My Russian article Igra snov v p’yesakh i rasskazakh Nabokova (“The Dream Play in Nabokov's Comedies and Stories”) is now available online:


Re Bretwit (Chess Intelligence) in Pale Fire:


in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (Four: XXVII: 9-14) Lenski and Olga over the chessboard sometimes sit deep in thought “and Lenski with a pawn takes in abstraction his own rook.” Pushkin composed this stanza in January, 1825. In the first half of January, 1825, Ivan Pushchin (Pushkin’s Lyceum friend) visited Pushkin in Mikhaylovskoe and brought him a manuscript copy of Griboedov’s play Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824). About the same time Griboedov wrote a letter to Katenin in which he calls Famusov’s daughter Sofia (a character in his play) ferz’ (the chess queen). In PF Ferz Bretwit is a cousin of the granduncle of Oswin Bretwit, the retired diplomat whom Gradus visits in Paris in the hope to find out the ex-King’s whereabouts:


But to return to the roofs of Paris. Courage was allied in Oswin Bretwit with integrity kindness, dignity, and what can be euphemistically called endearing naivete. When Gradus telephoned from the airport, and to whet his appetite read to him Baron B.'s message (minus the Latin tag), Bretwit's only thought was for the treat in store for him. Gradus had declined to say over the telephone what exactly the "precious papers" were, but it so happened that the ex-consul had been hoping lately to retrieve a valuable stamp collection that his father had bequeathed years ago to a now defunct cousin. The cousin had dwelt in the same house as Baron B., and with all these complicated and entrancing matters uppermost in his mind, the ex-consul, while awaiting his visitor, kept wondering not if the person from Zembla was a dangerous fraud, but whether he would bring all the albums at once or would do it gradually so as to see what he might get for his pains. Bretwit hoped the business would be completed that very night since on the following morning he was to be hospitalized and possibly operated upon (he was, and died under the knife).

If two secret agents belonging to rival factions meet in a battle of wits, and if one has none, the effect may be droll; it is dull if both are dolts. I defy anybody to find in the annals of plot and counterplot anything more inept and boring than the scene that occupied the rest of this conscientious note. (Kinbote’s note to Line 286)


In a letter of Sept. 9, 1830, to Pletnyov (to whom EO is dedicated) Pushkin quotes his uncle’s last words: kak skuchny statyi Katenina! (How boring Katenin’s article are!) According to Pushkin, his uncle died as a honest soldier, le cri de guerre a la bouche. Oswin Bretwit’s last words to Gradus are:


"I have a pain in my groin that is driving me mad. I have not slept for three nights. You journalists are an obstinate bunch but I am obstinate too. You will never learn from me anything about my king. Good-bye." (ibid.)


Alexey Sklyarenko

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