Kinbote's new incognito & happy lost glove in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 12/26/2019 - 07:57

At the end of his Commentary to Shade's poem Kinbote (in VN's novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions "a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus" whom he will face sooner or later:


"And you, what will you be doing with yourself, poor King, poor Kinbote?" a gentle young voice may inquire.
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 Revizor ("The Inspector," 1836):


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.)


At the beginning of Gogol’s play the Town Major says that an Inspector from St. Petersburg is coming incognito:


Городничий. Я пригласил вас, господа, с тем, чтобы сообщить вам пренеприятное известие: к нам едет ревизор.
Аммос Федорович. Как ревизор?
Артемий Филиппович. Как ревизор?
Городничий. Ревизор из Петербурга, инкогнито. И ещё с секретным предписаньем.


Town Mayor. I have called you together, gentlemen, to tell you an unpleasant piece of news. An Inspector-General is coming.
Ammos Fyodorovich. What, an Inspector-General?
Artemiy Fillipovich. What, an Inspector-General?
Town Mayor. Yes, an Inspector from St. Petersburg, incognito. And with secret instructions, too. (Act One, scene I)


In his Foreword (written after the Commentary and Index) Kinbote mentions his new incognito and quotes a Zemblan saying "the lost glove is happy:"


As mentioned, I think, in my last note to the poem, the depth charge of Shade's death blasted such secrets and caused so many dead fish to float up, that I was forced to leave New Wye soon after my last interview with the jailed killer. The writing of the commentary had to be postponed until I could find a new incognito in quieter surroundings, but practical matters concerning the poem had to be settled at once. I took a plane to New York, had the manuscript photographed, came to terms with one of Shade's publishers, and was on the point of clinching the deal when, quite casually, in the midst of a vast sunset (we sat in a cell of walnut and glass fifty stories above the progression of scarabs), my interlocutor observed: "You'll be happy to know, Dr. Kinbote, that Professor So-and-so [one of the members of the Shade committee] has consented to act as our adviser in editing the stuff." 

Now "happy" is something extremely subjective. One of our sillier Zemblan proverbs says: the lost glove is happy. Promptly I refastened the catch of my briefcase and betook myself to another publisher.


In his poem Slava (“Fame,” 1942) VN says that he keeps endlessly passing incognito into the flame-licked night of his native land:


Но воздушным мостом моё слово изогнуто
через мир, и чредой спицевидных теней
без конца по нему прохожу я инкогнито
в полыхающий сумрак отчизны моей.


But my word, curved to form an aerial viaduct,
spans the world and across in a strobe-effect spin
of spokes I keep endlessly passing incognito
into the flame-licked night of my native land.


In his poem VN compares his guest to the Influence on the Balkan Novella of the Symbolist School and mentions Akakiy Akakievich, the main character in Gogol’s story Shinel’ (“The Overcoat,” 1842):


И вот, как на колёсиках, вкатывается ко мне некто
восковой, поджарый, с копотью в красных ноздрях,
и сижу, и решить не могу: человек это
или просто так -- разговорчивый прах.

Как проситель из наглых, гроза общежитий,
как зловещий друг детства, как старший шпион
(шепелявым таким шепотком: а скажите,
что вы делали там-то?), как сон,

как палач, как шпион, как друг детства зловещий,
как в балканской новелле влиянье, как их,
символистов -- но хуже. Есть вещи, вещи,
которые... даже... (Акакий Акакиевич

любил, если помните, "плевелы речи",
и он как Наречье, мой гость восковой),
и сердце просится, и сердце мечется,
и я не могу. А его разговор

так и катится острою осыпью под гору,
и картавое, кроткое слушать должно
и заслушиваться господина бодрого,
оттого что без слов и без славы оно.

Как пародия совести в драме бездарной,
как палач и озноб, и последний рассвет --
о волна, поднимись, тишина благодарна
и за эту трёхсложную музыку.


And now there rolls in, as on casters, a character
waxlike, lean-loined, with red nostrils soot-stuffed
and I sit and cannot decide: is it human
or nothing special - just garrulous dust?

Like the blustering beggar, the pest of the poorhouse,
like an evil old schoolmate, like the head spy
(in that thick slurred murmur: “Say, what were you doing
in such and such place?”), like a dream,

like a spy, like a hangman, like an evil old schoolmate,
like the Influence on the Balkan Novella of - er -
the Symbolist School, only worse. There are matters, matters
which, so to speak, even… (Akakiy Akakievich

had a weakness, if you remember, for “weed words,”
and he’s like an Adverb, my waxy guest),
and my heart keeps pressing, my heart keeps tossing,
and I can’t any more – while his speech

fairly tumbles on downhill, like sharp loose gravel,
and the burry-R’d meek heart must harken to him,
aye, harken entranced to the buoyant gentleman,
because it has got no words and no fame.

Like a mockery of conscience in a cheap drama,
like a hangman, and shiverings, and the last dawn –
Oh, wave, swell up higher! The stillness is grateful
for the least bit of ternary music – No, gone!


In Razvyazka Revizora (“The Dénouement of The Inspector,” 1846) Gogol explains Khlestakov (the main character in “The Inspector”) as man’s corrupt conscience made flesh, while the arrival of the genuine inspector at the end of the play represents our true conscience awakened at the point of death, to face the Last Judgment.


The Balkan novella in VN’s poem “Fame” seems to hint at VN’s story Vesna v Fial’te (“Spring in Fialta,” 1936). The name Fialta reminds its narrator and main character of Yalta ("a lovely Crimean town"):


Я этот городок люблю; потому ли, что во впадине его названия мне слышится сахаристо-сырой запах мелкого, тёмного, самого мятого из цветов, и не в тон, хотя внятное, звучание Ялты; потому ли, что его сонная весна особенно умащивает душу, не знаю; но как я был рад очнуться в нём, и вот шлёпать вверх, навстречу ручьям, без шапки, с мокрой головой, в макинтоше, надетом прямо на рубашку!


I am fond of Fialta; I am fond of it because I feel in the hollow of those violaceous syllables the sweet dark dampness of the most rumpled of small flowers, and because the altolike name of a lovely Crimean town is echoed by its viola; and also because there is something in the very somnolence of its humid Lent that especially anoints one’s soul. So I was happy to be there again, to trudge uphill in inverse direction to the rivulet of the gutter, hatless, my head wet, my skin already suffused with warmth although I wore only a light mackintosh over my shirt.


In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN mentions Mme Bovary's lorgnette that was lost by Chekhov's Lady with the Lapdog on the pier at Yalta:


With still more excitement did I read of Louise Pointdexter, Calhoun’s fair cousin, daughter of a sugar planter, “the highest and haughtiest of his class” (though why an old man who planted sugar should be high and haughty was a mystery to me). She is revealed in the throes of jealousy (which I used to feel so keenly at miserable parties when Mara Rzhevuski, a pale child with a white silk bow in her black hair, suddenly and inexplicably stopped noticing me) standing upon the edge of her azotea, her white hand resting upon the copestone of the parapet which is “still wet with the dews of night,” her twin breasts sinking and swelling in quick, spasmodic breathing, her twin breasts, let me reread, sinking and swelling, her lorgnette directed…

That lorgnette I found afterward in the hands of Madame Bovary, and later Anna Karenin had it, and then it passed into the possession of Chekhov's Lady with the Lapdog and was lost by her on the pier at Yalta. When Louise held it, it was directed toward the speckled shadows under the mesquites, where the horseman of her choice was having an innocent conversation with the daughter of a wealthy haciendado, Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos (whose “head of hair in luxuriance rivalled the tail of a wild steed”). (Chapter Ten, 2)


The lorgnette lost by Chekhov's Lady with the Lapdog brings to mind a white kid glove lost by VN’s languid and melancholy English governess, Miss Norcott, at Nice or Beaulieu:


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. (Chapter Four, 4)


In the Russian version of his autobiography, Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), VN says that Miss Norcott was asked to leave because she turned out to be a Lesbian:


Была томная, черноволосая красавица с синими морскими глазами, мисс Норкот, однажды, потерявшая на пляже в Ницце белую лайковую перчатку, которую я долго искал среди всякой пёстрой гальки, да ракушек, да совершенно округлённых и облагороженных морем бутылочных осколков; она оказалась лесбиянкой, и с ней расстались в Аббации.


Der Handschuh ("The Glove," 1797) is a ballad (translated as Perchatka by Zhukovski) by F. Schiller. In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Dolores Haze (Lolita’s full name) marries Richard F. Schiller. The characters in Lolita include Miss Lester, Miss Fabian (a Lesbian couple) and Miss East whose incognito is exploded by Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel):


With people in movies I seem to share the services of the machina telephonica and its sudden god. This time it was an irate neighbor. The east window happened to be agape in the living room, with the blind mercifully down, however; and behind it the damp black night of a sour New England spring had been breathlessly listening to us. I had always thought that type of haddocky spinster with the obscene mind was the result of considerable literary inbreeding in modern fiction; but now I am convinced that prude and prurient Miss East – or to explode her incognito, Miss Finton Lebone – had been probably protruding three-quarter-way from her bedroom window as she strove to catch the gist of our quarrel.

“…This racket… lacks all sense of…” quacked the receiver, “we do not live in a tenement here. I must emphatically…”

I apologized for my daughter’s friends being so loud. Young people, you know - and cradled the next quack and a half.

Downstairs the screen door banged. Lo? Escaped?

Through the casement on the stairs I saw a small impetuous ghost slip through the shrubs; a silvery dot in the dark - hub of bicycle wheel - moved, shivered, and she was gone.

It so happened that the car was spending the night in a repair shop downtown. I had no other alternative than to pursue on foot the winged fugitive. Even now, after more than three years have heaved and elapsed, I cannot visualize that spring-night street, that already so leafy street, without a gasp of panic. Before their lighted porch Miss Lester was promenading Miss Fabian's dropsical dackel. Mr. Hyde almost knocked it over. Walk three steps and run three. A tepid rain started to drum on the chestnut leaves. At the next corner, pressing Lolita against an iron railing, a blurred youth held and kissed - no, not her, mistake. My talons still tingling, I flew on. (2.14)


In the Russian version (1967) of Lolita VN calls Mr. Hyde (Dr Jekyll’s alternative personality in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1886) izverg v stivensonovskoy skazke (the beast in Stevenson’s fairy tale):


Так случилось, что автомобиль проводил ночь в ремонтной мастерской на другом конце города. Мне приходилось пешком преследовать крылатую беглянку. Даже теперь, когда ухнуло в вечность больше трёх лет с той поры, я не в силах вообразить эту улицу, эту весеннюю ночь без панического содрогания. Перед освещённым крыльцом их дома мисс Лестер прогуливала старую, разбухшую таксу мисс Фабиан. Как изверг в стивенсоновской сказке, я был готов всех раздавить на своём пути. Надо попеременно: три шага идти медленно, три - бежать. Тепловатый дождь забарабанил по листьям каштанов. На следующем углу, прижав Лолиту к чугунным перилам, смазанный темнотой юноша тискал и целовал её - нет не её, ошибка. С неизрасходованным зудом в когтях, я полетел дальше. (2.14)


At the end of Pushkin’s little tragedy “Mozart and Salieri” (1830) Salieri wonders if the creator of Vatican (Michelangelo) was no murderer after all and mentions skazka tupoy, bessmyslennoy tolpy (a fable of stupid, senseless crowd):


Ты заснёшь
Надолго, Моцарт! но ужель он прав,
И я не гений? Гений и злодейство
Две вещи несовместные. Неправда:
А Бонаротти? или это сказка
Тупой, бессмысленной толпы — и не был
Убийцею создатель Ватикана?


          Your sleep
Will be a long one, Mozart. But is he right,
And I’m no genius? Genius and villainy
Are two things incompatible. Not true:
What about Buonarotti? Or is that just
A fable of stupid, senseless crowd,
And the Vatican’s creator was no murderer?
(Scene II)


In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart says that genius and villainy are two things incompatible and uses the phrase nikto b (none would):


Да! Бомарше ведь был тебе приятель;
Ты для него Тарара сочинил,
Вещь славную. Там есть один мотив....
Я все твержу его, когда я счастлив....
Ла ла ла ла.... Ах, правда ли, Сальери,
Что Бомарше кого-то отравил?
Не думаю: он слишком был смешон
Для ремесла такого.
Он же гений,
Как ты, да я. А гений и злодейство,
Две вещи несовместные. Не правда ль?

Yes, you and Beaumarchais were pals, weren’t you?
It was for him you wrote Tarare, a lovely
Work. There is one tune in it, I always
Hum it to myself when I feel happy . . .
La la la la . . . Salieri, is it true
That Beaumarchais once poisoned somebody?
I don’t think so. He was too droll a fellow
For such a trade.
Besides, he was a genius,
Like you and me. And genius and villainy
Are two things incompatible, aren’t they?


Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! но нет; тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.

If all could feel like you the power of harmony!
But no: the world could not go on then. None
Would bother with the needs of lowly life;
All would surrender to free art.


Nikto b is Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ real name) in reverse. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus (Shade’s murderer) after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). Nadezhda means “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.


Shade’s poem consists of 999 lines and is almost finished when the author is killed by Gradus. 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”). Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Alexander Blok (a Symbolist poet). 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 fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol describes a carnival in Rome and mentions il gran poeta morto (the great dead poet) and his sonetto colla coda and in a footnote explains that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as “sonnet with the tail” (con la coda), when the idea cannot not be expressed in fourteen lines and entails an appendix that can be longer than the sonnet itself:


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


Not only Line 1001, but Kinbote’s entire Foreword, Commentary and Index can thus be regarded as a coda of Shade’s poem. "Coda" rhymes with “soda.” In Lolita Humbert Humbert and Lolita have breakfast in the township of Soda:


We had breakfast in the township of Soda, pop. 1001.
“Judging by the terminal figure,” I remarked, “Fatface is already here.”
“Your humor,” said Lo, “is sidesplitting, deah fahther.” (2.18)


A little earlier Lolita draws HH’s attention to the three nines changing into the next thousand in the odometer:


“If he’s really a cop,” she said shrilly but not illogically, “the worst thing we could do, would be to show him we are scared. Ignore him, Dad.”
“Did he ask where we were going?”
“Oh, he knows that” (mocking me).
“Anyway,” I said, giving up, “I have seen his face now. He is not pretty. He looks exactly like a relative of mine called Trapp.”
“Perhaps he is Trapp. If I were you - Oh, look, all the nines are changing into the next thousand. When I was a little kid,” she continued unexpectedly, “I used to think they’d stop and go back to nines, if only my mother agreed to put the car in reverse.”
It was the first time, I think, she spoke spontaneously of her pre-Humbertian childhood; perhaps, the theatre had taught her that trick; and silently we traveled on, unpursued. (ibid.)


Tolstomordik (Fatface) mentioned by Gumbert Gumbert in the Russian version of Lolita seems to blend Tolstoy with Chernomordik, the chemist in Chekhov’s story Aptekarsha (“A Chemist’s Wife,” 1886). In a letter of Feb. 14, 1900, to Olga Knipper (a leading actress of the Moscow Art Theater whom Chekhov married in 1901) Chekhov (who lived in Yalta) says that he will go to Sevastopol incognito and put himself down in the hotel-book Count Chernomordik:


Я решил не писать Вам, но так как Вы прислали фотографии, то я снимаю с Вас опалу и вот, как видите, пишу. Даже в Севастополь приеду, только, повторяю, никому об этом не говорите, особенно Вишневскому. Я буду там incognito, запишусь в гостинице так: граф Черномордик.


I had made up my mind not to write to you, but since you have sent the photographs I have taken off the ban, and here you see I am writing. I will even come to Sevastopol, only I repeat, don’t tell that to anyone, especially not to Vishnevsky. I shall be there incognito, I shall put myself down in the hotel-book Count Blackphiz.


In the same letter Chekhov thanks Knipper for her photographs that she sent to him:


Милая актриса, фотографии очень, очень хороши, особенно та, где Вы пригорюнились, поставив локти на спинку стула, и где передано Ваше выражение — скромно-грустное, тихое выражение, за которым прячется чёртик. И другая тоже удачна, но тут Вы немножко похожи на евреечку, очень музыкальную особу, которая ходит в консерваторию и в то же время изучает на всякий случай тайно зубоврачебное искусство и имеет жениха в Могилёве; и жених такой, как Манасевич. Вы сердитесь? Правда, правда, сердитесь? Это я мщу Вам за то, что Вы не подписались.


The photographs are very, very good, especially the one in which you are leaning in dejection with your elbows on the back of a chair, which gives you a discreetly mournful, gentle expression under which there lies hid a little demon. The other is good too, but it looks a little like a Jewess, a very musical person who attends a conservatoire, but at the same time is studying dentistry on the sly as a second string, and is engaged to be married to a young man in Mogilev, and whose fiancé is a person like Manasevich. Are you angry? Really, really angry? It’s my revenge for your not signing them.


According to Humbert Humbert, his very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning):


My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory, over which, if you can still stand my style (I am writing under observation), the sun of my infancy had set: surely, you all know those redolent remnants of day suspended, with the midges, about some hedge in bloom or suddenly entered and traversed by the rambler, at the bottom of a hill, in the summer dusk; a furry warmth, golden midges. (1.2)


In a letter of July 6, 1898, to Sumbatov-Yuzhin (an actor and playwright) Chekhov predicts to Yuzhin that a lightning in Monte-Carlo will kill him:


Будь здоров и благополучен и не бойся нефрита, которого у тебя нет и не будет. Ты умрёшь через 67 лет, и не от нефрита; тебя убьёт молния в Монте-Карло.
Don’t be afraid of nephritis. You’ll die in sixty-seven years and not of nephritis; a lightning in Monte-Carlo will kill you.


The Lady who Loved Lightning is a play written by Clare Quilty in collaboration with Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov; in the Russian Lolita her name becomes Vivian Damor-Blok). Before the breakfast in Soda Lolita tells Humbert that she is not a lady and does not like lightning:


We spent a grim night in a very foul cabin, under a sonorous amplitude of rain, and with a kind of prehistorically loud thunder incessantly rolling above us.
“I am not a lady and do not like lightning,” said Lo, whose dread of electric storms gave me some pathetic solace. (2.18)


Electric storms bring to mind certicle storms mentioned by Van Veen in VN's novel Ada (1969):


So the trivial patter went. Who does not harbor in the darkest gulf of his mind such bright recollections? Who has not squirmed and covered his face with his hands as the dazzling past leered at him? Who, in the terror and solitude of a long night —

‘What was that?’ exclaimed Marina, whom certicle storms terrified even more than they did the Antiamberians of Ladore County.

‘Sheet lightning,’ suggested Van.

‘If you ask me,’ said Demon, turning on his chair to consider the billowing drapery, ‘I’d guess it was a photographer’s flash. After all, we have here a famous actress and a sensational acrobat.’

Ada ran to the window. From under the anxious magnolias a white-faced boy flanked by two gaping handmaids stood aiming a camera at the harmless, gay family group. But it was only a nocturnal mirage, not unusual in July. Nobody was taking pictures except Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder. In expectation of the rumble, Marina started to count under her breath, as if she were praying or checking the pulse of a very sick person. One heartbeat was supposed to span one mile of black night between the living heart and a doomed herdsman, felled somewhere — oh, very far — on the top of a mountain. The rumble came — but sounded rather subdued. A second flash revealed the structure of the French window. (1.38)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): certicle: anagram of ‘electric’. The unmentionable god of thunder, Perun brings to mind Pern (Zemblan word for "devil"):


Many years ago - how many I would not care to say - I remember my Zemblan nurse telling me, a little man of six in the throes of adult insomnia: "Minnamin, Gut mag alkan, Pern dirstan" (my darling, God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty). Well, folks, I guess many in this fine hall are as hungry and thirsty as me, and I'd better stop, folks, right here. (note to Line 1000)


In VN's story Signs and Symbols (1948) the boy, aged six, suffered from insomnia like a grown-up man:


The boy, aged six—that was when he drew wonderful birds with human hands and feet, and suffered from insomnia like a grown-up man. (2)


In his poem "Fame" VN says that he appears to himself as a wizard bird-headed, emerald gloved:


Я божком себя вижу, волшебником с птичьей
головой, в изумрудных перчатках, в чулках
из лазурных чешуй. Прохожу. Перечтите
и остановитесь на этих строках.


To myself I appear as an idol, a wizard
bird-headed, emerald gloved, dressed in tights
made of bright-blue scales. I pass by. Reread it
and pause for a moment to ponder these lines.


VN's emerald gloves bring to mind Gerald Emerald, a young instructor at Wordsmith University:


Alas, my peace of mind was soon to be shattered. The thick venom of envy began squirting at me as soon as academic suburbia realized that John Shade valued my society above that of all other people. Your snicker, my dear Mrs. C., did not escape our notice as I was helping the tired old poet to find his galoshes after that dreary get-together party at your house. One day I happened to enter the English Literature office in quest of a magazine with the picture of the Royal Palace in Onhava, which I wanted my friend to see, when I overheard a young instructor in a green velvet jacket, whom I shall mercifully call Gerald Emerald, carelessly saying in answer to something the secretary had asked: "I guess Mr. Shade has already left with the Great Beaver." Of course I am quite tall, and my brown beard is of a rather rich tint and texture; the silly cognomen evidently applied to me, but was not worth noticing, and after calmly taking the magazine from a pamphlet-cluttered table, I contented myself on my way out with pulling Gerald Emerald's bow-tie loose with a deft jerk of my fingers as I passed by him. (Foreword)


It is Gerald Emerald (the man in green) who gives Gradus (the man in brown) a lift to Kinbote's house:


Gradus returned to the Main Desk.

"Too bad," said the girl, "I just saw him leave."

"Bozhe moy, Bozhe moy," muttered Gradus, who sometimes at moments of stress used Russian ejaculations.

"You'll find him in the directory," she said pushing it towards him, and dismissing the sick man's existence to attend to the wants of Mr. Gerald Emerald who was taking out a fat bestseller in a cellophane jacket.

Moaning and shifting from one foot to the other, Gradus started leafing through the college directory but when he found the address, he was faced with the problem of getting there.

"Dulwich Road," he cried to the girl. "Near? Far? Very far, probably?"

"Are you by any chance Professor Pnin's new assistant?" asked Emerald.

"No," said the girl. "This man is looking for Dr. Kinbote, I think. You are looking for Dr. Kinbote, aren't you?"

"Yes, and I can't any more," said Gradus.

"I thought so," said the girl. "Doesn't he live somewhere near Mr. Shade, Gerry?"

"Oh, definitely," said Gerry, and turned to the killer: "I can drive you there if you like. It is on my way."

Did they talk in the car, these two characters, the man in green and the man in brown? Who can say? They did not. After all, the drive took only a few minutes (it took me, at the wheel of my powerful Kramler, four and a half).

"I think I'll drop you here," said Mr. Emerald. "It's that house up there."

One finds it hard to decide what Gradus alias Grey wanted more at that minute: discharge his gun or rid himself of the inexhaustible lava in his bowels. As he began hurriedly fumbling at the car door, unfastidious Emerald leaned, close to him, across him almost merging with him, to help him open it--and then, slamming it shut again, whizzed on to some tryst in the valley. My reader will, I hope, appreciate all the minute particulars I have taken such trouble to present to him after a long talk I had with the killer; he will appreciate them even more if I tell him that, according to the legend spread later by the police, Jack Grey had been given a lift, all the way from Roanoke, or somewhere, by a lonesome trucker! One can only hope that an impartial search will turn up the trilby forgotten in the Library--or in Mr. Emerald's car. (note to Line 949)


Gerald Emerald brings to mind Maurice Gerald, the main character in Captain Mayne Reid's Headless Horseman, a novel described by VN in Speak, Memory. In Drugie berega VN compares Mayne Reid's style to the early Gogol:


Недавно в библиотеке американского университета я достал этого самого "The Headless Horseman", в столетнем, очень непривлекательном издании без всяких иллюстраций. Теперь читать это подряд невозможно, но проблески таланта есть, и намечается местами даже какая-то гоголевская красочность. Возьмем для примера описание бара в бревенчатом техасском отеле пятидесятых годов. Франт-бармен, без сюртука, в атласном жилете, в рубашке с рюшами, описан очень живо, и ярусы цветных графинов, среди которых "антикварно тикают" голландские часы, "кажутся радугой, блистающей за его плечами и как бы венчиком окружают его надушенную голову" (очень ранний Гоголь, конечно). (Chapter Ten, 2)

I like the dense, mushroom growth of this post better. Truly, Ada has so many hidden nodes and nooks, that one doesn't know where to stop and smell the flowers, so as to speak. The unmentionable god of thunder, Perun is a very curious name.

Nice reading your posts this year!


Gut mag alkan, Pern dirstan (God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty)In the Commentary to his translation of Slovo o polku Igoreve (“The Song of Igor’s Campaign”) VN points out that the author of Slovo ignores Perun, the Russian Jupiter, whose effigy Vladimir I (958-1015, a Grand Prince of Kiev who converted to Christianity in 988) caused to be drowned in the Dnepr. A line in VN’s Parizhskaya poema (“The Paris Poem,” 1943), chuden noch’yu Parizh sukhoparyi (wondrous at night is gaunt Paris), is an imitation of the hyperbolic passage in Gogol's story Strashnaya mest’ (“A Terrible Vengeance,” 1832) beginning chuden Dnepr pri tikhoy pogode (wondrous is the Dnepr in the windless weather). In this passage Gogol says that redkaya ptitsa (a rare bird) can fly to the middle of the Dnepr.


Rara avis (1886) is a story by Chekhov, the author of Tysyacha odna strast’, ili Strashnaya noch’ (“A Thousand and One Passions, or The Terrible Night,” 1880), a parody of Gothic story (dedicated to Victor Hugo) whose title blends "A Thousand and One Nights" with “The Terrible Vengeance.”


At the beginning of his Commentary Kinbote mentions his knowledge of garden Aves:


My knowledge of garden Aves had been limited to those of northern Europe but a young New Wye gardener, in whom I was interested (see note to line 998), helped me to identify the profiles of quite a number of tropical-looking little strangers and their comical calls; and, naturally, every tree top plotted its dotted line towards the ornithological work on my desk to which I would gallop from the lawn in nomenclatorial agitation. How hard I found to fit the name "robin" to the suburban impostor, the gross fowl, with its untidy dull-red livery and the revolting gusto it showed when consuming long, sad, passive worms!

Incidentally, it is curious to note that a crested bird called in Zemblan sampel ("silktail"), closely resembling a waxwing in shape and shade, is the model of one of the three heraldic creatures (the other two being respectively a reindeer proper and a merman azure, crined or) in the armorial bearing of the Zemblan King, Charles the Beloved (born 1915), whose glorious misfortunes I discussed so often with my friend.

The poem was begun at the dead center of the year, a few minutes after midnight July 1, while I played chess with a young Iranian enrolled in our summer school; and I do not doubt that our poet would have understood his annotator's temptations to synchronize a certain fateful fact, the departure from Zembla of the would-be regicide Gradus, with that date. Actually, Gradus left Onhava on the Copenhagen plane on July 5. (note to Lines 1-4)


Balthasar, Prince of Loam (as Kinbote nicknamed his black gardener) brings to mind Baltazar Baltazarovich Zhevakin, one of the grooms in Gogol's play Zhenit'ba ("The Marriage," 1835). In Russian gradus means "degree." In a letter of March 6, 1888, to Pleshcheev (the author of a poem about the swallow) Chekhov mentions the poor birds that are already flying to Russia:


Теперь — как Ваше здоровье? Выходите ли Вы на воздух? Если судить по критике Буренина о Мережковском, то у Вас теперь 15—20° мороза... Холодно чертовски, а ведь бедные птицы уже летят в Россию! Их гонят тоска по родине и любовь к отечеству; если бы поэты знали, сколько миллионов птиц делаются жертвою тоски и любви к родным местам, сколько их мёрзнет на пути, сколько мук претерпевают они в марте и в начале апреля, прибыв на родину, то давно бы воспели их... Войдите Вы в положение коростеля, который всю дорогу не летит, а идёт пешком, или дикого гуся, отдающегося живьём в руки человека, чтобы только не замерзнуть... Тяжело жить на этом свете!


Now, how is your health? Do you go outside? Judging by Burenin’s criticism of Merezhkovski’s verses, the temperature in St. Petersburg is now 15-20 degrees below zero… It is devilishly cold, but the poor birds are already flying to Russia! They are driven by homesickness and love for their native land. If poets knew how many millions of birds fall victims to their longing and love for their homes, how many of them freeze on the way, what agonies they endure on getting home in March and at the beginning of April, they would have sung their praises long ago! Put yourself in the place of a corncrake who does not fly but walks all the way, or of a wild goose who gives himself up to man to escape being frozen… Life is hard in this world!


Merezhkovski is the author of Gogol' i chyort ("Gogol and the Devil," 1906). Btw., Professor So-and-so (one of the members of the Shade committee who has consented to act as an adviser in editing Shade's poem) brings to mind Rastakovsky (Mr. Blankety-Blank), one of the homunculi mentioned by Bobchinsky (cf. "bad Bob," alias "Mr. Gerald Emerald") at the beginning of "The Inspector." Shade's murderer, Gradus is a homunculus. It is Gerald Emerald who gives Gradus a lift to Kinbote's house. Kinbote's landlord, Judge Goldsworth is a colleague of Judge Lyapkin-Tyapkin (who takes as bribes greyhound puppies) in "The Inspector." In one of his dialogues with Kinbote Shade compared himself to a grateful mongrel and Shakespeare, to a Great Dane:


The subject of teaching Shakespeare at college level having been introduced: "First of all, dismiss ideas, and social background, and train the freshman to shiver, to get drunk on the poetry of Hamlet or Lear, to read with his spine and not with his skull." Kinbote: "You appreciate particularly the purple passages?" Shade: "Yes, my dear Charles, I roll upon them as a grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great Dane." (Note to Line 172)


According to Ivan Karamazov (cf. fra Karamazov mumbling his inept "all is allowed" in Canto Three of Shade's poem), his devil has the tail of a Danish dog. In his fragment "Rome" (1842) Gogol mentions the Italian sonetto colla coda and in a footnote explains that in Italian coda means "tail." It seems that, like some sonnets, Shade's poem needs a coda (Line 1001: "By its own double in the windowpane").

AS: It is Gerald Emerald who gives Gradus a lift to Kinbote's house.

In Kinbote's version of the events. Throughout Pale Fire, Kinbote can barely suppress his utmost disdain for the young instructor "mercifully called as Gerald Emerald." Another example is his (Kinbote's) suspicion that Emerald was the one who slipped the note, while Kinbote was demonstrating his wrestling skills.

"..although a malevolent critic might infer from the insufficient number of dashes that little Mr. Anon, despite teaching Freshman English, could hardly spell."

Very likely that one of the students did it while K. had him in a headlock or something.