Mount Tabor Ltd., Tschchaikow's opera Onegin & Olga, Kant's cucumicolor iris in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 07/14/2021 - 05:30

At the beginning of VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) mentions Mount Tabor Ltd., the publishing house that brought out an English translation of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenin (1875-77):


All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,’ says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858).


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): p.9. All happy families etc: mistranslations of Russian classics are ridiculed here. The opening sentence of Tolstoy’s novel is turned inside out and Anna Arkadievna’s patronymic given an absurd masculine ending, while an incorrect feminine one is added to her surname. ‘Mount Tabor’ and ‘Pontius’ allude to the transfigurations (Mr G. Steiner’s term, I believe) and betrayals to which great texts are subjected by pretentious and ignorant versionists.


In the Introduction to his book Dusha Tolstogo (“The Soul of Tolstoy,” 1927) Ivan Nazhivin compares Leo Tolstoy to Jesus Christ and mentions preobrazhyonnyi na gore Favore slavy lik velikogo (the face of the great man transfigured on the Mount Tabor of fame):


Чем подражать так богомазам, лучше не писать биографий совсем, лучше сделать так, чтобы вся земная жизнь героя, вся до последней черточки, стерлась бы как-нибудь из памяти людей, а осталось бы только то, чем он стал дорог людям, только чистое золото его души и его жизни. Мне нет надобности знать, в какой консерватории был профессором Чайковский или где читал лекции Кант, с кем он поссорился, с кем помирился, в каком ресторане обедал, - с меня достаточно тех звуков или тех мыслей, которые эти чародеи оставили после себя, тех сладких чар, которыми они опутали нашу бедную жизнь. Пусть сам он, как далекая звезда, уже давно сгорел, но пусть еще долго рдеет и переливается на небе жизни его чистый, серебристый свет. Пройти по земле и не оставить после себя ни дыма костров, ни крови битв, ни спичей по ресторанам, а только вот эти солнца-мысли, только вот эти рои чистых и сладких звуков - какая это красота, какое счастье!.. А если уж нам хочется иметь всю его жизнь, в подробностях, то надо дать нам его не как икону условного письма, не как какие-то мощи, а надо дать действительно всю его жизнь, подлинную, живую, надо дать не только преображенный на горе Фаворе славы лик великого, не только его ослепительное вознесение над серыми толпами человечества, - надо дать и его муку, и сомнения в Гефсиманском саду, надо дать его тяжкий, пыльный крестный путь, надо дать его крик отчаяния на Голгофе...


According to Nazhivin, a biographer should not imitate icon-daubers. Nazhivin does not want to know in which conservatory Tchaykovski was a Professor or where Kant lectured, with whom he quarelled, with whom he made peace, in which restaurant he dined.


On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) Tchaykovski is known as Tschchaikow, the author of Onegin and Olga:


It was the first time he had seen her in that luminous frock nearly as flimsy as a nightgown. She had braided her hair, and he said she resembled the young soprano Maria Kuznetsova in the letter scene in Tschchaikow’s opera Onegin and Olga. (1.25)


When Lucette (Van's and Ada's half-sister) visits Van at Kingston, Van says that Kant was famous for his cucumicolor iris:


Van, Vanichka, we are straying from the main point. The point is that the writing desk or if you like, secretaire —’

‘I hate both, but it stood at the opposite end of the black divan.’

Now mentioned for the first time — though both had been tacitly using it as an orientator or as a right hand painted on a transparent signboard that a philosopher’s orbitless eye, a peeled hard-boiled egg cruising free, but sensing which of its ends is proximal to an imaginary nose, sees hanging in infinite space; whereupon, with Germanic grace, the free eye sails around the glass sign and sees a left hand shining through — that’s the solution! (Bernard said six-thirty but I may be a little late.) The mental in Van always rimmed the sensuous: unforgettable, roughish, villous, Villaviciosa velour.

‘Van, you are deliberately sidetracking the issue —’

‘One can’t do that with an issue.’

‘— because at the other end, at the heel end of the Vaniada divan — remember? — there was only the closet in which you two locked me up at least ten times.’

‘Nu uzh i desyat’ (exaggeration). Once — and never more. It had a keyless hole as big as Kant’s eye. Kant was famous for his cucumicolor iris.’

Whatever it is called.

‘She and I challenged you to find the secret chuvstvilishche (sensorium) and make it work. It was the summer Belle sprained her backside, and we were left to our own devices, which had long lost the particule in your case and Ada’s, but were touchingly pure in mine. You groped around, and felt, and felt for the little organ, which turned out to be a yielding roundlet in the rosewood under the felt you felt — I mean, under the felt you were feeling: it was a felted thumb spring, and Ada laughed as the drawer shot out.’ (2.5)


The closet in which Van and Ada locked up Lucette brings to mind "those old wardrobes in old hotels in the Old World subalpine zone" mentioned by Van when he describes Ada's dramatic career:


But let us shift to the didactic metaphorism of Chekhov’s friend, Count Tolstoy.

We all know those old wardrobes in old hotels in the Old World subalpine zone. At first one opens them with the utmost care, very slowly, in the vain hope of hushing the excruciating creak, the growing groan that the door emits midway. Before long one discovers, however, that if it is opened or closed with celerity, in one resolute sweep, the hellish hinge is taken by surprise, and triumphant silence achieved. Van and Ada, for all the exquisite and powerful bliss that engulfed and repleted them (and we do not mean here the rose sore of Eros alone), knew that certain memories had to be left closed, lest they wrench every nerve of the soul with their monstrous moan. But if the operation is performed swiftly, if indelible evils are mentioned between two quick quips, there is a chance that the anesthetic of life itself may allay unforgettable agony in the process of swinging its door. (2.9)


In Chekhov's play Vishnyovyi sad ("The Cherry Orchard," 1904) Gaev addresses the clost mnogouvazhaemyi shkaf (the much respected closet).