Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025307, Tue, 22 Apr 2014 10:08:18 -0400

Blanche & coachmen in ADA (Revision of Alexey's recent post)
As he speaks to Van, Demon calls Blanche, a French handmaid at Ardis, "a
passing angel:"

'Did what's-her-name go with you?'
Well, my boy, frankly, the nomenclature is getting more and more confused
every year. Let us speak of plainer things. Where are the drinks? They were
promised me by a passing angel.'
(Passing angel?) (1.38)

In Saltykov-Shchedrin's Istoriya odnogo goroda ("The History of One City,"
1870) Angel Dorofeevich is Du Chariot's name and patronymic:

Дю Шарио, виконт, Ангел Дорофеевич, французский выходец. Любил рядиться в
женское платье и лакомиться лягушками. По рассмотрении, оказался девицею.
Выслан в 1821 году за границу. ("The List of Town Governors")

In "The History of One City" (and in some other books) Saltykov mentions
Blanche Gandon, a French operetta actress who in the 1860s performed in St.

В довершение всего, очистили какой-то манеж и поставили в нём "Прекрасную
Елену", пригласив, в качестве исполнительницы, девицу Бланш Гандон.
On top of it all, they cleaned some manege and staged there La belle Helene
having invited, as a performer, Mlle Blanche Gandon. ("Worship of the
Mammon and Repentance")

A famous operetta by Jacques Offenbach, La belle Helene (1864) is also
mentioned by Saltykov-Shchedrin in Gospoda Golovlyovy ("The Golovlyovs,"

She [Iudushka's niece and Lyubinka's twin sister Anninka, a provincial
actress who leads a dream-like existence] undressed in La belle Helene,
appeared drunk in La Prichole, sang all kind of shameless things in the
scenes from La grande duchesse de Gerolstein and even regretted that it was
not accepted to act on stage "la chose" and "l'amour," imagining how
seductively she would have jerked her waist and how splendidly she would
have twirled the tail of her dress. ("The Little Niece")

The reader of Shchedrin's novel is supposed to know this; still, men in the
audience devour with their eyes the curve of Anninka's naked body hoping
that she would explain to them what exactly "la chose" is.

In Ada, Chose is Van's and Demon's University:

In 1885, having completed his prep-school education, he [Van] went up to
Chose University in England, where his fathers had gone, and traveled from
time to time to London or Lute (as prosperous but not overrefined British
colonials called that lovely pearl-gray sad city on the other side of the
Channel). (1.28)

Demon to Van: 'Let our sweethearts never meet, as we used to say, up at
Chose. Only Yukonians think cognac is bad for the liver, because they have
nothing but vodka. Well, I'm glad you get along so well with Ada. That's
fine. A moment ago, in that gallery, I ran into a remarkably pretty
soubrette [Blanche!]. She never once raised her lashes and answered in
French when I - Please, my boy, move that screen a little, that's right,
the stab of a sunset, especially from under a thunderhead, is not for my
poor eyes. Or poor ventricles. Do you like the type, Van - the bowed little
head, the bare neck, the high heels, the trot, the wiggle, you do, don't
you?' (1.38)

Du Chariot's patronymic, Dorofeevich, brings to mind Dorofey, a
beefy-handed male nurse in the Kalugano hospital:

He [Van] begged her [Tatiana] to massage his legs but she tested him with
one glance of her grave, dark eyes - and delegated the task to Dorofey, a
beefy-handed male nurse, strong enough to lift him bodily out of bed, with
the sick child clasping the massive nape. (1.42)

According to Van, Tatiana (a remarkably pretty and proud young nurse) is "a
torturing angel in her own right." Much later Tatiana wrote Van a charming
and melancholy letter in red ink on pink paper.

Demon first possessed Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother) between
the two scenes of a stage performance in which Marina plays the heroine
(Pushkin's Tatiana Larin who got mixed with Pasternak's Lara Antipov):

In the first of these she had undressed in graceful silhouette behind a
semitransparent screen, reappeared in a flimsy and fetching nightgown, and
spent the rest of the wretched scene discussing a local squire, Baron d'O.,
with an old nurse in Eskimo boots. Upon the infinitely wise countrywoman's
suggestion, she goose-penned from the edge of her bed, on a side table with
cabriole legs, a love letter and took five minutes to reread it in a
languorous but loud voice for no body's benefit in particular since the
nurse sat dozing on a kind of sea chest, and the spectators were mainly
concerned with the artificial moonlight's blaze upon the lovelorn young
lady's bare arms and heaving breasts.
Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the message, Demon Veen
had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded to win the wager, the success
of his enterprise being assured by the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin,
had been in love with him since their last dance on New Year's Eve...

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...

By the time he went to fetch his new mistress in his jingling sleigh, the
last-act ballet of Caucasian generals and metamorphosed Cinderellas had
come to a sudden close, and Baron d'O., now in black tails and white
gloves, was kneeling in the middle of an empty stage, holding the glass
slipper that his fickle lady had left him when eluding his belated
advances. (1.2)

Mlle Lariviere (Lucette's governess) calls Blanche "Cendrillon:"

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. (1.7)

One of Kim Beauharnais's photographs shows Blanche and Ben Wright (the
coachman in "Ardis the First"):

'Ah, drunken Ben Wright trying to rape Blanche in the mews - she has quite
a big part in this farrago.'
'He's doing nothing of the sort. You see quite well they are dancing. It's
like the Beast and the Belle at the ball where Cinderella loses her garter
and the Prince his beautiful codpiece of glass.' (2.7)

Belle is Lucette's name for her governess:

'And Belle' (Lucette's name for her governess), 'is she also a dizzy
Christian?' (1.14).

Blanche eventually marries Trofim Fartukov, the Russian coachman in "Ardis
the Second" (2.7)

In his poem O pravitelyakh ("On Rulers," 1944) VN mentions kuchera
gosudarstv (the coachmen of empires):

Кучера государств зато хороши
при исполнении должности: шибко
ледяная навстречу летит синева,
огневые трещат на ветру рукава...
Наблюдатель глядит иностранный
и спереди видит прекрасные очи навыкат,
а сзади прекрасную помесь диванной
подушки с чудовищной тыквой.

Per contra, the coachmen of empires look good
when performing their duties: swiftly
toward them flies the blue of the sky;
their flame-colored sleeves clap in the wind;
the foreign observer looks on and sees
in front bulging eyes of great beauty
and behind a beautiful blend
of divan cushion and monstrous pumpkin.

In Charles Perrault's fairy tale Cendrillon ou la Petite Pantoufle de verre
(1697) the carriage is metamorphosed into a pumpkin. In the night of the
Burning Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time) Blanche
returns to Ardis in a pumpkin-hued police van:

When he grew too loud, she shushed, shushingly breathing into his mouth,
and now her four limbs were frankly around him as if she had been
love-making for years in all our dreams - but impatient young passion
(brimming like Van's overflowing bath while he is reworking this, a
crotchety gray old wordman on the edge of a hotel bed) did not survive the
first few blind thrusts; it burst at the lip of the orchid, and a bluebird
uttered a warning warble, and the lights were now stealing back under a
rugged dawn, the firefly signals were circumscribing the reservoir, the
dots of the carriage lamps became stars, wheels rasped on the gravel, all
the dogs returned well pleased with the night treat, the cook's niece
Blanche jumped out of a pumpkin-hued police van in her stockinged feet
(long, long after midnight, alas) - and our two naked children, grabbing
lap robe and nightdress, and giving the couch a parting pat, pattered back
with their candlesticks to their innocent bedrooms. (1.19)

On the following morning Blanche finds her slipper in one of the
waistpaper-baskets of the library:

Suddenly Van heard her lovely dark voice on the staircase saying in an
upward direction, 'Je l'ai vu dans une des corbeilles de la bibliotheque' -
presumably in reference to some geranium or violet or slipper orchid. There
was a 'bannister pause,' as photographers say, and after the maid's distant
glad cry had come from the library Ada's voice added: 'Je me demande, I
wonder qui l'a mis la, who put it there.' Aussitot apres she entered the
dining room. (1.20).

Incidentally, chariot is French for "carriage."

In "On Rulers" VN compares Stalin to Khan Mamay ("a particularly evil
Tartar prince of the fourteenth century"):

Умирает со скуки историк:
За Мамаем всё тот же Мамай.

The historian dies of sheer boredoom:
On the heels of Mamay comes another Mamay.

Colonel St. Alin, a scoundrel, is one of the seconds in Demon's duel with
d'Onsky (1.2). On the other hand, Stalin is satirized in Ada as Khan Sosso
("the current ruler of the Golden Horde" pictured as mascodagama by topical
cartoonists, 1.30):

Eastward, instead of Khan Sosso and his ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate, a
super Russia, dominating the Volga region and similar watersheds, was
governed by a Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics (or so it came
through) which had superseded the Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst.

Trofim Fartukov and Blanche have a blind child (2.7). In "The History of
One City" sleporody ("the blindborns") is one of the tribes that lived near
Glupov even before the city was founded:

По соседству с головотяпами жило множество независимых племён, но только
замечательнейшие из них поименованы летописцем, а именно: моржееды,
лукоеды, гущееды, клюковники, куралесы, вертячие бабы, лягушечники,
лапотники, чернонёбые, долбёжники, проломленные головы, слепороды,
губошлёпы, вислоухие, кособрюхие, ряпушники, заугольники, крошевники и
рукосуи. ("On the Origins of the Inhabitants of Glupov")

The inhabitants of Glupov are descendants of another tribe mentioned by
Shchedrin, golovotyapy ("the bunglers"). I speak of golovotyapy in my
Russian articles "Van Veen or Ivan Golovin: What is the Real Name of Ada's
Main Character?" and "All's Well that Ends Well: the Optimism of Pushkin,
Tolstoy, Mayakovski, Pasternak and Nabokov" available in Topos:
http://www.topos.ru/article/7076; http://www.topos.ru/article/6769.

Glupov also brings to mind Lucette's Queenston College for Glamorous and
Glupovatyh ('dumb') Girls (2.5). When she visits Van in Kingston, Lucette
wears very chic patent-leather Glass shoes. Lucette's krestik (not quite
"little cross" as Van believes) also reminds one of kresty, the signatures
of 213 illiterate inhabitants of Glupov:

К сему прошению, вместо людишек города Глупова, за неграмотностью их,
поставлено двести и тринадцать крестов. ("The Hungry City")

The letter signed by the illiterate persons with crosses was composed by
Bogolepov, a former scribe. In VN's Pnin (1957) Liza Bogolepov is Pnin's

Shchedrin's Bogolepov is a drunkard. After the dinner in 'Ursus' (the best
Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major) Van heard Ada Vinelander's
voice calling for her Glass bed slippers (which, as in Cordulenka's
princessdom too, he found hard to distinguish from dance footwear), and a
minute later, without the least interruption in the established tension,
Van found himself, in a drunken dream, making violent love to Rose - no, to
Ada, but in the rosacean fashion, on a kind of lowboy. She complained he
hurt her 'like a Tiger Turk.' (2.8)

"A Tiger Turk" is Ada's first lover, Dr Krolik's brother, Karol, or
Karapars, Krolik, a Doctor of Philosophy, born in Turkey (2.7). In Blok's
poem Incognita (1906) p'yanisty s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the
eyes of rabbits) cry out: "in vino veritas!"

In On Rulers VN mentions a banquet with Caucasian wine:

Но детина в регалиях или
волк в макинтоше,
в фуражке с немецким крутым козырьком,
охрипший и весь перекошенный,
в остановившемся автомобиле -
или опять же банкет
с кавказским вином -
Покойный мой тёзка,
писавший стихи и в полоску,
и в клетку, на самом восходе
всесоюзно-мещанского класса,
кабы дожил до полдня,
нынче бы рифмы натягивал
на "монументален",
на "переперчил"
и так далее.

But the decorated big fellow or else
the trench-coated wolf
in his army cap with a German steep peak,
hoarse-voiced, his face all distorted,
speaking from immobile convertible,
or, again, a banquet
with Caucasian wine.
No, thank you.
If my late namesake,
who used to write verse, in rank
and in file, at the very dawn
of the Soviet Small-Bourgeois order
had lived till its noon,
he would be now finding taut rhymes
such as "praline"
or "air chill,"
and others of the same kind.

VN's late namesake is V. V. Mayakovski (1893-1930), "minor Soviet poet
endowed with a certain brilliance and bite but fatally corrupted by the
regime he faithfully served." In his poem "The Brooklyn Bridge" (1925)
Mayakovski mentions many unemployed who jump from the bridge into Hudson
River (sic, instead of East River).

He went back to whatever he was eating, and cruelly stroked Lucette's
apricot-bloomed forearm, and she said in Russian 'I'm drunk, and all that,
but I adore (obozhayu), I adore, I adore, I adore more than life you, you
(tebya, tebya), I ache for you unbearably (ya toskuyu po tebe nevinosimo),
and, please, don't let me swill (hlestat') champagne any more, not only
because I will jump into Goodson River if I can't hope to have you, and not
only because of the physical red thing - your heart was almost ripped out,
my poor dushen'ka ('darling,' more than 'darling'), it looked to me at
least eight inches long -'
'Seven and a half,' murmured modest Van, whose hearing the music impaired.
'- but because you are Van, all Van, and nothing but Van, skin and scar,
the only truth of our only life, of my accursed life, Van, Van, Van.' (2.8)

p. s. I notice that in one of my old posts I fluff the title of
Saltykov-Shchedrin's book Pis'ma k tyoten'ke ("Letters to my Aunt").

Alexey Sklyarenko

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Co-Editor, NABOKV-L

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