Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027215, Sun, 6 Nov 2016 15:50:50 +0300

corsets, chrestomathies, Sterva,
Bohemian lady & carte de Van in Ada
As she speaks to Van, Lucette mentions a box of korsetov i khrestomatiy
(corsets and chrestomathies) left behind by Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s

‘Oh, it went on practically every night at Marina Ranch, and often during
siestas; otherwise, in between those vanouissements (her expression), or
when she and I had the flow, which, believe it or not ―’

‘I can believe anything,’ said Van.

‘― took place at coincident dates, we were just ordinary sisters,
exchanging routine nothings, having little in common, she collecting
cactuses or running through her lines for the next audition in Sterva, and I
reading a lot, or copying beautiful erotic pictures from an album of
Forbidden Masterpieces that we found, apropos, in a box of korsetov i
khrestomatiy (corsets and chrestomathies) which Belle had left behind, and I
can assure you, they were far more realistic than the scroll-painting by
Mong Mong, very active in 888, a millennium before Ada said it illustrated
Oriental calisthenics when I found it by chance in the corner of one of my
ambuscades.’ (2.5)

In her autobiographical story Moy Pushkin (“My Pushkin,” 1937) Marina
Tsvetaev mentions her half-brother Andrey’s khrestomatiya (chrestomathy)
full of Bagrov grandson, Bagrov grandfather, etc.:

Андрюшина хрестоматия была несомненно-то
лстая, её распирало Багровым-внуком и Баг
ровым-дедом, и лихорадящей матерью, дышащ
ей прямо в грудь ребёнку, и всей безумной
любовью этого ребёнка, и вёдрами рыбы, лов
имой дурашливым молодым отцом, и - "Ты опят
ь не спишь?" - Николенькой, и всеми теми гон
чими и борзыми, и всеми лирическими поэта
ми России.

In her poem Bohème (1917) Marina Tsvetaev mentions her belyi korset (white
corset), karta vin (carte des vins) and stul’ya (chairs):

Помнишь плащ голубой,
Фонари и лужи?
Как играли с тобой
Мы в жену и мужа.

Мой первый браслет,
Мой белый корсет,
Твой малиновый жилет,
Наш клетчатый плед?!

Ты, по воле судьбы,
Всё писал сонеты.
Я варила бобы
Юному поэту.

Как над картою вин
Мы на пальцы дули,
Как в дымящий камин
Полетели стулья.

Помнишь ― шкаф под орех?
Холод был отчаянный!
Мой страх, твой смех,
Гнев домохозяина.

Как стучал нам сосед,
Флейтою разбужен…
Поцелуи ― в обед,
И стихи ― на ужин…

Мой первый браслет,
Мой белый корсет,
Твой малиновый жилет ―
Наш клетчатый плед…

Marina Tsvetaev’s poem begins:

Do you remember the blue cloak,

Street lamps and puddles?

How we played

In wife and husband.

Demon’s adversary in a sword duel, Baron d’Onsky (Skonky) married the
Bohemian lady:

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.)

In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) the
fat samovar face of Douglas Fairbanks (the actor who played d’Artagnan in a
Hollywood version of “The Three Musketeers”) is mentioned:

Зато в здании типографии комиссия застал
а работу в полном разгаре. Сияли лиловые л
ампы, и плоские печатные машины озабоченн
о хлопали крыльями. Три из них выпекали ущ
елье в одну краску, а из четвертой, многок
расочной, словно карты из рукава шулера, в
ылетали открытки с портретами Дугласа Фе
рбенкса в чёрной полумаске на толстой сам
оварной морде, очаровательной Лиа де Путт
и и славного малого с вытаращенными глаза
ми, известного под именем Монти Бенкса.

Three of them [printing presses] were spitting out monochrome pictures of
the canyon, while out of a fourth, multicolored press, like cards out of a
card sharp’s sleeve, there flew postcards of Douglas Fairbanks with a black
half-mask over his fat samovar face, the charming Lia de Putti and the
famous little bug-eyed man known as Monty Banks. (Chapter Five, "The
Underground Kingdom")

In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stul’yev (“The Twelve Chairs,”
1928) Father Fyodor calls the eagle that stole his sausage sterva (“bitch
of a bird”):

Шли облака. Над отцом Фёдором кружились о
рлы. Самый смелый из них украл остаток люб
ительской колбасы и взмахом крыла сброси
л в пенящийся Терек фунта полтора хлеба. О
тец Фёдор погрозил орлу пальцем и, лучеза
рно улыбаясь, прошептал:

― Птичка божия не знает ни заботы, ни труд
а, хлопотливо не свивает долговечного гне
зда. Орёл покосился на отца Фёдора, закрич
ал ?ку-ку-ре-ку? и улетел.

― Ах, орлуша, орлуша, большая ты стерва!

Clouds drifted by. Eagles cruised above Father Fyodor’s head. The bravest
of them stole the remains of the sausage and with its wings swept a pound
and a half of bread into the foaming Terek. Father Fyodor wagged his finger
at the eagle and, smiling radiantly, whispered: "God's bird does not know
Either toil or unrest, It never builds A long-lasting nest."

The eagle looked sideways at Father Fyodor, squawked cockadoodledoo and flew

"Oh, eagle, you eagle, you bitch of a bird!" (chapter 38 “Up in the

Father Fyodor quotes the lines from Pushkin’s poem Tsygany (“The
Gypsies,” 1824). In “My Pushkin” Marina Tsvetaev also quotes them and
says that they about a butterfly:

Птичка Божия не знает

Ни заботы, ни труда,

Хлопотливо не свивает

Долговечного гнезда.

Так что же она тогда делает? И кто же тогда
вьёт гнездо? И есть ли вообще такие птичк
и, кроме кукушки, которая не птичка, а цела
я птичища? Эти стихи явно написаны про баб

Marina Tsvetaev mentions kukushka (cuckoo), a bird that lays its eggs in
other birds’ nests. Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) made her
mad twin sister Aqua believe that Van is her, Aqua’s, beloved son.

Sterva (the word of abuse used by Father Fyodor; Lucette mentions Ada’s
auditions in Sterva) is an anagram of versta (verst), an obsolete Russian
unit of length equal to 500 sazhen (1,0668 km). Vyorsty (“The Versts”) is
the title of several collections of poetry by Marina Tsvetaev. According to
Van, the distance between Raduga and Radugalet (“the other Ardis”) is ten

It was, Van suggested, a ‘tower in the mist’ (as she called any good
recollection), and then a conductor walked on the running board of every
coach with the train also running and opened doors all over again to give,
punch, collect tickets, and lick his thumb, and change money, a hell of a
job, but another ‘mauve tower.’ Did they hire a motor landaulet to
Radugalet? Ten miles, she guessed. Ten versts, said Van. She stood
corrected. (1.24)

Van’s “ten versts” bring to mind Aqua’s ten fingers:

‘‘You know, Doctor, I think I’ll need glasses soon, I don’t know’
(lofty laugh), ‘I just can’t make out what my wrist watch says... For
heaven’s sake, tell me what it says! Ah! Half-past for ― for what? Never
mind, never mind, "never" and "mind" are twins, I have a twin sister and a
twin son. I know you want to examine my pudendron, the Hairy Alpine Rose in
her album, collected ten years ago’ (showing her ten fingers gleefully,
proudly, ten is ten!). (1.3)

Marina Tsvetaev was short-sighted.

"Tower in the mist" and "mauve tower" seem to hint at Marina Tsvetaev's
autobiographical story Bashnya v plyushche ("The Tower in Ivy," 1933) and at
"mauve shades of Monsieur Proust" in Ada's entomological diary:

'I think Marina would stop scolding me for my hobby ("There's something
indecent about a little girl's keeping such revolting pets...," "Normal
young ladies should loathe snakes and worms," et cetera) if I could persuade
her to overcome her old-fashioned squeamishness and place simultaneously on
palm and pulse (the hand alone would not be roomy enough!) the noble larva
of the Cattleya Hawkmoth (mauve shades of Monsieur Proust), a
seven-inch-long colossus flesh colored, with turquoise arabesques, rearing
its hyacinth head in a stiff "Sphinxian" attitude.' (1.8)

Cattleya is any of several tropical American orchids of the genus Cattleya,
having showy flowers ranging from white to purple. In Proust's A la
Recherche du Temps Perdu "cattleya" is Swann's and Odette's "tender turret"
word for their love-makings. In "My Pushkin" Marina Tsvetaev pairs Pushkin
with Marcel Proust:

Такой нежности слова к старухе нашлись то
лько у недавно умчавшегося от нас гения -
Марселя Пруста. Пушкин. Пруст. Два памятни
ка сыновности.

According to Marina Tsvetaev, Pushkin and Proust are two monuments of
synovnost’ (filial affection). The author of Stikhi k Chekhii (“Verses to
Czechoslovakia,” 1939), Marina Tsvetaev lived in Prague after leaving
Russia in 1922. VN’s mother spent her last years and in 1939 died in

Karta vin (carte des vins) mentioned by Marina Tsvetaev in her poem Bohème
brings to mind the ‘cart de van’ demanded by Ada’s husband at the dinner
in Bellevue:

Lemorio's agents, an elderly couple, unwed but having lived as man and man
for a sufficiently long period to warrant a silver-screen anniversary,
remained unsplit at table between Yuzlik, who never once spoke to them, and
Van, who was being tortured by Dorothy. As to Andrey (who made a thready
'sign of the cross' over his un-unbuttonable abdomen before necking in his
napkin), he found himself seated between sister and wife. He demanded the
'cart de van' (affording the real Van mild amusement), but, being a
hard-liquor man, cast only a stunned look at the 'Swiss White' page of the
wine list before 'passing the buck' to Ada who promptly ordered champagne.

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): cart de van: Amer., mispronunciation of carte
des vins.

Yuzlik is the director who filmed Don Juan’s Last Fling, the movie in which
Ada played the gitanilla. Van and Lucette watch it in the Tobakoff cinema
hall on the eve of Lucette’s suicide (3.5). Andrey Andreevich Vinelander
(Ada’s husband) is a namesake of Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (‘AAA,’ Van’s
angelic Russian tutor). Describing the first occasion on which Ada saw him,
Van mentions his tutor and Bagrov’s grandson:

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)

Yuzlik + kovcheg + Orlik = yug + Kozlevich + Krolik

kovcheg - ark; in “The Twelve Chairs” (chapter 32 “A Shady Couple”)
kovcheg is mentioned

Orlik - Filipp Orlik, a character in Pushkin's Poltava (1829)

yug - South

Kozlevich - Adam Kozlevich, a character in Ilf and Petrov's "The Golden
Calf" (the driver of the Antelope Gnu car)

Krolik - Dr Krolik, Ada's teacher of natural history (the local entomologist
whom Ada calls “my court jeweler”); krolik means “rabbit;” in Blok’s
Incognita (1906) the drunks with the eyes of rabbits (p’yanitsy s glazami
krolikov) cry out: In vino veritas!

Alexey Sklyarenko

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