Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025382, Thu, 8 May 2014 15:27:18 +0300

Lord C., Cheshcat, Zogdog & Fancytart in Ada
Because the particular floramor that I visited for the first time on becoming a member of the Villa Venus Club (not long before my second summer with my Ada in the arbors of Ardis) is today, after many vicissitudes, the charming country house of a Chose don whom I respect, and his charming family (charming wife and a triplet of charming twelve-year-old daughters, Ala, Lola and Lalage - especially Lalage), I cannot name it - though my dearest reader insists I have mentioned it somewhere before.
I have frequented bordels since my sixteenth year, but although some of the better ones, especially in France and Ireland, rated a triple red symbol in Nugg's guidebook, nothing about them pre-announced the luxury and mollitude of my first Villa Venus. It was the difference between a den and an Eden. (2.3)

It is "Dick," the shuler (card-sharper) whom Van outwits in a poker game at Chose and who introduces Van to the Venus Villa Club:

As he was dressing, a messenger brought him a note from Lord C. (he was a cousin of one of Van's Riverlane schoolmates), in which generous Dick proposed to substitute for his debt an introduction to the Venus Villa Club to which his whole clan belonged. Such a bounty no boy of eighteen could hope to obtain. It was a ticket to paradise. (1.28)

Lord C. (whom Van calls "Dick") must be a cousin of Dick Cheshire, Van's schoolmate at Riverlane. The son of a thrifty lord, Cheshire discovers that a young helper of the owner of the shop near the boarding-school can be possessed for a Russian green dollar:

The aging woman who sold barley sugar and Lucky Louse magazines in the corner shop, which by tradition was not strictly out of bounds, happened to hire a young helper, and Cheshire, the son of a thrifty lord, quickly ascertained that this fat little wench could be had for a Russian green dollar. Van was one of the first to avail himself of her favors. These were granted in semi-darkness, among crates and sacks at the back of the shop after hours. The fact of his having told her he was sixteen and a libertine instead of fourteen and a virgin proved a source of embarrassment to our hell-raker when he tried to bluster his inexperience into quick action but only succeeded in spilling on the welcome mat what she would have gladly helped him to take indoors. Things went better six minutes later, after Cheshire and Zographos were through; but only at the next mating party did Van really begin to enjoy her gentleness, her soft sweet grip and hearty joggle. (1.4)

Cheshire's and Zographos' profiles adorn the flyleaf of the anthology of best short poems in English that Van gives to Lucette:

'Oh, Van, how lovely of you,' said Lucette, slowly entering her room, with her bemused eyes scanning the fascinating flyleaf, his name on it, his bold flourish, and his own wonderful drawings in ink - a black aster (evolved from a blot), a doric column (disguising a more ribald design), a delicate leafless tree (as seen from a classroom window), and several profiles of boys (Cheshcat, Zogdog, Fancytart, and Ada-like Van himself). (1.23)

In my previous post I mentioned Bryusov's lupine grin and compared it to the grin of the Cheshire-Cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. To do justice to Bryusov, in his memoir essay in Necropolis Hodasevich tells how young Bryusov had picked up a mangy kitten and nursed it with great care in his pocket, while taking the State examinations:

Мне нравится, что этот дерзкий молодой человек, готовый мимоходом обронить замечание:
Родину я ненавижу, -
в то же время, оказывается, способен подобрать на улице облезлого котёнка и с бесконечной заботливостью выхаживать его в собственном кармане, сдавая государственные экзамены.

As to dogs, several memoirists (Bunin, Marina Tsvetaev) speak of Bryusov's barking voice:

Стою, уже ища замены, но Ростан — в 16 лет? нет, и сейчас в иные часы жизни — незаменим, стою уже не ища замены, как вдруг, за левым плечом, где ангелу быть полагается, — отрывистый лай, никогда не слышанный, тотчас же узнанный:
— “Lettres de Femmes” — Прево. “Fleurs du mal” — Бодлера, и “Chanteclair’a”, пожалуй, хотя я и не поклонник Ростана.
Подымаю глаза, удар в сердце: Брюсов! ("The Hero of Toil," Part I, chapter III)

- Теперь же, товарищи, вы услышите девять русских поэтесс, может быть, разнящихся в оттенках, но по существу одинаковых, ибо, повторяю, женщина ещё не умеет петь ни о чем, кроме любви и страсти. Выступления будут в алфавитном порядке... (Кончил - как оторвал, и, вполоборота, к девяти музам:) - Товарищ Адалис?
Тихий голос Адалис: «Валерий Яковлевич, я не начну». - «Но»... - «Бесполезно, я не начну. Пусть начинает Бенар». Брюсов, к Бенар, тихо: «Товарищ Бенар»? И звонкий гаменовский голосочек: «Товарищ Брюсов, я не хочу первая»... В зале смешки. Брюсов к третьей, к четвёртой, ответ, с варьянтами, один:
«Не начну». (Варьянты: «боюсь», «невыгодно», «не привыкла первой», «стихи забыла» и пр.). Положение - крайнее. Переговоры длятся. Зал уже грохочет. И я, дождавшись того, чего с первой секунды знала, что дождусь: одной миллиардной миллиметра поворота в мою сторону Брюсова, опережая просьбу, просто и дружески: «В.Я., хотите начну»? Чудесная волчья улыбка (вторая - мне - за жизнь!) и, освобождённым лаем:
- Товарищи, первый выступит (подчеркнутая пауза) поэт Цветаева. (Part II, chapter III)

Even more interesting is one of Adalis' stories about Bryusov recounted by Marina Tsvetaev:

Вот один из рассказов Адалис о Брюсове. Рассказ, от которого у меня сердце щемит.
“У В. Я. есть приёмыш, четырёхлетний мальчик, он его нежно и трогательно любит, сам водит гулять и особенно любит всё ему объяснять по дороге. “Вот это называется фронтон. Повтори: фронтон”. – “Фронтон”. – “А эта вот колонна – дорическая. Повтори: дорическая”. – “Дорическая”. – “А эта вот, завитком, ионический стиль. Повтори!” – “Ионический”. И т. д. и т. д. И вот, недавно, – он мне сам рассказывал – собачка навстречу, с особенным каким-то хвостом, закорючкой. И мальчик Брюсову: “А эта собачка – какого стиля? Ионийского или Дорийского?” (ibid.)
During their walks Bryusov showed to the four-year-old boy whom he had adopted various achitectural details and explained the orders of columns: "This is a Doric column. Repeat: Doric." "Doric." "And this one, with a volute, is the Ionic order. Repeat!" "Ionic." Et cetera. One day they met a dog with a curly tail and the boy asked Bryusov: "And this dog, what order is it? Ionic or Dorian?"

One is reminded of the doric column (disguising a more ribald design) on the flyleaf of Van's anthology, but also of the floramors built by David van Veen in memory of his grandson Eric, the author of the essay "Villa Venus: An Organized Dream:"

He [David van Veen] began with rural England and coastal America, and was engaged in a Robert Adam-like composition (cruelly referred to by local wags as the Madam-I'm-Adam House), not far from Newport, Rodos Island, in a somewhat senile style, with marble columns dredged from classical seas and still encrusted with Etruscan oyster shells - when he died from a stroke while helping to prop up a propylon. It was only his hundredth house! (2.3)

According to Voloshin, Bryusov (who himself confessed that he started to frequent brothels at thirteen) was practically born in a brothel. Comparing Bryusov to Balmont, Marina Tsvetaeva says Balmont is a reveller (brazhnik) and Bryusov, a lecher (bludnik):

К Брюсову, как ни к кому другому, пристало слово “блудник”. Унылое и безысходное, как вой волка на большой дороге. И, озарение: ведь блудник-то среди зверей — волк!
Бальмонт — бражник. Брюсов — блудник.
Веселье бражничества — Бальмонт. Уныние блудника — Брюсов.
И не чаро-дей он, а блудо-дей. ("The Hero of Toil," Part II, chapter IV)

One is reminded of the opening line of Anna Akhmatov's poem about the St. Petersburg "Stray Dog" cabaret: Vse my brazhniki zdes', bludnitsy ("We all are revelleres, fornicatresses here"). According to Marina Tsvetaev, Bryusov is not charodey (a magician), but bludodey (a fornicator). Exactly the opposite can be said of the true artists, like Pushkin and VN.

Three Egyptian squaws, dutifully keeping in profile (long ebony eye, lovely snub, braided black mane, honey-hued faro frock, thin amber arms, Negro bangles, doughnut earring of gold bisected by a pleat of the mane, Red Indian hairband, ornamental bib), lovingly borrowed by Eric Veen from a reproduction of a Theban fresco (no doubt pretty banal in 1420 B.C.), printed in Germany (Kunstlerpostkarte Nr. 6034, says cynical Dr Lagosse), prepared me by means of what parched Eric called 'exquisite manipulations of certain nerves whose position and power are known only to a few ancient sexologists,' accompanied by the no less exquisite application of certain ointments, not too specifically mentioned in the pornolore of Eric's Orientalia, for receiving a scared little virgin, the descendant of an Irish king, as Eric was told in his last dream in Ex, Switzerland, by a master of funerary rather than fornicatory ceremonies. (2.3)

Egipetskiy profil' ("The Egyptian Profile," 1920) is a poem by Bryusov. In "The Hero of Toil" Marina Tsvetaev calls Bryusov's attempt to complete Pushkin's unfinished Egipetskie nochi ("The Egyptian Nights," 1835) "a gesture of the barbarian." For, in some cases, to complete is even more barbarious than to destroy:

Дописанные Брюсовым “Египетские ночи”. С годными или негодными средствами покушение — что его вызвало? Страсть к пределу, к смысловому и графическому тире. Чуждый, всей природой своей, тайне, он не чтит и не чует её в неоконченности творения. Не довелось Пушкину — доведу (до конца) я.
Жест варвара. Ибо, в иных случаях, довершать не меньшее, если не большее, варварство, чем разрушать.

Hodasevich and Marina Tsvetaev both compare Bryusov to Pushkin's Salieri. Remarkably, it is Salieri who says in Pushkin's "Mozart and Salieri:"

Мне не смешно, когда маляр негодный
мне пачкает мадонну Рафаэля,
Мне не смешно, когда фигляр презренный
Пародией бесчестит Алигьери.

I can not laugh when some inferior dauber
Stains in my view Raphael's Madonna,
I can not laugh when some despicable mummer
With a parody dishonors Alighieri.

Having poisoned Mozart, Pushkin's Salieri asks himself:

Но ужель он прав,
И я не гений? Гений и злодейство
Две вещи несовместные. Неправда:
А Бонаротти? Или это сказка
Тупой, бессмысленной толпы — и не был
Убийцею создатель Ватикана?

But what if he is right?
I am no genius? "Genius and evildoing
Are incompatibles." That is not true:
And Buonarotti?.. Or is it a legend
Of the dull-witted, senseless crowd -- while really
The Vatican's creator was no murderer?

David van Veen is a namesake of David, Michelangelo Buonarotti's most famous sculpture (in Florence).

On Antiterra smart little Vatican is a Roman spa:

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)

According to Marina Tsvetaev, Bryusov was trizhdy rimlyanin ("a threefold Roman;" impossible to translate literally!). Bryusov's younger brother Aleksandr (who was Hodasevich's classmate at school) wrote Latin verses to his brother with the address:

Falsus Valerius, duplex lingua! (see Hodasevich's memoir essay in Necropolis)

After Demon had found out that Van and Ada were lovers, Van slapped Valerio (a waiter in 'Monaco' who was Demon's fellow traveller in the lift and who said 'Si' in reply to Demon's question if his son was still living up there, "he had lived there with his lady all winter") on the cheek:

He wondered what really kept him alive on terrible Antiterra, with Terra a myth and all art a game, when nothing mattered any more since the day he slapped Valerio's warm bristly cheek; and whence, from what deep well of hope, did he still scoop up a shivering star, when everything had an edge of agony and despair, when another man was in every bedroom with Ada. (3.1)

One is reminded of Demon slapping d'Onsky in the face:

Since prudent Veen preferred killing his man in Europe (decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel was said to be doing his best to forbid duels in the Western Hemisphere - a canard or an idealistic President's instant-coffee caprice, for nothing was to come of it after all), Demon rented the fastest petroloplane available, overtook the Baron (looking very fit) in Nice, saw him enter Gunter's Bookshop, went in after him, and in the presence of the imperturbable and rather bored English shopkeeper, back-slapped the astonished Baron across the face with a lavender glove. (1.2)

and of Van's words in his duel with Tapper:

'I bet you can't wait -' began Van: he intended to say: 'you can't wait to have me slap you again,' but happened to laugh on 'wait' and the muscles of mirth reacted so excruciatingly that he stopped in mid-sentence and bowed his sweating brow. (1.42)

Like "Fancytart" ("a hysterical lad from Upsala, cross-eyed, loose-lipped, with almost abnormally awkward limbs, but with a wonderfully tender skin texture and the round creamy charms of Bronzino's Cupid, much prized and tortured by a group of foreign boys, mostly Greek and English, led by Cheshire, the rugby ace," 1.4) on the flyleaf of Van's anthology, Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, is a homosexual.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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