Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027095, Tue, 5 Jul 2016 20:08:08 +0300

microscopic point of euphorion in Ada; Charles the Beloved in
Pale Fire
He did not 'twinkle' long after that. Five or six years later, in Monte Carlo, Van was passing by an open-air café when a hand grabbed him by the elbow, and a radiant, ruddy, comparatively respectable Dick C. leaned toward him over the petunias of the latticed balustrade:

'Van,' he cried, 'I've given up all that looking-glass dung, congratulate me! Listen: the only safe way is to mark 'em! Wait, that's not all, can you imagine, they've invented a microscopic - and I mean microscopic - point of euphorion, a precious metal, to insert under your thumbnail, you can't see it with the naked eye, but one minuscule section of your monocle is made to magnify the mark you make with it, like killing a flea, on one card after another, as they come along in the game, that's the beauty of it, no preparations, no props, nothing! Mark 'em! Mark 'em!' good Dick was still shouting, as Van walked away. (1.28)

Euphorion is the son of Faust and Helen of Troy in Part Two of Goethe’s Faust (see also Boyd’s Annotations). In his essay Pushkin (1896) Merezhkovski says that Pushkin is closer to Goethe than to Byron and compares Byron to Euphorion:

С этой точки зрения становится вполне ясной ошибка тех, которые ставят Пушкина в связь не с Гёте, а с Байроном. Правда, Байрон увеличил силы Пушкина, но не иначе как побеждённый враг увеличивает силы победителя. Пушкин поглотил Евфориона, преодолел его крайности, его разлад, претворил его в своём сердце, и устремился дальше, выше — в те ясные сферы всеобъемлющей гармонии, куда звал Гёте и куда за Гёте никто не имел силы пойти, кроме Пушкина. (chapter IV)

According to Merezhkovski, Pushkin absorbed Euphorion [i. e. Byron], got over his extremes, his discord, transubstantiated him in his heart and rushed on further, higher – to those clear spheres of overwhelming harmony where Goethe had invited and where no one, except Pushkin, was strong enough to follow Goethe.

Lord Byron is the main character in Mark Aldanov’s novel Mogila voina (“A Soldier’s Grave,” 1938). It has for the epigraph the last lines of Byron’s last poem On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year (1824):

Seek out -- less often sought than found
A soldier's grave, for thee the best,
Then look around and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

The name of Van’s (and Dick’s) University, Chose, seems to hint not only at the French word for “thing,” but also at the phrase “choose thy ground” in Byron’s poem.

Van’s and Ada’s father, Demon Veen, was also a Chose student. Demon (“The Demon,” 1829-40) is a long poem by Lermontov. The author of Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832), Lermontov translated into Russian Goethe’s Wandrers Nachtlied (“Wanderer’s Nightsong,” 1780):

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Горные вершины
Спят во тьме ночной;
Тихие долины
Полны свежей мглой;
Не пылит дорога,
Не дрожат листы...
Подожди немного,
Отдохнёшь и ты.

Above all summits
it is calm.
In all the tree-tops
you feel
scarcely a breath;
The birds in the forest are silent,
just wait, soon
you will rest as well.

In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) the opening lines of Goethe’s Erlkönig (1782), Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? / Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind, become a leitmotif of Shade’s poem Pale Fire:

Who rides so late in the night and the wind?
It is the writer's grief. It is the wild
March wind. It is the father with his child. (Lines 662-664).

Byron died in Missolonghi fighting for the freedom of Greece. In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron – o bez sozhalen’ya… (“Like Byron to Greece, oh without regret…” 1928) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon’ (pale fire). One of the three main characters in Pale Fire, Kinbote affirms that he is the last self-exiled king of Zembla, Charles the Beloved. In the first stanza of his last poem Byron says that he cannot be beloved anymore:

Tis time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

The name of Zembla’s last king seems to hint at Charles XII, the King of Sweden and a character in Pushkin’s poem Poltava (1929). In his Vozrazhenie kritikam “Poltavy” (“A Reply to the Critics of Poltava,” 1830) Pushkin mentions Byron’s poem Mazeppa (1819) and says that Byron (who knew Mazepa only as portrayed by Voltaire in his “History of Charles XII”) was merely startled by the picture of a man who is tied to a wild horse and tears along the steppes:

Кстати о Полтаве критики упомянули однако ж о Байроновом Мазепе; но как они понимали его! Байрон знал Мазепу только по Вольтеровой Истории Карла XII. Он поражён был только картиной человека, привязанного к дикой лошади и несущегося по степям.

Voltaire is the author of Candide, ou l'Optimisme (1759). According to Kinbote, the name of one of his landlord’s four daughters is Candida:

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. (note to Lines 47-48)

In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Dolores Haze is twelve (Candida’s age) when Humbert Humbert (aged thirty-seven; Pushkin died at the age of thirty-seven) first meets her. In Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions Hurricane Lolita that swept from Florida to Maine:

It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane
Lolita swept from Florida to Maine. (Lines 679-680)

In his Oda ego siyat. gr. Dm. Iv. Khvostovu (“Ode to his Excellency Count D. I. Khvostov,” 1825) Pushkin compares Khvostov (whose name comes from khvost, “tail”) to Byron. In his essay Tvorchestvo i remeslo (“Creative Work and Handicraft,” 1917) G. Ivanov contrasts Bryusov to Blok (the future author of “The Twelve,” 1918) and quotes Pushkin’s “parody on Count Khvostov:”

Как не вспомнить пародию Пушкина на графа Хвостова:

Он (Байрон) лорд, ты — граф, поэты оба,
Се, мнится, явно сходство есть.

Невольно кажется, что Брюсов принял эти строки всерьёз.

According to Ivanov, Bryusov took at face value Pushkin’s lines “He (Byron) is a Lord, you are a Count, both of you are poets, / Thus an obvious resemblance seems to exist [between you and Byron].”

In his memoirs Peterburgskie zimy (“The St. Petersburg Winters,” 1931) G. Ivanov describes his first visit to Blok in 1909. According to Ivanov, when he (then a boy of fifteen) asked Blok if a sonnet needed a coda, Blok replied that he did know what a coda was. It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also the coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane). In fact, Kinbote’s Foreword, Commentary and Index can be regarded as a coda of Shade’s poem (according to Gogol, in Italian poetry the coda – which means “tail” – can be longer than the sonnet itself). Shade, Kinbote and Gradus seem to represent three different aspects of Vsevolod Botkin’s personality. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). There is a hope (nadezhda) that, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin’s epigrams), Botkin will be “full” again when, on Oct. 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide. In G. Ivanov’s poetry suicide is a major (and, practically, the only) theme. The main character of Goethe’s novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther (“The Sorrows of Young Werther,” 1774) commits suicide.

G. Ivanov is the author of an offensive article on VN that appeared in the Paris review Chisla (Numbers # 1, 1930). In his epigram (1931) on Ivanov VN mentions sem’ya zhurnal’nykh shulerov (a family of the literary card-sharps):

— Такого нет мошенника второго

Во всей семье журнальных шулеров!

— Кого ты так? — Иванова, Петрова,

Не все ль равно? — Позволь, а кто ж Петров?

“You could not find in all of Grub Street

a rogue to match him vile enough!”

“Whom do you mean – Petrov, Ivanov?

No matter… Wait, though – who’s Petrov?”

(transl. by Vera Nabokov and DN)

Dick C. (with whom Van plays poker at Chose) is a shuler (schüler minus the umlaut), i. e. card-sharp:

'Same here, Dick,' said Van. 'Pity you had to rely on your crystal balls. I have often wondered why the Russian for it - I think we have a Russian ancestor in common - is the same as the German for "schoolboy," minus the umlaut' - and while prattling thus, Van refunded with a rapidly written check the ecstatically astonished Frenchmen. Then he collected a handful of cards and chips and hurled them into Dick's face. The missiles were still in flight when he regretted that cruel and commonplace bewgest, for the wretched fellow could not respond in any conceivable fashion, and just sat there covering one eye and examining his damaged spectacles with the other - it was also bleeding a little - while the French twins were pressing upon him two handkerchiefs which he kept good-naturedly pushing away. Rosy aurora was shivering in green Serenity Court. Laborious old Chose. (1.28)

In G. Ivanov’s Raspad atoma (“Disintegration of an Atom,” 1938) the narrator mentions Akakiy Akakievich (the pathetic main character in Gogol’s story Shinel, “The Overcoat,” 1841) and samyi sil’nyi mikroskop (the most powerful microscope):

Акакий Акакиевич получает жалование, переписывает бумаги, копит деньги на шинель, обедает и пьёт чай. Но все это только поверхность, сон, чепуха, бесконечно далекая от сути вещей. Точка, душа, неподвижна и так мала, что её не разглядеть и в самый сильный микроскоп.

According to the narrator (who eventually commits suicide) of Ivanov’s story, human soul is so small that one cannot see it even in the most powerful microscope. Akakiy Akakievich’s surname, Bashmachkin, comes from bashmachok (little shoe). According to Kinbote (the author of a book on surnames), Botkin is “the one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear” (note to Line 71). In Ada the name of one of Van’s Professors, Paar of Chose, clearly hints at the phrase “a pair of shoes:”

As Van Veen himself was to find out, at the time of his passionate research in terrology (then a branch of psychiatry) even the deepest thinkers, the purest philosophers, Paar of Chose and Zapater of Aardvark, were emotionally divided in their attitude toward the possibility that there existed ‘a distortive glass of our distorted glebe’ as a scholar who desires to remain unnamed has put it with such euphonic wit. (Hm! Kveree-kveree, as poor Mlle L. used to say to Gavronsky. In Ada's hand.) (1.3)

See also my posts of Aug. 22 and Aug. 24, 2015, and of Aug. 28, 2014.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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