In an attempt to save his life Clare Quilty (a character in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955) tries to seduce Humbert Humbert with his collection of erotica:


“Oh, another thing - you are going to like this. I have an absolutely unique collection of erotica upstairs. Just to mention one item: the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie Weiss, a remarkable lady, a remarkable work - drop that gun - with photographs of eight hundred and something male organs she examined and measured in 1932 on Bagration, in the Barda Sea, very illuminating graphs, plotted with love under pleasant skies - drop that gun - and moreover I can arrange for you to attend executions, not everybody knows that the chair is painted yellow -” (2.35)


In Gogol’s Myortvye dushi (“Dead Souls,” 1842) Sobakevich (one of the landowners visited by Chichikov) has, among other paintings, a portrait of Prince Bagration (a Russian general who fought against Napoleon and was mortally wounded at Borodino):


Вошед в гостиную, Собакевич показал на кресла, сказавши опять: «Прошу!» Садясь, Чичиков взглянул на стены и на висевшие на них картины. На картинах всё были молодцы, всё греческие полководцы, гравированные во весь рост: Маврокордато в красных панталонах и мундире, с очками на носу, Миаули, Канари. Все эти герои были с такими толстыми ляжками и неслыханными усами, что дрожь проходила по телу. Между крепкими греками, неизвестно каким образом и для чего, поместился Багратион, тощий, худенький, с маленькими знаменами и пушками внизу и в самых узеньких рамках. Потом опять следовала героиня греческая Бобелина, которой одна нога казалась больше всего туловища тех щёголей, которые наполняют нынешние гостиные.


At length they reached the drawing-room, where Sobakevich pointed to an armchair, and invited his guest to be seated. Chichikov gazed with interest at the walls and the pictures. In every such picture there were portrayed either young men or Greek generals of the type of Mavrogordato (clad in a red uniform and breaches), Kanaris, and others; and all these heroes were depicted with a solidity of thigh and a wealth of moustache which made the beholder simply shudder with awe. Among them there were placed also, according to some unknown system, and for some unknown reason, firstly, Bagration — tall and thin, and with a cluster of small flags and cannon beneath him, and the whole set in the narrowest of frames — and, secondly, the Greek heroine, Bobelina, whose legs looked larger than do the whole bodies of the drawing-room dandies of the present day. (chapter V)


Gogol’s Dead Souls is a poem. In Chapter Seven Chichikov peruses and marvels the list of dead souls that Sobakevich had sold to him. Humbert Humbert calls the list of Lolita’s classmates “a poem:”


Thursday. We are paying with hail and gale for the tropical beginning of the month. In a volume of the Young People’s Encyclopedia, I found a map of the states that a child’s pencil had started copying out on a sheet of lightweight paper, upon the other side of which, counter to the unfinished outline of Florida and the Gulf, there was a mimeographed list of names referring, evidently, to her class at the Ramsdale school. It is a poem I know already by heart.


Angel, Grace

Austin, Floyd

Beale, Jack

Beale, Mary

Buck, Daniel

Byron, Marguerite

Campbell, Alice

Carmine, Rose

Chatfield, Phyllis

Clarke, Gordon

Cowan, John

Cowan, Marion

Duncan, Walter

Falter, Ted

Fantasia, Stella

Flashman, Irving

Fox, George

Glave, Mabel

Goodale, Donald

Green, Lucinda

Hamilton, Mary Rose

Haze, Dolores

Honeck, Rosaline

Knight, Kenneth

McCoo, Virginia

McCrystal, Vivian

McFate, Aubrey

Miranda, Anthony

Miranda, Viola

Rosato, Emil

Schlenker, Lena

Scott, Donald

Sheridan, Agnes

Sherva, Oleg

Smith, Hazel

Talbot, Edgar

Talbot, Edwin

Wain, Lull

Williams, Ralph

Windmuller, Louise


A poem, a poem, forsooth! So strange and sweet was it to discover this “Haze, Dolores” (she!) in its special bower of names, with its bodyguard of roses – a fairy princess between her two maids of honor. I am trying to analyze the spine-thrill of delight it gives me, this name among all those others. What is it that excites me almost to tears (hot, opalescent, thick tears that poets and lovers shed)? What is it? The tender anonymity of this name with its formal veil (“Dolores”) and that abstract transposition of first name and surname, which is like a pair of new pale gloves or a mask? Is “mask” the keyword? Is it because there is always delight in the semitranslucent mystery, the flowing charshaf, through which the flesh and the eye you alone are elected to know smile in passing at you alone? Or is it because I can imagine so well the rest of the colorful classroom around my dolorous and hazy darling: Grace and her ripe pimples; Ginny and her lagging leg; Gordon, the haggard masturbator; Duncan, the foul-smelling clown; nail-biting Agnes; Viola, of the blackheads and the bouncing bust; pretty Rosaline; dark Mary Rose; adorable Stella, who has let strangers touch her; Ralph, who bullies and steals; Irving, for whom I am sorry. And there she is there, lost in the middle, gnawing a pencil, detested by teachers, all the boys’ eyes on her hair and neck, my Lolita. (1.11)


The name Sobakevich comes from sobaka (dog). Charlotte Humbert (Lolita’s mother) dies because of a neighbor’s hysterical dog that barks at a passing automobile. Jack and Mary Beale (Lolita’s classmates) are the children of Frederick Beale, the driver of the Packard that knocks down and drags several feet poor Charlotte (1.23). Just before her death Charlotte discovered and read Humbert Humbert’s diary (that contained the list of Lolita’s classmates).


In VN’s novel Pnin (1957) Sobakevich is the name of the Cockerells’ cocker spaniel:


Although Komarov belonged to another political faction than Pnin, the patriotic artist had seen in Pnin's dismissal an anti-Russian gesture and had started to delete a sulky Napoleon that stood between young, plumpish (now gaunt) Blorenge and young, moustached (now shaven) Hagen, in order to paint in Pnin; and there was the scene between Pnin and President Poore at lunch - an enraged, spluttering Pnin losing all control over what English he had, pointing a shaking forefinger at the preliminary outlines of a ghostly muzhik on the wall, and shouting that he would sue the college if his face appeared above that blouse; and there was his audience, imperturbable Poore, trapped in the dark of his total blindness, waiting for Pnin to peter out and then asking at large: 'Is that foreign gentleman on our staff?' Oh, the impersonation was deliciously funny, and although Gwen Cockerell must have heard the programme many times before, she laughed so loud that their old dog Sobakevich, a brown cocker with a tear-stained face, began to fidget and sniff at me. (Chapter Seven, 6).


At The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together and where Quilty also stays at the time) Lolita caresses an old lady’s cocker spaniel:


A hunchbacked and hoary Negro in a uniform of sorts took our bags and wheeled them slowly into the lobby. It was full of old ladies and clergy men. Lolita sank down on her haunches to caress a pale-faced, blue-freckled, black-eared cocker spaniel swooning on the floral carpet under her hand – as who would not, my heart – while I cleared my throat through the throng to the desk. (1.27)


At the Elphinstone hospital Quilty (“Mr. Gustave”) calls for Lolita with a cocker spaniel pup:


“Okey-dokey,” big Frank sang out, slapped the jamb, and whistling, carried my message away, and I went on drinking, and by morning the fever was gone, and although I was as limp as a toad, I put on the purple dressing gown over my maize yellow pajamas, and walked over to the office telephone. Everything was fine. A bright voice informed me that yes, everything was fine, my daughter had checked out the day before, around two, her uncle, Mr. Gustave, had called for her with a cocker spaniel pup and a smile for everyone, and a black Caddy Lack, and had paid Dolly’s bill in cash, and told them to tell me I should not worry, and keep warm, they were at Grandpa’s ranch as agreed. (2.22)


When Humbert Humbert visits Lolita (now married to Dick Schiller) in Coalmont, she tells him that Duk Duk Ranch to which Quilty took her had burned to the ground:


There was not much else to tell. That winter 1949, Fay and she had found jobs. For almost two years she had - oh, just drifted, oh, doing some restaurant work in small places, and then she had met Dick. No, she did not know where the other was. In New York, she guessed. Of course, he was so famous she would have found him at once if she had wanted. Fay had tried to get back to the Ranch - and it just was not there anymore - it had burned to the ground, nothing remained, just a charred heap of rubbish. It was so strange, so strange. (2.29)


At the beginning of his poem Borodino (1837) Lermontov mentions Moskva, spalyonnaya pozharom (Moscow burned to the ground by the fire):


- Скажи-ка, дядя, ведь не даром

Москва, спалённая пожаром,

Французу отдана?


Tell me now, uncle, not in vain,
after all, was flame bound Moscow
Given over to the French.


Humbert Humbert finds out Quilty’s address from his uncle Ivor (the Ramsdale dentist). According to Mayakovski (VN’s “late namesake” who inadvertently parodies Lermontov’s Borodino in one of his anti-German poems), the whole world is bardak (a brothel) and all people, except his uncle, are whores:


Все люди бляди,
Весь мир бардак!
Один мой дядя
И тот мудак.


All people are whores,

The whole world is a brothel!

My uncle alone…

But even he is a cretin.


There is Barda in bardak and Bard in Barda. Shakespeare (the Bard) said: “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” As he speaks to Humbert Humbert, Quilty “quotes” the Bard:


I promise you, Brewster, you will be happy here, with a magnificent cellar, and all the royalties from my next play - I have not much at the bank right now but I propose to borrow - you know, as the Bard said, with that cold in his head, to borrow and to borrow and to borrow. (2.35)


In VN’s Russian version of Lolita (1967) Quilty promises to live by means of debts, as his father lived, as the poet said:


Обещаю вам, Брюстер, что вы заживете здесь счастливо, пользуясь великолепным погребом и всем доходом с моей следующей пьесы, - у меня сейчас маловато в банке, но ничего, буду жить долгами, как жил его отец, по словам поэта.


The allusion is to a line in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (One: III: 2), dolgami zhil ego otets (his father lived by means of debts). Chapter One of Pushkin’s novel in verse begins as follows: Moy dyadya samykh chestnykh pravil (My uncle has most honest principles). In Chapter Seven (XXXVII) of EO Pushkin describes Tatiana’s arrival in Moscow and mentions the Moscow fire:


Вот, окружён своей дубравой,
Петровский замок. Мрачно он
Недавнею гордится славой.
Напрасно ждал Наполеон,
Последним счастьем упоенный,
Москвы коленопреклоненной
С ключами старого Кремля:
Нет, не пошла Москва моя
К нему с повинной головою.
Не праздник, не приёмный дар,
Она готовила пожар
Нетерпеливому герою.
Отселе, в думу погружён,
Глядел на грозный пламень он.


Here is, surrounded by its park,

Petrovskiy Castle. Somberly

it prides itself on recent glory.

In vain Napoleon, intoxicated

with his last fortune, waited

for kneeling Moscow with the keys

of the old Kremlin: no,

to him my Moscow did not go

with craven brow;

not revelry, not a welcoming gift —

a conflagration she prepared

for the impatient hero.

From here, in meditation sunk,

he watched the formidable flame.


In Pnin VN mentions the date of the Great Moscow Fire:


During one melting moment, he had the sensation of holding at last the key he had sought; but, coming from very far, a rustling wind, its soft volume increasing as it ruffled the rhododendrons--now blossomless, blind--confused whatever rational pattern Timofey Pnin's surroundings had once had. He was alive and that was sufficient. The back of the bench against which he still sprawled felt as real as his clothes, or his wallet, or the date of the Great Moscow Fire--1812. (Chapter One, 2)


In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (one of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions Prof. Pnin:


Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 172)


The essays in Innokentiy Annenski’s Kniga otrazheniy (“Book of Reflections,” 1906) published under the penname Nik. T-o (“Mr. Nobody”) include Problema gogolevskogo yumora (“The Problem of Gogol’s Humor”). Yumor Lermontova (“Lermontov’s Humor”) is an essay included in Annenski’s Vtoraya kniga otrazheniy (“The Second Book of Reflections,” 1909).


Alexey Sklyarenko

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