Vladimir Nabokov

Esmeralda and Her Pandarus

By MARYROSS, 17 November, 2020

If VN’s intent in LATH was to distance himself from his work through a parody of readership projections, it seems it may also have been to bring the essence of his novels closer to reader apprehension through the conflated parodied titles; e.g. See Under Real seems to conflate TRLSK with PF. The theme of both is the appropriation of the writer of genius by the commentator, ending ambiguously as either an ironic mistake or spiritual transcendence. PF and LOL are conflated in Esmeralda and Her Pandarus, displaying a secondary theme for PF: Desire and Fate.


LATH’s narrator, Vadim, runs into his erstwhile enchanting nymphet, Dolly, now 24. She tells him she has read all his books and then calls Esmeralda and Her Pandarus “Emerald and the Pander.”


This title suggests a much more significant role for PF’s Gerald Emerald than is usually considered, if considered at all. He may, in fact, be an “inconspicuous pawn” with a “simple key move” in Nabokov’s composition of Pale Fire. In my Notes 77: The Man in Green and the Man in Brown I discussed Gerald Emerald (and Gradus) as nemesis trickster figures of fate. Humbert H. is also dogged by the shadow of Quilty and his double, “McFate.”


I posted previously my thoughts on Gerald Emerald actually being “bad Bob,” Kinbote’s kicked-out roomer. (“Bob” leads to “bobolink – Thingum Bob (Poe) – “correlated pattern” – design of the “creator” Nabokov.) Emerald’s mocking rejection of Kinbote’s advances precipitates Kinbote’s (Botkin’s) dissociative breakdown. As with Humbert, his illicit desires, no matter how he dresses them up with sensitivity, erudition, artistry, and humor, put him on an ineluctable trajectory with Fate (and Death).


“Esmeralda,” is Spanish for “emerald.” This was the name of the gypsy girl in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame who dances with her pet donkey (a parandrus is a mythical reindeer). In Ada, Nabokov has the Veens refer to their alluring half-sister Lucette as a mermaid, “our Esmeralda.” It is also the name of a butterfly that Thomas Mann’s protagonist in Dr. Faustus bestowed on the whore who gave him syphilis, and who in his delusions he conflated with a mermaid. There are, in fact, several moth species named “Esmeralda,” not butterflies, a fact which further rankled lepidopterist Nabokov’s disdain for Mann. The name Esmeralda appears in Nabokov’s 1953 Poem, “Lines Written in Oregon”: “Where the woods get ever dimmer,/Where the Phantom Orchids glimmer – Esmeralda, immer, immer”  It is unclear if she is an enchanting girl or moth (and it probably doesn’t matter, both were always attractions). The narrator speaks of fairies, sleeps, awakens “In a sea shade” of an Oak tree, suggesting he was dreaming perhaps of not only fairies, but of mermaids.


In PF, Fleur is the ultimate alluring nymphet mermaid, but Zembla is more concerned with mermen.  Young, lively Gerald Emerald, suggests a fey leprechaun or perhaps even a green-tailed merman faunlet, Kinbote’s desire and fate.


And the Pander? A pander (or panderer) is basically someone who provides some satisfaction to others’ prurient pleasures. Both Kinbote and Humbert charmingly, entertainingly, and unabashedly confess to their illicit desires, making the reader in a sense complicit. This would be the prudish plot-level critic’s charge towards Nabokov. The irony is that on higher levels Nabokov offers what the complicit “good reader” most desires: “poignant artistic delight” and the promised satisfaction of arriving at a pre-ordained fate of a perfectly designed work of art.






3 years 7 months ago

Just would like to add here, that Ada may also be a conflation within Emerald and the Pander. Lucette is called "Our mermaid, Esmeralda" and carries an emerald cigarette case. Like Gerald Emerald, Lucette frequently dressed in green; she is part Irish, and therefore, like Gerald Emerald, is suggestive of leprechauns.  Van is essentially a "pander" with his Villa Venus brothels


3 years 7 months ago

Bend Sinister is also conflated in Esmeralda and Her Parandrus


Vadim wondering about disguising himself on his trip to Russia to save his daughter:

“Shall I grow a beard to cross the frontier?” muses homesick General Gurko in Chapter Six of "Esmeralda and Her Parandrus." (p. 714 Novels 69-74)

In Bend Sinister, Krug tries to cross a bridge and is detained by two fat guards, one of whom is named “Gurk.”  This anagram of “Krug” is an early oneiric indication of BS as “absurd mirages, illusions oppressive to Krug during his brief spell of being…” (Intro to BS)


"Dolly," the 10 year old nymphet whom Vadim like to have sit on his lap, at 24 betrays him and, in cahoots with her burly boyfriend, has him carted off (to a mental hospital) just as Marietta, the alluring baby-sitter, does to Krug in BS.

Dolly, retransformed by the alchemy of her blazing anger--and now untellable  from  the little girl  who had hurled a three-letter French word at me when I told her I found it wiser to stop taking advantage of her grandfather's hospitality--virtually tore my necktie  in two, yelling  she  could  easily  get  me  jailed for  rape  but preferred  to see me crawling back  to my consort  and harem of baby-sitters...


Dolly, as a 24-year-old, mis-names Esmeralda and Her Parandrus as "Emerald and the Pander."  As the 10 year old, Dolly seems to be "Emmie" from ITAB:


She had flaxen hair  and  a  freckled  nose, and I chose the gingham  frock  with the glossy  black belt  for her to  wear when I had her continue her mysterious progress right into the book I was writing, "The Red Top Hat", in  which  she becomes graceful  little  Amy,  the condemned  man's ambiguous consoler.



In his intro to ITAB Nabokov writes: 

The evil-minded will perceive in little Emmie a sister of little Lolita.


And so it goes with the conflations. I should add that after Vadim crosses the frontier into Russia in bearded disguise, he  realizes when he returns that he had neglected to notice that his real name was sewn into the waistband of his tailor-made trousers – a nod to Hermann neglecting the evidence of his double's bespoke cane in Despair.

Pandarus is a character in Homer's Iliad, in Virgil's Aeneid and in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. He should not be confused with Parandrus, an ox-sized animal of medieval bestiaries. Vadim’s novel Esmeralda and her Parandrus (1941) seems to correspond to VN’s Bend Sinister (1947). Esmeralda must be the name of a Spanish nobleman’s little daughter who discovered the paintings in the cave of Altamira:


THINKING of that farcical interview, he wondered how long it would be till the next attempt. He still believed that so long as he kept lying low nothing harmful could happen. Oddly enough, at the end of the month his usual cheque arrived although for the time being the University had ceased to exist, at least on the outside. Behind the scenes there was an endless sequence of sessions, a turmoil of administrative activity, a regrouping of forces, but he declined either to attend these meetings or to receive the various delegations and special messengers that Azureus and Alexander kept sending to his house. He argued that, when the Council of Elders had exhausted its power of seduction, he would be left alone since the Government, while not daring to arrest him and being reluctant to grant him the luxury of exile, would still keep hoping with forlorn obstinacy that finally he might relent. The drab colour the future took matched well the grey world of his widowhood, and had there been no friends to worry about and no child to hold against his cheek and heart, he might have devoted the twilight to some quiet research: for example he had always wished to know more about the Aurignacian Age and those portraits of singular beings (perhaps Neanderthal half-men—direct ancestors of Paduk and his likes—used by Aurignacians as slaves) that a Spanish nobleman and his little daughter had discovered in the painted cave of Altamira. Or he might take up some dim problem of Victorian telepathy (the cases reported by clergymen, nervous ladies, retired colonels who had seen service in India) such as the remarkable dream a Mrs. Storie had of her brother’s death. And in our turn we shall follow the brother as he walks along the railway line on a very dark night: having gone sixteen miles, he felt a little tired (as who would not); he sat  down to take off his boots and dozed off to the chirp of the crickets, and then a train lumbered by. Seventy-six sheep trucks (in a curious “count-sheep-sleep” parody) passed without touching him, but then some projection came in contact with the back of his head killing him instantly. And we might also probe the “illusions hypnagogiques” (only illusion?) of dear Miss Bidder who once had a nightmare from which a most distinct demon survived after she woke so that she sat up to inspect its hand which was clutching the bedrail but it faded into the ornaments over the mantelpiece. Silly, but I can’t help it, he thought as he got out of his armchair and crossed the room to rearrange the leering folds of his brown dressing gown which, as it sprawled across the divan, showed at one end a very distinct medieval face. (BS, Chapter 12)


In his Commentary to Shade's poem Kinbote mentions Conmal's splendid painted bed ceil with its reproductions of Altamira animals:


English was not taught in Zembla before Mr. Campbell's time. Conmal mastered it all by himself (mainly by learning a lexicon by heart) as a young man, around 1880, when not the verbal inferno but a quiet military career seemed to open before him, and his first work (the translation of Shakespeare's Sonnets) was the outcome of a bet with a fellow officer. He exchanged his frogged uniform for a scholar's dressing gown and tackled The Tempest. A slow worker, he needed half a century to translate the works of him whom he called "dze Bart," in their entirety. After this, in 1930, he went on to Milton and other poets, steadily drilling through the ages, and had just complete Kipling's "The Rhyme of the Three Sealers" ("Now this is the Law of the Muscovite that he proved with shot and steel") when he fell ill and soon expired under his splendid painted bed ceil with its reproductions of Altamira animals, his last words in his last delirium being "Comment dit-on 'mourir' en anglais?"--a beautiful and touching end. (note to Line 962)


The King's uncle Conmal is Shakespeare's Zemblan translator. The characters in Bend Sinister include Krug's friend Ember, the Shakespeare scholar.


The characters in Pale Fire include Gerald Emerald, a young instructor at Wordsmith University who gives Gradus (Shade’s murderer) a lift to Kinbote’s house. In LATH Dolly Borg tells to Terry Todd (Dolly’s boyfriend who gives her his car for her trysts with Vadim but then informs Annette Blagovo, Vadim’s second wife, of her husband's infidelity):


"Oh, Terry: this is the writer, the man who wrote Emerald and the Pander." (3.2)


Terry Todd brings to mind “Todd Rodd, 999” (Pnin’s address in VN’s novel Pnin, 1957) and “the Toad” (Paduk’s nickname in Bend Sinister).


On the day of her death Iris Black (Vadim's first wife) dines with her husband and her brother, Ivor Black, at Paon d’Or (a restaurant in Paris that American tourists called "Pander" or "Pandora"):


The Paon d'Or no longer exists. Although not quite tops, it was a nice clean place, much patronized by American tourists, who called it "Pander" or "Pandora" and always ordered its "putty saw-lay," and that, I guess, is what we had. I remember more clearly a glazed case hanging on the gold-figured wall next to our table: it displayed four Morpho butterflies, two huge ones similar in harsh sheen but differently shaped, and  two smaller ones beneath them, the left of a  sweeter blue with  white stripes and the right gloaming like silvery satin. According to the headwaiter, they had  been caught by a convict in South America.

"And how's my friend Mata Hari?" inquired Ivor turning to us again, his spread hand still flat on the table as he had placed it when swinging toward the "bugs" under discussion.

We told him the poor ara sickened and had to be destroyed.  And what about his automobile, was she still running? She jolly well was—

"In fact," Iris continued, touching my wrist, "we've decided to set off tomorrow for Cannice. Pity you can't join us, Ives, but perhaps you might come later."

I did not want to object, though I had never heard of that decision.

Ivor said that if ever we wanted to sell Villa Iris he knew someone who would snap it up any time. Iris, he said, knew him too: David Geller, the actor. "He was (turning to me) her  first beau before you blundered in. She must still have somewhere that photo of him and me in Troilus and Cressida ten years ago. He's Helen of Troy in it. I'm Cressida."

"Lies, lies," murmured Iris. (1.13)


3 years 7 months ago

Thank you for clarifying parandrus and pandarus. I was not aware I had misspelled. I believe VN intended the mix-up? The words are so similar, especially for someone (like me) who is a bit dyslexic. 


The parandrus, the mythical reindeer seems in keeping with Hugo's gypsy Esmeralda and her pet donkey. On the other hand, Pandarus according to Wikipedia:


Pandarus /ˈpændərəs/ or Pandar /ˈpændər/ (Ancient Greek: Πάνδαρος Pándaros) is a Trojan aristocrat who appears in stories about the Trojan War.

In Homer's Iliad he is portrayed as an energetic and powerful warrior, but in medieval literature he becomes a witty and licentious figure who facilitates the affair between Troilus and Cressida.

In Shakespeare's play Troilus and Cressida, he is portrayed as an aged degenerate and coward[1] who ends the play by telling the audience he will bequeath them his "diseases".[2]


Pandarus is the root of the word "pander":


1325–75; earlier pandar(e), generalized use of Middle English name PandarePandarus

Alexey Sklyarenko

3 years 7 months ago

Djali is Esmeralda's pet goat.


3 years 7 months ago

Thank you, Alexey, I remembered it as a donkey, but you are right.