According to Kinbote, when Charles the Beloved saw Disa for the first time, she was dressed as a Tyrolese boy:


He saw nineteen-year-old Disa for the first time on the festive night of July the 5th, 1947, at a masked ball in his uncle's palace. She had come in male dress, as a Tyrolese boy, a little knock-kneed but brave and lovely, and afterwards he drove her and her cousins (two guardsmen disguised as flowergirls) in his divine new convertible through the streets to see the tremendous birthday illumination, and the fackeltanz in the park, and the fireworks, and the pale upturned faces. (note to Line 275)


In VN’s story Oblako, ozero, bashnya (“Cloud, Castle, Lake,” 1937) the leader of the group is a lanky blond young man in Tyrolese garb:


Сразу выделился долговязый блондин в тирольском костюме, загорелый до цвета петушиного гребня, с огромными, золотисто-оранжевыми, волосатыми коленями и лакированным носом. Это был снаряжённый обществом вожак, и как только новоприбывший присоединился к группе (состоявшей из четырёх женщин и стольких же мужчин), он её повел к запрятанному за поездами поезду, с устрашающей лёгкостью неся на спине свой чудовищный рюкзак и крепко цокая подкованными башмаками. Разместились в пустом вагончике сугубо-третьего класса, и Василий Иванович, сев в сторонке и положив в рот мятку, тотчас раскрыл томик Тютчева, которого давно собирался перечесть ("Мы слизь. Речённая есть ложь", -- и дивное о румяном восклицании); но его попросили отложить книжку и присоединиться ко всей группе.


A lanky blond young man in Tyrolese garb stood out at once. He was burned the color of a cock's comb, had huge brick-red knees with golden hairs, and his nose looked lacquered. He was the leader furnished by the Bureau, and as soon as the newcomer had joined the group (which consisted of four women and as many men) he led it off toward a train lurking behind other trains, carrying his monstrous knapsack with terrifying ease, and firmly clanking with his hobnailed boots.

Everyone found a place in an empty car, unmistakably third-class, and Vasiliy Ivanovich, having sat down by himself and put a peppermint into his mouth, immediately opened a little volume of Tyutchev, whom he had long intended to reread, but he was requested to put the book aside and join the group.


At the end of the story Vasiliy Ivanovich says that he does not want to return to Berlin and mentions priglashenie na kazn’ (an invitation to a beheading):


-- Я буду жаловаться,-- завопил Василий Иванович.-- Отдайте мне мой мешок. Я вправе остаться где желаю. Да ведь это какое-то приглашение на казнь,-- будто добавил он, когда его подхватили под руки.

‘I shall complain,’ wailed Vasiliy Ivanovich. ‘Give me back my bag. I have the right to remain where I want. Oh, but this is nothing less than an invitation to a beheading’ — he told me he cried when they seized him by the arms.


Priglashenie na kazn’ (Invitation to a Beheading, 1935) is a novel by VN. It has the epigraph from the invented French thinker Delalande:


Comme un fou se croit Dieu

nous nous croyons mortels.

Delalande. Discours sur les ombres


At the end of his note to Line 275 (“We have been married forty years”) Kinbote quotes Shade’s discarded variant in which the poet says that he likes his name and translates it into French:


After line 274 there is a false start in the draft:


I like my name: Shade, Ombre, almost "man"
In Spanish...


One regrets that the poet did not pursue this theme--and spare his reader the embarrassing intimacies that follow.


In “Cloud, Castle, Lake” Vasiliy Ivanovich wants to reread Tyutchev. One of Tyutchev’s poems begins: Teni sizye smesilis’ (“Blue-grey shadows commingled…” 1835). In his Commentary and Index to Pale Fire Kinbote mentions the Shadows, a regicidal organization which commissioned Gradus (alias de Grey) to assassinate the self-banished king. In a conversation at the Faculty Club Kinbote says that his name means in Zemblan “a king’s destroyer:”


Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla [sarcastically stressing the "Nova"].

"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.

"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).

Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"

"Oxford, 1956," I replied. (note to Line 894)


In his Index to PF Kinbote mentions Sudarg of Bokay, a mirror maker of genius whose name mirrors that of Shade’s murderer (Jakob Gradus). Zerkalo teney (“The Mirror of Shadows,” 1912) is a collection of poetry by Bryusov, the author of Sem’ tsvetov radugi (“Seven Colors of the Rainbow,” 1915). According to Kinbote, Gradus’ wife was a beader in Radugovitra (note to Line 697). Bryusov’s poem Demon samoubiystva (“The Demon of Suicide,” 1910) included in “The Mirror of Shadows” has for epigraph the last stanza of Tyutchev’s poem Bliznetsy (“Twins,” 1852):


И кто, в избытке ощущений,

Когда кипит и стынет кровь,
Не ведал наших искушений,
Самоубийство и любовь!


and who, in an excess of sensation,

when blood boils and freezes in his veins,

can claim he's never tasted your temptations,

Suicide and Love?

(tr. F. Jude)


In his memoir essay on Bryusov (included in Necropolis, 1939) Hodasevich tells about Nadezhda Lvov, a young poet and Bryusov’s mistress who committed suicide in 1912. In a poem addressed to Bryusov Sergey Solovyov says that, in the book of Russian verse, Pushkin is alpha and Bryusov omega:


Пушкин - альфа, ты - омега
В книге русского стиха.


Nadezhda Botkin (Hazel Shade’s “real” name) drowned herself in Lake Omega. In his poem Snezhnye gory (“Snowy Mountains,” 1829) Tyutchev compares a lake to zerkalo stal’noe (a steel-bright mirror):


Уже полдневная пора
Палит отвесными лучами, –
И задымилася гора
С своими чёрными лесами.


Внизу, как зеркало стальное,
Синеют озера струи
И с камней, блещущих на зное,
В родную глубь спешат ручьи...


И между тем как полусонный
Наш дольний мир, лишённый сил,
Проникнут негой благовонной,
Во мгле полуденной почил, –


Горе́, как божества родные,
Над издыхающей землёй,
Играют выси ледяные
С лазурью неба огневой.


Midday soars.
It pauses, now holds steady.
It sears the grasslands,
skims and scalds the rills.

Its sheer rays strike dusky woods
which spread beneath the haze.
Below, there is a steel-bright mirror.
Blue currents in the lake invite quick streams

to leave the heat, to scamper by smooth boulders
and plunge beneath the waters into kindred dreams.
While in blissful, fragrant sweetness,
spread-eagled in the sweltering haze,

far overhead, like gods we know as cousins,
above the land that
Тs left to die,
the mountains
Т icy peaks play with
the fiery blueness of the sky.

(tr. F. Jude)


Zerkalo stal’noe brings to mind Stalin. According to Kinbote, the terrible name of the leader of the Shadows cannot be mentioned even in the Index to Pale Fire:


Shadows, the, a regicidal organization which commissioned Gradus (q.v.) to assassinate the self-banished king; its leader's terrible name cannot be mentioned, even in the Index to the obscure work of a scholar; his maternal grandfather, a well-known and very courageous master builder, was hired by Thurgus the Turgid, around 1885, to make certain repairs in his quarters, and soon after that perished, poisoned in the royal kitchens, under mysterious circumstances, together with his three young apprentices whose pretty first names Yan, Yonny, and Angeling, are preserved in a ballad still to be heard in some of our wilder valleys. (Index)


Angeling brings to mind Bryusov’s novel Ognennyi angel (“The Fiery Angel,” 1908). On the other hand, Angelina Blok (1892-1918) was the half-sister of Alexander Blok. The epigraph to Blok’s poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21), Yunost’ – eto vozmezdie (“Youth is the retribution”), was borrowed from Ibsen’s play The Master Builder (1892). In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1954) VN describes his visit to Cambridge in the 1930s and mentions Ibsen, Stalin, Lenin and Dzerzhinski:


When, after an absence of almost seventeen years I revisited England, I made the dreadful mistake of going to see Cambridge again not at the glorious end of the Easter term but on a raw February day that reminded me only of my own confused old nostalgia. I was hopelessly trying to find an academic job in England (the ease with which I obtained that type of employment in the U.S.A. is to me, in backthought, a constant source of grateful wonder). In every way the visit was not a success. I had lunch with Nesbit at a little place, which ought to have been full of memories but which, owing to various changes, was not. He had given up smoking. Time had softened his features and he no longer resembled Gorki or Gorki’s translator, but looked a little like Ibsen, minus the simian vegetation. An accidental worry (the cousin or maiden sister who kept house for him had just been removed to Binet’s clinic or something) seemed to prevent him from concentrating on the very personal and urgent matter I wanted to speak to him about. Bound volumes of Punch were heaped on a table in a kind of small vestibule where a bowl of goldfish had formerly stood—and it all looked so different. Different too were the garish uniforms worn by the waitresses, of whom none was as pretty as the particular one I remembered so clearly. Rather desperately, as if struggling against boredom, Ibsen launched into politics. I knew well what to expect—denunciation of Stalinism. In the early twenties Nesbit had mistaken his own ebullient idealism for a romantic and humane something in Lenin’s ghastly rule. Ibsen, in the days of the no less ghastly Stalin, was mistaking a quantitative increase in his own knowledge for a qualitative change in the Soviet regime. The thunderclap of purges that had affected “old Bolsheviks,” the heroes of his youth, had given him a salutary shock, something that in Lenin’s day all the groans coming from the Solovki forced labor camp or the Lubyanka dungeon had not been able to do. With horror he pronounced the names of Ezhov and Yagoda—but quite forgot their predecessors, Uritski and Dzerzhinski. While time had improved his judgment regarding contemporaneous Soviet affairs, he did not bother to reconsider the preconceived notions of his youth, and still saw in Lenin’s short reign a kind of glamorous quinquennium Neronis. (Chapter Thirteen, 5)


The head of Lenin’s secret police, Felix Dzerzhinski had the same first name as Felix, Hermann’s “double” in VN’s novel Otchayanie (“Despair,” 1934). Hazel Shade was born in 1934 (the year when “Despair” appeared). In VN’s novel Hermann kills Felix at the lakeside. It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished 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”).


In his Commentary Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus “Vinogradus” and “Leningradus:”


All this is as it should be; the world needs Gradus. But Gradus should not kill things. Vinogradus should never, never provoke God. Leningradus should not aim his peashooter at people even in dreams, because if he does, a pair of colossally thick, abnormally hairy arms will hug him from behind and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. (note to Line 171)


Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone, Queen Disa seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Desdemona, Othello’s wife in Shakespeare’s Othello. In Shakespeare’s play Othello strangles Desdemona.


Alexey Sklyarenko

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