Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001382, Sun, 27 Oct 1996 15:29:30 -0700

Re: Three questions (fwd)
EDITOR'S NOTE. Thomas Bolt, originator of the annotation below, is,
inter alia, the author of DARK ICE, a stunning poem of 1,001 lines,
in which Vladimir Nabokov's ghost, speaking only in anagrams of his own
name (and "manifesting" in anagrams of "Pale Fire"), leads a tour of the
collapse of the Soviet regime. Bolt has graciously
permitted us to reprint the text on NABOKV-L and on ZEMBLA complete with
its elaborate set of notes. Coming soon.
Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1996 22:57:12 -0500
From: Tom Bolt <bolt@spacelab.net>

VN: "a creature of infinite patience and craft..."

Answer to your question one: all of the fancy words Hazel Shade wants
defined in PALE FIRE come from is T. S. Eliot's FOUR QUARTETS; "grimpen"
from "East Coker," II. But Eliot, as Nabokov must have known, coined his
general "grimpen" from a particular mire in Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle was
a boyhood favorite of Nabokov's (and, apparently, of another writer of
long, four-part poems: John Shade). My own opinion is that VN meant to
lead us, through Eliot, to the following passages in Conan Doyle.

In Chapter Seven of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Mr. Stapleton of
Merripit House, a naturalist carrying a butterfly net and specimen box,
addresses Dr. Watson with a laugh: "'That is the great Grimpen Mire,'
said he. 'A false step yonder means death to man or beast. Only
yesterday I saw one of the moor ponies wander into it. He never came
out. I saw his head for quite a long time craning out of the bog-hole,
but it sucked him down at last. Even in dry seasons it is a danger to
cross it, but after these autumn rains it is an awful place. And yet I
can find my way to the very heart of it and return alive.'"

Stapleton turns out to be the villain of the story. As Watson reports in
Chapter 12, "All my unspoken instincts, my vague suspicions, suddenly
took shape and centred upon the naturalist. In that impassive,
colourless man, with his straw hat and his butterfly net, I seemed to
see something terrible--a creature of infinite patience and craft, with
a smiling face and a murderous heart."