Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026814, Sat, 16 Jan 2016 13:46:34 -0200

Terms of Endearment in "Letters to Véra"

A very recent article directed to the Brazilian magazine “Piauí” (not yet
published), with a critical introduction of Letters to Véra – Vladimir
Nabokov, Edited and Translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd ( Penguin
Classics, 2014), by Jorio Dauster, brought out a few excerpts from the VN
letters, also translated to the Portuguese by Dauster.
The difficulty of finding a corresponding term of endearment, without
transmuting it into a strangely odd and cold form of address, must have
begun during its original translation from the Russian by Olga Voronina.*
One of the selected letters began:

Letter dated 10/vi-26:


This morning, they brought me your third letter, along with my
fastbreak. Oh, dipod…” [ ] “Oh, my love, my sweet, my dear one. We walked
to Todmoos from St. Blasien on foot. It was burning hot, and I took my shirt
off. Tuftikins…My fabulous dipodikins… I’ll read a bit and go to bed.

V. ” (p.69, LV,2014).

Brian Boyd’s appended Notes were indispensable: Dipod : “In Russian,
tushkan (tuschkanik means ‘jerboa’); jerboas form most of the family
Dipodidae.” (p.568/569). The cuddly term, though, didn’t come out as soft
and special as expected (the translator’s first try settled on “gerbinha,”
an expression that is almost impossible to trace back to its original form
or even visualize) and the choice of “ratinha” (little mouse) is still being

A word that’s too foreign to fit in and excessively modern to be acceptable,
but which has gained a faithful following (and even a cover in Time
magazine**), was once suggested, in connection to the “dipodidae,” in a blog
about pets: “Pikachu” … I confess that Japanese anima cartoons sometimes pop
into my mind when I try to figure VN’s choice adding sound and image to his


* In 1926, when Véra was recuperating at a Sanatorium Southern Germany, he
invented a zoo of minuscule creatures, some of which may be spin-offs from
the unheard-of names he painstakingly coined for her, a fresh appellation in
every letter. Many of these “beasties” are indeed little animals, feline and
canine in origin … others are strikingly human, such as Mrs. Tufty, a snappy
dresser, or Mr. Darling…Nabokov’s verbal jauntiness has overwhelmed many a
translator, but his quirky Russian endearments are a new challenge…Nabokov’s
endearments reflect his fascination with verbal games in his native tongue…
(Translating Letters to Véra, Olga Voronina, lvi/lvii. LV, 2014)


TIME Cover: Pokeman - Nov. 22, 1999


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