In VN¡¯s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote (Shade¡¯s mad commentator) speaks of his uncle Conmal (Zemblan translator of Shakespeare) and mentions ¡°the verbal inferno:¡±
English was not taught in Zembla before Mr. Campbell's time. Conmal mastered it all by himself (mainly by learning a lexicon by heart) as a young man, around 1880, when not the verbal inferno but a quiet military career seemed to open before him, and his first work (the translation of Shakespeare's Sonnets) was the outcome of a bet with a fellow officer. (note to Line 962)
Inferno is the first part of Dante¡¯s Divine Comedy. Pushkin¡¯s Sonet (¡°The Sonnet,¡± 1830) begins: Surovyi Dant ne preziral soneta¡ (Severe Dante didn¡¯t scorn the sonnet). In line 3 of ¡°The Sonnet¡± Pushkin says that tvorets Makbeta (the author of Macbeth) loved the sonnet¡¯s play. The third (and last) part of the Divine Comedy, Paradiso, brings to mind Villa Paradiso mentioned by Kinbote in his Commentary:
In 1933, Prince Charles was eighteen and Disa, Duchess of Payn, five. The allusion is to Nice (see also line 240) where the Shades spent the first part of that year; but here again, as in regard to so many fascinating facets of my friend¡¯s past life, I am not in the possession of particulars (who is to blame, dear S.S.?) and not in the position to say whether or not, in the course of possible excursions along the coast, they ever reached Cap Turc and glimpsed from an oleander-lined lane, usually open to tourists, the Italianate villa built by Queen Disa¡¯s grandfather in 1908, and called then Villa Paradiso, or in Zemblan Villa Paradisa, later to forego the first half of its name in honor of his favorite granddaughter. There she spent the first fifteen summers of her life; thither did she return in 1953, ¡°for reasons of health¡± (as impressed on the nation) but really, a banished queen; and there she still dwells. (note to lines 493-434)
In 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany (where VN lived at the time). 1953 is the year of Stalin¡¯s death. Conmal outlived Stalin by two years and died in 1955 (the year of Lolita¡¯s publication), having reached the age of one hundred. Con being French for ¡°cunt¡± and mal meaning ¡°evil,¡± the name of Kinbote¡¯s uncle seems to hint at Malebolge (evil pouches) described by Dante in Canto XVIII of Inferno:
Luogo ¨¨ in inferno detto Malebolge,
tutto di pietra di color ferrigno,
come la cerchia che dintorno il volge.
THERE is a place in Hell called Malebolge,
Wholly of stone and of an iron colour,
As is the circle that around it turns.
Dante¡¯s guide in the Inferno is Virgil. Kinbote shares unconventional sexual tastes of the author of The Aeneid. Malebolge in Dante¡¯s poem bring to mind Malvolio, the antagonist in Shakespeare¡¯s Twelfth Night, or What You Will. The heroine and protagonist of Shakespeare¡¯s comedy is Viola (Sebastian¡¯s twin sister). When he visits his wife at her Villa Disa, Kinbote asks Fleur de Fyler (Queen Disa¡¯s former lady in waiting) if she still plays the viola:
One of her former ladies in waiting, the languid and elegant Fleur de Fyler (now fortyish and faded), still wearing pearls in her raven hair and the traditional white mantilla, brought certain documents from Disa's boudoir. Upon hearing the King's mellow voice behind the laurels, Fleur recognized it before she could be misled by his excellent disguise. Two footmen, handsome young strangers of a marked Latin type, appeared with the tea and caught Fleur in mid-curtsey. A sudden breeze groped among the glycines. Defiler of flowers. He asked Fleur as she turned to go with the Disa orchids if she still played the viola. She shook her head several times not wishing to speak without addressing him and not daring to do so while the servants might be within earshot. (note to lines 493-434)
In Shakespeare¡¯s Timon of Athens (Act IV, Scene 3) Timon calls gold ¡°bright defiler of Hymen¡¯s purest bed.¡± On the other hand, the name Fleur de Fyler hints at Baudelaire¡¯s Fleurs du Mal (¡°Flowers of Evil,¡± 1857). 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 ¡ª, 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¡ªsome 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)
Kinbote is afraid that the dash stands for his name. Actually, it stands for Botkin (Shade¡¯s, Kinbote¡¯s and Gradus¡¯ ¡°real¡± name). An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide 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 October 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin¡¯s Lyceum), Botkin will be ¡°full¡± again.
Btw., in Shakespeare¡¯s Romeo and Juliet Mercutio accuses Benvolio and mentions his hazel eyes:
Thou wilt quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no other reason but because thou hast hazel eyes. (3.1)
In VN¡¯s Lolita Dolores Haze (Lolita¡¯s full name) has grey eyes. In Canto One of his poem Shade says that, when he was a child, all colors made him happy, even gray, and mentions his eyes:
All colors made me happy: even gray.
My eyes were such that literally they
Took photographs. Whenever I'd permit,
Or, with a silent shiver, order it,
Whatever in my field of vision dwelt--
An indoor scene, hickory leaves, the svelte
Stilettos of a frozen stillicide--
Was printed on my eyelids' nether side
Where it would tarry for an hour or two,
And while this lasted all I had to do
Was close my eyes to reproduce the leaves,
Or indoor scene, or trophies of the eaves. (ll. 29-40)
In Lolita and, particularly, in Transparent Things (1972) there are many allusions to Romeo and Juliet. In Canto Four of Pale Fire Shade calls his poem ¡°transparent thingum:¡±
Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote
Came next; then Hebe's Cup, my final float
in that damp carnival, for now I term
Everything "Poems," and no longer squirm.
(But this transparent thingum does require
Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.) (ll. 957-952)
In his poem To One in Paradise (1843) E. A. Poe (the writer whose works were translated into French by Baudelaire) mentions ¡°dim gulf:¡±
Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
¡°On! on!¡±¡ªbut o¡¯er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!
¡°Some moondrop title¡± brings to mind ¡°the mystic moon¡± and the phrase ¡°drop by drop¡± used by E. A. Poe at the beginning of his poem The Sleeper (1831-45):
At midnight, in the month of June,
I stand beneath the mystic moon.
An opiate vapor, dewy, dim,
Exhales from out her golden rim,
And softly dripping, drop by drop,
Upon the quiet mountain top,
Steals drowsily and musically
Into the universal valley.
In the next lines of his poem Shade mentions his ¡°private universe:¡±
I feel I understand
Existence, or at least a minute part
Of my existence, only through my art,
In terms of combinatorial delight;
And if my private universe scans right,
So does the verse of galaxies divine
Which I suspect is an iambic line. (ll. 970-976)
The poems of E. A. Poe were translated into Russian by Konstantin Balmont. In his essay Balmont-lirik (¡°Balmont the Lyric Poet¡±) included in ¡°The Book of Reflections¡± (1906) I. Annenski (the poet and critic who wrote under the penname Nik. T-o, ¡°Mr. Nobody¡±) compares poetry to podvig (heroic deed, noble feat), ogon¡¯ (fire) and altar¡¯ (altar):
§¯§Ñ §ã§Ý§à§Ó§Ñ§ç §á§à§ï§Ù§Ú§ñ §Ò§å§Õ§Ö§ä §Õ§Ý§ñ §ß§Ñ§ã, §á§à§Ø§Ñ§Ý§å§Û, §Ú §ã§Ý§å§Ø§Ö§ß§Ú§Ö, §Ú §á§à§Õ§Ó§Ú§Ô, §Ú §à§Ô§à§ß§î, §Ú §Ñ§Ý§ä§Ñ§â§î, §Ú §Ü§Ñ§Ü§Ñ§ñ §ä§Ñ§Þ §Ö§ë§× §ß§Ö §á§à§ä§â§Ö§Ó§à§Ø§Ö§ß§Ñ §ï§Þ§Ò§Ý§Ö§Þ§Ñ, §Ñ §ß§Ñ §Õ§Ö§Ý§Ö §Þ§í §Ó§ã§Ö §Ö§ë§× §è§Ö§ß§Ú§Þ §Ó §ß§Ö§Û §ã§Ý§Ñ§Õ§Ü§Ú§Û §Ý§Ú§Þ§à§ß§Ñ§Õ, §ß§Ö §Ý§Ú§ê§Ö§ß§ß§í§Û, §Ó§á§â§à§é§Ö§Þ, §Ú §á§à§Ý§Ö§Ù§ß§à§ã§ä§Ú,
§Ü§à§ä§à§â§Ñ§ñ §Õ§Ñ§Ø§Ö §ã§ä§â§à§Ô§Ú§Þ §Ú §à§Ô§à§â§é§Ö§ß§ß§í§Þ §â§å§ã§ã§Ü§Ú§Þ §é§Ú§ä§Ñ§ä§Ö§Ý§Ö§Þ §à§é§Ö§ß§î §è§Ö§ß§Ú§ä§ã§ñ. (II)
Podvig, altar¡¯ and ogon¡¯ are mentioned by Pushkin in his sonnet Poetu (¡°To a Poet,¡± 1830):
§±§à§ï§ä! §ß§Ö §Õ§à§â§à§Ø§Ú §Ý§ð§Ò§à§Ó§Ú§ð §ß§Ñ§â§à§Õ§ß§à§Û.
§£§à§ã§ä§à§â§Ø§Ö§ß§ß§í§ç §á§à§ç§Ó§Ñ§Ý §á§â§à§Û§Õ§×§ä §Þ§Ú§ß§å§ä§ß§í§Û §ê§å§Þ;
§µ§ã§Ý§í§ê§Ú§ê§î §ã§å§Õ §Ô§Ý§å§á§è§Ñ §Ú §ã§Þ§Ö§ç §ä§à§Ý§á§í §ç§à§Ý§à§Õ§ß§à§Û,
§¯§à §ä§í §à§ã§ä§Ñ§ß§î§ã§ñ §ä§Ó§×§â§Õ, §ã§á§à§Ü§à§Ö§ß §Ú §å§Ô§â§ð§Þ.
§´§í §è§Ñ§â§î: §Ø§Ú§Ó§Ú §à§Õ§Ú§ß. §¥§à§â§à§Ô§à§ð §ã§Ó§à§Ò§à§Õ§ß§à§Û
§ª§Õ§Ú, §Ü§å§Õ§Ñ §Ó§Ý§Ö§é§×§ä §ä§Ö§Ò§ñ §ã§Ó§à§Ò§à§Õ§ß§í§Û §å§Þ,
§µ§ã§à§Ó§Ö§â§ê§Ö§ß§ã§ä§Ó§å§ñ §á§Ý§à§Õ§í §Ý§ð§Ò§Ú§Þ§í§ç §Õ§å§Þ,
§¯§Ö §ä§â§Ö§Ò§å§ñ §ß§Ñ§Ô§â§Ñ§Õ §Ù§Ñ §á§à§Õ§Ó§Ú§Ô §Ò§Ý§Ñ§Ô§à§â§à§Õ§ß§í§Û.
§°§ß§Ú §Ó §ã§Ñ§Þ§à§Þ §ä§Ö§Ò§Ö. §´§í §ã§Ñ§Þ §ã§Ó§à§Û §Ó§í§ã§ê§Ú§Û §ã§å§Õ;
§£§ã§Ö§ç §ã§ä§â§à§Ø§Ö §à§è§Ö§ß§Ú§ä§î §å§Þ§Ö§Ö§ê§î §ä§í §ã§Ó§à§Û §ä§â§å§Õ.
§´§í §Ú§Þ §Õ§à§Ó§à§Ý§Ö§ß §Ý§Ú, §Ó§Ù§í§ã§Ü§Ñ§ä§Ö§Ý§î§ß§í§Û §ç§å§Õ§à§Ø§ß§Ú§Ü?
§¥§à§Ó§à§Ý§Ö§ß? §´§Ñ§Ü §á§å§ã§Ü§Ñ§Û §ä§à§Ý§á§Ñ §Ö§Ô§à §Ò§â§Ñ§ß§Ú§ä
§ª §á§Ý§ð§Ö§ä §ß§Ñ §Ñ§Ý§ä§Ñ§â§î, §Ô§Õ§Ö §ä§Ó§à§Û §à§Ô§à§ß§î §Ô§à§â§Ú§ä,
§ª §Ó §Õ§Ö§ä§ã§Ü§à§Û §â§Ö§Ù§Ó§à§ã§ä§Ú §Ü§à§Ý§Ö§Ò§Ý§Ö§ä §ä§Ó§à§Û §ä§â§Ö§ß§à§Ø§ß§Ú§Ü.
Poet! Set not too much store by the people's love.
The noise of accolades will not for long be heard,
You'll face the idiot's court, you'll hear the cold crowd laugh,
Yet you must remain firm, sullen, and unperturbed.
You're a king: live alone. Follow freely the roads
Along which your free mind impels your seeking feet,
Perfect the precious fruits of your beloved thoughts,
Demanding no rewards for that most noble feat.
They lie within you. You are your own supreme court,
The sternest judge of all of the worth of your work.
Exacting artist, satisfied with your output?
You are? Then scorn the crowd that sullies your good name,
And spits upon the altar wherein burns your fire,
And shakes in childish impishness your tripod.
(transl. Ph. Nikolayev)
In Pale Fire Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla.