NABOKV-L post 0026244, Mon, 22 Jun 2015 21:04:42 -0300

Literary Hoaxes in Ada and Pale Fire. Gender.

V.Nabokov, in ADA, seems to be proud to describe how Van tried to spot an
Anti-Terra Lesbian: “He looked her over more closely than he had done before
[…] slightly trembling hands, a cold-in-the-head voice, and that
skidding-in-panic of the eyes if […] Nothing whatever of all that (yes —
Mytilène, petite isle, by Louis Pierre) seemed to apply to Cordula, who wore
a ‘garbotosh’ (belted mackintosh) over her terribly unsmart turtle and held
both hands deep in her pockets as she challenged his stare.” What intrigues
me, though, is why Van’s observations carry contradictions (as when he
doubts his first appraisal, garbotosh and all), and why he chose Pierre
Louÿs’ Bilitis to dwell on poems that purported to be translations from a
7th century BC Greek homoerotic poet but were conceived by a XIX A.D

The theme of false authorial attributions is a common one in V.N. In
“Nabokov’ theatrical imagination” (Cambridge University Press,2012) Siggy
Frank describes “…the reworking of the Robin Hood legend in the figure of
the outlaw Robert as well as the choice of iambic pentameter, the staple
measure of English verse drama, add authenticity to this mock translation of
an English play** [ ] …its quality as a mock translation from English to
Russian links it back to one of Pushkin’s ‘Little Tragedies’, which purports
to be a Russian translation of ‘Scenes from Shenstone’s tragicomedy: The
Covetous Knight’. Nabokov returned to this little hoax much later in a poem
which continues the initial prank in another alleged translation…” (p.23)
Hoaxes and iambic pentameter… could this become another element to consider
in relation to John Shade’s choice of heroic couplets in “Pale Fire”? (a
Kinbote/Botkin authorship argument? )

From the
NABOKV-L Archives -- December 2008 (#99) we come to excerpts from Dieter
Zimmer's annotations, translated into English, in relation to “Pale Fire”:
"… According to Kinbote, Hodinski who is said to have collected the Zemblan
variants of Kongs-skugg-sia in 1798 was a "Russian adventurer, court jester
and a poet of genius." […] who lived in Zembla from 1778 to 1800”. He is
"said to have forged in his spare time a famous old Russian chanson de
geste, generally attributed to an anonymous bard of the twelfth century"
(PF, p.246). This is the "famous pastiche" mentioned in Kinbote's Index (PF,
p.307). The allusion may be to the Song of Igor's Campaign. This
speculation is corroborated by the fact that Hodinski is the lover of Queen
Yaruga and that her name is derived from an obsolete Russian word for
'precipice,' yaruga, occurring three times in the Song of Igor's Campaign.
The authenticity of the Song of Igor’s Campaign was often put to doubt.
Nabokov who in 1960 translated it into English considered it genuine."
[...]The "Russian chanson de geste" which is said to be a forgery by
Hodinski alias Hodyna from 1795 may well be the Song of Igor's Campaign....
published in 1800 under the title Slovo o polku Igoreve. ..Nothing is known
about the author...Some have though it to be a Russian imitation of Ossian.
Nabokov who in 1953/1960 translated it into English was convinced of its
authenticity; if Kinbote is ascribing it to an ancestor of Charles the
Beloved, he was not. From some correspondences with James Macpherson's
notoriously famous Ossian (that influenced the German "Romantik") Nabokov
did not conclude that Igor was a forgery but that Macpherson must have used
some genuine medieval elements: "Throughout The Song there occur here and
there a few poetical formulas strikingly resembling those in Macpherson's
Ossian. Paradoxically, these coincidences tend to prove not that a Russian
of the eighteenth century emulated Macpherson, but that Macpherson's
concoction does contain after all scraps derived from authentic ancient
poems. It is not unreasonable to assume that through the mist of
Scandinavian sagas certain bridges or ruins of bridges may be distinguished
linking Scottic-Gaelic romances with Kievan ones."

In “Writing Sample - Scraps Derived from Authentic Poems: Literary Forgery
and the Structure of Pale Fire” S. Chamberlain [
<>] notes that “Nabokov,
fortunately, has left a trail of clues contained not necessarily within Pale
Fire itself, but in the broader “reference library” (Priscilla Meyer's
coinage) of his non-fiction. The typical intertextual reading, the
universality of which is merely reflected by Pekka Tammi’s assumption at the
beginning of an essay on Pale Fire that “the humorous disproportion of
commentary and text” was inspired by Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin
(1964), paints Charles Kinbote, putative narrator, as a kind of Nabokovian
double of Nabokov himself… Like other Nabokovian doubles, he is both an
imitation and an inverted extreme, who, instead of tracking down every
allusion to its source (Nabokov’s project in Onegin), misses even the most
obvious allusions and substitutes for them his own, possibly invented,
autobiography. In fact, the context of literary hoaxing and forgery suggests
that Nabokov may have had in mind a different scholarly work altogether,
undertaken at roughly the same time and in the same spirit (disproportion of
text and commentary, to borrow from Tammi) as Onegin: Slovo o polku Igoreve,
translated by Nabokov as “The Song of Igor’s Campaign” (1960)…Meyer, one of
the handful of critics to make this connection already, establishes the link
by dint of a single word found in both the Slovo and Pale Fire… Meyer
writes: “The word iaruga appears three times in the Song: it is Old Russian
for ‘ravine’ and, Nabokov says, a ‘comparatively rare word.’ By using it,
Nabokov forces us to connect Pale Fire with The Song of Igor's Campaign via
his commentary, for unless we are Slavists with volume three of
Sreznevskii's Dictionary of Old Russian in hand, we have no hope of
identifying the reference.” [Priscilla Meyer, “Igor, Ossian, and Kinbote:
Nabokov’s Nonfiction as Reference Library” (Slavic Review, Vol. 47, Spring
1988), p. 69.]

Anyway … literary deceitfulness and disguises are fun!


*From B.B’s Ada OnLine: <>
165.02: yes, Mytilène, petite isle, by Louis Pierre: Van’s or Antiterra’s
twist on Les Chansons de Bilitis (1894), by the French novelist and poet
<> Pierre Louÿs (pseudonym of
Pierre Louis, 1870-1925). Les Chansons de Bilitis consisted of prose poems
about Sapphic love purporting to be translations from the Greek by a poetess
contemporary with Sappho; Louÿs, who had long fooled even the experts,
admitted only on his deathbed to having invented the poems himself [ ]
Sappho (second half of 7th century BC), the most important lyric poet of
classical Greece, was born on Lesbos, in the northeast Aegean Sea, the third
largest of the Greek islands. Many of her poems refer to love between women
or girls; hence “lesbian” for female homosexual.

Wikipedia: “Louÿs started writing his first erotic texts at the age of 18,
at which point he developed an interest in the
<> Parnassian and
<> Symbolist schools of
writing[ ] What made The Songs sensational is Louÿs' claim that the poems
were the work of an ancient Greek courtesan and contemporary of
<> Sappho, Bilitis; to himself, Louÿs
ascribed the modest role of translator. The pretense did not last very long,
and "translator" Louÿs was soon unmasked as Bilitis herself. This did little
to tarnish The Songs of Bilitis, however, as it was praised as a fount of
elegant sensuality and refined style, even more extraordinary for the
author's compassionate portrayal of lesbian (and female in general)

Pierre Louÿs’ interest in the Parnassian and Symbolist schools of writing
carry us over to Mlle Ida Larivière (Mlle Monparnasse) and her platonic
attachment to Marina. Also, but on a different dimension, to VN’s ambivalent
leanings towards the Symbolists and the Romantic heroes.

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