Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027449, Tue, 8 Aug 2017 14:13:51 -0700

Botkin=Nabokov - Proof?
I'd like to offer another "word-golf" solution to Pale Fire (see my previous post for connections of S,K & G). Nabokov himself admitted that Botkin was the commentator, but of course, behind him is the author.

As we know, Nabokov liked to insert himself via word-play into his novels (i.e. Vivian Darkbloom, Vivian Bloodmark, Vivian Badlook). Where is Nabokov in this novel? Pnin, his character from the eponymous book seemed very like Nabokov, as does Professor Botkin. In fact, they seem to be the same person. While adding more to the befogging than clarification, Nabokov said in an interview that Pale Fire was:

“...full of plums that I keep hoping somebody will find. For instance, the nasty commentator is not an ex-King of Zembla, nor is he professor Kinbote. He is professor Botkin, or Botkine, a Russian and a madman” (Dolbier, Maurice (June 17, 1962). "Books and Authors: Nabokov's Plums". The New York Herald Tribune. p. 5.)

This character is barely mentioned, except to distinguish him from Kinbote. The reader can hardly help but conjecture Botkin to be Nabokov, but it is not so provable as his previous aliases. I think there is some word-play here, more subtle than Botkin/Kinbote and it goes like this: Take away the matching letters and make anagram:


No, it doesn’t quite work; there’s a pesky “L” and a missing “O”, but it is intriguing. It’s rather like a major poetic device called a “near rhyme” (also half-rhyme, slant rhyme, imperfect rhyme, oblique rhyme); the last syllables of lines are not an exact rhyme. It is considered a sophisticated prosodic variation, rather than an unfortunate near miss. The chances of any other two names coming out this close, with the device demonstrated here is beyond unlikely. I would call this a “near solution”, and devilishly composed.

The many permutations of “Botkin” must have amused Nabokov. There is the stiletto, the shoemaker, the “kingbot”, “Maud Bodkin” (indicating Jung), not to mention Zemblan for “regicide”. A “Kinbot” is a reparation for harm to a family. How about the oath “Odds Bodkin”? It derives from “God’s body”. As God is the creator of the world (God’s body), so is the novelist of his “body” of work. Thus, Professor Botkin is Nabokov the creator! I imagine that, knowing people were on to his previous anagrammatic personas, he might enjoy stepping up the game a bit with more abstruse appearance this time around.

Better still, this works also for (Charles Xavier) Vseslave Kinbote:


If the “near-anagram” can be forgiven, (it is only one word golf move away from conclusive solution) then Nabokov has indeed hidden himself in the text. As Kinbote, he is one of the main characters, but only as an aspect of himself – as I’ve maintained, the Ego. Shade is his higher idealized self, and Gradus his Shadow, the rejected lower self. As Botkin, he is like the behind the scenes authorial voice - we could even surmise The Self.

Another example of Nabokov using a “near solution” is found in Strong Opinions. He mentions “The Artist’s Studio by Van Bock”. As the Editor has pointed out, the name is “one alphabetical step away from being a significant anagram”. (VN, Strong Opinions, P.73)

Under “Botkin” in the index, we’ve noted one of the meanings to be “king-bot, maggot of extinct fly that once bred in mammoths and is thought to have hastened their phylogenic end”. Apparently there was no such kingly creature, but there is a “botfly”, the flesh-eating maggot of whom burrows into the skin of men as well as animals. Sybil uses this to characterize Kinbote as a “parasite of genius”, meaning of her husband. On the thematic level of “cryptomnesia” and parody, it could be that the author, “Botkin/Nabokov”, is a parasite of the geniuses he “plagiarizes”. The index also notes under Botkin, “boteliy, big-bellied (Russ.)”. Nabokov often jested about the weight he had gained in America. Remember that there is the suggestion of a “botkin” (sword) in the Nabokov family crest.

“Kingbot is also Zemblan for “regicide”. By extension, Professor Botkin might also be suspected of killing kings. That could, of course mean killing off Kinbote, but also on another level, de-throning (hastening the phylogenic end) of some of the greats of literature.

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