Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026888, Sat, 27 Feb 2016 04:11:31 +0300

Monparnasse, etc. in Ada
In my previous post (“Monparnasse in Ada”) I forgot to mentions two facts:

In a letter of Feb. 6, 1891, to Suvorin Chekhov praises Suvorin's article on
Tolstoy's Posleslovie (Afterword) to The Kreutzer Sonata and Fransuaza,
Tolstoy's Russian version of Maupassant's story Le Port (1889):

Ваша статья о Толстом сплошная прелесть.
Очень, очень хорошо. И сильно, и деликатно.
Вообще какой-то особенно удачный номер: и
Ваша статья, и "Франсуаза". Прекрасный рас
сказ. Прибавка о сестре ("она твоя сестр
а!"), сделанная Толстым, не так портит, как
Вы боялись. Только от неё рассказ утерял к
ак будто свою свежесть. Впрочем, всё равн

Suvorin was afraid that the addition about sister ("she is your sister!")
made by Tolstoy would spoil Maupassant’s story, but it did not. The story
seems to have lost its freshness, though (in Chekhov's opinion).

The two main characters in VN’s novel, Van and Ada are brother and sister.
One of Ada’s lovers is Philip Rack, the flutist. According to Lucette, the
lover of Rack’s wife Elsie played the triple viol (2.5). In The Kreutzer
Sonata Pozdnyshev killed his wife because he thought that she had been
unfaithful to him with a violinist.

In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions Repin’s pictures
and our Muse:

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? Have Repin's or Shishkin's pictures turned
your head? Charming, talented, you are enthusiastic; but at the same time
you can't forget that you want to smoke. Science and technical knowledge are
passing through a great period now, but for our sort it is a flabby, stale,
and dull time. We are stale and dull ourselves, we can only beget
gutta-percha boys, and the only person who does not see that is Stasov, to
whom nature has given a rare faculty for getting drunk on slops. The causes
of this are not to be found in our stupidity, our lack of talent, or our
insolence, as Burenin imagines, but in a disease which for the artist is
worse than syphilis or sexual exhaustion. We lack "something," that is true,
and that means that, lift the robe of our Muse, and you will find within an
empty void.

Tolstoy’s novella was named after Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. In his Ode
to Beethoven (1914) Mandelshtam compares Beethoven to Dionysus (the god of
fertility, wine and drama; Bacchus). Describing the performance in which
Marina played the heroine, Van mentions “an invisible sign of Dionysian

At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent
dance called kurva or 'ribbon boule' in the hilarious program whose howlers
almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.'s
rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat. (1.2)

‘Ribbon boule’ hints at "Moscow's ribbon of boulevards," as Lowell
mistranslated the phrase kurva-Moskva ("Moscow the whore") in a poem by
Mandelshtam. On the other hand, Boule de suif (1880) is a story by

According to Ada, Mlle Larivière “thinks that in some former Hindooish
state she was a boulevardier in Paris; and writes accordingly" (1.8). In
Maupassant’s novella Yvette (criticized by Tolstoy) the main character is a
Parisian boulevardier. “Some former Hindooish state” brings to mind
Tolstoy’s story Karma (1894).

in vino veritas + kulak/kukla = Suvorin + Nikita + levak

in vino veritas \xa8C Lat., in wine is truth

kulak \xa8C fist

kukla \xa8C doll

Nikita \xa8C the tsar in Pushkin’s poem Tsar Nikita and his Forty Daughters
(1822): the girls in it have the same defect as “our Muse” in Chekhov’s
letter to Suvorin; Nikita, the porter in Chekhov’s story “Ward Six”

levak \xa8C a Leftist

Alexey Sklyarenko

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