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)


In the third acrostic of the cycle Safo (“Sappho,” 1892-94) Vladimir Solovyov compares himself to stogradusnyi spirt (the 100 percent alcohol):


Спиртом сначала горел я стоградусным,

Адское пламя томительно жгло...

Факелом ныне елейным и радостным

Около Вас я пылаю светло.


Solovyov’s cycle of eighteen acrostics was addressed to Sofia Martynov (the woman whom the philosopher loved). In VN’s novel Podvig (“Glory,” 1932) Sofia is the name of Martin’s mother and of the girl (Sonya Zilanov) with whom Martin is in love. Kinbote’s Zembla in PF has a lot in common with Martin’s and Sonya’s Zoorland in Glory.


The “real” name of Sybil Shade (Shade’s wife) seems to be Sofia Botkin (b. Lastochkin). In VN’s story The Vane Sisters (1951) Sybil Vane is the younger sister who committed suicide and who, in the story’s last paragraph, sends to the narrator a message in the form of an acrostic:


I could isolate, consciously, little. Everything seemed blurred, yellow-clouded, yielding nothing tangible. Her inept acrostics, maudlin evasions, theopathies-- every recollection formed ripples of mysterious meaning. Everything seemed yellowly blurred, illusive, lost. (“Icicles from Cynthia meter from me Sybil”)


In the cycle’s fourth acrostic Solovyov compares his beloved to arfa serafima (a seraph’s harp) and fontan blazhenstv (the fountain of bliss):


Стройна, как арфа серафима,

Авроры розовой нежней,

Фонтан блаженств неистощимый,

Облей водой меня скорей!


Pushkin’s poem V chasy zabav il’ prazdnoy skuki… (“In the hours of pastime or idle tedium…” 1830) addressed to Metropolitan Philaret* ends in the lines:


Твоим огнём душа палима
Отвергла мрак земных сует,

И внемлет арфе серафима
В священном ужасе поэт.


Scorched by your fire, my soul

has rejected the gloom of earthly vanities,

and in sacred terror the poet harkens

to the harp of the seraph.


In his essay M. Yu. Lermontov – poet sverkhchelovtchestva (“Lermontov as a Poet of the Superhuman,” 1911) Merezhkovski says that Lermontov was the first Russian writer who raised the religious question about evil and quotes the closing lines of Pushkin’s “famous epistle to Metropolitan Philaret” (in which the poet mentions “the harp of the seraph”):


Лермонтов первый в русской литературе поднял религиозный вопрос о зле.
Пушкин почти не касался этого вопроса. Трагедия разрешалась для него примирением эстетическим. Когда же случилось ему однажды откликнуться и на вопрос о зле, как на все откликался он, подобно «эху»:

Дар напрасный, дар случайный,
Жизнь, зачем ты нам дана? –

то вместо религиозного ответа удовольствовался он плоскими стишками известного сочинителя православного катехизиса, митрополита Филарета, которому написал своё знаменитое послание:

И внемлет арфе серафима
В священном ужасе поэт. (chapter VII)


In the same sentence of his essay on Lermontov Merezhkovski quotes (incorrectly) Pushkin’s poem Dar naprasnyi, dar sluchaynyi… (“A vain gift, a chance gift…). Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) is a novel (completed one hundred years after Pushkin’s death) by Sirin (VN’s Russian nom de plume). One of its characters, Alexander Yakovlevich Chernyshevski, went mad after the suicide of his son Yasha (who was hopelessly in love with a German boy). A diminutive of Yakov, Yasha brings to mind Gradus’ first name, Jakob. According to Kinbote, the grotesque figure of Gradus (who is also known as de Grey) is a cross between bat and crab (note to Line 171). Describing Alexander Yakovlevich’s agony, Fyodor Konstantinovich (the narrator and main character in “The Gift”) mentions his hand crusted with grey eczema stirring like crawfish on the sheet:


После этого он уже почти не говорил, впав в состояние сумеречное; Фёдор Константинович был допущен к нему и навсегда запомнил седую щетину на впалых щеках, потускневшую лысину и руку в серой экземе, шевелившуюся как рак на простыне.


After this he hardly spoke, having fallen into a twilight condition; Fyodor was admitted to him and forever remembered the white bristle on his sunken cheeks, the dull shade of his bald head, and the hand crusted with gray eczema, stirring like a crawfish on the sheet. (Chapter Five)


According to Kinbote, Martin Gradus (Gradus’ father) had been a Protestant minister in Riga. At the last minute Alexander Yakovlevich had turned out to be a Protestant:


Адвокат Чарский искренне сморкался; Васильев, имевший, как общественный деятель, большой траурный опыт, внимательно следил за паузами пастора (Александр Яковлевич в последнюю минуту оказался лютеранином); Инженер Керн бесстрастно поблескивал стеклами пенснэ; Горяинов всё высвобождал из воротничков полную шею, но до покашливания не доходил;  дамы, бывавшие у Чернышевских, сидели все вместе; вместе сидели и писатели, -- Лишневский, Шахматов, Ширин; было много людей, Федору Константиновичу незнакомых -- например, чопорный господин с белокурой бородкой и необыкновенно красными губами (кажется, двоюродный брат покойного), да какие-то немцы, с цилиндрами на коленях, деликатно сидевшие в последнем ряду.


The lawyer Charski sincerely blew his nose; Vasiliev, who as a public figure had had a great deal of funeral experience, carefully followed the parson’s pauses (Alexander Yakovlevich had turned out at the last minute to be a Protestant). Engineer Kern flashed the lenses of his pince-nez impassively. Goryainov repeatedly freed his fat neck from its collar but did not go so far as to clear his throat; the ladies who had used to visit the Chernyshevskis all sat together; the writers also sat together—Lishnevski, Shahmatov and Shirin; there were many people whom Fyodor did not know—for instance, a prim gentleman with a blond little beard and unusually red lips (a cousin, it seemed, of the dead man), and also some Germans with top hats on their knees, who tactfully sat in the back row. (ibid.)


Privet ministram (“A Salute to the Ministers,” 1891) is a humorous poem by V. Solovyov. Anna Kern, to whom Pushkin’s poem K… (“To…” 1825) is addressed, came to Mikhaylovskoe (Pushkin’s country seat in the Province of Pskov) from Riga.


In his essay on Lermontov Merezhkovski says that there were two men in Lermontov and quotes Pechorin’s words in A Hero of Our Time (Lermontov’s novel alluded to by Kinbote in his Commentary):


"В Лермонтове было два человека", -- говорит близко знавшее его лицо. -- "Во мне два человека,-- говорит Печорин. -- Я сделался нравственным калекою: одна половина души моей высохла, умерла, я её отрезал и бросил; тогда как другая шевелилась и жила к услугам каждого, и этого никто не заметил, потому что никто не знал о существовании погибшей её половины".

Главная ошибка, кажется, впрочем, не самого Лермонтова, а Печорина, заключается в том, что он считает отрезанную половину окончательно погибшею, тогда как обе половины одинаково живы метафизически, и лишь эмпирически одна половина подавила другую. (chapter IV)


According to Pechorin, there are two men in him. “I became a moral cripple: one half of my soul had wizened and died, I cut it off and threw away, while another half stirred and lived at everybody’s service, and no one noticed this, because no one knew about the existence of the lost half.”


An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote (the commentator of Shade’s poem who imagines that he is the last self-exiled King of Zembla, Charles the Beloved) and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of her father’s poem). Nadezhda (“Hope,” 1831) is a poem by Lermontov beginning: Est’ ptichka raya u menya… (I have a bird of paradise…). In 1841 Lermontov was killed in a pistol duel with Martynov.


Bog + nikto + alkogol’ + shum = Botkin + Gogol’ + shkola + um


Bog – God

nikto – nobody; Lermontov’s poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1831) ends in the line: ya ili Bog ili nikto, (“myself, or God, or nobody”)

alkogol’ – alcohol

shum – noise; din

Gogol’ – Gogol in Russian spelling

shkola – school

um – mind, intellect; wits


In the third (and last) stanza of Pushkin’s poem Dar naprasnyi, dar sluchaynyium rhymes with shum:


26 мая 1828


Дар напрасный, дар случайный,
Жизнь, зачем ты мне дана?
Иль зачем судьбою тайной
Ты на казнь осуждена?


Кто меня враждебной властью
Из ничтожества воззвал,
Душу мне наполнил страстью,
Ум сомненьем взволновал?..


Цели нет передо мною:
Сердце пусто, празден ум,
И томит меня тоскою
Однозвучный жизни шум.


A gift in vain, a gift by chance,
O Life, why have you been given to me?
And why have you been sentenced to death
By inscrutable fate?


Who has called me forth from nothingness
By his hostile power,
And filled my soul with suffering
And my mind with anguishing doubt?…


There is no goal before me:
My heart is empty, my mind lies idle,
And the monotonous din of life
torments me with anguish.


In Pushkin’s sonnet Poetu (“To a Poet,” 1830), in which the author tells to a poet: ty – tsar’, zhivi odin (“you are the King, live alone”), there is a rhyme shumugryum (gloomy) – um – dum (of thoughts).


*Vasiliy Drozdov (1782-1867); the name Drozdov comes from drozd (thrush; blackbird); according to Shede, he “was the shadow of the waxwing”


Alexey Sklyarenko

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