niece Adèle, Izumrudov & Umruds in Pale Pire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 11/12/2018 - 10:50

In Cano One of his poem Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions the Canadian maid and her niece Adèle who had seen the Pope:


A preterist: one who collects cold nests.
Here was my bedroom, now reserved for guests.
Here, tucked away by the Canadian maid,
I listened to the buzz downstairs and prayed
For everybody to be always well,
Uncles and aunts, the maid, her niece Adèle,
Who'd seen the Pope, people in books, and God. (79-85)


In his Commentary Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) writes:


Pius X, Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, 1835-1914; Pope 1903-1914. (note to Line 85)


The name of the Canadian maid's niece brings to mind Pushkin's poem Adeli (“To Adèle,” 1822):


Играй, Адель,
Не знай печали;
Хариты, Лель
Тебя венчали
И колыбель
Твою качали;
Твоя весна
Тиха, ясна;
Для наслажденья
Ты рождена;
Час упоенья
Лови, лови!
Младые лета
Отдай любви,
И в шуме света
Люби, Адель,
Мою свирель.


Pushkin ends his letter of Dec. 8, 1824, to Rodzyanko with the following little poem:


Прости, украинский мудрец,
Наместник Феба и Приапа!
Твоя соломенная шляпа
Покойней, чем иной венец;
Твой Рим - деревня; ты мой Папа,
Благослови ж меня, певец!


Goodbye, the Ukrainian sage,

deputy of Phoebus and Priapus!

Your straw hat

is more comfortable than some crown;

Your Rome is the country; you are my Pope,

So bless me, the bard!


The rhyme Papa Priapa – [eskulapashlyapa (Pope – of Priapus [doctor] – hat ) also occurs in A. K. Tolstoy’s poem Bunt v Vatikane (“The Uproar in Vatican,” 1864):


Эта вещь,— прибавил папа,—
Пропади хоть у Приапа,
Нет на это эскулапа,
Эта вещь — не шляпа!


“This thing, – the Pope added, –

had Priapus himself lost it,

no doctor would help,

this thing is not a hat!”


Eta veshch’ (“this thing,” as in A. K. Tolstoy’s poem the Pope calls testicles) brings to mind premilen’kaya veshch’ (“a pretty little thing”), as in the same letter of Dec. 8, 1824, to Rodzyanko Pushkin calls Anna Kern (Rodzyanko’s neighbor and close friend to whom Pushkin addressed his famous poem “I recollect a wondrous moment…”):


Объясни мне, милый, что такое А. П. Керн, которая написала много нежностей обо мне своей кузине? Говорят, она премиленькая вещь — но славны Лубны за горами. На всякий случай, зная твою влюбчивость и необыкновенные таланты во всех отношениях, полагаю дело твоё сделанным или полусделанным. Поздравляю тебя, мой милый: напиши на это всё элегию или хоть эпиграмму.


In A. K. Tolstoy’s poem “The Uproar in Vatican” the eunuch singers attempt to castrate the Pope Pius IX. According to Kinbote, Gradus (Shade’s murderer) tried several times to castrate himself:


At his hotel [in Nice] the beaming proprietress handed him a telegram. It chided him in Danish for leaving Geneva and told him to undertake nothing until further notice. It also advised him to forget his work and amuse himself. But what (save dreams of blood) could be his amusements? He was not interested in sightseeing or seasiding. He had long stopped drinking. He did not go to concerts. He did not gamble. Sexual impulses had greatly bothered him at one time but that was over. After his wife, a beader in Radugovitra, had left him (with a gypsy lover), he had lived in sin with his mother-in-law until she was removed, blind and dropsical, to an asylum for decayed widows. Since then he had tried several times to castrate himself, had been laid up at the Glassman Hospital with a severe infection, and now, at forty-four, was quite cured of the lust that Nature, the grand cheat, puts into us to inveigle us into propagation. No wonder the advice to amuse himself infuriated him. I think I shall break this note here. (note to Line 697)


In Nice Gradus is visited by Izumrudov (one of the greater Shadows):


He was a merry, perhaps overmerry, fellow, in a green velvet jacket. Nobody liked him, but he certainly had a keen mind. His name, Izumrudov, sounded rather Russian but actually meant “of the Umruds,” an Eskimo tribe sometimes seen paddling their umyaks (hide-lined boats) on the emerald waters of our northern shores. Grinning, he said friend Gradus must get together his travel documents, including a health certificate, and take the earliest available jet to New York. Bowing, he congratulated him on having indicated with such phenomenal acumen the right place and the right way. Yes, after a thorough perlustration of the loot that Andron and Niagarushka had obtained from the Queen's rosewood writing desk (mostly bills, and treasured snapshots, and those silly medals) a letter from the King did turn up giving his address which was of all places -- Our man, who interrupted the herald of success to say he had never -- was bidden not to display so much modesty. A slip of paper was now produced on which Izumudrov, shaking with laughter (death is hilarious), wrote out for Gradus their client's alias, the name of the university where he taught, and that of the town where it was situated. (note to Line 741)


In Pushkin’s poem K kastratu raz prishyol skrypach… ("The Violinist Once Visited the Eunuch..." 1835) the rich castrated singer mentions his almazy, izumrudy (diamonds, emeralds) and asks the poor violinist what does he do when he is bored:


К кастрату раз пришёл скрыпач,
Он был бедняк, а тот богач.

«Смотри, сказал певец <безмудый>, —
Мои алмазы, изумруды —
Я их от скуки разбирал.
А! кстати, брат, — он продолжал, —
Когда тебе бывает скучно,
Ты что творишь, сказать прошу».
В ответ бедняга равнодушно:
— Я? я <муде> себе чешу.


The poor fellow replies: “I scratch my testicles.” In his epigram on Boileau, Sravnenie (“Comparison,” 1813-17), Pushkin explains the difference between himself and the author of L'Art poétique:


Не хочешь ли узнать, моя драгая,
Какая разница меж Буало и мной?

У Депрео была лишь запятая,
А у меня две точки с запятой.

My dear, do you want to know
the difference between Boileau and me?
Desprèaux had only a comma [,]
And I have a colon with a comma [: ,].


In a letter of May 16, 1835, to Pushkin Katenin (whose name has teni, “shadows,” in it) says that names like Kukolnik (a mediocre poet, Gogol’s schoolmate) strongly smack of Perrault and plays on a line from Canto Four of Boileau’s L'Art poétique (1674), Il n'est point de degré du médiocre au pire (there is no degree from mediocre to worst):


Судя по твоим, увы! слишком правдоподобным словам, ты умрёшь (дай бог тебе много лет здравствовать!) Вениямином русских поэтов, юнейшим из сынов Израиля, а новое поколение безъимянное; ибо имена, подобные Кукольнику, sentent fort le Perrault. Где ему до Шаховского? У того везде кое-что хорошо. Своя Семья мила, в Аристофане целая идея, и будь всё как второй акт, вышла бы в своём роде хорошая комедия; князь не тщательный художник и не великий поэт, но вопреки Boileau:

Il est bien des degrés du médiocre au pire

сиречь до Кукольника; и какими стихами, с тех пор как они взбунтовались противу всех правил, они пишут!

According to Katenin (who quotes Pushkin’s prediction that he, Pushkin, will die as the Benjamin of Russian poets, the youngest of Israel’s sons), despite Boileau, there are many degrees from mediocre to worst. Gradus is also known as Jack Degree, de Grey, d'Argus, Leningradus, Vinogradus, etc.; a Jack of small trades and a killer. (Kinbote’s Index)


Canto Four of Boileau’s L'Art poétique begins as follows:


Dans Florence, jadis, vivait un médecin,
Savant hâbleur, dit-on, et célèbre assassin.

In Florence once lived a physician,
skilful boaster, they say, and celebrated killer.


One of Gradus’ aliases, d’Argus, hints at Argus (a giant with 100 eyes, set to guard the heifer Io). In his poem Vsevolozhskomu (“To Vsevolozhski,” 1819) Pushkin mentions groznye Argusy (“the severe guards”) and nadezhda (hope):

Но вспомни, милый: здесь одна,
Тебя всечасно ожидая,
Вздыхает пленница младая;
Весь день уныла и томна,
В своей задумчивости сладкой
Тихонько плачет под окном
От грозных Аргусов украдкой,
И смотрит на пустынный дом,
Где мы так часто пировали
С Кипридой, Вакхом и тобой,
Куда с надеждой и тоской
Её желанья улетали. (ll. 47-58)

The surname Vsevolozhski comes from Vsevolod (a male given name). Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Vsevolod Botkin. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Botkin went mad after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote's Commentary).


In a letter of Jan. 4, 1835, to Pushkin Katenin says that he began the New Year with a sonnet:


Sonnet... c'est un sonnet. Да, любезнейший Александр Сергеевич, я обновил 1835-й год сонетом, не милым, как Оронтов, не во вкусе петраркистов, a разве несколько в роде Казы; и как étrenne посылаю к тебе с просьбою: коли ты найдёшь его хорошим, напечатать в "Библиотеке для чтения"; а поелику мне, бедняку, дарить богатого Смирдина грех, то продай ему NB как можно дороже.


Katenin's sonnet ends in the line:


И чем прискорбней жизнь, тем радостней могила.

And the more lamentable life is, the more joyful is the grave.


At the beginning of his memoir essay Vospominaniya o F. M. Dostoevskom (“Reminiscences of F. M. Dostoevski,” 1881) Vsevolod Solovyov (a son of the celebrated historian and brother of the celebrated philosopher) mentions mogila (the grave):


Человек только что опущен в могилу.

The man was just lowered into the grave.


One of the main characters in Dostoevski's novel Prestuplenie i nakazanie ("Crime and Punishment," 1866) is Sofia Semyonovna (Sonya) Marmeladov. The “real” name of Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) and Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin). The name and patronymic of the wives of A. K. Tolstoy and L. N. Tolstoy was Sofia Andreevna. Leo Tolstoy wrote his novel Voskresenie ("Resurrection," 1899) in order to help the Dukhobors (a religious group) to move to Canada. As a boy, Shade prayed for the Canadian maid and her niece Adèle. According to Kinbote, after her husband's death Sybil Shade (who came of Canadian stock) returned to Canada:


Needless to say how much I had been looking forward to Sybil Shade's providing me with abundant biographical data; unfortunately she left New Wye even before I did, and is dwelling now with relatives in Quebec. We might have had, of course, a most fruitful correspondence, but the Shadeans were not to be shaken off. They headed for Canada in droves to pounce on the poor lady as soon as I had lost contact with her and her changeful moods. (Foreword)


Dostoevski dedicated his novel Idiot (“The Idiot,” 1868) to his beloved niece Sofia Ivanov. The name of one of the three Epanchin sisters (the characters in “The Idiot”) is Adelaida. As he speaks to Prince Myshkin (the main character in “The Idiot”), Keller mentions izumrudy (emeralds):


- Послушайте, Келлер, я бы на вашем месте лучше не признавался в этом без особой нужды, - начал было князь, - а впрочем, ведь вы, может быть, нарочно на себя наговариваете?

- Вам, единственно вам одному, и единственно для того, чтобы помочь своему развитию! Больше никому; умру и под саваном унесу мою тайну! Но, князь, если бы вы знали, если бы вы только знали, как трудно в наш век достать денег! Где же их ваять, позвольте вас спросить после этого? Один ответ: "неси золото и бриллианты, под них и дадим", то-есть именно то, чего у меня нет, можете вы себе это представить? Я наконец рассердился, постоял, постоял. "А под изумруды, говорю, дадите?" - "И под изумруды, говорит, дам". - "Ну и отлично", говорю, надел шляпу и вышел; чорт с вами, подлецы вы этакие! Ей богу!

- А у вас разве были изумруды?

- Какие у меня изумруды! О, князь, как вы ещё светло и невинно, даже, можно сказать, пастушески смотрите на жизнь!


“Listen to me, Keller,” returned the prince. “If I were in your place, I should not acknowledge that unless it were absolutely necessary for some reason. But perhaps you are making yourself out to be worse than you are, purposely?”

“I should tell it to no one but yourself, prince, and I only name it now as a help to my soul’s evolution. When I die, that secret will die with me! But, excellency, if you knew, if you only had the least idea, how difficult it is to get money nowadays! Where to find it is the question. Ask for a loan, the answer is always the same: ‘Give us gold, jewels, or diamonds, and it will be quite easy.’ Exactly what one has not got! Can you picture that to yourself? I got angry at last, and said, ‘I suppose you would accept emeralds?’ ‘Certainly, we accept emeralds with pleasure. Yes!’ ‘Well, that’s all right,’ said I. ‘Go to the devil, you den of thieves!’ And with that I seized my hat, and walked out.”

“Had you any emeralds?” asked the prince.

“What? I have emeralds? Oh, prince! with what simplicity, with what almost pastoral simplicity, you look upon life!” (Part Two, chapter XI)


According to Kinbote, in a conversation with him Shade listed Dostoevski 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)


In collaboration with his cousins, A. K. Tolstoy invented Kozma Prutkov, a fictional author of aphorisms, fables, epigrams, satiric, humorous and nonsense verses. In A. K. Tolstoy’s satiric poem Istoriya Gosudarstva Rossiyskogo ot Gostomysla do Timasheva (“A History of the Russian State from Gostomysl to Timashev,” 1868) Vladimir I (the grand prince of Kiev who converted to Christianity in 988) says:


«Перун уж очень гадок!
Когда его спихнём,
Увидите, порядок
Какой мы заведём!»


“Perun is too loathsome!

You just see what an order

we'll have

once we dethrone him!”


At the end of his Commentary Kinbote quotes a saying that he heard from his Zemblan nurse:


Many years ago--how many I would not care to say--I remember my Zemblan nurse telling me, a little man of six in the throes of adult insomnia: "Minnamin, Gut mag alkan, Pern dirstan" (my darling, God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty). Well, folks, I guess many in this fine hall are as hungry and thirsty as me, and I'd better stop, folks, right here. (note to Line 1000)


Zemblan for “devil,” Pern seems to hint at Perun. In Pushkin’s Podrazhaniya koranu (“Imitations of the Koran,” 1824), a cycle of nine poepms, the last poem begins as follows:


И путник усталый на Бога роптал:
Он жаждой томился и тени алкал.


And the tired traveler grumbled at God:

he was thirsty and craved for a shade (teni alkal).


Pushkin is the author of a homoerotic poem Podrazhanie arabskomu (“Imitation of the Arabic,” 1835):


Отрок милый, отрок нежный,
Не стыдись, навек ты мой;
Тот же в нас огонь мятежный,
Жизнью мы жив
ём одной.

Не боюся я насмешек:
Мы сдвоились меж собой,
Мы точь в точь двойной орешек
Под единой скорлупой.

Sweet lad, tender lad,
Have no shame, you’re mine for good;
We share a sole insurgent fire,
We live in boundless brotherhood.

I do not fear the gibes of men;
One being split in two we dwell,
The kernel of a double nut
Embedded in a single shell.
(transl. Michael Green)


Dvoynoy oreshek pod edinoy skorlupoy (a double nut embedded in a single shell) brings to mind not only Shade and Kinbote (or Kinbote and one of his catamites), but also Hazel Shade (the poet’s daughter who resembled Kinbote in certain respects). In Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet Mercutio mentions Benvolio’s hazel eyes:


Thou wilt quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no other reason but because thou hast hazel eyes. (Act III, scene 1)


In his poem Eyo glaza (“Her Eyes,” 1828) Pushkin mentions glaza Oleninoy moey (the eyes of my Olenin). For the first time Pushkin saw Anna Kern (Mrs. Olenin's niece) early in 1819 at the house of Aleksey Olenin, the well-known patron of the arts. At this party at the Olenins' Krylov recited his fable Osyol i muzhik ("The Ass and the Boor"). The opening line of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, Moy dyadya samykh chestnykh pravil (My uncle has most honest principles), is an echo of line 4 of Krylov's fable, Osyol byl samykh chestnykh pravil (The donkey had most honest principles). Krylov is the author of Mot i lastochka ("The Spendthrift and the Swallow"). In a letter (written with Anna Kern) of May 10, 1825, to Pushkin Rodzyanko quotes his poem in which he calls Pushkin mot i rastochitel' (a spendthrift and squanderer):


О, Пушкин, мот и расточитель

Даров поэзии святой

И молодёжи удалой

Гиерофант и просветитель,

Любезный женщинам творец,

Певец [бр<одяг>] разбойников, Цыганов,

Безумцев, рыцарей, Русланов,

Скажи, чего ты не певец. —


In his poem Vospominaniya v Tsarskom Sele ("Recollections at Tsarskoe Selo," 1829) Pushkin compares himself to otrok biblii, bezumnyi rastochitel' (the lad of the bible, a crazy squanderer). In his poem Rodzyanko calls Pushkin pevets razboynikov, Tsyganov (the singer of robbers, Gypsies). According to Kinbote, Gradus' wife left her husband with a Gypsy lover.


Hazel Shade's real name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. Nadezhda is Russian for "hope." In his poem Nadezhdoy sladostnoy mladencheski dysha... ("Breathing youthfully with sweet hope..." 1823) Pushkin uses a phrase ot tlen'ya ubezhav (having fled decay):


Надеждой сладостной младенчески дыша,
Когда бы верил я, что некогда душа,
От тленья убежав, уносит мысли вечны,
И память, и любовь в пучины бесконечны, -
Клянусь! давно бы я оставил этот мир:
Я сокрушил бы жизнь, уродливый кумир,
И улетел в страну свободы, наслаждений,
В страну, где смерти нет, где нет предрассуждений,
Где мысль одна плывёт в небесной чистоте...

Но тщетно предаюсь обманчивой мечте;
Мой ум упорствует, надежду презирает...
Ничтожество меня за гробом ожидает...
Как, ничего! Ни мысль, ни первая любовь!
Мне страшно... И на жизнь гляжу печален вновь,
И долго жить хочу, чтоб долго образ милый
Таился и пылал в душе моей унылой.


In the second stanza of his great poem Exegi monumentum (1836) Pushkin says:


Net, ves' ya ne umru - dusha v zavetnoy lire

moy prakh perezhivyot i tlen'ya ubezhit...


No, I'll not wholly die. My soul in the sacred lyre

is to survive my dust and flee decay...


Umru (I'll die) brings to mind the Umruds (an Eskimo tribe sometimes seen paddling their umyaks on the emerald waters of Zemblan northern shores). In VN's novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) describes a stage play in which Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother) played the heroine and mentions an old Eskimo nurse:


In the first of these [scenes] she [Marina] had undressed in graceful silhouette behind a semitransparent screen, reappeared in a flimsy and fetching nightgown, and spent the rest of the wretched scene discussing a local squire, Baron d’O., with an old nurse in Eskimo boots. Upon the infinitely wise countrywoman’s suggestion, she goose-penned from the edge of her bed, on a side table with cabriole legs, a love letter and took five minutes to reread it in a languorous but loud voice for no body’s benefit in particular since the nurse sat dozing on a kind of sea chest, and the spectators were mainly concerned with the artificial moonlight’s blaze upon the lovelorn young lady’s bare arms and heaving breasts.

Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the message, Demon Veen had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded to win the wager, the success of his enterprise being assured by the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin, had been in love with him since their last dance on New Year’s Eve. (1.2)


In Van's and Ada's petits vers Adèle rhymes with l’hirondelle (the swallow in French):


Oh! qui me rendra, mon Adèle,

Et ma montagne et l’hirondelle? (1.22)


According to Kinbote, Sybil Shade's maiden name comes from hirondelle:


John Shade's wife, née Irondell (which comes not from a little valley yielding iron ore but from the French for "swallow"). She was a few months his senior. I understand she came of Canadian stock, as did Shade's maternal grandmother (a first cousin of Sybil's grandfather, if I am not greatly mistaken). (note to Line 247)


In Exegi monumentum Pushkin mentions nyne dikoy tungus (the now savage Tungus) who brings to mind the Umruds (an Eskimo tribe). As VN points out in his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 310), in Exegi monumentum Pushkin parodies stanza for stanza Derzhavin’s poem Pamyatnik (“The Monument,” 1796). In his poem Lastochka (“The Swallow,” 1792-94) written after the death of ‘Plenyra’ (Derzhavin’s first wife) Derzhavin compares his soul to a swallow:


Душа моя! гостья ты мира:
Не ты ли перната сия? —
Воспой же бессмертие, лира!

Восстану, восстану и я, —
Восстану, — и в бездне эфира
Увижу ль тебя я, Пленира?


My soul! You are a guest of the world:

Isn’t you this feathered creature?

So sing of immortality, my lyre!

I too, I too will arise,

I will arise and in the abyss of ether

Will I see you, my Plenyra?