In Canto Two of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) speaks of his daughter and mentions her investigations in an old barn:
She had strange fears, strange fantasies, strange force
Of character - as when she spent three nights
Investigating certain sounds and lights
In an old barn. She twisted words: pot, top,
Spider, redips. And "powder" was "red wop." (ll. 344-348)
According to Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), this barn had belonged to one Paul Hentzner, an eccentric farmer of German extraction:
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. Through an odd trick of atavism, he was (according to Shade who liked to talk about him - the only time, incidentally, when my sweet old friend became a tiny bit of a bore!) a throwback to the "curious Germans" who three centuries ago had been the fathers of the first great naturalists. Although by academic standards an uneducated man, with no real knowledge of far things in space or time, he had about him a colorful and earthy something that pleased John Shade much better than the suburban refinements of the English Department. He who displayed such fastidious care in his choice of fellow ramblers liked to trudge with the gaunt solemn German, every other evening, up the wood path to Dulwich, and all around his acquaintance's fields. Delighting as he did in the right word, he esteemed Hentzner for knowing "the names of things" - though some of those names were no doubt local monstrosities, or Germanisms, or pure inventions on the old rascal's part. (note to Line 347)
The author of Itinerarium Germaniae, Galliae, Angliae, Italiae, cum Indice Locorum, Rerum atque Verborum (1612), Paul Hentzner (1558-1623) was a German lawyer who published an account of his travels in Continental Europe and England during the late Elizabethan era. On the other hand, the Hentzner barn brings to mind Baron Ritzner von Jung, the main character of E. A. Poe’s story Mystification (1837). Poe’s story begins as follows:
The Baron Ritzner von Jung was of a noble Hungarian family, every member of which (at least as far back into antiquity as any certain records extend) was more or less remarkable for talent of some description -- the majority for that species of grotesquerie in conception of which Tieck, a scion of the house, has given a vivid, although by no means the most vivid exemplifications. My acquaintance with Ritzner commenced at the magnificent Chateau Jung, into which a train of droll adventures, not to be made public, threw me during the summer months of the year 18—. Here it was I obtained a place in his regard, and here, with somewhat more difficulty, a partial insight into his mental conformation. In later days this insight grew more clear, as the intimacy which had at first permitted it became more close; and when, after three years of separation, we met at G——n, I knew all that it was necessary to know of the character of the Baron Ritzner von Jung.
A German University town, G——n seems to hint at Göttingen. In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin Lenski was a Göttingen student. Lenski dies in a pistol duel with Onegin. In his EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 45) VN points out that “the description of the Lenski-Onegin duel is, on our poet's part, a personal recollection in regard to various details, and, in regard to its issue, a personal prediction.” E. A. Poe’s story Mystification (written in 1837, the year of Pushkin’s death) is basically a comic anecdote, ridiculing duels. It is the first work in which Poe displays an interest in secret writing. The tale also touches upon the relation between a person and his image, or double, which Poe was to consider more seriously in three later stories (“William Wilson,” “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Oval Portrait”). Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). In its finished form Shade’s poem has thus as many lines as there are stories in A Thousand and One Nights. E. A. Poe is the author of The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade (1845), with an old saying for epigraph: “truth is stranger than fiction.” At the end of Mystification the narrator mentions a thousand deaths:
The Baron afterwards informed me that he had purposely thrown the treatise in Hermann’s way two or three weeks before the adventure, and that he was satisfied, from the general tenor of his conversation, that he had studied it with the deepest attention, and firmly believed it to be a work of unusual merit. Upon this hint he proceeded. Hermann would have died a thousand deaths rather than acknowledge his inability to understand anything and everything in the universe that had ever been written about the duello.
Describing Hazel Shade’s investigations in the Haunted Barn, Kinbote mentions the theatrical ululations and flashes of a thunderstorm:
From Jane P. I obtained however a good deal of quite different, and much more pathetic information - which explained to me why my friend had thought fit to regale me with commonplace student mischief, but also made me regret that I prevented him from getting to the point he was confusedly and self-consciously making (for as I have said in an earlier note, he never cared to refer to his dead child) by filling in a welcome pause with an extraordinary episode from the history of Onhava University. That episode took place in the year of grace 1876. But to return to Hazel Shade. She decided she wanted to investigate the "phenomena" herself for a paper ("on any subject") required in her psychology course by a cunning professor who was collecting data on "Autoneurynological Patterns among American university students." 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. Hazel did not give up, and a few days later asked Jane to come with her again, but Jane could not. She tells me she suggested that the White twins (nice fraternity boys accepted by the Shades) would come instead. But Hazel flatly refused this new arrangement, and after a row with her parents took her bull's-eye and notebook and set off alone. One can well imagine how the Shades dreaded a recrudescence of the poltergeist nuisance but the ever-sagacious Dr. Sutton affirmed - on what authority I cannot tell - that cases in which the same person was again involved in the same type of outbreaks after a lapse of six years were practically unknown. (note to Line 347)
The storm’s theatrical ululations seem to hint at E. A. Poe’s ballad Ulalume (1847) in which the action takes place on an October night:
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.
Alexander Blok’s poem Dvoynik ("The Double," 1909) begins as follows:
Однажды в октябрьском тумане
Я брёл, вспоминая напев.
Once in the October haze
I shuffled, remembering a melody.
According to G. Ivanov, to his question “does a sonnet need a coda” Blok replied that he did not know what a coda is. In his poem Ya - Gamlet. Kholodeet krov' ("I'm Hamlet. Freezes blood..." 1914) Blok identifies himself with Hamlet, Shakespeare's hero who was stabbed with a poisoned blade.
Poe’s Mystification has an epigraph from Ned Knowles:
Slid, if these be your "passados" and "montantes," I'll have none o' them.
This reference to thrusts of the sword in fencing is from a speech of a character named Edward Knowell in Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humor, IV, vii, 145-146, in the version of the folio of 1616 with modernized spelling.
A play on “know less,” Knowles brings to mind “to know more one must feel less, and vice versa,” a sentence in Dostoevski’s letter of Oct. 31, 1838 (Dostoevski’s seventeenth birthday), to his brother Mikhail:
Друг мой! Ты философствуешь как поэт. И как не ровно выдерживает душа градус вдохновенья, так не ровна, не верна и твоя философия. Чтоб больше знать, надо меньше чувствовать, и обратно, правило опрометчивое, бред сердца.
My friend, you philosophize like a poet. And just because the soul cannot be forever in a state of exaltation, your philosophy is not true and not just. To know more one must feel less, and vice versa. Your judgment is featherheaded – it is a delirium of the heart.
Gradus vdokhnoven’ya (the degree of inspiration, "a state of exaltation") mentioned by Dostoevski (the author of “The Double,” 1846) brings to mind Jakob Gradus (Shade’s murderer). In his Commentary and Index Kinbote mentions Sudarg of Bokay (Jakob Gradus in reverse), a mirror maker of genius. In Poe’s Mystification Ritzner von Jung smashes the mirror:
“The language you have thought proper to employ, Mynheer Hermann, in addressing yourself to me, is objectionable in so many particulars, that I have neither temper nor time for specification. That my opinions, however, are not the opinions to be expected from a gentleman, is an observation so directly offensive as to allow me but one line of conduct. Some courtesy, nevertheless, is due to the presence of this company, and to yourself, at this moment, as my guest. You will pardon me, therefore, if, upon this consideration, I deviate slightly from the general usage among gentlemen in similar cases of personal affront. You will forgive me for the moderate tax I shall make upon your imagination, and endeavor to consider, for an instant, the reflection of your person in yonder mirror as the living Mynheer Hermann himself. This being done, there will be no difficulty whatever. I shall discharge this decanter of wine at your image in yonder mirror, and thus fulfil all the spirit, if not the exact letter, of resentment for your insult, while the necessity of physical violence to your real person will be obviated.”
With these words he hurled the decanter, full of wine, against the mirror which hung directly opposite Hermann; striking the reflection of his person with great precision, and of course shattering the glass into fragments. The whole company at once started to their feet, and, with the exception of myself and Ritzner, took their departure. As Hermann went out, the Baron whispered me that I should follow him and make an offer of my services. To this I agreed; not knowing precisely what to make of so ridiculous a piece of business.
Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin (after her tragic death her father, Professor Vsevolod Botkin, went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus). Nadezhda means in Russian “hope.” There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade's poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin's Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin's epigrams, "half-milord, half-merchant, etc."), will be full again. In the same letter of of Oct. 31, 1838, to his brother Dostoevski says that it is hard to live without hope. In Ulalume Poe mentions a light’s 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 poet’s wife (whose “real” name seems to be Sofia Botkin, born Lastochkin). Lastochki ("The Swallows," 1884) is a poem by Fet (who was married to Maria Botkin). In Shakespeare’s historical play Richard III (Act 5, scene 2) Richmond says:
True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings.
Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings.
Hentzner barn + Rio = hen + Baron Ritzner
In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) Rio de Janeiro is the city of Ostap Bender’s dreams. On the poster depicting Bender as a famous Bombay Brahmin (Yogi) kurochka-nevidimka (the invisible hen) is mentioned:
Затем на свет были извлечены: азбука для глухонемых, благотворительные открытки, эмалевые нагрудные знаки и афиша с портретом самого Бендера в шалварах и чалме. На афише было написано:
!!! ПРИЕХАЛ ЖРЕЦ !!!
знаменитый бомбейский брамин (йог)
— сын Парвы —
(заслуженный артист союзных республик)
номера по опыту Шерлока Холмса.
Индийский факир. — Курочка невидимка . —
Свечи с Атлантиды. — Адская палатка. —
Пророк Самуил отвечает на вопросы публики. —
Материализация духов и раздача слонов
Входные билеты от 50 к. до 2 р. (Chapter Four)
Nomera po opytu Sherloka Kholmsa (theatrical demonstration of the Sherlock Holmes method) on Bender’s poster brings to mind the Conan Doyle hero mentioned by Shade in Canto One of his poem:
And then the gradual and dual blue
As night unites the viewer and the view,
And in the morning, diamonds of frost
Express amazement: Whose spurred feet have crossed
From left to right the blank page of the road?
Reading from left to right in winter's code:
A dot, an arrow pointing back; repeat:
Dot, arrow pointing back... A pheasant's feet
Torquated beauty, sublimated grouse,
Finding your China right behind my house.
Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose
Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes? (ll. 17-28)
Materializatsiya dukhov (the materialization of spirits) reminds one of materialization in which Weinstock, the spiritualist in VN's short novel Soglyadatay ("The Eye," 1930), does not believe:
Weinstock’s partner in these games was a little pink-faced red-haired lady with plump little hands, who smelled of eucalyptus gum, and had always a cold. I learned later that they had been having an affair for a long time, but Weinstock, who in certain respects was singularly frank, never once let this slip out. They addressed each other by their names and patronymics and behaved as though they were merely good friends. She would often drop in at the store and, warming herself by the stove, read a theosophist journal published in Riga. She encouraged Weinstock in his experiments with the hereafter and used to tell how the furniture in her room periodically came to life, how a deck of cards would fly from one spot to another or scatter itself all over the floor, and how once her bedside lamp had hopped down from its table and begun to imitate a dog impatiently tugging at its leash; the plug had finally shot out, there was the sound of a scampering off in the dark, and the lamp was later found in the hall, right by the front door. Weinstock used to say that, alas, real “power” had not been granted him, that his nerves were as slack as old suspenders, while a medium’s nerves were practically like the strings of a harp. He did not, however, believe in materialization, and it was only as a curiosity that he preserved a snapshot given him by a spiritualist that showed a pale, pudgy woman with closed eyes disgorging a flowing, cloud-like mass.
He was fond of Edgar Poe and Barbey d’Aurevilly, adventures, unmaskings, prophetic dreams, and secret societies. The presence of Masonic lodges, suicides’ clubs, Black Masses, and especially Soviet agents dispatched from “over there” (and how eloquent and awesome was the intonation of that “over there”!) to shadow some poor little émigré man, transformed Weinstock’s Berlin into a city of wonders amid which he felt perfectly at home. He would hint that he was a member of a large organization, supposedly dedicated to the unraveling and rending of the delicate webs spun by a certain bright-scarlet spider, which Weinstock had had reproduced on a dreadfully garish signet ring giving an exotic something to his hairy hand. (Chapter 3)
Razdacha slonov (Free elephants) brings to mind "an elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macaco worm; the monstrous parasite of a genius" (as Sybil Shade called Kinbote when alluding to him in public). Tick may hint at Ludwig Tieck, the author of "Puss in Boots" mentioned by Poe at the beginning of Mystification.
Prorok Samuil (Samuel the Prophet who answers questions from the audience) brings to mind Samuel Shade (the poet's father).
According to Kinbote, in a conversation with him Shade mentioned those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov:
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)
In a letter of Feb. 12, 1958, to Hans Bender C. G. Jung mentions the accompanying phenomena in cases of death and says that he has never heard of a radar beam that could pick up a point in the future:
Hence the accompanying phenomena in cases of death: the clock stops, a picture falls off the wall, a glass cracks, etc.
Until now such phenomena were furnished with ad hoc explanations and with names like telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, and so on.
But that explains nothing, even when certain of these phenomena are compared with radar.
I have never yet heard of a radar beam that could pick up a point in the future.
Radar is a “mirror word.” In his note to Lines 347-348 (She twisted words) Kinbote mentions mirror words:
One of the examples her father gives is odd. I am quite sure it was I who one day, when we were discussing "mirror words," observed (and I recall the poet's expression of stupefaction) that "spider" in reverse is "redips", and "T.S. Eliot", "toilest." But then it is also true that Hazel Shade resembled me in certain respects.
C. G. Jung was a psychologist. Hazel Shade investigated the "phenomena" for a paper required in her psychology course by a cunning professor who was collecting data on "Autoneurynological Patterns among American university students."
It would be, of course, absurd to see in Pale Fire an illustration of C. G. Jung’s theories, but I must admit that some of Jung’s writings help to understand VN’s novel and certainly add to the pleasure derived by its solver.