Vladimir Nabokov

List of PF personages associated with mysticism and/or occult

By MARYROSS, 10 August, 2020

Virtually every personage mentioned or alluded to in Pale Fire was associated with mysticism and/or the occult. I have compiled a list below. Note how many were members of the SPR, the esoteric/scientific society that is the template for Shade’s IPH. This is particularly important for my focus: Pale Fire’s hidden structure of Jungian alchemy and archetype. Although there are no direct mentions of Jung in PF, Jung’s doctoral dissertation entitled “The Psychological Foundation of Belief in Spirits,” presented to the SPR in 1919, put forth the theory of poltergeists that PF’s Jane Provost describes as “an outward extension or expulsion of insanity,” and Kinbote calls “voo-doo psychiatry.”


I have put in parentheses names that do not have a direct reference in the novel, but are either represented by a strong allusion, or are known to be of interest to Nabokov.


Please let me know if there is anything or anyone to add or correct. Thanks, Mary



Mystics, and Members of Esoteric Societies found in Pale Fire:



Society for Psychical Research (SPR, British):


Myers, F.W.H. (Founder of SPR)

(Jung, Carl)

Freud, Sigmund

(James, William)

Lang, Andrew

(Bergson, Henri)

Southey, Robert

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan

Wallace, Alfred Russel

Andersen, Hans Christian

Carroll, Lewis

Eliot, T.S.

(Pound, Ezra)

(Wilde, Oscar)

Coates, James

Tennyson, Lord Alfred

(Stevenson, R. L.)

Yeats, W. B.

(Ruskin, John)

Joyce, James

Schiller, F.C.S.



American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR):


(James, William)

(James, Henry)

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan

Yeats, W.B.

Houdini, Harry (Hodinski?)





(Burns, Robert)

Doyle, Arthur Conan

Mesmer, Franz Anton

(Pushkin, Alexander)

Scott, Sir Walter

Kipling, Rudyard

Goethe, J.W. von

Schiller, Friedrich





(Blake, William)

Coleridge, S.T.

Browning, Robert and Elizabeth

Baudelaire, Charles

(Balzac, Honoré de)

Yeats, William Butler

Dostoevsky, Fyodor

(Pound, Ezra)

Frost, Robert

(Morris, William)





(Jung, Carl)

(Rilke, R.M.)

Hardy, Thomas

Kingsley, Charles

Lang, Andrew

Turgenev, Ivan

Owens, Robert Dale

(Mann, Thomas)

Poe, E. A.

(Browning, Elizabeth B.)





(Jung, Carl)

Freud, Sigmund

Arnold, Mathew

Tennyson, Lord Alfred

(Browning, Elizabeth B.)

Goethe, J.W.

Poe, A.E.

Coleridge, S.T.

Southey, Robert

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan

Kingsley, Charles



School of Night:


Chapman, George

Raleigh, Sir Walter





Spenser, Edmund



“Metaphysical Poets”:


Crashaw, Richard

Donne, John

Marvell, Andrew

Shakespeare, Wm. (proto-Metaphysical)



Christian Theosophy:


Schiller, Friedrich

Goethe, J.W. von



Christian Mysticism:


(Jung, Carl)

(Bunyan, John)

Schweitzer, Albert

St. Augustine


Rabelais, Francois

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor

Goldsmith, Oliver

Chateaubriand, Rene

Crashaw, Richard

Eliot, T.S.

Rasputin, Grigori


Eastern Religion:


(Leyden, John)

Eliot, T.S.



The Royal Society: (science of the day was alchemy)


Flatman, Thomas



Alchemy (and alchemic imagery):


(Jung, Carl)

(Blake, William)

Shakespeare, Wm.

Johnson, Ben

Milton, John

Goethe, J.W. von

Poussin, Nicolas

(Meier, Michael)

(Ripley, George)

Keats, W.B.

Coleridge, S.T.

Shelley, P.B.

(Flatman, Thomas?)





Whitman, Walt



Natural Mystics:


Jung, Carl

Shelley, P.B.

Wordsworth, Wm.

Byron, Lord, G.G.

Proust, Marcel

Pasternak, Boris

(Einstein, Albert)

(Woolf, Virginia)





(Jung, Carl)

(Campbell, Joseph)

Chapman, George

Milton, John










Yeats, W.B.

(etc. Virtually all the poets)



Astrology, Tarot, Numerology, etc.


(Jung, Carl)

Shakespeare, Wm.

Milton, John

(Pushkin, A.)

(probably others, esp. Romantics)





Johnson, Samuel

Johnson, Ben

Swift, Jonathan

Pope, Alexander

Browning, Robert

Jean de la Fontaine

(Houdini, Harry)






3 years 10 months ago

Thanks for putting this together, Mary. I might add, in parentheses, Ella Wheeler Wilcox to the spiritism section. I believe her floating mandolin shows up in Shade’s third canto, and VN mentions her directly in Speak, Memory.



3 years 10 months ago

Thank you for that, Matt.  


From wikipedia, I see that Ella Wheeler Wilcox : 

(November 5, 1850 – October 30, 1919) was an American author and poet. Her works include Poems of Passion and Solitude, which contains the lines "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone" and that she had a "unique blending of New Thought, Spiritualism, and a Theosophical belief in reincarnation." I also see when googling her and "mandolin" that she traveled with a mandolin.


As is so often the case, multiple references and images seem to apply. I don't know if MS. Wilcox attended seances in which her mandolin floated, but there was a famous medium, Eupasia Palladino, whose seances included floating mandolins. She was not a poet, however. 

"Eusapia Palladino (alternate spelling: Paladino; 21 January 1854 – 16 May 1918) was an Italian Spiritualist physical medium.[1][2] She claimed extraordinary powers such as the ability to levitate tables, communicate with the dead through her spirit guide John King, and to produce other supernatural phenomena.

She convinced many persons of her powers, but was caught in deceptive trickery throughout her career.[3][4][5][6] Magicians, including Harry Houdini, and skeptics who evaluated her claims concluded that none of her phenomena were genuine and that she was a clever trickster"

I was not able to capture the picture of the mandolin seance on wikipedia, which you can see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eusapia_Palladino

Mandolin (striped instrument, top, rightlevitates above Palladino's head in front of the curtains at the far short end of the table during Palladino's séance in MunichGermany, 13 March 1903.


And, speaking of Houdini, who I have included in my list (Hodinski):


In PF I think “Hodinski,”queen Yaruga’s lover, goliart and poet likely refers to Houdini, and further, to Nabokov himself.


Kinbote writes:

“We may add that Charles the Beloved could boast of some Russian blood. In medieval times two of his ancestors had married Novgorod princesses. Queen Yaruga (reigned 1799-1800) his  great-great-granddam, was half Russian; and most historians believe that Yaruga's only child Igor was not the son of Uran the Last(reigned 1798-1799) but the fruit of her amours with the Russian adventurer Hodinski, her goliart (court jester) and a poet of genius, said to have forged in his spare time a famous old Russian chanson de geste generally attributed to an anonymous bard of the twelfth century.” (Line 681)


Earlier (Line 12: that crystal land) in explaining his need to disguise himself as a teacher, he names the Russian chanson de geste.


“To return to the King: take for instance the question of personal culture. How often is it that kings engage in some special research? Conchologists among them can be counted on the fingers of one maimed hand. The last king of Zembla - partly under the influence of his uncle Conmal, the great translator of Shakespeare (see notes to lines 39 - 40 and 962), had become, despite frequent migraines, passionately addicted to the study of literature. At forty, not long before the collapse of his throne, he had attained such a degree of scholarship that he dared accede to his venerable uncle's raucous dying request: "Teach, Karlik!" Of course, it would have been unseemly for a monarch to appear in the robes of learning at a university lectern and present to rosy youths Finnigans Wake as a monstrous extension of Angus MacDiarmid's "incoherent transactions" and of Southey's Lingo-Grande ("Dear Stumparumper," etc.) or discuss the Zemblan variants, collected in 1798 by Hodinski, of the Kongs-skugg-sio (The Royal Mirror), an anonymous masterpiece of the twelfth century.”


In the index, under Hodinski, he merely calls it a “celebrate pastiche:”


“Hodinski, Russian adventurer, d. 1800, also known as Hodyna, 681; resided in

Zembla 1778-1800; author of a celebrated pastiche and lover of Princess (later Queen) Yaruga (q.v.), mother of Igor II, grandmother of Thurgus (q.v.).”


Nabokov, in his youth, had attempted to translate Shakespeare. Later he translated The Song of Igor. I believe both Conmal and Hodinski are Nabokov’s sly self-satires.  “Conmal” (if we ignore the lewd French slang) literally means “with bad.” Conmal attempts translation with bad English, just as Nabokov felt his early attempts at Shakespeare were not successful. 


Nabokov was more successful with his translation of The Song of Igor. This would be why Hodinski’s progeny is named “Igor II” (after the first Igor).  Hodinski’s “Zemblan variants” thus would indicate VN’s translation.


Hodinski, a.k.a. Hodyna - as Dieter Zimmer remarked (NL 00017511), “His name sounds suspiciously like Harry Houdini.” Harry Houdini (1784-1926), the celebrated escape artist and magician. Nabokov was fond of intimating himself as a conjuror-magician. He also literally escaped Russia and Germany.


Harry Houdini was a member of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) which, along with the British SPR, are the templates for the PF’s IPH. Houdini was not a believer in spiritism, but an exposer of fraud.


Compare the descriptions of Hodinski to Nabokov’s typical self-assessments:

“adventurer, jester, celebrated translator, conjuror, exposer of fraud.”


3 years 10 months ago

I have always been interested in VN’s reading and as you shall see, I’m been clawing and crawling so as to expand the Reading section of the website. It is taking a lot of time since I wish to be as thorough as possible, but this is a good checklist to turn to. But may I say something: I’m definitely not familiar (i.e. know them well enough) to comment on all the authors in the above list but some of the names seem arbitrary.

1) Dostoevsky was definitely not a Swedenborgian (Christian mystic, definitely) in any sense or form.

2)  Pushkin as a Mason: I think some of Pushkin’s friends was in that circle but T. J. Binyon argues convincingly that he was not a Mason. He (i.e. Pushkin) had to take an oath to that regard, I believe. I think Pushkin would well be added under the heading of Nay-Sayers.

3) Tennyson under Mesmerism? Some portions of In Memoriam definitely promotes the continued existence of dead and the hope of future reunion, but he is not a Mesmer.

4) Nay-sayers are much more common than this suggests. Keats was a nay-sayer.

5) I’m not sure what Natural Mystic means. But, if you include Wordsworth in it, then Coleridge can definitely be added there. Chateaubriand and Thomas Hardy can be added as well, depending on what you mean there. Einstein? Didn’t he say somewhere that the idea of a personal God or religion (i.e. life after death) is absolute hogwash (was it in his Ideas and Opinions)?

6) Eastern Religion should have Yeats. Don’t you think that a brief description or definition (i.e. how you interpret it, or what you have in mind) of the topic headings would make this more clear? I know it will mean way more work, but that will be very helpful.

7) Blake and Yeats can be put under Visionary Poet. To quote a brief description from Blake: “The Last Judgment is not Fable or Allegory, but Vision. Fable or Allegory are a totally distinct and inferior kind of Poetry. Vision or Imagination is a Representation of what Eternally Exists, Really and Unchangeably.” (Kind of like Platonism?)

8) I don’t think I have to point out that we know very little about Shakespeare to add him to any list. All poets are in a sense “metaphysical”, don’t you think?

9) Matthew Arnold needs more investigation. From what I gather, he seems far from a Mesmer.

10) No Freud under Mythology? He should probably top the list, after applying so much "Greek Mythology to private parts" (this is VN speaking).

There are some typos here and there: it should be W. B. Yeats instead of Keats, W. B. (under Alchemy), E. A. Poe. instead of A. E. Poe (mesmerism). Bergson and William James have been hyperlinked which kind of breaks the uniformity. Hope I have not been too negative.



3 years 10 months ago

No, Shakeeb, not too negative, but properly questioning and thorough. I posted this for exactly this type of discussion.

I don't warrant that this is a complete and accurate list. The list is of names that I knew to be either directly mentioned in PF, or that I and others felt had strong allusions.  I then googled the names along with words like "masons", "Swedenborgian", etc. 

All of the names that fall under specific societies I found specific mentions online. I did not add all the attributions I found as it would become cumbersome for a post (and some I neglected to copy when I was doing my search, which at the time was merely for myself). Vaguer attributions such as "Natural Mystics" are simply of the ones that I am personally familiar with.

And a really thorough list would have all the annotations within PF. However, my focus has been on my work on PF and Jung's alchemy and archetypes. This information tangentially supportive of Jung's influence (especially the SPR/IPH), but I think fully developing a thorough list would at this time divert my energies. I think this would make a great subject for someone's dissertation! 

Some of the people on the list may have only been briefly associated with these societies and interests and then became skeptical later (Robert Browning, for instance) but I am not an authority on any of the above, and it would take a lot more research to confirm. 

I suggest this list as a starting point, or as simply an indication of how prevalent mysticism and occultism were through literary history and particularly the Romantics. 

I will, however, revise the list, with some of your suggestions, and also follow up on some that you mention with links to where I found the attributions. (and typo corrections!)

In the meantime, I welcome any other comments/criticisms/suggestions. thanks, Mary




Alexey Sklyarenko

3 years 10 months ago

The name Hodinski does not hint at Harry Houdini (Gudini in Russian spelling). In her Russian translation of PF Vera Nabokov slightly alters the name to Hodynski. At the end of his poem Nash tsar’ (“Our Tsar,” 1907) written for the tenth anniversary of the coronation of Nicholas II Balmont (one of the poets who translated Slovo into modern Russian) says that he who started reigning with Hodynka (the Khodynka tragedy, a human stampede that occurred on 30 May, 1896, on Khodynka Field in Moscow, during the festivities following the coronation of Nicholas II) will finish standing at the scaffold:


Кто начал царствовать - Ходынкой,
Тот кончит - встав на эшафот.


Who started reigning with - Hodynka,
will finish - at the scaffold stand.


Among the people who were executed with the family of the last Russian tsar was Doctor Evgeniy Botkin. The "real" name of Shade, Kinbote and Gradus seems to be Vsevolod Botkin. In "The Song of Igor's Campaign" Wild Bull Vsevolod is Igor's brother. In his speech Vsevolod mentions yarugy (obs., pl. of yaruga, "ravine"):


И рече ему Буй-Туръ Всеволодъ: "Одинъ братъ, одинъ свѣтъ свѣтлый - ты, Игорю! Оба есвѣ Святъславличя! Сѣдлай, брате, свои бързыи комони, а мои ти готови, осѣдлани у Курьска напереди. А мои ти куряни - свѣдоми къмети: подъ трубами повити, подъ шеломы възлелѣяны, конець копия въскръмлени; пути имь вѣдоми, яругы имъ знаеми, луци у нихъ напряжени, тули отворени, сабли изъострени. Сами скачють, акы сѣрыи влъци въ полѣ, ищучи себе чти, а князю славѣ".


And Wild Bull Vsevolod [arrives and]
says to him:
"My one brother, one bright brightness,
you Igor!
We both are Svyatoslav's sons.
Saddle, brother, your swift steeds.
As to mine, they are ready,
saddled ahead, near Kursk;
as to my Kurskers, they are famous
knights –
swaddled under war-horns,
nursed under helmets,
fed from the point of the lance;
to them the trails are familiar,
to them the ravines are known,
the bows they have are strung tight,
the quivers, unclosed,
the sabers, sharpened;
themselves, like gray wolves,
they lope in the field,
seeking for themselves honor,
and for their prince glory." (ll. 72-90, VN’s translation)


A. Sklyarenko (the exposer of fraud)


3 years 10 months ago

A. Sklyarenko – I find your theory credible, but it does not strike me as conclusive evidence. I am quite willing to discuss the relative merits of our respective theories, but I am uncomfortable with your supercilious tone. Your innuendo of “fraud” is not only insulting to me, but to the late Dieter Zimmer, a highly respected Nabokov scholar, who first suggested “Houdini/Hodinski.” If you reply to this, I hope it will be in an open and collegial manner appropriate to this site.


            I think it is not only possible but even likely, that VN would employ more than one meaning to his allusions. I think “Houdini” is typical of the way he secrets himself into his text via word-play or personal attributes such as “dynamo goalkeeper,” etc. that are not intended to be widely known. Aside from what appear to me to be clearly his self-attributes (adventurer, poet, translator, jester, magician, escape artist, exposer of fraud and, I might add, lover of obscure etymology) it seems to me that his intention of hiding the nickname “Hodyna” (a close homophone to Houdini) in the index is an indication of how elaborate he intended to make this hide-n-seek aspect of his work. Most readers would (and have) read right by this apparently unimportant character and many do not even bother with reading an index. Until I saw the Houdini connection, I thought it curious that this minor character rated a place in the index.


            I just read up a bit on the Khodynka Tragedy. The stampede took place in the Khodynka Field which “had a ravine (yaruga!) and many gullies.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khodynka_Tragedy  So, I understand the connection Hodinski-Khodynka- Balmont-poet/Slovo translator-Yaruga- Igor. This association string would be the same, if “Khodynka-Balmont” were to be replaced by “Houdini-Nabokov.” So I find it quite likely that both have relevance to PF and to each other - they serve to counterpoint.


            However, tragic as the Khodynka stampede was, and as important as the fate of the Emperor was to VN’s own history, I find VN’s hidden self-references more compelling thematically. The telling point is the description of Hodinski as “a poet of genius.” According to Wikipedia, “Balmont's poetry in emigration was criticized by Vladimir Nabokov who called his verse "jarring" and "its new melodies false."


            So, it would appear we have here a counterpoint of a “genius poet” and an exposed “false poet.”


I find this fascinating. I hope you do, too. Best,



Alexey Sklyarenko

3 years 10 months ago

In reply to by MARYROSS


You might just as well say that Hodinski hints at Odin or at W. H. Auden (who was, at least, a poet). Hodinski drowned in an ice hole. Houdini, on the contrary, was an escape artist (in a sense he is closer to Odon with whom Kinbote may still join forces in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla). He (Hodinski) also reminds me of Baron d'Onsky, a character in Ada who seems to be a cross between Prince Dmitri Donskoy (who defeated Khan Mamay in the battle of Kulikovo, 1380) with Onegin's donskoy zherebets (Don stallion).

You may find my theory unconvincing, but it is, at least, based on the text of VN's novel. For instance, I never claimed that it took Kinbote less than a month to write his Foreword, Commentary and Index to Shade's poem.



Alexey Sklyarenko

3 years 10 months ago

According to Kinbote (the author of a book on surnames), Botkin is one who makes bottekins (fancy footwear). The surname Hodinski most likely comes from Hoda, which means in Ukrainian "footfall, footstep, pace, tread, gait." Apparently, the founder of the Hodinski family had a peculiar gait. Perhaps, Hodyna was, like Byron, lame. Hodinski is a court jester, and fools often had physical defects.


3 years 10 months ago

Alexey, I am actually extremely grateful for your theory - it has helped to open up what may be the very core of PF: VN's veiled autobiography.

I think your theory and mine dovetail in a way that is rather astounding. As I explained above I believe VN often created dual solutions in his imagery (and also in his novel's conclusions). Both VN and Jung made clear the point that a symbol is to be distinguished from a "sign" (sorry, I'm not going to look that up just now). That is, multiple sources and meanings can be contained within a symbol.

VN mentions "combinations" and "contrapuntal" quite often. These are keywords for alchemy and Jung as the process of the "union of opposites" for transformation (psychological wholeness). PF is replete with oppositional images and characters. That is why I think there is a contrapuntal combination (genius/inferior poets) within "Hodinski." From my Jungian point of view, all the characters in PF are archetypes of Botkin, as stand-in for Nabokov.

As I detailed in a previous post ( Permalink ), "archetype" means "imprint", which leads to "footprint" and the "Shade impress" etc. Ultimately this leads to BOTKIN as "shoemaker" – that is, the creator of the archetype/soul (sole) imprints of PF's characters.

SOoooo - your new information of "Hoda" = footstep" is fantastic! This is just the kind of helpful discussion that should be engendered, and I hope will continue. I hope this all makes sense - I'm trying to keep this brief.

BTW, is "Hodinski" an actual surname in Russia?





3 years 10 months ago

I have just come across a poet whose reference in PF I don’t believe has been mentioned previously: Edward Young, who wrote a volume of poetry entitled “Night-Thoughts,” which would seem to suggest Shade’s “Night Rote.” The poems in  Night-Thoughts are meditations on death and the beyond, right in line with PF.


Shade’s title not only references Young’s poems but is a clever pun on “Night Wrote,” slyly suggesting creative insomnia. Further, although it has been mentioned previously that the word “rote” may reference Eliot’s The Dry Salvages (N-LP 0016094), another (not exclusive) possibility is the etymology of “rota” – wheel. The alchemists called their process “rota” or “circulare” due to the combining-dissolving- recombining process. The repetitive circular motion is the structure of Shade’s poem. The following lines indicate alchemy:


“Knowing Shade's combinational turn of mind and subtle sense of harmonic balance, I cannot imagine that he intended to deform the faces of his crystal by meddling with its predictable growth.”


“Another fine example of our poet's special brand of combinational magic.”



Here, straight from Wikipedia is Edward Young (note, too the masonic influence):


Edward Young (c. 3 July 1683 – 5 April 1765) was an English poetcriticphilosopher and theologian, best remembered for Night-Thoughts.


William Hutchinson included a gloss on Night-Thoughts in his series of lectures The Spirit of Masonry (1775), underlining the masonic symbolism of the text


The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality, better known simply as Night-Thoughts, is a long poem by Edward Young published in nine parts (or "nights") between 1742 and 1745.

The poem is written in blank verse. It describes the poet's musings on death over a series of nine "nights" in which he ponders the loss of his wife and friends, and laments human frailties. 

Night-Thoughts had a very high reputation for many years after its publication, but is now best known for a major series of illustrations by William Blake in 1797.

The nine nights are each a poem of their own. They are: "Life, Death, and Immortality" (dedicated to Arthur Onslow); "Time, Death, Friendship" (dedicated to Spencer Compton); "Narcissa" (dedicated to Margaret Bentinck); "The Christian Triumph" (dedicated to Philip Yorke); "The Relapse" (dedicated to George Lee); "The Infidel Reclaim'd" (in two parts, "Glories and Riches" and "The Nature, Proof, and Importance of Immortality"; dedicated to Henry Pelham); "Virtue's Apology; or, The Man of the World Answered" (with no dedication); and "The Consolation" (dedicated to Thomas Pelham-Holles).

In his 1791 book, Life of Samuel JohnsonJames Boswell called Night-Thoughts "the grandest and richest poetry that human genius has ever produced".


Alexey Sklyarenko

3 years 10 months ago


As you know, VN avoided dual solutions both in his chess problems and in his novels. I hate to disappoint you, but I think that he simply did not need Jung and his archetypes for composing PF.


“Rote” being the sound of waves breaking on the shore, Night Rote (Shade’s second book) seems to hint at “sea and shore” mentioned by E. A. Poe in his "Sonnet - Silence" (1840):


There are some qualities – some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence – sea and shore –
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o'ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name's "No More."
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
No power hath he of evil in himself;
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)
Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!


(Pity, Edward Young's birthday is not July 5)


I suggest that we switch to my page ("Annotations by AS") and continue our discussion there (where you can find the full version of my latest post "Hodinski vs. Botkin in PF").




3 years 10 months ago

The "rote" of waves have long been an image of the eternal return, which is in keeping with Young's poems and PF's theme of death and the resurrection. The sea returns ever to the shore, so perhaps VN may have had this Poe verse at least in the back of his mind, as well. I see this particular image typical of the sort of multi-layered meaning of "dual solutions." In fact, puns are in a sense "dual solutions."

I am not a chess player, so I may be wrong here, but I have had the suspicion that Nabokov's interest in "fairy chess" is precisely to break the rules of interdiction of dual solutions (?)

Any chess players care to comment?


3 years 10 months ago


I have made some short responses to your concerns about my list. As I mentioned this list was begun mainly for myself and I am sharing it with the caveat that I can't warrant all the categories as 100% accurate. The main thing for me is to demonstrate the prevalence of mysticism and the occult in PF allusions, and especially the SPR which Jung was a member of for a while.

In the meantime, I am reconstructing the list to include where to find in the text, etc. I welcome any other comments/additions etc. so that maybe this can become a resource.

Best, Mary


I have my responses in bold under your numbered questions:

1) Dostoevsky was definitely not a Swedenborgian (Christian mystic, definitely) in any sense or form.

(google “Dostoevsky, Swedenborg” – there seems to be a lot of information/speculation)


2)  Pushkin as a Mason: I think some of Pushkin’s friends was in that circle but T. J. Binyon argues convincingly that he was not a Mason. He (i.e. Pushkin) had to take an oath to that regard, I believe. I think Pushkin would well be added under the heading of Nay-Sayers.

(Since Pushkin had some association (even disputed) with Freemasonry, I think he belongs here)


3) Tennyson under Mesmerism? Some portions of In Memoriam definitely promotes the continued existence of dead and the hope of future reunion, but he is not a Mesmer.

(See: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Mesmer-and-animal-magnetism-%3A-a-chapter-in-the-of-Pattie/bb37eb20cc4aa392c726077c0a4af30e53f79324


4) Nay-sayers are much more common than this suggests. Keats was a nay-sayer.

(Keats added)


5) I’m not sure what Natural Mystic means. But, if you include Wordsworth in it, then Coleridge can definitely be added there. Chateaubriand and Thomas Hardy can be added as well, depending on what you mean there. Einstein? Didn’t he say somewhere that the idea of a personal God or religion (i.e. life after death) is absolute hogwash (was it in his Ideas and Opinions)?

(By ‘Natural Mystics’ I simply mean to my knowledge their writing seems to indicate mysticism but I don’t know whether or not they ascribed to system. As for Einstein, from Wikipedia: Einstein characterized himself as "devoutly religious" in the following sense, "The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. ... He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”)


6) Eastern Religion should have Yeats. Don’t you think that a brief description or definition (i.e. how you interpret it, or what you have in mind) of the topic headings would make this more clear? I know it will mean way more work, but that will be very helpful.

Maybe later.


7) Blake and Yeats can be put under Visionary Poet. To quote a brief description from Blake: “The Last Judgment is not Fable or Allegory, but Vision. Fable or Allegory are a totally distinct and inferior kind of Poetry. Vision or Imagination is a Representation of what Eternally Exists, Really and Unchangeably.” (Kind of like Platonism?)


8) I don’t think I have to point out that we know very little about Shakespeare to add him to any list.

( Removed from “Metaphysical, but WS refers to alchemy and the occult frequently)

All poets are in a sense “metaphysical”, don’t you think?

This refers to a particular group called by Samuel Johnson “The Metaphysical Poets”


9) Matthew Arnold needs more investigation. From what I gather, he seems far from a Mesmer.

See: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Mesmer-and-animal-magnetism-%3A-a-chapter-in-the-of-Pattie/bb37eb20cc4aa392c726077c0a4af30e53f79324


10) No Freud under Mythology? He should probably top the list, after applying so much "Greek Mythology to private parts" (this is VN speaking)



3 years 10 months ago

Sorry, I just saw your edits.

The paper you cite invites a complicated answer: casual mentions of Mesmer doesn't qualify people or poets as devotees and practitioners. For Tennyson, the author provides some evidence, which I have to read and consult some bios to correctly answer. However, let me just quote a line: "I think we are not wholly brain/ Magnetic mockeries; not in vain" (In Memoriam). For Arnold, let me just say that the evidence presented is baffling, in all senses of the word. It's pretty much like making Nabokov a Freudian because he had read Freud.

But I get your general point (as well as your edits) and this is probably not the place to enter into a polemic about a third person (i.e. the author of that thesis) who probably is not interested in Nabokov in the first place.


3 years 10 months ago

Thanks, Shakeeb. I really value your insight and diligence. As I mentioned, I compiled this list for myself and found information online and cannot warrant the veracity without further research on each one. I think it would be an excellent investigation, however. I posted this list with the hopes of stimulating some interest, corrections and verification. 

I am going to clean the list up a bit, with page references and some brief comments/annotation. I think it could be a valuable resource, but I can't make myself an expert on each mention. My main purpose, which I think is reasonably demonstrated, is the prevalence in PF of mysticism and the occult and what I believe is the meta-theme of "transcendence" of life/death, of ego-self, and of Art.

I would be especially interested if anyone knows of possible allusions in PF of the persons in parentheses, whom I suspect might also be included – i.e. I understand that VN was a fan of Henri Bergson and William James; Henry James, with his ghosts, seems likely; Blake? Dickens? Burns? Huxleys? Mann? Rilke? 


Alain Champlain

3 years 10 months ago

How is Henry James a PF personage? I'm drawing a blank, and a quick search for his name in the text turns up nothing.

I'm reminded of this Nabokov quote from a 1952 letter to Wilson:

I have not read a book (save for a collection of Henry James’ short stories—miserable stuff, a complete fake, you ought to debunk that pale porpoise and his plush vulgarities some day) nor written a word since I left Cambridge.


3 years 10 months ago

Alain, Note that I have Henry James in parentheses – meaning he is not mentioned that I am aware of but I suspect he might be because of his interest in the SPR and his ghost stories. Also, VN was known to disparage him, as you have noted. That in no way disqualifies an inclusion. A number of personages mentioned or alluded to in PF were not held in high esteem (Freud, Jung, Eliot, Wilde, Dostoevsky, Sandburg, Schweitzer, Fitzgerald, and probably others). 

What I am pointing out is the prevalence of mysticism and the occult in the references. The personages in parentheses have either been mentioned by VN elsewhere or have significant mystical/occult associations which makes me suspect they may be alluded to in PF.  Before I come up with a more complete version, I would like to see if there are any inclusions that I should be aware of. 

Alain Champlain

3 years 10 months ago


Also, I'm not sure whether this was on purpose, but your emphasis of the word 'not' is reminiscent of Henry James's style, as parodied in Ada (Part Three Chapter 5):

He understood her condition or at least believed, in despair, that he had understood it, retrospectively, by the time no remedy except Dr. Henry’s oil of Atlantic prose could be found in the medicine chest of the past with its banging door and toppling toothbrush.

With this endnote:

Henry: Henry James’s style is suggested by the italicized “had."


3 years 10 months ago

I am sorry that I did not do that on purpose! I wish I had. I'm not all that familiar with James. 

I imagine there is a lot of that kind of style parody in PF, too. Occasionally he (Kinbote) will note something like "the synchronization device has been already worked to death by Flaubert and Joyce. Otherwise the pattern is exquisite." (I agree with Nabokov's pat on the back.) I think part of the reason for all the allusions is precisely to demonstrate how he derived "artistic delight from imagining other and better ways of looking at things..."

Aping styles would also fit in perfectly to my contention that VN may be parodying literary critic Northrup Frye's systematizing of the world's literature.

I would love to know of any other instances of PF style parodies.

There is the parody of Eliot's "Game of Chess" in Shade's poem. Likewise the faculty club scene (note to 189) is a parody of the conversational back and forth in Boswell's Life of Johnson. And Nabokov has said that the poem was meant to be Frostian, though I don't really think there's much resemblance.



3 years 10 months ago

Looking through PF one more time for famous names, I noticed for the first time “the Florence Houghton Room” in the Wordsmith Library (C949). Harvard has a “Houghton Library” for rare books and manuscripts. In fact, the Houghton Library is now where books and papers of Nabokov reside, donated recently by Dmitri Nabokov! These are in the company of other PF notables: Samuel Johnson, Keats, Eliot, (Henry James), (William James), James Joyce. Arthur A. Houghton was the industrial magnate of Corning glass.


However, Florence Houghton is unrelated to him, but still related to the mystic/occult theme of PF: Florence Houghton was heiress to the Houghton Mansion in North Adams, Mass. She sold the mansion to the local Masonic lodge in 1926. It was sold in 2017.

 I could not find information on whether Florence or her husband, William A. Gallup, were tied otherwise to the Masons, but given that the house has been reputed to be haunted by Houghton relations, it’s a fit for PF.


3 years 10 months ago

Thank you, Matt. Is the game of chess parody in the Canto II exchange between John and Sybil? 

Also, I think Kinbote's musing on how to commit suicide is probably Swiftian? I imagine his sudden change of tone when he writes of his real love for Disa is probably a stylistic allusion to ...someone?

Also: an update on the Houghton Library. I was just going through Pricilla Meyer's "Find What the Sailor has Hidden" and she mentions that the Houghton Library houses a facsimile of the 1937 edition of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin!

Clearly Nabokov is suggesting the Harvard Houghton, while playfully adding the Masonic Houghton for a multi-layered (dual solution?) allusion.