Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026942, Sun, 10 Apr 2016 17:10:33 +0300

Athens of Graphic Arts in Ada
In an equally casual tone of voice Van said: 'Darling, you smoke too much, my belly is covered with your ashes. I suppose Bouteillan knows Professor Beauharnais's exact address in the Athens of Graphic Arts.'

'You shall not slaughter him,' said Ada. 'He is subnormal, he is, perhaps, blackmailerish, but in his sordidity, there is an istoshnïy ston ('visceral moan') of crippled art. Furthermore, this page is the only really naughty one. And let's not forget that a copperhead of eight was also ambushed in the brush'. (2.8)

In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Lev Shestov says that Chekhov resembles a man who sits in an ambush spying out and killing human hopes:

А меж тем, справедливый Аристид и на этот раз был прав, как он был прав, когда предостерегал против Достоевского: теперь Чехова нет, об этом уже можно говорить. Возьмите рассказы Чехова — каждый порознь или, еще лучше, все вместе: посмотрите за его работой. Он постоянно точно в засаде сидит, высматривая и подстерегая человеческие надежды. И будьте спокойны за него: ни одной из них он не просмотрит, ни одна из них не избежит своей участи. Искусство, наука, любовь, вдохновение, идеалы, будущее — переберите все слова, которыми современное и прошлое человечество утешало или развлекало себя — стоит Чехову к ним прикоснуться, и они мгновенно блекнут, вянут и умирают. (I)

Shestov calls the critic Mikhaylovski, the author of Zhestokiy talant (“A Cruel Talent,” 1882, a book on Fyodor Dostoevski), spravedlivyi Arisitd (“the just Aristides”). In his poem “Kogda sred’ orgiy zhizni shumnoy…” (“When in the midst of noisy life’s orgies…” 1822) addressed to Fyodor Glinka (a poet and Decembrist, 1786-1880) Pushkin compares St Petersburg to Athens and Glinka, to Aristides:

Когда средь оргий жизни шумной

Меня постигнул остракизм,

Увидел я толпы безумной

Презренный, робкий эгоизм.

Без слёз оставил я с досадой

Венки пиров и блеск Афин,

Но голос твой мне был отрадой,

Великодушный Гражданин!

Пускай Судьба определила

Гоненья грозные мне вновь,

Пускай мне дружба изменила,

Как изменяла мне любовь,

В моём изгнаньи позабуду

Несправедливость их обид:

Они ничтожны — если буду

Тобой оправдан, Аристид.

The poem’s last word, Aristid (Aristides) rhymes with obid (gen. pl. of obida, “offence, insult”). In his poem Pushkin (who was expelled from St Petersburg in May, 1820, soon after completing Ruslan and Lyudmila, and spent six years in exile) mentions the ostracism that had befallen him in the midst of noisy life’s orgies. Among Pushkin’s drawings are “Scene of an Orgy” (St Petersburg, 1819) and adskie risunki (“infernal drawings”), a series of seven drawings (most of them in the margins of the poet’s manuscripts).

One of the photographs in Kim Beauharnais’ album depicts the big chain around the trunk of the rare oak, Quercus ruslan Chat.:

Then came several preparatory views of the immediate grounds: the colutea circle, an avenue, the grotto's black O, and the hill, and the big chain around the trunk of the rare oak, Quercus ruslan Chat., and a number of other spots meant to be picturesque by the compiler of the illustrated pamphlet but looking a little shabby owing to inexperienced photography. (2.8)

The great introductory poem that Pushkin composed for the second edition (1828) of Ruslan and Lyudmila begins:

У лукоморья дуб зелёный;
Златая цепь на дубе том:
И днём и ночью кот учёный
Всё ходит по цепи кругом…

A green oak grows at the sea,

A golden chain is on that oak.

Night and day a learned cat

Paces the chain round the tree...

Ruslan and Lyudmila is an opera (1842) by Mikhail Glinka. According to Van, the composer visited Ardis:

Then Banoffsky launched into Glinka's great amphibrachs (Mihail Ivanovich had been a summer guest at Ardis when their uncle was still alive - a green bench existed where the composer was said to have sat under the pseudoacacias especially often, mopping his ample brow):

Subside, agitation of passion! (2.8)

Uymites', volneniya strasti! ("Subside, agitation of passion!") is the opening line of Kukolnik's poem Somnenie ("Uncertainty," 1838) set to music by Glinka. Van listened to this romance in 'Ursus' (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major where he dined with Ada and Lucette on the previous night) and recalls it when he wakes up next morning:

'Mne snitsa saPERnik SHCHASTLEEVOY!' (Mihail Ivanovich arcating the sand with his cane, humped on his bench under the creamy racemes).

'I dream of a fortunate rival!' (ibid.)

Van’s “fortunate rival” is Andrey Andreevich Vinelander, an Arizonian Russian whom Ada marries after Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) tells Van to leave Ada. His name and patronymic brings to mind Nadya’s fiancé in Chekhov’s story Nevesta (“The Bride,” 1903). In a letter of March 5, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov says that last night he went to listen to the Gypsies (according to Van, there is a touch of heart-wringing tsiganshchina* vibrating through Grigoriev and Glinka). Chekhov compares the singing of Gypsy women to a train derailment during a strong blizzard:

Вчера ночью ездил за город и слушал цыганок. Хорошо поют эти дикие бестии. Их пение похоже на крушение поезда с высокой насыпи во время сильной метели: много вихря, визга и стука...

In the same letter Chekhov says that he bought in Suvorin’s Moscow bookshop the Collected Works of Dostoevski and is now reading them:

Купил я в Вашем магазине Достоевского и теперь читаю. Хорошо, но очень уж длинно и нескромно. Много претензий.

“Good, but much too long and indiscreet. Too many pretensions.”

Eti dikie bestie (“those wild beasts,” as Chekhov calls the Gypsies) bring to mind nurse Bellabestia (‘Bess’), uncle Dan’s last nurse whom he had taken to Ardis “because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of 'play-zero' (as the old whore called it) out of his poor body” (2.10). In Dostoevsky's novel Igrok (The Gambler, 1867) zero it the favorite roulette number of la baboulinka (Russo-Fr., 'grandma'). The name of Dan’s last nurse hints at Besy (“The Demons,” 1830), a poem by Pushkin in which a blizzard is described, and at Dostoevski’s novel Besy (“The Possessed,” 1872). Its characters include Kirillov, a maniac who shoots himself dead. His name brings to mind the Cyrillic, “a nightmare alphabet” which Dan could never master:

We cannot reconstitute the exact wording of the message, but we know it said that this thoughtful and very expensive gift was a huge beautiful doll - unfortunately, and strangely, more or less naked; still more strangely, with a braced right leg and a bandaged left arm, and a boxful of plaster jackets and rubber accessories, instead of the usual frocks and frills. Directions in Russian or Bulgarian made no sense because they were not in the modem Roman, but in the old Cyrillitsa, a nightmare alphabet which Dan had never been able to master. Could Marina come over at once to have suitable doll clothes cut out of some nice silk discards her maid had collected in a drawer he had discovered and wrap the box again in fresh tissue paper?

Ada, who had been reading the note over her mother's shoulder, shuddered and said:

'You tell him to take a pair of tongs and carry the whole business to the surgical dump.'

'Bednyachok! Poor, poor little man,' exclaimed Marina, her eyes brimming with pity. 'Of course I'll come. Your cruelty, Ada, is sometimes, sometimes, I don't know - satanic!' (1.13)

According to Van, it was Bess who helped Dan to choose the birthday present for Ada:

And, conversely, Marina refrained from telling Demon about the young hospital nurse Dan had been monkeying with ever since his last illness (it was, by the way, she, busybody Bess, whom Dan had asked on a memorable occasion to help him get 'something nice for a half-Russian child interested in biology'). (1.38)

When Van and Ada (who is now married to Andrey Vinelander) meet again after a long separation, Ada tells Van that he should not have put out Kim’s eyes with an alpenstock and mentions a brute’s fury:

But, you know, there's one thing I regret,' she added: 'Your use of an alpenstock to release a brute's fury - not yours, not my Van's. I should never have told you about the Ladore policeman. You should never have taken him into your confidence, never connived with him to burn those files - and most of Kalugano's pine forest. Eto unizitel'no (it is humiliating).' (2.11)

As I pointed out before, Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whom Van blinds for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada) seems to be the son of Arkadiy Dolgoruki, the narrator and main character in Dostoevski’s novel Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875) and Alphonsine (a French girl in the same novel). The name Dolgoruki brings to mind Princess Natalia Dolgoruki (1828), a poem by Ivan Kozlov, the blind bard. In 1825 (the year of the Decembrists’ uprising and the last year of Pushkin’s exile) Pushkin from Mikhaylovskoe (the family estate in the Province of Pskov; cf. the name of the critic whom Shestov calls “the just Aristides”) addressed to Kozlov a charming poem:

Певец, когда перед тобой

Во мгле сокрылся мир земной,

Мгновенно твой проснулся гений,

На всё минувшее воззрел

И в хоре светлых привидений

Он песни дивные запел.

О милый брат, какие звуки!

В слезах восторга внемлю им.

Небесным пением своим

Он усыпил земные муки;

Тебе он создал новый мир,

Ты в нём и видишь, и летаешь,

И вновь живешь, и обнимаешь

Разбитый юности кумир.

А я, коль стих единый мой

Тебе мгновенье дал отрады,

Я не хочу другой награды -

Недаром тёмною стезёй

Я проходил пустыню мира;

О нет! недаром жизнь и лира

Мне были вверены судьбой!

According to Ada, Kim Beauharnais resembles a janizary in some exotic opera:

During her dreary stay at Ardis, a considerably changed and enlarged Kim Beauharnais called upon her. He carried under his arm an album bound in orange-brown cloth, a dirty hue she had hated all her life. In the last two or three years she had not seen him, the light-footed, lean lad with the sallow complexion had become a dusky colossus, vaguely resembling a janizary in some exotic opera, stomping in to announce an invasion or an execution. Uncle Dan, who just then was being wheeled out by his handsome and haughty nurse into the garden where coppery and blood-red leaves were falling, clamored to be given the big book, but Kim said 'Perhaps later,' and joined Ada in the reception corner of the hall. (2.7)

One of the chapters in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) is entitled “Homer, Milton and Panikovski” (Homer and Milton were blind, Panikovski simulates blindness). The employees of Hercules (including Koreyko, the secret Soviet millionaire who is blackmailed by Bender) are particularly afraid of two points in a new resolution: according to one of them, all records should be kept in Latin alphabet, according to another, all employees must join the society “Down with the routine on the opera stage:”

При первом знакомстве с резиновой резолюцией отдельные геркулесовцы опечалились. Их пугало обилие пунктов. В особенности смущал пункт о латинском алфавите и о поголовном вступлении в общество «Долой рутину с оперных подмостков!» (Chapter XIX: “The Universal Stamp”)

At the end of the novel Zosya Sinitski (with whom Ostap Bender, “the son of a Turkish subject,” is in love) marries Perikl Femidi. Perikl is the Russian spelling of Pericles. Femidi hints at Femida (Themis in Russian spelling). The novel’s characters include the photographer Menshov (a comical figure who never parts with his camera).

Chermomorsk (the city in which the action of the novel takes place) brings to mind Chernomor, the evil dwarf in Ruslan and Lyudmila. The name Chernomorsk comes from Chyornoe more (the Black Sea).

Chernomor + disk + Van = Chernomorsk + divan = Chernomordik + Svan

disk – disk; discus

Chernomordik – the chemist's name in Chekhov's story Aptekarsha (A Chemist's Wife, 1886)

Svan – Swann (the main character in Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann) in Russian spelling

*pseudo-Gypsy ballad

Alexey Sklyarenko

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