Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026166, Thu, 7 May 2015 20:59:40 -0400

Fwd: Monparnasse, Cordelia O'Leary, assbaa & osobnyachok in Ada
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Alexey Sklyarenko <skylark1970@mail.ru>
Date: Thu, May 7, 2015 at 5:37 AM
Subject: Monparnasse, Cordelia O'Leary, assbaa & osobnyachok in Ada
To: Susan Elizabeth Sweeney <ssweeney@holycross.edu>

A pale diaphanous butterfly with a very black body followed them and Ada
cried 'Look!' and explained it was closely related to a Japanese
Parnassian. Mlle Larivière said suddenly she would use a pseudonym when
publishing the story. (1.13)

Mlle Larivière publishes her story under the penname Guillaume de

Yes! Wasn't that a scream? Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a
great writer! A sensational Canadian bestselling author! Her story 'The
Necklace' (*La rivière de diamants*) had become a classic in girls' schools
and her gorgeous pseudonym 'Guillaume de Monparnasse' (the leaving out of
the 't' made it more *intime*) was well-known from Quebec to Kaluga. As she
put it in her exotic English: 'Fame struck and the roubles rolled, and the
dollars poured' (both currencies being used at the time in East
Estotiland); but good Ida, far from abandoning Marina, with whom she had
been platonically and irrevocably in love ever since she had seen her in
'Bilitis,' accused herself of neglecting Lucette by overindulging in
Literature; consequently she now gave the child, in spurts of vacational
zeal, considerably more attention than poor little Ada (said Ada) had
received at twelve, after *her *first (miserable) term at school. Van had
been such an idiot; suspecting Cordula! Chaste, gentle, dumb, little
Cordula de Prey, when Ada had explained to him, twice, thrice, in different
codes, that she had *invented* a nasty tender schoolmate, at a time when
she had been literally *torn* from him, and only assumed - in advance, so
to speak - such a girl's existence. A kind of blank check that she wanted
from him; 'Well, you got it,' said Van, 'but now it's destroyed and will
not be renewed; but why did you run after fat Percy, what was so
important?' (1.31)

"Monparnasse" hints at Mount Parnassus. In his essay "Henri de Régnier"
(1910) Maximilian Voloshin mentions José Maria de Heredia, "the most
perfect and plastic of Parnassian poets:"

Самый совершенный и пластический из поэтов Парнаса - Хозе-Мария Эредиа -
выдал своих дочерей за двух поэтов: старшую за Пьера Луиса, младшую - за
Анри де Ренье.
Как стареющий Лир, он разделил своё царство в области поэзии между своими

Voloshin compares Heredia (whose daughters married Pierre Louys and Henri
de Régnier) to ageing King Lear who divided his kingdom between his
sons-in-law. Voloshin is the author of *Demony Glukhonemye* ("Deaf Mute
Demons," 1917). As he speaks to Van, Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's
father) mentions Cordula de Prey and Cordelia O'Leary:

'My suggestion is, come with me to a cocktail party today. It is given by
the excellent widow of an obscure Major de Prey - obscurely related to our
late neighbor, a fine shot but the light was bad on the Common, and a
meddlesome garbage collector hollered at the wrong moment. Well, that
excellent and influential lady who wishes to help a friend of mine'
(clearing his throat) 'has, I'm told, a daughter of fifteen summers, called
Cordula, who is sure to recompense you for playing Blindman's Buff all
summer with the babes of Ardis Wood.'
'We played mostly Scrabble and Snap,' said Van. 'Is the needy friend also
in my age group?'
'She's a budding Duse,' replied Demon austerely, 'and the party is strictly
a "prof push." You'll stick to Cordula de Prey, I, to Cordelia O'Leary.'
'*D'accord*,' said Van.
Cordula's mother, an overripe, overdressed, overpraised comedy actress,
introduced Van to a Turkish acrobat with tawny hairs on his beautiful
orang-utan hands and the fiery eyes of a charlatan - which he was not,
being a great artist in his circular field. Van was so taken up by his
talk, by the training tips he lavished on the eager boy, and by envy,
ambition, respect and other youthful emotions, that he had little time for
Cordula, round-faced, small, dumpy, in a turtle-neck sweater of dark-red
wool, or even for the stunning young lady on whose bare back the paternal
hand kept resting lightly as Demon steered her toward this or that useful
guest. But that very same evening Van ran into Cordula in a bookshop and
she said, 'By the way, Van - I can call you that, can't I? Your cousin Ada
is my schoolmate. Oh, yes. Now, explain, please, what did you do to our
difficult Ada? In her very first letter from Ardis, she positively gushed -
our Ada gushed! - about how sweet, clever, unusual, irresistible -'
'Silly girl. When was that?'
'In June, I imagine. She wrote again later, but her reply - because I was
quite jealous of you - really I was! - and had fired back lots of questions
- well, her reply was evasive, and practically void of Van.'
He looked her over more closely than he had done before. He had read
somewhere (we might recall the precise title if we tried, not Tiltil,
that's in Blue Beard...) that a man can recognize a Lesbian, young and
alone (because a tailored old pair can fool no one), by a combination of
three characteristics: slightly trembling hands, a cold-in-the-head voice,
and that skidding-in-panic of the eyes if you happen to scan with obvious
appraisal such charms as the occasion might force her to show (lovely
shoulders, for instance). Nothing whatever of all that (yes - *Mytilène,
petite isle*, by Louis Pierre) seemed to apply to Cordula, who wore a
'garbotosh' (belted mackintosh) over her terribly unsmart turtle and held
both hands deep in her pockets as she challenged his stare. (1.27)

Pierre Louys is the author of "The Songs of Bilitis." *"Mytilène, petite
isle*" seems to hint at Aldanov's novel *Svyataya Elena, malen'kiy ostrov*
("St. Helena, a Small Island," 1921). In his review in *Contemporary Notes*
(# 61) of Aldanov's novel *Peshchera* ("The Cave," 1936) VN particularly
praises "the letter from Russia" and the description of Lenin and his gang
being photographed for posterity:

Всё "письмо из России" великолепно, и особенно описaние, кaк Ленин с шaйкой
"снимaлся для потомствa". "Зa его стулом стояли Троцкий во френче и
Зиновьев в кaкой-то блузе или толстовке". "...Кaкие Люциферовы чувствa они
должны испытывaть к нежно любимому Ильичу..." "А ведь, если б в тaком-то
году, нa тaком-то съезде, голосовaть не тaк, a инaче, дa нa тaкую-то
брошюру ответить вот тaк, то ведь не он, a я сидел бы "Дaвыдычем" нa стуле,
a он стоял бы у меня зa спиной с доброй, товaрищески-верноподдaнической
улыбкой!" Это звучит приговором окончaтельным, вечным, тем приговором,
который вынесут будущие временa.

Zinoviev's *tolstovka* (long belted blouse) brings to mind Ivan Durmanov's
*bayronka* in a picture in Marina's bedroom:

A formal photograph, on a separate page: Adochka, pretty and impure in her
flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit, with slant-striped school tie,
facing the *kimera* (chimera, camera) side by side, at attention, he with
the shadow of a forced grin, she, expressionless. Both recalled the time
(between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the
occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in her
bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a
*bayronka* (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed
hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a
vivisectional alibi. (2.7)

The formal photograph was taken by Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and
photographer at Ardis whose surname hints at Napoleon's first wife. The
last photograph in Kim's album is his "apotheosis" of Ardis:

The entire staff stood in several rows on the steps of the pillared porch
behind the Bank President Baroness Veen and the Vice President Ida
Larivière. Those two were flanked by the two prettiest typists, Blanche de
la Tourberie (ethereal, tearstained, entirely adorable) and a black girl
who had been hired, a few days before Van's departure, to help French, who
towered rather sullenly above her in the second row, the focal point of
which was Bouteillan, still wearing the costume sport he had on when
driving off with Van (that picture had been muffed or omitted). On the
butler's right side stood three footmen; on his left, Bout (who had valeted
Van), the fat, flour-pale cook (Blanche's father) and, next to French, a
terribly tweedy gentleman with sightseeing strappings athwart one shoulder:
actually (according to Ada), a tourist, who, having come all the way from
England to see Bryant's Castle, had bicycled up the wrong road and was, in
the picture, under the impression of accidentally being conjoined to a
group of fellow tourists who were visiting some other old manor quite worth
inspecting too. The back rows consisted of less distinguished menservants
and scullions, as well as of gardeners, stableboys, coachmen, shadows of
columns, maids of maids, aids, laundresses, dresses, recesses - getting
less and less distinct as in those bank ads where limited little employees
dimly dimidiated by more fortunate shoulders, but still asserting
themselves, still smile in the process of humble dissolve.(ibid.)

As he speaks to Cordula, Van quotes an Arabian adage:

“Since you collect adages,” persisted Van, “let me quote an Arabian one.
Paradise is only one *assbaa* south of a pretty girl’s sash. *Eh bien*?”

*Abdella Bouazza*: As far as I know, there is no such an adage, despite
VN's use of the Arabic *assbaa* or *isba'*, literally "a finger" but also a
measure, approx. 1.5 inch. The closest I came to such a statement was in
Henri de Regnier (1864-1936), symbolist poet and novelist.
*“…il n’était pas certain de l’existence d’un Dieu de justice et de paix,
disant qui’il échangerait volontiers sa part de paradis pour celle que l’on
trouve au giron complaisant d’une belle fille.” *Henri de Regnier, *La
Pécheresse*, p. 24 (Paris: Albin Michel 1922).

*Assbaa* is a six-letter word and brings to mind Hodasevich's poem *Daktili*
("The Dactyls," 1928). In Greek *d**actylos* means "finger." Each of the
six stanzas of Hodasevich's poem consists of six lines and begins with the
words: *Byl moy otets shestipalym...* ("My father was six-fingered..."). As
VN points out in his EO Commentary (vol. II, pp. 159-60), the joint
pseudonym of Byron's translators, Amédée Pichot and Eusèbe de Salle, "A. E.
de Chastopalli," is an imperfect anagram of their names and by a bizarre
resembles the Russian word for "six-fingered" (*shestipalyi*). The Dactyls
were also metalworkers and magicians dwelling on Mount Ida (cf.
Ida Larivière).

Hodasevich's father was a photographer in Tula who took a picture of
Tolstoy's family (reproduced in Sergey Tolstoy's *Ocherki bylogo*, "The
Sketches of the Past," 1949). The characters in Tolstoy's *War and Peace*
include Napoleon.

Astraddle, she [Cordula] resembled a child braving her first
merry-go-round. She made a rectangular *moue* as she used that vulgar
contraption. Sad, sullen streetwalkers do it with expressionless faces,
lips tightly closed. She rode it twice. Their brisk nub and its repetition
lasted fifteen minutes in all, not five. Very pleased with himself, Van
walked with her for a stretch through the brown and green Bois de Belleau
in the direction of her *osobnyachyok* (small mansion). (3.2)

In her memoir essay on Bryusov, *Geroy truda* ("The Hero of Toil," 1925),
Marina Tsvetaev (who as a girl spent her summers in Tarusa, near
Kaluga) mentions an old white *osobnyachok* in Moscow housing the music
school of Zograf-Plaksin:

Первая встреча моя с Брюсовым была заочная. Мне было 6 лет. Я только что
поступила в музыкальную школу Зограф-Плаксиной (старинный белый особнячок в
Мерзляковском пер<еулке>, на Никитской)... И разговор матери и дамы о
музыке, о детях, рассказ дамы о своём сыне Валерии (а у меня сестра была
Валерия, поэтому запомнилось), «таком талантливом и увлекающемся», пишущем
стихи и имеющем недоразумения с полицией.

The name Zograf-Plaksin brings to mind Zographos ("Zogdog"), one of Van's
schoolmates at Riverlane. Marina Tsvetaev is the author of a memoir essay
on Voloshin, *Zhivoe o zhivom* ("A Living Word about the Living Man," 1932).

Van meets Cordula (now Mrs. Ivan G. Tobak) in Lute (as Paris is also known
on Antiterra):

A moment later, as happens so often in farces and foreign cities, Van ran
into another friend. With a surge of delight he saw Cordula in a tight
scarlet skirt bending with baby words of comfort over two unhappy poodlets
attached to the waiting-post of a sausage shop. Van stroked her with his
fingertips, and as she straightened up indignantly and turned around
(indignation instantly replaced by gay recognition), he quoted the stale
but appropriate lines he had known since the days his schoolmates annoyed
him with them:

The Veens speak only to Tobaks
But Tobaks speak only to dogs. (3.2)

Voloshin is the author of *Lutetia Parisiorum* (a sonnet written on April
22, 1915). In his essay *The National Festival July 14 in Paris* (1916)
Voloshin describes a merry-go-round of bicycles. The girls riding them have
their hair done *à la chien* (dog-style):

Быстро вертится карусель, и играет орган. Карусель маленькая, из
велосипедов. На них сидят верхом девицы с причёсками *à la chien*, макро
[souteneurs] в каскетках, дети... Все они с увлечением работают ногами и
трясут расставленными локтями.*

After helping her to nurse Andrey at Agavia Ranch through a couple of
acrimonious years (she begrudged Ada every poor little hour devoted to
collecting, mounting, and rearing!), and then taking exception to Ada's
choosing the famous and excellent Grotonovich Clinic (for her husband's
endless periods of treatment) instead of Princess Alashin's select
sanatorium, Dorothy Vinelander retired to a subarctic monastery town
(Ilemna, now Novostabia) where eventually she married a Mr Brod or Bred,
tender and passionate, dark and handsome, who traveled in eucharistials and
other sacramental objects throughout the Severnïya Territorii and who
subsequently was to direct, and still may be directing half a century
later, archeological reconstructions at Goreloe (the 'Lyaskan Herculanum');
what treasures he dug up in matrimony is another question. (3.8)

It seems that the Princess' name comes from *à* *la chien*, the phrase used
by Voloshin in his essay.

Would she write? Oh, she did! Oh, every old thing turned out superfine!
Fancy raced fact in never-ending rivalry and girl giggles. Andrey lived
only a few months longer, *po pal'tzam* (finger counting) one, two, three,
four - say, five. Andrey was doing fine by the spring of nineteen six or
seven, with a comfortably collapsed lung and a straw-colored beard (nothing
like facial vegetation to keep a patient busy). Life forked and reforked.
Yes, she told him. He insulted Van on the mauve-painted porch of a Douglas
hotel where Van was awaiting his Ada in a final version of *Les Enfants
Maudits*. Monsieur de Tobak (an earlier cuckold) and Lord Erminin (a
second-time second) witnessed the duel in the company of a few tall yuccas
and short cactuses. Vinelander wore a cutaway (he would); Van, a white
suit. Neither man wished to take any chances, and both fired
simultaneously. Both fell. Mr Cutaway's bullet struck the outsole of Van's
left shoe (white, black-heeled), tripping him and causing a slight
fourmillement (excited ants) in his foot - that was all. Van got his
adversary plunk in the underbelly - a serious wound from which he recovered
in due time, if at all (here the forking swims in the mist). Actually it
was all much duller. (ibid.)

Van fights this duel with Andrey Vinelander (Ada's husband who dies of
tuberculosis) in his dream. *Les* *Enfants Maudits *(the title of Mlle
Larivière's novel) blends *un enfant terrible* with *Les Poètes maudits*
(initially, the title of a book by Paul Verlaine, 1884). In the closing
lines of his poem *Khotite l' znat' vse tainstva lyubvi.*.. ("Do you Want
to Know All Secrets of Love?" 1827) Baratynski plays on the phrase *po
pal'tsam* (in detail):

Хотите ль знать все таинства любви?
Послушайте девицу пожилую:
Какой огонь она родит в крови!
Какую власть дарует поцелую!
Какой язык пылающим очам!
Как миг один рассудок побеждает:
*По пальцам* всё она расскажет вам.
— Ужели всё она *по пальцам* знает?

Btw., in 1931 the Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu made a movie of Henri
de Régnier's story "The Sorrow of the Beautiful Woman" (alas, I fail to
find out its original French title).

Bilitis = Tbilisi
Bruni = rubin = Nibur

In the opening lines of "The Dactyls" Hodasevich mentions F. A. Bruni
(1799-1875), his father's teacher at the Academy of Arts:

Был мой отец шестипалым. По ткани, натянутой туго,
Бруни его обучал мягкою кистью водить.
He had six fingers, my father. Across the stretch of canvas,
Bruni tutored the soft trail of his brush.

rubin - Russ., ruby; Ruby Black is Van's black wet-nurse whom Marina's mad
twin sister Aqua mentions in her suicide note:

*Aujourd'hui *(*heute*-toity!) I, this eye-rolling toy, have earned the
psykitsch right to enjoy a landparty with Herr Doktor Sig, Nurse Joan the
Terrible, and several 'patients,' in the neighboring *bor* (piney wood)
where I noticed exactly the same skunk-like squirrels, Van, that your
Darkblue ancestor imported to Ardis Park, where you will ramble one day, no
doubt. The hands of a clock, even when out of order, must know and let the
dumbest little watch know where they stand, otherwise neither is a dial but
only a white face with a trick mustache. Similarly, *chelovek* (human
being) must know where he stands and let others know, otherwise he is not
even a *klok* (piece) of a *chelovek*, neither a he, nor she, but 'a tit of
it' as poor Ruby, my little Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. I,
poor Princesse Lointaine, *très lointaine* by now, do not know where I
stand. Hence I must fall. So adieu, my dear, dear son, and farewell, poor
Demon, I do not know the date or the season, but it is a reasonably, and no
doubt seasonably, fair day, with a lot of cute little ants queuing to get
at my pretty pills.

[Signed] My sister's sister who *teper'*
*iz ada *('now is out of hell') (1.3)

Nibur - Russian spelling of Niebuhr, the German historian (1776-1831). In
Pushkin's *Istoriya sela Goryukhina* ("The History of Goryukhino Village,"
1830) Ivan Petrovich. Belkin mentions Niehbur:

Имя его [Курганова] казалось мне вымышленным и предание о нем пустою мифою,
ожидавшею изыскания нового Нибура.

*see also my post of Jan. 8, 2014

Alexey Sklyarenko

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Associate Professor of English
311 Fenwick Hall
College of the Holy Cross
Worcester, MA 01610-2395

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