Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027431, Mon, 10 Jul 2017 16:16:29 +0300

nurse Bellabestia, Belokonsk & Dr Stella Ospenko in Ada
Describing Uncle Dan’s Boschean death, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions nurse Bellabestia (‘Bess’):

‘Or better — come at once, both of you, because I’ll cancel my appointment and go home right now.’ He [Demon] spoke, or thought he spoke, with the self-control and the clarity of enunciation which so frightened and mesmerized blunderers, blusterers, a voluble broker, a guilty schoolboy. Especially so now — when everything had gone to the hell curs, k chertyam sobach’im, of Jeroen Anthniszoon van Äken and the molti aspetti affascinati of his enigmatica arte, as Dan explained with a last sigh to Dr Nikulin and to nurse Bellabestia (‘Bess’) to whom he bequeathed a trunkful of museum catalogues and his second-best catheter. (2.10)

The name Bellabestia means “beautiful beast.” The Demon (1829-40) being a poem by Lermontov, nurse Bellabestia seems to blend Bela, the title character of the first novella in Lermontov’s novel Geroy nashego vremeni (“A Hero of Our Time,” 1840), with bestii (pl. of bestiya, “rogue”), the word used in Bela by Maksim Maksimovich (the title character of the second novella in Lermontov’s novel):

Он лукаво улыбнулся и значительно взглянул на меня.

- Вы, верно, недавно на Кавказе?

- С год, - отвечал я.

Он улыбнулся вторично.

- А что ж?

- Да так-с! Ужасные бестии эти азиаты! Вы думаете, они помогают, что кричат? А чёрт их разберет, что они кричат? Быки-то их понимают; запрягите хоть двадцать, так коли они крикнут по-своему, быки всё ни с места... Ужасные плуты! А что с них возьмёшь?.. Любят деньги драть с проезжающих... Избаловали мошенников! Увидите, они ещё с вас возьмут на водку. Уж я их знаю, меня не проведут!

He smiled wisely, casting a glance at me as if to size me up.

"I bet you haven't been long in the Caucasus?"

"About a year," I replied.

He smiled again.

"Why do you ask?"

"No particular reason, sir. They're awful good-for-nothings, these Asiatics! You don't think their yelling helps much, do you? You can't tell what the hell they're saying. But the oxen understand them all right. Hitch up twenty of the animals if you want to and they won't budge as soon as those fellows begin yelling in their own language. . . Terrific cheats, they are. But what can you do about them? They do like to skin the traveler. Spoiled, they are, the robbers! . . . you'll see they'll make you tip them too. I know them by now, they won't fool me!"

In Part Four of VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937), Zhizn’ Chernyshevskogo (“The Life of Chernyshevski”), Fyodor Konstantinovich points out that Belinski (a radical critic) compared Pechorin (the main character in “A Hero of Our Time”) to a steam engine:

Счастливее оказался Лермонтов. Его проза исторгла у Белинского (имевшего слабость к завоеваниям техники) неожиданное и премилое сравнение Печорина с паровозом, сокрушающим неосторожно попадающихся под его колёса.

Lermontov came off luckier. His prose jerked from Belinski (who had a weakness for the conquests of technology) the surprising and most charming comparison of Pechorin to a steam engine, shattering all who were careless enough to get under its wheels.

In a letter of March 5, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov calls the gypsies dikie bestii (wild creatures) and compares their singing to a train falling off a high bank in a violent snow-storm:

Вчера ночью ездил за город и слушал цыганок. Хорошо поют эти дикие бестии. Их пение похоже на крушение поезда с высокой насыпи во время сильной метели: много вихря, визга и стука...

Last night I drove out of town and listened to the gypsies. They sing well, the wild creatures. Their singing reminds me of a train falling off a high bank in a violent snow-storm: there is a lot of turmoil, screeching and banging.

In the same letter to Suvorin Chekhov says that he is reading Dostoevski:

Купил я в Вашем магазине Достоевского и теперь читаю. Хорошо, но очень уж длинно и нескромно. Много претензий.

I bought Dostoevski in your shop and am now reading him. It is fine, but very long and indiscreet. It is over-pretentious.

Dostoevski is the author of Besy (“The Possessed,” 1872). At the beginning of Brat’ya Karamazovy (“Brothers Karamazov,” 1880) Dostoevski quotes a line from Lermontov’s poem Ne ver’ sebe (“Don’t Believe Yourself,” 1839) in which inspiration is called plennoy mysli razdrazhenie (“a captive thought’s irritation”):

Подобно тому и поступок Аделаиды Ивановны Миусовой был без сомнения отголоском чужих веяний и тоже пленной мысли раздражением.

Adelaida Ivanovna Miusov's action was similarly, no doubt, an echo of other people's ideas, and was due to the irritation caused by lack of mental freedom. (chapter I)

The action in “Brothers Karamazov” takes place in Skotoprigonyevsk. The town’s name (“Cattlebringinton”) brings to mind Scotty, Marina’s impresario who brought the Russian dancers all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk:

Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the message, Demon Veen had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded to win the wager, the success of his enterprise being assured by the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin, had been in love with him since their last dance on New Year’s Eve. Moreover, the tropical moonlight she had just bathed in, the penetrative sense of her own beauty, the ardent pulses of the imagined maiden, and the gallant applause of an almost full house made her especially vulnerable to the tickle of Demon’s moustache. She had ample time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. (1.2)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Belokonsk: the Russian twin of 'Whitehorse' (city in N.W. Canada). According to Demon, at the moment of her husband’s death Marina was flirting with the Bishop of Belokonsk:

A propos, I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is somewhere in Italy, but I’ve managed to trace Marina to Tsitsikar — flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk — she will arrive in the late afternoon, wearing, no doubt, pleureuses, very becoming, and we shall then travel à trois to Ladore, because I don’t think —’ (2.10)

In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901) known on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as Four Sisters (2.1, et passim) Dr Chebutykin mentions Tsitsikar (a city in NW China):

Чебутыкин (читает газету). Цицикар. Здесь свирепствует оспа.

Chebutykin (reads from a newspaper): "Tsitsikar. Smallpox is raging here." (Act Two)

Ospa (smallpox) brings to mind Dr Stella Ospenko and her ospedale where Demon recovered after his sword duel with Skonky (Baron d’Onsky’s oneway nickname):

The alcohol his vigorous system had already imbibed was instrumental, as usual, in reopening what he gallicistically called condemned doors, and now as he gaped involuntarily as all men do while spreading a napkin, he considered Marina's pretentious ciel-étoilé hairdress and tried to realize (in the rare full sense of the word), tried to possess the reality of a fact by forcing it into the sensuous center, that here was a woman whom he had intolerably loved, who had loved him hysterically and skittishly, who insisted they make love on rugs and cushions laid on the floor ('as respectable people do in the Tigris-Euphrates valley'), who would woosh down fluffy slopes on a bobsleigh a fortnight after parturition, or arrive by the Orient Express with five trunks, Dack's grandsire, and a maid, to Dr Stella Ospenko's ospedale where he was recovering from a scratch received in a sword duel (and still visible as a white weal under his eighth rib after a lapse of nearly seventeen years). (1.38)

Stella is Latin for “star.” Marina's ciel-étoilé hairdress and Dr Stella Ospenko’s first name bring to mind the first stanza of Lermontov’s poem Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu… (“I go out on the road alone…” 1841):

Выхожу один я на дорогу;

Сквозь туман кремнистый путь блестит;

Ночь тиха. Пустыня внемлет богу,

И звезда с звездою говорит.

Alone I set out on the road;

The flinty path is sparkling in the mist;

The night is still. The desert harks to God,

And star with star converses.

Dack is the dachshund (dackel) at Ardis (Daniel Veen’s family estate where Uncle Dan dies). In Speak, Memory (1967) VN says that Trainy (the Nabokovs’ dachshund) was as long and as brown as a sleeping car:

Sometime in 1904 my father bought at a dog show in Munich a pup which grew into the bad-tempered but wonderfully handsome Trainy (as I named him because of his being as long and as brown as a sleeping car). One of the musical themes of my childhood is Trainy’s hysterical tongue, on the trail of the hare he never got, in the depths of our Vyra park, whence he would return at dusk (after my anxious mother had stood whistling for a long time in the oak avenue) with the old corpse of a mole in his jaws and burs in his ears. Around 1915, his hind legs became paralyzed, and until he was chloroformed, he would dismally drag himself over long, glossy stretches of parquet floor like a cul de jatte.

(Chapter Two, 4)

According to VN, the grandparents of Box II (the Nabokovs’ final dachshund) were Chekhov’s Quina and Brom:

Then somebody gave us another pup, Box II, whose grandparents had been Dr. Anton Chekhov’s Quina and Brom. This final dachshund followed us into exile, and as late as 1930, in a suburb of Prague (where my widowed mother spent her last years, on a small pension provided by the Czech government), he could be still seen going for reluctant walks with his mistress, waddling far behind in a huff, tremendously old and furious with his long Czech muzzle of wire—an émigré dog in a patched and ill-fitting coat. (ibid.)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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