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Набоков Владимир. Книга: [Proofed to line 1994]. Страница 17
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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 "Dear 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.

Lines 181-182: waxwings... cicadas

The bird of lines 1 - 4 and 131 is again with us. It will reappear in the ultimate line of the poem; and another cicada, leaving its envelope behind, will sing triumphantly at lines 236-244.

Line 189: Starover Blue

See note to line 627. This reminds one of the Royal Game of the Goose, but played here with little airplanes of painted tin: a wild-goose game, rather (go to square 209).

Line 209: gradual decay

Spacetime itself is decay; Gradus is flying west; he has reached gray-blue Copenhagen (see note to 181). After tomorrow (July 7) he will proceed to Paris. He has sped through this verse and is gone - presently to darken our pages again.

Lines 213-214: A syllogism

This may please a boy. Later in life we learn that we are those "others."

Line 230: a domestic ghost

Shade's former secretary, Jane Provost, whom I recently looked up in Chicago, told me about Hazel considerably more than her father did; he affected not to speak of his dead daughter, and since I did not foresee this work of inquiry and comment, I did not urge him to talk on the subject and unburden himself to me. True, in this canto he has unburdened himself pretty thoroughly, and his picture of Hazel is quite clear and complete; maybe a little too complete, architectonically, since the reader cannot help feeling that it has been expanded and elaborated to the detriment of certain other richer and rarer matters ousted by it. But a commentator's obligations cannot be shirked, however dull the information he must collect and convey. Hence this note.

It appears that in the beginning of 1950, long before the barn incident (see note to line 347), sixteen-year-old Hazel was involved in some appalling "psychokinetic" manifestations that lasted for nearly a month. Initially, one gathers, the poltergeist meant to impregnate the disturbance with the identity of Aunt Maud who had just died; the first object to perform was the basket in which she had once kept her half-paralyzed Skye terrier (the breed called in our country "weeping-willow dog"). Sybil had had the animal destroyed soon after its mistress's hospitalization, incurring the wrath of Hazel who was beside herself with distress. One morning this basket shot out of the "intact" sanctuary (see lines 90-98) and traveled along the corridor past the open door of the study, where Shade was at work; he saw it whizz by and spill its humble contents: a ragged coverlet, a rubber bone, and a partly discolored cushion. Next day the scene of action switched to the dining room where one of Aunt Maud's oils (Cypress and Bat) was found to be turned toward the wall. Other incidents followed, such as short flights accomplished by her scrapbook (see note to line 90) and, of course, all kinds of knockings, especially in the sanctuary, which would rouse Hazel from her, no doubt, peaceful sleep in the adjacent bedroom. But soon the poltergeist ran out of ideas in connection with Aunt Maud and became, as it were, more eclectic. All the banal motions that objects are limited to in such cases, were gone through in this one. Saucepans crashed in the kitchen; a snowball was found (perhaps, prematurely) in the icebox; once or twice Sybil saw a plate sail by like a discus and land safely on the sofa; lamps kept lighting up in various parts of the house; chairs waddled away to assemble in the impassable pantry; mysterious bits of string were found on the floor; invisible revelers staggered down the staircase in the middle of the night; and one winter morning Shade, upon rising and taking a look at the weather, saw that the little table from his study upon which he kept a Bible-like Webster open at M was standing in a state of shock outdoors, on the snow (subliminally this may have participated in the making of lines 5-12).

I imagine, that during that period the Shades, or at least John Shade, experienced a sensation of odd instability as if parts of the everyday, smoothly running world had got unscrewed, and you became aware that one of your tires was rolling beside you, or that your steering wheel had come off. My poor friend could not help recalling the dramatic fits of his early boyhood and wondering if this was not a new genetic variant of the same theme, preserved through procreation. Trying to hide from neighbors these horrible and humiliating phenomena was not the least of Shade's worries. He was terrified, and he was lacerated with pity. Although never able to corner her, that flabby, feeble, clumsy and solemn girl, who seemed more interested than frightened, he and Sybil never doubted that in some extraordinary way she was the agent of the disturbance which they saw as representing (I now quote Jane P.) "an outward extension or expulsion of insanity." They could not do much about it, partly because they disliked modern voodoo-psychiatry, but mainly because they were afraid of Hazel, and afraid to hurt her. They had however a secret interview with old-fashioned and learned Dr. Sutton, and this put them in better spirits. They were contemplating moving into another house or, more exactly, loudly saying to each other, so as to be overheard by anyone who might be listening, that they were contemplating moving, when all at once the fiend was gone, as happens with the moskovett, that bitter blast, that colossus of cold air that blows on our eastern shores throughout March, and then one morning you hear the birds, and the flags hang flaccid, and the outlines of the world are again in place. The phenomena ceased completely and were, if not forgotten, at least never referred to; but how curious it is that we do not perceive a mysterious sign of equation between the Hercules springing forth from a neurotic child's weak frame and the boisterous ghost of Aunt Maud; how curious that our rationality feels satisfied when we plump for the first explanation, though, actually, the scientific and the supernatural, the miracle of the muscle and the miracle of the mind, are both inexplicable as are all the ways of Our Lord.

Line 231: How ludicrous, etc.

A beautiful variant, with one curious gap, branches off at this point in the draft (dated July 6):

Strange Other World where all our still-born dwell,

And pets, revived, and invalids, grown well,

And minds that died before arriving there:

Poor old man Swift, poor -, poor Baudelaire

What might that dash stand for? Unless Shade gave prosodic value to the mute e in "Baudelaire," which I am quite certain he would never have done in English verse (cp: "Rabelais," line 501), the name required here must scan as a trochee.

Among the names of celebrated poets, painters, philosophers, etc., known to have become insane or to have sunk into senile imbecility, we find many suitable ones. Was Shade confronted by too much variety with nothing to help logic choose and so left a blank, relying upon the mysterious organic force that rescues poets to fill it in at its own convenience? Or was there something else - some obscure intuition, some prophetic scruple that prevented him from spelling out the name of an eminent man who happened to be an intimate friend of his? Was he perhaps playing safe because a reader in his household might have objected to that particular name being mentioned? And if it comes to that, why mention it at all in this tragical context? Dark, disturbing thoughts.

Line 238: empty emerald case

This, I understand, is the semitransparent envelope left on a tree trunk by an adult cicada that has crawled up the trunk and emerged. Shade said that he had once questioned a class of three hundred students and only three knew what a cicada looked like. Ignorant settlers had dubbed it "locust," which is, of course, a grasshopper, and the same absurd mistake has been made by generations of translators of Lafontaine's La Cigale et la Fourmi (see lines 243-244). The cigale's companion piece, the ant, is about to be embalmed in amber.

During our sunset rambles, of which there were so many, at least nine (according to my notes) in June, but dwindling to two in the first three weeks of July (they shall be resumed Elsewhere!), my friend had a rather coquettish way of pointing out with the tip of his cane various curious natural objects. He never tired of illustrating by means of these examples the extraordinary blend of Canadian Zone and Austral Zone that "obtained, " as he put it, in that particular spot of Appalachia where at our altitude of about 1,500 feet northern species of birds, insects and plants commingled with southern representatives. As most literary celebrities, Shade did not seem to realize that a humble admirer who has cornered at last and has at last to himself the inaccessible man of genius, is considerably more interested in discussing with him literature and life than in being told that the "diana" (presumably a flower) occurs in New Wye together with the "atlantis" (presumably another flower), and things of that sort. I particularly remember one exasperating evening stroll (July 6) which my poet granted me, with majestic generosity, in compensation for a bad hurt (see, frequently see, note to line 181), in recompense for my small gift (which I do not think he ever used), and with the sanction of his wife who made it a point to accompany us part of the way to Dulwich Forest. By means of astute excursions into natural history Shade kept evading me, me, who was, hysterically, intensely, uncontrollably curious to know what portion exactly of the Zemblan-king's adventures he had completed in the course of the last four or five days. My usual shortcoming, pride, prevented me from pressing him with direct questions but I kept reverting to my own earlier themes - the escape from the palace, the adventures in the mountains - in order to force some confession from him. One would imagine that a poet, in the course of composing a long and difficult piece, would simply jump at the opportunity of talking about his triumphs and tribulations. But nothing of the sort! All I got in reply to my infinitely gentle and cautious interrogations were such phrases as: "Yep. It's coming along nicely," or "Nope, I'm not talkin'," and finally he brushed me off with a rather offensive anecdote about King Alfred who, it was said, liked the stories of a Norwegian attendant he had but drove him away when engaged in other business: "Oh, there you are," rude Alfred would say to the gentle Norwegian who had come to weave a subtly different variant of some old Norse myth he had already related before: "Oh there you are again!" And thus it came to pass, my dears, that a fabulous exile, a God-inspired northern bard, is known today to English schoolboys by the trivial nickname: Ohthere.

However! On a later occasion my capricious and henpecked friend was much kinder (see note to line 802).

Line 240: That Englishman in Nice

The sea gulls of 1933 are all dead, of course. But by inserting a notice in The London Times one might procure the name of their benefactor - unless Shade invented him. When I visited Nice a quarter of a century later, there was, in lieu of that Englishman, a local character, an old bearded bum, tolerated or abetted as a tourist attraction, who stood like a statue of Verlaine with an unfastidious sea gull perched in profile on his matted hair, or took naps in the public sun, comfortably curled up with his back to the lulling roll of the sea, on a promenade bench, under which he had neatly arranged to dry, or ferment, multicolored gobbets of undeterminable victuals on a newspaper. Not many Englishmen walked there, anyway, though I noticed quite a few just east of Mentone; on the quay where in honor of Queen Victoria a bulky monument, with difficulty embraced by the breeze, had been erected, but not yet unshrouded, to replace the one the Germans had taken away. Rather pathetically, the eager horn of her pet monoceros protruded through the shroud.

Line 246:... my dear

The poet addresses his wife. The passage devoted to her (lines 246-292) has its structural use as a transition to the theme of his daughter. I can, however, state that when dear Sybil's steps were heard upstairs, fierce and sharp, above our heads, everything was not always "all right"!

Line 247: Sybil

John Shade's wife, nee Irondell (which comes not from a little valley yielding iron ore but from the French for "swallow"). She was a few months his senior. I understand she came of Canadian stock, as did Shade's maternal grandmother (a first cousin of Sybil's grandfather, if I am not greatly mistaken).

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.

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