lansquenet & Leningradus in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 07/29/2020 - 05:04

Describing the King’s escape from the palace, 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) mentions a game of lansquenet played by two soldiers on a stone bench in the palace court:


The King sighed and began to undress. His camp bed and a bedtable had been placed, facing the window, in the northeast corner. East was the turquoise door; north, the door of the gallery; west, the door of the closet; south, the window. His black blazer and white trousers were taken away by his former valet's valet. The King sat down on the edge of the bed in his pajamas. The man returned with a pair of morocco bed slippers, pulled them on his master's listless feet, and was off with the discarded pumps. The King's wandering gaze stopped at the casement which was half open. One could see part of the dimly lit court where under an enclosed poplar two soldiers on a stone bench were playing lansquenet. The summer night was starless and stirless, with distant spasms of silent lightning. Around the lantern that stood on the bench a batlike moth blindly flapped - until the punter knocked it down with his cap. The King yawned, and the illumined card players shivered and dissolved in the prism of his tears. His bored glance traveled from wall to wall. The gallery door stood slightly ajar, and one could hear the steps of the guard coming and going. Above the closet, Iris Acht squared her shoulders and looked away. A cricket cricked. The bedside light was just strong enough to put a bright gleam on the gilt key in the lock of the closet door. And all at once that spark on that key caused a wonderful conflagration to spread in the prisoner's mind. (note to Line 130)


"A cricket cricked" seems to hint at zhuk zhuzhzhal (the beetle churred) in Chapter Seven (XV: 2) of Pushkin's Eugene OneginAs pointed out by Matt Roth (the post of Sept. 6, 2007), Chapter LXV of Alexandre Dumas' Twenty Years After is entitled "The Game of Lansquenet." In this chapter, the protagonists attend a game of lansquenet thrown by Captain Groslow. The game takes place outside the room where King Charles I (Stuart) is held captive, and the four heroes hope they will be able to overpower the eight guards and set him free.


According to Kinbote, his black gardener (Balthasar, Prince of Loam) wanted to study French in order to read in the original Baudelaire and Dumas:


He had worked for two years as a male nurse in a hospital for Negroes in Maryland. He was hard up. He wanted to study landscaping, botany and French ("to read in the original Baudelaire and Dumas"). I promised him some financial assistance. He started to work at my place the very next day. He was awfully nice and pathetic, and all that, but a little too talkative and completely impotent which I found discouraging. Otherwise he was a strong strapping fellow, and I hugely enjoyed the aesthetic pleasure of watching him buoyantly struggle with earth and turf or delicately manipulate bulbs, or lay out the flagged path which may or may not be a nice surprise for my landlord, when he safely returns from England (where I hope no bloodthirsty maniacs are stalking him!). How I longed to have him (my gardener, not my landlord) wear a great big turban, and shalwars, and an ankle bracelet. I would certainly have him attired according to the old romanticist notion of a Moorish prince, had I been a northern king - or rather had I still been a king (exile becomes a bad habit). You will chide me, my modest man, for writing so much about you in this note, but I feel I must pay you this tribute. After all, you saved my life. You and I were the last people who saw John Shade alive, and you admitted afterwards to a strange premonition which made you interrupt your work as you noticed us from the shrubbery walking toward the porch where stood – (Superstitiously I cannot write out the odd dark word you employed.) (note to Line 998)


At the beginning of VN’s novel Zashchita Luzhina (“The Luzhin Defense,” 1930) Luzhin’s French governess reads to her charge Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo and interrupts the reading to exclaim bednyi, bednyi Dantes! (“poor, poor Dantès!”):


Больше всего его поразило то, что с понедельника он будет Лужиным. Его отец - настоящий Лужин, пожилой Лужин, Лужин, писавший книги,- вышел от него, улыбаясь, потирая руки, уже смазанные на ночь прозрачным английским кремом, и своей вечерней замшевой походкой вернулся к себе в спальню. Жена лежала в постели. Она приподнялась и спросила: "Ну что, как?" Он снял свой серый халат и ответил: "Обошлось. Принял спокойно. Ух... Прямо гора с плеч". "Как хорошо...- сказала жена, медленно натягивая на себя шелковое одеяло.- Слава Богу, слава Богу..."

Это было и впрямь облегчение. Все лето - быстрое дачное лето, состоящее в общем из трех запахов: сирень, сенокос, сухие листья - все лето они обсуждали вопрос, когда и как перед ним открыться, и откладывали, откладывали, дотянули до конца августа. Они ходили вокруг него, с опаской суживая круги, но, только он поднимал голову, отец с напускным интересом уже стучал по стеклу барометра, где стрелка всегда стояла на шторме, а мать уплывала куда-то в глубь дома оставляя все двери открытыми, забывая длинный, неряшливый букет колокольчиков на крышке рояля. Тучная француженка, читавшая ему вслух "Монте-кристо" и прерывавшая чтение, чтобы с чувством воскликнуть "бедный, бедный Дантес!", предлагала его родителям, что сама возьмет быка за рога, хотя быка этого смертельно боялась. Бедный, бедный Дантес не возбуждал в нем участия, и, наблюдая ее воспитательный вздох, он только щурился и терзал резинкой ватманскую бумагу, стараясь поужаснее нарисовать выпуклость её бюста.


What struck him most was the fact that from Monday on he would be Luzhin. His father — the real Luzhin, the elderly Luzhin, the writer, of books — left the nursery with a smile, rubbing his hands (already smeared for the night with transparent cold cream), and with his suede-slippered evening gait padded back to his bedroom. His wife lay in bed. She half raised herself and said: 'Well, how did it go?' He removed his gray dressing gown and replied: 'We managed. Took it calmly. Ouf... that's a real weight off my shoulders.' 'How nice...' said his wife, slowly drawing the silk blanket over her. 'Thank goodness, thank goodness...
It was indeed a relief. The whole summer — a swift country summer consisting in the main of three smells: lilac, new-mown hay, and dry leaves — the whole summer they had debated the question of when and how to tell him, and they had kept putting it off so that it dragged on until the end of August. They had moved around him in apprehensively narrowing circles, but he had only to raise his head and his father would already be rapping with feigned interest on the barometer dial, where the hand always stood at storm, while his mother would sail away somewhere into the depths of the house, leaving all the doors open and forgetting the long, messy bunch of bluebells on the lid of the piano. The stout French governess who used to read The Count of Monte Cristo aloud to him (and interrupt her reading in order to exclaim feelingly 'poor, poor Dantès!') proposed to the parents that she herself take the bull by the horns, though this bull inspired mortal fear in her. Poor, poor Dantès did not arouse any sympathy in him, and observing her educational sigh he merely slitted his eyes and rived his drawing paper with an eraser, as he tried to portray her protuberant bust as horribly as possible. (chapter I)


In his poem January 29, 1837 Tyutchev calls d'Anthès (Pushkin's murderer) tsareubiytsa (a regicide). According to Kinbote, his name means in Zemblan "regicide:"


Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla" [sarcastically stressing the "Nova'"].

"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.

"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).

Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"

"Oxford, 1956," I replied. (note to Line 894)


In his memoir essay Belyi koridor (“The White Corridor,” 1937) Hodasevich describes his visit to the Kremlin during Lenin’s reign and mentions monte-kristo (a peashooter) that he sent to a boy ill with tuberculosis:


Я пришел в условленный час, но его еще не было. Ольга Давыдовна, у которой к тому времени почему-то отняли Театральный отдел и дали в заведывание отдел социального обеспечения, сидела в столовой за круглым столом со своим подчиненным — коммунистом Дивильковским. Случайно я кое-что знал о нем. Это был старый большевик, честный человек, не сумевший сделать карьеры; по-видимому он страдал горловой чахоткой, был тощ, зелен лицом, очень беден и обременен семейством. Кстати сказать, это отец того Дивильковского, который впоследствии состоял при Воровском и был ранен в Лозанне, когда Воровской был убит. Другой сын, лет двенадцати, в ту зиму захворал туберкулезом; его поместили в санаторий, где находился один мой родственник; бедный мальчик мечтал иметь монте-кристо, случайно у меня было такое ружьишко, которое я ему и послал — в подарок от неизвестного. (III)


According to Kinbote, Gradus (the poet’s murderer whom Kinbote calls Vinogradus and Leningradus) should not aim his peashooter at people even in dreams:


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 peashooter 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. (note to Line 171)


In “The Luzhin Defense” the lady from Russia (a friend of Luzhin’s wife) calls St. Petersburg “Leningrad:”


И как-то, через несколько дней, в полдень, появилась приезжая. Лужин еще почивал, так как ночью плохо выспался. Дважды с гортанным криком просыпался, душимый кошмаром, и сейчас Лужиной было как-то не до гостей. Приезжая оказалась худощавой, живой, удачно накрашенной и остриженной дамой, одетой, как одевалась Лужина, с недешевой простотой. Громко, в перебивку, убеждая друг друга, что обе они ничуть не изменились, а разве только похорошели, они прошли в кабинет, где было уютней, чем в гостиной. Приезжая про себя отметила, что Лужина десять-двенадцать лет тому назад была довольно изящной подвижной девочкой, а теперь пополнела, побледнела, притихла, а Лужина нашла, что скромная, молчаливая барышня, некогда бывавшая у них и влюбленная в студента, впоследствии расстрелянного, превратилась в очень интересную, уверенную даму. "Ну и ваш Берлин... благодарю покорно. Я чуть не сдохла от холода. У нас, в Ленинграде, теплее, ей-Богу, теплее". "Какой он, Петербург? Наверно, очень изменился?"- спросила Лужина. "Конечно, изменился",- бойко ответила приезжая. "И тяжелая, тяжелая жизнь",- вдумчиво кивая, сказала Лужина. "Ах, глупости какие! Ничего подобного. Работают у нас, строят. Даже мой мальчуган,- как, вы не знали, что у меня есть мальчуган? - ну, как же, как же, очаровательный карапуз,- так вот, даже мой Митька говорит, что у нас в Ленинграде ляботают, а в Беллине бульзуи ничего не делают. И вообще, он находит, что в Берлине куда хуже, ни на что даже не желает смотреть. Он такой, знаете, наблюдательный, чуткий... Нет, серьезно говоря, ребенок прав. Я сама чувствую, как мы опередили Европу. Возьмите наш театр. Ведь у вас, в Европе, театра нет, просто нет. Я, понимаете, ничуть, ничуть не хвалю коммунистов. Но приходится признать одно: они смотрят вперед, они строят. Интенсивное строительство". "Я ничего в политике не понимаю,- жалобно протянула Лужина.- Но только мне кажется..." "Я только говорю, что нужно широко мыслить,- поспешно продолжала приезжая.- Вот, например, я сразу, как приехала, купила эмигрантскую га-зетку. И еще муж говорит, так, в шутку,- зачем ты, матушка, деньги тратишь на такое дерьмо,- он хуже выразился, но скажем так для приличия,- а я вот: нет, говорю, все нужно посмотреть, все узнать, совершенно беспристрастно. И представьте,- открываю газету, читаю, и такая там напечатана клевета, такая ложь, так все плоско". "Я русские газеты редко вижу,- виновато сказала Лужина.- Вот мама получает русскую газету, из Сербии, кажется..." "Круговая порука,- продолжала С разбегу приезжая.- Только ругать, и никто не смеет пикнуть что-нибудь за". "Право же, будем говорить о другом,- растерянно сказала Лужина.- Я не могу это выразить, я плохо умею об этом говорить, но я чувствую, что вы ошибаетесь. Вот, если хотите поговорить об этом с моими родителями как-нибудь..." - (и, говоря это, Лужина, не без некоторого удовольствия, представила себе выкаченные глаза матери и ее павлиньи возгласы). "Ну, вы еще маленькая,- снисходительно улыбнулась приезжая.- Расскажите мне, что вы делаете, чем занимается ваш муж, какой он". "Он играл в шахматы,- ответила Лужина.- Замечательно играл. Но потом переутомился и теперь отдыхает, и, пожалуйста, не нужно с ним говорить о шахматах". "Да-да, я знаю, что он шахматист,- сказала приезжая,- Но какой он? Реакционер? Белогвардеец?" "Право, не знаю",- рассмеялась Лужина. "Я о нем вообще кое-что слышала,- продолжала приезжая.- Когда мне ваша maman сказала, что вы вышли за Лужина, я сразу и подумала почему-то, что это он и есть. У меня была хорошая знакомая в Ленинграде, она и рассказывала мне,- с такой, знаете, наивной гордостью,- как научила своего маленького племянника играть в шахматы, и как он потом стал чрезвычайно..."


And several days afterward, at midday, the lady appeared. Luzhin was still slumbering, since he had slept badly the night before. Twice he woke up with choking cries, suffocated by a nightmare, and now Mrs. Luzhin somehow did not feel up to guests. The visitor turned out to be a slim, animated, nicely made-up, nicely bobbed lady who was dressed, like Mrs. Luzhin, with expensive simplicity. Loudly, interrupting one another, and assuring one another that neither had changed a bit, except perhaps to grow prettier, they went through to the study, which was cozier than the drawing room. The newcomer remarked to herself that Mrs. Luzhin ten to twelve years ago had been a rather graceful, lively little girl and now had grown plumper, paler and quieter, while Mrs. Luzhin found that the modest, silent young lady who used to visit them and was in love with a student, later shot by the Reds, had turned into a very interesting, confident lady. 'So this is your Berlin... thank you kindly. I almost died with cold. At home in Leningrad it's warmer, really warmer.' 'How is it, St. Petersburg? It must have changed a lot?' asked Mrs. Luzhin. 'Oh of course it's changed,' replied the newcomer jauntily. 'And a terribly difficult life,' said Mrs. Luzhin, nodding thoughtfully. 'Oh, what nonsense! Nothing of the sort. They're working at home, building. Even my boy — what, you didn't know I had a little boy? — well, I have, I have, a cute little squirt — well, even he says that at home in Leningrad "they wuk, while in Bellin the boulzois don't do anything." And in general he finds Berlin far worse than home and doesn't even want to look at anything. He's so observant, you know, and sensitive.... No, speaking seriously, the child's right. I myself feel how we've outstripped Europe. Take our theater. Why, you in Europe don't have a theater, it just doesn't exist. I'm not in the least, you understand, not in the least praising the communists. But you have to admit one thing: they look ahead, they build. Intensive construction.' 'I don't understand politics,' said Mrs. Luzhin slowly and plaintively. 'But it just seems to me...' 'I'm only saying that one has to be broad-minded,' continued the visitor hastily. 'Take this, for instance. As soon as I arrived I bought an émigré paper. Of course my husband said, joking, you know — "Why do you waste money, my girl, on such filth?" He expressed himself worse than that, but let's call it that for the sake of decency — but me: "No," I said, "you have to look at everything, find out everything absolutely impartially." And imagine — I opened the paper and began to read, and there was such slander printed there, such lies, and everything so crude.' 'I rarely see the Russian newspapers,' said Mrs. Luzhin. 'Mamma, for instance, gets a Russian newspaper from Serbia, I believe —' 'It is a conspiracy,' continued the lady. 'Nothing but abuse, and nobody dares to utter a peep in our favor.' 'Really, let's talk about something else,' said Mrs. Luzhin distractedly. 'I can't express it, I'm very poor at speaking about these matters, but I feel you're mistaken. Now if you want to talk about it with my parents some day...' (And saying this, Mrs. Luzhin imagined to herself, not without a certain pleasure, her mother's bulging eyes and strident cries.) 'Well, you're still little.' The lady indulgently smiled. 'Tell me what you are doing, what does your husband do, what is he?' 'He used to play chess,' replied Mrs. Luzhin. 'He was a remarkable player. But then he overstrained himself and now he is resting; and please, you mustn't talk to him about chess.' 'Yes, yes, I know he's a chess player,' said the newcomer. 'But what is he? A reactionary? A White Guardist?' 'Really I don't know,' laughed Mrs. Luzhin. 'I've heard a thing or two about him,' continued the newcomer. 'When your maman told me you had married a Luzhin I thought immediately that it was he. I had a good acquaintance in Leningrad and she told me — with such naive pride, you know — how she had taught her little nephew to play chess and how he later became a remarkable...'  (Chapter 13)


Little Luzhin avidly reads Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes:


Большой том Пушкина, с портретом толстогубого курчавого мальчика, не открывался никогда. Зато были две книги – обе, подаренные ему тётей, – которые он полюбил на всю жизнь, держал в памяти, словно под увеличительным стеклом, и так страстно пережил, что через двадцать лет, снова их перечитав, он увидел в них только суховатый пересказ, сокращённое издание, как будто они отстали от того неповторимого, бессмертного образа, который они в нем оставили. Но не жажда дальних странствий заставляла его следовать по пятам Филеаса Фогга и не ребячливая склонность к таинственным приключениям влекла его в дом на Бэкер-стрит, где, впрыснув себе кокаину, мечтательно играл на скрипке долговязый сыщик с орлиным профилем. Только гораздо позже он сам себе уяснил, чем так волновали его эти две книги: правильно и безжалостно развивающийся узор, – Филеас, манекен в цилиндре, совершающий свой сложный изящный путь с оправданными жертвами, то на слоне, купленном за миллион, то на судне, которое нужно наполовину сжечь на топливо; и Шерлок, придавший логике прелесть грёзы, Шерлок, составивший монографию о пепле всех видов сигар, и с этим пеплом, как с талисманом, пробирающийся сквозь хрустальный лабиринт возможных дедукций к единственному сияющему выводу. Фокусник, которого на Рождестве пригласили его родители, каким-то образом слил в себе на время Фогга и Холмса, и странное наслаждение, испытанное им в тот день, сгладило все то неприятное, что сопровождало выступление фокусника.


A large volume of Pushkin with a picture of a thick-lipped, curly-haired boy on it was never opened. On the other hand there were two books, both given him by his aunt, with which he had fallen in love for his whole life, holding them in his memory as if under a magnifying glass, and experiencing them so intensely that twenty years later, when he read them over again, he saw only a dryish paraphrase, an abridged edition, as if they had been outdistanced by the unrepeatable, immortal image that he had retained. But it was not a thirst for distant peregrinations that forced him to follow on the heels of Phileas Fogg, nor was it a boyish inclination for mysterious adventures that drew him to that house in Baker Street, where the lanky detective with the hawk profile, having given himself an injection of cocaine, would dreamily play the violin. Only much later did he clarify in his own mind what it was that had thrilled him so about these two books; it was that exact and relentlessly unfolding pattern: Phileas, the dummy in the top hat, wending his complex elegant way with its justifiable sacrifices, now on an elephant bought for a million, now on a ship of which half has to be burned for fuel; and Sherlock endowing logic with the glamour of a daydream, Sherlock composing a monograph on the ash of all known sorts of cigars and with this ash as with a talisman progressing through a crystal labyrinth of possible deductions to the one radiant conclusion. The conjuror whom his parents engaged to perform on Christmas day somehow managed to blend in himself briefly both Fogg and Holmes, and the strange pleasure which Luzhin experienced on that day obliterated all the unpleasantness that accompanied the performance. (Chapter 2)


In Canto One of his poem Shade mentions Sherlock Holmes (a hawk-nosed, lanky, rather likable private detective, the main character in various stories by Conan Doyle):


And then the gradual and dual blue

As night unites the viewer and the view,

And in the morning, diamonds of frost

Express amazement: Whose spurred feet have crossed

From left to right the blank page of the road?

Reading from left to right in winter's code:

A dot, an arrow pointing back; repeat:

Dot, arrow pointing back... A pheasant's feet

Torquated beauty, sublimated grouse,

Finding your China right behind my house.

Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose

Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes? (17-28)


The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1891), Conan Doyle’s story featuring Sherlock Holmes, brings to mind the pine groves of Boscobel mentioned by Kinbote:


Three hours later he trod level ground. Two old women working in an orchard unbent in slow motion and stared after him. He had passed the pine groves of Boscobel and was approaching the quay of Blawick, when a black police car turned out of a transverse road and pulled up next to him: "The joke has gone too far," said the driver. "One hundred clowns are packed in Onhava jail, and the ex-King should be among them. Our local prison is much too small for more kings. The next masquerader will be shot at sight. What's your real name, Charlie?" "I'm British. I'm a tourist," said the King. "Well, anyway, take off that red fufa. And the cap. Give them here." He tossed the things in the back of the car and drove off. (note to Line 149)


Boscobel: or, the history of His Sacred Majesties most miraculous preservation after the Battle of Worcester, 3 Sept. 1651 is a book by Thomas Blount (an English antiquarian and lexicographer, 1618-79). It is an account of Charles II's preservation after Worcester, with the addition of the king's own account dictated to Pepys. A less fortunate monarch, Charles I (the father of Charles II) was executed in 1649.


"King Charles the Martyr" or "Charles, King and Martyr" is a title of Charles I. The title was used by high church Anglicans who regarded Charles's execution as a martyrdom. According to Kinbote, Zemblan church is very "high:"


I remember one little poem from Night Rote (meaning "the nocturnal sound of the sea") that happened to be my first contact with the American poet Shade. A young lecturer on American Literature, a brilliant and charming boy from Boston, showed me that slim and lovely volume in Onhava, in my student days. The following lines opening this poem, which is entitled "Art," pleased me by their catchy lilt and jarred upon the religious sentiments instilled in me by our very "high" Zemblan church.


From mammoth hunts and Odysseys

And Oriental charms

To the Italian goddesses

With Flemish babes in arms. (note to Line 957)


Flemish babes bring to mind Flemish hells mentioned by Shade in Canto Two of his poem:


So why join in the vulgar laughter? Why

Scorn a hereafter none can verify:

The Turk's delight, the future lyres, the talks

With Socrates and Proust in cypress walks,

The seraph with his six flamingo wings,

And Flemish hells with porcupines and things?

It isn't that we dream too wild a dream:

The trouble is we do not make it seem

Sufficiently unlikely; for the most

We can think up is a domestic ghost. (221-230)


"Flemish hells with porcupines and things" suggest the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, the artist whose name recalls Kinbote’s “sweet Boscobel.” According to Kinbote, Boscobel is now (1959) a "nudist colony." (Index)