According to Kinbote, after reading a story about an Italian despot he became a vegetarian:


When the fallen tyrant is tied, naked and howling, to a plank in the public square and killed piecemeal by the people who cut slices out, and eat them, and distribute his living body among themselves (as I read when young in a story about an Italian despot, which made of me a vegetarian for life), Gradus does not take part in the infernal sacrament: he points out the right instrument and directs the carving. (note to Line 171)


In VN’s story Krug (“The Circle,” 1936) Tanya mentions verses about “the despot who feasts in his rich palace hall:”


Беседа не ладилась; Таня, что-то спутав, уверяла, что он её когда-то учил революционным стихам о том, как деспот пирует, а грозные буквы давно на стене уж чертит рука роковая. "Другими словами, первая стенгазета",-- сказал Кутасов, любивший острить. Ещё выяснилось, что танин брат живёт в Берлине, и Елизавета Павловна принялась рассказывать о нём... Вдруг Иннокентий почувствовал: ничто-ничто не пропадает, в памяти накопляются сокровища, растут скрытые склады в темноте, в пыли,-- и вот кто-то проезжий вдруг требует у библиотекаря книгу, не выдававшуюся двадцать лет.


The Leshino topic was falling apart; Tanya, getting it all wrong, insisted that he used to teach her the pre-Revolution songs of radical students, such as the one about “the despot who feasts in his rich palace hall while destiny’s hand has already begun to trace the dread words on the wall.” “In other words, our first stengazeta” (Soviet wall gazette), remarked Kutaysov, a great wit. Tanya’s brother was mentioned: he lived in Berlin, and the Countess started to talk about him. Suddenly Innokentiy grasped a wonderful fact: nothing is lost, nothing whatever; memory accumulates treasures, stored-up secrets grow in darkness and dust, and one day a transient visitor at a lending library wants a book that has not once been asked for in twenty-two years.


Tanya’s brother who lives in Berlin is Fyodor Konstantinovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev, the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937). The characters of “The Gift” include the Chernyshevski couple: Alexander Yakovlevich (who went mad after the suicide of his son Jasha) and his wife Aleksandra Yakovlevna. They have the same name-and-patronymics as the bashful chiseller and his wife in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stulyev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928):


Завхоз 2-го дома Старсобеса был застенчивый ворюга. Все существо его протестовало против краж, но не красть он не мог. Он крал, и ему было стыдно. Крал он постоянно, постоянно стыдился, и поэтому его хорошо бритые щечки всегда горели румянцем смущения, стыдливости, застенчивости и конфуза. Завхоза звали Александром Яковлевичем, а жену его - Александрой Яковлевной. Он называл её Сашхен, она звала его Альхен. Свет не видывал ещё такого голубого воришки, как Александр Яковлевич.


The Assistant Warden of the Second Home of Stargorod Social Security Administration was a shy little thief. His whole being protested against stealing, yet it was impossible for him not to steal. He stole and was ashamed of himself. He stole constantly and was constantly ashamed of himself, which was why his smoothly shaven cheeks always burned with a blush of confusion, shame, bashfulness and embarrassment. The assistant warden's name was Alexander  Yakovlevich, and his wife's name was Alexandra Yakovlevna. He used to call her Sashchen, and she used to call him Alchen. The world has never seen such a bashful chiseller as Alexander Yakovlevich. (chapter VIII)


Several characters in “The Twelve Chairs” are vegetarians (because they cannot afford meat):


Лев Толстой,-- сказал Коля дрожащим голосом, -- тоже не ел мяса.

-- Да-а, -- ответила Лиза, икая от слёз, -- граф ел спаржу.

-- Спаржа не мясо.

-- А когда он писал "Войну и мир", он ел мясо! Ел, ел, ел! И когда "Анну Каренину" писал -- лопал, лопал, лопал!

-- Да замолчи!

-- Лопал! Лопал! Лопал!

-- А когда "Крейцерову сонату" писал, тогда тоже лопал? -- ядовито спросил Коля.

-- "Крейцерова соната" маленькая. Попробовал бы он написать "Войну и мир", сидя на вегетарианских сосисках!

-- Что ты, наконец, прицепилась ко мне со своим Толстым?

-- Я к тебе прицепилась с Толстым? Я? Я к вам прицепилась с Толстым?


"Leo Tolstoy," said Kolya in a quavering voice, "didn't eat meat either."

"No," retorted Liza, hiccupping through her tears, "the Count ate asparagus."

"Asparagus isn't meat."

"But when he was writing War and Peace he did eat meat. He did! He did! And when he was writing Anna Karenin he stuffed himself and stuffed himself."

"Do shut up!"

"Stuffed himself! Stuffed himself!"

"And I suppose while he was writing The Kreutzer Sonata he also stuffed himself?" asked Nicky venomously.

"The Kreutzer Sonata is short. Just imagine him trying to write War and Peace on vegetarian sausages! "

"Anyway, why do you keep nagging me about your Tolstoy?" (chapter XVII)


Nicky and Liza live in “the Brother Berthold Schwartz Hostel” (as Ostap Bender calls it) for chemistry students. Schwarz is German for “black.” The surname Chernyshevski comes from chyornyi (black). In VN’s story Ultima Thule (1942) Falter (a medium) mentions Berthold Schwartz:


Но, может быть, проще всего будет, если скажу, что в минуту игривости, не непременно математической игривости,-- математика, предупреждаю вас, лишь вечная чехарда через собственные плечи при собственном своём размножении,-- я комбинировал различные мысли, ну и вот скомбинировал и взорвался, как Бертгольд Шварц.


But perhaps it would be simplest of all if I said that in a moment of playfulness, not mathematical playfulness, necessarily — mathematics, I warn you, is but a perpetual game of leapfrog over its own shoulders as it keeps breeding — I kept combining various ideas, and finally found the right combination and exploded, like Berthold Schwartz.


Ultima Thule is a chapter in VN’s unfinished novel Solus Rex. According to Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), Solus Rex was the title that he suggested to Shade for his poem:


I even suggested to him a good title--the title of the book in me whose pages he was to cut: Solus Rex; instead of which I saw Pale Fire, which meant to me nothing. (note to Line 1000)


The Kreutzer Sonata (mentioned by Nicky in “The Twelve Chairs”) is a novella (1889) by Tolstoy named after Beethoven’s sonata. In Tolstoy’s story Otets Sergiy (“Father Sergius,” publ. 1911) the main character chops off his finger in order to resist the charms of a woman who wants to seduce him. In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830) Salieri mentions a suffering member that the healing knife had chopped off and Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would). Nikto b is Botkin backwards. In his Commentary Kinbote mentions Prof. Pnin and Prof. Botkin and quotes Shade’s words about Russian humorists (with “those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov” among them):


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)


The characters of VN’s novel Pnin (1957) include Liza Bogolepov (Pnin’s former wife, a namesake of Pozdnyshev’s wife in The Kreutzer Sonata and of Nicky’s wife in “Twelve Chairs”). Liza’s son Victor imagines that his father is a king:


The King, his father, wearing a very white sports shirt open at the throat and a very black blazer, sat at a spacious desk whose highly polished surface twinned his upper half in reverse, making of him a kind of court card. Ancestral portraits darkened the walls of the vast panelled room. Otherwise, it was not unlike the headmaster's study at St Bart's School, on the Atlantic seaboard, some three thousand miles west of the imagined Palace. A copious spring shower kept lashing at the french windows, beyond which young greenery, all eyes, shivered and streamed. Nothing but this sheet of rain seemed to separate and protect the Palace from the revolution that for several days had been rocking the city... Actually, Victor's father was a cranky refugee doctor, whom the lad had never much liked and had not seen now for almost two years.

The King, his more plausible father, had decided not to abdicate. No newspapers were coming out. The Orient Express was stranded, with all its transient passengers, at a suburban station, on the platform of which, reflected in puddles, picturesque peasants stood and gaped at the curtained windows of the long, mysterious cars. The Palace, and its terraced gardens, and the city below the palatial hill, and the main city square, where decapitations and folk dances had already started, despite the weather--all this was at the heart of a cross whose arms terminated in Trieste, Graz, Budapest, and Zagreb, as designated in Rand McNally's Ready Reference Atlas of the World. And at the heart of that heart sat the King, pale and calm, and on the whole closely resembling his son as that under-former imagined he would look at forty himself. Pale and calm, a cup of coffee in his hand, his back to the emerald-and-grey window, the King sat listening to a masked messenger, a corpulent old nobleman in a wet cloak, who had managed to make his way through the rebellion and the rain from the besieged Council Hall to the isolated Palace.

'Abdication! One-third of the alphabet!' coldly quipped the King, with the trace of an accent. 'The answer is no. I prefer the unknown quantity of exile.' (Chapter Four, 1)


Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin. 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 Kinbote’s Commentary). Nadezhda means “hope.” There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on October 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin will be “full” again.


Alexey Sklyarenko

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