Vladimir Nabokov

PALE FIRE's last laugh

By MARYROSS, 2 December, 2021

“Thus goes the Hegelian syllogism of humor. Thesis: Uncle made himself up as a burglar (a laugh for the children): Antithesis: it was a burglar (a laugh for the reader); synthesis: it still was Uncle (fooling the reader). (LITD, 143)


Here is how I see the thetic arcs working in PALE FIRE:


Thesis: A serious writer (VN) writes a spoof (PF) of the whodunit genre (the unsophisticated reader “discovers” the “real” plot– Kinbote is insane; Gradus is actually Jack Grey; Shade is mistaken for Judge Goldsworth and is accidently killed by Jack Grey). The reader has a laugh.


Antithesis: PALE FIRE is, in facta “serious” book. (The sophisticated reader discovers that on a meta-fictive level, through a web of allusions, it is “about” literary composition and criticism, Death and the Hereafter, the Occult, True Love, gamesmanship, psychological allegory, Slavic history, autobiography, etc., etc.) The sophisticated readers congratulate themselves and laugh.


Synthesis: PALE FIRE is still a spoof of the whodunit genre. (All the clues in the antithetic arc together and, returning to the plot, but at a higher, yet parallel level, lead to a detective mystery conclusion: Sybil is the murderer. It is not only a parody but a ridiculously jejune one. The joke is on the “sophisticated” reader – the ultimate plot twist: Sybil really is the witch/bitch Kinbote, the “unreliable narrator” depicts, not the ideal mate Nabokov deceptively leads the reader to believe she is. This is the diabolic deception that after the antithetic round-about should lead the reader to a “synthesis of artistic delight.”) Are you feeling it yet?


Imagine for a moment that Nabokov wanted to write a murder-mystery detective novel. Rather than have a Holmsian character come out at the end and explain all the clues that were (unfairly, after all) kept from the reader, Nabokov would hide all the clues in plain sight, yet direct them hors texte (antithetic level). In this way Nabokov shields himself from being identified with all the “serious” shopworn antithetic clues (autography, metaphysics, literature, etc., etc.), for after all, he just enjoys “composing riddles.”  “But all this obscure fun is…only the author’s springboard.” Decoding the clues on the allegoric antithetic level as they inform the thetic plot, I submit here the ‘real’ solution for a synthetic plot scenario:


Charles Kinbote is envious of John Shade for being all the things he himself is not, most particularly his poetic genius. He wants to appropriate Shade’s latest poem so that he, Kinbote, can become known and revered, but he realizes that Shade, at best, merely tolerates him, Shade’s wife hates him, and the coterie of academic powers-that-be would never allow it. Imagine, if you will, that Sybil, angry at John for his affaires with co-eds, makes a deal with Kinbote: He can have the manuscript in exchange for doing away with her cheating spouse. Kinbote then arranges Shade’s murder by enlisting Jack Grey, whom he has learned of from Judge Goldsworth’s criminal album. He visits Grey in the insane asylum and helps him escape and set up the crime. Jack Grey is arrested, but he muffs his role and doesn’t confess to being the assassin, Gradus. Before he can be tried, Kinbote visits him again[1] and slips the insane man a razor[2] with which to commit suicide, or perhaps crazy Kinbote himself does the deed. Kinbote seems to have had some sway over the insane criminal; he says, “By making him believe I could help him at his trial I forced him to confess…”

That is all the incriminating “dead fish” that float up. Sybil then skips the country, leaving Kinbote holding the bag.


We can learn through the antithetic clues that:

> Seeing that all the characters are Jungian archetypes wherein the anima is the major archetype to confront.

> The Queen is key (“How often have struggled to bind the terrible force of [the] queen…”) (SM,)

>Accepting the “unreliable” narrator as actually having the correct view of Sybil as a royal bitch (the “Great Beaver.”); Shade is indeed having an affaire with a co-ed.

>Seeing through Shade’s poem (i.e. Sybil the TV addict and rasping “mocking bird”; the proffered tangerine, etc.)

>Seeing that Hazel sees her mother as a “didactic katydid” a la Salinger.

>Seeing that Sybil is a Sibyl, a spider, a witch.

>The Vanessa atalanta is a “Butterfly of Doom” as is Sybil.

>Sybil’s “ruby ring” suggests the woman left behind when a sea-man is trapped by a mermaid-nymph in Scott’s The Mermaid (When on this ring of ruby red/ Shall die,’ she said, the crimson hue,/ Know that thy favourite fair is dead,/Or proves to thee and love untrue. (21-24)

> Mrs. Shade's tremulous signature might have been penned ‘in some peculiar kind of red ink.’" (F, 12)  (i.e. “disappearing ink,” discovered by alchemists)

>The “black Queen” is red in PF. Like the dominating Red Queen in Alice. The treacherous Black Queen in Pushkin’s Queen of Spades is alluded to also; she is a witch who turns into a black spider.

>Sybil is called a spider (“dip, or redip, Spider); “A palace intrigue is a spectral spider that entangles you more nastily at every desperate jerk you try.” (C. 85); The black widow spider kills her mate.

>In Despair, Hermann writes that Conan Doyle should stay away from clichés and suggests a “staggering surprise for the reader”: “…the murderer in that tale should have turned out to be not the one-legged bookkeeper, not the Chinaman Ching and not the woman in crimson, but the very chronicler of crime stories, Dr. Watson himself – Watson, who, so to speak, knew what was Whatson.” Dr. Kinbote is the chronicler of Pale Fire, as well as co-killer along with the “woman in crimson” (Sybil as the Red Queen). There is a red spider on the cover of the trashy detective novel that Herman’s ditzy wife reads.


The above is a brief synopsis of my paper,SYBIL: The Spider at the Center of PALE FIRE’s Web of Sense”  https://independent.academia.edu/MaryRoss22






[1] Kinbote says he had an “interview, perhaps even two” with Jack Grey, C 228

[2] Note that razors and shaving have suspiciously high number of mentions in Pale Fire.


Alexey Sklyarenko

2 years 7 months ago

Sybil Shade and Queen Disa are certainly one and the same person (Sofia Botkin, born Lastochkin), but I fail to see how a butterfly and a spider (an eight-legged non-insect) can be one and the same animal.


The syllogism in Pale Fire is different ("A syllogism: other men die; but I am not another; therefore I'll not die"). Cf. in the motto: "But Hodge shan't be shot: no, no, Hodge shall not be shot."


2 years 7 months ago


Question: Can a character in a novel be represented by more than one metaphor?



Syllogism: Noun


  1. Logic. an argument the conclusion of which is supported by two premises, of which one (major premise ) contains the term (major term ) that is the predicate of the conclusion, and the other (minor premise ) contains the term (minor term ) that is the subject of the conclusion; common to both premises is a term (middle term ) that is excluded from the conclusion. A typical form is “All A is C; all B is A; therefore all B is C.”
  2. deductive reasoning.
  3. an extremely subtle, sophisticated, or deceptive argument.



>The syllogism in PF you mention is No. 1 (except that it is a logical fallacy and does not relate to Hegel)

>The Hegelian syllogism VN mentions in LITD is not strictly logic, but No. 3.  It is also what VN notes in SM as his Hegelian thetic levels of literary construction.

>deductive reasoning, (No.2) is what I have done to suss out the thetic levels in PF to the synthetic level of VN’s subtle, and deceptive joke on the “sophisticated” reader.


Dear Mary, as you may have noticed, my approach to Nabokov (including his mixed metaphors and syllogisms) is different. I hope you'll pardon me if I say that your approach is wrong and misleading, because it is un-Nabokovian. No matter how ingenious, your theories are really not based on the text of Pale Fire.


Btw., on your chessboard all 64 squares must be green-colored (because the Shades live in "the frame house between Goldsworth and Wordsmith on its square of green"). Or, perhaps, 32 squares are green and the other 32 squares are red (because of the Moscow Red Square).


In a letter of July 22, 1888, to his sister Chekhov suggests that Mme Tarnovski (the aunt of VN’s mother, “Aunt Pasha,” as VN calls her in his autobiography Speak, Memory) should be undressed and painted green:


Вчера я ездил в Шах-мамай, именье Айвазовского, за 25 верст от Феодосии. Именье роскошное, несколько сказочное; такие имения, вероятно, можно видеть в Персии. Сам Айвазовский, бодрый старик лет 75, представляет из себя помесь добродушного армяшки с заевшимся архиереем; полон собственного достоинства, руки имеет мягкие и подает их по-генеральски. Недалёк, но натура сложная и достойная внимания. В себе одном он совмещает и генерала, и архиерея, и художника и армянина, и наивного деда, и Отелло. Женат на молодой и очень красивой женщине, которую держит в ежах. Знаком с султанами, шахами и эмирами. Писал вместе с Глинкой «Руслана и Людмилу». Был приятелем Пушкина, но Пушкина не читал. В своей жизни он не прочел ни одной книги. Когда ему предлагают читать, он говорит: «Зачем мне читать, если у меня есть свои мнения?» Я у него пробыл целый день и обедал. Обед длинный, тягучий, с бесконечными тостами. Между прочим, на обеде познакомился я с женщиной-врачом Тарновской, женою известного профессора. Это толстый, ожиревший комок мяса. Если её раздеть голой и выкрасить в зелёную краску, то получится болотная лягушка. Поговоривши с ней, я мысленно вычеркнул её из списка врачей...


. . . Yesterday we went to Shah-Mamai Aivazovsky’s estate, twenty-five versts from Feodosia. It is a magnificent estate, rather like fairyland; such estates may probably be seen in Persia. Aivazovsky himself, a vigorous old man of seventy-five, is a mixture of a good-natured Armenian and an overfed bishop; he is full of dignity, has soft hands, and offers them like a general. He is not very intelligent, but is a complex nature worthy of attention. He combines in himself a general, a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old peasant, and an Othello. He is married to a young and very beautiful woman whom he rules with a rod of iron. He is friendly with Sultans, Shahs, and Amirs. He collaborated with Glinka in writing “Ruslan and Lyudmila.” He was a friend of Pushkin, but has never read him. He has not read a single book in his life. When it is suggested to him that he should read something he answers, “Why should I read when I have opinions of my own?” I spent a whole day in his house and had dinner there. The dinner was fearfully long, with endless toasts. By the way, at that dinner I was introduced to the lady doctor, wife of the well-known professor. She is a fat, bulky piece of flesh. If she were undressed and painted green she would look just like a frog. After talking to her I mentally scratched her off the list of women doctors. . . .


Shah-Mamai brings to mind shakhmaty, Russian for "chess." Shakhmatovo was Alexander Blok's family estate in the Province of Moscow. In his diary (the entry of Aug. 30, 1918) Blok mentions dvoyniki (the dopplegangers) whom he conjured up in 1901 (when he courted Lyubov Mendeleev, his future wife), drugoe ya (alter ego) and Botkinskiy period (the Botkin period) of his life:


К ноябрю началось явное моё колдовство, ибо я вызвал двойников  ("Зарево белое...", "Ты - другая, немая...").

Любовь Дмитриевна ходила на уроки к М. М. Читау, я же ждал её выхода, следил за ней и иногда провожал её до Забалканского с Гагаринской - Литейной (конец ноября, начало декабря). Чаще, чем со мной, она встречалась с кем-то - кого не видела и о котором я знал.

Появился мороз, "мятель", "неотвязный" и царица, звенящая дверь, два старца, "отрава" (непосланных цветов), свершающий и пользующийся плодами свершений ("другое я"), кто-то "смеющийся и нежный". Так кончился 1901 год.

Тут - Боткинский период.


2 years 7 months ago

Dear Alexey, I have no issue with different approaches; It's interesting to discuss them in a friendly, collegial manner – that is what this site is for. Your comments to me, however, tend to feel like personal attacks, argumentia ad hominem (or Femina). Your criticisms of my ideas lack substantive points, e.g. "your approach is wrong and misleading, because it is un-Nabokovian." Perhaps you can explain your notion of what exactly is "un-Nabokovian" and "Nabokovian." What is "misleading"?

I try to give substantive arguments according to the texts and Nabokov's own words, like this thread that begins with a Nabokov quote and then demonstrates how that works in PF with VN's stated thetic method of composition in SM. You say that Sybil can't be both a butterfly and a spider? I question if that is true. It seems to me that Sybil is associated with butterfly, spider, black queen red queen (both chess and playing cards), sibyl, witch, nymph (as maiden, Disa and as mermaid with ruby ring); all of these are classic anima archetypes actually mentioned by Jung. Sybil is the Ur-anima! I truly do not believe that Nabokov would have chosen all of these unconsciously, as well as all the other character archetypes that so perfectly fit the Jungian scheme.


Let's be friends, shall we?


btw, I do believe the chessboard is red and green, also, but I haven't really looked into it enough. For instance, there are "rose quartz" stones, etc. The "square of green" is a real give-away.

In a game of chess the white Queen starts on a white square (d1) and the black Queen starts on a black square (d8). If Sybil Shade starts on a green square, she is a green (not red) queen. Charles the Beloved (who escapes from Zembla dressed as an athlete in scarlet wool) is a red king. His wife, Queen Disa, is a red queen.


German for the chess queen, die Dame, brings to mind König, Dame, Bube (the German title of VN’s novel King, Queen, Knave, 1928) and de La Motte Fouqué’s Pique-Dame (“Reports from the Madhouse. From the Swedish,” 1826), a story that was known to Pushkin when he wrote Pikovaya dama (“The Queen of Spades,” 1833). Kinbote writes his Commentary to Shade’s poem not in “Cedarn, Utana,” but in a madhouse in Quebec (after her husband’s death Sybil Shade moves to Quebec).


If you were not over-preoccupied with your Jungian theory and could look at it critically, you would have noticed all this yourself. Of course, Mary, let’s be friends! If my comments look “personal” to you, it is because of my English. Had it been better, I would have tried to explain what exactly is wrong with your approach. Let me remind you of what Mephistopheles tells Wagner in Goethe's Faust (an appropriate quote): Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie und grün des Lebens goldner Baum. 


2 years 7 months ago

Your English is excellent, Alexey. You expressed yourself very well, if contradictorily, in your third paragraph. I really need to request that you cease with the ad hominem comments, please.


How do we know that Sybil starts out on a green square? It is more likely that the “square of green” on which the Shade house sits is John Shade’s position (can’t be both).  It is the house he grew up in. Sybil, nee Irondell, is from Quebec. According to Priscilla Meyer Sybil is associated with the Witch of Ironwood from the Elder Edda Voluspa (the Sibyl’s Prophecy).


I have given numerous examples of hints that the Shade marriage was antagonistic, so it may be that Sybil and John are actually on opposite sides. Sybil has associations with red and her “buchman” is a marker, like the red-capped Karlists, of collusion with Kinbote.


I searched de La Motte Fouque, but there is very little on him, except for Wikipedia, which does not list his Pique-Dame. So I do not know the plot. Does it take place in Quebec? Are there other associations with PF other than the narrator being a madman? If not, I think maybe Dostoyevski's Notes from the Underground might be a better source (de La Motte Fouque seems to have been a minor writer), but I wouldn't expect that to mean that Botkin should end up in Russia. (Fouque’s famous book was Undine (Mermaid), which I find intriguing since it fits with PF’s mermaid tropes.)


If Sybil retreats to Quebec after her husband dies, what does that mean? Her husband is a figment of Botkin’s mind, so did Shade die, or not? Or did just the figment die? What would have caused that? Why would Sybil's reaction be to retreat to Quebec, if some part of Botkin was somehow destroyed? Does Botkin follow her to Quebec, then? Why? In his final rant, Kinbote/Botkin seems to suggest that Shade is the only real person in the novel:


“I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old fashioned Melodrama with three principals: 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.”


Nabokov is clearly suggesting that the basic thetic plot of PF is a hackneyed melodrama for simple tastes. To me, this is evidence of a parallel plot which turns out to be exactly the worst sort of whodunit, i.e. the synthetic "detective" level that I mentioned, where the narrator/chronicler and the “woman in crimson” collude to kill the husband so that he gets the prized object and she gets revenge. The sophistication of the synthetic level is that you do not need to wonder who’s who on the thetic level; If, on the antithetic level of themes, allusions, symbols and metaphors you can find all the “clues” that point to the “real” plot, then It turns out that on the “real” synthetic plot all the characters are exactly as written! i.e. Zembla and King Charles and all the others are simply who they are in a bad melodrama, after all. Nabokov’s deception is that he makes you believe that you have to figure out who’s imagining whom. Not so! I think on a meta-level Nabokov is implying the grand deception that the plot is exactly what it is: words on paper. Everything that the “unreliable narrator” says is true: Shade is not quite the home-spun American genius and doting husband; he seems to be ideal, but as a persona archetype he is lacking something essential. Sybil is, in fact, the bitch/witch anima Kinbote describes. The antithetic round-about to find meaning and who’s who and how do they exist in the same space and all that, is, in fact meaningless. That is until you can put all the antithetic clues together to suggest the return to the low-brow melodrama the thetic plot really is. All this deception, of course, ultimately demonstrates Nabokov’s genius, plus it allows him to distance himself from a book that is full of self-reference. 


As for Pushkin’s Queen of Spades, I believe that is definitely suggested on the antithetic level. The plot of The Queen of Spades is an occult tale of an egocentric man with a consuming desire who makes a deal with a once-beautiful, now older woman who turns out to be treacherous, in fact, a witch and a spider. In the occult-laden story of Pale Fire (which includes references to card-playing, Kinbote makes a deal with Sybil (an older, once-beautiful woman) for the coveted manuscript – has she been likewise treacherous?


Dear Mary, you ask me too many questions. I can't answer them all. La Motte Fouque's Pique-Dame is mentioned by VN in his EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 97). His Undine is known to Russian readers in Zhukovski's version ("Undina, a Tale in Hexameters") and brings to mind "a repressed undinist" (as in the paper chase chapter of Lolita Humbert calls the fiend). Zhukovski translated (very poorly, as "The Forest King") into Russian Goethe's Erlkönig. In the Elphinstone chapter of Lolita Humbert mentions the heterosexual Erlkönig in pursuit. Humbert writes his poem "Wanted" (after Lolita was abducted from the Elphinstone hospital by Quilty) in a madhouse in Quebec. In PF Kinbote (or, rather, Botkin who is Shade + Kinbote + Gradus) ends up in the same lunatic asylum where he writes his Commentary, Index and Foreword (in that order) to Shade's poem. Btw., in Cyrano de Bergerac's L'autre Monde ou les Histoire comique des Etats de la Lune the narrator's journey to the moon begins in Quebec. Cyrano was famous for his nose. Nos is a story by Gogol. In Gogol's "Notes of a Madman" Poprishchin (who imagines that he is Ferdinand VIII, the king of Spain) says that the noses live on the moon. According to Poprishchin, Spain and China are one the same country: write down "Spain" and you'll read "China." At the beginning of Canto One Shade mentions "your China:"


And then the gradual and dual blue

As night unites the viewer and the view,

And in the morning, diamonds of frost

Express amazement: Whose spurred feet have crossed

From left to right the blank page of the road?

Reading from left to right in winter's code:

A dot, an arrow pointing back; repeat:

Dot, arrow pointing back... A pheasant's feet

Torquated beauty, sublimated grouse,

Finding your China right behind my house.

Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose

Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes? (ll. 17-28)


In Russian gogol' means "golden-eye" (the bird Bucephala clangula). As a schoolboy, Gogol used to wear the left shoe on his right foot and vice versa. Kinbote describes Sherlock Holmes as a hawk-nosed, lanky, rather likable private detective:


A hawk-nosed, lanky, rather likable private detective, the main character in various stories by Conan Doyle. I have no means to ascertain at the present time which of these is referred to here but suspect that our poet simply made up this Case of the Reversed Footprints. (note to Line 27)


Ya nadela na pravuyu ruku perchatku s levoy ruki ("I put on my right hand the glove from the left hand") is a poem by Anna Akhmatov. In VN's novel Pnin (1957) Liza Bogolepov (Pnin's wife) writes verse imitating Anna Akhmatov: Ya nadela chyornoe plat'ye i monashenki ya skromney (I put on a black dress and I'm more modest than a nun). Liza's son Victor imagines that his father is a King.


According to Oswin Bretwit (whose surname means Chess Intelligence), his majesty Charles the Beloved is left-handed. According to Shade, a person who deliberately peels off a drab and unhappy past and replaces it with a brilliant invention is merely turning a new leaf with the left hand:


The ultimate destiny of madmen's souls has been probed by many Zemblan theologians who generally hold the view that even the most demented mind still contains within its diseased mass a sane basic particle that survived death and suddenly expands, bursts out as it were, in peals of healthy and triumphant laughter when the world of timorous fools and trim blockheads has fallen away far behind. Personally, I have not known any lunatics; but have heard of several amusing cases in New Wye ("Even in Arcady am I," says Dementia, chained to her gray column). There was for instance a student who went berserk. There was an old tremendously trustworthy college porter who one day, in the Projection Room, showed a squeamish coed something of which she had no doubt seen better samples; but my favorite case is that of an Exton railway employee whose delusion was described to me by Mrs. H., of all people. There was a big Summer School party at the Hurleys', to which one of my second ping-pong table partners, a pal of the Hurley boys had taken me because I knew my poet was to recite there something and I was beside myself with apprehension believing it might be my Zembla (it proved to be an obscure poem by one of his obscure friends - my Shade was very kind to the unsuccessful). The reader will understand if I say that, at my altitude, I can never feel "lost" in a crowd, but it is also true that I did not know many people at the H.'s. As I circulated, with a smile on my face and a cocktail in my hand, through the crush, I espied at last the top of my poet's head and the bright brown chignon of Mrs. H. above the back of two adjacent chairs: At the moment I advanced behind them I heard him object to some remark she had just made:

"That is the wrong word," he said. "One should not apply it to a person who deliberately peels off a drab and unhappy past and replaces it with a brilliant invention. That's merely turning a new leaf with the left hand."

I patted my friend on the head and bowed slightly to Eberthella H. The poet looked at me with glazed eyes. She said: "You must help us, Mr. Kinbote: I maintain that what's his name, old - the old man, you know, at the Exton railway station, who thought he was God and began redirecting the trains, was technically a loony, but John calls him a fellow poet."

"We all are, in a sense, poets, Madam," I replied, and offered a lighted match to my friend who had his pipe in his teeth and was beating himself with both hands on various parts of his torso.

I am not sure this trivial variant has been worth commenting; indeed, the whole passage about the activities of the IPH would be quite Hudibrastic had its pedestrian verse been one foot shorter. (note to Line 629)


Shade likes his name: "Shade, Ombre, almost 'man' in Spanish." Kinbote cites this variant in his note to Line 275. In the same note Kinbote mentions Sybil Swallow (sic) and nineteen-year-old Disa:


John Shade and Sybil Swallow (see note to line 247) were married in 1919, exactly three decades before King Charles wed Disa, Duchess of Payn. Since the very beginning of his reign (1936-1958) representatives of the nation, salmon fishermen, non-union glaziers, military groups, worried relatives, and especially the Bishop of Yeslove, a sanguineous and saintly old man, had been doing their utmost to persuade him to give up his copious but sterile pleasures and take a wife. It was a matter not of morality but of succession. As in the case of some of his predecessors, rough alderkings who burned for boys, the clergy blandly ignored our young bachelor's pagan habits, but wanted him to do what an earlier and even more reluctant Charles had done: take a night off and lawfully engender an heir.

He saw nineteen-year-old Disa for the first time on the festive night of July the 5th, 1947, at a masked ball in his uncle's palace. She had come in male dress, as a Tirolese boy, a little knock-kneed but brave and lovely, and afterwards he drove her and her cousins (two guardsmen disguised as flowergirls) in his divine new convertible through the streets to see the tremendous birthday illumination, and the fackeltanz in the park, and the fireworks, and the pale upturned faces. He procrastinated for almost two years but was set upon by inhumanly eloquent advisors, and finally gave in. On the eve of his wedding he prayed most of the night locked up all alone in the cold vastness of the Onhava cathedral. Smug alderkings looked at him from the ruby-and-amethyst windows. Never had he so fervently asked God for guidance and strength (see further my note to lines 433-434).

After line 274 there is a false start in the draft:


I like my name: Shade, Ombre, almost "man"
In Spanish...


One regrets that the poet did not pursue this theme--and spare his reader the embarrassing intimacies that follow. (note to Line 275)


The capital of Zembla, Onhava seems to hint at heaven. “Yes, Love” and “heaven” occur in the same line of Byron’s poem The Giaour (1813):


Yes, Love indeed is light from heaven;
A spark of that immortal fire
With angels shared, by Alla given,
To lift from earth our low desire. (ll. 1132-1135)


The Bishop of Yeslove also brings to mind Bishop Berkey mentioned by Byron in Canto Eleven of Don Juan:


When Bishop Berkeley said "there was no matter,"

       And proved it—'twas no matter what he said:

They say his system 'tis in vain to batter,

       Too subtle for the airiest human head;

And yet who can believe it! I would shatter

       Gladly all matters down to stone or lead,

Or adamant, to find the World a spirit,

And wear my head, denying that I wear it.


The action in Don Juan begins in Spain (in one of the Cantos Don Juan travels to Russia, to the court of the Empress Catherine II). Gogol scribbled his ptich'ye imya (avian name) on a column in the Chillon Castle. Byron's poem The Prisoner of Chillon was translated into Russian by Zhukovski. In Switzerland Gogol killed emerald lizards with his cane. Kinbote calls Gerald Emerald (a young instructor at Wordsmith University) "a foul-minded pup in a cheep green jacket." In Gogol's story Poprishchin avidly reads the correspondence of dogs. When Kinbote asks him about Shakespeare's purple passages, Shade says that he rolls upon them as a grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great Dane.


To spare your feelings (and to save my time), from now on I will refrain from commenting on your interpretation of PF. I try to read VN's novels through his glasses (or pince-nez), and I think this is the only correct way to read them. If you want to know what I think about chess analogies in PF, please read my two latest posts ("some chess & pinned knight in Pale Fire" and "ivory unicorns & ebony fauns in Pale Fire"). The idea about the green-and-red chessboard and green and red chessmen proved not so silly after all! Of course, Sybil is a green and Disa is a red queen. Vsevolod Botkin (Shade's, Kinbote's and Gradus's "real" name) married Sofia Lastochkin (the "real" name of both Sybil Shade and Queen Disa) in 1919, in the Crimea. In his poem Nereida ("The Nereid," 1820) quoted by Velski in G. Ivanov's novel "The Third Rome" (1929) Pushkin mentions the green waves that kiss Tavrida (the Tauris, i. e. the Crimea):


Среди зеленых волн, лобзающих Тавриду,
На утренней заре я видел Нереиду.
Сокрытый меж дерев, едва я смел дохнуть:
Над ясной влагою полубогиня грудь
Младую, белую как лебедь, воздымала
И пену из власов струею выжимала.


Among the green waves that kiss the Tauris

at morning dawn I saw the Nereid.

Concealed by the trees, I could hardly breathe:

above the clear water the half-goddess raised

her young breasts, white as a swan,

and squeezed in a spurt the foam out of her hair.


In 1919 (the year when VN left Russia forever on the Greek ship Nadezhda) the Crimea (where the Nabokovs lived from the end of 1917) became "red," like the rest of the country. Lebed' (the swan) mentioned by Pushkin in "The Nereid" brings to mind the dingy cygnet (Hazel Shade) that never turned into a wood duck. Hazel Shade's "real" name is Nadezhda Botkin. Her father went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after her tragic death.