NABOKV-L post 0026678, Fri, 4 Dec 2015 17:37:47 +0300

mockingbird, Professor Pnin,
Queen Disa & Russian humorists in Pale Fire
In Canto One of his poem Shade (whose parents were ornithologists) mentions the naïve, the gauzy mockingbird:

TV's huge paperclip now shines instead

Of the stiff vane so often visited
By the naive, the gauzy mockingbird
Retelling all the programs that she had heard;
Switching from chippo-chippo to a clear
To-wee, to-wee; then rasping out: come here,
Come here, come herrr'; flitting her tail aloft,
Or gracefully indulging in a soft
Upward hop-flop, and instantly (to-wee!)
Returning to her perch--the new TV. (ll. 61-70)

In the first stanza of his poem Gogol (1853) Prince Vyazemski calls Gogol peresmeshnik nash zabavnyi (our amusing mockingbird) and mentions zemlya (the Earth):

Ты, загадкой своенравной
Промелькнувший на земле,
Пересмешник наш забавный
С думой скорби на челе.

You, who like a wilful riddle

Flashed on the Earth,

Our amusing mockingbird

With a thought of grief on your brow.

Gogol (golden-eye, the bird Clangula bucephala) is an avian name. In a letter of April 8, 1836, to Alexander Turgenev Vyazemski says that Zhukovski affectionately calls Gogol (who read last Saturday his side-splitting story about the nose that left the face of a collegiate assessor and appeared in the Kazan Cathedral) Gogolyok (Golden-eyelet):

Субботы Жуковского процветают, но давно без писем твоих. Один Гоголь, которого Жуковский называет Гоголёк (никто не равняется с Жуковским в перековеркании имён; помнишь ли, когда он звал Дашкова Дашенькою?) оживляет их своими рассказами. В последнюю субботу читал он нам повесть об носе, который пропал с лица неожиданно у какого-то коллежского асессора и очутился после в Казанском соборе в мундире министерства просвещения. Уморительно смешно.

In his Commentary Kinbote quotes Shade’s words about Russian humorists (with Gogol, Dostoevski and Chekhov among them) and mentions Professor Pnin:

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)

In VN’s novel Pnin (1957) Liza Bogolepov’s son Victor at the beginning of a poem that he contributed for the school magazine mentions Leonardo and his Mona Lisa:

Leonardo! Strange diseases
strike at madders mixed with lead:
nun-pale now are Mona Lisa's
lips that you had made so red. (Chapter Four, 5)

The Leonardo (1933) is a story by VN. Its original title was Korolyok (kinglet). The name of several birds (goldcrest, firecrest) and Russian for “blood-orange,” korolyok rhymes with Gogolyok.

Mona Lisa (whose name rhymes with Disa, the last Queen of Zembla) was acquired by Francis (François) I, the king of France who invited Leonardo da Vinci to Chambord. François I is the title character of Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s'amuse (“The King Amuses Himself,” 1832). Chekhov’s story Tysyacha odna strast’, ili Strashnaya noch’ (“Thousand and One Passions, or The Terrible Night,” 1880) is dedicated to Victor Hugo. The title of Chekhov’s parody blends Tysyacha i odna noch’ (the Arabian “Thousand and One Nights”) with Gogol’s Strashnaya mest’ (“A Terrible Vengeance,” 1831).

Disa, Duchess of Great Payn and Mone, seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Shakespeare’s Desdemona. Incidentally, in the second stanza of his poem Gogol Vyazemski calls the author of “A Madman’s Notes” Gamlet nash, smes’ slyoz i smekha (“our Hamlet, the medley of tears and laughter”). The “real” name of Queen Disa (Kinbote’s wife) and Sybil Shade (Shade’s wife) seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin; lastochka is Russian for “swallow”). The “real” name of John Francis Shade (the American poet), Charles Xavier Vseslav (Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla, aka Charles Kinbote) and Jakob Gradus (the killer who assassinates Kinbote but murders Shade) seems to be Vsevolod Botkin. An American scholar of Russian descent, Botkin went mad after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Shade’s poem).

Kinbote believes that in its finished form Shade’s poem should have 1000 lines and that the unwritten Line 1000 is identical to Line 1 (“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems to me that Shade’s unfinished poem also needs a coda, Line 1001 (“By its own double in the windowpane”). Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1848) is a short novel by Dostoevski.

Btw., the Golconda mentioned by Kinbote in his Foreword to Shade’s poem rhymes with La Gioconda. Gogol is the author of Portret (“The Portrait,” 1835), a story that appeared in Gogol’s collection Arabeski (“The Arabesques”). Gogol wrote his main work, Myortvye dushi (“Dead Souls,” 1842), in Rome. Coda (“tail”) is an Italian word. VN is the author of a funny (“perhaps, a little too funny”) book (1944) on Gogol.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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