Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025427, Sat, 31 May 2014 16:20:20 +0300

Lolita & music in Ada
From Demon's letter to Marina: You had gone to Boston to see an old aunt - a cliche, but the truth for the nonce - and I had gone to my aunt's ranch near Lolita, Texas. (1.2)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Lolita, Texas: this town exists, or, rather, existed, for it has been renamed, I believe, after the appearance of the notorious novel.

During his visit to Ardis Demon mentions his aunt Kitty:

'Your dinner jacket is very nice - or, rather it's very nice recognizing one's old tailor in one's son's clothes - like catching oneself repeating an ancestral mannerism - for example, this (wagging his left forefinger three times at the height of his temple), which my mother did in casual, pacific denial; that gene missed you, but I've seen it in my hairdresser's looking-glass when refusing to have him put Cremlin on my bald spot; and you know who had it too - my aunt Kitty, who married the Banker Bolenski after divorcing that dreadful old wencher Lyovka Tolstoy, the writer.' (1.38)

In Iskusstvo pri svete sovesti ("Art in the Light of Conscience," 1932) Marina Tsvetaev compares Tolstoy who renounced art for the sake of his sermon to Gogol who burnt the second volume of Dead Souls:

Эти полчаса Гоголя у камина больше сделали для добра и против искусства, чем вся долголетняя проповедь Толстого.
Потому что здесь дело, наглядное дело рук, то движение руки, которого мы все жаждем и которого не перевесит ни одно “душевное движение”.
Может быть, мы бы второй частью “Мертвых Душ” и не соблазнились. Достоверно — им бы радовались. Но наша та бы радость им ничто перед нашей этой радостью Гоголю, который из любви к нашим живым душам свои Мертвые — сжёг. На огне собственной совести.
Те были написаны чернилами.
Эти — в нас — огнём.

The manuscript of Lolita was nearly burnt by the author:

Once or twice I was on the point of burning the unfinished draft and had carried my Juanita Dark as far as the shadow of the leaning incinerator on the innocent lawn, when I was stopped by the thought that the ghost of the destroyed book would haunt my files for the rest of my life. ("On a Book Entitled Lolita")

As she speaks of Gogol, Marina Tsvetaev mentions Inquisition:

Один проснулся. Востроносый, восковолицый человек, жёгший в камине шереметевского дома рукопись. Вторую часть “Мёртвых Душ”.
Не ввести в соблазн. Пуще чем средневековое — собственноручное предание творения огню. Тот само-суд, о котором говорю, что он — единственный суд.
(Позор и провал Инквизиции в том, что она сама жгла, а не доводила до сожжения — жгла рукопись, когда нужно было прожечь душу.) ("Art in the Light of Conscience")

The characters of Ada include Philip Rack, Lucette's teacher of music whose name seems to hint at the Spanish Inquisition. Philip II of Spain is mentioned by Poprishchin (the hero of Gogol's story "Notes of a Madman," 1835, who imagines that he is the King of Spain Ferdinand VIII). Marina Tsvetaev is the author of Mat' i muzyka ("Mother and Music," 1934), an autobiographical story. She quotes in it a line from Fet's poem Siyala noch' ("A Radiant Night..." 1877):

И, наконец, последний рояль — тот, в который заглядываешь: рояль нутра, нутро рояля, струнное его нутро, как всякое нутро — тайное, рояль Пандориного: «А что там внутри?» — тот, о котором Фет, во внятной только поэту и музыканту, потрясающей своей зрительностью строке:

Рояль был весь раскрыт, и струны в нём дрожали…
(The grand piano was wide open, and the strings throbbed in it...)

In 'Ursus' (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major) Van, Ada and Lucette listen to a romance on this poem:

Here Van stood up again, as Ada, black fan in elegant motion, came back followed by a thousand eyes, while the opening bars of a romance (on Fet's glorious Siyala noch') started to run over the keys (and the bass coughed a la russe into his fist before starting).

A radiant night, a moon-filled garden. Beams
Lay at our feet. The drawing room, unlit;
Wide open, the grand piano; and our hearts
Throbbed to your song, as throbbed the strings in it... (2.8)

Philip Rack is German. In Mat' i muzyka Marina Tsvetaev (who disappointed her mother, a gifted musician) speaks of the glimmering Elfenbein (Germ., ivory) of piano keys:

За прохладное «ivoire», мерцающее «Elfenbein», баснословное «слоновая кость» (как слона и эльфа — совместить?).
How can one combine elephant and elf?

Elephant is mentioned by Demon as he quotes for comic relief Coppee:

'...And now I'll show what a diviner I am: your dream is to be a concert pianist!'
'It is not,' said Van indignantly. 'What perfect nonsense. She can't play a note!'
'Well, no matter,' said Demon. 'Observation is not always the mother of deduction. However, there is nothing improper about a hanky dumped on a Bechstein. You don't have, my love, to blush so warmly. Let me quote for comic relief

'Lorsque son fi-ance fut parti pour la guerre
Irene de Grandfief, la pauvre et noble enfant
Ferma son pi-ano... vendit son elephant'

'The gobble enfant is genuine, but the elephant is mine.' 'You don't say so,' laughed Ada. (1.38)

Marina Tsvetaev compares the grand piano to zuboskal ("scoffer," literally: a person who shows his teeth). Marina Tsvetaev's mother called her stepson's tutor (who used to laugh loudly) zuboskal:

(И — детское открытие: ведь если неожиданно забыть, что это — рояль, это просто — зубы, огромные зубы в огромном холодном рту — до ушей. И это рояль — зубоскал, а вовсе не Андрюшин репетитор Александр Павлович Гуляев, которого так зовёт мать за вечное хохотание. И зубоскал совсем не весёлая, а страшная вещь.) According to Marina Tsvetaev, "zuboskal is a terrible, not funny thing."

One of Ada's lovers, Philip Rack (who is poisoned by his jealous wife, 1.42) has delectable gums:

'I think,' said Van, 'we've got hold of the wrong lover. I was asking about Herr Rack, who has such delectable gums and also adores you to the point of insanity.' (1.41)

Another lover of Ada, Percy de Prey, goes to the war and perishes there:

'Well, I'll tell you,' drawled dreamy Van. 'I'll tell you why. From a humble but reliable sauce, I mean source, excuse my accent, I have just learned qu'on vous culbute behind every hedge. Where can I find your tumbler?'
'Nowhere,' she answered quite calmly, ignoring or not even perceiving his rudeness, for she had always known that disaster would come today or tomorrow, a question of time or rather timing on the part of fate.
'But he exists, he exists,' muttered Van, looking down at a rainbow web on the turf.
'I suppose so,' said the haughty child, 'however, he left yesterday for some Greek or Turkish port. Moreover, he was going to do everything to get killed, if that information helps. (ibid.)

zuboskal = Skalozub (a character in Griboedov's Woe from the Wit, a play alluded to in Ada, 1.37).

Sheremetev's death [in his duel with Zavadovski] delayed the Yakubovich-Griboedov meeting; it took place a year later (Oct. 23, 1818) in Tiflis; the great marksman, knowing how much the great writer liked to play the piano, neatly wounded him in the palm of the left hand, crippling the fifth digit; it did not prevent Griboedov from going on with his musical improvising, but some ten years later this contracted finger provided the sole means of identifying his body, horribly mutilated by a Persian mob in an anti-Russian riot at Teheran, where he was envoy. (EO Commentary, II, p. 89)

Van's adversary in a pistol duel, Captain Tapper, is a member of the Do-Re-La Country Club (1.42). Tapper is a homosexual. In her memoir essay Nezdeshniy vecher ("The Unreal Evening," 1936) Marina Tsvetaev describes her meeting with the gay poet and composer Mikhail Kuzmin (1875-1936).

'Mon page, mon beau page,
- Mironton-mironton-mirontaine -
Mon page, mon beau page...' (1.40)

In her drafts (Svodnye tetradi) Marina Tsvetaev quotes this song about Malbrook:

Мальбрук в поход собрался
— Mironton — mironton — mirontaine —
Мальбрук в поход собрался —

Alexey Sklyarenko

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