Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027669, Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:23:39 +0300

chute complete & babushka in LATH
In VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) Gerry Adamson (Louise’s
husband) mentions a critic who called Vadim’s novel Dr. Olga Repnin (1946)
chute complète (a complete comedown):

Her husband sat in a deep armchair, reading a London weekly bought at the
Shopping Center. He had not bothered to take off his horrible black
raincoat--a voluminous robe of oilskin that conjured up the image of a
stagecoach driver in a lashing storm. He now removed however his formidable
spectacles. He cleared his throat with a characteristic rumble. His purple
jowls wobbled as he tackled the ordeal of rational speech:

GERRY Do you ever see this paper, Vadim (accenting "Vadim" incorrectly on
the first syllable)? Mister (naming a particularly lively criticule) has
demolished your Olga (my novel about the professorsha; it had come out only
now in the British edition).

VADIM May I give you a drink? We'll toast him and roast him.

GERRY Yet he's right, you know. It is your worst book. Chute complète, says
the man. Knows French, too.

LOUISE No drinks. We've got to rush home. Now heave out of that chair. Try
again. Take your glasses and paper. There. Au revoir, Vadim. I'll bring you
those pills tomorrow morning after I drive him to school. (4.1)

In his review in the Northern Bee (Mar. 22, 1830) of Chapter Seven of
Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin Bulgarin calls this chapter of EO “chute complè

Ни одной мысли в этой водянистой VII главе,
ни одного чувствования, ни одной картины,
достойной воззрения! Совершенное падени
е, chute complète…

Not one idea in this watery Chapter Seven, not one sentiment, not one
picture worthy of contemplation! A complete comedown, chute complete…

In Chapter Seven of EO Tatiana leaves her dear countryside and goes to
Moscow, “to the mart of brides.” In Moscow Tatiana and her mother visit
their relatives:

И вот: по родственным обедам
Развозят Таню каждый день
Представить бабушкам и дедам
Её рассеянную лень.
Родне, прибывшей издалеча,
Повсюду ласковая встреча,
И восклицанья, и хлеб-соль.
?Как Таня выросла! Давно ль
Я, кажется, тебя крестила?
А я так на руки брала!
А я так за уши драла!
А я так пряником кормила!?
И хором бабушки твердят:
?Как наши годы-то летят!?

And now, on rounds of family dinners

Tanya they trundle daily to present

to grandsires and to grandams

her abstract indolence.

For kin come from afar

there's everywhere a kind reception,

and exclamations, and good cheer.

“How Tanya's grown! Such a short while

It seems since I godmothered you!”

“And since I bore you in my arms!”

“And since I pulled you by the ears!”

“And since I fed you gingerbread!”

And the grandmothers keep repeating

in chorus: “How our years do fly!” (Seven: XLIV)

The stanza’s last line, “Kak nashi gody-to letyat!” (“How our years do
fly!”), was used by Apollon Maykov as the epigraph to his poem in octaves
Knyazhna (“The Princess,” 1878). Maykov is the author of Arlekin (“The
Harlequin,” 1854). Maykov’s narrative poem Mashen’ka (“Mary,” 1846) has
the same title as VN’s first novel. VN’s Mashen’ka (1926) corresponds to
Vadim’s Tamara (1925). Showing to Vadim a lending library in the house that
he rents for his business, Oks (Osip Lvovich Oksman) mentions Vadim’s

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 Mery (“Princess Mary”) is a novella in Lermontov’s Geroy nashego
vremeni (“A Hero of Our Time,” 1840). The first novella in “A Hero of Our
Time” is Bela. The heroine’s name brings to mind Vadim’s daughter Bel.
Since Vadim is a Russian Prince, his daughter is knyazhna (a Princess).
During their first meeting Bel tells her father that she and her mother
(Annette Blagovo, Vadim’s second wife) had spent most of last summer with
babushka (grandmother):

She and her mother (whom she mentioned as casually as if Annette were in the
next room copying something for me on a soundless typewriter) had spent most
of last summer at Carnavaux with babushka. I would like to have learned what
room exactly Bel had occupied in the villa, but an oddly obtrusive, though
irrelevant-looking, recollection somehow prevented me from asking: shortly
before her death Iris had dreamed one night that she had given birth to a
fat boy with dusky red cheeks and almond eyes and the blue shadow of mutton
chops: "A horrible Omarus K." (4.2)

Describing a hurricane that killed Bel’s mother, Vadim mentions Dr. Olga

The mad scholar in Esmeralda and her Parandrus wreathes Botticelli and
Shakespeare together by having Primavera end as Ophelia with all her
flowers. The loquacious lady in Dr. Olga Repnin remarks that tornadoes and
floods are really sensational only in North America. On May 17, 1953,
several papers printed a photograph of a family, complete with birdcage,
phonograph, and other valuable possessions, riding it out on the roof of
their shack in the middle of Rosedale Lake. Other papers carried the picture
of a small Ford caught in the upper branches of an intrepid tree with a man,
a Mr. Byrd, whom Horace Peppermill said he knew, still in the driver’s
seat, stunned, bruised, but alive. A prominent personality in the Weather
Bureau was accused of criminally delayed forecasts. A group of fifteen
schoolchildren who had been taken to see a collection of stuffed animals
donated by Mrs. Rosenthal, the benefactor’s widow, to the Rosedale Museum,
were safe in the sudden darkness of that sturdy building when the twister
struck. But the prettiest lakeside cottage got swept away, and the drowned
bodies of its two occupants were never retrieved. (ibid.)

Among the flowers mentioned in Hamlet by mad Ophelia is rosemary:

Look at my flowers. There’s rosemary, that’s for remembering. Please
remember, love. And there are pansies, they’re for thoughts. (4.5)

As she speaks to her father, Bel mentions the aroma of rosemary:

Oh yes, said Bel, she had loved it. Especially the path down, down to the
sea and the aroma of rosemary (chudnyy zapakh rozmarina). I was tortured and
charmed by her "shadowless" émigré Russian, untainted, God bless Annette,
by the Langley woman's fruity Sovietisms. (4.2)

In the fourth poem of Marina Tsvetaev’s cycle Marina (1921) Grigoriy
Otrepiev (the Impostor) tells Marina Mnishek that her breast is as
sweet-smelling as rozmarinovyi larchik (a small box with rosemary):

― Грудь Ваша благоуханна,
Как розмариновый ларчик…
Ясновельможна панна…
― Мой молодой господарчик…

― Чем заплачу за щедроты:
Тёмен, негромок, непризнан…
Из-под ресничного взлёту
Что-то ответило: ― Жизнью!

В каждом пришельце гонимом
Пану мы Иезусу ― служим…
Мнёт в замешательстве мнимом
Горсть неподдельных жемчужин.

Перлы рассыпались, ― слёзы!
Каждой ресницей нацелясь,
Смотрит, как в прахе елозя,
Их подбирает пришелец.

Grigoriy Otrepiev and Marina Mnishek are the characters in Pushkin’s
tragedy Boris Godunov (1825). In Pushkin’s tragedy Otrepiev quotes the
saying Vot tebe, babushka, i Yuriev den’! (“Here's a pretty mess!”;
literally: “That’s all of St. George’s day for you, grandma!”):

ГРИГОРИЙ (хозяйке) Куда ведет эта дорога?

ХОЗЯЙКА В Литву, мой кормилец, к Луёвым го

ГРИГОРИЙ А далече ли до Луёвых гор?

ХОЗЯЙКА Недалече, к вечеру можно бы туда п
оспеть, кабы не заставы царские да сторож
евые приставы.

ГРИГОРИЙ Как, заставы! что это значит?

ХОЗЯЙКА Кто-то бежал из Москвы, а велено в
сех задерживать да осматривать.

ГРИГОРИЙ (про себя) Вот тебе, бабушка, Юрье
в день.

GRIGORIY. (To HOSTESS.) Whither leads this road?

HOSTESS. To Lithuania, my dear, to the Luyov mountains.

GRIGORIY. And is it far to the Luyov mountains?

HOSTESS. Not far; you might get there by evening, but for the tsar's
frontier barriers, and the captains of the guard.

GRIGORIY. What say you? Barriers! What means this?

HOSTESS. Someone has escaped from Moscow, and orders have been given to
detain and search everyone.


Vadim’s flight from Russia is a parody of a scene in “Boris Godunov” when
Otrepiev crosses the Lithuanian border. According to Vadim, a Red Army
soldier at the frontier called him yablochko (little apple):

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)."

I groped in my pockets, fished out what I needed, and shot him dead, as he
lunged at me; then he fell on his face, as if sunstruck on the parade
ground, at the feet of his king. None of the serried tree trunks looked his
way, and I fled, still clutching Dagmara's lovely little revolver. Only half
an hour later, when I reached at last another part of the forest in a more
or less conventional republic, only then did my calves cease to quake. (1.2)

At the end of “Boris Godunov” an incidental character 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 к


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 and his daughter’s surname seems to be Yablonski. It comes from
yablonya (apple-tree). As to the name Oks, it seems to blend the Oka (a
river that flows through Marina Tsvetaev’s poetry and memoir prose) with
Krasnyi bychok (“A Red Bull-Calf,” 1928), Marina Tsvetaev’s poem whose
title brings to mind the proverbial Skazka pro belogo bychka (“Tale about
White Bull-Calf”). Marina Tsvetaev is the author of Babushke (“To my
Grandmother,” 1914) and Babushka (“Grandmother,” 1919), a cycle of two
poems. In the early 1910s Marina Tsvetaev addressed several poems to V. Ya.
Bryusov. In a canceled variant of a stanza in EO (Two: XLI: 1) Pushkin
mentions Bryusov Kalendar’ (Bruce’s Calendar) compiled under the auspices
of Count Yakov Bryus, one of Peter I’s generals who was reputed to be an
alchemist (actually, he was an excellent astronomer and mathematician).
Among “the fledglings of Peter’s nest” mentioned by Pushkin in Canto
Three of Poltava (1828) are Bryus and Repnin:

За ним вослед неслись толпой
Сии птенцы гнезда Петрова ―
В пременах жребия земного
В трудах державства и войны
Его товарищи, сыны:
И Шереметев благородный,
И Брюс, и Боур, и Репнин,
И, счастья баловень безродный,
Полудержавный властелин.

The fledglings of the Petrine nest

Surged after him, a loyal throng―

Through all the shifts of worldly fate,

In trials of policy and war,

These men, these comrades, were like sons:

The noble Sheremetev,

And Bryus, and Bour, and Repnin,

And, fortune’s humble favorite,

The mighty, quasi-sovereign.

(tr. Ivan Eubanks)

Vadim’s novel Dr. Olga Repnin corresponds to VN’s Pnin (1957). Na smert’
I. P. Pnina (“On the Death of I. P. Pnin,” 1805) is a poem by Batyushkov.
At the end of Pushkin’s poem Ten’ Fonvizina (“The Shade of Fonvizin,”
1815) Fonvizin mentions Batyushkov:

Я слышал, будто бы с досады
Бранил он русских без пощады
И вот изволил что сказать:
?Когда Хвостов трудиться станет,
А Батюшков спокойно спать,
Наш гений долго не восстанет,
И дело не пойдёт на лад?.

I heard that, disappointed beyond measure,

he [Fonvizin] scolded the Russians without mercy

and this is what he deigned to say:

“If Khvostov keeps working

and Batyushkov quietly sleeps,

our genius won’t rise up long

and things won’t be going well.”

At the end of LATH old Vadim falls asleep:

"That's all very well," I said, as I groped for the levers of my wheelchair,
and you helped me to roll back to my room. "And I'm grateful, I'm touched,
I'm cured! Your explanation, however, is merely an exquisite quibble--and
you know it; but never mind, the notion of trying to twirl time is a
trouvaille; it resembles (kissing the hand resting on my sleeve) the neat
formula a physicist finds to keep people happy until (yawning, crawling back
into bed) until the next chap snatches the chalk. I had been promised some
rum with my tea--Ceylon and Jamaica, the sibling islands (mumbling
comfortably, dropping off, mumble dying away)--" (7.4)

In the last stanza of his poem Dorozhnye zhaloby (“The Road Complaints,”
1830) Pushkin mentions a wine-glass of rum and tea:

То ли дело рюмка рома,
Ночью сон, поутру чай;
То ли дело, братцы, дома!..
Ну, пошёл же, погоняй!..

Alexey Sklyarenko

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