Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027326, Fri, 17 Mar 2017 11:55:33 +0300

Teuton, petit topinambour, Caliban & Demonia in Ada
As he speaks to Cordula de Prey (Ada’s schoolmate at Brownhill), Van
mentions the Teuton and his petit topinambour:

She shook her short curls. No - she went there very seldom. Twice to a
concert, in a pine forest. She had not been aware that Ada took music
lessons. How was Ada?

'Lucette,' he said, 'Lucette takes or took piano lessons. Okay. Let's
dismiss Kalugano. These crumpets are very poor relatives of the Chose ones.
You're right, j'ai des ennuis. But you can make me forget them. Tell me
something to distract me, though you distract me as it is, un petit
topinambour as the Teuton said in the story. Tell me about your affairs of
the heart.' (1.42)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): topinambour: tuber of the girasole; pun on
'pun' ('calembour').

In a letter of Feb. 20, 1826, to Delvig Pushkin calls his and Delvig’s
Lyceum friend Küchelbecker tevton Kyukhlya (“the Teuton Kyukhlya”):

Очень благодарен за твои известия, радуюс
ь, что тевтон Кюхля не был Славянин ― а охм
елел в чужом пиру.

Pushkin is glad to learn that Küchelbecker (who was arrested with other
Decembrists) was not a Slav (i. e. rebel), but okhmelel v chuzhom piru (was
innocent; literally: “got drunk in others’ feast”).

In a letter of Dec. 1-6, 1825, to Küchelbecker Pushkin criticizes Kü
chelbecker’s comedy Shekspirovy dukhi (“Shakespeare’s Spirits,” 1825)
and in a footnote mentions calembour:

Прежде чем поблагодарю тебя, хочу с тобою
побраниться. Получив твою комедию, я наде
ялся найти в ней и письмо. Я трёс, трёс её и
ждал, не выпадет ли хоть четвертушка почт
овой бумаги; напрасно: ничего не выдрочил
и со злости духом прочёл ?Духов?,* сперва п
ро себя, а потом и вслух.

*Calembour! reconnais-tu le sang?

In his letter (that never reached the addressee, because he was soon
arrested) Pushkin praises Caliban, a character in Küchelbecker’s comedy:
Зато Калибан ― прелесть. According to Aqua (Marina’s
mad twin sister who imagined that she could understand the language of her
namesake, water), “bathwater (or shower) was too much of a Caliban to speak

Bathwater (or shower) was too much of a Caliban to speak distinctly ― or
perhaps was too brutally anxious to emit the hot torrent and get rid of the
infernal ardor ― to bother about small talk; but the burbly flowlets grew
more and more ambitious and odious, and when at her first ‘home’ she heard
one of the most hateful of the visiting doctors (the Cavalcanti quoter)
garrulously pour hateful instructions in Russian-lapped German into her
hateful bidet, she decided to stop turning on tap water altogether. (1.3)

The chapter in which Van describes his trip to Kalugano and his pistol duel
with Captain Tapper in the Kalugano forest begins as follows:

Aqua used to say that only a very cruel or very stupid person, or innocent
infants, could be happy on Demonia, our splendid planet. (1.42)

In a letter of Dec. 4, 1824, to his brother Lyov and to his sister Olga
Pushkin complains that Küchelbecker published his (Pushkin’s) poem Demon
(“The Demon,” 1823) incorrectly:

Не стыдно ли Кюхле напечатать ошибочно мо
его ?Демона?! моего ?Демона?! после этого он
и ?Верую? напечатает ошибочно. Не давать е
му за то ни ?Моря?, ни капли стихов от меня.

Kalugano + bitva + parad + pater = Kaliban + otvaga + udar/dura/ruda +

Kaliban + tovar/otvar + Raduga = Kaluga + britva + ad + nora = Luga +
kartina + voda + Abo

Kalugano + oblik = Kaliban + ugolok

Kalugano + Luga = Kaluga + Lugano

bitva - battle

parad - parade

pater - Pater

Kaliban - Caliban (in Russian spelling)

otvaga - courage

udar - blow; stroke, etc.

dura - fool (female)

ruda - ore

tovar - goods; wares

otvar - broth; decoction

britva - razor; a story (1926) by VN

ad - hell

nora - hole

kartina - picture

voda - water

Abo - Swedish name of Turku

oblik - look, aspect, appearance

ugolok - diminutive of ugol, corner; cf. Kak chasto my sideli v tyomnom
ugolke i kazhetsya, chto v etom? (“How oft we sat together in a corner /
And what harm might there be in that?”), Chatski’s words to Sophia in
Griboedov’s play Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) quoted by Marina
(1.37); in his poem Uchast’ russkikh poetov (“The Destiny of Russian
Poets,” 1845) Küchelbecker speaks of Pushkin, Griboedov and himself

To reach Kalugano Van has to change the train in Ladoga:

First, he decided to go to Kalugano to settle accounts with Herr Rack. Out
of sheer misery he fell asleep in a corner of a compartment, full of alien
legs and voices, in the crack express tearing north at a hundred miles per
hour. He dozed till noon and got off at Ladoga, where after an incalculably
long wait he took another, even more jerky and crowded train. (1.42)

Ladoga is the largest lake in Europe, NE of St. Petersburg. In Kü
chelbecker’s story Ado (1824) the action takes place in Estonia on the
banks of Lake Peipus (Chudskoe ozero).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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