NABOKV-L post 0027611, Thu, 30 Nov 2017 15:15:52 +0300

Subject
Korean boy,
Fra Karamazov & Elysian life in Pale Fire; ha-ha of doubled ocean
& Princess Kachurin in Ada
Date
Body
In Canto Two of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) speaks of his daughter and mentions a Korean boy who took his course at Wordsmith University:



And she returned in tears, with new defeats,
New miseries. On days when all the streets

Of College Town led to the game, she'd sit
On the library steps, and read or knit;
Mostly alone she'd be, or with that nice
Frail roommate, now a nun; and, once or twice,
With a Korean boy who took my course. (ll. 337-343)



Shade’s Korean student brings to mind Koreyko, the podpol’nyi (secret) millionaire in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931). One of the telegrams that Bender sends to Koreyko is signed Brat’ya Karamazovy (Brothers Karamazov). A chapter in Ilf and Petrov’s novel is entitled “The Telegram from Brothers Karamazov.” In Canto Three of his poem Shade speaks of IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) and mentions Fra Karamazov (namely, Ivan Karamazov, a character in Dostoevski’s novel “Brothers Karamazov,” 1880):



Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept
All is allowed, into some classes crept. (ll. 641-642)



The adjective podpol’nyi comes from podpol’ye (the underground). Zapiski iz podpol’ya (“Notes from Underground,” 1864) is a short novel by Dostoevski (whom Shade lists, along with Ilf and Petrov, among Russian humorists). In his obituary essay on Nekrasov (“Writer’s Diary,” December of 1877) Dostoevski says that Nekrasov’s demon was a million and, as a proof, quotes Nekrasov’s poem Sekret (“A Secret,” 1855):



Огни зажигались вечерние,
Выл ветер и дождик мочил,
Когда из Полтавской губернии
Я в город столичный входил.

В руках была палка предлинная,
Котомка пустая на ней,
На плечах шубёнка овчинная,
В кармане пятнадцать грошей.

Ни денег, ни званья, ни племени,
Мал ростом и с виду смешон,
Да сорок лет минуло времени —
В кармане моём миллион!



No money, no profession, no relations,

short stature and funny in appearance,

but forty years have passed since then,

in my pocket I have a million!



In Canto Two of his poem Shade says that he and his wife Sybil have been married forty years:



We have been married forty years. At least
Four thousand times your pillow has been creased
By our two heads. Four hundred thousand times
The tall clock with the hoarse Westminster chimes
Has marked our common hour. How many more
Free calendars shall grace the kitchen door? (ll. 275-280)



According to Kinbote, John Shade married Sybil Irondell in 1919 (the year when VN left Russia forever):



John Shade and Sybil Swallow (see <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline247> note to line 247) were married in 1919, exactly three decades before King Charles wed Disa, Duchess of Payn. (note to Line 275)



At the end of his poem Shade says that old Dr. Sutton was twice his age the year he married Sybil:



But it's not bedtime yet. The sun attains
Old Dr. Sutton's last two windowpanes.
The man must be--what? Eighty? Eighty-two?
Was twice my age the year I married you. (ll. 985-988)



In 1919 Shade (who was born in 1898) was twenty-one and Dr. Sutton, forty-two. Therefore, old Dr. Sutton was born in 1877 (the year of Nekrasov’s death).



In his memoirs Gody izgnaniya (“Years of Exile”), the chapter dedicated to Sirin (VN’s Russian nom de plume), I. V. Gessen quotes the speech delivered by Sirin on the day of the memoirist’s seventieth birthday:



Ценные автобиографические черточки содержатся в речи, с которой он обратился ко мне в день семидесятилетия, поэтому уместно воспроизвести её, опуская, конечно, обращения по моему адресу:

«Я не красноречив, т. е. не умею зараз думать и говорить, да и вообще, кажется, впервые произношу застольную речь, поэтому она вероятно получится коряво. Так вот, сначала позвольте мне отметить математическую сторону дела: Вы сегодня старше меня ровно вдвое, хотя, правда, мы с Вами недолго будем хранить равновесие нашего возрастного соотношения. Начну догонять Вас, сам при этом слыша за собой кой-какие шажки, так что можно себе представить в некоей глубине бесконечности, в конце колоннады веков, Вас и меня — двух румяных миллионолетних старцев — беседующих на уходящих в даль террасах Елисейских Полей. Нынче же, когда мы ещё далеко не достигли этого положения райских ровесников и я к Вам отношусь как половина к целому числу, мне особенно любопытно оглянуться на развитие Вашего образа в моем детском сознании. Человек, который с годами становится нам дорогим и близким, как бы теряет признак имени, которое поглощается его прояснившимся образом, как бледнеет фонарь на заре, так что этого отличительного имени человеку уже не нужно, оно с ним сливается. Но мне хочется сейчас вспомнить те годы, когда Вы не были для меня вот таким слитным, приписанным к населению моей души Иосифом Владимировичем, а были далеким, даже, пожалуй, несколько легендарным Гессеном, т. е. вошедшим в состав принятого на веру, мифологического окружения моего детства, Гессеном, действующим в том большом мире, где собственно находилось его главное управление. Вместе с тем Вам, как естественному феномену, я вероятно не уделял много мыслей, но Ваше имя в моем детском быту было звуком знакомым, звуком гармоничным, и я живо помню, например, как в отсутствии моих родителей за столом престарелые родственники с наслаждением и ужасом толковали меж собой о пагубном влиянии, которое Вы имеете на моего отца, — до сих пор слышу змеиный свист Вашей двойной согласной и вновь ощущаю то безотчетное смущение, которое возбуждали эти толки во мне, ибо, хотя я и тогда, в детстве, был, как и теперь, достаточно чужд так называемых общественных интересов, но Вы уже принадлежали, в моем тогдашнем познании, к тому державному порядку существ и вещей, который определялся смутными, но добрыми понятиями, такими как „Речь“ или Дума, и откуда, говоря точнее, исходил тот дух просвещенного либерализма, без коего цивилизация — не более чем развлечение идиота. Я сейчас с завистью думаю о той климатической полосе русской истории, где Вы расцветали, и мучительно стараюсь сообразить многое, очень многое, что легко вспоминаете Вы…

Грянула, как выражаются заправские ораторы, грянула революция — и вот, после общего выхода из России начинается второй период наших с Вами отношений. Вы были моим первым читателем. С редким благоволением, переходившим почти в попустительство, Вы принимали потоки моих юношеских стихов, количество которых Вас несколько удивляет теперь, когда, бывало, просматриваете умащенные уже летами томы „Руля“. Редактор, издатель, советник, друг — вот как, в преломлении моей личной судьбы, постепенно яснеет Ваш образ…»


In his speech Sirin points out that Gessen is now twice his age, asks to imagine a colonnade of centuries and compares himself and Gessen to two ruddy millionolentie startsy (million-year-old patriarchs) conversing on the terraces of the Elysian Fields. The speaker mentions the spirit of enlightened liberalism without which civilization is merely razvlechenie idiota (an idiot’s entertainment). Idiot (1969) is a novel by Dostoevski.



Describing IPH, Shade mentions Elysian life:



Time means succession, and succession, change:
Hence timelessness is bound to disarrange
Schedules of sentiment. We give advice
To widower. He has been married twice:
He meets his wives; both loved, both loving, both
Jealous of one another. Time means growth,
And growth means nothing in Elysian life. (ll. 567-573)



In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van and Ada (the children of Demon Veen) spend the last day of their long lives translating Shade’s poem into Russian:



She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the right of making up a future, and in that case one’s very own future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years quickly passed — a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern. They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569–572) in John Shade’s famous poem:



…Sovetï mï dayom

Kak bït’ vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;

On ih vstrechaet — lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,

Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke…



(…We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another…)



Van pointed out that here was the rub — one is free to imagine any type of hereafter, of course: the generalized paradise promised by Oriental prophets and poets, or an individual combination; but the work of fancy is handicapped — to a quite hopeless extent — by a logical ban: you cannot bring your friends along — or your enemies for that matter — to the party. The transposition of all our remembered relationships into an Elysian life inevitably turns it into a second-rate continuation of our marvelous mortality. Only a Chinaman or a retarded child can imagine being met, in that Next-Installment World, to the accompaniment of all sorts of tail-wagging and groveling of welcome, by the mosquito executed eighty years ago upon one’s bare leg, which has been amputated since then and now, in the wake of the gesticulating mosquito, comes back, stomp, stomp, stomp, here I am, stick me on. (5.6)



In her old age Ada translates Griboedov into French and English, Baudelaire into English and Russian and John Shade into Russian and French:



Ada, who amused herself by translating (for the Oranger editions en regard) Griboyedov into French and English, Baudelaire into English and Russian, and John Shade into Russian and French, often read to Van, in a deep mediumesque voice, the published versions made by other workers in that field of semiconsciousness. (5.4)



Goncharov’s famous article on Griboedov’s play Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) is entitled Million terzaniy (“Million Torments,” 1872). In a discarded variant quoted by Kinbote in his Commentary Shade mentions poor Baudelaire:



A beautiful variant, with one curious gap, branches off at this point in the draft (dated July 6):



Strange Other World where all our still-born dwell,

And pets, revived, and invalids, grown well,

And minds that died before arriving there:

Poor old man Swift, poor –, poor Baudelaire



What might that dash stand for? Unless Shade gave prosodic value to the mute e in "Baudelaire," which I am quite certain he would never have done in English verse (cp: "Rabelais," line 501), the name required here must scan as a trochee.

Among the names of celebrated poets, painters, philosophers, etc., known to have become insane or to have sunk into senile imbecility, we find many suitable ones. Was Shade confronted by too much variety with nothing to help logic choose and so left a blank, relying upon the mysterious organic force that rescues poets to fill it in at its own convenience? Or was there something else - some obscure intuition, some prophetic scruple that prevented him from spelling out the name of an eminent man who happened to be an intimate friend of his? Was he perhaps playing safe because a reader in his household might have objected to that particular name being mentioned? And if it comes to that, why mention it at all in this tragical context? Dark, disturbing thoughts. (note to Line 231)



That dash stands for Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name). Sofia Botkin (Sybil Shade’s “real” name) would have certainly objected to her husband’s name being mentioned. In Griboedov’s play Sofia is the name of the girl with whom Chatski is in love.



An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) that ends in the word nikto (nobody) Lermontov (the author of “The Demon,” 1829-40) mentions nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) that lies in his soul as in an ocean. In Ada Van speaks of the difference between Terra and Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) and mentions the ha-ha of a doubled ocean separating America from Russia:



Ved’ (‘it is, isn’t it’) sidesplitting to imagine that ‘Russia,’ instead of being a quaint synonym of Estoty, the American province extending from the Arctic no longer vicious Circle to the United States proper, was on Terra the name of a country, transferred as if by some sleight of land across the ha-ha of a doubled ocean to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over all of today’s Tartary, from Kurland to the Kuriles! (1.3)



The characters of “The Golden Calf” include the book-keeper Berlaga who simulates madness and meets in the madhouse a geography teacher who went mad when he failed to find on the map of both hemispheres the Bering strait:



Но тут больной, сидевший на кровати в глубине покоя, поднялся на тоненькие и желтые, как церковные свечи, ноги и страдальчески закричал:
-- На волю! На волю! В пампасы!

Как бухгалтер узнал впоследствии, в пампасы просился старый учитель географии, по учебнику которого юный Берлага знакомился в своё время с вулканами, мысами и перешейками. Географ сошёл с ума совершенно неожиданно: однажды он взглянул на карту обоих полушарий и не нашёл на ней Берингова пролива. Весь день старый учитель шарил по карте. Все было на месте: и Нью-Фаундленд, и Суэцкий канал, и Мадагаскар, и Сандвичевы острова с главным городом Гонолулу, и даже вулкан Попокатепетль, а Берингов пролив отсутствовал. И тут же, у карты, старик тронулся. Это, был добрый сумасшедший, не причинявший никому зла, но Берлага отчаянно струсил. Крик надрывал его душу.
-- На волю! - продолжал кричать географ. - В пампасы!
Он лучше всех на свете знал, что такое воля. Он был географ, и ему были известны такие просторы, о которых обыкновенные, занятые скучными делами люди даже и не подозревают. Ему хотелось на волю, хотелось скакать на потном мустанге сквозь заросли.



But then a patient who was sitting on a bed deep inside the large ward stood up on his legs, which were thin and yellow like church candles, and yelled out with pain:

“Freedom! Freedom! To the pampas!”

Later, the accountant learned that the man who longed for the pampas was an old geography teacher, the author of the textbook from which the young Berlaga had learned about volcanoes, capes, and isthmuses many years ago. The geographer went mad quite unexpectedly: one day he looked at the map of the two hemispheres and couldn't find the Bering Strait. The old teacher spent the whole day studying the map. Everything was where it was supposed to be: Newfoundland; the Suez Canal; Madagascar; the Sandwich Islands with their capital city, Honolulu; even the Popocatépetl volcano. But the Bering Strait was missing. The old man lost his mind right then and there, in front of the map.

He was a harmless madman who never hurt anybody, but he scared Berlaga to death.

The shouting broke his heart.

"Freedom!" the geographer yelled out again. “To the pampas!”

He knew more about freedom than anyone else in the world.

He was a geographer: he knew of the wide open spaces that regular people, busy doing their mundane things, can't even imagine. He wanted to be free, he wanted to ride a sweating mustang through the brush… (Chapter XVI: “Jahrbuch für Psychoanalytik”)



Mad geographer’s cry brings to mind pampasy molodosti vol’noy (the pampas of my free youth) mentioned by VN at the end of his poem “To Prince S. M. Kachurin” (1947):



Мне хочется домой. Довольно.

Качурин, можно мне домой?

В пампасы молодости вольной,

в техасы, найденные мной.



Я спрашиваю, не пора ли

вернуться в теме тетивы,

к чарующему чапаралю

из "Всадника без головы",



чтоб в Матагордовом Ущелье

заснуть на огненных камнях

с лицом, сухим от акварели,

с пером вороньим в волосах?



I want to go home. Enough, in truth.
Kachurin, may I now go home?
To the pampas of my free youth,
the Texas I found once on a roam.



I ask you, isn't it time withal
to return unto the theme of the bow,
to what's charmingly hight "chaparral"
in The Headless Horseman, you well know,



to sleep in Matagordo Gorge
on the fiery boulders you find there,
with a face that watercolors forge,
and a feather in one's hair? (4)



At the beginning of his poem VN mentions the vales of Daghestan:



Качурин, твой совет я принял

и вот уж третий день живу

в музейной обстановке, в синей

гостиной с видом на Неву.



Священником американским

твой бедный друг переодет,

и всем долинам дагестанским

я шлю завистливый привет.



Kachurin, I've taken your advice
and here I three long days persever
in museologic digs, a nice
blue room that looks out on the Neva.



As an American clergyman
disguised is your poor little friend,
and to the vales of Daghestan
I envious salutations send. (1)



Lermontov’s poem Son (“The Dream,” 1841) begins: V poldnevnyi zhar v doline Dagestana… (“In the heat of midday in the vale of Daghestan…). Like Lermontov’s poem, Ada is a triple dream (a dream within a dream within a dream). One of the three dreamers in Ada is Eric Veen (the young author of the essay entitled “Villa Venus: an Organized Dream”). In his last floramor (Eric Veen’s Villa Venus) Van Veen meets Princess Kachurin:



He was thirsty, but the champagne he had brought, with the softly rustling roses, remained sealed and he had not the heart to remove the silky dear head from his breast so as to begin working on the explosive bottle. He had fondled and fouled her many times in the course of the last ten days, but was not sure if her name was really Adora, as everybody maintained — she, and the other girl, and a third one (a maidservant, Princess Kachurin), who seemed to have been born in the faded bathing suit she never changed and would die in, no doubt, before reaching majority or the first really cold winter on the beach mattress which she was moaning on now in her drugged daze. And if the child really was called Adora, then what was she? — not Rumanian, not Dalmatian, not Sicilian, not Irish, though an echo of brogue could be discerned in her broken but not too foreign English. Was she eleven or fourteen, almost fifteen perhaps? Was it really her birthday — this twenty-first of July, nineteen-four or eight or even several years later, on a rocky Mediterranean peninsula? (2.3)



July 21 is also Ada’s birthday. In Pale Fire Shade is killed by Gradus (whose name means in Russian “degree”) on July 21, 1959.



Alexey Sklyarenko


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