According to John Ray, Jr. (in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955, the author of the Foreword to Humbert Humbert’s manuscript), Mrs. “Richard F. Schiller” (Lolita’s married name) died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest:
For the benefit of old-fashioned readers who wish to follow the destinies of “real” people beyond the “true” story, a few details may be given as received from Mr. “Windmuller,” of “Ramsdale,” who desires his identity suppressed so that “the long shadows of this sorry and sordid business” should not reach the community to which he is proud to belong. His daughter, “Louise,” is by now a college sophomore. “Mona Dahl” is a student in Paris. “Rita” has recently married the proprietor of a hotel in Florida. Mrs. “Richard F. Schiller” died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest. ‘Vivian Darkbloom’ has written a biography, ‘My Cue,’ to be published shortly, and critics who have perused the manuscript call it her best book. The caretakers of the various cemeteries involved report that no ghosts walk.
Gray Star brings to mind seraya ot zvyozd dal’ (remote regions grey from the stars) mentioned by VN at the beginning of Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), the Russian version of his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951):
Сколько раз я чуть не вывихивал разума, стараясь высмотреть малейший луч личного среди безличной тьмы по оба предела жизни? Я готов был стать единоверцем последнего шамана, только бы не отказаться от внутреннего убеждения, что себя я не вижу в вечности лишь из-за земного времени, глухой стеной окружающего жизнь. Я забирался мыслью в серую от звёзд даль -- но ладонь скользила всё по той же совершенно непроницаемой глади. Кажется, кроме самоубийства, я перепробовал все выходы. Я отказывался от своего лица, чтобы проникнуть заурядным привидением в мир, существовавший до меня. Я мирился с унизительным соседством романисток, лепечущих о разных йогах и атлантидах. Я терпел даже отчёты о медиумистических переживаниях каких-то английских полковников индийской службы, довольно ясно помнящих свои прежние воплощения под ивами Лхассы. В поисках ключей и разгадок я рылся в своих самых ранних снах -- и раз уж я заговорил о снах, прошу заметить, что безоговорочно отметаю фрейдовщину и всю её тёмную средневековую подоплеку, с её маниакальной погоней за половой символикой, с её угрюмыми эмбриончиками, подглядывающими из природных засад угрюмое родительское соитие.
Over and over again, my mind has made colossal efforts to distinguish the faintest of personal glimmers in the impersonal darkness on both sides of my life. That this darkness is caused merely by the walls of time separating me and my bruised fists from the free world of timelessness is a belief I gladly share with the most gaudily painted savage. I have journeyed back in thought—with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went—to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits. I have journeyed back in thought—with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went—to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits. Short of suicide, I have tried everything. I have doffed my identity in order to pass for a conventional spook and steal into realms that existed before I was conceived. I have mentally endured the degrading company of Victorian lady novelists and retired colonels who remembered having, in former lives, been slave messengers on a Roman road or sages under the willows of Lhasa. I have ransacked my oldest dreams for keys and clues—and let me say at once that I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with its crankish quest for sexual symbols (something like searching for Baconian acrostics in Shakespeare’s works) and its bitter little embryos spying, from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents. (Chapter One, 1)
Luch being Russian for “ray,” maleyshiy luch lichnogo (the faintest of personal glimmers) that VN tried to distinguish in the impersonal darkness on both sides of his life brings to mind John Ray, Jr. Like VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1952), Drugie berega were brought out by the Chekhov Publishing House in New York. In his memoir essay O Chekhove (“On Chekhov”), the first one in his book Na kladbishchakh (“At Cemeteries,” 1921), Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko compares Chekhov’s laughter to luch v potyomkakh (a ray in the dark):
Смеялся он редко, но когда смеялся, всем становилось весело, точно луч в потёмках.
He laughed seldom, but when he laughed, everybody became cheerful, like a ray in the dark.
In the Russian version (1967) of Lolita Humbert Humbert becomes Gumbert Gumbert. In Otechestvennyi Tsintsinnat ("The Russian Cincinnatus"), a memoir essay on D. I. Milyutin included in “At Cemetries,” Nemirovich mentions korol' Italii Gumbert (the king of Italy Umberto I) whose wide-open and senselessly glassy eyes resembled those of Alexander II in the last years of his life:
В Александре II предполагали начало прогрессивного паралича, хотя, кажется, никаких задатков к этому у него не было. Глаза у него сделались точно стеклянные, и он всегда шёл, глядя неподвижно и прямо перед собою, точно ноги у него были заведены скрытым механизмом. Он не замечал на пути никаких препятствий. Заботою окружавших было отодвигать по этой прямой линии столы, стулья, всё, что он не видел или не удостаивал видеть. Потом я точно такие глаза, широко открытые и бессмысленно стеклянные, встречал у короля Италии Гумберта. У того и другого не мигающие и потому жуткие.
In a letter of October 17 (29), 1897, to Suvorin Chekhov (who stayed in the Pension Russe in Nice) asks Suvorin to bring from Paris zhurnal "Le Rire" s portretom Gumberta (the magazine issue with King Umberto’s portrait):
Привезите журнал «Le rire» с портретом Гумберта, если попадётся на глаза.
Bring the issue of Le Rire with Umberto’s portrait, if you catch sight of it.
Lolita’s full name is Dolores Haze. In Paracelsus (1835) Robert Browning mentions a luminous haze that links star to star:
Even as a luminous haze links star to star,
I would supply all chasms with music, breathing
Mysterious motions of the soul, no way
To be defined save in strange melodies. (Part II)
Describing his stay in Elphinstone (the town in which Lolita is abducted from him), Humbert Humbert “quotes” Browning’s poem Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister:
No doubt, I was a little delirious - and on the following day I was still a vibration rather than a solid, for when I looked out the bathroom window at the adjacent lawn, I saw Dolly’s beautiful young bicycle propped up there on its support, the graceful front wheel looking away from me, as it always did, and a sparrow perched on the saddle - but it was the landlady’s bike, and smiling a little, and shaking my poor head over my fond fancies, I tottered back to my bed, and lay as quiet as a saint
Saint, forsooth! While brown Dolores,
On a patch of sunny green
With Sanchicha reading stories
In a movie magazine
which was represented by numerous specimens wherever Dolores landed, and there was some great national celebration in town judging by the firecrackers, veritable bombs, that exploded all the time, and at five minutes to two p. m. I heard the sound of whistling lips nearing the half-opened door of my cabin, and then a thump upon it. (2.22)
“Cloister” rhymes with “oyster.” Ustritsy (“Oysters,” 1884) is a story by Chekhov. Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions young gourmets tearing ‘plump and live’ oysters out of their ‘cloisters’ (in Pushkin’s "Fragments of Onegin's Journey"):
Van remembered that his tutor’s great friend, the learned but prudish Semyon Afanasievich Vengerov, then a young associate professor but already a celebrated Pushkinist (1855-1954), used to say that the only vulgar passage in his author’s work was the cannibal joy of young gourmets tearing ‘plump and live’ oysters out of their ‘cloisters’ in an unfinished canto of Eugene Onegin. But then ‘everyone has his own taste,’ as the British writer Richard Leonard Churchill mistranslates a trite French phrase (chacun à son gout) twice in the course of his novel about a certain Crimean Khan once popular with reporters and politicians, ‘A Great Good Man’ — according, of course, to the cattish and prejudiced Guillaume Monparnasse about whose new celebrity Ada, while dipping the reversed corolla of one hand in a bowl, was now telling Demon, who was performing the same rite in the same graceful fashion. (1.38)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Great good man: a phrase that Winston Churchill, the British politician, enthusiastically applied to Stalin.
At the end of his poem O pravitelyakh (“On Rulers,” 1944) VN says that, if his late namesake (V. V. Mayakovski) were still alive, he would be now finding taut rhymes such as monumentalen and pereperchil:
Покойный мой тёзка,
писавший стихи и в полоску,
и в клетку, на самом восходе
кабы дожил до полдня,
нынче бы рифмы натягивал
и так далее.
If my late namesake,
who used to write verse, in rank
and in file, at the very dawn
of the Soviet Small-Bourgeois order,
had lived till its noon
he would be now finding taut rhymes
such as “praline”
or “air chill,”
and others of the same kind.
VN’s footnote: Lines 58–59/“praline” … “air chill.” In the original, monumentalen, meaning “[he is] monumental” rhymes pretty closely with Stalin; and pereperchil, meaning “[he] put in too much pepper,” offers an ingenuous correspondence with the name of the British politician in a slovenly Russian pronunciation (“chair-chill”).
Pereperchil brings to mind Chekhov’s story Peresolil (“Overdoing it,” 1885; literally peresolil means “[he] put in too much salt”) in which Devkino, General Khokhotov’s estate, is mentioned:
— Скажите, пожалуйста, где я могу найти здесь почтовых лошадей? — обратился землемер к станционному жандарму.
— Которых? Почтовых? Тут за сто вёрст путевой собаки не сыщешь, а не то что почтовых... Да вам куда ехать?
— В Девкино, имение генерала Хохотова.
— Что ж? — зевнул жандарм. — Ступайте за станцию, там на дворе иногда бывают мужики, возят пассажиров.
"Tell me, please, where can I get post-horses here?" the surveyor asked of the station gendarme.
"What? Post-horses? There's no finding a decent dog for seventy miles round, let alone post-horses. . . . But where do you want to go?"
"To Devkino, General Khokhotov's estate."
"Well," yawned the gendarme, "go outside the station, there are sometimes peasants in the yard there, they will take passengers."
Devkino brings to mind parni – devki (Guys - Gals), a toilet sign in the Russian Lolita:
Моя небрезгливая Лолита охотно пользовалась придорожными уборными - её пленяли их надписи: "Парни" - "Девки”, "Иван да Марья" "Он" и "Она", и даже "Адам" и "Ева"; и, пока она там пребывала, я терялся в поэтическом сне, созерцая добросовестную красочность бензиновых приспособлений, выделявшуюся на чудной зелени дубов, или какой-нибудь дальний холм, который выкарабкивался, покрытый рубцами, но все ещё неприрученный, из дебрей агрикультуры, старавшихся им завладеть.
A great user of roadside facilities, my unfastidious Lo would be charmed by toilet signs Guys-Gals, John-Jane, Jack-Jill and even Buck’s-Doe’s; while lost in an artist’s dream, I would stare at the honest brightness of the gasoline paraphernalia against the splendid green of oaks, or at a distant hill scrambling out - scarred but still untamed - from the wilderness of agriculture that was trying to swallow it. (2.1)
In Ada Van mentions a cute toilet sign in the Goodson Airport:
Demon, flaunting his flair, desired to be told if Van or his poule had got into trouble with the police (nodding toward Jim or John who having some other delivery to make sat glancing through Crime Copulate Bessarmenia).
‘Poule,’ replied Van with the evasive taciturnity of the Roman rabbi shielding Barabbas.
‘Why gray?’ asked Demon, alluding to Van’s overcoat. ‘Why that military cut? It’s too late to enlist.’
‘I couldn’t — my draft board would turn me down anyway.’
‘How’s the wound?’
‘Komsi-komsa. It now appears that the Kalugano surgeon messed up his job. The rip seam has grown red and raw, without any reason, and there’s a lump in my armpit. I’m in for another spell of surgery — this time in London, where butchers carve so much better. Where’s the mestechko here? Oh, I see it. Cute (a gentian painted on one door, a lady fern on the other: have to go to the herbarium).’ (2.1)
Van's gray overcoat brings to mind not only Gray Star in Lolita, but also Gogol's story Shinel' ("The Overcoat," 1841). Percy de Prey (one of Ada's lovers who goes to the war and perishes in the Crimea on the second day of the invasion) resembles in certain respect Akakiy Akakievich Bashmachkin (the pathetic main character of "The Overcoat"). Revisiting Ramsdale in 1952, Humbert Humbert finds out that Charlie Holmes (Lolita's first lover who debauched her in Camp Q.) was killed in Korea.
In the Russian Lolita "the most penetrating bodkin" with which Trapp painfully hurts Humbert Humbert is the following entry in the book of the Kasbeam motel:
Но больнее всего пронзила меня кощунственная анаграмма нашего первого незабвенного привала (в 1947-ом году, читатель!), которую я отыскал в книге касбимского мотеля, где он ночевал рядом с нами: «Ник. Павлыч Хохотов, Вран, Аризона». (2.23)
“Nik. Pavlych Khokhotov, Vran, Arizona” (the entry in the book of the Kasbeam motel) is an anagram of Prival zacharovannykh okhotnikov (The Enchanted Hunters), the hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together (and where Clare Quilty is their neighbor). "Nik. Pavlych" seems to hint at Nicholas I, the tsar (father of Alexander II) who was nicknamed Nikolay Palkin (from palka, "stick, cane").
The surname Khokhotov comes from khokhotat’ (roar with laughter), a verb used by VN at the beginning of his poem “On Rulers:”
Вы будете (как иногда
смеяться, вы будете (как ясновидцы
говорят) хохотать, господа -
но, честное слово,
у меня есть приятель,
привела бы в волнение мысль поздороваться
главою правительства или другого какого
You will (as sometimes
laugh; you will (as clairvoyants
say) roar with laughter, gentlemen—
but, word of honor,
I have a crony,
would be thrilled to shake hands
with the head of a state or of any other
In VN's story Volshebnik ("The Enchanter," 1939), the Russian precursor to Lolita, the word khokhotal (was guffawing) is repeated twice:
На похоронах народу было совсем мало (но почему-то явился один из его прежних полуприятелей - золотых дел мастер с женой), и потом, в обратном автомобиле, полная дама (бывшая также на его шутовской свадьбе) говорила ему, участливо, но и внушительно (он сидел, головы не поднимая - голова от езды колебалась), что теперь-то по крайней мере ненормальное положение ребёнка должно измениться (приятельница бывшей особы притворилась, что смотрит на улицу) и что в отеческой заботе он непременно найдёт должное утешение, а другая (бесконечно отдаленная родственница покойной) вмешалась и сказала: "Девчоночка-то прехорошенькая! Придётся вам смотреть в оба - и так уже не по летам крупненькая, а годика через три так и будут липнуть молодые люди - забот не оберётесь", - и он про себя хохотал, хохотал на пуховиках счастья.
There were very few people at the funeral (but for some reason a friend of sorts from former times, a gold craftsman, showed up with his wife), and later, in the home-bound car, a plump lady (who had also been at his farcical wedding) told him, compassionately but in no uncertain terms (as his bowed head bobbed with the car's motion), that now, at least, something must be done about the child's abnormal situation (meanwhile his late spouse's friend pretended to gaze out into the street), and that paternal concerns would undoubtedly give him the needed consolation, and a third woman (an infinitely remote relative of the deceased) joined in, saying, "And what a pretty girl she is! You'll have to watch her like a hawk-she's already biggish for her age, just wait another three years and the boys will be sticking to her like flies, you'll have no end of worries," and meanwhile he was guffawing and guffawing to himself, floating on featherbeds of happiness.
In “On Rulers” VN mentions kuchera gosudarstv (the coachmen of empires):
Кучера государств зато хороши
при исполнении должности: шибко
ледяная навстречу летит синева,
огневые трещат на ветру рукава...
Наблюдатель глядит иностранный
и спереди видит прекрасные очи навыкат,
а сзади прекрасную помесь диванной
подушки с чудовищной тыквой.
Per contra, the coachmen of empires look good
when performing their duties: swiftly
toward them flies the blue of the sky;
their flame-colored sleeves clap in the wind;
the foreign observer looks on and sees
in front bulging eyes of great beauty
and behind a beautiful blend
of divan cushion and monstrous pumpkin.
The characters in Chekhov’s story Peresolil include the coachman Klim. He has the same first name as the hero of Gorky’s novel Zhizn’ Klima Samgina (“The Life of Klim Samgin,” 1925-36) and Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), in Ada Marina’s former lover who gave her children (Van, Ada and Lucette) a set of Flavita (the Russian Scrabble):
The set our three children received in 1884 from an old friend of the family (as Marina’s former lovers were known), Baron Klim Avidov, consisted of a large folding board of saffian and a boxful of weighty rectangles of ebony inlaid with platinum letters, only one of which was a Roman one, namely the letter J on the two joker blocks (as thrilling to get as a blank check signed by Jupiter or Jurojin). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter’s lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one’s name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)
In Chekhov’s play Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896) Dorn calls Arkadina (the ageing actress) Jupiter and she replies that she is a woman, not Jupiter:
Тригорин. Каждый пишет так, как хочет и как может.
Аркадина. Пусть он пишет, как хочет и как может, только пусть оставит меня в покое.
Дорн. Юпитер, ты сердишься...
Аркадина. Я не Юпитер, а женщина. (Закуривает.) Я не сержусь, мне только досадно, что молодой человек так скучно проводит время. Я не хотела его обидеть.
Trigorin. Everybody writes as he wants and as he can.
Arkadina. Let him write as he wants and can, but let him spare me his nonsense.
Dorn. Jupiter, you are angry...
Arkadina. I am a woman, not Jupiter. [She lights a cigarette] And I am not angry, I am only sorry to see a young man foolishly wasting his time. I did not mean to hurt him. (Act One)
Graystar seems to correspond to Juneau, a city in Alaska whose name sounds like Juno (an ancient Roman goddess, wife of Jupiter).
According to Shamraev (a character in “The Seagull”), de gustibus aut bene, aut nihil:
Шамраев (вздохнув). Пашка Чадин! Таких уж нет теперь. Пала сцена, Ирина Николаевна! Прежде были могучие дубы, а теперь мы видим одни только пни.
Дорн. Блестящих дарований теперь мало, это правда, но средний актер стал гораздо выше.
Шамраев. Не могу с вами согласиться. Впрочем, это дело вкуса. De gustibus aut bene, aut nihil.
Shamraev. [Sighing] Pashka Chadin! There are none left like him. The stage is not what it was in his time. There were sturdy oaks growing on it then, where now but stumps remain.
Dorn. It is true that we have few dazzling geniuses these days, but, on the other hand, the average of acting is much higher.
Shamraev. I cannot agree with you; however, that is a matter of taste. De gustibus aut bene, aut nihil. (Act One)
De Gustibus - (1855) is a famous poem by Robert Browning. In its first part Browning mentions the hazel coppice:
Your ghost will walk, you lover of trees,
(If our loves remain)
In an English lane,
By a cornfield-side a-flutter with poppies.
Hark, those two in the hazel coppice —
A boy and a girl, if the good fates please,
Making love, say —
The happier they!
Draw yourself up from the light of the moon,
And let them pass, as they will too soon,
With the bean-flowers’ boon,
And the blackbird’s tune,
And May, and June!
The hazel coppice brings to mind Hazel Shade, in VN's novel Pale Fire (1962) John Shade's daughter who "twisted words." In the Russian Lolita headmistress Pratt complains that Lolita reads backward the names of some her teachers:
Имеет какие-то свои тайные шуточки, читает обратно, например, фамилии некоторых учительниц. Волосы тёмнорусые и светлорусые вперемежку, с блеском - ну, я думаю (Праттша заржала), - это вы сами знаете. Нос незаложен, ступни с высоким подъемом, глаза - погодите, у меня тут был более недавний отчет. Да! Вот он. Мисс Гольд говорит, что отметки за теннисный стиль Долли поднялись от "отлично" до "великолепно" - они даже лучше, чем у нашей чемпионки Линды Голль, но у Долли плохая концентрация, что отражается на счёте. Мисс Корморант не может решить, имеет ли Долли исключительную власть над своими эмоциями или же сама всецело находится под их властью. Мисс Зелва докладывает, что ей, т. е. Долли, не удается словесно оформить свои переживания,а Мисс Дутен считает, что Доллины органические функции выше всех похвал. (2.11)
If read backward, the names of Miss Zelva and Miss Duten (Lolita's teachers mentioned by Pratt) make up the phrase ne tuda vlez (got in a wrong place). Humbert Humbert made a mistake by enrolling Lolita in Beardsley school.
Lolita is a “nymphet.” In Part Two of Browning’s Paracelsus Aprile mentions nymph and a twilight star:
I would love infinitely, and be loved.
First: I would carve in stone, or cast in brass,
The forms of earth. No ancient hunter lifted
Up to the gods by his renown, no nymph
Supposed the sweet soul of a woodland tree
Or sapphirine spirit of a twilight star,
Should be too hard for me; no shepherd-king
Regal for his white locks; no youth who stands
Silent and very calm amid the throng,
His right hand ever hid beneath his robe
Until the tyrant pass; no lawgiver,
No swan-soft woman rubbed with lucid oils
Given by a god for love of her—too hard!
At the end of his famous monologue in Shakespeare's play (3.1) Hamlet calls Ophelia "Nymph" and mentions all his sins:
The fair Ophelia - Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.
At the beginning of Lolita (1.1) Humbert Humbert calls Lolita "my sin, my soul:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. 1.1)
In Chekhov's "Seagull" Arkadina and Treplev quote from Hamlet (in Polevoy's "translation"):
Аркадина (читает из Гамлета). «Мой сын! Ты очи обратил мне внутрь души, и я увидела её в таких кровавых, в таких смертельных язвах — нет спасенья!»
Треплев (из Гамлета). «И для чего ж ты поддалась пороку, любви искала в бездне преступленья?»
Arkadina. [Quoting from Hamlet] My son, “Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul; And there I see such black grained spots As will not leave their tinct.”
Treplev [Quoting from Hamlet] "ay, but to live In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love Over the nasty sty,--" (Act One)
Describing the picnic on Ada's sixteenth birthday, Van quotes from the last scene of Chekhov's "Seagull" snd compares Ada to a spy:
‘Van!’ called Ada shrilly. ‘I want to say something to you, Van, come here.’
Dorn (flipping through a literary review, to Trigorin): ‘Here, a couple of months ago, a certain article was printed… a Letter from America, and I wanted to ask you, incidentally’ (taking Trigorin by the waist and leading him to the front of the stage), ‘because I’m very much interested in that question…’
Ada stood with her back against the trunk of a tree, like a beautiful spy who has just rejected the blindfold.
‘I wanted to ask you, incidentally, Van’ (continuing in a whisper, with an angry flick of the wrist) — ‘stop playing the perfect idiot host; he came drunk as a welt, can’t you see?’ (1.39)
According to Humbert Humbert, spies are generally shot:
From the debouchment of the trail came a rustle, a footfall, and Jean Farlow marched down with her easel and things.
“You scared us,” said Charlotte.
Jean said she had been up there, in a place of green concealment, spying on nature (spies are generally shot), trying to finish a lakescape, but it was no good, she had no talent whatever (which was quite true)”And have you ever tried painting, Humbert?” Charlotte, who was a little jealous of Jean, wanted to know if John was coming.
He was. He was coming home for lunch today. He had dropped her on the way to Parkington and should be picking her up any time now. It was a grand morning. She always felt a traitor to Cavall and Melampus for leaving them roped on such gorgeous days. She sat down on the white sand between Charlotte and me. She wore shorts. Her long brown legs were about as attractive to me as those of a chestnut mare. She showed her gums when she smiled.
“I almost put both of you into my lake,” she said. “I even noticed something you overlooked. You [addressing Humbert] had your wrist watch on in, yes, sir, you had.”
“Waterproof,” said Charlotte softly, making a fish mouth. (1.20)
In Chekhov’s story Poprygun’ya (“The Grasshopper,” 1892) Olga Ivanovna (like Jean Farlow, an amateur artist) wears a waterproof (raincoat):
Приехала она домой через двое с половиной суток. Не снимая шляпы и ватерпруфа, тяжело дыша от волнения, она прошла в гостиную, а оттуда в столовую.
She arrived home two and a half days later. Breathless with excitement, she went, without taking off her hat or waterproof, into the drawing-room and thence into the dining-room. (chapter V)
In the Pension Russe in Nice where Chekhov and Nemirovich lived in the late 1890s one of their neighbors, a young man from Warsaw, turned out to be a spy:
Второй, совсем уж шут гороховый, явился из Варшавы и с первой же встречи огорошил Чехова. За общим столом он оказался рядом. Я передаю точно всё это -- хоть порою оно сбивает на анекдот.
-- Извините, я, может быть, неприятен вам, -- шёпотом обратился он к А. П. Чехову.
-- По роду своих занятий.
Бледный. Усы ещё не пробиваются, глаза испуганные, наивные. Весь в веснушках. Губы по-детски пухлые... Из чудом выживших недоносков.
-- А вы кто же будете? Какие у вас занятия?.. -- Вижу, Чехов серьёзен, а в глазах у него загораются весёлые искорки.
-- Я... извините... шпион.
In one of his conversations with Chekhov the spy mentioned Chekhov’s voyage to Sakhalin (a place of penal servitude in the Tsarist Russia):
-- Вы знаете, чем он меня утешил?
-- "Извините, шпион-с!" "Я, говорит, маленький человек, а сейчас на одну линию с вами попал". -- "Например?" -- спрашиваю. -- "А как же! Вы были на Сахалине в казённой командировке, а я на такой же здесь... Для пользы службы". -- "Помните один из анекдотов Якоби о концертировавшем Николае Рубинштейне и господине, ехавшем в одном с ним вагоне на Нижегородскую ярмарку: Ну, как наши с вами дела пойдут?"
Смеялся он редко, но когда смеялся, всем становилось весело, точно луч в потёмках.
...He laughed seldom, but when he laughed, everybody became cheerful, like a ray in the dark.
Gritz + Ray + rats/Rast/tsar/arts = Gray Star + Ritz
A hotel in Venezia Rossa (where Baron Klim Avidov knocked out Walter C. Keyway, Esq.), the Gritz hints at Mme Gritsatsuev, in Ilf and Petrov's novel Dvenadtsat' stuliev ("The Twelve Chairs," 1928) a passionate woman, a poet's dream, whom Bender marries in Stargorod. Flavita (the Antiterran name of the Russian Scrabble) is an anagram of alfavit (alphabet). One of the chapters in "The Twelve Chairs" is entitled Alfavit - zerkalo zhizni ("The Mirror of Life Index"). Like Humbert Humbert, Ostap Bender constantly appeals to gospoda prisyazhnye zasedateli (gentlemen of the jury).
According to Van Veen, Proust liked to decapitate rats when he did not feel like sleeping:
Night, of course, always remained an ordeal, throughout the near-century of his life, no matter how drowsy or drugged the poor man might be — for genius is not all gingerbread even for Billionaire Bill with his pointed beardlet and stylized bald dome, or crusty Proust who liked to decapitate rats when he did not feel like sleeping, or this brilliant or obscure V.V. (depending on the eyesight of readers, also poor people despite our jibes and their jobs); but at Ardis, the intense life of the star-haunted sky troubled the boy’s night so much that, on the whole, he felt grateful when foul weather or the fouler gnat — the Kamargsky Komar of our muzhiks and the Moustique moscovite of their no less alliterative retaliators — drove him back to his bumpy bed. (1.12)
"Billionaire Bill with his pointed beardlet and stylized bald dome" is William Shakespeare. Discussing with Van her dramatic career, Ada pairs Shakespeare with Chekhov:
‘I seem to have always felt, for example, that acting should be focused not on "characters," not on "types" of something or other, not on the fokus-pokus of a social theme, but exclusively on the subjective and unique poetry of the author, because playwrights, as the greatest among them has shown, are closer to poets than to novelists. In "real" life we are creatures of chance in an absolute void — unless we be artists ourselves, naturally; but in a good play I feel authored, I feel passed by the board of censors, I feel secure, with only a breathing blackness before me (instead of our Fourth-Wall Time), I feel cuddled in the embrace of puzzled Will (he thought I was you) or in that of the much more normal Anton Pavlovich, who was always passionately fond of long dark hair.’ (2.9)
Describing his love-making with Ada, Van mentions a century-old lithograph of Ardis, by Peter de Rast:
Those intrusions were repeated on the next two or three occasions. Lucette would come ever nearer, now picking a chanterelle and feigning to eat it raw, then crouching to capture a grasshopper or at least going through the natural motions of idle play and carefree pursuit. She would advance up to the center of the weedy playground in front of the forbidden pavilion, and there, with an air of dreamy innocence, start to jiggle the board of an old swing that hung from the long and lofty limb of Baldy, a partly leafless but still healthy old oak (which appeared — oh, I remember, Van! — in a century-old lithograph of Ardis, by Peter de Rast, as a young colossus protecting four cows and a lad in rags, one shoulder bare). When our lovers (you like the authorial possessive, don’t you, Van?) happened to look out again, Lucette was rocking the glum dackel, or looking up at an imaginary woodpecker, or with various pretty contortions unhurriedly mounting the gray-looped board and swinging gently and gingerly as if never having done it yet, while idiot Dack barked at the locked pavilion door. She increased her momentum so cannily that Ada and her cavalier, in the pardonable blindness of ascending bliss, never once witnessed the instant when the round rosy face with all its freckles aglow swooped up and two green eyes leveled at the astounding tandem. (1.35)
Describing Kim Beauharnais's album, Van calls Kalugano "the Athens of Graphic Arts:"
In an equally casual tone of voice Van said: ‘Darling, you smoke too much, my belly is covered with your ashes. I suppose Bouteillan knows Professor Beauharnais’s exact address in the Athens of Graphic Arts.'
‘You shall not slaughter him,’ said Ada. ‘He is subnormal, he is, perhaps, blackmailerish, but in his sordidity, there is an istoshnïy ston (‘visceral moan’) of crippled art. Furthermore, this page is the only really naughty one. And let’s not forget that a copperhead of eight was also ambushed in the brush’.
‘Art my foute. This is the hearse of ars, a toilet roll of the Carte du Tendre! I’m sorry you showed it to me. That ape has vulgarized our own mind-pictures. I will either horsewhip his eyes out or redeem our childhood by making a book of it: Ardis, a family chronicle.’ (2.7)
Van finds out Kim Beauharnais's address from wheezy Jones (the Ladore policeman who who helps Van to blind Kim):
The entire staff stood in several rows on the steps of the pillared porch behind the Bank President Baroness Veen and the Vice President Ida Larivière. Those two were flanked by the two prettiest typists, Blanche de la Tourberie (ethereal, tearstained, entirely adorable) and a black girl who had been hired, a few days before Van’s departure, to help French, who towered rather sullenly above her in the second row, the focal point of which was Bouteillan, still wearing the costume sport he had on when driving off with Van (that picture had been muffed or omitted). On the butler’s right side stood three footmen; on his left, Bout (who had valeted Van), the fat, flour-pale cook (Blanche’s father) and, next to French, a terribly tweedy gentleman with sightseeing strappings athwart one shoulder: actually (according to Ada), a tourist, who, having come all the way from England to see Bryant’s Castle, had bicycled up the wrong road and was, in the picture, under the impression of accidentally being conjoined to a group of fellow tourists who were visiting some other old manor quite worth inspecting too. The back rows consisted of less distinguished menservants and scullions, as well as of gardeners, stableboys, coachmen, shadows of columns, maids of maids, aids, laundresses, dresses, recesses — getting less and less distinct as in those bank ads where limited little employees dimly dimidiated by more fortunate shoulders, but still asserting themselves, still smile in the process of humble dissolve.
‘Isn’t that wheezy Jones in the second row? I always liked the old fellow.’
‘No,’ answered Ada, ‘that’s Price. Jones came four years later. He is now a prominent policeman in Lower Ladore. Well, that’s all.’ (ibid.).
During his first tea party at Ardis Van says that Price reseembles his teacher of histor, 'Jeejee' Jones:
They now had tea in a prettily furnished corner of the otherwise very austere central hall from which rose the grand staircase. They sat on chairs upholstered in silk around a pretty table. Ada’s black jacket and a pink-yellow-blue nosegay she had composed of anemones, celandines and columbines lay on a stool of oak. The dog got more bits of cake than it did ordinarily. Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van’s teacher of history, ‘Jeejee’ Jones.
‘He resembles my teacher of history,’ said Van when the man had gone.
‘I used to love history,’ said Marina, ‘I loved to identify myself with famous women. There’s a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties — Lincoln’s second wife or Queen Josephine.’
‘Yes, I’ve noticed — it’s beautifully done. We’ve got a similar set at home.’
‘Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?’ Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.
‘Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),’ replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis’ (with a slight smile). ‘Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.’
‘Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.’
‘Pah,’ uttered Ada. (1.5)
In his poem "On Rulers" VN mentions the historian who dies of sheer boredom:
Умирает со скуки историк:
за Мамаем всё тот же Мамай.
The historian dies of sheer boredom:
on the heels of Mamai comes another Mamai.
A particularly evil Tartar Prince of the 14th century, Khan Mamai was defeated by the Russians led by the Moscow Prince Dmitri (surnamed Donskoy) in the battle of Kulikovo (1380). It seems that on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) the Russians lost the battle of Kulikovo and migrated to America crossing the Bering Strait ("the ha-ha of a doubled ocean"):
The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans — and not to grave men or gravemen.
Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless forefathers. For, indeed, none can deny the presence of something highly ludicrous in the very configurations that were solemnly purported to represent a varicolored map of Terra. Ved’ (‘it is, isn’t it’) sidesplitting to imagine that ‘Russia,’ instead of being a quaint synonym of Estoty, the American province extending from the Arctic no longer vicious Circle to the United States proper, was on Terra the name of a country, transferred as if by some sleight of land across the ha-ha of a doubled ocean to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over all of today’s Tartary, from Kurland to the Kuriles! But (even more absurdly), if, in Terrestrial spatial terms, the Amerussia of Abraham Milton was split into its components, with tangible water and ice separating the political, rather than poetical, notions of ‘America’ and ‘Russia,’ a more complicated and even more preposterous discrepancy arose in regard to time — not only because the history of each part of the amalgam did not quite match the history of each counterpart in its discrete condition, but because a gap of up to a hundred years one way or another existed between the two earths; a gap marked by a bizarre confusion of directional signs at the crossroads of passing time with not all the no-longers of one world corresponding to the not-yets of the other. It was owing, among other things, to this ‘scientifically ungraspable’ concourse of divergences that minds bien rangés (not apt to unhobble hobgoblins) rejected Terra as a fad or a fantom, and deranged minds (ready to plunge into any abyss) accepted it in support and token of their own irrationality. (1.3)
The Antiterran L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS), in our world. L is Lolita's and Lucette's initial. Lolita's (and Van Veen's) birthday is January 1, Lucette's birthday is January 3 (Lolita was born in 1935, Lucette was born in 1876).
Prince Dmitri Donskoy and Onegin's donskoy zherebets (Don stallion) in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (Two: V: 4) bring to mind Baron d'Onsky (Skonky), Demon Veen's adversary in a sword duel:
The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish — a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston — a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum.
Marina arrived in Nice a few days after the duel, and tracked Demon down in his villa Armina, and in the ecstasy of reconciliation neither remembered to dupe procreation, whereupon started the extremely interesnoe polozhenie (‘interesting condition’) without which, in fact, these anguished notes could not have been strung. (1.2)
In his story Sledovatel' ("Criminal Investigator," 1887) Chekhov mentions zhenshchiny v interesnom polozhenii (pregnant women):
Жена выслушала его и говорит:
— Делай, как знаешь, мне теперь всё равно. К лету я буду уже на кладбище.
Муж, конечно, пожимает плечами и улыбается.
— Я нисколько не шучу, — говорит она. — Объявляю тебе серьёзно, что я скоро умру.
— То есть как скоро?
— Сейчас же после родов. Рожу и умру.
Словам этим муж не придал никакого значения. Он не верит ни в какие предчувствия и к тому же отлично знает, что женщины в интересном положении любят капризничать и вообще предаваться мрачным мыслям. Прошел день, и жена опять ему о том, что умрет тотчас же после родов, и потом каждый день всё о том же, а он смеялся и обзывал ее бабой, гадалкой, кликушей. Близкая смерть стала idée fixe жены. Когда муж не слушал её, она шла в кухню и говорила там о своей смерти с няней и кухаркой:
— Не много ещё мне осталось жить, нянюшка. Как только рожу, сейчас же и умру. Не хотелось бы умирать так рано, да уж знать судьба моя такая.
In Chekhov's story a young woman (the investigator's wife) predicts that she will die immediately after childbirth and her prediction comes true. Her husband does not realize that she poisoned herself.
Describing his childhood, Humbert Humbert mentions Aunt Sybil who said that she knew she would die soon after her hephew's sixteenth birthday:
My mother’s elder sister, Sybil, whom a cousin of my father’s had married and then neglected, served in my immediate family as a kind of unpaid governess and housekeeper. Somebody told me later that she had been in love with my father, and that he had lightheartedly taken advantage of it one rainy day and forgotten it by the time the weather cleared. I was extremely fond of her, despite the rigiditythe fatal rigidityof some of her rules. Perhaps she wanted to make of me, in the fullness of time, a better widower than my father. Aunt Sybil had pink-rimmed azure eyes and a waxen complexion. She wrote poetry. She was poetically superstitious. She said she knew she would die soon after my sixteenth birthday, and did. Her husband, a great traveler in perfumes, spent most of his time in America, where eventually he founded a firm and acquired a bit of real estate.
I grew, a happy, healthy child in a bright would of illustrated books, clean sand, orange trees, friendly dogs, sea vistas and smiling faces. Around me the splendid Hotel Mirana revolved as a kind of private universe, a whitewashed cosmos within the blue greater one that blazed outside. From the aproned pot-scrubber to the flanneled potentate, everybody liked me, everybody petted me. Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed towards me like towers of Pisa. Ruined Russian princesses who could not pay my father, bought me expensive bonbons. He, mon cher petit papa, took me out boating and biking, taught me to swim and dive and water-ski, read to me Don Quixote and Les Miserables, and I adored and respected him and felt glad for him whenever I overheard the servants discuss his various lady-friends, beautiful and kind beings who made much of me and cooed and shed precious tears over my cheerful motherlessness. (1.2)
The splendid Hotel Mirana owned by HH's father brings to mind Demon Veen's dazzling Villa Armina in Ada. Mirana = Armina = Marina = Ariman (Ahriman, the evil spirit in Zoroastrianism, in Russian spelling)
In Pale Fire Sybil Shade is Hazel's mother (John Shade's wife). In VN's story The Vane Sisiters (1951) the younger sister's name is Sybil. The acrostical ending of The Vane Sisiters brings to mind "Baconian acrostics in Shakespeare’s works" mentioned by VN in Speak, Memory.
According to Humbert Humbert, his very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when he was three. In a letter of July 6, 1898, to Sumbatov (Yuzhin) Chekhov predicts to Yuzhin that a lightning in Monte-Carlo will kill him:
Будь здоров и благополучен и не бойся нефрита, которого у тебя нет и не будет. Ты умрёшь через 67 лет, и не от нефрита; тебя убьёт молния в Монте-Карло.
Don’t be afraid of nephritis. You’ll die in sixty-seven years and not of nephritis; a lightning in Monte-Carlo will kill you.
At the end of his poem Monte Carlo (1929) Mayakovski calls the inhabitants of Monte Carlo poganen'kie montekarliki (vile dwarfish Monte Carlians). Karlik is Russian for "dwarf." According to Kinbote (in Pale Fire Shade's mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), his uncle Conmal (Shakespeare's Zemblan translator) called him Karlik:
At forty, not long before the collapse of his throne, he had attained such a degree of scholarship that he dared accede to his venerable uncle's raucous dying request: 'Teach, Karlik!' (Note to Line 12)
Describing Conmal's death, Kinbote mentions the reproductions of Altamira animals (cave paintings of contemporary local fauna in Cantabria, N Spain) on Conmal's painted bed ceil:
English was not taught in Zembla before Mr. Campbell's time. Conmal mastered it all by himself (mainly by learning a lexicon by heart) as a young man, around 1880, when not the verbal inferno but a quiet military career seemed to open before him, and his first work (the translation of Shakespeare's Sonnets) was the outcome of a bet with a fellow officer. He exchanged his frogged uniform for a scholar's dressing gown and tackled The Tempest. A slow worker, he needed half a century to translate the works of him whom he called "dze Bart," in their entirety. After this, in 1930, he went on to Milton and other poets, steadily drilling through the ages, and had just completed Kipling's "The Rhyme of the Three Sealers" ("Now this is the Law of the Muscovite that he proves with shot and steel") when he fell ill and soon expired under his splendid painted bed ceil with its reproductions of Altamira animals, his last words in his last delirium being "Comment dit-on 'mourir' en anglais?" - a beautiful and touching end. (note to Line 962)
The Altamira animals bring to mind the aurochs mentioned by Humbert Humbert at the end of Lolita:
Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C.Q. One had to choose between him and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita. (2.36)
In the Russian Lolita "prophetic sonnets" become predskazanie v sonete (prediction in a sonnet):
Говорю я о турах и ангелах, о тайне прочных пигментов, о предсказании в сонете, о спасении в искусстве.
It seems that Lolita's death in Gray Star was predicted by Shakespeare in his Sonnet 14:
Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck,
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive
If from thy self to store thou wouldst convert:
Or else of thee this I prognosticate,
Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.
At the end of his Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819) Keats famously says:
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Russian for "ode," oda rhymes with soda and coda. Describing the second lap of his journey with Lolita across the USA, Humbert Humbert mentions the township of Soda, pop. 1001:
We spent a grim night in a very foul cabin, under a sonorous amplitude of rain, and with a kind of prehistorically loud thunder incessantly rolling above us.
“I am not a lady and do not like lightning,” said Lo, whose dread of electric storms gave me some pathetic solace.
We had breakfast in the township of Soda, pop. 1001.
“Judging by the terminal figure,” I remarked, “Fatface is already here.”
“Your humor,” said Lo, “is sidesplitting, deah fahther.” (2.18)
A little earlier Lolita draws Humbert Humbert’s attention to the three nines changing into the next thousand in the odometer:
“If he’s really a cop,” she said shrilly but not illogically, “the worst thing we could do, would be to show him we are scared. Ignore him, Dad.”
“Did he ask where we were going?”
“Oh, he knows that” (mocking me).
“Anyway,” I said, giving up, “I have seen his face now. He is not pretty. He looks exactly like a relative of mine called Trapp.”
“Perhaps he is Trapp. If I were you - Oh, look, all the nines are changing into the next thousand. When I was a little kid,” she continued unexpectedly, “I used to think they’d stop and go back to nines, if only my mother agreed to put the car in reverse.” (ibid.)
In Pale Fire Shade’s almost finished poem consists of 999 lines. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade's 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”). By tracking down and murdering Clare Quilty (who resembles Humbert Humbert’s uncle Trapp and who abducts Lolita in Elphinstone), Humbert Humbert kills his own double.
Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Alexander Blok. In the Russian Lolita the name of Quilty's co-author, Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), becomes Vivian Damor-Blok (Damor is her stage name, Blok is the name of one of her first husbands) and a biography she has written, 'My Cue,' Kumir moy ("My Idol"):
В угоду старомодным читателям, интересующимся дальнейшей судьбой "живых образцов" за горизонтом "правдивой повести", могу привести некоторые указания, полученные от г-на "Виндмюллера" из "Рамздэля", который пожелал остаться неназванным, дабы "длинная тень прискорбной и грязной истории" не дотянулась до того городка, в котором он имеет честь проживать. Его дочь "Луиза" сейчас студентка-второкурсница. "Мона Даль" учится в университете в Париже. "Рита" недавно вышла замуж за хозяина гостиницы во Флориде. Жена "Ричарда Скиллера" умерла от родов, разрешившись мёртвой девочкой, 25-го декабря 1952 г., в далёком северо-западном поселении Серой Звезде. Г-жа Вивиан Дамор-Блок (Дамор - по сцене. Блок - по одному из первых мужей) написала биографию бывшего товарища под каламбурным заглавием "Кумир мой", которая скоро должна выйти в свет; критики, уже ознакомившиеся с манускриптом, говорят, что это лучшая её вещь. Сторожа кладбищ, так или иначе упомянутых в мемуарах "Г. Г.", не сообщают, встаёт ли кто из могилы.
In his poem Pesn' Ada ("The Song of Hell," 1909) written, like Dante's Inferno, in terza rima Alexander Blok mentions poverzhennyi kumir (a thrown down idol):
Далёких утр неясное мерцанье
Чуть золотит поверженный кумир;
И душное спирается дыханье.
In Speak, Memory VN speaks of his first love and mentions the verse of Alexander Blok:
When I first met Tamara—to give her a name concolorous with her real one—she was fifteen, and I was a year older. The place was the rugged but comely country (black fir, white birch, peatbogs, hayfields, and barrens) just south of St. Petersburg. A distant war was dragging on. Two years later, that trite deus ex machina, the Russian Revolution, came, causing my removal from the unforgettable scenery. In fact, already then, in July 1915, dim omens and backstage rumblings, the hot breath of fabulous upheavals, were affecting the so-called “Symbolist” school of Russian poetry—especially the verse of Alexander Blok. (Chapter Twelve, 1)
The name Tamara is associated with Lermontov (the author of the prophetic "Prediction," 1830). Lermontov's poem Ya ne lyublyu tebya... ("I don't love you..." 1830) ends in the line kumir poverzhennyi - vsyo bog (a thrown down idol is still a god):
Я не люблю тебя; страстей
И мук умчался прежний сон;
Но образ твой в душе моей
Всё жив, хотя бессилен он;
Другим предавшися мечтам,
Я всё забыть его не мог;
Так храм оставленный - всё храм,
Кумир поверженный - всё бог!
In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy... ("No, I'm not Byron, I'm another..." 1832) Lermontov mentions nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) that lies in his soul, as in the ocean, and, in the poem's last line, Bog (God):
Нет, я не Байрон, я другой,
Ещё неведомый избранник,
Как он, гонимый миром странник,
Но только с русскою душой.
Я раньше начал, кончу ране,
Мой ум немного совершит;
В душе моей, как в океане,
Надежд разбитых груз лежит.
Кто может, океан угрюмый,
Твои изведать тайны? Кто
Толпе мои расскажет думы?
Я — или Бог — или никто!
No, I'm not Byron, I’m another
yet unknown chosen man,
like him, a persecuted wanderer,
but only with a Russian soul.
I started sooner, I will end sooner,
my mind won’t achieve much;
in my soul, as in the ocean,
lies a load of broken hopes.
Who can, gloomy ocean,
find out your secrets? Who
will tell to the crowd my thoughts?
Myself – or God – or none at all!
Hazel Shade's "real" name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. Her father, Professor Vsevolod Botkin, went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus (Shade's murderer) after his daughter's tragic death. There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade's poem and commits suicide, Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin's epigrams, "half-milord, half-merchant, etc."), will be full again.
The last word in Lermontov's poem "No, I'm not Byron, I'm another..." is nikto (nobody). Botkin is nikto b (none would) in reverse. In Pushkin's little tragedy "Mozart and Salieri" (1830) Mozart uses the phrase nikto b:
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 spontaneous art. (scene II)
and Salieri says that he measured harmony by algebra:
Музыку я разъял, как труп. Поверил
Я алгеброй гармонию.
Having stifled sounds,
I cut up music like a corpse. I measured
Harmony by algebra. (scene I)
In Lolita Humbert Humbert is afraid that that Charlotte (Lolita’s mother) will send Lolita to St. Algebra:
“Ah,” said Mrs. Humbert, dreaming, smiling, drawing out the “Ah” simultaneously with the raise of one eyebrow and a soft exhalation of breath. “Little Lo, I’m afraid, does not enter the picture at all, at all. Little Lo goes straight from camp to a good boarding school with strict discipline and some sound religious training. And then - Beardsley College. I have it all mapped out, you need not worry.”
She went on to say that she, Mrs. Humbert, would have to overcome her habitual sloth and write to Miss Phalen’s sister who taught at St. Algebra. The dazzling lake emerged. I said I had forgotten my sunglasses in the car and would catch up with her.
I had always thought that wringing one’s hands was a fictional gesture - the obscure outcome, perhaps, of some medieval ritual; but as I took to the woods, for a spell of despair and desperate meditation, this was the gesture (“look, Lord, at these chains!”) that would have come nearest to the mute expression of my mood. (1.20)
In Ada Van Veen describes his dreams and mentions the dusty-trousered Marmlad kneeling and wringing his hands before his Marmlady:
In the professional dreams that especially obsessed me when I worked on my earliest fiction, and pleaded abjectly with a very frail muse (‘kneeling and wringing my hands’ like the dusty-trousered Marmlad before his Marmlady in Dickens), I might see for example that I was correcting galley proofs but that somehow (the great ‘somehow’ of dreams!) the book had already come out, had come out literally, being proffered to me by a human hand from the wastepaper basket in its perfect, and dreadfully imperfect, stage — with a typo on every page, such as the snide ‘bitterly’ instead of ‘butterfly’ and the meaningless ‘nuclear’ instead of ‘unclear.’ (2.4)
"The dusty-trousered Marmlad" hints at Marmeladov, a character in Dostoevski's novel Prestuplenie i nakazanie ("Crime and Punishment," 1866). His daughter Sonya (Sofia Semyonovna) has the same first name as Sofia Botkin, née Lastochkin (Sybil Shade's and Queen Disa's "real" name).
Lastochki ("The Swallows," 1884) is a poem by Afanasiy Fet (who was married to Maria Botkin). Fet was a son of Afanasiy Shenshin (a Russian landowner) and Charlotte Becker (a German inn-keeper's daughter whose first husband was Johann Foeth). The maiden name of Lolita's mother is Charlotte Becker. Lolita marries Richard F. Schiller. In his poem Shilleru ("To Schiller," 1857) Fet compares Friedrich Schiller (a German poet, 1759-1805) to an eagle and twice repeats the word nikto (nobody):
Впервой ширяясь, мир ты мерил
Отважным взмахом юных крыл…
Никто так гордо в свет не верил,
Никто так страстно не любил.
Fet's poems More i zvyozdy (“The Sea and the Stars,” 1859), Sredi zvyozd ("Among the Stars," 1876), Ugasshim zvyozdam ("To the Extinguished Stars," 1890) and Quasi una fantasia (1889) bring to mind the Murphy-Fantasia wedding in Ramsdale revisited by Humbert Humbert:
Feeling I was losing my time, I drove energetically to the downtown hotel where I had arrived with a new bag more than five years before. I took a room, made two appointments by telephone, shaved, bathed, put on black clothes and went down for a drink in the bar. Nothing had changed. The barroom was suffused with the same dim, impossible garnet-red light that in Europe years ago went with low haunts, but here meant a bit of atmosphere in a family hotel. I sat at the same little table where at the very start of my stay, immediately after becoming Charlotte’s lodger, I had thought fit to celebrate the occasion by suavely sharing with her half a bottle of champagne, which had fatally conquered her poor brimming heart. As then, a moon-faced waiter was arranging with stellar care fifty sherries on a round tray for a wedding party. Murphy-Fantasia, this time. It was eight minutes to three. As I walked though the lobby, I had to skirt a group of ladies who with mille grâces were taking leave of each other after a luncheon party. With a harsh cry of recognition, one pounced upon me. She was a stout, short woman in pearl-gray, with a long, gray, slim plume to her small hat. It was Mrs. Chatfield. She attacked me with a fake smile, all aglow with evil curiosity. (Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Laselle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done o eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?) Very soon I had that avid glee well under control. She thought I was in California. How was - ? With exquisite pleasure I informed her that my stepdaughter had just married a brilliant young mining engineer with a hush-hush job in the Northwest. She said she disapproved of such early marriages, she would never let her Phillys, who was now eighteen -
“Oh yes, of course,” I said quietly. “I remember Phyllis. Phyllis and Camp Q. yes, of course. By the way, did she ever tell you how Charlie Holmes debauched there his mother’s little charges?”
Mrs. Chatfield’s already broken smile now disintegrated completely.
“For shame,” she cried, “for shame, Mr. Humbert! The poor boy has just been killed in Korea.”
I said didn’t she think “vient de,” with the infinitive, expressed recent events so much more neatly than the English “just,” with the past? But I had to be trotting off, I said. (2.33)
In Speak, Memory VN describes his first erotic experience and quotes the words of his father, "Tolstoy vient de mourir:"
High-principled but rather simple Lenski, who was abroad for the first time, had some trouble keeping the delights of sightseeing in harmony with his pedagogical duties. We took advantage of this and guided him toward places where our parents might not have allowed us to go. He could not resist the Wintergarten, for instance, and so, one night, we found ourselves there, drinking ice-chocolate in an orchestra box. The show developed on the usual lines: a juggler in evening clothes; then a woman, with flashes of rhinestones on her bosom, trilling a concert aria in alternating effusions of green and red light; then a comic on roller skates. Between him and a bicycle act (of which more later) there was an item on the program called “The Gala Girls,” and with something of the shattering and ignominious physical shock I had experienced when coming that cropper on the rink, I recognized my American ladies in the garland of linked, shrill-voiced, shameless “girls,” all rippling from left to right, and then from right to left, with a rhythmic rising of ten identical legs that shot up from ten corollas of flounces. I located my Louise’s face—and knew at once that it was all over, that I had lost her, that I would never forgive her for singing so loudly, for smiling so redly, for disguising herself in that ridiculous way so unlike the charm of either “proud Creoles” or “questionable señoritas.” I could not stop thinking of her altogether, of course, but the shock seems to have liberated in me a certain inductive process, for I soon noticed that any evocation of the feminine form would be accompanied by the puzzling discomfort already familiar to me. I asked my parents about it (they had come to Berlin to see how we were getting along) and my father ruffled the German newspaper he had just opened and replied in English (with the parody of a possible quotation—a manner of speech he often adopted in order to get going): “That, my boy, is just another of nature’s absurd combinations, like shame and blushes, or grief and red eyes.” “Tolstoy vient de mourir,” he suddenly added, in another, stunned voice, turning to my mother.
“Da chto tï [something like “good gracious”]!” she exclaimed in distress, clasping her hands in her lap. “Pora domoy [Time to go home],” she concluded, as if Tolstoy’s death had been the portent of apocalyptic disasters. (Chapter Ten, 3)
Leo Tolstoy died on Nov. 7, 1910. Humbert Humbert was born in 1910, in Paris.
Murphy is an Irish surname that means "sea-warrior." Stella Fantasia (stella is Latin for "star") is Lolita's former classmate in the Ramsdale school. In the Russian Lolita Gumbert Gumbert's sarcasm is much more venomous:
"В самом деле", сказал я (пользуясь дивной свободою, свойственной сновидениям). "Вот так судьба! Бедный мальчик пробивал нежнейшие, невосстановимейшие перепоночки, прыскал гадючьим ядом - и ничего, жил превесело, да ещё получил посмертный орденок. Впрочем, извините меня, мне пора к адвокату".
Divnaya svoboda, svoystvennaya snovideniyam (wonderful freedom peculiar to the dreams) brings to mind Fet's poems Sny i teni ("Dreams and shadows," 1859) and Vo sne ("In a Dream," 1890). In his poem K Morfeyu (“To Morpheus,” 1842) Fet mentions Diana polnaya nad detskoy kolybel'yu (the full Diana over an infant's cradle):
Люблю душистый сок твоих целебных трав,
Люблю твои уста, люблю твой кроткий нрав,
Диану полную над детской колыбелью,
В которой ты лежишь, предавшийся безделью,
И ложа тесноту, и трепетную тень,
И страстные слова, и сладостную лень.
In a poem that he composed for Rita Humbert Humbert mentions Diana:
I went to find Rita who introduced me with her vin triste smile to a pocket-sized wizened truculently tight old man saying this was - what was the name again, son - a former schoolmate of hers. He tried to retain her, and in the slight scuffle that followed I hurt my thumb against his hard head. In the silent painted part where I walked her and aired her a little, she sobbed and said I would soon, soon leave her as everybody had, and I sang her a wistful French ballad, and strung together some fugitive rhymes to amuse her:
The place was called Enchanted Hunters. Query:
What Indian dyes, Diana, did thy dell
endorse to make of Picture Lake a very
blood bath of trees before the blue hotel?
She said: “Why blue when it is white, why blue for heaven’s sake?” and started to cry again, and I marched her to the car, and we drove on to New York, and soon she was reasonably happy again high up in the haze on the little terrace of our flat. I notice I have somehow mixed up two events, my visit with Rita to Briceland on our way to Carntrip, and our passing through Briceland again on our way back to New York, but such suffusions of swimming colors are not to be disdained by the artist in recollection. (2.26)
At the beginning of Speak, Memory VN mentions the cradle that rocks above an abyss:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. (Chapter One, 1)
In his poem Izmuchen zhizn’yu, kovarstvom nadezhdy… (“By life tormented, and by cunning hope…” 1864) Fet says that he gazes direct iz vremeni v vechnost' (from time into eternity) and mentions kazhdyi luch, plotskoy i besplotnyi (every ray, embodied or ethereal):
Измучен жизнью, коварством надежды,
Когда им в битве душой уступаю,
И днём и ночью смежаю я вежды
И как-то странно порой прозреваю.
Ещё темнее мрак жизни вседневной,
Как после яркой осенней зарницы,
И только в небе, как зов задушевный,
Сверкают звёзд золотые ресницы.
И так прозрачна огней бесконечность,
И так доступна вся бездна эфира,
Что прямо смотрю я из времени в вечность
И пламя твоё узнаю, солнце мира.
И неподвижно на огненных розах
Живой алтарь мирозданья курится,
В его дыму, как в творческих грезах,
Вся сила дрожит и вся вечность снится.
И всё, что мчится по безднам эфира,
И каждый луч, плотский и бесплотный,-
Твой только отблеск, о солнце мира,
И только сон, только сон мимолетный.
И этих грез в мировом дуновенье
Как дым несусь я н таю невольно,
И в этом прозренье, н в этом забвенье
Легко мне жить и дышать мне не больно.
By life tormented, and by cunning hope,
When my soul surrenders in its battle with them,
Day and night I press my eyelids closed
And sometimes I'm vouchsafed peculiar visions.
The gloom of quotidian existence deepens,
As after a bright flash of autumn lightning,
And only in the sky, like a call from the heart,
The stars' golden eyelashes sparkle.
And the flames of infinity are so transparent,
And the entire abyss of ether is so close,
That I gaze direct from time into eternity
And recognize your flame, universal sun.
Motionless, encircled by fiery roses,
The living altar of the cosmos smolders
And in its smoke, as in creative slumber,
All forces quiver, eternity's a dream.
And all that rushes through the abyss of ether,
And every ray, embodied or ethereal,-
Is but your reflection, O universal sun,
It is but a dream, but a fleeting dream.
Through the worldly breath of these reveries
I fly like smoke, involuntarily disperse,
And in this vision, in this delerium,
I can live with ease and breathe without pain.
Time and eternity in Fet's poem bring to mind "the prison of time" and "the free world of timelessness" mentioned by VN in Speak, Memory. It seems that VN's novels (all of them, including Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada) are an attempt to escape from the prison of time and enjoy the free world of timelessness still in one's lifetime.