Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025175, Mon, 10 Mar 2014 23:49:44 +0300

cottages & cows in Ada
...nobody knew how far Terra, or other innumerable planets with cottages and cows, might be situated in outer or inner space... (2.2)

Four cows and a bare-shouldered lad in rags are depicted in a century-old lithograph of Ardis:

She [Lucette] would advance up to the center of the weedy playground in front of the forbidden pavilion, and there, with an air of dreamy innocence, start to jiggle the board of an old swing that hung from the long and lofty limb of Baldy, a partly leafless but still healthy old oak (which appeared - oh, I remember, Van! - in a century-old lithograph of Ardis, by Peter de Rast, as a young colossus protecting four cows and a lad in rags, one shoulder bare). (1.34)

"Peter de Rast" seems to hint at the artist's homosexuality - but, "Rast" being "tsar" backwards, - also at the tsar Peter I (who was a bully but not a pederast).
Interestingly, Marina asks Van if he is not a pederast:

'But girls - do you like girls, Van, do you have many girls? You are not a pederast, like your poor uncle, are you? We have had some dreadful perverts in our ancestry but - Why do you laugh?' (1.37)

Van's "poor uncle" is Marina's (and her twin sister Aqua's) brother Ivan Durmanov (1842-62), a violinist who had died of lung cancer eight years before Van was born (1.10).

After Van told her that he had adored girls and had had lots of them, Marina offers him a Peruvian scarf that her young lover Pedro (a Latin actor who seems to be another representative of Peter I on Antiterra) had left behind:

Tell me, is there anything I could do for you? Do think up something! Would you like a beautiful, practically new Peruvian scarf, which he left behind, that crazy boy? No? It's not your style? (ibid.)

On Antiterra Pushkin's poem The Bronze Horseman (1833) is known as Headless Horseman (1.28). The Headless Horseman is a novel by Captain Mayn Reid. In Kalugano Van has a pistol duel with Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, a member of the Do-Re-La ('Ladore' musically jumbled) Country Club. The Captain and the two seconds are frankly gay. Van arrives to the site of the duel in Johnny's Paradox (an allusion to Oscar Wilde's style in The Picture of Dorian Gray? to Parodoxalist of Dostoevski's Writer's Diary?), a cheap semi-racer:

'Where are we now, Johnny dear?' asked Van as they swung out of the lake's orbit and sped along a suburban avenue with clapboard cottages among laundry-lined pines.
'Dorofey Road,' cried the driver above the din of the motor. 'It abuts at the forest.'
It abutted. Van felt a faint twinge in his knee where he had hit it against a stone when attacked from behind a week ago, in another wood. At the moment his foot touched the pine-needle strewn earth of the forest road, a transparent white butterfly floated past, and with utter certainty Van knew that he had only a few minutes to live. (1.42)

The names Dorofey and Fyodor (Dostoevski's first name) mean "gift of God." Van is sure that a transparent white butterfly portends his death in the forthcoming duel. However, Tapper (a fine shot, according to Johnny) does not shoot him dead. Van receives a superficial wound and soon recovers, but he loses his ability to walk, let alone dance, on his hands. He can never perform as Mascodagama again. According to King Wing (Demon's wrestling master), Vekchelo (the Yukon professional) turned back into an ordinary chelovek at twenty two (2.7).

As he meets his father in the airport of Man (short of Manhattan, the Antiterran name of New York), Van wears a gray overcoat:

'Why gray?' asked Demon, alluding to Van's overcoat. 'Why that military cut? It's too late to enlist.'
'I couldn't - my draft board would turn me down anyway.'
'How's the wound?'
'Komsi-komsa. It now appears that the Kalugano surgeon messed up his job. The rip seam has grown red and raw, without any reason, and there's a lump in my armpit. I'm in for another spell of surgery - this time in London, where butchers carve so much better. Where's the mestechko here? Oh, I see it. Cute (a gentian painted on one door, a lady fern on the other: have to go to the herbarium).' (2.1)

Nekto v serom (Someone in gray) is the central character in Leonid Andreev's play Zhizn' cheloveka ("A Man's Life," 1907) and the title of Voloshin's article on Andreev. In his article Voloshin writes:

Судьба отдельного человека, называется ли она Роком, Фатумом, Ананкэ, Мойрой или Кармой, всегда индивидуальна, прихотлива и всегда заложена в самом человеке.
The destiny of every singular person, be its name Fate, Ananke, Moira or Karma, is always individual, intricate and always lies in that particular person (apologies for a poor translation).

In his essay Reflections in Sidra ("Ardis" backwards) Van mentions "the lost shafts of destiny." From Ada's letter of February 5, 1905, to Van:

I have just read Reflections in Sidra, by Ivan Veen, and I regard it as a grand piece, dear Professor. The 'lost shafts of destiny' and other poetical touches reminded me of the two or three times you had tea and muffins at our place in the country about twenty years ago. I was, you remember (presumptuous phrase!), a petite fille modele practicing archery near a vase and a parapet and you were a shy schoolboy (with whom, as my mother guessed, I may have been a wee bit in love!), who dutifully picked up the arrows I lost in the lost shrubbery of the lost castle of poor Lucette's and happy, happy Adette's childhood, now a 'Home for Blind Blacks' - both my mother and L., I'm sure, would have backed Dasha's advice to turn it over to her Sect. Dasha, my sister-in-law (you must meet her soon, yes, yes, yes, she's dreamy and lovely, and lots more intelligent than I), who showed me your piece, asks me to add she hopes to 'renew' your acquaintance - maybe in Switzerland, at the Bellevue in Mont Roux, in October. I think you once met pretty Miss 'Kim' Blackrent, well, that's exactly dear Dasha's type. She is very good at perceiving and pursuing originality and all kinds of studies which I can't even name! She finished Chose (where she read History - our Lucette used to call it 'Sale Histoire,' so sad and funny!). For her you're le beau tenebreux, because once upon a time, once upon libellula wings, not long before my marriage, she attended - I mean at that time, I'm stuck in my 'turnstyle' - one of your public lectures on dreams, after which she went up to you with her latest little nightmare all typed out and neatly clipped together, and you scowled darkly and refused to take it. Well, she's been after Uncle Dementiy to have him admonish le beau tenebreux to come to Mont Roux Bellevue Hotel, in October, around the seventeenth, I guess, and he only laughs and says it's up to Dashenka and me to arrange matters. (3.7)

In Turgenev's play Mesyats v derevne ("A Month in the Country," 1850) Natalia Petrovna calls Rakitin "beau tenebreux."* Van meets Ada, her husband Andrey Vinelander and Andrey's sister Dorothy (Dasha) Vinelander after Demon's ("Uncle Dementiy's") death in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific (3.8). Demon is, of course, Van's and Ada's father. For Van and Ada their father was buried on the same day as their uncle Dan (Marina's husband, Demon's first cousin):

'You never loved your father,' said Ada sadly.
'Oh, I did and do - tenderly, reverently, understandingly, because, after all, that minor poetry of the flesh is something not unfamiliar to me. But as far as we are concerned, I mean you and I, he was buried on the same day as our uncle Dan.' (3.8)

Van and Ada are the children of Demon Veen and Marina Durmanov:

Marina's affair with Demon Veen started on his, her, and Daniel Veen's birthday, January 5, 1868, when she was twenty-four and both Veens thirty. (1.2) But Marina's twin sister Aqua (Demon's poor mad wife) was also born on January 5! She committed suicide when Van (who believed, until he came to Ardis, that Aqua was his mother) was thirteen, a year before he first met Ada. In her last note addressed to her husband and son Aqua wrote:

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 bor (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. (1.3)

Aqua passionately believed in the existence of Terra, Demonia's (or Antiterra's) twin planet:

But her [Aqua's] real destination was Terra the Fair and thither she trusted she would fly on libellula long wings when she died. (ibid.)

In his review of Andreev's play Zhizn' cheloveka and novella Judas Iscariot (1907) Voloshin mentions Oscar Wildes' evangel'skie pritchi ("parables of the Gospels"):

И в наше время наиболее утонченные мастера возвращаются к евангельским темам. Примером могут служить такие рассказы, как "Протектор Иудеи" Анатоля Франса и "Евангельские притчи" Оскара Уайльда.

Leonid Andreev's novel Okean ("The Ocean," 1915) is mentioned by VN in The Luzhin Defense.

*Darkbloom translates le beau tenebreux as "wrapt in Byronic gloom."

Alexey Sklyarenko

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