Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025006, Thu, 16 Jan 2014 21:01:27 +0300

Pale Fire in Ada
In their old age Van and Ada translate Pale Fire (Shade's poem) into Russian:

They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569-572) in John Shade's famous poem:

...Soveti mi dayom
Kak bit' vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;
On ih vstrechaet - lyubyashchih, lyubimih,
Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke...

(...We give advice
To widower. He has been married twice:
He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both
Jealous of one another...) (5.6)

Incidentally, Pale Fire is the name of the horse in a steeplechase picture hanging above Cordula's and Tobak's bed in their Tobakoff suite:

There hung, she [Lucette] said, a steeplechase picture of 'Pale Fire with Tom Cox Up' above dear Cordula's and Tobak's bed, in the suite 'wangled in one minute flat' from them, and she wondered how it affected the Tobaks' love life during sea voyages. (3.5)

Lucette who travels in that suite invites Van to see her cabin:

'Come and see my cabin,' she pleaded as he pushed her away with the very spring, as it were, of his animal reaction to the fire of her lips and tongue. 'I simply must show you their pillows and piano. There's Cordula's smell in all the drawers. I beseech you!'
'Run along now,' said Van. 'You've no right to excite me like that. I'll hire Miss Condor to chaperone me if you do not behave yourself. We dine at seven-fifteen.' (ibid.)

When Lucette rings Van up and he tells her that he is not alone in his cabin, Lucette thinks that Van is with Miss Condor and commits suicide jumping into the Atlantic.

One of the foot boys at Ardis admires the pictures of race horses:

Slapping his thighs in dismay, the coachman [Trofim Fartukov] stood berating a tousled foot boy who had appeared from under a bush. He had concealed himself there to enjoy in peace a tattered copy of Tattersalia with pictures of tremendous, fabulously elongated race horses, and had been left behind by the charabanc which had carried away the dirty dishes and the drowsy servants. (1.39)

It is Trofim Fartukov who takes Van to Maidenhair when Van leaves Ardis forever (1.41):

Maidenhair. Idiot! Percy boy might have been buried by now! Maidenhair. Thus named because of the huge spreading Chinese tree at the end of the platform. Once, vaguely, confused with the Venus'-hair fern. She walked to the end of the platform in Tolstoy's novel. First exponent of the inner monologue, later exploited by the French and the Irish. N'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert. L'arbre aux quarante ecus d'or, at least in the fall. Never, never shall I hear again her 'botanical' voice fall at biloba, 'sorry, my Latin is showing.' Ginkgo, gingko, ink, inkog. Known also as Salisbury's adiantofolia, Ada's infolio, poor Salisburia: sunk; poor Stream of Consciousness, maree noire by now. Who wants Ardis Hall! (1.41)

The maidenhair-tree (ginkgo) is also mentioned in Pale Fire:

Many years ago Disa, our King's Queen, whose favorite trees were the jacaranda and the maidenhair, copied out in her album a quatrain from John Shade's collection of short poems Hebe's Cup, which I cannot refrain from quoting here (from a letter I received on April 6, 1959, from southern France):
The gingko leaf, in golden hue, when shed,
A muscat grape,
Is an old-fashioned butterfly, ill-spread
In shape.
When the new Episcopal church in New Wye (see note to line 549) was built, the bulldozers spared an arc of those sacred trees planted by a landscaper of genius (Repburg) at the end of the so-called Shakespeare Avenue, on the campus. I do not know if it is relevant or not but there is a cat-and-mouse game in the second line, and "tree" in Zemblan is grados. (Kinbote's note to line 49)

In his stream of consciousness Van recalls Ada's revised monologue of Shakespeare's mad king:

Ce beau jardin fleurit en mai,
Mais in hiver
Jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais
N'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert. (1.14)

"Jamais" was the nickname of Chekhov's friend Lika Mizinov. In a letter of June 12, 1891, to Lika Chekhov mentions lomovoy izvozchik (a carter) Trophim, who would enlarge Lika's vocabulary with foul words. Instead of signature, Chekhov drew a heart pierced with an arrow.

In a letter of September 8, 1891, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions Tolstoy's Holstomer ("Story of a Horse," 1886):

Итак, к чёрту философию великих мира сего! Она вся, со всеми юродивыми послесловиями и письмами к губернаторше, не стоит одной кобылки из «Холстомера».
And so to the devil with the philosophy of all the great ones of this world! The whole of it with its fanatical "Afterwords" and "Letters to a Governor's Wife" is not worth one little mare in his "Story of a Horse."

Alexey Sklyarenko

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