The Goncourt brothers claimed to have been the first to discover Japanese art (including Hokusai) and to introduce it to a wider circle of French connoisseurs. In Le temps retrouvé (“Time Regained”), the seventh and last volume of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (“In Search of Lost Time”), there is a pastiche of the Goncourt Journal:


«Avant-hier tombe ici, pour m’emmener dîner chez lui, Verdurin, l’ancien critique de la Revue, l’auteur de ce livre sur Whistler où vraiment le faire, le coloriage artiste de l’original Américain est souvent rendu avec une grande délicatesse par l’amoureux de tous les raffinements, de toutes les joliesses de la chose peinte qu’est Verdurin. Et tandis que je m’habille pour le suivre, c’est, de sa part, tout un récit où il y a, par moments, comme l’épellement apeuré d’une confession sur le renoncement à écrire aussitôt après son mariage avec la «Madeleine» de Fromentin, renoncement qui serait dû à l’habitude de la morphine et aurait eu cet effet, au dire de Verdurin, que la plupart des habitués du salon de sa femme, ne sachant même pas que le mari eût jamais écrit, lui parlaient de Charles Blanc, de Saint-Victor, de Sainte-Beuve, de Burty, comme d’individus auxquels ils le croyaient, lui, tout à fait inférieur. «Voyons, vous Goncourt, vous savez bien, et Gautier le savait aussi, que mes salons étaient autre chose que ces piteux Maîtres d’autrefois crus un chef-d’œuvre dans la famille de ma femme.» Puis, par un crépuscule où il y a près des tours du Trocadéro comme le dernier allumement d’une lueur qui en fait des tours absolument pareilles aux tours enduites de gelée de groseille des anciens pâtissiers, la causerie continue dans la voiture qui doit nous conduire quai Conti où est leur hôtel, que son possesseur prétend être l’ancien hôtel des Ambassadeurs de Venise et où il y aurait un fumoir dont Verdurin me parle comme d’une salle transportée telle quelle, à la façon des Mille et une Nuits, d’un célèbre palazzo, dont j’oublie le nom, palazzo à la margelle du puits représentant un couronnement de la Vierge que Verdurin soutient être absolument du plus beau Sansovino et qui servirait, pour leurs invités, à jeter la cendre de leurs cigares...»


“The day before yesterday, who should drop in here, to take me to dinner with him but Verdurin, the former critic of the Revue, author of that book on Whistler in which truly the doings, the artistic atmosphere of that highly original American are often rendered with great delicacy by that lover of all the refinements, of all the prettinesses of the thing painted which Verdurin is. And while I dress myself to follow him, every now and then, he gives vent to a regular recitation, like the frightened spelling out of a confession by Fromentin on his renunciation of writing immediately after his marriage with ‘Madeleine’, a renunciation which was said to be due to his habit of taking morphine, the result of which, according to Verdurin, was that the majority of the habitués of his wife’s salon, not even knowing that her husband had ever written, spoke to him of Charles Blanc, St. Victor, St. Beuve, and Burty, to whom they believed him completely inferior. ‘You Goncourt, you well know, and Gautier knew also that my “Salons” was a very different thing from those pitiable “Maîtres d’autrefois” believed to be masterpieces in my wife’s family.’ Then, by twilight, while the towers of the Trocadero were lit up with the last gleams of the setting sun which made them look just like those covered with currant jelly of the old-style confectioners, the conversation continues in the carriage on our way to the Quai Conti where their mansion is, which its owner claims to be the ancient palace of the Ambassadors of Venice and where there is said to be a smoking-room of which Verdurin talks as though it were the drawing-room, transported just as it was in the fashion of the Thousand and One Nights, of a celebrated Palazzo, of which I forget the name, a Palazzo with a well-head representing the crowning of the Virgin which Verdurin asserts to be absolutely the finest of Sansovinos and which is used by their guests to throw their cigar ashes into…


Below I resend (with several additions) my post of March 22, 2017, “Proust & triplication of personality in PF,” in which you will find three more excerpts (the first of them is from the Goncourt pastiche) from Proust’s novel:


In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote (Shade’s neighbor who was not invited to the birthday party) gives Shade the third and last volume of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (“In Search of Lost Time”) as a birthday present:


"Speaking of novels," I said, "you remember we decided once you, your husband and I, that Proust's rough masterpiece was a huge ghoulish fairy tale, an asparagus dream, totally unconnected with any possible people in any historical France, a sexual transvestissement and a colossal farce, the vocabulary of genius and its poetry, but no more, impossibly rude hostesses, please let me speak, and even ruder guests, mechanical Dostoevskian rows and Tolstoian nuances of snobbishness repeated and expanded to an unsufferable length, adorable seascapes, melting avenues, no, do not interrupt me, light and shade effects rivaling those of the greatest English poets, a flora of metaphors, described--by Cocteau, I think--as 'a mirage of suspended gardens,' and, I have not yet finished, an absurd, rubber-and-wire romance between a blond young blackguard (the fictitious Marcel), and an improbable jeune fille who has a pasted-on bosom, Vronski's (and Lyovin's) thick neck, and a cupid's buttocks for cheeks; but--and now let me finish sweetly--we were wrong, Sybil, we were wrong in denying our little beau tenebreux the capacity of evoking 'human interest': it is there, it is there--maybe a rather eighteenth-centuryish, or even seventeenth-centuryish, brand, but it is there. Please, dip, or redip, spider, into this book [offering it], you will find a pretty marker in it, bought in France, I want John to keep it. Au revoir, Sybil, I must go now. I think my telephone is ringing."

I am a very sly Zemblan. Just in case, I had brought with me in my pocket the third and last volume of the Bibliotheque de la Pleiade edition, Paris, 1954, of Proust's work, wherein I had marked certain passages on pages 269-271. Mme. de Mortemart, having decided that Mme. de Valcourt would not be among the "elected" at her soiree, intended to send her a note on the next day saying "Death Edith, I miss you, last night I did not expect you too much (Edith would wonder: how could she at all, since she did not invite me?) because I know you are not overfond of this sort of parties which, if anything, bore you."

So much for John Shade's last birthday. (note to Line 181)


In Le temps retrouvé (“Time Retrieved”) Dr Cottard tells the narrator that he has witnessed actual duplications of personality and Mme Cottard mentions the Scotchman Stevenson, her children’s favorite writer:


Et la suggestive dissertation passa, sur un signe gracieux de la maîtresse de maison, de la salle à manger au fumoir vénitien dans lequel Cottard me dit avoir assisté à de véritables dédoublements de la personnalité, nous citant le cas d’un de ses malades, qu’il s’offre aimablement à m’amener chez moi et à qui il suffisait qu’il touchât les tempes pour l’éveiller à une seconde vie, vie pendant laquelle il ne se rappelait rien de la première, si bien que, très honnête homme dans celle-là, il y aurait été plusieurs fois arrêté pour des vols commis dans l’autre où il serait tout simplement un abominable gredin. Sur quoi Mme Verdurin remarque finement que la médecine pourrait fournir des sujets plus vrais à un théâtre où la cocasserie de l’imbroglio reposerait sur des méprises pathologiques, ce qui, de fil en aiguille, amène Mme Cottard à narrer qu’une donnée toute semblable a été mise en œuvre par un amateur qui est le favori des soirées de ses enfants, l’Écossais Stevenson, un nom qui met dans la bouche de Swann cette affirmation péremptoire : « Mais c’est tout à fait un grand écrivain, Stevenson, je vous assure, M. de Goncourt, un très grand, l’égal des plus grands. »


This suggestive dissertation continued, on a gracious sign from the mistress of the house, from the dining-room into the Venetian smoking-room where Cottard told me he had witnessed actual duplications of personality, giving as example the case of one of his patients whom he amiably offers to bring to see me, in whose case Cottard has merely to touch his temples to usher him into a second life, a life in which he remembers nothing of the other, so much so that, a very honest man in this one, he had actually been arrested several times for thefts committed in the other during which he had been nothing less than a disgraceful scamp. Upon which Mme Verdurin acutely remarks that medicine could furnish subjects truer than a theatre where the humour of an imbroglio is founded upon pathological mistakes, which from thread to needle brought Mme Cottard to relate that a similar notion had been made use of by an amateur who is the prime favourite at her children’s evening parties, the Scotchman Stevenson, a name which forced from Swann the peremptory affirmation: ‘But Stevenson is a great writer, I can assure you, M. de Goncourt, a very great one, equal to the greatest.’


In his Cornell lecture on R. L. Stevenson VN points out that in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson’s novella that Mme Cottard has in mind) there are really three personalities: Jekyll, Hyde and a third, the Jekyll residue when Hyde takes over. Shade’s birthday, July 5, is also Kinbote’s and Gradus’ birthday (Shade was born in 1898, Kinbote and Gradus were born in 1915). The poet Shade, his mad commentator Kinbote and his murderer Gradus seem to represent three different aspects of Botkin’s personality. 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). In Canto Two of Pale Fire Shade speaks of his daughter and says that she twisted words:


                                  She twisted words: pot, top
Spider, redips. And"powder" was "red wop."
She called you a didactic katydid.

She hardly ever smiled, and when she did,
It was a sign of pain. (ll. 347-351)


According to Kinbote, it was he who observed one day that “spider” in reverse is “redips:”


One of the examples her father gives is odd. I am quite sure it was I who one day, when we were discussing "mirror words," observed (and I recall the poet's expression of stupefaction) that "spider" in reverse is "redips," and "T.S. Eliot," "toilest." But then it is also true that Hazel Shade resembled me in certain respects. (note to Lines 347-348)


Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to hint at Dr Botkin, the last Russian tsar’s physician who refused to leave his patients (poor Prince Aleksey suffered from hemophilia) and was executed with them. In the period between August 1917 and April 1918, before they were moved to Yekaterinburg, Nicholas II and his family lived in exile in Tobolsk. In Le temps retrouvé Poust mentions Tobolsk:


Mais peut-être Albertine avait-elle voulu me dire cela pour avoir l’air plus expérimentée qu’elle n’était et pour m’éblouir, à Paris, du prestige de sa perversité comme la première fois, à Balbec, par celui de sa vertu. Et tout simplement, quand je lui avais parlé des femmes qui aimaient les femmes, pour ne pas avoir l’air de ne pas savoir ce que c’était, comme dans une conversation on prend un air entendu si on parle de Fourier ou de Tobolsk encore qu’on ne sache pas ce que c’est.


And perhaps Albertine told me all this so as to appear more experienced than she was and to astonish me with the prestige of her perversity in Paris, as at first by the prestige of her virtue at Balbec. So, quite simply, when I spoke to her about women who loved women, she answered as she did, in order not to seem to be unaware of what I meant, as in a conversation one assumes an understanding air when somebody talks of Fourrier or of Tobolsk without even knowing what these names mean.


In Canto Two of Pale Fire Shade mentions the talks with Socrates and Proust in cypress walks:


So why join in the vulgar laughter? Why
Scorn a hereafter none can verify:
The Turk's delight, the future lyres, the talks
With Socrates and Proust in cypress walks,
The seraph with his six flamingo wings,
And Flemish hells with porcupines and things?
It isn't that we dream too wild a dream:
The trouble is we do not make it seem
Sufficiently unlikely; for the most
We can think up is a domestic ghost. (ll. 221-230)


In Zhiznennaya drama Platona (“Plato’s Life-Drama”), a preface to his Russian translation (1898) of Plato’s Dialogues, Vladimir Solovyov (the philosopher whose brother Vsevolod was a novelist) says that Plato’s life-drama began with Socrates’ suicide:


Сократ должен был умереть как преступник. Вот трагический удар в самом начале жизненной драмы Платона. Подобно некоторым древним трагедиям, а также шекспировскому Гамлету, эта драма не только кончается, но и начинается трагической катастрофой. (XII)


Solovyov compares Plato’s life-drama to ancient tragedies and to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In his Index to PF, the entry on Botkin, V., 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.


In his famous monologue (“To be or not to be…”) in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet mentions a bare bodkin:


For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? (3.1)


One of the Russian translations of Hamlet, with an extensive commentary, was made by K. R. (the Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov, 1858-1915). A pupil of Afanasiy Fet (the poet who was married to Maria Botkin, Dr Eugene Botkin’s aunt), K. R. was born one hundred years before G. Ivanov’s death and died in the year of Kinbote’s and Gradus’ birth. In his memoirs Peterburgskie zimy (“The St. Petersburg Winters,” 1931) G. Ivanov (the author of a little poem in which the old postcard with the tsar’s family is described) quotes an entry in Alexander Blok’s diary:


В дневнике Блока 1909 г. есть запись: "говорил с Георгием Ивановым о Платоне. Он ушёл от меня другим человеком".


In Blok’s diary for 1909 there is an entry: “I talked with Georgiy Ivanov about Plato. When he left me, he was a different man.”


In the preceding paragraph of his (extremely unreliable) memoirs G. Ivanov mentions his question “does a sonnet need a coda” and his surprise when Blok, a celebrated maitre, replied that he did not know what a coda is:


Зачем Блок писал длинные письма или вёл долгие разговоры со мной, желторотым подростком, с вечными вопросами о технике поэзии на языке? Время от времени какой-нибудь такой вопрос с моего языка срывался.

— Александр Александрович, нужна ли кода к сонету? — спросил я как-то. К моему изумлению, Блок, знаменитый «мэтр», вообще не знал, что такое кода…


It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane).


Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Blok. In a letter of Oct. 31, 1838 (Dostoevski’s seventeenth birthday), to his brother Dostoevski twice repeats the word gradus (degree). Dostoevski is the author of Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875). Ulichnyi podrostok (“The Street Adolescent,” 1914) is a sonnet with the coda by G. Ivanov. One of G. Ivanov’s early collections of poetry is entitled Veresk (“Heather,” 1916) and brings to mind R. L. Stevenson’s ballad Heather Ale (1895). Ivanov’s Veresk was reviewed in Severnye zapiski (“Northern Notes”) by Sofia Parnok (Marina Tsvetaev’s lover who wrote under the penname Andrey Polyanin). Sybil Shade’s “real” name seems to be Sofia Botkin. In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron, o, bez sozhalen’ya… (“Like Byron to Greece, oh, without regret…” 1927) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon’ (pale fire).


In PF Gradus seems to be Kinbote’s double who kills Shade by mistake. 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.


P.S. In Chapter Three of VN’s Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Fyodor quotes Mihailovski, a radical critic who compared Dostoevski to a fish:


Белинский, этот симпатичный неуч, любивший лилии и олеандры, украшавший своё окно кактусами (как Эмма Бовари), хранивший в коробке из-под Гегеля пятак, пробку, да пуговицу и умерший с речью к русскому народу, на окровавленных чахоткой устах, поражал воображение Фёдора Константиновича такими перлами дельной мысли, как, например: «В природе всё прекрасно, исключая только те уродливые явления, которые сама природа оставила незаконченными и спрятала во мраке земли и воды (моллюски, черви, инфузории и т.п.)», – точно так же, как у Михайловского легко отыскивалась брюхом вверх плавающая метафора вроде следующих слов (о Достоевском): «…бился, как рыба об лёд, попадая временами в унизительнейшие положения»; из-за этой униженной рыбы стоило продираться сквозь все писания «докладчика по делам сегодняшнего дня».


Belinski, that likable ignoramus, who loved lilies and oleanders, who decorated his window with cacti (as did Emma Bovary), who kept five kopecks, a cork and a button in the empty box discarded by Hegel and who died of consumption with a speech to the Russian people on his bloodstained lips, startled Fyodor’s imagination with such pearls of realistic thought as, for example: “In nature everything is beautiful, excepting only those ugly phenomena which nature herself has left unfinished and hidden in the darkness of the earth or water (mollusks, worms, infusoria, and so on).” Similarly, in Mihailovski it was easy to discover a metaphor floating belly upwards as for example: “[Dostoevski] struggled like a fish against the ice, ending up at times in the most humiliating positions”; this humiliated fish rewarded one for working through all the writings of the “reporter on contemporary issues.”


P.P.S. L’assassin a le prix Goncourt (“The Murderer Receives the Goncourt Prize,” 1951), a novel by Pierre Gamarra, brings to mind Hermann’s failed masterpiece in VN’s novel Otchayanie (“Despair,” 1934). The narrator and main character in “Despair,” Hermann kills Felix, a tramp in whom Hermann sees his perfect double. In Le temps retrouvé Proust uses the phrase felix culpa:


On sait, en effet, que certaines femmes se projettent en quelque sorte elles-mêmes en un autre être avec la plus grande exactitude, la seule erreur est dans le sexe. Erreur dont on ne peut pas dire: felix culpa, car le sexe réagit sur la personnalité, et chez un homme le féminisme devient afféterie, la réserve susceptibilité, etc. N’importe, dans la figure, fût-elle barbue, dans les joues, même congestionnées sous les favoris, il y a certaines lignes superposables à quelque portrait maternel. Il n’est guère de vieux Charlus qui ne soit une ruine où l’on ne reconnaisse avec étonnement sous tous les empâtements de la graisse et de la poudre de riz quelques fragments d’une belle femme en sa jeunesse éternelle.


We know, as a matter of fact, that certain women are reproduced in certain men with complete fidelity, the only mistake being the sex. We cannot qualify this as felix culpa, for sex reacts upon personality and feminism becomes effeminacy, reserve suceptibility and so on. This does not prevent a man’s face, even though bearded, from being modelled on lines transferable to the portrait of his mother. There was nothing but a ruin of the old M. de Charlus left but under all the layers of fat and rice powder one could recognize the remnants of a beautiful woman in her eternal youth.


Hazel Shade inherited her father’s bad looks. Like M. de Charlus, Kinbote is homosexual.


The Latin expression felix culpa (“happy fault”) derives from the writings of St. Augustine regarding the Fall of Man, the source of original sin: “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.” (in Latin: Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere.) The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas cited this line when he explained how the principle that "God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom" underlies the causal relation between original sin and the Divine Redeemer's Incarnation, thus concluding that a higher state is not inhibited by sin.


In a conversation with Shade Kinbote mentions Original Sin and quotes St. Augustine:


SHADE: All the seven deadly sins are peccadilloes but without three of them, Pride, Lust and Sloth, poetry might never have been born.

KINBOTE: Is it fair to base objections upon obsolete terminology?

SHADE: All religions are based upon obsolete terminology.

KINBOTE: What we term Original Sin can never grow obsolete.

SHADE: I know nothing about that. In fact when I was small I thought it meant Cain killing Abel. Personally, I am with the old snuff-takers: L'homme est né bon.

KINBOTE: Yet disobeying the Divine Will is a fundamental definition of Sin.

SHADE: I cannot disobey something which I do not know and the reality of which I have the right to deny.

KINBOTE: Tut-tut. Do you also deny that there are sins?

SHADE: I can name only two: murder, and the deliberate infliction of pain.

KINBOTE: Then a man spending his life in absolute solitude could not be a sinner?

SHADE: He could torture animals. He could poison the springs on his island. He could denounce an innocent man in a posthumous manifesto.

KINBOTE: And so the password is -?

SHADE: Pity.

KINBOTE: But who instilled it in us, John? Who is the Judge of life, and the Designer of death?

SHADE: Life is a great surprise. I do not see why death should not be an even greater one.

KINBOTE: Now I have caught you, John: once we deny a Higher Intelligence that plans and administrates our individual hereafters we are bound to accept the unspeakably dreadful notion of Chance reaching into eternity. Consider the situation, Throughout eternity our poor ghosts are exposed to nameless vicissitudes. There is no appeal, no advice, no support, no protection, nothing. Poor Kinbote's ghost, poor Shade's shade, may have blundered, may have taken the wrong turn somewhere - oh, from sheer absent-mindedness, or simply through ignorance of a trivial rule in the preposterous game of nature - if there be any rules.

SHADE: There are rules in chess problems: interdiction of dual solutions, for instance.

KINBOTE: I had in mind diabolical rules likely to be broken by the other party as soon as we come to understand them. That is why goetic magic does not always work. The demons in their prismatic malice betray the agreement between us and them, and we are again in the chaos of chance. Even if we temper Chance with Necessity and allow godless determinism, the mechanism of cause and effect, to provide our souls after death with the dubious solace of metastatistics, we still have to reckon with the individual mishap, the thousand and second highway accident of those scheduled for independence Day in Hades. No-no, if we want to be serious about the hereafter let us not begin by degrading it to the level of a science-fiction yarn or a spiritualistic case history. The ideal of one's soul plunging into limitless and chaotic afterlife with no Providence to direct her –

SHADE: There is always a psychopompos around the corner, isn't there?

KINBOTE: Not around that corner, John. With no Providence the soul must rely on the dust of its husk, on the experience gathered in the course of corporeal confinement, and cling childishly to small-town principles, local by-laws and a personality consisting mainly of the shadows of its own prison bars. Such an idea is not to be entertained one instant by the religious mind. How much more intelligent it is - even from a proud infidel's point of view! - to accept God's Presence - a faint phosphorescence at first, a pale light in the dimness of bodily life, and a dazzling radiance after it? I too, I too, my dear John, have been assailed in my time by religious doubts. The church helped me to fight them off. It also helped me not to ask too much, not to demand too clear an image of what is unimaginable. St. Augustine said - SHADE: Why must one always quote St. Augustine to me?

KINBOTE: As St. Augustine said, "One can know what God is not; one cannot know what He is." I think I know what He is not: He is not despair, He is not terror, He is not the earth in one's rattling throat, not the black hum in one's ears fading to nothing in nothing. I know also that the world could not have occurred fortuitously and that somehow Mind is involved as a main factor in the making of the universe. In trying to find the right name for that Universal Mind, or First Cause, or the Absolute, or Nature, I submit that the Name of God has priority. (note to Line 549)


Alexey Sklyarenko

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