Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027147, Sat, 13 Aug 2016 15:48:49 +0300

Oscar Nattochdag in Pale Fire
In his Foreword and Commentary Kinbote mentions Dr. Nattochdag (“that distinguished Zemblan scholar Oscar Nattochdag”):

There was also the morning when Dr. Nattochdag, head of the department to which I was attached, begged me in a formal voice to be seated, then closed the door, and having regained, with a downcast frown, his swivel chair, urged me "to be more careful." In what sense, careful? A boy had complained to his adviser. Complained of what, good Lord? That I had criticized a literature course he attended ("a ridiculous survey of ridiculous works, conducted by a ridiculous mediocrity"). Laughing in sheer relief, I embraced my good Netochka, telling him I would never be naughty again. I take this opportunity to salute him. He always behaved with such exquisite courtesy toward me that I sometimes wondered if he did not suspect what Shade suspected, and what only three people (two trustees and the president of the college) definitely knew. (Foreword to PF)

Dr. Nattochdag’s nickname hints at Dostoevski (the author of Netochka Nezvanov, 1849). In VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Fyodor compares Dostoevski to a room in which a lamp burns during the day:

Но даже Достоевский всегда как-то напоминает комнату, в которой днём горит лампа.

But even Dostoevski always brings to mind somehow a room in which a lamp burns during the day. (Chapter Five)

Dr. Nattochdag’s first name, Oscar, seems to hint at Zina Mertz’s late father (who, according to his daughter, resembled Proust’s Swann) in “The Gift.”

Natt och dag means in Swedish "night and day." In Der Untergang des Abendlandes (“The Decline of the West,” 1918) Spengler says: Die Nacht entkörpert; der Tag entseelt (night eliminates body; day, soul). After reading Spengler Yasha Chernyshevsky (the boy who was in love with Rudolf’s soul) was in a daze for a whole week:

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. (“The Gift,” Chapter One)

In one of his conversations with Kinbote Shade mentions Dostoevski as a Russian humorist:

Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque “perfectionist”): “How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov.” (note to Line 172)

Chapter One of Spengler’s “Decline of the West” is entitled Vom Sinn der Zahlen (“About the Meaning of Numbers”). Gogol (who signed his early works 0000*) is the author of Strashnaya mest’ (“A Terrible Vengeance,” 1831), Dostoevski is the author of Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846), Chekhov is the author of Tysyacha odna strast’, ili Strashnaya noch’ (“A Thousand and One Passions, or The Terrible Night,” 1880) and Tri sestry** (“The Three Sisters,” 1901), Ilf and Petrov are the authors of Dvenadtsat’ stulyev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928), VN is the author of Pnin (1957).

There are thirteen stories in Nabokov’s Dozen (1958). Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems to me that Shade’s poem also needs a coda (a term mentioned by Spengler in “The Decline of the West”) and, in its finished form, has a thousand and one lines (Line 1001 is “By its own double in the windowpane”).

Btw., thirteen is often called “the devil’s dozen.” In the second volume (chapter 55) of “The Decline of the West” Spengler says: Auch der Teufel kann Wunder tun (the devil, too, can work miracles).

*according to Kinbote, he telephoned 1111 upon seeing the black cat arching its back and sporting a neck bow of white silk which it could certainly never have put on all by itself (note to line 62); Gogol loathed cats

**a play known on Antiterra (Earth’s twin planet in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) as Four Sisters

Alexey Sklyarenko

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