Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027429, Wed, 5 Jul 2017 13:30:08 +0300

doorbell in Transparent Things; Personne in Lolita; Sobakevich in
When Hugh Person (the main character in VN’s novel Transparent Things,
1972) visits Villa Nastia and rings the bell, nobody answers the door:

A little farther, an interval in the stone wall revealed a short flight of
stairs and the door of a whitewashed bungalow signed Villa Nastia in French
cursive. As happens so often in R.'s fiction, "nobody answered the bell."
(chapter 12)

In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) nobody answers the bell, when Humbert Humbert
visits Mrs. Richard F. Schiller (Lolita’s married name) in Coalmont:

I got out of the car and slammed its door. How matter-of-fact, how square
that slam sounded in the void of the sunless day! Woof, commented the dog
perfunctorily. I pressed the bell button, it vibrated through my whole
system. Personne. Je resonne. Repersonne. From what depth this re-nonsense?
Woof, said the dog. A rush and a shuffle, and woosh-woof went the door.

Personne (Fr., nobody) and repersonne both have Person in them. In the
Russian version (1967) of Lolita VN translates repersonne as nikovnov’
(nikogo, “nobody,” + vnov’, “again”):

Я нажал на кнопку звонка; его вибрация про
шла по всему моему составу. Personne: никого. Je
resonne, repersonne: звоню вновь, никовновь. Откуд
а, из каких глубин этот вздор-повтор? (2.29)

Vnov’ and nikovnov’ both have nov’ (virgin soil) in them. Nov’ (1877) is
a novel by Turgenev. The characters in Turgenev’s story Chasy (“The
Watch,” 1875) include Nastasey Nastaseich, the narrator’s godfather who
gives the boy a silver watch as a name-day present. The action in Turgenev’
s story takes place in Ryazan:

Дело происходило в самом начале нынешнег
о столетия, в 1801 году. Мне только что пошёл
шестнадцатый год. Жил я в Рязани, в деревя
нном домике, недалеко от берега Оки ― вмес
те с отцом, тёткой и двоюродным братом.

It happened at the very beginning of this century, in 1801. I had just
reached my sixteenth year. I was living at Ryazan in a little wooden house
not far from the bank of the river Oka with my father, my aunt and my
cousin. (chapter I)

Madame Chamar (née Anastasia Petrovna Potapov, Armande’s mother in TT) is
the daughter of a wealthy cattle dealer from Ryazan:

Madame Charles Chamar, née Anastasia Petrovna Potapov (a perfectly
respectable name that her late husband garbled as "Patapouf"), was the
daughter of a wealthy cattle dealer who had emigrated with his family to
England from Ryazan via Kharbin and Ceylon soon after the Bolshevist
revolution. (chapter 12)

In Lolita Humbert Humbert marries the girl’s mother in order to get access
to her twelve-year-old daughter. In Transparent Things Mr. R. debauched his
step-daughter, Julia Moore, when she was thirteen:

A famous bar next to the theater proved hopelessly crowded and "in the
radiance of an Edenic simplification of mores" (as R. wrote in another
connection) our Person took the girl to his flat. Unwisely he wondered -
after a too passionate kiss in the taxi had led him to spill a few firedrops
of impatience - if he would not disappoint the expectations of Julia, who
according to Phil had been debauched at thirteen by R. right at the start of
her mother's disastrous marriage. (chapter 11)

The name of R.’s step-daughter hints at Romeo and Juliet. In Turgenev’s
story Posle smerti (“After Death,” 1883) Aratov recalls his dream in which
he kissed Klara Milich (the girl who committed suicide because of unrequited
love for him) and thinks that even Romeo and Julia never knew such a kiss:

Только... что же может выйти из такой любв
и? Вспоминал он тот поцелуй... и чудный хол
од быстро и сладко пробегал по всем его чл
енам. "Таким поцелуем, - думалось ему, - и Ро
мео и Джульетта не менялись! Но в другой р
аз я лучше выдержу... Я буду обладать ею... О
на придёт в венке из маленьких роз на чёрн
ых кудрях...

Но как же дальше? Ведь вместе жить нам нел
ьзя же? Стало быть, мне придется умереть, ч
тобы быть вместе с нею? Не за этим ли она п
риходила ― и не так ли она хочет меня взят

Only . . . what could come of such love? He recalled that kiss . . . and a
delicious shiver ran swiftly and sweetly through all his limbs. ‘Such a
kiss,’ was his thought, ‘even Romeo and Juliet knew not! But next time I
will be stronger… I will possess her… She shall come with a wreath of tiny
roses in her dark curls.

‘But what next? We cannot live together, can we? Then must I die so as to
be with her? Is it not for that she has come; and is it not so she means to
take me captive? (chapter XVIII)

In TT Hugh Person and Armande kiss for the first time after they had sex in
the woods:

"Well, bad luck," she said finally but as she twisted against him trying to
draw up her tights, he regained all at once the power to do what was
expected of him. "One will go home now," she remarked immediately afterwards
in her usual neutral tone, and in silence they continued their brisk
downhill walk.

At the next turn of the trail the first orchard of Witt appeared at their
feet, and farther down one could see the glint of a brook, a lumberyard,
mown fields, brown cottages.

"I hate Witt," said Hugh. "I hate life. I hate myself. I hate that beastly
old bench." She stopped to look the way his fierce finger pointed, and he
embraced her. At first she tried to evade his lips but he persisted
desperately. All at once she gave in, and the minor miracle happened. A
shiver of tenderness rippled her features, as a breeze does a reflection.
Her eyelashes were wet, her shoulders shook in his clasp. That moment of
soft agony was never to be repeated - or rather would never be granted the
time to come back again after completing the cycle innate in its rhythm; yet
that brief vibration in which she dissolved with the sun, the cherry trees,
the forgiven landscape, set the tone for his new existence with its sense of
"all-is-well" despite her worst moods, her silliest caprices, her harshest
demands. That kiss, and not anything preceding it, was the real beginning of
their courtship. (chapter 15)

In Turgenev’s story Aratov in his deathbed delirium calls himself Romeo:

В предсмертном бреду Аратов называл себя
Ромео... после отравы; говорил о заключённ
ом, о совершённом браке; о том, что он знае
т теперь, что такое наслаждение.

In the delirium that preceded his death, Aratov spoke of himself as Romeo .
. . after the poison; spoke of marriage, completed and perfect; of his
knowing now what rapture meant. (chapter XVIII)

Hugh Person strangles Armande in a dream in which he dreams of Giulia Romeo,
a girl whom he wants to save from falling out of the window:

His chance bedmate had flung the window wide open. Oh, who was she? She came
from the past - a streetwalker he had picked up on his first trip abroad,
some twenty years ago, a poor girl of mixed parentage, though actually
American and very sweet, called Giulia Romeo, the surname means "pilgrim" in
archaic Italian, but then we all are pilgrims, and all dreams are anagrams
of diurnal reality. He dashed after her to stop her from jumping out. The
window was large and low; it had a broad sill padded and sheeted, as was
customary in that country of ice and fire. Such glaciers, such dawns!
Giulia, or Julie, wore a Doppler shift over her luminous body and prostrated
herself on the sill, with outspread arms still touching the wings of the
window. (1.20)

In his essay on Turgenev (in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers”)
Ayhenvald compares Turgenev’s heroes to Podkolyosin, the main character in
Gogol’s play Zhenit’ba (“The Marriage,” 1842) who at the last moment
jumps out of the window:

И если пленяют отдельные сцены любви, есл
и на всю жизнь ароматным воспоминанием ос
таются зелёные рощи Кунцева и та часовенк
а, где узкую, розовую руку Елены целовал И
нсаров, то в общем герои Тургенева не стол
ько влюблены, сколько влюбчивы, и в их чув
стве нет даже страстной чувственности, а
есть сердечная слабость, и почти все его м
ужчины своей существенной чертой имеют ж
енолюбие, которое соединяется в то же вре
мя с каким-то подколёсинством - желанием в
решительную минуту выпрыгнуть в окно.

In his article on Turgenev's story Asya (1858), Russkiy chelovek na randevu
(“A Russian Man at a Rendezvous,” 1858), Chernyshevski compares the
anonymous narrator and Asya to Romeo and Juliet:

Мы видим Ромео, мы видим Джульетту, счасть
ю которых ничто не мешает, и приближается
минута, когда навеки решится их судьба,-- д
ля этого Ромео должен только сказать: "Я л
юблю тебя, любишь ли ты меня?" И Джульетта
прошепчет: "Да..." И что же делает наш Ромео
(так мы будем называть героя повести, фами
лия которого не сообщена нам автором расс
каза), явившись на свидание с Джульеттой?

In Part Four of VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937), Zhizn’
Chernyshevskogo (“The Life of Chernyshevski”), Turgenev is mentioned:

Есть, есть классовый душок в отношении к Ч
ернышевскому русских писателей, современ
ных ему. Тургенев, Григорович, Толстой наз
ывали его "клоповоняющим господином", вся
чески между собой над ним измываясь. Как т
о в Спасском первые двое, вместе с Боткины
м и Дружининым, сочинили и разыграли дома
шний фарс. В сцене, где горит постель, врыв
ался Тургенев с криком... общими дружеским
и усилиями его уговорили произнести прип
исываемые ему слова, которыми в молодости
он однажды будто бы обмолвился во время п
ожара на корабле: "Спасите, спасите, я един
ственный сын у матери". Из этого фарса впо
лне бездарный Григорович впоследствии сд
елал свою (вполне плоскую) "Школу гостепри
имства", наделив одно из лиц, желчного лит
ератора Чернушина, чертами Николая Гаври
ловича: кротовые глаза, смотревшие как то
вбок, узкие губы, приплюснутое, скомканно
е лицо, рыжеватые волосы, взбитые на левом
виске и эвфемический запас пережжённого
рома. Любопытно, что пресловутый взвизг ("
Спасите" и т. д.) дан как раз Чернушину, чем
поощряется мысль Страннолюбского о какой
то мистической связи между Чернышевским
и Тургеневым. "Я прочёл его отвратительну
ю книгу (диссертацию), -- пишет последний в
письме к товарищам по насмешке. -- Рака! Ра
ка! Рака! Вы знаете, что ужаснее этого евре
йского проклятия нет ничего на свете". "Из
этого "рака", суеверно замечает биограф, п
олучился семь лет спустя Ракеев (жандармс
кий полковник, арестовавший прóклятого),
а самое письмо было Тургеневым написано к
ак раз 12-го июля в день рождения Чернышевс
кого"... (нам кажется, что Страннолюбский п

There was quite definitively a smack of class arrogance about the attitudes
of contemporary wellborn writers toward plebeian Chernyshevski. Turgenev,
Grigorovich and Tolstoy called him “the bedbugstinking gentleman” and
among themselves jeered at him in all kinds of ways. Once at Turgenev’s
country place, the first two, together with Botkin and Druzhinin, composed
and acted a domestic farce. In a scene where a couch was supposed to catch
fire, Turgenev had to come out running with the cry… here the common
efforts of his friends had persuaded him to utter the unfortunate words
which in his youth he had allegedly addressed to a sailor during a fire on
board ship: “Save me, save me, I am my mother’s only son.” Out of this
farce the utterly talentless Grigorovich subsequently concocted his
completely mediocre School of Hospitality, where he endowed one of the
characters, the splenetic writer Chernushin, with the features of Nikolay
Gavrilovich: mole’s eyes looking oddly askance, thin lips, a flattened,
crumpled face, gingery hair fluffed up on the left temple and a euphemistic
stench of burnt rum. It is curious that the notorious wail (“Save me,”
etc.) is attributed here to Chernushin, which gives color to
Strannolyubski’s idea that there was a kind of mystic link between Turgenev
and Chernyshevski. “I have read his disgusting book [the dissertation]”
writes the former in a letter to his fellow mockers. “Raca! Raca! Raca! You
know that there is nothing in the world more terrible than this Jewish

This ‘raca’ or ‘raka,’ ” remarks the biographer superstitiously,
“resulted seven years later in Rakeev (the police colonel who arrested the
anathematized man), and the letter itself had been written by Turgenev on
precisely the 12th of July, Chernyshevski’s birthday …” (it seems to us
that Strannolyubski is stretching it a bit).

The characters in “The Life of Chernyshevski” include Potapov, the chief
of the Third Department:

5 июля ему пришлось по поводу своей жалобы
побывать в третьем отделении. Потапов, на
чальник оного, отклонил его домогательст
во, сказав, что, по его сведениям, улан гот
ов извиниться. Тогда Чернышевский сухо
отказался от всяких притязаний и, перемен
ив разговор, спросил: "Скажите, -- вот я тре
тьего дня отправил семью в Саратов, и сам
собираюсь туда на отдых ("Современник" уже
был закрыт) ; но если мне нужно будет увезт
и жену заграницу, на воды, -- она, видите ли
страдает нервическими болями, -- могу ли в
ыехать беспрепятственно?" "Разумеется, мо
жете", -- добродушно ответил Потапов; а чер
ез два дня произошел арест.

On July 5th he had to visit the Secret Police Department in connection with
his complaint. Potapov, its chief, refused his petition, saying that
according to his information the Uhlan was prepared to apologize.
Chernyshevski curtly renounced any claims and changing the subject asked:
“Tell me, the other day I sent my family off to Saratov and am preparing
myself to go there for a rest [The Contemporary had already been closed];
but if I should need to take my wife abroad, to a spa―you see she suffers
from nervous pains―could I leave without hindrance?” “Of course you
could,” replied Potapov good-naturedly; and two days later the arrest took

In Transparent Things Potapov is the maiden name of Armande’s mother. In
VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) July 5 is Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’
birthday (Shade was born in 1898, Kinbote and Gradus were born in 1915).
Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin.

While Jakob Gradus (Shade’s murderer in Pale Fire) has the same first name
as Yakov Aratov (the main character in Turgenev’s “After Death,” a story
also known as Klara Milich), Klara Milich brings to mind Klara (a character
in VN’s novel Mashenka, 1926), Clare Bishop (in VN’s novel The Real Life
of Sebastian Knight, 1941, Sebastian’s girlfriend) and Clare Quilty
(Humbert Humbert’s double in Lolita). In an attempt to save his life Quilty
tries to seduce Humbert Humbert with his collection of erotica:

“Oh, another thing - you are going to like this. I have an absolutely
unique collection of erotica upstairs. Just to mention one item: the in
folio de-luxe Bagration Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie
Weiss, a remarkable lady, a remarkable work - drop that gun - with
photographs of eight hundred and something male organs she examined and
measured in 1932 on Bagration, in the Barda Sea, very illuminating graphs,
plotted with love under pleasant skies - drop that gun - and moreover I can
arrange for you to attend executions, not everybody knows that the chair is
painted yellow -” (2.35)

General Bagration was felled in the battle of Borodino. In Turgenev’s story
“The Watch” Davyd (the narrator’s cousin) dies in the battle of Borodino:

Вот и конец моей истории с часами. Что ещё
сказать вам? Пять лет спустя Давыд женилс
я на своей Черногубке, а в 1812 году, в чине а
ртиллерийского поручика, погиб славной с
мертью в день Бородинской битвы, защищая
Шевардинский редут.

So this is the end of my tale of the watch. What more have I to tell you?
Five years after David was married to his Black-lip, and in 1812, as a
lieutenant of artillery, he died a glorious death on the battlefield of
Borodino in defence of the Shevardinsky redoubt. (chapter XXV)

In Gogol’s Myortvye dushi (“Dead Souls” 1842) Sobakevich (one of the
landowners visited by Chichikov) has a portrait of Bagration:

Вошед в гостиную, Собакевич показал на кр
есла, сказавши опять: ?Прошу!? Садясь, Чичи
ков взглянул на стены и на висевшие на них
картины. На картинах всё были молодцы, всё
греческие полководцы, гравированные во в
есь рост: Маврокордато в красных панталон
ах и мундире, с очками на носу, Миаули, Кан
ари. Все эти герои были с такими толстыми
ляжками и неслыханными усами, что дрожь п
роходила по телу. Между крепкими греками,
неизвестно каким образом и для чего, поме
стился Багратион, тощий, худенький, с мале
нькими знамёнами и пушками внизу и в самы
х узеньких рамках. Потом опять следовала
героиня греческая Бобелина, которой одна
нога казалась больше всего туловища тех щ
еголей, которые наполняют нынешние гости

At length they reached the drawing-room, where Sobakevich pointed to an
armchair, and invited his guest to be seated. Chichikov gazed with interest
at the walls and the pictures. In every such picture there were portrayed
either young men or Greek generals of the type of Movrogordato (clad in a
red uniform and breaches), Kanaris, and others; and all these heroes were
depicted with a solidity of thigh and a wealth of moustache which made the
beholder simply shudder with awe. Among them there were placed also,
according to some unknown system, and for some unknown reason, firstly,
Bagration ― tall and thin, and with a cluster of small flags and cannon
beneath him, and the whole set in the narrowest of frames ― and, secondly,
the Greek heroine, Bobelina, whose legs looked larger than do the whole
bodies of the drawing-room dandies of the present day. (chapter V)

In VN’s novel Pnin (1957) Sobakevich is the Cockerells’ cocker spaniel:

Brilliant Cockerell also told of the strange feud between Pnin and his
compatriot Komarov--the mediocre muralist who had kept adding fresco
portraits of faculty members in the college dining hall to those already
depicted there by the great Lang. Although Komarov belonged to another
political faction than Pnin, the patriotic artist had seen in Pnin's
dismissal an anti-Russian gesture and had started to delete a sulky Napoleon
that stood between young, plumpish (now gaunt) Blorenge and young,
moustached (now shaven) Hagen, in order to paint in Pnin; and there was the
scene between Pnin and President Poore at lunch--an enraged, spluttering
Pnin losing all control over what English he had, pointing a shaking
forefinger at the preliminary outlines of a ghostly muzhik on the wall, and
shouting that he would sue the college if his face appeared above that
blouse; and there was his audience, imperturbable Poore, trapped in the dark
of his total blindness, waiting for Pnin to peter out and then asking at
large: 'Is that foreign gentleman on our staff?' Oh, the impersonation was
deliciously funny, and although Gwen Cockerell must have heard the programme
many times before, she laughed so loud that their old dog Sobakevich, a
brown cocker with a tear-stained face, began to fidget and sniff at me.
(Chapter Seven, 6)

The name Sobakevich comes from sobaka (dog). Dogs play an important part in
Lolita. In TT Hugh Person, on the evening of his death, moves to Floor Three
(to room 313 where Armande once visited him) of the Ascot Hotel because of a
little dog:

Mais! (a jot stronger than "but" or even "however") she had some good news
for him. He had wanted to move to Floor Three, hadn't he? He could do so
tonight. The lady with the little dog was leaving before dinner. It was a
history rather amusing. It appeared that her husband looked after dogs when
their masters had to absent themselves. The lady, when she voyaged herself,
generally took with her a small animal, choosing from among those that were
most melancholic. This morning her husband telephoned that the owner had
returned earlier from his trip and was reclaiming his pet with great cries.
(chapter 25)

Dama s sobachkoy (“The Lady with the Little Dog,” 1899) is a story by
Chekhov. As he speaks to his daughter, Gurov (the story’s main character)
uses the phrases tri gradusa tepla (three degrees above zero) and na
poverkhnosti zemli (close to the ground):

Однажды он шёл к ней таким образом в зимне
е утро (посыльный был у него накануне вече
ром и не застал). С ним шла его дочь, котору
ю хотелось ему проводить в гимназию, это б
ыло по дороге. Валил крупный мокрый снег.

― Теперь три градуса тепла, а между тем ид
ёт снег, ― говорил Гуров дочери. ― Но ведь
это тепло только на поверхности земли, в в
ерхних же слоях атмосферы совсем другая т

One winter morning he went to see her as usual (the messenger had been to
him the evening before, but had not found him at home). His daughter was
with him for her school was on the way, and he thought he might as well see
her to it.

“It is three degrees above zero,” said Gurov to his daughter, “and yet it
is snowing. You see it is only above zero close to the ground, the
temperature in the upper layers of the atmosphere is quite different.”
(chapter IV)

Zemli is Gen. of zemlya (earth). In Pale Fire Kinbote (Shade’s mad
commentator) imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled
king of Zembla. According to Kinbote (note to Line 894), the name Zembla is
a corruption not of the Russian zemlya, but of Semberland, a land of
reflections, of ‘resemblers.’ In Lolita Humbert Humbert affirms that
Quilty resembles his uncle Gustave Trapp. In his translation of Gustave
Flaubert’s La légende de Saint-Julien l'hospitalier ("Saint Julian the
Hospitalier," 1877) Turgenev mentions vsevozmozhnye zapadni (all sorts of

Всевозможные западни были заготовлены в
изобилии: и тенёта, и крюки, и железные лов
ушки, и подвижные зеркальца для ловли жав

Zapadni is plural of zapadnya (trap, snare). Zapadnya is the Russian title
of Zola’s novel L’Assommoir (1877). Zola’s article in defense of Dreyfus
was entitled "J'accuse" (“I accuse,” 1898). Clare Quilty and his murderer,
Humbert Humbert, are clearly guilty.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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