In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote (Shade’s neighbor who was not invited to the birthday party) gives Shade the third and last volume of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (“In Search of Lost Time”) as a birthday present:


"Speaking of novels," I said, "you remember we decided once you, your husband and I, that Proust's rough masterpiece was a huge ghoulish fairy tale, an asparagus dream, totally unconnected with any possible people in any historical France, a sexual transvestissement and a colossal farce, the vocabulary of genius and its poetry, but no more, impossibly rude hostesses, please let me speak, and even ruder guests, mechanical Dostoevskian rows and Tolstoian nuances of snobbishness repeated and expanded to an unsufferable length, adorable seascapes, melting avenues, no, do not interrupt me, light and shade effects rivaling those of the greatest English poets, a flora of metaphors, described--by Cocteau, I think--as 'a mirage of suspended gardens,' and, I have not yet finished, an absurd, rubber-and-wire romance between a blond young blackguard (the fictitious Marcel), and an improbable jeune fille who has a pasted-on bosom, Vronski's (and Lyovin's) thick neck, and a cupid's buttocks for cheeks; but--and now let me finish sweetly--we were wrong, Sybil, we were wrong in denying our little beau tenebreux the capacity of evoking 'human interest': it is there, it is there--maybe a rather eighteenth-centuryish, or even seventeenth-centuryish, brand, but it is there. Please, dip, or redip, spider, into this book [offering it], you will find a pretty marker in it, bought in France, I want John to keep it. Au revoir, Sybil, I must go now. I think my telephone is ringing."

I am a very sly Zemblan. Just in case, I had brought with me in my pocket the third and last volume of the Bibliotheque de la Pleiade edition, Paris, 1954, of Proust's work, wherein I had marked certain passages on pages 269-271. Mme. de Mortemart, having decided that Mme. de Valcourt would not be among the "elected" at her soiree, intended to send her a note on the next day saying "Death Edith, I miss you, last night I did not expect you too much (Edith would wonder: how could she at all, since she did not invite me?) because I know you are not overfond of this sort of parties which, if anything, bore you."

So much for John Shade's last birthday. (note 181)


In Le temps retrouvé (“Time Retrieved”), the seventh and last volume of Proust’s novel, Dr Cottard tells the narrator that he has witnessed actual duplications of personality and Mme Cottard mentions the Scotchman Stevenson, her children’s favorite writer:


Et la suggestive dissertation passa, sur un signe gracieux de la maîtresse de maison, de la salle à manger au fumoir vénitien dans lequel Cottard me dit avoir assisté à de véritables dédoublements de la personnalité, nous citant le cas d’un de ses malades, qu’il s’offre aimablement à m’amener chez moi et à qui il suffisait qu’il touchât les tempes pour l’éveiller à une seconde vie, vie pendant laquelle il ne se rappelait rien de la première, si bien que, très honnête homme dans celle-là, il y aurait été plusieurs fois arrêté pour des vols commis dans l’autre où il serait tout simplement un abominable gredin. Sur quoi Mme Verdurin remarque finement que la médecine pourrait fournir des sujets plus vrais à un théâtre où la cocasserie de l’imbroglio reposerait sur des méprises pathologiques, ce qui, de fil en aiguille, amène Mme Cottard à narrer qu’une donnée toute semblable a été mise en œuvre par un amateur qui est le favori des soirées de ses enfants, l’Écossais Stevenson, un nom qui met dans la bouche de Swann cette affirmation péremptoire : « Mais c’est tout à fait un grand écrivain, Stevenson, je vous assure, M. de Goncourt, un très grand, l’égal des plus grands. »


This suggestive dissertation continued, on a gracious sign from the mistress of the house, from the dining-room into the Venetian smoking-room where Cottard told me he had witnessed actual duplications of personality, giving as example the case of one of his patients whom he amiably offers to bring to see me, in whose case Cottard has merely to touch his temples to usher him into a second life, a life in which he remembers nothing of the other, so much so that, a very honest man in this one, he had actually been arrested several times for thefts committed in the other during which he had been nothing less than a disgraceful scamp. Upon which Mme Verdurin acutely remarks that medicine could furnish subjects truer than a theatre where the humour of an imbroglio is founded upon pathological mistakes, which from thread to needle brought Mme Cottard to relate that a similar notion had been made use of by an amateur who is the prime favourite at her children’s evening parties, the Scotchman Stevenson, a name which forced from Swann the peremptory affirmation: ‘But Stevenson is a great writer, I can assure you, M. de Goncourt, a very great one, equal to the greatest.’


In his Cornell lecture on R. L. Stevenson VN points out that in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson’s novella that Mme Cottard has in mind) there are really three personalities: Jekyll, Hyde and a third, the Jekyll residue when Hyde takes over. Shade’s birthday, July 5, is also Kinbote’s and Gradus’ birthday (Shade was born in 1898, Kinbote and Gradus were born in 1915). The poet Shade, his mad commentator Kinbote and his murderer Gradus seem to represent three different aspects of Botkin’s personality. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of her father’s poem). In Canto Two of Pale Fire Shade speaks of his daughter and says that she twisted words:


                                  She twisted words: pot, top
Spider, redips.
And"powder" was "red wop."
She called you a didactic katydid.

She hardly ever smiled, and when she did,
It was a sign of pain. (ll. 347-351)


According to Kinbote, it was he who observed one day that “spider” in reverse is “redips:”


One of the examples her father gives is odd. I am quite sure it was I who one day, when we were discussing "mirror words," observed (and I recall the poet's expression of stupefaction) that "spider" in reverse is "redips," and "T.S. Eliot," "toilest." But then it is also true that Hazel Shade resembled me in certain respects. (note to Lines 347-348)


Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to hint at Dr Botkin, the last Russian tsar’s physician who refused to leave his patients (poor Prince Aleksey suffered from hemophilia) and was executed with them. In the period between August 1917 and April 1918, before they were moved to Yekaterinburg, Nicholas II and his family lived in exile in Tobolsk. In Le temps retrouvé Poust mentions Tobolsk:


Mais peut-être Albertine avait-elle voulu me dire cela pour avoir l’air plus expérimentée qu’elle n’était et pour m’éblouir, à Paris, du prestige de sa perversité comme la première fois, à Balbec, par celui de sa vertu. Et tout simplement, quand je lui avais parlé des femmes qui aimaient les femmes, pour ne pas avoir l’air de ne pas savoir ce que c’était, comme dans une conversation on prend un air entendu si on parle de Fourier ou de Tobolsk encore qu’on ne sache pas ce que c’est.


And perhaps Albertine told me all this so as to appear more experienced than she was and to astonish me with the prestige of her perversity in Paris, as at first by the prestige of her virtue at Balbec. So, quite simply, when I spoke to her about women who loved women, she answered as she did, in order not to seem to be unaware of what I meant, as in a conversation one assumes an understanding air when somebody talks of Fourrier or of Tobolsk without even knowing what these names mean.


In Canto Two of Pale Fire Shade mentions the talks with Socrates and Proust in cypress walks:


So why join in the vulgar laughter? Why
Scorn a hereafter none can verify:
The Turk's delight, the future lyres, the talks
With Socrates and Proust in cypress walks,
The seraph with his six flamingo wings,
And Flemish hells with porcupines and things?
It isn't that we dream too wild a dream:
The trouble is we do not make it seem
Sufficiently unlikely; for the most
We can think up is a domestic ghost. (ll. 221-230)


In Zhiznennaya drama Platona (“Plato’s Life-Drama”), a preface to his Russian translation (1898) of Plato’s Dialogues, Vladimir Solovyov (the philosopher whose brother Vsevolod was a novelist) says that Plato’s life-drama began with Socrates’ suicide:


Сократ должен был умереть как преступник. Вот трагический удар в самом начале жизненной драмы Платона. Подобно некоторым древним трагедиям, а также шекспировскому Гамлету, эта драма не только кончается, но и начинается трагической катастрофой. (XII)


Solovyov compares Plato’s life-drama to ancient tragedies and to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In his Index to PF, the entry on Botkin, V., Kinbote mentions botkin or bodkin, a Danish stiletto:


Botkin, V., American scholar of Russian descent, 894; king-bot, maggot of extinct fly that once bred in mammoths and is thought to have hastened their phylogenetic end, 247; bottekin-maker, 71; bot, plop, and boteliy, big-bellied (Russ.); botkin or bodkin, a Danish stiletto.


In his famous monologue (“To be or not to be…”) in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet mentions a bare bodkin:


For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? (3.1)


One of the Russian translations of Hamlet, with an extensive commentary, was made by KR (the Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov, 1858-1915). A pupil of Afanasiy Fet (the poet who was married to Maria Botkin, Dr Eugene Botkin’s aunt), KR was born one hundred years before G. Ivanov’s death and died in the year of Kinbote’s and Gradus’ birth. In his memoirs Peterburgskie zimy (“The St. Petersburg Winters,” 1931) G. Ivanov (the author of a little poem in which the old postcard with the tsar’s family is described) quotes an entry in Alexander Blok’s diary:


В дневнике Блока 1909 г. есть запись: "говорил с Георгием Ивановым о Платоне. Он ушёл от меня другим человеком".


In Blok’s diary for 1909 there is an entry: “I talked with Georgiy Ivanov about Plato. When he left me, he was a different man.”


In the preceding paragraph of his (extremely unreliable) memoirs G. Ivanov mentions his question “does a sonnet need a coda” and his surprise when Blok, a celebrated maitre, replied that he did not know what a coda is:


Зачем Блок писал длинные письма или вел долгие разговоры со мной, желторотым подростком, с вечными вопросами о технике поэзии на языке? Время от времени какой-нибудь такой вопрос с моего языка срывался.

— Александр Александрович, нужна ли кода к сонету? — спросил я как-то. К моему изумлению, Блок, знаменитый «мэтр», вообще не знал, что такое кода…


It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane).


Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1914) by Blok. Dostoevski is the author of Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875). Ulichnyi podrostok (“The Street Adolescent,” 1914) is a sonnet with the coda by G. Ivanov. One of G. Ivanov’s early collections of poetry is entitled Veresk (“Heather,” 1916) and brings to mind R. L. Stevenson’s ballad Heather Ale (1895). Ivanov’s Veresk was reviewed in Severnye zapiski (“Northern Notes”) by Sofia Parnok (Marina Tsvetaev’s lover who wrote under the penname Andrey Polyanin). Sybil Shade’s “real” name seems to be Sofia Botkin. In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron, o, bez sozhalen’ya… (“Like Byron to Greece, oh, without regret…” 1927) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon’ (pale fire).


In PF Gradus seems to be Kinbote’s double who kills Shade by mistake. There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on October 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin will be “full” again.


Alexey Sklyarenko

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