Fw: Chose: verification of the Pushkin quote
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To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Friday, December 06, 2002 6:52 AM
Subject: Chose: verification of the Pushkin quote
May I return to my post of a week ago (that has been passed unnoticed - because of its absurdity?) and introduce some corrections/additions that can be of interest.
First of all, I would like to apologize to the Pushkinists on the list: Pushkin's famous, almost proverbial, phrase ("Govoryat, chto neshchastie khoroshaya shkola: mozhet byt'. No shchastie est' luchshiy universitet." ...happiness is the best university) occurs, of course, in a letter to his friend P. V. Nashchyokin dated from midmarch 1834 (Complete Works, volume 15, p. 117).
There seems to be another reference to Pushkin's correspondence in ADA, in a chapter where Chose is also mentioned (for the last time in the book, I believe). Van meets Ada, now married to Andrey Vinelander, after another long period of separation, at a Geneva hotel, and her hair is done differently: "Her still blacker hair was drawn back and up into a glossy chignon, and the Lucette line of her exposed neck, slender and straight, came as a heartrending surprise." (3.8) I have reasons to believe that Ada has copied the hair-do of Ninon de Lenclos, the famous courtesan on Terra (1620 or 1616-1705), who is on Antiterra merely a heroine of Vere de Vere's novel (later in that chapter Ada is compared to Vere's Ninon, and there occurs the word "lenclose" which is glossed as a distorted form of "clothes" by Vivian Darkbloom).
Now, in the famous letter from Boldino to his wife in St. Petersburg (written on October 30, 1833), Pushkin, after chiding Natalie for her coquetry, says: "I can't wait to see your hair dressed a la Ninon [meaning Ninon de Lenclos]; you must look marvelously pretty. How didn't you think of that old whore [ob etoy staroy kurve] earlier and didn't copy her hair-do?"
The historical Ninon's portrait can be seen at www.aei.ca/~anbou/lenclos.html.
At the same time, "the Lucette line of her neck" in the sentence cited above is here to evoke the image of Lucette, who wears ninon stockings on her last evening on board Tobakoff. Throughout the whole Tobakoff chapter (3.5), Lucette is associated with one of Pushkin's loveliest heroines: Tsarevna Lebed' (The Swan Princess) from his Skazka o tsare Saltane... The corresponding lines in Pushkin's fairy-tale are (Russian children used to know them by heart):
Mesyats pod kosoy blestit,
A vo lbu zvezda gorit;
A sama-to velichava,
Vystupaet, budto pava;
A kak rech-to govorit,
Slovno rechen'ka zhurchit.
(The moon shines under her plait, / The star blazes on her brow; / And she is stately herself, / Her gait being that of a peahen; / And when she is speaking, / It is like murmur of a rivulet.)
Cf. in ADA: "Tenderly she shook her jeweled head"; Lucette's demure speech and her walk, conscious of Van's gaze, her "struthious" dress;
and, finally, her jealous question "kto siya pava?" (rendered by Van, to whom it is addressed, as "who's that stately dame?").
I would like to note marginally that in all three Russian "translations" of the novel known to me the Englished question in brackets (translated back into Russian it would be "Kto eta velichavaya dama?") is simply omitted!