two methods of composing & Fra Karamazov in Pale Fire; kurva & Ambidextrous Universe in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 02/01/2019 - 16:25

In Canto Four of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) speaks of two methods of composing, A and B:


I'm puzzled by the difference between
Two methods of composing: A, the kind
Which goes on solely in the poet's mind,
A testing of performing words, while he
Is soaping a third time one leg, and B,
The other kind, much more decorous, when
He's in his study writing with a pen. (ll. 840-46)


In his poem Net, ne spryatat'sya mne ot velikoy mury... ("No, I can't hide myself from the great nonsense..." 1931) Mandelshtam mentions two streetcars, A and B (“We'll take streetcar A and streetcar B / You and I, to see who dies first”):


Нет, не спрятаться мне от великой муры
За извозчичью спину — Москву,
Я трамвайная вишенка страшной поры
И не знаю, зачем я живу.


Мы с тобою поедем на «А» и на «Б»
Посмотреть, кто скорее умрёт,
А она то сжимается, как воробей,
То растёт, как воздушный пирог.


И едва успевает грозить из угла —
Ты как хочешь, а я не рискну!
У кого под перчаткой не хватит тепла,
Чтоб объездить всю курву Москву.


In his poem Ot lyogkoy zhizni my soshli s uma... ("We went out of our minds with the easy life..." 1913) Mandelshtam predicts that the first to die will be the one with the anxious red mouth and the forelock covering his eyes (a recognizable portrait of G. Ivanov, 1894-1958):


Мы смерти ждём, как сказочного волка,
Но я боюсь, что раньше всех умрёт
Тот, у кого тревожно-красный рот
И на глаза спадающая чёлка.

We wait for death, like the fairytale wolf,
But I'm afraid that the first to die will be
The one with the anxious red mouth
And the forelock covering his eyes.


In their old age Van Veen and Ada Veen (the two main characters in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) wonder who of them dies first:


By the way, who dies first?
Ada. Van. Ada. Vaniada. Nobody. Each hoped to go first, so as to concede, by implication, a longer life to the other, and each wished to go last, in order to spare the other the anguish or worries, of widowhood. One solution would be for you to marry Violet.
‘Thank you. J’ai tâté de deux tribades dans ma vie, ça suffit. Dear Emile says "terme qu’on évite d’employer." How right he is!’ (5.6)


Fialochka ("little Violet," as Ada calls Van's typist, Violet Knox) brings to mind Alexander Blok's poem Nochnaya Fialka ("The Night Violet," 1906) subtitled Son (A Dream). In his diary (the entry of Oct. 22, 1920) Blok points out that Mandelshtam's verses arise from the dreams and mentions Gumilyov (the two poets who could not stand each other, Blok and Gumilyov died almost simultaneously in August, 1921):


Гвоздь вечера — И. Мандельштам, который приехал, побывав во врангелевской тюрьме. Он очень вырос. Сначала невыносимо слушать общегумилёвское распевание. Постепенно привыкаешь… виден артист. Его стихи возникают из снов — очень своеобразных, лежащих в областях искусства только. Гумилёв определяет его путь: от иррационального к рациональному (противуположность моему). Его «Венеция». По Гумилёву — рационально всё (и любовь и влюблённость в том числе), иррациональное лежит только в языке, в его корнях, невыразимое. (В начале было Слово, из Слова возникли мысли, слова, уже непохожие на Слово, но имеющие, однако, источником Его; и всё кончится Словом — всё исчезнет, останется одно Оно.)                     


In the last line of his poem "No, I can't hide myself from the great nonsense..." Mandelshtam mentions kurva Moskva (Moscow the whore):


Who has enough warmth inside his glove
to ride around the whole of Moscow the whore.


Describing a stage performance in which Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) played the heroine, Van mentions the violent dance called kurva or 'ribbon boule:'


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. Moreover, the tropical moonlight she had just bathed in, the penetrative sense of her own beauty, the ardent pulses of the imagined maiden, and the gallant applause of an almost full house made her especially vulnerable to the tickle of Demon’s moustache. She had ample time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had goofed — the word ‘samovars’ may have got garbled in the agent’s aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent dance called kurva or ‘ribbon boule’ in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.’s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat. (1.2)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Raspberries; ribbon: allusions to ludicrous blunders in Lowell’s versions of Mandelshtam’s poems (in the N.Y. Review, 23 December 1965).


“An invisible sign of Dionysian origin” brings to mind Mandelshtam’s Oda Betkhovenu (“Ode to Beethoven,” 1914) in which Beethoven is compared to Dionysus:


О Дионис, как муж, наивный

И благодарный, как дитя!

Ты перенёс свой жребий дивный

То негодуя, то шутя!

С каким глухим негодованьем

Ты собирал с князей оброк

Или с рассеянным вниманьем

На фортепьянный шёл урок!


Oda (ode) rhymes with “coda.” Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) believes that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”).


Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Alexander Blok. According to G. Ivanov, to his question “does a sonnet need a coda” Blok replied that he did not know what a coda is. At the end of his poem Nakipevshaya za gody… (“Accumulated over the years…” 1957) G. Ivanov mentions rytsari prilich’ya (the knights of decorum), well-behaved A and B:


Накипевшая за годы
Злость, сводящая с ума,
Злость к поборникам свободы,
Злость к ревнителям ярма,
Злость к хамью и джентльменам -
Разномастным специменам
Той же "мудрости земной",
К миру и стране родной.

Злость? Вернее, безразличье
К жизни, к вечности, к судьбе.
Нечто кошкино иль птичье,
Отчего не по себе
Верным рыцарям приличья,
Благонравным А и Б,
Что уселись на трубе.


Accumulated over the years

Resentment driving one mad,

Resentment to the champions of freedom,

Resentment to the adherents of yoke,

Resentment to louts and to gentlemen –

Differently colored specimens

Of the same “mundane wisdom,”

To the world and to one’s native land.


Resentment? Rather, indifference

To life, to eternity, to fate.

Something feline or avian

That makes the faithful knights of decorum,

Well-behaved A and B

That sat in the tree

Not quite themselves.


The reference is to a well-known Russian riddle that goes in translation: “A and B sat in the tree. A had fallen, B was stolen. What's remaining in the tree?” The answer is “and.” Russian for “and,” i is Ivanov’s initial. In the middle of Vaniada there is i (and). When capitalized, i becomes the English first person pronoun. In Shade’s poem “I” is the first word of the first line (which, according to Kinbote, is also the last one).


Ulichnyi podrostok (“The Street Adolescent,” 1912), a sonnet with the coda by G. Ivanov, brings to mind Dostoevski’s novel Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875). The name of Marina’s impresario, Scotty (who brought the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk), seems to hint at Skotoprigonievsk (“Cattlebrington”), the city in which the action in Dostoevski’s novel Bratya Karamazovy (“The Brothers Karamazov,” 1880) takes place. In Canto Three of his poem Shade describes IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) and mentions Fra Karamazov:


Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept
All is allowed, into some classes crept (ll. 641-642).


The characters in “The Brothers Karamazov” include Ilyusha Snegiryov, a schoolboy who hurls stones at his classmates, and Smurov (one of Ilyusha’s classmates, a lefty who hurls stones back at Ilyusha). In VN’s short novel Soglyadatay (“The Eye,” 1930) Roman Bogdanovich (the diarist) calls Smurov (the narrator and main character) seksual’nyi levsha (“a sexual lefty”). According to Oswin Bretwit (a retired diplomat, Zemblan former consul in Paris), Charles the Beloved (who loves little boys) is left-handed:


“All right, I am ready. Give me the sign,” he avidly said.
Gradus, deciding to risk it, glanced at the hand in Bretwit’s lap: unperceived by its owner, it seemed to be prompting Gradus in a manual whisper. He tried to copy what it was doing its best to convey—mere rudiments of the required sign.
“No, no,” said Bretwit with an indulgent smile for the awkward novice. “The other hand, my friend. His Majesty is left-handed, you know.”
Gradus tried again—but, like an expelled puppet, the wild little prompter had disappeared. Sheepishly contemplating his five stubby strangers, Gradus went through the motions of an incompetent and half-paralyzed shadow-grapher and finally made an uncertain V-for-Victory sign. Bretwit’s smile began to fade. (note to Line 286)


In a letter of Oct. 31, 1838, to his brother Dostoevski twice repeats the word gradus (degree). October 31, 1838, is Dostoevski’s seventeenth birthday. Shade’s birthday, July 5, is also Kinbote’s and Gradus’s birthday (Shade, who was born in 1898, is seventeen years Kinbote’s and Gradus’ senior).


In his essay The Texture of Time Van Veen mentions John Shade, a modem poet, and an invented philosopher (‘Martin Gardiner’) who quotes Shade in The Ambidextrous Universe (ambidextrous means "able to use the right and left hands equally well"):


Space is related to our senses of sight, touch, and muscular effort; Time is vaguely connected with hearing (still, a deaf man would perceive the ‘passage’ of time incomparably better than a blind limbless man would the idea of ‘passage’). ‘Space is a swarming in the eyes, and Time a singing in the ears,’ says John Shade, a modem poet, as quoted by an invented philosopher (‘Martin Gardiner’) in The Ambidextrous Universe, page 165. (Part Four)


Actually, Van quotes the lines from Canto Two of Shade’s poem:


A syllogism: other men die; but I

Am not another; therefore I'll not die.

Space is a swarming in the eyes; and time,

A singing in the ears. In this hive I'm

Locked up. (ll. 213-217)


The hive in which Shade is locked up brings to mind a deserted hive mentioned by Gumilyov in the penultimate line of his poem Slovo (“The Word,” 1920):


В оный день, когда над миром новым

Бог склонял лицо своё, тогда

Солнце останавливали словом,

Словом разрушали города.


И орёл не взмахивал крылами,

Звёзды жались в ужасе к луне,

Если, точно розовое пламя,

Слово проплывало в вышине.


А для низкой жизни были числа,

Как домашний, подъяремный скот,

Потому что все оттенки смысла

Умное число передаёт.


Патриарх седой, себе под руку

Покоривший и добро и зло,

Не решаясь обратиться к звуку,

Тростью на песке чертил число.


Но забыли мы, что осиянно

Только слово средь земных тревог,

И в Евангелии от Иоанна

Сказано, что Слово это - Бог.


Мы ему поставили пределом

Скудные пределы естества.

И, как пчёлы в улье опустелом,

Дурно пахнут мёртвые слова.


In olden days, when above the new world

God inclined his face, then

The sun was halted with a word,

A word could destroy citites.


And the eagle would not flap its wings,

The terrified stars would cling to the moon,

If, like a pink flame,

The word floated in the heavens.


And for lowly life there were numbers,

Like domestic, yoked cattle,

Because an intelligent number expresses

Every shade of meaning.


The graying Patriarch, who bent

Good and evil to his will,

Dared not make use of sound, but drew

A number in the sand with his cane.


But we have forgotten the word alone

Is numinous among earthly struggles,

And in the Gospel According to John

It is said that the word is God.


We have chosen to limit it

To the meager limits of nature,

And, like bees in a deserted hive,

Dead words smell bad.


Gumilyov's poem Shestoe chuvstvo (“The Sixth Sense,” 1920) brings to mind five senses mentioned by Shade in Canto One of his poem:


I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By feigned remoteness in the windowpane.

I had a brain, five senses (one unique);

But otherwise I was a cloutish freak.

In sleeping dreams I played with other chaps

But really envied nothing - save perhaps

The miracle of a lemniscate left

Upon wet sand by nonchalantly deft

Bicycle tires. (ll. 131-139)


The infinity symbol ∞ is sometimes called “lemniscate.” is a poem by Nik. T-o (I. Annenski's penname) included in Tikhie pesni (“Quiet Songs,” 1904).


In Tolstoys story SmertIvana Ilyicha (“The Dearth of Ivan Ilyich,” 1886) Ivan Ilyich Golovin believes that he is not the mortal Caius of Kiesewetters famous syllogism and therefore he will not die:


Тот пример силлогизма, которому он учился в логике Кизеветтера: Кай -- человек, люди смертны, потому Кай смертен, -- казался ему во всю его жизнь правильным только по отношению к Каю. То был Кай, человек, вообще человек, и это было совершенно справедливо; но он был не Кай и не вообще человек, а он всегда был совсем, совсем особенное от в сех других существо; но он был Ваня, с мамa, с папa, с Митей и Володей, с игрушками, с кучером, с няней, потом с Катенькой, со всеми радостями, горестями, восторгами детства, юности, молодости. Разве для Кая был тот запах кожаного полосками мячика, который так любил Ваня? разве Кай целовал так руку матери и разве для Кая так шуршал шёлк складок платья матери? разве он бунтовал за пирожки в Правоведении? разве Кай так был влюблён? разве Кай так мог вести заседание? И Кай точно смертен, и ему правильно умирать, но мне, Ване, Ивану Ильичу, со всеми моими чувствами, мыслями, -- мне это другое дело. И не может быть, чтобы мне следовало умирать. Это было бы слишком ужасно".

The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter's Logic: "Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal," had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius – man in the abstract – was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite separate from all others. He had been little Vanya, with a mamma and a papa, with Mitya and Volodya, with the toys, a coachman and a nurse, afterwards with Katenka and will all the joys, griefs, and delights of childhood, boyhood, and youth. What did Caius know of the smell of that striped leather ball Vanya had been so fond of? Had Caius kissed his mother's hand like that, and did the silk of her dress rustle so for Caius? Had he rioted like that at school when the pastry was bad? Had Caius been in love like that? Could Caius preside at a session as he did? "Caius really was mortal, and it was right for him to die; but for me, little Vanya, Ivan Ilych, with all my thoughts and emotions, it's altogether a different matter. It cannot be that I ought to die. That would be too terrible." (Chapter VI)


In his essay Ob Annenskom (“On Annenski,” 1921) Hodasevich compares Annenski to Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich, mentions Annenski’s penname Nik. T-o (a translation of Greek Outis, the pseudonym under which Odysseus conceals his identity from the Cyclops Polyphemus) and contrasts it with nekto (somebody):


Чего не додумал Иван Ильич, то знал Анненский. Знал, что никаким директорством, никаким бытом и даже никакой филологией от смерти по-настоящему не загородиться. Она уничтожит и директора, и барина, и филолога. Только над истинным его "я", над тем, чтo отображается в "чувствах и мыслях", над личностью -- у неё как будто нет власти. И он находил реальное, осязаемое отражение и утверждение личности -- в поэзии. Тот, чьё лицо он видел, подходя к зеркалу, был директор гимназии, смертный никто. Тот, чьё лицо отражалось в поэзии, был бессмертный некто. Ник. Т-о -- никто -- есть безличный действительный статский советник, которым, как видимой оболочкой, прикрыт невидимый некто. Этот свой псевдоним, под которым он печатал стихи, Анненский рассматривал как перевод греческого "outis", никто, -- того самого псевдонима, под которым Одиссей скрыл от циклопа Полифема своё истинное имя, свою подлинную личность, своего некто. Поэзия была для него заклятием страшного Полифема -- смерти. Но психологически это не только не мешало, а даже способствовало тому, чтобы его вдохновительницей, его Музой была смерть.


According to Hodasevich, the person whose face Annenski saw in a mirror was smertnyi nikto (a mortal nobody) and the person whose face was reflected in Annenski’s poetry was bessmertnyi nekto (the immortal somebody). Nekto v serom (Someone in Grey) is a character in Leonid Andreyev’s play Zhizn’ cheloveka (“The Life of Man,” 1907). In VNs novel Zashchita Luzhina (“The Luzhin Defense,” 1930) a celebrated writer, a very pale man in black overcoat, whom Luzhins wife saw in Finland is Leonid Andreyev:


И затем, в Финляндии, оставшейся у неё в душе, как что-то более русское, чем сама Россия, оттого, может быть, что деревянная дача и ёлки, и белая лодка на чёрном от хвойных отражений озере особенно замечались, как русское, особенно ценились, как что-то запретное по ту сторону Белоострова, – в этой, ещё дачной, ещё петербургской Финляндии она несколько раз издали видела знаменитого писателя, очень бледного, с отчётливой бородкой, все посматривавшего на небо, где начинали водиться вражеские аэропланы. И он остался странным образом рядом с русским офицером, впоследствии потерявшим руку в Крыму, – тишайшим, застенчивым человеком, с которым она летом играла в теннис, зимой бегала на лыжах, и при этом снежном воспоминании всплывала вдруг опять на фоне ночи дача знаменитого писателя, где он и умер, расчищенная дорожка, сугробы, освещённые электричеством, призрачные полоски на тёмном снегу. После этих по-разному занятных людей, каждый из которых окрашивал воспоминание в свой определённый цвет (голубой географ, защитного цвета комиссар, чёрное пальто писателя и человек, весь в белом, подбрасывающий ракеткой еловую шишку), была расплывчатость и мелькание, жизнь в Берлине, случайные балы, монархические собрания, много одинаковых людей – и все это было ещё так близко, что память не могла найти фокуса и разобраться в том, что ценно, а что сор, да и разбираться было теперь некогда, слишком много места занял угрюмый, небывалый, таинственный человек, самый привлекательный из всех, ей известных.

And later in Finland, which had remained in her heart as something more Russian than Russia, perhaps because the wooden villa and the fir trees and the white boat on the lake, black with the reflected conifers, were especially Russian, being treasured as something forbidden on the far side of the frontier. In this Finland which was still, vacation land, still part of St. Petersburg life, she saw several times from afar a celebrated writer, a very pale man with a very conspicuous goatee who kept glancing up at the sky, which enemy airplanes had begun to haunt. And he remained in some strange manner beside the Russian officer who subsequently lost an arm in the Crimea during the civil war — a most shy and retiring boy with whom she used to play tennis in summer and ski in winter — and with this snowy recollection there would float up once more against a background of night the celebrated writer's villa, in which he later died, and the cleared path and snowdrifts illumined by electric light, phantasmal stripes on the dark snow. These men with their various occupations, each of whom tinted her recollection his own particular color (blue geographer, khaki commissar, the writers' black overcoat and a youth all in white lobbing a fir cone with his tennis racket) were followed by glinting and dissolving images: émigré life in Berlin, charity balls, monarchist meetings and lots of identical people — all this was still so close that her memory was unable to focus properly and sort out what was valuable and what rubbish, and moreover there was no time now to sort it out, too much space had been taken up by this taciturn fabulous, enigmatical man, the most attractive of all the men she had known. (Chapter Six)


InThe Luzhin DefenseVN mentions Andreyevs Okean (“The Ocean,” 1911), a tragedy in seven scenes:


Играя утром в теннис с приятельницей немкой, слушая давно приевшиеся лекции по истории искусства, перелистывая у себя в комнате потрёпанные, разношерстные книжки, -- андреевский "Океан", роман Краснова, брошюру "Как сделаться йогом", она всё время сознавала, что вот сейчас Лужин погружён в шахматные вычисления, борется, мучится, и ей было немного обидно, что она не может разделить муки его искусства.

All through those autumn days, while playing tennis in the mornings with a German girl friend, or listening to lectures on art that had long since palled on her, or leafing through a tattered assortment of books in her room - Andreyev's The Ocean, a novel by Krasnov and a pamphlet entitled "How to Become a Yogi"— she was conscious that right now Luzhin was immersed in chess calculations, struggling and suffering—and it vexed her that she was unable to share in the torments of his art. (Chapter Eight)


The main character in VN's novel, Luzhin is a chess player. According to Kinbote, the name Bretwit means in Zemblan “Chess Intelligence.”


In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) Lermontov says that in his soul, as in the ocean, nadezhd razbitykh gruz lezhit (lies a load of broken hopes). The last word in Lermontov’s poem is nikto (nobody). Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda (Hope). An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter. 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.


In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN describes his years in Berlin (1922-37) and in Paris (1937-40) and, among other writers whom he met in exile, mentions Hodasevich:


Vladislav Hodasevich used to complain, in the twenties and thirties, that young émigré poets had borrowed their art form from him while following the leading cliques in modish angoisse and soul-reshaping. I developed a great liking for this bitter man, wrought of irony and metallic-like genius, whose poetry was as complex a marvel as that of Tyutchev or Blok. He was, physically, of a sickly aspect, with contemptuous nostrils and beetling brows, and when I conjure him up in my mind he never rises from the hard chair on which he sits, his thin legs crossed, his eyes glittering with malevolence and wit, his long fingers screwing into a holder the half of a Caporal Vert cigarette. There are few things in modern world poetry comparable to the poems of his Heavy Lyre, but unfortunately for his fame the perfect frankness he indulged in when voicing his dislikes made him some terrible enemies among the most powerful critical coteries. Not all the mystagogues were Dostoevskian Alyoshas; there were also a few Smerdyakovs in the group, and Hodasevich’s poetry was played down with the thoroughness of a revengeful racket. (Chapter Fourteen, 2)


Alyosha and Smerdyakov are the characters in Dostoevski’s Brothers Karamazov. One of the Smerdyakovs in the group was G. Ivanov, the author of V zashchitu Khodasevicha ("In Defense of Hodasevich," 1928) and of an offensive article on Sirin (VN’s Russian nom de plume) in the Paris émigré review Chisla (“Numbers,” 1930, #1). In VN’s story Usta k ustam (“Lips to Lips,” 1931), a satire on the editors of “Numbers” (G. Adamovich and G. Ivanov), Ilya Borisovich wants to publish his novel in the Paris émigré review Arion under the penname “I. Annenski.” In his essay on Hodasevich G. Ivanov calls Hodasevich "the Arion of emigration, our poet after Blok:"


Прежде: Борис Садовский, Макс Волошин, какой-нибудь там Эллис, словом, второй ряд модернизма и — Ходасевич.

Теперь: Арион эмиграции. Наш поэт после Блока. Наш певец.


The title of VN's story was borrowed from Blok's poem Ne stroy zhilishch u rechnykh izluchin… (“Don’t build your abodes at the bends of rivers…” 1905) that ends in the words k ustam usta (to lips her lips).


The Ambidextrous Universe is a book by Martin Gardner (a real author who indeed quotes Shade’s words). It seems that Nabokov deliberately changes his name slightly in order to make it closer to “gardener.” At the end of his poem Shade mentions some neighbor’s gardener:


And through the flowing shade and ebbing light
A man, unheedful of the butterfly--
Some neighbor's gardener, I guess--goes by
Trundling an empty barrow up the lane. (ll. 996-999)


According to Kinbote, Shade saw his black gardener. A moment later Balthasar, Prince of Loam, hits Gradus with his spade, saving Kinbote’s life:


His first bullet ripped a sleeve button off my black blazer, another sang past my ear. It is evil piffle to assert that he aimed not at me (whom he had just seen in the library - let us be consistent, gentlemen, ours is a rational world after all), but at the gray-locked gentleman behind me. Oh, he was aiming at me all right but missing me every time, the incorrigible bungler, as I instinctively backed, bellowing and spreading my great strong arms (with my left hand still holding the poem, "still clutching the inviolable shade," to quote Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888), in an effort to halt the advancing madman and shield John, whom I feared he might, quite accidentally, hit, while he, my sweet, awkward old John, kept clawing at me and pulling me after him, back to the protection of his laurels, with the solemn fussiness of a poor lame boy trying to get his spastic brother out of the range of the stones hurled at them by schoolchildren, once a familiar sight in all countries. I felt - I still feel - John's hand fumbling at mine, seeking my fingertips, finding them, only to abandon them at once as if passing to me, in a sublime relay race, the baton of life.

One of the bullets that spared me struck him in the side and went through his heart. His presence behind me abruptly failing me caused me to lose my balance, and, simultaneously, to complete the farce of fate, my gardener's spade dealt gunman Jack from behind the hedge a tremendous blow on the pate, felling him and sending his weapon flying from his grasp. Our savior retrieved it and helped me to my feet. My coccyx and right wrist hurt badly but the poem was safe. John, though, lay prone on the ground, with a red spot on his white shirt. I still hoped he had not been killed. The madman sat on the porch step, dazedly nursing with bloody hands a bleeding head. Leaving the gardener to watch over him I hurried into the house and concealed the invaluable envelope under a heap of girls' galoshes, furred snowboots and white wellingtons heaped at the bottom of a closet, from which I exited as if it had been the end of the secret passage that had taken me all the way out of my enchanted castle and right from Zembla to this Arcady. I then dialed 11111 and returned with a glass of water to the scene of the carnage. The poor poet had now been turned over and lay with open dead eyes directed up at the sunny evening azure. The armed gardener and the battered killer were smoking side by side on the steps. The latter, either because he was in pain, or because he had decided to play a new role, ignored me as completely as if I were a stone king on a stone charger in the Tessera Square of Onhava; but the poem was safe. (note to Line 1000)


Arkady brings to mind Arkadiy Dolgoruki, the narrator and main character in Dostoevski’s “Adolescent.” Moscow was founded (c. 1147) by Prince Yuri Dolgoruki. Dolgoruki means “long-armed.” In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Ostap Bender warns the members of “The Union of Sword and Plough” that he and Vorobyaninov have long arms (u nas dlinnye ruki). In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) one of the chapters is entitled Telegramma ot Bratyev Karamazovykh ("A Telegram from Brothers Karamazov”). According to Kinbote, in a conversation with him Shade listed Dostoevski and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov 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 “The Twelve Chairs” Lasker arrives in Vasyuki (as imagined by the local chess enthusiasts) descending by parachute:


Вдруг на горизонте была усмотрена чёрная точка. Она быстро приближалась и росла, превратившись в большой изумрудный парашют. Как большая редька, висел на парашютном кольце человек с чемоданчиком.

 Это он! – закричал одноглазый. – Ура! Ура! Ура! Я узнаю великого философа-шахматиста, доктора Ласкера. Только он один во всём мире носит такие зелёные носочки.


Suddenly a black dot was noticed on the horizon. It approached rapidly, growing larger and  larger until  it finally turned into a large emerald parachute. A man with an attache case was hanging from the harness, like a huge radish.

"Here he is!" shouted one-eye. "Hooray,  hooray, I recognize  the great philosopher and chess player Dr. Lasker. He is the only person in the world who wears those green socks." (Chapter 34 “The Interplanetary Chess Tournament”)


According to Kinbote, the disguised king arrived in America descending by parachute:


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


Lasker’s izumrudnyi parashyut (emerald parachute) brings to mind Izumrudov, one of the greater Shadows who visits Gradus in Nice:


On the morning of July 16 (while Shade was working on the 698-746 section of his poem) dull Gradus, dreading another day of enforced inactivity in sardonically, sparkling, stimulatingly noisy Nice, decided that until hunger drove him out he would not budge from a leathern armchair in the simulacrum of a lobby among the brown smells of his dingy hotel. Unhurriedly he went through a heap of old magazines on a nearby table. There he sat, a little monument of taciturnity, sighing, puffing out his cheeks, licking his thumb before turning a page, gaping at the pictures, and moving his lips as he climbed down the columns of printed matter. Having replaced everything in a neat pile, he sank back in his chair closing and opening his gabled hands in various constructions of tedium - when a man who had occupied a seat next to him got up and walked into the outer glare leaving his paper behind. Gradus pulled it into his lap, spread it out - and froze over a strange piece of local news that caught his eye: burglars had broken into Villa Disa and ransacked a bureau, taking from a jewel box a number of valuable old medals.

Here was something to brood upon. Had this vaguely unpleasant incident some bearing on his quest? Should he do something about it? Cable headquarters? Hard to word succinctly a simple fact without having it look like a cryptogram. Airmail a clipping? He was in his room working on the newspaper with a safety razor blade when there was a bright rap-rap at the door. Gradus admitted an unexpected visitor - one of the greater Shadows, whom he had thought to be onhava-onhava ("far, far away"), in wild, misty, almost legendary Zembla! What stunning conjuring tricks our magical mechanical age plays with old mother space and old father time!

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. No, the slip was not for keeps. He could keep it only while memorizing it. This brand of paper (used by macaroon makers) was not only digestible but delicious. The gay green vision withdrew - to resume his whoring no doubt. How one hates such men! (note to Line 741)


An Eskimo tribe mentioned by Kinbote brings to mind the Eskimo nurse in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father) to fall from his seat. In Blok's poem Vozmezdie ("Retribution," 1910-21) the hero's father was nicknamed Demon, because Dostoevski (who appears in Blok's poem as a character) remarked that he resembled Byron. According to Kinbote, Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya (earth), but of Semberland (a land of reflections, of 'resemblers').