Vladimir Nabokov

V Woolf PF-like tidbits

By William Dane, 25 March, 2020

From Virginia Woolf's "Rambling Round Evelyn" (1925) in The Common Reader (my emphasis):

"...that butterfly will sit motionless on the dahlia while the gardener trundles his barrow past it, but let him flick the wings with the shadow of a rake, and off it flies, up it goes, instantly on the alert. So, we may reflect, a butterfly sees but does not hear... But as for going into the house to fetch a knife and with that knife dissecting a Red Admiral's head... no sane person in the twentieth century would entertain such a project for a second."

Also possibly interesting: the book's epigram is from Samuel Johnson's Life of Gray.

Alexey Sklyarenko

4 years 3 months ago

Virginia Woolf’s essay “Rambling Round Evelyn” (1920) begins as follows:


Should you wish to make sure that your birthday will be celebrated three hundred years hence, your best course is undoubtedly to keep a diary.


John Evelyn was born on Oct. 31, 1620. In a letter of Oct. 31, 1838 (OS, Dostoevski’s seventeenth birthday), to his bother Dostoevski twice repeats the word gradus (degree):


Философию не надо полагать простой математической задачей, где неизвестное - природа... Заметь, что поэт в порыве вдохновенья разгадывает бога, следовательно, исполняет назначенье философии. Следовательно, поэтический восторг есть восторг философии... Следовательно, философия есть та же поэзия, только высший градус её!..


Philosophy should not be regarded as a mere equation where nature is the unknown quantity… Remark that the poet, in the moment of inspiration, comprehends God, and consequently does the philosopher’s work. Consequently poetic inspiration is nothing less than philosophical inspiration. Consequently philosophy is nothing but poetry, a higher degree of poetry!..


Друг мой! Ты философствуешь как поэт. И как не ровно выдерживает душа градус вдохновенья, так не ровна, не верна и твоя философия. Чтоб больше знать, надо меньше чувствовать, и обратно, правило опрометчивое, бред сердца.


My friend, you philosophize like a poet. And just because the soul cannot be forever in a state of exaltation, your philosophy is not true and not just. To know more one must feel less, and vice versa. Your judgment is featherheaded – it is a delirium of the heart.


Shade’s birthday, July 5, is also Kinbote’s and Gradus’ birthday (while Shade was born in 1898, Kinbote and Gradus were born in 1915). In the MS of Pushkin's poem <Iz Pindemonti> ("From Pindemonte," 1836) the date under the text is July 5:


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 value little those much vaunted rights

that have for some the lure of dizzy heights;

I do not fret because the gods refuse

to let me wrangle over revenues,

or thwart the wars of kings; and 'tis to me

of no concern whether the press be free

to dupe poor oafs or whether censors cramp

the current fancies of some scribbling scamp.

These things are words, words, words.* My spirit fights

for deeper Liberty, for better rights.

Whom shall we serve—the people or the State?

The poet does not care—so let them wait.

To give account to none, to be one's own

vassal and lord, to please oneself alone,

to bend neither one's neck, nor inner schemes,

nor conscience to obtain some thing that seems

power but is a flunkey's coat; to stroll

in one's own wake, admiring the divine

beauties of Nature and to feel one's soul

melt in the glow of man's inspired design

—that is the blessing, those are the rights!

[VN’s translation]



In her essay Virginia Woolf mentions Evelyn's foreign travels:


No one can read the story of Evelyn's foreign travels without envying in the first place his simplicity of mind, in the second his activity.  To take a simple example of the difference between us--that butterfly will sit motionless on the dahlia while the gardener trundles his barrow past it, but let him flick the wings with the shadow of a rake, and off it flies, up it goes, instantly on the alert.  So, we may reflect, a butterfly sees but does not hear; and here no doubt we are much on a par with Evelyn.  But as for going into the house to fetch a knife and with that knife dissecting a Red Admiral's head, as Evelyn would have done, no sane person in the twentieth century would entertain such a project for a second.  Individually we may know as little as Evelyn, but collectively we know so much that there is little incentive to venture on private discoveries.  We seek the encyclopædia, not the scissors; and know in two minutes not only more than was known to Evelyn in his lifetime, but that the mass of knowledge is so vast that it is scarcely worth while to possess a single crumb.


Describing his lodgings, Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions four sets of different Children’s Encyclopedias:


Family photographs met me in the hallway and pursued me from room to room, and although I am sure that Alphina (9), Betty (10), Candida (12), and Dee (14) will soon change from horribly cute little schoolgirls to smart young ladies and superior mothers, I must confess that their pert pictures irritated me to such an extent that finally I gathered them one by one and dumped them all in a closet under the gallows row of their cellophane-shrouded winter clothes. In the study I found a large picture of their parents, with sexes reversed, Mrs. G. resembling Malenkov, and Mr. G. a Medusa-locked hag, and this I replaced by the reproduction of a beloved early Picasso: earth boy leading raincloud horse. I did not bother, though, to do much about the family books which were also all over the house - four sets of different Children's Encyclopedias, and a stolid grown-up one that ascended all the way from shelf to shelf along a flight of stairs to burst an appendix in the attic. Judging by the novels in Mrs. Goldsworth's boudoir, her intellectual interests were fully developed, going as they did from Amber to Zen. The head of this alphabetic family had a library too, but this consisted mainly of legal works and a lot of conspicuously lettered ledgers. All the layman could glean for instruction and entertainment was a morocco-bound album in which the judge had lovingly pasted the life histories and pictures of people he had sent to prison or condemned to death: unforgettable faces of imbecile hoodlums, last smokes and last grins, a strangler's quite ordinary-looking hands, a self-made widow, the close-set merciless eyes of a homicidal maniac (somewhat resembling, I admit, the late Jacques d'Argus), a bright little parricide aged seven ("Now, sonny, we want you to tell us -"), and a sad pudgy old pederast who had blown up his blackmailer. What rather surprised me was that he, my learned landlord, and not his "missus," directed the household. Not only had he left me a detailed inventory of all such articles as cluster around a new tenant like a mob of menacing natives, but he had taken stupendous pains to write out on slips of paper recommendations, explanations, injunctions and supplementary lists. Whatever I touched on the first day of my stay yielded a specimen of Goldsworthiana. I unlocked the medicine chest in the second bathroom, and out fluttered a message advising me that the slit for discarded safety blades was too full to use. I opened the icebox, and it warned me with a bark that "no national specialties with odors hard to get rid of" should be placed therein. I pulled out the middle drawer of the desk in the study - and discovered a catalogue raisonné of its meager contents which included an assortment of ashtrays, a damask paperknife (described as "one ancient dagger brought by Mrs. Goldsworth's father from the Orient"), and an old but unused pocket diary optimistically maturing there until its calendric correspondencies came around again. Among various detailed notices affixed to a special board in the pantry, such as plumbing instructions, dissertations on electricity, discourses on cactuses and so forth, I found the diet of the black cat that came with the house:

Mon, Wed, Fri: Liver

Tue, Thu, Sat: Fish

Sun: Ground meat

(All it got from me was milk and sardines; it was a likable little creature but after a while its movements began to grate on my nerves and I farmed it out to Mrs. Finley, the cleaning woman.) (note to Lines 47-48)


According to Kinbote, Shade began Canto Two of his poem on July 5, 1959 (Shade's sixty-first birthday):


There was a time in my demented youth
When somehow I suspected that the truth
About survival after death was known -
To every human being: I alone
Knew nothing, and a great conspiracy
Of books and people hid the truth from me.


There was the day when I began to doubt
Man's sanity: How could he live without
Knowing for sure what dawn, what death, what doom
Awaited consciousness beyond the tomb?


And finally there was the sleepless night
When I decided to explore and fight
The foul, the inadmissible abyss,
Devoting all my twisted life to this
One task. Today I'm sixty-one. Waxwings
Are berry-pecking. A cicada sings.

The little scissors I am holding are
A dazzling synthesis of sun and star.
I stand before the window and I pare
My fingernails and vaguely am aware
Of certain flinching likenesses: the thumb,
Our grocer's son; the index, lean and glum
College astronomer Starover Blue;
The middle fellow, a tall priest I knew;
The feminine fourth finger, an old flirt;
And little pinky clinging to her skirt.
And I make mouths as I snip off the thin
Strips of what Aunt Maud used to call "scarf-skin." (ll. 167-194)


In his note to Line 171 (A great conspiracy) Kinbote speaks of Gradus (Shade’s murderer):


Such things rankle - but what can Gradus do? The huddled fates engage in a great conspiracy against Gradus. One notes with pardonable glee that his likes are never granted the ultimate thrill of dispatching their victim themselves. Oh, surely, Gradus is active, capable, helpful, often indispensable. At the foot of the scaffold, on a raw and gray morning, it is Gradus who sweeps the night's powder snow off the narrow steps; but his long leathery face will not be the last one that the man who must mount those steps is to see in this world. It is Gradus who buys the cheap fiber valise that a luckier guy will plant, with a time bomb inside, under the bed of a former henchman. Nobody knows better than Gradus how to set a trap by means of a fake advertisement, but the rich old widow whom it hooks is courted and slain by another. When the fallen tyrant is tied, naked and howling, to a plank in the public square and killed piecemeal by the people who cut slices out, and eat them, and distribute his living body among themselves (as I read when young in a story about an Italian despot, which made of me a vegetarian for life), Gradus does not take part in the infernal sacrament: he points out the right instrument and directs the carving.
All this is as it should be; the world needs Gradus. But Gradus should not kill kings. Vinogradus should never, never provoke God. Leningradus should not aim his pea-shooter at people even in dreams, because if he does, a pair of colossally thick, abnormally hairy arms will hug him from behind and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.


In her essay on John Evelyn Virginia Woolf writes:


For he will allow it to be an innocent employment; and happiness, he will add, though derived from trivial sources, has probably done more to prevent human beings from changing their religions and killing their kings than either philosophy or the pulpit.


In his note to Line 172 (books and people) Kinbote says that Shade listed Dostoevski among Russian humorists:


Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that
Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov."


Gradus is also known as de Grey. The title of Virginia Woolf’s book, “The Common Reader,” was borrowed from Samuel Johnson’s Life of Gray (1779):


There is a sentence in Dr. Johnson's Life of Gray which might well be written up in all those rooms, too humble to be called libraries, yet full of books, where the pursuit of reading is carried on by private people. "...I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours." It defines their qualities; it dignifies their aims; it bestows upon a pursuit which devours a great deal of time, and is yet apt to leave behind it nothing very substantial, the sanction of the great man's approval.

The common reader, as Dr. Johnson implies, differs from the critic and the scholar. He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole--a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing. He never ceases, as he reads, to run up some rickety and ramshackle fabric which shall give him the temporary satisfaction of looking sufficiently like the real object to allow of affection, laughter, and argument. Hasty, inaccurate, and superficial, snatching now this poem, now that scrap of old furniture, without caring where he finds it or of what nature it may be so long as it serves his purpose and rounds his structure, his deficiencies as a critic are too obvious to be pointed out; but if he has, as Dr. Johnson maintained, some say in the final distribution of poetical honours, then, perhaps, it may be worth while to write down a few of the ideas and opinions which, insignificant in themselves, yet contribute to so mighty a result.


In her essay THE RUSSIAN POINT OF VIEW (also included in “The Common Reader,” 1925) Virginia Woolf says:


Indeed, it is the soul that is the chief character in Russian fiction.


At the beginning of E. A. Poe's story How to Write a Blackwood Article (1838) Psyche Zenobia (the narrator and main character; cf. Mrs. Goldsworth's intellectual interests going as they did from Amber to Zen) says that her name means in Greek "the soul" and sometimes "a butterfly:"


I presume everybody has heard of me. My name is the Signora Psyche Zenobia. This I know to be a fact. Nobody but my enemies ever calls me Suky Snobbs. I have been assured that Suky is but a vulgar corruption of Psyche, which is good Greek, and means "the soul" (that's me, I'm all soul) and sometimes "a butterfly," which latter meaning undoubtedly alludes to my appearance in my new crimson satin dress, with the sky-blue Arabian mantelet, and the trimmings of green agraffas, and the seven flounces of orange-colored auriculas.


In E. A. Poe’s story The Black Cat (1945) the name of the first black cat is Pluto. Sappho and Pluto were the names of Virginia Woolf’s cats. In “Rambling Round Evelyn” V. Woolf mentions a cat kittened in Evelyn's bed:


In 1658, too, a whale had been seen.  "That year died Cromwell."  Nature, it seems, was determined to stimulate the devotion of her seventeenth-century admirers by displays of violence and eccentricity from which she now refrains. There were storms, floods, and droughts; the Thames frozen hard; comets flaring in the sky.  If a cat so much as kittened in Evelyn's bed the kitten was inevitably gifted with eight legs, six ears, two bodies, and two tails.


In her essay "The Russian Point of View" Virginia Woolf mentions Galsworthy (a writer whose name brings to mind Judge Goldsworth, Kinbote's landlord):


We cannot say "Brother" with simple conviction. There is a story by Mr. Galsworthy in which one of the characters so addresses another (they are both in the depths of misfortune). Immediately everything becomes strained and affected. The English equivalent for "Brother" is "Mate"--a very different word, with something sardonic in it, an indefinable suggestion of humour. Met though they are in the depths of misfortune the two Englishmen who thus accost each other will, we are sure, find a job, make their fortunes, spend the last years of their lives in luxury, and leave a sum of money to prevent poor devils from calling each other "Brother" on the Embankment. But it is common suffering, rather than common happiness, effort, or desire that produces the sense of brotherhood. It is the "deep sadness" which Dr. Hagberg Wright finds typical of the Russian people that creates their literature.


In his note to Line 681 (gloomy Russians spied) Kinbote writes:


There is really nothing metaphysical, or racial, about this gloom. It is merely the outward sign of congested nationalism and a provincial's sense of inferiority - that dreadful blend so typical of Zemblans under the Extremist rule and of Russians under the Soviet regime. Ideas in modern Russia are machine-cut blocks coming in solid colors; the nuance is outlawed, the interval walled up, the curve grossly stepped.

However, not all Russians are gloomy, and the two young experts from Moscow whom our new government engaged to locate the Zemblan crown jewels turned out to be positively rollicking. The Extremists were right in believing that Baron Bland, the Keeper of the Treasure, had succeeded in hiding those jewels before he jumped or fell from the North Tower; but they did not know he had had a helper and were wrong in thinking the jewels must be looked for in the palace which the gentle white-haired Bland had never left except to die. I may add, with pardonable satisfaction, that they were, and still are, cached in a totally different - and quite unexpected - corner of Zembla.

In an earlier note (to line 130) the reader has already glimpsed those two treasure hunters at work. After the King's escape and the belated discovery of the secret passage, they continued their elaborate excavations until the palace was all honeycombed and partly demolished, an entire wall of one room collapsing one night, to yield, in a niche whose presence nobody had suspected, an ancient salt cellar of bronze and King Wigbert's drinking horn; but you will never find our crown, necklace and scepter.

All this is the rule of a supernal game, all this is the immutable fable of fate, and should not be construed as reflecting on the efficiency of the two Soviet experts -who, anyway, were to be marvelously successful on a later occasion with another job (see note to line 747). Their names (probably fictitious) were Andronnikov and Niagarin. One has seldom seen, at least among waxworks, a pair of more pleasant, presentable chaps. Everybody admired their clean-shaven jaws, elementary facial expressions, wavy hair, and perfect teeth. Tall handsome Andronnikov seldom smiled but the crinkly little rays of his orbital flesh bespoke infinite humor while the twin furrows descending from the sides of his shapely nostrils evoked glamorous associations with flying aces and sagebrush heroes. Niagarin, on the other hand, was of comparatively short stature, had somewhat more rounded, albeit quite manly features, and every now and then would flash a big boyish smile remindful of scoutmasters with something to hide, or those gentlemen who cheat in television quizzes. It was delightful to watch the two splendid Sovietchiks running about in the yard and kicking a chalk-dusty, thumping-tight soccer ball (looking so large and bald in such surroundings). Andronnikov could tap-play it on his toe up and down a dozen times before punting it rocket straight into the melancholy, surprised, bleached, harmless heavens: and Niagarin could imitate to perfection the mannerisms of a certain stupendous Dynamo goalkeeper. They used to hand out to the kitchen boys Russian caramels with plums or cherries depicted on the rich luscious six-cornered wrappers that enclosed a jacket of thinner paper with the mauve mummy inside; and lustful country girls were known to creep up along the drungen (bramble-choked footpaths) to the very foot of the bulwark when the two silhouetted against the now flushed sky sang beautiful sentimental military duets at eventide on the rampart. Niagarin had a soulful tenor voice, and Andronnikov a hearty baritone, and both wore elegant jackboots of soft black leather, and the sky turned away showing its ethereal vertebrae.


Andronnikov is a character in Dostoevski's novel Podrostok ("The Adolescent," 1875). In his speech on Dostoevski (delivered on the hundredth anniversary of the writer’s birth) Lunacharski (the minister of education in Lenin’s government) takes the example of water in order to explain Dostoevski’s treatment of man’s psyche. According to Lunacharski, to understand the dynamics of water, one must imagine a fantastic Niagara Falls, a hundred times more grandiose than the real one:


Чтобы понять, что делает Достоевский с психикой - возьмём хотя бы такой пример - вода. Для того, чтобы дать человеку полное представление о воде, заставить его объять все её свойства, надо ему показать воду, пар, лёд, разделить воду на составные части, показать, что такое тихое озеро, величаво катящая свои волны река, водопад, фонтан и проч. Словом - ему нужно показать все свойства, всю внутреннюю динамику воды. И, однако, этого всё-таки будет мало. Может быть, для того, чтобы понять динамику воды, нужно превысить данные возможности и фантастически представить человеку Ниагару, в сотню раз грандиознейшую, чем подлинная. Вот Достоевский и стремится превозмочь реальность и показать дух человеческий со всеми его неизмеримыми высотами и необъяснимыми глубинами со всех сторон. Как Микель Анджело скручивает человеческие тела в конвульсиях, в агонии, так Достоевский дух человеческий то раздувает до гиперболы, то сжимает до полного уничтожения, смешивает с грязью, низвергает его в глубины ада, то потом вдруг взмывает в самые высокие эмпиреи неба. Этими полётами человеческого духа Достоевский не только приковывает наше внимание, захватывает нас, открывает нам новые неизведанные красоты, но даёт очень много и нашему познанию, показывая нам неподозреваемые нами глубины души.


The Keeper of the Treasure, Baron Bland seems to blend Alexander Blok with Brand, the title character of a play in verse (1865) by Ibsen. In the penultimate line of his poem Vozmezdie («Retribution», 1910-21) Blok mentions quantum satis Branda voli (quantum satis of strong-willed Brand):


Когда ты загнан и забит
Людьми, заботой, иль тоскою;
Когда под гробовой доскою
Всё, что тебя пленяло, спит;
Когда по городской пустыне,
Отчаявшийся и больной,
Ты возвращаешься домой,
И тяжелит ресницы иней,
Тогда - остановись на миг
Послушать тишину ночную:
Постигнешь слухом жизнь иную,
Которой днём ты не постиг;
По-новому окинешь взглядом
Даль снежных улиц, дым костра,
Ночь, тихо ждущую утра
Над белым запушённым садом,
И небо - книгу между книг;
Найдёшь в душе опустошённой
Вновь образ матери склонённый,
И в этот несравненный миг -
Узоры на стекле фонарном,
Мороз, оледенивший кровь,
Твоя холодная любовь -
Всё вспыхнет в сердце благодарном,
Ты всё благословишь тогда,
Поняв, что жизнь - безмерно боле,
Чем quantum satis Бранда воли,
А мир - прекрасен, как всегда.


When you are cornered and depressed
By people, dues or anguish.
When, underneath the coffin lid,
All that inspired you, perished;
When through the deserted town dome,
Hopeless and weak,
You're finally returning home,
And rime is on thy eyelashes, -
Then - come to rest for short-lifted flash
To hear the silence of night
You'll fathom other life by ears
That's hard to fathom at daylight
In new way you will do the glance
Of long snow streets and foam of fire,
Of night, quite waiting for the lance
Of morning in white garden, piled.
Of heaven - Book among the books
You'll find in the drained soul
Again your loving mother's look
And at this moment, peerless, sole
The patterns on the lamppost's glass
The frost, that chilled your blood
Your stone-hold love, already past
All will flare up in your heart.
Then everything you'll highly bless
You'll see that life is much greater
Than quantum satis of strong-willed Brand
And the world is beautiful as always. (chapter III)


In Latin quantum satis means “the amount which is enough.” Shade's poem is almost finished, when the author is killed by Gradus. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade's poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Blok.


It seems that the Zemblan crown jewels vainly looked for by Andronnikov and Niagarin can be found in Blok's Foreword to "Retribution:"


Тема заключается в том, как развиваются звенья единой цепи рода. Отдельные отпрыски всякого рода развиваются до положенного им предела и затем вновь поглощаются окружающей мировой средой; но в каждом отпрыске зреет и отлагается нечто новое и нечто более острое, ценою бесконечных потерь, личных трагедий, жизненных неудач, падений и т. д.; ценою, наконец, потери тех бесконечно высоких свойств, которые в своё время сияли, как лучшие алмазы в человеческой короне (как, например, свойства гуманные, добродетели, безупречная честность, высокая нравственность и проч.)


Blok compares the infinitely high qualities, such as humanism, virtues, impeccable honesty, etc., to luchshie almazy v chelovecheskoy korone (the best diamonds in man’s crown). In the last stanza of his poem Neznakomka (“The Unknown Woman,” 1906) Blok says that a treasure lies in his soul and the key belongs to him alone:


В моей душе лежит сокровище,
И ключ поручен только мне!
Ты право, пьяное чудовище!
Я знаю: истина в вине.


A treasure lies in my soul,
And the key is entrusted to me alone!
You are correct, you drunken fiend!
I know: in wine is truth.


At the end of Chekhov's play Dyadya Vanya (“Uncle Vanya,” 1898) Sonya promises to uncle Vanya that they will see the whole sky swarming with diamonds. According to Kinbote, the sky turned away showing its ethereal vertebrae when Andronnikov and Niagarin sang beautiful sentimental military duets at eventide. The name of Zemblan capital, Onhava (cf. onhava-onhava, "far, far away") seems to hint at heaven.


At the end of his story Dama s sobachkoy (“The Lady with the Lapdog,” 1899), a scene alluded to by V. Woolf in "The Russian Point of View," Chekhov uses the phrase daleko-daleko (far, far away):


Потом они долго советовались, говорили о том, как избавить себя от необходимости прятаться, обманывать, жить в разных городах, не видеться подолгу. Как освободиться от этих невыносимых пут?

- Как? Как? - спрашивал он, хватая себя за голову. - Как?

И казалось, что ещё немного - и решение будет найдено, и тогда начнётся новая, прекрасная жизнь; и обоим было ясно, что до конца ещё далеко-далеко и что самое сложное и трудное только ещё начинается.


Then they discussed their situation for a long time, trying to think how they could get rid of the necessity for hiding, deception, living in different towns, being so long without meeting. How were they to shake off these intolerable fetters?

“How? How?” he repeated, clutching his head. “How?”

And it seemed to them that they were within an inch of arriving at a decision, and that then a new, beautiful life would begin. And they both realized that the end was still far, far away, and that the hardest, the most complicated part was only just beginning. (chapter IV)


As he speaks to his daughter (a schoolgirl of twelve), Gurov (the main character in Chekhov’s story), uses the phrase tri gradusa tepla (three degrees above freezing-point):


— Теперь три градуса тепла, а между тем идёт снег, — говорил Гуров дочери. — Но ведь это тепло только на поверхности земли, в верхних же слоях атмосферы совсем другая температура.


“It’s three degrees above freezing-point, and yet it is snowing,” said Gurov to his daughter. “The thaw is only on the surface of the earth; there is quite a different temperature at a greater height in the atmosphere.” (chapter IV)


At the beginning of VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) the narrator (Sebastian's half-brother V.) mentions Sebastian Knight's birthday, the personal diaries of sovereigns and temperature:


Sebastian Knight was born on the thirty-first of December 1899, in the former capital of my country. An old Russian lady who has for some obscure reason begged me not to divulge her name, happened to show me in Paris the diary she had kept in the past. So uneventful had those years been (apparently) that the collecting of daily details (which is always a poor method of self-preservation) barely surpassed a short description of the day's weather; and it is curious to note in this respect that the personal diaries of sovereigns - no matter what troubles beset their realms - are mainly concerned with the same subject. Luck being what it is when left alone, here I was offered something which I might never have hunted down had it been a chosen quarry. Therefore I am able to state that the morning of Sebastian's birth was a fine windless one, with twelve degrees (Réaumur) below zero: this is all, however, that the good lady found worth setting down. On second thought I cannot see any real necessity of complying with her anonymity. That she will ever read this book seems wildly improbable. Her name was and is Olga Olegovna Orlova - an egg-like alliteration which it would have been a pity to withhold. (Chapter 1)


Olga Olegovna Orlova brings to mind the three conjoined lakes called Omega, Ozero and Zero (0). Hazel Shade (the poet's daughter) drowned in Lake Omega on a wild March night. Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse on March 28, 1941. VN’s father was assassinated in Berlin on March 28, 1922.


4 years 3 months ago

thank you, William Dane (and Alexey) for your insight on V. Woolf's trundling barrow and the red admiral. I had been wondering if Woolf was alluded to in PF's encyclopedic references. 

BTW, does anyone know of a source (aside from wikipedia) that lists all of the discovered literary allusions in PF?



4 years 3 months ago

William Dane's find is very interesting. I haven't had time to check out the Woolf yet, but I would be interested in hearing thoughts as to the reason VN may have wanted to allude to Woolf. For the most part, VN's allusions have some particular purpose, and without that purpose it's always hard to distinguish between allusion and coincidence.

Matt Roth

Virginia Woolf brings to mind the fairytale wolf mentioned by Mandelshtam in the last stanza of his poem Ot lyogkoy zhizni my soshli s uma... ("We went out of our minds with the easy life..." 1913):


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


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


Shade is killed by Gradus a few moments after writing Line 999 of his poem: "Trundling an empty barrow up the lane."


Virginia Woolf's novels Night and Day (1919) and Jacob's Room (1922) remind one of Dr. Oscar Nattochdag (a Zemblan scholar whose name means in Swedish "night and day") and Jakob Gradus. Btw., today is the anniversary of VDN's and VW's death.


Shade is the author of a book on Pope, "Supremely Blest." Alexander Pope is a character in Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando: a Biography (1928). Orlando is born as a male nobleman in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. At the age of about thirty he undergoes a mysterious change of sex and lives on for more than 300 years into modern times without ageing perceptibly. Orlando engages energetically with life in the 18th and 19th centuries, holding court with great poets, notably Alexander Pope.


In the draft Pushkin’s mock epic in octaves Domik v Kolomne (“A Small House in Kolomna,” 1830) has the epigraph from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (IV, 279-80): Modo vir, modo femina (now a man, now a woman). Chapter Three of Korney Chukovski’s book "Oscar Wilde" (1922) has the epigraph Modo vir modo femina. Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray" (1890) brings to mind Samuel Johnson's "Life of Gray" (1781). In Canto Four of his poem Shade calls his odd muse "my versipel."


Odon/Nodo/odno + Omega = modo/mood/doom + Onega

Onega + zero = ozero + nega

odno + nega = dno/Don/nod + Onega 

Orlando + Zembla = Zoorland + Embla


Odon - pseudonym of Donald O'Donnell, b. 1915, world-famous actor and Zemblan patriot who helps the King to escape from Zembla

Nodo - Odon's half-brother, b. 1916, son of Leopold O'Donnell and of a Zemblan boy impersonator; a cardsharp and despicable traitor

odno - neut. of odin (one)

Onega - Lake Onega, River Onega (cf. Eugene Onegin)

ozero - lake

nega - mollitude

dno - bottom

Don - River Don

Zoorland - a northern country championing absolute equality imagined by Martin Edelweiss and Sonia Zilanov in VN's novel Podvig ("Glory," 1932)

Embla - a small old town with a wooden church surrounded by sphagnum bogs at the saddest, loneliest, northmost point of the misty peninsula, 149, 433 (from Kinbote's Index)


Btw., Orlando's poem "The Oak Tree" brings to mind Quercus, the novel that Cincinnatus (the main character in VN's novel "Invitation to a Beheading," 1935) reads in the fortress.


At the beginning of “Rambling Round Evelyn” Virginia Woolf says:


Should you wish to make sure that your birthday will be celebrated three hundred years hence, your best course is undoubtedly to keep a diary.


Pushkin's friend Alexey Vulf (1805-81) was a diarist.


4 years 3 months ago

While admitting that the constellation of trundling, barrow, gardener, and red admiral is rather remarkable, it does seem that the combination of "trundle" and "barrow" was exceedingly common for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. A quick Google Book search turns up scores of examples.

William Dane

4 years 3 months ago

The original version of The Common Reader that I quoted from did not tell the full story of the Evelyn essay's origins, which are footnoted in a Vintage edition I found today:

"This essay was reprinted in part from 'John Evelyn', TLS, 28 October 1920, a review of The Early Life and Education of John Evelyn, 1620-1641, with a commentary by H. Maynard Smith, (Clarendon Press, 1920)."

And, here is an article with more about VN/VW links:

Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf
Author(s): Priscilla Meyer and Rachel Trousdale
Source: Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 50, No. 3 (2013), pp. 490-522
Published by: Penn State University Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/complitstudies.50.3.0490


4 years 3 months ago

I agree with Matt about purposeful allusions. This seems more than coincidental. I think Woolf is part of VN's motif of spanning the literary canon, which I now suspect (see post) is a parody of Northrop Frye's Archetypal Literary Criticism. Frye mentions her several times. She would be representative of a particular category of modern Irony.

Evelyn might tie in with PF's explorers and travelogs, as well. 


4 years 3 months ago

I just read Trousdale & Meyer's paper. I think this is cogent:


Pale Fire and Orlando are built on the relationship of their fictions to historical reality, which they annotate in playful indexes. Orlando’s index is doubtless inspired by that of Alexander Pope’s Dunciad, which refers to historical figures from Atilla to the Visigoths, French cooks, Owls, and more. All three indexes—Pope’s, Woolf ’s, Nabokov’s—include Pope himself; indeed Pale Fire’s references to the Dunciad camouflage Woolf ’s contribution.Woolf ’s index is clearly closer to Nabokov’s than Nabokov’s is to Pope’s, and it is more elaborate; it is even more playful in mixing fictional and historical characters, as well as their writing, without distinction

William Dane

4 years 3 months ago

From the note to line 316: "...a variant written in the margin: 'In woods Virginia Whites occurred in May' Folklore characters, perhaps? Fairies? Or cabbage butterflies?"

I'm not deeply familiar with acrostics in PF but I wonder if going various directions across both Kinbote- and Shade text is "allowed," i.e. linking the W with the double o in woods and then the l and f options in the following line of Kinbote's?

Too, I wonder if anyone has begun to tabulate how many poetic works vis how many prose ones are reffed in the poem and in the Commentary?


4 years 3 months ago


William, You may be on to something. For what it’s worth, here’s a possibility:


‘Folklore characters’ and ‘Fairies’ makes me think of elfs (accepted plural). The etymology of ‘elf’ is ‘white':


Some linguists believe that elf, álf, and related words derive from the Proto-Indo-European root albh meaning "white,https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Elf


So put 'elf' into ‘woods’ and you might have something close, (if you drop the ‘e’) ‘woo(e)lf(ds)’


'Elf in wood' is also 'elfinwood' (a.k.a. 'alfinwood'), a connection to Gordon Krummholz, Goethe's 'Alderking,' and King Alfin. (Never use one allusion when the more is merrier)


I have a feeling there are a lot of acrostics in PF, but probably as obscure as this.



4 years 3 months ago

It now occurs to me that the pesky 'e' from elf in "woods" might be explained away by the word "May", as in "elf occurring in woods MAY (possibly, sort of, almost) suggest 'Woolf'"

It seems to me that, if correct, this acrostic, the index connection, the multiple allusions to the literary canon, and the conjunct of the trundling barrow and Red Admiral, all support evidence of VN's purposeful intent to reference Virginia Woolf. 

Shade's variant is written in the margin. "Writing in the Margin" is an early essay by Virginia Woolf. In "The Waves" Virginia Woof says:


"I, who am perpetually making notes in the margin of my mind for some final statement, make this mark, waiting for some winter's evening."


4 years 3 months ago

Alexey, this may be the clincher!

So, if all this goes into a reference to Virginia Woolf, it seems to me that there must be other acrostics in PF equally as complex. 


4 years 3 months ago

OK, one more. The same stanza, a few lines down (324):

"Virgins have written some resplendent books".

This is coming from Sybil, the book-clubber, so probably not VN's (who didn't care for lady authors) approbation.

Virginia Woolf made me think of Beowulf, an Old English epic poem set in Scandinavia. "From Beowulf to Virginia Woolf" (1951) is a book by R. M. Myers. In Slovo o Polku Igoreve ("The Song of Igor's Campaign"), a Russian epic of the 12th century, Vseslav of Polotsk (a prince who was deemed a magician and who could turn into a wolf) hears in Kiev the bells of St. Sophia at Polotsk:


The path of Great Hors,
as a wolf, prowling, he [Vseslav] crossed.
For him in Polotsk
they rang for matins early
at St. Sophia the bells;
but he heard the ringing in Kiev. (ll. 665-670)


The "real" name of both Sybil Shade and Queen Disa seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin). The full name of Charles II (Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) is Charles Xavier Vseslav. The "real" name of Shade, Kinbote (aka Charles the Belobed) and Gradus seems to be Vsevolod Botkin. A character of Slovo, Wild Bull Vsevolod is Igor's brother. Buy Tur (Wild Bull) brings to mind tura, "chess rook" (cf. Turati, Luzhin's opponent in "The Luzhin Defense"). 


Please see the revised version of my latest post "anonymous in Pale Fire."