The Crown Jewels
Kinbote makes several references to the crown jewels of Zembla. These are hidden somewhere outside of the royal palace, but he does not reveal their location. In the note to line 130, he gives a detailed description of the Russians searching for the crown jewels in the wrong place. In the note to line 681, he describes the Russians as attractive men who were much more jovial than the average Russian in the new communist state. And, in the note to line 949, he writes that Gradus stowed away his coat and suitcase in a locker “where, I suppose, they are still lying as snug as my gemmed scepter, ruby necklace, and diamond-studded crown in-no matter, where.”
As is the case with everything else in this text, there is no hard and fast meaning to be attached to these jewels. Could it be a reference to the lost glory of Russia before the revolution? Could it be an attempt to validate Kinbotes claim to royalty? Could it be some personal glory he feels he has lost? These are all possible.
The index is no help. If you look up “crown jewels,” it will direct you to “Hiding Place.” This entry then directs you to “potaynik,” which then directs you to “taynik,” which is the very helpful entry of “Taynik, Russ., secret place; see Crown Jewels.” Nabokov is simply playing a game with the reader, and for years, no one knew where these jewels are supposed to be. However, in 1967, Nabokov revealed to an interviewer that they are “In the ruins, sir, of some old barracks near Kobaltana; but do not tell it to the Russians.” Kobaltana, by the way, is also listed in the index, if you are interested in further pursuing Nabokovs little game.
Antipathy towards symbols
Readers may be wondering why Nabokov would include something that seems like a symbol but turns out to be a red herring. Such readers are well advised to look at the note for line 172, in which Kinbote reports that Shade felt there were certain unforgivable acts in student papers “Not having read the required book. Having read it like an idiot. Looking in it for symbols.” Shade is not a very symbolic writer, instead writing in images and telling a story. Kinbote may be a symbolic writer, but there is no way to ever figure out for certain what events in Zembla symbolize in his real life. Both seem to agree that a work of literature can be ruined by being picked apart for symbols.
Shade falls prey to a symbol, the white fountain. However, this is a red herring much like the crown jewels, as it turns out to be a typographical error. Relying on symbols led him on a wild goose chase, much like the search for the crown jewels.
The Crown Jewels