Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027322, Mon, 13 Mar 2017 13:52:59 +0300

Zembre & Uncle Van in Ada; Baron Bland & Zemblan crown jewels in
Pale Fire
In his essay The Texture of Time (1922) Van Veen (the narrator and main
character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions Zembre, a quaint old town on
the Minder river:

We build models of the past and then use them spatiologically to reify and
measure Time. Let us take a familiar example. Zembre, a quaint old town on
the Minder River, near Sorcière, in the Valais, was being lost by degrees
among new buildings. By the beginning of this century it had acquired a
definitely modem look, and the preservation people decided to act. Today,
after years of subtle reconstruction, a replica of the old Zembre, with its
castle, its church, and its mill extrapolated onto the other side of the
Minder, stands opposite the modernized town and separated from it by the
length of a bridge. Now, if we replace the spatial view (as seen from a
helicopter) by the chronal one (as seen by a retrospector), and the material
model of old Zembre by the mental model of it in the Past (say, around
1822), the modem town and the model of the old turn out to be something else
than two points in the same place at different times (in spatial perspective
they are at the same time in different places). The space in which the modem
town coagulates is immediately real, while that of its retrospective image
(as seen apart from material restoration) shimmers in an imaginary space and
we cannot use any bridge to walk from the one to the other. In other words
(as one puts it when both writer and reader flounder at last in hopeless
confusion of thought), by making a model of the old town in one’s mind (and
on the Minder) all we do is to spatialize it (or actually drag it out of its
own element onto the shore of Space). Thus the term ‘one century’ does not
correspond in any sense to the hundred feet of steel bridge between modem
and model towns, and that is what we wished to prove and have now proven.
(Part Four)

As I pointed out in my previous post (“cognachok in TRLSK; Sorciere, Zembre
& Minder in Ada”), Zembre seems to hint at e sempre bene (“and I don’t
mind”), a phrase used by Pushkin in Canto Eight (XXXV: 14) of Eugene
Onegin. In Italian, sempre means “always.” In Ilf and Petrov’s novel
Dvenadtsat’ stul’yev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Polesov’s political
credo is vsegda (always):

― А теперь действовать, действовать и дей
ствовать! ― сказал Остап, понизив голос до
степени полной нелегальности.

Он взял Полесова за руку.

― Старуха не подкачает? Надёжная женщина?
Полесов молитвенно сложил руки.

― Ваше политическое кредо?

― Всегда! ― восторженно ответил Полесов.

― Вы, надеюсь, кирилловец?

― Так точно. ― Полесов вытянулся в струну.

― Россия вас не забудет! ― рявкнул Остап.

"And now we must act, act, and act," said Ostap, lowering his voice to a
conspiratorial whisper.

He took Polesov by the arm.

"The old woman is reliable, isn't she, and won't give us away?" Polesov
joined his hands as though praying.

"What's your political credo?"

"Always!" replied Polesov delightedly.

"You support Kirillov, I hope?"

"Yes, indeed." Polesov stood at attention.

"Russia will not forget you," Ostap rapped out. (Chapter 14 “The Alliance
of the Sword and Ploughshare”)

The characters of Dostoevski’s novel Besy (“The Possessed,” 1872) include
Kirillov, a madman who commits suicide. In Za kon’yachkom (“Over the
Brandy”), a chapter in Dostoevski’s novel Brat’ya Karamazovy (“Brothers
Karamazov,” 1880), Fyodor Pavlovich (the father of brothers Karamazov)
quotes the words of a monk who used the Latin verb credo (“I believe”):

― Да ведь он же верует в бога.

― Ни на грош. А ты не знал? Да он всем говор
ит это сам, то есть не всем, а всем умным лю
дям, которые приезжают. Губернатору Шульц
у он прямо отрезал: credo, да не знаю во что.

― Неужто?

― Именно так. Но я его уважаю. Есть в нём чт
о-то мефистофелевское или, лучше, из ?Геро
я нашего времени?... Арбенин али как там...

"But, of course, he believes in God."

"Not a bit of it. Didn't you know? Why, he tells everyone so, himself. That
is, not everyone, but all the clever people who come to him. He said
straight out to Governor Schulz not long ago: 'Credo, but I don't know in


"He really did. But I respect him. There's something of Mephistopheles about
him, or rather of 'A Hero of Our Time'... Arbenin, or what's his name?...
(Book Three, chapter 8)

Like Fyodor Pavlovich, Pahl Pahlich Rechnoy (a character in VN’s novel The
Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 1941, whose surname comes from reka,
“river,” and brings to mind the Minder river in Ada) loves cognachok:

“In the meantime,” said Pahl Pahlich, “we shall clap down a little brandy
\xa8C cognachkoo.” (chapter 15)

During his visit to Pahl Pahlich Rechnoy, V. (the narrator in TRLSK) recalls
Chichikov's round of weird visits in Gogol's Dead Souls:

While they were arguing over the position, with White trying to take his
move back, I looked round the room. I noted the portrait of what had been in
the past an Imperial Family. And the moustache of a famous general, moscowed
a few years ago. I noted, too, the bulging springs of the bug-brown couch,
which served, I felt, as a triple bed \xa8C for husband and wife and child. For
a minute, the object of my coming seemed to be madly absurd. Somehow, too, I
remembered Chichikov's round of weird visits in Gogol's Dead Souls. The
little boy was drawing a motor car for me. (ibid.)

In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote quotes the words of Shade who listed
Gogol, Dostoevski and Ilf and Petrov (“those joint authors of genius”)
among Russian humorists:

Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a
regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who
taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque
“perfectionist”): “How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all
sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski,
Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov.”
(note to Line 172)

In Canto Three of Pale Fire Shade speaks of IPH (a lay Institute of
Preparation For the Hereafter) and mentions Fra Karamazov:

Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept
All is allowed, into some classes crept (ll. 641-642).

The Italian word for “brother” (a title of a monk or friar), fra is an
anagram of “far.” According to Kinbote, onhava-onhava means in Zemblan
“far, far away.” Just as Ardis (Daniel Veen’s fabulous country estate in
Ada) seems to hint at paradise, Onhava (the name of Zemblan capital)
suggests “heaven.” In his sonnet Shakespeare Matthew Arnold (the poet whom
Kinbote mentions in his Commentary) says that Shakespeare made the heaven of
heavens his dwelling-place:

Planting his stedfast footsteps in the sea,

Making the Heaven of Heavens his dwelling-place,

Spares but the cloudy border of his base

To the foil'd searching of mortality.

At the beginning of Lyudoedka Ellochka (“Ellochka the Cannibal”), a
chapter in Ilf and Petrov’s “The Twelve Chairs,” William Shakespeare is

Словарь Вильяма Шекспира, по подсчёту исс
ледователей, составляет 12 000 слов. Словарь
негра из людоедского племени ?Мумбо-Юмбо?
составляет 300 слов.

Эллочка Щукина легко и свободно обходила
сь тридцатью.

William Shakespeare's vocabulary has been estimated by the experts at twelve
thousand words. The vocabulary of a Negro from the Mumbo Jumbo tribe amounts
to three hundred words.

Ellochka Shchukin managed easily and fluently on thirty. (chapter 22)

In the same note “books and people” in which he mentions Russian humorists
Kinbote quotes Shade’s words about Shakespeare:

The subject of teaching Shakespeare at college level having been introduced:
"First of all, dismiss ideas, and social background, and train the freshman
to shiver, to get drunk on the poetry of Hamlet or Lear, to read with his
spine and not with his skull." Kinbote: "You appreciate particularly the
purple passages?" Shade: "Yes, my dear Charles, I roll upon them as a
grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great Dane." (note to Line

According to Ivan Karamazov (who thinks that “all is allowed” and who
suffers from hallucinations), the devil who visits him has a tail, long and
smooth, kak u datskoy sobaki (like a Danish dog’s):

Он просто чёрт, дрянной, мелкий чёрт. Он в
баню ходит. Раздень его и наверно отыщешь
хвост, длинный, гладкий, как у датской соб
аки, в аршин длиной, бурый…

He is simply a devil―a paltry, trivial devil. He goes to the baths. If you
undressed him, you'd be sure to find he had a tail, long and smooth like a
Danish dog's, a yard long, dun color.... (Book Eleven, chapter 10)

In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy Telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) one
of the chapters is entitled Telegramma ot brat’yev Karamazovykh (“The
Telegram from Brothers Karamazov”).

In Ada Van’s mistress Cordula de Prey (Ada’s schoolmate at Brownhill)
marries Ivan G. Tobak, a ship owner (2.5). The surname of Cordula’s first
husband rhymes with Sobak (in “The Twelve Chairs” a friend of Ellochka
Shchukin). Fima Sobak brings to mind Sobakevich, one of the landowners in
Gogol’s Dead Souls (1842). Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) calls
Cordula’s husband “Tobakovich:”

'Come, come,' retorted Demon, dropping and replacing his monocle. 'Cordula
won't mind.'

'It's another, much more impressionable girl' - (yet another awful fumble!).
'Damn Cordula! Cordula is now Mrs Tobak.'

'Oh, of course!' cried Demon. 'How stupid of me! I remember Ada's fiancé
telling me - he and young Tobak worked for a while in the same Phoenix bank.
Of course. Splendid broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond chap. Backbay
Tobakovich!' (2.10)

Van at first suspects that Cordula is a lesbian (1.27). One of the words in
Fima Sobak’s rich vocabulary is “homosexuality:”

Мадмуазель Собак слыла культурной девушк
ой ― в её словаре было около ста восьмидес
яти слов. При этом ей было известно одно т
акое слово, которое Эллочке даже не могло
присниться. Это было богатое слово ― гомо

Mile Sobak was reputed to be a cultured girl and her vocabulary contained
about a hundred and eighty words. One of the words was one that Ellochka
would not even have dreamed of. It was the meaningful word "homosexuality".
(chapter 22)

In PF Kinbote asks God to rid him of his love for little boys:

After winding for about four miles in a general eastern direction through a
beautifully sprayed and irrigated residential section with variously graded
lawns sloping down on both sides, the highway bifurcates: one branch goes
left to New Wye and its expectant airfield; the other continues to the
campus. Here are the great mansions of madness, the impeccably planned
dormitories \xa8C bedlams of jungle music \xa8C the magnificent palace of the
Administration, the brick walls, the archways, the quadrangles blocked out
in velvet green and chrysoprase, Spencer House and its lily pond, the
Chapel, New Lecture Hall, the Library, the prisonlike edifice containing our
classrooms and offices (to be called from now on Shade Hall), the famous
avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare, a distant droning sound,
the hint of a haze, the turquoise dome of the Observatory, wisps and pale
plumes of cirrus, and the poplar-curtained Roman-tiered football field,
deserted on summer days except for a dreamy-eyed youngster flying - on a
long control line in a droning circle - a motor-powered model plane.

Dear Jesus, do something. (note to Lines 47-48)

The mad commentator of Shade’s poem, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles
the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla. According to Kinbote, the
name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya (earth; land), but of
Semberland, a land of reflections:

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 Zemblands resembled one another--and
that, in fact, the name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya,
but of Semberland, 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. (note to Line 894).

In the same note to Line 894 Kinbote mentions Professor Pardon’s attempt to
pronounce the name Pnin:

Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were
born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla
[sarcastically stressing the "Nova"].

"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?"
asked my dear Shade.

"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks
his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).

Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a
remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English

"Oxford, 1956," I replied.

You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other
day, talking to--what's his name--oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing
his lips].

Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].

Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for 'tire': punoo."

Shade: "Why, sir, I am afraid you have only punctured the difficulty"
[laughing uproariously]. (ibid.)

Van writes The Texture of Time traveling by car in Switzerland and completes
it in Mont Roux. VN wrote Ada living in Montreux (Switzerland). According to
a Latin saying, ubi bene, ibi patria (where it is well, there is the

The name Pardon brings to mind a line in VN’s poem On Translating "Eugene
Onegin" (1955) written after the meter and rhyme scheme of the EO stanza:

What is translation? On a platter

A poet’s pale and glaring head,

A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,

And profanation of the dead.

The parasites you were so hard on

Are pardoned if I have your pardon,

O, Pushkin, for my stratagem:

I traveled down your secret stem,

And reached the root, and fed upon it;

Then, in a language newly learned,

I grew another stalk and turned

Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,

Into my honest roadside prose--

All thorn, but cousin to your rose.

Reflected words can only shiver

Like elongated lights that twist

In the black mirror of a river

Between the city and the mist.

Elusive Pushkin! Persevering,

I still pick up your damsel’s earring,

Still travel with your sullen rake.

I find another man's mistake,

I analyze alliterations

That grace your feasts and haunt the great

Fourth stanza of your Canto Eight.

This is my task -- a poet's patience

And scholiastic passion blent:

Dove-droppings on your monument.

According to Kinbote, Sybil Shade (whose grandfather was a first cousin of
John Shade’s maternal grandmother) used to call him “the monstrous
parasite of a genius:”

From the very first I tried to behave with the utmost courtesy toward my
friend's wife, and from the very first she disliked and distrusted me. I was
to learn later that when alluding to me in public she used to call me "an
elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macaco worm; the monstrous parasite
of a genius." I pardon her--her and everybody. (note to Line 247)

Semberland + Pnin + Bera/bear/bare = sempre/semper + Bland + Arbenin

Bland + Arbenin + Botkin + Nova/Avon + pin/pni/nip = bandit + rab/bar/bra +
Lenin + Nabokov + Pnin

Bland + nikto = land + Botkin

bene + Vanya = Veen/even + banya

Pnin \xa8C the title character of a novel (1957) by VN

Bera \xa8C the Bera Range, a two-hundred-mile-long chain of rugged mountains,
not quite reaching the northern end of the Zemblan peninsula (cut off
basally by an impassable canal from the mainland of madness), divides it
into two parts, the flourishing eastern region of Onhava and other
townships, such as Aros and Grindelwod, and the much narrower western strip
with its quaint fishing hamlets and pleasant beach resorts. (PF, note to
Line 149)

semper \xa8C Lat. always

Bland \xa8C Baron Bland (the Keeper of the Treasure in PF): However, not all
Russians are gloomy, and the two young experts from Moscow whom our new
government engaged to locate the Zemblan crown jewels turned out to be
positively rollicking. The Extremists were right in believing that Baron
Bland, the Keeper of the Treasure, had succeeded in hiding those jewels
before he jumped or fell from the North Tower; but they did not know he had
had a helper and were wrong in thinking the jewels must be looked for in the
palace which the gentle white-haired Bland had never left except to die. I
may add, with pardonable satisfaction, that they were, and still are, cached
in a totally different--and quite unexpected--corner of Zembla. (note to
Line 681); in Ilf and Petrov’s “The Twelve Chairs” the three main
characters (Bender, Vorob’yaninov and Father Fyodor) are the diamond
hunters; the name of one of the two Soviet experts in PF hints at
Andronnikov, a character in Dostoevski’s novel Podrostok (“The
Adolescent,” 1875)

Arbenin \xa8C the main character in Lermontov’s drama in verse Maskarad (“The
Masquerade,” 1835) whom Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov confuses with Pechorin
(the main character in Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time,” 1841); the name
of Arbenin’s wife, Nina, brings to mind Nina Lecerf (alias Mme de Rechnoy),
Sebastian’s mistress in TRLSK; Lermontov is the author of the prophetical
poem Predskazanie (“Prediction,” 1830); Yumor Lermontova (“Lermontov’s
Humor”) is an essay by Innokentiy Annenski included in Kniga otrazheniy
(“The Book of Reflections,” 1906), a title that brings to mind Reflections
in Sidra by Van Veen (3.7); Annenski’s “Book of Reflections” was signed
Nik. T-o

Botkin \xa8C Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name

pni \xa8C pl. of pen’ (stump)

rab \xa8C slave

nikto \xa8C nobody

bene \xa8C Lat., It., good

Vanya \xa8C diminutive of Ivan; at the end of Chekhov’s play Dyadya Vanya
(“Uncle Vanya,” 1890) Sonya promises to Uncle Vanya that they will see
nebo v almazakh (the sky swarming with diamonds); in “Ardis the Second”
Ada calls Van (Ada’s brother and lover) “Uncle Van:” 'Well, that bit
about spinsters is rot,' said Van, 'we'll pull it off somehow, we'll become
more and more distant relations in artistically forged papers and finally
dwindle to mere namesakes, or at the worst we shall live quietly, you as my
housekeeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, "we shall
see the whole sky swarm with diamonds."' 'Did you find them all, Uncle Van?'
she inquired, sighing, laying her dolent head on his shoulder. She had told
him everything. (1.31); Dostoevski suffered from epilepsy

banya \xa8C baths; bath-house; Ivan Karamazov’s devil goes v banyu (to the
baths); Kishinyovskaya krovavaya banya (“The Kishinev Blood-Bath,” 1903)
is an article by V. D. Nabokov (VN’s father who was assassinated in Berlin
in 1922)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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