Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020800, Thu, 30 Sep 2010 08:21:47 -0400

THOUGHT Botkin, two allegories

On Sep 27, 2010, at 11:01 AM, Matthew Roth wrote:

> Another Botkin problem: if Kinbote is an alternative personality of
> V. Botkin, why is he so clearly a mirror opposite (and sometimes
> analog) of John Shade?

alt: Why does Botkin construct Kinbote, his avatar of commentary, as
the opposite, more or less, of Shade?
If this be allegory does this make Kinbote the anti-writer, the
necessary commentator, wannabe...?

> The Shade/Kinbote dichotomy includes the following oppostitions and
> analogs...:

> The Shade/Kinbote [reworked a little]


> clean-shaven/bearded
> right-handed/left-handed
> heterosexual/homosexual
> carnivore/vegetarian
> lame/spry
> Atheist/Christian
> live across the lane from one another


> born on the same day,

> wives resemble each other,

> both seem to be experts on Pope, etc...

other phenotypes:

the Walrus / and the Carpenter,
Don Quixote and Sancho?
Mutt and Jeff?

> [Kinbote] came to New Wye at same time as John Shade's attack,

This resembles a doppelgänger allegory:
Death comes when the half-twins meet!

Shade and Kinbote comported together from early February to mid-July.

A Gradus itinerary linked to commentary: [not really needed for the
argument, but thought it might be useful]

Foreword: John Shade's heart attack (Oct. 17, 1958) practically
coincided with the disguised king's arrival in America..
Never shall I forget how elated I was upon learning, as mentioned in a
note my read shall find, that the suburban house (rented for my use
from Judge Goldsworth who had gone on his Sabbatical to England) into
which I moved on
February 5, 1959, stood next to that of the celebrated American poet
whose verses I had tried to put into Zemblan two decades earlier!

Foreword: The poem was begun at the dead center of the year, a few
minutes after midnight July 1, while I played chess with a young
Iranian enrolled in our summer school; and I do not doubt that our
poet would have understood his annotator's temptations to synchronize
a certain fateful fact, the departure from Zembla of the would-be
regicide Gradus, with that date. Actually, Gradus left Onhava on the
Copenhagen plane on July 5.

Foreword: Canto One was begun in the small hours of July 2 and
completed on July 4.

A great conspiracy(171): We place this fatidic moment at 0:05, July 2,
1959--which happens to be also the date upon which an innocent poet
penned the first lines of his last poem.

five minutes were equal to forty ounces(120-1): On the day (July 4)
John Shade wrote this, Gradus the Gunman was getting ready to leave
Zembla for his steady blunderings through two hemispheres

Today(181): On July 5th, a noontime, in the other hemisphere, on the
rain-swept tarmac of the Onhava airfield, Gradus, holding a French
passport, walked towards a Russian commercial plane bound for Copenhagen

A male hand(408); On July 10, the day John Shade wrote this, and
perhaps at the very minute he started to use his thirty-third index
card for lines 406-416, Gradus was driving in a hired car from Geneva
to Lex, where Odon was known to be resting,

Foreword: He started the next canto on his birthday and finished it on
July 11.

Points at the puddle in his basement room(596):
Shade composed these lines on Tuesday, July 14th. What was Gradus
doing that day? Nothing. Combinatorial fate rests on its laurels. We
saw him last on the late afternoon of July 10th when he returned from
Lex to his hotel in Geneva, and there we left him.
For the next four days Gradus remained fretting in Geneva.

Foreword: Another week was devoted to Canto Three.

Conclusive destination(697): Gradus landed at the Cote d'Azur airport
in the early afternoon of July 15, 1959
The outer glare(741):
On the morning of July 16 (while Shade was working on the 698-746
section of his poem) dull Gradus, dreading another day of enforced
inactivity in sardonically sparkling, simultatingly noisy Nice...

Foreword: Canto Four was begun on July 19,

My best time(873): As my dear friend was beginning with this line his
July 20 batch of cards (card seventy-one to card seventy-six, ending
with line 948), Gradus, at the Orly airport, was walking aboard a
jetliner, fastening his seat belt, reading a newspaper, rising,
soaring, desecrating the sky.

And all the time(949): And all the time he was coming nearer.
A formidable thunderstorm had greeted Gradus in New York on the night
of his arrival from Paris (Monday, July 20)...
It was now July 21. At eight in the morning New York roused Gradus
with a bang and a roar.

The opposition of sexual orientation between the two doppel-selves
provides the germ for another allegory to be built into the text:
namely identifying Kinbote as a sexually repressed component of
Shade's self that emerges in the symbolic death of Shade; or multiple
person theory.
As Zemblan Escape builds in part on the cheaper Prisoner of Zenda,
(Ruritanian)(and the other series??? )
Kinbote-as-deranged-Shade derives from Jykell and Hyde; and the
cheaper Three Faces of EveB(1957), its deprecated psychology,
Freudianism; Shirley Jackson's novel, The Birds' Nest, of 1954, which
was also made into the film, Lizzie, in 1957.
(It's notable that all of these are also rather famous films.) Soon we
have: Shade=ego, Kinbote=id, Sybil=superego.
To the extent that Multiple Personality Disorder as diagnostic
category relies upon Freudianism, and its concepts of dissociation and
repression, this story, vision, or illusion, needs to be disavowed, in
authorial tones, and that is part of Botkin's role. Botkin, like VN,
detests Freud, but uses the psychological framework as a plot device
to stage this second allegory. The Freudianism has to be shown to be a
Botkin destroys the illusion of viewing Kinbote as a dissociated piece
of Shade merely by revealing his own presence: Kinbote can't be Shade
because Kinbote is Botkin! Botkin writes himself into his novel in
order to discredit his own tale of metamorphosis. This device allows
Botkin to tell this tale despite its Freudian underpinnings, and is
similar to the distancing device used by Cervantes, mentioned by Jansy.

(Chaucer, like Botkin, is another such re-taker. And he too wrote
himself into his own work!)

Kinbote's role can thus be seen as the teller of his own
metamorphosis. His tales of Zembla are intended to make us think he is
mad and his tale therefore symbolic and allegorical. Therein he tells
us other things to see and believe.
Specifically he asks, strenuously, to consider the comparison of John
Shade with the young minister in the Rose Court of the Ducal Chapel,
as well as a comparison of Sybil with Disa.
In the first: are we being asked to view Shade's compositional
inspiration with the sublimation of deviant impulses or desires? I'm
thinking here that the young minister stands in for a young Charles
In the second: are we to imagine that Sybil suffers in somewhat the
same manner as Queen Disa? Hazel's birth occurs fifteen years into the
The color combination of rose/green seems to only occur in the Rose
Court (commentary), and in the green, indigo, and tawny sea at
Nice(poem), the site, or stimulus for Kinbote's comparison of Sybil
and Disa.
Perhaps the suffering of Sybil/Disa to be seen as a symbol for the
kind of sexual/procreative sacrifices that the spouses of highly
creative individuals sometimes make?
Kinbote's etymology of Sybil's birth name, Irondell, is a clever way
of associating two qualities at once that may seem to be opposed to
one another but actually aren't: grace and strong will.

briefly yours,

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