Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025267, Wed, 9 Apr 2014 15:38:09 +0300

Dr Krolik in Ada: buried alive?
Her florimania endured, alas; but after Dr Krolik died (in 1886) of a heart attack in his garden, she [Ada] had placed all her live pupae in his open coffin where he lay, she said, as plump and pink as in vivo. (1.35)

If Krolik was buried alive, he may awaken in his grave. In VN's Kamera obskura (1932) the semiconscious state of blind Kretschmar is compared to the legendary panic of a man who has awakened in his grave:

Сознание полной слепоты едва не довело Кречмара до помешательства. Раны и ссадины зажили, волосы отросли, но адовое ощущение плотной, чёрной преграды оставалось неизменным. После припадков смертельного ужаса, после криков и метаний, после тщетных попыток сдёрнуть, сорвать что-то с глаз он впадал в полуобморочное состояние, а потом снова начинало нарастать что-то паническое, нестерпимое, сравнимое только с легендарным смятением человека, проснувшегося в могиле. (chapter XXXII)

Note adovoe oshchushchenie plotnoy, chyornoy pregrady (the hellish feeling of a solid black barrier).

The name Krolik comes from krol, Polish for "king." In his letter to Kretschmar cruel Horn (who becomes Rex in Laughter in the Dark, the English version of Kamera Obskura; rex is Latin for "king") says that eyesight is korol' (the king) of senses:

Есть люди (Вы и я принадлежим к их числу), которые живут именно глазами, зрением, – все остальные чувства только послушная свита этого короля чувств. (ibid.)

Kretschmar's blindness is a result of the car accident. One of the three blind characters in Ada is Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who is blinded by Van for spying on him and Ada and blackmailing Ada. When Ada comes to Manhattan (whose inhabitants were once called "mad hatters," 1.36) to live with Van, she brings Kim's album. It has not only the photos of Van's and Ada's love-making, but also the snapshots of other household members and friends:

Ah, a new character, the inscription says: Dr Krolik.'
'Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van but it's terribly messy all the same. Okay. Yes, that's my poor nature teacher.'
Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for 'lepidopteron'). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that chase?
'How curious - in the state Kim mounted him here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he's a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!'
'There's nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here's the visual proof. Besides, that's not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.'
'I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor.'
'I'm not lying!' - (with lovely dignity): 'He is a doctor of philosophy.'
'Van ist auch one,' murmured Van, sounding the last word as 'wann.' (2.7)

Karol, or Karapars, Krolik (whose name combines the author of Alice in Wonderland* with one of the book's characters, the Rabbit) must have been Ada's first lover. Before showing Van her larvarium, Ada (who is not as innocent as Van thinks her to be) tells him that she has never read Palace in Wonderland:

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. (1.8)

The tortoiseshell comb and the tattered chapbook must belong to Blanche, a French handmaid at Ardis. Van meets her on his first morning in Ardis Hall:

In a corner room he found, standing at a tall window, a young chambermaid whom he had glimpsed (and promised himself to investigate) on the preceding evening. She wore what his father termed with a semi-assumed leer 'soubret black and frissonet frill'; a tortoiseshell comb in her chestnut hair caught the amber light; the French window was open, and she was holding one hand, starred with a tiny aquamarine, rather high on the jamb as she looked at a sparrow that was hopping up the paved path toward the bit of baby-toed biscuit she had thrown to him... What was her name? Blanche - but Mlle Lariviere called her 'Cendrillon' because her stockings got so easily laddered, see, and because she broke and mislaid things, and confused flowers. His loose attire revealed his desire; this could not escape a girl's notice, even if color-blind, and as he drew up still closer, while looking over her head for a suitable couch to take shape in some part of this magical manor - where any place, as in Casanova's remembrances could be dream-changed into a sequestered seraglio nook - she wiggled out of his reach completely and delivered a little soliloquy in her soft Ladoran French:
'Monsieur a quinze ans, je crois, et moi, je sais, j'en ai dixneuf. Monsieur is a nobleman; I am a poor peat-digger's daughter. Monsieur a tate, sans doute, des filles de la ville; quant a moi, je suis vierge, ou peu s'en faut. De plus, were I to fall in love with you - I mean really in love - and I might, alas, if you possessed me rien qu'une petite fois - it would be, for me, only grief, and infernal fire, and despair, and even death, Monsieur. Finalement, I might add that I have the whites and must see le Docteur Chronique, I mean Crolique, on my next day off. Now we have to separate, the sparrow has disappeared, I see, and Monsieur Bouteillan has entered the next room, and can perceive us clearly in that mirror above the sofa behind that silk screen.' (1.7)

Blanche eventually marries Trofim Fartukov, the Russian coachman in "Ardis the Second." They have a blind child:

By the way, where is my poor little Blanche now?'
'Oh, she's all right. She's still around. You know, she came back - after you abducted her. She married our Russian coachman, the one who replaced Bengal Ben, as the servants called him.'
'Oh she did? That's delicious. Madame Trofim Fartukov. I would never have thought it.'
'They have a blind child,' said Ada.
'Love is blind,' said Van.
'She tells me you made a pass at her on the first morning of your first arrival.'
'Not documented by Kim,' said Van. 'Will their child remain blind? I mean, did you get them a really first-rate physician?'
'Oh yes, hopelessly blind. But speaking of love and its myths, do you realize - because I never did before talking to her a couple of years ago - that the people around our affair had very good eyes indeed? Forget Kim, he's only the necessary clown - but do you realize that a veritable legend was growing around you and me while we played and made love?' (2.8)

"Love is blind" is the phrase that in Kamera obskura the postman utters in his dialogue with the porter:

Швейцар, разговаривавший с почтальоном, посмотрел на Кречмара с любопытством.
"Прямо не верится, – сказал швейцар, когда те прошли, – прямо не верится, что у него недавно умерла дочка".
"А кто второй?" – спросил почтальон.
"Почём я знаю. Завела молодца ему в подмогу, вот и всё. Мне, знаете, стыдно, когда другие жильцы смотрят на эту… (нехорошее слово). А ведь приличный господин, сам-то, и богат, – мог бы выбрать себе подругу поосанистее, покрупнее, если уж на то пошло".
"Любовь слепа", – задумчиво произнёс почтальон. (chapter 21)

Kretschmar's companion is Magda's lover Robert Horn. A talented cartoonist, Horn is the author of a comic streep about Cheepy, the guinea pig. He begins his strip as a means of enlisting public sympathy on the side of animals in the fight against vivisection. On the picture in Marina'a bedroom her late brother cups a guinea pig in his hands:

A formal photograph, on a separate page: Adochka, pretty and impure in her flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit, with slant-striped school tie, facing the kimera (chimera, camera) side by side, at attention, he with the shadow of a forced grin, she, expressionless. Both recalled the time (between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a vivisectional alibi. (2.7)

Marina is Van's mother but, officially, Van is the son of Marina's twin sister Aqua. Van and Ada discover that they are full brother and sister thanks to Marina's old herbarium found in the attick of Ardis Hall:

The two young discoverers of that strange and sickening treasure commented upon it as follows:
'I deduce,' said the boy, 'three main facts: that not yet married Marina and her. married sister hibernated in my lieu de naissance; that Marina had her own Dr Krolik, pour ainsi dire; and that the orchids came from Demon who preferred to stay by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother.' (1.1).

Marina's brother Ivan had died in a sanatorium not far from Ex, somewhere in Switzerland, where Van was born eight years later:

'You know, children,' interrupted Marina resolutely with calming gestures of both hands, 'when I was your age, Ada, and my brother was your age, Van, we talked about croquet, and ponies, and puppies, and the last fete-d'enfants, and the next picnic, and - oh, millions of nice normal things, but never, never of old French botanists and God knows what!'
'But you just said you collected flowers?' said Ada.
'Oh, just one season, somewhere in Switzerland. I don't remember when. It does not matter now.'
The reference was to Ivan Durmanov: he had died of lung cancer years ago in a sanatorium (not far from Ex, somewhere in Switzerland, where Van was born eight years later). Marina often mentioned Ivan who had been a famous violinist at eighteen, but without any special show of emotion, so that Ada now noted with surprise that her mother's heavy make-up had started to thaw under a sudden flood of tears (maybe some allergy to flat dry old flowers, an attack of hay fever, or gentianitis, as a slightly later diagnosis might have shown retrospectively). She blew her nose, with the sound of an elephant, as she said herself - and here Mlle Lariviere came down for coffee and recollections of Van as a bambin angelique who adored a neuf ans - the precious dear! - Gilberte Swann et la Lesbie de Catulle (and who had learned, all by himself, to release the adoration as soon as the kerosene lamp had left the mobile bedroom in his black nurse's fist). (1.10)

An actress, Marina mentions her old hobby in the hope to steer the conversation to theater:

'Yes, indeed,' began Marina, 'when I was playing Ophelia, the fact that I had once collected flowers -'
'Helped, no doubt,' said Ada. 'Now the Russian word for marsh marigold is Kuroslep (which muzhiks in Tartary misapply, poor slaves, to the buttercup) or else Kaluzhnitsa, as used quite properly in Kaluga, U.S.A.' (ibid.)

According to Dahl, kuroslep is also a person who suffers from kurinaya slepota (the night-blindness).

Krolik, who feeds his maggots in peace (1.41), is linked to Polonius, Ophelia's father in Hamlet. Dr Krolik died in his garden; Hamlet's father was poisoned while sleeping in his orchard. In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov (the author of The Cherry Orchard, 1904) mentions the ghost of Hamlet's father and the abolition of serfdom:

Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being, that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father, who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing. Some have more immediate objects—the abolition of serfdom, the liberation of their country, politics, beauty, or simply vodka, like Denis Davydov; others have remote objects—God, life beyond the grave, the happiness of humanity, and so on.

Van and Ada visit the family dentist in Kaluga:

They traveled to Kaluga and drank the Kaluga Waters, and saw the family dentist. Van, flipping through a magazine, heard Ada scream and say 'chort' (devil) in the next room, which he had never heard her do before. (1.22)

Kretschmar learns about Magda's infidelity thanks to his friend Segelkranz, the writer who intimately knew the late Marcel Proust and who reads to Kretschmar a fresh fragment from his new novella. Its hero visits a dentist:

Зегелькранц кокетливо засмеялся. "Это не роман и не повесть, - сказал он. - Мне трудно определить... Тема такая: человек с повышенной впечатлительностью отправляется к дантисту. Вот, собственно говоря, и всё". (chapter 27)

Magda (who is unlikely to have ever read Hamlet) calls Kretschmar's friend "Rosencrantz" (in Shakespeare's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Hamlet's former fellow students who are appointed to look after him):

"Как тебе угодно, - сказала Магда. - Только ты подумай, каково мне, - конечно, неважно, что я оскорблена тобой и твоим милым Розенкранцем. Ну, ладно, ладно, давай укладываться". (chapter 28)

The characters of Kamera Obskura include the movie actress Dorianna Karenina, whose pseudonym blends the name of Tolstoy's heroine (Horn asks Dorianna if she ever read Tolstoy) with that of the hero of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ada begins with the opening sentence of Anna Karenin turned inside out:

'All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,' says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). (1.1)

One of Marina's lovers is G. A. Vronsky, the movie man. In Tolstoy's novel Aleksey Vronski is Anna's lover.

Onboard Tobakoff, just before Lucette's suicide, Van and Lucette watch in the ship cinema Don Juan's Last Fling, the movie in which Ada plays the gitanilla (3.5). After Lucette's death Van writes in a letter to Ada:

On top of that, somebody she could not compete with entered the picture. The Robinsons, Robert and Rachel, who, I know, planned to write to you through my father, were the penultimate people to talk to her that night. The last was a bartender...
As a psychologist, I know the unsoundness of speculations as to whether Ophelia would not hove drowned herself after all, without the help of a treacherous sliver, even if she had married her Voltemand. Impersonally I believe she would have died in her bed, gray and serene, had V. loved her; but since he did not really love the wretched little virgin, and since no amount of carnal tenderness could or can pass for true love, and since, above all, the fatal Andalusian wench who had come, I repeat, into the picture, was unforgettable, I am bound to arrive, dear Ada and dear Andrey, at the conclusion that whatever the miserable man could have thought up, she would have pokonchila s soboy ('put an end to herself') all the same. (3.6)

Kretschmar first meets Magda at a cinema where she works. Kretschmar, who is too shy to speak to Magda, helplessly thinks that an ordinary Don Juan that very day would have made her acquaintance:

"Дюжинный донжуан сегодня же с ней бы познакомился," - беспомощно подумал Кречмар. (chapter II)

An art expert, Kretschmar notices Magda's prodolgovatyi luinievskiy glaz ("the oblong luinesque eye"). Luinesque eyes are mentioned by McGore in VN's story Venetsianka (La Veneziana, 1924):

"Но самая прелестная из всех Мадонн принадлежит кисти Бернардо Луини. Во всех его творениях есть тишина и нежность озера, на берегу которого он родился, - Лаго Маджиоре. Нежнейший мастер... Из имени его даже создали новое прилагательное - "luinesco"... Луиниевские очи... Боже мой, как я целовал их..."
"But the most enchanting Madonna of all comes from the brush of Bernardo Luini. All his creations contain the quiet and the delicacy of the lake on whose shore he was born, Lago Maggiore. The most delicate of masters. His name even yielded a new adjective, "luinesco." ... Luinesque eyes... God, how I kissed them...." (chapter 3)

An old connoiseur of art, McGore affirms that he managed many times to step into the picture he was facing in a museum:

- Она - как живая, - задумчиво сказал Симпсон. - Можно поверить в таинственные рассказы об оживающих портретах. Я читал где-то, что какой-то король сошёл с полотна и как только...
Магор рассыпался тихим трескучим смехом.
- Это, конечно, пустяки. Но вот бывает другое, - обратное, так сказать.
"She looks absolutely real," Simpson said pensively. "It's enough to make one believe mysterious tales about portraits coming to life. I read somewhere that some king descended from a canvas, and, as soon as - "
Mc Gore dissolved in a subdued, brittle laugh. "That's nonesense, of course. But another phenomenon does occur - the inverse, so to speak."
"...When I found a painting I particularly liked, I would stand directly in front of it and concentrate all my willpower on one thought: to enter it." (ibid.)

In Kamera Obskura Horn mentions Kretschmar's article on Sebastiano del Piombo:

"Я читал вашу превосходную статью о Себастиано дель Пиомбо. Вы напрасно только не привели его сонетов, - они прескверные, - но как раз это и пикантно". (chapter 15)

VN's La Veneziana is a painting ascribed to Del Piombo. One of the story's characters, Simpson, is compared to a man who has awakened in his coffin:

Однообразие это особенно остро ощущал Симпсон. Он чувствовал что-то страшное в том, что и сегодня второй завтрак последует за первым, обед - за чаем, с ненарушимой правильностью. Когда он подумал о том, что так будет продолжаться всю жизнь, ему захотелось кричать, биться, как бьётся человек, проснувшийся в гробу.
Simpson was particularly conscious of this monotony.He found it somehow terrifying that today, too, breakfast would be followed by lunch, tea by supper, with inviolable regularity. He wanted to scream at the thought that things would continue like that all his life, he wanted to struggle like someone who has awakened in his coffin. (chapter 5)

"Luinesque" brings to mind the adjective Van tries to form as he speaks to Lucette:

'Your hat,' he said, 'is positively lautremontesque - I mean, lautrecaquesque - no, I can't form the adjective.' (3.3)

In that scene Lucette is compared to Blok's Incognita:

He [Van] 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. (ibid.)

"In vino veritas!" cry out p'yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) in Blok's poem.

During the family dinner at Ardis Demon mentions chelovek (the servant) s glazami who should see Dr Krolik:

'Marina,' murmured Demon at the close of the first course. 'Marina,' he repeated louder. 'Far from me' (a locution he favored) 'to criticize Dan's taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I'm above all that rot, I'm...' (gesture); 'but, my dear,' he continued, switching to Russian, 'the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki - the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) -'
'Everybody has eyes,' remarked Marina drily.
'Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves. But that's not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odishka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It's depressing. It's a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.'
'Look, Dad,' said Van, 'Dr Krolik can't do much, because, as you know quite well, he's dead, and Marina can't tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they're alive.'
'The Veen wit, the Veen wit,' murmured Demon.
'Exactly,' said Marina. 'I simply refuse to do anything about it. Besides poor Jones is not at all asthmatic, but only nervously eager to please. He's as healthy as a bull and has rowed me from Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer. You are cruel, Demon. I can't tell him "ne pikhtite," as I can't tell Kim, the kitchen boy, not to take photographs on the sly - he's a regular snap-shooting fiend, that Kim, though otherwise an adorable, gentle, honest boy; nor can I tell my little French maid [Blanche] to stop getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive bals masques in Ladore.' (1.38)

It is Jones who later becomes a policeman in Ladore and who helps Van to blind Kim Beauharnais:

'But, you know, there's one thing I regret,' she [Ada] added: 'Your use of an alpenstock to release a brute's fury - not yours, not my Van's. I should never have told you about the Ladore policeman. You should never have taken him into your confidence, never connived with him to burn those files - and most of Kalugano's pine forest. Eto unizitel'no (it is humiliating).'
'Amends have been made,' replied fat Van with a fat man's chuckle. 'I'm keeping Kim safe and snug in a nice Home for Disabled Professional People, where he gets from me loads of nicely brailled books on new processes in chromophotography.' (2.11)

Kalugano blends Kaluga with Lugano, a city in Switzerland. Lugano is mentioned in La Veneziana:

"Lugano, Como, Venice...," he [Simpson] murmured as he sat on the bench under a soundless hazelnut tree, and right away he heard the subdued plashing of sunny towns, and then, closer, the tinkling of bells, the whistle of pigeon wings, a high-pitched laugh of akin to the laugh of Maureen, and the ceaseless shuffling of unseen passerby. (chapter 2)

Como brings to mind one of Van's and Ada's ancestors:

Van thrust his bare toe into a sneaker, retrieving the while its mate from under the bed; he hurried down, past a pleased-looking Prince Zemski and a grim Vincent Veen, Bishop of Balticomore and Como. (1.20)

In his prose piece Vecher u Kantemira ("An Evening at Kantemir's," 1816) the poet Batyushkov mentions archimandrite Krolik (d. 1732).

Jones is a namesake of Van's teacher of history, 'Jeejee' Jones:

Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van's teacher of history, 'Jeejee' Jones.
'He resembles my teacher of history,' said Van when the man had gone.
'I used to love history,' said Marina, 'I loved to identify myself with famous women. There's a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties - Lincoln's second wife or Queen Josephine.'
'Yes, I've noticed - it's beautifully done. We've got a similar set at home.'
'Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?' Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.
'Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),' replied Van, slegka ulibnuvshis' (with a slight smile). 'Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.'
'Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.'
'Pah,' uttered Ada. (1.5)

"Queen Josephine" seems to hint at Napoleon's first wife, Josephine Beauharnais. "Lincoln's second wife" brings to mind the Amerussia of Abraham Milton (1.3) and the two wives of John Milton. The author of Paradise Lost (1667) and Paradise Regained (1671), Milton was blind.

For the last time in Ada Krolik is mentioned by Greg Erminin:

'So odd to recall! It was frenzy, it was fantasy, it was reality in the x degree. I'd have consented to be beheaded by a Tartar, I declare, if in exchange I could have kissed her instep. You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can't understand that obsession. Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil Rack, a composer of genius - dead, dead, all dead!' (3.2)

It is Bout (Bouteillan's bastard who acts as Van's valet in "Ardis the Second") who kisses Blanche's bare instep on one of Kim's photos:

Young Bout devoutedly kissing the veined instep of a pretty bare foot raised and placed on a balustrade. (2.8)

The stone balustrade is mentioned by Ada in the book's epilogue:

'Oh, Van, oh Van, we did not love her enough. That's whom you should have married, the one sitting feet up, in ballerina black, on the stone balustrade, and then everything would have been all right - I would have stayed with you both in Ardis Hall, and instead of that happiness, handed out gratis, instead of all that we teased her to death!' (5.6)

This is an obvious self-reference to the lines in Pale Fire:

And, also blond,
But with a touch of tawny in the shade,
Feet up, knees clasped, on a stone balustrade
The other sits and raises a moist gaze
Toward the blue impenetrable haze. (Canto Three, lines 576-80)

Pale Fire is the racehorse in the painting that hangs above Cordula's and her husband's bed in their Tobakoff cabin:

There hung, she [Lucette] said, a steeplechase picture of 'Pale Fire with Tom Cox Up' above dear Cordula's and Tobak's bed, in the suite 'wangled in one minute flat' from them, and she wondered how it affected the Tobaks' love life during sea voyages. (3.5)

In Ertel's novel "The Gardenins" Krolik is a racehorse.

*translated by VN as Anya v strane chudes (1923)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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