Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025081, Fri, 14 Feb 2014 03:26:00 +0300

Van's drained root & L disaster in Ada
He saw the situation dispassionately now and felt he was doing right by going to bed and switching off the 'ectric' light (a surrogate creeping back into international use). The blue ghost of the room gradually established itself as his eyes got used to the darkness. He prided himself on his willpower. He welcomed the dull pain in his drained root. (3.5)

Van's "drained root" is his male organ after the masturbation. The Russian word for "root," koren', brings to mind von Koren (the zoologist in The Duel) and Kuz'ma Prutkov's advice/aphorism zri v koren' ("get at the root [of problem]").* Note the absense of L in 'ectric.' L is Lucette's initial - but also that of Laevsky (von Koren's antagonist in Chekhov's story), Lenski (whom in Pushkin's novel in verse Onegin kills in a pistol duel), Lermontov (the author of the prophetical Prediction who was killed in a pistol duel) and Lenin.

Electricity was banned (and became unmentionable) on Antiterra after the L disaster in middle of the 19th century.

The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of 'Terra,' are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans - and not to grave men or gravemen.
Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-a-Braques, and the ormolu horrors that meant 'art' to our humorless forefathers. For, indeed, none can deny the presence of something highly ludicrous in the very configurations that were solemnly purported to represent a varicolored map of Terra. Ved' ('it is, isn't it') sidesplitting to imagine that 'Russia,' instead of being a quaint synonym of Estoty, the American province extending from the Arctic no longer vicious Circle to the United States proper, was on Terra the name of a country, transferred as if by some sleight of land across the ha-ha of a doubled ocean to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over all of today's Tartary, from Kurland to the Kuriles! (1.3)

Almost every letter Chekhov wrote to his family from Siberia, during the stops on his long way to Sakhalin, and in his rare spare moments during the three-month-long stay in the island has a phrase zrite kartu ("see the map").

A small map of the European part of the British Commonwealth - say, from Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia - as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina, might be quite thickly prickled with enameled red-cross-flag pins, marking, in her War of the Worlds, Aqua's bivouacs. She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health ('just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black') in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. Of course, Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive... (ibid.)

In the last years of his life sick Chekhov (a doctor who used to say that writers, in order to understand people and life, should study psychiatry) had to live in Yalta.

The Antiterran L disaster seems to correspond to the mock execution of the Petrashevskians on 3 January 1850 (NS). January 3 is Lucette's birthday (1.1). Among the Petrashevskians (who were "pardoned" at the last moment and sent in shackles to Siberia) were Dostoevski (the author of The Double, Notes from the House of the Dead, etc.) and the poet Pleshcheev, a friend and correspondent of young Chekhov. According to Dostoevski (see Chapter Four of The Gift), Pleshcheev was "an all-round blond" (blondin vo vsyom).

In a letter of 27 March 1894 to Lika Mizinov (who was a fair-haired beauty) Chekhov says that he is in Yalta and enjoys the spectacle of a flower-bed of differently colored female heads:

I am in Yalta and I am dreary, very dreary indeed. The aristocracy, so to call it, are performing "Faust," and I go to the rehearsals and there I enjoy the spectacle of a perfect flower-bed of black, red, flaxen, and brown heads.

Lucette is red-haired (rousse)** and Ada has raven-black hair. When Van masturbates on the fatal night of Lucette's suicide, he sees Ada's black hair projected upon the screen of his paroxysm:

In a series of sixty-year-old actions which now I can grind into extinction only by working on a succession of words until the rhythm is right, I, Van, retired to my bathroom, shut the door (it swung open at once, but then closed of its own accord) and using a temporary expedient less far-fetched than that hit upon by Father Sergius (who chops off the wrong member in Count Tolstoy's famous anecdote), vigorously got rid of the prurient pressure as he had done the last time seventeen years ago. And how sad, how significant that the picture projected upon the screen of his paroxysm, while the unlockable door swung open again with the movement of a deaf man cupping his ear, was not the recent and pertinent image of Lucette, but the indelible vision of a bent bare neck and a divided flow of black hair and a purple-tipped paint brush. (3.5)

*The poet and philosopher Kuz'ma Prutkov was invented by A. K. Tolstoy (whose Uproar in Vatican and some other poems are alluded to in Ada) and the Zhemchuzhnikov brothers.
**On Antiterra Montreux (where VN lived since 1964) is known as Mont Roux.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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