Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026884, Wed, 24 Feb 2016 14:34:01 +0300

Monparnasse in Ada
Yes! Wasn't that a scream? Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer! A sensational Canadian bestselling author! Her story 'The Necklace' (La rivière de diamants) had become a classic in girls' schools and her gorgeous pseudonym 'Guillaume de Monparnasse' (the leaving out of the 't' made it more intime) was well-known from Quebec to Kaluga. (1.31)

Mlle Larivière’s penname brings to mind Krylov’s fable Parnas (“Parnassus,” 1808):

Когда из Греции вон выгнали богов

И по мирянам их делить поместья стали,

Кому-то и Парнас тогда отмежевали;

Хозяин новый стал пасти на нём Ослов.

Ослы, не знаю как-то, знали,

Что прежде Музы тут живали,

И говорят: "Недаром нас

Пригнали на Парнас:

Знать, Музы свету надоели,

И хочет он, чтоб мы здесь пели".-

"Смотрите же,- кричит один,- не унывай!

Я затяну, а вы не отставай!

Друзья, робеть не надо!

Прославим наше стадо

И громче девяти сестёр

Подымем музыку и свой составим хор!

А чтобы нашего не сбили с толку братства,

То заведём такой порядок мы у нас:

Коль нет в чьём голосе ослиного приятства,

Не принимать тех на Парнас".

Одобрили Ослы ослово

Красно-хитро-сплетённо слово:

И новый хор певцов такую дичь занёс,

Как будто тронулся обоз,

В котором тысяча немазаных колёс.

Но чем окончилось разно-красиво пенье?

Хозяин, потеряв терпенье,

Их всех загнал с Парнаса в хлев.

Мне хочется, невеждам не во гнев,

Весьма старинное напомнить мненье:

Что если голова пуста,

То голове ума не придадут места.

After the Gods had been driven out of Greece, and when their domains were being divided among mortals, a certain man had Parnassus itself allotted to him. The new landlord turned out a number of Asses to graze on it. These Asses had learnt, somehow or other, that the Muses used to live there in former times; so they said: “It wasn’t for nothing that we were turned out on Parnassus. It is evident that the world is tired of the Muses, and it wants us to take to singing here…”

The fable’s moral is: “if one’s head is empty, the place where one lives won’t make one wiser.”

Osyol is Russian for “ass, donkey.” A line in Krylov’s fable Osyol i muzhik (“The Ass and the Boor,” 1818), osyol byl samykh chestnykh pravil (the donkey had most honest principles), was parodied by Pushkin at the beginning of Eugene Onegin (1823-31):

Moy dyadya samykh chestnykh pravil

My uncle has most honest principles (One: I: 1).

Mlle Larivière is Lucette’s governess. As a boy, Onegin had a French tutor, Monsieur l’Abbé (EO, One: III: 9). In his EO Commentary VN points out that one of Pushkin’s house tutors was a Frenchman named Monfort (or Montfort or Count de Monfort). (vol. II, p. 39)

At the beginning of EO Pushkin parodies Krylov. At the beginning of Ada the opening sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenin (1875-77) is turned inside out:

'All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,' says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)

In a letter of March 16, 1890, to Modest Chaykovski (the composer’s brother) Chekhov says that in contemporary Russian art (i. e., on Parnassus) the first place belongs to Tolstoy, the second, to Chaykovski, and the third, to Repin:

Через 1½—2 недели выйдет в свет моя книжка, посвящённая Петру Ильичу. Я готов день и ночь стоять почётным караулом у крыльца того дома, где живёт Пётр Ильич, — до такой степени я уважаю его. Если говорить о рангах, то в русском искусстве он занимает теперь второе место после Льва Толстого, который давно уже сидит на первом. (Третье я отдаю Репину, а себе беру девяносто восьмое.)

Tolstoy wrote his last novel, Voskresenie (“Resurrection,” 1899), in order to help the dukhobory (members of a religious sect) to move to Canada. Monparnasse is a Canadian author. Mlle Larivière belongs to a sect:

Marina had her breakfast in bed, the butler and Price ate in a recess of the pantry (a pleasing thought, somehow) and Mlle Larivière did not touch any food till noon, being a doom-fearing 'midinette' (the sect, not the shop) and had actually made her father confessor join her group. (1.20)

On Antiterra (Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Chaykovski is known as Tschchaikow, the author of Onegin and Olga:

It was the first time he had seen her in that luminous frock nearly as flimsy as a nightgown. She had braided her hair, and he said she resembled the young soprano Maria Kuznetsova in the letter scene in Tschchaikow's opera Onegin and Olga. (1.25)

In his EO Commentary VN says that it is doubtful that the “great” Russian painter [Repin] had read Pushkin’s novel (although he certainly had seen the opera by the “great” composer) when he painted his Duel of Onegin and Lenski (1899). As in the opera, everything in the picture insults Pushkin’s masterpiece. (vol. III, p. 42)

In our world La rivière de diamants by Guillaume de Monparnasse is known as La Parure (1884) by Guy de Maupassant. Maupassant is the favorite writer of Lysevich, in Chekhov's story Bab'ye tsarstvo (“A Woman's Kingdom,” 1894) Anna Akimovna’s lawyer. According to Lysevich, the last story of Maupassant intoxicated him:

"Read Maupassant, dear girl; I insist on it."

Lysevich waved his arms and paced from corner to corner in violent excitement.

"Yes, it is inconceivable," he pronounced, as though in despair; "his last thing overwhelmed me, intoxicated me! But I am afraid you will not care for it. To be carried away by it you must savour it, slowly suck the juice from each line, drink it in.... You must drink it in!... "

In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov complains that modern art, and literature in particular, lacks alcohol that would intoxicate the reader and mentions Denis Davydov (1784-1839, the poet and hero of the anti-Napoleon war of 1812):

You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productions—the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside "Ward Six" and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting. Let us discuss the general causes, if that won't bore you, and let us include the whole age. Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries—that is, men between thirty and forty-five—have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade? ...Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being, that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father, who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing. Some have more immediate objects—the abolition of serfdom, the liberation of their country, politics, beauty, or simply vodka, like Denis Davydov; others have remote objects—God, life beyond the grave, the happiness of humanity, and so on.

In his poem To D. V. Davydov (“To you, the bard, to you, the hero!..” 1836) Pushkin says that he wore old Parnassus’ uniform that went out of fashion:

Тебе, певцу, тебе, герою!

Не удалось мне за тобою
При громе пушечном, в огне
Скакать на бешеном коне.
Наездник смирного Пегаса,
Носил я старого Парнаса
Из моды вышедший мундир:
Но и по этой службе трудной,
И тут, о мой наездник чудный,

Ты мой отец и командир.
Вот мой Пугач: при первом взгляде
Он виден — плут, казак прямой!
В передовом твоем отряде
Урядник был бы он лихой.

Denis Davydov brings to mind Baron Klim Avidov, an old friend of the family who gave to Marina’s children a set of Flavita (the Russian Scrabble):

The set our three children received in 1884 from an old friend of the family (as Marina's former lovers were known), Baron Klim Avidov, consisted of a large folding board of saffian and a boxful of weighty rectangles of ebony inlaid with platinum letters, only one of which was a Roman one, namely the letter J on the two joker blocks (as thrilling to get as a blank check signed by Jupiter or Jurojin). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist [Walter C. Keyway, Esq.] into the porter's lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one's name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)

Flavita = alfavit

Baron Klim Avidov = Vladimir Nabokov

Denis Davydov = de + syn Davidov = sny + Avidov + ded

alfavit - alphabet

de - nobility particle

syn Davidov - son of David (Jesus Christ)

sny - dreams (pl. of son, “sleep; dream”)

ded - grandfather

Alexey Sklyarenko

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