Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027627, Fri, 22 Dec 2017 15:31:27 +0300

man in green, man in brown,
blue Zembla & red-capped Steinmann in Pale Fire
In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) calls Gerald Emerald (a young instructor at Wordsmith University) “the man in green” and Gradus (Shade’s murderer) “the man in brown:”

Did they talk in the car, these two characters, the man in green and the man in brown? Who can say? They did not. After all, the drive took only a few minutes (it took me, at the wheel of my powerful Kramler, four and a half).

"I think I'll drop you here," said Mr. Emerald. "It's that house up there."

One finds it hard to decide what Gradus alias Grey wanted more at that minute: discharge his gun or rid himself of the inexhaustible lava in his bowels. As he began hurriedly fumbling at the car door, unfastidious Emerald leaned, close to him, across him almost merging with him, to help him open it--and then, slamming it shut again, whizzed on to some tryst in the valley. My reader will, I hope, appreciate all the minute particulars I have taken such trouble to present to him after a long talk I had with the killer; he will appreciate them even more if I tell him that, according to the legend spread later by the police, Jack Grey had been given a lift, all the way from Roanoke, or somewhere, by a lonesome trucker! One can only hope that an impartial search will turn up the trilby forgotten in the Library--or in Mr. Emerald's car. (note to Line 949)

Jack Grey (Gradus’ name in the police records) brings to mind Nekto v serom (Someone in Grey), a character in Leonid Andreyev’s play Zhizn’ cheloveka (“The Life of Man,” 1907). The life of man is a candle that burns down in the hands of Someone in Grey. Nekto v serom (1907) is the title of Maximilian Voloshin’s essay on Leonid Andreyev. Voloshin quotes in it Ludwig Börne’s aphorism in which destiny is compared to a prompter who reads a play in a neutral voice without passion and expression:

"Судьба - это суфлер, читающий пьесу ровным голосом без страсти и без выражения. Свистки, крики, аплодисменты и всё прочее производят люди", гласит один из старых афоризмов Людвига Бёрне.

Но Бёрне говорит о судьбе народов. Судьба отдельного человека, называется ли она Роком, Фатумом, Ананкэ, Мойрой или Кармой, всегда индивидуальна, прихотлива и всегда заложена в самом человеке. Некто же в

сером возвещает только незыблемые каноны жизни Человека - каждого человека…

“But Börne speaks of the destiny of nations. The destiny of a separate man, whether its name is Fate, Ananke, Moirai or Karma, is always individual, intricate and always lies within that man. Someone in Grey only announces the unshakeable canons of Man’s life - of every man’s life…”

At the end of his Commentary Kinbote says that he may write a stage play:

I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things! History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out--somebody has already set out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and presently he will ring at my door--a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus. (note to Line 1000)

According to Kinbote, the king escaped from Zembla clad in red clothes. Leonid Andreyev is the author of Krasnyi smekh (“The Red Laugh,” 1905), a novella whose title brings to mind VN’s novel Laughter in the Dark (1932). VN left Russia forever in 1919. In 1919 John Shade married Sybil Swallow (as Kinbote calls the poet’s wife whose maiden name comes, according to Kinbote, from the French word for “swallow”) and Leonid Andreyev died in Finland. In VN’s novel Zashchita Luzhina (“The Luzhin Defense,” 1930) a celebrated writer, a very pale man in black overcoat, whom Luzhin’s wife saw in Finland is Leonid Andreyev:

И затем, в Финляндии, оставшейся у неё в душе, как что-то более русское, чем сама Россия, оттого, может быть, что деревянная дача и ёлки, и белая лодка на чёрном от хвойных отражений озере особенно замечались, как русское, особенно ценились, как что-то запретное по ту сторону Белоострова, – в этой, ещё дачной, ещё петербургской Финляндии она несколько раз издали видела знаменитого писателя, очень бледного, с отчётливой бородкой, все посматривавшего на небо, где начинали водиться вражеские аэропланы. И он остался странным образом рядом с русским офицером, впоследствии потерявшим руку в Крыму, – тишайшим, застенчивым человеком, с которым она летом играла в теннис, зимой бегала на лыжах, и при этом снежном воспоминании всплывала вдруг опять на фоне ночи дача знаменитого писателя, где он и умер, расчищенная дорожка, сугробы, освещённые электричеством, призрачные полоски на тёмном снегу. После этих по-разному занятных людей, каждый из которых окрашивал воспоминание в свой определённый цвет (голубой географ, защитного цвета комиссар, чёрное пальто писателя и человек, весь в белом, подбрасывающий ракеткой еловую шишку), была расплывчатость и мелькание, жизнь в Берлине, случайные балы, монархические собрания, много одинаковых людей – и все это было ещё так близко, что память не могла найти фокуса и разобраться в том, что ценно, а что сор, да и разбираться было теперь некогда, слишком много места занял угрюмый, небывалый, таинственный человек, самый привлекательный из всех, ей известных.

And later in Finland, which had remained in her heart as something more Russian than Russia, perhaps because the wooden villa and the fir trees and the white boat on the lake, black with the reflected conifers, were especially Russian, being treasured as something forbidden on the far side of the frontier. In this Finland which was still, vacation land, still part of St. Petersburg life, she saw several times from afar a celebrated writer, a very pale man with a very conspicuous goatee who kept glancing up at the sky, which enemy airplanes had begun to haunt. And he remained in some strange manner beside the Russian officer who subsequently lost an arm in the Crimea during the civil war — a most shy and retiring boy with whom she used to play tennis in summer and ski in winter — and with this snowy recollection there would float up once more against a background of night the celebrated writer's villa, in which he later died, and the cleared path and snowdrifts illumined by electric light, phantasmal stripes on the dark snow. These men with their various occupations, each of whom tinted her recollection his own particular color (blue geographer, khaki commissar, the writers' black overcoat and a youth all in white lobbing a fir cone with his tennis racket) were followed by glinting and dissolving images: émigré life in Berlin, charity balls, monarchist meetings and lots of identical people — all this was still so close that her memory was unable to focus properly and sort out what was valuable and what rubbish, and moreover there was no time now to sort it out, too much space had been taken up by this taciturn fabulous, enigmatical man, the most attractive of all the men she had known. (Chapter Six)

In “The Luzhin Defense” VN mentions Andreyev’s Okean (“The Ocean,” 1911), a tragedy in seven scenes:

Играя утром в теннис с приятельницей немкой, слушая давно приевшиеся лекции по истории искусства, перелистывая у себя в комнате потрёпанные, разношерстные книжки, -- андреевский "Океан", роман Краснова, брошюру "Как сделаться йогом", она всё время сознавала, что вот сейчас Лужин погружён в шахматные вычисления, борется, мучится, и ей было немного обидно, что она не может разделить муки его искусства.

All through those autumn days, while playing tennis in the mornings with a German girl friend, or listening to lectures on art that had long since palled on her, or leafing through a tattered assortment of books in her room - Andreyev's The Ocean, a novel by Krasnov and a pamphlet entitled "How to Become a Yogi"— she was conscious that right now Luzhin was immersed in chess calculations, struggling and suffering—and it vexed her that she was unable to share in the torments of his art. (Chapter Eight)

In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) Lermontov compares his soul to the ocean in which nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) lies:

Нет, я не Байрон, я другой,
Ещё неведомый избранник,
Как он, гонимый миром странник,
Но только с русскою душой.

Я раньше начал, кончу ране,
Мой ум немного совершит;
В душе моей, как в океане,
Надежд разбитых груз лежит.
Кто может, океан угрюмый,
Твои изведать тайны? Кто
Толпе мои расскажет думы?
Я — или Бог — или никто!

No, I'm not Byron, I’m another
yet unknown chosen man,
like him, a persecuted wanderer,
but only with a Russian soul.
I started sooner, I will end sooner,
my mind won’t achieve much;
in my soul, as in the ocean,
lies a load of broken hopes.
Gloomy ocean, who can

find out your secrets? Who
will tell to the crowd my thoughts?
Myself – or God – or none at all!

The poem’s last word, nikto (nobody), was used by Lermontov in Line 13 of his poem 1830 god. Iyulya 15 (“July 15, 1830”):

Но в общество иное я вступил,
Узнал людей и дружеский обман,
Стал подозрителен и погубил
Беспечности душевный талисман.
Чтобы никто теперь не говорил:
Он будет друг мне! — боль старинных ран
Из груди извлечёт не речь, но стон;
И не привет, упрёк услышит он. (ll. 9-16)

Lermontov’s fatal duel with Martynov took place on July 15, 1841. The words bol’ (pain) and ston (moan) used by Lermontov in Lines 14 and 15 of his poem “July 15, 1830” bring to mind Gertsoginya Bol’stonskaya, as in her translation of Pale Fire Vera Nabokov renders “Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone” (Queen Disa’s title). Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) and Sybil Shade seem to be one and the same person whose real name is Sofia Botkin. Her husband, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). Queen Disa is thirty years younger than Sybil Shade. Charles the Beloved wed Disa in 1949, exactly three decades after Shade and Sybil were married. In his poem Net, ne tebya tak pylko ya lyublyu… (“No, it is not you I love so ardently…” 1841) whose first line’s intonation is very similar to that in Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…”) Lermontov addresses a young woman and says that he loves in her a past suffering and his perished youth:

Нет, не тебя так пылко я люблю,

Не для меня красы твоей блистанье;

Люблю в тебе я прошлое страданье

И молодость погибшую мою.

Когда порой я на тебя смотрю,

В твои глаза вникая долгим взором:

Таинственным я занят разговором,

Но не с тобой я сердцем говорю.

Я говорю с подругой юных дней,

В твоих чертах ищу черты другие,

В устах живых уста давно немые,

В глазах огонь угаснувших очей.

No, it is not you I love so ardently,

And the splendor of your beauty is not for me:

I love in you a past suffering

And my perished youth.

When at times I look at you,

Penetrating your eyes with a long stare:

Secretly, I am occupied in conversation,

But it is not with you that I speak with my heart.

I converse with a friend of my youth;

In your features I seek the features of another;

In your living lips I seek lips long mute,

In your eyes I seek the fire of extinguished eyes.

Lermontov is the author of prophetic Predskazanie (“Prediction,” 1830), a poem in which he predicted the Russian Revolution:

Настанет год, России чёрный год,
Когда царей корона упадёт;
Забудет чернь к ним прежнюю любовь,
И пища многих будет смерть и кровь;
Когда детей, когда невинных жен
Низвергнутый не защитит закон;
Когда чума от смрадных, мёртвых тел
Начнет бродить среди печальных сел,
Чтобы платком из хижин вызывать,
И станет глад сей бедный край терзать;
И зарево окрасит волны рек:
В тот день явится мощный человек,
И ты его узнаешь - и поймёшь,
Зачем в руке его булатный нож:
И горе для тебя! - твой плач, твой стон
Ему тогда покажется смешон;
И будет всё ужасно, мрачно в нём,
Как плащ его с возвышенным челом.

There will come a year, Russia’s black year.
The tsar's crown will fall to the ground and,
the people will forget that they once loved him.
Many will be left with only the dead and blood for food;
Law will provide no shelter for innocent children and women.
When the plague of stinking, dead bodies
begins to rot amidst the grieving villages
and death stalking the living in its covered cowl.
When peace and quiet falls over those tormented regions
and the dawn reddens the river's waves:
On that very day there will appear a man of power
and you will recognize and know him,
by the sword in his hand:
and woe unto you! To your wailing, your groans;
he will just smile;
and everything about him will be horrible, gloomy,
concealed beneath his cloak-covered brow.

Rossii chyornyi god (Russia’s black year) in the poem’s first line brings to mind the man in green, the man in brown and Andreyev’s Someone in Grey. Russia’s black year was 1917. In “The Luzhin Defense” VN mentions a desk calendar with turn-back pages for a completely non-calendar year — 1918:

Как только его перевезли в больницу, она поехала в гостиницу за его вещами, и сначала её не пускали в его номер, и пришлось долго объяснять, и вместе с довольно наглым отельным служащим звонить в санаторию, и потом оплатить за последнюю неделю пребывания Лужина в номере, и не хватило денег, и надо было объяснять, и при этом ей всё казалось, что продолжается измывание над Лужиным, и трудно было сдерживать слёзы. Когда же, отказавшись от грубой помощи отельной горничной, она стала собирать лужинские вещи, то чувство жалости дошло до крайней остроты. Среди его вещей были такие, которые он, должно быть, возил с собой давно-давно, не замечая их и не выбрасывая, – ненужные, неожиданные вещи: холщовый кушак с металлической пряжкой в виде буквы S и с кожаным карманчиком сбоку, ножичек-брелок, отделанный перламутром, пачка итальянских открыток, – всё синева да мадонны, да сиреневый дымок над Везувием; и несомненно петербургские вещи: маленькие счёты с красными и белыми костяшками, настольный календарь с перекидными листочками от совершенно некалендарного года – 1918.

As soon as he was taken to the hospital she went to the hotel for his things, and at first they would not let her into his room, and this led to long explanations and a telephone call to the hospital by a rather cheeky hotel employee, after which she had to pay Luzhin's bill for the last week, and she did not have enough money and more explanations were necessary, and it seemed to her that the mockery of Luzhin was continuing, and it was difficult to hold back her tears. And when, refusing the coarse help of the hotel chambermaid, she began to gather up Luzhin's things, the feeling of pity rose to an extreme pitch. Among his things were some that he must have been carrying around with him for ages, not noticing them and never throwing them out — unnecessary, unexpected things: a canvas belt with a metallic buckle in the shape of a letter S and with a leather pocket on the side, a miniature penknife for a watch chain, inlaid with mother of pearl, a collection of Italian postcards — all blue sky and madonnas and a lilac haze over Vesuvius; and unmistakably St. Petersburg things: a tiny abacus with red and white counters, a desk calendar with turn-back pages for a completely non-calendar year — 1918. (Chapter Nine)

VN spent 1918 in Yalta where he met Maximilian Voloshin. Like Andrey Bely, the author of a collection of essays Lug zelyonyi (“Green Meadow,” 1905) whose penname means “white,” Voloshin was an anthroposophist who participated in the erection at Dornach (near Basel, Switzerland) of the Goetheanum. The opening lines of Goethe’s Erlkönig (1782) are a leitmotif in Shade’s poem. The red-capped Steinmann mentioned by Kinbote in his last dialogue with Shade seems to hint at Rudolf Steiner (the founder of anthroposophy):

"Well," I said, "has the muse been kind to you?"

"Very kind," he replied, slightly bowing his hand-propped head: "Exceptionally kind and gentle. In fact, I have here [indicating a huge pregnant envelope near him on the oilcloth] practically the entire product. A few trifles to settle and [suddenly striking the table with his fist] I've swung it, by God."

The envelope, unfastened at one end, bulged with stacked cards.

"Where is the missus?" I asked (mouth dry).

"Help me, Charlie, to get out of here," he pleaded. "Foot gone to sleep. Sybil is at a dinner meeting of her club."

"A suggestion," I said, quivering. "I have at my place half a gallon of Tokay. I'm ready to share my favorite wine with my favorite poet. We shall have for dinner a knackle of walnuts, a couple of large tomatoes, and a bunch of bananas. And if you agree to show me your 'finished product,' there will be another treat: I promise to divulge to you why I gave you, or rather who gave you, your theme."

"What theme?" said Shade absently, as he leaned on my arm and gradually recovered the use of his numb limb.

"Our blue inenubilable Zembla, and the red-caped Steinmann, and the motorboat in the sea cave, and--"

"Ah,"said Shade, "I think I guessed your secret quite some time ago. But all the same I shall sample your wine with pleasure. Okay, I can manage by myself now." (note to Line 991)

In VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) poor Alexander Yakovlevich Chernyshevski went mad after the suicide of his son Yasha, a young poet who was in love with Rudolf’s soul. Yasha is a diminutive of Yakov. According to Kinbote, Jack Grey’s real name is Jakob Gradus.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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