Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027075, Mon, 27 Jun 2016 06:37:01 +0300

Marion Armborough,
motorboat & flying fish in Ada; Botkin in Pale Fire
Her [Lucette’s] half-veiled gaze dwelt upon him [Van] with heavy, opaque
greed, and she was right, they were really quite alone, he had possessed
Marion Armborough behind her uncle's back in much more complex
circumstances, what with the motorboat jumping like a flying fish and his
host keeping a shotgun near the steering wheel. (3.5)

Marion Armborough is the niece of the British Governor of Armenia with whom
Van went shooting on Lake Van (3.1). During his stay in Venice in 1816-17
Byron studied the Armenian language. Byron’s poem To Marion (1807) is
addressed to Harriett Maltby. Harriett was the name of Shelley’s first wife
(born Harriett Westbrook, 1795-1816) who drowned herself at the age of
twenty one.

In Don Juan: Dedication (1818) Byron compares Robert Southey (the
Poet-laureate to whom the Dedication is addressed) to the flying fish:

You, Bob! are rather insolent, you know,
At being disappointed in your wish
To supersede all warblers here below,
And be the only Blackbird in the dish;
And then you overstrain yourself, or so,
And tumble downward like the flying fish
Gasping on deck, because you soar too high, Bob,
And fall, for lack of moisture quite a-dry, Bob! (III)

In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (one of the three main characters
in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions Southey:

Although it may be taken to refer to the man (whoever he was) who occupied
this post at the time Hazel Shade was a student, the reader cannot be blamed
for applying it to Paul H., Jr., the fine administrator and inept scholar
who since 1957 headed the English Department of Wordsmith College. We met
now and then (see Foreword and note to line 894) but not often. The Head of
the Department to which I belonged was Prof. Nattochdag - "Netochka" as we
called the dear man. Certainly the migraines that have lately tormented me
to such a degree that I once had to leave in the midst of a concert at which
I happened to be sitting beside Paul H., Jr., should not have been a
stranger's business. They apparently were, very much so. He kept his eye on
me, and immediately upon John Shade's demise circulated a mimeographed
letter that began:

Several members of the Department of English are painfully concerned over
the fate of a manuscript poem, or parts of a manuscript poem, left by the
late John Shade. The manuscript fell into the hands of a person who not only
is unqualified for the job of editing it, belonging as he does to another
department, but is known to have a deranged mind. One wonders whether some
legal action, etc.

"Legal action," of course, might be taken by somebody else too. But no
matter; one's just anger is mitigated by the satisfaction of foreknowing
that the engagé gentleman will be less worried about the fate of my
friend's poem after reading the passage commented here. Southey liked a
roasted rat for supper - which is especially comic in view of the rats that
devoured his Bishop. (Note to Lines 376-377)

According to Kinbote, Charles the Beloved (the last self-exiled king of
Zembla) escaped from Zembla in a powerful motorboat.

Shade, Kinbote and the killer Gradus seem to represent three different
aspects of Botkin’s personality. An American scholar of Russian descent,
Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus
after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s

Botkin + gosudar’ = Bog + nikto + sudar’

Botkin + Bog + link + inok/koni = king + bobolink + nikto = inkognito + blik
+ knob

gosudar’ \xa8C sovereign

Bog \xa8C God

nikto \xa8C nobody

sudar’ \xa8C sir

inok \xa8C monk

koni \xa8C horses

inkognito \xa8C incognito in Russian spelling

blik \xa8C speck, patch of (sun)light

Dr Botkin was executed with the family of the last Russian tsar. The end of
the dynasty was predicted by Lermontov in his prophetical poem Predskazanie
(“Prediction,” 1830). Lermontov’s poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy…
(“No, I am not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) ends in the line: ya ili Bog
ili nikto (myself, or God, or nobody). Lermontov is the author of The Demon
(1829-40). At the Goodson Airport Demon Veen mentions his friend Bessborodko
and Armborough:

'Stocks,' said Demon, 'are on the zoom. Our territorial triumphs, et cetera.
An American governor, my friend Bessborodko, is to be installed in
Bessarabia, and a British one, Armborough, will rule Armenia. I saw you
enlaced with your little Countess near the parking lot. If you marry her I
will disinherit you. They're quite a notch below our set.' (2.1)

Bessborodko + Armborough = Bessborough + dobro/Bordo + komar/korma

dobro \xa8C good (a noun opposed to zlo, evil)

Bordo \xa8C Bordeaux in Russian spelling; wine produced in the Bordeaux region

komar \xa8C mosquito

korma \xa8C stern, poop (of a ship)

Byron’s mistress in 1812 (the year of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia), Lady
Caroline Lamb was the only daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of
Bessborough. Lermontov is the author of Borodino (1837*), a great poem about
the great battle in the anti-Napoleon war of 1812. In Line 812 of his poem
Shade mentions “some kind of link-and-bobolink:”

Yes! It sufficed that I in life could find
Some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind
Or correlated pattern in the game,
Plexed artistry, and something of the same
Pleasure in it as they who played it found. (ll. 811-815)

In Don Juan: Dedication Byron says that he wishes the Lake Poets would
change their lakes for Ocean:

From better company, have kept your own
At Keswick, and, through still continu’d fusion
Of one another’s minds, at last have grown
To deem as a most logical conclusion,
That Poesy has wreaths for you alone:
There is a narrowness in such a notion,
Which makes me wish you’d change your lakes for Ocean. (V)

The father of Ada Lovelace, Byron had an affair with his half-sister
Augusta. Van’s and Ada’s half-sister Lucette drowns herself (after
watching in the Tobakoff cinema hall Don Juan’s Last Fling, a movie in
which Ada played the gitanilla) in the Atlantic Ocean (3.5). Van’s and
Ada’s father Demon perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster (caused,
perhaps, by the Robinsons, an elderly couple in whose company Lucette
watched the Don Juan film?) above the Pacific Ocean. In his poem K moryu
(“To the Sea,” 1824) Pushkin speaks of Napoleon’s and Byron’s deaths and
says that Byron was pevets morya (a bard of the sea). In Pushkin’s poem
okean (ocean) rhymes with tiran (tyrant):

Мир опустел… Теперь куда же
Меня б ты вынес, океан?
Судьба людей повсюду та же:
Где капля блага, там на страже
Уж просвещенье иль тиран.

In his poem The Nature of Electricity (quoted in full by Kinbote in his
Commentary) Shade mentions “Shelley’s incandescent soul” and “the roar
of tyrants torn in hell.” On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet
on which Ada is set) electricity was banned after the L disaster in the
middle of the 19th century (1.3). The Antiterran L disaster seems to
correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on
January 3, 1850 (NS), in our world. January 3, 1876, is Lucette’s birthday.
In Blok’s poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) the hero’s father was
nicknamed Demon, because Dostoevski said that he resembled Byron:

Раз (он гостиной проходил)

Его заметил Достоевский.

?Кто сей красавец? ― он спросил

Негромко, наклонившись к Вревской: -

Похож на Байрона?. ― Словцо

Крылатое все подхватили,

И все на новое лицо

Своё вниманье обратили.

И дамы были в восхищеньи:

?Он ― Байрон, значит ― демон...? ― Что ж?

Он впрямь был с гордым лордом схож

Лица надменным выраженьем

И чем-то, что хочу назвать

Тяжёлым пламенем печали. (chapter I)

And the ladies were delighted:

“He is Byron, ergo he is a demon…”

Dostoevski is the author of Bednye Lyudi (“Poor Folk,” 1846), Dvoynik
(“The Double,” 1846), Netochka Nezvanov (1849), a novel that remained
unfinished because the author was arrested on April 23, 1849, and Brothers
Karamazov (1880). Netochka is Professor Nattochdag’s nickname. In the old
Russian alphabet letter L was called lyudi. In Canto Three of his poem Shade
mentions Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept all is allowed.

According to G. Ivanov (the author of a poem about the tsar’s family), when
he asked Blok if a sonnet needed a coda, Blok replied that he did now what a
coda was. It seems to me that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem
needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1), but also Line 1001 (the

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By its own double in the windowpane.

*the year of Pushkin’s death

Alexey Sklyarenko

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