Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026818, Thu, 21 Jan 2016 14:41:04 +0300

Gradus, his sinister journey, roofs of Paris,
Odon & Solus Rex in Pale Fire
In his Commentary Kinbote describes Gradus’ sinister journey:

Who could have guessed that on the very day (July 7) Shade penned this lambent line (the last one on his twenty-third card) Gradus, alias Degré, had flown from Copenhagen to Paris, thus completing the second lap of his sinister journey! (note to Line 286)

and mentions the roofs of Paris:

But to return to the roofs of Paris. Courage was allied in Oswin Bretwit with integrity kindness, dignity, and what can be euphemistically called endearing naïveté. (ibid.)

The sinister journey of Shade’s murderer brings to mind VN’s novel Bend Sinister (1947). Under the Roofs of Paris (Sous les toits de Paris) is a 1930 French film directed by René Clair. The director’s name reminds one of Clare Bishop, a character in VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). The names Bishop and Knight have obvious chess connotations. According to Kinbote, the name Bretwit means Chess Intelligence. Gradus offers to Oswin Bretwit (a retired diplomat who lives in Paris) the correspondence between his grand-uncle and a cousin of his, Ferz Bretwit:

The scripta in question were two hundred and thirteen long letters which had passed some seventy years ago between Zule Bretwit, Oswin's grand-uncle, Mayor of Odevalla, and a cousin of his, Ferz Bretwit, Mayor of Aros. (ibid.)

Ferz’ is Russian for “chess queen.” In a letter of Feb. 14, 1825, to Katenin Griboedov (the diplomat who in 1829 was assassinated in Teheran) calls Famusov’s daughter Sofia (a character in Griboedov’s play in verse Gore ot uma, “Woe from Wit,” 1824) ferz’:

Кто-то со злости выдумал об нём, что он сумасшедший, никто не поверил и все повторяют, голос общего недоброхотства и до него доходит, притом и нелюбовь к нему той девушки, для которой единственно он явился в Москву, ему совершенно объясняется, он ей и всем наплевал в глаза и был таков. Ферзь тоже разочарована насчёт своего сахара медовича.

In a letter of May 16, 1835, to Pushkin Katenin says that, vopreki Bualo (contrary to Boileau’s words), il est bien des degrés du médiocre au pire (there are many degrees from mediocre to worst). In his Commentary Kinbote calls Gradus not only Degré, but also “Vinogradus” and “Leningradus.” In Bend Sinister the action takes place in Padukgrad (a fictitious European city). The name Paduk (of the leader of the Party of the Average Man after whom the capital was renamed) suggests upadok (decline, decay). The dictator Paduk is a former classmate of the philosopher Adam Krug (the novel’s main character). In VN’s story Krug (“The Circle,” 1936) the action takes place in Paris. Tanya Godunov-Cherdyntsev, with whom Innokentiy (the main character in “The Circle”) was in love as boy, is the sister of Fyodor Konstantinovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev, the main character and narrator in VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937). In Chapter Five of “The Gift” Fyodor writes a letter to his mother who lives with her daughter in Paris and mentions Tanya’s little child. At the end of the novel Zina Mertz’s step-father Shchyogolev and his wife Marianna Nikolaevna (Zina’s mother) leave Berlin for Copenhagen (where Shchyogolev was offered a job). The characters of “The Gift” include Aleksandr Yakovlevich Chernyshevski, a Russian émigré who went mad after his son Yasha had committed suicide. Yasha is a diminutive of Yakov. Gradus’ first name is Jakob. Like Shade and Kinbote, Gradus seems to represent one of the three aspects of V. Botkin’s personality. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (who becomes Hazel Shade in Shade’s poem and Kinbote’s commentary). The “real” name of Sybil Shade (John Shade’s wife) seems to Sofia Botkin (neé Lastochkin).

In Shade’s poem the first word is “I”:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By the false azure in the windowpane (ll. 1-2)

At the beginning of Khodasevich’s poem Pered zerkalom (“In Front of the Mirror,” 1924), with the epigraph Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (the opening line of Dante’s Inferno), the word ya (“I”) is repeated three times:

Я, я, я! Что за дикое слово!

Me, me, me. What a wild, elusive word!

In the poem’s last stanza Khodasevich mentions parizhskiy cherdak (a Parisian garret), Virgil and odinochestvo (loneliness, solitude):

Да, меня не пантера прыжками
На парижский чердак загнала.
И Виргилия нет за плечами, -
Только есть одиночество - в раме

Говорящего правду стекла.

Well, there was no leaping panther
chasing me up to my Paris garret,
and there's no Virgil at my shoulder -
there's only the solitude in the frame
of the talking, truthtelling looking-glass.

Virgil is the author of the Aeneid. In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (One: VI: 7-8) Onegin “remembered, though not without fault, two lines from the Aeneid.” To be completed Shade’s unfinished poem seems to need not one (as Kinbote thinks) but two lines:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By its own double in the windowpane. [ll. 1000-1001]

In Bend Sinister the name of one of the Ekwilist soldiers is Gurk (Krug backwards). According to Kinbote, Odon (the actor who, after helping the king to escape from Zembla, directs the making of a cinema picture in Paris; note to Line 171) has the half-brother Nodo, a cardsharp and despicable traitor. In Dante’s Inferno the traitors are tortured in the last, ninth, circle of hell. In his poem “The Nature of Electricity” (quoted in full by Kinbote in his Commentary, note to Line 347) Shade mentions “the roar of tyrants torn in hell” and the streetlamp “number nine-hundred-ninety-nine.” In its unfinished form Shade’s poem has 999 lines.

Krug’s first name, Adam, brings to mind The Three Faces of Eve, a 1957 film based on a case of multiple personality.

Odon = Nodo = odno (neut. of odin, “one”). The noun odinochestvo used by Khodasevich in the above-quoted lines comes from odinokiy (lonely, solitary), the adjective that comes from odin. Odinokiy korol’ is the Russian name of a chess problem of the solus rex type. In his Commentary Kinbote compares the situation in which the king found himself after the Zemblan Revolution to such a chess problem:

In simple words I described the curious situation in which the King found himself during the first months of the rebellion. He had the amusing feeling of his being the only black piece in what a composer of chess problems might term a king-in-the-corner waiter of the solus rex type. (note to Line 130)

Solus Rex is also mentioned by Kinbote in his Index to PF:

Charles II, Charles Xavier Vseslav, last King of Zembla, surnamed The Beloved, b. 1915, reigned 1936-1958; his crest, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline1> 1; his studies and his reign, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline12> 12; fearful fate of predecessors, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline62> 62; his supporters, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline70> 70; parents, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline71> 71; bedroom, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline80> 80; escape from palace, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline130> 130; and across the mountains, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline149> 149; engagement to Disa recalled, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline275> 275; parenthetical passage through Paris, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline286> 286; and through Switzerland, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline408> 408; visit to Villa Disa, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#lines433434> 433; night in mountains recalled, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline597> 597, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline662> 662; his Russian blood, and Crown Jewels (q.v. by all means), <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline681> 681; his arrival in the U.S.A., <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline691> 691; letter to Disa stolen, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline741> 741; and quoted, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline768> 768; his portrait discussed, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline894> 894; his presence in library, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline949> 949; identity almost revealed, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline991> 991; Solus Rex, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline1000> 1000. See also Kinbote.

Line 1000 and Line 1001 (the poem’s coda) remained unwritten by Shade. VN’s last Russian novel, Solus Rex (1942), was never finished.

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com
AdaOnline: "http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada: http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html
The VN Bibliography Blog: http://vnbiblio.com/
Search the archive with L-Soft: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A0=NABOKV-L

Manage subscription options :http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=NABOKV-L