In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions heliotropes (Heliotropium turgenevi):


I am happy to report that soon after Easter my fears disappeared never to return. Into Alphina's or Betty's room another lodger moved, Balthasar, Prince of Loam, as I dubbed him, who with elemental regularity fell asleep at nine and by six in the morning was planting heliotropes (Heliotropium turgenevi). This is the flower whose odor evokes with timeless intensity the dusk, and the garden bench, and a house of painted wood in a distant northern land. (note to Line 62)


In Turgenev’s novel Dym (“Smoke,” 1867) a fragrance of fresh heliotrope stirs something in Litvinov’s memory:


Литвинов сломил крупную гербовую печать и принялся было читать... Сильный, очень приятный и знакомый запах поразил его. Он оглянулся и увидел на окне в стакане воды большой букет свежих гелиотропов. Литвинов нагнулся к ним не без удивления, потрогал их, понюхал ... Что-то как будто вспомнилось ему, что-то весьма отдаленное... но что именно, он не мог придумать.


Litvinov broke the thick heraldic seal, and was just setting to work to read it . . . when he was struck by a strong, very agreeable, and familiar fragrance, and saw in the window a great bunch of fresh heliotrope in a glass of water. Litvinov bent over them not without amazement, touched them, and smelt them. . . . Something seemed to stir in his memory, something very remote . . . but what, precisely, he could not discover. (Chapter Six)


Because of this scent Litvinov cannot fall asleep and tosses in misery s boku na bok (from side to side), a phrase that brings to mind Nabokov:


А главное: этот запах, неотступный, неотвязный, сладкий, тяжёлый запах не давал ему покоя, и все сильней и сильней разливался в темноте, и все настойчивее напоминал ему что-то, чего он никак уловить не мог... Литвинову пришло в голову, что запах цветов вреден для здоровья ночью в спальне, и он встал, ощупью добрел до букета и вынес его в соседнюю комнату; но и оттуда проникал к нему в подушку, под одеяло, томительный запах, и он тоскливо переворачивался с боку на бок.


And above all — this scent, this persistent, sweet, heavy scent gave him no rest, and grew more and more powerful in the darkness, and more and more importunately it reminded him of something which still eluded his grasp. . . . The idea occurred to Litvinov that the scent of flowers at night in a bedroom was injurious, and he got up, and groping his way to the nosegay, carried it into the next room; hut even from there the oppressive fragrance penetrated to him on his pillow and under the counterpane, and he tossed in misery from side to side. (ibid.)


In Canto Four of Pale Fire Shade calls his poem “transparent thingum” and asks Shakespeare to help him find a title for it:


Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote
Came next; then Hebe's Cup, my final float
in that damp carnival, for now I term
Everything "Poems," and no longer squirm.
(But this transparent thingum does require
Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.) (ll. 957-952)


Turgenev is the author of Hamlet and Don Quixote (1860) and Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District (a story included in “The Notes of a Hunter,” 1852). In his famous monologue in Shakespeare’s play (3.1) Hamlet mentions a bare bodkin. In his Index to Pale Fire Kinbote mentions “botkin or bodkin, a Danish stiletto:”


Botkin, V., American scholar of Russian descent, 894; king-bot, maggot of extinct fly that once bred in mammoths and is thought to have hastened their phylogenetic end, 247; bottekin-maker, 71; bot, plop, and boteliy, big-bellied (Russ.); botkin or bodkin, a Danish stiletto.


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). A friend of Vasiliy Botkin (a minor writer, 1812-69), Turgenev is the author of Otsy i deti (“Fathers and Children,” 1862). In Russian nadezhda means “hope.” In his poem To One in Paradise (1843) E. A. Poe mentions “starry Hope” and compares the Past to a dim gulf:


Ah, dream too bright to last!

Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise

But to be overcast!

A voice from out the Future cries,

“On! on!”—but o’er the Past

(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies

Mute, motionless, aghast!


In its unfinished form Shade’s poem has 999 lines. At the beginning of Turgenev’s Faust, a Story in Nine Letters (1856) the narrator says that he returned to his country seat after nine years’ absence:


Четвёртого дня прибыл я сюда, любезный друг, и, по обещанию, берусь за перо и пишу к тебе. Мелкий дождь сеет с утра: выйти невозможно; да и мне же хочется поболтать с тобой. Вот я опять в своём старом гнезде, в котором не был -- страшно вымолвить -- целых девять лет. Чего, чего не перебывало в эти девять лет! Право, как подумаешь, я точно другой человек стал. Да и в самом деле другой: помнишь ты в гостиной маленькое, тёмненькое зеркальце моей прабабушки, с такими странными завитушками по углам, -- ты всё, бывало, раздумывал о том, что оно видело сто лет тому назад, -- я, как только приехал, подошёл к нему и невольно смутился.


In VN’s novel Transparent Things (1972) the narrators mention a Russian writer and his work in progress under a provisional title Faust in Moscow:


For optical and animal reasons sexual love is less transparent than many other much more complicated things. One knows, however, that in his home town Hugh had courted a thirty-eight-year-old mother and her sixteen-year-old daughter but had been impotent with the first and not audacious enough with the second. We have here a banal case of protracted erotic itch, of lone practice for its habitual satisfaction, and of memorable dreams. The girl he accosted was stumpy but had a lovely, pale, vulgar face with Italian eyes. She  took  him  to one of the better beds in a hideous old roominghouse -- to the precise "number," in fact, where ninety-one, ninety-two, nearly ninety-three years ago a Russian novelist had sojourned on his way to Italy. The bed -- a different one, with brass knobs -- was made, unmade, covered with a frock coat, made again; upon it stood a half-open green-checkered grip, and the frock coat was thrown over the shoulders of the night-shirted, bare-necked,  dark-tousled traveler whom we catch in the act of deciding what to take out of the valise (which he will send by mail coach ahead) and transfer to the knapsack (which he will carry himself across the mountains to the Italian frontier). He expects his friend Kandidatov, the painter, to join him here any moment for the outing, one of those lighthearted hikes that romantics would undertake even during a drizzly spell in August; it rained even more in those uncomfortable times; his boots are still wet from a ten-mile ramble to the nearest casino. They stand outside the door in the attitude of expulsion, and he has wrapped his feet in several layers of German-language newspaper, a language which incidentally he finds easier to read than French. The main problem now is whether to confide to his knapsack or mail in his grip his manuscripts: rough drafts of letters, an unfinished short story in a Russian copybook bound in black cloth, parts of a philosophical essay in a blue cahier acquired in Geneva, and the loose sheets of a rudimentary novel under the provisional title of Faust in Moscow. As he sits at that deal table, the very same upon which our Person's whore has plunked her voluminous  handbag, there shows through that bag, as it were, the first page of the Faust affair with energetic erasures and untidy insertions in purple, black, reptile-green ink. The sight of his handwriting fascinates him; the chaos on the page is to him order, the blots are pictures, the marginal jottings are wings. Instead of sorting his papers, he uncorks his portable ink and moves nearer to the table, pen in hand. But at that minute there comes a joyful banging on the door. The door flies open and closes again. (Chapter Six)


At the beginning of “Fathers and Children” Turgenev mentions zvanie kandidata (a university degree) that Arkadiy Kirsanov had just taken:


В 55-м году он повез сына в университет; прожил с ним три зимы в Петербурге, почти никуда не выходя и стараясь заводить знакомства с молодыми товарищами Аркадия. На последнюю зиму он приехать не мог, — и вот мы видим его в мае месяце 1859 года, уже совсем седого, пухленького и немного сгорбленного: он ждёт сына, получившего, как некогда он сам, звание кандидата.


In 1855 he brought his son to the university and spent three winters in Petersburg with him, hardly going out anywhere and trying to make acquaintance with Arkady’s young comrades. The last winter he was unable to go, and here we see him in May, 1859, already entirely grey-haired, plump and rather bent, waiting for his son, who had just taken his university degree, as once he had taken it himself. (chapter 1)


One of the characters (and narrators) in Transparent Things is Mr. R., the writer. The characters of “Fathers and Children” include Princess R., the mistress of Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov.


The narrators in Transparent Things seem to be the devils. In VN’s story Pamyati L. I. Shigaeva (In Memory of L. I. Shigaev, 1934) the narrator is an alcoholic who began seeing devils:


Длительным, упорным, одиноким пьянством я довёл себя до пошлейших видений, а именно -- до самых что ни на есть русских галлюцинаций: я начал видеть чертей. Видел я их каждый вечер, как только выходил из дневной дрёмы, чтобы светом моей бедной лампы разогнать уже заливавшие нас сумерки. Да: отчетливее, чем вижу сейчас свою вечно дрожащую руку, я видел пресловутых пришлецов и под конец даже привык к их присутствию, благо они не очень лезли ко мне. Были они небольшие, но довольно жирные, величиной с раздобревшую жабу, мирные, вялые, чернокожие, в пупырках. Они больше ползали, чем ходили, но при всей своей напускной неуклюжести были неуловимы.


By dint of prolonged, persistent, solitary drinking I drove myself to the most vulgar of visions, the most Russian of all hallucinations: I began seeing devils. I saw them every evening as soon as I emerged from my diurnal dreamery to dispel with my wretched lamp the twilight that was already engulfing us. Yes, even more clearly than I now see the perpetual tremor of my hand, I saw the precious intruders and after some time I even became accustomed to their presence, as they kept pretty much to themselves. They were smallish but rather plump, the size of an overweight toad-peaceful, limp, black-skinned, more or less warty little monsters. They crawled rather than walked, but, with all their feigned clumsiness, they proved uncapturable.


In his story The Black Cat (1845) E. A. Poe (the author of The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq., 1850) says:


But my disease grew upon me -- for what disease is like Alcohol! -- and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish -- even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.


In his Commentary Kinbote several times mentions the black cat that came with his landlord’s house:


Among various detailed notices affixed to a special board in the pantry, such as plumbing instructions, disserations on electricity, discourses on cactuses and so forth, I found the diet of the black cat that came with the house:


Mon, Wed, Fri: Liver
Tue, Thu, Sat: Fish
Sun: Ground meat


(All it got from me was milk and sardines; it was a likable little creature but after a while its movements began to grate on my nerves and I farmed it out to Mrs. Finley, the cleaning woman.) (note to Lines 47-48)


The Goldsworth château had many outside doors, and no matter how thoroughly I inspected them and the window shutters downstairs at bedtime, I never failed to discover next morning something unlocked, unlatched, a little loose, a little ajar, something sly and suspicious-looking. One night the black cat, which a few minutes before I had seen rippling down into the basement where I had arranged toilet facilities for it in an attractive setting, suddenly reappeared on the threshold of the music room, in the middle of my insomnia and a Wagner record, arching its back and sporting a neck bow of white silk which it could certainly never have put on all by itself. I telephoned 11111 and a few minutes later was discussing possible culprits with a policeman who relished greatly my cherry cordial, but whoever had broken in had left no trace. (note to Line 62)


The black cat sporting a neck bow of white silk is, of course, a different animal. In E. A. Poe’s story the second cat has, unlike Pluto, a white spot on its breast:


It was a black cat -- a very large one -- fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast.

Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it -- knew nothing of it -- had never seen it before.


The black cat brings to mind the black poodle in Goethe’s Faust. Kinbote and Gradus (Shade’s murderer) are seventeen years younger than Shade. In a sense, Botkin (who turns into Kinbote after Shade’s death) is the Russian Faust.


In Canto Three of his poem Shade speaks of IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) and mentions the fantasies of Poe that he tore apart:


I tore apart the fantasies of Poe,
And dealt with childhood memories of strange
Nacreous gleams beyond the adults' range.
Among our auditors were a young priest
And an old Communist. Iph could at least
Compete with churches and the party line. (ll. 632-637)


Turgenev is the author of Posle smerti. Klara Milich (“After Death. Klara Milich,” 1883).


Alexey Sklyarenko

nab-l banner .CS UTF-8
Archive Search:
the Editors
Nabokov Studies (Journal)


Chercheurs Enchantés (French VN Society)
AdaOnline NSJ Ada Annotations VN Bibliography Blog

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