Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026436, Fri, 11 Sep 2015 14:03:07 +0300

Great Beaver, great Starover Blue & vegetarianism in Pale Fire
On campus Kinbote is known as "the Great Beaver:"

One day I happened to enter the English Literature office in quest of a
magazine with the picture of the Royal Palace in Onhava, which I wanted my
friend to see, when I overheard a young instructor in a green velvet jacket,
whom I shall mercifully call Gerald Emerald, carelessly saying in answer to
something the secretary had asked: "I guess Mr Shade has already left with
the Great Beaver." Of course, I am quite tall, and my brown beard is of a
rather rich tint and texture; the silly cognomen evidently applied to me,
but was not worth noticing, and after calmly taking the magazine from a
pamphlet-cluttered table, I contented myself on my way out with pulling
Gerald Emerald's bow-tie loose with a deft jerk of my fingers as I passed by
him. (PF, Foreword)

In his review of G. Ivanov's collection of poetry Otplytie na ostrov Tsiteru
("The Departure to the Island Cythera," 1937) Hodasevich mentions Bobrov, a
talentless poet (1763/1765-1810) whose name comes from bobr (beaver):

Пушкин, работая над <Бахчисарайским фонтаном>, нарочно перечитал бездарную
<Тавриду> Боброва и впоследствии писал Вяземскому, что стих <Под стражей
хладного скопца> заимствован у Боброва: <Мне хотелось что-нибудь у него

In a letter to Vyazemski Pushkin confessed that in his poem "The Fountain of
Bakhchisaray" (1823) the line "under the guard of a cold eunuch" was
borrowed from Bobrov's Tavrida ("Tauris"). According to Pushkin, he wanted
to steal something from Bobrov.

Pushkin must have remembered that in Batyushkov's Videnie na beregakh Lety
("The Vision upon the Banks of Lethe," 1809) the richly alliterative but
meaningless and nonsensical line gde roshcha rzhushcha ruzhiy rzhot was
borrowed from Bobrov (as Batyushkov himself points out in a footnote). In an
epigram on Bobrov Batyushkov (the poet who went mad and attempted to take
his life) calls him Bibris (from the Latin bibere, "to drink;" Vyazemski and
Pushkin referred to Bobrov as "Bibrus" and "heavy Bibrus"). The New Wye
Professors include "the great Starover Blue" (as Shade calls him in Canto
Three of PF), the astronomer who was "nicknamed by the students Colonel
Starbottle, evidently because of his exceptionally convivial habits"
(Kinbote's note to Line 627). As to Kinbote's nickname, it sounds almost
like "the Great Bear," the constellation mentioned by Shade in Canto One of

That's Dr. Sutton's light. That's the Great Bear.
A thousand years ago five minutes were
Equal to forty ounces of fine sand.
Outstare the stars. Infinite foretime and
Infinite aftertime: above your head
They close like giant wings, and you are dead.

The regular vulgarian, I daresay,
Is happier: He sees the Milky Way
Only when making water. Then as now
I walked at my own risk: whipped by the bough,
Tripped by the stump. Asthmatic, lame and fat,
I never bounced a ball or swung a bat. (ll. 119-130)

In his Universitetskaya poema ("The University Poem," 1927) VN (who was a
goalkeeper in his College's football team) mentions lame Byron who, as a
Cambridge student, kept a tame bear:

Держа московского медведя,

боксеров жалуя и бредя

красой Италии, тут жил

студентом Байрон хромоногий.

Я вспоминал его тревоги,--

как Геллеспонт он переплыл,

чтоб похудеть. Но я остыл

к его твореньям...

Clutching his bear from Muscovy,
esteemed the boxer's fate,
of Italic beauty dreaming
lame Byron passed his student days.
I remembered his distress -
his swim across the Hellespont
to lose some weight.
But I have cooled toward his creations:

In his review of Contemporary Notes, No. XXXIII, G. Ivanov unjustly
criticizes The University Poem and says that its title should have been The
Gymnasium Poem:

<Университетскую поэму> Вл. Сирина правильнее было бы назвать
<гимназической>. Такими вялыми ямбами, лишёнными всякого чувства стиха, на
потеху одноклассников описываются в гимназиях экзамены и учителя. Делается
это, нормально, не позже пятого класса. Сирин несколько опоздал, он написал
свою поэму в Оксфорде.

According to Ivanov, Sirin wrote his poem "in Oxford." In PF Sirin
retaliates by stealing the title of his novel (and of the poem within it)
not only from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens ("the moon's an arrant thief, /
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun"), but also from G. Ivanov's
poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron, o, bez sozhalen'ya ("Like Byron to Greece, oh,
without regret:" 1927) in which blednyi ogon' (a pale fire) is mentioned. In
his review of G. Ivanov's "Departure to the Island Cythera" Hodasevich says
that Pushkin "stole" not only from Bobrov ("who was not worth a penny"), but
also from the poets whom he held in esteem. While Pushkin and VN can be
compared to Shakespeare (who borrowed from other authors the themes of most
of his plays), G. Ivanov (whose talent lacked authenticity) is paired by VN
with third-rate Bobrov.

According to Kinbote, he is a strict vegetarian. In his Commentary to
Shade's poem Kinbote explains why he does not touch meat:

When the fallen tyrant is tied, naked and howling, to a plank in the public
square and killed piecemeal by the people who cut slices out, and eat them,
and distribute his living body among themselves (as I read when young in a
story about an Italian despot, which made of me a vegetarian for life),
Gradus does not take part in the infernal sacrament: he points out the right
instrument and directs the carving. (note to Line 171)

Kinbote was nicknamed "the Great Beaver" (like all rodents, beavers are
vegetarians) because of his beard. Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was bearded, did
not eat meat and advocated non-resistance to evil by violence. Besides, he
was "the Count who attempted to make boots." According to Kinbote (the
author of a book on names), Botkin is the "one who makes bottekins, fancy
footwear" (note to L. 71). Botkin seems to be Kinbote's, Shade's and Gradus'
real name.

In G. Ivanov's Raspad atoma ("Disintegration of an Atom," 1938) the narrator
mentions Tolstoy and his Anna Karenin (1875-77):

Есть люди, способные до сих пор плакать над судьбой Анны Карениной. Они ещё
стоят на исчезающей вместе с ними почве, в которую был вкопан фундамент
театра, где Анна, облокотясь на бархат ложи, сияя мукой и красотой,
переживала свой позор. Это сиянье почти не достигает до нас. Так, чуть-чуть
потускневшими косыми лучами -- не то последний отблеск утраченного, не то
подтверждение, что утрата непоправима. Скоро всё навсегда поблекнет.
Останется игра ума и

таланта, занятное чтение, не обязывающее себе верить и не внушающее больше
веры. Вроде "Трёх мушкетеров". То, что сам Толстой почувствовал раньше всех,
неизбежная черта, граница, за которой -- никакого утешения вымышленной

красотой, ни одной слезы над вымышленной судьбой.

In his review of G. Ivanov's book Hodasevich quotes this excerpt and
mentions Pushkin's poem Na kholmy Gruzii: ("Upon the Hills of Georgia:"
1829) repeatedly misquoted by the narrator of Raspad atoma:

"Есть люди, способные до сих пор плакать над судьбой Анны Карениной, --
говорит он. -- Они ещё стоят на исчезающей вместе с ними почве". Он с
радостью констатирует, что шум воды в уличном писсуаре, по существу, не
отличается от шума пушкинской Арагвы. Ему кажется, что он "перерос"
искусство. В действительности он до него не дорос. Оно для него -- не более
как "культурная надстройка", отпадающая тотчас, как только задеты его
действительные, нутряные интересы. Маленькая подробность. Пушкинский стих об
Арагве он цитирует несколько раз -- и всегда с ошибкой: "На холмы Грузии
легла ночная мгла". У Пушкина этой безвкусицы, этого "легла мгла", нет,
Пушкин не мог её написать, -- а герой Иванова её твердит как ни в чём не
бывало -- он даже повторить не умеет того, что Пушкин умел написать, потому
что у него уши заложены, потому что поэзия ему была и есть глубоко,
органически чужда. Он не только не творческий, но и не сотворческий человек.
Кого может он напугать тем, что уже не может плакать над Анной Карениной?
Дорого ли стоит его разуверение в искусстве? Да верил ли он в него

The protagonist and narrator of Raspad atoma commits suicide. According to
VN, after completing his Foreword to PF on Oct. 19, 1859 (the anniversary of
Pushkin's Lyceum), Kinbote commits suicide.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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