Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027718, Thu, 19 Apr 2018 18:06:26 +0300

Chose, Michaelmas term, Mascodagama & Lord Byron's Hock in Ada
As he speaks to Van, Demon Veen (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Van’s and Ada’s father) mentions Chose (Van’s and Demon’s English University) and the Michaelmas term:

‘Your new car sounds wonderful,’ said Van.

‘Doesn’t it? Yes.’ (Ask Van about that gornishon — Franco-Russian slang of the meanest grade for a cute kameristochka). ‘And how is everything, my dear boy? I saw you last the day you returned from Chose. We waste life in separations! We are the fools of fate! Oh let’s spend a month together in Paris or London before the Michaelmas term!’ (1.38)

The first academic term of the academic year in English Universities, the Michaelmas term runs from September or October to Christmas. Its name comes from the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, which falls on 29 September. In a letter of the second half of November, 1825, to Vyazemski Pushkin complains that he cannot study in Mikhaylovskoe* (the estate of Pushkin’s mother in the province of Pskov where the poet lived in exile) and that, like André Chénier (a poet who was guillotined near the end of the Reign of Terror), he could strike his head and say: il у avait quelque chose là… (yet I did have something here…):

<http://rvb.ru/pushkin/02comm/1357_174.htm#c4> Твоя статья о «Аббатстве» Байрона? Что за чудо «Дон Жуан»! я знаю только пять первых песен; прочитав первые две, я сказал тотчас <http://rvb.ru/pushkin/02comm/1357_174.htm#c5> Раевскому, что это chef-d’oeuvre Байрона, и очень обрадовался, после увидя, что Walter Scott моего мнения. Мне нужен английский язык — и вот одна из невыгод моей ссылки: не имею способов учиться, пока пора. Грех гонителям моим! И я, как А. Шенье, могу ударить себя в голову и сказать: Il у avait quelque chose là... извини эту поэтическую похвальбу и прозаическую хандру. Мочи нет сердит: не выспался и не <……..>.

According to Pushkin, after reading the first two Cantos of Don Juan he told Raevski that it was Byron’s chef-d’oeuvre and later was very pleased to learn that Walter Scott shared his opinion. Demon Veen prefers Walter Scott to Dickens:

‘I don’t know if you know,’ said Van, resuming his perch on the fat arm of his father’s chair. ‘Uncle Dan will be here with the lawyer and Lucette only after dinner.’

‘Capital,’ said Demon.

‘Marina and Ada should be down in a minute — ce sera un dîner à quatre.’

‘Capital,’ he repeated. ‘You look splendid, my dear, dear fellow — and I don’t have to exaggerate compliments as some do in regard to an aging man with shoe-shined hair. Your dinner jacket is very nice — or, rather it’s very nice recognizing one’s old tailor in one’s son’s clothes — like catching oneself repeating an ancestral mannerism — for example, this (wagging his left forefinger three times at the height of his temple), which my mother did in casual, pacific denial; that gene missed you, but I’ve seen it in my hairdresser’s looking-glass when refusing to have him put Crêmlin on my bald spot; and you know who had it too — my aunt Kitty, who married the Banker Bolenski after divorcing that dreadful old wencher Lyovka Tolstoy, the writer.’

Demon preferred Walter Scott to Dickens, and did not think highly of Russian novelists. As usual, Van considered it fit to make a corrective comment:

‘A fantastically artistic writer, Dad.’

You are a fantastically charming boy,’ said Demon, shedding another sweet-water tear. He pressed to his cheek Van’s strong shapely hand. Van kissed his father’s hairy fist which was already holding a not yet visible glass of liquor. Despite the manly impact of their Irishness, all Veens who had Russian blood revealed much tenderness in ritual overflows of affection while remaining somewhat inept in its verbal expression.

‘I say,’ exclaimed Demon, ‘what’s happened — your shaftment is that of a carpenter’s. Show me your other hand. Good gracious’ (muttering:) ‘Hump of Venus disfigured, Line of Life scarred but monstrously long…’ (switching to a gipsy chant:) ‘You’ll live to reach Terra, and come back a wiser and merrier man’ (reverting to his ordinary voice:) ‘What puzzles me as a palmist is the strange condition of the Sister of your Life. And the roughness!’

‘Mascodagama,’ whispered Van, raising his eyebrows.

‘Ah, of course, how blunt (dumb) of me. Now tell me — you like Ardis Hall?’ (1.38)

At Chose Van begins to perform in variety shows dancing on his hands as Mascodagama (Van’s stage name). In a letter of June 24-25, 1824, to Vyazemski Pushkin says that Byron was created navyvorot (topsy-turvy):

Гений Байрона бледнел с его молодостию. В своих трагедиях, не выключая и Каина, он уже не тот пламенный демон, который создал «Гяура» и «Чильд-Гарольда». Первые две песни «Дон Жуана» выше следующих. Его поэзия видимо изменялась. Он весь создан был навыворот; постепенности в нём не было, он вдруг созрел и возмужал — пропел и замолчал; и первые звуки его уже ему не возвратились — после 4-ой песни Child Harold Байрона мы не слыхали, а писал какой-то другой поэт с высоким человеческим талантом.

Byron’s genius paled with his youth. In his tragedies, not excluding Cain, he is not that fiery demon anymore who composed The Giaour and The Childe Harold. The first two Cantos of Don Juan are better than the others. His poetry changed visibly. He was created completely topsy-turvy; there was no gradualness in him, he suddenly matured and attained manhood, sang his song, and fell silent; and his first sounds did not return to him.”

Van’s stage name blends maska (Russ., mask) with Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India. Maska (1884) is a story by Chekhov. In his memoir essay O Chekhove (“On Chekhov”) included in his book Na kladbishchakh (“At Cemeteries,” 1921) Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko quotes the words of Chekhov who said that he was not Vasco da Gama or Stanley and would not go to Africa (as recommended to him by doctors):

-- А то ещё куда меня гонят? В Африку. Что я Васко да Гама, что ли? Ведь это, слушайте же, в опере хорошо... Ни за что не поеду. Тоже нашли Стенли. Пусть Василий Иванович едет. Его мамка в детстве ушибла. Ему чем дальше, тем лучше... А я ни за что. Мало я черномази видал! Даже если мне ещё тарелку гречневой каши дадут, не поеду!

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 says that the works of modern writers lack the alcohol that would intoxicate the reader:

Вас нетрудно понять, и Вы напрасно браните себя за то, что неясно выражаетесь. Вы горький пьяница, а я угостил Вас сладким лимонадом, и Вы, отдавая должное лимонаду, справедливо замечаете, что в нем нет спирта. В наших произведениях нет именно алкоголя, который бы пьянил и порабощал, и это Вы хорошо даете понять. Отчего нет? Оставляя в стороне «Палату № 6» и меня самого, будем говорить вообще, ибо это интересней. Будем говорить об общих причинах, коли Вам не скучно, и давайте захватим целую эпоху. Скажите по совести, кто из моих сверстников, т. е. людей в возрасте 30—45 лет дал миру хотя одну каплю алкоголя? Разве Короленко, Надсон и все нынешние драматурги не лимонад? Разве картины Репина или Шишкина кружили Вам голову? <http://feb-web.ru/feb/chekhov/texts/sp0/pi5/pi5-353-.htm#Примечания.1892.1239.Мило_талантливо_> Мило, талантливо, Вы восхищаетесь и в то же время никак не можете забыть, что Вам хочется курить. Наука и техника переживают теперь великое время, для нашего же брата это время рыхлое, кислое, скучное, сами мы кислы и скучны, <http://feb-web.ru/feb/chekhov/texts/sp0/pi5/pi5-353-.htm#Примечания.1892.1239._умеем_рождать_только_гуттаперчевых> умеем рождать только гуттаперчевых мальчиков, и не видит этого только Стасов, которому природа дала редкую способность пьянеть даже от помоев. Причины тут не в глупости нашей, не в бездарности и не в наглости, как думает Буренин, а в болезни, которая для художника хуже сифилиса и полового истощения. 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.

It is easy to understand you, and there is no need for you to abuse yourself for obscurity of expression. You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productions — the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside “Ward No. 6” and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting. Let ms discuss the general causes, if that won’t bore you, and let us include the whole age. Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries — that is, men between thirty and forty-five — have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade? Have Repin’s or Shishkin’s pictures turned your head? Charming, talented, you are enthusiastic; but at the same time you can’t forget that you want to smoke. Science and technical knowledge are passing through a great period now, but for our sort it is a flabby, stale, and dull time. We are stale and dull ourselves, we can only beget gutta-percha boys, [Footnote: An allusion to Grigorovitch’s well-known story.] and the only person who does not see that is Stassov, to whom nature has given a rare faculty for getting drunk on slops. The causes of this are not to be found in our stupidity, our lack of talent, or our insolence, as Burenin imagines, but in a disease which for the artist is worse than syphilis or sexual exhaustion. 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 the “Fragments of Onegin’s Journey” ([XVII]: 13-14) Pushkin confesses that he has admixed a lot of water unto his poetic goblet:

Какие б чувства ни таились
Тогда во мне — теперь их нет:
Они прошли иль изменились...
Мир вам, тревоги прошлых лет!
В ту пору мне казались нужны
Пустыни, волн края жемчужны,
И моря шум, и груды скал,
И гордой девы идеал,
И безыменные страданья...
Другие дни, другие сны;
Смирились вы, моей весны
Высокопарные мечтанья,
И в поэтический бокал
Воды я много подмешал.

Whatever feelings then lay hidden

within me — now they are no more:

they went or changed....

Peace unto you, turmoils of former years!

To me seemed needful at the time

deserts, the pearly rims of waves,

and the sea's rote, and piles of rocks,

and the ideal of “proud maid,”

and nameless pangs.

Other days, other dreams;

you have become subdued,

my springtime's high-flung fancies,

and unto my poetic goblet

I have admixed a lot of water.

Demon asks Van if he wants some alcohol before the dinner:

‘Van…,’ began Demon, but stopped — as he had begun and stopped a number of times before in the course of the last years. Some day it would have to be said, but this was not the right moment. He inserted his monocle and examined the bottles: ‘By the way, son, do you crave any of these aperitifs? My father allowed me Lilletovka and that Illinois Brat — awful bilge, antranou svadi, as Marina would say. I suspect your uncle has a cache behind the solanders in his study and keeps there a finer whisky than this usque ad Russkum. Well, let us have the cognac, as planned, unless you are a filius aquae?’

(No pun intended, but one gets carried away and goofs.)

‘Oh, I prefer claret. I’ll concentrate (nalyagu) on the Latour later on. No, I’m certainly no T-totaler, and besides the Ardis tap water is not recommended!’

‘I must warn Marina,’ said Demon after a gum-rinse and a slow swallow, ‘that her husband should stop swilling tittery, and stick to French and Califrench wines — after that little stroke he had. I met him in town recently, near Mad Avenue, saw him walking toward me quite normally, but then as he caught sight of me, a block away, the clockwork began slowing down and he stopped — oh, helplessly! — before he reached me. That’s hardly normal. Okay. Let our sweethearts never meet, as we used to say, up at Chose. Only Yukonians think cognac is bad for the liver, because they have nothing but vodka. Well, I’m glad you get along so well with Ada. That’s fine. A moment ago, in that gallery, I ran into a remarkably pretty soubrette. She never once raised her lashes and answered in French when I — Please, my boy, move that screen a little, that’s right, the stab of a sunset, especially from under a thunderhead, is not for my poor eyes. Or poor ventricles. Do you like the type, Van — the bowed little head, the bare neck, the high heels, the trot, the wiggle, you do, don’t you?’

‘Well, sir —’

(Tell him I’m the youngest Venutian? Does he belong, too? Show the sign? Better not. Invent.)

‘— Well, I’m resting after my torrid affair, in London, with my tango-partner whom you saw me dance with when you flew over for that last show — remember?’

‘Indeed, I do. Curious, you calling it that.’

‘I think, sir, you’ve had enough brandy.’ (1.38)

At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon drinks Lord Byron’s Hock:

‘Tell me, Bouteillan,’ asked Marina, ‘what other good white wine do we have — what can you recommend?’ The butler smiled and whispered a fabulous name.

‘Yes, oh, yes,’ said Demon. ‘Ah, my dear, you should not think up dinners all by yourself. Now about rowing — you mentioned rowing… Do you know that moi, qui vous parle, was a Rowing Blue in 1858? Van prefers football, but he’s only a College Blue, aren’t you Van? I’m also better than he at tennis — not lawn tennis, of course, a game for parsons, but "court tennis" as they say in Manhattan. What else, Van?’

‘You still beat me at fencing, but I’m the better shot. That’s not real sudak, papa, though it’s tops, I assure you.’

(Marina, having failed to obtain the European product in time for the dinner, had chosen the nearest thing, wall-eyed pike, or ‘dory,’ with Tartar sauce and boiled young potatoes.)

‘Ah!’ said Demon, tasting Lord Byron’s Hock. ‘This redeems Our Lady’s Tears.’

‘I was telling Van a moment ago,’ he continued, raising his voice (he labored under the delusion that Marina had grown rather deaf), ‘about your husband. My dear, he overdoes the juniper vodka stuff, he’s getting, in fact, a mite fuzzy and odd. The other day I chanced to walk through Pat Lane on the Fourth Avenue side, and there he was coming, at quite a spin, in his horrid town car, that primordial petrol two-seater he’s got, with the tiller. Well, he saw me, from quite a distance, and waved, and the whole contraption began to shake down, and finally stopped half a block away, and there he sat trying to budge it with little jerks of his haunches, you know, like a child who can’t get his tricycle unstuck, and as I walked up to him I had the definite impression that it was his mechanism that had stalled, not the Hardpan’s.’ But what Demon, in the goodness of his crooked heart, omitted to tell Marina was that the imbecile, in secret from his art adviser, Mr Aix, had acquired for a few thousand dollars from a gaming friend of Demon’s, and with Demon’s blessings, a couple of fake Correggios — only to resell them by some unforgivable fluke to an equally imbecile collector, for half a million which Demon considered henceforth as a loan his cousin should certainly refund him if sanity counted for something on this gemel planet. And, conversely, Marina refrained from telling Demon about the young hospital nurse Dan had been monkeying with ever since his last illness (it was, by the way, she, busybody Bess, whom Dan had asked on a memorable occasion to help him get ‘something nice for a half-Russian child interested in biology’). (ibid.)

“A couple of fake Correggios” brings to mind a fake Guercino (mentioned by the painter Jakobi in Nemirovich’s memoir essay on Chekhov) that the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna acquired for her Florentine palazzo on the Palace Embankment in St. Petersbug:

Мария Павловна в Академии -- она ещё не была президентом этой художественной Сахары:

-- Это, разумеется, этюды Рафаэля? Я видела их в немецком журнале "Die Kunst"

-- Так точно! -- угодливо забегает вперёд художник -- из желающих попасть под августейший взгляд.

Я было заикнулся: "Это Иванова!" -- как на меня со всех сторон угрожающие персты. А елейный (голова на бок и в глазах всеподданнейшая преданность) москвич шипит мне на ухо: "Разве великая княгиня может ошибаться?"

-- А это, узнаю, -- разумеется, Константин Маковский.

Тут уж и такой царедворец, как "тогдашний", Якоби не выдержал.

-- Ваше высочество, это моё!

-- Неужели... А ведь совсем Маковский!

-- Да... Да... Удивительное сходство в письме и в колорите! -- восторженно заговорили вокруг алкавшие и жаждавшие высочайшей милости.

За то эта августейшая невежда торговалась, как маклак, при жизни ее супруга, когда хотела купить что-нибудь нравившееся ей лично. Если автор не уступал, секретарь Академии и прочие придворные льстецы и прихлебатели -- ему намекали: "Отдайте, мы вас компенсируем из других источников".

И отдавал.

Один из ловких малых все-таки поднадул её.

Продал ей какого-то Малафеева за Гверчино. Висит ли эта голова Христа до сих пор во Флорентийском палаццо на Дворцовой набережной, или её убрали?

*Mikhail, or Mikhaylo, is the Russian counterpart of Michael

Alexey Sklyarenko

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