сиять. (II)

Действительность, данная в житейском опыте, несомненно находится в глубоком противоречии с тем идеалом жизни, который открывается вере, философскому умозрению и творческому вдохновению. Из этого противоречия возможны три определённые исхода. Можно прямо отречься от идеала как от пустого вымысла и обмана и признать факт, противоречащий идеальным требованиям как окончательную и единственную действительность. Это есть исход нравственного скептицизма и мизантропии - взгляд, который может быть почтенным, когда искренен, как, например, у Шекспирова Тимона Афинского, но который не выдерживает логической критики. (IV)

 

In Pushkin's poem Brozhu li ya vdol’ ulits shumnykhgodina rhymes with godovshchina (anniversary). Godovshchina (1926) is a poem by VN:

 

В те дни, дай Бог, от краю и до краю

гражданская повеет благодать:

всё сбудется, о чём за чашкой чаю

мы на чужбине любим погадать.

 

И вот последний человек на свете,

кто будет помнить наши времена,

в те дни на оглушительном банкете,

шалея от волненья и вина,

 

дрожащий, слабый, в дряхлом умиленье

поднимется... Но нет, он слишком стар:

черта изгнанья тает в отдаленье,

и ничего не помнит юбиляр.

 

Мы будем спать, минутные поэты;

я, в частности, прекрасно буду спать,

в бою случайном ангелом задетый,

в родимый прах вернувшийся опять.

 

Библиофил какой-нибудь, я чую,

найдёт в былых, не нужных никому

журналах, отпечатанных вслепую

нерусскими наборщиками, тьму

 

статей, стихов, чувствительных романов

о том, как Русь была нам дорога,

как жил Петров, как странствовал Иванов

и как любил покорный ваш слуга.

 

Но подписи моей он не отметит:

забыто всё. И, Муза, не беда.

Давай блуждать, давай глазеть, как дети,

на проносящиеся поезда,

 

на всякий блеск, на всякое движенье,

предоставляя выспренним глупцам

бранить наш век, пенять на сновиденье,

единый раз дарованное нам.

 

In the third stanza of VN's poem yubilyar (hero of the day) rhymes with star (old). V boyu sluchaynom angelom zadetyi (touched by the angel in an accidental fight), a line in VN’s Godovshchina, is an allusion to V boyu li, v stranstviyakh, v volnakh (in fight, in travel, or in waves), a line in Pushkin’s poem Brozhu li ya vdol’ ulits shumnykh

 

Shade, Kinbote and Gradus seem to represent three different aspects of Botkin's personality. 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 of Kinbote's Commentary). There is a hope (nadezhda) that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade's poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin's epigrams, "half-milord, half-merchant, etc."), will be full again.

 

Describing one of his conversations with Shade, Kinbote mentions Prof. Pnin and Prof. Botkin:

 

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)

 

New Wye (a small town where Shade and Kinbote live) seems to be a cross between New York and New Moscow, as in his lecture on chess Ostap Bender (the main character in Ilf and Petrov’s "The Twelve Chairs," 1928, and "The Golden Calf," 1931) calls Vasyuki:

 

— Не беспокойтесь, — сказал Остап, — мой проект гарантирует вашему городу неслыханный расцвет производительных сил. Подумайте, что будет, когда турнир окончится и когда уедут все гости. Жители Москвы, стеснённые жилищным кризисом, бросятся в ваш великолепный город. Столица автоматически переходит в Васюки. Сюда переезжает правительство. Васюки переименовываются в Нью-Москву, а Москва — в Старые Васюки. Ленинградцы и харьковчане скрежещут зубами, но ничего не могут поделать. Нью-Москва становится элегантнейшим центром Европы, а скоро и всего мира.

 

"Don't worry," continued Ostap, "my scheme will guarantee the town an unprecedented boom in your production forces. Just think what will happen when the tournament is over and the visitors have left. The citizens of Moscow, crowded together on account of the housing shortage, will come flocking to your beautiful town. The capital will be automatically transferred to Vasyuki. The government will move here. Vasyuki will be renamed New Moscow, and Moscow will become Old Vasyuki. The people of Leningrad and Kharkov will gnash their teeth in fury but won't be able to do a thing about it. New Moscow will soon become the most elegant city in Europe and, soon afterwards, in the whole world." (“The Twelve Chairs,” Chapter 34 “The Interplanetary Chess Tournament”)

 

One of the Vasyuki chess enthusiasts is, like a Cyclops, one-eyed. In his essay Ob Annenskom (“On Annenski,” 1921) Hodasevich points out that Annenski regarded his penname Nik. T-o (“Mr. Nobody”) as a translation of Greek Outis, the name under which Odysseus (the main character in Homer’s Odyssey) conceals his identity from the Cyclops Polyphemus:

 

Тот, чьё лицо он видел, подходя к зеркалу, был директор гимназии, смертный никто. Тот, чьё лицо отражалось в поэзии, был бессмертный некто. Ник. Т-о -- никто -- есть безличный действительный статский советник, которым, как видимой оболочкой, прикрыт невидимый некто. Этот свой псевдоним, под которым он печатал стихи, Анненский рассматривал как перевод греческого Outis, никто, -- того самого псевдонима, под которым Одиссей скрыл от циклопа Полифема своё истинное имя, свою подлинную личность, своего некто. Поэзия была для него заклятием страшного Полифема -- смерти. Но психологически это не только не мешало, а даже способствовало тому, чтобы его вдохновительницей, его Музой была смерть.

 

According to Hodasevich, Annenski's Muse was death itself. The person whose face Annenski saw in a mirror was smertnyi nikto (a mortal nobody) and the person whose face was reflected in Annenski’s poetry was bessmertnyi nekto (the immortal somebody). Nekto v serom (Someone in Gray) is a character in Leonid Andreyev’s play Zhizn’ cheloveka (“The Life of a Man,” 1907). In VN's novel Zashchita Luzhina ("The Luzhin Defense," 1930) Leonid Andreyev ("a celebrated writer") and his tragedy Okean ("The Ocean," 1911) are mentioned:

 

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)

 

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)

 

In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) Lermontov compares his soul to the ocean in which nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) lies:

 

Нет, я не Байрон, я другой,
Ещё неведомый избранник,
Как он, гонимый миром странник,
Но только с русскою душой.
Я раньше начал, кончу ране,
Мой ум немного совершит;
В душе моей, как в океане,
Надежд разбитых груз лежит.
Кто может, океан угрюмый,
Твои изведать тайны? Кто
Толпе мои расскажет думы?
Я — или Бог — или никто!

 

No, I'm not Byron, I’m another
yet unknown chosen man,
like him, a persecuted wanderer,
but only with a Russian soul.
I started sooner, I will end sooner,
my mind won’t achieve much;
in my soul, as in the ocean,
lies a load of broken hopes.
Gloomy ocean, who can
find out your secrets? Who
will tell to the crowd my thoughts?
Myself – or God – or none at all!

 

In the last line Lermontov mentions Bog (God). The poem's last word is nikto (nobody). In Pushkin’s little tragedy "Mozart and Salieri" (1830) Saliei calls Mozart bog (a god):

 

Какая глубина!
Какая смелость и какая стройность!
Ты, Моцарт, бог, и сам того не знаешь;
Я знаю, я.

 

What profundity!
What boldness and what perfect form! Mozart,
You are a god, and do not even know it.
I know it, though. (scene I)

 

and Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would):

 

Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии!
Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.

If only all so quickly felt the power
Of harmony! But no, in that event
The world could not exist; none would care
About the basic needs of lowly life,
All would give themselves to free art. (scene II)

 

Nikto b is Botkin (Shade's, Kinbote's and Gradus' "real" name) in reverse.

 

The main purpose of this brief note is to draw your attention to the updated full version of my previos post, “Conmal & Ferz Bretwit in Pale Fire; Gaston Godin in Lolita” (https://thenabokovian.org/node/35641)