Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025013, Mon, 20 Jan 2014 00:30:21 +0300

Ivan Ivanov & Judge Bald in Ada
An American, a certain Ivan Ivanov of Yukonsk, described as an 'habitually intoxicated laborer' ('a good definition,' said Ada lightly, 'of the true artist'), managed somehow to impregnate - in his sleep, it was claimed by him and his huge family - his five-year-old great-granddaughter, Maria Ivanov, and, then, five years later, also got Maria's daughter, Daria, with child, in another fit of somnolence. Photographs of Maria, a ten-year old granny with little Daria and baby Varia crawling around her, appeared in all the newspapers, and all kinds of amusing puzzles were provided by the genealogical farce that the relationships between the numerous living - and not always clean-living - members of the Ivanov clan had become in angry Yukonsk. Before the sixty-year-old somnambulist could go on procreating, he was clapped into a monastery for fifteen years as required by an ancient Russian law. (1.21)

Ivanov (1887) is a play by Chekhov. Describing in a letter to his brother Alexander (who suffered from alcoholism) the first performance, Chekhov (who was surprised by the unexpected success his play had with the audience) signed this letter "Schiller Shakespearovich Goethe."

In his story Woman from the Point of View of a Drunkard (1885), signed "My brother's brother," Chekhov compares girls under sixteen to distilled water. Like Humbert Humbert, Ivan Ivanov (an 'habitually intoxicated laborer') would have disagreed.

Chekhov is the author of Albion's Daughter (1883).** Albion (Britain) is an anagram of albino. The Albino Riots and Ivan Ivanov are mentioned practically in the same paragraph:

History had long replaced appeals to 'divine law' by common sense and popular science. With those considerations in mind, 'incest' could be termed a crime only inasmuch as inbreeding might be criminal. But as Judge Bald pointed out already during the Albino Riots of 1835, practically all North American and Tartar agriculturists and animal farmers used inbreeding as a method of propagation that tended to preserve, and stimulate, stabilize and even create anew favorable characters in a race or strain unless practiced too rigidly. If practiced rigidly incest led to various forms of decline, to the production of cripples, weaklings, 'muted mutates' and, finally, to hopeless sterility. Now that smacked of 'crime,' and since nobody could be supposed to control judiciously orgies of indiscriminate inbreeding (somewhere in Tartary fifty generations of ever woolier and woolier sheep had recently ended abruptly in one hairless, five-legged, impotent little lamb - and the beheading of a number of farmers failed to resurrect the fat strain), it was perhaps better to ban 'incestuous cohabitation' altogether. Judge Bald and his followers disagreed, perceiving in 'the deliberate suppression of a possible benefit for the sake of avoiding a probable evil' the infringement of one of humanity's main rights - that of enjoying the liberty of its evolution, a liberty no other creature had ever known. (ibid.)

The characters of Chekhov's story Women’s Realm (1894) include the lawyer Lysevich whose name comes from lysyi (bald). An ardent admirer of Maupassant (the only other writer whom Lysevich reads sometimes is Jules Verne), Lysevich recommends this writer to Anna Akimovna, the story's main character. Telling her about Maupassant's latest piece, Lysevich says that it has exhausted him, has made him drunk:

“But I fear that you will remain indifferent toward it. In order to get carried away by it, you have to savor it, slowly wring out the juice from every line, drink… You have to drink it."

According to Vivian Darkbloom, Maupassant does not exist on Antiterra. The authorship of some of his stories (e. g. La Parure and La Petite Rocque) is ascribed to Mlle Lariviere, Lucette’s governess.

In a letter of February 6, 1891, to Suvorin Chekhov praises Suvorin's article on Tolstoy's Afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata and Fransuaza, Tolstoy's Russian version of Maupassant's story about incest Le Port:

Ваша статья о Толстом сплошная прелесть. Очень, очень хорошо. И сильно, и деликатно. Вообще какой-то особенно удачный номер: и Ваша статья, и "Франсуаза". Прекрасный рассказ. Прибавка о сестре ("она твоя сестра!"), сделанная Толстым, не так портит, как Вы боялись. Только от неё рассказ утерял как будто свою свежесть. Впрочем, всё равно. Suvorin was afraid that the addition about sister ("she is your sister!") made by Tolstoy would spoil the story, but it did not. The story seems to have lost its freshness, though (in Chekhov's opinion).

Btw., Chekhov begins this letter with the mention of J. W. Goethe:

Гёте и Эккерман легки на помине.
("Goethe and Eckermann have just arrived.")***

Mlle Lariviere is the author of The Accursed Children, a novel filmed by Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother) and her director (and former lover) G. A. Vronsky (1.32). An unobservant person, she does not notice that Van and Ada (les enfants maudits of her novel) are lovers (actually, she is worried that Van can turn little Lucette's head, 1.23). But it seems that Mlle Lariviere is not alone in missing, as the hero of Krylov's fable Lyubopytnyi (Sightseer) does, the elephant:

'But you just said you collected flowers?' said Ada.
'Oh, just one season, somewhere in Switzerland. I don't remember when. It does not matter now.'
The reference was to Ivan Durmanov: he had died of lung cancer years ago in a sanatorium (not far from Ex, somewhere in Switzerland, where Van was born eight years later). Marina often mentioned Ivan who had been a famous violinist at eighteen, but without any special show of emotion, so that Ada now noted with surprise that her mother's heavy make-up had started to thaw under a sudden flood of tears (maybe some allergy to flat dry old flowers, an attack of hay fever, or gentianitis, as a slightly later diagnosis might have shown retrospectively). She blew her nose, with the sound of an elephant, as she said herself - and here Mlle Lariviere came down for coffee and recollections of Van as a bambin angelique who adored a neuf ans - the precious dear! - Gilberte Swann et la Lesbie de Catulle (and who had learned, all by himself, to release the adoration as soon as the kerosene lamp had left the mobile bedroom in his black nurse's fist). (1.10)

"Gentianitis" hints at the gentians in Marina's herbarium that Van and Ada discover in the attic of Ardis Hall (1.1). One wonders if there is a hidden connection between Marina's hobby (collecting flowers) and her twin sister's illness? Poor mad Aqua's suicide note was signed My sister's sister who teper' iz ada"('now is out of hell'). (1.3) Chekhov's story Woman from the Point of View of a Drunkard was signed Brat moego brata (“My brother’s brother”).

Marina's and Aqua's brother Ivan (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's uncle) brings to mind Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya (1897). It is alluded to by Van and Ada:

'Well, that bit about spinsters is rot,' said Van, 'we'll pull it off somehow, we'll become more and more distant relations in artistically forged papers and finally dwindle to mere namesakes, or at the worst we shall live quietly, you as my housekeeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, "we shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds."'
'Did you find them all, Uncle Van?' she inquired, sighing, laying her dolent head on his shoulder. She had told him everything.
'More or less,' he replied, not realizing she had. 'Anyway, I made the best study of the dustiest floor ever accomplished by a romantic character. One bright little bugger rolled under the bed where there grows a virgin forest of fluff and fungi. I'll have them [the diamonds of a torn necklace] reassembled in Ladore when I motor there one of these days. I have lots of things to buy - a gorgeous bathrobe in honor of your new swimming pool, a cream called Chrysanthemum, a brace of dueling pistols, a folding beach mattress, preferably black - to bring you out not on the beach but on that bench, and on our isle de Ladore.'
'Except,' she said, 'that I do not approve of your making a laughingstock of yourself by looking for pistols in souvenir shops, especially when Ardis Hall is full of old shotguns and rifles, and revolvers, and bows and arrows - you remember, we had lots of practice with them when you and I were children.'
Oh, he did, he did. Children, yes. In point of fact, how puzzling to keep seeing that recent past in nursery terms. Because nothing had changed - you are with me, aren't you? - nothing, not counting little improvements in the grounds and the governess.
Yes! Wasn't that a scream? Lariviere blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer! A sensational Canadian bestselling author! Her story 'The Necklace' (La riviere de diamants) had become a classic in girls' schools and her gorgeous pseudonym 'Guillaume de Monparnasse' (the leaving out of the 't' made it more intime) was well-known from Quebec to Kaluga. As she put it in her exotic English: 'Fame struck and the roubles rolled, and the dollars poured' (both currencies being used at the time in East Estotiland); but good Ida, far from abandoning Marina, with whom she had been platonically and irrevocably in love ever since she had seen her in 'Bilitis,' accused herself of neglecting Lucette by overindulging in Literature; consequently she now gave the child, in spurts of vacational zeal, considerably more attention than poor little Ada (said Ada) had received at twelve, after her first (miserable) term at school. (1.31)

'Bilitis' hints at The Songs of Bilitis by Pierre Louys, but it is also an anagram of Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia).

In her memoirs O. L. Knipper (Chekhov's wife) says that her husband (the author of a book on the Sakhalin penal colony) wanted to visit the ancient Solovetski monastery and that only his illness and early death prevented him from making that journey. It was Chekhov's friend and younger colleague Gorky who, a quarter of the century after Chekhov's death, visited SLON (Solovetskiy Lager' Osobogo Naznacheniya)*** and wrote a favorable essay, praising the camp's administration and rules.

*Like most stories of young Chekhov, this one was signed "A. Chekhonte." Chekhonte = ne khochet ("does not want").
**Chekhov planned to use in The Duel Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe.
***the Solovki force labor camp; slon means "elephant"

Alexey Sklyarenko

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