Describing his rented house, 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) mentions the reproduction of a beloved early Picasso: earth boy leading raincloud horse:
Lines 47-48: the frame house between Goldsworth and Wordsmith
The first name refers to the house in Dulwich Road that I rented from Hugh Warren Goldsworth, authority on Roman Law and distinguished judge. I never had the pleasure of meeting my landlord but I came to know his handwriting almost as well as I do Shade's. The second name denotes, of course, Wordsmith University. In seeming to suggest a midway situation between the two places, our poet is less concerned with spatial exactitude than with a witty exchange of syllables invoking the two masters of the heroic couplet, between whom he embowers his own muse. Actually, the "frame house on its square of green" was five miles west of the Wordsmith campus but only fifty yards or so distant from my east windows.
In the Foreword to this work I have had occasion to say something about the amenities of my habitation. The charming, charmingly vague lady (see note to line 691), who secured it for me, sight unseen, meant well, no doubt, especially since it was widely admired in the neighborhood for its "old-world spaciousness and graciousness." Actually, it was an old, dismal, white-and-black, half-timbered house, of the type termed wodnaggen in my country, with carved gables, drafty bow windows and a so-called "semi-noble" porch, surmounted by a hideous veranda. Judge Goldsworth had a wife, and four daughters. Family photographs met me in the hallway and pursued me from room to room, and although I am sure that Alphina (9), Betty (10), Candida (12), and Dee (14) will soon change from horribly cute little schoolgirls to smart young ladies and superior mothers, I must confess that their pert pictures irritated me to such an extent that finally I gathered them one by one and dumped them all in a closet under the gallows row of their cellophane-shrouded winter clothes. In the study I found a large picture of their parents, with sexes reversed, Mrs. G. resembling Malenkov, and Mr. G. a Medusa-locked hag, and this I replaced by the reproduction of a beloved early Picasso: earth boy leading raincloud horse. I did not bother, though, to do much about the family books which were also all over the house - four sets of different Children's Encyclopedias, and a stolid grown-up one that ascended all the way from shelf to shelf along a flight of stairs to burst an appendix in the attic. Judging by the novels in Mrs. Goldsworth's boudoir, her intellectual interests were fully developed, going as they did from Amber to Zen. The head of this alphabetic family had a library too, but this consisted mainly of legal works and a lot of conspicuously lettered ledgers. All the layman could glean for instruction and entertainment was a morocco-bound album in which the judge had lovingly pasted the life histories and pictures of people he had sent to prison or condemned to death: unforgettable faces of imbecile hoodlums, last smokes and last grins, a strangler's quite ordinary-looking hands, a self-made widow, the close-set merciless eyes of a homicidal maniac (somewhat resembling, I admit, the late Jacques d'Argus), a bright little parricide aged seven ("Now, sonny, we want you to tell us -"), and a sad pudgy old pederast who had blown up his blackmailer. What rather surprised me was that he, my learned landlord, and not his "missus," directed the household. Not only had he left me a detailed inventory of all such articles as cluster around a new tenant like a mob of menacing natives, but he had taken stupendous pains to write out on slips of paper recommendations, explanations, injunctions and supplementary lists. Whatever I touched on the first day of my stay yielded a specimen of Goldsworthiana. I unlocked the medicine chest in the second bathroom, and out fluttered a message advising me that the slit for discarded safety blades was too full to use. I opened the icebox, and it warned me with a bark that "no national specialties with odors hard to get rid of" should be placed therein. I pulled out the middle drawer of the desk in the study - and discovered a catalogue raisonné of its meager contents which included an assortment of ashtrays, a damask paperknife (described as "one ancient dagger brought by Mrs. Goldsworth's father from the Orient"), and an old but unused pocket diary optimistically maturing there until its calendric correspondencies came around again. Among various detailed notices affixed to a special board in the pantry, such as plumbing instructions, dissertations on electricity, discourses on cactuses and so forth, I found the diet of the black cat that came with the house:
Mon, Wed, Fri: Liver
Tue, Thu, Sat: Fish
Sun: Ground meat
(All it got from me was milk and sardines; it was a likable little creature but after a while its movements began to grate on my nerves and I farmed it out to Mrs. Finley, the cleaning woman.) But perhaps the funniest note concerned the manipulations of the window curtains which had to be drawn in different ways at different hours to prevent the sun from getting at the upholstery. A description of the position of the sun, daily and seasonal, was given for the several windows, and if I had heeded all this I would have been kept as busy as a participant in a regatta. A footnote, however, generously suggested that instead of manning the curtains, I might prefer to shift and reshift out of sun range the more precious pieces of furniture (two embroidered armchairs and a heavy "royal console") but should do it carefully lest I scratch the wall moldings. I cannot, alas, reproduce the meticulous schedule of these transposals but seem to recall that I was supposed to castle the long way before going to bed and the short way first thing in the morning. My dear Shade roared with laughter when I led him on a tour of inspection and had him find some of those bunny eggs for himself. Thank God, his robust hilarity dissipated the atmosphere of damnum infectum in which I was supposed to dwell. On his part, he regaled me with a number of anecdotes concerning the judge's dry wit and courtroom mannerisms; most of these anecdotes were doubtless folklore exaggerations, a few were evident inventions, and all were harmless. He did not bring up, my sweet old friend never did, ridiculous stories about the terrifying shadows that Judge Goldsworth's gown threw across the underworld, or about this or that beast lying in prison and positively dying of raghdirst (thirst for revenge) - crass banalities circulated by the scurrilous and the heartless - by all those for whom romance, remoteness, sealskin-lined scarlet skies, the darkening dunes of a fabulous kingdom, simply do not exist. But enough of this. Let us turn to our poet's windows. I have no desire to twist and batter an unambiguous apparatus criticus into the monstrous semblance of a novel.
An oil on canvas, Jeune garçon au cheval (“Boy Leading a Horse”) was painted in Picasso’s Rose Period from 1905 to 1906, when he was still a struggling artist living in Paris. In J. D. Salinger’s story De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period (included in “Nine Stories”) the narrator tells M. Yoshoto that Picasso was a friend of his parents:
It was a bus ride of several miles from Windsor Station to the school. I doubt if M. Yoshoto said five words the whole way. Either in spite, or because, of his silence, I talked incessantly, with my legs crossed, ankle on knee, and constantly using my sock as an absorber for the perspiration on my palm. It seemed urgent to me not only to reiterate my earlier lies--about my kinship with Daumier, about my deceased wife, about my small estate in the South of France--but to elaborate on them. At length, in effect to spare myself from dwelling on these painful reminiscences (and they were beginning to feel a little painful), I swung over to the subject of my parents' oldest and dearest friend: Pablo Picasso. Le pauvre Picasso, as I referred to him. (I picked Picasso, I might mention, because he seemed to me the French painter who was best-known in America. I roundly considered Canada part of America.) For M. Yoshoto's benefit, I recalled, with a showy amount of natural compassion for a fallen giant, how many times I had said to him, "M. Picasso, où allez vous?" and how, in response to this allpenetrating question, the master had never failed to walk slowly, leadenly, across his studio to look at a small reproduction of his "Les Saltimbanques" and the glory, long forfeited, that had been his. The trouble with Picasso, I explained to M. Yoshoto as we got out of the bus, was that he never listened to anybody--even his closest friends.
Famille de saltimbanques (“Family of Saltimbanques”) is a 1905 oil on canvas painting by Pablo Picasso. In Salinger’s story the narrator says that he is a great-nephew of Honoré Daumier (a French painter, sculptor, and printmaker, 1808-79). The surname Daumier blends, as it were, Daumen (German for “thumb”) with damier (French for “chessboard”). In Canto Two of his poem Shade describes the paring of his fingernails and compares his thumb to a grocer’s son and his index finger, to Starover Blue (the college astronomer):
The little scissors I am holding are
A dazzling synthesis of sun and star.
I stand before the window and I pare
My fingernails and vaguely am aware
Of certain flinching likenesses: the thumb,
Our grocer's son; the index, lean and glum
College astronomer Starover Blue;
The middle fellow, a tall priest I knew;
The feminine fourth finger, an old flirt;
And little pinky clinging to her skirt.
And I make mouths as I snip off the thin
Strips of what Aunt Maud used to call "scarf-skin." (ll. 183-194)
Shade’s Aunt Maud was “a poet and a painter with a taste for realistic objects interlaced with grotesque growths and images of doom.” Starover Blue has the same surname as the doctor in the Elphinstone hospital in VN's novel Lolita (1955). De Daumier-Smith brings to mind Captain Smith mentioned by Shade in Canto Three of his poem:
If on some nameless island Captain Schmidt
Sees a new animal and captures it,
And if, a little later, Captain Smith
Brings back a skin, that island is no myth. (ll. 759-762)
The fourth finger is called in Russian bezymyannyi palets (nameless finger). In VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) Sebastian Knight dies in a sanatorium in St Damier (near Paris):
Would I never get to Sebastian? Who were those idle idiots who wrote on the wall 'Death to the Jews' or 'Vive le front populaire', or left obscene drawings? Some anonymous artist had begun blacking squares a chess board, ein Schachbrett, un damier…. There was a flash in my brain and the word settled on my tongue: St Damier! (chapter 20)
Schachbrett brings to mind Oswin Bretwit, the former Zemblan consul in Paris whose name means, according to Kinbote, “Chess Intelligence:”
If two secret agents belonging to rival factions meet in a battle of wits, and if one has none, the effect may be droll; it is dull if both are dolts. I defy anybody to find in the annals of plot and counterplot anything more inept and boring than the scene that occupies the rest of this conscientious note.
Gradus sat down, uncomfortably, on the edge of a sofa (upon which a tired king had reclined less than a year ago), dipped into his briefcase, handed to his host a bulky brown paper parcel and transferred his haunches to a chair near Bretwit's seat in order to watch in comfort his tussle with the string. In stunned silence Bretwit stared at what he finally unwrapped, and then said: "Well, that's the end of a dream. This correspondence has been published in 1906 or 1907 - no; 1906, after all - by Ferz Bretwit's widow - I may even have a copy of it somewhere among my books. Moreover, this is not a holograph but an apograph, made by a scribe for the printers - you will note that both mayors write the same hand."
"How interesting," said Gradus noting it.
"Naturally I appreciate the kind thought behind it," said Bretwit.
"We were sure you would," said pleased Gradus.
"Baron B. must be a little gaga," continued Bretwit, "but I repeat, his kind intention is touching. I suppose you want some money for bringing this treasure?"
"The pleasure it gives you should be our reward." answered Gradus. "But let me tell you frankly: we took a lot of pains in trying to do this properly, and I have come a long way. However, I want to offer you a little arrangement. You be nice to us and we'll be nice to you. I know your funds are somewhat -"
(Small-fish gesture and wink).
"True enough," sighed Bretwit.
"If you go along with us it won't cost you a centime."
"Oh, I could pay something" (Pout and shrug).
"We don't need your money" (Traffic-stopper's palm). "But here's our plan. I have messages from other barons for other fugitives. In fact, I have letters for the most mysterious fugitive of all."
"What!" cried Bretwit in candid surprise. "They know at home that His Majesty has left Zembla?" (I could have spanked the dear man.)
"Indeed, yes," said Gradus kneading his hands, and fairly panting with animal pleasure - a matter of instinct no doubt since the man certainly could not realize intelligently that the ex-consul's faux pas was nothing less than the first confirmation of the Kings presence abroad: "Indeed," he repeated with a meaningful leer, "and I would be deeply obliged to you if you would recommend me to Mr. X."
At these words a false truth dawned upon Oswin Bretwit and he moaned to himself: Of course! How obtuse of me! He is one of us! The fingers of his left hand involuntarily started to twitch as if he were pulling a kikapoo puppet over it, while his eyes followed intently his interlocutor's low-class gesture of satisfaction. A Karlist agent, revealing himself to a superior, was expected to make a sign corresponding to the X (for Xavier) in the one-hand alphabet of deaf mutes: the hand held in horizontal position with the index curved rather flaccidly and the rest of the fingers bunched (many have criticized it for looking too droopy; it has now been replaced by a more virile combination). On the several occasions Bretwit had been given it, the manifestation had been preceded for him, during a moment of suspense - rather a gap in the texture of time than an actual delay - by something similar to what physicians call the aura, a strange sensation both tense and vaporous, a hot-cold ineffable exasperation pervading the entire nervous system before a seizure. And on this occasion too Bretwit felt the magic wine rise to his head.
"All right, I am ready. Give me the sign," he avidly said.
Gradus, deciding to risk it, glanced at the hand in Bretwit's lap: unperceived by its owner, it seemed to be prompting Gradus in a manual whisper. He tried to copy what it was doing its best to convey - mere rudiments of the required sign.
"No, no," said Bretwit with an indulgent smile for the awkward novice. "The other hand, my friend. His Majesty is left-handed, you know."
Gradus tried again - but, like an expelled puppet, the wild little prompter had disappeared. Sheepishly contemplating his five stubby strangers, Gradus went through the motions of an incompetent and half-paralyzed shadowgrapher and finally made an uncertain V-for-Victory sign. Bretwit's smile began to fade.
His smile gone, Bretwit (the name means Chess Intelligence) got up from his chair. In a larger room he would have paced up and down - not in this cluttered study. Gradus the Bungler buttoned all three buttons of his tight brown coat and shook his head several times.
"I think," he said crossly, "one must be fair. If I bring you these valuable papers, you must in return arrange an interview, or at least give me his address."
"I know who you are," cried Bretwit pointing. "You're a reporter! You are from the cheap Danish paper sticking out of your pocket" (Gradus mechanically fumbled at it and frowned). "I had hoped they had given up pestering me! The vulgar nuisance of it! Nothing is sacred to you, neither cancer, nor exile, nor the pride of a king" (alas, this is true not only of Gradus - he has colleagues in Arcady too).
Gradus sat staring at his new shoes - mahogany red with sieve-pitted caps. An ambulance screamed its impatient way through dark streets three stories below. Bretwit vented his irritation on the ancestral letters lying on the table. He snatched up the neat pile with its detached wrapping and flung it all in the wastepaper basket. The string dropped outside, at the feet of Gradus who picked it up and added it to the scripta.
"Please, go," said poor Bretwit. "I have a pain in my groin that is driving me mad. I have not slept for three nights. You journalists are an obstinate bunch but I am obstinate too. You will never learn from me anything about my king. Good-bye."
He waited on the landing for his visitor's steps to go down and reach the front door. It was opened and closed, and presently the automatic light on the stairs went out with the sound of a kick. (note to Line 286)
Shade’s murderer, Gradus learns the King’s address from Izumrudov (one of the greater Shadows who visits Gradus in Nice):
On the morning of July 16 (while Shade was working on the 698-746 section of his poem) dull Gradus, dreading another day of enforced inactivity in sardonically, sparkling, stimulatingly noisy Nice, decided that until hunger drove him out he would not budge from a leathern armchair in the simulacrum of a lobby among the brown smells of his dingy hotel. Unhurriedly he went through a heap of old magazines on a nearby table. There he sat, a little monument of taciturnity, sighing, puffing out his cheeks, licking his thumb before turning a page, gaping at the pictures, and moving his lips as he climbed down the columns of printed matter. Having replaced everything in a neat pile, he sank back in his chair closing and opening his gabled hands in various constructions of tedium - when a man who had occupied a seat next to him got up and walked into the outer glare leaving his paper behind. Gradus pulled it into his lap, spread it out - and froze over a strange piece of local news that caught his eye: burglars had broken into Villa Disa and ransacked a bureau, taking from a jewel box a number of valuable old medals.
Here was something to brood upon. Had this vaguely unpleasant incident some bearing on his quest? Should he do something about it? Cable headquarters? Hard to word succinctly a simple fact without having it look like a cryptogram. Airmail a clipping? He was in his room working on the newspaper with a safety razor blade when there was a bright rap-rap at the door. Gradus admitted an unexpected visitor -one of the greater Shadows, whom he had thought to be onhava-onhava ("far, far away"), in wild, misty, almost legendary Zembla! What stunning conjuring tricks our magical mechanical age plays with old mother space and old father time!
He was a merry, perhaps overmerry, fellow, in a green velvet jacket. Nobody liked him, but he certainly had a keen mind. His name, Izumrudov, sounded rather Russian but actually meant "of the Umruds," an Eskimo tribe sometimes seen paddling their umyaks (hide-lined boats) on the emerald waters of our northern shores. Grinning, he said friend Gradus must get together his travel documents, including a health certificate, and take the earliest available jet to New York. Bowing, he congratulated him on having indicated with such phenomenal acumen the right place and the right way. Yes, after a thorough perlustration of the loot that Andron and Niagarushka had obtained from the Queen's rosewood writing desk (mostly bills, and treasured snapshots, and those silly medals) a letter from the King did turn up giving his address which was of all places - Our man, who interrupted the herald of success to say he had never - was bidden not to display so much modesty. A slip of paper was now produced on which Izumrudov, shaking with laughter (death is hilarious), wrote out for Gradus their client's alias, the name of the university where he taught, and that of the town where it was situated. No, the slip was not for keeps. He could keep it only while memorizing it. This brand of paper (used by macaroon makers) was not only digestible but delicious. The gay green vision withdrew - to resume his whoring no doubt. How one hates such men! (note to Line 741)
An Eskimo tribe, the Umruds bring to mind Salinger’s story Just Before the War with the Eskimos (also included in “Nine Stories”). M. Yoshoto (a character in De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period) makes one think of a Japanese fish in Hokusai's painting to which Kinbote compares Shade:
The poet's recovery turned out indeed to be very speedy and would have to be called miraculous had there been anything organically wrong with his heart. There was not; a poet's nerves can play the queerest tricks but they also can quickly recapture the rhythm of health, and soon John Shade, in his chair at the head of an oval table, was again speaking of his favorite Pope to eight pious young men, a crippled extramural woman and three coeds, one of them a tutorial dream. He had been told not to curtail his customary exercise, such as walks, but I must admit I experienced myself palpitations and cold sweats at the sight of that precious old man wielding rude garden tools or squirming up the college hall stairs as a Japanese fish up a cataract. 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). As I gathered from Shade himself, no emergency incision was performed; the heart was not compressed by hand; and if it stopped pumping at all, the pause must have been very brief and so to speak superficial. All this of course cannot detract from the great epic beauty of the passage. (note to Line 691)
and a Zemblan moppet's Japanese friend mentioned by Kinbote in another note of his Commentary:
He [Gradus] began with the day's copy of The New York Times. His lips moving like wrestling worms, he read about all kinds of things. Hrushchov (whom they spelled "Khrushchev") had abruptly put off a visit to Scandinavia and was to visit Zembla instead (here I tune in: "Vï nazïvaete sebya zemblerami, you call yourselves Zemblans, a ya vas nazïvayu zemlyakami, and I call you fellow countrymen!" Laughter and applause.) The United States was about to launch its first atom-driven merchant ship (just to annoy the Ruskers, of course. J. G.). Last night in Newark, an apartment house at 555 South Street was hit by a thunderbolt that smashed a TV set and injured two people watching an actress lost in a violent studio storm (those tormented spirits are terrible! C. X. K. teste J. S.). The Rachel Jewelry Company in Brooklyn advertised in agate type for a jewelry polisher who "must have experience on costume jewelry (oh, Degré had!). The Helman brothers said they had assisted in the negotiations for the placement of a sizable note: "$11, 000, 000, Decker Glass Manufacturing Company, Inc., note due July 1, 1979," and Gradus, grown young again, reread this this twice, with the background gray thought, perhaps, that he would be sixty-four four days after that (no comment). On another bench he found a Monday issue of the same newspaper. During a visit to a museum in Whitehorse (Gradus kicked at a pigeon that came too near), the Queen of England walked to a corner of the White Animals Room, removed her right glove and, with her back turned to several evidently observant people, rubbed her forehead and one of her eyes. A pro-Red revolt had erupted in Iraq. Asked about the Soviet exhibition at the New York Coliseum, Carl Sandburg, a poet, replied, and I quote: "They make their appeal on the highest of intellectual levels." A hack reviewer of new books for tourists, reviewing his own tour through Norway, said that the fjords were too famous to need (his) description, and that all Scandinavians loved flowers. And at a picnic for international children a Zemblan moppet cried to her Japanese friend: Ufgut, ufgut, velkam ut Semblerland! (Adieu, adieu, till we meet in Zembla!) I confess it has been a wonderful game - this looking up in the WUL of various ephemerides over the shadow of a padded shoulder. (note to Line 949)
Zemblan word for “adieu,” ufgut seems to hint at the German phrase auf gut Glück (at random, blindly, on a whim). In the last stanza of his poem Tucha kruzhevo v roshche svyazala (“A thundercloud knitted a lacework in the grove,” 1915) Esenin uses a rare word na-umyak (without thinking, at random):
Туча кружево в роще связала,
Закурился пахучий туман.
Еду грязной дорогой с вокзала
Вдалеке от родимых полян.
Лес застыл без печали и шума,
Виснет темь, как платок, за сосной.
Сердце гложет плакучая дума...
Ой, не весел ты, край мой родной.
И поет мой ямщик на-умяк:
"Я умру на тюремной постели,
Похоронят меня кое-как".
…The maiden firs became sad,
And my coachman sings without thinking:
“I shall die on a prison bed,
They’ll bury me anyhow.”
Na-umyak (without thinking) and "Ya umru na tyuremnoy posteli (I'll die on a prison bed)" in the coachman's song bring to mind the Umruds (an Eskimo tribe) and their umyaks. Shade's murderer, Gradus commits suicide in prison.
According to Kinbote, the name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya (earth) but of Semberland, a land of reflections, of 'resemblers.' In De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period the narrator bears an uncanny physical resemblance to El Greco:
Things got much worse. One afternoon, a week or so later, as I was coming out of the Ritz Hotel, where Bobby and I were indefinitely stopping, it seemed to me that all the seats from all the buses in New York had been unscrewed and taken out and set up in the street, where a monstrous game of Musical Chairs was in full swing. I think I might have been willing to join the game if I had been granted a special dispensation from the Church of Manhattan guaranteeing that all the other players would remain respectfully standing till I was seated. When it became clear that nothing of the kind was forthcoming, I took more direct action. I prayed for the city to be cleared of people, for the gift of being alone--a-l-o-n-e: which is the one New York prayer that rarely gets lost or delayed in channels, and in no time at all everything I touched turned to solid loneliness. Mornings and early afternoons, I attended--bodily--an art school on Fortyeighth and Lexington Avenue, which I loathed. (The week before Bobby and I had left Paris, I had won three first-prize awards at the National Junior Exhibition, held at the Freiburg Galleries. Throughout the voyage to America, I used our stateroom mirror to note my uncanny physical resemblance to El Greco.) Three late afternoons a week I spent in a dentist's chair, where, within a period of a few months, I had eight teeth extracted, three of them front ones. The other two afternoons I usually spent wandering through art galleries, mostly on Fifty-seventh Street, where I did all but hiss at the American entries. Evenings, I generally read. I bought a complete set of the Harvard Classics--chiefly because Bobby said we didn't have room for them in our suite--and rather perversely read all fifty volumes. Nights, I almost invariably set up my easel between the twin beds in the room I shared with Bobby, and painted. In one month alone, according to my diary for 1939, I completed eighteen oil paintings. Noteworthily enough, seventeen of them were self-portraits. Sometimes, however, possibly when my Muse was being capricious, I set aside my paints and drew cartoons. One of them I still have. It shows a cavernous view of the mouth of a man being attended by his dentist. The man's tongue is a simple, U.S. Treasury hundred dollar bill, and the dentist is saying, sadly, in French, "I think we can save the molar, but I'm afraid that tongue will have to come out." It was an enormous favorite of mine.
Describing the first lap of his road trip with Lolita across the USA, Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in Lolita) mentions "a stern El Greco horizon, pregnant with inky rain:"
By putting the geography of the United States into motion, I did my best for hours on end to give her the impression of “going places,” of rolling on to some definite destination, to some unusual delight. I have never seen such smooth amiable roads as those that now radiated before us, across the crazy quilt of forty-eight states. Voraciously we consumed those long highways, in rapt silence we glided over their glossy black dance floors. Not only had Lo no eye for scenery but she furiously resented my calling her attention to this or that enchanting detail of landscape; which I myself learned to discern only after being exposed for quite a time to the delicate beauty ever present in the margin of our undeserving journey. By a paradox of pictorial thought, the average lowland North-American countryside had at first seemed to me something I accepted with a shock of amused recognition because of those painted oilclothes which were imported from America in the old days to be hung above washstands in Central-European nurseries, and which fascinated a drowsy child at bed time with the rustic green views they depictedopaque curly trees, a barn, cattle, a brook, the dull white of vague orchards in bloom, and perhaps a stone fence or hills of greenish gouache. But gradually the models of those elementary rusticities became stranger and stranger to the eye, the nearer I came to know them. Beyond the tilled plain, beyond the toy roofs, there would be a slow suffusion of inutile loveliness, a low sun in a platinum haze with a warm, peeled-peach tinge pervading the upper edge of a two-dimensional, dove-gray cloud fusing with the distant amorous mist. There might be a line of spaced trees silhouetted against the horizon, and hot still noons above a wilderness of clover, and Claude Lorrain clouds inscribed remotely into misty azure with only their cumulus part conspicuous against the neutral swoon of the background. Or again, it might be a stern El Greco horizon, pregnant with inky rain, and a passing glimpse of some mummy-necked farmer, and all around alternating strips of quick-silverish water and harsh green corn, the whole arrangement opening like a fan, somewhere in Kansas. (2.1)
The action in De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period takes place in New York and in Montreal. It seems that Kinbote writes his Commentary, Index and Foreword (in that order) to Shade's poem not in "Cedarn, Utana," but in a madhouse in Quebec (in the same lunatic asylum where Humbert composes his poem "Wanted" after Lolita was abducted from the Elphinstone hospital by Quilty).