Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027437, Sat, 22 Jul 2017 02:59:32 +0300

Drome cigarettes & Brewster in Lolita
In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Clare Quilty wants to smoke a Drome cigarette and “quotes” Kipling:

I slapped down his outstretched hand and he managed to knock over a box on a low table near him. It ejected a handful of cigarettes.

“Here they are,” he said cheerfully. “You recall Kipling: une femme est une femme, mais un Caporal est une cigarette? Now we need matches.”

“Quilty,” I said. “I want you to concentrate. You are going to die in a moment. The hereafter for all we know may be an eternal state of excruciating insanity. You smoked your last cigarette yesterday. Concentrate. Try to understand what is happening to you.”

He kept taking the Drome cigarette apart and munching bits of it. (2.35)

In the penultimate couplet of his poem The Betrothed (1886) Kipling says:

A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke;
And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.

Caporal is a type of strong dark tobacco. In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1954; revisited in 1967) VN describes his fellow writers whom he met in Paris in the 1930s and mentions the half of a Caporal Vert cigarette:

Vladislav Hodasevich used to complain, in the twenties and thirties, that young émigré poets had borrowed their art form from him while following the leading cliques in modish angoisse and soul-reshaping. I developed a great liking for this bitter man, wrought of irony and metallic-like genius, whose poetry was as complex a marvel as that of Tyutchev or Blok. He was, physically, of a sickly aspect, with contemptuous nostrils and beetling brows, and when I conjure him up in my mind he never rises from the hard chair on which he sits, his thin legs crossed, his eyes glittering with malevolence and wit, his long fingers screwing into a holder the half of a Caporal Vert cigarette. There are few things in modern world poetry comparable to the poems of his Heavy Lyre, but unfortunately for his fame the perfect frankness he indulged in when voicing his dislikes made him some terrible enemies among the most powerful critical coteries. Not all the mystagogues were Dostoevskian Alyoshas; there were also a few Smerdyakovs in the group, and Hodasevich’s poetry was played down with the thoroughness of a revengeful racket. (Chapter Fourteen, 2)

Hodasevich’s collection Tyazhyolaya lira (“Heavy Lyre,” 1923) brings to mind VN’s story Tyazhyolyi dym (“Torpid Smoke,” 1935) which, in turn, reminds one of Turgenev’s novel Dym (“Smoke,” 1867). Turgenev is the author of Zapiski okhotnika (“A Hunter’s Notes,” 1852). For the first time Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in Lolita) and Lolita see Quilty in The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where HH and Lolita spend their first night together):

The dining room met us with a smell of fried fat and a faded smile. It was a spacious and pretentious place with maudlin murals depicting enchanted hunters in various postures and states of enchantment amid a medley of pallid animals, dryads and trees. A few scattered old ladies, two clergymen, and a man in a sports coat were finishing their meals in silence. The dining room closed at nine, and the green-clad, poker-faced serving girls were, happily, in a desperate hurry to get rid of us.

“Does not he look exactly, but exactly, like Quilty?” said Lo in a soft voice, her sharp brown elbow not pointing, but visibly burning to point, at the lone diner in the loud checks, in the far corner of the room.

“Like our fat Ramsdale dentist?”

Lo arrested the mouthful of water she had just taken, and put down her dancing glass.

“Course not,” she said with a splutter of mirth. “I meant the writer fellow in the Dromes ad.”

Oh, Fame! Oh, Femina! (1.27)

On the porch of the hotel Quilty offers HH a smoke:

Suddenly I was aware that in the darkness next to me there was somebody sitting in a chair on the pillared porch. I could not really see him but what gave him away was the rasp of a screwing off, then a discreet gurgle, then the final note of a placid screwing on. I was about to move away when his voice addressed me:

“Where the devil did you get her?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said: the weather is getting better.”

“Seems so.”

“Who’s the lassie?”

“My daughter.”

“You lieshe’s not.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said: July was hot. Where’s her mother?”


“I see. Sorry. By the way, why don’t you two lunch with me tomorrow. That dreadful crowd will be gone by then.”

“We’ll be gone too. Good night.”

“Sorry. I’m pretty drunk. Good night. That child of yours needs a lot of sleep. Sleep is a rose, as the Persians say. Smoke?”

“Not now.”

He struck a light, but because he was drunk, or because the wind was, the flame illumined not him but another person, a very old man, one of those permanent guests of old hotelsand his white rocker. Nobody said anything and the darkness returned to its initial place. Then I heard the old-timer cough and deliver himself of some sepulchral mucus. (1.28)

Caporal Vert brings to mind Soleil Vert, an old perfume mentioned by Humbert Humbert in his poem “Wanted” (composed in a madhouse after Lolita was abducted by Quilty):

My Dolly, my folly! Her eyes were vair,

And never closed when I kissed her.

Know an old perfume called Soleil Vert?

Are you from Paris, mister? (2.25)

Soleil Vert means “green sun.” Budem kak solntse (“Let Us Be Like the Sun,” 1903) is a collection by Balmont (a poet who lived in Paris after leaving Russia in 1920). In a letter of January 1, 1902, to Balmont Chekhov (the author of two monologue scenes “On the Harm of Tobacco”) says that he has in his library two books by E. A. Poe in Balmont’s translation: Tainstvennye rasskazy (Tales of Mystery and Imagination) and Poe, Edgar, vol. 1 (Poems, Fairy Tales) and adds that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow he will start reading Edgar Poe:

Из Ваших книг у меня имеются: 1) «Под северным небом»; 2) Шелли, вып<уск> 2-й и 7-й (Ченчи); 3) «В безбрежности»; 4) «Тишина»; 5) Кальдерон, т. 1; 6) «Таинственные рассказы»; 7) По Эдгар, т. 1.

За книгу всей душой благодарю. Я теперь не работаю, а только читаю, и завтра-послезавтра примусь за Эдг. По.

At the end of E. A. Poe’s story The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade (1845) Scheherazade says the days have long gone by since it was possible to distinguish a woman from a dromedary:

“ ‘The wives and daughters of these incomparably great and wise magi,’ ” continued Scheherazade, without being in any manner disturbed by these frequent and most ungentlemanly interruptions on the part of her husband — “ ‘the wives and daughters of these eminent conjurers are every thing that is accomplished and refined; and would be every thing that is interesting and beautiful, but for an unhappy fatality that besets them, and from which not even the miraculous powers of their husbands and fathers has, hitherto, been adequate to save. Some fatalities come in certain shapes, and some in others — but this of which I speak has come in the shape of a crotchet.’ ”

“A what?”said the king.

“ ‘A crotchet,’ ” said Scheherazade. “ ‘One of the evil genii who are perpetually upon the watch to inflict ill, has put it into the heads of these accomplished ladies that the thing which we describe as personal beauty, consists altogether in the protuberance of the region which lies not very far below the small of the back. Perfection of loveliness, they say, is in the direct ratio of the extent of this hump. Having been long possessed of this idea, and bolsters being cheap in that country, the days have long gone by since it was possible to distinguish a woman from a dromedary — ’”

“Stop!” said the king — “I can’t stand that, and I won’t. You have already given me a dreadful headache with your lies. The day, too, I perceive is beginning to break. How long have we been married? —my conscience is getting to be troublesome again. And then that dromedary touch — do you take me for a fool? Upon the whole, you might as well get up and be throttled.”

These words, as I learn from the Isitsöornot, both grieved and astonished Scheherazade; but, as she knew the king to be a man of scrupulous integrity, and quite unlikely to forfeit his word, she submitted to her fate with a good grace. She derived, however, great consolation, (during the tightening of the bowstring,) from the reflection that much of the history remained still untold, and that the petulance of her brute of a husband had reaped for him a most righteous reward, in depriving him of many inconceivable adventures.

In 1902 Balmont lived in Oxford (and Chekhov lived in Yalta, a Crimean resort where VN and his family spent sixteen months after leaving St. Petersburg). One of the chapters of Speak, Memory is dedicated to Cambridge (where VN completed his education after leaving Russia in April of 1919). In Speak, Memory VN twice mentions H. G. Wells (whose sons were VN’s fellow students at Cambridge):

When the Soviet Revolution made it imperative for us to leave St. Petersburg, that library disintegrated, but queer little remnants of it kept cropping up abroad. Some twelve years later, in Berlin, I picked up from a bookstall one such waif, bearing my father’s ex libris. Very fittingly, it turned out to be The War of the Worlds by Wells. (Chapter Nine, 2)

But now there were no banquets, no speeches, and even no fives with Wells whom it proved impossible to convince that Bolshevism was but an especially brutal and thorough form of barbaric oppression—in itself as old as the desert sands—and not at all the attractively new revolutionary experiment that so many foreign observers took it to be. (Chapter Thirteen, 1)

H. G. Wells is the author of Apropos of Dolores (1938). In Lolita HH imagines Dolores (Lolita’s name “on the dotted line”) becoming a tennis champion and endorsing a Dromedary:

She preferred acting to swimming, and swimming to tennis; yet I insist that had not something within her been broken by me – not that I realized it then! – she would have had on the top of her perfect form the will to win, and would have become a real girl champion. Dolores, with two rackets under her arm, in Wimbledon. Dolores endorsing a Dromedary. Dolores turning professional. Dolores acting a girl champion in a movie. Dolores and her gray, humble, hushed husband-coach, old Humbert. (2.20)

In Speak, Memory VN says that in the 1920s in Berlin he earned his living by teaching English and tennis:

Younger, less known but more adaptable writers supplemented chance subsidies by engaging in various jobs. I remember teaching English and tennis. Patiently I thwarted the persistent knack Berlin businessmen had of pronouncing “business” so as to rhyme with “dizziness”; and like a slick automaton, under the slow-moving clouds of a long summer day, on dusty courts, I ladled ball after ball over the net to their tanned, bob-haired daughters. (Chapter Fourteen, 2)

In Lolita Clare Quilty mistakes HH (who came to kill CQ) for a man from the telephone company and calls him Brewster:

Master met me in the Oriental parlor.

“Now who are you?” he asked in a high hoarse voice, his hands thrust into his dressing-gown pockets, his eyes fixing a point to the northeast of my head. “Are you by any chance Brewster?”

By now it was evident to everybody that he was in a fog and completely at my so-called mercy. I could enjoy myself.

“That’s right,” I answered suavely. “Je suis Monsieur Brusètre. Let us chat for a moment before we start.”

He looked pleased. His smudgy mustache twitched. I removed my raincoat. I was wearing a black suit, a black shirt, no tie. We sat down in two easy chairs.

“You know,” he said, scratching loudly his fleshy and gritty gray cheek and showing his small pearly teeth in a crooked grin, “you don’t look like Jack Brewster. I mean, the resemblance is not particularly striking. Somebody told me he had a brother with the same telephone company.”

To have him trapped, after those years of repentance and rage… To look at the black hairs on the back of his pudgy hands… To wander with a hundred eyes over his purple silks and hirsute chest foreglimpsing the punctures, and mess, and music of pain… To know that this semi-animated, subhuman trickster who had sodomized my darlingoh, my darling, this was intolerable bliss!

“No, I am afraid I am neither of the Brewsters.”

“He cocked his head, looking more pleased than ever.

“Guess again, Punch.”

“Ah,” said Punch, “so you have not come to bother me about those long-distance calls?”

“You do make them once in a while, don’t you?”

“Excuse me?”

I said I had said I thought he had said he had never –

“People,” he said, “people in general, I’m not accusing you, Brewster, but you know it’s absurd the way people invade this damned house without even knocking. They use the vaterre, they use the kitchen, they use the telephone. Phil calls Philadelphia. Pat calls Patagonia. I refuse to pay. You have a funny accent, Captain.”

“Quilty,” I said, “do you recall a little girl called Dolores Haze, Dolly Haze? Dolly called Dolores, Colo.?”

“Sure, she may have made those calls, sure. Any place. Paradise, Wash., Hell Canyon. Who cares?”

“I do, Quilty. You see, I am her father.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “You are not. You are some foreign literary agent. A Frenchman once translated my Proud Flesh as La Fierté de la Chair. Absurd.”

“She was my child, Quilty.” (2.35)

Among the wonders mentioned by Scheherazade in Poe’s story The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade are telephone and telegraph:

‘Another [magician] had cultivated his voice to so great an extent that he could have made himself heard from one end of the world to the other.’

Among the scholars mentioned in Poe’s story The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (1835) is Brewster:

It is, perhaps, scarcely necessary to add, that all the suggestions attributed to Brewster and Herschel, in the beginning of the article, about "a transfusion of artificial light through the focal object of vision," etc., etc., belong to that species of figurative writing which comes, most properly, under the denomination of rigmarole.

According to Pfaall (who claims that he spent five years in the moon), as he left earth in a balloon, he committed several murders (the victims were three creditors of his who were becoming irksome).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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