Like Humbert Humbert in VN’s novel Lolita (1955), the protagonist of VN’s story Volshebnik (“The Enchanter,” 1939) marries the mother of the little girl with whom he fell in love. He loves his step-daughter, but opechatka zhelaniya (the misprint of desire) distorts smysl lyubvi (the meaning of love):
Пусть в будущем свобода действий, свобода особого и его повторений, всё осветит и согласует; пока, сейчас, сегодня, опечатка желания искажала смысл любви; оно служило, это тёмное место, как бы помехой, которую надо было как можно скорее раздавить, стереть, -- любым предлогом наслаждения, -- чтобы в награду получить возможность смеяться вместе с ребёнком, понявшим наконец шутку, бескорыстно печься о нём, волну отцовства совмещать с волной
Smysl lyubvi (“The Meaning of Love,” 1892-93) is a series of five articles by Vladimir Solovyov. In the fifth article the author quotes four poems by Afanasiy Fet: Alter ego (1879), Izmuchen zhizn’yu, kovarstvom nadezhdy… (“Tormented by Life, by Hope’s Deceit…” 1864), Naprasno (“In Vain,” 1852) and Poetam (“To Poets,” 1890).
In 1857 Fet married Maria Botkin. In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) the poet Shade, Dr Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is the last self-exiled king of Zembla, Charles the Beloved) and the killer Gradus (Shade’s murderer) seem to represent three parts of Botkin’s ego. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his beloved daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade’s “real” name).
In Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions a misprint in Jim Coates’ article about Mrs. Z.’s heart attack:
I also called on Coates.
He was afraid he had mislaid her notes.
He took his article from a steel file:
"It's accurate. I have not changed her style.
There's one misprint--not that it matters much:
Mountain, not fountain. The majestic touch.”
Life Everlasting--based on a misprint! (ll. 797-803)
In his Commentary Kinbote speaks of the impossibility to transform at one stroke "mountain" into "fountain" in other languages and mentions a series of misprints in a Russian text that finds a parallel in a similar series in English:
Translators of Shade's poem are bound to have trouble with the transformation, at one stroke, of "mountain" into "fountain:" it cannot be rendered in French or German, or Russian, or Zemblan; so the translator will have to put it into one of those footnotes that are the rogue's galleries of words. However! There exists to my knowledge one absolutely extraordinary, unbelievably elegant case, where not only two, but three words are involved. The story itself is trivial enough (and probably apocryphal). A newspaper account of a Russian tsar's coronation had, instead of korona (crown), the misprint vorona (crow), and when next day this apologetically "corrected," it got misprinted a second time as korova (cow). The artistic correlation between the crown-crow-cow series and the Russian korona-vorona-korova series is something that would have, I am sure, enraptured my poet. I have seen nothing like it on lexical playfields and the odds against the double coincidence defy computation. (note to Line 803)
In his humorous poem “To L. M. Lopatin” (1897) V. Solovyov mentions korova, vorona and the tsar’s – no, not korona – aktsiz (the excise-duty, alcohol monopoly):
Левон! ты феномен! Российскому акцизу
Феноменальный ты даёшь доход.
Взгляну ли на тебя я сверху или снизу —
Ты феномен… Но феномен и Грот!
Мы все феномены, всем тварям по закону
Субстанциями быть запрещено,—
Куда б ни метил ты: в корову иль в ворону,—
Субстанцию минуешь всё равно.
Итак, Левон, будь твёрд, и царскому акцизу
Потщись доход являемый платить
Не прыгай слишком вверх и не спускайся книзу:
Феномену субстанцией не быть!
According to Kinbote, almost all of Gradus’ relatives were in the liquor business:
By an extraordinary coincidence (inherent perhaps in the contrapuntal nature of Shade's art) out poet seems to name here (gradual, gray) a man, whom he was to see for one fatal moment three weeks later, but of whose existence at the time (July 2) he could not have known. Jakob Gradus called himself variously Jack Degree or Jacques de Grey, or James de Gray, and also appears in police records as Ravus, Ravenstone, and d'Argus. Having a morbid affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era, he contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus. His father, Martin Gradus, had been a Protestant minister in Riga, but except for him and a maternal uncle (Roman Tselovalnikov, police officer and part-time member of the Social-Revolutionary party), the whole clan seems to have been in the liquor business. (note to Line 17)
The name Tselovalnikov comes from tseloval’nik (inn-keeper, publican), the noun that comes from tselovat’ (“to kiss;” in the tsarist Russia the inn-keepers had to swear an oath, a procedure that involved kissing a cross).
The name Lopatin (of Solovyov’s friend and fellow philosopher to whom Solovyov’s poem is addressed) comes from lopata (spade). Balthazar, Prince of Loam (as Kinbote dubbed his black gardener) hits Gradus with his spade:
One of the bullet that spared me struck him in the side and went through his heart. His presence behind me abruptly failing me caused me to lose my balance, and, simultaneously, to complete the farce of fate, my gardener's spade dealt gunman Jack from behind the hedge a tremendous blow to the pate, felling him and sending his weapon flying from his grasp. Our savior retrieved it and helped me to my feet. (note to Line 1000)
“Our savior” brings to mind nash bozhestvennyi spasitel’ (our divine Savior) mentioned by Pushkin (the poet who had African blood) in his sonnet Madona (“Madonna,” 1830):
Не множеством картин старинных мастеров
Украсить я всегда желал свою обитель,
Чтоб суеверно им дивился посетитель,
Внимая важному сужденью знатоков.
В простом углу моем, средь медленных трудов,
Одной картины я желал быть вечно зритель,
Одной: чтоб на меня с холста, как с облаков,
Пречистая и наш божественный спаситель —
Она с величием, он с разумом в очах —
Взирали, кроткие, во славе и в лучах,
Одни, без ангелов, под пальмою Сиона.
Исполнились мои желания. Творец
Тебя мне ниспослал, тебя, моя Мадона,
Чистейшей прелести чистейший образец.
Not by old masters, rich on crowded walls,
My house I ever sought to ornament,
That gaping guests might marvel while they bent
To connoisseurs with condescending drawls.
Amidst slow labors, far from garish halls,
Before one picture I would fain have spent
Eternity: where the calm canvas thralls
As though the Virgin and our Saviour leant
From regnant clouds, the Glorious and the Wise,
The meek and hallowed, with unearthly eyes,
Beneath the palm of Zion, these alone. . . .
My wish is granted: God has shown thy face
To me; here, my Madonna, thou shalt throne:
Most pure exemplar of the purest grace.
(transl. Deutsch & Yarmolinsky)
In a letter of August 21, 1831, to Pushkin Gogol fluffs the name of Pushkin’s wife (the Madonna of his sonnet) and calls her “Nadezhda Nikolavna:”
Прощайте. Да сохранит вас бог вместе с Надеждою Николавною от всего недоброго и пошлёт здравие на веки. А также да будет его благословение и над Жуковским.
In his reply of August 25, 1831, Pushkin says that your Nadezhda Nikolaevna, i. e. my Natalia Nikolaevna thanks you for the memory:
Ваша Надежда Николаевна, т. е. моя Наталья Николаевна благодарит вас за воспоминание и сердечно кланяется вам.
Nadezhda Nikolaevna (1885) is a short novel by Vsevolod Garshin. The name of its main character and narrator is Lopatin. In March of 1888 Garshin (the writer who suffered from a mental illness) committed suicide by falling across the banisters. According to Kinbote,
Of the note very many ways known of shedding one's body, falling, falling, falling is the supreme method, but you have to select your sill or ledge very carefully so as not to hurt yourself or others. Jumping from a high bridge is not recommended even if you cannot swim, for wind and water abound in weird contingencies, and tragedy ought not to culminate in a record dive or a policeman's promotion. If you rent a cell in the luminous waffle, room 1915 or 1959, in a tall business center hotel browing the star dust, and pull up the window, and gentle--not fall, not jump--but roll out as you should for air comfort, there is always the chance of knocking clean through into your own hell a pacific noctambulator walking his dog; in this respect a back room might be safer, especially if giving on the roof of an old tenacious normal house far below where a cat may be trusted to flash out of the way. Another popular take-off is a mountaintop with a sheer drop of say 500 meters but you must find it, because you will be surprised how easy it is to miscalculate your deflection offset, and have some hidden projection, some fool of a crag, rush forth to catch you, causing you to bounce off it into the brush, thwarted, mangled and unnecessarily alive. The ideal drop is from an aircraft, your muscles relaxed, your pilot puzzled, your packed parachute shuffled off, cast off, shrugged off--farewell, shootka (little chute)! Down you go, but all the while you feel suspended and buoyed as you somersault in slow motion like a somnolent tumbler pigeon, and sprawl supine on the eiderdown of the air, or lazily turn to embrace your pillow, enjoying every last instant of soft, deep, death-padded life, the voluptuous crucifixion, as you stretch yourself in the growing rush, in the nearing swish, and then your loved body's obliteration in the Lap of the Lord. If I were a poet I would certainly make an ode to the sweet urge to close one's eyes and surrender utterly unto the perfect safety of wooed death. Ecstatically one forefeels the vastness of the Divine Embrace enfolding one's liberated spirit, the warm bath of physical dissolution, the universal unknown engulfing the miniscule unknown that had been the only real part of one's temporary personality. (note to Line 493)
Balthazar is one of the three Magi. Volkhvy (“The Magi,” 1888) is a story by Vsevolod Solovyov (the philosopher’s brother). In PF Botkin’s first name seems to be Vsevolod.
Vladimir Solovyov is the author of a doctrine about Divine Sophia. Sybil Shade’s “real” name seems to be Sofia Botkin (b. Lastockin). Lastochka is Russian for “swallow;” the name Solovyov comes from solovey (nightingale).
In Garshin’s Nadezhda Nikolaevna Sonya (a diminutive of Sofia) is Lopatin’s sister who nurses her ill brother after he killed Bessonov (Nadezhda Nikolaevna’s murderer) with an alpenstock. Garshin’s novella ends as follows:
Но для человеческой совести нет писаных законов, нет учения о невменяемости, и я несу за своё преступление казнь. Мне недолго уже нести её. Скоро господь простит меня, и мы встретимся все трое там, где наши страсти и страдания покажутся нам ничтожными и потонут в свете вечной любви.
Soon God will forgive me and all three of us will meet there where our passions and sufferings will appear to us insignificant and will drown in the light of eternal love.
There is a hope (nadezhda) that, after Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Shade, Kinbote and Gradus will meet and, like Count Vorontsov (the target of Pushkin’s epigrams), Botkin will be “full” again.
In Canto Two of his poem Shade speaks of love that he feels for his wife:
I love you when you're standing on the lawn
Peering at something in a tree: "It's gone
It was so small. It might come back" (all this
Voiced in a whisper softer than a kiss).
I love you when you call me to admire
A jet's pink trail above the sunset fire.
I love you when you're humming as you pack
A suitcase or the farcical car sack
With round-trip zipper. And I love you most
When with a pensive nod you greet her ghost
And hold her first toy on your palm, or look
At a postcard from her, found in a book. (ll. 281-292)
Shade’s alter ego, Kinbote asks God to rid him of his love for little boys (the Enchanter’s “misprint of desire”):
After winding for about four miles in a general eastern direction through a beautifully sprayed and irrigated residential section with variously graded lawns sloping down on both sides, the highway bifurcates: one branch goes left to New Wye and its expectant airfield; the other continues to the campus. Here are the great mansions of madness, the impeccably planned dormitories – bedlams of jungle music – the magnificent palace of the Administration, the brick walls, the archways, the quadrangles blocked out in velvet green and chrysoprase, Spencer House and its lily pond, the Chapel, New Lecture Hall, the Library, the prisonlike edifice containing our classrooms and offices (to be called from now on Shade Hall), the famous avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare, a distant droning sound, the hint of a haze, the turquoise dome of the Observatory, wisps and pale plumes of cirrus, and the poplar-curtained Roman-tiered football field, deserted on summer days except for a dreamy-eyed youngster flying - on a long control line in a droning circle - a motor-powered model plane.
Dear Jesus, do something. (note to Lines 47-48)
Kinbote’s plea brings to mind Pushkin’s poem Naprasno ya begu k sionskim vysotam (“In vain I run to the heights of Zion…” 1836) in which the poet compares himself to a hungry lion that buried its nose in the quicksand and follows a deer’s smelly run:
Напрасно я бегу к сионским высотам,
Грех алчный гонится за мною по пятам...
Так, ноздри пыльные уткнув в песок сыпучий,
Голодный лев следит оленя бег пахучий.
This little poem was written after Podrazhanie Ital’yanskomu (“Imitation of the Italian”) dated “June 22, 1836” in Pushkin’s MS and before Iz Pindemonti (“From Pindemonte”), the poem attributed to the Italian poet Ippolito Pindemonte and dated “July 5, 1836” in Pushkin’s MS. July 5 is Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ birthday (S was born in 1898, K and G in 1915).
In his poem Podrazhanie arabskomu ("Imitation of the Arabic," 1835) Pushkin addresses otrok (a lad) and compares himself and the lad to dvoynoy oreshek pod edinoy skorlupoy ("the kernel of a double nut under a single shell"):
Отрок милый, отрок нежный,
Не стыдись, навек ты мой;
Тот же в нас огонь мятежный,
Жизнью мы живём одной.
Не боюся я насмешек:
Мы сдвоились меж собой,
Мы точь в точь двойной орешек
Под единой скорлупой.
Sweet lad, tender lad,
Have no shame, you're mine for good;
We share a sole insurgent fire,
We live in boundless brotherhood.
I do not fear the gibes of men;
One being split in two we dwell,
The kernel of a double nut
Embedded in a single shell.
The Arabian Nights (an Arabic collection of fairy tales) are also known as One Thousand and One Nights. It seems to me that, in its finished form, Shade’s poem should have 1001 lines. While Line 1000 is identical to Line 1 (“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), Line 1001 (“By its own double in the windowpane”) is the poem’s coda. In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol mentions the Italian sonetto colla coda and in a footnote explains that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as “sonnet with the tail” (con la coda), when the idea cannot not be expressed in fourteen lines and entails an appendix that can be longer than the sonnet itself:
В италиянской поэзии существует род стихотворенья, известного под именем сонета с хвостом (con la coda), когда мысль не вместилась и ведёт за собою прибавление, которое часто бывает длиннее самого сонета.
Therefore, the entire Kinbote’s Foreword, Commentary and Index can be regarded as the coda of Shade’s poem.