Vladimir Nabokov

Number 51 (Fall 2003) The Nabokovian

Download PDF of Number 51 (Fall 2003) The Nabokovian


                                    THE NABOKOVIAN

   Number 51                                                                       Fall 2003




Note From the Editor                                                                                3

“Peter in Holland”                                                                                     4
by Vladimir Nabokov 
translation by Dmitri Nabokov

Notes and Brief Commentaries                                                             7
by Priscilla Meyer

“A ‘Funny Name’ in Korol’, Dama, Valet”                                       7
Gavriel Shapiro

“The Truth about Terra and Antiterra:                                            12
Dostoevsky and Ada’s Twin Planets”
Alexey Sklyarenko

“Notes on Eryx, Omega and Alta”                                                      21
Victor Fet

“UT PICTURA POESIS. To M.V. Dobuzhinsky”                              28 
by Vladimir Nabokov

translation by Dmitri Nabokov

Annotations to Ada: 21. Part I Chapter 21- (cont.)                        32
by Brian Boyd

THE NABOKOVIAN I-L (1978 - 2003)                                                52
Compiled by Stephen Jan Parker


Note on content:

This webpage contains the full content of the print version of Nabokovian Number 51, except for:

  • Brian Boyd’s “Annotations to Ada” (because superseded by, updated, hyperlinked and freely available on, his website AdaOnline).
  • Stephen Jan Parker’s Index to Numbers 1-50. The search function on the website allows an almost instantaneous search. Type in a search term; if too many results show, go to Advanced Search and tick Protected Pages before running the search again.



Note From the Editor

The Nabokovian enters its 26th year of publication with this issue. Included herein is a 25-year index of its contents, 1978-2003. During its first quarter-century of publication, 198 Nabokov scholars and enthusiasts from around the world have made contributions, and thus the publication has played a unique and central role in Nabokov-related discourse. Given the regular flow of contributors and the stable number of subscribers, The Nabokovian still serves a recognized and well appreciated purpose, and thus the Society will maintain its publication until, and if, that purpose is no longer recognized nor served.

Due to restraints on the size of any given issue, the 2002 Nabokov bibliography and several other submitted items could not be included in this issue and will appear next spring.

Please note that prices (posted on the inside cover) will not increase for 2004. Members/subscribers are once again encouraged to add one or more dollars to their annual dues payment in support of the Zembla Website, an essential, much appreciated dimension of the Society.



I wish to thank, as I have in each of the issues over the past twenty-five years, Ms. Paula Courtney for her constant, crucial assistance in the production of this publication.


Peter in Holland

Out of Muscovy’s fierce rigor 
He crossed hither in one stride.
To roaring seas he took a liking,
And to our tile-clad little town;

All along the shores he wandered,
Sunburnt, rough-hewn, full of youth.
Wind. The ashen-tinted dunes.
The pounding of some axes yonder.

The motley colors of the patchwork 
Of sails upon the rippled seas.
A flock of gulls, the heav’nly vault,
Greenish, like a faience glaze.

Evenings passed in discourse sage.
Tankards. Somnolent companions.
Reveries in tones victorious 
Summoned carpenter-tsar Peter.*

He pondered gravely at the table,
And the clock distinctly ticked.
I recall: his coarse mustache,
The resolute and fearless gaze,

Shadows cast by head and elbows,
The shelving of the little tavern,
On the hearth the evening’s shimmer,
And a pattern of blue squares.

Vladimir Nabokov 
Translated by Dmitri Nabokov


Петр в Голландии

Из Московии суровой 
он сюда перешагнул. 
Полюбил он моря гул, 
городок наш изразцовый;

и бродил вдоль берегов, — 
загорелый, грубый, юный. 
Ветер. Пепельные дюны. 
Стук далеких топоров.

Разноцветные заплаты 
парусов над рябью вод.
Стая чаек. Небосвод, — 
как фаянс, зеленоватый.

Были мудры вечера.
Кружки. Сонные соседи. 
Думы голосом победы 
звали плотника-Петра.

У стола мечтал он важно. 
Четко тикали часы.
Помню: жесткие усы, 
взор жестокий и отважный,

тень локтей и головы, 
полки в маленькой таверне, 
а на печке — блеск вечерний 
и квадраты синевы.


*“Carpenter” refers to Peter’s use of the assumed trade and name “Plotnik [carpenter] Petr Mikhailov” when he entered Holland during the so-called Grand Embassy. It should also be noted that one of the main reasons for Peter’s going to Holland was the study of shipbuilding - which of course was still mostly carpentry in the late 17th Century — in view of creating a Russian navy.

Copyright © 2003 Dmitri Nabokov and the Estate of Vladimir Nabokov

[Translated for Gavriel Shapiro’s book Nabokov and the Graphic, to be published soon. Also appropriate in view of the 300'h Anniversary of St-Petersburg]


By Priscilla Meyer

[Submissions should be forwarded to Priscilla Meyer at pmeverfdweslevan.edu. E-mail submission preferred. If using a PC, please send attachments in .doc format; if by fax send to (860) 685-3465; if by mail, to Russian Department, 215 Fisk Hall, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459. Deadlines are April 1 and October 1 respectively for the Spring and Fall issues. Most notes will be sent, anonymously, to at least one reader for review. If accepted for publication, the piece may undergo some slight technical alterations. Kindly refrain from footnotes; all citations should be put within the text. References to Nabokov’s English or Englished works should be made either to the first American (or British) edition or to the Vintage collected series. All Russian quotations must be transliterated and translated.]


In Chapter 12 of Korol’, dama, valet [King, Queen, Knave] (1928), Kurt Dreyer entertains himself by reading “spisok kurortnykh gostei, izredka proiznosia vslukh smeshnuiu familiiu” (“the resort’s guest list, occasionally pronouncing a funny name” (2: 282 / KQK 239). The “funny name” Dreyer chooses to read aloud is “Po-ro-kkhov-shtshi-kof ’ (2: 282), or “Porokhovshchikov” in more accurate transliteration. This pentasyllabic surname, with the ultimate stress and the “shtsh” [shch] sound, quite unusual for a German ear, is so hard for Dreyer to pronounce that he has to syllabize it. One wonders whether Nabokov employs it merely for the amusement of the Russian reader who imagines the German character tying his tongue in knots with this difficult Russian name, or perhaps the author expects it to trigger certain associations in his reading audience.


The surname is uncommon but not particularly rare among Russians. One may discern at least its two notable bearers among Nabokov’s contemporaries in the early twentieth century.

Porokhovshchikov, Petr Sergeevich (1867-1952), also known under his pen name P. Sergeich, was born in St. Petersburg. His father was an officer in the elite Semenovsky Guard regiment, his mother was a daughter of the major general Petr Chaikovsky, the namesake and uncle of the composer. Porokhovshchikov received his higher education at the Moscow University Law School. Upon his graduation in 1888, he worked at the courts of Moscow, Kharkov, and Orel, and later served at the Ministry of Justice and on the St. Petersburg district court. While in Russia, Porokhovshchikov authored such books as Ugolovnaia zashchita; prakticheskie zametki [Criminal Defense; Practical Notes] (St. Petersburg, 1908; 2nd ed. 1913), a guide for beginning defense lawyers; and Iskusstvo rechi na sude [The Art of Speaking in Court] (St. Petersburg, 1910). (See A. Tolmachev, “Predislovie” [“Foreword”] to the 1960 reprint of Iskusstvo rechi na sude, Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo iuridicheskoi literatury, 3-26 passim.)

Although Porokhovshchikov’s books are not listed in the library catalogue of Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, he was undoubtedly familiar with them, both as a jurist and a man of letters: Iskusstvo rechi na sude, which was awarded the prestigious Pushkin Prize of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, won for Porokhovshchikov a name not only among Russian jurists but also in literary circles (see George Vernadsky, “Preface,” in Pierre S. Porohovshikov [sic], Shakespeare Unmasked, v). In all likelihood, V. D. Nabokov was personally acquainted with P. S. Porokhovshchikov who frequently contributed articles to the juridical weekly Pravo [Law] of which Nabokov senior was the co-editor. It is very likely, therefore, that young Nabokov heard the name from his father,


a prominent criminologist, and perhaps later read Iskusstvo rechi na sude himself. Porokhovshchikov’s books, especially Iskusstvo rechi na sude, were intended for a broader audience, and therefore Nabokov anticipated that this name would resonate with the Russian readership of the 1920s. And if only Dreyer knew Russian, he perhaps would have seen this “funny name” as an ominous warning.

There are noticeable, even though only partly relevant, parallels between the lives of Porokhovshchikov and Nabokov. During World War I, Porokhovshchikov was stationed in London, serving as a legal adviser to the International Commission for the Supply of War Ammunitions; he remained there after the Bolshevik coup d’état, never to set foot in Russia again. Nabokov and his family left Russia after the Bolshevik usurpation of power and outbreak of the Civil War, arriving in London in May 1919; in October of that уear, Nabokov entered Cambridge University from which he graduated in 1922. And it is quite possible, therefore, that Nabokov heard of Porokhovshchikov once again while studying in England. In 1931, Porokhovshchikov came to the United States, and from that year until his retirement in 1943, he had been on the faculty of the Modern Languages and History Departments at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA. Nabokov sought an academic position in the late 1930s in England and the United States but succeeded in obtaining one only after his emigration to the USA in 1940. Porokhovshchikov issued Shakespeare Unmasked (1940; rept. 1955) in which he advances the theory that Roger Manners, Earl of Rutland, wrote the plays ascribed to Shakespeare; Nabokov expressed a similar idea in his poem “Shekspir” [“Shakespeare”] (1924). Porokhovshchikov published Les vers centaures (1952), a book on Alexandrine verse; Nabokov published his Notes on Prosody (1964).

Porokhovshchikov, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (1894-1941) was an inventor and pioneer of Russian aviation and tank industry. He built a small monoplane that conducted several


successful flights in the summer of 1911. His next plane, an intermediate construction between a monoplane and biplane, possessed the speed (110 km/hr) higher than that of the then famous French “Nieuport.” In April of 1914, a twenty-year-old Porokhovshchikov recommended setting up an anti-aircraft defense system for the St. Petersburg-Riga area. In addition, in August of 1914, at the outset of World War I, he proposed the design of an armored vehicle, which he named “Vezdekhod” [“Landrover”], a prototype of the modem tank. In 1917, Porokhovshchikov designed a plane with a nacelle that seated two in tandem open cockpits: incase of the pilot’s incapacitation, the plane could be controlled by the rear crewmember (see V. V. Когоl’, V nebe Rossii [In the Sky of Russia], St. Petersburg: “Politekhnika,” 1995,144-45). (I am indebted to Frederick M. Muratori and Julie S. Copenhagen of Cornell University’s John M. Olin Library and to Joanne Yendle of Oglethorpe University’s Philip Weltner Library for their invaluable assistance.)

Like many Russian boys of his generation, Nabokov was fascinated by technological inventions, including airplanes. Thus, he recalls that in July of 1909 “Blériot had flown from Calais to Dover (with a little additional loop when he lost his bearings)” (SAT 142). (We are mindful that Iury Olesha[1899-1960], Nabokov’s exact coeval, was also fascinated by Louis Blériot’s exploit; see his 1928 story “la smotriu v proshloe” [“I Am Looking into the Past”], in Iury Olesha, Izbrannye sochineniia [Selected Writings], Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo khudozhestvennoi literatury, 1956,284-91.) This boyhood fascination is also evident in the poem “Aeroplan” [“An Airplane”] (1919) from the cycle Kapli krasok [Paint Drops] (1:511), in the eponymous poem of 1926 (2:541 -42), in The Defense (1930) where Nabokov mentions the early twentieth-century French aviators Hubert Latham and Gabriel Voisin (Def 44), and many years later in Pnin (1957): “I could see /.../ a toy monoplane with linen wings and a rubber motor. I had a similar one but twice bigger, bought in Biarritz. After one


had wound up the propeller for some time, the rubber would change its manner of twist and develop fascinating thick whorls which predicted the end of its tether” (Pnin 177).

The mention of Porokhovshchikov, therefore, was apparently designed to evoke a significant scientific invention and to indicate the futility of the one described in the novel. We may recall that in the following chapter (Ch. 13), Dreyer goes back to Berlin to strike a deal with an American businessman on the automannequins. Upon seeing them once again, however, Dreyer gets disillusioned and concludes that “teper’ oni uzhe bol’she ne nuzhny, lisheny dushi, I prelesti, i znacheniia/.../ Ot ikh nezhnoi sonnosti tol’ko pretilo. Zateia nadoela” (“now they had lost all significance, all life and charm /.../ But they only disgusted him now”) (2: 296 / KQK 263). It is Dreyer’s mentioning this deal and, more importantly, its anticipated large monetary profit to Martha that saved his life. Here crime and invention whimsically intertwine, peculiarly reflecting the professions of this surname’s notable bearers.

Finally, the mention of Porokhovshchikov may be self-referential. This family name belongs to the same, ‘manufacturing,’ semantic row as Rukavishnikov, Nabokov’s mother ’ s maiden name: the former suggests making gunpowder, while the latter—making mittens (see B. O. Unbegaun, Russkie familii [Russian Surnames], Moscow: “Progress,” 1989, 94 and 96). Both names, although containing five syllables, differ in the stress pattern: the former, as mentioned earlier, with the stress on the last syllable, whereas the latter—on the middle, third. The self-referential nature of this “funny name” is evident in the English translation of the novel in which the guest list contains another “funny name”—Blavdak Vinomori—Vladimir Nabokov’s full anagram.

Gavriel Shapiro, Cornell University




As the reader will only discover in the forty-second chapter of Ada, the novel he has been reading is set on a planet called Demonia or Antiterra — a planet which seems to be identical with Earth in terms of its physical, but strikingly different from it in terms of its political, geography.

From the opening page of the novel we are puzzled to learn of the existence of such American “provinces” as Russian Estoty and Russian Canady and such outlandish countries as Tartary, stretching “from Kurland to the Kuriles!” in the place of Russia, and such friendly European places as Palermontovia and Scoto—Scandanavia. Even more mysteriously, Demonia has a twin, the planet Terra, whose very existence is doubtful and believed in fervently only by the insane and such poor souls as Aqua Veen, putative mother of the narrator, Van Veen. The concept of Terra, we are told, arose as the result of the so-called “L disaster,” a dangerous “Revelation” which was experienced by Antiterrans in the middle of the nineteenth century. This is all Van Veen feels obliged to inform us of the event, the details of which are supposed to be well-known to his apparently Antiterran readers.

As Van writes in the chapter devoted to his dear Aqua’s tragic destiny (1,3), “sick minds identified the notion of a Terra planet with that of another world and this ‘Other World’ got confused not only with the ‘Next World’ but with the Real World in us and beyond us.” This “Terra the Fair” is one of the main themes of Aqua’s delusion and is, as she firmly believes, her “real destination,” which she will reach after her death. Tormented by ever-increasing pain and panic, she finally surrenders and commits suicide. Whether or not her poor soul achieves Terra in the afterlife is unknown. In fact the very existence of Terra remains unconfirmed and its true nature in considerable doubt to the inhabitants of Antiterra.


But we non-Antiterran readers of Ada cannot help but wonder if the mysterious Terra is none other than our own Earth, masquerading rather obviously under her Latin name. My aim in this note is to attempt to trace some of the literary sources of Terra and Antiterra and to try to discern the actual relationship between the sister-planets.

Van’s attempts to understand the delusions that drove Aqua to suicide have lead him to become a psychiatrist with a specialty in “Terrology,” which treats of those suffering from obsessive ideas about Terra. Not satisfied with a purely scientific approach to the problem, he writes his novel Letters from Terra in which he makes use of the information that he has gleaned on the twin planets through “extrasensory research” — i.e. the ravings of his patients.

In a chapter on dreams (2.4) Van makes the following admission, that while working on his first book, he “pleaded abjectly with a very frail muse (‘kneeling and wringing my hands’ like the dusty-trousered Marmlad before his Marmlady in Dickens).” The allusion of course is not to Dickens, as Vivian Darkbloom points out in his “Notes to Ada, ” but to his Russian admirer and sometime imitator, M. F. Dostoevsky, 1821-1881. The reference here is to a scene in Dostoevsky’s most famous novel Crime and Punishment, in which Marmeladov crawls the length of the room on his knees in abject supplication before his enraged wife (hence the dusty trousers).

It is not Marmeladov, though, but his wife who is wringing her hands in that scene. Because of the strange vagueness of this allusion andbecause “lomaia ruki” (wringing her/his hands) is Dostoevsky’s favorite locution, it has occurred to me that not just this one novel, but all of Dostoevsky’s work might be relevant to Ada. I would go so far as to speculate that Van and Dostoevsky share the favors of the same muse. Dostoevsky is famous for the psychological depths he plumbs in his novels. It has been noted that many of his characters, and with a few exceptions, all of his heroes, suffer from some form of mental


derangement. Similarly Van writes of the “passion [he had] for the insane, as some have for arachnids or orchids.”

Interesting comparisons can also be drawn between Van’s Letters From Terra (subsequently referred to as LFT) and Dostoevsky’s first published novel, Bednye Liudi (“Poor Folk,” subsequently referred to as BL), 1846. Actually, at first glance, the two novels have very little in common except the epistolary genre of the one and the epistolary motif in the other. But it is my opinion that a minor character from the one is transformed into the heroine of the other.

In LFT Theresa’s messages are able to travel only in one direction — from Terra to Antiterra. But the corresponding situation in BL has messages bouncing back and forth between the two friends, Makar Devushkin and Varvara Dobroselova. The letters travel between Varvara’s rooms in one wing of the building and the “chambres garnies” where Makar makes his home in a comer. Although the two friends can see into each others’ windows across the narrow courtyard that separates them, their letters, practically their only means of verbal communication, must travel by another route. The go-between who shuttles back and forth between the two, when she can spare the time from her housework, is the downtrodden maid-of-all-work, Theresa.

We know almost nothing about this character. She seems to be the poorest of the poor, whom the landlady of the establishment “uses like a rag to wipe up the muck” (zatiraet eio v rabotu slovno vetoshku kakuiu-nibud’). In a letter to Varvara, Makar wonders “What is she after all? Scrawny as a plucked chicken” (Chto ona takoe, na samom-to dele? Khudaia, kаk obshchipannyi, chakhlyi tsyplionok). Theresa does all the dirty work around the building and in addition is sent on errands for the boarders, endlessly scuttling from one apartment to another, spreading all the latest gossip as she makes her rounds. In her own way, she serves as a sort of living newspaper for the boarders. She is in this respect not unlike


Theresa in Van’s novel, a “Roving Reporter” for an American magazine on Terra.

The universe of BL, while not limited to a single house (Varvara’s rooms are, in a sense, another planet!), doesn’t extend far beyond the derelict meblirovannye komnaty (cf. “l’espace meuble” of which Van writes in 3.7). The characters’ material poverty is a grave enough matter and arouses our compassion, but still more tragic is their spiritual loneliness in this, clearly a second-rate, universe. Nabokov, following the philosopher Grigori Landau, considered the title Bednye Liudi to be a tautology, because even when one is fabulously rich, to escape from the loneliness of the human condition in this world is “existentially” impossible. The one means would seem to be suicide. Although suicide is a common enough theme in Dostoevsky’s later works, none are committed in this, his first novel. But it seems to me, and I shall try to show, that these two Theresas, Van’s and Dostoevsky’s, are in fact the same person.

But how can we explain the fact that in Van’s novel, Theresa flies not out of the past but out of the future, and that furthermore, in Van’s novel she is both young and beautiful whereas in Dostoevsky’s novel she is neither? As Van tells us in the third chapter of Ada, the strangest and most unstable relationship between Terra and Antiterra appears to be the time rift that exists between the two planets. This rift can be as great as one hundred years, but what is stranger still, in some cases historical events on Antiterra precede corresponding events in Terran history — while in other cases the order is reversed.

Van’s novel LFT appears in 1891 according to the Antiterran calendar, but the action of the novel, as far as we can judge from Theresa’s references to events on Terra, seems to take place in the 1930s. Victor Vitry’s film version of LFT is made ca 1940, fifty years after the appearance of the novel. In the film, Theresa leaves Terra at the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Berlin and arrives on Antiterra ca 1890, but as we


know, the Berlin Olympiad actually took place in 1936. Note that 1891, the year Van’s novel is published, is situated exactly midway between the two non-fiction dates of 1846, the appearance of BL, and 1936, the Berlin Olympic Games.

We may be able to throw some light on the time-rift that appears to exist between Terra and Antiterra if we consider the possibility that Terra is in fact identical with Antiterra. If Terra and Antiterra are the same planet, then Theresa’s journey is not through space, but through time. So while in the fantasy of Van ’ s novel, Theresa flies to Antiterra from the future, according to the literary allusions planted in Ada by Nabokov, she actually flies from the past (i.e. out of Dostoevsky’s novel), taking 45 years to make her journey. It is as if the two 45 year time-spans on either side of LFT cancel each other out & the time-rift disappears completely.

The young, practically new-born Theresa who arises Venus-like from her space ship in Vitry’s film, arrives on Antiterra as a new being in a new world. It is interesting that Theresa’s flight from Terra and her miraculous transformation into an irresistible beauty, if only of microscopic size, may be seen as a science fiction version of Cinderella. The poor put-upon servant girl from BL is completely transformed, captivating not just a prince, but a whole planet. In the science-fiction version the heroine’s transformation is achieved not by the wave of a fairy’s wand, but by means of a cosmic journey through space-time. In his youth Van had no aversion to the Theory of Relativity, though in his later work, Texture of Time (Ada, part Four), he mocks it.

The “sexy rags” with which Theresa titillates the spectators in the first “existential” scenes of the film (apparently staged on Terra), seem to stem from the garbling of the metaphor in BL. In Dostoevsky, it is Theresa herself who is used like a rag, so, the word that once referred to the person comes to denote her clothing. Additionally those ‘sexy rags’ link Theresa to Cinderella.


Actually, Van must himself admit that much of what he and his colleagues know about Terra from the mentally ill comes through in a distorted form, and this garbling of ‘rags’ is only one such example. Other odd distortions are found in Theresa’s versions of place names (SSSR on Terra stands for “Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics” and personal names (“Athaulf Hindler” and “Doumercy” instead of Adolf Hitler and Gaston Doumergue) but they are still recognizable. If you consider that Theresa is actually flying from the nineteenth century and all these names are from what is the distant future to her, she cannot know their true forms but only make them out dimly in some vague way similar perhaps to clairvoyance.

In her first messages, Theresa extols the political leaders of Terra, especially the Russian and German ones, but then admits that her praise has been exaggerated and that she has in fact allowed herself to be used as a tool of “cosmic propaganda.” There can be no doubt that Nabokov is referring here to the fact that Hitler used the 1936 Olympics for his own propagandists purposes. But Nabokov also refers to the less well-known fact that those games were broadcast by television to movie theaters in Berlin and that at the time many believed that extraterrestrials would be able to intercept those signals. So (at least in a conjectural sense) Hitler really was attempting to wage cosmic propaganda. Therefore the “ondulas” that Theresa uses to send her messages to Antiterra are probably the television signals transmitted via radiowaves (as claimed by Rachel Trousdale, (“Faragod Bless Them Nabokov, Spirits and Electricity, NS, #7) .

While describing his first year at Chose University and the work he did there on his ultimately unfinished dissertation on the problem of Terra, Van says that the banned ondulas, (following the L disaster, electromagnetic waves were, like all things electrical, forbidden and any mention of them became taboo) had perhaps allowed his three neurotic cosmologists to discover “a green world rotating in space and spiraling in time, which in


terms of matter-and-mind was like ours ...” It would seem that the cosmologists had somehow picked up the television signals from Earth. But it seems strange that each of the three scientists describes the planet he has discovered as being green, when we have known since the 1950s that from space the earth appears blue. Doubtless, part of the explanation is that in the middle of the 1930s when the waves were sent out from Berlin it was not yet known how Earth looks from outer space. But it is my belief that the green-ness of the planet is actually a reference to Dostoevsky’s story “Son smeshnogo cheloveka” (“The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”).

This story should be of extreme interest to readers of Ada in that it is about two planet Earths. Although the “other world” has the same lands and peoples as our world’s, time appears to have remained stuck in an earlier era. These people have not yet been civilized, but are still living in an Eden-like golden age when “Smeshnoy chelovek” arrives. How did he get there? One night he decided to kill himself, but fell asleep in his armchair having failed to carry out his intention. In his sleep he dreams that he has in fact killed himself and that after his death he travels through time and space to a distant galaxy, where he is amazed to find the same sun as the one he had left behind and an earth that was now “twinkling at him with an emerald glitter.” It would appear that he had flown from one green world to another.

In his dream, our chelovek lives through whole eons on this other world, but, alas, to his grief, his presence eventually brings with it the corruption of civilization. When he wakes up he realizes that in this dream he has been shown a great truth. In a literal sense he has seen it — his dream was itself this truth: “Love others as you love yourself and that shall suffice for you.” Our chelovek now gives up the idea of suicide and is spiritually reborn. In his dream he had discovered the revelation of love, a revelation positive. This revelation was somehow connected with his vision of the other world, just as the L disaster on


Antiterra is followed by a revelation negative and the ensuing belief in the double-planet Terra. (In another article I will discuss the nature of the L disaster and why electricity was subsequently banned. For now suffice it to say that L stands not for electricity, as has generally been supposed, but for love. Rachel Trousdale seems to agree with me in her paper that L in the L disaster is for love, but her argument that the ban of electricity in Ada can be explained by the Liovin-Vronski controversy in Anna Karenin appears unconvincing to me.)

The causes of the disaster that struck Antiterra were distinctly metaphysical and not technological in nature. It would appear that for Dostoevsky’s chelovek, the revelation he experienced had evil repercussions for the people dwelling on the “other world'’ that he traveled to in his dream, making it a revelation negative for them. Is it now possible to conceive the possibility that the emerald planet which was spoiled by smeshnoy chelovek is the very same Antiterra on which the novel Ada is set? I think it is.

In creating Antiterra, Nabokov drew on two fantastic tales by Dostoevsky — “Son smeshnogo cheloveka” and The Double (1846), the latter of which he considered the best work written by the author of Crime and Punishment. The main character, Mr Golyadkin (preeminent among the mentally ill characters created by Dostoevsky) believes that he has seen his double, the “other Mr. Golyadkin,” who attempts to steal the other’s personality, which he finally succeeds in doing when the first Mr. Golyadkin is confined to an insane asylum.

Such things of course occur on Terra, and another example is described in Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot (1868). The hero, Prince Myshkin is gifted to an unusual degree with compassion for his fellows and the ability to love those he finds around him. But even those capable of appreciating his rare qualities consider him somewhat “touched in the head,” an idiot.

The novel begins as the Prince is returning to Russia from Switzerland where, in the canton of Valais he was being treated


in a private clinic. In a sense the story of Ada can also be said to begin in Switzerland, where its narrator and hero Van Veen was born. Further, Aqua Veen, as whose son he was accepted, lives much of the time in a private clinic for the mentally ill. Both novels conclude where they began. The prince ends up going mad and is again put into the care of Professor Schneider’s sanatorium. Van and Ada, having grown old, die in their chateau in Ex en Valais. The spatial coordinates of both novels coincide — at least at their beginning and ending points. There is another coincidence in time: there is a gap of exactly one hundred years separating the year when the action ends in The Idiot in 1867, and the year 1967 when Van and Ada die, bringing their novel to an end. This, as you will recall, is the greatest time-rift possible between Terra and Antiterra. It would appear that these points in space-time again underscore the possibility that Terra and Antiterra are more or less the same planet.

Speaking of the similar predilections of academic administrations on both Terra and Antiterra, Van writes (3.4) . .for on our Antiterra (and on Terra as well, according to his own writings) a powerfully plodding Administration prefers, unless moved by the sudden erection of a new building or the thunder of torrential funds, the safe drabness of an academic mediocrity to the suspect sparkle of a V. V.”

It seems to me that the corresponding place in Van’s personal writings on Terra may have been written with the following passage from The Idiot (part 3, chapter 1) in mind:


“Lack of originality has from time immemorial been regarded throughout the world as the chief characteristic and the best recommendation of a sensible, business-like, and practical man, and at least ninety-nine percent of men (and that’s putting it at the lowest) always were of that opinion, and only perhaps one man in a hundred looks and always has looked on it differently.” [trans. David Magarshack]


Thus we are left, like Antiterra and her phantom twin, beholden to the works of Dostoevsky. But the question remains, why Dostoevsky? Nabokov rather famously treated Dostoevsky with disdain and criticised him harshly in his lectures. I think the answer lies in the fact that Nabokov saw the broad oeuvre of Dostoevsky as artistically incomplete and perhaps precisely for that reason perceived the unexploited rich potential of the material. As other researchers have shown, a Nabokovian tactic and one of his favorite devices is the creative reworking of the unfulfilled possibilities in the endeavors of other writers into his own much more interesting variations on their themes. Nabokov creates his own worlds, simultaneously perfecting the worlds fashioned by his predecessors, and developing their efforts further. In the example of Ada, by far his longest and most complex work, the “dissed” Dostoevsky turns out to have provided just the material that Nabokov needed to rework into his own artistic cosmos.

I would like to express my warmest thanks to my translator, Carolyn Kunin, who greatly improved this note in the process of Englishing it and who first drew my attention to Dostoevsky’s fantasy Son Smeshnogo Cheloveka, pointing out to me that the double of Earth visited by the Ridiculous Man in his dream is colored exactly like Terra, Ada's parallel world.

—Alexey Sklyarenko, St. Petersburg



1.         Eryx and Onyx

The names of Onyx and Eryx, “two small lakes in the wood” near Camp Q and Lake Climax in Lolita (1,32), happen


to be also lycaenid butterfly names, not listed in the recent exhaustive literature on Nabokov’s lepidoptery (see: Brian Boyd & Robert M. Pyle, eds. Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings, 2000; Kurt Johnson & Steven L. Coates. Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius, 2001; Dieter E. Zimmer. A Guide to Nabokov’s Butterflies and Moths, 2001). In the Annotated Lolita (1991, p. 384), Appel commented on the lakes ’ names but did not mention any lycaenid connection. However, there are two species bearing eryx name in Lycaenidae: one named Papilio eryx by Linnaeus himself, the father of zoological nomenclature, now Artipe eryx (L., 1771), from East Asia. There is also Theclopsis eryx (Cramer, 1777), quite common in South America. In addition, there is Horaga onyx (Moore, 1881) from South-East Asia. All three are in Lycaenidae, subfamily Theclinae, and should have been familiar to Nabokov. Thus names Onyx and Eryx definitely look as a playful reference to lycaenids, in addition to the more direct hints toward the “column of onyx” and Venus Erycina.

There are also at least two more eryx Lepidoptera: one in the family Danaidae, the East Asian Papilio eryx Fabricius, 1798, synonym of Parantica agleoides (C. & R. Felder, 1860), and a so-called homonym(i.e. the same Latin name offered by a later author for another species; see International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. 4th ed. London, 1999) of the Linnean Papilio eryx. Another is a South American moth, Belemnia eryx (Fabricius, 1775), family Arctiidae.

Finally, Eryx Daudin, 1803 is a genus of snakes, a small sand boa (family Boidae) from Africa and Central Asia, which should have been quite familiar to Godunov-Cherdyntsev senior of The Gift and his zoologist colleagues - and possibly to young Nabokov from his readings on Central Asian zoological travels. The snake name is currently valid; thus, no other animal genus can be named Eryx since it will violate “the inexorable law of


taxonomic priority” (Ada, 1,8)- while eryx species names (epithets) can persist, in Lepidoptera or elsewhere.


2.         Omega and Onega

Continuing on lakes theme: Lake Omega in Pale Fire was interpreted as Cornell’s Lake Cayuga; another allusion is of course to “alpha and omega” (Brian Boyd, Nabokov’s Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic Discovery, 1999). However, Boyd’s image of Hazel Shade as a “woman spurned” immediately recalls the most famous woman spurned in Russian literature — Tatiana Larina. In his commentary on Eugene Onegin (2nd ed., 1975), Nabokov (vol. 2, p. 37) says that “the name [Onegin] is derived from a Russian river, the Onega...; and there is an Onega Lake in the province of Olonets”. Thus, Onegin’s name is derived both from a river — as Lensky’s is from Lena (ibid., vol. 2, p. 228) — and a lake. In a later commentary, Yu. Lotman (Roman A. S. Pushkina “Evgeni Onegin”, 1983, pp. 114-115) did not mention Lake Onega but discussed river-derived surnames in detail (noting also that for Pushkin’s contemporaries such surnames had a clear artificiality of a literary character’s name, being impossible as a real gentry surname).

To my knowledge, nobody yet commented on this obvious connection of Lake Omega to Lake Onega. The Russian Lake Onega is mentioned in Pnin (5, 2). Its geographic twin, Lake Ladoga (located closer to St. Petersburg), finds its place on Antiterra as a burg in Mayne and mutates to Ladore (Russ. Ladora) in Ada (1, 1; 1, 22). A geographically familiar to a Russian’s eye sequence of three northern (i.e. closest to Zembla) lakes (west to east: Chudskoe [= Peipus], Ladoga, and Onega) rhymes visually with Omega, Ozero, and Zero (Pale Fire) - as well as with Onyx, Eryx, and Climax (Lolita).

Tatiana Dmitrievna, of course, did not drown herself; but her precursor, Liza in Karamzin’s Poor Liza (1792), did — in a “moonlit pond”, spumed by “a frivolous nobleman graced with


the comedy name of Erast” (Nabokov, Eugene Onegin, vol. 3, p. 143). So did another Liza in Queen of Spades — although not in Pushkin’s 1834 original but in Tchaikovsky’s 1890 “silly opera” (ibid., vol. 3, p. 333). This latter Liza (spurned by Hermann; cf. Despair) is mentioned in Nabokov’s Mary (“under the same arch where Liza dies in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades this place in St. Petersburg is Zimnyaya Kanavka (Winter Canal) connecting Moika with Neva; Neva, of course, flows from Lake Ladoga).

Incidentally, no omega name is currently valid in Lepidoptera; however, there are two moth synonyms bearing these names: Argyrogramma verruca (Fabricius, 1794) (= A. omega Hübner, 1823) and Graphiphora augur (Fabricius, 1775) (= G. omega Esper, 1788) (both in Noctuidae).


3.         Ata, Atalanta, Atala

Inspired by Brian Boyd’s marvelous book on Pale Fire, I venture to suggest a further decoding to his interpretation for the Haunted Barn message of Aunt Maud containing the broken name “atalanta”. Boyd interpreted the first word of the message (“pada”) as equivalent of “padre”, i.e. Latinized “father”. I wonder if the second full word, “ata”, could be Nabokov’s indication of the same meaning. “Ata” means “father” in Turkic languages, and the word is perfectly known to any educated Russian.

Although it may be too farfetched for Aunt Maud, even from beyond the grave, to use a Turkic-origin word, I am sure that Nabokov was perfectly familiar with the word. Not only was it part of the name of his famous contemporary, Ataturk (Moustafa Kemal; “father of all Turks”, 1881-1938), but furthermore, many toponyms that Konstantin Godunov-Cherdyntsev had to list in his Lepidoptera Asiatica would include “-Ata” as a part of a city name, the closest to Nabokov’s childhood reading being the famed Aulie-Ata (“The Holy Father”, center of Syrdaya Region; later Dzhambul, now Taraz


in Kazakhstan). Of course the largest modem Kazakh city’s name of Alma-Ata (before 1921, Verny) was known to Nabokov as well; its etymology, however (“Father of Apples”) is likely an artificial derivation by analogy with Aulie-Ata.

Turkic (including Tatar, or Tartar) linguistic influences are nothing alien for Nabokov, starting with his own name — he claimed the Tatar prince (Murza) Nabok as his ancestor (Speak, Memory, note that the Godunov name comes from the baptized Murza Chet of the same 14lh century). The pervasive Turkic linguistic influence (through the Golden Horde’s “Tatar yoke” and Turkic tribes of the North Caucasus and Crimea) on Russian language in general, and especially on Russian literature, is well known. This influence can be traced from Derzhavin to Pushkin to Lermontov to Tolstoy - and to Nabokov’s Tartary, an “independent inferno” on Antiterra. Nabokov’s life in Crimea added its load of Turkic, and Crimean Tatars address their elders as “ata”. “Ata” is also a Turkic root for the common Russian word “ataman” (title of a Cossack chieftain).

Even if etymologically unrelated, the Sanskrit Atman “soul”, “spirit” (which gave us Greek “atmos”) always looks suspiciously close to “ataman” for Russian readers. Brian Boyd (pers. comm., 2003) confirms that Nabokov was quite familiar with this word: “in Transparent Things (Ch. 8), he refers to “a notorious fraud, the late symbolist Atman”; and he also had been thinking of using the name for a less incidental character in the early 1950s.”

Given all this, it is not inconceivable that atalanta hides another “father” in it.

Interestingly, “Ata” is not only a Turkic (= Altaic) word; it means “father” in many other languages: Indo-European “atta”, Basque “ata”, Sumerian “adda”, Dravidian “atu”; Finnic “atti”, etc. In fact, “ata” (father) (as well as “dada”, “papa” etc.), occurs in so many languages that philologists often consider such words a “sound symbolism”, the result of universal childish babble (rather than of their common origin). Finally, I should


add that “Ata” is just one letter removed from “Ada” - as “Ada” is from “Ad” (hell) and “Adam” (man).

Etymology of the name “Atalanta” itself is intriguing. The dictionary (www.etvmonline.com) says: “Atalanta - daughter of king Schoeneus, famous for her swiftness, L., from Gk. Atalante, fem. of atalantos “having the same value (as a man),” from a- “one, together” + talanton “balance, weight, value” (cf. talent)”. In Ovid’s words, “She had features which in a boy would have been called girlish, but in a girl they were like a boy’s” (Metamorphoses, VIII, 322-323). Thus, “Ata-” part is not detachable etymologically but Aunt Maud’s message creates a new, “otherworldly” etymology (which Nabokov was always glad to provide), breaking off “father” after “father” (pada - ata -).

Still another matryoshka/Scrabble part of atalanta appears to be Chateaubriand’s Atala, the important reading in Ada (1, 14) (on its significance see: A. Cancogni. Nabokov and Chateaubriand. The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov (V. E. Alexandrov, ed.), 1995, pp. 382-388). Here is a lepidopteran connection as well, so far unnoticed in the literature: Atala Hairstreak, or Eumaeus atala (Poey, 1832) (Lycaenidae), from southeastern Florida is the largest and most spectacular eastern U.S. Hairstreak butterfly (also found in Cuba and the Bahamas). With its aposematic (warning) coloration, Atala Hairstreak is unpalatable to birds since it sequesters the toxic chemical cycasin from its food plants. It was not collected in Florida from 1937 until 1959 but was rediscovered in 1961. Nabokov should have been quite aware of this species. Moreover, its generic name, Eumaeus (after Homer’s swineherd in Ithaca) is a literary pointer to both The Odyssey and Ulysses. Nabokov’s library contains a copy of a lepidopterological journal Atala published from 1973 to 1992 by the Xerces Society in Ithaca, NY (Boyd & Pyle, op. cit., p. 55). Two other atala are junior synonyms: the Canadian moth Catocala atala Cassino, 1918 (valid name C. semirelicta


Grote, 1874) (Noctuidae: Catocalinae); and the Australian moth Hestiarcha atala Turner, 1922 (valid name Thermeola tasmanica Hampson, 1900) (Arctiidae: Lithosiinae).

Unfortunate Atala’s lover Chactas was also immortalized in zoological nomenclature in 1844 by a French zoologist Paul Gervais (probably an eccentric admirer of Chateaubriand) as a genus of scorpions, common in South America (family Chactidae).

I thank Dr. Brian Boyd who encouraged publication of these notes, and Dr. Dieter Zimmer for the important information.

—Victor Fet, Department of Biological Sciences, Marshall University




To M.V. Dobuzhinsky*

Vladimir Nabokov



0 recollection, piercing beam,

transfigure my exile,

transfix me, recollection

of Petersburg’s clouds, barge-like,

‘midst windswept heavenly expanses,

of unfrequented back-road fences,

of street lamps with expressions kind...

O'er my Neva, there come to mind

those twilights like the rustling

of obliquely shading pencils.


All this the smoothly stroking painter

in front of me unfolded, and

I had the sense that only lately

this very wind my face had fanned,

which he’d depicted by the flying

autumn leaves, by the untidy clouds.




M. В. Добужинскому


Воспоминанье, острый луч,

преобрази мое изгнанье,

пронзи меня, воспоминанье

о баржах петербургских туч

о небесных ветреных просторах,

о закоулочных заборах,

о добрых лицах фонарей...

Я помню, над Невой моей

бывали сумерки, как шорох

тушующих карандашей.


Все это живописец плавный

передо мною развернул,

и, кажется, совсем недавно

в лицо мне этот ветер дул,

изображенный им в летучих

осенних листьях, зыбких тучах,


and down the quay a humming flowed,

the bells in the penumbra dinned —

— the cathedral’s bronzen swings— ...


What a familiar courtyard stands nearby,

what stony posts! If I could only

step across, clamber inside,

stand for a while where snow-banks slumber,

and where logs lie, compactly stacked,

or ‘neath the arch on the canal,


where on the stony oval, tinted blue,

shimmer fortress and Neva.


*Prominent painter, family friend, VN’s art teacher in boyhood, later set designer for NY production of VN play The Event

Poem and translation ©2000 Dmitri Nabokov



и плыл, до набережной гул,
во мгле колокола гудели —
собора медные качели...

Какой там двор знакомый есть, 
какие тумбы! Хорошо бы

туда перешагнуть, пролезть,

там постоять, где спят сугробы,

и плотно сложены дрова,

или под аркой, на канале,


где нежно в каменном овале 
синеют крепость и Нева.