NABOKV-L post 0027233, Sun, 27 Nov 2016 13:50:43 +0300

Subject
Pushkin in Ada; Mickiewicz in The Gift; poor,
poor Dantes in The Luzhin Defense
Date
Body
The year 1880 (Aqua was still alive — somehow, somewhere!) was to prove to be the most retentive and talented one in his long, too long, never too long life. He was ten. His father had lingered in the West where the many-colored mountains acted upon Van as they had on all young Russians of genius. He could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin’s ‘Headless Horseman’ poem in less than twenty minutes. (1.28)



Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): The Headless Horseman: Mayne Reid’s title is ascribed here to Pushkin, author of The Bronze Horseman.



In the third and fifth note of the five notes that he appended to The Bronze Horseman Pushkin mentions Mickiewicz:



Мицкевич прекрасными стихами описал день, предшествовавший петербургскому наводнению, в одном из лучших своих стихотворений — Oleszkiewicz. Жаль только, что описание его не точно. Снегу не было — Нева не была покрыта льдом. Наше описание вернее, хотя в нём и нет ярких красок польского поэта.



Смотри описание памятника в Мицкевиче. Оно заимствовано из Рубана — как замечает сам Мицкевич.



In VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Fyodor quotes a fragment from Suhoshchokov’s (fictitious) Memoirs of the Past in which the author speaks of Pushkin:



"Говорят, -- писал Сухощоков, -- что человек, которому отрубили по бедро ногу, долго ощущает её, шевеля несуществующими пальцами и напрягая несуществующие мышцы. Так и Россия ещё долго будет ощущать живое присутствие Пушкина. Есть нечто соблазнительное, как пропасть, в его роковой участи, да и сам он чувствовал, что с роком у него были и будут особые счёты. В дополнение к поэту, извлекающему поэзию из своего прошедшего, он ещё находил её в трагической мысли о будущем. Тройная формула человеческого бытия: невозвратимость, несбыточность, неизбежность, -- была ему хорошо знакома. А как же ему хотелось жить! В уже упомянутом альбоме моей "академической" тётки им было собственноручно записано стихотворение, которое до сих пор помню умом и глазами, так что вижу даже положение его на странице:

О, нет, мне жизнь не надоела,
Я жить хочу, я жить люблю
Душа не вовсе охладела,
Утратя молодость свою.

Ещё судьба меня согреет,
Романом гения упьюсь,
Мицкевич пусть еще созреет,
Кой чем я сам ещё займусь.



Ни один поэт, кажется, так часто, то шутя, то суеверно, то вдохновенно-серьёзно, не вглядывался в грядущее. До сих пор у нас в Курской губернии живёт, перевалив за сто лет, старик, которого помню уже пожилым человеком, придурковатым и недобрым, -- а Пушкина с нами нет. Между тем, в течение долгой жизни моей встречаясь с замечательными талантами и переживая замечательные события, я часто задумывался над тем, как отнёсся бы он к тому, к этому: ведь он мог бы увидеть освобождение крестьян, мог бы прочитать "Анну Каренину"!..” Возвращаясь теперь к этим моим мечтаниям, вспоминаю, что в юности однажды мне даже было нечто вроде видения. Этот психологический эпизод сопряжен с воспоминанием о лице, здравствующем поныне, которое назову Ч., -- да не посетует оно на меня за это оживление далёкого прошлого. Мы были знакомы домами, дед мой с его отцом водили некогда дружбу. Будучи в 36 году заграницей, этот Ч., тогда совсем юноша (ему и семнадцати не было), повздорил с семьей, тем ускорив, говорят кончину своего батюшки, героя отечественной войны, и в компании с какими-то гамбургскими купцами преспокойно уплыл в Бостон, а оттуда попал в Техас, где успешно занимался скотоводством. Так прошло лет двадцать. Нажитое состояние он проиграл в экартэ на миссисипском кильботе, отыгрался в притонах Нового Орлеана, снова всё просадил и после одной из тех безобразно-продолжительных, громких, дымных дуэлей в закрытом помещении бывших тогда фешенебельными в Луизиане, -- да и многих других приключений, он заскучал по России, где его кстати ждала вотчина, и с той же беспечной лёгкостью, с какой уезжал, вернулся в Европу. Как-то в зимний день, в 1858 году, он нагрянул к нам на Мойку; отец был в отъезде, гостя принимала молодежь. Глядя на этого заморского щёголя в чёрной мягкой шляпе и черной одежде, среди романтического мрака коей особенно ослепительно выделялись шелковая, с пышными сборками, рубашка и сине-сиренево-розовый жилет с алмазными пуговицами, мы с братом едва могли сдержать смех, и тут же решили
воспользоваться тем, что за все эти годы он ровно ничего не слыхал о родине, точно она куда-то провалилась, так что теперь сорокалетним Рип-ван-Винкелем проснувшись в изменившемся Петербурге, Ч. был жаден до всяческих сведений,
которыми мы и принялись обильно снабжать его, причем врали безбожно. На вопрос, например, жив ли Пушкин, и что пишет, я кощунственно отвечал, что "как же, на-днях тиснул новую поэму". В тот же вечер мы повели нашего гостя
в театр. Вышло, впрочем, не совсем удачно. Вместо того, чтобы его попотчевать новой русской комедией, мы показали ему "Отелло" со знаменитым чернокожим трагиком Ольдриджем в главной роли. Нашего плантатора сперва как бы
рассмешило появление настоящего негра на сцене. К дивной мощи его игры он остался равнодушен и больше занимался разглядыванием публики, особливо наших петербургских дам (на одной из которых вскоре после того женился),
поглощенных в ту минуту завистью к Дездемоне.

"Посмотрите, кто с нами рядом, -- вдруг обратился вполголоса мой братец к Ч. -- Да вот, справа от нас".
В соседней ложе сидел старик... Небольшого роста, в поношенном фраке, желтовато-смуглый, с растрепанными пепельными баками и проседью в жидких, взъерошенных волосах, он преоригинально наслаждался игрою африканца: толстые
губы вздрагивали, ноздри были раздуты, при иных пассажах он даже подскакивал и стучал от удовольствия по барьеру, сверкая перстнями.
"Кто же это?" -- спросил Ч.
"Как, не узнаете? Вглядитесь хорошенько".
"Не узнаю".
Тогда мой брат сделал большие глаза и шепнул:
"Да ведь это Пушкин!".
Ч. поглядел... и через минуту заинтересовался чем-то другим. Мне теперь смешно вспомнить, какое тогда на меня нашло странное настроение: шалость, как это иной раз случается, обернулась не тем боком, и легкомысленно вызванный дух не хотел исчезнуть; я не в силах был оторваться от соседней ложи, я смотрел на эти резкие морщины, на широкий нос, на большие уши... по спине пробегали мурашки, вся отеллова ревность не могла меня отвлечь. Что если это и впрямь Пушкин, грезилось мне, Пушкин в шестьдесят лет, Пушкин, пощаженный пулей рокового хлыща, Пушкин, вступивший в роскошную осень своего гения... Вот это он, вот эта жёлтая рука, сжимающая маленький дамский бинокль, написала "Анчар", "Графа Нулина", "Египетские Ночи"... Действие кончилось; грянули рукоплескания. Седой Пушкин порывисто встал и всё ещё улыбаясь, со светлым блеском в молодых глазах, быстро вышел из ложи".



They say that a man whose leg is cut off at the hip can feel it for a long time, moving nonexistent toes and flexing nonexistent muscles. Thus will Russia long continue to feel the living presence of Pushkin. There is something seductive, like an abyss, in his fatal destiny, and indeed, he himself felt that he had had, and would have, a special reckoning with fate. In addition to the poet’s extracting poetry out of his past, he also found it in tragic thoughts about the future. The triple formula of human existence: irrevocability, unrealizability, inevitability—was well known to him. But how he wanted to live! In the above-mentioned album of my “academic” aunt he personally wrote a poem which I can remember to this day, both mentally and visually, so that I can even see its position on the page:



Oh no, my life has not grown tedious,

I want it still, I love it still.

My soul, although its youth has vanished,

Has not become completely chill.



Fate will yet comfort me; a novel

Of genius I shall yet enjoy,

I’ll see yet a mature Mickiéwicz,

With something I myself may toy.



I do not think one could find any other poet who peered so often—now in jest, now superstitiously, or with inspired seriousness—into the future. Right to this day there lives in the Province of Kursk, topping the hundred mark, an old man whom I remember as being already elderly, stupid and malicious—but Pushkin is no longer with us. Meeting in the course of my long life with remarkable talents and living through remarkable events, I have often meditated on how he would have reacted to this and that: why, he could have seen the emancipation of the serfs and could have read Anna Karenin!… Returning now to these reveries of mine I recall that once in my youth I had something in the nature of a vision. This psychological episode is closely linked with the recollection of a personage still thriving to this very day, whom I shall call Ch.—I trust he will not blame me for this revival of a distant past. We were acquainted through our families—my grandfather had once been friendly with his father. In 1836, while abroad, this Ch. who was then quite young—barely seventeen—quarreled with his family (and in so doing hastened, so they say, the decease of his sire, a hero of the Napoleonic War), and in the company of some Hamburg merchants sailed nonchalantly off to Boston, from there landing in Texas where he successfully took up cattle breeding. In that manner twenty years passed. The fortune he had made he lost playing écarté on a Mississippi keel-boat, won it back in the gaming houses of New Orleans, blued it all over again, and after one of those scandalously prolonged, noisy, smoky duels on closed premises which were then fashionable in Louisiana—and after many other adventures—he became homesick for Russia where, conveniently, a demesne was awaiting him, and with the same carefree easiness with which he had left it, he returned to Europe. Once, on a winter’s day in 1858, he visited us unexpectedly at our house on the Moyka, in St. Petersburg; Father was away and the guest was received by us youngsters. As we looked at this outlandish fop in his soft black hat and black clothes, the romantic gloom of which caused his silk shirt with its sumptuous pleats, and his blue, lilac and pink waistcoat with diamond buttons to stand out particularly dazzlingly, my brother and I could hardly contain our laughter and decided there and then to take advantage of the fact that during all these years he had heard absolutely nothing of his homeland, as if it had fallen through some trap door, so that now, like a forty-year-old Rip van Winkle waking up in a transformed St. Petersburg, Ch. was hungry for any news, the which we undertook to give him plenty of, mixed with our outrageous fabrications. To the question, for instance, was Pushkin alive and what was he writing, I blasphemously replied, “Why, he came out with a new poem the other day.” That night we took our guest to the theater. It did not turn out too well, however. Instead of treating him to a new Russian comedy we showed him Othello with the famous black tragedian Aldridge. At first our American planter seemed to be highly amused by the appearance of a genuine Negro on the stage. But he remained indifferent to the marvelous power of his acting and was more taken up with examining the audience, especially our St. Petersburg ladies (one of whom he soon afterwards married), who were devoured at that moment with envy for Desdemona.

“Look who’s sitting next to us,” my brother suddenly said to Ch. in a low voice, “There, to our right.”

In the neighboring box there sat an old man…. Of shortish stature, in a worn tailcoat, with a sallow and swarthy complexion, disheveled ashen side-whiskers, and sparse, gray-streaked tousled hair, he was taking a most eccentric delight in the acting of the African: his thick lips twitched, his nostrils were dilated, and at certain bits he even jumped up and down in his seat and banged with delight on the parapet, his rings flashing.

“Who’s that?” asked Ch.

“What, don’t you recognize him? Look closer.”

“I don’t recognize him.”

Then my brother made big eyes and whispered, “Why, that’s Pushkin!”

Ch. looked again… and after a minute became interested by something else. It seems funny now to recall what a strange mood came upon me then: the prank, as happens from time to time, rebounded, and this frivolously summoned ghost did not want to disappear: I was quite incapable of tearing myself away from the neighboring box; I looked at those harsh wrinkles, that broad nose, those large ears… shivers ran down my back, and not all of Othello’s jealousy was able to drag me away. What if this is indeed Pushkin, I mused, Pushkin at sixty, Pushkin spared two decades ago by the bullet of the fatal coxcomb, Pushkin in the rich autumn of his genius…. This is he; this yellow hand grasping those lady’s opera glasses wrote Anchar, Graf Nulin, The Egyptian Nights…. The act finished; applause thundered. Gray-haired Pushkin stood up abruptly, and still smiling, with a bright sparkle in his youthful eyes, quickly left his box. (Chapter Two)



“A man whose leg is cut off at the hip” brings to mind d’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm whom Ada met at Marina’s funeral:



Oh, I like you better with that nice overweight — there’s more of you. It’s the maternal gene, I suppose, because Demon grew leaner and leaner. He looked positively Quixotic when I saw him at Mother’s funeral. It was all very strange. He wore blue mourning. D’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around Demon and both wept comme des fontaines. (3.8)



Describing Demon’s sword duel with Baron d’Onsky (Skonky), Van mentions an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement:



The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish — a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston — a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2)



D’Artagnan is the main character in Dumas’ Three Musketeers. The name of Demon’s adversary seems to hint at Onegin’s donskoy zherebets (Don stallion) in Chapter Two (V: 4) of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Chapter Two of EO has the motto: O Rus!.. Hor.



The second stanza of Pushkin’s poem O net, mne zhizn’ ne nadoela… (“Oh no, my life has not grown tedious…”) in which Mickiewicz is mentioned was composed by VN.



The action in Captain Mayne Reid’s Headless Horseman takes place in Taxes. The novel’s main character is Maurice Gerald (Maurice the Mustanger). In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1967) VN describes Maurice Gerald’s duel with Cassius Calhoun (the ‘slave-whipping Mississipian’) in a saloon that, as a boy, he enacted with his cousin Yuri Rausch. Describing his journeys with Demon, Van mentions gay resorts in Louisiana (where “smoky duels on closed premises were fashionable”) and Nevada:



In 1880, Van, aged ten, had traveled in silver trains with showerbaths, accompanied by his father, his father's beautiful secretary, the secretary's eighteen-year-old white-gloved sister (with a bit part as Van's English governess and milkmaid), and his chaste, angelic Russian tutor, Andrey Andreevich Aksakov ('AAA'), to gay resorts in Louisiana and Nevada. AAA explained, he remembered, to a Negro lad with whom Van had scrapped, that Pushkin and Dumas had African blood, upon which the lad showed AAA his tongue, a new interesting trick which Van emulated at the earliest occasion and was slapped by the younger of the Misses Fortune, put it back in your face, sir, she said. (1.24)



In one of her letters to Van Ada mentions Nevada, her rhyme-name town:



We are still at the candy-pink and pisang-green albergo where you once stayed with your father. He is awfully nice to me, by the way. I enjoy going places with him. He and I have gamed at Nevada, my rhyme-name town, but you are also there, as well as the legendary river of Old Rus. (2.1)



“The legendary river of Old Rus” is the Neva. In The Bronze Horseman Pushkin describes the disastrous Neva flood of 1824.



At the beginning of VN’s novel Zashchita Luzhina (“The Luzhin Defense,” 1930) Luzhin’s French governess reads to her charge Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo and interrupts the reading to exclaim Bednyi, bednyi Dantes! (“poor, poor Dantès!”):



Тучная француженка, читавшая ему вслух "Монте-кристо" и прерывавшая чтение, чтобы с чувством воскликнуть "бедный, бедный Дантес!", предлагала его родителям, что сама возьмёт быка за рога, хотя быка этого смертельно боялась. Бедный, бедный Дантес не возбуждал в нём участия, и, наблюдая её воспитательный вздох, он только щурился и терзал резинкой ватманскую бумагу, стараясь поужаснее нарисовать выпуклость её бюста. (chapter I)



At the end of VN’s novel poor Luzhin commits suicide by jumping from the bathroom window. In his first note to The Bronze Horseman Pushkin quotes Francesco Algarotti who compared St. Petersburg to the window through which Russia looks at Europe:



Альгаротти где-то сказал: «Pétersbourg est la fenêtre par laquelle la Russie regarde en Europe».



In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901), known on Antiterra (Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as Four Sisters (2.1 et passim), Irina forgets the Italian word for “window:”



‘…All the rest had a macedoine of accents — English, French, Italian — by the way what’s the Italian for "window"?’

‘Finestra, sestra,’ said Van, mimicking a mad prompter.

‘Irina (sobbing): "Where, where has it all gone? Oh, dear, oh, dear! All is forgotten, forgotten, muddled up in my head — I don’t remember the Italian for ‘ceiling’ or, say, ‘window.’"’

‘No, "window" comes first in that speech,’ said Van, ‘because she looks around, and then up; in the natural movement of thought.’ (2.9)



The name of the main character in The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès, brings to mind George d’Anthès, Pushkin’s adversary in his fatal duel. In Ada Edmond is the name of Cordula de Prey’s chauffeur:



Cordula told Edmond: ‘Arrêtez près de what’s-it-called, yes, Albion, le store pour messieurs, in Luga’; and as peeved Van remonstrated: ‘You can’t go back to civilization in pajamas,’ she said firmly. ‘I shall buy you some clothes, while Edmond has a mug of coffee.’ (1.42)



Doch’ Albiona (“Albion’s Daughter,” 1883) is a story by Chekhov. In a letter of Dec. 18, 1893, to Suvorin Chekhov says that he has abridged The Count of Monte Cristo drastically and offers Suvorin his version of Dumas’ poor novel:



Вы как-то спрашивали в письме насчёт «Графа Монте-Кристо» Дюма. Он давно уже сокращён, так сокращён, бедняга, что покойный Свободин, увидев, ужаснулся и нарисовал карикатуру. Вам привезти сей роман или прислать через магазин?



It is Cordula who tells Van about Percy de Prey’s death in the Crimea. According to Bill Fraser (who witnessed the death of his platoon’s leader), an old Tartar who shot Percy dead twice repeated the word bednyi (“poor”):



When a couple of minutes later, Percy — still Count Percy de Prey — regained consciousness he was no longer alone on his rough bed of gravel and grass. A smiling old Tartar, incongruously but somehow assuagingly wearing American blue-jeans with his beshmet, was squatting by his side. ‘Bednïy, bednïy’ (you poor, poor fellow), muttered the good soul, shaking his shaven head and clucking: ‘Bol’no (it hurts)?’ Percy answered in his equally primitive Russian that he did not feel too badly wounded: ‘Karasho, karasho ne bol’no (good, good),’ said the kindly old man and, picking up the automatic pistol which Percy had dropped, he examined it with naive pleasure and then shot him in the temple. (ibid.)



In Speak, Memory VN tells about Yuri Rausch’s death in the Crimea:



I suddenly see myself in the uniform of an officers’ training school: we are strolling again villageward, in 1916, and (like Maurice Gerald and doomed Henry Pointdexter) have exchanged clothes—Yuri is wearing my white flannels and striped tie. During the short week he stayed that year we devised a singular entertainment which I have not seen described anywhere. There was a swing in the center of a small circular playground surrounded by jasmins, at the bottom of our garden. We adjusted the ropes in such a way as to have the green swingboard pass just a couple of inches above one’s forehead and nose if one lay supine on the sand beneath. One of us would start the fun by standing on the board and swinging with increasing momentum; the other would lie down with the back of his head on a marked spot, and from what seemed an enormous height the swinger’s board would swish swiftly above the supine one’s face. And three years later, as a cavalry officer in Denikin’s army, he was killed fighting the Reds in northern Crimea. I saw him dead in Yalta, the whole front of his skull pushed back by the impact of several bullets, which had hit him like the iron board of a monstrous swing, when having outstripped his detachment he was in the act of recklessly attacking alone a Red machine-gun nest. Thus was quenched his lifelong thirst for intrepid conduct in battle, for that ultimate gallant gallop with drawn pistol or unsheathed sword. Had I been competent to write his epitaph, I might have summed up matters by saying—in richer words than I can muster here—that all emotions, all thoughts, were governed in Yuri by one gift: a sense of honor equivalent, morally, to absolute pitch. (Chapter Ten, 1)



Pushkin’s short novel Kapitanskaya dochka (“The Captain’s Daughter,” 1836) has the epigraph: Beregi chest’ smolodu (Take care of [your] honor from when [you are] young). It is a part of the saying beregi plat'ye snovu, a chest' smolodu (take care of clothes from new, take care of [your] honor from when [you are] young).



Alexey Sklyarenko


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