Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026853, Sun, 7 Feb 2016 01:37:06 +0300

Ivan Giovanovich Tobak in Ada
'My notion of propriety may not be the same as yours. And what about Cordula
de Prey? She won't mind?'

'The apartment is mine,' said Van, 'and besides, Cordula is now Mrs Ivan G.
Tobak. They are making follies in Florence. Here's her last postcard.
Portrait of Vladimir Christian of Denmark, who, she claims, is the dead spit
of her Ivan Giovanovich. Have a look.' 'Who cares for Sustermans,' observed
Lucette, with something of her uterine sister's knight move of specious
response, or a Latin footballer's rovesciata.

No, it's an elm. Half a millennium ago.

'His ancestor,' Van pattered on, 'was the famous or fameux Russian admiral
who had an épée duel with Jean Nicot and after whom the Tobago Islands, or
the Tobakoff Islands, are named, I forget which, it was so long ago, half a
millennium.' (2.5)

The patronymic of CordulaÂ’s first husband seems to hint at Giovanni
Boccaccio (1313-75), the author of The Decameron who was born in Florence.
In VN’s essay Chto vsyakiy dolzhen znat’ (“What Everyone Should Know,” 1931)
a popularizer of Freudian method affirms that some Roman Emperors
(Decameron, for instance) did not see dreams at all. In Ilf and PetrovÂ’s
Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) Ostap Bender promises Khvorobyev
(an old monarchist) to cure him of bad Soviet dreams using the Freudian

The names Nicot and Tobakoff hint at nicotine and at tabak (Russ., tobacco).
The surname of CordulaÂ’s husband rhymes with Sobak (Fima Sobak, in Ilf and
Petrov’s “The Twelve Chairs” a friend of Ellochka Shchukin). Van suspects
that Cordula is a lesbian (1.27). Fima Sobak is a cultured girl. One of the
words in her rich vocabulary (about 180 words) is “homosexuality.” Even in a
dream Ellochka the cannibal (whose vocabulary consists of 30 words and short
phrases) could not have imagined such a word.

Demon calls Cordula’s husband “Tobakovich:”

'Come, come,' retorted Demon, dropping and replacing his monocle. 'Cordula
won't mind.'

'It's another, much more impressionable girl' - (yet another awful fumble!).
'Damn Cordula! Cordula is now Mrs Tobak.'

'Oh, of course!' cried Demon. 'How stupid of me! I remember Ada's fiancé
telling me - he and young Tobak worked for a while in the same Phoenix bank.
Of course. Splendid broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond chap. Backbay

'I don't care,' said clenched Van, 'if he looks like a crippled, crucified,
albino toad. Please, Dad, I really must -' (2.10)

“Tobakovich” brings to mind Sobakevich, one of the landowners in Gogol’s
Dead Souls (1842). Gogol is the author of “The Portrait” (1835) and "The
Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich" (1834). In
ChekhovÂ’s story Kashtanka (1887) Ivan Ivanovich is the name of the goose (a
circus animal). Chekhov is the author of “Albion’s Daughter” (1883), “On the
Harm of Tobacco” (1886, 1903) and “The Lady with the Little Dog” (1899).

Albion = albino

Boccaccio + trus/rust = tobacco + circus

S + Tobak = T + Sobak/skoba/basok/Boska = St Koba

Sosso + tabak = Tasso + Sobak = sobaka + toss = sosok + basta = soska +

ognivo + oval = golova + vino/ovin/voin = viola/Viola + govno

Albion + circus + us = alibi + concursus = res publica + icon + Ursus -

res publica + Nabokov = bes + pokrov + Caliban

trus – coward; obs., earthquake

rust – in VN’s Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert’s poem (written in a Quebec
sanatorium) ends in the line: “and the rest is rust and stardust” (2.25)

skoba – cramp-iron

basok – little bass voice; bass-string (e. g., of a violin)

Boska – Pol., of God; cf. Matka Boska, Mother of God

Koba – Stalin’s nickname; Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, was one of the two
seconds in DemonÂ’s sword duel with Baron dÂ’Onsky (1.2)

Sosso – Khan Sosso, on Antiterra the ruler of the ruthless Sovietnamur
Khanate (2.2); a play on Soso Dzhugashvili (StalinÂ’s real name)

Tasso – Torquato Tasso (1544-95), an Italian poet

sobaka – dog; according to Ada, Dack (the dackel at Ardis) is nehoroshaya
sobaka (“a bad dog,” 1.11); when Van meets Cordula in Paris, he quotes to
her the lines with which his schoolmates annoyed him: “The Veens speak only
to Tobaks / But Tobaks speak only to dogs” (3.2)

sosok – nipple

soska – baby's dummy

ognivo – tinderbox; in his poem “Tsar Nikita and his Forty Daughters” (1822)
Pushkin mentions lyubovnoe ognivo (the amorous tinderbox) that the
Princesses lacked; in Andersen’s fairy tale “The Tinderbox” (1835) there are
three powerful dogs

golova – head

vino – wine

ovin – barn

voin – warrior

us – whisker

Viola – a character in Shakespeare’s play The Twelfth Night

govno – vulg., shit

concursus – Lat., concourse

res publica – Lat., public thing/affair

Ursus – the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major (2.8); the
traveling circus artist in Victor Hugo’s novel L’homme qui rit (“The
Laughing Man,” 1869)

bes – demon, evil spirit, fiend; Besy is a poem (1830) by Pushkin and a
novel (1872) by Dostoevski

pokrov – cover, etc.; protection

Caliban – Prospero’s ugly beastlike slave in Shakespeare’s The Tempest
(1611); according to Aqua (MarinaÂ’s mad twin sister who thought that she
could understand the language of water), bathwater (or shower) was too much
of a Caliban to speak distinctly (1.3)

Btw., “a Latin footballer” brings to mind J. L. Borges (the Argentinean
writer whom I mentioned in my previous post).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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