Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027112, Fri, 15 Jul 2016 12:14:14 +0300

Omega, Ozero & Zero in Pale Fire
Higher up on the same wooded hill stood, and still stands I trust, Dr. Sutton’s old clapboard house and, at the very top, eternity shall not dislodge Professor C.’s ultramodern villa from whose terrace one can glimpse to the south the larger and sadder of the three conjoined lakes called Omega, Ozero, and Zero (Indian names garbled by early settlers in such a way as to accommodate specious derivations and commonplace allusions). (Kinbote’s note to Lines 47-48)

As pointed out by Victor Fet (The Nabokovian #51), Omega hints at Onega, a river and a lake in NW Russia. The name of the main character of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin was derived from Onega. In his essay Pushkin (1896) Merezhkovski quotes Pushkin’s words (as quoted by Aleksandra Smirnov – or, more likely, by her daughter, the author of spurious Memoirs) about Goethe’s Faust. According to Smirnov, Pushkin compared Faust to Dante’s Divine Comedy and called it “the last word of German literature… alpha and omega of human thought from the times of Christianity:”

Вот как русский поэт понимает значение «Фауста»: «„Фауст“ стоит совсем особо. Это последнее слово немецкой литературы, это особый мир, как „Божественная Комедия“; это — в изящной форме альфа и омега человеческой мысли со времён христианства». (chapter IV)

In the same note to Lines 47-48 of Shade’s poem Kinbote mentions Alphina (the youngest of Judge Goldsworth’s four daughters) and Dante’s bust on a bookshelf in Shade’s study:

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…

My binoculars would seek him out and focus upon him from afar in his various places of labor: at night, in the violet glow of his upstairs study where a kindly mirror reflected for me his hunched-up shoulders and the pencil with which he kept picking his ear (inspecting now and then the lead, and even tasting it); in the forenoon, lurking in the ruptured shadows of his first-floor study where a bright goblet of liquor quietly traveled from filing cabinet to lectern, and from lectern to bookshelf, there to hide if need be behind Dante’s bust; on a hot day, among the vines of a small arborlike portico, through the garlands of which I could glimpse a stretch of oilcloth, his elbow upon it, and the plump cherubic fist propping and crimpling his temple.

Shade lives in a “frame house between Goldsworth and Wordsmith on its square of green.” Goldsworth + Wordsmith = Goldsmith + Wordsworth. Pushkin’s Sonet (“The Sonnet,” 1830) has the epigraph “Scorn not the sonnet, critic. Wordsworth” and begins: Surovyi Dant ne preziral soneta (“Severe Dante didn’t scorn the sonnet”). Wordsworth and Coleridge (the author of Kubla Khan, a poem in which Alph, the sacred river, is mentioned) were Lake Poets. Ozero is Russian for “lake.” Ozero + nega = Onega + Zero. In Chapter One of EO Pushkin describes Onegin’s cabinet and mentions modnaya nega (modish mollitude, XXIII: 12). Zero (0) is a roulette number. In the night of Hazel’s death her parents watched TV and Sybil Shade played “network roulette:”

Eleven struck. You sighed. "Well, I'm afraid
There's nothing else of interest." You played
Network roulette: the dial turned and trk'ed.
Commercials were beheaded. Faces flicked.
An open mouth in midsong was struck out.
An imbecile with sideburns was about
To use his gun, but you were much too quick.
A jovial Negro raised his trumpet. Trk.
Your ruby ring made life and laid the law.
Oh, switch it off! And as life snapped we saw
A pinhead light dwindle and die in black
Infinity. (ll. 463-474)

Shade’s daughter drowned herself in Lake Omega. Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. In her Zapiski (“Memoirs”) Aleksandra Smirnov quotes the lines from Zhukovski’s Pesnya (“The Song,” 1818) in which nadezhda (hope) is mentioned:

О милый гость, святое прежде,

Зачем в мою теснишься грудь!

Могу ль сказать живи надежде,

Скажу ль тому, что было: будь?

Oh dear guest, the sacred Before,

why do you seethe in my breast?

Can I say to Hope “stay alive”?

Would I say to the Past “be again”?

A classical sonnet consists of two quatrains (4 x 2 = 8) and two tercets (3 x 2 = 6). It has thus fourteen (8 + 6 = 14) lines. “Patterned on a sonnet,” the Onegin stanza also consists of fourteen lines. The total number of letters in Omega, Ozero and Zero (5 + 5 + 4 = 14) is fourteen.

Windows, as well known, have been the solace of first-person literature throughout the ages. But this observer never could emulate in sheer luck the eavesdropping Hero of Our Time or the omnipresent one of Time Lost. (Kinbote’s note to Lines 47-48)

A Hero of Our Time (1840) is a novel by Lermontov. The name of its main character, Pechorin, was derived (as an homage to Pushkin and his Onegin) from Pechora, another river in N Russia. In his essay M. Yu. Lermontov – poet sverkhchelovechestva (“M. Yu. Lermontov as a Poet of the Superhuman,” 1911) Merezhkovski says that there were two men in Lermontov and quotes Pechorin’s words in A Hero of Our Time:

"В Лермонтове было два человека", -- говорит близко знавшее его лицо. -- "Во мне два человека,-- говорит Печорин. -- Я сделался нравственным калекою: одна половина души моей высохла, умерла, я её отрезал и бросил; тогда как другая шевелилась и жила к услугам каждого, и этого никто не заметил, потому что никто не знал о существовании погибшей её половины".

Главная ошибка, кажется, впрочем, не самого Лермонтова, а Печорина, заключается в том, что он считает отрезанную половину окончательно погибшею, тогда как обе половины одинаково живы метафизически, и лишь эмпирически одна половина подавила другую.

According to Pechorin, there are two men in him. “I became a moral cripple: one half of my soul had wizened and died, I cut it off and threw away; while another half stirred and lived at everybody’s service, and no one noticed it, because no one knew about the existence of its lost half.” (chapter IV)

In the next chapter of his essay Merezhkovski tells an old legend mentioned by Dante in The Divine Comedy:

Существует древняя, вероятно гностического происхождения, легенда, упоминаемая Данте в "Божественной комедии", об отношении земного мира к этой небесной войне. Ангелам, сделавшим окончательный выбор между двумя станами, не надо рождаться, потому что время не может изменить их вечного решения; но колеблющихся, нерешительных между светом и тьмою, благость Божья посылает в мир, чтобы могли они сделать во времени выбор, не сделанный в вечности. Эти ангелы -- души людей рождающихся. Та же благость скрывает от них прошлую вечность, для того чтобы раздвоение, колебание воли в вечности прошлой не предрешало того уклона воли во времени, от которого зависит спасенье или погибель их в вечности будущей. Вот почему так естественно мы думаем о том, что будет с нами после смерти, и не умеем, не можем, не хотим думать о том, что было до рождения. Нам дано забыть, откуда -- для того, чтобы яснее помнить, куда. (chapter V; note the angels and the two eternities mentioned by Merezhkovski: the past eternity before our birth that we are reluctant to remember and the future one awaiting us after death that attracts our thoughts)

Finally, Merezhkovski compares Lermontov (the poet who was born in 1814 and died in 1841) to a meteor:

Одна светская женщина уверяет, что глаза Лермонтова "имели магнетическое влияние". Иногда те, на кого он смотрел пристально, должны были выходить в другую комнату, не будучи в состоянии вынести этот взгляд. Если бы довести до конца это первое бессознательное впечатление, то пришлось бы его выразить так: в человеческом облике не совсем человек; существо иного порядка, иного измерения; точно метеор, заброшен к нам из каких-то неведомых пространств.

Как метеор, игрой судьбы случайной,

Он пролетел грозою между нас.

Like a meteor, due to a chance play of Fate,

He as a thunderstorm flew in the midst of us.* (chapter VI)

The above lines from Lermontov’s poem about Napoleon quoted by Merezhkovski bring to mind Pushkin’s poem Portret (“The Portrait,” 1828), in which Countess Agrafena Zakrevski (1799-1979) is compared to a lawless comet amidst the calculated planets:

С своей пылающей душой,
С своими бурными страстями,
О жёны Севера, меж вами
Она является порой
И мимо всех условий света
Стремится до утраты сил,
Как беззаконная комета
В кругу расчисленном светил.

A comet has a tail. As Gogol points out in his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1841), in Italian poetry there are tailed sonnets (sonnets with a coda). Kinbote believes that, in its finished form, Shade’s poem has 1000 lines and that Line 1000 is identical to Line 1: I was the shadow of the waxwing slain. But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade’s poem needs a coda, Line 1001: By its own double in the windowpane.

The author of Gogol’ i chyort (“Gogol and the Devil,” 1906), Merezhkovski in his essay on Pushkin compares Pushkin to Goethe and quotes the lines from Faust in which the hero says that two souls live in his breast:

То, что Пушкин смутно предчувствовал, Гёте видел лицом к лицу. Как ни велик «Фауст» — замысел его ещё больше, и весь этот необъятный замысел основан на сознании трагизма, вытекающего из двойственности мира и духа, на сознании противоположности двух начал:

Du bist dir nur des einen Trieb bewußt;
O lerne nie den andern kennen!
Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust,
Die eine will sich von der andren trennen;
Die eine hält, in derber Liebeslust,
Sich an die Welt mit klammernden Organen.
Die andre hebt gewaltsam sich vom Dust
Zu den Gefilden hoher Ahnen .

Из этого разлада двух стихий — «двух душ, живущих в одной груди», возникает двойник Фауста, самый страшный из демонов — Мефистофель. (chapter IV)

According to Merezhkovski, the most terrible of demons, Mephistopheles is Faust’s dvoynik (double). Lermontov is the author of Demon (“The Demon,” 1829-40). According to VN (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 164), the main romantic strain of Lermontov’s Demon was evolved from Pushkin’s poems The Demon (1823) and The Angel (1828).

Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846) is a short novel by Dostoevski. In his essay on Lermontov Merezhkovski quotes Ivan Karamazov’s words about his devil in Dostoevski’s novel Brothers Karamazov (1880):

"Он не сатана, он просто чёрт, -- говорит Ив. Карамазов о своём чёрте, -- раздень его и наверно отыщешь хвост, длинный, гладкий, как у датской собаки".

According to Ivan Karamazov (who thinks that “all is allowed” and who suffers from hallucinations), his devil has a tail of a Great Dane. In Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions “Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept / All is allowed (ll. 641-42). And in one of his conversations with Kinbote Shade compares Shakespeare (the author of Macbeth who, according to Pushkin, loved a sonnet’s play) to a Great Dane:

The subject of teaching Shakespeare at college level having been introduced: "First of all, dismiss ideas, and social background, and train the freshman to shiver, to get drunk on the poetry of Hamlet or Lear, to read with his spine and not with his skull." Kinbote: "You appreciate particularly the purple passages?" Shade: "Yes, my dear Charles, I roll upon them as a grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great Dane." (note to Line 172)

At the end of his poem Shade mentions old Dr. Sutton’s last two windowpanes and wonders what is his age:

But it's not bedtime yet. The sun attains
Old Dr. Sutton's last two windowpanes.
The man must be--what? Eighty? Eighty-two?
Was twice my age the year I married you. (ll. 985-988)

According to Kinbote, “John Shade and Sybil Swallow (see note to Line 247) were married in 1919, exactly three decades before King Charles wed Disa, Duchess of Payn” (note to Line 275). In 1919 Shade (born in 1898) was twenty-one and Dr. Sutton was forty-two. 42 = 14 x 3. Fourteen is the number of lines in a classical sonnet and the total number of letters in Omega, Ozero, and Zero. The three conjoined lakes, Omega, Ozero, and Zero, seem to correspond to the three main characters in PF: Shade, Kinbote and Gradus. Unlike Goethe’s Faust and Lermontov’s Pechorin, Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent who went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after his daughter’s death) has three souls in him. There is a hope that, after Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin will be “full” (i. e. one) again.

Alpha is the first and omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. Byron died in 1824 fighting for the freedom of Greece. In his essay on Pushkin Merezhkovski says that Pushkin is closer to Goethe than to Byron and compares Byron to Euphorion (the son of Faust and Helen of Troy in Part Two of Goethe’s tragedy):

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 assimilated Euphorion [i. e. Byron], got over his extremes, his discord, transubstantiated him in his heart and headed 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.

In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron – o bez sozhalen’ya… (“Like Byron to Greece, oh without regret…” 1928) G. Ivanov (who published an offensive article on Sirin in the émigré review Numbers #1, 1930) mentions blednyi ogon’ (pale fire):

Как в Грецию Байрон, о, без сожаленья,
Сквозь звёзды и розы, и тьму,
На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья…
— И ты не поможешь ему.

Сквозь звёзды, которые снятся влюблённым,
И небо, где нет ничего,
В холодную полночь — платком надушённым.
— И ты не удержишь его.

На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья,
Как Байрон за бледным огнём,
Сквозь полночь и розы, о, без сожаленья…
— И ты позабудешь о нём.

In VN’s story Usta k ustam (Lips to Lips, 1931) Galatov, the editor of Arion, is a recognizable portrait of G. Ivanov. Arion (1826) is a poem by Pushkin. On the other hand, in a letter of (no later than) October 11, 1835, to Pletnyov (to whom EO is dedicated) Pushkin proposes Arion as a name of a new monthly:

Ты требуешь имени для нового альманака: назовём его Арион или Орион; я люблю имена, не имеющие смысла; шуточкам привязаться не к чему.

You ask for the name of a new monthly: let’s call it Arion or Orion; I love meaningless names; there will be nothing jokes could aim at.

VN also satirizes Ivanov in his poem Iz Kalmbrudovoy poemy “Nochnoe puteshestvie” (“From Vivian Calmbrood’s Poem The Night Journey,” 1931) in which Chenstone is mentioned. Pushkin attributed to Chenstone his little tragedy Skupoy rytsar’ (“The Covetous Knight,” 1830).

*from an early version of Lermontov’s poem Sv. Elena (St. Helena,” 1831)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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