Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025268, Thu, 10 Apr 2014 18:18:14 +0300

Alice in Camera Obscura
On Antiterra Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll are known as Palace in Wonderland (1.8). In his philosophical work Texture of Time Van Veen mentions Alice in the Camera Obscura, a book given to him by Demon's former house tutor:

Does the coloration of a recollected object (or anything else about its visual effect) differ from date to date? Could I tell by its tint if it comes earlier or later, lower or higher, in the stratigraphy of my past? Is there any mental uranium whose dream-delta decay might be used to measure the age of a recollection? The main difficulty, I hasten to explain, consists in the experimenter not being able to use the same object at different times (say, the Dutch stove with its little blue sailing boats in the nursery of Ardis Manor in 1884 and 1888) because of the two or more impressions borrowing from one another and forming a compound image in the mind; but if different objects are to be chosen (say, the faces of two memorable coachmen: Ben Wright, 1884, and Trofim Fartukov, 1888), it is impossible, insofar as my own research goes, to avoid the intrusion not only of different characteristics but of different emotional circumstances, that do not allow the two objects to be considered essentially equal before, so to speak, their being exposed to the action of Time. I am not sure, that such objects cannot be discovered. In my professional work, in the laboratories of psychology, I have devised myself many a subtle test (one of which, the method of determining female virginity without physical examination, today bears my name). Therefore we can assume that the experiment can be performed - and how tantalizing, then, the discovery of certain exact levels of decreasing saturation or deepening brilliance - so exact that the 'something' which I vaguely perceive in the image of a remembered but unidentifiable person, and which assigns it 'somehow' to my early boyhood rather than to my adolescence, can be labeled if not with a name, at least with a definite date, e.g., January 1, 1908 (eureka, the 'e.g.' worked - he was my father's former house tutor, who brought me Alice in the Camera Obscura for my eighth birthday). (Ada, Part Four)

Van was born on January 1, 1870. Ergo, January 1, 1908, is his thirty-eight birthday. It is VN (born April 23, 1899) who was eight in the first months of 1908.

The deviser of the Veen test (the method of determining female virginity without physical examination), Van is sure that he was Ada's first lover. Actually, he had a predecessor: Dr Krolik's brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey. This transpires through a photo in Kim Beauharnais's album (2.7;see my previous post).

Van and Ada first make love in the night of the Burning Barn (1.19). Van does not realize that it was Ada who paid Kim, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis, to set the barn on fire (see in Zembla my Russian article "Will the Grandma Get the Xmas Card?..." https://www.google.ru/url?q=http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/sklyarenko6.doc&sa=U&ei=-V5GU5z-J-rH0AHLj4HICw&ved=0CB8QFjAA&usg=AFQjCNGEU2fYhRfitawek_lX2NBUODLOYQ).

Camera obscura is is an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. It is used in drawing and for entertainment, and was one of the inventions that led to photography and the camera. The author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll was keenly interested in photography (he particularly liked to photograph little girls).

The first creature whom Alice meets in Wonderland is a White Rabbit (chapter I "Down the Rabbit-Hole"). As she is thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them, Alice says: "I'm sure I'm not Ada" (chapter II "The Pool of Tears").

Alice was changed for Anya by VN, who translated Lewis Carroll's book as Anya v strane chudes (1923). Anya is a diminutive of Anna. Donna Anna is a character in Pushkin's little tragedy Kamennyi gost' ("The Stone Guest," 1830) and in Don Juan's Last Fling, the movie that Van and Lucette watch in the Tobakoff cinema hall:

The main picture had now started. The three leading parts - cadaverous Don Juan, paunchy Leporello on his donkey, and not too irresistible, obviously forty-year-old Donna Anna - were played by solid stars, whose images passed by in 'semi-stills,' or as some say 'translucencies,' in a brief introduction. Contrary to expectations, the picture turned out to be quite good.
On the way to the remote castle where the difficult lady, widowed by his sword, has finally promised him a long night of love in her chaste and chilly chamber, the aging libertine nurses his potency by spurning the advances of a succession of robust belles. A gitana predicts to the gloomy cavalier that before reaching the castle he will have succumbed to the wiles of her sister, Dolores, a dancing girl (lifted from Osberg's novella, as was to be proved in the ensuing lawsuit). She also predicted something to Van, for even before Dolores came out of the circus tent to water Juan's horse, Van knew who she would be. (3.5)

It is Ada who plays the part of Dolores (the gitanilla). On Antiterra, The Gitanilla is a novel by Osberg. Osberg is an anagram of Borges (the Argentinian writer who, like VN, was born in 1899 and who was blind by the time VN wrote Lolita, 1955, and Ada, 1969). Lolita is a diminutive of Dolores ("She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita"). On her twelfth birthday Ada is permitted to wear her 'lolita:'

For the big picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday and Ida's forty-second jour de fete, the child was permitted to wear her lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg's novel and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish 't,' not a thick English one), a rather long, but very airy and ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies, 'deficient in botanical reality,' as she grandly expressed it, not yet knowing that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of this, and only this, dream. (1.13)

Van leaves the Tobakoff cinema hall in the middle of the main picture:

Van, however, did not understand until much later (when he saw - had to see; and then see again and again - the entire film, with its melancholy and grotesque ending in Donna Anna's castle) that what seemed an incidental embrace constituted the Stone Cuckold's revenge. In fact, being upset beyond measure, he decided to go even before the olive-grove sequence dissolved. (3.5)

Much later he writes in a (never posted) letter to Ada:

That [illegible] is a complete refutation of odious Kim's odious stills. Artistically, and ardisiacally, the best moment is one of the last - when you follow barefoot the Don who walks down a marble gallery to his doom, to the scaffold of Dona Anna's black-curtained bed, around which you flutter, my Zegris butterfly, straightening a comically drooping candle, whispering delightful but futile instructions into the frowning lady's ear, and then peering over that mauresque screen and suddenly dissolving in such natural laughter, helpless and lovely, that one wonders if any art could do without that erotic gasp of schoolgirl mirth. And to think, Spanish orange-tip, that all in all your magic gambol lasted but eleven minutes of stopwatch time in patches of two- or three-minute scenes! (3.6)

Dr Krolik's brother was born in Turkey. In Batyushkov's Vecher u Kantemira ("An Evening at Kantemir's," 1816) Kantemir (the poet and diplomat, Russian envoy at the court of Louis XV, son of the last Moldavian Gospodar'*) says that he was born in Constantinople (the former name of Istanbul) and that his ancestor (apparently, Timur) was a ruler of the Oriental Empire:

Я родился в Константинополе. Праотцы мои происходят от древней фамилии, некогда обладавшей престолом восточной Империи. Следственно, во мне играет ещё кровь греческая, и я непритворно люблю голубое небо и вечно зелёные оливы стран полуденных. В молодости я странствовал с отцом моим, неразлучным сопутником, искренним другом Петра Великого, и видел обширные долины России от Днепра до Кавказа, от Каспийского моря до берегов величественной Москвы. Я знаю Россию и обитателей её. Хижина земледельца и терем боярина мне равно известны.

Timur (Tamerlane) and Nabok are paired in Ada:

Ada had declined to invite anybody except the Erminin twins to her picnic [on Ada's sixteenth birthday]; but she had had no intention of inviting the brother without the sister. The latter, it turned out, could not come, having gone to New Cranton to see a young drummer, her first boy friend, sail off into the sunrise with his regiment. But Greg had to be asked to come after all: on the previous day he had called on her bringing a 'talisman' from his very sick father, who wanted Ada to treasure as much as his grandam had a little camel of yellow ivory carved in Kiev, five centuries ago, in the days of Timur and Nabok. (1.39)

Batyushkov's Kantemir mentions the archimandrite Krolik who approved his (Kantemir's) writings:

Учёный Феофан, архимандрит Кролик (оба достойные пастыря), Никита Трубецкий и другие вельможи одобрили мои слабые опыты, моё перо неискусное, но смелое, чистосердечное.

Talisman is a famous poem (1827) by Pushkin. In May, 1820, Pushkin was exiled to South Russia and spent several years in Kishinev (the capital of Bessarabia).

On April 30, 1823, a few days before Pushkin had begun Eugene Onegin in Bessarabia, Vyazemski in Moscow wrote to Aleksandr Turgenev in Petersburg: "I have recently had a letter from Pushkin, the Arabian devil [bes arabskiy]" - a pun on bessarabskiy, "the Bessarabian." The epithet should have been, of course, arapskiy, from arap ("Blackamoor," an allusion to Pushkin's Ethiopian blood), and not arabskiy, from arab ("Arab"). (EO Commentary, II, p. 38)

After the Crimean War Demon's friend Bessborodko is installed in Bessarabia:

At the Goodson Airport, in one of the gilt-framed mirrors of its old-fashioned waiting room, Van glimpsed the silk hat of his father who sat awaiting him in an armchair of imitation marblewood, behind a newspaper that said in reversed characters: 'Crimea Capitulates'...
'Stocks,' said Demon, 'are on the zoom. Our territorial triumphs, et cetera. An American governor, my friend Bessborodko, is to be installed in Bessarabia, and a British one, Armborough, will rule Armenia. I saw you enlaced with your little Countess near the parking lot. If you marry her I will disinherit you. They're quite a notch below our set.' (2.1)

Goodson is mentioned by Van in Texture of Time:

Technological Sophists argue that by taking advantage of the Laws of Light, by using new telescopes revealing ordinary print at cosmic distances through the eyes of our nostalgic agents on another planet, we can actually see our own past (Goodson discovering the Goodson and that sort of thing) including documentary evidence of our not knowing what lay in store for us (and our knowing now), and that consequently the Future did exist yesterday and by inference does exist today. This may be good physics but is execrable logic, and the Tortoise of the Past will never overtake the Achilles of the future, no matter how we parse distances on our cloudy blackboards.

Speaking of Zegris butterfly (Spanish orange-tip): Zegris and Abencerage are the families of Granada Moors whose feud inspired Chateaubriand (Darkbloom, 'Notes to Ada'). Poor mad Batyushkov used to call Chateaubriand (the author of Le Dernier Abencerage) "Chateau brillant." In Ada, 'Abencerage' and 'Zegris' are two bogus publishing houses:

Letters from Terra, by Voltemand [Van's penname], came out in 1891 on Van's twenty-first birthday, under the imprint of two bogus houses, 'Abencerage' in Manhattan, and 'Zegris' in London.
(Had I happened to see a copy I would have recognized Chateaubriand's lapochka and hence your little paw, at once.) (2.2)

In her herbarium Marina mentions lapochka Lapiner (whom Van calls Marina's "own Dr Krolik"):

Gentiane de Koch, rare, brought by lapochka [darling] Lapiner from his 'mute gentiarium' 5.I.1870. (1.1) Van was born five days ago. Dr Lapiner delivered at his birth.

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'):

Dr Lapiner: for some obscure but not unattractive reason, most of the physicians in the book turn out to bear names connected with rabbits. The French 'lapin' in Lapiner is matched by the Russian 'Krolik', the name of Ada's beloved lepidopterist (p.13, et passim), and the Russian 'zayats' (hare) sounds like 'Seitz' (the German gynecologist on page 181); there is a Latin 'cuniculus' in 'Nikulin' ('grandson of the great rodentiologist Kunikulinov', p.341), and a Greek 'lagos' in 'Lagosse' (the doctor who attends Van in his old age). Note also Coniglietto, the Italian cancer-of-the-blood specialist, p.298.


Alexey Sklyarenko

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