Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027377, Fri, 5 May 2017 17:58:46 +0300

Fialochka, Golden Veil & ivanilich in Ada
After Van’s and Ada’s death Ronald Oranger, old Van’s secretary and the editor of Ada, marries Violet Knox, Van’s typist whom Ada called ‘Fialochka’ (little Violet):

Violet Knox [now Mrs Ronald Oranger. Ed.], born in 1940, came to live with us in 1957. She was (and still is – ten years later) an enchanting English blonde with doll eyes, a velvet carnation and a tweed-cupped little rump [.....]; but such designs, alas, could no longer flesh my fancy. She has been responsible for typing out this memoir – the solace of what are, no doubt, my last ten years of existence. A good daughter, an even better sister, and half-sister, she had supported for ten years her mother's children from two marriages, besides laying aside [something]. I paid her [generously] per month, well realizing the need to ensure unembarrassed silence on the part of a puzzled and dutiful maiden. Ada called her 'Fialochka' and allowed herself the luxury of admiring 'little Violet' 's cameo neck, pink nostrils, and fair pony-tail. (5.4)

The word Fiyalochka was used by Dmitriev in his fable Repeynik i Fialka (“The Burdock and the Violet,” 1824). In his essay Dmitriev (1937), written for the centenary of the poet’s death (almost forty years his senior, Dmitriev outlived Pushkin by eight months), Khodasevich quotes this fable as a good sample of Dmitriev's poetry:


Между репейником и розовым кустом
Фиялочка себя от зависти скрывала;
Безвестною была, но горести не знала:
Тот счастлив, кто своим доволен уголком.

Between a burdock and a rose bush

the little violet hid herself from envy;

she was obscure, but knew no grief:

happy is he who is pleased with his corner.

The fable’s last word brings to mind ugolok (a corner) mentioned by Chatski at the end of Griboedov's play in verse Gore ot uma (Woe from Wit, 1824):

Бегу, не оглянусь, пойду искать по свету,

Где оскорблённому есть чувству уголок! -

Карету мне, карету!

I run away, without looking back. I shall go looking for a place in the world

where there is a corner for the insulted feeling!

A carriage for me, a carriage!

Chatski mentions ugolok earlier in the play, as he speaks to Sophie:

Где время то? где возраст тот невинный,

Когда, бывало, в вечер длинный

Мы с вами явимся, исчезнем тут и там,

Играем и шумим по стульям и столам.

А тут ваш батюшка с мадамой, за пикетом;

Мы в тёмном уголке, и кажется, что в этом!

Вы помните? вздрогнем, что скрипнет столик, дверь...

Gone is the time! Gone are the innocent years!

Remember ? We would run about pushing chairs,

We'd disappear then appear again,

Your father and Madame playing a table game,

Into a hideaway we would then sneak - This very corner I suppose it was -

We would be startled by every little creak . . . (Part Two, scene 7)

In “Ardis the Second” Marina, as she speaks to Van, quotes Chatski's words:

'A propos de coins: in Griboedov's Gore ot uma, "How stupid to be so clever," a play in verse, written, I think, in Pushkin's time, the hero reminds Sophie of their childhood games, and says:

How oft we sat together in a corner

And what harm might there be in that?

but in Russian it is a little ambiguous, have another spot, Van?' (he shook his head, simultaneously lifting his hand, like his father), 'because, you see, - no, there is none left anyway - the second line, i kazhetsya chto v etom, can be also construed as "And in that one, meseems," pointing with his finger at a corner of the room. Imagine — when I was rehearsing that scene with Kachalov at the Seagull Theater, in Yukonsk, Stanislavski, Konstantin Sergeevich, actually wanted him to make that cosy little gesture (uyutnen’kiy zhest).' (1.37)

In the same conversation with Van Marina says that Van’s costume is, in a sense, traurnyi (funerary):

You see (rummaging for her handkerchief under her pillow), when children are still quite tiny (takie malyutki), we cannot imagine that we can go without them, for even a couple of days, and later we do, and it’s a couple of weeks, and later it’s months, gray years, black decades, and then the opéra bouffe of the Christians’ eternity. I think even the shortest separation is a kind of training for the Elysian Games — who said that? I said that. And your costume, though very becoming, is, in a sense, traurnïy (funerary). (1.37)

In the first stanza of his poem Za grobom (“Following the Coffin,” 1908) Alexander Blok mentions traurnaya vual’ (the mourning veil) of nevesta (the bride) who goes after the coffin of her fiancé (a fashionable man of letters, creator of sacrilegious words):

Божья матерь Утоли моя печали

Перед гробом шла, светла, тиха.

А за гробом — в траурной вуали

Шла невеста, провожая жениха...

Blok is the author of Nochnaya fialka (“The Night Violet,” 1906), a poem in blank verse subtitled Son (a Dream). At the end of his essay Bezvremen’ye ("Times of Stagnation," 1906) Blok mentions the most terrible demon who whispers to us the sweetest words about the beautiful violet glance of the Bride – the Night Violet:

Самый страшный демон нашёптывает нам теперь самые сладкие речи: пусть вечно смотрит сквозь болотный туман прекрасный фиолетовый взор Невесты - Ночной Фиалки. Пусть беззвучно протекает счастье всадника, кружащего на усталом коне по болоту, под большой зелёной звездой.

The bride’s mourning veil in Blok’s poem Za grobom brings to mind Ada’s thick white veil “as impervious to light as a widow’s weeds:”

Demon, she [Lucette] said, had told her, last year at the funeral, that he was buying an island in the Gavailles ('incorrigible dreamer,' drawled Van). He had 'wept like a fountain' in Nice, but had cried with even more abandon in Valentina, at an earlier ceremony, which poor Marina did not attend either. The wedding - in the Greek-faith style, if you please - looked like a badly faked episode in an 'old movie, the priest was gaga and the dyakon drunk, and - perhaps, fortunately - Ada's thick white veil was as impervious to light as a widow's weeds. Van said he would not listen to that. (3.5)

Ada’s husband, Andrey Andreevich Vinelander, has the same name and patronymic as Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (AAA, Van's angelic Russian tutor) and Andrey Andreevich, Nadya’s fiancé in Chekhov’s last story Nevesta (“The Bride,” 1903). In Chekhov’s story Andrey Andreevich loves to play a violin. The main character in Chekhov’s story Skripka Rotshilda (“Rothschild’s Violin,” 1894) is Yakov Bronza, a coffin-maker. As he speaks to Van, Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) mentions Ada’s fiancé, the Copper Tartars and Bronze Riders:

‘He is — I mean, Vinelander is — the scion, s,c,i,o,n, of one of those great Varangians who had conquered the Copper Tartars or Red Mongols — or whoever they were — who had conquered some earlier Bronze Riders — before we introduced our Russian roulette and Irish loo at a lucky moment in the history of Western casinos.’ (2.10)

Ada is set on Demonia or Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which the territory of the Soviet Russia is occupied by Tartary, “an independent inferno” (1.3). From other countries Tartary is separated by the Golden Veil:

In contrast to the cloudless course of Demonian history in the twentieth century, with the Anglo-American coalition managing one hemisphere, and Tartary, behind her Golden Veil, mysteriously ruling the other, a succession of wars and revolutions were shown shaking loose the jigsaw puzzle of Terrestrial autonomies. In an impressive historical survey of Terra rigged up by Vitry — certainly the greatest cinematic genius ever to direct a picture of such scope or use such a vast number of extras (some said more than a million, others, half a million men and as many mirrors) — kingdoms fell and dictatordoms rose, and republics, half-sat, half-lay in various attitudes of discomfort. The conception was controversial, the execution flawless. Look at all those tiny soldiers scuttling along very fast across the trench-scarred wilderness, with explosions of mud and things going pouf-pouf in silent French now here, now there! (5.5)

The Golden Veil (also called the Golden Curtain, 1.30) separating Tartary from the rest of the world brings to mind zlatotkanyi pokrov (the gold-woven cover) cast over the mysterious world of spirits, over this nameless abyss, in Tyutchev’s poem Den’ i noch’ (Day and Night,” 1839):

На мир таинственный духо́в,
Над этой бездной безымянной,
Покров наброшен златотканый
Высокой волею богов.
День — сей блистательный покров
День, земнородных оживленье,
Души болящей исцеленье,
Друг человеков и богов!

Но меркнет день — настала ночь;
Пришла — и, с мира рокового
Ткань благодатную покрова
Сорвав, отбрасывает прочь...
И бездна нам обнажена
С своими страхами и мглами,
И нет преград меж ей и нами —
Вот отчего нам ночь страшна!

On to the secret world of spirits,

across this nameless chasm,

a cloth of gold has been draped

by the high will of the gods.

This glittering cover is day,

day, which enlivens the earth-born,

heals the suffering soul,

friend of gods and man!


Day will fade. Night has come.

It’s here, and from the fated world

it rips the cover of plenty

and tosses it aside,

revealing the abyss

with all its mists and fearsome sights.

No wall divides us from them,

which is why we’re afraid of the night!

(transl. F. Jude)

Day in Tyutchev’s poem brings to mind Cora Day, a character in Tolstoy’s tale of Murat, the Navajo chieftain, mentioned by Van:

The year 1880 (Aqua was still alive - somehow, somewhere!) was to prove to be the most retentive and talented one in his long, too long, never too long life. He was ten. His father had lingered in the West where the many-colored mountains acted upon Van as they had on all young Russians of genius. He could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin's 'Headless Horseman' poem in less than twenty minutes. With white-bloused, enthusiastically sweating Andrey Andreevich, he lolled for hours in the violet shade of pink cliffs, studying major and minor Russian writers — and puzzling out the exaggerated but, on the whole, complimentary allusions to his father’s volitations and loves in another life in Lermontov’s diamond-faceted tetrameters. He struggled to keep back his tears, while AAA blew his fat red nose, when shown the peasant-bare footprint of Tolstoy preserved in the clay of a motor court in Utah where he had written the tale of Murat, the Navajo chieftain, a French general’s bastard, shot by Cora Day in his swimming pool. What a soprano Cora had been! (1.28)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Tolstoy etc.: Tolstoy’s hero, Haji Murad, (a Caucasian chieftain) is blended here with General Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, and with the French revolutionary leader Marat assassinated in his bath by Charlotte Corday.

Alexander Blok was born in 1880. Blok’s essay on Tolstoy’s eightieth birthday is entitled Solntse nad Rossiey (“Sun above Russia,” 1908) and brings to mind ‘Sergey Solntsev,’ Katya’s pseudonym in VN’s story Admiralteyskaya igla (“The Admiralty Spire,” 1933). Admiralteyskaya igla is a line in Pushkin’s Mednyi vsadnik (“The Bronze Horseman,” 1833), a poem known on Antiterra as The Headless Horseman. Golova being Russian for “head,” the title of Pushkin’s poem (or, rather, of Captain Mayne Reid’s novel) brings to mind Ivan Ilyich Golovin, the main character of Tolstoy’s story Smert’ Ivana Ilyicha (“The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” 1886). In Tolstoy’s story the year 1880 was the hardest in Ivan Ilyich’s life:

Это было в 1880 году. Этот год был самый тяжёлый в жизни Ивана Ильича.

This was in 1880, the hardest year of Ivan Ilyich's life. (chapter III)

Invited by Marina for a talk in her bedroom, Van sits down on the ivanilich:

'Sit down, have a spot of chayku,' she said. 'The cow is in the smaller jug, I think. Yes, it is.' And when Van, having kissed her freckled hand, lowered himself on the ivanilich (a kind of sighing old hassock upholstered in leather): 'Van, dear, I wish to say something to you, because I know I shall never have to repeat it again. Belle, with her usual flair for the right phrase, has cited to me the cousinage-dangereux-voisinage adage - I mean "adage," I always fluff that word - and complained qu'on s'embrassait dans tous les coins. Is that true?' (1.37)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Ivanilich: a pouf plays a marvelous part in Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, where it sighs deeply under a friend of the widow's.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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