If VN’s intent in LATH was to distance himself from his work through a parody of readership projections, it seems it may also have been to bring the essence of his novels closer to reader apprehension through the conflated parodied titles; e.g. See Under Real seems to conflate TRLSK with PF. The theme of both is the appropriation of the writer of genius by the commentator, ending ambiguously as either an ironic mistake or spiritual transcendence. PF and LOL are conflated in Esmeralda and Her Pandarus, displaying a secondary theme for PF: Desire and Fate.
LATH’s narrator, Vadim, runs into his erstwhile enchanting nymphet, Dolly, now 24. She tells him she has read all his books and then calls Esmeralda and Her Pandarus “Emerald and the Pander.”
This title suggests a much more significant role for PF’s Gerald Emerald than is usually considered, if considered at all. He may, in fact, be an “inconspicuous pawn” with a “simple key move” in Nabokov’s composition of Pale Fire. In my Notes 77: The Man in Green and the Man in Brown I discussed Gerald Emerald (and Gradus) as nemesis trickster figures of fate. Humbert H. is also dogged by the shadow of Quilty and his double, “McFate.”
I posted previously my thoughts on Gerald Emerald actually being “bad Bob,” Kinbote’s kicked-out roomer. (“Bob” leads to “bobolink – Thingum Bob (Poe) – “correlated pattern” – design of the “creator” Nabokov.) Emerald’s mocking rejection of Kinbote’s advances precipitates Kinbote’s (Botkin’s) dissociative breakdown. As with Humbert, his illicit desires, no matter how he dresses them up with sensitivity, erudition, artistry, and humor, put him on an ineluctable trajectory with Fate (and Death).
“Esmeralda,” is Spanish for “emerald.” This was the name of the gypsy girl in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame who dances with her pet donkey (a parandrus is a mythical reindeer). In Ada, Nabokov has the Veens refer to their alluring half-sister Lucette as a mermaid, “our Esmeralda.” It is also the name of a butterfly that Thomas Mann’s protagonist in Dr. Faustus bestowed on the whore who gave him syphilis, and who in his delusions he conflated with a mermaid. There are, in fact, several moth species named “Esmeralda,” not butterflies, a fact which further rankled lepidopterist Nabokov’s disdain for Mann. The name Esmeralda appears in Nabokov’s 1953 Poem, “Lines Written in Oregon”: “Where the woods get ever dimmer,/Where the Phantom Orchids glimmer – Esmeralda, immer, immer” It is unclear if she is an enchanting girl or moth (and it probably doesn’t matter, both were always attractions). The narrator speaks of fairies, sleeps, awakens “In a sea shade” of an Oak tree, suggesting he was dreaming perhaps of not only fairies, but of mermaids.
In PF, Fleur is the ultimate alluring nymphet mermaid, but Zembla is more concerned with mermen. Young, lively Gerald Emerald, suggests a fey leprechaun or perhaps even a green-tailed merman faunlet, Kinbote’s desire and fate.
And the Pander? A pander (or panderer) is basically someone who provides some satisfaction to others’ prurient pleasures. Both Kinbote and Humbert charmingly, entertainingly, and unabashedly confess to their illicit desires, making the reader in a sense complicit. This would be the prudish plot-level critic’s charge towards Nabokov. The irony is that on higher levels Nabokov offers what the complicit “good reader” most desires: “poignant artistic delight” and the promised satisfaction of arriving at a pre-ordained fate of a perfectly designed work of art.