Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027588, Fri, 3 Nov 2017 21:39:38 +0300

Joe Lavender,
Villa Libitina & Hebe's Cup in Pale Fire; Sokolovski & Audace in
In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) describes Gradus’ visit to Joe Lavender’s villa Libitina:

He crossed it, walked through a wicket and up a curving gravel path, and found himself in front of Lavender's villa. Its name, Libitina, was displayed in cursive script above one of the barred north windows, with its letters made of black wire and the dot over each of the three i’s cleverly mimicked by the tarred head of the chalk-boated nail driven into the white facade. This device, and the north-facing window grates, Gradus had observed in Swiss villas before, but immunity to classical allusion deprived him of the pleasure he might have derived from the tribute that Lavender's macabre joviality had paid the Roman goddess of corpses and tombs. Another matter engaged his attention: from a corner casement came the sounds of a piano, a tumult of vigorous music which for some odd reason, as he was to tell me later, suggested to him a possibility he had not considered and caused his hand to fly to his hip pocket as he prepared to meet not Lavender and not Odon but that gifted hymnist, Charles the Beloved. (note to Line 408)

In his ode Exegi monumentum (3.30) Horace mentions Libitina:

Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei

vitabit Libitinam; usque ego postera

crescam laude recens, dum Capitolium

scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex.

I shall not wholly die and a greater part of me

will evade Libitina; continually I,

newly arisen, may be strengthened with ensuing praise so long

as the high priest climbs the Capitoline with the silent maiden. (ll. 6-10)

Horace’s ode was imitated by Derzhavin. In Canto Six (VII: 12) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin compares Zaretski (Lenski’s second who plants cabbages) to Horace. In Canto Eight (II: 3-4) of EO Pushkin mentions old Derzhavin who “noticed us and blessed us while descending to his grave.” In his EO Commentary (vol. II, pp. 310-311) VN points out that in his great poem Ya pamyatnkik sebe vozdvig… (“Exegi monumentum,” 1836) Pushkin line for line parodies Derzhavin’s Pamyatnik (1796). In the poem’s line 8 Pushkin uses the obsolete word piit (poet):

Нет, весь я не умру — душа в заветной лире
Мой прах переживёт и тленья убежит —
И славен буду я, доколь в подлунном мире
Жив будет хоть один пиит.

No, I’ll not wholly die. My soul in the sacred lyre

Is to survive my dust and flee decay;

And I’ll be famed while there remains alive

In the sublunar world at least one poet.

In his “Ode to Count Khvostov” (1825) written in a mockingly archaic style Pushkin calls himself nevedomyi piita (an obscure poet) and Khvostov (whom Pushkin compares to “Beyron”) piita znamenityi (the famous poet):

А я, неведомый Пиита,
В восторге новом воспою
Во след Пиита знаменита
Правдиву похвалу свою,
Моляся кораблю бегущу,
Да Бейрона он узрит кущу7 <http://rvb.ru/pushkin/01text/01versus/0423_36/1825/0371.htm#c7> ,
И да блюдут твой мирный сон8 <http://rvb.ru/pushkin/01text/01versus/0423_36/1825/0371.htm#c8>
Нептун, Плутон, Зевс, Цитерея,
Гебея, Псиша, Крон, Астрея,
Феб, Игры, Смехи, Вакх, Харон.

In the last three lines Pushkin lists Neptune, Pluto, Zeus, Cytherea (Venus), Hebe, Psyche, Chronos, Astraea, Phoebus, Games, Laughs, Bacchus and Charon. To his mock ode Pushkin added eight footnotes. In the last of them Pushkin mentions Geba (Hebe) who raises her kubok (cup) to Khvostov’s health:

8 <http://rvb.ru/pushkin/01text/01versus/0423_36/1825/0371.htm#t8> Здесь поэт, увлекаясь воображением, видит уже Великого нашего лирика, погруженного в сладкий сон и приближающегося к берегам благословенной Эллады. Нептун усмиряет пред ним продерзкие волны; Плутон исходит из преисподней бездны, дабы узреть того, кто ниспошлет ему в непродолжительном времени богатую жатву теней поклонников Лжепророка; Зевес улыбается ему с небес; Цитерея (Венера) осыпает цветами своего любимого певца; Геба подъемлет кубок за здравие его; Псиша, в образе Иполита Богдановича, ему завидует; Крон удерживает косу, готовую разить; Астрея предчувствует возврат своего царствования; Феб ликует; Игры, Смехи, Вакх и Харон веселою толпою следуют за судном нашего бессмертного Пииты.

In Canto Four of his poem Shade says that his third collection of poetry was entitled Hebe’s Cup:

Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote
Came next; then Hebe's Cup, my final float
in that damp carnival, for now I term
Everything "Poems," and no longer squirm.
(But this transparent thingum does require
Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.) (ll. 957-962)

In the last stanza of his poem Vesennyaya groza (“The Spring Thunderstorm,” 1829) Tyutchev mentions vetrenaya Geba (frivolous Hebe) who spilled on Earth her gromokipyashiy kubok (thunder-boiling cup). Tyutchev’s poem begins as follows:

Lyublyu grozu v nachale maya…

I love a thunderstorm at the beginning of May…

May Gray (cf. de Grey, one of Gradus’ aliases) was the name of Byron’s nurse:

During his early moments at Newstead, Byron was attended to by a nurse, May Gray, who developed a reputation for "perpetually beating him", which shocked the residents of Nottingham. These beatings occurred as she attempted to educate Byron on religion, after which she abandoned the young boy in the dark. This darkness particularly frightened Byron, as Gray led him to believe that the house was haunted at Gray's prompting. Byron's mother did not find out about these incidents until after Gray was dismissed in 1799.

When Byron was born, he suffered from lameness and a twisted foot. After Gray was fired, Byron was put in the care of a "trussmaker to the General hospital", a man named Lavender, in hopes that he could be cured; however, Lavender instead abused the boy and would occasionally use him as a servant. After Byron exposed Lavender as a fool, Gordon took her son to visit Doctor Matthew Baillie in London. They took up residence at Sloane Terrace during the summer of 1799, and there Byron started to receive treatment, such as specially designed boots.

1799 is the year of Pushkin’s birth. Trussmaker makes orthopaedic boots. According to Kinbote (the author of a book on surnames), Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name) is one who makes bottekins (fancy footwear). Catherine Gordon (Byron’s mother) was a direct descendant of James I of Scotland. Walter Campbell (Kinbote’s tutor) is a Scotsman.

The name Khvostov comes from khvost (tail). Oda (Russian for “ode”) rhymes with coda (which means in Italian “tail”). It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Alexander Blok. In the latter the author’s double says that he is tired of seeing his reflection in other people’s mirrors and of kissing strange women:

И шепчет: "Устал я шататься,

Промозглым туманом дышать,

В чужих зеркалах отражаться

И женщин чужих целовать..."

И стало мне странным казаться,

Что я его встречу опять...

Вдруг - он улыбнулся нахально,

И нет близ меня никого...

Знаком этот образ печальный,

И где-то я видел его...

Быть может, себя самого

Я встретил на глади зеркальной?

Blok’s poem ends in the lines:

…Perhaps, I met myself

on the smooth surface of a mirror?

Shade’s murderer, Jakob Gradus was in the glass business. In his Commentary and Index Kinbote mentions Sudarg of Bokay, a mirror maker of genius. In his memoirs “The St. Petersburg Winters” G. Ivanov says that, when he asked Blok “does a sonnet need a coda,” the poet replied that he did not know what a coda is. The characters in Blok’s play Balaganchik (“The Puppet Show,” 1906) include Arlekin (the Harlequin). In VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) G. Ivanov (who coarsely attacked VN in the Paris émigré review Numbers) is satirized as Basilevski:

Ivan Shipogradov, eminent novelist and recent Nobel Prize winner, would also be present, radiating talent and charm, and--after a few jiggers of vodka--delighting his intimates with the kind of Russian bawdy tale that depends for its artistry on the rustic gusto and fond respect with which it treats our most private organs. A far less engaging figure was I. A. Shipogradov's old rival, a fragile little man in a sloppy suit, Vasiliy Sokolovski (oddly nicknamed "Jeremy" by I. A.), who since the dawn of the century had been devoting volume after volume to the mystical and social history of a Ukrainian clan that had started as a humble family of three in the sixteenth century but by volume six (1920) had become a whole village, replete with folklore and myth. It was good to see old Morozov's rough-hewn clever face with its shock of dingy hair and bright frosty eyes; and for a special reason I closely observed podgy dour Basilevski--not because he had just had or was about to have a row with his young mistress, a feline beauty who wrote doggerel verse and vulgarly flirted with me, but because I hoped he had already seen the fun I had made of him in the last issue of a literary review in which we both collaborated. Although his English was inadequate for the interpretation of, say, Keats (whom he defined as "a pre-Wildean aesthete in the beginning of the Industrial Era") Basilevski was fond of attempting just that. In discussing recently the "not altogether displeasing preciosity" of my own stuff, he had imprudently quoted a popular line from Keats, rendering it as:

Vsegda nas raduet krasivaya veshchitsa

which in retranslation gives:

“A pretty bauble always gladdens us." (2.1)

“Ivan Shipogradov” is a recognizable portrait of I. A. Bunin (who received the Nobel Prize in 1933). Sokolovski seems to blend Merezhkovski with Adam Sokolovich, the main character in Bunin’s story Petlistye ushi (“Loopy Ears,” 1916). In his essay on Bunin (in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers”) Ayhenvald criticizes Bunin’s story, calls Sokolovich (who accuses Dostoevski of spilling Christ into all his cheap novels) “the author’s porte-parleur,” uses the phrase postavit’ tochku nad i (“to dot the i’s and cross the t’s”) and twice repeats the word teoriya (theory):

Бунин, таким образом, своей публицистикой и морализацией не только поставил точку над "i", он сделал нечто худшее и ещё менее художественное - он сначала поставил большую и густую точку, а потом уже написал "i". Он сперва изложил теорию, а затем дал её практику. Вся практика, т. е. всё, что в рассказе есть рассказ, сделана у него с поразительной сосредоточенностью таланта; но его теория (даже не касаясь вопроса, правильна она или нет) - это только теория, и непосредственную эстетическую силу произведения она ослабляет.

Ayhenvald’s criticism brings to mind Mephistopheles’ words in Goethe’s Faust (1808):

Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie

Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.

Dear friend, all theory is grey

and green the golden tree of life.

In his essay “Pushkin” (1906) Merezhkovski says that the Russian poet is closer to Goethe than to Byron. The opening lines of Goethe’s Erlkönig (1782) are a leitmotif in Pale Fire:

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind.

Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.

Bunin translated into Russian Byron’s play Cain (1821). In his review of Bunin’s Selected Poems (1929) VN says that Bunin’s sonnets are the best in Russian poetry and quotes the two closing lines of Bunin’s sonnet Rastyot, rastyot mogil’naya trava… (“Growing, growing is the grave grass…” 1906) in which the word zemlya (earth; land) is repeated twice:

Казалось бы, что такое глубокое ощущение преходящего должно породить чувство безмерной печали. Но тоска больших поэтов — счастливая тоска. Ветром счастья веет от стихов Бунина, хотя немало у него есть слов унылых, грозных, зловещих. Да, всё проходит, — но: «Земля, земля! Весенний сладкий зов, ужель есть счастье даже и в утрате?»

In his essay Asfodeli i romashka (“The Asphodels and the Camomile,” 1908) Merezhovski contrasts Chekhov with young authors, quotes a fragment from Bunin’s story Ten’ ptitsy (“The Shadow of the Bird,” 1908) and mentions Smerdyakov (the murderer in Dostoevski’s novel “Brothers Karamazov,” 1880):

"Ах, никогда-то я не чувствовал любви к России и, верно, так и не пойму, что такое любовь к родине, которая будто бы присуща всякому человеческому сердцу. Я хорошо знаю, что можно любить тот или иной уклад жизни... Но при чём тут родина? Если русская революция волнует меня все-таки более, чем персидская, я могу только сожалеть об этом. И воистину благословенно каждое мгновение, когда мы чувствуем себя гражданами вселенной".

Это говорит Бунин ("Тень птицы" в сборнике "Земля", 1908 г.), очень талантливый писатель; да нынче все талантливы, кажется, скоро, чтобы не быть, как все, надо будет не иметь таланта.

"-- Я всю Россию ненавижу, Марья Кондратьевна", -- признаётся Смердяков.

"-- Вы точно иностранец, точно самый благородный иностранец!" -- умиляется Марья Кондратьевна.

За нынешних "граждан вселенной" иногда страшно, как бы не оказались они "самыми благородными иностранцами".

In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1954) VN points out that among the Russian émigré writers there were a few Smerdyakovs:

Not all the mystagogues were Dostoevskian Alyoshas; there were also a few Smerdyakovs in the group, and Hodasevich’s poetry was played down with the thoughtfulness of a revengeful racket. (Chapter Fourteen, 2)

The characters of LATH include the poet Audace whose name hints at Hodasevich. Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in LATH) is the author of The Dare (1950), a novel that includes a concise biography and critical appraisal of Fyodor Dostoevski. Vadim’s Dare corresponds to VN’s Dar (“The Gift,” 1937). In Chapter Four (“The Life of Chernyshevski”) of “The Gift” Fyodor mentions Vasiliy Botkin (a friend of Turgenev , Tolstoy and Fet, the poet who married Maria Botkin). The characters of “The Gift” include Alexander Yakovlevich Chernyshevski who went mad after the suicide of his son Yasha and who dies a couple of weeks before the publication of Fyodor’s book on his famous namesake. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Bokin will be “full” again.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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