Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025432, Mon, 2 Jun 2014 15:43:13 +0300

Mr Alexander Screepatch & Gamaliel in Ada
In a farewell letter to Marina Demon wrote that he had been overeager to castrate d'Onsky (Demon's adversary in a sword duel):

Your voice was remote but sweet; you said you were in Eve's state, hold the line, let me put on a penyuar. Instead, blocking my ear, you spoke, I suppose, to the man with whom you had spent the night (and whom I would have dispatched, had I not been overeager to castrate him). (1.2)

In Pushkin's poem K kastratu raz prishyol skrypach... ("A Fiddler Once Came to a Eunuch..." 1835) the castrated singer mentions izumrudy (emeralds):

"Смотри, сказал певец <безмудый>, —
Мои алмазы, изумруды —
Я их от скуки разбирал."

Izumrud is the eponymous horse in a story (1907) by Kuprin. The main character in Kuprin's story Gambrinus (1906) is a Jewish fiddler (skripach) Sashka. Sashka is a diminutive of Alexander.

Van remembered that Mr Alexander Screepatch, the new president of the United Americas, a plethoric Russian, had flown over to see King Victor; and he correctly concluded that both were now sunk in mollitude. (3.4)

Mr Alexander Screepatch and King Victor are sunk in mollitude in the most fashionable and efficient of all the Venus Villas in Europe. The floramors (palatial brothels known as "Villa Venus") were built by David van Veen in memory of his grandson Eric, the author of the essay entitled "Villa Venus: An Organized Dream" (2.3). They are patronized by King Victor:

In 1905 a glancing blow was dealt Villa Venus from another quarter. The personage we have called Ritcov or Vrotic had been induced by the ailings of age to withdraw his patronage. However, one night he suddenly arrived, looking again as ruddy as the proverbial fiddle; but after the entire staff of his favorite floramor near Bath had worked in vain on him till an ironic Hesperus rose in a milkman's humdrum sky, the wretched sovereign of one-half of the globe called for the Shell Pink Book, wrote in it a line that Seneca had once composed:

subsidunt montes et juga celsa ruunt,

- and departed, weeping. (2.3)

Kuprin is the author of Yama ("The Pit," 1909-15), a novel about brothels. As he speaks of Aqua's madness, Van mentions yamy (the soft black pits) in her mind:

It was now the forming of soft black pits (yami, yamishchi) in her mind, between the dimming sculptures of thought and recollection, that tormented her phenomenally; mental panic and physical pain joined black-ruby hands, one making her pray for sanity, the other, plead for death. (1.3) Marina's twin sister, poor mad Aqua is Demon Veen's wife.

Alexander Screepatch's predecessor, 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 (1.2). Kuprin is the author of Poedinok ("The Single Combat," 1907), a short novel often compared to Chekhov's The Duel (1892). The characters of The Duel include Aleksandr Davidovich Samoylenko (a mutual friend of Laevski and von Koren), whose patronymic brings to mind David van Veen and Baron Klim Avidov (Marina's former lover who gave her children a set of Flavita). Flavita (Russian scrabble) = alfavit (alphabet), Baron Klim Avidov = Vladimir Nabokov.

Kuprin's Izumrud is dedicated to the memory of Tolstoy's incomparable skewbald trotter Kholostomer ("Strider"). One can not help recalling a line in Apukhtin's poem Para gnedykh ("A Pair of Bay Horses"): Byli kogda-to i my rysakami ("And we too were once trotters").

In several letters Tolstoy mentions Gamaliel (a character in the Bible). In a letter of March 31, 1891, to L. P. Nikiforov Tolstoy wrote:

Скажу, как Гамалиил: "Если от бога это дело, то как бы не быть врагом дела божья, а если не от бога, то оно само погибнет".
"but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:39)

In a letter of April 20, 1896, to Goremykin (the Minister of Internal Affairs) Tolstoy repeats Gamaliel's words about the spread of Christianity:

Сказанные Гамалиилом слова о распространении христианского учения, что если дело это от человеков, то оно разрушится, а если оно от бога, то не можете разрушить его; берегитесь поэтому, чтобы нам не оказаться богопротивниками, остаются всегда уроком истинной правительственной мудрости в её отношениях к проявлению деятельности людей.

Btw., King Victor and King Charles is a tragedy (1842) by Robert Browning (known on Antiterra as the Poet Laureate Robert Brown, 1.23). The name of one of its four characters, minister D'Ormea, is shortened to D'O. D'Onsky is at least once referred to as "d'O." King Charles brings to mind Charles Kinbote, the self-exiled last king of Zembla. The characters of Pale Fire include Izumrudov (whose name, according to Kinbote, means iz umrudov, 'of the Umruds'). Robert Browning's Pippa Passes and My Last Duchess are important in Pale Fire.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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