Hentzner barn & theatrical ululations in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 03/16/2020 - 16:10

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.
Ned Knowles.


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:


знаменитый бомбейский брамин (йог)
— сын Парвы —
Иоканаан Марусидзе
(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.

I notice that Paul Hentzner (1558-1623) was a German lawyer who published an account of his travels in England during the late Elizabethan era. Hentzner is the author of Itinerarium Germaniae, Galliae, Angliae, Italiae, cum Indice Locorum, Rerum atque Verborum (1612).

Alexey! Thank you for mentioning Jung’s influence in regards to Hazel’s paper and “Autoneurynological Patterns.” I completely missed that! As you know, my focus has been on the Jungian substrate in Pale Fire, (which I do not take to be an illustration of Jung’s theories, but Nabokov’s intentional parody.) This is an excellent example of Jungian influence, and very helpful to my argument.


            Although I cannot find the exact phrase in Jung (or at least in the English translation), it means “auto-suggestion.” Jung wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject, “On the Psychology of So-called Occult Phenomena, ” which he presented in 1917 to the Society for Psychical Research (the model for Shade’s IPH). Here is a small piece from that, which I believe relates to Hazel’s experiences. The medium was a young girl who through auto-suggestion contacted spirits. Jung quotes F. W. Myers, the founder of the SPR, whose observation of an instance of automatic writing seems to reflect Hazel’s barn spirit with the jumble of letters, anagrams, mirror words, etc.


This experiment illustrates in the clearest way the gradual increase of auto-suggestion. Along the path of this autosuggestion all the automatic motor phenomena develop. How the mental content gradually intrudes into the purely motor sphere scarcely needs explaining after the above discussion. No special suggestion is required to evoke the mental phenomena, since, from the standpoint of the experimenter at least, it was a question of verbal representation from the start. After the first random motor expressions are over, unpractised subjects soon begin reproducing verbal products of their own or the intentions of the experimenter. The intrusion of the mental content can be objectively understood as follows:

Through the gradual increase of auto-suggestion the motor areas of the arm are isolated from consciousness, that is to say, the perception of slight motor impulses is veiled from the mind. The knowledge received via consciousness of a potential mental content produces a collateral excitation in the speech area as the nearest available means to mental formulation. The intention to formulate necessarily affects the motor component of the verbal representation most of all, thus explaining the unconscious overflow of speech impulses into the motor area, and conversely the gradual penetration of partial hypnosis into the speech area.

In numerous experiments with beginners, I have noticed, usually at the start of the mental phenomena, a relatively large number of completely meaningless words, often only senseless jumbles of letters. Later all sorts of absurdities are produced, words or whole sentences with the letters transposed all higgledypiggledy or arranged in reverse order, like mirror-writing. The appearance of a letter or word brings a new suggestion; involuntarily some kind of association tacks on to it and is then realized. Curiously enough, these are not as a rule conscious associations but quite unexpected ones. This would seem to indicate that a considerable part of the speech area is already hypnotically isolated. The recognition of this automatism again forms a fruitful suggestion, since at this point a feeling of strangeness invariably arises, if it was not already present in the pure motor automatism. The question "Who is doing this?" "Who is speaking?" acts as a suggestion for synthesizing the unconscious personality, which as a rule is not long in coming. Some name or other presents itself, usually one charged with emotion, and the automatic splitting of the personality is accomplished. How haphazard and precarious this synthesis is at first can be seen from the following reports from the literature. Myers gives the following interesting observation of a Mr. A., a member of the Society for Psychical Research, who was experimenting on himself with automatic writing:


3rd day What is man?—Tefi hasl esble lies. Is that an anagram?—Yes.

How many words does it contain?—Five.

What is the first word?—See.

What is the second word?—Eeeee. SEE?

Shall I interpret it myself?—Try to!

Mr. A. found this solution: "The life is less able." He was astonished at this intellectual pronouncement, which seemed to him to prove the existence of an intelligence independent of his own.


Mary! I hope you'll find interesting this excerpt from my post of Aug. 11, 2016, "telephone & Odon in PF:


In his essay Avtomaticheskie zapisi Vladimira Solovyova (“The Automatic Notes of Vladimir Solovyov,” 1927) Chulkov mentions Solovyov’s poem Tri svidaniya (“The Three Meetings,” 1898) and Professor Vorontsov:


В этой небольшой заметке, предлагаемой вниманию читателей, я позволю себе транскрибировать девять автографов Владимира Соловьева, до сих пор не известных и нигде не напечатанных. Малые по размеру, они представляют, однако, исключительный интерес как психологические и биографические документы, и в качестве таковых они являются в известной мере ключом к пониманию его поэзии -- особливо таких стихотворений, как "Три свидания" или "Das Ewig--Weibliche".


Автоматическое письмо начинается со слова греческими печатными буквами: Σοφια. И далее так: Αορατος, δωρα ορατα διδοται. Мы будем завтра одни. Медведь обращается в лилию (нрзб.). John. My ?ear friend. Mary and I go to help you. Do not ayas. Aad. My dear friend. Mary and I go to help you. Do not be sorry. После этих английских фраз -- пять строк неясных знаков и начертаний {Характер этих значков и букв дает основание предположить, что мы имеем дело с аббревиатурами каких-то древних письмён, может быть, семитических. Проф. Е.А. Воронцов, к которому мы -- при посредстве П. А. Флоренского -- обращались как к специалисту, занимавшемуся семитическими рукописями, полагает, что эти значки -- род стенограммы, расшифровать которую нельзя без знания ключа.


The characters in Chulkov’s book Imperatory. Psikhologicheskie portrety (“The Emperors. Psychological Portraits,” 1927) include S. P. Botkin, the physician-in-ordinary whose son, Dr. Evgeniy Botkin, was executed in July of 1918 with the family of the last Russian tsar.


If this fragment does not make sense, please look up the entire post:

http://www.google.ru/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiZ6O-h7qToAhXxkIsKHXbtCGAQFjAAegQIARAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fthenabokovian.org%2Findex.php%2Fnode%2F934&usg=AOvVaw2oDRqnUDfYr8WLfpo1b1UJ  (I'm afraid this link wouldn't work, but let's try)

Alexey, The link worked, but I'm afraid I don't quite follow all the connections. Did Solovyova mean the same thing in "Automatic Notes" as Jung's spirit-channeling meaning of automatic writing?


Yes, some of the marginal notes that Solovyov penned are the examples of his automatic writing perhaps channeling Sophia. A great philosopher and minor poet, Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) had a brother Vsevolod (the novelist, a friend of Dostoevski) and a sister Polixena Solovyova (Allegro), one of the Russian translators of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

Interesting. All very suggestive, but the links become attenuated through the increased degrees of separation. It would be very hard to prove VN's intention.

Do you know anything about the Botkin doctors in regard to the "Psychological Portraits" or influences in psychology? That would strengthen the ties.

Aha! I finally found Evgeniy Botkin on wikipedia as "Eugene Botkin".  A case could possibly be made for him as source for PF, in that he was undergoing an intense existential/religious crisis at the time of his death, hallucinating (or receiving spirit messages) even. Here is his last letter, interrupted by his assassination:

"I am making a last attempt at writing a real letter -- at least from here -- although that qualification, I believe, is utterly superfluous. I do not think that I was fated at any time to write to anyone from anywhere. My voluntary confinement here is restricted less by time than by my earthly existence. In essence I am dead -- dead for my children -- dead for my work ... I am dead but not yet buried, or buried alive -- whichever, the consequences are nearly identical ... The day before yesterday, as I was calmly reading ... I saw a reduced vision of my son Yuri's face, but dead, in a horizontal position, his eyes closed. Yesterday, at the same reading, I suddenly heard a word that sounded like Papulya. I nearly burst into sobs. Again -- this is not a hallucination because the word was pronounced, the voice was similar, and I did not doubt for an instant that my daughter, who was supposed to be in Tobolsk, was talking to me ... I will probably never hear that voice so dear or feel that touch so dear with which my little children so spoiled me ... If faith without works is dead, then deeds can live without faith; and if some of us have deeds and faith together, that is only by the special grace of God. I became one of these lucky ones through a heavy burden-the loss of my first born, six-month old Serzhi... This vindicates my last decision ... when I unhesitatingly orphaned my own children in order to carry out my physician's duty to the end, as Abraham did not hesitate at God's demand to sacrifice his only son."

This unfinished letter (kept in the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History) was never sent off and was first published (by Kurth and Radzinsky) only in 1995. I hope, Mary, you will pardon me for saying that your point (Jung, etc.) is even harder to prove (I don't say it is impossible). I also hope that you've enjoyed my latest "automatic" post.

If Botkin's letter was not published until 1995, that would mean that VN was not aware of Botkin's existential crisis and hallucinations.


Alexey, I do pardon you, and welcome your skepticism. The dearth of direct mentions of Jung by Nabokov, not to mention his well-known scorn of psychoanalysis make it seem unlikely Jung's theories find a place in his work.  Nevertheless, I believe I have found adequate circumstantial evidence of the very likely influences Jungian ideas have served as intentional parodic and allegoric underweave to the design of Pale Fire. The characters perfectly play-out the Jungian archetypes and "individuation," and PF's many allusions to alchemy suggest Jung, who was the foremost contemporary exponent of alchemy as psychological transformation.


Nabokov’s actual opinions on Jung may never be known, but I suggest two possible reasons for his muteness. One: Nabokov was sparing in his approbations for any but the giants, such as Dante, Shakespeare, and Pushkin. He seemed to save his excoriations for just a few of his favorite bête noirs, such as Dostoyevsky, Eliot, and above all, Freud. Everyone else inhabited an ignorable and ignoble middle ground of mediocrity. And, two: Nabokov may have discovered that he and Jung actually had quite a lot in metaphysical common which he did not want to openly admit, either because it would totter his well-entrenched anti-psychoanalysis stance, or because in his cat-and-mouse game with critics, he tended to dissemble at any notion that came too close. 


Nevertheless, it doesn’t really matter – his inclusion of Jungian motifs apparently served his purposes for Pale Fire. Pale Fire is a pastiche of parody of literary and intellectual luminaries, including the greats and the not-so-greats. The connecting theme for all is works that deal with the subject of death, especially death and resurrection (transcendence). Devoting his life to personal transcendence (individuation) and inquiry into the occult (Jung was a member of the SPR, as were a number of others mentioned or alluded to in PF), and having experienced a bona fide near-death experience, Jung should not be a surprising inclusion in Pale Fire. Along with Jung’s positive approbation of the role of the artist, this would make Jung’s theories a perfect fit for Pale Fire’s triple themes of transcendence of death, of ego, and ultimately of Art. And yet, Nabokov had so effectively frightened Freudians away that this would be a most canny deceit– no one would expect it. “Deceit to the point of diabolism,” was his declared intent. 

I have only been able to post bits and pieces of my theories, but if you like, you can check out my work-in-progress uploaded @ https://independent.academia.edu/MaryRoss22

Mary, I hope that my words won’t hurt you (or at least won’t hurt you too much). Trying to explain to you why you are losing your time advocating your theory is not worth losing my time. I shall limit myself to saying that, to understand VN’s writings, you have to answer not the question “why not” but the question “why yes” (or “Wye Yeslove”).