Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027671, Thu, 15 Feb 2018 23:29:40 +0300

you & I,
Tornikovski & Kalikakov in LATH; Four Sisters & mestechko in Ada
In VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) Vadim calls his last love “You” and refers to himself as “I” (according to an old rule mentioned by Vadim, “the I of the book cannot die in the book,” 7.1). Ty i ya (“You and I,” 1820) is a poem by Pushkin. In the poem’s last lines Pushkin mentions kolenkor (calico with which the tsar Alexander I wipes up his fat Afedron) and Khvostov’s tough ode (with which the poet wipes, wincing, his sinful hole):

Окружён рабов толпой,
С грозным деспотизма взором,
Афедрон ты жирный свой
Подтираешь коленкором;
Я же грешную дыру
Не балую детской модой
И Хвостова жёсткой одой,

Хоть и морщуся, да тру.

Surrounded by a crowd of slaves,

With a formidable look of despotism,

You wipe up with calico

Your fat Afedron.

As to me, with children’s fashion

I don’t pamper my sinful hole

and wipe it, wincing,

with Khvostov’s tough ode.

Calico brings to mind Kalikakov (a comedy name: from kal, “excrement,” and kakat’, “to defecate”), a Soviet spy mentioned by Vadim:

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)

The name Khvostov comes from khvost (tail). In his poem Skazka dlya detey (“Fairy Tale for Children,” 1841) Lermontov says that he courageously catches his verse za khvost (by its tail):

Стихов я не читаю — но люблю
Марать шутя бумаги лист летучий;
Свой стих за хвост отважно я ловлю;
Я без ума от тройственных созвучий
И влажных рифм — как например на Ю.
Вот почему пишу я эту сказку.
Её волшебно-тёмную завязку
Не стану я подробно объяснять,
Чтоб кой-каких допросов избежать,
Зато конец не будет без морали,
Чтобы её хоть дети прочитали. (2)

According to Lermontov, he is bez uma ot troystvennykh sozvuchiy i vlazhnykh rifm – kak naprimer na Yu (crazy about triple accords and moist rhymes – as for example on Yu). The penultimate letter of the Russian alphabet, Ю (Yu) is pronounced rather like “you.” The alphabet’s last letter, Я (Ya), is also the first person pronoun (that corresponds to English I).

In Pushkin’s poem “You and I” you is the tsar Alexander I. In the last line of his poem K byustu zavoevatelya (“To the Bust of a Conqueror,” 1829) Pushkin says that Alexander I was v litse i v zhizni arlekin (an harlequin in face and in life):

Напрасно видишь тут ошибку:

Рука искусства навела

На мрамор этих уст улыбку,

А гнев на хладный лоск чела.

Недаром лик сей двуязычен.

Таков и был сей властелин:

К противочувствиям привычен,

В лице и в жизни арлекин.

It's wrong to see a clumsy style

The hand of art has truly wrought

Both marble lips that seem to smile

And brows that frown in angry thought.

This two-faced look he never shed,

For so he was, this potentate:

On inner conflicts he was fed,

A harlequin in face and fate.

In his poem Pushkin describes Thorvaldsen’s “Bust of Alexander I” (1820). The sculptor’s name brings to mind Tornikovski, a Soviet spy who used a blue-flowering ash for his correspondence with Kalikakov. Yasen’. Videnie dreva (“The Ash. Vision of a Tree,” 1916) is a collection of poetry by Balmont. It includes a poem entitled Zverinoe chislo (“The Number of the Beast”). In his poem Zasnula chern’. Ziyaet ploshchad’ arkoy… (“The mob fell asleep. The square gapes with the arch…” 1913) Mandelshtam mentions Arlekin (the Harlequin, presumably, the tsar Paul I) and Alexander I who was tormented by the Beast:

Заснула чернь. Зияет площадь аркой.
Луной облита бронзовая дверь.
Здесь Арлекин вздыхал о славе яркой,
И Александра здесь замучил зверь.

Курантов бой и тени государей:
Россия, ты — на камне и крови —
Участвовать в твоей железной каре
Хоть тяжестью меня благослови!

The mob fell asleep. The square gapes with the arch.

The bronze door is spilled by the moon.

Here the Harlequin dreamt of bright fame

And Alexander was tormented by the Beast.

The chiming clock and the shades of sovereigns:

Russia, on your stone and blood,

Bless me with your heaviness

To participate in your iron punishment.

Balmont’s Sonety solntsa, myoda i luny (“The Sonnets of Sun, Honey and Moon,” 1921) include a cycle of four sonnets entitled “Lermontov.” In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901) Solyony (who kills Baron Tuzenbakh in a pistol duel) imagines that he resembles Lermontov. On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which VN’s novel Ada, 1969, is set) Chekhov’s play is known as Four Sisters (2.1, et passim). Chekhov (who was born in Taganrog, a city where Alexander I died in 1825) died in 1904 at the age of forty-four. The first of Vadim’s three or four successive wives, Iris Black writes a detective novel and shows to Vadim a typewritten sheet numbered 444:

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)

During the family dinner at Ardis Marina (in Ada Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) asks Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) if his room number at the hotel is not 222 by any chance:

‘I had hoped you’d sleep here,’ said Marina (not really caring one way or another). ‘What is your room number at the hotel — not 222 by any chance?’

She liked romantic coincidences. Demon consulted the tag on his key: 221 — which was good enough, fatidically and anecdotically speaking. Naughty Ada, of course, stole a glance at Van, who tensed up the wings of his nose in a grimace that mimicked the slant of Pedro’s narrow, beautiful nostrils. (1.38)

444 + 222 = 666 (the number of the Beast).

Iris wants to incorporate in her novel a real letter that she received from her lover (who later kills her). The name of Iris’ lover and murderer, Wladimir Blagidze, alias Starov, has a Caucasian origin. In the first sonnet of his cycle “Lermontov” Balmont says that it is not by chance that Lermontov died in the Caucasus:

Опальный ангел, с небом разлучённый,
Узывный демон, разлюбивший ад,
Ветров и бурь бездомных странный брат,
Душой внимавший песне звёзд всезвонной, —

На празднике как призрак похоронный,
В затишьи дней тревожащий набат,
Нет, не случайно он среди громад
Кавказских — миг узнал смертельно-сонный.

Где мог он так красиво умереть,
Как не в горах, где небо в час заката —
Расплавленное золото и медь, —

Где ключ, пробившись, должен звонко петь,
Но также должен в плаче пасть со ската,
Чтоб гневно в узкой пропасти греметь.

Balmont calls Lermontov vetrov i bur’ bezdomnykh strannyi brat (a strange brother of homeless winds and storms). Vadim’s daughter Bel (whose name brings to mind Lermontov’s Bela) marries Charlie Everett who changes his name to Karl Vetrov and 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)

Ex-ci-devant (1920) is a poem by Marina Tsvetaev (the wife of a double agent who in the late 1930s returned to Russia where she perished). In the opening line of the above quoted sonnet Balmont calls Lermontov opal’nyi angel, s nebom razluchyonnyi (a disgraced angel, separated from heaven). Vadim calls his assistant at Quirn University, Excul, “angelic Ex:”

Peppermill was to bring her [Vadim’s daughter Bel] on May 21, around four P.M. I had to fill somehow the abyss of the afternoon. Angelic Ex had already read and marked the entire batch of exams, but he thought I might want to see some of the works he had reluctantly failed. He had dropped in some time on the eve and had left them downstairs on the round table in the round room next to the hallway at the west end of the house. My poor hands ached and trembled so dreadfully that I could hardly leaf through those poor cahiers. The round window gave on the driveway. It was a warm gray day. Sir! I need a passing mark desperately. Ulysses was written in Zurich and Greece and therefore consists of too many foreign words. One of the characters in Tolstoy's Death of Ivan is the notorious actress Sarah Bernard. Stern's style is very sentimental and illiterative. A car door banged. Mr. Peppermill came with a duffel bag in the wake of a tall fair-haired girl in blue jeans carrying, and slowing down, to change from hand to hand, an unwieldy valise. (4.2)

Excul = Ex + cul (Fr., ass). “The notorious actress Sarah Bernard” (who does not appear but is mentioned in The Death of Ivan Ilyich) brings to mind a hilltop above San Bernardino where a blue-flowering ash (used by Tornikovski and Kalikakov for their correspondence) still stands.

In his memoir essay Mladenchestvo (“Infancy,” 1933) Hodasevich mentions “one contemporary poetess” (Marina Tsveatev) who considers Lermontov’s “Cossack Lullaby Song” her first poem:

Гораздо труднее мне было бы защитить другое стихотворение, сохранившееся в моей памяти. Оно было навеяно вербным торгом, который в то время устраивался на Театральной площади и лишь несколько позже был перенесен на Красную:

Весна! выставляется первая рама -
И в комнату шум ворвался,
И благовест ближнего храма,
И говор народа, и стук колеса.

На площади тесно ужасно,
И много шаров продают,
И ездиют мимо жандармы,
И вербы домой все несут.

Недостатки второй строфы очевидны. Первую же, как уже заметил читатель, я взял у Майкова - не потому, что хотел украсть, а потому, что мне казалось вполне естественным воспользоваться готовым отрывком, как нельзя лучше выражающим именно мои впечатления. Майковское четверостишие было мной пережито как моё собственное. В этом нет ничего удивительного. Одна современная поэтесса по той же самой причине первым своим стихотворением считает "Казачью колыбельную песню" Лермонтова.

Hodasevich quotes his own poem composed in childhood. Its first quatrain was borrowed in full from Apollon Maykov, the author of Arlekin (“The Harlequin,” 1854).

Tornikovski and Kalikakov are “diplomats.” In his memoir essay “Infancy” Hodasevich describes his walks with nurse and mentions the women v tolstykh “diplomatakh” (in heavy top coats?) who asked his nurse if she heard about some mestechko (job):

К няне моей то и дело подходили какие-то женщины в толстых "дипломатах" и непременно - с толстым клетчатым или серым платком на руке. Подсаживаясь, они каким-то льстивым и таинственным голосом говорили:

- Миленькая, не слыхали ли местечка?

Это "местечко" казалось мне чем-то таинственным, чем-то вроде сердечка: оно где-то бьётся часто и мелко, как часики, иногда его, вероятно, можно расслышать, но как и где, и почему именно няня могла его слышать, и зачем оно нужно всем этим женщинам?

In Ada Van Veen (the narrator and main character who was wounded in a pistol duel with Captain Tapper) uses the word mestechko in the sense “WC:”

‘How’s the wound?’

‘Komsi-komsa. It now appears that the Kalugano surgeon messed up his job. The rip seam has grown red and raw, without any reason, and there’s a lump in my armpit. I’m in for another spell of surgery — this time in London, where butchers carve so much better. Where’s the mestechko here? Oh, I see it. Cute (a gentian painted on one door, a lady fern on the other: have to go to the herbarium).’

In his essay on Bryusov (in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers”) the critic Yuli Ayhenvald says that to live flowers Bryusov prefers herbarium:

И, однако, при этом зове к иссушению жизни, при этом предпочтении гербария цветам, Брюсов думает, что

Быть может, все в жизни — лишь средство
Для ярко-певучих стихов.

Но ведь родник певучести — непосредственность, и если нет последней, то не будет и первой; жизнь не претворится в стихи.

Van and Ada discover that they are brother and sister thanks to Marina’s old herbarium that they find in the attic of Ardis Hall (1.1).

In his memoir essay “Bryusov” (1925) Hodasevich quotes the verses composed by Sergey Krechetov:

Пока фельетонисты писали статьи об обращении "эстета" Брюсова к "общественности", - Брюсов на чердаке своего дома учился стрелять из револьвера, "на случай, если забастовщики придут грабить". В редакции "Скорпиона" происходили беседы, о которых Сергей Кречетов сложил не слишком блестящие, но меткие стишки:

Собирались они по вторникам,

Мудро глаголя.

Затевали погромы с дворником

Из Метрополя.

Так трогательно по вторникам,

В согласии вкусов,

Сочетался со старшим дворником

Валерий Брюсов.

A phrase repeated by the epigram’s author twice, po vtornikam (on Tuesdays) rhymes with s dvornikom (with the yardman) and brings to mind Tornikovski.

In his memoir essay “Infancy” Hodasevich mentions Andrey Bely who in his poem Pervoe Svidanie (“The First Rendezvous,” 1921) rhymes antrasha (entrechat) with professorsha (a lady Professor):

Мне было лет шесть, когда сочинил я первое двустишие, выражавшее самую сущность тогдашних моих чувств:

Кого я больше всех люблю?
Ведь всякий знает - Женичку.

Не следует думать, что это двустишие вовсе лишено рифмы. В основу рифмоида "люблю - Женичку" положено очень верное чувство рифмы и ритма. В книжной поэзии я помню только один случай такой рифмовки дактилического окончания с мужским: "антраша" и "профессорша" у Андрея Белого в "Первом свидании".

Vadim calls Dr. Olga Repnin “my novel about the professorsha:”

Her husband sat in a deep armchair, reading a London weekly bought at the Shopping Center. He had not bothered to take off his horrible black raincoat--a voluminous robe of oilskin that conjured up the image of a stagecoach driver in a lashing storm. He now removed however his formidable spectacles. He cleared his throat with a characteristic rumble. His purple jowls wobbled as he tackled the ordeal of rational speech:

GERRY Do you ever see this paper, Vadim (accenting "Vadim" incorrectly on the first syllable)? Mister (naming a particularly lively criticule) has demolished your Olga (my novel about the professorsha; it had come out only now in the British edition).

VADIM May I give you a drink? We'll toast him and roast him.

GERRY Yet he's right, you know. It is your worst book. Chute complète, says the man. Knows French, too.

LOUISE No drinks. We've got to rush home. Now heave out of that chair. Try again. Take your glasses and paper. There. Au revoir, Vadim. I'll bring you those pills tomorrow morning after I drive him to school. (4.1)

Vadim’s novel Dr. Olga Repnin (1946) was preceded by Esmeralda and her Parandrus (1941). In “Infancy” Hodasevich describes his early passion for ballet and mentions Korovin’s Esmeralda (a ballet based on Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris):

В годы раннего моего балетоманства обстановочная часть находилась в руках "машиниста и декоратора" Вальца. Впоследствии к ней привлекли настоящих художников. С появлением Клодта и в особенности К. А. Коровина декорации и костюмы, разумеется, много выиграли в отношении художественном. Коровинская "Эсмеральда" была событием. Но должен признаться, что о пресечении вальцевской традиции мне порою хотелось вздохнуть. Постановки Вальца были отчасти безвкусны, но в них было столько таланта и волшебства, в самом их безвкусии было столько прелести, а в их наивном натурализме столько нечаянной и прелестной условности, что их всё-таки нельзя не назвать очаровательными. В 1921 году, в Петербурге, случилось мне видеть "Раймонду", поставленную в выцветших, "дореформенных" декорациях того же стиля, - это было необыкновенно хорошо.

In Ada Marina’s lover Pedro (whose name seems to hint at the tsar Peter I) is a ballet dancer. The characters in VN’s novel Kamera obskura (“Laughter in the Dark,” 1934) include von Korovin (a guest at the party given by Kretschmar). Valts (the decorator) and sobytie (the event) mentioned by Hodasevich bring to mind VN’s plays Sobytie (“The Event,” 1938) and Izobretenie Val’sa (“The Waltz Invention,” 1938).

The name Kalikakov also brings to mind kalos k’agathos (beautiful and good), an epithet mentioned by K. N. Vasiliev-Bugaev (Andrey Bely’s widow) in her memoirs about her husband:

У Б. Н. был жизненный идеал человека, заветный и тайно хранимый. Он открыл его мне не сразу, а только после нескольких лет близости, в одну из тихих интимных минут; и назвал его греческим словом kalos k'agathos (kalos kai agathos) – прекрасный и добрый или kalokagathos – прекрасно-добрый (благой), в одно слово, как оно звучало для греков.

Этот утерянный ныне эпитет показывает, что они умели ещё не отделять красоту от добра и воспринимать их синтетически, одновременно, как внешнюю и внутреннюю сторону явлений.

Andrey Bely is the author of Peterburg (1913). In Part Five of LATH Vadim describes his visit to Leningrad (St. Petersburg’s name in 1924-91) in the late nineteen-sixties.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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