Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027654, Fri, 26 Jan 2018 02:08:38 +0300

Baroness Bredow & Jove in LATH; Jupiter in Ada
According to Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in VN’s
novel Look at the Harlequins!), he was brought up by his grand-aunt,
Baroness Bredow:

I saw my parents infrequently. They divorced and remarried and redivorced at
such a rapid rate that had the custodians of my fortune been less alert, I
might have been auctioned out finally to a pair of strangers of Swedish or
Scottish descent, with sad bags under hungry eyes. An extraordinary
grand-aunt, Baroness Bredow, born Tolstoy, amply replaced closer blood. As a
child of seven or eight, already harboring the secrets of a confirmed
madman, I seemed even to her (who also was far from normal) unduly sulky and
indolent; actually, of course, I kept daydreaming in a most outrageous

"Stop moping!" she would cry: "Look at the harlequins!

"What harlequins? Where?"

"Oh, everywhere. All around you. Trees are harlequins, words are harlequins.
So are situations and sums. Put two things together--jokes, images--and you
get a triple harlequin. Come on! Play! Invent the world! Invent reality!"

I did. By Jove, I did. I invented my grand-aunt in honor of my first
daydreams, and now, down the marble steps of memory's front porch, here she
slowly comes, sideways, sideways, the poor lame lady, touching each step
edge with the rubber tip of her black cane. (1.2)

The name Bredov comes from bred (delirium; ravings; gibberish). Jove is an
alternative name of Jupiter (the supreme God in the Roman mythology
pantheon). In Chekhov’s play Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896) Arkadina calls
Treplev’s avant-garde play dekadentskiy bred (a decadent nonsense) and Dorn
calls Arkadina “Jupiter:”

Аркадина. Теперь оказывается, что он напи
сал великое произведение! Скажите пожалу
йста! Стало быть, устроил он этот спектакл
ь и надушил серой не для шутки, а для демон
страции... Ему хотелось поучить нас, как на
до писать и что нужно играть... Наконец, эт
о становится скучно. Эти постоянные вылаз
ки против меня и шпильки, воля ваша, надое
дят хоть кому! Капризный, самолюбивый мал
Сорин. Он хотел доставить тебе удовольств
Аркадина. Да? Однако же вот он не выбрал ка
кой-нибудь обыкновенной пьесы, а заставил
нас прослушать этот декадентский бред. Ра
ди шутки я готова слушать и бред, но ведь т
ут претензии на новые формы, на новую эру
в искусстве. А, по-моему, никаких тут новых
форм нет, а просто дурной характер.
Тригорин. Каждый пишет так, как хочет и ка
к может.
Аркадина. Пусть он пишет, как хочет и как м
ожет, только пусть оставит меня в покое.
Дорн. Юпитер, ты сердишься...
Аркадина. Я не Юпитер, а женщина. (Закурива
ет.) Я не сержусь, мне только досадно, что м
олодой человек так скучно проводит время.
Я не хотела его обидеть.

ARKADINA. And suddenly, he’s produced a masterpiece. Really! So it wasn't a
lark. He put together this extravaganza and choked us with sulphur not to
amuse us, but to make a point. To teach us how plays should be written, and
acted. I'm so tired of the constant insults and blatant disrespect - it
would try the patience of a saint. He's an impetuous, pretentious little
SORIN. He was trying to please you.
ARKADINA. Really? Then why couldn't he choose a proper play? Why make us sit
through this decadent nonsense? I am perfectly willing to listen to a
nonsense if it's meant to entertain, but this apparently was meant to be a
new theatrical form, the art of the future. Since when has the exhibition of
a morbid personality been a new art form?
TRIGORIN. Every writer must write what they know, as best they can.
ARKADINA. He's welcome to continue writing. I just pray I won't be subjected
to his future works.
DORN. When Jupiter is angry, Jupiter is wrong.
ARKADINA. I'm not Jupiter, I am a woman. [She lights a cigarette] And I'm
not angry. I just hate to see a young man wasting his time like that. I
never meant to hurt his feelings. (Act One)

A character in Chekhov’s play, Nina Zarechnyi is an amateur actress (who
leaves home and goes on the stage). According to Vadim, Ivor Black (a fine
amateur actor who goes to Hollywood) asked him if Revizor, the Russian title
of Gogol’s play “The Inspector” (1835), came from the French for
‘dream,’ rêve:

Some time during the Easter Term of my last Cambridge year (1922) I happened
to be consulted, "as a Russian," on certain niceties of make-up in an
English version of Gogol's Inspector which the Glowworm Group, directed by
Ivor Black, a fine amateur actor, intended to stage. He and I had the same
tutor at Trinity, and he drove me to distraction with his tedious miming of
the old man's mincing ways--a performance he kept up throughout most of our
lunch at the Pitt. The brief business part turned out to be even less
pleasant. Ivor Black wanted Gogol's Town Mayor to wear a dressing gown
because "wasn't it merely the old rascal's nightmare and didn't Revizor, its
Russian title, actually come from the French for ‘dream,’ rêve?" I said I
thought it a ghastly idea. (1.1)

According to Treplev, on the stage life should be represented as it appears
in dreams:

Нина. В вашей пьесе трудно играть. В ней не
т живых лиц.
Треплев. Живые лица! Надо изображать жизн
ь не такою, как она есть, и не такою, как до
лжна быть, а такою, как она представляется
в мечтах.

NINA. Your play is very hard to act in; there are no live people in it.
TREPLEV. That’s the whole point! Life shouldn’t be represented as it is
and not as it should be, but as it appears in dreams. (ibid.)

In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov says that the best writers
are realists who 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:

У нас нет ?чего-то?, это справедливо, и это
значит, что поднимите подол нашей музе, и
Вы увидите там плоское место. Вспомните, ч
то 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 ч
увствуете не умом, а всем своим существом,
что у них есть какая-то цель, как у тени от
ца Гамлета, которая недаром приходила и т
ревожила воображение. У одних, смотря по к
алибру, цели ближайшие ― крепостное прав
о, освобождение родины, политика, красота
или просто водка, как у Дениса Давыдова, у
других цели отдаленные ― бог, загробная ж
изнь, счастье человечества и т. п. Лучшие и
з них реальны и пишут жизнь такою, какая о
на есть, но оттого, что каждая строчка про
питана, как соком, сознанием цели, Вы, кром
е жизни, какая есть, чувствуете еще ту жиз
нь, 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.

An empty void under the muse’s robe brings to mind tsar Nikita’s forty
daughters in Pushkin’s frivolous poem Tsar’ Nikita i sorok ego docherey
(“Tsar Nikita and his Forty Daughters,” 1822) who lack something between
their legs. Thar Nikita’s forty daughters have different mothers. The first
three of Vadim’s three or four successive wives seem to be the daughters of
Count Nikifor Nikodimovich Starov, who, as Vadim himself suspects, can be
his real father. Iris Black, Annette Blagovo and Louise Adamson are thus
Vadim’s half-sisters. Chekhov is the author of Tri sestry (“The Three
Sisters,” 1901), a play known on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin
planet on which VN’s novel Ada, 1969, is set) as Four Sisters.

In the film version of Chekhov’s Four Sisters Marina Durmanova (Van’s,
Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) played sister Varvara, a garrulous originalka
(odd female). The name Durmanov comes from durman (thorn-apple; drug,
narcotic; intoxicant). In “The Seagull” Treplev speaks of his mother
Arkadina (a professional actress) and mentions durman (intoxicant):

Треплев. Ей уже досадно, что вот на этой ма
ленькой сцене будет иметь успех Заречная,
а не она. (Посмотрев на часы.) Психологичес
кий курьез - моя мать. Бесспорно талантлив
а, умна, способна рыдать над книжкой, отхв
атит тебе всего Некрасова наизусть, за бо
льными ухаживает, как ангел; но попробуй п
охвалить при ней Дузе! Ого-го! Нужно хвали
ть только её одну, нужно писать о ней, крич
ать, восторгаться ее необыкновенною игро
й в "La dame aux camelias" или в "Чад жизни", но так ка
к здесь, в деревне, нет этого дурмана, то в
от она скучает и злится, и все мы - её враг
и, все мы виноваты. Затем она суеверна, бои
тся трех свечей, тринадцатого числа. Она с
купа. У неё в Одессе в банке семьдесят тыс
яч - это я знаю наверное. А попроси у неё вз
аймы, она станет плакать.

TREPLEV. Yeah, she’s in a snit because Nina will be in the spotlight
tonight. Seriously, even out here, on this little stage. [Looking at his
watch] 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 intoxicant 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. And, she’s incredibly stingy; she has seventy thousand
rubles in a bank in Odessa, I’ve seen the bank statements, but ask her to
lend you a penny and she breaks into tears. (Act One)

The name Sorin (of Arkadina’s brother) brings to mind Sirin, VN’s Russian
nom de plume. In LATH Vadim writes under the penname V. Irisin (in honor of
his first wife). In Part Five of LATH Vadim says that spying had been his
“clystère de Tchékhov” even before he married Iris Black and mentions
two Soviet “diplomats,” Tornikovsky and Kalikakov. In a letter of October
22, 1896, to Suvorin Chekhov speaks of the flop of the first performance of
“The Seagull” in the Aleksandrinsky Theater and in the same letter
mentions gromadnye klistiry (the huge clysters) that on the previous day he
made to a rich peasant whose bowel was blocked with kal (faeces). Clystère
de Tchékhov is a play on violon d’Ingres (a hobby). Jean Ingres is the
author of Jupiter et Thétis (1811). Jupiter’s wife Juno was his sister.

Describing Flavita (the Russian Scrabble), Van Veen (the narrator and main
character in Ada) compares the letter J on two joker blocks to a blank check
signed by Jupiter or Jurojin:

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)

Gritz blends the luxurious Ritz hotels with Madame Gritsatsuev, in Ilf and
Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) a
passionate woman, a poet’s dream whom Ostap Bender marries in Stargorod.
The city’s name and the name Starov come from staryi (old). Baron Klim
Avidov is an anagram of Vladimir Nabokov. Walter C. Keyway, Esq. (the
unfortunate English tourist who was catapulted by Avidov) believed that
Avidov’s real name was Davidov. Ingres was a pupil of Jacques-Louis David
(the author of “The Death of Marat”). On Antiterra Jean-Paul Marat is
blended Tolstoy’s Haji Murad and with General Murat (Napoleon’s

He [Van] struggled to keep back his tears, while AAA blew his fat red nose,
when shown the peasant-bare footprint of Tolstoy preserved in the clay of a
motor court in Utah where he had written the tale of Murat, the Navajo
chieftain, a French general’s bastard, shot by Cora Day in his swimming
pool. What a soprano Cora had been! (1.28)

In his “Memoirs” (1953) Prince Felix Yusupov (Rasputin’s murderer whom a
French friend nicknamed Charlotte Corday) says that he performed in a
variety show dressed a girl and singing songs in a soprano voice. According
to Yusupov (a descendant of Mohammad’s brother-in-law Ali), dazhe v bredu
(even in a delirium) he could not have imagined such a thing as his
canonization (by a member of the sect that worships Ali). Even in a delirium
Vadim could not have imagined that his wives were his sisters.

Yusupov’s full name was Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov Count
Sumarokov-Elston. In “The Twelve Chairs” Persitski suggests that the poet
Nikifor Lyapis-Trubetskoy (“Lapsus”) should change his pseudonym to
Nikifor Sumarokov-Elston and mentions bred (a piece of rubbish):

Да, кстати. Ляпсус, почему вы Трубецкой? По
чему вам не взять псевдоним ещё получше? Н
апример, Долгорукий! Никифор Долгорукий!
Или Никифор Валуа? Или ещё лучше: граждани
н Никифор Сумароков-Эльстон? Если у вас сл
учится хорошая кормушка, сразу три стишка
в ?Гермуму?, то выход из положения у вас бл
естящий. Один бред подписывается Сумарок
овым, другая макулатура ― Эльстоном, а тре
тья ― Юсуповым… Эх вы, халтурщик!..

“Anyway, why are you called Trubetskoy? Why don't you choose an even better
name? Nikifor Dolgoruki. Or Nikifor Valois. Or, still better, Citizen
Nikifor Sumarokov-Elston. If ever you manage to get some easy job, then you
can write three lines for Gerasim right away and you have a marvelous way to
save yourself. One piece of rubbish is signed Sumarokov, the second Elston,
and the third Yusupov. God, you hack!" (Chapter XXIX “The Author of the

Alexey Sklyarenko

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