Roman Tselovalnikov & Jakob Gradus in Pale Fire

Submitted by dana_dragunoiu on Tue, 06/26/2018 - 08:07

In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions Roman Tselovalnikov, a maternal uncle of Jakob Gradus (Shade’s murderer):


Jakob Gradus called himself variously Jack Degree or Jacques de Grey, or James de Gray, and also appears in police records as Ravus, Ravenstone, and d'Argus. Having a morbid affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era, he contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus. His father, Martin Gradus, had been a Protestant minister in Riga, but except for him and a maternal uncle (Roman Tselovalnikov, police officer and part-time member of the Social-Revolutionary party), the whole clan seems to have been in the liquor business. Martin Gradus died in 1920, and his widow moved to Strasbourg where she soon died, too. (note to Line 17)


The name Tselovalnikov comes from tseloval’nik (obs., inn-keeper, publican; hist., tax-collector). In Rodoslovnaya moego geroya (“The Pedigree of my Hero,” 1836) Pushkin mentions Mityushka tseloval’nik (Mityushka the tax-collector):


Кто б ни был ваш родоначальник,
Мстислав, князь Курбский, иль Ермак,
Или Митюшка целовальник,
Вам всё равно.


Whoever your ancestor were,

Mstislav, Prince Kurbski, or Yermak,

or Mityushka the tax-collector,

you do not care.


At the beginning of Slovo o polku Igoreve (“The Song of Igor’s Campaign”) khrabryi Mstislav (brave Mstislav) who slew Rededya brfore the Kasog troops and krasnyi Roman Svyatoslavovich (fair Roman son of Svyatoslav) are mentioned:


Не лѣполи ны бяшетъ, братiе, начяти старыми словесы трудныхъ повѣстiй о пълку Игоревѣ, Игоря Святъславлича! начати же ся тъй пѣсни по былинамь сего времени, а не по замышленiю Бояню. Боянъ бо вѣщiй, аще кому хотяше пѣснь творити, то растѣкашется мыслiю по древу, сѣрымъ вълкомъ по земли, шизымъ орломъ подъ облакы. Помняшеть бо речь първыхъ временъ усобiцѣ; тогда пущашеть ĩ соколовь на стадо лебедѣй, который дотечаше, та преди пѣсь пояше, старому Ярослову, храброму Мстиславу, иже зарѣза Редедю предъ пълкы Касожьскыми, красному Романови Святъславличю.


Might it not become us, brothers,

to begin in the diction of yore

the stern tale

of the campaign of Igor,

Igor son of Svyatoslav?


Let us, however,

begin this song

in keeping with the happenings

of these times

and not with the contriving of Boyan.


For he, vatic Boyan

if he wished to make a laud for one,

ranged in thought

[like the nightingale] over the tree;

like the gray wolf

across land;

like the smoky eagle

up to the clouds.


For as he recalled, said he,

the feuds of initial times,

"He set ten falcons

upon a flock of swans,

and the one first overtaken,

sang a song first"—

to Yaroslav of yore,

and to brave Mstislav

who slew Rededya

before the Kasog troops,

and to fair Roman

son of Svyatoslav.


An anonymous epic poem of the 12th century, Slovo o polku Igoreve was translated into English by VN. Roman Tselovalnikov and Jakob Gradus bring to mind Roman Jakobson, a linguist with whom VN refused to collaborate on his translation (1960) of Slovo. In his essay Zaumnyi Turgenev (“The Recondite Turgenev”) Jakobson compares Turgenev to Velimir Khlebnikov (a futurist poet) and mentions Khlebnikov’s poem Kuznechik (“The Grasshopper,” 1909):


Следует вспомнить настойчивое показание Велимира Хлебникова: «Я изучал образчики самовитой речи и нашёл, что число пять весьма значительно для неё; столько же, сколько и для числа пальцев руки». Оказывается, например, что в начальном четырёхстрочном предложении поэтова «Кузнечика», «помимо желания написавшего этот вздор, звуки у, к, л, р повторяются пять раз каждый». Этому «закону свободно текущей самовитой речи» Хлебников находит параллель в «пятилучевом строении» пчелиных сотов и морских звёзд.


A son of the celebrated ornithologist, Khlebnikov is the author of Tam, gde zhili sviristeli… (“ There, where the waxwings lived…” 1908). At the beginning (and, according to Kinbote, at the end) of his poem Shade (whose parents were ornithologists) compares himself to “the shadow of the waxwing.” In his poem KuznechikKhlebnikov mentions zinziver (vernacular for “big titmouse”):


Крылышкуя золотописьмом
Тончайших жил,
Кузнечик в кузов пуза уложил
Прибрежных много трав и вер.

«Пиньпиньпинь!» — тарарахнул зинзивер.


Zinziver in Khlebnikov’s poem brings to mind Zenzinov, a Social Revolutionary (and a friend of VN) who allowed Azef (the famous double agent) to escape. In VN’s story Soglyadatay (“The Eye,” 1930) Weinstock (the medium) calls the spirits of Lenin and Azef, and Abum (an impish ghost) impersonates Turgenev: 


Vikentiy Lvovich Weinstock, for whom Smurov worked as salesman (having replaced the helpless old man), knew less about him than anyone. There was in Weinstock’s nature an attractive streak of recklessness. This is probably why he hired someone he did not know well. His suspiciousness required regular nourishment. Just as there are normal and perfectly decent people who unexpectedly turn out to have a passion for collecting dragonflies or engravings, so Weinstock, a junk dealer’s grandson and an antiquarian’s son, staid, well-balanced Weinstock who had been in the book business all his life, had constructed a separate little world for himself. There, in the penumbra, mysterious events took place.

India aroused a mystical respect in him: he was one of those people who, at the mention of Bombay, inevitably imagine not a British civil servant, crimson from the heat, but a fakir. He believed in the jinx and the hex, in magic numbers and the Devil, in the evil eye, in the secret power of symbols and signs, and in bare-bellied bronze idols. In the evenings, he would place his hands, like a petrified pianist, upon a small, light, three-legged table. It would start to creak softly, emitting cricketlike chirps, and, having gathered strength, would rise up on one side and then awkwardly but forcefully tap a leg against the floor. Weinstock would recite the alphabet. The little table would follow attentively and tap at the proper letters. Messages came from Caesar, Mohammed, Pushkin, and a dead cousin of Weinstock’s. Sometimes the table would be naughty: it would rise and remain suspended in mid-air, or else attack Weinstock and butt him in the stomach. Weinstock would good-naturedly pacify the spirit, like an animal tamer playing along with a frisky beast; he would back across the whole room, all the while keeping his fingertips on the table waddling after him. For his talks with the dead, he also employed a kind of marked saucer and some other strange contraption with a pencil protruding underneath. The conversations were recorded in special notebooks. A dialog might go thus:


WEINSTOCK: Have you found rest?

LENIN: This is not Baden-Baden.

WEINSTOCK: Do you wish to tell me of life beyond the grave?

LENIN (after a pause): I prefer not to.


LENIN: Must wait till there is a plenum.


A lot of these notebooks had accumulated, and Weinstock used to say that someday he would have the more significant conversations published. Very entertaining was a ghost called Abum, of unknown origin, silly and tasteless, who acted as intermediary, arranging interviews between Weinstock and various dead celebrities. He treated Weinstock with vulgar familiarity.


WEINSTOCK: Who art thou, O Spirit?

REPLY: Ivan Sergeyevich.

WEINSTOCK: Which Ivan Sergeyevich?

REPLY: Turgenev.

WEINSTOCK: Do you continue to create masterpieces?

REPLY: Idiot.

WEINSTOCK: Why do you abuse me?

REPLY (table convulsed): Fooled you! This is Abum. (Chapter 3)


“Now this is a warning. Watch out for a certain man. He follows in my footsteps. He spies, he lures, he betrays. He has already been responsible for the death of many. A young émigré group is about to cross the border to organize underground work in Russia. But the nets will be set, the group will perish. He spies, lures, betrays. Be on your guard. Watch out for a small man in black. Do not be deceived by his modest appearance. I am telling the truth…”

“And who is this man?” asked Weinstock.

The answer was slow in coming.

“Please, Azef, tell us who is this man?”

Under Weinstock’s limp fingers, the reversed saucer again moved all over the sheet with the alphabet, dashing hither and thither as it oriented the mark on its rim toward this or that letter. It made six such stops before freezing like a shocked tortoise. Weinstock wrote down and read aloud a familiar name.

“Do you hear?” he said, addressing someone in the darkest corner of the room. “A pretty business! Of course, I need not tell you that I don’t believe this for a second. I hope you are not offended. And why should you be offended? It happens quite often at séances that spirits spout nonsense.” And Weinstock feigned to laugh it off. (ibid.)


Weinstock means in German “grapevine.” Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus “Vinogradus” and “Leningradus:” 


All this is as it should be; the world needs Gradus. But Gradus should not kill kings. Vinogradus should never, never provoke God. Leningradus should not aim his peashooter at people even in dreams, because if he does, a pair of colossally thick, abnormally hairy arms will hug him from behind and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. (note to Line 171)


The characters in “The Eye” include Roman Bogdanovich, a diarist who thinks that Smurov (the narrator and main character) is seksual’nyi levsha (“a sexual lefty”), and Vanya (a girl with whom Smurov is in love). Vanya Smurov is the main character in Kuzmin’s homoerotic novel Kryl’ya (“The Wings,” 1906). Its title brings to mind krylyshkuya (a neologism derived from krylyshko, “little wing”), the first word in Khlebnikov’s “Grasshopper.” On the Grasshopper and Cricket (1816) is a sonnet by Keats. In Canto One of his poem Shade says that he was brought up by dear bizarre Aunt Maud and makes a reference to Keats’ sonnet On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer (1816). Keats is the author of Ode to a Nightingale (1819).


In a letter to his Tallinn friend Roman Bogdanovich mentions the illustrious Goethe:


“I propose, my dear Fyodor Robertovich, to return briefly to that rascal. I fear it may bore you, but, in the words of the Swan of Weimar—I refer to the illustrious Goethe—(there followed a German phrase). Therefore allow me to dwell on Mr. Smurov again and treat you to a little psychological study… I have the impression, dear friend, that I have already written you of the fact that Smurov belongs to that curious class of people I once called ‘sexual lefties.” (Chapter 5)


Kinbote is “a sexual lefty.” “The Swan of Weimar,” Goethe is the author of Faust (1808). On the other hand, Faust (1855) is a story in nine letters by Turgenev. At the beginning of the first letter the narrator says that he returned to his old nest after the nine-year absence:


Четвёртого дня прибыл я сюда, любезный друг, и, по обещанию, берусь за перо и пишу к тебе. Мелкий дождь сеет с утра: выйти невозможно; да и мне же хочется поболтать с тобой. Вот я опять в своём старом гнезде, в котором не был -- страшно вымолвить -- целых девять лет. Чегочего не перебывало в эти девять лет!


I arrived here three days ago, my dear friend, and, in accordance with my promise, I take up my pen to write to thee. A fine rain has been drizzling down ever since morning; it is impossible to go out; and besides, I want to have a chat with thee. Here I am again, in my old nest, in which I have not been−−dreadful to say−−for nine whole years. And how many things have happened in these nine years!


Turgenev is the author of Dvoryanskoe gnezdo (“A Nest of Gentlefolk,” 1859). In Canto One of his poem Shade mentions “a preterist: one who collects cold nests.” In its unfinished form Shade’s poem has 999 lines. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). In Pushkin’s drama Boris Godunov (1825) Pimen (the old chronicler) says: Eshchyo odno poslednee skazan’ye, i letopis’ okonchena moya (One last tale and my chronicle is finished). The characters in Boris Godunov include young Kurbski, the son of Prince Kurbski mentioned by Pushkin in “The Pedigree of My Hero.” Odno (neut. of odin, “one”) = Odon (a world-famous Zemblan actor who helps the King to escape from Zembla) = Nodo (Odon’s half-brother, a cardsharp and despicable traitor). At the end of his Commentary Kinbote mentions Odon (with whom he may join forces in a new motion picture) and “a bigger, more respectable, more competent 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)


The last word of Kinbote’s Commentary is Gradus, the first word of Shade’s poem is “I” (the first person pronoun). In her essay Poety s istoriey i poety bez istorii (“Poets with a History and Poets without a History,” 1933) Marina Tsvetaev mentions a poet’s ya (I; in the Russian alphabet ya is the last letter), “Faust or simply a poem of thousand lines,” Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri and twice repeats the word nikto (nobody):


Я поэта есть я сновидца плюс я словотворца. Поэтическое я — это я мечтателя, пробуждённое вдохновенной речью и в этой речи явленное…

Поэты с историей прежде всего поэты воли. Речь не о воле, осуществляющей деяние: никто не усомнится, что такая физическая громада, как “Фауст” или просто поэма в тысячу строк, не может возникнуть сама по себе. Без усилий воли могут возникнуть восемь, шестнадцать, редко двадцать строк — лирический прилив чаще всего приносит к нашим ногам осколки — хотя бы и самые драгоценные. Говорю о воле выбора, о воле — выборе. О решимости не только стать иным, но и именно таким иным. О решимости расстаться с сегодняшним собой. Решить, подобно герою сказки: направо, налево или прямо (но, подобно герою той же сказки, — никогда назад!). Пушкин, проснувшись однажды утром, решает: “Сегодня пишу Моцарта!” Воля выбора Моцарта — отказ от множества других видений и дел, жертва. Поэт с историей отбрасывает всё, что не лежит на линии его “стрелы” — его личности, его дара, его истории. Выбирает его непогрешимый инстинкт главного. И после завершения пушкинского пути у нас остается ощущение, что Пушкин не мог не создать того, что создал, и написать то, что он не написал. И никто из нас не жалеет, что он отказался от замысла “Мёртвых душ”, которые находились на гоголевской генеральной линии. (Поэт с историей имеет ещё и ясный взгляд на других. И Пушкин обладал таким взглядом.)


According to Tsvetaev, a poet’s I is a dreamer’s I plus a wordsmith’s I. Shade and Kinbote teach at Wordsmith University. In her essay Marina Tsvetaev mentions, among other great lyrical poets, Byron, Shelley and Lermontov:


Кто может рассказать о поэтическом пути (беру самых великих и бесспорных лириков) Гейне, Байрона, Шелли, Верлена, Лермонтова? Они заполонили мир своими чувствами, воплями, вздохами и видениями, залили его своими слезами, воспламенили со всех четырех сторон своим негодованием…

Учимся ли мы у них? Нет. Мы из-за них и за них страдаем.

Так на мой русский лад перекраивается французская пословица: Les heureux n’ont pas d’histoire.


In his poem “The Nature of Electricity” (quoted by Kinbote in his Commentary) Shade mentions Shelley’s incandescent soul. In Lermontov’s poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) the last word is nikto (none at all). In Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri (1830) Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would):


Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.


If all could feel like you the power of harmony!
But no: the world could not go on then. None
Would bother with the needs of lowly life;
All would surrender to the free art.

(scene II, transl. A. Shaw)


Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin (nikto b in reverse). An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). In his poem “No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” Lermontov mentions nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) that lies in his soul as in an ocean.