Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027012, Mon, 23 May 2016 13:04:00 +0300

vue d'oiseau & Eric Veen in Ada
What we have now is not so much a Casanovanic situation (that double-wencher had a definitely monochromatic pencil - in keeping with the memoirs of his dingy era) as a much earlier canvas, of the Venetian (sensu largo) school, reproduced (in 'Forbidden Masterpieces') expertly enough to stand the scrutiny of a borders vue d'oiseau.

Thus seen from above, as if reflected in the ciel mirror that Eric had naively thought up in his Cyprian dreams (actually all is shadowy up there, for the blinds are still drawn, shutting out the gray morning), we have the large island of the bed illumined from our left (Lucette's right) by a lamp burning with a murmuring incandescence on the west-side bedtable. (2.8)

Eric Veen is the author of an essay entitled ‘Villa Venus: an Organized Dream.’ After Eric’s death his grandfather David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction, built one hundred memorial floramors (palatial brothels) all over the world. Van Veen became a member of the Villa Venus Club not long before his second summer with Ada in the arbors of Ardis (2.3).

According to Tomski, a character in Pushkin’s story Pikovaya dama (“The Queen of Spades,” 1833), sixty years ago his eighty-year-old grandmother (the old Countess) was known in Paris as la Vénus muscovite:

Надобно знать, что бабушка моя, лет шестьдесят тому назад, ездила в Париж и была там в большой моде. Народ бегал за нею, чтоб увидеть la Vénus moscovite; Ришелье за нею волочился, и бабушка уверяет, что он чуть было не застрелился от её жестокости.

About sixty years ago, my grandmother went to Paris, where she created quite a sensation. People used to run after her to catch a glimpse of the 'Muscovite Venus.' Richelieu courted her, and my grandmother maintains that he almost blew out his brains in consequence of her cruelty. (chapter I)

In his story about his grandmother Tomski mentions Casanova and his Memoirs:

С нею был коротко знаком человек очень замечательный. Вы слышали о графе Сен-Жермене, о котором рассказывают так много чудесного. Вы знаете, что он выдавал себя за вечного жида, за изобретателя жизненного эликсира и философского камня, и прочая. Над ним смеялись, как над шарлатаном, а Казанова в своих Записках говорит, что он был шпион…

She had shortly before become acquainted with a very remarkable man. You have heard of Count St. Germain, about whom so many marvellous stories are told. You know that he represented himself as the Wandering Jew, as the discoverer of the elixir of life, of the philosopher's stone, and so forth. Some laughed at him as a charlatan; and Casanova, in his Memoirs, says that he was a spy. (ibid.)

After the old Countess’ death Hermann (the main character in Pushkin’s story) imagines her long-dead lover whose hair was dressed à l'oiseau royal:

Он спустился вниз по витой лестнице и вошёл опять в спальню графини. Мёртвая старуха сидела окаменев; лицо её выражало глубокое спокойствие. Германн остановился перед нею, долго смотрел на неё, как бы желая удостовериться в ужасной истине; наконец вошёл в кабинет, ощупал за обоями дверь и стал сходить по тёмной лестнице, волнуемый странными чувствованиями. По этой самой лестнице, думал он, может быть, лет шестьдесят назад, в эту самую спальню, в такой же час, в шитом кафтане, причесанный à l’oiseau royal, прижимая к сердцу треугольную свою шляпу, прокрадывался молодой счастливец, давно уже истлевший в могиле, а сердце престарелой его любовницы сегодня перестало биться...

He descended the winding staircase, and once more entered the Countess's bedroom. The dead old lady sat as if petrified; her face expressed profound tranquillity. Hermann stopped before her, and gazed long and earnestly at her, as if he wished to convince himself of the terrible reality; at last he entered the cabinet, felt behind the tapestry for the door, and then began to descend the dark staircase, filled with strange emotions. "Down this very staircase," thought he, "perhaps coming from the very same room, and at this very same hour sixty years ago, there may have glided, in an embroidered coat, with his hair dressed à l'oiseau royal and pressing to his heart his three-cornered hat, some young gallant, who has long been mouldering in the grave, but the heart of his aged mistress has only to-day ceased to beat..." (chapter IV)

Pushkin’s Hermann bears a striking resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon:

Утро наступало. Лизавета Ивановна погасила догорающую свечу: бледный свет озарил ее комнату. Она отерла заплаканные глаза и подняла их на Германна: он сидел на окошке, сложа руки и грозно нахмурясь. В этом положении удивительно напоминал он портрет Наполеона. Это сходство поразило даже Лизавету Ивановну.

The day began to dawn. Lizaveta Ivanovna extinguished her candle: a pale light illumined her room. She wiped her tear-stained eyes and raised them towards Hermann: he was sitting near the window, with his arms crossed and with a fierce frown upon his forehead. In this attitude he bore a striking resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon. This resemblance struck even Lizaveta Ivanovna. (ibid.)

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) Napoleon is the name of a boar (a satire on Stalin). Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair.

All the hundred floramors opened simultaneously on September 20, 1875. (2.3)

On Sep. 20, 1875, Ivan Turgenev moved to the new-built chalet at his and Viardot's villa Les Frênes in Bougival (see Turgenev's letter of Sep. 19, 1875, to N. V. Khanykov). A village near Paris, Bougival is the setting of La dame aux camélias, a play by Dumas fils, and Yvette, a novella by Maupassant. Maupassant’s story La Maison Tellier (1881), set in a brothel, is dedicated to Turgenev.

In Turgenev’s story Dnevnik lishnego cheloveka (“The Diary of a Superfluous Man,” 1849) the doomed hero wants to know before he dies chto ya byl za ptitsa (what kind of man I was):

Что я за человек?.. Мне могут заметить, что и этого никто не спрашивает,- согласен. Но ведь я умираю, ей-богу умираю, а перед смертью, право, кажется, простительно желание узнать, что, дескать, я был за птица?

In the opening lines of his poem K Natalye (“To Natalia,” 1813) Pushkin says that learnt chto za ptitsa Kupidon (what kind of god Cupid was):

Так и мне узнать случилось,
Что за птица Купидон
Сердце страстное пленилось;
Признаюсь — и я влюблён!

Cupid is another name of Amor, the ancient Roman god of love mentioned by Pushkin in the same poem:

Пролетело счастья время,
Как, любви не зная бремя,
Я живал да попевал,
Как в театре и на балах,
На гуляньях иль в воксалах
Лёгким зефиром летал;
Как, смеясь во зло Амуру,
Я писал карикатуру
На любезный женский пол;
Но напрасно я смеялся,
Наконец и сам попался,
Сам, увы! с ума сошёл.

In Pushkin’s poem Amuru (Dat. of Amur, the Russian name of Amor) rhymes with karikaturu (Acc. of karikatura, “cartoon”). In Pushkin’s Graf Nulin (“Count Null,” 1825) among the things that the Count brings from Paris is tetrad’ zlykh karikatur (a notebook of caustic cartoons):

В Петрополь едет он теперь
С запасом фраков и жилетов,
Шляп, вееров, плащей, корсетов,
Булавок, запонок, лорнетов,
Цветных платков, чулков à jour,
С ужасной книжкою Гизота,
С тетрадью злых карикатур,
С романом новым Вальтер-Скотта,
С bon-mots парижского двора,
С последней песней Беранжера,
С мотивами Россини, Пера,
Et cetera, et cetera.

he's posting toward Petropolis,
with a vast supply of tail coats and waistcoats,

hats, fans, cloaks, corsets,

pins, cuff-links, lorgnettes,

colored kerchiefs, stockings à jour,

a terrible book of Guizot,

a notebook of caustic cartoons,
a new novel by Walter Scott,
bon-mots of the Paris court,
the last song of Beranger,
the airs of Rossini, Paër,
et cetera, et cetera.

One of the main characters in Count Nulin is Natalia Pavlovna (“a Russian Lucrece who boxes the ears of a transient Tarquin, while quietly cuckolding her husband, a landed gentleman, with his twenty-three-year-old neighbor”).

There are lines in the poem’s epilogue:

Он говорил, что граф дурак,
Молокосос; что если так,
То графа он визжать заставит,
Что псами он его затравит.
Смеялся Лидин, их сосед,
Помещик двадцати трех лет.

He said that the Count was a fool,

a greenhorn; that, if all this was true,

he'll make the Count scream,

he'll hunt him with his dogs.

It was their neighbor Lidin,

a landed gentleman of twenty-three, who laughed.

The words molokosos (greenhorn) and sosed (neighbor) in close proximity bring to mind Khan Sosso, on Antiterra the current ruler of the Golden Horde (2.2). Khan Sosso is a cartoon of Soso Dzhugashvili (Stalin’s real name).

molokosos + sosed + Lolita = moloko + Sosso + sedlo + lait

moloko – milk

sedlo – saddle

lait – Fr., milk

Ptitsa (the word used by Turgenev’s diarist and by fourteen-year-old Pushkin) is Russian for “bird;” oiseau is the French word for “bird” (oiseau royal means “crane”).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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