Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026959, Fri, 22 Apr 2016 23:33:23 +0300

gowpen, Agavia Ranch, Sumerechnikov & Palermontovia in Ada
On a picture in Marina’s bedroom her brother Ivan Durmanov (a violinist who died young and famous) cups a guinea pig in his gowpen:

A formal photograph, on a separate page: Adochka, pretty and impure in her flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit, with slant-striped school tie, facing the kimera (chimera, camera) side by side, at attention, he with the shadow of a forced grin, she, expressionless. Both recalled the time (between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a vivisectional alibi. (2.7)

A Scottish word with origins in Old Norse, gowpen was used by Sir Walter Scott in The Black Dwarf (1816):

A bag was suspended in the mill for David Ritchie’s benefit; and those who were carrying home a melder of meal, seldom failed to add a gowpen to the alms-bag of the deformed cripple. (Introduction to the Revised Edition)

A formal photograph of Van and Ada ordered by Marina was taken by Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis). In the Night of the Burning Barn Van and Ada see him from the library window circumspectly moving across the gray lawn:

He had started to stroke her, shivering, staring ahead, following with a blind man's hand the dip of her spine through the batiste.

'Look, gipsies,' she whispered, pointing at three shadowy forms - two men, one with a ladder, and a child or dwarf - circumspectly moving across the gray lawn. They saw the candlelit window and decamped, the smaller one walking à reculons as if taking pictures. (1.19)

“A child or dwarf” walking à reculons as if taking pictures is Kim Beauharnais (whom Ada has bribed to set the barn on fire). In the 1890s Van blinds Kim for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada:

'I would have killed myself too, had I found Rose wailing over your corpse. "Secondes pensées sont les bonnes," as your other, white, bonne used to say in her pretty patois. As to the apron, you are quite right. And what you did not make out was that the artist had about finished a large picture of your meek little palazzo standing between its two giant guards. Perhaps for the cover of a magazine, which rejected that picture. 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).'

'Amends have been made,' replied fat Van with a fat man's chuckle. 'I'm keeping Kim safe and snug in a nice Home for Disabled Professional People, where he gets from me loads of nicely brailled books on new processes in chromophotography.' (2.11).

In a letter of Feb. 5, 1905, to Van Ada (now married to Andrey Vinelander) calls Ardis a 'Home for Blind Blacks' and mentions pretty 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. She is very good at perceiving and pursuing originality and all kinds of studies which I can't even name! She finished Chose (where she read History - our Lucette used to call it 'Sale Histoire,' so sad and funny!). For her you're le beau ténébreux, because once upon a time, once upon libellula wings, not long before my marriage, she attended - I mean at that time, I'm stuck in my 'turnstyle' - one of your public lectures on dreams, after which she went up to you with her latest little nightmare all typed out and neatly clipped together, and you scowled darkly and refused to take it. Well, she's been after Uncle Dementiy to have him admonish le beau ténébreux to come to Mont Roux Bellevue Hotel, in October, around the seventeenth, I guess, and he only laughs and says it's up to Dashenka and me to arrange matters. (3.7)

According to Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother), she used to love history:

They now had tea in a prettily furnished corner of the otherwise very austere central hall from which rose the grand staircase. They sat on chairs upholstered in silk around a pretty table. Ada's black jacket and a pink-yellow-blue nosegay she had composed of anemones, celandines and columbines lay on a stool of oak. The dog got more bits of cake than it did ordinarily. Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van's teacher of history, 'Jeejee' Jones.

'He resembles my teacher of history,' said Van when the man had gone.

'I used to love history,' said Marina, 'I loved to identify myself with famous women. There's a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties - Lincoln's second wife or Queen Josephine.'

'Yes, I've noticed - it's beautifully done. We've got a similar set at home.'

'Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?' Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.

'Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),' replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis' (with a slight smile). 'Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.'

'Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.'

'Pah,' uttered Ada. (1.5)

Queen Josephine with whom Marina loved to identify herself seems to be the Antiterran counterpart of Josephine Beauharnais (Napoleon’s first wife). Van’s teacher of history is a namesake of wheezy Jones, the Ladore policeman who helped Van to burn Kim’s files (and most of Kalugano’s pine forest).

According to Darkbloom (“Notes to Ada”), “with a slight smile” is a pet formula of Tolstoy's denoting cool superiority, if not smugness, in a character's manner of speech. As he speaks to his son, Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father who prefers Walter Scott to Dickens and does not think highly of Russian novelists) mentions “that dreadful old wencher Lyovka Tolstoy, the writer:”

'Capital,' he repeated. 'You look splendid, my dear, dear fellow - and I don't have to exaggerate compliments as some do in regard to an aging man with shoe-shined hair. Your dinner jacket is very nice - or, rather it's very nice recognizing one's old tailor in one's son's clothes - like catching oneself repeating an ancestral mannerism - for example, this (wagging his left forefinger three times at the height of his temple), which my mother did in casual, pacific denial; that gene missed you, but I've seen it in my hairdresser's looking-glass when refusing to have him put Crêmlin on my bald spot; and you know who had it too - my aunt Kitty, who married the Banker Bolenski after divorcing that dreadful old wencher Lyovka Tolstoy, the writer.'

Demon preferred Walter Scott to Dickens, and did not think highly of Russian novelists. As usual, Van considered it fit to make a corrective comment:

'A fantastically artistic writer, Dad.'

'You are a fantastically charming boy,' said Demon, shedding another sweet-water tear. He pressed to his cheek Van's strong shapely hand. Van kissed his father's hairy fist which was already holding a not yet visible glass of liquor. Despite the manly impact of their Irishness, all Veens who had Russian blood revealed much tenderness in ritual overflows of affection while remaining somewhat inept in its verbal expression.

'I say,' exclaimed Demon, 'what's happened - your shaftment is that of a carpenter's. Show me your other hand. Good gracious' (muttering:) 'Hump of Venus disfigured, Line of Life scarred but monstrously long...' (switching to a gipsy chant:) 'You'll live to reach Terra, and come back a wiser and merrier man' (reverting to his ordinary voice:) 'What puzzles me as a palmist is the strange condition of the Sister of your Life. And the roughness!'

'Mascodagama,' whispered Van, raising his eyebrows.

'Ah, of course, how blunt (dumb) of me. Now tell me - you like Ardis Hall?'

'I adore it,' said Van. 'It's for me the château que baignait la Dore. I would gladly spend all my scarred and strange life here. But that's a hopeless fancy.'

'Hopeless? I wonder. I know Dan wants to leave it to Lucile, but Dan is greedy, and my affairs are such that I can satisfy great greed. When I was your age I thought that the sweetest word in the language rhymes with "billiard," and now I know I was right. If you're really keen, son, on having this property, I might try to buy it. I can exert a certain pressure upon my Marina. She sighs like a hassock when you sit upon her, so to speak. Damn it, the servants here are not Mercuries. Pull that cord again. Yes, maybe Dan could be made to sell.'

'That's very black of you, Dad,' said pleased Van, using a slang phrase he had learned from his tender young nurse, Ruby, who was born in the Mississippi region where most magistrates, public benefactors, high priests of various so-called' denominations,' and other honorable and generous men, had the dark or darkish skin of their West-African ancestors, who had been the first navigators to reach the Gulf of Mexico. (1.38)

Ada’s letter from the Agavia Ranch in Arizona to Van residing in Europe (presumably, in his Mediterranean Villa Armina) is dated February 5, 1905. An article on Mascodagama’s performance appeared in The Ranter eighteen years before:

On February 5, 1887, an unsigned editorial in The Ranter (the usually so sarcastic and captious Chose weekly) described Mascodagama's performance as 'the most imaginative and singular stunt ever offered to a jaded music-hall public.' (1.30)

1905 - 1887 = 3 x 6 = 5 + 6 + 7 = 18. There are three blind characters in Ada (3.4). In the names Tolstoy and Nabokov there are seven letters. In a letter to his son Demon pairs Tolstoy with Chekhov (the writer whose name in Russian spelling, Чехов, consists of five letters):

I have followed your instructions, anent that letter, to the letter. Your epistolary style is so involute that I should suspect the presence of a code, had I not known you belonged to the Decadent School of writing, in company of naughty old Leo and consumptive Anton. (3.6)

In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Lev Shestov calls Chekhov (the author of Ward No. 6, 1892) pevets beznadyozhnosti (the poet of hopelessness):

Чтобы в двух словах определить его тенденцию, я скажу: Чехов был певцом безнадежности. Упорно, уныло, однообразно в течение всей своей почти 25-летней литературной деятельности Чехов только одно и делал: теми или иными способами убивал человеческие надежды. В этом, на мой взгляд, сущность его творчества. (I)

The name Шестов (Shestov) consists of six letters and comes from шесть (six). The title of Shestov’s article brings to mind Nik. T-o (“Mr. Nobody”), the penname of Innokentiy Annenski (the author of two Books of Reflections, 1906, 1909 ), and Pushkin’s poem Graf Nulin (“Count Null,” 1825). Among the things that Count Nulin brings from Paris is a new novel by Walter Scott:

В Петрополь едет он теперь
С запасом фраков и жилетов,
Шляп, вееров, плащей, корсетов,
Булавок, запонок, лорнетов,
Цветных платков, чулков à jour,
С ужасной книжкою Гизота,
С тетрадью злых карикатур,
С романом новым Вальтер-Скотта,
С bon-mots парижского двора,
С последней песней Беранжера,
С мотивами Россини, Пера,
Et cetera, et cetera.

he's posting toward Petropolis,
with a vast supply of tail coats and waistcoats,

hats, fans, cloaks, corsets,

pins, cuff-links, lorgnettes,

colored kerchiefs, stockings à jour,

a terrible book of Guizot,

a notebook of caustic cartoons,
a new novel by Walter Scott,
bon-mots of the Paris court,
the last song of Beranger,
the airs of Rossini, Paër,
et cetera, et cetera.

According to Pushkin (whose name in Russian spelling consists of six letters), he composed Count Nulin (a poem in which the author parodied history and Shakespeare) in two days, on December 13-14:

В конце 1825 года находился я в деревне. Перечитывая «Лукрецию», довольно слабую поэму Шекспира, я подумал: что если б Лукреции пришла в голову мысль дать пощёчину Тарквинию? быть может, это охладило б его предприимчивость и он со стыдом принуждён был отступить? Лукреция б не зарезалась. Публикола не взбесился бы, Брут не изгнал бы царей, и мир и история мира были бы не те.

Итак, республикою, консулами, диктаторами, Катонами, Кесарем мы обязаны соблазнительному происшествию, подобному тому, которое случилось недавно в моём соседстве, в Новоржевском уезде.

Мысль пародировать историю и Шекспира мне представилась. Я не мог воспротивиться двойному искушению и в два утра написал эту повесть.

Я имею привычку на моих бумагах выставлять год и число. «Граф Нулин» писан 13 и 14 декабря. Бывают странные сближения.

“I am accustomed to date my papers. Count Nulin was written on 13 and 14 December. There are strange parallels in historical events.” Pushkin (who wrote Count Nulin in Mikhaylovskoe, his country seat in the Province of Pskov) alludes to the Decembrist uprising in St. Petersburg on December 14, 1825.

13 + 14 = 27. In the name Владимир Владимирович Набоков (8 + 12 + 7; VVN in Russian spelling) there are twenty-seven letters.

Andrey’s and Ada’s Agavia Ranch brings to mind agavy (the agaves) mentioned by Khodasevich in his poem Sorrentinskie fotografii (The Sorrento Photographs, 1926):

Я вижу скалы и агавы,

А в них, сквозь них и между них -

Домишко низкий и плюгавый.

Обитель прачек и портных.

И как ни отвожу я взора,

Он всё маячит предо мной,

Как бы сползая с косогора

Над мутною Москвой-рекой.

In his essay on Chekhov Shestov speaks of Chekhov’s alsmost twenty-five-year-long literary work. Khodasevich’s article O Chekhove (“On Chekhov,” 1929) begins:

Итак, со дня смерти Чехова прошло двадцать пять лет.

So then twenty-five years have passed since the day of Chekhov’s death.

Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) commits suicide at the age of twenty-five (3.5). Before jumping into the Atlantic from Admiral Tobakoff, Lucette takes a couple of Quietus pills. In his essay On Chekhov Khodasevich says that “history does not guilt the pills:”

Андреевский сказал о Чехове, что он "прекрасный писатель своего момента". Нет, что-нибудь одно: или Чехов прекрасный писатель - и тогда не только своего момента, или же он для момента, но уж тогда не прекрасный. История не золотит пилюль. Прекрасных писателей для момента не бывает.

Писатель прекрасен всегда - или никогда. Но в разные моменты сама "прекрасность" его меняется. Если писатель прекрасен, то слово его живуче особым образом: в разные времена оно может звучать по-разному и разное значить. Вырастая, человек меняет свое понимание одного и того же произведения. Так и целые поколения, сменяя друг друга, в одном и том же писателе вычитывают разное. Новое время не только требует новых песен; оно по-новому слушает старые. Перемещаясь во времени, песня меняет цвет.

According to Khodasevich, with the passage of time pesnya (the song) changes its color. According to Shestov, Chekhov was pevets (the poet; literally: the singer) of hopelessness. As he speaks to his father, Van mentions “a hopeless dream” (1.38). As he speaks to Ada, Van quotes Sonya’s words at the end of Chekhov’s play Dyadya Vanya (“Uncle Vanya,” 1897):

'Well, that bit about spinsters is rot,' said Van, 'we'll pull it off somehow, we'll become more and more distant relations in artistically forged papers and finally dwindle to mere namesakes, or at the worst we shall live quietly, you as my housekeeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, "we shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds."'

'Did you find them all, Uncle Van?' she inquired, sighing, laying her dolent head on his shoulder. She had told him everything. (1.31)

A picture (“sumerograph”) of Marina’s brother Ivan was taken by Sumerechnikov (“the Twilight before the Lumières”):

A photograph of an oval painting, considerably diminished, portrayed Princess Sophia Zemski as she was at twenty, in 1775, with her two children (Marina's grandfather born in 1772, and Demon's grandmother, born in 1773).

'I don't seem to remember it,' said Van, 'where did it hang?'

'In Marina's boudoir. And do you know who this bum in the frock coat is?'

'Looks to me like a poor print cut out of a magazine. Who's he?'

'Sumerechnikov! He took sumerographs of Uncle Vanya years ago.'

'The Twilight before the Lumières. Hey, and here's Alonso, the swimming-pool expert. I met his sweet sad daughter at a Cyprian party - she felt and smelt and melted like you. The strong charm of coincidence.' (2.7)

The name Sumerechnikov comes from sumerki (twilight). One of Chekhov’s collection of stories is entitled V sumerkakh (“In the Twilight,” 1887).

A character in Chekhov’s play “The Three Sisters” (known on Antiterra as Four Sisters: 2.1, 2.9), Solyonyi (the officer who kills Baron Tuzenbakh in a pistol duel) imagines that he resembles Lermontov (the poet who believed that his ancestor was Thomas the Rhymer, a 13th century Scottish laird and prophet). There is Lermontov in Palermontovia (on Antiterra, a part of the British Commonwealth):

A small map of the European part of the British Commonwealth - say, from Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia - as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina, might be quite thickly prickled with enameled red-cross-flag pins, marking, in her War of the Worlds, Aqua's bivouacs. 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)

Poor mad Aqua is Marina’s twin sister. Her pseudonym comes from the phrase shchemyashchiy zvuk (a heart-rending sound) that occurs in several poems of Alexander Blok (the author of “The Twelve,” 1918). The opening line of the first poem in Blok’s cycle Carmen (1914) is Kak okean menyaet tsvet (As the ocean changes its color). In another poem of this cycle durman (the intoxicant) and tsyganskie strasti (the gipsy passions) are mentioned:

…Спишь, змеёю склубясь прихотливой,

Спишь в дурмане и видишь во сне

Даль морскую и берег счастливый,

И мечту, недоступную мне.

Видишь день беззакатный и жгучий

И любимый, родимый свой край,

Синий, синий, певучий, певучий,

Неподвижно-блаженный, как рай.

В том раю тишина бездыханна,

Только в куще сплетённых ветвей

Дивный голос твой, низкий и странный,

Славит бурю цыганских страстей.

In his famous poem O doblestyakh, o podvigakh, o slave… (“About valor, about feats, about glory…” 1908) Blok speaks of his beloved’s photograph that stood on his writing desk:

О доблестях, о подвигах, о славе

Я забывал на горестной земле,

Когда твоё лицо в простой оправе

Перед мной сияло на столе…

About glory, valor, feats, and fame

I was forgetting in my sorrow place,

Until in front of me, in a simple frame,

Stood on my table your enchanting face...

(trans. V. Gurvich)

“From Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia - as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina” brings to mind the beginning of VN’s novel Kamera Obskura (1932) in which Cheepy (a guinea pig) and vivisection are also mentioned:

Приблизительно в 1925 г. размножилось по всему свету милое, забавное существо - существо теперь уже почти забытое, но в своё время, т. е. в течение трёх-четырёх лет, бывшее вездесущим, от Аляски до Патагонии, от Маньчжурии до Новой Зеландии, от Лапландии до Мыса Доброй Надежды, словом, всюду, куда проникают цветные открытки, - существо, носившее симпатичное имя Cheepy.
Рассказывают, что его (или, вернее, её) происхождение связано с вопросом о вивисекции. (Chapter I)

“From Alaska to Patagonia… from Lapland to the Cape of Good Hope…” etc.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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