Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026946, Thu, 14 Apr 2016 20:16:55 +0300

happy events, simultaneous twins & dummy mummy in Ada
'She abandoned me,' continued Lucette, tchucking on one side of the mouth and smoothing up and down with an abstract palm her flesh-pale stocking, 'Yes, she started a rather sad little affair with Johnny, a young star from Fuerteventura, c'est dans la famille, her exact odnoletok (coeval), practically her twin in appearance, born the same year, the same day, the same instant -'

That was a mistake on silly Lucette's part.

'Ah, that cannot be,' interrupted morose Van and after rocking this side and that with clenched hands and furrowed brow (how one would like to apply a boiling-water-soaked Wattebausch, as poor Rack used to call her limp arpeggiation, to that ripe pimple on his right temple), 'that simply cannot be. No damned twin can do that. Not even those seen by Brigitte, a cute little number I imagine, with that candle flame flirting with her exposed nipples. The usual difference in age between twins' - he went on in a madman's voice so well controlled that it sounded overpedantic - 'is seldom less than a quarter of an hour, the time a working womb needs to rest and relax with a woman's magazine, before resuming its rather unappetizing contractions. In very rare cases, when the matrix just goes on pegging away automatically, the doctor can take advantage of that and ease out the second brat who then can be considered to be, say, three minutes younger, which in dynastic happy events - doubly happy events - with all Egypt agog - may be, and has been, even more important than in a marathon finish. But the creatures, no matter how numerous, never come out à la queue-leu-leu. "Simultaneous twins" is a contradiction in terms.' (2.5)

The characters of VN’s play Sobytie (“The Event,” 1938) include the Meshaev twins who strikingly resemble each other, Eleonora Shnap (the mid-wife of Troshcheykin’s wife Lyubov’) and the famous writer (a guest at Antonina Pavlovna’s birthday party). As he speaks to his mother-in-law, the portrait painter Troshcheykin (the play’s main character) compares the famous writer to ferz’ (the chess Queen) and all other guests of Antonina Pavlovna, to peshki (the pawns):

Трощейкин. А вот почему вы, Антонина Павловна, пригласили нашего маститого? Всё ломаю себе голову над этим вопросом. На что он вам? И потом, нельзя так: один ферзь, а все остальные -- пешки.

Антонина Павловна. Вовсе не пешки. Мешаев, например.

Трощейкин. Мешаев? Ну, знаете...
Любовь. Мамочка, не отвечай ему, -- зачем?
Антонина Павловна. Я только хотела сказать, что Мешаев, например, обещал привести своего брата, оккультиста.
Трощейкин. У него брата нет. Это мистификация.
Антонина Павловна. Нет, есть. Но только он живёт всегда в деревне. Они даже близнецы.
Трощейкин. Вот разве что близнецы... (Act One)

According to Antonina Pavlovna, Meshaev’s brother, the occultist, is not a pawn at all. As she speaks to Van, Lucette mentions a secret drawer in Grandmother’s writing desk that contained a minuscule red pawn:

'She and I challenged you to find the secret chuvstvilishche (sensorium) and make it work. It was the summer Belle sprained her backside, and we were left to our own devices, which had long lost the particule in your case and Ada's, but were touchingly pure in mine. You groped around, and felt, and felt for the little organ, which turned out to be a yielding roundlet in the rosewood under the felt you felt - I mean, under the felt you were feeling: it was a felted thumb spring, and Ada laughed as the drawer shot out.'

'And it was empty,' said Van.

'Not quite. It contained a minuscule red pawn that high' (showing its barleycorn-size with her finger - above what? Above Van's wrist). 'I kept it for luck; I must still have it somewhere.’ (2.5)

The wife of General Ivan Durmanov, Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s grandmother Dolly is the mother of the twin sisters Aqua and Marina:

Van's maternal grandmother Daria ('Dolly') Durmanov was the daughter of Prince Peter Zemski, Governor of Bras d'Or, an American province in the Northeast of our great and variegated country, who had married, in 1824, Mary O'Reilly, an Irish woman of fashion. Dolly, an only child, born in Bras, married in 1840, at the tender and wayward age of fifteen, General Ivan Durmanov, Commander of Yukon Fortress and peaceful country gentleman, with lands in the Severn Tories (Severnïya Territorii), that tesselated protectorate still lovingly called 'Russian' Estoty, which commingles, granoblastically and organically, with 'Russian' Canady, otherwise 'French' Estoty, where not only French, but Macedonian and Bavarian settlers enjoy a halcyon climate under our Stars and Stripes.

The Durmanovs' favorite domain, however, was Raduga near the burg of that name, beyond Estotiland proper, in the Atlantic panel of the continent between elegant Kaluga, New Cheshire, U.S.A., and no less elegant Ladoga, Mayne, where they had their town house and where their three children were born: a son, who died young and famous, and a pair of difficult female twins. Dolly had inherited her mother's beauty and temper but also an older ancestral strain of whimsical, and not seldom deplorable, taste, well reflected, for instance, in the names she gave her daughters: Aqua and Marina ('Why not Tofana?' wondered the good and sur-royally antlered general with a controlled belly laugh, followed by a small closing cough of feigned detachment - he dreaded his wife's flares). (1.1)

The name Durmanov comes from durman (thorn apple; intoxicant). Durman (1916) is a poem by Bunin:

Дурману девочка наелась,

Тошнит, головка разболелась,

Пылают щёчки, клонит в сон.

Но сердцу сладко, сладко, сладко:

Всё непонятно, всё загадка,

Какой-то звон со всех сторон:

Не видя, видит взор иное,

Чудесное и неземное,

Не слыша, ясно ловит слух

Восторг гармонии небесной -

И невесомой, бестелесной

Ее довёл домой пастух.

Наутро гробик сколотили.

Над ним попели, покадили,

Мать порыдала... И отец

Прикрыл его тесовой крышкой

И на погост отнёс под мышкой...

Ужели сказочке конец?

In “The Event” Pyotr Nikolaevich (the famous writer) is a recognizable portrait of Ivan Bunin (1870-1953). As he speaks to Meshaev the First, Pyotr Nikolaevich mentions rodil’nye priyuty (the maternity homes):

Мешаев. Любовь Ивановна! Алексей Максимович! Вчера вечером. Вернулся. Из тюрьмы. Барбашин!

Общий смех.

Писатель. Всё? Дорогой мой, об этом знают уже в родильных приютах. Нда -- обарбашились... (Act Two)

In Speak, Memory (1967) VN describes his dinner with Bunin in a Parisian restaurant:

Another independent writer was Ivan Bunin. I had always preferred his little-known verse to his celebrated prose (their interrelation, within the frame of his work, recalls Hardy’s case). At the time I found him tremendously perturbed by the personal problem of aging. The first thing he said to me was to remark with satisfaction that his posture was better than mine, despite his being some thirty years older than I. He was basking in the Nobel prize he had just received and invited me to some kind of expensive and fashionable eating place in Paris for a heart-to-heart talk. Unfortunately I happen to have a morbid dislike for restaurants and cafés, especially Parisian ones—I detest crowds, harried waiters, Bohemians, vermouth concoctions, coffee, zakuski, floor shows and so forth. I like to eat and drink in a recumbent position (preferably on a couch) and in silence. Heart-to-heart talks, confessions in the Dostoevskian manner, are also not in my line. Bunin, a spry old gentleman, with a rich and unchaste vocabulary, was puzzled by my irresponsiveness to the hazel grouse of which I had had enough in my childhood and exasperated by my refusal to discuss eschatological matters. Toward the end of the meal we were utterly bored with each other. “You will die in dreadful pain and complete isolation,” remarked Bunin bitterly as we went toward the cloakroom. An attractive, frail-looking girl took the check for our heavy overcoats and presently fell with them in her embrace upon the low counter. I wanted to help Bunin into his raglan but he stopped me with a proud gesture of his open hand. Still struggling perfunctorily—he was now trying to help me—we emerged into the pallid bleakness of a Paris winter day. My companion was about to button his collar when a look of surprise and distress twisted his handsome features. Gingerly opening his overcoat, he began tugging at something under his armpit. I came to his assistance and together we finally dragged out of his sleeve my long woolen scarf which the girl had stuffed into the wrong coat. The thing came out inch by inch; it was like unwrapping a mummy and we kept slowly revolving around each other in the process, to the ribald amusement of three sidewalk whores. Then, when the operation was over, we walked on without a word to a street corner where we shook hands and separated. (Chapter Fourteen, 2)

In the Russian version of his autobiography, Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), VN uses the phrase egipetskaya operatsiya (the Egyptian operation; cf. “with all Egypt agog”):

Мой спутник собрался было застегнуть воротник, как вдруг его лицо перекосилось выражением недоумения и досады. Общими усилиями мы вытащили мой длинный шерстяной шарф, который девица засунула в рукав его пальто. Шарф выходил очень постепенно, это было какое-то разматывание мумии, и мы тихо вращались друг вокруг друга. Закончив эту египетскую операцию, мы молча продолжали путь до угла, где простились. (Chapter Thirteen, 3)

This “unwrapping a mummy” brings to mind “poor dummy-mummy,” as in the epilogue of Ada Van calls Marina:

Nirvana, Nevada, Vaniada. By the way, should I not add, my Ada, that only at the very last interview with poor dummy-mummy, soon after my premature - I mean, premonitory - nightmare about, 'You can, Sir,' she employed mon petit nom, Vanya, Vanyusha - never had before, and it sounded so odd, so tend... (voice trailing off, radiators tinkling).

'Dummy-mum' - (laughing). 'Angels, too, have brooms - to sweep one's soul clear of horrible images. My black nurse was Swiss-laced with white whimsies.'

Sudden ice hurtling down the rain pipe: brokenhearted stalactite. (5.6)

Vanya and Vanyusha are the diminutives of Ivan (both Van Veen’s and Bunin’s first name). Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother is a namesake of Marina Tsvetaev, “a poet of genius” who is mentioned in the same chapter of SM:

I met wise, prim, charming Aldanov; decrepit Kuprin, carefully carrying a bottle of vin ordinaire through rainy streets; Ayhenvald—a Russian version of Walter Pater—later killed by a trolleycar; Marina Tsvetaev, wife of a double agent, and poet of genius, who, in the late thirties, returned to Russia and perished there.

The name Tsvetaev comes from tsvet (flower, blossom; color). In his poem O vy, kotorye lyubili... ("Oh you, who loved..." 1821) Pushkin mentions Parnassa taynye tsvety (the secret flowers of Parnassus) and arkhivy ada (the archives of Hell):

О вы, которые любили
Парнасса тайные цветы
И своевольные <мечты>
Вниманьем слабым наградили,
Спасите труд небрежный мой —
Под сенью ‎ <покрова? <?>

От рук Невежества слепого,
От взоров Зависти косой.
Картины, думы и рассказы
Для вас я вновь перемешал,
Смешное с важным сочетал
И бешеной любви проказы
В архивах ада отыскал...

...I have mixed for you again

the pictures, thoughts and tales,

combined the funny with the serious

and discovered the pranks of a frenzied love

in the archives of Hell...

“The secret flowers of Parnassus” bring to mind Guillaume de Monparnasse (sic, “the leaving out of the 't' made it more intime,” 1.31), the penname of Mlle Larivière (Lucette's governess). Before they part, Van tells Greg Erminin (Grace’s twin brother whom Van met in Paris) that Mlle Larivière just got the Lebon Academy Prize:

'Maude is Anglo-Scottish and, well, likes it that way. Thinks a title gets one better service abroad. By the way, somebody told me - yes, Tobak! - that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four. I haven't asked you about your father? He's in good health?' (Van bowed,) 'And how is the guvernantka belletristka?'

'Her last novel is called L'ami Luc. She just got the Lebon Academy Prize for her copious rubbish.'

They parted laughing. (3.2)

Lebon is Nobel backward. The title of Mlle Larivière’s last novel hints at Maupassant’s Bel Ami – but also brings to mind Ami, the horse in Bunin’s poem Senokos (“Hay-Making,” 1909), and its luka (pommel of a saddle):

В конюшне полусумрак и прохладно,
Навозом пахнет, сбруей, лошадьми,
Касаточки щебечут… И Ами,
Соскучившись, тихонько ржёт и жадно
Косит свой глаз лилово-золотой
В решётчатую дверку… Стременами
Звенит барчук, подняв седло с уздой,
Кладёт, подпруги ловит — и ушами
Прядёт Ами, вдруг сделавшись стройней
И выходя на солнце. Там к кадушке
Склоняется — блеск, небо видит в ней
И долго пьёт… И солнце жжёт подушки,
Луку, потник, играя в серебре…

The maiden name of Greg Erminin’s wife, Brougham, sounds like “broom:”

'What about Grace, I can't imagine her getting fat?'

'Once twins, always twins. My wife is pretty portly, too.'

'Tak tï zhenat (so you are married)? Didn't know it. How long?'

'About two years.'

'To whom?'

'Maude Sween.'

'The daughter of the poet?'

'No, no, her mother is a Brougham.'

Might have replied 'Ada Veen,' had Mr Vinelander not been a quicker suitor. I think I met a Broom somewhere. Drop the subject. Probably a dreary union: hefty, high-handed wife, he more of a bore than ever. (ibid.)

Van heard of Vanda Broom (Ada’s schoolmate at Brownhill, a lesbian who, according to Ada, was in love with Grace Erminin and had been shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend), but never met her:

Would she like to stay in this apartment till Spring Term (he thought in terms of Terms now) and then accompany him to Kingston, or would she prefer to go abroad for a couple of months - anywhere, Patagonia, Angola, Gululu in the New Zealand mountains? Stay in this apartment? So, she liked it? Except some of Cordula's stuff which should be ejected - as, for example, that conspicuous Brown Hill Alma Mater of Almehs left open on poor Vanda's portrait. She had been shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night, in Ragusa of all places. It was, Van said, sad. Little Lucette no doubt had told him about a later escapade? Punning in an Ophelian frenzy on the feminine glans? Raving about the delectations of clitorism? 'N'exagérons pas, tu sais,' said Ada, patting the air down with both palms. 'Lucette affirmed,' he said, 'that she (Ada) imitated mountain lions.'

He was omniscient. Better say, omni-incest.

'That's right,' said the other total-recaller.

And, by the way, Grace - yes, Grace - was Vanda's real favorite, pas petite moi and my little crest. She (Ada) had, hadn't she, a way of always smoothing out the folds of the past - making the flutist practically impotent (except with his wife) and allowing the gentleman farmer only one embrace, with a premature eyakulyatsiya, one of those hideous Russian loanwords? Yes, wasn't it hideous, but she'd love to play Scrabble again when they'd settled down for good. But where, how? Wouldn't Mr and Mrs Ivan Veen do quite nicely anywhere? What about the 'single' in each passport? They'd go to the nearest Consulate and with roars of indignation and/or a fabulous bribe have it corrected to married, for ever and ever. (2.6)

The name Vanda Broom is secretly present in the poem that Ada contributed for the graduation album:

On the same day (the two nasty little incidents thus remained linked up in his mind forever) Van happened to answer the 'phone - a deep hollow voice which he thought was a man's wanted Cordula, but the caller turned out to be an old schoolmate, and Cordula feigned limpid delight, while making big eyes at Van over the receiver, and invented a number of unconvincing engagements.

'It's a gruesome girl!' she cried after the melodious adieux. 'Her name is Vanda Broom, and I learned only recently what I never suspected at school - she's a regular tribadka - poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at - at another girl. There's her picture here,' continued Cordula with a quick change of tone, producing a daintily bound and prettily printed graduation album of Spring, 1887, which Van had seen at Ardis, but in which he had not noticed the somber beetle-browed unhappy face of that particular girl, and now it did not matter any more, and Cordula quickly popped the book back into a drawer; but he remembered very well that among the various more or less coy contributions it contained a clever pastiche by Ada Veen mimicking Tolstoy's paragraph rhythm and chapter closings; he saw clearly in mind her prim photo under which she had added one of her characteristic jingles:

In the old manor, I've parodied

Every veranda and room,

And jacarandas at Arrowhead

In supernatural bloom. (1.43)

In the novel’s epilogue Ada mentions her schoolmate again:

I had a schoolmate called Vanda. And I knew a girl called Adora, little thing in my last floramor. What makes me see that bit as the purest sanglot in the book? What is the worst part of dying? (5.6)

In Bunin’s story Delo korneta Elagina (“The Elagin Affair,” 1925) Vanda Linevich is the cook of Manya Sosnovski (Elagin’s mistress who was shot dead by her lover). The characters of VN’s play “The Event” include Marfa, the cook of the Troshcheykins who accuses Lyubov’ of dissipation and leaves the house in a dangerous moment. Eleonora Shnap, Marfa and Mme Vagabundov (Troshcheykin’s model whose portrait he hastens to finish) seem to be three Fates. In his Stikhi, sochinyonnye noch’yu vo vremya bessonnitsy ("Verses Composed at Night during the Insomnia," 1830) Pushkin mentions parki bab'ye lepetan'ye (a Fate's womanish babble) and zhizni mysh'ya begotnya (life's mousey bustle).

In the 1930s Bunin’s mistress Galina Kuznetsov left him for Margarita Stepun (the philosopher’s sister). When Van leaves Ardis in September of 1884, Ada resembles the young soprano Maria Kuznetsova:

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)

On the other hand, Vanda is one of the prostitutes in Yama (“The Pit,” 1915), Kuprin’s novel about brothels. Marina’s mad twin sister Aqua was tormented by yamy (black pits) in her mind:

It was now the forming of soft black pits (yamï, yamishchi) in her mind, between the dimming sculptures of thought and recollection, that tormented her phenomenally; mental panic and physical pain joined black-ruby hands, one making her pray for sanity, the other, plead for death. (1.3)

Vanda Broom + Ardis + Odin + Ragusa = dar + Vanadis + Borodino + grausam

Odin - the chief god in Scandinavian mythology

Ragusa - Italian name of Dubrovnik, a seaport in S Croatia

dar - gift; a novel (1937) by VN

Vanadis - one of the names of Freyja, the Scandinavian Venus

Borodino - village W of Moscow, site of the battle against Napoleon; a poem (1837) by Lermontov

grausam - Germ., gruesome

In a letter to his mother Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev (the narrator and main character in VN’s Dar) mentions Bunin:

Между прочим, мой Чернышевский сравнительно неплохо идёт. Кто именно тебе говорил, что Бунин хвалит? Мне уже кажется давнишним делом моя возня с этой книгой, и все те маленькие бури мысли, заботы пера, – и теперь я совершенно пуст, чист, и готов принять снова постояльцев. Знаешь, я как цыган чёрен от груневальдского солнца.

By the way, my Chernyshevski is selling rather well. Who exactly was it told you that Bunin praised it? They already seem ancient history to me now, my exertions over the book, and all those little storms of thought, those cares of the pen-and now I am completely empty, clean, and ready to receive new lodgers. You know, I'm black as a gypsy from the Grunewald sun. Something is beginning to take shape-I think I'll write a classical novel, with ‘types,' love, fate, conversations …" (The Gift, Chapter Five)

In The Event the guests at Antonina Pavlovna's birthday party include reportyor ot Solntsa (a reporter from "The Sun"). Pyotr Nikolaevich accuses the reporter's newspaper of publishing nonsense about him:

Писатель (репортёру). У вас, между прочим, опять печатают всякую дешёвку обо мне. Никакой повести из цыганской жизни я не задумал и задумать не мог бы. Стыдно.

"I never conceived, nor could have conceived, a tale from the Gypsy life. You should be ashamed." (Act Two)

In my previous post (“minuscule red pawn in Ada”) I forgot to point out that Mlle Larivière’s first name also seems to hint at Mt Ida.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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