Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025385, Fri, 9 May 2014 20:55:06 +0300

Love, Upsala, Gavailles, Robinsons, Don Juan, Time, Electricity,
Rainbows in Ada
That was love, normal and mysterious. Less mysterious and considerably more grotesque were the passions which several generations of schoolmasters had failed to eradicate, and which as late as 1883 still enjoyed an unparalleled vogue at Riverlane. Every dormitory had its catamite. One 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 (the big one, whom a delighted satyr discovers in a lady's bower), was much prized and tortured by a group of foreign boys, mostly Greek and English, led by Cheshire, the rugby ace; and partly out of bravado, partly out of curiosity, Van surmounted his disgust and coldly watched their rough orgies. (1.5)

Po doroge v Upsalu ("On the Road to Upsala," 1893) is a poem by Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), the author of Smysl lyubvi ("The Meaning of Love," 1892), Na zare tumannoy yunosti* ("At the Hazy Dawn of Youth," a memoir story, 1892), and of some witty parodies on the Russian symbolists (1895). In one of them, Gorizonty vertikal'nye... ("The Vertical Skylines..."), Solovyov mentions mandragory immanentnye ("the immanent mandrakes") that zashurshali v kamyshakh ("started to rustle in the reeds"):

Мандрагоры имманентные
Зашуршали в камышах,
А шершаво-декадентные
Вирши в вянущих ушах.

In his poem Segodnya ("Today," 1922) Bryusov (one of the first Russian symbolists) speaks of Mandragory (the Mandrakes) that plyashut po stranam (are dancing all over the countries):

На пёстрых площадях Занзибара,
По зелёным склонам Гавайи,
Распахиваются приветливо бары,
Звонят, предупреждая, трамваи.

В побеждённом Берлине — голод,
Но ослепительней блеск по Wein-ресторанам;
После войны пусть и пусто и голо, —
Мандрагоры пляшут по странам!

И лапы из золота тянет
Франция, — всё в свой блокгауз!
Вам новейшая лямка, крестьяне!
Рабочие, вам усовершенствованный локаут!

Этому морю одно — захлестнуть бы
Тебя, наш Советский Остров!
Твои, по созвездиям, судьбы
Предскажет какой Калиостро!

В гиканьи, в прыганьи, в визге
Нэпманов заграничных и здешних,
Как с бутылки отстоенной виски,
Схватить может припадок сердечный.

На нашем глобусе ветхом,
Меж Азии, Америк, Австралии,
Ты, станции строя по веткам,
Вдаль вонзишь ли свои магистрали?

In a footnote Bryusov says that Mandragory is a hint at the novel popular in the post-war Germany. Alraune (German for "mandrake") is a novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers published in 1911 (it is also the name of the female lead character).

In Texture of Time (Part Four of Ada) Van mentions the Alraun Palace in Alvena:

Late on Sunday, July 13, in nearby Alvena, the concierge of the Alraun Palace handed him a cable that had waited for him since Friday


Bryusov wrote Segodnya ("Today") on March 5, 1922. Three weeks later, on March 28, VN's father was killed in Berlin (the city mentioned by Bryusov in his poem). On April 23, 1922, Ada's husband Andrey Vinelander dies in Arizona:

He spent most of May in Dalmatia, and June in the Dolomites, and got letters in both places from Ada telling him of her husband's death (April 23, in Arizona).

On July 14, 1922, Van meets Ada in Mont Roux.

In his poem Printsip otnositel'nosty ("The Principle of Relativity," 1921) Bryusov calls Time kanatnyi plyasun (a rope-dancer):

И на сцену — венецианских дожей ли,
Если молнии скачут в лесу!
До чего, современники, мы дожили:
Самое Время - канатный плясун!

According to Van, "time itself is motionless and changeless" (3.5). In Texture of Time Van criticizes Relativity:

At this point, I suspect, I should say something about my attitude to 'Relativity.' It is not sympathetic. What many cosmogonists tend to accept as an objective truth is really the flaw inherent in mathematics which parades as truth. The body of the astonished person moving in Space is shortened in the direction of motion and shrinks catastrophically as the velocity nears the speed beyond which, by the fiat of a fishy formula, no speed can be. That is his bad luck, not mine - but I sweep away the business of his clock's slowing down. Time, which requires the utmost purity of consciousness to be properly apprehended, is the most rational element of life, and my reason feels insulted by those flights of Technology Fiction. One especially grotesque inference, drawn (I think by Engelwein) from Relativity Theory - and destroying it, if drawn correctly - is that the galactonaut and his domestic animals, after touring the speed spas of Space, would return younger than if they had stayed at home all the time. Imagine them filing out of their airark - rather like those 'Lions,' juvenilified by romp suits, exuding from one of those huge chartered buses that stop, horribly blinking, in front of a man's impatient sedan just where the highway wizens to squeeze through the narrows of a mountain village.

'Lions' bring to mind Nadezhda Lvov, a young poet who in 1913 shot herself dead from the revolver that Bryusov (her lover) had given her (see Hodasevich's and Tsvetaev's memoir essays). Her family name comes from lev (lion).

Ada's two maids fly over to Europe on a Laputa (freight airplane):

There had been trouble with her luggage. There still was. Her two maids, who were supposed to have flown over the day before on a Laputa (freight airplane) with her trunks, had got stranded somewhere. All she had was a little valise. The concierge was in the act of making some calls for her. Would Van come down? She was neveroyatno golodnaya (incredibly hungry). (Part Four)

Laputa is the flying island in Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1719). In Segodnya Bryusov speaks of nash Sovetskiy ostrov ("our Soviet island," rhyming in Bryusov's poem with "Cagliostro"), but also mentions zelyonye sklony Gavayi ("the green slopes of the Hawaii"). Van's and Ada's father, Demon Veen perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Gavailles:

In the fourth or fifth worst airplane disaster of the young century, a gigantic flying machine had inexplicably disintegrated at fifteen thousand feet above the Pacific between Lisiansky and Laysanov Islands in the Gavaille region. (3.7)

According to Van, his father was portrayed by Vrubel:

Ardis, Manhattan, Mont Roux, our little rousse is dead. Vrubel's wonderful picture of Father, those demented diamonds staring at me, painted into me. (3.8)

Mikhail Vrubel is the author of "Demon Seated" and "Demon Thrown Down." Vrubel's last painting is the portrait of Bryusov (1906).

The Lisiansky island in the Hawaii received its name after Yuri Lisianski, the Russian Captain-Lieutenant who participated in Amiral Krusenstern's famous voyage around the world (1803-06). The name of the ship commanded by Krusenstern was Nadezhda (Hope) and the name of the ship commanded by Lisianski, Neva.

In his poem My vse - Robinzony ("We All are the Robinsons," 1921, also included in Dali, "Distant Prospects") Bryusov calls our world spokoynyi ostrov ("a calm island"):

Мы все — Робинзоны Крузо,
И весь мир наш — спокойный остров;
Он без нас будет мчаться грузно
В ласке солнца, знойной и острой.

The Robinsons, an elderly couple, are Van's and Lucette's fellow travellers onboard Admiral Tobakoff. With Van and Lucette they watch in the Tobakoff cinema hall Don Juan's Last Fling (the movie in which Ada plays the gitanilla) and afterwards invite Lucette to their cabin:

They invited Lucette to a Coke with them - proselytical teetotalists - in their cabin, which was small and stuffy and badly insulated, one could hear every word and whine of two children being put to bed by a silent seasick nurse, so late, so late - no, not children, but probably very young, very much disappointed honeymooners.
'We understand,' said Robert Robinson going for another supply to his portable fridge, 'we understand perfectly that Dr Veen is deeply immersed in his Inter Resting Work - personally, I sometimes regret having retired - but do you think, Lucy, prosit!, that he might accept to have dinner tomorrow with you and us and maybe Another Couple, whom he'll certainly enjoy meeting? Shall Mrs Robinson send him a formal invitation? Would you sign it, too?'
'I don't know, I'm very tired,' she said, 'and the rock and roll are getting worse. I guess I'll go up to my hutch and take your Quietus. Yes, by all means, let's have dinner, all of us. I really needed that lovely cold drink.' (3.5)

From Van's letter to Ada (written after Lucette's suicide): 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. He was worried by her behavior, followed her up to the open deck and witnessed but could not stop her jump. (3.7)

Raspakhivayutsya privetlivo bary (the bars open their doors affably) is the third line of the first quatrain of Bryusov's Segodnya.

As to Don Juan's Last Fling, Don Juan (1900) is a sonnet by Bryusov included in Tertia Vigilia (1898-1901):

Да, я — моряк! Искатель островов,
Скиталец дерзкий в неоглядном море.
Я жажду новых стран, иных цветов,
Наречий странных, чуждых плоскогорий.

И женщины идут на страстный зов,
Покорные, с одной мольбой во взоре!
Спадает с душ мучительный покров,
Всё отдают они — восторг и горе.

В любви душа вскрывается до дна,
Яснеет в ней святая глубина,
Где все единственно и не случайно.

Да! Я гублю! Пью жизни, как вампир!
Но каждая душа — то новый мир,
И манит вновь своей безвестной тайной.

I am a sailor, looking for new isles,
A daring rover in the waters' richness.
I'm thirsty for new flowers and sites,
Unknown highlands and unknown speeches.

And women go to the passion's call,
Like faithful prayers go at the temples,
The coarse mantles of the souls fall,
They give me all -- their delight and sadness!

In love, each heart is to its bottom seen:
Its depth is clear, void of any sin,
And all in it is stable and alone.

Yes, I drink lives as a vampire -- blood!
But every soul -- a new world inside,
And lures with its mystery unknown.
(transl. Evg. Bonver)

Van leaves the Tobakoff cinema hall murmering a humorous bad-sailor excuse:

They [the Robinsons] were craning already across her [Lucette], with radiant wrinkles and twittery fingers toward Van when he pounced upon their intrusion to murmur a humorous bad-sailor excuse and leave the cinema hall to its dark lurching. (3.5)

He saw the situation dispassionately now and felt he was doing right by going to bed and switching off the 'ectric' light (a surrogate creeping back into international use). (ibid.)

On Antiterra electricity is banned after the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century (1.3). Bryusov is the author of Elektricheskie svety ("The Electric Lights," 1913), a poem included in Sem' tsvetov radugi ("Seven Colors of Rainbow," Siniy, Indigo):

Мы — электрические светы
Над шумной уличной толпой;
Ей — наши рдяные приветы
И ей — наш отсвет голубой!

Качаясь на стеблях высоких,
Горя в преддверьях синема,
И искрясь из витрин глубоких,
Мы — дрожь, мы — блеск, мы — жизнь сама!

Что было красочным и пёстрым,
Меняя властным волшебством,
Мы делаем бесцветно-острым,
Живей и призрачней, чем днём.

И женщин, с ртом, как рана, алым,
И юношей, с тоской в зрачках,
Мы озаряем небывалым
Венцом, что обольщает в снах.

Даём соблазн любви продажной,
Случайным встречам — тайный смысл;
Угрюмый дом многоэтажный
Мы превращаем в символ числ.

Из быстрых уличных мельканий
Лишь мы поэзию творим,
И с нами — каждый на экране,
И, на экране кто, — мы с ним!

Залив сияньем современность,
Ее впитали мы в себя,
Всю ложь, всю мишуру, всю бренность
Преобразили мы, любя,—

Мы — электрические светы
Над шумной уличной толпой,
Мы — современные поэты,
Векам зажжённые Судьбой!

Sinema (cinematograph) is also mentioned in this poem. According to Bryusov, the electric lights are modern poets lit up by Fate. Sinema moego okna ("The Cinematograph of my Window," 1914) is the opening poem of the "Indigo" cycle in "Seven Colors of Rainbow."

A propos de rainbows: Raduga, "near the burg of that name, beyond Estotiland proper, in the Atlantic panel of the continent between elegant Kaluga, New Cheshire, U.S.A., and no less elegant Ladoga, Mayne, where they had their town house and where their three children were born: a son, who died young and famous, and a pair of difficult female twins," was the Durmanovs' favorite domain (1.1). It was later sold to Mr Eliot, a Jewish businessman (1.1). Mr Eliot was present when Van saw his father for the last time:

The last occasion on which Van had seen his father was at their house in the spring of 1904. Other people had been present: old Eliot, the real-estate man, two lawyers (Grombchevski and Gromwell), Dr Aix, the art expert, Rosalind Knight, Demon's new secretary, and solemn Kithar Sween, a banker who at sixty-five had become an avant-garde author; in the course of one miraculous year he had produced The Waistline, a satire in free verse on Anglo-American feeding habits, and Cardinal Grishkin, an overtly subtle yarn extolling the Roman faith. (3.7)

In his poem Nil'skaya delta ("The Nile Delta", 1898) Vladimir Solovyov mentions Deva Raduzhnykh Vorot (the Girl of Iridescent Gate, a gnostic term):

Золотые, изумрудные,
Черноземные поля...
Не скупа ты, многотрудная,
Молчаливая земля!

Это лоно плодотворное,—
Сколько дремлющих веков,—
Принимало, всепокорное,
Семена и мертвецов.

Но не всё тобою взятое
Вверх несла ты каждый год:
Смертью древнею заклятое
Для себя весны всё ждет.

Не Изида трёхвенечная
Ту весну им приведет,
А нетронутая, вечная
«Дева Радужных Ворот»

The Nile is settled. Stop. Skylark.

Btw., in My vse - Robinzony ("We All are the Robinsons") Bryusov exclaims:

Пирамиды, спите над Нилом!
Слоны, топчите Гвинею!
По-прежнему в болоте немилом
Незабудкины слёзы синеют.

Pyramids, sleep above the Nile!
Elephants, trample down Guinea!
The tears of forget-me-nots still show blue
in an unloved peat bog.

*the opening line of a poem by Koltsov

Alexey Sklyarenko

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