Victor Fet:* š"I wonder if VN ever knew that the true-life island of Novaya Zemlya was, exactly at the time of Pale Fire publication, a site of Soviet nuclear tests…in particular (as we NOW know) the October 30, 1961 air burst explosion of Tsar Bomba, the largest, most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated….50 Megaton TNT, aka Kuz'kina Mat' (Russian: ๋ีฺุหษฮม อมิุ, Kuzma's mother) referring to Nikita Khrushchev's promise to show the United States a "Kuz'kina Mat'  at the 1960 UN General Assembly. / Tomsk or Atomsk, indeed, still to our day."šš


Jansy Mello: V. Nabokov's 1942 poem "The Refrigerator Awakes" has been cited as a stylistic example of personification or "vitalization", also of "kitsch and Americana"**š Today one of its hidden associations ( Nova Zembla's "B in her bonnet") hit me differently, namely the indications of torture, untold stories, crime, freezing death.


The doubts raised by Victor Fet concerning VN's knowledge about "the true-life island" are justified by the dates of his writing Pale Fire and the Tsar Bomba explosion but, by the early forties when VN's refrigerator lines were published in America, it's impossible to admit that the poet could have had information about how the region was being exploited at that time. And yet, there are uncanny forebodings of tragedy in it, Poe-like transformations into horror and mysterious bobolinks. š


One of these derives from the sudden shift in the poem when it moves from events in the Artic ( Nova Zembla, its "semblances", "mirrors", "parhelions" in PF) to those in the Antartic ( Shackleton, pemmican, penguin, Poe's Pymš ).

In his contribution to the VN-L (2003) Jasper Fidget mentions the mirage effect named after Novaya Zemlya. Its relation to Shackleton is present here:

"In the winter of 1596, a ship under the command of Willem Barents in search for the Northeast Passage to Asia was ice-bound off the north coast of the Russian arctic island of Novaya Zemlya (latitude 76 degrees North). Barents and his officers were astonished one day in early March to see a distorted sun appear for a short time above the horizon. They had not expected to see the breaking of the long arctic night at this latitude for another few weeks. Yet, there it appeared, approximately 5 degrees of arc higher than its actual position. Because such mirages were rarely seen by Europeans, Barents’ reports were not taken seriously by scientists of his time. Indeed, his observations were not confirmed for over three centuries when, in 1915 and half a world away, Sir Ernest Shackleton briefly observed a distorted sun suddenly visible over the horizon seven days after it had set for the Antarctic winter night./ The Novaya Zemlya mirage requires the sun’s rays to travel within an inversion layer for hundreds of kilometres. The layer must have just the right temperature gradient so that the light more or less continuously bends with the curvature of the Earth over that long distance — 400 km (250 miles) for a 5 degree elevation rise according to calculations by W.H. Lehn — to allow a sighting of the sun’s disk./With many permanent or long-term scientific settlements in polar regions established over the last fifty years, the Novaya Zemlya mirage has been more frequently observed and even photographed.


Curiously I find more omens related to the future "Kuzma's Mother," reported by Victor, in VN's brief, intense early poem than in the entire novel "Pale Fire" - but Victor's connection lit up a warning note about frozen secrets, poisonous solvents and "criminal nights" in that book.

Jansy Mello's former post: "While reading a fantasy story in the internet I was directed to a site about Novaya Zemlya [ ] where I read about this northern island and examined assorted maps. At the end of this wikipedia entry, in a reference to "Literature" Vladimir Nabokov's name was cited - but simply because of a line in his poem "The Refrigerator Awakes" (The New Yorker, June 6,1942). I copied some of the verses to provide a half-frozen context to line 27."


And if darkness could sound, it would sound like this giant

waking up in the torture house, trying to die

and not dying [...]


the line, hold the line, lest its tale be untold;

let it amble along through the thumping pain

and horror of dichlordisometing methane,

a trembling white heart with the frost froth upon it,

Nova Zembla, poor thing, with that B in her bonnet,

stunned bees in the bonnets of cars on hot roads,

Keep It Kold...[...]

of that wide-open white

god, the pride and delight

of starry-eyed couples in dream kitchenettes,

and it groans and it drones and it toils and it sweats -

Shackleton, pemmican, penguin, Poe's Pym -

collapsing at last in the criminal


**š "
The pinnacle of Nabokov’s English poetry comes unsurprisingly during his American period, where we see not only the characteristic preoccupation with kitsch and Americana (‘The Refrigerator Awakens’, ‘Ode to a Model’), but also the development and culmination of the same philosophical themes that occupied his later prose: life, death and artistic creation" Cf..the unknown nabokov, part 1: poetic prose or prosaic poetry? šby Bryan Karetnyk.š
The emphasis on early examples of "animation/vitalization" derives from an excerpt from the chapter on "Mary" found in
The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov, edited by V. E. Alexandrov, 2014 (I didn't check it in the book itself).


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