Page 127. " Lenski conceived the awful idea of showing, on alternate Sundays, Educational Magic-Lantern Projections at our St Petersburg home "
Magic Lantern
GNU Free Documentation LicenseMagic Lantern - Credit: AndreasPraefcke

First mentioned in 16th century literature, magic lanterns such as this one were very popular in the late 19th century, and were used to project images of famous landmarks, foreign lands and famous people. By the early 20th century when Nabokov was growing up, however, the moving picture was rapidly replacing this early slide projector, and perhaps Nabokov is disdainful of the machine because it reminded him of the archaic past. Or perhaps he found magic lantern projections to be a 'philistine' or bourgeois occupation. (see Nabokov's Lecture "On Philistines and Philistinism")

It may be worth mentioning that magic lanterns featured heavily in Marcel Proust's childhood, as described in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Is Nabokov trying once again (see bookmark to page 75) to hitch his childhood to the French literary giant's? Or is he once again playing with the reader's knowledge of literary classics?

Page 127. " a narrative poem by Lermontov dealing with the adventures of a young monk who left his Caucasian retreat to roam among the mountains "

Nabokov is here refering to Lermontov's narrative poem Mtsyri (The Novice), written in 1840 and generally regarded as the epitome of the tradition of the Russian Romantic narrative poem.

Page 128. " an absolutely motionless boy in a sailor suit; he bore a striking resemblance to the Tsarevich "

The fashion for dressing children in sailor suits was started in England in the 1860s, and became a craze once Queen Victoria's sons, and even her daughters, started wearing them. By the 1870s and until the 1940s, sailor suits were very popular in Europe and the United States for boys mainly of six to eight years, but even up to the age of 12. They were worn with a wide-brimmed straw sailor's hat and they came in a variety of styles. Tsarevich Alexei was often pictured wearing his sailor suit.

Nabokov also wore one as a young boy, as he describes on page 24, "With a sharp and merry whistle that was part of my first sailor suit"...

Page 135. " A Russian duel was a much more serious affair than the more conventional Parisian variety "

 Although very much a cachet of 19th century Russian life and its literature, duels continued to be fought until the early 20th century. Two parliamentary debates between politicians - one in 1907 and another in 1909 - led to duels, while the last known duel of poets was fought in 1909 between Nikolay Gumilyov and Maksmilian Voloshin, over a non-existent woman, also a poet.  

Duel scene from Eugene Onegin by Ilya Repin (300 * 226)


Page 136. " Politically he was a 'Kadet' ie. a member of the Konstitutsionno-demokraticheskaya partiya), later renamed more aptly the party of the People's Freedom "
Founded in 1905, the Constitutionalist Democratic Party was a liberal political party led by historian Pavel Miliukov and made up mostly of professionals such as university professors, lawyers and industrialists. After the Bolshevik victory in the 1917 Revolution, most of the party's leadership was forced to emigrate to Europe. Nabokov's father, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov was a lawyer himself, and died taking the assassin's bullet designated for Miliukov in Berlin in 1922.
Page 137. " the rose-and-haze pastel portrait of my mother by Bakst "

La Sultane, Leon Bakst (185 * 240) 
Public DomainLa Sultane, Leon Bakst - Credit: Julo

The portrait of Nabokov's mother by Leon Bakst, done at the family home in 1910, is apparently stored in the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, along with watercolour sketches made for the ballet Scheherazade, left behind by the Nabokov family when they fled St Petersburg in 1918. The Nabokovs also collected works by other contemporary artists, many of them friends of the family, including Alexandre Benois and Konstantin Somov. The celebrated landscape painter Msistislav Dobuzhinsky was hired by the Nabokovs to teach young Vladimir to draw.

Page 140. " I was eleven years old when my father decided that the tutoring I had had, and was still having, at home, might be profitably supplemented by my attending Tenishev School. This school one of the most remarkable in St Petersburg, was a comparatively young institution of a much more modern and liberal type than the ordinary Gymnasium "
The Tenishev School on Mokhovaya Street (where numbers 33-35 are now) in St Petersburg was the most expensive and liberal school in Russia at the time. It would have been attended by sons of the Russian aristocracy, but Nabokov nevertheless had his chauffeur drop him a couple of blocks away from the school gates for modesty's sake.
Page 141. " fighting as a very young officer on the side of the Whites, he was killed in the Crimean prairie "

See the bookmark to page 193, about Denikin's Volunteer (White) Army

Page 142. " I was to ascertain which of our two cars, the Benz or the Wolseley, was to take me to school "

Nabokov has written earlier of his family's Anglophilia (p.63) "The kind of Russian family to which I belonged [...] had, among other virtues, a traditional leaning toward the comfortable products of Anglo-Saxon civilization." They imported Pears Soap, English toothpaste and Tate and Lyle's Golden Syrup among other things. The fact that they owned a Wolseley car is not only a testament to the family's Anglophilia and their considerable wealth, but also to their attention to fashion; the Wolseley Motor Company was only founded in 1901. It was incorporated into larger companies after 1935 but remained a luxury brand until 1975. 

Page 144. " to escape the mounted gendarmes who were quelling the First Revolution (1905-06) "

The 'First Revolution' was the Revolution of 1905, which coincided with the end of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. The uprising on the Battleship Potemkin, of the Imperial Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet in June 1905 was a watershed for the revolutionary movement, and was commemorated by Sergei Eisenstein in his film The Battleship Potemkin. The mass strikes, uprisings, and rise in terrorism that swept the Russian empire from 1904 led to the establishment of the State Duma of the Russian Empire, a multi-party system, a limited constitutional monarchy, and the Russian constitution of 1906.

Page 144. " Next came the Cinizelli Circus (famous for its wrestling tournaments) "

Cinizelli's Circus was St Petersburg's first resident circus, and opened in 1877 in a purpose-built building on the Fontanka Canal, now the site of St Petersburg's current circus. It was founded by Italian circus actor and entrepreneur G. Cinizelli (1815-1881), and featured such outstanding actors as the equestrian James Fillis, the animal-trainer Mazzelli, and the clowns Prais and Fratellini. In 1897, the International Championship for Wrestling (mentioned by Nabokov) was launched at Cinizelli's Circus. Like many other artists, the Cinizelli family left Russia in 1918, and the circus changed its name to the Petrograd Circus, the Leningrad Circus and finally the St Petersburg Circus. 


Page 146. " I who write my stuff only in very sharp pencil, keep bouquets of B3's in vaselets around me "
Nabokov's pencils
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeNabokov's pencils - Credit: Nabokov Museum


Nabokov never learned to type, relying instead on his wife Vera to transcribe his manuscripts. He wrote in pencil on index cards, a habit that is well illustrated in the publication in 2009 of his last, unfinished novel, The Original of Laura in which each pencil-scrawled index card is faithfully reproduced, and can be punched out of the page. See also the bookmark to page 32.