Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027313, Wed, 1 Mar 2017 17:08:15 +0300

klok of chelovek, fingers & forking in Ada
Would she write? Oh, she did! Oh, every old thing turned out superfine! Fancy raced fact in never-ending rivalry and girl giggles. Andrey lived only a few months longer, po pal'tzam (finger counting) one, two, three, four - say, five. Andrey was doing fine by the spring of nineteen six or seven, with a comfortably collapsed lung and a straw-colored beard (nothing like facial vegetation to keep a patient busy). Life forked and reforked. Yes, she told him. He insulted Van on the mauve-painted porch of a Douglas hotel where Van was awaiting his Ada in a final version of Les Enfants Maudits. Monsieur de Tobak (an earlier cuckold) and Lord Erminin (a second-time second) witnessed the duel in the company of a few tall yuccas and short cactuses. Vinelander wore a cutaway (he would); Van, a white suit. Neither man wished to take any chances, and both fired simultaneously. Both fell. Mr Cutaway's bullet struck the outsole of Van's left shoe (white, black-heeled), tripping him and causing a slight fourmillement (excited ants) in his foot - that was all. Van got his adversary plunk in the underbelly - a serious wound from which he recovered in due time, if at all (here the forking swims in the mist). Actually it was all much duller. (3.8)

“Life forked and reforked” brings to mind the saying na nebe vilami pisano (it is still in the air; literally: “written in the sky with a pitch-fork”) used by von Koren in Chekhov’s novella Duel’ (“The Duel,” 1891):

Дьякон засмеялся и похлопал зоолога по плечу.

— Так-то... — продолжал он. — Вот вы всё учите, постигаете пучину моря, разбираете слабых да сильных, книжки пишете и на дуэли вызываете — и всё остается на своем месте, а глядите, какой-нибудь слабенький старец святым духом пролепечет одно только слово или из Аравии прискачет на коне новый Магомет с шашкой, и полетит у вас всё вверх тарамашкой, и в Европе камня на камне не останется.

— Ну, это, дьякон, на небе вилами писано!

The deacon laughed and slapped the zoologist on the shoulder.

"Yes . . ." he went on; "here you are teaching all the time, fathoming the depths of the ocean, dividing the weak and the strong, writing books and challenging to duels--and everything remains as it is; but, behold! some feeble old man will mutter just one word with a holy spirit, or a new Mahomet, with a sword, will gallop from Arabia, and everything will be topsy-turvy, and in Europe not one stone will be left standing upon another."

"Well, deacon, it is still in the air." (chapter XVI)

Vilami (with a pitch-fork) is the Instrumental case of vily, a word that occurs in the saying libo sena klok, libo vily v bok (“either a piece of hay, or a prod with a pitch-fork”) used by Fed’ka the convict in Dostoevski’s novel Besy (“The Possessed,” 1872):

“Наши доходишки, сами знаете, либо сена клок, либо вилы в бок. Я вон в пятницу натрескался пирога, как Мартын мыла, да с тех пор день не ел, другой погодил, а на третий опять не ел. Воды в реке сколько хошь, в брюхе карасей развёл...”

“All we get, as you know, is an armful of hay, or a prod with a fork. Last Friday I filled myself as full of pie as Martin did of soap; since then I didn't eat one day, and the day after I fasted, and on the third I'd nothing again. I've had my fill of water from the river. I'm breeding fish in my belly.” (Part Two, chapter 2 “Night. Continued”)

There is bok (side) in Nabokov. In the saying used by Fed’ka bok rhymes with klok (piece). In her last note Demon’s wife Aqua (Marina’s mad twin sister) mentioned klok (piece) of a chelovek (man):

The hands of a clock, even when out of order, must know and let the dumbest little watch know where they stand, otherwise neither is a dial but only a white face with a trick mustache. Similarly, chelovek (human being) must know where he stands and let others know, otherwise he is not even a klok (piece) of a chelovek, neither a he, nor she, but 'a tit of it' as poor Ruby, my little Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. (1.3)

In Chekhov’s Duel’ Laevski, as he speaks to Samoylenko, mentions klok zemli (a plot of land) and vinogradnik (a vineyard):

“Какая ложь! Мы бежали, в сущности, от мужа, но лгали себе, что бежим от пустоты нашей интеллигентной жизни. Будущее наше рисовалось нам так: вначале на Кавказе, пока мы ознакомимся с местом и людьми, я надену вицмундир и буду служить, потом же на просторе возьмём себе клок земли, будем трудиться в поте лица, заведём виноградник, поле и прочее.”

“What a deception! We really ran away from her husband, but we lied to ourselves and made out that we ran away from the emptiness of the life of the educated class. We pictured our future like this: to begin with, in the Caucasus, while we were getting to know the people and the place, I would put on the Government uniform and enter the service; then at our leisure we would pick out a plot of ground, would toil in the sweat of our brow, would have a vineyard and a field, and so on.” (Chapter I)

Vinogradnik brings to mind Andrey Vinelander, Ada’s husband who, as imagined by Van, lived only a few months longer, po pal'tzam (finger counting). Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Van mentions Persty grapes:

Demon popped into his mouth a last morsel of black bread with elastic samlet, gulped down a last pony of vodka and took his place at the table with Marina facing him across its oblong length, beyond the great bronze bowl with carved-looking Calville apples and elongated Persty grapes. (1.38)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Persty: Evidently Pushkin’s vinograd:

as elongated and transparent

as are the fingers of a girl.

(devï molodoy, jeune fille)

Vinograd (“The Grapes,” 1824) is a poem by Pushkin; persty (a word used by Pushkin in his poem) is plural of perst (obs., “finger”). Chapter XVII of Chekhov’s Duel’ has the epigraph from Pushkin’s poem Vospominanie (“Remembrance,” 1828):

...в уме, подавленном тоской,
Теснится тяжких дум избыток;
Воспоминание безмолвно предо мной
Свой длинный развивает свиток.
И с отвращением читая жизнь мою,
Я трепещу и проклинаю,
И горько жалуюсь, и горько слёзы лью,
Но строк печальных не смываю.

Upon my mind, weighed down with woe,

Crowd thoughts, a heavy multitude:

In silence memory unfolds

Her long, long scroll before my eyes.

Loathing and shuddering I curse

And bitterly lament in vain,

And bitter though the tears I weep

I do not wash those lines away.

The word repeated twice in the penultimate line, gor’ko (bitterly) is the antonym of sladko (sweet). When mosquitoes bit Pushkin in Priyutino (the Olenins' estate near St. Petersburg where the poet courted Anna Olenin), he exclaimed ‘Sladko!’ On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Pushkin used to exclaim ‘Sladko!’ in Yukonsk:

The ‘pest’ appeared as suddenly as it would vanish. It settled on pretty bare arms and legs without the hint of a hum, in a kind of recueilli silence, that — by contrast — caused the sudden insertion of its absolutely hellish proboscis to resemble the brass crash of a military band. Five minutes after the attack in the crepuscule, between porch step and cricket-crazed garden, a fiery irritation would set in, which the strong and the cold ignored (confident it would last a mere hour) but which the weak, the adorable, the voluptuous took advantage of to scratch and scratch and scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant). ‘Sladko! (Sweet!)’ Pushkin used to exclaim in relation to a different species in Yukon. During the week following her birthday, Ada’s unfortunate fingernails used to stay garnet-stained and after a particularly ecstatic, lost-to-the-world session of scratching, blood literally streamed down her shins — a pity to see, mused her distressed admirer, but at the same time disgracefully fascinating — for we are visitors and investigators in a strange universe, indeed, indeed. (1.17)

Ada stops biting her fingernails (a habit that brings to mind podnogotnaya, one of Dostoevski’s favorite words that comes from nogot’, “fingernail,” and means “the whole truth”) after Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess) threatened to smear her fingertips with French mustard:

A new and conclusive resolution was taken on New Year’s Eve after Mlle Larivière had threatened to smear poor Ada’s fingertips with French mustard and tie green, yellow, orange, red, pink riding hoods of wool around them (the yellow index was a trouvaille). (ibid.)

At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon calls Jones (the footman) chelovek and uses the phrase s glazami (with the eyes):

'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. (1.38)

In Blok’s poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) p'yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: “In vino veritas!” Chekhov’s story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy ("Woman as Seen by a Drunkard," 1885), in which girls under sixteen are compared to distilled water, is signed Brat moego brata (My brother's brother). Aqua’s last note was signed: “My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (‘now is out of hell’).”

When Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father who perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster, 3.7) found out about his children’s affair and made his son give up Ada, Van wants to shoot himself:

Van sealed the letter, found his Thunderbolt pistol in the place he had visualized, introduced one cartridge into the magazine and translated it into its chamber. Then, standing before a closet mirror, he put the automatic to his head, at the point of the pterion, and pressed the comfortably concaved trigger. Nothing happened - or perhaps everything happened, and his destiny simply forked at that instant, as it probably does sometimes at night, especially in a strange bed, at stages of great happiness or great desolation, when we happen to die in our sleep, but continue our normal existence, with no perceptible break in the faked serialization, on the following, neatly prepared morning, with a spurious past discreetly but firmly attached behind. Anyway, what he held in his right hand was no longer a pistol but a pocket comb which he passed through his hair at the temples. It was to gray by the time that Ada, then in her thirties, said, when they spoke of their voluntary separation:

'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)

Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whom Van blinded with an alpenstock for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada) seems to be the son of Arkadiy Dolgoruki, the narrator and main character in Dostoevski’s Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875), and Alphonsine (a French girl in the same novel). As an infant, Kim must have been stolen by the Gypsies who somehow managed to smuggle him to Antiterra. An ageless concierge at Alphonse Four (Lucette’s hotel in Paris, 3.3), ‘Alphonse Cinque’ seems to hint at Alfonsinka (as Arkadiy calls Lambert’s mistress who turns out to be shpion, “a spy”). According to Arkadiy, when he was thirteen, Lambert stuck a fork in his leg:

“Потом мы воротились, заехали в гостиницу, взяли номер, стали есть и пить шампанское; пришла дама... Я, помню, был очень поражён тем, как пышно она была одета, в зелёном шёлковом платье. Тут я всё это и увидел... про что вам говорил... Потом, когда мы стали опять пить, он стал её дразнить и ругать; она сидела без платья; он отнял платье, и когда она стала браниться и просить платье, чтоб одеться, он начал её изо всей силы хлестать по голым плечам хлыстом. Я встал, схватил его за волосы, и так ловко, что с одного раза бросил на пол. Он схватил вилку и ткнул меня в ляжку. Тут на крик вбежали люди, а я успел убежать. С тех пор мне мерзко вспомнить о наготе; поверьте, была красавица.”

“Then we returned, drove to an hotel, took a room, and began eating, and drinking champagne; a lady came in. . . . I remember being awfully impressed by her being so splendidly dressed; she wore a green silk dress. It was then I saw . . . all that I told you about. . . . Afterwards, when we had begun drinking, he began taunting and abusing her; she was sitting with nothing on, he took away her clothes and when she began scolding and asking for her clothes to dress again, he began with all his might beating her with the riding-whip on her bare shoulders. I got up, seized him by the hair, and so neatly that I threw him on the ground at once. He snatched up a fork and stuck it in my leg. Hearing the outcry, people ran in, and I had time to run away. Ever since then it's disgusted me to think of nakedness; and, believe me, she was a beauty." (Part One, chapter II, 3)

In Dostoevski’s story Son smeshnogo cheloveka (“The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,” 1877) the hero shoots himself in his dream and an angel brings him to another Earth-like planet. The Antiterran L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century (1.3) seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS) in our world. January 3, 1876, is Lucette’s birthday; L is Lermontov’s initial. Like Lermontov’s poem Son (“The Dream,” 1841), Ada seems to be a triple dream (a dream within a dream within a dream).

In the old Russian alphabet the letter L was called Lyudi, and the letter D (Dostoevski’s initial), Dobro. In Kunyaev’s poem Dobro dolzhno byt’ s kulakami… (“Good should have Fists,” 1959) kulakami (Instr. pl. of kulak, “fist”) rhymes with klokami (Instr. pl. of klok):

Добро должно быть с кулаками.
Добро суровым быть должно,
чтобы летела шерсть клоками
со всех, кто лезет на добро…

Kulak = kukla (doll). In her last note Aqua calls herself “this eye-rolling toy:”

Aujourd’hui (heute-toity!) I, this eye-rolling toy, have earned the psykitsch right to enjoy a landparty with Herr Doktor Sig, Nurse Joan the Terrible, and several ‘patients,’ in the neighboring bor (piney wood) where I noticed exactly the same skunk-like squirrels, Van, that your Darkblue ancestor imported to Ardis Park, where you will ramble one day, no doubt. (1.3)

“Nurse Joan the Terrible” hints at the tsar Ivan the Terrible. In his essay on Dostoevski in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers” Ayhenvald calls Dostoevski “Ivan the Terrible of Russian Literature” and mentions lyudi (people):

Мучитель и мученик, Иван Грозный русской литературы, он казнит нас лютой казнью своего слова и потом, как Иван Грозный, живой человеческий анчар, ропщет и молится, и зовет Христа, и Христос приходит к этому безумцу и мудрецу, к этому юродивому, и тогда он плачет кровавыми слезами и упоённо терзает себя своими веригами, своими каторжными цепями, которые наложили на него люди и которых он уже и сам не мог сбросить со своей измученной души.

The last word in Ayhenvald’s essay on Dostoevski is Ada (gen. of Ad, “Inferno”):

И гнетущей загадкой встаёт он перед нами, как олицетворенная боль, как чёрное солнце страдания. Были доступны ему глубокие мистерии человеческого, и не случайность он, не просто эпизод психологический, одна из возможных встреч на дороге или на бездорожьях русской жизни, не пугающий мираж чеховского монаха или бредовое приключение ночной души: нет, он - трагическая необходимость духа, так что каждый должен переболеть Достоевским и, если можно, его преодолеть. Трудна эта моральная задача, потому что сам он был точно живая Божественная комедия; в ней же нет сильнее и страшнее - Ада.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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