Conmal & Ferz Bretwit in Pale Fire; Gaston Godin in Lolita

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 03/25/2019 - 19:05

According to Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad Commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), the King saw Disa for the first time at a masked ball in his uncle’s palace:


John Shade and Sybil Swallow (see note to line 247) were married in 1919, exactly three decades before King Charles wed Disa, Duchess of Payn. Since the very beginning of his reign (1936-1958) representatives of the nation, salmon fishermen, non-union glaziers, military groups; worried relatives, and especially the Bishop of Yeslove, a sanguineous and saintly old man, had been doing their utmost to persuade him to give up his copious but sterile pleasures and take a wife. It was a matter not of morality but of succession. As in the case of some of his predecessors, rough alderkings who burned for boys, the clergy blandly ignored our young bachelor's pagan habits, but wanted him to do what an earlier and even more reluctant Charles had done: take a night off and lawfully engender an heir.

He saw nineteen-year-old Disa for the first time on the festive night of July the 5th, 1947, at a masked ball in his uncle's palace. She had come in male dress, as a Tirolese boy, a little knock-kneed but brave and lovely, and afterwards he drove her and her cousins (two guardsmen disguised as flower-girls) in his divine new convertible through the streets to see the tremendous birthday illumination, and the fackeltanz in the park, and the fireworks, and the pale upturned faces. He procrastinated for almost two years but was set upon by inhumanly eloquent advisers, and finally gave in. On the eve of his wedding he prayed most of the night locked up all alone in the cold vastness of the Onhava cathedral. Smug alderkings looked at him from the ruby-and-amethyst windows. Never had he so fervently asked God for guidance and strength (see further my note to lines 433-434). (note to Line 275)


The King’s uncle Conmal, Duke of Aros, is the Zemblan translator of Shakespeare:


Conmal, Duke of Aros, 1855-1955, K.'s uncle, the eldest half-brother of Queen Blenda (q. v.); noble paraphrast, 12; his version of Timon of Athens, 39, 130; his life and work, 962. (Index)


As pointed out by Sagit Faizov (, the name Conmal seems to hint at kon’ mal (a small horse), the first two words in a riddle about the swallow:


Конь мал за морем бывал:
Спереди — шильце,
Сзади — вильце,
Сверху — чёрное суконце,
Снизу — белое полотенце.


A small horse was oversees:

a little awl in front,

a little fork behind,

a piece of black cloth on the top,

a white towel underneath.


Chyornoe sukontse (a piece of black cloth) brings to mind sukontsem podbityi (padded with cloth), a phrase used by VN in the opening line of his poem Shakhmatnyi kon’ (“The Chess Knight,” 1927):


Круглогривый, тяжёлый, суконцем подбитый,
шахматный конь в коробке уснул,—
а давно ли, давно ли в пивной знаменитой
стоял живой человеческий гул?
Гул живописцев, ребят бородатых,
и крики поэтов, и стон скрипачей...
Лампа сияла, а пол под ней
был весь в очень ровных квадратах.

Он сидел с друзьями в любимом углу,
по привычке слегка пригнувшись к столу,
и друзья вспоминали турниры былые,
говорили о тонком его мастерстве...
Бархатный стук в голове:
это ходят фигуры резные.

Старый маэстро пивцо попивал,
слушал друзей, сигару жевал,
кивал головой седовато-кудластой,
и ворот осыпан был перхотью частой,—
скорлупками шахматных мыслей.

И друзья вспоминали, как, матом грозя,
Кизерицкому в Вене он отдал ферзя.
Кругом над столами нависли
табачные тучи, а плиточный пол
был в тёмных и светлых квадратах.
Друзья вспоминали, какой изобрел
он дерзостный гамбит когда-то.

Старый маэстро пивцо попивал,
слушал друзей, сигару жевал
и думал с улыбкою хмурой:
«Кто-то, а кто — я понять не могу,
переставляет в мозгу,
как тяжелую мебель, фигуры,
и пешка одна со вчерашнего дня
чёрною куклой идет на меня».

Старый маэстро сидел согнувшись,
пепел ронял на пикейный жилет,—
и нападал, пузырями раздувшись,
неудержимый шахматный бред.
Пили друзья за здоровье маэстро,
вспоминали, как с этой сигарой в зубах
управлял он вслепую огромным оркестром
незримых фигур на незримых досках.

Вдруг чёрный король, подкрепив проходную
пешку свою, подошел вплотную.

Тогда он встал, отстранил друзей
и смеющихся, и оробелых.
Лампа сияла, а пол под ней
был в квадратах черных и белых.

На лице его старом, растерянном, добром,
деревянный отблеск лежал.
Он сгорбился, шею надул, прижал
напряженные локти к рёбрам
и прыгать пошёл по квадратам большим,
через один, то влево, то вправо,—
и это была не пустая забава,
и недолго смеялись над ним.

И потом, в молчании чистой палаты,
куда чёрный король его увёл,
на шестьдесят четыре квадрата
необъяснимо делился пол.
И эдак, и так — до последнего часа —
в бредовых комбинациях, ночью и днём,
прыгал маэстро, старик седовласый,
белым конём.


The poem’s hero is an old chess maestro who goes mad and begins to jump like a chess knight. Eventually the black king leads him to a hospital ward where he continues to jump, like a white knight, until death stops him. It seems that Kinbote, who identifies himself with a different chess piece (and who even proposed to Shade Solus Rex as a title of his poem), writes his Commentary in a madhouse.


In VN’s poem the old maestro’s friends recall how he once in Vienna sacrificed his ferz’ (chessqueen) to Kieseritzky. Describing Gradus’ visit to Oswin Bretwit (Zemblan former consul in Paris), Kinbote mentions Ferz Bretwit, Mayor of Aros:


The activities of Gradus in Paris had been rather neatly planned by the Shadows. They were perfectly right in assuming that not only Odon but our former consul in Paris, the late Oswin Bretwit, would know where to find the King. They decided to have Gradus try Bretwit first. That gentleman had a flat in Meudon where he dwelt alone, seldom going anywhere except the National Library (where he read theosophic works and solved chess problems in old newspapers), and did not receive visitors. The Shadows' neat plan sprung from a piece of luck. Suspecting that Gradus lacked the mental equipment and mimic gifts necessary for the impersonation of an enthusiastic Royalist, they suggested he had better pose as a completely apolitical commissioner, a neutral little man interested only in getting a good price for various papers that private parties had asked him to take out of Zembla and deliver to their rightful owners. Chance, in one of its anti-Karlist moods, helped. One of the lesser Shadows whom we shall call Baron A. had a father-in-law called Baron B., a harmless old codger long retired from the civil service and quite incapable of understanding certain Renaissance aspects of the new regime. He had been, or thought he had been (retrospective distance magnifies things), a close friend of the late Minister of Foreign Affairs; Oswin Bretwit's father, and therefore was looking forward to the day when he would be able to transmit to "young" Oswin (who, he understood, was not exactly persona grata with the new regime) a bundle of precious family papers that the dusty baron had come across by chance in the files of a governmental office. All at once he was informed that now the day had come: the documents would be immediately forwarded to Paris. He was also allowed to prefix a brief note to them which read:

Here are some precious papers belonging to your family. I cannot do better than place them in the hands of the son of the great man who was my fellow student in Heidelberg and my teacher in the diplomatic service.
Verba volant, scripta manent.

The scripta in question were two hundred and thirteen long letters which had passed some seventy years ago between Zule Bretwit, Oswin's grand-uncle, Mayor of Odevalla, and a cousin of his, Ferz Bretwit, Mayor of Aros. This correspondence, a dismal exchange of bureaucratic platitudes and fustian jokes, was devoid of even such parochial interest as letters of this sort may possess in the eyes of a local historian – but of course there is no way of telling what will repel or attract a sentimental ancestralist – and this was what Oswin Bretwit had always been known to be by his former staff. I would like to take time out here to interrupt this dry commentary and pay a brief tribute to Oswin Bretwit. (note to Line 286)


According to Kinbote, the name Bretwit means Chess Intelligence:


But to return to the roofs of Paris. Courage was allied in Oswin Bretwit with integrity, kindness, dignity, and what can be euphemistically called endearing naïveté. When Gradus telephoned from the airport, and to whet his appetite read to him Baron B.'s message (minus the Latin tag), Bretwit's only thought was for the treat in store for him. Gradus had declined to say over the telephone what exactly the "precious papers" were, but it so happened that the ex-consul had been hoping lately to retrieve a valuable stamp collection that his father had bequeathed years ago to a now defunct cousin. The cousin had dwelt in the same house as Baron B., and with all these complicated and entrancing matters uppermost in his mind, the ex-consul, while awaiting his visitor, kept wondering not if the person from Zembla was a dangerous fraud, but whether he would bring all the albums at once or would do it gradually so as to see what he might get for his pains. Bretwit hoped the business would be completed that very night since on the following morning he was to be hospitalized and possibly operated upon (he was, and died under the knife).

If two secret agents belonging to rival factions meet in a battle of wits, and if one has none, the effect may be droll; it is dull if both are dolts. I defy anybody to find in the annals of plot and counterplot anything more inept and boring than the scene that occupies the rest of this conscientious note.

Gradus sat down, uncomfortably, on the edge of a sofa (upon which a tired king had reclined less than a year ago), dipped into his briefcase, handed to his host a bulky brown paper parcel and transferred his haunches to a chair near Bretwit's seat in order to watch in comfort his tussle with the string. In stunned silence Bretwit stared at what he finally unwrapped, and then said: "Well, that's the end of a dream. This correspondence has been published in 1906 or 1907 - no; 1906, after all - by Ferz Bretwit's widow - I may even have a copy of it somewhere among my books. Moreover, this is not a holograph but an apograph, made by a scribe for the printers - you will note that both mayors write the same hand."

"How interesting," said Gradus noting it.

"Naturally I appreciate the kind thought behind it," said Bretwit.

"We were sure you would," said pleased Gradus.

"Baron B. must be a little gaga," continued Bretwit, "but I repeat, his kind intention is touching. I suppose you want some money for bringing this treasure?"

"The pleasure it gives you should be our reward." answered Gradus. "But let me tell you frankly: we took a lot of pains in trying to do this properly, and I have come a long way. However, I want to offer you a little arrangement. You be nice to us and we'll be nice to you. I know your funds are somewhat -"

(Small-fish gesture and wink).

"True enough," sighed Bretwit.

"If you go along with us it won't cost you a centime."

"Oh, I could pay something" (Pout and shrug).

"We don't need your money" (Traffic-stopper's palm). "But here's our plan. I have messages from other barons for other fugitives. In fact, I have letters for the most mysterious fugitive of all."

"What!" cried Bretwit in candid surprise. "They know at home that His Majesty has left Zembla?" (I could have spanked the dear man.)

"Indeed, yes," said Gradus kneading his hands, and fairly panting with animal pleasure - a matter of instinct no doubt since the man certainly could not realize intelligently that the ex-consul's faux pas was nothing less than the first confirmation of the Kings presence abroad: "Indeed," he repeated with a meaningful leer, "and I would be deeply obliged to you if you would recommend me to Mr. X."

At these words a false truth dawned upon Oswin Bretwit and he moaned to himself: Of course! How obtuse of me! He is one of us! The fingers of his left hand involuntarily started to twitch as if he were pulling a kikapoo puppet over it, while his eyes followed intently his interlocutor's low-class gesture of satisfaction. A Karlist agent, revealing himself to a superior, was expected to make a sign corresponding to the X (for Xavier) in the one-hand alphabet of deaf mutes: the hand held in horizontal position with the index curved rather flaccidly and the rest of the fingers bunched (many have criticized it for looking too droopy; it has now been replaced by a more virile combination). On the several occasions Bretwit had been given it, the manifestation had been preceded for him, during a moment of suspense - rather a gap in the texture of time than an actual delay - by something similar to what physicians call the aura, a strange sensation both tense and vaporous, a hot-cold ineffable exasperation pervading the entire nervous system before a seizure. And on this occasion too Bretwit felt the magic wine rise to his head.

"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 shadowgrapher and finally made an uncertain V-for-Victory sign. Bretwit's smile began to fade.
His smile gone, Bretwit (the name means Chess Intelligence) got up from his chair. In a larger room he would have paced up and down - not in this cluttered study. Gradus the Bungler buttoned all three buttons of his tight brown coat and shook his head several times.

"I think," he said crossly, "one must be fair. If I bring you these valuable papers, you must in return arrange an interview, or at least give me his address."

"I know who you are," cried Bretwit pointing. "You're a reporter! You are from the cheap Danish paper sticking out of your pocket" (Gradus mechanically fumbled at it and frowned). "I had hoped they had given up pestering me! The vulgar nuisance of it! Nothing is sacred to you, neither cancer, nor exile, nor the pride of a king" (alas, this is true not only of Gradus - he has colleagues in Arcady too).

Gradus sat staring at his new shoes - mahogany red with sieve-pitted caps. An ambulance screamed its impatient way through dark streets three stories below. Bretwit vented his irritation on the ancestral letters lying on the table. He snatched up the neat pile with its detached wrapping and flung it all in the wastepaper basket. The string dropped outside, at the feet of Gradus who picked it up and added it to the scripta.

"Please, go," said poor Bretwit. "I have a pain in my groin that is driving me mad. I have not slept for three nights. You journalists are an obstinate bunch but I am obstinate too. You will never learn from me anything about my kind. Good-bye."

He waited on the landing for his visitor's steps to go down and reach the front door. It was opened and closed, and presently the automatic light on the stairs went out with the sound of a kick. (ibid.)


In heraldy zule (cf. Zule Bretwit) means chess rook. In Chapter Four (XXVI: 9-14) of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin Lenski plays chess with Olga and in abstraction takes with a pawn his own rook:


Он иногда читает Оле
Нравоучительный роман,
В котором автор знает боле
Природу, чем Шатобриан,
А между тем две, три страницы
(Пустые бредни, небылицы,
Опасные для сердца дев)
Он пропускает, покраснев.
Уединясь от всех далёко,
Они над шахматной доской,
На стол облокотясь, порой
Сидят, задумавшись глубоко,
И Ленский пешкою ладью
Берёт в рассеянье свою.


Sometimes he reads to Olya

a moralistic novel —

in which the author

knows nature better than Chateaubriand —

and, meanwhile, two-three pages

(empty chimeras, fables,

for hearts of maidens dangerous)

he blushingly leaves out.

Retiring far from everybody,

over the chessboard they,

leaning their elbows on the table,

at times sit deep in thought,

and Lenski in abstraction takes

with a pawn his own rook.


Expecting Gradus to make a sign, Bretwit "felt the magic wine rise to his head." In his EO Commentary (note to Three: IV: 11-14) VN writes:


Bodenstedt's unbelievable German "translation" of EO has at this point:


"Lensky! Die Larina ist schlicht,

Aber recht hübsch für ihre Jahre;

Doch ihr Likör, wie schlechter Rum,

Steigt mir zu Kopfe, macht mich dumm."


A rare instance of a liqueur not only being imagined by the translator but affecting him in the same way as it does the imagined speaker. (vol. II, p. 329)


In his note to Three: IV: 10 VN points out that the line Kakie glupye mesta (What silly country) is curiously echoed by l. 6 (Kakie grustnye mesta) of Tyutchev’s famous little poem Pesok sypuchiy po koleni:


The crumbly sand is knee-high.

We’re driving late. The day is darkening,

and on the road the shadows of the pines

into one shadow have already fused.


Blacker and denser is he deep pine wood.

What melancholy country!

Grim night like a hundred-eyed beast

looks out of every bush.


As has been pointed out by Russian critics, the image in ll. 7-8 is an improvement upon a metaphor in Goethe’s Willkommen and Abschied: “Wo Finsternis aus dem Gesträuche mit hundert schwarzen Augen sah.” (EO Commentary, vol. II, p. 328)


One of the leitmotifs in Shade’s poem are the opening lines of Goethe’s Erlkönig (1782):


Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind.


In Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions a game of chess that he played with his wife and quotes Sybil’s words “my knight is pinned:”


What is that funny creaking - do you hear?"

"It is the shutter on the stairs, my dear."


"If you're not sleeping, let's turn on the light.

I hate that wind! Let's play some chess." "All right."


"I'm sure it's not the shutter. There - again."

"It is a tendril fingering the pane."


"What glided down the roof and made that thud?"

"It is old winter tumbling in the mud."


"And now what shall I do? My knight is pinned."

Who rides so late in the night and the wind?


It is the writer's grief. It is the wild

March wind. It is the father with his child. (ll. 653-664)


It seems that Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) and Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) are one and the same person whose “real” name is Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin). Lastochki (“The Swallows,” 1884) is a poem by Afanasiy Fet (who was married to Maria Botkin). Fet is the author of the palindrome A roza upala na lapu Azora (and the rose fell on the paw of Azor). According to Sagit Faizov, Duke of Aros hints at Jean-François Ducis (1733-1816), a French dramatist and adapter of Shakespeare. In his EO Commentary VN several times mentions Ducis, a fervent admirer of "Sakespir."


In a letter of Feb. 14, 1825, to Katenin Griboedov calls Famusov’s daughter Sofia (a character in Griboedov’s play in verse Gore ot uma, “Woe from Wit,” 1824) ferz’ (chessqueen):


Кто-то со злости выдумал об нём, что он сумасшедший, никто не поверил и все повторяют, голос общего недоброхотства и до него доходит, притом и нелюбовь к нему той девушки, для которой единственно он явился в Москву, ему совершенно объясняется, он ей и всем наплевал в глаза и был таков. Ферзь тоже разочарована насчёт своего сахара медовича.


In 1829 Griboedov was assassinated in Teheran, where he was envoy. Monsieur Beauchamp’s chess partner, Mr Campbell (the King’s tutor) ends up in Iran:


Campbell, Walter, b .1890, in Glasgow; K.'s tutor, 1922-1931, an amiable gentleman with a mellow and rich mind; dead shot and champion skater; now in Iran; 130. (Index)


The characters in “Woe from Wit” include Colonel Skalozub whose name hints at zuboskal (scoffer, mocker). A similar transposition of syllables in Botkine (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name in French spelling) gives Kinbote.


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 means "hope." According to Shade, his daughter “always nursed a small mad hope” (Line 383). In Shakespeare’s Richard III (Act 5, scene 2) Richmond says:


True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings.

Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings.


At the beginning of Shakespeare's play Gloucester mentions "a prophecy, which says that 'G' of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be." According to Clarence, Richard plucks the letter G from the cross-row:



Alack, my lord, that fault is none of yours;
He should, for that, commit your godfathers:
O, belike his majesty hath some intent
That you shall be new-christen'd in the Tower.
But what's the matter, Clarence? may I know?


Yea, Richard, when I know; for I protest
As yet I do not: but, as I can learn,
He hearkens after prophecies and dreams;
And from the cross-row plucks the letter G.
And says a wizard told him that by G
His issue disinherited should be;
And, for my name of George begins with G,
It follows in his thought that I am he.
These, as I learn, and such like toys as these
Have moved his highness to commit me now.


Why, this it is, when men are ruled by women:
'Tis not the king that sends you to the Tower:
My Lady Grey his wife, Clarence, 'tis she
That tempers him to this extremity.
Was it not she and that good man of worship,
Anthony Woodville, her brother there,
That made him send Lord Hastings to the Tower,
From whence this present day he is deliver'd?
We are not safe, Clarence; we are not safe.
(Act 1, scene 1)


In Russian we say that kon' khodit bukvoy Г (a chess knight moves G-wise). G is the initial of Gradus (Shade's murderer who is also known as de Grey). According to Kinbote, almost the whole clan of Gradus seems to have been in the liquor business:


Jakob Gradus called himself variously Jack Degree or Jacques de Grey, or James de Gray, and also appears in police records as Ravus, Ravenstone, and d'Argus. Having a morbid affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era, he contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus. His father, Martin Gradus, had been a Protestant minister in Riga, but except for him and a maternal uncle (Roman Tselovalnikov, police officer and part-time member of the Social-Revolutionary party), the whole clan seems to have been in the liquor business. (note to Line 17)


It is believed that the historical Clarence (1449-78) was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine ("new-christen'd in the Tower," as Gloucester puts it). Describing his road trip with Lolita across the USA, Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN's novel Lolita, 1955) mentions his lawyer Clarence, Shakespeare, a ghost town in New Mexico, and a winery in California, with a church built in the shape of a wine barrel:


My lawyer has suggested I give a clear, frank account of the itinerary we followed, and I suppose I have reached here a point where I cannot avoid that chore. Roughly, during that mad year (August 1947 to August 1948), our route began with a series of wiggles and whorls in New England, then meandered south, up and down, east and west; dipped deep into ce qu’on appelle  Dixieland, avoided Florida because the Farlows were there, veered west, zigzagged through corn belts and cotton belts (this is not too clear I am afraid, Clarence, but I did not keep any notes, and have at my disposal only an atrociously crippled tour book in three volumes, almost a symbol of my torn and tattered past, in which to check these recollections); crossed and recrossed the Rockies, straggled through southern deserts where we wintered; reached the Pacific, turned north through the pale lilac fluff of flowering shrubs along forest roads; almost reached the Canadian border; and proceeded east, across good lands and bad lands, back to agriculture on a grand scale, avoiding, despite little Lo’s strident remonstrations, little Lo’s birthplace, in a corn, coal and hog producing area; and finally returned to the fold of the East, petering out in the college town of Beardsley. (2.1)


Moreover, we inspected: Little Iceberg Lake, somewhere in Colorado, and the snow banks, and the cushionets of tiny alpine flowers, and more snow; down which Lo in red-peaked cap tried to slide, and squealed, and was snowballed by some youngsters, and retaliated in kind comme on dit. Skeletons of burned aspens, patches of spired blue flowers. The various items of a scenic drive. Hundreds of scenic drives, thousands of Bear Creeks, Soda Springs, Painted Canyons. Texas, a drought-struck plain. Crystal Chamber in the longest cave in the world, children under 12 free, Lo a young captive. A collection of a local lady’s homemade sculptures, closed on a miserable Monday morning, dust, wind, witherland. Conception Park, in a town on the Mexican border which I dared not cross. There and elsewhere, hundreds of gray hummingbirds in the dusk, probing the throats of dim flowers. Shakespeare, a ghost town in New Mexico, where bad man Russian Bill was colorfully hanged seventy years ago. Fish hatcheries. Cliff dwellings. The mummy of a child (Florentine Bea’s Indian contemporary). Our twentieth Hell’s Canyon. Our fiftieth Gateway to something or other vide that tour book, the cover of which had been lost by that time. A tick in my groin. Always the same three old men, in hats and suspenders, idling away the summer afternoon under the trees near the public fountain. A hazy blue view beyond railings on a mountain pass, and the backs of a family enjoying it (with Lo, in a hot, happy, wild, intense, hopeful, hopeless whisper – “Look, the McCrystals, please, let’s talk to them, please” – let’s talk to them, reader!”please! I’ll do anything you want, oh, please…”). Indian ceremonial dances, strictly commercial. ART: American Refrigerator Transit Company. Obvious Arizona, pueblo dwellings, aboriginal pictographs, a dinosaur track in a desert canyon, printed there thirty million years ago, when I was a child. A lanky, six-foot, pale boy with an active Adam’s apple, ogling Lo and her orange-brown bare midriff, which I kissed five minutes later, Jack. Winter in the desert, spring in the foothills, almonds in bloom. Reno, a dreary town in Nevada, with a nightlife said to be “cosmopolitan and mature.” A winery in California, with a church built in the shape of a wine barrel. Death Valley. Scotty’s Castle. Works of Art collected by one Rogers over a period of years. The ugly villas of handsome actresses. R. L. Stevenson’s footprint on an extinct volcano. Mission Dolores: good title for book. Surf-carved sandstone festoons. A man having a lavish epileptic fit on the ground in Russian Gulch State Park. Blue, blue Crater Lake. A fish hatchery in Idaho and the State Penitentiary. Somber Yellowstone Park and its colored hot springs, baby geysers, rainbows of bubbling mudsymbols of my passion. A herd of antelopes in a wildlife refuge. Our hundredth cavern, adults one dollar, Lolita fifty cents. A chateau built by a French marquess in N. D. The Corn Palace in S. D.; and the huge heads of presidents carved in towering granite. The Bearded Woman read our jingle and now she is no longer single. A zoo in Indiana where a large troop of monkeys lived on concrete replica of Christopher Columbus’ flagship. Billions of dead, or halfdead, fish-smelling May flies in every window of every eating place all along a dreary sandy shore. Fat gulls on big stones as seen from the ferry City of Cheboygan, whose brown woolly smoke arched and dipped over the green shadow it cast on the aquamarine lake. A motel whose ventilator pipe passed under the city sewer. Lincoln’s home, largely spurious, with parlor books and period furniture that most visitors reverently accepted as personal belongings. (2.2)


At Beardsley Humbert Humbert plays chess with Gaston Godin (a professor of French whose name and surname begin with G):


A word about Gaston Godin. The main reason why I enjoyed - or at least tolerated with relief - his company was the spell of absolute security that his ample person cast on my secret. Not that he knew it; I had no special reason to confide in him, and he was much too self-centered and abstract to notice or suspect anything that might lead to a frank question on his part and a frank answer on mine. He spoke well of me to Beardsleyans, he was my good herald. Had he discovered mes goûts and Lolita’s status, it would have interested him only insofar as throwing some light on the simplicity of my attitude towards him, which attitude was as free of polite strain as it was of ribald allusions; for despite his colorless mind and dim memory, he was perhaps aware that I knew more about him than the burghers of Beardsley did. He was a flabby, dough-faced, melancholy bachelor tapering upward to a pair of narrow, not quite level shoulders and a conical pear-head which had sleek black hair on one side and only a few plastered wisps on the other. But the lower part of his body was enormous, and he ambulated with a curious elephantine stealth by means of phenomentally stout legs. He always wore black, even his tie was black; he seldom bathed; his English was a burlesque. And, nonetheless, everybody considered him to be a supremely lovable, lovably freakish fellow! Neighbors pampered him; he knew by name all the small boys in our vicinity (he lived a few blocks away from me)and had some of them clean his sidewalk and burn leaves in his back yard, and bring wood from his shed, and even perform simple chores about the house, and he would feed them fancy chocolates, with real liqueurs inside - in the privacy of an orientally furnished den in his basement, with amusing daggers and pistols arrayed on the moldy, rug-adorned walls among the camouflaged hot-water pipes. Upstairs he had a studio - he painted a little, the old fraud. He had decorated its sloping wall (it was really not more than a garret) with large photographs of pensive André Gide, Tchaikovsky, Norman Douglas, two other well-known English writers, Nijinsky (all thighs and fig leaves), Harold D. Doublename (a misty-eyed left-wing professor at a Midwestern university) and Marcel Proust. All these poor people seemed about to fall on you from their inclined plane. He had also an album with snapshots of all the Jackies and Dickies of the neighborhood, and when I happened to thumb through it and make some casual remark, Gaston would purse his fat lips and murmur with a wistful pout “Oui, ils sont gentils. ” His brown eyes would roam around the various sentimental and artistic bric-a-brac present, and his own banal toiles  (the conventionally primitive eyes, sliced guitars, blue nipples and geometrical designs of the day), and with a vague gesture toward a painted wooden bowl or veined vase, he would say “Prenez donc une de ces poires.  La bonne dame d’en face m’en offre plus que je n’en peux savourer. ” Or: “Mississe Taille Lore vient de me donner ces dahlias, belles fleurs que j’exècre .” (Somber, sad, full of world-weariness.)

For obvious reasons, I preferred my house to his for the games of chess we had two or three times weekly. He looked like some old battered idol as he sat with his pudgy hands in his lap and stared at the board as if it were a corpse. Wheezing he would mediate for ten minutes - then make a losing move. Or the good man, after even more thought, might utter: Au roi!  With a slow old-dog woof that had a gargling sound at the back of it which made his jowls wabble; and then he would lift his circumflex eyebrows with a deep sigh as I pointed out to him that he was in check himself.

Sometimes, from where we sat in my cold study I could hear Lo’s bare feet practicing dance techniques in the living room downstairs; but Gaston’s outgoing senses were comfortably dulled, and he remained unaware of those naked rhythms - and-one, and-two, and-one, and-two, weight transferred on a straight right leg, leg up and out to the side, and-one, and-two, and only when she started jumping, opening her legs at the height of the jump, and flexing one leg, and extending the other, and flying, and landing on her toes - only then did my pale, pompous, morose opponent rub his head or cheek as if confusing those distant thuds with the awful stabs of my formidable Queen.

Sometimes Lola would slouch in while we pondered the board - and it was every time a treat to see Gaston, his elephant eye still fixed on his pieces, ceremoniously rise to shake hands with her, and forthwith release her limp fingers, and without looking once at her, descend again into his chair to topple into the trap I had laid for him. One day around Christmas, after I had not seen him for a fortnight or so, he asked me “Et toutes vos fillettes, elles vont bien? from which it became evident to me that he had multiplied my unique Lolita by the number of sartorial categories his downcast moody eye had glimpsed during a whole series of her appearances: blue jeans, a skirt, shorts, a quilted robe.

I am loath to dwell so long on the poor fellow (sadly enough, a year later, during a voyage to Europe, from which he did not return, he got involved in a sale histoire, in Napes of all places!). I would have hardly alluded to him at all had not his Beardsley existence had such a queer bearing on my case. I need him for my defense. There he was devoid of any talent whatsoever, a mediocre teacher, a worthless scholar, a glum repulsive fat old invert, highly contemptuous of the American way of life, triumphantly ignorant of the English language - there he was in priggish New England, crooned over by the old and caressed by the young - oh, having a grand time and fooling everybody; and here was I. (2.6)


Because it supposedly tied up with her interest in dance and dramatics, I had permitted Lo to take piano lessons with a Miss Emperor (as we French scholars may conveniently call her) to whose blue-shuttered little white house a mile or so beyond Beardsley Lo would spin off twice a week. One Friday night toward the end of May (and a week or so after the very special rehearsal Lo had not had me attend) the telephone in my study, where I was in the act of mopping up Gustave’s - I mean Gaston’s - king’s side, rang and Miss Emperor asked if Lo was coming next Tuesday because she had missed last Tuesday’s and today’s lessons. I said she would by all means - and went on with the game. As the reader may well imagine, my faculties were now impaired, and a move or two later, with Gaston to play, I noticed through the film of my general distress that he could collect my queen; he noticed it too, but thinking it might be a trap on the part of his tricky opponent, he demurred for quite a minute, and puffed and wheezed, and shook his jowls, and even shot furtive glances at me, and made hesitating half-thrusts with his pudgily bunched fingers - dying to take that juicy queen and not daring - and all of a sudden he swooped down upon it (who knows if it did not teach him certain later audacities?), and I spent a dreary hour in achieving a draw. (2.14) 


While Gaston blends Gast (Germ., guest) with ston (Russ., moan), Godin combines "god" with odin (Russ., one; alone). In Lermontov’s poem Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu… (“I go out on the road alone…” 1841) the desert harks to God and star with star converses. From John Ray’s Foreword to Humbert Humbert’s manuscript we know that 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.


In Canto Three of his poem Shade describes IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) and mentions gods, including the big G:


While snubbing gods, including the big G,

Iph borrowed some peripheral debris

From mystic visions; and it offered tips

(The amber spectacles for life's eclipse) -

How not to panic when you're made a ghost:

Sidle and slide, choose a smooth surd, and coast,

Meet solid bodies and glissade right through,

Or let a person circulate through you.

How to locate in blackness, with a gasp,

Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp. (ll. 549-558)


In Russian god means "year." In his poem Brozhu li ya vdol’ ulits shumnykh… (“Whether I wander along noisy streets,” 1829) Pushkin uses the word's archaic form, godina:


День каждый, каждую годину
Привык я думой провождать,
Грядущей смерти годовщину
Меж их стараясь угадать.


Each day each year

I have come to usher out in fancy,

Of my approaching death the anniversary

Intent to guess among them.


In Pushkin's poem godina rhymes with godovshchina (anniversary). Godovshchina (1926) is a poem by VN. Kinbote completes his work on Shade's poem and commits suicide on Oct. 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin's Lyceum).


In Canto Three of his poem Shade calls 1958 "a year of Tempests" and mentions Hurricane Lolita that swept from Florida to Maine:


It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane
Lolita swept from Florida to Maine.
Mars glowed. Shahs married. Gloomy Russians spied.
Lang made your portrait. And one night I died.
(ll. 679-682)


The Tempest is a play by Shakespeare. According to Kinbote, Shade's heart attack almost coincided with the disguised king's arrival in America:


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)


At the end of his poem A nebo budushchim beremenno... ("And the Sky is Pregnant with the Future..." 1923) Mandelshtam says that the sky is pregnant with the azure (zabremenevshee lazur'yu) and calls it al'fa i omega buri (alpha and omega of the tempest):  


А ты, глубокое и сытое,
Забременевшее лазурью,
Как чешуя многоочитое,
И альфа и омега бури;
Тебе — чужое и безбровое,
Из поколенья в поколение, —
Всегда высокое и новое
Передаётся удивление.


At the beginning of his poem Shade mentions the false azure in the windowpane:


I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane;
I was the smudge of ashen fluff--and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky. (ll. 1-4)


Hazel Shade drowned in Lake Omega (the larger and sadder of the three conjoined lakes near New Wye):


Higher up on the same wooded hill stood, and still stands I trust, Dr. Sutton’s old clapboard house and, at the very top, eternity shall not dislodge Professor C.’s ultramodern villa from whose terrace one can glimpse to the south the larger and sadder of the three conjoined lakes called Omega, Ozero, and Zero (Indian names garbled by early settlers in such a way as to accommodate specious derivations and commonplace allusions). (note to Lines 47-48)


In the first stanza of his poem Dekabrist ("The Decembrist," 1917) Mandelshtam mentions shakhmaty (chess):


— Тому свидетельство языческий сенат —
Сии дела не умирают! —
Он раскурил чубук и запахнул халат,
А рядом в шахматы играют.

The pagan senate is your proof
That deeds like these will never die!"
He lit his pipe and wrapped his dressing gown around
While chess was being played nearby.


The poem's last line, Rossiya, Leta, Loreleya (Russia, Lethe, Lorelei), brings to mind VN's story Ozero, oblako, bashnya ("Cloud, Castle, Lake," 1937). Like Lethe and Lorelei, Lolita begins with L. In VN's novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) mentions the L disaster that happened on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) in the beau milieu of the 19th century:


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. (1.3)


The Antiterran L disaster seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS) in our world. Dostoevski is the author of Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846), Belye nochi ("White Nights," 1848) and Netochka Nezvanov (1849), a novel that remained unfinished because the author was arrested and imprisoned in the St. Petersburg Peter-and-Paul Fortress (whose commander was General Ivan Nabokov, the brother of VN's great-grandfather). In the imprisonment Dostoevski avidly read Shakespeare (in a Russian translation) sent to him by his brother. In a letter of Oct. 31, 1838 (Dostoevski's seventeenth birthday) to his brother Dostoevski twice repeats the word gradus (degree). Shade's birthday, July 5, is also Kinbote's and Gradus' birthday (but Shade, who was born in 1898, is seventeen years Kinbote's and Gradus' senior). The characters in Pale Fire include Professor Nattochdag, a distinguished Zemblan scholar whose name means in Swedish "night and day" and who is nicknamed Netochka.


Kinbote 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”). VN is the author of Tri shakhmatnykh soneta (“Three Chess Sonnets,” 1924). Dvoynik ("The Double," 1909) is a poem by Alexander Blok, the owner of Shakhmatovo (the estate in the Province of Moscow whose name comes from shakhmaty, "chess"). In his poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) Blok mentions all those who ceased to be peshki (the pawns) and whom the authorities hasten v tur prevrashchat’ ili v koney (to promote to the rooks or to the knights):


И власть торопится скорей
Всех тех, кто перестал быть пешкой,
В тур превращать, или в коней… (Chapter One, ll. 211-213)


In VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) Sebastian Knight (who used to draw a black chess knight to sign his stories) dies at a sanatorium in St Damier. Damier is French for “chess board:"


Would I never get to Sebastian? Who were those idle idiots who wrote on the wall 'Death to the Jews' or 'Vive le front populaire', or left obscene drawings? Some anonymous artist had begun blacking squares - a chess board, ein Schachbrett, un damier…. There was a flash in my brain and the word settled on my tongue: St Damier! (chapter 20)


Ein Schachbrett that flashes in the consciousness of Sebastian's half-brother V. brings to mind Bretwit. The characters in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night include Viola's twin brother Sebastian. Blok is the author of Dvenadtsat' ("The Twelve," 1918). In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Lasker arrives in Vasyuki (as imagined by the Vasyuki 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 всем 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”)


Lasker’s izumrudnyi parashyut (emerald parachute) brings to mind Izumrudov, one of the greater Shadows who visits Gradus in Nice and tells him the ex-King's address in New Wye:


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)


Btw., New Wye seems to be a cross between New York and New Moscow, as in his lecture on chess Ostap Bender (the main character in "The Twelve Chairs" and "The Golden Calf," 1931) calls Vasyuki:


— Не беспокойтесь, — сказал Остап, — мой проект гарантирует вашему городу неслыханный расцвет производительных сил. Подумайте, что будет, когда турнир окончится и когда уедут все гости. Жители Москвы, стеснённые жилищным кризисом, бросятся в ваш великолепный город. Столица автоматически переходит в Васюки. Сюда переезжает правительство. Васюки переименовываются в Нью-Москву, а Москва — в Старые Васюки. Ленинградцы и харьковчане скрежещут зубами, но ничего не могут поделать. Нью-Москва становится элегантнейшим центром Европы, а скоро и всего мира.


"Don't worry," continued Ostap, "my scheme will guarantee the town an unprecedented boom in your production forces. Just think what will happen when the tournament is over and the visitors have left. The citizens of Moscow, crowded together on account of the housing shortage, will come flocking to your beautiful town. The capital will be automatically transferred to Vasyuki. The government will move here. Vasyuki will be renamed New Moscow, and Moscow will become Old Vasyuki. The people of Leningrad and Kharkov will gnash their teeth in fury but won't be able to do a thing about it. New Moscow will soon become the most elegant city in Europe and, soon afterwards, in the whole world." (Chapter 34 “The Interplanetary Chess Tournament”)


One of the Vasyuki chess enthusiasts is, like a Cyclops, one-eyed. In his essay Ob Annenskom (“On Annenski,” 1921) Hodasevich points out that Annenski regarded his penname Nik. T-o (“Mr. Nobody”) as a translation of Greek Outis, the name under which Odysseus (the main character in Homer’s Odyssey) conceals his identity from the Cyclops Polyphemus:


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 Gray) is a character in Leonid Andreyev’s play Zhizn’ cheloveka (“The Life of a Man,” 1907).


In VN's novel Zashchita Luzhina ("The Luzhin Defense," 1930) Leonid Andreyev ("a celebrated writer") and his tragedy Okean ("The Ocean," 1911) are mentioned:


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)


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)


In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) Lermontov compares his soul to the ocean in which nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) lies:


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.
Gloomy ocean, who can
find out your secrets? Who
will tell to the crowd my thoughts?
Myself – or God – or none at all!


In the last line Lermontov mentions Bog (God). The poem's last word is nikto (nobody). In Pushkin’s little tragedy "Mozart and Salieri" (1830) Saliei calls Mozart bog (a god):


Какая глубина!
Какая смелость и какая стройность!
Ты, Моцарт, бог, и сам того не знаешь;
Я знаю, я.


What profundity!
What boldness and what perfect form! Mozart,
You are a god, and do not even know it.
I know it, though. (scene I)


and Mozart 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 only all so quickly felt the power
Of harmony! But no, in that event
The world could not exist; none would care
About the basic needs of lowly life,
All would give themselves to free art. (scene II)


Nikto b is Botkin (Shade's, Kinbote's and Gradus' "real" name) in reverse.