Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027432, Thu, 13 Jul 2017 16:08:17 +0300

k chertyam sobach'im, nurse Bellabestia,
Bishop of Belokonsk & Red Mongols in Ada
‘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)

In Chekhov’s story Chelovek v futlyare (“The Man in a Case,” 1898) Kovalenko tells Belikov that anyone who meddles in his private affairs may go k chertyam sobach’im (to the devils):

Что я и сестра катаемся на велосипеде, никому нет до этого дела! -- сказал Коваленко и побагровел. -- А кто будет вмешиваться в мои домашние и семейные дела, того я пошлю к чертям собачьим. Беликов побледнел и встал.

'It's no business of anybody else if my sister and I do bicycle!' said Kovalenko, and he turned crimson. 'And damnation take any one who meddles in my private affairs!' Belikov turned pale and got up.

In Chekhov’s story Belikov understands only government circulars and newspaper articles in which something is forbidden:

И мысль свою Беликов также старался запрятать в футляр. Для него были ясны только циркуляры и газетные статьи, в которых запрещалось что-нибудь. Когда в циркуляре запрещалось ученикам выходить на улицу после девяти часов вечера или в какой-нибудь статье запрещалась плотская любовь, то это было для него ясно, определенно; запрещено -- и баста. В разрешении же и позволении скрывался для него всегда элемент сомнительный, что-то недосказанное и смутное. Когда в городе разрешали драматический кружок, или читальню, или чайную, то он покачивал головой и говорил тихо:

-- Оно, конечно, так-то так, всё это прекрасно, да как бы чего не вышло.

And Belikov tried to hide his thoughts also in a case. The only things that were clear to his mind were government circulars and newspaper articles in which something was forbidden. When some proclamation prohibited the boys from going out in the streets after nine o'clock in the evening, or some article declared carnal love unlawful, it was to his mind clear and definite; it was forbidden, and that was enough. For him there was always a doubtful element, something vague and not fully expressed, in any sanction or permission. When a dramatic club or a reading-room or a tea-shop was licensed in the town, he would shake his head and say softly:

"It is all right, of course; it is all very nice, but I hope it won't lead to anything!"

On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) electricity was banned after the L disaster in the middle of the 19th century. With the banning of an unmentionable ‘lammer’ many gadgets had gone k chertyam sobach’im:

She [Marina’s twin sister Aqua who married Demon and went mad] developed a morbid sensitivity to the language of tap water — which echoes sometimes (much as the bloodstream does predormitarily) a fragment of human speech lingering in one’s ears while one washes one’s hands after cocktails with strangers. Upon first noticing this immediate, sustained, and in her case rather eager and mocking but really quite harmless replay of this or that recent discourse, she felt tickled at the thought that she, poor Aqua, had accidentally hit upon such a simple method of recording and transmitting speech, while technologists (the so-called Eggheads) all over the world were trying to make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and still very expensive, hydrodynamic telephones and other miserable gadgets that were to replace those that had gone k chertyam sobach’im (Russian ‘to the devil’) with the banning of an unmentionable ‘lammer.’ (1.3)

In Chekhov’s story Belikov’s favorite word is anthropos (Gr., man):

-- О, как звучен, как прекрасен греческий язык! -- говорил он со сладким выражением; и, как бы в доказательство своих слов, прищурив глаз и подняв палец, произносил: -- Антропос!

'Oh, how sonorous, how beautiful is the Greek language!' he would say, with a sugary expression; and as though to prove his words he would screw up his eyes and, raising his finger, would pronounce 'Anthropos!'

In her suicide note Aqua twice repeated the word chelovek (human being):

Similarly, chelovek (human being) must know where he stands and let others know, otherwise he is not even a klok (piece) of a chelovek, neither a he, nor she, but ‘a tit of it’ as poor Ruby, my little Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. (1.3)

Chelovek (“Man,” 1903) is a poem in prose by Gorky. In a letter of April 13, 1904, to Amfiteatrov Chekhov compares Gorky’s Chelovek to a sermon delivered by a young priest:

Пишу я теперь мало, читаю много. Читаю и "Русь", которую выписываю. Сегодня читал "Сборник" изд. "Знания", между прочим горьковского "Человека", очень напомнившего мне проповедь молодого попа, безбородого, говорящего басом, на о, прочёл и великолепный рассказ Бунина "Чернозём".

In Gorky's play Na dne (“At the Bottom,” 1902) Satin famously says: Chelovek - eto zvuchit gordo! ("Man, this sounds proudly!"). Gordo (proudly) is an anagram of gorod (city). Gorky’s essay on New York (the city known on Antiterra as Manhattan, or simply Man) is entitled Gorod zhyoltogo d’yavola (“The City of Yellow Devil,” 1906). By “yellow devil” Gorky means gold. In a letter of April 13, 1891, to his family Chekhov describes a casino in Monte Carlo and mentions the tables with piles of gold:

Интересны столы с кучами золота. Одним словом, чёрт знает что. Это милое Монте-Карло очень похоже на хорошенький... разбойничий вертеп. Самоубийства проигравшихся — явление заурядное.

The tables with piles of gold are interesting too. In fact it is beyond all words. This charming Monte Carlo is extremely like a fine . . . den of thieves. The suicide of losers is quite a regular thing.

In the entresol of a tall Manhattan building crowned by Van’s penthouse there is ‘Monaco,’ a good restaurant. Demon’s fellow traveler in a lift is Valerio, a waiter at the Monaco:

As Demon rushed (or, in terms of the pill, sauntered) by the Monaco, where he had often lunched, it occurred to him that his son (whom he had been unable to ‘contact’) might still be living with dull little Cordula de Prey in the penthouse apartment of that fine building. He had never been up there — or had he? For a business consultation with Van? On a sun-hazed terrace? And a clouded drink? (He had, that’s right, but Cordula was not dull and had not been present.)

With the simple and, combinationally speaking, neat, thought that, after all, there was but one sky (white, with minute multicolored optical sparks), Demon hastened to enter the lobby and catch the lift which a ginger-haired waiter had just entered, with breakfast for two on a wiggle-wheel table and the Manhattan Times among the shining, ever so slightly scratched, silver cupolas. Was his son still living up there, automatically asked Demon, placing a piece of nobler metal among the domes. Si, conceded the grinning imbecile, he had lived there with his lady all winter.

‘Then we are fellow travelers,’ said Demon inhaling not without gourmand anticipation the smell of Monaco’s coffee, exaggerated by the shadows of tropical weeds waving in the breeze of his brain. (1.10)

The waiter’s name brings to mind Lermontov’s poem Valerik (1840). Valerio is an elderly Roman. Lermontov’s poem Umirayushchiy gladiator (“Dying Gladiator,” 1936) begins: Likuet buynyi Rim… (Wild Rome is rejoicing…). In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901), known on Antiterra as Four Sisters (2.1, et passim), Solyonyi imagines that he resembles Lermontov. The name Solyony (“Mr. Salt”) brings to mind Gorky (A. M. Peshkov’s penname that means “bitter”). In Gorky’s novel Zhizn’ Klima Samgina (“The Life of Klim Samgin,” 1925-36) Samgin is impressed by Bosch’s paintings. On his deathbed Van’s and Ada’s Uncle Dan raves in Italian about Bosch.

Klim Samgin has the same first name as Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), Marina’s former lover who gave her children a set of Flavita (Russian Scrabble):

The set our three children received in 1884 from an old friend of the family (as Marina’s former lovers were known), Baron Klim Avidov, consisted of a large folding board of saffian and a boxful of weighty rectangles of ebony inlaid with platinum letters, only one of which was a Roman one, namely the letter J on the two joker blocks (as thrilling to get as a blank check signed by Jupiter or Jurojin). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter’s lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one’s name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)

Flavita is an anagram of alfavit (alphabet). In the old Russian alphabet letter L was called lyudi. Plural of chelovek, lyudi means “people.” The second part of Gorky’s autobiographical trilogy is entitled V lyudyakh (“In the World,” 1916). In our world the L disaster (predicted by Lermontov in a juvenile poem) happened in 1917, when Lenin came to power in Russia. Gorky is the author of “V. I. Lenin” (1924), a memoir essay written after Lenin’s death.

Speaking of devils and dogs, in her memoir story Chyort (“The Devil,” 1935) Marina Tsvetaev says that she imagines the devil as a dog (Russ., Great Dane). According to Marina Tsvetaev, the devil lived in the room of her half-sister Valeria. In her memoir essay on Valeriy Bryusov, Geroy truda (“A Hero of Toil,” 1925), Marina Tsvetaev calls Bryusov (the author of verses on Lenin’s death) trizhdy rimlyanin (a triple Roman).

As I pointed out in my previous post (“nurse Bellabestia, Belokonsk & Dr Stella Ospenko in Ada”), the name Bellabestia means “beautiful beast.” In Chekhov’s story V ovrage (“In the Ravine,” 1900) Aksinya (Stepan’s wife) is compared to krasivoe i gordoe zhivotnoe (beautiful and proud animal):

Она не спала и тяжко вздыхала, разметавшись от жары, сбросив с себя почти всё — и при волшебном свете луны какое это было красивое, какое гордое животное!

She did not sleep, but breathed heavily, tossing from side to side with the heat, throwing off almost all the bedclothes. And in the magic moonlight what a beautiful, what a proud animal she was! (chapter V)

Volshebnyi svet luny (the magic moonlight) brings to mind “the tropical moonlight” in which Marina bathed on stage:

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. (1.2)

Eugene and Lara (the title of an American stage performance in which Marina played the heroine) seems to be a cross between Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (known on Antiterra as Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor, and Mertvago Forever: 1.8, 2.5). In the epilogue of Pasternak’s novel Tanya (Lara’s daughter by Zhivago) describes her adventures in Belomongolia (White Mongolia). As he speaks to Van, Demon mentions the Bishop of Belokonsk and Red Mongols:

‘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 —’

Was he perhaps under the influence of some bright Chilean drug? That torrent was simply unstoppable, a crazy spectrum, a talking palette —

‘— no really, I don’t think we should bother Ada in her Agavia.

He is — I mean, Vinelander is — the scion, s,c,i,o,n, of one of those great Varangians who had conquered the Copper Tartars or Red Mongols — or whoever they were — who had conquered some earlier Bronze Riders — before we introduced our Russian roulette and Irish loo at a lucky moment in the history of Western casinos.’ (2.10)

In a letter of April 1, 1891, to Mme Kiselyov Chekhov compares two Dutch girls at the table d’hôte to the Larin sisters in Pushkin’s EO:

Я обедаю за table d’hôte’ом. Можете себе представить, против меня сидят две голландочки: одна похожа на пушкинскую Татьяну, а другая на сестру её Ольгу. Я смотрю на обеих в продолжение всего обеда и воображаю чистенький беленький домик с башенкой, отличное масло, превосходный голландский сыр, голландские сельди, благообразного пастора, степенного учителя... и хочется мне жениться на голландочке, и хочется, чтобы меня вместе с нею нарисовали на подносе около чистенького домика.

I am dining at the table d’hôte. Can you imagine just opposite me are sitting two Dutch girls: one of them is like Pushkin’s Tatiana, and the other like her sister Olga. I watch them all through dinner, and imagine a neat, clean little house with a turret, excellent butter, superb Dutch cheese, Dutch herrings, a benevolent-looking pastor, a sedate teacher, . . . and I feel I should like to marry a Dutch girl and be depicted with her on a tea-tray beside the little white house.

In the same letter from Rome Chekhov mentions Vatican:

Римский папа поручил мне поздравить Вас с ангелом и пожелать Вам столько же денег, сколько у него комнат. А у него одиннадцать тысяч комнат! Шатаясь по Ватикану, я зачах от утомления, а когда вернулся домой, то мне казалось, что мои ноги сделаны из ваты.

The Pope of Rome charges me to congratulate you on your name-day and wish you as much money as he has rooms. He has eleven thousand! Strolling about the Vatican I was nearly dead with exhaustion, and when I got home I felt that my legs were made of cotton-wool.

Describing Marina’s affair with Baron d’Onsky, Van mentions smart little Vatican, a Roman spa:

Upon being questioned in Demon’s dungeon, Marina, laughing trillingly, wove a picturesque tissue of lies; then broke down, and confessed. She swore that all was over; that the Baron, a physical wreck and a spiritual Samurai, had gone to Japan forever. From a more reliable source Demon learned that the Samurai’s real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or so. (1.2)

Roman spa, swords and Skonky (d’Onsky’s oneway nickname) bring to mind spadassiny (Russo-Italian, “swordsmen”), as in his memoir essay on Count Loris-Melikov, Diktator na pokoe (“The Retired Dictator”), Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko calls the people who killed General Mikhail Skobelev:

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 memoir essay on Loris-Melikov is included in his book Na kladbishchakh (“At Cemeteries,” 1921) that opens with Nemirovich’s reminiscences of Chekhov.

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,dana.dragunoiu@gmail.com,shvabrin@humnet.ucla.edu
Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com
AdaOnline: "http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada: http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html
The VN Bibliography Blog: http://vnbiblio.com/
Search the archive with L-Soft: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A0=NABOKV-L

Manage subscription options :http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=NABOKV-L