NABOKV-L post 0027300, Sat, 11 Feb 2017 16:34:05 +0300

Quelques Fleurs, Chose University & Khristosik in Ada
Some confusion ensued less than two years later (September, 1871 — her proud brain still retained dozens of dates) when upon escaping from her next refuge and somehow reaching her husband’s unforgettable country house (imitate a foreigner: ‘Signor Konduktor, ay vant go Lago di Luga, hier geld’) she [Aqua] took advantage of his being massaged in the solarium, tiptoed into their former bedroom — and experienced a delicious shock: her talc powder in a half-full glass container marked colorfully Quelques Fleurs still stood on her bedside table; her favorite flame-colored nightgown lay rumpled on the bedrug; to her it meant that only a brief black nightmare had obliterated the radiant fact of her having slept with her husband all along — ever since Shakespeare’s birthday on a green rainy day, but for most other people, alas, it meant that Marina (after G. A. Vronsky, the movie man, had left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets) had conceived, c’est bien le cas de le dire, the brilliant idea of having Demon divorce mad Aqua and marry Marina who thought (happily and correctly) she was pregnant again. Marina had spent a rukuliruyushchiy month with him at Kitezh but when she smugly divulged her intentions (just before Aqua’s arrival) he threw her out of the house. (1.3)

The name of Aqua’s (or, rather, Marina’s) talc powder seems to blend the stock phrase quelque chose (Fr., “something”) with the title of Baudelaire’s book Les Fleurs du mal (“Flowers of Evil,” 1857). Lev Shestov’s essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), has for epigraph a line from Baudelaire’s poem Le Goût du néant (“The Taste for Nothingness”):

Résigne-toi, mon cœur, dors ton sommeil de brute.

Resign yourself, my heart; sleep your brutish sleep.

The name Shestov (the pseudonym of Yehuda Leyb Schwarzmann, 1866-1938) comes from shest’ (six). In Chekhov's P’yesa bez nazvaniya (<The Play without a Title>, 1880-81) Shcherbuk says that Dr Triletski visited him shest’ raz (six times) and uses the phrase kel’k shoz (quelque chose in Russian spelling):

И ездил шесть раз не потому, что я болен был, а потому, что у моего арендатора дочка кельк шоз.

And you visited me six times not because I was ill, but because my tenant's daughter is a pretty young thing. (Act One, scene XIV)

Chose is the name of Van’s (and Demon’s) University:

In 1885, having completed his prep-school education, he [Van Veen] went up to Chose University in England, where his fathers had gone, and traveled from time to time to London or Lute (as prosperous but not overrefined British colonials called that lovely pearl-gray sad city on the other side of the Channel). (1.28)

According to Pushkin (Eugene Onegin, One: V: 1-2),

Мы все учились понемногу

Чему-нибудь и как-нибудь

All of us had a bit of schooling

in something and somehow.

In their accurate prose translation of EO Turgenev and Viardot render these lines as follows:

"Nous avons tous, par petites bribes, appris fort peu de choses et fort mal."

Aqua’s last note is signed “My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (now is out of hell)” (1.3). Chekhov’s story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as Seen by a Drunkard,” 1885), in which girls under sixteen are compared to distilled water, is signed Brat moego brata (“My brother’s brother”). In Chekhov’s story Noch’ pered sudom (“Before the Legal Proceedings,” 1884) Aquae destillatae is mentioned:

Наконец, я сидел в компании Феди и Зиночки за самоваром; надо было написать рецепт, и я сочинил его по всем правилам врачебной науки:

Rp. Sic transit 0,05

Gloria mundi 1,0

Aquae destillatae 0,1

Через два часа по столовой ложке.

Г-же Съеловой.

Д-р Зайцев.

Dr Zaytsev (the author of the above prescription whose name comes from zayats, “hare”) brings to mind Seitz (the gynecologist visited by Ada, 1.37) and Dr Krolik (the local entomologist, Ada’s teacher of natural history whose name means “rabbit”). In Blok’s poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: “In vino veritas!” In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov calls Suvorin gor’kiy p’yanitsa (“a hard drinker”), complains that modern art, and literature in particular, lacks the alcohol that would intoxicate the reader and modestly compares his story Palata №. 6 (“Ward No. 6,” 1892) to lemonade:

Вас нетрудно понять, и Вы напрасно браните себя за то, что неясно выражаетесь. Вы горький пьяница, а я угостил Вас сладким лимонадом, и Вы, отдавая должное лимонаду, справедливо замечаете, что в нём нет спирта. В наших произведениях нет именно алкоголя, который бы пьянил и порабощал, и это Вы хорошо даёте понять. Отчего нет? Оставляя в стороне «Палату № 6» и меня самого, будем говорить вообще, ибо это интересней.

It is easy to understand you, and there is no need for you to abuse yourself for obscurity of expression. You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productions—the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside "Ward No. 6" and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting.

Gor’kiy p’yanitsa brings to mind Maxim Gorky (A. M. Peshkov’s penname), the author of Moi universitety (“My Universities,” 1923) who was samouchka (a self-educated man). The title of Chekhov’s story Noch’ pered sudom brings to mind Blok’s poem Pered sudom (“Before the Day of Judgment,” 1915) addressed to the poet’s wife (who was an actress). In Blok’s poem Dvenadtsat’ (“The Twelve,” 1918) the last two words are Isus Khristos (Jesus Christ). Khristosik (as G. A. Vronsky called all pretty starlets) means in Russian “little Christ.” In Blok’s poem Jesus Christ wears a white crown of roses (v belom venchike iz roz; cf. Quelques Fleurs).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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