Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027317, Sat, 4 Mar 2017 19:36:15 +0300

St. Augustine & Engelwein in Ada; Anatole & narrator's name in
Gumilyov’s poem Shestoe chuvstvo (“The Sixth Sense,” 1920) begins:
Prekrasno v nas vlyublyonnoe vino (Fine is the wine that is in love with
us). In my post of Feb. 15, “Baudelaire & furniture in Ada,” I said that I
never saw a liquor that would be in love with a person. But a few days ago I
came across the following passage in Anatole France’s Penguin Island

St. Augustine began to speak. There was a great silence.

"I am going," said the ardent bishop of Hippo, "to show you, by an example,
the power of formulas. It deals, it is true, with a diabolical operation.
But if it be established that formulas taught by the Devil have effect upon
unintelligent animals or even on inanimate objects, how can we longer doubt
that the effect of the sacramental formulas extends to the minds of beasts
and even to inert matter?

"This is the example. There was during my lifetime in the town of Madaura,
the birthplace of the philosopher Apuleius, a witch who was able to attract
men to her chamber by burning a few of their hairs along with certain herbs
upon her tripod, pronouncing at the same time certain words. Now one day
when she wished by this means to gain the love of a young man, she was
deceived by her maid, and instead of the young man's hairs, she burned some
hairs pulled from a leather bottle, made out of a goatskin that hung in a
tavern. During the night the leather bottle, full of wine, capered through
the town up to the witch's door. This fact is undoubted. And in sacraments
as in enchantments it is the form which operates. The effect of a divine
formula cannot be less in power and extent than the effect of an infernal
formula." (Book One, chapter 6 “An Assembly in Paradise”)

In his essay The Texture of Time (begun 1922) Van Veen (the narrator and
main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions St. Augustine:

Such a drought affected Hippo in the most productive months of Augustine’s
bishopric that clepsydras had to be replaced by sandglasses. He defined the
Past as what is no longer and the future as what is not yet (actually the
future is a fantasm belonging to another category of thought essentially
different from that of the Past which, at least, was here a moment ago ―
where did I put it? Pocket? But the search itself is already ‘past’).
(Part Four)

Anatole France is the author of La Révolte des anges (The Revolt of the
Angels, 1914). In his essay Van mentions Engelwein (an invented philosopher;
in German, Engel means “angel” and Wein, “wine”):

One especially grotesque inference, drawn (I think by Engelwein) from
Relativity Theory ― and destroying it, if drawn correctly ― is that the
galactonaut and his domestic animals, after touring the speed spas of Space,
would return younger than if they had stayed at home all the time. Imagine
them filing out of their airark ― rather like those ‘Lions,’ juvenilified
by romp suits, exuding from one of those huge chartered buses that stop,
horribly blinking, in front of a man’s impatient sedan just where the
highway wizens to squeeze through the narrows of a mountain village. (ibid)

Gumilyov (who almost shares with Anatole France his birthday) was executed
in August of 1921. In his poem Zabludivshiysya tramvay (“The Lost Tram,”
1921) Gumilyov compares the executioner’s face to an udder (cf. Mr
Goodman’s face in TRLSK and the face of Falstaff in VN’s poem

Вывеска... кровью налитые буквы

Гласят: "Зеленная",- знаю, тут

Вместо капусты и вместо брюквы

Мёртвые головы продают.

В красной рубашке с лицом, как вымя,

Голову срезал палач и мне,

Она лежала вместе с другими

Здесь в ящике скользком, на самом дне.

A sign... Blood-filled letters

Announce: "Zelennaya," - I know that here

Instead of cabbages and rutabagas

The heads of the dead are for sale.

In a red shirt, with a face like an udder,

The executioner cuts my head off, too,

It lies together with the others

Here, in a slippery box, at the very bottom.

In VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) Pahl Pahlich Rechnoy
mentions Anatole, the Parisian executioner:

'Look here,' he said, 'what are you driving at? Are the police after her?
Because, you know, I shouldn't be surprised if she turned out to be an
international spy. Mata Hari! That's her type. Oh, absolutely. And then….
Well, she's not a girl you can easily forget once she's got into your
system. She sucked me dry, and in more ways than one. Money and soul, for
instance. I would have killed her… if it had not been for Anatole.'

'And who's that?' I asked.

'Anatole? Oh, that's the executioner. The man with the guillotine here…’
(chapter 15)

In Russia St. Augustine is known as Blazhennyi Avgustin. The epithet
blazhennyi (blessed) brings to mind sobor Vasiliya Blazhennogo (Saint
Basil’s Cathedral) in the Red Square in Moscow. In Pahl Pahlich Rechnoy’s
flat there is a portrait of a famous general who was “moscowed” a few
years ago:

While they were arguing over the position, with White trying to take his
move back, I looked round the room. I noted the portrait of what had been in
the past an Imperial Family. And the moustache of a famous general, moscowed
a few years ago. (ibid.)

I suspect that in TRLSK the narrator’s first name is Vasiliy. When he
visits Pahl Pahlych Rechnoy, V. mentions his full name:

The door at which I rang was opened by a lean, tall, shock-headed man in his
shirtsleeves and with a brass stud at his collarless throat. He held a
chessman ― a black knight ― in his hand. I greeted him in Russian.
'Come in, come in,' he said cheerfully, as if he had been expecting me.
‘My name is so-and-so,' I said.
'And mine,' he cried, 'is Pahl Pahlich Rechnoy' ― and he guffawed heartily
as if it were a good joke. 'If you please,' he said, pointing with the
chessman to an open door. (ibid.)

One is tempted to assume that “so-and-so” stands for Vasiliy Shishkov. At
the beginning of VN’s story Vasiliy Shishkov (1939) the hero tells to the

-- Меня зовут Василий Шишков, Я поэт.

“My name is Vasiliy Shishkov. I’m a poet.”

Btw., Pingvin (“Penguin”) is a poem by VN written in September of 1917:

Карлик безрукий во фраке,

глупый, неловкий пингвин,

помнишь сиянье во мраке,

синие выступы льдин?

Помнишь зарницы ночные,

кольца и складки огня?

Помнишь туманы седые

длинного, длинного дня?

Грустная птица, смешная,

глядя на нас, на людей,

плачешь ли ты, вспоминая

ласковых чёрных моржей?

Помнишь ли птицу-подругу,

встречи на высшей скале,

вьюгу, волшебную вьюгу,

снежные вихри во мгле...

Ах, эти встречи! А ныне:

душный, искусственный грот,

имя твоё по-латыни,

пятиалтынный за вход...

Alexey Sklyarenko

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