According to Shade, during the heart attack that he suffered when he gave his speech Why Poetry Is Meaningful to Us he saw a tall white fountain:


And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played. (ll. 706-707)


In the same Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions a Mrs. Z. who also saw a fountain during a heart attack:


But at the end she mentioned a remote
Landscape, a hazy orchard--and I quote:
"Beyond that orchard through a kind of smoke
I glimpsed a tall white fountain--and awoke." (ll. 755-758)


A hazy orchard mentioned by Shade brings to mind Chekhovs last play, Vishnyovyi sad (The Cherry Orchard, 1904). Fountain in Jim Coates article about Mrs. Z.s heart attack (quoted by Shade) turns out to be a misprint of mountain:


I also called on Coates.
He was afraid he had mislaid her notes.
He took his article from a steel file:
"It's accurate. I have not changed her style.
There's one misprint--not that it matters much:
Mountain, not fountain. The majestic touch.

Life Everlasting--based on a misprint! (ll. 797-803)


In VNs novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) The Funny Mountain is one of Sebastians best stories:


Also some of my father's favourite quips seem to have broken into fantastic flower in such typical Knight stories as Albinos in Black or The Funny Mountain, his best one perhaps, that beautifully queer tale which always makes me think of a child laughing in its sleep. (Chapter 1)


In VNs novel Sebastian Knight dies of heart failure in a hospital near Paris. The narrator (Sebastians half-brother V. who is unaware that his brother died last night) spends the night near the bed of another patient, Mr. Kegan. The name of Sebastians mistress, Nina Rechnoy, brings to mind Nina Zarecnhaya, Trigorins mistress in Chekhovs play Chayka (The Seagull, 1896). The name Trigorin comes from tri gory (three mountains).


At the end of the 1890s Chekhov lived in Nice. In Canto Two of his poem Shade mentions Nice and sea gulls:


Espied on a pine's bark
As we were walking home the day she died,
An empty emerald case, squat and frog-eyed,
Hugging the trunk; and its companion piece,
A gum-logged ant. That Englishman in Nice
A proud and happy linguist: je nourris
Les pauvres cigales--meaning that he
Fed the poor sea gulls!
                        Lafontaine was wrong;
Dead is the mandible, alive the song. (ll. 236-244)


An empty emerald case mentioned by Shade brings to mind Gerald Emerald, a young instructor at the campus, the man in green who gives Gradus (the man in brown) a lift to Judge Goldsworths house. As Vera Nabokov points out in a footnote to her translation of PF, in his Russian version of Lafontaines La Cigale et la Fourmi (the fable mentioned by Kinbote in his Commentary) Krylov translated cigale (cicada; grasshopper) as strekoza (dragon-fly). Strekoza was the name of a magazine in which young Chekhov published his humorous short stories.  In French la fontaine means spring; fountain. In Chekhovs play Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya, 1897) Astrov tells Telegin: zatkni fontan (shut up, an allusion to Prutkovs well-known aphorism).


Life Everlasting--based on a misprint in Shades poem brings to mind two funny misprints in the telegram that in Chekhovs story Dushechka (The Darling, 1898) the heroine receives after the death of her first husband:


ݧ֧ߧܧ ѧߧ ݧѧݧ ֧ݧ֧ԧѧާާ ާا, ߧ ֧֧ ֧ާ- ѧ ҧާݧ֧ݧ. اѧڧާ ܧѧާ ߧ ѧ֧ѧѧݧ ֧ݧ֧ԧѧާާ ݧ ݧ֧է֧:

"ӧѧ ֧ӧڧ ܧߧѧݧ ֧ԧէߧ ܧڧاߧ ѧݧ اէ֧ ѧا֧ߧڧ ߧ ӧߧڧ".

ѧ ҧݧ ߧѧ֧ѧѧߧ ֧ݧ֧ԧѧާާ "ߧ" ܧѧܧ- ֧ ߧ֧ߧߧ ݧӧ "ѧݧ"; էڧ ҧݧ ֧اڧק ֧֧ߧ .


Olenka had received telegrams from her husband before, but this time for some reason she felt numb with terror. With shaking hands she opened the telegram and read as follows:


That was how it was written in the telegram -- "fufuneral," and the utterly incomprehensible word "immate." It was signed by the stage manager of the operatic company.


In his article on Chekhov (1929) written for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Chekhovs death Khodasevich (the author of a book on Derzhavin) contrasts Chekhov with Derzhavin and mentions Chekhovs modesty. Thus, when Tolstoy praised one of Chekhovs stories, Chekhov was embarrassed, could not say a word and finally remarked that there were misprints in it:


֧ է ا ܧѧۧߧ ܧާ֧: ݧ ݧ֧٧ѧާ ߧ ԧݧѧ٧ѧ ѧӧѧݧڧӧѧ֧ ֧ԧ ѧܧѧ; ֧ ܧѧߧ֧֧, ާݧڧ, ڧѧ֧ ֧ߧߧ , ߧѧܧߧ֧, ԧӧڧ: "ѧ - ֧ѧܧ"...


In his poem Pamyatnik (The Monument, 1895) Derzhavin proclaims his immortality. As VN points out in his EO Commentary, Pushkins poem Exegi monumentum (1836) is a parody of Derzhavins Pamyatnik. In the last line of his poem On translating "Eugene Onegin" (1955) VN modestly calls his translation of Pushkins novel in verse and the two-volume commentary dove-droppings on the poets monument:


Reflected words can only shiver

Like elongated lights that twist

In the black mirror of a river

Between the city and the mist.

Elusive Pushkin! Persevering,

I still pick up your damsels earring,

Still travel with your sullen rake.

I find another man's mistake,

I analyze alliterations

That grace your feasts and haunt the great

Fourth stanza of your Canto Eight.

This is my task -- a poet's patience

And scholiastic passion blent:

Dove-droppings on your monument.


At the end of TRLSK the narrator says: I am Sebastian, or Sebastian is I, or perhaps we both are someone whom neither of us knows. Shade and Kinbote (the commentator of Shades poem who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) seem to represent two different aspects of Botkins personality. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus (Shades murderer, Botkins third self who kills Kinbote after he completes his work on Shades poem) after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda. Nadezhda is the name of the heroine of Chekhovs last story Nevesta (The Bride, 1903). Nadezhda is Russian for hope. When he came back from his trip to Mrs. Z., Shade mentions faint hope:


Stormcoated, I strode in: Sybil, it is
My firm conviction--"Darling, shut the door.
Had a nice trip?" Splendid--but what is more
I have returned convinced that I can grope
My way to some--to some--"Yes, dear?" Faint hope. (ll. 830-834)


Sybil Shades real name seems to be Sofia Botkin (ne Lastochkin). At the end of Chekhovs Uncle Vanya Sonya (Sofia Andreevna, Uncle Vanyas niece) tells to Uncle Vanya: my uvidim vsyo nebo v almazakh (we shall see the sky swarming with diamonds). Almazy (the diamonds) that Sonya promises to Uncle Vanya bring to mind Zemblan crown jewels. In his Commentary Kinbote speaks of the impossibility to transform at one stroke "mountain" into "fountain" in other languages and mentions

a series of misprints in a Russian text that finds a parallel in a similar series in English. The words in these series include Russian korona and English crown:


Translators of Shade's poem are bound to have trouble with the transformation, at one stroke, of "mountain" into "fountain:" it cannot be rendered in French or German, or Russian, or Zemblan; so the translator will have to put it into one of those footnotes that are the rogue's galleries of words. However! There exists to my knowledge one absolutely extraordinary, unbelievably elegant case, where not only two, but three words are involved. The story itself is trivial enough (and probably apocryphal). A newspaper account of a Russian tsar's coronation had, instead of korona (crown), the misprint vorona (crow), and when next day this apologetically "corrected," it got misprinted a second time as korova (cow). The artistic correlation between the crown-crow-cow series and the Russian korona-vorona-korova series is something that would have, I am sure, enraptured my poet. I have seen nothing like it on lexical playfields and the odds against the double coincidence defy computation. (note to Line 803)


The acronym Mrs. Z. hints at Zembla (a distant northern land, the last entry in Kinbotes Index to PF). According to Kinbote, the crown jewels are concealed in a quite unexpected corner of Zembla:


However, not all Russians are gloomy, and the two young experts from Moscow whom our new government engaged to locate the Zemblan crown jewels turned out to be positively rollicking. The Extremists were right in believing that Baron Bland, the Keeper of the Treasure, had succeeded in hiding those jewels before he jumped or fell from the North Tower; but they did not know he had had a helper and were wrong in thinking the jewels must be looked for in the palace which the gentle white-haired Bland had never left except to die. I may add, with pardonable satisfaction, that they were, and still are, cached in a totally different--and quite unexpected--corner of Zembla. (note to Line 681)


Chekhov is the author of V rodnom uglu (At Home, 1897). Uglu is Prep. sing. of ugol (angle; corner), rodnoy means native. In his Commentary Kinbote mentions Shades heart attack and Rodnaya Zembla:


Often, almost nightly, throughout the spring of 1959, I had feared for my life. Solitude is the playfield of Satan. I cannot describe the depths of my loneliness and distress. There was naturally my famous neighbor just across the lane, and at one time I took in a dissipated young roomer (who generally came home after midnight). Yet I wish to stress that cold hard core of loneliness which is not good for a displaced soul. Everybody knows how given to regicide Zemblans are: two Queens, three Kings, and fourteen Pretenders died violent deaths, strangled, stabbed, poisoned, and drowned, in the course of only one century (1700-1800). The Goldsworth castle became particularly solitary after that turning point at dusk which resembles so much the nightfall of the mind. Stealthy rustles, the footsteps of yesteryear leaves, an idle breeze, a dog touring the garbage cans--everything sounded to me like a bloodthirsty prowler. I kept moving from window to window, my silk nightcap drenched with sweat, my bared breast a thawing pond, and sometimes, armed with the judge's shotgun, I dared beard the terrors of the terrace. I suppose it was then, on those masquerading spring nights with the sounds of new life in the trees cruelly mimicking the cracklings of old death in my brain, I suppose it was then, on those dreadful nights, that I got used to consulting the windows of my neighbor's house in the hope for a gleam of comfort (see notes to lines 47-48). What would I not have given for the poet's suffering another heart attack (see line 691 and note) leading to my being called over to their house, all windows ablaze, in the middle of the night, in a great warm burst of sympathy, coffee, telephone calls, Zemblan herbal recipes (they work wonders!), and a resurrected Shade weeping in my arms ("There, there, John"). But on those March nights their house was as black as a coffin. And when physical exhaustion and the sepulchral cold drove me at last upstairs into my solitary double bed, I would lie awake and breathless--as if only now living consciously through those perilous nights in my country, where at any moment, a company of jittery revolutionists might enter and hustle me off to a moonlit wall. The sound of a rapid car or a groaning truck would come as a strange mixture of friendly life's relief and death's fearful shadow: would that shadow pull up at my door? Were those phantom thugs coming for me? Would they shoot me at once--or would they smuggle the chloroformed scholar back to Zembla, Rodnaya Zembla, to face there a dazzling decanter and a row of judges exulting in their inquisitorial chairs? (note to Line 62)


Btw., in a letter of Oct. 7, 1899, to Olga Knipper Chekhov mentions his play Uncle Vanya and says that he is sending to Knipper (the leading actress of the Moscow Art Theater whom Chekhov married in 1901) a box for keeping gold and diamond things:


ڧݧѧ, ٧ߧѧާ֧ߧڧѧ, ߧ֧ҧܧߧӧ֧ߧߧѧ ѧܧڧ, ݧѧ ѧ ܧѧݧܧ էݧ ѧߧ֧ߧڧ ٧ݧ ҧڧݧݧڧѧߧӧ ӧ֧֧. ֧ڧ!

ѧ֧ ݧ֧էߧ֧ ڧާ ֧֧, ߧڧ֧ԧ ߧ ڧ, ާ֧اէ ֧ ݧѧ ѧ ڧާ ֧ߧ ѧ, ѧӧէ, ߧ ܧѧاէ է֧ߧ, ߧ ѧ, ֧ ݧѧ ѧ.

ڧާ ֧֧էѧ ѧ - . . ܧڧ, ѧӧ ܧѧԧѧާާ, ܧѧ ҧէ֧ ѧӧӧѧ «է ѧߧ». ԧڧ ߧѧ , ҧէ ا֧ݧѧ֧, ѧܧѧا֧ ѧ ߧѧ ߧӧ է ߧѧ ѧ اڧ٧ߧ.


In a letter of Sept. 21, 1899, to Chekhov Knipper mentions the fact that she played Arkadina in Chekhovs Seagull and Viola (Sebastians twin sister) in Shakespeares Twelfth Night:


֧ӧ ӧܧ֧֧ߧ ڧէק «ѧۧܧ» C ܧѧܧ ѧէ ҧէ ڧԧѧ էݧ ѧܧڧ! ѧӧڧ «12- ߧ», ߧ ֧ڧ֧ݧߧ ܧѧ٧ѧݧѧ. ԧѧ էߧק ڧݧ, ܧ ѧ 8 ֧֧է֧ӧѧ ԧݧӧܧاڧ֧ݧߧ ҧ (ӧ֧ ֧ԧݧ) ܧ ѧ, C ӧ֧֧ ܧѧէڧߧ! ާ ا֧ܧ էѧا ԧӧڧ . ѧ ۧէק, ӧ֧ߧ, «ߧڧԧߧ».


The name of Arkadinas brother, Sorin, brings to mind Sirin (the bird of Russian fairy tales and VNs Russian nom de plume).


Zemblan crown jewels are finally found!


Alexey Sklyarenko

Google Search
the archive
the Editors
NOJ Zembla Nabokv-L
Subscription options AdaOnline NSJ Ada Annotations L-Soft Search the archive VN Bibliography Blog

All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.