Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025219, Tue, 25 Mar 2014 15:15:22 +0300

Belokonsk & Amerussia of Abraham Milton in Ada
She [Marina who plays the heroine in Eugene and Lara, an American play based by some pretentious hack on a famous Russian romance] had ample time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. (1.2)

According to Vivian Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'), Belokonsk is the Russian twin of Whitehorse (city in N. W. Canada). Belokonsk comes from belyi ("white") and kon' ("horse; knight, in chess") and has oko (obs., "eye") in it. In the opening line of Poet ("The Poet," 1936) Anna Akhmatov says that Pasternak compared himself to konskiy glaz (a horse's eye):

Он, сам себя сравнивший с конским глазом,
Косится, смотрит, видит, узнаёт,
И вот уже расплавленным алмазом
Сияют лужи, изнывает лёд.

"Lara" hints at Tatiana Larin, a character in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin who got confused with Lara Antipov, a character in Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago (the novel known on Antiterra as Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor, 1.8, and Mertvago Forever, 2.5), and Lara's daughter by Zhivago Tanya (a diminutive of Tatiana).

She [Marina's twin sister Aqua] organized with Milton Abraham's invaluable help a Phree Pharmacy in Belokonsk, and fell grievously in love there with a married man, who after one summer of parvenu passion dispensed to her in his Camping Ford garconniere preferred to give her up rather than run the risk of endangering his social situation in a philistine town where businessmen played 'golf' on Sundays and belonged to 'lodges.' (1.3)

Aptekar' being Russian for "chemist, druggist," a Phree Pharmacy brings to mind Chekhov's story Aptekarsha ("A Chemist's Wife," 1886). On the other hand, Anna Aptekar is the parchment pale, raven-haired poetess in Chapter Five of VN's Dar (The Gift).

Demon to Van: 'A propos, I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is somewhere in Italy, but I've managed to trace Marina to Tsitsikar - flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk - she will arrive in the late afternoon, wearing, no doubt, pleureuses, very becoming, and we shall then travel a trois to Ladore, because I don't think -'
Was he perhaps under the influence of some bright Chilean drug? That torrent was simply unstoppable, a crazy spectrum, a talking palette -
'- no really, I don't think we should bother Ada in her Agavia. He is - I mean, Vinelander is - the scion, s,c,i,o,n, of one of those great Varangians who had conquered the Copper Tartars or Red Mongols - or whoever they were - who had conquered some earlier Bronze Riders - before we introduced our Russian roulette and Irish loo at a lucky moment in the history of Western casinos.' (2.10)

Tsitsikar is a city in Manchuria (NE China) mentioned by Dr Chebutykin in Chekhov's play "The Three Sisters" (known on Antiterra as Four Sisters, 2.1). In the epilogue of Doctor Zhivago Tanya tells Gordon and Dudorov about her misfortunes and mentions the Russo-Chinese border and Belomongolia ("White Mongolia") where, as an infant, she lived with her mother:

Чужие ли мне это сказали, сама ли я это в сердце сберегла, только слышала я, будто маменька моя, Раиса Комарова, женой были скрывающегося министра русского в Беломонголии, товарища Комарова. Не отец, не родной мне был, надо полагать, этот самый Комаров...
Да. Так значит было всё это, про что я вам дальше расскажу, это было за Крушинцами, на другом конце Сибири, по ту сторону казатчины, поближе к Китайской границе. Когда стали мы, то есть, наши красные, к ихнему главному городу белому подходить, этот самый Комаров министр посадил маменьку со всей ихнею семьёй в особенный поезд литерный и приказали увезть, ведь маменька были пуганые и без них не смели шагу ступить. (Part Sixteen, chapter 4)

The villain in Pasternak's novel, "Komarov" (as Tanya calls her late mother's husband) is Viktor Ippolitovich Komarovski, the Moscow lawyer who becomes a minister in the government of "Belomongolia." His name comes from komar ("mosquito"). "Mosquito-infested 'Permanent'" is mentioned in Ada:

Varvara, the late General Sergey Prozorov's eldest daughter, comes in Act One from her remote nunnery, Tsitsikar Convent, to Perm (also called Permwail), in the backwoods of Akimsk Bay, North Canady, to have tea with Olga, Marsha, and Irina on the latter's name day. Much to the nun's dismay, her three sisters dream only of one thing - leaving cool, damp, mosquito-infested but otherwise nice and peaceful 'Permanent' as Irina mockingly dubs it, for high life in remote and sinful Moscow, Id., the former capital of Estotiland. (2.9)

In a letter of October 16, 1900, to Gorky Chekhov says that the action in his new play "The Three Sisters" takes place in a chief town of uyezd, like Perm. In Pasternak's novel Perm is portrayed as Yuryatin, a city in the Ural. After the Revolution Zgivago's family moves to Varykino, their former estate near Yuryatin. It is in Yuryatin that Zhivago meets again Lara Antipov and that Lara becomes Zhivago's mistress. Lara is a diminutive of Larisa. But Tanya calls her mother (whom she hardly knew) "Raisa Komarov." Just as Ada (a diminutive of Adelaida) sugests ad ("hell"), Raya (a diminutive of Raisa) suggests ray (pronounced to rhyme with "cry," "paradise"). John Milton is the author of Paradise Lost (1667) and Paradise Regained (1671). The Amerussia of Abraham Milton is mentioned in Ada:

But (even more absurdly), if, in Terrestrial spatial terms, the Amerussia of Abraham Milton was split into its components, with tangible water and ice separating the political, rather than poetical, notions of 'America' and 'Russia,' a more complicated and even more preposterous discrepancy arose in regard to time - not only because the history of each part of the amalgam did not quite match the history of each counterpart in its discrete condition, but because a gap of up to a hundred years one way or another existed between the two earths; a gap marked by a bizarre confusion of directional signs at the crossroads of passing time with not all the no-longers of one world corresponding to the not-yets of the other. (1.3)

Poor mad Aqua's suicide note at the end of this chapter is signed: My sister's sister who teper' iz ada ('now is out of hell').

In her last note Aqua mentions Ardis Park: 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. (ibid.)

Sig Heiler ("Herr Doktor Sig") is a namesake of Sig Leymanski, a character in Van's novel Letters from Terra. Just as Komarovski becomes "Komarov" at the end of Pasternak's novel, both Leymanski and the author of Doctor Zhivago ("a mystical romance by a pastor") lose the last syllable of their names:

This Theresa maddened with her messages a scientist on our easily maddened planet; his anagram-looking name, Sig Leymanski, had been partly derived by Van from that of Aqua's last doctor. When Leymanski's obsession turned into love, and one's sympathy got focused on his enchanting, melancholy, betrayed wife (nee Antilia Glems), our author found himself confronted with the distressful task of now stamping out in Antilia, a born brunette, all traces of Ada, thus reducing yet another character to a dummy with bleached hair.
After beaming to Sig a dozen communications from her planet, Theresa flies over to him, and he, in his laboratory, has to place her on a slide under a powerful microscope in order to make out the tiny, though otherwise perfect, shape of his minikin sweetheart, a graceful microorganism extending transparent appendages toward his huge humid eye. Alas, the testibulus (test tube - never to be confused with testiculus, orchid), with Theresa swimming inside like a micromermaid, is 'accidentally' thrown away by Professor Leyman's (he had trimmed his name by that time) assistant, Flora, initially an ivory-pale, dark-haired funest beauty, whom the author transformed just in time into a third bromidic dummy with a dun bun. (2.2)

paradise = Ardis + ape
Sig Leymanski = Kingsley Amis
Antilia Glems + Gerald + Ada + Sevan/vesna/naves = gitanilla Esmeralda + navsegda

Gerald - Morris Gerald, the main character in Captain Mayn Reid's Headless Horseman (on Antiterra, Headless Horseman is a poem by Pushkin, the author of The Bronze Horseman, 1833)
Sevan - Lake Sevan in Armenia
vesna - spring
navsegda - forever (cf. Mertvago Forever)

"Flora" brings to mind Marina's old herbarium found by Van and Ada in the attic of Ardis Hall (1.1) and Eric Veen's "floramors" (2.3), but also seems to hint at the proverbial tsvetochki (little flowers) mentioned by Tanya:

"Теперь слушайте, это, как говорится, ещё цветочки, дальше что будет, вы просто ахнете."
"Now listen, this is only "little flowers," as they say, what follows - you'll simply gasp."

On the other hand, White Horse is a Scotch whisky. In his last visit to Paris Mayakovski (VN's "late namesake"), sitting in La Coupole, composed the following couplet (quoted by Ilya Ehrenburg and Lilya Brik in their memoir essays):

Хорошая лошадь «уайт хорс».
Белая грива, белый хвост…
("White Horse" is a good horse.
The white mane, the white tail...)

According to Hodasevich, young lanky Mayakovski in his unbuttoned shirt resembled a circus horse. Hodasevich's devastating article on Mayakovski is entitled Dekol'tirovannaya loshad' ("The Horse in a Decolette Dress," 1927).

In his poem Smert' poeta ("The Poet's Death," 1930) Pasternak compares Mayakovski's suicide to Etna in the foothills of cowards of both sexes:

Твой выстрел был подобен Этне
В предгорье трусов и трусих.

In her memoir essay Chuzhie stikhi ("Others's Verses," 1940), Lilya Brik says that Chernyshevski's "What to Do?" was the last book Mayakovski read before committing suicide. "What to Do?" was the favorite book of both Lenin (whose speech Pasternak compared to a rustle of ball lightning) and Mayakovski (the author of "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin" whom Lenin disliked).

In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had goofed - the word 'samovars' may have got garbled in the agent's aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. (1.2)

In Saltykov-Shchedrin's Gospoda Golovlyovy ("The Golovlyovs") Samovarov is gubernskiy gorod (the principal town of province) where Anninka's twin sister Lyubinka (an actress who is courted by a zemstvo man) recklessly decides to leave the stage:

В Москве Аннинька получила от Любиньки письмо, из которого узнала, что их труппа перекочевала из Кречетова в губернский город Самоваров, чему она, Любинька, очень рада, потому что подружилась с одним самоваровским земским деятелем, который до того увлёкся ею, что «готов, кажется, земские деньги украсть», лишь бы выполнить всё, что она ни пожелает. И действительно, приехавши в Самоваров, Аннинька застала сестру среди роскошной, сравнительно, обстановки и легкомысленно решившею бросить сцену.

Demon asked Marina to drop her theatrical career:

He wished to marry her very much - on the condition she dropped her theatrical 'career' at once. He denounced the mediocrity of her gift and the vulgarity of her entourage, and she yelled he was a brute and a fiend. By April 10 it was Aqua who was nursing him, while Marina had flown back to her rehearsals of 'Lucile,' yet another execrable drama heading for yet another flop at the Ladore playhouse. (1.2)

The name Golovlyov comes from golavl' (chub, the fish Leuciscus cephalos). Sig is another freshwater fish, Coregonus gen. (white fish).
Like Chekhov, Demon Veen was a great fisherman in his youth:

He [Daniel Veen] had revisited only a few times since his boyhood another estate he had, up north on Lake Kitezh, near Luga, comprising, and practically consisting of, that large, oddly rectangular though quite natural body of water which a perch he had once clocked took half an hour to cross diagonally and which he owned jointly with his cousin, a great fisherman in his youth. (1.1)

Like Pushkin's Onegin, VN was born upon the Neva's banks. He wrote Ada living in Montreux, upon Lake of Geneva's banks. Lake of Geneva is also called Lake Leman. Ada is addressed to young laymen and lemans - and not to grave men or gravemen:

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)

As Darkbloom explains in his 'Notes to Ada,' zhiv means in Russian 'alive' and mertv 'dead.' After Zhivago's death in the street of a heart attack his body (to be cremated on the next day) is brought to the flat where he lived with Marina, his last love. It happens to be the flat where Pavel Antipov (Lara's first husband) lived when he was a student. On the day of Zhivago's cremation Larisa Fyodorovna, who just came to Moscow, visits by coincidence her former flat.

Three elements, fire, water, and air, destroyed, in that sequence, Marina, Lucette, and Demon. Terra waited. (3.1) Marina dies of cancer and her body is cremated:

She died a fortnight later, and her body was burnt, according to her instructions. (ibid.)

When Zhivago sees dead Strelnikov (Pavel Antipov's alias) who shot himself dead, the drops of blood on the snow beside the corpse are compared to frozen rowan berries:

Мелкие, в сторону брызнувшие капли крови скатались со снегом в красные шарики, похожие на ягоды мёрзлой рябины. (Part Fourteen "Again in Varykino," chapter 18)

Part Twelve of Pasternak's novel is entitled Ryabina v sakhare ("The Sugared Rowan Berries"). When Zhivago leaves the camp of Red guerillas, he mutters to himself:

"Я увижу тебя, красота моя писаная, княгиня моя рябинушка, родная кровинушка."
"I shall see you, my fabulous beauty, my princess rowan tree, the drop of blood which is my own." (chapter 9)

Poor Aqua's lethal pills are compared to yagody (berries):

Sly Aqua twitched, simulated a yawn, opened her light-blue eyes (with those startlingly contrasty jet-black pupils that Dolly, her mother, also had), put on yellow slacks and a black bolero, walked through a little pinewood, thumbed a ride with a Mexican truck, found a suitable gulch in the chaparral and there, after writing a short note, began placidly eating from her cupped palm the multicolored contents of her handbag, like any Russian country girl lakomyashchayasya yagodami (feasting on berries) that she had just picked in the woods. (1.3)

So as they would not eat in secret the seignioral berry, the Larins' girl servants are made to sing (EO, Three: XXXIX: 7-14). In their Song the girls mention cherries, raspberries and red currants:

When we've lured a fellow,
when afar we see him,
we shall scatter, dear ones,
pelter him with cherries,
with cherries, with raspberries,
with red currants.

In his poem "We live not feeling land beneath us" (1934) Mandelshtam says that each execution is a raspberry to Stalin (chto ni kazn' u nego, to malina).* Colonel St. Alin, a scoundrel, is one of the seconds in Demon's duel with Baron d'Onsky:

The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish - a kind of American 'Gory Mary' in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d'Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not 'of his wounds' (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston - a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2)

Baron's name seems to hint at Onegin's Don stallion (EO, Two: V: 4). Skonky (d'Onsky's oneway nickname) is an anagram of konsky ("of a horse"). On the other hand, it brings to mind Aunt Beloskunski-Belokonski (a vulgar old skunk, according to Ada) mentioned by Dorothy Vinelander (Ada's sister-in-law):

'Tomorrow dear Aunt Beloskunski-Belokonski is coming to dinner, a delightful old spinster, who lives in a villa above Valvey. Terriblement grande dame et tout ca. Elle aime taquiner Andryusha en disant qu'un simple cultivateur comme lui n'aurait pas du epouser la fille d'une actrice et d'un marchand de tableaux. Would you care to join us - Jean?' (3.8)

The Counts Beloselski-Belozerski (who owned a palace in the Nevsky Avenue) was a famous Russian family. Old dame Belokonski is a character in Dostoevski's Idiot (1867).

Ada's husband, Andrey Andreevich Vinelander, physically resembles Kosygin (the PM in Brezhnev's government; on Antiterra, a mayor of Yukonsk, 3.8) and is namesake of A. A. Gromyko (the foreign minister in Brezhnev's government). In Pasternak's novel Tonya Gromeko is Zhivago's wife. Zhivago's last love, Marina, is the daughter of Markel, the former yardman of the Gromeko house. After the Revolution Markel accuses the house-owners that all those years they concealed from him the fact that the world [sic] came from ape:

На Маркела нельзя было положиться. В милиции, которую он избрал себе в качестве политического клуба, он не жаловался, что бывшие домовладельцы Громеко пьют его кровь, но задним числом упрекал их в том, что все прошедшие годы они держали его в темноте неведения, намеренно скрывая от него происхождение мира от обезьяны. (Part Seven "On the Road," chapter 5)

*The blunders in Lowell's versions of this and other poems of Mandelshtam are ridiculed in Ada:

In a splendid orchard...etc. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent dance called kurva or 'ribbon boule' in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.'s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat. (1.2)

I speak here only of proverbial tsvetochki (little flowers) and yagodki (little berries; btw., note Cherry, the lad in the American floramor visited by Van, 2.3). Little bloomers in Ada ("Flowers into bloomers" as Van puts it, 1.10) is a different theme altogether.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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