Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027087, Sat, 2 Jul 2016 11:13:00 +0300

burning barn in Ada; haunted barn in Pale Fire
Ada showed her shy guest the great library on the second floor, the pride of Ardis and her favorite ‘browse,’ which her mother never entered (having her own set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays in her boudoir), and which Red Veen, a sentimentalist and a poltroon, shunned, not caring to run into the ghost of his father who had died there of a stroke, and also because he found nothing so depressing as the collected works of unrecollected authors, although he did not mind an occasional visitor’s admiring the place’s tall bookcases and short cabinets, its dark pictures and pale busts, its ten chairs of carved walnut, and two noble tables inlaid with ebony. (1.6)

For the first time Van and Ada make love in the Night of the Burning Barn in the library of Ardis Hall (1.19). It seems that Ada (who wanted to spend the night with Van) has bribed Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis, to set the barn on fire. According to Van, had snoopy Kim (who spies on Van and Ada and, a couple of years later, attempts to blackmail Ada) possessed the necessary apparatus, he might have filmed Van, Ada and their half-sister Lucette:

I do not remember what Les Enfants Maudits did or said in Monparnasse’s novelette — they lived in Bryant’s château, I think, and it began with bats flying one by one out of a turret’s œil-de-bœuf into the sunset, but these children (whom the novelettist did not really know — a delicious point) might also have been filmed rather entertainingly had snoopy Kim, the kitchen photo-fiend, possessed the necessary apparatus. (1.32)

Les Enfants Maudits (“The Accursed Children”) is a novel by Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess who writes under the penname Monparnasse). G. A. Vronsky, Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) and her lover Pedro want to make a movie of it:

Had a grotesque governess really written a novel entitled Les Enfants Maudits? To be filmed by frivolous dummies, now discussing its adaptation? To be made even triter than the original Book of the Fortnight, and its gurgling blurbs? (ibid.)

At the end of his Commentary Kinbote (one of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) says that he may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture:

God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of the other two characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, healthy heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). (note to Line 1000)

According to Kinbote, Charles the Beloved (the last self-exiled king of Zembla) escaped from Zembla in red clothes. In Ada Red Veen (Marina’s husband) is afraid of the ghost of his father, Ardelion Veen (1800-1848). The name of Dan’s father brings to mind Ardalion, a character in VN’s novel Otchayanie (“Despair,” 1934). Its main character and narrator, Hermann, kills Felix (a tramp whom Hermann believes to be his double). At the end of the novel’s English version Hermann imagines making a little speech in which he mentions a German film company.

Kinbote believes that, in its finished form, Shade’s poem Pale Fire has 1000 lines and that Line 1000 is identical to Line 1 (“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that Shade’s poem needs a coda, Line 1001 (“By its own double in the windowpane”). 1001 is an odd number. Veen = even, Odon = Nodo = odno (Nodo is Odon’s epileptic* half-brother; odno is neut. of odin, 1 in Russian).

In the Night of the Burning Barn Mlle Larivière slept on through everything:

Only the governess (as Ada, not Van, had by then discovered) slept on through everything, snoring with a wheeze and a harkle in the room adjacent to the old nursery where little Lucette lay for a minute awake before running after her dream and jumping into the last furniture van. (1.19)

The Burning Barn in Ada seems to correspond to the Haunted Barn in Pale Fire. In a scene that Kinbote offers the reader Shade’s wife Sybil asks Spook (whom Shade’s daughter Hazel believes to be Aunt Maud’s ghost) to pinch her if she starts snoring:

There are always "three nights" in fairy tales, and in this sad fairy tale there was a third one too. This time she wanted her parents to witness the "talking light" with her. The minutes of that third session in the barn have not been preserved but I offer the reader the following scene which I feel cannot be too far removed from the truth:

Pitch-darkness. Father, Mother and Daughter are heard breathing gently in different corners. Three minutes pass.

FATHER (to Mother)
Are you comfortable there?

Uh-huh. These potato sacks make a perfect--

DAUGHTER (with steam-engine force)
Fifteen minutes pass in silence. The eye begins to make out here and there in the darkness bluish slits of night and one star.

That was Dad's tummy, I think--not a spook.

DAUGHTER (mouthing it)
Very funny!
Another fifteen minutes elapse. Father, deep in workshop thoughts, heaves a neutral sigh.

Must we sigh all the time?
Fifteen minutes elapse

If I start snoring let Spook pinch me.

DAUGHTER (overemphasizing self-control)
Mother! Please! Please, Mother!
Father clears his throat but decides not to say anything
Twelve more minutes elapse.

Does anyone realize that there are still quite a few of those creampuffs in the refrigerator?
That does it.

DAUGHTER (exploding)
Why must you spoil everything? Why must you always spoil everything? Why can't you leave people alone? Don't touch me!

Now look, Hazel, Mother won't say another word, and we'll go on with this--but we've been sitting an hour here and it's getting late.
Two minutes pass. Life is hopeless, afterlife heartless. Hazel is heard quietly weeping in the dark. John Shade lights a lantern. Sybil lights a cigarette. Meeting adjourned. (note to Line 347)

In Canto Two of his poem Shade mentions a domestic ghost:

So why join in the vulgar laughter? Why
Scorn a hereafter none can verify:
The Turk's delight, the future lyres, the talks
With Socrates and Proust in cypress walks,
The seraph with his six flamingo wings,
And Flemish hells with porcupines and things?
It isn't that we dream too wild a dream:
The trouble is we do not make it seem
Sufficiently unlikely; for the most
We can think up is a domestic ghost. (Lines 221-230)

“Why scorn a hereafter” in Lines 221-222 of Shade’s poem brings to mind “Scorn not the sonnet, critic,” the epigraph from Wordsworth to Pushkin’s Sonet (The Sonnet, 1830). In Pushkin’s Prorok (“The Prophet,” 1826) shestikrylyi serafim (the six-winged seraph) appears before the prophet at the crossroad. In the poem’s penultimate line morya i zemli (seas and lands) are mentioned:

И Бога глас ко мне воззвал:

"Восстань, пророк, и виждь, и внемли,

Исполнись волею моей,

И, обходя моря и земли,

Глаголом жги сердца людей".

And then God's voice called out to me:

"Arise, O Prophet, watch and hark,

Fulfill all my commands:

Go forth now over land and sea,

And with your word ignite men's hearts.

At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Marina asks Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father), if his room number at the hotel is not 222 by any chance:

‘I had hoped you’d sleep here,’ said Marina (not really caring one way or another). ‘What is your room number at the hotel — not 222 by any chance?’

She liked romantic coincidences. Demon consulted the tag on his key: 221 — which was good enough, fatidically and anecdotically speaking. Naughty Ada, of course, stole a glance at Van, who tensed up the wings of his nose in a grimace that mimicked the slant of Pedro’s narrow, beautiful nostrils. (1.38)

222 must have been Pedro’s room at a hotel in Ladore:

The shooting script was now ready. Marina, in dorean robe and coolie hat, reclined reading in a long-chair on the patio. Her director, G.A. Vronsky, elderly, baldheaded, with a spread of grizzled fur on his fat chest, was alternately sipping his vodka-and-tonic and feeding Marina typewritten pages from a folder. On her other side, crosslegged on a mat, sat Pedro (surname unknown, stagename forgotten), a repulsively handsome, practically naked young actor, with satyr ears, slanty eyes, and lynx nostrils, whom she had brought from Mexico and was keeping at a hotel in Ladore. (1.32)

Marina’s lover is a namesake of Don Pedro, in Aldanov's trilogy Klyuch ("The Key," 1929), Begstvo (“The Escape,” 1932), Peshchera (“The Cave,” 1936) the reporter who becomes a movie man in emigration. The last novel of Aldanov’s trilogy, “The Cave,” was reviewed by VN in Sovremennye Zapiski (Contemporary Notes, 1936, # 61). In his Foreword Kinbote mentions his cave in Cedarn:

Instead of answering a month-old letter from my cave in Cedarn, listing some of my most desperate queries, such as the real name of "Jim Coates," etc., she [Sybil Shade] suddenly shot me a wire, requesting me to accept Prof. H. (!) and Prof. C. (!!) as co-editors of her husband's poem.

Cedarn is an anagram of nacred (lined with or resembling nacre, mother of pearl). Describing Lucette’s suicide, Van mentions the telephone’s nacred receiver:

Having cradled the nacred receiver she changed into black slacks and a lemon shirt (planned for tomorrow morning); looked in vain for a bit of plain notepaper without caravelle or crest; ripped out the flyleaf of Herb’s Journal, and tried to think up something amusing, harmless, and scintillating to say in a suicide note. (3.5)

The title of Mlle Larivière’s “novelette,” Les Enfants Maudits, blends un enfant terrible with les poètes maudits. In a discarded variant Shade mentions one of “the cursed poets,” Charles Baudelaire:

Strange Other World where all our still-born dwell,
And pets, revived, and invalids, grown well,
And minds that died before arriving there:
Poor old man Swift, poor —-, poor Baudelaire (Kinbote’s note to Line 231)

Kinbote suspects that the dash stands for his name. Actually, it stands for Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real name”). After the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary), Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent) went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus. There is a hope (nadezhda) that, after Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin will be “full” again.

According to Kinbote, he arrived in America descending by parachute from a chartered plane (note to Line 691). In Griboedov’s play Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) Famusov tells Chatski that he gryanul vdrug kak s oblakov (came suddenly, as if off the clouds) (Act I, scene 9). As she speaks to Van, Marina quotes Chatski’s words to Sofia in Griboedov’s play:

A propos de coins: in Griboedov’s Gore ot uma, "How stupid to be so clever," a play in verse, written, I think, in Pushkin’s time, the hero reminds Sophie of their childhood games, and says:

How oft we sat together in a corner

And what harm might there be in that?

but in Russian it is a little ambiguous, have another spot, Van?’ (he shook his head, simultaneously lifting his hand, like his father), ‘because, you see, — no, there is none left anyway — the second line, i kazhetsya chto v etom, can be also construed as "And in that one, meseems," pointing with his finger at a corner of the room. Imagine — when I was rehearsing that scene with Kachalov at the Seagull Theater, in Yukonsk, Stanislavski, Konstantin Sergeevich, actually wanted him to make that cosy little gesture (uyutnen’kiy zhest).’ (1.37)

Sybil Shade’s “real” name seems to Sofia Botkin (née Lastochkin).

In her old age Ada “amused herself by translating (for the Oranger editions en regard) Griboedov into French and English, Baudelaire into English and Russian, and John Shade into Russian and French.” (5.4)

*the author of Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846), Dostoevski suffered from epilepsy

Alexey Sklyarenko

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