Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0007180, Fri, 29 Nov 2002 10:39:22 -0800

Fw: ADA's Chose: an alternative solution

----- Original Message -----
From: alex
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Cc: Brian Boyd (FOA ENG) ; Jerry Friedman
Sent: Thursday, November 28, 2002 6:14 AM
Subject: Chose: an alternative solution

Dear all (I particularly salute Brian Boyd and Jerry Friedman to whom I'm sending this message as a separate copy, because I suspect there is some trouble with NABOKV-L),

Here is another possible interpretation of this name that enables one to link it both with the well-known French word and (rather vaguely) with Cambridge.

Pushkin has famously said (unfortunately, I can't locate this aphorism in his works; probably it is in his diaries or among some casual notes):
"They say that misfortune (nechshast'e) is a good school. May be. But happiness (chshast'e) is the best university."
I'm not quite sure, if he hasn't borrowed this thought from some French writer (Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld or Voltaire, for example).
Anyway, another famous French aphorist (also admired by Pushkin), Chamfort, has said:
"Le bonheur n'est pas chose aisee; il est tres difficile de le trouver en nous, et impossible de le trouver ailleurs."
(Happiness is not an easy thing; it is difficult to find in ourselves and it is impossible to find elsewhere.)
"Chose University in England", where Van's fathers had also gone, can thus be interpreted as "the University of Happiness".
But how can it be linked to Cambidge? Towards the end of Part I, Chapter 35, there is a long and rather dark sentence, which in part reads: "The asses... can bray ailleurs, ailleurs, ailleurs (the English word wouldn't supply the onomatopoeic element; old Veen is kind)..."
The French word (which means "elsewhere" and is used by Chamfort in his aphorism) is preceded by "can bray" evoking onomatopoeically Cambridge; moreover, there are "bridges" further in that sentence. Let me also note, that "the English word" in parenthesis may refer not only to "elsewhere", but, covertly, to the English counterpart of the French word chose which, I suspect, has more pronounced sexual connotations (cf. la force de choses), than the English "thing", and is therefore chosen for the name of Van's University. Note that the sentence in question (like the whole chapter) deals with sexual matters.
If I'm right in my conjecture, the whole is a monstrous pun, but isn't ADA, with all its multilingual rainbows and multi-colored allusions, a monstrous novel, which only a mad person could have undertaken to translate into his native idiom? Anyway, let a mad commentator make one last minor note:
Champfort's aphorism, quoted above, is chosen by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) for the epigraph to his book Aphorismen zur Lebensweisheit (1851; if I'm not mistaken, it was translated into English as two books, The Wisdom of Life and Cousels and Maxims). This book was not only known to Nabokov, but is clearly alluded to in ADA (see my little piece "Amor's Poisoned Arrows" on duels and venereal disease in ADA, about to appear, edited and corrected by maitres of Nabokov scholarship, in one of the next issues of The Nabokovian).

Alexey Sklyarenko