Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025106, Sat, 22 Feb 2014 21:25:37 +0300

doe at gaze in Ada
One can even surmise that if our time-racked, flat-lying couple ever intended to die they would die, as it were, into the finished book, into Eden or Hades, into the prose of the book or the poetry of its blurb.
...Not the least adornment of the chronicle is the delicacy of pictorial detail: a latticed gallery; a painted ceiling; a pretty plaything stranded among the forget-me-nots of a brook; butterflies and butterfly orchids in the margin of the romance; a misty view descried from marble steps; a doe at gaze in the ancestral park; and much, much more. (5.6)

Van and Ada (whom Dr Lagosse made the final merciful injection of morphine) die immediately after completing their book. "A doe at gaze" in Ada's last sentence brings to mind a herd of deer that the hero of Chekhov's story Ward No. 6 (1892) sees before his death:

Andrey Efimych understood that his end had come, and remembered that Ivan Dmitrich, Mikhail Averyanych, and millions of people believed in immortality. And what if it really existed? But he did not want immortality -- and he thought of it only for one instant. A herd of deer, extraordinarily beautiful and graceful, of which he had been reading the day before, ran by him; then a peasant woman stretched out her hand to him with a registered letter. . . . Mikhail Averyanych said something, then it all vanished, and Andrey Efimych sank into oblivion forever. (chapter XIX)

We never see a doe (the female of the deer, antelope, goat, rabbit, and certain other animals) in Ardis Park, but at the picnic in "Ardis the First" a wild cat appears:

The ruins of the turkey, the port wine which only the governesses had touched, and a broken Sevres plate were quickly removed by the servants. A cat appeared from under a bush, stared in a shock of intense surprise, and, despite a chorus of 'kitty-kitty,' vanished. (1.13)

Another cat appeared in the middle of a stage performance with Cordula's mother:

'Cordula,' said the old actress (with the same apropos with which she once picked up and fondled a fireman's cat that had strayed into Fast Colors in the middle of her best speech), 'why don't you go with this angry young demon to the tea-car? I think I'll take my thirty-nine winks now.' (1.42)

The passengers of Cordula's compartment include, beside her mother, Dr Platonov and his grandson Russel:

The two other places were occupied by a stout, elderly gentleman in an old-fashioned brown wig with a middle parting, and a bespectacled boy in a sailor suit sitting next to Cordula, who was in the act of offering him one half of her chocolate bar. Van entered, moved by a sudden very bright thought, but Cordula's mother did not recognize him at once, and the flurry of reintroductions combined with a lurch of the train caused Van to step on the prunella-shod foot of the elderly passenger, who uttered a sharp cry and said, indistinctly but not impolitely: 'Spare my gout (or 'take care' or 'look out'), young man!'
'I do not like being addressed as "young man,"' Van told the invalid in a completely uncalled-for, brutal burst of voice.
'Has he hurt you, Grandpa?' inquired the little boy.
'He has,' said Grandpa, 'but I did not mean to offend anybody by my cry of anguish.'
'Even anguish should be civil,' continued Van (while the better Van in him tugged at his sleeve, aghast and ashamed).
...'Well, we know Dr Platonov slightly, and there was absolutely no reason for you to be so abominably rude to the dear old man.' (ibid.)

Platonov is the main character in Chekhov's juvenile P'yesa bez nazvaniya (<Play without a Title>).

Old Van regrets that in his philosopical work Texture of Time (Part Four of Ada) he did not mention pain:

Was it time for the morphine? No, not yet. Time-and-pain had not been mentioned in the Texture. Pity, since an element of pure time enters into pain, into the thick, steady, solid duration of I-can’t-bear-it pain; nothing gray-gauzy about it, solid as a black bole, I can’t, oh, call Lagosse. (5.6)

Nor did Andrey Efimovich Ragin notice pain until one day he feels it:

He bit the pillow from pain and clenched his teeth, and all at once through the chaos in his brain there flashed the terrible unbearable thought that these people, who seemed now like black shadows in the moonlight, had to endure such pain day by day for years. How could it have happened that for more than twenty years he had not known it and had refused to know it? He knew nothing of pain, had no conception of it, so he was not to blame, but his conscience, as inexorable and as rough as Nikita, made him turn cold from the crown of his head to his heels. (Ward No. 6, chapter XVIII)

Ivan Dmitrich (Andrey Efimych's former patient, another inhabitant of Ward No. 6) wonders if na tom svete net ada (can really be no hell in the next world):

"О господи, неужели же в самом деле на том свете нет ада и эти негодяи будут прощены?"
Oh, Lord, can there really be no hell in the next world, and will these scoundrels be forgiven? (ibid.)

One of the two seconds in Demon's duel with d'Onsky is Colonel St. Alin, a scoundrel (1.2). His name clearly hints at Stalin. One wonders if Dzhugashvili (Stalin's real name) and his assistants will be forgiven?

According to Van, the father of the Erminin twins Greg and Grace "preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel" (3.2). Like Dr Krolik, he does not appear at the picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday:

Three adult gentlemen, moreover, were expected but never turned up: Uncle Dan, who missed the morning train from town; Colonel Erminin, a widower, whose liver, he said in a note, was behaving like a pecheneg; and his doctor (and chess partner), the famous Dr Krolik, who called himself Ada's court jeweler, and indeed brought her his birthday present early on the following day (1.13).

Pecheneg ("The Savage," 1894) is a story by Chekhov. Colonel Erminin's pechen' (liver) behaves like a pecheneg probably because he drinks hard after his wife's suicide. When four years later Demon visits Ardis, he tells Van that Colonel Erminin (whose young sister-in-law Ruth probably died in childbirth, she was pregnant when she came to the picnic in "Ardis the First") is "practically mad." In Chekhov's story Andrey Efimych, before he "goes mad" (in the opinion of others), starts to drink much:

On two or three occasions Andrey Efimych was visited by his colleague Hobotov, who also advised him to give up spirituous liquors, and for no apparent reason recommended him to take bromide. (chapter XII)

"In vino veritas!" cry out p'yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) in Blok's Incognita (1906).

In a letter of 25 November 1892 to Suvorin Chekhov complains of the lack of alcohol in the works of contemporary artists:

That is just what is lacking in our productions—the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside "Ward No. 6" and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting. Let us discuss the general causes, if that won't bore you, and let us include the whole age. Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries—that is, men between thirty and forty-five—have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade? Have Repin's or Shishkin's pictures turned your head? ...We are stale and dull ourselves, we can only beget gutta-percha boys,* and the only person who does not see that is Stasov, to whom nature has given a rare faculty for getting drunk on slops. The causes of this are not to be found in our stupidity, our lack of talent, or our insolence, as Burenin imagines, but in a disease which for the artist is worse than syphilis or sexual exhaustion. We lack "something," that is true, and that means that, lift the robe of our muse, and you will find within an empty void.

While the comfortably resting lady [Mlle Lariviere, Lucette's governess] was describing the bank of a brook where little Rockette liked to frolic, Ada sat reading on a similar bank, wistfully glancing from time to time at an inviting clump of evergreens (that had frequently sheltered our lovers) and at brown-torsoed, barefooted Van, in turned-up dungarees, who was searching for his wristwatch that he thought he had dropped among the forget-me-nots (but which Ada, he forgot, was wearing). Lucette had abandoned her skipping rope to squat on the brink of the brook and float a fetus-sized rubber doll. Every now and then she squeezed out of it a fascinating squirt of water through a little hole that Ada had had the bad taste to perforate for her in the slippery orange-red toy. (1.23)

According to Van, nothing in world literature, save maybe Count Tolstoy’s reminiscences, can vie in pure joyousness and Arcadian innocence with the ‘Ardis’ part of the book. (5.6)

"Arcadian innocence" brings to mind Arkadina, the ageing actress in Chekhov's play The Seagull (1896), and Arkadiy Erminin who preferred to pass for "a Chekhovian colonel:"

Greg Erminin to Van: 'Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil Rack, a composer of genius - dead, dead, all dead!'
'I really know very little about music but it was a great pleasure to make your chum howl. I have an appointment in a few minutes, alas. Za tvoyo zdorovie, Grigoriy Akimovich.'
'Arkadievich,' said Greg, who had let it pass once but now mechanically corrected Van.
'Ach yes! Stupid slip of the slovenly tongue. How is Arkadiy Grigorievich?'
'He died. He died just before your aunt. I thought the papers paid a very handsome tribute to her talent. And where is Adelaida Danilovna? Did she marry Christopher Vinelander or his brother?' (3.2)

Marina whom Greg calls "your aunt" is actually Van's mother:

On the fabulous country estate of his art-collecting uncle, Daniel Veen, an ardent childhood romance develops in a series of fascinating scenes between Van and pretty Ada, a truly unusual gamine, daughter of Marina, Daniel's stage-struck wife. That the relationship is not simply dangerous cousinage, but possesses an aspect prohibited by law, is hinted in the very first pages.
In spite of the many intricacies of plot and psychology, the story proceeds at a spanking pace. Before we can pause to take breath and quietly survey the new surroundings into which the writer's magic carpet has, as it were, spilled us, another attractive girl, Lucette Veen, Marina's younger daughter, has also been swept off her feet by Van, the irresistible rake. Her tragic destiny constitutes one of the highlights of this delightful book.
The rest of Van's story turns frankly and colorfully upon his long love-affair with Ada. It is interrupted by her marriage to an Arizonian cattle-breeder whose fabulous ancestor discovered our country. After her husband's death our lovers are reunited. (5.6)

Like Keats and Chekhov ("consumptive Anton" as Demon calls him, 3.6), Ada's husband Andrey Vinelander dies of tuberculosis (3.8).

*an allusion to a story by Grigorovich

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/