NABOKV-L post 0018519, Sun, 16 Aug 2009 11:55:35 -0300

Yuri Leving's online concordance to Nabokov's "The Gift" (second)
Don Johnson: This may have been run before on NABOV-L but I would like to call attention to Yuri Leving's online concordance to "The Gift" (Dar). This is the "most Russian" of all of VN's novels and the most dificult for non-Russian readers. Recommended for all.

JM: Jorge Luis Borges once stated that he considered himself lucky by not knowing Greek, for he would read The Odyssey through versions in which every translator revealed something different about Homer: "it was as if he'd acquired not only one book, but an entire library" - thus confirming Walter Benjamin's assessment, namely, that the original literary text is only "a first manifestation" that demands different interpretations and further versions ( cf. "Angelus Novus").
I speak no Russian but, fortunately, my translation of "Dar" is by Michael Scammell in collaboration with Vladimir Nabokov. Unfortunately, though, I got no other translations in other languages, but this one in English.

Very partial excerpts from one of the entries for "The Gift" after clicking Y.Leving's online concordance:
July 12th, 1900: Fyodor's date of birth (G12)
" It appears that the biography of Chernyshevski is written in a circular fashion much like The Gift; the biography ends with N. Chernyshevski's birth and the mention of his death and arrest occurs before it actually happens. Also, there seems to be some symbolism in the dates. Both Fyodor's and Chernyshevksi's birthdays are the same, and particular emphasized dates coincide with key moments in Russian history i.e. 1917 and the Bolshevik revolution, 1861 and the emancipation of the serfs, etc. Also, certain dates seem to be repeated a lot i.e. the month April or January is repeated often, the number 4 comes up a lot in the dates (or even numbers especially those divisible by 4), the year 1919 and years in the 1850s or 1860s are mentioned frequently. However, deeper analysis needs to be taken in order to legitimize these connections and to elucidate new ones. See also: A.A. Dolinin, "Nabokov's time doubling: from The Gift to Lolita." Nabokov Studies (2) 1995, 3-40."

I was curious to read that "Both Fyodor's and Chernyshevksi's birthdays are the same." In "Pale Fire" John Shade, C.Kinbote and Gradus share birthdays in July 5. There are other matched birth-dates in PF - and we know VN was fascinated by numbers ( 0-1-2...n; 1-2...n ), including his childhood's confusion related to his brother's age( SN was born in the XXth Century). There are Van's two birthdays in January 1 and July worth checking into.
Would any invariant element, present in "Dar's" July 12 choice, reappear in Pale Fire?
Whimsically counting lines in PF, trying to discover novel symmetries in the first and last Cantos (like those in Two and Three, with their identical length and covering 27 cards each*), I concluded that Shade's eighty cards imply he employed 26 cards to write I and IV, with their 166/165 lines, at the pace of 55 lines a day.

The total of 26 for both Cantos is almost comparable to the 27 cards for Cantos 2 and 3) - take or leave one. Besides, Canto I is one line longer than my counting by averages suggests ( I'm lousy with numbers, though).

Kinbote's commentaries, on Canto Three, court strange Kinbotean cross-references (not tautologies, but tautology seems to lurk in them) on Line 501 [ L´if...The yew in French. It is curious that the Zemblan word for the weeping willow is also "if" (the yew is tas)]

After this there are two other entries, both for line 502. The rest gets no more comments, since CK skips to Line 549 [ on the big G and "the Gist of the matter" (original sin)], written already in July 13.

The uncommented lines written in July 12 describe how Shade'd been engaged for a term to "lecture on the Worm," moving to Yewshade with little Hazel and Sybil towareds a "higher state". It is when he expresses the most tender recollections of his wife, together with his darkest forebodings about "a boundless void" and a "task unfinished" (line 544).

The circularity of foreshadowed death, birth and a putative rebirth, are ever present themes since the first line. It comes through in Canto Two (started on the poet's birthday) by a description of his courting and marriage leading to encompass Hazel's span of life. If "Pale Fire" is as carefully planned as Kinbote often affirms, Shade's death is part of the structure of PF (just like Gradus). This led me to T.S.Eliot's "Four Quartets": "The end is where we start from..../ Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,/ Every poem an epitaph..."**.

Would Chernyshevski's July birthday have influenced all the other July choices? If so, why?

Considering VN's fascination with continuities,cesurae, cause and effect, numbers and (+1), I note that that January is the first month in a semester and July, the first in the second.


* Kinbote (Foreword) informs that Pale Fire "is a poem in heroic couplets, of nine hundred ninety-nine lines, divided into four cantos" and that his author (born July 5, 1898, died July 21, 1959) wrote them "during the last twenty days of his life ... in the small hours of July 2."
"He started the next canto on his birthday and finished it on July 11. Another week was devoted to Canto Three.Canto Four was begun on July 19." (:Canto Three seems to have begun in July 12 and finished in July 18, and its verses are numbered from lines 501 to 834.)

** - T.S.Eliot's Four Quartets: In No.1, the first lines are: "Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps present in time future,/And time future contained in time past." In No. 4 we find: "Midwinter spring is its own season/Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,/Suspended in time, between pole and tropic [...] Later: What we call the beginning is often the end/ And to make and end is to make a beginning./ The end is where we start from..../ Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,/ Every poem an epitaph..."

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