Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026968, Sat, 30 Apr 2016 10:51:33 -0300

Valeria's maiden name in "Lolita" Zborovski - and a chauffeur
called Isboriski.
In "Lolita" we read about Humbert's first wife Valeria and get a few
snatches of their life together before she asks for a divorce. Humbert
writes about her next husband, a taxi-driver who "pulled up at a small café
and introduced himself. I do not remember his ridiculous name but after all
those years I still see him quite clearly — a stocky White Russian
ex-colonel with a bushy mustache and a crew cut; there were thousands of
them plying that fool's trade in Paris." In the course of his report
Humbert finally remembers the man's name and his wife's maiden name: " I had
my little revenge in due time. A man from Pasadena told me one day that Mrs.
Maximovich née Zborovski had died in childbirth around 1945."

Inspite of his negative view about women writers, Nabokov described his fond
encounter with his uncle's collection from "La Bibliothèque Rose" and was
able to recall innumerous details of Sophie's adventures from one of the
Countess of Ségur's novels:

" Once, in 1908 or 1909, Uncle Ruka became engrossed in some French
children’s books that he had come upon in our house; with an ecstatic moan,
he found a passage he had loved in his childhood, beginning: “Sophie n’etait
pas jolie …” and many years later, my moan echoed his, when I rediscovered,
in a chance nursery, those same “Bibliotheque Rose” volumes, with their
stories about boys and girls who led in France an idealized version of the
vie de chateau which my family led in Russia. The stories themselves (all
those Les Malheurs de Sophie, Les Petites Filles Modeles, Les Vacances) are,
as I see them now, an awful combination of preciosity and vulgarity; but in
writing them the sentimental and smug Mme de Segur, nee Rostopchine, was
Frenchifying the authentic surroundings of her Russian childhood which
preceded mine by exactly one century. In my own case, when I come over
Sophie’s troubles again—her lack of eyebrows and love of thick cream—I not
only go through the same agony and delight that my uncle did, but have to
cope with an additional burden—the recollection I have of him, reliving his
childhood with the help of those very books. I see again my schoolroom in
Vyra, the blue roses of the wallpaper, the open window. Its reflection fills
the oval mirror above the leathern couch where my uncle sits, gloating over
a tattered book. A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth
pervades my memory. That robust reality makes a ghost of the present. The
mirror brims with brightness; a bumblebee has entered the room and bumps
against the ceiling. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever
change, nobody will ever die." Speak, Memory, ch. 3

Valeria and her affair with a Russian taxi-driver reminds me of another
sentimental book (now addressed to young ladies, not girls) that enjoyed
considerable success in France. It was written by Max du Veuzit (a French
novelist named Alphonsine Zéphirine Vavasseur,1876 -1952) with the title
"John, chauffeur russe", published in Paris in 1931.

I never thought there were sufficient elements in common between Valeria and
the novel's young heiress Micaela, who'd fallen in love with her Russian
driver (actually, a Russian prince), whom she dismissively called John. Nor
was this kind of literature one that would have merited Nabokov's attention
outside of the enchanted space in Vyra and Uncle Ruka's delighted moans.
However, when I was able to recover the chauffeur's actual name in Mme
Alphonsine Vavasseur's novel I was struck by the similarity between two of
the names. The Russian chauffeur's is Alexander Isboriski. The unnecessary
dropping of Mrs. Maximovich's (Valeria's) maiden name in the few paragraphs
containing her story in "Lolita" summoned up a certain Zborovski. Following
the "Chekhov's gun" expression... what does the inclusion of Zborovki mean
in the context of "Lolita"?

I'm pretty sure that such association by sounds only arises in someone who,
like me, is totally tone-deaf to the Russian language. Nevertheless, it's
still worth a try: are there any links between the two surnames that could
justify a distant reference to Max du Veuzit's novel in "Lolita"?

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