Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027609, Mon, 27 Nov 2017 13:35:08 +0300

999 lines in Pale Fire; 1001 notes in Eugene Onegin
In its unfinished form Shade’s poem has 999 lines. In his foreword to the last [Eight] chapter of Eugene Onegin published separately Pushkin quotes one of the closing stanzas in which the number 9 is repeated three times:

Пропущенные строфы подавали неоднократно повод к порицанию и насмешкам (впрочем, весьма справедливым и остроумным). Автор чистосердечно признается, что он выпустил из своего романа целую главу, в коей описано было путешествие Онегина по России. От него зависело означить сию выпущенную главу точками или цифром; но во избежание соблазна решился он лучше выставить, вместо девятого нумера, осьмой над последней главою Евгения Онегина и пожертвовать одною из окончательных строф:

Пора: перо покоя просит;
Я девять песен написал;
На берег радостный выносит
Мою ладью девятый вал —
Хвала вам, девяти каменам, и проч.».

П. А. Катенин (коему прекрасный поэтический талант не мешает быть и тонким критиком) заметил нам, что сие исключение, может быть и выгодное для читателей, вредит, однако ж, плану целого сочинения; ибо чрез то переход от Татьяны, уездной барышни, к Татьяне, знатной даме, становится слишком неожиданным и необъясненным. — Замечание, обличающее опытного художника. Автор сам чувствовал справедливость оного, но решился выпустить эту главу по причинам, важным для него, а не для публики. Некоторые отрывки были напечатаны; мы здесь их помещаем, присовокупив к ним ещё несколько строф.

“The dropped stanzas gave rise more than once to reprehension and gibes (no doubt most just and witty). The author candidly confesses that he omitted from his novel a whole chapter in which Onegin's journey across Russia was described. It depended upon him to designate this omitted chapter by means of dots or a numeral; but to avoid ambiguity he decided it would be better to mark as number eight, instead of nine, the last chapter of Eugene Onegin, and to sacrifice one of its closing stanzas [Eight: XLVIIIa]:

'Tis time: the pen for peace is asking

nine cantos I have written;

my boat upon the joyful shore

by the ninth billow is brought out.

Praise be to you, O nine Camenae, etc.

“P[avel] A[leksandrovich] Katenin (whom a fine poetic talent does not prevent from being also a subtle critic) observed to us that this exclusion, though perhaps advantageous to readers, is, however, detrimental to the plan of the entire work since, through this, the transition from Tatiana the provincial miss to Tatiana the grande dame becomes too unexpected and unexplained: an observation revealing the experienced artist. The author himself felt the justice of this but decided to leave out the chapter for reasons important to him but not to the public. Some fragments [XVI–XIX, l–10] have been published [Jan. 1, 1830, Lit. Gaz.] ; we insert them here, subjoining to them several other stanzas.”

In a letter of January 4, 1835, to Pushkin Katenin says that he began the new year with a sonnet and asks Pushkin to publish it:

Sonnet... c'est un sonnet. Да, любезнейший Александр Сергеевич, я обновил 1835-й год сонетом, не милым, как Оронтов, не во вкусе петраркистов, a разве несколько в роде Казы; и как étrenne посылаю к тебе с просьбою: коли ты найдёшь его хорошим, напечатать в "Библиотеке для чтения"; а поелику мне, бедняку, дарить богатого Смирдина грех, то продай ему NB как можно дороже.

Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But, like some sonnets, it also seems to need a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). At the end of Zametki perevodchika II (“Translator’s Notes. Part Two,” 1957) VN mentions tysyacha i odno primechanie (a thousand and one notes):

Так скажут историк и словесник; но что может сказать бедный переводчик? «Симилар ту э уингед лили, балансинг энтерс Лалла Рух»? Всё потеряно, всё сорвано, все цветы и серёжки лежат в лужах — и я бы никогда не пустился в этот тусклый путь, если бы не был уверен, что внимательному чужеземцу всю солнечную сторону текста можно подробно объяснить в тысяче и одном примечании.

According to VN, he would have never attempted to translate EO into English, had he not been sure that to the attentive foreigner the entire sunny side of the text can be in detail explained in a thousand and one notes.

In the lines quoted by Pushkin in his foreword to the separate edition of EO’s last chapter the poet mentions the ninth billow and nine Camemae (i. e. muses). Devyatyi val (“The Ninth Billow,” 1850) is a painting by Ayvazovski. In his autobiography Speak, Memory VN mentions Ayvazovski:

One of my mother’s happier girlhood recollections was having traveled one summer with her aunt Praskovia to the Crimea, where her paternal grandfather had an estate near Feodosia. Her aunt and she went for a walk with him and another old gentleman, the well-known seascape painter Ayvazovski. She remembered the painter saying (as he had said no doubt many times) that in 1836, at an exhibition of pictures in St. Petersburg, he had seen Pushkin, “an ugly little fellow with a tall handsome wife.” That was more than half a century before, when Ayvazovski was an art student, and less than a year before Pushkin’s death. She also remembered the touch nature added from its own palette—the white mark a bird left on the painter’s gray top hat. The aunt Praskovia, walking beside her, was her mother’s sister, who had married the celebrated syphilologist V. M. Tarnovski (1839–1906) and who herself was a doctor, the author of works on psychiatry, anthropology and social welfare. One evening at Ayvazovski’s villa near Feodosia, Aunt Praskovia met at dinner the twenty-eight-year-old Dr. Anton Chekhov whom she somehow offended in the course of a medical conversation. She was a very learned, very kind, very elegant lady, and it is hard to imagine how exactly she could have provoked the incredibly coarse outburst Chekhov permits himself in a published letter of August 3, 1888, to his sister. Aunt Praskovia, or Aunt Pasha, as we called her, often visited us at Vyra. She had an enchanting way of greeting us, as she swept into the nursery with a sonorous “Bonjour, les enfants!” She died in 1910. My mother was at her bedside, and Aunt Pasha’s last words were: “That’s interesting. Now I understand. Everything is water, vsyo—voda.” (Chapter Three, 3)

In the “Fragments of Onegin’s Journey” ([XVII]: 13-14) Pushkin confesses that he has admixed a lot water unto his poetic goblet. In Vivian Calmbrood’s poem “The Night Journey” (1931) Chenston mentions his neighbor, young Wordsworth, to whose verses water is harmful. A lake poet, Wordsworth asked the critic scorn not the sonnet. The author of “A Sonnet” (with the epigraph from Wordsworth), Pushkin attributed the authorship of his little tragedy Skupoy rytsar’ (“The Covetous Knight,” 1830) to Chenston. Nikto b (none would), a phrase used by Mozart in Pushkin’s little tragedy “Mozart and Salieri” (1830), is Botkin in reverse. Vivian Calmbrood is VN’s penname.

In a letter of August 3, 1888, to his sister Chekhov writes:

Вчера я ездил в Шах-мамай, именье Айвазовского, за 25 вёрст от Феодосии. Именье роскошное, несколько сказочное; такие имения, вероятно, можно видеть в Персии. Сам Айвазовский, бодрый старик лет 75, представляет из себя помесь добродушного армяшки с заевшимся архиереем; полон собственного достоинства, руки имеет мягкие и подаёт их по-генеральски. Недалёк, но натура сложная и достойная внимания. В себе одном он совмещает и генерала, и архиерея, и художника и армянина, и наивного деда, и Отелло. Женат на молодой и очень красивой женщине, которую держит в ежах. Знаком с султанами, шахами и эмирами. Писал вместе с Глинкой «Руслана и Людмилу». Был приятелем Пушкина, но Пушкина не читал. В своей жизни он не прочел ни одной книги. Когда ему предлагают читать, он говорит: «Зачем мне читать, если у меня есть свои мнения?» Я у него пробыл целый день и обедал. Обед длинный, тягучий, с бесконечными тостами. Между прочим, на обеде познакомился я с женщиной-врачом Тарновской, женою известного профессора. Это толстый, ожиревший комок мяса. Если её раздеть голой и выкрасить в зелёную краску, то получится болотная лягушка. Поговоривши с ней, я мысленно вычеркнул её из списка врачей...

Yesterday I went to Shah-Mamai Aivazovski’s estate, twenty-five versts from Feodosia. It is a magnificent estate, rather like fairyland; such estates may probably be seen in Persia. Aivazovski himself, a vigorous old man of seventy-five, is a mixture of a good-natured Armenian and an overfed bishop; he is full of dignity, has soft hands, and offers them like a general. He is not very intelligent, but is a complex nature worthy of attention. He combines in himself a general, a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old peasant, and an Othello. He is married to a young and very beautiful woman whom he rules with a rod of iron. He is friendly with Sultans, Shahs, and Amirs. He collaborated with Glinka in writing “Ruslan and Liudmila.” He was a friend of Pushkin, but has never read him. He has not read a single book in his life. When it is suggested to him that he should read something he answers, “Why should I read when I have opinions of my own?” I spent a whole day in his house and had dinner there. The dinner was fearfully long, with endless toasts. By the way, at that dinner I was introduced to the lady doctor Tarnovski, wife of the well-known professor. She is a fat, bulky piece of flesh. If she were undressed and painted green she would look just like a frog. After talking to her I mentally scratched her off the list of women doctors. . . .

In his Foreword to Speak, Memory VN says that he planned to entitle the British edition of his autobiography Speak, Mnemosyne:

Although I had been composing these chapters in the erratic sequence reflected by the dates of first publication given above, they had been neatly filling numbered gaps in my mind which followed the present order of chapters. That order had been established in 1936, at the placing of the cornerstone which already held in its hidden hollow various maps, timetables, a collection of matchboxes, a chip of ruby glass, and even—as I now realize—the view from my balcony of Geneva lake, of its ripples and glades of light, black-dotted today, at teatime, with coots and tufted ducks. I had no trouble therefore in assembling a volume which Harper & Bros. of New York brought out in 1951, under the title Conclusive Evidence; conclusive evidence of my having existed. Unfortunately, the phrase suggested a mystery story, and I planned to entitle the British edition Speak, Mnemosyne but was told that “little old ladies would not want to ask for a book whose title they could not pronounce.” I also toyed with The Anthemion which is the name of a honeysuckle ornament, consisting of elaborate interlacements and expanding clusters, but nobody liked it; so we finally settled for Speak, Memory (Gollancz, 1951, and The Universal Library, N.Y., 1960). Its translations are: Russian, by the author (Drugie Berega, The Chekhov Publishing House, N.Y., 1954), French, by Yvonne Davet (Autres Rivages, Gallimard, 1961), Italian, by Bruno Oddera (Parla, Ricordo, Mondadori, 1962), Spanish, by Jaime Piñeiro Gonzáles (¡Habla, memoria!, 1963) and German, by Dieter E. Zimmer (Rowohlt, 1964). This exhausts the necessary amount of bibliographic information, which jittery critics who were annoyed by the note at the end of Nabokov’s Dozen will be, I hope, hypnotized into accepting at the beginning of the present work.

Mnemosyne is the mother of the muses. In one of his poems Fyodor Gogunov-Cherdyntsev (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Dar, “The Gift,” 1937) calls Zina Mertz polu-Mnemozina (half-Mnemosyne) and says that there is polu-mertsan’ye (half-shimmer) in her name. In his famous epigram on Count Vorontsov Pushkin calls Vorontsov polu-milord, polu-kupets (half-milord, half-merchant…) and says that there is nadezhda (hope) that he will be a full one at last. 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). There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov, will be full again.

Nabokov’s Dozen contains thirteen stories. One presumes that in Nabokov’s Thousand there are 1001 lines. 1001 + 999 = 2000. A poem of nine hundred ninety-nine lines, Pale Fire is divided into four cantos. If Shade’s poem, like Pushkin’s EO, had eight cantos, the total number of lines in it would have been 2000. It seems that VN (who was born in 1899, one hundred years after Pushkin’s birth) planned to live at least to 2000. The first word in Shade’s poem is “I.” Hodasevich’s poem Pered zerkalom (“In Front of the Mirror,” 1924) begins with the word ya (I) repeated three times and has for epigraph the first line of Dante’s “Divine Comedy:” Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (in the middle of the journey of our life). At the end of his poem Ravenna (1909) Alexander Blok mentions Dante’s shade with aquiline profile that counts the centuries to come and sings to him about the New Life:

Лишь по ночам, склонясь к долинам,

Ведя векам грядущим счёт,

Тень Данта с профилем орлиным

О Новой Жизни мне поёт.

Dante’s Vita Nova brings to mind Nova Zembla mentioned by Kinbote in his Commentary (note to Line 864) and by VN in Speak, Memory (Chapter Three, 1).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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