NABOKV-L post 0007086, Fri, 15 Nov 2002 13:25:38 -0800

Fw: Colors and shades: the Temnosiniy and Proust allusions: Boyd
replies to Sklyarenko

----- Original Message -----
From: Brian Boyd (FOA ENG)
To: 'Vladimir Nabokov Forum'
Sent: Wednesday, November 13, 2002 8:56 PM
Subject: RE: Colors and shades: the Temnosiniy and Proust allusions

A belated response to Alexey Sklyarenko's invaluable note on the Velvet Book in ADA. I keep updating my files of ADA annotations, not least because of Alexey's finds, and in support of his defense of the brilliance of Nabokov's verbal play I offer here an updated version of part of my note to the penultimate paragraph of ADA I.1:
When at 9.27-29 Van announces that "his favorite purple passage remained the one concerning the name 'Guermantes,' with whose hue . . . ," he has in mind Marcel's meditation, beginning on the second page of Le Cote de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way) and lasting for several more pages (Pleiade ed., 1954, II,10-15) on the romance, the sounds and the color of names, especially of an old aristocratic name like "Guermantes." Nor is it accidental that a chapter that begins with an echo of Tolstoy's novel should end with a reference to Proust's, right where Marcel muses: "C'etait, ce Guermantes, comme le cadre d'un roman" ("It was, this 'Guermantes,' like the scene of a novel"). Since the Guermantes name comes back to Marcel at its purest as "ce mauve si doux, trop brillant, trop neuf, dont se veloutait la cravate gonflee de la jeune duchesse" ("that purple so soft, too brilliant, too new, which gave a velvet bloom to the young Duchess's billowy scarf"), Van's "purple passage" (9.27), though quite accurate, is also a pun.

Indeed, the pun is compounded, since the "purple" in "purple passage" derives from the use of cloth dyed purple, "esp., a purple robe worn as an emblem of rank or authority, specif., that worn by Roman emperors" (W2, purple), a sense extended colloquially to refer to "exalted station; great wealth. . . . 'Born in the purple.' Gibbon" (W2). But the term "purple passage" itself, while drawing on this sense, derives as a phrase from the Ars Poetica of Horace (65-8 B.C.E), lines 14-16:

Inceptis gravibus plerumque et magna professis

purpureus, late qui splendeat, unus et alter

adsuitur pannus

("Works with noble beginnings and grand promises often have one or two purple patches so stitched on so as to glitter far and wide," Loeb edition, 1929, trans. H.R. Fairclough).

Since Van's own "purple passage" here, about his favorite purple passage in Proust, concerns the purple scarf of the Duchess of Guermantes, a family born in the purple, and is itself tacked on ("Re the 'dark-blue' allusion, left hanging") to the beginning of a large work, the pun is at least four-way, or as Joyce would say, not trivial but quadrivial.

It's also a wonderful summary of the involved, hypersensual, snobbery-infested temporal palimpsest that is Proust.

-----Original Message-----
From: D. Barton Johnson []
Sent: Saturday, November 09, 2002 4:38 PM
Subject: Fw: Colors and shades: the Temnosiniy and Proust allusions

EDNOTE. Alex Skyarenko who has, inter alia, done a Russian translation of ADA, offers some well informed thoughts about the genealogical history of ADA's chararacters. The matter is important since, as I have pointed out at length elsewhere, it appears that incest is factually and thematically rampant in the novel through the entire family history. Ada and Van are in fact following family tradition. Although Alex does not specifically deal with question here, his investigation is likely to yield some very interesting results. My only specific comment at the moment is that the "wisdom" of 15 yr-old Sofia marriage to Vseslav Zemski may be a non-issue since women at the time likely did not have a much choice in such matters. Interested parties may wish to consult the TYomnosinii lineage in the attachment.
----- Original Message -----
From: D. Barton Johnson
Sent: Friday, November 08, 2002 6:51 PM
Subject: Fw: Colors and shades: the Temnosiniy and Proust allusions

----- Original Message -----
From: alex
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Monday, November 04, 2002 5:55 PM
Subject: Colors and shades: the Temnosiniy and Proust allusions

Dear all,

It seems that Nabokov's tactics has always been: the more absurd the fact looks, the truer it is. The surname Temnosiniy looks ideed strange, but, nevertheless, it is a real historical one, of a princely family, whose origins can be traced back to Yaroslav the Wise. But that name is not "millenium-old" as Van says (perhaps a snobbish exaggeration on his part). The founder of the family, Vladimir (or Volodimer) Temnosiniy, lived in the second half of the 15th century. The family existed till the 19th century: the last Temnosiniy, Alexandr Alexandrovich, died in 1824. Theoretically, the main (and practically the only) canditate for "a former viceroy of Estoty, Prince Ivan Temnosiniy", Van's and Ada's great-great-great-grandfather (simply prashchur in Russian) can be Ivan Stepanovich Temnosiniy (? - ?) who represented the seventh generation of Temnosiniys (see the genealogical table I enclose), but, actually, he was prashchur of the above-mentioned Alexandr Alexandrovich (b. 1770) and should have lived earlier to be a likely father of Princess Sofia Temnosiniy (b. 1750). Still, it is not altogether impossible, seeing certain customs of procreation on Antiterra, and he might have been a regular patriarch at the time when Sofia, who herself was to marry at 15 the 71-year-old Vseslav Zemski, was born. It is a pity that Russian genealogical sources, the so-called Barkhatnaya Kniga, Velvet Book of Russian Noble Families, the chief among them (cf. "the velvet background" that Van is able to distinguish through the black foliage of the family tree - Princes Tyomnosinie are, of course, there, like many other Russian surnames you know from Nabokov's fiction), spurn women. So, we must leave all hope to find some traces of Sofia in the Russian history. But note that her name (which means "wisdom") echoes the historical nickname of her legendary ancestor Yaroslav. Was it wise on her part to marry, well, a mature man Zemski? May be. And as to the Barkhatnaya Kniga, it received its name because the initial (hand-written) copy was bound in red velvet (in the 1680-s, the only "printed edition" was undertaken in 1787).

Now let's follow Van's example and make an abrupt transition to Proust. In his magnificent comments to Ada, Brian Boyd attributes the reference Van makes about his favorite purple passage to the beginning of The Guermantes Way ("ce mauve si doux... etc."). He seems to be right, seeing "mauve shades of Monsieur Proust" in Ada's entomological entries in 1.8. But I have an alternative solution. In the first part of Du cote de chez Swann, about fourty pages into the novel, there is a passage which I translate from the (quite good) Russian translation: "this strange and so sweet name Champi that I don't know why colored the boy who possessed it into bright, purple and charming (sa couleur vive, empourpree et charmante), shades". Francois le Champi is the little hero of George Sand's novel of the same name. The book, from which Marcel's mother reads to him, has a purplish binding. I may add that many deem The Swann Way the best part of A la recherche du temps perdu, and it is indeed a beautiful excerpt here. I think, it is the rare case when the double-solution was intended. It somehow corresponds to the well-organized chaos of this paragraph, including its "awkwardness", and to the "multi-allusiveness" of the novel in general.

But that's not all!
Let's return to the ultramarine shades. In one of the poems of the Russian poet and prose writer Konstantin Sluchevski (1837 - 1904), to whom there is multitude of allusions in Ada (see my Nabokov Symposium paper, soon to appear on the special site of Nabokov Museum), from his last book Zagrobnye Pesni, The Songs from the Beyond, we find a remarkable metaphor of death: temnosinyaya noch' (the dark-blue night). It rhymes there whith doch', daughter. Thus, the theme of death is introduced in the very first chapter of ADA to merge with Oceanus Nox in the point of the novel's climax in 3.5.

Do you still find Nabokov's wordplay unrewarding? Don't you think it is well worth to learn a couple of languages so as to be able to read wonderful books in them and to enjoy Nabokov still more immensly?

I wonder, if some periodical, or perhaps the Zembla Web site, would be interested in publishing this note, provided the mistakes in it be corrected.

best regards to all the patient readers,