Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027753, Mon, 14 May 2018 17:56:19 +0300

mea culpa, L'ami Luc & Lebon Prize in Ada; Miss Finton Lebone,
Miss Lester & Miss Fabian in Lolita
In a conversation about religion in “Ardis the First” Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) uses the phrase mea culpa (Lat., “through my fault”):

‘And Belle’ (Lucette’s name for her governess), ‘is she also a dizzy Christian?’

‘Who cares,’ cried Van, ‘who cares about all those stale myths, what does it matter — Jove or Jehovah, spire or cupola, mosques in Moscow, or bronzes and bonzes, and clerics, and relics, and deserts with bleached camel ribs? They are merely the dust and mirages of the communal mind.’

‘How did this idiotic conversation start in the first place?’ Ada wished to be told, cocking her head at the partly ornamented dackel or taksik.

‘Mea culpa,’ Mlle Larivière explained with offended dignity. ‘All I said, at the picnic, was that Greg might not care for ham sandwiches, because Jews and Tartars do not eat pork.’

‘The Romans,’ said Greg, ‘the Roman colonists, who crucified Christian Jews and Barabbits, and other unfortunate people in the old days, did not touch pork either, but I certainly do and so did my grandparents.’

Lucette was puzzled by a verb Greg had used. To illustrate it for her, Van joined his ankles, spread both his arms horizontally, and rolled up his eyes.

‘When I was a little girl,’ said Marina crossly, ‘Mesopotamian history was taught practically in the nursery.’

‘Not all little girls can learn what they are taught,’ observed Ada.

‘Are we Mesopotamians?’ asked Lucette.

‘We are Hippopotamians,’ said Van. ‘Come,’ he added, ‘we have not yet ploughed today.’

A day or two before, Lucette had demanded that she be taught to hand-walk. Van gripped her by her ankles while she slowly progressed on her little red palms, sometimes falling with a grunt on her face or pausing to nibble a daisy. Dack barked in strident protest. (1.14)

At the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday Mlle Larivière reads her story La Rivière de Diamants (1.13). Seventeen years later, when Van meets Greg Erminin in Paris, Greg asks Van how is the guvernantka belletristka (governess–novelist):

Van was about to leave when a smartly uniformed chauffeur came up to inform’ my lord’ that his lady was parked at the corner of rue Saïgon and was summoning him to appear.

‘Aha,’ said Van, ‘I see you are using your British title. Your father preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel.’

‘Maude is Anglo-Scottish and, well, likes it that way. Thinks a title gets one better service abroad. By the way, somebody told me — yes, Tobak! — that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four. I haven’t asked you about your father? He’s in good health?’ (Van bowed,) ‘And how is the guvernantka belletristka?’

‘Her last novel is called L’ami Luc. She just got the Lebon Academy Prize for her copious rubbish.’

They parted laughing. (3.2)

Lebon is Nobel, Luc is cul (Fr., “arse”) in reverse. There is cul in culpa, Belle in belletristka (female novelist) and Lebon in Lebone, Humbert Humbert’s neighbor in VN’s novel Lolita (1955):

With people in movies I seem to share the services of the machina telephonica and its sudden god. This time it was an irate neighbor. The east window happened to be agape in the living room, with the blind mercifully down, however; and behind it the damp black night of a sour New England spring had been breathlessly listening to us. I had always thought that type of haddocky spinster with the obscene mind was the result of considerable literary inbreeding in modern fiction; but now I am convinced that prude and prurient Miss East - or to explode her incognito, Miss Finton Lebone - had been probably protruding three-quarter-way from her bedroom window as she strove to catch the gist of our quarrel.

“…This racket… lacks all sense of…” quacked the receiver, “we do not live in a tenement here. I must emphatically…”

I apologized for my daughter’s friends being so loud. Young people, you know - and cradled the next quack and a half.

Downstairs the screen door banged. Lo? Escaped?

Through the casement on the stairs I saw a small impetuous ghost slip through the shrubs; a silvery dot in the dark - hub of bicycle wheel - moved, shivered, and she was gone.

It so happened that the car was spending the night in a repair shop downtown. I had no other alternative than to pursue on foot the winged fugitive. Even now, after more than three years have heaved and elapsed, I cannot visualize that spring-night street, that already so leafy street, without a gasp of panic. Before their lighted porch Miss Lester was promenading Miss Fabian's dropsical dackel. Mr. Hyde almost knocked it over. Walk three steps and run three. A tepid rain started to drum on the chestnut leaves. At the next corner, pressing Lolita against an iron railing, a blurred youth held and kissed - no, not her, mistake. My talons still tingling, I flew on. (2.14)

Miss Lester and Miss Fabian are a Lesbian couple. According to Van, an old tailored pair can fool no one:

He looked her over more closely than he had done before. He had read somewhere (we might recall the precise title if we tried, not Tiltil, that’s in Blue Beard…) that a man can recognize a Lesbian, young and alone (because a tailored old pair can fool no one), by a combination of three characteristics: slightly trembling hands, a cold-in-the-head voice, and that skidding-in-panic of the eyes if you happen to scan with obvious appraisal such charms as the occasion might force her to show (lovely shoulders, for instance). Nothing whatever of all that (yes — Mytilène, petite isle, by Louis Pierre) seemed to apply to Cordula, who wore a ‘garbotosh’ (belted mackintosh) over her terribly unsmart turtle and held both hands deep in her pockets as she challenged his stare. Her bobbed hair was of a neutral shade between dry straw and damp. Her light blue iris could be matched by millions of similar eyes in pigment-poor families of French Estoty. Her mouth was doll-pretty when consciously closed in a mannered pout so as to bring out what portraitists call the two ‘sickle folds’ which, at their best, are oblong dimples and, at their worst, the creases down the well-chilled cheeks of felt-booted apple-cart girls. When her lips parted, as they did now, they revealed braced teeth, which, however, she quickly remembered to shutter. (1.27)

Van suspects Cordula de Prey (Ada’s schoolmate at Brownhill) of being a Lesbian. During his visit of Brownhill Van quotes his professor of French literature who affirms that Proust’s novel can be appreciated only by quelque petite blanchisseuse (some little washerwoman):

They talked about their studies and teachers, and Van said:

‘I would like your opinion, Ada, and yours, Cordula, on the following literary problem. Our professor of French literature maintains that there is a grave philosophical, and hence artistic, flaw in the entire treatment of the Marcel and Albertine affair. It makes sense if the reader knows that the narrator is a pansy, and that the good fat cheeks of Albertine are the good fat buttocks of Albert. It makes none if the reader cannot be supposed, and should not be required, to know anything about this or any other author’s sexual habits in order to enjoy to the last drop a work of art. My teacher contends that if the reader knows nothing about Proust’s perversion, the detailed description of a heterosexual male jealously watchful of a homosexual female is preposterous because a normal man would be only amused, tickled pink in fact, by his girl’s frolics with a female partner. The professor concludes that a novel which can be appreciated only by quelque petite blanchisseuse who has examined the author’s dirty linen is, artistically, a failure.’

‘Ada, what on earth is he talking about? Some Italian film he has seen?’

‘Van,’ said Ada in a tired voice, ‘you do not realize that the Advanced French Group at my school has advanced no farther than to Racan and Racine.’

‘Forget it,’ said Van.

‘But you’ve had too much Marcel,’ muttered Ada.

The railway station had a semi-private tearoom supervised by the stationmaster’s wife under the school’s idiotic auspices. It was empty, save for a slender lady in black velvet, wearing a beautiful black velvet picture hat, who sat with her back to them at a ‘tonic bar’ and never once turned her head, but the thought brushed him that she was a cocotte from Toulouse. Our damp trio found a nice corner table and with sighs of banal relief undid their raincoats. He hoped Ada would discard her heavy-seas hat but she did not, because she had cut her hair because of dreadful migraines, because she did not want him to see her in the role of a moribund Romeo.

(On fait son grand Joyce after doing one’s petit Proust. In Ada’s lovely hand.)

(But read on; it is pure V.V. Note that lady! In Van’s bed-buvard scrawl.) (ibid.)

Quelque petite blanchisseuse brings to mind Blanche, a French handmaid at Ardis in whose hairdo Van saw a curved tortoiseshell comb. During their first ramble in Ardis Ada asks Van if he knows Joyce’s poem about the two washerwomen:

She showed him next where the hammock — a whole set of hammocks, a canvas sack full of strong, soft nets — was stored: this was in the corner of a basement toolroom behind the lilacs, the key was concealed in this hole here which last year was stuffed by the nest of a bird — no need to identify it. A pointer of sunlight daubed with greener paint a long green box where croquet implements were kept; but the balls had been rolled down the hill by some rowdy children, the little Erminins, who were now Van’s age and had grown very nice and quiet.

‘As we all are at that age,’ said Van and stooped to pick up a curved tortoiseshell comb — the kind that girls use to hold up their hair behind; he had seen one, exactly like that, quite recently, but when, in whose hairdo?

‘One of the maids,’ said Ada. ‘That tattered chapbook must also belong to her, Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor.’

‘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)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Les amours du Dr Mertvago: play on ‘Zhivago’ (‘zhiv’ means in Russian ‘alive’ and ‘mertv’ dead).

In 1958 Boris Pasternak received the Nobel Prize for his novel Doctor Zhivago (1957). In his poem Nobelevskaya premiya (“The Noble Prize,” 1959) Pasternak asks if he is ubiytsa i zlodey (a murderer and villain):

Что же сделал я за пакость,
Я убийца и злодей?
Я весь мир заставил плакать
Над красой земли моей.

What sort of dirty trick I've done,

am I a murderer and villain?

I made the whole world shed tears over

the beauty of my native land.

In the first strophe of his poem Kakoe sdelal ya durnoe delo… (“What is the evil deed I have committed…” 1959) VN parodies Pasternak’s lines:

Какое сделал я дурное дело,
и я ли развратитель и злодей,
я, заставляющий мечтать мир целый
о бедной девочке моей?

О, знаю я, меня боятся люди,
и жгут таких, как я, за волшебство,
и, как от яда в полом изумруде,
мрут от искусства моего.

Но как забавно, что в конце абзаца,
корректору и веку вопреки,
тень русской ветки будет колебаться
на мраморе моей руки.

What is the evil deed I have committed?

Seducer, criminal—is this the word

for me who set the entire world a-dreaming

of my poor little girl?

Oh, I know well that I am feared by people:

They burn the likes of me for wizard wiles

and as of poison in a hollow smaragd

of my art die.

Amusing, though, that at the last indention,

despite proofreaders and my age’s ban,

a Russian branch’s shadow shall be playing

upon the marble of my hand.

Yad v polom izumrude (poison in a hollow smaragd) brings to mind Izumrudov (a character in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, one of the greater Shadows) and dar Izory (Isora’s gift) mentioned by Salieri in Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830):

Вот яд, последний дар моей Изоры.

Осьмнадцать лет ношу его с собою —

И часто жизнь казалась мне с тех пор

Несносной раной, и сидел я часто

С врагом беспечным за одной трапезой

И никогда на шопот искушенья

Не преклонился я, хоть я не трус,

Хотя обиду чувствую глубоко,

Хоть мало жизнь люблю. Всё медлил я.

Как жажда смерти мучила меня,

Что умирать? я мнил: быть может, жизнь

Мне принесет незапные дары;

Быть может, посетит меня восторг

И творческая ночь и вдохновенье;

Быть может, новый Гайден сотворит

Великое — и наслажуся им....

Как пировал я с гостем ненавистным,

Быть может, мнил я, злейшего врага

Найду; быть может, злейшая обида

В меня с надменной грянет высоты —

Тогда не пропадешь ты, дар Изоры.

И я был прав! и наконец нашел

Я моего врага, и новый Гайден

Меня восторгом дивно упоил!

Теперь — пора! заветный дар любви,

Переходи сегодня в чашу дружбы.

Here’s poison; it’s Isora’s final gift.
For eighteen years I’ve carried it with me,
And often in that time my life would seem
A wound not to be borne. I’d often share
A table with some careless enemy,
And never to the whisper of temptation
Did I yield, although I am no coward,
Although I feel an insult deeply and
Care little for my life. No, I held back.
When thirst for death tormented me, I thought:
Why should I die? It could be life will bring
Some sudden gifts to me, it could be too,
I will be visited by rapture, by
The night of the creator, inspiration.
It could be some new Haydn will create
Great things, and I will take delight in him.
While I was feasting with my hated guest,
I’d think: it could be I will find a worse
Enemy yet, and that a bitterer
Insult will blast me from a prouder height.
Then you will not be lost, Isora’s gift.
And I was right! At last I have found both:
I’ve found my enemy, and a new Haydn
Has made me drink deliciously of rapture!
And now -- it’s time. Most cherished gift of love,
Tonight you pass into the cup of friendship.

(Scene I, tr. A. Shaw)

In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart says that genius and villainy are two things incompatible and uses the phrase nikto b (none would):


Да! Бомарше ведь был тебе приятель;

Ты для него Тарара сочинил,

Вещь славную. Там есть один мотив....

Я все твержу его, когда я счастлив....

Ла ла ла ла.... Ах, правда ли, Сальери,

Что Бомарше кого-то отравил?


Не думаю: он слишком был смешон

Для ремесла такого.


Он же гений,

Как ты, да я. А гений и злодейство,

Две вещи несовместные. Не правда ль?


Yes, you and Beaumarchais were pals, weren’t you?
It was for him you wrote Tarare, a lovely
Work. There is one tune in it, I always
Hum it to myself when I feel happy . . .
La la la la . . . Salieri, is it true
That Beaumarchais once poisoned somebody?


I don’t think so. He was too droll a fellow
For such a trade.


Besides, he was a genius,
Like you and me. And genius and villainy
Are two things incompatible, aren’t they?

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 free art.

(Scene II)

Nikto b is Botkin in reverse. In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (one of the three main characters in Pale Fire) mentions Prof. Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ real name, as it transpires):

Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 172)

In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtst’ stul’yev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Ostap Bender mentions Maupassant:

Остап, который к этому времени закончил свои наблюдения над Коробейниковым, решил, что «старик – типичная сволочь».

– Так вот, – сказал Остап.

– Так вот, – сказал архивариус, – трудно, но можно…

– Потребует расходов? – помог владелец мясохладобойни.

– Небольшая сумма…

– Ближе к телу, как говорит Мопассан. Сведения будут оплачены.

"A typical old bastard," decided Ostap, who had by then completed his observation of Korobeinikov.

"So there you are," said Ostap.

"So there you are," said the record-keeper. "It's difficult, but possible."

"And it involves expense," suggested the refrigeration-plant owner helpfully.

“A small sum . . ."

" 'Is nearer one's heart', as Maupassant used to say. The information will be paid for." (Chapter 11 “The Mirror-of-Life Index”)

Mlle Larivière’s story La Rivière de Diamants corresponds to La Parure (1884) by Guy de Maupassant and her novel L’Ami Luc corresponds to Maupassant’s Bel Ami (1885). In their Foreword to Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) Ilf and Petrov compare themselves to the Goncourt brothers:

-- Как мы пишем вдвоём? Да так и пишем вдвоём. Как братья Гонкуры. Эдмонд бегает по редакциям, а Жюль стережёт рукопись, чтобы не украли знакомые. И вдруг единообразие вопросов было нарушено.

-- Скажите, -- спросил нас некий строгий гражданин из числа тех, что признали советскую власть несколько позже Англии и чуть раньше Греции, -- скажите, почему вы пишете смешно? Что за смешки в реконструктивный период? Вы что, с ума сошли?

После этого он долго и сердито убеждал нас в том, что сейчас смех вреден.

-- Смеяться грешно? -- говорил он. -- Да, смеяться нельзя! И улыбаться нельзя! Когда я вижу эту новую жизнь, эти сдвиги, мне не хочется улыбаться, мне хочется молиться!

-- Но ведь мы не просто смеемся, -- возражали мы. -- Наша цель -- сатира именно на тех людей, которые не понимают реконструктивного периода.

-- Сатира не может быть смешной, -- сказал строгий товарищ и, подхватив под руку какого-то кустаря-баптиста, которого он принял за стопроцентного пролетария, повёл его к себе на квартиру.

Повёл описывать скучными словами, повёл вставлять в шеститомный роман под названием: "А паразиты никогда!"

A six volume novel entitled A parazity nikogda! (“And the Parasites are Never!”) brings to mind “the monstrous parasite of a genius” (as Sybil Shade calls Kinbote):

John Shade's wife, nee Irondell (which comes not from a little valley yielding iron ore but from the French for "swallow"). She was a few months his senior. I understand she came of Canadian stock, as did Shade's maternal grandmother (a first cousin of Sybil's grandfather, if I am not greatly mistaken).

From the very first I tried to behave with the utmost courtesy toward my friend's wife, and from the very first she disliked and distrusted me. I was to learn later that when alluding to me in public she used to call me "an elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macaco worm; the monstrous parasite of a genius." I pardon her - her and everybody. (note to Line 247)

In his poem On Translating “Eugene Onegin” (1955) VN says that the parasites on whom Pushkin was so hard are pardoned if he has Pushkin’s pardon:

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. (I)

At the Faculty Club Professor Pardon (American History) asks Kinbote if his name is an anagram:

Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla" [sarcastically stressing the "Nova'"].

"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.

"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).

Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"

"Oxford, 1956," I replied.

"You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other day, talking to - what's his name - oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing his lips].

Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].

Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for 'tire': punoo."

Shade: "Why, Sir, I am afraid you have only punctured the difficulty" [laughing uproariously].

"Flatman," quipped I. "Yes," I went on, turning to Pardon, "I certainly do speak Russian. You see, it was the fashionable language par excellence, much more so than French, among the nobles of Zembla at least, and at its court. Today, of course, all this has changed. It is now the lower classes who are forcibly taught to speak Russian."

"Aren't we, too, trying to teach Russian in our schools?" said Pink.

In the meantime, at the other end of the room, young Emerald had been communing with the bookshelves. At this point he returned with the T-Z volume of an illustrated encyclopedia.

"Well, said he, "here he is, that king. But look, he is young and handsome" ("Oh, that won't do," wailed the German visitor). "Young, handsome, and wearing a fancy uniform," continued Emerald. "Quite the fancy pansy, in fact."

"And you," I said quietly, "are a foul-minded pup in a cheap green jacket."

"But what have I said?" the young instructor inquired of the company, spreading out his palms like a disciple in Leonardo's Last Supper.

"Now, now," said Shade. "I'm sure, Charles, our young friend never intended to insult your sovereign and namesake."

"He could not, even if he had wished," I observed placidly, turning it all into a joke.

Gerald Emerald extended his hand - which at the moment of writing still remains in that position. (note to Line 894)

Izumrud is Russian for “emerald.” At the end of Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri Salieri wonders if the creator of Vatican (Michelangelo) was no murderer after all:

До свиданья.


Ты заснёшь

Надолго, Моцарт! но ужель он прав,

И я не гений? Гений и злодейство

Две вещи несовместные. Неправда:

А Бонаротти? или это сказка

Тупой, бессмысленной толпы — и не был

Убийцею создатель Ватикана?



          Your sleep
Will be a long one, Mozart. But is he right,
And I’m no genius? Genius and villainy
Are two things incompatible. Not true:
What about Buonarotti? Or is that just
A fable of stupid, senseless crowd,
And the Vatican’s creator was no murderer?


Skazka tupoy, bessmyslennoy tolpy (a fable of stupid, senseless crowd) brings to mind izverg v stivensonovskoy skazke (the beast in Stevenson’s fairy tale), as in his Russian translation of Lolita (1967) VN calls Mr. Hyde (Dr Jekyll’s alternative personality in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1886):

Так случилось, что автомобиль проводил ночь в ремонтной мастерской на другом конце города. Мне приходилось пешком преследовать крылатую беглянку. Даже теперь, когда ухнуло в вечность больше трёх лет с той поры, я не в силах вообразить эту улицу, эту весеннюю ночь без панического содрогания. Перед освещённым крыльцом их дома мисс Лестер прогуливала старую, разбухшую таксу мисс Фабиан. Как изверг в стивенсоновской сказке, я был готов всех раздавить на своём пути. Надо попеременно: три шага идти медленно, три - бежать. Тепловатый дождь забарабанил по листьям каштанов. На следующем углу, прижав Лолиту к чугунным перилам, смазанный темнотой юноша тискал и целовал её - нет не её, ошибка. С неизрасходованным зудом в когтях, я полетел дальше. (2.14)

Van and Ada call Mlle Larivière’s story La Rivière de Diamants “a fairy tale:”

‘I can never get used (m’y faire)’ said Mlle Laparure, ‘to the contrast between the opulence of nature and the squalor of human life. See that old moujik décharné with that rent in his shirt, see his miserable cabane. And see that agile swallow! How happy, nature, how unhappy, man! Neither of you told me how you liked my new story? Van?’

‘It’s a good fairy tale,’ said Van.

‘It’s a fairy tale,’ said careful Ada.

‘Allons donc!’ cried Mlle Larivière, ‘On the contrary — every detail is realistic. We have here the drama of the petty bourgeois, with all his class cares and class dreams and class pride.’

(True; that might have been the intent — apart from the pointe assassine; but the story lacked ‘realism’ within its own terms, since a punctilious, penny-counting employee would have found out, first of all, no matter how, quitte à tout dire à la veuve, what exactly the lost necklace had cost. That was the fatal flaw in the Larivière pathos-piece, but at the time young Van and younger Ada could not quite grope for that point although they felt instinctively the falsity of the whole affair.) (1.13)

In Le temps retrouvé (“Time Regained”), the seventh and last volume of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (“In Search of Lost Time”), Mme Cottard mentions the Scotchman Stevenson, her children’s favorite writer:

Et la suggestive dissertation passa, sur un signe gracieux de la maîtresse de maison, de la salle à manger au fumoir vénitien dans lequel Cottard me dit avoir assisté à de véritables dédoublements de la personnalité, nous citant le cas d’un de ses malades, qu’il s’offre aimablement à m’amener chez moi et à qui il suffisait qu’il touchât les tempes pour l’éveiller à une seconde vie, vie pendant laquelle il ne se rappelait rien de la première, si bien que, très honnête homme dans celle-là, il y aurait été plusieurs fois arrêté pour des vols commis dans l’autre où il serait tout simplement un abominable gredin. Sur quoi Mme Verdurin remarque finement que la médecine pourrait fournir des sujets plus vrais à un théâtre où la cocasserie de l’imbroglio reposerait sur des méprises pathologiques, ce qui, de fil en aiguille, amène Mme Cottard à narrer qu’une donnée toute semblable a été mise en œuvre par un amateur qui est le favori des soirées de ses enfants, l’Écossais Stevenson, un nom qui met dans la bouche de Swann cette affirmation péremptoire : « Mais c’est tout à fait un grand écrivain, Stevenson, je vous assure, M. de Goncourt, un très grand, l’égal des plus grands. »

This suggestive dissertation continued, on a gracious sign from the mistress of the house, from the dining-room into the Venetian smoking-room where Cottard told me he had witnessed actual duplications of personality, giving as example the case of one of his patients whom he amiably offers to bring to see me, in whose case Cottard has merely to touch his temples to usher him into a second life, a life in which he remembers nothing of the other, so much so that, a very honest man in this one, he had actually been arrested several times for thefts committed in the other during which he had been nothing less than a disgraceful scamp. Upon which Mme Verdurin acutely remarks that medicine could furnish subjects truer than a theatre where the humour of an imbroglio is founded upon pathological mistakes, which from thread to needle brought Mme Cottard to relate that a similar notion had been made use of by an amateur who is the prime favourite at her children’s evening parties, the Scotchman Stevenson, a name which forced from Swann the peremptory affirmation: ‘But Stevenson is a great writer, I can assure you, M. de Goncourt, a very great one, equal to the greatest.’

In Le temps retrouvé Marcel (the narrator and main character in Proust’s novel) uses the phrase felix culpa (“happy fault”):

On sait, en effet, que certaines femmes se projettent en quelque sorte elles-mêmes en un autre être avec la plus grande exactitude, la seule erreur est dans le sexe. Erreur dont on ne peut pas dire: felix culpa, car le sexe réagit sur la personnalité, et chez un homme le féminisme devient afféterie, la réserve susceptibilité, etc. N’importe, dans la figure, fût-elle barbue, dans les joues, même congestionnées sous les favoris, il y a certaines lignes superposables à quelque portrait maternel. Il n’est guère de vieux Charlus qui ne soit une ruine où l’on ne reconnaisse avec étonnement sous tous les empâtements de la graisse et de la poudre de riz quelques fragments d’une belle femme en sa jeunesse éternelle.

We know, as a matter of fact, that certain women are reproduced in certain men with complete fidelity, the only mistake being the sex. We cannot qualify this as felix culpa, for sex reacts upon personality and feminism becomes effeminacy, reserve suceptibility and so on. This does not prevent a man’s face, even though bearded, from being modelled on lines transferable to the portrait of his mother. There was nothing but a ruin of the old M. de Charlus left but under all the layers of fat and rice powder one could recognize the remnants of a beautiful woman in her eternal youth.

In VN’s novel Otchayanie (“Despair,” 1934) Hermann Karlovich (btw., Sartre thought that Karlovich was a surname) murders Felix, a tramp in whom Hermann sees his perfect double. It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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