Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027178, Sat, 24 Sep 2016 13:52:30 +0300

Reflections in Sidra, Miss Kim Blackrent,
fluffy slopes & Mr. Brod or Bred in Ada
My previous post (“Ragusa, Palermontovia & Kremlin in Ada”) can be continued as follows:

At the beginning of his essay Yumor Lermontova ("Lermontov's Humor") included in Kniga otrazheniy (“The Book of Reflections,” 1906) Innokentiy Annenski compares Lermontov to Tolstoy:

Мечта Лермонтова не повторилась. Она так и осталась недосказанной. Может быть, даже бесследной, по крайней мере, поскольку Толстой, единственный, кто бы ещё мог её понять, рано пошёл своим и совсем другим путём.

Lermontov's dream never repeated. It remained unspoken. Perhaps, it did not even leave a trace, because Tolstoy, the only one who could have understood it, too early went his own and quite different path.

According to Annenski, some of Tolstoy's pages durmanyat (intoxicate) us with the illusion of a full command of life:

Недавно у Чехова мы её положительно не узнали, так она разрядилась и надушилась даже. А кто не читал таких страниц Толстого, которые просто-таки дурманят нас миражем господства над жизнью?

Like the verb durmanit’ (to intoxicate), the surname Durmanov (of the twin sisters Marina and Aqua) comes from durman (thorn apple; drug; intoxicant). Durman (1916) is a poem by Ivan Bunin:

Дурману девочка наелась,

Тошнит, головка разболелась,

Пылают щёчки, клонит в сон.

Но сердцу сладко, сладко, сладко:

Всё непонятно, всё загадка,

Какой-то звон со всех сторон:

Не видя, видит взор иное,

Чудесное и неземное,

Не слыша, ясно ловит слух

Восторг гармонии небесной -

И невесомой, бестелесной

Ее довёл домой пастух.

Наутро гробик сколотили.

Над ним попели, покадили,

Мать порыдала... И отец

Прикрыл его тесовой крышкой

И на погост отнёс под мышкой...

Ужели сказочке конец?

In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1967) VN describes his dinner with Bunin in a Parisian restaurant and uses the phrase “unwrapping a mummy:”

Another independent writer was Ivan Bunin. I had always preferred his little-known verse to his celebrated prose (their interrelation, within the frame of his work, recalls Hardy’s case). At the time I found him tremendously perturbed by the personal problem of aging. The first thing he said to me was to remark with satisfaction that his posture was better than mine, despite his being some thirty years older than I. He was basking in the Nobel prize he had just received and invited me to some kind of expensive and fashionable eating place in Paris for a heart-to-heart talk. Unfortunately I happen to have a morbid dislike for restaurants and cafés, especially Parisian ones—I detest crowds, harried waiters, Bohemians, vermouth concoctions, coffee, zakuski, floor shows and so forth. I like to eat and drink in a recumbent position (preferably on a couch) and in silence. Heart-to-heart talks, confessions in the Dostoevskian manner, are also not in my line. Bunin, a spry old gentleman, with a rich and unchaste vocabulary, was puzzled by my irresponsiveness to the hazel grouse of which I had had enough in my childhood and exasperated by my refusal to discuss eschatological matters. Toward the end of the meal we were utterly bored with each other. “You will die in dreadful pain and complete isolation,” remarked Bunin bitterly as we went toward the cloakroom. An attractive, frail-looking girl took the check for our heavy overcoats and presently fell with them in her embrace upon the low counter. I wanted to help Bunin into his raglan but he stopped me with a proud gesture of his open hand. Still struggling perfunctorily—he was now trying to help me—we emerged into the pallid bleakness of a Paris winter day. My companion was about to button his collar when a look of surprise and distress twisted his handsome features. Gingerly opening his overcoat, he began tugging at something under his armpit. I came to his assistance and together we finally dragged out of his sleeve my long woolen scarf which the girl had stuffed into the wrong coat. The thing came out inch by inch; it was like unwrapping a mummy and we kept slowly revolving around each other in the process, to the ribald amusement of three sidewalk whores. Then, when the operation was over, we walked on without a word to a street corner where we shook hands and separated. (Chapter Fourteen, 2)

In the epilogue of Ada Van calls Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) “poor dummy-mummy:”

Nirvana, Nevada, Vaniada. By the way, should I not add, my Ada, that only at the very last interview with poor dummy-mummy, soon after my premature - I mean, premonitory - nightmare about, 'You can, Sir,' she employed mon petit nom, Vanya, Vanyusha - never had before, and it sounded so odd, so tend... (voice trailing off, radiators tinkling).

'Dummy-mum' - (laughing). 'Angels, too, have brooms - to sweep one's soul clear of horrible images. My black nurse was Swiss-laced with white whimsies.'

Sudden ice hurtling down the rain pipe: brokenhearted stalactite. (5.6)

Vanya and Vanyusha are Russian diminutives of Ivan. Van published his book Reflections in Sidra under the name Ivan Veen:

Agavia Ranch

February 5, 1905

I have just read Reflections in Sidra, by Ivan Veen, and I regard it as a grand piece, dear Professor. The ‘lost shafts of destiny’ and other poetical touches reminded me of the two or three times you had tea and muffins at our place in the country about twenty years ago. I was, you remember (presumptuous phrase!), a petite fille modèle practicing archery near a vase and a parapet and you were a shy schoolboy (with whom, as my mother guessed, I may have been a wee bit in love!), who dutifully picked up the arrows I lost in the lost shrubbery of the lost castle of poor Lucette’s and happy, happy Adette’s childhood, now a ‘Home for Blind Blacks’ — both my mother and L., I’m sure, would have backed Dasha’s advice to turn it over to her Sect. Dasha, my sister-in-law (you must meet her soon, yes, yes, yes, she’s dreamy and lovely, and lots more intelligent than I), who showed me your piece, asks me to add she hopes to ‘renew’ your acquaintance — maybe in Switzerland, at the Bellevue in Mont Roux, in October. I think you once met pretty Miss ‘Kim’ Blackrent, well, that’s exactly dear Dasha’s type. (3.7)

Sidra is Ardis (Daniel Veen’s family estate where Van spent two summers) backwards. According to Mlle Larivière, in Greek ardis means “the point of an arrow:”

Especially boring were the girls’ squabbles over the legitimacy of this or that word: proper names and place names were taboo, but there occurred borderline cases, causing no end of heartbreak, and it was pitiful to see Lucette cling to her last five letters (with none left in the box) forming the beautiful ARDIS which her governess had told her meant ‘the point of an arrow’ — but only in Greek, alas. (1.36)

At the end of VN’s story Krasavitsa (“A Russian Beauty,” 1934) the arrow is mentioned:

Когда они пришли к завтраку, то Верочка, её муж и его кузина, совершенно молча, в разных углах танцевали несуществующие танцы, и Ольга Алексеевна ласково протянула: "Вот хамы",-- а следующим летом она умерла от родов.

Это всё. То есть может быть и имеется какое-нибудь продолжение, но мне оно неизвестно, и в таких случаях, вместо того, чтобы теряться в догадках, повторяю за весёлым королём из моей любимой сказки: Какая стрела летит вечно?-- Стрела, попавшая в цель.

When they came to breakfast, Vera, her husband, and his maiden cousin, in utter silence, were performing nonexistent dances, each in a different corner, and Olga drawled out in an affectionate voice 'What boors!' and next summer she died in childbirth.

That's all. Of course, there may be some sort of sequel, but it is not known to me. In such cases, instead of getting bogged down in guesswork, I repeat the words of the merry king in my favorite fairy tale: Which arrow flies forever? The arrow that has hit its mark.

One of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962), Kinbote imagines that he is the last self-exiled king of Zembla, Charles the Beloved. Kinbote’s real name seems to be Botkin. Botkin is nikto b (“nobody would,” a phrase used by Mozart in Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri, 1830) backwards. Annenski published his Book of Reflections under the penname Nik. T-o (“Mr. Nobody”). Lermontov’s poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… ("No, I'm not Byron, I'm another..." 1832) ends in the line: ya – ili Bog – ili nikto (“myself, or God, or nobody”).

In the first stanza of his last poem, On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year (1824), Byron (the poet who died fighting for the freedom of Greece) says that he cannot be beloved:

Tis time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron – o bez sozhalen’ya… (“Like Byron to Greece, oh, without regret…” 1928) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon’ (pale fire):

Как в Грецию Байрон, о, без сожаленья,
Сквозь звёзды и розы, и тьму,
На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья…
— И ты не поможешь ему.

Сквозь звёзды, которые снятся влюблённым,
И небо, где нет ничего,
В холодную полночь — платком надушённым.
— И ты не удержишь его.

На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья,
Как Байрон за бледным огнём,
Сквозь полночь и розы, о, без сожаленья…
— И ты позабудешь о нём.

The author of an offensive article on Sirin (VN’s Russian nom de plume) in the Paris review Chisla (Numbers), G. Ivanov is a target of satire in VN’s story Usta k ustam (“Lips to Lips,” 1931). The story’s main character, Ilya Borisovich wants to publish his novel Usta k ustam under the penname I. Annenski. Galatov (a recognizable portrait of G. Ivanov) proposes to substitute "Ilya Annenski" for "I. Annenski" (in order to avoid confusion with the 'last swan of Tsarskoe Selo,' as Gumilyov called Annenski), but then arbitrarily changes it to "A. Ilyin." Gumilyov is the author of Mik (1914), a poem whose title character is an African lad. In her letter to Van Ada makes several allusions to Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who was blinded by Van for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada. Kim is Mik backwards. Van blinds Kim Beauharnais with an alpenstock. In Lips to Lips the hero’s cane plays an important part. Before blinding Kim, Van (who believes that the composer Philip Rack, Lucette’s music teacher and one of Ada’s lovers, would accept a plain thrashing in lieu of combat) changes at least three canes.

In Lips to Lips VN satirizes as Euphratski (the journalist who signs some of his articles Tigrin) the critic G. Adamovich. Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Van mentions the Tigris-Euphrates valley:

The alcohol his [Demon’s] vigorous system had already imbibed was instrumental, as usual, in reopening what he gallicistically called condemned doors, and now as he gaped involuntarily as all men do while spreading a napkin, he considered Marina’s pretentious ciel-étoilé hairdress and tried to realize (in the rare full sense of the word), tried to possess the reality of a fact by forcing it into the sensuous center, that here was a woman whom he had intolerably loved, who had loved him hysterically and skittishly, who insisted they make love on rugs and cushions laid on the floor (‘as respectable people do in the Tigris-Euphrates valley’), who would woosh down fluffy slopes on a bobsleigh a fortnight after parturition, or arrive by the Orient Express with five trunks, Dack’s grandsire, and a maid, to Dr Stella Ospenko’s ospedale where he was recovering from a scratch received in a sword duel (and still visible as a white weal under his eighth rib after a lapse of nearly seventeen years). (1.38)

The Tigris-Euphrates valley brings to mind not only Euphratski and Tigrin, but also Dolinin (the hero of Ilya Borisovich’s novel whose name comes from dolina, “valley”).

In Speak, Memory VN describes a group of young writers that clustered around Adamovich (“a philosophizing critic”) and mentions a definite slope down which some of those writers could slide after the World War II:

There were independent authors of diverse age and talent, and there were groupings and cliques within which a number of young or youngish writers, some of them very gifted, clustered around a philosophizing critic. The most important of these mystagogues combined intellectual talent and moral mediocrity, an uncanny sureness of taste in modern Russian poetry and a patchy knowledge of Russian classics. His group believed that neither a mere negation of Bolshevism nor the routine ideals of Western democracies were sufficient to build a philosophy upon which émigré literature could lean. They thirsted for a creed as a jailed drug addict thirsts for his pet heaven. Rather pathetically, they envied Parisian Catholic groups for the seasoned subtleties that Russian mysticism so obviously lacked. Dostoevskian drisk could not compete with neo-Thomist thought; but were there not other ways? The longing for a system of faith, a constant teetering on the brink of some accepted religion was found to provide a special satisfaction of its own. Only much later, in the forties, did some of those writers finally discover a definite slope down which to slide in a more or less genuflectory attitude. This slope was the enthusiastic nationalism that could call a state (Stalin’s Russia, in this case) good and lovable for no other reason than because its army had won a war. In the early thirties, however, the nationalistic precipice was only faintly perceived and the mystagogues were still enjoying the thrills of slippery suspension. In their attitude toward literature they were curiously conservative; with them soul-saving came first, logrolling next, and art last. A retrospective glance nowadays notes the surprising fact of these free belles-lettrists abroad aping fettered thought at home by decreeing that to be a representative of a group or an epoch was more important than to be an individual writer. (Chapter Fourteen, 2)

“Logrolling” brings to mind Log, the supreme deity on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set). Log seems to be a short form of Logos (the rational principle that governs and develops the universe). In the Kalugano hospital where he recovers from the wound received in a pistol duel with Captain Tapper Van visits poor Rack (who was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie) and the male nurse Dorofey (who wheel-chaired Van to Ward Five where hopeless cases are kept) reads the Russian-language newspaper Golos (Logos):

After a long journey down corridors where pretty little things tripped by, shaking thermometers, and first an ascent and then a descent in two different lifts, the second of which was very capacious with a metal-handled black lid propped against its wall and bits of holly or laurel here and there on the soap-smelling floor, Dorofey, like Onegin’s coachman, said priehali (‘we have arrived’) and gently propelled Van, past two screened beds, toward a third one near the window. There he left Van, while he seated himself at a small table in the door corner and leisurely unfolded the Russian-language newspaper Golos (Logos). (1.42)

Golos is Russian for “voice.” When Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s husband) falls ill, his sister Dorothy reads to him old issues of the Golos Feniksa (The Phoenix Voice, Russian-language newspaper in Arizona):

Dorothy, a born nurser, considerably surpassed Ada (who, never being ill herself, could not stand the sight of an ailing stranger) in readiness of sickbed attendance, such as reading to the sweating and suffocating patient old issues of the Golos Feniksa; but on Friday the hotel doctor bundled him off to the nearby American Hospital, where even his sister was not allowed to visit him ‘because of the constant necessity of routine tests’ — or rather because the poor fellow wished to confront disaster in manly solitude. (3.8)

In his essay Panorama Moskvy (“The Panorama of Moscow,” 1834) Lermontov compares the Moscow Kremlin (that nearly burned down in the Great Moscow Fire of 1812) to phoenix (the fairy tale bird that burns itself and is reborn):

Что сравнить с этим Кремлём, который, окружась зубчатыми стенами, красуясь золотыми главами соборов, возлежит на высокой горе, как державный венец на челе грозного владыки?..

Он алтарь России, на нём должны совершаться и уже совершались многие жертвы, достойные отечества... Давно ли, как баснословный феникс, он возродился из пылающего своего праха?..

Dorothy Vinelander eventually marries a Mr. Brod or Bred:

After helping her to nurse Andrey at Agavia Ranch through a couple of acrimonious years (she begrudged Ada every poor little hour devoted to collecting, mounting, and rearing!), and then taking exception to Ada’s choosing the famous and excellent Grotonovich Clinic (for her husband’s endless periods of treatment) instead of Princess Alashin’s select sanatorium, Dorothy Vinelander retired to a subarctic monastery town (Ilemna, now Novostabia) where eventually she married a Mr Brod or Bred, tender and passionate, dark and handsome, who traveled in eucharistials and other sacramental objects throughout the Severnïya Territorii and who subsequently was to direct, and still may be directing half a century later, archeological reconstructions at Goreloe (the ‘Lyaskan Herculanum’); what treasures he dug up in matrimony is another question.

In Voina i mir (“War and Peace,” 1869) Tolstoy mentions Krymskiy Brod (the Crimean Ford Bridge across the Moskva river). In the first line of his poem Smychok i struny ("The Bow and the Strings," 1908) Annenski mentions tyazhyolyi, tyomnyi bred (the heavy, dark delirium):

Какой тяжёлый, тёмный бред!

Как эти выси мутно-лунны!

Касаться скрипки столько лет

И не узнать при свете струны!

Кому ж нас надо? Кто зажёг

Два жёлтых лика, два унылых...

И вдруг почувствовал смычок,

Что кто-то взял и кто-то слил их.

"О, как давно! Сквозь эту тьму

Скажи одно: ты та ли, та ли?"

И струны ластились к нему,

Звеня, но, ластясь, трепетали.

"Не правда ль, больше никогда

Мы не расстанемся? довольно?.."

И скрипка отвечала да,

Но сердцу скрипки было больно.

Смычок всё понял, он затих,

А в скрипке эхо все держалось...

И было мукою для них,

Что людям музыкой казалось.

Но человек не погасил

До утра свеч... И струны пели...

Лишь солнце их нашло без сил

На чёрном бархате постели.

How dark and heavy’s the delirium’s embrace!

How they’re turbid under moon – the heights!

To have touched Violin for so many years

And not distinguish those Strings in light!

Who craves for us? Who, insolent, has set

In flames two faces, yellow and vexed,

And suddenly the saddened Bow felt

That someone took them and forever merged.

‘How long ago it was – as in a dream –

Tell me trough dark: are you the same one, else?’…

And Strings pressed close, caressing, to him,

Ringing and tossing in their fond caress.

‘Is that all true, that it’s enough, God blessed,

That we shall never ever part again?

And poor Violin replied him always ‘yes’,

Though its heart was sinking in sharp pain.

Bow fell silent, understanding, then,

But poor Violin still echoed its complaint,

And what seemed music to the most men,

To both of them was everlasting pain.

The man didn’t blow, till the night was gone,

The candles … And the Strings were singing, yet…

And they were found, drained of strength, by sun

On the black velvet of the sleepless bed.

(transl. E. Bonver)

VN’s story Lips to Lips begins as follows:

Ещё рыдали скрипки, исполняя как будто гимн страсти и любви, но уже Ирина и взволнованный Долинин быстро направлялись к выходу из театра. Их манила весенняя ночь, манила тайна, которая напряженно встала между ними. Сердца их дрожали в унисон.

-- Дайте мне ваш номер от гардеробной вешалки,-- промолвил Долинин (вычеркнуто).

-- Позвольте, я достану вашу шляпку и манто (вычеркнуто).

-- Позвольте,-- промолвил Долинин,-- я достану ваши вещи (между "ваши" и "вещи" вставлено "и свои"). Долинин подошёл к гардеробу и, предъявив номерок (переделано: "оба номерка")...

Тут Илья Борисович задумался. Неловко, неловко замешкать у гардероба.

The violins were still weeping, performing, it seemed, a hymn of passion and love, but already Irina and the deeply moved Dolinin were rapidly walking toward the exit. They were lured by the spring night, by the mystery that had tensely stood up between them. Their two hearts were beating as one.
“Give me your cloakroom ticket,” uttered Dolinin (crossed out).
“Please, let me get your hat and manteau” (crossed out).
“Please,” uttered Dolinin, “let me get your things” (“and my” inserted between “your” and “things”).
Dolinin went up to the cloakroom, and after producing his little ticket (corrected to “both little tickets”)—
Here Ilya Borisovich Tal grew pensive. It was awkward, most awkward, to dawdle there.

Bog + nikto + len’ + doch’ + nadezhda + oda = Log + Botkin + den’ + noch’ + odezhda + Ada

Bog – God

len’ – laziness, idleness; indolence

nadezhda – hope; Nadezhda is a female given name; in Pale Fire Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent) went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda

oda – ode

den’ – day

noch’ – night

odezhda – clothes

Alexey Sklyarenko

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