Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027351, Sun, 9 Apr 2017 15:37:19 +0300

hunger, thirst & shpiks in Pale Fire; St. George's Day,
bayronka & L disaster in Ada
After his escape from the Palace and the exhausting hike across Zemblan mountains, the King is thirsty and hungry:

"I was looking for the shpiks [plainclothesmen]" said the King. "All day," said Odon, "they have been patrolling the quay. They are dining at present." "I'm thirsty and hungry," said the King. "There's some stuff in the boat. Let those Russians vanish. The child we can ignore." "What about that woman on the beach?" "That's young Baron Mandevil--chap who had that duel last year. Let's go now." "Couldn't we take him too?" "Wouldn't come--got a wife and a baby. Come on, Charlie, come on, Your Majesty." "He was my throne page on Coronation Day." Thus chatting, they reached the Rippleson Caves. (note to Line 149)

According to a Zemblan saying (quoted by Kinbote at the end of his Commentary), God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty:

Many years ago--how many I would not care to say--I remember my Zemblan nurse telling me, a little man of six in the throes of adult insomnia: "Minnamin, Gut mag alkan, Pern dirstan" (my darling, God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty). Well, folks, I guess many in this fine hall are as hungry and thirsty as me, and I'd better stop, folks, right here. (note to Line 1000)

The last word in Kinbote’s Commentary is Gradus:

God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of the other two characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, health heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things! History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out--somebody has already set out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and presently he will ring at my door--a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus. (ibid.)

Kinbote and Gradus (Shade’s murderer) were born on July 5, 1915, and were six in August of 1921, at the time of Blok’s and Gumilyov’s almost simultaneous death. The author of Shestoe chuvstvo (“The Sixth Sense,” 1920), Gumilyov says in his poem Pamyat’ (“Memory,” 1920) that he knew muki goloda i zhazhdy (the torments of hunger and thirst) and mentions svyatoy Georgiy (the Cross of St. George, a decoration):

Знал он муки голода и жажды,
Сон тревожный, бесконечный путь,
Но святой Георгий тронул дважды
Пулею нетронутую грудь.

He knew the pains of hunger and thirst,

Sleep disturbed, the endless road,

But St. George twice touched

His breast untouched by a bullet.

In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father) married Aqua (Marina's twin sister) on St George's Day (April 23, 1869):

The modest narrator has to remind the rereader of all this, because in April (my favorite month), 1869 (by no means a mirabilic year), on St George's Day (according to Mlle Larivière's maudlin memoirs) Demon Veen married Aqua Veen - out of spite and pity, a not unusual blend. (1.3)

April 23 is VN’s birthday. On the other hand, St. George’s Day brings to mind George Gordon Byron (the poet who died in April of 1824). The characters of PF include Gordon Krummholz, “a musical prodigy and an amusing pet” who shows to Gradus the garden of Lavender’s villa (note to Line 408). In Ada Van mentions Ivan Durmanov, Aqua’s and Marina’s elder brother who was a famous violinist at eighteen and who died of lung cancer at twenty (1.10). On a picture in Marina's bedroom her brother Ivan is clad in a bayronka (open shirt):

A formal photograph, on a separate page: Adochka, pretty and impure in her flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit, with slant-striped school tie, facing the kimera (chimera, camera) side by side, at attention, he with the shadow of a forced grin, she, expressionless. Both recalled the time (between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a vivisectional alibi. (2.7)

Byron is the main character in Aldanov's novel Mogila voina (“A Soldier’s Grave,” 1938). In Aldanov's novel Peshchera ("The Cave," 1932) Nikonov, in a letter from Moscow, describes a photograph taken in Kremlin on which Trotsky (standing behind Lenin’s chair) wears a french (service jacket) and Zinoviev (standing beside Trotsky) is clad in some blouse or tolstovka (long belted blouse):

Зa его стулом стояли Троцкий во френче и Зиновьев в кaкой-то блузе или толстовке.

Btw., Trotsky’s french brings to mind French, a maidservant at Ardis who towers rather sullenly on the last photograph in Kim Beauharnais’ album (“Kim’s apotheosis of Ardis”):

The entire staff stood in several rows on the steps of the pillared porch behind the Bank President Baroness Veen and the Vice President Ida Larivière. Those two were flanked by the two prettiest typists, Blanche de la Tourberie (ethereal, tearstained, entirely adorable) and a black girl who had been hired, a few days before Van’s departure, to help French, who towered rather sullenly above her in the second row, the focal point of which was Bouteillan, still wearing the costume sport he had on when driving off with Van (that picture had been muffed or omitted). On the butler’s right side stood three footmen; on his left, Bout (who had valeted Van), the fat, flour-pale cook (Blanche’s father) and, next to French, a terribly tweedy gentleman with sightseeing strappings athwart one shoulder: actually (according to Ada), a tourist, who, having come all the way from England to see Bryant’s Castle, had bicycled up the wrong road and was, in the picture, under the impression of accidentally being conjoined to a group of fellow tourists who were visiting some other old manor quite worth inspecting too. The back rows consisted of less distinguished menservants and scullions, as well as of gardeners, stableboys, coachmen, shadows of columns, maids of maids, aids, laundresses, dresses, recesses — getting less and less distinct as in those bank ads where limited little employees dimly dimidiated by more fortunate shoulders, but still asserting themselves, still smile in the process of humble dissolve. (2.7)

The name Mandevil seems to hint at a line in Byron’s Don Juan: “Man — and, as we would hope — perhaps the devil” (see my previous post “Baron Mandevil, Odon & Fleur de Fyler in Pale Fire; Aquamarina & Pontius Press in Ada). According to Kinbote, Baron Radomir Mandevil has a cousin Mirador who had lost a leg in trying to make anti-matter:

The grotesque figure of Gradus, a cross between bat and crab, was not much odder than many other Shadows, such as, for example, Nodo, Odon's epileptic half brother who cheated at cards, or a mad Mandevil who had lost a leg in trying to make anti-matter. (note to Line 171)

The action in Ada takes place on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet). At Marina’s funeral Ada met d’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm:

‘Oh, I like you better with that nice overweight — there’s more of you. It’s the maternal gene, I suppose, because Demon grew leaner and leaner. He looked positively Quixotic when I saw him at Mother’s funeral. It was all very strange. He wore blue mourning. D’Onsky's son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around Demon and both wept comme des fontaines.’ (3.8)

Demon married Aqua soon after his sword duel with Baron d’Onsky (1.2). Young Baron Mandevil is a “chap who had that duel last year.”

One-armed d’Onsky is the son of Skonky (d’Onsky’s nickname) and a Bohemian lady, who desired Demon’s recommendation for a job in the Glass Fish-and-Flower department in a Boston museum and who became the keeper of Glass Biota there. Glass plays an important in PF. According to Kinbote, Gradus’ activities included organizing strikes at glass factories (note to Line 17). In his Commentary and Index Kinbote mentions Sudarg of Bokay, a mirror maker of genius, the patron saint of Bokay in the mountains of Zembla. The Rippleson Caves were named after a famous glass maker (Index to PF). A Russian tourist whom the King sees at the embankment mentions the explosion at the Glass Works in 1951:

Nitra and Indra (meaning "inner" and "outer"), two black islets that seemed to address each other in cloaked parley, were being photographed from the parapet by a Russian tourist, thickset, many-chinned, with a general's fleshy nape. His faded wife, wrapped up floatingly in a flowery écharpe, remarked in sing-song Moscovan "Every time I see that kind of frightful disfigurement I can't help thinking of Nina's boy. War is an awful thing." "War?" queried her consort. "That must have been the explosion at the Glass Works in 1951--not war." (note to Line 149)

shpik = pshik (nothing), a word used by one of the deceased (and rendered by C. Garnett as “mere refuse”) in Dostoevski’s story Bobok (1873):

– Что? Да ведь вы меня не достанете, а я вас могу отсюда дразнить, как Юлькину болонку. И, во-первых, господа, какой он здесь генерал? Это он там был генерал, а здесь пшик!
– Нет, не пшик… я и здесь…
– Здесь вы сгниёте в гробу, и от вас останется шесть медных пуговиц.

“What? Why, you can’t get at me, and I can tease you from here as though you were Julie’s lapdog. And another thing, gentlemen, how is he a general here? He was a general there, but here is mere refuse.”

“No, not mere refuse. . . . Even here . . . ”

“Here you will rot in the grave and six brass buttons will be all that will be left of you.”

Bobok + vesna/naves/Sevan = bes + Nabokov

vesna - spring

naves - penthouse; awning

Sevan - lake in Armenia

bes - evil spirit, demon; Besy (“The Possessed,” 1872) is a novel by Dostoevski (the writer who was arrested on St. George’s Day, 1849)

In Dostoevski’s Bobok one of the deceased mentions Dr Botkin:

-- А я, знаете, всё собирался к Боткину... и вдруг...

-- Ну, Боткин кусается,-- заметил генерал.

-- Ах, нет, он совсем не кусается; я слышал, он такой внимательный и всё предскажет вперёд.

-- Его превосходительство заметил насчёт цены, -- поправил чиновник.

-- Ах, что вы, всего три целковых, и он так осматривает, и рецепт... и я непременно хотел, потому что мне говорили... Что же, господа, как же мне, к Эку или к Боткину?

“You know, I kept meaning to go to Botkin’s, and all at once . . .”

“Botkin is quite prohibitive,” observed the general.

“Oh, no, he is not forbidding at all; I’ve heard he is so attentive and foretells everything beforehand.”

“His Excellency was referring to his fees,” the government clerk corrected him.

“Oh, not at all, he only asks three roubles, and he makes such an examination, and gives you a prescription . . .and I was very anxious to see him, for I have been told . . . Well, gentlemen, had I better go to Ecke or to Botkin?”

Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin.

In Blok’s poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) Dostoevski appears as a character and remarks that the hero's father resembles Byron. "He is Byron, hence he is a demon" (the monde decides):

Раз (он гостиной проходил)

Его заметил Достоевский.

"Кто сей красавец? - он спросил

Негромко, наклонившись к Вревской: -

Похож на Байрона". - Словцо

Крылатое все подхватили,

И все на новое лицо

Своё вниманье обратили.

На сей раз милостив был свет,

Обыкновенно - столь упрямый;

"Красив, умён" - твердили дамы,

Мужчины морщились: "поэт"...

Но, если морщатся мужчины,

Должно быть, зависть их берёт...

А чувств прекрасной половины

Никто, сам чорт, не разберёт...

И дамы были в восхищеньи:

"Он - Байрон, значит - демон..." - Что ж?

Он впрямь был с гордым лордом схож

Лица надменным выраженьем

И чем-то, что хочу назвать

Тяжёлым пламенем печали. (Part One, ll. 674-695)

Van and Ada are the children of Demon Veen and Marina Durmanov. At the end of his Preface to “Retribution” Blok mentions Marina (Marina Mnishek, the Polish beauty who “was dreaming of Russian throne”), Kosciusko and Mickiewicz:

Вся поэма должна сопровождаться определённым лейтмотивом "возмездия"; этот лейтмотив есть "мазурка", танец, который носил на своих крыльях Марину, мечтавшую о русском престоле, и Костюшку с протянутой к небесам десницей, и Мицкевича на русских и парижских балах.

To Kosciusko is the name shared by three sonnets written by S. T. Coleridge, Leigh Hunt and John Keats. In Adam Mickiewicz’s poem Cztery toasty (“Four Toasts,” 1821) the fourth toast is to elektryczność (electricity):

…A gdy zrośniem w okrąg wielki
Przez magnesowaną styczność,
Wtenczas z lejdejskiej butelki
Palniem: — wiwat elektryczność!

After the L disaster in the middle of the 19th century electricity was banned on Antiterra and even the word “electricity” became unmentionable:

The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of 'Terra,' are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans - and not to grave men or gravemen.

Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless forefathers. (1.3)

Byron is the author of Song for the Luddites (1816). The Antiterran L disaster seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on January 3, 1850 (NS), in our world. The Roman numeral L corresponds to the Arabic 50. On the other hand, the disaster’s initial seems to hint at Lenin and at Lermontov, the author of “The Demon” (1829-40) and of the prophetical Predskazanie (“Prediction,” 1830). Lermontov’s poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) ends in the line: Ya – ili Bog – ili nikto (“Myself, or God, or nobody”).

Nabokov + Bog + nikto + ladon’ = bok + Botkin + Aldanov + ogon’

Bog + nikto + slovo/volos + ladan = Botkin + Logos/golos + Aldanov = Blok + golova + satin/Satin + Don/dno = London + itog + bok + slava

Bog - God

nikto - nobody

ladon’ - palm (of hand)

bok - side; flank

Botkin - Professor Vsevolod Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name)

Aldanov - pseudonym of Mark Landau (1886-1957)

ogon’ - fire

slovo - word

volos - hair

ladan - incense

golos - voice

Blok - Alexander Blok (1880-1921), a poet

golova - head

Satin - a character in Gorky’s play Na dne (“At the Bottom,” 1902)

Don - river in Russia flowing to the sea of Azov

dno - bottom

itog - sum, total; result

slava - fame; glory; a poem (1942) by VN

In his Commentary Kinbote quotes in full Shade’s poem The Nature of Electricity:

The dead, the gentle dead—who knows?—
In tungsten filaments abide,
And on my bedside table glows
Another man’s departed bride.

And maybe Shakespeare floods a whole
Town with innumerable lights,
And Shelley’s incandescent soul
Lures the pale moths of starless nights.

Streetlamps are numbered, and maybe
Number nine-hundred-ninety-nine
(So brightly beaming through a tree
So green) is an old friend of mine.

And when above the livid plain
Forked lightning plays, therein may dwell
The torments of a Tamerlane,
The roar of tyrants torn in hell.

Science tells us, by the way, that the Earth would not merely fall apart, but vanish like a ghost, if Electricity were suddenly removed from the world. (note to Line 347)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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