Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026945, Wed, 13 Apr 2016 16:32:37 +0300

minuscule red pawn in Ada
'Tell Rattner,' she said, gulping down her third brandy as simply as if it were technicolored water. 'Tell him' (the liquor was loosening her pretty viper tongue) -

(Viper? Lucette? My dead dear darling?)

- 'Tell him that when in the old days you and Ada -'

The name yawned like a black doorway, then the door banged.

'- left me for him, and then came back, I knew every time that you vsyo sdelali (had appeased your lust, had allayed your fire).'

'One remembers those little things much too clearly, Lucette. Please, stop.'

'One remembers, Van, those little things much more clearly than the big fatal ones. As for example the clothes you wore at any given moment, at a generously given moment, with the sun on the chairs and the floor. I was practically naked, of course, being a neutral pure little child. But she wore a boy's shirt and a short skirt, and all you had on were those wrinkled, soiled shorts, shorter because wrinkled, and they smelled as they always did after you'd been on Terra with Ada, with Rattner on Ada, with Ada on Antiterra in Ardis Forest - oh, they positively stank, you know, your little shorts of lavendered Ada, and her catfood, and your caked algarroba!' (2.5)

'She and I challenged you to find the secret chuvstvilishche (sensorium) and make it work. It was the summer Belle sprained her backside, and we were left to our own devices, which had long lost the particule in your case and Ada's, but were touchingly pure in mine. You groped around, and felt, and felt for the little organ, which turned out to be a yielding roundlet in the rosewood under the felt you felt - I mean, under the felt you were feeling: it was a felted thumb spring, and Ada laughed as the drawer shot out.'

'And it was empty,' said Van.

'Not quite. It contained a minuscule red pawn that high' (showing its barleycorn-size with her finger - above what? Above Van's wrist). 'I kept it for luck; I must still have it somewhere.’ (ibid.)

A minuscule red pawn (one of those little things that one remembers much more clearly than the big fatal ones) mentioned by Lucette brings to mind a tiny cuirassier that the mother of VN’s cousin and playmate Yuri Rausch von Traubenberg (who collected little soldiers of painted lead) found in a Swiss hotel after her son’s death:

The following summer [of 1913] he was away in Switzerland with his mother—and soon after his death (in 1919), upon revisiting the same hotel and getting the same rooms they had occupied that July, she thrust her hand into the recesses of an armchair in quest of a fallen hairpin and brought up a tiny cuirassier, unhorsed but with bandy legs still compressing an invisible charger. (Speak, Memory, Chapter Ten, 1)

In the summer of 1913 (that Yuri and his mother, VN’s eccentric Aunt Nina, spent in Europe) VN (born Apr. 23, 1899) was fourteen. Van Veen (the narrator and main character of Ada) for the first time comes to Ardis in the summer of 1884, at the age of fourteen. In the summer of 1884 (when Belle - as Lucette calls her governess, Mlle Larivière - sprained her back) Ada (born July 21, 1872) is eleven-twelve and Lucette is eight. On her twelfth birthday Ada puts on her lolita for the first time:

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)

Mlle Larivière’s first name, 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 Speak, Memory 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 Andersen’s little mermaid:

Tamara and I were especially eager to return to our old haunts, but all through April her mother kept wavering between renting the same cottage again and economically staying in town. Finally, under a certain condition (accepted by Tamara with the fortitude of Hans Andersen’s little mermaid), the cottage was rented, and a glorious summer immediately enveloped us, and there she was, my happy Tamara, on the points of her toes, trying to pull down a racemosa branch in order to pick its puckered fruit, with all the world and its trees wheeling in the orb of her laughing eye, and a dark patch from her exertions in the sun forming under her raised arm on the raw shantung of her yellow frock. We lost ourselves in mossy woods and bathed in a fairy-tale cove and swore eternal love by the crowns of flowers that, like all little Russian mermaids, she was so fond of weaving, and early in the fall she moved to town in search of a job (this was the condition set by her mother), and in the course of the following months I did not see her at all, engrossed as I was in the kind of varied experience which I thought an elegant littérateur should seek. (Chapter Twelve, 2)

On the other hand, Ida (1925) is a short story by Ivan Bunin. Its main character and part-time narrator is a composer (whose royal manners an old clever waiter in the Grand Moscow Restaurant “has learnt by heart”):

- Господа, - сказал композитор, заходя на диван и валясь на него своим коренастым туловищем, - господа, я нынче почему-то угощаю и хочу пировать на славу. - Раскиньте же нам, услужающий, самобранную скатерть как можно щедрее, - сказал он, обращая к половому своё широкое мужицкое лицо с узкими глазками. - Вы мои королевские замашки знаете.

- Как не знать, пора наизусть выучить, - сдержанно улыбаясь и ставя перед ним пепельницу, ответил старый умный половой с чистой серебряной бородкой. - Будьте покойны, Павел Николаевич, постараемся...

As the readers of VN’s essay Chto vsyakiy dolzhen znat’? (“What Everyone Should Know?” 1931) would know, in polovoy (“waiter,” the word used by Bunin) there is pol (sex):

Филологи подтвердят, что выражения: барометр падает, падший лист, падшая лошадь -- всё намеки (подсознательные) на падшую женщину. Сравните также трактирного полового или половую тряпку с половым вопросом. Сюда же относятся слова: пол-года, пол-сажени, пол-ковник и т. д. Немало есть и имён, проникнутых эротизмом: Шура, Мура, Люба (от "любви"), Женя (от "жены"), а у испанцев есть даже имя "Жуан" (от "Дон-Жуана").

According to the Freudian in VN’s essay, the Spanish name Juan has erotic connotations because it comes from Don Juan. In his afterword to Lolita (“On a Book Entitled Lolita,” Nov. 12, 1956) VN calls his novel “my Juanita Dark:”

Once or twice I was on the point of burning the unfinished draft and had carried my Juanita Dark as far as the shadow of the leaning incinerator on the innocent lawn, when I was stopped by the thought that the ghost of the destroyed book would haunt my files for the rest of my life.

In Lolita (1955) Dolores Haze is a girl of twelve when Humbert Humbert (who is thirty-seven; Pushkin died at the age of thirty-seven) first meets her. When Van revisits Ardis in the summer of 1888, Lucette is also twelve. When VN met his cousin in the summer of 1914, on the inside of Yuri’s cigarette case there was a formula engraved in memory of the three nights he had spent with Countess G.:

When he arrived for a week’s visit in June 1914 (now sixteen and a half to my fifteen, and the interval was beginning to tell), the first thing he did, as soon as we found ourselves alone in the garden, was to take out casually an “ambered” cigarette from a smart silver case on the gilt inside of which he bade me observe the formula 3 × 4 = 12 engraved in memory of the three nights he had spent, at last, with Countess G. He was now in love with an old general’s young wife in Helsingfors and a captain’s daughter in Gatchina. (Chapter Twelve, 2)

Kapitanskaya dochka (“The Captain’s Daughter,” 1836) is a short novel by Pushkin. It has for epigraph a Russian saying: beregi chest’ smolodu (take care of [your] honor from when [you are] young). According to VN, Yuri had a sense of honor equivalent, morally, to absolute pitch:

And three years later, as a cavalry officer in Denikin’s army, he was killed fighting the Reds in northern Crimea. I saw him dead in Yalta, the whole front of his skull pushed back by the impact of several bullets, which had hit him like the iron board of a monstrous swing, when having outstripped his detachment he was in the act of recklessly attacking alone a Red machine-gun nest. Thus was quenched his lifelong thirst for intrepid conduct in battle, for that ultimate gallant gallop with drawn pistol or unsheathed sword. Had I been competent to write his epitaph, I might have summed up matters by saying—in richer words than I can muster here—that all emotions, all thoughts, were governed in Yuri by one gift: a sense of honor equivalent, morally, to absolute pitch. (ibid.)

The full version of the saying chosen by Pushkin as the epigraph to his novel is Beregi plat'ye snovu, a chest' smolodu (Take care of clothes from new, take care of [your] honor from when [you are] young). In the summer of 1916 VN and Yuri exchanged clothes, as Maurice Gerald and Henry Pointdexter do in Captain Mayne Reid’s Headless Horseman (1866):

I suddenly see myself in the uniform of an officers’ training school: we are strolling again villageward, in 1916, and (like Maurice Gerald and doomed Henry Pointdexter) have exchanged clothes—Yuri is wearing my white flannels and striped tie. (ibid.)

On Antiterra Headless Horseman is a poem by Pushkin (the author of “The Bronze Horseman,” 1833) that at ten Van could memorize in less than twenty minutes:

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. With white-bloused, enthusiastically sweating Andrey Andreevich, he lolled for hours in the violet shade of pink cliffs, studying major and minor Russian writers - and puzzling out the exaggerated but, on the whole, complimentary allusions to his father's volitations and loves in another life in Lermontov's diamond-faceted tetrameters. (1.28)

In Lermontov’s poem The Demon (1829-40) Demon falls in love with Tamara (a Georgian girl who should not be confused with the legendary Georgian Queen of that name). Poking fun at his father’s inconstancy, Van mentions a temporary Tamara:

His father saw him off. Demon had dyed his hair a blacker black. He wore a diamond ring blazing like a Caucasian ridge. His long, black, blue-ocellated wings trailed and quivered in the ocean breeze. Lyudi oglyadïvalis' (people turned to look). A temporary Tamara, all kohl, kasbek rouge, and flamingo-boa, could not decide what would please her daemon lover more - just moaning and ignoring his handsome son or acknowledging bluebeard's virility as reflected in morose Van, who could not stand her Caucasian perfume, Granial Maza, seven dollars a bottle. (1.29)

In the old Russian alphabet the letter L (Lucette’s “cheap initial”) was called lyudi. Bednye lyudi (“Poor Folk,” 1846) is Dostoevski’s first novel (written in the epistolary form). V lyudyakh (“Out in the World,” 1914) is the second part of Maxim Gorky’s autobiographical trilogy. Its first part Detstvo (“Childhood”) brings to mind Tolstoy’s Detstvo, Otrochestvo (“Boyhood”) and Yunost’ (“Youth”), a trilogy known on Antiterra as Childhood and Fatherland (1.1), while its third part Moi universitety (“My Universities”) reminds one of Chose, Van’s English University (1.28 et passim). Gorky’s real name, Peshkov, comes from peshka (“pawn”). Gorky is the author of Zhizn’ Klima Samgina (“The Life of Klim Samgin,” 1925-36), a thousand-page-long povest’ (tale) subtitled Sorok let (“Forty Years”). Its main character is a namesake of Baron Klim Avidov, Marina’s former lover who gave her children a set of Flavita (Russian Scrabble):

The set our three children received in 1884 from an old friend of the family (as Marina's former lovers were known), Baron Klim Avidov, consisted of a large folding board of saffian and a boxful of weighty rectangles of ebony inlaid with platinum letters, only one of which was a Roman one, namely the letter J on the two joker blocks (as thrilling to get as a blank check signed by Jupiter or Jurojin). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter's lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one's name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)

A particule (nobility particle) brings to mind “our own devices” that, according to Lucette, had long lost the particule in Van’s case and in Ada’s, but were touchingly pure in hers. As he speaks of Flavita, Van mentions chess:

Van, a first-rate chess player - he was to win in 1887 a match at Chose when he beat the Minsk-born Pat Rishin (champion of Underhill and Wilson, N.C.) - had been puzzled by Ada's inability of raising the standard of her, so to speak, damsel-errant game above that of a young lady in an old novel or in one of those anti-dandruff color-photo ads that show a beautiful model (made for other games than chess) staring at the shoulder of her otherwise impeccably groomed antagonist across a preposterous traffic jam of white and scarlet, elaborately and unrecognizably carved, Lalla Rookh chessmen, which not even cretins would want to play with - even if royally paid for the degradation of the simplest thought under the itchiest scalp. (ibid.)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Pat Rishin: a play on 'patrician'. One may recall Podgoretz (Russ. 'underhill') applying that epithet to a popular critic, would-be expert in Russian as spoken in Minsk and elsewhere. Minsk and Chess also figure in Chapter Six of Speak, Memory (p.133, N.Y. ed. 1966).

VN saw Yuri dead in Yalta. For poor mad Aqua Yalta (the city in the Crimea where Chekhov lived, the setting of Chekhov’s story “The Lady with the Dog,” 1899) sounded strangely attractive:

She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health ('just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black') in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. Of course, Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive... But her real destination was Terra the Fair and thither she trusted she would fly on libellula long wings when she died. Her poor little letters from the homes of madness to her husband were sometimes signed: Madame Shchemyashchikh-Zvukov ('Heart rending-Sounds'). (1.3)

Aqua’s pseudonym comes from shchemyashchiy zvuk (a heart-rending sound), a phrase that occurs in several poems of Blok. In Blok’s Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) peshki (pawns) are mentioned:

И власть торопится скорей
Всех тех, кто перестал быть пешкой,
В тур превращать, или в коней... (Chapter I)

In Blok’s poem the society nickname of the hero’s father is Demon. In Chapter III of Retribution Blok mentions Vrubel, the author of Demon Seated and Demon Thrown Down who went mad:

Его опустошает Демон,

Над коим Врубель изнемог...

According to Van, his father (Demon Veen, Aqua’s husband) was portrayed by Vrubel:

Ardis, Manhattan, Mont Roux, our little rousse is dead. Vrubel’s wonderful picture of Father, those demented diamonds staring at me, painted into me. (3.8)

In Blok’s Neznakomka (Incognita, 1906) p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: in vino veritas! and “istina v vine!” (in wine is truth).

In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov complains that modern art, and literature in particular, lacks alcohol that would intoxicate the reader and mentions Denis Davydov (1784-1839), the poet and hero of the anti-Napoleon war of 1812:

You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productions—the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside "Ward Six" and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting. Let us discuss the general causes, if that won't bore you, and let us include the whole age. Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries—that is, men between thirty and forty-five—have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade? ...Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being, that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father, who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing. Some have more immediate objects—the abolition of serfdom, the liberation of their country, politics, beauty, or simply vodka, like Denis Davydov; others have remote objects—God, life beyond the grave, the happiness of humanity, and so on.

In his poem To D. V. Davydov (“To you, the bard, to you, the hero!..” 1836) Pushkin says that he did not manage to gallop after Davydov on a crazy horse:

Тебе, певцу, тебе, герою!

Не удалось мне за тобою
При громе пушечном, в огне
Скакать на бешеном коне.
Наездник смирного Пегаса,
Носил я старого Парнаса
Из моды вышедший мундир:
Но и по этой службе трудной,
И тут, о мой наездник чудный,

Ты мой отец и командир.
Вот мой Пугач: при первом взгляде
Он виден — плут, казак прямой!
В передовом твоем отряде
Урядник был бы он лихой.

According to Pushkin, he was a rider of quiet Pegasus and wore old Parnassus’ uniform that went out of fashion. “Old Parnassus” brings to mind Monparnasse (sic), Mlle Larivière’s penname. Mlle Larivière is the author of Les Enfants Maudits (1.32), a novel that was defigured by G. A. Vronsky (Marina’s former lover who had left her for another long-lashed Khristosik,* 1.3):

Belle had returned to Canady, because Vronsky had defigured The Doomed Children; her successor had eloped with Demon; papa was in the East, maman hardly ever came home before dawn, the maids joined their lovers at star-rise, and I hated to sleep alone in the corner room assigned to me, even if I did not put out the pink night-light of porcelain with the transparency picture of a lost lamb, because I was afraid of the cougars and snakes' [quite possibly, this is not remembered speech but an extract from her letter or letters. Ed.], 'whose cries and rattlings Ada imitated admirably, and, I think, designedly, in the desert's darkness under my first floor window. (2.5)

Pushkin’s poem (in which Pugach is mentioned) accompanied a copy of Istoriya Pugachyovskogo bunta (“The History of Pugachyov’s Rebellion,” 1834) that Pushkin sent to Davydov. Pugachyov is one of the main characters in “The Captain’s Daughter.”

Flavita = alfavit

Baron Klim Avidov = Vladimir Nabokov

gitanilla + Esmeralda + navsegda = Antilia Glems + Gerald + Ada + vesna

Sig Leymanski = Kingsley Amis

Rattner + Ai = Antiterra

Osberg = Borges

Denis Davydov = ded + sny + Avidov = de + syn Davidov

Arzamas = ars + Maza

Mars/sram/arms + Karamzin + Lenin = Arzamas + Kremlin + inn = Marks + zima + Renan + Nil

alfavit - alphabet

gitanilla - The Gitanilla, a novel by Osberg (1.13 et passim); Pushkin tried to learn Spanish reading in the original Cervantes’ story La Gitanilla (1613)

Esmeralda - a gypsy (or pseudo-gypsy) girl in Victor Hugo's Nôtre Dame de Paris (1831); Van calls Lucette “our Esmeralda and mermaid” (2.8)

navsegda - forever (cf. “Esmeralda, immer, immer”, the closing line of VN’s poem Lines Written in Oregon, 1953)

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

Gerald - Maurice Gerald (the main character Captain Mayne Reid's Headless Horseman)

vesna - spring

Sig Leymanski - in Van’s novel Letters from Terra (2.2) a scientist whom Theresa maddens with her messages

Kingsley Amis - British novelist (1922-95) keenly interested in physics fiction

Rattner - old Rattner, the philosopher at Kingston University (2.5) and his nephew Bernard (2.6)

Ai - legendary champagne; 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)

Antiterra – aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set

Borges - J. L. Borges (1899-86), Argentinean writer, author of Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (1939)

ded - grandfather

sny - dreams (pl. of son, “dream; sleep”)

de - nobility particle

syn Davidov - son of David (Jesus Christ)

Arzamas - city in the Province of Nizhniy Novgorod (in the Soviet era, Province of Gorky); Arzamasskoe obshchestvo bezvestnykh lyudey [aka Arzamas], a literary group one of whose members was Pushkin

ars - Lat., art; Van to Ada: 'Art my foute. This is the hearse of ars, a toilet roll of the Carte du Tendre! I'm sorry you showed it to me. That ape [Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis] has vulgarized our own mind-pictures. I will either horsewhip his eyes out or redeem our childhood by making a book of it: Ardis, a family chronicle.' (2.7)

Maza - Granial Maza (Tamara’s cheep perfume, a play on grani almaza, diamond’s facets)

sram - shame; privy part; 'I wonder,' Demon mused. 'It would cost hardly more than a couple of millions minus what Cousin Dan owes me, minus also the Ladore pastures, which are utterly mucked up and should be got rid of gradually, if the local squires don't blow up that new kerosene distillery, the stïd i sram (shame) of our county. I am not particularly fond of Ardis, but I have nothing against it, though I detest its environs.’ (1.38)

Karamzin - N. M. Karamzin (Russian historian, 1766-1826), Vyazemski’s brother-in-law; They parted again, Demon sailing back to America, and Van with his tutor going first to Gardone on Lake Garda, where Aksakov reverently pointed out Goethe's and d'Annunzio's marble footprints, and then staying for a while in autumn at a hotel on a mountain slope above Leman Lake (where Karamzin and Count Tolstoy had roamed). (1.24)

Kremlin - 'Je ne peux rien faire,' wailed Lucette, 'mais rien - with my idiotic Buchstaben, REMNILK, LINKREM...' 'Look,' whispered Van, 'c'est tout simple, shift those two syllables and you get a fortress in ancient Muscovy.' 'Oh, no,' said Ada, wagging her finger at the height of her temple in a way she had. 'Oh, no. That pretty word does not exist in Russian. A Frenchman invented it. There is no second syllable.' 'Ruth for a little child?' interposed Van. 'Ruthless!' cried Ada. 'Well,' said Van, 'you can always make a little cream, KREM or KREME - or even better - there's KREMLI, which means Yukon prisons. Go through her ORHIDEYA.' 'Through her silly orchid,' said Lucette. (1.36)

Marks – Marx in Russian spelling; Van Veen [as also, in his small way, the editor of Ada] liked to change his abode at the end of a section or chapter or even paragraph, and he had almost finished a difficult bit dealing with the divorce between time and the contents of time (such as action on matter, in space, and the nature of space itself) and was contemplating moving to Manhattan (that kind of switch being a reflection of mental rubrication rather than a concession to some farcical 'influence of environment' endorsed by Marx père, the popular author of 'historical' plays), when he received an unexpected dorophone call which for a moment affected violently his entire pulmonary and systemic circulation. (2.5); when Adolf Marks (the publisher) bought his works, Chekhov said that he was a Marxist

zima - winter

Renan - Ernest Renan (1823-92), author of Vie de Jésus (1863)

Nil - Nile in Russian spelling; 'Not what you think,' remarked Van calmly. 'This is not number one. Actually it's as clean as grass sap. Well, now the Nile is settled stop Speke.' (1.19)

*little Christ

Alexey Sklyarenko

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