NABOKV-L post 0016548, Sat, 21 Jun 2008 19:48:53 -0700

Re: children's rhymes
I agree with JM completely. Nabokov's literary texture is so rich and varied that it seems like one could take anything and simply word associate until one got where one thought one wanted to go. I'd never wondered about the oddity of the phrase "Gory Mary"before. I can't recall if Sklyarenko actually turned up this exact phrase or name in Russian literary history or not. I would have thought, considering Van calls it Irish barroom parlance, that it might be found somewhere in Joyce or something. I wonder about this method, which, in Boyd, to my mind, does not seem thoroughly rooted in context. As I recall, his theories about the Toothwort white butterfly and their theoretical comparisons in terms of natural shyness, and scaly whiteness, to the character of Hazel Shade and her psoriasis, and the tortured manner which he used to connect what he thought was her haunting spirit to the Vanessa butterfly that appears near the end of Shade's life was argued with scholarly
brilliance but never seemed fully rooted in the story. Nabokov himself criticized Joyce's overly snarled up allusions which he claimed only a genius could make heads or tail of, and in his own ample Onegin annotations, as I recall, while N. may have gone far affield to track down and explain nearly anything relating in history to any facet of Pushkin's poem, I don't recall him playing these sorts of cross-associative word games by which to build up another story besides the one dramatized. I know Nabokov said in his letter to Katherine White about "The Vane Sisters" that he was doing work where there was one obvious story, with behind it a hidden real one, but I'm not sure a sound formula for literary exegesis it makes. Also, while in the story of "The Vane Sisters" this encoded other-tale is just concretely demonstrable, in Pale Fire and Ada, and in some of the other stories I've read analyzed, this sort of thing leaves one with nagging doubts. But I seem to have gone far
off the path of whatever my point was myself which was to know where exactly the phrase "Gory Mary" came from.

jansymello <jansy@AETERN.US> wrote: Alexey: I'm not refuting Jansy's arguments, I merely wish to change the perspective[...]Here are Mandelstam's rhymes on her [Maria], from his "Anthology of the Wordly Stupidity:"This is Madam Maria./Coal is almost what peat is./But not every Maria/Has the surname Benkendorf[...] Maria Budberg (whose pet name was Mura, and who is accused of bringing ailing Gorky poisonous sweets[...] Veen (the family name of most of Ada's characters) means "peat bog" in Dutch. Russian for "peat" is torf (the rhyme-word of the name Benkendorf; cf. Torfyanka, a village near Ardis Hall and the adjective torfyanuyu, "peaty," composed by Ada in a Flavita game: 1.36). TORF = FTOR = FORT = ORT + F = ROT + F = TROFEY - EY[...] One of the songs that Van, Ada and Lucette listen to in Ursus: "There's a crag on the Ross; overgrown with wild moss"; fort is also German for "away;" Ort is German for "place;" rot is Russian for "mouth" and German for "red;"
trofey is Russian for "trophy;" ey is a form of the Russian pronoun ona, "she," in the dative, "to her"); there are other possibilities.

J. Aisenberg: I am in fact one of those poor Americans to whom you referred who has only the one language, though I have read up on many thoughts about the texture of the book, and dabbled in Russian literary history. That's why I'm sort of trying to grasp the method of Mr. Sklyarenko's thinking. It reminds me a little of Brian Boyd's Pale Fire book.

JM: Alexey, your report is a fascinating one, with one information leading onto another while offering various strands of stories to follow and relate to VN in a unique way.
I wonder, though, if like J.Aisenberg, I would compare your "method" to the one I find in Briand Boyd's annotations. You seem to thoroughly and competently explore every polisemic lead that Nabokov's wide vocabulary is able to stimulate.
Besides, you not only rely on the dictionarized words themselves to derive associations from their etymological richness, but you follow parallel clues extracted from anagrams, puns and hidden allusions, a risky business.
And yet, you recognized the lurking dangers when you added: "there are other possibilities" since, quite often, your extended clues veer off Nabokov's writerly conscious control.
Nevertheless you may be onto something - should one of your possible working-assumptions proceeds as in the following sample:
Should VN have departed from "peat" or "bog" to determine the surname "Veen", while keeping in mind "torf", he might have dispersed, at various points in his novels, these distinct allusions ( as those presented thru the Flavita game, or a Brueghel painting, or flower-cum-butterfly favorite perch) before he continued to explore new surnames and unplanned poetic references to carry on using the now recognizable bits that have been engendered by these signifiers. In this way he could extend his plots rather consistently and embrace a wealth of images, songs, analogies, rhymes.
The only hitch ( quite a big one) arises from one of the possible conclusions: that parts of any paragraph or chapter in "Ada" or "Pale Fire" would have been built following the leads offered by words and polisemia and not the other way round. Agatha Christie might have found inspiration for a plot following a children's rhyme ( "One Two Buckle My Shoe", "Three Blind Mice", "A Pocketful of Rye", etc) but I don't think VN would have used a similar procedure, unless...?
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