Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027321, Sat, 11 Mar 2017 14:32:54 +0300

cognachok in TRLSK; Sorciere, Zembre & Minder in Ada
In VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) Pahl Pahlich Rechnoy mentions cognachok (a little brandy):

“In the meantime,” said Pahl Pahlich, “we shall clap down a little brandy – cognachkoo.” (chapter 15)

In Dostoevski’s novel Brat’ya Karamazovy (“Brothers Karamazov,” 1880) one of the chapters is entitled Za cognachkom (“Over the Brandy”).

In Pahl Pahlich’s lodgings there is a photographic portrait of the Russian Imperial Family:

While they were arguing over the position, with White trying to take his move back, I looked round the room. I noted the portrait of what had been in the past an Imperial Family. And the moustache of a famous general, moscowed a few years ago. I noted, too, the bulging springs of the bug-brown couch, which served, I felt, as a triple bed – for husband and wife and child. (ibid.)

In his memoir essay Belyi koridor (“The White Corridor,” 1937) Khodasevich compares Lyutik (the Kamenevs’ boy whom Comrade Raskolnikov took with him to the Volga and who wore a sailor’s suit) to poor Prince Alexey (the son of the tsar Nicholas II whose family was executed in July of 1918):

- А какой самостоятельный - вы и представить себе не можете! В прошлом году пристал, чтобы мы его отпустили на Волгу с товарищем Раскольниковым. Мы не хотели пускать - опасно всё-таки, - но он настоял на своём. Я потом говорю товарищу Раскольникову: "Он, наверное, вам мешал? И не рады были, что взяли?" А товарищ Раскольников отвечает: "Что вы! Да он у вас молодчина! Приехали мы с ним в Нижний. Там всякого народу ждёт меня по делам - видимо-невидимо. А он взял револьвер, стал у моих дверей - никого не пустил!" Вернулся наш Лютик совсем другим: возмужал, окреп, вырос... Товарищ Раскольников тогда командовал флотом. И представьте - он нашего Лютика там на Волге одел по-матросски: матросская куртка, матросская шапочка, фуфайка такая, знаете, полосатая. Даже башмаки - как матросы носят. Ну - настоящий маленький матросик!

Слушать её мне противно и жутковато. Ведь так же точно, таким же матросиком, недавно бегал ещё один мальчик, сыну её примерно ровесник: наследник, убитый большевиками: ребёнок, которого кровь на руках вот у этих счастливых родителей!

In Dostoevski’s novel Prestuplenie i nakazanie (“Crime and Punishment,” 1866) the protagonist’s name is Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. The characters of VN’s novel Priglashenie na kazn’ (“Invitation to a Beheading,” 1935) include the jailer Rodion and the lawyer Roman. The title of VN’s novel brings to mind Baudelaire’s poem L'invitation au voyage (“Invitation to the Voyage”). At the end of his essay Dostoevskiy i Nitsshe (“Doestoevski and Nietzsche,” 1902) Lev Shestov quotes the lines from Baudelaire’s poem L'Irréparable (“The Irreparable”):

Ницше и Достоевский, как и Гоголь, сами были безобразнейшими людьми, не имевшими обыденных надежд. Они пытались найти своё там, где никто никогда не ищет, где по общему убеждению нет и не может быть ничего, кроме вечной тьмы и хаоса, где даже сам Милль предполагает возможность действия без причины. Там, может быть, каждый подпольный человек значит столько же, сколько и весь мир, там, может быть, люди трагедии и найдут то, чего они искали... Люди обыденности не захотят переступить в погоне за таким невероятным "быть может" роковую черту. Но ведь их никто и не зовёт к этому. Оттого-то и вопрос поэта: aimes-tu les damnés, dis-moi, connais-tu l'irrémissible?

In Baudelaire’s poem the question is addressed to adorable sorcière (adorable sorceress):

Adorable sorcière, aimes-tu les damnés?
Dis, connais-tu l'irrémissible?

Adorable sorceress, do you love the damned?
Say, do you know the irremissible?

In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van buys a villa for himself and Ada in Sorcière, in the Valais:

On Wednesday, October 22, in the early afternoon, Dorothy, 'frantically' trying to 'locate' Ada (who after her usual visit to the Three Swans was spending a couple of profitable hours at Paphia's 'Hair and Beauty' Salon) left a message for Van, who got it only late at night when he returned from a trip to Sorcière, in the Valais, about one hundred miles east, where he bought a villa for himself et ma cousine, and had supper with the former owner, a banker's widow, amiable Mme Scarlet and her blond, pimply but pretty, daughter Eveline, both of whom seemed erotically moved by the rapidity of the deal. (3.8)

In his essay The Texture of Time Van Veen (who quotes Baudelaire’s poem L'invitation au voyage elsewhere in Ada) several times mentions Sorcière:

The Past is changeless, intangible, and ‘never-to-be-revisited’ — terms that do not fit this or that section of Space which I see, for instance, as a white villa and its whiter (newer) garage with seven cypresses of unequal height, tall Sunday and short Monday, watching over the private road that loops past scrub oak and briar down to the public one connecting Sorcière with the highway to Mont Roux (still one hundred miles apart). (Part Four)

We build models of the past and then use them spatiologically to reify and measure Time. Let us take a familiar example. Zembre, a quaint old town on the Minder River, near Sorcière, in the Valais, was being lost by degrees among new buildings. (ibid.)

The real name of Fyodor Raskolnikov (1892-1939), the commander of Red fleets on the Caspian and the Baltic during the Russian Civil War, was Fyodor Ilyin (btw., Ivan Ilyin, 1883-1954, was another celebrated philosopher who lived in exile). In VN’s story Usta k ustam (“Lips to Lips,” 1931) Ilya Borisovich wants to sign his novel Lips to Lips “I. Annenski” (the pseudonym derived from Anna, the name of his late wife). The editor of Arion (a Paris émigré review in which Ilya Borisovich’s novel is published), Galatov proposes to substitute “Ilya Annenski” for "I. Annenski" (in order to avoid confusion with the 'last swan of Tsarskoe Selo,' as Gumilyov called the poet Innokentiy Annenski, 1855-1909) but then arbitrarily changes it to "A. Ilyin."

In TRLSK Sebastian Knight dies of a heart disease. In his essay Ob Annenskom (“On Annenski,” 1935) Khodasevich compares Annenski (the author of “The Cypress Chest” who suffered from an incurable heart disease and whose penname was Nik. T-o, “Nobody”) to Ivan Golovin, the main character in Tolstoy's story The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886). Golova being Russian for “head,” the name Veen, of almost all main characters of Ada, looks like beheaded Golovin. According to Sergey Tolstoy (Leo’s elder son, the author of “Sketches of the Past,” 1949), the name Karenin was derived by his father from karenon (the Greek word for “head” that occurs in Homer’s Odyssey). At the beginning of Ada the opening sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenin (1875-77) is turned inside out:

'All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,' says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)

Vivian Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): All happy families etc: mistranslations of Russian classics are ridiculed here. The opening sentence of Tolstoy’s novel is turned inside out and Anna Arkadievna’s patronymic given an absurd masculine ending, while an incorrect feminine one is added to her surname. ‘Mount Tabor’ and ‘Pontius’ allude to the transfigurations (Mr G. Steiner’s term, I believe) and betrayals to which great texts are subjected by pretentious and ignorant versionists.

While the name Steiner comes from Stein (Germ., stone), the name Kamenev comes from kamen’ (Russ., stone). Kamen’ (1913) is Mandelshtam’s first collection of poetry. In Ada (1.2) there are allusions to ludicrous blunders in Lowell’s versions of Mandelshtam’s poems. In the name Karenina there is not only karenon (head), but also Nina (the name Pahl Pahlich Rechnoy’s former wife). In his book Dobro v uchenii gr. Tolstogo i Nitsshe (“The Good in the Teaching of Count Tolstoy and Nietzsche,” 1889) Shestov discusses not only Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin and Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zaratustra, but also Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment.

Zembre + Lolita = Zembla + toiler/loiter

Zembre + Minder + Lolita = Zembla + reminder + toil/ilot/Loti/Lito

Zembre seems to hint at e sempre bene (It., “and it’s all right”), a phrase used by Pushkin in Eugene Onegin (Eight: XXXV: 14):

Стал вновь читать он без разбора.
Прочёл он Гиббона, Руссо,
Манзони, Гердера, Шамфора,
Madame de Stael, Биша, Тиссо,
Прочёл скептического Беля,
Прочёл творенья Фонтенеля,
Прочёл из наших кой-кого,
Не отвергая ничего:
И альманахи, и журналы,
Где поученья нам твердят,
Где нынче так меня бранят,
А где такие мадригалы
Себе встречал я иногда:
E sempre bene, господа.

He once again started to read without discernment.

He read Gibbon, Rousseau,

Manzoni, Herder, Chamfort,

Mme de Staël, Bichat, Tissot.

He read the skeptic Bayle,

he read the works of Fontenelle,

he read some of our native authors,

without rejecting anything—

Both “almanacs” and magazines

where sermons into us are drummed,

where I’m today abused so much

but where such madrigals

to me addressed I met with now and then:

e sempre bene, gentlemen.

Btw., according to Kinbote, the name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya, but of Semberland, a land of reflections, of ‘resemblers’ (note to Line 894).

Lolita (1955) is a novel by VN. In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla (a distant northern land). According to Kinbote, it was he who observed that ‘spider’ in reverse is ‘redips,’ and T. S. Eliot,’ ‘toilest’ (in Ada, 1.1 et passim, Van mentions Mr. Eliot, a Jewish businessman). Kinbote admits that Hazel Shade (Shade’s daughter who twisted words) resembled him in certain respects (note to Lines 347-348). Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda). In Russian nadezhda means “hope.” In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Shestov calls Chekhov pevets beznadezhnosti (the bard of hopelessness):

Чтобы в двух словах определить его тенденцию, я скажу: Чехов был певцом безнадежности. Упорно, уныло, однообразно в течение всей своей почти 25-летней литературной деятельности Чехов только одно и делал: теми или иными способами убивал человеческие надежды. В этом, на мой взгляд, сущность его творчества.

According to Shestov, in the course of his almost twenty-five-year-long literary work Chekhov was stubbornly and methodically killing human hopes. Shestov’s essay 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).

Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on Oct. 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum). There is a hope that after Kinbote’s death Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin’s epigrams), will be “full” again.

In German minder means “less; lower.”

In his essay on Bryusov (in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers”) Aykhenvald calls Bryusov ilot iskusstva (“a helot of art”).

In VN’s Parizhskaya poema (“The Paris Poem,” 1943) the hero lives on rue Pierre Loti, 5. According to Doc Fitzbishop (the surgeon in the Kalugano hospital where Van recovers from the wound that he received in a pistol duel with Captain Tapper), Van can find Philip Rack (Lucette’s music teacher who was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie) in Ward Five where hopeless cases are kept (1.42). In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov compares his story “Ward No. 6” to lemonade (and Suvorin, to a hard drinker). The pseudonym Shestov comes from shest’ (six). Doc Fitzbishop brings to mind Clare Bishop, Sebastian’s girlfriend in TRLSK.

In his memoir essay Bryusov (1925) Khodasevich mentions Lito, a (“completely dead”) Soviet institution whose head was Bryusov:

При уничтожении Литературно-Художественного Кружка была реквизирована его библиотека и, как водится, расхищалась. Книги находились в ведении Московского Совета, и Союз писателей попросил, чтобы они были переданы ему. Каменев, тогдашний председатель Совета, согласился. Как только Брюсов узнал об этом, он тотчас заявил протест и стал требовать, чтобы библиотека была отдана Лито, совершенно мёртвому учреждению, которым он заведывал. Я состоял членом правлений Союза, и мне поручили попытаться уговорить Брюсова, чтобы он отказался от своих притязаний. Я тут же взял телефонную трубку и позвонил к Брюсову. Выслушав меня, он ответил:

- Я вас не понимаю, Владислав Фелицианович. Вы обращаетесь к должностному лицу, стараясь его склонить к нарушению интересов вверенного ему учреждения.

Услышав про "должностное лицо" и "вверенное учреждение", я уже не стал продолжать разговора. Библиотеку перевезли в Лито.

In his essay Khodasevich speaks of Bryusov's desire to direct Russian literature under the Bolsheviks and mentions nadezhda (hope) and gradusy (degrees):

А какая надежда на то, что в истории литературы будет сказано: "В таком-то году повернул русскую литературу на столько-то градусов".

And what hope that in the history of literature it will be said: “in the year of grace so-and-so he has turned Russian literature to so-and-so many degrees.”

Alexey Sklyarenko

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