NABOKV-L post 0026692, Wed, 9 Dec 2015 13:58:15 +0300

diarrhea in Pale Fire & in The Gift; Netochka in Pale Fire
Upon arriving in New Wye, Gradus suffers an attack of acute diarrhea:

During the ride he suddenly became aware of such urgent qualms that he was forced to visit the washroom as soon as he got to the solidly booked hotel. There his misery resolved itself in a scalding torrent of indigestion. Hardly had he refastened his trousers and checked the bulge of his hip pocket than a renewal of stabs and queaks caused him to strip his thighs again which he did with such awkward precipitation that his small Browning was all but sent flying into the depth of the toilet. (Kinbote’s note to Line 949)

In “The Life of Chernyshevski” (Chapter Four of VN’s novel “The Gift,” 1937) Fyodor mentions Chernyshevski’s dyspepsia:

Nikolay Gavrilovich, incidentally, did not smoke without reason-it was precisely Zhukov cigarettes that he used for relieving indigestion (and also toothache). His diary, particularly for the summer and autumn of 1849, contains a multitude of most exact references as to how and where he vomited. Besides smoking, he treated himself with rum and water, hot oil, English salts, centaury with bitter-orange leaves, and constantly, conscientiously, with a kind of odd gusto, employed the Roman method-and probably he would ultimately have died of exhaustion if he (graduated as a candidate and retained at the university for advanced work) had not gone to Saratov.

And then in Saratov… But no matter how much we should like to lose no time in getting out of this back alley, to which talk of patisseries has led us, and cross over to the sunny side of Nikolay Gavrilovich's life, still (for the sake of a certain hidden continuity) we must hang around here a little longer. Once, in great need, he rushed into a tenement house on the Gorohovaya (there follows a wordy description-with afterthoughts-of the house's location) and was already adjusting his dress when "a girl in red" opened the door. Catching sight of his hand-he had wanted to hold the door-she let out a cry, "as is usually the case." The heavy creak of the door, its loose, rusty hook, the stink, the icy cold-all this is dreadful… and yet the queer fellow is quite prepared to debate with himself about true purity, noting with satisfaction that "I didn't even try to discover whether she was good-looking."

Like Belinski (another radical critic), Chernyshevski did not think highly of Gogol:

In the forties Belinski maintained that “George Sand can unconditionally be included in the roll of European poets (in the German sense of Dichter), while the juxtaposition of Gogol’s name with those of Homer and Shakespeare offends both decency and common sense” and that “not only Cervantes, Walter Scott and Cooper, as artists pre-eminently, but also Swift, Sterne, Voltaire and Rousseau have an incomparably and immeasurably greater significance in the whole history of literature than Gogol.” Belinksi was seconded three decades later by Chernyshevski (when, it is true, George Sand had already ascended to the attic, and Cooper had descended to the nursery), who said that “Gogol is a very minor figure in comparison, for example, with Dickens or Fielding or Sterne.”

Poor Gogol! His exclamation (like Pushkin’s) “Rus!” is willingly repeated by the men of the sixties, but now the troika needs paved highways, for even Russia’s toska (“yearning”) has become utilitarian. Poor Gogol! Esteeming the seminarist in the critic Nadezhdin (who used to write “literature” with three “t”s), Chernyshevski found that his influence on Gogol would have been more beneficial than Pushkin’s, and regretted that Gogol was not aware of such a thing as a principle. Poor Gogol! Why, that gloomy buffoon Father Matvey had also adjured him to renounce Pushkin…

In the last stanza of his poem Po ulitse unosit struzhki (“Along the street the filings are carried away…” 1949?) G. Ivanov mentions ponos (diarrhea) and Gogol’s terrible death:

А от цево? Никто не ведает притцыны.


По улице уносит стружки
Ноябрьский ветер ледяной.
— Вы русский? — Ну, понятно, рушкий.
Нос бесконечный. Шарф смешной.

Есть у него жена и дети,
Своя мечта, своя беда.
— Как скучно жить на этом свете,
Как неуютно, господа!

Обедать, спать, болеть поносом.
Немножко красть. — А кто не крал?
…Такой же Гоголь с длинным носом
Так долго, страшно умирал…

To dine, to sleep, to suffer from diarrhea.

To steal a little. And who did not steal?

…Long-nosed like him, Gogol

Was dying so long, so terrible…

In the 1950s VN expressed his indignation when, in another poem, Ivanov himself stole Grigoriy Landau’s aphorism Primer tavtologii: “bednye lyudi” (An example of tautology: “the poor people”). Bednye lyudi (“Poor Folk,” 1846) is Dostoevski’s first novel (written in the epistolary form). It was followed by Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846), a much more perfect work in the Gogol tradition. The killer Gradus seems to be Kinbote’s double. According to Kinbote, in its finished form Shade’s poem should have 1000 lines. The unwritten Line 1000 is identical to Line 1 (“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems to me that Shade’s unfinished poem also needs a coda, Line 1001 (“By its own double in the windowpane”). In Italian, coda means “tail.” In a letter to Turgenev (quoted by Fyodor in Chapter Four of “The Gift”) Chernyshevski speaks of Tolstoy’s hvastovstvo (bragging) – ‘the bragging of a thickheaded peacock about a tail which doesn’t even cover his vulgar bottom.’ In a letter of January 23, 1865, to Fet Tolstoy says that he is rooted to Yasnaya Polyana with chains consisting of baby’s fluid, thick, green and yellow faeces:

Я тем счастлив, что прикован цепями, составленными из детского жидкого, густого, зелёного и жёлтого говна, к Ясной Поляне.

In the PS Tolstoy invites Fet and his wife to Yasnaya Polyana:

Приезжайте же ко мне. А ежели не заедете из Москвы с Марьей Петровной, право, без шуток, это будет очень глупо.

Fet-Shenshin was married to Maria Botkin. The “real” name of Shade, Kinbote and Gradus seems to be Vsevolod Botkin. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Botkin went mad after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda. One of Fet’s most famous poems begins: Izmuchen zhizn’yu, kovarstvom nadezhdy… (“By life tormented, and by cunning hope…” 1864):

Измучен жизнью, коварством надежды,

Когда им в битве душой уступаю,

И днём и ночью смежаю я вежды

И как-то странно порой прозреваю…

By life tormented, and by cunning hope,

When my soul surrenders in its battle with them,

Day and night I press my eyelids closed

And sometimes I'm vouchsafed peculiar visions…*

I dnyom i noch’yu (day and night) in the third line brings to mind Professor Oscar Nattochdag (the head of the department to which Botkin belongs), whose surname means in Swedish “night and day.” Professor Nattochdag’s nickname, Netochka, hints at Dostoevski’s unfinished novel Netochka Nezvanov (1848). Netochka is a fanciful diminutive of Anna (Annette). According to Vyazemski, Zhukovski (who had no rival in the distorting of names) used to call Count Dashkov Dashen’ka (a diminutive of Darya). In the same sentence of the same letter of April 8, 1836, to Alexander Turgenev Vyazemski says that Zhukovski affectionately calls Gogol (who read last Saturday his side-splitting story about the nose that left the face of a collegiate assessor and appeared in the Kazan Cathedral) Gogolyok (“golden-eyelet;” gogol’, golden-eye, is the bird Clangula bucephala):

Субботы Жуковского процветают, но давно без писем твоих. Один Гоголь, которого Жуковский называет Гоголёк (никто не равняется с Жуковским в перековеркании имён; помнишь ли, когда он звал Дашкова Дашенькою?) оживляет их своими рассказами. В последнюю субботу читал он нам повесть об носе, который пропал с лица неожиданно у какого-то коллежского асессора и очутился после в Казанском соборе в мундире министерства просвещения. Уморительно смешно.

In the first stanza of his poem Gogol (1853) Vyazemski calls Gogol peresmeshnik nash zabavnyi (our amusing mockingbird).** In Canto One of his poem Shade mentions the naïve, the gauzy mockingbird visiting TV’s huge paperclip:

TV's huge paperclip now shines instead

Of the stiff vane so often visited
By the naive, the gauzy mockingbird
Retelling all the programs that she had heard;
Switching from chippo-chippo to a clear
To-wee, to-wee; then rasping out: come here,
Come here, come herrr'; flitting her tail aloft,
Or gracefully indulging in a soft
Upward hop-flop, and instantly (to-wee!)
Returning to her perch--the new TV. (ll. 61-70)

*see also my post of Oct. 18, 2015, “Hazel Shade & hope in Pale Fire”

**see also my recent post (Dec. 4) “mockingbird, Professor Pnin, Queen Disa & Russian humorists in Pale Fire”

Alexey Sklyarenko

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