NABOKV-L post 0026538, Sat, 17 Oct 2015 11:00:07 +0300

Botkin as prisoner of Zembla in Pale Fire
In his note in The Nabokovian No. 56 (Spring 2006), “Ods Bod(t)kins!”, A.
Dolinin quotes the king’s exclamation in O. Henry’s story The Prisoner of
Zembla (1912): “Ods Bodkins!” According to Dolinin, “the combination of the
fictitious kingdom of Zembla and “Ods Bodkins” leaves no doubt that the
story served Nabokov as a source for names in Pale Fire.”

The interjection “odsbodkins” is a euphemistic form of “God's body,” used as
a mild oath. According to Shade (who is, unlike Kinbote, an atheist), “no
free man needs a God” (Line 101). In his poem Stoßseufzer (“Heartfelt
Groan,” 1830) Heinrich Heine complains that atheism is an uncomfortable new
religion, because it deprives us not only of God, but also of a popular

Unbequemer neuer Glauben!
Wenn sie uns den Herrgott rauben,
Hat das Fluchen auch ein End’ –

Wir entbehren leicht das Beten,

Doch das Fluchen ist vonnöthen,
Wenn man gegen Feinde rennt –

Nicht zum Lieben, nein, zum Hassen,

Sollt ihr uns den Herrgott lassen,

Weil man sonst nicht fluchen könnt’ –

In his poem Nächtliche Fahrt ("The Night Voyage," 1851) Heine mentions the
merciful god Shaddey:

O steh’ mir bei, barmherziger Gott!
Barmherziger Gott Schaddey!
Da schollert’s hinab in’s Meer – O Weh –
Schaddey! Schaddey! Adonay! –

The god’s name means in Hebrew “Almighty” and brings to mind Shade, the poet
who is killed by Gradus (as he is called by Kinbote, the mad commentator of
Shade’s poem who imagines that he is the last self-banished king of Zembla,
Charles the Beloved). In Heine’s “Night Voyage” three people go for a
nocturnal row in the sea:

Es wogt das Meer, aus dem dunkeln Gewölk
Der Halbmond lugte scheu;
Und als wir stiegen in den Kahn,
Wir waren unsrer drei.

But, when on the morning the boat comes back to the shore, there are only
two people in it:

Die Sonne ging auf, wir fuhren an’s Land,
Da blühte und glühte der Mai!
Und als wir stiegen aus dem Kahn,
Da waren wir unsrer zwei.

The poet dreams that he is a Heiland (Savior) who with his own hand kills
his love in order to free her from disgrace and sin, torture and indigence,
the world's filth:

Grausame Narrethei! Mir träumt
Daß ich ein Heiland sei,
Und daß ich trüge das große Kreuz
Geduldig und getreu.

Die arme Schönheit ist schwer bedrängt,
Ich aber mache sie frei
Von Schmach und Sünde, von Qual und Noth,
Von der Welt Unflätherei.

Du arme Schönheit, schaudre nicht
Wohl ob der bittern Arznei;
Ich selber kredenze dir den Tod,
Bricht auch mein Herz entzwei.

Kinbote calls his gardener, whose spade dealt the killer a tremendous blow
to the pate, “our savior:”

One of the bullet that spared me struck him [Shade] in the side and went
through his heart. His presence behind me abruptly failing me caused me to
lose my balance, and, simultaneously, to complete the farce of fate, my
gardener's spade dealt gunman Jack from behind the hedge a tremendous blow
to the pate, felling him and sending his weapon flying from his grasp. Our
savior retrieved it and helped me to my feet. (note to Line 1000)

Kinbote dubbed his black gardener “Balthasar, Prince of Loam” (note to Line
62). Balthasar was the name of one of the magi. The Gifts of the Magi (1905)
is one of O. Henry’s most famous stories. Btw., the (different) magi are
mentioned at the end of Heine’s poem Belsazar (1815-21):

Die Magier kamen, doch keiner verstand
Zu deuten die Flammenschrift an der Wand.

Belsazar ward aber in selbiger Nacht
Von seinen Knechten umgebracht.

In one of his imaginary dialogues with Koncheyev in VN’s novel Dar (“The
Gift,” 1937) Fyodor mentions Buchstaben von Feuer (the letters of fire). The
allusion is to the lines in Heine’s Belsazar:

Und sieh! und sieh! an weißer Wand
Da kam's hervor wie Menschenhand;

Und schrieb, und schrieb an weißer Wand
Buchstaben von Feuer, und schrieb und schwand.

In his deathbed delirium Alekasndr Yakovlevich (in “The Gift,” Yasha
Chernyshevski’s father) mentions Eine Alte Geschichte (“An Old Story”), a
film that he and his wife went to see the day before their son’s suicide.
The movie’s name was borrowed from Heine’s poem Ein Jüngling liebt ein
Mädchen (“A Boy loves a Girl”):

Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen,
Die hat einen Andern erwählt;
Der Andre liebt eine Andre,
Und hat sich mit dieser vermählt.

Das Mädchen heiratet aus Ärger
Den ersten besten Mann,
Der ihr in den Weg gelaufen;
Der Jüngling ist übel dran.

Es ist eine alte Geschichte,
Doch bleibt sie immer neu;
Und wem sie just passieret,
Dem bricht das Herz entzwei.

Judge Goldsworth’s black cat that came with the house and that Kinbote
“farmed out” to Mrs. Finley, the cleaning woman, brings to mind Chernysh
(the usual Russian name for black cats and dogs), as in “The Gift” Zina
Mertz calls Chernyshevski, the radical critic on whom Fyodor writes a book.
Chernyshevski wrote his main work, the novel Chto delat’? (“What to Do?”
1864), imprisoned in the Peter-and-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. The
novel was reviewed by Pisarev, another radical critic and a fellow prisoner.
In 1859 Pisarev (who was subject to ‘dementia melancholica’) had spent four
months in a lunatic asylum. In “The Life of Chernyshevski” (Chapter Four of
“The Gift”) Fyodor Konstantinovich mentions Botkin, a friend of Turgenev,
Fet (who married Botkin’s sister) and Tolstoy. Zina Mertz’s patronymic,
Oskarovna, brings to mind Professor Oscar Nattochdag, the head of the
department to which Kinbote belongs at the Wordsmith University. Shchyogolev
(Fyodor’s landlord in “The Gift” ) calls his step-daughter “Aida” (after the
second part of her full name Zinaida) and printsessa (Princess). In one of
his poems Heine mentions Tsarevna Proserpina. In Pushkin’s poem Prozerpina
(1824) pale Pluto’s horses quickly whisk the god iz Aida (out of Hades). In
“The Life of Chernyshevski” Fyodor compares Chernyshevski to Prometheus.
Kirchenrat Prometheus (1843) is a poem by Heine. The title of Annenski’s
essay on Heine (included in “The Second Book of Reflection”), Geyne
prikovannyi (“Heine the Bed-Ridden”), alludes to Prometheus. Annenski’s
penname was Nik. T-o (Mr. Nobody). “Nikto Botkin” is a palindrome.

As pointed out by Dolinin, the title of O. Henry’s story (translated into
Russian as Plennik Zembly) is a parodic node at “The Prisoner of Zenda”
(1894), a once popular novel by Anthony Hope. Zenda rhymes with Blenda (the
name of King Charles’ mother). There is a hope that, after Kinbote’s
suicide, Professor V.* Botkin (the American scholar of Russian descent whose
personality was split into Shade, Kinbote and Gradus), will be “full” again.
Kinbote completes his Foreword to Pale Fire on Oct. 19, 1959 (the
anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum). Pushkin is the author of Kavkazskiy
plennik (“The Caucasian Captive,” 1821). Kavkazskiy plennik is also the
title of a long poem (1828) by Lermontov and of a short story (1872) by Leo
Tolstoy. The characters of Tolstoy’s story Haji Murat (1911) include Count
Vorontsov, the Governor General of the Caucasus who had once been a target
of Pushkin’s epigrams. In one of them the poet (whom Vorontsov called “a
weak imitator of Lord Byron”) says that there is a hope that one day
Vorontsov will be “full” at last.

*V. Botkin’s first name must be either Vsevolod or Vladislav. In “The Life
of Chernyshevski” Fyodor incorrectly calls Vsevolod Kostomarov (Heine’s
Russian translator, traitor and lunatic who signed some of his reports to
the detective Putilin “Ventseslav Lyutyy”) “Vladislav Dmitrievich.”

Alexey Sklyarenko

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