Shade's heart attack, Captain Schmidt & Captain Smith in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 06/08/2022 - 10:44

In Canto Three of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) describes his heart attack (during which he saw a tall white fountain) and mentions Captain Schmidt and Captain Smith:

 

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)

 

Shade lives “in the frame house between Goldsworth and Wordsmith.” Goldsworth + Wordsmith = Goldsmith + Wordsworth. The main character in Leskov’s novel Gora (“The Mountain,” 1890), Zenon, is zlatokuznets (a goldsmith):

 

Очень давно в Александрии египетской, при римском господстве, жил знаменитый и славный художник, по имени Зенон. Он с необыкновенным, тонким искусством делал из серебра и золота роскошную утварь и художественные вещи для женских уборов. По роду своих занятий он назывался «златокузнец». Происходило это в то время, когда в Александрии, в тесном друг с другом соседстве и в близком общении по делам, жило много людей разных вер, и всякий почитал свою веру за самую правильную и за самую лучшую, а чужую веру не уважал и порицал. Были также и такие, которые, чтобы жить в мире и тишине, не оказывали свою веру, а держали ее в себе тайно и ни в какие споры не вступали. (Chapter 1)

 

During her heart attack Mrs. Z. (whom Shade visited when he got well) saw a tall white mountain:

 

I also called on Coates.

He was afraid he had mislaid her notes.

He took his article from a steel file:

"It's accurate. I have not changed her style.

There's one misprint - not that it matters much:

Mountain, not fountain. The majestic touch." (ll. 797-802)

 

Shade’s father died because of “bad heart.” In a letter of Feb. 25, 1895, to Suvorin Chekhov speaks of Leskov’s recent death and says that doctors knew perfectly well that Leskov had a bad heart, but concealed it from him:

 

Как-то странно, что мы уже никогда не увидим Лескова. Когда я виделся с ним в последний раз, он был весел и всё смеялся: «А Буренин говорит, что я бифштексы лопаю»; и свое здоровье он характеризовал так: «Это не жизнь, а только житие». И напрасно он в завещании своем написал, что доктора не знали, что делается с его сердцем. Доктора отлично знали, но скрывали от него.

 

In a letter of June 20, 1890, to his family Chekhov (who was on his way to Sakhalin, a place of penal colony at the time) describes his fellow travelers and says that, to his ear, the surname Schmidt (of one of the lieutenants) sounds nasty:

 

Перерыв. Ходил к своим поручикам пить чай. Оба они выспались и в благодушном настроении... Один из них, поручик Шмидт (фамилия, противная для моего уха), пехота, высокий, сытый, горластый курляндец, большой хвастун и Хлестаков, поющий из всех опер, но имеющий слуха меньше, чем копченая селедка, человек несчастный, промотавший прогонные деньги, знающий Мицкевича наизусть, невоспитанный, откровенный не в меру и болтливый до тошноты. Подобно Иваненке, любит рассказывать про своих дядей и теток. Другой поручик, Меллер, топограф, тихий, скромный и вполне интеллигентный малый. Если бы не Шмидт, то с ним можно было бы проехать без скуки миллион верст, но при Шмидте, вмешивающемся во всякий разговор, и он надоел. Однако к чему вам поручики? Неинтересно.

 

Chekhov wrote this letter onboard the Yermak, a ship that brought him from Nerchinsk to Nikolaevsk-on-the-Amur. In Rodoslovnaya moego geroya (“The Pedigree of my Hero,” 1836), a poem written after the meter and rhyme scheme of Eugene Onegin, Pushkin mentions Yermak (the conqueror of Siberia):

 

Кто б ни был ваш родоначальник,
Мстислав, князь Курбский, иль Ермак,
Или Митюшка целовальник,
Вам все равно. Конечно, так:
Вы презираете отцами,
Их славой, честию, правами
Великодушно и умно;
Вы отреклись от них давно,
Прямого просвещенья ради,
Гордясь (как общей пользы друг)
Красою собственных заслуг,
Звездой двоюродного дяди,
Иль приглашением на бал
Туда, где дед ваш не бывал.

 

Whoever your ancestor were,

Mstislav, Prince Kurbski, or Yermak,

or Mityushka the tax-collector,

you do not care…

 

Mityushka tseloval’nik (Mityushka the tax-collector) brings to mind Roman Tselovalnikov, Gradus’ maternal uncle:

 

By an extraordinary coincidence (inherent perhaps in the contrapuntal nature of Shade's art) our poet seems to name here (gradual, gray) a man, whom he was to see for one fatal moment three weeks later, but of whose existence at the time (July 2) he could not have known. 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. Another Gradus, an Alsatian merchant, who oddly enough was totally unrelated to our killer but had been a close business friend of his kinsmen for years, adopted the boy and raised him with his own children. It would seem that at one time young Gradus studied pharmacology in Zurich, and at another, traveled to misty vineyards as an itinerant wine taster. We find him next engaging in petty subversive activities - printing peevish pamphlets, acting as messenger for obscure syndicalist groups, organizing strikes at glass factories, and that sort of thing. Sometime in the forties he came to Zembla as a brandy salesman. There he married a publican's daughter. His connection with the Extremist party dates from its first ugly writhings, and when the revolution broke out, his modest organizational gifts found some appreciation in various offices. His departure for Western Europe, with a sordid purpose in his heart and a loaded gun in his pocket, took place on the very day that an innocent poet in an innocent land was beginning Canto Two of Pale Fire. We shall accompany Gradus in constant thought, as he makes his way from distant dim Zembla to green Appalachia, through the entire length of the poem, following the road of its rhythm, riding past in a rhyme, skidding around the corner of a run-on, breathing with the caesura, swinging down to the foot of the page from line to line as from branch to branch, hiding between two words (see note to line 596), reappearing on the horizon of a new canto, steadily marching nearer in iambic motion, crossing streets, moving up with his valise on the escalator of the pentameter, stepping off, boarding a new train of thought, entering the hall of a hotel, putting out the bedlight, while Shade blots out a word, and falling asleep as the poet lays down his pen for the night. (note to Line 17 and Line 29)

 

In his poem Vinograd ("Grapes," 1824) Pushkin uses the phrase pod goroy (upon the hillside; literary "under the mountain"):

 

Не стану я жалеть о розах,
Увядших с легкою весной;
Мне мил и виноград на лозах,
В кистях созревший под горой,
Краса моей долины злачной,
Отрада осени златой,
Продолговатый и прозрачный,
Как персты девы молодой.

 

I shall not miss the roses, fading
As soon as spring's fleet days are done;
I like the grapes whose clusters ripen
Upon the hillside in the sun —
The glory of my fertile valley,
They hang, each lustrous as a pearl,
Gold autumn's joy: oblong, transparent,
Like the slim fingers of a girl.

(tr. B. Deutsch)

 

Pushkin's Onegin read Adam Smith (a Scottish economist and philosopher, 1723-90):

 

Высокой страсти не имея
Для звуков жизни не щадить,
Не мог он ямба от хорея,
Как мы ни бились, отличить.
Бранил Гомера, Феокрита;
Зато читал Адама Смита
И был глубокой эконом,
То есть умел судить о том,
Как государство богатеет,
И чем живет, и почему
Не нужно золота ему,
Когда простой продукт имеет.
Отец понять его не мог
И земли отдавал в залог.

 

Lacking the lofty passion not to spare

life for the sake of sounds,

an iamb from a trochee —

no matter how we strove — he could not tell apart.

Theocritus and Homer he disparaged,

but read, in compensation, Adam Smith,

and was a deep economist:

that is, he could assess the way

a state grows rich,

what it subsists upon, and why

it needs not gold

when it has got the simple product.

His father could not understand him,

and mortgaged his lands. (Eugene Onegin, One: VII)

 

The characters in Dostoevski's novel Unizhennye i oskorblyonnye (Insulted and Humiliated, 1861) include Jeremy Smith, an old beggar who lives with his dog Azorka. A roza upala na lapu Azora ("An the rose fell on the paw of Azor") is a palindrome composed by Afanasiy Fet, a poet who was married to Maria Botkin. The "real" name of the poet Shade, his commentator Kinbote and his murderer Gradus seems to be Botkin. 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 October 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (the governor of New Russia, Pushkin’s boss in Odessa and a target of his epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant,” etc.), will be “full” again.