NABOKV-L post 0026563, Sun, 25 Oct 2015 22:32:07 +0300

ex-roi de Zembla & Ombre in Pale Fire
It was now correctly conjectured that if Odon had fled, the King had fled too. At an extraordinary session of the Extremist government there was passed from hand to hand, in grim silence, a copy of a French newspaper with the headline: L'EX-ROI DE ZEMBLA EST-IL À PARIS? Vindictive exasperation rather than state strategy moved the secret organization of which Gradus was an obscure member to plot the destruction of the royal fugitive. (Kinbote’s note to Line 171)

In a letter of April 21-22, 1877, to Strakhov Leo Tolstoy quotes V. Hugo’s poem L’Abîme (“The Abyss”) in which Man (L’Homme) tells Earth (La Terre): “I am your king” and Earth (in Russian, Zemlya) replies: “you are my worm.”

А всё ругают V. Hugo. А он там говорит в разговоре земли с человеком.

Человек: Je suis ton roi.

Земля: Tu n’es que ma vermine. Ну-ка, отчего они не сказали так?

In his poem Shade (whose daughter drowned herself) mentions not only Zembla, but also Terra the Fair (Strange Other World). Hugo’s eldest daughter drowned in the Seine and another daughter went mad. Shade, Kinbote and Gradus seem to represent three different aspects of V. Botkin, the American scholar of Russian descent who went mad after his daughter’s suicide. Like a worm, V. Botkin was cut into three parts by God’s spade, as it were.

According to Kinbote, after <> line 274 of Shade’s poem there is a false start in the draft:

I like my name: Shade, Ombre, almost "man"
In Spanish...

Hugo’s L’Abîme ends as follows:

L’INFINI: L’être multiple vit dans mon unité sombre.
DIEU: Je n’aurais qu’à souffler, et tout serait de l’ombre.

A friend of Tolstoy, Vasiliy Botkin is the author of “Letters about Spain” (1851). Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s'amuse (1832) was used by Verdi for his opera Rigoletto (1851). Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved, the last King of Zembla) would certainly disagree with the Duke who sings in Verdi’s opera: “La donna è mobile, etc.” Disa, Duchess of Great Payn and Mone, brings to mind Othello’s faithful wife Desdemona. Otello (1887) is another famous opera by Verdi.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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