Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027001, Mon, 16 May 2016 16:04:30 +0300

Dr Fitzbishop, Philip Rack & Elsie de Nord in Ada
According to Dr Fitzbishop, Philip Rack (Lucette’s teacher of music) was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie:

The poor guy had always had a bad liver and a very indifferent heart, but on top of that a poison had seeped into his system; the local 'lab' could not identify it and they were now waiting for a report, on those curiously frog-green faeces, from the Luga people. If Rack had administered it to himself by his own hand, he kept 'mum'; it was more likely the work of his wife who dabbled in Hindu-Andean voodoo stuff and had just had a complicated miscarriage in the maternity ward. Yes, triplets - how did he guess? (1.42).

The name of Rack’s wife brings to mind Elsie de Nord, a literary critic despised by Ada:

Arch and grandiloquent, Ada would be describing a dream, a natural history wonder, a special belletristic device - Paul Bourget's 'monologue intérieur' borrowed from old Leo - or some ludicrous blunder in the current column of Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine who thought that Lyovin went about Moscow in a nagol'nïy tulup, 'a muzhik's sheepskin coat, bare side out, bloom side in,' as defined in a dictionary our commentator produced like a conjurer, never to be procurable by Elsies. (1.10)

The critic’s name hints at Elsinore, the royal castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In his poem Ya – Gamlet. Kholodeet krov’… (“I’m Hamlet. My blood freezes…” 1914) Alexander Blok compares himself to Hamlet and his wife Lyubov’ Dmitrievna, to Ophelia:

Я — Гамлет. Холодеет кровь,
Когда плетёт коварство сети,
И в сердце — первая любовь
Жива — к единственной на свете.

Тебя, Офелию мою,
Увёл далёко жизни холод,
И гибну, принц, в родном краю,
Клинком отравленным заколот.

I’m Hamlet now. Freezes blood,

When the perfidy waves laces,

While love is first - and lives in heart

For her – the one in times and spaces.

Ophelia, my dear friend,

You got away by cold fierce,

And, Prince, I’m dying in my land,

With poisoned swords in fighting pierced.

(transl. E. Bonver)

In her memoir essay on Bryusov, Geroy truda (“The Hero of Toil,” 1925), Marina Tsvetaev (the author of several poems about Hamlet and Ophelia) calls Blok sploshnaya sovest’ (the utter conscience):

Страсть к славе. И это – Рим. Кто из уже названных – Бальмонт, Блок, Вячеслав, Сологуб – хотел славы? Бальмонт? Слишком влюблён в себя и мир. Блок? Эта сплошная совесть?

In Blok’s poem Neznakomka (Incognita, 1906) p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: in vino veriras (in wine is truth)! In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov complains that contemporary art - and literature in particular - lacks the alcohol that would intoxicate the reader and mentions the ghost of Hamlet's father:

You are a hard drinker [gor'kiy p'yanitsa], 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 us 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? ...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.

In a letter of Dec. 27, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov pairs Paul Bourget with Leo Tolstoy:

Когда я в одном из своих последних писем писал Вам о Бурже и Толстом, то меньше всего думал о прекрасных одалисках и о том, что писатель должен изображать одни только тихие радости. 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, причём видит свои исхудалые ляжки». Другие же, ещё не импотенты, не пресыщенные телом, но уж пресыщенные духом, изощряют свою фантазию до зелёных чёртиков и изобретают несуществующего полубога Сикста и «психологические» опыты.

...Германия не знает авторов вроде Бурже и Толстого, и в этом её счастье. В ней и наука, и патриотизм, и хорошие дипломаты, и всё, что хотите. Она побьёт Францию, и союзниками её будут французские авторы.

According to Chekhov, Germany is happy not to know authors like Bourget and Tolstoy. Philip Rack is a German.

Nord is an anagram of Dorn, the doctor in Chekhov's play Chayka (The Seagull, 1896). The play's characters include the ageing actress Arkadina, whose stage name comes from Arkadiy (a male given name) or from Arcady (any real or imaginary place offering peace and simplicity). "Old romances as arch as Arcady" are mentioned by Van:

The vague commonplaces of vague modesty so dreadfully in vogue eighty years ago, the unsufferable banalities of shy wooing buried in old romances as arch as Arcady, those moods, those modes, lurked no doubt behind the hush of his [Van's] ambuscades, and that of her [Ada's] toleration. (1.16)

According to Van, “nothing in world literature, save maybe Count Tolstoy's reminiscences, can vie in pure joyousness and Arcadian innocence with the 'Ardis' part of the book.” (5.6)

Tolstoy's semi-autobiographical Detstvo (Childhood, 1852) and Otrochestvo (Boyhood, 1854) are alluded to in the opening paragraph of VN's Family Chronicle:

'All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,' says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R. G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)

Anna's otchestvo (patronymic, not to be confused with otechestvo, "fatherland") is, of course, Arkadievna, and the English title of Tolstoy's novel is Anna Karenin (Darkbloom, 'Notes to Ada'). It was in the scene of Anna's suicide that Tolstoy used the inner monologue for the first time:

'The express does not stop at Torfyanka, does it, Trofim?'

'I'll take you five versts across the bog,' said Trofim, 'the nearest is Volosyanka.'

His vulgar Russian word for Maidenhair; a whistle stop; train probably crowded.

Maidenhair. Idiot! Percy boy might have been buried by now! Maidenhair. Thus named because of the huge spreading Chinese tree at the end of the platform. Once, vaguely, confused with the Venus'-hair fern. She walked to the end of the platform in Tolstoy's novel. First exponent of the inner monologue, later exploited by the French and the Irish. N'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert. L'arbre aux quarante écus d'or, at least in the fall. Never, never shall I hear again her 'botanical' voice fall at biloba, 'sorry, my Latin is showing.' Ginkgo, gingko, ink, inkog. Known also as Salisbury's adiantofolia, Ada's infolio, poor Salisburia: sunk; poor Stream of Consciousness, marée noire by now. Who wants Ardis Hall! (1.41)

Van recalls Ada’s revised version of King Lear’s monologue at the end of Shakespeare’s King Lear (Act Five, scene 3):

'She [Lucette] also knows my revised monologue of his mad king,' said Ada:

Ce beau jardin fleurit en mai,

Mais en hiver

Jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais

N'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert,

n'est vert.

'Oh, that's good,' exclaimed Greg with a veritable sob of admiration. (1.14)

The name of Colonel Erminin, the father of the twins Greg and Grace, is Arkadiy:

'How long will you be staying in Lute? No, Greg, I ordered it. You pay for the next bottle. Tell me -'

'So odd to recall! It was frenzy, it was fantasy, it was reality in the x degree. I'd have consented to be beheaded by a Tartar, I declare, if in exchange I could have kissed her instep. You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can't understand that obsession. Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil Rack, a composer of genius - dead, dead, all dead!'

'I really know very little about music but it was a great pleasure to make your chum howl. I have an appointment in a few minutes, alas. Za tvoyo zdorovie, Grigoriy Akimovich.'

'Arkadievich,' said Greg, who had let it pass once but now mechanically corrected Van.

'Ach yes! Stupid slip of the slovenly tongue. How is Arkadiy Grigorievich?'

'He died. He died just before your aunt. I thought the papers paid a very handsome tribute to her talent. And where is Adelaida Danilovna? Did she marry Christopher Vinelander or his brother?'

'In California or Arizona. Andrey's the name, I gather. Perhaps I'm mistaken. In fact, I never knew my cousin very well: I visited Ardis only twice, after all, for a few weeks each time, years ago.' (3.2)

According to Van, Greg’s father preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel:

Van was about to leave when a smartly uniformed chauffeur came up to inform' my lord' that his lady was parked at the corner of rue Saïgon and was summoning him to appear.

'Aha,' said Van, 'I see you are using your British title. Your father preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel.' (ibid.)

In “Ardis the Second” Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father who does not think highly of Russian novelists) tells Van that poor Lord Erminin “is practically insane:”

‘I am not particularly fond of Ardis, but I have nothing against it, though I detest its environs. Ladore Town has become very honky-tonky, and the gaming is not what it used to be. You have all sorts of rather odd neighbors. Poor Lord Erminin is practically insane. At the races, the other day, I was talking to a woman I preyed upon years ago, oh long before Moses de Vere cuckolded her husband in my absence and shot him dead in my presence - an epigram you've heard before, no doubt from these very lips -' (1.38)

The name Erminin hints at Erminia, the nickname of Eliza Khitrovo (Kutuzov's daughter who was hopelessly in love with Pushkin). In a letter of May 9, 1834, to O. S. Pavlishchev (Pushkin's sister) the poet's mother Nadezhda Osipovna mentions Erminia:

Александр очень занят по утрам, потом он идёт в Летний Сад где прогуливается со своею Эрминией.

Alexander is very busy in the mornings, then he goes to the Letniy Sad where he walks with his Erminia.(Veresaev, Pushkin in Life)

In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (One: III: 14) Monsieur l’Abbé (Onegin’s tutor) took the boy to the Letniy Sad for walks. In the last line of the preceding stanza of EO (One: II: 14) Pushkin says that North is harmful to him. In many languages (including German and Danish) Nord (cf. Elsie de Nord) means “North.”

Philip Rack is a composer. In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830) Salieri poisons Mozart.

The name Philip Rack seems to hint at the Spanish inquisition in the reign of Philip II (1556-98). On the other hand, in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest (1610-11) Prospero mentions a rack (group of drifting clouds):

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (Act Four, scene 1)

The characters of Shakespeare’s history play King John include Philip Faulconbridge (Philip the Bastard) and King Philip (King of France).

Russian for “rack” (instrument of torture) is dyba. In Voloshin’s poem Rossiya (“Russia,” 1924) the drunken tsar Peter I asks Streshnev, racked on dyba, if he (Peter) is Streshnev’s son:

Царь, пьяным делом, вздёрнувши на дыбу,

Допрашивает Стрешнева: «Скажи -

Твой сын я, али нет?». А Стрешнев с дыбы:

«А чёрт тя знает, чей ты... много нас

У матушки-царицы переспало...»

Streshnev replies from the dyba that he does not know who is Peter’s real father: “many of us have slept with mother tsarina.” According to Lucette, Rack is not the father of “driblets:”

'Who told you about that lewd cordelude - I mean, interlude?'

'Your father, mon cher - we saw a lot of him in the West. Ada supposed, at first, that Tapper was an invented name - that you fought your duel with another person - but that was before anybody heard of the other person's death in Kalugano. Demon said you should have simply cudgeled him.'

'I could not,' said Van, 'the rat was rotting away in a hospital bed.'

'I meant the real Tapper,' cried Lucette (who was making a complete mess of her visit), 'not my poor, betrayed, poisoned, innocent teacher of music, whom not even Ada, unless she fibs, could cure of his impotence.'

'Driblets,' said Van.

'Not necessarily his,' said Lucette. 'His wife's lover played the triple viol. Look, I'll borrow a book' (scanning on the nearest bookshelf The Gitanilla, Clichy Clichés, Mertvago Forever, The Ugly New Englander) 'and curl up, komondi, in the next room for a few minutes, while you - Oh, I adore The Slat Sign.' (2.5)

Plural of dyba occurs in the phrase na dyby (on to the hind legs). In Mednyi vsadnik (“The Bronze Horseman,” 1833), a poem known on Antiterra as Headless Horseman (1.28), Pushkin describes Falconet’s equestrian monument of Peter I and says that the tsar Rossiyu podnyal na dyby (has reared Russia):

О мощный властелин судьбы!
Не так ли ты над самой бездной
На высоте, уздой железной
Россию поднял на дыбы?

Oh, mighty sovereign of destiny!

Haven’t you similarly reared Russia

With an iron bridle on the eminence

Before the abyss ? (Part Two)

In our world The Headless Horseman (1866) is a novel by Captain Mayne Reid. Its main character is the mustanger Maurice Gerald.

Gerald + Fitzbishop = Fitzgerald + Bishop

Clare Bishop is a character in VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). F. Scott Fitzgerald is the author of Tender is the Night (1934), the novel whose title was taken from Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale (1820):

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

Already with thee! tender is the night,

And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;

But here there is no light,

Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

Van compares Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s sick husband whom she refused to leave) to Keats (the poet who died young of tuberculosis):

'Yes, the old story - the flute player whose impotence has to be treated, the reckless ensign who may never return from a distant war!'

'Ne ricane pas!' exclaimed Ada. 'The poor, poor little man! How dare you sneer?'

As had been peculiar to his nature even in the days of his youth, Van was apt to relieve a passion of anger and disappointment by means of bombastic and arcane utterances which hurt like a jagged fingernail caught in satin, the lining of Hell.

'Castle True, Castle Bright!' he now cried, 'Helen of Troy, Ada of Ardis! You have betrayed the Tree and the Moth!'

'Perestagne (stop, cesse)!'

'Ardis the First, Ardis the Second, Tanned Man in a Hat, and now Mount Russet -'

'Perestagne!' repeated Ada (like a fool dealing with an epileptic).

'Oh! Qui me rendra mon Hélène -'

'Ach, perestagne!'

'- et le phalène.'

'Je t'emplie ("prie" and "supplie"), stop, Van. Tu sais que j'en vais mourir.'

'But, but, but' - (slapping every time his forehead) - 'to be on the very brink of, of, of - and then have that idiot turn Keats!' (3.8)

Andrey Vinelander proposed to Ada in Valentine State (as Ada calls Arizona). In her letter to Van (brought to Kingston by Lucette) Ada makes several allusions to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and links herself to Ophelia:

'O dear Van, this is the last attempt I am making. You may call it a document in madness or the herb of repentance, but I wish to come and live with you, wherever you are, for ever and ever. If you scorn the maid at your window I will aerogram my immediate acceptance of a proposal of marriage that has been made to your poor Ada a month ago in Valentine State. He is an Arizonian Russian, decent and gentle, not overbright and not fashionable. The only thing we have in common is a keen interest in many military-looking desert plants especially various species of agave, hosts of the larvae of the most noble animals in America, the Giant Skippers (Krolik, you see, is burrowing again). He owns horses, and Cubistic pictures, and "oil wells" (whatever they are-our father in hell who has some too, does not tell me, getting away with off-color allusions as is his wont). I have told my patient Valentinian that I shall give him a definite answer after consulting the only man I have ever loved or shall ever love. Try to ring me up tonight. Something is very wrong with the Ladore line, but I am assured that the trouble will be grappled with and eliminated before rivertide. Tvoya, tvoya, tvoya (thine). A.'

In 1891 Van published his first novel, Letters from Terra, under the penname Voltemand. Valtemand is a courtier in Hamlet. Van’s novel was reviewed by the First Clown in Elsinore, a distinguished London weekly:

Statistically speaking no reviews could have been expected, given the unorthodox circumstances in which poor Terra's correspondence had been handled. Curiously enough, as many as two did appear. One, by the First Clown in Elsinore, a distinguished London weekly, popped up in a survey entitled, with a British journalist's fondness for this kind of phoney wordplay, 'Terre à terre, 1891,' and dealt with the year's 'Space Romances,' which by that time had begun to fine off. He sniffed Voltemand's contribution as the choicest of the lot, calling it (alas, with unerring flair) 'a sumptuously fripped up, trite, tedious and obscure fable, with a few absolutely marvelous metaphors marring the otherwise total ineptitude of the tale.' (2.2)

In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin (1875-77) Serpukhovskoy (Vronski’s married comrade-in-arms) tells Vronski that, while men make of love a big thing, women are always terre-à-terre:

— Ты никогда не любил, — тихо сказал Вронский, глядя пред собой и думая об Анне.

— Может быть. Но ты вспомни, что я сказал тебе. И ещё; женщины все материальнее мужчин. Мы делаем из любви что-то огромное, а они всегда terre-à-terre. (Part Three, chapter XXI)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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