Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027382, Wed, 10 May 2017 17:26:47 +0300

mirabilic year, mouse-and-cat & Cossack pony of Klass vodka in Ada
The modest narrator has to remind the rereader of all this, because in April (my favorite month), 1869 (by no means a mirabilic year), on St George's Day (according to Mlle Larivière's maudlin memoirs) Demon Veen married Aqua Veen - out of spite and pity, a not unusual blend. (1.3)

“Mirabilic year” hints at the Latin phrase annus mirabilis (miraculous year). Chapter XI of E. H. Carr’s biography of Dostoevski is entitled Annus Mirabilis (according to Carr, the year 1866 had a great significance in Dostoevski’s life). There is mir (Russ., world; peace) in mirabilis. In 1869 (by no means a mirabilic year on Antiterra) Tolstoy’s Voyna i mir (“War and Peace”) and Dostoevski’s Idiot and were published. The main character of The Idiot, Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin, has the same name and patronymic as Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy.

The surname Myshkin comes from mysh’ (mouse) and brings to mind the koshki-myshki (cat-and-mouse) play. At the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday Van offers Percy de Prey “some more of the mouse-and-cat” and Ada calls Van “the perfect idiot host:”

Count Percy de Prey turned to Ivan Demianovich Veen:

‘I’m told you like abnormal positions?’

The half-question was half-mockingly put. Van looked through his raised lunel at the honeyed sun.

‘Meaning what?’ he enquired.

‘Well — that walking-on-your-hands trick. One of your aunt’s servants is the sister of one of our servants and two pretty gossips form a dangerous team’ (laughing). ‘The legend has it that you do it all day long, in every corner, congratulations!’ (bowing).

Van replied: ‘The legend makes too much of my specialty. Actually, I practice it for a few minutes every other night, don’t I, Ada?’ (looking around for her). ‘May I give you, Count, some more of the mouse-and-cat — a poor pun, but mine.’

‘Vahn dear,’ said Marina, who was listening with delight to the handsome young men’s vivacious and carefree prattle, ‘tell him about your success in London. Zhe tampri (please)!’

‘Yes,’ said Van, ‘it all started as a rag, you know, up at Chose, but then —’

‘Van!’ called Ada shrilly. ‘I want to say something to you, Van, come here.’

Dorn (flipping through a literary review, to Trigorin): ‘Here, a couple of months ago, a certain article was printed… a Letter from America, and I wanted to ask you, incidentally’ (taking Trigorin by the waist and leading him to the front of the stage), ‘because I’m very much interested in that question…’

Ada stood with her back against the trunk of a tree, like a beautiful spy who has just rejected the blindfold.

‘I wanted to ask you, incidentally, Van’ (continuing in a whisper, with an angry flick of the wrist) — ‘stop playing the perfect idiot host; he came drunk as a welt, can’t you see?’ (1.39)

One of Ada’s lovers, Percy de Prey goes to the war and perishes in the Crimea. A smiling old Tartar who shot him dead asked Percy if he was badly hurt:

When a couple of minutes later, Percy - still Count Percy de Prey - regained consciousness he was no longer alone on his rough bed of gravel and grass. A smiling old Tartar, incongruously but somehow assuagingly wearing American blue-jeans with his beshmet, was squatting by his side. 'Bednïy, bednïy' (you poor, poor fellow), muttered the good soul, shaking his shaven head and clucking: 'Bol'no (it hurts)?' Percy answered in his equally primitive Russian that he did not feel too badly wounded: 'Karasho, karasho, ne bol'no (good, good),' said the kindly old man and, picking up the automatic pistol which Percy had dropped, he examined it with naive pleasure and then shot him in the temple. (1.42)

Tolstoy is the author of Sevastopol’skie rasskazy (“The Sevastopol Sketches,” 1855) about the Siege of Sevastopol in the Crimean War (1853-56): Sevastopol in December, Sevastopol in May and Sevastopol in August. In Tolstoy’s short novel Kazaki (“The Cossacks,” 1863) Olenin asks Daddy Eroshka if a Cossack’s bullet hurt him, repeating the question bol’no bylo (“did it hurt you”) four times:

Ну, прощай, отец мой,- говорил дядя Ерошка. - Пойдёшь в поход, будь умней, меня, старика, послушай. Когда придется в набеге или где (ведь я старый волк, всего видел), да коли стреляют, ты в кучу не ходи, где народу много. А то все, как ваш брат оробеет, так к народу и жмется: думает, веселей в народе. А тут хуже всего: по народу-то и целят. Я все, бывало, от народа подальше, один и хожу: вот ни разу меня и не ранили. А чего не видал на своем веку.

- А в спине-то у тебя пуля сидит,- сказал Ванюша, убиравшийся в комнате.

- Это казаки баловались,- отвечал Ерошка.

- Как казаки? - спросил Оленин.

- Да так! Пили. Ванька Ситкин, казак был, разгулялся, да как бацнет, прямо мне в это место из пистолета и угодил.

- Что ж, больно было? - спросил Оленин. - Ванюша, скоро ли? - прибавил он.

- Эх! Куда спешишь! Дай расскажу... Да как треснул он меня, пуля кость-то не пробила, тут и осталась. Я и говорю; ты ведь меня убил, братец мой. А? Что ты со мной сделал? Я с тобой так не расстанусь. Ты мне ведро поставишь.

- Что ж, больно было? - опять спросил Оленин, почти не слушая рассказа.

- Дай докажу. Ведро поставил. Выпили. А кровь все льет. Всю избу прилил кровью-то. Дедука Бурлак и говорит: "Ведь малый-то издохнет. Давай еще штоф сладкой, а то мы тебя засудим". Притащили еще. Дули, дули...

- Да что ж, больно ли было тебе? - опять спросил Оленин.

- Какое больно! Не перебивай, не люблю. Дай докажу. Дули, дули, гуляли до утра, так и заснул на печи, пьяный. Утром проснулся, не разогнешься никак.

- Очень больно было? - повторил Оленин, полагая, что теперь он добился наконец ответа на свой вопрос.

- Разве я тебе говорю, что больно. Не больно, а разогнуться нельзя, ходить не давало.

- Ну и зажило? - сказал Оленин, даже не смеясь: так ему было тяжело на сердце.

- Зажило, да пулька все тут. Вот пощупай. - И он, заворотив рубаху, показал свою здоровенную спину, на которой около кости каталась пулька.

- Вишь ты, так и катается,- говорил он, видимо утешаясь этою пулькой, как игрушкой. - Вот к заду перекатилась.

‘Well, good-bye, my lad!’ said Daddy Eroshka. ‘When you go on an expedition, be wise and listen to my words — the words of an old man. When you are out on a raid or the like (you know I’m an old wolf and have seen things), and when they begin firing, don’t get into a crowd where there are many men. When you fellows get frightened you always try to get close together with a lot of others. You think it is merrier to be with others, but that’s where it is worst of all! They always aim at a crowd. Now I used to keep farther away from the others and went alone, and I’ve never been wounded. Yet what things haven’t I seen in my day?’

‘But you’ve got a bullet in your back,’ remarked Vanyusha, who was clearing up the room.

‘That was the Cossacks fooling about,’ answered Eroshka.

‘Cossacks? How was that?’ asked Olenin.

‘Oh, just so. We were drinking. Vanka Sitkin, one of the Cossacks, got merry, and puff! he gave me one from his pistol just here.’

‘Yes, and did it hurt?’ asked Olenin. ‘Vanyusha, will you soon be ready?’ he added.

‘Ah, where’s the hurry! Let me tell you. When he banged into me, the bullet did not break the bone but remained here. And I say: “You’ve killed me, brother. Eh! What have you done to me? I won’t let you off! You’ll have to stand me a pailful!”’

‘Well, but did it hurt?’ Olenin asked again, scarcely listening to the tale.

‘Let me finish. He stood a pailful, and we drank it, but the blood went on flowing. The whole room was drenched and covered with blood. Grandad Burlak, he says, “The lad will give up the ghost. Stand a bottle of the sweet sort, or we shall have you taken up!” They bought more drink, and boozed and boozed —’

‘Yes, but did it hurt you much?’ Olenin asked once more.

‘Hurt, indeed! Don’t interrupt: I don’t like it. Let me finish. We boozed and boozed till morning, and I fell asleep on the top of the oven, drunk. When I woke in the morning I could not unbend myself anyhow —’

‘Was it very painful?’ repeated Olenin, thinking that now he would at last get an answer to his question.

‘Did I tell you it was painful? I did not say it was painful, but I could not bend and could not walk.’

‘And then it healed up?’ said Olenin, not even laughing, so heavy was his heart.

‘It healed up, but the bullet is still there. Just feel it!’ And lifting his shirt he showed his powerful back, where just near the bone a bullet could be felt and rolled about.

‘Feel how it rolls,’ he said, evidently amusing himself with the bullet as with a toy. ‘There now, it has rolled to the back.’ (chapter 42)

Karasho (a word used by the old Tartar who shot dead Percy de Prey) is a corruption of khorosho (good). At first, Tolstoy wanted to entitle “War and Peace” Vsyo khorosho, chto khorosho konchaetsya (“All's Well that Ends Well”). On the other hand, Khorosho! ("Good!" 1927) is a poem by Mayakovski (VN’s “late namesake”) written for the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. In his poem Sergeyu Eseninu (“To Sergey Esenin,” 1926) written on Esenin’s suicide Mayakovski mentions vodka, Klass (the working class) and says that Klass – on tozhe vypit’ ne durak (also loves to drink):

Лучше уж
от водки умереть,
чем от скуки!

…Ну, а класс-то
заливает квасом?
Класс - он тоже
выпить не дурак.

Before jumping to her death in the Atlantic, Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister, daughter of Daniel Veen who is known in society as Red Veen or Durak Walter) drinks three ‘Cossack ponies’ of Klass vodka:

She drank a 'Cossack pony' of Klass vodka - hateful, vulgar, but potent stuff; had another; and was hardly able to down a third because her head had started to swim like hell. Swim like hell from sharks, Tobakovich! (3.5)

“Tobakovich” brings to mind Sobakevich, one of the landowners in Gogol’s Myortvye dushi (“Dead Souls,” 1842). In certain respects Percy de Prey resembles Akakiy Akakievich Bashmachkin, the pathetic main character in Gogol’s Shinel’ (“The Overcoat,” 1842). According to Dostoevski, “we all come out from Gogol’s Overcoat.” Durak is Russian for “fool.” At the end of Pushkin’s Graf Nulin (“Count Null,” 1825) Natalya Pavlovna’s husband says that the Count is durak.

In his poem Prochti i katay v Parizh i v Kitay (“Read and Go to Paris and to China,” 1927) Mayakovski says that if we are like horses (loshadi), the natives of Japan are like ponies:

Легко представить можете

жителя Японии:

если мы — как лошади,

то они —

как пони.

Like the little globetrotters in Mayakovski’s poem (who visit Paris, New York, San-Francisco, Japan and China before returning to Moscow), Daniel Veen traveled “in a counter-Fogg direction”:

One afternoon in the spring of 1871, he proposed to Marina in the Up elevator of Manhattan's first ten-floor building, was indignantly rejected at the seventh stop (Toys), came down alone and, to air his feelings, set off in a counter-Fogg direction on a triple trip round the globe, adopting, like an animated parallel, the same itinerary every time. (1.1)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Counter-Fogg: Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s globetrotter, travelled from West to East.

Khodasevich’s essay on Mayakovski is entitled Dekol’tirovannaya loshad’ (“The Horse in a Décolleté Dress,” 1927). Tolstoy is the author of Kholstomer. Istoriya loshadi (“Strider. The Story of a Horse,” 1886).

Olenin + zero = ozero + Lenin

Olenin – Dmitri Olenin (the main character in “The Cossacks”); Annette Olenin (a friend of Krylov, Pushkin and Lermontov) whom Pushkin wanted to marry in 1828 (the year of Tolstoy’s birth)

zero – in Dostoevsky's novel Igrok (The Gambler, 1866) the favorite roulette number of la baboulinka; there is zero in ‘play-zero’ (a play on plaisir): According to Bess (which is ‘fiend’ in Russian), Dan’s buxom but otherwise disgusting nurse, whom he preferred to all others and had taken to Ardis because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of ‘play-zero’ (as the old whore called it) out of his poor body, he had been complaining for some time, even before Ada’s sudden departure, that a devil combining the characteristics of a frog and a rodent desired to straddle him and ride him to the torture house of eternity. (2.10)

ozero – lake; He had revisited only a few times since his boyhood another estate he had, up north on Lake Kitezh, near Luga, comprising, and practically consisting of, that large, oddly rectangular though quite natural body of water which a perch he had once clocked took half an hour to cross diagonally and which he owned jointly with his cousin, a great fisherman in his youth. (1.1)

Lenin – V. I. Ulyanov (1870-1924)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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