Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027371, Sun, 30 Apr 2017 22:27:15 +0300

more elephants in Ada
Before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) quotes Coppée and rhymes enfant with éléphant:

‘The last time I enjoyed you,’ said Demon ‘was in April when you wore a raincoat with a white and black scarf and simply reeked of some arsenic stuff after seeing your dentist. Dr Pearlman has married his receptionist, you’ll be glad to know. Now to business, my darling. I accept your dress’ (the sleeveless black sheath), ‘I tolerate your romantic hairdo, I don’t care much for your pumps na bosu nogu (on bare feet), your Beau Masque perfume — passe encore, but, my precious, I abhor and reject your livid lipstick. It may be the fashion in good old Ladore. It is not done in Man or London.’

‘Ladno (Okay),’ said Ada and, baring her big teeth, rubbed fiercely her lips with a tiny handkerchief produced from her bosom.

‘That’s also provincial. You should carry a black silk purse. And now I'll show what a diviner I am: your dream is to be a concert pianist!'

'It is not,' said Van indignantly. 'What perfect nonsense. She can't play a note!'

'Well, no matter,' said Demon. 'Observation is not always the mother of deduction. However, there is nothing improper about a hanky dumped on a Bechstein. You don't have, my love, to blush so warmly. Let me quote for comic relief

'Lorsque son fi-ancé fut parti pour la guerre

Irène de Grandfief, la pauvre et noble enfant

Ferma son pi-ano... vendit son éléphant'

'The gobble enfant is genuine, but the elephant is mine.'

'You don't say so,' laughed Ada. (1.38)

In her autobiographical story Mat' i muzyka ("Mother and Music," 1934) Marina Tsvetaev (who disappointed her mother, a gifted musician) describes a concert piano and mentions an elephant:

За прохладное «ivoire», мерцающее «Elfenbein», баснословное «слоновая кость» (как слона и эльфа — совместить?).

How can one combine an elephant with an elf?

Marina Tsvetaev was born in 1892. Chekhov (the writer who died in Badenweiler, a German spa) wrote his story Palata No. 6 (“Ward Six”) in 1892. One of Ada’s lovers, Philip Rack (Lucette’s music teacher who was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie) dies in Ward Five of the Kalugano hospital (1.42). “Elephant” has eight letters and “elf” only three. In German, elf means “eleven.” 6 + 5 = 8 + 3 = 11.

The title of Marina Tsvetaev’s autobiographical story brings to mind mat’-i-machekha (coltsfoot), a flower mentioned by Alfyorov in VN’s novel Mashenka (“Mary,” 1926):

-- А я на числах, как на качелях, всю жизнь прокачался. Бывало, говорил жене: раз я математик, ты мать-и-мачеха.

Горноцветов и Колин залились тонким смехом. Госпожа Дорн вздрогнула, испуганно посмотрела на обоих.

-- Одним словом: цифра и цветок,-- холодно сказал Ганин.
Только Клара улыбнулась. Ганин стал наливать себе воды, все смотрели на его движенье.
-- Да, вы правы, нежнейший цветок,-- протяжно сказал Алфёров, окинув соседа своим блестящим, рассеянным взглядом. (chapter II)

According to Alfyorov, he used to tell his wife: raz ya matematik, ty mat’-i-machekha (“since I’m a mathematician, you are a coltsfoot;” a pun: in Russian, mat’ means “mother” and machekha, “stepmother”). Ganin (the novel’s main character) compares Alfyorov to tsifra (a figure) and his young wife to tsvetok (a flower). The surname Tsvetaev comes from tsvet (flower; blossom; color). In both Мать и музыка (the title of Tsvetaev’s story) and мать-и-мачеха (the flower) the number of letters is eleven (4 + 1 + 6).

At the end of his poem Zabludivshiysya tramvay (“The Lost Tram,” 1921) Gumilyov several times mentions Mashenka:

Машенька, ты здесь жила и пела,

Мне, жениху, ковёр ткала,

Где же теперь твой голос и тело,

Может ли быть, что ты умерла?

Как ты стонала в своей светлице,

Я же с напудренною косой

Шёл представляться Императрице

И не увиделся вновь с тобой.

Понял теперь я: наша свобода

Только оттуда бьющий свет,

Люди и тени стоят у входа

В зоологический сад планет.

И сразу ветер знакомый и сладкий

И за мостом летит на меня,

Всадника длань в железной перчатке

И два копыта его коня.

Верной твердынею православья

Врезан Исакий в вышине,

Там отслужу молебен о здравьи

Машеньки и панихиду по мне.

И всё ж навеки сердце угрюмо,

И трудно дышать, и больно жить...

Машенька, я никогда не думал,

Что можно так любить и грустить!

Mashenka, you lived here and sang,

You wove me, your betrothed, a carpet,

Where are your voice and body now,

Is it possible that you are dead?

How you groaned in your front chamber,

While I, in a powdered wig,

Went to introduce myself to the Empress

Never to see you again.

Now I understand: our freedom

Is only an indirect light from those times,

People and shadows stand at the entrance

To a zoological park of planets.

And a sudden, familiar, sweet wind blows,

A horseman's hand in an iron glove

And two hooves of his horse

Fly at me over the bridge.

That faithful stronghold of Orthodoxy,

Isaac's, is etched upon the sky,

There I will hold a service for Mashenka's health

And a requiem mass for myself.

And my heart goes on forever in gloom,

It is hard to breathe and painful to live...

Mashenka, I never would have dreamed

That such love and longing were possible.

In his poem Gumilyov seems to identify himself with Grinyov, the main character and narrator in Pushkin’s short novel Kapitanskaya dochka (“The Captain’s Daughter,” 1836). Therefore, Mashenka in “The Lost Tram” is Masha Mironov (Grinyov’s beloved in Pushkin’s novel). The characters of “The Captain’s Daughter” include M. Beaupré, Grinyov’s French tutor who confessed that he was not vrag butylki (averse to the bottle):

Бопре в отечестве своём был парикмахером, потом в Пруссии солдатом, потом приехал в Россию pour être outchitel, не очень понимая значение этого слова. Он был добрый малый, но ветрен и беспутен до крайности. Главною его слабостию была страсть к прекрасному полу; нередко за свои нежности получал он толчки, от которых охал по целым суткам. К тому же не был он (по его выражению) и врагом бутылки, т. е. (говоря по-русски) любил хлебнуть лишнее.

Beaupré, in his native country, had been a hairdresser, then a soldier in Prussia, and then had come to Russia to be "outchitel," without very well knowing the meaning of this word. He was a good creature, but wonderfully absent and hare-brained. His greatest weakness was a love of the fair sex... Neither, as he said himself, was he averse to the bottle, that is, as we say in Russia, that his passion was drink. (chapter I)

The name Bouteillan (of the French butler at Ardis) comes from bouteille (Fr., bottle). L’ennemi de la dive bouteille (Beaupré’s words in his native language) brings to mind le mieux est l’ennemi du bien (the best thing is the enemy of the good one), a saying quoted by Vyazemski in Slyoznaya komplyanta, ki pe tetr vu fera rir (“A Tearful Complaint that Perhaps will Make you Laugh,” 1865). In Vyazemski’s poem dyu b’yan (du bien in Russian spelling) rhymes with Demian:

И так довольна я судьбою:
Ле мьё се ленеми дю бьян.
Боюсь, меня стихов ухою
Замучите вы, как Демьян.

Stikhov ukhoyu (“with the fish-soup of verses”) and Demian are allusions to Krylov’s fable Dem’yanova ukha (“Demian’s Fish-Soup,” 1815). According to Van, the society nickname of his father, Demon, is a form of Demian or Dementius (1.1).

Van calls the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” un dîner à quatre (a dinner for four):

‘I don’t know if you know,’ said Van, resuming his perch on the fat arm of his father’s chair. ‘Uncle Dan will be here with the lawyer and Lucette only after dinner.’

‘Capital,’ said Demon.

‘Marina and Ada should be down in a minute — ce sera un dîner à quatre.’ (1.38)

Krylov is the author of Kvartet (“The Quartet,” 1811). Krylov’s fable Lyubopytnyi ("The Sightseer," 1814) ends in the line: Slona-to ya i ne primetil (the elephant I did not notice). In a letter of September 11, 1890, to Suvorin Chekhov, sailing from the north part of Sakhalin (formerly, a place of penal servitude) to the island's south extremity, quotes The Sightseer’s punch line:

Не знаю, что у меня выйдет, но сделано мною немало. Хватило бы на три диссертации. Я вставал каждый день в 5 часов утра, ложился поздно и все дни был в сильном напряжении от мысли, что мною многое ещё не сделано, а теперь, когда уже я покончил с каторгою, у меня такое чувство, как будто я видел всё, но слона-то и не приметил.

I don’t know what will come of it, but I have done a good deal. I have got enough material for three dissertations. I got up every morning at five o’clock and went to bed late; and all day long was on the strain from the thought that there was still so much I hadn’t done; now that I have done with the convict system, I have the feeling that I have seen everything but have missed the elephant.

Russian for “elephant,” slon also means “bishop” (chessman) and brings to mind the Bishop of Belokonsk mentioned by Demon:

‘A propos, I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is somewhere in Italy, but I've managed to trace Marina to Tsitsikar - flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk - she will arrive in the late afternoon, wearing, no doubt, pleureuses, very becoming, and we shall then travel à trois to Ladore, because I don't think –’ (2.10)

According to Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’), Belokonsk [belyi – white; kon’ – horse] is the Russian twin of ‘Whitehorse’ (city in NW Canada). Russian for “horse,” kon’ also means “knight” (chessman).

In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901), known on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as Four Sisters (2.1, et passim), Dr Chebutykin mentions Tsitsikar (Qiqihar, a city in NE China):

ЧЕБУТЫКИН (читает газету). Цицикар. Здесь свирепствует оспа.

CHEBUTYKIN [reads from the newspaper]. Tsitsikar. Smallpox is raging here. (Act Two)

Ospa (small pox) brings to mind Dr Stella Ospenko and her ospedale where Demon was recovering after his duel with Skonky (Baron d’Onsky’s one-way nickname):

The alcohol his vigorous system had already imbibed was instrumental, as usual, in reopening what he gallicistically called condemned doors, and now as he gaped involuntarily as all men do while spreading a napkin, he considered Marina's pretentious ciel-étoilé hairdress and tried to realize (in the rare full sense of the word), tried to possess the reality of a fact by forcing it into the sensuous center, that here was a woman whom he had intolerably loved, who had loved him hysterically and skittishly, who insisted they make love on rugs and cushions laid on the floor ('as respectable people do in the Tigris-Euphrates valley'), who would woosh down fluffy slopes on a bobsleigh a fortnight after parturition, or arrive by the Orient Express with five trunks, Dack's grandsire, and a maid, to Dr Stella Ospenko's ospedale where he was recovering from a scratch received in a sword duel (and still visible as a white weal under his eighth rib after a lapse of nearly seventeen years). (1.38)

After his duel with Demon, Skonky married the Bohemian lady, the keeper of Glass Biota in a Boston museum (1.2). In a series of memoir essays Otets i ego muzey ("Father and his Museum," 1933-36) Marina Tvetaev points out that the main sponsor of the magnificent Alexander III Museum in Moscow (founded by Ivan Tsvetaev) was Nechaev-Maltsev, the owner of the glass factories in Gus'-Khrustal’nyi (“Chrystal Goose,” a city in the Province of Vladimir). Marina Tsvetaev’s poem Bohème (1917), in which karta vin (carte des vins) is mentioned, begins as follows:

Помнишь плащ голубой,
Фонари и лужи?
Как играли с тобой
Мы в жену и мужа.

Do you remember the blue cloak,

Street lamps and puddles?

How we played

In wife and husband.

Luzhi (puddles) bring to mind Luzhin, the main character in VN’s novel Zashchita Luzhina (“The Luzhin Defense,” 1930). Alexander Ivanovich Luzhin has the same name and patronymic as Herzen and Kuprin, the author of Slon (“The Elephant,” 1907) and Shakhmaty (“Chess,” 1927), a story dedicated to Alexander Alekhine (the first Russian World Chess Champion).

At the dinner in Bellevue Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s husband) demands the ‘cart de van:’

Lemorio's agents, an elderly couple, unwed but having lived as man and man for a sufficiently long period to warrant a silver-screen anniversary, remained unsplit at table between Yuzlik, who never once spoke to them, and Van, who was being tortured by Dorothy. As to Andrey (who made a thready 'sign of the cross' over his un-unbuttonable abdomen before necking in his napkin), he found himself seated between sister and wife. He demanded the 'cart de van' (affording the real Van mild amusement), but, being a hard-liquor man, cast only a stunned look at the 'Swiss White' page of the wine list before 'passing the buck' to Ada who promptly ordered champagne. (3.8)

Chekhov’s last words were davno ya ne pil shampanskogo (“it's a long time since I drank champagne”). According to Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’), the conversation during the dinner in Bellevue is a parody of Chekhov’s mannerisms.

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,dana.dragunoiu@gmail.com,shvabrin@humnet.ucla.edu
Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com
AdaOnline: "http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada: http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html
The VN Bibliography Blog: http://vnbiblio.com/
Search the archive with L-Soft: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A0=NABOKV-L

Manage subscription options :http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=NABOKV-L