Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026846, Wed, 3 Feb 2016 14:55:54 +0300

Aunt Beloskunski-Belokonski, Dr Nikulin & Kunikulinov in Ada
In my previous post (“Tsitsikar, Bishop of Belokonsk & nurse Bellabestia in Ada”) I forgot to mention starukha Belokonskaya (old dame Belokonski), a character in Dostoevski's Idiot (1869). At the dinner in Bellevue Hotel in Mont Roux Dorothy Vinelander (Ada's sister-in-law) mentions dear Aunt Beloskunski-Belokonski (“a vulgar old skunk,” according to Ada; skuns is Russian for “skunk”):

‘Tomorrow dear Aunt Beloskunski-Belokonski is coming to dinner, a delightful old spinster, who lives in a villa above Valvey. Terriblement grande dame et tout ça. Elle aime taquiner Andryusha en disant qu'un simple cultivateur comme lui n'aurait pas dû épouser la fille d'une actrice et d'un marchand de tableaux. Would you care to join us – Jean?’ (3.8)

The old spinster’s name hints at the Counts Beloselski-Belozerski (who owned a magnificent palace in the Nevsky Avenue in St. Petersburg). The name Belozerski comes from belyi (white) and ozero (lake). In ozero there is zero (the favorite roulette number of la baboulinka in Dostoevsky's novel The Gambler). Dan’s nurse Bess managed to extract orally a few last drops of ‘play-zero’ out of his poor body (2.10). Bess and Dr Nikulin witnessed Dan’s death:

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)

The name of Dan’s last doctor seems to hint at Nadezhda Nikulin (1845-1923), an actress of the Moscow Malyi Theater who played Kokoshkin in Suvorin’s play Tatiana Repin (1888). In a letter of Dec. 19, 1888, to Suvorin Chekhov describes his visit to Mme Nikulin and mentions this fact:

Никулина встретила меня радостной вестью, что Машенька согласилась играть Репину. Мы сели за стол и составили такую афишу:

Репина — Ермолова.

Кокошкина — Никулина.

Оленина — Лешковская.

Адашев — Ленский.

Матвеев — Макшеев.

The characters of Tatiana Repin include Adashev (who was played by Lenski). Kokoshkin was the name of Irina Guadanini’s step-father. The name of another female character in Suvorin’s play, Olenin, brings to mind Annette Olenin whom Pushkin courted in the spring of 1828. In May, in Priyutino (the Olenins’ countryseat near St. Petersburg), Pushkin exclaimed Sladko! when he was bitten by mosquitoes. On Antiterra the mosquitoes bite Pushkin in Yukon:

‘Sladko! (Sweet!)’ Pushkin used to exclaim in relation to a different species in Yukon. (1.17)

Sladko is the antonym of gor’ko (bitter), the word that at a Russian wedding the guests cry out when they want the bride and her fiancé to kiss (see in Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago the description of Lara’s wedding). Gor’ko brings to mind Maxim Gorky, the author of Zhizn’ Klima Samgina (“The Life of Klim Samgin,” 1925-36). In a Berlin museum Samgin is impressed by the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (Jeroen Anthniszoon van Äken). In Part Four of the novel Samgin in Paris reads Merezhkovski’s new book Gryadushchiy Kham (“The Future Ham,” 1906) and recalls the “Boschean” parade of women that he saw in the Bois de Boulogne. Klim Samgin is a namesake of Baron Klim Avidov, Marina’s former lover who gave her children a set of Flavita (the Russian Scrabble, 1.36). Baron is a character in Gorky’s play Na dne (“At the Bottom”).

Baron Klim Avidov = Vladimir Nabokov

Samgin = Smagin (a friend of Chekhov, “the Persian Shah” as the writer dubbed him)

Olenin + zero = ozero + Lenin

The name Olenin comes from olen’ (deer). In Chekhov's story Palata № 6 (“Ward No. 6,” 1892) stado oleney (a herd of deer) is one of the last things that the hero sees before his death:

Андрей Ефимыч понял, что ему пришёл конец, и вспомнил, что Иван Дмитрич, Михаил Аверьяныч и миллионы людей верят в бессмертие. А вдруг оно есть? Но бессмертия ему не хотелось, и он думал о нём только одно мгновение. Стадо оленей, необыкновенно красивых и грациозных, о которых он читал вчера, пробежало мимо него; потом баба протянула к нему руку с заказным письмом... Сказал что-то Михаил Аверьяныч. Потом всё исчезло, и Андрей Ефимыч забылся навеки.

Andrey Efimych understood that his end had come, and remembered that Ivan Dmitrich, Mikhail Averyanych, and millions of people believed in immortality. And what if it really existed? But he did not want immortality -- and he thought of it only for one instant. A herd of deer, extraordinarily beautiful and graceful, of which he had been reading the day before, ran by him; then a peasant woman stretched out her hand to him with a registered letter. . . . Mikhail Averyanych said something, then it all vanished, and Andrey Efimych sank into oblivion forever. (chapter XIX)

In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin (“the old drunkard”) Chekhov modestly compares his story “Ward No. 6” to lemonade and complains of the lack of alcohol in the works of contemporary artists:

That is just what is lacking in our productions—the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside "Ward No. 6" and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting. Let us discuss the general causes, if that won't bore you, and let us include the whole age. Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries—that is, men between thirty and forty-five—have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade? Have Repin's or Shishkin's pictures turned your head? ...We are stale and dull ourselves, we can only beget gutta-percha boys, and the only person who does not see that is Stasov, to whom nature has given a rare faculty for getting drunk on slops. The causes of this are not to be found in our stupidity, our lack of talent, or our insolence, as Burenin imagines, but in a disease which for the artist is worse than syphilis or sexual exhaustion. We lack "something," that is true, and that means that, lift the robe of our muse, and you will find within an empty void.

When Dr Chebutykin, a character in Chekhov’s play The Three Sisters (1901), gets drunk, Masha’s husband Kulygin (the teacher of classical languages) quotes the Latin saying: “In vino veritas!” The characters of Chekhov’s play (known on Antiterra as Four Sisters: 2.1, 2.9) include Solyonyi (whose name means “salty”), an officer who kills in a pistol duel Baron Tuzenbakh (Irina’s fiancé). Like her mother, Ada becomes an actress and plays Irina “on the modest stage of the Yakima Academy of Drama in a somewhat abridged version [of Four Sisters] which, for example, kept only the references to Sister Varvara, the garrulous originalka ('odd female' - as Marsha calls her) but eliminated her actual scenes, so that the title of the play might have been The Three Sisters, as indeed it appeared in the wittier of the local notices.” (2.9)

When Van, after a long separation, meets Lucette in a Parisian café, she is compared to Blok’s Incognita (3.3). In Blok’s poem Neznakomka (Incognita, 1906) p'yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: “In vino veritas!” Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as Seen by a Drunkard,” 1885) is a story by Chekhov. Dr Krolik is Ada’s beloved lepidopterist and teacher of natural history. Like Dr Nikulin (grandson of the great rodentiologist Kunikulinov) and all other physicians in Ada, Dr Krolik belongs to the order Rodentia.

At the dinner in Bellevue Hotel with Ada and her family Van consumed more than three bottles of Moët:

During that dismal dinner (enlivened only by the sharlott and five bottles of Moët, out of which Van consumed more than three), he avoided looking at that part of Ada which is called 'the face' - a vivid, divine, mysteriously shocking part, which, in that essential form, is rarely met with among human beings (pasty and warty marks do not count). (3.8)

Chekhov's last words were Davno ya ne pil shampanskogo ("It is long since I drank champagne"). As to the sharlott (“not the charlatan 'charlotte russe' served in most restaurants, but the hot toasty crust, with apple filling, of the authentic castle pie made by Takomin, the hotel's head cook, who hailed from California's Rose Bay”), it brings to mind Sharlotta Ivanovna, a character in Chekhov’s play Vishnyovyi sad (“The Cherry Orchard,” 1904).

Re apple filling: his brief contribution to a collective letter of Sept. 1, 1827, to A. P. Kern (to whom Pushkin had addressed his poem “To***,” 1825, beginning: “I recall a wondrous moment…”) Pushkin signed Yablochnyi Pirog (Your Apple Pie):

Анна Петровна, я Вам жалуюсь на Анну Николавну — она меня не целовала в глаза, как Вы изволили приказывать. Adieu, belle dame.

Весь ваш

Яблочный Пирог.

Belle dame (as Pushkin calls Anna Kern) brings to mind Keats’ poem La Belle Dame sans Merci (1820). Van compares Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s husband who contracted tuberculosis and whom Ada refuses to leave) to Keats:

'Je t'emplie ("prie" and "supplie"), stop, Van. Tu sais que j'en vais mourir.'

'But, but, but' - (slapping every time his forehead) - 'to be on the very brink of, of, of - and then have that idiot turn Keats!' (3.8)

Like Keats, Chekhov died of consumption.

Dolbit’ being Russian for “to chisel” and “to repeat, to say over and over,” I feel that the skylark has turned into a woodpecker.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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