Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026973, Tue, 3 May 2016 13:05:38 +0300

Magicarpets, romantic Turk, alibi & Brantome in Ada
The attic. This is the attic. Welcome to the attic. It stored a great number of trunks and cartons, and two brown couches one on top of the other like copulating beetles, and lots of pictures standing in corners or on shelves with their faces against the wall like humiliated children. Rolled up in its case was an old 'jikker' or skimmer, a blue magic rug with Arabian designs, faded but still enchanting, which Uncle Daniel's father had used in his boyhood and later flown when drunk. Because of the many collisions, collapses and other accidents, especially numerous in sunset skies over idyllic fields, jikkers were banned by the air patrol; but four years later Van who loved that sport bribed a local mechanic to clean the thing, reload its hawking-tubes, and generally bring it back into magic order and many a summer day would they spend, his Ada and he, hanging over grove and river or gliding at a safe ten-foot altitude above surfaces of roads or roofs. How comic the wobbling, ditch-diving cyclist, how weird the arm-flailing and slipping chimney sweep! (1.6)

What pleasure (thus in the MS.). The pleasure of suddenly discovering the right knack of topsy turvy locomotion was rather like learning to man, after many a painful and ignominious fall, those delightful gliders called Magicarpets (or 'jikkers') that were given a boy on his twelfth birthday in the adventurous days before the Great Reaction - and then what a breathtaking long neural caress when one became airborne for the first time and managed to skim over a haystack, a tree, a burn, a barn, while Grandfather Dedalus Veen, running with upturned face, flourished a flag and fell into the horsepond. (1.13)

The asses who might really think that in the starlight of eternity, my, Van Veen's, and her, Ada Veen's, conjunction, somewhere in North America, in the nineteenth century represented but one trillionth of a trillionth part of a pinpoint planet's significance can bray ailleurs, ailleurs, ailleurs (the English word would not supply the onomatopoeic element; old Veen is kind), because the rapture of her identity, placed under the microscope of reality (which is the only reality) shows a complex system of those subtle bridges which the senses traverse - laughing, embraced, throwing flowers in the air - between membrane and brain, and which always was and is a form of memory, even at the moment of its perception. I am weak. I write badly. I may die tonight. My magic carpet no longer skims over crown canopies and gaping nestlings, and her rarest orchids. Insert. (1.35)

The roast hazel-hen (or rather its New World representative, locally called 'mountain grouse') was accompanied by preserved lingonberries (locally called 'mountain cranberries'). An especially succulent morsel of one of those brown little fowls yielded a globule of birdshot between Demon's red tongue and strong canine: 'La fève de Diane,' he remarked, placing it carefully on the edge of his plate. 'How is the car situation, Van?'

'Vague. I ordered a Roseley like yours but it won't be delivered before Christmas. I tried to find a Silentium with a side car and could not, because of the war, though what connection exists between wars and motorcycles is a mystery. But we manage, Ada and I, we manage, we ride, we bike, we even jikker.'

'I wonder,' said sly Demon, 'why I'm reminded all at once of our great Canadian's lovely lines about blushing Irène:

'Le feu si délicat de la virginité

Qui something sur son front...

'All right. You can ship mine to England, provided -'

'By the way, Demon,' interrupted Marina, 'where and how can I obtain the kind of old roomy limousine with an old professional chauffeur that Praskovia, for instance, has had for years?'

'Impossible, my dear, they are all in heaven or on Terra. But what would Ada like, what would my silent love like for her birthday? It's next Saturday, po razschyotu po moemu (by my reckoning), isn't it? Une rivière de diamants?'

'Protestuyu!' cried Marina. 'Yes, I'm speaking seriozno. I object to your giving her kvaka sesva (quoi que ce soit), Dan and I will take care of all that.'

'Besides you'll forget,' said Ada laughing, and very deftly showed the tip of her tongue to Van who had been on the lookout for her conditional reaction to 'diamonds.'

Van asked: 'Provided what?'

'Provided you don't have one waiting already for you in George's Garage, Ranta Road.'

'Ada, you'll be jikkering alone soon,' he continued, 'I'm going to have Mascodagama round out his vacation in Paris. Qui something sur son front, en accuse la beauté!' (1.38)

Une rivière de diamants mentioned by Demon brings to mind La rivière de diamants, Mlle Larivière’s story that she reads at the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday and that Van and Ada call “a fairy tale” (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 Flying Trunk” (1838), a fairy tale in which the enchanted trunk (cf. trunks and cartons in the attic of Ardis Hall) carries a young man to Turkey. In Turkey the hero visits the Sultan’s daughter who is kept in a tower because of a prophesy that she will be very unhappy about a lover.

At the dinner in “Ardis the Second” Marina, Ada and Van smoke Turkish cigarettes:

Marina helped herself to an Albany from a crystal box of Turkish cigarettes tipped with red rose petal and passed the box on to Demon. Ada, somewhat self-consciously, lit up too.

'You know quite well,' said Marina, 'that your father disapproves of your smoking at table.'

'Oh, it's all right,' murmured Demon.

'I had Dan in view,' explained Marina heavily. 'He's very prissy on that score.'

'Well, and I'm not,' answered Demon.

Ada and Van could not help laughing. All that was banter - not of a high order, but still banter.

A moment later, however, Van remarked: 'I think I'll take an Alibi - I mean an Albany - myself.'

'Please note, everybody,' said Ada, 'how voulu that slip was! I like a smoke when I go mushrooming, but when I'm back, this horrid tease insists I smell of some romantic Turk or Albanian met in the woods.'

'Well,' said Demon, 'Van's quite right to look after your morals.' (1.38)

In Chekhov’s story Shvedskaya spichka (“A Swedish Match,” 1883) Dyukovski (a young detective) several times repeats the word alibi:

— Не могу знать, ваше высокоблагородие, — сказал он. — Был выпимши и не помню.

— Alibi! — шепнул Дюковский, усмехаясь и потирая руки…

"I can't say, your Honor," he said. "I was drunk and I don't remember."
"An alibi!" whispered Dyukovski, grinning and rubbing his hands…

— Alibi, — усмехнулся Дюковский. — И какое дурацкое alibi!

"An alibi," laughed Dyukovski, "and what an idiotic alibi.

In Andersen’s fairy tale the young man persuades the Sultan’s daughter to marry him and tells her parents a fairy tale about matches. They are impressed and consent to the marriage. To celebrate his upcoming marriage, the hero buys fireworks and flies over the land setting them off. Returning to the earth, a spark incinerates the trunk, and the young man can no longer visit the princess in the tower. Instead, he wanders the world, telling fairy tales (but none of them so amusing as the one he related about the matches).

The fireworks in Andersen’s fairy tale bring to mind Ben Wright (Bengal Ben, as the servants called him: 2.7), the coachman in “Ardis the First,” and his petards:

A slight commotion took place on the box. Lucette turned around and spoke to Ada.

'I want to sit with you. Mne tut neudobno, i ot nego nehorosho pakhnet (I'm uncomfortable here, and he does not smell good).'

'We'll be there in a moment,' retorted Ada, 'poterpi (have a little patience).'

'What's the matter?' asked Mlle Larivière.

'Nothing, Il pue.'

'Oh dear! I doubt strongly he ever was in that Rajah's service.' (1.13)

They [Van and Ada] made love - mostly in glens and gullies.

To the average physiologist, the energy of those two youngsters might have seemed abnormal. Their craving for each other grew unbearable if within a few hours it was not satisfied several times, in sun or shade, on roof or in cellar, anywhere. Despite uncommon resources of ardor, young Van could hardly keep pace with his pale little amorette (local French slang). Their immoderate exploitation of physical joy amounted to madness and would have curtailed their young lives had not summer, which had appeared in prospect as a boundless flow of green glory and freedom, begun to hint lazily at possible failings and fadings, at the fatigue of its fugue - the last resort of nature, felicitous alliterations (when flowers and flies mime one another), the coming of a first pause in late August, a first silence in early September. The orchards and vineyards were particularly picturesque that year; and Ben Wright was fired after letting winds go free while driving Marina and Mlle Larivière home from the Vendange Festival at Brantôme near Ladore. (1.22)

'That's finished,' said Van, 'a precious sinistral sinew has stopped functioning. I can still fence and deliver a fine punch but hand-walking is out. You shall not sniffle, Ada. Ada is not going to sniffle and wail. King Wing says that the great Vekchelo turned back into an ordinary chelovek at the age I'm now, so everything is perfectly normal. Ah, drunken Ben Wright trying to rape Blanche in the mews - she has quite a big part in this farrago.'

'He's doing nothing of the sort. You see quite well they are dancing. It's like the Beast and the Belle at the ball where Cinderella loses her garter and the Prince his beautiful codpiece of glass. You can also make out Mr Ward and Mrs French in a bruegelish kimbo (peasant prance) at the farther end of the hall. All those rural rapes in our parts have been grossly exaggerated. D'ailleurs, it was Mr Ben Wright's last petard at Ardis.' (2.7)

In his poem Shekspir (“Shakespeare,” 1924) VN mentions Brantome (Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, 1540-1614, the memoirist):

Мало ль низких,

ничтожных душ оставили свой след -

каких имён не сыщешь у Брантома!

Откройся, бог ямбического грома,

стоустый и немыслимый поэт!

Look what numbers

of lowly, worthless souls have left their trace,

what countless names Brantome has for the asking!

Reveal yourself, god of iambic thunder,

you hundred-mouthed, unthinkably great bard!

Ben Wright (according to Van, “a poet in his own right”) brings to mind Ben Jonson (1572-1637), Shakespeare’s contemporary and fellow poet.

For the first time Van and Ada make love in the Night of the Burning Barn. Describing it, Van mentions a glass box of Turkish cigarettes, Juliet and her Romeo:

I denounce the philistine's post-coital cigarette both as a doctor and an artist. It is, however, true that Van was not unaware of a glass box of Turkish Traumatis on a console too far to be reached with an indolent stretch. The tall clock struck an anonymous quarter, and Ada was presently watching, cheek on fist, the impressive, though oddly morose, stirrings, steady clockwise launch, and ponderous upswing of virile revival.

But the shag of the couch was as tickly as the star-dusted sky. Before anything new happened, Ada went on all fours to rearrange the lap robe and cushions. Native girl imitating rabbit. He groped for and cupped her hot little slew from behind, then frantically scrambled into a boy's sandcastle-molding position; but she turned over, naïvely ready to embrace him the way Juliet is recommended to receive her Romeo. (1.19)

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet the nurse’s late husband said that Juliet will fall backward when she grows smarter:

“Yea,” quoth he, “Dost thou fall upon thy face?

Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit,

Wilt thou not, Jule?” (1.3)

It is a nurse who in Andersen’s fairy tale tells the young man about the prophesy:

He happened to meet a nurse with a little child. “I say, you Turkish nurse,” cried he, “what castle is that near the town, with the windows placed so high?”

“The king’s daughter lives there,” she replied; “it has been prophesied that she will be very unhappy about a lover, and therefore no one is allowed to visit her, unless the king and queen are present.”

The characters of Chekhov’s story Ionych (1898) include the Turkin family. Chekhov is the author of two monologues O vrede tabaka (“On the Harm of Tobacco,” 1886, 1903). Their title brings to mind Ivan G. Tobak, Cordula de Prey’s first husband. “The romantic Turk” whom Ada meets in the woods is Percy de Prey (Cordula’s second cousin). According to Cordula, her husband resembles Vladimir Christian of Denmark:

'Will you come for a few days? I promise to behave properly. All right?'

'My notion of propriety may not be the same as yours. And what about Cordula de Prey? She won't mind?'

'The apartment is mine,' said Van, 'and besides, Cordula is now Mrs Ivan G. Tobak. They are making follies in Florence. Here's her last postcard. Portrait of Vladimir Christian of Denmark, who, she claims, is the dead spit of her Ivan Giovanovich. Have a look.' (2.5)

H. C. Andersen is a Danish author. In Chekhov’s story Anna na shee (“Anna on the Neck,” 1895) Modest Alekseich mentions “little Vladimir:”

На Пасхе Модест Алексеич получил Анну второй степени. Когда он пришёл благодарить, его сиятельство отложил в сторону газету и сел поглубже в кресло.

- Значит, у вас теперь три Анны, сказал он, осматривая свои белые руки с розовыми ногтями, одна в петлице, две на шее.

Модест Алексеич приложил два пальца к губам из осторожности, чтобы не рассмеяться громко, и сказал:

- Теперь остаётся ожидать появления на свет маленького Владимира. Осмелюсь просить ваше сиятельство в восприемники.

Он намекал на Владимира IV степени и уже воображал, как он будет всюду рассказывать об этом своём каламбуре, удачном по находчивости и смелости, и хотел сказать ещё что-нибудь такое же удачное, но его сиятельство вновь углубился в газету и кивнул головой...

At Easter Modest Alekseich received the Anna of the second grade. When he went to offer his thanks, His Excellency put aside the paper he was reading and settled himself more comfortably in his chair.
"So now you have three Annas," he said, scrutinizing his white hands and pink nails -- "one on your buttonhole and two on your neck."
Modest Alekseich put two fingers to his lips as a precaution against laughing too loud and said:
"Now I have only to look forward to the arrival of a little Vladimir. I make bold to beg your Excellency to stand godfather."
He was alluding to Vladimir of the fourth grade, and was already imagining how he would tell everywhere the story of this pun, so happy in its readiness and audacity, and he wanted to say something equally happy, but His Excellency was buried again in his newspaper, and merely gave him a nod.

VN translated Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865) as Anya v strane chudes (1923). Anya is a diminutive of Anna.

Van believes that Ada lost her virginity in the Night of the Burning Barn. Actually, her first lover was Dr Krolik’s brother Karol (Karapars), a doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey:

'Well,' said Van, when the mind took over again, 'let's go back to our defaced childhood. I'm anxious' - (picking up the album from the bedside rug) - 'to get rid of this burden. Ah, a new character, the inscription says: Dr Krolik.'

'Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van but it's terribly messy all the same. Okay. Yes, that's my poor nature teacher.'

Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for 'lepidopteron'). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that chase?

'How curious - in the state Kim mounted him here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he's a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!'

'There's nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here's the visual proof. Besides, that's not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.'

'I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor.'

'I'm not lying!' - (with lovely dignity): 'He is a doctor of philosophy.'

'Van ist auch one,' murmured Van, sounding the last word as 'wann.' (2.7)

Nor does Van realize that it was Ada who bribed Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis, to set the Barn on fire. According to Ada, Kim 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. (ibid.)

Btw., Kovyor-samolyot (“The Magic Carpet,” 1880) is a painting by Viktor Vasnetsov, the author of “Sirin and Alkonost, a Song of Joy and Sadness” (1896). Sirin and Alkonost, the Birds of Joy and Sadness is a poem (1899) by Blok. In Blok’s Neznakomka (Incognita, 1906), a poem alluded to in Ada (3.3), p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: in vino veritas! Sirin was VN’s Russian nom de plume.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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