velkam ut Semblerland

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 09/04/2021 - 03:46

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), Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya (earth), but of Semblerland, a land of reflections, of "resemblers:"


Pictures of the King had not infrequently appeared in America during the first months of the Zemblan Revolution. Every now and then some busybody on the campus with a retentive memory, or one of the clubwomen who were always after Shade and his eccentric friend, used to ask me with the inane meaningfulness adopted in such cases if anybody had told me how much I resembled that unfortunate monarch. I would counter with something on the lines of "all Chinese look alike" and change the subject. One day, however, in the lounge of the Faculty Club where I lolled surrounded by a number of my colleagues, I had to put up with a particularly embarrassing onset. A visiting German lecturer from Oxford kept exclaiming, aloud and under his breath, that the resemblance was "absolutely unheard of," and when I negligently observed that all bearded Zemblans resembled one another - and that, in fact, the name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya, but of Semblerland, a land of reflections, of "resemblers" - my tormentor said: "Ah, yes, but King Charles wore no beard, and yet it is his very face! I had [he added] the honor of being seated within a few yards of the royal box at a Sport Festival in Onhava which I visited with my wife, who is Swedish, in 1956. We have a photograph of him at home, and her sister knew very well the mother of one of his pages, an interesting woman. Don't you see [almost tugging at Shade's lapel] the astounding similarity of features - of the upper part of the face, and the eyes, yes, the eyes, and the nose bridge?"

"Nay, sir" [said Shade, refolding a leg and slightly rolling in his armchair as wont to do when about to deliver a pronouncement] "there is no resemblance at all. I have seen the King in newsreels, and there is no resemblance. Resemblances are the shadows of differences. Different people see different similarities and similar differences."

Good Netochka, who had been looking singularly uncomfortable during this exchange, remarked in his gentle voice how sad it was to think that such a "sympathetic ruler" had probably perished in prison. (note to Line 894)


In fact, Semblerland is the Zemblan name of Zembla:


He [Gradus] began with the day's copy of The New York Times. His lips moving like wrestling worms, he read about all kinds of things. Hrushchov (whom they spelled "Khrushchev") had abruptly put off a visit to Scandinavia and was to visit Zembla instead (here I tune in: "Vï nazïvaete sebya zemblerami, you call yourselves Zemblans, a ya vas nazïvayu zemlyakami, and I call you fellow countrymen!" Laughter and applause.) The United States was about to launch its first atom-driven merchant ship (just to annoy the Ruskers, of course. J. G.). Last night in Newark, an apartment house at 555 South Street was hit by a thunderbolt that smashed a TV set and injured two people watching an actress lost in a violent studio storm (those tormented spirits are terrible! C. X. K. teste J. S.). The Rachel Jewelry Company in Brooklyn advertised in agate type for a jewelry polisher who "must have experience on costume jewelry (oh, Degré had!). The Helman brothers said they had assisted in the negotiations for the placement of a sizable note: "$11, 000, 000, Decker Glass Manufacturing Company, Inc., note due July 1, 1979," and Gradus, grown young again, reread this this twice, with the background gray thought, perhaps, that he would be sixty-four four days after that (no comment). On another bench he found a Monday issue of the same newspaper. During a visit to a museum in Whitehorse (Gradus kicked at a pigeon that came too near), the Queen of England walked to a corner of the White Animals Room, removed her right glove and, with her back turned to several evidently observant people, rubbed her forehead and one of her eyes. A pro-Red revolt had erupted in Iraq. Asked about the Soviet exhibition at the New York Coliseum, Carl Sandburg, a poet, replied, and I quote: "They make their appeal on the highest of intellectual levels." A hack reviewer of new books for tourists, reviewing his own tour through Norway, said that the fjords were too famous to need (his) description, and that all Scandinavians loved flowers. And at a picnic for international children a Zemblan moppet cried to her Japanese friend: Ufgut, ufgut, velkam ut Semblerland! (Adieu, adieu, till we meet in Zembla!) I confess it has been a wonderful game - this looking up in the WUL of various ephemerides over the shadow of a padded shoulder. (note to Line 949)


Semblerland seems to blend sembler (French for “to appear, to seem”) with Sember, the Tatar name of Ulyanovsk. Simbirsk (Ulyanovsk’s old name) is the birthplace of Lenin (born Ul’yanov), Kerenski (the leader of the Russian Provisional Government which Lenin overthrew during the 1917 October Revolution), Karamzin (the author of “The History of the Russian State”), Yazykov (a poet, friend of Pushkin and Gogol) and Goncharov (the author of “Oblomov,” etc.). Simbirsk was renamed Ulyanovsk in 1924, after Lenin’s death. In the same year Petrograd (VN’s home city, founded in 1703 as St. Petersburg) was renamed Leningrad. Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus (Shade’s murderer who 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) “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 kings. 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)


On Dec. 28, 1925, Esenin committed suicide in Leningrad, in Hotel Angleterre. Before hanging himself, Esenin wrote with his own blood his last poem Do svidan’ya, drug moy, do svidan’ya (“Goodbye, my friend, goodbye”). Zemblan for “adieu,” ufgut seems to hint at the German phrase auf gut Glück (at random, blindly, on a whim). In his poem Tucha kruzhevo v roshche svyazala (“A thundercloud knitted a lacework in the grove,” 1915) Esenin uses a rare word na-umyak (without thinking, at random):


Пригорюнились девушки-ели,

И поет мой ямщик на-умяк:

"Я умру на тюремной постели,

Похоронят меня кое-как".


…The maiden firs became sad,

And my coachman sings without thinking:

“I shall die on a prison bed,

They’ll bury me anyhow.”


Ya umru (I shall die) brings to mind the Umruds, an Eskimo tribe mentioned by Kinbote when he describes Gradus’ day 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 congratulataed 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 Izumrudov, 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)


Glück is German for “happiness.” In Esenin's poem Chyornyi chelovek (“The Black Man,” 1925) the Black Man says that happiness is lovkost’ uma i ruk (a sleight of mind and hand):


Счастье, — говорил он, —
Есть ловкость ума и рук.
Все неловкие души
За несчастных всегда известны.
Это ничего,
Что много мук
Приносят изломанные
И лживые жесты.


Happiness — he said —
Is a sleight of mind and hand.
All clumsy souls are always
Known for being unhappy.

It does not matter much

That broken and false gestures
bring many tortures.


At the end of Esenin’s poem the author throws his cane into the Black Man’s face, right in his nose bridge:


«Черный человек!
Ты прескверный гость.
Эта слава давно
Про тебя разносится».
Я взбешен, разъярен,
И летит моя трость
Прямо к морде его,
В переносицу...


Black man!
Most odious guest!
Your fame has long resounded."
I'm enraged, possessed,
Amd my cane flies
Straight across
The bridge of his nose.


In the conversation at the Faculty Club a visiting German lecturer says that Kinbote has the king’s eyes and nose bridge.


Esenin’s poem ends in the words Ya odin… / I razbitoe zerkalo (“I’m alone… / And the broken mirror”):

...Месяц умер,
Синеет в окошко рассвет.
Ах ты, ночь!
Что ты, ночь, наковеркала?
Я в цилиндре стою.
Никого со мной нет.
Я один...
И разбитое зеркало...


The moon has died.
Dawn glimmers in the window.
Ah, night!
What, night, what have you ruined?
I stand top-hatted.
No one is with me.
I am alone...
And the mirror is broken.

(tr. G. Thurley)


The dactylic rhyme koverkala – zerkalo (ruined – mirror) was used earlier by Alexander Blok in his epistle to Bryusov, the author of Zerkalo teney (“The Mirror of Shadows,” 1912). Gradus is a member of the Shadows (a regicidal organization).


Zembla as a land of reflections brings to mind I. Annenski's Kniga otrazheniy ("A Book of Reflections," 1906), a collection of essays, and Vtoraya kniga otrazheniy ("The Second Book of Reflections," 1909). The author of Dvoynik ("The Double," 1904), Annenski wrote under the penname Nik. T-o ("Mr. Nobody"). Dvoynik is also a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Blok. According to G. Ivanov (who met Esenin in Berlin, in 1923), to his question "does a sonnet need a coda" Blok replied that he did not know what a coda is. Shade’s poem is almost finished, when the author is killed by Gradus. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s 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”). 


In Pushkin’s little tragedy "Mozart and Salieri" (1830) 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 all could feel like you the power

of harmony! But no: the world

could not go on then. None would

bother about the needs of lowly life;

All would surrender to free art. (Scene II)


Nikto b is Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name) in reverse. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became 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) after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade’s “real” name). Nadezhda means “hope.” 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 epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again.


Zemblan for "till we see," velkam seems to hint at "welcome." In Canto One of Pushkin's Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820) old Finn hails Ruslan with a smile and the words dobro pozhalovat', moy syn (you are welcome, my son):


"Добро пожаловать, мой сын! -

Сказал с улыбкой он Руслану:

Уж двадцать лет я здесь один

Во мраке старой жизни вяну;

Но наконец дождался дня,

Давно предвиденного мною.

Мы вместе сведены судьбою;

Садись и выслушай меня."


In the introductory poem to Ruslan and Lyudmila Pushkin mentions tridtsat' tri bogatyrya (thirty-three knights) who come out of the sea. Describing forty days after Queen Blenda's death, Kinbote mentions the picture of a bogtur (ancient warrior) in the history book:


It was warm in the evening sun. She [Fleur de Fyler] wore on the second day of their ridiculous cohabitation nothing except a kind of buttonless and sleeveless pajama top. The sight of her four bare limbs and three mousepits (Zemblan anatomy) irritated him, and while pacing about and pondering his coronation speech, he would toss towards her, without looking, her shorts or a terrycloth robe. Sometimes, upon returning to the comfortable old chair he would find her in it contemplating sorrowfully the picture of a bogtur (ancient warrior) in the history book. He would sweep her out of his chair, his eyes still on his writing pad, and stretching herself she would move over to the window seat and its dusty sunbeam; but after a while she tried to cuddle up to him, and he had to push away her burrowing dark curly head with one hand while writing with the other or detach one by one her little pink claws from his sleeve or sash. (note to Line 80)


A daughter of Countess de Fyler (Queen Blenda's lady-in-waiting), Fleur de Fyler brings to mind Fleur-de-Lys, a character in V. Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris (1831). In Hugo's novel L'Homme qui rit (The Laughing Man, 1869) Ursus (the traveling artist) tells to Gwynplaine (the laughing man): "masca eris, et ridebis semper" ("you will be a mask and you will be laughing forever"). According to Kinbote, Shade's whole being constituted a mask. VN's self-parody Zud ("Itch," 1940) was signed Ridebis Semper. Latin for "always," semper differs from Sember in only one letter. In Chapter Eight (XXXV: 14) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin uses the phrase e sempre bene (It., it is always good):


Стал вновь читать он без разбора.
Прочел он Гиббона, Руссо,
Манзони, Гердера, Шамфора,
Madame de Stael, Биша, Тиссо,
Прочел скептического Беля,
Прочел творенья Фонтенеля,
Прочел из наших кой-кого,
Не отвергая ничего:
И альманахи, и журналы,
Где поученья нам твердят,
Где нынче так меня бранят,
А где такие мадригалы
Себе встречал я иногда:
Е sempre bene, господа.


Again, without discrimination,

he started reading. He read Gibbon,

Rousseau, Manzoni, Herder,

Chamfort, Mme de Staël, Bichat, Tissot.

He read the skeptic Bayle,

he read the works of Fontenelle,

he read some [authors] of our own,

without rejecting anything —

the “almanacs” and the reviews

where sermons into us are drummed,

where I'm today abused so much

but where such madrigals addressed tome

I used to meet with now and then:

e sempre bene, gentlemen.


The history book in which Fleur de Fyler contemplates the picture of a bogtur is a volume of Historia Zemblica:


The forty days between Queen Blenda's death and his coronation was perhaps the most trying stretch of time in his life. He had had no love for his mother, and the hopeless and helpless remorse he now felt degenerated into a sickly physical fear of her phantom. The Countess, who seemed to be near him, to be rustling at his side, all the time, had him attend table-turning séances with an experienced American medium, séances at which the Queen's spirit, operating the same kind of planchette she had used in her lifetime to chat with Thormodus Torfaeus and A. R. Wallace, now briskly wrote in English: "Charles take take cherish love flower flower flower." An old psychiatrist so thoroughly bribed by the Countess as to look, even on the outside, like a putrid pear, assured him that his vices had subconsciously killed his mother and would continue "to kill her in him" if he did not renounce sodomy. A palace intrigue is a special spider that entangles you more nastily at every desperate jerk you try. Our Prince was young, inexperienced, and half-frenzied with insomnia. He hardly struggled at all. The Countess spent a fortune on buying his kamergrum (groom of the chamber), his bodyguard, and even the greater part of the Court Chamberlain. She took to sleeping in a small antechamber next to his bachelor bedroom, a splendid spacious circular apartment at the top of the high and massive South West Tower. This had been his father's retreat and was still connected by a jolly chute in the wall with a round swimming pool in the hall below, so that the young Prince could start the day as his father used to start it by slipping open a panel beside his army cot and rolling into the shaft whence he whizzed down straight into bright water. For other needs than sleep Charles Xavier had installed in the middle of the Persian rug-covered floor a so-called patifolia, that is, a huge, oval, luxuriously flounced, swansdown pillow the size of a triple bed. It was in this ample nest that Fleur now slept, curled up in its central hollow, under a coverlet of genuine giant panda fur that had just been rushed from Tibet by a group of Asiatic well-wishers on the occasion of his ascension to the throne. The antechamber, where the Countess was ensconced, had its own inner staircase and bathroom, but also communicated by means of a sliding door with the West Gallery. I do not know what advice or command her mother had given Fleur; but the little thing proved a poor seducer. She kept trying, as one quietly insane, to mend a broken viola d’amore or sat in dolorous attitudes comparing two ancient flutes, both sad-tuned and feeble. Meantime, in Turkish garb, he lolled in his father’s ample chair, his legs over its arms, flipping through a volume of Historia Zemblica, copying out passages and occasionally fishing out of the nether recesses of his seat a pair of old-fashioned motoring goggles, a black opal ring, a ball of silver chocolate wrapping, or the star of a foreign order. (note to Line 80)


At the end of his Commentary Kinbote says that, history permitting, he may sail back to his recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain:


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 brings to mind the millions of two-legged creatures mentioned by Pushkin in Chapter Two (XIV: 6-7) of EO and Mil'yon terzaniy ("A million qualms," 1872), Goncharov's essay on Griboedov's play in verse Gore ot uma ("Woe from Wit," 1824). In his essay Goncharov mentions Skalozub (a character in Griboedov's play) and Sofia, Famusov's daughter with whom Chatski (the main character in "Woe from Wit") is in love:


Фамусов подтверждает свой намек о женитьбе Скалозуба, навязывая последнему мысль «о генеральше», и почти явно вызывает на сватовство.

Эти намеки на женитьбу возбудили подозрения Чацкого о причинах перемены к нему Софьи. Он даже согласился было на просьбу Фамусова бросить «завиральные идеи» и помолчать при госте. Но раздражение уже шло crescendo, и он вмешался в разговор, пока небрежно, а потом, раздосадованный неловкой похвалой Фамусова его уму и прочее, возвышает тон и разрешается резким монологом:«А судьи кто?» и т. д. Тут уже завязывается другая борьба, важная и серьезная, целая битва. Здесь в нескольких словах раздается, как в увертюре опер, главный мотив, намекается на истинный смысл и цель комедии. Оба, Фамусов и Чацкий, бросили друг другу перчатку:

Смотрели бы, как делали отцы,
Учились бы, на старших глядя! —

раздался военный клик Фамусова. А кто эти старшие и «судьи»?

                ...За дряхлостию лет
К свободной жизни их вражда непримирима, —

отвечает Чацкий и казнит —

Прошедшего житья подлейшие черты.


The surname Skalozub hints at zuboskal (scoffer). A similar transposition of syllables in Kinbote gives Botkin. The "real" name of both Sybil Shade (the poet's wife) and Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to be Sofia Botkin, born Lastochkin. At the beginning and at the end of his poem K lastochke ("To the Swallow," 1820) Griboedov mentions pale Cynthia (the moon). Cynthia and Sybil are the two sisters in VN's story The Vane Sisters (1958). Chatski's monologue A sud'yi kto ("And who are the judges) mentioned by Goncharov brings to mind Judge Goldsworth (Kinbote's landlord).


The maiden name of Pushkin's wife was Goncharov. In a letter of the beginning of May, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov criticizes Goncharov's Oblomov and says that he strikes out Goncharov from the list of his demi-gods:


Между прочим, читаю Гончарова и удивляюсь. Удивляюсь себе: за что я до сих пор считал Гончарова первоклассным писателем? Его «Обломов» совсем неважная штука. Сам Илья Ильич, утрированная фигура, не так уж крупен, чтобы из-за него стоило писать целую книгу. Обрюзглый лентяй, каких много, натура не сложная, дюжинная, мелкая; возводить сию персону в общественный тип — это дань не по чину. Я спрашиваю себя: если бы Обломов не был лентяем, то чем бы он был? И отвечаю: ничем. А коли так, то и пусть себе дрыхнет. Остальные лица мелкие, пахнут лейковщиной, взяты небрежно и наполовину сочинены. Эпохи они не характеризуют и нового ничего не дают. Штольц не внушает мне никакого доверия. Автор говорит, что это великолепный малый, а я не верю. Это продувная бестия, думающая о себе очень хорошо и собою довольная. Наполовину он сочинён, на три четверти ходулен. Ольга сочинена и притянута за хвост. А главная беда — во всем романе холод, холод, холод... Вычёркиваю Гончарова из списка моих полубогов.


Among other things I am reading Goncharov and wondering. I wonder how I could have considered Goncharov a first-rate writer. His "Oblomov" is not really good. Oblomov himself is exaggerated and is not so striking as to make it worth while to write a whole book about him. A flabby sluggard like so many, a commonplace, petty nature without any complexity in it: to raise this person to the rank of a social type is to make too much of him. I ask myself, what would Oblomov be if he had not been a sluggard? And I answer that he would not have been anything. And if so, let him snore in peace. The other characters are trivial, with a flavour of Leikin about them; they are taken at random, and are half unreal. They are not characteristic of the epoch and give one nothing new. Stoltz does not inspire me with any confidence. The author says he is a splendid fellow, but I don't believe him. He is a sly brute, who thinks very well of himself and is very complacent. He is half unreal, and three-quarters on stilts. Olga is unreal and is dragged in by the tail. And the chief trouble is that the whole novel is cold, cold, cold. I scratch out Gontcharov from the list of my demi-gods.


Polubog (demi-god), a word used by Chekhov, brings to mind Pushkin's epigram on Vorontsov:


Полу-милорд, полу-купец,
Полу-мудрец, полу-невежда,
Полу-подлец, но есть надежда,
Что будет полным наконец.


Half-milord, half-merchant,

Half-sage, half-ignoramus,

Half-scoundrel, but there's a hope

Thet he will be a full one at last.