NABOKV-L post 0006997, Fri, 1 Nov 2002 08:06:53 -0800

Alex Sklyarenko on Brian Boyd on "Chose" in ADA
EDNOTE. Alex Sklyarenko has done an (as yet) Russian translation of
ADA. Also, see his charming essay on the Nabokov family fencing and
boxing coach (w/ photos of his skeleton) on ZEMBLA.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Fwd: RE: Brian Boyd on "Chose" in ADA]
Date: Fri, 1 Nov 2002 17:46:56 +0300
From: "alex" <>
To: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
References: <>

Although my badly formulated hypothesis about Chose/Fleurs du Mal was
found to be "most unlikely" and is indeed most probably wrong (despite
all evidence that speaks against it, it is not easy for me to give up so
soon, but I don't feel my English good enough to prove my precarious
point any longer), I'm delighted in all responses and in the possibility
to learn so many new things concerning this subject. Of course, I knew
that chose is the French common word for "thing", but I also recently
learned that "kel'k shoz" (back transliteration from Russian) was rather
popular among Russian writers (mainly humorists, from Chekhov to
Averchenko), who used it (in a character's speech) for veshchitsa (a
little thing), a word which in certain situations might have sexual
connotations (contrary to a simple veshch'). Otherwise, "shoz" or
"kel'k" alone are impossible in Russian. That made me think of another
possible "nabokovian" transposition of words:
qelque chose lost its first component to the name of a talc powder
(Quelques Fleurs) and the second component became the name of the
University and the University town (Chose). In the process, both words
are capitalized and the adjective becomes plural.
Chose as University + town is described in expressions borrowed from
Baudelaire's poem from his book Fleurs du Mal. Fleurs goes to the powder
name. And in the poem there is the word choses in plural that would have
necessitated an adjective also in plural. That adjective (Quelques) goes
to the talc powder name, substituting (as if it were euphemistically)
the second component of the book's title (du Mal). Thus, from the French
book title Fleurs du Mal and the French phrase quelque chose we have the
English University name Chose and the not necessarily French talc powder
name Quelques Fleurs (the existence of the real perfume of that name is
a happy - rather for Nabokov than for Nabokovians - coincedence). Oof,
not easy!

I have the impression that I'm right this time. Am I wrong? My previous
message should be, please, deleted (I hope it is deleted already).


----- Original Message -----
From: Donald Johnson <>
Sent: Thursday, October 31, 2002 10:45 PM
Subject: [Fwd: RE: Brian Boyd on "Chose" in ADA]

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: Brian Boyd on Chose in ADA
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 16:28:18 +1300
From: "Brian Boyd (FOA ENG)" <>
To: "'Vladimir Nabokov Forum'" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>

"Chose" is a puzzling name, and didn't come up in association with
Cambridge in my searches for annotating ADA or for the Nabokov
biography (which included scouring through, e.g., old issues of
Granta, now a famous literary journal but in Nabokov's time just a
local student magazine--named, of course, after the local term for
the Cam, and supplying the river "Ranta" associated in ADA with Chose).

I'm afraid Alexey's conjecture about "chose" and Les Fleurs du Mal
seems most unlikely; "chose" is as common in French as "thing" in
English or "veshch'" in Russian and could be found in other texts in
more or less close proximity to Aqua (such as A la Recherche du
temps perdu).

I offer from my Annotations to ADA one likely, but perhaps
incomplete, explanation, and one unlikely, that nevertheless
involves "Chose" as (albeit temporarily) the name for a town.

18.24: Chose: This proves to be Antiterran for
Cambridge, England, although the reason remains unclear. Perhaps
because of the expression "Hobson's choice," from the practice of
Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), the famous "university carrier" at
Cambridge, who when he hired out horses made each customer "choose"
the horse nearest the door. Milton wrote two poems on the death of
Hobson, whose name--as Nabokov would have known from his years there
as a student (1919-22)--is commemorated around Cambridge in, for
instance, Hobson's Conduit and Hobson's Brook (also known as the
Cambridge New River).

Though this seems an even less likely connection, I note
it anyway, since it shows "Chose" playing, even if briefly, the part
of a town's name. In Villette (1853), by Charlotte Bronte (1816-55),
narrator Lucy Snowe hears Ginevra Fanshawe declare: "`I was
excessively happy at Bonn!' `And where are you now?' I
inquired.//`Oh! at - chose,' said she. Now Miss Ginevra Fanshawe
(such was this young person's name) only substituted this word
`chose' in temporary oblivion of the real name. It was a habit she
had: `chose' came in at every turn in her conversation - the
convenient substitute for any missing word in any language she might
chance at the time to be speaking. French girls often do the like;
from them she had caught the custom. `Chose,' however, I found, in
this instance, stood for Villette - the great capital of the great
kingdom of Labassecour." (Ch. 6) Villette in fact is a version of

I should add that the only place name on Terra rather than the
antiterras of fiction that is called "Villette" is in Vaud Canton,
between Montreux, where Nabokov lived while writing ADA, and
Lausanne, where he would visit his tailor every year to have new
shorts made for him for butterfly hunting. Passing Villette so often
for this and other reasons COULD have piqued Nabokov's curiosity to
read the novel. But it's improbable, and even if he did, offers no
link with Cambridge.

-----Original Message-----
From: Donald Johnson []
Sent: Thursday, 31 October 2002 3:46 p.m.
Subject: [Fwd: Quelques Fleurs du Mal]

EDNOTE. An idle thought. Does anyone know--especially you
Brits---if "Chose" was ever used as a nick-name for Cambridge.
I wonder because "Ardvaark" is used in ADA for Harvard and is,
in fact, an old nickname for Harvard.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Quelques Fleurs du Mal
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 01:14:50 +0300
From: "alex" <>
To: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>

Dear all,
I apologize, if somebody has already explored the following issue:

In 1.3 (Part One, Chapter 3) of Ada, after she has fled from a
mad house (her current "home") and has reached Demon's country
house at Kitezh, poor Aqua sees a glass container with talc
powder colorfully marked Quelques Fleurs standing on her former
bedside table. Why this name ("some flowers") is "colorful" and
what it is in fact commemorating remains unclear until much
later, namely 1.28 of the novel. In the first sentence of this
chapter Aqua is parenthetically mentioned and, a page or two
later in that chapter, Van, her putative son, goes to Chose
University in England where he wants to study psychiatry so as
to understand the nature of Aqua's mental illness that has
caused her to commit a suicide.
So, here is "Chose", another quaint name.
And still later in that chapter there is reminiscence of
Baudlelaire's poem Le crepuscule du matin (from his book Les
Fleurs du Mal), the line ten of which goes:

L'air est plein du frisson des choses qui s'enfuient
("The air is full of thrill of things that are passing away" -
if I translate it right from one language which I don't know at
all into another which I know only slightly).

Thus, if I'm not mistaken, Van's University received its name
after a word in Baudelaire's poem and Aqua's talc powder was
named in honor of the title of the book containing that poem.
I may add that Quelque Chose (a kickshaw, something
attractive) would be a possible name for a talc powder (at
least, it seems to me, the Frenchless, so), while Quelques
Fleurs, though perfectly colorless, sounds (to me) rather strange.
I apologize for possible (and inevitable) mistakes and the
absence of the accent aigu above the first "e" in crepuscule.

best regards to everybody,

Alexey Sklyarenko,