Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026878, Mon, 22 Feb 2016 02:09:00 +0300

Demon's death & Ada's birthday in Ada
Ada's husband Andrey Vinelander addresses his father-in-law “Dementiy Labirintovich” and calls him balagur (a wag):

'And then, one day, Demon warned me that he would not come any more if he heard again poor Andrey's poor joke (Nu i balagur-zhe vy, Dementiy Labirintovich) or what Dorothy, l'impayable ("priceless for impudence and absurdity") Dorothy, thought of my camping out in the mountains with only Mayo, a cowhand, to protect me from lions.' (3.8)

Demon (the society nickname of Van’s and Ada’s father) is the son of Dedalus Veen (1799-1883). Dedalus is an Athenian architect who built the labyrinth for Minos and made wings for himself and his son Icarus to escape from Crete. Icarus flew so high that his wings (made of wax) melted from the heat of the sun, and he plunged to his death in the sea. In 1905 Demon Veen perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific (3.7). Devyatsot pyatyi god (“The Year Nine Hundred and Five,” 1926) is a narrative poem by Pasternak. Pasternak's collection Sestra moya zhizn' ("My Sister Life," 1922) opens with the poem Pamyati Demona ("In Memory of Demon"). As he reads Van's palm, Demon mentions the Sister of his Life:

'I say,' exclaimed Demon, 'what's happened - your shaftment is that of a carpenter's. Show me your other hand. Good gracious' (muttering:) 'Hump of Venus disfigured, Line of Life scarred but monstrously long...' (switching to a gipsy chant:) 'You'll live to reach Terra, and come back a wiser and merrier man' (reverting to his ordinary voice:) 'What puzzles me as a palmist is the strange condition of the Sister of your Life. And the roughness!'

'Mascodagama,' whispered Van, raising his eyebrows. (1.38)

Dedalus Veen was born in the same year as Pushkin (1799-1837). In a poem written in Sept., 1835, that consists of two Onegin stanzas Pushkin mentions a labyrinth:

В мои осенние досуги,

В те дни, как любо мне писать,

Вы мне советуете, други,

Рассказ забытый продолжать.

Вы говорите справедливо,

Что странно, даже неучтиво

Роман не конча перервать,

Отдав уже его в печать,

Что должно своего героя

Как бы то ни было женить,

По крайней мере уморить,

И лица прочие пристроя,

Отдав им дружеский поклон,

Из лабиринта вывесть вон.

During my days of autumn leisure -

those days when I so love to write -

you, friends, advise me to go on

with my forgotten tale.

You say - and you are right -

that it is odd, and even impolite,

to interrupt an uncompleted novel

and have it published as it is;

that one must marry off one's hero in any case,

or kill him off at least, and, after having

disposed of the remaining characters

and made to them a friendly bow,

expel them from a labyrinth. (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 377)

In his poem <Iz Pindemonti> (<From Pindemonte>, 1836) Pushkin mentions balagur (a joker):

Не дорого ценю я громкие права,
От коих не одна кружится голова.
Я не ропщу о том, что отказали боги
Мне в сладкой участи оспоривать налоги
Или мешать царям друг с другом воевать;
И мало горя мне, свободно ли печать
Морочит олухов, иль чуткая цензура
В журнальных замыслах стесняет балагура.
Все это, видите ль, слова, слова, слова*
Иные, лучшие, мне дороги права;
Иная, лучшая, потребна мне свобода:
Зависеть от царя, зависеть от народа —
Не все ли нам равно? Бог с ними. Никому
Отчета не давать, себе лишь самому
Служить и угождать; для власти, для ливреи
Не гнуть ни совести, ни помыслов, ни шеи;
По прихоти своей скитаться здесь и там,
Дивясь божественным природы красотам,
И пред созданьями искусств и вдохновенья
Трепеща радостно в восторгах умиленья.
Вот счастье! вот права...


I have but little use for those loud "rights" - the phrase
That seems to addle people's minds these days.
I do not fault the gods, nor to a soul begrudge it
That I'm denied the bliss of wrangling over a Budget,
Or keeping king from fighting king in martial glee;
Nor do I worry if the Press is free
To hoax the nitwits, or if censor-pokers
Spoil journalistic games for sundry jokers;
All this is merely "words, words, words" you see.
Quite other, better rights are dear to me;
To be dependent on king, or on a nation -
Is it not all the same? Good riddance! But to dance
To no one else's fiddle, foster and advance
one's private self alone; before gold braid and power
with neither conscience, thought, nor spine to cower;
to move now here, now there with fancy's whim for law,
at Nature's godlike works feel ecstasy and awe,
and start before the gifts of art and joyous adoration -
there's bliss for you! There are your rights…

(“translated” by W. Arndt)

In the MS of Pushkin’s poem the date under the text is July 5. In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) July 5 is Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’s birthday (Shade was born in 1898, Kinbote and Gradus in 1915). Shade is murdered by Gradus on July 21, 1959. In Ada (1969) July 21 is Ada’s birthday. In his essay Texture of Time Van Veen (the narrator and main character in Ada) mentions John Shade:

‘Space is a swarming in the eyes, and Time a singing in the ears,' says John Shade, a modem poet, as quoted by an invented philosopher (‘Martin Gardiner') in The Ambidextrous Universe, page 165. (Part Four)

In their old age Van and Ada translate Shade’s poem into Russian:

She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the right of making up a future, and in that case one's very own future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years quickly passed - a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern. They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569-572) in John Shade's famous poem:

...Sovetï mï dayom

Kak bït' vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;

On ih vstrechaet - lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,

Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke...

(...We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another...) (5.6)

'Pale Fire with Tom Cox Up' is a steeplechase picture hanging above Cordula's and Tobak's bed in their Tobakoff suite:

There hung, she [Lucette] said, a steeplechase picture of 'Pale Fire with Tom Cox Up' above dear Cordula's and Tobak's bed, in the suite 'wangled in one minute flat' from them, and she wondered how it affected the Tobaks' love life during sea voyages. (3.5)

In PF Kinbote (or, rather, Botkin; for Shade, Kinbote and Gradus represent three different aspects of Professor Vsevolod Botkin, the American scholar of Russian descent) completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on Oct. 19, 1959. October 19 is the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum. At the end of his unfinished poem Byla pora: nash prazdnik molodoy… (“There was a time: our young celebration…”) that he read at his last Lyceum celebration (Oct. 19, 1836) Pushkin menions novy tuchi (new thunderclouds) that gathered nad zemlyoy (over the Earth):

И нет его — и Русь оставил он,

Взнесенну им над миром изумленным,

И на скале изгнанником забвенным,

Всему чужой, угас Наполеон.

И новый царь, суровый и могучий,

На рубеже Европы бодро стал,

[И над землёй] сошлися новы тучи,

И ураган их…

Pushkin (b. May 26, 1799, OS) was Bliznetsy (Gemini) by horoscope. Pushkin died on Jan. 29, 1837 (OS), two days after his fatal duel. Jan. 29, 1890 (OS), is Pasternak’s birthday. Pasternak’s first collection of poetry is entitled Bliznets v tuchakh (“A Twin in the Thunderclouds,” 1914). Pasternak’s “My Sister Life” is dedicated to Lermontov (the author of “The Demon”). A violent thunderstorm began in the moment when Lermontov was killed in a pistol duel with Martynov (July 15, 1841, OS).

In Pasternak’s poem Pamyati Demona (“In Memory of Demon”) plita (a tombstone) is mentioned and, in the poem’s closing line, Demon promises to Tamara that he will return lavinoy (as an avalanche):

Приходил по ночам

В синеве ледника от Тамары.

Парой крыл намечал,

Где гудеть, где кончаться кошмару.

Не рыдал, не сплетал

Оголённых, исхлестанных, в шрамах.

Уцелела плита

За оградой грузинского храма…

От окна на аршин,

Пробирая шерстинки бурнуса,

Клялся льдами вершин:

Спи, подруга, — лавиной вернуся.

In Van’s stream of consciousness, when he is about to leave Ardis (after learning that Ada was unfaithful to him), avalanche pops up:

Van shaved, Van pared his toe-nails, Van dressed with exquisite care: gray socks, silk shirt, gray tie, dark-gray suit newly pressed - shoes, ah yes, shoes, mustn't forget shoes, and without bothering to sort out the rest of his belongings, crammed a score of twenty-dollar gold coins into a chamois purse, distributed handkerchief, checkbook, passport, what else? nothing else, over his rigid person and pinned a note to the pillow asking to have his things packed and forwarded to his father's address. Son killed by avalanche, no hat found, contraceptives donated to Old Guides' Home. (1.41)

According to Van, he was born, because his parents had forgotten to dupe procreation:

Marina arrived in Nice a few days after the duel, and tracked Demon down in his villa Armina, and in the ecstasy of reconciliation neither remembered to dupe procreation, whereupon started the extremely interesnoe polozhenie ('interesting condition') without which, in fact, these anguished notes could not have been strung. (1.2)

Before his reconciliation with Marina, Demon had a sword duel in Europe with her lover, Baron d’Onsky:

Since prudent Veen preferred killing his man in Europe (decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel was said to be doing his best to forbid duels in the Western Hemisphere - a canard or an idealistic President's instant-coffee caprice, for nothing was to come of it after all), Demon rented the fastest petroloplane available, overtook the Baron (looking very fit) in Nice, saw him enter Gunter's Bookshop, went in after him, and in the presence of the imperturbable and rather bored English shopkeeper, back-slapped the astonished Baron across the face with a lavender glove. (ibid.)

At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon asks Ada what she would like for her birthday and quotes Famusov’s words in Griboedov's “Woe from Wit” (1824):

The roast hazel-hen (or rather its New World representative, locally called 'mountain grouse') was accompanied by preserved lingonberries (locally called 'mountain cranberries'). An especially succulent morsel of one of those brown little fowls yielded a globule of birdshot between Demon's red tongue and strong canine: 'La fève de Diane,' he remarked, placing it carefully on the edge of his plate. 'How is the car situation, Van?'

'Vague. I ordered a Roseley like yours but it won't be delivered before Christmas. I tried to find a Silentium with a side car and could not, because of the war, though what connection exists between wars and motorcycles is a mystery. But we manage, Ada and I, we manage, we ride, we bike, we even jikker.'

'I wonder,' said sly Demon, 'why I'm reminded all at once of our great Canadian's lovely lines about blushing Irène:

'Le feu si délicat de la virginité

Qui something sur son front...

'All right. You can ship mine to England, provided -'

'By the way, Demon,' interrupted Marina, 'where and how can I obtain the kind of old roomy limousine with an old professional chauffeur that Praskovia, for instance, has had for years?'

'Impossible, my dear, they are all in heaven or on Terra. But what would Ada like, what would my silent love like for her birthday? It's next Saturday, po razschyotu po moemu (by my reckoning), isn't it? Une rivière de diamants?'

'Protestuyu!' cried Marina. 'Yes, I'm speaking seriozno. I object to your giving her kvaka sesva (quoi que ce soit), Dan and I will take care of all that.'

Besides you'll forget,' said Ada laughing, and very deftly showed the tip of her tongue to Van who had been on the lookout for her conditional reaction to 'diamonds.'

Van asked: 'Provided what?'

'Provided you don't have one waiting already for you in George's Garage, Ranta Road.' (1.38)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): po razschyotu po moemu: an allusion to Famusov (in Griboedov's Gore ot uma), calculating the pregnancy of a lady friend.

“George’s Garage” seems to hint at the King’s Mews in London; but one is also reminded of George Gordon Byron (whom in his poem K moryu, “To the Sea,” 1824, Pushkin pairs with Napoleon) and George d’Anthès (Pushkin’s adversary in his fatal duel; from the site of the duel the mortally wounded poet was brought home by his second, Colonel Danzas, in Baron Heeckeren’s carriage). “The car situation” brings to mind Pushkin’s poem Dorozhnye zhaloby (“Traveling Complaints,” 1829) beginning:

Долго ль мне гулять на свете

То в коляске, то верхом,

То в кибитке, то в карете,

То в телеге, то пешком?

How long will wander about the world

at times in a calèche, at times on horseback,

at times in a kibitka, at times in a carriage,

at times in a cart, at times on foot?

As in Eugene Onegin (Five: II: 6), Pushkin uses the word kibitka in the sense “covered wagon.” But kibitka also means “nomad’s tent.” In the closing stanza of his poem Net, nikogda nichey ya ne byl sovremennik… (“No, I never was anybody’s contemporary…” 1924) Mandelshtam uses kibitka in the sense “nomad’s tent” and pairs it with palatka (“tent”):

И в жаркой комнате, в кибитке и в палатке
Век умирает, — а потом
Два сонных яблока на роговой облатке
Сияют перистым огнём.

And in a hot room, in a kibitka and in a tent

the century dies and then

two eyeballs on the corneous paper seal

shine with fleecy fire.

Palatka is a town in northern Florida known on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as Tent. On his way from one Santiago to another Demon has to change planes in Tent. But, after making a long-distance call and learning of Daniel Veen’s death, Demon sets off to Manhattan:

Van's father had just left one Santiago to view the results of an earthquake in another, when Ladore Hospital cabled that Dan was dying. He set off at once for Manhattan, eyes blazing, wings whistling. He had not many interests in life.

At the airport of the moonlit white town we call Tent, and Tobakov's sailors, who built it, called Palatka, in northern Florida, where owing to engine trouble he had to change planes, Demon made a long-distance call and received a full account of Dan's death from the inordinately circumstantial Dr Nikulin (grandson of the great rodentiologist Kunikulinov - we can't get rid of the lettuce). (2.10)

plita + oblatka + kalitka + Nikulin + plato = Palatka + Lolita + kibitka + Nulin + platok

kibitka + pyl’ + nol’ + plitka = kil’ + pytka + binokl’ + plita

Kaluga + Lugano = Kalugano + Luga = akula + lug/gul + noga

plita – plate, slab; flag-stone; Demon perishes in the midair and therefore has no mogil’naya plita (gravestone)

oblatka – wafer; host; capsule; paper seal; in Mandelshtam’s poem oblatka rhymes with palatka (see the quote above); in Pushkin’s EO (Three: XXXII: 3-4) rozovaya oblatka (a pink wafer) dries on Tatiana’s fevered tongue

kalitka – wicket-gate

plato – plateau

Nulin – the main character in Pushkin’s poem Graf Nulin (“Count Null,” 1825)

platok – handkerchief; cf. 'Platok momental'no (handkerchief quick)! Your right nostril is full of damp jade,' said Ada, and then pointed to a lawnside circular sign, rimmed with red, saying: Chiens interdits and depicting an impossible black mongrel with a white ribbon around its neck: Why, she wondered, should the Swiss magistrates forbid one to cross highland terriers with poodles? (3.8)

pyl’ – dust

nol’ – 0, zero; cf. According to Bess (which is 'fiend' in Russian), Dan's buxom but otherwise disgusting nurse, whom he preferred to all others and had taken to Ardis because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of 'play-zero' (as the old whore called it) out of his poor body, he had been complaining for some time, even before Ada's sudden departure, that a devil combining the characteristics of a frog and a rodent desired to straddle him and ride him to the torture house of eternity. (2.10)

plitka – tile, (thin) slab; cf. plitka shokolada (a bar of chocolate); cf. The two other places were occupied by a stout, elderly gentleman in an old-fashioned brown wig with a middle parting, and a bespectacled boy in a sailor suit sitting next to Cordula, who was in the act of offering him one half of her chocolate bar. (1.42); a boy in the Kalugano forest who witnesses Van’s duel with Tapper resembles the chocolate-muncher in Cordula’s compartment: They found a convenient clearing, and the principals, pistol in hand, faced each other at a distance of some thirty paces, in the kind of single combat described by most Russian novelists and by practically all Russian novelists of gentle birth. As Arwin clapped his hands, informally signaling the permission to fire at will, Van noticed a speckled movement on his right: two little spectators - a fat girl and a boy in a sailorsuit, wearing glasses, with a basket of mushrooms between them. It was not the chocolate-muncher in Cordula's compartment, but a boy very much like him, and as this flashed through Van's mind he felt the jolt of the bullet ripping off, or so it felt, the entire left side of his torso. He swayed, but regained his balance, and with nice dignity discharged his pistol in the sun-hazy air. (ibid.); Van goes to the site of the duel in his second’s car; from the site of the duel Van is brought to the hospital in his adversary’s funerary-looking limousine; Van leaves the hospital in Cordula’s car (so much for “the car situation”)

kil’ – keel; (aeron.) fin

pytka – torture

binokl’ – binoculars; field glasses; opera glasses; cf. She [Lucette] was not on the Games Deck from where he [Van] looked down at some other red-head, in a canvas chair on the Sun Deck: the girl sat writing a letter at passionate speed and he thought that if ever he switched from ponderous factitude to light fiction he would have a jealous husband use binoculars to decipher from where he stood that outpour of illicit affection. (3.5)

akula – shark; cf. She [Lucette] drank a 'Cossack pony' of Klass vodka - hateful, vulgar, but potent stuff; had another; and was hardly able to down a third because her head had started to swim like hell. Swim like hell from sharks, Tobakovich! (3.5)

lug – meadow

gul – rumble; hum; boom

noga – foot; leg

Alexey Sklyarenko

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