NABOKV-L post 0027224, Tue, 15 Nov 2016 00:28:42 +0300

Subject
beau milieu, Casanovanic situation,
eight compliments in Ada; Tom in King, Queen, Knave
Date
Body
The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau
milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and
cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too
obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young
laymen and lemans ― and not to grave men or gravemen. (1.3)



In her memoir essay on Voloshin, Zhivoe o zhivom ("A Living Word about a
Living Man," 1932), Marina Tsvetaev uses the phrase au beau milieu (right in
the middle) as applied to Victor Hugo's poem Napoléon II (1832):



И внезапно \xa8C au beau milieu Victor Hugo Наполеону II \xa8C
уже не вкрадчиво, а срочно: \xa8C А нельзя ли б
удет пойти куда-нибудь в другое место? \xa8C М
ожно, конечно, вниз тогда, но там семь град
усов и больше не бывает.



According to Marina Tsvetaev, she invited Voloshin to a room downstairs
where the temperature is never above sem’ gradusov (seven degrees). In VN’
s novel Pale Fire (1962) Gradus is the name of Shade’s murderer. Semyorka
(Seven) is one of the three secret cards in Pushkin’s story Pikovaya dama
(“The Queen of Spades,” 1833). In his Eugene Onegin Commentary (vol. III,
p. 97) VN says that de la Motte Fouqué’s Pique-Dame (“Reports from the
Madhouse. From the Swedish,” 1826) was known to Pushkin when he wrote “The
Queen of Spades.” Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué is the author of Die Undine
(1811), a romance imitated by Zhukovski. In her poem Ya seychas lezhu
nichkom… (“I am now lying prone…” 1913) Marina Tsvetaev compares herself
to Salamander and Undine (see my previous post).



According to Tomski (a character in “The Queen of Spades”), about sixty
years ago his eighty-year-old grandmother (the old Countess) was known in
Paris as la Vénus 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)



In his story about his grandmother Tomski mentions Casanova and his Memoirs:



С нею был коротко знаком человек очень за
мечательный. Вы слышали о графе Сен-Жерме
не, о котором рассказывают так много чуде
сного. Вы знаете, что он выдавал себя за ве
чного жида, за изобретателя жизненного эл
иксира и философского камня, и прочая. Над
ним смеялись, как над шарлатаном, а Казано
ва в своих Записках говорит, что он был шп
ион…



She had shortly before become acquainted with a very remarkable man. You
have heard of Count St. Germain, about whom so many marvellous stories are
told. You know that he represented himself as the Wandering Jew, as the
discoverer of the elixir of life, of the philosopher's stone, and so forth.
Some laughed at him as a charlatan; and Casanova, in his Memoirs, says that
he was a spy. (ibid.)



Marina Tsvetaev’s husband Sergey Efron was a double agent. Casanova is the
main character in Marina Tsvetaev’s play Priklyuchenie (“The Adventure,”
1919). A character in Marina Tsvetaev’s play, Henry says that the stairs of
love has seven steps:



АНРИ

Не всё

Так просто под луною, Казанова!

Семь ступеней у лестницы любовной...

КАЗАНОВА

Я на восьмой тогда! (scene two)



Casanova replies that, in that case, he is on the eighth step. After the
night of love with Ada, Van tells her that he has paid her eight
compliments, as a certain Venetian:



‘My love,’ said Van, ‘my phantom orchid, my lovely bladder-senna! I have
not slept for two nights ― one of which I spent imagining the other, and
this other turned out to be more than I had imagined. I’ve had enough of
you for the time being.’

‘Not a very fine compliment,’ said Ada, and rang resonantly for more
toast.

‘I’ve paid you eight compliments, as a certain Venetian ―’

‘I’m not interested in vulgar Venetians. You have become so coarse, dear
Van, so strange...’ (1.31)



Describing the debauch à trois (btw., three is another secret card in
Pushkin’s story) in his Manhattan apartment after the dinner in ‘Ursus,’
Van mentions “a Casanovanic situation:”



What we have now is not so much a Casanovanic situation (that double-wencher
had a definitely monochromatic pencil - in keeping with the memoirs of his
dingy era) as a much earlier canvas, of the Venetian (sensu largo) school,
reproduced (in 'Forbidden Masterpieces') expertly enough to stand the
scrutiny of a borders vue d'oiseau. (2.8)



Ursus is a character in Victor Hugo's novel L'Homme qui Rit ("The Laughing
Man," 1869).



In “The Queen of Spades” Hermann imagines the old Countess’ long-dead
lover whose hair was dressed à l'oiseau royal:



Он спустился вниз по витой лестнице и вош
ёл опять в спальню графини. Мёртвая стару
ха сидела окаменев; лицо её выражало глуб
окое спокойствие. Германн остановился пе
ред нею, долго смотрел на неё, как бы желая
удостовериться в ужасной истине; наконец
вошёл в кабинет, ощупал за обоями дверь и
стал сходить по тёмной лестнице, волнуемы
й странными чувствованиями. По этой самой
лестнице, думал он, может быть, лет шестьд
есят назад, в эту самую спальню, в такой же
час, в шитом кафтане, причесанный à l’oiseau
royal, прижимая к сердцу треугольную свою шл
япу, прокрадывался молодой счастливец, да
вно уже истлевший в могиле, а сердце прест
арелой его любовницы сегодня перестало б
иться...



He descended the winding staircase, and once more entered the Countess's
bedroom. The dead old lady sat as if petrified; her face expressed profound
tranquillity. Hermann stopped before her, and gazed long and earnestly at
her, as if he wished to convince himself of the terrible reality; at last he
entered the cabinet, felt behind the tapestry for the door, and then began
to descend the dark staircase, filled with strange emotions. "Down this very
staircase," thought he, "perhaps coming from the very same room, and at this
very same hour sixty years ago, there may have glided, in an embroidered
coat, with his hair dressed à l'oiseau royal and pressing to his heart his
three-cornered hat, some young gallant, who has long been mouldering in the
grave, but the heart of his aged mistress has only to-day ceased to beat..."
(chapter IV)



Pushkin’s Hermann bears a striking resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon:



Утро наступало. Лизавета Ивановна погаси
ла догорающую свечу: бледный свет озарил
её комнату. Она отёрла заплаканные глаза
и подняла их на Германна: он сидел на окош
ке, сложа руки и грозно нахмурясь. В этом п
оложении удивительно напоминал он портре
т Наполеона. Это сходство поразило даже Л
изавету Ивановну.



The day began to dawn. Lizaveta Ivanovna extinguished her candle: a pale
light illumined her room. She wiped her tear-stained eyes and raised them
towards Hermann: he was sitting near the window, with his arms crossed and
with a fierce frown upon his forehead. In this attitude he bore a striking
resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon. This resemblance struck even
Lizaveta Ivanovna. (ibid.)



Hermann is the name of the narrator and main character in VN’s Otchayanie
(“Despair,” 1934). In VN’s novel Hermann murders the man who appears to
him as his perfect double. It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s
unfinished poem in Pale Fire needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1,
“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also Line 1001 (the coda):



By its own double in the windowpane.



Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem
(1914) by Blok (who, according to G. Ivanov, did not know what a coda was).
The L disaster that happened on Antiterra in the beau milieu of the 19th
century seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the
Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS) in our world.



VN is the author of Korol’, dama, valet (“King, Queen, Knave,” 1928). The
name of the dog in VN’s novel, Tom, brings to mind Tomski in “The Queen of
Spades.”



Alexey Sklyarenko


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