NABOKV-L post 0027299, Fri, 10 Feb 2017 19:01:26 +0300

Chose University, Lute & L disaster in Ada
In 1885, having completed his prep-school education, he [Van Veen] went up
to Chose University in England, where his fathers had gone, and traveled
from time to time to London or Lute (as prosperous but not overrefined
British colonials called that lovely pearl-gray sad city on the other side
of the Channel). (1.28)

Chose is French for "thing" and quelque chose means "something." According
to Pushkin (Eugene Onegin, One: V: 1-2),

Мы все учились понемногу

Чему-нибудь и как-нибудь

All of us had a bit of schooling

in something and somehow.

In their accurate prose translation of EO Turgenev and Viardot render these
lines as follows:

"Nous avons tous, par petites bribes, appris fort peu de choses et fort mal.

In a letter of January 3, 1899, to A. M. Peshkov (Maxim Gorky) Chekhov asks
Gorky if he is samouchka (a self-educated man) and mentions Gorky’s best
veshchi (things):

Вы самоучка? В своих рассказах вы вполне х
удожник, притом интеллигентный по-настоя
щему. Вам менее всего присуща именно груб
ость, Вы умны и чувствуете тонко и изящно.
Ваши лучшие вещи "В степи" и "На плотах" -- п
исал ли я Вам об этом? Это превосходные ве
щи, образцовые, в них виден художник, прош
едший очень хорошую школу. Не думаю, что я
ошибаюсь. Единственный недостаток -- нет с
держанности, нет грации. Когда на какое-ни
будь определенное действие человек затра
чивает наименьшее количество движений, т
о это грация. В ваших же затратах чувствуе
тся излишество.

Are you self-educated? In your stories you are completely an artist and at
the same time an “educated” man in the truest sense. Nothing is less
characteristic of you than coarseness, you are clever and subtle and
delicate in your feelings. Your best things are “In the Steppe,” and “On
the Raft,”― did I write to you about that? They are splendid things,
masterpieces, they show the artist who has passed through a very good
school. I don’t think that I am mistaken. The only defect is the lack of
restraint, the lack of grace. When a man spends the least possible number of
movements over some definite action, that is grace. One is conscious of
superfluity in your expenditure.

Van’s and Ada’s half-sister Lucette was born on January 3, 1876 (1.1). The
third part of Gorky’s autobiographical trilogy is entitled Moi universitety
(“My Universities,” 1923). In Chekhov's juvenile P’yesa bez nazvaniya
(<The Play without a Title>, 1880-81) Shcherbuk, as he speaks to Triletski,
uses the phrase kel’k shoz (quelque chose in Russian spelling):

И ездил шесть раз не потому, что я болен бы
л, а потому, что у моего арендатора дочка к
ельк шоз.

And you visited me six times not because I was ill, but because my tenant's
daughter is a pretty young thing. (Act One, scene XIV)

On his way back from the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday Van recalls
Ada’s lolita (“a rather long, but very airy and ample, black skirt, with
red poppies and peonies,” 1.13) that she wore four years before and
mentions “the Chose young things:”

He remembered with a pang of pleasure the indulgent skirt Ada had been
wearing then, so swoony-baloony as the Chose young things said, and he
regretted (smiling) that Lucette had those chaste shorts on today, and Ada,
husked-corn (laughing) trousers. (1.39)

Platonov (the main character in Chekhov’s <Play without a Title>) brings to
mind Dr Platonov (an elderly gentleman in Cordula’s compartment on whose
foot Van accidentally steps):

As he was pushing his unsteady way through one corridor after another,
cursing under his breath the window-gazers who did not draw in their bottoms
to let him pass, and hopelessly seeking a comfortable nook in one of the
first-class cars consisting of four-seat compartments, he saw Cordula and
her mother facing each other on the window side. The two other places were
occupied by a stout, elderly gentleman in an old-fashioned brown wig with a
middle parting, and a bespectacled boy in a sailor suit sitting next to
Cordula, who was in the act of offering him one half of her chocolate bar.
Van entered, moved by a sudden very bright thought, but Cordula’s mother
did not recognize him at once, and the flurry of reintroductions combined
with a lurch of the train caused Van to step on the prunella-shod foot of
the elderly passenger, who uttered a sharp cry and said, indistinctly but
not impolitely: ‘Spare my gout (or ‘take care’ or ‘look out’), young

‘I do not like being addressed as "young man,"’ Van told the invalid in a
completely uncalled-for, brutal burst of voice.

‘Has he hurt you, Grandpa?’ inquired the little boy.

‘He has,’ said Grandpa, ‘but I did not mean to offend anybody by my cry
of anguish.’

‘Even anguish should be civil,’ continued Van (while the better Van in him
tugged at his sleeve, aghast and ashamed).

‘Cordula,’ said the old actress (with the same apropos with which she once
picked up and fondled a fireman’s cat that had strayed into Fast Colors in
the middle of her best speech), ‘why don’t you go with this angry young
demon to the tea-car? I think I’ll take my thirty-nine winks now.’

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Cordula as they settled down in the very roomy and
rococo ‘crumpeter,’ as Kalugano College students used to call it in the
‘Eighties and ‘Nineties.

‘Everything,’ replied Van, ‘but what makes you ask?’

‘Well, we know Dr Platonov slightly, and there was absolutely no reason for
you to be so abominably rude to the dear old man.’ (1.42)

“Spare my gout” (Dr Platonov’s cry of anguish) brings to mind chacun à
son gout, a trite French phrase that Richard Leonard Churchill mistranslates
twice in the course of his novel about a certain Crimean Khan:

Van remembered that his tutor's great friend, the learned but prudish Semyon
Afanasievich Vengerov, then a young associate professor but already a
celebrated Pushkinist (1855-1954), used to say that the only vulgar passage
in his author's work was the cannibal joy of young gourmets tearing 'plump
and live' oysters out of their 'cloisters' in an unfinished canto of Eugene
Onegin. But then 'everyone has his own taste,' as the British writer Richard
Leonard Churchill mistranslates a trite French phrase (chacun à son gout)
twice in the course of his novel about a certain Crimean Khan once popular
with reporters and politicians, 'A Great Good Man' - according, of course,
to the cattish and prejudiced Guillaume Monparnasse about whose new
celebrity Ada, while dipping the reversed corolla of one hand in a bowl, was
now telling Demon, who was performing the same rite in the same graceful
fashion. (1.38)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Great good man: a phrase that Winston Churchill,
the British politician, enthusiastically applied to Stalin.

In a letter of December 3, 1898, to A. M. Peshkov (this is the second letter
that Chekhov wrote to Gorky) Chekhov (who lived then in Yalta) compares
Gorky’s talent to a big tree growing in the garden and mentions the tastes
of the man who is looking at that tree:

Говорить теперь о недостатках? Но это не т
ак легко. Говорить о недостатках таланта
― это всё равно, что говорить о недостатка
х большого дерева, которое растёт в саду;
тут ведь главным образом дело не в самом д
ереве, а во вкусах того, кто смотрит на дер
ево. Не так ли?

Shall I speak now of defects? But that is not so easy. To speak of the
defects of a talent is like speaking of the defects of a great tree growing
in the garden; what is chiefly in question, you see, is not the tree itself
but the tastes of the man who is looking at it. Is not that so?

The characters of Chekhov’s <Play without a Title> include Vengerovich pè
re and Vengerovich fils. Platonov predicts to Vengerovich père (who is
about fifty) that he will live another fifty years or even longer and die

Венгерович 1. Вы начинаете фантазировать,
Михаил Васильич! (Встаёт и садится на друг
ой стул.)
Платонов. На этой голове и громоотводов б
ольше... Проживёт преспокойно ещё столько
же, сколько и жил, если не больше, и умрёт...
и умрёт ведь спокойно! (Act One, scene XV)

According to Platonov, there are more gromootvody (lightning-conductors) on
the head of Vengerovich père. Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the
Second,” Van mentions Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder:

Ada ran to the window. From under the anxious magnolias a white-faced boy
flanked by two gaping handmaids stood aiming a camera at the harmless, gay
family group. But it was only a nocturnal mirage, not unusual in July.
Nobody was taking pictures except Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder.

After the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century electricity is
banned on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set).
In the old Russian alphabet the letter L was called lyudi. The second part
of Gorky’s autobiographical trilogy is entitled V lyudyakh (“Out in the
World,” 1916). On the other hand, in Gorky’s novel Zhizn’ Klima Samgina
(“The Life of Klim Samgin,” 1925-36) Lyutov makes a pun on zhizn’ (life)
and lozh’ (a lie) and mentions bukva “lyudi” (the letter L):

Склонив голову к плечу, он подмигнул левы
м глазом и прошептал:
― ?Жизнь для лжизни нам дана?, ― заметь, что
этот каламбуришко достигается приставко
й к слову жизнь буквы ?люди?. Штучка?
― Плохой каламбур, ― сухо сказал Клим.
― Отвратителен, ― согласился Лютов. (Part Two)

According to Lyutov, zhizn’ dlya lzhizni nam dana (life is given to us for
lying rather than living it). Shtuchka (“a little trick”) mentioned by
Lyutov brings to mind Ada’s shtuchki (little stunts) imitated by Lucette:

‘I knew it was hopeless,’ she said, looking away. ‘I did my best. I
imitated all her shtuchki (little stunts). I’m a better actress than she
but that’s not enough, I know. Go back now, they are getting dreadfully
drunk on your cognac.’ (2.5)

Shtuchka is a diminutive of shtuka (item; piece; thing; trick). In Chekhov’
s <Play without a Title> Shcherbuk calls Platonov’s late father shtukar’
(a trickster):

Щербук. Отстань! Довольно! Не раздражай сп
ящего льва! Молод ещё, еле видим! (Платонов
у.) И отец твой был молодец! Мы с ним, с поко
йничком, большие друзья были. Штукарь он б
ыл! Теперь таких и нет проказников, какими
мы с ним были... Эхх. Прошло время... (Петрин
у.) Герася! Побойся всевышнего! Мы здесь бе
седуем, а ты вслух читаешь! Имей деликатно
сть! (Act One, scene XIV)

In Gorky’s “Life of Klim Samgin” Lyutov (whose name comes from lyutyi,
“fierce”) mentions frantsuzskaya stolitsa Lyutetsiya (the French capital

Однако Самгин чувствовал, что Лютов искре
нно рад видеть его. В коридоре, по дороге в
кабинет, Самгин осведомился: где Алина?
- Алина? - ненужно переспросил Лютов, - Алин
а пребывает во французской столице Лютец
ии и пишет мне оттуда длинные, свирепые пи
сьма, - французы ей не нравятся. (Part Three)

On Antiterra Paris is also known as Lute (Darkbloom: “from Lutèce, ancient
name of Paris”). As a Chose student, Van traveled from time to time to
London or Lute (1.28).

According to Lyutov, Alina (Lyutov’s mistress who became a cabaret diva in
Paris) dislikes the French. One of the seconds in Demon’s sword duel with
Baron d’Onsky (nicknamed Skonky) is Colonel St. Alin, a scoundrel:

The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron
plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and
Irish ― a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had
bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps
leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan
arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves
of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a
scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky
died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a
gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly
self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble,
notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years
of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston ― a city where,
incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of
Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2)

Lyutov’s mistress is a namesake of knyazhna Alina (Princess Alina), in
Pushkin's EO the Moscow cousin of Praskovia Larin (Tatiana's and Olga's
mother). The latter has the same first name as Praskovia de Prey (born
Lanskoy), Percy de Prey’s mother in Ada. According to Demon (Van’s and
Ada’s father), Praskovia’s husband was killed in a pistol duel with Moses
de Vere:

'At the races, the other day, I was talking to a woman I preyed upon years
ago, oh long before Moses de Vere cuckolded her husband in my absence and
shot him dead in my presence - an epigram you've heard before, no doubt from
these very lips -'(1.38)

Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) believes that she was a
dancing girl in India long before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus

'It's not a very old religion, anyway, as religions go, is it?' said Marina
(turning to Van and vaguely planning to steer the chat to India where she
had been a dancing girl long before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus
swamp). (1.14)

In the same conversation in “Ardis the First” Marina mentions Mesopotamian
history that was taught practically in the nursery:

'When I was a little girl,' said Marina crossly, 'Mesopotamian history was
taught practically in the nursery.'

'Not all little girls can learn what they are taught,' observed Ada.

'Are we Mesopotamians?' asked Lucette.

'We are Hippopotamians,' said Van. 'Come,' he added, 'we have not yet
ploughed today.'

A day or two before, Lucette had demanded that she be taught to hand-walk.
Van gripped her by her ankles while she slowly progressed on her little red
palms, sometimes falling with a grunt on her face or pausing to nibble a
daisy. Dack barked in strident protest. (ibid.)

Dack is a dackel and brings to mind Chekhov’s dachshunds Quina and Brom,
the grandparents of Box II (the Nabokovs’ dachshund that followed them into

Marina + Alina = Arina + malina

Arina \xa8C Arina Rodionovna, Pushkin’s beloved nurse

malina \xa8C raspberry

In Four Sisters (as Chekhov’s play “The Three Sisters,” 1901, is known on
Antiterra) Sister Varvara (the garrulous originalka, ‘odd female,’ whom
Marina played in a film version) calls Irina (whom Ada played in a stage
version) Arinushka (a diminutive of both Arina and Irina):

"Ten years and one have gone by-abye since I left Moscow"’ ― (Ada, now
playing Varvara, copied the nun’s ‘singsongy devotional tone’ (pevuchiy
ton bogomolki, as indicated by Chekhov and as rendered so irritatingly well
by Marina). ‘"Nowadays, Old Basmannaya Street, where you (turning to Irina)
were born a score of yearkins (godkov) ago, is Busman Road, lined on both
sides with workshops and garages (Irina tries to control her tears). Why,
then, should you want to go back, Arinushka? (Irina sobs in reply)."
Naturally, as would-every fine player, mother improvised quite a bit, bless
her soul. And moreover her voice ― in young tuneful Russian! ― is
substituted for Lenore’s corny brogue.’ (2.9)

In his satire on Stalin, My zhivyom, pod soboyu ne chuya strany… (“We
live, not feeling land beneath us…” 1934), Mandelshtam mentions malina:

chto ni kazn' u nego, to malina

whatever the execution, it's a raspberry to him.

In “Eugene and Lara” (a performance watched by Demon in which Marina
played the heroine) several merry young gardeners wearing the garb of
Georgian tribesmen popped raspberries into their mouths:

In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason
the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths,
while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had
goofed ― the word ‘samovars’ may have got garbled in the agent’s
aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of
fruit trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into
the violent dance called kurva or ‘ribbon boule’ in the hilarious program
whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with
Prince N.’s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat. (1.2)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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