In his essay The Texture of Time (1922) Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VNs novel Ada, 1969) mentions Zembre, a quaint old town on the Minder river:


We build models of the past and then use them spatiologically to reify and measure Time. Let us take a familiar example. Zembre, a quaint old town on the Minder River, near Sorcire, in the Valais, was being lost by degrees among new buildings. By the beginning of this century it had acquired a definitely modem look, and the preservation people decided to act. Today, after years of subtle reconstruction, a replica of the old Zembre, with its castle, its church, and its mill extrapolated onto the other side of the Minder, stands opposite the modernized town and separated from it by the length of a bridge. Now, if we replace the spatial view (as seen from a helicopter) by the chronal one (as seen by a retrospector), and the material model of old Zembre by the mental model of it in the Past (say, around 1822), the modem town and the model of the old turn out to be something else than two points in the same place at different times (in spatial perspective they are at the same time in different places). The space in which the modem town coagulates is immediately real, while that of its retrospective image (as seen apart from material restoration) shimmers in an imaginary space and we cannot use any bridge to walk from the one to the other. In other words (as one puts it when both writer and reader flounder at last in hopeless confusion of thought), by making a model of the old town in ones mind (and on the Minder) all we do is to spatialize it (or actually drag it out of its own element onto the shore of Space). Thus the term one century does not correspond in any sense to the hundred feet of steel bridge between modem and model towns, and that is what we wished to prove and have now proven. (Part Four)


As I pointed out in my previous post (cognachok in TRLSK; Sorciere, Zembre & Minder in Ada), Zembre seems to hint at e sempre bene (and I dont mind), a phrase used by Pushkin in Canto Eight (XXXV: 14) of Eugene Onegin. In Italian, sempre means always. In Ilf and Petrovs novel Dvenadtsat stulyev (The Twelve Chairs, 1928) Polesovs political credo is vsegda (always):


֧֧ է֧ۧӧӧѧ, է֧ۧӧӧѧ է֧ۧӧӧѧ! ܧѧ٧ѧ ѧ, ߧڧ٧ڧ ԧݧ է ֧֧ߧ ݧߧ ߧ֧ݧ֧ԧѧݧߧ.

ӧ٧ ݧ֧ӧ ٧ ܧ.

ѧ ߧ էܧѧѧ֧? ѧէקاߧѧ ا֧ߧڧߧ? ݧ֧ ާݧڧӧ֧ߧߧ ݧاڧ ܧ.

ѧ ݧڧڧ֧ܧ ܧ֧է?

֧ԧէ! ӧا֧ߧߧ ӧ֧ڧ ݧ֧.

, ߧѧէ֧, ܧڧڧݧݧӧ֧?

ѧ ߧ. ݧ֧ ӧߧݧ ߧ.

ڧ ӧѧ ߧ ٧ѧҧէ֧! ӧܧߧ ѧ.


"And now we must act, act, and act," said Ostap, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.

He took Polesov by the arm.

"The  old woman is reliable, isn't she, and won't give us away?" Polesov joined his hands as though praying.

"What's your political credo?"

"Always!" replied Polesov delightedly.

"You support Kirillov, I hope?"

"Yes, indeed." Polesov stood at attention.

"Russia will not forget you," Ostap rapped out. (Chapter 14 The Alliance of the Sword and Ploughshare)


The characters of Dostoevskis novel Besy (The Possessed, 1872) include Kirillov, a madman who commits suicide. In Za konyachkom (Over the Brandy), a chapter in Dostoevskis novel Bratya Karamazovy (Brothers Karamazov, 1880), Fyodor Pavlovich (the father of brothers Karamazov) quotes the words of a monk who used the Latin verb credo (I believe):


ӧ֧է ا ӧ֧֧ ҧԧ.

ߧ ԧ. ߧ ٧ߧѧ? ӧ֧ ԧӧڧ ѧ, ֧ ߧ ӧ֧, ӧ֧ ާߧ ݧէ, ܧ ڧ֧٧اѧ. ҧ֧ߧѧ ݧ ާ ֧٧ѧ: credo, է ߧ ٧ߧѧ ӧ .


ާ֧ߧߧ ѧ. ֧ԧ ӧѧاѧ. ߧק - ާ֧ڧ֧ݧ֧ӧܧ ڧݧ, ݧ, ڧ «֧ ߧѧ֧ԧ ӧ֧ާ֧ߧ»... ҧ֧ߧڧ ѧݧ ܧѧ ѧ...


"But, of course, he believes in God."

"Not a bit of it. Didn't you know? Why, he tells everyone so, himself. That is, not everyone, but all the clever people who come to him. He said straight out to Governor Schulz not long ago: 'Credo, but I don't know in what.'"


"He really did. But I respect him. There's something of Mephistopheles about him, or rather of 'A Hero of Our Time'... Arbenin, or what's his name?... (Book Three, chapter 8)


Like Fyodor Pavlovich, Pahl Pahlich Rechnoy (a character in VNs novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 1941, whose surname comes from reka, river, and brings to mind the Minder river in Ada) loves cognachok:


In the meantime, said Pahl Pahlich, we shall clap down a little brandy C cognachkoo. (chapter 15)


During his visit to Pahl Pahlich Rechnoy, V. (the narrator in TRLSK) recalls Chichikov's round of weird visits in Gogol's Dead Souls:


While they were arguing over the position, with White trying to take his move back, I looked round the room. I noted the portrait of what had been in the past an Imperial Family. And the moustache of a famous general, moscowed a few years ago. I noted, too, the bulging springs of the bug-brown couch, which served, I felt, as a triple bed C for husband and wife and child. For a minute, the object of my coming seemed to be madly absurd. Somehow, too, I remembered Chichikov's round of weird visits in Gogol's Dead Souls. The little boy was drawing a motor car for me. (ibid.)


In VNs novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote quotes the words of Shade who listed Gogol, Dostoevski and Ilf and Petrov (those joint authors of genius) among Russian humorists:


Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque perfectionist): How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov. (note to Line 172)


In Canto Three of Pale Fire Shade speaks of IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation For the Hereafter) and mentions Fra Karamazov:


Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept
All is allowed, into some classes crept (ll. 641-642).


The Italian word for brother (a title of a monk or friar), fra is an anagram of far. According to Kinbote, onhava-onhava means in Zemblan far, far away. Just as Ardis (Daniel Veens fabulous country estate in Ada) seems to hint at paradise, Onhava (the name of Zemblan capital) suggests heaven. In his sonnet Shakespeare Matthew Arnold (the poet whom Kinbote mentions in his Commentary) says that Shakespeare made the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place:


Planting his stedfast footsteps in the sea,

Making the Heaven of Heavens his dwelling-place,

Spares but the cloudy border of his base

To the foil'd searching of mortality.


At the beginning of Lyudoedka Ellochka (Ellochka the Cannibal), a chapter in Ilf and Petrovs The Twelve Chairs, William Shakespeare is mentioned:


ݧӧѧ ڧݧާ ֧ܧڧ, էק ڧݧ֧էӧѧ֧ݧ֧, ѧӧݧ֧ 12 000 ݧ. ݧӧѧ ߧ֧ԧ ڧ ݧէ֧էܧԧ ݧ֧ާ֧ߧ «ާҧ-ާҧ» ѧӧݧ֧ 300 ݧ.

ݧݧܧ ܧڧߧ ݧ֧ԧܧ ӧҧէߧ ҧէڧݧѧ ڧէѧ.


William Shakespeare's vocabulary has been estimated by the experts at twelve thousand words. The vocabulary of a Negro from the Mumbo Jumbo tribe amounts to three hundred words.

Ellochka Shchukin managed easily and fluently on thirty. (chapter 22)


In the same note books and people in which he mentions Russian humorists Kinbote quotes Shades words about Shakespeare:


The subject of teaching Shakespeare at college level having been introduced: "First of all, dismiss ideas, and social background, and train the freshman to shiver, to get drunk on the poetry of Hamlet or Lear, to read with his spine and not with his skull." Kinbote: "You appreciate particularly the purple passages?" Shade: "Yes, my dear Charles, I roll upon them as a grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great Dane." (note to Line 172)


According to Ivan Karamazov (who thinks that all is allowed and who suffers from hallucinations), the devil who visits him has a tail, long and smooth, kak u datskoy sobaki (like a Danish dogs):


ק, էߧߧ, ާ֧ݧܧڧ ק. ҧѧߧ էڧ. ѧ٧է֧ߧ ֧ԧ ߧѧӧ֧ߧ ֧ ӧ, էݧڧߧߧ, ԧݧѧէܧڧ, ܧѧ էѧܧ ҧѧܧ, ѧڧ էݧڧߧ, ҧۡ


He is simply a devila paltry, trivial devil. He goes to the baths. If you undressed him, you'd be sure to find he had a tail, long and smooth like a Danish dog's, a yard long, dun color.... (Book Eleven, chapter 10)


In Ilf and Petrovs novel Zolotoy Telyonok (The Golden Calf, 1931) one of the chapters is entitled Telegramma ot bratyev Karamazovykh (The Telegram from Brothers Karamazov).


In Ada Vans mistress Cordula de Prey (Adas schoolmate at Brownhill) marries Ivan G. Tobak, a ship owner (2.5). The surname of Cordulas first husband rhymes with Sobak (in The Twelve Chairs a friend of Ellochka Shchukin). Fima Sobak brings to mind Sobakevich, one of the landowners in Gogols Dead Souls (1842). Demon Veen (Vans and Adas father) calls Cordulas husband Tobakovich:


'Come, come,' retorted Demon, dropping and replacing his monocle. 'Cordula won't mind.'

'It's another, much more impressionable girl' - (yet another awful fumble!). 'Damn Cordula! Cordula is now Mrs Tobak.'

'Oh, of course!' cried Demon. 'How stupid of me! I remember Ada's fianc telling me - he and young Tobak worked for a while in the same Phoenix bank. Of course. Splendid broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond chap. Backbay Tobakovich!' (2.10)


Van at first suspects that Cordula is a lesbian (1.27). One of the words in Fima Sobaks rich vocabulary is homosexuality:


ѧէާѧ٧֧ݧ ҧѧ ݧݧ ܧݧߧ է֧ӧܧ ֧ ݧӧѧ ҧݧ ܧݧ ӧާڧէ֧ ݧ. ֧ ҧݧ ڧ٧ӧ֧ߧ էߧ ѧܧ ݧӧ, ܧ ݧݧܧ էѧا ߧ ާԧݧ ڧߧڧ. ҧݧ ҧԧѧ ݧӧ ԧާ֧ܧѧݧڧ٧.


Mile Sobak was reputed to be a cultured girl and her vocabulary contained about a hundred and eighty words. One of the words was one that Ellochka would not even have dreamed of. It was the meaningful word "homosexuality". (chapter 22)


In PF Kinbote asks God to rid him of his love for little boys:


After winding for about four miles in a general eastern direction through a beautifully sprayed and irrigated residential section with variously graded lawns sloping down on both sides, the highway bifurcates: one branch goes left to New Wye and its expectant airfield; the other continues to the campus. Here are the great mansions of madness, the impeccably planned dormitories C bedlams of jungle music C the magnificent palace of the Administration, the brick walls, the archways, the quadrangles blocked out in velvet green and chrysoprase, Spencer House and its lily pond, the Chapel, New Lecture Hall, the Library, the prisonlike edifice containing our classrooms and offices (to be called from now on Shade Hall), the famous avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare, a distant droning sound, the hint of a haze, the turquoise dome of the Observatory, wisps and pale plumes of cirrus, and the poplar-curtained Roman-tiered football field, deserted on summer days except for a dreamy-eyed youngster flying - on a long control line in a droning circle - a motor-powered model plane.

Dear Jesus, do something. (note to Lines 47-48)


The mad commentator of Shades poem, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla. According to Kinbote, the name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya (earth; land), but of Semberland, a land of reflections:


A visiting German lecturer from Oxford kept exclaiming, aloud and under his breath, that the resemblance was "absolutely unheard of," and when I negligently observed that all bearded Zemblands resembled one another--and that, in fact, the name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya, but of Semberland, a land of reflections, of "resemblers"--my tormentor said: "Ah, yes, but King Charles wore no beard, and yet it is his very face! I had [he added] the honor of being seated within a few yards of the royal box at a Sport Festival in Onhava which I visited with my wife, who is Swedish, in 1956. (note to Line 894).


In the same note to Line 894 Kinbote mentions Professor Pardons attempt to pronounce the name Pnin:


Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla [sarcastically stressing the "Nova"].

"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.

"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).

Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"

"Oxford, 1956," I replied.

You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other day, talking to--what's his name--oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing his lips].

Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].

Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for 'tire': punoo."

Shade: "Why, sir, I am afraid you have only punctured the difficulty" [laughing uproariously]. (ibid.)


Van writes The Texture of Time traveling by car in Switzerland and completes it in Mont Roux. VN wrote Ada living in Montreux (Switzerland). According to a Latin saying, ubi bene, ibi patria (where it is well, there is the fatherland).


The name Pardon brings to mind a line in VNs poem On Translating "Eugene Onegin" (1955) written after the meter and rhyme scheme of the EO stanza:


What is translation? On a platter

A poets pale and glaring head,

A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,

And profanation of the dead.

The parasites you were so hard on

Are pardoned if I have your pardon,

O, Pushkin, for my stratagem:

I traveled down your secret stem,

And reached the root, and fed upon it;

Then, in a language newly learned,

I grew another stalk and turned

Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,

Into my honest roadside prose--

All thorn, but cousin to your rose.


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.


According to Kinbote, Sybil Shade (whose grandfather was a first cousin of John Shades maternal grandmother) used to call him the monstrous parasite of a genius:


From the very first I tried to behave with the utmost courtesy toward my friend's wife, and from the very first she disliked and distrusted me. I was to learn later that when alluding to me in public she used to call me "an elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macaco worm; the monstrous parasite of a genius." I pardon her--her and everybody. (note to Line 247)


Semberland + Pnin + Bera/bear/bare = sempre/semper + Bland + Arbenin

Bland + Arbenin + Botkin + Nova/Avon + pin/pni/nip = bandit + rab/bar/bra + Lenin + Nabokov + Pnin

Bland + nikto = land + Botkin

bene + Vanya = Veen/even + banya


Pnin C the title character of a novel (1957) by VN

Bera C the Bera Range, a two-hundred-mile-long chain of rugged mountains, not quite reaching the northern end of the Zemblan peninsula (cut off basally by an impassable canal from the mainland of madness), divides it into two parts, the flourishing eastern region of Onhava and other townships, such as Aros and Grindelwod, and the much narrower western strip with its quaint fishing hamlets and pleasant beach resorts. (PF, note to Line 149)

semper C Lat. always

Bland C Baron Bland (the Keeper of the Treasure in PF): 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); in Ilf and Petrovs The Twelve Chairs the three main characters (Bender, Vorobyaninov and Father Fyodor) are the diamond hunters; the name of one of the two Soviet experts in PF hints at Andronnikov, a character in Dostoevskis novel Podrostok (The Adolescent, 1875)

Arbenin C the main character in Lermontovs drama in verse Maskarad (The Masquerade, 1835) whom Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov confuses with Pechorin (the main character in Lermontovs A Hero of Our Time, 1841); the name of Arbenins wife, Nina, brings to mind Nina Lecerf (alias Mme de Rechnoy), Sebastians mistress in TRLSK; Lermontov is the author of the prophetical poem Predskazanie (Prediction, 1830); Yumor Lermontova (Lermontovs Humor) is an essay by Innokentiy Annenski included in Kniga otrazheniy (The Book of Reflections, 1906), a title that brings to mind Reflections in Sidra by Van Veen (3.7); Annenskis Book of Reflections was signed Nik. T-o

Botkin C Shades, Kinbotes and Gradus real name

pni C pl. of pen (stump)

rab C slave

nikto C nobody

bene C Lat., It., good

Vanya C diminutive of Ivan; at the end of Chekhovs play Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya, 1890) Sonya promises to Uncle Vanya that they will see nebo v almazakh (the sky swarming with diamonds); in Ardis the Second Ada calls Van (Adas brother and lover) Uncle Van: 'Well, that bit about spinsters is rot,' said Van, 'we'll pull it off somehow, we'll become more and more distant relations in artistically forged papers and finally dwindle to mere namesakes, or at the worst we shall live quietly, you as my housekeeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, "we shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds."' 'Did you find them all, Uncle Van?' she inquired, sighing, laying her dolent head on his shoulder. She had told him everything. (1.31); Dostoevski suffered from epilepsy

banya C baths; bath-house; Ivan Karamazovs devil goes v banyu (to the baths); Kishinyovskaya krovavaya banya (The Kishinev Blood-Bath, 1903) is an article by V. D. Nabokov (VNs father who was assassinated in Berlin in 1922)


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.