Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026828, Mon, 25 Jan 2016 13:42:32 +0300

Marina's feigned faint & Bouteillan in Ada
He [Demon] looked at her and acknowledged the perfection of the potage, but she [Marina], this rather thick-set woman, goodhearted, no doubt, but restive and sour-faced, glazed over, nose, forehead and all, with a sort of brownish oil that she considered to be more 'juvenizing' than powder, was more of a stranger to him than Bouteillan who had once carried her in his arms, in a feigned faint, out of a Ladore villa and into a cab, after a final, quite final row, on the eve of her wedding. (1.38)

'Exactly,' said Marina. 'I simply refuse to do anything about it. Besides poor Jones is not at all asthmatic, but only nervously eager to please. He's as healthy as a bull and has rowed me from Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer. You are cruel, Demon. I can't tell him "ne pïkhtite," as I can't tell Kim, the kitchen boy, not to take photographs on the sly - he's a regular snap-shooting fiend, that Kim, though otherwise an adorable, gentle, honest boy; nor can I tell my little French maid to stop getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore.' (ibid.)

Kim’s surname, Beauharnais, hints at Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife who feigned a faint when her husband told her that he wanted to divorce her. According to Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother), she loved to identify herself with Queen [sic] Josephine:

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.' (1.5)

In his poem Napoleon (1848) Tyutchev says that two demons served Napoleon:

Два демона ему служили,
Две силы чудно в нём слились:
В его главе – орлы парили,
В его груди – змии вились...

Ширококрылых вдохновений
Орлиный, дерзостный полёт,
И в самом буйстве дерзновений
Змииной мудрости расчёт.

Two demons served him.

Two forces merged wondrously within him:

in his head, eagles soared,

in his breast, serpents writhed:

a daring eagle-flight

of wide-spanned inspirations:

and in the very riot of audacity

there was a calculating serpent.

(transl. F. Jude)

According to Tyutchev, Napoleon was the son of Revolution:

Сын Революции, ты с матерью ужасной
Отважно в бой вступил – и изнемог в борьбе...
Не одолел её твой гений самовластный!..
Бой невозможный, труд напрасный!..
Ты всю её носил в самом себе...

Revolution’s Son, with a fearsome mother

fearlessly you entered battle and drained of your strength in the struggle.

Your despotic genius could not overcome her!

Impossible conflict, pointless labour!

You carried it all in yourself.

(transl. F. Jude)

Napoleon was Marina Tsveatev’s idol. The name Bouteillan comes from bouteille (Fr., bottle). In Marina Tsvetaev’s memoir story Chudo s loshad’mi (“A Miracle with Horses,” 1934) Barbarossa (as the author nicknames the red-bearded poet Ivan Rukavishnikov) drinks vodka pryamo iz butylki (straight from the bottle), because Revolution has smashed all tumblers and Restoration, that great compensator and mender, did not yet come:

И вот: рыжее на зелёном, пламя на изумруде — борода на траве: муж Нины — мечтал. Мечтал и попивал прямо из бутылки — Революция перебила все стаканы, а Реставрации, этой великой возместительницы и латальщицы, ещё не было — пил взаправду «прямо из», совсем как младенец пьёт молоко, и столь же — даже более — жадно. Точно борода возбуждала в нём жажду.

Soon after her final row with Demon Marina married his cousin Daniel Veen (nicknamed Red Veen and Durak Walter). At “the family dinner” in Ardis the Second (summer of 1888) Demon, after tasting Lord Byron’s Hock, tells Marina that her husband should stop drinking vodka:

'Ah!' said Demon, tasting Lord Byron's Hock. 'This redeems Our Lady's Tears.'

'I was telling Van a moment ago,' he continued, raising his voice (he labored under the delusion that Marina had grown rather deaf), 'about your husband. My dear, he overdoes the juniper vodka stuff, he's getting, in fact, a mite fuzzy and odd. The other day I chanced to walk through Pat Lane on the Fourth Avenue side, and there he was coming, at quite a spin, in his horrid town car, that primordial petrol two-seater he's got, with the tiller. Well, he saw me, from quite a distance, and waved, and the whole contraption began to shake down, and finally stopped half a block away, and there he sat trying to budge it with little jerks of his haunches, you know, like a child who can't get his tricycle unstuck, and as I walked up to him I had the definite impression that it was his mechanism that had stalled, not the Hardpan's.' (1.38)

In Latin the name Marina means “of the sea.” In his poem K moryu (“To the Sea,” 1824) Pushkin mentions Napoleon’s and Byron’s recent death:

О чём жалеть? Куда бы ныне
Я путь беспечный устремил?
Один предмет в твоей пустыне
Мою бы душу поразил.

Одна скала, гробница славы…
Там погружались в хладный сон
Воспоминанья величавы:
Там угасал Наполеон.

Там он почил среди мучений.
И вслед за ним, как бури шум,
Другой от нас умчался гений,
Другой властитель наших дум.

Исчез, оплаканный свободой,
Оставя миру свой венец.
Шуми, взволнуйся непогодой:
Он был, о море, твой певец.

What's to regret? Toward what far shoal
Could I my madcap voyage chart?
In all your open wilds, one goal
Could still have power to strike my heart,

One cliff...that sepulcher of glory
There a chill slumber in the west
Whelmed memories of a mighty story...
There was Napoleon felled to rest.

There rested he in tribulations.
And, after him as thunder, rolls
Yet one more genius of the nations,
One more commander of our souls.

Leaving the world his wreath forever
He vanished, grieved by liberty.
Seethe! Sound! Blow wild with angry weather.
He was your one true bard, O Sea.

(transl. A. Z. Foreman)

According to Tyutchev, Napoleon’s fragile boat was smashed on podvodnyi very kamen’ (the under-water stone of faith):

Он был земной, не божий пламень,
Он гордо плыл – презритель волн, –
Но о подводный веры камень
В щепы разбился утлый чёлн.

He was of earth, not God’s flame.

He proudly sailed, despised the sea,

but on the hidden reef of faith

his fragile boat was smashed.

(transl. F. Jude)

Tyutchev is the author of Bliznetsy (“The Twins,” 1952). The epithet podvodnyi (under-water) brings to mind the name of Marina’s twin sister, Aqua. Poor mad Aqua was Demon’s wife. Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) married Aqua on April 23, 1869:

On April 23, 1869, in drizzly and warm, gauzy and green Kaluga, Aqua, aged twenty-five and afflicted with her usual vernal migraine, married Walter D. Veen, a Manhattan banker of ancient Anglo-Irish ancestry who had long conducted, and was soon to resume intermittently, a passionate affair with Marina. The latter, some time in 1871, married her first lover's first cousin, also Walter D. Veen, a quite as opulent, but much duller, chap. (1.1)

The modest narrator has to remind the rereader of all this, because in April (my favorite month), 1869 (by no means a mirabilic year), on St George's Day (according to Mlle Larivière's maudlin memoirs) Demon Veen married Aqua Veen - out of spite and pity, a not unusual blend. (1.3)

April 23 is VN’s birthday. St George Day brings to mind Georgiy (“George,” 1921), a cycle of poems by Marina Tsvetaev, but also seems to hint at the saying vot tebe, babushka, i Yuriev den’ (“what an unpleasant surprise!” Literally: “that's all of St George Day for you, grandma”) that occurs in Pushkin’s drama Boris Godunov (1825). The characters of Boris Godunov include Marina Mnishek, the Polish beauty who accepted Grigoriy Otrepiev’s proposal. In her cycle Marina (1921) Marina Tsvetaev calls her namesake “the wife of three impostors” and “False Marina.”

Marina Durmanov married Daniel Veen on December 16 (St Adelaida’s Day), 1871 (1.1). On the eve Marina had her final row with Demon who had refused to divorce Aqua:

Some confusion ensued less than two years later (September, 1871 - her proud brain still retained dozens of dates) when upon escaping from her next refuge and somehow reaching her husband's unforgettable country house (imitate a foreigner: 'Signor Konduktor, ay vant go Lago di Luga, hier geld') she took advantage of his being massaged in the solarium, tiptoed into their former bedroom - and experienced a delicious shock: her talc powder in a half-full glass container marked colorfully Quelques Fleurs still stood on her bedside table; her favorite flame-colored nightgown lay rumpled on the bedrug; to her it meant that only a brief black nightmare had obliterated the radiant fact of her having slept with her husband all along - ever since Shakespeare's birthday on a green rainy day, but for most other people, alas, it meant that Marina (after G.A. Vronsky, the movie man, had left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets) had conceived, c'est bien le cas de le dire, the brilliant idea of having Demon divorce mad Aqua and marry Marina who thought (happily and correctly) she was pregnant again. Marina had spent a rukuliruyushchiy month with him at Kitezh but when she smugly divulged her intentions (just before Aqua's arrival) he threw her out of the house. (1.3)

Aqua and Marina Durmanov share their birthday with Demon and Daniel Veen:

Marina's affair with Demon Veen started on his, her, and Daniel Veen's birthday, January 5, 1868, when she was twenty-four and both Veens thirty. (1.2)

January 5 is Vera Nabokov’s birthday. In Russian, vera (the word used by Tyutchev in his poem Napoleon) means “faith, belief” and comes from verit’ (“to believe”). In his famous poem Umom Rossiyu ne ponyat’… (“The intellect cannot grasp Russia…” 1866) Tyutchev says: v Rossiyu mozhno tol’ko verit’ (one can only believe in Russia). According to Tyutchev, one cannot measure Russia with a common arshin (yardstick). One of Van’s patients at the Kingston Clinic is Mr. Arshin (2.6), the acrophobe whose name and illness hint at Garshin, the writer who suffered from a mental illness and in 1888 threw himself over the banisters. In his story Krasnyi tsvetok (“The Red Flower,” 1883) Garshin mentions Ariman (Ahriman), the evil spirit in Zoroastrianism.

Ariman = Marina = Armina = Mirana

Armina – Demon’s Mediterranean villa; Marina never realized it was an anagram of the sea, not of her (1.27)

Mirana – in VN’s Lolita (1955), Hotel Mirana that belonged to Humbert Humbert’s father (1.2)

Garshin’s initial, Г (the Cyrillic counterpart of Roman G), looks like L turned upside down. Aqua went mad after the L disaster that happened on Demonia (Earth’s twin planet also known as Antiterra) in the middle of the 19th century:

The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of 'Terra,' are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans - and not to grave men or gravemen. (1.3)

In her memoir essay on Maximilian Voloshin, Zhivoe o zhivom ("A Living Word about a Living Man," 1932), Marina Tsvetaev speaks of Victor Hugo's poem Napoléon II (1832) and uses the phrase au beau milieu (right in the middle):

И внезапно – au beau milieu Victor Hugo Наполеону II – уже не вкрадчиво, а срочно: – А нельзя ли будет пойти куда-нибудь в другое место? – Можно, конечно, вниз тогда, но там семь градусов и больше не бывает.

As he speaks of the phenomenon of Terra, Van mentions Revolution and demons:

Revelation can be more perilous than Revolution. Sick minds identified the notion of a Terra planet with that of another world and this 'Other World' got confused not only with the 'Next World' but with the Real World in us and beyond us. Our enchanters, our demons, are noble iridescent creatures with translucent talons and mightily beating wings; but in the eighteen-sixties the New Believers urged one to imagine a sphere where our splendid friends had been utterly degraded, had become nothing but vicious monsters, disgusting devils, with the black scrota of carnivora and the fangs of serpents, revilers and tormentors of female souls; while on the opposite side of the cosmic lane a rainbow mist of angelic spirits, inhabitants of sweet Terra, restored all the stalest but still potent myths of old creeds, with rearrangement for melodeon of all the cacophonies of all the divinities and divines ever spawned in the marshes of this our sufficient world. (1.3)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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