Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027101, Fri, 8 Jul 2016 11:54:14 +0300

Aardvark in Ada, mammoths in Pale Fire
A tray with fruit and drinks was brought in by a jeune beauté, as dear Marcel would have put it, nor could one help recalling another author, Gide the Lucid, who praises in his African notes so warmly the satiny skin of black imps. (Kinbote’s note to Line 691)

André Gide is the author of Les Faux Monnayeurs (“The Counterfeiters,” 1925). The main character of VN’s story The Leonardo (1933), Romantovski, is a maker of counterfeit bills. In the original the story’s title is Korolyok (kinglet). A name of several birds, korolyok rhymes with gogolyok (a diminutive of gogol’, “golden-eye”). In his Stikhi pamyati Andreya Belogo (“Verses in Memory of Andrey Bely,” 1934) Mandelshtam pairs kavardak (a mess, muddle) with gogolyok:

Как снежок на Москве заводил кавардак гоголёк:
Непонятен-понятен, невнятен, запутан, легок...

Kavardak is a near-anagram of aardvark (a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa). Paar of Chose and Zapater of Aardvark (whose names are connected with shoes) are mentioned in Ada:

As Van Veen himself was to find out, at the time of his passionate research in terrology (then a branch of psychiatry) even the deepest thinkers, the purest philosophers, Paar of Chose and Zapater of Aardvark, were emotionally divided in their attitude toward the possibility that there existed ‘a distortive glass of our distorted glebe’ as a scholar who desires to remain unnamed has put it with such euphonic wit. (Hm! Kveree-kveree, as poor Mlle L. used to say to Gavronsky. In Ada's hand.) (1.3)

‘A distortive glass of our distorted glebe’ is Terra, Demonia’s (or Antiterra’s) twin planet. In Canto Three of his poem Shade (“the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane”) mentions “Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp:”

How to locate in blackness, with a gasp,
Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp. (Lines 557-558)

Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ real name seems to be Botkin. According to Kinbote (“the author of a remarkable book on surnames”), Botkin is “the one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear” (note to Line 71).

Andrey Bely is the author of a book on Gogol. In Gogol’s story Shinel’ (“The Overcoat,” 1842) the surname of the main character, Bashmachkin, comes from bashmak (shoe). According to Vyazemski, Zhukovski affectionately called Gogol Gogolyok.

An aardvark has a long trunk-like nose. In a letter of Nov. 3, 1835, to Ivan Lazhechnikov Pushkin (the poet who had African blood) asks the author of Ledyanoy dom (“The House of Ice,” 1835) in what sense did he use in his last novel the word khobot (trunk):

Позвольте сделать вам филологический вопрос, коего разрешение для меня важно: в каком смысле упомянули вы слово хобот в последнем вашем творении и по какому наречию?

The action in Lazhechnikov’s novel takes place in St. Petersburg in the winter of 1739-40. The novel’s central episode is the mock wedding of Prince Golitsyn (a court jester of the Empress Anna Ioannovna) with a Kalmyk woman. The Empress forced the Prince to marry the unattractive maidservant and displayed the newlyweds in a procession where they rode an elephant, dressed as clowns, and were followed by a number of circus freaks and farm animals. In the ice palace (20 meters tall and 50 meters wide) the newlyweds were closed naked into an icy nuptial chamber under heavy guard. The couple survived the night because the bride traded a pearl necklace with one of the guards for a sheepskin coat.

In his Commentary Kinbote mentions Hodynski, the court jester of Queen Yaruga (the sister of Uran the Last who drowned in an ice-hole with her Russian lover during traditional New Year’s festivities):

When I was a child, Russia enjoyed quite a vogue at the court of Zembla but that was a different Russia--a Russia that hated tyrants and Philistines, injustice and cruelty, the Russia of ladies and gentlemen and liberal aspirations. We may add that Charles the Beloved could boast of some Russian blood. In medieval times two of his ancestors had married Novgorod princesses. Queen Yaruga (reigned 1799-1800) his great-great-granddam, was half Russian; and most historians believe that Yaruga’s only child Igor was not the son of Uran the Last (reigned 1798-1799) but the fruit of her amours with the Russian adventurer Hodinski, her goliart (court jester) and a poet of genius, said to have forged in his spare time a famous old Russian chanson de geste, generally attributed to an anonymous bard of the twelfth century. (note to Line 681)

In Slovo o polku Igoreve (“The Song of Igor’s Campaign”), the old Russian epic that VN translated into English, not only yarugi (obs., ravines*) but also khoboty (obs., plumes) are mentioned:

Того старого Владимира
нельзе бе пригвоздити къ горамъ киевьскымъ:
сего бо ныне сташа стязи Рюриковы,

а друзии Давидовы,

нъ розно ся имъ хоботы пашутъ.

Vladimir of yore, he,

could not be nailed to the Kievan hills.

Now some of his banners

have gone to Rurik and others to David,

but their plumes wave in counterturn. (Lines 682-686)

In modern language khobot means “trunk” and brings to mind mammoths mentioned by Kinbote:

Botkin, V., American scholar of Russian descent, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline894> 894; king-bot, maggot of extinct fly that once bred in mammoths and is thought to have hastened their phylogenetic end, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline247> 247; bottekin-maker, <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline71> 71; bot, plop, and boteliy, big-bellied (Russ.); botkin or bodkin, a Danish stiletto. (Index to PF)

According to Kinbote, Sybil Shade calls him "an elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly:”

John Shade's wife, nee Irondell (which comes not from a little valley yielding iron ore but from the French for "swallow"). She was a few months his senior. I understand she came of Canadian stock, as did Shade's maternal grandmother (a first cousin of Sybil's grandfather, if I am not greatly mistaken).

From the very first I tried to behave with the utmost courtesy toward my friend's wife, and from the very first she disliked and distrusted me. I was to learn later that when alluding to me in public she used to call me "an elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macaco worm; the monstrous parasite of a genius." I pardon her--her and everybody. (note to Line 247)

Sybil Shade’s real name seems to be Sofia Botkin (née Lastochkin). In Griboedov’s Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) Sofia is Famusov’s daughter with whom Chatski is in love. The characters of Griboedov’s play include Colonel Skalozub who served in the Novozemlyansk regiment and whose name rhymes with trubkozub (aardvark).

In his Parizhskaya poema (“The Paris Poem,” 1943) VN compares old Russian writers who are dying out to kosmatye mamonty (shaggy mammoths):

Вымирают косматые мамонты,

чуть жива красноглазая мышь.

In his poem Slava (“Fame,” 1942) VN mentions Akakiy Akakievich (the main character of Gogol’s Shinel’):

Есть вещи, вещи,
которые... даже... (Акакий Акакиевич
любил, если помните, "плевелы речи",
и он как Наречье, мой гость восковой)

There are matters, matters

which, so to speak, even… (Akakiy Akakievich

had a weakness, if you remember, for “weed words,”

and he’s like an Adverb, my waxy guest)

Veshchi (the word used by VN in the original) is pl. of veshch’ (thing). In Canto Two of his poem Shade mentions Flemish hells with porcupine and things (reminiscent of Daniel Veen’s obsession in Ada, 2.10), Socrates and Proust:

So why join in the vulgar laughter? Why
Scorn a hereafter none can verify:
The Turk's delight, the future lyres, the talks
With Socrates and Proust in cypress walks,
The seraph with his six flamingo wings,
And Flemish hells with porcupines and things? (Lines 221-226)

“Dear Marcel” mentioned by Kinbote in his note to Line 691 is the narrator and main character in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (“In Search of Lost Time”).

*one of the characters in Chekhov’s story V ovrage (“In the Ravine,” 1900), Anisim, is a counterfeiter.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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