Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020730, Wed, 15 Sep 2010 02:25:43 +0400

yawning, Mt Yawn, She Yawns Castle in ADA
At the end of their dinner in Ursus (2.8) Ada says: 'Look, our cavalier is yawning "fit to declansh his masher"' (vulgar Ladore cant).
'How (ascension of Mt Yawn) true,' uttered Van, ceasing to palpate the velvet cheek of his Cupidon peach, which he had bruised but not sampled.

It [the boring conversation during another dinner: 3.8] went on and on like that for more than an hour and Van's clenched jaws began to ache.

They [Van and Ada] followed southward the famous Fillietaz Promenade which went along the Swiss side of the lake from Valvey to the Chateau de Byron (or 'She Yawns Castle'). (3.8)

In Amfiteatrov's story "Чёрт" ("The Devil", 1897)* I came across the following rhymes on yawning:

Во время оно
Проглотил кит Иону;
Не ты ль, Никита,
Проглотил кита?

In the old days
A whale swallowed Jonah.
Wasn't it you, Nikita,
Who swallowed a whale?

The (now rare) name Иона instantly reminds a cultured Russian of Dr Dmitriy Ionych Startsev, the hero of Chekhov's story "Ionych" (1898). As to Nikita, it is a rather common name. One remembers, for instance, tsar Nikita, the hero of a frivolous poem by Pushkin, and Nikita Khrushchyov, the Soviet leader (whom we see visiting Zembla in Pale Fire). There is Nikita, the brutal hospital watchman, in Chekhov's story "Ward Six" (1892).
According to Vivian Darkbloom, the conversation during the dinner with Ada, her husband and her husband's sister that bores Van so much (3.8) is a parody of Chekhovian dialogues. Chekhov is the author of "Скука жизни" ("Tedium Vitae", 1886) and "Скучная история" ("A Dull Story", 1889), two wonderful stories about old people. The family name of Chekhov's Ionych, Startsev, comes from старец (old man, elderly monk). Старец was the nickname Chekhov gave Suvorin, the editor of the Novoe Vremya newspaper. Interestingly, Amfiteatrov signed his contributions to Novoe Vremya Old Gentleman (Alexander Chekhov calls him "Old" in a letter to his younger brother).

*a character and part-time narrator in this story is Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Austrian novelist

Alexey Sklyarenko

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