Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026932, Sun, 3 Apr 2016 13:04:37 +0300

L disaster, hundred-year gap between Terra & Antiterra,
Lyaska in Ada
The notion of Terra appeared on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet
on which Ada is set) as a result of the L disaster:

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)

As a Roman numeral, L = 50. 50 + 50 = 100. According to Van, between Terra
and Antiterra there is a gap of up to a hundred years:

But (even more absurdly), if, in Terrestrial spatial terms, the Amerussia of
Abraham Milton was split into its components, with tangible water and ice
separating the political, rather than poetical, notions of 'America' and
'Russia,' a more complicated and even more preposterous discrepancy arose in
regard to time - not only because the history of each part of the amalgam
did not quite match the history of each counterpart in its discrete
condition, but because a gap of up to a hundred years one way or another
existed between the two earths; a gap marked by a bizarre confusion of
directional signs at the crossroads of passing time with not all the
no-longers of one world corresponding to the not-yets of the other. (ibid.)

VN was born in 1899, one hundred years after Pushkin. Pushkin finished the
Lyceum in 1817. One hundred years later, in 1917, Lenin came to power. L is
the initial of Lyceum, Lermontov (the author of “The Demon”) and Lenin
(the politician whose pseudonym was derived from the Lena river and brings
to mind Pushkin’s Onegin and Lermontov’s Pechorin). At the Lyceum Pushkin
lived in the Room No. 14.

100 - 14 = 86. In Gogol’s story Zapiski sumasshedshego (“The Notes of a
Madman,” 1835) one of the entries in Poprishchin's diary is dated "Martober
86, between day and night." In his poem Rossiya (“Russia,” 1924)
Maximilian Voloshin speaks of the 1917 Revolution and mentions Martober
(March + October), a month that “Gogol had foreseen:”

До Мартобря (его предвидел Гоголь)
В России не было ни буржуа,
Ни классового пролетариата:
Была земля, купцы да голытьба,
Чиновники, дворяне да крестьяне...
Да выли ветры, да орал сохой
Поля доисторический Микула...
Один поверил в то, что он буржуй,
Другой себя сознал, как пролетарий,
И началась кровавая игра. (Part 5)

A little further Voloshin mentions electrification:

Мы бредили, переломав машины,
Об электрофикации; среди
Стрельбы и голода - о социальном рае,
И ели человечью колбасу.

We raved, after we had broken the machines,

about electrification; in the midst

of shooting and famine \xa8C about social paradise,

and ate the human sausage. (ibid.)

After the L disaster electricity was banned on Antiterra. Van speaks of
great anti-L years of reactionary delusion and mentions “our sleek little
machines” that “hum again after a fashion:”

Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone
by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum
again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth
century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming
comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and
the ormolu horrors that meant 'art' to our humorless forefathers. (1.3)

Still few lines into the poem Voloshin mentions the faceless and deaf spirit
of History that directed the axe and thought of Peter I and made Russia in
three centuries cover the distance from the shores of Livonia to Alaska:

Есть дух Истории - безликий и глухой,
Что действует помимо нашей воли,
Что направлял топор и мысль Петра,
Что вынудил мужицкую Россию
За три столетья сделать перегон
От берегов Ливонских до Аляски.
И тот же дух ведёт большевиков
Исконными народными путями.
Грядущее - извечный сон корней:
Во время революций водоверти
Со дна времён взмывают старый ил
И новизны рыгают стариною. (“Russia,” Part 5)

As he speaks of Terra, Van mentions Kurland (formerly, a part of Livonia)
and the Kurile Islands (that once belonged to Japan):

Ved' ('it is, isn't it') sidesplitting to imagine that 'Russia,' instead of
being a quaint synonym of Estoty, the American province extending from the
Arctic no longer vicious Circle to the United States proper, was on Terra
the name of a country, transferred as if by some sleight of land across the
ha-ha of a doubled ocean to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over
all of today's Tartary, from Kurland to the Kuriles! (1.3)

On Antiterra Alaska (in Russian spelling, Alyaska) is known as Lyaska:

In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason
the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths,
while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had
goofed - the word 'samovars' may have got garbled in the agent's aerocable)
were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit
trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the
violent dance called kurva or 'ribbon boule' in the hilarious program whose
howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.'s
rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat.

His heart missed a beat and never regretted the lovely loss, as she ran,
flushed and flustered, in a pink dress into the orchard, earning a claque
third of the sitting ovation that greeted the instant dispersal of the
imbecile but colorful transfigurants from Lyaska - or Iveria. (1.2)

At the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday Ada and Grace dance a Lyaskan

A comparison piece: Ada’s very-much-exposed white thighs (her birthday
skirt had got entangled with twigs and leaves) straddling a black limb of
the tree of Eden. Thereafter: several shots of the 1884 picnic, such as Ada
and Grace dancing a Lyaskan fling and reversed Van nibbling at pine
starworts (conjectural identification). (2.7)

Lyaska rhymes with plyaska (dance; dancing), but also with kolyaska
(carriage). Kolyaska (1836) is a story by Gogol. In a letter of beginning of
May, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov says that Gogol's Carriage alone is worth two
hundred thousand roubles:

Зато как непосредственен, как силен Гогол
ь и какой он художник! Одна его ?Коляска? с
тоит двести тысяч рублей. Сплошной востор
г и больше ничего. Это величайший русский

But how direct, how powerful is Gogol, and what an artist he is! His
"Carriage" alone is worth two hundred thousand roubles. It is simply
delicious, and that is all about it. He is the greatest of Russian writers.

Lyaska + polkovnik + gradusy = plyaska + klok + vinograd + usy = kolyaska +
rydvan + ispug + kol

polkovnik \xa8C colonel; one of the seconds in Demon’s sword duel with d’
Onsky is Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel (1.2); according to Van, Colonel
Erminin (Greg’s and Grace’s father) preferred to pass for a Chekhovian
colonel (3.2)

gradusy \xa8C degrees; in her memoir essay on Voloshin Marina Tsvetaev mentions
a room in her Moscow house in which temperature is never higher than sem’
gradusov (7 degrees, see a quote below); 7 + 7 = 14

klok \xa8C rag; shred; tuft; flock; from Aqua’s last note: The hands of a
clock, even when out of order, must know and let the dumbest little watch
know where they stand, otherwise neither is a dial but only a white face
with a trick mustache. Similarly, chelovek (human being) must know where he
stands and let others know, otherwise he is not even a klok (piece) of a
chelovek, neither a he, nor she, but 'a tit of it' as poor Ruby, my little
Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. (1.3)

vinograd \xa8C vines; grapes; Demon popped into his mouth a last morsel of
black bread with elastic samlet, gulped down a last pony of vodka and took
his place at the table with Marina facing him across its oblong length,
beyond the great bronze bowl with carved-looking Calville apples and
elongated Persty grapes (1.38); Had she [Ada] cabled him [Andrey, Ada’s
fiancé]? Cancelled or Postponed? Mrs Viner ― no, Vingolfer, no, Vinelander
― first Russki to taste the labruska grape. (2.8)

usy \xa8C moustache; Van to Ada: “You shall wear a blue veil, and I the false
mustache that makes me look like Pierre Legrand, my fencing master.” (2.8)
Pierre Legrand hints at Peter the Great; in “Russia” (Part 4) Voloshin
says that the great Peter was the first Bolshevik; Colonel St Alin, a
scoundrel, no doubt, wore moustache, as did his monstrous namesake

rydvan \xa8C large coach; in Drugie berega (Chapter 9) VN mentions divnyi
rydvan (a magnificent traveling coach) that his great-great-grandmother,
Baroness von Korff, lent to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette for their escape
to Varennes

ispug \xa8C fright; alarm

kol \xa8C stake, picket; the tsar Ivan the Terrible used to impale (sazhal na
kol) his enemies; in her last note Aqua mentions Nurse Joan the Terrible (1.
3); 1, the lowest mark in school

On Antiterra Pushkin lived in Lyaska:

The 'pest' appeared as suddenly as it would vanish. It settled on pretty
bare arms and legs without the hint of a hum, in a kind of recueilli
silence, that - by contrast - caused the sudden insertion of its absolutely
hellish proboscis to resemble the brass crash of a military band. Five
minutes after the attack in the crepuscule, between porch step and
cricket-crazed garden, a fiery irritation would set in, which the strong and
the cold ignored (confident it would last a mere hour) but which the weak,
the adorable, the voluptuous took advantage of to scratch and scratch and
scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant). 'Sladko! (Sweet!)' Pushkin used to
exclaim in relation to a different species in Yukon. (1.17)

In the spring and summer of 1828 Pushkin courted Anna Olenin and actually
exclaimed ‘Sladko!’ when he was bitten by mosquitoes in Priyutino, the
Olenins’ estate some twenty-five miles East of St. Petersburg.

Anagrams in French of "Anette Olénine" blossom here and there in the
margins of our poet's manuscripts. One finds it written backward in the
margins of the draft of Poltava (first half of October, 1828): ettenna
eninelo; and the earnestness of his hopes is reflected in "Annette
Pouchkine" jotted among the drafts of the first canto of Poltava, apparently
on the very day that the repentant letter about the Gabriel poem was written
to the tsar. (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 206)

There is Lenin in Olenin. In fact, Olenin + len’ = Lenin + olen’ (len’ \xa8C
laziness, idleness; indolence; olen’ \xa8C deer).

Re beau milieu and gravemen mentioned by Van: in her memoir essay on
Voloshin, Zhivoe o zhivom (“A Living Word about a Living Man,” 1932),
Marina Tsvetaev uses the phrase au beau milieu (right in the middle) as
applied to Victor Hugo's poem Napoléon II (1832) and mentions gradusy

И внезапно \xa8C au beau milieu Victor Hugo Наполеону II \xa8C
уже не вкрадчиво, а срочно: \xa8C А нельзя ли б
удет пойти куда-нибудь в другое место? \xa8C М
ожно, конечно, вниз тогда, но там семь град
усов и больше не бывает.

Victor Hugo is the author of “The Last Day of a Condemned Man” (1829). The
Antiterran L disaster right in the middle of the 19th century seems to
correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on
January 3, 1850 (NS). January 3, 1876, is Lucette's birthday.

In “Russia” Voloshin mentions \xa8C among other tragic events of the second
quarter of the 19th century (the execution of five Decembrists, Griboedov's,
Pushkin's and Lermontov's early deaths) \xa8C the mock execution of Dostoevski:

Пять виселиц на Кронверкской куртине
Рифмуют на Семёновском плацу;
Волы в Тифлис волочат ?Грибоеда?,
Отправленного на смерть в Тегеран;
Гроб Пушкина ссылают под конвоем
На розвальнях в опальный монастырь;
Над трупом Лермонтова царь: ?Собаке -
Собачья смерть? - придворным говорит;
Промозглым утром бледный Достоевский
Горит свечой, всходя на эшафот... (Part 2)

The insurrection of the Decembrists took place on Dec. 14, 1825. According
to Pushkin, he wrote Count Nulin in Mikhaylovskoe in two days: on Dec.
13-14, 1825. The name Nulin comes from nul’ (nought; zero; nil; cipher).
Nulin = Lunin (one of the Decembrists whom Pushkin mentions in Chapter Ten
of Eugene Onegin). Lenin + luna/ulan = Lunin + lane (luna \xa8C moon; ulan \xa8C
uhlan; in Pushkin’s EO Olga Larin marries an uhlan).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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