Vladimir Nabokov

Junkers = Jungs

By MARYROSS, 12 November, 2020

I recently began re-reading LATH, a book I did not care for on first reading. This second time around I find there are some interesting connections that I missed before. The conflated and skewed authorial re-inventions shed light on Nabokov’s estimations of his previous novels, and suggest keys to their salient points. In fact, it may even be the point and purpose of the novel, like in Speak, Memory where he hopes for closer readings  because he “hates to have to point such things out.”


My interest and focus has been on Jungian influences in Pale Fire; did VN want to prod readers with something they had missed in PF with LATH’s psychoanalysts, the “Junkers”?


Vadim, the narrator/authorial doppleganger, awakens from typical Nabokovian nightmares: a ray of light portends something terrifying. It seems he is on the brink of either madness or illumination.  This consciousness/transcendence theme is iterated in a number of VN’s novels, particularly TG, ITAB, BS, and Pale Fire.


Vadim consults a married pair of psychoanalysts, the “Junkers.” 


“They were supposed by their patients to be particularly alert on Mondays, but I was not, having got frightfully tight in one or two pubs before reaching the mean quarter where the Junkers and other doctors lived…”


The “Junkers” suggest Jung and his wife, Emma Jung, who was also a psychoanalyst and worked closely with her husband. I believe this keys into PF with the curious word “alert.” I say “curious” because there are no indications that the Junkers were otherwise generally not alert on other days.


In Pale Fire there is a curious Dr. AHLERT, and an “alert” doctor who deems Shade “only half a shade” after his swoon. Both Kinbote and Shade see Dr. Ahlert. This suggests the two as dissociated personalities of Botkin. Like Vadim, Kinbote is so nervous beforehand that he buys, not booze (Shade’s weakness), but some Valerian.


Kinbote says of this same “alert” doctor:


Incidentally: the reader should not take too seriously or too literally the passage about

the alert doctor (an alert doctor, who as I well know once confused neuralgia with

cerebral sclerosis).


Anytime Kinbote downplays something, we know it is time to pay particular attention. This apparent diagnosis is of Kinbote, not Shade, and I believe the misdiagnosis is cerebral sclerosis, not neuralgia (possibly the other way around? But that would make Kinbote seriously ill). Cerebral sclerosis is similar to MS, but some patients manifest psychosis, confusion, and personality changes. The doctor must have noted some odd behavior in K’s presenting symptoms.


In LATH, Mrs. Jung, although a psychoanalyst, diagnoses Vadim with neuralgia of the jaw and sends him to a dentist (with oneiric results – possibly hypnosis?). I am not sure whether this diagnosis is supposed to be the same, or opposite to Dr. Ahlert’s.


Is Dr. Ahlert a psychoanalyst, perhaps a Jungian? I think so, although I don’t know why the emphasis on “AHLERT” in capitals. It suggests an anagram. The only anagrams I have come up with are “lather,” "halter", and “thaler” (a German coin from which “dollar” originates). An acronym?


“Junker” is originally a noble honorific used across the German-speaking realm. In support of my contention of the connection to Jung, I offer another, although less noble, instance where Nabokov suggests Jung/junk: In his screenplay for Lolita, Nabokov changes the name of the Haze neighbor, known simply as the “junk man” to “Mr. Jung.”


See my early post from 08/15/17 that presents this and other possible references of VN’s to Jung (and also a comment from Joseph Aisenberg of the usual reasons why Jung is hard for Nabokovians to accept. I reply now that VN did not have to like Jung to reference him, as can be seen in Vadim’s joking through the interview and his wry declaration that “the consultation was not a success.”)


3 years 8 months ago

I think the Junkers/Jung point is plausible. Familiar target practice for VN? I would just note that the LATH passage you bring up (for me) is more notable for the tricks of memory that follows. Vadim conflates two or three events into one and it is uncertain which follows which. Memories mix - memories trick as someone wrote.

On the other hand, I do believe it to be highly possible that Nabokov was familiar with Jung. Even at the bare minimum: bookish familiarity. Whether he would consciously/unconsciously endorse a creed or a panacea (like Jung offers) is another matter.


3 years 8 months ago

Shakeeb! I am much gratified by your (cautious) concession! I think the memory-mix that follows only confirms the psychoanalysis – it is exactly like a dream (or hypnosis by Mme Junker). In fact, Vadim says:


I notice that dreams and other distortions of "reality" are written down in a special left-slanted hand...A lot of the pre-Cantabrigian stuff displays that script (but the soldier really did collapse (Glory) in the path of the fugitive king (PF)".


The conflation of memories is also a conflation of the novels. "Dr. Molnar" suggests Quilty's dentist cousin. "Miranda" is a near-anagram of "Armanda" who is fianced to a "person" (TT), Iris (PF) is neighbor to Nina Lecerf (RLSK).

None of this contradicts the Junkers as the Jungs, only emphasizes it. Any thoughts on Dr. AHLERT? I believe it clearly tags the Junkers as relating to PF, but knowing what VN intended by the alert doctors would cinch it.  Kinbote addresses a "doctor" a few times, apparently just facetiously, but perhaps it is his psychoanalyst, Dr. Ahlert.

I don't see Jungian ideas employed consciously in any other Nabokov novels – just PF. Would you rather think VN used Jungian ideas consciously as parody, or unconsciously, straight from Jung's "collective unconscious"? 

I have no doubt that VN must have been quite familiar with Jung. Psychoanalysis was in its hay-day at the time, and VN was well informed on current intellectual thought. Note that the Junkers are not exactly portrayed in an endorsing characterization. I have to say, though, I see VN and Jung as kindred spirits, whether he did or not.


3 years 8 months ago

It just dawned on me that "alert," of course, means "conscious" and conscious/subconscious is the purview of psychoanalysis. So perhaps that is all Dr. Ahlert (a real surname) is intended to suggest.

Alexey Sklyarenko

3 years 8 months ago

In Lolita (1955) Dr. Molnar is the Beardsley dentist (whose price is higher, but who is of course a much better dentist than Dr. Ivor Quilty):


In Beardsley, at the hands of charming Dr. Molnar, I had undergone a rather serious dental operation, retaining only a few upper and lower front teeth. The substitutes were dependent on a system of plates with an inconspicuous wire affair running along my upper gums. The whole arrangement was a masterpiece of comfort, and my canines were in perfect health. However, to garnish my secret purpose with a plausible pretext, I told Dr. Quilty that, in hope of alleviating facial neuralgia, I had decided to have all my teeth removed. What would a complete set of dentures cost? How long would the process take, assuming we fixed our first appointment for some time in November? Where was his famous nephew now? Would it be possible to have them all out in one dramatic session?

A white-smocked, gray-haired man, with a crew cut and the big flat cheeks of a politician, Dr. Quilty perched on the corner of his desk, one foot dreamily and seductively rocking as he launched on a glorious long-range plan. He would first provide me with provisional plates until the gums settled. Then he would make me a permanent set. He would like to have a look at that mouth of mine. He wore perforated pied shoes. He had not visited with the rascal since 1946, but supposed he could be found at his ancestral home, Grimm Road, not far from Parkington. It was a noble dream. His foot rocked, his gaze was inspired. It would cost me around six hundred. He suggested he take measurements right away, and make the first set before starting operations. My mouth was to him a splendid cave full of priceless treasures, but I denied him entrance.

“No,” I said. “On second thoughts, I shall have it all done by Dr. Molnar. His price is higher, but he is of course a much better dentist than you.”

I do not know if any of my readers will ever have a chance to say that. It is a delicious dream feeling. Clare’s uncle remained sitting on the desk, still looking dreamy, but his foot had stopped push-rocking the cradle of rosy anticipation. On the other hand, his nurse, a skeleton-thin, faded girl, with the tragic eyes of unsuccessful blondes, rushed after me so as to be able to slam the door in my wake.

Push the magazine into the butt. Press home until you hear or feel the magazine catch engage. Delightfully snug. Capacity: eight cartridges. Full Blued. Aching to be discharged. (2.33)


No soldier collapses in Podvig ("Glory," 1932). Other mistakes are not worth pointing out. I like the easiness, though, with which Mrs. Junker becomes Mrs. Jung ("In LATH, Mrs. Jung, although a psychoanalyst, diagnoses Vadim with neuralgia of the jaw and sends him to a dentist") in Mary's post.  


Incidentally, Molnar combines molar with molniya ("lightning" in Russian). Humbert's mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning), when he was three. In a letter of July 6, 1898, to Sumbatov (Yuzhin) Chekhov predicts to Yuzhin that a lightning in Monte-Carlo will kill him:


Будь здоров и благополучен и не бойся нефрита, которого у тебя нет и не будет. Ты умрёшь через 67 лет, и не от нефрита; тебя убьёт молния в Монте-Карло.

Don’t be afraid of nephritis. You’ll die in sixty-seven years and not of nephritis; a lightning in Monte-Carlo will kill you.


In Chekhov's humorous story Khirurgiya ("Surgery," 1884) the hero visits a dentist.


3 years 8 months ago

I've been working on a list of all characters appearing in VN's fiction for a while, which I intend to resume soon. I did not pay much attention to Dr. Ahlert before, so I'm unable to reply appropriately. Needless to say, thanks for bringing the guy to my notice!

My opinion is still that VN was familiar with Jung, but he was far too blessed with his own geni to continue on a well-trod road. In terms of resistance-training and not caring for received opinions, he is Tolstoy 2.0. As I've said before, my knowledge of Jung is limited to an English psychiatrist, Anthony Storr and even he (a Jungian) admits that Jung's concept of personalities, like everyone else's, is immensely subjective. To admit it as something universal and then to have Nabokov to borrow from it (or give it a backhand vindication) is still a huge stretch for me! The one psychologist whom VN admitted to like was William James, unfortunately not much have been written on why it is so. I can see a common station in Bergson, but that cannot be all there's to that.

"Expectation has been the undoing of many a shrewd gambler" -- as VN put it somewhere. ;)


3 years 8 months ago

Thank you, Alexey. I stand corrected re: Dr. Molnar, who I did not remember in Lolita. I admit I do not remember much of Glory. I was basing this on Vadim's account in LATH of his escape from the Bolsheviks, crossing the frontier with a knapsack on his back. I assume the killing of the soldier to be a contrivance unique to LATH, where allusions to VN's novels are mixed with novel inventions. This exploit is conflated with PF's escape from Zembla, where there is likewise no killing of a soldier.

I am sure you must understand the irony of Mme Jung, a psychoanalyst, diagnosing neuralgia keys the scene into Dr. Ahlert (presumably a psychoanalyst) (mis)diagnosing neuralgia. (Both, of course, would be medical doctors, as well.) I see this is an instance of VN using LATH to drop hints to undiscovered themes, etc., of his novels.



3 years 8 months ago

Shakeeb, what do you think about the possibility of parody? 


“Old storytelling devices,” said Van “may be parodied only by very great and inhuman artists…” 


“As often was the way with Sebastian Knight, he used parody as a kind of springboard for leaping into the highest region of serious emotion."


“you may derive artistic delight from imagining other and better ways of looking at things


"If you hate a book, you still may derive artistic delight from imagining other and better ways of looking at things, or, what is the same, expressing things, than the author you hate does."


satire is a lesson, parody is a game


3 years 8 months ago

I think you are applying parody very loosely, Mary -- at least that's what I'm sensing. Casual mentions to me do not quite count as parodies. I accept that VN must have read Jung, but not thoroughly enough to warrant a parody (or at least in the "deep sense", that you wish to demonstrate). The quotes you mention seem better applicable to say Dostoevsky or T. S. Eliot.

In my opinion, if you can write more on the intersection (in sense of correspondences not just context) of their thought or work, it will be more plausible to non-Jungians, like myself.


PS - I would sound a bit sanctimonious if I quote Dieter E. Zimmer here, especially since I do not myself adhere to the standards he wishes upon, but nevertheless it is a good reference point. So, I beg your (and other Nabokovians') indulgence here.

A valid correspondence must possess three features, I believe: similarity, specificity, substantiality. First, of course, the two items compared must be really similar in some meaningful way. If in Pale Fire John Shade composes a poem and in Pnin the son of Pnin's ex-wife paints a picture, both characters can be said to have something to do with the arts, but there is no similarity. If in two novels the main character has a Kir Royal at nine o'clock in the evening, this would be a parallel with some specificity. If it is substantial would depend on its importance within the story. If in both the drink and the time lead to the discovery of the villain, the correspondence would be both specific and substantial. If in one he had a Kir Royal on Saturdays and in the other a Bloody Mary on Sundays, that would weaken the specificity, and if it doesn't matter what they have, the correspondence would not be substantial. If in two stories the main characters occasionally have a glass of water and if nothing follows from the fact, the specificity and the substantiality of this similarity would be nil, since all characters in all novels will occasionally drink water.



3 years 8 months ago

Shakeeb, there is so much that I could say in response that it would be too much for this discussion format, where I believe I have provided many examples of Jungian concepts in PF (albeit in short bites). I go into it more comprehensively in several papers, which you can read on academia.edu (https://independent.academia.edu/MaryRoss22). Better yet, read Jung in the original (start with Memories, Dreams Reflections, his autobiography – you won’t regret it.)

I have also have an unfinished paper detailing similarities between VN and Jung. It's 17 pages, so too much to attach here, but you can contact me and I can send it to you (or anyone interested.)


To address just the “Junkers” parody, first of all, I have to say that LATH is itself a massive self-parody of VN and his work. Vadim writes;

“Indeed the present memoir derives much of its value from its being a catalogue raisonne of the roots and origins and amusing birth canals of many images in my Russian and especially English fiction.”


LATH is replete with “casual mentions” that are actually suggestions of “roots and origins,” so we might surmise a “deep sense” to the Junkers, even though parodied to the point of satire. To your quotation of Prof. Zimmer's points, I can only summarize what I have already said:


Similarity: The name Junkers is similar to “Jung.” VN previously changed the name “Junk man” to “Mr. Jung.” The Junkers are married psychoanalysts, as were Carl and Emma Jung.


Specificity: The Junkers are “alert” doctors. Dr. Ahlert in PF is also described as “alert.” “Alert” suggests “consciousness, the purview of psychoanalysis.”


Substantiality: PF features an insane character, Kinbote. PF has 3 main characters, that suggest dissociation and sub-personalities. Zembla and its characters seem to exist only in Kinbote’s demented mind. Carl Jung specialized in dissociation and sub-personalities. All the characters in PF reflect Jung’s basic archetypes.


3 years 8 months ago

I thought maybe this very limited outline of where I find Jungian influences in Pale Fire might help:





Nabokov was either consciously using Jung’s archetypes, or unconsciously the archetypes were using him.




>Treatise on Cryptomnesia presented to the SPR (IPH model)


>Parodies of Finnegans Wake & Frye’s Archetypal Literary Criticism





<Tri-part Man:


            >Gradus = unconscious = Shadow = dangerous eruption/revolution

            >Kinbote = Ego conscious = grandiosity = resistance

            >Shade = Higher conscious = spiritual seeking (both light and dark)


            >Riddle of the Sphinx 

            >K’s French tutor Beauchamp = treatise by Jung on multiple personalities




            >Sybil = antagonistic anima

            >Disa = abiding, longing soul

            >Hazel = rejected soul/self-image

            >Fleur & Fifalda = projected desirable/dangerous

            >Sylvia = helpful/guiding anima

            >Allusions to Vanessa, Atalanta, Myrrh, “Ladies of the Glen”, Melusine


            >Most characters have reversed polarity – anima or animus dominated




            >Shade = counters rejected soul self-image (Hazel) Hides his negative side

            (his whole being constituted a mask)


Wise Old Man:


            >Philemon & Baucis myth

            >Judge Goldsworth = astrological implications (a study of Jung’s)   

            >Dr. Sutton 

            >Mrs. Starr = Wise Old Man usually accompanied by young woman who behaves as soul guide





           >Gerald Emerald = K’s main antagonist, Izumrodov, therefore a high member of Shadows


           >Odon = ally trickster (Odon O’donald = ald= elf)




            >Balthasar = dark Christ saviour

            >Botkin = creator




            >Joseph Campbell = K’s tutor Mr. Campbell


            >K’s escape follows all the stereotype elements of a hero’s journey


            >Shade and Gradus also evince Hero’s Journey

                        >Gradus: Unconscious “erupts”, causes “revolution” and impetus for Individuation

                        >Shade: Seeks meaning of life/death/spirit/Art


             >All three characters start their movement towards consciousness at the same time = tri-part man


                        >Kinbote ultimately fails, does not learn from his journey = Solus Rex




>Synchronicity:  acausal connections and fluidity of space/time


>Hereafter: Jung had a near-death experience, wrote “Life After Death”


>Mandala: eternal return = Poem returning to the first line






>Poltergeist = Jung wrote thesis on spirit phenomenon and delivered lecture to the Society for Psychical Research (parodied as IPH)


            >Many writers alluded to were members of the SPR


>Jung’s sister evinced poltergeist activity


>Jung attended séances with open mind


`           >Various allusions to astrology, Tarot, and numerology




>“Lead into gold” = parody of cryptomnesia


>Gradus = Mercurius = dual nature

               >Gradus ad Parnassus = transformation of lead to gold


>Atalanta = Sacred Marriage = Art over Nature = Union of opposites


               >“Atalanta Fugiens” by alchemist Michael Meier

                 = Counterpoint and Fugue themes

                 = Union of opposites = mirrors, reflections, reversals

                 = Problems of marriage: Shades, Kinbote & Hazel

                                                            >reversed polarity of anima/animus                                  

>Balthasar = Nigredo/Ethiopian transformed self/dark Christ

>Fleur = Melusina, alchemy’s mermaid emblem

>Et in Arcadia Ego 

>Tri-part man = riddle of sphinx






3 years 8 months ago

Mary, you are obviously fermenting a theory and I would not like to hamper its growth by prodding and probing. I would just say that in the face of your outline, it matters little if VN read Jung or not.


3 years 8 months ago

no comment