Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026967, Sat, 30 Apr 2016 12:17:46 +0300

Ida Lariviere, her penname, pointe assassine,
King Wing & Chose in Ada
For the big picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday and Ida's forty-second jour de fête, the child was permitted to wear her lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg's novel and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish 't,' not a thick English one), a rather long, but very airy and ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies, 'deficient in botanical reality,' as she grandly expressed it, not yet knowing that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of this, and only this, dream. (1.13)

The first name of Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess), Ida, seems to hint at Little Ida’s Flowers (1835), a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. At the picnic Mlle Larivière reads her story La Rivière de Diamants (known in our world as La Parure by Guy de Maupassant, a writer who, according to Vivian Darkbloom, does not exist on Antiterra):

Finally Mlle Larivière read her La Rivière de Diamants, a story she had just typed out for The Quebec Quarterly. (ibid.)

When asked what they think of Mlle Larivière’s story, Van and Ada call it a fairy tale:

'I can never get used (m'y faire)' said Mlle Laparure, 'to the contrast between the opulence of nature and the squalor of human life. See that old moujik décharné with that rent in his shirt, see his miserable cabane. And see that agile swallow! How happy, nature, how unhappy, man! Neither of you told me how you liked my new story? Van?'

'It's a good fairy tale,' said Van.

'It's a fairy tale,' said careful Ada.

'Allons donc!' cried Mlle Larivière, 'On the contrary - every detail is realistic. We have here the drama of the petty bourgeois, with all his class cares and class dreams and class pride.'

(True; that might have been the intent - apart from the pointe assassine; but the story lacked 'realism' within its own terms, since a punctilious, penny-counting employee would have found out, first of all, no matter how, quitte à tout dire à la veuve, what exactly the lost necklace had cost. That was the fatal flaw in the Larivière pathos-piece, but at the time young Van and younger Ada could not quite grope for that point although they felt instinctively the falsity of the whole affair.) (ibid.)

Mlle Larivière publishes her story under the penname Guillaume de Monparnasse:

Yes! Wasn't that a scream? Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer! A sensational Canadian bestselling author! Her story 'The Necklace' (La rivière de diamants) had become a classic in girls' schools and her gorgeous pseudonym 'Guillaume de Monparnasse' (the leaving out of the 't' made it more intime) was well-known from Quebec to Kaluga. (1.31)

Mlle Larivière’s penname brings to mind vashe Parnasskoe velichestvo (“your Parnassian majesty”), as in a letter of Sept. 10, 1824, to Pushkin Delvig (the editor of Northern Flowers) calls Pushkin:

Есть ещё у меня не просьба, но только спрос: не вздумаешь ли ты дать мне стихов двадцать из Евгения Онегина? Это хорошо бы было для толпы, которая не поймёт всей красоты твоей Прозерпины или Демона, а уж про Онегина давно горло дерёт. Подумайте, ваше Парнасское величество!

Delvig says that the crowd will not understand all beauty of Pushkin's poems Proserpina* and The Demon. According to Delvig, Proserpina is pure music, a bird of paradise's singing that one can hear for a thousand years without noticing the passage of time:

Прозерпина не стихи, а музыка: это пенье райской птички, которое слушая, не увидешь, как пройдёт тысяча лет. Эти двери давно мне знакомы. Сквозь них, ещё в Лицее, меня [иногда] часто выталкивали из Элизея. Какая искустная щеголиха у тебя истина. Подобных цветов мороз не тронет!

“What a smart dashing lady is istina (truth) in your poems. Such flowers will be spared by the frost!”

Paul Verlaine’s poem Art Poétique (1885), in which la Pointe assassine is mentioned, begins:

De la musique avant toute chose...

Of music before everything…

The opening and closing lines of Verlaine’s poem (De la musique avant toute chose… Et tout le reste est littérature) were used by Shestov as the epigraph to his essay Vlast’ idey (“The Power of Ideas,” 1905), a review of the second volume of Merezhkovski’s “Tolstoy and Dostoevski” (1902). Lev Shestov’s pseudonym comes from shest’, Russian for “six.” Pushkin’s best friend at the Lyceum, Delvig died on Jan. 14, 1831 (OS). In his EO Commentary VN points out that the wake commemorating Delvig's death was held by his friends exactly six years before Pushkin's fatal duel:

By a marvelous coincidence, Delvig died on the anniversary of the death of the fictional Lenski (who is compared to him here on the eve of a fatal duel); and the wake commemorating Delvig's death was held by his friends (Pushkin, Vyazemski, Baratynski, and Yazykov) in a Moscow restaurant, on Jan. 27, 1831, exactly six years before Pushkin's fatal duel. (vol. III, p. 23)

On the other hand, Mlle Larivière’s first name seems to hint at Bunin’s story Ida (1925). The action in it takes place in a Moscow restaurant. The narrator and main character in Bunin’s story is a composer (according to Delvig, Pushkin’s Proserpina is “pure music”).

The pointe assassine in Mlle Larivière’s story is Mme F.’s phrase at the end:

'But, my poor Mathilde, the necklace was false: it cost only five hundred francs!' (1.13)

In H. C. Andersen’s fairy tale The Nightingale (1844) there are two birds: a live nightingale (whose song one is never tired of hearing) and an artificial one. The action in Andersen’s fairy tale takes place in China. King Wing (Demon’s wrestling master who teaches Van to walk on his hands, 1.13) is Chinese. His name seems to hint at Krylov, the writer of fables whose name comes from krylo (wing). Krylov is the author of Parnas (“Parnassus,” 1808).

In a letter of July 29, 1902, to Gorky Chekhov compares Leonid Andreev to an artificial nightingale and Skitalets (penname of Stepan Petrov), to a live sparrow:

"Мысль" Л. Андреева - это нечто претенциозное, неудобопонятное и, по-видимому, ненужное, но талантливо исполненное. В Андрееве нет простоты, и талант его напоминает пение искусственного соловья. А вот Скиталец воробей, но зато живой, настоящий воробей.

In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Shestov calls Chekhov “the poet of hopelessness” and compares him to Maupassant:

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’s essay on Chekhov has for the epigraph and ends in 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). At the end of his poem Le Crepuscle du Matin (“Morning Twilight,” 1852) Baudelaire mentions L'aurore grelottante en robe rose et verte (the dawn, shivering in her green and rose garment) and calls Paris vieillard laborieux (laborious old man):

L'aurore grelottante en robe rose et verte
S'avançait lentement sur la Seine déserte,
Et le sombre Paris, en se frottant les yeux
Empoignait ses outils, vieillard laborieux.

Aurora, in a shift of rose and green,
Came shivering down the Seine's deserted scene
And Paris, as he rubbed his eyes, began
To sort his tools, laborious old man.

(transl. Roy Campbell)

As he speaks of Chose (his English University), Van makes an allusion to these lines of Baudelaire:

Rosy aurora was shivering in green Serenity Court. Laborious old Chose. (1.28)

Verlaine’s Art Poétique begins: De la musique avant toute chose. Like Baudelaire, Verlaine was one of the poètes maudits. Mlle Larivière is the author of Les Enfants Maudits:

Had a grotesque governess really written a novel entitled Les Enfants Maudits? To be filmed by frivolous dummies, now discussing its adaptation? To be made even triter than the original Book of the Fortnight, and its gurgling blurbs? Did he detest Ada as he had in his dreams? He did. (1.32)

Jealous Van is confirmed that Pedro (a young Latin actor whom Marina brought to Ardis) is courting Ada. Actually, one of Ada’s lovers is Philip Rack, Lucette’s teacher of music.

Ida + utro + lik/Lik= Iuda + klitor = ulika + tri/tir + do = ulitka + Irod

Ida + utro + lik + lak = idol + Rita + kukla/kulak

Ida + gde ya + vesna = ideya + navsegda

slovo/volos + trofey = solovey + torf/fort/ftor

utro – morning

lik – obs., face, countenance

Lik – a story (1939) by VN

Iuda – Russian name of Judas; Iuda Iskariot (“Judas Iscariot,” 1907) is a story by Leonid Andreev

klitor – clitoris; Lucette to Van: '- I got stuck with six Buchstaben in the last round of a Flavita game. Mind you, I was eight and had not studied anatomy, but was doing my poor little best to keep up with two Wunderkinder. You examined and fingered my groove and quickly redistributed the haphazard sequence which made, say, LIKROT or ROTIKL and Ada flooded us both with her raven silks as she looked over our heads, and when you had completed the rearrangement, you and she came simultaneously, si je puis le mettre comme ça (Canady French), came falling on the black carpet in a paroxysm of incomprehensible merriment; so finally I quietly composed ROTIK ('little mouth') and was left with my own cheap initial.’ (2.5)

ulika – piece of evidence; a poem (1922) by Khodasevich

tri – 3

tir – shooting gallery

do – musical note C; cf. The Captain [Captain Tapper of Wild Violet Lodge, Van’s adversary in a pistol duel that he fights in Kalugano, 1.42] was a first-rate shot, Johnny said, and member of the Do-Re-La country club.

ulitka – snail; cochlea

Irod – Russian name of Herod

lak – varnish, lacquer; Lucette to Van: 'That's what I meant by "gueridon." It was really a Chinese stand japanned in red lacquer, and the scrutoir stood in between.' 'China or Japan? Make up your mind. And I still don't know how your inscrutable looks. I mean, looked in 1884 or 1888.' (2.5); In Andersen’s fairy tale the Emperor of Japan gives the King of China an artificial nightingale that sings as beautifully as a live bird but that knows only one song

Rita – Van’s partner in a tango that he dances on his hands, a Crimean girl (1.30)

kukla – doll

kulak – fist; kulak (a rich peasant); One of the synonyms of 'condition' is 'state,' and the adjective 'human' may be construed as 'manly' (since L'Humanité means 'Mankind'!), and that's how, my dears, Lowden recently translated the title of the malheureux Pompier's cheap novel La Condition Humaine, wherein, incidentally, the term 'Vandemonian' is hilariously glossed as 'Koulak tasmanien d'origine hollandaise.' (2.5)

gde ya – where am I? At Chose Van begins to perform in variety shows dancing on his hands. Van's stage name, Mascodagama, is a play on Vasco da Gama (a Portuguese navigator). In Skitalets' story Oktava ("The Low Bass," 1900) a character garbles the name Vasco da Gama as Vas'ka gde gamma ("Vaska, where is the gamut?")

vesna – spring (season)

ideya – idea

navsegda – forever

slovo – word; from Krylov’s fable Parnassus: Odobrili osly oslovo / krasno-khitro-spletyonno slovo (the asses approved the asinine cunningly contrived word)

volos – a hair

trofey – trophy

solovey – nightingale; Delvig’s Russkaya pesnya (“A Russian Song,” 1825) set to music by Alyabyev begins: Solovey moy, solovey, golosistyi solovey… (Oh nightingale, my nightingale, the loud-voiced nightingale…)

torf – peat; cf. Cinderella de Torf (as in a letter to Van Ada calls Blanche, a French maid at Ardis, 2.1)

ftor – fluorine

*a line in Proserpina (1824), Ada gordaya tsaritsa (the proud queen of Hades), can be read as "proud Queen Ada;" in another poem, O vy, kotorye lyubili… (“Oh you, who used to love…” 1822), Pushkin mentions “the secret flowers of Parnassus” and arkhivy ada (the archives of Hell) in which the poet found the pranks of frenzied love

Alexey Sklyarenko

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