Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the great bronze bowl with carved-looking Calville apples and elongated Persty grapes:
Demon popped into his mouth a last morsel of black bread with elastic samlet, gulped down a last pony of vodka and took his place at the table with Marina facing him across its oblong length, beyond the great bronze bowl with carved-looking Calville apples and elongated Persty grapes. The alcohol his vigorous system had already imbibed was instrumental, as usual, in reopening what he gallicistically called condemned doors, and now as he gaped involuntarily as all men do while spreading a napkin, he considered Marina’s pretentious ciel-étoilé hairdress and tried to realize (in the rare full sense of the word), tried to possess the reality of a fact by forcing it into the sensuous center, that here was a woman whom he had intolerably loved, who had loved him hysterically and skittishly, who insisted they make love on rugs and cushions laid on the floor (‘as respectable people do in the Tigris-Euphrates valley’), who would woosh down fluffy slopes on a bobsleigh a fortnight after parturition, or arrive by the Orient Express with five trunks, Dack’s grandsire, and a maid, to Dr Stella Ospenko’s ospedale where he was recovering from a scratch received in a sword duel (and still visible as a white weal under his eighth rib after a lapse of nearly seventeen years). How strange that when one met after a long separation a chum or fat aunt whom one had been fond of as a child the unimpaired human warmth of the friendship was rediscovered at once, but with an old mistress this never happened — the human part of one’s affection seemed to be swept away with the dust of the inhuman passion, in a wholesale operation of demolishment. He looked at her and acknowledged the perfection of the potage, but she, this rather thick-set woman, goodhearted, no doubt, but restive and sour-faced, glazed over, nose, forehead and all, with a sort of brownish oil that she considered to be more ‘juvenizing’ than powder, was more of a stranger to him than Bouteillan who had once carried her in his arms, in a feigned faint, out of a Ladore villa and into a cab, after a final, quite final row, on the eve of her wedding. (1.38)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Persty: Evidently Pushkin’s vinograd:
as elongated and transparent
as are the fingers of a girl.
(devï molodoy, jeune fille)
ciel-étoilé: starry sky.
In his poem Vinograd (“The Grapes,” 1824) Pushkin compares Vitis vinifera (Lady Finger Grape) to persty (the fingers) of a young girl:
Не стану я жалеть о розах,
Увядших с легкою весной;
Мне мил и виноград на лозах,
В кистях созревший под горой,
Краса моей долины злачной,
Отрада осени златой,
Продолговатый и прозрачный,
Как персты девы молодой.
I shall not miss the roses, fading
As soon as spring's fleet days are done;
I like the grapes whose clusters ripen
Upon the hillside in the sun —
The glory of my fertile valley,
Gold autumn's joy:
as elongated and transparent
as are the fingers of a girl.
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), Jakob Gradus (Shade’s murderer) contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus:
By an extraordinary coincidence (inherent perhaps in the contrapuntal nature of Shade's art) our poet seems to name here (gradual, gray) a man, whom he was to see for one fatal moment three weeks later, but of whose existence at the time (July 2) he could not have known. Jakob Gradus called himself variously Jack Degree or Jacques de Grey, or James de Gray, and also appears in police records as Ravus, Ravenstone, and d'Argus. Having a morbid affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era, he contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus. His father, Martin Gradus, had been a Protestant minister in Riga, but except for him and a maternal uncle (Roman Tselovalnikov, police officer and part-time member of the Social-Revolutionary party), the whole clan seems to have been in the liquor business. Martin Gradus died in 1920, and his widow moved to Strasbourg where she soon died, too. Another Gradus, an Alsatian merchant, who oddly enough was totally unrelated to our killer but had been a close business friend of his kinsmen for years, adopted the boy and raised him with his own children. It would seem that at one time young Gradus studied pharmacology in Zurich, and at another, traveled to misty vineyards as an itinerant wine taster. We find him next engaging in petty subversive activities - printing peevish pamphlets, acting as messenger for obscure syndicalist groups, organizing strikes at glass factories, and that sort of thing. Sometime in the forties he came to Zembla as a brandy salesman. There he married a publican's daughter. His connection with the Extremist party dates from its first ugly writhings, and when the revolution broke out, his modest organizational gifts found some appreciation in various offices. His departure for Western Europe, with a sordid purpose in his heart and a loaded gun in his pocket, took place on the very day that an innocent poet in an innocent land was beginning Canto Two of Pale Fire. We shall accompany Gradus in constant thought, as he makes his way from distant dim Zembla to green Appalachia, through the entire length of the poem, following the road of its rhythm, riding past in a rhyme, skidding around the corner of a run-on, breathing with the caesura, swinging down to the foot of the page from line to line as from branch to branch, hiding between two words (see note to line 596), reappearing on the horizon of a new canto, steadily marching nearer in iambic motion, crossing streets, moving up with his valise on the escalator of the pentameter, stepping off, boarding a new train of thought, entering the hall of a hotel, putting out the bedlight, while Shade blots out a word, and falling asleep as the poet lays down his pen for the night. (note to Line 17)
After the death of her husband, Gradus’ mother moved to Strasbourg. In Chapter One (XVI: 12) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions Strasburga pirog netlennyi (a decayless Strasbourg pie):
Уж тёмно: в санки он садится.
«Пади, пади!» — раздался крик;
Морозной пылью серебрится
Его бобровый воротник.
К Talon помчался: он уверен,
Что там уж ждет его Каверин.
Вошёл: и пробка в потолок,
Вина кометы брызнул ток;
Пред ним roast-beef окровавленный,
И трюфли, роскошь юных лет,
Французской кухни лучший цвет,
И Страсбурга пирог нетленный
Меж сыром лимбургским живым
И ананасом золотым.
'Tis dark by now. He gets into a sleigh.
The cry “Way, way!” resounds.
With frostdust silvers
his beaver collar.
To Talon's4 he has dashed off: he is certain
that there already waits for him [Kaverin];
has entered - and the cork goes ceilingward,
the flow of comet wine has spurted,
a bloody roast beef is before him,
and truffles, luxury of of youthful years,
the best flower of French cookery,
and a decayless Strasbourg pie
between a living Limburg cheese
and a golden ananas.
4. Well-known restaurateur. (Pushkin’s note)
By “a decayless Strasbourg pie” Pushkin means foie gras (the goose liver paste). According to Van, the French cuisine had contributed to the Ardis table its chaudfroids and foie gras:
Another Price, a typical, too typical, old retainer whom Marina (and G.A. Vronsky, during their brief romance) had dubbed, for unknown reasons, ‘Grib,’ placed an onyx ashtray at the head of the table for Demon, who liked to smoke between courses — a puff of Russian ancestry. A side table supported, also in the Russian fashion, a collection of red, black, gray, beige hors-d’oeuvres, with the serviette caviar (salfetochnaya ikra) separated from the pot of Graybead (ikra svezhaya) by the succulent pomp of preserved boletes, ‘white,’ and ‘subbetuline,’ while the pink of smoked salmon vied with the incarnadine of Westphalian ham. The variously flavored vodochki glittered, on a separate tray. The French cuisine had contributed its chaudfroids and foie gras. A window was open, and the crickets were stridulating at an ominous speed in the black motionless foliage. (1.38)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): grib: Russ., mushroom.
vodochki: Russ., pl. of vodochka, diminutive of vodka.
While ‘Grib’ seems to hint at Griboedov, “a puff of Russian ancestry” brings to mind I dym otechestva nam sladok i priyaten (“And the smoke of fatherland is for us sweet and pleasant”), Chatski’s words in Griboedov’s play in verse (Act One, scene 7) Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824). Griboedov quotes a line from Derzhavin’s poem Arfa (“The Harp,” 1798): Otechestva i dym nam sladok i priyaten. At the beginning of Chapter Eight (II: 3-4) of EO Pushkin mentions starik Derzhavin (the aged Derzhavin):
Старик Державин нас заметил
И, в гроб сходя, благословил.
the aged Derzhavin noticed us — and blessed us
as he descended to the grave.
In Chapter Eight (XIII: 13-14) of EO Pushkin compares Onegin to Chatski:
Он возвратился и попал,
Как Чацкий, с корабля на бал.
He returned and found himself,
Like Chatski, come from boat to ball.
S korablya na bal (from boat to ball) brings to mind “ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square” parenthetically mentioned by Kinbote at the end of his Commentary:
"And you, what will you be doing with yourself, poor King, poor Kinbote?" a gentle young voice may inquire.
God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of two other characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, healthy, heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old-fashioned melodrama with three principals: a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things! History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out - somebody has already set out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and presently he will ring at my door - a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus. (note to Line 1000)
A million photographers seems to hint at dvunogikh tvarey milliony (the millions of two-legged creatures) mentioned by Pushkin in Chapter Two (XIV: 6) of EO:
Но дружбы нет и той меж нами.
Все предрассудки истребя,
Мы почитаем всех нулями,
А единицами – себя.
Мы все глядим в Наполеоны;
Двуногих тварей миллионы
Для нас орудие одно;
Нам чувство дико и смешно.
Сноснее многих был Евгений;
Хоть он людей, конечно, знал
И вообще их презирал, —
Но (правил нет без исключений)
Иных он очень отличал
И вчуже чувство уважал.
But in our midst there’s even no such friendship:
Having destroyed all the prejudices,
We deem all people naughts
And ourselves units.
We all expect to be Napoleons;
the millions of two-legged creatures
for us are only tools;
feeling to us is weird and ludicrous.
More tolerant than many was Eugene,
though he, of course, knew men
and on the whole despised them;
but no rules are without exceptions:
some people he distinguished greatly
and, though estranged from it, respected feeling.
According to Pushkin, the millions of two-legged creatures for us are orudie odno (only tools). Odno = Odon (the world-famous actor and Zemblan patriot who helps the king to escape from Zembla) = Nodo (Odon’s epileptic half-brother, a cardsharp and despicable traitor).
At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) mentions Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whose name hints at Josephine Beauharnais (Napoleon’s first wife):
‘Marina,’ murmured Demon at the close of the first course. ‘Marina,’ he repeated louder. ‘Far from me’ (a locution he favored) ‘to criticize Dan’s taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I’m above all that rot, I’m...’ (gesture); ‘but, my dear,’ he continued, switching to Russian, ‘the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki — the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) —’
‘Everybody has eyes,’ remarked Marina drily.
‘Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves. But that’s not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It’s depressing. It’s a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.’
‘Look, Dad,’ said Van, ‘Dr Krolik can’t do much, because, as you know quite well, he’s dead, and Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive.’
‘The Veen wit, the Veen wit,’ murmured Demon.
‘Exactly,’ said Marina. ‘I simply refuse to do anything about it. Besides poor Jones is not at all asthmatic, but only nervously eager to please. He’s as healthy as a bull and has rowed me from Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer. You are cruel, Demon. I can’t tell him "ne pïkhtite," as I can’t tell Kim, the kitchen boy, not to take photographs on the sly — he’s a regular snap-shooting fiend, that Kim, though otherwise an adorable, gentle, honest boy; nor can I tell my little French maid to stop getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore.’
‘That’s interesting,’ observed Demon.
‘He’s a dirty old man!’ cried Van cheerfully.
‘Van!’ said Ada.
‘I’m a dirty young man,’ sighed Demon.
‘Tell me, Bouteillan,’ asked Marina, ‘what other good white wine do we have — what can you recommend?’ The butler smiled and whispered a fabulous name.
‘Yes, oh, yes,’ said Demon. ‘Ah, my dear, you should not think up dinners all by yourself. Now about rowing — you mentioned rowing... Do you know that moi, qui vous parle, was a Rowing Blue in 1858? Van prefers football, but he’s only a College Blue, aren’t you Van? I’m also better than he at tennis — not lawn tennis, of course, a game for parsons, but "court tennis" as they say in Manhattan. What else, Van?’
‘You still beat me at fencing, but I’m the better shot. That’s not real sudak, papa, though it’s tops, I assure you.’
(Marina, having failed to obtain the European product in time for the dinner, had chosen the nearest thing, wall-eyed pike, or ‘dory,’ with Tartar sauce and boiled young potatoes.)
‘Ah!’ said Demon, tasting Lord Byron’s Hock. ‘This redeems Our Lady’s Tears.’ (1.38)
Describing the family dinner, Van mentions Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder:
‘What was that?’ exclaimed Marina, whom certicle storms terrified even more than they did the Antiamberians of Ladore County.
‘Sheet lightning,’ suggested Van.
‘If you ask me,’ said Demon, turning on his chair to consider the billowing drapery, ‘I’d guess it was a photographer’s flash. After all, we have here a famous actress and a sensational acrobat.’
Ada ran to the window. From under the anxious magnolias a white-faced boy flanked by two gaping handmaids stood aiming a camera at the harmless, gay family group. But it was only a nocturnal mirage, not unusual in July. Nobody was taking pictures except Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder. In expectation of the rumble, Marina started to count under her breath, as if she were praying or checking the pulse of a very sick person. One heartbeat was supposed to span one mile of black night between the living heart and a doomed herdsman, felled somewhere — oh, very far — on the top of a mountain. The rumble came — but sounded rather subdued. A second flash revealed the structure of the French window. (ibid.)
The Slavic god of thunder, Perun brings to mind Pern, “the Devil” in Zemblan:
Many years ago--how many I would not care to say--I remember my Zemblan nurse telling me, a little man of six in the throes of adult insomnia: "Minnamin, Gut mag alkan, Pern dirstan" (my darling, God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty). Well, folks, I guess many in this fine hall are as hungry and thirsty as me, and I'd better stop, folks, right here. (note to Line 1000)
In the first (and, according to Kinbote, in the last) line of his poem Shade compares himself to the shadow of the waxwing (a bird of the genus Bombycilla). In his story Strashnaya mest’ (“A Terrible Vengeance,” 1832) Gogol says that a rare bird can fly to the middle of the Dnepr. Vladimir I (958-1015), a Grand Prince of Kiev who converted to Christianity in 988, caused the effigy of Perun to be drowned in the Dnepr. This episode is alluded to by A. K. Tolstoy in his humorous poem Istoriya Gosudarstva Rossiyskogo ot Gostomysla do Timasheva (“The History of the Russian State from Gostomysl to Timashev,” 1868):
«Перун уж очень гадок!
Когда его спихнём,
Какой мы заведём!»
“Perun is too loathsome!
You just see what an order
once we dethrone him!”
In reply to Voltaire and Diderot who wrote her that she should give freedom to her subjects, the Empress Catherine II (in A. K. Tolstoy’s humorous poem) says “vous me comblez:”
«Madame, при вас на диво
Порядок расцветёт, —
Писали ей учтиво
Вольтер и Дидерот, —
Лишь надобно народу,
Которому вы мать,
Скорее дать свободу,
Скорей свободу дать».
«Messieurs, — им возразила
Она, — vous me comblez», —
И тотчас прикрепила
Украинцев к земле.
At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon tells Marina ‘vous me comblez:’
‘Vous me comblez,’ said Demon in reference to the burgundy, ‘though’ pravda, my maternal grandfather would have left the table rather than see me drinking red wine instead of champagne with gelinotte. Superb, my dear (blowing a kiss through the vista of flame and silver).’ (1.38)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): vous me comblez: you overwhelm me with kindness.
pravda: Russ., it’s true.
Hazel-hen brings to mind Hazel Shade, the poet's daughter whose "real" name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. After her tragic death her father, Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent), went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus. There is a hope 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 epigram, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again.
In 'Ursus' (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major) Van, Ada and Lucette listen to Okudzhava's "Sentimental March" that begins with the word nadezhda (hope):
Then other singers took over with sadder and sadder ballads — ‘The tender kisses are forgotten,’ and ‘The time was early in the spring, the grass was barely sprouting,’ and ‘Many songs have I heard in the land of my birth: Some in sorrow were sung, some in gladness,’ and the spuriously populist
There’s a crag on the Ross, overgrown with wild moss
On all sides, from the lowest to highest...
and a series of viatic plaints such as the more modestly anapestic:
In a monotone tinkles the yoke-bell,
And the roadway is dusting a bit...
And that obscurely corrupted soldier rot of singular genius
Nadezhda, I shall then be back
When the true batch outboys the riot...
and Turgenev’s only memorable lyrical poem beginning
Morning so nebulous, morning gray-drowning,
Reaped fields so sorrowful under snow coverings
and naturally the celebrated pseudo-gipsy guitar piece by Apollon Grigoriev (another friend of Uncle Ivan’s)
O you, at least, do talk to me,
My seven-stringed companion,
Such yearning ache invades my soul,
Such moonlight fills the canyon!
‘I declare we are satiated with moonlight and strawberry soufflé — the latter, I fear, has not quite "risen" to the occasion,’ remarked Ada in her archest, Austen-maidenish manner. ‘Let’s all go to bed. You have seen our huge bed, pet? Look, our cavalier is yawning "fit to declansh his masher"’ (vulgar Ladore cant).
‘How (ascension of Mt Yawn) true,’ uttered Van, ceasing to palpate the velvet cheek of his Cupidon peach, which he had bruised but not sampled.
The captain, the vinocherpiy, the shashlikman, and a crew of waiters had been utterly entranced by the amount of zernistaya ikra and Ai consumed by the vaporous-looking Veens and were now keeping a multiple eye on the tray that had flown back to Van with a load of gold change and bank notes.
‘Why,’ asked Lucette, kissing Ada’s cheek as they both rose (making swimming gestures behind their backs in search of the furs locked up in the vault or somewhere), ‘why did the first song, Uzh gasli v komnatah ogni, and the "redolent roses," upset you more than your favorite Fet and the other, about the bugler’s sharp elbow?’
‘Van, too, was upset,’ replied Ada cryptically and grazed with freshly rouged lips tipsy Lucette’s fanciest freckle. (2.8)
Ursus is the traveling artist in Victor Hugo's novel L'Homme qui rit ("The Laughing Man," 1869). Victor Hugo is the author of Le roi s'amuse ("The King Amuses Himself," 1832). In a letter of April 21-22, 1877, to Strakhov Leo Tolstoy quotes V. Hugo’s poem L’Abîme (“The Abyss”) in which Man (L’Homme) tells Earth (La Terre): “I am your king” and Earth (in Russian, Zemlya) replies: “you are my worm.”
А все ругают V. Hugo. А он там говорит в разговоре земли с человеком.
Человек: Je suis ton roi.
Земля: Tu n’es que ma vermine. Ну-ка, отчего они не сказали так?
V. Hugo’s poem L’Abîme ends as follows:
L’INFINI: L’être multiple vit dans mon unité sombre.
DIEU: Je n’aurais qu’à souffler, et tout serait de l’ombre.
According to Kinbote, after line 274 of Shade’s poem there is a false start in the draft:
I like my name: Shade, Ombre, almost "man"
At the end of their long lives (even in the last day of their lives) Van and Ada translate Shade's poem into Russian:
She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the right of making up a future, and in that case one’s very own future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years quickly passed — a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern. They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569-572) in John Shade’s famous poem:
...Sovetï mï dayom
Kak bït’ vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;
On ih vstrechaet — lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,
Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke...
(...We give advice
To widower. He has been married twice:
He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both
Jealous of one another...)
Van pointed out that here was the rub — one is free to imagine any type of hereafter, of course: the generalized paradise promised by Oriental prophets and poets, or an individual combination; but the work of fancy is handicapped — to a quite hopeless extent — by a logical ban: you cannot bring your friends along — or your enemies for that matter — to the party. The transposition of all our remembered relationships into an Elysian life inevitably turns it into a second-rate continuation of our marvelous mortality. Only a Chinaman or a retarded child can imagine being met, in that Next-Installment World, to the accompaniment of all sorts of tail-wagging and groveling of welcome, by the mosquito executed eighty years ago upon one’s bare leg, which has been amputated since then and now, in the wake of the gesticulating mosquito, comes back, stomp, stomp, stomp, here I am, stick me on.
She did not laugh; she repeated to herself the verses that had given them such trouble. The Signy brain-shrinkers would gleefully claim that the reason the three ‘boths’ had been skipped in the Russian version was not at all, oh, not at all, because cramming three cumbersome amphibrachs into the pentameter would have necessitated adding at least one more verse for carrying the luggage.
‘Oh, Van, oh Van, we did not love her enough. That’s whom you should have married, the one sitting feet up, in ballerina black, on the stone balustrade, and then everything would have been all right — I would have stayed with you both in Ardis Hall, and instead of that happiness, handed out gratis, instead of all that we teased her to death!’ (5.6)
Van's and Ada's half-sister, Lucette commits suicide by jumping into the Atlantic from Admiral Tobakoff. Describing Lucette's death, Van mentions Oceanus Nox:
The sky was also heartless and dark, and her body, her head, and particularly those damned thirsty trousers, felt clogged with Oceanus Nox, n,o,x. At every slap and splash of cold wild salt, she heaved with anise-flavored nausea and there was an increasing number, okay, or numbness, in her neck and arms. As she began losing track of herself, she thought it proper to inform a series of receding Lucettes — telling them to pass it on and on in a trick-crystal regression — that what death amounted to was only a more complete assortment of the infinite fractions of solitude. (3.5)
Oceano Nox (1836) is a poem by V. Hugo and the title of a heartrending chapter in Herzen's memoirs Byloe i dumy ("The Bygones and Meditations"). In the Soviet era the Bolshaya Morskaya street where the Nabokovs lived was renamed Herzen street (see VN's autobiography Speak, Memory, p. 107) and St. Petersburg (Onegin's and VN's home city, in 1914-24 Petrograd) was renamed Leningrad. Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus "Vinogradus" and "Leningradus:"
Such things rankle - but what can Gradus do? The huddled fates engage in a great conspiracy against Gradus. One notes with pardonable glee that his likes are never granted the ultimate thrill of dispatching their victim themselves. Oh, surely, Gradus is active, capable, helpful, often indispensable. At the foot of the scaffold, on a raw and gray morning, it is Gradus who sweeps the night's powder snow off the narrow steps; but his long leathery face will not be the last one that the man who must mount those steps is to see in this world. It is Gradus who buys the cheap fiber valise that a luckier guy will plant, with a time bomb inside, under the bed of a former henchman. Nobody knows better than Gradus how to set a trap by means of a fake advertisement, but the rich old widow whom it hooks is courted and slain by another. When the fallen tyrant is tied, naked and howling, to a plank in the public square and killed piecemeal by the people who cut slices out, and eat them, and distribute his living body among themselves (as I read when young in a story about an Italian despot, which made of me a vegetarian for life), Gradus does not take part in the infernal sacrament: he points out the right instrument and directs the carving.
All this is as it should be; the world needs Gradus. But Gradus should not kill things. Vinogradus should never, never provoke God. Leningradus should not aim his peashooter at people even in dreams, because if he does, a pair of colossally thick, abnormally hairy arms will hug him from behind and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. (note to Line 171)
In Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick (1851) the narrator mentions his fingers, fully ripe grapes and exclaims “Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze!”:
As I sat there at my ease, cross-legged on the deck; after the bitter exertion at the windlass; under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, woven almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, and discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma,--literally and truly, like the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I lived as in a musky meadow; I forgot all about our horrible oath; in that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it; I almost began to credit the old Paracelsan superstition that sperm is of rare virtue in allaying the heat of anger; while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulance, or malice, of any sort whatsoever.
Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,--Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.
Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever! For now, since by many prolonged, repeated experiences, I have perceived that in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fireside, the country; now that I have perceived all this, I am ready to squeeze case eternally. In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti. (chapter 94: “A Squeeze of the Hand”)
Moby Dick is a whale. In her essay “Rambling Round Evelyn” (1920) Virginia Woolf mentions a whale that came up the Thames:
So Evelyn, Fellow of the Royal Society, a gentleman of the highest culture and intelligence, carefully noted all comets and portents, and thought it a sinister omen when a whale came up the Thames. In 1658, too, a whale had been seen. "That year died Cromwell." Nature, it seems, was determined to stimulate the devotion of her seventeenth-century admirers by displays of violence and eccentricity from which she now refrains. There were storms, floods, and droughts; the Thames frozen hard; comets flaring in the sky. If a cat so much as kittened in Evelyn's bed the kitten was inevitably gifted with eight legs, six ears, two bodies, and two tails.
The title of VW’s essay brings to mind Kinbote’s rambles with Shade. In the same paragraph of her essay VW mentions the gardener who trundles his barrow and a Red Admiral's head:
No one can read the story of Evelyn's foreign travels without envying in the first place his simplicity of mind, in the second his activity. To take a simple example of the difference between us--that butterfly will sit motionless on the dahlia while the gardener trundles his barrow past it, but let him flick the wings with the shadow of a rake, and off it flies, up it goes, instantly on the alert. So, we may reflect, a butterfly sees but does not hear; and here no doubt we are much on a par with Evelyn. But as for going into the house to fetch a knife and with that knife dissecting a Red Admiral's head, as Evelyn would have done, no sane person in the twentieth century would entertain such a project for a second.
At the end of his poem Shade mentions a dark Vanessa and some neighbor's gardener who goes by trundling an empty barrow up the lane:
A dark Vanessa with a crimson band
Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand
And shows its ink-blue wingtips flecked with white.
And through the flowing shade and ebbing light
A man, unheedful of the butterfly--
Some neighbor's gardener, I guess--goes by
Trundling an empty barrow up the lane. (ll. 993-999)
A few moments after writing Line 999 of his poem Shade is killed by Gradus. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade's poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”).
Squeeze-grape means "drunkard." Gradus is a teetotaler. According to Sybil Shade (the poet's wife), her husband is forbidden to touch alcohol:
I wanted to know if he did not mind being taken the longer way, with a stop at Community Center where I wanted to buy some chocolate-coated cookies and a little caviar. He said it was fine with him. From the inside of the supermarket, through a plate-glass window, I saw the old chap pop into a liquor store. When I returned with my purchases, he was back in the car, reading a tabloid newspaper which I had thought no poet would deign to touch. A comfortable burp told me he had a flask of brandy concealed about his warmly coated person. As we turned into the driveway of his house, we saw Sybil pulling up in front of it. I got out with courteous vivacity. She said: "Since my husband does not believe in introducing people, let us do it ourselves: You are Dr. Kinbote, aren't you? And. I am Sybil Shade." Then she addressed her husband saying he might have waited in his office another minute: she had honked and called, and walked all the way up, et cetera. I turned to go, not wishing to listen to a marital scene, but she called me back: "Have a drink with us," she said, "or rather with me, because John is forbidden to touch alcohol." I explained I could not stay long as I was about to have a kind of little seminar at home followed by some table tennis, with two charming identical twins and another boy, another boy. (Foreword)
Just before Shade's death, Kinbote invites the poet to a glass of wine:
"A suggestion," I said, quivering. "I have at my place half a gallon of Tokay. I'm ready to share my favorite wine with my favorite poet. We shall have for dinner a knackle of walnuts, a couple of large tomatoes, and a bunch of bananas. And if you agree to show me your 'finished product,' there will be another treat: I promise to divulge to you why I gave you, or rather who gave you, your theme."
"What theme?" said Shade absently, as he leaned on my arm and gradually recovered the use of his numb limb.
"Our blue inenubilable Zembla, and the red-caped Steinmann, and the motorboat in the sea cave, and--"
"Ah,"said Shade, "I think I guessed your secret quite some time ago. But all the same I shall sample your wine with pleasure. Okay, I can manage by
myself now." (note to Line 991)
Kinbote's “squeeze, squeeze, squeeze” also reminds one of the last line of Pushkin’s mock epic in octaves Domik v Kolomne (“The Small House in Kolomna,” 1830):
Вот вам мораль: по мненью моему,
Кухарку даром нанимать опасно;
Кто ж родился мужчиною, тому
Рядиться в юбку странно и напрасно:
Когда-нибудь придется же ему
Брить бороду себе, что несогласно
С природой дамской... Больше ничего
Не выжмешь из рассказа моего».
Here's a moral for you. In my opinion,
It’s dangerous to hire a cook for free;
He who was born a male, it would be
strange and in vain for him to wear a skirt:
One day he’ll have to shave
his beard, which is inconsistent
with ladies’ nature... More than this
you can’t squeeze out of my story anyway. (XL)
In Canto Four of his poem Shade describes shaving. Kinbote was nicknamed the Great Beaver because of his brown beard. In Chapter One (XVI: 4) of EO (see a quote above) Pushkin mentions Onegin’s bobrovyi vorotnik (beaver collar).