NABOKV-L post 0027765, Fri, 18 May 2018 13:21:38 +0300

Treasure Island, Whistler's Mother,
Mr. Hyde & Dolores Disparue in Lolita; L disaster & moribund
Romeo in Ada
In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert mentions Lolita’s caches that he
found in their Beardsley house:

Once I found eight one-dollar notes in one of her books (fittingly –
Treasure Island), and once a hole in the wall behind Whistler’s ‘Mother’
yielded as much as twenty-four dollars and some change – say, twenty-four
sixty – which I quietly removed, upon which, next day, she accused, to my
face, honest Mrs. Holigan of being a filthy thief. Eventually, she lived up
to her I.Q. by finding a safer hoarding place which I never discovered; but
by that time I had brought prices down drastically by having her earn the
hard and nauseous way permission to participate in the school’s theatrical
program; because what I feared most was not that she might ruin me, but that
she might accumulate sufficient cash to run away. I believe the poor
fierce-eyed child had figured out that with a mere fifty dollars in her
purse she might somehow reach Broadway or Hollywood – or the foul kitchen of
a diner (Help Wanted) in a dismal ex-prairie state, with the wind blowing,
and the stars blinking, and the cars, and the bars, and the barmen, and
everything soiled, torn, dead. (2.7)

Treasure Island (1882) is a novel by R. L. Stevenson. Arrangement in Grey
and Black No.1 (also known as Whistler’s Mother, 1871) is a painting by the
American-born artist James McNeill Whistler. In a pastiche of the Goncourt
Journal in Le temps retrouvé (“Time Regained”), the seventh and last volume
of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (“In Search of Lost Time”),
Whistler and Stevenson are mentioned:

«Avant-hier tombe ici, pour m’emmener dîner chez lui, Verdurin, l’ancien
critique de la Revue, l’auteur de ce livre sur Whistler où vraiment le
faire, le coloriage artiste de l’original Américain est souvent rendu avec
une grande délicatesse par l’amoureux de tous les raffinements, de toutes
les joliesses de la chose peinte qu’est Verdurin.»

“The day before yesterday, who should drop in here, to take me to dinner
with him but Verdurin, the former critic of the Revue, author of that book
on Whistler in which truly the doings, the artistic atmosphere of that
highly original American are often rendered with great delicacy by that
lover of all the refinements, of all the prettinesses of the thing painted
which Verdurin is.”

«Et la suggestive dissertation passa, sur un signe gracieux de la maîtresse
de maison, de la salle à manger au fumoir vénitien dans lequel Cottard me
dit avoir assisté à de véritables dédoublements de la personnalité, nous
citant le cas d’un de ses malades, qu’il s’offre aimablement à m’amener chez
moi et à qui il suffisait qu’il touchât les tempes pour l’éveiller à une
seconde vie, vie pendant laquelle il ne se rappelait rien de la première, si
bien que, très honnête homme dans celle-là, il y aurait été plusieurs fois
arrêté pour des vols commis dans l’autre où il serait tout simplement un
abominable gredin. Sur quoi Mme Verdurin remarque finement que la médecine
pourrait fournir des sujets plus vrais à un théâtre où la cocasserie de
l’imbroglio reposerait sur des méprises pathologiques, ce qui, de fil en
aiguille, amène Mme Cottard à narrer qu’une donnée toute semblable a été
mise en œuvre par un amateur qui est le favori des soirées de ses enfants,
l’Écossais Stevenson, un nom qui met dans la bouche de Swann cette
affirmation péremptoire : « Mais c’est tout à fait un grand écrivain,
Stevenson, je vous assure, M. de Goncourt, un très grand, l’égal des plus

“This suggestive dissertation continued, on a gracious sign from the
mistress of the house, from the dining-room into the Venetian smoking-room
where Cottard told me he had witnessed actual duplications of personality,
giving as example the case of one of his patients whom he amiably offers to
bring to see me, in whose case Cottard has merely to touch his temples to
usher him into a second life, a life in which he remembers nothing of the
other, so much so that, a very honest man in this one, he had actually been
arrested several times for thefts committed in the other during which he had
been nothing less than a disgraceful scamp. Upon which Mme Verdurin acutely
remarks that medicine could furnish subjects truer than a theatre where the
humour of an imbroglio is founded upon pathological mistakes, which from
thread to needle brought Mme Cottard to relate that a similar notion had
been made use of by an amateur who is the prime favourite at her children’s
evening parties, the Scotchman Stevenson, a name which forced from Swann the
peremptory affirmation: ‘But Stevenson is a great writer, I can assure you,
M. de Goncourt, a very great one, equal to the greatest.’”

Mme Cottard has in mind Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde (1886). A well respected, middle aged doctor whose hobby is
chemistry (carried out in a laboratory at the back of his house), Dr. Jekyll
discovers a chemical combination that releases an alternative personality,
his baser side: “Mr. Hyde.” Humbert Humbert’s landlord, Professor Chem,
teaches chemistry at Beardsley College:

I really did not mind where to dwell provided I could lock my Lolita up
somewhere; but I had, I suppose, in the course of my correspondence with
vague Gaston, vaguely visualized a house of ivied brick. Actually the place
bore a dejected resemblance to the Haze home (a mere 400 miles distant): it
was the same sort of dull gray frame affair with a shingled roof and dull
green drill awnings; and the rooms, though smaller and furnished in a more
consistent plush-and-plate style, were arranged in much the same order. My
study turned out to be, however, a much larger room, lined from floor to
ceiling with some two thousand books on chemistry which my landlord (on
sabbatical leave for the time being) taught at Beardsley College. (2.4)

Describing his quarrel with Lolita, Humbert Humbert compares himself to Mr.

With people in movies I seem to share the services of the machina
telephonica and its sudden god. This time it was an irate neighbor. The east
window happened to be agape in the living room, with the blind mercifully
down, however; and behind it the damp black night of a sour New England
spring had been breathlessly listening to us. I had always thought that type
of haddocky spinster with the obscene mind was the result of considerable
literary inbreeding in modern fiction; but now I am convinced that prude and
prurient Miss East – or to explode her incognito, Miss Finton Lebone – had
been probably protruding three-quarter-way from her bedroom window as she
strove to catch the gist of our quarrel.

“…This racket… lacks all sense of…” quacked the receiver, “we do not live in
a tenement here. I must emphatically…”

I apologized for my daughter’s friends being so loud. Young people, you know
- and cradled the next quack and a half.

Downstairs the screen door banged. Lo? Escaped?

Through the casement on the stairs I saw a small impetuous ghost slip
through the shrubs; a silvery dot in the dark - hub of bicycle wheel -
moved, shivered, and she was gone.

It so happened that the car was spending the night in a repair shop
downtown. I had no other alternative than to pursue on foot the winged
fugitive. Even now, after more than three years have heaved and elapsed, I
cannot visualize that spring-night street, that already so leafy street,
without a gasp of panic. Before their lighted porch Miss Lester was
promenading Miss Fabian's dropsical dackel. Mr. Hyde almost knocked it over.
Walk three steps and run three. A tepid rain started to drum on the chestnut
leaves. At the next corner, pressing Lolita against an iron railing, a
blurred youth held and kissed - no, not her, mistake. My talons still
tingling, I flew on. (2.14)

Miss Lester and Miss Fabian are a Lesbian couple. In À la recherche du temps
perdu Marcel (the narrator and main character) suspects Albertine of
lesbianism. The penultimate, sixth, volume of Proust’s novel is entitled
Albertine disparue. According to Humbert Humbert, one of the parts of his
book might be called “Dolorés Disparue:”

This book is about Lolita; and now that I have reached the part which (had I
not been forestalled by another internal combustion martyr) might be called
“Dolorés Disparue,” there would be little sense in analyzing the three empty
years that followed. While a few pertinent points have to be marked, the
general impression I desire to convey is of a side door crashing open in
life’s full flight, and a rush of roaring black time drowning with its
whipping wind the cry of lone disaster. (2.25)

“The cry of lone disaster” brings to mind the L disaster in VN’s novel Ada

The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau
milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and
cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too
obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young
laymen and lemans — and not to grave men or gravemen.

Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone
by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum
again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth
century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming
comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and
the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless forefathers. (1.3)

“Our sleek little machines” and Faragod (“apparently, the god of
electricity”) bring to mind “the machina telephonica and its sudden god”
whose services Humbert Humbert seems to share with people in movies.

The Antiterran L disaster in the middle of the 19th century seems to
correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on
Jan. 3, 1850 (NS), in our world. Dostoevski is the author of Dvoynik (“The
Double,” 1846). Lolita’s lover with whom she escapes from the Elphinstone
hospital, Clare Quilty is Humbert Humbert’s double.

According to Humbert Humbert, Lolita and Mary Lore (a nurse in the
Elphinstone hospital) are plotting in Basque, or Zemfirian, against his
hopeless love:

Poor Bluebeard. Those brutal brothers. 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
Zemfirian, against my hopeless love. I shall go further and say that Lo was
playing a double game since she was also fooling sentimental Mary whom she
had told, I suppose, that she wanted to dwell with her fun-loving young
uncle and not with cruel melancholy me. And another nurse whom I never
identified, and the village idiot who carted cots and coffins into the
elevator, and the idiotic green love birds in a cage in the waiting room-all
were in the plot, the sordid plot. I suppose Mary thought comedy father
Professor Humbertoldi was interfering with the romance between Dolores and
her father-substitute, roly-poly Romeo (for you were rather lardy, you know,
Rom, despite all that "snow" and "joy juice"). (2.22)

Zemfira is a character (Aleko’s wife) in Pushkin’s poem Tsygany (“The
Gypsies,” 1824). In his Eugene Onegin Commentary (vol. III, p. 156) VN
points out that Zemfira’s song was used by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
in their libretto of George Bizet’s opera Carmen (1875) based on Mérimée’s
novella of that name (1847) and that Ivan Turgenev translated this nomadic
song from The Gypsies for Edmond de Goncourt, who gives it as a “chanson du
pays” to the gypsy woman Stepanida Roudak (also supplied by his Russian
friend) in his mediocre Les Frères Zemganno (1879).

When Van visits Ada at Brownhill (Ada’s school for girls), Ada does not want
him to see her in the role of a moribund Romeo:

They talked about their studies and teachers, and Van said:

‘I would like your opinion, Ada, and yours, Cordula, on the following
literary problem. Our professor of French literature maintains that there is
a grave philosophical, and hence artistic, flaw in the entire treatment of
the Marcel and Albertine affair. It makes sense if the reader knows that the
narrator is a pansy, and that the good fat cheeks of Albertine are the good
fat buttocks of Albert. It makes none if the reader cannot be supposed, and
should not be required, to know anything about this or any other author’s
sexual habits in order to enjoy to the last drop a work of art. My teacher
contends that if the reader knows nothing about Proust’s perversion, the
detailed description of a heterosexual male jealously watchful of a
homosexual female is preposterous because a normal man would be only amused,
tickled pink in fact, by his girl’s frolics with a female partner. The
professor concludes that a novel which can be appreciated only by quelque
petite blanchisseuse who has examined the author’s dirty linen is,
artistically, a failure.’

‘Ada, what on earth is he talking about? Some Italian film he has seen?’

‘Van,’ said Ada in a tired voice, ‘you do not realize that the Advanced
French Group at my school has advanced no farther than to Racan and Racine.’

‘Forget it,’ said Van.

‘But you’ve had too much Marcel,’ muttered Ada.

The railway station had a semi-private tearoom supervised by the
stationmaster’s wife under the school’s idiotic auspices. It was empty, save
for a slender lady in black velvet, wearing a beautiful black velvet picture
hat, who sat with her back to them at a ‘tonic bar’ and never once turned
her head, but the thought brushed him that she was a cocotte from Toulouse.
Our damp trio found a nice corner table and with sighs of banal relief undid
their raincoats. He hoped Ada would discard her heavy-seas hat but she did
not, because she had cut her hair because of dreadful migraines, because she
did not want him to see her in the role of a moribund Romeo.

(On fait son grand Joyce after doing one’s petit Proust. In Ada’s lovely

(But read on; it is pure V.V. Note that lady! In Van’s bed-buvard scrawl.)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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