Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025016, Mon, 20 Jan 2014 23:43:17 +0300

Robinsons & spirits in Ada
According to Ada, an 'habitually intoxicated laborer' (as Ivan Ivanov of Yukonsk is described by his relatives) is a good definition of the true artist. (1.21)

In a letter of November 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov (the author of Woman from the Point of View of a Drunkard) complains of the lack of alcohol in the works of contemporary artists:

You are gorkiy p'yanitsa [a hard drinker], and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productions—the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside "Ward No. 6" and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting. Let ms discuss the general causes, if that won't bore you, and let us include the whole age. Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries—that is, men between thirty and forty-five—have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade? Have Repin's or Shishkin's pictures turned your head? Charming, talented, you are enthusiastic; but at the same time you can't forget that you want to smoke. Science and technical knowledge are passing through a great period now, but for our sort it is a flabby, stale, and dull time. We are stale and dull ourselves, we can only beget gutta-percha boys, and the only person who does not see that is Stasov, to whom nature has given a rare faculty for getting drunk on slops. The causes of this are not to be found in our stupidity, our lack of talent, or our insolence, as Burenin imagines, but in a disease which for the artist is worse than syphilis or sexual exhaustion. We lack "something," that is true, and that means that, lift the robe of our muse, and you will find within an empty void. Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being, that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father, who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing. Some have more immediate objects—the abolition of serfdom, the liberation of their country, politics, beauty, or simply vodka, like Denis Davydov; others have remote objects—God, life beyond the grave, the happiness of humanity, and so on. The best of them are realists and paint life as it is, but, through every line's being soaked in the consciousness of an object, you feel, besides life as it is, the life which ought to be, and that captivates you.

Onboard Tobakoff Van meets Lucette who earlier met the Robinsons:

The steward brought him a Continental breakfast, the ship's newspaper, and the list of first-class passengers. Under 'Tourism in Italy,' the little newspaper informed him that a Domodossola farmer had unearthed the bones and trappings of one of Hannibal's elephants, and that two American psychiatrists (names not given) had died an odd death in the Bocaletto range: the older fellow from heart failure and his boy friend by suicide. After pondering the Admiral's morbid interest in Italian mountains, Van clipped the item and picked up the passenger list (pleasingly surmounted by the same crest that adorned Cordula's notepaper) in order to see if there was anybody to be avoided during the next days. The list yielded the Robinson couple, Robert and Rachel, old bores of the family (Bob had retired after directing for many years one of Uncle Dan's offices). His gaze, traveling on, tripped over Dr Ivan Veen and pulled up at the next name. What constricted his heart? Why did he pass his tongue over his thick lips? Empty formulas befitting the solemn novelists of former days who thought they could explain everything. (3.5)

Shortly before Lucette's suicide, the Robinsons invite her to a Coke in their cabin:

They [the Robinsons] invited Lucette to a Coke with them - proselytical teetotalists - in their cabin, which was small and stuffy and badly insulated, one could hear every word and whine of two children being put to bed by a silent seasick nurse, so late, so late - no, not children, but probably very young, very much disappointed honeymooners. (ibid.)

"Teetotalist" (instead of "teetotaller") seems to hint at totalitarianism. Ilf and Petrov are the authors of Kak sozdavalsya Robinzon (How the 'Soviet' Robinson Crusoe was Written, 1933). In Ilf and Petrov's The Golden Calf H. Robinson & M. P'yatnitsa [sic] Sweet Shop is mentioned:

And he [Koreiko] smiled blissfully as he looked at the lonely NEP-men, rotting under their signs: Trade in Combed Woolen Goods, B. A. Leibedev, Brocade and Ceremonial Vessels For Clubs and Churches, or H. Robinson and M. P'yatnitsa Sweet Shop. (Chapter Five "The Underground Kingdom")

P'yatnitsa = p'yanitsa + t = pyatnitsa + ' = ptitsa + yan'

p'yanitsa - drunkard; in Blok's poem Incognita (1906) p'yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: "in vino veritas!"
pyatnitsa - Friday; in a letter of May 24, 1826, to Vyazemski (the author of Sem' pyatnits na nedele, Seven Fridays a Week) Pushkin says that "Seven Fridays" is "your best vaudeville"
ptitsa - Russ., bird; A tempest went into convulsions around midnight, but despite the lunging and creaking (Tobakoff was an embittered old vessel) Van managed to sleep soundly, the only reaction on the part of his dormant mind being the dream image of an aquatic peacock, slowly sinking before somersaulting like a diving grebe, near the shore of the lake bearing his name in the ancient kingdom of Arrowroot. Upon reviewing that bright dream he traced its source to his recent visit to Armenia where he had gone fowling with Armborough and that gentleman's extremely compliant and accomplished niece. He wanted to make a note of it - and was amused to find that all three pencils had not only left his bed table but had neatly aligned themselves head to tail along the bottom of the outer door of the adjacent room, having covered quite a stretch of blue carpeting in the course of their stopped escape. (3.5) Lucette commits suicide, because she thinks that Van is with "Miss Condor"
yan' - yang, "the positive, bright, and masculine principle in Chinese philosophy and religion," in Russian spelling

The bad insulation in the Robinsons' cabin and Van's run-away pencils bring to mind thin veneer partitions in the "Brother Berthold Schwartz" hostel (where we also find a fire-proof safe and a spiral staircase reminiscent of the Night of the Burning Barn and the spiral stairs leading to the library in Ardis Hall) in Ilf and Petrov's The Twelve Chairs:

The partners wound their way up a spiral staircase to the large attic, which was divided by plyboard partitions into long slices five feet wide. The rooms were like pencil boxes, the only difference being that besides pens and pencils they contained people and primus stoves as well.
"Are you there, Nicky?" Ostap asked quietly, stopping at a central door.
The response was an immediate stirring and chattering in all five pencil boxes.
"Yes," came the answer from behind the door.
"That fool's guests have arrived too early again!" whispered a woman's voice in the last box on the left.
"Let a fellow sleep, can't you!" growled box no. 2.
There was a delighted hissing from the third box.
"It's the militia to see Nicky about that window he smashed yesterday."
No one spoke in the fifth pencil box; instead came the hum of a primus and the sound of kissing. (Chapter XVI)

Maxim Gorky (whose penname means "bitter;" cf. the phrase gorkiy p'yanitsa in Chekhov's above-quoted letter) is mentioned in The Twelve Chairs:

Shalyapin sang. Gorky wrote a big novel. Capablanca prepared for his match against Alekhin. Melnikov broke records. The Assyrian made citizens' shoes shine like mirrors. Avessalom Iznurenkov made jokes. (Chapter XXIII "Avessalom Vladimirovich Iznurenkov")

The big novel Gorky was writing is The Life of Klim Samgin (1925-36). A rare name, Klim is "milk" backwards. One of Marina's former lovers, Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov) gave her children a set of Flavita (Russian scrabble). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter's lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one's name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)

The letter Avidov dropped (according to Walter C. Keyway, Esq.) in order to use it as a nobility particle is D.

D + Avidov = Davidov, syn Davidov + de = Denis Davydov (syn Davidov - Russ, "the son of David," as Jesus Christ was sometimes called; Denis Davydov - the poet and soldier, 1784-1839, mentioned by Chekhov in the above-quoted letter to Suvorin).

As to "Venezia Rossa," in his poem To N. A. Kochubey (1863) from the cycle The Photographs of Venice Prince Vyazemski mentions Robinson and his eternal Friday:

Под этим уныньем с зевотой сердечной,
Другим Робинсоном в лагунной темнице,
Сидишь с глазу на глаз ты с Пятницей вечной,
И тошных семь пятниц сочтёшь на седмице.
Under this depression with yawning in one's heart,
like another Robinson in the lagoon dungeon,
one is sitting tete-a-tete with eternal Friday
and can count seven nauseating Fridays a week.

Samgin = Smagin. Chekhov called his friend A. I. Smagin (a landowner in the Province of Poltava) shakh persidtskiy ("Persian shah;" btw., Persitski is a character in The Twelve Chairs). "No shah" (a play on nosha, "burden") is mentioned by Lucette as she and Van prepare to watch Don Juan's Last Fling in the ship cinema:

No wonder the place was emptovato, as Lucette observed, and she went on to say that the Robinsons had saved her life by giving her on the eve a tubeful of Quietus Pills.
'Want one? One a day keeps "no shah" away. Pun. You can chew it, it's sweet.'
'Jolly good name. No, thank you, my sweet. Besides you have only five left.'
'Don't worry, I have it all planned out. There may be less than five days.'
'More in fact, but no matter. Our measurements of time are meaningless; the most accurate clock is a joke; you'll read all about it someday, you just wait.'
'Perhaps, not. I mean, perhaps I shan't have the patience. I mean, his charwoman could never finish reading Leonardo's palm. I may fall asleep before I get through your next book.' (3.5)

Pyatnitsa (Friday) comes from pyat' ("five"). It is believed that Jesus Christ was crucified on Friday ("Good Friday;" Russ., strastnaya pyatnitsa). Voskresenie is Russian for both "resurrection" and "Sunday."

Etymologically, Friday means "Freya's day." Vanadis is the epithet of Freya (the Scandinavian Venus).

Vanadis + R = Van + Ardis = Ada + universe + L - Eule (Ardis - Daniel Veen's family estate, the setting of Ada's Part One and Part Two; Eule - Germ., owl)

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/