Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025045, Thu, 6 Feb 2014 03:09:46 +0300

Tartuffe in Ada & elsewhere
She [Ada] turned to him [Van] and next moment he was kissing her bare shoulder, and pushing against her like that soldier behind in the queue.
First time I hear about him. I thought old Mr Nymphobottomus had been my only predecessor.
Last spring. Trip to town. French theater matinee. Mademoiselle had mislaid the tickets. The poor fellow probably thought 'Tartuffe' was a tart or a stripteaser. (1.19)

In his memoir essay A. P. Chekhov (included in Chekhov v vospominaniyakh sovremennikov, M., 1947) A. S. Lazarev-Gruzinski (1861-1927) speaks of "literary Tartuffes" who accused Chekhov of satirizing Isak Levitan in Poprygun'ya (The Grasshopper, 1892) and Lidia Yavorski in Ariadna (1895):

Литературные Тартюфы, кроме "Попрыгуньи", называют "прямым пасквилем" чеховскую "Ариадну". В "Ариадне" Чехов будто бы вывел известную артистку Л. Б. Яворскую. Это уже решительный вздор.
Л. Б. Яворская в пору знакомства с Чеховым играла в московском театре Корша. Это была красивая, изящная женщина и не блестящая, но весьма и весьма интересная комедийная актриса. Благодаря ей и талантливой игре Яковлева (Наполеон) известная пьеса Сарду "Мадам Сан-Жен" при первой её постановке в Москве прошла у Корша свыше ста раз в одном сезоне. Вся Москва бегала смотреть "Мадам Сан-Жен". И действительно, Катрин Юбше в исполнении Яворской и Наполеона в исполнении Яковлева стоило и стоило посмотреть. Чехов чуть-чуть был увлечён Яворской. Однажды, зайдя в театр Корша днём за редакционными билетами, я увидел Чехова выходящим откуда-то из глубины театральных недр.
- Антон Павлович, что вы тут делаете? - с удивлением спросил я. - Я думал, вы в Мелихове. Ах, да! я и забыл, что вы ухаживаете за Яворской!
- Откуда вы знаете это?
- Откуда? Да об этом вся Москва говорит!
- Tout Moskou, tout Moskou! - рассмеялся Чехов, но в дальнейшем разговоре (мы ушли вместе) не отрицал ухаживанья. А затем увлечение прошло, Яворская уехала из Москвы в Петербург, и к мимолётному роману Чехова была поставлена точка.

Ariadne was the daughter of Minos and Pasiphaё who gave Theseus the thread by which he escaped from the labyrinth. Ada's husband Andrey Vinelander calls his father-in-law Demon Veen (son of Dedalus) "Dementiy Labirintovich" (3.8).

Andrey Andreevich Vinelander is a namesake of Van's Russian tutor, Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (AAA),* and of Andrey Andreich, Nadya Shumin's fiance in Chekhov's story Nevesta (The Bride, 1903). Ada's poor deceived husband has nothing in common with vulgar Andrey Andreich, but resembles Osip Dymov, the heroine's deceived husband in Chekhov's Poprygun'ya, and, to a certain degree, Chekhov himself.

Spring in Fialta and a torrid May on Minataor, the famous artificial island, had given a nectarine hue to her [Lucette's] limbs, which looked lacquered with it when wet, but re-evolved their natural bloom as the breeze dried her skin. (3.5)

An anagram of Taormina (a city in Sicily), Minataor also hints at Minotaur, the bull-headed monster who lived in the Cretan Labyrinth (built by Daedalus, a legendary architect). As to Fialta, it brings to mind Yalta, a city in the Crimea where Chekhov lived in the last years of his life. Yalta is directly mentioned in Vesna v Fialte (the Russian title of VN's story):

Я этот городок люблю; потому ли, что во впадине его названия мне слышится сахаристо-сырой запах мелкого, тёмного, самого мятого из цветов, и не в тон, хотя внятное, звучание Ялты...
I am fond of Fialta; I am fond of it because I feel in the hollow of those violaceous syllables the sweet dark dampness of the most rumpled of small flowers, and because the altolike name of a lovely Crimean town is echoed by its viola... (Spring in Fialta)

Interestingly, Jean Shcheglov was "a literary Tartuffe" himself. 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.
According to Chekhov, literary hypocrisy is the worst kind of hypocrisy.

This seems to confirm that "old Mr Nymphobottomus" (Paul J. Gigment, the painter who came several times to dinner at Ardis Hall, 1.18) was not Van's only predecessor. In fact, we later find out (thanks to Kim Beauharnais's photos) that Van was not Ada's first lover.

Btw., note that Napoleon is a character in Sardou's play Madame Sans Gene (in which Yavorski played Catherine Huebscher, "Madame Sans Gene"). I notice only now that Chekhov (who "spoke all languages except foreign ones"), in his letter to Suvorin, misspells its title. I followed Chekhov's spelling.

*Aksakov is a great friend of S. A. Vengerov, a celebrated Pushkinist (1855-1954). The characters of Chekhov's Pyesa bez nazvaniya (The Play without a Title, 1880-81, first published in 1923) include Abram Abramovich Vengerovich, a rich Jew, and his son Isak Abramovich, a student. Platonov (the play's main character) predicts to Vengerovich pere (who is about fifty) that he will live to become twice as old and die peacefully.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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