In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character) mentions deified Harold Haze (Lolita’s father):
And I have still other smothered memories, now unfolding themselves into limbless monsters of pain. Once, in a sunset-ending street of Beardsley, she turned to little Eva Rosen (I was taking both nymphets to a concert and walking behind them so close as almost to touch them with my person), she turned to Eva, and so very serenely and seriously, in answer to something the other had said about its being better to die than hear Milton Pinski, some local schoolboy she knew, talk about music, my Lolita remarked:
“You know, what's so dreadful about dying is that you are completely on your own;” and it struck me, as my automaton knees went up and down, that I simply did not known a thing about my darling's mind and that quite possibly, behind the awful juvenile clichés, there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate — dim and adorable regions which happened to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to me, in my polluted rags and miserable convulsions; for I often noticed that living as we did, she and I, in a world of total evil, we would become strangely embarrassed whenever I tried to discuss something she and an older friend, she and a parent, she and a real healthy sweetheart, I and Annabel, Lolita and a sublime, purified, analyzed, deified Harold Haze, might have discussed — an abstract idea, a painting, stippled Hopkins or shorn Baudelaire, God or Shakespeare, anything of genuine kind. Good will! She would mail her vulnerability in trite brashness and boredom, whereas I, using for my desperately detached comments an artificial tone of voice that set my own last teeth on edge, provoked my audience to such outbursts of rudeness as made any further conversation impossible, oh my poor, bruised child. (2.32)
In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) describes Ada’s eyes and mentions an internal parasite resembling the written word ‘deified:’
The eyes. Ada’s dark brown eyes. What (Ada asks) are eyes anyway? Two holes in the mask of life. What (she asks) would they mean to a creature from another corpuscle or milk bubble whose organ of sight was (say) an internal parasite resembling the written word ‘deified’? What, indeed, would a pair of beautiful (human, lemurian, owlish) eyes mean to anybody if found lying on the seat of a taxi? Yet I have to describe yours. The iris: black brown with amber specks or spokes placed around the serious pupil in a dial arrangement of identical hours. The eyelids: sort of pleaty, v skladochku (rhyming in Russian with the diminutive of her name in the accusative case). Eye shape: languorous. The procuress in Wicklow, on that satanic night of black sleet, at the most tragic and almost fatal point of my life (Van, thank goodness, is ninety now — in Ada’s hand) dwelt with peculiar force on the ‘long eyes’ of her pathetic and adorable grandchild. How I used to seek, with what tenacious anguish, traces and tokens of my unforgettable love in all the brothels of the world! (1.17)
Humbert Humbert's first wife Valeria leaves her husband for Maximovich, a White Russian who earns his living as a taxi driver in Paris. Like Mrs. Richard F. Schiller (Lolita's married name), Valeria dies in childbirth:
A man from Pasadena told me one day that Mrs. Maximovich née Zborovski had died in childbirth around 1945; the couple had somehow got over to California and had been used there, for an excellent salary, in a year-long experiment conducted by a distinguished American ethnologist. The experiment dealt with human and racial reactions to a diet of bananas and dates in a constant position on all fours. My informant, a doctor, swore he had seen with his own eyes obese Valechka and her colonel, by then gray-haired and also quite corpulent, diligently crawling about the well-swept floors of a brightly lit set of rooms (fruit in one, water in another, mats in a third and so on) in the company of several other hired quadrupeds, selected from indigent and helpless groups. (1.8)
According to John Ray, Jr. (the author of the Foreword to Humbert Humbert's manuscript), Mrs. "Richard F. Schiller" died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest. At the end of Lolita Humbert Humbert mentions prophetic sonnets:
Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of
blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C.Q. One had to choose between him and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita. (2.36)
Lolita outlives Humbert Humbert (who died in legal captivity, of coronary thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days before his trial was scheduled to start) only by forty days. It seems that Lolita's death in Gray Star was predicted by Shakespeare in his Sonnet 14:
Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck,
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive
If from thy self to store thou wouldst convert:
Or else of thee this I prognosticate,
Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.
Van calls Ada “Mlle Hypnokush, ‘whose eyes never dwell on you and yet pierce you’:”
The eyes. The eyes had kept their voluptuous palpebral creases; the lashes, their semblance of jet-dust incrustation; the raised iris, its Hindu-hypnotic position; the lids, their inability to stay alert and wide open during the briefest embrace; but those eyes’ expression — when she ate an apple, or examined a found thing, or simply listened to an animal or a person — had changed, as if new layers of reticence and sadness had accumulated, half-veiling the pupil, while the glossy eyeballs shifted in their lovely long sockets with a more restless motion than of yore: Mlle Hypnokush, ‘whose eyes never dwell on you and yet pierce you.’ (1.35)
In his Foreword to Humbert Humbert’s manuscript John Ray, Jr. compares the author’s bizarre cognomen to a mask through which two hypnotic eyes seem to glow:
Its author’s bizarre cognomen is his own invention; and, of course, this mask – through which two hypnotic eyes seem to glow – had to remain unlifted in accordance with its wearer’s wish.
Maska (“The Mask,” 1884) is a story by Chekhov. The characters in Chekhov’s story Volodya bol’shoy i Volodya malen’kiy (“The Two Volodyas,” 1893) include Rita, a spinster who can drink any amount of wine and liquor without being drunk and who tells scandalous anecdotes in a languid and tasteless way. In Lolita Rita is a never quite sober girl whom Humbert Humbert picks up at a darkishly burning bar between Montreal and New York after Lolita was abducted from him. Describing his visit to Briceland with Rita, Humbert Humbert mentions certain parasites whose size is one sixth of the host:
Reader! Bruder! What a foolish Hamburg that Hamburg was! Since his supersensitive system was loath to face the actual scene, he thought he could at least enjoy a secret part of it – which reminds one of the tenth or twentieth soldier in the raping queue who throws the girl’s black shawl over her white face so as not to see those impossible eyes while taking his military pleasure in the sad, sacked village. What I lusted to get was the printed picture that had chanced to absorb my trespassing image while the Gazette’s photographer was concentrating on Dr. Braddock and his group. Passionately I hoped to find preserved the portrait of the artist as a younger brute. An innocent camera catching me on my dark way to Lolita’s bed – what a magnet for Mnemosyne! I cannot well explain the true nature of that urge of mine. It was allied, I suppose, to that swooning curiosity which impels one to examine with a magnifying glass bleak little figures – still life practically, and everybody about to throw up – at an early morning execution, and the patient’s expression impossible to make out in the print. Anyway, I was literally gasping for breath, and one corner of the book of doom kept stabbing me in the stomach while I scanned and skimmed… Brute Force and Possessed were coming on Sunday, the 24th, to both theatres. Mr. Purdom, independent tobacco auctioneer, said that ever since 1925 he had been an Omen Faustum smoker. Husky Hank and his petite bride were to be the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Reginald G. Gore, 58 Inchkeith Ave. The size of certain parasites is one sixth of the host. Dunkerque was fortified in the tenth century. Misses’ socks, 39 c. Saddle Oxfords 3.98. Wine, wine, wine, quipped the author of Dark Age who refused to be photographed, may suit a Persian bubble bird, but I say give me rain, rain, rain on the shingle roof for roses and inspiration every time. Dimples are caused by the adherence of the skin to the deeper tissues. Greeks repulse a heavy guerrilla assault – and, ah, at last, a little figure in white, and Dr. Braddock in black, but whatever spectral shoulder was brushing against his ample form – nothing of myself could I make out.
I went to find Rita who introduced me with her vin triste smile to a pocket-sized wizened truculently tight old man saying this was – what was the name again, son – a former schoolmate of hers. He tried to retain her, and in the slight scuffle that followed I hurt my thumb against his hard head. In the silent painted part where I walked her and aired her a little, she sobbed and said I would soon, soon leave her as everybody had, and I sang her a wistful French ballad, and strung together some fugitive rhymes to amuse her:
The place was called Enchanted Hunters. Query:
What Indian dyes, Diana, did thy dell
endorse to make of Picture Lake a very
blood bath of trees before the blue hotel? (2.26)
In the Russian version (1967) of Lolita Gumbert Gumbert calls Rita’s former schoolmate porazitel’nyi parazit (a sensational parasite):
Поразительный паразит пошёл за Ритой в бар. С той грустной улыбкой, которая появлялась у неё на лице от избытка алкоголя, она представила меня агрессивно-пьяному старику, говоря, что он - запамятовала вашу фамилию, дорогуша - учился с ней в одной школе. Он дерзко попробовал задержать её, и в последовавшей потасовке я больно ушиб большой палец об его весьма твёрдую голову. Затем мне пришлось некоторое время прогуливать и проветривать Риту в раскрашенном осенью парке Зачарованных Охотников. Она всхлипывала и повторяла, что скоро, скоро я брошу её, как все в жизни её бросали, и я спел ей вполголоса задумчивую французскую балладу и сочинил альбомный стишок ей в забаву:
Палитра клёнов в озере, как рана,
Отражена. Ведёт их на убой
В багряном одеянии Диана
Перед гостиницею голубой.
In Ada Rita is Van’s partner when, as Mascodagama, he dances tango on his hands:
For the tango, which completed his number on his last tour, he was given a partner, a Crimean cabaret dancer in a very short scintillating frock cut very low on the back. She sang the tango tune in Russian:
Pod znóynïm nébom Argentínï,
Pod strástnïy góvor mandolinï
'Neath sultry sky of Argentina,
To the hot hum of mandolina
Fragile, red-haired 'Rita' (he never learned her real name), a pretty Karaite from Chufut Kale, where, she nostalgically said, the Crimean cornel, kizil', bloomed yellow among the arid rocks, bore an odd resemblance to Lucette as she was to look ten years later. During their dance, all Van saw of her were her silver slippers turning and marching nimbly in rhythm with the soles of his hands. He recouped himself at rehearsals, and one night asked her for an assignation. She indignantly refused, saying she adored her husband (the make-up fellow) and loathed England. (1.30)
Van's stage name hints at Vasco da Gama (the Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India). In his memoir essay O Chekhove ("On Chekhov") Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko quotes the words of Chekhov who in jest compared himself to Vasco da Gama:
-- А то ещё куда меня гонят? В Африку. Что я Васко да Гама, что ли? Ведь это, слушайте же, в опере хорошо... Ни за что не поеду. Тоже нашли Стенли. Пусть Василий Иванович едет. Его мамка в детстве ушибла. Ему чем дальше, тем лучше... А я ни за что. Мало я черномази видал! Даже если мне ещё тарелку гречневой каши дадут, не поеду!
Nemirovich’s book Na kladbishchakh (“At Cemeteries,” 1921) begins with his memoir essay on Chekhov. In his Foreword John Ray, Jr. mentions the caretakers of the various cemeteries involved:
For the benefit of old-fashioned readers who wish to follow the destinies of the "real" people beyond the "true" story, a few details may be given as received from Mr. "Windmuller," or "Ramsdale," who desires his identity suppressed so that "the long shadow of this sorry and sordid business" should not reach the community to which he is proud to belong. His daughter, "Louise," is by now a college sophomore, "Mona Dahl" is a student in Paris. "Rita" has recently married the proprietor of a hotel in Florida. Mrs. "Richard F. Schiller" died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlemen in the remotest Northwest. "Vivian Darkbloom" has written a biography, "My Cue," to be publshed shortly, and critics who have perused the manuscript call it her best book. The caretakers of the various cemeteries involved report that no ghosts walk.
In the Russian Lolita "Vivian Darkbloom" (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov) becomes Vivian Damor-Blok (Damor is Vivian's stage name, Blok is the name of one of her first husbands). In his poem Neznakomka ("The Unknown Woman," 1906) Alexander Blok mentions p'yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) who cry out: "In vino veritas!" At the family dinner in "Ardis the Second" Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father) uses a phrase s glazami (with the eyes) and mentions Dr Krolik (the local entomologist, Ada’s beloved teacher of natural history):
‘Marina,’ murmured Demon at the close of the first course. ‘Marina,’ he repeated louder. ‘Far from me’ (a locution he favored) ‘to criticize Dan’s taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I’m above all that rot, I’m...’ (gesture); ‘but, my dear,’ he continued, switching to Russian, ‘the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki — the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) —’
‘Everybody has eyes,’ remarked Marina drily.
‘Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves. But that’s not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It’s depressing. It’s a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.’
‘Look, Dad,’ said Van, ‘Dr Krolik can’t do much, because, as you know quite well, he’s dead, and Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive.’
‘The Veen wit, the Veen wit,’ murmured Demon. (1.28)
Udav i krolik (“Boa Constrictor and Rabbit,” 1885) is a story by Chekhov. Describing Kim Beauharnais’s album, Van Veen mentions Dr Krolik and Diana:
‘Intermission,’ begged Ada, ‘quick-quick.’
‘I’m ready to oblige till I’m ninety,’ said Van (the vulgarity of the peep show was catchy), ‘ninety times a month, roughly.’
‘Make it even more roughly, oh much more, say a hundred and fifty, that would mean, that would mean —’
But, in the sudden storm, calculations went to the canicular devils.
‘Well,’ said Van, when the mind took over again, ‘let’s go back to our defaced childhood. I’m anxious’ — (picking up the album from the bedside rug) — ‘to get rid of this burden. Ah, a new character, the inscription says: Dr Krolik.’
‘Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van but it’s terribly messy all the same. Okay. Yes, that’s my poor nature teacher.’
Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for ‘lepidopteron’). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that chase?
‘How curious — in the state Kim mounted him here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he’s a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!’
‘There’s nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here’s the visual proof. Besides, that’s not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.’
‘I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor.’
‘I’m not lying!’ — (with lovely dignity): ‘He is a doctor of philosophy.’
‘Van ist auch one,’ murmured Van, sounding the last word as ‘wann.’ (2.7)
In the same chapter Ada mentions Sumerechnikov and his sumerographs of Uncle Vanya:
A photograph of an oval painting, considerably diminished, portrayed Princess Sophia Zemski as she was at twenty, in 1775, with her two children (Marina’s grandfather born in 1772, and Demon’s grandmother, born in 1773).
‘I don’t seem to remember it,’ said Van, ‘where did it hang?’
‘In Marina’s boudoir. And do you know who this bum in the frock coat is?’
‘Looks to me like a poor print cut out of a magazine. Who’s he?’
‘Sumerechnikov! He took sumerographs of Uncle Vanya years ago.’
‘The Twilight before the Lumières. Hey, and here’s Alonso, the swimming-pool expert. I met his sweet sad daughter at a Cyprian party — she felt and smelt and melted like you. The strong charm of coincidence.’
‘I’m not interested. Now comes a little boy.’
‘Zdraste, Ivan Dementievich,’ said Van, greeting his fourteen-year-old self, shirtless, in shorts, aiming a conical missile at the marble fore-image of a Crimean girl doomed to offer an everlasting draught of marble water to a dying marine from her bullet-chipped jar. (ibid.)
Dyadya Vanya ("Uncle Vanya," 1898) is a play by Chekhov. The name Sumerechnikov comes from sumerki (twilight). V sumerkakh ("In the Twilight," 1887) is a collection of stories by Chekhov. Humbert Humbert feels that behind the awful juvenile clichés, there is in Lolita a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate — dim and adorable regions which happen to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to him.
"A palace gate" brings to mind Palace in Wonderland, as Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are known on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set):
'Playing croquet with you,’ said Van, ‘should be rather like using flamingoes and hedgehogs.’
‘Our reading lists do not match,’ replied Ada. ‘That Palace in Wonderland was to me the kind of book everybody so often promised me I would adore, that I developed an insurmountable prejudice toward it. Have you read any of Mlle Larivière’s stories? Well, you will. She thinks that in some former Hindooish state she was a boulevardier in Paris; and writes accordingly. We can squirm from here into the front hall by a secret passage, but I think we are supposed to go and look at the grand chêne which is really an elm.’ Did he like elms? Did he know Joyce’s poem about the two washerwomen? He did, indeed. Did he like it? He did. In fact he was beginning to like very much arbors and ardors and Adas. They rhymed. Should he mention it? (1.8)
In The Annotated Lolita Alfred Appel points out that "God or Shakespeare" (who cannot serve to Humbert Humbert and Lolita as a theme of discussion) is an echo of Stephen Dedalus's invocation of "God, the sun, Shakespeare" in the Nighttown section of Joyce's Ulysses (1922).
Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass is known on Antiterra as Alice in the Camera Obscura:
Is there any mental uranium whose dream-delta decay might be used to measure the age of a recollection? The main difficulty, I hasten to explain, consists in the experimenter not being able to use the same object at different times (say, the Dutch stove with its little blue sailing boats in the nursery of Ardis Manor in 1884 and 1888) because of the two or more impressions borrowing from one another and forming a compound image in the mind; but if different objects are to be chosen (say, the faces of two memorable coachmen: Ben Wright, 1884, and Trofim Fartukov, 1888), it is impossible, insofar as my own research goes, to avoid the intrusion not only of different characteristics but of different emotional circumstances, that do not allow the two objects to be considered essentially equal before, so to speak, their being exposed to the action of Time. I am not sure, that such objects cannot be discovered. In my professional work, in the laboratories of psychology, I have devised myself many a subtle test (one of which, the method of determining female virginity without physical examination, today bears my name). Therefore we can assume that the experiment can be performed — and how tantalizing, then, the discovery of certain exact levels of decreasing saturation or deepening brilliance — so exact that the ‘something’ which I vaguely perceive in the image of a remembered but unidentifiable person, and which assigns it ‘somehow’ to my early boyhood rather than to my adolescence, can be labeled if not with a name, at least with a definite date, e.g., January 1, 1908 (eureka, the ‘e.g.’ worked — he was my father’s former house tutor, who brought me Alice in the Camera Obscura for my eighth birthday). (Part Four)
In VN's novel Kamera Obskura ("Laughter in the Dark," 1932) Bruno Kretschmar becomes blind as a result of a car accident. In Ada Van blinds Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis) for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada:
‘I would have killed myself too, had I found Rose wailing over your corpse. "Secondes pensées sont les bonnes," as your other, white, bonne used to say in her pretty patois. As to the apron, you are quite right. And what you did not make out was that the artist had about finished a large picture of your meek little palazzo standing between its two giant guards. Perhaps for the cover of a magazine, which rejected that picture. But, you know, there’s one thing I regret,’ she added: ‘Your use of an alpenstock to release a brute’s fury — not yours, not my Van’s. I should never have told you about the Ladore policeman. You should never have taken him into your confidence, never connived with him to burn those files — and most of Kalugano’s pine forest. Eto unizitel’no (it is humiliating).’
‘Amends have been made,’ replied fat Van with a fat man’s chuckle. ‘I’m keeping Kim safe and snug in a nice Home for Disabled Professional People, where he gets from me loads of nicely brailled books on new processes in chromophotography.’
There are other possible forkings and continuations that occur to the dream-mind, but these will do. (2.11)
The name of Lolita’s father seems to hint at Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-18), a narrative poem in four parts by Lord Byron. In The Enchanted
Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together) Humbert Humbert drugs Lolita with the sleeping pills that were given to him by Dr. Byron, the Haze family physician.
In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov says that Byron was as smart as a hundred devils:
Ну-с, теперь об уме. Григорович думает, что ум может пересилить талант. Байрон был умён, как сто чертей, однако же талант его уцелел. Если мне скажут, что Икс понес чепуху оттого, что ум у него пересилил талант, или наоборот, то я скажу: это значит, что у Икса не было ни ума, ни таланта.
And now as to intellect, Sir Grigorovich thinks that intellect can overwhelm talent. Byron was as smart as a hundred devils; nevertheless, his talent has survived intact. If we say that X talked nonsense because his intellect overwhelmed his talent or vice versa, then I say X had neither brains nor talent.
In the same letter of Nov. 25, 1892, Chekhov says that the works of contemporary writers lack the alcohol that would intoxicate the reader:
Вас нетрудно понять, и Вы напрасно браните себя за то, что неясно выражаетесь. Вы горький пьяница, а я угостил Вас сладким лимонадом, и Вы, отдавая должное лимонаду, справедливо замечаете, что в нем нет спирта. В наших произведениях нет именно алкоголя, который бы пьянил и порабощал, и это Вы хорошо даете понять. Отчего нет? Оставляя в стороне «Палату № 6» и меня самого, будем говорить вообще, ибо это интересней. Будем говорить об общих причинах, коли Вам не скучно, и давайте захватим целую эпоху. Скажите по совести, кто из моих сверстников, т. е. людей в возрасте 30—45 лет дал миру хотя одну каплю алкоголя? Разве Короленко, Надсон и все нынешние драматурги не лимонад? Разве картины Репина или Шишкина кружили Вам голову? Мило, талантливо, Вы восхищаетесь и в то же время никак не можете забыть, что Вам хочется курить. Наука и техника переживают теперь великое время, для нашего же брата это время рыхлое, кислое, скучное, сами мы кислы и скучны, умеем рождать только гуттаперчевых мальчиков, и не видит этого только Стасов, которому природа дала редкую способность пьянеть даже от помоев. Причины тут не в глупости нашей, не в бездарности и не в наглости, как думает Буренин, а в болезни, которая для художника хуже сифилиса и полового истощения. У нас нет «чего-то», это справедливо, и это значит, что поднимите подол нашей музе, и Вы увидите там плоское место. Вспомните, что писатели, которых мы называем вечными или просто хорошими и которые пьянят нас, имеют один общий и весьма важный признак: они куда-то идут и Вас зовут туда же, и Вы чувствуете не умом, а всем своим существом, что у них есть какая-то цель, как у тени отца Гамлета, которая недаром приходила и тревожила воображение. У одних, смотря по калибру, цели ближайшие — крепостное право, освобождение родины, политика, красота или просто водка, как у Дениса Давыдова, у других цели отдаленные — бог, загробная жизнь, счастье человечества и т. п. Лучшие из них реальны и пишут жизнь такою, какая она есть, но оттого, что каждая строчка пропитана, как соком, сознанием цели, Вы, кроме жизни, какая есть, чувствуете еще ту жизнь, какая должна быть, и это пленяет Вас.
It is easy to understand you, and there is no need for you to abuse yourself for obscurity of expression. You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productions — the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside “Ward No. 6” and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting. Let ms discuss the general causes, if that won’t bore you, and let us include the whole age. Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries — that is, men between thirty and forty-five — have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade? Have Repin’s or Shishkin’s pictures turned your head? Charming, talented, you are enthusiastic; but at the same time you can’t forget that you want to smoke. Science and technical knowledge are passing through a great period now, but for our sort it is a flabby, stale, and dull time. We are stale and dull ourselves, we can only beget gutta-percha boys [Footnote: An allusion to Grigorovich’s well-known story.], and the only person who does not see that is Stasov, to whom nature has given a rare faculty for getting drunk on slops. The causes of this are not to be found in our stupidity, our lack of talent, or our insolence, as Burenin imagines, but in a disease which for the artist is worse than syphilis or sexual exhaustion. We lack “something,” that is true, and that means that, lift the robe of our muse, and you will find within an empty void. Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being, that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing. Some have more immediate objects — the abolition of serfdom, the liberation of their country, politics, beauty, or simply vodka, like Denis Davydov; others have remote objects — God, life beyond the grave, the happiness of humanity, and so on. The best of them are realists and paint life as it is, but, through every line’s being soaked in the consciousness of an object, you feel, besides life as it is, the life which ought to be, and that captivates you.
Lolita is only twelve when Humbert Humbert first meets her in the summer of 1947. In 1884, when Van visits Ardis for the first time, Ada is barely twelve. In his story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as Seen by a Drunkard,” 1885) signed Brat moego brata (My brother’s brother) Chekhov compares girls under sixteen to aqua distillatae (distilled water). The last note of poor mad Aqua (the twin sister of Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother Marina) was signed ‘My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (now is out of hell).’ (1.3)
As she speaks to Van, Lucette (Van's and Ada's half-sister) mentions Bergson:
At this point, as in a well-constructed play larded with comic relief, the brass campophone buzzed and not only did the radiators start to cluck but the uncapped soda water fizzed in sympathy.
Van (crossly): ‘I don’t understand the first word... What’s that? L’adorée? Wait a second’ (to Lucette). ‘Please, stay where you are.’ (Lucette whispers a French child-word with two ‘p’s.). ‘Okay’ (pointing toward the corridor). ‘Sorry, Polly. Well, is it l’adorée? No? Give me the context. Ah — la durée. La durée is not... sin on what? Synonymous with duration. Aha. Sorry again, I must stopper that orgiastic soda. Hold the line.’ (Yells down the ‘cory door,’ as they called the long second-floor passage at Ardis.) ‘Lucette, let it run over, who cares!’
He poured himself another glass of brandy and for a ridiculous moment could not remember what the hell he had been — yes, the polliphone.
It had died, but buzzed as soon as he recradled the receiver, and Lucette knocked discreetly at the same time.
‘La durée... For goodness sake, come in without knocking... No, Polly, knocking does not concern you — it’s my little cousin. All right. La durée is not synonymous with duration, being saturated — yes, as in Saturday — with that particular philosopher’s thought. What’s wrong now? You don’t know if it’s dorée or durée? D, U, R. I thought you knew French. Oh, I see. So long.
‘My typist, a trivial but always available blonde, could not make out durée in my quite legible hand because, she says, she knows French, but not scientific French.’
‘Actually,’ observed Lucette, wiping the long envelope which a drop of soda had stained, ‘Bergson is only for very young people or very unhappy people, such as this available rousse.’
‘Spotting Bergson,’ said the assistant lecher, ‘rates a B minus dans ton petit cas, hardly more. Or shall I reward you with a kiss on your krestik — whatever that is?’( 2.5)
Henri Bergson is the author of Le Rire (“Laughter,” 1900). In a letter of October 17 (29), 1897, to Suvorin Chekhov (who stayed in the Pension Russe in Nice) asks Suvorin to bring from Paris zhurnal "Le Rire" s portretom Gumberta (the magazine issue with King Umberto’s portrait):
Привезите журнал «Le rire» с портретом Гумберта, если попадётся на глаза.
Bring the issue of Le Rire with Umberto’s portrait, if you catch sight of it.
Le Rire was a successful French humor magazine. King Umberto’s portrait mentioned by Chekhov is a cartoon. Describing his performance in variety shows, Van mentions cartoonists:
Mascodagama’s spectacular success in a theatrical club that habitually limited itself to Elizabethan plays, with queens and fairies played by pretty boys, made first of all a great impact on cartoonists. Deans, local politicians, national statesmen, and of course the current ruler of the Golden Horde were pictured as mascodagamas by topical humorists. A grotesque imitator (who was really Mascodagama himself in an oversophisticated parody of his own act!) was booed at Oxford (a women’s college nearby) by local rowdies. A shrewd reporter, who had heard him curse a crease in the stage carpet, commented in print on his ‘Yankee twang.’ Dear Mr ‘Vascodagama’ received an invitation to Windsor Castle from its owner, a bilateral descendant of Van’s own ancestors, but he declined it, suspecting (incorrectly, as it later transpired) the misprint to suggest that his incognito had been divulged by one of the special detectives at Chose — the same, perhaps, who had recently saved the psychiatrist P.O. Tyomkin from the dagger of Prince Potyomkin, a mixed-up kid from Sebastopol, Id. (1.30)
In the Russian Lolita one of Clare Quilty's aliases is P. O. Tyomkin, Odessa, Texas:
Я замечал, что, как только ему начинало казаться, что его плутни становятся чересчур заумными, даже для такого эксперта, как я, он меня приманивал опять загадкой полегче. "Арсен Люпэн" был очевиден полуфранцузу, помнившему детективные рассказы, которыми он увлекался в детстве; и едва ли следовало быть знатоком кинематографа, чтобы раскусить пошлую подковырку в адресе: "П. О. Тёмкин, Одесса, Техас". (2.23)
In a letter of February 18, 1889, to Leontiev-Shcheglov (a fellow writer who compared Chekhov to Prince Potyomkin, a favorite of Catherine II) Chekhov says that he is Cincinnatus, not Potyomkin:
Я не Потёмкин, а Цинциннат.
Tsintsinnat Ts. (Cincinnatus C.) is the main character in VN's novel Priglashenie na kazn' ("Invitation to a Beheading," 1935).
In the same letter of Feb. 18, 1889, to Shcheglov Chekhov quotes the proverb glaza vyshe lba ne rastut (a man can do no more than he can; literally: "the eyes do not grow above one's forehead") and says that even Shakespeare never heard such praises as he did after the unexpected success of his play Ivanov (1889):
Вы в письме утешаете меня насчёт «Иванова». Спасибо Вам, но уверяю Вас честным словом, я покоен и совершенно удовлетворён тем, что сделал и что получил. Я сделал то, что мог и умел, — стало быть, прав: глаза выше лба не растут; получил же я не по заслугам, больше, чем нужно. И Шекспиру не приходилось слышать тех речей, какие прослышал я.
The title of Chekhov's play brings to mind Ivan Ivanov of Yukonsk:
But as Judge Bald pointed out already during the Albino Riots of 1835, practically all North American and Tartar agriculturists and animal farmers used inbreeding as a method of propagation that tended to preserve, and stimulate, stabilize and even create anew favorable characters in a race or strain unless practiced too rigidly. If practiced rigidly incest led to various forms of decline, to the production of cripples, weaklings, ‘muted mutates’ and, finally, to hopeless sterility. Now that smacked of ‘crime,’ and since nobody could be supposed to control judiciously orgies of indiscriminate inbreeding (somewhere in Tartary fifty generations of ever woolier and woolier sheep had recently ended abruptly in one hairless, five-legged, impotent little lamb — and the beheading of a number of farmers failed to resurrect the fat strain), it was perhaps better to ban ‘incestuous cohabitation’ altogether. Judge Bald and his followers disagreed, perceiving in ‘the deliberate suppression of a possible benefit for the sake of avoiding a probable evil’ the infringement of one of humanity’s main rights — that of enjoying the liberty of its evolution, a liberty no other creature had ever known. Unfortunately after the rumored misadventure of the Volga herds and herdsmen a much better documented fait divers happened in the U.S.A. at the height of the controversy. An American, a certain Ivan Ivanov of Yukonsk, described as an ‘habitually intoxicated laborer’ (‘a good definition,’ said Ada lightly, ‘of the true artist’), managed somehow to impregnate — in his sleep, it was claimed by him and his huge family — his five-year-old great-granddaughter, Maria Ivanov, and, then, five years later, also got Maria’s daughter, Daria, with child, in another fit of somnolence. Photographs of Maria, a ten-year old granny with little Daria and baby Varia crawling around her, appeared in all the newspapers, and all kinds of amusing puzzles were provided by the genealogical farce that the relationships between the numerous living — and not always clean-living — members of the Ivanov clan had become in angry Yukonsk. (1.21)
Lysyi being Russian for "bald," Judge Bald brings to mind Lysevich, the lawyer in Chekhov's story Bab'ye Tsarstvo ("A Woman's Kingdom," 1894). In Laughter in the Dark (the English version of Kamera Obskura) Bruno Kretschmar becomes Albinus (cf. the Albino Riots of 1835). Albino = Albion. Doch' Al'biona ("A Daughter of Albion," 1883) is a story by Chekhov about the English governess of a Russian landowner's children. Lucette's French governess, Mlle Larivière writes fiction and publishes her stuff under the penname Guillaume de Monparnasse (1.31). Mlle Larivière's story La rivière de diamants corresponds to La Parure ("The Necklace," 1884) by Guy de Maupassant. In "A Woman's KIngdom" Lysevich recommends Maupassant to Anna Akimovna and says that she should "drink" him:
Из всех современных писателей я почитываю, впрочем, иногда одного Мопассана. — Лысевич открыл глаза. — Хороший писатель, превосходный писатель! — Лысевич задвигался на диване. — Удивительный художник! Страшный, чудовищный, сверхъестественный художник! — Лысевич встал с дивана и поднял кверху правую руку. — Мопассан! — сказал он в восторге. — Милая, читайте Мопассана! Одна страница его даст вам больше, чем все богатства земли! Что ни строка, то новый горизонт. Мягчайшие, нежнейшие движения души сменяются сильными, бурными ощущениями, ваша душа точно под давлением сорока тысяч атмосфер обращается в ничтожнейший кусочек какого-то вещества неопределенного, розоватого цвета, которое, как мне кажется, если бы можно было положить его на язык, дало бы терпкий, сладострастный вкус. Какое бешенство переходов, мотивов, мелодий! Вы покоитесь на ландышах и розах, и вдруг мысль, страшная, прекрасная, неотразимая мысль неожиданно налетает на вас, как локомотив, и обдает вас горячим паром и оглушает свистом. Читайте, читайте Мопассана! Милая, я этого требую!
Лысевич замахал руками и в сильном волнении прошёлся из угла в угол.
– Нет, это невозможно! – проговорил он, как бы в отчаянии. – Последняя его вещь истомила меня, опьянила! Но я боюсь, что вы останетесь к ней равнодушны. Чтоб она увлекла вас, надо ее смаковать, медленно выжимать сок из каждой строчки, пить… Надо ее пить!
Of all contemporary writers, however, I prefer Maupassant." Lysevich opened his eyes. "A fine writer, a perfect writer!" Lysevich shifted in his seat. "A wonderful artist! A terrible, prodigious, supernatural artist!" Lysevich got up from the sofa and raised his right arm. "Maupassant!" he said rapturously. "My dear, read Maupassant! one page of his gives you more than all the riches of the earth! Every line is a new horizon. The softest, tenderest impulses of the soul alternate with violent tempestuous sensations; your soul, as though under the weight of forty thousand atmospheres, is transformed into the most insignificant little bit of some great thing of an undefined rosy hue which I fancy, if one could put it on one's tongue, would yield a pungent, voluptuous taste. What a fury of transitions, of motives, of melodies! You rest peacefully on the lilies and the roses, and suddenly a thought -- a terrible, splendid, irresistible thought -- swoops down upon you like a locomotive, and bathes you in hot steam and deafens you with its whistle. Read Maupassant, dear girl; I insist on it."
Lysevich waved his arms and paced from corner to corner in violent excitement.
"Yes, it is inconceivable," he pronounced, as though in despair; "his last thing overwhelmed me, intoxicated me! But I am afraid you will not care for it. To be carried away by it you must savour it, slowly suck the juice from each line, drink it in. . . . You must drink it in! . . ." (chapter III)
In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Lev Shestov compares Chekhov’s play Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896) to a newspaper with an endless series of faits divers:
Забегая несколько вперёд, я уже здесь укажу на его комедию “Чайку”, в которой, наперекор всем литературным принципам, основой действия является не логическое развитие страстей, не неизбежная связь между предыдущим и последующим, а голый, демонстративно ничем не прикрытый случай. Читая драму, иной раз кажется, что пред тобой номер газеты с бесконечным рядом faits divers, нагромождённых друг на друга без всякого порядка и заранее обдуманного плана.
Anticipating a little, I would here point to his comedy, The Seagull, where, in defiance of all literary principles, the basis of action appears to be not the logical development of passions, nor the inevitable connection between cause and effect, but pure chance, ostentatiously unmasked. As one reads the play, it seems at times that one has before one a copy of a newspaper with an endless series of faits divers, heaped upon one another, without order and without previous plan. (II)
Describing his plans to kill Charlotte (Lolita's mother), Humbert Humbert mentions chance:
No man can bring about the perfect murder; chance, however, can do it. There was the famous dispatch of a Mme Lacour in Arles, southern France, at the close of last century. An unidentified bearded six-footer, who, it was later conjectured, had been the lady’s secret lover, walked up to her in a crowded street, soon after her marriage to Colonel Lacour, and mortally stabbed her in the back, three times, while the Colonel, a small bulldog of a man, hung onto the murderer’s arm. By a miraculous and beautiful coincidence, right at the moment when the operator was in the act of loosening the angry little husband’s jaws (while several onlookers were closing in upon the group), a cranky Italian in the house nearest to the scene set off by sheer accident some kind of explosive he was tinkering with, and immediately the street was turned into a pandemonium of smoke, falling bricks and running people. The explosion hurt no one (except that it knocked out game Colonel Lacour); but the lady’s vengeful lover ran when the others ranand lived happily ever after. (1.20)
"A pandemonium of smoke" brings to mind "Vandemonian," as Lucette calls Van during their conversation in Kingston:
Wincing and rearranging his legs, our young Vandemonian cursed under his breath the condition in which the image of the four embers of a vixen’s cross had now solidly put him. One of the synonyms of ‘condition’ is ‘state,’ and the adjective ‘human’ may be construed as ‘manly’ (since L’Humanité means ‘Mankind’!), and that’s how, my dears, Lowden recently translated the title of the malheureux Pompier’s cheap novel La Condition Humaine, wherein, incidentally, the term ‘Vandemonian’ is hilariously glossed as ‘Koulak tasmanien d’origine hollandaise.’ Kick her out before it is too late.
‘If you are serious,’ said Lucette, passing her tongue over her lips and slitting her darkening eyes, ‘then, my darling, you can do it now. But if you are making fun of me, then you’re an abominably cruel Vandemonian.’ (2.5)
Humbert Humbert wants to drown Charlotte in Hourglass Lake. In Chekhov's play The Seagull the action takes place at the lakeside. In Chekhov's stoty V sude (“In the Court,” 1886) the chairman compares the old investigator Koreyski to pesochnye chasy (the hourglass):
— Михаил Владимирович, — нагнулся прокурор к уху председателя: — удивительно неряшливо этот Корейский вёл следствие. Родной брат не допрошен, староста не допрошен, из описания избы ничего не поймёшь...
— Что делать... что делать! — вздохнул председатель, откидываясь на спинку кресла: — развалина... песочные часы!
"Mikhail Vladimirovich," said the assistant prosecutor, bending down to the chairman’s ear, "amazingly slovenly the way that Koreyski conducted the investigation. The prisoner's brother was not examined, the village elder was not examined, there's no making anything out of his description of the hut…"
"It can't be helped, it can't be helped," said the chairman, sinking back in his chair. "He's a wreck . . . dropping to bits!"
In Chekhov’s story the prisoner (who is charged with the murder of his wife) turns out to be the father of one of the escorts. Humbert Humbert manages to convince the Farlows that he is Lolita's real father:
"Well, you are the doctor," said John a little bluntly. "But after all I was Charlotte's friend and adviser. One would like to know what you are going to do about the child anyway."
"John," cried Jean, "she is his child, not Harold Haze's. Don't you understand? Humbert is Dolly's real father."
"I see," said John. "I am sorry. Yes. I see. I did not realize that. It simplifies matters, of course. And whatever you feel is right." (1.23)
Shestov's essay on Chekhov, "Creation from Nothing," has for epigraph a line from Baudelaire’s poem Le Goût du néant (“The Taste for Nothingness”):
Résigne-toi, mon cœur, dors ton sommeil de brute.
Resign yourself, my heart; sleep your brutish sleep.
According to Humbert Humbert, stippled Hopkins or shorn Baudelaire cannot serve to him and Lolita as a theme of discussion.
The name Shestov comes from shest' (six) and brings to mind certain parasites whose size is one sixth of the host.
parasite + den' = paradise + ten'
den' - day
ten' - shade, shadow
Ardis (the family estate of Daniel Veen, Van's and Ada's uncle) hints at paradise. In Lolita Humbert Humbert mentions a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames:
Oh, do not scowl at me, reader, I do not intend to convey the impression that I did not manage to be happy. Reader must understand that in the possession and thralldom of a nymphet the enchanted traveler stands, as it were, beyond happiness. For there is no other bliss on earth comparable to that of fondling a nymphet. It is hors concours, that bliss, it belongs to another class, another plane of sensitivity. Despite our tiffs, despite her nastiness, despite all the fuss and faces she made, and the vulgarity, and the danger, and the horrible hopelessness of it all, I still dwelled deep in my elected paradise - a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames - but still a paradise.
The able psychiatrist who studies my caseand whom by now Dr. Humbert has plunged, I trust, into a state of leporine fascination is no doubt anxious to have me take Lolita to the seaside and have me find there, at last, the “gratification” of a lifetime urge, and release from the “subconscious” obsession of an incomplete childhood romance with the initial little Miss Lee. (2.3)
"A state of leporine fascination" into which Dr. Humbert has plunged the able psychiatrist brings to mind Chekhov's story "Boa Constrictor and Rabbit." In Ada most of the physicians turn out to bear names connected with rabbits.