NABOKV-L post 0018337, Mon, 18 May 2009 20:01:04 -0300

Re: THOUGHTS: Derivation of Luzhin's name
In A Defense of Poetry (1819), Shelley qualifies the shock of poetic inspiration as “a visitation”: "We are aware of evanescent visitations of thought and feeling ... sometimes regarding our own mind alone”. While reading The Defense the foreign reader may be as affected as Sklyarenko (when he writes: "I rely entirely on my feel of the language...Readers with a hypersensitive ear can also discern lozh', "lie", in that name ...Luzhin can come from ludit', 'to tin'...,"). And yet, because this is one of VN's Russian novels, the wealth of sonorous intuitive associations derived from other languages, not the Russian, are seldom adequate. I understand that this associative breadth only becomes possible after Nabokov started to write directly in English.

Lucette's name, for example,conjures up "little light", whereas Luzhin reminds me of luminousness and "lucent" objects - but, in his case, I must always remind myself that this particular association ( linked to what Victor Fet aptly described as "personal linguistic emotions" ) is totally out of context.
The information about "luzhin-ludit" (tin-coating) might have led one to the Latin "ludus" (playfulness) and "Homo ludens," - an hypothesis which would only hold had VN addressed himself, at that time, to a multilingual readership (besides, inspite of his chess-game obsession, Luzhin doesn't fit in the guise of a playful guy...)

As I see it, Nabokov welded a vocabulary whose "shadows" and music elicit a kind of "idioletic" response, probably quite unlike a response to Joyce's.
For Nabokov, we think “in shadows of words” whereas, for him, James Joyce lends “too much verbal body to his thoughts”.
Perhaps all the derivations of Luzhin's name, even if unintended by VN and irrespective of established etymologies, may be added to one's private "shadowy" vocabulary?

Victor Fet responds: As a remote outside observer of Luzhin etymology, and a native Russian speaker, I would say that there is really nothing in both books that distinguishes Dostoevsky's Luzhin from Nabokov's. One does not know from the context whether the name comes from the town of Luga or from "luzha" the puddle. There is also a third possible connection, not discussed here yet. My personal linguistic emotions always connected Luzhin name (at least in Dostoevsky's less pleasant character) with a Russian adjective "LUZHENYJ" (tin-coated, tin-lined), derived from the verb "ludit" (to coat with tin). Indeed it is the only Russian word starting with "LUZH.." other than "luzha" and related "luzhajka".
Tin-coating was a popular street craft in Dostoevsky's time, and there is а classic image of a tinker ("ludilshchik") man coming to inner yards of St Petersburg houses with a call "ludit'-payat'!" ("tin-coating, soldering!"). It was a common Gypsy occupation in Russia.
More important, a very common derived idiom "LUZHENAYA GLOTKA" ('tin-coated throat") meant "he has a good pair of lungs", which Dostoevsky's outspoken Luzhin clearly fits--he is nearly the only strongmen in C & P.
Etymology in Russian may be tricky, and we can read meanings into it -- but judging from the context there is nothing that tells the cocktail Molotov from the original hero of Pomyalovsky's novel "Molotov".
Or a Lensky from a Lenin.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: