Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0022168, Sun, 13 Nov 2011 22:59:50 +0300

circus in "The Event" and Chekhov's "The Teacher of Literature"
Любовь. На пустыре цирк остановился.
Трощейкин. И я бы пошёл с вами. Люблю. Принесу домой какой-нибудь круп или старого клоуна в партикулярном платье.
(Troshcheykin wants to go out and see a traveling circus company hoping that he can find material for his future paintings; "The Event," Act One)

The circus is also mentioned in the beginning of Chekhov's story "Учитель словесности" ("The Teacher of Literature," 1894):

THERE was the thud of horses' hoofs on the wooden floor; they brought out of the stable the black horse, Count Nulin; then the white, Giant; then his sister Maika. They were all magnificent, expensive horses. Old Shelestov saddled Giant and said, addressing his daughter Masha:
"Well, Marie Godefroi, come, get on! Hopla!"
Masha Shelestov was the youngest of the family; she was eighteen, but her family could not get used to thinking that she was not a little girl, and so they still called her Manya and Manyusya; and after there had been a circus in the town which she had eagerly visited, every one began to call her Marie Godefroi.

In a letter of November 12, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov compares the characters of this story (initially entitled "The Philistines") to guinea pigs:

Посылаю рассказ для фельетона. Несерьёзный пустячок из жизни провинциальных морских свинок…

The attractive and touching guinea pig Cheepy was created by Robert Horn, the talented artist and villain in VN's novel Camera Obscura (1932). A movie based on that novel* is mentioned in "The Event" (Act One):

Ревшин. Одним словом… Вчера около полуночи, так, вероятно, в три четверти одиннадцатого… фу, вру… двенадцатого, я шёл к себе из кинематографа на вашей площади и, значит, вот тут, в нескольких шагах от вашего дома, по той стороне, – знаете, где киоск, – при свете фонаря, вижу – и не верю глазам – стоит с папироской Барбашин.

Трощейкин. У нас на углу! Очаровательно. Ведь мы, Люба, вчера чуть-чуть не пошли тоже: ах, чудная фильма, ах, «Камера обскура» – лучшая фильма сезона!.. Вот бы и ахнуло нас по случаю сезона!..

(On the previous evening Troshcheykin and his wife nearly went to the cinema to watch Camera Obscura. If they did, they would have met Barbashin, Lyubov's former lover who six years ago attempted upon their lives and was released from prison earlier than expected.)

After Troshcheykin learnt of Barbashin's return, he is scared to death and can not think of anything else but escape:

Трощейкин. Нам нужно бежать…

Любовь. Да, да, да!

Трощейкин. …бежать, – а мы почему-то медлим под пальмами сонной Вампуки. Я чувствую, что надвигается…

Любовь. Опасность? Но какая? О, если б ты мог понять!

Трощейкин. Опасность, столь же реальная, как наши руки, плечи, щёки. Люба, мы совершено одни.

Любовь. Да, одни. Но это два одиночества, и оба совсем круглы. Пойми меня!

Трощейкин. Одни на этой узкой освещённой сцене. Сзади – театральная ветошь всей нашей жизни, замёрзшие маски второстепенной комедии, а спереди – тёмная глубина и глаза, глаза, глаза, глядящие на нас, ждущие нашей гибели. ("The Event," Act Two)

At the end of Chekhov's story, poor Nikitin (the teacher of literature), too, wants to escape from his vulgar surroundings:

"There is nothing more terrible, mortifying, and distressing than vulgarity [poshlost']. I must escape from here, I must escape today, or I shall go out of my mind!"

*The film based on Laughter in the Dark was shot only in the 1960s.

Re Grillparzer's aphorism quoted in my previous post: it should be "Die Kunst verhaelt sich zur Natur, wie der Wein zur Traube" (art is to nature what wine is to grape). But in his book on portraitists Evreinov substituted "life" (zhizn') for "nature." Incidentally, Grillparzer, too, speaks of portrait-painters in his Aesthetischen Studien. Also, I notice that Anna Evreinov (1844-1919) was the editor of "Северный вестник" ("The Northern Herald"), a St. Petersburg review in which Chekhov published many of his stories.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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