Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0007097, Sat, 16 Nov 2002 09:31:46 -0800

REVISED EDITION: Fw: Colors and shades: the Temnosiniy and Proust
EDNOTE. Brian Boyd requests that the version below replace his earlier one.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Brian Boyd (FOA ENG)" <b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz>
To: "'Vladimir Nabokov Forum'" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
> Since Jerry Friedman wants VN's wordplay to do something (double back on
> itself, reinforce itself, be paradoxical), can I suggest it does?
> Here are a number of aspects of Temnosiniy (apart from the compound play
> the comically improbable but as it turns out surprisingly actual Russian
> noble name Temnosiniy [imagine being tricked into snorting at the
> in a thoroughly English novel, of a character's being named Lord
> Darkblue--and then discovering that there WAS such an English noble
> and the compound play on Proust, both already discussed) that might
> Nabokov's word-play is not inert. Both passages are from my Annotations to
> ADA in The Nabokovian or updated:
> [from the gloss on pp. [vii-viii], Family Tree, top line, Prince Vseslav
> Zemski and Princess Sofia Temnosiniy]:
> First, Russian Zemski ("earthly") derives from the root zem, "earth,
> land" (as in zemlya, "earth, land,"; zemskiy, zemnoy "earthly") and
> Temnosiniy, "dark blue," is the "traditional epithet for the sky" (Johnson
> 1985:129). In this sense the Veen family tree evokes old cosmogonies, as
> the Veens represented a whole world-as in some sense they do.
> Specifically the beginning of the family tree with a Zemski and a
> Temnosiniy (and the bracketing of the first chapter with these names:
> 9.14-18) evokes the myth of Terra and Coelus, Earth and Sky, most
> pertinently summarized in the following excerpt from the novel Pierre, or
> the Ambiguities (1852), by Herman Melville (1819-91), which Nabokov
> to in Lolita I.9, and which plays with the shadow of brother-sister incest
> between the American aristocrat Pierre Glendinning and his illegitimate
> half-sister, Isabel Banford. In a dream-vision Pierre sees an outcrop on
> old family lands as representing represent "Enceladus the Titan, the most
> potent of all the giants, writhing from out the imprisoning earth . . .
> deathless son of Terra" (Pierre, in Herman Melville, Pierre, Israel
> The Piazza Tales, The Confidence-Man, Uncollected Prose, Billy Budd,
> ed. Harrison Hayford [New York: Library of America, 1984], XXV.iv, 400),
> then ruminates on the fable: "Old Titan's self was the son of incestuous
> Coelus and Terra, the son of incestuous Heaven and Earth. And Titan
> his mother Terra, another and accumulatively incestuous match. And thereof
> Enceladus was one issue. So Enceladus was both the son and grandson of an
> incest; and even thus, there had been born from the organic blended
> heavenliness and earthiness of Pierre, another mixed, uncertain,
> heaven-aspiring, but still not wholly earth-emancipated mood; which again,
> by its terrestrial taint held down to its terrestrial mother, generated
> there the present doubly incestuous Enceladus within him; so that the
> present mood of Pierre-that reckless sky-assaulting mood of his, was
> nevertheless on one side the grandson of the sky." (XXV.v, 402)
> gloss on 8.20, "by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother":
> Van says "the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother" in allusion to the
> opening chapter of another famous novel, Ulysses (pub. 1922), by James
> (1882-1941). In the opening chapter Buck Mulligan, looking seaward, and
> Van and Ada also showing off in the first conversation in the novel,
> exclaims: "Isn't the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The
> snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton."
> ([Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986], 4; 1.77-78) "Algy" here is Algernon
> Swinburne (1837-1909): "I will go back to the great sweet mother, / Mother
> and lover of men, the sea" ("The Triumph of Time," pub. 1866, ll. 257-58).
> "Epi oinopa ponton" means "over the wine-dark sea," a Homeric formula
> recurring throughout the Odyssey.
> Notice that Nabokov's "dark-blue great-grandmother" wittily combines
> the "grey" color term in Joyce's recycling of Swinburne's phrase and the
> "great sweet mother" in Swinburne, with the "great" again wittily given an
> improbable new value in "great-grandmother."
> Note that "by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother" points to
> Demon's closest common ancestor with the other two main characters under
> discussion, Aqua, Demon's wife and Van's ostensible mother, and Marina,
> actual mother, thereby stressing both the theme of consanguinity or
> overrelatedness and the "water" theme which has such wide repercussions in
> Ada.
> Notice that the birth of the elder of the two Veen children who form
> the mainstay of the story hereby also echoes the birth of Venus from the
> waves.
> And note that "Temnosiniy" is associated both with water, in "the
> sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother," and with sky, in the penultimate
> paragraph of Chapter 1: "a millennium-old name that meant in Russian 'dark
> blue.' . . . Van could not help feeling esthetically moved by the velvet
> background he was always able to distinguish as a comforting, omnipresent
> summer sky through the black foliage of the family tree." This combination
> of water and sky not only reflects the creation story in Genesis (1.6-7:
> "And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and
> it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and
> divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which
> above the firmament: and it was so") but more importantly anticipates the
> combination of the aquatic and the celestial, in different ways, in the
> lives and deaths of Aqua, Lucette and the Theresa of Letters from Terra.
> Although the Ulysses allusion is unmistakable, the Byron Jerry points to
> also be there, although in both Ulysses and Ada the phrase explicitly
> involves the sea, not the ocean, the Irish Sea in Joyce's case, and the
> Mediterranean in Nabokov's.