Shade's, Kinbote's & Gradus' birthday in Pale Fire; balagur in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 02/11/2019 - 09:44

In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) John Shade writes his last poem and dies in July. According to Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), the poem was begun at the dead center of the year, a few minutes after midnight July 1 (note to Lines 1-4). Shade’s poem is almost finished when on July 21, 1959, the author is killed by Gradus. In Ob iyune i iyule (“On June and July”), a part of his Filologicheskie zametki (“Philological Notes,” 1885) written for the humorous magazine Oskolki ("Fragments"), Chekhov says that for the writers July is an unhappy month:


Для писателей июль несчастный месяц. Смерть своим неумолимым красным карандашом зачеркнула в июле шестерых русских поэтов и одного Памву Берынду.

With its inexorable red pencil Death scratched off in July six Russian poets and one Pamva Berynda (an obscure lexicographer of the 17th century).


Death’s neumolimyi krasnyi karandash (inexorable red pencil) hints at a censor’s red pencil. In his poem <Iz Pindemonti> (<From Pindemonte>, 1836) Pushkin mentions chutkaya tsenzura (the sensitive censorship) that hampers the wag (stesnyaet balagura) in his journalistic projects:


Не дорого ценю я громкие права,
От коих не одна кружится голова.
Я не ропщу о том, что отказали боги
Мне в сладкой участи оспоривать налоги
Или мешать царям друг с другом воевать;
И мало горя мне, свободно ли печать
Морочит олухов, иль чуткая цензура
В журнальных замыслах стесняет балагура.
Все это, видите ль, слова, слова, слова*
Иные, лучшие, мне дороги права;
Иная, лучшая, потребна мне свобода:
Зависеть от царя, зависеть от народа —
Не всё ли нам равно? Бог с ними. Никому
Отчёта не давать, себе лишь самому
Служить и угождать; для власти, для ливреи
Не гнуть ни совести, ни помыслов, ни шеи;
По прихоти своей скитаться здесь и там,
Дивясь божественным природы красотам,
И пред созданьями искусств и вдохновенья
Трепеща радостно в восторгах умиленья.
Вот счастье! вот права...



I have but little use for those loud "rights" - the phrase
That seems to addle people's minds these days.
I do not fault the gods, nor to a soul begrudge it
That I'm denied the bliss of wrangling over a Budget,
Or keeping king from fighting king in martial glee;
Nor do I worry if the Press is free
To hoax the nitwits, or if censor-pokers
Spoil journalistic games for sundry jokers;
All this is merely "words, words, words" you see.
Quite other, better rights are dear to me;
To be dependent on king, or on a nation -
Is it not all the same? Good riddance! But to dance
To no one else's fiddle, foster and advance
one's private self alone; before gold braid and power
with neither conscience, thought, nor spine to cower;
to move now here, now there with fancy's whim for law,
at Nature's godlike works feel ecstasy and awe,
and start before the gifts of art and joyous adoration -
there's bliss for you! There are your rights…
(“translated” by W. Arndt)


In a draft Pushkin’s poem has the date under the text: July 5. July 5 is Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ birthday (while Shade was born in 1898, Kinbote and Gradus were born in 1915). The three main characters in Pale Fire, the poet Shade, his commentator Kinbote and his murderer Gradus seem to represent three different aspects of Botkin’s personality. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s commentary). Nadezhda is the name of the heroine in Chekhov’s last story Nevesta (“Betrothed,” 1903). The name and patronymic of her fiancé, Andrey Andreich, brings to mind Andrey Andreevich Vinelander, Ada’s husband in VN’s novel Ada (1969). According to Ada (whose birthday is July 21), her husband used to address his father-in-law (Demon Veen, son of Dedalus) “Dementiy Labirintovich” and call him balagur (a wag):


'And then, one day, Demon warned me that he would not come any more if he heard again poor Andrey's poor joke (Nu i balagur-zhe vy, Dementiy Labirintovich) or what Dorothy, l'impayable ("priceless for impudence and absurdity") Dorothy, thought of my camping out in the mountains with only Mayo, a cowhand, to protect me from lions.' (3.8)


In a poem composed in September, 1835, in the meter and rhyme scheme of the Eugene Onegin stanza Pushkin mentions a labyrinth:


В мои осенние досуги,

В те дни, как любо мне писать,

Вы мне советуете, други,

Рассказ забытый продолжать.

Вы говорите справедливо,

Что странно, даже неучтиво

Роман не конча перервать,

Отдав уже его в печать,

Что должно своего героя

Как бы то ни было женить,

По крайней мере уморить,

И лица прочие пристроя,

Отдав им дружеский поклон,

Из лабиринта вывесть вон.


Вы говорите: "Слава богу,

Покамест твой Онегин жив,

Роман не кончен - понемногу

Иди вперёд; не будь ленив.

Со славы, вняв её призванью,

Сбирай оброк хвалой и бранью -

Рисуй и франтов городских

И милых барышень своих,

Войну и бал, дворец и хату,

И келью. . . . и харем

И с нашей публики меж тем

Бери умеренную плату,

За книжку по пяти рублей -

Налог не тягостный, ей-ей."


During my days of autumn leisure -
those days when I so love to write -
you, friends, advise me to go on
with my forgotten tale.
You say - and you are right -
that it is odd, and even impolite,
to interrupt an uncompleted novel
and have it published as it is;
that one must marry off one's hero in any case,
or kill him off at least, and, after having
disposed of the remaining characters
and made to them a friendly bow,
expel them from a labyrinth.


You say: thank God,

while your Onegin is still alive,

the novel is not finished; forward go

little by little, don’t be lazy.

While heeding her appeal, from Fame

Collect a tax in praise and blame.

<Depict the dandies of the town,

your amiable misses,

warfare and ball, palace and hut,

cell…………… and harem, meantime>

take from our public

a reasonable payment –

five rubles for each published part;

really, ’tis not a heavy tax. (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 377)


Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on October 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum). There is a hope that after Kinbote’s death Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin’s epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again. In a poem written for his last Lyceum anniversary, Byla pora: nash prazdnik molodoy… (“It was time: our young celebration…” 1836), Pushkin mentions nadezhda (Hope):


Была пора: наш праздник молодой
Сиял, шумел и розами венчался,
И с песнями бокалов звон мешался,
И тесною сидели мы толпой.
Тогда, душой беспечные невежды,
Мы жили все и легче и смелей,
Мы пили все за здравие надежды
И юности и всех её затей.


In Chapter Three (XXII: 8-10) of EO Pushkin mentions nadpis' ada (Hell's inscription) that he read with terror above the eyebrows of some belles, ostav' nadezhdu navsegda ("abandon hope for evermore!"):


Я знал красавиц недоступных,
Холодных, чистых, как зима,
Неумолимых, неподкупных,
Непостижимых для ума;
Дивился я их спеси модной,
Их добродетели природной,
И, признаюсь, от них бежал,
И, мнится, с ужасом читал
Над их бровями надпись ада:
Оставь надежду навсегда.20
Внушать любовь для них беда,
Пугать людей для них отрада.
Быть может, на брегах Невы
Подобных дам видали вы.


I've known belles inaccessible,

cold, winter-chaste;

inexorable, incorruptible,

unfathomable by the mind;

I marveled at their modish morgue,

at their natural virtue,

and, to be frank, I fled from them,

and I, meseems, with terror read

above their eyebrows Hell's inscription:

“Abandon hope for evermore!”20

To inspire love is bale for them,

to frighten folks for them is joyance.

Perhaps, on the banks of the Neva

similar ladies you have seen.

20. Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate. Our modest author has translated only the first part of the famous verse. (Pushkin's note)


The second part of the famous verse, voi ch'entrate (you who enter here), brings to mind voi che sapete (you who know), Cherubino's aria from Le Nozze di Figaro mentioned by Mozart in Pushkin's little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830):



      Сейчас. Я шёл к тебе,
Нёс кое-что тебе я показать;
Но, проходя перед трактиром, вдруг
Услышал скрыпку... Нет, мой друг, Сальери!
Смешнее отроду ты ничего
Не слыхивал... Слепой скрыпач в трактире
Разыгрывал voi che sapete. Чудо!
Не вытерпел, привёл я скрыпача,
Чтоб угостить тебя его искусством.


        Just now. I had
Something to show you, and was on my way,
But passing by a tavern, suddenly
I heard a fiddle. Oh, Salieri, my friend,
You never in your life heard anything
So funny. This blind fiddler in a tavern
Playing Voi che sapete. Marvelous!
I had no choice, I had to bring him here
To treat you to the pleasure of his art.
In here! (Scene I)


In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart mentions the power of harmony and uses the phrase nikto b (none would):


Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.


If 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 free art. (Scene II)


In Canto Four of his poem Shade says that the day (the last day of his life) "has passed in a sustained low hum of harmony" (ll. 963-964). Nikto b is Botkin in reverse.


As usual, I recommend you the updated version of my previous post, “synthesis of sun and star in Pale Fire; Ada's fingernails & Tarn in Ada.”