Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027160, Sun, 28 Aug 2016 16:24:02 +0300

The Beau & the Butterfly in Pale Fire, in Ada & in LATH
In his Commentary Kinbote quotes in full Shade’s poem "The Nature of
Electricity" that appeared in the New York magazine The Beau and the
Butterfly after the poet’s death:

The dead, the gentle dead--who knows?--
In tungsten filaments abide,
And on my bedside table glows
Another man's departed bride.

And maybe Shakespeare floods a whole
Town with innumerable lights,
And Shelley's incandescent soul
Lures the pale moths of starless nights.

Streetlamps are numbered, and maybe
Number nine-hundred-ninety-nine
(So brightly beaming through a tree
So green) is an old friend of mine.

And when above the livid plain
Forked lightning plays, therein may dwell
The torments of a Tamerlane,
The roar of tyrants torn in hell.

Science tells us, by the way, that the Earth would not merely fall apart,
but vanish like a ghost, if Electricity were suddenly removed from the
world. (note to Line 347)

In the last line of his poem Ugasshim zvyozdam (“To the Extinguished
Stars,” 1890) Fet mentions prizraki zvyozd (the ghosts of stars) to which
he will fly even after his death with the ghost of a sigh:

Долго ль впивать мне мерцание ваше,
Синего неба пытливые очи?
Долго ли чуять, что выше и краше
Вас ничего нет во храмине ночи?

Может быть, нет вас под теми огнями:
Давняя вас погасила эпоха, ―
Так и по смерти лететь к вам стихами,
К призракам звёзд, буду призраком вздоха!

The poem’s last word, vzdokha (Gen. of vzdokh, “sigh”), rhymes with
epokha (epoch). Epokha (“The Epoch”) was the name of the review (edited by
brothers Dostoevski) in which Turgenev’s story Prizraki (“The Ghosts,”
1864) appeared. Turgenev’s story (subtitled “A Fantasy”) has the epigraph
from Fet’s poem Fantaziya (“A Fantasy,” 1847):

Миг один… и нет волшебной сказки,
И душа опять полна возможным.

One moment \xa8C and the fairy tale has vanished,

And the soul again is full with the possible.

In the lines that immediately precede those quoted above Fet mentions
raduzhnye kraski (the iridescent colors) that irritate the eye with a false

Переходят радужные краски,
Раздражая око светом ложным…

“The iridescent colors” and oko (obs., the eye) bring to mind Iris Acht,
the mistress of Thurgus the Third (the king of Zembla whose name and surname
seem to hint at Turgenev):

Acht, Iris, celebrated actress, d. 1888, a passionate and powerful woman,
favorite of Thurgus the Third (q.v.),
<http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline130> 130. She
died officially by her own hand; unofficially, strangled in her dressing
room by a fellow actor, a jealous young Gothlander, now, at ninety, the
oldest, and least important, member of the Shadows (q.v.) group. (Index to

Thurgus the Third, surnamed The Turgid, K's grandfather, d. 1900 at
seventy-five, after a long dull reign; sponge-bagcapped, and with only one
medal on his Jaeger jacket, he liked to bicycle in the park; stout and bald,
his nose like a congested plum, his martial mustache bristling with obsolete
passion, garbed in a dressing gown of green silk, and carrying a flambeau in
his raised hand, he used to meet, every night, during a short period in the
middle-Eighties, his hooded mistress, Iris Acht (q.v.) midway between palace
and theater in the secret passage later to be rediscovered by his grandson,
<http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline130> 130. (ibid.)

Acht is German for “eight” (Turgenev was born in 1818 died in 1883; cf.
Thurgus the Third). Zinaida Hippius’ poem Chisla (“Numbers,” 1902) ends
in the line:

2, 26 and 8.*

Zinaida Hippius is the author of Elektrichestvo (“Electricity,” 1901), a
poem quoted in full by Lev Shestov (the philosopher whose penname comes from
shest’, “six”) in Vlast’ idey (“The Power of Ideas,” 1905), a review
of the second volume of Merezhkovski’s “Tolstoy and Dostoevski” (1902):

А теперь спросим, наконец, в чём же послед
ний синтез г. Мережковского? У него на это
т вопрос есть очень определённый ответ: в
чём другом, а в неясности его упрекнуть не
льзя. Уже с начала 5-й главы он приводит ст
ихотворение З.Н. Гиппиус - "Электричество",
стихотворение, которое ему кажется до так
ой степени полно и удачно выражающим его
основную мысль, что он заключительные его
строки цитирует до десяти раз. Стихотворе
ние небольшое, и я его приведу целиком вви
ду той значительной роли, которую оно игр
ает в книге г. Мережковского.

Две нити вместе свиты,
Концы обнажены.
То "да" и "нет" не слиты,
Не слиты - сплетены.
Их тёмное сплетенье
И тесно и мертво;
Но ждёт их воскресенье,
И ждут они его:
Концы соприкоснутся,
Проснутся "да" и "нет".
И "да", и "нет" сольются,
И смерть их будет свет. (VI)

…the ends will touch each other,

‘yes’ and ‘no’ will wake up.

And ‘yes’ and ‘no’ will merge,

and their death will be a light.

Shestov’s essay has for epigraph the opening and closing lines of Paul
Verlaine’s poem Art Poétique (1885):

De la musique avant toute chose...
Et tout le reste est littérature.

Of music before everything…

And all the rest is literature.

Avant toute chose brings to mind Chose, Van’s English University in VN’s
novel Ada (1969). One of Van’s Professors there is old Paar of Chose:

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)

“Paar of Chose” and “old Paar” (as he is referred to elsewhere) suggest
“old pair of shoes,” a phrase that brings to mind Bashmachkin, the main
character in Gogol’s story Shinel’ (“The Overcoat,” 1841) whose surname
comes from bashmachok (little shoe). According to Kinbote (the author of a
wonderful book on surnames), Botkin is one who makes bottekins, fancy
footwear (note to Line 71). In his article on Fet, Stikhotvoreniya of A. A.
Feta (“The Poems of A. A. Fet,” 1857), V. P. Botkin (1811-69) mentions
Gogol’s play Revizor (The Inspector, 1836) and “all this poetry of
laughter that elektricheskoy struyoy (like an electric current) runs through
the comedy:”

Мы, например, вовсе не думаем, чтобы Гогол
ь имел в виду исправление нравов, когда пи
сал своего "Ревизора". Его самого прежде в
сего восхищала комическая сторона его ге
роев, их пошлое, домашнее понимание госуд
арственных интересов, их наивная безнрав
ственность, бессознательная подлость; а е
сли "Ревизор" имеет высокий нравственный
смысл, то смысл этот явился сам собою, как
невольное отражение того высокого нравст
венного идеала, который великий художник
носил в душе своей и который помимо воли х
удожника всегда отразится в каждом его пр
оизведении. Этот нравственный идеал один
помогал Гоголю с такою неслыханною тонко
стию подмечать пошлые стороны жизни. Его
самого смешили эти пошлые стороны: иначе
откуда бы взялась эта неудержимая весёло
сть, этот умиляющий душу юмор, это гениаль
ное шутовство, словом, вся эта поэзия смех
а, который электрической струёй бежит по

The word struyoy (Instr. of struya, “jet, spurt, stream; current”) used by
Botkin brings to mind dyadya Struy (Uncle Spurt), a character in Zhukovski’
s Undina. Starinnaya povest’ (1831-36). Zhukovski’s fairy tale is a
rendering in hexameter of a prose novella (Undine, 1811) by Friedrich de La
Motte Fouqué. According to VN, La Motte Fouqué’s Pique-Dame (“Reports
from the Madhouse. From the Swedish,” 1826) was known to Pushkin when he
wrote Pikovaya dama (The Queen of Spades, 1833). The three magical cards in
Pushkin’s story are Three, Seven and Ace. In VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,”
1937) Fyodor in one of his poems addressed to Zina Mertz mentions tuz
voobrazhen’ya (the ace of fancy):

Как звать тебя? Ты полу-Мнемозина, полу-ме
рцанье в имени твоём, \xa8C и странно мне по су
мраку Берлина с полувиденьем странствова
ть вдвоём. Но вот скамья под липой освещён
ной… Ты оживаешь в судорогах слёз: я вижу
взор сей жизнью изумлённый и бледное сиян
ие волос. Есть у меня сравненье на примет
е, для губ твоих, когда целуешь ты: нагорны
й снег, мерцающий в Тибете, горячий ключ и
в инее цветы. Ночные наши, бедные владени
я, \xa8C забор, фонарь, асфальтовую гладь \xa8C пос
тавим на туза воображения, чтоб целый мир
у ночи отыграть! Не облака \xa8C а горные отро
ги; костёр в лесу, \xa8C не лампа у окна… О покл
янись, что до конца дороги ты будешь тольк
о вымыслу верна…

What shall I call you? Half-Mnemosyne? There’s a half-shimmer in your
surname too. In dark Berlin, it is so strange to me to roam, oh, my
half-fantasy, with you. A bench stands under the translucent tree. Shivers
and sobs reanimate you there, and all life’s wonder in your gaze I see, and
see the pale fair radiance of your hair. In honor of your lips when they
kiss mine I might devise a metaphor some time: Tibetan mountain-snows, their
glancing shine, and a hot spring near flowers touched with rime. Our poor
nocturnal property―that wet asphaltic gloss, that fence and that street
light―upon the ace of fancy let us set to win a world of beauty from the
night. Those are not clouds―but star-high mountain spurs; not lamplit
blinds―but camplight on a tent! O swear to me that while the heartblood
stirs, you will be true to what we shall invent. (Chapter Three)

After the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th electricity was banned
on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set). The
Antiterran L disaster seems to correspond to the mock execution of
Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS). January 3 is the
birthday of Lucette, Van’s and Ada’s half-sister whom Van calls “our
Esmeralda and mermaid” (2.8). Esmeralda is a gipsy girl in Victor Hugo’s
novel Notre Dame de Paris (1831). At the beginning of his essay on Fet
Botkin quotes Prosper Mérimée’s words in his article written a propos of
the new volume of Hugo’s poetry:

Даже литераторы восстают на поэзию, и нек
огда талантливый автор немногих превосхо
дных рассказов -- а ныне сделавшийся напол
еоновским сенатором -- Проспер Мериме нап
исал недавно в "Монитёре" целую статью о т
ом, что поэзия возможна только в диком сос
тоянии общества и что только в этом счаст
ливом (?) состоянии поэт может быть наивны
м без глупости и естественным без пошлост
и; что в первобытном обществе поэт бывал в
оеначальником, законодателем, оракулом, а
теперь, чуждый практической жизни, он ста
л одним из самых бесполезных членов общес
тва, что говорит он неестественным языко
м, которого большая часть его современник
ов не понимают, и проч. Всё это кажется ост
роумно, особенно если подумаешь, что стат
ья написана по поводу недавно вышедших ст
ихотворений Виктора Гюго и что новый сена
тор должен был доказать чем-нибудь своё н
овое profession de foi.

In her memoir essay on Voloshin, Zhivoe o zhivom ("A Living Word about a
Living Man," 1932), Marina Tsvetaev uses the phrase au beau milieu (right in
the middle) as applied to Victor Hugo's poem Napoléon II (1832):

И внезапно \xa8C au beau milieu Victor Hugo Наполеону II \xa8C
уже не вкрадчиво, а срочно: \xa8C А нельзя ли б
удет пойти куда-нибудь в другое место? \xa8C М
ожно, конечно, вниз тогда, но там семь град
усов и больше не бывает.

To Voloshin’s question if they can talk in some other place, Marina
Tsvetaev replied that they could go downstairs where the temperature was
never above sem’ gradusov (seven degrees). Sem’ gradusov bring to mind
Gradus (Shade’s murderer).

Roman number L corresponds to Arabic 50. On the other hand, L is the initial
of Lermontov (the author of the prophetical Prediction, 1830, and of The
Demon, 1829-40) and Lenin.

Lermontov + Arbenin + gradus = Leningrad + rab/bar + noster/Nestor + ovum

Arbenin - the main character in Lermontov’s drama in verse Maskarad (“The
Masquerade,” 1835)

gradus - degree

Leningrad - St. Petersburg’s name in 1924-1991 (Kinbote mockingly calls
Gradus “Leningradus”)

rab - slave

noster - Lat., our; cf. Pater noster (a prayer)

Nestor - Nestor the Chronicler (c. 1056 - c. 1114), one of the authors of
Povest’ vremennykh let (the earliest Slavic chronicle)

ovum - Lat., egg; cf. ab ovo (from the very beginning)

In his article on Fet Botkin compares Fet’s talent to those of Pushkin and

Со времени Пушкина и Лермонтова мы не зна
ем между русскими стихотворцами таланта
более поэтического, как талант г. Фета. Ск
ажем более, по лиризму чувства его можно п
оставить наряду с первоклассными поэтам

In the first (which is also the last) stanza of his “Fantasy” Fet mentions
styokla okon (the windowpanes):

Мы одни; из сада в стёкла окон
Светит месяц... тусклы наши свечи;
Твой душистый, твой послушный локон,
Развиваясь, падает на плечи.

Shade’s poem begins:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By the false azure in the windowpane… (1-2)

It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem needs two lines:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By its own double in the windowpane. (1000-1001)

Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846) is a short novel by Dostoevski. Shade’s,
Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin (an American
scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad after the
suicide of his daughter Nadezhda). V. P. Botkin is the author of Pis’ma ob
Ispanii (“Letters about Spain,” 1851). In Gogol’s story Zapiski
sumasshedshego (“A Madman’s Notes,” 1835) Poprishchin imagines that he is
the king of Spain Ferdinand VIII. Kinbote believes that he is the last
self-exiled king of Zembla, Charles the Beloved. In his fragment Rim
(“Rome,” 1842) Gogol mentions Italian “tailed sonnets” (con la coda) and
explains what a coda is. The last line of Shade’s poem, “By its own double
in the windowpane,” and Kinbote’s Foreword, Commentary and Index are the
coda of Shade’s Pale Fire.

Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on Oct. 19,
1959. In his poem “To A. A. Fet, 19 October 1884” V. Solovyov (whose name
comes from solovey, “nightingale”) compares Fet to a swan and calls
Pushkin oryol poezii rodimoy (the eagle of native poetry).

In his poem Memorabilia (1855) alluded to in Ada (1.23) Browning mentions
Shelley and an eagle-feather:

Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,

And did he stop and speak to you?

And did you speak to him again?

How strange it seems, and new!

But you were living before that,

And you are living after,

And the memory I started at―

My starting moves your laughter!

I crossed a moor, with a name of its own

And a certain use in the world no doubt,

Yet a hand's-breadth of it shines alone

'Mid the blank miles round about:

For there I picked up on the heather

And there I put inside my breast

A moulted feather, an eagle-feather―

Well, I forget the rest.

In Robert Brown’s poem Peter and Margaret that Van makes Lucette to learn
by heart the visitor tells to the guide that he is the ghost:

‘Here, said the guide, was the field,

There, he said, was the wood.

This is where Peter kneeled,

That’s where the Princess stood.

No, the visitor said,

You are the ghost, old guide.

Oats and oaks may be dead,

But she is by my side.’ (1.23)

In the “entomological” chapter (6.3) of his autobiography Speak, Memory
(1967) VN quotes Fet’s poem Babochka (“The Butterfly,” 1884) and
Browning’s By the Fire-Side. In Browning’s poem hazel-trees and “green
degrees” are mentioned:

The outside-frame, like your hazel-trees:
But the inside-archway widens fast,
And a rarer sort succeeds to these,
And we slope to Italy at last
And youth, by green degrees. (V)

Shade wrote his poem "The Nature of Electricity" after the suicide of his
daughter Hazel (whose “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin).

The current issue of The Beau & the Butterfly is also mentioned in Ada:

Next day, in their little drawing room, with its black divan, yellow
cushions, and draftproof bay whose new window seemed to magnify the slow
steady straight-falling snowflakes (coincidentally stylized on the cover of
the current issue of The Beau & the Butterfly which lay on the window
ledge), Ada discussed her ‘dramatic career.’ (2.9)

In their old age Van and Ada translate Shade’s poem into Russian:

They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage
(lines 569-572) in John Shade's famous poem:

...Sovety my dayom

Kak byt' vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;

On ih vstrechaet - lyubyashchih, lyubimyh,

Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke...

(...We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another...) (5.6)

In VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) Vadim Vadimovich mentions The
Beau and the Butterfly, “the kindest magazine in the world:”

Although I was adequately remunerated for my two weekly lectures on European
Masterpieces and one Thursday seminar on Joyce's Ulysses (from a yearly 5000
dollars in the beginning to 15,000 in the Fifties) and had furthermore
several splendidly paid stories accepted by The Beau and the Butterfly, the
kindest magazine in the world, I was not really comfortable until my Kingdom
by the Sea (1962) atoned for a fraction of the loss of my Russian fortune
(1917) and bundled away all financial worries till the end of worrisome
time. (3.1)

Vadim’s novel The Dare (1950) brought out by the Turgenev Publishing House
(New York) includes a biography of Dostoevski:

Inset in the middle part is a complete version of the book my Victor wrote
"on a dare:" this is a concise biography and critical appraisal of Fyodor
Dostoyevski, whose politics my author finds hateful and whose novels he
condemns as absurd with their black-bearded killers presented as mere
negatives of Jesus Christ's conventional image, and weepy whores borrowed
from maudlin romances of an earlier age. (2.5)

Vadim’s first wife, Iris Black, was assassinated by a madman (1.13). The
name of the killer’s wife (a friend of Iris) is Nadezhda Gordonovna Starov.

At the end of Part Two of LATH Vadim mentions a coda:

The neuralgia in my right forearm was a gray adumbration compared to the
solid black headache that no pill could pierce. Annette rang up James Lodge,
and he, out of the misdirected kindness of his heart, had an old little
physician of Russian extraction examine me. The poor fellow drove me even
crazier than I was by not only insisting on discussing my symptoms in an
execrable version of the language I was trying to shed, but on translating
into it various irrelevant terms used by the Viennese Quack and his apostles
(simbolizirovanie, mortidnik). Yet his visit, I must confess, strikes me in
retrospect as a most artistic coda. (2.10)

In Part Five of LATH Vadim describes his visit to Leningrad. He is
accompanied in his trip by Oleg Orlov (a Soviet spy whose surname comes from
oryol, eagle). As he speaks to Vadim, Oleg mentions Fyodor Mikhaylovich:

"Ekh!" he exclaimed, "Ekh, Vadim Vadimovich dorogoy (dear), aren't you
ashamed of deceiving our great warm-hearted country, our benevolent,
credulous government, our overworked Intourist staff, in this nasty
infantile manner! A Russian writer! Snooping! Incognito! By the way, I am
Oleg Igorevich Orlov, we met in Paris when we were young."

"What do you want, merzavetz (you scoundrel)?" I coldly inquired as he
plopped into the chair on my left.

He raised both hands in the "see-I'm-unarmed" gesture: "Nothing, nothing.
Except to ruffle (potormoshit') your conscience. Two courses presented
themselves. We had to choose. Fyodor Mihaylovich [?] himself had to choose.
Either to welcome you po amerikanski (the American way) with reporters,
interviews, photographers, girls, garlands, and, naturally, Fyodor
Mihaylovich himself [President of the Union of Writers? Head of the `Big
House'?]; or else to ignore you--and that's what we did. By the way: forged
passports may be fun in detective stories, but our people are just not
interested in passports. Aren't you sorry now?" (5.3)

Fyodor Mikhaylovich is, of course, Dostoevski's name-and-patronymic.

*Merezhkovski’s, Filosofov’s and Hippius’ birthdates

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