Roman law in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 11/08/2018 - 14:44

According to Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), his landlord, Judge Goldsworth, is an authority on Roman law (note to Lines 47-48). In Chekhov’s story Ionych (1898) Ivan Petrovich Turkin (a jovial punster) mentions rimskoe pravo (Roman law) and his wife Vera Iosifovna tells Dr. Startsev that her husband is an Othello:


-- Здравствуйте пожалуйста, -- сказал Иван Петрович, встречая его на крыльце. -- Очень, очень рад видеть такого приятного гостя. Пойдёмте, я представлю вас своей благоверной. Я говорю ему, Верочка, -- продолжал он, представляя доктора жене, -- я ему говорю, что он не имеет никакого римского права сидеть у себя в больнице, он должен отдавать свой досуг обществу. Не правда ли, душенька?

   -- Садитесь здесь, -- говорила Вера Иосифовна, сажая гостя возле себя. -- Вы можете ухаживать за мной. Мой муж ревнив, это Отелло, но ведь мы постараемся вести себя так, что он ничего не заметит.


"How do you do, if you please?" said Ivan Petrovich, meeting him on the steps. "Delighted, delighted to see such an agreeable visitor. Come along; I will introduce you to my better half. I tell him, Verochka," he went on, as he presented the doctor to his wife --"I tell him that he has no human right* to sit at home in a hospital; he ought to devote his leisure to society. Oughtn't he, darling?"

"Sit here," said Vera Iosifovna, making her visitor sit down beside her. "You can dance attendance on me. My husband is jealous -- he is an Othello; but we will try and behave so well that he will notice nothing." (chapter I)


*“he has no Roman law/right” in the original (in Russian pravo means “law” and “right”).


As she speaks to Dr Startsev, Kitten (Turkin's daughter) mentions Pisemski and his funny name:


— Что вы читали на этой неделе, пока мы не виделись? — спросил он теперь. — Говорите, прошу вас.

— Я читала Писемского.

— Что именно?— «Тысяча душ», — ответила Котик. — А как смешно звали Писемского: Алексей Феофилактыч!


"What have you been reading this week since I saw you last?" he asked now. "Do please tell me."

"I have been reading Pisemski."

"What exactly?"

"'A Thousand Souls,' "answered Kitten. "And what a funny name Pisemski had -- Alexey Feofilaktych!” (chapter II)


The title of Pisemski's novel, Tysyacha dush ("A Thousand Souls," 1858), brings to mind Gogol's Myortvye dushi ("Dead Souls," 1842) and "A Thousand and One Nights" (an Arabic collection of fairy tales). Chekhov is the author of Tysyacha odna strast’, ili Strashnaya noch’ (“A Thousand and One Passions, or The Terrible Night,” 1880), a parody of Gothic story dedicated to Victor Hugo (the author of Notre Dame de Paris, 1831). At the beginning of his poem Notre Dame (1912) Osip Mandelshtam mentions rimskiy sudiya (the Roman judge) who judged the alien nation:


Где римский судия судил чужой народ —
Стоит базилика, и — радостный и первый —
Как некогда Адам, распластывая нервы,
Играет мышцами крестовый лёгкий свод. 


Kinbote believes that, in its finished form, Shade's poem consists of 1000 lines. But it seems that the total number of lines in Shade's poem should be 1001. The poem's last line, "By its own double in the windowpane," is its coda. In his fragment Rim ("Rome," 1842) Gogol mentions the Italian sonetto colla coda (sonnet with a tail).


In one of his conversations with Kinbote Shade lists Gogol, Dostoevski (the author of "The Double," 1846) and Chekhov among Russian humorists:


Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 172)


Pnin is the title character of a novel (1957) by VN. At the beginning of a poem that he contributed to the school magazine Liza Bogolepov’s son Victor (a character in Pnin) mentions Mona Lisa:


Leonardo! Strange diseases
strike at madders mixed with lead:
nun-pale now are Mona Lisa's
lips that you had made so red. (Chapter Four, 5)


A gifted young artist, Victor imagines that his father is a king who refuses to abdicate and prefers to go into exile:

The King, his father, wearing a very white sports shirt open at the throat and a very black blazer, sat at a spacious desk whose highly polished surface twinned his upper half in reverse, making of him a kind of court card. Ancestral portraits darkened the walls of the vast panelled room. Otherwise, it was not unlike the headmaster's study at St Bart's School, on the Atlantic seaboard, some three thousand miles west of the imagined Palace. A copious spring shower kept lashing at the french windows, beyond which young greenery, all eyes, shivered and streamed. Nothing but this sheet of rain seemed to separate and protect the Palace from the revolution that for several days had been rocking the city...


…Victor indulged night after night in these mild fancies, trying to induce sleep in his cold cubicle which was exposed to every noise in the restless dorm. Generally he did not reach that crucial flight episode when the King alone - solus rex (as chess problem makers term royal solitude) - paced a beach on the Bohemian Sea, at Tempest Point, where Percival Blake, a cheerful American adventurer, had promised to meet him with a powerful motor-boat. (Chapter Four, 1)


According to Kinbote, he and Odon (a world-famous actor and Zemblan patriot) escaped from Zembla in a powerful motor-boat. Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Moan, Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Desdemona (Othello’s wife in Shakespeare’s Othello).


The characters of Pnin include Dr Eric Wind (the second husband of Liza Bogolepov, Pnin’s former wife), the psychologist. In a letter of May 7, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov says that psychology is not nauka (a science) and compares it to alchemy:


Я прочёл «Ученика» Бурже в Вашем изложении и в русском переводе («Северный вестник»). Дело мне представляется в таком виде. Бурже талантливый, очень умный и образованный человек. Он так полно знаком с методом естественных наук и так его прочувствовал, как будто хорошо учился на естественном или медицинском факультете. Он не чужой в той области, где берётся хозяйничать, — заслуга, которой не знают русские писатели, ни новые, ни старые. Что же касается книжной, учёной психологии, то он её так же плохо знает, как лучшие из психологов. Знать её всё равно, что не знать, так как она не наука, а фикция, нечто вроде алхимии, которую пора уже сдать в архив.

I have read Bourget’s “Disciple” in the Russian translation. This is how it strikes me. Bourget is a gifted, very intelligent and cultured man. He is as thoroughly acquainted with the method of the natural sciences, and as imbued with it as though he had taken a good degree in science or medicine. He is not a stranger in the domain he proposes to deal with — a merit absent in Russian writers both new and old. As to the bookish, scientific psychology, he knows it as badly as the best among the psychologists. To know it is the same as not to know, because it is not a science but a fiction, something like alchemy which it is time to leave out of account.


In Pushkin’s Stsena iz Fausta (“A Scene from Faust,” 1825) Mephistopheles says that he is a psychologist and exclaims: o, vot nauka! (“ah, that is a science!”). The title character of a tragedy (1808) by Goethe, Doctor Faust was a legendary alchemist. In Goethe’s tragedy Mephistopheles calls the Witch who makes a potion for Faust treffliche Sibylle (“excellent Sibyl”) and refers to Faust as ein Mann von vielen Graden (“a man of manifold degrees”):



Genug, genug, o treffliche Sibylle!
Gib deinen Trank herbei, und fülle
Die Schale rasch bis an den Rand hinan;
Denn meinem Freund wird dieser Trunk nicht schaden:
Er ist ein Mann von vielen Graden,
Der manchen guten Schluck getan.



O Sibyl excellent, enough of adjuration!
But hither bring us thy potation,
And quickly fill the beaker to the brim!
This drink will bring my friend no injuries:
He is a man of manifold degrees,
And many draughts are known to him. (VI, “Witches’ Kitchen”)


Just as Shade, Kinbote and Gradus (the poet's murderer) represent three different aspects of Botkin’s personality, Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) and Queen Disa seem to be one and the same person (Sofia Botkin, born Lastochkin). Aya-Sofia ("Hagia Sofia," 1912) and Lastochka ("The Swallow," 1920) are poems by Mandelshtam. At the end of Chekhov's play Dyadya Vanya ("Uncle Vanya," 1898) Sonya (a diminutive of Sofia) promises to Uncle Vanya that they will see nebo v almazakh (the sky swarming with diamonds). Onhava (the capital of Zembla) seems to hint at heaven, almazy (diamonds) bring to mind the Zemblan crown jewels. The two Soviet experts who were hired by the new Zemblan government to find the crown jewels, Andronnikov and Niagarin bring to mind Bender, Vorob'yaninov and Father Fyodor, the three diamond hunters in Ilf and Petrov's novel Dvenadtsat' stuliev ("The Twelve Chairs," 1928). The surname Vorob'yaninov comes from vorobey (sparrow) and the surname of Vorob'yaninov's mother-in-law, Mme Petukhov, comes from petukh (cock, rooster). The surname Lastochkin comes from lastochka (swallow).


In his story Strashnaya mest’ (“The Terrible Vengeance,” 1832) Gogol says that a rare bird can fly to the middle of the Dnepr. Rara avis (1886) is a story by Chekhov (a perfectly honest man is rara avis in it). In the first (and, presumably, in the penultimate) line of his poem Shade calls himself "the shadow of the waxwing." At the beginning of his Commentary Kinbote mentions his knowledge of garden Aves:


My knowledge of garden Aves had been limited to those of northern Europe but a young New Wye gardener, in whom I was interested (see note to line 998), helped me to identify the profiles of quite a number of tropical-looking little strangers and their comical calls; and, naturally, every tree top plotted its dotted line towards the ornithological work on my desk to which I would gallop from the lawn in nomenclatorial agitation. How hard I found to fit the name "robin" to the suburban impostor, the gross fowl, with its untidy dull-red livery and the revolting gusto it showed when consuming long, sad, passive worms!

Incidentally, it is curious to note that a crested bird called in Zemblan sampel ("silktail"), closely resembling a waxwing in shape and shade, is the model of one of the three heraldic creatures (the other two being respectively a reindeer proper and a merman azure, crined or) in the armorial bearing of the Zemblan King, Charles the Beloved (born 1915), whose glorious misfortunes I discussed so often with my friend. (note to Lines 1-4)


The title of Ilf and Petrov's novel Dvenadtsat' stuliev brings to mind Alexander Blok's poem Dvenadtsat' ("The Twelve," 1918). In the Foreword to his poem Vozmezdie ("Retribution," 1910-21) Blok (the son of a law professor) mentions those infinitely high qualities that once shined like luchshie almazy v chelovecheskoy korone (the best diamonds in man’s crown), such as humanism, virtues, impeccable honesty, etc.:


Тема заключается в том, как развиваются звенья единой цепи рода. Отдельные отпрыски всякого рода развиваются до положенного им предела и затем вновь поглощаются окружающей мировой средой; но в каждом отпрыске зреет и отлагается нечто новое и нечто более острое, ценою бесконечных потерь, личных трагедий, жизненных неудач, падений и т. д.; ценою, наконец, потери тех бесконечно высоких свойств, которые в своё время сияли, как лучшие алмазы в человеческой короне (как, например, свойства гуманные, добродетели, безупречная честность, высокая нравственность и проч.)

Blok’s poem Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1909) ends in the lines:


Быть может, себя самого
Я встретил на глади зеркальной?


Perhaps, I met myself
on the smooth surface of a looking-glass’?


On the other hand, Andronnikov is a character in Dostoevski's novel Podrostok ("The Adolescent," 1875). Ulichnyi podrostok ("A Street Adolescent," 1914) is a sonnet with a coda by G. Ivanov (who affirms in his memoirs that to his question "does a sonnet need a coda" Blok replied that he did not know what a coda is). In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron, o, bez sozhalen'ya... ("Like Byron to Greece, o without regret..." 1927) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon' (pale fire):


Как в Грецию Байрон, о, без сожаленья,
Сквозь звёзды и розы, и тьму,
На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья:
- И ты не поможешь ему.

Сквозь звёзды, которые снятся влюблённым,
И небо, где нет ничего,
В холодную полночь - платком надушённым.
- И ты не удержишь его.

На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья,
Как Байрон за бледным огнём,
Сквозь полночь и розы, о, без сожаленья:
- И ты позабудешь о нём.


In order to explain Dostoevski’s treatment of man’s psyche, Lunacharski (the minister of education in Lenin’s government who delivered a speech on Dostoevski on the hundredth anniversary of the writer's birth) takes the example of water and mentions the Niagara:


Чтобы понять, что делает Достоевский с психикой - возьмём хотя бы такой пример - вода. Для того, чтобы дать человеку полное представление о воде, заставить его объять все её свойства, надо ему показать воду, пар, лёд, разделить воду на составные части, показать, что такое тихое озеро, величаво катящая свои волны река, водопад, фонтан и проч. Словом - ему нужно показать все свойства, всю внутреннюю динамику воды. И, однако, этого всё-таки будет мало. Может быть, для того, чтобы понять динамику воды, нужно превысить данные возможности и фантастически представить человеку Ниагару, в сотню раз грандиознейшую, чем подлинная. Вот Достоевский и стремится превозмочь реальность и показать дух человеческий со всеми его неизмеримыми высотами и необъяснимыми глубинами со всех сторон. Как Микель Анджело скручивает человеческие тела в конвульсиях, в агонии, так Достоевский дух человеческий то раздувает до гиперболы, то сжимает до полного уничтожения, смешивает с грязью, низвергает его в глубины ада, то потом вдруг взмывает в самые высокие эмпиреи неба. Этими полётами человеческого духа Достоевский не только приковывает наше внимание, захватывает нас, открывает нам новые неизведанные красоты, но даёт очень много и нашему познанию, показывая нам неподозреваемые нами глубины души.


Lunacharski compares Dostoevski to Michelangelo. At the end of Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri (1830) Salieri mentions Buonarotti:


                                         Ты заснёшь
Надолго, Моцарт! Но ужель он прав,
И я не гений? Гений и злодейство
Две вещи несовместные. Неправда:
А Бонаротти? Или это сказка
Тупой, бессмысленной толпы — и не был
Убийцею создатель Ватикана?


                    You will sleep
For long, Mozart! But what if he is right?
I am no genius? "Genius and evildoing
Are incompatibles." That is not true:
And Buonarotti?.. Or is it a legend
Of the dull-witted, senseless crowd -- while really
The Vatican's creator was no murderer?
(scene II)


In Pushkin’s little tragedy Salieri poisons Mozart and Mozart uses a 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 only all so quickly felt the power
of harmony! But no, in that event
the world could not exist;
none would care
about the needs of ordinary life,
all would give themselves to free art.


Nikto b is Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name) 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). Nadezhda is the name of the title character in Chekhov's last story Nevesta ("The Bride," 1903).