Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026425, Wed, 9 Sep 2015 03:38:04 +0300

Sherlock Holmes, parachuting & spies in Pale Fire
In lines 27-28 of Pale Fire Shade mentions Sherlock Holmes:

Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose
Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes?

In his note to Line 27 Kinbote says: "A hawk-nosed, lanky, rather likable
private detective, the main character in various stories by Conan Doyle. I
have no means to ascertain at the present time which of these is referred to
here but suspect that our poet simply made up this Case of the Reversed

In Aldanov's novel Bred ("Delirium," 1955) Shell, as he speaks to Colonel
No. 1, mentions Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson:

-- Есть и такие. Точнее, многие становятся морфиноманами, работа трудная. А
когда они становятся морфиноманами, то им обычно грош цена. Меня всегда
забавляло, что Конан Дойл сделал Шерлока Холмса кокаинистом. Это доказывает,
что талантливый английский писатель ничего не понимал в полицейском деле.
"Дедукции" Шерлока и вообще не очень убедительны, но если б он был
кокаинистом, то скоро превратился бы в развалину и через год стал бы
бездарнее самого доктора Ватсона...

-- Так вы работаете только для денег, -- сказал полковник с лёгким
разочарованием. (chapter II)

Kinbote arrives in America by parachute:

John Shade's heart attack (Oct. 17, 1958) practically coincided with the
disguised king's arrival in America where he descended by parachute from a
chartered plane piloted by Colonel Montacute, in a field of hay-feverish,
rank-flowering weeds, near Baltimore whose oriole is not an oriole. (note to
Line 691)

According to Kinbote, during the reign of Charles the Beloved (the last king
of Zembla) parachuting had become a popular sport. (note to Line 12)

In Aldanov's Bred Shell (a professional spy) the American Colonel ("Colonel
No. 1"), if the latter wants to deliver him to the USSR by parachute:

-- Вы, вероятно, хотите доставить меня на парашюте в СССР?

-- Мы никого на парашютах в СССР не отправляем, -- сказал очень холодно
полковник. -- И никакими драматическими и страшными делами мы не занимаемся.
(chapter II)

In Aldanov's novel Klyuch ("The Key," 1929) Fedosiev tells Braun that
Sherlock Holmes and Porfiriy Petrovich (the investigator in Dostoevski's
Crime and Punishment) sit in all of us:

- Наша профессиональная черта, - пояснил, улыбаясь, Федосьев. - Ведь в
каждом из нас сидят Шерлок Холмс и Порфирий Петрович: (Part Two, chapter

In the same conversation with Braun Fedosiev (the former head of political
police who fears assassination) mentions the Niagara Falls into which people
of the Pizarro type in our days throw themselves out of sheer boredom:

В Америке, например, таким людям совершенно нечего делать, прямо хоть в
Ниагару бросайся. Но в Европе - у нас в особенности - судьба послала им в
последний подарок революцию. Ведь романтика конспирации, восстаний, террора
пьянит - увы! - не только мальчишек. Для современного Пизарро, прямо скажу,
нет лучше способа <возродить себя к новой жизни>. А если для этого,
например, нужно отправить к праотцам такого злодея, как Сергей Федосьев, то
уж, конечно, грех был бы стесняться. Этот спорт очень захватывает, Александр
Михайлович. (ibid.)

According to Fedosiev, the sport of manhunt is very exciting.

The characters of PF include Andronnikov and Niagarin, two Soviet experts in
quest of a buried treasure. In his poem Shade mentions Russian spies:

It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane
L o l i t a swept from Florida to Maine.
Mars glowed. Shahs married. Gloomy Russians spied.
Lang made your portrait. And one night I died. (ll. 679-82)

VN's novel L o l i t a appeared in the same year as Aldanov's Bred. The
characters of L o l i t a include Shirley Holmes, the camp mistress, and her
son Charlie who also works at camp and becomes Lo's first lover.

According to Fedosiev, the romance of secrecy, insurrections, terror
intoxicates not only the young. Jacob Gradus whom the Shadows (a regicidal
organization) commissioned to assassinate the self-banished king of Zembla
is not young. According to Kinbote, Gradus' whole clan was in the liquor

Having a morbid affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era, he
contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian
word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making in
Vinogradus. His father, Martin Gradus, had been a Protestant minister in
Riga, but except for him and a maternal uncle (Roman Tselovalnikov, police
officer and part-time member of the Social-Revolutionary party), the whole
clan seems to have been in the liquor business. (note to Line 17)

Btw., the name Tselovalnikov comes from tseloval'nik (inn-keeper, publican).
In the forties Gradus came to Zembla as a brandy salesman and married there
a publican's daughter. (ibid.)

Colonel Peter Gusev (a pioneer parachutist) and Colonel Montacute (who
piloted the plane from which Kinbote parachuted in America) seem to
correspond to Colonel No. 1 and Colonel No. 2 in Aldanov's Bred. The name
Gusev comes from gus' (goose). A chapter in Sergey Aksakov's book on hunting
that in Aldanov's Bred the Soviet colonel ("Colonel No. 2") is avidly
reading is dedicated to geese. In Conan Doyle's story The Blue Diamond the
precious stone is concealed in a live goose.

"As many have noted, Shade didn't invent the backward-shoes image. It was
Holmes himself who suggested the ruse as one way he might have left the
impression that he had fallen over Reichenbach Falls together with Professor
Moriarty." (A. P. Socher, "Shades of Frost: A Hidden Source for Nabokov's
Pale Fire")

Alexey Sklyarenko

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