surgeon of genius in Lolita; Clare Bishop in TRLSK; Doc Fitzbishop in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 03/13/2019 - 09:19

After murdering Quilty, Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955) wonders if some surgeon of genius might not revive his victim:


The rest is a little flattish and faded. Slowly I drove downhill, and presently found myself going at the same lazy pace in a direction opposite to Parkington. I had left my raincoat in the boudoir and Chum in the bathroom. No, it was not a house I would have liked to live in. I wondered idly if some surgeon of genius might not alter his own career, and perhaps the whole destiny of mankind, by reviving quilted Quilty, Clare Obscure. Not that I cared; on the whole I wished to forget the whole mess - and when I did learn he was dead, the only satisfaction it gave me, was the relief of knowing I need not mentally accompany for months a painful and disgusting convalescence interrupted by all kinds of unmentionable operations and relapses, and perhaps an actual visit from him, with trouble on my part to rationalize him as not being a ghost. Thomas had something. It is strange that the tactile sense, which is so infinitely less precious to men than sight, becomes at critical moment our main, if not only, handle to reality. I was all covered with Quilty - with the feel of that tumble before the bleeding. (2.36)


In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or What You Will (Act Five, scene 1) Sir Toby Belch mentions Dick surgeon:



How now, gentleman! how is't with you?


That's all one: has hurt me, and there's the end
on't. Sot, didst see Dick surgeon, sot?


O, he's drunk, Sir Toby, an hour agone; his eyes
were set at eight i' the morning.


The characters in Shakespeare’s play include Viola and her twin brother Sebastian. In VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) Clare Bishop (an attractive girl with whom Sebastian lives in the first part of his career as a writer) marries a businessman, gets pregnant and dies in childbirth. According to John Ray, Jr. (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. Lolita (who was born on Jan. 1, 1935, and who calls her husband Dick) dies a few days before her eighteenth birthday. In TRLSK the narrator (Sebastian’s half-brother V.) says that there is an occult resemblance between a man and the date of his death:


I have managed to reconstruct more or less the last year of Sebastian's life: 1935. He died in the very beginning of 1936, and as I look at this figure I cannot help thinking that there is an occult resemblance between a man and the date of his death. Sebastian Knight d. 1936.... This date to me seems the reflection of that name in a pool of rippling water. There is something about the curves of the last three numerals that recalls the sinuous outlines of Sebastian's personality.... (Chapter 19)


Sebastian Knight (who was born on Dec. 31, 1899) dies at the age of thirty-six. 18 × 2 = 36.


At the beginning of his Foreword John Ray, Jr. mentions Humbert Humbert’s lawyer:


“Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male,” such were the two titles under which the writer of the present note received the strange pages it preambulates. “Humbert Humbert,” their author, had died in legal captivity, of coronary thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days before his trial was scheduled to start. His lawyer, my good friend and relation, Clarence Choate Clark, Esq., now of the District of Columbia bar, in asking me to edit the manuscript, based his request on a clause in his client’s will which empowered my eminent cousin to use the discretion in all matters pertaining to the preparation of “Lolita” for print. Mr. Clark’s decision may have been influenced by the fact that the editor of his choice had just been awarded the Poling Prize for a modest work (“Do the Senses make Sense?”) wherein certain morbid states and perversions had been discussed.


In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part Two (Act IV, scene 2) Dick the Butcher says:


The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.


Describing his last meeting with his father, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions two lawyers:


The last occasion on which Van had seen his father was at their house in the spring of 1904. Other people had been present: old Eliot, the real-estate man, two lawyers (Grombchevski and Gromwell), Dr Aix, the art expert, Rosalind Knight, Demon's new secretary, and solemn Kithar Sween, a banker who at sixty-five had become an avant-garde author; in the course of one miraculous year he had produced The Waistline, a satire in free verse on Anglo-American feeding habits, and Cardinal Grishkin, an overtly subtle yarn extolling the Roman faith. The poem was but the twinkle in an owl’s eye; as to the novel it had already been pronounced ‘seminal’ by celebrated young critics (Norman Girsh, Louis Deer, many others) who lauded it in reverential voices pitched so high that an ordinary human ear could not make much of that treble volubility; it seemed, however, all very exciting, and after a great bang of obituary essays in 1910 (‘Kithar Sween: the man and the writer,’ ‘Sween as poet and person,’ ‘Kithar Kirman Lavehr Sween: a tentative biography’) both the satire and the romance were to be forgotten as thoroughly as that acting foreman’s control of background adjustment — or Demon’s edict. (3.7)


Van’s and Ada’s father, Demon Veen perishes in the mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific. At the Goodson Airport Van tells Demon that Doc Fitzbishop (the Kalugano surgeon) messed up his job and calls the surgeons “butchers:”


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)


“The herbarium” brings to mind the toilet signs mentioned by Humbert Humbert in Lolita:


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 Kalugano Van had a pistol duel with Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge. A member of the Do-Re-La Country Club, Captain Tapper brings to mind Chekhov’s story Tapyor (“The Ballroom Pianist,” 1885). In Ward Five (where hopeless cases are kept) of the Kalugano hospital Van visits Philip Rack (Lucette’s music teacher who was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie). Khirurgiya ("Surgery," 1884) is a story by Chekhov. In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Lev Shestov (the philosopher whose pseudonym comes from shest’, “six”) calls Chekhov pevets beznadezhnosti (a poet of hopelessness). VN began writing TRLSK in December 1938, soon after Shestov’s death (Nov. 19, 1938) in Paris.


In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov compares his story “Ward Six” (1892) to sweet lemonade and mentions the ghost of Hamlet’s father:


Вас нетрудно понять, и Вы напрасно браните себя за то, что неясно выражаетесь. Вы горький пьяница, а я угостил Вас сладким лимонадом, и Вы, отдавая должное лимонаду, справедливо замечаете, что в нем нет спирта. В наших произведениях нет именно алкоголя, который бы пьянил и порабощал, и это Вы хорошо даёте попять. Отчего нет? Оставляя в стороне "Палату No 6" и меня самого, будем говорить вообще, ибо это интересней. Будем говорить об общих причинах, коли Вам не скучно, и давайте захватим целую эпоху. Скажите по совести, кто из моих сверстников, т. е. людей в возрасте 30--45 лет, дал миру хотя одну каплю алкоголя? Разве Короленко, Надсон и все нынешние драматурги не лимонад? Разве картины Репина или Шишкина кружили Вам голову? Мило, талантливо, Вы восхищаетесь и в то же время никак не можете забыть, что Вам хочется курить. Наука и техника переживают теперь великое время, для нашего же брата это время рыхлое, кислое, скучное, сами мы кислы и скучны, умеем рождать только гуттаперчевых мальчиков, и не видит этого только Стасов, которому природа дала редкую способность пьянеть даже от помоев. Причины тут не в глупости нашей, не в бездарности и не в наглости, как думает Буренин, а в болезни, которая для художника хуже сифилиса и полового истощения. У нас нет "чего-то", это справедливо, и это значит, что поднимите подол нашей музе, и Вы увидите там плоское место. Вспомните, что писатели, которых мы называем вечными или просто хорошими и которые пьянят нас, имеют один общий и весьма важный признак: они куда-то идут и Вас зовут туда же, и Вы чувствуете не умом, а всем своим существом, что у них есть какая-то цель, как у тени отца Гамлета, которая недаром приходила и тревожила воображение. У одних, смотря по калибру, цели ближайшие -- крепостное право, освобождение родины, политика, красота или просто водка, как у Дениса Давыдова, у других цели отдалённые -- бог, загробная жизнь, счастье человечества и т. п. Лучшие из них реальны и пишут жизнь такою, какая она есть, но оттого, что каждая строчка пропитана, как соком, сознанием цели, Вы, кроме жизни, какая есть, чувствуете ещё ту жизнь, какая должна быть, и это пленяет Вас.


It is easy to understand you, and there is no need for you to abuse yourself for obscurity of expression. You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productions—the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside "Ward No. 6" and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting. Let ms discuss the general causes, if that won't bore you, and let us include the whole age. Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries—that is, men between thirty and forty-five—have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade? Have Repin's or Shishkin's pictures turned your head? Charming, talented, you are enthusiastic; but at the same time you can't forget that you want to smoke. Science and technical knowledge are passing through a great period now, but for our sort it is a flabby, stale, and dull time. We are stale and dull ourselves, we can only beget gutta-percha boys, and the only person who does not see that is Stasov, to whom nature has given a rare faculty for getting drunk on slops. The causes of this are not to be found in our stupidity, our lack of talent, or our insolence, as Burenin imagines, but in a disease which for the artist is worse than syphilis or sexual exhaustion. We lack "something," that is true, and that means that, lift the robe of our muse, and you will find within an empty void. Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being, that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father, who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing. Some have more immediate objects—the abolition of serfdom, the liberation of their country, politics, beauty, or simply vodka, like Denis Davydov; others have remote objects—God, life beyond the grave, the happiness of humanity, and so on. The best of them are realists and paint life as it is, but, through every line's being soaked in the consciousness of an object, you feel, besides life as it is, the life which ought to be, and that captivates you.


In his story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as seen by a Drunkard,” 1885) signed Brat moego brata (My brother’s brother) Chekhov compares girls under sixteen to distilled water. The last note of poor mad Aqua (the twin sister of Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother Marina) was signed “My sister sister who teper’ iz ada (now is out of Hades)" (1.3). In Blok’s poem Neznakomka (“The Unknown Woman,” 1906) p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out “In vino veritas!”:


А рядом у соседних столиков

Лакеи сонные торчат,

И пьяницы с глазами кроликов

"In vino veritas!" кричат.


And drowsy lackeys lounge about

Beside the adjacent tables

While drunks with rabbit eyes cry out

"In vino veritas!"


At the family dinner in “Ardis the second” Demon uses the phrase s glazami (with the eyes) and mentions doctor Krolik (the local entomologist, Ada’s beloved teacher of natural history):


‘Marina,’ murmured Demon at the close of the first course. ‘Marina,’ he repeated louder. ‘Far from me’ (a locution he favored) ‘to criticize Dan’s taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I’m above all that rot, I’m…’ (gesture); ‘but, my dear,’ he continued, switching to Russian, ‘the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki — the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) —’
‘Everybody has eyes,’ remarked Marina drily.
‘Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves.
But that’s not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It’s depressing. It’s a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.’
‘Look, Dad,’ said Van, ‘Dr Krolik can’t do much, because, as you know quite well, he’s dead, and Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive.’
‘The Veen wit, the Veen wit,’ murmured Demon. (1.38)


"The great Grombchevski" (Demon's lawyer) seems blend Mikhail Gromnitski (1833-99) with Nikolay Karabchevski (1851-1925), the author of memoirs Chto glaza moi videli ("What my Eyes Have Seen," 1921). Vindictive Van blinds Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis) for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada (2.11). Similarly, Ada cannot pardon Demon who saw her in Van's Manhattan flat and told Van to give her up. It seems that Demon and other passengers of the ill-fated aircraft die, because Ada managed to persuade the pilot to destroy his machine in midair.


“Do the Senses make Sense?” (John Ray’s work for which he received the Poling Prize), as well as the tactile sense ("at critical moment our main, if not only, handle to reality") and sight mentioned by Humbert Humbert, bring to mind Gumilyov’s poem Shestoe chuvstvo (“The Sixth Sense,” 1920). In the opening line Gumilyov mentions v nas vlyublyonnoe vino (the wine that is in love with us):


Прекрасно в нас влюблённое вино
И добрый хлеб, что в печь для нас садится,
И женщина, которою дано,
Сперва измучившись, нам насладиться.


Fine is the wine that is in love with us,
and the good bread baked for our sake,
and the woman whom we are allowed to enjoy
after she has tortured us.


In TRLSK Madame Lecerf (alias Nina Rechnoy, Sebastian’s mistress) tells V. that she is good as good bread:


'Do you mean to say,' asked Madame Lecerf, 'that you think she is a dreadful, dangerous woman? Une femme fatale? Because, you know, that's not so. She's good as good bread.' (Chapter 16)


The name Rechnoy brings to mind Nina Zarechnyi, a character in Chekhov’s play Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896). In Chekhov's play Arkadina and Treplev quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet:


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 beautiful 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)


Hourglass Lake in which Humbert Humbert wants to drown Charlotte (Lolita's mother) brings to mind pesochnye chasy (the hourglass) mentioned by the chairman in Chekhov’s story V sude (“In the Court,” 1886). According to the chairman, Koreyski (the old investigator) is razvalina, pesochnye chasy (“a wreck dropping to bits”):


— Михаил Владимирович, — нагнулся прокурор к уху председателя: — удивительно неряшливо этот Корейский вёл следствие. Родной брат не допрошен, староста не допрошен, из описания избы ничего не поймёшь...
— Что делать... что делать! — вздохнул председатель, откидываясь на спинку кресла: — развалина... песочные часы!


"Mikhail Vladimirovich," said the assistant prosecutor, bending down to the chairman’s ear, "amazingly slovenly the way that Koreyski conducted the investigation. The prisoner's brother was not examined, the village elder was not examined, there's no making anything out of his description of the hut…"
"It can't be helped, it can't be helped," said the chairman, sinking back in his chair. "He's a wreck . . . dropping to bits!"


The surname Koreyski comes from Korea. When Humbert Humbert revisits Ramsdale in 1952, Mrs. Chatfield tells him that Charlie Holmes (Lolita’s first lover who had debauched her in Camp Q.) was just killed in Korea:


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)


Stella Fantasia (Lolita's former classmate who marries Murphy) brings to mind quasi una fantasia, a phrase used by Ostap Bender (the main character in Ilf and Petrov's "The Twelve Chairs" and "The Golden Calf") in his lecture on chess in the Vasyuki chess club:


Предмет моей лекции — плодотворная дебютная идея. Что такое, товарищи, дебют и что такое, товарищи, идея? Дебют, товарищи, это quasi una fantasia. А что такое, товарищи, значит идея? Идея, товарищи, — это человеческая мысль, облечённая в логическую шахматную форму. Даже с ничтожными силами можно овладеть всей доской.


The subject of my lecture is 'A Fruitful Opening Idea'. "What, Comrades, is an opening? And what, Comrades, is an idea? An opening, Comrades, is quasi una fantasia. And what, Comrades, is an idea? An idea, Comrades, is a human thought moulded in logical chess form. Even with insignificant forces you can master the whole of the chessboard. ("The Twelve Chairs," chapter 34 "The Interplanetary Chess Tournament")


Sebastian Knight dies in a sanatorium in St. Damier. Damier is French for "chessboard."


Mme Lecerf and V. converse in French. The idiom used by Mme Lecerf is bon comme le bon pain ("good as good bread"). The meaning of the word pain in French and in English is different. The characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) include Queen Disa, Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Moan (the wife of Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla). Her name seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Desdemona, Othello’s wife in Shakespeare’s Othello. Queen Disa and Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) seem to be one and the same person, whose “real” name is Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin). Describing his childhood, Humbert Humbert mentions his aunt Sybil:


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. (1.2)


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 his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951):


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. 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)


In Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), the Russian version of VN’s autobiography, “remote regions” become seraya ot zvyozd dal’ (remote regions grey from the stars):


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 подоплёку, с её маниакальной погоней за половой символикой, с её угрюмыми эмбриончиками, подглядывающими из природных засад угрюмое родительское соитие.


Seraya ot zvyozd dal’ brings to mind Gray Star (“the capital of the book,” as VN calls it in his postscript to Lolita) and Mona Dahl (Lolita’s schoolmate at Beardsley).