Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0007169, Mon, 25 Nov 2002 19:10:37 -0800

Fw: reinforcement of the rainbow: the color allusions in ADA

----- Original Message -----
From: alex
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Monday, November 25, 2002 4:56 PM
Subject: reinforcement of the rainbow: the color allusions in ADA

Dear Brian Boyd, Jerry Friedman and everybody, who is interested in that particular pattern of Nabokov's word-, image- and colorplay in ADA,

ADA is probably the most colorful of all Nabokov's colorful novels, the rainbow being one of its major leitmotivs spanning, as it were, the whole book. On the very first page we learn that one of Durmanovs' domains (their favorite) is called Raduga (rainbow) and is situated near the burg of that name. And when Van and Ada are about to reunite at last in 1922 (Part Four), Van sends (on the night of a thunderstorm) an "instantogram" to Ada ending with the word "rainbows".
Several paragraphs (following Marina's herbarium) in the end of ADA's first chapter, while imparting to the stunned first-time-reader great lumps of seemingly obscure botanical, epistemological and genealogical information, display before the grateful (and completely satisfied) re-re...-reader almost the whole spectrum of brightly-colored allusions. The first allusion in the series ("by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother") is, as Brian Boyd points out, to Joyce's ULYSSES. But it is more complicated and more meaningful, having more far-reaching implications. In Joyce's novel, the sea (of a different, "snotgreen", as Buck Mulligan calls it, color), seen by Stephen and his pal, is linked (by its very color, reminding Stephen of the green bile, thrown up by his dying mother, in a bowl next to her bed) with death. And much later in ADA, we learn that Van's attitude toward death in general and his conduct at the time of his mother's demise are very much like those of Stephen's who has refused to kneel down at his mother's begging request and to pray for her. "There is something sinister in you... [says Buck Mulligan and continues:]
- But a lovely mummer, he murmured to himeself. Kinch, the loveliest mummer of them all."
Cf. "poor dummy-mummy" as Van refers not only to the dead Marina (in the last chapter of ADA), but also to the dying (3.1) and to the perfectly alive woman (somewhere). Marina spends her last years of life at her Cote d'Azur villa, i. e., Villa Armina, the same place, where Demon has stayed at the time of Van's birth. Van refuses to grant her last request and to stay with her until the end, he goes to America and doesn't even return to the funeral. Cf. also Van's sensibility to the smell in Marina's hospital room and Stephen's dream of his mother who had just died and appeared to him in a dream with her breath giving off a faint odor of wetted ashes and her graveclothes - that of wax and rosewood. Van has a "verbal" nightmare (telling him the name of Marina's illness*), caused by the musky smell (but not in the Miramas Villa Venus, as he thinks, but in her hospital room), even before his mother's death (she is actually long-dead for him).
May I briefly recapitulate it thus: the Joycean (sea-green) image of death merges here, in the phrase "his dark-blue great-grandmother", with the temnosinyaya noch' ("the dark-blue night"), meaning also death metaphorically, of Sluchevski. But to intergrade into dark-blue in in the spectrum, green has to go through another color, blue. Now, the traditional epithet of sea in Russian is not temnosinee, but simply SINEE (sinee more, neuter gender, "blue sea": u samogo sinego morya... - an amphibrachic line - "right by the blue sea...", and so on) and that is the intermediate color of the spectrum between green and dark-blue, just as the sea itself is here the medium which combines two images of death devised by two different writers (Joyce and Sluchevski). But the Byron allusion is also here**! Lucette jumps into the dark ocean (and the ocean, into the depths of which men sink in Byron, is dark-blue), and is soon engulfed by the dark-blue night (i. e. by death). It is she, who provides the final link connecting all three allusions.
Now comes the difficult part - the transition to Proust. Is purple in Van's "favorite purple passage" violet or the opposite extremety of the spectrum, red? I think, it is both. VN makes a note on this word somewhere in his Commentary to EO (probably when commentig on the Russian word purpur from Gnedich's idyll that Pushkin cites in his Notes to EO; there are no VN's notes to Pushkin's Notes to EO in my violently truncated edition of VN's work), but I fail to find it now. If I remember it right, he says that the English purple and the Russian (and the Latin?) purpur mean quite different colors, the first being "violet", and the second "blood red" (the "royal purple"). If it is so, then Brian Boyd is quite right in identifying the purple passage as the long one from the beginning of The Guermantes Way, and I am also not completely wrong in linking it with the much shorter one in The Swann Way that can be linked, in its turn, with the Velvet Book (Barkhatnaya Kniga) of Russian Noble Families that was bound in red velvet. (Incidentally, I apologize: the book by George Sand, from which Marcel's mother reads to him, has not the purplish, as I incorrectly translated, but the reddish binding, that's why he sees the name Francois le Champi as colored in red).
Then, if my suggestion is right, Nabokov drops, as it were, the first rainbow here, at the end of ADA's first chapter. I believe, we can see only three colors in a natural rainbow: that is red, green and violet. They all are here. And there is dark-blue, but it can't be seen against the sky and because it is the shimmer of death, still invisible.

If I could, I would have painted here a little three-colored rainbow, instead of signature, but since I can't, I simply drop my name and surname:

Alexey Sklyarenko

*my thanks to Bryan Boyd
**my thanks to Jerry Friedman