Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027173, Tue, 20 Sep 2016 15:47:29 +0300

bals masques, passing angel & Cendrillon in Ada
‘Exactly,’ said Marina. ‘I simply refuse to do anything about it. Besides poor Jones is not at all asthmatic, but only nervously eager to please. He’s as healthy as a bull and has rowed me from Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer. You are cruel, Demon. I can’t tell him "ne pïkhtite," as I can’t tell Kim, the kitchen boy, not to take photographs on the sly — he’s a regular snap-shooting fiend, that Kim, though otherwise an adorable, gentle, honest boy; nor can I tell my little French maid to stop getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore.’

‘That’s interesting,’ observed Demon.

‘He’s a dirty old man!’ cried Van cheerfully.

‘Van!’ said Ada.

‘I’m a dirty young man,’ sighed Demon. (1.38)

“The most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore” seem to blend Baratynski’s Bal (“The Ball,” 1828) with Lermontov’s Maskarad (“The Masquerade,” 1835). The name of the heroine in both Baratynski’s poem and Lermontov’s drama in verse is Nina. Nina was the name of Vladislav Khodasevich’s third wife, Nina Berberov (1901-93). Baratynski is the author of a poem on Lermontov’s death, Kogda tvoy golos, o poet… (“Oh poet, when your voice…” 1841-43):

Когда твой голос, о поэт,
Смерть в высших звуках остановит,
Когда тебя во цвете лет
Нетерпеливый рок уловит, —

Кого закат могучих дней
Во глубине сердечной тронет?
Кто в отзыв гибели твоей
Стесненной грудию восстонет,

И тихий гроб твой посетит,
И, над умолкшей Аонидой
Рыдая, пепел твой почтит
Нелицемерной панихидой?

Никто! — но сложится певцу
Канон намеднишним Зоилом,
Уже кадящим мертвецу,
Чтобы живых задеть кадилом.

In his obituary essay O Khodaseviche (“On Hodasevich,” 1939) VN uses the metaphor borrowed from the last line of Baratynski’s poem:

Тут нет у меня намерения кого-либо задеть кадилом: кое-кто из поэтов здешнего поколения ещё в пути и -- как знать -- дойдёт до вершин искусства, коль не загубит себя в том второсортном Париже, который плывёт с легким креном в зеркалах кабаков, не сливаясь никак с Парижем французским, неподвижным и непроницаемым.

Here I have no intention of hitting bystanders with a swing of the thurible.** A few poets of the émigré generation are still on their way up and, who knows, may reach the summits of art — if only they do not fritter away life in a second-rate Paris of their own which sails by with a slight list in the mirrors of taverns without mingling in any way with the French Paris, a motionless and impenetrable town.

**The metaphor is borrowed from a poem by Baratynski (1800 — 1844) accusing critics of lauding Lermontov (1814-1841) on the occasion of his death with the unique object of disparaging living poets. Incidentally, the dry little notice accorded to Baratynski in Pavlenkov's encyclopedia (St. Petersburg, 1913) ends with the marvelous misprint: «Complete Works, 1984».

Lermontov is the author of Demon (“The Demon,” 1829-40). Demon is the society nickname of Van’s and Ada’s father. As he speaks to Van, Demon calls Blanche (Marina’s French maid who manages to get invitations to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore) “a passing angel:”

'You look quite satanically fit, Dad. Especially with that fresh oeillet in your lapel eye. I suppose you have not been much in Manhattan lately - where did you get its last syllable?'

Homespun pun in the Veenish vein.

'I offered myself en effet a trip to Akapulkovo,' answered Demon, needlessly and unwillingly recollecting (with that special concussion of instant detail that also plagued his children) a violet-and-black-striped fish in a bowl, a similarly striped couch, the subtropical sun bringing out the veins of an onyx ashtray on the stone floor, a batch of old, orange-juice-stained Povesa (playboy) magazines, the jewels he had brought, the phonograph singing in a dreamy girl's voice 'Petit negre, au champ qui fleuronne,' and the admirable abdomen of a very expensive, and very faithless and altogether adorable young Creole.

'Did what's-her-name go with you?'

'Well, my boy, frankly, the nomenclature is getting more and more confused every year. Let us speak of plainer things. Where are the drinks? They were promised me by a passing angel.'

(Passing angel?) (1.38)

Angel (“The Angel,” 1831) is a poem by Lermontov beginning Po nebu polunochi angel letel (“In the midnight sky an angel flew”). On the other hand, Demon (1823) and Angel (1827) are poems by Pushkin.

Mlle Larivière (Lucette's governess) calls Blanche "Cendrillon:"

What was her name? Blanche - but Mlle Larivière called her 'Cendrillon' because her stockings got so easily laddered, see, and because she broke and mislaid things, and confused flowers. (1.7)

In his poem Mila, kak gratsiya, skromna… (“Nice, as a Grace, modest…” 1824) Baratynski mentions Sandril’yona (Cendrillon):

Мила, как грация, скромна,

Как Сандрильона;

Подобно ей, красой она

Достойна трона.

Приятна лира ей моя;

Но что мне в этом?

Быть королём желал бы я,

А не поэтом.

In his poem Khleby (“The Bread,” 1918) Khodasevich says: “in your apron, strewn with flour, you* are prettier than all Cendrillons and all Mignons” and, in the poem’s closing lines, mentions an angel:

Слепящий свет сегодня в кухне нашей.
В переднике, осыпана мукой,
Всех Сандрильон и всех Миньон ты краше
Бесхитростной красой.

Вокруг тебя, заботливы и зримы,
С вязанкой дров, с кувшином молока.
Роняя перья крыл, хлопочут херувимы...
Сквозь облака

Прорвался свет, и по кастрюлям медным
Пучками стрел бьют жёлтые лучи.
При свете дня подобен розам бледным
Огонь в печи.

И, эти струи будущего хлеба
Сливая в звонкий глиняный сосуд,
Клянётся ангел нам, что истинны, как небо,
Земля, любовь и труд.

Khodasevich compares the fire in the stove to blednye rozy (pale roses). In his poem December 1, 1837 (1837) Tyutchev mentions blednye rozy:

Так здесь-то суждено нам было
Сказать последнее прости...
Прости всему, чем сердце жило,
Что, жизнь твою убив, её испепелило
В твоей измученной груди!..

Прости... Чрез много, много лет
Ты будешь помнить с содроганьем
Сей край, сей брег с его полуденным сияньем,
Где вечный блеск и долгий цвет,
Где поздних, бледных роз дыханьем
Декабрьский воздух разогрет.

So, here’s where we’re fated
to say our final farewell,
farewell to everything by which we lived,
which killed your life, reducing it to ashes
in your tormented breast!

After many, many years
you’ll recall this land with a shudder,
this coast, these hot noons,
where eternal brightness, long blossoming reign,
where, with the breath of late, pale roses,
December’s air is warmed.

(transl. F. Jude)

According to VN (the author of Pale Fire, 1962, and Speak, Memory, 1967), Khodasevich is “Pushkin’s literary descendant in Tyutchev’s line of succession:”

Крупнейший поэт нашего времени, литературный потомок Пушкина по тютчевской линии, он останется гордостью русской поэзии, пока жива последняя память о ней.

This poet, the greatest Russian poet of our time, Pushkin's literary descendant in Tyutchev's line of succession, shall remain the pride of Russian poetry as long as its last memory lives.

Lermontov + Arbenin + Gradus = Leningrad + rab/bar + noster/Nestor + ovum

Arbenin - the main character in Lermontov’s Maskarad

Gradus – one of the three main characters in Pale Fire, Shade’s murderer

Leningrad - St. Petersburg’s name in 1924-1991 (in PF Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus “Leningradus”)

rab - slave

noster - Lat., our; cf. Pater noster (a prayer)

Nestor – a character in The Iliad, wise old man; Nestor letopisets (Nestor the Chronicler, c.1056 - c.1114), one of the authors of Povest’ vremennykh let (the earliest Slavic chronicle)

ovum - Lat., egg; cf. ab ovo (from the very beginning)

In a letter of Dec. 28, 1816, to his uncle Vasiliy Lvovich (the author of “The Dangerous Neighbor,” 1811) Pushkin calls his uncle Nestor Arzamasa (“the Nestor of the Arzamas group of writers”) and mentions Parnas (Parnassus):

Тебе, о Нестор Арзамаса,
В боях воспитанный поэт, —
Опасный для певцов сосед
На страшной высоте Парнаса,
Защитник вкуса, грозный Вот!
Тебе, мой дядя, в новый год
Веселья прежнего желанье
И слабый сердца перевод —
В стихах и прозою посланье.

В письме Вашем Вы называли меня братом, но я не осмелился назвать Вас этим именем, слишком для меня лестным.

Я не совсем еще рассудок потерял,
От рифм бахических шатаясь на Пегасе.
Я знаю сам себя, хоть рад, хотя не рад,
Нет, нет, вы мне совсем не брат,
Вы дядя мой и на Парнасе.

According to Pushkin, he did not quite lose his mind, stumbling on Pegasus because of Bacchic rhymes. Pushkin says that Vasiliy Lvovich (who, in a letter to his nephew, called him “my brother”) is his uncle even on Parnassus. Parnas (“Parnassus,” 1808) is a fable by Krylov that brings to mind Mlle Larivière’s penname, Guillaume de Monparnasse (1.31, et passim). In his EO Commentary VN points out that the opening line of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, Moy dyadya samykh chestnykh pravil… (“My uncle has most honest principles”), is a play on the first line of Krylov’s fable Osyol i muzhik (“The Ass and the Boor,” 1818): osyol byl samykh chestnykh pravil (the donkey had most honest principles).

Officially, Van and Ada are first cousins. In EO Pushkin calls Buyanov (“Mr. Rowdy,” the main character of Vasiliy Pushkin’s Dangerous Neighbor who appears in Chapter Five of EO as one of the guests at Tatiana’s name-day party) “my first cousin.” In his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 524) VN says that Baratynski, in an epigram of 1826, wittily suggested that only a pact with the devil could explain the sudden spurt of talent coming from the dull and inept poetaster that Vasiliy Pushkin had been before (and was to be after [composing The Dangerous Neighbor]).

Baratynski’s Bal appeared under one cover with Graf Nulin (“Count Null”), a poem that Pushkin wrote in Mikhaylvskoe on Dec. 13-14, 1825. On Dec. 14, 1825, the disastrous Decembrists’ uprising took place in St. Petersburg. The place name Mikhaylovskoe comes from Mikhail (Michael). Mikhail is Lermontov’s first name. Demon asks Van to spend a month together before the Michaelmas term:

‘Your new car sounds wonderful,’ said Van.

‘Doesn’t it? Yes.’ (Ask Van about that gornishon — Franco-Russian slang of the meanest grade for a cute kameristochka). ‘And how is everything, my dear boy? I saw you last the day you returned from Chose. We waste life in separations! We are the fools of fate! Oh let’s spend a month together in Paris or London before the Michaelmas term!’ (1.38)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): kameristochka: Russ., young chambermaid.

Gornishon and kameristochka bring to mind the epigraph to Chapter Two of Pushkin’s story Pikovaya dama (“The Queen of Spades,” 1833):

II paraît que monsieur est décidément pour les suivantes.
Que voulez-vous, madame? Elles sont plus fraîches.

A Small Talk.

Like Denis Davydov (the poet and hero of the anti-Napoleon war whose words are quoted by Pushkin), Demon Veen (a gambler who calls Blanche “a passing angel”) prefers the chambermaids. The main character of Pushkin’s Queen of Spades, Hermann is a gambler who ends up in a madhouse. The Queen of Spades is an opera by Chaykovski (the composer known on Antiterra as Tshchaykow, the author of Onegin and Olga, 1.25). Nina Berberov is the author of a book on Chaykovski. Demon asks Van if Ada loves music:

‘I’ll want,’ said Demon, ‘a bottle of your Château Latour d’Estoc for dinner’; and when the butler, having removed en passant a crumpled little handkerchief from the piano top, had left the room with another salute: ‘How do you get along with Ada? She’s what — almost sixteen now? Very musical and romantic?’ (1.38)

According to Van, Ada cannot play a note:

‘That’s also provincial. You should carry a black silk purse. And now I’ll show what a diviner I am: your dream is to be a concert pianist!’

‘It is not,’ said Van indignantly. ‘What perfect nonsense. She can’t play a note!’ (ibid.)

Btw., The Demon (1871) is an opera by Anton Rubinstein, a celebrated pianist, composer and conductor.

*the poet’s second wife Anna

Alexey Sklyarenko

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