Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026474, Sat, 26 Sep 2015 19:59:09 +0300

Iris Acht & Thurgus III in Pale Fire
In my recent post I wrote that the characters of Annenski’s Famira kifared. Vakkhicheskaya drama (“Thamyras Cytharoede: A Bacchic Drama,” 1906) included Irida (the Russian name of Iris, the goddess of the rainbow). This is not quite correct. In Annenski’s drama the nymph Agriopa (Thamyras’ mother) mentions Irida:

Я разведу тебя с твоей обидой

И утомлю безумием игры -

И будем спать мы под одной небридой,

Как две сестры.

Ты только днём, смотри, себя не выдай:

Сердца горят, и зубы там остры…

А ночью мы свободны под небридой,

Как две сестры.

Пусть небеса расцветятся Иридой,

Или дождём туманят их пары...

Что небо нам? Мы будем под небридой,

Как две сестры. (Scene 17)

The Nymph compares herself and her son to sisters sleeping under one nebrida (nebris, a clothing of the maenads). This brings to mind Fleur de Fyler and her sister Fifalda, the daughters of Countess de Fyler, Queen Blenda’s favorite lady-in-waiting (Kinbote’s note to Line 71). After Queen Blenda’s death Fleur de Fyler attempts to seduce the young King by sleeping in a so-called patifolia, the huge, oval, luxuriously flounced, swansdown pillow the size of a triple bed that Charles Xavier installed in his bedroom for other needs than sleep (note to Line 80).

In Annenski’s drama Agriopa falls in love with her son and is transformed into a bird. According to Shade (whose parents were ornithologists), he “was the shadow of the waxwing slain / by the false azure in the windowpane” (ll. 1-2).

Agriopa is a tragedy by Vasiliy Maykov. In a letter of Jan. 11-13, 1831, to Vyazemski Pushkin tells the anecdote about Fonvizin: when Maykov met Fonvizin and asked him what he would say about Agriopa, Fonvizin (who was, according to old Prince Yusupov, un autre Beaumarchais pour la conversation) replied: Agriopa – zasranaya zhopa (your Agriopa has a dirty arse-hole). According to Pushkin, Yusupov knew a lot of Fonvizin’s bon mots, but could not remember them. This brings to mind King Alfin’s absent-mindedness and his only memorable mot:

King Alfin's absent-mindedness knew no bounds. He was a wretched linguist having at his disposal only a few phrases of French and Danish, but every time he had to make a speech to his subjects - to a group of gaping Zemblan yokels in some remote valley where he had crash-landed - some uncontrollable switch went into action in his mind, and he reverted to those phrases, flavoring them for topical sense with a little Latin. Most of the anecdotes relating to his naïve fits of abstraction are too silly and indecent to sully these pages; but one of them that I do not think especially funny induced such guffaws from Shade (and returned to me, via the Common Room, with such obscene accretions) that I feel inclined to give it here as a sample (and as a corrective). One summer before the first world war, when the emperor of a great foreign realm (I realize how few there are to choose from) was paying an extremely unusual and flattering visit to our little hard country, my father took him and a young Zemblan interpreter (whose sex I leave open) in a newly purchased custom-built car on a jaunt in the countryside. As usual, King Alfin traveled without a vestige of escort, and this, and his brisk driving, seemed to trouble his guest. On their way back, some twenty miles from Onhava, King Alfin decided to stop for repairs. While he tinkered with the motor, the emperor and the interpreter sought the shade of some pines by the highway, and only when King Alfin was back in Onhava, did he gradually realize from a reiteration of rather frantic questions that he had left somebody behind ("What emperor?" has remained his only memorable mot). (Kinbote’s note to Line 71)

In the same letter to Vyazemski Pushkin mentions Duke of Wellington whose house in London, according to rumors, was burnt down by the mob: В Англии, говорят, бунт. Чернь сожгла дом Веллингтона.

Wellington is a character in Mogila voina (“A Soldier’s Grave,” 1939), Aldanov’s novel about Byron’s last years. In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron, o bez sozhalen’ya… (“Like Byron to Greece, oh, without regret…” 1927) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon’ (a pale fire). In Aldanov’s novel Bred (“Delirium,” 1955) Maykov is the Russian scholar who invented the means to prolong human life. The novel’s main character, Shell (a professional spy) is commissioned to get Maykov out of Moscow. Shell asks the American Colonel (“Colonel No. 1”) if the latter wants to deliver him to the USSR by a parachute. Kinbote arrives in America descending by a parachute.

In Scene Ten of Annenski’s Famira-kifared Thamyras repeats the word bred (delirium) ten times:

…Чёрные косы, - бела и строга,

Бела и строга,

О, бред!

Лишь твои, кифарэд,

Ей желанны луга...

О, бред!

На что и желанья мои ей,

Твоей беловыей?

Aldanov is the author of Povest’ o smerti (“The Tale about Death,” 1952). Its title brings to mind Tri smerti (“Three Deaths,” 1851), Apollon Maykov’s lyrical drama in verse. One of its three main characters, Lucius, mentions ritor borodatyi (a bearded teacher of rhetoric):

По смерти слава – нам не в прок!

И что за счастье, что когда-то

Укажет ритор бородатый

В тебе для школьников урок!..

A University Professor, Kinbote is bearded.

Maykov is the author of Mashen’ka (1845) and Baldur (1875), a long poem based on Scandinavian Edda. Maykov was a friend of V. P. Botkin, the author of Pis’ma ob Ispanii (“Letters about Spain,” 1851). In Gogol’s story Zapiski sumasshedshego (“A Madman’s Notes,” 1835) Poprishchin imagines that he is the king of Spain Ferdinand VIII. According to Kinbote, he was the last king of Zembla Charles the Beloved.

Shade, Kinbote and Gradus seem to represent three different aspects of V. Botkin, the American scholar of Russian descent. In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830) Salieri remembers Beaumarchais’ advice:


И, полно! что за страх ребячий?
Рассей пустую думу. Бомарше
Говаривал мне: «Слушай, брат Сальери,
Как мысли чёрные к тебе придут,
Откупори шампанского бутылку
Иль перечти “Женитьбу Фигаро”».


        Come, come!
What sort of childish fright is this? Dispel
These empty fancies. Beaumarchais would often
Say to me "Listen, Salieri, old friend,
When black thoughts come your way, uncork the champagne
Bottle, or reread the Marriage of Figaro." (Scene II, transl. Alan Shaw)

and Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (“none would”) that brings to mind Annenski’s penname (Nik. T-o) and is Botkin backwards:


Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.
Нас мало избранных, счастливцев праздных,
Пренебрегающих презренной пользой,
Единого прекрасного жрецов.


         If all
Could feel like you the power of harmony!
But no: the world could not go on then. None
Would bother with the needs of lowly life; All would surrender to spontaneous art.
We chosen ones are few, we happy idlers,
Who care not for contemptible usefulness,
But only of the beautiful are priests. (ibid.)

Iris Acht was the mistress of Thurgus the Third, surnamed The Turgid, K.’s grandfatther. Thurgus’ name and surname, and his Jaeger jacket, seem to hint at Turgenev (the author of “A Hunter’s Notes” who was in love with the singer Pauline Viardot-Garcia). Annenski is the author of Umirayushchiy Turgenev (“Dying Turgenev”) and Belyi ekstaz, strannaya istoriya, rasskazannaya Turgenevym (“White Ecstasy, a Strange Story Told by Turgenev), two essays on Turgenev’s late work included in Annenski’s Books of Reflections. According to Shade, he “was the smudge of ashen fluff - and I / Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky” (ll. 3-4).

Iris Acht was a celebrated actress. At the beginning of Umirayushchiy Turgenev. Klara Milich (“Dying Turgenev. Klara Milich”) Annenski describes Turgenev’s funeral and mentions (metaphorically) the theatrical ticket-office:

22 года тому назад всё это было для меня чем-то вроде сна или декорации... Я, видите ли, тогда проводил время ещё на площади и каждую минуту готов был забыть, что нахожусь хотя и в хвосте, но всё же перед театральной кассой, откуда в свое время и получу билет. Но теперь, когда поредело передо мной, а зато позади толпа так и кишит, да только вернуться-то туда я уже не могу, -- теперь, когда незаметно для самого себя я продвинулся с площади в темноватый вестибюль театра и тусклый день жёлто смотрит на меня уже сквозь его пыльные стекла, -- когда временами, через плечо соседа, я вижу даже самое окошечко кассы... О, теперь я отлично понимаю ту связь, которая раз навсегда сцепила в моей памяти похороны Тургенева с его последней повестью.

Turgenev was born in 1818 and died in 1883. In German acht means 8. Thurgus’ regnal number seems to correspond to 3 in the year of Turgenev’s death.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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