Fleur de Fyler, Jakob Gradus & Sudarg of Bokay in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 10/16/2019 - 09:36

The poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962), John Shade likes his name:

 

After line 274 there is a false start in the draft:

 

I like my name: Shade, Ombre, almost "man"
In Spanish...

 

One regrets that the poet did not pursue this theme--and spare his reader the embarrassing intimacies that follow. (Kinbote’s note to Line 275)

 

In his book Uedinyonnoe (Solitaria, 1911) Rozanov (the writer who was ashamed of his name) says that Bryusov must constantly rejoice in his surname:

 

Я думаю, «Брюсов» постоянно радуется своей фамилии.

 

Bryusov is the author of Zerkalo teney (“The Mirror of Shadows,” 1912). In his Epistle to Bryusov (1912) Alexander Blok mentions pole traurnogo zerkala (the surface of a funerary mirror):

 

(При получении «Зеркала теней»)

И вновь, и вновь твой дух таинственный
В глухой ночи́, в ночи пустой
Велит к твоей мечте единственной
Прильнуть и пить напиток твой.

Вновь причастись души неистовой,
И яд, и боль, и сладость пей,
И тихо книгу перелистывай,
Впиваясь в зеркало теней…

Пусть, несказа́нной мукой мучая,
Здесь бьётся страсть, змеится грусть,
Восторженная буря случая
Сулит конец, убийство — пусть!

Что жизнь пытала, жгла, коверкала,
Здесь стало лёгкою мечтой,
И поле траурного зеркала
Прозрачной стынет красотой…

А красотой без слов повелено:
«Гори, гори. Живи, живи.
Пускай крыло души прострелено —
Кровь обагрит алтарь любви».

 

In his poem U groba dnya (“At the Coffin of the Day,” 1909) Bryusov mentions skorbnye teni (mournful shadows) and traurnyi flyor (funerary veil):

 

Скорбные тени, окутаны чёрным,
Вышли, влекут свой задумчивый хор,
Головы клонят в молчаньи покорном,
Стелят над травами траурный флёр.

 

While "mournful shadows" bring to mind the Shadows (a regicidal organization), traurnyi flyor recalls Fleur de Fyler, Countess de Fyler’s daughter who attempts to seduce Prince Charles after Queen Blenda’s death:

 

Her presence at night did not kill insomnia, but at least kept at bay the strong ghost of Queen Blenda. Between exhaustion and drowsiness, he trifled with paltry fancies, such as getting up and pouring out a little cold water from a decanter onto Fleur's naked shoulder so as to extinguish upon it the weak gleam of a moonbeam. Stentoriously the Countess snored in her lair. And beyond the vestibule of his vigil (here he began falling asleep), in the dark cold gallery, lying all over the painted marble and piled three or four deep against the locked door, some dozing, some whimpering, were his new boy pages, a whole mountain of gift boys from Troth, and Tuscany, and Albanoland.

He awoke to find her standing with a comb in her hand before his - or rather, his grandfather's - cheval glass, a triptych of bottomless light, a really fantastic mirror, signed with a diamond by its maker, Sudarg of Bokay. She turned about before it: a secret device of reflection gathered an infinite number of nudes in its depths, garlands of girls in graceful and sorrowful groups, diminishing in the limpid distance, or breaking into individual nymphs, some of whom, she murmured, must resemble her ancestors when they were young - little peasant garlien combing their hair in shallow water as far as the eye could reach, and then the wistful mermaid from an old tale, and then nothing.

On the third night a great stomping and ringing of arms came from the inner stairs, and there burst in the Prime Councilor, three Representatives of the People, and the chief of a new bodyguard. Amusingly, it was the Representatives of the People whom the idea of having for queen the granddaughter of a fiddler infuriated the most. That was the end of Charles Xavier's chaste romance with Fleur, who was pretty yet not repellent (as some cats are less repugnant than others to the good-natured dog told to endure the bitter effluvium of an alien genus). With their white suitcases and obsolete musical instruments the two ladies wandered back to the annex of the Palace. There followed a sweet twang of relief - and then the door of the anteroom slid open with a merry crash and the whole heap of putti tumbled in. (note to Line 80)

 

Jakob Gradus (Shade’s murderer, a member of the Shadows) in reverse, Sudarg of Bokay also seems to hint at gosudar’ (sovereign). In his epistle to Bryusov, Proshchal’naya poeza (“The Farewell Poem,” 1912), Severyanin says that he is bored with his korolevskiy titul (royal title) and calls Bryusov gosudar’:

 

Я так устал от льстивой свиты

И от мучительных похвал...

Мне скучен королевский титул,

Которым Бог меня венчал.

 

Вокруг — талантливые трусы

И обнаглевшая бездарь...

И только Вы, Валерий Брюсов,

Как некий равный государь...

 

Не ученик и не учитель,

Над чернью властвовать устав,

Иду в природу, как в обитель,

Петь свой осмеянный устав...

 

И там, в глуши, в краю олонца,

Вне поощрений и обид,

Моя душа взойдёт, как солнце,

Тому, кто мыслит и скорбит.

 

The penname Severyanin comes from sever (North). Kinbote’s Zembla is a distant Northern land.

 

A fiddler’s granddaughter, Fleur de Fyler keeps trying, as one quietly insane, to mend a broken viola d'amore. When Kinbote visits Queen Disa at her Mediterranean villa, he asks Feur de Fyler if she still plays the viola. Gumilyov’s poem Volshebnaya skripka (“The Magic Fiddle,” 1907) is dedicated to Bryusov. Gumilyov is the author of Zabludivshiysya tramvay (“The Lost Tram,” 1921). In VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev mentions viola zabludivshegosya pola (“the viola of stray sex,” a parenthesis is omitted in the English version):

 

Можно понять брезгливость Рудольфа, – но с другой стороны… мне иногда кажется, что не так уж ненормальна была Яшина страсть, – что его волнение было в конце концов весьма сходно с волнением не одного русского юноши середины прошлого века, трепетавшего от счастья, когда, вскинув шелковые ресницы, наставник с матовым челом, будущий вождь, будущий мученик, обращался к нему… и я бы совсем решительно отверг непоправимую природу отклонения («Месяц, полигон, виола заблудившегося пола…» – как кто-то в кончеевской поэме перевел «и степь, и ночь, и при луне…»), если бы только Рудольф был в малейшей мере учителем, мучеником и вождем, – ибо на самом деле это был что называется «бурш», – правда, бурш с легким заскоком, с тягой к темным стихам, хромой музыке, кривой живописи, – что не исключало в нем той коренной добротности, которой пленился, или думал, что пленился, Яша.

 

Rudolf’s squeamishness is understandable, but if one looks at the matter more closely, one suspects that Yasha’s passion was perhaps not so abnormal after all, that his excitement was after all very much akin to that of many a Russian youth in the middle of last century, trembling with happiness when, raising his silky eyelashes, his pale-browed teacher, a future leader, a future martyr, would turn to him; and I would have refused to see in Yasha’s case an incorrigible deviation had Rudolf been to the least degree a teacher, a martyr, or a leader; and not what he really was, a so-called “Bursch,” a German “regular guy,” notwithstanding a certain propensity for obscure poetry, lame music, lopsided art—which did not affect in him that fundamental soundness by which Yasha was captivated, or thought he was. (Chapter One)

 

After Yasha’s suicide his father, Alexander Yakovlevich Chernyshevsky, goes mad. 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 memoir essay on Bryusov (included in Necropolis, 1939) Hodasevich speaks of Bryusov's collaboration with the Bolsheviks and mentions nadezhda (hope) and gradusy (degrees):

 

Брюсову представлялось возможным прямое влияние на литературные дела; он мечтал, что большевики откроют ему долгожданную возможность «направлять» литературу твёрдыми административными мерами. Если бы это удалось, он мог бы командовать писателями, без интриг, без вынужденных союзов с ними, — единым окриком. А сколько заседаний, уставов, постановлений! А какая надежда на то, что в истории литературы будет сказано: «в таком-то году повернул русскую литературу на столько-то градусов».

 

…And what hope that in the history of literature it will be said: “in the year of grace so-and-so he [Bryusov] has turned Russian literature to so-and-so many degrees.”

 

In Solitaria Rozanov says that "evil within us is our fate." But we must know its measure and directions and "count by degrees" (po gradusam), as they say of thermometers (not trustworthy anyway, but scholars straighten things out by introducing amendments):

 

Дурное в нас есть рок наш. Но нужно знать меру этого рока, направления его, и “отсчитывать по градусам”, как говорят о термометрах, которые тоже врут, все, но учёные с этим справляются, внося поправки.

 

Rozanov is the author of Lyudi lunnogo sveta (“People of the Moonlight,” 1912). By “people of the moonlight” Rozanov means homosexuals. Shade’s alter ego, Kinbote is gay. Kinbote is the author of a book on surnames. The surname Rozanov comes from rozan (accented on the second syllable), a masculine form of roza (rose). In a letter of Aug. 24, 1831, to Pushkin Vyazemski mentions old botanists who attributed the rose to masculine gender:

 

При человеке известного вкуса хвалили одну девушку и говорили: она хороша как роза. Что Вы говорите, как роза, она даже хороша как розан, отвечал человек известного вкуса. Чтобы ты не подумал, что повторяю тебе анекдот, спешу заявить, что это моего сочинения. Не написать ли трактат и о греческом исповедании наших старинных граматеев или ботаников, которые отнесли розу к мужескому роду?

 

In the presence of a man of certain tastes a girl was praised: “she is as beautiful as roza (a rose).” The man of certain tastes replied: “she is even as beautiful as rozan.

 

“A defiler of flowers,” Fleur de Fyler is even as beautiful as rozan. According to Kinbote, a beautiful woman should be like a compass rose of ivory:

 

In Zembla, where most females are freckled blondes, we have the saying: belwif ivukurmpf wid snew ebanumf, "A beautiful woman should be like a compass rose of ivory with four parts of ebony." And this was the trim scheme nature had followed in Disa’s case. (note to Lines 433-434)

 

Zemblan for “beautiful woman,” belwif brings to mind sovershennaya bel-fam (a perfect belle femme) mentioned by Sofia Ivanovna (“the simply agreeable lady”), a character in Gogol’s Myortvye dushi (“Dead Souls,” 1842):

 

- Мило, Анна Григорьевна, до невероятности; шьётся в два рубчика: широкие проймы и сверху... Но вот, вот когда вы изумитесь, вот уж когда скажете, что... Ну, изумляйтесь: вообразите, лифчики пошли ещё длиннее, впереди мыском, и передняя косточка совсем выходит из границ; юбка вся собирается вокруг, как, бывало, в старину фижмы, даже сзади немножко подкладывают ваты, чтобы была совершенная бель-фам.

 

"It's sweet, Anna Grigorievna, unbelievably sweet. It's made with double seams: wide armholes and above . . . But here, here is something amazing for you, now you're going to say . . . Well, be amazed: imagine, the bodices are even longer now, vee-shaped in front, and the front busk goes beyond all bounds; the skirt is gathered around as it used to be with the old-fashioned farthingale, and they even pad it out a little behind with cotton batting, so as to make for a perfect belle-femme." (Chapter Nine)

 

The “real” name of both Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) and Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin). Lastochki (“The Swallows,” 1884) is a poem by Afanasiy Fet, the poet who was married to Maria Botkin.

 

In my previous post (“Great Bear or Shade as Gnome in Pale Fire”) I forgot to say that Kinbote's conversations with Shade are a parody of Gorky's conversations with Tolstoy (whom Gorky compares to a gnome). It seems that not only Gradus, but also Shade and Kinbote (“the Great Beaver”) are gnomes.

Alexey, Thanks for "Sudarg of Bokay also seems to hint at gosudar’ (sovereign)." 

It is my contention that Sudarg is like the Gnostic Demiurge, the creator of the representational world (the mirror to the divine), and is therefore the ageless (no birth/death dates in index) of the Shadows (spirit world). Therefore, "sovereign".

Mary