NABOKV-L post 0026902, Tue, 8 Mar 2016 17:58:20 +0300

Subject
Ruby Black & Philip Rack in Ada
Date
Body
After her first battle with insanity at Ex en Valais she returned to America, and suffered a bad defeat, in the days when Van was still being suckled by a very young wet nurse, almost a child, Ruby Black, born Black, who was to go mad too: for no sooner did all the fond, all the frail, come into close contact with him (as later Lucette did, to give another example) than they were bound to know anguish and calamity, unless strengthened by a strain of his father's demon blood.

Aqua was not quite twenty when the exaltation of her nature had begun to reveal a morbid trend. Chronologically, the initial stage of her mental illness coincided with the first decade of the Great Revelation, and although she might have found just as easily another theme for her delusion, statistics shows that the Great, and to some Intolerable, Revelation caused more insanity in the world than even an over-preoccupation with religion had in medieval times. (1.3)



In his Memoirs (1953) Felix Yusupov (who was a willful child and tormented his tutors) mentions his German nurse who went mad because of unrequited love for his father’s secretary:



Оказался я с характером. И теперь без стыда не вспомню, как мучил я воспитателей. Первой была няня-немка. Сперва она растила моего брата, потом перешла ко мне. Несчастная любовь к секретарю отца свела её с ума. Думаю, мой дурной нрав довершил дело. Отец с матерью, насколько помню, поместили её в лечебницу для умалишенных, где пребывала она, пока не выздоровела. Меня же поручили старой матушкиной гувернантке мадемуазель Версиловой, женщине замечательно доброй, преданной, ставшей отчасти членом семьи. (Book One, chapter 5)



The name and skin color of Van’s wet nurse brings to mind “the black ruby” mentioned by Felix Yusupov:



На мою выставку устремился весь Нью-Йорк. Элсин магазин вошёл в моду. Но и только. Люди приходили поболтать и поглазеть на сокровища, а вернее – на нас с Ириной. И разглядывали безделушки, и нас, и жалели нас, и от души пожимали нам руки, и уходили, ничего не купив. Одна растрёпанная экстравагантная дама пришла в магазин и потребовала показать ей the black ruby (чёрный рубин). Она, дескать, для того приехала из Лос-Анджелеса и не уедет, пока не увидит. Еле отделались мы от любознательной гостьи. (Book Two, chapter 6)



An extravagant lady from Los Angeles desired to see “the black ruby” exhibited by Yusupov in Elsie’s shop in New York. The name Elsie brings to mind Elsie de Nord (“a vulgar literary demimondaine,” 1.10, et passim) and Philip Rack’s wife Elsie who poisoned her poor husband (1.42). The name of Lucette’s teacher of music hints at the King Philip II and Spanish Inquisition. According to Felix Yusupov, he owned La Peregrina, the pearl that had belonged to Cleopatra and to Philip II:



В каталоге выставки наша «Перегрина» значилась как жемчужина историческая, принадлежавшая в XIV веке к сокровищам испанской короны. Упоминалось даже о Клеопатре как первой её владелице.
Между тем у герцога Эберкорна имелась жемчужина, которую он считал подлинной «Перегриной», и подлинность нашей оспаривал. Мы сравнили обе. Оказалось, они рознятся формой, весом, величиной. Для очистки совести я сходил в библиотеку Британского музея посмотреть ювелирные справочники. В описании, мной найденном, приметы и вес «Перегрины» Филиппа соответствовали именно нашей, а не герцоговой. (Book Two, chapter 15)



“Elsie de Nord” hints at Elsinore, the royal castle in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Van’s first novel Letters from Terra (1892) that he published under the penname Voltemand was reviewed by the First Clown in Elsinore, a distinguished London weekly (2.2). The reviewer’s pseudonym brings to mind Kloun (Clown), Felix Yusupov’s beloved bulldog. According to Serov (the artist who in 1904 portrayed Felix Yusupov with his dog), Kloun was his best model:



С Клоуном мы не разлучались. Он ходил за мной всюду, а ночью спал рядом на подушке. Когда Серов писал мой портрет, то просил, чтоб и Клоун сидел при мне непременно: говорил, это лучшая его модель. (Book One, chapter 5)



The name Serov comes from seryi (grey). Poor mad Aqua dreams of “just a little grayishness, instead of the solid black:”



She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health ('just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black') in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. (1.3)



The title character of Shakespeare’s Othello is a Venetian Moor. In VN’s play Sobytie (“The Event,” 1938) the portrait painter Troshcheykin (who is pleased with his portrait of the jeweler’s son and who chose the Spanish background for another portrait) observes that there is a connection between precious stones and Negro blood and that Shakespeare perceived it in his Othello:



Трощейкин. Видишь ли, они должны гореть, бросать на него отблеск, но сперва я хочу закрепить отблеск, а потом приняться за его источники. Надо помнить, что искусство движется всегда против солнца. Ноги, видишь, уже совсем перламутровые. Нет, мальчик мне нравится! Волосы хороши: чуть-чуть с чёрной курчавинкой. Есть какая-то связь между драгоценными камнями и негритянской кровью. Шекспир это почувствовал в своем "Отелло". Ну, так. (Смотрит на другой портрет.) А мадам Вагабундова чрезвычайно довольна, что пишу её в белом платье на испанском фоне, и не понимает, какой это страшный кружевной гротеск... Всё-таки, знаешь, я тебя очень прошу, Люба, раздобыть мои мячи, я не хочу, чтобы они были в бегах. (Act One)



Troshcheykin’s name and patronymic, Aleksey Maksimovich, hints at Gorky, the author of Na dne (“At the Bottom,” 1902). In his Memoirs Felix Yusupov mentions Gorky’s play and describes his visit, in a beggar’s rugs and in the company of his brother Nikolay and the young actor Vladimir (“Vova”) Blyumental-Tamarin (both of whom were also dressed as beggars), to the so-called Vyazemski lavra (the biggest asylum of beggars in old St. Petersburg):



Я и Николай познакомились с молодым, милым и очень талантливым актером Блюменталь-Тамариным. Звали его Володя, Вова. В то время в Александринке давали «На дне» Горького. Вова советовал сходить. Петербургские нищие, описанные Горьким, жили в Вяземской лавре. Мне захотелось сходить и в лавру. Я просил Вову помочь. За кулисами он был свой человек и живо добыл нам подходящее тряпье.

В назначенный день мы нацепили лохмотья и отправились в лавру закоулками, от городовых подальше. Однако мимо театра Комической оперы пришлось пройти в момент театрального разъезда. Мне вздумалось сыграть роль до конца, влезть в шкуру нищего. Я встал на углу и протянул руку за милостыней. Дамы в мехах и брильянтах и господа с сигарами проходили мимо и даже не глядели в мою сторону. И хоть я всего-навсего притворялся, и то разозлился. Каковы же чувства настоящих христарадников!

У дверей лавры Вова просил нас молчать, чтобы не выдать себя. В ночлежке мы заняли три койки, прикинулись спящими и тайком разглядывали помещение. Зрелище было ужасное. Кругом – человеческое отребье обоего пола. Лежат вповалку, полуголые, грязные, пьяные. То и дело слышно, как выскакивает пробка. Оборванцы открывают бутылки водки, опоражнивают одним махом и швыряют пустые склянки не глядя. Тут же ссорятся, ругаются, совокупляются, блюют прямо на соседа. Вонь нестерпимая. Долго мы не выдержали. Поднялись и выбежали вон.

На улице я не мог надышаться. Неужели ночлежка – не сон? И это в наше время! Куда смотрит правительство? Можно ли допустить, чтобы человеческие существа влачили столь жалкое существованье?.. Долго потом мучили меня кошмары. (Book One, chapter 12)



Shocked by what he has seen, Yusupov asks himself if nochlezhka (the doss-house ) is not son (a dream). Son is opposed to yav’ (the waking life).



явь + Земский + сон/нос + Вова = Вяземский + вонь + сова



явь – waking life

Земский – Zemski (the Princely name of Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s ancestor)

сон – dream; sleep

нос – nose

Вова – Vova (a diminutive of Vladimir)

Вяземский – Vyazemski (the name of Pushkin’s friend, Prince Peter Vyazemski, 1792-1876); cf. the Vyazemski lavra (named after a different Prince Vyazemski)

вонь – stink, stench (in the above excerpt Yusupov mentions nesterpimaya von’, the unbearable stench, in the doss-house)

сова – owl



According to Troshcheykin (see the quote above), art always moves protiv solntsa (in the counter-sun direction). Poor mad Aqua could not turn over the 'Scrabble' counters sunny side up:



Then the anguish increased to unendurable massivity and nightmare dimensions, making her scream and vomit. She wanted (and was allowed, bless the hospital barber, Bob Bean) to have her dark curls shaved to an aquamarine prickle, because they grew into her porous skull and curled inside. Jigsaw pieces of sky or wall came apart, no matter how delicately put together, but a careless jolt or a nurse's elbow can disturb so easily those lightweight fragments which became incomprehensible blancs of anonymous objects, or the blank backs of 'Scrabble' counters, which she could not turn over sunny side up, because her hands had been tied by a male nurse with Demon's black eyes. But presently panic and pain, like a pair of children in a boisterous game, emitted one last shriek of laughter and ran away to manipulate each other behind a bush as in Count Tolstoy's Anna Karenin, a novel, and again, for a while, a little while, all was quiet in the house, and their mother had the same first name as hers had. (1.3)



Deti solntsa* (“Children of the Sun,” 1906) is a play by Gorky. In Ada’s “sun-and-shade games” there is a gleaming infusion de tilleul (“lime tea”):



Looking down and gesturing with a sharp green stake borrowed from the peonies, Ada explained the first game.

The shadows of leaves on the sand were variously interrupted by roundlets of live light. The player chose his roundlet - the best, the brightest he could find - and firmly outlined it with the point of his stick; whereupon the yellow round light would appear to grow convex like the brimming surface of some golden dye. Then the player delicately scooped out the earth with his stick or fingers within the roundlet. The level of that gleaming infusion de tilleul would magically sink in its goblet of earth and finally dwindle to one precious drop. That player won who made the most goblets in, say, twenty minutes. (1.8)



In Kuprin’s story Zhidkoe solntse (“The Liquid Sun,” 1912) the two Jewish jewelers in Amsterdam give the hero a big, ideally polished diamond that resembles a human eye. At the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday Marina tells Van and Lucette about the old magnetic telephone invented by her husband’s grandmother and mentions “a Jew’s eye:”



Marina's contribution was more modest, but it too had its charm. She showed Van and Lucette (the others knew all about it) the exact pine and the exact spot on its rugged red trunk where in old, very old days a magnetic telephone nested, communicating with Ardis Hall. After the banning of 'currents and circuits,' she said (rapidly but freely, with an actress's désinvolture pronouncing those not quite proper words - while puzzled Lucette tugged at the sleeve of Van, of Vanichka, who could explain everything), her husband's grandmother, an engineer of great genius, 'tubed' the Redmount rill (running just below the glade from a hill above Ardis). She made it carry vibrational vibgyors (prismatic pulsations) through a system of platinum segments. These produced, of course, only one-way messages, and the installation and upkeep of the 'drums' (cylinders) cost, she said, a Jew's eye, so that the idea was dropped, however tempting the possibility of informing a picnicking Veen that his house was on fire. (1.13)



Kuprin is the author of Granatovyi braslet (“The Garnet Bracelet,” 1911), Gambrinus (1907), a story whose main character, Sashka the fiddler, brings to mind Mr Alexander Screepatch, the new President of United Americas, a plethoric Russian (3.4), Odnorukiy komendant (“The One-Armed Commander,” 1923; at Marina’s funeral Ada meets d’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm, 3.8) and Yama (“The Pit,” 1909-15), a novel about brothels.



It was now the forming of soft black pits (yamï, yamishchi) in her mind, between the dimming sculptures of thought and recollection, that tormented her [Aqua] phenomenally; mental panic and physical pain joined black-ruby hands, one making her pray for sanity, the other, plead for death. (1.3)



The name Troshcheykin, trost’ (stick, cane) and trostnik (reed) come from trostit’ (obs., to twist). Van wants to thrash Herr Rack (one of Ada’s lovers) with his stick:



Shooting it out with that incidental clown (Captain Tapper) furnished unhoped-for relief, particularly since Rack would no doubt accept a plain thrashing in lieu of combat. (1.42)



As he speaks of Ada’s face, Van plays on Pascal’s phrase “man is a thinking reed:”



He learned her face. Nose, cheek, chin - all possessed such a softness of outline (associated retrospectively with keepsakes, and picture hats, and frightfully expensive little courtesans in Wicklow) that a mawkish admirer might well have imagined the pale plume of a reed, that unthinking man - pascaltrezza - shaping her profile, while a more childish and sensual digit would have liked, and did like, to palpate that nose, cheek, chin. Remembrance, like Rembrandt, is dark but festive. (1.17)



From their Moyka Palace Felix Yusupov brought into exile two paintings by Rembrandt.



*Like Chernyshevski’s novel Chto delat’ (“What to Do?” 1864), Gorky’s play was written when the author was imprisoned in St. Petersburg’s Peter-and-Paul Fortress. The main character of Kuprin’s “One-Armed Commander,” General Skobelev, was Ivan Nabokov's predecessor as the Commander of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress.



Alexey Sklyarenko


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