Nova Zembla, Judge Goldsworth & Villa Paradisa in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 08/25/2018 - 09:11

Here is a revised (much more interesting) version of my post of Oct. 10, 2015, “Nova Zembla & Judge Goldsworth in Pale Fire.” Enjoy!


Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla” [sarcastically stressing the "Nova"]. (Kinbote’s note to Line 894)


In Griboedov’s play in verse Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) Colonel Skalozub was in His Highness’ Novozemlyansk regiment of musketeers:


Хлёстова (сидя)

Вы прежде были здесь… в полку… в том… гренадёрском?

Скалозуб (басом)

В Его Высочества, хотите вы сказать,
Новоземлянском мушкетёрском.


Не мастерица я полки-та различать.


‎А форменные есть отлички:
В мундирах выпушки, погончики, петлички.


Mme K h l y o s t o v  (sitting)

You were here... in the regiment of . . . grenadiers?

S k a l o z u b (in a bass voice)

You mean, His Highness’ Novozemlyansk regiment of musketeers?

Mme K h l y o s t o v

I’m not skilled in distinguishing regiments.

S k a l o z u b

There is a difference in uniforms,

The shoulder loops, the tabs and shirts. (Act Three, scene 12)


The name Skalozub is an anagram of zuboskal (scoffer; mocker). On a photograph found by Gerald Emerald the young Zemblan King wears a fancy uniform:


In the meantime, at the other end of the room, young Emerald had been communing with the bookshelves. At this point he returned with the the T-Z volume of an illustrated encyclopedia.

"Well," said he, "here he is, that king. But look, he is young and handsome" ("Oh, that won't do," wailed the German visitor.) "Young, handsome, and wearing a fancy uniform," continued Emerald. "Quite the fancy pansy, in fact." (note to Line 894)


In the same exchange Professor Pardon mentions Judge Goldsworth (Kinbote’s landlord):


"I would rather say," remarked Mr. Pardon--American History--"that she looks like Judge Goldsworth" ("One of us," interposed Shade inclining his head), "especially when he is real mad at the whole world after a good dinner."

"I heard," hastily began Netochka, "that the Goldsworths are having a wonderful time--" (ibid.)


Professor Nattochdag’s nickname hints at Netochka Nezvanov, the eponymous heroine of an unfinished novel (1849) by Dostoevski. In Dostoevski’s novel Idiot (1869) general Ivolgin also mentions the non-existent Novozemlyansk regiment:


— Ещё бы! — вскричал генерал. — Суд разошёлся, ничего не решив. Дело невозможное! Дело даже, можно сказать, таинственное: умирает штабс-капитан Ларионов, ротный командир; князь на время назначается исправляющим должность; хорошо. Рядовой Колпаков совершает кражу, — сапожный товар у товарища, — и пропивает его; хорошо. Князь, — и заметьте себе, это было в присутствии фельдфебеля и капрального, — распекает Колпакова и грозит ему розгами. Очень хорошо. Колпаков идёт в казармы, ложится на нары и через четверть часа умирает. Прекрасно, но случай неожиданный, почти невозможный. Так или этак, а Колпакова хоронят; князь рапортует, и затем Колпакова исключают из списков. Кажется чего бы лучше? Но ровно через полгода, на бригадном смотру, рядовой Колпаков, как ни в чём ни бывало, оказывается в третьей роте второго баталиона Новоземлянского пехотного полка, той же бригады и той же дивизии!


"I should think so indeed!" cried the latter. "The court-martial came to no decision. It was a mysterious, an impossible business, one might say! Captain Larionov, commander of the company, had died; his command was handed over to the prince for the moment. Very well. This soldier, Kolpakov, stole some leather from one of his comrades, intending to sell it, and spent the money on drink. Well! The prince—you understand that what follows took place in the presence of the sergeant-major, and a corporal—the prince rated Kolpakov soundly, and threatened to have him flogged. Well, Kolpakov went back to the barracks, lay down on a camp bedstead, and in a quarter of an hour was dead: you quite understand? It was, as I said, a strange, almost impossible, affair. In due course Kolpakov was buried; the prince wrote his report, the deceased's name was removed from the roll. All as it should be, is it not? But exactly three months later at the inspection of the brigade, the man Kolpakov was found in the third company of the second battalion of infantry, Novozemlyanski division, just as if nothing had happened!" (Part One, chapter VIII)


The name Ivolgin comes from ivolga (oriole). Describing his arrival in America, Kinbote says that Baltimore’s oriole is not an oriole:


John Shade's heart attack (Oct. 17, 1958) practically coincided with the disguised king's arrival in America where he descended by parachute from a chartered plane piloted by Colonel Montacute, in a field of hay-feverish, rank-flowering weeds, near Baltimore whose oriole is not an oriole. (note to Line 691)


In “Woe from Wit” Famusov tells Chatski (who suddenly arrived in Moscow after a three-year absence) that he gryanul vdrug kak s oblakov (suddenly arrived as if falling from the clouds):


Ну выкинул ты штуку!

Три года не писал двух слов!

И грянул вдруг как с облаков.


Oh what a trick you've played! You see,

For three long years we haven't heard from you,

And now you're here, out of the blue. (Act One, scene 9)


Famusov uses the phrase vykinul ty shtuku (you’ve played a trick). Shtuka (thing; trick, etc.) is an anagram of shutka (joke), a word used by Famusov in his famous monologue:


Зато, бывало, в вист кто чаще приглашён?
Кто слышит при дворе приветливое слово?
Максим Петрович! Кто пред всеми знал почёт?
Максим Петрович! Шутка!
В чины выводит кто и пенсии даёт?
Максим Петрович. Да! Вы, нынешние, - нутка!


And ever since, like no one else,

In the royal house he was a welcome guest.

Maxim Petrovich! A man of high esteem!

Maxim Petrovich! The life's mischievous pranks!

Who fixes pensions and gives people ranks?

Maxim Petrovich! Not one of you is a match for him! (Act II, scene 2)


Describing the ideal drop, Kinbote calls a packed parachute left behind shootka (a joke):


The ideal drop is from an aircraft, your muscles relaxed, your pilot puzzled, your packed parachute shuffled off, cast off, shrugged off – farewell, shootka (little chute)!  (note to Line 493)


According to Prince Myshkin (the main character in The Idiot), his father died pod sudom (under trial):


— Отец мой ведь умер под судом, — заметил князь снова, — хоть я и никогда не мог узнать, за что именно; он умер в госпитале. 

— О, это по делу о рядовом Колпакове, и, без сомнения, князь был бы оправдан.


"My father was just about to be tried when he died," said the prince, "although I never knew of what he was accused. He died in hospital."

"Oh! it was the Kolpakov business, and of course he would have been acquitted." (Part One, chapter VIII)


At the beginning of his famous monologue in Act Two (scene 5) of Griboedov’s comedy Chatski’s asks: A sud’yi kto? (“And who are the judges?”)


The name Skalozub comes from the phrase skalit’ zuby (to bare one’s teeth; to grin) and brings to mind the Cheshire Cat, a character in Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:


There was certainly too much of it in the air. Even the Duchess sneezed occasionally; and as for the baby, it was sneezing and howling alternately without a moment's pause. The only things in the kitchen that did not sneeze, were the cook, and a large cat which was sitting on the hearth and grinning from ear to ear.

'Please would you tell me,' said Alice, a little timidly, for she was not quite sure whether it was good manners for her to speak first, 'why your cat grins like that?'

'It's a Cheshire cat,' said the Duchess, 'and that's why. Pig!'

She said the last word with such sudden violence that Alice quite jumped; but she saw in another moment that it was addressed to the baby, and not to her, so she took courage, and went on again: —

I didn't know that Cheshire cats always grinned; in fact, I didn't know that cats could grin.'

'They all can,' said the Duchess; 'and most of 'em do.' (chapter 6 “Pig and Pepper”)


Kinbote’s landlord, Judge Goldsworth left a cat to his tenant:


Among various detailed notices affixed to a special board in the pantry, such as plumbing instructions, disserations on electricity, discourses on cactuses and so forth, I found the diet of the black cat that came with the house:


Mon, Wed, Fri: Liver
Tue, Thu, Sat: Fish
Sun: Ground meat


(All it got from me was milk and sardines; it was a likable little creature but after a while its movements began to grate on my nerves and I farmed it out to Mrs. Finley, the cleaning woman.) (note to Lines 47-48)


The Goldsworth château had many outside doors, and no matter how thoroughly I inspected them and the window shutters downstairs at bedtime, I never failed to discover next morning something unlocked, unlatched, a little loose, a little ajar, something sly and suspicious-looking. One night the black cat, which a few minutes before I had seen rippling down into the basement where I had arranged toilet facilities for it in an attractive setting, suddenly reappeared on the threshold of the music room, in the middle of my insomnia and a Wagner record, arching its back and sporting a neck bow of white silk which it could certainly never have put on all by itself. I telephoned 11111 and a few minutes later was discussing possible culprits with a policeman who relished greatly my cherry cordial, but whoever had broken in had left no trace. (note to Line 62)


The Black Cat (1845) is a story by E. A. Poe (the writer who died in Baltimore on Oct. 7, 1849). There are two black cats in Poe’s story. Unlike Pluto (the first cat’s name), the second cat has a white spot on its breast:


It was a black cat -- a very large one -- fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast.

Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it -- knew nothing of it -- had never seen it before.


The black cat sporting a neck bow of white silk is, of course, a different animal and belongs to some neighbor.


In classical mythology Pluto is the ruler of the underworld. In his poem Prozerpina (“Proserpine,” 1824) Pushkin mentions koni blednogo Plutona (pale Pluto’s horses):

Плещут волны Флегетона,
Своды Тартара дрожат,
Кони бледного Плутона
Быстро к нимфам Пелиона
Из аида бога мчат.

The waves of the Phlegethon splash,
The vaults of Tartarus tremble,
Pale Pluto’s horses
Quickly to the nymphs of Pelion
Rush the god from Hades.


In a letter of Sept. 10, 1824, to Pushkin Delvig (Pushkin’s best friend at the Lyceum who in Feb., 1826, married Sofia Saltykov) says that Pushkin’s poem “Proserpine” is pure music:

Милый Пушкин, письмо твоё и «Прозерпину» я получил и тоже в день получения благодарю тебя за них.
«Прозерпина» не стихи, а музыка: это пенье райской птички, которое слушая, не увидишь, как пройдёт тысяча лет. Эти двери давно мне знакомы. Сквозь них, ещё в Лицее, меня [иногда] часто выталкивали из Элизея. Какая искусная щеголиха у тебя истина. Подобных цветов мороз не тронет!

Delvig compares Pushkin’s poem to a bird of paradise’s singing that one can listen for a thousand years without noticing the passage of time.


In his great introductory poem to the second edition (1828) of Ruslan and Lyudmila Pushkin mentions kot uchyonyi (the learned cat) that walks to and fro along a golden chain around a green oak. According to Kinbote, kot or is Zemblan for “what is the time:”

What is the time, kot or? He pressed his repeater and, undismayed, it hissed and tinkled out ten twenty-one. (note to Line 149)


The King’s repeater brings to mind Repetilov, a  character in “Woe from Wit.” In a letter of the end of January, 1825, to Bestuzhev Pushkin offers his criticism of Griboedov's comedy and mentions Repetilov:


Теперь вопрос. В комедии «Горе от ума» кто умное действующее лицо? ответ: Грибоедов. А знаешь ли, что такое Чацкий? Пылкий, благородный и добрый малый, проведший несколько времени с очень умным человеком (именно с Грибоедовым) и напитавшийся его мыслями, остротами и сатирическими замечаниями. Всё, что говорит он, очень умно. Но кому говорит он всё это? Фамусову? Скалозубу? На бале московским бабушкам? Молчалину? Это непростительно. Первый признак умного человека — с первого взгляду знать, с кем имеешь дело, и не метать бисера перед Репетиловыми и тому под.


According to Pushkin, Chatski (the main character in “Woe from Wit”) is not clever at all, because a clever person would not metat’ biser (cast pearls) before Repetilov (a character in "Woe from Wit") and his likes. In her Russian translation of Pale Fire Vera Nabokov renders "a beader from Radugovitra" (Gradus’ wife who left her husband with a Gypsy lover) as bisershchitsa iz Radugovitry. In his poem Na smert’ A. Bloka (“On the Death of Alexander Blok,” 1921) VN compares Pushkin (one of the four poets who meet in paradise the soul of Alexander Blok) to raduga po vsey zemle (a rainbow over the whole Earth):


Пушкин - радуга по всей земле,

Лермонтов - путь млечный над горами,

Тютчев - ключ, струящийся во мгле,

Фет - румяный луч во храме.


Pushkin is a rainbow over the whole Earth,

Lermontov is the Milky Way over the mountains,

Tyutchev is a spring flowing in the dark,

Fet is a ruddy ray in the temple. (II)


The author of Lastochki (“The Swallows,” 1884), Afanasiy Fet was married to Maria Botkin. The “real” name of Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) and of Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin).


In a letter of Oct. 22, 1831, to Nashchokin Pushkin mentions his wife’s diamonds and says that dedushka (Afanasiy Goncharov, the grandfather of Pushkin’s wife) is svin’ya (a swine):  


Не приехать ли мне самому в Москву? а мне что-то очень хочется с тобою поболтать, да я бы сам кой-какие дела обработал, например, бриллианты жены моей, которые стараюсь спасти от банкрутства тёщи моей и от лап Семёна Федоровича. Дедушка свинья; он выдаёт свою третью наложницу замуж с 10 000 приданого, а не может заплатить мне моих 12 000 — и ничего своей внучке не даёт. Наталья Николаевна брюхата — в мае родит. Все это очень изменит мой образ жизни; и обо всём надобно подумать.


Pushkin says that his wife is pregnant and will bear a child in May. In “Woe from Wit” Famusov calculates the pregnancy of a lady friend (po raschyotu mo moemu). In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the Duchess says that she never could abide figures:


Alice glanced rather anxiously at the cook, to see if she meant to take the hint; but the cook was busily stirring the soup, and seemed not to be listening, so she went on again: 'Twenty-four hours, I think; or is it twelve? I — '

'Oh, don't bother me,' said the Duchess; 'I never could abide figures!' And with that she began nursing her child again, singing a sort of lullaby to it as she did so, and giving it a violent shake at the end of every line:


                  'Speak roughly to your little boy,

                    And beat him when he sneezes:

                  He only does it to annoy,

                    Because he knows it teases.'




              (In which the cook and the baby joined):—


                          'Wow! wow! wow!'


While the Duchess sang the second verse of the song, she kept tossing the baby violently up and down, and the poor little thing howled so, that Alice could hardly hear the words:—


                  'I speak severely to my boy,

                    I beat him when he sneezes;

                  For he can thoroughly enjoy

                    The pepper when he pleases!'




                          'Wow! wow! wow!' (chapter 6 “Pig and Pepper”)


In his Commentary Kinbote mentions Queen Disa’s grandfather:


In 1933, Prince Charles was eighteen and Disa, Duchess of Payn, five. The allusion is to Nice (see also line 240) where the Shades spent the first part of that year; but here again, as in regard to so many fascinating facets of my friend’s past life, I am not in the possession of particulars (who is to blame, dear S.S.?) and not in the position to say whether or not, in the course of possible excursions along the coast, they ever reached Cap Turc and glimpsed from an oleander-lined lane, usually open to tourists, the Italianate villa built by Queen Disa’s grandfather in 1908, and called then Villa Paradiso, or in Zemblan Villa Paradisa, later to forego the first half of its name in honor of his favorite granddaughter. There she spent the first fifteen summers of her life; thither did she return in 1953, “for reasons of health” (as impressed on the nation) but really, a banished queen; and there she still dwells. (note to Lines 433-434)


Ital'yanskaya villa ("The Italian Villa," 1837) is a poem by Tyutchev. Paradiso is the third part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Among the seven sonneteers mentioned by Pushkin in Sonet (“A Sonnet,” 1830) are Dante (who did not scorn the sonnet) and Delvig (who for sake of sonnet forgot hexameter’s sacred melodies):


Scorn not the sonnet, critic.

Суровый Дант не презирал сонета;
В нём жар любви Петрарка изливал;
Игру его любил творец Макбета;
Им скорбну мысль Камоэнс облекал.

И в наши дни пленяет он поэта:
Вордсворт его орудием избрал,
Когда вдали от суетного света
Природы он рисует идеал.

Под сенью гор Тавриды отдаленной
Певец Литвы в размер его стесненный
Свои мечты мгновенно заключал.

У нас ещё его не знали девы,
Как для него уж Дельвиг забывал
Гекзаметра священные напевы.


In a letter of Nov. 16, 1823, to Delvig Pushkin praises Delvig's sonnets, but says that he dislikes Baratynski's Satire to Gnedich, because there is too little pepper in it:


На днях попались мне твои прелестные сонеты — прочёл их с жадностью, восхищением и благодарностию за вдохновенное воспоминание дружбы нашей. Разделяю твои надежды на Языкова и давнюю любовь к непорочной музе Баратынского. Жду и не дождусь появления в свет ваших стихов; только их получу, заколю агнца, восхвалю господа — и украшу цветами свой шалаш — хоть Бируков находит это слишком сладострастным. Сатира к Гнедичу мне не нравится, даром что стихи прекрасные; в них мало перца; Сомов безмундирный непростительно. Просвещённому ли человеку, русскому ли сатирику пристало смеяться над независимостию писателя?


In the same letter to Delvig Pushkin says that he is writing a new poem (as Pushkin calls Eugene Onegin):


Пишу теперь новую поэму, в которой забалтываюсь донельзя.


Pushkin’s “Sonnet” has an epigraph from Wordsworth. Shade lives in a house between Wordsmith (Shade’s and Kinbote’s University) and Goldsworth (Kinbote’s house). Kinbote’s landlord is a distinguished judge. The characters of Gogol’s play Revizor (“The Inspector,” 1836) include the judge Lyapkin-Tyapkin (who takes as bribes greyhound puppies). Judge Goldsworth is an authority on Roman Law. In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol mentions sonetto colla coda and in a footnote explains that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as “a sonnet with the tail” (con la coda), when the idea cannot not be expressed in fourteen lines and entails an appendix which is often longer than the sonnet itself:


В италиянской поэзии существует род стихотворенья, известного под именем сонета с хвостом (con la coda), когда мысль не вместилась и ведёт за собою прибавление, которое часто бывает длиннее самого сонета.


Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). Moreover, not only the last line of Shade’s poem, but the entire apparatus criticus (Kinbote’s Foreword, Commentary and Index) can be regarded as the coda of Pale Fire.


Kinbote completes his work on Shade's poem and commits suicide on Oct. 19, 1959 (the Lyceum anniversary). There is a hope that, after Kinbote's death, Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin's epigrams, half-milord, half-merchant, etc.), will be full again. In the same letter to Delvig Pushkin calls himself polu-Khvostov (half-Khvostov):


Жалею, что мои элегии писаны против религии и правительства: я полу-Хвостов: люблю писать стихи (но не переписывать) и не отдавать в печать (а видеть их в печати).


The name Khvostov comes from khvost (tail). As it speaks to Alice, the Cheshire Cat mentions the tail:


'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.

'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'

'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.

'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'

Alice didn't think that proved it at all; however, she went on 'And how do you know that you're mad?'

'To begin with,' said the Cat, 'a dog's not mad. You grant that?'

'I suppose so,' said Alice.

'Well, then,' the Cat went on, 'you see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad.' (chapter 6 "Pig and Pepper")


The Cheshire Cat vanishes, beginning with the end of the tail:


'Did you say pig, or fig?' said the Cat.

'I said pig,' replied Alice; 'and I wish you wouldn't keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make on quite giddy.'

'All right,' said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.

'Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin,' thought Alice; 'but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!' (ibid.)


The epigraph to Pale Fire mentions Samuel Johnson's cat Hodge:

This reminds me of the ludicrous account he gave Mr. Langston, of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family. “'Sir, when I heard of
him last, he was running about town shooting cats.'” And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, '“But
Hodge shan'’t be shot: no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.'

- James Boswell, the Life of Samuel Johnson


This seems to imply: others may, but I shall not be touched by death”. In Canto Two of his poem Shade says:

A syllogism: other men die, but I

am not another, therefore I'’ll not die. (ll. 213-214)


In his Commentary Kinbote writes:


This may please a boy. Later in life we learn that we are those 'others.' (note to Lines 213-214)


The author of Pale Fire, VN is long dead, but the reader can still see his grin.