NABOKV-L post 0027619, Fri, 15 Dec 2017 12:07:35 +0300

Pern & Russian humorists in Pale Fire; Perun & Jupiter in Ada
At the end of his Commentary Kinbote (Shade’s commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) quotes a Zemblan saying that, as a child, he has heard from his nurse and mentions his sufferings:

Many years ago--how many I would not care to say--I remember my Zemblan nurse telling me, a little man of six in the throes of adult insomnia: "Minnamin, Gut mag alkan, Pern dirstan" (my darling, God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty). Well, folks, I guess many in this fine hall are as hungry and thirsty as me, and I'd better stop, folks, right here.

Yes, better stop. My notes and self are petering out. Gentlemen, I have suffered very much, and more than any of you can imagine. I pray for the Lord's benediction to rest on my wretched countrymen. My work is finished. My poet is dead. (note to Line 1000)

Minnamin (“my darling” in Zemblan) and Kinbote’s sufferings bring to mind Mignon’s song in Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (“Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship,” 1796):

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Weiß, was ich leide!
Allein und abgetrennt
Von aller Freude,
Seh ich ans Firmament
Nach jener Seite.

Ach! der mich liebt und kennt,
Ist in der Weite.
Es schwindelt mir, es brennt
Mein Eingeweide.
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Weiß, was ich leide!

Only those who know longing
Know how I suffer!
Alone and separated
From all joy,
I behold the firmament
From yonder side.

Ah! the one who loves and knows me
Is in the vast unknown.
It dizzies me, it burns
my guts.
Only those who know longing
Know how I suffer!

In his Russian version of Mignon’s song, Net, tol’ko tot, kto znal (“No, only he who knew…” 1858), Lev Mei changed the girl’s sex:

Нет, только тот, кто знал

Свиданья жажду,

Поймёт, как я страдал

И как я стражду.

Гляжу я вдаль... нет сил,

Тускнеет око...

Ах, кто меня любил

И знал - далёко!

Вся грудь горит... Кто знал

Свиданья жажду,

Поймёт, как я страдал

И как я стражду.

Mei’s version of Goethe’s poem was set to music (“None but the Lonely Heart”) by Tchaikovsky, the composer who died of cholera after drinking a glass of unboiled water (it is the Devil who makes one thirsty). In a letter of October 15, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov says that on the previous day he was visited by Tchaykovski (who wanted to collaborate with Chekhov on a libretto based on Lermontov’s Bela):

Вчера был у меня П. Чайковский, что мне очень польстило: во-первых, большой человек, во-вторых, я ужасно люблю его музыку, особенно «Онегина». Хотим писать либретто.

In the next sentence of his letter Chekhov mentions Dr Botkin (who fell dangerously ill):

Что с Боткиным? Известие о его болезни мне очень не понравилось. В русской медицине он то же самое, что Тургенев в литературе... (Захарьина я уподобляю Толстому) — по таланту.

According to Chekhov, in the Russian medicine Dr. Botkin is what Turgenev is in literature. The essays in I. Annenski’s Kniga otrazheniy (“Book of Reflections,” 1906) include Umirayushchiy Turgenev (“The Dying Turgenev”) and Yumor Lermontova (“Lermontov’s Humor”). In his Commentary Kinbote mentions Prof. Pnin and Prof. Botkin and lists Chekhov among Russian humorists:

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)

Pnin is the title character of a novel (1957) by VN. The novel’s characters include Dr Eric Wind (the second husband of Liza Bogolepov, Pnin’s former wife), the psychologist. In a letter of May 7, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov says that psychology is not nauka (a science) and compares it to alchemy:

Я прочёл «Ученика» Бурже в Вашем изложении и в русском переводе («Северный вестник»). Дело мне представляется в таком виде. Бурже талантливый, очень умный и образованный человек. Он так полно знаком с методом естественных наук и так его прочувствовал, как будто хорошо учился на естественном или медицинском факультете. Он не чужой в той области, где берётся хозяйничать, — заслуга, которой не знают русские писатели, ни новые, ни старые. Что же касается книжной, учёной психологии, то он её так же плохо знает, как лучшие из психологов. Знать её всё равно, что не знать, так как она не наука, а фикция, нечто вроде алхимии, которую пора уже сдать в архив.

I have read Bourget’s “Disciple” in the Russian translation. This is how it strikes me. Bourget is a gifted, very intelligent and cultured man. He is as thoroughly acquainted with the method of the natural sciences, and as imbued with it as though he had taken a good degree in science or medicine. He is not a stranger in the domain he proposes to deal with — a merit absent in Russian writers both new and old. As to the bookish, scientific psychology, he knows it as badly as the best among the psychologists. To know it is the same as not to know, because it is not a science but a fiction, something like alchemy which it is time to leave out of account.

In Pushkin’s Stsena iz Fausta (“Scene from Faust,” 1825) Mephistopheles says that he is a psychologist and exclaims o, vot nauka! (“ah, that is a science!”):

Я психолог... о вот наука!..

The title character of a tragedy (1808) by Goethe, Doctor Faust was a legendary alchemist. At the end of Pushkin’s “Scene from Faust” Mephistopheles mentions modnaya bolezn’ (a fashionable malady, i. e. syphilis) and Faust tells Mephistopheles to sink the Spanish ship about to dock in Holland:


Что там белеет? говори.


Корабль испанский трёхмачтовый,
Пристать в Голландию готовый:
На нём мерзавцев сотни три,

Две обезьяны, бочки злата,
Да груз богатый шоколата,
Да модная болезнь: она
Недавно вам подарена.


Всё утопить.





What's that white spot on the water?


A Spanish three-master, clearing the sound,

Fully laden, Holland-bound;

Three hundred sordid souls aboard her,

Two monkeys, chests of gold, a lot

Of fine expensive chocolate,

And a fashionable malady

Bestowed on your kind recently.


Sink it.


Right away.


(transl. A. Shaw)

Franz Schubert (an Austrian composer who set to music Mignon’s song and Goethe’s Erlkönig, a poem whose opening lines are a leitmotif in Pale Fire) died of syphilis. Hazel Shade (the poet’s daughter whose “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin) drowned herself in Lake Omega. Charles the Beloved is the son of King Alfin. In his essay “Pushkin” (1906) Merezhkovski quotes the words of Pushkin (as quoted by Alexandra Smirnov, the author of spurious memoirs) who said that Goethe’s Faust was “the last word of German literature, alpha and omega of human thought since the times of Christianity:”

Вот как русский поэт понимает значение «Фауста»: «Фауст» стоит совсем особо. Это последнее слово немецкой литературы, это особый мир, как «Божественная Комедия»; это — в изящной форме альфа и омега человеческой мысли со времён христианства». (chapter IV)

According to Merezhkovski, Pushkin is closer to Goethe than to Byron (whom Merezhkovski compares to Faust’s son Euphorion):

С этой точки зрения становится вполне ясной ошибка тех, которые ставят Пушкина в связь не с Гёте, а с Байроном. Правда, Байрон увеличил силы Пушкина, но не иначе как побежденный враг увеличивает силы победителя. Пушкин поглотил Евфориона, преодолел его крайности, его разлад, претворил его в своем сердце, и устремился дальше, выше — в те ясные сферы всеобъемлющей гармонии, куда звал Гёте и куда за Гёте никто не имел силы пойти, кроме Пушкина.

Русский поэт сам сознавал себя гораздо ближе к создателю «Фауста», чем к певцу Дон-Жуана. «Гений Байрона бледнел с его молодостью, — пишет двадцатипятилетний Пушкин Вяземскому вскоре после смерти Байрона; — в своих трагедиях, не исключая и «Каина», он уже не тот пламенный демон, который создал «Гяура» и «Чайльд Гарольда». Первые две песни «Дон-Жуана» выше следующих. Его поэзия, видимо, изменилась. Он весь создан был навыворот. Постепенности в нем не было; он вдруг созрел и возмужал — пропел и замолчал, и первые звуки его уже ему не возвратились». (ibid.)

In Merezhkovski’s poem Strashnyi sud (“The Last Judgment,” 1886) God says that he is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end:

Тогда мне голос был: «Я – Альфа и Омега,

Начало и конец, я в мир гряду! аминь».

Lermontov’s poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) ends in the line Ya – ili Bog – ili nikto (Myself – or God – or none at all). I. Annenski’s penname was Nik. T-o (Mr. Nobody). In Pushkin’s “Scene from Faust” Mephistopheles uses the word nikto (nobody) twice:

Что делать, Фауст?
Таков вам положен предел,
Его ж никто не преступает.

What's to be done,

Faust? Man's not without limits, is he?

And to be bored, like it or not,

Is every rational being's lot.

И знаешь ли, философ мой,
Что́ думал ты в такое время,
Когда не думает никто?
Сказать ли?

My fine philosopher, you do know

What you were thinking then, do you not,

At a time when no one thinks at all?

Shall I tell you?

In Tayna tryokh. Egipet i Vavilon (“The Secret of Three. Egypt and Babylon,” 1925) Merezhkovski quotes the words of Goethe (in his conversations with Eckermann) who said, laughing, that three (the Trinity) would never be one. The three main characters in Pale Fire, Shade, Kinbote and Gradus, seem to represent three different aspects of mad Botkin’s personality (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). There is a hope (nadezhda) that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin will be full again.

In Pushkin’s “Scene from Faust” Mephistopheles compares himself to arlekin (the harlequin) whom Faust conjured up from the fire:

Но — помнится — тогда со скуки,
Как арлекина, из огня
Ты вызвал наконец меня.

But then, as far as I recall, from sheer boredom,

like an harlequin, from the fire

You finally conjured me up?

In VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character) visits Leningrad incognito and meets Dora (a friend of his daughter Bel) near the monument of Pushkin:

Dora was to meet me Friday morning on the Square of the Arts in front of the Russian Museum near the statue of Pushkin erected some ten years before by a committee of weathermen. An Intourist folder had yielded A tinted photograph of the spot. The meteorological associations of the monument predominated over its cultural ones. Frock-coated Pushkin, the right-side lap of his garment permanently agitated by the Nevan breeze rather than by the violence of lyrical afflatus, stands looking upward and to the left while his right hand is stretched out the other way, sidewise, to test the rain (a very natural attitude at the time lilacs bloom in the Leningrad parks). It had dwindled, when I arrived, to a warm drizzle, a mere murmur in the lindens above the long garden benches. Dora was supposed to be sitting on Pushkin's left, id est my right. (5.2)

In his Commentary Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus “Vinogradus” and “Leningradus:”

All this is as it should be; the world needs Gradus. But Gradus should not kill things. Vinogradus should never, never provoke God. Leningradus should not aim his peashooter at people even in dreams, because if he does, a pair of colossally thick, abnormally hairy arms will hug him from behind and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. (note to Line 171)

Vinograd (“Grapes,” 1824) is a poem by Pushkin:

Не стану я жалеть о розах,
Увядших с лёгкою весной;
Мне мил и виноград на лозах,
В кистях созревший под горой,
Краса моей долины злачной,
Отрада осени златой,
Продолговатый и прозрачный,
Как персты девы молодой.

I won't regret about roses
Short lived in the early spring.
I celebrate the crop of grapes
The ripe grape bunches at the hill.
The beauty of my rich valley,
The golden autumn's delight,

As elongated and transparent,

As are the fingers of a girl.

In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) describes a family dinner in “Ardis the Second” and mentions elongated Persty grapes and Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder:

Demon popped into his mouth a last morsel of black bread with elastic samlet, gulped down a last pony of vodka and took his place at the table with Marina facing him across its oblong length, beyond the great bronze bowl with carved-looking Calville apples and elongated Persty grapes. (1.38)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Persty: Evidently Pushkin’s vinograd:

as elongated and transparent

as are the fingers of a girl.

(devï molodoy, jeune fille)

Ada ran to the window. From under the anxious magnolias a white-faced boy flanked by two gaping handmaids stood aiming a camera at the harmless, gay family group. But it was only a nocturnal mirage, not unusual in July. Nobody was taking pictures except Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder. (ibid.)

Zemblan for “devil,” Pern clearly hints at Perun (the Slavic god of thunder mentioned by Pushkin in his “Song of Wise Oleg,” 1822). In the Commentary to his translation of Slovo o polku Igoreve (“The Song of Igor’s Campaign”) VN points out that the author of Slovo ignores Perun, the Russian Jupiter, whose effigy Vladimir I caused to be drowned in the Dnepr. The characters of Slovo include Igor’s brother Vsevolod. Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ real name seems to be Vsevolod Botkin. According to Kinbote, the full name of Charles the Beloved is Charles Xavier Vseslav. In lines 617-678 the author of Slovo recalls the fate of Vseslav of Polotsk (great-grandson of Vladimir I), a prince who was deemed a magician.

Describing Flavita (the Russian Scrabble), Van mentions Jupiter:

The set our three children received in 1884 from an old friend of the family (as Marina’s former lovers were known), Baron Klim Avidov, consisted of a large folding board of saffian and a boxful of weighty rectangles of ebony inlaid with platinum letters, only one of which was a Roman one, namely the letter J on the two joker blocks (as thrilling to get as a blank check signed by Jupiter or Jurojin). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter’s lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one’s name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)

Gritz hints not only at the luxurious Ritz hotels, but also at Madame Gritsatsuev, a passionate woman, a poet’s dream in Ilf and Petrov’s Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928). Those joint authors of genius, Ilf and Petrov are listed by Shade among Russian humorists.

Baron Klim Avidov = Vladimir Nabokov

minnamin + sun + Pern = minus + manner + Pnin = Min + Mann + sin + Perun = mir/Rim + sin + man + pen + nun

minnamin + Pern + lad + vir = manner + Pnin + Vladimir

Min – Egyptian god of reproduction

mir – peace; world

Rim – Rome; a fragment (1842) by Gogol

Mann – Germ., man, male human being, husband; brothers Mann (Thomas and Heinrich) and Klaus Mann (Thomas’ son), the writers

vir – Lat., man, male human being (cf. modo vir, modo femina, Ov., the rejected epigraph to Pushkin’s Small Cottage in Kolomna)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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