Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026977, Thu, 5 May 2016 15:36:28 +0300

Magicarpets, pets, Garden God, Flora & Diana in Ada
According to Van, the delightful gliders called Magicarpets (or 'jikkers')
were given to him on his twelfth birthday:

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)

Van got twelve on Jan. 1, 1882. On Jan. 3, 1882, Lucette got six. There is
pet in Magicarpet. Pet is Lucette's nickname that she received when she was

'Pop in, pet (it all started with the little one letting wee winds go free
at table, circa 1882). And you, Garden God, ring up room service - three
coffees, half a dozen soft-boiled eggs, lots of buttered toast, loads of -'

'Oh no!' interrupted Van. 'Two coffees, four eggs, et cetera. I refuse to
let the staff know that I have two girls in my bed, one (teste Flora) is
enough for my little needs.'

'Little needs!' snorted Lucette. 'Let me go, Ada. I need a bath, and he
needs you.'

'Pet stays right here,' cried audacious Ada, and with one graceful swoop
plucked her sister's nightdress off. Involuntarily Lucette bent her head and
frail spine; then she lay back on the outer half of Ada's pillow in a
martyr's pudibund swoon, her locks spreading their orange blaze against the
black velvet of the padded headboard. (2.8)

The Garden God to whom Ada compares Van is Priapus. In his poem Mogushchiy
bog sadov - padu pered toboy: ("The mighty god of gardens - I shall fall
before you:" 1818) Pushkin says that he erected lik urodlivyi (an ugly idol)
of Priapus in his humble kitchen-garden:

Могущий бог садов - паду перед тобой,
Прияп, ты, коему всё жертвует в природе,
Твой лик уродливый поставил я с мольбой
B моём смиренном огороде,

Не с тем, чтоб удалял ты своенравных коз
И птичек от плодов и нежных и незрелых,
Тебя украсил я венком из диких роз
При пляске поселян веселых

In the closing lines of his poem <To Prince Kozlovski> (1836) Pushkin
mentions the shameless verses that protrude like priapi in Juvenal's satires
and the sounds that crack in them with a strange harmony:

Ценитель умственных творений исполинских,
Друг бардов английских, любовник муз латинских,
Ты к мощной древности опять меня манишь,
Ты снова мне велишь.
Простясь с мечтой и бледным идеалом,
Я приготовился бороться с Ювеналом,
Чьи строгие стихи, неопытный поэт,
Стихами перевесть я было дал обет.
Но, развернув его суровые творенья,
Не мог я одолеть пугливого смущенья...
Стихи бесстыдные приапами торчат,
В них звуки странною гармонией трещат...

In Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (One: VI: 3-6) Onegin "had enough knowledge of
Latin to make out epigraphs, descant on Juvenal, put at the bottom of a
letter vale:"

Onegin's vale brings to mind apollo, a word used by Van in his apologetic
note to Lucette:

Poor L.

We are sorry you left so soon. We are even sorrier to have inveigled our
Esmeralda and mermaid in a naughty prank. That sort of game will never be
played again with you, darling firebird. We apollo [apologize]. Remembrance,
embers and membranes of beauty make artists and morons lose all
self-control. Pilots of tremendous airships and even coarse, smelly coachmen
are known to have been driven insane by a pair of green eyes and a copper
curl. We wished to admire and amuse you, BOP (bird of paradise). We went too
far. I, Van, went too far. We regret that shameful, though basically
innocent scene. These are times of emotional stress and reconditioning.
Destroy and forget.

Tenderly yours A & V.

(in alphabetic order). (2.8)

"Coarse, smelly coachmen" hint at Ben Wright, the coachman in "Ardis the
First" who is associated with his pets (farts). In her PS to Van's note Ada
calls Lucette mon petit:

The above declaration is Van's composition which I sign reluctantly. It is
pompous and puritanical. I adore you, mon petit, and would never allow him
to hurt you, no matter how gently or madly. When you're sick of Queen, why
not fly over to Holland or Italy?

A. (ibid.)

Flora, "a slender, hardly nubile, half-naked music-hall dancer of uncertain
origin (Rumanian? Romany? Ramseyan?) whose ravishing services Van had
availed himself of several times in the fall of that year" (2.8) brings to
mind Diana's bosom, Flora's cheeks and Terpsichore's little foot mentioned
by Pushkin in Chapter One of EO:

Дианы грудь, ланиты Флоры
Прелестны, милые друзья!
Однако ножка Терпсихоры
Прелестней чем-то для меня.

Diana's bosom, Flora's cheeks

are charming, dear friends!

However, the little foot of Terpsichore

is for me in some way more charming. (XXXII: 1-4)

Describing Kim Beauharnais's album, Van mentions Diana:

'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? (2.7)

Like Dr Krolik, Ada is a passionate lepidopterist. In the entomological
entries of her diary Ada mentions her "revolting" (according to Marina)

'I think Marina would stop scolding me for my hobby ("There's something
indecent about a little girl's keeping such revolting pets...," "Normal
young ladies should loathe snakes and worms," et cetera) if I could persuade
her to overcome her old-fashioned squeamishness and place simultaneously on
palm and pulse (the hand alone would not be roomy enough!) the noble larva
of the Cattleya Hawkmoth (mauve shades of Monsieur Proust), a
seven-inch-long colossus flesh colored, with turquoise arabesques, rearing
its hyacinth head in a stiff "Sphinxian" attitude.' (1.8)

In 'Ursus' Ada and Lucette call Flora blyadushka:

As a 'man of the world,' Van glanced with bland (perhaps too bland)
unconcern at her talented charms, but they certainly added a secret bonus to
the state of erotic excitement tingling in him from the moment that his two
beauties had been unfurred and placed in the colored blaze of the feast
before him; and that thrill was somehow augmented by his awareness
(carefully profiled, diaphanely blinkered) of the furtive, jealous,
intuitive suspicion with which Ada and Lucette watched, unsmilingly, his
facial reactions to the demure look of professional recognition on the part
of the passing and repassing blyadushka (cute whorelet), as our young misses
referred to (very expensive and altogether delightful) Flora with
ill-feigned indifference... (2.8)

Ada uses this word again when she and Van ride off to the Film Festival in

How horribly and gratuitously it might hurt her, he foreglimpsed one day in
1926 or '27 when he caught the look of proud despair she cast on nothing in
particular before walking away to the car that was to take her on a trip in
which, at the last moment, he had declined to join her. He had declined -
and had simulated the grimace and the limp of podagra - because he had just
realized, what she, too, had realized - that the beautiful native girl
smoking on the back porch would offer her mangoes to Master as soon as
Master's housekeeper had left for the Film Festival in Sindbad. The
chauffeur had already opened the car door, when, with a great bellow, Van
overtook Ada and they rode off together, tearful, voluble, joking about his

'It's funny,' said Ada, 'what black, broken teeth they have hereabouts,
those blyadushki.'

('Ursus,' Lucette in glistening green, 'Subside, agitation of passion,'
Flora's bracelets and breasts, the whelk of Time). (5.3)

Sindbad is a character in One Thousand and One Nights, an Arabic collection
of fairy tales alluded to elsewhere in Ada:

One day he brought his shaving kit along and helped her to get rid of all
three patches of body hair:

'Now I'm Scheher,' he said, 'and you are his Ada, and that's your green
prayer carpet.' (1.35)

The magic carpets are mentioned in many a fairy tale related by
Scheherazade. Incidentally, Shekherezada (1888) is a symphonic suite by
Rimski-Korsakov. The name Rimski comes from Rim (Rome in Russian spelling).
Describing his reunion with Ada in 1905, Van mentions the painted Priapi set
up by the Romans in the arbors of Rufomonticulus:

When after three or four hours of frenetic love Van and Mrs Vinelander would
abandon their sumptuous retreat for the blue haze of an extraordinary
October which kept dreamy and warm throughout the duration of adultery, they
had the feeling of still being under the protection of those painted Priapi
that the Romans once used to set up in the arbors of Rufomonticulus. (3.8)

In his fragment Rim ("Rome," 1842) Gogol describes a Roman carnival. Gogol
is the author of Nos ("Nose," 1835), a story that brings to mind Van's
"carnival nose:"

Ada, her silky mane sweeping over his nipples and navel, seemed to enjoy
doing everything to jolt my present pencil and make, in that ridiculously
remote past, her innocent little sister notice and register what Van could
not control. The crushed flower was now being merrily crammed under the
rubber belt of his black trunks by twenty tickly fingers. As an ornament it
had not much value; as a game it was inept and dangerous. He shook off his
pretty tormentors, and walked away on his hands, a black mask over his
carnival nose. (1.32)

In his essay Karnaval ("Carnival," 1901) Maximilian Voloshin describes a
carnival in Paris and points out that in Hebrew there is a word that
strangely resembles "carnival:" Kern-Abal, which means lik bezumiya (the
face of madness):

В древнееврейском языке есть слово, странно созвучное со словом "карнавал".
Это слово "Kern-Abal", что значит лик безумия - искажение человеческого
лица, понятие, имеющее значение жуткое, граничащее почти с проклятием. Было
ли это грозное речение действительно прообразом имени Карнавала, было ли это
просто окаменевшим ругательством, которое подобрало пляшущее безумие и стало
размахивать им, как побрякушкой, но в этом созвучии таится жуткий и
таинственный смысл.

On Antiterra (Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) Paris is also known
as Lute. Lutetia Parisiorum (1915) is a sonnet by Voloshin, the author of
Liki tvorchestva ("The Faces of Creation," 1914). On the other hand, Lik
(1939) is a story by VN. Alexander Lik is the stage name of a Russian actor
whose real name seems to be Kulikov. The name Kulikov comes from kulik
(stint; sandpiper, any of numerous shore-inhabiting birds of the family
Scolopacidae). According to a Russian saying, vsyakiy kulik svoyo boloto
khvalit (every stint praises its native bog). The name Veen (of almost all
main characters in Ada) means in Dutch "peat bog." In 'Ursus' Flora
addresses Van by his surname:

'I say, Veen,' whinnied a voice near him (there were lots of lechers
around), 'you don't rally need two, d'you?'

Van veered, ready to cuff the gross speaker - but it was only Flora, a
frightful tease and admirable mimic. He tried to give her a banknote, but
she fled, bracelets and breast stars flashing a fond farewell. (2.8)

Flora imitates the British pronunciation. And so does Van as he speaks to
Dick C., a cardsharp at Chose (Van's English University):

'I say, Dick, ever met a gambler in the States called Plunkett? Bald gray
chap when I knew him.' (1.28)

In Aldanov's novel Bred ("Delirium," 1955) the Soviet Colonel, as he speaks
to Shell, mentions asei (as the Englishmen were once called in Russia; from
"I say"):

-- Исчезнет Черчилль, и асеи выйдут в тираж, кончена будет совсем Англия как
великая держава, -- говорил полковник. Он произносил имя Черчилля с
ударением на втором слоге. "Никто и в России уже лет сто не называет
англичан "асеями", там и не знают слов "I say". (chapter IV)

Like Flora, Shell and his mistress Edda are of uncertain origin:

Он, собственно, в точности не знал, кто она по национальности (как в клубе
не знали, кто по национальности он). По-русски Эдда говорила с малозаметным
неопределенным акцентом, а о своём прошлом рассказывала редко, неясно и
всегда по-разному. Говорили они то по-русски, то по-французски, то
по-немецки; у обоих были необыкновенные способности к языкам. (chapter III)

It is generous Dick who offers Van an introduction to the Venus Villa Club
(1.28). Eric Veen's floramors (palatial brothels, aka Villa Venus, 2.3)
blend Flora with Amor (aka Cupid, the Roman god of love). Like floramor,
Magicarpet is a portemanteau word. Incidentally, Van also mentions Adiana:

'One can always fall back on mutes,' said Van gloomily. 'He could act the
speechless eunuch in "Stambul, my bulbul" or the stable boy disguised as a
kennel girl who brings a letter.'

'Van, I'm boring you?'

'Oh, nonsense, it's a gripping and palpitating little case history.'

Because that was really not bad: bringing down three in as many years -
besides winging a fourth. Jolly good shot - Adiana! Wonder whom she'll bag
next. (2.5)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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