Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027214, Fri, 4 Nov 2016 13:55:30 +0300

tongues, Negro lad, Aardvark, progulka,
diamonds & Boris Godunov in Ada
In 1880, Van, aged ten, had traveled in silver trains with showerbaths, accompanied by his father, his father’s beautiful secretary, the secretary’s eighteen-year-old white-gloved sister (with a bit part as Van’s English governess and milkmaid), and his chaste, angelic Russian tutor, Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (‘AAA’), to gay resorts in Louisiana and Nevada. AAA explained, he remembered, to a Negro lad with whom Van had scrapped, that Pushkin and Dumas had African blood, upon which the lad showed AAA his tongue, a new interesting trick which Van emulated at the earliest occasion and was slapped by the younger of the Misses Fortune, put it back in your face, sir, she said. (1.24)

In Puteshestvie v Arzrum (“A Journey to Erzurum,” 1835) Pushkin says that, when he took a walk in Erzurum, the Turks (who mistook Pushkin for a doctor) in the streets beckoned him and showed him their tongues. According to the poet, he was tempted to respond to the Turks with the same gesture:

Когда гулял я по городу, турки подзывали меня и показывали мне язык. (Они принимают всякого франка за лекаря.) Это мне надоело, я готов был отвечать им тем же. (chapter 5)

Arzrum begins with an A. There are three a’s (cf. ‘AAA’) in aardvark (Orycteropus afer), a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa, “earth pig.” On Antiterra, Aardvark is a place name:

Upon being questioned in Demon's dungeon, Marina, laughing trillingly, wove a picturesque tissue of lies; then broke down, and confessed. She swore that all was over; that the Baron, a physical wreck and a spiritual Samurai, had gone to Japan forever. From a more reliable source Demon learned that the Samurai's real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or so. (1.2)

Describing Demon’s sword duel with Baron d’Onsky (Skonky), Van mentions “an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement” and the Aardvark Hospital in Boston:

The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish - a kind of American 'Gory Mary' in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d'Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not 'of his wounds' (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston - a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (ibid.)

D’Artagnan is the main character in “The Three Musketeers” (1844) by Alexander Dumas père. In Griboedov’s play Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) Colonel Skalozub says that he was in His Highness’ Novozemlyansk (“Novo-Zemblan”) regiment of musketeers:

Хлёстова (сидя)

Вы прежде были здесь… в полку… в том… гренадёрском?

Скалозуб (басом)

В Его Высочества, хотите вы сказать,
Новоземлянском мушкетёрском.


Не мастерица я полки-та различать.


‎А форменные есть отлички:
В мундирах выпушки, погончики, петлички.

Mme K h l y o s t o v (sitting)

You were here... in the regiment of . . . grenadiers?

S k a l o z u b (in a bass voice)

You mean, His Highness’ Novozemlyansk regiment of musketeers?

Mme K h l y o s t o v

I’m not skilled in distinguishing regiments.

S k a l o z u b

There is a difference in uniforms,

The shoulder loops, the tabs and shirts. (Act Three, scene 12)

Skalozub rhymes with trubkozub, the Russian word for “aardvark.” On the other hand, Skalozub is an anagram of zuboskal (scoffer; mocker). In her autobiographical story Mat' i muzyka ("Mother and Music," 1934) Marina Tsvetaev (whose mother used to call the tutor of Marina’s half-brother Andrey zuboskal) compares the grand piano in their house to zuboskal:

(И — детское открытие: ведь если неожиданно забыть, что это — рояль, это просто — зубы, огромные зубы в огромном холодном рту — до ушей. И это рояль — зубоскал, а вовсе не Андрюшин репетитор Александр Павлович Гуляев, которого так зовёт мать за вечное хохотание. И зубоскал совсем не весёлая, а страшная вещь.)

According to Marina Tsvetaev, zuboskal is a terrible, not funny thing. In “A Journey to Erzurum” Pushkin tells how at a turn of the road he met the cart drawn by two bullocks carrying Griboedov’s body from Teheran to Tiflis:

Я переехал через реку. Два вола, впряженные в арбу, подымались по крутой дороге. Несколько грузин сопровождали арбу. «Откуда вы?» — спросил я их. «Из Тегерана». — «Что вы везете?» — «Грибоеда». Это было тело убитого Грибоедова, которое препровождали в Тифлис.

Не думал я встретить уже когда-нибудь нашего Грибоедова! Я расстался с ним в прошлом году в Петербурге пред отъездом его в Персию. Он был печален и имел странные предчувствия. Я было хотел его успокоить; он мне сказал: «Vous ne connaissez pas ces gens-là: vous verrez qu’il faudra jouer des couteaux». Он полагал, что причиною кровопролития будет смерть шаха и междуусобица его семидесяти сыновей. Но престарелый шах еще жив, а пророческие слова Грибоедова сбылись. Он погиб под кинжалами персиян, жертвой невежества и вероломства. Обезображенный труп его, бывший три дня игралищем тегеранской черни, узнан был только по руке, некогда простреленной пистолетною пулею. (chapter 2)

Griboedov's dead body was identified because the little finger of his left hand had been maimed in his duel (the famous "Duel of the Four") with Yakubovich. A talented pianist, Griboedov is the author of several waltzes.

As she speaks to Van, Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) mentions Griboedov and his play:

‘A propos de coins: in Griboedov's Gore ot uma, "How stupid to be so clever," a play in verse, written, I think, in Pushkin's time, the hero reminds Sophie of their childhood games, and says:

How oft we sat together in a corner

And what harm might there be in that?

but in Russian it is a little ambiguous, have another spot, Van?' (he shook his head, simultaneously lifting his hand, like his father), 'because, you see, - no, there is none left anyway - the second line, i kazhetsya chto v etom, can be also construed as "And in that one, meseems," pointing with his finger at a corner of the room. Imagine - when I was rehearsing that scene with Kachalov at the Seagull Theater, in Yukonsk, Stanislavski, Konstantin Sergeevich, actually wanted him to make that cosy little gesture (uyutnen'kiy zhest).' (1.37)

At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) quotes Famusov’s words in “Woe from Wit:”

'By the way, Demon,' interrupted Marina, 'where and how can I obtain the kind of old roomy limousine with an old professional chauffeur that Praskovia, for instance, has had for years?'

'Impossible, my dear, they are all in heaven or on Terra. But what would Ada like, what would my silent love like for her birthday? It's next Saturday, po razschyotu po moemu (by my reckoning), isn't it? Une rivière de diamants?'

'Protestuyu!' cried Marina. 'Yes, I'm speaking seriozno. I object to your giving her kvaka sesva (quoi que ce soit), Dan and I will take care of all that.'

Besides you'll forget,' said Ada laughing, and very deftly showed the tip of her tongue to Van who had been on the lookout for her conditional reaction to 'diamonds.' (1.38)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): po razschyotu po moemu: an allusion to Famusov (in Griboedov's Gore ot uma), calculating the pregnancy of a lady's friend.

In her autobiographical story Moy Pushkin (“My Pushkin,” 1937) Marina Tsvetaev says that she always preferred black people to the white and mentions her half-brother’s khrestomatiya (chrestomathy) full of Bagrov grandson, Bagrov grandfather, etc.:

Андрюшина хрестоматия была несомненно-толстая, её распирало Багровым-внуком и Багровым-дедом, и лихорадящей матерью, дышащей прямо в грудь ребёнку, и всей безумной любовью этого ребёнка, и вёдрами рыбы, ловимой дурашливым молодым отцом, и - "Ты опять не спишь?" - Николенькой, и всеми теми гончими и борзыми, и всеми лирическими поэтами России.

Describing the first occasion on which Ada saw him, Van mentions his tutor Aksakov and Bagrov’s grandson, a neighbor’s boy:

He [Van] was out, he imagined, na progulke (promenading) in the gloomy firwood with Aksakov, his tutor, and Bagrov’s grandson, a neighbor’s boy, whom he teased and pinched and made horrible fun of, a nice quiet little fellow who quietly massacred moles and anything else with fur on, probably pathological. (1.24)

Like progulka (walk, stroll; outing), the name Gulyaev (of the tutor of Marina Tsvetaev’s half-brother Andrey) comes from gulyat’ (to walk). In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (One: III: 14) Monsieur l’Abbé (Eugene’s tutor) took his charge to the Letniy Sad (Le Jardin d’Eté) for walks.

In her memoir essay on Maximilian Voloshin, Zhivoe o zhivom ("A Living Word about a Living Man," 1932), Marina Tsvetaev speaks of her love for Dumas' novel Joseph Balsamo (1853):

И книга за книгой — все пять томов Жозефа Бальзамо Дюма, которого, прибавлю, люблю по нынешний день, а перечитывала всего только прошлой зимой — все пять томов, ни страницы не пропустив.

In Napisanie o tsaryakh moskovskikh (“The Description of the Moscow Tsars,” 1919) Voloshin quotes the words of a chronicler (Prince Ivan Mikhaylovich Katyryov-Rostovski) who says that Marina Mnishek (the wife of several impostors impersonating Prince Dmitri, a character in Pushkin’s drama Boris Godunov, 1825) loved a Negro lad even more than precious stones:

Марина Мнишек была прельстительна.
Бела лицом, а брови имея тонки.
Глаза змеиные. Рот мал. Поджаты губы.
Возрастом невелика,
Надменна обращеньем.
Любила плясания и игрища,
И пялишася в платья
Тугие с обручами,
С каменьями и жемчугом,
Но паче честных камней любяше негритёнка.

In an omitted scene (“Mnishek's Castle in Sanbor”) of Pushkin's Boris Godunov Marina Mnishek mentions almaznyi moy venets ("my diamond crown"):


(перед зеркалом)

Ну что ж? готово ли? нельзя ли поспешить?


Позвольте; наперёд решите выбор трудный:
Что вы наденете, жемчужную ли нить,
Иль полумесяц изумрудный?


Алмазный мой венец.


Прекрасно! помните? его вы надевали,
Когда изволили вы ездить во дворец.
На бале, говорят, как солнце вы блистали.
Мужчины ахали, красавицы шептали...
В то время, кажется, вас видел в первый раз
Хоткевич молодой, что после застрелился.
А точно, говорят: на вас
Кто ни взглянул, тут и влюбился.

Marina’s maid Ruzya mentions young Khotkevich who saw Marina for the first time when she wore her diamond crown and who later shot himself dead. When Demon tells Van to give up Ada, Van wants to shoot himself:

Van sealed the letter, found his Thunderbolt pistol in the place he had visualized, introduced one cartridge into the magazine and translated it into its chamber. Then, standing before a closet mirror, he put the automatic to his head, at the point of the pterion, and pressed the comfortably concaved trigger. Nothing happened — or perhaps everything happened, and his destiny simply forked at that instant, as it probably does sometimes at night, especially in a strange bed, at stages of great happiness or great desolation, when we happen to die in our sleep, but continue our normal existence, with no perceptible break in the faked serialization, on the following, neatly prepared morning, with a spurious past discreetly but firmly attached behind. Anyway, what he held in his right hand was no longer a pistol but a pocket comb which he passed through his hair at the temples. (2.11)

In “My Pushkin” Marina Tsvetaev points out that, after Tatiana left Onegin (in Chapter Eight of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin), Onegin stands kak gromom porazhyonnyi (“as if by thunder struck”; XLVIII: 1-2):

Ведь в отповеди Татьяны - ни тени мстительности. Потому и получается полнота возмездия, поэтому-то Онегин и стоит "как громом поражённый". Все козыри были у неё в руках, чтобы отмстить и свести его с ума, все козыри - чтобы унизить, втоптать в землю той скамьи, сравнять с паркетом той залы, она всё это уничтожила одной только обмолвкой: Я вас люблю (к чему лукавить?)

When, in the middle of the conversation, Demon begins to cry, Van recalls an amateur parody in which his father played Boris Godunov:

Van, whose finger had been gliding endlessly to and fro along the mute but soothingly smooth edge of the mahogany desk, now heard with horror the sob that shook Demon’s entire frame, and then saw a deluge of tears flowing down those hollow tanned cheeks. In an amateur parody, at Van’s birthday party fifteen years ago, his father had made himself up as Boris Godunov and shed strange, frightening, jet-black tears before rolling down the steps of a burlesque throne in death’s total surrender to gravity. Did those dark streaks, in the present show, come from his blackening his orbits, eyelashes, eyelids, eyebrows? The funest gamester... the pale fatal girl, in another well-known melodrama.... In this one. Van gave him a clean handkerchief to replace the soiled rag. His own marble calm did not surprise Van. The ridicule of a good cry with Father adequately clogged the usual ducts of emotion. (2.11)

Flavita = alfavit

Baron Klim Avidov = Vladimir Nabokov

Aardvark + kot/tok/kto = kavardak + rot/Ort = kvadrat + kora = kara/arka + dva + krot = tovarka + dark

alfavit – alphabet

kot – tomcat

tok – current

kto – who

kavardak – mess, muddle

rot – mouth; Germ., red

Ort – Germ., place

kvadrat – square

kora – cortex; bark, rind; crust

kara – punishment

arka – arch

dva – 2

krot – mole

tovarka – (female) friend

Alexey Sklyarenko

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