Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027197, Sat, 8 Oct 2016 18:20:51 +0300

Rymer, Botkin, Gradus,
Fleur de Fyler & Historia Zemblica in Pale Fire
Among the names that derive from professions Kinbote (the author of a
wonderful book on surnames) mentions Rymer and Botkin:

With commendable alacrity, Professor Hurley produced an Appreciation of John
Shade's published works within a month after the poet's death. It came out
in a skimpy literary review, whose name momentarily escapes me, and was
shown to me in Chicago where I interrupted for a couple of days my
automobile journey from New Wye to Cedarn, in these grim autumnal mountains.

A Commentary where placid scholarship should reign is not the place for
blasting the preposterous defects of that little obituary. I have only
mentioned it because that is where I gleaned a few meager details concerning
the poet's parents. His father, Samuel Shade, who died at fifty, in 1902,
had studied medicine in his youth and was vice-president of a firm of
surgical instruments in Exton. His chief passion, however, was what our
eloquent necrologist calls "the study of the feathered tribe," adding that
"a bird had been named for him: Bombycilla Shadei" (this should be "shadei,"
of course). The poet's mother, nee Caroline Lukin, assisted him in his work
and drew the admirable figures of his Birds of Mexico, which I remember
having seen in my friend's house. What the obituarist does not know is that
Lukin comes from Luke, as also do Locock and Luxon and Lukashevich. It
represents one of the many instances when the amorphous-looking but live and
personal hereditary patronymic grows, sometimes in fantastic shapes, around
the common pebble of a Christian name. The Lukins are an old Essex family.
Other names derive from professions such as Rymer, Scrivener, Limner (one
who illuminates parchments), Botkin (one who makes bottekins, fancy
footwear) and thousands of others. My tutor, a Scotsman, used to call any
old tumble-down buildings a "hurley-house." But enough of this. (note to
Line 71)

In Klyuchevski’s essay Evgeniy Onegin i ego predki ("Eugene Onegin and his
Forefathers," 1887) Onegin’s great-grandfather (who lived in days of
Peter’s reform) regrets that his teacher who made him write Latin verses
did not show to him how to make boots:

Но время шло, разгоралась петровская рефо
рма, и чиновного латиниста с его виршами и
всею граматичною мудростью назначили ком
иссаром для приёма и отправки в армию сол
датских сапог. Тут-то, разглядывая сапожн
ые швы и подошвы и помня государеву дубин
ку, он впервые почувствовал себя неловко
со своим грузом киевской учёности и со вз
дохом спрашивал: зачем этот киевский неха
й, учивший меня строчить вирши, не показал
мне, как шьют кожаные солдатские спириды?

Kozhanye soldatskie spiridy (as Klyuchevski jokingly calls boots) and
gosudareva dubinka (the tsar’s cudgel) bring to mind Spirtom snachala gorel
ya stogradusnym (“At first I was burning like pure alcohol”), the first
line of one of Solovyov’s acrostics in the cycle Safo (1892):

Спиртом сначала горел я стоградусным,

Адское пламя томительно жгло...

Факелом ныне елейным и радостным

Около Вас я пылаю светло.

Vasiliy Klyuchevski (1841-1911) was a historian. The philosopher and poet
Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) was a son of Sergey Solovyov (1820-79),
another famous historian. The name Solovyov comes from solovey
(nightingale). The epithet stogradusnyi (centigrade) used by Solovyov has
Gradus (the name of Shade’s murderer) in it. According to Kinbote, almost
all of Gradus’ relatives were in the liquor business:

By an extraordinary coincidence (inherent perhaps in the contrapuntal nature
of Shade's art) out poet seems to name here (gradual, gray) a man, whom he
was to see for one fatal moment three weeks later, but of whose existence at
the time (July 2) he could not have known. Jakob Gradus called himself
variously Jack Degree or Jacques de Grey, or James de Gray, and also appears
in police records as Ravus, Ravenstone, and d'Argus. Having a morbid
affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era, he contended that the real
origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd,
to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus. His father,
Martin Gradus, had been a Protestant minister in Riga, but except for him
and a maternal uncle (Roman Tselovalnikov, police officer and part-time
member of the Social-Revolutionary party), the whole clan seems to have been
in the liquor business. (note to Line 17)

Vinograd (1824) is a poem by Pushkin (the author of Eugene Onegin who
planned to write “The History of Peter”). Solovyov’s acrostics are
addressed to Sofia Martynov (a married woman whose surname comes from
Martin). Martynov was the name of Lermontov’s adversary in his fatal duel.
Lermontov believed that he was a descendant of Thomas of Learmont, a 13th
century Scottish laird and prophet who is also known as Thomas the Rhymer.

The word spiridy used by Klyuchevski is pseudo-Latin for lapti (shoes of
bast). In Six: XLI: 3 of EO Pushkin mentions the herdsman plaiting his
pyostryi lapot’ (pied shoe of bast):

Под ним (как начинает капать
Весенний дождь на злак полей)
Пастух, плетя свой пёстрый лапоть,
Поёт про волжских рыбарей;
И горожанка молодая,
В деревне лето провождая,
Когда стремглав верхом она
Несётся по полям одна,
Коня пред ним остановляет,
Ремянный повод натянув,
И, флёр от шляпы отвернув,
Глазами беглыми читает
Простую надпись ― и слеза
Туманит нежные глаза.

Beneath it (as begins to drip

spring rain upon the herb of fields)

the herdsman, plaiting his pied shoe of bast,

sings of the Volga fishermen;

and the young townswoman

spending the summer in the country,

when she on horseback headlong

ranges, alone, over the fields,

before it halts her steed,

tightening the leathern rein

and, turning up the gauze veil of her hat,

with skimming eyes reads

the simple scripture―and a tear

dims her soft eyes.

Flyor ot shlyapy (the gauze veil of her hat) in the stanza’s line 11 brings
to mind Fleur de Fyler, the younger daughter of Countess de Fyler (Queen
Blenda’s favorite lady-in-waiting) who attempts to seduce young Charles
Xavier (the heir to Zemblan throne):

I do not know what advice or command her mother had given Fleur; but the
little thing proved a poor seducer. She kept trying, as one quietly insane,
to mend a broken viola d’amore or sat in dolorous attitudes comparing two
ancient flutes, both sad-tuned and feeble. Meantime, in Turkish garb, he
lolled in his father’s ample chair, his legs over its arms, flipping
through a volume of Historia Zemblica, copying out passages and occasionally
fishing out of the nether recesses of his seat a pair of old-fashioned
motoring goggles, a black opal ring, a ball of silver chocolate wrapping, or
the star of a foreign order. (note to Line 80)

In Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens (Act IV, Scene 3) Timon addresses the gold
and calls it “bright defiler of Hymen’s purest bed:”

O THOU sweet king killer, and dear divorce

’Twixt natural son and sire! thou bright defiler

Of Hymen’s purest bed! thou valiant Mars;

Thou ever young, fresh, loved, and delicate wooer,

Whose blush doth thaw the consecrated snow

That lies on Dian’s lap! thou visible god,

That solder’st close impossibilities,

And mak’st them kiss; that speak’st with every tongue,

To every purpose! O thou touch of hearts!

Think, thy slave, man, rebels; and by thy virtue

Set them into confounding odds, that beasts

May have the world in empire.

The characters of Shakespeare’s Richard III include the Scrivener. At the
beginning of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act I, Scene 1) the Second Witch
mentions the hurlyburly:

First Witch

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch

When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.

Third Witch

That will be ere the set of sun.

In his Sonet (“The Sonnet,” 1830) Pushkin says that tvorets Makbeta (the
author of Macbeth) loved its [the sonnet’s] play. Kinbote believes that, to
be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem needs but one line (Line 1000): “I
was the shadow of the waxwing slain.” But, like some sonnets, it also seems
to need a coda (Line 1001): “By its own double in the windowpane.”

Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846) is a short novel by Dostoevski. In one of his
humorous poems Solovyov makes fun of Tolstoy’s attempt to make boots and
quotes the words of Dostoevski (who said that for the nihilists “the boots
were higher than Shakespeare”):

Некогда некто изрёк: ?Сапоги суть выше Шек

Дабы по слову сему превзойти британца, са

Лев Толстой мастерством занялся, и славы

Льзя ли дальше идти, россияне, в искании с

Вящую Репин стяжал, когда: ?Сапоги, как так

Взявши, Толстого сапог он начал чистить у

In a letter of 1…6, 1871, to Fet (the poet who was married to Maria Botkin)
Tolstoy (who was reading Xenophon and Homer in the original) says that Fet’
s skin that he had promised as parchment for Tolstoy’s diploma of Greek is
in danger:

Я ничего не пишу, а только учусь. И, судя по
сведеньям, дошедшим до меня от Борисова, в
аша кожа, отдаваемая на пергамент для мое
го диплома греческого, находится в опасно
сти. Невероятно и ни на что не похоже, но я
прочёл Ксенофонта и теперь à livre ouvert читаю
его. Для Гомера же нужен только лексикон и
немного напряжения.

Tolstoy mentions his, Turgenev’s and Fet’s friend Borisov, a local
landowner whose wife Nadezhda (Fet’s sister, born Shenshin) went mad.

According to Kinbote, Limner is one who illuminates parchments. In his EO
Commentary (vol. II, pp. 178-179) VN describes Notbek’s illustrations in
The Nevski Almanac and mentions the transient amazon who stops to read the
epitaph on Lenski’s grave:

The funniest picture, however, is the one with which Notbek illustrates Six:
XLI (referring to the transient amazon who stops to read the epitaph on
Lenski’s grave). It depicts an enormous female calmly sitting on a horse as
on a bench, with both her legs dangling down one flank of her slender
microcephalous white steed, near a formidable marble mausoleum. The whole
series of six illustrations reminds one of the artwork produced by inmates
of lunatic asylums.

It seems that Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ real name) writes
Pale Fire (the book whose title was borrowed from Shakespeare’s Timon of
Athens) in a madhouse. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor
Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the
suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of her father’s poem).
Nadezhda means “hope.” There is a hope that after Kinbote completes his
work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the Lyceum
anniversary) Botkin will be whole (or “full”) again.

The “real” name of Shade’s wife Sybil seems to be Sofia Botkin (born
Lastochkin). The characters of VN’s story The Vane Sisters (1951) that ends
in an acrostic include Sybil Vane.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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