Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025038, Mon, 3 Feb 2014 02:20:57 +0300

Ex, Ardis, Mont Roux, Bohemian lady in Ada
Simultaneously, a tall splendid creature with trim ankles and repulsively fleshy thighs, stalked past the Veens, all but treading on Lucette's emerald-studded cigarette case. Except for a golden ribbon and a bleached mane, her long, ripply, beige back was bare all the way down to the tops of her slowly and lusciously rolling buttocks, which divulged, in alternate motion, their nether bulges from under the lame loincloth. Just before disappearing behind a rounded white corner, the Titianesque Titaness half-turned her brown face and greeted Van with a loud 'hullo!'
Lucette wanted to know: kto siya pava? (who's that stately dame?) (3.5)

'Sure you'd not prefer the restaurant?' he [Van] inquired when Lucette, looking even more naked in her short evening frock than she had in her 'bickny,' joined him at the door of the grill. 'It's crowded and gay down there, with a masturbating jazzband. No?'
Tenderly she shook her jeweled head. (ibid.)

Then she [Lucette] walked before him as conscious of his gaze as if she were winning a prize for 'poise.' He [Van] could describe her dress only as struthious (if there existed copper-curled ostriches), accentuating as it did the swing of her stance, the length of her legs in ninon stockings. (ibid.)

In Pushkin's Skazka o Tsare Saltane ("The Fairy Tale about Czar Saltan," 1831) the beautiful Tsarevna Lebed' (Swan Princess) has a moon under her plait and a star in her forehead. Her gait is compared to that of pava (a peahen):

Месяц под косой блестит,
А во лбу звезда горит.
А сама-то величава,
Выступает будто пава;
Сладку речь-то говорит,
Будто реченька журчит.

Tatiana Shchepkin-Kupernik, in her memoir essay O Chekhove (On Chekhov, 1947), and Chekhov's sister Maria Pavlovna, in her reminiscences of her brother Iz dalyokogo proshlogo (From Distant Past, 1954), compare Lika Mizinov to the beautiful Tsarevna Lebed' of Russian fairy tales:

Лика была девушка необыкновенной красоты. Настоящая «Царевна-Лебедь» из русских сказок. Её пепельные вьющиеся волосы, чудесные серые глаза под «соболиными» бровями, необычайная женственность и мягкость и неуловимое очарование в соединении с полным отсутствием ломанья и почти суровой простотой - делали её обаятельной, но она как будто не понимала, как она красива, стыдилась и обижалась, если при ней об этом кто-нибудь из компании Кувшинниковой с бесцеремонностью художников заводил речь. Однако она не могла помешать тому, что на неё оборачивались на улице и засматривались в театре. Лика была очень дружна с сестрой А. П. Марией Павловной и познакомила нас. М. П. занималась живописью и преподавала в гимназии Ржевской. (Shchepkin-Kupernik)

Лика была девушка необыкновенной красоты. Настоящая «Царевна-Лебедь» из русских сказок. (M. P. Chekhov)

Chekhov and Lika soon became enamoured of each other. But, as Maria Pavlovna points out, her brother disapproved in Lika her penchant for to Bohemian way of life:

К тому же у Лики были некоторые черты, чуждые брату: бесхарактерность, склонность к быту богемы. И, может быть, то, что он писал ей однажды в шутку, впоследствии оказалось сказанным всерьёз: «В Вас, Лика, сидит большой крокодил, и, в сущности, я хорошо делаю, что слушаюсь здравого смысла, а не сердца, которое Вы укусили».

Demon learns about Marina's infidelity from a Bohemian lady:

Next day Demon was having tea at his favorite hotel with a Bohemian lady whom he had never seen before and was never to see again (she desired his recommendation for a job in the Glass Fish-and-Flower department in a Boston museum) when she interrupted her voluble self to indicate Marina and Aqua, blankly slinking across the hall in modish sullenness and bluish furs with Dan Veen and a dackel behind, and said:
'Curious how that appalling actress resembles "Eve on the Clepsydrophone" in Parmigianino's famous picture.'
'It is anything but famous,' said Demon quietly, 'and you can't have seen it. I don't envy you,' he added; 'the naive stranger who realizes that he or she has stepped into the mud of an alien life must experience a pretty sickening feeling. Did you get that small-talk information directly from a fellow named d'Onsky or through a friend of a friend of his?'
'Friend of his,' replied the hapless Bohemian lady. (1.2)

Demon challenges his rival to a duel:

The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish - a kind of American 'Gory Mary' in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d'Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not 'of his wounds' (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston - a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (ibid.)

"A quite accidental milkmaid" and "charming Monsieur de Pastrouil" (the Antiterran twin of Louis Pasteur?) bring to mind molochnaya Rzhevskoy ("Rzhevski's dairy") as Chekhov called in jest the school for girls where his sister Maria Pavlovna and Lika Mizinov worked as teachers.

In her memoirs Maria Pavlovna writes that Chekhov's friend and fellow writer Ignatiy Potapenko (a married man with two daughters) called her and Lika Mizinov "his sisters." But then one of the sisters, Lika, fell in love with Potapenko. They had an affair and left for Paris. But eventually Potapenko (whose wife attempted to commit suicide) had to leave Lika:

Я и Лика подружились с Игнатием Николаевичем. Мы стали называться его "сёстрами" и перешли на "ты." Он был искренен и трогателен в своих отношениях с нами. И вот, как это нередко бывает в жизни, одна из "сестёр," Лика, начала увлекаться Потапенко. Очень. Может быть, что ей хотелось забыться и освободиться от своего мучительного чувства к Антону Павловичу. Но у Потапенко была семья: жена и две дочери…
Лика и Потапенко стали встречаться и в Москве. В конце концов, постепенно разрастаясь, их увлечение перешло в роман.
Начался самый драматический этап в жизни Лики – роман с Потапенко. Всё это происходило у нас в Мелихове и в Москве в зиму 1893/94 года. В начале марта 1894 года Лика и Игнаша, как мы его звали, решили уехать в Париж.
Дальше происходит тривиальное и вместе с тем трагическое: Лика ждет ребёнка. Потапенко её оставляет.

In a letter of September 18 (30, New Style), 1894, Chekhov from Vienna asks Lika in what place in Switzerland he can meet her:

Потапенко говорил мне как-то, что Вы и Варя Эберле будете в Швейцарии. Если это так, то напишите мне, в каком именно месте Швейцарии я мог бы отыскать Вас... Я не совсем здоров. У меня почти непрерывный кашель. Очевидно, и здоровье я прозевал так же, как Вас.
("I'm not quite well and cough all the time. I must have neglected my health, just as I neglected you.")

In a letter of October 3 (NS), 1894, Lika (who was eight months pregnant) replies that she lives in Montreux, in a ten-minute walk from the Chillon Castle:

Я живу в 10 минутах ходьбы от Шильонского замка! Как видите, всё прекрасно, но меня ничто не веселит! Как это Вы надумали и собрались поехать за границу! Это меня удивляет! Я тоже кашляю беспрерывно! Но теперь уже привыкла!
Если приедете в Монтрё один, то телеграфируйте, и я приду Вас встретить! А то Вы меня не найдете! Я живу в деревне у простой крестьянки и очень довольна, что никого чужих нет.

On Antiterra the Chillon Castle is known as Chateau de Byron or 'She Yawns Castle' (3.8). The verb Chekhov used in his letter to Lika, prozeval ("missed, neglected, let slip"), comes zevat' ("to yawn").

In a letter of November 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions Lord Byron:

Ну-с, теперь об уме. Григорович думает, что ум может пересилить талант. Байрон был умен, как сто чертей, однако же талант его уцелел. Если мне скажут, что Икс понёс чепуху оттого, что ум у него пересилил талант, или наоборот, то я скажу: это значит, что у Икса не было ни ума, ни таланта.
Sir Grigorovich thinks that intellect can overwhelm talent. Byron was as smart as a hundred devils; nevertheless his talent has survived intact. If we say that X talked nonsense because his intellect overwhelmed his talent or vice versa, then I say that X had neither brains, nor talent.

Grigorovich is the author of Luckless Anton (1847) and Gutta-Percha Boy (1883). In the same letter Chekhov says that "we can only beget gutta-percha boys."

At one time Aqua believed that a stillborn male infant half a year old, a surprised little fetus, a fish of rubber that she had produced in her bath, in a lieu de naissance plainly marked X in her dreams, after skiing at full pulver into a larch stump, had somehow been saved and brought to her at the Nusshaus, with her sister's compliments, wrapped up in blood-soaked cotton wool, but perfectly alive and healthy, to be registered as her son Ivan Veen. At other moments she felt convinced that the child was her sister's, born out of wedlock, during an exhausting, yet highly romantic blizzard, in a mountain refuge on Sex Rouge, where a Dr Alpiner, general practitioner and gentian-lover, sat providentially waiting near a rude red stove for his boots to dry. (1.3) Ex (Ex-en-Valais), a mountain resort in Switzerland, is Van's lieu de naissance (1.1).

Chekhov's letter to Suvorin begins:

It is easy to understand you, and there is no need for you to abuse yourself for obscurity of expression. You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade [Chekhov's story Ward No. 6], 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.

At the family dinner in "Ardis the Second" Demon praises Lord Byron's Hock:

'Ah!' said Demon, tasting Lord Byron's Hock. 'This redeems Our Lady's Tears.' (1.38)

In her last note Aqua (Marina's twin sister, Demon's poor mad wife) mentions Princesse Lointaine:

Similarly, chelovek (human being) must know where he stands and let others know, otherwise he is not even a klok (piece) of a chelovek, neither a he, nor she, but 'a tit of it' as poor Ruby, my little Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. I, poor Princesse Lointaine, tres lointaine by now, do not know where I stand. Hence I must fall. (1.3)

La Princesse Lointaine (1895) is a play in verse by Edmond Rostand. Like all of Rostand's plays, it was translated to Russian (as Printsessa Gryoza) by Tatiana Shchepkin-Kupernik. Printsessa Gryoza (1898) is also a painting by Mikhail Vrubel. According to Van, Vrubel (the author of Demon Thrown Down who went mad) made a portrait of his (and Ada's) father:

Ardis, Manhattan, Mont Roux, our little rousse is dead. Vrubel's wonderful picture of Father, those demented diamonds staring at me, painted into me. (3.8)

Chekhov signed his letter of June 12, 1891, to Lika Mizinov (in which he mentions the coachman Trophim) with a heart pierced with an arrow. In Greek, Ardis means "the point of an arrow."

Manhattan (or Man) is the Antiterran name of New York. Chekhov's friend Gorky entitled his essay on New York "Gorod zhyoltogo d'yavola" (The City of Yellow Devil). Gorod (city) is an anagram of gordo (proudly). According to Satin, a character in Gorky's play Na dne (At the Bottom, 1902), chelovek - eto zvuchit gordo ("Man - this sounds proudly"). Satin + il/li = St Alin + i = istina + l (il - Fr., he; Russ., silt; li - Russ., whether, if; istina - truth). Istina v vine (in wine is truth).

Here is the closing paragraph of Shchepkin-Kupernik's memoir essay on Chekhov:

Я иногда задумывалась над тем, что делал бы Чехов, как он поступал бы, если бы ему суждено было дожить до великой революции. И у меня всегда готов ответ: Чехов был настоящий русский писатель, настоящий русский человек. Он ни в каком бы случае не покинул родины и с головой ушёл бы в строительство той новой жизни, о которой мечтал и он и его герои.

It seems to me that VN would have disagreed with the memoirist (who is sure that, had he lived to see the Revolution, Chekhov would not leave Russia after the October coup).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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