NABOKV-L post 0026569, Mon, 26 Oct 2015 21:48:13 +0300

John Francis Shade, Queen Disa & Odon in Pale Fire
Shade’s parents were ornithologists. The poet’s second name, Francis, seems to hint at St. Francis who preached to birds, but it also brings to mind Francis (François) I, the king of France in 1415-47, the title character of Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s'amuse (“The King Amuses Himself,” 1832). It was Francis I who invited Leonardo da Vinci to Chambord and who acquired Mona Lisa. Disa, Duchess of Great Payn and Mone, who marries Charles the Beloved, the last King of Zembla, brings to mind not only Desdemona, but also Mona Lisa. In VN’s novel Pnin (1957) Liza Bogolepov’s son Victor mentions Mona Lisa at the beginning of a poem that he contributed for the school magazine:

Leonardo! Strange diseases
strike at madders mixed with lead:
nun-pale now are Mona Lisa's
lips that you had made so red. (Chapter Four, 5)

A gifted young artist, Victor imagines that his father is a king who refuses to abdicate and prefers to go into exile:

The King, his father, wearing a very white sports shirt open at the throat and a very black blazer, sat at a spacious desk whose highly polished surface twinned his upper half in reverse, making of him a kind of court card. Ancestral portraits darkened the walls of the vast panelled room. Otherwise, it was not unlike the headmaster's study at St Bart's School, on the Atlantic seaboard, some three thousand miles west of the imagined Palace. A copious spring shower kept lashing at the french windows, beyond which young greenery, all eyes, shivered and streamed. Nothing but this sheet of rain seemed to separate and protect the Palace from the revolution that for several days had been rocking the city....

…Victor indulged night after night in these mild fancies, trying to induce sleep in his cold cubicle which was exposed to every noise in the restless dorm. Generally he did not reach that crucial flight episode when the King alone - solus rex (as chess problem makers term royal solitude) - paced a beach on the Bohemian Sea, at Tempest Point, where Percival Blake, a cheerful American adventurer, had promised to meet him with a powerful motor-boat. (Chapter Four, 1)

In PF Charles the Beloved and the actor Odon leave Zembla in a powerful motor-boat. Odon (pseudonym of Donald O'Donnell, b. 1915, world-famous actor and Zemblan patriot) has a half-brother Nodo (b. 1916, son of Leopold O'Donnell and of a Zemblan boy impersonator; a cardsharp and despicable traitor). Odon = Nodo = odno (neut. of odin, “one”). In a letter of Feb. 27, 1907, to Valentina Verigin, the actress and memoirist, Alexander Blok, the author of Korol’ na ploshchadi (“The King in the Square,” 1906, a play), says that there are moments in which he feels that he and Leonid Andreev are odno (one). Leonid Andreev is the author of Bezdna (“The Abyss,” 1902), a short story. In V. Hugo’s poem L’Abîme (“The Abyss”) Man tells Earth: Je suis ton roi (“I am your king”) and Earth (La Terre; in Russian, Zemlya) replies: tu n’es que ma vermine (“you are my worm”). After his daughter’s suicide Prof. V. Botkin, the American scholar of Russian descent, went mad and, like a worm, was cut by God’s spade into Shade, Kinbote and Gradus. In Griboedov’s play Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) Famusov (Sofia’s father) exclaims:

Что за комиссия, создатель, / Быть взрослой дочери отцом!

How difficult it is, oh Lord, / to be the father of a grown-up daughter! (Act One, scene 10)

In Chapter Three of his poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) Blok speaks of a man who is not like all other people and who in cold and cruel dreams sees “Woe from Wit:”

В ком смутно брезжит память эта,

Тот странен и с людьми не схож:

Всю жизнь его — уже поэта

Священная объемлет дрожь,

Бывает глух, и слеп, и нем он,

В нём почивает некий бог,

Его опустошает Демон,

Над коим Врубель изнемог...

Его прозрения глубоки,

Но их глушит ночная тьма,

И в снах холодных и жестоких

Он видит «Горе от ума».

The poet mentions Vrubel, the artist who was exhausted from his work on Demon (the paintings Demon Seated and Demon Thrown Down) and went mad. In “The Gift” Fyodor mentions a rather pathetic reference in Yasha Chernyshevski’s writings to freski Vrublyova (Vrublyov’s frescoes) – an amusing cross between two Russian painters (Rublyov and Vrubel). After his son’s suicide Yasha Chernyshevski’s father went mad, as V. Botkin did after his daughter had drowned herself.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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