In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions Baron Bland, the Keeper of the Treasure, who jumped or fell from the North Tower of the royal palace in Onhava:

However, not all Russians are gloomy, and the two young experts from Moscow whom our new government engaged to locate the Zemblan crown jewels turned out to be positively rollicking. The Extremists were right in believing that Baron Bland, the Keeper of the Treasure, had succeeded in hiding those jewels before he jumped or fell from the North Tower; but they did not know he had had a helper and were wrong in thinking the jewels must be looked for in the palace which the gentle white-haired Bland had never left except to die. I may add, with pardonable satisfaction, that they were, and still are, cached in a totally different - and quite unexpected - corner of Zembla. (note to Line 681)


As I pointed out in a recent post, Baron Bland blends Alexander Blok, a Russian poet (1880-1921), with Brand, the title character of a play in verse (1865) by Ibsen.


Baron Bland + I = Albion/albino + Brand = rab/bar + ona + blind


“I” is the first person pronoun. In the last stanza of his poem Neznakomka (Incognita,” 1906) Blok says that a treasure lies in his soul and the key belongs to him alone:


В моей душе лежит сокровище,

И ключ поручен только мне!

Ты право, пьяное чудовище!

Я знаю: истина в вине.


A treasure lies in my soul,

And the key belongs to me alone!

You are correct, you drunken fiend!

I know: in wine is truth.


In his poem Blok mentions p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) who cry out “in vino veritas!” (in wine is truth):


А рядом у соседних столиков

Лакеи сонные торчат,

И пьяницы с глазами кроликов

"In vino veritas!" кричат.


And drowsy lackeys lounge about

Beside the adjacent tables

While drunks with rabbit eyes cry out

"In vino veritas!"


In VN’s novel Ada (1969) the famous Dr Krolik (Ada’s teacher of natural history and local entomologist) calls himself “Ada’s court jeweler:”


Three adult gentlemen, moreover, were expected but never turned up: Uncle Dan, who missed the morning train from town; Colonel Erminin, a widower, whose liver, he said in a note, was behaving like a pecheneg; and his doctor (and chess partner), the famous Dr Krolik, who called himself Ada’s court jeweler, and indeed brought her his birthday present early on the following day — three exquisitely carved chrysalids (‘Inestimable gems,’ cried throatily Ada, tensing her brows), all of which were to yield before long, specimens of a disappointing ichneumon instead of the Kibo Fritillary, a recently discovered rarity. (1.13)


Pecheneg (“The Savage,” 1897) is a story by Chekhov. The main character in Chekhov’s story Doch’ Al’biona (“A Daughter of Albion,” 1883) is Wilka Charlesovna Fyce, the imperturbable English governess of an unceremonious Russian landowner’s children. Her patronymic brings to mind Charles II, surnamed the Beloved, the last king of Zembla. The characters in Chekhov’s story include Fyodor Andreich Ottsov, uezdnyi predvoditel’ dvoryanstva (the district Marshal of Nobility). One of the three diamond hunters in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928), Ippolit Matveyevich Vorob’yaninov, is a former Marshal of Nobility. In his Commentary Kinbote quotes the words of Shade who listed Chekhov and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov among Russian humorists:


Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 172)


Pnin is the title character of a novel (1957) by VN. Its characters include Liza Bogolepov, Pnin’s former wife. In one of her poems Liza says that she owns no jewels, save her eyes:


A few days later she sent me those poems; a fair sample of her production is the kind of stuff that émigré rhymsterettes wrote after Akhmatova: lackadaisical little lyrics that tiptoed in more or less anapaestic trimeter and sat down rather heavily with a wistful sigh:

Samotsvétov króme ochéy
Net u menyá nikakíh,
No est' róza eshchó nezhnéy
Rózovïh gub moíh.

I yúnosha tíhiy skazál:
'Vashe sérdtse vsegó nezhnéy...'
I yá opustíla glazá...

I have marked the stress accents, and transliterated the Russian with the usual understanding that u is pronounced like a short 'oo', i like a short 'ee', and zh like a French 'j'. Such incomplete rhymes as skazal - glaza were considered very elegant. Note also the erotic undercurrents and cour d'amour implications. A prose translation would go: 'No jewels, save my eyes, do I own, but I have a rose which is even softer than my rosy lips. And a quiet youth said: "There is nothing softer than your heart." And I lowered my gaze.... (Chapter Seven, 3)


The surname Ottsov comes from otets (father). 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 Kinbote’s Commentary).


In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN tells about his English nurses and governesses:


A bewildering sequence of English nurses and governesses, some of them wringing their hands, others smiling at me enigmatically, come out to meet me as I re-enter my past.

There was dim Miss Rachel, whom I remember mainly in terms of Huntley and Palmer biscuits (the nice almond rocks at the top of the blue-papered tin box, the insipid cracknels at the bottom) which she unlawfully shared with me after my teeth had been brushed. There was Miss Clayton, who, when I slumped in my chair, would poke me in the middle vertebrae and then smilingly throw back her own shoulders to show what she wanted of me: she told me a nephew of hers at my age (four) used to breed caterpillars, but those she collected for me in an open jar with nettles all walked away one morning, and the gardener said they had hanged themselves. There was lovely, black-haired, aquamarine-eyed Miss Norcott, who lost a white kid glove at Nice or Beaulieu, where I vainly looked for it on the shingly beach among the colored pebbles and the glaucous lumps of sea-changed bottle glass. Lovely Miss Norcott was asked to leave at once, one night at Abbazia. She embraced me in the morning twilight of the nursery, pale-mackintoshed and weeping like a Babylonian willow, and that day I remained inconsolable, despite the hot chocolate that the Petersons’ old Nanny had made especially for me and the special bread and butter, on the smooth surface of which my aunt Nata, adroitly capturing my attention, drew a daisy, then a cat, and then the little mermaid whom I had just been reading about with Miss Norcott and crying over, too, so I started to cry again. There was myopic little Miss Hunt, whose short stay with us in Wiesbaden came to an end the day my brother and I—aged four and five, respectively—managed to evade her nervous vigilance by boarding a steamer that took us quite a way down the Rhine before recapture. There was pink-nosed Miss Robinson. There was Miss Clayton again. There was one awful person who read to me Marie Corelli’s The Mighty Atom. There were still others. At a certain point they faded out of my life. French and Russian took over; and what little time remained for the speaking of English was devoted to occasional sessions with two gentlemen, Mr. Burness and Mr. Cummings, neither of whom dwelt with us. They are associated in my mind with winters in St. Petersburg, where we had a house on the Morskaya Street. (Chapter Four, 4)


Morskaya is fem. of morskoy (of the sea). In Chapter Ten (IV: 5) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin says: Morya dostalis’ Al’bionu (The seas to Albion were appointed). Pushkin destroyed Canto Ten of EO on October 19, 1830. Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on October 19, 1959.


In Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), the Russian version of his autobiography, VN says that lovely Miss Norcott turned out to be a lesbian. Marie Corelli’s The Mighty Atom brings to mind G. Ivanov’s wretched novelette Raspad atoma (“An Atom’s Disintegration,” 1938). Its narrator several times mentions Gogol. In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol describes a carnival in Rome and mentions the Italian sonnetto colla coda (sonnet with a coda). According to G. Ivanov, when he asked Blok “does a sonnet need a coda,” Blok replied that he did not know what a coda is. It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s 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 (1909) by Blok. One of the main characters in G. Ivanov’s novel Tretiy Rim (“The Third Rome,” 1929), Prince Velski, is a homosexual. Shade’s mad commentator, Kinbote is gay.


The title of G. Ivanov’s novel brings to mind Bunin’s memoir essay Tretiy Tolstoy (“The Third Tolstoy,” 1949). Bunin mentions in it the fact that Blok was a secretary of Lunacharski (the minister of education in Lenin’s government):


А затем произошла «Великая октябрьская революция», большевики посадили в ту же крепость уже министров Временного Правительства, двух из них (Шингарева и Кокошкина) даже убили, без всяких допросов, и Блок перешёл к большевикам, стал личным секретарём Луначарского, после чего написал брошюру «Интеллигенция и Революция», стал требовать: «Слушайте, слушайте музыку революции!» и сочинил «Двенадцать», написав и своём дневнике для потомства очень жалкую выдумку: будто он сочинял «Двенадцать» как бы в трансе, «всё время слыша какие-то шумы - шумы падения старого мира».


In his speech on Dostoevski (delivered on the hundredth anniversary of the writer’s birth) Lunacharski, in order to explain Dostoevski’s treatment of man’s psyche, takes the example of water and mentions the Niagara:


Чтобы понять, что делает Достоевский с психикой - возьмём хотя бы такой пример - вода. Для того, чтобы дать человеку полное представление о воде, заставить его объять все её свойства, надо ему показать воду, пар, лёд, разделить воду на составные части, показать, что такое тихое озеро, величаво катящая свои волны река, водопад, фонтан и проч. Словом - ему нужно показать все свойства, всю внутреннюю динамику воды. И, однако, этого всё-таки будет мало. Может быть, для того, чтобы понять динамику воды, нужно превысить данные возможности и фантастически представить человеку Ниагару, в сотню раз грандиознейшую, чем подлинная. Вот Достоевский и стремится превозмочь реальность и показать дух человеческий со всеми его неизмеримыми высотами и необъяснимыми глубинами со всех сторон. Как Микель Анджело скручивает человеческие тела в конвульсиях, в агонии, так Достоевский дух человеческий то раздувает до гиперболы, то сжимает до полного уничтожения, смешивает с грязью, низвергает его в глубины ада, то потом вдруг взмывает в самые высокие эмпиреи неба. Этими полётами человеческого духа Достоевский не только приковывает наше внимание, захватывает нас, открывает нам новые неизведанные красоты, но даёт очень много и нашему познанию, показывая нам неподозреваемые нами глубины души.

According to Lunacharski, Dostoevski shows to us the soul’s depths whose existence we did not suspect. VN does the same thing (but much more artistically!) in Pale Fire. Btw., in my previous post (“Amphitheatricus, Uranograd & the Shadows in Pale Fire; Zhorzhik Uranski in Pnin; Captain Tapper in Ada”) I forgot to say that, as a novel, Pale Fire has at least four dimensions.


The (probably fictitious) names of the two Soviet experts invited by the new Zemblan government are Andronnikov and Niagarin:

All this is the rule of a supernal game, all this is the immutable fable of fate, and should not be construed as reflecting on the efficiency of the two Soviet experts--who, anyway, were to be marvelously successful on a later occasion with another job (see note to line 747). Their names (probably fictitious) were Andronnikov and Niagarin. One has seldom seen, at least among waxworks, a pair of more pleasant, presentable chaps. Everybody admired their clean-shaven jaws, elementary facial expressions, wavy hair, and perfect teeth. Tall handsome Andronnikov seldom smiled but the crinkly little rays of his orbital flesh bespoke infinite humor while the twin furrows descending from the sides of his shapely nostrils evoked glamorous associations with flying aces and sagebrush heroes. Niagarin, on the other hand, was of comparatively short stature, had somewhat more rounded, albeit quite manly features, and every now and then would flash a big boyish smile remindful of scoutmasters with something to hide, or those gentlemen who cheat in television quizzes. It was delightful to watch the two splendid Sovietchiks running about in the yard and kicking a chalk-dusty, thumping-tight soccer ball (looking so large and bald in such surroundings). Andronnikov could tap-play it on his toe up and down a dozen times before punting it pocket straight into the melancholy, surprised, bleached, harmless heavens; and Niagarin could imitate to perfection the mannerisms of a certain stupendous Dynamo goalkeeper. They used to hand out to the kitchen boys Russian caramels with plums or cherries depicted on the rich luscious six-cornered wrappers that enclosed a jacket of thinner paper with the mauve mummy inside; and lustful country girls were known to creep up along the drungen (bramble-choked footpaths) to the very foot of the bulwark when the two silhouetted against the now flushed sky sang beautiful sentimental military duets at eventide on the rampart. Niagarin had a soulful tenor voice, and Andronnikov a hearty baritone, and both wore elegant jackboots of a soft black leather, and the sky turned away showing its ethereal vertebrae. (note to line 681)


At the end of Chekhov’s play Dyadya Vanya (“Uncle Vanya,” 1898) Sonya promises to Uncle Vanya that they will see the sky swarming with diamonds. Sonya is a diminutive of Sofia. Sybil Shade’s and Queen Disa’s “real” name seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin).


Andronnikov is a character in Dostoevski’s novel Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875). Arkadiy Dolgoruki (the novel’s main character) received Katerina Akhmakov’s letter to Versilov (Arkadiy’s father) which is later stolen from him by Alfonsinka (Lambert’s mistress) from late Andronnikov (a jurist). The name Versilov brings to mind “versipel” (as Shade calls his muse). In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) one of the pseudonyms rejected by Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character) is Lambert Lambert:


This then is my story. I have reread it. It has bits of marrow sticking to it, and blood, and beautiful bright-green flies. At this or that twist of it I feel my slippery self eluding me, gliding into deeper and darker waters than I care to probe. I have camouflaged what I could so as not to hurt people. And I have toyed with many pseudonyms for myself before I hit on a particularly apt one. There are in my notes “Otto Otto” and “Mesmer Mesmer” and “Lambert Lambert,” but for some reason I think my choice expresses the nastiness best. (2.36)


“Otto Otto” seems to hint at Otto von Bismarck (a Prussian statesman who is paired with Napoleon in “The Adolescent”). Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) was a German physician. The terms hypnosis and mesmerism were once synonyms. In Chekhov’s story Udav i krolik (“Boa Constrictor and Rabbit,” 1887) an old lady killer describes a method of seducing a woman when one hypnotizes her not with one’s look but with the poison of one’s tongue:


Тут вы действуете на расстоянии. Всё дело в некоторого рода гипнотизации. Она не должна видеть, но должна чувствовать вас, как кролик чувствует взгляд удава. Гипнотизируете вы её не взглядом, а ядом вашего языка, причем самой лучшей передаточной проволокой может служить сам муж.


In his story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as Seen by a Drunkard,” 1885), signed Brat moego brata (My brother’s brother), Chekhov compares girls under sixteen to aqua distillatae (distilled water). The characters of Ada include Aqua Durmanov, Marina’s poor mad twin sister whose last note was signed “My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (now is out of Hell)” (1.3). The surname Durmanov comes from durman (thorn-apple; intoxicant). Teper’ iz ada rhymes with Shekherezada (Scheherazade in Russian spelling), the narrator in “A Thousand and One Nights.” It seems that, in its finished form, Shade’s poem has 1001 lines.


Albion = albino. In the “library chapter” of Ada Van mentions the Albino Riots of 1835:


But as Judge Bald pointed out already during the Albino Riots of 1835, practically all North American and Tartar agriculturists and animal farmers used inbreeding as a method of propagation that tended to preserve, and stimulate, stabilize and even create anew favorable characters in a race or strain unless practiced too rigidly. (1.21)


Lysyi being Russian for “bald,” Judge Bald seems to hint at Lysevich, the lawyer in Chekhov’s story Babye tsarstvo (“A Woman’s Kingdom,” 1894). Recommending Maupassant (the writer who intoxicates him) to Anna Akimovna, Lysevich says that she should “drink” every line written by Maupassant. On Antiterra (Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Maupassant’s story La Parure (1884) is known as La rivière de diamants by Mlle Larivière, Lucette’s governess who reads her story at the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday (1.13). Ada’s birthday, July 21, is the day of Shade’s death. The characters of Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary (1856) include Dr Larivière and Dr Charles Bovary, Emma’s husband who has the same first name as Charles the Beloved. Anton Chekhov was a doctor. Andreevski (a lawyer and poet) called Chekhov naslednyi prints (the Crown prince) of Russian literature.” The characters of Ada include Andrey Andreevich Vinelander (Ada’s husband) and Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (‘AAA’), Van’s tutor. In a letter of June 5, 1903, to Veresaev (the author of “Pushkin in Life” and “Gogol in Life”) Chekhov says that he is reading Aksakov’s children chronicle:


Большое Вам спасибо! Ваша книжка теперь для меня очень кстати, так как читать мне нечего. Читаю Вас и детскую хронику С. Аксакова; и чувствую себя прекрасно.


Ada’s full title is Ada or Ardor: a Family Chronicle. Van and Ada make love for the first time in the library of Ardis Hall in the Night of the Burning Barn (1.19). Brand is German for “fire.” It seems that Ada (who wanted to spend the night with Van) has bribed Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis) to set the “Baronial” Barn on fire. A son of Arkadiy Dolgoruki and Alfonsinka (the characters in “The Adolescent”) who was stolen by the Gypsies and somehow smuggled to Antiterra, Kim Beauharnais is blinded by Van for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada (2.11). Btw., Ulichnyi podrostok (“The Street Adolescent,” 1914) is a sonnet with the coda by G. Ivanov. In Dostoevski’s novel Arkadiy Dolgoruki quotes the saying “in vino veritas:”


О, опять повторю: да простят мне, что я привожу весь этот тогдашний хмельной бред до последней строчки. Конечно, это только эссенция тогдашних мыслей, но, мне кажется, я этими самыми словами и говорил. Я должен был привести их, потому что я сел писать, чтоб судить себя. А что же судить, как не это? Разве в жизни может быть что-нибудь серьёзнее? Вино же не оправдывало. In vino veritas.


Oh, I repeat again: I must be forgiven for recording all my drunken ravings at the time. Of course this is only the essence of what I thought then, but I fancy I used those very words. I was bound to record them because I have sat down to write in order to condemn myself. And what is to be condemned, if not that? Can there be anything graver in my life? Wine is no justification. In vino veritas. (Part Three, Chapter 6, II)


Andronnikov and Niagarin steal a letter from Charles the Beloved from Queen Disa's rosewood desk:


He was a merry, perhaps overmerry fellow, in a green velvet jacket. Nobody liked him, but he certainly had a keen mind. His name, Izumrudov, sounded rather Russian but actually meant "of the Umruds," an Eskimo tribe sometimes seen paddling their umyaks (hide-lined boats) on the emerald waters of our northern shores. Grinning, he said friend Gradus must get together his travel documents, including a health certificate, and take the earliest available jet to New York. Bowing, he congratulated him on having indicated with such phenomenal acumen the right place and the right way. Yes, after a thorough perlustration of the loot that Andron and Niagarushka had obtained from the Queen's rosewood writing desk (mostly bills, and treasured snapshots, and those silly medals) a letter from the King did turn up giving his address which was of all places -- Our man, who interrupted the herald of success to say he had never--was bidden not to display so much modesty. A slip of paper was now produced on which Izumudrov, shaking with laughter (death is hilarious), wrote out for Gradus their client's alias, the name of the university where he taught, and that of the town where it was situated. No, the slip was not for keeps. He could keep it only while memorizing it. This brand of paper (used by macaroon makers) was not only digestible but delicious. The gay green vision withdrew--to resume his whoring no doubt. How one hates such men! (note to line 741)


The surname Izumrudov comes from izumrud (emerald). Izumrud (1907) is a story by Kuprin (Izumrud is a racehorse). Kuprin’s short novel Granatovyi braslet (“The Garnet Bracelet,” 1911) was first published in the almanac Zemlya (Land).


rab – slave; in a letter of Jan. 7, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov offers Suvorin a theme for a short story whose hero is a young man who squeezes the slave out of himself:


Что писатели-дворяне брали у природы даром, то разночинцы покупают ценою молодости. Напишите-ка рассказ о том, как молодой человек, сын крепостного, бывший лавочник, певчий, гимназист и студент, воспитанный на чинопочитании, целовании поповских рук, поклонении чужим мыслям, благодаривший за каждый кусок хлеба, много раз сечённый, ходивший по урокам без калош, дравшийся, мучивший животных, любивший обедать у богатых родственников, лицемеривший и богу и людям без всякой надобности, только из сознания своего ничтожества, — напишите, как этот молодой человек выдавливает из себя по каплям раба и как он, проснувшись в одно прекрасное утро, чувствует, что в его жилах течёт уже не рабская кровь, а настоящая человеческая...

What writers belonging to the upper class have received from nature for nothing, plebeians acquire at the cost of their youth. Write a story of how a young man, the son of a serf, who has served in a shop, sung in a choir, been at a high school and a university, who has been brought up to respect everyone of higher rank and position, to kiss priests’ hands, to reverence other people’s ideas, to be thankful for every morsel of bread, who has been many times whipped, who has trudged from one pupil to another without galoshes, who has been used to fighting, and tormenting animals, who has liked dining with his rich relations, and been hypocritical before God and men from the mere consciousness of his own insignificance — write how this young man squeezes the slave out of himself, drop by drop, and how waking one beautiful morning he feels that he has no longer a slave’s blood in his veins but a real man’s.

Rab is bar in reverse. He [Van] headed for the bar, and as he was in the act of wiping the lenses of his black-framed spectacles, made out, through the optical mist (Space’s recent revenge!), the girl whose silhouette he recalled having seen now and then (much more distinctly!) ever since his pubescence, passing alone, drinking alone, always alone, like Blok’s Incognita. (3.3)


In the same chapter of Ada Van mentions Alphonse Cinq (a concierge at Alphonse Four whose nickname seems to hint at Alfonsinka, as Arkadiy calls Lambert’s mistress Alphonsine, a Parisian girl, in Dostoevski’s “Adolescent”): The Bourbonian-chinned, dark, sleek-haired, ageless concierge, dubbed by Van in his blazer days ‘Alphonse Cinq,’ believed he had just seen Mlle Veen in the Récamier room where Vivian Vale’s golden veils were on show.


One of Blok’s poems begins: Ya prigvozhdyon k traktirnoy stoyke… (“I’m nailed to the tavern counter…” 1908). In the last line Blok says that his soul is p’yanym p’yana (drunk and dazed).


ona – she; To byla ona! (“That was she!” 1886) is a story by Chekhov


Alexey Sklyarenko

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

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