Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027034, Wed, 1 Jun 2016 18:53:30 +0300

B in Zembla's bonnet
Nova Zembla + ya + nikto + yabloko + tail = Novaya Zemlya + Botkin + Nabokov
+ Lolita

Nova Zembla + nekto + yabloko + Italiya = Novaya Zemlya + Kinbote + Nabokov
+ Lolita

bonnet + gnostik + radius + nekto = sonnet + Kinbote + Gradus + nikto

ya \xa8C I (first person pronoun)

nikto \xa8C nobody

yabloko \xa8C apple

Botkin \xa8C an American scholar of Russian descent (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and
Gradus’ “real” name)

Lolita \xa8C a novel (1955) by VN

nekto \xa8C someone

Italiya \xa8C Italy in Russian spelling

gnostik \xa8C Gnostic (an adherent of Gnosticism)

“Nova Zembla, poor thing, with that B in her bonnet” (a line in VN’s poem
The Refrigerator Awakes) is a play on the idiom “have a bee in one’s
bonnet” (to keep talking about something again and again because one thinks
it is very important). The mad commentator of Shade’s poem, Kinbote has a
bee in his bonnet.

B is the initial of Bulgarin, one of the editors of Severnaya pchela
(Northern Bee). Bulgarin’s coarse article in the Northern Bee provoked the
composition of Pushkin’s poem Moya Rodoslovnaya (“My Pedigree,” 1830). In
its Post Scriptum Pushkin mentions nasha zemlya (our land) and rul’ rodnogo
korablya (the rudder of the native ship):

Решил Фиглярин, сидя дома,
Что чёрный дед мой Ганнибал
Был куплен за бутылку рома
И в руки шкиперу попал.

Сей шкипер был тот шкипер славный,
Кем наша двигнулась земля,
Кто придал мощно бег державный
Рулю родного корабля.

Sitting at home, Figliarin decided

That my black grandfather Gannibal

Was purchased for a bottle of rum

And fell into the hands of a skipper.

This skipper was that renowned skipper

By whom our land was moved,

Who mightily imparted a powerful course

To the rudder of the native ship.

VN’s father, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov (1870-1922), was the editor of
Rul’ (“The Rudder”), an émigré newspaper that came out in Berlin. In
his coarse review of VN’s Russian novels and stories in Chisla (Numbers #1,
1930) G. Ivanov called VN samozvanets, kukharkin syn, chyornaya kost’,
smerd (impostor, a serf-woman’s son, etc.).

Pushkin’s poem Rodoslovnaya moego geroya (“The Pedigree of my Hero,”
1832) is written in the Onegin stanza. In his poem On Translating “Eugene
Onegin” (1955) VN says that he turned Pushkin’s stanza patterned on a
sonnet into his honest roadside prose:

What is translation? On a platter

A poets pale and glaring head,

A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,

And profanation of the dead.

The parasits you were so hard on

Are pardoned if I have your pardon,

O, Pushkin, for my stratagem:

I travelled down your secret stem,

And reached the root, and fed upon it;

Then, in a language newly learned,

I grew another stalk and turned

Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,

Into my honest roadside prose--

All thorn, but cousin to your rose.

According to G. Ivanov, when he asked Alexander Blok (one of the many poets
of the beginning of the 20th century whose names begin with a B) if a sonnet
needed a coda, Blok replied that he did not know what a coda was. Yabloko
(apple) has Blok in it. In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron… (“Like Byron to
Greece…” 1930) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon’ (pale fire). It seems to
me that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem needs not one but two

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By its own double in the windowpane.

Line 1000 = Line 1, Line 1001 is the poem’s coda. But since in Italian
poetry the coda (which means “tail”) is often longer that the sonnet
itself, the entire Kinbote’s Commentary (including his Foreword and Index)
can be regarded as the coda. Kinbote completes his work on Pale Fire and
commits suicide on October 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum).
Shade, Kinbote and Gradus turn into Botkin and (like Count Vorontsov, the
Governor of Novorossiya,* in Pushkin’s famous epigram) become “full”

*New Russia

Alexey Sklyarenko

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