Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026195, Fri, 22 May 2015 19:39:23 +0300

Russian humorist Azov, Durmanov sisters & L disaster in Ada
Marina to Van: 'Azov, a Russian humorist, derives erunda [nonsense] from the German hier und da, which is neither here nor there.' (1.37)

In his essay Yumor Lermontova ("Lermontov's Humor") Innokentiy Annenski points out that Lermontov's Taman' (one of the stories in "A Hero of our Time," 1841) ends humorously:

Тамань замыкается юмористически: Да и какое дело мне до радостей и бедствий человеческих, мне, странствующему офицеру, да ещё с подорожной по казённой надобности?
And, after all, what have human joys and sorrows to do with me, an officer who travels around on official business? (transl. by Martin Parker)

In his essay Annenski mentions the fact that Taman' was a favorite story of Chekhov:

То ли обещала нам, кажется, эта крошечная "Тамань"? Недаром же Чехов так любил именно "Тамань" и так бесплодно мечтал написать вторую такую же.

Chekhov was born in Taganrog, a city and port on the Sea of Azov. N. S. Leskov (1831-95), the writer who in jest derived erunda from the German hier und da, predicted to Chekhov that he will die earlier than his brother. Chekhov died in Badenweiler (a German spa).

As Marina speaks to Van, the latter is sitting on the ivanlich:

'The cow is in the smaller jug, I think. Yes, it is.' And when Van, having kissed her freckled hand, lowered himself on the ivanilich (a kind of sighing old hassock upholstered in leather): 'Van, dear, I wish to say something to you, because I know I shall never have to repeat it again.' (1.37)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Ivanilich: a pouf plays a marvelous part in Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, where it sighs deeply under a friend of the widow's.

At the beginning of his essay Annenski compares Lermontov to Tolstoy:

Мечта Лермонтова не повторилась. Она так и осталась недосказанной. Может быть, даже бесследной, по крайней мере, поскольку Толстой, единственный, кто бы ещё мог её понять, рано пошёл своим и совсем другим путём.
Lermontov's dream never repeated. It remained unspoken. Perhaps, it did not even leave a trace, because Tolstoy, the only one who could have understood it, too early went his own and quite different path.

According to Annenski, some of Tolstoy's pages durmanyat (intoxicate) us with the illusion of a full command of life:

Недавно у Чехова мы её положительно не узнали, так она разрядилась и надушилась даже. А кто не читал таких страниц Толстого, которые просто-таки дурманят нас миражем господства над жизнью?

Marina's maiden (and stage) name, Durmanov, comes from durman (thorn-apple; drug, narcotic; intoxicant).

Marina has the twin sister Aqua, Demon Veen's wife who goes mad and commits suicide (1.3). The action in Ada takes place on Demonia or Antiterra. Poor mad Aqua is obsessed by the idea of Terra, Demonia's twin planet. The notion of Terra appeared on Demonia after the L disaster in the middle of the 19th century:

The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of 'Terra,' are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans - and not to grave men or gravemen. (1.3)

The Antiterran L disaster seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on January 3, 1850 (NS). January 3 is Lucette's birthday. In "Lermontov's Humor" Annenski mentions Golyadkin, the main character in Dostoevski's Dvoynik ("The Double," 1846). According to Annenski, chyort (the devil) wanted to overpower Dostoevski by splitting him in two:

Достоевский болел, и много болел, и притом не столько мукой, сколько именно проблемой творчества. Чёрт всё хотел осилить его, раздвоив его я: divide et impera. Юноша Достоевский дебютировал Голядкиным, и почти старик ушёл от нас в агонии Ивана Карамазова. В промежутке уместилась целая жизнь, и какая жизнь, но Достоевский всё же удалился осиленным.
В Иване последняя карта была бита, и напрасно вчерашний послушник с румяными щеками пойдёт ещё на поминки есть блины в недрах штабс-капитана Снегирёва. Чёрт сделал своё дело чисто, и Достоевский кончился.
...The devil made his business neatly, and Dostoevski was finished.

After the L disaster the electricity was banned on Antiterra and many technical gadgets went k chertyam sobach'im (to the devil):

Upon first noticing this immediate, sustained, and in her case rather eager and mocking but really quite harmless replay of this or that recent discourse, she felt tickled at the thought that she, poor Aqua, had accidentally hit upon such a simple method of recording and transmitting speech, while technologists (the so-called Eggheads) all over the world were trying to make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and still very expensive, hydrodynamic telephones and other miserable gadgets that were to replace those that had gone k chertyam sobach'im (Russian 'to the devil') with the banning of an unmentionable 'lammer.' (1.3)

As he speaks of Daniel Veen's death, Van uses the same phrase:

Especially so now - when everything had gone to the hell curs, k chertyam sobach'im, of Jeroen Anthniszoon van Aken and the molti aspetti affascinati of his enigmatica arte, as Dan explained with a last sigh to Dr Nikulin and to nurse Bellabestia ('Bess') to whom he bequeathed a trunkful of museum catalogues and his second-best catheter. (2.10)

As Demon speaks to him, Van recalls Dan's last words in the brand-new Ladore hospital:

Van realized that the fateful conversation must have already started in his father's brain, for the admonishment had the ring of a self-interruption, and with a slight bow he took a seat.
'However, before I advise you of those two facts, I would like to know how long this - how long this has been...' ('going on,' one presumes, or something equally banal, but then all ends are banal - hangings, the Nuremberg Old Maid's iron sting, shooting oneself, last words in the brand-new Ladore hospital, mistaking a drop of thirty thousand feet for the airplane's washroom, being poisoned by one's wife, expecting a bit of Crimean hospitality, congratulating Mr and Mrs Vinelander -) (2.11)

The Crimea is a peninsula between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Taman' is a port on the Kerch Strait that connects the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. Azov is a city in the Don estuary. The characters of Ada include Baron D'Onsky, Demon's adversary in a sword duel (1.2) whose name brings to mind Onegin (the hero of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin), Pechorin (the main character and part-time narrator in "A Hero of our Time") and Volgin (the main character in Chernyshevski's "Prologue"). The Onega and the Pechora are rivers in N Russia.

The essays in Annenski's "First Book of Reflections" include Dostoevskiy do katastrofy ("Dostoevski before the Disaster").

Alexey Sklyarenko

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