Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027414, Thu, 15 Jun 2017 00:30:16 +0300

breakfast in Soda (Ananas) in Lolita; total number of lines in
Pale Fire; orgiastic soda in Ada; sawdust in Pnin
In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert and Lolita have breakfast in the township of Soda:

We had breakfast in the township of Soda, pop. 1001.

“Judging by the terminal figure,” I remarked, “Fatface is already here.”

“Your humor,” said Lo, “is sidesplitting, deah fahther.” (2.18)

A little earlier Lolita draws HH’s attention to the three nines changing into the next thousand in the odometer:

“If he’s really a cop,” she said shrilly but not illogically, “the worst thing we could do, would be to show him we are scared. Ignore him, Dad.”

“Did he ask where we were going?”

“Oh, he knows that” (mocking me).

“Anyway,” I said, giving up, “I have seen his face now. He is not pretty. He looks exactly like a relative of mine called Trapp.”

“Perhaps he is Trapp. If I were you - Oh, look, all the nines are changing into the next thousand. When I was a little kid,” she continued unexpectedly, “I used to think they’d stop and go back to nines, if only my mother agreed to put the car in reverse.”

It was the first time, I think, she spoke spontaneously of her pre-Humbertian childhood; perhaps, the theatre had taught her that trick; and silently we traveled on, unpursued. (ibid.)

In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Shade’s almost finished poem consists of 999 lines. “Soda” rhymes with “coda.” It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). In Lolita Clare Quilty (who resembles HH’s uncle Trapp) is HH’s double. Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1914) is a poem by Alexander Blok. Blok is the author of Carmen (1914), a cycle of ten poems. HH calls Lolita “my Carmen” (Lolita gives this away to Quilty). In the Russian version of Lolita the name of Quilty’s co-author is Vivian Damor-Blok (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov). Damor is an anagram of morda (vulg., face).

According to HH, he and Lolita saw Vivian Darkbloom in Soda pop:

“You’ve again hurt my wrist, you brute,” said Lolita in a small voice as she slipped into her car seat.

“I am dreadfully sorry, my darling, my own ultraviolet darling,” I said, unsuccessfully trying to catch her elbow, and I added, to change the conversationto change the direction of fate, oh God, oh God: “Vivian is quite a woman. I am sure we saw her yesterday in that restaurant, in Soda pop.” (2.18)

In the novel’s Russian version the township’s name is Ana:

Утренний завтрак мы ели в городе Ана, нас. 1001 чел.
«Судя по единице», заметил я, «наш толстомордик уже тут как тут».
«Твой юмор», сказала Лолита, «положительно уморителен, драгоценный папаша».

Tolstomordik (Fatface) mentioned by Gumbert Gumbert (Humbert Humbert in Russian spelling) seems to blend Tolstoy with Chernomordik, the chemist in Chekhov’s story Aptekarsha (“A Chemist’s Wife,” 1886). In a letter of February 14, 1900, to Olga Knipper (a leading actress of the Moscow Art Theater whom Chekhov married in 1901) Chekhov says that he will go to Sevastopol incognito and put himself down in the hotel-book Count Chernomordik:

Я решил не писать Вам, но так как Вы прислали фотографии, то я снимаю с Вас опалу и вот, как видите, пишу. Даже в Севастополь приеду, только, повторяю, никому об этом не говорите, особенно Вишневскому. Я буду там incognito, запишусь в гостинице так: граф Черномордик.

I had made up my mind not to write to you, but since you have sent the photographs I have taken off the ban, and here you see I am writing. I will even come to Sevastopol, only I repeat, don’t tell that to anyone, especially not to Vishnevsky. I shall be there incognito, I shall put myself down in the hotel-book Count Blackphiz.

In the same letter Chekhov thanks Knipper for her photographs that she sent to him:

Милая актриса, фотографии очень, очень хороши, особенно та, где Вы пригорюнились, поставив локти на спинку стула, и где передано Ваше выражение — скромно-грустное, тихое выражение, за которым прячется чёртик. И другая тоже удачна, но тут Вы немножко похожи на евреечку, очень музыкальную особу, которая ходит в консерваторию и в то же время изучает на всякий случай тайно зубоврачебное искусство и имеет жениха в Могилёве; и жених такой, как Манасевич. Вы сердитесь? Правда, правда, сердитесь? Это я мщу Вам за то, что Вы не подписались.

The photographs are very, very good, especially the one in which you are leaning in dejection with your elbows on the back of a chair, which gives you a discreetly mournful, gentle expression under which there lies hid a little demon. The other is good too, but it looks a little like a Jewess, a very musical person who attends a conservatoire, but at the same time is studying dentistry on the sly as a second string, and is engaged to be married to a young man in Mogilev, and whose fiancé is a person like Manasevich. Are you angry? Really, really angry? It’s my revenge for your not signing them.

Humbert Humbert (who seems to have Jewish blood) had a very photogenic mother who was killed by lightning:

My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory, over which, if you can still stand my style (I am writing under observation), the sun of my infancy had set: surely, you all know those redolent remnants of day suspended, with the midges, about some hedge in bloom or suddenly entered and traversed by the rambler, at the bottom of a hill, in the summer dusk; a furry warmth, golden midges. (1.2)

In a letter of July 6, 1898, to Sumbatov-Yuzhin (an actor and playwright) Chekhov predicts to Yuzhin that a lightning in Monte-Carlo will kill him:

Будь здоров и благополучен и не бойся нефрита, которого у тебя нет и не будет. Ты умрёшь через 67 лет, и не от нефрита; тебя убьёт молния в Монте-Карло.

Don’t be afraid of nephritis. You’ll die in sixty-seven years and not of nephritis; a lightning in Monte-Carlo will kill you.

The Lady who Loved Lightning is a play written by Quilty in collaboration with Vivian Darkbloom. Before the breakfast in Soda, Lolita tells HH that she is not a lady and does not like lightning:

We spent a grim night in a very foul cabin, under a sonorous amplitude of rain, and with a kind of prehistorically loud thunder incessantly rolling above us.

“I am not a lady and do not like lightning,” said Lo, whose dread of electric storms gave me some pathetic solace. (2.18)

Naselelie being Russian for “population,” Soda pop becomes in the Russian version Ananas (pineapple):

«Ты опять, грубый скот, повредил мне кисть», проговорила тоненьким голосом Лолита, садясь в автомобиль рядом со мной.
«Ах, прости меня, моя душка — моя ультрафиолетовая душка», сказал я, тщетно пытаясь схватить её за локоть: и я добавил, желая переменить разговор — переменить прицел судьбы, Боже мой, Боже мой: «Вивиан — очень интересная дама. Я почти уверен, что мы её видели вчера, когда обедали в Ананасе».

Ananas brings to mind dzhinanas (gin and pineapple juice), Humbert Humbert’s favorite mixture that always doubles his energy:

Любимый напиток мой, джинанас - смесь джина и ананасного сока - всегда удваивает мою энергию. (1.17)

In Diktator na pokoe (“The Retired Dictator”), a memoir essay on Count Loris-Melikov, Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko (brother of the stage director and playwright) mentions Ananas – Alexander III, the tsar who in the Manifesto issued two months after the assassination of his father (Alexander II), used the phrase a na nas lezhit otvetstvennost’ (and on us lies the responsibility):

Там же ведь ждут во блаженном успении архангельской трубы многочисленные письма и записки М. Д. Скобелева. По повелению Александра III их отбирали у всех друзей и знакомых гениального полководца, может быть, для того, чтобы окутать непроницаемой тайной все обстоятельства его убийства спадассинами "священной дружины", убийства, совершенного по приговору, подписанному без ведома царя, -- на это бы Ананас не пошёл -- одним из великих князей и "Боби" Шуваловым, считавшими этого будущего Суворова опасным для всероссийского самодержавия.

Nemirovich’s essay is included in his book Na kladbishchakh (“At Cemeteries,” 1921) that opens with a memoir essay O Chekhove (“On Chekhov”). Nemirovich describes his sojourn with Chekhov and Jakobi (the painter) in the Pension Russe in Nice. The surname Jakobi brings to mind Jakob Gradus, Shade’s murderer in Pale Fire.

In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen describes Ada’s dramatic career and mentions Tchechoff and the Pension Russe:

In the first edition of his play, which never quite manages to heave the soft sigh of a masterpiece, Tchechoff (as he spelled his name when living that year at the execrable Pension Russe, 9, rue Gounod, Nice) crammed into the two pages of a ludicrous expository scene all the information he wished to get rid of, great lumps of recollections and calendar dates - an impossible burden to place on the fragile shoulders of three unhappy Estotiwomen. Later he redistributed that information through a considerably longer scene in which the arrival of the monashka Varvara provides all the speeches needed to satisfy the restless curiosity of the audience. This was a neat stroke of stagecraft, but unfortunately (as so often occurs in the case of characters brought in for disingenuous purposes) the nun stayed on, and not until the third, penultimate, act was the author able to bundle her off, back to her convent. (2.9)

On Antiterra (Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Chekhov’s play The Three Sisters (1901) is known as Four Sisters. Van’s and Ada’s mother Marina played sister Varvara in the play’s film version:

The beginning of Ada’s limelife in 1891 happened to coincide with the end of her mother’s twenty-five-year-long career. What is more, both appeared in Chekhov’s Four Sisters. Ada played Irina on the modest stage of the Yakima Academy of Drama in a somewhat abridged version which, for example, kept only the references to Sister Varvara, the garrulous originalka (‘odd female’ — as Marsha calls her) but eliminated her actual scenes, so that the title of the play might have been The Three Sisters, as indeed it appeared in the wittier of the local notices. It was the (somewhat expanded) part of the nun that Marina acted in an elaborate film version of the play; and the picture and she received a goodly amount of undeserved praise. (ibid.)

Marina had a twin sister Aqua who went mad and committed suicide. Her last note was signed “My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (now is out of hell)” (1.3). in his story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as seen by a Drunkard,” 1885) signed Brat moego brata (My brother’s brother) Chekhov compares girls under sixteen to aqua distillatae. Teper’ iz ada rhymes with Shekherezada (Scheherezade in Russian spelling), a character and the storyteller in One Thousand and One Nights. Scheherezade (1888) is a symphonic suite by Rimski-Korsakov. The first part of the composer’s surname comes from Rim (Rome). In his fragment Rim (1841) Gogol mentions the Italian sonnetto colla coda and in a footnote explains what la coda is. Mirana (in Lolita, a luxurious hotel on the Riviera owned by HH’s father) is an anagram of Marina and Armina (in Ada, Demon’s villa on the Riviera).

As he speaks over the dorophone (hydraulic telephone) to his secretary, Van mentions “orgiastic soda:”

At this point, as in a well-constructed play larded with comic relief, the brass campophone buzzed and not only did the radiators start to cluck but the uncapped soda water fizzed in sympathy.

Van (crossly): ‘I don’t understand the first word... What’s that? L’adorée? Wait a second’ (to Lucette). ‘Please, stay where you are.’ (Lucette whispers a French child-word with two ‘p’s.). ‘Okay’ (pointing toward the corridor). ‘Sorry, Polly. Well, is it l’adorée? No? Give me the context. Ah — la durée. La durée is not... sin on what? Synonymous with duration. Aha. Sorry again, I must stopper that orgiastic soda. Hold the line.’ (Yells down the ‘cory door,’ as they called the long second-floor passage at Ardis.) ‘Lucette, let it run over, who cares!’

He poured himself another glass of brandy and for a ridiculous moment could not remember what the hell he had been — yes, the polliphone.

It had died, but buzzed as soon as he recradled the receiver, and Lucette knocked discreetly at the same time.

‘La durée... For goodness sake, come in without knocking... No, Polly, knocking does not concern you — it’s my little cousin. All right. La durée is not synonymous with duration, being saturated — yes, as in Saturday — with that particular philosopher’s thought. What’s wrong now? You don’t know if it’s dorée or durée? D, U, R. I thought you knew French. Oh, I see. So long.

‘My typist, a trivial but always available blonde, could not make out durée in my quite legible hand because, she says, she knows French, but not scientific French.’

‘Actually,’ observed Lucette, wiping the long envelope which a drop of soda had stained, ‘Bergson is only for very young people or very unhappy people, such as this available rousse.’

‘Spotting Bergson,’ said the assistant lecher, ‘rates a B minus dans ton petit cas, hardly more. Or shall I reward you with a kiss on your krestik — whatever that is?’ (2.5)

La durée is a theory of time and consciousness posited by the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Van Veen is the author of “Texture of Time,” an essay in which the maître d’hôtel mentions ananas:

‘What I’m telling you,’ he said harshly, ‘has nothing to do with timepieces.’ The waiter brought them their coffee. She smiled, and he realized that her smile was prompted by a conversation at the next table, at which a newcomer, a stout sad Englishman, had begun a discussion of the menu with the maître d’hôtel.

‘I’ll start,’ said the Englishman, ‘with the bananas.’

‘That’s not bananas, sir. That’s ananas, pineapple juice.’

‘Oh, I see. Well, give me some clear soup.’

Young Van smiled back at young Ada. Oddly, that little exchange at the next table acted as a kind of delicious release. (Part Four)

Bergson is the author of Le Rire (“Laughter,” 1900). In a letter of October 17 (29), 1897, to Suvorin Chekhov (who stayed in the Pension Russe) asks Suvorin to bring from Paris Le Rire, zhurnal s portretom Gumberta (the magazine issue with King Umberto’s portrait):

Привезите журнал «Le rire» с портретом Гумберта, если попадётся на глаза.

Bring the issue of Le Rire with Umberto’s portrait, if you catch sight of it.

Le Rire was a successful French humor magazine. Umberto’s portrait mentioned by Chekhov is a cartoon. Describing his performance in variety shows as Mascodagama, Van mentions cartoonists:

Mascodagama’s spectacular success in a theatrical club that habitually limited itself to Elizabethan plays, with queens and fairies played by pretty boys, made first of all a great impact on cartoonists. Deans, local politicians, national statesmen, and of course the current ruler of the Golden Horde were pictured as mascodagamas by topical humorists. (1.30)

Young Van’s stage name blends maska (Russ., mask) with Vasco da Gama. In his memoir essay on Chekhov (the author of “The Mask,” 1884) Nemirovich quotes the words of Chekhov who in jest compared himself to Vasco da Gama (the Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India):

-- А то ещё куда меня гонят? В Африку. Что я Васко да Гама, что ли? Ведь это, слушайте же, в опере хорошо... Ни за что не поеду. Тоже нашли Стенли. Пусть Василий Иванович едет. Его мамка в детстве ушибла. Ему чем дальше, тем лучше... А я ни за что. Мало я черномази видал! Даже если мне ещё тарелку гречневой каши дадут, не поеду!

At the end of his memoir essay on Chekhov, written soon after the writer’s death, Korolenko mentions Russian humorists (including Gogol and Chekhov) and wonders if russkiy smekh (the Russian laughter) has really something fatal about it:

И опять невольно приходит в голову сопоставление: Гоголь, Успенский, Щедрин, теперь - Чехов. Этими именами почти исчерпывается ряд выдающихся русских писателей с сильно выраженным юмористическим темпераментом. Двое из них кончили прямо острой меланхолией, двое других - беспросветной тоской. Пушкин называл Гоголя "весёлым меланхоликом", и это меткое определение относится одинаково ко всем перечисленным писателям... Гоголь, Успенский, Щедрин и Чехов...

Неужели в русском смехе есть в самом деле что-то роковое? Неужели реакция прирожденного юмора на русскую действительность, - употребляя терминологию химиков, - неизбежно даёт ядовитый осадок, разрушающий всего сильнее тот сосуд, в котором она совершается, то есть душу писателя?.. (VI)

In a letter of November 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov complains of the lack of alcohol in the works of contemporary artists and asks Suvorin if Korolenko and Nadson (a minor poet) are not lemonade:

Скажите по совести, кто из моих сверстников, т. е. людей в возрасте 30--45 лет, дал миру хотя одну каплю алкоголя? Разве Короленко, Надсон и все нынешние драматурги не лимонад?
Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries—that is, men between thirty and forty-five—have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade?

In Pale Fire Shade deplores the total absence of sense of humor in Russian intellectuals and mentions Russian humorists:

Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov. (Kinbote’s note to Line 172)

Ilf and Petrov are the authors of Odnoetazhnaya Amerika (“Single-Storied America,” 1937), a book written after the authors took a road trip across the USA. Pnin is the funny and yet touching title character of a novel (1957) by VN. Pnin, who speaks English with Russian accent, pronounces soda as “sawdust:”

She put her bag and parcels down on the sideboard in the kitchen and asked in the direction of the pantry: 'What are you looking for, Timofey?'

He came out of there, darkly flushed, wild-eyed, and she was shocked to see that his face was a mess of unwiped tears.
'I search, John, for the viscous and sawdust,' he said tragically.
'I am afraid there is no soda,' she answered with her lucid Anglo-Saxon restraint. 'But there is plenty of whisky in the dining-room cabinet. However, I suggest we both have some nice hot tea instead.' (Chapter Two, 7)

At the end of his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) says that he may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play:

"And you, what will you be doing with yourself, poor King, poor Kinbote?" a gentle young voice may inquire.

God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of the other two characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, health heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things! History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out--somebody has already set out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and presently he will ring at my door--a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus.

Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). Nadezhda means “hope.” There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on October 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin will be “full” again.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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