Glowworm Group, Gogol's Inspector, coda & Shipogradov in LATH; Leningradus in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 08/21/2019 - 09:55

At the beginning of VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) Vadim Vadimovich mentions the Glowworm Group directed by Ivor Black, a fine amateur actor:


I met the first of my three or four successive wives in somewhat odd circumstances, the development of which resembled a clumsy conspiracy, with nonsensical details and a main plotter who not only knew nothing of its real object but insisted on making inept moves that seemed to preclude the slightest possibility of success. Yet out of those very mistakes he unwittingly wove a  web, in which a set of reciprocal blunders on my part caused me to get involved and fulfill the  destiny that was the only aim of the plot.

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,' rêve?" I said I thought it a ghastly idea. (1.1)


Before vanishing, the Ghost (a character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet) mentions damnéd incest and the glow-worm that shows the morning to be near and begins to pale his uneffectual fire:


If thou hast nature in thee bear it not,

Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damnéd incest...
But howsomever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven,
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge
To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once,

The glow-worm shows the matin to be near,
And ’gins to pale his uneffectual fire.
Adieu, adieu,
adieu, remember me. (Act One, scene 5)


The daughters of Count Starov (a retired diplomat who seems to be Vadim’s real father), Vadim’s first three wives (Iris Black, Annette Blagovo and Louise Adamson) seem to be his half-sisters. At the end of his Commentary to Shade's poem Kinbote (one of the three main characters in VN's novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus whom he will face sooner or later:


God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of the other two characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, health heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things! History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out--somebody has already set out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and presently he will ring at my door--a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus. (note to Line 1000)


“A bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus” brings to mind the real Inspector whose arrival is announced at the end of Gogol's play:


Жандарм. Приехавший по именному повелению из Петербурга чиновник требует вас сей же час к себе. Он остановился в гостинице.

Произнесённые слова поражают как громом всех. Звук изумления единодушно взлетает из дамских уст; вся группа, вдруг переменивши положение, остаётся в окаменении.


GENDARME. The Inspector-General sent by Imperial command has arrived, and requests your attendance at once. He awaits you in the inn.

(They are thunderstruck at this announcement. The ladies utter simultaneous
ejaculations of amazement; the whole group suddenly shift their positions and remain as if petrified.)


Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla, Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain"). But it seems that Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: "By its own double in the windowpane").


In his fragment Rim ("Rome," 1842) Gogol describes a carnival in Rome and mentions the great dead poet (il gran poeta morto) and his sonnet with a coda (sonetto colla coda):


Внимание толпы занял какой-то смельчак, шагавший на ходулях вравне с домами, рискуя всякую минуту быть сбитым с ног и грохнуться насмерть о мостовую. Но об этом, кажется, у него не было забот. Он тащил на плечах чучело великана, придерживая его одной рукою, неся в другой написанный на бумаге сонет с  приделанным к нему бумажным хвостом, какой бывает у бумажного змея, и крича во весь голос: <Ecco il gran poeta morto. Ecco il suo sonetto colla coda!>


In a footnote Gogol says that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as sonnet with the tail (con la coda) and explains what a coda is:


В итальянской поэзии существует род стихотворенья, известного под именем сонета с хвостом (con la coda), - когда мысль не вместилась и ведет за собою прибавление, которое часто бывает длиннее самого сонета.


Describing his arrival in America, Vadim mentions an old Russian doctor who visited him in New York and compares this visit to a most artistic coda:


The traversal of my particular bridge ended, weeks after landing, in a charming New York apartment (it was leant to Annette and me by a generous relative of mine and faced the sunset flaming beyond Central Park). The neuralgia in my right forearm was a gray adumbration compared to the solid black headache that no pill could pierce. 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)


In Part Five of LATH Vadim describes his incognito trip to Leningrad in an attempt to find his daughter Bel (whom Charlie Everett, Bel’s husband who changed his name to Karl Ivanovich Vetrov, took to the Soviet Russia). In his Commentary Kinbote mockingly calls Shade’s murderer "Vinogradus" and “Leningradus:”


All this is as it should be; the world needs Gradus. But Gradus should not kill kings. 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)


In Shakespeare’s play Othello strangles Desdemona. Duchess of Payn, of great Payn and Mone, Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Shakespeare’s Desdemona.


Voskresshie bogi. Leonardo da Vinchi ("Leonardo da Vinci. The Resurrection of the Gods," 1900) is a novel by Merezhkovski. In his essay Gogol' i chyort ("Gogol and the Devil," 1906) Merezhkovski quotes Gogol's words Revizor bez kontsa ("The Inspector is not finished") and calls Gogol's play "the endless laughter of Russian conscience over russkiy Grad (Russian City):


Нет, <Ревизор> не кончен, не сознан до конца самим Гоголем и не понят зрителями; узел завязки развязан условно, сценически, но не религиозно. Одна комедия кончена, начинается или должна бы начаться другая, несколько более смешная и страшная. Мы её так и не увидим на сцене: но и до сей поры разыгрывается она за сценою, в жизни. Это сознаёт отчасти Гоголь. <Ревизорбез конца>, - говорит он. Мы могли бы прибавить: Ревизор бесконечен. Это смех не какой-либо частный, временный, исторический, а именно - бесконечный смех русской совести над русским Градом. (Part One, III)


The novelist Shipogradov (a character in LATH) is a recognizable portrait of Merezhkovski. Nadezhda ("Hope," 1894) is a poem by Merezhkovski. The “real” name of Hazel Shade (the poet’s daughter in Pale Fire) seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. In his famous monologue in Shakespeare's play (3.1) Hamlet mentions a bare bodkin ("Danish stiletto" in Kinbote's Index).


Let me draw your attention to the updated version of my previous post, "Alice in Camera Obscura, Palace in Wonderland & Van's birthday in Ada" (

As VN once said to an interviewer, perhaps channeling an old (Bishop Berkeley) limerick, "I was there, a one-man multitude."

Several other entries are being added in the website actually. ;)