NABOKV-L post 0019284, Sat, 30 Jan 2010 17:20:57 -0500

Re: Nabokov and Petrouchka

At a concert last night I was also reminded of Invitation to a Beheading reading the notes summarizing the plot for Stravinsky's ballet Petrouchka which was originally mounted by Dhighilev in Paris in 1911. Scene 1 (The Admiralty Square, St. Petersburg, during the 1830s. It is a sunny winter's day, and the scene shows a corner of the Shrovetide Fair...) Crowds of people are strolling a bout the scene...A street musician appears with a hurdy-gurdy. He is accompanied by a dancer. Jut as she starts to dance, a man with a musical box and another dancer turn up on the oposite side of the stage...Suddenly the showman comes out through the curtains of the little theatre. The curtains are drawn back to reveal three puppsets on their stands--Petrouchka, the ballerina, and the Blackamoor. He charms them into life with his flute, and they begin to dance--at first jigging on their hoo,ks in the little theatre, but then, to the general astonishment, stepping down from the theatre and dancing among the public in the open.

"Scene II. (Petrouchka's Cel...) While the Showman's magic has imbued all three puppets with human feeling and emotions, it is Petrouchka who feels and suffers most. Bitterly conscious of his ugliness and grotesque appearance, he feels himself to be an outsider and he resents the way he is completely dependent on thi===his cruel master. [The ballerina] visits him in his cell, and for a moment he believes he has succeeded in winning her. But she is frightened by his uncouth antics and flees. In his despair, he curses the Showman and hurls himself at his portrait, but succeeds onlhy in tearing a hole through the cardboard wall of his cell.

[skipping scene III][Petrouchka is jealous as the ballerina visits the blackamoor in his cell]

Scene IV (The Fair, as in Scene I) It is evening and the festivities have reached their height [...] there is a commotion in the Showman's theater. The rivalry between the puppets has taken a fatal turn. ...The Blackamoor strikes down Petrouchka with his scimitar. It begins to snow and Petrouchka dies surrounded by the astonished crowd. ...The Showman is fetched and he reassures the bystanders that Petroushka is nothing more than a puppet with a wooden head and a body filled with sawdust. The crowd disperses as the night grows darker, and the Showman is left behind. But as he starts to drag the puppet off stage, he is startled to see Petrouchka's ghost appear on the roof of the little theater, jeering and mocking at everyone whom the Showman has fooled."

Lots of Nabokovian elements: A magical showman, a harlequin, a cell made of paper, a hurdy gurdy, a crowd, an execution or murder, a ghost.

Date: Sat, 30 Jan 2010 19:13:21 +0100
From: hafidbouazza@GMAIL.COM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Nabokov and Verlaine

My apologies again for the last mail; something went wrong and it was sent before I had hardly started it! Here goes again.

Reading Paul Verlaine's poem 'Aspiration', which begins thus: Cette vallée est triste et grise: un froid brouillard/Pèse sur elle..., I was struck by the following lines, in which the poet long for ces pleines...dont l'echo lointain, de mon coeur palpitant/ Trouble la fibre:

Là, rayonnent, sous l'oeil de Dieu qui les bénit,
Des fleurs étranges,
Là, sont des arbres où gazouillent comme un nid
Des milliers d'anges;
Là, tous les sons rêvés, là, toutes les splendeurs
Forment, par un hymen miracileux, des choeurs
Là, des vaisseux sans nombre, aux cordage de feu,
Fendent les ondes
D'un lac de diamant où se peint le ciel bleu
Avec les mondes;
Là, dans les airs charmés, vol`tent des odeurs
Enivrant à la fois les cerveaux et les coeurs
De leurs caresses.

I immediately recalled the following and well-known passage from Invitation To A Beaheading:

There, tam, là-bas, the gaze of men glows with inimitable understanding [...]...There, there are the originals of those gardens where we used to roam and hide in this world; there everything strikes one by its bewitching evidence, by the simplicity of perfect good; there everything pleases one's soul, everything is filled with the kind of fun that children know; there shines the mirror that now and then sends a chance reflection here... (Chapter 8, p. 94, Firts Vintage Internatonal Edition, 1989)

Note also the antithesis of Verlaines là with ce monde impur où le fait chaque jour/ Détruit la rêve:

Loin de ce bagne où, hors le débauché qui dort,
Tous sont infâmes,
Loin de tout ce qui vit, loin des hommes, encor
Plus loin des femmes

Of course, Verlaine's poem is undoubtedly inspired by Charles Baudelaire's L'invitation au Voyage, but being aware of Nabokov's love for Verlaine's poetry, I wond whether this is a deliberate hommage or 'just' an allusion.

Hafid Bouazza

(Note to the editor: I apologize again for my first two bungled mails.)

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