Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027650, Fri, 19 Jan 2018 23:31:41 +0300

Nina Lecerf, Sebastian & incestous games in LATH
Describing his first meeting with Iris Black (who pretends to be deaf-mute), Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins!) mentions Nina Lecerf:

Ivor had gone to fetch my whisky. Iris and I stood on the terrace in the saintly dusk. I was lighting my pipe while Iris nudged the balustrade with her hip and pointed out with mermaid undulations--supposed to imitate waves--the shimmer of seaside lights in a parting of the india-ink hills. At that moment the telephone rang in the drawing room behind us, and she quickly turned around--but with admirable presence of mind transformed her dash into a nonchalant shawl dance. In the meantime Ivor had already skated phoneward across the parquetry to hear what Nina Lecerf or some other neighbor wanted. We liked to recall, Iris and I, in our later intimacy that revelation scene with Ivor bringing us drinks to toast her fairy-tale recovery and she, without minding his presence, putting her light hand on my knuckles: I stood gripping the balustrade in exaggerated resentment and was not prompt enough, poor dupe, to acknowledge

her apology by a Continental hand kiss. (1.3)

As he speaks to Vadim, Ivor Black (Iris’s brother) mentions Sebastian:

He hoped, furthermore, that Sebastian—whoever that was—might still be coming for the grape season or lavender gala. Muttering thus under his breath, he relieved me of the smaller of my bags—the one with the toilet things, medical supplies, and an almost finished garland of sonnets (which would eventually go to a Russian émigré magazine in Paris). Then he also grabbed my portmanteau that I had set down in order to fill my pipe. Such lavishness in the registration of trivialities is due, I suppose, to their being accidentally caught in the advance light of a great event. Ivor broke the silence to add, frowning, that he was delighted to welcome me as a house guest, but that he should warn me of something he ought to have told me about in Cambridge. I might get frightfully bored by the end of a week or so because of one melancholy fact. Miss Grunt, his former governess, a heartless but clever person, liked to repeat that his little sister would never break the rule of "children should not be heard" and, indeed would never hear it said to anybody. The melancholy fact was that his sister--but, perhaps, he had better postpone the explanation of her case till we and the bags were installed more or less. (1.1)

In VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) Nina Lecerf (alias Mme Rechnoy) pretends that she does not speak Russian. Sebastian’s half-brother V. exposes her by saying in Russian that she has pauchok (a tiny spider) on her neck. The characters of TRLSK include Uncle Black (the brother of Pahl Pahlych Rechnoy, Nina’s husband) and old Dr Starov. Vadim and his first three wives (Iris Black, Annette Blagovo and Louise Adamsom) seem to be the children of Count Starov. Describing his first meeting with Iris, Vadim mentions vaguely incestuous games:

I do not remember seeing Iris before dinner (or perhaps I glimpsed her standing at a stained window on the stairs with her back to me as I popped back from the salle d'eau and its hesitations to my ascetic room across the landing). Ivor had taken care to inform me that she was a deaf-mute and such a shy one, too, that even now, at twenty-one, she could not make herself learn to read male lips. That sounded odd. I had always thought that the infirmity in question confined the patient in an absolutely safe shell as limpid and strong as shatterproof glass, within which no shame or sham could exist. Brother and sister conversed in sign language using an alphabet which they had invented in childhood and which had gone through several revised editions. The present one consisted of preposterously elaborate gestures in the low relief of a pantomime that mimicked things rather than symbolized them. I barged in with some grotesque contribution of my own but Ivor asked me sternly not to play the fool, she easily got offended. The whole affair (with a sullen maid, an old Canniçoise slapping down plates in the margin of the scene) belonged to another life, to another book, to a world of vaguely incestuous games that I had not yet consciously invented. (1.3)

The name Rechnoy seems to hint at Nina Zerechnyi, a character in Chekhov’s play Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896). Cerf being French and olen’ being Russian for “deer,” the name Lecerf brings to mind a herd of deer that Dr Ragin (the main character in Chekhov’s story “Ward Six,” 1892) sees before his death and Annette Olenin (a friend of Pushkin to whom the poet proposed in the fall of 1828). There is Lenin in Olenin. Ninel (a friend of Annette Blagovo, Vadim’s second wife) is Lenin backward. The characters of Chekhov’s story Moya zhizn’ (“My Life,” 1896) include Anyuta Blagovo, a friend of Misail’s sister Kleopatra. According to Vadim, spying had been his “clystère de Tchékhov” (a play on violon d’Ingres, “a hobby”) even before he married Iris Black:

Brushing all my engagements aside, I surrendered again--after quite a few years of abstinence!--to the thrill of secret investigations. Spying had been my clystère de Tchékhov even before I married Iris Black whose later passion for working on an interminable detective tale had been sparked by this or that hint I must have dropped, like a passing bird's lustrous feather, in relation to my experience in the vast and misty field of the Service. In my little way I have been of some help to my betters. The tree, a blue-flowering ash, whose cortical wound I caught the two "diplomats," Tornikovski and Kalikakov, using for their correspondence, still stands, hardly scarred, on its hilltop above San Bernardino. But for structural economy I have omitted that entertaining strain from this story of love and prose. Its existence, however, helped me now to ward off--for a while, at least--the madness and anguish of hopeless regret. (5.1)

In a letter of Dec. 27, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov (who used to say that medicine was his lawful wife and literature a mistress) mentions a clyster:

Я хотел только сказать, что современные лучшие писатели, которых я люблю, служат злу, так как разрушают. Одни из них, как Толстой, говорят: «не употребляй женщин, потому что у них бели; жена противна, потому что у неё пахнет изо рта; жизнь — это сплошное лицемерие и обман, так как человек по утрам ставит себе клистир, а перед смертью с трудом сидит на судне, причем видит свои исхудалые ляжки». Другие же, ещё не импотенты, не пресыщенные телом, но уж пресыщенные духом, изощряют свою фантазию до зеленых чёртиков и изобретают несуществующего полубога Сикста и «психологические» опыты.

In his letter Chekhov quotes people who, like Tolstoy, say: “do not have sex with women because they have the whites.” In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Blanche (a French handmaid at Ardis) tells Van that she has the whites:

‘Monsieur a quinze ans, je crois, et moi, je sais, j’en ai dixneuf. Monsieur is a nobleman; I am a poor peat-digger’s daughter. Monsieur a tâté, sans doute, des filles de la ville; quant à moi, je suis vierge, ou peu s’en faut. De plus, were I to fall in love with you — I mean really in love — and I might, alas, if you possessed me rien qu’une petite fois — it would be, for me, only grief, and infernal fire, and despair, and even death, Monsieur. Finalement, I might add that I have the whites and must see le Docteur Chronique, I mean Crolique, on my next day off. Now we have to separate, the sparrow has disappeared, I see, and Monsieur Bouteillan has entered the next room, and can perceive us clearly in that mirror above the sofa behind that silk screen.’ (1.7)

The two main characters in Ada, Van and Ada are brother and sister (the children of Demon Veen and Marina Durmanov). Like Ivor Black, Van’s and Ada’s mother is an actress. In “The Seagull” Treplev speaks of his mother, the ageing actress Arkadina, and mentions durman (the intoxicant):

Психологический курьез - моя мать. Бесспорно талантлива, умна, способна рыдать над книжкой, отхватит тебе всего Некрасова наизусть, за больными ухаживает, как ангел; но попробуй похвалить при ней Дузе! Ого-го! Нужно хвалить только её одну, нужно писать о ней, кричать, восторгаться её необыкновенною игрой в "La dame aux camelias" или в "Чад жизни", но так как здесь, в деревне, нет этого дурмана, то вот она скучает и злится, и все мы - её враги, все мы виноваты. Затем она суеверна, боится трёх свечей, тринадцатого числа.

My mother’s so neurotic. She may be talented, and sensitive and if you’re sick she’s like an angel of mercy; but don’t you dare praise another actress in her presence! Did I mention that she’s competitive? That only she can be applauded, or written about, or raved over. She doesn’t get any of that out here. There’s no that intoxicative praise here in the country, so she gets grumpy and bad-tempered. Then she thinks we’re all out to get her, and claims, “everything’s our fault”. Neurotic and incredibly superstitious. She flips out if someone lights up three cigarettes with one match, or if she realizes it’s Friday the thirteenth, or if someone utters Macbeth backstage. (Act One)

In his next speech Treplev mentions Maupassant:

Любит - не любит, любит - не любит, любит - не любит. (Смеётся.) Видишь, моя мать меня не любит. Ещё бы! Ей хочется жить, любить, носить светлые кофточки, а мне уже двадцать пять лет, и я постоянно напоминаю ей, что она уже не молода. Когда меня нет, ей только тридцать два года, при мне же сорок три, и за это она меня ненавидит. Она знает также, что я не признаю театра. Она любит театр, ей кажется, что она служит человечеству, святому искусству, а по-моему, современный театр - это рутина, предрассудок. Когда поднимается занавес и при вечернем освещении, в комнате с тремя стенами, эти великие таланты, жрецы святого искусства изображают, как люди едят, пьют, любят, ходят, носят свои пиджаки; когда из пошлых картин и фраз стараются выудить мораль - маленькую, удобопонятную, полезную в домашнем обиходе; когда в тысяче вариаций мне подносят все одно и то же, одно и то же, одно и то же, - то я бегу и бегу, как Мопассан бежал от Эйфелевой башни, которая давила ему мозг своей пошлостью.

[Pulling a flower to pieces] She loves me, loves me not; Loves-loves me not; loves-loves not! [Laughing] There you see, she doesn't love me; why should she? She wants to live and be young and love and dress up; and now that I’ve turned twenty-five, I just remind her that she’s getting old. When I’m not around, to everyone she can be “twenty-nine”, but when I’m there, she’s forty-three, and she hates me for it. She knows I can’t stand the kind of theatre she does. But she loves it; she imagines she’s saving the world with her “sacred art”, but I find it all mired in useless convention and prejudice. The curtain goes up on the same kind of set, with an imaginary fourth wall. And then these so-called artistic geniuses, these holy priests of high art, show us what ordinary people are supposed to be like. How we eat, or drink, or love, or walk, or even wear our coats. And then, they proceed to hit-us-over-the-head with some kind of profound moral insight woven into the play’s insipid dialogue. Meanwhile, the playwrights keep giving us the same old shit wrapped up in different packages. It makes me want to run away as fast as I can - like Maupassant running from the Eiffel Tower because it was about to crush him with its vulgarity. (ibid.)

In a letter of Feb. 6, 1891, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions a sentence added by Tolstoy at the end of Fransuaza, Tolstoy’s Russian version of Maupassant’s story Le Port (1889):

Ваша статья о Толстом сплошная прелесть. Очень, очень хорошо. И сильно, и деликатно. Вообще какой-то особенно удачный номер: и Ваша статья, и «Франсуаза». Прекрасный рассказ. Прибавка о сестре («она твоя сестра!»), сделанная Толстым, не так портит, как Вы боялись. Только от неё рассказ утерял как будто свою свежесть. Впрочем, всё равно.

A sentence added by Tolstoy was ona tvoya sestra (“she is your sister”). Bogoroditsa vetrov, as Tolstoy renders Notre Dame des Vents (the name of the ship in Maupassant’s story), brings to mind Karl Ivanovich Vetrov, the new name of Charlie Everett (the husband of Vadim’s daughter Bel who takes his wife to the Soviet Russia):

In the summer of 1960, Christine Dupraz, who ran the summer camp for disabled children between cliff and highway, just east of Larive, informed me that Charlie Everett, one of her assistants, had eloped with my Bel after burning--in a grotesque ceremony that she visualized more clearly than I--his passport and a little American flag (bought at a souvenir stall especially for that purpose) "right in the middle of the Soviet Consul's back garden"; whereupon the new "Karl Ivanovich Vetrov" and the eighteen-year-old Isabella, a ci-devant's daughter, had gone through some form of mock marriage in Berne and incontinently headed for Russia. (5.1)

According to Dora (Bel’s friend whom Vadim meets in Leningrad), Karlusha said that Lincoln and Lenin were brothers:

Had I got A.B.'s telegram? Sent two days ago to my Paris address? Hotel Moritz?

"That's garbled," I said, "and besides I left earlier. Doesn't matter. Is she much worse?"

"No, no, on the contrary. I knew you would come all the same, but something has happened. Karl turned up on Tuesday while I was in the office and took her away. He also took my new suitcase. He has no sense of ownership. He will be shot some day like a common thief. The first time he got into trouble was when he kept declaring that Lincoln and Lenin were brothers. And last time--"

Nice voluble lady, Dora. What was Bel's illness exactly?

"Splenic anemia. And last time, he told his best student in the language school that the only thing people should do was to love one another and pardon their enemies."

"An original mind. Where do you suppose--" (5.2)

Tolstoy called his teaching neprotivlenie zlu nasiliem ('nonresistance to evil'). At Van’s first tea party in Ardis Marina mentions Lincoln’s second wife (Lincoln was married once):

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.

Marina’s portrait, a rather good oil by Tresham, hanging above her on the wall, showed her wearing the picture hat she had used for the rehearsal of a Hunting Scene ten years ago, romantically brimmed, with a rainbow wing and a great drooping plume of black-banded silver; and Van, as he recalled the cage in the park and his mother somewhere in a cage of her own, experienced an odd sense of mystery as if the commentators of his destiny had gone into a huddle. Marina’s face was now made up to imitate her former looks, but fashions had changed, her cotton dress was a rustic print, her auburn locks were bleached and no longer tumbled down her temples, and nothing in her attire or adornments echoed the dash of her riding crop in the picture and the regular pattern of her brilliant plumage which Tresham had rendered with ornithological skill. (1.5)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): with a slight smile: a pet formula of Tolstoy’s denoting cool superiority, if not smugness, in a character’s manner of speech.

Vadim’s novel The Dare (1950) that corresponds to VN’s Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) includes a concise biography and critical appraisal of Fyodor Dostoevski. Marina’s brilliant plumage brings to mind this or that hint that Vadim dropped, like a passing bird's lustrous feather, in relation to his experience in the vast and misty field of the Service. According to Vadim, those hints have sparked Iris’s passion for working on an interminable detective tale. Chekhov is the author of Drama na okhote (“The Shooting Party,” 1884), a detective novel in which the narrator and main character investigates his own crime (the murder of his mistress). Iris wants to incorporate in her novel a letter that she received from her lover (who later kills her):

One afternoon, in March or early April, 1930, she peeped into my room and, being admitted, handed me the duplicate of a typewritten sheet, numbered 444. It was, she said, a tentative episode in her interminable tale, which would soon display more deletions than insertions. She was stuck, she said. Diana Vane, an incidental but on the whole nice girl, sojourning in Paris, happened to meet, at a riding school, a strange Frenchman, of Corsican, or perhaps Algerian, origin, passionate, brutal, unbalanced. He mistook Diana--and kept on mistaking her despite her amused remonstrations--for his former sweetheart, also an English girl, whom he had last seen ages ago. We had here, said the author, a sort of hallucination, an obsessive fancy, which Diana, a delightful flirt with a keen sense of humor, allowed Jules to entertain during some twenty riding lessons; but then his attentions grew more realistic, and she stopped seeing him. There had been nothing between them, and yet he simply could not be dissuaded from confusing her with the girl he once had possessed or thought he had, for that girl, too, might well have been only the afterimage of a still earlier

romance or remembered delirium. It was a very bizarre situation.

Now this page was supposed to be a last ominous letter written by that Frenchman in a foreigner's English to Diana. I was to read it as if it were a real letter and suggest, as an experienced writer, what might be the next development or disaster.


I am not capable to represent to myself that you really desire to tear up any connection with me. God sees, I love you more than life--more than two lives, your and my, together taken. Are you not ill? Or maybe you have found another? Another lover, yes? Another victim of your attraction? No, no, this thought is too horrible, too humiliating for us both. My supplication is modest and just. Give only one more interview to me! One interview! I am prepared to meet with you it does not matter where--on the street, in some cafe, in the Forest of Boulogne--but I must see you, must speak with you and open to you many mysteries before I will die. Oh, this is no threat! I swear that i our interview will lead to a positive result, if, otherwise speaking, you will permit me to hope, only to hope, then, oh then, I will consent to wait a little. But you must reply to me without retardment, my cruel, stupid, adored little girl!

Your Jules

"There's one thing," I said, carefully folding the sheet and pocketing it for later study, "one thing the little girl should know. This is not a romantic Corsican writing a crime passionnel letter; it is a Russian blackmailer knowing just enough English to translate into it the stalest Russian locutions. What puzzles me is how did you, with your three or four words of Russian--kak pozhivaete and do svidaniya--how did you, the author, manage to think up those subtle turns, and imitate the mistakes in English that only a Russian would make? Impersonation, I know, runs in the family, but still--"

Iris replied (with that quaint non sequitur that I was to give to the heroine of my Ardis forty years later) that, yes, indeed, I was right, she must have had too many muddled lessons in Russian and she would certainly correct that extraordinary impression by simply giving the whole letter in French--from which, she had been told, incidentally, Russian had borrowed a lot of clichés. (1.12)

VN is the author of The Vane Sisters (1951). Vadim’s Ardis (1970) corresponds to VN’s Ada. Watching the album with Kim Beauharnais’ photographs, Van mentions Dr Krolik and Diana (the Roman goddess of hunting):

‘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.’ (2.8)

In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert quotes a poem that he composed for Rita (a girl whom HH picked up after Lolita was snatched away from him by Quilty):

‘The place was called Enchanted Hunters. Query:

What Indian dyes, Diana, did they dell

endorse to make of Picture Lake the very

blood bath of trees before the blue hotel? (2.26)

In Ada ‘Rita’ is Van’s partner in a tango that Van dances on his hands as Mascodagama (1.30). Van’s stage name blends maska (Russian for “mask”) with Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese navigator. Maska (1884) is a story by Chekhov. According to Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko, Chekhov once in jest compared himself to Vasco da Gama. Rita is a character in Chekhov’s story Volodya bol’shoy i Volodya malen’kiy (“The Two Volodyas,” 1893) who can drink any amount of alcohol, never gets drunk and who loves to tell obscene anecdotes. The author of Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901), a play known on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as Four Sisters (2.1, et passim), Chekhov died in July of 1904 at the age of forty-four (cf. typewritten sheet, numbered 444, in Iris’s detective tale). In Chekhov’s story Bab’ye tsarstvo (“A Woman’s Kingdom,” 1893) the lawyer Lysevich (whose name comes from lysyi, “bald,” and brings to mind Judge Bald mentioned in Ada by Van) tells Anna Akimovna that his favorite writers are Jules Verne (cf. “Jules,” the author of the letter that Iris showed to Vadim) and Maupassant. The name of lieutenant Starov’s wife (who is Iris’s teacher of Russian), Nadezhda, brings to mind pevets baznadezhnosti (the poet of hopelessness), as in his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), the philosopher Lev Shestov calls Chekhov. Nadezhda Gordonovna’s patronymic seems to hint at George Gordon Byron, a poet who had an incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh. In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov says that Byron was as smart as a hundred devils:

Ну-с, теперь об уме. Григорович думает, что ум может пересилить талант. Байрон был умён, как сто чертей, однако же талант его уцелел. Если мне скажут, что Икс понес чепуху оттого, что ум у него пересилил талант, или наоборот, то я скажу: это значит, что у Икса не было ни ума, ни таланта.

And now as to intellect, Sir Grigorovich thinks that intellect can overwhelm talent. Byron was as smart as a hundred devils; nevertheless, his talent has survived intact. If we say that X talked nonsense because his intellect overwhelmed his talent or vice versa, then I say X had neither brains nor talent.

In the same letter to Suvorin Chekhov modestly compares his story “Ward Six” to a lemonade and mentions the ghost of Hamlet’s father:

У нас нет «чего-то», это справедливо, и это значит, что поднимите подол нашей музе, и Вы увидите там плоское место. Вспомните, что писатели, которых мы называем вечными или просто хорошими и которые пьянят нас, имеют один общий и весьма важный признак: они куда-то идут и Вас зовут туда же, и Вы чувствуете не умом, а всем своим существом, что у них есть какая-то цель, как у тени отца Гамлета, которая недаром приходила и тревожила воображение. У одних, смотря по калибру, цели ближайшие — крепостное право, освобождение родины, политика, красота или просто водка, как у Дениса Давыдова, у других цели отдаленные — бог, загробная жизнь, счастье человечества и т. п. Лучшие из них реальны и пишут жизнь такою, какая она есть, но оттого, что каждая строчка пропитана, как соком, сознанием цели, Вы, кроме жизни, какая есть, чувствуете еще ту жизнь, какая должна быть, и это пленяет Вас.

We lack “something,” that is true, and that means that, lift the robe of our muse, and you will find within an empty void. 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. The best of them are realists and paint life as it is, but, through every line’s being soaked in the consciousness of an object, you feel, besides life as it is, the life which ought to be, and that captivates you.

In LATH Vadim mentions the critic Hamlet Goodman. The author of “The Tragedy of Sebastian Knight,” Mr. Goodman (a character in TRLSK) tries to pronounce Sebastian’s Russian surname:

'Quite so,' said Mr Goodman. 'As a matter of fact you may not be cognizant of my having interest in two Knight books, The Funny Mountain and Lost Property. Under the circumstances the best thing would be for me to give you some details which I can send you by letter tomorrow morning as well as a copy of my contract with Mr Knight. Or should I call him Mr…' and smiling under his mask Mr Goodman tried to pronounce our simple Russian name. (Chapter Six)

Sebastian’s and his brother’s simple Russian surname seems to be Shishkov (and V.’s first name must be Vasiliy). Vasiliy Shishkov (1939) is a story by VN. After its publication the leading émigré critic Georgiy Adamovich (VN’s faithful Zoilus) said that Sirin “was a sufficiently skillful parodist to mimic genius.” In LATH Vadim Vadimovich feels that he is merely a parody:

I am much bolder now, of course, much bolder and prouder than the ambiguous hoodlum caught progressing that night between a seemingly endless fence with its tattered posters and a row of spaced streetlamps whose light would delicately select for its heart-piercing game overhead a young emerald-bright linden leaf. I now confess that I was bothered that night, and the next and some time before, by a dream feeling that my life was the nonidentical twin, a parody, an inferior variant of another man's life, somewhere on this or another earth. A demon, I felt, was forcing me to impersonate that other man, that other writer who was and would always be incomparably greater, healthier, and cruder than your obedient servant. (2.3)

In Chapter Seven (XXIV) of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin Tatiana finds out a word for Onegin, “a parody:”

И начинает понемногу
Моя Татьяна понимать
Теперь яснее — слава богу —
Того, по ком она вздыхать
Осуждена судьбою властной:
Чудак печальный и опасный,
Созданье ада иль небес,
Сей ангел, сей надменный бес,
Что ж он? Ужели подражанье,
Ничтожный призрак, иль еще
Москвич в Гарольдовом плаще,
Чужих причуд истолкованье,
Слов модных полный лексикон?..
Уж не пародия ли он?

And my Tatiana by degrees

begins to understand

more clearly now — thank God —

him for whom by imperious fate

she is sentenced to sigh.

A sad and dangerous eccentric,

creature of hell or heaven,

this angel, this proud fiend, what, then, is he?

Can it be, he's an imitation,

an insignificant phantasm, or else

a Muscovite in Harold's mantle,

a glossary of alien vagaries,

a complete lexicon of words in vogue?...

Might he not be, in fact, a parody?

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-18) is a narrative poem in four parts by Lord Byron. It seems that, like Pushkin’s Tatiana, I have solved the riddle.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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