Kinbote writes his Foreword, Commentary and Index to Shade’s poem in Cedarn, Utana. Cedarn is an anagram of “nacred,” the word that comes from nacre, also known as mother of pearl, an organic-inorganic composite material produced by some mollusks as an inner shell layer. In his Commentary Kinbote mentions conchologists (the people who study conchology, a branch of zoology dealing with the shells of mollusks):


To return to the King: take for instance the question of personal culture. How often is it that kings engage in some special research? Conchologists among them can be counted on the fingers of one maimed hand. The last king of Zembla—partly under the influence of his uncle Conmal, the great translator of Shakespeare (see notes to lines 39-40 and 962), had become, despite frequent migraines, passionately addicted to the study of literature. At forty, not long before the collapse of his throne, he had attained such a degree of scholarship that he dared accede to his venerable uncle’s raucous dying request: “Teach, Karlik!” (Kinbote’s note to Line 12)


Karlik (as Conmal calls Charles Xavier Vseslav, the last king of Zembla) is Russian for “dwarf.” In his poem Net, karlik moy! Trus besprimernyi (“No, my dwarf! The Unparalleled coward!...” 1850) Tyutchev calls the State Chancellor of Russia, Count Karl Nesselrode (1780-1862), karlik and trus (a coward). In the spring of 1824 Nesselrode, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, kept receiving letters from Count Vorontsov, Governor General of New Russia, who asked Nesselrode to rid him of Pushkin, “a weak imitator of Byron” – but also the author of original epigrams and an admirer of the countess (Elizaveta Vorontsov, the daughter of Francis-Xavier Branitsky).*


Lord Byron is the main character in Aldanov’s novella Mogila voina ("A Soldier's Grave," 1938), in which karlik [sic] Nesselrode is mentioned:


-- Француз­ская делегация, с Мон­моранси и Шатобрианом, остановилась в Палаццо Родольфи...

-- Ах, да, в ней Шатобриан, -- сказал царь, подавляя зевок. -- Что он за человек? Я почти его не знаю.

-- Могу только сказать вашему величеству, что по внешности он человек весьма не­взрачный, -- с улыбкой ответил австрийский генерал-адъютант и покраснел, поду­мав, что этого не следовало говорить при карлике Нессельроде. (chapter XIII)


The above dialogue between an Austrian general and the tsar Alexander I takes place in Verona, in 1822. Verona is the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In 1961 (a year before the publication of Pale Fire) the Shakespeare Festival was founded in Cedar, Utah. Cedar is a tree. According to Kinbote, in Zemblan “tree” is grados.


grados + trus + Aldanov = Gradus + ostrov + ladan


trus – coward; obs., earthquake

ostrov – island; Aldanov is the author of Svyataya Elena, malen’kiy ostrov (“St. Helena, a Small Island,” 1921)

ladan – incense (an aromatic gum); incense is made of the resin of cedars of Lebanon (in Russian, ladan is sometimes called livan, after Livanskiy kedr, cedar of Lebanon)


In Aldanov’s novel Bred (“Delirium,” 1955) the name of the main character (a professional spy) is Shell. The name of Shell’s mistress, Edda, brings to mind the Elder Edda, an old Icelandic collection of poems mentioned by Kinbote in his Commentary (note to Line 79). Aldanov’s novel appeared in the same year as VN’s Lolita. The characters of Lolita include big Frank, a truck’s driver in Elphinstone whose left hand lacks two fingers:


At twenty paces Frank used to look a mountain of health; at five, as now, he was a ruddy mosaic of scars – had been blown through a wall overseas; but despite nameless injuries he was able to man a tremendous truck, fish, hunt, drink, and buoyantly dally with roadside ladies. That day, either because it was such a great holiday, or simply because he wanted to divert a sick man, he had taken off the glove he usually wore on his left hand (the one pressing against the side of the door) and revealed to the fascinated sufferer not only an entire lack of fourth and fifth fingers, but also a naked girl, with cinnabar nipples and indigo delta, charmingly tattooed on the back of his crippled hand, its index and middle digit making her legs while his wrist bore her flower-crowned head. Oh, delicious… reclining against the woodwork, like some sly fairy. (2.22)


In the same chapter of Lolita Humbert Humbert mentions Romeo:


I suppose Mary thought comedy father Professor Humbertoldi was interfering with the romance between Dolores and her father-substitute, roly-poly Romeo (for you were rather lardy, you know, Rom, despite all that "snow" and "joy juice").


In PF Shade, in Canto Three of his poem, mentions Hurricane Lolita that swept from Florida to Maine:


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. 679-82)


According to Kinbote, at the Wordsmith University there is the famous avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare (note to Lines 47-48). In Shakespeare’s Tempest (5.1) Prospero mentions Jove’s stout oak, the pine and cedar:


And ’twixt the green sea and the azured vault

Set roaring war—to th' dread rattling thunder

Have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak

With his own bolt;

    the strong-based promontory

Have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up

The pine and cedar; graves at my command

Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth

By my so potent art.


The Tempest is set on a remote island.


*EO Commentary, vol. III, pp. 305-306


Alexey Sklyarenko

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