Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023483, Wed, 28 Nov 2012 18:11:12 +0000

THOUGHTS: Nattochdag, Flatman addendums
Dear list,

I recently re-read two excellent articles from The Nabokovian and wanted to fill in a few lucanae found therein.

The first article, by Charles W. Harrison, from 1997, contains a good deal of interesting history centering on the Nattochdag lineage in Sweden. CWH suspects that Nabokov may have gleaned the Nattochdag name from the Adelskalendar, a directory of Swedish nobility, and/or from Isak Denison's Seven Gothic Tales. While doing some work in the Berg Collection this summer, I happened upon another source. The collection contains a letter to the Nabokovs, dated 3.2.61 (which I take to mean February 3, using the European system for dates), from the Swedish poet Fillipa Rolf, their friend and sometime houseguest. VN, it seems, had queried her about a certain Baron Rehausen, who appears to have hosted a gambling session attended by Pushkin in 1829-30. (See OE commentary, V2, p. 263, where VN thanks Rolf for her help). Anyway, in her biographical sketch of Rehausen, she mentions that he bought a castle (Goksholm) previously owned by the family called "Natt Och Dag (Night and Day)," a surname Rolf calls "delightful." She then mentions that the Nattochdags were responsible for the murder of Engelbrekt, to whom Rehausen later erected a monument, which Rolf herself had seen while swimming at a lake surrounded, she notes, by hazelbushes.

VN, at this date, was still working on Shade's poem. He had already written about Hazel's drowning in the lake, but he had not yet given her a name, in writing at least. One wonders if Rolf's "hazelbushes" were influential? On the other hand, VN first wrote about Dr. Nattochdag, in the scene from the Foreword (p. 24-25), on March 12, 1961, about a month after receiving the letter from Rolf.

The second article, from 2000, is by Ward Swinton and concerns Kinbote's mention of the poet Flatman. Swinton does an admirable job tracking down Flatman's poem, bio, and an enlightening footnote in Saintsbury's Minor Poets of the Caroline Period. The footnote mentions Browning's (mis)quotation of Flatman (repeated by Shade in Kinbote's note) in one of his letters. Swinton could not locate the letter in question but did find Browning's probably source in a quip from De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Since we know that VN read Browning's letters, certainly in the 1933 published edition edited by Hood, I thought I would look there. Sure enough, there is a letter from Browning to D.G. Rossetti, regarding a portrait done of Browning by the artist William Page. Page was a talented painter who was trying out new methods of glazing in order to approach the effects he observed in Titian's paintings. Unfortunately, these methods proved perishable, and Browning's portrait soon began to darken (see below). So it was that Browning wrote to Rossetti, who was planning to exhibit the painting at the Royal Academy in London, saying: "You must put it in the sun, for I seem to fear it will come but blackly out of its three months' case-hardening. So it fares with Page's pictures for the most part; but they are like Flatman the Poet's famous 'Kings' in a great line he wrote-'Kings do not die-they only disappear!'" A few things to note here. First, we should note that the Flatman quote spoken by Shade is precisely as Browning has it here, with an M-dash between "die" and "they," rather than a comma, as it appears in Saintsbury's footnote, or in De Quincey's version ("Kings should disdain to die, and only disappear"). This would seem to prove that VN was quoting directly from Browning. At the same time, Swinton is likely correct that VN also consulted Saintsbury, since Saintsbury's text contains the actual poem by Flatman-an elegy to Charles II-which Browning does not mention and may not have known himself. What I find most interesting is the notion that Browning was using Flatman's quip metaphorically to represent, in a sense, his own disappearance-the disappearance of a king likened to the disappearance of a poet. This certainly seems to fit with various aspects of the Kinbote-Shade relationship in PF.

Matt Roth

Here is a link to Page's portrait:

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