Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027438, Sun, 23 Jul 2017 23:57:15 +0300

pleased-looking Prince Zemski,
grim Vincent Veen & Lenore Raven in Ada; conchologists in Pale
After the Night of the Burning Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time) Van goes down to breakfast past the portraits of Prince Zemski and Vincent Veen, Bishop of Balticomore and Como:

Van thrust his bare toe into a sneaker, retrieving the while its mate from under the bed; he hurried down, past a pleased-looking Prince Zemski and a grim Vincent Veen, Bishop of Balticomore and Como. (1.20)

Balticomore hints at Baltimore, a city and seaport in the Mid-Atlantic, USA; Como is a lake in N Italy. Na ozere Komo (“At Lake Como,” 1894) is a poem by Merezhkovski. Merezhkovski is the author of “Tolstoy and Dostoevski” (1902). During Van’s first tea-party at Ardis Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) mentions Dostoevski:

Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van’s teacher of history, ‘Jeejee’ Jones.

‘He resembles my teacher of history,’ said Van when the man had gone.

‘I used to love history,’ said Marina, ‘I loved to identify myself with famous women. There’s a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties — Lincoln’s second wife or Queen Josephine.’

‘Yes, I’ve noticed — it’s beautifully done. We’ve got a similar set at home.’

‘Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?’ Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.

‘Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),’ replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis’ (with a slight smile). ‘Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.’

‘Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.’

‘Pah,’ uttered Ada. (1.5)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): with a slight smile: a pet formula of Tolstoy’s denoting cool superiority, if not smugness, in a character’s manner of speech.

A ladybird on Van’s plate brings to mind a floweret prettily depicted on an Eckercrown plate (served for another meal at Ardis):

Van: ‘That yellow thingum’ (pointing at a floweret prettily depicted on an Eckercrown plate) ‘— is it a buttercup?’

Ada: ‘No. That yellow flower is the common Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris. In this country, peasants miscall it "Cowslip," though of course the true Cowslip, Primula veris, is a different plant altogether.’

‘I see,’ said Van.

‘Yes, indeed,’ began Marina, ‘when I was playing Ophelia, the fact that I had once collected flowers —’

‘Helped, no doubt,’ said Ada. ‘Now the Russian word for marsh marigold is Kuroslep (which muzhiks in Tartary misapply, poor slaves, to the buttercup) or else Kaluzhnitsa, as used quite properly in Kaluga, U.S.A.’ (1.10)

“That yellow thingum” mentioned by Van brings to mind “this transparent thingum,” as Shade (one of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) calls his poem:

Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote
Came next; then Hebe's Cup, my final float
in that damp carnival, for now I term
Everything "Poems," and no longer squirm.
(But this transparent thingum does require
Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.) (ll. 957-952)

In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote mentions Southey and his Bishop:

Although it may be taken to refer to the man (whoever he was) who occupied this post at the time Hazel Shade was a student, the reader cannot be blamed for applying it to Paul H., Jr., the fine administrator and inept scholar who since 1957 headed the English Department of Wordsmith College. We met now and then (see Foreword and note to line 894) but not often. The Head of the Department to which I belonged was Prof. Nattochdag - "Netochka" as we called the dear man. Certainly the migraines that have lately tormented me to such a degree that I once had to leave in the midst of a concert at which I happened to be sitting beside Paul H., Jr., should not have been a stranger's business. They apparently were, very much so. He kept his eye on me, and immediately upon John Shade's demise circulated a mimeographed letter that began:

Several members of the Department of English are painfully concerned over the fate of a manuscript poem, or parts of a manuscript poem, left by the late John Shade. The manuscript fell into the hands of a person who not only is unqualified for the job of editing it, belonging as he does to another department, but is known to have a deranged mind. One wonders whether some legal action, etc.

"Legal action," of course, might be taken by somebody else too. But no matter; one's just anger is mitigated by the satisfaction of foreknowing that the engagé gentleman will be less worried about the fate of my friend's poem after reading the passage commented here. Southey liked a roasted rat for supper - which is especially comic in view of the rats that devoured his Bishop. (note to Lines 376-377)

Southey’s ballad God's Judgment on a Wicked Bishop was translated into Russian (as “Sud bozhiy nad episkopom”) by Zhukovski. The phrase sud bozhiy (God’s judgment) brings to mind bozh’ya korovka (a ladybird) on Van’s plate. The surname Zhukovski comes from zhuk (beetle). E. A. Poe’s story The Gold-Bug (1843) is known in Russian as Zolotoy zhuk. Poe’s poem The Raven (1845) was translated into Russian (as “Voron,” 1890) by Merezhkovski. Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) is known in society as Raven Veen:

The ‘D’ in the name of Aqua’s husband stood for Demon (a form of Demian or Dementius), and thus was he called by his kin. In society he was generally known as Raven Veen or simply Dark Walter to distinguish him from Marina’s husband, Durak Walter or simply Red Veen. Demon’s twofold hobby was collecting old masters and young mistresses. He also liked middle-aged puns. (1.1)

Demon and Baron d’Onsky (Marina’s lover) both saw Marina in ‘Eugene and Lara’ and in ‘Lenore Raven:’

Both men were a little drunk, and Demon secretly wondered if the rather banal resemblance of that Edenic girl to a young actress, whom his visitor had no doubt seen on the stage in ‘Eugene and Lara’ or ‘Lenore Raven’ (both painfully panned by a ‘disgustingly incorruptible’ young critic), should be, or would be, commented upon. It was not: such nymphs were really very much alike because of their elemental limpidity since the similarities of young bodies of water are but murmurs of natural innocence and double-talk mirrors, that’s my hat, his is older, but we have the same London hatter. (1.2)

‘Eugene and Lara’ seems to blend Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (1823-31) with Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (1957). One of the main characters in Pushkin’s EO is Tatiana Larin. The characters of Doctor Zhivago, a novel known on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor (1.8), and Mertvago Forever (2.5), include Lara Antipov and her daughter by Zhivago Tanya. Lenore (1845) is a poem by E. A. Poe. On the other hand, Lenore (1774) is ballad by G. A. Bürger. In his EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 152) VN points out that Bürger had been assiduously reading the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (3 vols., London, 1765) collected by Thomas Percy (1729-1811), later Bishop of Dromore. The characters of Ada include Percy de Prey (one of Ada’s lovers). According to Van, Praskovia de Prey (Percy’s mother) attempted to sell him and Ada a lame horse:

They had tea at a neighbor’s, Countess de Prey – who tried to sell them, unsuccessfully, a lame horse. (1.22)

In Chapter Eight (IV: 7-8) of EO Pushkin compares his Muse to Lenore galloping on a steed by the moon. Demon’s rival and adversary in a sword duel, Skonky (d’Onsky’s oneway nickname) seems to be a horse (Onegin’s Don stallion).

While her husband dies in Ardis, Marina is flirting with Bishop of Belokonsk in Tsitsikar (2.10). According to Vivian Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’), Belokonsk is the Russian twin of ‘Whitehorse’ (a city in NW Canada). In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901) known on Antiterra as Four Sisters (2.1, et passim) Chebutykin mentions Tsitsikar (a city in NE China). In a letter of January 1, 1902, to Balmont Chekhov says that he has in his library two Poe books in Balmont’s translation: Tainstvennye rasskazy (Tales of Mystery and Imagination) and Poe, Edgar, vol. 1 (Poems, Fairy Tales). January 1 is Van Veen’s (and Lolita’s) birthday.

One of Pushkin’s poems begins: Voron k voronu letit… (“The raven to the raven flies…” 1828). Before translating Bürger’s Lenore into Russian (as Lenora, 1831), Zhukovski imitated it twice: in Lyudmila (1808) and in Svetlana (1812). E. A. Poe is the author of The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. (1850). Byron’s Don Juan is dedicated to “Bob” Southey. Byron’s poem “The Prisoner of Chillon (1816) was translated into Russian (as “Shil’yonskiy uznik”) by Zhukovski. In Pushkin’s poem “To Vyazemski” (1826) the last word is uznik (prisoner):

Так море, древний душегубец,
Воспламеняет гений твой?
Ты славишь лирой золотой
Нептуна грозного трезубец.

Не славь его. В наш гнусный век
Седой Нептун земли союзник.
На всех стихиях человек —
Тиран, предатель или узник.

So 'tis the sea, the ancient assassin

that kindles into flame your genius?

You glorify with golden lyre

Neptune's dread trident?

No, praise him not! In our vile age

gray Neptune is the Earth's ally.

Upon all elements man is a tyrant,

a traitor, or a prisoner.

In his poem Pushkin mentions more (sea) and zemlya (Earth). Just as there is Zemski in Vyazemski, there is more in Balticomore (a place name that blends Baltimore, the city where E. A. Poe died in 1849, with Baltic Sea and Lake Como). According to Kinbote, the king descended by parachute in a field near Baltimore:

John Shade's heart attack (Oct. 17, 1958) practically coincided with the disguised king's arrival in America where he descended by parachute from a chartered plane piloted by Colonel Montacute, in a field of hay-feverish, rank-flowering weeds, near Baltimore whose oriole is not an oriole. (note to Line 691)

Shade’s mad commentator, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles Xavier Vseslav, the last self-exiled king of Zembla. The first name of a pleased-looking Prince Zemski is Vseslav:

Ada and Van returned to the ground floor — this time all the way down the sumptuous staircase. Of the many ancestors along the wall, she pointed out her favorite, old Prince Vseslav Zemski (1699–1797), friend of Linnaeus and author of Flora Ladorica, who was portrayed in rich oil holding his barely pubescent bride and her blond doll in his satin lap. (1.6)

Prince Vseslav Zemski married Princess Sofia Temnosiniy (1755-1809). E. A. Poe was born in 1809 (also the year of Gogol’s birth). In Pale Fire Sybil Shade’s “real” name seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin).

In Poe’s story The Gold-Bug there is a cryptogram. Among the coded words it contains are “bishop” and “degrees.” The name of Shade’s murderer, Gradus, means in Russian “degree.” One of Ada’s chapters is devoted to Van’s and Ada’s coded messages. For their coded correspondence Van and Ada use Marvell’s poem The Garden and Rimbaud’s poem Mémoire (1.26). At her “botanical lesson” Ada mentions Rimbaud’s Mémoire and Van mentions Marvell’s Garden:

‘By chance, this very morning,’ said Ada, not deigning to enlighten her mother, ‘our learned governess, who was also yours, Van, and who —’

(First time she pronounced it — at that botanical lesson!)

‘— is pretty hard on English-speaking transmongrelizers — monkeys called "ursine howlers" — though I suspect her reasons are more chauvinistic than artistic and moral — drew my attention — my wavering attention — to some really gorgeous bloomers, as you call them, Van, in a Mr Fowlie’s soi-disant literal version — called "sensitive" in a recent Elsian rave — sensitive! — of Mémoire, a poem by Rimbaud (which she fortunately — and farsightedly — made me learn by heart, though I suspect she prefers Musset and Coppée)’ —

‘…les robes vertes et déteintes des fillettes…’ quoted Van triumphantly.

‘Egg-zactly’ (mimicking Dan). ‘Well, Larivière allows me to read him only in the Feuilletin anthology, the same you have apparently, but I shall obtain his oeuvres complètes very soon, oh very soon, much sooner than anybody thinks. Incidentally, she will come down after tucking in Lucette, our darling copperhead who by now should be in her green nightgown —’

‘Angel moy,’ pleaded Marina, ‘I’m sure Van cannot be interested in Lucette’s nightdress!’

‘— the nuance of willows, and counting the little sheep on her ciel de lit which Fowlie turns into "the sky’s bed" instead of "bed ceiler." But, to go back to our poor flower. The forged louis d’or in that collection of fouled French is the transformation of souci d’eau (our marsh marigold) into the asinine "care of the water" — although he had at his disposal dozens of synonyms, such as mollyblob, marybud, maybubble, and many other nick-names associated with fertility feasts, whatever those are.’

‘On the other hand,’ said Van, ‘one can well imagine a similarly bilingual Miss Rivers checking a French version of, say, Marvell’s Garden —’

‘Oh,’ cried Ada, ‘I can recite "Le jardin" in my own transversion — let me see —

En vain on s’amuse à gagner

L’Oka, la Baie du Palmier...’

‘…to win the Palm, the Oke, or Bayes!’ shouted Van.

‘You know, children,’ interrupted Marina resolutely with calming gestures of both hands, ‘when I was your age, Ada, and my brother was your age, Van, we talked about croquet, and ponies, and puppies, and the last fête-d’enfants, and the next picnic, and — oh, millions of nice normal things, but never, never of old French botanists and God knows what!’

‘But you just said you collected flowers?’ said Ada.

‘Oh, just one season, somewhere in Switzerland. I don’t remember when. It does not matter now.’

The reference was to Ivan Durmanov: he had died of lung cancer years ago in a sanatorium (not far from Ex, somewhere in Switzerland, where Van was born eight years later). Marina often mentioned Ivan who had been a famous violinist at eighteen, but without any special show of emotion, so that Ada now noted with surprise that her mother’s heavy make-up had started to thaw under a sudden flood of tears (maybe some allergy to flat dry old flowers, an attack of hay fever, or gentianitis, as a slightly later diagnosis might have shown retrospectively). She blew her nose, with the sound of an elephant, as she said herself — and here Mlle Larivière came down for coffee and recollections of Van as a bambin angélique who adored à neuf ans — the precious dear! — Gilberte Swann et la Lesbie de Catulle (and who had learned, all by himself, to release the adoration as soon as the kerosene lamp had left the mobile bedroom in his black nurse’s fist). (1.10)

Btw., Ophélie (1870) is a poem by Rimbaud. As to Vincent Veen, he has the same first name as Vincent van Gogh (1853-90), a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter. Van Gogh cut off his ear and gave it to a maid. In Poe’s story The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (1835) the action takes place in Rotterdam (a city and seaport in SW Netherlands). At the end of the story the narrator mentions a dwarf both of whose ears have been cut off close to his head (which makes him look like a man of the moon):

Secondly. That an odd little dwarf and bottle conjurer, both of whose ears, for some misdemeanor, have been cut off close to his head, has been missing for several days from the neighboring city of Bruges.

In Pale Fire Conmal (Zemblan translator of Shakespeare) calls his nephew, King Charles the Beloved, “Karlik” (dwarf):

To return to the King: take for instance the question of personal culture. How often is it that kings engage in some special research? Conchologists among them can be counted on the fingers of one maimed hand. The last king of Zembla--partly under the influence of his uncle Conmal, the great translator of Shakespeare <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#com3940> (see notes to lines 39-40 and <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline962> 962), had become, despite frequent migraines, passionately addicted to the study of literature. At forty, not long before the collapse of his throne, he had attained such a degree of scholarship that he dared accede to his venerable uncle's raucous dying request: "Teach, Karlik!" (note to line 12)

The Conchologist's First Book (1839), an illustrated textbook on conchology (the study of mollusc shells), was originally printed under E. A. Poe’s name.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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