Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026812, Fri, 15 Jan 2016 18:39:30 +0300

Duke of Aros & Ferz Bretwit in Pale Fire
According to Kinbote, Charles the Beloved (the last king of Zembla) and
Jakob Gradus (the man who murders Shade while trying to assassinate Kinbote)
were both born in 1915. The poet K. R. (the Grand Duke Konstantin
Konstantinovich), author of a Russian translation (with an extensive
commentary) of Hamlet, died in 1915. Konstantin Romanov (b. 1858; note that
Kinbote arrives in America in October, 1958) was a grandson of Nicholas I,
the Emperor of Russia who died in 1855. Conmal, Duke of Aros, was born in
1855. The uncle of Charles the Beloved, Conmal translated the entire works
of Shakespeare into Zemblan. Aros = soar. On the other hand, it brings to
mind the famous palindrome composed by Afanasiy Fet: a roza upala na lapu
Azora (and the rose fell on Azor's paw). The name of the dog on whose paw
the rose fell brings to mind the false azure mentioned by Shade at the
beginning of his poem:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane.

K. R.'s teacher in poetry, Fet was married to Maria Botkin. Shade's,
Kinbote's and Gradus' "real" name seems to be Botkin. In 1919 Vsevolod
Botkin married Sofia Lastochkin (who becomes Sybil Shade in Shade's poem).
Lastochki ("The Swallows," 1884) and Lastochka ("The Swallow," 1840) are
poems by Fet. Sofia is the name of Famusov's daughter with whom Chatski is
in love in Griboedov's play in verse Gore ot uma ("Woe from Wit," 1824). In
a letter of Feb. 14, 1825, to Katenin Griboedov responds to Katenin's
criticism, mentions Chatski's "insanity" (in his Foreword to Shade's poem
Kinbote mentions a ferocious lady who said that Kinbote was insane) and
calls Sofia ferz' (the chess queen):

Кто-то со злости выдумал об нём, что он сумасшедший, никто не поверил и все
повторяют, голос общего недоброхотства и до него доходит, притом и нелюбовь
к нему той девушки, для которой единственно он явился в Москву, ему
совершенно объясняется, он ей и всем наплевал в глаза и был таков. Ферзь
тоже разочарована насчёт своего сахара медовича.

In his Commentary and Index (the entry: Aros) Kinbote mentions Ferz Bretwit
(according to Kinbote, the name Bretwit means Chess Intelligence):

Aros, a fine town in E. Zembla, capital of Conmal's dukedom; once the
mayorship of the worthy Ferz ("chessqueen") Bretwit, a cousin of the
granduncle of Oswin Bretwit (q.v.),
<http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline149> 149,
<http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline286> 286.

Kinbote is Shade's dangerous neighbor. Opasnyi sosed ("The Dangerous
Neighbor," 1811) is a narrative poem by Pushkin's uncle Vasiliy Lvovich. In
a letter of Sept. 9, 1830, to Pletnyov Pushkin quotes his uncle's last
words, kak skuchny statyi Katenina! (How boring Katenin's article are!):

Бедный дядя Василий! знаешь ли его последние слова? приезжаю к нему, нахожу
его в забытьи, очнувшись, он узнал меня, погоревал, потом, помолчав: как
скучны статьи Катенина! и более ни слова. Каково? вот что значит умереть
честным воином, на щите, le cri de guerre a la bouche!

In his Commentary Kinbote describes his uncle's death and quotes Conmal's
last words:

English was not taught in Zembla before Mr. Campbell's time. Conmal mastered
it all by himself (mainly by learning a lexicon by heart) as a young man,
around 1880, when not the verbal inferno but a quiet military career seemed
to open before him, and his first work (the translation of Shakespeare's
Sonnets) was the outcome of a bet with a fellow officer. He exchanged his
frogged uniform for a scholar's dressing gown and tackled The Tempest. A
slow worker, he needed half a century to translate the works of him whom he
called "dze Bart," in their entirety. After this, in 1930, he went on to
Milton and other poets, steadily drilling through the ages, and had just
complete Kipling's "The Rhyme of the Three Sealers" ("Now this is the Law of
the Muscovite that he proved with shot and steel") when he fell ill and soon
expired under his splendid painted bed ceil with its reproductions of
Altamira animals, his last words in his last delirium being "Comment dit-on
'mourir' en anglais?"--a beautiful and touching end. (Note to Line 962)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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