NABOKV-L post 0024301, Fri, 31 May 2013 16:49:15 -0700

Re: Chess problem
Regarding the chess problem as published in "the Exile," I have just received a
copy and will look at it, but doubt I will understand any better. I still do not
know what "subtle chess problem" lurks in the Tenniel frontispiece to A in
W'land either.

I did find several copies of the Tanner book (1830) for sale with a detailed
description which I will copy below. I can only speculate that in the American
"red Indian" Pushkin found something similar to the natives in his "Prisoner of
the Caucasus." Kavkazkiy Plennik, I believe. I'm sure the Georgians would not
be thrilled at the comparison. VN was also fascinated by Chateaubriand who also
wove romances about the aboriginals in America. Pushkin on Chateaubriand?

A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner (U.S. Interpreter at
the Sault De Ste Marie), during Thirty Years Residence among the Indians in the
Interior of North America.
JAMES, Edwin (Edited) [TANNER, John].

Book Description: London. Haldwin & Cradock and Thomas War. 1830., 1830. 8vo,
22.6cm, the First London Edition, 426p., engraved frontis portrait, text
illustrations (many pictographs), in contemporary quarter dark red morocco, gilt
and blind ruled raised bands, gilt titles, gilt pictorial (arrows motif) in the
panel centers with gilt decorations and borders at the panel edges, red cloth
boards, marbled boards and endpapers, t.e.g., expertly restored a fine copy of
the particularly rare London edition (cgc) - Provence: from the library of P.G.
Downes, whose book "Sleeping Island" is a northern classic. Captured by Indians
in Ohio about 1790, Tanner fought, hunted and traded in the Middle West until
about 1820 and gives a graphic picture of Indian life and the fur trade. Part of
the time he lodged in Red River district and touches upon the relations of the
Hudson's Bay company, Northwest company and the Selkirk settlement. Later he
visited his white relatives, then returned to the Indian country. His narrative
closes in 1828-30. Part II, pp285-426, prepared by the editor, comprises
chapters on Indian customs, lore music, poetry, languages, etc. (TPL). " The
editor of this work obtained the material for its construction from the lips of
John Tanner, a captive who had resided among the Indians for thirty years. James
was a man of much information upon Indian affairs and must have been able to
discriminate between the probable and the uncertain portions of Tanner's
narrative. The renegade himself (for he had during his long sojourn among the
Indians become even more savage than they) was a person of retentive memory and
fair intelligence. His relation of his life among the Northern Indians, is
probably the most minute if not authentic detail of their habits, modes of
living, and social customs ever printed. The perils and privations in which they
constantly exist, the tribal distinction and family associations and quarrels,
the hunter's painful struggles to over-match the cunning and instinct of the
animals upon which he must feed or starve and the labor of the squaws, alternate
with days and weeks of gnawing famine awaiting his return, are all minutely and
vividly related". (Sabin). " The details of Tanner's captivity include Indian
feasts, catalogue of plants and animals found in the country of the Ojibbeways,
a catalogue in Chippeway of the totems among the Ottawas and Ojibbeways, with
their descriptions, knowledge of astronomy, a comparison of Chippeway numerals
with nearly fifty other American dialects, a large collection of songs in the
Indian language, and language of the American Indians". (Lande). Of twenty-six
copies at auction since 1975, only one was the London edition.

From: Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US>
Sent: Fri, May 31, 2013 1:51:27 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Chess problem

Steve Norquist: From the diagram of VN's problem in my earlier post*, the
solution for White supposedly begins with 1. Bc2, but I don't recall where I
read that, and I am much more fond of playing chess than of solving chess

Jansy Mello: Your earlier post (which I reproduced as a foot-note here) was
very informative and carefully researched and was a good answer to several
queries posted by Carolyn Kunin. Unlike most of you, I neither play chess nor
solve chess problems and this is why there's nothing I can add here by way of a
comment, except to thank you for.posting it.

Robert Ropert's query about John Tanner mentioned Pushkin's "affection" for A
Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner (1830). The name
Tanner seemed to ring a bell for me and I tried to check why. Unfortunately, I
drew a blank but I found out that, perhaps, Pushkin's interest in the book
could be derived from his critical point of view.: "As an essayist Pushkin was
prolific but most of his writings remained in draft form...Chiefly Pushkin
concentrated on literature and history, but he did not develop a systematic
philosophical view – it has been said that Pushkin lacked "central vision"....
The responsibility of the Decembrist Rebellion Pushkin shifted onto foreign
influences. He was fascinated by democratic republicanism but perceived the
tendency to idealize the natural state of life, as exemplified both in the work
of James Fenimore Cooper and in political discussion in the United States, as
was shown in his essay "Dzhon Tenner" (1836, John Tanner)." [Some rights
reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto
2008] .
America as seen through European eyes must have interested Nabokov, at least
there are suggestive paragraphs in "Lolita" (dealing with Chateaubriand, tigers
and wide plains, if memory serves me right.) Some of these visions were
espoused by authors who never actually visited America (I have Coleridge in
mind, after one of JLBorges's lectures on English Literature... )

Concerning the "tendency to idealize the natural state of life" perhaps VN's
views are kept hidden, despite his indirect reference to JJ Rousseau in Pale
Fire, when John Shade affirms, in French, that “l’homme est né bon,”**

* Nabokov engaged in an intriguing duel against Lewis Carroll - played out in
the symbolic language of chess. Nabokov's key chess problem and its
accompanying commentary were originally published in the article 'Exile' in the
Partisan Review in early 1951, following its earlier rejection by the New Yorker
magazine. A letter sent in March 1950 by Nabokov to his New Yorker editor and
friend Katharine White confirms that the author thought
this chess problem was extremely important and was related, in some mysterious
way, to the chess game plotted by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-glass.
As Nabokov explained:"When coming to the last pages of the piece 'Exile,'
please remember that the frontispiece to the first edition of 'Alice in the
Looking Glass' carries a very subtle and difficult chess problem, and I would
not like to think that New Yorker readers could be more bewildered by my chess
problem (which occupies only a few lines) than Dodgson's little readers"
(Selected Letters, 99).
Shortly after its publication in the Partisan Review, the chess problem in
question was incorporated by Nabokov into Chapter Fourteen of his
autobiography, Speak, Memory/Conclusive Evidence. It has since been reproduced
in chess diagram format, in Poems and Problems (1972, p.182) where it is
accompanied by Nabokov's succinct comment "composed in Paris, mid-May 1940…The
irresistible try is for the bafflement of sophisticated solvers". V. Nabokov
"Speak Memory" 1951


But the 'succinct comment' by the author (in the Gallimard 1999 reprint of
"Poems and Problems") was: "Composé à Paris à la mi-mai 1940 (quelques jours
avant d'émigrer aus États-Unis). Publié dans "Speak, Memory", 1951, et inclus
par Lipton, Matthews, et Rice dans "Chess Problems", Londres, 1963. Un essai
auquel il est difficile de résister et qui comblera d'aise les solutionnistes

** - PF: Charles Kinbote note to line 549:
shade: All religions are based upon obsolete terminology.
kinbote: What we term Original Sin can never grow obsolete.
shade: I know nothing about that. In fact when I was small I thought it meant
Cain killing Abel. Personally, I am with the old snuff-takers: L’homme est né
kinbote: Yet disobeying the Divine Will is a fundamental definition of Sin.
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