Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026927, Mon, 28 Mar 2016 14:20:13 +0300

hopeless cases, Ward Five & sad nothings in Ada
According to Dr Fitzbishop, hopeless cases are kept in Ward Five of the
Kalugano Hospital:

Did Van like music? Sportsmen usually did, didn't they? Would he care to
have a Sonorola by his bed? No, he disliked music, but did the doctor, being
a concert-goer, know perhaps where a musician called Rack could be found?
'Ward Five,' answered the doctor promptly. Van misunderstood this as the
title of some piece of music and repeated his question. Would he find Rack's
address at Harper's music shop? Well, they used to rent a cottage way down
Dorofey Road, near the forest, but now some other people had moved in. Ward
Five was where hopeless cases were kept. (1.42)

In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,”
1905), Shestov calls Chekhov pevets beznadyozhnosti (the poet of

Чтобы в двух словах определить его тенден
цию, я скажу: Чехов был певцом безнадежнос
ти. Упорно, уныло, однообразно в течение в
сей своей почти 25-летней литературной дея
тельности Чехов только одно и делал: теми
или иными способами убивал человеческие
надежды. В этом, на мой взгляд, сущность ег
о творчества. (I)

Shestov’s penname comes from shest’ (six). Chekhov is the author of Palata
№ 6 (“Ward No. 6,” 1892), a story that Shestov discusses in his essay:

И, кажется, “Палату № 6” в своё время очень
сочувственно приняли. Кстати прибавим, чт
о доктор умирает очень красиво: в последн
ие минуты видит стадо оленей и т. п. (V)

Shestov mentions the fact that in his last minutes Dr Ragin (the main
character in “Ward No. 6”) sees a herd of deer. In his last minutes Van
Veen (whom Dr Lagosse made the last merciful injection of morphine and who
hastens to finish Ada before it is too late) sees a doe at gaze:

Not the least adornment of the chronicle is the delicacy of pictorial
detail: a latticed gallery; a painted ceiling; a pretty plaything stranded
among the forget-me-nots of a brook; butterflies and butterfly orchids in
the margin of the romance; a misty view descried from marble steps; a doe at
gaze in the ancestral park; and much, much more. (5.6)

According to Shestov, Chekhov’s genuine and only hero is the hopeless man:

Итак, настоящий, единственный герой Чехов
а ― это безнадежный человек. (V)

At Ardis Rack (who, according to Dr Fitzbishop, was poisoned by his jealous
wife) asks Ada if there is no hope for him any more:

'When are you leaving?' asked Ada.

'Forestday - after tomorrow.'

'Fine. That's fine. Adieu, Mr Rack.'

Poor Philip drooped, fingerpainting sad nothings on wet stone, shaking his
heavy head, gulping visibly.

'One feels... One feels,' he said, 'that one is merely playing a role and
has forgotten the next speech.'

'I'm told many feel that,' said Ada; 'it must be a furchtbar feeling.'

'Cannot be helped? No hope any more at all? I am dying, yes?'

'You are dead, Mr Rack,' said Ada. (1.32)

“Sad nothings” bring to mind the title of Shestov’s essay. According to
Shestov, “creation from nothing” or, rather, a possibility to create from
nothing is the only problem that can interest and inspire Chekhov:

И вот “творчество из ничего”, вернее, возм
ожность творчества из ничего ― единствен
ная проблема, которая способна занять и в
дохновить Чехова. Когда он обобрал своего
героя до последней нитки, когда герою ост
ается только колотиться головой о стену,
Чехов начинает чувствовать нечто вроде у
довлетворения, в его потухших глазах зажи
гается странный огонь, недаром показавши
йся Михайловскому недобрым. Творчество и
з ничего! Не выходит ли эта задача за пред
елы человеческих сил, человеческих прав?

In Kalugano Van fights a pistol duel with Captain Tapper (a member of the
Do-Re-La country club), whose name hints at Chekhov’s story Tapyor (“The
Ballroom Pianist,” 1885). Chekhov is the author of Duel’ (“The Duel,”
1891). In his essay Shestov discusses Chekhov’s story and compares the
zoologist Von Koren (a character in “The Duel”) to Stoltz, a character in
Goncharov’s Oblomov (1859). Like Goncharov’s Stoltz, Philip Rack and Dr
Fitzbishop are German. Dr Fitzbishop is a poshlyak:

On Monday around noon he was allowed to sit in a deckchair, on the lawn,
which he had avidly gazed at for some days from his window. Dr Fitzbishop
had said, rubbing his hands, that the Luga laboratory said it was the not
always lethal 'arethusoides' but it had no practical importance now, because
the unfortunate music teacher, and composer, was not expected to spend
another night on Demonia, and would be on Terra, ha-ha, in time for
evensong. Doc Fitz was what Russians call a poshlyak ('pretentious
vulgarian') and in some obscure counter-fashion Van was relieved not to be
able to gloat over the wretched Rack's martyrdom. (1.42)

Laevski (the main character in Chekhov’s “Duel”) is a good example of
poshlost’ (vulgarity).

According to Shestov, one of Chekhov’s most remarkable works is his play
Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896):

Одним из самых характерных для Чехова, а п
отому и замечательных его произведений д
олжна считаться его драма “Чайка”. В ней с
наибольшей полнотой получило своё выраже
ние истинное отношение художника к жизни.

According to Treplev (a character in Chekhov’s play), his mother, the
actress Arkadina, can not live without durman (the intoxicant) of stage:

Ей уже досадно, что вот на этой маленькой
сцене будет иметь успех Заречная, а не он
а. (Посмотрев на часы.) Психологический ку
рьёз - моя мать. Бесспорно талантлива, умн
а, способна рыдать над книжкой, отхватит т
ебе всего Некрасова наизусть, за больными
ухаживает, как ангел; но попробуй похвали
ть при ней Дузе! Ого-го! Нужно хвалить толь
ко её одну, нужно писать о ней, кричать, во
сторгаться её необыкновенною игрой в "La
dame aux camelias" или в "Чад жизни", но так как зде
сь, в деревне, нет этого дурмана, то вот он
а скучает и злится, и все мы - её враги, все
мы виноваты. Затем она суеверна, боится тр
ёх свечей, тринадцатого числа. Она скупа.
У неё в Одессе в банке семьдесят тысяч - эт
о я знаю наверное. А попроси у неё взаймы,
она станет плакать.

Yes, she is furious because Nina is going to have a success on this little
stage. [Looking at his watch] My mother is a psychological curiosity.
Without doubt brilliant and talented, capable of sobbing over a novel, of
reciting all Nekrasoff's poetry by heart, and of nursing the sick like an
angel of heaven, you should see what happens if any one begins praising Duse
to her! She alone must be praised and written about, raved over, her
marvellous acting in "La Dame aux Camelias" or in "Life's Intoxication"
[Chad zhizni, a play by Boleslav Markevich] extolled to the skies. As she
cannot get all that rubbish [durman] in the country, she grows peevish and
cross, and thinks we are all against her, and to blame for it all. She is
superstitious, too. She dreads burning three candles, and fears the
thirteenth day of the month. Then she is stingy. I know for a fact that she
has seventy thousand roubles in a bank at Odessa, but she is ready to burst
into tears if you ask her to lend you a penny. (Act One)

Durmanova is the stage name (and the maiden name) of Van’s, Ada’s and
Lucette’s mother Marina. Marina had a twin sister Aqua who married Demon
Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) and went mad (1.3).

According to Shestov (who mentions Arkadina and her seventy thousand
roubles), all characters in “The Seagull” are either blind or half-mad:

Здесь все действующие лица либо слепые, б
оящиеся сдвинуться с места, чтоб не потер
ять дорогу домой, либо полусумасшедшие, р
вущиеся и мятущиеся неизвестно куда и зач
ем. Знаменитая артистка Аркадьина словно
зубами вцепилась в свои семьдесят тысяч,
свою славу и последнего любовника. Тригор
ин ― тоже известный писатель, изо дня в де
нь пишет, пишет, пишет, не зная, для чего и
зачем он это делает. (VIII)

There are three blind characters in Ada. One of them, Kim Beauharnais (the
kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis), is blinded by Van for spying on him
and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada. In her letter to Van Ada compares
Dorothy Vinelander (“a born blackmailer,” according to Lucette) to Miss
‘Kim’ Blackrent:

I have just read Reflections in Sidra, by Ivan Veen, and I regard it as a
grand piece, dear Professor. The 'lost shafts of destiny' and other poetical
touches reminded me of the two or three times you had tea and muffins at our
place in the country about twenty years ago. I was, you remember
(presumptuous phrase!), a petite fille modèle practicing archery near a
vase and a parapet and you were a shy schoolboy (with whom, as my mother
guessed, I may have been a wee bit in love!), who dutifully picked up the
arrows I lost in the lost shrubbery of the lost castle of poor Lucette's and
happy, happy Adette's childhood, now a 'Home for Blind Blacks' - both my
mother and L., I'm sure, would have backed Dasha's advice to turn it over to
her Sect. Dasha, my sister-in-law (you must meet her soon, yes, yes, yes,
she's dreamy and lovely, and lots more intelligent than I), who showed me
your piece, asks me to add she hopes to 'renew' your acquaintance - maybe in
Switzerland, at the Bellevue in Mont Roux, in October. I think you once met
pretty Miss 'Kim' Blackrent, well, that's exactly dear Dasha's type. (3.7)

As she speaks to Van, Lucette mentions Dorothy’s collection of keys:

‘Dorothy is a prissy and pious monster who comes to stay for months, orders
the meals, and has a private collection of keys to the servants' rooms -
which our bumb brunette should have known - and other little keys to open
people's hearts - she has tried, by the way, to make a practicing Orthodox
not only of every American Negro she can catch, but of our sufficiently
pravoslavnaya mother - though she only succeeded in making the Trimurti
stocks go up.’ (3.3)

Shestov is the author of Potestas Clavium (“Power of the Keys,” 1919).

Speaking of numbers: Chisla (“Numbers,” 1902) and ‘13’ (1902) are poems
by Zinaida Hippius. In the former poem Hippius says that divine numbers are
given to us like second names:

Бездонного, предчувственного смысла

И благодатной мудрости полны,

Как имена вторые, ― нам даны

Божественные числа.

In ‘13’ Hippius says that the Devil loves to play with numbers:

И, чтоб везде разрушить чёт,-

Из всех союзов и слияний,

Сплетений, смесей, сочетаний -

Тринадцать Дьявол создаёт.

Он любит числами играть.

От века ненавидя вечность,-

Позорит 8 - бесконечность,-

Сливая с ним пустое 5.

According to Hippius, 5 is an “empty” number. 5 + 8 (infinity) = 13. VN’s
collection Nabokov’s Dozen (1958) has thirteen stories.

5 x 5 = 25. In “Creation from Nothing” Shestov says that in the course of
his almost twenty-five-year-long literary work Chekhov was stubbornly
killing human hopes (see the quote at the beginning of this note). Lucette
(Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) commits suicide at the age of twenty-five.
At Alphonse Four (Lucette’s hotel in Paris) her room is “numb

'You know whom I ran into this morning? Good old Greg Erminin. It was he who
told me you were around. His wife est un peu snob, what?'

'Everybody is un peu snob,' said Lucette. 'Your Cordula, who is also around,
cannot forgive Shura Tobak, the violinist, for being her husband's neighbor
in the telephone book. Immediately after lunch, we'll go to my room, a numb
twenty-five, my age. I have a fabulous Japanese divan and lots of orchids
just supplied by one of my beaux. Ach, Bozhe moy - it has just occurred to
me - I shall have to look into this - maybe they are meant for Brigitte, who
is marrying after tomorrow, at three-thirty, a head waiter at the Alphonse
Trois, in Auteuil. Anyway they are greenish, with orange and purple
blotches, some kind of delicate Oncidium, "cypress frogs," one of those
silly commercial names. I'll stretch out upon the divan like a martyr,

'Are you still half-a-martyr - I mean half-a-virgin?' inquired Van.

'A quarter,' answered Lucette. 'Oh, try me, Van! My divan is black with
yellow cushions.' (3.3)

Re hopeless cases: at Kingston Van praises Lucette for spotting Bergson and
mentions her petit cas (little case):

'Actually,' observed Lucette, wiping the long envelope which a drop of soda
had stained, 'Bergson is only for very young people or very unhappy people,
such as this available rousse.'

'Spotting Bergson,' said the assistant lecher, 'rates a B minus dans ton
petit cas, hardly more. Or shall I reward you with a kiss on your krestik -
whatever that is?' (2.5)

‘B minus’ corresponds to chetyre s minusom (‘Four minus’) in the Russian
grading, in which 5 is the highest grade.

Kalugano + Luga = Kaluga + Lugano

Alexey Sklyarenko

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