Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027428, Mon, 3 Jul 2017 13:57:25 +0300

voyeur malgre lui,
Figures in a Golden Window & immemorial more in Transparent Things
In Madame Chamar’s transparent house Hugh Person (the main character in
VN’s novel Transparent Things, 1972) feels like a voyeur malgré lui:

"I now leave you for some minutes," said Madame Chamar, and in full view of
the public ascended with ponderous energy the completely visible and audible
stairs leading to a similarly overt second floor, where one could see a bed
through an open door and a bidet through another. Armande used to say that
this product of her late father's art was a regular showpiece attracting
tourists from distant countries such as Rhodesia and Japan.

The albums were quite as candid as the house, though less depressing. The
Armande series, which exclusively interested our voyeur malgré lui, was
inaugurated by a photograph of the late Potapov, in his seventies, looking
very dapper with his gray little imperial and his Chinese house jacket,
making the wee myopic sign of the Russian cross over an invisible baby in
its deep cot. (chapter 12)

In his essay on Turgenev (in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers”)
Ayhenvald calls Bazarov, the main character in Turgenev’s novel Ottsy i
deti (“Fathers and Sons,” 1862), “a nihilist malgré lui:”

Есть, правда, и жизнь в отношении Базарова
к Феничке, есть что-то нежное и человеческ
и хорошее в обращении его с Павлом Петров
ичем во время дуэли, и многое другое в это
м нигилисте malgre lui, по распоряжению писате
ля, так симпатично и светло, но всю эту при
влекательность искажает не оставляющая Т
ургенева предвзятая мысль, что ему нельзя
писать обыкновенного, не схематического
героя и что Базаров непременно должен вый
ти нигилистом.

The characters of TT include Mr. R., the writer. Mr. R. is a Baron. In his
essay on Turgenev Ayhenvald mentions the beautiful madness of Princess R. (a
character in “Fathers and Sons”):

Наш романист облекал любовь в изысканные
формы, пренебрегал её великой простотою и
естественностью, в противоположность Тол
стому, и, придумывая разные комбинации лю
бви, искал её магии вне жизни, в каком-нибу
дь красивом безумии княгини Р. из "Отцов и
детей"; он всегда интересовался, любят ли
его герои художество, искусство, читают л
и они стихи и романы или нет (как не читала
их Вера Николаевна из "Фауста"), и это внеш
не эстетическое мерило играет у него боль
шую роль \xa8C большую, чем внутренняя, прирож
денная, не книжная красота людей.

When Hugh Person visits Villa Nastia, Madame Chamar is reading Mr. R.’s
novel Figures in a Golden Window (a copy that belongs to Armande):

A little farther, an interval in the stone wall revealed a short flight of
stairs and the door of a whitewashed bungalow signed Villa Nastia in French
cursive. As happens so often in R.'s fiction, "nobody answered the bell."
Hugh noticed several other steps lateral to the porch, descending (after all
that stupid climbing!) into the pungent dampness of boxwood. These led him
around the house and into its garden. A boarded, only half-completed splash
pool adjoined a small lawn, in the center of which a stout middle-aged lady,
with greased limbs of a painful pink, lay sun-bathing in a deck chair. A
copy, no doubt the same, of the Figures et cetera paperback, with a folded
letter (which we thought wiser our Person should not recognize) acting as
marker, lay on top of the one-piece swimsuit into which her main bulk had
been stuffed. (chapter 12)

In his essay on Turgenev Ayhenvald mentions the writer’s favorite figura

Он тоже \xa8C лишний человек; есть у него, по к
райней мере, много черт этой излюбленной
Тургеневым фигуры.

He [Bazarov], too, is a superfluous man; at least, he has many features of
this figure beloved by Turgenev.

The phrase mnogo chert (many features) used by Ayhenvald brings to mind the
Russian word for “devils:” cherti. The narrators in TT seem to be the
devils. In his last letter to his publisher Mr. R. mentions the department
his poor soul is assigned to:

Dear Phil,

This, no doubt, is my last letter to you. I am leaving you. I am leaving you
for another even greater Publisher. In that House I shall be proofread by
cherubim \xa8C or misprinted by devils, depending on the department my poor
soul is assigned to. (chapter 21)

Judging by the gross mistake in the novel’s last sentence (“Easy, you
know, does it, son”), Mr. R. went straight to Hell (and became a devil
himself). In Switzerland Mr. R. lives at Diablonnet:

Madame Chamar answered in the noncommittal negative - though she might have
consulted the telltale book marker, but out of a mother's instinctive
prudence refrained from doing so. Instead she popped the paperback into her
garden bag. Automatically, Hugh mentioned that he had recently visited its

"He lives somewhere in Switzerland, I think?"

"Yes, at Diablonnet, near Versex."

"Diablonnet always reminds me of the Russian for 'apple trees': yabloni. He
has a nice house?"

"Well, we met in Versex, in a hotel, not at his home. I'm told it's a very
large and a very old-fashioned place. We discussed business matters. Of
course the house is always full of his rather, well, frivolous guests. I
shall wait for a little while and then go." (chapter 12)

Madame Chamar (née Anastasia Petrovna Potapov) is the daughter of a wealthy
cattle dealer from Ryazan. In his poem Ne zhaleyu, ne zovu, ne plachu (“I
don't regret, I don't call back, I don't weep," 1921) Esenin (who came from
a village near Ryazan) says: vsyo proydyot kak s belykh yablon' dym
("everything will pass like the haze off white apple trees"). Dym
(“Smoke,” 1867) is a novel by Turgenev. It is the smoke that kills Hugh
Person (who dies in a fire in the Ascot Hotel in Witt). Turgenev is the
author of Pozhar na more (“A Fire at Sea,” 1883). In TT the bottom of an
immemorial more (sea) is mentioned:

His memory, in the meantime, kept following its private path. Again he was
panting in her merciless wake. Again she was teasing Jacques, the handsome
Swiss boy with fox-red body hair and dreamy eyes. Again she flirted with the
eclectic English twins, who called gullies Cool Wars and ridges Ah Rates.
Hugh, despite his tremendous physique, had neither the legs nor the lungs to
keep up with them even in memory. And when the foursome had accelerated
their climbing pace and vanished with their cruel ice axes and coils of rope
and other instruments of torture (equipment exaggerated by ignorance), he
rested on a rock, and, looking down, seemed to see through the moving mists
the making of the very mountains that his tormentors trod, the crystalline
crust heaving up with his heart from the bottom of an immemorial more (sea).
(chapter 23)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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