Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027210, Mon, 31 Oct 2016 23:05:43 +0300

Erlkoenig in Pale Fire; shuler in Ada
…stop that record, or the guide will go on demonstrating as he did this very morning in Florence a silly pillar commemorating, he said, the ‘elmo’ that broke into leaf when they carried stone-heavy-dead St Zeus by it through the gradual, gradual shade… (1.3)

“The gradual, gradual shade” hints at Shade and his murderer Gradus in VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962). One of the leitmotifs in Shade’s poem are the opening lines of Goethe’s Erlkönig:

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind.

In Goethe’s Faust (Part One, Studierzimmer) Mephistopheles tells to the Schüler (who is under impression that he talks to Dr Faust):

Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie
und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.

Grey, dear friend, is all theory,
And green the golden tree of life.

According to Van, he always wondered why the Russian word for “cardsharp,” shuler, is the same as the German for “schoolboy” [Schüler], minus the umlaut:

‘Same here, Dick,’ said Van. ‘Pity you had to rely on your crystal balls. I have often wondered why the Russian for it — I think we have a Russian ancestor in common — is the same as the German for "schoolboy," minus the umlaut’ — and while prattling thus, Van refunded with a rapidly written check the ecstatically astonished Frenchmen. Then he collected a handful of cards and chips and hurled them into Dick’s face. The missiles were still in flight when he regretted that cruel and commonplace bewgest, for the wretched fellow could not respond in any conceivable fashion, and just sat there covering one eye and examining his damaged spectacles with the other — it was also bleeding a little — while the French twins were pressing upon him two handkerchiefs which he kept good-naturedly pushing away. Rosy aurora was shivering in green Serenity Court. Laborious old Chose. (1.28)

When five or six years later Van meets Dick in Monte Carlo, the latter mentions a microscopic point of euphorion, a precious metal:

He did not 'twinkle' long after that. Five or six years later, in Monte Carlo, Van was passing by an open-air café when a hand grabbed him by the elbow, and a radiant, ruddy, comparatively respectable Dick C. leaned toward him over the petunias of the latticed balustrade:

'Van,' he cried, 'I've given up all that looking-glass dung, congratulate me! Listen: the only safe way is to mark 'em! Wait, that's not all, can you imagine, they've invented a microscopic - and I mean microscopic - point of euphorion, a precious metal, to insert under your thumbnail, you can't see it with the naked eye, but one minuscule section of your monocle is made to magnify the mark you make with it, like killing a flea, on one card after another, as they come along in the game, that's the beauty of it, no preparations, no props, nothing! Mark 'em! Mark 'em!' good Dick was still shouting, as Van walked away. (1.28)

In Part Two of Goethe’s Faust Euphorion is the son of Faust and Helen of Troy. In his essay Pushkin (1896) Merezhkovski says that Pushkin is closer to Goethe than to Byron and compares Byron to Euphorion:

С этой точки зрения становится вполне ясной ошибка тех, которые ставят Пушкина в связь не с Гёте, а с Байроном. Правда, Байрон увеличил силы Пушкина, но не иначе как побеждённый враг увеличивает силы победителя. Пушкин поглотил Евфориона, преодолел его крайности, его разлад, претворил его в своём сердце, и устремился дальше, выше — в те ясные сферы всеобъемлющей гармонии, куда звал Гёте и куда за Гёте никто не имел силы пойти, кроме Пушкина. (chapter IV)

According to Merezhkovski, Pushkin absorbed Euphorion [i. e. Byron], got over his extremes, his discord, transubstantiated him in his heart and rushed on further, higher – to those clear spheres of overwhelming harmony where Goethe had invited and where no one, except Pushkin, was strong enough to follow Goethe.

Lord Byron is the main character in Mark Aldanov’s novel Mogila voina (“A Soldier’s Grave,” 1938). It has for the epigraph the last lines of Byron’s last poem On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year (1824):

Seek out -- less often sought than found
A soldier's grave, for thee the best,
Then look around and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

In the poem’s first stanza Byron says that he cannot be beloved anymore:

Tis time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

One of the three main characters in Pale Fire, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla.

In my previous post (“elmo, stone-heavy-dead St Zeus, chelovek & L disaster in Ada”) I forgot to point out that Turgenev's Smoke is mentioned in Ada. According to Marina, at Van’s age she would have poisoned her governess, if forbidden to read Turgenev's Smoke:

Puzzled Mlle Larivière would have consulted the Master of Ardis, but she never discussed with him anything serious since the day (in January, 1876) when he had made an unexpected (and rather halfhearted, really - let us be fair) pass at her. As to dear, frivolous Marina, she only remarked, when consulted, that at Van's age she would have poisoned her governess with anti-roach borax if forbidden to read, for example, Turgenev's Smoke. (1.21)

In Turgenev’s novel Litvinov is in love with Irina Osinin (who marries general Ratmirov). Van’s and Ada’s father, Demon Veen is the son of Dedalus Veen and Irina Garin. The name Garin comes from gar’ (burning; cinders, ashes) and rhymes with Niagarin (in Pale Fire one of the two Soviet experts who are looking for the Zemblan crown jewels). The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin (1927) is a novel by Alexey Tolstoy, the author Pyotr Pervyi (“Peter the First,” 1934).

Btw., “the Master of Ardis” (as Mlle Larivière calls Daniel Veen) brings to mind The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter's Tale (1889) by R. L. Stevenson. The action in it takes place during the Jacobite rising of 1745. RLS is the author of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Treasure Island (1883). Like Jekyll and Hyde in Stevenson’s novella, Mr. Shade, Dr Kinbote and Jakob Gradus seem to be one and the same person (Professor Vsevolod Botkin).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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