A few thoughts on D. Barton Johnson's "A Field Guide to Nabokov's Pale Fire," in the Stanford Slavic Studies 33 (2007):
For those who haven't read it, Don Johnson's article is a wonderfully detailed descriptive and (occasionally) interpretive essay focusing on all the birds that appear in Pale Fire, as well as the Vanessa atalanta.  Among the most interesting passages are those devoted to the folkloric associations generated by both the bohemian waxwing and the red admiral.  The author clearly shows that bird and butterfly have similar associations with death and doom.  Another interesting note regards the ring-necked pheasant Shade mentions in the poem.  In a post to the list some years ago, Brian Boyd argued that the pheasant/"sublimated grouse" is related to Hazel Shade via the hazel grouse of VN's childhood, but Brian, I think, misunderstood the meaning of "sublimated." Nevertheless, DBJ strengthens the association by pointing out that the transformation of ruffed grouse into pheasant mirrors Hazel's toothwort white to red admirable transformatio n.  We should also, I might add, recall the even clearer association with Hazel's (failed) cygnet to wood duck transformation, which is of course mentioned elsewhere in the article.
DBJ makes several interesting observations at the conclusion of the article. One, of course, is that Kinbote is surprisingly accurate in his ornithological descriptions (despite what VN said in an interview after the fact).  He writes that the reader "faces the problem of accounting for Botkin's knowledge of local fauna. The birds that Kinbote/Botkin mentions are in their proper places at the proper times. And, not so incidentally, he sometimes seem to know too much, e.g., the original Linnaean generic name Ampelis for waxwings, a term that has not been in use . . . since about 1900 when Bombycilla became the standard term. Even stranger, he knows that the former means "of the vineyard," a fact that enables him to create the bizarre vignette that Gradus/Vinogradus comes from a long line of liquor dealers" (669).
One solution to this particular problem--though perhaps not to the more general one introduced here--might be that Kinbote does have a dictionary with him in Cedarn.  This dictionary is NOT Webster's 2nd, but it does have some of Webster's 2nd's definitions (see "unicursal bicircular quartic"). If we do look at the definition of waxwing in W2, we find "any of several American and Asiatic passerine birds of the genus Bombycilla (syn. Ampelis)," etc.  So Ampelis could have been in Kinbote's dictionary.  Furthermore, if Kinbote then tried to look up Ampelis (a guide word in W2, btw), he might have found the following:
ampelo-, ampel-.  A combining form, Greek ampelo-, ampel- from ampelos, vine, as in ampelographist, ampelography.
ampelopsin.  An anthocyanin found in the Virgina creeper
Ampelopsis.  1. A genus of woody climbers of the grape family (Vitacaea). 2. A plant of the genus Parthenocissus, esp. P. tricuspidata, the Japanese ivy, and P. quinquefolia, the Virginia creeper.
Now this is very interesting! While this makes it clear that Kinbote could have learned the basic meaning at the root of Ampelis (vine), there seems to be another connection lurking here.  In the Foreword (p. 22) Kinbote says "A few days later, as I was about to leave Parthenocissus Hall--or Main Hall (or now Shade Hall, alas), I saw him waiting outside, etc." Given the geography of New Wye (probably northern Virginia, around Harrisonburg) the Parthenocissus covering the wall of Main/Shade Hall is absolutely the Virginia creeper (scourge of my own back acre here in Pennsylvania, btw). Thus, the word at the root of Vinogradus is also connected to Shade not just by the waxwing (sampel/ampelis) but by Parthenocissus quinquefolia which covers the Hall which will come to bear Shade's name. What does this mean? Well, it could be Shade's ghost making more connections, or I might argue that this is more proof that Shade, Gradus and Kinbote are one and the same, or some will simply say that it is the great pattern-maker himself, VN, just showing off.
(I don't suppose this quinquefolia--five leaf--has anything to do with the patifolia--open leaf--in Charles's bedroom?)
Matt Roth

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