NABOKV-L post 0026647, Sun, 22 Nov 2015 23:01:49 +0300

crime & Botkin in Pale Fire
Kinbote dubbed his black gardener “Balthasar, Prince of Loam” (note to Line 62). Balthasar was the name of one of the magi. The Gifts of the Magi (1905) is a story by O. Henry. As pointed out by Dolinin, in O. Henry’s story The Prisoner of Zembla the king exclaims: "Ods Bodkins!" The youth hath a pretty wit." “Ods Bodkins” is an euphemistic form of “God's body,” used as a mild oath (see my post of Oct. 17, 2015). In Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1601) Prince Hamlet (who mentions in his famous monologue “a bare bodkin”) speaks to Polonius and uses the phrase “God’s bodkin:”

God's bodkin, man, much better! use every man after his desert, and who shall 'scape whipping? (2.2.532-33)

In Aldanov's novel Klyuch (“The Key,” 1929) Fomin quotes Hamlet’s words in Russian and then repeats them in English:

— Отчего же? — вставил Фомин. — Гамлет говорит: «если б с каждым поступать по заслугам, то кто избежал бы порки?»

— Вот это так! — засмеялся Нещеретов. — Ай, да Гамлет!

Фомин тоже засмеялся и повторил по-английски старательно заученную цитату. Произнося английские слова, он как-то странно, точно с отвращением, кривил лицо и губы, очевидно, для полного сходства с англичанами.

— Есть изречение ещё более удивительное, — сказал, зевая, Браун. — Помнится, Гёте заметил, что не знает такого преступления, которого он сам не мог бы совершить. (Part Two, Chapter III)

In reply, Braun quotes Goethe’s words: “There is no crime of which I do not deem myself capable.” The opening lines of Goethe’s Erlkoenig (1782), “Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? / Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind,” become a leitmotif of Shade’s poem (ll.653-654).

O. Henry (W. S. Porter, 1862-1910) spent more than three years in prison (a licensed pharmacist, he was able to work in the prison hospital as the night druggist). Like his Braun, Aldanov (M. A. Landau, 1889-1957) was a chemist. Aldanov's Braun brings to mind Father Brown, the amateur detective in G. K. Chesterton's stories that VN read in childhood. In ll. 27-28 of his poem Shade mentions Sherlock Holmes (“a hawk-nosed, lanky, rather likable private detective in various stories by Conan Doyle”):

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

In Aldanov’s Klyuch Fedosiev (the former chief of the political police) 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 XIV)

According to Kinbote, he arrived in America descending 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)

In Aldanov’s novel Bred (“Delirium,” 1955) Shell (a professional spy) asks 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)

As he speaks to Colonel No. 1, Shell 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. (ibid.)

Aldanov spent the last years of his life in France and died in Nice. VN’s novel Lolita appeared in the same year as Aldanov’s Bred. It was brought out by a French publishing house (Olympia Press). The characters of Lolita include Shirley Holmes, the camp mistress, and her son Charlie who also works at Camp Q. and who becomes Lolita’s first lover.

Vivian Darkbloom (the author of My Cue whose name is an anagram of Vladimir Nabokov) and her co-author Clare Quilty (Lolita’s idol Cue who abducts her from Humbert Humbert who is murdered by the latter) bring to mind Vivian Clareville, a character in Aldanov’s trilogy (“The Key,” “Escape” and “The Cave”) written in France before World War II. In Begstvo (Escape) Vivian Clareville marries Musya Kremenetsky, the daughter of a distinguished lawyer.

Shade, Kinbote and Gradus (Shade’s murderer) seem to represent three different aspects of V. Botkin, the American scholar of Russian descent who went mad after his daughter’s death. Kinbote is an anagram of Botkine (Botkin’s name in French spelling). In his Foreword to Shade’s poem Kinbote twice repeats the word “crime:”

"Come, come," said Professor Hurley, "do you mean, John, you really don't have a mental or visceral picture of that stunning blonde in the black leotard who haunts Lit. 202?" Shade, all his wrinkles beaming, benignly tapped Hurley on the wrist to make him stop. Another tormentor inquired if it was true that I had installed two ping-pong tables in my basement. I asked, was it a crime? No, he said, but why two? "Is that a crime?" I countered, and they all laughed.

The name Hurley seems to hint at “hurly-burly” mentioned by one of the three witches at the beginning of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Shakespeare is the author of Tempest. In Canto Three of his poem Shade calls 1958 (the year when VN’s Lolita was published in America) “a year of Tempests:”

It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane
Lolita swept from Florida to Maine. (ll. 679-80; see also my post of Sept. 9, 2015)

In the first stanza of his poem Kakoe sdelal ya durnoe delo ("What is the Evil Deed I have Committed..." 1959), a parody of Pasternak's poem Nobelevskaya premiya ("The Nobel Prize," 1959), VN wonders if he is zlodey (a villain, criminal):

Какое сделал я дурное дело,
и я ли развратитель и злодей,
я, заставляющий мечтать мир целый
о бедной девочке моей?

What is the evil deed I have committed?

Seducer, criminal – is this the word

for me who set the entire world a-dreaming

of my poor little girl?

Yad v polom izumrude (poison in a hollow smaragd) mentioned in the poem’s second stanza brings to mind Izumrudov, one of the greater Shadows (members of a regicidal organization) who visits Gradus in Nice (Kinbote’s note to Line 741), and yad, posledniy dar moey Izory (“poison, the last gift of my Izora”) mentioned by Salieri in Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri (1830). According to Pushkin’s Mozart (who uses the phrase nikto b, “none would,” which is Botkin backwards), geniy i zlodeystvo – dve veshchi nesovmestnye (genius and villainy are two things incompatible).

Btw., in Aldanov’s novel Zhivi kak khochesh’ (“Live as You Please,” 1952) zlodeyaniya (evil deeds), Goethe and ping-pong are mentioned practically in the same chapter:

В этом отношении уже французские революционеры 1794 года плохо знали меру. Правда, трудно сказать, кто больше совершил злодеяний: они ли или какой-нибудь Людовик XIV, которого так любят ненавидящие их историки. (Part Five, chapter III)

– И не надо ему играть: пусть творит! – решительно заявил Пемброк, окончательно усвоивший такой тон, точно Яценко был Гёте, ещё, к сожалению, не всеми признанный. (ibid.)

По сходной причине она редко останавливалась на верхней палубе у тех мест, где молодёжь играла в пинг-понг, корабельный теннис и shuffle board: было обидно, что ей не восемнадцать лет. (Part Five, chapter IV)

Alexey Sklyarenko

p. s. Everybody who has read “The Gift” (and Chekhov’s letters) knows that Pleshcheyev’s name-and-patronymic was Aleksey Nikolayevich.

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