A.Sklyarenko: In VN’s story Solus Rex (1940) Prince Fig, as he speaks to K, says that he seeks only drob’ prekrasnogo (the fractions of beauty), leaving tseloe (the integers) to the good burghers, and mentions Galatea (the statue carved of ivory by Pygmalion, which then came to life)… G. Ivanov complains that he has no power anymore to unite in one creation the odd parts of beauty [ ] In Pale Fire (1962), a novel that has a lot in common with Solus Rex and Ultima Thule (1942), the two stories that look as if they were the chapters of an unfinished novel (VN’s last Russian novel), VN proves that he still can unite in one creation the odd parts of beauty [ ]. In Ultima Thule Sineusov (the artist who just lost his wife) mentions a convict’s task [ ] “Pebbles like cuckoo eggs, a piece of tile shaped like a pistol clip, a fragment of topaz-colored glass, something quite dry resembling a whisk of bast, my tears, a microscopic bead, an empty cigarette package with a yellow-bearded sailor in the center of a life buoy, a stone like a Pompeian’s foot, some creature’s small bone or a spatula, a kerosene can, a shiver of garnet-red glass, a nutshell, a nondescript rusty thingum related to nothing, a shard of porcelain, of which the companion fragments must inevitably exist somewhere — and I imagined an eternal torment, a convict’s task, that would serve as the best punishment for such as I, whose thoughts had ranged too far during their life span: namely, to find and gather all these parts, so as to re-create that gravy boat or soup tureen — hunchbacked wanderings along wild, misty shores. And, after all, if one is supremely lucky, one might restore the dish on the first morning instead of the trillionth — and there it is, that most agonizing question of luck, of Fortune’s Wheel, of the right lottery ticket, without which a given soul might be denied eternal felicity beyond the grave.”
J.Mello: Wonderful reminder of Sineusov’s lines in Ultima Thule ( It’s not one of my favorite VN stories…). In Speak,Memory this idea is reworked, now as a reference to a broken matriarchal lineage, perhaps (it sounds far-fetched but, at the same time, since the “family tree” in Ada, or Ardor, it is something that has been always present in the back of my mind), or to a missing butterfly species in a scheme, or to a bobolink…*
“I do not doubt that among those slightly convex chips of majolica ware found by our child there was one whose border of scrollwork fitted exactly, and continued, the pattern of a fragment I had found in 1903 on the same shore, and that the two tallied with a third my mother had found on that Mentone beach in 1882, and with a fourth piece of the same pottery that had been found by her mother a hundred years ago—and so on, until this assortment of parts, if it all had been preserved, might have been put together to make the complete, the absolutely complete bowl, broken by some Italian child, God knows where and when.” “Speak, Memory” (308-9).
*- In Ada, or Ardor we also find a suggestive connection to “a stone like a Pompeian’s foot” from Sineusov’s lines: ‘I can add,’ said the girl, ‘that the petal belongs to the common Butterfly Orchis; that my mother was even crazier than her sister; and that the paper flower so cavalierly dismissed is a perfectly recognizable reproduction of an early-spring sanicle that I saw in profusion on hills in coastal California last February. Dr Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van, have referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the sake of rapid narrative information (you recall Brown, don’t you, Smith?), has determined the example I brought back from Sacramento to Ardis, as the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl’s — an allusion, which your father, who, according to Blanche, is also mine, would understand like this’ (American finger-snap). ‘You will be grateful,’ she continued, embracing him, ‘for my not mentioning its scientific name. Incidentally the other foot — the Pied de Lion from that poor little Christmas larch, is by the same hand — possibly belonging to a very sick Chinese boy who came all the way from Barkley College.’
‘Good for you, Pompeianella (whom you saw scattering her flowers in one of Uncle Dan’s picture books, but whom I admired last summer in a Naples museum). Now don’t you think we should resume our shorts and shirts and go down, and bury or burn this album at once, girl. Right?”