Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026848, Fri, 5 Feb 2016 23:34:47 +0300

Ida Lariviere, lolita & Euler-typed problem in Ada
For the big picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday and Ida's forty-second jour de
fête, the child was permitted to wear her lolita (thus dubbed after the
little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg's novel and pronounced,
incidentally, with a Spanish 't,' not a thick English one), a rather long,
but very airy and ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies,
'deficient in botanical reality,' as she grandly expressed it, not yet
knowing that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of
this, and only this, dream. (1.13)

The first name of Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess), Ida, seems to hint
at Little Ida’s Flowers (1835), a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.
Andersen is the author of The Little Mermaid (1837). In his autobiography
Speak, Memory (1967) VN says that Tamara (as the author calls his first
love: Valentina, or ‘Lyusya,’ Shulgin) accepted a certain condition set by
her mother with the fortitude of Hans Andersen’s little mermaid (p. 185).
In Ada Van calls Lucette “our Esmeralda and mermaid” (2.8) and, after
Lucette’s suicide, “a mermaid in the groves of Atlantis” (Part Four).

Esmeralda is a gipsy girl in Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris (1831). In
her memoir essay on Andrey Bely, Plennyi dukh ("The Captive Spirit," 1934)
Marina Tsvetaev (whose surname comes from tsvet, “flower; color”) mentions
Esmeralda and her pet goat Djali:

Ровная лужайка, утыканная жёлтыми цветоч
ками, стала ковриком под его ногами ― и ск
возь кружавшегося, приподымающегося, всп
архивающего, припадающего, уклоняющегос
я, вот-вот имеющего отделиться от земли ―
видение девушки с козочкой, на только что
развёрнутом коврике, под двубашенным вид
ением веков…
― Эсмеральда! Джали!

A son of Professor Bugaev, Bely told Marina Tsvetaev (a daughter of
Professor Tsvetaev) that he would have preferred to be, like Andersen, a
coffin-maker’s son:

Если уж непременно нужно быть чьим-то сын
ом, я бы предпочёл, как Андерсен, быть сыно
м гробовщика.

The characters of Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stulyev (“The Twelve
Chairs,” 1928) include the coffin-maker Bezenchuk. The novel’s first
chapter is entitled “Bezenchuk and the Nymphs.” In VN’s novel Lolita
(1955) Dolores Haze (Lolita’s “real” name) is a nymphet (according to
Humbert Humbert). Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in
Lolita) writes his memoirs in prison and constantly appeals to ladies and
gentlemen of the jury. In “The Twelve Chairs” Ostap Bender often repeats
the phrase Lyod tronulsya, gospoda prisyazhnye zasedateli (“The ice is
broken, gentlemen of the jury”).

Dr Larivière is a character in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), a novel
alluded to in Lolita. On Antiterra (Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is
set) Flaubert’s novel is known as Floeberg’s Ursula (1.20). Floeberg is
“a mass of ice floes resembling an iceberg.” In Speak, Memory (Chapter
Three, 1) VN mentions the appointment with an iceberg that his uncle
Konstantin Dmitrievich has escaped:

Uncle Konstantin was in the diplomatic service and, in the last stage of his
career in London, conducted a bitter and unsuccessful struggle with Sablin
as to which of them would head the Russian mission. His life was not
particularly eventful, but he had had a couple of nice escapes from a fate
less tame than the draft in a London hospital, which killed him in 1927.
Once, in Moscow, on February 17, 1905, when an older friend, the Grand Duke
Sergey, half a minute before the explosion, offered him a lift in his
carriage, and my uncle said no, thanks, he’d rather walk, and away rolled
the carriage to its fatal rendezvous with a terrorist’s bomb; and the
second time, seven years later, when he missed another appointment, this one
with an iceberg, by chancing to return his Titanic ticket. (p. 49)

In “The Twelve Chairs” Chapter Seven is entitled Sledy Titanika (“Traces
of the Titanic”). The Titanic is a hair dye that, instead of making
Vorobyaninov’s hair and moustache jet black, colors them in green.

Osberg = Borges

Sig Leymanski = Kingsley Amis

Gitanilla Esmeralda + navsegda = Antilia Glems + Gerald + Ada +

J. L. Borges (1899-86) is the author of Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote
(1939). Don Quixote (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,
1605-15) is, of course, a novel by Cervantes, the author La Gitanilla
(1613). On Antiterra, The Gitanilla (2.5, et passim) is a novel by Osberg.
Lolita is the gitanilla’s name.

Navsegda is Russian for “forever, for good.”

Antilia Glems (Sig Leymanski’s enchanting, melancholy, betrayed wife) is a
character in Van’s philosophical novel Letters from Terra (2.2).

Gerald is Moris Gerald, the main character in Captain Mayne Reid's Headless
Horseman. In Chapter Ten of Speak, Memory VN tells about his first cousin
and best friend Yuri Rausch von Traubenberg with whom as a child VN
reenacted the scenes from Mayne Reid’s novel. On Antiterra The Headless
Horseman is a long poem by Pushkin (the author of The Bronze Horseman,

The year 1880 (Aqua was still alive - somehow, somewhere!) was to prove to
be the most retentive and talented one in his long, too long, never too long
life. He was ten. His father had lingered in the West where the many-colored
mountains acted upon Van as they had on all young Russians of genius. He
could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin's 'Headless
Horseman' poem in less than twenty minutes. (1.28)

Leonhard Euler (1707-83) was a Swiss mathematician (who lived and died in
St. Petersburg, VN’s home city). Andrey Bely’s father was a Professor of

Sevan is the largest lake in Armenia. Vesna is Russian for “spring.” Naves
means “penthouse; awning.”

Speaking of Hans Christian Andersen and Vladimir Nabokov: according to
Cordula (Van’s former lover whose name is also an orchid’s name), her
husband resembles Vladimir Christian of Denmark:

'My notion of propriety may not be the same as yours. And what about Cordula
de Prey? She won't mind?'

'The apartment is mine,' said Van, 'and besides, Cordula is now Mrs Ivan G.
Tobak. They are making follies in Florence. Here's her last postcard.
Portrait of Vladimir Christian of Denmark, who, she claims, is the dead spit
of her Ivan Giovanovich. Have a look.' (2.5)

The home city of Botticelli, Florence brings to mind his Primavera (Spring),
Flora (a slender, hardly nubile, half-naked music-hall dancer in ‘Ursus,”
2.8) and Eric Veen’s floramors (2.3).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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