We may recall that gammadion, designed to evoke the image of the Nazi swastika, appears in Bend Sinister, in the episode in which Krug asks the soldiers, apparently illiterate, to endorse his pass—to "scrawl a cross, or a telephone booth curlicue, or a gammadion, or something. A poster by the renowned anti-Nazi cartoonist, John Heartfield, which appeared in March of , shortly before Nabokov embarked on writing the novel, depicts this emblem of the Third Reich fashioned from four executioner's axes Fig.
I Nabokov, Bend Sinister, Lee remarks that the gammadion "can be in the shape of a swastika. At the same time, Heartfield's visual imagery, especially its anti-Nazi intent, so relevant to this novel, could have influenced Nabokov. J performed with an axe. It is also worth noting that with Hitler's rise to power, the Nazis had brought the guillotine back into use in Man of Letters Revisited 47 Regensburg execution was an "intense disappointment" to Dietrich because '4he subject had apparently been drugged and had hardly reacted at all, beyond feebly flopping about on the ground while the masked executioner and his clumsy mate fell all over him.
Cincin- natus categorically refuses to take part in this ceremony of fraternization with his executioner—a refusal which indicates his growing resistance to his tormentors and foreshadows his noncooperation with them in the execution scene. Thus, by projecting the swastika-shaped monogram and by alluding Man of Letters Revisited 49 to numerous swastika-related images, Nabokov achieves a great multi- plication of this ominous sign—an emphatic device that underscores the Nazi-like atmosphere pervading the world of the novel.
Let us now turn to the light-bulb monogram passage in the English translation of the novel. At first glance, the Roman initials of M'sieur Pierre and Cincinnatus, 'P' and 'C,' seem not to involve the opposition so clearly seen in their Cyrillic counterparts.
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Hence Robert P. Nabokov was trilingual from his early childhood: besides Russian, he had perfect command of English and French, and was equally at home with Cyrillic and Roman characters. Nabokov himself erroneously assigns the acquisition of these skills in his native language to the summer of , a year earlier. His proficiency in German; in addition to his well-known great mastery of Russian, English, and French, is reflected in The Gilt, where Fedor, whom Nabokov endows with a great many features of his own, mentions "the four languages I speak"; 54 Delicate Markers sounding name of the protagonist, Cincinnatus, and the French-sounding name of his executioner, Pierre, in their Roman characters.
And finally, in , while composing this novel, Nabokov clearly anticipated its translation into the major European languages, even though the realiza- tion of this project had to wait for precisely a quarter of a century. As the first step in creating the monogram, 1 propose turning the letter 'C' on its side. The letter 'C' so turned clearly resembles a sickle, a symbol of Death,37 and reminds the reader of the fate awaiting Cincinnatus.
Most recent findings of Brian Boyd that Nabokov had six and a half years of German in the Tenishev School corroborate this supposition. Knopf, , Adrianova-Peretts, ed.. Man of Letters Revisited 51 ended spiritual and creative quest. On the other hand, the letter 'P,' whose shape resembles an ax, clearly alludes to M'sieur Pierre's profession of headsman.
Furthermore, its enclosed upper half and the line leading down indicate his lowly ambitions. The sickle-shaped 'C' then acquires two-dimensional substance, whereas the two adjacent mirrored 'P's resemble a hammer. As in the Russian original, the narrator's remark in the English translation that the monogram "had not quite come off' is apt, since a sickle has a handle, which this doubled 'C' lacks, and a hammer does not have any bar separating the two sides of its widest part and therefore somewhat differs from the two 'P's of the monogram.
In this form, the monogram obviously calls to mind the hammer-and-sickle, the symbol of the Soviet Union—that other police state, into which Nabokov's native Russia had turned. The hammer-and-sickle makes a distinct appearance in The Gift, on which Nabokov worked simultaneously with Invitation to a Beheading. The symbol is split here, so to speak, with the ham- mer and sickle allusions appearing in separate though adjacent chapters.
The bear is also, of course, the symbol of Berlin, the capital of then Nazi Germany. This association with Soviet Russia is further enhanced by the image of the sickle, which appears several pages later, in the episode of the first encounter between Cincin- natus and M'sieur Pierre.
To please M'sieur Pierre, who has been showing card tricks, the obsequious Rodrig asks the librarian to confirm the hangman's skill by admitting he has seen the same card at the end of the trick that he thought of at the beginning. The librarian refuses to cooperate and, flatly denying M'sieur Pierre's skill, leaves the cell. For this act of disobedience, Rodrig harshly disciplines the librarian. The prison director follows him into the corridor; his off-stage violence toward the librarian is suggested by his exhaling "noisily like a horse" upon his return to Cincinnatus's cell.
This sickle image, added to the neck-baring scarf-stripping, serves as a death warning to the librarian and, more importantly, as a reminder to Cincinnatus, whose 'disobedience' is much more serious, of the impending beheading. Another image of the sickle also has some connection to the librarian.
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After his act of defiance which was punished thus by Rodrig, the librarian obeys his superiors unquestioningly throughout the novel. These volumes were undoubtedly brought to Cincinnatus intentionally to remind him once again of the upcoming 39 It is telling that some forty-five years after Nabokov wrote the novel, the Soviet authorities chose a bear as the symbol of the Moscow Olympic Games.
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In this he is the opposite of Cincinnatus, the novel's only true human being, who although he has his weak moments, resists his tormentors to the very end and ultimately triumphs over them. The sickle-shaped fingernail and letters, together with the image of the mallet, subtly allude to the Soviet state, we may conclude. Both the mallet and the sickle images appear in the context of violence and destruction, so characteristic of a totalitarian regime such as Soviet Russia's.
Nabokov alludes once again to "the first Socialist state," this time sarcastically, through Rodrig's dubbing M'sieur Pierre's unsuccess- ful card nicks "a miracle! Red magic! For an entirely different in- terpretation of this passage, see Davydov, 'Teksty-matreski" Vladimira Nabokova, Man of Letters Revisited 55 cinnatus, however, neither shares M'sieur Pierre's admiration for the "beautiful" monogram, nor joins in with the guests' "oh[s]l" and "ah[s]! And the very fact that the monogram "had not quite come off," portends the protagonist's flight from the world around him at the end of the novel.
Since Nabokov maintained that life imitates art see Chapter 1 , it is fitting to end this section on such a typically Nabokovian note: with this PC monogram, we may playfully suggest, Nabokov not only presaged the advent of the computer era, but more relevantly with regard to the novel, the recent notion of "political correctness," which signifies monopoliza- tion of thought, that first step toward the political coercion of totalitarian- 45 ism. He devotes a chapter to the subject, supporting his observations with examples from various of Nabokov's works, including Invitation to a Beheading?
Now, with the same goal in mind, let us reexamine those initials through the prism of Nabokov's chromesthesia. For Nabokov, the Cyrillic and the Roman characters do not differ much chromesthetically. As he has pointed out, "for the most part, a Russian letter, differently shaped but identical in sound, distinguishes itself by a dimish tone in comparison to the Latin one. Let us begin with M'sieur Pierre. Since green is the traditional color of a hunting outfit, the Devil, the hunter of souls, was frequently depicted as wearing clothes of this color.
For a detailed discussion of the subject, see D. Robertson, Jr. The Devil as the hunter of souls was a popular metaphor in Christianity, atrticularly during the Middle Ages. It found expression in the literature of the period, for example in Chaucer's "Friar's Tale," where the Devil "hadde upon a courtepy of mntv" See Geoffrey Chaucer, The Tales of Canterbury, ed. Robert A. The greenish-hued garb corresponding to his initial is in better agreement with his fiendish essence. We come across this expression in The Gift.
Petersburg the workmen in town clothes, whom the dead man's friends had brought for the sake of atmosphere, were taken by a group of students for plainclothesmen and Houghton Mifflin Company, , In. Dmitri Likhachev, the Russian medievalist, also discusses green as the color of the Devil and of the Green Dragon.
Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literature, , In this article, Likhachev points to the usage of green as an infernal color in works by Dickens, Bulgakov, and II 'f and Petrov. For a more detailed discussion of green as infernal in II If and Petrov's Twelve Chairs in the context of nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, see Iu. Vienna: Wiener Slawistischer Almanach, , 1: Petersburg: M. Vol'f, ; rept. Moscow: Russkii iazyk, , 4: Significantly, Marthe's uncomely daughter, Pauline, shares M'sieur Pierre's initial. We have observed with regard to M'sieur Pierre that the green color of a character's initial suggests his association with the Devil.
This is also applicable to Pauline who was bom out of wedlock, that is, conceived in lechery—the infernal nature of which is constantly emphasized by Christian tradition. Pauline's brother Diomedon—also the fruit of Marthe's extramarital liaisons—fits in this color-initial scheme. His initial, 'D,' belongs to the yellowish group, and yellow, also an infernal color see Chapter 3 , sug- gests the boy's being an offspring of Hell. Furthermore, yellow is also known as the color of deceit, disgrace, corruption and, as John Ruskin indicates in his Deucalion, treachery. Nabokov could have read Deucalion already in his youth, as this work was available to him in his father's library.
In addition, Nabokov could have encountered yellow as a negative color in the works of the Silver Age writers, such as Innokentii Annenskii. Man of Letters Revisited 59 R in his unsuccessful attempt to emulate the fair-haired Cincinnatus.
Indeed M'sieur Pierre may find in the boy his prospective professional successor. That killing the cat was not an exceptional act on Diom'edon's part, and that cruelty is inherent in the boy's nature, is clear from his mother's rather peculiar rebuke: '"Diome- don, leave the cat alone this instant,' said Marthe.
The Devil was frequently portrayed as pale gray, the color of illness and death, and Diomedon's outfit is an ample warning of his prospective association with deepest gloom and grief. Greek mythology knows two personae by that name: one is the Thracean king who kept the fierce horses that lived on human flesh; the other was an Achaean hero who participated in the siege of Troy.
Although the latter Diomedes was clever and courageous, he also killed without hesitation. Thus, the common denominator for these two legendary figures is cruelty which Diomedon, that little Diomedes, shares with them. Marcia B. Additionally, the black-brownness of the letter evokes the association of the entire 'jailing-executing crew' with the black-shirted Fascists and the brown-shirted Nazis. Previously, we considered the iconic meaning of this monogram; here we shall address what it means chromesthetically.
Rodrig's laughter, Emmie, is another character who bears both demonic and Nazi associations. This perception of the mulberry is reflected in German folklore: to prevent their children from eating this berry, mothers would sing them a song about the Devil who uses it to put blacking on his shoes. The hues of Emmie's initial, reflected in her hair color, also indicate that she belongs to the Aryan type which the Nazis portrayed in their propaganda as blond or yellowish-blond Fig.
Furthermore, Emmie's constantly playing with the ball and her dancing agree with the Nazi emphasis on athletics, in which the Aryans of course were expected to reign supreme. New York: McGraw-Hill, , Hughes, "Notes on the Translation of Invitation to a Beheading," The absence of the black-brown letter and sound 'r' from Emmie's name perhaps suggests that she is initially given an alter- native: to run away with Cincinnatus or to succumb to the forces of Evil.
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The latter attitude soon domi- nates. For the betrayal, Emmie is immediately "rewarded" with M'sieur Pierre's under-the-table fondling, which should be seen as a preamble to her later becoming his, that is the Devil's, bride, as the photohoroscope foretells. Earlier we noted that Marthe's initial, 'M,' iconically resembles a spider and has Fascist connotations. As for the color attached to the initial 'M'—pink flannel for both the Cyrillic and Roman characters—it is purposefully delusive, suggesting warmth and charm. This absence was noted by Davydov, who has suggested that "the sonorous Y in the names of the jailers In Christ- ian tradition, the ape, we may recall, is associated with the Devil, the King of Deceit; with vice; and particularly, as befits Marthe, with lust.
Even though Cincinnatus also wears "soft" color, and the sixteenth-century Italian humanist Lodovico Dolce believed that as a mixture of red and white, pink—rasa in Italian—combines the redness of blood with charm and grace. See Barasch, "Renaissance Color Conventions," Olschki, , Man of Letters Revisited 65 a black outfit, a dressing gown, he does it unwillingly.
Cincinnatus admits that he is "envious of poets. But the genuine 'blue' is, of course, the sky, 'the blue hills of the skies,' 'the blue immortality,' 'the blue rafters'—and what a gentle, what a true thought is expressed in the lines: 'Only the Earth, the black dear mother, has taught [us] to love the blue and to die for the heavenly'". Although no creativity is ascribed to Cecilia C.
The genetic kinship reflected chromesthe- tically, through their sharing the same initials, is also suggested through her name. She was known for her creative powers: tradition has it that she invented the organ and knew how to play all musical instruments; she thereby became the patron saint of music and musicians.