NABOKV-L post 0020742, Mon, 20 Sep 2010 00:11:02 +0400

Gogol's Poprishchin and Zembla
Poprishchin: "I discovered that China and Spain were essentially the same land [sovershenno odna i ta zhe zemlya] and only through ignorance they are believed to be different countries. I recommend everybody to put down on paper Spain and it will come out China."

I'm not sure if there is a connection to Botkin's madness in Pale Fire. If there is a connection, does it suggest that Zembla = Appalachia? Zembla = Russia? Zembla = Sweden? America = Russia?

I think I have solved this problem: Zembla (Semberland, a land of reflections) = Russia (but also Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania... etc.). See Kinbote's note to Line 615.

Incidentally, the name Poprishchin, of Gogol's mad hero, comes from поприще, the obsolete word meaning "field, walk of life". One remembers Uvarov's famous words about Pushkin: Писать стишки не значит ещё проходить великое поприще ("To write verses doesn't yet mean to be a great man").* Both Pushkin and Uvarov (the Minister of Education, a target of Pushkin's epigrams) are mentioned by Belinsky in his famous letter to Gogol. Btw., the critic also says in it:

Некоторые остановились было на мысли, что Ваша книга есть плод умственного расстройства, близкого к положительному сумасшествию.

(Some people have been inclined to regard your book [Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends] as the result of mental derangement verging on sheer madness.)

*He said it soon after the poet's death

Alexey Sklyarenko

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