Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027311, Sun, 26 Feb 2017 15:20:02 +0300

numerical symbolism in TRLSK
Yes, when V. begins to spell Sebastian’s surname, he almost says the word kniga (book). Kniga is an anagram of Kigan (the name Kegan in Russian spelling). K, n, i, g (the first four letters of Sebastian’s surname) make the word “king.” In terms of chess, Sebastian Knight (who drew a black knight to sign his writings) seems to be the king and Nina Lecerf, the queen (ferz’ is Russian for “chess queen”). Slon being Russian for “bishop” (chessman), Clare Bishop brings to mind Vera Slonim (the maiden name of VN’s wife).

According to V., there is an occult resemblance between a man and the date of his death:

I have managed to reconstruct more or less the last year of Sebastian's life: 1935. He died in the very beginning of 1936, and as I look at this figure I cannot help thinking that there is an occult resemblance between a man and the date of his death. Sebastian Knight d. 1936.... This date to me seems the reflection of that name in a pool of rippling water. There is something about the curves of the last three numerals that recalls the sinuous outlines of Sebastian's personality.... (chapter 19)

Lev Shestov (whose pseudonym comes from shest’, “six”) died on November 19, 1938. VN began writing TRLSK in December of 1938.

Mr. Kegan (who is asleep and to whose breathing V. listens thinking that it is his brother) is a patient in Ward No. 36. In a letter of April 1, 1897, to Suvorin Chekhov (who was hospitalized after a copious lung hemorrhage) says that the author of “Ward No. 6” was moved from Ward No. 16 to Ward No. 14:

Автора "Палаты № 6" из палаты № 16 перевели в № 14. Тут просторно, два окна, потапенковское освещение, три стола. Крови выходит немного. После того вечера, когда был Толстой (мы долго разговаривали), в 4 часа утра у меня опять шибко пошла кровь.

The author of “Ward No. 6” has been moved from Ward No. 16 to Ward No. 14. There is plenty of room here, two windows, lighting a la Potapenko, three tables. There is very little hemorrhage. After the evening when Tolstoy was here (we talked for a long time) at four o’clock in the morning I had violent hemorrhage again.

It is believed that Chekhov contracted tuberculosis because of the flop of “The Seagull” in the St. Petersburg Aleksandrinsky Theater in October of 1896. Nina Lecerf (aka Mme de Rechnoy) hints at Nina Zarechny, a character in “The Seagull.” In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Shestov says that one of Chekhov’s most remarkable works is his play Chayka (“The Seagull”):

Одним из самых характерных для Чехова, а потому и замечательных его произведений должна считаться его драма “Чайка”. В ней с наибольшей полнотой получило своё выражение истинное отношение художника к жизни. (VIII)

According to Shestov, in “The Seagull” the artist’s real attitude to life was expressed most fully. The phrase istinnoe otnoshenie khudozhnika k zhizni (the artist’s real attitude to life) brings to mind the title of VN’s novel.

The name Sebastian Knight hints at Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In 1901 Chekhov visited Tolstoy in Gaspra and, as they parted, Tolstoy told Chekhov that his plays were even worse than Shakespeare’s:

- Знаете, я недавно у Толстого в Гаспре был. Он ещё в постели лежал, но много говорил обо всём, и обо мне, между прочим. Наконец я встаю, прощаюсь. Он задерживает мою руку, говорит: "Поцелуйте меня", и, поцеловав, вдруг быстро суётся к моему уху и этакой энергичной старческой скороговоркой: "А все-таки пьёс ваших я терпеть не могу. Шекспир скверно писал, а вы еще хуже!" (Bunin, “Chekhov,” 1914)

VN shares his birthday, April 23, with Shakespeare (1564-1616). Shakespeare died on his fifty-second birthday. In VN’s play Sobytie (“The Event,” 1938) the action takes place on Antonina Pavlovna Opayashin’s fiftieth birthday. According to Antonina Pavlovna (a lady writer whose name-and-patronymic hints at Chekhov), only great people die on their birthday:

Антонина Павловна. За себя я спокойна. В Индии есть поверье, что только великие люди умирают в день своего рождения. Закон целых чисел.

Любовь. Такого поверья нет, мамочка. (Act Two)

The play’s main character, the portrait painter Troshcheykin, fears assassination. VN’s father was fifty-one when he was assassinated in Berlin on March 28, 1922.

VN was born in St. Petersburg, in 1899. TRLSK begins as follows:

Sebastian Knight was born on the thirty-first of December 1899, in the former capital of my country. An old Russian lady who has for some obscure reason begged me not to divulge her name, happened to show me in Paris the diary she had kept in the past. So uneventful had those years been (apparently) that the collecting of daily details (which is always a poor method of self-preservation) barely surpassed a short description of the day's weather; and it is curious to note in this respect that the personal diaries of sovereigns – no matter what troubles beset their realms – are mainly concerned with the same subject. Luck being what it is when left alone, here I was offered something which I might never have hunted down had it been a chosen quarry. Therefore I am able to state that the morning of Sebastian's birth was a fine windless one, with twelve degrees (Reaumur) below zero… this is all, however, that the good lady found worth setting down. On second thought I cannot see any real necessity of complying with her anonymity. That she will ever read this book seems wildly improbable. Her name was and is Olga Olegovna Orlova – an egg-like alliteration which it would have been a pity to withhold. (chapter 1)

Alexey Sklyarenko

From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf Of Bob Fagen
Sent: Friday, February 24, 2017 7:54 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Nina Lecerf & Monsieur Kegan in TRLSK; Dr Fitzbishop & Ward Five in Ada

From Ward Five -- "Knight" <-> "Kniga"? I'm sure this has been mentioned before if it has any use.

And a big thank you -- bolshoi spasibo -- for your wonderful postings, always most informative.

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