Describing the King’s escape from Zembla, Kinbote (one of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions young Baron Mandevil who was the King’s throne page on Coronation Day:


"I was looking for the shpiks [plainclothesmen]" said the King. "All day," said Odon, "they have been patrolling the quay. They are dining at present." "I'm thirsty and hungry," said the King. "There's some stuff in the boat. Let those Russians vanish. The child we can ignore." "What about that woman on the beach?" "That's young Baron Mandevil--chap who had that duel last year. Let's go now." "Couldn't we take him too?" "Wouldn't come--got a wife and a baby. Come on, Charlie, come on, Your Majesty." "He was my throne page on Coronation Day." Thus chatting, they reached the Rippleson Caves. (note to Line 149)


The name Mandevil fuses together man and the devil and brings to mind a line in Byron’s Don Juan, “Man — and, as we would hope — perhaps the devil:”


But Time, which brings all beings to their level,

And sharp Adversity, will teach at last

Man — and, as we would hope — perhaps the devil,

That neither of their intellects are vast:

While youth’s hot wishes in our red veins revel,

We know not this — the blood flows on too fast;

But as the torrent widens towards the ocean,

We ponder deeply on each past emotion. (Canto the Fourth, II)


At the end of Beppo (1817) Byron remarks that his pen is at the bottom of a page:


Whate'er his youth had suffer'd, his old age
With wealth and talking made him some amends;
Though Laura sometimes put him in a rage,
I've heard the Count and he were always friends.
My pen is at the bottom of a page,
Which being finish'd, here the story ends;
'Tis to be wish'd it had been sooner done,
But stories somehow lengthen when begun. (XCIX)


At the beginning of Vyacheslav Velikolepnyi (“Vyacheslav the Magnificent”), an essay included in his book Potestas clavium. Vlast’ klyuchey (“Power of the Keys,” 1923), Lev Shestov says that everything what comes from Vyacheslav Ivanov’s pen is extraordinarily bright:


Предо мною новая книга В. Иванова. На зелёной обложке красными буквами напечатано заглавие: «Борозды и межи». Краски яркие, заглавие яркое. И обложка не обманывает: книга, как всё, впрочем, что выходит из-под пера Вячеслава Иванова,—необыкновенно яркая.


Before me is a new book by V. Ivanov. On the green cover the title is printed in red characters: “Furrows and Boundaries.” Bright colors, bright title. And the cover does not deceive: like everything what comes from Vyacheslav Ivanov’s pen, the book is extraordinarily bright.


According to Kinbote, the king escaped from green Zembla clad in bright red clothes.


Shestov (whose pseudonym comes from shest’, “six”) was born in 1866 and died in 1938, at the age of seventy-two. Byron was born in 1788 and died in 1824, at the age of thirty-six. 72 = 36 × 2 = 6 × 6 + 6 × 6. In the first stanza of his last poem, On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year (1824), Byron says that he cannot be beloved anymore:


Tis time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!


The mad commentator of Shade’s poem, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla.


In his poem K moryu (“To the Sea,” 1824) Pushkin pairs Byron with Napoleon. In Eugene Onegin (Two: XIV: 5-7) Pushkin says that we all expect to be Napoleons and that the millions of two-legged creatures for us are orudie odno (only tools):


Но дружбы нет и той меж нами.
Все предрассудки истребя,

Мы почитаем всех нулями,
А единицами – себя.

Мы все глядим в Наполеоны;
Двуногих тварей миллионы
Для нас орудие одно;

Нам чувство дико и смешно.
Сноснее многих был Евгений;
Хоть он людей, конечно, знал
И вообще их презирал, —
Но (правил нет без исключений)
Иных он очень отличал
И вчуже чувство уважал.


But in our midst there’s even no such friendship:

Having destroyed all the prejudices,

We deem all people naughts

And ourselves units.

We all expect to be Napoleons;

the millions of two-legged creatures

for us are only tools;

feeling to us is weird and ludicrous.

More tolerant than many was Eugene,

though he, of course, knew men

and on the whole despised them;

but no rules are without exceptions:

some people he distinguished greatly

and, though estranged from it, respected feeling.


Odon = Nodo = odno (neut. of odin, “one;” in the above stanza Pushkin uses odno in the sense “only”).


A world-famous actor and Zemblan patriot who helps the King to escape from Zembla, Odon has a half-brother Nodo (“a card-sharp and despicable traitor,” Index to PF). In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) plays poker with the French twins and Dick C., a fellow student at Chose University and a card-sharp:


‘Same here, Dick,’ said Van. ‘Pity you had to rely on your crystal balls. I have often wondered why the Russian for it — I think we have a Russian ancestor in common — is the same as the German for "schoolboy," minus the umlaut’ — and while prattling thus, Van refunded with a rapidly written check the ecstatically astonished Frenchmen. Then he collected a handful of cards and chips and hurled them into Dick’s face. The missiles were still in flight when he regretted that cruel and commonplace bewgest, for the wretched fellow could not respond in any conceivable fashion, and just sat there covering one eye and examining his damaged spectacles with the other — it was also bleeding a little — while the French twins were pressing upon him two handkerchiefs which he kept good-naturedly pushing away. Rosy aurora was shivering in green Serenity Court. Laborious old Chose. (1.28)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Shivering aurora, laborious old Chose: a touch of Baudelaire.


The name Charles the Beloved seems to hint at Byron (the poet who could not be beloved anymore) and at Charles Baudelaire (1821-67), a poet who is mentioned in one of Shade’s discarded variants. Baudelaire is the author of Fleurs du mal (“Flowers of Evil,” 1857). The characters of PF include Fleur de Fyler, an elegant lady-in-waiting who attempts to seduce the young King after the death of his mother (Queen Blenda). The name Fleur also brings to mind flyor ot shlyapy (the hat’s gauze veil) mentioned by Pushkin in Eugene Onegin (Six: XLI: 11)


Под ним (как начинает капать
Весенний дождь на злак полей)
Пастух, плетя свой пёстрый лапоть,
Поёт про волжских рыбарей;
И горожанка молодая,
В деревне лето провождая,
Когда стремглав верхом она
Несётся по полям одна,
Коня пред ним остановляет,
Ремянный повод натянув,
И, флёр от шляпы отвернув,
Глазами беглыми читает
Простую надпись — и слеза
Туманит нежные глаза.


Beneath it (as begins to drip

spring rain upon the herb of fields)

the herdsman, plaiting his pied shoe of bast,

sings of the Volga fishermen;

and the young townswoman

spending the summer in the country,

when she on horseback headlong

ranges, alone, over the fields,

before it halts her steed,

tightening the leathern rein

and, turning up the gauze veil of her hat,

with skimming eyes reads

the simple scripture—and a tear

dims her soft eyes.


As to the surname de Fyler, it seems to hint at “defiler,” a word used by Timon in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens:


O thou sweet king-killer, and dear divorce
'Twixt natural son and sire! thou bright defiler
Of Hymen's purest bed! thou valiant Mars!.. (Act IV, Scene 3)

In Ada Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) “defiled” the flesh of Aqua and of her twin sister Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother):


Marina, with perverse vainglory, used to affirm in bed that Demon's senses must have been influenced by a queer sort of 'incestuous' (whatever that term means) pleasure (in the sense of the French plaisir, which works up a lot of supplementary spinal vibrato), when he fondled, and savored, and delicately parted and defiled, in unmentionable but fascinating ways, flesh (une chair) that was both that of his wife and that of his mistress, the blended and brightened charms of twin peris, an Aquamarina both single and double, a mirage in an emirate, a germinate gem, an orgy of epithelial alliterations. (1.3)


Aqua marina means in Latin “sea water” and brings to mind Pushkin’s poem K moryu (“To the Sea”). On the other hand, Akvamarin (“The Aquamarine”) is a sonnet by Balmont in which tsvety (flowers) are mentioned twice and zemlya (the Earth) is mentioned three times. Akvamarin is included in Balmont’s Sonety solntsa, myoda i luny (“The Sonnets of Sun, Honey and Moon,” 1921). In Timon of Athens (Act IV, Scene 3) Timon says that the moon snatches her pale fire from the sun.


It is Dick C. who offers Van an introduction to the Venus Villa Club (Eric Veen’s floramors):


Van fumed and fretted the rest of the morning, and after a long soak in a hot bath (the best adviser, and prompter and inspirer in the world, except, of course, the W.C. seat) decided to pen - pen is the word - a note of apology to the cheated cheater. As he was dressing, a messenger brought him a note from Lord C. (he was a cousin of one of Van's Riverlane schoolmates), in which generous Dick proposed to substitute for his debt an introduction to the Venus Villa Club to which his whole clan belonged. Such a bounty no boy of eighteen could hope to obtain. It was a ticket to paradise. Van tussled with his slightly overweight conscience (both grinning like old pals in their old gymnasium) - and accepted Dick's offer. (1.28)


“Pen is the word” brings to mind “my pen is at the bottom of a page,” Byron’s pun in Beppo.


One of the chapters in Part One of Shestov’s Potestas Clavium is entitled Eros i idei (“Eros and the Ideas”) and begins as follows:


Все ищут истины и все уверены, что, ища истину, они знают, чего ищут. Немало есть и таких, которые уже нашли истину и удивляются или возмущаются, почему другие не разделяют с ними радости по поводу такой счастливой находки. И в самом деле, почему? Почему я так ясно вижу свою правоту, а другим кажется, что никакой особенной правоты у меня нет и мои «убеждения» не имеют никаких преимуществ пред высказанными раньше другими людьми убеждениями? И, главное, почему я так настойчиво добиваюсь от других признания своей правоты? Точно ли это признание мне так необходимо? Должно быть, не так уже необходимо! Ведь с тех пор, как существует мир, никому еще не удалось заставить всех «признать» себя. Ведь не только католичество, насчитывающее сотни миллионов последователей, возвещало то, quod semper, ubique et ab omnibus creditum est. Мы часто видим, как человек, успевший собрать вокруг себя небольшой кружок верующих учеников, получает совершенное удовлетворение и воображает, что его маленький мирок —это не человечество даже, а вселенная, что не десяток слабых людей увидели в нём пророка, а что все люди, все разумные существа с ним и за него, против него же борются только закоренелые и упорные враги света и истины. В чем тайна такой слепоты?


All men seek the truth, and all are certain that in seeking the truth they know perfectly well what it is they are seeking. Many also are those who have already found the truth and who are surprised or even indignant that others are unwilling to share their joy in this happy discovery. Indeed, why is this? Why is it that I see so clearly that I am right while others believe that I possess no truth that is particularly precious and that my "convictions" offer no advantage over those of others? And, above all, why is it that I am so stubbornly bent on making others recognize that I am right? Is this "recognition" really indispensable to me? Probably it is not so indispensable as all that. For since the world has been in existence no one has ever succeeded in making himself "recognized" by everyone. And yet men continue to live and to believe in themselves. It is not only Catholicism, which counts hundreds of millions of faithful followers, that has proclaimed quod semper ubique et ab omnibus creditum est [what is believed always, everywhere, and by all]. We often see that a man who has succeeded in gathering around himself a small group of faithful disciples enjoys, thanks to them, complete satisfaction and imagines that his little world is all of humanity - indeed, not only humanity but the entire universe; it is not some dozen poor human beings who have consecrated him a prophet but all men, all reasonable beings - and only the obstinate enemies of the light and the truth refuse to recognize him. How is such blindness to be explained? (6)


Slepota (blindness) brings to mind three blind characters in Ada (one of whom is Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whom Van blinds for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada, 2.11). In his poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) Alexander Blok says that a treasure lies in his soul and the key (cf. “Power of the Keys,” the title of Shestov’s book) belongs to him alone. In his poem Blok agrees with the drunks who cry out “in vino veritas!” (in wine is truth). Blok is the author of Cherez dvenadtsat let (“After Twelve Years,” 1909), a cycle of eight poems addressed to his first love, and of Dvenadtsat’ (“The Twelve,” 1918). 12 = 6 × 2 = 4 × 3. The last words in “The Twelve” are Isus Khristos (Jesus Christ). To Pilates’ question “what is the truth?” Christ replied: “I am the truth.” At the beginning of Ada Pontius Press is mentioned:


‘All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,’ says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): All happy families etc: mistranslations of Russian classics are ridiculed here. The opening sentence of Tolstoy’s novel is turned inside out and Anna Arkadievna’s patronymic given an absurd masculine ending, while an incorrect feminine one is added to her surname. ‘Mount Tabor’ and ‘Pontius’ allude to the transfigurations (Mr G. Steiner’s term, I believe) and betrayals to which great texts are subjected by pretentious and ignorant versionists.


Btw., Shestov’s last book is Afiny i Ierusalim (“Athens and Jerusalem,” 1938).


Alexey Sklyarenko

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