Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025308, Mon, 21 Apr 2014 20:12:44 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] early birthday tribute
Former exchanges at the VN-L related to “return from the dead”, “immortality,” vials and a viol …

Carolyn Kunin: [ ] The book under review from which I quoted, has a character who returns from the dead.

Jansy Mello: The word "violl" got my attention, since it didn't seem to be related to the musical instrument in John Milton's quote [ ]The same happens in "Ada" with…"triple viol"
[ ]in Shakespeare (Hamlet, first Act, 5) we find Claudius and a “violl” carrying poison
[ ] in a more actual edition of Hamlet: .. “thy uncle stole, / With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial, / And in the porches of my ears did pour....”
Vial also seems to correspond to John Milton’s “violl” - so both are unrelated to “Ada” during Lucette’s and Van’s encounter. However, the references to Lucette/Van, Ophelia/Hamlet/Voltemand are indicators that in VN “viol” may have retained its various subjacent meanings (musical instrument, violation,vial.)

Didier Machu: Dear Jansy, Dear Carolyn, Violl here means phial.

Jansy Mello: Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet” is frequently mentioned in “ADA” and over the years it has deserved specialized articles devoted to the various references to Polonius/Krolik, Ophelia/Lucette, Voltemand/Van(?) and other equally important themes. Sheer accident led me in a most insidious way, from violets, viol and a vial/phial, to Hamlet, metempsychosis, metamorphosis, life after death in a “violarium.”

Let’s consider what Brian Boyd writes in the Afterword to ADA, I in “Ada Online” (excerpts):

“The larvarium, at the very start of the special interest Van and Ada arouse in each other, serves as a kind of overture to the insect-incest opera.[ ] the association of the caterpillars and death is insistent here. Why caterpillars? “Worms” are natural emblems of death--both as larvae (especially maggots) and as earthworms--and the vermian aspect of these caterpillars is twice stressed [ ]The association of these caterpillars with death becomes still stronger when we learn that Ada, who collects them with the help of Dr. Krolik, after his death in 1886 places “all her live pupae in his open coffin where he lay, she said, as plump and pink as in vivo” (219). Given this contempt for death, Van appears to use the caterpillars as a way of introducing death early into his story and simultaneously denying its finality, hinting that it is a metamorphosis rather than a termination[ ] In his last novel before Ada, Nabokov actually links a larvarium like Ada’s violet-filled one with preparation for the beyond, when John Shade writes of the Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter, or I.P.H.: “Iph / Was a larvorium and a violet, / A grave in Reason’s early spring.” (52, ll. 515-17) [ ] Van seems to introduce death by way of the larvarium so that its “mirage-shimmer” implies some hazy beyond.”

(reading the entire after-notes is recommended)

In the emotionally charged exchanges between Van and Lucette (with Ada’s “violet sealed” envelope), she indicates the name Voltemand, mentions Tapper, possible murders or killings, driblets (triplets), a triple viol and, more distantly, larvae and violets (the related exchanges take place in scattered chapters).

Here are the results of my first tracings: a note by Darkbloom (on p.241) explains that “Tapper”: ‘Wild Violet’, as well as ‘Birdfoot’ (p.242), reflects the ‘pansy’ character of Van’s adversary and of the two seconds.”

A “triple viol” may serve to indicate Ada’s three-colored velvet violet, probably the pansy*: “She considered him. … A three-colored velvet violet, of which she had done an aquarelle on the eve, considered him from its fluted crystal…”. [Ada, part I, ch.12]

Violets, the diminutive ending “-let” ** related to flowers, secretaries, colors, places are precious indicators.

Now, about Tapper: (a) “ The captain picked up his cap and lunged at the white-faced, black-haired young fop [ ] Visiting cards were exchanged. ‘Demon’s son?’ grunted Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, Kalugano. ‘Correct,’ said Van.” [ ] “Tapper, I think, may be the chap who was thrown out of one of your gaming clubs for attempting oral intercourse with the washroom attendant, a toothless old cripple, veteran of the first Crimean War.” I,42

(b) ‘Your father, mon cher — we saw a lot of him in the West. Ada supposed, at first, that Tapper was an invented name — that you fought your duel with another person — but that was before anybody heard of the other person’s death in Kalugano. Demon said you should have simply cudgeled him.’

‘I could not,’ said Van, ‘the rat was rotting away in a hospital bed.’

‘I meant the real Tapper,’ cried Lucette (who was making a complete mess of her visit), ‘not my poor, betrayed, poisoned, innocent teacher of music, whom not even Ada, unless she fibs, could cure of his impotence.’

‘Driblets,’ said Van.

‘Not necessarily his,’ said Lucette. ‘His wife’s lover played the triple viol.”
(c) “She pointed to the inscription ‘Voltemand Hall’ on the brow of the building from which they now emerged./Van gave her a quick glance — but she simply meant the courtier in Hamlet. II, 5

A first, hasty, summary: violets and a “viol” pass through Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in Ada, Pale Fire (as BB pointed out), Bend Sinister, and are strangely linked to survival after death. What lies in (Oedipal) Hamlet that marked VN so deeply?


* - (internet) “The pansy is a group of large-flowered hybrid plant…derived from viola species Viola tricolor hybridized with other viola species…The common names "pansy" and "violet" are often used interchangeably. When a distinction is made, plants considered to be pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down. Violets have three petals pointing up and two pointing down.Thus Viola cornuta is commonly referred to as a pansy. The name pansy is derived from the French word pensée "thought", and was imported into Late Middle English as a name of viola in the mid 15th century, as the flower was regarded as a symbol of remembrance…”
There’s even an “antlered violet” (Viola cornuta) among the pansies…Duels and betrayed husbands? Fictional Van, Sebastian Knight’s father, Pushkin…

** - “-let: <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada13ann.htm#2405> 24.05; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada14ann.htm#3317> 33.17; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada15ann.htm#3501> 35.01; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada15ann.htm#351011> 35.10; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada15ann.htm#3702> 37.02; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada18ann.htm#5132> 51.32; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada18ann.htm#5203> 52.03; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada112ann.htm#7120c> 71.20; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada112ann.htm#7306> 73.06; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada112ann.htm#7534> 75.34; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada124ann.htm#14928> 149.28; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada124ann.htm#15016b> 150.16; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada127ann.htm#16830> 168.30; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada129ann.htm#17820> 178.20;” driblets are not mentioned here since they were not yet annotated.

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