Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025187, Thu, 13 Mar 2014 01:42:08 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] Escher in Pale Fire, the poem?

De: Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello [mailto:jansy@aetern.us]
Enviada em: quinta-feira, 13 de março de 2014 01:31
Para: 'Vladimir Nabokov Forum'
Assunto: Re: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] Escher in Pale Fire, the poem?

Matt Roth: “The interesting question for me is not the letters but Kinbote’s use of the term “main characters.” This phrase is fitting if the book is a novel, but Kinbote seems to think he is writing a scholarly edition concerning real people. He might have said “persons” instead…”

Jansy Mello: There are always novelties to explore whenever I reread V.Nabokov. In this case, I wondered at first at the absence of the capital letter “S” in the Index (apparently a trivial editorial oversight), then I noticed the absence of any direct reference to Sybil in the index-entry related to Shade’s life and work (Kinbote summed up her ubiquity by adding: “passim” and avoiding further comments when he added her to the Index).
Last but not least I learned about the confusing letters K, S, N used in chess games and problems (see the note in the end, it came as a surprise to me!).

Matt Roth called attention to the use of the word “main characters,” which he considers adequate for a novel but not in a scholarly edition. Nevertheless, already in the Index we find similar assumptions related to K’s role as writer, whereas John Shade’s poem almost looms as an appendix, something secondary for which I cannot find a fitting word. Cf. "Boscobel, site of the Royal Summerhouse, a beautiful, piny and duny spot in W. Zembla, soft hollows imbued with the writer’s most amorous recollections; now (1959) a "nudist colony" — whatever that is, 149, 596”.

I know the Index has been amply explored by V.Nabokov scholars but my unprofessional perplexities may, perhaps, still be of service.
For example, although there is an entry for "Botkin, V., American scholar of Russian descent, 894; king-bot, maggot of extinct fly that once bred in mammoths and is thought to have hastened their phylogenetic end, 247; bottekin-maker, 71; bot, plop, and botelïy, big-bellied (Russ.); botkin or bodkin, a Danish stiletto," other references to a certain Prof. Botkin were not included in the Botkin,V. entry.
I have the impression that Kinbote is indirectly admitting that he is not only Charles II, but also Prof.Botkin (note his relief when he observes that Botkin is not subordinate to Prof.Pnin, or his evasive reply to Prof Pardon…)

The two forgotten references:
1. “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."[172]

2. “I am choosing these images rather casually. There are purists who maintain that a gentleman should use a brace of pistols, one for each temple, or a bare botkin (note the correct spelling), and that ladies should either swallow a lethal dose or drown with clumsy Ophelia. Humbler humans have preferred sundry forms of suffocation, and minor poets have even tried such fancy releases” [493]

The other ones are cited but are out of order.

We begin with:

1. “Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"
Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla" [sarcastically stressing the "Nova"].
"Didn’t you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.
"Yes, a king’s destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).
Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"
"Oxford, 1956," I replied.
"You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other day, talking to — what’s his name — oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing his lips].
Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].
Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for ‘tire’: punoo." [894]

We proceed to king-bot (messenger?), now closely associated to Sybil:

2. “I was to learn later that when alluding to me in public she used to call me ‘an elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macaco worm; the monstrous parasite of a genius.’ I pardon her — her and everybody.”[ line 247]

And finally to:

3. “What the obituarist does not know is that Lukin comes from Luke, as also do Locock and Luxon and Lukashevich. It represents one of the many instances when the amorphous-looking but live and personal hereditary patronymic grows, sometimes in fantastic shapes, around the common pebble of a Christian name. The Lukins are an old Essex family. Other names derive from professions such as Rymer, Scrivener, Limner (one who illuminates parchments), Botkin (one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear) and thousands of others. My tutor, a Scotsman, used to call any old tumble-down building "a hurley-house." But enough of this.” [71]

Nevertheless, there are references to botkin and Botkin in both categories, and to Prof. Pnin associated to CK’s particular interest in surnames. These suggest to me that the omitted entries are connected.

Of special interest to me is CK’s comment related to “Sybil” (entry for page 247) and to the stress Kinbote lays on Prof. Botkin’s place of birth: “Nova Zembla.”
Should we proceed to Pale Fire’s origins in V.Nabokov’s ‘unfinished’ works: “Ultima Thule,” related by VN himself to Nova Zembla, or “Solus Rex” where there’s a king designated as K, “as K in chess notation”?*

*- In algebraic notation we find, in English, the letters K (King) and S (Springer), but no G.

“K” and “S” are related according to the source I explored [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algebraic_chess_notation]. Besides, there is something else related to King, knights and the “N” (as used in chess problems): there’s a “nightrider” who is served by the letter “N” which, in the game proper, is used for the Knight because the “K” serves the King…( I hope I got it right. What are the corresponding algebraic signs in Russian?)

Quite interesting! Goethe’s Erlkönig is a nightrider (cf. initial lines quoted by Kinbote).

btw: Kinbote uses the figurine notation of the black horse as an emblematic signature ( Knight, Springer…K/S,N)

wiki: “Each <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess_piece> piece type (other than pawns) is identified by an uppercase letter, usually the first letter in the name of the piece in whatever language is spoken by the player recording. English-speaking players use the letter K for <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_(chess)> king, Q for <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_(chess)> queen, R for <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rook_(chess)> rook, B for <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishop_(chess)> bishop, and N for <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight_(chess)> knight (since K is already used). S (from the German Springer) was also used for the knight in the early days of algebraic notation, and is still used in <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess_problem> chess problems (where N stands for the <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightrider_(chess)> nightrider, a popular <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_chess_piece> fairy chess piece).Other languages may employ different letters, for example, French players use F for bishop (from fou). In chess literature written for an international audience, the language-specific letters are replaced by universal icons for the pieces, resulting in <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figurine_notation> figurine notation.”


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