Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027044, Tue, 7 Jun 2016 16:40:43 +0300

play-zero in Ada
'Stocks,' said Demon, 'are on the zoom. Our territorial triumphs, et cetera. An American governor, my friend Bessborodko, is to be installed in Bessarabia, and a British one, Armborough, will rule Armenia.’ (2.1)

Bessborodko + Armborough = Bessborough + dobro/Bordo + komar/korma

Bessborough – Earl of Bessborough, the father of Lady Caroline Lamb (Lord Byron’s mistress)

dobro – good (a noun, as opposed to zlo, evil); good deed; goods, property

Bordo – Bordeaux (also, red wines praised by Pushkin in Eugene Onegin) in Russian spelling; at the dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon praises Lord Byron’s Hock: 'Ah!' said Demon, tasting Lord Byron's Hock. 'This redeems Our Lady's Tears.' (1.38)

komar – mosquito; cf. Night, of course, always remained an ordeal, throughout the near-century of his life, no matter how drowsy or drugged the poor man might be - for genius is not all gingerbread even for Billionaire Bill with his pointed beardlet and stylized bald dome, or crusty Proust who liked to decapitate rats when he did not feel like sleeping, or this brilliant or obscure V.V. (depending on the eyesight of readers, also poor people despite our jibes and their jobs); but at Ardis, the intense life of the star-haunted sky troubled the boy's night so much that, on the whole, he felt grateful when foul weather or the fouler gnat - the Kamargsky Komar of our muzhiks and the Moustique moscovite of their no less alliterative retaliators - drove him back to his bumpy bed. (1.12)

korma – stern, poop (of a ship)

There is Bess in the name of Demon’s friend Bessborodko.

According to Bess (which is 'fiend' in Russian), Dan's buxom but otherwise disgusting nurse, whom he preferred to all others and had taken to Ardis because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of 'play-zero' (as the old whore called it) out of his poor body, he had been complaining for some time, even before Ada's sudden departure, that a devil combining the characteristics of a frog and a rodent desired to straddle him and ride him to the torture house of eternity. (2.10)

In Dostoevsky's novel Igrok (The Gambler, 1867) zero it the favorite roulette number of la baboulinka (Russo-Fr., 'grandma'). On the other hand, in Ilf and Petrov’s “The Twelve Chairs” (chapter XXV "Conversation with a Naked Engineer") Bender and Vorob'yaninov are compared to gamblers who are "playing a kind of roulette in which zero could come up eleven out of twelve times. And, what was more, the twelfth number was out of sight, heaven knows where, and possibly contained a marvelous win."

Demon is the society nickname of Van’s and Ada’s father. In Blok’s poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) the hero’s father was nicknamed Demon, because Dostoevski said that he resembled Byron:

Раз (он гостиной проходил)

Его заметил Достоевский.

«Кто сей красавец? — он спросил

Негромко, наклонившись к Вревской: -

Похож на Байрона». — Словцо

Крылатое все подхватили,

И все на новое лицо

Своё вниманье обратили.

И дамы были в восхищеньи:

«Он — Байрон, значит — демон...» — Что ж?

Он впрямь был с гордым лордом схож

Лица надменным выраженьем

И чем-то, что хочу назвать

Тяжелым пламенем печали. (chapter I)

And the ladies were delighted:

“He is Byron, ergo he is a demon…”

The name of Byron’s daughter was Ada. Ada is also a character in Byron’s play Cain (1821).

A character in Blok’s poem, Dostoevski visited the house of Anna Vrevski in order to gather material and strength for his Dnevnik pisatelya (“A Writer’s Diary”):

На вечерах у Анны Вревской

Был общества отборный цвет.

Больной и грустный Достоевский

Ходил сюда на склоне лет

Суровой жизни скрасить бремя,

Набраться сведений и сил

Для «Дневника». (ibid.)

Dostoevski’s story Son smeshnogo cheloveka (“The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”) was first published in A Writer's Diary (April, 1877). Its hero commits suicide in his dream and travels to Earth’s twin planet. In several articles (including "Ada as a Triple Dream," The Nabokovian #53) I suggested that this planet visited by a Ridiculous Man in his dream is Antiterra (aka Demonia). The Antiterran L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century (1.3) seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS). January 3, 1876, is Lucette’s birthday (1.1). After the L disaster electricity was banned on Antiterra. As pointed out by Shestov (whose penname comes from shest’, “six”), in the second volume of his book “Tolstoy and Dostoevski” Merezhkovski many times quotes Zinaida Hippius’ poem Elektrichestvo (“Electricity”). In his poem Dvenadtsat’(“The Twelve,” 1918) Blok describes a smart cab and mentions elekstricheskiy fonarik na oglobel’kakh (“electric lantern on the shafts”):

Снег крутит, лихач кричит,

Ванька с Катькою летит —

Елекстрический фонарик

На оглобельках...

Ах, ах, пади!

The last words in “The Twelve” are Isus Khristos (Jesus Christ):

Впереди — с кровавым флагом,

И за вьюгой неведим,

И от пули невредим,

Нежной поступью надвьюжной,

Снежной россыпью жемчужной,

В белом венчике из роз —

Впереди — Исус Христос.

In Khomyakov’s poem Shiroka, neobozrima… (“Broad, boundless…” 1858) the crowd in Jerusalem calls Jesus Christ Davidov syn (David’s son):

"Ты идёшь во имя бога,

Ты идёшь в свой царский дом.

Честь тебе, наш царь смиренный,

Честь тебе, Давыдов сын!"

In Stikhi o russkoy poezii (“Verses about Russian Poetry,” 1932) Mandelshtam parodies the opening lines of Khomyakov’s poem and, in the poem’s closing line, mentions Khomyakova boroda (Khomyakov’s beard):

А ещё богохранима

На гвоздях торчит всегда

У ворот Ерусалима

Хомякова борода.

The name of Demon’s friend Bessbordko hints at Bezborodko, the State Chancellor (and a character in Aldanov’s novel Devil’s Bridge) whose name means “beardless.”

Davidov syn brings to mind Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), Marina’s former lover who gave her children a set of Flavita (Russian Scrabble):

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)

Venezia Rossa means “Red Venice.” On the other hand, venets is Russian for “crown.” In Blok’s poem Jesus Christ goes in front of the twelve Red Army soldiers v belom venchike iz roz (in a small white crown of roses).

Byron is the main character of Aldanov’s short novel Mogila voina (“A Soldier’s Grave,” 1938). The action in it begins in Venice. As Byron approaches Venice in a gondola, the city is flooded with red light:

Гондола подходила к Сакка-сан-Биаджо. Показалась залитая красным светом Ве­неция, и в сотый раз он испытал впечатление чуда при виде этого затопленного го­рода, медленно разрушающегося города дворцов и церквей, города с людьми, не научившимися ходить как следует из-за гондол и каналов, города, в котором лодоч­ники с лицами древних патри­циев, не думая ни о какой литературе, поют строфы Торквато Тассо. (chapter II)

At the end of his novel Aldanov mentions the English tourist who feels shame at the sight of а public and very promiscuous latrine on the spot of the house in Missolonghi where Byron died:

На месте дома, в котором умер Байрон, теперь, по словам писателя-очевидца, находит­ся "а public and very promiscuous latrine." Английский турист испытывает чувство позора", -- говорит Николь­сон. (chapter XXV)

Davidov syn + de = Avidov + ded + sny = Denis Davydov

de – nobility particle

ded – grandfather

sny – dreams

Denis Davydov – poet (1784-1839) and hero of the anti-Napoleon war of 1812

In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin, Chekhov complains that modern art, and literature in particular, lacks the alcohol that would intoxicate the reader and mentions Denis Davydov:

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? 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, and the only person who does not see that is Stasov, 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.

In the same letter Chekhov says that Byron was as smart as a hundred devils; nevertheless, his talent has survived intact (the author of Gutta-Percha Boy, Grigorovich believed that intellect could overwhelm talent).

In Blok’s Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: “In vino veritas!” At the beginning of Ada Van mentions Dr Krolik, Ada’s teacher of natural history:

'I deduce,' said the boy, 'three main facts: that not yet married Marina and her married sister hibernated in my lieu de naissance; that Marina had her own Dr Krolik, pour ainsi dire; and that the orchids came from Demon who preferred to stay by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother.'

'I can add,' said the girl, 'that the petal belongs to the common Butterfly Orchis; that my mother was even crazier than her sister; and that the paper flower so cavalierly dismissed is a perfectly recognizable reproduction of an early-spring sanicle that I saw in profusion on hills in coastal California last February. Dr Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van, have referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the sake of rapid narrative information (you recall Brown, don't you, Smith?), has determined the example I brought back from Sacramento to Ardis, as the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl's - an allusion, which your father, who, according to Blanche, is also mine, would understand like this' (American finger-snap). (1.1)

Demon Veen is a gambler. The characters of Dostoevski’s Igrok include Blanche, a Parisian courtesan who helps the young man of the story to spend his fabulous win.

At the beginning of The Corsair (1814) Byron mentions “the dark-blue sea:”

O'er the glad waters of the dark blue sea,
Our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free,

Far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam,
Survey our empire and behold our home! (Canto One)

In his poem K moryu (“To the Sea,” 1824) Pushkin speaks of Napoleon’s and Byron’s deaths and says that Byron was a bard of the sea (on byl, o more, tvoy pevets).

At Van’s first tea party in Ardis Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) mentions Queen Josephine and Dostoevski:

Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van's teacher of history, 'Jeejee' Jones.

'He resembles my teacher of history,' said Van when the man had gone.

'I used to love history,' said Marina, 'I loved to identify myself with famous women. There's a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties - Lincoln's second wife or Queen Josephine.'

'Yes, I've noticed - it's beautifully done. We've got a similar set at home.'

'Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?' Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.

'Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),' replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis' (with a slight smile). 'Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.'

'Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.'

'Pah,' uttered Ada.

Josephine Beauharnais was Napoleon’s first wife. It seems that Napoleon (the Emperor of France) did not exist on Antiterra. Grace Erminin (Greg’s twin sister) marries a Wellington (2.6). Duke of Wellington (who opposed Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo) is a character in Aldanov’s “A Soldier’s Grave” (the title was borrowed from Byron’s last poem, On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year, 1824).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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