Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027077, Mon, 27 Jun 2016 19:04:55 +0300

Goldsworth, Wordsmith & Shakespeare in Pale Fire
According to Shade, his "frame house on its square of green" is situated
"between Goldsworth and Wordsmith:"

Maybe some quirk in space
Has caused a fold or furrow to displace
The fragile vista, the frame house between
Goldsworth and Wordsmith on its square of green. (Lines 45-48)

In his Commentary Kinbote writes:

The first name refers to the house in Dulwich Road that I rented from Hugh
Warren Goldsworth, authority on Roman Law and distinguished judge. I never
had the pleasure of meeting my landlord but I came to know his handwriting
almost as well as I do Shade's. The second name denotes, of course,
Wordsmith University. In seeming to suggest a midway situation between the
two places, our poet is less concerned with spatial exactitude than with a
witty exchange of syllables invoking the two masters of the heroic couplet,
between whom he embowers his own muse. Actually, the "frame house on its
square of green" was five miles west of the Wordsmith campus but only fifty
yards or so distant from my east windows. (Note to Lines 47-48)

"The two masters of the heroic couplet" mentioned by Kinbote are Oliver
Goldsmith (1728-1774), an Irish poet, playwright, essayist and novelist, and
William Wordsworth* (1770-1850), an English poet. In Vivian Calmbrood's poem
"The Night Journey" (1931) Chenstone (the fictitious poet to whom Pushkin
ascribed his little tragedy "The Covetous Knight," 1830) mentions his
neighbor, the young Wordsworth:

Вообразите гладь речную,
берёзы, вересковый склон.

Там жил я, драму небольшую
писал из рыцарских времён;
ходил я в сюртучке потёртом,
с соседом, молодым Вордсвортом,
удил форелей иногда
(его стихам вредит вода,
но человек он милый), -- словом,
я счастлив был -- и признаюсь,
что в Лондон с манускриптом новым
без всякой радости тащусь.

According to Chenstone, in the country he used to fish trout with
Wordsworth, a nice person for whose poetry water is harmful, though (like
Southey and Coleridge, Wordsworth was a Lake Poet).

Vivian Calmbrood is an imperfect anagram of Vladimir Nabokov. In Calmbrood's
poem Chenstone (the author's fellow traveler in his journey to London)
mentions a certain Johnson whom they had beaten with a candlestick for a
marked article:

Дни Ювенала отлетели.
Не воспевать же, в самом деле,
как за краплёную статью
побили Джонсона шандалом?

Johnson's "marked article" is G. Ivanov's abusive review in Chisla (Numbers,
No. 1, 1930) of Sirin's novels and stories. In "The Night Journey" Chenstone
mentions adamova golova (Adam's head) of another hostile critic:

Бедняга! Он скрипит костями,

бренча на лире жестяной,
он клонится к могильной яме
адамовою головой.

VN's "faithful Zoilus," G. Adamovich was gay. Kinbote asks God to rid him of
his love for little boys:

After winding for about four miles in a general eastern direction through a
beautifully sprayed and irrigated residential section with variously graded
lawns sloping down on both sides, the highway bifurcates: one branch goes
left to New Wye and its expectant airfield; the other continues to the
campus. Here are the great mansions of madness, the impeccably planned
dormitories - bedlams of jungle music - the magnificent palace of the
Administration, the brick walls, the archways, the quadrangles blocked out
in velvet green and chrysoprase, Spencer House and its lily pond, the
Chapel, New Lecture Hall, the Library, the prisonlike edifice containing our
classrooms and offices (to be called from now on Shade Hall), the famous
avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare, a distant droning sound,
the hint of a haze, the turquoise dome of the Observatory, wisps and pale
plumes of cirrus, and the poplar-curtained Roman-tiered football field,
deserted on summer days except for a dreamy-eyed youngster flying - on a
long control line in a droning circle - a motor-powered model plane.

Dear Jesus, do something. (note to Lines 47-48)

In one of his dialogues with Kinbote Shade compares Shakespeare to a Great
Dane and himself, to a grateful mongrel:

The subject of teaching Shakespeare at college level having been introduced:
"First of all, dismiss ideas, and social background, and train the freshman
to shiver, to get drunk on the poetry of Hamlet or Lear, to read with his
spine and not with his skull." Kinbote: "You appreciate particularly the
purple passages?" Shade: "Yes, my dear Charles, I roll upon them as a
grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great Dane." (Note to Line

At the beginning of his article Pisatel' Burov ("The Writer Burov," 1951) G.
Ivanov quotes Burov's words from his book V tsarstve teney ("In the Realm of
Shades," 1951):

"Стократ блестяще написанные повести и рассказы... сегодня художественные
пустяки. Чернила умерли, мертвецами бездушными стали слова... Сегодня это
больше никому не нужно... Нужны - книги... что потрясать могли бы леса и

И в заключение этих фраз, как вывод из них, властное требование - "Подайте
нам Шекспира!"...

Кто это говорит и к кому обращается? Это говорит писатель-эмигрант,
обращаясь к современности. Говорит от лица того собирательного русского
человека, который за "Ночь" (т. е. за годы последней войны с её безграничной
жестокостью и не менее безграничной бессмыслицей) "вырос и прозрел" и
которому, чтобы запечатлеть трагические события последних лет, необходим
"новый Шекспир" - новый мировой гений, с новыми словами и образами,
"потрясающими леса и горы"...

According to Burov (whose name comes from buryi, "brown"), we need a new
Shakespeare - a new planetary genius, with new words and images "that would
shake forests and mountains." In VN's story Usta k ustam ("Lips to Lips,"
1931), a satire on the literary review Chisla in which Burov's writings
appeared, Ilya Borisovich (the story's main character) was modeled on Burov
and Galatov (the editor of Arion) is a recognizable portrait of G. Ivanov.
Ilya Borisovich wants to publish in Arion his novel "Lips to Lips" under the
penname (derived from the name of his late wife) I. Annenski. In a letter to
Ilya Borisovich Galatov asks the permission to change 'I. Annenski' to 'Ilya
Annenski,' so as to avoid confusion with Innokentiy Annenski (1855-1909).
The author of Kiparisovyi larets ("The Cypress Casket," 1910) and of the two
Books of Reflections (1906, 1909), Annenski lived in Tsarskoe Selo (a place
near St. Petersburg where the Lyceum was founded in 1811) and published his
stuff under the penname Nik. T-o. Nikto is Russian for "nobody." In
Pushkin's little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830) Mozart uses the phrase
nikto b (none would):

Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.

If all could feel like you the power of harmony!
But no: the world could not go on then. None
Would bother with the needs of lowly life;
All would surrender to the free art.

(scene II, transl. A. Shaw)

Nikto b is Botkin (Shade's, Kinbote's and Gradus' "real" name) backwards.
Kinbote completes his work on Shade's poem and commits suicide on October
19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin's Lyceum). There is a hope that, after
Kinbote's suicide, Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (the target of Pushkin's
epigrams), will become "full" again.

In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron - o, bez sozhalen'ya: ("Like Byron to
Greece, oh, without regret:" 1928) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon' (pale

Как в Грецию Байрон, о, без сожаленья,
Сквозь звёзды и розы, и тьму,
На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья:
- И ты не поможешь ему.

Сквозь звёзды, которые снятся влюблённым,
И небо, где нет ничего,
В холодную полночь - платком надушённым.
- И ты не удержишь его.

На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья,
Как Байрон за бледным огнём,
Сквозь полночь и розы, о, без сожаленья:
- И ты позабудешь о нём.

In his (extremely unreliable) memoirs Peterburgskie zimy ("The St.
Petersburg Winters," 1931) G. Ivanov describes his visit to Alexander Blok
in 1909. According to Ivanov, when he (then a boy of fifteen) asked Blok if
a sonnet needed a coda, Blok replied that he did know what a coda was. It
seems that, to be completed, Shade's unfinished poem needs not only Line
1000 (identical to Line 1: "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain"), but
also the coda (Line 1001: "By its own double in the windowpane).

In her essay Poety s istoriey i poety bez istorii ("Poets with History and
Poets without History," 1934) Marina Tsvetaev mentions, among other great
lyrical poets, Byron, Shelley, Lermontov and Blok:

Кто может рассказать о поэтическом пути (беру самых великих и бесспорных
лириков) Гейне, Байрона, Шелли, Верлена, Лермонтова? Они заполонили мир
своими чувствами, воплями, вздохами и видениями, залили его своими слезами,
воспламенили со всех четырёх сторон своим негодованием:

Учимся ли мы у них? Нет. Мы из-за них и за них страдаем.

Так на мой русский лад перекраивается французская пословица: Les heureux
n'ont pas d'histoire.

Исключение - чистый лирик, у которого были, однако, и развитие, и история, и
путь, - Александр Блок. Но, сказав <развитие>, вижу, что это неверное
представление, и слово, противоречащее сущности и судьбе Блока. Развитие
предполагает гармонию. Может ли быть развитие - катастрофическим? И может ли
быть гармония там, где налицо полный разрыв души? И вот, не для игры слов,
строго их выверяя, утверждаю: Блок на всём своём поэтическом пути не
развивался, а разрывался.

О Блоке можно сказать, что он от одного себя пытался уйти к какому-то
другому себе. От одного, который его мучил, к другому, который мучил его ещё
больше. Что характерно, Блок тем самым надеялся уйти от самого себя. Так
смертельно раненный человек в страхе бежит от раны, так больной мечется из
страны в страну, потом из комнаты в комнату и, наконец, с одного бока на

In the phrase s odnogo boka na drugoy (from one side to another) used by
Marina Tsvetaev (the poet of genius who returned to Russia and in August,
1941, committed suicide) VN's name is in part anagrammatized.

According to Marina Tsvetaev, Blok wanted to escape from of one of his
selves to some other self. From the one that tormented him to another one
that tormented him even more. In this way Blok hoped to flee from himself.
Thus a mortally wounded person tries to escape in panic from his wound, thus
a sick man rushes about from country to country,** then from room to room
and, finally, tosses in bed from one side to another. Similarly, Professor
Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent whose daughter
Nadezhda committed suicide) tries to escape from one of his selves (Shade)
that torments him to another self (Kinbote) that torments him even more
until he finally meets Gradus (his third self that kills him):

God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example
of the other two characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may
assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up
yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, health heterosexual Russian, a
writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but
his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from
Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the
simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an
old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: 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. Oh, I may do many things!
History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a
great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I
may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene
is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out--somebody has already set
out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a
ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and
presently he will ring at my door--a bigger, more respectable, more
competent Gradus. (Note to Line 1000)

*note the correct spelling!

**as Gogol did; in his fragment Rim ("Rome," 1842) Gogol explains what a
coda (an Italian word that means "tail") is; Gradus can be compared to the
real inspector who arrives at the end of Gogol's Revizor (1835)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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