Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026387, Mon, 24 Aug 2015 23:11:21 +0300

mark, fleas, Chose, Lute, Avenue Guillaume Pitt, floramors in Ada
He did not 'twinkle' long after that. Five or six years later, in Monte
Carlo, Van was passing by an open-air café when a hand grabbed him by the
elbow, and a radiant, ruddy, comparatively respectable Dick C. leaned toward
him over the petunias of the latticed balustrade:

'Van,' he cried, 'I've given up all that looking-glass dung, congratulate
me! Listen: the only safe way is to mark 'em! Wait, that's not all, can you
imagine, they've invented a microscopic - and I mean microscopic - point of
euphorion, a precious metal, to insert under your thumbnail, you can't see
it with the naked eye, but one minuscule section of your monocle is made to
magnify the mark you make with it, like killing a flea, on one card after
another, as they come along in the game, that's the beauty of it, no
preparations, no props, nothing! Mark 'em! Mark 'em!' good Dick was still
shouting, as Van walked away. (1.28)

Dick C. is a shuler (cardsharp). A shuler appears in Mark Aldanov’s novel
Chyortov most (“Devil’s Bridge,” 1924). The characters of “Devil’s
Bridge” include Suvorov. In the second stanza of his Refutatsiya g-na
Beranzhera ("The Refutation of Mr Béranger," 1828) Pushkin compares the
French soldiers to blokhi (fleas) killed on the thumbnail by Suvorov:

Ты помнишь ли, как за горы Суворов
Перешагнув, напал на вас врасплох?
Как наш старик трепал вас, живодёров,
И вас давил на ноготке, как блох?
Хоть это нам не составляет много,
Не из иных мы прочих, так сказать;
Но встарь мы вас наказывали строго,
Ты помнишь ли, скажи, <ебёна мать>?

“All that looking-glass dung” mentioned by Dick C. brings to mind Lewis
Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland). At Cambridge VN translated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
into Russian (as “Anya v strane chudes,” 1923). Some of the book’s
characters are playing cards. Lewis Carroll was left-handed. In Leskov's
story Levsha ("The Lefty," 1881) the hero provides a clockwork steel flea
made by English craftsmen with horseshoes and inscriptions on them.

Chose (Van’s and Dick’s alma mater that corresponds to our world’s
Cambridge) seems to hint at André Chénier’s last words quoted by Pushkin
in a footnote to his poem Andrey Shen’ye (“André Chénier,” 1825):
"pourtant j'avais quelque chose là" (yet, I did have something here [in my
head]). Chénier is the author of an ode to Charlotte Corday (Marat's
murderer who is known on Antiterra as Cora Day):

He struggled to keep back his tears, while AAA blew his fat red nose, when
shown the peasant-bare footprint of Tolstoy preserved in the clay of a motor
court in Utah where he had written the tale of Murat, the Navajo chieftain,
a French general's bastard, shot by Cora Day in his swimming pool. What a
soprano Cora had been! Demon took Van to the world-famous Opera House in
Telluride in West Colorado and there he enjoyed (and sometimes detested) the
greatest international shows - English blank-verse plays, French tragedies
in rhymed couplets, thunderous German musical dramas with giants and
magicians and a defecating white horse. (1.28)

Tolstoy is the author of Voina i mir (“War and Peace,” 1869), a novel
about the Napoleonic wars. Aldanov is the author of Zagadka Tolstogo
("Tolstoy's Riddle," 1923).

The society nickname of Van’s father hints at Lemontov’s Demon (1829-39):

He could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin's 'Headless
Horseman' poem in less than twenty minutes. With white-bloused,
enthusiastically sweating Andrey Andreevich, he lolled for hours in the
violet shade of pink cliffs, studying major and minor Russian writers - and
puzzling out the exaggerated but, on the whole, complimentary allusions to
his father's volitations and loves in another life in Lermontov's
diamond-faceted tetrameters. (ibid.)

Lermontov is the author of Borodino (1837). In Refutatsiya g-na Beranzhera
Pushkin, the author of Borodinskaya godovshchina (“The Borodino
Anniversary,” 1831), mentions the Great Moscow Fire of 1812:

Ты помнишь ли, как царь ваш от угара
Вдруг одурел, как бубен гол и лыс,
Как на огне московского пожара
Вы жарили московских наших крыс?

and Paris:

Ты помнишь ли, как были мы в Париже,
Где наш казак иль полковой наш поп
Морочил вас, к винцу подсев поближе,
И ваших жён похваливал <да ёб>?

On Antiterra Paris is also known as Lute:

In 1885, having completed his prep-school education, he went up to Chose
University in England, where his fathers had gone, and traveled from time to
time to London or Lute (as prosperous but not overrefined British colonials
called that lovely pearl-gray sad city on the other side of the Channel).

Lute hints at Lutèce (the ancient name of Paris), but also at lyutyi Pit
(ferocious Pitt) mentioned by Pushkin at the beginning of his Ode to his
Excellency Count Dm. Iv. Khvostov (1825):

Султан ярится. Кровь Эллады

И peзвocкачет, и кипит.

Открылись грекам древни клады,

Трепещет в Стиксе лютый Пит.

The sultan gets furious. Hellas's blood

is galloping fast and boiling.

The Greeks discovered ancient treasures,

ferocious Pitt trembles in Styx.

In Aldanov’s “Devil’s Bridge” the characters include William Pitt the
Younger. In 1901 Van, going past a sidewalk café in the Avenue Guillaume
Pitt in Paris, meets Greg Erminin:

On a bleak morning between the spring and summer of 1901, in Paris, as Van,
black-hatted, one hand playing with the warm loose change in his topcoat
pocket and the other, fawn-gloved, upswinging a furled English umbrella,
strode past a particularly unattractive sidewalk café among the many lining
the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, a chubby bald man in a rumpled brown suit with a
watch-chained waistcoat stood up and hailed him. (3.2)

In his Ode Pushkin compares Count Khvostov (Suvorov’s relative; on May 6,
1800, Suvorov died in Khvostov’s house at the Kryukov Canal in St.
Petersburg) to Lord Byron:

Вам с Бейроном шипела злоба,
Гремела и правдива лесть.
Он лорд ― граф ты! Поэты оба!
Се, мнится, явно сходство есть.

Like VN, Pitt and Byron were Cambridge students.

The name Erminin hints at Erminia, the nickname of Pushkin’s friend Eliza
Khitrovo (Kutuzov’s daughter!).

It is Dick C. who offers Van an introduction to the Venus Villa Club (also
known as “floramors,” 2.3). In the closing lines of his Ode to Count
Khvostov Pushkin mentions Cytherea (i. e. Venus) and in a footnote says that
Venus is strewing with flowers her favorite bard:

Цитерея (Венера) осыпает цветами своего л
юбимого певца.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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