Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027113, Sat, 16 Jul 2016 15:09:35 +0300

Professor Pardon & parasite of genius in Pale Fire
Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla [sarcastically stressing the "Nova"].

"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.

"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).

Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"

"Oxford, 1956," I replied.

"You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other day, talking to--what's his name--oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing his lips].

Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].

Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for 'tire': punoo."

Shade: "Why, sir, I am afraid you have only punctured the difficulty" [laughing uproariously].

"Flatman," quipped I. "Yes," I went on, turning to Pardon, "I certainly do speak Russian. You see, it was the fashionable language par excellence, much more so than French, among the nobles of Zembla at least, and at its court. Today, of course, all this has changed. It is now the lower classes who are forcibly taught to speak Russian." (note to Line 894)

In the first of the two stanzas of his poem On Translating "Eugene Onegin" (1955) written after the meter and rhyme scheme of the EO stanza VN mentions the parasites who are pardoned, if he (VN) has Pushkin’s pardon:

What is translation? On a platter

A poets pale and glaring head,

A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,

And profanation of the dead.

The parasites you were so hard on

Are pardoned if I have your pardon,

O, Pushkin, for my stratagem:

I traveled down your secret stem,

And reached the root, and fed upon it;

Then, in a language newly learned,

I grew another stalk and turned

Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,

Into my honest roadside prose--

All thorn, but cousin to your rose.

According to Kinbote, Sybil Shade (whose grandfather was a first cousin of John Shade’s maternal grandmother) used to call him “the monstrous parasite of a genius:”

From the very first I tried to behave with the utmost courtesy toward my friend's wife, and from the very first she disliked and distrusted me. I was to learn later that when alluding to me in public she used to call me "an elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macaco worm; the monstrous parasite of a genius." I pardon her--her and everybody. (note to Line 247)

Kinbote’s Index to PF contains an entry on Botkin, V. An authority on names, Kinbote mentions in it “king-bot, maggot of extinct fly that once bred in mammoths and is thought to have hastened their phylogenetic end:”

Botkin, V., American scholar of Russian descent, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline894> 894; king-bot, maggot of extinct fly that once bred in mammoths and is thought to have hastened their phylogenetic end, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline247> 247; bottekin-maker, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline71> 71; bot, plop, and botelïy, big-bellied (Russ.); botkin or bodkin, a Danish stiletto.

In his Parizhskaya poema (“The Paris Poem,” 1943) VN mentions kosmatye mamonty (the shaggy mammoths) that are dying out and krasnoglazaya mysh’ (a red-eyed mouse) that is barely alive:

Вымирают косматые мамонты,

чуть жива красноглазая мышь.

Бродят отзвуки лиры безграмотной:

с кандачка переход на Буль-Миш.

С полурусского, полузабытого

переход на подобье арго.

Бродит боль позвонка перебитого

в чёрных дебрях Бульвар Араго.

S polurusskogo, poluzabytogo (from the half-Russian, half-forgotten) brings to mind za polurusskogo soseda (with the half-Russian neighbor) in Canto Two (XII: 1-5) of Pushkin’s EO:

Богат, хорош собою, Ленской
Везде был принят как жених;
Таков обычай деревенской;
Все дочек прочили своих
За полурусского соседа…

Wealthy, good-looking, Lenski

was as a suitor everywhere received:

such is the country custom;

all for their daughters planned a match

with the half-Russian neighbor.

As he speaks of the reign of Charles the Beloved, Kinbote mentions a contented Sosed:

That King's reign (1936-1958) will be remembered by at least a few discerning historians as a peaceful and elegant one. Owing to a fluid system of judicious alliances, Mars in his time never marred the record. Internally, until corruption, betrayal, and Extremism penetrated it, the People's Place (parliament) worked in perfect harmony with the Royal Council. Harmony, indeed, was the reign's password. The polite arts and pure sciences flourished. Technicology, applied physics, industrial chemistry and so forth were suffered to thrive. A small skyscraper of ultramarine glass was steadily rising in Onhava. The climate seemed to be improving. Taxation had become a thing of beauty. The poor were a little richer, and the rich a little poorer (in accordance what may be known some day as Kinbote's Law). Medical care was spreading to the confines of the state; less and less often, on his tour of the country, every autumn, when the rowans hung coral-heavy and the puddles tinkled with Muscovy glass, the friendly and eloquent monarch would be interrupted by a pertussal "backdraucht" in a crowd of schoolchildren. Parachuting had become a popular sport. Everybody, in a word, was content--even the political mischiefmakers who were contentedly making mischief paid by a contented Sosed (Zembla's gigantic neighbor). But let us not pursue this tiresome subject. (note to Line 12)

Zembla's gigantic neighbor is Russia. According to Kinbote, Charles the Beloved could boast of some Russian blood:

When I was a child, Russia enjoyed quite a vogue at the court of Zembla but that was a different Russia--a Russia that hated tyrants and Philistines, injustice and cruelty, the Russia of ladies and gentlemen and liberal aspirations. We may add that Charles the Beloved could boast of some Russian blood. In medieval times two of his ancestors had married Novgorod princesses. Queen Yaruga (reigned 1799-1800) his great-great-graddam, was half Russian; and most historians believe that Yaruga's only child Igor was not the son of Uran the Last (reigned 1798-1799) but the fruit of her amours with the Russian adventurer Hodinski, her goliart (court jester) and a poet of genius, said to have forged in his spare time a famous old Russian chanson de geste, generally attributed to an anonymous bard of the twelfth century. (note to Line 681)

Lines 25-26 of VN’s “Paris Poem”

Так он думал без воли, без веса,

сам в себя, как наследник, летя

[Thus he thought without will, without weight,

flying into himself, like a heir]

are a parody of the lines in Pushkin’s EO (One: II: 1-4):

Так думал молодой повеса,

Летя в пыли на почтовых,

Всевышней волею Зевеса

Наследник всех своих родных.

Thus a young scapegrace thought,

with posters flying in the dust,

by the most lofty will of Zeus

the heir of all his relatives.

Pushkin’s novel in verse begins with the death of Onegin’s uncle. According to Kinbote, his uncle Conmal (1855-1955) translated the entire works of Shakespeare into Zemblan:

English was not taught in Zembla before Mr. Campbell's time. Conmal mastered it all by himself (mainly by learning a lexicon by heart) as a young man, around 1880, when not the verbal inferno but a quiet military career seemed to open before him, and his first work (the translation of Shakespeare's Sonnets) was the outcome of a bet with a fellow officer. He exchanged his frogged uniform for a scholar's dressing gown and tackled The Tempest. A slow worker, he needed half a century to translate the works of him whom he called "dze Bart," in their entirety. After this, in 1930, he went on to Milton and other poets, steadily drilling through the ages, and had just complete Kipling's "The Rhyme of the Three Sealers" ("Now this is the Law of the Muscovite that he proved with shot and steel") when he fell ill and soon expired under his splendid painted bed ceil with its reproductions of Altamira animals, his last words in his last delirium being "Comment dit-on 'mourir' en anglais?"--a beautiful and touching end. (note to Line 961)

On his deathbed Conmal told his royal nephew that he must teach:

The last king of Zembla—partly under the influence of his uncle Conmal, the great translator of Shakespeare (see notes to lines 39-40 and 962), had become, despite frequent migraines, passionately addicted to the study of literature. At forty, not long before the collapse of his throne, he had attained such a degree of scholarship that he dared accede to his venerable uncle’s raucous dying request: ‘Teach, Karlik!’ (note to Line 12)

Karlik (as Conmal calls Charles Xavier Vseslav, the last king of Zembla) is Russian for “dwarf.” In his poem Net, karlik moy! Trus besprimernyi (“No, my dwarf! The unparalleled coward!...” 1850) Tyutchev calls the State Chancellor of Russia, Count Karl Nesselrode (1780-1862), karlik and trus (a coward). “In the spring of 1824 Nesselrode, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, kept receiving letters from Count Vorontsov, Governor General of New Russia, who asked Nesselrode to rid him of Pushkin, “a weak imitator of Byron” – but also the author of original epigrams and an admirer of the countess.” (EO Commentary, vol. III, pp. 305-306)

In his poem 29 January, 1837 Tyutchev mentions ten’ poeta (the Poet’s shade) and calls Pushkin’s murderer tsareubiytsa (a regicide):

Из чьей руки свинец смертельный
Поэту сердце растерзал?
Кто сей божественный фиал
Разрушил, как сосуд скудельный?
Будь прав или виновен он
Пред нашей правдою земною,
Навек он высшею рукою
В "цареубийцы" заклеймён.

Но ты, в безвременную тьму
Вдруг поглощенная со света,
Мир, мир тебе, о тень поэта,
Мир светлый праху твоему!..
Назло людскому суесловью
Велик и свят был жребий твой!..
Ты был богов орган живой,
Но с кровью в жилах... знойной кровью.

И сею кровью благородной
Ты жажду чести утолил -
И осенённый опочил
Хоругвью горести народной.
Вражду твою пусть тот рассудит,
Кто слышит пролитую кровь...
Тебя ж, как первую любовь,
России сердце не забудет!..

Who fired the shot?

Who stilled the life which quivered

in the poet’s heart?

In whose hands was the fragile phial shivered?

Innocent or deserving blame,

in the eyes of earthly justice

and branded forever by heaven,

Regicide will be his name.

Into a dark, timeless deep

you were suddenly swept from existence.

Peace to you, poet’s shade!

I wish you bright peace in your sleep.

In spite of vain discourse,

your lot has been divine and great.

You were the god’s mouthpiece,

but you lived. In your veins, warm blood coursed!

This noble blood has silenced jeers

staining honor’s name.

Now in the sacred shade you rest,

beneath the banner of our people’s tears.

Let Him pass judgment!

He can hear the flow of blood spilled.

You will be first love in a youthful breast:

in Russia’s heart eternally dear!

(transl. F. Jude)

On the other hand, s polurusskogo, poluzabytogo (from the half-Russian, half-forgotten) in “The Paris Poem” brings to mind Pushkin’s famous epigram on Count Vorontsov:

Полу-милорд, полу-купец,
Полу-мудрец, полу-невежда,
Полу-подлец, но есть надежда,
Что будет полным наконец.

Half-milord, half-merchant,

Half-sage, half-ignoramus,

Half-scoundrel, but there's a hope

That he will be a full one at last.

Similarly, there is a hope that, after Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the Lyceum anniversary), Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent who went mad after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus) will be “full” again.

Mo Ibrahim: “And Greg Akimovich [!?] shared with Van that even Dr. Krolik, a contributor to Ada’s larvarium “also loved her”.

A Russian patronymic (Akimovich) cannot be used with a non-Russian name (Greg). Besides, Greg Erminin’s name-and-patronymic is Grigoriy Arkadievich. You must have confused him with Gavronsky (the movie man)!

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,dana.dragunoiu@gmail.com,shvabrin@humnet.ucla.edu
Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com
AdaOnline: "http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada: http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html
The VN Bibliography Blog: http://vnbiblio.com/
Search the archive with L-Soft: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A0=NABOKV-L

Manage subscription options :http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=NABOKV-L