Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027145, Fri, 12 Aug 2016 14:08:27 +0300

coda, Lang & Wagner in Pale Fire
In VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Yasha Chernyshevski was in a daze after reading Spengler:

Его пасмурность, прерываемая резким крикливым весельем, свойственным безъюморным людям; его сентиментально-умственные увлечения; его чистота, которая сильно отдавала бы трусостью чувств, кабы не болезненная изысканность их толкования; его ощущение Германии; его безвкусные тревоги («неделю был как в чаду», потому что прочитал Шпенглера); наконец, его стихи… словом всё то, что для его матери было преисполнено очарования, мне лишь претило.

His somberness, interrupted by the sudden shrill gaiety characteristic of humorless people; the sentimentality of his intellectual enthusiasms; his purity, which would have strongly suggested timidity of the senses were it not for the morbid over-refinement of their interpretation; his feeling for Germany; his tasteless spiritual throes (“For a whole week,” he said, “I was in a daze”—after reading Spengler!); and finally his poetry… in short, everything that to his mother was filled with enchantment only repelled me. (Chapter One)

In his most famous book, Der Untergang des Abendlandes (“The Decline of the West,” 1918), Spengler speaks of Napoleon, Bismarck and Goethe and mentions a coda (in the sense the term is used in music):

Napoleon hat in bedeutenden Augenblicken ein starkes Gefühl für die tiefe Logik des Weltwerdens. Er ahnte dann, inwiefern er ein Schicksal war und inwiefern er eines hatte. »Ich fühle mich gegen ein Ziel getrieben, das ich nicht kenne. Sobald ich es erreicht haben werde, sobald ich nicht mehr notwendig sein werde, wird ein Atom genügen, mich zu zerschmettern. Bis dahin aber werden alle menschlichen Kräfte nichts gegen mich vermögen«, sagte er zu Beginn des russischen Feldzugs… Bismarck selbst deutet in seinen Erinnerungen an, daß im Frühling 1848 eine Einigung in weiterem Umfang als 1870 hätte erreicht werden können, was nur an der Politik des preußischen Königs, richtiger an seinem privaten Geschmack scheiterte. Das wäre, auch nach Bismarcks Gefühl, eine matte Durchführung des »Satzes« gewesen, die irgendwie eine Coda ( »da capo e poi la coda«) notwendig gemacht hätte. Der Sinn der Epoche – das Thema – wäre aber durch keine Gestaltung des Tatsächlichen verändert worden. Goethe konnte – vielleicht – in frühen Jahren sterben, nicht seine »Idee«. Faust und Tasso wären nicht geschrieben worden, aber sie wären, ohne ihre poetische Greifbarkeit, in einem sehr geheimnisvollen Sinne trotzdem »gewesen«. (Chapter Two, II, 16)

In Dostoevski’s novel Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875) Versilov speaks of the photographic portrait of his wife Sonya and mentions Napoleon and Bismarck:

- Заметь, - сказал он, - фотографические снимки чрезвычайно редко выходят похожими, и это понятно: сам оригинал, то есть каждый из нас, чрезвычайно редко бывает похож на себя. В редкие только мгновения человеческое лицо выражает главную черту свою, свою самую характерную мысль. Художник изучает лицо и угадывает эту главную мысль лица, хотя бы в тот момент, в который он списывает, и не было её вовсе в лице. Фотография же застает человека как есть, и весьма возможно, что Наполеон, в иную минуту, вышел бы глупым, а Бисмарк - нежным. Здесь же, в этом портрете, солнце, как нарочно, застало Соню в её главном мгновении - стыдливой, кроткой любви и несколько дикого, пугливого её целомудрия.

“Observe," he said; "photographs very rarely turn out good likenesses, and that one can easily understand: the originals, that is all of us, are very rarely like ourselves. Only on rare occasions does a man's face express his leading quality, his most characteristic thought. The artist studies the face and divines its characteristic meaning, though at the actual moment when he's painting, it may not be in the face at all. Photography takes a man as he is, and it is extremely possible that at moments Napoleon would have turned out stupid, and Bismarck tender. Here, in this portrait, by good luck the sun caught Sonya in her characteristic moment of modest gentle love and rather wild shrinking chastity." (Chapter Seven, 1)

Sonya is a diminutive of Sofia. In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Sybil Shade’s “real” name seems to be Sofia Botkin. In Canto Three of his poem Shade (who calls his muse “my versipel”) mentions Hurricane Lolita and his wife’s portrait:

It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane
Lolita swept from Florida to Maine.

Mars glowed. Shahs married. Gloomy Russians spied.
Lang made your portrait. And one night I died. (ll. 679-682)

In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert (who composed his poem “Wanted” in a madhouse, after Lolita was abducted from him by Quilty) says that he talks in a daze:

Where are you hiding, Dolores Haze?

Why are you hiding, darling?

(I talk in a daze, I walk in a maze

I cannot get out, said the starling). (2.25)

Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator) wonders if Shade had in mind a photographic portrait:

A modern Fra Pandolf no doubt. I do not remember seeing any such painting around the house. Or did Shade have in mind a photographic portrait? There was one such portrait on the piano, and another in Shade's study. How much fairer it would have been to Shade's and his friend's reader if the lady had deigned answer some of my urgent queries. (note to Line 682)

The name Lang (of the artist who made Sybil’s portrait) means in German “long.” In Goethe’s Faust (1808) Wagner says:

Ach Gott! die Kunst ist lang;

Und kurz ist unser Leben.

Oh God! Art is long;

And short is our life. (Chapter Four)

In his Commentary Kinbote mentions Wagner (the composer):

One night the black cat, which a few minutes before I had seen rippling down into the basement where I had arranged toilet facilities for it in an attractive setting, suddenly reappeared on the threshold of the music room, in the middle of my insomnia and a Wagner record, arching its back and sporting a neck bow of white silk which it could certainly never have put on all by itself. I telephoned 1111 and a few minutes later was discussing possible culprits with a policeman who relished greatly my cherry cordial, but whoever had broken in had left no trace. (note to Line 62)

In his poem “Wanted” Humbert Humbert mentions opera and police officer:

L'autre soir un air froid d'opéra m'alita;

Son félé -- bien fol est qui s'y fie!

Il neige, le décor s'écroule, Lolita!

Lolita, qu'ai-je fait de ta vie?

Dying, dying, Lolita Haze,

Of hate and remorse, I'm dying.

And again my hairy fist I raise,

And again I hear you crying.

Officer, officer, there they go--

In the rain, where that lighted store is!

And her socks are white, and I love her so,

And her name is Haze, Dolores.

Officer, officer, there they are--

Dolores Haze and her lover!

Whip out your gun and follow that car.

Now tumble out and take cover.

Kinbote calls Lang “a modern Fra Pandolf” (in Browning’s My Last Duchess the Duchess’ portrait was painted by Fra Pandolf). In Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions Fra Karamazov:

Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept
All is allowed, into some classes crept (ll. 641-641).

“Fra Karamazov” is Ivan Fyodorovich, a character in Dostoevski’s Brothers Karamazov (1880). Dostoevski is the author of Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846) and Netochka Nezvanov (1849). The title of Dostoevski’s Podrostok brings to mind Ulichnyi podrostok (“The Street Adolescent,” 1914), a sonnet with a coda by G. Ivanov (whose most famous poem is an evocation of a postcard depicting the family of the last Russian tsar).

It seems to me that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs two lines (1000-1001):

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By its own double in the windowpane.

Line 1001 is the poem’s coda.

In “The Gift” Yasha’s father went mad after his son’s suicide. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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