Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027448, Tue, 8 Aug 2017 11:44:17 +0300

Hrushchov, zemlyaki & forty Arabian thieves in Pale Fire
In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions Nikita Khrushchyov’s visit to Zembla. In his speech in Onhava (as imagined by Kinbote) Khrushchyov says that he calls the inhabitants of Zembla zemlyaki (fellow countrymen):

He [Gradus] began with the day's copy of The New York Times. His lips moving like wrestling worms, he read about all kinds of things. Hrushchov (whom they spelled "Khrushchev") had abruptly put off a visit to Scandinavia and was to visit Zembla instead (here I tune in: “Vy nazyvaete sebya zemblerami, you call yourselves Zemblans, a ya vas nazyvayu zemlyakami, and I call you fellow countrymen!” Laughter and applause.) (note to Line 949)

The name of Zemblan capital, Onhava hints at Heaven. In a letter of July 15, 1831, to Pushkin Alexander Turgenev says that the teaching of Jesus embraces the whole man and is infinite, if, raising the thought to heaven, it does not make us even here dobrymi zemlyakami (good earthlings):

Мало-помалу я хочу напомнить ему, что учение христово объемлет всего человека и бесконечно, если, возводя мысль к небу, не делает нас и здесь добрыми земляками и не позволяет нам уживаться с людьми в английском Московском клобе; деликатно хочу напомнить ему, что можно и должно менее обращать на себя и на das liebe Ich внимания, менее ухаживать за собою, а более за другими, не повязывать пять галстуков в утро, менее даже и холить свои ногти и зубы и свой желудок; а избыток отдавать тем, кои и от крупиц падающих сыты и здоровы.

The word zemlyak (fellow countryman) used by Turgenev in the sense zemlyanin (earthling) comes from zemlya (earth, land). At the beginning of his poem Tsar’ Nikita i sorok ego docherey (“Tsar Nikita and his Forty Daughters,” 1822) Pushkin mentions zemlya (land):

Царь Никита жил когда-то

Праздно, весело, богато,

Не творил добра, ни зла,

И земля его цвела.

Tsar Nikita lived once upon a time
idly, merrily, rich,
Doing nor a good, nor an evil thing
And his land flourished.

Tsar Nikita’s forty daughters are beautiful but lack one little thing:

Словом, с головы до ног

Душу, сердце всё пленяло.

Одного не доставало.

Да чего же одного?

Так, безделки, ничего.

Ничего иль очень мало,

Всё равно - не доставало.

In a word, from head to toe
all captivated one’s soul, heart;
Only one thing was missing.
But what was is it?
So, a gaud, nothing.
Nothing or very little,
All the same - it was lacking.

In a letter of December 1, 1826, to Alekseev Pushkin makes a self-reference by quoting a line in his poem (well known to Alekseev, Pushkin’s Kishinev friend) about tsar Nikita and his forty daughters:

Nadezhdy net il’ ochen’ malo.

There is no hope or very little.

Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. After the suicide of his daughter (whose name means in Russian “hope”) Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent) went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus.

In one of his epigrams on Count Vorontsov (the Governor of New Russia) Pushkin says that there is a hope that one day Vorontsov (half-milord, half-merchant, etc.) will be full at last:

Полу-милорд, полу-купец,
Полу-мудрец, полу-невежда,
Полу-подлец, но есть надежда,
Что будет полным наконец.

Half-milord, half-merchant,

Half-sage, half-ignoramus,

Half-scoundrel, but there is a hope

That he will be a full one at last.

There is a hope that when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on October 19 (the Lyceum anniversary), 1959, Botkin will be “full” again. It was Alexander Turgenev who in 1811 helped to enroll Pushkin in the Lyceum and who in February, 1837, accompanied Pushkin’s coffin to the Svyatye Gory monastery where the poet was buried.

In VN’s story Soglyadatay (“The Eye,” 1930) Mukhin (Vanya’s fiancé) calls Smurov (the narrator and main character) podlets (a scoundrel). In a letter to his Reval friend Roman Bogdanovich (the diarist) calls Smurov seksual’nyi levsha (a sexual lefty). In Pale Fire Kinbote is gay. The characters in Soglyadatay include Khrushchyov (Evgeniya Evgen’yevna’s husband). The story’s English title is a homophone of “I” (the first person pronoun). In the same letter of July 15, 1831, to Pushkin (see the quote above) Alexander Turgenev mentions das liebe Ich (Germ., “the dear I”). According to Turgenev, Chaadaev should pay less attention to das liebe Ich. Like Chaadaev (the author of “The Philosophical Letter” who was officially proclaimed mad), Kinbote is a Roman catholic. Turgenev’s letter to Pushkin is signed Ex-garçon des cultes (former minister of religions). In 1810-24 Turgenev was the head of the department of foreign confessions. According to Kinbote, Gradus’s father was a Protestant minister in Riga (note to Line 17). In his letter to Pushkin Turgenev says that Chaadaev reads Protestants as well:

Чадаев попал на ту же мысль, или лучше увлечён ими на ту же дорогу, хотя он — выслушивает и другую сторону: т. е. читает и протестантов; но находит в них или подтверждение своему взгляду на историю, или слабые доказательства, кои спешит обессилить, или устраняется от состязания, когда доводы противников слишком сильны.

In Shade’s poem “I” is the first word:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain.

According to Kinbote, the unwritten Line 1000 is identical to Line 1. Kinbote believes that, in its finished form, Shade’s poem has 1000 lines. But it seems that Shade’s poem also needs a coda, Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane.”

In the same letter of Dec. 1, 1826, Pushkin asks Alekseev to please him not with an Arabian fairy tale, but with his Russian truth:

Прощай, отшельник бессарабский,
Лукавый друг души моей —
Порадуй же меня не сказочкой арабской,
Но русской правдою твоей.

A collection of fairy tales, The Arabian Nights are also known as A Thousand and One Nights and include Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves. As she speaks to her husband (who visited her at her Côte d’Azur Villa Disa), Queen Disa mentions forty Arabian thieves:

"What are your plans?" she inquired. "Why can't you stay here as long as you want? Please do. I'll be going to Rome soon, you'll have the whole house to yourself. Imagine, you can bed here as many as forty guests, forty Arabian thieves." (Influence of the huge terracotta vases in the garden.) (note to Lines 433-434)

In his poem K portretu Chaadaeva (“To Chaadaev’s Portrait,” 1820) Pushkin says that in Rome Chaadaev would have been Brutus and in Athens, Pericles:

Он вышней волею небес
Рождён в оковах службы царской;
Он в Риме был бы Брут, в Афинах <http://rvb.ru/pushkin/02comm/0082.htm#c2> Периклес,
А здесь он — офицер гусарской.

Brutus is a character in Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar. Shakespeare is the author of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. In Shakespeare’s play Timon of Athens (translated into Zemblan by Kinbote’s uncle Conmal as Timon Afinsken) Timon says that the moon is an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun. In Pushkin’s obituary written by Prince Odoevski the future author of Russkie nochi (“The Russian Nights,” 1843) famously calls Pushkin solntse nashey poezii (the sun of our poetry).

In Moi Vospominaniya (“My Memories,” 1890) Afanasiy Fet compares Sergey Tolstoy (Leo’s elder brother) to Timon Afinskiy (Timon of Athens):

Тем не менее я убеждён, что основной тип всех трёх братьев Толстых тождествен, как тождествен тип кленовых листьев, невзирая на все разнообразие их очертаний. И если бы я задался развить эту мысль, то показал бы, в какой степени у всех трёх братьев присуще то страстное увлечение, без которого в одном из них не мог бы проявиться поэт Л. Толстой. Разница их отношений к жизни состоит в том, с чем каждый из них отходил от неудавшейся мечты. Николай охлаждал свои порывы скептической насмешкой, Лев уходил от несбывшейся мечты с безмолвным укором, а Сергей - с болезненной мизантропией. Чем более у подобных характеров первоначальной любви, тем сильнее хотя на время сходство с Тимоном Афинским.

The maiden name of Fet’s wife was Maria Botkin. Fet’s pupil K. R. (the Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov) translated into Russian, with an extensive commentary, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In his famous monologue (3.1) Hamlet mentions a bare bodkin. One of Fet’s most famous poems begins: Izmuchen zhizn’yu, kovarstvom nadezhdy… (“By life tormented, and by cunning hope…” 1864).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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