Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025044, Wed, 5 Feb 2014 04:36:45 +0300

Vrubel & history in Ada
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)

Best known for his paintings Demon Seated and Demon Thrown Down, Mikhail Vrubel is also the author of Tsarevna Lebed' (The Swan Princess) and Printsessa Gryoza (The Dream Princess, the mosaic panel in the central great arch of the facade of the Metropol Hotel near the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow). Printsessa Gryoza is the Russian title of La Princesse Lointaine (1895), Rostand's play in verse translated by Tatiana Shchepkin-Kupernik (a grand-daughter of the actor Mikhail Shchepkin, a friend of Pushkin and Gogol who played the town mayor in Gogol's Inspector). In her last note Marina's poor mad twin sister Aqua calls herself "poor Princesse Lointaine, tres lointaine by now" (1.3).

The principal parts in Shchepkin-Kupernik's Russian versions of Rostand's plays were invariably played by the translator's friend Lidia Yavorski. In Zametki Perevodchika (A Translator's Notes, 1957) VN points out that Alexander Benois wittily compared the figure of young Pushkin in Repin's execrable painting The Exam at the Lyceum to l'Aiglon as played by Yavorski:

31. Художник Репин нас заметил.
Александр Бенуа остроумно сравнивал фигуру молодого Пушкина на исключительно скверной картине «Лицейский экзамен» (репродукция которой переползает из издания в издание полных сочинений Пушкина) с Яворской в роли Орлёнка. За эту картину Общество им. Куинджи удостоило Репина золотой медали и 3000 рублей — кажется, главным образом потому, что на Репина «нападали декаденты».

The title character of Rostand's play, l'Aiglon ("eaglet"), is Napoleon's son Duke of Reichstadt (Napoleon II of France).
At Van's first tea party in Ardis his mother Marina (officially, Ada's and Lucette's mother, a professional actress) says that she "loved to identify herself with famous beauties:"

Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van's teacher of history, 'Jeejee' Jones.
'He resembles my teacher of history,' said Van when the man had gone.
'I used to love history,' said Marina, 'I loved to identify myself with famous women. There's a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties - Lincoln's second wife or Queen Josephine.'
'Yes, I've noticed - it's beautifully done. We've got a similar set at home.'
'Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?' Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.
'Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),' replied Van, slegka ulibnuvshis' (with a slight smile). 'Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.'
'Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.'
'Pah,' uttered Ada.
Marina's portrait, a rather good oil by Tresham, hanging above her on the wall, showed her wearing the picture hat she had used for the rehearsal of a Hunting Scene ten years ago, romantically brimmed, with a rainbow wing and a great drooping plume of black-banded silver; and Van, as he recalled the cage in the park and his mother [Marina's twin sister Aqua] somewhere in a cage of her own, experienced an odd sense of mystery as if the commentators of his destiny had gone into a huddle." (1.5)

"Queen Josephine" seems to hint at Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon's first wife. Kim Beauharnais is a kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who spies on Van and Ada and later attempts to blackmail Ada. I suspect him to be the son of Arkadiy Dolgorukiy (the narrator and main character in Dostoevski's Adolescent) and "Alfonsinka" (as Arkadiy calls Alphonsine, a character in the same novel, Lambert's girlfriend who turns out to be a spy). Incidentally, "a Hunting Scene" seems to hint at Drama na okhote (The Tragedy during Hunting, 1884), young Chekhov's "criminal" novel.

Van's teacher of history, 'Jeejee' Jones is a namesake of the footman in "Ardis the Second." It is Jones (by now a Ladore policeman) who helps Van to blind Kim Beauharnais and to destoy his negatives: Puffing rhythmically, Jones set one of his beautiful dragon-entwined flambeaux on the low-boy with the gleaming drinks and was about to bring over its fellow to the spot where Demon and Marina were winding up affable preliminaries but was quickly motioned by Marina to a pedestal near the striped fish. Puffing, he drew the curtains, for nothing but picturesque ruins remained of the day. Jones was new, very efficient, solemn and slow, and one had to get used gradually to his ways and wheeze. Years later he rendered me a service that I will never forget. (1.38)

In a letter of March 30, 1895, to Suvorin Chekhov says that Yavorski is a daughter of Kiev's chief of police Huebenneth. According to Chekhov, she has in her arteries the blood of an actress and in her veins the police blood:

Побывайте на Madame Sanse Gene и посмотрите Яворскую. Если хотите, познакомьтесь. Она интеллигентна и порядочно одевается, иногда бывает умна. Это дочь киевского полицеймейстера Гюбеннета, так что в артериях её течёт кровь актёрская, а в венах полицейская. О преемственности сих двух кровей я уже имел удовольствие высказывать Вам свое психиатрическое мнение. Московские газетчики всю зиму травили её, как зайца, но она не заслуживает этого. Если бы не крикливость и не некоторая манерность (кривлянье тож), то это была бы настоящая актриса.

Chekhov recommends to Suvorin Yavorski in the part of Madame Sanse Gene (the title character of a play by Sardou and Moreau). Sardou is a near anagram of Ardis (cf. They [Van and Ada] could have eloped to Lopadusa as Mr and Mrs Sardi or Dairs! 3.5). At the family dinner in Ardis the Second Van speaks of Ada's sisterly sanse gene:

At this moment both battants of the door were flung open by Bouteillan in the grand manner, and Demon offered kalachikom (in the form of a Russian crescent loaf) his arm to Marina. Van, who in his father's presence was prone to lapse into a rather dismal sort of playfulness, proposed taking Ada in, but she slapped his wrist away with a sisterly sans-gene, of which Fanny Price might not have approved. (1.38)

In a letter of June 12, 1891, to Lika Mizinov Chekhov wrote:

We have a magnificent garden, dark avenues, snug corners, a river, a mill, a boat, moonlight, nightingales, turkeys. In the pond and river there are very intelligent frogs. We often go for walks, during which I usually close my eyes and crook my right arm in the shape of a bread-ring [krendelem], imagining that you are walking by my side.

Instead of signature Chekhov drew an arrow-pierced heart.

As I pointed out before, Marina's family name Durmanov comes from durman (thorn apple; drug, narcotic) and reminds one of the intoxicant that Arkadina (the ageing actress in Chekhov's Seagull) can not find in the country.

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by an actor in a theatre. The Russian Prime Minister Peter Stolypin was assassinated by a police agent in the Kiev opera theatre.

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/