Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027649, Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:15:13 +0300

Gospodin Long & Madam Byron in LATH; Longfellow in Ada
In VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) Dora (a friend of Vadim’s daughter Bel) calls Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in LATH) “Gospodin Long:”

"But look here, can't I do something? Can't I sort of hang around and make inquiries, and perhaps seek advice from the Embassy--"

"She is not English any more and was never American. It's hopeless, I tell you. We were very close, she and I, in my very complicated life, but, imagine, Karl did not allow her to leave at least one little word for me--and for you, of course. She had informed him, unfortunately, that you were coming, and this he could not bear in spite of all the sympathy he works up for all unsympathetic people. You know, I saw your face last year--or was it two years ago?--two years, rather--in a Dutch or Danish magazine, and I would have recognized you at once, anywhere."

"With the beard?"

"Oh, it does not change you one droplet. It's like wigs or green spectacles in old comedies. As a girl I dreamt of becoming a female clown, ‘Madam Byron,' or ‘Trek Trek.' But tell me, Vadim Vadimovich--I mean Gospodin Long--haven't they found you out? Don't they intend to make much of you? After all, you're the secret pride of Russia. Must you go now?" (5. 2)

The author of Gospodin iz San-Frantsisko (“The Gentleman from San-Francisco,” 1915), Bunin translated into Russian Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha and Byron’s Cain. One of Bunin’s first (and most famous) short stories is Antonovskie yabloki (“Antonov Apples,” 1900). A Red Army soldier on the Soviet border calls Vadim yablochko (“little apple”) and asks him whither is he rolling:

I thought I had crossed the frontier when a bare-headed Red Army soldier with a Mongol face who was picking whortleberries near the trail challenged me: "And whither," he asked picking up his cap from a stump, "may you be rolling (kotishsya), little apple (yablochko)? Pokazyvay-ka dokumentiki (Let me see your papers)." (1.2)

In exile Vadim discovers an unexpected patron in the person of Count Starov, a retired diplomat:

On the gray eve of poverty, the author, then a self-exiled youth (I transcribe from an old diary), discovered an unexpected patron in the person of Count Starov, a grave old-fashioned Mason who had graced several great Embassies during a spacious span of international intercourse, and who since 1913 had resided in London. (ibid.)

“Grave,” “graced” and “great” seem to hint at Griboedov, the author of Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) who was Russian envoy in Teheran. In Chapter Three of his poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) Alexander Blok says that in his cold and cruel dreams the hero’s father (nicknamed Demon because of his resemblance with Byron) sees Gore ot uma and mentions Vrubel, the author of The Demon Seated and The Demon Downcast:

В ком смутно брезжит память эта,

Тот странен и с людьми не схож:

Всю жизнь его - уже поэта

Священная объемлет дрожь,

Бывает глух, и слеп, и нем он,

В нём почивает некий бог,

Его опустошает Демон,

Над коим Врубель изнемог...

Его прозрения глубоки,

Но их глушит ночная тьма,

И в снах холодных и жестоких

Он видит "Горе от ума".

According to Vadim, his father (whose society nickname was Demon) was portrayed by Vrubel:

My father was a gambler and a rake. His society nickname was Demon. Vrubel has portrayed him with his vampire-pale cheeks, his diamond eyes, his black hair. What remained on the palette has been used by me, Vadim, son of Vadim, for touching up the father of the passionate siblings in the best of my English romaunts, Ardis (1970).

The scion of a princely family devoted to a gallery of a dozen Tsars, my father resided on the idyllic outskirts of history. His politics were of the casual, reactionary sort. He had a dazzling and complicated sensual life, but his culture was patchy and commonplace. He was born in 1865, married in 1896, and died in a pistol duel with a young Frenchman on October 22, 1898, after a card-table fracas at Deauville, some resort in gray Normandy. (2.5)

Vadim’s Ardis corresponds to VN’s Ada (1969). At the end of Ada Van Veen (the narrator and main character) mentions Longfellow:

‘Yes,’ said Ada (aged eleven and a great hair-tosser), ‘yes — but take a paralytic who forgets the entire past gradually, stroke by stroke, who dies in his sleep like a good boy, and who has believed all his life that the soul is immortal — isn’t that desirable, isn’t that a quite comfortable arrangement?’

‘Cold comfort,’ said Van (aged fourteen and dying of other desires). ‘You lose your immortality when you lose your memory. And if you land then on Terra Caelestis, with your pillow and chamberpot, you are made to room not with Shakespeare or even Longfellow, but with guitarists and cretins.’

She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the right of making up a future, and in that case one’s very own future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years quickly passed — a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern. They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569–572) in John Shade’s famous poem:

…Sovetï mï dayom

Kak bït’ vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;

On ih vstrechaet — lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,

Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke…

(…We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another…)

Vadim (who was married three or four times) lost two wives, Iris Black and Annette Blagovo (Bel’s mother). Van and Ada are brother and sister. Vadim and his first three wives seem to be the children of Count Starov. The name Starov comes from staryi (old). At the beginning of Blok’s drama Roza i krest (“The Rose and the Cross,” 1912) Bertrand mentions yabloni staryi stvol (the old trunk of an apple-tree):

Яблони старый ствол,

Расшатанный бурей февральской!

Жадно ждёшь ты весны...

Тёплый ветер дохнёт, и нежной травою

Зазеленеет замковый вал...

Чем ты, старый, ответишь тогда

Ручьям и птицам певучим?

Лишь две-три бледно-розовых ветви протянешь

В воздух, омытый дождями,

Чёрный, бурей измученный ствол!

At the end of Pushkin’s drama Boris Godunov (1825) the second person quotes the saying yabloko ot yabloni nedaleko padaet (“like parents, like children;” literally: “an apple falls not far from the apple-tree”):

Один из народа

Брат да сестра! бедные дети, что пташки в клетке.


Есть о ком жалеть? Проклятое племя!


Отец был злодей, а детки невинны.


Яблоко от яблони недалеко падает.

One of the people

Brother and sister! Poor children, like birds in a cage.

Second person

Are you going to pity them? Goddamned family!

First person

Their father was a villain,

But the children are innocent.

Second person

Like parents, like children.

Vadim’s family name (that resembles the name Long) seems to be Prince Yablonski.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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