Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026935, Mon, 4 Apr 2016 17:43:39 +0300

Trofim Fartukov & his leathern apron in Ada
As he speaks to Van, Trofim Fartukov (the Russian coachman in “Ardis the Second” who takes Blanche to Tourbière and Van to Maidenhair, a whistle stop near Ardis Hall) mentions his kozhanyi fartuk (leathern apron):

'Barin, a barin,' said Trofim, turning his blond-bearded face to his passenger.


'Dazhe skvoz' kozhanïy fartuk ne stal-bï ya trogat' etu frantsuzskuyu devku.'

Barin: master. Dázhe skvoz' kózhanïy fártuk: even through a leathern apron. Ne stal-bï ya trógat': I would not think of touching. étu: this (that). Frantsúzskuyu: French (adj., accus.). Dévku: wench. úzhas, otcháyanie: horror, despair. Zhálost': pity, Kóncheno, zagázheno, rastérzano: finished, fouled, torn to shreds. (1.41)

In Gogol’s story Kolyaska (“The Carriage,” 1836) a leathern apron (or, rather, carriage-rug) plays an important part:

Сказавши это, он схватил наскоро халат и побежал спрятаться в экипажный сарай, полагая там положение своё совершенно безопасным. Но, ставши в углу сарая, он увидел, что и здесь можно было его как-нибудь увидеть. «А вот это будет лучше», — мелькнуло в его голове, и он в одну минуту отбросил ступени близ стоявшей коляски, вскочил туда, закрыл за собою дверцы, для большей безопасности закрылся фартуком и кожею и притих совершенно, согнувшись в своём халате…

Having uttered these words, he hurriedly slipped on his dressing-gown, and ran off to shut himself up in the coach-house, which he thought the safest hiding-place. But he fancied that he might be noticed in the corner in which he had taken refuge.

“This will be better,” said he to himself, letting down the steps of the nearest vehicle, which happened to be the calash. He jumped inside, closed the door, and, as a further precaution, covered himself with the leather apron. There he remained, wrapped in his dressing-gown, in a doubled-up position…

— Я говорю, ваше превосходительство, что, мне кажется, она не сто́ит четырех тысяч.

— Какое четырёх тысяч! она и двух не сто́ит. Просто ничего нет. Разве внутри есть что-нибудь особенное... Пожалуйста, любезный, отстегни кожу...

И глазам офицеров предстал Чертокуцкий, сидящий в халате и согнувшийся необыкновенным образом.

— А, вы здесь!.. — сказал изумившийся генерал.

Сказавши это, генерал тут же захлопнул дверцы, закрыл опять Чертокуцкого фартуком и уехал вместе с господами офицерами.

“I said, your excellency, that I do not think that it is worth four thousand rubles.”

“Four thousand! It is not worth two. Perhaps, however, the inside is well fitted. Unbutton the apron.”

And Chertokutski appeared before the officers’ eyes, clad in his dressing-gown and doubled up in a singular fashion.

“Hullo, there you are,” said the astonished general.

Then he covered Сhertokutski up again and went off with his officers.

In a letter of beginning of May, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov contrasts Goncharov with Gogol and highly praises The Carriage:

Зато как непосредственен, как силён Гоголь и какой он художник! Одна его «Коляска» стоит двести тысяч рублей. Сплошной восторг и больше ничего. Это величайший русский писатель.

But how direct, how powerful is Gogol, and what an artist he is! His "Carriage" alone is worth two hundred thousand roubles. It is simply delicious, and that is all about it. He is the greatest of Russian writers.

In a letter of June 12, 1891, to Lika Mizinov Chekhov mentions lomovoy izvozchik (a drayman) Trophim [sic] whose company would enrich Lika’s vocabulary with vulgar expressions (instead of signature Chekhov drew a heart pierced with an arrow). In Greek Ardis means “arrowhead.”

The characters of Chekhov's play Vishnyovyi sad ("The Cherry Orchard," 1904) include Petya Trofimov, the former tutor of Mme Ranevski’s son who drowned six years ago, at the age of seven. Describing the Night of the Burning Barn, Van compares Marina (his, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) to Mme Ranevski and himself, to old Firs (Ranevski’s former serf):

That night because of the bothersome blink of remote sheet lightning through the black hearts of his sleeping-arbor, Van had abandoned his two tulip trees and gone to bed in his room. The tumult in the house and the maid's shriek interrupted a rare, brilliant, dramatic dream, whose subject he was unable to recollect later, although he still held it in a saved jewel box. As usual, he slept naked, and wavered now between pulling on a pair of shorts, or draping himself in his tartan lap robe. He chose the second course, rattled a matchbox, lit his bedside candle, and swept out of his room, ready to save Ada and all her larvae. The corridor was dark, somewhere the dachshund was barking ecstatically. Van gleaned from subsiding cries that the so-called 'baronial barn,' a huge beloved structure three miles away, was on fire. Fifty cows would have been without hay and Larivière without her midday coffee cream had it happened later in the season. Van felt slighted. They've all gone and left me behind, as old Fierce mumbles at the end of the Cherry Orchard (Marina was an adequate Mme Ranevski). (1.19)

The barn was set on fire by Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whom Van blinds for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada (2.11). Trofim Fartukov eventually marries Blanche (the French wench whom Trofim would not think of touching even through a leathern apron and who gives birth to a blind child):

'I destroyed 1888 myself,' admitted proud Ada; 'but I swear, I solemnly swear, that the man behind Blanche, in the perron picture, was, and has always remained, a complete stranger.'

'Good for him,' said Van. 'Really it has no importance. It's our entire past that has been spoofed and condemned. On second thoughts, I will not write that Family Chronicle. By the way, where is my poor little Blanche now?'

'Oh, she's all right. She's still around. You know, she came back - after you abducted her. She married our Russian coachman, the one who replaced Bengal Ben, as the servants called him.'

'Oh she did? That's delicious. Madame Trofim Fartukov. I would never have thought it.'

'They have a blind child,' said Ada.

'Love is blind,' said Van.

'She tells me you made a pass at her on the first morning of your first arrival.'

'Not documented by Kim,' said Van. 'Will their child remain blind? I mean, did you get them a really first-rate physician?'

'Oh yes, hopelessly blind. But speaking of love and its myths, do you realize - because I never did before talking to her a couple of years ago - that the people around our affair had very good eyes indeed? Forget Kim, he's only the necessary clown - but do you realize that a veritable legend was growing around you and me while we played and made love?' (2.7)

Mme Ranevski’s first name is Lyubov’. Lyubov’ is Russian for “love.” Asking Van to pardon Kim, Ada (who bribed Kim to set the barn on fire, because she wanted to spend the night with Van) mentions love:

'The scoundrel!' cried Van; 'He must have been creeping after us on his belly with his entire apparatus. I will have to destroy him.'

'No more destruction, Van. Only love.'

…In an equally casual tone of voice Van said: 'Darling, you smoke too much, my belly is covered with your ashes. I suppose Bouteillan knows Professor Beauharnais's exact address in the Athens of Graphic Arts.'

'You shall not slaughter him,' said Ada. 'He is subnormal, he is, perhaps, blackmailerish, but in his sordidity, there is an istoshnïy ston ('visceral moan') of crippled art. Furthermore, this page is the only really naughty one. And let's not forget that a copperhead of eight was also ambushed in the brush'. (ibid.)

In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Lev Shestov (the philosopher whose pseudonym comes from shest’, “six”) says that Chekhov resembles a man who sits in an ambush spying out and killing human hopes:

А меж тем, справедливый Аристид и на этот раз был прав, как он был прав, когда предостерегал против Достоевского: теперь Чехова нет, об этом уже можно говорить. Возьмите рассказы Чехова — каждый порознь или, еще лучше, все вместе: посмотрите за его работой. Он постоянно точно в засаде сидит, высматривая и подстерегая человеческие надежды. И будьте спокойны за него: ни одной из них он не просмотрит, ни одна из них не избежит своей участи. Искусство, наука, любовь, вдохновение, идеалы, будущее — переберите все слова, которыми современное и прошлое человечество утешало или развлекало себя — стоит Чехову к ним прикоснуться, и они мгновенно блекнут, вянут и умирают. И сам Чехов на наших глазах блекнул, вянул и умирал — не умирало в нём только его удивительное искусство одним прикосновением, даже дыханием, взглядом убивать всё, чем живут и гордятся люди. Более того, в этом искусстве он постоянно совершенствовался и дошёл до виртуозности, до которой не доходил никто из его соперников в европейской литературе. Я без колебания ставлю его далеко впереди Мопассана. Мопассану часто приходилось делать напряжения, чтоб справиться со своей жертвой. От Мопассана сплошь и рядом жертва уходила хоть помятой и изломанной, но живой. В руках Чехова всё умирало. (I)

Shestov calls the critic Mikhaylovski (1842-1904) spravedlivyi Arisitd (“the just Aristides”). Aristides was an ancient Athenian statesman. Van hopes that Bouteillan (the French butler at Ardis, one of Blanche’s lovers) knows Professor Beauharnais's exact address in the Athens of Graphic Arts.

Shestov mentions Dostoevski (the writer against whom “the just Aristides” had warned). Kim Beauharnais seems to be the son of Arkadiy Dolgoruki (the narrator and main character in Dostoevski’s Adolescent) and Alphonsine (a French girl in the same novel). Kim must have been stolen by the gypsies* who somehow managed to take him from Terra to Antiterra (Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set). Alfonsinka (as Arkadiy calls Lambert’s mistress) brings to mind “Alphonse Cinque,” as Van dubbed the concierge at Alphonse Four (Lucette’s hotel in Paris, 3.3). In Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875) Lambert attempts to blackmail Katerina Akhmakov (a young woman with whom Arkadiy is in love).

Shestov compares Chekhov to Maupassant (the writer who, according to Vivian Darkbloom, did not exist on Antiterra). Maupassant’s La Parure (1884) is known on Antiterra as La Rivière de Diamants by Guillaume de Monparnasse (1.13, 1.31). Guillaume de Monparnasse (sic) is the penname of Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess).

In Chekhov’s story Bab’ye tsarstvo (“A Woman’s Kingdom,” 1894) Maupassant is the favorite writer of Lysevich, the lawyer who recommends Maupassant to Anna Akimovna (a merchant woman, the story’s main character). The name Lysevich comes from lysyi (“bald”) and brings to mind Judge Bald in Ada (1.21) and Trofim Lysenko (1898-1976), the biologist and agronomist (Vavilov's opponent and persecutor of the genetics) whose surname also comes from lysyi.

Shestov’s essay on Chekhov has for epigraph a line from Baudelaire’s poem Le Goût du néant (“The Taste for Nothingness”): Résigne-toi, mon cœur, dors ton sommeil de brute. (Resign yourself, my heart; sleep your brutish sleep.) Baudelaire is the author of Les Aveugles (“The Blind”), a sonnet included in Fleurs du Mal (“Flowers of Evil”). On the other hand, Les Aveugles (1891) is a play by Maeterlinck. In a letter of July 12, 1897, to Suvorin Chekhov praises Les Aveugles:

Читаю Метерлинка. Прочёл его «Les aveugles», «L’intruse», читаю «Aglavaine et Sélysette». Всё это странные, чудные штуки, но впечатление громадное, и если бы у меня был театр, то я непременно бы поставил «Les aveugles». Тут кстати же великолепная декорация с морем и маяком вдали. Публика наполовину идиотская, но провала пьесы можно избежать, написав на афише содержание пьесы, вкратце конечно; пьеса-де соч. Метерлинка, бельгийского писателя, декадента, и содержание её в том, что старик проводник слепцов бесшумно умер, и слепые, не зная об этом, сидят и ждут его возвращения.

* 'Look, gipsies,' she [Ada] whispered, pointing at three shadowy forms - two men, one with a ladder, and a child or dwarf - circumspectly moving across the gray lawn. They saw the candlelit window and decamped, the smaller one walking à reculons as if taking pictures. (1.19)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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