Vladimir Nabokov


By MARYROSS, 11 March, 2022




After much acclaim as a poet, Pushkin apparently wanted to descend from Parnassus and publish some prose stories under a pseudonym, “Belkin,” a name which strikes me as curiously similar to “Botkin”.

I read the first of the “Tales of Belkin, ” “The history of Goriukhino,” and found a number of likenesses of Belkin to Kinbote in Pale Fire:


>Satire of pseudo-scholarship by a buffoonish, self-aggrandizing, yet likable narrator

>Both have grandiloquent hyperbolic stilted style

>Foreword is twice as long as the “story”

>Lost Noble fortune

>”Revolution” brings destruction

>Satire of poor governance


The main thing which struck me was this passage from the Foreword:


The founding of Goriukhino and its original settlement are shrouded in a mist of uncertainty. Legends from the dim past claim that at one time Goriukhino was a large prosperous village, that all its inhabitants were wealthy, and that the quitrent was collected once a year and sent off to some unknown person in a few carts. At that time everything was bought cheaply and sold at high prices. Stewards did not exist, the elders did not mistreat anybody, the inhabitants worked little yet lived in clover, and even shepherds wore boots while tending their herds. We must not be deluded by this enchanting picture. The idea of a golden age is inherent in the tradition of every people, which proves nothing except that people are never satisfied with the present, and since their experience gives them little hope for the future, they adorn the irrevocable past with all the flowers of their imagination. What can be ascertained is as follows.

The village of Goriukhino has belonged to the illustrious family of Belkin since ancient times. But my ancestors, possessing many other estates, did not pay attention to this remote land. Goriukhino was lightly taxed, and governed by elders elected by the people at meetings called village assemblies.With the passage of time, however, the Belkins' ancestral possessions became fragmented and fell into decline. The impoverished grandsons of a rich grandfather were unable to give up their habits of luxury, and they demanded the former full income from an estate that had shrunk to one-tenth of its original size.


It would seem that Nabokov was spoofing this passage in PF’s Foreword:


That King's reign (1936-1958) will be remembered by at least a few discerning historians as a peaceful and elegant one. Owing to a fluid system of judicious alliances, Mars in his time never marred the record. Internally, until corruption, betrayal, and Extremism penetrated it, the People's Place (parliament) worked in perfect harmony with the Royal Council. Harmony, indeed, was the reign's password.The polite arts and pure sciences flourished. Technicology, applied physics, industrial chemistry and so forth were suffered to thrive. A small skyscraper of ultramarine glass was steadily rising in Onhava. The climate seemed to be improving. Taxation had become a thing of beauty. The poor were getting a little richer, and the rich a little poorer (in accordance with what may be known some day as Kinbote's Law). Medical care was spreading to the confines of the state: less and less often, on his tour of the country, every autumn, when the rowans hung coral-heavy, and the puddles tinkled with Muscovy glass, the friendly and eloquent monarch would be interrupted by a pertussal "back-draucht in a crowd of schoolchildren. Parachuting had become a popular sport. Everybody, in a word, was content - even the political mischiefmakers who were contentedly making mischief paid by a contented Sosed (Zembla's gigantic neighbor). But let us not pursue this tiresome subject. (C 58)







Alexey Sklyarenko

2 years 4 months ago

The name Belkin comes from belka ("squirrel"). According to Kinbote (the author of a book on surnames), Botkin is one who makes bottekins (fancy footwear). In VN's novel Pnin (1957) Pnin says that Cendrillon's shoes were not made of glass but of Russian squirrel fur - vair, in French. Pnin submits that vair comes not from varius, variegated, but from veveritsa, Slavic for a certain beautiful, pale, winter-squirrel fur, having a bluish, or better say sizyi, columbine, shade (Chapter Six, 8). VN's Botkin (Shade + Kinbote + Gradus) is indeed related to Pushkin's Belkin.


In his Commentary Kinbote mentions a porcelain cup and Cinderella's slipper with which the society sculptor and poet Arnor was going about for months before finding in Fleur de Fyler a model for his Lilith Calling Back Adam:


Our Prince was fond of Fleur as of a sister but with no soft shadow of incest or secondary homosexual complications. She had a small pale face with prominent cheekbones, luminous eyes, and curly dark hair. It was rumored that after going about with a porcelain cup and Cinderella's slipper for months, the society sculptor and poet Arnor had found in her what he sought and had used her breasts and feet for his Lilith Calling Back Adam; but I am certainly no expert in these tender matters. Otar, her lover, said that when you walked behind her, and she knew you were walking behind her, the swing and play of those slim haunches was something intensely artistic, something Arab girls were taught in special schools by special Parisian panders who were afterwards strangled. Her fragile ankles, he said, which she placed very close together in her dainty and wavy walk, were the "careful jewels" in Arnor's poem about a miragarl ("mirage girl"), for which "a dream king in the sandy wastes of time would give three hundred camels and three fountains."

On ságaren werém tremkín tri stána

Verbálala wod gév ut trí phantána

(I have marked the stress accents). (note to Line 80)


In Chapter One (XXXI-XXXII) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin eulogizes female feet and wonders where they now trample vernant blooms:


Когда ж и где, в какой пустыне,
Безумец, их забудешь ты?
Ах, ножки, ножки! где вы ныне?
Где мнете вешние цветы?
Взлелеяны в восточной неге,
На северном, печальном снеге
Вы не оставили следов:
Любили мягких вы ковров
Роскошное прикосновенье.
Давно ль для вас я забывал
И жажду славы и похвал,
И край отцов, и заточенье?
Исчезло счастье юных лет,
Как на лугах ваш легкий след.


Дианы грудь, ланиты Флоры
Прелестны, милые друзья!
Однако ножка Терпсихоры
Прелестней чем-то для меня.
Она, пророчествуя взгляду
Неоцененную награду,
Влечет условною красой
Желаний своевольный рой.
Люблю ее, мой друг Эльвина,
Под длинной скатертью столов,
Весной на мураве лугов,
Зимой на чугуне камина,
На зеркальном паркете зал,
У моря на граните скал.


So when and where, in what desert, will you
forget them, madman? Little feet,
ah, little feet! Where are you now?
Where do you trample vernant blooms?
Brought up in Oriental mollitude,
on the Northern sad snow
you left no prints:
you liked the sumptuous contact
of yielding rugs.
Is it long since I would forget for you
the thirst for fame and praises,
the country of my fathers, and confinement?
The happiness of youthful years has vanished
as on the meadows your light trace.


Diana's bosom, Flora's cheeks, are charming,
dear friends! Nevertheless, for me
something about it makes more charming
the small foot of Terpsichore.
By prophesying to the gaze
an unpriced recompense,
with token beauty it attracts the willful
swarm of desires.
I like it, dear Elvina,
beneath the long napery of tables,
in springtime on the turf of meads,
in winter on the hearth's cast iron,
on mirrory parquet of halls,
by the sea on granite of rocks.


2 years 4 months ago

Botkin as “shoemaker = creator god of Shade’s secret stamp = Nabokov” has been discussed before (e.g. http://thenabokovian.org/node/51060)


When searching the archives for “Belkin”, I came across a discussion where it was suggested that “belkin” means “white things.”



I do not speak Russian, but I checked on several on-line translations and there is nothing for “belkin,” although “white” is “belyy”.


“kin” seems to be a common surname suffix (meaning ?) That would mean it is separate from “Bel” as the root, n’est-ce pas?  Therefore “white” seems more likely than “belka” (squirrel). I’m just guessing…


If Nabokov truly was intending to suggest Belkin/Botkin. I think that just as “Botkin” as “creator god/Nabokov” for PF means something in terms of the novel, then possibly “white things” for “Belkin” might suggest the white side of a chess game taking place in PF.


An early edition of Pale Fire shows Nabokov with white chess pieces. I wonder if this cover was done at VN's instructions? If so it is intriguing, (if a bit far-reaching) to consider that “Belkin,” like “Botkin” therefore comes round to Nabokov himself.


White chess pieces in PF

Если фамилия деда Мартына цвела в горах, то девичья фамилия бабки, волшебным происхождением разнясь от Волковых, Куницыных, Белкиных, относилась к русской сказочной фауне. Дивные звери рыскали некогда по нашей земле. Но русскую сказку Софья Дмитриевна находила аляповатой, злой и убогой, русскую песню - бессмысленной, русскую загадку - дурацкой и плохо верила в пушкинскую няню, говоря, что поэт ее сам выдумал вместе с ее побасками, спицами и тоской. Таким образом, Мартын в раннем детстве не узнал иного, что впоследствии сквозь самоцветную волну памяти могло бы прибавить к его жизни еще одно очарование, но очарований было и так вдосталь, и ему не приходилось жалеть, что не Ерусланом, а западным братом Еруслана, было в детстве разбужено его воображение. Да и не все ли равно, откуда приходит нежный толчок, от которого трогается и катится душа, обреченная после сего никогда не прекращать движения. 


If Martin's grandfather's family name bloomed in the mountains, the magical origin of his grandmother's maiden name was a far cry from the various Volkovs (Wolfs), Kunitsyns (Martens) or Belkins (Squirrelsons), and belonged to the fauna of Russian fable. Once upon a time there prowled marvelous beasts in our country. (Chapter One)


The maiden name of Martin’s grandmother, Indrikov, comes from Indrik (a legendary animal of Russian fairy tales, unicorn). At the end of Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions ivory unicorns:


It did not matter who they were. No sound,
No furtive light came from their involute
Abode, but there they were, aloof and mute,
Playing a game of worlds, promoting pawns
To ivory unicorns and ebony fauns;
Kindling a long life here, extinguishing
A short one there; killing a Balkan king;

Causing a chunk of ice formed on a high-

Flying airplane to plummet from the sky

And strike a farmer dead; hiding my keys,

Glasses or pipe. Coordinating these

Events and objects with remote events

And vanished objects. Making ornaments

Of accidents and possibilities.

Stormcoated, I strode in: Sybil, it is
My firm conviction – " Darling, shut the door.
Had a nice trip?" Splendid – but what is more
I have returned convinced that I can grope
My way to some – to some – "Yes, dear?" Faint hope. (ll. 816-835)

I'm very touched, thank you! Btw., Oleg Volkov (1900-96) was VN's classmate at the Tenishev school. He spent twenty-five years of his long life in labor camps and knew Zoorland well. Alexander Kunitsyn (1783-1840) was Pushkin's Professor at the Lyceum. He is mentioned by Pushkin in his poem Byla pora: nash prazdnik molodoy... ("There was a time: our young celebration," 1836).