Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025447, Fri, 13 Jun 2014 12:54:57 +0300

King Lear, Vieux Rose & Cordelia O'Leary in Ada
'Et pourtant,' said the sound-sensitive governess, wincing, 'I read to her twice Segur's adaptation in fable form of Shakespeare's play about the wicked usurer.'
'She also knows my revised monologue of his mad king,' said Ada:

Ce beau jardin fleurit en mai,
Mais en hiver
Jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais
N'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert.

'Oh, that's good,' exclaimed Greg with a veritable sob of admiration. (1.14)

In Povest' o Sonechke ("The Tale about Little Sonya," 1937) Marina Tsvetaev quotes Cordelia's words to her father: "I love you, like salt; nor more nor less" in King Lear (Act 1, scene 1) adapted for children:

Как Корделия, в моём детском Шекспире, про Короля Лира - о соли, так я про Сонечку - о сахаре, и с той же скромностью: она мне была необходима - как сахар. Как всем известно, сахар - не необходим, и жить без него можно, и четыре года Революции мы без него жили, заменяя - кто патокой, кто - тёртой свеклой, кто - сахарином, кто - вовсе ничем. Пили пустой чай. От этого не умирают. Но и не живут.
Без соли делается цинга, без сахару - тоска.
Живым белым целым куском сахара - вот чем для меня была Сонечка.
Грубо? Грубо - как Корделия: Я вас люблю, как соль, не больше, не меньше? Старого короля можно любить, как соль, но... маленькую девочку? Нет, довольно соли. Пусть раз в мире это будет сказано: я её любила, как сахар - в революцию. И всё тут.

For Marina Tsvetaev little Sonya was a live white lump of sugar. For his first cup of tea at Ardis Van asks a lot of cream and three lumps of sugar:

'Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?' Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.
'Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),' replied Van, slegka ulibnuvshis' (with a slight smile). 'Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.'
'Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.'
'Pah,' uttered Ada. (1.5).

Marina Tsvetaev's Sonya is a namesake of Sonya Marmeladov, a prostitute in Dostoevski's "Crime and Punishment" (1866).

In "Mother and Music" Marina Tsvetaev mentions Segur's tale Foret des Lilas: Labemol же было для меня пределом лиловизны: лиловее тарусских ирисов, лиловее страховской тучи, лиловее сегюровской "Foret des Lilas."

In "The Tale about Little Sonya" Marina Tsvetaev highly praises Segur's Nouveaux Contes de Fees:

Графиня де Сегюр - большая писательница, имевшая глупость вообразить себя бабушкой и писать только для детей. Прошу обратить внимание на её сказки «Nouveaux Contes de Fees» (Bibliotheque Rose) - лучшее и наименее известное из всего ею написанного - сказки совершенно-исключительные, потому что совершенно единоличные (без ни единого заимствования - хотя бы из народных сказок). Сказки, которым я верна уже четвертый десяток, сказки, которые я уже здесь в Париже четырежды дарила и трижды сохранила, ибо увидеть их в витрине для меня - неизбежно - купить).

According to Marina Tsvetaev, Countess de Segur is a gifted writer who made the mistake imagining that she was a grandmother and writing only for children.

A sort of hoary riddle (Les Sophismes de Sophie by Mlle Stopchin in the Bibliotheque Vieux Rose series): did the Burning Barn come before the Cockloft or the Cockloft come first. (1.19)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Mlle Stopchin: a representative of Mme de Segur, nee Rostopchine, author of Les Malheurs de Sophie (nomenclatorially occupied on Antiterra by Les Malheurs de Swann).

Swann is the title character in Marcel Proust's Du cote de chez Swann, the first novel in A la recherche du temps perdu. In "My Pushkin" (1937) Marina Tsvetaev compares Pushkin to Proust ("a genius who recently has left us").

Marina Tsvetaev begins her Povest' o Sonechke with a quotation of the opening lines of a poem by Victor Hugo:

Elle etait pale - et pourtant rose, Petite - avec de grands cheveux...
Нет, бледности в ней не было никакой, ни в чем, всё в ней было - обратное бледности, а всё-таки она была - pourtant rose, и это своеместно будет доказано и показано.

Ada is a pale fatal beauty with long black hair. Her habit to blush distresses Van:

'Oh yes, Ada,' he said, 'Van here is anxious to know something. What were you doing, my dear, while he and I were taking care of the fire?'
Its reflection invaded Ada. Van had never seen a girl (as translucently white-skinned as she), or indeed anybody else, porcelain or peach, blush so substantially and habitually, and the habit distressed him as being much more improper than any act that might cause it. She stole a foolish glance at the somber boy and began saying something about having been fast ablaze in her bedroom.
'You were not,' interrupted Van harshly, 'you were with me looking at the blaze from the library window. Uncle Dan is all wet.'
'Menagez vos americanismes,' said the latter - and then opened his arms wide in paternal welcome as guileless Lucette trotted into the room with a child's pink, stiff-bagged butterfly net in her little fist, like an oriflamme. (1.20)

The day following the Night of the Burning Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time, 1.19) is Sunday:

But she was not down yet. In the bright dining room, full of yellow flowers in drooping clusters of sunshine, Uncle Dan was feeding. He wore suitable clothes for a suitably hot day in the country - namely, a candy-striped suit over a mauve flannel shirt and pique waistcoat, with a blue-and-red club tie and a safety-goldpinned very high soft collar (all his trim stripes and colors were a little displaced, though, in the process of comic strip printing, because it was Sunday). (ibid.)

In Povest' o Sonechke Marina Tsvetaev's twelve-year-old son Mur (Georgiy Efron, 1925-44) mentions "American Sunday:"

Ещё тире - и ещё подлиннее: в целые десять лет. 14-ое мая 1937 г., пятница. Спускаемся с Муром, тем, двухгодовалым, ныне двенадцатилетним, к нашему метро Mairie d'Issy и приблизительно у лавки Provence он - мне, верней - себе:
- A American Sunday это ведь ихнее Dimanche Illustre!
- А что значит - Holiday?
- Свободный день, вообще - каникулы.
- Это значит - праздник. Так звали женщину, которую я больше всех женщин на свете любила. А может быть - больше всех. Я думаю - больше всего. Сонечка Голлидэй. Вот, Мур, тебе бы такую жену!

Marina Tsvetaev's Sonya is also a namesake of Sonya Zilanov, a character in VN's novel Podvig (Glory, 1930) with whom Martin Edelweiss is hopelessly in love. The surname of Marina Tsvetaev's Sonya is Gollidey (Holliday in Russian spelling). The fact that the Goloday island in St. Petersburg received its name after Holliday (an English manufacturer) is mentioned in Podvig. Ada's hero and narrator, Van Veen, was born in Switzerland (1.1). Martin Edelweiss' grandfather was a Swiss citizen (and so is Martyn's uncle Gustav who marries his widowed mother).

Soon after the Night of the Burning Barn, Van and Ada discover in the attic of Ardis Hall an old issue of the still existing but rather gaga Kaluga Gazette and find out that they are brother and sister:

According to the Sunday supplement of a newspaper that had just begun to feature on its funnies page the now long defunct Goodnight Kids, Nicky and Pimpernella (sweet siblings who shared a narrow bed), and that had survived with other old papers in the cockloft of Ardis Hall, the Veen-Durmanov wedding took place on St Adelaida's Day, 1871. Twelve years and some eight months later, two naked children, one dark-haired and tanned, the other dark-haired and milk-white, bending in a shaft of hot sunlight that slanted through the dormer window under which the dusty cartons stood, happened to collate that date (December 16, 1871) with another (August 16, same year) anachronistically scrawled in Marina's hand across the corner of a professional photograph (in a raspberry-plush frame on her husband's kneehole library table) identical in every detail - including the commonplace sweep of a bride's ectoplasmic veil, partly blown by a parvis breeze athwart the groom's trousers - to the newspaper reproduction. A girl was born on July 21, 1872, at Ardis, her putative father's seat in Ladore County, and for some obscure mnemonic reason was registered as Adelaida. Another daughter, this time Dan's very own, followed on January 3, 1876. (1.1)

Sonya Gollidey was a young talented actress (Vakhtangov's pupil whom Kachalov* loved). When Van returns from Ardis to Manhattan, his father invites him to a party where Demon's companion is Cordelia O'Leary ("a budding Duse," as Demon calls her):

'My suggestion is, come with me to a cocktail party today. It is given by the excellent widow of an obscure Major de Prey - obscurely related to our late neighbor, a fine shot but the light was bad on the Common, and a meddlesome garbage collector hollered at the wrong moment. Well, that excellent and influential lady who wishes to help a friend of mine' (clearing his throat) 'has, I'm told, a daughter of fifteen summers, called Cordula, who is sure to recompense you for playing Blindman's Buff all summer with the babes of Ardis Wood.'
'We played mostly Scrabble and Snap,' said Van. 'Is the needy friend also in my age group?'
'She's a budding Duse,' replied Demon austerely, 'and the party is strictly a "prof push." You'll stick to Cordula de Prey, I, to Cordelia O'Leary.'
'D'accord,' said Van. (1.27)

Marina Tsvetaev's Sonya died of cancer of the liver:

Мама! Забыла Вам написать! Я разыскала следы Сонечки Голлидэй, Вашей Сонечки - но слишком поздно. Она умерла в прошлом году от рака печени - без страданий.

Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother Marina (a professional actress) also dies of cancer:

Early in 1900, a few days before he saw Marina, for the last time, at the clinic in Nice (where he learned for the first time the name of her illness), Van had a 'verbal' nightmare, caused, maybe, by the musky smell in the Miramas (Bouches Rouges-du-Rhone) Villa Venus. Two formless fat transparent creatures were engaged in some discussion, one repeating 'I can't!' (meaning 'can't die' - a difficult procedure to carry out voluntarily, without the help of the dagger, the ball, or the bowl), and the other affirming 'You can, sir!' She died a fortnight later, and her body was burnt, according to her instructions. (3.1)

Sonya's body was burnt after her death:

Соню - сожгли?..
Да, меня жжёт, что Сонечку - сожгли, что нет креста - написать на нём - как она просила:
И кончалось всё припевом:
Моя маленькая!
...Первое, что я о ней услышала, было: костёр, последнее: сожгли. Первое, что я о ней услышала, было: костёр, и последнее: костёр.

The fire was the first and the last word that Marina Tsvetaev heard about Sonya.

Three elements, fire, water and air, destroyed, in that sequence, Marina, Lucette and Demon. (3.1)

*Marina Durmanov's partner in Stanislavski's stage version of Griboedov's Woe from Wit (1.37). Marina played Sofia, Kachalov played Chatski.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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