In the last stanza of his poem The Nature of Electricity John Shade (the poet in VNs novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions the torments of a Tamerlane:

 

The dead, the gentle dead--who knows?--
In tungsten filaments abide,
And on my bedside table glows
Another man's departed bride.

 

And maybe Shakespeare floods a whole
Town with innumerable lights,
And Shelley's incandescent soul
Lures the pale moths of starless nights.

 

Streetlamps are numbered, and maybe
Number nine-hundred-ninety-nine
(So brightly beaming through a tree
So green) is an old friend of mine.

 

And when above the livid plain
Forked lightning plays, therein may dwell
The torments of a Tamerlane,
The roar of tyrants torn in hell. (note to Line 347).

 

Tamerlane (1827) is a poem by E. A. Poe (1809-49). Poe is the author of Ulalume (1847), a ballad. Describing Hazel Shades investigations in the Haunted Barn, Kinbote mentions the electric storm and its theatrical ululations and flashes:

 

Her parents permitted her to make a nocturnal visit to the barn only under the condition that Jane P.--deemed a pillar of reliability--accompany her. Hardly had the girls settled down when an electric storm that was to last all night enveloped their refuge with such theatrical ululations and flashes as to make it impossible to attend to any indoor sounds or lights. (ibid.)

 

According to Kinbote, Hazel Shade spent a night in the Haunted Barn in October of 1856:

 

This barn, or rather shed, where "certain phenomena" occurred in October 1956 (a few months prior to Hazel Shade's death) had belonged to one Paul Hentzner, an eccentric farmer of German extraction, with old-fashioned hobbies such as taxidermy and herborizing.

 

In Poes Ulalume the action takes place in October:

 

The skies they were ashen and sober;

The leaves they were crisped and sere

The leaves they were withering and sere;

It was night in the lonesome October

Of my most immemorial year:

It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,

In the misty mid region of Weir

It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

 

Hazel Shades real name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin (after her suicide her father, Professor Vsevolod Botkin, went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus). Nadezhda means in Russian hope. In Ulalum Poe mentions a lights Sybilic splendor beaming with Hope and in Beauty:

 

I replied"This is nothing but dreaming:

Let us on by this tremulous light!

Let us bathe in this crystalline light!

Its Sybilic splendor is beaming

With Hope and in Beauty to-night:

See!it flickers up the sky through the night!

Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,

And be sure it will lead us aright

We safely may trust to a gleaming

That cannot but guide us aright,

Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night."

 

Sybilic splendor brings to mind Sybil Shade, the poets wife (whose real name seems to be Sofia Botkin, born Lastochkin).

 

In his poem My napryazhyonnogo molchanya ne vynosim (We cannot bear strained silence 1913) Mandelshtam mentions a man out of a nightmare who is reading Ulalume:

 

ߧѧاקߧߧԧ ާݧѧߧ ߧ ӧߧڧ
֧ӧ֧֧ߧӧ է ҧڧէߧ, ߧѧܧߧ֧!
٧ѧާ֧ѧ֧ݧӧ ҧӧڧݧ ֧,
ѧէߧ ֧ԧ ڧӧ֧ӧӧѧݧ: ڧ!

 

ѧ ٧ߧѧ, ܧ ٧է֧ ڧӧӧѧ ߧ֧٧ڧާ:
ާѧߧ ֧ݧӧ֧ ڧѧ֧ «ݧݧ».
ߧѧ֧ߧ ֧, ݧӧ ݧܧ ,
ԧէ ߧ֧ڧܧ ݧاѧߧܧ ֧ѧڧާ.

 

էާ ֧ էԧѧ ֧ݧ ѧ.
֧٧ާߧ ӧէ ڧ, ߧݧ ާݧ.
ҧ ߧ ݧڧ. ӧڧ֧ ֧ߧߧڧ קݧ...
ԧݧ ԧ֧֧ קݧ ֧ܧ֧ԧ ѧ...

 

According to Mandelshtam, meaning is mere vanity and the word is only noise, when phonetics is sluzhanka serafima (the seraphs handmaid). At the beginning of VNs novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert mentions the seraphs:

 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns. (1.1)

 

VNs novel begins as follows:

 

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. (ibid.)

 

In his poem Otchego dusha tak pevucha (Why is the soul is so melodious 1911) Mandelshtam complains that dear names are so few:

 

֧ԧ է ѧ ֧ӧ
ѧ ާѧݧ ާڧݧ ڧާק,
ާԧߧӧ֧ߧߧ ڧ ݧܧ ݧѧ,
֧اڧէѧߧߧ ܧӧڧݧ?

 

էާ֧ ҧݧѧܧ ݧ,
ѧާڧ ҧާѧاߧ ݧڧӧ
ӧ֧ ߧ ӧ֧ߧק ڧݧ
ӧ֧ߧק ӧ֧ էԧ.

 

, ڧܧڧ ӧ֧֧ ֧,
ۧէק ާܧڧ ܧѧ,
, ߧ֧٧էѧߧߧ ާڧ ݧ֧ݧ֧,
٧ѧҧ ߧ֧ߧاߧ «».

 

ҧݧاէѧ ڧԧ֧ߧ ѧ
ܧ ݧѧ٧֧ӧ ԧ...
֧ا֧ݧ ߧѧڧ
է֧ۧӧڧ֧ݧߧ ާ֧ ڧէק?

 

Why is the soul so lyrical

And so few are the names I love

And the ready rhythm but a miracle

Like Aquillon from above?

 

He will raise clouds of dust in a hurry

He will leaf through the paper stack

And he will not come back -- or maybe

As another he will come back?

 

Winds of Orpheus are embracing -

You will leave for the sea and sky -

And, the world not created praising,

I forgot the superfluous "I".

 

In a toy thicket I wandered

And into an azure grotto delved.

Am I really real, I ponder,

And death will claim my true self?

(tr. I. Shambat)

 

Igrushechnaya chashcha (a toy thicket) in the poems last stanza brings to mind Shades clockwork toy (a tin wheelbarrow pushed by a tin boy) that he kept as a kind of memento mori:

 

By a stroke of luck I have seen it! One evening in May or June I dropped in to remind my friend about a collection of pamphlets, by his grandfather, an eccentric clergyman, that he had once said was stored in the basement. I found him gloomily waiting for some people (members of his department, I believe, and their wives) who were coming for a formal dinner. He willingly took me down into the basement but after rummaging among piles of dusty books and magazines, said he would try to find them some other time. It was then that I saw it on a shelf, between a candlestick and a handless alarm clock. He, thinking I might think it had belonged to his dead daughter, hastily explained it was as old as he. The boy was a little Negro of painted tin with a keyhole in his side and no breadth to speak of, just consisting of two more or less fused profiles, and his wheelbarrow was now all bent and broken. He said, brushing the dust off his sleeves, that he kept it as a kind of memento mori--he had had a strange fainting fit one day in his childhood while playing with that toy. We were interrupted by Sybil's voice calling from above; but never mind, now the rusty clockwork shall work again, for I have the key. (note to Line 143)

 

Like Ulalume and ululations, Lolita has two Ls in it. In Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions Hurricane Lolita that swept from Florida to Maine:

 

It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane
Lolita swept from Florida to Maine.
Mars glowed. Shahs married. Gloomy Russians spied.
Lang made your portrait. And one night I died.
(ll. 679-682)

 

Shade suffered a heart attack on October 17, 1958:

 

John Shade's heart attack (Oct. 17, 1958) practically coincided with the disguised kings arrival in America where he descended by parachute from a chartered plane piloted by Colonel Montacute, in a field of hay-feverish, rank-flowering weeds, near Baltimore whose oriole is not an oriole. (note to Line 691)

 

E. A. Poe died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849.

 

In Lolitas Russian version (1967) Gumbert Gumbert calls the seraphs Edgarovy serafimy (Edgars seraphs):

 

ӧѧاѧ֧ާ ڧاߧ ا֧ߧܧԧ ާا֧ܧԧ ݧ! ܧߧѧ ާ֧ ֧ӧ ֧էѧӧݧ֧ ҧ , ֧ާ ѧ ٧ѧӧڧէӧѧݧ էԧѧӧ ֧ѧڧާ - է ӧ֧էާݧ֧ߧߧ, էߧ, ҧݧѧԧէߧܧݧ ֧ѧڧާ... ݧҧ֧ۧ-ܧ ߧ ܧݧҧ ֧ߧڧ. (1.1)

 

Edgarovy serafimy are the wingd seraphs of Heaven mentioned by E. A. Poe in his poem Annabel Lee (1849):

 

I was a child and she was a child,

   In this kingdom by the sea,

But we loved with a love that was more than love

   I and my Annabel Lee

With a love that the wingd seraphs of Heaven

   Coveted her and me.

 

Shades mad commentator, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla (a distant northern land). In Pale Fire Zembla is Kinbotes kingdom by the sea. The name of Zemblas capital, Onhava, hints at Heaven.

 

In VNs novel Look at the Harlequins (1974) the list of Vadims novels includes A Kingdom by the Sea (1962). It appeared in the same year as VNs Pale Fire, but its plot is closer to that of Lolita. The name of the novels heroine, Ginny, hints at Poes wife Virginia. In Poes story The Cask of Amontillado (1846) the action takes place during a carnival in Italy and one of the main characters, Fortunato, wears an harlequins costume:

 

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.

 

In Canto Four of his poem Shade mentions the damp carnival of his books:

 

Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote
Came next; then Hebe's Cup, my final float
in that damp carnival, for now I term
Everything "Poems," and no longer squirm.
(But this transparent thingum does require
Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.) (ll. 957-962)

 

In his fragment Rim (Rome, 1842) Gogol (who was born in the same year as Poe and who outlived the American writer only by a couple of years) describes a carnival in Rome and mentions the Italian sonnetto colla coda (sonnet with a coda). It seems that, to be completed, Shades almost finished poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: I was the shadow of the waxwing slain), but C like some sonnets C also a coda (Line 1001: By its own double in the windowpane). In LATH Vadim describes a doctors visit and compares it to a most artistic coda:

 

Annette rang up James Lodge, and he, out of the misdirected kindness of his heart, had an old little physician of Russian extraction examine me. The poor fellow drove me even crazier than I was by not only insisting on discussing my symptoms in an execrable version of the language I was trying to shed, but on translating into it various irrelevant terms used by the Viennese Quack and his apostles (simbolizirovanie, mortidnik). Yet his visit, I must confess, strikes me in retrospect as a most artistic coda. (2.10)

 

At the beginning of LATH Vadim mentions Gogols play Revizor (The Inspector, 1836):

 

Some time during the Easter Term of my last Cambridge year (1922) I happened to be consulted, "as a Russian," on certain niceties of make-up in an English version of Gogol's Inspector which the Glowworm Group, directed by Ivor Black, a fine amateur actor, intended to stage. He and I had the same tutor at Trinity, and he drove me to distraction with his tedious miming of  the old man's mincing ways--a performance he kept up throughout most of our lunch at the Pitt. The brief business part turned out to be even less pleasant. Ivor Black wanted Gogol's Town Mayor to wear a dressing gown because "wasn't it merely the old rascal's nightmare and didn't Revizor, its Russian title, actually come from the French for dream, rve?" I said I thought it a ghastly idea. (1.1)

 

The name of Vadims first wife (Ivor Blacks sister), Iris, means rainbow and brings to mind a living rainbow in Lolita:

 

Oh, disaster. Some confusion had occurred, she had misread a date in the Tour Book, and the Magic Cave ceremonies were over! She took it bravely, I must admit-and, when we discovered there was in kurortish Wace a summer theatre in full swing, we naturally drifted toward it one fair mid-June evening. I really could not tell you the plot of the play we saw. A trivial affair, no doubt, with self-conscious light effects and a mediocre leading lady. The only detail that pleased me was a garland of seven little graces, more or less immobile, prettily painted, bare-limbed C seven bemused pubescent girls in colored gauze that had been recruited locally (judging by the partisan flurry here and there among the audience) and were supposed to represent a living rainbow, which lingered throughout the last act, and rather teasingly faded behind a series of multiplied veils. I remember thinking that this idea of children-colors had been lifted by authors Clare Quilty and Vivian Darkbloom from a passage in James Joyce, and that two of the colors were quite exasperatingly lovely C Orange who kept fidgeting all the time, and Emerald who, when her eyes got used to the pitch-black pit where we all heavily sat, suddenly smiled at her mother or her protector. (2.18)

 

The play that Humbert Humbert and Lolita saw must be The Lady who Loved Lightning. According to HH, his photogenic mother was killed by lightning when he was three (1.2). In a letter to Lolita Mona Dahl describes the performance of The Enchanted Hunters (another play by Quilty) and mentions the terrific electric storm outside:

 

Dolly-Lo: Well, the play was a grand success. All three hounds lay quiet having been slightly drugged by Cutler, I suspect, and Linda knew all your lines. She was fine, she had alertness and control, but lacked somehow the responsiveness, the relaxed vitality, the charm of my C and the author's C Diana; but there was no author to applaud us as last time, and the terrific electric storm outside interfered with our own modest offstage thunder. Oh dear, life does fly. Now that everything is over, school, play, the Roy mess, mother's confinement (our baby, alas, did not live!), it all seems such a long time ago, though practically I still bear traces of the paint. (2.19)

 

In a poem that he composed for Rita (a girl whom he picked up after Lolita had been abducted by Quilty) Humbert Humbert mentions Diana:

 

In the silent painted park where I walked her and aired her a little, she sobbed and said I would soon, soon leave her as everybody had, and I sang her a wistful French ballad, and strung together some fugitive rhymes to amuse her:

 

The place was called Enchanted Hunters. Query:

What Indian dyes, Diana, did thy dell

endorse to make of Picture Lake a very

blood bath of trees before the blue hotel?

 

She said: "Why blue when it is white, why blue for heaven's sake?" and started to cry again, and I marched her to the car, and we drove on to New York, and soon she was reasonably happy again high up in the haze on the little terrace of our flat. (2.26)

 

Diana is the Roman goddess of hunting and of the moon. In Ulalume Poe compares Astartes bediamonded crescent (Venus) to Dian (the moon):

 

And I said"She is warmer than Dian:

She rolls through an ether of sighs

She revels in a region of sighs:

She has seen that the tears are not dry on

These cheeks, where the worm never dies,

And has come past the stars of the Lion

To point us the path to the skies

To the Lethean peace of the skies

Come up, in despite of the Lion,

To shine on us with her bright eyes

Come up through the lair of the Lion,

With love in her luminous eyes."

 

Alexey Sklyarenko

Google Search
the archive
Contact
the Editors
NOJ Zembla Nabokv-L
Policies
Subscription options AdaOnline NSJ Ada Annotations L-Soft Search the archive VN Bibliography Blog

All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.