Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027515, Wed, 13 Sep 2017 18:00:39 +0300

Fleur & Fifalda de Fyler, Oleg Gusev in Pale Fire
Fleur de Fyler (Queen Disa’s favorite lady-in-waiting) is “defiler of

One of her former ladies in waiting, the languid and elegant Fleur de Fyler
(now fortyish and faded), still wearing pearls in her raven hair and the
traditional white mantilla, brought certain documents from Disa's boudoir.
Upon hearing the King's mellow voice behind the laurels, Fleur recognized it
before she could be misled by his excellent disguise. Two footmen, handsome
young strangers of a marked Latin type, appeared with the tea and caught
Fleur in mid-curtsey. A sudden breeze groped among the glycines. Defiler of
flowers. He asked Fleur as she turned to go with the Disa orchids if she
still played the viola. She shook her head several times not wishing to
speak without addressing him and not daring to do so while the servants
might be within earshot. (note to Lines 433-434).

In Chapter One of Eugene Onegin Pushkin eulogizes female feet and wonders
where they now trample veshnie tsvety (vernant blooms):

Ах, ножки, ножки! где вы ныне?
Где мнёте вешние цветы?

Ah, little feet, little feet! Where are you now?

Where do you trample vernant blooms? (XXXI: 3-4)

According to Kinbote, the society sculptor and poet Arnor used Fleur’s
breasts and feet for his Lilith Calling Back Adam:

Our Prince was fond of Fleur as of a sister but with no soft shadow of
incest or secondary homosexual complications. She had a small pale face with
prominent cheekbones, luminous eyes, and curly dark hair. It was rumored
that after going about with a porcelain cup and Cinderella's slipper for
months, the society sculptor and poet Arnor had found in her what he sought
and had used her breasts and feet for his Lilith Calling Back Adam; but I am
certainly no expert in these tender matters. Otar, her lover, said that when
you walked behind her, and she knew you were walking behind her, the swing
and play of those slim haunches was something intensely artistic, something
Arab girls were taught in special schools by special Parisian panders who
were afterwards strangled. Her fragile ankles, he said, which she placed
very close together in her dainty and wavy walk, were the "careful jewels"
in Arnor's poem about a miragarl ("mirage girl"), for which "a dream king in
the sandy wastes of time would give three hundred camels and three

/ / / /

On sagaren werem tremkin tri stana
/ / / /
Verbala wod gev ut tri phantana

(I have marked the stress accents.) (note to Line 80)

Otar eventually marries Fleur’s sister Fifalda:

Otar, Count, heterosexual man of fashion and Zemblan patriot, b. 1915, his
bald spot, his two teenage mistresses, Fleur and Fifalda (later Countess
Otar), blue-veined daughters of Countess de Fyler, interesting light
effects, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline71> 71.

Fifalda de Fyler is “defiler of butterflies” (presumably, because she
attracts men as fire attracts moths). Fleur de Fyler brings to mind
Fleur-de-Lys, a character in V. Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris (1831).
Fleur-de-lis is a stylized lily often used as a heraldic symbol. In an
omitted stanza (Four: IV: 13) of EO Pushkin mentions “butterflies or

Дознался я, что дамы сами,
Душевной тайне изменя,
Не могут надивиться нами,
Себя по совести ценя.
Восторги наши своенравны
Им очень кажутся забавны;
И, право, с нашей стороны
Мы непростительно смешны.
Закабалясь неосторожно,
Мы их любви в награду ждём.
Любовь в безумии зовём,
Как будто требовать возможно
От мотыльков иль от лилей
И чувств глубоких и страстей!

I have discovered that ladies themselves

betraying their souls secret,

cannot stop marveling at us

when in all fairness they appraise themselves.

Our wayward transports

appear to them very amusing;

and, really, on our part,

we’re inexcusably absurd.

Self-bondaged rashly,

their love we, in reward, expect,

in folly call for love,

as if it were possible to demand

from butterflies or lilies

deep sentiments and passions.

In the preceding stanza (Four: III: 3) of EO Pushkin mentions “Thamyra,
Daphne, and Lileta:”

Словами вещего поэта
Сказать и мне позволено:
Темира, Дафна и Лилета ―
Как сон забыты мной давно.

In the words of a vatic poet

I also am allowed to say:

“Thamyra, Daphne, and Lileta

I’ve long forgotten like a dream.”

Veshchiy poet (“a vatic poet”) is Anton Delvig (1798-1831), Pushkin’s
best friend at the Lyceum. The epithet veshchiy was used by Pushkin earlier
in Pesn’ o veshchem Olege (“The Song of Wise Oleg,” 1822). The King’s
beloved playmate (and first lover), Oleg, Duke of Rahl (1916-31), was killed
in a toboggan accident (Index to Pale Fire). In Chapter Five (II: 9-14) of
EO Pushkin describes winter pastimes and mentions a household lad with a
hand sled:

Вот бегает дворовый мальчик,
В салазки жучку посадив,
Себя в коня преобразив;
Шалун уж отморозил пальчик:
Ему и больно и смешно,
А мать грозит ему в окно.

Here runs about a household lad,

upon a hand sled having seated “blackie,”

having transformed himself into the steed;

the scamp already has frozen a finger.

He finds it both painful and funny ― while

his mother, from the window, threatens him...

In Chapter Four (XLII: 9) of EO Pushkin mentions na krasnykh lapkakh gus’
tyazhyolyi (a heavy goose with red feet):

На красных лапках гусь тяжелый,
Задумав плыть по лону вод,
Ступает бережно на лёд,
Скользит и падает; весёлый
Мелькает, вьётся первый снег,
Звездами падая на брег.

A heavy goose with red feet,

planning to swim upon the bosom of the waters,

steps carefully onto the ice,

slidders, and falls. The gay

first snow flicks, swirls,

falling in stars upon the bank.

Oleg is the son of Colonel Peter Gusev, Duke of Rahl (b. 1885, still spry),
King Alfin’s “aerial adjutant.” The surname Gusev comes from gus’

In his ode To Fani (c. 1815) Delvig mentions Temira, Dafna i Lileta. While
Temira (Thamyra) brings to mind Tamara (the author’s first love in VN’s
autobiography Speak, Memory), Lileta reminds one of VN’s Lolita (1955). In
his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 416) VN points out that “Lileta,” or
“Lila,” was Batyushkov’s favorite shepherdess. Batyushkov is the author
of Na smert’ Pnina (“On Pnin’s Death,” 1805). The title character of a
novel (1957) by VN, Pnin also appears in Pale Fire:

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)

Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin. Like
poor Batyushkov, Botkin is mad. In Speak, Memory VN mentions the milky
racemosa of mad Batyushkov’s fame.

In his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 414) VN points out that the first four
stanzas of Chapter Four, under the heading “Women: a Fragment from Eugene
Onegin,” appeared in the Moscow Herald (Moskovskiy vestnik), pt. 5, no. 20
(1827), 365-367.

The name Fleur sounds like flyor (veil). In Chapter Six (XLI: 11) of EO
Pushkin mentions flyor ot shlyapy (the gauze veil of her hat):

Пред ним (как начинает капать
Весенний дождь на злак полей)
Пастух, плетя свой пёстрый лапоть,
Поёт про волжских рыбарей;
И горожанка молодая,
В деревне лето провождая,
Когда стремглав верхом она
Несётся по полям одна,
Коня пред ним остановляет,
Ременный повод натянув,
И, флёр от шляпы отвернув,
Глазами беглыми читает
Простую надпись - и слеза
Туманит нежные глаза.

Beneath it (as begins to drip

spring rain upon the herb of fields)

the herdsman, plaiting his pied shoe of bast,

sings of the Volga fishermen;

and the young townswoman who spends

the summer in the country,

when headlong on horseback, alone,

she scours the fields,

before it halts her steed,

tightening the leathern rein;

and, turning up the gauze veil of her hat,

she reads with skimming eyes

the plain inscription ― and a tear

dims her soft eyes.

Fifalda de Fyler = fire + fall + dead + fly

Mesmer + Fifalda + mountain + Lik = Esmeralda + fountain + film + Kim/Mik

Mesmer: This then is my story. I have reread it. It has bits of marrow
sticking to it, and blood, and beautiful bright-green flies. At this or that
twist of it I feel my slippery self eluding me, gliding into deeper and
darker waters than I care to probe. I have camouflaged what I could so as
not to hurt people. And I have toyed with many pseudonyms for myself before
I hit on a particularly apt one. There are in my notes “Otto Otto” and
“Mesmer Mesmer” and “Lambert Lambert,” but for some reason I think my
choice expresses the nastiness best. (Lolita, 2.36)

mountain/fountain: see Canto Three (ll. 706-802) of Pale Fire

Lik: a story (1939) by VN; its characters include Oleg Petrovich’s Koldunov
(Lik’s former schoolmate and tormentor); Oleg Petrovich is the
name-and-patronymic of Prince Charles’ beloved playmate; the new white
shoes play an important part in Lik; according to Kinbote (the author of a
book on surnames), Botkin is the one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear
(note to Line 71); at the end of Lik the hero dying at the seaside imagines
a trip in a taxi to Koldunov’s place and sees a fountain in the middle of a

Esmeralda: a gypsy girl in V. Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris; Chloroselas
esmeralda, a butterfly in the Lycaenidae family; VN’s poem Lines Written in
Oregon (1953) ends in the line: “Esmeralda, immer, immer!”

Kim: a novel (1901) by Kipling; Kim Beauharnais, a character in VN’s novel
Ada (1969), the snoopy kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who spies on
Van and Ada and who is blinded by Van (2.11)

Mik: the title character of a poem (1914) by Gumilyov, an African lad; in
his Commentary Kinbote mentions black imps: A tray with fruit and drinks was
brought in by a jeune beauté, as dear Marcel would have put it, nor could
one help recalling another author, Gide the Lucid, who praises in his
African notes so warmly the satiny skin of black imps. (note to Line 691)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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