Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027668, Mon, 12 Feb 2018 03:32:42 +0300

Vadim's hermetic prose & Prime Numbers in LATH
According to Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins!), the critic Basilevski called his prose “nastily hermetic:”

Yet the fact remains that she [Annette Blagovo] retained nothing--perhaps in result of her having decided once for all that my prose was not merely "difficult" but hermetic ("nastily hermetic," to repeat the compliment Basilevski paid me the moment he realized--a moment which came in due time--that his manner and mind were being ridiculed in Chapter Three [of The Dare] by my gloriously happy Victor). (2.5)

The epithet “hermetic” (relating to or characterized by subjects that are mysterious and difficult to understand) comes from Hermes (in Greek religion and mythology the emissary and messenger of the gods). In her Poema Vozdukha (“The Poem of Air,” 1927) Marina Tsvetaev mentions Hermes and Iris (in Greek mythology the personification of the rainbow and messenger of the gods):

Для чего Гермесу —
Кры́льца? Плавнички бы —
Пловче! Да ведь ливмя
Льёт! Ирида! Ирис!

What are Hermes’ little wings

good for? Little fins would be

much more useful! For it is raining

in torrents! Irida! Iris!

According to Vadim, the editor of Patria called his first wife Iris “Irida Osipovna:”

The editor of Patria, the émigré monthly in which Pawn Takes Queen had begun to be serialized, invited "Irida Osipovna" and me to a literary samovar. I mention it only because this was one of the few salons that my unsociability deigned to frequent. Iris helped with the sandwiches. I smoked my pipe and observed the feeding habits of two major novelists, three minor ones, one major poet, five minor ones of both sexes, one major critic (Demian Basilevski), and nine minor ones, including the inimitable "Prostakov-Skotinin," a Russian comedy name (meaning "simpleton and brute") applied to him by his archrival Hristofor Boyarski. (1.11)

Mme Prostakov (Mitrofan’s mother) and her brother Skotinin are the characters in Fonvizin’s comedy Nedorosl’ (“The Minor,” 1782). In Pushkin’s poem Ten’ Fonvizina (“The Shade of Fonvizin,” 1815) Phoebus asked Ermiy (as Pushkin calls Hermes) to be Fonvizin’s guide and show to him the contemporary poets (some of whom began to write when Fonvizin was alive):

С крылатой шапкой на бекрене,

Богов посланник молодой

Слетает вдруг к нему стрелой.

«Пойдём, — сказал Эрмий поэту, —

Я здесь твоим проводником,

Сам Феб меня просил о том;

С тобой успеем до рассвету

Певцов российских посетить,

Иных — лозами наградить,

Других — венком увить свирели».

Сказал, взвились и полетели.

Among the poets who are visited by Fonvizin’s shade is old Derzhavin. After Derzhavin read to Fonvizin his latest verses (“The Lyrico-Epic Hymn on the Occasion of the Expulsion of the French from the Fatherland” parodied by Pushkin), Hermes tells to his companion: “Denis! He [Derzhavin] will be always famous, / But, O why should one live so long!”

«Какое чудное явленье!»

Фон-Визин спутнику сказал.

«Оставь пустое удивленье, —

Эрмий с усмешкой отвечал. —

На Пинде славный Ломоносов

С досадой некогда узрел,

Что звучной лирой в сонме россов

Татарин бритый возгремел,

И гневом Пиндар Холмогора,

И тайной завистью горел.

Но Феб услышал глас укора,

Его спокоить захотел,

И спотыкнулся мой Державин

Апокалипсис преложить —

Денис! он вечно будет славен,

Но, ах, почто так долго жить?»

In 1815 Derzhavin (1743-1816) was seventy-two. VN completed LATH in 1974, at the age of seventy-five. In Chapter Eight (II: 3-4) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions starik Derzhavin (the aged Derzhavin) who at the beginning of 1815, after the Lyceum examination, had “blessed” young Pushkin:

И свет её с улыбкой встретил,
Успех нас первый окрылил,
Старик Державин нас заметил
И, в гроб сходя, благословил.

And with a smile the world received her;

Initial success gave us wings;

The aged Derzhavin noticed us –

and blessed us, descending to his grave.

Starik Derzhavin brings to mind Count Starov (who seems to be the real father of Vadim and of his first three wives). In the preceding (omitted) stanza of EO Pushkin paraphrases a line from Propertius’ Elegies, Aetas prima canat Veneres, extrema tumultus:

И, первой нежностью томима,

Мне муза пела, пела вновь

(Amorem canat aetas prima)

Всё про любовь, да про любовь.

Я вторил ей - младые други
В освобождённые досуги
Любили слушать голос мой.

Они, пристрастною душой
Ревнуя к братскому союзу,
Мне первой поднесли венец,
Чтоб им украсил их певец
Свою застенчивую музу.
О, торжество невинных дней!
Твой сладок сон душе моей.

And with first tenderness obsessed,

To me the Muse sang, sang again

(amorem canat aetas prima)

of love incessantly, and yet of love,

I echoed her. Young friends

during enfranchised leisures

were fond of listening to my voice.

They, with partisan souls,

devoted to our brotherhood,

presented me with my first wreath,

so that their songster might adorn with it

his bashful Muse.

O triumph in the days of my innocence!

Sweet is your dream unto my soul!

Aetas prima brings to mind Prime Numbers, a literary review mentioned by Oks (Osip Lvovich Oksman), Vadim’s host who can be compared to Hermes (and Vadim, in certain respect, resembles Fonvizin’s shade):

I followed my energetic host [Oks] to the upper floor. The lending library spread like a gigantic spider, bulged like a monstrous tumor, oppressed the brain like the expanding world of delirium. In a bright oasis amidst the dim shelves I noticed a group of people sitting around an oval table. The colors were vivid and sharp but at the same time remote-looking as in a magic-lantern scene. A good deal of red wine and golden brandy accompanied the animated discussion. I recognized the critic Basilevski, his sycophants Hristov and Boyarski, my friend Morozov, the novelists Shipogradov and Sokolovski, the honest nonentity Suknovalov, author of the popular social satire Geroy nashey ery ("Hero of Our Era") and two young poets, Lazarev (collection Serenity) and Fartuk (collection Silence). Some of the heads turned toward us, and the benevolent bear Morozov even struggled to his feet, grinning--but my host said they were having a business meeting and should be left alone.

“You have glimpsed," he added, "the parturition of a new literary review, Prime Numbers; at least they think they are parturiating: actually, they are boozing and gossiping. Now let me show you something."

He led me to a distant corner and triumphantly trained his flashlight on the gaps in my shelf of books.

"Look," he cried, "how many copies are out. All of Princess Mary is out, I mean Mary--damn it, I mean Tamara. I love Tamara, I mean your Tamara, not Lermontov's or Rubinstein's. Forgive me. One gets so confused among so many damned masterpieces." (2.4)

Knyazhna Meri (“Princess Mary”) is a novella in Lermontov’s Geroy nashego vremeni (“A Hero of Our Time,” 1840). In Chapter Five of VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Christopher Mortus (the author of a negative review of Fyodor’s “Life of Chernyshevski”) says that Lermontov is closer to us than Pushkin. VN satirizes the editors of Chisla (“Numbers”), a literary review whose first issue contained an offensive article on Sirin (VN’s Russian nom de plume), in his story Usta k ustam (“Lips to Lips,” 1931). K ustam usta (lips to lips) are the last words in Alexander Blok’s poem Ne stroy zhilishch u rechnykh izluchin… (“Don’t build your abodes at the bends of rivers…” 1905):

Не строй жилищ у речных излучин,

Где шумной жизни заметен рост.

Поверь, конец всегда однозвучен,

Никому не понятен и торжественно прост.

Твоя участь тиха, как рассказ вечерний,

И душой одинокой ему покорись.

Ты иди себе, молча, к какой хочешь вечерне,

Где душа твоя просит, там молись.

Кто придет к тебе, будь он, как ангел, светел,

Ты прими его просто, будто видел во сне,

И молчи без конца, чтоб никто не заметил,

Кто сидел на скамье, промелькнул в окне.

И никто не узнает, о чём молчанье,

И о чём спокойных дум простота.

Да. Она придёт. Забелеет сиянье.

Без вины прижмёт к устам уста.

In her memoirs about Blok (“Alexander Blok. A Biographical Sketch,” 1930) Maria Beketov (the poet’s aunt) mentions Basilevski, a composer who set to music Blok’s drama Roza i krest (“The Rose and the Cross,” 1912):

В конце мая Александр Александрович узнал, что "Роза и Крест" пропущена цензурой без всяких ограничений. Около этого времени он сообщал матери, что написал краткие сведения о "Розе и Кресте" для композитора Базилевского, который написал музыку на его драму и собирался исполнять её в Москве. Сведения нужны были для концертной программы. Тут же Александр Александрович прибавляет: "Базилевский пишет, что Свободный театр думает о постановке "Розы и Креста". (Chapter 11)

At the beginning of “The Rose and the Cross” Bertrand mentions yabloni staryi stvol (the trunk of an old 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!

Vadim’s surname (never mentioned in LATH) seems to be Yablonski. The characters of Blok’s play Balaganchik (“The Puppet Show,” 1906) include Arlekin (the Harlequin).

In his poem “On Translating Eugene Onegin” (1955) VN says that his honest roadside prose is all thorn, but cousin to Pushkin’s rose:

What is translation? On a platter
A poet’s pale and glaring head,
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
And profanation of the dead.
The parasites you were so hard on
Are pardoned if I have your pardon,
O, Pushkin, for my stratagem:
I traveled down your secret stem,
And reached the root, and fed upon it;
Then, in a language newly learned,
I grew another stalk and turned
Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,
Into my honest roadside prose–
All thorn, but cousin to your rose.

The inhabitants of Villa Iris include an ara (South American parrot):

It was a large, lemon-breasted, indigo-blue ara with striped white cheeks squawking intermittently on its bleak back-porch perch. Ivor had dubbed it Mata Hari partly because of its accent but chiefly by reason of its political past. His late aunt, Lady Wimberg, when already a little gaga, around Nineteen Fourteen or Fifteen, had been kind to that tragic old bird, said to have been abandoned by a shady stranger with a scarred face and a monocle. It could say allô, Otto, and pa-pa, a modest vocabulary, somehow suggestive of a small anxious family in a hot country far from home. Sometimes when I work too late and the spies of thought cease to relay messages, a wrong word in motion feels somehow like the dry biscuit that a parrot holds in its great slow hand. (1.3)

The genus name ara was coined by French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède in 1799. Pushkin was born in 1799.

Vadim’s compatriots (including Oks) confuse him with another writer (VN himself). Derzhavin’s poem Privratniku (“To the Gatekeeper,” 1808) begins as follows:

Един есть бог, един Державин,
Я в глупой гордости мечтал;
Одна мне рифма — древний Навин,
Что солнца бег остановлял.
Теперь другой Державин зрится,
И рифма та ж ему годится;
Но тот Державин — поп, не я:
На мне парик, на нём скуфья.

There is one God, there is one Derzhavin,

I thought in my silly pride;

I have one rhyme: ancient Navin

Who stopped the course of the sun.

Now you can see another Derzhavin,

And the same rhyme suits him.

But that Derzhavin is a priest, not me:

I have on my head a wig, he has a clerical scull-cap.

In his poem Derzhavin says that he is star (old), but his spirit is young in accordance with his sins:

А чтоб Державина со мною
Другого различал ты сам, —
Вот знак: тот млад, но с бородою,
Я стар — юн духом по грехам.
Он в рясе длинной и широкой;
Мой фрак кургуз и полубокой.
Он в волосах, я гол главой;
Я подлинник — он список мой.

According to Derzhavin, he is the original and his namesake is merely his copy. The adjective polubokoy (literally: “half-sided”) used by Derzhavin brings to mind Nabokov.

In my recent post on Lermontov (“Vlyublyonnost', You & Reality in LATH”) I forgot to say that Lermontov is the author of Vadim (1833), a short novel.

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,dana.dragunoiu@gmail.com,shvabrin@humnet.ucla.edu
Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
Nabokov Studies: https://muse.jhu.edu/journal/257
Chercheurs Enchantes: http://www.vladimir-nabokov.org/association/chercheurs-enchantes/73
Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com
AdaOnline: "http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada: http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html
The VN Bibliography Blog: http://vnbiblio.com/
Search the archive with L-Soft: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A0=NABOKV-L

Manage subscription options :http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=NABOKV-L