Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026875, Sat, 20 Feb 2016 11:48:11 -0200

RES: [NABOKV-L] Dionysian origin,
un petit topinambour & Nuremberg Old Maid in Ada

A selection from A. Sklyarenko’s quotes:

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Raspberries; ribbon: allusions to ludicrous blunders in Lowell's versions of Mandelshtam's poems (in the N.Y. Review, 23 December 1965).//Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): topinambour: tuber of the girasole; pun on 'pun' ('calembour'). Topinambour, or the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), is also called “earth apple” and “earth pear” (Germ., Erdbirne). In his poem Royal’ (“The Grand Piano,” 1931) Mandelshtam mentions koren’ sladkovatoy grushi zemnoy (a tuber of the sweet earth pear) and Nyurenbergskaya pruzhina, vypryamlyayushchaya mertvetsov (the Nuremberg spring that can straighten the dead):

…To make the world more spacious,
for the sake of global complexity,
do not rub into the piano keys
a tuber of sweet earthly pear.//

To make a jinn’s sonata appear

like resin from the vertebrae
there exists the Nuremberg spring
that can straighten the dead.

Poisoned by his jealous wife, Philip Rack dies in the Kalugano hospital (1.42). Another lover of Ada, Percy de Prey, goes to the war and is killed in the Crimea (1.42). As he listens to Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father who just found out about his children’s romance), Van recalls the destiny of Ada’s lovers and thinks of the Nuremberg Old Maid’s iron sting: …'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) //

Santiago and earthquake bring to mind Heinrich von Kleist’s novella “The Earthquake in Chile” (1807). In Speak, Memory (1967) VN mentions Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811), the writer who at thirty-three had passionately fallen in love with the twelve-year-old daughter of Elizabeth von Stägemann (a celebrated beauty whose first husband was a son of the composer Carl Heinrich Graun, VN’s ancestor) and committed suicide. According to VN, Kleist was carrying out an enthusiastic suicide pact with a sick lady (Chapter Three, 1)// Heinrich von Kleist should not be confused with the poet Ewald Christian von Kleist (1715-59). Khristian Kleyst (“Christian Kleist,” 1932) is a poem by Mandelshtam.

Jansy Mello: Alexey, some of your finds merit a little paper all by themselves (like the indication of Mandelshtam’s lines in “The Grand Piano” and the “topinambour”). However, your associations could be developped more fully. The more precious parts are often submerged by a lot of additional, apparently unrelated, material.

A Nuremberg spring in the poem might just be a reference to the Spring season but, in fact, the additional “straighten the dead” in Mandelshtam and VN’s indication of the “banal ending” associated to “the Nuremberg Old Maid’s iron sting” ( a complex juxtaposition of various indicators), suggest the famous instrument of torture more popularly known as the “Iron Maiden” (cf. heavy-metal British band...) . Taking a short-cut thru the wikipedia: “The Iron Maiden is uniquely a Germanic invention, originated in the town of Nuremberg at some point in the high-middle ages;probably in the 14th century. The device is also known in German as the "Eiserne Madchen"-looked very similar to an Egyptian mummy case.The iron maiden is often associated with the Middle Ages.”[ and a lot more ]

The same space could be given to Heinrich von Kleist since he is referred to by Nabokov by various small items, as you’ve shown ( & Graun is also the surname associated to one of Sebastian Knight’s possible lovers*). Kleist was a contemporary of Goethe and several of his novels are rather well-known, not only the one about the Chilean earthquake, as for example, “Michael Koolhaas” and one of them became a curious movie by Eric Rohmer: “La marquise d’O”.** How interesting to find a double entry for von Kleist (the German romantic and the poem by Mandelshtam). Thanks.


* -When I searched for Helen von Graun to add information I’d forgotten, I came to https://www99.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/devriesrlsk.htm in Zembla: The True Life of Sebastian Knight
by <https://www99.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/contr.htm#devries> Gerard de Vries. It didn’t clarify me about von Graun, but it’s a fascinating text about VN’s relationship with his brother Sergey and Sebastian’s own sexual orientation: I thought it was worth mentioning here.

** The The Marquise of O ( <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_language> German: Die Marquise von O...) is a 1976 film directed by <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Rohmer> Éric Rohmer. Set in 1799, it tells the story of the Marquise von O, a virtuous widow, who finds herself pregnant and protests her innocence while possibly deserving to be exiled. The film was inspired by <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_von_Kleist> Heinrich von Kleist's 1808 novella <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Marquise_von_O> Die Marquise von O. The film won the <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Prix_(Cannes_Film_Festival)> Grand Prix Spécial Prize at the <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_Cannes_Film_Festival> 1976 Cannes Film Festival// The style of the film is very theatrical and minimalistic. There is no accompanying soundtrack, which adds to the theatre-like quality of the work. The pace is slow and stately which allows for the nuances of the actors performances to shine through. The sets suit the historical context of the story but they do not take away from the plot as a dramatic element, they are more functional and realistic rather than dramatic.

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