Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027381, Tue, 9 May 2017 16:25:24 +0300

Horosho, L-shaped bathroom, bric-a-Braques & ivanilich in Ada
On the following day Ada informed her mother that Lucette badly needed a
bath and that she would give it to her, whether her governess liked it or
not. 'Horosho,' said Marina (while getting ready to receive a neighbor and
his protégé, a young actor, in her best Dame Marina style), 'but the
temperature should be kept at exactly twenty-eight (as it had been since the
eighteenth century) and don't let her stay in it longer than ten or twelve
minutes.' (1.23)

In the sense used by Marina the word khorosho means “all right.” Khorosho!
("Good!" 1927) is a poem by Mayakovski written for the tenth anniversary of
the October Revolution. It is parodied by VN in Istreblenie tiranov
("Tyrants Destroyed," 1938):

Праздник, как я уже говорил, разгорался, и
весь мокрый от слёз и смеха я стоял у окна,
слушая стихи нашего лучшего поэта, которы
е декламировал по радио чудный актёрский
голос, с баритональной игрой в каждой скл

Хорошо-с,-- а помните, граждане,
Как хирел наш край без отца?
Так без хмеля сильнейшая жажда
Не создаст ни пивца, ни певца.

Вообразите, ни реп нет,
Ни баклажанов, ни брюкв...
Так и песня, что днесь у нас крепнет,
Задыхалась в луковках букв.

Шли мы тропиной исторенной,
Горькие ели грибы,
Пока ворота истории
Не дрогнули от колотьбы!

Пока, белизною кительной
Сияя верным сынам,
С улыбкой своей удивительной
Правитель не вышел к нам.

The festivities, as I have said, were spreading; I stood at the window, my
whole being drenched with tears and convulsed with laughter, listening to
the verses of our foremost poet, declaimed on the radio by an actor’s juicy
voice, replete with baritone modulation:

Now then, citizens,

You remember how long

Our land wilted without a Father?...

Thus, without hops, no matter how strong

One’s thirst, it is rather

Difficult, isn’t it,

To make both the beer and the drinking song!

Just imagine, we lacked potatoes,

No turnips, no beets could we get:

Thus the poem, now blooming, wasted

In the bulbs of the alphabet!

A well-trodded road we had taken,

Bitter toadstools we ate.

Until by great thumps was shaking

History’s gate!

Until in his trim white tunic

Which upon us its radiance cast,

With his wonderful smile the Ruler

Came before his subjects at last! (chapter 16)

In the original, the verses of our foremost poet begin with the word
khorosho-s ("now then").

In a letter of May 10-20, 1866, to Fet Tolstoy says that he hopes to finish
his new novel (now known as “War and Peace”) that he will entitle Vsyo
khorosho, chto khorosho konchaetsya (“All's Well that Ends Well”) by the
beginning of 1867:

Роман свой я надеюсь кончить к 1867 году и н
апечатать весь отдельно с картинками, к[о
торы]е у меня уж заказаны, частью нарисова
ны Башиловым (я очень доволен ими) и под за
главием: ?Всё хорошо, что хорошо кончаетс

While Lucette soaks in the tub, Van and Ada make love in the bathroom’s
hidden nook:

The two elder children, having locked the door of the L-shaped bathroom from
the inside, now retired to the seclusion of its lateral part, in a corner
between a chest of drawers and an old unused mangle, which the sea-green eye
of the bathroom looking-glass could not reach; but barely had they finished
their violent and uncomfortable exertions in that hidden nook, with an empty
medicine bottle idiotically beating time on a shelf, when Lucette was
already calling resonantly from the tub and the maid knocking on the door:
Mlle Larivière wanted some hot water too. (1.23)

The L-shaped bathroom brings to mind the Antiterran L disaster followed by
great anti-L years of reactionary delusion:

The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau
milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and
cursing the notion of 'Terra,' are too well-known historically, and too
obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young
laymen and lemans - and not to grave men or gravemen.

Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone
by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum
again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth
century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming
comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and
the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless forefathers. (1.3)

“Bric-à-Braques” seems to hint at George Braques (a Cubist painter,
1882-1963) and at brikabrak (an antique shop mentioned by Tolstoy in “The
Death of Ivan Ilyich”); but it also brings to mind Lilya Brik (Mayakovski’
s mistress). In his essay on Mayakovski, Dekol’tirovannaya loshad’ (“The
Horse in a Décolleté Dress,” 1927), Khodasevich says that Mayakovski
surprised with his “novelty” only Shklovsky, Brik (Lilya’s husband, a
linguist who worked in Lenin’s and Stalin’s secret police) and Yakobson:

Если бы Хлебников, Брюсов, Уитман, Блок, Ан
дрей Белый, Гиппиус да ещё раёшники добро
го старого времени отобрали у Маяковског
о то, что он взял от них, -- от Маяковского б
ы осталось пустое место. "Новизною" он уди
вил только Шкловского, Брика да Якобсона.

Roman Yakobson (with whom VN had refused to collaborate on the translation
of Slovo o polku Igoreve) was a Professor of Slavic languages at Harvard. On
Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Harvard is
known as Aardvark:

As Van Veen himself was to find out, at the time of his passionate research
in terrology (then a branch of psychiatry) even the deepest thinkers, the
purest philosophers, Paar of Chose and Zapater of Aardvark, were emotionally
divided in their attitude toward the possibility that there existed’ a
distortive glass of our distorted glebe’ as a scholar who desires to remain
unnamed has put it with such euphonic wit. (Hm! Kveree-kveree, as poor Mlle
L. used to say to Gavronsky. In Ada’s hand.) (1.3)

Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal
native to Africa, “earth pig.” The animal’s Russian name, trubkozub
rhymes with Skalozub, a character in Griboedov’s Gore ot uma (“Woe from
Wit,” 1824). The name Griboedov brings to mind gor’kie eli griby (“bitter
toadstools we ate”), a line in the verses to which the narrator of Tyrants
Destroyed listens on the radio. During his conversation with Marina in
“Ardis the Second” Van is sitting on ivanilich and Marina quotes the lines
from Griboedov’s play:

'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?'

'…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 his essay on Mayakovski Khodasevich compares VN’s “late namesake” to a
horse that he saw in the circus:

Представьте себе лошадь, изображающую ст
арую англичанку. В дамской шляпке, с цвета
ми и перьями, в розовом платье, с коротким
и рукавами и с розовым рюшем вокруг гиган
тского вороного декольтэ, она ходит на за
дних ногах, нелепо вытягивая бесконечную
шею и скаля желтые зубы.

Такую лошадь я видел в цирке осенью 1912 год
а. Вероятно, я вскоре забыл бы её, если бы н
есколько дней спустя, придя в Общество св
ободной эстетики, не увидел там огромного
юношу с лошадиными челюстями, в чёрной ру
бахе, расстегнутой чуть ли не до пояса и о
бнажавшей гигантское лошадиное декольтэ.
Каюсь: прозвище "декольтированная лошадь"
надолго с того вечера утвердилось за юнош
ей... А юноша этот был Владимир Маяковский.
Это было его первое появление в литератур
ной среде, или одно из первых. С тех пор ло
шадиной поступью прошёл он по русской лит
ературе -- и ныне, сдается мне, стоит уже пр
и конце своего пути. Пятнадцать лет -- лоша
диный век.

The name of one of Marina’s lovers, Baron d’Onsky, seems to hint at
Onegin’s donsloy zherebets (Don stallion) in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (Two:
V: 4). After his duel with Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) Skonky (d’
Onsky’s one-way nickname) spent two or three years at the Aardvark Hospital
in Boston:

The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron
plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and
Irish ― a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had
bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps
leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan
arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves
of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a
scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky
died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a
gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly
self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble,
notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years
of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston ― a city where,
incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of
Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2)

The full text of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” was published as a book in
1869 (the year when d’Onsky married the Bohemian lady). According to Ada,
at Marina’s funeral Demon and d’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm,
wept comme des fontaines:

D’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around
Demon and both wept comme des fontaines. (3.8)

Fontan (“The Fountain,” 1836) is a poem by Tyutchev. In his biography of
Tyutchev Ivan Aksakov (Tyutchev’s son-in-law) quotes the poet’s letter to
his brother (written in 1867) in which Tyutchev mentions “Tolstoy’s last
arm” (a hero of the anti-Napoleon war, Count Osterman-Tolstoy lost his arm
in the battle of Kulm):

Судьбе угодно было вооружиться последней
рукой Толстого (вспоминает Фёдор Иванови
ч в одном из писем своих к брату лет 45 спус
тя), чтоб переселить меня на чужбину.

“Fate equipped itself with Tolstoy’s last arm in order to resettle me to a
foreign land.”

Kulm (Chlumec) is a town in northern Bohemia.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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