Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026903, Thu, 10 Mar 2016 16:57:15 +0300

Malbrook & Malorukino in Ada
Only the other day from behind that row of thick firs, look there, to your right (but he did not look - sitting silent, both hands on the knob of his cane), she and her sister Madelon, with a bottle of wine between them, watched Monsieur le Comte courting the young lady on the moss, crushing her like a grunting bear as he also had crushed - many times! - Madelon who said she, Blanche, should warn him, Van, because she was a wee bit jealous but she also said - for she had a good heart - better put it off until 'Malbrook' s'en va t'en guerre, otherwise they would fight; he had been shooting a pistol at a scarecrow all morning and that's why she waited so long, and it was in Madelon's hand, not in hers. (1.41)

Percy de Prey (Ada’s lover whom Blanche’s sister Madelon calls ‘Malbrook’) goes to the war and perishes in the Crimea. ‘Malbrook’ (the Russian corruption of ‘Malbrough,’ the hero of a popular French song) is First Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), British military commander (“Corporal John”). At the beginning of Book Two of his Memoirs (1953) Felix Yusupov mentions Marlborough, the British battleship onboard which the surviving members of the tsar’s family left Yalta on Apr. 13, 1919:

13 апреля 1919 года эмигранты смотрели с палубы «Мальборо», как исчезает крымский берег, последние пяди родной земли, которую пришлось им покинуть. Одна и та же тревога, одна и та же мысль мучила их: когда возвращенье?.. Луч солнца, прорвавшись в тучах, осветил на миг побережье, усеянное белыми точечками, в которых всяк пытался различить свое жилище, бросаемое, быть может, навеки. Очертания гор таяли. Вскоре всё исчезло. Осталось вокруг бескрайнее море. (Book Two, chapter 1)

Van learns about Percy de Prey’s death from Cordula (Percy’s second cousin):

'My mother rang me up from Malorukino' (their country estate at Malbrook, Mayne): 'the local papers said you had fought a duel. You look a tower of health, I'm so glad. I knew something nasty must have happened because little Russel, Dr Platonov's grandson - remember? - saw you from his side of the train beating up an officer on the station platform. But, first of all, Van, net, pozhaluysta, on nas vidit (no, please, he sees us), I have some very bad news for you. Young Fraser, who has just been flown back from Yalta, saw Percy killed on the second day of the invasion, less than a week after they had left Goodson airport. He will tell you the whole story himself, it accumulates more and more dreadful details with every telling, Fraser does not seem to have shined in the confusion, that's why, I suppose, he keeps straightening things out.' (1.42)

Malorukino comes from malyi (small) and ruka (hand; arm). In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stulyev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Ostap Bender warns the members of Soyuz mecha i orala ("The Union of Sword and Plough") that he and Vorob’yaninov (according to Bender, “a giant of thought, father of Russian democracy and a person in attendance to the Emperor”) have dlinnye ruki ("long arms").

After Van left her, Cordula de Prey marries Ivan G. Tobak, the ship owner (2.5). The name Tobak rhymes with Sobak (in “The Twelve Chairs” Fima Sobak is a friend of Ellochka the cannibal). In fact,

S + Tobak = T + Sobak = St Koba

Koba is Stalin’s nickname. In Demon’s sword duel with Baron d’Onsky one of the two seconds is Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel (1.2). There is Ali in [St]Alin. According to Felix Yusupov, his family tree goes back to Ali (the cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Mohammad):

Оказалось, он терпеть не может собак. Когда он в первый раз приехал к нам ужинать, то, не успев выйти из автомобиля, вступил в схватку с нашими мопсами. Собачонки с яростным тявканьем бросились на него, решив стоять насмерть, но в дом махараджу не пускать. Махарадже в тот день не везло. За ужином подали телячье жаркое. Гость к нему не притронулся. Совсем мы забыли, что корова для индусов священна.

Когда сам он устраивал званый ужин, гостей кормил привычными вещами, но если звал и меня, то угощал тем, что ел сам. Притом усаживал меня на почетное место, кто бы на ужине ни присутствовал.

Однажды соседом моим за столом оказался министр его, величественный белобородый старец. Он стал расспрашивать меня о семейных корнях. Я и скажи, что ведём мы свой род от пророка Али. Тотчас старец вскочил, встал за моим стулом и так и простоял до конца ужина. Я был поражён и сконфужен. Махараджа, видя мое смущение, объяснил, что министр принадлежал к секте поклонников пророка Али, а для члена секты всякий потомок пророка Али непременно священен. Моя канонизация явилась для меня полной неожиданностью. Ей-Богу, я и в бреду о таком не помыслил бы! (Book Two, chapter 4)

As a descendant of Ali, Yusupov was “canonized” by maharajah’s minister. He could not have thought of such a thing even in a delirium! Similarly, it is difficult to imagine Stalin (who becomes on Antiterra St Alin) being canonized.

The maharajah whom in 1922 Yusupov met in Paris and who invited him to dinner (where Yusupov was “canonized”) could not stand sobak (the dogs, gen. pl. of sobaka, “dog;” unlike the name of Ellochka Shchukin’s friend, sobak is accented on the ultima). In 1901 Van meets Cordula in Paris and quotes to her the lines about Tobaks and dogs (in Russian, Tobakami rhymes with sobakami):

A moment later, as happens so often in farces and foreign cities, Van ran into another friend. With a surge of delight he saw Cordula in a tight scarlet skirt bending with baby words of comfort over two unhappy poodlets attached to the waiting-post of a sausage shop. Van stroked her with his fingertips, and as she straightened up indignantly and turned around (indignation instantly replaced by gay recognition), he quoted the stale but appropriate lines he had known since the days his schoolmates annoyed him with them:

The Veens speak only to Tobaks

But Tobaks speak only to dogs. (3.2)

Stalin died in 1953, the year when Yusupov’s Memoirs appeared.

In his memoirs Sir Winston Churchill (a descendant of 1st Duke of Marlborough) calls Stalin “a great good man.” Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Van mentions the British writer Richard Leonard Churchill, the author of “A Great Good Man” (a novel about a certain Crimean Khan):

But then 'everyone has his own taste,' as the British writer Richard Leonard Churchill mistranslates a trite French phrase (chacun à son gout) twice in the course of his novel about a certain Crimean Khan once popular with reporters and politicians, 'A Great Good Man' - according, of course, to the cattish and prejudiced Guillaume Monparnasse about whose new celebrity Ada, while dipping the reversed corolla of one hand in a bowl, was now telling Demon, who was performing the same rite in the same graceful fashion. (1.38)

The G. in the name of Cordula’s husband stands for Giovanovich. Tobak’s patronymic seems to hint at Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75), the author of The Decameron, but also at Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787).

Rack + blue + opera + rod/odr = Black + Europe + ardor

Rack – Philip Rack (Lucette’s teacher of music)

rod – family, kin; origin; genus; according to Felix Yusupov, the founder of his rod is Ali

odr – obs., bed; cf. smertnyi odr, deathbed

Black – Ruby Black (Van’s wet nurse)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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