Vladimir Nabokov

Star, Starover, Starov

By MARYROSS, 4 May, 2023

Starover Blue:


We are first introduced to Prof. Blue in Shade’s poem as

 “the index, lean and glum/College astronomer Starover Blue." (L 189)


When I first read the poem, I thought, ‘What’s the point of this children’s hand game?’ The point, of course, is that the astronomer “points” to the stars. Stars are a motif in PF.


Prof. Blue is associated with “index.” We now know, through James Ramey’s fantastic sleuthing, the importance of PF’s index. I don’t know exactly what the connection is but I suspect there is even much more to learn there.


Another “children’s game” is suggested in C 189 (p. 127)


Line 189: Starover Blue


"See note to line 267. This reminds one of the Royal Game of the Goose, but played here with little airplanes of painted tin: a wild-goose game, rather (go to square 209.)” 


Game of the Goose is a European board game that jumps around, forward and back, intimating that the commentary is also a game and Starover plays a part. What part?


“Square 209” may have a clue:


Line 209: gradual decay


“Gradus is flying west; he has reached gray-blue Copenhagen."


Is there some kind of connection between gray Gradus and blue Starover? Note the important Masonic word “gradual.”  When Gradus gets to Copenhagen and meets with  Oswin Bretwit, he is expected to give a secret handshake. Masons and other secret societies employ secret handshakes with their brethren.



Starover Blue is not only an astronomer, but an astrologer! He lectures at the metaphysical IPH.


“The great Starover Blue reviewed the role/Planets had played as landfalls of the Soul” (L 627)



Masons are heavily into Astrology as were Alchemists. Freemasonry is replete with astrological and alchemical lore and symbolism. Alchemists and Freemasons believe the “star” in man is his “destiny” and the indestructible essence that reincarnates.


“Masonic blue,” a deep indigo, is the heraldic color of Masonry. Their logo is called the “Blazing Star,” a radiating diamond-like star on a Masonic blue field surrounded by a golden edge. It is a “star over blue.” 


The Masonic Blazing Star is said to be the pinnacle of a Freemason’s journey. In Masonry, a man tries to use knowledge to guide him, much like a star that is blazing against a dark night sky.



Furthermore, Masons venerate this Blazing Star as symbolic of the vision seen by many contemplatives and meditators, known in Hindu as the “Blue Pearl.” When the mind is steadied and focused at the “third eye” one may see a luminous indigo blot with a sort of ragged edge. The center of the blue opens up to a darker blue background with a radiating blue-white star. This may become larger and larger until the star turns into an indigo blot like the first and then that repeats. (I know because I meditate and have seen this. It reminds me of watching fractals.) 


Nabokov suggests this image as Gradus is heading toward the occultic/Masonic home of Joseph Lavender.

"Upon stopping above a vineyard, at the rough entrance of an unfinished house, he was shown by the three index fingers of three masons the tiled roof of Lavender’s villa high up in the ascending greenery on the opposite side of the road. […]While he was trudging up the walled walk with his eye one the rabbit foot of a poplar which now hid the red root at the top of the climb, now disclosed it, the sun found a weak spot among the rain clouds and next moment a ragged blue hole in them grew a radiant rim." (C 153)


Note the "three masons" pointing with their "index" fingers and the "ragged blue hole" and "radiant rim."


The importance of the Star over Blue is clearly emphasized in the astronomer/astrologer’s history, despite Kinbote’s Nabokovian denial (and deflection).


Line 627: The Great Starover Blue

"This name, no doubt, is most tempting. The star over the blue eminently suits an astronomer, though actuall neither his first nor secon name bears any relation to the clestial vault: the first was given him in memory of his grandfaather, a Russian starover (accente, incidentally, on the ultima), that is, Old Believer (member of a schismatic sect), named Sinyavin, from siniy, Russ, "blue." This sinyavin migrated from Saratov to Seattle and begot a son who eventually changed his name to Blue and marriedd Stella Lazurchik, an Americanized Kashube. So it goes."


Turning now to “Count Starov” in LATH:


LATH seems to be Nabokov’s artistic biography, the plot following his successive muses. Vadim’s first muse is Iris, a near anagram of Sirin, VN’s youthful pen-name of the firebird as his muse. Vadim recounts


“On the gray eve of poverty, the author, then a self-exiled youth (I transcribe from an old diary), discovered an unexpected patron in the person of Count Starov, a grave old-fashioned Mason who had graced several great Embassies during a spacious span of international intercourse, and who since 1913 had resided in London.”  (p.2)


Note: Grey, grave, graced, great----Gradus??? – connection to Starover Blue?? Although “Starov” means only “old” I would argue that there is a very Nabokovian suggestion here of a hint to Pale Fire and thus to “Starover Blue.” Count Starov is a Mason, thus a connection to “blue.”


Since the “Iris” plot takes place in VN’s youthful “Sirin” era, we might wonder who/what does Count Starov imply? 


In his youth, whilst in the Crimean, Nabokov was mentored spiritually by a neighbor and friend of his father, an old Mason, Vladimir Pohl. He dedicated his early poem about the hierarchy of angels to Pohl. Masons study the angelic hierarchy on their gradual assent of degrees.


What else did young Vladimir learn about from his mentor?  After all, Nabokov's father was also a Mason, and this relationship seems to be at his behest.


Alexey Sklyarenko

1 year 2 months ago

Gradus visits Oswin Bretwit (Zemblan former consul in Paris) in Paris (not in Copenhagen). "Masonic Code in the Works of Vladimir Nabokov (on the Example of Invitation to a Beheading)" is an article (available online in Russian: https://pressto.amu.edu.pl/index.php/strp/article/download/13094/12810/26150) by Nadzieja Kortus (a Polish Nabokovian). She mentions in it VN's negative attitude to masonry and uses some alchemical terms - for instance, rubedo (a Latin word meaning "redness" that was adopted by alchemists to define the fourth and final major stage in their magnum opus). In Invitation to a Beheading (a novel that in LATH corresponds to Vadim's The Red Top Hat, 1934) Cincinnatus plays chess and gusyok (a Goose game) with M'sieur Pierre (the executioner). The name Bretwit means Chess Intelligence. In Tolstoy's "War and Peace" (1869) Pierre Bezukhov becomes a member of a Masonic lodge. Btw., Masony ("Masons," 1880) is a novel by Pisemski, the author of Tysyacha dush ("A Thousand Souls," 1858), a novel that brings to mind Gogol's Myortvye dushi ("Dead Souls," 1842) and "A Thousand and One Nights" (an Arabic collection of fairy tales). In Chekhov’s story Ionych (1898) Kitten, as she speaks to Dr Startsev ("Ionych"), mentions Pisemski and his funny name-and-patronymic:


— Что вы читали на этой неделе, пока мы не виделись? — спросил он теперь. — Говорите, прошу вас.

— Я читала Писемского.

— Что именно?— «Тысяча душ», — ответила Котик. — А как смешно звали Писемского: Алексей Феофилактыч!


"What have you been reading this week since I saw you last?" he asked now. "Do please tell me."

"I have been reading Pisemski."

"What exactly?"

"'A Thousand Souls,' "answered Kitten. "And what a funny name Pisemski had -- Alexey Feofilaktych!” (chapter II)


Kinbote's landlord, Judge Goldsworth, is an authority on Roman law. In Chekhov's Ionych Ivan Petrovich Turkin (Kitten's father, a jovial punster) mentions rimskoe pravo (Roman law) and his wife Vera Iosifovna tells Dr. Startsev that her husband is an Othello:


-- Здравствуйте пожалуйста, -- сказал Иван Петрович, встречая его на крыльце. -- Очень, очень рад видеть такого приятного гостя. Пойдёмте, я представлю вас своей благоверной. Я говорю ему, Верочка, -- продолжал он, представляя доктора жене, -- я ему говорю, что он не имеет никакого римского права сидеть у себя в больнице, он должен отдавать свой досуг обществу. Не правда ли, душенька?

   -- Садитесь здесь, -- говорила Вера Иосифовна, сажая гостя возле себя. -- Вы можете ухаживать за мной. Мой муж ревнив, это Отелло, но ведь мы постараемся вести себя так, что он ничего не заметит.


"How do you do, if you please?" said Ivan Petrovich, meeting him on the steps. "Delighted, delighted to see such an agreeable visitor. Come along; I will introduce you to my better half. I tell him, Verochka," he went on, as he presented the doctor to his wife --"I tell him that he has no human right* to sit at home in a hospital; he ought to devote his leisure to society. Oughtn't he, darling?"

"Sit here," said Vera Iosifovna, making her visitor sit down beside her. "You can dance attendance on me. My husband is jealous -- he is an Othello; but we will try and behave so well that he will notice nothing." (chapter I)


*“he has no Roman law/right” in the original (in Russian pravo means “law” and “right”).


Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone, Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems be a cross between Leonardo's Mona Lisa and Desdemona, Othello's wife in Shakespeare's Othello.


The "real" name of the poet Shade, his commentator Kinbote and his murderer Gradus seems to be Botkin. In a letter of Sept. 29, 1856, to Ivan Turgenev Vasiliy Botkin (the author of Letters about Spain, 1851) describes his meeting with Pisemski ("the shade of former Pisemski") at Ostrovski's house in Moscow:


У Островского встретил я Писемского – бледного, исхудалого, больного, – тень прежнего Писемского. Он приехал сюда лечиться. Островский говорит, что у него развилась ипохондрия. Дело в том, что Писемский начитался медицинских книг и нашел в себе многие болезни».


According to Botkin, Pisemski has read a lot of medical books and discovered in himself many diseases. 


1 year 2 months ago


Nabokov's early life seems to have been surrounded by Freemasonry. His father and Uncle Konstantin were members of the Russian Grand Orient Lodge. Most of its members were also in the Kadet party. Many Russian writers and poets at the time were Masons, e.g. Alldanov, Bely. Pushkin had been a Mason. Nabokov's friend Nina Berberova published a book in 1986 titled "People and Lodges: Russian Masonry in the 20th Century." I have not read it because it is in Russian ( Berberova, Nina. Liudi I Lozhi: russkie masony XX stoletia, New York, 1986. The quote was obtained from a paper on academia.edu by Vladimir Moss: https://www.academia.edu/37197784/THE_MASONIC_PLOT_AGAINST_TSAR_NICHOLAS_II)


In Paris, he was apparently surrounded by many masonic literati. He wrote to Vera:

“Yesterday I dined at Aldanov’s, and then had to go to the Rauches’. He invited two masons…I, without hesitation, expressed all of my individualistic ideas and left early, having escaped their masonic enticements. The approach of poor Koka…took this form: ‘Don’t you have any unresolved issues? It just can’t be that you’re not troubled by certain questions of a spiritual order.’ I answered that I didn’t care about such questions, and the masons looked at me, wide-eyed. No doubt this was embarrassing, that is, no doubt Koka had told them…that look gentlemen, Sirin would be there, and he’s very interested in the masonic movement. He wants to join it and so on.” (N-W Letters, #77, p.126)


This is not to suggest that Nabokov was a mason. I think it is clear that he was not. His aversion may simply have been due to his non-sociability rather than antipathy:

 “My aversion to groups is rather a matter of temperament than the fruit of information and thought.” (SO, 64). 

Although Nabokov may have rejected the political and Masonic atmosphere surrounding his childhood and émigré life, there is no hard proof. Clearly Masonic influence can be seen in his writing, especially in the veiled autobiography of Pale Fire, and that is the point; it seems to have had a formative effect on him. It fits in with the many literary and philosophical luminaries alluded to who were involved with secret societies, spiritualism, and the occult. Indeed Nabokov was interested in these things.


(I meant to write more about the blue-white diamond-like star in the above post: The Masons call it their highest "treasure." Consider the blue diamond King Charles discovers in his childhood situla that he takes as a talisman on his "Hero's Journey" escape from Zembla – also a "treasure.")


There is an elusive treasure to be found in Pale Fire. In another paper ( Ross, Mary. Kobaltana: Pale Fire’s Mystery Spot, http://thenabokovian.org/nabokovian-new-notes/79-2020sp) I suggest that it is, in fact, the scintilla, the "divine spark," venerated in occult, hermetic, esoteric societies such as the Freemasons, who jealously guard with obfuscations their secret of the inner light. Nabokov, likewise wants worthy readers and eschews the “too easy” solutions to the inner workings of his creations. The literal text reading is for those satisfied with surface solutions. The hidden, indeed arcane, meta-text is for those devoted (pledged) to knowledge and Art.



In her Liudi i Lozhi Nina Berberova compares her childhood to that of VN. In her article Nadia Kortus quotes an excerpt from Berberova's book. Here is the ABSTRACT of her paper: "This article is an attempt to interpet a work by Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading, with the most important determinants of Masonic culture. There are few studies that discuss this outstanding prose writer in terms of freemasonry and the author of this article discusses this issue with particular attention to the symbolism of the Masonic initiation ritual."


Pale Fire is not at all a "veiled autobiography." VN's novels and short stories (all of them!) are elegant riddles. If one wants to solve them, one must view their author as an artist (and not as a mystic).


1 year 2 months ago

Very interesting! Yes, very elegant, artistic,  anagogic, and autobiographic riddles.  BTW, Nina Berberova was a co-Mason – i.e. in a lodge that accepted women.

Gavriel Shapiro

1 year 2 months ago

"This Sinyavin migrated from Saratov to Seattle and begot a son who eventually changed his name to Blue and married Stella Lazurchik." As often the case, Nabokov engages here in multilingual wordplay: "stella" is Latin for "star" and "lazur'" means "azure" in Russian. 


1 year 2 months ago

Yes, notice how VN emphasizes "blue" and "star" in this passage. Is it just for the sake of wordplay? I believe it goes much deeper, into the azure core – i.e. the blue diamond "treasure" in the situla and the cobalt in Kobaltana (see https://thenabokovian.org/node/51156. )

More on the Grail (see https://thenabokovian.org/node/53596):  Although the grail became known over the years as a jewel-encrusted golden goblet, it was also at times referred to as a "stone." According to Emma Jung (Carl Jung's wife, also a psychoanalyst who devoted her life to the Grail legend) in the Chretien de Troyes' version of "Percival" the Grail is a vessel, while in Wolfram's "Parzival" it is a stone. The Grail legends were somewhat intertwined with the development of alchemy, and the alchemists revered their "philosopher's stone" as the ultimate quest, like the Grail.

The main idea of all the above is "treasure".


1 year 2 months ago

Just want to add that Nabokov was most likely very conversant in the Grail Legend through Chretien de Troyes. He studied Medieval French at Cambridge.