Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027071, Tue, 21 Jun 2016 17:09:22 +0300

Keats, arethusoides, evensong & martyrdom in Ada
As he speaks to Ada, Van compares Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s consumptive
husband) to Keats (a poet who died of tuberculosis):

She asked for a handkerchief, and he pulled out a blue one from his
windjacket pocket, but her tears had started to roll and she shaded her
eyes, while he stood before her with outstretched hand.

'Part of the act?' he inquired coldly.

She shook her head, took the handkerchief with a childish 'merci,' blew her
nose and gasped, and swallowed, and spoke, and next moment all, all was

She could not tell her husband while he was ill. Van would have to wait
until Andrey was sufficiently well to bear the news and that might take some
time. Of course, she would have to do everything to have him completely
cured, there was a wondermaker in Arizona -

'Sort of patching up a bloke before hanging him,' said Van.

'And to think,' cried Ada with a kind of square shake of stiff hands as if
dropping a lid or a tray, 'to think that he dutifully concealed everything!
Oh, of course, I can't leave him now!'

'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

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

'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)

In Keats’ Endymion (1818) Alpheus, as he speaks to Arethusa (a “peerless
nymph”), mentions his shady brink:

“Now thou dost taunt
So softly, Arethusa, that I think
If thou wast playing on my shady brink,
Thou wouldst bathe once again. Innocent maid!
Stifle thine heart no more; - nor be afraid
Of angry powers: there are deities
Will shade us with their wings. (Book II, Lines 975-981)

One of Ada’s lovers, Philip Rack (“the flute player whose impotence has to
be treated”) was poisoned by his wife Elsie and dies in the Kalugano
hospital. According to Dr Fitzbishop, it was the not always lethal
'arethusoides' that killed Rack:

Dr Fitzbishop had said, rubbing his hands, that the Luga laboratory said it
was the not always lethal 'arethusoides' but it had no practical importance
now, because the unfortunate music teacher, and composer, was not expected
to spend another night on Demonia, and would be on Terra, ha-ha, in time for
evensong. Doc Fitz was what Russians call a poshlyak ('pretentious
vulgarian') and in some obscure counter-fashion Van was relieved not to be
able to gloat over the wretched Rack's martyrdom. (1.42)

In his poem The Eve of St Mark Keats mentions “the Bishop's garden wall,”
“even-song and vesper prayer” and, in the poem’s closing lines, “the
fervent martyrdom:”

From her fireside she could see
Sidelong its rich antiquity―

Far as the Bishop's garden wall
Where Sycamores and elm trees tall
Full-leav'd the forest had outstript―

Twice holy was the Sabbath bell:

The silent streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies
Warm from their fire-side orat'ries
And moving with demurest air
To even-song and vesper prayer.

At length her constant eyelids come
Upon the fervent martyrdom;
Then lastly to his holy shrine
Exalt amid the tapers' shine
At Venice―

In one of her letters to Van Ada says that mere pity drew her to Rack:

[Arizona, summer, 1890]

Mere pity, a Russian girl's zhalost', drew me to R. (whom musical critics
have now 'discovered'). He knew he would die young and was always, in fact,
mostly corpse, never once, I swear, rising to the occasion, even when I
showed openly my compassionate non-resistance because I, alas, was brimming
with Van-less vitality, and had even considered buying the services of some
rude, the ruder the better, young muzhik. (2.1)

Keats is the author La Belle Dame sans Merci (1819), a poem that was
translated into Russian by VN. Ada (who takes Van’s handkerchief with a
childish 'merci') is a beautiful lady not without mercy.

In The Eve of St Mark Keats also mentions “some ghostly Queen of spades:”

Untir'd she read; her shadow still
Glower'd about as it would fill
The room with wildest forms and shades,
As though some ghostly Queen of spades
Had come to mock behind her back―
And dance, and ruffle her garments black.

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

Надобно знать, что бабушка моя, лет шестьд
есят тому назад, ездила в Париж и была там
в большой моде. Народ бегал за нею, чтоб ув
идеть la Vénus moscovite; Ришелье за нею волочилс
я, и бабушка уверяет, что он чуть было не з
астрелился 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)

La Vénus moscovite in Pushkin’s story brings to mind Venus and the
Moustique muscovite mentioned by Van in his description of his nights at

The windows in the black castle went out in rows, files, and knight moves.
The longest occupant of the nursery water closet was Mlle Larivière, who
came there with a rose-oil lampad and her buvard. A breeze ruffled the
hangings of his now infinite chamber. Venus rose in the sky; Venus set in
his flesh.

All that was a little before the seasonal invasion of a certain
interestingly primitive mosquito (whose virulence the not-too-kind Russian
contingent of our region attributed to the diet of the French winegrowers
and bogberry-eaters of Ladore); but even so the fascinating fireflies, and
the still more eerie pale cosmos coming through the dark foliage, balanced
with new discomforts the nocturnal ordeal, the harassments of sweat and
sperm associated with his stuffy room. 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)

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,dana.dragunoiu@gmail.com,shvabrin@humnet.ucla.edu
Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com
AdaOnline: "http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada: http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html
The VN Bibliography Blog: http://vnbiblio.com/
Search the archive with L-Soft: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A0=NABOKV-L

Manage subscription options :http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=NABOKV-L