Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025138, Sat, 1 Mar 2014 00:43:41 +0300

Amerussia of Abraham Milton in Ada
But (even more absurdly), if, in Terrestrial spatial terms, the Amerussia of Abraham Milton was split into its components, with tangible water and ice separating the political, rather than poetical, notions of 'America' and 'Russia,' a more complicated and even more preposterous discrepancy arose in regard to time - not only because the history of each part of the amalgam did not quite match the history of each counterpart in its discrete condition, but because a gap of up to a hundred years one way or another existed between the two earths; a gap marked by a bizarre confusion of directional signs at the crossroads of passing time with not all the no-longers of one world corresponding to the not-yets of the other. (1.3)

In her erratic student years Aqua had left fashionable Brown Hill College, founded by one of her less reputable ancestors, to participate (as was also fashionable) in some Social Improvement project or another in the Severniya Territorii. She organized with Milton Abraham's invaluable help a Phree Pharmacy in Belokonsk, and fell grievously in love there with a married man, who after one summer of parvenu passion dispensed to her in his Camping Ford garconniere preferred to give her up rather than run the risk of endangering his social situation in a philistine town where businessmen played 'golf' on Sundays and belonged to 'lodges.' (ibid.)

Abraham Milton and Milton Abraham hint at John Milton (1608-74), the English poet, and Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), the American politician, 16th President of the United States. The author of Paradise Lost (1667) and Paradise Regained (1671), Milton also wrote political works like The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Eikonoklastes, etc. In his poem Rossiya ("Russia," 1924) Maximilian Voloshin says that politics is the pasting of labels purposed to conceal the components of mixture:

Политика - расклейка этикеток,
Назначенных, чтоб утаить состав. (Part 5)

Seven lines further into the poem Voloshin mentions Martober, the month foreseen by Gogol:

До Мартобря (его предвидел Гоголь)
В России не было ни буржуа,
Ни классового пролетариата:
Была земля, купцы да голытьба,
Чиновники, дворяне да крестьяне...
Да выли ветры, да орал сохой
Поля доисторический Микула...
Один поверил в то, что он буржуй,
Другой себя сознал, как пролетарий,
И началась кровавая игра.

In his poem Voloshin blends the February (by the New Style, March) Revolution of 1917 with the October coup, hence "Martober." In Gogol's Notes of a Madman (1835) one of the entries in Poprishchin's diary is dated "Martober 86, between day and night." In that entry Gogol's madman says that he is the first to discover with whom the woman is in love: Женщина влюблена в чёрта. (The woman is in love with the devil.) In Gogol's story Poprishchin avidly reads the correspondence of dogs. Poor mad Aqua believes that she can understand the language of tap 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)

The phrase sobach'i cherti (literally, "the canine devils") is translated elsewhere in Ada as "hell curs."

Speaking of Belokonsk ("the Russian twin of Whitehorse" where Aqua organaized, with Milton Abraham's invaluable help, a Phree Pharmacy), in the last entry of his diary Poprishchin asks to give him a troika of horses, swift as a whirlwind:

Дайте мне тройку быстрых, как вихорь, коней! Садись, мой ямщик, звени, мой колокольчик, взвейтеся, кони, и несите меня с этого света! Далее, далее, чтобы не видно было ничего, ничего. Вон небо клубится передо мною; звёздочка сверкает вдали; лес несется с темными деревьями и месяцем; сизый туман стелется под ногами; струна звенит в тумане; с одной стороны море, с другой Италия; вон и русские избы виднеют.
Give me three steeds swift as the wind! Mount your seat, coachman, ring bells, gallop horses, and carry me straight out of this world. Farther, ever farther, till nothing more is to be seen! Ah! the heaven bends over me already; a star glimmers in the distance; the forest with its dark trees in the moonlight rushes past; a bluish mist floats under my feet; music sounds in the cloud; on the one side is the sea, on the other, Italy; beyond I also see Russian peasants’ houses. (transl. Claud Field)

The name of Aqua's twin sister, Marina, means "of the sea." One is reminded of the White Sea and Solovki (the Solovetski Islands in the White Sea where the ancient monastery was turned into a particularly cruel hard labor camp). Aqua's half-Russian, half-dotty old doctor quotes Italian verse:

Soon, however, the rhythmically perfect, but verbally rather blurred volubility of faucets began to acquire too much pertinent sense. The purity of the running water’s enunciation grew in proportion to the nuisance it made of itself. It spoke soon after she had listened, or been exposed, to somebody talking — not necessarily to her — forcibly and expressively, a person with a rapid characteristic voice, and very individual or very foreign phrasal intonations, some compulsive narrator’s patter at a horrible party, or a liquid soliloquy in a tedious play, or Van’s lovely voice, or a bit of poetry heard at a lecture, my lad, my pretty, my love, take pity, but especially the more fluid and flou Italian verse, for instance that ditty recited between knee-knocking and palpebra-lifting, by a half-Russian, half-dotty old doctor, doc, toc, ditty, dotty, ballatetta, deboletta… tu, voce sbigottita… spigotty e diavoletta… de lo cor dolente… con ballatetta va… va… della strutta, destruttamente… mente… mente… stop that record, or the guide will go on demonstrating as he did this very morning in Florence a silly pillar commemorating, he said, the ‘elmo’ that broke into leaf when they carried stone-heavy-dead St Zeus by it through the gradual, gradual shade; or the Arlington harridan talking incessantly to her silent husband as the vineyards sped by, and even in the tunnel (they can’t do this to you, you tell them, Jack Black, you just tell them…). (1.3)

Btw., all memoirists (including Ivan Bunin, who met Voloshin in 1919 in Odessa, Ilf and Petrov's "Chernomorsk") speak of Voloshin's zevsopodobie (Zeus-like appearance).

During Van's first tea in Ardis Hall Aqua's twin sister Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother) mentions Lincoln's second wife:

‘I used to love history,' said Marina, ‘I loved to identify myself with famous women. There's a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties - Lincoln's second wife or Queen Josephine.' (1.5)

It is Milton who was married twice and who wrote on divorce (Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, etc.). When Marina was pregnant with Ada, she wanted Demon (Van's and Ada's father) to divorce Aqua:

At other moments she felt convinced that the child was her sister’s, born out of wedlock, during an exhausting, yet highly romantic blizzard, in a mountain refuge on Sex Rouge, where a Dr Alpiner, general practitioner and gentian-lover, sat providentially waiting near a rude red stove for his boots to dry. Some confusion ensued less than two years later (September, 1871 — her proud brain still retained dozens of dates) when upon escaping from her next refuge and somehow reaching her husband’s unforgettable country house (imitate a foreigner: ‘Signor Konduktor, ay vant go Lago di Luga, hier geld’) she took advantage of his being massaged in the solarium, tiptoed into their former bedroom — and experienced a delicious shock: her talc powder in a half-full glass container marked colorfully Quelques Fleurs still stood on her bedside table; her favorite flame-colored nightgown lay rumpled on the bedrug; to her it meant that only a brief black nightmare had obliterated the radiant fact of her having slept with her husband all along — ever since Shakespeare’s birthday on a green rainy day, but for most other people, alas, it meant that Marina (after G.A. Vronsky, the movie man, had left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets) had conceived, c’est bien le cas de le dire, the brilliant idea of having Demon divorce mad Aqua and marry Marina who thought (happily and correctly) she was pregnant again. (1.3)

A couple of years later Marina told Van that, if his father wished, she would replace his mother (i. e. Aqua who believed at times that Van was her beloved son):

Some ten years ago, not long before or after his fourth birthday, and toward the end of his mother's long stay in a sanatorium, ‘Aunt' Marina had swooped upon him in a public park where there were pheasants in a big cage. She advised his nurse to mind her own business and took him to a booth near the band shell where she bought him an emerald stick of peppermint candy and told him that if his father wished she would replace his mother and that you could not feed the birds without Lady Amherst's permission, or so he understood. (1.5)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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