NABOKV-L post 0005967, Sat, 19 May 2001 14:32:33 -0700

Bend Sinister's "Stevenson's engine". Chapter XVII
The anguished Krug vainly awaits for the prison authories to reunite
him with his kidnapped son, David. At length, a boy is led in, his head
newly bandaged. It is explained that "(...he had slipped on a highly
polished floor and hit his head against a model of Stevenson's engine in
the Children's Museum)."

But what is "Stevenson's engine"? Brian Boyd's notes in the Library of
America edition do not remark on the matter (the publisher placed severe
restrictions on space for notes); nor does
the admirably annotated Russian translation by Sergey Ilyin in the
Syposium edition clarify the meaning of "Stevenson's engine" merely
providing a literal translation "model' mashiny Stefensona" (377); nor
does Dieter Zimmer's well-annotated translation (Das Bastardzeichen),
vol. 7 in the splendid Rowohlt "Gesammelte Werke" provide a note,
although the translation itslef partially clarifies the matter with its
"ein Modell der Stevensonschen Lokomotive" ( 285).

A quick Google search for "Stevenson's engine" turned up only one hit---
a poem by New Delhi poet, Pawan Nayar, called "Waiting for a bus"

On the day of Bandh with political parties busy
with destructive publicity,
I find myself searching for a bus to take me to the
place of work.
......... breaks my thoughts with the loud whistle
of a bus steaming like
Stevenson's engine..................

AHA! There is an expression "Stevenson's engine" in Nabokov's
Anglo-English and Anglo-Indian English and, as Dieter Zimmer's
translation indicates, it is a train engine. Stevenson, better known as
George Stephenson, (1781-1848) was the inventor of the locomotive steam

George Stephenson

George Stephenson was born in the pit village of Wylam near Newcastle in
1781 and started work at eight, keeping the cows off the colliery's
horse-drawn wagon way. He never went to school and by ten he was working
full-time in the pit. He showed a natural gift for mending and inventing
machines and slowly rose to become the colliery's resident engineeer. He
also showed natural gifts for fighting - willing to wrestle any brawny
pitman who dared to cross him, and to argue his case in his broad
Northumberland dialect with any member of the local aristocracy or
professional engineering fraternity who dared to doubt his worth. Sir
Humphrey Davy, later President of the Royal Society, considered that
Stephenson, then an unknown pitman, was 'a thief, and not a clever
thief'. This early battle was one of the many Stephenson waged against
the establishment. Stephenson went on to build the world's first public
railways: the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 and the
Liverpool-Manchester in 1830. He also played a vital part in the birth
of Railway Mania and in the rise of the notorious George Hudson, the
Railway King, who began as a draper's assistant and built a
railway empire worth thirty million. Stephenson helped to change the
face of civilisation by pioneering railways. He was a great Victorian,
yet very little was written about him between Samuel Smile's classic
biography in 1857 and Hunter Davies' book 'George
Stephenson' written in 1975. Davies visited the scenes of Stephenson's
boyhood and days of fame, produced much original research and created a
memorable human portrait not only of a great Victorian but of an
original and remarkable man.
A photograph of Stephenson's most successful locomotive the "Rocket" may
be seen at There is a current
R.R.board game called "Stephenson's Rocket and toy models of the
locomotive are still on the market."
Nabokov's (and his son's) life-long fascination with trains is well
known. But one wonders why Arvid Krug is alleged to have banged his head
on one. Ideas?