At the end of VNs novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) the narrator (Sebastians half-brother V.) mentions the masquerade and says that Sebastians mask clings to his face:

 

And then the masquerade draws to a close. The bald little prompter shuts his book, as the light fades gently. The end, the end. They all go back to their everyday life (and Clare goes back to her grave) C but the hero remains, for, try as I may, I cannot get out of my part: Sebastian's mask clings to my face, the likeness will not be washed off. I am Sebastian, or Sebastian is I, or perhaps we both are someone whom neither of us knows. (chapter 20)

 

Maskarad (The Masquerade, 1835) is a drama in verse by Lermontov, the author of Iz-pod tainstvennoy, kholodnoy polumaski (From beneath a mysterious and ice-cold half-mask 1841) and Na smert poeta (On the Poets Death, 1837), a poem on Pushkins death. In his poem Epizod (An Episode, 1918) Khodasevich mentions Pushkins death mask:

 

֧ާݧ֧ߧߧ ާ֧

ݧܧ ܧߧڧ, ߧ اקݧ ҧ,

ާѧܧ ܧڧߧ, ٧ѧܧӧ ԧݧѧ٧.

 

Senselessly I looked

at the bookshelf, at the yellow wall-paper,

at Pushkins death mask that closed its eyes.

 

In this poem written in blank verse Khodasevich appears to watch himself dying and leaving his body. Describing his difficult return to life, Khodasevich compares himself to a snake that was forced to get back into its shed skin:

 

ܧѧ ֧ ֧ ߧ ӧ֧ ӧݧ

ܧڧߧ ҧݧܧ ѧ ا

ߧ֧ ӧ٧ӧѧڧݧ ӧߧӧ. ݧܧ

ӧ֧ڧݧ ԧߧ, ڧݧ֧,

ާߧ ӧާߧڧ ߧ֧ڧߧ.

ߧ ҧݧ էߧ, ֧ߧ, ܧѧ ٧ާ֧,

٧ѧѧӧڧݧ ҧ ߧӧ

ާ֧ڧ ҧ֧ߧߧ ܧا...

 

In a letter to his brother Sebastian mentioned his shed snake-skins [vypolziny]:

 

I am fed up [osskomina] with a number of tortuous things and especially with the patterns of my shed snake-skins [vypolziny] so that now I find a poetic solace in the obvious and the ordinary which for some reason or other I had overlooked in the course of my life. (chapter 19)

 

In his article Bez bozhestva, bez vdokhnovenya (Without Divinity, without Inspiration, 1921) Alexander Blok mentions oskomina (sour taste, a word used by Sebastian in his letter to V.) left by the controversy about pure poetry:

 

ڧӧܧݧ ܧܧ, ҧӧڧߧ ҧݧڧߧѧ, ѧߧ٧ܧѧ ѧӧܧ ܧ ӧڧէ է֧ݧߧԧ ҧݧէ ާا֧ ߧѧӧڧ ݧڧ ԧާѧߧѧ. ѧ "ڧѧ ٧ڧ" ݧڧ ߧ ާڧߧ ӧ٧ҧاէѧ֧ ڧߧ֧֧ ֧է "֧ڧѧݧڧ"; ѧ ѧ ا ҧ, ܧѧ ӧߧݧ, ݧ ߧڧ ѧק էߧ ܧާڧߧ; "ҧݧѧ ҧݧڧܧ", ߧڧܧѧܧԧ ѧڧ ߧ ڧߧڧާѧѧ ߧ ҧ٧ѧߧߧѧ ڧߧڧާѧ, ֧ҧѧ ݧܧ ߧѧڧ, اڧӧ էا֧ӧ֧ߧߧ ڧ٧ӧ֧է֧ߧڧ, ӧ֧ߧڧ ק էԧѧէӧѧ֧, ݧڧ֧ѧ ߧ ӧ֧ ҧݧѧԧݧߧ, ߧѧڧߧѧ֧ ߧڧ ݧڧ֧ѧ ߧӧ֧֧ۧ ӧ֧ ڧߧѧ, ֧ ݧڧ֧ѧ ѧ. (1)

 

In his article Blok criticizes Gumilyov and the acmeists who hush up in their verses what is most significant and precious in them, the soul:

 

ԧէ ҧڧ ӧ ԧܧڧ ܧ, ѧߧӧڧ ԧߧ; ڧҧ . ާڧݧ֧ ߧ֧ܧ էԧڧ "ѧܧާ֧ڧ", ߧ֧ާߧ֧ߧߧ էѧӧڧ, ѧާڧ ֧ҧ ݧէߧ ҧݧ ҧ֧٧էߧ ֧ڧ ӧ֧ܧԧ ާѧݧڧ٧ާ; ߧ ߧ֧ҧէߧ ߧ ҧ֧ ߧӧڧէ֧ߧڧ; ߧ ߧ ڧާ֧ ߧ ا֧ݧѧ ڧާ֧ ֧ߧ ֧էѧӧݧ֧ߧڧ ܧ اڧ٧ߧ اڧ٧ߧ ާڧ ӧҧ; ӧ֧ ٧ڧ ( ݧ֧էӧѧ֧ݧߧ, ֧ҧ ѧާڧ) ߧ ٧ѧާѧݧڧӧѧ ѧާ ԧݧѧӧߧ, ֧էڧߧӧ֧ߧߧ ֧ߧߧ: է. (3)

 

In his poem Pamyat (Memory, 1921) Gumilyov says that only snakes shed their skin and we change souls, not bodies:

 

ݧܧ ٧ާ֧ ҧѧӧѧ ܧا,

է ѧ֧ݧ ݧ.

, ӧ, ٧ާ֧ާ ߧ ا,

ާ֧ߧ֧ է, ߧ ֧ݧ.

 

Only snakes shed their skin,

So their souls can age and grow.

We, alas, do not resemble snakes,

We change souls, not bodies.

 

In Smyatenie (Confusion), a poem from the cycle Snezhnaya maska (The Snow Mask, 1907), Blok asks the mask to give him back his soul:

 

ѧܧ, էѧ ާߧ ܧ ݧѧ

֧է קާߧ ӧ,

٧ӧѧ ާߧ, ާѧܧ, է,

ӧ֧ݧ ާ!

 

In Teni na stene (Shadows on the Wall), another poem in the cycle The Snow Mask, Blok mentions korol (the king), shut (the jester), damy (the ladies), pazhi (the pages) and rytsar (the knight):

 

ק ܧݧ ٧ҧѧ

ݧڧ ӧ֧ߧ.

 

ק ݧѧ ܧݧѧ

ܧԧݧ ҧҧ֧ߧ.

 

ѧާ ݧ֧ۧѧާ, ѧاѧާ,

٧ӧ ֧ߧ.

 

ѧ קާߧާ ֧ާ

ѧݧߧ ܧѧ...

 

Korol, dama, valet (King, Queen, Knave, 1928) is a novel by VN. At the end of TRLSK V. discovers that the soul is but a manner of being and that any soul can be yours:

 

So I did not see Sebastian after all, or at least I did not see him alive. But those few minutes I spent listening to what I thought was his breathing changed my life as completely as it would have been changed, had Sebastian spoken to me before dying. Whatever his secret was, I have learnt one secret too, and namely: that the soul is but a manner of being C not a constant state C that any soul may be yours, if you find and follow its undulations. The hereafter may be the full ability of consciously living in any chosen soul, in any number of souls, all of them unconscious of their interchangeable burden. Thus C I am Sebastian Knight. I feel as if I were impersonating him on a lighted stage, with the people he knew coming and going C the dim figures of the few friends he had, the scholar, and the poet, and the painter C smoothly and noiselessly paying their graceful tribute; and here is Goodman, the flat-footed buffoon, with his dicky hanging out of his waistcoat; and there C the pale radiance of Clare's inclined head, as she is led away weeping by a friendly maiden. They moved round Sebastian C round me who am acting Sebastian C and the old conjuror waits in the wings with his hidden rabbit: and Nina sits on a table in the brightest corner of the stage, with a wineglass of fuchsined water, under a painted palm. (chapter 20)

 

The two poets who could not stand each other, Blok and Gumilyov died almost simultaneously in August of 1921. In his memoir essay Gumilyov and Blok (1931) Khodasevich mentions Bloks article Without Divinity, without Inspiration and quotes Bloks words that Gumilyov makes poets iz nichego (from nothing):

 

ѧ ѧ ӧ֧ާ էѧݧ ݧڧ ѧ٧֧֧ߧڧ ߧ ڧ٧էѧߧڧ ֧ا֧ߧ֧է֧ݧߧڧܧ ߧѧ٧ӧѧߧڧ֧ «ڧ֧ѧߧѧ ѧ٧֧». ֧էѧܧڧ ӧݧ . . ڧߧ, . . ѧާڧ . . ܧӧܧڧ. ݧ ֧ӧԧ ߧާ֧ ݧ էѧ ѧ, ߧѧѧӧݧ֧ߧߧ ڧ ާڧݧקӧ «֧». ѧ٧ӧѧݧѧ ߧ «֧ ҧا֧ӧ, ҧ֧ ӧէߧӧ֧ߧ». «ڧ֧ѧߧѧ ѧ٧֧» ֧ܧѧڧݧ ֧ӧӧѧߧڧ ѧߧ, ֧ ߧѧѧݧ ӧէڧ: ٧ ѧܧѧ ѧާڧߧ ާ ֧֧էӧڧ ߧާ֧ ҧ ܧߧڧܧӧѧ ֧ ڧԧѧڧ ѧا֧ߧڧ ڧߧӧ֧ӧ. ѧ ݧܧ ק ݧڧ ާߧԧ ݧ֧ , ҧѧߧڧ ֧ԧ ڧߧ֧ߧڧ. ڧ٧ߧѧ, ߧ ާߧ ܧѧا֧ ֧ߧ ӧݧ ާѧߧߧ, ܧѧ ާߧԧڧ ѧ ݧܧ. էڧݧ ݧ, ߧ ֧ߧ ֧٧ܧ. էߧ ڧ ԧէѧߧڧ ӧ֧ ݧ ѧ ԧӧڧ ާߧ ا. էѧէ ԧӧڧ , ާڧݧק է֧ݧѧ֧ «ڧ ߧڧ֧ԧ».

 

Lev Shestovs essay on Chekhov is entitled Tvorchestvo iz nichego (Creation from Nothing, 1905). The name Shestov comes from shest (six); Chekhov is the author of Palata 6 (Ward Six, 1892). The name of the main character in Chekhovs story Maska (The Mask, 1884), Pyatigorov, brings to mind Pyatigorsk (the Caucasian spa where Lermontov was killed in a duel) and Trigorin (a character in Chekhovs play The Seagull, 1896).  According to Shestov, one of Chekhovs most remarkable works, in which the artists real attitude to life was expressed most fully, is his play Chayka (The Seagull, 1896):

 

էߧڧ ڧ ѧާ ѧѧܧ֧ߧ էݧ ֧ӧ, ާ ٧ѧާ֧ѧ֧ݧߧ ֧ԧ ڧ٧ӧ֧է֧ߧڧ էݧاߧ ڧѧ ֧ԧ էѧާ ѧۧܧѡ. ߧ֧ ߧѧڧҧݧ֧ ݧߧ ݧڧݧ ӧ ӧѧا֧ߧڧ ڧڧߧߧ ߧ֧ߧڧ էاߧڧܧ اڧ٧ߧ. (VIII)

 

The characters of The Seagull include Nina Zarechnyi, Trigorins mistress who brings to mind Nina Lecerf (alias Mme de Rechnoy), Sebastians mistress in TRLSK.

 

Pyatigorsk (from pyat, five, and gora, mountain) and Trigorin (from tri, three and gora) bring to mind Trigorskoe (the Osipovs countryseat, near Pushkins Mikhaylovskoe, in the Province of Pskov). The name Trigorin rhymes with Chigorin, the chess player (1850-1908) mentioned by little Luzhin in VNs novel Zashchita Luzhina (The Luzhin Defense, 1930). Gora in Pyatigorov, Pyatigorsk, Trigorin and Trigorskoe brings to mind The Funny Mountain, one of Sebastian Knights best stories:

 

Also some of my father's favourite quips seem to have broken into fantastic flower in such typical Knight stories as Albinos in Black or The Funny Mountain, his best one perhaps, that beautifully queer tale which always makes me think of a child laughing in its sleep. (Chapter 1)

 

Btw., acmeism (a literary school despised by Blok) comes from acme (the highest point; summit; peak). In his speech on Pushkin, O naznachenii poeta (About the Destination of a Poet, 1921), Blok says that a poets part is not easy and funny, it is tragic:

 

ܧڧ ѧ ݧ֧ԧܧ ӧ֧֧ݧ ާ֧ ߧ֧ ӧ ӧ֧ܧ ҧ֧ާ, ߧ֧ާ ߧ , ݧ - ߧ ݧקԧܧѧ ߧ ӧ֧קݧѧ; ߧ ѧԧڧ֧ܧѧ; ܧڧ ӧק ӧ ݧ ڧܧڧ, ӧ֧֧ߧߧ ӧݧߧ էӧڧا֧ߧڧ֧, ܧѧ ҧݧ ާѧ֧; , էߧѧܧ, ߧѧ ѧ اڧާѧ֧ ֧է ާݧ ܧڧߧ: ѧ٧էߧڧߧ ڧާѧݧߧ ֧ӧڧ , ܧ ߧ ާ ާ֧ѧ ӧߧ֧ߧ֧ާ, ڧҧ է֧ݧ ֧ԧ - ӧߧ֧ߧߧ֧ - ܧݧ, - ֧ӧڧ ݧڧܧ ѧ ߧѧѧݧ ާѧߧ ӧާ֧ѧ֧ݧӧ ݧէ֧, էݧ ܧ ֧ߧ ԧ էا ԧ.

 

Goodmans biography of Sebastian Knight is entitled The Tragedy of Sebastian Knight. Describing his meeting with Mr. Goodman, V. mentions a black mask covering Goodmans face:

 

'Pray be seated,' he said, courteously waving me into a leather armchair near his desk. He was remarkably well-dressed though decidedly with a city flavour. A black mask covered his face. 'What can I do for you?' He went on looking at me through the eyeholes and still holding my card.
I suddenly realized that my name conveyed nothing to him. Sebastian had made his mother's name his own completely.
'I am,' I answered, 'Sebastian Knight's half-brother.' There was a short silence.
'Let me see,' said Mr Goodman, 'am I to understand, that you are referring to the late Sebastian Knight, the well-known author?'
'Exactly,' said I.
Mr Goodman with finger and thumb stroked his face.... I mean the face under his mask... stroked it down, down, reflectively.

 

I thanked Mr Goodman for his advice and reached for my hat. I felt he had proved a failure and that I had followed a false scent. Somehow or other I did not care to ask him to enlarge upon those days when he and Sebastian had been 'such pals'. I wonder now what his answer would have been had I begged him to tell me the story of his secretaryship. After shaking hands with me most cordially, he returned the black mask which I pocketed, as I supposed it might come in usefully on some other occasion. (chapter 6)

 

In Zdes i tam (Here and There), yet another poem in the cycle The Snow Mask, Blok mentions chyornye maski (the black masks) and koni (horses):

 

֧֧ ٧ӧѧ ԧߧѧ ԧߧ,

קߧ ާѧ ߧ էԧߧѧ...

ݧ ӧ֧ߧ ߧѧ ܧߧ,

- ҧ֧ݧ ާԧѧ...

 

Russian for horse, kon also means knight (a chessman).

 

According to V., Mr. Goodmans face looks like a cows udder:

 

'I knew Mr Knight quite well,' she [Helen Pratt] added, looking at me with bright round eyes.
'Oh, really,' said I, not quite knowing what else to say.
'Yes,' she went on, 'he was an amazing personality, and I don't mind telling you that I loathed Goodman's book about him.'
'What do you mean?' I asked. 'What book?'
'Oh, the one he has just written. I was going over the proofs with him this last week. Well, I must be running. Thank you so much.'
She darted away and very slowly I descended the steps. Mr Goodman's large soft pinkish face was, and is, remarkably like a cow's udder. (chapter 6)

 

In his poem Shekspir (Shakespeare, 1924) VN says that Shakespeare concealed his monstrous genius beneath a mask and compares Falstaffs face to an udder with pasted-on mustache:

 

ѧէާ֧ߧߧ-ا ֧ӧԧ ֧ѧѧݧߧ,

ѧߧڧ ݧ֧ԧܧ ҧ֧֧ѧݧߧ

ӧ֧ߧ ӧڧӧѧڧۧ ݧѧӧ

ܧ ߧѧӧ֧ էӧڧߧ ӧ ԧ֧ߧڧ

ާѧܧ, ߧ ԧ ӧڧ ӧڧէ֧ߧڧ

ѧݧ ߧѧ: ӧ֧ߧ֧ڧѧߧܧڧ ާѧӧ

ܧҧ ֧ԧ; ݧڧ ѧݧѧ - ӧާ

ߧѧܧݧ֧֧ߧߧާ ڧܧѧާ; ڧ

ҧڧ...

 

Haughty, aloof from theatres alarums,
you easily, regretlessly relinquished
the laurels twinning into a dry wreath,
concealing for all time your monstrous genius
beneath a mask; and yet, your phantasms echoes
still vibrate for us; your Venetian Moor,
his anguish; Falstaffs visage, like an udder
with pasted-on mustache; the raging Lear

 

In his poem Zabludivshiysya tramvay (The Lost Tram, 1921) Gumilyov mentions the executioner with a face like an udder:

 

ܧѧߧ ҧѧܧ, ݧڧ, ܧѧ ӧާ,
ݧӧ ֧٧ѧ ѧݧѧ ާߧ,
ߧ ݧ֧اѧݧ ӧާ֧ էԧڧާ
է֧, ڧܧ ܧݧ٧ܧ, ߧ ѧާ էߧ.

 

In a red shirt, with a face like an udder,

The executioner cuts my head off, too,

It lies together with the others

Here, in a slippery box, at the very bottom.

 

In his poem Gumilyov several times addresses Mashenka, a girl who lived here and sang:

 

ѧ֧ߧܧ, ٧է֧ اڧݧ ֧ݧ,

ߧ, ا֧ߧڧ, ܧӧק ܧѧݧ,

է ا ֧֧ ӧ ԧݧ ֧ݧ,

ا֧ ݧ ҧ, ާ֧ݧ?

 

Mashenka, you lived here and sang,

You wove me, your betrothed, a carpet,

Where are your voice and body now,

Is it possible that you are dead?

 

Gumilyovs Mashenka seems to be Masha Mironov, a character in Pushkins short novel Kapitanskaya dochka (The Captains Daughter, 1836). On the other hand, Mashenka (Mary, 1926) is VNs first novel. Ganins first love, Mashenka does not appear in Mary, but in The Luzhin Defense Luzhin and his wife meet Alfyorov and Mashenka (Alfyorovs wife) in a Berlin street. The characters of Mary include Klara, a Russian girl who is in love with Ganin and whose name brings to mind Clare Bishop. VNs first three novels (Mary, KQK and The Luzhin Defense) were criticized by G. Ivanov, a poet (Gumilyovs pupil) who attacked Sirin (VNs Russian nom de plume) in the Paris migr review Chisla (Numbers, 1930, #1).

 

In a letter of January 14, 1831, to Pushkin Vyazemski mentions Bulgarin (the loathsome critic) and his friends who insisted that all magazine articles should be signed with an authors or translators real name, in the hope that Pushkin and Vyazemski would be ashamed to walk from time to time among them bez maski (without a mask):

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

٧ ߧӧ էݧߧ֧ߧڧ ֧ߧ٧, ӧ ѧ اߧѧݧѧ էݧاߧ ҧ ٧ էڧ ѧӧ, ڧݧ ֧֧ӧէڧܧ? ާ֧ߧ ݧ ӧڧէ֧ ܧ ѧާէ֧اѧӧڧ, ܧ ӧ٧ڧ ߧѧ֧ ݧڧ֧ѧ(ڧݧ )ܧ. ֧ ԧѧ֧. ѧ ߧ ӧӧӧѧ ڧ, ֧ ֧ߧ٧, ֧ ӧ. ߧ ܧ ݧ ݧԧѧڧߧ ڧ ڧ֧ѧߧ ѧ٧֧, ҧ ٧ѧѧӧڧ ߧѧ է֧ާѧܧڧӧѧ? ߧѧ ѧݧܧӧѧ ߧ ާ֧. ݧԧѧڧߧ ҧѧ֧ ԧݧѧܧ ҧ ߧ֧֧ԧ, ާ֧اէ ֧ ߧѧէ֧ ߧ, ߧѧ ڧߧԧէ էߧ ҧէ֧ ҧ֧ ާѧܧ ۧ ާ֧اէ ڧާ.

 

On January 14, 1831, Delvig (Pushkins best friend at the Lyceum) suddenly died in St. Petersburg (Pushkin in Moscow and Vyazemski in Ostafievo knew nothing about it). In his next letter to Pushkin, written on January 17, Vyazemski (who wanted to publish his translation of Constants novel Adolphe) says that he would not like poddat bokov kritike (to provoke an attack of critics):

 

ߧ ֧, ܧѧۧߧ֧ ާ֧ ֧էڧݧӧڧ, ߧ էէѧ ҧܧ ܧڧڧܧ.

 

Bokov (a word used by Vyazemski, accented on the second syllable) is Gen. pl. of bok (side). In Chapter Four of VNs novel Dar (The Gift, 1937), Zhizn Chernyshevskogo (The Life of Chernyshevski), Fyodor mentions Doctor Bokov (who was present when Chernyshevski was arrested by Rakeev, a police officer who had whisked Pushkins coffin out of the capital into posthumous exile) and Dobrolyubov, a radical critic whose name brings to mind Goodman (in Russian, dobro means good). The name Bokov rhymes with Nabokov. In the last sentence of TRLSK V. suggests that both he and Sebastian are someone whom neither of them knows. This mysterious man whom neither V., nor Sebastian knows seems to be Nabokov, the real author of TRLSK. Just like Sebastians mask clings to the face of his half-brother, Pushkins death mask clings to Nabokovs face, and the likeness will not be washed off.

 

Alexey Sklyarenko

Google Search
the archive
Contact
the Editors
NOJ Zembla Nabokv-L
Policies
Subscription options AdaOnline NSJ Ada Annotations L-Soft Search the archive VN Bibliography Blog

All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.