Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026840, Sat, 30 Jan 2016 17:12:39 +0300

Tsitsikar, Belokonsk & Bishop of Belokonsk in Ada
Demon to Van: ‘A propos, I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is somewhere in Italy, but I've managed to trace Marina to Tsitsikar - flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk - she will arrive in the late afternoon, wearing, no doubt, pleureuses, very becoming, and we shall then travel à trois to Ladore, because I don't think –’ (2.10)

As I pointed out before, in Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901), known on Antiterra as Four Sisters (2.1, 2.9), Dr Chebutykin mentions Tsitsikar (the Russian spelling of Qiqihar, a city in NE China):

ЧЕБУТЫКИН (читает газету). Цицикар. Здесь свирепствует оспа.

CHEBUTYKIN [reads from the newspaper]. Tsitsikar. Smallpox is raging here. (Act Two)

According to Vivian Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’), Belokonsk [belyi – white; kon’ – horse] is the Russian twin of ‘Whitehorse’ (city in NW Canada). The Bishop of Belokonsk brings to mind Georgiy Konisky (1717-95), the Archbishop of Belorussia whose Collected Works Pushkin reviewed in the first issue of Sovremennik (Contemporary, 1836).

According to Van, for every performance of Eugene and Lara (a trashy American ephemeron based by some pretentious hack on a famous Russian romance in which Marina played the heroine) in Man (the Antiterran name of New York) the great Scott brought the Russian dancers from Belokonsk:

She [Marina] had ample time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. (1.2)

The name of Marina’s impresario hints at Skotoprigonyevsk, the fictitious city in which the action of Dostoevski’s Brothers Karamazov (1880) takes place.

In a letter of March 5, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov says that he has bought in Suvorin’s bookshop in Moscow the Collected Works of Dostoevski and is now reading them:

Купил я в Вашем магазине Достоевского и теперь читаю. Хорошо, но очень уж длинно и нескромно. Много претензий.

“Good, but much too long and indiscreet. Too pretentious.”

In the same letter Chekhov says that last night he went to listen to the Gypsies. Chekhov compares the singing of Gypsy women to a train derailment during a strong blizzard:

Вчера ночью ездил за город и слушал цыганок. Хорошо поют эти дикие бестии. Их пение похоже на крушение поезда с высокой насыпи во время сильной метели: много вихря, визга и стука...

In ‘Ursus’ (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major) Van, Ada and Lucette listen to Russian songs and tsiganshchina (pseudo-Gypsy ballads):

The uha, the shashlik, the Ai were facile and familiar successes; but the old songs had a peculiar poignancy owing to the participation of a Lyaskan contralto and a Banff bass, renowned performers of Russian 'romances,' with a touch of heart-wringing tsiganshchina vibrating through Grigoriev and Glinka. (2.8)

Ursus is Latin for “bear.” Medved’ (“The Bear,” 1888) is an one-act comedic play by Chekhov. On the other hand, Ursus is a character in Victor Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit (“The Laughing Man,” 1869). In Chekhov’s story Bab’ye tsarstvo (“A Woman’s Kingdom,” 1894) Lysevich, as he speaks to Anna Akimovna, mentions the Duchess Josiana and Gwynplain (the characters in Hugo’s novel):

Герцогиня Джосиана полюбила Гуинплена, и это ей позволяется, потому что она герцогиня; вам тоже всё позволяется, потому что вы необыкновенная. Если, милая, захотите любить негра или арапа, то не стесняйтесь, выписывайте себе негра. Ни в чем себе не отказывайте. Вы должны быть так же смелы, как ваши желания. Не отставайте от них.

“The Duchess Josiana loved Gwynplain, and that was permissible for her because she was a grand duchess. Everything is permissible for you, too, because you are an exceptional woman: if, my dear, you want to love a negro or an Arab, don't scruple; send for a negro. Don't deny yourself anything. You ought to be as bold as your desires; don't fall short of them.” (chapter III, “Dinner”)

Marina’s lovers include the young Latin actor Pedro who stayed in Ardis in the summer of 1888 (1.32, et passim). The name of Marina’s lover brings to mind Pierre Legrand, Van’s fencing master (2.8). The name of Van’s fencing master hints at the tsar Peter I (“Peter the Great”), the founder of VN’s home city (that does not exist on Antiterra). Pierre Legrand’s profession reminds one of Demon’s sword duel with Baron d’Onsky (nicknamed ‘Skonky’), Marina’s lover whose name hints at Onegin’s Don stallion in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (Two: V: 4). After his duel with d’Onsky Demon recovered in Dr Stella Ospenko’s ospedale:

The alcohol his vigorous system had already imbibed was instrumental, as usual, in reopening what he gallicistically called condemned doors, and now as he gaped involuntarily as all men do while spreading a napkin, he considered Marina's pretentious ciel-étoilé hairdress and tried to realize (in the rare full sense of the word), tried to possess the reality of a fact by forcing it into the sensuous center, that here was a woman whom he had intolerably loved, who had loved him hysterically and skittishly, who insisted they make love on rugs and cushions laid on the floor ('as respectable people do in the Tigris-Euphrates valley'), who would woosh down fluffy slopes on a bobsleigh a fortnight after parturition, or arrive by the Orient Express with five trunks, Dack's grandsire, and a maid, to Dr Stella Ospenko's ospedale where he was recovering from a scratch received in a sword duel (and still visible as a white weal under his eighth rib after a lapse of nearly seventeen years). (1.38)

The name Ospenko comes from ospa (smallpox), the disease raging in Tsitsikar.

Marina’s twin sister Aqua organized a free pharmacy in Belokonsk:

She organized with Milton Abraham’s invaluable help a Phree Pharmacy in Belokonsk, and fell grievously in love there with a married man, who after one summer of parvenu passion dispensed to her in his Camping Ford garçonnière preferred to give her up rather than run the risk of endangering his social situation in a philistine town where businessmen played ‘golf’ on Sundays and belonged to ‘lodges.’ (1.3)

Aptekarsha (A Chemist's Wife, 1886) is a story by Chekhov. One of Pushkin’s last articles in Contemporary (it was published in the first issue that appeared after Pushkin’s death) is O Mil’tone i Shatobrianovom perevode poteryannogo raya (“On Milton and Chateaubriand's translation of Paradise Lost,” 1836). Pushkin criticizes in it Victor Hugo's play Cromwell (1827) and Alfred de Vigny's novel Cinq Mars (1826) in which Milton appears as a character.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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