Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027330, Tue, 21 Mar 2017 00:03:50 +0300

Griboedov, Baudelaire, John Shade, King Victor & Lute in Ada
In her old age Ada translates Griboedov into French and English, Baudelaire into English and Russian and John Shade into Russian and French:

Ada, who amused herself by translating (for the Oranger editions en regard), Griboyedov into French and English, Baudelaire into English and Russian, and John Shade into Russian and French, often read to Van, in a deep mediumesque voice, the published versions made by other workers in that field of semiconsciousness. (5.4)

Baudelaire’s poem Les Petites Vieilles (“Little Old Women”) is dedicated to Victor Hugo (the author of “The Art of Being a Grandfather” who reached the age of eighty-three). On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) France (Baudelaire’s and Hugo’s native land) was annexed by England in 1815 and is a part of the British Commonwealth:

Among the servants, fifteen at least were of French extraction - descendants of immigrants who had settled in America after England had annexed their beautiful and unfortunate country in 1815. To interview them all - torture the males, rape the females - would be, of course, absurd and degrading. (1.40)

On Demonia the British Empire is ruled by King Victor (2.1, et passim). The Antiterran counterpart of the British Queen Victoria (1819-1901), King Victor also seems to hint at Victor Hugo (1802-85). King Victor is a frequent guest of floramors (one hundred palatial brothels built by David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction, in memory of his grandson Eric, the author of an essay entitled “Villa Venus: an Organized Dream”). For the last time King Victor visits Villa Venus in 1905 (the year of Demon Veen’s death):

In 1905 a glancing blow was dealt Villa Venus from another quarter. The personage we have called Ritcov or Vrotic had been induced by the ailings of age to withdraw his patronage. However, one night he suddenly arrived, looking again as ruddy as the proverbial fiddle; but after the entire staff of his favorite floramor near Bath had worked in vain on him till an ironic Hesperus rose in a milkman's humdrum sky, the wretched sovereign of one-half of the globe called for the Shell Pink Book, wrote in it a line that Seneca had once composed:

subsidunt montes et juga celsa ruunt,

- and departed, weeping. (2.3)

In a letter of August 3, 1831, to Pletnyov (to whom Eugene Onegin is dedicated) Pushkin compares Khvostov (who outlived Ryleev, Venevitinov, Griboedov and Delvig and died only in 1835, at the age of seventy-eight) to pokhabnyi kukish (an obscene fig) that sticks out amidst so many early graves and predicts that Khvostov will outlive him (Pushkin) as well:

С душевным прискорбием узнал я, что Хвостов жив. Посреди стольких гробов, стольких ранних или бесценных жертв, Хвостов торчит каким-то кукишем похабным. Перечитывал я на днях письма Дельвига; в одном из них пишет он мне о смерти Д. Веневитинова. «Я в тот же день встретил Хвостова, говорит он, и чуть не разругал его: зачем он жив?» — Бедный наш Дельвиг! Хвостов и его пережил. Вспомни моё пророческое слово: Хвостов и меня переживёт.

In his Ode to his Excellency Count Dm. Iv. Khvostov (1825) Pushkin compares Khvostov to Byron (who died in 1824, at the age of thirty-six) and mentions lyutyi Pit (ferocious Pitt):

Султан ярится. Кровь Эллады

И peзвocкачет, и кипит.

Открылись грекам древни клады,

Трепещет в Стиксе лютый Пит.

The sultan gets furious. Hellas's blood

is galloping fast and boiling.

The Greeks discovered ancient treasures,

ferocious Pitt trembles in Styx.

Describing his meeting with Greg Erminin in Paris (on Antiterra, also known as Lute), Van mentions the Avenue Guillaume Pitt:

On a bleak morning between the spring and summer of 1901, in Paris, as Van, black-hatted, one hand playing with the warm loose change in his topcoat pocket and the other, fawn-gloved, upswinging a furled English umbrella, strode past a particularly unattractive sidewalk café among the many lining the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, a chubby bald man in a rumpled brown suit with a watch-chained waistcoat stood up and hailed him. (3.2)

During his conversation with Van Greg recalls Ada’s dead lovers:

‘So odd to recall! It was frenzy, it was fantasy, it was reality in the x degree. I’d have consented to be beheaded by a Tartar, I declare, if in exchange I could have kissed her instep. You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can’t understand that obsession. Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil Rack, a composer of genius — dead, dead, all dead!’ (ibid.)

Greg’s twin sister Grace married a Wellington (2.6). In the Battle of Waterloo (1815) lost by Napoleon the Anglo-allied army was commanded by Duke of Wellington. The characters of Aldanov’s novel Mogila voina (“A Soldier’s Grave,” 1938) include Duke of Wellington. The novel’s main character is Byron (who mentions a soldier’s grave in his last poem On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year, 1824). In Ode to Khvostov Pushkin mentions Byron’s znamenitaya ten’ (famous shade):

Певец бессмертный и маститый,
Тебя Эллада днесь зовёт
На место тени знаменитой,
Пред коей Цербер днесь ревёт.

The name Khvostov comes from khvost (tail). One of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) is John Shade (the American poet whom Ada translates into Russian and French). It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem Pale Fire needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also Line 1001 (“By its own double in the windowpane”). The poem’s last line is its coda. In his story Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol explains that coda is an Italian word and means “tail.”

In VN’s novel Shade writes Pale Fire in July, 1959, and is killed by Gradus on July 21 (when his poem is almost finished). July 21, 1872, is Ada’s birthday. Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla, and who shares with Shade and Gradus his birthday, July 5) completes his Commentary and commits suicide on October 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum). In a letter of November 18, 1831, to Yazykov Pushkin quotes Khvostov's epistle to him in which Khvostov says that he became an ally of zodiac and in which he mentions July (“in my old age I sang of July”):

Хвостов написал мне послание, где он помолодел и тряхнул стариной. Он говорит:

Приближася похода к знаку,
Я стал союзник Зодиаку;
Холеры не любя пилюль,
Я пел при старости июль

и проч. в том же виде. Собираюсь достойно отвечать союзнику Водолея, Рака и Козерога. В прочем все у нас благополучно.

According to Pushkin, he planned to reply to “the ally of Aquarius, Cancer and Capricorn.”

In his article “What is Finally the Essence of Russian Poetry and what is its Peculiarity” included in The Selected Passages from the Correspondence with Friends (1847) Gogol points out that the name Yazykov comes from yazyk (tongue; language) and compares Yazykov’s command of language to an Arab’s command of his horse:

Имя Языков пришлось ему недаром. Владеет он языком, как араб диким конем своим, и еще как бы хвастается своею властью…

Kon’ (horse) rhymes with ogon’ (fire). According to Gogol, Pushkin wept (it was the first time that Gogol saw the tears on Pushkin’s face) when he read Yazykov's poem “To D. V. Davydov” (1835):

Живо помню восторг его в то время, когда прочитал он стихотворение Языкова к Давыдову, напечатанное в журнале. В первый раз увидел я тогда слёзы на лице Пушкина (Пушкин никогда не плакал; он сам о себе сказал в послании к Овидию: «Суровый славянин, я слёз не проливал, но понимаю их»). Я помню те строфы, которые произвели у него слёзы. Первая, где поэт, обращаясь к России, которую уже было признали бессильною и немощной, взывает так:

Чу! труба продребезжала!

Русь! тебе надменный зов!

Вспомяни ж, как ты встречала

Все нашествия врагов!

Созови от стран далёких

Ты своих богатырей,

Со степей, с равнин широких,

С рек великих, с гор высоких,

От осьми твоих морей.

И потом строфа, где описывается неслыханное самопожертвование — предать огню собственную столицу со всем, что ни есть в ней священного для всей земли:

Пламень в небо упирая,

Лют пожар Москвы ревёт.

Златоглавая, святая,

Ты ли гибнешь? Русь, вперёд!

Громче буря истребленья!

Крепче смелый ей отпор!

Это жертвенник спасенья,

Это пламя очищенья,

Это фениксов костёр.

Лют (in the line Лют пожар Москвы ревёт, “the furious Moscow Fire howls”) looks like Lute (the Antiterran name of Paris) in Russian spelling. During their conversation Van asks Greg Erminin how long he plans to stay in Lute:

‘How long will you be staying in Lute? No, Greg, I ordered it. You pay for the next bottle. Tell me —’ (3.2)

According to Gogol, Pushkin regretted that Yazykov had not entitled his book of poetry Khmel' ("Drunkenness"):

Когда появились его стихи отдельной книгой, Пушкин сказал с досадой. «Зачем он назвал их: Стихотворенья Языкова — их бы следовало назвать просто: хмель! Человек с обыкновенными силами ничего не сделает подобного; тут потребно буйство сил».

In Ode to Khvostov Pushkin uses the word rezvoskachet (is galloping fast) and in a footnote says that it was borrowed from Küchelbecker’s epistle to Griboedov:

Слово, употребленное весьма счастливо Вильгельмом Карловичем Кюхельбекером в стихотворном его письме к г. Грибоедову.

In Chapter Four (XXXII: 1) of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin “a critic stern” (kritik strogiy) who wants the poets to write odes is Küchelbecker. The line (Four: XXXII: 14) Pishite ody, gospoda (“Write odes, gentlemen”) strikingly resembles a line in Chapter Eight (XXXV: 14) of EO: e sempre bene, gospoda (e sempre bene, gentlemen). Sempre is Italian for “always.” In “Ardis the Second” Bouteillan (the French butler at Ardis, Demon’s former valet) asks Demon, if his health was always good (1.38). In Paris (Lute) Greg asks Van if his father is in good health:

‘Maude is Anglo-Scottish and, well, likes it that way. Thinks a title gets one better service abroad. By the way, somebody told me — yes, Tobak! — that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four. I haven’t asked you about your father? He’s in good health?’ (Van bowed,) ‘And how is the guvernantka belletristka?’

‘Her last novel is called L‘ami Luc. She just got the Lebon Academy Prize for her copious rubbish.’

They parted laughing. (3.2)

Van’s conversation with Greg parodies Onegin’s dialogue with Prince N. (Tatiana’s husband) in Chapter Eight of EO:

‘What about Grace, I can’t imagine her getting fat?’

‘Once twins, always twins. My wife is pretty portly, too.’

‘Tak tï zhenat (so you are married)? Didn’t know it. How long?’

‘About two years.’

‘To whom?’

‘Maude Sween.’

‘The daughter of the poet?’

‘No, no, her mother is a Brougham.’

Might have replied ‘Ada Veen,’ had Mr Vinelander not been a quicker suitor. I think I met a Broom somewhere. Drop the subject. Probably a dreary union: hefty, high-handed wife, he more of a bore than ever. (3.2)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): So you are married, etc.: see Eugene Onegin, Eight: XVIII: 1-4.

Kithar Sween (the poet mentioned by Van in his dialogue with Greg) was present when Van saw his father for the last time:

The last occasion on which Van had seen his father was at their house in the spring of 1904. Other people had been present: old Eliot, the real-estate man, two lawyers (Grombchevski and Gromwell), Dr Aix, the art expert, Rosalind Knight, Demon’s new secretary, and solemn Kithar Sween, a banker who at sixty-five had become an avant-garde author; in the course of one miraculous year he had produced The Waistline, a satire in free verse on Anglo-American feeding habits, and Cardinal Grishkin, an overtly subtle yarn extolling the Roman faith. (3.7)

In Pushkin's drama Boris Godunov (1825) Grishka Otrepiev (the Pretender) promises to pater Chernikhovsky that before two years all Russians will follow his example and become Roman Catholics:

САМОЗВАНЕЦ. Нет, мой отец, не будет затрудненья;
Я знаю дух народа моего;
В нём набожность не знает исступленья:
Ему священ пример царя его.
Всегда, к тому ж, терпимость равнодушна.
Ручаюсь я, что прежде двух годов
Весь мой народ, вся северная церковь
Признают власть наместника Петра.

PRETENDER. Nay, father, there will be no trouble. I know
The spirit of my people; piety
Does not run wild in them, their tsar's example
To them is sacred. Furthermore, the people
Are always tolerant. I warrant you,
Before two years my people all, and all
The Eastern Church, will recognise the power
Of Peter's Vicar. (Cracow. The House of Vishnevetsky)

Describing Demon’s duel with d’Onsky (whose name hints at Onegin’s Don stallion), Van mentions Vatican, a Roman spa:

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. Since prudent Veen preferred killing his man in Europe (decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel was said to be doing his best to forbid duels in the Western Hemisphere — a canard or an idealistic President’s instant-coffee caprice, for nothing was to come of it after all), Demon rented the fastest petroloplane available, overtook the Baron (looking very fit) in Nice, saw him enter Gunter’s Bookshop, went in after him, and in the presence of the imperturbable and rather bored English shopkeeper, back-slapped the astonished Baron across the face with a lavender glove. 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. (1.2)

In 1905 Van’s and Ada’s father dies in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific. The name of Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother seems to hint at Marina Mnishek, a character in Pushkin's Boris Godunov. Trubkozub (Russian for “aardvark”) rhymes with Skalozub, a character in Griboedov’s Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824). In Griboedov’s play Colonel Skalozub tells Mme Khlyostov 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)

D’Artagnan (cf. “amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement”) is the main character in Dumas’ “Three Musketeers.” Like Pushkin, Dumas had African blood:

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 his epistle to Griboedov Küchelbecker mentions rezvo-skachushchaya krov’ (the fast-galloping blood):

Но ты, ты возлетишь над песнями толпы!
Певец, тебе даны рукой судьбы
Душа живая, пламень чувства,
Веселье тихое и светлая любовь,
Святые таинства высокого искусства
И резво-скачущая кровь!

Btw., Baudelaire called his mistress Jeanne Duval, a Creole, la Vénus noire (“the Black Venus”). When he visits Ada, Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis) speaks “a thick Creole” (2.7). Kim Beauharnais seems to be the son of Arkadiy Dolgoruki (the narrator and main character in Dostoevski’s novel “The Adolescent,” 1875) and Alphonsine (a French girl in the same novel). Arkadiy is the name of Greg Erminin’s father:

‘I really know very little about music but it was a great pleasure to make your chum howl. I have an appointment in a few minutes, alas. Za tvoyo zdorovie, Grigoriy Akimovich.’

‘Arkadievich,’ said Greg, who had let it pass once but now mechanically corrected Van.

‘Ach yes! Stupid slip of the slovenly tongue. How is Arkadiy Grigorievich?’

‘He died. He died just before your aunt. I thought the papers paid a very handsome tribute to her talent. And where is Adelaida Danilovna? Did she marry Christopher Vinelander or his brother?’ (3.2)

Prince Ivan Dolgoruki is the author of Avos’ (“Mayhap,” not later than 1798). In Chapter Ten (VI: 1-4) of EO Pushkin says that he’d dedicate an ode to Avos’, had not Dolgoruki (“a highborn poetaster”) anticipated him already:

Авось, о Шиболет народный,
Тебе б я оду посвятил,
Но стихоплёт великородный
Меня уже предупредил.

“Mayhap” – O national shibboleth!

I’d dedicate an ode to you,

had not a highborn poetaster

anticipated me already.

In Chapter Ten (IV: 1-4) of EO Pushkin mentions Paris:

Но бог помог — стал ропот ниже,
И скоро силою вещей
Мы очутилися в Париже,
А русский царь главой царей.

But [God?] helped – lower grew the murmur

and, by the force of circumstances, soon

we found ourselves in Paris,

and the Russian tsar was the head of kings.

Siloyu veshchey (by the force of circumstances) is a Gallicism that brings to mind la force des choses, a phrase used by Van when he describes one of the photos in Kim Beauharnais’ album:

In the central miniature, Ada’s only limb in sight was her thin arm holding aloft, in a static snatch, like a banner, her discarded dress above the daisy-starred grass. The magnifier (now retrieved from under the bed sheet) clearly showed, topping the daisies in an upper picture, the type of tight-capped toadstool called in Scots law (ever since witching was banned) ‘the Lord of Erection.’ Another interesting plant, Marvel’s Melon, imitating the backside of an occupied lad, could be made out in the floral horizon of a third photo. In the next three stills la force des choses (‘the fever of intercourse’) had sufficiently disturbed the lush herbage to allow one to distinguish the details of a tangled composition consisting of clumsy Romany clips and illegal nelsons. (2.7)

“The Lord of Erection” seems to hint at Lord Byron (who was a Scot by half), but it also brings to mind pokhabnyi kukish (an obscene fig) mentioned by Pushkin in his letter to Pletnyov.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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