Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027124, Sun, 24 Jul 2016 12:12:25 +0300

miragarl & Baron Mandevil in Pale Fire
In his Commentary Kinbote mentions the society sculptor and poet Arnor, the
author of a poem about a miragarl ("mirage girl"):

Our Prince was fond of Fleur as of a sister but with no soft shadow of
incest or secondary homosexual complications. She had a small pale face with
prominent cheekbones, luminous eyes, and curly dark hair. It was rumored
that after going about with a porcelain cup and Cinderella's slipper for
months, the society sculptor and poet Arnor had found in her what he sought
and had used her breasts and feet for his Lilith Calling Back Adam; but I am
certainly no expert in these tender matters. Otar, her lover, said that when
you walked behind her, and she knew you were walking behind her, the swing
and play of those slim haunches was something intensely artistic, something
Arab girls were taught in special schools by special Parisian panders who
were afterwards strangled. Her fragile ankles, he said, which she placed
very close together in her dainty and wavy walk, were the "careful jewels"
in Arnor's poem about a miragarl ("mirage girl"), for which "a dream king in
the sandy wastes of time would give three hundred camels and three

/ / / /
On sagaren werem tremkin tri stana
/ / / /
Verbalala wod gev ut tri phantana

(I have marked the stress accents.) (note to Line 80)

In Chekhov's story Chyornyi monakh ("The Black Monk," 1894) Kovrin tells
Tanya a legend about the black monk and mentions a series of mirages:

- Меня сегодня с самого утра занимает одна легенда, - сказал он. - Не помню,
вычитал ли я её откуда или слышал, но легенда какая-то странная, ни с чем не
сообразная. Начать с того, что она не отличается ясностью. Тысячу лет тому
назад какой-то монах, одетый в чёрное, шёл по пустыне, где-то в Сирии или
Аравии... За несколько миль от того места, где он шёл, рыбаки видели другого
черного монаха, который медленно двигался по поверхности озера. Этот второй
монах был мираж. Теперь забудьте все законы оптики, которых легенда,
кажется, не признает, и слушайте дальше. От миража получился другой мираж,
потом от другого третий, так что образ черного монаха стал без конца
передаваться из одного слоя атмосферы в другой. Его видели то в Африке, то в
Испании, то в Индии, то на Дальнем Севере... Наконец, он вышел из пределов
земной атмосферы и теперь блуждает по всей вселенной, всё никак не попадая в
те условия, при которых он мог бы померкнуть. Быть может, его видят теперь
где-нибудь на Марсе или на какой-нибудь звезде Южного Креста. Но, милая моя,
самая суть, самый гвоздь легенды заключается в том, что ровно через тысячу
лет после того, как монах шёл по пустыне, мираж опять попадет в земную
атмосферу и покажется людям. И будто бы эта тысяча лет уже на исходе... По
смыслу легенды, черного монаха мы должны ждать не сегодня - завтра.

- Странный мираж, - сказала Таня, которой не понравилась легенда.

"I have been all day thinking of a legend," he said. "I don't remember
whether I have read it somewhere or heard it, but it is a strange and almost
grotesque legend. To begin with, it is somewhat obscure. A thousand years
ago a monk, dressed in black, wandered about the desert, somewhere in Syria
or Arabia. . . . Some miles from where he was, some fisherman saw another
black monk, who was moving slowly over the surface of a lake. This second
monk was a mirage. Now forget all the laws of optics, which the legend does
not recognize, and listen to the rest. From that mirage there was cast
another mirage, then from that other a third, so that the image of the black
monk began to be repeated endlessly from one layer of the atmosphere to
another. So that he was seen at one time in Africa, at another in Spain,
then in Italy, then in the Far North. . . . Then he passed out of the
atmosphere of the earth, and now he is wandering all over the universe,
still never coming into conditions in which he might disappear. Possibly he
may be seen now in Mars or in some star of the Southern Cross. But, my dear,
the real point on which the whole legend hangs lies in the fact that,
exactly a thousand years from the day when the monk walked in the desert,
the mirage will return to the atmosphere of the earth again and will appear
to men. And it seems that the thousand years is almost up. . . . According
to the legend, we may look out for the black monk today or tomorrow."

"A queer mirage," said Tanya, who did not like the legend. (chapter II)

In VN's novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) Sebastian pulls Mr.
Goodman's leg by telling him the legend from Chekhov's story:

Fourth: Sebastian in the summer of 1922 had overworked himself and,
suffering from hallucinations, used to see a kind of optical ghost - a
black-robed monk moving swiftly towards him from the sky.
This is a little harder: a short story by Chekhov. (chapter 7)

The epigraph to PF is from Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson. In TRLSK the
narrator (Sebastian's half-brother V.) compares Mr. Goodman to Boswell:

It would be unfair of me if I let it seem that this first chapter of The
Tragedy of Sebastian Knight consists exclusively of a thick flow of
philosophical treacle. Word-pictures and anecdotes which form the body of
the book (that is, when Mr Goodman arrives at the stage of Sebastian's life
when he met him personally) appear here too, as rock cakes dotting the
syrup. Mr. Goodman was no Boswell; still, no doubt, he kept a notebook where
he jotted down certain remarks of his employer - and apparently some of
these related to his employer's past. In other words, we must imagine that
Sebastian in between work would say: Do you know, my dear Goodman, this
reminds me of a day in my life, some years ago, when... Here would come the
story. Half a dozen of these seem to Mr. Goodman sufficient to fill out what
is to him a blank - Sebastian's youth in England. (ibid.)

According to the narrator, Clare Bishop (Sebastian's girl-friend and muse)
has good ankles:

For some time we searched under the table and under the plush seats for one
of Clare's gloves. She used a nice cool perfume. At last I retrieved it, a
grey suede glove with a white lining and a fringed gauntlet. She put them on
leisurely as we pushed through the revolving door. Rather tall, very
straight-backed, good ankles, flat-heeled shoes. (chapter 8)

V. meets Sebastian and Clare in Paris. In PF Kinbote mentions special
Parisian panders who in special schools teach Arab girls to swing their
haunches as they walk in front of their lover.

Incidentally, chyornyi monakh (a blank monk) is also mentioned by Pushkin in
Chapter Five (VI: 9) of Eugene Onegin:

Татьяна верила преданьям
Простонародной старины,
И снам, и карточным гаданьям,
И предсказаниям луны.
Её тревожили приметы;
Таинственно ей все предметы
Провозглашали что-нибудь,
Предчувствия теснили грудь.
Жеманный кот, на печке сидя,
Мурлыча, лапкой рыльце мыл:
То несомненный знак ей был,
Что едут гости. Вдруг увидя
Младой двурогий лик луны
На небе с левой стороны,

Она дрожала и бледнела.
Когда ж падучая звезда
По небу тёмному летела
И рассыпалася, - тогда
В смятенье Таня торопилась,
Пока звезда ещё катилась,
Желанье сердца ей шепнуть.
Когда случалось где-нибудь
Ей встретить чёрного монаха
Иль быстрый заяц меж полей
Перебегал дорогу ей,
Не зная, что начать со страха,
Предчувствий горестных полна,
Ждала несчастья уж она.

Tatiana believed in the lore

of plain-folk ancientry,

dreams, cartomancy,

and the predictions of the moon.

Portents disturbed her:

mysteriously all objects

foretold her something,

presentiments constrained her breast.

The mannered tomcat sitting on the stove,

purring, might wash his muzzlet with his paw:

to her 'twas an indubitable sign

that guests were coming. Seeing all at once

the young two-horned moon's visage

in the sky on her left,

she trembled and grew pale.

Or when a falling star

along the dark sky flew

and dissipated, then

Tanya would hasten in confusion

while the star still was rolling

her heart's desire to whisper to it.

When anywhere she happened

a black monk to encounter,

Or 'mongst the fields a rapid hare

would run across her path,

so scared she knew not what to undertake,

with sorrowful forebodings filled,

directly she expected sonic mishap.

Arnor is the society poet and sculptor. In Pushkin's poem K vel'mozhe ("To a
Grandee," 1830) Goncharova (the name of the poet's bride) rhymes with Canova
(the sculptor's name):

С восторгом ценишь ты
И блеск Алябьевой и прелесть Гончаровой.
Беспечно окружась Корреджием, Кановой,
Ты, не участвуя в волнениях мирских,
Порой насмешливо в окно глядишь на них
И видишь оборот во всём кругообразный.

Oborot vo vsyom krugoobraznyi (a circular turn in everything) seen by
Pushkin's grandee (who looks into his window and sarcastically watches the
worldly agitations without participating in them) brings to mind VN's story
Krug ("The Circle," 1936) and Adam Krug, the main character in VN's novel
Bend Sinister (1947). Arnor is the author of Lilith Calling Back Adam (a
sculpture for which he used Fleur's breasts and feet). Lilit ("Lilith,"
1930) is a poem by VN. Pushkin's poem "To a Grandee" is addressed to Prince
Nikolay Yusupov (1751-1831). In 1908 Yusupov's great-grandson and namesake
was killed in a pistol duel with Count Arvid Manteuffel, whose name brings
to mind young Baron Mandevil in PF:

Waiting for the Russian couple to recede, the King stopped beside the bench.
The mosaic-faced man folded his newspaper, and one second before he spoke
(in the neutral interval between smoke puff and detonation), the King knew
it was Odon. "All one could do at short notice," said Odon, plucking at his
cheek to display how the varicolored semi-transparent film adhered to his
face, altering its contours according to stress. "A polite person," he
added, "does not, normally, examine too closely a poor fellow's
disfigurement." "I was looking for the shpiks [plainclothesmen]" said the
King. "All day," said Odon, "they have been patrolling the quay. They are
dining at present." "I'm thirsty and hungry," said the King. "There's some
stuff in the boat. Let those Russians vanish. The child we can ignore."
"What about that woman on the beach?" "That's young Baron Mandevil--chap who
had that duel last year. Let's go now." "Couldn't we take him too?"
"Wouldn't come--got a wife and a baby. Come on, Charlie, come on, Your
Majesty." "He was my throne page on Coronation Day." Thus chatting, they
reached the Rippleson Caves. I trust the reader has enjoyed this note. (note
to Line 149)

As VN points out in his EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 45), in the description
of the Onegin-Lenski duel in Chapter Six of EO Pushkin predicted his own
fatal duel. Pushkin's EO is dedicated to Pletnyov. At the end of his letter
of May 1, 1830, to Pushkin Pletnyov sends his kind regards to his new
acquaintance who so sweetly rhymes with Canova:

Отдай поклон моей знакомке новой,

Так сладостно рифмующей с Кановой.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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