Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025043, Tue, 4 Feb 2014 23:52:54 +0300

cicerone, pollice verso,
Philip Rack & Dr Stella Ospenko's ospedale in Ada
In November 1871, as he [Daniel Veen] was in the act of making his evening plans with the same smelly but nice cicerone in a cafe-au-lait suit whom he had hired already twice at the same Genoese hotel, an aerocable from Marina (forwarded with a whole week's delay via his Manhattan office which had filed it away through a new girl's oversight in a dove hole marked RE AMOR) arrived on a silver salver telling him she would marry him upon his return to America. (1.1)

'You can see the Tarn from the library window,' said Marina. 'Presently Ada will show you all the rooms in the house. Ada?' (She pronounced it the Russian way with two deep, dark 'a's, making it sound rather like 'ardor.')
'You can catch a glint of it from here too,' said Ada, turning her head and, pollice verso, introducing the view to Van who put his cup down, wiped his mouth with a tiny embroidered napkin, and stuffing it into his trouser pocket, went up to the dark-haired, pale-armed girl. (1.5)

In his memoir essay Iz vospominaniy ob Antone Chekhove (From the Reminiscences about Anton Chekhov, 1906) Chekhov's friend and fellow writer Ivan Leontiev-Shcheglov (1856-1911) describes the numerous guests and visitors of Melikhovo, Chekhov's country seat in the Province of Moscow, who disturbed the writer asking him to be their cicerone in local ramblings. According to the memoirist, for sick Chekhov those guests and visitors were his domestic "pollice verso:"

А вместо желанного отдыха на голову больного, нуждающегося писателя обрушилось доморощенное "Pollice verso!" ("Добей его!") в виде неугомонного паломничества в Мелихово разных незваных гостей и непрошеных сочувственников. Кого тут только не было!..
То приезжает целая замоскворецкая семья, будто бы, "чтобы насладиться беседой бесценного Антона Павловича", а в сущности для того, чтобы отдохнуть на лоне природы от московской сутолоки, и заставляющая исполнять Чехова роль чичероне мелиховских окрестностей... (Chapter Four "Last Meetings")

In his letters to Ivan Leontiev-Shcheglov (who dubbed Chekhov "Potyomkin") Chekhov calls him "Jean" or "Alba" (because of Shcheglov's "inquisitorial" hand-writing). Another friend and colleague of Chekhov, Ignatiy Potapenko (the "fair Ignatius" of Chekhov's letters), was a namesake of Loyola (the founder of the Society of Jesus). Potapenko, who finished the conservatoire in Odessa, was very musical. As Chekhov's guest in Melikhovo, he sang and played the violin accompanying Lika Mizinov (Potapenko's mistress who had a beautiful voice and wanted to become an opera singer).

The name of Lucette's teacher of music, the composer Philip Rack, seems to hint at the Spanish Inquisition. Philip Rack's wife Elsie (who poisons her poor husband and has a complicated miscarriage in the maternity ward of the Kalugano hospital, 1.42) can be compared in certain respects to Potapenko's jealous wife.

Potapenko + golos/logos + ad/da = pot/top + Log/gol + Ospenko + Ada
Potapenko + Sosso = spot + osa + Ospenko

golos - Russ., voice; There he [male nurse Dorofey] left Van, while he seated himself at a small table in the door corner and leisurely unfolded the Russian-language newspaper Golos (Logos). (1.42)
ad - Russ., hell
da - Russ., yes
Log - the Supreme Being on Antiterra
gol - Russ., goal (football)
Ospenko - Dr Stella Ospenko. The alcohol his [Demon's] vigorous system had already imbibed was instrumental, as usual, in reopening what he gallicistically called condemned doors, and now as he gaped involuntarily as all men do while spreading a napkin, he considered Marina's pretentious ciel-etoile hairdress and tried to realize (in the rare full sense of the word), tried to possess the reality of a fact by forcing it into the sensuous center, that here was a woman whom he had intolerably loved, who had loved him hysterically and skittishly, who insisted they make love on rugs and cushions laid on the floor ('as respectable people do in the Tigris-Euphrates valley'), who would woosh down fluffy slopes on a bobsleigh a fortnight after parturition, or arrive by the Orient Express with five trunks, Dack's grandsire, and a maid, to Dr Stella Ospenko's ospedale where he was recovering from a scratch received in a sword duel (and still visible as a white weal under his eighth rib after a lapse of nearly seventeen years). (1.38)
Sosso - Khan Sosso (on Antiterra, the ruler of the ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate, aka Tartary, 2.2); btw., according to a Russian saying "the uninvited guest is worse than a Tartar"
osa - Russ., wasp

The name Ospenko hints at ospa (smallpox). In Chekhov's play The Three Sisters (Act Two) Dr Chebutykin reads from the newspaper:

"Tsitsikar. Zdes' svirepstvuet ospa."
"Tsitsikar. Smallpox is raging here."

Tsitsikar (a city in Manchuria) is mentioned by Demon after uncle Dan's death:

'A propos, I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is somewhere in Italy, but I've managed to trace Marina to Tsitsikar - flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk - she will arrive in the late afternoon, wearing, no doubt, pleureuses, very becoming, and we shall then travel a trois to Ladore, because I don't think -'
Was he perhaps under the influence of some bright Chilean drug? (Ada, 2.10)

Ospedale Maggiore is a hospital in Milan where Leonardo's mother died (see Merezhkovski's novel The Resurrection of Gods. Leonardo da Vinci). In a letter of February 5, 1893, to Suvorin Chekhov compares Merezhkovski, the author of Proshla groza (The Thunderstorm Has Passed, a play criticized by Chekhov for its hypocrisy), to Jean Shcheglov:

В январской книжке "Труда" напечатана пьеса Мережковского "Гроза прошла". Если не хватит времени и охоты прочесть всю пьесу, то вкусите один только конец, где Мережковский перещеголял даже Жана Щеглова. Литературное ханжество самое скверное ханжество.

In a letter of September 22, 1894, from Milan to his sister in Melikhovo Chekhov mentions foreign girls in Milan who study singing a la Lika Mizinov and Varya Eberle and adds that he leaves for Genoa today:

Слышу, как учатся петь. Здесь в Милане много иностранок, a la Лика и Варя, обучающихся пению в расчете на богатство и славу. Бедняжки, голосят с утра до вечера.
Сегодня тащусь в Геную.

In the same letter Chekhov says that in Milan he examined the crematorium ("a cemetry where the deceased are burned") and expresses his regret that they do not burn the living (say, the heretics who consume meat and milk food on Wednesdays) as well:

Теперь я в Милане; собор и галерея Виктора Эммануила осмотрены, и ничего больше не остаётся, как ехать в Геную, где много кораблей и великолепное кладбище. (Кстати: в Милане я осматривал крематорию, т. е. кладбище, где сжигают покойников; пожалел, что не жгут здесь и живых, например, еретиков, кушающих по средам скоромное.)*

*see also my recent post "animated parallel & pilgrims" in Ada

Alexey Sklyarenko

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