Colonel Montacute, Caroline Lukin, Colonel Gusev & King Alfin in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sun, 08/02/2020 - 09:02

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), 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)


The Colonel’s name seems to hint at Montague, Romeo’s family name in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In Oskolki moskovskoy zhizni (“Fragments of Moscow Life”), the feuilleton of July 21, 1884, Chekhov compares the two Moscow chemists, Ferrein and Keller, to Capulet and Montague:


На Никольской, в этом центре самоварно-калачного благодушества, завелись свой Капулетти и свой Монтекки, настоящие, вулканические, жаждущие крови и мести… Как это ни странно, ни сверхъестественно, а верить надо, ибо фабула драмы засвидетельствована полицией. От новоиспеченных Капулетти и Монтекки пахнет карболкой, йодоформом и уксусной эссенцией, ибо оба они дрогисты, оба ядовитых дел мастера. Имя первому Феррейн, имя второму Келлер — имена настолько славные в брокаристом и альфонс-раллейном смысле, что обладатели их могут ехать без паспорта, куда угодно: везде их знают.


Shade is killed by Gradus on July 21, 1959. In his feuilleton Chekhov mentions nash mudreyshiy Lukin (our wisest Lukin), the journalist:


Какой-то врач списался с Францией, и результатом всего этого получилась газетная галиматья, поднятая с легкой руки нашего мудрейшего Лукина (зри «Новости»).


According to Kinbote, the maiden name of Shade’s mother was Caroline Lukin:


A Commentary where placid scholarship should reign is not the place for blasting the preposterous defects of that little obituary. I have only mentioned it because that is where I gleaned a few meager details concerning the poet's parents. His father, Samuel Shade, who died at fifty, in 1902, had studied medicine in his youth and was vice-president of a firm of surgical instruments in Exton. His chief passion, however, was what our eloquent necrologist calls "the study of the feathered tribe," adding that "a bird had been named for him: Bombycilla Shadei" (this should be "shadei," of course). The poet's mother, nee Caroline Lukin, assisted him in his work and drew the admirable figures of his Birds of Mexico, which I remember having seen in my friend's house. What the obituarist does not know is that Lukin comes from Luke, as also do Locock and Luxon and Lukashevich. It represents one of the many instances when the amorphous-looking but live and personal hereditary patronymic grows, sometimes in fantastic shapes, around the common pebble of a Christian name. The Lukins are an old Essex family. Other names derive from professions such as Rymer, Scrivener, Limner (one who illuminates parchments), Botkin (one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear) and thousands of others. (note to Line 71)


Caroline Lukin seems to hint at Vladimir Lukin (1737-94), the author of Shchepetil'nik ("The Trinklet Dealer," 1765). In Chapter One (XXIII: 6) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions London shchepetil'nyi (London the trinkleter):


Изображу ль в картине верной
Уединённый кабинет,
Где мод воспитанник примерной
Одет, раздет и вновь одет?
Всё, чем для прихоти обильной
Торгует Лондон щепетильной
И по Балтическим волнам
За лес и сало возит нам,
Всё, что в Париже вкус голодной,
Полезный промысел избрав,
Изобретает для забав,
Для роскоши, для неги модной, -
Всё украшало кабинет
Философа в осьмнадцать лет.


Shall I present a faithful picture
of the secluded cabinet,
here the exemplary pupil of fashions
is dressed, undressed, and dressed again?
Whatever, for the copious whim,
London the trinkleter deals in
and o'er the Baltic waves
conveys to us for timber and for tallow;
whatever avid taste in Paris,
a useful trade having selected,
invents for pastimes,
for luxury, for modish mollitude;
all this adorned the cabinet
of a philosopher at eighteen years of age.


Caroline Lukin and Charles (or Karl) the Beloved bring to mind Karolina Karlovna, the young wife of Major Shchelkolobov in Chekhov’s humorous story Za dvumya zaytsami pogonish’sya, ni odnogo ne poymaesh’ (“You’ll chase two hares, you will not catch a single one,” 1880):


Пробило 12 часов дня, и майор Щелколобов, обладатель тысячи десятин земли и молоденькой жены, высунул свою плешивую голову из-под ситцевого одеяла и громко выругался. Вчера, проходя мимо беседки, он слышал, как молодая жена его, майорша Каролина Карловна, более чем милостиво беседовала со своим приезжим кузеном, называла своего супруга, майора Щелколобова, бараном и с женским легкомыслием доказывала, что она своего мужа не любила, не любит и любить не будет за его, Щелколобова, тупоумие, мужицкие манеры и наклонность к умопомешательству и хроническому пьянству. Такое отношение жены поразило, возмутило и привело в сильнейшее негодование майора. Он не спал целую ночь и целое утро. В голове у него кипела непривычная работа, лицо горело и было краснее вареного рака; кулаки судорожно сжимались, а в груди происходила такая возня и стукотня, какой майор и под Карсом не видал и не слыхал. Выглянув из-под одеяла на свет божий и выругавшись, он спрыгнул с кровати и, потрясая кулаками, зашагал по комнате.


It struck 12 noon, and Major Shchelkolobov, the owner of a thousand acres of land and a young wife, stuck his bald head out from under a chintz blanket and cursed loudly. Yesterday, passing by the arbor, he heard his young wife, Major, Karolina Karlovna, more than graciously talking with her visiting cousin, calling her husband, Major Shchelkolobov, a ram and with female frivolity, proving that she did not love her husband, does not love and will not love for him, Shchelkolobov, stupidity, peasant manners and a penchant for insanity and chronic drunkenness. This attitude of his wife was astounded, outraged, and led the major to great indignation. He did not sleep all night and all morning. An unusual work was boiling in his head, his face burned and was redder than boiled cancer; the fists clenched convulsively, and there was such fussing and knocking in the chest as the major had never seen or heard near Kars. Peering out from under the covers under the light of God and cursing, he jumped out of bed and, shaking his fists, strode around the room.


Describing the death of Alfin the Vague (the father of Charles the Beloved), Kinbote mentions King Alfin’s constant “aerial adjutant,” Colonel Peter Gusev (later a pioneer parachutist and, at seventy, one of the greatest jumpers of all time):


King's Alfin's absent-mindedness was strangely combined with a passion for mechanical things, especially for flying apparatuses. In 1912, he managed to rise in an umbrella-like Fabre "hydroplane" and almost got drowned in the sea between Nitra and Indra. He smashed two Farmans, three Zemblan machines, and a beloved Santos Dumont Demoiselle. A very special monoplane, Blenda IV, was built for him in 1916 by his constant "aerial adjutant" Colonel Peter Gusev (later a pioneer parachutist and, at seventy, one of the greatest jumpers of all time), and this was his bird of doom. On the serene, and not too cold, December morning that the angels chose to net his mild pure soul, King Alfin was in the act of trying solo a tricky vertical loop that Prince Andrey Kachurin, the famous Russian stunter and War One hero, had shown him in Gatchina. Something went wrong, and the little Blenda was seen to go into an uncontrolled dive. Behind and above him, in a Caudron biplane, Colonel Gusev (by then Duke of Rahl) and the Queen snapped several pictures of what seemed at first a noble and graceful evolution but then turned into something else. At the last moment, King Alfin managed to straighten out his machine and was again master of gravity when, immediately afterwards, he flew smack into the scaffolding of a huge hotel which was being constructed in the middle of a coastal heath as if for the special purpose of standing in a king's way. This uncompleted and badly gutted building was ordered razed by Queen Blenda who had it replaced by a tasteless monument of granite surmounted by an improbable type of aircraft made of bronze. The glossy prints of the enlarged photographs depicting the entire catastrophe were discovered one day by eight-year-old Charles Xavier in the drawer of a secretary bookcase. In some of these ghastly pictures one could make out the shoulders and leathern casque of the strangely unconcerned aviator, and in the penultimate one of the series, just before the white-blurred shattering crash, one distinctly saw him raise one arm in triumph, and reassurance. The boy had hideous dreams after that but his mother never found out that he had seen those infernal records. (note to Line 71)


Gusev (1890) is a story by Chekhov. In a letter of March 24, 1891, to his brother Ivan Pavlovich Anton Chekhov says that he is now in Venice and that he never saw a city as beautiful:


Я теперь в Венеции, куда приехал третьего дня из Вены. Одно могу сказать: замечательнее Венеции я в своей жизни городов не видел. Это сплошное очарование, блеск, радость жизни. Вместо улиц и переулков каналы, вместо извозчиков гондолы, архитектура изумительная, и нет того местечка, которое не возбуждало бы исторического или художественного интереса. Плывешь в гондоле и видишь дворцы дожей, дом, где жила Дездемона, дома знаменитых художников, храмы... А в храмах скульптура и живопись, какие нам и во сне не снились. Одним словом, очарование.


I am now in Venice. I arrived here two days ago from Vienna. One thing I can say: I have never in my life seen a town more marvellous than Venice. It is perfectly enchanting, brilliance, joy, life. Instead of streets and roads there are canals; instead of cabs, gondolas. The architecture is amazing, and there is not a single spot that does not excite some historical or artistic interest. You float in a gondola and see the palace of the Doges, the house where Desdemona lived, homes of various painters, churches. And in the churches there are sculptures and paintings such as we have never dreamed of. In fact it is enchantment.


In his Eugene Onegin Commentary (vol. II, p. 184) VN mentions a charming piece on Venice in Curiosities of Literature by Isaac d’Israeli. Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) brings to mind Sybil, or The Two Nations (1845), a novel by Benjamin Disraeli (Isaac d’Israeli’s son who would later become Prime Minister of Great Britain). Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone, Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Desdemona, Othello’s wife in Shakespeare’s Othello. On the other hand, her name seems to hint at Disraeli.


King Alfin brings to mind Fine alfin posto al vagheggiar, richiede (At length her toilette o’er...), the first line of the twenty-sixth stanza of canto XVI of Torquato Tasso’s La Gerusalemme liberata (“Jerusalem Delivered”) quoted by VN on the same page (in fact, in the same paragraph and even in the same sentence) of his EO Commentary. In Canto One of his poem Shade mentions “torquated beauty, sublimated grouse:”


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)


One of the first European explorers who reached China, Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant. “The Merchant of Venice” is a play by Shakespeare.


In his essay “Andrey Bely” (1927) Titsian Tabidze (simply referred to as Titsiani) compares Bely to Edgar Poe who said [in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” 1846] that a poem can be written from end to beginning, just as the Chinese build a house in reverse:


Из всех русских поэтов последних лет Андрей Белый больше всех занят формой. Ему принадлежат многочисленные труды о природе русского стиха; он на самом деле "проверял алгеброй музыку", ведь недаром он сын профессора математики и сам не на шутку учился математике, хотя знает, "что биология теней еще не изучена"! Ведь и он мог сказать, как Эдгар По, что поэму можно написать с конца, как китайцы строят дом наоборот!


According to Tabidze, Bely has really “checked up music with algebra.” In Pushkin’s little tragedy “Mozart and Salieri” (1830) Salieri says that he cut music, like a corpse, and with algebra checked up harmony and Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would), Botkin in reverse. The “real” name of Shade, Kinbote and Gradus seems to be Botkin. 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’s “real” name). Nadezhda means “hope.” There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin's epigrams, "half-milord, half-merchant, etc."), will be full again.