Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction

Four Essays

... at the last indention,
despite proofreaders and my age's ban,
a Russian branch's shadow shall be playing
upon the marble of my hand.
... v kontse abzatsa,
korrektoru i veku vopreki,
ten' russkoi vetki budet kolebat'sia
na mramore moei ruki.
NABOKOV, What Is the Evil Deed
(Какое sdelal ia durnoe delo) 1959
.. the humble churchyard ...
where there's a cross now and the shade of branches
... smirennoe kladbishche,
Gde nynche krest i ten' vetvei
PUSHKIN, Eugene Onegin VIII:
xlvi, 12-13

A Note on Transliteration xiii
1. Invitation to a Decoding. Dostoevsky as
Subtext in Nabokov's Priglashenie na kazn 1
2. Reading in Three Dimensions. Remarks on
Poligenetichnost3 in Nabokov's Prose 34
3. The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian
Texture 65
4. Nabokov's Poetics of Dates 91

Bits and pieces of the four chapters in this book have been
printed over the years in Scando-Slavica, Studia Slavica
Finlandensia, Studia Russica Helsingiensia et Tartuensia,
Semiotica, Cycnos, The Nabokovian, and the long-awaited
Russian-language anthology - a boon to all serious students
of Nabokov - V. V. Nabokov. Pro et contra. Lichnost' i
tvorchestvo Vladimira Nabokova v otsenke russkikh i
zarubezhnykh myslitelei i issledovatelei (St. Petersburg 1997).
I am grateful to the editors of these publications for their
receptiveness and for the permission to utilize some of the
materials here. For the present purpose, the essays have been
thoroughly rehabilitated, and the bibliographical references
have been brought up to date. The collection is published on
the occasion of the centennial of Vladimir Nabokov's birth
on April 23,1999.
A large part of the initial research for these studies was
conducted under the auspices of the Interdisciplinary Hu-
manities Center, University of California, Santa Barbara
during my stay there in 1989-1990, and the work was re-
sumed in Helsinki under the roof of the Institute for Cul-
tural Relations between Finland and the USSR (since re-
named), A generous grant from the Academy of Finland for
1997-1998 made it possible to take up the task of rewriting
the essays in a book form. I wish to thank Professor D. Barton
Johnson (University of California, Santa Barbara), Profes-
sor Gennady Barabtarlo (University of Missouri-Columbia),

Professor Рекка Pesonen (University of Helsinki), and Pro-
fessor Leona Toker (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
for inviting me to talk and write on these topics, for hosting
me on several unforgettable occasions, and for sharing their
insights on Nabokov with me.
Since 19951 have had the privilege of directing the Finn-
ish Graduate School of Literary Theory and Textuality (Uni-
versities of Tampere and Helsinki). Though the issues treated
in our doctoral seminars have been eminently non-
Nabokovian - his name hasn't been mentioned once, I think
- the theoretical debates during these years have provided,
possibly for this very reason, a distinctive inspiration and
challenge. Ms. Tanja Vesala-Varttala, a member of our gradu-
ate school, has rectified my grammar with much competence
and tact, and another member, Mr. Ilkka Mayra, has very
kindly mended my erroneous ways with computers. Mr.
Mayra also deserves the credit for the layout of this book. In
her capacity as the administrative secretary of the school and,
in 1998, as my personal research assistant Ms. Minna Niemi-
Grundstrom from the University of Tampere is entitled to a
two-fold cheer for her energy and patience.
The last, eagle-eyed look at my Russian quotations was
taken by Mr. Grigori Utgof from the Tallinn University of
Educational Sciences when this work was already going to
the printers, and I want to acknowledge a debt that needs to
be repaid one day.
This book is dedicated to my family: my wife Jaana - a
formidable Nabokov expert in her own right - and my two
sons, Anton and Aleksi, who know what nobody else will
August 1998

A Note on Transliteration
In transliterating Russian I have used a modified version of
the Library of Congress system (as recommended e.g. in
Alexandrov 1995a, xxvii). The main modifications are that
all diacritics are omitted save the soft sign (as in
Mandel'shtam), and i kratkoe is transliterated as i (Belyi).
The standard English forms of Russian names like
Dostoevsky or Jakobson are retained, as are Nabokov's own
English versions of the names occurring in his fiction
(Alfyorov, Fyodor). When the author's usage varies, as it
sometimes does (Alfyorov also appears as Alferov in Mary),
I have honored such idiosyncrasies.

One Invitation to a Decoding.
Dostoevsky as Subtext in
Nabokov's Priglashenie na
1. In Nabokov's The Gift1 a certain hapless literary critic is
quoted. This fictional critic - named Linyov - is supposed to
have reviewed the hero's book The Life of Chernyshevski.
He writes:
The author writes in a language having little in
common with Russian [...] he places solemn but
not quite grammatical maxims in the mouths
of his characters, like, 'The poet himself chooses
the subjects of his poems, the multitude has no
right to direct his inspiration/ (E: 287)
If... J poet sam izbiraetpredmety dlia svoikhpesen,
tolpa ne imeet prava upravliat3 ego
vdokhnoveniem.' (R: 338)
Poor Linyov. The quoted passage comes from Pushkin's un-
finished prose piece Egipetskie nochi (1835), where it is the

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
fictitious poet Charski who suggests this theme to a visiting
improwisatore: "Votvam tema [...]poetsam izbiraetpredmety
dlia svoikh pesen; tolpa ne imeet prava upravliat' ego
vdokhnoveniem. "2
This small trick played by the author on his invented
critic constitutes a characteristic instance of what Slavic theo-
rists of subtext have termed avtometaopisanie, or metaliterary
self-commentary.3 Linyov's blunder is instructive precisely
because it anticipates the fate of those readers who do not
possess the cultural competence presupposed by VN's semi-
otic and subtextual strategies.4
In what follows, I propose to examine some problems
connected with Russian literary subtexts in Nabokovian
fiction. Critics - real critics this time, usually with a
background in Slavic studies - have always been fond of
spotting allusions to Russian literature in VN's works. In a
pioneering survey, Simon Karlinsky already singled out the
Nabokovian device of "making an oblique and not fully stated
literary allusion" and in this way "paying [one's] audience
the compliment of assuming that they did not require a more
explicit identification."5 But it would still appear that there
has been less concern for a typological approach to the
question, charting the strategies available to the author for
activating intertextual links and delineating the functions that
they may fulfil in particular texts. This is a large subject, and
my notes make no pretense at being exhaustive. I will first
go over some theoretical matters that need to be taken care
of, though only insofar as they enable us to proceed with
our analytic problem (that is, the whole field of intertextuality
will not be mapped). Second, I will propose a new Russian
subtext for Invitation to a Beheading (Priglashenie na kazn').
After this I will put forward certain interpretive remarks on
the basis of the subtextual clues. The main thrust of the

Invitation to a Decoding
discussion will remain in the domain of practical criticism,
but it is still hoped that some insights of a more general order
will also emerge, pointing the way towards a comprehensive
field guide to the workings of intertextuality in Nabokovian
2. The notion of a literary SUBTEXT (podtekst) has come
to us via Kiril Taranovsky's influential essays on the role of
allusion and quotation in the poetry of Osip Mandel'shtam.6
The term as such was not new. It had been used in con-
junction with drama (Stanislavsky's directions for staging
Chekhov's plays), and in its broadest sense the concept was
often understood as denoting any "hidden" meaning that
could be uncovered behind the primary meaning of an utter-
ance. This common usage was summarized by the philolo-
gist Т. I. Sil'man when she wrote that the term refers to "the
covert, unstated meaning of a given episode or an utterance
(in other words, a textual segment) that is nonetheless per-
ceptible to the reader or auditor."7 In addition, Sil'man em-
phasized that for the covert meaning in a segment to be-
come activated it must be viewed in relation to a context
consisting of other utterances (other textual segments): "At
the core of every subtextual meaning there always lies some-
thing that has already been uttered and is now being con-
structed anew."8 This remains the central assumption un-
derlying all subtextual studies, and it may be variously ap-
plied in concrete investigations.
It was only after the distinctions drawn by Taranovsky,
however, that the notion became applicable as a tool for struc-
tural analysis. Taranovsky's main statements on the issue are

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
contained in the series of studies on Mandel'shtam that he
published between 1967 and 1974 - i.e. in the heyday of lit-
erary structuralism, which carries some significance with re-
gard to the shape that the method has taken.9 These studies
were collected in Essays on Mandel'shtam (1976), which es-
tablished Taranovsky as the leading theorist of subtext, and
it was not long before his model began giving rise to new
work on the question. During the next ten or fifteen years a
veritable "school" (the Taranovsky school) grew around the
concept, with outposts not only in the centers of Slavic struc-
turalism and semiotics in the West (from Harvard to Jerusa-
lem),10 but also within the Moscow - Tartu semiotic faction,
whose members often commented on the confluence be-
tween their ideas and Taranovsky's theory.11
If we wish to derive a workable "model" on the basis of
these studies, certain reservations should first be voiced.
(i) First of all, the work done by Taranovsky and his fol-
lowers is much more closely oriented towards interpreta-
tion of particular texts than has been customary in
intertextual approaches outside Slavic studies. In other words,
for these investigators the concept of subtext is above all an
analytic tool that is used for solving hermeneutic problems
encountered in literary texts. Accordingly, the model under-
lying this approach has also been constructed with a view to
its practical applications. In the end it will stand or fall de-
pending on what the investigator using it will discover - how
plausible the links that are ferreted out from the texts cho-
sen for study turn out to be. (This ought to be underscored,
for from a strictly theoretical standpoint there are gaps in
Taranovsky's definitions.)
(ii) Second, we should notice that Taranovsky himself
presented his discoveries on the basis of a strictly limited
corpus. His analyses were devoted primarily to the poetic

Invitation to a Decoding
principles governing Mandel'shtam's poetry. This is not just
any corpus, of course, for in their cryptic allusiveness
Mandel'shtam's poems have few parallels even in the history
of Russian modernist verse. In Slavic studies Mandel'shtam
scholarship (.Mandel'shtamovedenie) constitutes a field of its
own, and within this field some of the most impressive re-
sults have been achieved by members of the Taranovsky
But the originator of the school did not present his model
as a general theory. His goal was mainly to analyze particular
semantic problems within the chosen corpus.
Nonetheless, once this has been acknowledged, there is
no reason why the approach could not be tested against other
literary materials. Some of Taranovsky's Slavic commenta-
tors spoke openly of a new analytic "method."12 And during
the past decade or two the model has been applied to a rela-
tively wide array of materials - derived first of all from Rus-
sian modernist poetry, but also from other poetic traditions
and (to a lesser extent) from narrative prose."
One might argue that what Taranovsky discovered was
ultimately not just a distinctive strategy of writing in
Mandel'shtam's work (as Taranovsky himself would seem
to have assumed). What we also have here is a strategy of
reading which may be particularly strong with regard to
modernist poetry, but at the same time it can be used as an
interpretive model. Any text may be approached using this
model, if we wish to uncover the intertextual potential of
our chosen corpus. It is precisely for this reason that
Taranovsky's theory - little known outside Slavic studies -
merits our attention in an analytic study of Nabokovian writ-

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
3. The crux of Taranovsky's approach is his claim that there
are no unmotivated verbal elements in the structure of
Mandel'shtam's poems. In other words, no matter how acci-
dental Mandel'shtam's choice of certain words and images
may appear to the reader, a close analysis will always reveal
that they have a semantic function ("Mandel'shtam wrote
nothingprwto tak").n
On the other hand, Taranovsky underscores the
"unintelligibility" of Mandel'shtam's poems as separate texts:
"Mandel'shtam is a difficult poet, a poet of cryptic mes-
sages."14 The Mandel'shtamian poem has also been compared
to a "riddle," the key to which lies hidden somewhere out-
side the text.17 This is why the motivation for any textual
item (for example, a particular poetic image) in a poem by
Mandel'shtam is not to be sought solely from the intrinsic
ordering of the literary text, as earlier theories of poetic "au-
tonomy" would have had it. But neither is the thematic mo-
tivation discoverable on the basis of extraliterary (say, bio-
graphical) background. The motivating context for all the
elements in a given Mandel'shtam text is provided - as
Taranovsky systematically demonstrates in his analyses of
particular poems - by other poems, or by other literary texts,
and such motivating texts may be denoted by the term subtext.
This is obviously an important point, although one may
still want to add some qualifications. It is true that an unin-
telligible or otherwise obscure passage in a poem may be-
come Comprehensible only when its connections to other
literary texts are revealed. Still, expressions usually tend to
acquire some function in the local context of the poem as
well - or at least a thematic function may be assigned to them
through an act of interpretation. If we rephrase this in terms
of structural poetics we might say that even though a given
element in a poem finds its motivation in relation to the para-

Invitation to a Decoding
digmatic plane (i.e. with regard to phrases in other texts),
the reader always seeks to give it functions in relation to the
linear, syntagmatic plane of the individual text as well. This
may be easily forgotten in an analysis that invests all its ef-
fort in uncovering hidden subtexts and intertextual riddles -
as in fact often happens when Taranovsky's approach is me-
chanically applied.
One of Taranovsky's examples comes from the opening
lines of Mandel'shtam's Kontsert na vokzale (1921):"
|| 11 Nel'zia dyshat', i tverd' kishit cherviami,
I ni odna zvezda ne govorit
These lines contain a polemic allusion to Lermontov's lines
from Vykhozhu odin ia na dorogu (1841):
(2) Noch' tikha. Pustynia vnemlet Bogu,
I zvezda s zvezdoiu govorit
It is also possible to hear an echo of David Burliuk's Futurist
poem Mertvoenebo (1913):
(3) 'Nebo trup!!' ne bol'she!
Zvezdy - chervi -p'ianye tumanom
As Taranovsky writes, in the primary poem by Mandel'shtam
"a strong sensation of an impending cataclysm is sharply
opposed to Lermontov's sense of cosmic harmony."19 The
opposition may be further enhanced if we relate this to
Burliuk's Futurist imagery.
Here the discovery of the hidden subtexts would seem
to bear directly on the reader's understanding of the the-
matic sense in the primary text. But we may still ask whether

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
such a thematic import isn't available for a non-Russian (or
non-Slavist) reader as well, even if the reader does not make
the connection to Burliuk's poem - or to the much more
obvious Lermontovian subtext. Isn't a sky swarming with
worms an effective metaphor in its own right? What is more,
the opposition between the possibility of a cosmic harmony
and its loss appears to be built into the lyrical "plot" of
Mandel'shtam's poem itself: evidently the stars could speak
given some other conditions, and the reader is led to ask
what these might be. In this sense the detection of the subtext
does not seem to be a necessary condition for understand-
ing the poem. (Neither would it be very helpful - let us ini-
tially note - to claim that Nabokovian fiction becomes un-
intelligible it we do not uncover its hidden links to Russian
literature, though such might be the self-justifying claim eas-
ily put forward by scholars, like the present one, inclined to
capitalize on their discoveries.)
This does not mean, of course, that the role of subtextual
connections should be underestimated. Clearly, the themes
in the primary text (1) gain new connotations when the
intertextual links with (2) and (3) are uncovered. What would
strike us as the most challenging question in such instances,
however, concerns specifically the interplay or the interac-
tion between the alternative ways of reading the text. We
may always attempt to interpret a poem or a narrative text as
a (seemingly) closed system, focusing on its networks of
internal linkages, recurring imagery, or the ordering of the
plot motifs. But at the same time, as readers of poems we are
bound to keep an eye on possible links outside the text -
with other literary texts - and it is only when these efforts
are conjoined that we start approaching a more comprehen-
sive interpretation.

Invitation to a Decoding
Actual readers of poems or stories usually perform this
task on the basis of intuition. From the standpoint of struc-
tural analysis, however, it is precisely the systemizing of these
two operations of reading - one depending on the tracing of
syntagmatic progression within a single text and the other
on paradigmatic intertextual links - that presents the princi-
pal problem for the investigator.
4. Taranovsky is not particularly concerned with describing
the actual reading process. Rather, he seeks to differentiate
between the diverse types of subtextual relationship that we
may come across when reading poems.
As such, his definition is capacious enough. In
Taranovsky's words, the subtext may be defined as an al-
ready existing text (or texts) reflected in a new one.20 Such an
instance can evidently be actualized in many ways, and
Taranovsky goes on to mention some of these. There is con-
siderable difference between those cases, for example, where
(a) I [the subtext] serves as a simple impulse for the creation
of an image;" those where (b) "[it] supports or reveals the
poetic message of the later text;" and those where (c) "[it]
is treated polemically by the poet."21 Clearly cases like (a)
have more to do with the genesis of the work than its actual
reading and do not contribute to our better understanding
of the text (or its thematic sense). From this it further fol-
lows that the subtextual approach should not concern itself
with a poet's "sources" or "influences," although related in-
stances have always been among the prime objects of tradi-
tional comparative analysis. The latter may be authentic lit-
erary historical facts, of course, but their discovery will not
result in any genuine enrichment of the textual meaning; they
will most likely lead instead - as an earlier investigator has
aptly put it - to a certain "philological pleasure."22 As to (b)

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
and (c), here the collation of one text with another produces
"more poetic information" (Taranovsky's phrase), as in these
cases the meaning of the primary text and its subtext appear
to be simultaneously activated.23
It is by way of this definition that the relationship be-
tween a text and its subtext (s) is converted - in opposition
to the standard comparative approach - into a principally
interpretive problem.
5. How does one go about interpreting relationships be-
tween literary texts? It is one task - and a necessary one - to
locate the encoded subtexts in a given textual segment. But
it is another one altogether to determine the new meanings
that are imported into the primary text.24
Here Taranovsky offers an important clue when he un-
derscores that an activated link between two texts is not nec-
essarily a local affair, restricted to isolated segments. Rather,
after we have detected one link this may make us aware of an
entire network of secondary intertextual patterns. As
Taranovsky writes in an often-quoted passage: "If an inves-
tigator finds a subtitle 'Pindaricheskii otryvok' in the first
printing of [Mandel'shtam's poem], it means that he must
reread Pindar's odes."25 Similarly, when Taranovsky studies,
in his first essay devoted to the problem, the relationship
between two poems by Mandel'shtam and Viacheslav
Ivanov's poetry,26 he does not limit the discussion to links
between Mandel'shtam's poems and given texts by Ivanov.
Rather, his goal is to show how the entire Ivanovian opus
becomes relevant with regard to the semantic structure of
the two primary poems.
In principle, we may distinguish between two varieties
of subtextual relationship that extend beyond single seg-

Invitation to a Decoding
(i) First, it is possible that a link between particular seg-
ments activates covert relationships between other sections
in the primary text and its subtext. Commenting on
Taranovsky's idea, M. Iu. Lotman writes: "From the stand-
point of the semantic interpretation of a text, precisely those
passages in the quoted text that are not represented explic-
itly may prove to be the most significant."27
As we saw above, the quoted segment (1) from
Mandel'shtam's poem contained a simple reiteration of a line
from Lermontov (2). But it is apparent that for the puposes
of interpretation we must go beyond this link, for a closer
examination of the two poems discloses an extended dia-
logue between the Mandel'shtamian and Lermontovian world
views, even if we cannot locate other explicit quotations.
In this sense, one may also regard the link between a
text and its subtext: as metonymic, since the reader must al-
ways be prepared to derive relationships between textual
wholes from connections between their individual parts.28
From the interpretive standpoint any reference to another
text — a poem by Lermontov or Pushkin, Mertvye dushi or
Anna Karenina, or a single verse from the Bible - may re-
quire that we go on to re-read the entire poems, the entire
novels by Gogol' and Tolstoy, or the Bible in its entirety.
(ii) But this is not all. Not only do the themes of par-
ticular poems or stories function together; so do the wholes
constituted by several texts (for example, the poetic oeuvres
of the two authors). We remember Taranovsky's dictum that
a single mention of Pindar in the primary poem may lead us
to read all of Pindar's odes. And obviously the intertextual
frame may extend beyond this. What would be
Mandel'shtam's relationship with the legacy of Greek antiq-
uity at large evoked ("metonymically") through the men-
tion of Pindar? And what of the generic tradition of "the

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
ode" itself? Or the heritage of Russian Golden Age poetry
activated through the single quotation from Lermontov's
famous text?
This problem has been approached with particular acu-
men by the Moscow - Tartu semioticians, who preferred to
speak in such instances of polygenetic links between texts.29
We will have occasion to return to this question below (in
Chapter Two), but the point should be underlined here. A
quotation from the Bible does not always allude only to the
Bible; nor is it sufficient for the interpreter to read entire
poems or stories (or the Bible in its entirety), for the proc-
ess of reading that has been triggered by single links between
segments may at any time end up mapping unpredictably
large intertextual systems.30
6. As a relatively straightforward example, let us now cite
the following passage froniLolita: J
Should I enter my old home? As in a Turgenev
story, a torrent of Italian music came from an
open window - that of the living room: what
romantic soul was playing the piano where no
piano had plunged and plashed on that be-
witched Sunday with the sun on her beloved
legs? (E: 281; R: 268)
This excerpt poses a literary puzzle for the reader - at least
for the more casual reader of Lolita, who can hardly be ex-
pected to bother with allusions to classical Russian litera-
ture." It can be easily deciphered, however, if one goes to
Turgenev's works and recovers the subtext in question. The
evoked text is the short novel Dvorianskoe gnezdo (1859),
and the more specific reference is to the Epilogue, depicting

Invitation to a Decoding
the hero's visit to the country mansion where he had once
experienced a brief, deeply-felt romance with the daughter
of the house, Liza:
A Lavretskii vernulsia v dom, voshel v stolovuiu,
priblizilsia k fortep'iano i kosnulsia odnoi iz
klavisb: razdalsia slabyi, no chistyi zvuk i taino
zadrozhal и nego v serdtse: etoi notoi nachinalas'
ta vdokhnovennaia melodiia, kotoroi, davno
tomu nazad, v tu zhe samuiu schastlivuiu noch',
Lemm, pokoinyi Lemm, privel ego v takoi vostorg.
.:- [..,] Lavretskii vyshel iz doma v sad, sel na
znakomoi emu skameike - i na etom dorogom
meste,pered litsom togo doma, gde onvposlednii
raz naprasno prostiral svoi ruki k zavetnomu
kubku, v kotorom kipit i igraet zolotoe vino
naslazhden'ia, - on, odinokii, bezdomnyi
strannik, pod doletavshie do nego veselye kliki
uzhe zamenivshego ego molodogo pokoleniia,
oglianulsia na svoiu zhizn\32
On a local plane, the parallel should be obvious to anyone
familiar with the two novels. Like Lavretskii, VN's Humbert
Humbert has also endured a disillusioning romance (with
the twelve-year-old Dolly Haze), and revisiting the house
where it all began he, too, "oglia [dyvaetsia] na svoiu zhizn'"
But as is often the case with VN's allusive games, further
traces of the subtext are interspersed throughout the narra-
tive, and these deserve to be pointed out.
The reference to "that bewitched Sunday" harks back to
an earlier episode, surely among the best-known of the comi-
cally erotic scenes in Lolita, during which Humbert, seated
on the Haze living room sofa and holding Lolita on his lap,

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
surreptitiously takes advantage of the situation un til he ejacu-
lates (Part One, Chapter 13, E: 57-62; R: 46-50). More cov-
ertly, the same reference also manages to parodically evoke
the more innocent, similarly renowned scene in Turgenev's
novel (Chapter 34) where Lavretskii during a prototypically
romantic tryst seats Liza on a garden bench and pours out
his long-restricted confession of love.33 The connection is
further underscored through recurring textual details. The
garden bench to which Lavretskii returns at the end of the
novel is duplicated by Humbert's "sacred sofa where a bub-
ble of paradise had once burst in slow motion" (E: 78; R:
66), also taken up near the conclusion of the narrative. When
Lavretskii's ruminations are prompted by the merry sounds
of "uzhe zamentvshe [e] ego molodo[e] pokoleni[e]," Humbert,
too, pays attention to the younger generation: he accosts "a
golden-skinned, brown-haired nymphet of nine or ten" (E:
281; R: 268), a possible substitute for the vanished Lolita.
And even the faintly erotic undertones in Lavretskii's pure-
minded recollection of "zavetn\yi] kub[ok], v kotorom kipit
i igraet zolotoe vino naslazhden 4a" would seem to be traves-
tied in Humbert's rationalization after the onanistic sofa ses-
sion: "I felt proud of myself. I had stolen the honey of a
spasm without impairing the morals of a minor. Absolutely
no harm done. The conjurer had poured milk, molasses,
foaming champagne into a young lady's purse; and lo, the
purse was intact" (E: 62; R: 50).
A more detailed reading might lead us to take up other
echoes, activated through occurrences of the Turgenevian
subtext elsewhere in VN's writing.34 We might also inquire
into the author's own attitude towards Turgenev as it was
expressed outside his fiction.15 Or we might extend the dis-
cussion to the narrative functions played by Russian subtexts
in VN's English fiction on the whole (it is not his fictional

Invitation to a Decoding
narrator in the above instance from Lolita who is the expert
on Russian literature). But at some point we must stop - as
VN has warned us in his own Commentary to Pushkin: "The
pursuit of reminiscences may become a form of insanity on
the scholiast's part" (?0 2: 32-33) - and start looking for
some thematic justification behind the intertextual play.
In our example from Lolita this motivation is overtly
parodic. It is precisely through the sustained play with mo-
tifs lifted from classical nineteenth-century texts that VN
manages to create the profoundly comic tone of his narra-
tive, transforming a tale that purports to be a love story into
a travesty of all existing love stories.36 This is not the sole
alternative, however, as there may be other motivating fac-
tors besides parody behind such instances and consequently
many thematic functions that subtexts can fulfil. I will now
investigate this problem more closely by turning to a major
Nabokovian novel from the author's Russian period.
7. VN himself had a firm opinion about any efforts to col-
late his novels with the works of other writers. In his Fore-
word to the English edition of Invitation to a Beheading he
tersely commented:
Incidentally, I could never understand why
every book of mine sends reviewers scurrying
in search of more or less celebrated names for
the purpose of passionate comparison. During
the last three decades they have hurled at me
(to list but a few of these harmless missiles)
Gogol, Tolstoevski, Joyce, Voltaire, Sade,

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
Stendhal, Balzac, Byron, Bierbohm, Proust
Kleist, Makar Marinski, Mary McCarthy,
Meredith (!), Cervantes, Charlie Chaplin, Bar-
oness Murasaki, Pushkin, Ruskin, and even Se-
bastian Knight.37 (E: 6)
Several names could still be added (besides "Tolstoevski").
The original Russian text was serialized in the emigre jour-
nal Sovremennye zapiski in 1935-1936 and first published in
book form in 1938, close to the end of VN's career as a Rus-
sian novelist. And, from the start, it was plumbed for possi-
ble parallels and sources. The prominent emigre critic P. M.
Bitsilli went to somewhat implausible lengths to demonstrate
the affinities between VN's novel and Saltykov-Shchedrin's
Istoriia odnogogoroda and Zaputannoe delo.iS Another emigre
critic found parallels between the novel and works by both
Leonid Andreev and Gogol',39 and the existence of a
Gogolian subtext has been argued in more recent discussions
as well.40 There are also some quite pertinent comparative
studies on VN's stylistic devices in this novel and those can-
onized by the great names of Russian modernist fiction.41
But in all such studies the question has been approached
mainly with a view towards potential "influences" or
"sources," which we have termed irrelevant to our present
Subtextual analysis should have a more definite aim, and
it is perhaps due to the severity of the author's own pro-
nouncements that the networks of thematieally activated
linkages between Invitation to a Beheading and other liter-
ary texts have by and large remained undecoded.42
I will now go on to repair this omission by studying in
detail one such previously unnoticed pattern.

Invitation to a Decoding
8. Markers
I propose to investigate the uses of the Dostoevskian canon
as a literary subtext in Invitation to a Beheading. To begin
with, we should ask what leads us to this inquiry in the first
place - i.e. what the markers of the subtextual relationship
are. Having examined this question, I will return to the in-
terpretive problems posed by the novel.
We may use the term MARKER in an altogether general
sense: to denote those diverse indices through which the
presence of another text within the primary one is signalled.43
In order to specify this question, let us look at some epi-
sodes in VN's novel.
8.1. In the first paragraph of Invitation to a Beheading the
narrator tells us that Cincinnatus C. (Tsintsinnat 7s.) has been
sentenced to death by decapitation (E: 11; R: 7). This in-
stantly gives rise to a peculiar topic that will be developed
throughout the remaining narrative: the interdependence
between the length of the hero's remaining life and the ac-
tual text length of the novel.
So we are nearing the end. The right-hand, still
untasted part of the novel, which, during our
delectable reading, we would lightly feel, me-
chanically testing whether there were still plenty
left (and our fingers were always gladdened by
the placid, faithful thickness) has suddenly, for
no reason at all, become quite meager: a few
minutes of quick reading, already downhill, and
- О horrible.' (E: 12; R: 12)

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
The novel does not end here, of course, and neither does
Cincinnatus's life, as the prospective execution is repeatedly
postponed in the chapters that follow. Essentially, the surface
plot of the narrative presents a whole series of false alarms
(for the hero and reader alike), leading Cincinnatus to con-
stantly prepare himself for an imminent death - only to dis-
cover that he has once again been deceived by his jailors (for
characteristic moments cf. Chapters Three, Five, and Eight-
Throughout this succession of episodes Cincinnatus
himself indulges in long meditations on his plight. As he
observes at an early stage of his imprisonment: "[..,] the
compensation for a death sentence is knowledge of the ex-
act hour when one is to die. A great luxury, but one that is
well earned. However, I am being left in that ignorance which
is tolerable only to those living at liberty" (E: 16; R: 12).
Later on he writes in his prison diary: "[...] like any other
mortal, I do not know my mortal hour and can apply to
myself a formula that holds for everyone: the probability of
a future decreases in inverse proportion to its theoretical re-
moteness. Of course in my case discretion requires that I
think in term of very small numbers" (E: 89-90; R: 79). Or
again, after one of the traps devised by the jailors has come
Cincinnatus did not ask him anything, but,
when Rodion had left, and time dragged on at
its customary trot, he realized that once again
he had been duped, that he had strained his soul
to no purpose, and that everything had remained
just as uncertain, vicious and senseless as be-
fore. (E: 194-195; R: 178)

Invitation to a Decoding
As such passages would indicate, Cincinnatus's imprison-
ment is not to be taken in an altogether literal sense. Invita-
tion has often been read as an account of a lone individual's
demise in the clutches of a totalitarian state,44 but - while
certainly valid - this is still a very partial interpretation. On a
more emblematic plane, Cincinnatus's prison is constituted
by his own mortal existence.45 The surface plot as a whole
turns on a thinly disguised epistemological parable, for what
the hero keeps striving for is precisely a sense of meaning
and harmony in a world that he can in no way comprehend.
And the punishment for this effort - for Cincinnatus as for
all of us - is death, although its exact hour can never be de-
At the same time, the motifs of imprisonment and a post-
poned execution conjoin a large network of subtextual traces,
and this brings us back to our subject. Doomed Cincinnatus
has an eminent predecessor in Russian literature. For one
recalls that the topic of capital punishment is also given a
major role in the opening chapters of Dostoevsky's Idiot
(1868): in Part One, Chapter Two, it is Prince Myshkin who
discourses on the cruel practice of sentencing a prisoner to
death and then, at the last moment - when the victim has
already mentally prepared himself - revoking the sentence:
Mozhet byt', i est' takoi chelovek, kotoromu
prochli prigovor, dali pomucbit'sia, a potom
skazali: 'Stupai, tebia proshchaiut.' Vot etakoi
chelovek, mozhet byt', mogby rasskazat'. Obetoi
muke i ob etom uzhase i Khristos govoril. Net, s
chelovekom tak nel'zia postupat'!*b
Myshkin rehearses the same notion in more detail in Part
One, Chapter Five, when he relates his story of the cancelled

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
execution to General Epanchin's two daughters. Here he is
telling how the doomed man plans to distribute the remain-
ing minutes of his life:
Vykhodilo, chto ostaetsia zhif minut piat\ ne
bol'sbe. On govoril, chto etipiat' minut kazalis1
beskonechnym srokom, ogromnym bogatstvom;
emu kazalos', chto v etipiat' minut on prozhivet
stol'ko zhiznei, chto eshche seichas nechego I
dumat'oposlednem mgnovenii, tak chto on eshche
rasporiazhenia raznye sdelal: rasschital vremia,
chtoby prostit'sia s tovarishchami, na etopolozhil
minuty dve, potom dve minuty eshche polozhil,
chtoby podumat' vposlednii raz pro sebia, a potom
chtoby vposlednii raz krugompogliadet'.47
Now, there is a suspicious affinity between such passages
and Cincinnati's meditations on his fate (cited above),
which should invite us to take a closer look into the rela-
tionship between the Dostoevskian and Nabokovian texts.48
But before we go on, I would single out one further passage
from Invitation, constituting a quite specific link with the
subtext. When Cincinnatus is finally about to be taken to
the scaffold, he asks for a brief intermission. The allusion to
the Dostoevskian hero's minute-by-minute program seems
unmistakable. First, from the Russian original:
Tsintsinnat podnial golovu: 'Votchto, -proiznes
on vniatno, - ia proshu tri minuty, uidite na eto
vremia Hi khotia by zamolchite, - da, tri minuty
antrakta, - posle chego, tak i byt\ doigraiu s vami
etuvzdomuiup'esu.' (R: 192)

Invitation to a Decoding
In the English version this connection is all but laid bare -
presumably in anticipation of the non-Russian audience's
inability to decode the hidden connection:
Cincinnatus raised his head. 'Here is what I
would like,' he spoke clearly, 'I ask three min-
utes - go away for that time or at least be quiet
— yes, a three-minute intermission - after that,
so be it, I'll act to the end my role in your idi-
otic production .'49 (E: 209; emphasis added)
8.2. One might stop here. And in this case the connection
between VN's novel and Dostoevsky's Idiot would repre-
sent mainly a local - if previously ignored - link between the
two authors. But taking our cue from Taranovsky's above-
cited dictum that if Pindar is evoked in a Mandel'shtam poem
it will be wise to read all Pindar's odes, we may proceed to
look for other affinities between Invitation and the
Dostoevskian opus. Subtextual relationships have the capac-
ity to activate entire patterns of linkages, and a few observa-
tions ought to be added.
It is not difficult to notice, for instance, that the
Dostoevskian motif of crime and punishment pervades VN's
novel in diverse guises - not only on the concrete level of
the plot, but also as a recurring thematic element, as it is
specifically the more metaphysical quality of Cincinnatus's
"crime" that is being queried throughout much of the narra-
tive. A closer look will again reveal certain specific markers
of the subtext. Already the opening clauses of VN's Fore-
word to the English edition contain a possible dig at
Dostoevsky. The author is explaining the difficulties involved
in choosing a new title for his text:

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
The Russian original of this novel is entitled
Priglashenie na kazti' Notwithstanding the un-
pleasant duplication of the suffix, I would have
suggested rendering it as Invitation to an Ex-
ecution; but, on the other hand, Priglashenie na
otsecheniegolovy ('Invitation to a Decapitation')
was what I really would have said in my mother
tongue, had I not been stopped by a similar stut-
ter. (E: I
Possibly a sly dig - for one may notice that a similarly grace-
less repetition was exemplified by Dostoevsky's famous ti-
tle: Prestuplenie i
Furthermore, the authorial clue leads us to discern other
onomastic coincidences. Cincinnatus's imprisonment is pre-
sided over by the jailor "Rodion" (first mentioned in E: 12;
R: 7); the lawyer "Roman" (Vissarionovich)51 (E: 36; R: 30),
and the prison director "Rodrig" (E: 38; R: 32). The identi-
ties of the threesome are on occasion made interchangeable
(e.g. in Chapter Three) and in the penultimate chapter they
are reduced to two: "Rod and Rom" (E: 207), or "Rodia i
Roma" (R: 190) - which again points towards a familiar
subtext. The hero of Dostoevsky's novel was called "Rodion
Romanovich" Raskol'nikov.52
Furthermore, there is the shared motif of the axe (topor),
handled by Raskol'nikov and M'sieur Pierre alike. But here
the subtextual link starts growing polygenetic branches.
Compare the episode in Chapter Nine where Cincinnatus is
punningly taunted by his nightmarish visitors: "Take the word
'anxiety' [...] Now take away the word 'tiny,' Eh? Comes
out funny, doesn't it?" (E: 103);"Voz'mi-ka slovo 'ropot' [...]
i procbti obratno. A? Smeshno poluchaetsia?" (R: 93). This
may be less reminiscent of Dostoevsky than Lewis Carroll

Invitation to a Decoding
(the "axes* - "axis" pun in Alice in Wonderland)53 - rather
fittingly, since critics have often pointed towards a thematic
analogy between the concluding scenes of VN's novel and
Alicej where the heroine, by putting down her foot and re-
fusing, Gincinnatus-Hke, to believe in the reality of the char-
acters around her, causes the collapse of the entire Wonder-
land.54 But, as will be argued further, the concluding episode
in Invitation also carries unmistakable traces of the biblical
Passion Story (below 9.3.). Dostoevsky + Carroll + the as-
cension of Christ! Here, at the latest, we are reminded of
VN's afore-cited warning anent the hazards of pursuing remi-
niscences (= "a form of insanity"); or, as he has written in
another instance: "Such coincidences baffle and thwart simi-
larity chasers, source hunters, relentless pursuers of parallel
passages" (EO 2: 235).
8.3. The above is not all. In his published lecture on
Dostoevsky VN provocatively termed the author's early
noveYDvoinik (1846) "the very best thing [Dostoevsky] ever
wrote" (Lectures 2:104). And critics have been quick to point
out that the time-honored motif of a double was appropri-
ated by VN himself in a large part of his fiction.55
The motif resurfaces in Invitation-, when Cincinnatus
begins his rambling prison diary in the Russian original with
"i vse-taki ia sravnitel'no. Ved' etot final ia predchuvstvoval
etot final" (R: 8; cf. E: 12-13), this constitutes a possible quo-
tation from the ^conclusion of Dvoinik: KUvy! on eto davno
uzhe predchuvstvoval,"56 And the motif becomes typically
underlined in the English version - as when the inherent
"doubleness" of the hero's mind is depicted:
Therefore Cincinnatus did not crumple the
motley newspapers, did not hurl them, as his

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
double did (the double, the gangrel, that accom-
panies each of us - you, and me, and him over
there; doing what we would like to do at that
very moment, but cannot...). (E: 25; R: 19 reads
less overtly: "[...] kak sdelal ego prizrak {*..]")
In a later instance we are misleadingly told that Cincinnatus
stepped on his jailor's face - "that is, his double stepped on
it, while Cincinnatus himself had already descended from
the chair to the table" (E: 29; R: 24 again reads "[...] prizrak
ego nastupil [.„]"). Analogous mentions keep coming up in
the narrative,57 and the development of the theme is given a
metaphysical twist, as it were, in the concluding scaffold
episode when Cincinnatus is beheaded while - in a thor-
oughly emblematic fashion - "the other Cincinnatus" stands
up and makes his way towards a new spiritual freedom (E:
222-223; R: 204-205). The play with motifs is further en-
hanced through the thematically significant image of a mir-
ror, repeatedly used to suggest that Cincinnatus's dystopian
reality may be but a distorted reflection of its more perfect
double (E: 94,99,106,135-136; R: 84,89,95, 122-123).58
8.4. Cincinnatuss's stereotypical cell comes with a spider
hanging from its ceiling. The conventional quality of this
motif is acknowledged by the Nabokovian narrator in the
first description of jailed Cincinnatus's surroundings: "Feet
working, a spider - official friend of the jailed - lowered it-
self on a thread from the ceiling" (E: 13; R: 8-9). The same
spider will accompany Cincinnatus throughout his remain-
ing imprisonment: it is repeatedly fed moths by the warden
(E; 124,169,202-204; R: 112,155,185-187), and in the end
when the prison walls crumble, it is disclosed that the spider
has been but a part of the conventional setting, devised out

Invitation to a Decoding
of plush and strings to create an illusion of authenticity (E:
210; R: 192-193).59
Entomological imagery constitutes a staple feature in all
Nabokovian writing.60 But possibly one might discern here,
too, a more specific subtextual link, since surely the motif of
a spider belongs to the trademarks of Dostoevskian style as
well. Like Cincinnatus, the condemned man in Prince
Myshkin's above-cited tale is accompanied by a spider: "A
vse znakomstvo -to и nego bylo spaukom [...]."61 The motif
recurs in diverse functions in Stavrogin's journal from Besy;
in Zapiski izpodp'ol'ia; or in Brat'ia Karamazovy. In a famous
passage from Prestuplenie i nakazanie it is Svidrigailov who
imagines the whole of eternity in terms of Cincinnatus's
personal nightmare: as a small room inhabited solely by spi-
8.5. We come to the end, and with that to the most intrigu-
ing case of subtextual play in VN's novel. Within the frame-
work of the narrative Cincinnatus himself assumes the role
of a writer (or an artist) in disguise,63 and as the plot unfolds
he is repeatedly shown in the act of producing new texts of
his own. Quotations of varying length from Cincinnatus's
prison diary occupy more than one tenth of the comprehen-
sive textual space in the novel.64 And it is fitting in this re-
gard that when the execution is finally about to take place,
Cincinnatus attempts for the last time to have recourse to
his writer's craft:
'To finish writing something,' whispered
Cincinnatus half questioningly but then he
frowned, straining his thoughts, and suddenly
understood that everything had in fact been writ-
ten already. (E: 209; R: 192; emphasis added)

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
On a literal level, the reference is merely to the hero's unfin-
ished diary. But the passage also serves to remind us of the
opening paragraphs in the novel, where an overt analogy was
drawn between the length of the hero's life and the actual
length of the narrative in which his life is being recounted
(above 8.1.). As the novel is now about to be finished, it is
suggested, the fictional hero can hardly be allowed to exist
much longer.
Such self-conscious play with the relationship between
the narrated events and their narration in a novel is a very
characteristic device in VN's fiction, variously employed to
produce a sense of vertigo in the reader.65 It is therefore cu-
rious that we should find even here an inverted parallel with
Dostoevsky (not commonly known for vertiginous or
metafictional effects). At the close of Part Six, Chapter Seven
of Prestupienie i nakazanie, when Raskol'nikov is about to
confess his crime to the officials, an all but identical asser-
tion is put forward by the Dostoevskian hero. As with
Cincinnatus, so also in RaskoPnikov's case the hero's ac-
tions turn out to have been anticipated in a higher "book" to
which all human reality is subordinated:
A chto zh, pochemu zb i net? Konechno, tak i
dolzhno byt\ Razve dvadtsat' let bespreryvnogo
gneta ne dob'iut okonchatel'no§ Voda kamen'
tochit. / zachem, zachem zhe zhit' posle etogo,
zachem га idu teper', kogda sam znaiu, chto budet
imenno tak, kak po knige, a ne inache!bb
What is promoted in both instances is the primacy of the
written text over the hero's will. With Dostoevsky the ulti-
mate referent is of course the biblical text (i.e. the "vecbnaia

Invitation to a Decoding
kniga" that Raskol'nikov studies in a famous scene from Part
Four, Chapter Four),67 while VN is indulging in play with
the fictional status of the narrative. But even if the thematic
ends to which these assertions are put by the two authors
may be radically different, the affinity between the actual
excerpts is evocative enough, still calling for some interpre-
tive remarks.
9. Interpretation
9.1. What is it that is being evoked, then? Or in other terms,
what are the thematic ends of the subtextual game played in
VN's novel?
One patent way to answer would be to treat the allusive
network in toto as parodic. VN's hostile attitude towards
Dostoevsky is known to us from many sources, and in the
English version of his memoir the author rejects the
Dostoevskian model in as overt terms as possible when he
writes that "heart-to-heart talks, confessions in the
Dostoevskian manner, are [...] not in [his] line" (Speak,
Memory E: 286; in R: 243-244 it is merely stated that he can-
not stand "zadushevnykh besed")." [Dostoevsky's] sensitive
murderers and soulful prostitutes are not to be endured for
one moment-- by this reader anyway" (Strong Opinions, 42),
the author has stated in an interview. In his published lec-
tures he devotes forty pages to a dissection of what he calls
Dostoevsky's "literary platitudes" (Lectures 2: 98; for the
entire discussion compare 97-135),68 and similarly venom-
ous assessments are threaded throughout Nabokovian fic-
tion. In the imaginary colloquy between Fyodor and
Koncheev, the former dismisses the whole of the
Dostoevskian corpus offhand - e [w]ith one reservation [...]
In the 'Karamazovs' there is somewhere a circular mark left

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
by a wet wine glass on an outdoor table. That's worth saving
[...]." (The Gift E: 75; R: 84).69 "Farewell, Turgy! Fairwell,
Dusty* (Despair E: 190; omitted from R), as the hero bids
in another novel, once more evoking the two pillars of the
classical Russian novel (Turgenev + Dostoevsky) while sig-
nalling that it is precisely through the persistent parodies
that his maker attempts to move beyond the achievement of
his predecessors.70
That such an "internal polemic" (in the Bakhtinian sense)
is at work in Invitation to a Beheading as well should now be
fairly obvious. But this need not be the sole function of those
instances that we have been discussing here, for behind the
parodic play certain pervasive concerns in VN's literary en-
terprise begin to emerge.
9.2. like many Nabokovian novels Invitation attests to a quite
manifest emphasis on the notion of two worlds, or two levels
of reality - one pertaining to the everyday existence of the
hero and the other to a wholly idealized realm into which
the hero himself wishes to ascend.71 This concern is repeat-
edly enunciated in Cincinnatus's own discourse, as when he
records in his prison diary his suspicion that "the invisible
umbilical cord [...] joins this world to something - to what I
shall not say yet" (E: 53; R: 45); or when he defines his real,
waking life as "semi-sleep, an evil drowsiness into which pen-
etrate in grotesque disguise the sounds and sights of the real
world, flowing beyond the periphery of the mind" (E: 92; R:
82). Similarly, Cincinnatus writes:
It exists, my dream world, it must exist, since,
surely there must be an original of the clumsy
copy. Dreamy, round, and blue, it turns slowly
toward me. (E: 93; R: 83)

Invitation to a Decoding
He goes on, qualifying his claim with yet another themati-
cally significant allusion:
There, tarn, la-bas,72 the gaze of men glows with
inimitable understanding; there the freaks that
are tortured here walk unmolested; there time
takes shape according to one's pleasure, like a
figured rug whose folds can be gathered in such
a way that two designs will meet [...]. (E: 94;
emphases in the text; R: 84)
Taken together, all such passages might be read as an expres-
sion ;of a mystical or outright religious vision of the world.
What is more, Cincinnatus's crime itself - defined at one
point as "gnostical turpitude" (E: 72), or "gnoseologicbesk[aia]
gnusnost'" (R: 63) - is made to carry curiously "theological"
undertones, since we know that the ancient doctrine of Gnos-
ticism bears specifically on the belief that beyond our phe-
nomenal reality there exists a higher spiritual world.73 The
original Russian text of the novel is on occasion interspersed
with unmistakably biblical phraseology, as when Cincinnatus
switches to Church Slavonic in his diary ("Ia esm'" [R: 79]).74
And there even occur instances where the iconic shapes of
Church Slavonic letters are playfully evoked: №izhits[a] [...]
obrashchaias' vprashchu iliptitsu" (R: 20); "vechernie ocherki
glagolei" (R: 80); "tupoe 'tut,' podpertoe i zapertoe chetoiu
'tverdo "' (R: 83), and so forth. When Cincinnatus finally steps
down from the scaffold in the concluding episode, concretely
leaving the material world behind and entering a new one (—
possibly, by dying), the theological implications lie just be-
neath the surface. The entire scene appears to be couched to
suggest the archetypal ascension of Christ after his sufferings
were over:

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
[...] and amidst the dust, and the falling things,
and the flapping scenery, Cincinnatus made his
way in that direction where, to judge by the
voices, stood beings akin to him. (E: 223; R:
9.3. It is here, I suggest, that Dostoevsky again steps in. For
even though one evidently shouldn't ally VN with the spe-
cific brand of Christian religiosity exemplified by
Dostoevsky, it cannot be overlooked that a curious corre-
spondence exists between the main thematic concerns in
Invitation and those notions that we are accustomed to re-
gard as Dostoevskian.
Dostoevsky is the quintessential avatar of mysticism in
Russian literature. As VN has argued in one of his more ir-
reverent statements: "[...] not all Russians love Dostoevsky
as much as Americans do, and [...] most of those Russians
who do, venerate him as a mystic and not as an artist" (Strong
Opinions, 42). Accordingly, the author needs Dostoevsky
both as a contrast and to further highlight the distinctive
aims of his own artistic practice. The essentially Dostoevskian
themes of religious transcendence, the sufferings of the hu-
man soul,75 or the search for "the other person" (duplicated
in Cincinnatus's efforts to find contact with "beings akin to
him" [E: 223; R: 205]), all occur in Invitation, although in
variously inverted guises. Even the overriding quest for a
spiritual rebirth that characterizes Dostoevskian writing is
echoed in Cincinnatus's yearning for another world. One may
suspect that the parallel between many of his overt pro-
nouncements (cited above) and the well-known resolution
to the Epilogue in Prestuplenie i nakazanie is again more than
coincidental - or at least we can now see it as thematically

Invitation to a Decoding
No tut uzh nachirtaetsia novaia istoriia, istoriia
postepennogo obnovleniia cheloveka, istoriia
postepennogo pererozhdeniia ego, postepennogo
perekhoda iz odnogo mira v drugoi, znakomstva
s novoiu, dosele sovershenno nevedomoiu
The main contrast here, to put it briefly, resides in the order
of priorities adopted by these two very dissimilar authors.
With Dostoevsky, we might say that the aesthetic concerns
running through his writing are always firmly subordinated
to the major occupation with religious and mystical themes.
This is at any rate how one may understand VN's dismissal
of his Russian predecessor as "a mystic and not [...] an art-
ist." As to Invitation, here the ostensibly powerful bent to-
wards mysticism and metaphysics is still but a vehicle for
conveying the author's emphasis on artistic imagination as
the primary positive force in man's life. Unlike Dostoevsky's
heroes, Cincinnatus is himself a writer and an artist, and what
the novel depicts is his discovery that the prison of mortal-
ity may be transcended through the act of imagination alone
- by constructing new texts that are governed by the artist's
individual consciousness. The "other world" - for Cincin-
natus and possibly for his maker - can only be of the artist's
own making.77 And as this proposition keeps recurring
through the diverse subtextual strategies that we have inves-
tigated here the main thematic emphasis in Invitation is once
more shifted from the domain of mysticism back to the ba-
sically aesthetic and metafictional one.
As the novel draws to its conclusion, it is Cincinnatus's
ultimate discovery that everything bad [...J been written (above
8.5.) that guarantees his passage to a new reality. For as a
literary artist within the book he has completed his task,78

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
but so has the master artist behind and above him, who is
responsible for the primary text in which the hero's quest
was recounted. And this, it is suggested as the hero over-
steps the boundary of his imaginary world, may be the only
immortality that he can share with his maker.
The last word belongs to the author, who has overtly
rehearsed this notion in one of his public lectures. To him,
VN states:
[...] art is a divine game [...] because this is the
element in which man comes nearest to God
through becoming a true creator in his own
right. (Lectures 2:106)
10. In this chapter, I have examined instances where the
Dostoevskian opus is activated as a literary subtext in Invi-
tation to a Beheading. This has not been an attempt to show
that VN was "influenced" by Dostoevsky when he wrote his
We remember that VN was totally averse to any com-
parisons between his texts and those of other writers, and
the intensity of this opposition becomes apparent when even
the author's son deems it necessary to take up the matter in
an introduction to a posthumous collection of his father's
|VN] beUeved that the point of 'comparative'
literature was the exaltation of originality, not
similarity. What mattered to him were the
unique peaks, not the platitudinous plateau.7*

Invitation to a Decoding
Such reservations aside, it is evident that the reader will try
to make sense of the subtextual ties to Dostoevsky (as well
as to other writers) when they occur in VN's works. An ac-
tivated subtext is always used by the author for specific the-
matic ends, and this necessarily affects our interpretation of
the primary text. I would propose that if we take into ac-
count the markers isolated above, and if we interpret them
in something akin to the manner that I suggested (or per-
haps in still some other manner that I could not discern),
this will result in an enriched reading of VN's novel. Our
understanding of Invitation to a Beheading has not necessar-
ily been altered in a radical manner, but something has nev-
ertheless been added that was not previously there.
ж . Still a final query: does Dostoevsky himself remain en-
tirely the same after the link with VN has been established?
Reading any novel by VN, we must evidently be able to de-
tect the manifold connections with Russian literature, but
after these are noted the Nabokovian experiments may well
lead us to discern new possibilities - a new potential for play
- in the activated subtext as well. The question remains open,
but one may assume that it is this reverse type of "influence,"
exerted by VN's allusive art on large sectors of the Russian
literary history, that constitutes a fascinating topic for more
than one comparative investigation in the future.

Two Reading in Three Dimensions.
Remarks on Poligenetichnosf
in Nabokov's Prose
1. The figure of reading "in three dimensions" ([chitat'] kak
v kttbe) derives from The Gift where it is employed to depict
the fictive hero's habit of mentally rehearsing the texts col-
lected in his first book of poems. Fyodor -
read in three dimensions, as it were, carefully
exploring each poem, lifted out like a cube from
among the rest and bathed from all sides in that
wonderful, fluffy country air after which one is
always so tired in the evening. In other words,
as he read, he again made use of all the materi-
als already once gathered by his memory for
the extraction of the present poems, and recon-
structed everything, absolutely everything, as a
returning traveller sees in an orphan's eyes not
only the smile of its mother, whom he had
known in his youth, but also an avenue ending
in a burst of yellow light and that auburn leaf
on the bench, and everything, everything. (E:
17; R: 16)

Reading in Three Dimensions
But at the same time, what we have here is another
Nabokovian avtometaopisanie, depicting the experience of
VN's own readers when confronted by the author's
subtextual strategies. In the present chapter, we will be
concentrating on a quite definite type of subtextual play: the
activation of not just a single source (say, a novel by
Dostoevsky), but a compound of multiple subtexts within a
single textual unit, demanding precisely that we lift out the
text, cube-like, from its immediate background, examine it
from diverse intertextual angles, and search out the hetero-
geneous literary sources brought together and hidden by the
author beneath its surface structure.
Such multi-dimensional play has been studied under the
- perhaps not quite so felicitous - heading oipoligenetichnost'
within the semiotic school of subtext studies initiated by
Kiril Taranovsky's work on allusion and quotation in
Mandel'shtam's poetry.1 Taranovsky mentions as one exam-
ple the line "Pechal' moia zhima" from Mandel'shtam's poem
10 ianvaria 1934 (1934), which a Russian reader is apt to
associate both with Pushkin's line "Pechal' moia svetla" (from
Na kholmakh Gruzii lezhit nochnaia mgla [1832]) and with
Slovo о polku Igoreve (the lines: "Pechal' zhirna teche / sred'
zemli ruskyia").2 It would be impossible to disentangle the
sources of the quotation here, as in Mandel'shtam's text they
are compounded to form an entirely novel semantic entity.
So a single line from another Mandel'shtam poem, 1
ianvaria 1924, (1924) may disclose hidden links with Gogol's
Vii (1834), Fet's imagery, Maiakovskii, and Bal'mont.3 Or
the highly polygenetic image of the "Rider" (Vsadnik) in Blok
combines the ghostly rider from Gogol' (Strashnaia mest'
[1831]) with Pushkin'sMednyivsadnik (1833) and the apoca-
lyptic rider from Dostoevsky's Podrostok (1875).4 Analo-
gous instances have been investigated with regard to

Brodsky's poetry, which may on occasion be entirely built
on a parodic system of polygenetic links (Pushkin + Dante
+ Maiakovskii + Lewis Carroll, and so forth).5
Clearly, what we have here is a deep structural property
of allusive texts, extending beyond the poetry of
Mandel'shtam and a few other Russian modernist poets. In
practice, the question has been studied mainly in analyses of
verse. I suggest that a similar theoretical orientation will prove
useful in approaching some distinctive strategies in
Nabokovian prose as well.6
2. Iii the context of Nabokovian poetics such compounds
oFsubtexts may be variously motivated.
(i) On the one hand, polygenetic allusions contribute to
an effect of "culturahynthesis."7 When the author fuses in
his fiction subtexts chosen not only from Russian literature
but from diverse layers and niches of the European literary
heritage, a dense web of cultural, linguistic and (as we will
notice) personal associations becomes activated within the
space of single textual units. VN, a bilingual writer,8 always
(ii) played down the importance of rigid national or cultural
boundaries. ("The writer's art is his real passport." [Strong
Opinions, 63]) This emphasis becomes more pronounced in
the author's later period (most notably in Ada), but it can
already be detected in his early Russian writing.
(iii) This is not all. There is an unmistakably ludic ele-
ment in everything that VN wrote, and the play with multi-
ple subtexts and sources is also motivated by the famous
notion of "deception." Hence the emphasis on hiding in many
auto-descriptive statements distributed throughout the
Nabokovian corpus. In his memoir the author constructs an
often-cited parable for his own artistic strategy when he dis-
cusses "something in a scrambled picture - Find What the
10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction

Reading in Three Dimensions
Sailor Has Hidden - that the finder cannot unsee once it has
been seen" (Speak, Memory E: 310; R: 266). The notion of
hiding things from the reader is taken up in The Gift in con-
nection with the chess problemist's art: "Everything had ac-
quired a sense and at the same time everything was concealed.
Every creator is a plotter; and all the pieces impersonating
his ideas on the board were here as conspirators and sorcer-
ers. Only in the final instant was their secret spectacularly
exposed" (E: 165; R: 193). In Pale Fire there occurs a related
comment on the author's and reader's shared desire to dis-
cover "some kind / Of correlated pattern in the game, /
Plexed artistry, and something of the same / Pleasure in it as
they who played it found" (63). And it was Shakespeare who
- according to VN's dictum - "said [...] that the glory of
God is to hide a thing and the glory of man is to find it"
<^nd Sinister^ А).э
This is why reading Nabokovian allusions may be said
to progress in several stages. Readers who remain satisfied
with the discovery of a single source for VN's literary games
are constantly in danger of being deceived by the author.10
Having identified one source we should always go on to look
for other potential subtexts, hidden under the false bottom
of the primary one. This is indeed "reading in three dimen-
sions" - an act of decoding both triggered and impeded by
VN's semiotic strategies, but nonetheless directed towards
bringing the branching intertextual structure into a themati-
cally meaningful whole.11
3. Before we go on, we should distinguish between two large
categories of polygenetic links. This may be done on purely

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
structural (syntactic) grounds. Let us use the marking Tl
for the alluding (primary) text and T2,3...n for the multiple
source texts (or subtexts) involved in the allusion.
(i) We can find instances where the same textual seg-
ment accommodates references to two (or more) otherwise
unrelated subtexts. For short, this may be denoted by Tl
T2 + T3. Variants of this type (TYPE I) will be examined
below in sections 4-12.
(ii) In other cases we are speaking of "subtext in a
subtext." Here embedded subtexts occur within each other,
and a potentially endless series - a mosaic of quotations - is
created. Accordingly: Tl -> T2 T3,4...n. This type (TYPE
II) will be specified further in sections 13-15.
The problematic nature of such a rigid distinction (at
least when applied to VN) is taken up in the concluding sec-
tions (16-17).
TYPE I: Tl T2 + T3
4. First, some instances of subtextual compounds where
essentially unrelated sources are brought together.
The most compact examples of this type - well known
to readers of VN - arise through a peculiar variety of ono-
mastic play: the introduction of polysemous or punningly
telescoped (authorial) names that metonymically represent
larger subtextual patterhTtmderlying the primary text. It has
been noted, for instance, that the name of the fictive hero in
The Gt/t-"[Tl:] Godunov-Cherdyntsev" - telescopes both
[T2:J Pushkin (the author of Godunov) and [T3:]
Chernyshevski, the two polar opposites in the scheme of
literary values adopted in VN's novel.12 Fyodor swerves away
from the Chernyshevskian tradition in his satiric The Life of

Reading in Three Dimensions
Chernyshevski while lauding Pushkin ("the gold reserve of
our literature" [E: 74; R: 83]). It may therefore be appropri-
ate that Fyodor is later mistaken for "Boris" (by the hapless
critic Linyov [E: 337; R: 286]), and Boris Godunov is also
quoted in his book on Chernyshevski (E: 243-244; R: 285-
287). (In addition, we might notice that in Pushkin's play
Boris's son was named "Fedor.") In an analogous fashion,
the name and patronymic of the emigre poet "[Tl:] Anton
Sergeyevich Podtyagin" in VN's first novel (Mary E: first
ment. on 5; R: 13) suggest [Г2:] (Anton) Chekhov and [ГЗ:]
(Sergeevich) Pushkin. In the author's last published novel,
the self-parodic Look at the Harlequins!, the work inserted
within Vadim's novel The Dare is said to be a "biography
|...J of Fyodor Dostoevski" (100). This duplicates the
Chernyshevski section in The Gift/Dar. But, to his dismay,
Vadim later overhears someone referring to "[Tl:] biogra-
phies of 'Chernolyubov' and 'Dobroshevski'" (101). I.e.
[T2:] Dostoevsky + [T3:] Chernyshevski + [T4:]
Dobrolyubov (who also figures in The Gift E: 246; R: 289)."
In certain cases such verbal ploys may be no more diffi-
cult to recognize than the mention of "Tolstoevski" (in Fore-
word to the English version of Invitation to a Beheading, 6)
- presumably the author of the work "Anna Karamazov"
(Pnin, 10). Sometimes it is through the very facility of this
device that VN pokes fun at potential (non-Russian) read-
ers whose cultural knowledge extends no further.14
5. The same mechanisms are at work behind punningly tel-
eecoped/S/ew In (Ada, Van Veen discovers: "[Tl:] The peas-
ant-bare footprint of Tolstoy preserved in the clay of a mo-
tor court in Utah where he had written the tale of Murat, the
Navajo chieftain, a French general's bastard, shot by Cora
Day" (171). [T2:] Tolstoy, Hadzhi Murat (1904). In Speak,

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
Memory VN has also mentioned "HajiMurad [...] Tolstoy's
tale of that gallant, rough-riding mountain chief" (E: 247.
R: 215-216). [T3:] But the French general "Murat" figures'
in Tolstoy's Voina i mir (1869) as well.15 And it was [T4:]
the historical Marat who was stabbed to death by (Char-
lotte) Corday.16 In another passage from Ada, Pushkin is
crossed with Mayne Reid. It is told that Van Veen could |[T'l:j
learn by heart Pushkin's 'Headless Horseman' poem in less
than twenty minutes" (175). [T2:] Mednyi vsadnik (1833)
+ [T3:] Mayne Reid's Headless Horseman (1866).17 In Speak,
Memory, again, VN has listed Reid's book among those he
read as a boy: "Knowing English, I could savor [...] Headless
Horseman in the unabridged original" (E: 195; R: 178 has
Bezglavyi Vsadnik"), and the title keeps recurring as a small
motif in his fiction.18 The seemingly incidental plot of Reid's
novel turns out to have quite special relevance within the
context of the author's memoir: "Two friends swap clothes,
hats, mounts, and the wrong man gets murdered" (E: 195;
R-178). Further on VN relates how he himself exchanged
clothes with his cousin Yuri (E: 199), and during the Civil
War it was Yuri who got killed (E: 200; this interplay of mo-
tifs is missing from R: 179).
Other variants of this device include the invented stage
play "|T1:] Eugene and Lara" (Ada, 13) [Г2:] Onegin and
Tat'iana Lar[inja from Pushkin + [T3:j "Lara" from
Pasternak's Doktor Zhivago ([1957] travestied throughout
Ada as "[K]laraMertvago" [409], "Mertvago Forever" [371,
383], "Les Amoursdu DocteurMertvago" [53], and so forth).19
Related mentions of "(Tl:] Gamlet, a hamlet" (Ada, 35, 87,
287) bring together [T2:] Shakespeare and [T3:] Pasternak's
Hamlet (Gamlet) poem from ZhivagoAnd in Look at the
Harlequins! the poem recited "[Tl:] Somewhere in Abys-
sinia [by] drunken Rimbaud [...] to a surprised Russian

Reading in Three Dimensions
traveler [...] Le Tramway ivre" (246) conjoins {T2:] Rimbaud,
Le Bateau ivre (1871) with рГЗ:] Gumilev, Zabludwshnsia
tramvai (1921). This is again a compound of sources taken
up in various combinations throughout the Nabokovian
opus.21 Ada: "[Tl:] Bosch's Bateau Ivre, the one with a jester
in the riggings (poor old Dan thought it had something to
do with Brant's satirical poem!)" (331) -* [Г2:] Rimbaud +
[T3:] Sebastian Brant, Narrenschiff {1494) + [T4;]
Hieronymus Bosch's late 15th-century painting with an
analogous title (cf. Notes to Ada, 479). And we remember
the well-known passage from Lolita: "'Arthur Rainbow' -
plainly the travestied author of Le Bateau Bleu [...] and 'Mor-
ris Schmetterling' of LOiseau Ivre fame" (E: 244; in R: 231
Rimbaud occurs as "Erutar Romb").n
6. Combinations of names and titles provide the most read-
ily discernible method for constructing polygenetic links
between texts. Another strategy available to the author is to
employ compound quotations of segments taken from the
texts themselves. These instances may not always be as easy
to detect as the above cases of onomastic punning.
Let us look at one example. In Despair Pushkin's lyric
Pora, moi drug,pora (1834) is repeatedly used to provide an
ironic comment on the fictive hero's efforts to "escape" his
sordid everyday reality. In his foreword to the English ver-
sion VN comments on these quotations, pointing out that
Pushkin's poem was originally addressed to the poet's wife
(E: 9). And - as with Pushkin - in Despair Hermann's wife
Lydia turns out to be less than faithful. Compare: "[Tl:] ...
There is no bliss on earth ... There's peace and freedom,
though... An enviable lot long have I yearned to know. Long
have I weary slave - [,..} been contemplating flight..." (E:
72; R: 60). And: И[Т2:] Na svete shchast'ia net, no est'pokoi i

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
volia. / Davno zavidnaia mechtaetsia mne dolia - / Davno
ustalyi rob, zamyslil ia pobeg / V obiteV dal'nuiu trudov i
chistykb neg.*23 In the English version Hermann himself js
even made to comment on the source of his contemplations:
"Barely did we find ourselves alone than with blunt obsti-
nacy I turned the conversation towards 'the abode of pure
delight' - as that Pushkin poem has it" (E: 73; in R: 61 the
last phrase is missing).24
This is straightforward enough. But the next quotation
may conjoin two separate Pushkin subtexts:
Tl: Long have I, weary slave, been planning my es-
cape to the far land of art and the translucent
grape. (E: 139)
Here T2 is again Pora, moi drug. There is no mention of
"translucent grape" in the original Pushkin poem, however.
(Neither does the motif figure in the Russian Despair [cf. R:
124].) Possibly, it comes from another lyric by Pushkin:
T3: Mne mil i vinograd na lozakh,
V kistiakh sozrevshii pod gproi,
Krasa moei doliny zlachnoi,
Otrada oseni zlatoi,
Prodolgovatyi i prozracbnyi,
Как persty devy molodoi
(Vinograd [1824]; emphasis added)25
The connection becomes more plausible - or perhaps it comes
into existence - when we notice that Vinograd was again used
by VN mAda:"[...] the great bronze bowl with carved-look-
ing Calville apples and elongated Persty grapes" (252; empha-
sis added).26

[Tl: Ada] elongated
Persty grapes
Reading in Three Dimensions J5
The lines from the two Pushkin subtexts are hence dis-
tributed with peculiar symmetry among the two primary texts
by VN:
Figure 1
[T2: Despair] escape
to the far land of art
and the translucent
(T2: Pora...] pobeg/V
obitel' dal'nuiu trudov i
chistykh neg
[T3: Vinograd] Prodolgovatyi
i prozrachnyi / Kak persty
devy molodoi
7. Compound subtexts may come from the work of a sin-
gle author (as above), but this need not be the case. There is
a dense substructure of quotations from Gogol' in VN's The
EyeУ At the close of the hero's dream about a stolen snuff-
box, a character named Khrushchov addresses the dreamer:
Tl: Tes, yes,' said Khrushchov in a hard menacing
voice. 'There was something inside that box,
therefore it is irreplaceable. Inside it was Vanya

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
— yes, yes, this happens sometimes to girls a
very rare phenomenon, but it happens, it hap-
pens (E: 98)
'[...] v tabakerke koe-chto bylo [...] da, da, eto
inogda byvaet s devushkami, - ochen' redkoe
iavlenie, - no eto byvaet, eto byvaet...' (R: 74)
As it turns out, this all but duplicates the conclusion to Nos
(1835), where Gogol's narrator urges his readers to take the
tale in earnest:
T2: [...] vo vsem etom, pravo, est' chto-to. Kto chto
ni govori, a podobnye proisshestviia byvaiut na
svete, - redko, no byvaiut28
Other Gogolian links are threaded throughout the text of
VN's novel.29 But, again, this is not all. In one of the open-
ing episodes of The Eye, the hero tells how he was once com-
pelled to entertain two young charges by reading aloud to
them (Chekhov's) Roman s kontrabasom (R: 10; i.e., "The
Double-Bass Romance" [E: 191]), "feeling ashamed for
[him] self and for the poor author." This juvenile (1886) piece
by Chekhov may indeed be light stuff, but its occurrence
adds an unexpected twist to the above quotation. For we
may remember that in this story, too, a girl is placed inside a
"box" (a bass case) - and lost.30
The Gogol' and Chekhov stories remain essentially (caus-
ally) unrelated. It is only within the domain of VN's fiction
that they are momentarily yanked together to form a new,
unexpected thematic unit.

Reading in Three Dimensions
8. Just as the quoted sources may come from different au-
thors, they can be taken from diverse cultural and linguistic
spheres.31 Here is one instance of this type of cultural syn-
thesis in action. In a long section in Ada it would appear that
Van and Ada are discussing a famous Chekhovian play un-
der the easily recognizable guise of "Four Sisters" (for the
entire discussion see 427-430). A number of names (Irina,
Nikolai Lvovich, Fedotik), thematic details, or direct quota-
tions in this section come from Tri sestry (1901).32 How-
ever, when at one point Van envisions the servant girl Dawn
(de Laire) in the role of Chekhov's Natal'ia Ivanovna (i.e.
the "fourth" sister, or the sister-in-law of the other three) -
Tl: Dawn en robe rose et verte, at the end of Act
One. (430)
- this shrewdly combines the stage directions from the first
act of Tri sestry:
T2: Natal'ia Ivanovna vkhodit; ona v rozovom plat'e,
s zelenym poiasom.33
and the following, by way of a cross-lingual pun:
T3: L'aurore [='dawn'] grelottante en robe rose et verte
S'avangait lentement sur la Seine deserte,
Et le sombre Paris, en sefrottant les yeux,
Empognait ses outils, viellard laborieux.
(Baudelaire, Le Crepuscule du matin [1857])34
Conceivably, there existed no genetic or causal link between
the Chekhovian and Baudelairian texts until one was con-
structed by VN in Ada. Before this, Baudelaire's Le

Crepuscule du matin had already been allusively played with
in Bend Sinister: "Undine's pink gill, iced watermelon, I'aurore
grelottant[e] en robe rose etverte" (102); cf. also Krug's com- !
ment: "I do not like the color of dawn's coat" (108). Or щ
Lolita:"[...] on either side of her, there crouched a brun ado-
lescent whom her russet beauty and the baby folds of her
stomach were sure to cause to se tordre - oh Baudelaire! - щ
recurrent dreams for months to come" (E: 159; R: 145).35
9. A/owr-jointed instance of such transcultural play. After
Van has broken Ada's diamond necklace in a fit of jealousy,
this interchange takes place:
Tl: '[...] 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 in-
quired. {Ada, 193)
Here T2 = Diadia Vania ([1897] also verified in Notes to
Ada, 469). "Uncle Van[ia]" is a straightforward clue, and the
quoted phrase comes from Soma's concluding speech in
Chekhov's play:
T2: My otdokhnem! My uslyshim angelov, my uvidim
vse nebo v almazakh [,..]J6
This quotation ties together a number of subtextual associa-
tions occurring throughout Ada. Commenting on the bro-
ken necklace, Van also -
Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction

Reading in Three Dimensions
calmly quoted the punchline from Mile
Lariviere's famous story: 'Mais, mapauvre amie,
elle etaitfausse.' (190)
T3 = Maupassant's La Parure (1884).37 The plot line of
Maupassant's story is plagiarized in "La Riviere de Diamante,"
the text supposedly published in 1884 by Ada's governess
Mile Lariviere under the pseudonym "Guillaume de
Monparnasse" (194).38 She is once confused with "Mile
Laparure" (87), and the allusion is picked up later when Ada
again wears a "river of diamonds" (417).39
The link between Chekhov and Maupassant is con-
structed by way of direct quotations. But there is more. T4
1 Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856), for the name of Ada's
governess also evokes a secondary link to the physician "Dr.
Lariviere" who takes care of dying Emma at the end of
Flaubert's novel. This is hardly accidental, as the link is again
enforced by numerous other occurrences of the same subtext
in various parts of the Nabokovian opus.40 (For another in-
stance in Ada cf. below sect. 14.)
Finally, the diamond references also interlink with the
rich network of allusions to Lermontov in Ada. T5 =
Lermontov's Demon (1841). Van Veen discovers "allusions
to his father's volitations and loves in [...] Lermontov's dia-
mond-faceted tetrameters" (171). This is understandable, as
Van's father is named "Demon" (Dementius) Veen (cf. 4 and
509: "those demented diamonds").41 The connection is all
but laid bare in the following:
Demon had dyed his hair a blacker black. He
wore a diamond ring blazing like a Caucasian
ridge. [!..] A temporary Tamara, all kohl, kasbek
rouge, and flamingo-boa, could not decide what

would please her daemon lover more - у
[...] could not stand her Caucasian perfume
GraniaJ Maza, seven dollars a bottle. (180)
I nad vershinami Kavkaza
Izgnannik raia proletal:
Podnim Kazbek, kakgran'almaza,
Snegami vechnymi siial.42
In this way, the initial reference to the sky "swarm [ing] in
diamonds" from Chekhov becomes unexpectedly crossed
with Lermontov's text (Granial Maza = gran' almaza) via a
triple-bottomed, Anglo-French-Russian pun:
Figure 2
[T2: Diadia Vania] vse nebo
v almazakh
[T3: La Parure] La Parure =
La Riviere de Diamants
[T4: Madame Bovary] Dr.
[TUAda] we shall
see the whole sky
swarm with diamonds
Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
(T5: Demon] kak gran'almaza

Reading in Three Dimensions
10. There is a well-discernible tendency in VN's fiction to
multiply the transcultural connotations by way of new trans-
lations of his old texts into other languages. In such instances
it becomes obligatory for the reader to go over the author's
entire bi- or trilingual opus to arrive at a satisfactory decod-
ing of a given allusion.43
Compare the following passage in Ada:
Tl: 'Reader, ride by' ('mimo, chitatel',' as Turgenev
wrote). (43)
The same phrase was used by VN in the story Lips to Lips
(1931), where it was misapplied by the hero: "- Mimo,
chitatel', mimo, - otvetil II'ia Borisovich (vsmysle 'pal'tsem v
nebo')" (R[VT]: 255). In the English version this was made
more explicit: "'Mimo, chitatel', mimo - wrong, reader,
wrong!' answered Ilya Borisovich (misinterpreting
Turgenev)" (Е[ДЯ]: 50).44
It is not obvious which Turgenev text is in question. In
the conclusion of Zapiski okhotnika (1847-1851) the reader
is said to "ride by:"
T2: Mimo beskonechnykh obozov, mimo postoialykh
dvorikov s shipiashchim samovarompodnavesom
F...] edete vy [= chitatelf§®
But whether this is the real source or not,46 it is not the sole
subtext. VN himself revised the French version of Ada in
1971-1974 (for VN's comments on his labors cf. Interview
1975: 68; Letters 3: 532-534). There, the above passage was
quietly altered into: "'Passe, cavalier, passe,' comme disaient
Tourgueniev et Yeats" (Ada F: 37). The solution to this tex-
tual enigma is contained in the following directions to the

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
cavalier passing the poet's grave in Yeats's Under Ben Bulb
T3: Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman pass by.47
That the triple ploy comes off only in the French version
(i.e. the mention of cavalier punningly conjoining both
Turgenev's chitatel'/"reider" and Yeats's "rider") may be
taken as one more instance of the larger tendency noted by
one analyst of VN's techniques of auto-translation: "devel-
opment [...] towards increasing stylization, increasing de-
ployment of artifice."48
11 . An identical device was used by VN in his Russian ren-
dering of Lolita. In the original English text we read:
Tl: I now attempted to fall back on old settings in
order to save what still could be saved in the
way of souvenir,; souvenir que me veux-tu?. Au-
tumn was ringing in the air. (E: 254)
Compare the revised Russian version:
[...] Verlenovskaia osen'zvenela v vozdukbe, kak
by khrustal'nom (R: 241; emphases added)
That this phrase comes from Verlaine is also pointed out in
the English version of the 1933 Russian story The Admiralty
Spire: "[...] helpless echoes of Verlaine: Souvenir, Souvenir,
que me veux-tu? Lautomne... - even though autumn was still
far off (E[TD]: 133; in R[VF]: 255 the allusion remains
more cryptic:"bespomoshchnye otgoloski nedavno prochitan-

Reading in Three Dimensions
nogo"). That is, T2 = Verkine, Nevermore (1865).49 But the
Russian Lolita contains a new subtextual joint brought about
by the added mention of "crystal" in Tl. Compare:
T3: Est'troseni pervonachal'noi
Korotkaia, no divnaia pora -
Ves' den' stoit leak by khrustal'nyi,
I luchezamy vechera ...
(Tiutchev, 22 avgusta 1857 [1857])50
12. It may still be instructive to record a reverse instance: a
case where a subtextual relationship that remains more or
less univalent in the (English) translation turns out to have
branches into several directions in the Russian original.
It is well known that in the English version of Invitation
to a Beheading the hero's meditation on the world "on the
other side" evokes Baudelaire:51
Tl: There, tarn, la-bas, the gaze of men glows with
inimitable understanding; there the freaks that
are tortured here walk unmolested; there time
takes shape according to one's pleasure, like a
figured rug whose folds can be gathered in such
a way that two designs will meet [ ] (E 94;
emphases in the text)
T2: La, tout n 'est qu 'ordre et beaute,
Luxe, calme et volupte.
(Baudelaire, L'Invitation au voyage [1857])32
The Russian Invitation discloses another source:
Tarn - nepodrazhaemyi razumnost'iu svetitsia
chelovecbeskii vzgliad; tarn na vole guliaiut

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
umuchennye tut chudaki; tarn vremi
skliadyvaetsia po zhelaniiu, leak uzorchatyi kover
skladki kotorogo mozhno tak sobrat', chtoby
soprikosnulis' liubye dva uzora na пет [...]
The same emphasis on tarn (versus tut) can be found in Rupert
Brooke's poem Heaven (1913), depicting, of all things, арй-
cine revery about the other world - but not so much in
Brooke's own text as in the very liberal Russian rendering
once made by VN himself. In VN's version the original 34
lines of the English poem are inflated into 44. These lines
appear in his 1922 essay on Brooke:
T3: Tam budet slizistee sliz',
vlazbnee vlaga, tinagusbcbe...
Tam proplyvaet Vsemogushcbii,
s khvostom, s cbeshuichatoi dushoi,
blagoi, cbudovishchno-bol'shoi,
izvecbno tsarstvavsbii nad ilom...
Tam, pod vodoiu, v mukbe zbimoi
kriucbok zlovesbcbii ne sokryt ...
Tam tina zolotom gorit,
tam - il prekrasnyi, il precbistyi.
/ tam, kuda vse ryb'i grezy
ustremleny skvoz' vlazbnyi svet,
tam, veriat ryby, sushi net ...
(Rupert Brooke, 215)53
In this instance, two essentially unrelated textual designs (by
Brooke and Baudelaire) are made to meet across language

Reading in Three Dimensions
boundaries in the original Russian novel. But the subtextual
possibilities do not end here. We should add - with "a mad
scholar's quiet smile" (Ada, 63) - that an analogous empha-
sis on tam (with reference to an otherworldly "there") is a
recurrent topos in Russian literature and culture. A number
of potential sources might be suggested,54 and I would like
to add still one, perhaps more plausible than some others. In
Eugene Onegin (I: xviii, 13-14) the poet recalls his own youth:
T4: Tam, tam, pod seniiu kulis,
Mladye dni moi neslis\55
In VN's own English rendering of these lines:
there, there, beneath the shelter of coulisses,
my young days swept along.
(EO 1:102)
This connection is motivated through the numerous other
quotations from Pushkin in Invitation to a Beheading,56 as
well as by the theme of the hero's childhood conjoining the
theme of the other world:
There, there are the originals of those gardens
where we used to roam and hide in this world
[„.] there everything pleases one's soul, every-
thing is filled with the kind of fun that children
know. (E: 94; emphases in the text)
Tam, tam - original tekh sadov, gde my tut brodili,
skryvalis'; [...] tam vse poteshaet dushu, vse
proniknuto toi zabavnost'iu, kotoruiu znaiut deti.
(R: 84)57

10 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
13. The second large category of polygenetic links сощ»
prises cases of "subtext in a subtext," or "subtext of a
subtext."58 In other words, at least an impression is created
here that a literally genetic (causal) connection exists between
the source texts evoked in Tl.
Slavic theorists of subtext have spoken of Mandel'shtam's
manner of "tracing poetic images to their source."59 One
characteristic example occurs when we detect an allusion to
Lermontov's Vykhozhu odin ia na dorogu (1941) in a
Mandel'shtam poem, which at the same time makes appar-
ent the subtext originally employed by Lermontov himself:
Heine's Der Tod, das ist die kiihle Nacht (in Tiutchev's Rus-
sian translation).60
An analogous use of this device occurs in Lolita where
VN operates with a multitude of allusions to Prosper
Mramee's Carmen (1847).61 But, as VN himself has been
careful to point out elsewhere (in ?0 3:155-156), Merimee's
novella is, at least in part, modelled on Pushkin's narrative
poem Tsygany (1824), and an "inexact and limp" prose ver-
sion of the poem (retitled Les Bohemiens) was actually pro-
duced by Merimee in 1852. The heroine of Pushkin's poem
is named Zemfira, and like Carmen (and Lolita) she is cru-
elly unfaithful to her lover.62 In the following passage the
causal chain [Tl:] Lolita -* [T2:] Carmen [T3:] Tsygany is
laid bare:
Est-ce que tu ne m'aimes plus, ma Carmen? She
never had. At the moment I knew my love was
as hopeless as ever - and I also knew the two
girls were conspirators, plotting in Basque, or

Reading in Three Dimensions
Zemfirian, against my hopeless love. (E: 237;
R: 224 "po-baskski ili po-zemfirski")
14. Another instance where an impression of a causal, liter-
ary^nistorical link is created:
Tl: When in early September Van Veen left Man-
hattan for Lute, he was pregnant. (Ada, 325)
This is the sentence closing Part One, Chapter Forty-Three
in Ada, and it is accompanied by several hints that there is a
parodic connection with Tolstoy.63 The same chapter con-
tains a reference to "a clever pastiche by Ada Veen mimick-
ing Tolstoy's paragraph rhythm and chapter closings" (323).
In Vivian Darkbloom's Notes to Ada (472) a specific source
hom Anna Karenina was suggested:" [...] a famousTolstoyan
ending, with Van in the role of Kitty Lyovin." Compare the
closing of Part Five, Chapter Twenty in Tolstoy's novel:
T2: Doktor podtverdil svoi predpolozheniia naschet
Kiti. Nezdorov'eeebylaberemennost'. (Tolstoy,
Anna Karenina [1878])64
This is one source; as is well known, Ada abounds with quo-
tations, thematic echoes, and stylistic parodies of Tolstoy.65
We should also notice another one, encased, as it were, within
the first subtext:
T3: Quand onpartit de Tostes, an mois de mars, Mme
Bovary etait enceinte. (Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
In the English edition of Madame Bovary, used by VN as
teaching copy when lecturing on the novel to his America^
students, this is rendered as:
When they left Tostes in the month of March
Madame Bovary was pregnant. (Trans, by
Eleanor Marx Aveling, New York 1948: 69 [the
passage is reproduced in Lectures 1:141; cf. also
Letters 3:111-112 for VN's remarks on this edi-
That attributes of Tolstoy's style derive from (and are infe-
rior to) Flaubert is a pervasive claim in VN's writing. In his
lecture on Anna Karenina VN said that "the structure of
[Tolstoy's novel] is of a more conventional kind, although
the book was written twenty years later than Flaubert's Mad-
ame Bovary" (Lectures 2: 147).67 Compare also: "That lor-
gnette I found afterwards in the hands of Madame Bovary,
and later Anna Karenin had it" (Speak, Memory E: 202; R:
183). Or the parodic comment on the fictive heroine's liter-
ary prototypes in the text of King, Queen, Knave: "She was
no Emma and no Anna" (E: 101; the reference is missing
from R: 100 [cf. above n. 40]). We may not be sure whether
there exists a causal connection between Tolstoy and Flaubert
(at least with regard to the device of chapter closings), but
the suggestion is in concordance with the Nabokovian ap-
proach to the history of the European novel.
15 . This strategy has been used by VN with particular fre-
quency for highlighting Dostoevsky's derivativeness as a
writer. VN was no fan of Dostoevsky (we remember his re-
mark that "not all Russians love Dostoevsky as much as
Americans do" [Strong Opinions, 42]). Therefore, it is only

Reading in Three Dimensions
appropriate that Despair, ostensibly the author's most
"Dostoevskian" novel,48 also proceeds to systematically fore-
ground Dostoevsky's debts to other Russian authors. For
instance, when Hermann casts around for a fitting title:
Tl: ' '['•?•] assuredly I had at one time invented a title,
something beginning with 'Memoirs of a -' of a
what? I could not remember; and, anyway,
'Memoirs' seemed dreadfully dull and common-
place. (E: 211; emphasis in the text)
[...] mne kazalos', chto ia kakoe-to zaglavie v svoe
vremia pridumal, chto-to, nachinavsheesia na
'Zapiski...,' - no ch'i zapiski, - ne pomnil, - i
voobshche 'Zapiski' uzhasno banal'no i skuchno.
(R: 192)
This can be seen to play upon the much-discussed debt owed
by Dostoevsky to Gogol'.69 [Г2:] Zapiski izpodpol'ia ([1864]
retitled by VN as "Memoirs from Under the Floor" or
"Memoirs from a Mousehole" instead of "the stupidly in-
correct title of Notes from the Underground" in his lecture
on Dostoevsky [Lectures 2: 115]) Ц [T3:] Zapiski
sumasshedshego ([1834] i.e. "Memoirs of a Madman").70 We
might add that the causal connection is also laid bare by
Dostoevsky's fictive memoirist when he discourses on his
Gogolian precursor, confined to the madhouse as "the King
of Spain" ("[...] razve [ego] svezutvsumasshedshiidomvvide
'ispanskogo korolia'").71
Hermann also considers other titles:
Tl: 'The Double?' But Russian literature possessed
one already. (E: 211)

64 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
Dvoinikf' No eto uzhe imeetsia. (R: 192)
Elsewhere VN has put forward his idiosyncratic view that
Dvoinik (1864) "is [Dostoevsky's] best work though an
obvious and shameless imitation of Gogol's 'Nose"' (Strong
Opinions, 84; see also Lectures 1: 100).72 It is evidently to
underline the literary-historical link [T2:] Dvoinik [T3:]
Nos (1835) that Hermann is repeatedly shown in the act of
"drawing noses" or "draw[ing] a series of running noses" in
the margin of his double story (E: 15,114; R: 7,100).
Still another causal link:
Tl: 'Mist, vapor... in the mist a chord that quivers.'
No, that's not verse, that's from old Dusty's
great book, Crime and Slime. Sorry: Schuldund
Siihne (German edition). (E: 187)
'Dym, tuman, struna drozhit v tumane.' Eto ne
stishok, eto iz romana Dostoevskogo 'Krov' i
Sliuni.'Pardon, 'Shul'd und Ziune.' (R: 169)
Hermann is here discussing his own literary efforts; he re-
gards himself as "a poet misunderstood" (E: 187; R: 169).
Compare Porfirii Petrovich's assessment of Raskol'nikov's
T2: Dym, tuman, struna zvenit v tumane. Stat'ia
vasha nelepa i fantastichna, no v nei meVkaet
takaia iskrennost', v nei gordost* iunaia i
nepodkupnaia, v nei smelost' otchaiania.
(Dostoevsky, Prestuplenie i nakazanie [1865-

Reading in Three Dimensions J5
And the source for this passage again lies encased in Gogol's
T3: [...] sizyi tuman steletsia pod nogami; struna
zvenitv tumane [..?.]74
VN Dostoevskii j| Gogol'.
Even Hermann's own name is polygenetic. At one point
he draws attention to his "grotesque resemblance to
Rascalnikov" (E: 199; R: 181 "karrikaturnoe skhodstvo s
Raskol'nikovym").: "Crime and Pun" is still one title that
Hermann considers for his manuscript (E: 211; no corre-
sponding title in R: cf. 192). And as literary historians have
often maintained, the prototype for Dostoevsky's criminal
hero is Pushkin's Hermann (German) in Pikovaia dama
(1834), the first attempt at complex psychological charac-
terization in Russian fiction.75 Within the text of Despair
this connection is suggested through the multiple allusions
to both [Г2:] Pushkin (discussed above in sect. 6) and [T3:]
Dostoevsky's Prestuplenie. The two subtexts are brought into
direct contact when Hermann proposes to "discuss crime,
crime as art; and card tricks" (E: 131). Compare R:
IPogovorim о prestupleniiakh, ob iskusstve prestupleniia, о
kartochnykh fokusakh" (116).76
16. In the foregoing discussion I have attempted to sys-
tematize the occurrences of poligenetichnost' in Nabokovian
prose. It is one of the effects of VN's semiotic strategies to
subvert the attempts of his dutiful critics (consider the fate
of Linyov in The Gift).

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
My concluding example comes from the author's last
novel look at the Harlequins! where VN plays with the de-
vice of avtotsitata, constructing the narrative from multiple
allusions to his own texts.77 Vadim, the fictive author of this
novel, is repeatedly disturbed by a feeling that his writings
are but imitations of the work of another, authentic or "real"
author. His fear is well founded. The first novel that Vadim
publishes during his career as a Russian writer is entitled
Tamara (1925). To Vadim's chagrin, however, his novel is
mistaken for another work altogether by an emigre book-
All of Princess Mary is out, I mean Mary - damn
it, I mean Tamara, I mean your Tamara, not
Lermontov's or Rubinstein's. Forgive me. One
gets so confused among so many damned mas-
terpieces. (94)
It is Lerifionto^who is the author oiKniazhna Meri, included
as the penultimate chapter of his novel Geroi nashego vremeni
([1840] cf. also the mention of "Geroy nashey ery" in Look at
the Harlequins!, 94).78 The allusion is motivated, among other
things, by Lermontov's authorship of the unfinished prose
work Vadim (1833-1834),79 which may supply the source
for the narrator's name in VN's novel. But there are other
sources: we may remember that there is a "Princess Mary"
(kniazhna Mar'ia) in Tolstoy's Voina i mir (1869); she is also
addressed as "Mashen'ka."86 And Mary (Mashen'ka) was the
title of VN's first novel, published one year after Vadim's. It
is no wonder that Vadim mentions his "thin identity" (Look
at the Harlequins!, 156).
This auto-allusive game discloses a network of second-
ary links to diverse pockets and crannies in the Nabokovian

Reading in Three Dimensions
opus, and these should still be isolated. We ought to recall
once more the notion of reading "in three dimensions" from
The Gift, as here the textual components can be understood
as: (i) constituent elements in the narrative structure of a
single novel (Look at the Harlequins!); (ii) constituents in an
intertextual series tying together Look at the Harlequins! and
other texts from the classical canon of Russian literature
(Lermontov, Tolstoy, and so forth); and (iii) elements in an
intertextual series within the author's own corpus of works
(Look at the Harlequins!, Mary). The third possibility has to
do with two questions that will be discussed in the follow-
(a) Mary is itself based on motifs taken from the au-
thor's life. These are recorded in Chapter Twelve of VN's
memoir, where he describes his youthful romance with a girl
dubbed "Tamara" (Speak, Memory E: 229-251; R: 197-217).
Some of these autobiographical motifs keep recurring in vari-
ous combinations throughout VN's fiction.
(b) But so does the onomastic/phonetic motif "Tamara"
which is employed as a source for stylistic play.
16.1. VN acknowledges the parallel between his fictive
Mashen'ka and the authentic, autobiographical "Tamara"
(from Speak, Memory) in his Introduction to the English
edition of Мату (E: xi-xii). As many of these correlations
are entirely straightforward, and too numerous to be tabu-
lated,81 here is just one typical instance. In Speak, Memory
the author depicts Tamara's letters as butterflies:
[...] letters from Tamara [...] would search [...]
for a fugitive addressee, and weakly flap about
like bewildered butterflies set loose in an alien
zone, at the wrong altitude, among an unfamil-

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
iar flora. (E: 251; the reference is missing from
R: 217)
Compare Mary:
[Mary's and Ganin's] letters managed to pass
the terrible Russia of that time - like a cabbage
white butterfly flying over the trenches. (E: 91;
R: 136)
The earliest occurrence of this motif is in VN's poem Pis'ma
(dated "23,1.23"):
Votpis'ma, vse - tvoi (uzhe na sgibakh taint
sledy karandasha poryvistogo). Dnem,
slozhivshis', spiatoni, v sukhikh tsvetakh, v тоет
dushistom iashchike, a noch'iu - vyletaiut,
poluprozrachnye i slabye, skol'ziat
i v'iutsia nado mnoi, kak babochki: inuiu
poimaiu pal'tsami, i na lazur' nochnuiu
gliazhu cherez nee, i zvezdy v nei skvoziat.
(Stikhi 1979: 85)
Similar reiterations of particular motifs from the Tamara
chapter in Speak, Memory can be seen in: the episode of
Fyodor's youthful romance in Russia that he later relates to
Zina in The Gift (E: 145; R: 168-169); Sebastian Knight's
romance with Natasha Rosanov (The Real Life of Sebastian
Knigbt, 128-130); the deceased sons's glimpse of the unnamed
girl during bike rides in the 1925 short story Christmas
(E[DSJ: 159; R[VCh]: 73);82 or the respective romances of
the heroes in A Letter That Never Reached Russia ([1925]
E[DS]: 83; R[VCh]: 43) and The Admiralty Spire ([1933]

Reading in Three Dimensions
U[TD]i 132-135; R[VP]: 224-228), which recapitulate de-
tails from the St. Petersburg phase of VN's own affair with
Tamara (Speak, Memory E: 234-237; R: 202-205) and that of
Ganin's with Mashen'ka (Mary E: 69-71; R: 106-108). Still
in Ada, the pornographic photographs taken of Van's and
Ada's trysts at Ardis by the kitchen boy Kim (cf. 369-408)
self-parodically recall the episode where VN's meetings with
Tamara are spied upon by his tutor with the aid of a telescope
(Speak, Memory E: 231-232; R: 200).
16.2. Onomastic play with "Tamara" occurs in Ada in con-
nection with the multiple parodies of Lermontov. Not only
is this the name of the heroine in Lermontov's Demon
("Kniazhna Tamara molodaia"),33 but also the title of an-
other LermontOv poem written in 1841.84 And Van Veen's
father Demon Veen, as we remember, likes to entertain him-
self with "a temporary Tamara" (above, sect. 9). At the same
time, these references are motivated by occurrences of the
name motif elsewhere in VN's opus.85
Most notably, in Invitation to a Beheading the ancient
park where Cincinnatus excperienced his youthful romance
is named "the Tamara Gardens" (E: 19), "Tamarinye sady" in
the Russian original (R: 14). The English version also men-
tions: "That green turfy tamarack park, the languor of its
ponds, the tum-tum-tum of a distant band" (E: 19). And in
the Russian text the initial syllable of "Tamara" is threaded
throughout the texture of the novel in various verbally in-
ventive combinations:
Kak on znaleti sady! Tam, kogda Marfin'ka hyla
nevestoi i boialas' liagushek, maiskikh zhukov ...
Tam, gde, byvalo, kogda vse stanovilos'
nevterpezh i mozhno bylo odnomu, s kashei vo

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
rtu iz razzbevannoisireni, so slezami... Zelenoe
muravchatoe Tam, tamoshnie kholmy, tomlenie
prudov, tamtatam dalekogo orkestra ... (R; 14.
emphases added)
That is, Tamara Gardens also stand for the otherworldly tam
for which the imprisoned Cincinnatus yearns.86 And we have
previously quoted a key passage from this novel (above, sect.
12), where the anaphoric tam may lead us back to Baudelaire,
Brooke (in VN's Russian rendering), or Pushkin, and be-
yond - all such echoes being once more encapsulated in the
reverberating title that fictive Vadim chooses for his first
novel (Tamara) within the world of his maker's last one.
17. But here we may just as well stop, for the notion of
genetic connections has now become entirely problematic.
Which derives from which? Or: which came first? The auto-
biographical associations (to the real-life Tamara) ? Or the
Lermontovian link (Demon/Tamara/Mary)? Or the purely
phonetic and punning connections (tam - Tamara) ?
The question of precedence no longer seems pertinent.
For here a motif originating in the author's own life con-
joins a network of subtextual, cross-linguistic, and
transcultural echoes. It is very much due to such interlock-
ing that the Nabokovian corpus of fictional and autobio-
graphical writings can be said to assume the shape of a
synchronic, multi-dimensional whole. As VN once wrote:
, "life sometimes [...] presents us with something for which
we shall discover an unexpected use only much later"
(Pushkin, or the Real and the Plausible, 38) .87 Or, as he wrote
on another occasion, it is no longer possible to trace such
compounds of links to a single biographical or textual source,
for they are transmitted through the mind of a poet "to whom
life and library were one* (?0 2:151).

Three The St. Petersburg Text and Its
Nabokovian Texture
... I v Letnii sad guliat' vodiV
... and to the Letniy Sad took him for walks.
PUSHKIN, Eugene Onegin I: iii, 14
(EO 1:96)
Letniy Sad: Le Jardin d'Ete, a public park on
the Neva embankment, with avenues of crow-
haunted shade trees (imported elms and oaks)
and noseless statues of Greek deities (made in
Italy); there, a hundred years later, I, too, was
walked by a tutor.
NABOKOV, Commentary to Eugene
Onegin {EO 2: 41)
1. The following discussion will proceed via the broadly
semiotic concept of TEXT to an analysis of the concrete motif
texture in Nabokovian writing.2 There is no need to wax
overly theoretical about semiotics here, but for the sake of
explaining what is meant by St. Petersburg "as a text" some
remarks of a more general nature are in order.

72 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
This notion (peterburgskii tekst) was put forward by the
Moscow-Tartu faction of Slavic poeticians, Iu. M. Lotman,
V N. Toporov, and others in their work Semiotika goroda i
gprodskoi kuVtury: Peterburg.3 According to their view, the
former capital of imperial Russia should not be regarded just
as a politico-historical fact, but "as a text on the one hand
and, on the other, as a mechanism for generating texts."4 In
other words, St. Petersburg can also be used as a name for an
intertextual construct: as any compound text (albeit with
many authors) it can be variously activated in literature,
tapped for allusions, transformed by rewriting, even paro-
What is more, Russian literature may be said to contain
a deep core of basic texts that determine the surface features
of all other works using St. Petersburg as a theme.5 Among
such generating texts one should obviously include Mednyi
vsadnik (1833), Pikovaia dama (1834), and other works by
Pushkin ("in the same measure the creator of the image of
Petersburg as Peter the Great was the builder of the city it-
self");6 Nevskii prospekt (1834), Nos (1835), ShineV (1841),
and other "Petersburg Stories" by Gogol'; or the novels of
Dostoevsky, above all Prestuplenie i nakazanie (1865-1867).7
Among Russian modernist works, one finds Belyi's Peterburg
(1913), as well as the poetic corpora of Blok, Mandel'shtam,
Akhmatova (followed by dozens of lesser lights).8 From
more recent Russian letters, one should name Bitov's
Pushkinskii dom (1978) - a manifestly postmodern rendi-
tion of the theme9 - or the much-quoted essay (in English)
A Guide to a Renamed City (1979) by Brodsky, where the
"fictional" city is made to loom large behind its puny real-
life Soviet replica.10
As to VN, it is the proposition of the present chapter
that his works, too, might be profitably studied in the light

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture 67
of this concept.11 The role of the historical St. Petersburg in
the author's life has been documented by biographers."
Here, the emphasis will be placed squarely on the textual
manifestations of St. Petersburg in Nabokovian writing."
In what follows, I will trace the occurrences of the St.
Petersburg theme (i) in VN's Russian verse; (ii) in his auto-
biography Speak, Memory, (iii) in narrative fiction. Special
attention will be given to intertextualjinks between the au-
tobiography and the image of the city in the author's fic-
tion. My remarks are proffered as an introductory survey of
a topic that would surely reward further pondering.14
2. Verse
It seems appropriate to start the survey from an anthology
of Russian verse entitled Peterburg v stikhotvoreniiakh
russkikh poetov, printed in Berlin in 1923. Among the several
pieces by emigre authors, ensuring that the book could not
come out in Soviet Russia,15 the collection also includes a
lesser-known poem by VN bearing the title Peterburg.
Apart from its length - 183 lines, the longest contribu-
tion in the anthology - this piece barely distinguishes itself
from the productions of other aspiring versifiers admitted
into the collection, and it definitely fails to vie with the work
of such established writers as Bunin (Na Nevskom), Blok
(Peterburgskie sumerki snezhnye), or Mandel'shtam (V
Peterburge my soidemsia snova). In fact, it is a poem not en-
tirely devoid of cliches: "O, gorod Pushkinym Imbimyi, / Kak

etigody dalekiF (81).17 The patriotic and political theme
St. Petersburg as a city buried in the past, now robbed by
subhuman crowd ("iurodivyi narod" [84]), is handled in
ponderous manner that seems remote indeed from the ligh
satirical touch of the mature artist." Neither do the con
eluding lines stir:
Takikh, kak ia, nemalo. My
Bluzhdaem po miru bessonno
/ тает: gorod pogrebennyi
Voskresnet vnovvse budet v пет
Prekrasno, radostno i novo, -
A tol'ko prezhnego, rodnogo,
My nikogda uzh ne naidem ...
(85; emphasis in the text)
What this poem goes to show, above all, is the very conven-
tional or, indeed, banal manner in which the St. Petersburg
theme was employed in VN's early verse. But the frequency
of the theme is still worth a look. VN has two other poems,
dating from 1922 and 1923, with the title Peterburg,19 and
still another entitled Sankt-Peterburg ([1924] Stikhi 1979:
143). Compare also "Sankt-Peterburg-uzornyi inei" ([1923]
Stikhi 1979:117) or Petrv Gollandii ([1923] GP, 59), on the
founder of the city. In addition, St. Petersburg figures in such
early pieces as the long 1922 poem Detstvo (GP, 92-97) and
in V.Sh. ([1921] Stikhi 1979:72), evoking the speaker's meet-
ings with his beloved in the city of his youth.20 In "Mechtal
ia о tebe tak chasto, tak davno " (1921) the exiled speaker reads
about udymk[a] nod Nevoi" (Stikhi 1979:50), and mentions
of the river, along with other easily recognizable topographi-
cal markers, keep recurring from "V kakom rat и vpervye
prozhurchali" ([1923] Stikhi 1979: 78-79) and Pamiati
74 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture 69
Gumileva ([1923] Stikhi 1979: 95) to Iskhod ([1924] Stikhi
1979: 147-148); К rodine ([1924] Stikhi 1979: 153); or Ut
picturapoesis ([1926] Stikhi 1979:181-182]). Predating these
texts, there is VN's schoolboy verse, collected in his 1916
volume Stikhi (privately printed in St. Petersburg): compare
Stolitse (Stikhi 1916: 29) or "U dvortsov Nevy га brozhu, ne
rad" (Stikhi 1916: 30)
There would be little need to list all these youthful pieces
here, if they did not represent the first inklings of a theme
that was to assume such prominence in VN's mature writ-
ing. In themselves, they are telling precisely for their banal-
ity, and it is worth noting that in VN's fiction this type of
nostalgic verse, if not these very poems, are made the butt of
systematic autoparodies. Compare, for example, the critique
enunciated in Glory of emigre poets churning out "yet an-
other poem about nostalgia for the homeland or recollec-
tions of St. Petersburg (with the Bronze Horseman inevita-
bly present)" (E: 141; R: 163). This recalls, among other
things, the image of the famous statue floating away "in un-
earthly amazement" ("plyl [...] / Vsadnik v izumlen'e
nezemnom" [Stikhi 1979: 147]) in VN's own Iskhod, or his
Pamiati Gumileva, where the dead poet is envisioned con-
versing with Pushkin "o letiashchem / mednom Petre" (Stikhi
1979: 95). In The Gift VN has Fyodor assume a sarcastic
attitude towards poems "replete with fashionable cliches" -
among these, "the Neva's parapet on which one can scarcely
discern today the imprint of Pushkin's elbow" (E: 43; R:
46); this is the hallowed image employed by VN himself in
Sankt-Peterburg ("sledloktia ostavilna granite Pushkin" [Stikhi
1979:143]).22 Much later, in Pnin, VN was still heaping scorn
on emigre poets producing nostalgic elegies "about [...] St.
Petersburg (courtesy Anna Akhmatov) - every intonation,
every image, every simile [of which] had been used before

76 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
by other rhyming rabbits" (45)." In his prose fiction, VN
had found other uses for the theme.
3. The Autobiography
The above is not to say that the author's nostalgia couldn't
be genuine. When VN evokes, in Speak, Memory, pre-revo-
lution St. Petersburg as the setting of his (both culturally
and materially) opulent boyhood, the "nostalgic and patri-
otic" intonations cannot but strike an authentic note.24 The
sincerity of such descriptions is not in need of arguing. Here,
we will concentrate on the textual interplay between the St.
Petersburg motifs occurring in the autobiography and in
VN's fiction.
3.1. First, as regards meteorological matters, one may notice
that it is (almost) always winter in VN's St. Petersburg. This
is explainable by the yearly routine of the Nabokov family:
as becomes apparent from the memoir, the family spent most
of its summers in the countryside, autumns abroad, and only
the winters and early spring months in the capital (cf. Speak,
Memory E: 87; the mention of winter is omitted from R:
77).25 Vadim in Look at the Harlequins! is speaking for his
maker as well when he explains that - prior to his clandes-
tine trip to contemporary Leningrad - he "had never seen
[his] native city in June or July" (210).
Accordingly, descriptions of St. Petersburg in winter are
plentiful in VN's fiction, and many of them coincide with
that portion of the "Tamara" chapter in Speak, Memory (E:
234-237; R: 202-205) where the author reconstructs the win-
ter phase of his youthful romance. There are obvious paral-
lels between this section and the St. Petersburg motifs be-
longing to Ganin's romance in Mary (E: 69-71, 73-75; R:

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture
106-108, 112-114). The episode between the narrator and
his beloved "on a frosty Petersburg morning, in the Suvorov
museum, so dusty, so small, so similar to a glorified snuff-
box" (E[DS): 83; R[VCh]: 43) in the early story Л Letter
That Never Reached Russia (1925) finds its precise counter-
part in the Tamara chapter (Speak, Memory E: 236; R: 203).
Further overlappings are seen in the break-up between the
narrator and Katya in The Admiralty Spire ([1933] E[TD]:
135-137; R[VF}: 228-230) and again in Pnin's parting from
karakul-muffed Mira Belochkin on the Neva Embankment
(Pnin, 134).
It is this consistent emphasis on winter that also dictates
the sudden autobiographical digression inserted in VN's
Commentary to Onegin. Quoting Pushkin's image of the
"rainbows" projected on the snowy St. Petersburg streets
(in I: xxvii, 9 of Eugene Onegin [EO 1:107]), the commen-
tator abruptly interposes with this:
My own sixty-year-old remembrance is not so
much of prismatic colors cast upon snowdrifts
by the two lateral lanterns of a brougham as of
iridescent spicules around blurry street lights
coming through its frost-foliated windows and
breaking along the rim of the glass.26 (EO 2:
3.2. Secondly, the topography of VN's St. Petersburg has some
peculiarities of its own. There is a tradition of treating the
topographical details occurring in Russian literature with
some seriousness: every tourist to St. Petersburg knows those
guided tours taking the visitor in the footsteps of, say,
Dostoevsky's Raskol'nikov through the real city.27 Should

the tourist wish to do the same with VN, there would be a
well-documented route to follow.
There are two main streets in VN's St. Petersburg:
Morskaia Street, on which the Nabokov town house was situ-
ated,28 and Nevskii Avenue (the official main street). Com-
pare the episode from Speak, Memory of VN's mother rid-
ing in her sleigh (for it is again winter) to acquire a gift for
her ailing son: "I vividly visualized her driving away down
Morskaya Street toward Nevski Avenue [...]" (E: 37; R: 30);
the episode is replayed in The Gift (E: 30; R: 30). Or com-
pare the very precisely delineated itinerary from the Nabokov
house to the Tenishev School (attended by VN from the age
of eleven):
[„.] driving to school never took more than a
quarter of an hour.29 Our house was No. 47 in
Morskaya Street. Then came Prince Oginski's
(No. 45), then the Italian Embassy (No. 43),
then the German Embassy (No. 41), and then
the vast Maria Square, after which the house
numbers continued to dwindle.
Upon reaching Nevski Avenue, one followed
it for a long stretch, during which it was a pleas-
ure to overtake with no effort some cloaked
guardsman in his light sleigh drawn by a pair of
black stallions snorting and speeding along un-
der the bright blue netting that prevented lumps
of hard snow from flying into the passenger's
face. A street on the left side with a lovely name
- Karavannaya (the Street of Caravans) - took
one past an unforgettable toyshop. Next came
the Cinizelli Circus (famous for its wrestling
78 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture
tournaments). Finally, after crossing an ice-
bound canal one drove up to the gates of
Tenishev School in Mohovaya Street (the Street
of Mosses).
(E: 184-185; R: 168)
Very few Nabokovian heroes venture beyond this region (as
opposed, say, to Dostoevsky's middle- and lower-class char-
acters).30 At the same time, diverse realia lifted from along
the Morskaia - Nevskii route keep recurring as motifs in
VN's fiction. Among these: the "Treumann's" shop
("magazin Treimana na Nevskom" [Speak, Memory R: 30]),
the destination of VN's mother in the passage quoted above
as well as of Fyodor's mother in The Gift (E: 30; R: 30); the
movie theatre "Parisiana," providing a retreat for VN and
Tamara (Speak, Memory E: 236; R: 204) and for the couple in
The Admiralty Spire (Е[Щ: 128; K[VF]: 221); "The Eng-
lish Shop on Nevski Avenue" (Speak, Memory E: 79; R: 68)
where the Nabokovs acquired their fruitcakes and tennis
balls, specified in Glory as "Drew's English Shop" (E: 3; R:
9); the travel agency Societe des Wagons-Lits et des Grands
Express Europeens displaying a model of a sleeping car in its
window on Nevskii (Speak, Memory E: 141; R: 130; Glory E:
6; R: 13).
The wooden pavements of the St. Petersburg main streets
recur as a specific motif in their own right in the autobiogra-
phy as well as in fiction. In Speak, Memory VN recalls the
"smooth solid spread [of snow] on the octangular wood
blocks of the pavement" (E: 184; R omits the reference).31
Compare: "The wooden paving blocks were already filmed
with [...] [a] yellowish layer" (The Admiralty Spire E[TD]:
135; R[VjF]: 227-228); "The wooden blocks of the spacious
street pavements gleamed dark blue from the damp and the

74 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
sun" (The Gift E: 106; R: 121-122); "The wooden street pave-
ments had a violet sheen" (The Defense E: 33; in R this is
plain mostovye).32
3.3. A special role is reserved in this series of recurrences for
the Nabokov house on the Morskaia. Here is how VN de-
scribes his boyhood home in the English version of his
We have now moved to our town house, a styl-
ish, Italianate construction of Finnish granite,
built by my grandfather circa 1885, with floral
frescoes above the third (upper) story and a
second-floor oriel, in St. Petersburg (now Len-
ingrad), 47, Morskaya (now Hertzen Street).33
(Speak, Memory E: 109)
Now (since 1992) the street has been re-renamed (back to
Bol'shaia Morskaia), and, to my knowledge, there is even a
plaque on No. 47 commemorating VN's birth in that house.34
But, plaque or not, all readers of Nabokovian fiction are
familiar with the textual occurrences of the house on
Morskaia. As early as in the 1921 Peterburg. Poema the speaker
drew attention to his home street:
Morskaia ulitsa. Pod arkoi,
Na krasnoi vnutrennei stene
Bochkom torchat, kak grib na pne,
chasy bol'shye.
Щ И (83)
In Act Five of the 1925-1926 play The Man from the USSR
the hero (am emigre agent named Kuznetsoff) is setting out

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture
on a clandestine trip across the Soviet border. He has been
asked to deliver a package to an address in Leningrad:
[w.] Here's the address - is it clear?
Yes, certainly. Only now it's not Morskaya
Street but Hertzen Street.
In Pnin the narrator remembers riding his bicycle "home to
our rosy-stone house in the Morskaya, over [here they are
again] parquet-smooth wooden pavements" (175). And in
Look at the Harlequins/, when Vadim journeys to the Lenin-
grad of the sixties, the reoccurrence of the motif gives rise
to a small metafictional joke. Noticing, among other sights,
"the fagade of a house on Gertsen Street" (211), Vadim has
an eerie sense of familiarity. He surmises that he "may have
gone there to some children's fete ages ago" (ibid.) - possi-
bly to one of the parties in 47 Morskaia described by VN
himself in Chapter Eight (the "Lenski" chapter) of Speak,
Memory (E: 162-165; R: 153-156).35 An ontologically ver-
tiginous impression - typical of Look at the Harlequins! - is
thus created that fictional creatures may be attending par-
ties (in the real St. Petersburg) given by their own maker.36
Here are some further intriguing occurrences of the
Nabokov house in VN's fiction.
(i) In Mademoiselle О (1936), the first version of Chap-
ter Five in Speak, Memory, VN describes the ascension of his
French governess in an elevator to the second floor of the

82 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
{..,] le lottrd ascenseur, soufflant et craquant
montait avec une lenteur incroyable le long du
gros cable reconvert de velours, tandis qu'avec
lenteur sur le mur ecaille que I'on apercevaitpar
la vitre, descendaient de sombres taches qui
faisaient songer a un atlas gSographique: taches
d'humidite et de vetuste, ой Von reconnaissait ces
contours de mer Noire ou d'Australie que les
nuages et les taches prennent a toutpropos. (164;
omitted from Speak, Memory E and R)
These are the geographic patches also observed through the
elevator window in the Luzhin's St. Petersburg house - "those
patches of dampness and age among which [...] the reigning
fashion is for silhouettes of Australia and the Black Sea" (The
Defense E: 128; R: 146). But the motif may be polygenetic.
When Alice falls down the rabbit hole (not entirely unlike
an elevator shaft) she also notices - in VN's Russian render-
ing of Wonderland: "Tut i tam [...] geograficheskie karty i
kartinki" (Ania v strane chudes, 6).37
(ii) All readers of Pale Fire know the game played with
the undiscoverable hiding place of the Zemblan crown jew-
els. The reference to "Taynik. Russ., secret place; see Crown
Jewels" (Pale Fire, 313) in the Index notoriously leads us
nowhere. Or could it lead to another textual location alto-
gether? In Speak, Memory VN reports: "Sometimes, in our
St. Petersburg house, from a secret compartment in the wall
of her dressing room (and my birth room), she [= VN's
mother] would produce a mass of jewelry for my bedtime
amusement" (E: 36). In the Russian version this reads: "[...]
ona vymmala iz tainika [...]" (R: 28). Compare also: "It was
[the servant Ustin] who in the winter of 1917-18 heroically
led representatives of the victorious Soviets up to [...] the

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture
southeast corner room where I was born, and to the niche in
the wall, to the tiaras of colored fire* (E: 187). And the Rus-
sian text: "[...] tainichok s materinskimi dragotsennostiami
[...]" (R: 77).
(iii) Should we still add that even the numerals of the
Nabokov telephone number in St. Petersburg - "24-43,
dvadtsat chetire sorok tri" (Speak, Memory E: 235; R: 203) -
are interwoven with fiction? They are reversed in a famous
address in Lolita: "342 Lawn Street" (E: 37; R: 26) ,38
4. Narrative Fiction
There are fourteen novels by VN (seven of them written in
Russian, seven in English) and sixteen stories (thirteen in
Russian, two in English, one in French) where the St.
Petersburg setting functions in one way or another.39 But in
what ways? Here one may note that there are two major
strategies that VN uses to subvert representations of St.
Petersburg in his fiction. Both of these have to do with the
distinction, drawn by the Tartu semioticians, between the
city as a spatial locus (gorod kak prostranstvo) and as a lin-
guistic/toponymic complex (gorodkak imia).w
I will now round up the discussion by looking into some
Nabokovian uses of St. Petersburg (i) as a source of linguis-
tic play; (ii) as a place - but a place that is permanently ab-
sent from the narrative reality, serving instead as a source for
new fictions embedded within the main one.
4.1. Linguistic Play
In VN's prose St. Petersburg is evoked by way of diverse
linguistic markers. In fact, it often seems that the city may
possess a "language" of its own.

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
In Look at the Harlequins! Vadim places "a Peterburgan's
Russian" on a par with "the best Parisian French" or the "de-
lightfully modulated whinny [...] [of) the English 'upper
classes'" (30). A sample is seen in The Eye:
Certain things - for example, the word
'blagodarstvuyte' ('thank you'), pronounced
without the usual slurring, in full, thus retain-
ing its bouquet of consonants - were bound to
reveal to the perceptive observer that Smurov
belonged to the best St. Petersburg society. (E:
44; R: 30)
Of Sebastian Knight it is told that his r's "when beginning a
word, rolled and rasped" (The Real Life of Sebastian Knight,
45). So, evidently, did Fyodor's, whose "St. Petersburg style"
much annoyed the poet Koncheyev (The Gift E: 323; R:
382).41 Linguistic style also defines the social background
and character of Konstantin Ivanovich Chateau in Pnin: "His
soft voice, the gentlemanly St. Petersburgan burr of his r's
[...] - everything about Chateau [...] produced a rare sense
of well-being in his friends" (125) 42
Against this notion of the cultured St. Petersburg VN -
like so many Russian authors before him - sets the image of
the tawdry and uncivilized Moscow.43 This opposition is
concretized specifically in terms of language, and outside
VN's fiction it has caused some agitation among Slavic crit-
ics. For example, when VN contrasted, in his instructions to
the reader of Eugene Onegin, the Muscovite pronunciation
of the unaccented о (as in Moskvd) to the way in which о
sounds "in ordinary good Russian" (EO 1: xxii), he was chas-
tised by a critic for "laboring] under the strange misappre-

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture
hensiofi that the language spoken in his environment in St.
Petersburg was the only correct Russian."44
It is precisely this notion that is transmitted via
Nabokovian fiction in several instances: "'Shto vi (what's
that)?' asked Zilanov, who had picked up that bit of bad
Russian in Moscow" (Glory E: 78; R: 93); "He hailed from
Moscow, where people are fond of waggish slang full of lush
trivialities" (Despair E: 43; R: 32); "The words go away by
themselves on a naive and vulgar spree - in the suburbs of
Moscow for instance" (Foreword to Invitation to a Behead-
ing E: 7). In Pale Fire, Soviet tourists are heard conversing in
"sing-song Moscovan" (145). And it goes to show, if noth-
ing else, the pervasiveness of this emphasis that a particu-
larly nasty blast of wind is named, in Zemblan, "moskvett"
(Pale Fire, 166). (Whereas in Ada a particularly ferocious
mosquito is named "Moustique moscovite" [73].)
This takes us to the domain of (toponymic) puns. VN
disapproved of the 1914 renaming of his native city (brought
about by patriotic zeal): "Peterburg was sunk to Petrograd
against all rules of nomenclatorial priority" (Speak, Memory
E: 47; emphasis in the text; omitted from R). Even less did
he like the 1924 name change; as he has the hero of the 1932
story The Reunion explain: "Grammatically, Leningrad can
only mean the town of Nellie" (E[ZM]: 129; in R[S]: 132 the
pun was not on the name of the city but rather on
Spiatiletka").45 Such a satirical attitude may motivate the
numerous puns based on -grad in Nabokovian fiction. In
the Russian original of Invitation to a Beheading, the heads-
man M'sieur Pierre hails from "Vyshnegrad" (from Russ.
vishnia — 'cherry'[?]). Compare: "Da, ia vyshnegradets" (R:
99; in E: 110 this is "Upper Elderbury" [cf. -burg]). In Bend
Sinister, the capital of Krug's home country is named
"Padukgrad," after the dictator Paduk (Introduction to Bend

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
Sinister, xi).46 In Pnin, the hero suffers from sonic distur-
bances caused by workmen drilling "Brainpan Street
Pningrad" (63). In Pale Fire, this root engenders the name of
the Zemblan capital, "Uranograd" (102) - and, significantly,
that of the Zemblan assassin Gradus. Compare Kinbote's
absurd gloss on "Leningrad «sed to be Petrograd" (231; em-
phasis in the text). Or: "Gradus should not kill kings,
Vinogradus should never, never provoke God. Leningradus
should not aim his pea-shooter at people" (154) ,47
There are still other ways in which the toponymic motif
is incorporated in VN's fiction. In Lolita, Humbert evokes
the marriage of Edgar Allan Рое to justify his own passion
for the underage Lolita: "Virginia [Clemm] was not quite
fourteen when Harry Edgar possessed her [...] They spent
their honeymoon at Petersburg, Fla." (E: 44; R: 33).48 He
also tells of a policeman named Krestovski (E: 88,212; R: 76,
197), which wouldn't be that significant if we didn't know
this character's first name. Compare Charlotte's words: "I
shall have to speak about that to Peter Krestovki" (E: 88; R:
76 "[...] s Petrom Krestovskim"). An inside joke planted by
VN for those in the know: Krestovskii ostrov, an island in the
Neva delta and a St. Petersburg district, is mentioned in the
Commentary to Eugene Onegin (EO 2:175). It also figures
in the 1932 story Orache (E[DS\: 54; R[S]: 114) and in the
Russian Glory (R: 88; in E: 74 this is just "a St. Petersburg
Lastly, mAda - true to the Amerussian spirit of that novel
- the name of the river flowing through the former Russian
capital is anagrammatically encoded inside Ada's mention of
a western town (or state): "He and I [= Ada] have gamed at
Nevada, my rhyme-name town, but you [= Van] are also
there, as well as the legendary river of Old Rus. Da" (333)

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture
Neva + Van + Ada = Nevada. A more thorough combing
of Ada might produce other anagrammatic name games.
4.2. Narrative Play
When we move on to the occurrences of the city as a spatial
locus in Nabokovian fiction, an all but regular pattern is seen
to emerge. Notably, while St. Petersburg figures as a setting
in a number of these texts, it is seldom that the city is cho-
sen as the locus of the narrative on the primary level. More
often, St. Petersburg functions as an element of the embed-
ded, second-level narrative reality: as an object of reminis-
cences, dreams, hallucinations, stories and fictions within
stories. Accordingly, while former commentators have dis-
cussed the St. Petersburg text in Russian literature in terms
of a fictional hero "living, thinking, and suffering" in St.
Petersburg,49 in VN's case we should rather speak of his he-
roes reminiscing, dreaming, hallucinating, or otherwise pro-
ducing new fictions about the lost city.50
Nabokovian characters who evoke St. Petersburg as a
construct in their own minds include: the exiled narrator in
the early short story Sounds (1923), where St. Isaac's Cathe-
dral is first observed as a replica in a paperweight and then
evoked through an act of recollection by the narrator (SVN,
18); A. L. Luzhin in A Matter of Chance (1924); the remi-
niscing emigre narrator in Л Letter That Never Reached Rus-
sia (1925);51 Ganin in Mary; Galatovin The Doorbell (1927);
the narrator of A Guide to Berlin (1925), who remembers
the horse-drawn trams in St. Petersburg; Luzhin (and his
wife) in The Defense; Smurov in The Eye; Martin in Glory;
Ilya Borisovich (the author of the novel "Lips to Lips," set
in St. Petersburg) in Lips to Lips (1931); the narrator (plus
"Katya" who writes the novel within the story) in The Ad-

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
miralty Spire (1933);52 Bychkov in The Circle (1934); the
narrator (he glimpses a "view of the Neva" hanging 0a
Shigaev's wall) in In Memory of L. I. Shigaev ([1934] E [TDJ.
165; R[VF]: 94); the heroine of Л Russian Beauty (1934);
Hermann in Despair f the narrator (= VN) of Mademoi-
selle 0 (1936), later included as Chapter Five of Speak,
Memory;* Fyodor in The Gift; V in The Real Life of Sebas-
tian Knight; the narrator (who has himself made up the his-
tory taking place in St. Petersburg) in A Forgotten Poet (1944);
the narrator (- VN) in First Love (1948), rewritten as Chap-
ter Seven of Speak, Memory; Pnin (and the narrator) in Pnin;
Vadim in Look at the Harlequins!.
The exceptions are few: Chapters Two to Four in The
Defense; the first few pages of Glory; the stories Christmas
(1924) and Orache (1932), where the events are set directly
in the pre-revolution St. Petersburg;55 or The Christmas Story
(1928), set in the contemporary (1920's) Leningrad.
This choice by the author brings about a narrative pecu-
liarity that is very characteristic of VN's fiction. That is, the
narrative point of view employed in a given novel may shift
at any moment from one level to another, from the present
reality of the emigre characters to the more or less fantastic
past in St. Petersburg. Here are but some samples of this
narrative strategy in action.56
In The Doorbell the hero Galatov, just arrived in Berlin,
catches sight of a sign in German:
T. S. Weiner, Dentist. From Petrograd.' An un-
expected recollection virtually scalded him. This
fine friend of ours is pretty well decayed and
must go. In the window, right in front of the
torture seat, inset glass photographs displayed

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture
Swiss landscapes. [...] The window gave to
Moika Street.
(E[DS]: 104; R[VCb]: 30)
In Glory, Martin's memory is similarly activated by a pair of
skis given to him by Uncle Henry: "His uncle's gift pleased
him; for an instant there materialized a snow-covered slope
in a St. Petersburg suburb" (E: 74; R: 88). In the next ex-
cerpt from The Gift (which abounds in such shifts) it is dif-
ficult to locate the precise point in the discourse where the
slipping into the past begins:
[Berlin] He found his street, but at the end of
it a post with a gauntleted hand on it indicated
that one had to enter from the other end where
the post office was, since at this end a pile of
flags had been prepared for tomorrow's festivi-
. ties, [,,.] He scrambled over boards, boxes and
a toy grenadier in curls, and caught sight of the
: familiar house [are we already in St.
Petersburg?], and there the workmen had al-
ready stretched a red strip of carpet across the
sidewalk from door to curb [now we are!] as it
used to be done in front of their house on the
Neva Embankment on ball nights. (E. 334-335;
R: 397)
This narrative pattern was already firmly established in VN's
first novel Mary, which is in its entirety based on shifts be-
tween Ganin's Berlin present and his replayed romance in
St. Petersburg and its environs. In The Defense Luzhin is
driven insane by the persistent interpenetration of the St.
Petersbug memories and his present. Similarly in Pnin, the

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
hero's American reality is on occasion made interchange
able with St. Petersburg settings (e.g. the shift from
Whitchurch Park via Pnin's hallucianation to his nursery 0n
Galernaia [21-24].; cf. also 27-28,82, 133-134).57
4.3. The Return
The same pattern affects VN's handling of still another ma-
jor theme in his writing: the return to the author's native
city.58 Obviously, this concern has an autobiographical ba-
sis. In the Commentary to Eugene Onegin (EO 2: 79) VN
complains bitterly that he is "prevented [...] by a barbarous
regime from traveling to Leningrad to examine old playbills
in its libraries." In Speak, Memory he imagines himself actu-
ally "revisiting them [= his boyhood haunts in the St.
Petersburg region] with a false passport, under an assumed
name" (E: 250; R: 216).
The image of "bespasportnaia ten"' occurs in the 1929
poem "Dlia stranstviia nochnogo mne ne nado" (Stikhi 1979:
217), where the speaker fantasizes about a nocturnal visit to
the city. In an earlier poem entitled Lyzhnyi pryzhok (1926)
the speaker had dreamt of jumping "we sem'desiat chetyre
metra, / a mil', pozhalui, deviat'sot," until he discerns from
the air the cupolas of "inistyi Isakii" (Stikhi 1979: 179).
But the imagined journey back home remains just that: a
feat of imagination, a dream, or a deliberately constructed
fiction. This would seem to be the case in the surreal story
The Visit to the Museum (1939), where the hero ends up in
post-revolution Leningrad "somewhere on the Moyka or the
Fontanka Canal, or perhaps on the Obvodnoy" (E [/?/?]: 78;
R[VFj: 115) - via the exit of a museum in a French town. In
The Man from the USSR the anti-Bolshevist agent Kuznetsoff
travels to and fro across the Soviet border (possibly all the

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture
way to the Morskaia Street, we have seen; above 3.3). A simi-
lar journey is being planned by Martin in Glory for the bet-
ter part of the narrative. But something remains amiss: the
reader will never learn what becomes of these exploits, and
(at least as far as Martin is concerned) it is more than doubt-
ful whether the hero will ever reach his destination.
Only in two later texts is a concrete return described. In
the long poem To Prince S. M. Kachurin (1947) the speaker
actually travels to the former St. Petersburg with a false pass-
port, though, very incriminatingly, "with a novel of Sirin in
[his] hands" (E[PP]: 139; R[Stikhi 1979]: 280). This feat is
repeated by Vadim in Part Five of Look at the Harlequins!
(199-219) when he journeys back to the Leningrad of the
1960's. Still, it would be vain to see his trip as a straightfor-
ward projection of VN's own concern with a homecoming.
More plausibly, this is a subversive autoparody. As Vadim
comes to realize "with silly astonishment" (210), it is as if
the city belonged to someone else's memories. It is "an unfa-
miliar, if not utterly foreign town, still lingering in some other
era: an undefinable era, not exactly remote," but - a tumble
to sheer burlesque - "certainly preceding the invention of
body deodorants" (ibid.). The message of this burlesque
should be clear. You can dream about it, or dwell on it in
your personal memories, or invent fictions about it. But you
can never go back - to the past, or to the twice (now thrice)
renamed city.59

too Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
Year In Verse (Drama) In Fiction (Memoir,)
1948 (First Love Chapter
Seven, bpeak,
(Speak, Memory)
Lolita - "St.
l9S7 Pnin - Pnin's (and the
narrator's) recollec-
j 962 Лг/e Fire - "Leningrad.
used to be Petrograd,"
Ada - the pun on
j 974 Look at the Harle-
quins! - the theme of

Four Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
1. Dates in texts may seem like a humdrum topic to a
poetician. Indeed, it was not until the study 'Poetika duty' i
ranniaia lirika Al. Bloka by Z. G. Mints1 that more system-
atic attention was afforded to literary dates as a specifically
semiotic question. As Mints points out, inBlok's lyrical works
dates turn out to be signs in their own right, carrying dis-
tinct thematic and aesthetic functions as well as powerful
text-linking potential. Moreover, like other textual elements,
dates may function in a metonymical fashion, activating broad
literary and extra-literary (i.e. historical) frames of reference
within the bounds of single works.2
It is the latter property that joins the question of dates
with the larger problem of INTERTEXTUALITY and calls
forth a separate investigation with regard to Nabokovian
1.1. Concern with the Fatidic
That this sort of an inquiry might be a worthwhile under-
taking was suggested by VN himself when he stated in an
interview: "In common with Pushkin, I am fascinated by
fatidic dates" (,Strong Opinions, 75). In his Commentary to
Eugene Onegtn, VN takes up Pushkin's attempts to forecast
the date of his own death, noting that "the poet's concern
with the fatidic was almost morbid" (EO 2:128).

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
The reference here is - among other possible subtexts -
to Pushkin's 1829 lyric Brozhu li ia vdol' ulits shumnykh3
which has been evoked with some regularity in VN's fiction.
In Pnin, it is the fictional hero who lectures to his American
students on Pushkin's "morbid habit [...] of closely inspect-
ing every passing day as he strove to find in its cryptogram a
certain 'future anniversary:' the day and month that would
appear, somewhere, sometime upon his tombstone" (68), and
lines from the Pushkin poem turn up several times in the
course of the novel (cf. 67-68, 73, 82). In the 1931 story Л
Busy Man VN provides a parodic version of such attempts
as the hero tries to predict his precise age at the time of his
death: "I'm roaming, say, through noisy streets - aha, that's
Pushkin trying to imagine his way of death: In combat, wan-
derings or waves, / Or will it be the nearby valley..." (E [DS]:
167)/ And the same subtext is again evoked when the hero
makes efforts to visualize his future obituary: "All around
that obituary, to paraphrase Pushkin again,... indifferent na-
ture would be shining" (E[DS]: 170) I5
1.2. Typology
In what follows, I will proceed to examine the textual mani-
festations of VN's concern with dates, fatidic and other. In
the pioneering study by Mints the accent remains mainly on
the factual dating of Blok's poems, but this is just one side
to the question.6 It will be argued below that dates (and cor-
responding numerals) may be functional in Nabokovian
writing on several textual levels.
(i) First of all, dates (and numerals) are functional within
the intratextual bounds of single works. An easy instance of
such numerical play is seen in the author's memoir where
events dating back to 1917, the year of the Russian revolu-

Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
tion {Speak, Memory E: 183; R: 167), are thematically linked
^th a much more distant incident from the Nabokov fam-
ily history, occurring in Paris after the French revolution in
the appropriately anagrammatical year 1791 (E: 56; R: 47).
Similar reshufflings of numerals are frequent in VN's fiction
and will be surveyed below.7
(ii) Secondly, dates function as intertextual nodes link-
ing together specific Nabokovian works and texts, mainly
by Pushkin but others as well, belonging to the classical canon
of Russian literature.
(iii) And thirdly, dates may be used as building blocks
for the construction of the author's public persona. In other
words, given dates become functional in the context of the
public mythology that VN kept assembling all through his
career as a Russian and American author. This notion will be
specified further on.
As if this were not all, many of the Nabokovian dates
also turn out to be polygenetic* in the sense that they derive
from multiple sources - or rather they may be observed func-
tioning simultaneously on each of the above levels
(intratextual, intertextual, mythological). Characteristic in-
stances of each type will be adduced next and special heed
will be given to potentially polygenetic links.
1.3. Twelve/Thirteen
Before we go on, a special note is still in order on the dis-
crepancy between the Julian (= Old Style) calendar observed
in Russia until 1918 and the Gregorian (= New Style) one
in use in most parts of Western Europe from the sixteenth
century onwards. As VN has taken care to explain to his
non-Russian readers (Speak, Memory E: 13-14; EO 1: xxvi),
the switch from the Old Style to the New involves an addi-

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
tioa of thirteen days to all Julian dates after the turn of the
past century, twelve to all nineteenth-century dates and so
forth in a diminishing sale - a fact to be reckoned with when
determining not only the fatidic dates of the author's per-
sonal history but also those of his fictional heroes. In Аид i t
is told that the hero's birthday "sidled by in a Gregorian dis-
guise (thirteen - no, twelve days late)" (67), and so also the
hero of A Busy Man is"slyly advised by the imps of the cal-
endar" to celebrate his birthday twelve, rather than thirteen,
days after the original date (E[DS]: 177; R[S]: 171).
One may notice that the alternation between twelve and
thirteen is elevated into a recurring motif in its own right in
our studied corpus. In the 1926 short story Л Nursery Tale
the hero Erwia makes a pact with the devil which requires
him to collect a non-even number of potential concubines.
He finds thirteen, but the last lady turns out to be the same
as the first, and he loses the game. Compare also the address
of Erwin's appointment with the devil (aptly, on Hoffmann
Street): "[...] between Number Twelve and Fourteen"
(EjTZ)]: 51; R[VC/&]: 59). Lolita, of course, is twelve when
Humbert Humbert meets her, and she abandons him at the
age of fourteen. There are thirteen stories in VN's collec-
tion Nabokov's Dozen (1958), as there are, in fact, in the
three subsequent collections published during the author's
lifetime, adding up to 4 x 13 = 52, which we will yet find to
be a signal figure indeed in the author's numerological and
mythical system.'
Such observations already verge on numerological magic,
but as the following survey is designed to show, the magic of
numbers is hardly a laughing matter for any devoted student
of Nabokovian writing.10

The St. Petersburg Text and Its Nabokovian Texture
2. Centennials
Let us start with some ostensibly plain instances which turn
out to be polygenetic. I will first look at Nabokovian
centennials and then move on to specific dates as text-link-
ing elements.
VN had a special fondness for linking events separated
by the one-hundred-year interval. Compare the note ap-
pended to I: iii, 14 of Eugene Onegin: "I vLetnii sad guliaf
vodil;"n "and to the Letniy Sad took him [= Eugene] for
walks" (EO 1: 96) - VN expressly points out that "there, a
hundred years later, [he], too, was walked by a tutor" (EO
2:41). Another instance of the "a hundred years later" for-
mula occurs in Speak, Memory when VN recalls parties at
the Crimea in the summer of 1918 - "which I was pleased to
believe conjured up the atmosphere of Pushkin's visit to the
Crimea a century earlier" (E: 248; omitted from R: 216). Or,
again, when he observes in his Flaubert lecture that Madame
Bovary was once tried in court for obscenity (this was the
time of L'Affaire Lolita): "Just imagine that. As if the work
of an artist could ever be obscene. I am glad to say that
Flaubert won his case. That was exactly a hundred years ago.
In our days, our times... But let me keep to my subject."
(Lectures 1:125)
In Pnin, the hero attends (together with the narrator) "on
one very festive and very wet night in 1952" a program ar-
ranged "on the occasion of the hundreth anniversary of a
great writer's death" (185-186). Which writer's? We do not

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
need to look far, since the answer is supplied elsewhere
VN's writing. His study of Gogol' famously opens with an
account of the subject's death: "Nikolai Gogol, the Strang,
est prose-poet Russia ever produced, died Thursday morn-
ing, a little before eight, on the fourth of March, eighteen
fifty-two in Moscow" (Nikolai Gogol, 1). Intra-novel clues
are provided by the dense Gogol' subtext threaded through
Pnin: the discourse "on Homer's and Gogol's use of the
Rambling Comparison" (186); the parody oiMertvye dushi
in the concluding paragraph; a dog named Sobakevich, and
so forth.12
There are additional links to the the author's biography:
from VN's published correspondence we know that he was
himself invited to participate in a symposium commemorat-
ing Gogol's death at Columbia University on March 6,1952
(Letters 1: 271-272).13 And the allusion branches towards
other Nabokovian novels as well. By a not entirely coinci-
dental coincidence, 1852 is the death year of Van Veen's great-
grandfather in Ada (cf. Family Tree, unpagin.). At the same
time, 1952 is the signal year in Lolita when all the protago-
nists are said to die and the story ends (cf. "The letter was
dated September 18, 1952" [E: 260; R: 247]).
Another centennial figures in VN's first Russian novel Mary
- or in this instance it seems that the fatidic year was added
by the author to the revised English version. The rooms of
the emigre pension in Berlin where the hero is staying are
numbered with leaves torn off a year-old calendar: "[...] the
first six days of April, 1923" (E: 5; R: 12 only reads "iz starogo
kalendaria" without any mention of the year). There is in-
ternal as well as intertextual motivation for this. It was a cen-
tury earlier that Pushkin had begun working on the first chap-
4* VW yy .

Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
ter of Eugene Onegin. The precise date was May 9,1823; VN
discusses this at some length in his Commentary noting that
«it was one of Pushkin's fatidic days" (?0 it 62).14 Mary is
headed by an epigraph from I: xlvii, 6-7 of Onegin:
- which is doubly appropriate, since the polysemous Rus-
sian noun roman applies equally well to Ganin's realization
that "his affair with Mary [roman ego s Mashen'koi] was ended
forever" (E: 114; R: 168) and to the decision of the author
to bring out his first Russian roman in English.
The fatidic year reoccurs in the English version of Glory,
where the hero's twenty-first birthday is "in mid-April 1923"
(E: 131; the year is missing from R: 152 which reads "v
aprel'skii den"'). And Humbert Humbert's fateful affair with
Annabel most probably took place on the Riviera in the sum-
mer of 1923 (Lolita E: 13; R: 3). On the plane of the au-
thor's biography, again, this is the year when he met his fu-
ture wife - an event commemorated in his 1923 poem Vstrecha
(Stikhi 1979: 106-107) and elsewhere.16 Compare also the
dating of the poem Pis'ma (Stikhi 1979: 85): "23.1.23."
Having recalled intrigues of former years,
having recalled a former love.
(E: ix)
The formula is given an additional twist in The Gift where
the text remains teasingly reticent about the precise time of
the narrated action. The narrative starts "One cloudy but
пш row »rr«l

100 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
luminous day, towards four in the afternoon on April the
first, 192-" (E: II; R: 9).17 By aid of somewhat involved cal-
culations we may try to determine the duration of the ac-
tion. At the end of Chapter Two, namely, it is told that Fyodor
had lived "exactly two years" in the Berlin apartment into
which he was seen moving as the novel began (E: 141; R:
163). And near the end of the novel Shchyogolev tells Fyodor
that they "had a year and a half of cohabitation" (in Fyodor's
second apartment, after Chapter Two; cf. E: 330; R: 391),
The latter reference is further specified as "four hundred and
fifty-five days" (E: 343; R: 407), i.e. one year and ninety days.
Altogether, the narrated action in The Gift must therefore
last three years plus three months, and the concluding epi-
sode behind the locked door of the Shchyogolev apartment
probably takes place on the 29th of June.18
But what year? This question has caused some contro-
versy among critics, mainly because of VN's own assertion
that his novel "starts on April 1,1926 and ends on June 29,
1929" (this statement occurs outside the novel; cf. VN's Pref-
ace to the English version of his story The Circle in RB, 254).
Most critics have gone along with the author's estimate while
there have also been attempts to show, on the basis of (some-
what arguable) "internal evidence," that the correct terminal
year should rather be 1928.19
I do not propose to "solve" the problem here (in fact, it
may not be solvable),20 but I would make another sugges-
tion, based on intertextual rather than internal evidence.
Among the multiple Russian subtexts in the novel, parodic
allusions to the life and work of Chernyshevski clearly have
a dominant position. Fyodor's embedded biography of the
writer concludes with a joint mention of Chernyshevski's
funeral and the year of his birth: "Sixty-one years had passed
since that year of 1828 when [...] a Saratov priest had noted
down in his prayer book: "July 12th, in the third hour of

Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
morning, a son born, Nikolay ..." (E: 284; R: 334). There-
fore, should the action in The Gift terminate in 1928, this
would be apt indeed - with regard to the one-hundred-year
formula - since the year marks the centennial of
Chernyshevski's birth. But, then again, 1829 would be equally
well motivated, as this turns out to be the forty-year jubileum
of the writer's death (1828 + 61 = 1889).
Contradictory clues inserted in the text of the novel
maintain the ambivalence. It is told, for example, that a pro-
Communist emigre newspaper reviewing Fyodor's book
devotes an article "to the celebration of the centenary of
Chernyshevski's birth" (E: 293; R: 345). So it might be 1928.
But, at the same time, it is indicated that none other than
Lenin had already once managed to shuffle the last digits of
Chernyshevski's birth and death years. Compare: "Lenin
considered Chernyshevski to be 'the one true great writer
who managed to remain on a level of unbroken philosophi-
cal materialism from the fifties right up until 1888' (he
knocked one year off)" (E: 234; R: 275; emphasis added). So
they might be commemorating his death as well. Does any-
one in the novel really know what year it is?21
3. Fatidic Dates
From centennials we move on to specific dates. For the sake
of easy reference the following remarks are ordered
January 1 (12/13)
The New Year's Day figures prominently in works by VN.
In Ada, Van Veen drops a reference to "[his] birth fifty-two
years and 195 days ago" (535), and on the basis of another
passage we may date this utterance: "Today is Monday, July

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
14, 1922" (551). Hence Van Veen was born on January i
1870. January 1 is also the shared birthdate of Vadim's daugh-
ter and his fourth wife in Look at the Harlequins! (226). Se-
bastian Knight was born on the eve of this day: "thirty-first
of December, 1899" (The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 5).
There is more. In Lolita, Humbert Humbert expounds:
"I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita for ever; but I also
knew she would not be for ever Lolita. She would be thir-
teen on January 1." (E: 65; R: 54) This connects rather inter-
estingly (from a numerological standpoint) with the shift-
ing twelve and thirteen in VN's writing. As VN has noted in
his Commentary to Eugene Onegin, there is much ado about
Tatiana's nameday in Chapters Four and Five of Pushkin's
work, and St. Tatiana's day is precisely January 12 (cf. EO 2:
486). But the events in Onegin observe the Julian calendar,
which lagged twelve days behind the Gregorian one in the
19th century when Tatiana celebrated her day and thirteen
when Lolita celebrated hers. In this way VN's seemingly in-
nocuous note in his Commentary gains an unexpected
intertextual dimension, linking the two fictional heroines
across calendric systems: "January 12,1799 and January 13,
1800, in the world at large would both be New Year's Day in
Russia" (EO 1: xxvi).22
January 5
This is another date growing intra- and intertextual limbs.
In Ada, we find that "Marina's affair with Demon Veen started
on his, her, and Daniel Veen's birthday, January 5,1868"(10).
According to VN's calculation in Commentary to Onegin
(EO 1: 42), January 5 is the probable date of Tatiana's pro-
phetic dream (in Chapter Five, prior to her nameday). This
also interrelates with VN's own memoir which is dated Janu-
ary 5, 1966 (Foreword to Speak, Memory E: 16), and in the

Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
text of the memoir we read that VN's sister Olga was born
January 5,1903 (49)." One might also discern a Biblical (and
Shakespearean) connection: this is Twelfth Night.
February 15
February 15 serves as the basis for often-noted narrative play
in Pnin. A mention of "Tuesday" triggers the following
narratorial digression: "Tuesday - true; but what day of the
month, we wonder. Pnin's birthday for instance fell on Feb-
ruary 3, by the Julian calendar into which he had been born
in St. Petersburg in 1898." (67) By the Gregorian calendar,
then, the hero's birthday should be twelve days later (= Feb-
ruary 15). Further on, the narrator returns to the same topic:
"This being Tuesday, [Pnin] could walk over to his favorite
haunt [= the college library] immediately after lunch and
stay there till dinner time" (72). And further: "As usual he
marched to the Periodicals Room and there glanced at the
news in the latest (Saturday, February 12 - and this was Tues-
day, О Careless Reader!) issue of the Russian-language daily"
In this manner, it is indicated that the careful reader
should be able to decipher, strictly on the basis of intra-novel
clues, that the narrated present coincides with the hero's
birthday (something that the hero himself apparently fails
to recognize; this narrative ploy is repeated at the conclu-
sion of the novel; cf. 186).24
At the same time, there are links to other novels by VN.
In Pale Fire (20), Kinbote is first introduced to Shade on
"February 16," 1959, i.e. February 3 В16-13) in Old Style
again. In Ada, it is on "February 3,1893 [New Style: 3+12
= 15]" (433) that Van Veen's affair with his sister is discov-
ered by Demon. And in VN's last novel, Vadim defines "the

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
moment of writing* as "February 15, 1974* (Look at the
Harlequins!, 168).
April 1
This date again takes us back to Russian literary history, for,
as VN tells us, it was Gogol' who "was born on the 1st of
April, 1809" (Nikolai Gogol, 150). Aside from being April
Fool's Day, this is a genuinely polygenetic instance, activat-
ing links into several directions. We remember the calendar
leaves marking the first six days of April in Mary; the room
occupied by Alfyorov - whom the hero aims to cuckold - is
numbered with April 1 (E: 5; R: 12). And we remember that
the action in The Gift begins "towards four in the afternoon
on April the first 192-" (E: 11; R: 9). This turns out to be
thematically motivated, since on this day an April Fool's joke
will be played on Fyodor (E: 37; R: 39). And there is
intertextual motivation as well. Compare the opening of
Pushkin's fragment Roman na kavkazskikh vodakh (1831):
"Vodno izpervykh chisel aprelia 181... goda [,..]."25
Hermann in Despair talks of having "made an April fool
of someone [= the reader]" (E: 34; no mention of April fool
in R: cf. 26), and when his "tale degenerates into a diary" (E:
218; R: 199) the date of his final entry turns out to be April
1st (E: 221; R: 201). This might parody Joyce (the entry
April 1 also occurs close to the end of A Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Man [1916]),26 but there are links to Russian lit-
erature as well. Turgenev's Dnevnik lishnego cheloveka (1850)
closes with a very Hermann-like monologue (in an entry
dated 1 aprelia)-. "Koncheno... zhizn'konchena. Ia tochno umru
segodnia. Na dvore zharko ... pochti dushno ... ili uzhe grud'
moia otkazyvaetsia dyshatMoia malen'kaia komediia
razygrana. Zanaves padaet."27

Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
The April Fool motif occurs once more in the 1930 story
The Aurelian where the hero's dream is almost fulfilled on "a
certain first of April, of all dates" (E[ND]: 83; R[SJs 199
reads less suggestively "v seryi i syroi aprel'skii den").
All readers of Lolita know that Lolita abandons Humbert
on the Fourth of July (cf. "[...] there was some great na-
tional celebration in town judging by the fire crackers" [E:
239,242-243; R: 226,228-229}), and the next day Humbert
embarks on his quest. This coincides with Pale Fire where
Shade's and, presumably, Kinbote's birthday falls on July 5
(13, 157-163); Shade completes Canto one of his poem on
July 4, 1959 (13), and on July 5 Gradus is said to have de-
parted on his mission (74). In Pnin, the date is assigned to
Pnin's first heart attack: it occurred on "July 5,1920" (21).
This is a fatidic date within the fictive universe of King,
Queen, Knave. In the revised English version of the novel it
is told that "King, Queen, Knave" - the film within the novel
- is scheduled to open on July 15 (E: 212; no mention of the
film in R). Bits of information interspersed along the narra-
tive allow us to deduce that this is also the day when the
action in the novel ends and Martha dies (cf. "tomorrow or
the day after tomorrow" [E: 261]).
The date game again gains intertextual momentum when
we learn (from the biographical note appended to VN's Eng-
lish rendering of A Hero of Our Time, unpagin.) that this -
July 15, 1841 - was also the date of Lermontov's death. In
Pale Fire, Gradus arrives at the Cote d'Azur airport "in the
early afternoon of July 15, 1959* (25Q), and in the index
July 4/5
July 15

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
Kinbote is described waiting "vainly for S [hade] on July 15^»
(312). We should add that this also happens to be St.
Vladimir's Day. The 1931 story A Bad Day takes place, pre-
cisely, on Vladimir Kozlov's nameday (cf. E[Z)5]: 33; R[n.
July 20/21
In the definitive English version of his autobiography VN
determined the year of his father's birth as 1870 and the date
as July 20 {Speak, Memory E: 173; omitted from R).28 In
Old Style this would be July 8 (= 20-12), which turns out to
be the birthday of Fyodor's father in The Gift (E: 103; R:
118). This, again, would be July 21 (= 8 + 13) in New Style
in our century: Ada's birthday (Ada, 6) as well as the date of
Van Veen's ultimate visit to a floramor ("this twenty-first of
July nineteen- four or eight" [358]), and - in Pale Fire - the
day when Shade finishes his poem and is shot down by the
assassin Gradus (13).
October 19
In Pale Fire, Kinbote dates his Foreword "Oct. 19, 1959"
(29). VN has commented on this in an interview: "I think it
is so nice that the day on which Kinbote committed suicide
(and he certainly did after putting the last touches to his
edition of the poem) happens to be [...] the anniversary of
Pushkin's Lyceum [...]" (Strong Opinions, 74). In Commen-
tary to Eugene Onegin (EO 3:129-131) VN verifies that the
Alexander Lyceum indeed started to operate on October 19,
1811, and that "the anniversary of this date was to be piously
celebrated by Pushkin."2® From Roman Jakobson we learn,
in addition, that Pushkin may have burnt the last canto of
Onegin, "[his] last overt poetic memory of the Decembrist

Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
belli0*1" on October 19;30 compare Shade's having suppos-
edly burnt the Zembla variants of his poem (Pale Fire, 15).
A y]sj belongs to the class of authors once defined by Boris
Tomashevskii as writers with biographies (as distinct from
those "without biographies").31 Tomashevskii writes:
For a writer with a biography, the facts of the
author's life must be taken into consideration.
Indeed, in the works themselves the juxtaposi-
tion of the texts and the author's biography
plays a structural role. [...] Thus the biography
that is useful to the literary historian is not the
author's curriculum vitae or the investigator's
account of his life. What the literary historian
really needs is the biographical legend created by
the author himself?1
In other words, since VN (again with Pushkin) is definitely
among the class of writers with biographies, diverse bio-
graphical data may acquire a textual status in his writings.
Opinions, literary tastes, linguistic quirks, as well as personal
names, dates, and other documentary realia may be appro-
priated as materials in the shaping of the author's persona.
And as any other textual construct the persona maybe overtly
evoked in literature, alluded to, or treated parodically.33
As regards dates, there are instances where given anni-
versaries, years and related numerical combinations become
an integral part of such authorial play.34 Here, I will concen-
trate on two cases that prove to be profoundly polygenetic:

108 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
(i) VN's own birth date; and (ii) the date of his father's
April 23, 1899
VN succeeded in textualizing his birth date to the point where
its documentary veracity becomes a secondary matter. In
Speak, Memory (E: 13-14) the author arrives, via compari-
sons between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, at April
23,1899, which is now recognized as the official date of his
birth. This means that the original date (Old Style) must
have been April 10, to which twelve days would have been
added in the last century and thirteen in the present - a nu-
merical fact that, we remember, is made much of in VN's
fiction (Pnin's birthday "sidling by in its Gregorian disguise,"
etc.). It should be of less consequence, then, that one of the
last official Soviet Encyclopedias still gave the date as "12
(24). 4. 1899,"36 since our inquiry here concerns only the
biographical legend created by the author himself
From VN's critical writing we notice that the author was
fond of pointing out occurrences of this date throughout
literary and cultural history. In Commentary to The Song of
Igor's Campaign (1С, 1, 86, 93) VN reports thrice the fact
(if it is a fact) that it was on "Tuesday, April 23, 1185" that
Igor set out with his troops.37 On other occasions (Speak,
Memory E: 13-14; Lectures 3: 8,25) he has pointed out that
April 23 is the hypothetical birth date (and death date) of
Shakespeare38 - as well as the death date of the author of
Don Quixote, though VN concedes that Cervantes and
Shakespeare "died by different calendars" (Lectures 3: 25).
Neither was VN averse to noting that his birth year marks
the centennial of Pushkin's birth (the one-hundred-year for-
mula is with us again).

Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
Both the year and the date turn up under varied numeri-
cal guises in the studied corpus.
This is the birth year of Sebastian Knight (The Real Life of
Sebastian Knight, 5) as well as that of Vadim in Look at the
Harlequins! (he says he was one year old in 1900 [123]). In
the 1944 story .A Forgotten Poet (ND, 29) 1899 figures as the
anniversary of the forgotten Perov's death (50 years earlier).
In Ada, Van Veen's grandfather Dedalus was born in 1799
(cf. Family Tree), one century after the progenitor of the
Veen clan, Prince Vseslav Zemski (born 1699; cf. Family Tree
and 43).
One should also notice VN's overall fondness for the
numeral "999" (*= [1 + 8] 99). This is the number of lines in
John Shade's text, and in another poem he writes:
"Streetlamps are numbered, and maybe / Number nine-hun-
dred-ninety-nine / if.] is an old friend of mine" (Pale Fire,
192). Elsewhere, Kinbote inserts a comment on the "three-
thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-ninth time" that Shade vis-
its his wife's bedroom (157). Pnin's last address in Waindell
is "nine hundred ninety nine, Todd Road" (Pnin, 151). And
Lolita diverts Humbert's attention with a reference to the
odometer: 'Oh, look, all the nines are changing into the next
thousand" (Lolita E: 214; R: 200). Compare also the "Thou-
sand Pieces Execution" discussed by VN in Nikolai Gogol:
it is again based on the idea of "havfing] the patient live to
the nine hundred ninety ninth piece" (39).
April 23
The specific date (= 23. 4.) allows for more extended nu-
merological play. In Ada, it is told that Demon and Aqua

too Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
married in 1869 "on St. George's Day" (19), which is April
23, and later mad Aqua remembers having been married "ever
since Shakespeare's birthday" (26). The date is also trans-
lated back, as it were, into Old Style: "By April 10 [= 23 —
13] it was Aqua who was nursing [Demon]" (15). Demon
will visit Ardis on April 23,1884 (237), and April 23,1922 is
the date when Andrey Vinelander dies, leaving Ada free to
rejoin her brother (551).39 In VN's last novel, April 23,1930
marks both the death of Vadim's first wife Iris and his deci-
sion to abandon English as his domestic tongue (Look at the
Harlequins/, 65,69-70,124).
What is more, these numerals may be incorporated
anagrammatically in the text. In Lolita, they turn up in the
Hazes' address "342 Lawn Street" (E: 37; R: 26); in the
number of the hotel room (342) shared by Humbert and
Lolita at The Enchanted Hunters (E: 118; R: 105), and else-
where: Humbert is said to have spent "1,234" dollars on gas
during their travels together (E: 172; R: 158). In Look at the
Harlequins!, again, Vadim mentions having visited "Sterling,
Fort Morgan (El. 4325)" (170). And in the novella The En-
chanter the very Humbert-like hero, bedazzled by a nym-
phet, imagines picking up a newspaper "dated the 32nd" (E:
50; R: 21).40
Life again correlates with fiction. Even the numerals of
the Nabokov telephone number in pre-Revolution St.
Petersburg become part of the anagrammatical pattern. In
Speak, Memory VN tells us that the number was - magically
enough - "24-43,dvadtsat chetyre sorok tri" (E: 235; R: 203).41
March 28,1922
We come to the other signal date linking VN's persona and
his fiction. In the English version of his memoir VN plays a

Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
textual game with the date of his father's death in a shooting
incident in Berlin.42 In Chapter Two he starts telling how on -
the night of March 28,1922 around ten o'clock,
in the living room where as usual my mother
was reclining on the red-plush corner couch, I
happened to be reading to her Blok's verse on
Italy - had just got to the end of the little poem
about Florence, which Blok compares to the
delicate, smoky bloom of an iris, and she was
saying over her knitting, Tes, yes, Florence does
look like a dimniy iris, how true.431 remember
-' when the telephone rang. (Speak, Memory E:
49; omitted from R: cf. 41)
Here the narrative breaks off, and the story line is resumed
only in Chapter Nine when VN reports that V. D. Nabokov
"was killed by an assassin's bullet on March 28,1922, in Ber-
gj (E: 173; omitted from R).44
This date has been most consistently evoked by VN in
his writings. The poem Evening on a Vacant Lot (dedicated
"In memory of V D. N.," E [PP]: 69; no dedication in R[Stikhi
1979]: cf. 246) is dated 1932: i.e. the tenth anniversary of V
D. Nabokov's death. The story Orache (E[Z)S]: 23-55; R[S]:
104-115) |§ modelled on the history of V D. Nabokov's
thwarthed duel in St. Petersburg (cf. Speak, Memory E: 188-
193; R: 173-177) - also came out in 1932. VN dated his Fore-
word to the English version of The Gift (E: 9) "March 28,
1962" - the fortieth anniversary of his father's death - and
the Foreword to King, Queen, Knave (E: ix) "March 28,
1967:" the forty-fifth anniversary.45 April 1 - a genuinely
polygenetic date as we have seen - gains still additional reso-
nance when we learn that V D. Nabokov was buried on this

Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
The year of the fatal incident is incorporated in diverse
ways in the plotting of VN's fiction.47 Ada and Van Veen are
reunited - when Andrey Vinelander dies - in 1922 (Ada, 536)
Van Veen is fifty-two, the same age as V D. Nabokov at the
time of his death (Van's birth year is given as 1870 in the
Family Tree). 1922 is also the year of the "last and fatal op-
eration" of V's mother in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
(8). In Look at die Harlequins! (3) this is Vadim's "last Cam-
bridge year" (as it was of VN's; compare the mention of
"[his] last and saddest spring" in Speak, Memory E: 270; R:
230 omits "saddest" ["i> posledniuiu moiu kembridzhskuiu
We should still notice the polyvalent significance of "52."
In Lolita, Clare Quilty's shifting licence plate numbers in-
clude "Q 32888" and "CU 88322" (E: 245; in R: 232 the
numerals are altered), which activates several intra-novel
correspondences (e.g. with the fake phone number "2-82-
82" [E: 229; R: 216]) as well as a link to the year (19)52 (=
the sum total of the numerals in the plates) when the action
of the novel terminates and all three main characters die.48
But there is again a more covert, cryptic link here to the
death of the author's father: having once started looking,
one can hardly avoid noticing a strangely anagrammatical
resemblance to the fateful date 28.3. (19)22. And when this
connection has been noted a network of other intertextual
possibilities spreads out. These might be summed up as
shown in Figure 3 on the basis of the foregoing survey.

Nabokov 'г Poetics of Dates
Figure 3
Lolita: 1952 = the year when the protagonists die;
52 = the sum total of the numerals in Quilty's li-
cence plates.
?Lolita + Speak, Memory: an anagrammatical con-
/ nection between the licence plate numbers (32888
f&c 88322) and 28. 3, (19)22.
/ / Speak, Memory: 52 = V. D. Nabokov's age on the
I / / day of his death.
/ / Ada + Speak, Memory: Van Veen and Ada are reu-
II/ . nited in 1922: Van Veen = 52.
у __ The Real Life of Sebastian Knight + Speak, Memory:
(19)52t v's mother dies in 1922.
Wl Look at the Harlequins! + Speak, Memory: 1922 >=
v\ Vadim's last year at Cambridge & the year when he
Yyy meets Iris (cf. Sirin/ V Irisin anddymnyi iris [Blok]).
\\\ Pnin: 1952 = Pnin attends the centerary of Gogol's
\\ death.
\ Ada: 1852 = the year when Erasmus Veen dies.
"Nabokov's Dozen:" 52 = 4 x 13, the number of
VN's collected English short stories.

112 Russian Subtexts in Nabokov's Fiction
What's that got to do with anything?
ECO, Foucault's Pendulum49
5. Such a numerological search inevitably calls forth the
question of thematic relevance and interpretation. Or per-
haps we should speak outright of overinterpretation, since it
is evident that this sort of investigation will eventually take
us towards unlimited and uncheckable intertextuality- some-
thing that semiotic theorists like Eco (most urgently in his
Limits of Interpretation) have kept warning us against.50
But even if one agrees with Eco and other theorists that
literary interpretation requires at least some limits, I don't
feel that the problem of relevance needs to be broached in
more detail here. VN's poetic strategy has always thriven on
textual polygenesis: the possibility of ever new combinations
lurking behind the visible fagade of the discovered ones. Who
would want to limit them? More aptly, one may invoke here,
as a conclusion to this chapter - and this study - the famous
lines from Pale Fire where the interpreter's concern with lim-
its is already anticipated: *[...] this / Was the real point, the
contrapuntal theme; / Just this: not text, but texture; not
the dream / But topsy-turvical coincidence" (62-63). Or,
closer to the question of textual dates, which are but labels
for those temporal coincidences through which life and li-
brary may become one, compare the radiant finale of VN's
The Paris Poem (1943):
In this life, rich in patterns (a life
unrepeatable, since with a different
cast, in a different manner,
in a new theater it will be given),

Nabokov's Poetics of Dates
no better joy would I choose than to fold
its magnificent carpet in such a fashion
as to make the design of today coincide
with the past, with a former pattern,
in order to visit again - oh, not
commonplaces of those inclinations,
not the map of Russia, and not a lot
of nostalgic equivocations g
but, by finding congruences with the remote,
to visit my fountainhead,
to bend and discover in my childhood
the end of the tangled-up thread.
And carefully then to unravel myself
as a gift, as a marvel unfurled,
and become once again the middle point
of the many-pathed, loud-throated world.
And by the bright din of birds
by the jubilant window-framed lindens
by their extravagant greenery,
by the sunlight upon me and in me,
by the white colossi that rush through the blue
straight at me - as I narrow my eyes -
by all that sparkle and all that power
my present moment to recognize.
(E [PP]: 123-125; R [Stikhi 1979]: 273-274)

Unless otherwise indicated, the transla '
?by the author of this study. М1°П8 froin the Russian are
1. Invitation to a Decoding. Dostoeml
Nabokov's Priglashenie nakazn' * ext m
This chapter is a reorganized, rewritten and Я 1
Tammi 1986aand 1991. rethought version of
I" F°r theA efi0nS 1 Nabokov's works used 1 this study see
References A. Page references to these editions wiU be placed in
parentheses in the text, and - when necessary - the English and
Russian versions will be denoted by E and R. The author will be
henceforth identified by his initials.
2. Pushkin 1969 (5: 159). The excerpt appears in a section of
The Life of Chernyshevski studded with other references to
Egipetskie nochi. Cf. The Gift E: 245-246; R: 287-289.
3.1 have in mind studies like Avtometaopisanie и Akhmatovoi
by Timenchik (1975) or Russkaia semanticheskaia poetika kak
potentsial'naia kul'turnaia paradigma by Levin - Segal - Timenchik
- Toporov - Tsiv'ian (1974). More recently, this notion has been
applied by semiotically-informed students of VN. So e.g. Dolinin
(1995a: 32), in an incisive study of Lolita, writes that "almost any
phrase [in this case, in Chapter 27 of the novel] might be decoded
as an 'auto-meta-descriptor' referring to the text itself." For addi-
tional remarks cf. Medaric 1996b; LukSid 1996; Lipovetsku 1997:
664-665. Ir.r
4. There is a corresponding instance in The АнЯШМГ
tian Knight, presupposing at least a rudimentary №f№
English literary history: "Sebastian speaking of his ^jg
[...] explained that it was about a fat young student who travels

Notes to pages 11-14
home to find his mother married to his uncle; this uncle, an ear-
specialist, had murdered the student's father. Mr. Goodman misses
the joke." (61)
5. Nabokov'sRussian Games (Karlinsky 1971:2); also available
in Roth 1984: cf. 86.1 do not intend to delve into the archaeology
of Nabokov studies here - a vast topic. Those critical sources that
are relevant to the present approach will be identified in the course
of the subsequent analyses.
6. For an ampler, theoretically-oriented account of Taranovsky's
system see my Text, Subtext, Intertext (Tammi 1991).
7. Sil'man 1969a: 84.
8. Sil'man 1969a: 84; cf. also 84-86 and 1969b. For more on the
prehistory of the concept see Ronen 1983: xi-xii and passim.
9. We might notice that the first programmatic statement on
this topic by Taranovsky (1967) appeared in one of the central
documents of hard-core structuralism, To Honor Roman Jakobson.
10. Work done by Taranovsky's students and other analysts of
Mandel'shtam has been collected in Jakobson et al. 1973; see es-
pecially the essays by Broyde and Ronen. The most substantial
study produced within this framework is the nearly 400-page analy-
sis of two Mandel'shtam poems by Ronen (1983), where the link-
ages of these poems with other literary texts are traced through
the entire history of Russian letters.
11. E.g. Levinton 1971a and b, 1981, 1988; Mints 1972, 1974;
Timenchik 1981. Compare also the anthology Tekstv tekste (Iu.
M. Lotman et al. 1981). The theoretical premises of Taranovsky's
book have been considered from the standpoint of what was once
(in the bad old days) called "Soviet" structuralism, by Levinton
and Timenchik 1978; M. Iu. Lotman 1984. In the West the Soviet
formulations have been surveyed by Rusinko 1979; Baran 1985;
Oraic 1988. A book-length monograph by Smirnov (1985) pro-
vides an excellent summary of the structuralist position along with
original theoretical propositions. More recent developments are
traced in Text counter Text by Zholkovsky 1994; on the difference
- at least in emphasis - between Slavic subtextualists and Western
poststructuralist theoreticians of intertextuality see esp. 1-14.
12. Levinton and Timenchik 1978: 197; M. Iu. Lotman 1984:
13. E. g. Timenchik's studies on Russian Acmeist poetics (1974,
1977,1981); Levinton's analysis of a poem by A. K. Tolstoi (1971b);

117 Notes to pages 11-14

Mints's essay on Blok (1972), or Zholkovsky's articles on Pasternak
(1976) and Brodsky (1986). The book by Zholkovsky (1994)
presents a far-ranging approach to an entire pleiad of Russian
modernist poets and prosaists in terms of their "rewriting" of their
prececessors; VN is also discussed (110-113), though in a some-
what perfunctory manner. For other specifically subtextual ap-
proaches to VN's prose, cf. below n. 30.
14. Standard Western bibliographies of intertextual studies usu-
ally contain no mention of the work done by Slavists. Cf. Perri et
al. 1979; Bruce 1983; Hebel 1989; Mai 1991. The same tends to be
true of 1 otherwise valuable - semiotically oriented surveys like
Culler 1981; Angenot 1983; Morgan 1985; Calinescu 1987; Plett
15. Taranovsky 1976: 6. This is the "working hypothesis"
(Ronen 1983: ix) accepted by the members of the school.
16. Taranovsky 1976: 114.
17. Ronen 1973: 376, 384; 1983: xii.
18. Taranovsky 1976: 14-15.
19. Taranovsky 1976: 15.
20. Taranovsky 1976: 18.
21. Taranovsky 1976: 18.
22. H. Meyer 1968: 7-8.
23. Taranovsky 1976: 7. Similarly Levinton (1971a: 52) writes
that subtextual analysis should concern itself only with "that type
of an inclusion of an element from 'the foreign text' into 'one's
own text' which changes the semantic design of the studied work,"
whereas "the borrowing [of a source] does not change the seman-
tic design of the quoting text" and falls principally outside the
scope of the analysis. In addition, the borderline between subtext
and source has been probed by Zholkovsky 1976: 81; Levinton
and Timenchik 1978:205; Timenchik 1981:69-70; Levinton 1988:
24. Cf. Mints (1972: 128): "A quotation is a constituent ele-
ment in the artistic system of a given author, and in order to deci-
pher its meaning one must discover not only 'where it came from,'
but also the rules according to which the quotation is incorpo-
rated into the author's opus and what its aesthetic functions are."
25. Taranovsky 1976: 4.
26. Taranovsky 1967; cf. 1976: 83-114.
27. M. I u. Lotman 1984: 136; emphasis added.

Notes to pages 11-14
28. Ronen 1973: 379; Mints 1974: 137.
29. See Mints's (1972) study of the relations between Blok and
Gogol', which evolves into an analysis of a dialogue between cul-
tural epochs. For useful summary remarks cf. Smirnov 1985: 22
30.1 take this to hold true for all subtextual analysis, but the
rule may acquire special significance when one is dealing with such
self-consciously modernist writers as Mandel'shtam and VN. The
collusion between the two authors' allusive (and other) practices
would probably merit further study - as was indeed suggested by
Levinton and Timenchik (1978: 207) who, in the margin of their
theoretical discussion, singled out VN's "tsitatn [aia] arlekinad[a]"
as a possible object for this type of inquiry. For another pioneer-
ing approach to the question of VN's Russian subtexts, see the
recently resurfaced article by Levinton (1997; originally written
in Leningrad in 1973, cf. 308-310), containing a number of ex-
tremely important methodological clues. This footnote may be as
good a place as any for acknowledging my debt to other critical
studies published since the initial version of the present chapter
came out; among such works the excellent Primechaniia by Dolinin
and Timenchik (1989) in the first scholarly Soviet edition of VN's
prose seems to me especially valuable, as do the many subsequent
studies on the topic by Dolinin (detailed in the footnotes below).
My remarks are designed to amplify some of these suggestions
and to take them to the domain of practical criticism.
31. Despite the enormous amount of exegesis done on Lolita
by American critics, the allusion has usually eluded more schol-
arly efforts as well. I have commented on this example earlier in
my Nabokov's Lolita. The Turgenev Subtext (Tammi 1981a).
32. Turgenev 1978-1986 (6:157-158).
33. Turgenev 1978-1986 (6:102-107).
34. Compare e.g. the reference to "Turgenevian benches" in
Speak, Memory (E: 135; omitted from R) or the polemic with the
afore-quoted description of the composer Lemm: "Somehow, dur-
ing my secluded years in Germany, I never came across those gen-
tle musicians of yore who, in Turgenev's novels, played their rhap-
sodies far into the summer night" (E: 278; again omitted from R).
When Pnin discusses Turgenev's poem in prose: 'How fair, how
fresh were the roses'" (Pnin, 42; cf. 147), this evokes a whole se-
ries of allusions to the same subtext elsewhere in VN; compare

119 Notes to pages 11-14

nespair: '"How fair, how fresh were the roses' to the accompani-
ment of the piano. So may I trouble you for a little music" (E:
116-117; R: 103); The Event: "How beautiful, how fresh the roses
re" (E: 211-212; R: 81): or - the earliest occurrence - the 1923
poem /z mira upolzli: "I lannerovskii val's ne mozhet zaglushit'... /
Otkuda? - Ukhodi... Ne nado ... / Kak byli khoroshi..." (Stikhi
1979: 124). The specific subtext in this instance is to be found in
Turgenev's Poemy vproze (1883); cf. Turgenev 1978-1986 (10:167-
35. "He is not a great writer, though a pleasant one" (Lectures
2: 68); VN's second lecture in this volume is in its entirety de-
voted to a somewhat harsh treatment of Turgenev's writings. Cf.
also the lampoon of "the weak blond prose of Turgenev" in VN's
letter of 28 November, 1944 to Edmund Wilson (Letters 1: 53) or
his devastating assessment of Bunin's prose: "nizhe Turgeneva"
(from a letter of 2 February, 1951 to Mark Aldanov; Letters to
Aldanov, 140).
36. Similar games with non-Russian texts, in particular with
works by Edgar Allan Рое and Prosper Merimee, have been quite
thoroughly explicated by previous analysts of Lolita. We might
notice that there is a secondary link to Russian literature here,
since Merimee was also the French translator of many Russian
authors, Turgenev among them. Cf. Chapter Two (sect. 13) of the
present study.
37. Published in 1959, Invitation to a Beheading was VN's first
Russian novel to be rendered into English after the success of
Lolita. The author is here continuing a long-standing feud with
comparativism. As early as in a 1930 interview, when asked whether
he considered Proust to have had the greatest influence on the
literature of "our epoch," VN had replied with deconstructive re-
marks on the notion of influence: "Mne kazhetsia, chto sudit' oh
etom nevozmozhno: epokha nikogda ne byvaet 'nashei.' [...]
Literaturnoe vliianie - temnaia i smutnaia veshch' [...]" (Anketa о
Pruste, cf. 272,274). Should we add that a certain "influence" might
be detected behind such anti-influence pronouncements as well?
Compare Voina i mir (Part Two: III: xxi): "Da, etopravda, kniaz';
v nashe vremia, -prodolzhala Vera (upominaia о nashem vremeni,
kak voobshche liubiat upominat' ogranichennye liudi, polagaiushchie
chto oni nasbli i otsenili osobennosti nashego vremeni i chto svoistva

121 Notes to pages 11-14
Hudei izmeniaiutsia so vremenem) [...]" (Tolstoy 1978-1985 [5.
38. Bit.villi 1936: csp. 193-198; the article is also available in
English in Appel and Newman 1971: 102-118.
39. Osokin 1939: 198.
40. Foster 1974: 117-118; Shapiro 1980. Compare VN: "Des-
perate Russian critics, trying hard to find an Influence and to pi-
geonhole my own novels, have once or twice linked me up with
Gogol, but when they looked again, I had untied the knots and
the box was empty." (Nikolai Gogol, 155)
41. Л Hall of Mirrors. Nabokov and Olesba (Nilsson 1969: esp.
10-11); ticlyj & Nabokov. A Comparative Overview (Johnson 1981:
42. To my knowledge the sole exception would be the article
Russkie htcraturnye alliuzii v romane Nabokova I*riglashenie na
kazn' by Shapiro (1981). This study contains valuable observa-
tions on allusions to Pushkin, Tiutchev, and Chekhov, along with
still other Russian writers. The occurrences of Dostoevsky as a
major subtext are not recorded, however, and I will try to con-
tinue from where previous research left off. Since the writing of
the initial version ol the present chapter (and this footnote), how-
ever, several important new studies on Invitation to a Beheading
have come out. No one should miss the fine collection of critical
articles on the novel edited by Connolly (1997: with a useful in-
troduction by the editor, 3-44) or the magisterial essays by
Barabtarlo 1993: cf. 21-37; Davydov 1995a; Johnson 1997. Recent
publications by scholars in Russia (cf. Zlochevskaia 1995; Smirnova
1997) duplicate some of the findings in my earlier version. I have
done my best 10 augment the subtextual discussion that follows
with the insights proffered in these new studies. Cf. also below, n.
43. For the notion of a marker (in the sense of an allusion
marker) of. Ben-l'orat 1976: 108-109; Perri 1978: 290; Hebel 1991:
142-145. Russian investigators have tended to treat all such in-
stances as cases of "quotation" (tsitata, tsitatnosf), which is not
altogether accurate. Cf. Oraid 1988; typical uses of the term in a
global sense are seen in Mints's (1972,1974) studies.
44. A straightforward interpretation suggested by the ЈmigrЈ
critic Varshavskiy before many more recent commentators, in his
book Netamechennoe pokoleme (1956: 220-222).

121 Notes to pages 11-14

45. Cf. Cincinnatus's lamentation: "I am here through an error
_ not in this prison, specifically - but in this whole terrible, striped
world" (E: 91; R: 81). Elsewhere it is said that he is entrapped by
"the sphere of [his] own self" (E: 89; R: 79). The notion of hu-
man existence as an emblematic prison is common, of course, and
it has always figured prominently in Nabokovian writing. As the
author states in a famous passage from his memoir, we should
realize that "the prison of time is spherical and without exits"
|Speak, Memory E: 20; R: 11). In his lecture The Art of Literature
and Commonsense VN had spoken of "the prison wall of the ego
suddenly crumbling away with the nonego rushing in from the
outside to save the prisoner - who is already dancing in the open"
(Lectures 1: 378), and varieties of this metaphor recur throughout
his fiction. Compare Ultima Thule (written in 1940) E{RB): 150;
| (VF) 1274-275; The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 43; Bend Sinis-
ter, 152, 155-156, 159; Pale Fire, 227; or The Gift: "Oh, swear to
me to put in dreams your trust, and to believe in fantasy alone,
and never let your soul in prison rust, nor stretch your arm and
say: a wall of stone" (E: 170; R: 199). Mandel'shtam, too, em-
ployed this metaphor in a famous poem ("Dano mne telo [...]")
from the 1913 Kamen': "Ia i sadovnik, ia zhe i tsvetok, / Vtemnitse
mira ia ne odinok" (Mandel'shtam 1967-1971 [1: 6]).
46. Dostoevsky 1972-1988 (8: 21). The initial source for such
reflections is to be found, as everyone knows, from Dostoevsky's
personal experience. For VN's comments on this incident see Lec-
tures 2: 100.
47. Dostoevsky 1972-1988 (8: 52).
48. Interestingly, there may also be biographical motivation
behind the subtextual play. Boyd (1990: 34-35) has unearthed a
1922 article by V. D. Nabokov reiterating his lifelong opposition
to capital punishment, and if we take a look at this text (reprinted
in The Nabokovian; cf. Barabtarlo 1990: 54) we find Nabokoypere
bolstering his stand with a precise mention of "the wonderful pages
of Dostoievsky in 'The Idiot.'" It is also interesting - if perhaps
not much else - to learn (from Speak, Memory E: 53 and Lectures
2: 100; cf. also Boyd 1990: 19) that before Dostoevsky's mock
trial took place the commission investigating his case was pre-
sided over by VN's own ancestor (= his paternal great-grandfa-
ther, General Ivan Aleksandrovich Nabokov [1787-1852]). Still
other predecessors, historical as well as literary-historical, have

123 Notes to pages 11-14
been proposed by Alexandrov (1991:225) in his comparative over-
view of VN and Gumilev, and by Dolinin (1997a and b) who points
to intriguing affinities between Invitation and texts by Nodier and
Carlyle (the beheading of Louis XVI as narrated in Carlyle's The
French Revolution). These are possible parallels, adding to the sub-
structure of cultural echoes in VN's novel (though we might no-
tice that Louis's beheading wasn't cancelled). But I would still opt
for Dostoevsky's work as the dominant, thematically motivating
49. I.e. the Russian original did not read *etu idiotskuiu p'esu.
This is a straightforward instance of the tendency noted by previ-
ous theorists. The use of given subtexts always presupposes a cer-
tain cultural competence on the part of the reader. Or, as
Mandel'shtam is reported to have said: "If you would read me,
you must have my culture" (cited by Taranovsky 1976:4). Gf. also
Ronen 1973:376; Broyde 1973:50-51. It is possible, however, that
an author may deem it necessary to instruct his readers in the act
of decoding, and such built-in instructions are a regular feature in
VN's English renderings of his Russian fiction. A number of ex-
amples will yet be seen in the chapters below.
50. This choice of a title is lampooned elsewhere in VN's writ-
ing. The narrator in the revised English version of Despair refers
sarcastically to "old Dusty's great book, Crime and Slime" (E:
187; "Krov' i Sliuni' in R: 169) and - aptly - to "Crime and Pun"
(E: 211; no corresponding title in R). In an unpublished letter of
22 February, 1966 to The Encounter VN suggested entitling his
essay on translations of Pushkin "Rhyme and Punishment" (Let-
ters 3: 386).
51. The patronymic might disclose a secondary extra-literary
referent. Invitation is hardly a political allegory, but we may none-
theless suspect that the lawyer's first name could just as well be
"Iosif." For another, literary-historical, referent cf. The Gift:
"Belinski (Vissarion, of course)" (E: 241; R: 283).
52. Le. "Rodia" (as Raskol'nikov is addressed in a letter from
his mother in Part One, Chapter Three of Prestuplenie; Dostoevskii
1972-1988 [6:27]), In addition, Cincinnatus's executioner "M'sieur
Pierre* (E: 81; R: 71) carries a thematic resemblance to the police
inspector Porfirii Petrovich who torments Raskol'nikov with his
feigned camaraderie throughout the investigation. In fact, M'sieur

123 Notes to pages 11-14

Pierre is at one point overtly addressed as (Petr) "Petrovich" (E:
168; R: 154).
53. "'Talking of axes,' said the Duchess, 'chop off her head!"'
(Carroll [1865] 1976: 83). As has been pointed out, in VN's own
1923 Russian translation of Alice this pun didn't quite come off
(cf. Ania v strane chudes, 53; Connolly 1995: 22). But we might
add that the original wordplay from Priglashenie was reapplied more
than four decades later by Vera Nabokov in her rendering of
"Please, dip or redip, spider" (from Pale Fire, 162) into "bez ropota,
bez topora" (Pale Fire R: 155).
54. The analogy was first suggested by Ivask 1961:139; Struve
1967: 48.
55. Most notably in Despair and The Eye, but also in Lolita,
Pnin, Look at the Harlequins! and elsewhere. The narrator in De-
spair even plans to entitle his own narrative "The Double," but he
declines on the sound basis that Russian literature possesses one
already: "'Dvoinik?' No eto uzhe imeetsia" (R: 192; cf. E: 211).
The theme of Dostoevskian doubles in Despair and The Eye has
been traced in several studies by Connolly (1982,1986,1991 and
1992: 103-104) and, again, by Basilashvili (1997) who suggests a
number of new quotations from Dostoevsky. To my knowledge,
the adherence of Invitation to this pattern has not been noted.
56. Dostoevsky 1972-1988 (1: 229).
57. E: 40, 69,193,198,211; R: 34,59-60,177,181,193.
58. Mirrors and reflections have been among the staple motifs
of much Russian modernist writing. For more on this, see Nilsson
1969. In prefacing the English version of The Eye VN aptly termed
his novel "a hell of mirrors" (E: 9-10). Compare the image of
"labirint zerkal" in Peterburg (1913,1922) byBelyi (1978:135).
59. Cf. also E: 20,32,46,48,66,78,115,119,134,171,194; R:
15, 27, 38, 41, 57, 68, 103, 108,122,157,178. There are sixteen
mentions altogether.
60. For discussions of the moth-and-spider imagery and its
symbolic overtones cf. Houk 1985 and Barabtarlo 1993: 24-31.
Other subtextual potentialities of the spider motif have been sug-
gested by Dolinin and Timenchik 1989:508.
61. Idiot (Part One, Chapter Five); Dostoevsky 1972-1988 (8:
62. ".Ivdrug, vmestovsego etogo,predstav'tesebe, budettamodna
komnatka, edak vrode derevenskoi bani, zakoptelaia, a po vsem uglam

Notes to pages 11-14
pauki, ivotivsia vechnost(Part Four, Chapter One; Dostoevsky
1972-1988 [6:221]).
63. This was first argued by the emigre writer and critic Vladislav
Khodasevich in his О Sirine (1937), and to my mind his reading
still has more to recommend it than many subsequent attempts.
Some of my interpretive cues will come from here. The essay has
been reprinted in Khodasevich 1954: 243-254; cf. also Averin -
Malikova - Smirnova 1997:244-250. For a partial English transla-
tion see Appel and Newman 1970: 96-101.
64. E: 12-13, 51-53, 62-64, 89-97, 140-143, 192-194, 204-206;
R: 8, 44-46, 53-55, 79-87,128-130,176-178, 187-188.
65. Cf. Ada: "[Van and Ada] took a great many precautions -
all absolutely useless, for nothing can change the end (written and
filed away) of the present chapter" (432). For an ampler discus-
sion of such effects from a narrative-theoretical standpoint see
Problems of Nabokov's Poetics (Tammi 1985: esp. 183-197).
66. Dostoevsky 1972-1988 (6: 402); emphasis added.
67. Dostoevsky 1972-1988 (6: 252).
68. Or cf. the coup de grace in Commentary to Onegin: "Fyodor
Dostoevski, a much overrated, sentimental, and Gothic novelist
of the time" (EO 3: 191). In the light of all this, it is curious to
read, from the recently published correspondence between VN
and the painter M. V Dobuzhinskii, that in 1943 the author was
asked to write a libretto (of all things) for an opera composed on
the basis of Idiot. VN declined on predictable grounds: "[...] ne
terpliu Dostoevskogo" (Letters to Dobuzhinskii, 101).
69. The reference here appears to be to Part One: Book Five,
Chapter Two of Brat'ia Karamazovy ([1880] Dostoevskii 1972-
1988 [14: 203]). Actually, the mark is cognac: "Na zelenom stole
otpechatalsia kruzhok ot vcherashnei, dolzhno byt\ raspleskavsheisia
riumki s kon'iakom."
70. In addition to the studies on this topic named above (esp.
by Connolly, cf. n. 55) I would still mention here the work done
on the multiple parodies of Dostoevsky in Lolita. The topic was
first broached in a pioneering essay by Berberova 1959; also avail-
able in Averin - Malikova - Smirnova 1997: 284-307. For addi-
tional discoveries see Ljunggren 1989; O'Connor 1989. Cf. also
the important footnote included in Dolinin 1995a: 19.
71. That such a preoccupation with a higher realm behind phe-
nomenal reality underlies virtually all Nabokovian writing has been

125 Notes to pages 11-14

argued in many recent studies. By far the shrewdest treatment
ema;ns to my mind the ground-breaking discussion by Johnson
1985: esp. 157-169 and 206-223. For other established readings
e the argument running through the two-volume biography by
goyd (1990: esp. the chapter on The Defense, 321-340; 1991: on
Pale Fire, 425-456) and the special studies on the question by
Alexandrov 1991 and 1995b. Finely nuanced remarks on the
Nabokovian "theme of Mystery" are also to be found in Toker
1989: 60-61 and passim. For somewhat more sceptical remarks -
one feels that otherworldly matters tend to be treated in an overly
literal-minded fashion by critics - see Tammi 1992a, b, 1993a and
(with regard to themes in Glory and Pale Fire) 1995a: 175-177 &
1995b: 582-584.
72. Cf. the opening lines of Baudelaire's ПInvitation au, voyage
(1857): "Mon enfant, ma soeur, / Songe a la douceur / D'aller Id-bas
vivre ensemble!" And the refrain: "La, toutn'est qu'ordre et beaute,
/ Luxe, calme etvolupte." (Baudelaire 1965:208-209) Invitation to
a Beheading points towards the Baudelairean subtext already
through its choice of a title, but one may again surmise that the
italicized French adverb in the quoted excerpt was added to the
English version to aid the new American audience. The correspond-
ing passage in the Russian original reads: "Tam [...] -
nepodrazhaemyi razumnost'iu svetitsia chelovecheskiivzgliad [...]."
I will return to the profoundly polygenetic quality of this excerpt
in the next chapter of the present study.
73. This aspect of Invitation was first discussed in the article
by Moynahan 1967: cf. 14-15. Potential Gnostic sources for the
novel are also examined in a thorough - perhaps overly thorough
I survey by Davydov 1982: 100-182; cf. also 1995a: 191-196 and
1997. For other special studies devoted to the themes of religion
and mysticism in Invitation see Shapiro 1979 and 1996 (=
Cincinnatus as John the Baptist), Grossmith 1988; Alexandrov
1991: 84-107 and 1997. These are important suggestions, though
here I would also concur with Johnson's reminder (1997: 135)
that "the novel's emphasis [...] may owe quite as much to Gogol
[and other literary sources] as to Gnosticism."
74. A possible source for this phrase (Jesus' words in Mark
14:62) has been suggested by Grossmith 1988: 77.

127 Notes to pages 11-14
75. Despite Cincinnatus's disclaimer: "Oh no, I do not gloat
over my own person, I do not get all hot wrestling with my soul in
a darkened room" (E: 91; R: 81).
76. Dostoevsky 1972-1988 (6: 422); emphasis added.
77. Compare the following interchange between Cincinnatus
and his executioner where this notion is stated in altogether ex-
plicit terms:
'This is curious,' said M'sieur Pierre. 'What are these
hopes, and who is the savior?'
'Imagination,' replied Cincinnatus. (E: 114; R: 103)
78. As Khodasevich astutely observed of the concluding epi-
sode: "Here, of course, is depicted the return of the artist from
creative work to reality" (1954: 250). The English translation of
this passage comes from Appel and Newman 1970: 98.
79. D. Nabokov 1984: 3.
2. Reading in Three Dimensions. Remarks on Poligenetichnost'
in Nabokov's Prose
The germ of this chapter was contained in my note Three Double-
Bottomed Allusion in Pale Fire, Ada, Priglashenie na kazn' (Tammi
1989). This eventually evolved into Seventeen Remarks on
Poligenetichnost' (Tammi 1990a), portions of which were read as
a paper at the Institute of World Literature (Moscow) in Decem-
ber 1991. Russian variants have been published as Tammi 1992c
and 1997.
1. See Chapter One of the present study.
2. Taranovsky 1976: 4-5. This example has also been discussed
by Levinton 1971: 52.
3. Ronen 1983: 240-241.
4. Mints 1972: 157-158.
5. Zholkovsky 1986; 1994: 117-146. For still another exem-
plary analysis of poligenetichnost' in action (in a poem by
Pasternak), cf. Smirnov 1985: 88-99 and passim.

127 Notes to pages 11-14

(,. In this regard, I don't agree with Bethea (1994: 293) who in
his somewhat partial comparison of Brodsky and VN writes that
the "psychology and values [...] of modernist verse" remained "pro-
foundly alien to Щ Nabokov the poet" (my emphasis). He is prob-
ably correct as far as VN's verse is concerned, but at the same
time, as a fiction writer VN seems to share to a quite remarkable
degree many of the artistic goals pursued by poets like
Mandel'shtam, Tsvetaeva, or — indeed — Brodsky. In this sense his
prose may be regarded as quite genuinely "poetic," as I hope to
show in more detail in the discussion that follows.
7. An apt phrase employed by P. Meyer 1988: esp. 3-9 and pas-
sim. This study contains a number of valuable observations on
poligenetichnost' in VN (without using this terminology). For some
problems involved in Meyer's very useful work, seeTammi 1990b.
8. Or tri-. See below, sect. 8-12.
9. We may notice that an all but identical notion was once put
forward by Tsvetaeva when she spoke of the joy of discovery pro-
duced by hidden allusions: "nesravnennaia radost' otkrytiia v
sokrytii" (quoted by Taranovsky 1976:4 and 136). In Slovo ikul'tura
(1921) Mandel'shtam also extolled "slezy radosti, nastoiashchei
radosti uznavan'ia" (Mandel'shtam 1967-1971 [2: 226]).
10. Cf. Johnson's remark with regard to a closely related ques-
tion, the occurrence of polylingual puns in VN: "Any reader of
Nabokov who thinks he has discovered and opened the inmost
container of the author's Chinese box puzzle is making a hazard-
ous assumption" (1982: 303).
11. Another description of the problem is provided by Ronen
when he writes that poligenetichnost' involves "an extension of
Jakobson's poetic function to the field of intertextuality" (1983:
12. Dolinin 1988: 19; for more on names in The Gift cf. also
Dolinin 1997c: 698 and passim.
13. Other examples of onomastic compounds evoking non-
Ru ssian literary subtexts: "a short French novel of a
Chateaubyronic genre [= Chateaubriand + Byron]" (EO2:358);
"trudov о Verlene i Rembodlere [= Rimbaud + Baudelaire]" (L R:
64; L E: 75 has "books on Peacock, Rainbow and other poets").
Or instances of non-literary subtexts: "a Nurjinski leap [Nureyev