Vinogradus & Roman Tselovalnikov in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 05/13/2021 - 08:52

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), Gradus (Shade’s murderer) contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus:


Jakob Gradus called himself variously Jack Degree or Jacques de Grey, or James de Gray, and also appears in police records as Ravus, Ravenstone, and d'Argus. Having a morbid affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era, he contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus. His father, Martin Gradus, had been a Protestant minister in Riga, but except for him and a maternal uncle (Roman Tselovalnikov, police officer and part-time member of the Social-Revolutionary party), the whole clan seems to have been in the liquor business. Martin Gradus died in 1920, and his widow moved to Strasbourg where she soon died, too. (note to Line 17)


Gradus is a member of the Shadows (a regicidal organization). Prishli i stali teni nochi (“The shadows of the night came and mounted guard at my door,” 1842) is a poem by Yakov Polonski. In Progulka po Tiflisu (“A Ramble in Tiflis,” 1846), an epistle to Lyov Sergeevich Pushkin (the poet’s brother), Polonski twice mentions vinograd (the grapes):


Спешу на улицу — и вижу виноград
Висит тяжёлыми, лиловыми кистями,
Поспел — купите фунт — бакальщик рад…


О, как блистательно проходит этот час!
Великолепная для непривычных глаз
Картина! Вспомните всю массу этих зданий,
Всю эту смесь развалин без преданий —
Домов, построенных, быть может, из руин,
Садов, опутанных ветвями винограда,
И этих куполов, которых вид один
Напомнит вам предместья Цареграда,
И согласитесь, что нарисовать
Тифлис не моему перу.


Vinograd (“The Grapes,” 1824) is a poem by Pushkin. The surname Tselovalnikov comes from tseloval’nik (obs., inn-keeper, publican; hist., tax-collector). In Rodoslovnaya moego geroya (“The Pedigree of my Hero,” 1836) Pushkin mentions Mityushka tseloval’nik (Mityushka the tax-collector):


Кто б ни был ваш родоначальник,
Мстислав, князь Курбский, иль Ермак,
Или Митюшка целовальник,
Вам всё равно.


Whoever your ancestor were,

Mstislav, Prince Kurbski, or Yermak,

or Mityushka the tax-collector,

you do not care.


At the beginning of Slovo o polku Igoreve (“The Song of Igor’s Campaign”) khrabryi Mstislav (brave Mstislav) who slew Rededya before the Kasog troops and krasnyi Roman Svyatoslavovich (fair Roman son of Svyatoslav) are mentioned:


Не лѣполи ны бяшетъ, братiе, начяти старыми словесы трудныхъ повѣстiй о пълку Игоревѣ, Игоря Святъславлича! начати же ся тъй пѣсни по былинамь сего времени, а не по замышленiю Бояню. Боянъ бо вѣщiй, аще кому хотяше пѣснь творити, то растѣкашется мыслiю по древу, сѣрымъ вълкомъ по земли, шизымъ орломъ подъ облакы. Помняшеть бо речь първыхъ временъ усобiцѣ; тогда пущашеть ĩ соколовь на стадо лебедѣй, который дотечаше, та преди пѣсь пояше, старому Ярослову, храброму Мстиславу, иже зарѣза Редедю предъ пълкы Касожьскыми, красному Романови Святъславличю.


Might it not become us, brothers,

to begin in the diction of yore

the stern tale

of the campaign of Igor,

Igor son of Svyatoslav?


Let us, however,

begin this song

in keeping with the happenings

of these times

and not with the contriving of Boyan.


For he, vatic Boyan

if he wished to make a laud for one,

ranged in thought

[like the nightingale] over the tree;

like the gray wolf

across land;

like the smoky eagle

up to the clouds.


For as he recalled, said he,

the feuds of initial times,

"He set ten falcons

upon a flock of swans,

and the one first overtaken,

sang a song first"—

to Yaroslav of yore,

and to brave Mstislav

who slew Rededya

before the Kasog troops,

and to fair Roman

son of Svyatoslav.


An anonymous epic poem of the 12th century, Slovo o polku Igoreve was translated into English by VN. Roman Tselovalnikov and Jakob Gradus bring to mind Roman Jakobson, a linguist with whom VN refused to collaborate on his translation (1960) of Slovo. In his essay Zaumnyi Turgenev (“The Recondite Turgenev”) Jakobson compares Turgenev to Velimir Khlebnikov (a futurist poet) and mentions Khlebnikov’s poem Kuznechik (“The Grasshopper,” 1909):


Следует вспомнить настойчивое показание Велимира Хлебникова: «Я изучал образчики самовитой речи и нашёл, что число пять весьма значительно для неё; столько же, сколько и для числа пальцев руки». Оказывается, например, что в начальном четырёхстрочном предложении поэтова «Кузнечика», «помимо желания написавшего этот вздор, звуки у, к, л, р повторяются пять раз каждый». Этому «закону свободно текущей самовитой речи» Хлебников находит параллель в «пятилучевом строении» пчелиных сотов и морских звёзд.


A son of the celebrated ornithologist, Khlebnikov is the author of Tam, gde zhili sviristeli… (“ There, where the waxwings lived…” 1908). At the beginning of his poem Shade (whose parents were ornithologists) says that he was “the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane.”


Polonski’s poem Kuznechik-muzykant ("The Grasshopper Musician," 1859) brings to mind kuznechik-pouchitel', as in her Russian translation of Pale Fire Vera Nabokov renders "a didactic katydid" (according to Shade, his daughter called her mother "a didactic katydid").


Polonski's friend Turgenev is the author of Dvoryanskoe gnezdo (“A Nest of the Gentry,” 1859). In Canto One of his poem Shade speaks of his dead parents and mentions a preterist (one who collects cold nests):


I was an infant when my parents died.
They both were ornithologists. I've tried
So often to evoke them that today
I have a thousand parents. Sadly they
Dissolve in their own virtues and recede,
But certain words, chance words I hear or read,
Such as "bad heart" always to him refer,
And "cancer of the pancreas" to her.

A preterist: one who collects cold nests.
Here was my bedroom, now reserved for guests. (ll. 71-80)


Actually, preterists (from the Latin praeter, a prefix denoting that something is "past" or "beyond") are the adherents of preterism, a Christian eschatological view that interprets some (Partial Preterism) or all (Full Preterism) prophesies of the Bible as events which have already happened. Sobytie (“The Event,” 1938) is a play by VN.


The king Thurgus the Third (the grandfather of Charles the Beloved), surnamed the Turgid, brings to mind Turgenev. The maternal grandfather of the leader of the Shadows (whose terrible name cannot be mentioned), a well-known and very courageous master builder, was hired by Thurgus the Turgid, around 1885, to make certain repairs in his quarters:


Shadows, the, a regicidal organization which commissioned Gradus (q. v.) to assassinate the self-banished king; its leader's terrible name cannot be mentioned, even in the Index to the obscure work of a scholar; his maternal grandfather, a well-known and very courageous master builder, was hired by Thurgus the Turgid, around 1885, to make certain repairs in his quarters, and soon after that perished, poisoned in the royal kitchens, under mysterious circumstances, together with his three young apprentices whose first names Yan, Yonny, and Angeling, are preserved in a ballad still to be heard in some of our wilder valleys. (Index)


The Shadows and Stalin (the Soviet leader in 1924-53) bring to mind Polonski’s poem Prishli i stali teni nochi. Stalin was born (on Dec. 18, 1878) in Georgia. In 1846-51 Polonski (who was born on Dec. 18, 1819) lived in Tiflis (the capital of Georgia). Before moving to Tiflis, Polonski lived (in 1844-46) in Odessa. Polonski's boss in Tiflis was Count Vorontsov (who had been Pushkin's boss in Odessa in 1823-24). In his famous epigram (1824) on Vorontsov Pushkin mentions nadezhda (hope):


Полу-милорд, полу-купец,
Полу-мудрец, полу-невежда,
Полу-подлец, но есть надежда,
Что будет полным наконец.


Half-milord, half-merchant,

Half-sage, half-ignoramus,

Half-scoundrel, but there is a hope

That he will be a full one at last.


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). 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, will be full again. Val’s “Luch nadezhdy” (“The Waltz The Ray of Hope,” 1845) is a poem by Polonski. In VN’s play Izobretenie Val’sa (“The Waltz Invention,” 1938) the action seems to take place in the dream of death that Lyubov’ (in VN’s play “The Event” the wife of the portrait painter Troshcheykin) dreams after committing suicide on her dead son’s fifth birthday (two days after her mother’s fiftieth birthday).