Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025473, Mon, 23 Jun 2014 17:09:28 +0300

Mr Plunkett & Admiral Tobakoff in Ada
Mr Plunkett had been, in the summer of his adventurous years, one of the greatest shuler's, politely called 'gaming conjurers,' both in England and America. (1.28)

Mr Plunkett brings to mind Balunski, the former korol' shulerov (king of card-sharps) in Kuprin's story Uchenik ("The Disciple," 1908):

– Посмотрите, вон тот господин, с седыми усами и с зелёным шёлковым зонтиком над глазами. Это – Балунский, король шулеров.

Thanks to Plunkett's lessons Van manages to cheat a cheater at Chose (Van's University):

Sometime during the winter of 1886-7, at dismally cold Chose, in the course of a poker game with two Frenchmen and a fellow student whom we shall call Dick, in the latter's smartly furnished rooms in Serenity Court, he noticed that the French twins were losing not only because they were happily and hopelessly tight, but also because milord was that 'crystal cretin' of Plunkett's vocabulary, a man of many mirrors - small reflecting surfaces variously angled and shaped, glinting discreetly on watch or signet ring, dissimulated like female fireflies in the undergrowth, on table legs, inside cuff or lapel, and on the edges of ashtrays, whose position on adjacent supports Dick kept shifting with a negligent air - all of which, as any card sharper might tell you, was as dumb as it was redundant. (1.28)

The main character in Kuprin's story is the student Drzhevetski who wins a large sum of money playing with several professional card-sharps onboard a Volgan steamer. Drzhevetski knows all the tricks of card-sharps and despises them:

Не беспокойтесь, я знаю все ваши старые приёмы. Накладка, передержка, наколка, краплёные колоды – ведь так?
– Нет, – заметил обидчиво Балунский. – У нас были и более сложные штучки. Я, например, первый ввёл в употребление атласные карты.
– Атласные карты? – переспросил студент.
– Ну да. На карту наклеивается атлас. Трением о сукно ворс пригибается в одну сторону, на нём рисуется валет. Затем, когда краска высохла, ворс переворачивают в другую сторону и рисуют даму. Если ваша дама бита, вам нужно только провести картой по столу.

'I have often wondered why the Russian for it - I think we have a Russian ancestor in common - is the same as the German for "schoolboy," minus the umlaut' - and while prattling thus, Van refunded with a rapidly written check the ecstatically astonished Frenchmen. (1.28)

Schuler (Germ., "schoolboy") can be translated to Russian as shkol'nik ("schoolboy") and uchenik ("pupil").

In Uchenik Drzhevetski jokingly calls the mate "Admiral:"

Студент расстегнул сюртук, достал из бокового кармана щегольской бумажник из красной кожи с золотой монограммой и вынул из него две бумажки, по сто рублей каждая.
– Держите, адмирал! Это ваши, – сказал он внушительно.

Admiral Tobakoff is Van's favorite liner:

'Tomorrow I have to be in London and on the third my favorite liner, Admiral Tobakoff, will take me to Manhattan.' (3.2).

The name Tobakoff comes from tabak (tobacco). The phrase pod tabak (naut. slang, "dangerous shallow water") occurs in Kuprin's story:

Пароход проходил узким, мелким местом... "Шесть... ше-е-сть с половиной!.. Под таба-а-к!" – кричал на носу водолив.

Incidentally, in his "University Poem" (1927) VN uses the related verb tabanit' ("to back oars"):

Я затабанил и пристал.
I backed the oars and touched the shore. (XLIV: 14)

She [Lucette] was not on the Games Deck [of Admiral Tobakoff] from where he [Van] looked down at some other red-head, in a canvas chair on the Sun Deck: the girl sat writing a letter at passionate speed and he thought that if ever he switched from ponderous factitude to light fiction he would have a jealous husband use binoculars to decipher from where he stood that outpour of illicit affection. (3.5)

A jealous husband's binoculars bring to mind Dick's monocle magnifying the mark he makes on a playing card:

'Van,' he cried, 'I've given up all that looking-glass dung, congratulate me! Listen: the only safe way is to mark 'em! Wait, that's not all, can you imagine, they've invented a microscopic - and I mean microscopic - point of euphorion, a precious metal, to insert under your thumbnail, you can't see it with the naked eye, but one minuscule section of your monocle is made to magnify the mark you make with it, like killing a flea, on one card after another, as they come along in the game, that's the beauty of it, no preparations, no props, nothing! Mark 'em! Mark 'em!' good Dick was still shouting, as Van walked away. (1.28)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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