Re: JF on PF topics: from CHW
Silence tends to imply assent, so I feel I should, perforce, reply to JF,
1. I think CHW credited me with more than I deserved in regard to Botkin.
All I argued in our e-mail exchange was that he was Kinbote. I've always been
immune to the temptation (or insensitive to the suggestions) to see Shade as
anyone's invention but Nabokov's.
2. CHW also mentioned "nikto b", which the Russian speakers have ruled out.
I think. But I'd like to clarify this last detail: if someone asks "Who is
Botkin?", is "Nikto b" an absolutely unidiomatic answer? I promise not to
ask about this again. In any case, "Botkin" backwards contains "nikto", and
Alexander Dolinin (I apologize for getting your name wrong earlier) has
advised us not to dismiss that lightly.
3. The "index" poem has come up; it features a rhyme that might seem more
strained than any in "Pale Fire". Does that mean Nabokov intended it to be a
Re 1 & 2:
JF is right to reject my (inadvertent) implication that he thinks Botkin
invented Shade. I realized I had wrongly suggested this only after I’d sent the
post. What I wrote was:
Basic premise: Accept that both halves of PF emanate entirely from the
inventive mind of Botkin, a mad Russian, who is extremely difficult to place
within the organisational structure of Wordsmith College. (Jerry Friedman).
Botkin, like VN, is both Kinbote and his Shade. Botkin is also the mirror image of
“nikto b”, which might be translated “he would be nobody”. (Carolyn
Kunin). VN remarked that when looking for his own name, he would often stumble
upon Nobody. Botkin, the Nobody, is thus not a million millimetres away from VN
himself. Cf Keats, my, your and VN’s favourite.
I realize that VN only said that Kinbote was Botkin. JF convinced me that
this is so. But JF also pointed out that Botkin doesn’t seem to be a part of
the Wordsmith faculty, ie he is really outside the narrative of the action on
that stage. This brings him quite close to VN himself, a supposition
reinforced by accepting that Botkin is “nikto b” reversed, an idea I attributed to
CK. Like Alexander Dolinin, I believe there is something to this idea.
If this is so, then it’s not far from entertaining the idea that Botkin also
invented Shade and his verses, since these were indubitably invented by VN.
Botkin is the obverse or reverse of VN.
Nobody will heed my index,
But through it a gentle wind ex
This is not a poem, and therefore not a “bad” poem. It is an itty-bitty bit
of witty verse. Although wistful, it is almost “comic and curious verse”,
to lift the title of the entertaining anthology put out by J.M.Cohen, 1952.
(Which anthology also contains the modern flyting I mentioned many posts ago.)
Curious to discover what VN was getting at, I followed the track also taken
by Jansy Mello, viz:
VN’s reference to "ex Ponto" led me to "Letters from the Black Sea" ( Ovid's
"Epistulae ex Ponto") and to Pushkin who, during his exile in Odessa, wrote
a belated "response" to the Latin poet. It was entitled "To Ovid." In the
context of SM, "ex Ponto" seems to indicate a song of exile. (Jansy)
which in turn led me to:
in which I learnt that:
According to Helzle, most of the letters to Ovid's wife, friends and
political leaders back home have a "plaintive tone". He elaborated that Ovid — known
for his light, erotic poetry and his mythical epic Metamorphoses — complains
about the isolation of the frontier-like life where it "seemed like it was
always winter" and that "wild barbarians from the Russian steppe" were
invading the lower Danube River.
and also that: Tzanetou said the exile theme raises the question of
In spite of the insistence of (mostly American) scholars that VN was an
American, I firmly continue to believe that VN in America was never more than a
European/Russian, living a cultural frontier life. That was his
The rhyme that might seem more strained than any in "Pale Fire" (JF)
reminded me (rather aptly, I felt) of a similar triple rhyme in Carroll’s “poeta
fit non nascitur”, thus:
Last, as to the arrangement:
Your reader, you should show him,
Must take what information he
Can get, and look for no im
mature disclosure of the drift
And purpose of your poem.
This instruction would apply to Kinbote’s commentary as prose poem. VN's
little verse is also reminiscent, less aptly perhaps, of Kipling’s:
I've never seen a Jaguar,
Nor yet an Armadill
O dilloing in his armour,
And I s'pose I never will
Re the puzzles in PF, and their solutions. Yet again, I return to “Through
the Looking-Glass”. Carroll based his narrative on a chess problem. However,
Carroll pointed out, as Gardner notes, that “red and white do not alternate
moves properly, and some of the ‘moves’ listed by Carroll are not
represented by actual movements of the pieces on the board.” Something of this
arbitrariness is surely also present in the movements of Kinbote.
Re “Will”. Now that I have Ingram & Redpath (1964) in my hot and stickies,
I can find no exemplary evidence (p 312) for the “common cant sense” they
refer to. They cite Partridge’s “Dictionary of Slang”, 1938, (my copy is 1951,
“much enlarged and revised”) which is wholly unjustified as a source, and
also Wright, “Dictionary of Obsolete & Provincial English”, presumably 1852,
the arrival of whose tomes I await with interest.
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