Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025124, Thu, 27 Feb 2014 01:09:52 +0300

pencils & keyholes in Ada
He [Van] wanted to make a note of it [the dream of an aquatic peacock] - 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)

A pencil plays an amusing role in Ilf and Petrov's "The Twelve Chairs." In Sorbonne (a cheap hotel in Stargorod) Father Fyodor attempts to sting Bender with a pencil pushed through a keyhole, but Bender snatches it, carves a rude word on its edge with a pocket-knife and pushes it back through the keyhole of the priest's door:

Ostap bent down to the keyhole, cupped his hand to his mouth, and said clearly:
"How much is opium for the people?"
There was silence behind the door:
"Dad, you're a nasty old man," said Ostap loudly.
That very moment the point of Father Fyodor's pencil shot out of the keyhole and wiggled in the air in an attempt to sting his enemy. The concessionaire jumped back in time and grasped hold of it. Separated by the door, the adversaries began a tug-of-war. Youth was victorious, and the pencil, clinging like a splinter, slowly crept out of the keyhole. Ostap returned with the trophy to his room, where the partners were still more elated.
"And the enemy's in flight, flight, flight," he crooned.
He carved a rude word on the edge of the pencil with a pocket-knife, ran into the corridor, pushed the pencil through the priest's keyhole, and hurried back. (Chapter XII "A Passionate Woman, a Poet's Dream")

Znoynaya zhenshchina - mechta poeta (a passionate woman, a poet's dream) is Mme Gritsatsuev, a widow whom Bender marries in Stargorod in order to get access to her chair (a piece of furniture). Her name brings to mind the Gritz Hotel in Ada:

It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist [Walter C. Keyway, Esq.] into the porter's lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one's name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)

It is Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of 'Vladimir Nabokov') who gave Marina's children a set of Flavita (Russian Scrabble). Flavita is an anagram of alfavit ("alphabet"). Chapter Eleven of "The Twelve Chairs" is entitled Alfavit - zerkalo zhizni ("The Mirror-of-Life Index"). The alphabetical Mirror-of-Life Index is Varfolomey Korobeynikov's catalogue of the furniture that was nationalized by the Bolsheviks.

One is reminded of the Vaniada divan and the closet with a keyless hole in the library of Ardis Hall:

'Van, you are deliberately sidetracking the issue -'
'One can't do that with an issue.'
'- because at the other end, at the heel end of the Vaniada divan - remember? - there was only the closet in which you two locked me up at least ten times.'
'Nu uzh i desyat' (exaggeration). Once - and never more. It had a keyless hole as big as Kant's eye. Kant was famous for his cucumicolor iris.'
'Well, that secretaire,' continued Lucette, considering her left shoe, her very chic patent-leather Glass shoe, as she crossed her lovely legs, 'that secretaire enclosed a folded card table and a top-secret drawer. And you thought, I think, it was crammed with our grandmother's love letters, written when she was twelve or thirteen. And our Ada knew, oh, she knew, the drawer was there but she had forgotten how to release the orgasm or whatever it is called in card tables and bureaus.' (2.5)

When Bender visits Mme Gritsatsuev, he is shod in new chic shoes:

Ostap was beaming. He was wearing new raspberry-coloured shoes with round rubber heel taps, green-and-black check socks, a cream cap, and a silk-mixture scarf of a brightly coloured Rumanian shade... Ostap lovingly inspected the heels of his new shoes.
"Chic moderne," he said. "What shall we do? Don't worry, Judge, I'll take on the operation myself. No chair can withstand these shoes." (Chapter XII "A Passionate Woman, a Poet's Dream")

Speaking of birds (see my previous post), in the same chapter of Ilf and Petrov's novel Bender tells Vorob'yaninov:

'Let's work the Marxist way. We'll leave the sky to the birds and deal with the chairs ourselves. I can't wait to meet the imperialist war invalid, citizen Gritsatsuev, at 15 Plekhanov Street. Don't lag behind, Konrad Karlovich.'

"Konrad Karlovich Mikhelson" is Vorob'yaninov's new alias. Note that Karl Marx is known on Antiterra as "Marx pere, the popular author of 'historical' plays:"

Van Veen [as also, in his small way, the editor of Ada] liked to change his abode at the end of a section or chapter or even paragraph, and he had almost finished a difficult bit dealing with the divorce between time and the contents of time (such as action on matter, in space, and the nature of space itself) and was contemplating moving to Manhattan (that kind of switch being a reflection of mental rubrication rather than a concession to some farcical 'influence of environment' endorsed by Marx pere, the popular author of 'historical' plays), when he received an unexpected dorophone call which for a moment affected violently his entire pulmonary and systemic circulation. (2.5)

Thirty sons of Lieutenant Schmidt and the grandchildren of Karl Marx are mentioned in Ilf and Petrov's "The Golden Calf."

Alexey Sklyarenko

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