Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027199, Thu, 13 Oct 2016 13:50:25 +0300

St. Swithin's Day in Pale Fire; Christmas Day in Lolita
I crept back to my cheerless domicile with a heavy heart and a puzzled mind.
The heart remained heavy but the puzzle was solved a few days later, very
probably on St. Swithin's Day, for I find in my little diary under that date
the anticipatory "promnad vespert mid J.S.," crossed out with a petulance
that broke the lead in midstroke. (note to Lines 47-48)

St. Swithin's Day is 15 July, a day on which people watch the weather for
tradition says that whatever the weather is like on St. Swithin's Day, it
will continue so for the next forty days. There is a well known

'St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.'

(nae mair = no more)

According to John Ray, Jr. (the author of Foreword in VN's Lolita, 1955),
Humbert Humbert (the novel's main character and narrator) died of coronary
thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days before his trial was scheduled
to start. The same John Ray, Jr. tells us that Mrs. "Richard F. Schiller"
died in childbed giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in
Grey Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest. Mrs. "Richard F.
Schiller" is Dolores Haze's married name. Lolita dies on December 25, 1952,
forty days after Humbert Humbert's death. In the Orthodox tradition it is
believed that the soul of the departed remains wandering on Earth during the
40-day period, coming back home, visiting places the departed has lived in
as well as his fresh grave. According to John Ray, Jr., "the caretakers of
the various cemeteries involved report that no ghosts walk."

Lolita's husband is a namesake of the German poet Friedrich Schiller
(1759-1805). In Schiller's poem Das Siegesfest ("The Feast of Victory,"
1803) there is a line:

Ajax fiel durch Ajax' Kraft.

The characters of Dostoevski's novel Podrostok ("The Adolescent," 1875)
include Kraft, a boy who commits suicide because he came to a conclusion
that Russia does not have a great future. The name of another character,
Versilov (Arkadiy Dolgorukiy's real father), brings to mind versipel (as
Shade calls his muse):

And that odd muse of mine
My versipel, is with me everywhere,
In carrel and in car, and in my chair. (ll. 946-948)

The author of Mal'chik u Khrista na yolke ("The Beggar Boy at Christ's
Christmas Tree," 1876), Dostoevski planned to write a novel entitled
Sorokoviny ("The Forty-Day Memorial").

In his essay Sud'ba Pushkina ("The Fate of Pushkin," 1897) V. Solovyov
quotes the lines from Torzhestvo pobediteley ("The Triumph of Victors,"
1828), Zhukovski's Russian version of Schiller's Das Siegesfest:

Жизнь его не враг отъял,-

Он своею силой пал,

Жертва гибельного гнева,-

(Thou wert vanquished not in fight:

Anger 'tis destroys the best,-

Ajax fell by Ajax' might!")

Zhukovski turns Ajax of the original into ty ("thou") and Solovyov
transforms the ty of Zhukovski's Russian version into on ("he").

In Chapter Four ("The Life of Chernyshevski") of VN's novel Dar ("The Gift,"
1937) Fyodor mentions pushkinskiy luch (a ray of Pushkin's light) that has
penetrated between the blinds of Russian critical thought:

И вот, "кружащаяся пылинка, попала в пушкинский луч, проникающий между штор
русской критической мысли", по образному и злому выражению биографа. Мы
имеем в виду следующую магическую гамму судьбы: в саратовском дневнике
Чернышевский применил к своему жениховству цитату из "Египетских ночей", с
характерным для него, бесслухого, искажением и невозможным заключительным
слогом: "Я принял вызов наслаждения, как вызов битвы принял бы". За это "бы"
судьба, союзница муз (сама знающая толк в этой частице), ему и отомстила, --
да с какой изощрённой незаметностью в нарастании кары!

And now "a revolving speck of dust has got caught in a ray of Pushkin's
light, which has penetrated between the blinds of Russian critical thought,"
to use Strannolyubski's caustic metaphor. We have in mind the following
magic gamut of fate: in his Saratov diary Chernyshevski applied two lines
from Pushkin's "The Egyptian Nights" to his courtship, completely misquoting
the second one, with a characteristic (for him who had no ear) distortion:
"I [he] met the challenge of delight / As warfare's challenge met I'd have
(instead of "As he would meet in days of war / The challenge of a savage
battle"). For this "I'd have," fate-the ally of the muses (and herself an
expert in conditional forms), took revenge on him-and with what refined
stealth in the evolution of the punishment!

Much to Fyodor's regret, his father refused to detect in the modern poetry
the long, life-giving ray of Pushkin:

Его ошибка заключалась не в том, что он свально охаял всю <поэзию модерн>, а
в том, что он в ней не захотел высмотреть длинный животворный луч любимого
своего поэта.

His mistake was not that he ran down all "modern poetry" indiscriminately,
but that he refused to detect in it the long, life-giving ray of his
favorite poet. (Chapter Three)

In my previous post I forgot to point out that Bryusov (one of the poets
despised by Fyodor's father) attempted to complete Pushkin's Egipetskie
nochi ("The Egyptian Nights," 1835). Shade's poem remains unfinished
(because the author is killed by Gradus) and has to be completed by the
reader (because Kinbote fails to complete it). The last line (Line 1001) of
Shade's poem seems to be:

By its own double in the windowpane.

Dvoynik ("The Double") is a novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1914) by
Blok (another poet dismissed by Fyodor's father).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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