Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027683, Sat, 3 Mar 2018 13:53:00 +0300

Sig Leymanski, Sig Heiler, papa Fig & Pig Pigment in Ada
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the Cheshire Cat asks Alice if the baby turned into a pig or a fig:

‘By-the-bye, what became of the baby?' said the Cat. `I'd nearly forgotten to ask.'

`It turned into a pig,' Alice quietly said, just as if it had come back in a natural way.

`I thought it would,' said the Cat, and vanished again.

Alice waited a little, half expecting to see it again, but it did not appear, and after a minute or two she walked on in the direction in which the March Hare was said to live. `I've seen hatters before,' she said to herself; `the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won't be raving mad--at least not so mad as it was in March.' As she said this, she looked up, and there was the Cat again, sitting on a branch of a tree.

`Did you say pig, or fig?' said the Cat.

`I said pig,' replied Alice; `and I wish you wouldn't keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy.' (Chapter VI “Pig and Pepper”)

The characters of Ada include Cheshire, Van’s schoolmate at Riverlane:

The aging woman who sold barley sugar and Lucky Louse magazines in the corner shop, which by tradition was not strictly out of bounds, happened to hire a young helper, and Cheshire, the son of a thrifty lord, quickly ascertained that this fat little wench could be had for a Russian green dollar. Van was one of the first to avail himself of her favors. These were granted in semi-darkness, among crates and sacks at the back of the shop after hours. The fact of his having told her he was sixteen and a libertine instead of fourteen and a virgin proved a source of embarrassment to our hell-raker when he tried to bluster his inexperience into quick action but only succeeded in spilling on the welcome mat what she would have gladly helped him to take indoors. Things went better six minutes later, after Cheshire and Zographos were through; but only at the next mating party did Van really begin to enjoy her gentleness, her soft sweet grip and hearty joggle. He knew she was nothing but a fubsy pig-pink whore let and would elbow her face away when she attempted to kiss him after he had finished and was checking with one quick hand, as he had seen Cheshire do, if his wallet was still in his hip pocket; but somehow or other, when the last of some forty convulsions had come and gone in the ordinary course of collapsing time, and his train was bowling past black and green fields to Ardis, he found himself endowing with unsuspected poetry her poor image, the kitchen odor of her arms, the humid eyelashes in the sudden gleam of Cheshire’s lighter and even the creaky steps of old deaf Mrs Gimber in her bedroom upstairs. (1.4)

Van’s first sex partner is a pig-pink whore. Lucky Louse magazines seem to blend Mickey Mouse with Lucky Jim (1954), a novel by Kingsley Amis. Sig Leymanski (the main character in Van’s novel Letters from Terra) is an anagram of Kingsley Amis. According to Van, he partly derived the name Sig Leymanski from the name of Aqua’s last doctor, Sig Heiler. Sig likes when he is being dreamt of as ‘a papa Fig:’

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)

Sig is Russian for “whitefish.” One of the footmen in the “Pig and Pepper” chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland looks like a fish:

For a minute or two she stood looking at the house, and wondering what to do next, when suddenly a footman in livery came running out of the wood--(she considered him to be a footman because he was in livery: otherwise, judging by his face only, she would have called him a fish)--and rapped loudly at the door with his knuckles. It was opened by another footman in livery, with a round face, and large eyes like a frog; and both footmen, Alice noticed, had powdered hair that curled all over their heads. She felt very curious to know what it was all about, and crept a little way out of the wood to listen.

The Fish-Footman began by producing from under his arm a great letter, nearly as large as himself, and this he handed over to the other, saying, in a solemn tone, `For the Duchess. An invitation from the Queen to play croquet.' The Frog-Footman repeated, in the same solemn tone, only changing the order of the words a little, `From the Queen. An invitation for the Duchess to play croquet.'

Then they both bowed low, and their curls got entangled together.

Alice laughed so much at this, that she had to run back into the wood for fear of their hearing her; and when she next peeped out the Fish-Footman was gone, and the other was sitting on the ground near the door, staring stupidly up into the sky.

Van tells Ada that playing croquet with her should be rather like using flamingoes and hedgehogs:

‘Playing croquet with you,’ said Van, ‘should be rather like using flamingoes and hedgehogs.’

‘Our reading lists do not match,’ replied Ada. ‘That Palace in Wonderland was to me the kind of book everybody so often promised me I would adore, that I developed an insurmountable prejudice toward it. Have you read any of Mlle Larivière’s stories? Well, you will. She thinks that in some former Hindooish state she was a boulevardier in Paris; and writes accordingly. We can squirm from here into the front hall by a secret passage, but I think we are supposed to go and look at the grand chêne which is really an elm.’ Did he like elms? Did he know Joyce’s poem about the two washerwomen? He did, indeed. Did he like it? He did. In fact he was beginning to like very much arbors and ardors and Adas. They rhymed. Should he mention it? (1.8)

Van contrasts his novel Letters from Terra with Ada’s letters:

Ada’s letters breathed, writhed, lived; Van’s Letters from Terra, ‘a philosophical novel,’ showed no sign of life whatsoever.

(I disagree, it’s a nice, nice little book! Ada’s note.) (2.2)

Jim is a diminutive form of James. James Jones (who brings to Van Ada’s letters) has a somewhat porcine, pink face:

At the Goodson Airport, in one of the gilt-framed mirrors of its old-fashioned waiting room, Van glimpsed the silk hat of his father who sat awaiting him in an armchair of imitation marblewood, behind a newspaper that said in reversed characters: ‘Crimea Capitulates.’ At the same moment a raincoated man with a pleasant, somewhat porcine, pink face accosted Van. He represented a famous international agency, known as the VPL, which handled Very Private Letters. After a first flash of surprise, Van reflected that Ada Veen, a recent mistress of his, could not have chosen a smarter (in all senses of the word) way of conveying to him a message whose fantastically priced, and prized, process of transmission insured an absoluteness of secrecy which neither torture nor mesmerism had been able to break down in the evil days of 1859. It was rumored that even Gamaliel on his (no longer frequent, alas) trips to Paris, and King Victor during his still fairly regular visits to Cuba or Hecuba, and, of course, robust Lord Goal, Viceroy of France, when enjoying his randonnies all over Canady, preferred the phenomenally discreet, and in fact rather creepy, infallibility of the VPL organization to such official facilities as sexually starved potentates have at their disposal for deceiving their wives. The present messenger called himself James Jones, a formula whose complete lack of connotation made an ideal pseudonym despite its happening to be his real name. A flurry and flapping had started in the mirror but Van declined to act hastily. In order to gain time (for, on being shown Ada’s crest on a separate card, he felt he had to decide whether or not to accept her letter), he closely examined the badge resembling an ace of hearts which J.J. displayed with pardonable pride. He requested Van to open the letter, satisfy himself of its authenticity, and sign the card that then went back into some secret pit or pouch within the young detective’s attire or anatomy. Cries of welcome and impatience from Van’s father (wearing for the flight to France a scarlet-silk-lined black cape) finally caused Van to interrupt his colloquy with James and pocket the letter (which he read a few minutes later in the lavatory before boarding the airliner). (2.1)

Some of the characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are playing cards with a human head, arms and legs. They are loyal servants as well as guards for The Queen of Hearts. On the eve of the Night of the Burning Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time) Ada builds a house of cards:

‘Fine,’ said Van, ‘that’s certainly fascinating; but I was thinking of the first time you might have suspected I was also a sick pig or horse. I am recalling,’ he continued, ‘the round table in the round rosy glow and you kneeling next to me on a chair. I was perched on the chair’s swelling arm and you were building a house of cards, and your every movement was magnified, of course, as in a trance, dream-slow but also tremendously vigilant, and I positively reveled in the girl odor of your bare arm and in that of your hair which now is murdered by some popular perfume. I date the event around June 10 — a rainy evening less than a week after my first arrival at Ardis.’

‘I remember the cards,’ she said, ‘and the light and the noise of the rain, and your blue cashmere pullover — but nothing else, nothing odd or improper, that came later. Besides, only in French love stories les messieurs hument young ladies.’

‘Well, I did while you went on with your delicate work. Tactile magic. Infinite patience. Fingertips stalking gravity. Badly bitten nails, my sweet. Forgive these notes, I cannot really express the discomfort of bulky, sticky desire. You see I was hoping that when your castle toppled you would make a Russian splash gesture of surrender and sit down on my hand.’

‘It was not a castle. It was a Pompeian Villa with mosaics and paintings inside, because I used only court cards from Grandpa’s old gambling packs. Did I sit down on your hot hard hand?’

‘On my open palm, darling. A pucker of paradise. You remained still for a moment, fitting my cup. Then you rearranged your limbs and reknelt.’

‘Quick, quick, quick, collecting the flat shining cards again to build again, again slowly? We were abominably depraved, weren’t we?’

‘All bright kids are depraved. I see you do recollect —’

‘Not that particular occasion, but the apple tree, and when you kissed my neck, et tout le reste. And then — zdravstvuyte: apofeoz, the Night of the Burning Barn!’ (1.18)

In the same chapter of Ada Pig Pigment is mentioned:

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.

His method of contact, she said, ‘puisqu’on aborde ce thème-là, and I’m certainly not making offensive comparisons,’ was to insist, with maniacal force, that he help her reach for something — anything, a little gift he had brought, bonbons, or simply some old toy that he’d picked up from the floor of the nursery and hung up high on the wall, or a pink candle burning blue that he commanded her to blowout on an arbre de Noël, and despite her gentle protests he would raise the child by her elbows, taking his time, pushing, grunting, saying: ah, how heavy and pretty she was — this went on and on until the dinner gong boomed or Nurse entered with a glass of fruit juice and what a relief it was, for everybody concerned, when in the course of that fraudulent ascension her poor little bottom made it at last to the crackling snow of his shirtfront, and he dropped her, and buttoned his dinner jacket. And she remembered —

‘Stupidly exaggerated,’ commented Van. ‘Also, I suppose, artificially recolored in the lamplight of later events as revealed still later.’ (1.18)

Van believes that old Mr Nymphobottomus (Ada’s Pig Pigment) was his only predecessor:

‘I stayed home on purpose, because I hoped you would too — it was a contrived coincidence,’ she said, or said later she’d said — while he continued to fondle the flow of her hair, and to massage and rumple her nightdress, not daring yet to go under and up, daring, however, to mold her nates until, with a little hiss, she sat down on his hand and her heels, as the burning castle of cards collapsed. She turned to him and next moment he was kissing her bare shoulder, and pushing against her like that soldier behind in the queue.

First time I hear about him. I thought old Mr Nymphobottomus had been my only predecessor.

Last spring. Trip to town. French theater matinée. Mademoiselle had mislaid the tickets. The poor fellow probably thought ‘Tartuffe’ was a tart or a stripteaser. (1.19)

Actually, Ada’s first lover was Dr Krolik’s brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik, who was photographed by Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who attempts to blackmail Ada and is blinded by Van):

Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for ‘lepidopteron’). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that chase?

‘How curious — in the state Kim mounted him here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he’s a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!’

‘There’s nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here’s the visual proof. Besides, that’s not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.’

‘I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor.’

‘I’m not lying!’ — (with lovely dignity): ‘He is a doctor of philosophy.’

‘Van ist auch one,’ murmured Van, sounding the last word as ‘wann.’ (2.7)

The author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Lewis Carroll liked to photograph little girls. Krolik is Russian for “rabbit.” The characters in Alice’s Adventures include the White Rabbit. Karapars means “black panther.” In VN’s story Usta k ustam (“Lips to Lips,” 1931) Galatov mentions a play Chyornaya pantera (“The Black Panther”):

Он был счастлив. Он выписал еще пять экземпляров. Он был счастлив. Умалчивание объяснялось косностью, придирки -- недоброжелательством. Он был счастлив. Продолжение следует, И вот, как-то в воскресенье, позвонил Евфратский:

-- Угадайте,-- сказал он, -- кто хочет с вами говорить? Галатов! Да, он приехал на пару дней.

Зазвучал незнакомый, играющий, напористый, сладкоодуряющий голос. Условились.

-- Завтра в пять часов у меня. Жалко, что не сегодня. -- Не могу,-- отвечал играющий голос.-- Меня тащат на "Чёрную Пантеру". Я кстати давно не видался с Евгенией Дмитриевной...

He was happy. He purchased six more copies. He was happy. Silence was readily explained by inertia, detraction by enmity. He was happy. "To be continued." And then, one Sunday, came a telephone call from Euphratski:

"Guess," he said, "who wants to speak to you? Galatov! Yes, he's in Berlin for a couple of days. I pass the receiver."

A voice never yet heard took over. A shimmering, urgeful, mellow, narcotic voice. A meeting was settled.

"Tomorrow at five at my place," said Ilya Borisovich, "what a pity you can't come tonight!"

"Very regrettable," rejoined the shimmering voice; "you see, I'm being dragged by friends to attend The Black Panther – terrible play – but it's such a long time since I've seen dear Elena Dmitrievna."

The story’s title was borrowed from Alexander Blok’s poem Ne stroy zhilishch u rechnykh izluchin… (“Don’t build abodes near the bends of rivers…” 1905) that ends in the line Bez viny prizhmyot k ustam usta (Without guilt will press lips to lips). In his poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) directly alluded to in Ada (3.3) Blok mentions p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) who cry out “In vino veritas!”

In “Lips to Lips” Euphratski calls Galatov russkiy Dzhoys (“the Russian Joyce”):

- Пошлите вашу вещь,- Евфратский прищурился и вполголоса докончил: - "Ариону".

- "Ариону"? - переспросил Илья Борисович, нервно погладив рукопись.

- Ничего страшного. Название журнала. Неужели не знаете? Ай-я-яй! Первая книжка вышла весной, осенью выйдет вторая. Нужно немножко следить за литературой, Илья Борисович. - Как же так - просто послать?

- Ну да, в Париж, редактору. Уж имя-то Галатова вы, небось, знаете?

Илья Борисович виновато пожал толстым плечом. Евфратский, морщась, объяснил: беллетрист, новые формы, мастерство, сложная конструкция, русский Джойс... - Джойс,- смиренно повторил Илья Борисович.

"Send your thing" (Euphratski narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice) "to Arion."

"Arion? What's that?" said I.B., nervously patting his manuscript.

"Nothing very frightening. It's the name of the best émigré review. You don't know it? Ay-ya-yay! The first number came out this spring, the second is expected in the fall. You should keep up with literature a bit closer, Ilya Borisovich!"

"But how to contact them? Just mail it?"

"That's right. Straight to the editor. It's published in Paris. Now don't tell me you've never heard Galatov's name?"

Guiltily Ilya Borisovich shrugged one fat shoulder. Euphratski, his face working wryly, explained: a writer, a master, new form of the novel, intricate construction, Galatov the Russian Joyce.

"Djoys," meekly repeated Ilya Borisovich after him.

Describing his visit to a floramor (Eric Veen’s Villa Venus) in England, Van (who comes on a ‘gala’ night) mentions jolls-joyce (an ancient, plushy, faintly perfumed limousine) and its driver, purple-jowled Kingsley:

Nightingales sang, when he arrived at his fabulous and ignoble destination. As usual, he experienced a surge of brutal elation as the car entered the oak avenue between two rows of phallephoric statues presenting arms. A welcome habitué of fifteen years’ standing, he had not bothered to ‘telephone’ (the new official term). A searchlight lashed him: Alas, he had come on a ‘gala’ night!

Members usually had their chauffeurs park in a special enclosure near the guardhouse, where there was a pleasant canteen for servants, with nonalcoholic drinks and a few inexpensive and homely whores. But that night several huge police cars occupied the garage boxes and overflowed into an adjacent arbor. Telling Kingsley to wait a moment under the oaks, Van donned his bautta and went to investigate. His favorite walled walk soon took him to one of the spacious lawns velveting the approach to the manor. The grounds were lividly illuminated and as populous as Park Avenue — an association that came very readily, since the disguises of the astute sleuths belonged to a type which reminded Van of his native land. Some of those men he even knew by sight — they used to patrol his father’s club in Manhattan whenever good Gamaliel (not reelected after his fourth term) happened to dine there in his informal gagality. They mimed what they were accustomed to mime — grapefruit vendors, black hawkers of bananas and banjoes, obsolete, or at least untimely, ‘copying clerks’ who hurried in circles to unlikely offices, and peripatetic Russian newspaper readers slowing down to a trance stop and then strolling again behind their wide open Estotskiya Vesti. Van remembered that Mr Alexander Screepatch, the new president of the United Americas, a plethoric Russian, had flown over to see King Victor; and he correctly concluded that both were now sunk in mollitude. The comic side of the detectives’ display (befitting, perhaps, their dated notion of an American sidewalk, but hardly suiting a weirdly illuminated maze of English hedges) tempered his disappointment as he shuddered squeamishly at the thought of sharing the frolics of historical personages or contenting himself with the brave-faced girlies they had started to use and rejected.

Here a bedsheeted statue attempted to challenge Van from its marble pedestal but slipped and landed on its back in the bracken. Ignoring the sprawling god, Van returned to the still-throbbing jolls-joyce. Purple-jowled Kingsley, an old tried friend, offered to drive him to another house, ninety miles north; but Van declined upon principle and was taken back to the Albania. (3.4)

The name Alexander Screepatch seems to hint at Sashka skripach (Sashka the fiddler), the main character in Kuprin’s story Gambrinus (1906). At the beginning of VN’s story “Lips to Lips” skripki (violins) are mentioned:

Ещё рыдали скрипки, исполняя как будто гимн страсти и любви, но уже Ирина и взволнованный Долинин быстро направлялись к выходу из театра. Их манила весенняя ночь, манила тайна, которая напряженно встала между ними. Сердца их дрожали в унисон.

The violins were still weeping, performing, it seemed, a hymn of passion and love, but already Irina and the deeply moved Dolinin were rapidly walking toward the exit. They were lured by the spring night, by the mystery that had tensely stood up between them. Their two hearts were beating as one.

In his review of Van’s Letters from Terra Max Mispel wonders if the author’s real name is not Mandalatov:

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)

Mandalatov + gala = mandala + Galatov = mandat + lava + goal/Goal/gaol/lago = man + Ada + Volga + Tal

mandat – warrant; mandate; credentials

lago – It., lake (cf. Lago di Luga mentioned by Aqua)

Tal – Ilya Borisovich’s surname in the English version of “Lips to Lips”

Alexey Sklyarenko

From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf Of Fet, Victor
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2018 4:01 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Sig Leymanski, Sig Heiler, papa Fig & Pig Pigment in Ada

'Pig/fig' is another link of Ada to Alice--and one of the most known puns in ‘Wonderland' on the Duchess's baby boy turning into a pig (see Chapter 6, by Cheshire Cat).

Interestingly, prudish Carroll apparently had in mind only the sweet fruit (Ficus carica) and definitely did not mean 'fig' as an offensive gesture---although such archaic English usage (from Italian 'fico') exists e.g. in Shakespeare (HENRY V., iii. 6. 58. Pistol: 'figo [fico] for thy friendship'​)

As Alexei correctly notes, any Russian knows a ‘fig’ primarily as an offensive term/gesture (‘kukish’)--although a sweet Mediterranean fruit is known as well (mostly in dried form). Due to unpleasant homophony, it is usually called today by its Turkish name, ‘injir’.

Victor Fet​


From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU> on behalf of Alexey Sklyarenko < <mailto:skylark1970@MAIL.RU> skylark1970@MAIL.RU>
Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 2:38 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Sig Leymanski, Sig Heiler, papa Fig & Pig Pigment in Ada

Here is my message “Sig Leymanski, Sig Heiler, papa Fig & Pig Pigment in Ada” (in which the Russian quotes were garbled) sent as an attachment.

Alexey Sklyarenko


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