Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025441, Mon, 9 Jun 2014 02:21:27 +0300

beau milieu & L disaster in Ada
The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of 'Terra,' are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans - and not to grave men or gravemen. (1.3)

In her memoir essay on Voloshin, Zhivoe o zhivom ("A Living Word about a Living Man," 1932), Marina Tsvetaev uses the phrase au beau milieu (right in the middle) as applied to Victor Hugo's poem Napoleon II (1832):

И внезапно – au beau milieu Victor Hugo Наполеону II – уже не вкрадчиво, а срочно: – А нельзя ли будет пойти куда-нибудь в другое место? – Можно, конечно, вниз тогда, но там семь градусов и больше не бывает.

Victor Hugo is the author of The Last Day of a Condemned Man (1829). The Antiterran L disaster in the middle of the 19th century seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on January 3, 1850 (NS). L is Lucette's initial. January 3, 1876, is Lucette's birthday. Describing Lucette's suicide, Van mentions Oceanus Nox:

The sky was also heartless and dark, and her body, her head, and particularly those damned thirsty trousers, felt clogged with Oceanus Nox, n,o,x. (3.5)

Oceano Nox (1836) is a poem by Hugo and the title of a heartrending chapter in Herzen's memoirs Byloe i dumy ("The Bygones and Meditations"). In a preface to the second edition Herzen quotes Victor Hugo's letter to him in which the author of Notre Dame de Paris highly praises Herzen's memoirs. On Antiterra Paris is also known as Lute. Voloshin is the author of Lutetia Parisiorum, a sonnet (1915).

Oceano Nox also brings to mind Hodasevich's last collection European Night. The guards in dog masks in VN's novel Priglashenie na kazn' (Invitation to a Beheading, 1935) are a reference to the lines in Hodasevich's poem S berlinskoy ulitsy... ("From a Berlin Street..." 1823) included in European Night:

Нечеловечий дух,
Нечеловечья речь -
И пёсьи головы
Поверх сутулых плеч.

The inhuman breath,
the inhuman speech.
And the dog heads
above the stooping shoulders.

Hodasevich's poems ends in the lines:

В асфальтном зеркале
Сухой и мутный блеск -
И электрический
Над волосами треск.

In the asphalt mirror
the dry and dull luster.
And the electric rustle
over the hair.

As a result of the L disaster electricity is banned on Antiterra. Earth's twin planet, Antiterra is also known as Demonia. In Hodasevich's poem the buildings in a Berlin street are compared to demons:

Дома - как демоны,
Между домами - мрак;
Шеренги демонов,
И между них - сквозняк.

The buildings are like demons,
between the buildings is the darkness.
The ranks of demons,
and the draught is between them.

Voloshin is the author of Demony glukhonemye ("The Deaf Mute Demons," 1917), a poem included in Neopalimaya kupina ("The Burning Bush"). 1917 is the year of the Russian Revolution and of Lenin's coup. The poem's title is a reference to Tyutchev. In his obituary essay On Hodasevich (1939) VN calls the author of Heavy Lyre and European Night "Pushkin's literary descendant in Tyutchev's line of succession." Hodasevich, Marina Tsvetaev and VN were, like Herzen, emigre writers. The Russian title of VN's memoirs, Drugie berega ("The Other Shores," 1954), echoes the title of Herzen's book S togo berega ("From the Other Shore," 1851). On the other hand, in his poem Vnov' ya posetil... ("I've revisited again..." 1835) Pushkin mentions inye berega, inye volny ("other shores, other waves").

Alexey Sklyarenko

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