Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026899, Fri, 4 Mar 2016 20:50:11 +0300

Nik. Pavlych Khokhotov, Vran, Arizona in Lolita
In the Russian Lolita (1967) “the most penetrating bodkin” with which Trapp painfully hurts Humbert Humbert is the entry in the book of the Kasbeam motel where Quilty (“Trapp”) was HH’s and Lolita’s neighbor:

Но больнее всего пронзила меня кощунственная анаграмма нашего первого незабвенного привала (в 1947-ом году, читатель!), которую я отыскал в книге касбимского мотеля, где он ночевал рядом с нами: «Ник. Павлыч Хохотов, Вран, Аризона». (2.23)

Nik. Pavlych Khokhotov, Vran, Arizona is an anagram of Prival zacharovannykh okhotnikov (The Enchanted Hunters), the hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spent their first night together and where Quilty also stayed at the time. On the hotel porch Quilty asks HH where did he get the girl and where is her mother:

“Where the devil did you get her?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said: the weather is getting better.”

“Seems so.”

“Who’s the lassie?”

“My daughter.”

“You lie – she’s not.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said: July was hot. Where’s her mother?”


“I see. Sorry. By the way, why don’t you two lunch with me tomorrow. That dreadful crowd will be gone by then.”

“We’ll be gone too. Good night.”

“Sorry. I’m pretty drunk. Good night. That child of yours needs a lot of sleep. Sleep is a rose, as the Persians say. Smoke?”

“Not now.” (1.28).

“Nik.[olay] Pavlych” seems to hint at Nicholas I, the tsar who was nicknamed Nikolay Palkin (from palka, “stick, cane”). The surname Khokhotov comes from khokhotat’ (to guffaw), the verb repeated twice in VN’s story Volshebnik (“The Enchanter,” 1939), the Russian precursor to Lolita. The protagonist returns from the funeral of his wife (the girl’s mother):

На похоронах народу было совсем мало (но почему-то явился один из его прежних полуприятелей – золотых дел мастер с женой), и потом, в обратном автомобиле, полная дама (бывшая также на его шутовской свадьбе) говорила ему, участливо, но и внушительно (он сидел, головы не поднимая – голова от езды колебалась), что теперь-то по крайней мере ненормальное положение ребёнка должно измениться (приятельница бывшей особы притворилась, что смотрит на улицу) и что в отеческой заботе он непременно найдёт должное утешение, а другая (бесконечно отдаленная родственница покойной) вмешалась и сказала: "Девчоночка-то прехорошенькая! Придётся вам смотреть в оба – и так уже не по летам крупненькая, а годика через три так и будут липнуть молодые люди – забот не оберетесь", – и он про себя хохотал, хохотал на пуховиках счастья.

There were very few people at the funeral (but for some reason a friend of sorts from former times, a gold craftsman, showed up with his wife), and later, in the home-bound car, a plump lady (who had also been at his farcical wedding) told him, compassionately but in no uncertain terms (as his bowed head bobbed with the car’s motion), that now, at least, something must be done about the child’s abnormal situation (meanwhile his late spouse’s friend pretended to gaze out into the street), and that paternal concerns would undoubtedly give him the needed consolation, and a third woman (an infinitely remote relative of the deceased) joined in, saying, “And what a pretty girl she is! You’ll have to watch her like a hawk—she’s already biggish for her age, just wait another three years and the boys will be sticking to her like flies, you’ll have no end of worries,” and meanwhile he was guffawing and guffawing to himself, floating on featherbeds of happiness.

In “The Enchanter” the protagonist has a stick:

Он сидел, откинувшись, промеж колен держа трость, весьма ценную, старинную, с толстым коралловым набалдашником, и смотрел сквозь переднее стекло на берет и довольные плечи.

He sat leaning back, holding his stick—a very valuable, antique thing with a thick coral head—between his knees, gazing through the glass partition at the beret and the contented shoulders.

Quilty abducts Lolita from the hospital in Elphinstone (2.22). In “The Enchanter” the protagonist is afraid of vol’nyi elf (an impudent elf) that might fly from the girl’s innocent lips:

Система подъёмных мостов хороша до тех пор, покамест цветущая пропасть сама не дотянет крепкой молодой ветви до светлицы; но именно потому, что в первые, скажем, два года пленнице будет неведома временно вредная для неё связь между куклой в руках и одышкой пуппенмейстера, между сливой во рту и восторгом далёкого дерева, придётся быть сугубо осторожным, не отпускать ее никуда одну, почаще менять местожительство (идеал — миниатюрная вилла в слепом саду), зорко смотреть за тем, чтобы не было у неё ни знакомств с другими детьми, ни случая разговориться с фруктовщицей или поденщицей — ибо мало ли какой вольный эльф может слететь с уст волшебной невинности — и какое чудовище чужой слух понесёт к мудрецам для рассмотра и обсуждения.

Raising drawbridges might be an effective system of protection until such time as the flowering chasm itself reached up to the chamber with a robust young branch. Yet, precisely because during the first two years or so the captive would be ignorant of the temporarily noxious nexus between the puppet in her hands and the puppet-master’s panting, between the plum in her mouth and the rapture of the distant tree, he would have to be particularly cautious, not to let her go anywhere alone, make frequent changes of domicile (the ideal would be a mini-villa in a blind garden), keep a sharp eye out lest she make friends with other children or have occasion to start chatting with the woman from the greengrocer’s or the char, for there was no telling what impudent elf might fly from the lips of enchanted innocence—and what monster a stranger’s ear would carry off for examination and discussion by the sages.

One of Lolita’s classmates at her Ramsdale school is Aubrey McFate (1.11). In a poem that he composed in a Quebec sanatorium after Lolita had eloped from him with Quilty Humbert Humbert mentions McFate:

Happy, happy is gnarled McFate

Touring the States with a child wife,

Plowing his Molly in every State

Among the protected wild life.

In “The Enchanter” the protagonist is grateful to Rok (Doom, Fate) that saved him from fatal mistakes:

"То-то", -- сказал путешественник мирно, досаду за задержку полностью выместив на поспешившем враге – при сознании своей неуязвимости (слава Року, что сзади не села, слава Року, что грибов не искали в июне -- а ставни, конечно, плотные).

“All right, all right,” said the traveler peaceably, having vented his vexation for the delay entirely on his too hasty foe, and fully aware of his own invulnerability (thank Doom she did not sit in the back of the car; thank Doom they did not go mushroom-hunting in the June sun—and, of course, that the shutters were tight).

Rok brings to mind Rokov, the penname of Prince Nikolay Yusupov Count Sumarokov-Elston (1882-1908), Felix Yusupov’s elder brother who was killed in a duel on the eve of his twenty-sixth birthday. The paternal grandfather of the Yusupov brothers, Felix Elston (whose surname was probably derived from the French phrase elle s’étonne, “she was surprised”), was most likely a son of Ekaterina Tiesenhausen, a lady-in-waiting of the Empress Aleksandra Fyodorovna (the wife of Nicholas I).

Vran (cf. “Vran, Arizona” in Khokhotov’s entry) is an archaic form of voron (raven). In Khodasevich’s essay Pushkin i Nikolay I (“Pushkin and Nicholas I,” 1938) Pushkin, in a conversation with Count Yuli Strutynski (a Polish aristocrat), quotes the sayings voron voronu glaz ne vyklyuet (“Hawks will not pick hawks' eyes;” in the Russian version the proverbial bird is raven) and s volkami zhit’ – po-volch’I vyt’ (“when in Rome, do as the Romans do;” literally: to live amongst wolves, you should howl like a wolf):

- А разве сами эти губернаторы - не помещики? - перебил Пушкин. - Разве у этих предводителей нет своих подданных? Ворон ворону глаз не выклюет, друг мой! С волками жить - по-волчьи выть! Это - вечная истина, неопровержимая.

The protagonist of “The Enchanter” is compared to the wolf from Charles Perrault’s fairy tale “The Little Red Riding Hood:”

Пустота между тем заполнялась предварительным серо-человечьим содержанием – сидя на скамье в больничном саду, успокаиваясь, готовясь к различным хлопотам, связанным с техникой похоронного движения, он с приличной печалью пересматривал в мыслях то, что видел только что воочию: отполированный лоб, прозрачные крылья ноздрей с жемчужиной сбоку, эбеновый крест -- всю эту ювелирную работу смерти -- между прочим презрительно дунул на хирургию и стал думать о том, что всё-таки ей было здорово хорошо под его опекой, что он походя дал ей настоящее счастье, скрасившие последние месяцы её прозябания, а отсюда уже был естественен переход к признанию за умницей судьбой прекрасного поведения и к первому сладкому содроганию крови: бирюк надевал чепец.

Meanwhile, that vacuum was filling with preliminary, grayly human content. Sitting on a bench in the hospital garden, gradually calming down, preparing for the various steps of the funeral procedure, he mentally reviewed with appropriate sadness what he had just seen with his own eyes: the polished forehead, the translucent nostrils with the pearly wart on one side, the ebony cross, all of death’s jewelry work. He parenthetically gave surgery a contemptuous dismissal and started thinking what a superb period she had had under his tutelage, how he had incidentally provided her with some real happiness to brighten the last days of her vegetative existence, and thence it was already a natural transition to crediting clever Fate with splendid behavior, and to the first delicious throb in his bloodstream: the lone wolf was getting ready to don Granny’s nightcap.

Но из ближайшего номера уже появились две старухи в халатах: первая, как негр седая, коренастая, в лазурных штанах, с заокеанским захлёбом и токанием -- защита животных, женские клубы -- приказывала -- этуанс, этудверь, этусубть, и, царапнув его по ладони, ловко сбила на пол ключ -- в продолжение нескольких пружинистых секунд он и она отталкивали друг дружку боками, но всё равно всё было кончено, отовсюду вытягивались головы, гремел где-то звонок, сквозь дверь мелодичный голос словно дочитывал сказку -- белозубый в постели, братья с шапрон-ружьями -- старуха завладела ключом, он быстро дал ей пощёчину и побежал, весь звеня, вниз по липким ступеням.

But from a nearby room there had already appeared two robed old women; one of them—thickset, resembling a white-haired negro, wearing azure pajama bottoms, with the breathless, jerky cadence of a distant continent, suggesting animal defense leagues and women’s clubs—was giving orders (at-once, eröffnen, et-tout-de-suite!) and, clawing at the palm of his hand, nimbly knocked the key to the floor. For several elastic seconds he and she had a hip-shoving match, but in any event it was all over; heads emerged from every direction, a bell was clanging somewhere, behind a door a melodious voice seemed to be finishing a nursery tale (Mr. White-Tooth in the bed, the hoodlum brothers with their little red rifles), the old woman conquered the key, he gave her a quick swat on the cheek, and, with his whole body ringing, went running down the sticky steps.

At the Elphinstone hospital Quilty told the staff that he was Humbert Humbert’s brother. Describing his visit to the hospital, HH mentions “poor Bluebeard” and “those brutal brothers” (in Perrault’s fairy tale Barbe Bleue Bluebeard’s brothers-in-law who stab him):

Poor Bluebeard. Those brutal brothers. Est-ce que tu ne m'aimes plus, ma Carmen? She never had. At the moment I knew my love was as hopeless as ever and I also knew the two girls were conspirators, plotting in Basque, or Zemfirian, against my hopeless love. (2.22)

Btw., one of Felix Yusupov’s French friends nicknamed him (confusing Rasputin with Marat) Charlotte Corday. Describing his life with Valeria in Paris, Humbert Humbert compares himself to Marat:

This state of affairs lasted from 1935 to 1939. Her only asset was a muted nature which did help to produce an odd sense of comfort in our small squalid flat: two rooms, a hazy view in one window, a brick wall in the other, a tiny kitchen, a shoe-shaped bath tub, within which I felt like Marat but with no white-necked maiden to stab me. (1.8)

In her autobiography Kursiv moy (“The Italics are Mine,” 1966) Nina Berberova (Khodasevich’s wife) famously compares Sirin (VN’s Russian nom de plume) to Phoenix (a fairy tale bird). Phoenix is the capital of Arizona (cf. “Vran, Arizona” in Khokhotov’s entry).

Vran + nochleg = vrag + on/no + chlen = vrach + non + leg = angel + chervonets + Montana - Metsenat - ona

nochleg – lodging for the night

vrag – enemy

on – he

no – but

chlen – member

vrach – physician

non – Fr., no

chervonets – ten rouble piece

Metsenat – Maecenas

ona – she

Btw, the anagram below (“Nabokov-plus-man-plus-animal”) VN would have liked better than its versions in my previous post:

nabelo + oko + vek + cherv’ + zvonok = Nabokov + chelovek + zver’ + okno

nabelo – in clean hand

oko – obs., eye

vek – century

cherv’ – worm

zvonok – bell, doorbell; call; a story (1927) by VN

chelovek – human being, man

zver’ – animal, beast

okno – window

Alexey Sklyarenko

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