Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026871, Thu, 18 Feb 2016 14:46:38 +0300

Bouteillan, King Wing & Grandfather Dedalus Veen in Ada
None of the family was at home when Van arrived. A servant in waiting took his horse. He entered the Gothic archway of the hall where Bouteillan, the old bald butler who unprofessionally now wore a mustache (dyed a rich gravy brown), met him with gested delight - he had once been the valet of Van's father - 'Je parie,' he said, 'que Monsieur ne me reconnaït pas,' and proceeded to remind Van of what Van had already recollected unaided, the farmannikin (a special kind of box kite, untraceable nowadays even in the greatest museums housing the toys of the past) which Bouteillan had helped him to fly one day in a meadow dotted with buttercups. Both looked up: the tiny red rectangle hung for an instant askew in a blue spring sky. (1.5)

The word “butler” and the name Bouteillan have a common origin: bouteille (“bottle” in French). In Pushkin’s short novel Kapitanskaya dochka (“The Captain’s Daughter,” 1836) M. Beaupré (Grinyov’s French tutor) used to say that he was not vrag butylki (averse to the bottle):

Бопре в отечестве своём был парикмахером, потом в Пруссии солдатом, потом приехал в Россию pour être outchitel, не очень понимая значение этого слова. Он был добрый малый, но ветрен и беспутен до крайности. Главною его слабостию была страсть к прекрасному полу; нередко за свои нежности получал он толчки, от которых охал по целым суткам. К тому же не был он (по его выражению) и врагом бутылки, т. е. (говоря по-русски) любил хлебнуть лишнее.

Beaupré, in his native country, had been a hairdresser, then a soldier in Prussia, and then had come to Russia to be "outchitel," without very well knowing the meaning of this word. He was a good creature, but wonderfully absent and hare-brained. His greatest weakness was a love of the fair sex. Neither, as he said himself, was he averse to the bottle, that is, as we say in Russia, that his passion was drink. (chapter I)

The French phrase used by Beaupré, l’ennemi de la dive bouteille, brings to mind the saying le mieux est l’ennemi du bien (the best thing is the enemy of the good one) used by Vyazemski in his macaronic poem Slyoznaya komplyanta, ki pe tetr vu fera rir (“A Tearful Complaint that Perhaps will Make you Laugh,” 1865):

Все женщины в прабабку Еву —
Хитрят во сне и наяву.
Он говорит: «Хочу в Женеву»,
Она в ответ: «Не жене ву».

То есть, пожалуйста, не суйтесь:
К чему женироваться вам?
Сидите дома, повинуйтесь
Своим дряхлеющим годам.

Вас видеть мне была б отрада,
Но если всё в расчет принять,
Быть может, я была бы рада
Вас к чёрту, ангел мой, прогнать.

И так довольна я судьбою:
Ле мьё се ленеми дю бьян.
Боюсь, меня стихов ухою
Замучите вы, как Демьян.

Он плачет, а она... хохочет
И говорит: «Ле гран папа,
Всё о Женеве он хлопочет,
А я свое: "Же не ве па"».

In Vyazemski’s poem dyu b’yan (du bien in Russian spelling) rhymes with Dem’yan (Demian), in Krylov’s fable Dem’yanova uha (“Demian’s Fish-Soup,” 1815) a too hospitable host who treats his neighbor to a fish-soup. Demian is the name of Van’s and Ada’s father (who married Marina’s twin sister Aqua):

The 'D' in the name of Aqua's husband stood for Demon (a form of Demian or Dementius), and thus was he called by his kin. (1.1)

At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Marina gives Demon (a great fisherman in his youth, 1.1) wall-eyed pike, or ‘dory:’

'You still beat me at fencing, but I'm the better shot. That's not real sudak, papa, though it's tops, I assure you.'

(Marina, having failed to obtain the European product in time for the dinner, had chosen the nearest thing, wall-eyed pike, or 'dory,' with Tartar sauce and boiled young potatoes.) (1.38)

Uha is the first meal in ‘Ursus,’ the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major to which Van takes Ada and Lucette:

The uha, the shashlik, the Ai were facile and familiar successes; but the old songs had a peculiar poignancy owing to the participation of a Lyaskan contralto and a Banff bass, renowned performers of Russian 'romances,' with a touch of heart-wringing tsiganshchina vibrating through Grigoriev and Glinka. (2.8)

The name Krylov comes from krylo (wing) and brings to mind King Wing, Demon’s wrestling master who taught Van to walk on his hands:

Two years earlier, when about to begin his first prison term at the fashionable and brutal boarding school, to which other Veens had gone before him (as far back as the days 'when Washingtonias were Wellingtonias'), Van had resolved to study some striking stunt that would give him an immediate and brilliant ascendancy. Accordingly, after a conference with Demon, King Wing, the latter's wrestling master, taught the strong lad to walk on his hands by means of a special play of the shoulder muscles, a trick that necessitated for its acquirement and improvement nothing short of a dislocation of the caryatics.

What pleasure (thus in the MS.). The pleasure of suddenly discovering the right knack of topsy turvy locomotion was rather like learning to man, after many a painful and ignominious fall, those delightful gliders called Magicarpets (or 'jikkers') that were given a boy on his twelfth birthday in the adventurous days before the Great Reaction - and then what a breathtaking long neural caress when one became airborne for the first time and managed to skim over a haystack, a tree, a burn, a barn, while Grandfather Dedalus Veen, running with upturned face, flourished a flag and fell into the horsepond. (1.13)

Grandfather Dedalus Veen (1799-1883) is Demon’s father. In Vyazemski’s poem Na radost’ poluvekovuyu… (“To a Half-Century Joy…” 1838) the refrain ends in the line Zdravstvuy, dedushka Krylov! (“Hello Grandfather Krylov!”):

Длись счастливою судьбою,
Нить любезных нам годов!
Здравствуй с милою женою,
Здравствуй, дедушка Крылов!

According to Vyazemski, all of Krylov’s children (i. e. the animals in Krylov’s fables) are as clever, as their father (umny v ottsa):

Изба его детьми богата
Под сенью брачного венца;
И дети — славные ребята!
И дети все умны — в отца.

At the family dinner in Ardis Demon mentions “the Veen wit” that his son inherited from him:

'Marina,' murmured Demon at the close of the first course. 'Marina,' he repeated louder. 'Far from me' (a locution he favored) 'to criticize Dan's taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I'm above all that rot, I'm...' (gesture); 'but, my dear,' he continued, switching to Russian, 'the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki - the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) -'

'Everybody has eyes,' remarked Marina drily.

'Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves. But that's not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It's depressing. It's a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.'

'Look, Dad,' said Van, 'Dr Krolik can't do much, because, as you know quite well, he's dead, and Marina can't tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they're alive.'

'The Veen wit, the Veen wit,' murmured Demon. (1.38)

As a Chose student Van begins to perform in a variety show dancing on his hands. Van’s stage name, Mascodagama, hints at Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India. In Pushkin’s “Captain’s Daughter” Grinyov mentions the Cape of Good Hope (Africa’s southern extremity):

Надобно знать, что для меня выписана была из Москвы географическая карта. Она висела на стене безо всякого употребления и давно соблазняла меня шириною и добротою бумаги. Я решился сделать из нее змей и, пользуясь сном Бопре, принялся за работу. Батюшка вошел в то самое время, как я прилаживал мочальный хвост к Мысу Доброй Надежды.

A map had been procured for me from Moscow, which hung against the wall without ever being used, and which had been tempting me for a long time from the size and strength of its paper. I had at last resolved to make a kite of it, and, taking advantage of Beaupré's slumbers, I had set to work. My father came in just at the very moment when I was tying a tail to the Cape of Good Hope. (chapter I)

The name Beaupré means “bowsprit” (a spar extending forward from the vessel's prow). When Van walks on his hands, his legs are hoisted like a sail:

His reversed body gracefully curved, his brown legs hoisted like a Tarentine sail, his joined ankles tacking, Van gripped with splayed hands the brow of gravity, and moved to and fro, veering and sidestepping, opening his mouth the wrong way, and blinking in the odd bilboquet fashion peculiar to eyelids in his abnormal position. (1.13)

The Tarentine sail brings to mind Krylov’s fable Pushki i parusa (“Cannons and Sails”). There is pushki (Nom. pl. and Gen. sing. of pushka, “cannon”) in Pushkin.

King Wing is Chinese. Dedalus is the name of the Athenian architect who made wings for himself and his son Icarus. In a letter of July 26, 1828, to Pushkin Vyazemski invites Pushkin to Penza and compares provincial life to antiquity or China:

В провинциях прелесть. Здесь только, как в древности или в Китае, поэт сохраняет свои первобытные права и играет свою роль не хуже капитана-исправника, или дворянского заседателя.

Until the age of sixteen Pushkin’s Grinyov lived in the country like nedorosl’ (a minor):

Я жил недорослем, гоняя голубей и играя в чехарду с дворовыми мальчишками.

I lived like a minor, racing pigeons and playing leapfrog with serf boys. (“The Captain’s Daughter,” chapter I)

Nedorosl’ (“The Minor,” 1782) is a comedy by Fonvizin. Vyazemski is the author of a book on Fonvizin. Ten’ Fonvizina (“The Shade of Fonvizin,” 1815) is a poem by Pushkin. In a letter of Jan. 10-13, 1831, to Vyazemski Pushkin tells the anecdote about Fonvizin told to him by old Prince Yusupov (the addressee of Pushkin’s poem “To a Grandee,” 1830):

Вчера видел я кн. Юсупова и исполнил твоё препоручение, допросил его о Фонвизине, и вот чего добился. Он очень знал Фонвизина, который несколько времени жил с ним в одном доме. C’était un autre Beaumarchais pour la conversation... Он знает пропасть его bon mots, да не припомнит. А покамест рассказал мне следующее: Майков, трагик, встретя Фонвизина, спросил у него, заикаясь по своему обыкновению: видел ли ты мою «Агриопу»? — видел — что ж ты скажешь об этой трагедии? — Скажу: Агриопа засраная жопа. Остро и неожиданно!

Vasiliy Maykov (a minor poet, 1728-78) once met Fonvizin and asked him, stuttering: "did you see my Agriopa?" - Yes, I did - "What you'd say of this tragedy?" - I'd say: Agriopa zasranaya zhopa ("Your Agriopa has a dirty arse-hole").

In a letter of Jan. 14, 1831, to Pushkin Vyazemski responds to this:

— Хорош Юсупов, только у него и осталось в голове, что жопа.

Yusupov is a fine fellow! All that remained in his head is arse.

In the same letter to Pushkin Vyazemski mentions literadurochka (“silly literature” or “literary fool,” a neologism) and maski (the masks; see my previous post “Chose, Mascodagama, Zemski, Temnosiniy & skunk-like squirrels in Ada”). When Van dances on his hands as Mascodagama, his arse acts as his head and vice versa.

literaturochka + dochka = literadurochka + tochka

literaturochka – “little literature”

dochka – daughter; Urok dochkam (“A Lesson to Daughters,” 1806) is a comedy by Krylov alluded to by Vyazemski in his poem “To a Half-Century Joy…”; when Van and Ada watch the photographs in Kim Beauharnais’ album, Ada calls herself adova dochka: “Old Beckstein's Tabby was a masterpiece in comparison to this - this Love under the Lindens by one Eelmann transported into English by Thomas Gladstone, who seems to belong to a firm of Packers & Porters, because on the page which Adochka, adova dochka (Hell's daughter) happens to be relishing here, "automobile" is rendered as "wagon."” (2.7); Bouteillan drives the car

tochka – spot, dot; full stop; point

Alexey Sklyarenko

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