Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025115, Wed, 26 Feb 2014 00:14:07 +0300

Van's dream of aquatic peacock in Ada
A tempest went into convulsions around midnight, but despite the lunging and creaking (Tobakoff was an embittered old vessel) Van managed to sleep soundly, the only reaction on the part of his dormant mind being the dream image of an aquatic peacock, slowly sinking before somersaulting like a diving grebe, near the shore of the lake bearing his name in the ancient kingdom of Arrowroot. Upon reviewing that bright dream he traced its source to his recent visit to Armenia where he had gone fowling with Armborough and that gentleman's extremely compliant and accomplished niece. He wanted to make a note of it - and was amused to find that all three pencils had not only left his bed table but had neatly aligned themselves head to tail along the bottom of the outer door of the adjacent room, having covered quite a stretch of blue carpeting in the course of their stopped escape. (3.5)

It is interesting to compare Van's dream of an aquatic peacock onboard the Tobakoff to Vorob'yaninov's dream of a black-spotted sow onboard the Pestel in Ilf and Petrov's "The Twelve Chairs:"

On the night of September 10, as the Pestel turned out to sea and set sail for Yalta without calling at Anapa on account of the gale, Ippolit Matveevich had a dream.
He dreamed he was standing in his admiral's uniform on the balcony of his house in Stargorod, while the crowd gathered below waited for him to do something. A large crane deposited a black-spotted pig at his feet.
Tikhon the caretaker appeared and, grabbing the pig by the hind legs, said:
"Durn it. Does the Nymph really provide tassels?"
Ippolit Matveevich found a dagger in his hand. He stuck it into the pig's side, and jewels came pouring out of the large wound and rolled on to the cement floor. They jumped about and clattere more and more loudly. The noise finally became unbearable and terrifying.
Ippolit Matveevich was wakened by the sound of waves dashing against the porthole. (Chapter XXXIX "The Earthquake")

The name Vorob'yaninov comes from vorobey ("sparrow"). The name of Vorob'yaninov's mother-in-law (who concealed the diamonds in the upholstering of a Gambs chair), Mme Petukhov, comes from petukh ("cock"). Vorob'yaninov's dream seems to portend the murder of Bender (whom Vorob'yaninov kills with a razor in the novel's last chapter).

Van's dream of an aquatic peacock seems to portend Lucette's suicide. Lucette (a red-haired girl whom Van and Ada call "darling firebird," 2.8) is associated with a fairy tale bird:

Then she walked before him as conscious of his gaze as if she were winning a prize for 'poise.' He could describe her dress only as struthious (if there existed copper-curled ostriches), accentuating as it did the swing of her stance, the length of her legs in ninon stockings. Objectively speaking, her chic was keener than that of her 'vaginal' sister. As they crossed landings where velvet ropes were hastily stretched by Russian sailors (who glanced with sympathy at the handsome pair speaking their incomparable tongue) or walked this or that deck, Lucette made him think of some acrobatic creature immune to the rough seas. He saw with gentlemanly displeasure that her tilted chin and black wings, and free stride, attracted not only blue innocent eyes but the bold stare of lewd fellow passengers. (3.5)

Lucette's jeweled head makes one think of the beautiful tsarevna Lebed' (Swan Princess) who in Pushkin's "Fairy Tale about Tsar Saltan" (1831) has a moon under her plait and a star in her forehead:

Месяц под косой блестит,
А во лбу звезда горит;
А сама-то величава,
Выступает, будто пава;
А как речь-то говорит,
Словно реченька журчит.

The Swan Princess' walk is compared to that of pava (a peahen). Pava is mentioned by Lucette:

Simultaneously, a tall splendid creature with trim ankles and repulsively fleshy thighs, stalked past the Veens, all but treading on Lucette's emerald-studded cigarette case. Except for a golden ribbon and a bleached mane, her long, ripply, beige back was bare all the way down to the tops of her slowly and lusciously rolling buttocks, which divulged, in alternate motion, their nether bulges from under the lame loincloth. Just before disappearing behind a rounded white corner, the Titianesque Titaness half-turned her brown face and greeted Van with a loud 'hullo!'
Lucette wanted to know: kto siya pava? (who's that stately dame?) (3.5)

Lucette dubs that stately dame "Miss Condor:"

'There's that waiter coming. What shall we have - Honoloolers?'
'You'll have them with Miss Condor' (nasalizing the first syllable) 'when I go to dress.' For the moment I want only tea. Mustn't mix drugs and drinks. Have to take the famous Robinson pill sometime tonight. Sometime tonight.'
'Two teas, please.'
'And lots of sandwiches, George. Foie gras, ham, anything.' (ibid.)

The Sandwich Islands (the former name of the Hawaiian Islands, known on Antiterra as "the Gavailles") with the main city Honolulu are mentioned in Ilf and Petrov's "The Golden Calf:"

Всё было на месте: и Нью-Фаундленд, и Суэцкий канал, и Мадагаскар, и Сандвичевы острова с главным городом Гонолулу, и даже вулкан Попокатепетль, а Берингов пролив отсутствовал. И тут же, у карты, старик тронулся.
Everything was on its place: Newfoundland, the Suez Canal, the Sandwich Islands with the main city Honolulu, and even the volcano Popocatepetl, but the Bering Strait was absent. And right here, at the map, the old man went off his head. (Chapter XVI "Jahrbuch fuer Psychoanalytik")*

Van, Ada and Lucette are the children of Marina. But officially Van is the son of Marina's twin sister Aqua. Poor mad Aqua (Demon Veen's wife) believed at times that Van was her beloved son. On the other hand, she believed in the existence of Terra, Demonia (or Antiterra's) twin planet. As he speaks of a varicolored map of Terra, Van refers to the Bering Strait (not absent on Antiterra, but apparently much narrower than on Terra) as "the ha-ha of a doubled ocean:"

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)

After Van told her that he was not alone in his cabin (Lucette thinks that Van is with Miss Condor), Lucette jumps from the Tobakoff into the Atlantic (3.5). The Atlantic and serditaya voda (angry water) are mentioned in "The Twelve Chairs:"

From Batumi to Sinop there was a great din. The sea raged and vented its spite on every little ship. The steamer Lenin sailed towards Novorossiysk with its two funnels smoking and its stern plunging low in the water. The gale roared across the Black Sea, hurling thousand-ton breakers on to the shore of Trebizond, Yalta, Odessa and Konstantsa. Beyond the still in the Bosporus and the Dardanelles surged the Mediterranean. Beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, the Atlantic smashed against the shores of Europe. A belt of angry water encircled the world. (Chapter XXXVII "The Green Cape")

One of Aqua's delusions was the idea that she could understand the language of her loquacious namesake, water:

She developed a morbid sensitivity to the language of tap water - which echoes sometimes (much as the bloodstream does predormitarily) a fragment of human speech lingering in one's ears while one washes one's hands after cocktails with strangers. Upon first noticing this immediate, sustained, and in her case rather eager and mocking but really quite harmless replay of this or that recent discourse, she felt tickled at the thought that she, poor Aqua, had accidentally hit upon such a simple method of recording and transmitting speech, while technologists (the so-called Eggheads) all over the world were trying to make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and still very expensive, hydrodynamic telephones and other miserable gadgets that were to replace those that had gone k chertyam sobach'im (Russian 'to the devil') with the banning of an unmentionable 'lammer.' (1.3)

In "The Golden Calf" one of the inhabitants of "the Crow's Nest," Gigienishvili (formerly a Prince, now plain worker of the Orient), suggests that the belongings of the airman Sevryugov (who got lost in the Arctic) should be thrown away to the staircase landing, k chertyam sobach'im. (chapter XXI "The End of the Crow's Nest")**

The inhabitants of the Crow's Nest, Koreyko (a secret Soviet millionaire), the old rebus composer Sinitski (whose name comes sinitsa, titmouse) and his grand-daughter Zosya live in Chernomorsk (i. e. Odessa, Ilf's and Petrov's home town). The city's name comes from Chyornoe more (the Black sea) and brings to mind Chernomor, the evil sorcerer in Pushkin's poem Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820), and Chernomordik, the pretty heroine's husband in Chekhov's story Aptekarsha ("A Chemist's Wife," 1886).

The name Tobakoff comes from tobak ("tobacco") and brings to mind Pushkin's poem Krasavitse, kotoraya nyukhala tabak ("To a Beauty who Sniffed Tobacco," 1814) and Chekhov's monologue scenes O vrede tobaka ("On the Harm of Tobacco," 1886, 1903). The ship on which Bender and Vorob'yaninov sail from Batum to Yalta was named after Pavel Ivanovich Pestel, one of the five Decembrists who were executed in 1826 near the Peter-and-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. A friend of Ryleev (another hanged Decembrist who owned Batovo, the estate in the Province of St. Petersburg that later belonged to the Nabokovs), Pushkin met Pestel on 9 April and in May, 1821, in Kishinev. "The most intelligent, gifted and energetic man among the conspirators," Pestel was the son of the Governor of Siberia who is described (as a phenomenal thief) by Herzen in Byloe i dumy ("The Bygones and Meditations"). A heart-rending chapter in Herzen's memoirs is entitled (after a poem by Victor Hugo) Oceano Nox. Describing Lucette's death in the Atlantic, Van mentions "Oceanus Nox:"

The sky was also heartless and dark, and her body, her head, and particularly those damned thirsty trousers, felt clogged with Oceanus Nox, n,o,x. (3.5)

On July 16, 1827 (the first anniversary of the Decembrists' execution), Pushkin wrote Arion:

Нас было много на челне;
Иные парус напрягали,
Другие дружно упирали
В глубь мощны вёслы. В тишине
На руль склонясь, наш кормщик умный
В молчанье правил грузный чёлн;
А я - беспечной веры полн, -
Пловцам я пел... Вдруг лоно волн
Измял с налёту вихорь шумный...
Погиб и кормщик и пловец! -
Лишь я, таинственный певец,
На берег выброшен грозою,
Я гимны прежние пою
И ризу влажную мою
Сушу на солнце под скалою.

We many were who filled the boat:
Some held the sails aloft and flying,
Some plied the oars, and thus, defuing,
The wayward winds, kept us afloat.
Our helmsman steered the vessel, loaded
Full as she was, and onward sent;
And I, to them I sang, content
And unconcerned... A violent
Gale overtook the boat and goaded
The seas to fury... All were lost
But I who out the deep was tossed
By surging waves; my body flinging
On to the sands, they fled... Now I
Sit drying in the sun and my
Old, well loved songs in relish singing.

Arion is the admirable Greek minstrel whom an appreciative dolphine saved from drowning. He brings to mind young michman Tobakoff who frightened away sharks with snatches of old songs:

'When michman Tobakoff himself got shipwrecked off Gavaille, he swam around comfortably for hours, frightening away sharks with snatches of old songs and that sort of thing, until a fishing boat rescued him - one of those miracles that require a minimum of cooperation from all concerned, I imagine'
...She [Lucette] drank a 'Cossack pony' of Klass vodka - hateful, vulgar, but potent stuff; had another; and was hardly able to down a third because her head had started to swim like hell. Swim like hell from sharks, Tobakovich!
...She did not see her whole life flash before her as we all were afraid she might have done; the red rubber of a favorite doll remained safely decomposed among the myosotes of an unanalyzable brook; but she did see a few odds and ends as she swam like a dilettante Tobakoff in a circle of brief panic and merciful torpor. (3.5)

Pushkin's "Arion" is mentioned in Chapter Four of The Gift:

"An end was put to those friendly relations whose monument has remained the poem ‘Arion,' " explains Chernyshevski in passing, but how full of sacred meaning was this casual reference to the forbidden subject of Decembrism for the reader of The Contemporary (whom we suddenly imagine as absentmindedly and hungrily biting into an apple-transferring the hunger of his reading to the apple, and again eating the words with his eyes).

Arion neatly rhymes with Vissarion, the critic Belinski's first name (on the other hand, Vissarionovich is Stalin's patronymic). "The furious Vissarion" (as he is referred to elsewhere in The Life of Chernyshevski) is mentioned in the sentence of The Gift immediately preceding the one quoted above:

Pushkin does not figure in the list of books sent to Chernyshevski at the [Peter-and-Paul] fortress, and no wonder: despite Pushkin's services ("he invented Russian poetry and taught society to read it" - two statements completely untrue), he was nevertheless above all a writer of witty little verses about women's little feet - and "little feet" in the intonation of the sixties - when the whole of nature had been Philistinized into travka (diminutive of "grass") and pichuzhki (diminutive of "birds") - already meant something quite different from Pushkin's "petits pieds" something that had now become closer to the mawkish "Fuesschen." It seemed particularly astonishing to him (as it did also to Belinski) that Pushkin became so "aloof" toward the end of his life.

Vissarion + man = Ariman/Marina/Armina + vino/ovin/voin*** + ass

Ariman - Ahriman, the evil spirit in the Zoroastrianism, mentioned by Garshin in his story Krasnyi tsvetok ("The Red Flower," 1883)
Armina - Demon's Mediterranean villa near Nice

On Antiterra New York is known as Man (short of Manhattan). "An embittered old vessel," Tobakoff sails for Man.

In Ada VN seems to associate himself once again with Pushkin's Arion. The Bol'shaya Morskaya Street in St. Petersburg where VN was born on April 23, 1899, and where he lived till November 1917 was renamed Herzen Street by the Bolsheviks. The adjective morskaya (fem. of morskoy) comes from more ("sea"). Aqua married Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father) on 23 April 1869:

On April 23, 1869, in drizzly and warm, gauzy and green Kaluga, Aqua, aged twenty-five and afflicted with her usual vernal migraine, married Walter D. Veen, a Manhattan banker of ancient Anglo-Irish ancestry who had long conducted, and was soon to resume intermittently, a passionate affair with Marina. The latter, some time in 1871, married her first lover's first cousin, also Walter D. Veen, a quite as opulent, but much duller, chap. (1.1) Daniel Veen (Walter D. Veen, nicknamed Red Veen and Durak Walter) is Lucette's father. Durak means "fool." In "The Twelve Chairs" the two main fools are Kisa Vorob'yaninov and father Fyodor (who says that Bender is sam durak, "a fool himself," in Sorbonne, a cheap hotel in Stargorod).

A friend of P. B. Shelley, T. L. Peacock (1785-1866) is mentioned in Ada. When Van asks eight-year-old Lucette to learn by heart a poem by Robert Brown, Ada suggests that he should choose the one about finding a feather and seeing Peacock plain:

This tiny one, for example, was composed in tears forty years ago by the Poet Laureate Robert Brown, the old gentleman whom my father once pointed out to me up in the air on a cliff under a cypress, looking down on the foaming turquoise surf near Nice, an unforgettable sight for all concerned. It is called "Peter and Margaret." (1.23)

('Let her try the one about finding a feather and seeing Peacock plain,' said Ada drily - 'it's a bit harder.') (ibid.)

The poem Ada has in mind is Robert Browning's Memorabilia beginning "Ah, did you once see Shelley plain?" On 8 July 1822, less than a month before his 30th birthday, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm while sailing back from Livorno to Lerici in his schooner, Don Juan. Don Juan's Last Fling is the movie that Van and Lucette watch in Tobakoff's cinema hall before Lucette's suicide. In her last note to Van (written in Paris 'just in case' and sent to Van's Kingston address) Lucette quotes Brown's poem (composed by VN):

'I kept for years - it must be in my Ardis nursery - the anthology you once gave me; and the little poem you wanted me to learn by heart is still word-perfect in a safe place of my jumbled mind, with the packers trampling on my things, and upsetting crates, and voices calling, time to go, time to go. Find it in Brown and praise me again for my eight-year-old intelligence as you and happy Ada did that distant day, that day somewhere tinkling on its shelf like an empty little bottle. Now read on:

'Here, said the guide, was the field,
There, he said, was the wood.
This is where Peter kneeled,
That's where the Princess stood.

No, the visitor said,
You are the ghost, old guide.
Oats and oaks may be dead,
But she is by my side.' (ibid.)

*see also my previous post
**see also my previous post
***see my previous post

Alexey Sklyarenko

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