Kinbote's powerful Kramler & Parthenocissus Hall in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 10/06/2021 - 07:46

In his Foreword and Commentary to Shade’s poem 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) mentions his powerful Kramler:


Despite a wobbly heart (see line 735), a slight limp, and a certain curious contortion in his method of progress, Shade had an inordinate liking for long walks, but the snow bothered him, and he preferred, in winter, to have his wife call for him after classes with the car. A few days later, as I was about to leave Parthenocissus Hall – or Main Hall (or now Shade Hall, alas), I saw him waiting outside for Mrs. Shade to fetch him. I stood beside him for a minute, on the steps of the pillared porch, while pulling my gloves on, finger by finger, and looking away, as if waiting to review a regiment: "That was a thorough job," commented the poet. He consulted his wrist watch. A snowflake settled upon it. "Crystal to crystal," said Shade. I offered to take him home in my powerful Kramler. "Wives, Mr. Shade, are forgetful." He cocked his shaggy head to look at the library clock. Across the bleak expanse of snow-covered turf two radiant lads in colorful winter clothes passed, laughing and sliding. Shade glanced at his watch again and, with a shrug, accepted my offer. (Foreword)


Moaning and shifting from one foot to the other, Gradus started leafing through the college directory but when he found the address, he was faced with the problem of getting there.

"Dulwich Road," he cried to the girl. "Near? Far? Very far, probably?"

"Are you by any chance Professor Pnin's new assistant?" asked Emerald.

"No," said the girl. "This man is looking for Dr. Kinbote, I think. You are looking for Dr. Kinbote, aren't you?"

"Yes, and I can't any more," said Gradus.

"I thought so," said the girl. "Doesn't he live somewhere near Mr. Shade, Gerry?"

"Oh, definitely," said Gerry, and turned to the killer: "I can drive you there if you like. It is on my way."

Did they talk in the car, these two characters, the man in green and the man in brown? Who can say? They did not. After all, the drive took only a few minutes (it took me, at the wheel of my powerful Kramler, four and a half).

"I think I'll drop you here," said Mr. Emerald. "It's that house up there." (note to Line 949)


Parthenocissus tricuspidata is a flowering plant in the grape family (Vitaceae) native to eastern Asia in Korea, Japan, and northern and eastern China. Although unrelated to true ivy, it is commonly known as Boston ivy, grape ivy, and Japanese ivy, and also as Japanese creeper, and by the name woodbine (though the latter may refer to a number of different vine species). According to Kinbote, 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:


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. (note to Line 17)


In VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Koncheyev (Fyodor’s rival poet) mentions vinograd (ripening vines) in the lines quoted by Valentin Linyov (the ignorant reviewer):


Он еще просмотрел еженедельный иллюстрированный журнальчик, выходивший в Варшаве, и нашел рецензию на тот же предмет, но совсем другого пошиба. Это была критика-буфф. Тамошний Валентин Линев, из номера в номер безформенно, забубенно и не вполне грамотно изливавший свои литературные впечатления, был славен тем, что не только не мог разобраться в отчетной книге, но по-видимому, никогда не дочитывал ее до конца. Бойко творя из-под автора, увлекаясь собственным пересказом, выхватывая отдельные фразы в подтверждение неправильных заключений, плохо понимая начальные страницы, а в следующих энергично пускаясь по ложному следу, он добирался до предпоследней главы в блаженном состоянии пассажира еще не знающего (а в его случае так и не узнающего), что сел не в тот поезд. Неизменно бывало, что, долистав вслепую длинный роман или коротенькую повесть (размер не играл роли), он навязывал книге собственное окончание, - обыкновенно как раз противоположное замыслу автора. Другими словами, если бы, скажем, Гоголь приходился ему современником, и Линев о нем писал, то он прочно остался бы при невинном убеждении, что Хлестаков - ревизор в самом деле. Когда же, как сейчас, он писал о стихах, то простодушно употреблял прием так называемых межцитатных мостиков . Его разбор кончеевской книги сводился к тому, что он за автора отвечал на какую-то подразумеваемую альбомную анкету (Ваш любимый цветок? Любимый герой? Какую добродетель вы больше всего цените?): "Поэт, - писал о Кончееве Линев, - любит (следовала цепочка цитат, искаженных насилием их сочетания и винительных падежей). Его пугает (опять обрубки стихов). Он находит утешение в - (та же игра); но с другой стороны - (три четверти стиха, обращенных посредством кавычек в плоское утверждение); иногда же ему кажется, что" - и тут Линев, ненароком выковырнул что-то более или менее целое:


Виноград созревал, изваянья в аллеях синели.
Небеса опирались на снежные плечи отчизны...


- и это было так, словно голос скрипки вдруг заглушил болтовню патриархального кретина.


He also looked through a little illustrated weekly published by Russian émigrés in Warsaw and found a review on the same subject, but of a completely different cut. It was a critique-bouffe. The local Valentin Linyov, who from issue to issue used to pour out his formless, reckless, and not altogether grammatical literary impressions, was famous not only for not being able to make sense of the book he reviewed but also for not having, apparently, read it to the end. Jauntily using the author as a springboard, carried away by his own paraphrase, extracting isolated phrases in support of his incorrect conclusions, misunderstanding the initial pages and thereafter energetically pursuing a false trail, he would make his way to the penultimate chapter in the blissful state of a passenger who still does not know (and in his case never finds out) that he has boarded the wrong train. It invariably happened that having leafed blindly through a long novel or a short story (size played no part in it) he would provide the book with his own ending—usually exactly opposite to the author’s intention. In other words, if, say, Gogol had been a contemporary and Linyov were writing about him, Linyov would remain firmly of the innocent conviction that Hlestakov was indeed the inspector-general. But when, as now, he wrote about poetry, he artlessly employed the device of so-called “inter-quotational footbridges.” His discussion of Koncheyev’s book boiled down to his answering for the author a kind of implied album questionnaire (Your favorite flower? Favorite hero? Which virtue do you prize most?): “The poet,” Linyov wrote of Koncheyev, “likes [there followed a string of quotations, forcibly distorted by their combination and the demands of the accusative case]. He dreads [more bleeding stumps of verse]. He finds solace in—[même jeu]; but on the other hand [three-quarters of a line turned by means of quotes into a flat statement]; at times it seems to him that”—and here Linyov inadvertently extricated something more or less whole:


Days of ripening vines! In the avenues, blue-shaded statues.
The fair heavens that lean on the motherland’s shoulders of snow.


—and it was as if the voice of a violin had suddenly drowned the hum of a patriarchal cretin. (Chapter Three)


According to Fyodor, Koncheyev’s mysteriously growing talent could have been checked only by dar Izory (“a ringful of poison in a glass of wine” in the English version):


Собрание происходило в небольшой, трогательно роскошной квартире родственников Любови Марковны. Рыжая, в зеленом выше колен, барышня помогала (громким шопотом с ней говорившей) эстонской горничной разносить чай. Среди знакомой толпы, где новых лиц было немного, Федор Константинович тотчас завидел Кончеева, впервые пришедшего в кружок. Глядя на сутулую, как будто даже горбатую фигуру этого неприятно тихого человека, таинственно разраставшийся талант которого только дар Изоры мог бы пресечь, - этого всё понимающего человека, с которым еще никогда ему не довелось потолковать по-настоящему - а как хотелось - и в присутствии которого он, страдая, волнуясь, и безнадежно скликая собственные на помощь стихи, чувствовал себя лишь его современником, - глядя на это молодое, рязанское, едва ли не простоватое, даже старомодно-простоватое лицо, сверху ограниченное кудрей, а снизу крахмальными отворотцами, Федор Константинович сначала было приуныл... Но три дамы с дивана ему улыбались, Чернышевский издали по-турецки кланялся ему, Гец как знамя поднимал принесенную для него книжку журнала с "Началом Поэмы" Кончеева и статьей Христофора Мортуса "Голос Мэри в современных стихах". Кто-то сзади произнес с ответной объясняющей интонацией: Годунов-Чердынцев. "Ничего, ничего, - быстро подумал Федор Константинович, усмехаясь, осматриваясь и стуча папиросой о деревянный с орлом портсигар, - ничего, мы еще кокнемся, посмотрим, чье разобьется". Тамара указывала ему на свободный стул и, пробираясь туда, он опять как будто услышал звон своего имени. Когда молодые люди его лет, любители стихов, провожали его бывало тем особенным взглядом, который ласточкой скользит по зеркальному сердцу поэта, он ощущал в себе холодок бодрой живительной гордости: это был предварительный проблеск его будущей славы, но была и слава другая, земная, - верный отблеск прошедшего: не менее, чем вниманием ровесников, он гордился любопытством старых людей, видящих в нем сына знаменитого землепроходца, отважного чудака, исследователя фауны Тибета, Памира и других синих стран.


The meeting was at the smallish, pathetically ornate flat of some relatives of Lyubov Markovna’s. A red-haired girl in a green dress that ended above her knees was helping the Estonian maid (who was conversing with her in a loud whisper) to serve the tea. Among the familiar crowd, which contained few new faces, Fyodor at once descried Koncheyev, who was attending for the first time. He looked at the round-shouldered, almost humpbacked figure of this unpleasantly quiet man whose mysteriously growing talent could have been checked only by a ringful of poison in a glass of wine—this all-comprehending man with whom he had never yet had a chance to have the good talk he dreamt of having some day and in whose presence he, writhing, burning and hopelessly summoning his own poems to come to his aid, felt himself a mere contemporary. That young face was of the Central-Russian type and seemed a little common, common in a kind of oddly old-fashioned way; it was bounded above by wavy hair and below by starched collar wings, and at first in the presence of this man, Fyodor experienced a glum discomfort…. But three ladies were smiling at him from the sofa, Chernyshevski was salaaming to him from afar, Getz was raising like a banner a magazine he had brought for him, which contained Koncheyev’s “Beginning of a Long Poem” and an article by Christopher Mortus entitled “The Voice of Pushkin’s Mary in Contemporary Poetry.” Behind him somebody pronounced with the intonation of an explanatory response, “Godunov-Cherdyntsev.” Never mind, never mind, Fyodor thought rapidly, smiling to himself, looking around and tapping the end of a cigarette against his eagle-emblazoned cigarette case, never mind, we’ll still clink eggs some day, he and I, and we’ll see whose will crack. (Chapter One)


In Pushkin’s little tragedy “Mozart and Salieri” (1830) Salieri calls the poison with which he poisons Mozart dar Izory (the gift of Isora):


Вот яд, последний дар моей Изоры.
Осьмнадцать лет ношу его с собою —
И часто жизнь казалась мне с тех пор
Несносной раной, и сидел я часто
С врагом беспечным за одной трапезой,
И никогда на шепот искушенья
Не преклонился я, хоть я не трус,
Хотя обиду чувствую глубоко,
Хоть мало жизнь люблю. Все медлил я.
Как жажда смерти мучила меня,
Что умирать? я мнил: быть может, жизнь
Мне принесет незапные дары;
Быть может, посетит меня восторг
И творческая ночь и вдохновенье;
Быть может, новый Гайден сотворит
Великое — и наслажуся им...
Как пировал я с гостем ненавистным,
Быть может, мнил я, злейшего врага
Найду; быть может, злейшая обида
В меня с надменной грянет высоты —
Тогда не пропадешь ты, дар Изоры.
И я был прав! и наконец нашел
Я моего врага, и новый Гайден
Меня восторгом дивно упоил!
Теперь — пора! заветный дар любви,
Переходи сегодня в чашу дружбы.


Here's poison -- late Isora's final gift.
For eighteen years I've carried it with me,
And life since then has seemed to me quite often
A wound unbearable; and oft I sat
At the same table with a carefree foe,
And never to the whisper of temptation
Have I inclined -- although I'm not a coward,
Though I can feel profoundly the offense,
Though small my love for life. I kept delaying,
As thirst of death excruciated me.
Why die? I mused: perhaps yet life will bring
Some sudden gifts before me from her treasures;
Perhaps, I will be visited by raptures
And a creative night and inspiration;
Perhaps, another Haydn will create
New greatnesses -- wherein I will delight...
As I was feasting with a hateful guest --
Perhaps, I mused, I'm yet to find a worse,
More vicious foe; perhaps, a worse offense
Will crash upon me from disdainful heights --
Then you shall not be lost, Isora's gift.
And I was right! and I have found at last
My greatest foe, and now the other Haydn
Has filled me wonderfully with my rapture!
The time has come! Prophetic gift of love,
Transfer today into the cup of friendship. (Scene I)


In Pushkin’s little tragedy 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)


Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name) is nikto b in reverse. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade’s “real” name). In Zhizn’ Chernyshevskogo (“The Life of Chernyshevski”), Chapter Four of “The Gift,” Fyodor mentions Nadezhdin (a critic whom Pushkin called Nevezhdin, “Mr. Ignoramus”) and points out that Chernyshevski (a radical critic) repeated Count Vorontsov’s words about Pushkin:


Говоря, что Пушкин был «только слабым подражателем Байрона», Чернышевский чудовищно точно воспроизводил фразу графа Воронцова: «Слабый подражатель лорда Байрона». Излюбленная мысль Добролюбова, что «у Пушкина недостаток прочного, глубокого образования» – дружеское аукание с замечанием того же Воронцова: «Нельзя быть истинным поэтом, не работая постоянно для расширения своих познаний, а их у него недостаточно». «Для гения недостаточно смастерить Евгения Онегина», – писал Надеждин, сравнивая Пушкина с портным, изобретателем жилетных узоров, и заключая умственный союз с Уваровым, министром народного просвещения, сказавшим по случаю смерти Пушкина: «Писать стишки не значит ещё проходить великое поприще».


When Chernyshevski said that Pushkin was “only a poor imitator of Byron,” he reproduced with monstrous accuracy the definition given by Count Vorontsov (Pushkin’s boss in Odessa): “A poor imitator of Lord Byron.” Dobrolyubov’s favorite idea that “Pushkin lacked a solid, deep education” is in friendly chime with Vorontsov’s remark: “One cannot be a genuine poet without constantly working to broaden one’s knowledge, and his is insufficient.” “To be a genius it is not enough to have manufactured Eugene Onegin,” wrote the progressive Nadezhdin, comparing Pushkin to a tailor, an inventor of waistcoat patterns, and thus concluding an intellectual pact with the reactionary Count Uvarov, Minister of Education, who remarked on the occasion of Pushkin’s death: “To write jingles does not mean yet to achieve a great career.”


The surname Nadezhdin comes from nadezhda (hope). In his famous epigram (1824) on Vorontsov Pushkin mentions nadezhda:


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 is hope

That he will be a full one at last.


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, will be full again.


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”). Fyodor's "Life of Chernyshevski" begins and ends with an inverted sonnet. Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846) is a short novel by Dostoevski. Unlike Fyodor, Koncheyev (as imagined by Fyodor) is an ardent admirer of the author of The Double and The Possessed:


"На всякий случай я хочу вас предупредить, - сказал честно Кончеев, - чтобы вы не обольщались насчет нашего сходства: мы с вами во многом различны, у меня другие вкусы, другие навыки, вашего Фета я, например, не терплю, а зато горячо люблю автора "Двойника" и "Бесов", которого вы склонны третировать... Мне не нравится в вас многое, - петербургский стиль, гальская закваска, ваше нео-вольтерианство и слабость к Флоберу, - и меня просто оскорбляет ваша, простите, похабно-спортивная нагота. Но вот, с этими оговорками, правильно, пожалуй, будет сказать, что где-то - не здесь, но в другой плоскости, угол которой, кстати, вы сознаете еще смутнее меня, - где-то на задворках нашего существования, очень далеко, очень таинственно и невыразимо, крепнет довольно божественная между нами связь. А может быть, вы это всё так чувствуете и говорите, потому что я печатно похвалил вашу книгу, - это, знаете, тоже бывает".


“At all events I want to warn you,” said Koncheyev frankly, “not to flatter yourself as regards our similarity: you and I differ in many things, I have different tastes, different habits; your Fet, for instance, I can’t stand, and on the other hand I am an ardent admirer of the author of The Double and The Possessed, whom you are disposed to slight…. There is much about you I don’t like—your St. Petersburg style, your Gallic taint, your neo-Voltaireanism and weakness for Flaubert—and I find, forgive me, your obscene sporty nudity simply offensive. But then, with these reservations, it would be true probably to say that somewhere—not here but on another plane, of whose angle, by the way, you have an even vaguer idea than I—somewhere on the outskirts of our existence, very far, very mysteriously and inexpressibly, a rather divine bond is growing between us. But perhaps you feel and say all this because I praised your book in print—that also happens, you know.” (Chapter Five)


The poet whom Koncheyev cannot stand, Afanasiy Fet was married to Maria Botkin. There is much about Fyodor that Koncheyev does not like. In VN’s story Vasiliy Shishkov (1939) Shishkov criticizes VN’s writings and mentions a powerful racing car:


Я посмотрел на него. Никаких дурных предчувствий его слегка блестевшее, с расширенными порами, лицо не выражало. Я ответил, что стихи безнадежны. Шишков щелкнул языком, сгреб тетрадь в карман и сказал:

- Бумаги не мои, то есть я-то сам написал, но это так, фальшивка. Все тридцать сделаны сегодня, и было довольно противно пародировать продукцию графоманов. Теперь зато знаю, что вы безжалостны, то есть, что вам можно верить. Вот мой настоящий паспорт. (Шишков мне протянул другую тетрадь, гораздо более потрепанную), прочтите хоть одно стихотворение, этого и вам и мне будет достаточно. Кстати, во избежание недоразумений, хочу вас предупредить, что я ваших книг не люблю, они меня раздражают, как сильный свет или как посторонний громкий разговор, когда хочется не говорить, а думать. Но вместе с тем вы обладаете, чисто физиологически, что ли, какой-то тайной писательства, секретом каких-то основных красок, то есть чем-то исключительно редким и важным, которое вы к сожалению применяете по-пустому, в небольшую меру ваших общих способностей... разъезжаете, так сказать, по городу на сильной и совершенно вам ненужной гоночной машине и все думаете, куда бы еще катнуть... Но так как вы тайной обладаете, с вами нельзя не считаться,- потому-то я и хотел бы заручиться вашей помощью в одном деле, но сначала, пожалуйста, взгляните.


“Well, what’s the verdict?” he asked when I had finished: “Not too awful?”
I considered him. His somewhat glossy face with enlarged pores expressed no ominous premonition whatever. I replied that his poetry was hopelessly bad. Shishkov clicked his tongue, thrust the notebook back into the pocket of his trench coat, and said: “Those credentials are not mine. I mean, I did write that stuff myself, and yet it is all forged. The entire lot of thirty poems was composed this morning, and to tell the truth, I found rather nasty the task of parodying the product of metromania. In return, I now have learned that you are merciless—which means that you can be trusted. Here is my real passport.” (Shishkov handed me another, much more tattered, notebook.) “Read just one poem at random, it will be enough for both you and me. By the way, to avoid any misapprehension, let me warn you that I do not care for your novels; they irritate me as would a harsh light or the loud conversation of strangers when one longs not to talk, but to think. Yet, at the same time, in a purely physiological way—if I may put it like that—you possess some secret of writing, the secret of certain basic colors, something exceptionally rare and important, which, alas, you apply to little purpose, within the narrow limits of your general abilities—driving about, so to speak, all over the place in a powerful racing car for which you have absolutely no use, but which keeps you thinking where could one thunder off next. However, as you possess that secret, people must reckon with you—and this is why I should like to enlist your support in a certain matter; but first take, please, a look at my poems.”


Kinbote’s powerful Kramler seems to be a cross between Rambler (American automobile brand) and Kramer (b. 1921), U. S. tennis player and promoter. In his Commentary and Index Kinbote mentions Julius Steinmann (b. 1928), tennis champion and Zemblan patriot:


The Zemblan Revolution provided Gradus with satisfactions but also produced frustrations. One highly irritating episode seems retrospectively most significant as belonging to an order of things that Gradus should have learned to expect but never did. An especially brilliant impersonator of the King, the tennis ace Julius Steinmann (son of the well-known philanthropist), had eluded for several months the police who had been driven to the limits of exasperation by his mimicking to perfection the voice of Charles the Beloved in a series of underground radio speeches deriding the government. When finally captured he was tried by a special commission, of which Gradus was a member, and condemned to death. The firing squad bungled their job, and a little later the gallant young man was found recuperating from his wounds at a provincial hospital. When Gradus learned of this, he flew into one of his rare rages - not because the fact presupposed royalist machinations, but because the clean, honest, orderly course of death had been interfered with in an unclean, dishonest, disorderly manner. Without consulting anybody he rushed to the hospital, stormed in, located Julius in a crowded ward and managed to fire twice, both times missing, before the gun was wrested from him by a hefty male nurse. He rushed back to headquarters and returned with a dozen soldiers but his patient had disappeared.

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 shelly hairy arms will hug him from behind and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. (note to Line 171)


On the other hand, Kramler seems to hint at the Kremlin. In his imaginary dialogue with Koncheyev Fyodor mentions Stalin and Lenin (the second Ilyich who was the ruin of Russia): 


"... Но постойте, постойте, я вас провожу. Вы, поди, полунощник, и не мне, стать, учить вас черному очарованию каменных прогулок. Так вы не слушали бедного чтеца?"

"В начале только - и то в полуха. Однако я вовсе не думаю, что это было так уж скверно".

"Вы рассматривали персидские миниатюры. Не заметили ли вы там одной - разительное сходство! - из коллекции петербургской публичной библиотеки - ее писал, кажется, Riza Abbasi, лет триста тому назад: на коленях, в борьбе с драконятами, носатый, усатый... Сталин".

"Да, это, кажется, самый крепкий. Кстати, мне сегодня попалось в "Газете", - не знаю уж, чей грех: "На Тебе, Боже, что мне негоже". Я в этом усматриваю обожествление калик".

"Или память о каиновых жертвоприношениях".

"Сойдемся на плутнях звательного падежа, - и поговорим лучше "о Шиллере, о подвигах, о славе", - если позволите маленькую амальгаму. Итак, я читал сборник ваших очень замечательных стихов. Собственно, это только модели ваших же будущих романов".

"Да, я мечтаю когда-нибудь произвести такую прозу, где бы "мысль и музыка сошлись, как во сне складки жизни".

"Благодарю за учтивую цитату. Вы как - по-настоящему любите литературу?"

"Полагаю, что да. Видите-ли, по-моему, есть только два рода книг: настольный и подстольный. Либо я люблю писателя истово, либо выбрасываю его целиком".

"Э, да вы строги. Не опасно ли это? Не забудьте, что как-никак вся русская литература, литература одного века, занимает - после самого снисходительного отбора - не более трех-трех с половиной тысяч печатных листов, а из этого числа едва ли половина достойна не только полки, но и стола. При такой количественной скудости, нужно мириться с тем, что наш пегас пег, что не всё в дурном писателе дурно, а в добром не всё добро".

"Дайте мне, пожалуй, примеры, чтобы я мог опровергнуть их".

"Извольте: если раскрыть Гончарова или - - ".

"Стойте! Неужто вы желаете помянуть добрым словом Обломова? "Россию погубили два Ильича", - так что ли? Или вы собираетесь поговорить о безобразной гигиене тогдашних любовных падений? Кринолин и сырая скамья? Или может быть - стиль? Помните, как у Райского в минуты задумчивости переливается в губах розовая влага? - точно так же, скажем, как герои Писемского в минуту сильного душевного волнения рукой растирают себе грудь"?

"Тут я вас уловлю. Разве вы не читали у того же Писемского, как лакеи в передней во время бала перекидываются страшно грязным, истоптанным плисовым женским сапогом? Ага! Вообще, коли уж мы попали в этот второй ряд - - Что вы скажете, например, о Лескове?"

"Да что-ж... У него в слоге попадаются забавные англицизмы, вроде "это была дурная вещь" вместо "плохо дело". Но всякие там нарочитые "аболоны"... - нет, увольте, мне не смешно. А многословие... матушки! "Соборян" без урона можно было бы сократить до двух газетных подвалов. И я не знаю, что хуже, - его добродетельные британцы или добродетельные попы".

"Ну, а все-таки. Галилейский призрак, прохладный и тихий, в длинной одежде цвета зреющей сливы? Или пасть пса с синеватым, точно напомаженным, зевом? Или молния, ночью освещающая подробно комнату, - вплоть до магнезии, осевшей на серебряной ложке?"

"Отмечаю, что у него латинское чувство синевы: lividus. Лев Толстой, тот, был больше насчет лиловаго, - и какое блаженство пройтись с грачами по пашне босиком! Я, конечно, не должен был их покупать".

"Вы правы, жмут нестерпимо. Но мы перешли в первый ряд. Разве там вы не найдете слабостей? "Русалка" - - "

"Не трогайте Пушкина: это золотой фонд нашей литературы. А вон там, в Чеховской корзине, провиант на много лет вперед, да щенок, который делает "уюм, уюм, уюм", да бутылка крымского".

"Погодите, вернемся к дедам. Гоголь? Я думаю, что мы весь состав его пропустим. Тургенев? Достоевский?"

"Обратное превращение Бедлама в Вифлеем, - вот вам Достоевский.

"Оговорюсь", как выражается Мортус. В Карамазовых есть круглый след от мокрой рюмки на садовом столе, это сохранить стоит, - если принять ваш подход".


“Wait, wait a minute though—I’ll see you home. Surely you’re a night owl like me and I don’t have to expound to you on the black enchantment of stone promenades. So you didn’t listen to our poor lecturer?”

“Only at the beginning, and then only with half an ear. However, I don’t think it was quite as bad as that.”

“You were examining Persian miniatures in a book. Did you not notice one—an amazing resemblance!—from the collection of the St. Petersburg Public Library—done, I think, by Riza Abbasi, say about three hundred years ago: that man kneeling, struggling with baby dragons, big-nosed, mustachioed—Stalin!”

“Yes, I think that one is the strongest of the lot. By the way, I’ve read your very remarkable collection of poems. Actually, of course, they are but the models of your future novels.”

“Yes, some day I’m going to produce prose in which ‘thought and music are conjoined as are the folds of life in sleep.’ “

“Thanks for the courteous quotation. You have a genuine love of literature, don’t you?”

“I believe so. You see, the way I look at it, there are only two kinds of books: bedside and wastebasket. Either I love a writer fervently, or throw him out entirely.”

“A bit severe, isn’t it? And a bit dangerous. Don’t forget that the whole of Russian literature is the literature of one century and, after the most lenient eliminations, takes up no more than three to three and a half thousand printed sheets, and scarcely one-half of this is worthy of the bookshelf, to say nothing of the bedside table. With such quantitative scantiness we must resign ourselves to the fact that our Pegasus is piebald, that not everything about a bad writer is bad, and not all about a good one good.”

“Perhaps you will give me some examples so that I can refute them.”

“Certainly: if you open Goncharov or—”

“Stop right there! Don’t tell me you have a kind word for Oblomov—that first ‘Ilyich’ who was the ruin of Russia—and the joy of social critics? Or you want to discuss the miserable hygienic conditions of Victorian seductions? Crinoline and damp garden bench? Or perhaps the style? What about his ‘Precipice’ where Rayski at moments of pensiveness is shown with ‘rosy moisture shimmering between his lips’?—which reminds me somehow of Pisemski’s protagonists, each of whom under the stress of violent emotion ‘massages his chest with his hand!’ ”

“Here I shall trap you. Aren’t there some good things in the same Pisemski? For example, those footmen in the vestibule, during a ball, who play catch with a lady’s velveteen boot, horribly muddy and worn. Aha! And since we are speaking of second-rank authors, what do you think of Leskov?”

“Well, let me see…. Amusing Anglicisms crop up in his style, such as ‘eto byla durnaya veshch’ [this was a bad thing] instead of simply ‘plokho delo.’ As to his contrived punning distortions—No, spare me, I don’t find them funny. And his verbosity—Good God! His ‘Soboryane’ could easily be condensed to two newspaper feuilletons. And I don’t know which is worse—his virtuous Britishers or his virtuous clerics.”

“And yet… how about his image of Jesus ‘the ghostly Galilean, cool and gentle, in a robe the color of ripening plum’? Or his description of a yawning dog’s mouth with ‘its bluish palate as if smeared with pomade’? Or that lightning of his that at night illumines the room in detail, even to the magnesium oxide left on a silver spoon?”

“Yes, I grant you he has a Latin feeling for blueness: lividus. Lyov Tolstoy, on the other hand, preferred violet shades and the bliss of stepping barefoot with the rooks upon the rich dark soil of plowed fields! Of course, I should never have bought them.”

“You’re right, they pinch unbearably. But we have moved up to the first rank. Don’t tell me you can’t find weak spots there too? In such stories as ‘The Blizzard’—

“Leave Pushkin alone: he is the gold reserve of our literature. And over there is Chekhov’s hamper, which contains enough food for years to come, and a whimpering puppy, and a bottle of Crimean wine.”

“Wait, let’s go back to the forebears. Gogol? I think we can accept his ‘entire organism.’ Turgenev? Dostoevski?”

“Bedlam turned back into Bethlehem—that’s Dostoevski for you. ‘With one reservation,’ as our friend Mortus says. In the ‘Karamazovs’ there is somewhere a circular mark left by a wet wine glass on an outdoor table. That’s worth saving if one uses your approach.” (Chapter One)


Like Goncharov (the author of "Oblomov"), Lenin was born in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk). The Tatar name of Ulyanovsk, Sember brings tio mind Semberland (the Zemblan name of Zembla). According to Kinbote, Semberland means "a land 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.

A professor of physics now joined in. He was a so-called Pink, who believed in what so-called Pinks believe in (Progressive Education, the Integrity of anyone spying for Russia, Fall-outs occasioned solely by US-made bombs, the existence in the near past of a McCarthy Era, Soviet achievements including Dr. Zhivago, and so forth): "Your regrets are groundless" [said he]. "That sorry ruler is known to have escaped disguised as a nun; but whatever happens, or has happened to him, cannot interest the Zemblan people. History has denounced him, and that is his epitaph."

Shade: "True, sir. In due time history will have denounced everybody. The King may be dead, or he may be as much alive as you and Kinbote, but let us respect facts. I have it from him [pointing to me] that the widely circulated stuff about the nun is a vulgar pro-Extremist fabrication. The Extremists and their friends invented a lot of nonsense to conceal their discomfiture; but the truth is that the King walked out of the palace, and crossed the mountains, and left the country, not in the black garb of a pale spinster but dressed as an athlete in scarlet wool." (note to Line 894)


It was rumored that Kerenski (the head of the Provisional Government who also hailed from Simbirsk) escaped from the Winter Palace disguised as a nun. In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN says that in October 1917 one of Kerenski's aids asked his father for a sturdy car the premier might use if forced to leave in a hurry:


He would replace his mask and go on with his stamping and lunging while I hurried back the way I had come. After the warmth in the entrance hall, where logs were crackling in the large fireplace, the outdoor air gave an icy shock to one’s lungs. I would ascertain which of our two cars, the Benz or the Wolseley, was there to take me to school. The first, a gray landaulet, manned by Volkov, a gentle, pale-faced chauffeur, was the older one. Its lines had seemed positively dynamic in comparison with those of the insipid, noseless and noiseless, electric coupé that had preceded it; but, in its turn, it acquired an old-fashioned, top-heavy look, with a sadly shrunken bonnet, as soon as the comparatively long, black English limousine came to share its garage.
To get the newer car was to start the day zestfully. Pirogov, the second chauffeur, was a very short, pudgy fellow with a russet complexion that matched well the shade of the furs he wore over his corduroy suit and the orange-brown of his leggings. When some hitch in the traffic forced him to apply the brakes (which he did by suddenly distending himself in a peculiar springy manner), or when I bothered him by trying to communicate with him through the squeaky and not very efficient speaking tube, the back of his thick neck seen through the glass partition would turn crimson. He frankly preferred to drive the hardy convertible Opel that we used in the country during three or four seasons, and would do so at sixty miles per hour (to realize how dashing that was in 1912, one should take into account the present inflation of speed): indeed, the very essence of summer freedom—schoolless untownishness—remains connected in my mind with the motor’s extravagant roar that the opened muffler would release on the long, lone highway. When in the second year of World War One Pirogov was mobilized, he was replaced by dark, wild-eyed Tsiganov, a former racing ace, who had participated in various contests both in Russia and abroad and had had several ribs broken in a bad smash in Belgium. Later, sometime in 1917, soon after my father resigned from Kerenski’s cabinet, Tsiganov decided—notwithstanding my father’s energetic protests—to save the powerful Wolseley car from possible confiscation by dismantling it and distributing its parts over hiding places known only to him. Still later, in the gloom of a tragic autumn, with the Bolshevists gaining the upper hand, one of Kerenski’s aides asked my father for a sturdy car the premier might use if forced to leave in a hurry; but our debile old Benz would not do and the Wolseley had embarrassingly vanished, and if I treasure the recollection of that request (recently denied by my eminent friend, but certainly made by his aide-de-camp), it is only from a compositional viewpoint—because of the amusing thematic echo of Christina von Korff’s part in the Varennes episode of 1791. (Chapter Nine, 3)


In the preceding paragraph VN mentions The War of the Worlds by Wells:


Panting a little, my father would remove the convex fencing mask from his perspiring pink face to kiss me good morning. The place combined pleasantly the scholarly and the athletic, the leather of books and the leather of boxing gloves. Fat armchairs stood along the book-lined walls. An elaborate “punching ball” affair purchased in England—four steel posts supporting the board from which the pear-shaped striking bag hung—gleamed at the end of the spacious room. The purpose of this apparatus, especially in connection with the machine-gunlike ra-ta-ta of its bag, was questioned and the butler’s explanation of it reluctantly accepted as true, by some heavily armed street fighters who came in through the window in 1917. When the Soviet Revolution made it imperative for us to leave St. Petersburg, that library disintegrated, but queer little remnants of it kept cropping up abroad. Some twelve years later, in Berlin, I picked up from a bookstall one such waif, bearing my father’s ex libris. Very fittingly, it turned out to be The War of the Worlds by Wells. And after another decade had elapsed, I discovered one day in the New York Public Library, indexed under my father’s name, a copy of the neat catalogue he had had privately printed when the phantom books listed therein still stood, ruddy and sleek, on his shelves. (Chapter Nine, 2)


Describing his father's visit to England in 1915 (the year of Kinbote's and Gradus' birth), VN mentions a game of badminton (or fives) with H. G. Wells:


In England the visitors had been shown the Fleet. Dinners and speeches had followed in noble succession. The timely capture of Erzerum by the Russians and the pending introduction of conscription in England (“Will you march too or wait till March 2?” as the punning posters put it) had provided the speakers with easy topics. There had been an official banquet presided over by Sir Edward Grey, and a funny interview with George V whom Chukovski, the enfant terrible of the group, insisted on asking if he liked the works of Oscar Wilde—“dze ooarks of OOald.” The king, who was baffled by his interrogator’s accent and who, anyway, had never been a voracious reader, neatly countered by inquiring how his guests liked the London fog (later Chukovski used to cite this triumphantly as an example of British cant—tabooing a writer because of his morals).
A recent visit to the Public Library in New York has revealed that the above incident does not appear in my father’s book Iz Voyuyushchey Anglii, Petrograd, 1916 (A Report on England at War)—and indeed there are not many samples therein of his habitual humor beyond, perhaps, a description of a game of badminton (or was it fives?) that he had with H. G. Wells, and an amusing account of a visit to some first-line trenches in Flanders, where hospitality went so far as to allow the explosion of a German grenade within a few feet of the visitors. Before publication in book form, this report appeared serially in a Russian daily. There, with a certain old-world naïveté, my father had mentioned making a present of his Swan fountain pen to Admiral Jellicoe, who at table had borrowed it to autograph a menu card and had praised its fluent and suave nib. This unfortunate disclosure of the pen’s make was promptly echoed in the London papers by a Mabie, Todd and Co., Ltd., advertisement, which quoted a translation of the passage and depicted my father handing the firm’s product to the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, under the chaotic sky of a sea battle.
But now there were no banquets, no speeches, and even no fives with Wells whom it proved impossible to convince that Bolshevism was but an especially brutal and thorough form of barbaric oppression—in itself as old as the desert sands—and not at all the attractively new revolutionary experiment that so many foreign observers took it to be. After several expensive months in a rented house in Elm Park Gardens, my parents and the three younger children left London for Berlin (where, until his death in March, 1922, my father joined Iosif Hessen, a fellow member of the People’s Freedom Party, in editing a Russian émigré newspaper), while my brother and I went to Cambridge—he to Christ College, I to Trinity. (Chapter Thirteen, 1)


In Russia in the Shadows (1921) H. G. Wells describes his visit to Soviet Russia in the fall of 1920 and his meeting with Lenin (whom Wells calls "the Kremlin dreamer") in the Kremlin. Shade's murderer, Gradus is a member of the Shadows (a regicidal organization). Gradus is also known as de Grey (cf. "an official banquet presided over by Sir Edward Grey"). In his poem O pravitelyakh ("On Rulers," 1944) VN mentions banket s kavkazskim vinom (a banquet with Caucasian wine), presided over by Stalin, and makes an allusion to Stalin's words "life became better, life became merrier:"


В самом деле, нельзя же нам с горя

поступить, как чиновный Китай,

кучу лишних веков присчитавший

к истории скромной своей,

от этого, впрочем, не ставшей

ни лучше, ни веселей.

Кучера государств зато хороши

при исполнении должности:

шибко ледяная навстречу летит синева,

огневые трещат на ветру рукава...

Наблюдатель глядит иностранный

и спереди видит прекрасные очи навыкат,

а сзади прекрасную помесь диванной

подушки с чудовищной тыквой.

Но детина в регалиях или волк в макинтоше,

в фуражке с немецким крутым козырьком,

охрипший и весь перекошенный,

в остановившемся автомобиле -

или опять же банкет с кавказским вином - нет.


Does our plight really force us to do
what did bureaucratic Cathay
that with heaps of superfluous centuries
augmented her limited history
(which, however, hardly became
either better or merrier)?

Per contra, the coachmen of empires look good
when performing their duties: swiftly
toward them flies the blue of the sky;
their flame-colored sleeves clap in the wind;
the foreign observer looks on and sees
in front bulging eyes of great beauty
and behind a beautiful blend
of divan cushion and monstrous pumpkin.
But the decorated big fellow or else
the trench-coated wolf
in his army cap with a German steep peak,
hoarse-voiced, his face all distorted,
speaking from an immobile convertible,
or, again, a banquet
with Caucasian wine.
No, thank you.


An immobile convertible brings to mind Kinbote's powerful Kramler.


Kramler + Stalin + T. S. Eliot/toilest = Kremlin + star + Lolita + set