Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026839, Fri, 29 Jan 2016 17:16:47 -0800

Nabokov alluded in Ada to Tolstoy alluding to Jane Austen!
I am sure that many of you are aware of, and perhaps also watching, Andrew
Davies's new miniseries of War & Peace. In the following-link blog post, I
make the argument that Davies is actually getting to the heart of W&P when
he depicts incest between Helene and Anatole, and I also claim that this
incest theme is derived, in no small part, from the incest theme that
overshadows all of Austen's Mansfield Park:

In that post, I included the following discussion of the incestuous
overtones of the brother sister relations in the Rostov family:

"But it would not surprise the worldly socialite, who makes the following
sage comments while watching mousy Sonia blush in jealousy of cousin
Nicholas early in the novel:

"How plainly all these young people wear their hearts on their sleeves!"
said Anna Mikhaylovna, pointing to Nicholas as he went out.
"Cousinage—dangereux voisinage;" she added. [Cousinhood is a dangerous

"Yes," said the countess when the brightness these young people had brought
into the room had vanished; and as if answering a question no one had put
but which was always in her mind, "and how much suffering, how much anxiety
one has had to go through that we might rejoice in them now! And yet really
the anxiety is greater now than the joy. One is always, always anxious!
Especially just at this age, so dangerous both for girls and boys."

"It all depends on the bringing up," remarked the visitor.

"Yes, you're quite right," continued the countess. "Till now I have always,
thank God, been my children's friend and had their full confidence," said
she, repeating the mistake of so many parents who imagine that their
children have no secrets from them. "I know I shall always be my daughters'
first confidante, and that if Nicholas, with his impulsive nature, does get
into mischief (a boy can't help it), he will all the same never be like
those Petersburg young men."

Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas, anyone? Still think I am imagining it all? ;)

By that last smiley, I was suggesting that Tolstoy was unmistakably
alluding to the scene early in Mansfield Park in which Sir Thomas Bertram
discuss with the odious Mrs. Norris the danger of Sir Thomas's son Edmund
one day falling in love with his mousy niece Fanny Price:

"....He thought of his own four children, of his two sons, of cousins in
love, etc.;—but no sooner had he deliberately begun to state his
objections, than Mrs. Norris interrupted him with a reply to them all,
whether stated or not. "My dear Sir Thomas, I perfectly comprehend you,
and do justice to the generosity and delicacy of your notions, which indeed
are quite of a piece with your general conduct; and I entirely agree with
you in the main as to the propriety of doing everything one could by way of
providing for a child one had in a manner taken into one's own hands; and I
am sure I should be the last person in the world to withhold my mite upon
such an occasion. Having no children of my own, who should I look to in any
little matter I may ever have to bestow, but the children of my
sisters?—and I am sure Mr. Norris is too just—but you know I am a woman of
few words and professions. Do not let us be frightened from a good deed by
a trifle. Give a girl an education, and introduce her properly into the
world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without
farther expense to anybody. A niece of ours, Sir Thomas, I may say, or at
least of *yours*, would not grow up in this neighbourhood without many
advantages. I don't say she would be so handsome as her cousins. I dare say
she would not; but she would be introduced into the society of this country
under such very favourable circumstances as, in all human probability,
would get her a creditable establishment. You are thinking of your sons—but
do not you know that, of all things upon earth, *that* is the least likely
to happen, brought up as they would be, always together like brothers and
sisters? It is morally impossible. I never knew an instance of it. It is,
in fact, the only sure way of providing against the connexion. Suppose her
a pretty girl, and seen by Tom or Edmund for the first time seven years
hence, and I dare say there would be mischief. The very idea of her having
been suffered to grow up at a distance from us all in poverty and neglect,
would be enough to make either of the dear, sweet-tempered boys in love
with her. But breed her up with them from this time, and suppose her even
to have the beauty of an angel, and she will never be more to either than a

After sending that post, I was curious to see whether I had overlooked
any other scholar who might have noted that allusion to Mansfield Park by
Tolstoy ---and guess what? I found out (ironically from Google leading me
to an exchange a few years back here in the archives of Nabokov-L that I
was involved in, but that I had entirely forgotten!) that there WAS a
scholar who saw it first, and that scholar's name was............Vladimir

"In his notes to Ada, Brian Boyd identifies a series of references to Jane
Austen's *Mansfield Park* (1814). Some of these references are direct
(...);some less direct(...); and some quite covert: Marina's warning to Van
that "*cousinage dangereux voisinage*" (232) echoes Sir Thomas Bertram's
concern early in *Mansfield Park* (...) Nabokov, who taught* Manfield Park*
in his European literature course at Cornell, clearly treats the love of
Fanny Price for her cousin Edmund as a precedent for Ada's story of a love
between cousin/siblings. But what kind of a precedent is it?"
So, now, today, putting all the pieces together, I know not only that
Tolstoy alluded to the incest theme in Mansfield Park, but I also now know
that Nabokov knew it, too, but chose to show that he knew it by his
allusion in Ada! And as I will post within the next few weeks, I recently
found ANOTHER covert allusion by Nabokov to War & Peace in ANOTHER work of
fiction by Nabokov---Laughing in the Dark!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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