CXVII = The Hermit


From my WIP: Art, Alchemy and Failed Transcendence: Jungian Influences in Pale Fire



Besides alchemy, Carl Jung was intensely interested in the occult arts of Tarot and astrology and numerology, which in fact, were so closely aligned with alchemy as to be parts of the same study.  I have found various occult allusions within Pale Fire.


Charles Xavier Vseslav II, for instance, suggests the Roman numerals CXVII, that is, 117.  Numerology is based on adding up each digit to come to one of the natural numerals of 0-9.  If the number arrived at is more than one digit, then those will also be added together until a single digit is produced.  The number 117 = 1+1+7 = 9.


Nine is considered a sacred number in numerology, due to the fact that every multiple of 9, when the digits are added, produces 9.  For example, the number we find in Pale Fire (and other VN works), “999”, when added together equal 9. (9+9+9 = 27 = 9 (2+7).


The number 9 in numerology indicates:


“Heartily friendly and congenial, a hail-fellow, humanitarian instincts, a giving nature, selflessness, obligations, creative expression, readily influenced to do good works, artistic and writing talents.”




This positive aspect sounds very much like John Shade, who I see as expressing the higher idealized values. The negative side of 9 looks quite a bit like Kinbote:


“Self-adulation, scattered interests, possessiveness, moodiness, careless with finances, wanting peer attention.” (ibid)


In the Tarot, the numbers are usually expressed as Roman Numerals. Number IX is “The Hermit”. Hermits are associated with caves and solitariness, and this is where we find Charles, the “solus rex”.


“The Hermit is a card symbolic of seeking some sort of spiritual enlightenment. Solitary introspection and contemplation are also associated with the Hermit. Perhaps some soul-searching and reflection are required on your part. The answer to your question, therefore, is maybe” (


This “maybe” is interesting, as despite John Shade’s metaphysical searching and epiphanies, and despite Kinbote’s “hero’s journey”, in the end Nabokov gives us no conclusive solution to either man’s spiritual dilemma.







nab-l banner .CS UTF-8
Archive Search:
the Editors
Nabokov Studies (Journal)


Chercheurs Enchantés (French VN Society)
AdaOnline NSJ Ada Annotations VN Bibliography Blog

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