Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027679, Tue, 27 Feb 2018 17:02:51 +0300

Sig Leymanski, Sig Heiler, papa Fig & Pig Pigment in Ada
According to Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada,
1969), he partly derived the name of the main character in his novel Letters
from Terra from the name of Aqua’s last doctor:

Poor Van! In his struggle to keep the writer of the letters from Terra
strictly separate from the image of Ada, he gilt and carmined Theresa until
she became a paragon of banality. This Theresa maddened with her messages a
scientist on our easily maddened planet; his anagram-looking name, Sig
Leymanksi, had been partly derived by Van from that of Aqua’s last doctor.
When Leymanski’s obsession turned into love, and one’s sympathy got
focused on his enchanting, melancholy, betrayed wife (née Antilia Glems),
our author found himself confronted with the distressful task of now
stamping out in Antilia, a born brunette, all traces of Ada, thus reducing
yet another character to a dummy with bleached hair.

After beaming to Sig a dozen communications from her planet, Theresa flies
over to him, and he, in his laboratory, has to place her on a slide under a
powerful microscope in order to make out the tiny, though otherwise perfect,
shape of his minikin sweetheart, a graceful microorganism extending
transparent appendages toward his huge humid eye. Alas, the testibulus (test
tube ― never to be confused with testiculus, orchid), with Theresa swimming
inside like a micromermaid, is ‘accidentally’ thrown away by Professor
Leyman’s (he had trimmed his name by that time) assistant, Flora, initially
an ivory-pale, dark-haired funest beauty, whom the author transformed just
in time into a third bromidic dummy with a dun bun.

(Antilia later regained her husband, and Flora was weeded out. Ada’s
addendum.) (2.2)

Describing Aqua’s madness and suicide, Van calls her last doctor, Sig
Heiler, ‘papa Fig:’

In less than a week Aqua had accumulated more than two hundred tablets of
different potency. She knew most of them ― the jejune sedatives, and the
ones that knocked you out from eight p.m. till midnight, and several
varieties of superior soporifics that left you with limpid limbs and a
leaden head after eight hours of non-being, and a drug which was in itself
delightful but a little lethal if combined with a draught of the cleansing
fluid commercially known as Morona; and a plump purple pill reminding her,
she had to laugh, of those with which the little gypsy enchantress in the
Spanish tale (dear to Ladore schoolgirls) puts to sleep all the sportsmen
and all their bloodhounds at the opening of the hunting season. Lest some
busybody resurrect her in the middle of the float-away process, Aqua
reckoned she must procure for herself a maximum period of undisturbed stupor
elsewhere than in a glass house, and the carrying out of that second part of
the project was simplified and encouraged by another agent or double of the
Isère Professor, a Dr Sig Heiler whom everybody venerated as a great guy
and near-genius in the usual sense of near-beer. Such patients who proved by
certain twitchings of the eyelids and other semiprivate parts under the
control of medical students that Sig (a slightly deformed but not unhandsome
old boy) was in the process of being dreamt of as a ‘papa Fig,’ spanker of
girl bottoms and spunky spittoon-user, were assumed to be on the way to
haleness and permitted, upon awakening, to participate in normal outdoor
activities such as picnics. (1.3)

‘Papa Fig’ brings to mind Pig Pigment (as Ada calls Paul J. Gigment, an
eminent painter):

Two other phenomena that she had observed even earlier proved ridiculously
misleading. She must have been about nine when that elderly gentleman, an
eminent painter whom she could not and would not name, came several times to
dinner at Ardis Hall. Her drawing teacher, Miss Wintergreen, respected him
greatly, though actually her natures mortes were considered (in 1888 and
again 1958) incomparably superior to the works of the celebrated old rascal
who drew his diminutive nudes invariably from behind ― fig-picking,
peach-buttocked nymphets straining upward, or else rock-climbing girl scouts
in bursting shorts ―

‘I know exactly,’ interrupted Van angrily, ‘whom you mean, and would like
to place on record that even if his delicious talent is in disfavor today,
Paul J. Gigment had every right to paint schoolgirls and poolgirls from any
side he pleased. Proceed.’

Every time (said unruffled Ada) Pig Pigment came, she cowered when hearing
him trudge and snort and pant upstairs, ever nearer like the Marmoreal
Guest, that immemorial ghost, seeking her, crying for her in a thin,
querulous voice not in keeping with marble.

‘Poor old chap,’ murmured Van. (1.18)

Sig is Russian for “whitefish.” In a letter of Oct. 4-6, 1888, to Suvorin
Chekhov says that the editors of Russkaya mysl’ (a literary magazine,
1880-1918) are kopchyonye sigi (the smoked whitefish) who have as much taste
for literature as a pig has for oranges:

Что же касается ?Русской мысли?, то там сид
ят не литераторы, а копчёные сиги, которые
столько же понимают в литературе, как сви
нья в апельсинах. К тому же библиографиче
ский отдел ведёт там дама. Если дикая утк
а, которая летит в поднебесье, может прези
рать свойскую, которая копается в навозе
и в лужах и думает, что это хорошо, то так д
олжны презирать художники и поэты мудрос
ть копчёных сигов...

Apel’siny (oranges) mentioned by Chekhov bring to mind Ronald Oranger (old
Van’s secretary). In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden
Calf,” 1931) Koreyko (a secret Soviet millionaire) receives a telegram from
brothers Karamazov: Gruzite apel’siny bochkakh (“Load oranges barrels”).
Brat’ya Karamazovy (“Brothers Karamazov,” 1880) is a novel by Dostoevski.
The characters in Dostoevski’s novel Bednye lyudi (“Poor Folk,” 1846),
written in an epistolary form, include Theresa, a servant woman who brings
Makar Devushkin’s letters to Varenka Dobrosyolov and Varenka’s letters to
Makar. In the old Russian alphabet lyudi (people) was the name of the letter
L. The Antiterran L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century seems to
correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on
Jan. 3, 1876, in our world.

Fig (Russian figa) being a gesture of derision and contempt, “papa Fig”
brings to mind kukish v karmane (make a long nose on the sly), a phrase used
by von Koren in Chekhov’s story Duel’ (“The Duel,” 1891):

- Не знаю, что ты хочешь! - сказал Самойленк
о, зевая. - Бедненькой по простоте захотел
ось поговорить с тобой об умном, а ты уж за
ключение выводишь. Ты сердит на него за чт
о-то, ну и на нее за компанию. А она прекрас
ная женщина!

- Э, полно! Обыкновенная содержанка, развр
атная и пошлая. Послушай, Александр Давид
ыч, когда ты встречаешь простую бабу, кото
рая не живет с мужем, ничего не делает и то
лько хи-хи да ха-ха, ты говоришь ей: ступай
работать. Почему же ты тут робеешь и боишь
ся говорить правду? Потому только, что Над
ежда Фёдоровна живёт на содержании не у м
атроса, а у чиновника?

- Что же мне с ней делать? - рассердился Сам
ойленко. - Бить ее, что ли?

- Не льстить пороку. Мы проклинаем порок т
олько за глаза, а это похоже на кукиш в кар
мане. Я зоолог, или социолог, что одно и то
же, ты - врач; общество нам верит; мы обязан
ы указывать ему на тот страшный вред, каки
м угрожает ему и будущим поколениям сущес
твование госпож вроде этой Надежды Ивано

- Фёдоровны. - поправил Самойленко. - А что
должно делать общество?

- Оно? Это его дело. По-моему, самый прямой
и верный путь, это - насилие. Manu militari {Военн
ою силою (лат.).} ее следует отправить к муж
у, а если муж не примет, то отдать ее в като
ржные работы или какое-нибудь исправител
ьное заведение.

- Уф; - вздохнул Самойленко; он помолчал и с
просил тихо: - Как-то на днях ты говорил, чт
о таких людей, как Лаевский, уничтожать на
до... Скажи мне, если бы того... положим, гос
ударство или общество поручило тебе унич
тожить его, то ты бы... решился?

- Рука бы не дрогнула.

"I don't know what you want," said Samoylenko, yawning; "the poor thing, in
the simplicity of her heart, wanted to talk to you of scientific subjects,
and you draw a conclusion from that. You're cross with him for something or
other, and with her, too, to keep him company. She's a splendid woman."

"Ah, nonsense! An ordinary kept woman, depraved and vulgar. Listen,
Aleksandr Davidych; when you meet a simple peasant woman, who isn't living
with her husband, who does nothing but giggle, you tell her to go and work.
Why are you timid in this case and afraid to tell the truth? Simply because
Nadezhda Fyodorovna is kept, not by a sailor, but by an official."

"What am I to do with her?" said Samoylenko, getting angry. "Beat her or

"Not flatter vice. We curse vice only behind its back, and that's like
making a long nose at it round a corner. I am a zoologist or a sociologist,
which is the same thing; you are a doctor; society believes in us; we ought
to point out the terrible harm which threatens it and the next generation
from the existence of ladies like Nadezhda Ivanovna."

"Fyodorovna," Samoylenko corrected. "But what ought society to do?"

"Society? That's its affair. To my thinking the surest and most direct
method is--compulsion. Manu militari she ought to be returned to her
husband; and if her husband won't take her in, then she ought to be sent to
penal servitude or some house of correction."

"Ouf!" sighed Samoylenko. He paused and asked quietly: "You said the other
day that people like Laevsky ought to be destroyed. . . . Tell me, if you .
. . if the State or society commissioned you to destroy him, could you . . .
bring yourself to it?"

"My hand would not tremble." (chapter VIII)

In Chekhov’s story Laevsky mentions klok zemli (a plot of ground):

Боже мой, - вздохнул Лаевский, - до какой ст
епени мы искалечены цивилизацией! Полюби
л я замужнюю женщину; она меня тоже... Внач
але у нас были и поцелуи, и тихие вечера, и
клятвы, и Спенсер, и идеалы, и общие интере
сы... Какая ложь! Мы бежали, в сущности, от м
ужа, но лгали себе, что бежим от пустоты на
шей интеллигентной жизни. Будущее наше ри
совалось нам так: вначале на Кавказе, пока
мы ознакомимся с местом и людьми, я надену
вицмундир и буду служить, потом же на прос
торе возьмём себе клок земли, будем труди
ться в поте лица, заведём виноградник, пол
е и прочее.

"My God!" sighed Laevsky; "how distorted we all are by civilisation! I fell
in love with a married woman and she with me. . . . To begin with, we had
kisses, and calm evenings, and vows, and Spencer, and ideals, and interests
in common. . . . What a deception! We really ran away from her husband, but
we lied to ourselves and made out that we ran away from the emptiness of the
life of the educated class. We pictured our future like this: to begin with,
in the Caucasus, while we were getting to know the people and the place, I
would put on the Government uniform and enter the service; then at our
leisure we would pick out a plot of ground, would toil in the sweat of our
brow, would have a vineyard and a field, and so on.” (chapter I)

In her suicide note Aqua mentions Herr Doktor Sig and uses a phrase klok of
a chelovek (a piece of man):

Aujourd’hui (heute-toity!) I, this eye-rolling toy, have earned the
psykitsch right to enjoy a landparty with Herr Doktor Sig, Nurse Joan the
Terrible, and several ‘patients,’ in the neighboring bar (piney wood)
where I noticed exactly the same skunk-like squirrels, Van, that your
Darkblue ancestor imported to Ardis Park, where you will ramble one day, no
doubt. The hands of a clock, even when out of order, must know and let the
dumbest little watch know where they stand, otherwise neither is a dial but
only a white face with a trick mustache. Similarly, chelovek (human being)
must know where he stands and let others know, otherwise he is not even a
klok (piece) of a chelovek, neither a he, nor she, but ‘a tit of it’ as
poor Ruby, my little Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. I, poor
Princesse Lointaine, très lointaine by now, do not know where I stand.
Hence I must fall. So adieu, my dear, dear son, and farewell, poor Demon, I
do not know the date or the season, but it is a reasonably, and no doubt
seasonably, fair day, with a lot of cute little ants queuing to get at my
pretty pills.

[Signed] My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (‘now is out of hell’) (1.

Chekhov’s story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as Seen by
a Drunkard,” 1885), in which girls under sixteen are compared to aqua
distillatae (distilled water), was signed Brat moego brata (My brother’s
brother). In a letter of Apr. 13, 1895, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions kukish v

Одолеваю ?Семью Поланецких? Сенкевича. Эт
о польская творожная пасха с шафраном. Ес
ли к Полю Бурже прибавить Потапенку, попр
ыскать варшавским одеколоном и разделить
на два, то получится Сенкевич. ?Поланецки
е? несомненно навеяны ?Космополисом? Бурж
е, Римом и женитьбой (Сенкевич недавно жен
ился); тут и катакомбы, и старый чудак-проф
ессор, вздыхающий по идеализме, и иже во с
вятых Лев XIII с неземным лицом, и совет воз
вратиться к молитвеннику, и клевета на де
кадента, который умирает от морфинизма, п
оисповедавшись и причастившись, т. е. раск
аявшись в своих заблуждениях во имя церкв
и. Семейного счастья и рассуждений о любв
и напущена чёртова пропасть, и жена героя
до такой степени верна мужу и так тонко по
нимает ?сердцем? бога и жизнь, что станови
тся в конце концов приторно и неловко, как
после слюнявого поцелуя. Сенкевич, по-вид
имому, не читал Толстого, не знаком с Нитч
е, о гипнотизме он толкует, как мещанин, но
зато каждая страница у него так и пестрит
Рубенсами, Боргезе, Корреджио, Боттичели
― и это для того, чтобы щегольнуть перед б
уржуазным читателем своею образованност
ью и показать кукиш в кармане материализм
у. Цель романа: убаюкать буржуазию в ее зо
лотых снах. Будь верен жене, молись с ней п
о молитвеннику, наживай деньги, люби спор
т ― и твое дело в шляпе и на том и на этом с
вете. Буржуазия очень любит так называемы
е ?положительные? типы и романы с благопол
учными концами, так как они успокаивают е
е на мысли, что можно и капитал наживать и
невинность соблюдать, быть зверем и в то ж
е время счастливым.

I am sick of Sienkiewicz’s “The Family of the Polonetskys.” It’s the
Polish Easter cake with saffron. Add Potapenko to Paul Bourget, sprinkle
with Warsaw eau-de-Cologne, divide in two, and you get Sienkiewicz. “The
Polonetskys” is unmistakably inspired by Bourget’s “Cosmopolis,” by Rome
and by marriage (Sienkiewicz has lately got married). We have the catacombs
and a queer old professor sighing after idealism, and Leo XIII, with the
unearthly face among the saints, and the advice to return to the
prayer-book, and the libel on the decadent who dies of morphinism after
confessing and taking the sacrament ― that is, after repenting of his
errors in the name of the Church. There is a devilish lot of family
happiness and talking about love, and the hero’s wife is so faithful to her
husband and so subtly comprehends “with her heart” the mysteries of God
and life, that in the end one feels mawkish and uncomfortable as after a
slobbering kiss. Sienkiewicz has evidently not read Tolstoy, and does not
know Nietzsche, he talks about hypnotism like a shopman; on the other hand
every page is positively sprinkled with Rubens, Borghese, Correggio,
Botticelli ― and that is done to show off his culture to the bourgeois
reader and make a long nose on the sly at materialism. The object of the
novel is to lull the bourgeoisie to sleep in its golden dreams. Be faithful
to your wife, pray with her over the prayer-book, save money, love sport,
and all is well with you in this world and the next. The bourgeoisie is very
fond of so-called practical types and novels with happy endings, since they
soothe it with the idea that one can both accumulate capital and preserve
innocence, be a beast and at the same time be happy. . . .

In a letter of May 7, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov speaks of Bourget’s
“Disciple” and compares psychology to alchemy:

Я прочёл ?Ученика? Бурже в Вашем изложении
и в русском переводе (?Северный вестник?).
Дело мне представляется в таком виде. Бур
же талантливый, очень умный и образованны
й человек. Он так полно знаком с методом е
стественных наук и так его прочувствовал,
как будто хорошо учился на естественном и
ли медицинском факультете. Он не чужой в т
ой области, где берётся хозяйничать, ― зас
луга, которой не знают русские писатели, н
и новые, ни старые. Что же касается книжно
й, учёной психологии, то он её так же плохо
знает, как лучшие из психологов. Знать её
всё равно, что не знать, так как она не нау
ка, а фикция, нечто вроде алхимии, которую
пора уже сдать в архив.

I have read Bourget’s “Disciple” in the Russian translation. This is how
it strikes me. Bourget is a gifted, very intelligent and cultured man. He is
as thoroughly acquainted with the method of the natural sciences, and as
imbued with it as though he had taken a good degree in science or medicine.
He is not a stranger in the domain he proposes to deal with ― a merit
absent in Russian writers both new and old. As to the bookish, scientific
psychology, he knows it as badly as the best among the psychologists. To
know it is the same as not to know, because it is not a science but a
fiction, something like alchemy which it is time to leave out of account.

It seems that C. G. Jung, the author of Psychology and Alchemy (1944), has
not read Chekhov. In his novel Pnin (1957) VN mentions the so-called mandala
and Dr Jung:

Nothing of the slightest interest to therapists could Victor be made to
discover in those beautiful, beautiful Rorschach ink blots, wherein children
see, or should see, all kinds of things, seascapes, escapes, capes, the
worms of imbecility, neurotic tree trunks, erotic galoshes, umbrellas, and
dumb-bells. Nor did any of Victor's casual sketches represent the so-called
mandala--a term supposedly meaning (in Sanskrit) a magic ring, and applied
by Dr Jung and others to any doodle in the shape of a more or less fourfold
spreading structure, such as a halved mangosteen, or a cross, or the wheel
on which egos are broken like Morphos, or more exactly, the molecule of
carbon, with its four valences--that main chemical component of the brain,
automatically magnified and reflected on paper. (Chapter Four, 3)

In his review of Van’s Letters from Terra Max Mispel (member of the German
Department at Goluba University) wonders if the author’s real name is not

The only other compliment was paid to poor Voltemand in a little Manhattan
magazine (The Village Eyebrow) by the poet Max Mispel (another botanical
name ― ‘medlar’ in English), member of the German Department at Goluba
University. Herr Mispel, who liked to air his authors, discerned in Letters
from Terra the influence of Osberg (Spanish writer of pretentious fairy
tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes, highly esteemed by short-shift
thesialists) as well as that of an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of
anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine, thus transliterated by Captain de Roux,
according to Burton in his adaptation of Nefzawi’s treatise on the best
method of mating with obese or hunchbacked females (The Perfumed Garden,
Panther edition, p. 187, a copy given to ninety-three-year-old Baron Van
Veen by his ribald physician Professor Lagosse). His critique ended as
follows: ‘If Mr Voltemand (or Voltimand or Mandalatov) is a psychiatrist,
as I think he might be, then I pity his patients, while admiring his
talent.’ (2.2)

In Ilf and Petrov’s Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928)
Ostap Bender calls Varfolomey Korobeynikov (the compiler of “The Mirror of
Life Index”) goluba (chum):

― А деньги?
― Какие деньги? ― сказал Остап, открывая в
ходную дверь. ― Вы, кажется, спросили про к
акие-то деньги?
― Да как же! За мебель! За ордера!
― Голуба, ― пропел Остап, ― ей-богу, клянус
ь честью покойного батюшки. Рад душой, но
нету, забыл взять с текущего счёта...

"What about the money?"

"What money?" said Ostap, opening the door. "Did I hear you say something
about money? "

"Of course! For the furniture; for the orders!"

"Honestly, chum," crooned Ostap, "I swear by my late father, I'd be glad to,
but I haven't any; I forgot to draw any from my current account." (Chapter
11: Alfavit \xa8C zerkalo zhizni, “The Mirror of Life Index”)

alfavit = Flavita

Sig Leymanksi = Kingsley Amis

Mandalatov + Ardis/Sidra = mandala + avtor/tovar + Dis

Antilia Glems + Gerald + vesna + Ada = gitanilla Esmeralda + navsegda

alfavit \xa8C alphabet

Flavita \xa8C the Antiterran name of Russian Scrabble (1.36)

Kingsley Amis \xa8C a waggish British novelist (1922-95) keenly interested in
physics fiction

Ardis \xa8C Daniel Veen’s family estate

Sidra \xa8C Gulf of Sidra; Ivan Veen is the author of Reflections in Sidra

avtor \xa8C author

tovar \xa8C goods; wares; article; commodity

Dis \xa8C city in Dante's Inferno

Gerald \xa8C Maurice Gerald, the main character in Captain Mayne Reid’s
Headless Horseman (on Antiterra The Headless Horseman is a poem by Pushkin,

vesna \xa8C spring

gitanilla Esmeralda \xa8C a gypsy girl in Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris

navsegda \xa8C forever

The name Sig Heiler (a play on the Nazi salute Sieg heil! and Heiler, German
for “healer”) seems to hint at Carl Jung

Alexey Sklyarenko

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