Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027759, Thu, 17 May 2018 01:32:31 +0300

Dolores Disparue & internal combustion martyr in Lolita; rue des
Jeunes Martyres & Blok's Incognita in Ada
According to Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955), one of the parts of his book might be called “Dolorés Disparue:”

This book is about Lolita; and now that I have reached the part which (had I not been forestalled by another internal combustion martyr) might be called “Dolorés Disparue,” there would be little sense in analyzing the three empty years that followed. While a few pertinent points have to be marked, the general impression I desire to convey is of a side door crashing open in life’s full flight, and a rush of roaring black time drowning with its whipping wind the cry of lone disaster. (2.25)

“Dolorés Disparue” hints at Albertine disparue, the sixth volume of Marcel Proust’s seven part novel, À la recherche du temps perdu (“In Search of Lost Time”). In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen quotes his professor of French literature who criticizes Proust’s novel:

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.) (1.27)

On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) VN’s Lolita is known as The Gitanilla, a novel by the Spanish writer Osberg. Describing his meeting with his half-sister Lucette (who compares herself to a martyr and to Dolores, the gypsy girl in Osberg’s novel) in Paris, Van mentions, among other best-selling books, The Gitanilla:

The Bourbonian-chinned, dark, sleek-haired, ageless concierge, dubbed by Van in his blazer days ‘Alphonse Cinq,’ believed he had just seen Mlle Veen in the Récamier room where Vivian Vale’s golden veils were on show. With a flick of coattail and a swing-gate click, Alphonse dashed out of his lodge and went to see. Van’s eye over his umbrella crook traveled around a carousel of Sapsucker paperbacks (with that wee striped woodpecker on every spine): The Gitanilla, Salzman, Salzman, Salzman, Invitation to a Climax, Squirt, The Go-go Gang, The Threshold of Pain, The Chimes of Chose, The Gitanilla — here a Wall Street, very ‘patrician’ colleague of Demon’s, old Kithar K.L. Sween, who wrote verse, and the still older real-estate magnate Milton Eliot, went by without recognizing grateful Van, despite his being betrayed by several mirrors.

The concierge returned shaking his head. Out of the goodness of his heart Van gave him a Goal guinea and said he’d call again at one-thirty. He walked through the lobby (where the author of Agonic Lines and Mr Eliot, affalés, with a great amount of jacket over their shoulders, dans des fauteuils, were comparing cigars) and, leaving the hotel by a side exit, crossed the rue des Jeunes Martyres for a drink at Ovenman’s.

Upon entering, he stopped for a moment to surrender his coat; but he kept his black fedora and stick-slim umbrella as he had seen his father do in that sort of bawdy, albeit smart, place which decent women did not frequent — at least, unescorted. He headed for the bar, and as he was in the act of wiping the lenses of his black-framed spectacles, made out, through the optical mist (Space’s recent revenge!), the girl whose silhouette he recalled having seen now and then (much more distinctly!) ever since his pubescence, passing alone, drinking alone, always alone, like Blok’s Incognita. It was a queer feeling — as of something replayed by mistake, part of a sentence misplaced on the proof sheet, a scene run prematurely, a repeated blemish, a wrong turn of time. He hastened to reequip his ears with the thick black bows of his glasses and went up to her in silence. For a minute he stood behind her, sideways to remembrance and reader (as she, too, was in regard to us and the bar), the crook of his silk-swathed cane lifted in profile almost up to his mouth. There she was, against the aureate backcloth of a sakarama screen next to the bar, toward which she was sliding, still upright, about to be seated, having already placed one white-gloved hand on the counter. She wore a high-necked, long-sleeved romantic black dress with an ample skirt, fitted bodice and ruffy collar, from the black soft corolla of which her long neck gracefully rose. With a rake’s morose gaze we follow the pure proud line of that throat, of that tilted chin. The glossy red lips are parted, avid and fey, offering a side gleam of large upper teeth. We know, we love that high cheekbone (with an atom of powder puff sticking to the hot pink skin), and the forward upsweep of black lashes and the painted feline eye — all this in profile, we softly repeat. From under the wavy wide brim of her floppy hat of black faille, with a great black bow surmounting it, a spiral of intentionally disarranged, expertly curled bright copper descends her flaming cheek, and the light of the bar’s ‘gem bulbs’ plays on her bouffant front hair, which, as seen laterally, convexes from beneath the extravagant brim of the picture hat right down to her long thin eyebrow. Her Irish profile sweetened by a touch of Russian softness, which adds a look of mysterious expectancy and wistful surprise to her beauty, must be seen, I hope, by the friends and admirers of my memories, as a natural masterpiece incomparably finer and younger than the portrait of the similarily postured lousy jade with her Parisian gueule de guenon on the vile poster painted by that wreck of an artist for Ovenman. (3.3)

In his poem O, ya khochu bezumno zhit’… (“Oh, how desperately I want to live…” 1914) Alexander Blok mentions zhizni son tyazhyolyi (life’s heavy dream) and his sokrytyi dvigatel’ (secret engine):

О, я хочу безумно жить:

Всё сущее - увековечить,

Безличное - вочеловечить,

Несбывшееся - воплотить!

Пусть душит жизни сон тяжёлый,

Пусть задыхаюсь в этом сне, -

Быть может, юноша весёлый

В грядущем скажет обо мне:

Простим угрюмство - разве это

Сокрытый двигатель его?

Он весь - дитя добра и света,

Он весь - свободы торжество!

Oh, how desperately I want to live:

Immortalize the real,

Personify the faceless,

Give flesh to the nonexistent!

Life’s heavy dream may smother me

I may suffocate as I dream, -

And yet a lighthearted youth, perhaps

Will say of me in times to come:

Let us forgive his gloom - could it be

That it was really his secret engine?

"He’s but a child of goodness and light

He’s but freedom’s triumph!"

Blok’s secret engine brings to mind the internal combustion engine. There is Berg (Germ., “mountain”) and son (sleep; dream) in Bergson, the philosopher who influenced Proust and who is mentioned in Ada:

At this point, as in a well-constructed play larded with comic relief, the brass campophone buzzed and not only did the radiators start to cluck but the uncapped soda water fizzed in sympathy.

Van (crossly): ‘I don’t understand the first word… What’s that? L’adorée? Wait a second’ (to Lucette). ‘Please, stay where you are.’ (Lucette whispers a French child-word with two ‘p’s.). ‘Okay’ (pointing toward the corridor). ‘Sorry, Polly. Well, is it l’adorée? No? Give me the context. Ah — la durée. La durée is not… sin on what? Synonymous with duration. Aha. Sorry again, I must stopper that orgiastic soda. Hold the line.’ (Yells down the ‘cory door,’ as they called the long second-floor passage at Ardis.) ‘Lucette, let it run over, who cares!’

He poured himself another glass of brandy and for a ridiculous moment could not remember what the hell he had been — yes, the polliphone.

It had died, but buzzed as soon as he recradled the receiver, and Lucette knocked discreetly at the same time.

‘La durée… For goodness sake, come in without knocking… No, Polly, knocking does not concern you — it’s my little cousin. All right. La durée is not synonymous with duration, being saturated — yes, as in Saturday — with that particular philosopher’s thought. What’s wrong now? You don’t know if it’s dorée or durée? D, U, R. I thought you knew French. Oh, I see. So long.

‘My typist, a trivial but always available blonde, could not make out durée in my quite legible hand because, she says, she knows French, but not scientific French.’

‘Actually,’ observed Lucette, wiping the long envelope which a drop of soda had stained, ‘Bergson is only for very young people or very unhappy people, such as this available rousse.’

‘Spotting Bergson,’ said the assistant lecher, ‘rates a B minus dans ton petit cas, hardly more. Or shall I reward you with a kiss on your krestik — whatever that is?’ (2.5)

In Opravdanie svobody (“Justification of Freedom,” 1924), a review of Berdyaev’s book Filosofiya neravenstva (“The Philosophy of Inequality,” 1923), Zinaida Hippius says that Revolution has no dlen’ye (Bergson’s la durée):

Революция не имеет дленья (la durée, по Бергсону), и когда мы говорим о «революции» – мы говорим, в сущности, о временах, окружающих этот миг; о времени «послереволюционном», о революционных «эпохах»… Отсюда и споры, когда именно, какая революция кончилась. Споры неразрешимые, ибо революция есть реальное, но неуследимое мгновенье.

After the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century electricity was banned on Antiterra (hence “campophone,” instead of telephone). Zinaida Hippius’s poem Elektrichestvo (“Electricity,” 1901) ends in the word Svet (Light):

Две нити вместе свиты,

Концы обнажены.

То «да» и «нет», — не слиты,

Не слиты — сплетены.

Их тёмное сплетенье

И тесно, и мертво.

Но ждет их воскресенье,

И ждут они его.

Концов концы коснутся —

Другие «да» и «нет»,

И «да» и «нет» проснутся,

Сплетённые сольются,

И смерть их будет — Свет.

Two wires are wrapped together
The loose ends naked, exposed
A yes and no, not united,
Not united but juxtaposed.
A dark, dark juxtaposition-
So close together, dead.
But resurrection awaits them,
And they await what waits ahead
End will meet end in touching
Yes - no, left and right,
The yes and no awakening.
Inseparably uniting
And their death will be - Light.

At the beginning of Lolita Humbert Humbert calls Lolita “light of my life, fire of my loins:”

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns. (1.1)

The machina telephonica and its sudden god mentioned by Humbert Humbert in Part Two of Lolita hints at the Latin phrase Deus ex machina (god from the machine):

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. (2.14)

Describing the years after the L disaster, Van mentions “our sleek little machines” and Faragod (apparently, the god of electricity):

Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless forefathers. For, indeed, none can deny the presence of something highly ludicrous in the very configurations that were solemnly purported to represent a varicolored map of Terra. 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 Pered sudom (“At the Trial,” 1915) Blok repeats the word ved’ three times. One of Blok’s poems about Russia is entitled Novaya Amerika (“The New America,” 1913). In his poem Vsyo na zemle umryot – i mat’, i mladost’… (“Everything on Earth will die – mother and youth…” 1909) Blok mentions kholodnyi i polyarnyi krug (the cold and Arctic Circle”):

Всё на земле умрёт — и мать, и младость,

Жена изменит, и покинет друг.

Но ты учись вкушать иную сладость,

Глядясь в холодный и полярный круг.

Бери свой чёлн, плыви на дальний полюс

В стенах из льда — и тихо забывай,

Как там любили, гибли и боролись...

И забывай страстей бывалый край.

И к вздрагиваньям медленного хлада

Усталую ты душу приучи,

Чтоб было здесь ей ничего не надо,

Когда оттуда ринутся лучи.

Blok’s poem ends in the word luchi (pl. of luch, “ray”). In Blok’s poem Tyomnaya, bledno-zelyonaya… (“The dark, pale-green…” 1902) tri luchika (three little rays) rhymes with muchenika (Gen. of muchenik, “martyr”):

Нянюшка села и задумалась.
Лучики побежали — три лучика.
«Нянюшка, о чём ты задумалась?
Расскажи про святого мученика».

In his Russian translation of Lolita (1967) VN changed the name of Quilty’s co-author, Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), to Vivian Damor-Blok (Damor is her stage name; Blok is the name of one of her first husbands):

Г-жа Вивиан Дамор-Блок (Дамор - по сцене, Блок - по одному из первых мужей) написала биографию бывшего товарища под каламбурным заглавием "Кумир мой", которая скоро должна выйти в свет; критики, уже ознакомившиеся с манускриптом, говорят, что это лучшая её вещь.

The name Blok brings to mind Albert Bloch, a pretentious Jewish friend of the narrator, later a successful playwright, in Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” In Lolita Clare Quilty is a successful playwright.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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