Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025403, Wed, 21 May 2014 15:39:29 +0300

chertog, angelochek, Raduga, moles in Ada
In memory of Stan Kelly-Bootle

Most summers she spent at Ardis; most winters in their Kaluga town home - two upper stories in the former Zemski chertog (palazzo). (1.24)

Of course, of course, because that was the first time, Ada recalled, she had glimpsed him. In his little white sailor suit and blue sailor cap. (Un regulier angelochek, commented Van in the Raduga jargon.) (ibid.)

He was out, he imagined, na progulke (promenading) in the gloomy firwood with Aksakov, his tutor, and Bagrov's grandson, a neighbor's boy, whom he teased and pinched and made horrible fun of, a nice quiet little fellow who quietly massacred moles and anything else with fur on, probably pathological. (ibid.)

In his poem Krot ("The Mole," 1913), from the "Green" part of Sem' Tsvetov Radugi ("Seven Colors of Rainbow," 1912-15), Bryusov speaks of a mole's underground chertog:

Тёмных, тёплых комнат житель,
Он чертог готовит свой,
Ставит твёрдые подпоры
И запасы носит в норы,
Пряча в дальней кладовой.
Милый крот, слепой рабочий!
Выбирай темнее ночи,
Берегись сверканий дня!
Будет жалко мне немного
Повстречать, бредя дорогой,
Чёрный трупик подле пня.

The author calls the mole slepoy rabochiy* ("a blind worker") who should beware of the day's light, because it would be a pity to come across the black little corpse near a tree stump.

A part of chertogon ("chasing the devil," the title of a story by Leskov), chertog has chyort (also spelt chert, "the devil") in it. Chyort is the antagonist of angel. As a little boy, Van looks like angelochek (a little angel). Angelochek (1899) is a story by Leonid Andreev. In Bezvremen'e ("Times of Stagnation," 1906) Blok compares it to Dostoevski's story Mal'chik u Khrista na yolke ("The Boy at the Christmas-Tree of Jesus," 1876). In his essay Blok calls Dostoevski "a blind and mighty demon" who is led under his arms by two other demons, Lermontov and Gogol:**

Передо мной вырастают два демона, ведущие под руки третьего - слепого и могучего, пребывающего под страхом вечной пытки. Это - Лермонтов, Гоголь и Достоевский.

According to Blok, our everyday reality is colored in red: Наша действительность проходит в красном свете.

At the end of his essay Blok mentions the big green star and the beautiful eyes of Night Violet, the Bride looking at the horseman through a marsh haze:

Самый страшный демон нашептывает нам теперь самые сладкие речи: пусть вечно смотрит сквозь болотный туман прекрасный фиолетовый взор Невесты - Ночной Фиалки. Пусть беззвучно протекает счастье всадника, кружащего на усталом коне по болоту, под большой зелёной звездой.

Violet Knox (Fialochka, as Ada calls her) is old Van's secretary who marries Mr Ronald Oranger, the editor of Ada (5.4). In Bryusov's "Seven Colors of Rainbow" Orange is the first and Violet, the last color.

In his poem Ya ukho prilozhil k zemle... ("I put my ear to the ground..." 1907, entitled in the manuscript Rabochemu, "To a Worker") Blok mentions the underground mole: Ty roesh'sya, podzemnyi krot ("You are digging, an underground mole").***

In my "Ada as a Triple Dream" I compare VN's "Family Chronicle" to Lermontov's poem "The Dream" (1841), Dostoevski's story "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" (1877) and Blok's poem "Retribution" (1910-21). But Gogol's "Notes of a Madman," "Overcoat" and "Dead Souls" are also important in Ada. According to VN,

От скромной фиалки на дне чичиковской табакерки до "Ночной Фиалки" Блока один лишь шаг - по животворной, чмокающей мочежине (с которой, между прочим, немало перешло и в толстовский ягдташ).
From the modest violet at the bottom of Chichikov's snuff-box it is but one step - on the life-giving, smacking moss bog (which, incidentally, yielded a lot to Tolstoy's Jagdtasche) - to Blok's Night Violet. (The Foreword to N. V. Gogol, Povesti, N. Y., 1952)

When Ada first sees Van, he wears a white sailor suit and blue sailor cap. Van, Ada and Lucette are the children of Marina Durmanov (poor Aqua's twin sister whose name means "of the sea"). In Dom u starogo Pimena Marina Tsvetaev (the author of "Verses to Blok" and "The Hero of Toil," a memoir essay on Bryusov) compares the historian D. I. Ilovayski (the father of her father's first wife) to Bagrov grandfather (a character in S. T. Aksakov's "The Childhood Years of Bagrov Grandson" and "The Family Chronicle"):

Д. И. мою мать явно чтил, и она, столь страстная и безоговорочная в своих суждениях, его никогда, ни в чем, ни разу, за всё мое детство, ни словом не осудила. Странность этой расположенности была и во взаимоположении этих людей: отец первой жены, расположенный ко второй. Вторая, так страдавшая от первой (тени первой!) - к отцу этой первой. По существу же, они чем-то, отдалённо, походили, подходили (совершенно так же, как совершенно непохожие Софья Николаевна и Багров-дед).

Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (AAA) is Van's "angelic" Russian tutor (1.24). He is a namesake of Marina Tsvetaev's half-brother Andrey (D. I. Ilovayski's grandson), in whose chrestomathy his half-sister read about Bagrov grandfather and Bagrov grandson ("My Pushkin"). On the other hand, one is reminded of Leonid Andreev's Angelochek.

*Rabochiy ("The Worker," 1916) is a famous poem by Gumilyov (Bryusov's pupil who was executed in August of 1921, less than three weeks after Blok's death).
**Gogol loathed cats and used to strike dead with his cane lizards: "And although my thoughts, my name, my works will belong to Russia, I myself, my mortal organism, will be removed from it" (and at the same time, on his walks in Switzerland, the man who could write thus, used to strike dead with his cane the lizards running across his path - "the devil's brood" - as he said with the squeamishness of a Ukrainian and the hatred of a fanatic). ("The Gift," Chapter Three)
***The allusion to Hamlet's words in Shakespeare's play: "Well said, old mole! canst work i'th'earth so fast?" (I.5.162) As a young man, Blok had played Hamlet in an amateur stage version (the poet's future wife Lyuba Mendeleev had played Ophelia) in Shakhmatovo (the Beketovs' estate in the Province of Moscow) and later used to identify himself with Shakespeare's hero.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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