Vladimir Nabokov

Number 73 (Fall 2014) The Nabokovian

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                                          THE NABOKOVIAN


   Number 73                                                                    Fall 2014

                           In Honor of Stephen Jan Parker



News                                                                                                        4

     by Stephen Blackwell


Tributes to Stephen Jan Parker                                                                5


From the Archive: [Luzhin’s Childhood], by Vladimir Nabokov          7

     translated by Gennady Barabtarlo


Nabokovian Moments                                                                           10


Notes And Brief Commentaries                                                            16

      by Priscilla Meyer


“Frost At Midnight”:

 Shades Of Coleridge’s Poetry In Pale Fire                                   16

     Gerard de Vries


Nabokov’s Silverfish                                                                      23

     Victor Fet


Martha’s And Irene’s Last Dance                                                   26

     Alexia Gassin


Nabokov’s Re-Translation Of Southey’s Ballad

In Zhukovsky’s Rendition                                                       32

     Gavriel Shapiro


Victor Wind’s More Plausible Father                                             40

     David Khoury


Plausible, Possible, Probable                                                          43

     Robert Aldwinckle


Bibliographical Notes on Nabokov’s “Notes on my Father”                46

      by Shun’ichiro Akikusa


Translated Annotations:

A New Look at Nabokov’s Harlequins                                                 47

      by Andrei Babikov


Annotations to Ada, 39: Part I Chapter 39                                            54

      by Brian Boyd


2013 Bibliography                                                                                97

      by Sidney Eric Dement and Elizabeth R. Drooby





by Stephen Blackwell

This issue marks the final print-only edition of The Nabokovian, and the final issue that will be held by libraries around the world. If enough members wish to continue receiving a printed and bound copy, and are willing to pay extra for it, it may be possible to do one printing per issue. I encourage those interested in such an option to contact me upon receiving this issue, so we can assess demand. 2015 membership rates have not yet been set; they will probably be lower than 2014, to reflect savings in printing and mailing costs (though the web site does have maintenance costs associated with it).

It was with very deep sadness that all Nabokovians learned of the death of Samuel Schuman in November of this year. Sam was a bene-factor of the Society, and a major supporter of Nabokov Studies, the Society’s “thick journal.” I first met Sam at the 2002 conference at the Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, and remember several wonderful conversations with him at that gathering. He was remembered fondly by many on Nabokv-L in the days after his death. In his remarks on the new Society web site, Zoran Kuzmanovich made special note of Sam’s intellectual bravery, and Brian Boyd observed that “we’ll miss his warmth, kindness, and gentle acumen.” By all accounts, Sam embodied the best in all of us.

This issue also marks the culmination of our tribute to Stephen Jan Parker, who retired last year after 35+ years guiding The Nabokovian and managing the Society’s rolls. The whole issue is dedicated in his honor; there are three new separate tributes (one embedded in an article), and all of the issue’s contents were submitted in the spirit of honoring Steve. Fittingly, this issue is especially robust, with a larger-than-usual number of discoveries and worthy speculations, as well as a newly published and translated Nabokov story. It also includes a special feature, “Nabokovian Moments,” q.v., and what I hope will become a new permanent department: “Translated Commentaries,” where unique annotations from non-English editions of Nabokov’s works will be translated and published. The first entry is from Andrei Babikov’s Russian edition of Look at the Harliquins!; suggestions and submissions for future installments are welcome.



Tributes to Stephen Jan Parker


Stephen Jan Parker

In the fall of 1978, I was completing my PhD on Nabokov and Ada when Professor Stephen Jan Parker’s call for submissions to the Vladimir Nabokov Research Newsletter appeared. Among the five contributions I made to the first issue, one was “The Mysterious Dozen: A Problem in Ada,” where I raised the question of the “mysterious pastors” in Ada’s Part I Chapter 39, “a most melancholy and meaningful picture—but meaning what, what?,” as Van provocatively asks (269). I must confess I was a little disgruntled with Steve’s printing another Nabokovian’s response that proposed, in answer to the riddle, Leonardo’s Last Supper­—ruled out by the reference I had quoted to “a canvas” (Leonardo’s painting is a fresco) “from Cardinal Carlo de Medici’s collection” (impossible for a painting on a convent wall). But Steve took my vexation very well, and that was the last time in the almost forty years of his editing what soon became The Nabokovian that there was the slightest friction between us. He edited with a light, tolerant hand, and proved a fine explicator of Nabokov in his own right in Understanding Nabokov (1987). He became a friend of mine, and a much closer friend of Dmitri Nabokov, a trusted advisor to the family, a trusted conduit for Véra’s annual bibliographic updates, and the expert on the library Nabokov left in Montreux. In the days before e-mail, the Internet, and even the first Nabokov conference (which he also set up, with George Gibian of Cornell’s Slavic Department, in 1983), he helped create a cohesive center for Nabokov scholarship that continues to serve the field. This modest man should be proud of what he has done for Nabokov studies. I am personally grateful for his early publications of my work, and for his hospitality to the vast “Annotations to Ada”—vaster than either of us dreamed—still going strong after 21 years, and at last catching up to I.39 and that mysterious dozen.

—Brian Boyd, University of Auckland



* *

The Nabokovian may be the mouthpiece of the Nabokov Research Society (The VNRN was in fact the newsletter’s title until No. 13), yet everybody knows that it has really been Steve Parker’s child and charge


since conception. For thirty-five years he wrote its first item and its last, collected and arranged material, saw it through the production and mailing.

I learnt of its existence in 1980, soon after our emigration, from Nabokov’s widow who sent me the latest issue (No. 3) while sending Steve a paid request to subscribe me. He then mailed the previous one, adding that he was out of the first, which had to be xeroxed. We met in Urbana, Illinois (where I was then a paperless refugee and graduate student); later I went to see him in Lawrence, and then we would see each other often at conferences. We exchanged numerous letters, his typed, mine handwritten. Soon I began regularly to contribute small pieces in whimsical, clunky English, mostly to the Notes section then run by Charles Nicol.

Steve is a very quiet and very intelligent editor, who knows where to draw the line and when to withdraw it. He good-naturedly let me publish under four or five pseudonyms, was open, even game, to all sorts of fanciful suggestions, for instance, the three-way mutual parody issue No. 20, or the centenary “Nabokov Prose-Alike Contest” in No. 52—a humbling anonymous competition, in which two genuine excerpts from TOOL were voted by the membership to the last and next to last place, behind Nicol’s unanimously winning entry and two runner-ups (signed by me and my alternative). At the same time, the seventy-two issue run of this publication has been a treasure-trove of many scores of brilliant hypotheses and discoveries, both by scholars of renown and by the beginners for whom The Nabokovian became their first credit card. Dmitri Nabokov occasionally would give it VN’s unpublished flinders; Steve Parker kept up a running bibliography of the latest publications in the field; and for over twenty years, since No. 30, Brian Boyd has been sharing with us his astonishingly detailed description of Ada’s meandrous organization.

Now that his newsletter is about to slide from terra firma it has been roving for thirty-five years into the seas of the ethernet, I want to use this chance to thank Steve for this “feat of an honest man,” as Pushkin sparingly but weightily called Karamzin’s twenty-five-year span of admirable labors in a different field.


—Gennady Barabtarlo, University of Missouri




From the Archive: an Unpublished Story


[Luzhin’s Childhood]. By Vladimir Nabokov. Translated by Gennady Barabtarlo.

The manuscript—a fair copy, in clean, careful hand—of this early Nabokov story, published here for the first time, bears neither a title nor any sign of intended continuation: just three short, numbered sections, and a blank nothing under the carefully written number four. The seasoned reader will, however, at once see a pathway to the remarkable “A Matter of Chance,” the first in the series of very strong short stories Sirin sent to periodicals in 1924, the year that rapidly lifted his prose to a much higher level. There, Alexey Luzhin, a cocaine-ravaged expatriate, twice uncoupled from his wife—first by the Russian catastrophe, then by a matter of cruel chance—throws himself under the passing train on the anniversary of their wedding. Here, we have what looks to me like a prologue to that story, discarded by the author who probably wanted to forgo introductions and flashbacks and pick up Luzhin’s lifeline at its end. He left Luzhin his Christian name but changed that of his father (Lev, instead of Ivan). The theme of suicide looms like a semaphore both in the story and in this detached early stage.

In a preface to the English version, Nabokov remembered that he wrote “A Matter of Chance” early in 1924; I think that this abandoned beginning precedes it by some time—perhaps, months, judging by the quality of the prose, still constrained and rather shy. On the other hand, Brian Boyd—to whom I am very grateful for a number of gainful suggestions—points out that the inscription “Before 1929” at the top of the first page, in Nabokov’s later hand, may bespeak a mental link, even if erroneous, with Luzhin’s Defense.

The original is part of the Berg Collection of the New York Public library and is published here, in my translation, with their kind permission.


Copyright © by Vladimir Nabokov, used by permission of The Wylie Agency LLC.

Copyright © 2014, translation, by Gennady Barabtarlo

The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations



In the morning he went to see Voronin. A desk drawer was pulled out. Voronin was rummaging in it, his elbows spread out. A small pistol lurked among the papers like a black stone. Is it loaded? he asked.

—Seven deaths, my friend, one in the barrel, Voronin remarked casually and pushed the drawer back in with his belly.

He remembered this when he woke up in the middle of the night. On the ceiling above him the moon sketched a blueprint of the window. He remembered it—and felt as if he had caught furtive sight of something dreadfully obscene. He tried to beat the thought of it back, to press it shut like that drawer. But something got in the way, the drawer stuck and wouldn’t go in. Suddenly he realised—and shuddered from the nauseating temptation and shame—that inside that man’s desk the naked lump of his death was slumbering. He realised that he was destined to wake it up. And the moonlit frame on the ceiling looked to him like the black cage of a newspaper obituary, and inside that cage he could discern three words: Aleksey Ivanovich Luzhin.


His entire life was a matter of chance. He spent his childhood in Italy, where his father, a boorish artist, painted madonnas resembling shopkeepers and filled his glass-walled villa with the rumbling of his guffaws, the champing creaking of his leather sandals, the fire of his red beard.

At nine the boy was sent to a Catholic school near Rome. There, a huge abbot with an ivory face would make him kneel in the corner, and he would stand there for an hour, two hours, and not just on the floor but on dried peas. The stony peas bit into his kneecaps, rolled round, convulsion gripping his cartilages. On Saturdays he wrote meek letters home, to Fiesole. His supervisor would first dictate, then inspect them.

His mother, a carefree Pole, who day in and day out dragged her shawls—her colourful indolence—from armchair to bed, from bed to hammock—believed that her son was indeed surrounded by hallowed, gentle care… They instilled in him the coarse fear of hell, of God, of the abyss. They painted earthly life black. Even bees committed iniquity when they sweetly buzzed in the purplish clusters of wisteria. At frequent confessions they tormented him so much that he took to preparing in advance a set of made-up sins: not only was it simpler to


repent that way, but he was thereby spared the reproach of malicious concealment.


The fly-catchers darting along the walls like fuzzy phantoms, the peas, the intricate prayers, the timid twitter of his classmates, the smell of unwashed flannels, and perhaps the sun-dappled (all clubs) soil under the plane-tree in the schoolyard—that was all that his memory preserved of Italy. As for St Petersburg, where he was born, the only notion he had formed of it at the time came from the lithograph that the abbot once gave him, with a pale smile, as a present. Before falling asleep he often imagined that he was in the middle of a vast city square: on his right, a toy-like horseman on a triangular pedestal; a rotund cathedral straight ahead; funny carriages scattered all over the grey expanse, cavorting dogs, odd little figures in masquerade garments. He was especially curious about the tiny, aproned man with a huge beard, carrying a tray on his head.




Nabokovian Moments


Inconclusive Evidence


In the autumn of 1987 [I recall it as March, cold, nobody about—PM], after my giving a lecture at Wesleyan University on Pushkin’s longest non-long poem (the English literary taxonomy is among the coarsest), my amiable hostess, Professor Priscilla Meyer, drove me to Old Lyme. It was a weekday, and the entire stretch of the beach, what Pushkin called lukomor’e (a bandy shoreline), looked empty in both directions. The pale sand felt firm underfoot, and we shambled up and down, and sat on a rock, chatting about Nabokov. [You picked up a shell and said, “This is the origin of the notion of symbol”; I asked if you'd traced the shell motif through Nabokov and reminded you of Colette stepping on a mussel shell in Speak, Memory.—PM]. I was then translating VN’s short stories into Russian and had no idea how to render “beech plum” from the last sentence in “Signs and Symbols.” I had a theory that the jams in that sentence are lined up in the order of gradually mounting tartness, thus leading up to the third call, and was not sure whether this odd plum fit the sequence. PM thought, with good reason, that VN must have meant, but misspelled, the “beach plum” (Prunus maritima), common on the East Coast, a grove of which could well be found in the vicinity, and that it was probably tart enough to take its proper place. After a while, we got up and resumed our stroll along the edge of the beach. It was low tide, and we had not walked a hundred yards when I stopped and called PM who was a few steps ahead of me: the name COLETTE [The complete inscription was “COLETTE + ?”—a teenager considerately (from our point of view) not naming her beloved—PM] had been freshly written on the wet sand in large cursive. [It was a case of passed and repassed: we walked out to the rock with the ocean on our right; we returned with the ocean on our left and, making it all the more spine-tingling, you found the inscription at the halfway point to the rock where we had talked about Colette—PM]. I don’t remember seeing anybody nearby capable of writing [four teenagers were walking ahead of us in the distance —PM]. Nor do I recall, but PM does, that prior to coming upon that spot we had talked about that Riviera chapter of Nabokov's memoirs, which makes an already big coincidence cubed. It is certain, however, that neither of us had a camera, and even if we had one, it would somehow feel wrong to take a picture of this little miracle, as if the “snapping” and “shooting”


components might regain something of their crude primary meaning. —G.B. [with P.M.]

Genius Loci


Those who have been exposed to N-rays long enough can probably relate similar stories, either real “coletters” or at least what may be called “pnincidents”: little episodes or situations, sometimes amusing, often baffling, always smile-worthy, that sometimes remind one of this or that corresponding place in a Nabokov novel. My personal store grew manifold in the early 1990s, in the course of my extensive travels through Europe and America on a self-imposed photographic assignment for a planned picture book Nabokov’s Itinerary. I would haul heavy equipment in two bags (I had one camera for Kodachrome slides and another, large format, for grayscale negatives) to places where he lived or stayed in emigration, from London to Clarens. Wanted buildings would hide in backstreets, or cover themselves with dense scaffolding, or clean vanish; those considered long razed would spring up at the right address; an old woman with a stringbag, much resembling Evgenia Isaakovna from “Breakng the News,” would come out of a house in Mozartstrasse, and on the deserted bank of the Grunewald lake, early in the morning, a man in shirtsleeves tirelessly tossed a stick far into the water, sending his dog to retrieve it, just as he does, time after time, in The Gift. The impossible-to-find pension Les Hesperides in Menton where the Nabokovs stayed late in 1937 (there is a picture of it in Speak Memory) is suddenly mentioned in a local newspaper, with a photograph, during a conference in Nice, and Gerard de Vries, Pekka Tammi, and I had a jolly yet hard time of locating it in the maze of the old town back alleys, armed just with the paper clipping. The same trio had an even jollier and harder time (suspicious peasants, vicious dogs) tracking down the Domain Beaulieu, near Toulon, where Nabokov worked as a farmhand in the summer of 1923.

As I approached the apartment building where Nabokov stayed when he visited Paris, I saw a glazier coming out carrying the flat box of his rectangular wares on his shoulder, as if he had only now got to replacing the windowpane in the Fondaminskys flat broken in winter of 1937 by Orlov’s smartly launched snowball. I steadied my camera on the parapet of an overbridge—the very bridge, as it turned out, of the last chapter of Conclusive Evidence, which led straight to Nestorstrasse I had been trying to find and for some reason couldn’t—at the moment of


just the right collocation of the densely darkened skies, the recurvate, sharp view of half-a-dozen railways forking and converging into the long of beyond, two goods trains standing next to each other on the left, and the needle of a TV tower pricking a heavy storm cloud on the horizon (I can recall this in precise detail because I am looking at a picture I took there and then).

More prosaically, on the landing right outside the door of apt. 35 in 8, Craigie Circle, Cambridge, Mass., two pairs of rubber boots, his black, hers white, stood under an elegant old “accent table.” And in the backyard of a famous house in Ithaca, in the place where the incinerator used to be, I found a carefully assembled mise-en-scène of loose plank lumber, a wheeled garbage can with “802 Seneca” stenciled on it, a sign “handicap parking” placed next to it, and above it all, a crude abstract painting in staring colors affixed to the retaining wall made of creosoted railroad ties.

An especially strange encounter happened in the churchyard of the Russian Church of SS. Constantine and Helen, near the Tegel airport in Berlin. Looking for Nabokov-Sr.’s grave, I came upon an old, plain wooden cross, its whitewash peeling and crumbling, the almost obliterated inscription retaining only the name and patronymic, Vasily Ivanovich, and the barely visible year of death—same year the narrator’s agent of the same name is “let go” in the last sentence of “Cloud, Castle, Lake.”

In The Nabokovian 45 (Fall 2000), soon after Nabokov’s sister died, I published my recollections of her, mentioning a curious last game of scrabble we played, in which words we would in turn place on the board formed strangely meaningful strings, of which fact both of us gradually became aware but said nothing to each other. I didn’t mention then that in that game, or the one right before it, Elena Vladimirovna kept pulling tiles with the letter “V” out of the knitted bag, an even less gainful letter in the Russian game than in the English, for chances to get rid of more than one at a time are fewer—few words like vivid or savvy, no flivvers to vivify. She had used one but then drew another, placed that one down, but immediately collected two more (thereby exhausting the v-stock), and flipping her rack so that I could see the tiles looked at me and said, “Well, I never!..” (Nu znaete!..). She fell silent (“umolkla”, a 50-point premium word that was already on the board), then said that it was a shame the rules didn’t allow her to play “Veve” (Vevey in Russian spelling).


Aping the Ape


As said before, it seems that any concentrated Nabokov enterprise, be it writing an essay about him, teaching a course, or mapping his topography, brings up little curiosities: high-definition coincidences, arrows chalked on housewalls, gentle strokes of luck. Here is the latest example from a long string of similar incidents.

This past spring I taught a “writing intensive” undergraduate course on the novel; the fourth and last specimen under study was Lolita. On the second week of lectures, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece that began: “Eight months ago, 11-year old Amna was married off to a man three times her age to settle a crime her uncle had committed.” In itself a twingled skein of literary associations, it carried a byline of Annabel Symington, a British reporter (“exposed to risk while gathering news,” says Frontline Freelance Register). The Pakistani hamlet where the deal took place is called Grilagan—a perfect anagram for a glaring coincidence.

At the end of the course, the brightest student in that class came to my office and related, casually, that her mother had brought her from the Ukraine to Missouri when she was twelve, after an online marriage to a local man. They soon divorced, the mother remarried in another town, and the girl remained with her unremarried step-father. She was telling me this without showing the slightest awareness of the inevitable reference to the basic thematic line of the novel we had just finished ploughing back and forth.


A Visual Pnincidence


Every time I come to Montreux I notice a slight change, a shift, even if it has only been two years since the previous visit. This past July it was big: they are building something grandiose slap in front of the Palace. Ensconced amidst the chaos of the construction site, pressing heavily with all his hepatizon bronze mass against the back of a Vienna chair whose slender front legs are precariously suspended in the air, a clotty, bilious “Nabokov” looks like a sedentary parody of Falconet’s Peter I and, uncannily, of Pnin who is about to lose balance in his Pushkin class. Several years ago this “Nabokov in Knickerbockers” (1999) by Alexander Rukavishnikov, the author of monuments to honour a broad range of Russian and Soviet eminences, from Emperor Alexander II to potentate Kobzon to strongman Zass, had been taken


alfresco from its original mooring in the vestibule of the Palace. Bronze busts of famous jazzers are scattered all over the grassy expanse, a short distance from “Nabokov,” who turns away in disgust, his eyebrow permanently arched, as if muttering “Jazz, jazz…,” also very much like Pnin in The Pines.

A monstrous statue à la Komarov by a “no-relation” Rukavishnikov; an odd ensemble of musicians busking next to it; in front, a completely blocked view of the lake; behind, a completely redone set of small rooms of his longest dwelling in emigration, turned into a larger two-room suite offered for $1,800 a night and usually booked (and when not, a specially hired member of the hotel staff takes visiting “Russian” nouveaux riches on a private tour)—not even Nabokov could have imagined this in the strangest of his fancies.




* *

Life as Parody

I Paul Hentzner

On a walk in Vermont one autumn, my husband and I discovered the foundation of an old barn, surrounded by milkweed plants with full pods. Nearby we encountered a woman with a German accent who offered to show us her garden. I asked what some plant was, and she answered, “I never can remember the names of things.” Nabokovian moments in life appear as inversions or parodies of their originals.


In a class on The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, I point out the “mustache of ten to two” and look up at the wall clock: it’s ten to two.


In the late 1970s a group of Russian émigrés gathered in a fellow poet’s Paris apartment for a reading. For some reason during the reading there developed a suppressed hilarity; it finally burst into the open as the leg of a stool under Dmitri Segal (Hebrew University), a rather monumental figure both literally and figuratively, cracked loudly, and he teetered


briefly until he managed to shift himself onto another one without hitting the ground.

Are Russian writers forever fated through the generations to give readings in scantily furnished apartments in Berlin and Paris? Where will this scene next be restaged?

—Priscilla Meyer, Wesleyan University


* *

A Distant Mirror

Unsurprisingly, several of my “pnincicidences,” if I may be the first to quote Gene Barabtarlo’s coinage, relate to The Gift. I made my first and only trip to Berlin in March of 2004, helping a friend lead a group of students in a course studying the city’s cultural history. We were there for about five or six days, and of course I visited every Nabokov or Dar-related site I had time to reach. It was not in Charlottenburg but at the University that I saw—was even temporarily blocked by—a pair of workers carrying a large, wardrobe-sized mirror (sans wardrobe) into one of the University’s buildings (which I was exiting). I wish I could say that I remember what was reflected in the mirror, or whether it was a parallelepiped. I’ll let fancy fill in the gaps with sky and bare branches.

Once during a Nabokov course, just after reading “A Visit to the Museum,” a student reported that he entered a campus building he did not know well, got lost in a labyrinth of stairways and basement passages, and eventually—very eventually—emerged outdoors from the basement of an entirely different building.





Notes And Brief Commentaries


By Priscilla Meyer

Submissions, in English, should be forwarded to Priscilla Meyer at pmeyer@wesleyan.edu. Please send attachments in .doc or .docx format. All contributors must be current members of the Nabokov Society. Deadlines are April 1 and October 1 respectively for the Spring and Fall issues. Notes will be sent, anonymously, to a reader for review. If accepted for publication, some slight editorial alterations may be made. References to Nabokov's English or Englished works should be made either to the first American (or British) edition or to the Vintage collected series. All Russian quotations must be transliterated and translated. Please observe the style (footnotes incorporated within the text, American punctuation, single space after periods, signature: name, place, etc.) used in this section.

“Frost At Midnight”:

Shades Of Coleridge’s Poetry In Pale Fire


The first time I met Stephen Jan Parker I was curious to learn whether his second given name (not an unusual one in my country) indicates Dutch roots. It does not; his parents just liked the name. So this could not explain the kindness he had shown to me by publishing my first notes in The Nabokovian, a rather “uncouth manuscript flaunting its imperfections.” The occasion of our meeting was the 1992 Nice Conference, “[s]uperbly organized and conducted by Maurice Couturier, with the assistance of Mme. Couturier” as professor Parker writes in his report “Nabokov in Nice. The Second International Nabokov Conference” (The Nabokovian 29 [1992]: 17-29). He also praises the “daily gourmet luncheons” and the “closing banquet” and the many papers which he summarizes most attractively. One afternoon, while we were waiting outside for the next session, Parker appeared smartly dressed in a dark suit with matching tie and shoes. Because the sun was shining brightly, most of the participants were informally attired, and inevitably Parker was asked why he preferred his obviously less comfortable costume. His answer was clear: he had packed it and did not wish to return it unused. It is, I think, thanks to this stoic logic, to stick to a decision once made (and to Ms. Paula Courtney), that we owe the amazing number of 71 volumes of his splendid journal.



In his Understanding Vladimir Nabokov (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987), Parker writes that “Nabokov maintained that the genealogy of a literary work is not ‘reality’ but the literary tradition of which it is a part” (115). I think my note in the previous issue of The Nabokovian on Pale Fire and Virgil’s Aeneid shows how valuable this observation is, as in its first part the Homer, Virgil, Dante, Akhmatova and Nabokov lineage is discussed. Parker also calls Nabokov an “iconoclast” and this, I think, is amply illustrated in its second part (143).

There is a nice counterpoise to Nabokov’s loud derision of some well-established names, as his voice becomes more muted the more he admires an author. The present note may prove this.



* *

In Pale Fire many if not all the best known English Romantic Poets are mentioned, paraphrased or referred to: Byron, Keats, Shelley, Scott and Wordsworth. Even Robert Southey, as highly ranked in his own days as he is forgotten now, is honored with some quotations. But where is Coleridge, certainly not the least gifted among his peers? “Read: Milton, Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth,” is Nabokov’s advice to a future novelist (quoted by Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov. The American Years. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, 317).

Strangely it is not the poet, but his wife, Sara Coleridge (née Fricker), who is alluded to by Kinbote. “Dear Stumparumper” (76), comes from the letter Southey, Mrs. Coleridge’s brother-in-law, wrote in September 1821 to his friend Grosvenor Charles Bedford. In it the reader is informed about “the language spoken in this house by Mrs. Coleridge” and it is she who calls Bedford “stumparumper” (Molly Lefebure, The Bondage of Love: A Life of Mrs. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London: Victor Gollancz, 1986, 21). And the “Lingo-Grande” (76) that Kinbote attributes to Southey, is in fact the name “the family” gave to Mrs. Coleridge’s private language, of which “stumparumper” is an example (Lefebure 22). This “family” consisted of all the inhabitants of Greta Hall, a big house in Keswick, in the English Lake District: Robert Southey, his wife Edith, their children, Mrs. Coleridge (who was Edith’s sister) and her children. (Coleridge rented Greta Hall in 1800 and soon invited his friend Robert Southey for a long visit. After their arrival, Coleridge moved to London, abandoning his family, who stayed for three decades in the house thanks to the


generous hospitality of Southey, who in 1802 succeeded Coleridge in leasing the manor.) Mrs. Coleridge’s biographer, Molly Lefebure, explains Sara’s private language not as merely funny as her family did, but caused by “the necessity to have something of her own, that could not be taken from her as everything else was taken,” (an explanation which might apply to Kinbote’s Zemblan as well) (222).

Although Sara Coleridge is probably unique in having a poem in her own included in her husband’s collection of poems (“The Silver Thimble,” “around whose azure rim/ Silver figures seem to swim,”) it is of course Coleridge’s poetry that justifies these references (The Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London: Oxford University Press, 1957, 104-105, henceforth referred to as PW of STC). Some of Shade’s images are strongly reminiscent of Coleridge’s perceptions. Shade’s lines, “My eyes were such that literally they/ Took photographs,” and “…all I had to do/ Was to close my eyes,” recall Coleridge’s “My eyes make pictures, when they are shut,” which is the opening line of “A Day-Dream” (34; PW of STC 385. Curiously the second line has: “I see a fountain, large and fair”). And Shade’s “And heard the wind roll marbles on the roof” sounds as vigorously as Coleridge’s “When stormy Midnight howling around/ Beats on our roof with clattering sound” from his “Lines at Shurton Bars” (48; PW of STC 99). And Shade’s “green, indigo and tawny sea” is as colourful as the ocean in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which Coleridge gave all sorts of dyes, as in lines 129 and 130: “The Water, like a witch’s oils,/ Burnt green, and blue and white” (48; PW of STC 191. In my “‘Mountain, not Fountain,’ Pale Fire’s Saving Grace,” The Nabokovian 63 (2009): 39-52, I referred to Coleridge’s “Hymn before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouni” and “Kubla Kahn”).

But even more interesting than these “parallelisms” (as Nabokov uses to call such correspondences in his commentary on Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin) are the striking similarities in setting, atmosphere and philosophical bent in the last parts of Shade’s Cantos Two and Four and Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” and “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” respectively. These two poems Coleridge wrote in 1797 and 1798, when he and his family lived in Nether Stowey, a small village on the eastern slope of the Quantock Hills in England.

In “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” the poet, who is forced to stay at home, imagines how his friends go out for a walk in the late afternoon. He knows their way and can recollect what they will see; first a “roaring dell” and next a “waterfall.” Progressing to the hill-top, they


will admire the view which commands the blue sea and the setting sun. In the third section the poet feasts on the riches he can see from his bower, and speculates on life’s sharing nature’s eternity.

Like Shade, Coleridge had a neighbour (Thomas Poole) who intensely admired his poetical gifts. The neighbouring backyards communicated with one another, so that Coleridge could as easily as Shade walk into the adjacent garden. Both poets meet, after having finished their work, an acquaintance called Charles, Shade his neighbour Charles Kinbote, Coleridge his friend Charles Lamb. Lamb stayed in Coleridge’s cottage and it is he who is addressed in the poem. Both poets composed their verse in mid-summer, the month of July. (In a note preceding his poem Coleridge states that he wrote it in June. This is obviously a mistake, as in June Charles Lamb was still writing letters from London to his friend [The Letters of Charles Lamb. Vol.1. London: J.M. Dent, 1911, 86-7].)

The poets were both, slightly and temporarily, incapacitated and could only walk with some difficulty. Shade because his “[f]oot [has] gone to sleep,” Coleridge because his foot was burned by spoiled hot milk (Richard Holmes, Coleridge, Early Visions. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989, 153). They penned their lines while sitting in an arbour, Shade in an “arborlike porch,” Coleridge in a linden-bower. In front of their seat is a nut tree, a “shagbark tree” in Shade’s garden, a “walnut-tree” in Coleridge’s.

Both poets (Shade now transfers his pen to Nabokov) are captivated by the spectacle the late-summer afternoon offers: the setting sun, the changing appearance of the foliage in the pervading crepuscular light and the curving chase of a flying creature, as can be shown by the following quotations:


…Pale beneath the blaze

Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch’d

Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov’d to see

The shadow of the leaf and stem above

Dappling in sunshine!...

…and in deep radiance lay

Full on the ancient ivy,…

…and now, with blackest mass

Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue

Through the late twilight: and though now the bat

Wheels silent by,… (PW of STC, 180-1, lines 47-57)


“…on that same spot, where the low sun finding an aperture in the foliage splashed the brown sand with a last radiance while the evening’s shade covered the rest of the path” (290).

Also “a lacquered leaf” is observed just before “the shade reached the laurels” (290) while


“A dark Vanessa with a crimson band

Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand” (69)


It is difficult to follow the flights in the dazzling sunbeams, as the fly, according to Kinbote “flashed and vanished,” while a bird in Coleridge’s vision was “[n]ow a dim spot, now vanishing in light.”

Shade and Coleridge finish their poems with the image of a bird. The waxwing to which Shade returns in line 1000 (which is the same as line 1, see my “Pale Fire and Dr. Johnson,” The Nabokovian 66 [2011]: 21-30), although “slain,” “live[s] on” (33). In Coleridge’s poem it is a “rook” which “tells of Live,” although it is dissolved in the light of the setting sun. Shade’s metempsychosis is comforted by his last earthly abode, which he calls “his Nest” and which Kinbote calls his “perch” (287). Coleridge often used bird-images, sometimes as a self-image but also as a metaphysical one (see Holmes 80 and 327).

Coleridge acquired fame because of his fascinating “Kubla Kahn” and the magical stories of The Ancient Mariner and “Christabel.”

His Conversation Poems, however, to which “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” and “Frost at Midnight” belong, have quite different qualities. They are primarily meditative and totally devoid of such thrilling events which stupefied so many readers of The Ancient Mariner. But the modulations of mood and thought, expressed in beautiful and subtle observations, are no less exciting. “Frost at Midnight” is usually regarded as his finest Conversation Poem, and may be appreciated as his most perfect verse as well. The poet is sitting in the parlour of his cottage in the dead of winter and his imagination, ignited by a “thin blue fame,” wanders to various places in the past and future.

The lines devoted to the night when John and Sybil Shade wait at home for the return of their daughter [ll. 403-500] contain the lines 418 and 433 mentioned above as recalling images from Coleridge. The word “Aeolian” in line 409 brings to mind Coleridge’s “Eolian Harp,” his first Conversation Poem. That evening the Shades watch “the preview of Remorse,” a film featuring Marilyn Monroe. There is, however, no such


movie which fits this title (see Dieter Zimmer, “Anmerkungen des Herausgebers.” Fahles Feuer [Pale Fire] by Vladimir Nabokov. Reinbek: Rowohlt: 2008, 448). Remorse is the title of a play by Coleridge, originally called Osorio, after its main character (for a summary, see Richard Holmes, Coleridge, Darker Reflections. London: Harper Collins, 1998, 323-327).

In lines 403-500, the word “frost” or “Frost” appears twice, and the word “midnight” is mentioned three times (lines 426, 428, 483, 490). A preliminary reference to “Frost at Midnight” is found in Kinbote’s comments on Shade’s use of the word “stillicide” in line 35. As Kinbote rightly notes, a stillicide is a “succession of drops,” to which he, seemingly capriciously, adds “drops falling from the eaves, eavesdrop, cavesdrop.” Kinbote continues his comment with “I remember having encountered it for the first time in a poem by Thomas Hardy. The bright frost has eternalized the bright eavesdrop.” In Hardy’s poem “Friends Beyond” the poet imagines that he hears his dead friends whispering from the churchyard:


“In the muted, measured note

Of a ripple under archways, or a lone cave’s stillicide”

(Selected Poems. London: Everyman’s Library, 1982, 145)


But there are no eaves in Hardy’s poem, nor is there any frost. On the contrary, the poet hears the whispering “at midnight when the moon-heat breathes it back from walls and leads.” The eaves appear in Shade’s lines 39-40:


“… close my eyes to reproduce the leaves

Or indoor scene or trophies of the eaves”


These trophies of the eaves are obviously the “stilettos of a frozen stillicide” of line 35, and have their origin in “Frost at Midnight:”


“…whether the eaves-drops fall

Heard only in the trances of the blast,

Or the secret ministry of frost

Shall hang them up in silent icicles,

Quietly shining to the quiet Moon”

(PW of STC, 242, lines 70-74)




Like Coleridge, the Shades are sitting at midnight in their living room. Outside frost is reigning. Coleridge is meditating on a “film,” but, it being the winter of 1798, this is a layer of soot which “flutters” on the grate of his “low-burnt fire.” The Shades are watching the TV which offers a debate on poetry, a travelogue and the preview of Remorse before they turn it off. The “film” Coleridge sees reminds him of his schooldays when he dreamed so often of his “sweet birth-place.” The movie shown during the travelogue presents the seaside the Shade had visited “[n]ine months before her [their daughter’s] birth.” (By coincidence the thoughts of both poets travel back 26 years as Coleridge composed his lines in 1798 and was born in 1772, while Shade is writing his poem in 1959, 26 years later than 1933 when Hazel Shade was born.)

Coleridge’s recollections of his schooldays are framed by his intense longing for a familiar face, of an “aunt or sister more beloved.” (Raised in West-England, Coleridge, at the age of ten, became, after his father’s death, an inmate of a London charity school and was hardly ever allowed by his mother to go home during the nine years of his stay, which explains why he regarded himself as an orphan [see Holmes, Early Visions 24-25]). A visit by a member of Coleridge’s family was promised, albeit only proverbially, by the fluttering film, because, as Coleridge writes in a note, “these films are called strangers and supposed to portend the arrival of some absent friend” (PW of STC 240). Likewise the thoughts of the Shades are with their daughter to whose arrival they look forward with increasing uneasiness, due to the misgivings they have about their daughter’s date. Because of their edginess, they even twice think that they hear the telephone ringing. While waiting, Coleridge glanced at “the door half opened,” just as Sybil “listened at the door.”

Despite the many correspondences (the sitting room, the time at midnight, the remembrances, the film, the dejection, the waiting in vain, the frost) there is a decisive difference between Coleridge’s and Shade’s lines. In Shade’s verse a steadily growing inquietude destroys the soothing monotony the evening otherwise would have had. The movement in Coleridge’s poem, however, is an upward one as the placid mood of the poet—being chilled by the desolate memories of his own childhood and his abandonment by his family—soars into elevated vistas when he imagines the boyhood of his newly born baby who is sleeping in the cradle next to his chair. This might be, I think, the precise reason for the echoes of “Frost at Midnight” in “Pale Fire.”


Doubtless, Nabokov was attracted by the striking novelty of Coleridge’s very meticulous and studied observations of natural phenomena (see for example his note on the “creeking” noise [the quill-feathers of] the rook makes in “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison”). But what might have weighed even more for Nabokov is the way in which Coleridge makes his child share the eternity he, Coleridge, had already discerned. Coleridge envisages that his boy in his adolescence shall “see and hear/ The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible/Of that eternal language….” “[A]ll seasons shall be sweet to thee,” Coleridge writes, and this seems to resonate in Shade’s lines when he writes “It was a night of thaw,” suggesting that spring can not be far behind. In “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” Coleridge too knowingly encourages his friend to “gaze till all doth seem/ Less gross than bodily; and such hues/ As veil the Almighty Spirit, when he yet makes/ Spirits perceive his presence.”

Shade, who devoted his whole life to finding true signs of an eternity in which human beings partake after death, must have found Coleridge’s conviction most reassuring. And especially as Coleridge in “Frost at Midnight” foresees eternity as an aura of his child’s life, Shade might have regarded this poetical vision as a stimulus for his own quest, which finally leads him to believe that “his darling is somewhere alive.”

Although Coleridge is not among the twenty-five English poets mentioned in Pale Fire (see my “Fanning the Poet’s Fire. Some Remarks on Pale Fire. Russian Literature Triquarterly 24 (1991) 239-267), his poems which are discussed here seem far more important subtexts for this novel than the poetry of most of the others. Most likely Coleridge’s poems are so close to the story of Shade’s coping with the death of his daughter that a more direct reference might have overemphasized their importance. It seems another case of Nabokov’s well-known indirectness; the masking of subtexts, especially when these have been reworked to become part of his own unique art.


—Gerard de Vries, Voorschoten, Netherlands



Nabokov’s Silverfish

An expert in Lepidoptera, Nabokov often mentioned other insects as well. Some of these served him famously, such as the cigale in Pale Fire, the Chateaubriand’s mosquito in Ada, or several genera of true bugs (Heteroptera, also in Ada; see my note “Adakisme, Dolykisme: the


Kirkaldy connection”, The Nabokovian, 2006, 56: 14-19). Nabokov gladly admitted that his knowledge of general entomology was only introductory. He was, however, perfectly aware of high-level insect classification and, as any entomologist, could easily identify common non-butterfly insects, assigning them to higher categories such as orders (there are about 20 of those) or, even further, families.

Oblako, ozero, bashnya (first published in Russian in 1937), better known by its English title, Cloud, Castle, Lake (below, CCL; first published in English in 1941), mentions, in the same sentence, two non-butterfly insects that inhabit the fragile and cruel world of this short story. First is the “mature bedbug” (the Russian text uses a folksy adjective materoi) that pre-tortures Vasili Ivanovich, the hero of CCL. An infamous bloodsucking, flightless bedbug (Russ. klop, Lat. Cimex lectularius, Order Heteroptera) inhabits many pages of Russian literature. Its bedbug lore stretches from Pushkin’s roadside hotels where klopy da blohi zasnut’ minuty ne daiut (“bedbugs and fleas don’t give one a minute’s sleep”) (Eugene Onegin, 7, XXXIV, Nabokov’s translation) to Mayakovsky’s 1929 satirical play Klop [The Bedbug]. Some “blood motif” places in Antiterra (the shooting gallery in Ardis) “crawled with bedbugs” (Ada 1.34: 212.11) long before this Old World pest became a true trouble in North America in the 21st century.

The same sentence that mentions the “mature bedbug” in CCL contrasts it with another animal, not so well known. In the Russian text of CCL that is currently widely reprinted (Sobranie sochinenii russkogo perioda… vol 4, Simpozium, St. Petersburg, 2000, p. 586) it reads: “no est’ izvestnaia gratsiia v dvizhenii shelkovistoi lepizmy [but there is a certain grace in the motions of a silky lepisma].” What is this creature?

Lepisma is a Latin genus name for a primitive, wingless but fast-moving insect, commonly found in human habitations, that belongs to the Order Thysanura, “bristletails” (in zoological Russian, shchetinokhvostye). It is known in English as silverfish; other less common names include silver louse, silver witch, and sugarfish. The currently reprinted English translation of CCL (“by Peter Pertzov and the author” says “there is a certain grace in the motions of silky silverfish (Nabokov’s Congeries, Viking, 1968, p. 104).

Unlike bedbugs, silverfish are harmless and do not bite. They are, however, “one of the most troublesome enemies of books, papers, card labels in the museums” (C. L. Marlatt. The silverfish: an injurious household insect. US Dept. Agric. Farmer’s Bulletin, 1915, 681: 1-4). Lepisma is listed in any course of general entomology such as the four-


volume Russian one by N.A. Kholodkovsky (1912) that Nabokov used as a child. In Russian, silverfish is called cheshuinitsa (literally, “scaled”): wingless bodies of thysanurans are covered with minute silvery scales just like moth wings, and leave powder when touched. The Greek “lepis-“ root of Lepisma is the same as in Lepidoptera (scale-winged, Russ. cheshuekrylye). I am tempted to suggest that this is a wingless, crawling substitute of a butterfly, the best one can get in the warped world of CCL (and also LATH, see below). Nabokov’s sentence also reflects an important evolutionary contrast, well-known to entomologists, between primitively wingless insects such as silverfish (relicts of early Palaeozoic insect groups that did not yet have wings)—and secondarily wingless ones such as bedbugs, lice, or fleas that lost precious wings and flight evolved by their ancestors and relatives (such as butterflies), often due to a parasitic way of life. 

Silverfish is notably mentioned at least once again by Nabokov, in English, in Look at the Harlequins! (below, LATH) (1974, Ch. 7) as a “silver louse,” a less common English name of this insect. Vadim, the anti-Nabokov protagonist, makes a clear, very ironic connection to butterflies, and especially silver-scaled moths: “I know nothing about butterflies, and indeed do not care for the fluffier night-flying ones, and would hate any of them to touch me: even the prettiest gives me a nasty shiver like some floating spider web or that bathroom pest on the Riviera, the silver louse.”

Sergei Ilyin, in his Russian translation of LATH, back-translates “silver louse” as “sakharnaya cheshuinitsa” (sugarfish), technically a correct Russian entomological name of a common European Lepisma species; however, unnecessary sweetness is introduced, which Nabokov’s text lacks. They indeed inhabit the Riviera, along with others of the less pleasant (and often parasitic) characters in Nabokov’s books.

Interestingly, in the first English translation of CCL (Atlantic Monthly, June 1941, available online) we find not a silverfish but quite a different animal: “there is a certain grace in the motions of silky wood lice. A “wood louse” is not an equivalent of a silverfish, but a very distant taxonomic choice. Woodlice are not insects at all but terrestrial crustaceans (Order Isopoda). In the U.S., woodlice are more commonly known as pillbugs or sawbugs; children also call them roly-polies or doodlebugs. Woodlice are abundant in moist environments, in rotten wood or under stones on your lawn, but not inside houses with normal humidity. Their Russian name, mokritsa, means “moisture-loving.” Like silverfish, they are harmless to humans.


The 1941 translation of CCL, in fact, was true to the original Russian journal version (Russkie zapiski, 1937, No 2, p. 38). As Yuri Leving noted in his Comments (Sobranie sochinenii…, op. cit., vol. 4, p. 778), the 1937 Russian journal had “v dvizhenii shelkovykh mokrits” [motion of silky wood lice].”

The first version where we find the animal changed into a “silky silver-fish” is the first book publication of CCL in English, in a 1947 collection Nine Stories (New Directions, NY, p. 39). When the Russian version was first published in a book (Vesna v Fial’te, 1956, Izd. im. Chekhova, NY), Nabokov changed the Russian mokritsa to a much more exotic lepizma – hardly recognizable even by an educated Russian reader. The next book publication in English, in Nabokov’s Dozen (Doubleday, 1958), has “silky silverfish” (p. 118). Brian Boyd (pers. comm.) suggests that, in the six years between 1941 and 1947, when Nabokov was a professional lepidopterist at the MCZ, "that must have been what made the decisive difference: working among other entomologists, thinking about entomology scientifically himself most of every day. The translation of CCL was finished by March 5, 1941, and Nabokov didn’t begin offering his services at the MCZ until October.”

I am sure the animal was changed intentionally. The change strengthens “certain grace”: a silverfish moves much faster than a bulky wood louse. More importantly, silkiness in silverfish is due to their scales as it is in moths (the motif that later appeared in LATH), while woodlice have no scales—they may look silky but do not leave powder. The Russian adjective was also slightly changed to be more precise, shelkovistaya (silky to the touch) instead of shelkovaya (silk-like, made of silk). All this may not be important for an average reader who cares not about either woodlice or silverfish—but not for Nabokov, with his constant attention to naturalistic detail. 

I thank Brian Boyd for his kind comments on this note.

—Victor Fet, Department of Biological Sciences, Marshall University

Martha’s And Irene’s Last Dance


Possible links between the works of Vladimir Nabokov and those of Stefan Zweig have so far been ignored, probably due to the fact that Nabokov never mentioned the Austrian writer in interviews or correspondence. The translator Corinna Gepner tried to draw a chess


parallel between Luzhin in Zashchita Luzhina (The Defense) (1930), and Zweig’s characters M. B. and Czentovic in Schachnovelle (The Royal Game) (1943, posthumously) (Le Joueur d’échecs, Paris: Bréal, 2000, pp. 113-118). However, Nabokov could have read some works of Zweig during his long stay in Berlin, and other connections can be found, not only in plot and character, but also in some narrative techniques.

Zweig’s short story Angst (Fear), published in August-September 1913 in the review Wiener Neue Presse, because of its subject, could be a sub-text of Nabokov’s second novel, Korol, dama, valet (King, Queen, Knave) (1928) – along with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Chekhov’s Dama s sobachkoj (The Lady with the Dog), which Nabokov discusses in his Lectures on (Russian) Literature. Just as Zweig tells the story of Irene, who deceives her husband, Fritz Wagner, with a young pianist, Eduard, Nabokov deals with Martha’s story, who takes Franz for lover, i.e. the “nephew” of her spouse, Kurt Dreyer. By making use of the banal and melodramatic topic of adultery in a bourgeois background, both writers denounce the “poshlust” or “poshlism” (Lectures on Russian Literature, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981, p. 313) of conservative middle-class society. As Yves Iehl points out, although Zweig was born into a rich Viennese family, he “condemns the reality and the falseness of a world where social relations seem to be corrupted by the disappearance of any genuine feelings. He brings out the cynicism, the coldness, the mean self-importance of his Viennese figures and endeavors to make us share his disapproval” (“Stefan Zweig et Arthur Schnitzler,” Austriaca, no. 34 [1992], p. 111, my translation). Nabokov similarly characterizes the middle-class person as “a philistine,” “a full-grown person whose interests are of a material and commonplace nature, and whose mentality is formed of the stock ideas and conventional ideals of his group and time” (Lectures on Russian Literature, p. 309).

It is not surprising that Nabokov and Zweig set forth two female characters that belong to the middle class and whose way of life is nearly the same. Zweig’s Irene lives a quiet and idle existence in Vienna, surrounded with her two children, her maids and her husband, a lawyer, who secures her material comfort. Nabokov’s Martha, although childless, is married to a rich department store owner and lives in the capital (undoubtedly Berlin) in a gilded cage, consisting of Biedermeier furniture, a harmonious garden, a maid and a gardener that suit the bourgeois standards. Irene and Martha meet the middle-class code of the



conservative society which reduces the wealthy married woman to taking care of her household and its relationships.

Nonetheless, both young women scorn this code when they decide to take a lover in order to break with their daily life and to lead a more adventurous and hectic one, although they seem satisfied with their rather empty existence. Still, in his novel Nabokov deprecates this rebellious act, ironically suggesting that adultery is part of the philistine way of life: “With a vague resentment, she recalled that her sister had already had at least four or five lovers in succession, and that Willy Wald’s young wife had had two simultaneously. And yet Martha was already past thirty-four. It was high time” (King, Queen, Knave, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968, p. 84). Moreover, Irene and Martha are caught up in their materialism when they are overwhelmed by a feeling of anxiety at the thought of losing their comfort. Thus, Irene, whose adultery is denounced by a “vulgar” woman of the people, seems more affected by the fear of being rejected by the society in which she has always moved, than of losing her husband. She is implicitly scared at the idea of getting out of her social status when she remembers the encounter with the tormentor, most often characterized by pejorative terms as “Weib” (“female”), “Person” (“person”) and “Proletarierin” (“proletarian”): “She would have liked to scream, or lash out with her fists, free herself from the horror of the memory, which was firmly fixed in her mind like a fish hook–that coarse face and scornful laughter, the unpleasant odour of the vulgar woman’s bad breath, the coarse mouth spitting hatred and vile abuse at her, the raised red fist that the creature had shaken menacingly”) (Fear, London: Pushkin Press, 2013, p. 14). Similarly, Martha in the café scene is suddenly frightened at the thought that she could look like the regulars of the plebeian café where she is sitting if she leaves Dreyer for Franz, without protecting her own interests:


"I love him but he is poor,” she said jokingly. And suddenly her expression changed. She imagined that she, too, was penniless, and that here, in this shabby little tavern, among befuddled workmen and cheap floozies, in this deafening silence with only that clock clucking, a sticky wine glass before each, the two of them were whiling away their Saturday night. She fancied with horror that this tender pauper really was her husband, her young husband, whom she would never, never give up. Darned stockings, two modest dresses, a broken comb,


one room with a bloated mirror, her hands coarse from washing and cooking, this tavern where for one reichsmark you could get royally drunk… she felt so terrified that she dug her nails into his hand” (King, Queen, Knave, p. 111-112).


The failure of the rebellion of both characters, who do not manage to get rid of their materialist ambitions, is emphasized in the dance scene. The scene, common to both novel and short story and whose vocabulary is nearly the same, does not only represent a habit of the German and Viennese bourgeois who regularly go to balls. It is also a metaphor of the disease from which Irene and Marta are suffering. When she goes to the party organized by acquaintances, Zweig’s protagonist had been prostrate for three days at home, paralyzed with fright of meeting again the «demon», i.e. the tormentor whom she gave some money in exchange for her silence. Her state is due to anxiety attacks, characteristic of an advanced psychological disorder. So Irene has to force herself to go out with her husband. Nevertheless, once she enters the house, she feels so secure that she rushes into a furious dance. But this dance is a physical illustration of her mental troubles more than a liberating dance. Zweig uses several times expressions linked to somatic (dizzy spells, hot flushes, cold sweats) and behavior disorders (complete loss of inhibitions), symptomatic of Irene’s panic attacks, as the following passage significantly shows: “The circling eddies of the dance cast all her melancholy out of her, the rhythm infected her limbs, breathing ardent movement into her body. If the music stopped she felt that the silence was painful […] and she flung herself back into the eddies as if into a bath of cool, soothing water that bore her up”) (Fear, p. 42). Even the wish of the young woman, consisting in stripping off to better enjoy her sudden freedom actually implies a feeling of suffocation: “her whole body was tense, so tense that the clothes on her back were burning, and she would have liked to tear them all off spontaneously, so that she could dance naked and sense this intoxicating frenzy even deeper inside her”(Fear, p. 42). Accordingly, Irene’s trance does not embody her transformation into an emancipated woman. On the contrary it shows that the character suffers from a split personality and is entering into madness.

In his novel Nabokov too uses the metaphor of dance as disease to describe the «pneumonia cruposa» (Izbrannye proizvedeniya, p. 179) that Martha has contracted in the morning after sea bathing and sailing. Thus, when Martha, making great efforts on herself, goes to the party



organized by the hotel, “she felt a stranger to the icy noise around” (King, Queen, Knave, p. 251). This feeling perfectly represents her physical troubles, such as shivers due to her fever, intense headaches and sensory disturbances (hearing and touch) which are suggested by an unpleasantness in her clothes that she cannot bear any more on her skin: “The black petals of her vaporous dress did not seem right, as if they would come apart at any moment. The tight touch of silk on her calves and the strip of garter along her bare thigh were infernal contacts” (King, Queen, Knave, p. 251). As a result, she does not manage to get carried away by the lightness of a dance whose whirling becomes confused and painful to her and lays emphasis on her physical suffering: “The dance rhythm […] traced an angular line, the graph of her fever, along the surface of her skin. With every movement of her head, a compact pain rolled like a bowling ball from temple to temple” (King, Queen, Knave, p. 251-252). Her disease leads her to turn into a double of herself, too. The use of the personal pronoun “ona” (“she”) shows that Martha sees herself from the outside, as following examples indicate: “She heard Martha Dreyer ask questions, supply answers; With an invisible hand she took Martha by the left wrist and felt her pulse; She noticed that Martha was dancing also, holding high a green world” (King, Queen, Knave, p. 252). It seems that Martha no longer has a bodily envelope and sees herself as a ghost, hence the term “boginya” (Izbrannye proizvedeniya, p. 172) (“goddess”) (King, Queen, Knave, p. 254) to refer to her so as to stress that she does not belong to the human world any more. All the same, she tries to dance in order to warm herself up and to get better, especially in the arms of Franz, who allowed her to become an independent woman: "’Closer, closer,’ she murmured. ‘Make me feel warm.’” (King, Queen, Knave, p. 253). But at this moment the young man rejects her and refuses to take care of her, leaving her alone in her fight against illness.

The dance, which should have symbolized Irene’s and Marta’s last attempt to get out of their idle existence and affections, actually represents a dance of death (“danse macabre”), i.e. a dance with the death that originally depicts the vanity of social distinctions death ignores, carrying off all classes. Moreover, at the beginning of the 20th century the dance of death embodies a new form of eroticism that the German playwright Frank Wedekind stages in several dramas, especially in Totentanz (Dance of Death) (1905). Thus, this last dance leads the female characters to death. Death, foreshadowed by the split personality and progressive detachment from real existence, is the only


thing that can relieve both women of their troubles: Irene, not knowing any more how to get out of the situation with her tormentor and refusing to confess her sin to her husband, decides to commit suicide by taking some poison (at the end of the short story she is saved in extremis), while Martha dies some days later as the result of her pneumonia which was not treated on time. Moreover, this reality, which catches the characters up, is foreshadowed by their abrupt awakening, caused by the intervention of their spouse – with whom they do not dance once – and which compels them to go back to their torpor. Irene is scared by the severe and cold glance of Wagner who asks her suddenly: « Irene, was hast du? » (Angst, p. 22) (“Irene, what’s the matter?”) (Fear, p. 43), having seen her dancing ardently. As for Martha, when Dreyer, a mediocre dancer, asks her to dance with him when she has already danced with all the men sitting at her table, she refuses and says: « - Pojdyom domoj […]. – Mne kak-to nekhorosho... » (Izbrannye proizvedeniya, p. 172) (“’Get me out of there’ […] ‘I’m not feeling well.’” (King, Queen, Knave, p. 255). Furthermore, both deaths are forecasted by a nightmare following the party and the dance, in which both young women are confronted with their vanity and tensions of their respective illnesses.

Nabokov, however, takes up Zweig’s devices in a more prosaic way; he does not use a psychological disorder, but a physical illness. Thus the writer not only refers to the disturbance of Martha’s mechanism after her transformation into an automaton (as for instance Alfred Appel Jr. and Vera Polishchuk have stated), but he also makes a fool of his bourgeois female character, led to death by her extreme materialism. Furthermore, he uses his favorite device, i.e. parody which he characterized as a “grotesque imitation” and a “lighthearted, delicate, mockingbird game” (Strong Opinions, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973, pp. 75-76). Nabokov, as a cinema lover, is also parodying the melodrama, a very fashionable and popular genre of early cinema at the beginning of the 20th century, describing the life of the middle class and the difficult existence of the individual, dominated by money and influence. In his early years the author probably saw the Russian films of Yevgeni Bauer, for example, Nemye svideteli (Silent Witnesses) (1914) and Koroleva ekrana (The Queen of the Screen) (1916), and some German movies with Asta Nielsen, such as Urban Gad’s Der Totentanz (The Dance of Death) (1912), or chamber plays and films (Kammerspiel), written by Max Reinhard or Carl Mayer. Thus, Nabokov transforms the tragic into the grotesque. That’s why he also


makes Dreyer blind to his wife’s deception, whereas Wagner knows about Irene’s adultery and engages an actress to play the blackmailer role so that his wife would confess her guilt. In this way, it is Nabokov who is the tyrant, not the protagonist, as in Zweig: he does not save his character; on the contrary he punishes Martha for her poshlust.


—Alexia Gassin, Paris


Nabokov’s Re-Translation Of Southey’s Ballad In Zhukovsky’s Rendition

In the summer of 1998, a colleague of mine, who taught a course at Cornell Adult University, invited me to lecture on Nabokov before her students. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the students in that class were Cornell alumni. Among them, there were some who not only had been at Cornell during the Nabokov decade but who had taken classes with him. One such student was Mrs. Jean Schultheis Brechter who had studied with Nabokov in the Fall of 1948, her last and Nabokov’s first semester at Cornell. Mrs. Schultheis Brechter informed me that she had kept the class handouts and promised to send me their copies.

Indeed, several weeks later I received the handouts. They belonged to Nabokov’s Russian literature survey course in translation. The handouts contained English translations of the works by Archpriest Avvakum, Lomonosov, Derzhavin, Karamzin, Griboedov, Pushkin, Lermontov, and Tiutchev—the last three by Nabokov himself and taken from his Three Poets collection (1944). The handouts also contained Nabokov’s re-translation from Russian into English of two ballads, God’s Judgment on a Wicked Bishop (1799) by Robert Southey and Lord Ullin’s Daughter by Thomas Campbell (1804). The handout states: “Two poems translated by Zhukovsky (1783–1855) [an obvious typo: Zhukovsky died in 1852], from the English. The following is a literal re-translation into English from the Russian text and should be compared to the originals by Robert Southey (1774–1843) and Thomas Campbell (1777–1844). Zhukovsky also translated the English poets Gray, Thompson, Pope, Goldsmith, Walter Scott and Byron.”

The text of Zhukovsky’s Russian rendition of Campbell’s poem and Nabokov’s re-translation of it into English may be found in Verses and Versions. Three Centuries of Russian Poetry, ed. Brian Boyd and Stanislav Shvabrin (Orlando: Harcourt, 2008), 54–57. [33]

Nabokov’s re-translation of Zhukovsky’s rendition of Southey’s ballad, however, is not included in the collection. I reproduce it here as it appears in the handout, side by side with Zhukovsky’s text:


The Judgment of God.

A ballad (a German legend)

By Zhukovsky from Southey

1 Были и лето и осень

Были потоплены пажити,

Хлеб на полях не созрел и

Сделался голод, народ


1 Summer and autumn had

been rainy;

pastures and cornfields had

been drowned;

the corn did not ripen and

was lost;

there was famine, the people


2 Но у епископа милостью

Полны амбары огромные

Жито сберег прошлогоднее

Был осторожен епископ


2 But by the grace of

Providence the bishop’s

enormous barns were full of


he had kept last year’s


he was a careful man, was

the bishop.

3 Рвутся толпой и голодный

и нищий
В двери епископа, требуя


Скуп и жесток был епископ

Общей бедою не тронулся


3 A swarm of hungry and

destitute people

hurled itself at the bishop’s

door, demanding bread;

the bishop was a miserly

and cruel man,

the general misfortune

did not touch him.

4 Слушать их вопли ему

Вот он решился на страшное

Бедных из ближних и

дальних сторон,
Слышно, скликает епископ


4 In fact, he grew tired of

hearing the wailing;

and so he decided to commit

a terrible deed;

the word went round that

the bishop

was calling the poor from

near and far.

The handout contains a typo: “drew” instead of “grew”

5 «Дожили мы до

нежданного чуда:
Вынул епископ добро из-под

Бедных к себе на пирушку

Так говорил изумленный


5 “We have lived to see an

unexpected marvel:

the bishop has unlocked his


he is inviting the poor to a


thus said the amazed


6 К сроку собралися званые

Бледные, чахлые, кожа да

Старый, огромный сарай

В нем угостит их епископ


6 In due time the guests


they were pale and sickly,

nothing but skin and bones.

The enormous ancient

granary stood open,

it was there that the bishop

meant to entertain his


7 Вот уж столпились под

кровлей сарая
Все пришлецы из окружного

Как же их принял епископ

Был им сарай и с гостями


7 So they all crowded into

the barn,

visitors from the region


How did the bishop receive


He burnt barn and guests.

8 Глядя епископ на пепел

Думает: «Будут мне все

Разом избавил я шуткой

Край наш голодный от

жадных мышей».

8 As he contemplated the

ashes left by the fire,

the bishop told to himself,

“Everybody will be

grateful to me;

thanks to my little joke the

famished country

has been forthwith delivered

of avid mice.”

The quotation marks are omitted in the handout.

9 В замок епископ к себе

Ужинать сел, пировал,


Спал, как невинный, и снов

не видал...

Правда! но боле с тех пор он

не спал.

9 The bishop went back to

his castle,

sat down to supper, feasted,

was merry,

slept like an innocent man

and did not have any dreams.

True—but that was the last

time he slept.

10 Утром он входит в покой,

где висели
Предков портреты, и видит,

что съели
Мыши его живописный

Так, что холстины и

признака нет.

10 Next morning he entered

a chamber wherein hung

family portraits and saw

that mice

had eaten his own picture,

and done it so thoroughly

that no trace was left of

the canvas.

11 Он обомлел; он от страха

чуть дышит...


Вдруг он чудесную

ведомость слышит:
«Наша округа мышами

В житницах съеден весь хлеб

до зерна».

11 He stood there aghast; he

could hardly breathe for


All of a sudden a wondrous

rumor reached him:

“Our province is overrun by


the grain in the barns has

been all eaten up!”

12 Вот и другое в ушах

«Бог на тебя за вчерашнее

Крепкий твой замок,

епископ Гаттон,
Мыши со всех осаждают


12 Then something else

thundered in his ears:

“God rises against you for

yesterday’s business:

your strong castle, o bishop,

is besieged by mice on all sides.”

13 Ход был до Рейна от замка

В страхе епископ дорогою темной
К берегу выйти из замка спешит:
«В Реинской башне спасусь» (говорит).

13 There was an underground passage from the castle to the

river Rhine.

The terrified bishop took this dark path

in his hurry to get out of the castle onto the riverbank:

“I shall find safety,” he said, “in the Tower of the Rhine.”

14 Башня из Реинских вод

Издали острым утесом

Грозно из пены торчащим,

Стены кругом ограждала


14 This was a tower that

rose out of the waters.

From a distance it looked

like a pointed rock

grimly jutting out of the


the surrounding waves

protected its walls.

15 В легкую лодку епископ

К башне причалил, дверь

запер и мчится
Вверх по гранитным, крутым

В страхе один затворился он


15 The bishop stepped into a

bobbing boat,

reached the tower, slammed

the door behind him

and rushed up the steep

granite steps.

There the frightened man

locked himself up.

16 Стены из стали казалися

Были решетками окна

Ставни чугунные, каменный

Дверью железною запертый вход.

16 The walls of the tower

were as strong as steel,

the windows had bars upon


there were shutters of iron, a

ceiling of stone

and a locked iron door.

17 Узник не знает, куда

На пол, зажмурив глаза, он

Вдруг он испуган стенаньем

Вспыхнули ярко два глаза

над ним.

17 The prisoner could not

find rest.

At last he lay down on the

floor and closed his eyes.

Suddenly a kind of dull

moan made him startle.

Two eyes gleamed brightly

over him.

The handout contains a typo: “start” instead of “startle.”

18 Смотрит он... кошка сидит

и мяучит;


Голос тот грешника давит и

Мечется кошка; невесело ей:


Чует она приближенье



18 He looked—and it was a

cat sitting there and


The sound oppressed and

tormented the sinner.

The cat began to dash this

way and that,

there was no pleasure in her

awareness of the

advancing mice.

The handout contains a typo: “o” is omitted in “miaowing,” the British spelling of the cat’s crying sound.

19 Пал на колени епископ и

Бога зовет в исступлении

Воет преступник... а мыши


Ближе и ближе... доплыли...


19 The bishop fell on his

knees and cried out

to his God in a frenzy of


The criminal wailed… and

the mice swam nearer and

nearer…they had crossed

the river…they were

crawling up.

20 Вот уж ему в расстоянии

Слышно, как лезут с

роптаньем и писком;

Слышно, как стену их лапки

Слышно, как камень их зубы


20 And now quite near

they could be heard

swarming up with

soughing and sibilant


their little paws scraping

against the walls,

their teeth nibbling at

the stone.

21 Вдруг ворвались

неизбежные звери;
Сыплются градом сквозь

окна, сквозь двери,
Спереди, сзади, с боков, с

Что тут, епископ,

почувствовал ты?

21 Suddenly they broke in,

the unavoidable beasts;

they stumbled in through

window and door,

from all sides, from above,

from below.

O bishop, what did you feel


22 Зубы об камни они



Грешнику в кости их

жадно впустили,

Весь по суставам

раздернут был он...

Так был наказан епископ


Russian text: V. A. Zhukovskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem, 20 vols. (Moscow: Iazyki slavianskikh kul´tur, 1999-), 3: 176–78.

22 The teeth they had

sharpened against the


now avidly sank into the

flesh of the sinner.

He was dismembered bone

by bone,

so was he punished, the


Although Nabokov calls his re-translation literal, it cannot be fully qualified as such. Lack of space does not allow for a line-by-line comparison of Zhukovsky’s translation and Nabokov’s re-translation of Southey’s poem, so I shall limit myself to certain examples.

To begin with, Nabokov changed Zhukovsky’s title, Sud Bozhii nad episkopom (God’s Judgment on the Bishop) to The Judgment of God. He also omitted the bishop’s name—Gatton in Zhukovsky’s adaptation. In addition, the re-translation contains a number of inaccuracies that may be divided into three principal categories: 1. imprecision of translation, 2. padding, and 3. omissions. I shall point out the most noticeable among them.

1.      At the end of the first stanza, the phrase “narod umiral[,]” that is, “the people were dying[,]” is translated as “the people died.” In the last line of the sixth stanza, Zhukovsky’s “ugostit[,]” that is “will entertain,” is translated as “meant to entertain[.]” In the [39] second line of the eighth stanza, Zhukovsky’s “dumaet,” literally “thinks,” or possibly “muses,” is translated as “told to himself.” In the first line of the fifteenth stanza, Zhukovsky’s “V legkuiu lodku episkop saditsia,” that is, “The bishop sits down into a light boat,” is translated as “The bishop stepped into a bobbing boat[.]” Although not rendered literally, the adjective “bobbing” masterfully expresses the up-and-down motion of the boat and preserves the alliteration, “b-b-b” as a substitution for Zhukovsky’s “l-l.” In the next line of the same stanza “k bashne prichalil,” that is “he moored to the tower,” is translated as “reached the tower[.]” The last line of this same stanza, “V strakhe odin zatvorilsia on tam[,]” that is “In fear he locked himself alone in there[,]” is translated as “There the frightened man locked himself up”; although not entirely accurate, the phrase conveys the notion of the bishop’s self-imprisonment in the tower. In the second line of the twentieth stanza, Zhukovsky’s “s roptan´em i piskom[,]” that is “with murmur and squeak[,]” is translated as ”with soughing and sibilant sounds[.]” Once again, although not entirely accurate, the phrase in question as well as the entire stanza alliteratively express the sound of the approaching mice. In the second line of the penultimate, twenty-first, stanza, in the phrase “skvoz´ okna, skvoz´ dveri,” that is “through windows, through doors,” the nouns are singularized, and the second “through” is replaced with “and”: “through window and door [.]” In the second line of the last stanza, the locution “kosti” (“bones”) is translated as “flesh” which is semantically more correct; in the next and penultimate line of the poem, the phrase “po sustavam,” that is “joint by joint,” is translated as “bone by bone.”

2.      In the beginning of the fourth and seventeenth stanzas, the respective phrases “In fact,” and “At last,” are added in the re-translation. The second line of the sixth stanza, “blednye, chakhlye, kozha da kosti[,]” that is, “pale, sickly, skin and bones[,]” is translated as “they were pale and sickly, nothing but skin and bones.” In the last line of the ninth stanza, Zhukovsky’s “Pravda! no bole s tekh por on ne spal.” (“True! But since then he had slept no more.”) is translated as “True—but that was the last time he slept.” The concluding line of the tenth stanza in Zhukovsky’s rendition “Tak, chto kholstiny i priznaka net.” (“So


3.      that there is no sign of the canvas.”) is translated as “and done it so thoroughly that no trace was left of the canvas.” In the first two lines of the nineteenth stanza, Zhukovsky’s “krikom Boga zovyot[,]” that is “cries out to God[,]” is translated as “cried out to his God[.]”

4.      In the first line of the fourteenth stanza, the phrase “reinskikh vod[,]” that is “Rhine waters[,]” is translated as “the waters[.]” The thrice-repeated anaphora in the twentieth stanza, “Slyshno,” that is “One can hear,” is omitted.

This re-Englished ballad of Southey’s demonstrates that as late as 1948 Nabokov began developing a new method of translation. He abandoned the traditional practice of verse paraphrase, as exemplified by The Three Poets collection, which was inevitably fraught with both padding and omission. Instead, Nabokov strove for semantic precision and adopted the principle of prosaic equilinearity, or as he put it many years later, “limited my efforts to a plain, prosy, and rhymeless translation” (SO 231). Nevertheless, this re-translation of Zhukovsky’s rendition of Southey’s ballad reveals that Nabokov’s approach was still in the making, as he had not yet quite developed the method of total and strict literality. It took Nabokov several more years to perfect this method which he employed in his translation of Eugene Onegin.

I am indebted to Mrs. Jean Schultheis Brechter, Cornell University alumna, class of 1949, for placing the handouts at my disposal. I am also most grateful to Slava Paperno, my Cornell colleague, for his invaluable help in formatting the translations of the ballad.

Nabokov's re-translation, Copyright © by Vladimir Nabokov, is reproduced by kind permission of The Wylie Agency LLC.

—Gavriel Shapiro, Ithaca, New York

Victor Wind’s More Plausible Father

Victor Wind, the young artist to whom the narrator of Pnin devotes most of its central chapter, is linked at various points to three different fathers: there’s Eric Wind, his legal and, one assumes, biological parent; [41]

there’s Pnin, the boy’s “water father” according to Eric (55), who before Victor is born plans to adopt him; and there’s “the King,” Victor’s “more plausible father” (85)—a creation of his own imagination about whom he regularly fantasizes.

The suggestion I’m advancing here concerns a fourth potential father: the narrator himself. The narrator strictly avoids divulging details about his affair with Victor’s mother (to realize that it occurred at all, one has to connect two sentences separated by more than a hundred pages), but let me point out the few crumbs of evidence that might lead one to wonder whether that affair was rekindled around the time Victor was conceived (the summer of 1940, during Liza’s sixteen-month separation from Pnin).

1. Near the end of the novel, the narrator tells us about a letter Pnin has written him, the big news of which is his refusal to join the new Russian Division at Waindell. It would be easy to overlook the small talk that follows: “Then he turned to other subjects. Victor (about whom I had politely inquired) was in Rome with his mother; she had divorced her third husband and married an Italian art dealer” (186).

That parenthetical aside is puzzling to me, and—in a book that buries so much treasure between parentheses (“O Careless Reader!”)—it seems worth digging into. Why would the narrator “politely inquire” about Victor Wind? It’s true that Pnin and Victor have struck up a charming relationship, but would Pnin expect the narrator to know about it? Pnin’s last recorded interaction with the narrator was on the hundredth anniversary of Gogol’s death (March 4, 1952). It’s hard to believe that at that point Pnin would have expressed much interest in or attachment to Victor: he would not yet have been visited by or even exchanged his first letters with the boy. All that begins some time after Liza’s visit, which occurs in the middle of the spring semester of 1952 (probably around Easter, the holiday that links several of the main events and ruling images of Chapter 2).

The narrator says he inquires “politely,” as if this were an obligatory matter of manners, but that adjective seems suspiciously defensive, and patently false: there’s nothing polite about a question that touches on two of Pnin’s greatest humiliations—two times he imagined himself loved by Liza, only to find that she was using him to solve a problem with another man. The narrator might, I suppose, ask Pnin, “How are Liza and her boy?” But the sentence here reads, “Victor was in Rome with his mother,” not “Liza was in Rome with her


son.” Especially when one considers the number of pages the narrator devotes to Victor, his interest in the boy seems much more than polite. 

2. When we first learn about Victor’s artistic talent, the narrator tells us that his parents, Eric and Liza “used to worry gloomily about its genetic cause.” This might seem at first just another blind conformity of Eric and Liza’s (“morbidly concerned with heredity,” with the ways Victor ought to resemble his forebears), they fail to enjoy the beauty in his unique genius). But what follows is a rather painstaking paragraph that appears to take these questions seriously: Is Victor’s sense of color like that of Eric’s grandfather, a stained glass artist? Is his exactness like that of Liza’s great grandfather, a celebrated mathematician? “One wonders,” the narrator admits in the very brief final line of the paragraph, as though he, too, wonders, or worries, gloomily (89).

Wouldn’t the gloomiest worry about Victor’s genes be that none of them come from Eric—that Liza, attached to so many different men over the course the chapters she appears in, conceived him while cheating with someone else? And if this is the case, isn’t the likeliest suspect the one who shares Victor’s exquisite gift for perceiving and depicting colors, shadows, and reflective surfaces?

Is the narrator Victor Wind’s father? I think we’re meant to wonder, and to think that the narrator wonders, too. And that wondering, that ghost of a possibility, can enrich our understanding of the narrator’s choices: of his making such a secret of his affair with Liza, of his depiction of Eric Wind as abandoning all interest in Victor, of his giving the boy such a central role in the book and turning him into its most sensitive observer.

I’ve been talking about the narrator here mostly as a character who dwells in the world of the story, but in another sense, as its writer and creator, he of course “fathers” all its characters. And in Victor, he seems to create a perfect child, an artist endowed with supreme vision, unerring taste, immunity to fads and conventions. When Victor Wind tries to fall asleep, he indulges in daydreams about an ideal parent. Perhaps, in Victor, the narrator does the same, daydreaming about an ideal son.

—David Khoury, Brooklyn, New York


Plausible, Possible, Probable


The art of telling a likely and fruitful literary source from an accidental and fatuous one often depends less on erudition than on acquired intuition. The never-ending hunt for a true antecedent, often pointless, is a natural product of learned reading, with attendant flashes of a déjà lu every once in a while. A sense of what is plausible and what isn’t often can and should be explained rationally. Thus, Michael Maar’s proposition that Lolita could be traced back to Heinz von Lichberg’s 1916 short story so titled could serve as a case study of what a Russian saying calls “a finger in the sky.” Had Nabokov known of the story, professional conventions and authorial self-respect surely would have turned Lolita into Lilitha or Beljana or Juanita (the name he had actually tried on the girl at first). The argument for a sort of Platonic cryptomnesia (knew, forgot, stored subconsciously, used unwittingly) that is usually advanced in these cases is inherently weak because it’s beyond meaningful validation.

Here are three chance samples of reasonably close thematic and even textual associations, as tempting as they are inconsequential. The first two come from Zamiatin, whose 1920s prose Nabokov must have read.


Marthe [Marfin’ka in the original] began deceiving him during the very first year of their marriage; anywhere and with anybody. <…> Sometimes, to justify herself, she would explain to him,“You know what a kind creature [dobren’kaia] I am: it’s such a small thing, and it’s such a relief to a man.”


This is from Chapter Two of Invitation to a Beheading. Compare:


“Oh you, my poor darling, what am I to do with you? Oh well, then, come on, honey [milen’kii], come over here to me!” She would say this to the Socialist-Revolutionary Perepechko (“the poor thing [bednen’kii], he’s been jailed once”), and to Khaskin of the Communist cell (“the poor dear, such a scrawny neck, just like a chicken!”), and to the telegraph clerk Alyoshka (“the poor dear—sits there and scribbles away the livelong day!”), and to—

And it was then that the accursed legacy of capitalism made itself evident in the deacon: the private property instinct. And


the deacon said: “But I want you to be mine alone, so that no one else can… You know what I mean?”—“Ah, my poor dear! Of course I know, I kno-w! But then what can I do when they beg me so?.. I ain’t got made of stone, I feel so sorry for them!” (Yevgeny Zamyatin, The Dragon. Fifteen Stories. Translated by Mirra Ginsburg’s [revised by me, here and in the example below]. New York: Random House, 1967, p. 225).


The situation, the grotesquery, the wording, including the knack for infantile diminutives in both pieces, are alike to a striking degree, and Zamiatin’s story precedes Nabokov’s by about eight years. Are these two certainties enough to establish indebtedness? Not for me: the fact that the two women are namesakes (Zamiatin’s is also Martha) not only does not increase the probability of a witting reference but brushes it away, for, again, I think that had Nabokov had Zamiatin’s story in mind or memory, he would have assigned another suitable name to Cincinnatus’s far-embracing wife.

The next example is culled from another, even more famous, Zamiatin story:


She bends lower and lower, and lightly strokes the back of the Rhopalocera [throughout that loose story Zamiatin is under the doubly odd impression that (1) this is a singular noun, and (2) that it is the name not of the whole diurnal class of lepidoptera but of a specific butterfly, whose caterpillar he identifies only as a “silken-yellow worm”] <…> When I was little, I used to raise them into butterflies. One hatched in winter, at Christmastime, the windows were covered with ice, and it kept flying round and round…” (ibid., p. 176).


Unlike the previous, “A Story About the Most Important Thing” antedates Nabokov’s “Christmas” (published in two 1924 Christmas issues of The Rudder) by less than a year. It was moreover published in the sort of fellow-traveller, private, short-lived (shut down by the time “Christmas” came out) Petrograd magazine (Russkii Sovremennik) that Nabokov might well have spotted and glanced over in a Berlin Russian bookstore. He could have chanced upon that “worm Rhopalocera” howler, then skimmed the whole dawdling story. In this light, it is not improbable that the sentence about a butterfly (a heteroceron in VN’s [45]

story) appearing from its chrysalid on a Christmas night might steer Nabokov’s fancy towards hatching the plot of his story.

My last example is “Potato Elf,” yet another story of 1924 (not 1929, as Nabokov erroneously states in his introduction to the English version), an annus mirabilis for his prose, its quality jumping, in a number of short stories published that year, from green to ripe without a perceptible transition. Did he know of the “celebrated dwarf” Joseph Boruwlaski, who entertained at various courts in the 18th c., resided in London, retired to Durham, lived almost to a hundred and died the same year as Pushkin (when, in an unrelated but curious coincidence, Lord Durham was the British Ambassador in St Petersburg)? He was about the same height as Fred Dobson, was a “plaything” for Countess Anna Humiecka, his benevolist of questionable philanthropy, who could be in turn generous and cruel and who dismissed him when he married, at forty, a lady-in-waiting (not a midget). After they divorced, he lived in London, then moved north, to Durham (Dobson withdraws to “Drowse, a tiny town in the north of England”). Like Dobson, Boruwlaski was comfortable in his retirement, and in possession of a natural talent. He published interesting memoirs that went through four editions, all during his lifetime, whose master motto, “Mysterious Nature! Who thy works shall scan? / Behold a child in size, in sense a man,” would be at home in Shade’s (or Pope’s) pentameters.

Are all those parallels accidental? Impossible to say with any confidence. Homotextuality is a tricky matter.


—Robert Aldwinckle, Tiptree, Essex, U.K.




Notes on Nabokov’s “Notes on my Father”

by Shun’ichiro Akikusa, The University of Tokyo

Recently, I have found a clipping of an unfamiliar article “Notes on my Father” by Nabokov in Houghton Library at Harvard University. It appeared in New York’s “a political and cultural magazine”—as Wikipedia said—The New Leader (9 May 1966). The New Leader published this essay as “Spring Books” with Stanly Edgar Hyman’s article “Nabokov’s Distorting Mirrors.”

The text, however, is a verbatim excerpt of the first part of Chapter 9 of Speak, Memory. On the other hand, as far as I know, Nabokov scholarship has overlooked this tiny piece for a long time. Michael Juliar’s Vladimir Nabokov: A Descriptive Bibliography (1986) reads:

C603 Memoir in English: My Russian Education. New York: The New Leader, 9May66, pp.8-10. note: Revision of part of Chap.6 of A26.1, which appeared in A26.6; with drawing of Nabokov (527)

Juliar confirms that this was slip of the pen. It is not a part of Chapter 6 but Chapter 9. In this vein, this verbatim reproduction sheds dim light on the creative process of Nabokov’s autobiography; Chapter 9 of Conclusive Evidence (1951) consists of “My Russian Education,” which firstly appeared in The New Yorker (18 September 1948). When revising the memoir into an autobiography in 1966, he also wrote the first part of the chapter separately (the Russian memoir Drugie berega [1954] also does not include this part). Nabokov named and sold the piece as “Notes on my Father” to The New Leader as a kind of announcement of his revised autobiography. The article was illustrated with two drawings—a profile of the author and Soviet citizens in a book store.




Translated Annotations


A New Look at Nabokov’s Harlequins

Andrei Babikov


The following marginal notes appeared in the course of my Russian annotated translation of the Nabokov's last novel, published in 2012 by S.-Petersburg publishing house “Azbuka” (second corrected and expanded edition, 2014), and their purpose is confined to practical significance: to find the right point of view on this complicated quasi-biography for its proper translation.


LATH! as a novel about novels and romances. The heroine of Nabokov’s last Russian novel, as he mentions in his foreword to its English translation as The Gift, was “Russian literature” itself; his last completed work in English turned out to be a novel about novels and romances, which are closely related to one another. According to the rules of Nabokov’s symmetry (something not yet described or even broached in the scholarship), these two books, separated by almost forty years, bear more than thematic similarities. Is it not remarkable that the title The Gift contains a palindrome (in Russian, Dar, which reads backwards as “rad”—glad, pleased, happy), while there is an acronym (LATH) in English title of Look at the Harlequins!; and that The Gift was followed by one more unfinished Russian novel, Solus Rex, just as the unfinished The Original of Laura trailed after Look at the Harlequins!? Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev’s love for Zina Mertz reveals to him a pattern of events in his life, a secret “work of fate,” and inspires him to write a novel about it (in effect The Gift itself). Similarly, the narrator of Look at the Harlequins!, writes his first real poem (Vlyublyonnost’—being in love) upon falling in love with Iris, and his love for her continues to nourish his art even after her tragic death, up until he meets Annette. His love for the unnamed character “You” gives him an opportunity to finish Ardis and then write the very novel “about love and prose” which we read as Look at the Harlequins!. Conversely, when left by Annette, his second wife, V.V. finds himself unable to write his intended The Invisible Lath (the prototype of Look at the Harlequins!), and for sixteen years, from 1946, when Annette left him, to 1962, when he was already married to Louise, he did not compose a single novel, publishing only a collection of stories he had written previously. “In this memoir,” V.V. writes, “my wives and my [48]

books are interlaced monogrammatically like some sort of watermark or ex libris design.” Throughout this “oblique autobiography,” he cannot escape the hideous suspicion that the people and situations in it are taken by somebody ex libris (“from books”), that “even Ardis, my most private book, soaked in reality... might be an unconscious imitation of another's unearthly art.” Even this fatal suspicion, however, retreats when he finds in “You” the most complete expression of his love.

At this point love and art become one, and You in the novel becomes the most true personification of our narrator’s art, his transformed reflection, because You, and Iris, and Bella, as well as Lolita, and Ada, and giddy Nina from Spring in Fialta, and prim Anna Blagovo (Anna “vo blago”—for good), and fragile Flora Wild, and cruel Nina Lecerf (who by the way is mentioned in the novel), all of them represent allegories of art, its personification, the very brittle flesh of it.


Understatement and reticence. Nabokov’s established methods, apparent in many of his more or less transparent things, reappear in the last novel as a harmonious system of implicit narrative. A number of hints, indications and omens are left without any explanation. Why, at the end of the first part, does the narrator call Ivor and a taximan “two palm readers”? (They counted small change on a palm.) To whom does he say in Ch. 3, p. II: “Oh, how things and people tortured me, my dear heart, I could not tell you!” (To his bride, You, whom he will meet only in the sixth part, and of whom the reader is still unaware.) Why does he call the name of his American travel companion (in Ch. 3, p. V) Havemeyer (a well-known American family) “rather incredible”? What is so incredible about it? (Because it personifies an image of a “lilac lady,” which occurs in the novel more than once, and one of the varieties of lilac, created in America in 1922—the same year the story in Look at the Harlequins! begins—was named “Katherine Havemeyer.”) What is the point of Ivor’s joke (Ch. 8, p. I), saying that French reporters pronounce the name of Madge Titheridge as “si c'est riche”—“is this really a rich person?" (Her last name is formed from the English word tithe, which means among other things a minor portion, a small part). And who is she, this Madge, as well as another unknown quantity mentioned there and then—a certain Vivian?

More complex examples of intentional reticence or concealing of logical connections also have greater interaction with other elements of the book—its subjects, characters, images, literary sources. Thus, in Ch. 7, p. I, when Iris hears on a hillside “a roar of unearthly ecstasy” (later it [49]

becomes clear that it was the famous pianist and entomologist Kanner who has cried out, because he caught a rare butterfly), she exclaims: “Goodness … I do hope that's not a happy escapee from Kanner's Circus.” What Iris means by “Kanner's Circus” is not explained, and only the comparison of multiple details from various parts of the book provides a clear and witty answer. In Ch. 3, p. II, after Iris’ death, hearing the name Oksman, a character calls him an oxman and immediately notices in parentheses: “what a shiver my Iris derived from Dr. Moreau's island zoo—especially from such bits as the ‘screaming shape,’ still half-bandaged, escaping out of the lab!” This remark brings us back to Ch. 5, p. I, in which Iris admits that she “adores Wells,” and to the place in Ch. 7 p. I, where she calls Kanner “The brute”: “She brooded over the thousand little creatures he had tortured.”

Only now does the sense of her allegory about the “escapee from Kanner's Circus” become clear as a comparison with the vivisectionist Dr. Moreau from the Wells novel. However, a dark sense of her words emerges more fully if we compare them with the tragic fate of Oksman, described at the end of Ch. 4, p. II, and with the terrible fate of Vladimir Blagidze about which we learn at the end of the first part. Leaving it to the reader to collect the shreds he has scattered, the narrator says that the same “oxman” Oksman “was to die when attempting an intrepid escape—when almost having escaped— barefoot, in bloodstained underwear, from the ‘experimental hospital’ of a Nazi concentration camp.” At the end of the first part we learn that Blagidze, who shot Iris, was placed “at the very special hospital of the renowned Dr. Lazareff, a very round, mercilessly round, building on the top of a hill”. Thus it turns out that the phrase about the “escapee from Kanner's Circus” (circus—circle) is not just a random fantasy of well-read Iris, but an eerie prediction, one ray of which leads to the publisher Oksman and another—to her own murderer.


Poetry in the novel serves compositional purposes just as effective as the techniques of aposiopesis. Additionally, it points to the immobility of time in the novel. V.V.’s last verses near the novel’s end—


Along a slanting ray, like this

I slipped out of paralysis.


—bring us back to Ch. 4, p. I, which describes the character’s night insanity (“The hideous pang in my brain was triggered by some hint of [50]

faint light in the line of my sight, for no matter how carefully I might have topped the well-meaning efforts of a servant by my own struggles with blinds and purblinds, there always remained some damned slit, some atom or dimmet of artificial streetlight or natural moonlight that signaled inexpressible peril when I raised my head with a gasp above the level of a choking dream”); the line from Bella’s poem “and the intelligent trail” (Ch. 3, p. IV)—links back to the path that brought the young character out of Soviet Russia at the beginning of the novel; the “striped scarf” of Odas’ revelatory poem (Ch. 4, p. IV) recalls the narrator’s Cambridge scarf and the episode with Oksman, when the idea comes to V.V. that his life is “an inferior variant of another man’s life... other writer” (Ch. 3, p. II). But most of all the subjects and motifs of the novel are covered by the poem Vlyublyonnost, representing nothing less than a summary of its entire conception: reticence (“reticence is better...”), which we have already reviewed, and “panic in the night,” and a drowning swimmer (as well as the vision of V.V. after his collapse: “...the raft on which I lay, a naked old man [. . .] gliding supine into a full moon whose snaky reflections rippled among the water lilies”), and the repeated dream of a young sweetheart that a character has every time he is in love (“While the dreaming is good [. . .] do keep appearing to us in our dreams, vlyublyonnost”), and “hereafter” (“...I definitely felt my family name began with an N and bore an odious resemblance to the surname or pseudonym of a presumably notorious [. . .] Bulgarian, or Babylonian, or, maybe, Betelgeusian writer with whom scatterbrained émigrés from some other galaxy constantly confused me”), and “that moonbeam,” and “waking up.”


Macnab, Naborcroft, Nablidze and so on.—Like the cryptograms of the name of our narrator (and the titles of his books), the names of many (or, most likely, all without exception) Russian and American writer-characters (poets, critics) can be deciphered, often in both languages. Through this technique a Russian name, as the late Omry Ronen noted,[1] can refer to an American author (for example, Suknovalov —to Roy Fuller, Russian suknoval—fuller) and vice versa (e.g., Alden Landover—to Mark Aldanov, whose real last name is Landau). Aside from the actual degree of mystery of this or that name (who are implied [51]

by Oksman, Reich, Boris Nyet?), the difficulty here is also that several characters can refer to one real person (for example, Demian Basilevski, Hristofor Boyarski, Adam Atropovich all refer to Georgy Adamovich), or they can refer to two different people drawn together due to the similarity of their attitude to Nabokov, for example, Gerard Adamson indicates that “faithful zoilus” Adamovich, and also Edmund Wilson, who both died in 1972, the year before Nabokov started to write this novel. Principles of decoding (semantic, phonetic, analytical, anagrammatical) as in a classical novel à clef are proposed by the narrator himself, through the Russian and English titles of his books (for example, The DareDar - the Gift), his transparent pen-name (V.Irisin—V.Sirin) and constantly turning the reader’s attention to the various kinds of symmetry, mirror reflections, and to facts of his biography, turned inside out.


Turning point. D. B. Johnson noticed[2] the possible source of our narrator’s main concern—his inability to perform a speculative turn, changing right to left—in the The Plattner Story by H. G. Wells (1896), which is not mentioned in the novel. A school teacher, Plattner, due to an accidental explosion during a chemical experiment, finds himself in “another world,” one which has four dimensions. When he returns to reality, it turns out that the right and left sides of his body are reversed: for example, he can only write from right to left with his left hand, his heart beats on the right side and so on. Wells’ reasoning about right- and left-side in space resonates with Iris’ words in Ch. 8, p. I: “...to solve a stupid philosophical riddle—on the lines of what does ‘right’ and ‘left’ mean in our absence, when nobody is looking, in pure space....” Another possible source of this subject noted by Johnson is Martin Gardner, who undertook to answer this question in his popular science book The Ambidextrous Universe (1964), which Nabokov demonstrably knew.


“Patterns of transposed time and twisted space” (Ch. 3, p. IV).—Apparently, there is no other explanation for a number of inconsistencies in the novel. For example, it may be understood from one passage (ch.1, p. II) that V.V. sold the Riviera villa Iris after Iris’ death; but another passage suggests that, already living in America, he turned the villa into something like a nursing home for his old relatives [52]

and friends (ch. 2, p. III: “…moved to a comfortable home for the old into which I had recently turned my villa at Carnavaux…”). In the fifth part we are informed that going to Leningrad to find his daughter, he stayed there only for a couple of days; however from a passing reference in the third part to “...Cerberean bitches in the hotels of Soviet Siberia which I was to stop at a couple of decades later” it follows that he did not just have conversation at the Pushkin monument with Dora, who informed him that his daughter had disappeared, but went to search for her in Siberia, where Bella’s husband had probably taken her.


Three or four wives. Our narrator, echoed by scholars writing about the novel, devotes a lot of space to the presentation of his relationships with his wives, his family successes and failures; however, the very first sentence of LATH implies the conventionality of these figures. How else can we explain the strange author’s neglect in failing to specify the exact number of his wives (at the end of the book You accepts V.V.’s proposal and, therefore, becomes his fourth wife)? Unfaithful Iris and cold Annette die, giddy Louise leaves V.V. for the sake of a “count’s son” (this indication is not accidental, since V.V. himself, just like Iris’ killer Vladimir Blagidze, could be a son of count Starov), and only nameless You, the same age as his daughter Bella, promises the twice-widowed character maybe not a long life, but a happy one. The first meeting with each new wife; V.V’s confession in one way or another of his mental defect prior to the marriage proposal; marriage; and the loss of the wife constitutes the outline of the novel, which amounts to a simple scheme. But what if this scheme only represents the unreal world that V. V. is trying to transcend: what if in the nonlinear time of the novel the wife was one and the same from the very beginning, only You, who passed through four stages of metamorphosis? Then the neglect of the narrator, unable to say how many times he has been married, turns out to be either a consequence of V.V.’s vague guess about the insignificance of the exact number, or the author's hint to the reader, who needs to know that unlike his character, the author was an expert in butterflies. The character, who believes that ozimaya sovka (Agrotis segetum) is a bird, is unaware that the very names of his three wives are taken from taxonomic names of butterflies: Iris—Nympfialidae Apatura iris (English name: Purple Emperor); Annette—Lycaena annetta of the Blue family (in 1943 Nabokov complied a detailed description of this [53]

butterfly[3]); Louise—Stichophthalma louise of the Nympfialidae family. Also pointing to the connection between the narrator’s wives and butterflies are a box on a wall in a Parisian restaurant called Paon d'Or, in which are displayed four Morphidae butterflies, and You’s first Russian word about the flying butterfly in the scene where she first meets V.V.—“metamorphoza.[4] The elegant solution to which the author leads us, and which we can now very cautiously suggest, is that the “three or four wives” of V.V. correlate with four stages of a butterfly’s life cycle (egg, larva, pupa and imago) and thus represent (maybe in that different world, which our narrator dreams of so poignantly), the original one and only You, who personified love and happiness in their entirety.

[1] Omry Ronen. “Emulation, anti-parody, intertextuality, and annotation,” Facta Universitatis, Series: Linguistics and Literature, Vol. 3, № 2 (2005) p. 163.

[2] D. Barton Johnson, Words in Regression: Some Novels of Vladimir Nabokov. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1985, p 176.

[3] Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings, ed. by B. Boyd and R. M. Pyle, Boston: Beacon Press, 2000, pp. 293-296

[4]In the course of discussing with Gennady Barabtarlo my conjecture that names of wives in the novel descend from the taxonomic names of butterflies, he concluded with his characteristic perspicacity that, if so, then the unnamed “You,” as the last one in the series, refers to the butterfly Morpho verae. In the copy of Drugie berega that Nabokov presented to Véra in 1955, he inscribed a drawing of the invented butterfly “Véra's Morpho” with the inscription: “very, very rare.” In the chapter about LATH! in Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years Brian Boyd has a keen eye for the link between “You” in the novel and “you” in Nabokov’s autobiography; but, as Stephen Blackwell rightly noticed, “Aside from a few passing anticipatory references to ‘You’ and a handful of other upcoming life elements, Vadim holds strictly to his life’s spatio-temporal trajectory” (The Quill and the Scalpel: Nabokov's Art and the Worlds of Science, Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2009, p. 137).