Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023503, Fri, 7 Dec 2012 17:03:06 +0300

enlightened descendant & Delalande in The Gift
The first line of the "inverted" sonnet opening Chapter Four of The Gift, Увы! Что б ни сказал потомок просвещённый (literally: "Alas! Whatever an enlightened descendant would say"), reminds one of просвещённый потомок указательного перста (an enlightened descendant of the index finger) - as a beautifully sharpened pencil* is called in Invitation to a Beheading (Chapter One). The Russian title of Invitation to a Beheading is Priglashenie na kazn'. Kazn' (execution) is mentioned in Pushkin's poem "Dar naprasnyi, dar sluchainyi...":

Дар напрасный, дар случайный,
Жизнь, зачем ты мне дана?
Иль зачем судьбою тайной
Ты на казнь осуждена?

Vain gift, chance gift,
Life, why were you given to me?
And why by some secret fate
Should you be condemned to death?

The epigraph to Invitation to a Beheading is from Delalande's Discours sur les ombres: Comme un fou se croit Dieu nous nous croyons mortels. This work is also quoted in The Gift (Chapter Five): "When the French thinker Delalande** was asked at somebody's funeral why he did not uncover himself (ne se decouvre pas), he replied: 'I am waiting for death to do it first (qu'elle se decouvre la premiere)..."

*a giant Faber pencil is mentioned in The Gift (Chapter One)
**the French astronomer Joseph de Lalande (1732-1807) is mentioned in the drafts of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin

Alexey Sklyarenko

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