Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025248, Tue, 1 Apr 2014 14:00:49 +0300

Poles in Ada & elsewhere
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... (1.2)

Van's and Ada's father, Baron Demon Veen, is Irish. His adversary in a sword duel, Baron d'Onsky, is Polish. And so is Dr Krolik, Ada's teacher of natural history:

...he [Van] indulged in a brutal outburst triggered by her suggesting - quite sweetly and casually (as she [Ada] might suggest walking a little way on the edge of a bog to see if a certain orchid was out) - that they visit the late Krolik's grave in a churchyard by which they were passing - and he had suddenly started to shout ('You know I abhor churchyards, I despise, I denounce death, dead bodies are burlesque, I refuse to stare at a stone under which a roly-poly old Pole is rotting, let him feed his maggots in peace, the entomologies of death leave me cold, I detest, I despise...' (1.41)

D'Onsky seems to be a horse (Onegin's Don stallion). As I pointed out before, in Ertel's novel "The Gardenins" (1889) Krolik is a racehorse (krovnyi* rysak, thoroughbred trotter). Ertel's novel (set in the Don region) was highly praised (for its rich language) by Leo Tolstoy. Eric Veen's Villa Venus project "derived from reading too many erotic works found in a furnished house his grandfather had bought near Vence from Count Tolstoy, a Russian or Pole" (2.3).

In Tolstoy's Anna Karenin Stiva Oblonsky twice misquotes (first time as he speaks to Lyovin and, second time, as he speaks to Vronsky) Pushkin's poem Iz Anakreona ("From Anacreon," 1835):

Узнают коней ретивых
По их выжженным таврам;
Узнают парфян кичливых
По высоким клобукам;
Я любовников счастливых
Узнаю по их глазам:
В них сияет пламень томный -
Наслаждений знак нескромный.

Gallant steeds one recognizes
By the markings branded on them;
Uppish Parthians one can tell
By their elevated mitres;
As to me I recognize
Happy lovers by their eyes:
A languid fire shines in them,
The indiscreet token of delights.

In Tolstoy's novel Lyovin marries Kitty Shcherbatski. Demon's aunt Kitty married the Banker Bolenski (a Pole, judging by his name) "after divorcing that dreadful old wencher Lyovka Tolstoy, the writer." (1.38)

"A roly-poly old Pole" who feeds his maggots in peace also hints at Polonius, a character in Hamlet (see Boyd's Annotations). At the end of Shakespeare's play Prince Fortinbras returns to Norway from Poland. In Ilf and Petrov's "The Twelve Chairs" Fortinbras and kroliki (rabbits) are mentioned in the connection with the Columbus Theater (see my earlier posts).

'I may not be as bright as I used to be,' sadly said Ada, 'but I know somebody who is not simply a cat, but a polecat, and that's Cordula Tobacco alias Madame Perwitsky. I read in this morning's paper that in France ninety percent of cats die of cancer. I don't know what the situation is in Poland.' (2.8)

The Perwitsky polecat fur brings to mind Ellochka Shchukin's "Mexican jerboa" in "The Twelve Chairs." Ellochka's best fried is Fima Sobak, the private furrier. Her surname rhymes with Tobak, the name of Cordula's first husband.

Tobak + s = Sobak + t = St Koba

Koba was Stalin's nickname (after the hero of Kazbeghi's novel The Patricide). Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, is one of the seconds in Demon's duel with d'Onsky.

Upon being questioned in Demon's dungeon, Marina, laughing trillingly, wove a picturesque tissue of lies; then broke down, and confessed. She swore that all was over; that the Baron, a physical wreck and a spiritual Samurai, had gone to Japan forever. From a more reliable source Demon learned that the Samurai's real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or so. (1.2)

In Ilf and Petrov's "The Golden Calf" the priests Kushakovski and Moroshek try to revert to Roman Catholicism their compatriot Adam Kozlevich, the driver of the Antelope Gnu car.

It seems that Ada's first lover was Dr Krolik’s brother, Karol, or Karapars (Turk., "black panther"), Krolik, a doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey (2.7).

There is a Nabokovian irony in the fact that Dr Van Veen, a psychiatrist who discovered a method of determining female virginity without physical examination, devising the so-called “Veen test” (Part Four), fails to realize that he was not Ada’s first lover. But then i na starukhu byvaet prorukha (even Homer nods), as a Polish beauty Inga Zayonts, who had married Kolya Osten-Baken, a childhood friend of Ostap Bender, said a month after the wedding (The Golden Calf, chapter XXII: “I will Command the Parade!”). The beauty’s maiden name comes from zayac, Polish for “hare." (from my note "Nabokov's Anthropomorphic Zoo: The Leporine Family of Doctors in Ada" available in Zembla)

*krovnyi comes from krov' (blood)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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