Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027697, Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:22:40 +0300

ved', ha-ha of doubled ocean, Tartary,
k chertyam sobach'im & L disaster in Ada
Describing the difference between Terra and Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set), Van Veen (the narrator and main character in Ada, 1969) uses the word ved’ (it is, isn’t it), calls the Bering Strait “the ha-ha of a doubled ocean” and mentions Tartary, a country that on Antiterra occupies the territory from Kurland to the Kuriles:

Ved’ (‘it is, isn’t it’) sidesplitting to imagine that ‘Russia,’ instead of being a quaint synonym of Estoty, the American province extending from the Arctic no longer vicious Circle to the United States proper, was on Terra the name of a country, transferred as if by some sleight of land across the ha-ha of a doubled ocean to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over all of today’s Tartary, from Kurland to the Kuriles! (1.3)

In his poem Otyezzhayshchemu (“To a Departing Person,” 1913) Gumilyov twice repeats the word ved’ and mentions Muza Dal’nikh Stranstviy (the Muse of Distant Travels):

Нет, я не в том тебе завидую
С такой мучительной обидою,
Что уезжаешь ты и вскоре
На Средиземном будешь море.

И Рим увидишь, и Сицилию,
Места любезные Виргилию,
В благоухающей, лимонной
Трущобе сложишь стих влюблённый.

Я это сам не раз испытывал,
Я солью моря грудь пропитывал,
Над Арно, Данта чтя обычай,
Слагал сонеты Беатриче.

Что до природы мне, до древности,
Когда я полон жгучей ревности,
Ведь ты во всём её убранстве
Увидел Музу Дальних Странствий.

Ведь для тебя в руках изменницы
В хрустальном кубке нектар пенится,
И огнедышащей беседы
Ты знаешь молнии и бреды.

А я, как некими гигантами,
Торжественными фолиантами
От вольной жизни заперт в нишу,
Её не вижу и не слышу.

In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stulyev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) one of the chapters is entitled Muza Dal’nikh Stranstviy (“The Muse of Distant Travels”). The characters in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) include the geography teacher who went mad because one day he looked at the map of the two hemispheres and did not find on it the Bering Strait:

Географ сошёл с ума совершенно неожиданно: однажды он взглянул на карту обоих полушарий и не нашёл на ней Берингова пролива. Весь день старый учитель шарил по карте. Всё было на месте: и Нью-Фаундленд, и Суэцкий канал, и Мадагаскар, и Сандвичевы острова с главным городом Гонолулу, и даже вулкан Попокатепетль, а Берингов пролив отсутствовал. И тут же, у карты, старик тронулся.

The geographer went mad quite unexpectedly: one day he looked at the map of the two hemispheres and couldn't find the Bering Strait. The old teacher spent the whole day studying the map. Everything was where it was supposed to be: Newfoundland; the Suez Canal; Madagascar; the Sandwich Islands with their capital city, Honolulu; even the Popocatepetl volcano. But the Bering Strait was missing. The old man lost his mind right then and there, in front of the map. (chapter XVI: “Jahrbuch für Psychoanalytik”)

One of the chapters in “The Golden Calf” is entitled Pogoda blagopriyatstvovala lyubvi (“The Weather was Right for Love”). In Gumilyov’s story Radosti zemnoy lyubvi ("The Joys of Earthly Love," 1908) a signor from Venice wrote a sonnet for Primavera in which her looks are compared to poisoned arrows of the inhabitants of wild Tartary:

В то время вся Флоренция говорила о заезжем венецианском синьоре и о его скорее влюблённом, чем почтительном, преклонении перед красотой Примаверы. Этот венецианец одевался в костюмы, напоминающие цветом попугаев; ломаясь, пел песни, пригодные разве только для таверн или грубых солдатских попоек; и хвастливо рассказывал о путешествиях своего соотечественника Марко Поло, в которых сам и не думал участвовать. И как-то Кавальканти видел, что Примавера приняла предложенный ей сонет этого высокомерного глупца, где воспевалась её красота в выражениях напыщенных и смешных: её груди сравнивались со снеговыми вершинами Гималайских гор, взгляды с отравленными стрелами обитателей дикой Тартарии, а любовь, возбуждаемая ею, с чудовищным зверем Симлой, который живёт во владениях Великого Могола, ежедневно пожирая тысячи людей; вдобавок размер часто пропадал, и рифмы были расставлены неверно.

The action in Gumilyov’s story takes place in Florence at the end of the 13th century and the main character is the poet Guido Cavalcanti (who is in love with beautiful Primavera). Describing the torments of poor mad Aqua (the twin sister of Marina, Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother), Van mentions Florence and a half-Russian, half-dotty old doctor who quotes Cavalcanti:

She developed a morbid sensitivity to the language of tap water — which echoes sometimes (much as the bloodstream does predormitarily) a fragment of human speech lingering in one’s ears while one washes one’s hands after cocktails with strangers. Upon first noticing this immediate, sustained, and in her case rather eager and mocking but really quite harmless replay of this or that recent discourse, she felt tickled at the thought that she, poor Aqua, had accidentally hit upon such a simple method of recording and transmitting speech, while technologists (the so-called Eggheads) all over the world were trying to make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and still very expensive, hydrodynamic telephones and other miserable gadgets that were to replace those that had gone k chertyam sobach’im (Russian ‘to the devil’) with the banning of an unmentionable ‘lammer.’ Soon, however, the rhythmically perfect, but verbally rather blurred volubility of faucets began to acquire too much pertinent sense. The purity of the running water’s enunciation grew in proportion to the nuisance it made of itself. It spoke soon after she had listened, or been exposed, to somebody talking — not necessarily to her — forcibly and expressively, a person with a rapid characteristic voice, and very individual or very foreign phrasal intonations, some compulsive narrator’s patter at a horrible party, or a liquid soliloquy in a tedious play, or Van’s lovely voice, or a bit of poetry heard at a lecture, my lad, my pretty, my love, take pity, but especially the more fluid and flou Italian verse, for instance that ditty recited between knee-knocking and palpebra-lifting, by a half-Russian, half-dotty old doctor, doc, toc, ditty, dotty, ballatetta, deboletta... tu, voce sbigottita... spigotty e diavoletta... de lo cor dolente... con ballatetta va... va... della strutta, destruttamente... mente... mente... stop that record, or the guide will go on demonstrating as he did this very morning in Florence a silly pillar commemorating, he said, the ‘elmo’ that broke into leaf when they carried stone-heavy-dead St Zeus by it through the gradual, gradual shade; or the Arlington harridan talking incessantly to her silent husband as the vineyards sped by, and even in the tunnel (they can’t do this to you, you tell them, Jack Black, you just tell them...). Bathwater (or shower) was too much of a Caliban to speak distinctly — or perhaps was too brutally anxious to emit the hot torrent and get rid of the infernal ardor — to bother about small talk; but the burbly flowlets grew more and more ambitious and odious, and when at her first ‘home’ she heard one of the most hateful of the visiting doctors (the Cavalcanti quoter) garrulously pour hateful instructions in Russian-lapped German into her hateful bidet, she decided to stop turning on tap water altogether. (1.3)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): ballatetta: fragmentation and distortion of a passage in a ‘little ballad’ by the Italian poet Guido Cavalcanti (1255–1300). The relevant lines are: ‘you frightened and weak little voice that comes weeping from my woeful heart, go with my soul and that ditty, telling of a destroyed mind.’

In “The Golden Calf” Hygienishvili (one of the inhabitants of “A Crow’s Nest”) proposes to throw out the things of the pilot Sevryugov (who discovered a foreign expedition that disappeared beyond the Arctic Circle) to the landing, k chertyam sobach’im:

-- Да вы поймите, -- кипятилась Варвара, поднося к носу камергера газетный лист. - Вот статья. Видите? "Среди торосов и айсбергов".

-- Айсберги! - говорил Митрич насмешливо. - Это мы понять можем. Десять лет как жизни нет. Все Айсберги, Вайсберги, Айзенберги, всякие там Рабиновичи. Верно Пряхин говорит. Отобрать -- и всё. Тем более, что вот и Люция Францевна

подтверждает насчет закона.

-- А вещи на лестницу выкинуть, к чертям собачьим! -- грудным голосом воскликнул бывший князь, а ныне трудящийся Востока, гражданин Гигиенишвили.

"Look here," argued Varvara, putting the newspaper right in front of the Chamberlain's nose.

“Here is the article. See? Amid ice ridges and icebergs."

“Icebergs!” Sneered Mitrich. “Yes, we can understand that. Ten long years of nothing but tears. Icebergs, Weisbergs, Eisenbergs, all those Rabinovichs. Pryakhin is right. Let's just take it, end of story. Especially since Lucia Franzevna here agrees about the law."

"And his stuff can go into the stairwell, to the devil!" exclaimed the former Prince, lately a proletarian from the East, Citizen Hygienishvili, in his throaty voice. (chapter XIII: “Vasisualiy Lokhankin and his Role in the Russian Revolution”)

The inhabitants of “A Crow’s Nest” include nich’ya babushka (nobody’s grandmother) who is afraid of electricity and uses a kerosene lamp in her entresol apartment. After the L disaster in the middle of the 19th century electricity was banned on Antiterra. The phenomenon of Terra appeared on Demonia after the L disaster:

The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans — and not to grave men or gravemen. (1.3)

The Antiterran L disaster seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS), in our world. Dostoevski is the author of Bednye lyudi (“Poor Folk,” 1846). In the old Russian alphabet the letter L was called lyudi (and the letter V, vedi). On the other hand, L seems to hint at Lokhankin, Lenin (the leader of the Bolsheviks who came to power as a result of a coup in October of 1917) and Lermontov, a poet who predicted the Russian Revolution in his prophetic poem Predskazanie (“Prediction,” 1830). At the beginning of his poem Borodino (1837) Lermontov twice repeats the words ved’ and nedarom (not in vain):

Скажи-ка, дядя, ведь не даром
Москва, спалённая пожаром,
Французу отдана?
Ведь были ж схватки боевые,
Да, говорят, еще какие!
Недаром помнит вся Россия
Про день Бородина!

– HEY tell, old man, had we a cause
When Moscow, razed by fire, once was
Given up to Frenchman's blow?
Old-timers talk about some frays,
And they remember well those days!
With cause all Russia fashions lays
About the day of Borodino!

There is dar (gift) in nedarom. Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) is VN’s last Russian novel. Den’ Borodina (the day of Borodino) and the Great Moscow Fire of 1812 bring to mind the Night of the Burning Barn, when Van and Ada make love for the first time (1.13). It seems that the barn was set on fire by Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who was bribed by Ada. Kim’s surname hints at Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife. During Van’s first tea party at Ardis Marina mentions Queen Josephine (sic) and Dostoevski:

Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van’s teacher of history, ‘Jeejee’ Jones.

‘He resembles my teacher of history,’ said Van when the man had gone.

‘I used to love history,’ said Marina, ‘I loved to identify myself with famous women. There’s a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties — Lincoln’s second wife or Queen Josephine.’

‘Yes, I’ve noticed — it’s beautifully done. We’ve got a similar set at home.’

‘Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?’ Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.

‘Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),’ replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis’ (with a slight smile). ‘Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.’

‘Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.’

‘Pah,’ uttered Ada. (1.5)

In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) Lermontov twice repeats the word okean (ocean):

Нет, я не Байрон, я другой,
Ещё неведомый избранник,
Как он, гонимый миром странник,
Но только с русскою душой.

Я раньше начал, кончу ране,
Мой ум немного совершит;
В душе моей, как в океане,
Надежд разбитых груз лежит.
Кто может, океан угрюмый,
Твои изведать тайны? Кто
Толпе мои расскажет думы?
Я — или Бог — или никто!

No, I'm not Byron, I’m another
yet unknown chosen man,
like him, a persecuted wanderer,
but only with a Russian soul.
I started sooner, I will end sooner,
my mind won’t achieve much;
in my soul, as in the ocean,
lies a load of broken hopes.
Who can, gloomy ocean,

find out your secrets? Who
will tell to the crowd my thoughts?
Myself – or God – or none at all!

The last word in Lermontov’s poem is nikto (nobody). Nik. T-o was I. Annenski’s penname. One of the essays in Annenski’s Kniga otrazheniy (“Book of Reflections,” 1906) is entitled Dostoevskiy do katastrofy (“Dostoevski before the Disaster”). In his essay Problema Gamleta (“The Problem of Hamlet”) included in “The Second Book of Reflections” (1909) Annenski says that Hamlet is not Salieri:

Видите ли: зависть художника не совсем то, что наша...

Для художника это - болезненное сознание своей ограниченности и желание делать творческую жизнь свою как можно полнее. Истинный художник и завистлив и жаден... я слышу возражение - пушкинский Моцарт. - Да! Но ведь Гамлет не Сальери. Моцарта же Пушкин, как известно, изменил: его короткая жизнь была отнюдь не жизнью праздного гуляки, а сплошным творческим горением. Труд его был громаден, не результат труда, а именно труд.

In Pushkin’s little tragedy “Mozart and Salieri” (1830) Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would):

Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.

If all could feel like you the power of harmony!
But no: the world could not go on then. None
Would bother with the needs of lowly life;
All would surrender to spontaneous art.

Nikto b is Botkin in reverse. In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ real name seems to be Botkin. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). In his poem “No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” Lermontov mentions nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) that lies in his soul as in the ocean. Describing Aqua’s delirium, Van mentions “gradual, gradual shade.” In Lucette’s cabin on Tobakoff there is a steeplechase picture “Pale Fire Tom Cox Up” (3.5). It brings to mind Drongo, a horse mentioned by Ada:

And she remembered blushing painfully when somebody said poor Pig had a very sick mind and ‘a hardening of the artery,’ that is how she heard it, or perhaps ‘heartery’; but she also knew, even then, that the artery could become awfully long, for she had seen Drongo, a black horse, looking, she must confess, most dejected and embarrassed by what was happening to it right in the middle of a rough field with all the daisies watching. She thought, arch Ada said (how truthfully, was another question), that a foal was dangling, with one black rubber leg free, out of Drongo’s belly because she did not understand that Drongo was not a mare at all and had not got a pouch as the kangaroo had in an illustration she worshipped, but then her English nurse explained that Drongo was a very sick horse and everything fell into place. (1.18)

Drongo is an anagram of Gordon and hints at George Gordon Byron (a poet whose daughter’s name was Ada).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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