Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026790, Sun, 10 Jan 2016 16:41:26 +0300

Shade's dangerous neighbor & Charles the Beloved in Pale Fire
The last word in Kinbote’s Commentary to Shade’s poem is Gradus:

God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example
of the other two characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may
assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up
yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, health heterosexual Russian, a
writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but
his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from
Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the
simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an
old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: a lunatic who intends to kill
an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and
a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and
perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things!
History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a
great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I
may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene
is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out--somebody has already set
out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a
ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and
presently he will ring at my door--a bigger, more respectable, more
competent Gradus. (note to Line 1000)

Shade’s murderer, Jakob Gradus is also known as Jack Degree. In a letter of
May 16, 1835, to Pushkin Pavel Katenin says that, contrary to Boileau’s
words, il est bien des degrés du médiocre au pire (there are many degrees
from mediocre to worst). In a letter of Sept. 9, 1830, to Pletnyov (to whom
Eugene Onegin is dedicated) Pushkin quotes the last words of his uncle
Vasiliy Lvovich (who died on Aug. 20, 1830): Kak skuchny statyi Katenina!
(How boring Katenin’s article are!):

Бедный дядя Василий! знаешь ли его послед
ние слова? приезжаю к нему, нахожу его в за
бытьи, очнувшись, он узнал меня, погорева
л, потом, помолчав: как скучны статьи Кате
нина! и более ни слова. Каково? вот что зна
чит умереть честным воином, на щите, le cri de
guerre a la bouche!

Vasiliy Lvovich Pushkin is the author of Opasnyi sosed (“The Dangerous
Neighbor,” 1811). In PF Kinbote is Shade’s dangerous neighbor. According
to Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the self-exiled
last King of Zembla), Gradus kills Shade by mistake, while trying to
assassinate Shade’s royal neighbor. In his Commentary Kinbote mentions
Sosed (Zembla’s gigantic neighbor):

That King's reign (1936-1958) will be remembered by at least a few
discerning historians as a peaceful and elegant one. Owing to a fluid system
of judicious alliances, Mars in his time never marred the record.
Internally, until corruption, betrayal, and Extremism penetrated it, the
People's Place (parliament) worked in perfect harmony with the Royal
Council. Harmony, indeed, was the reign's password. The polite arts and pure
sciences flourished. Technicology, applied physics, industrial chemistry and
so forth were suffered to thrive. A small skyscraper of ultramarine glass
was steadily rising in Onhava. The climate seemed to be improving. Taxation
had become a thing of beauty. The poor were a little richer, and the rich a
little poorer (in accordance what may be known some day as Kinbote's Law).
Medical care was spreading to the confines of the state; less and less
often, on his tour of the country, every autumn, when the rowans hung
coral-heavy and the puddles tinkled with Muscovy glass, the friendly and
eloquent monarch would be interrupted by a pertussal "backdraucht" in a
crowd of schoolchildren. Parachuting had become a popular sport. Everybody,
in a word, was content--even the political mischiefmakers who were
contentedly making mischief paid by a contented Sosed (Zembla's gigantic
neighbor). But let us not pursue this tiresome subject. (note to Line 12)

The name Gradus brings to mind Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus), a
theoretical and pedagogical work written in Latin and sometimes shortened to

In a letter of Dec. 28, 1816, to his uncle Pushkin calls Vasiliy Lvovich
Opasnyi dlya pevtsov sosed (a neighbor dangerous for bards) and says that
Vasiliy Lvovich (who, in a letter to his nephew, called him ?my brother?) is
his uncle even at Parnassum:

Тебе, о Нестор Арзамаса,
В боях воспитанный поэт, ―
Опасный для певцов сосед
На страшной высоте Парнаса,
Защитник вкуса, грозный Вот!
Тебе, мой дядя, в новый год
Веселья прежнего желанье
И слабый сердца перевод ―
В стихах и прозою посланье.

В письме Вашем Вы называли меня братом; но
я не осмелился назвать Вас этим именем, сл
ишком для меня лестным.

Я не совсем ещё рассудок потерял
От рифм бахических, шатаясь на Пегасе.
Я не забыл себя, хоть рад, хотя не рад,
Нет, нет ― вы мне совсем не брат,
Вы дядя мой и на Парнасе.

In his Eugene Onegin (Five: XXVI: 9) Pushkin calls Buyanov (the main
character in his uncle’s Dangerous Neighbor), one of the guests at
Tatiana’s name-day party, moy brat dvoyurodnyi (“my first cousin”):

С своей супругою дородной
Приехал толстый Пустяков;
Гвоздин, хозяин превосходный,
Владелец нищих мужиков;
Скотинины, чета седая,
С детьми всех возрастов, считая
От тридцати до двух годов;
Уездный франтик Петушков,
Мой брат двоюродный, Буянов,
В пуху, в картузе с козырьком
(Как вам, конечно, он знаком),
И отставной советник Флянов,
Тяжёлый сплетник, старый плут,
Обжора, взяточник и шут.

With his portly spouse

there came fat Pustyakov;

Gvozdin, an admirable landlord,

owner of destitute muzhiks;

a grey-haired couple, the Skotinins,

with children of all ages, counting

from thirty years to two;

the district fopling, Petushkov;

Buyanov, my first cousin,

covered with fluff, in a peaked cap

(as he, of course, is known to you);

and the retired counselor Flyanov,

a heavy scandalmonger, an old rogue,

glutton, bribetaker, and buffoon.

I suggest that Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ real name) is VN’s
first cousin. An American scholar of Russian descent, Prof. V. Botkin went
mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter
Nadezhda (Hazel Shade in Shade’s poem). In EO (Six: XIII: 12) Pushkin
compares Olga Larin to vetrenaya nadezhda (giddy hope):

Решась кокетку ненавидеть,
Кипящий Ленский не хотел
Пред поединком Ольгу видеть,
На солнце, на часы смотрел,
Махнул рукою напоследок --
И очутился у соседок.
Он думал Олиньку смутить
Своим приездом поразить;
Не тут-то было: как и прежде,
На встречу бедного певца
Прыгнула Олинька с крыльца,
Подобно ветреной надежде,
Резва, беспечна, весела,
Ну точно так же, как была.

Having resolved to hate the flirt,

boiling Lenski did not wish

to see Olga before the duel.

The sun, his watch he kept consulting;

gave up at length \xa8C

and found himself at the fair neighbors’.

He thought he would embarrass Olinka,

confound her by his coming;’

but nothing of the sort: just as before

to meet the poor bard

Olinka skipped down from the porch,

akin to giddy hope,

spry, carefree, gay \xa8C

well, just the same as she had been.

In Line 3 of the preceding stanza of EO Pushkin calls Zaretski (Lenski’s
second in his duel with Onegin) sosed velerechivyi (the grandiloquent

In a letter of Apr. 11, 1831, to Pletnyov Pushkin asks Pletnyov (who was
slow to reply to Pushkin’s letters) if he is still alive and calls him
ten’ vozlyublennaya (the beloved shade):

Воля твоя, ты несносен: ни строчки от тебя
не дождёшься. Умер ты, что ли? Если тебя уж
е нет на свете, то, тень возлюбленная, клан
яйся от меня Державину и обними моего Дел

Alexey Sklyarenko

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