Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025500, Tue, 1 Jul 2014 16:57:27 +0300

Mr Plunkett, Chose, French twins, one-armed d'Onsky,
Kim Beauharnais 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.

In Kuprin's Uchenik Drzhevetski (a student) needs Balunski as "a control and left hand:"

"Он мне нужен будет, как контроль и как левая рука."

Levaya ruka (left hand) brings to mind VN's Uncle Ruka who was extremely good at poker and once won playing with a shuler:

Его изъяны и странности раздражали моего полнокровного и прямолинейного отца, который был очень сердит, например, когда узнал, что в каком-то иностранном притоне, где молодого Г., неопытного и небогатого приятеля Василья Ивановича, обыграл шулер, Василий Иванович, знавший толк в фокусах, сел с шулером играть и преспокойно передернул, чтобы выручить приятеля. (Drugie Berega, Chapter Three, 5)

Uncle Ruka gives his nephew a green leaf, la chose la plus belle au monde:

He traveled with half-a-dozen enormous trunks, bribed the Nord-Express to make a special stop at our little country station, and with the promise of a marvelous present, on small, mincing feet in high-heeled white shoes would lead me mysteriously to the nearest tree and delicately pluck and proffer a leaf, saying, “Pour mon neveu, la chose la plus belle au monde—une feuille verte.” (Speak, Memory, Chapter Three, 3)

Chose is Van's University where, thanks to Plunkett's lessons, Van wins in a poker game with Dick C. ("Milord"), an inexperienced card sharp, and tipsy French twins (1.28). The twins' names, Jean and Jacques, seem to hint at J. J. Rousseau (1712-78). In Drugie Berega (the Russian version of his autobiography) VN calls his Cambridge friend (Nesbit of SM) "Milord Bomston," after a character in Rousseau's Julie ou la Nouvelle Heloise:

Странно вспомнить, я в те годы "спорил о политике", -- много и мучительно спорил с ним о России, в которой он, конечно, никогда не был; горечь исчезала, как только он начинал говорить о любимых наших английских поэтах; ныне он у себя на родине крупный учёный; назову его Бомстон, как Руссо назвал своего дивного лорда. (Chapter Twelve, 2)

Kuprin is the author of Odnorukiy komendant ("The One-Armed Commander"). At Marina's funeral d'Onsky's son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around Demon and both wept comme des fontaines. (3.8)

The name d'Onsky hints at the Don river. In Speak, Memory the names of two tutors, Lenski and Volgin, come from the names of Russian rivers. The action in Kuprin's Uchenik takes place onboard a steamer running down the Volga. Pomoshchnik kapitana (the mate) tells Drzhevetski obscene stories from his past and foul things about all women on the ship:

Помощник капитана, чёрненький, безусый мальчик, изображавший из себя в салоне старого морского волка, очень благоволил к студенту. Во время своих очередных вахт он рассказывал Држевецкому непристойные рассказы из своей прошлой жизни, говорил гнусности про всех женщин, находившихся на судне, а студент выслушивал его терпеливо и внимательно, хотя и несколько холодно.

In Speak, Memory VN describes Volgin thus: He had beautiful manners, a sweet temper, an unforgettable handwriting, all thorns and bristles (the like of which I have seen only in the letters from madmen, that, alas, I sometimes receive since the year of grace 1958), and an unlimited fund of obscene stories (which he fed me sub rosa in a dreamy, velvety voice, without using one gross expression) about his pals and poules, and also about various relations of ours, one of whom, a fashionable lady, almost twice his age, he soon married only to get rid of her—during his subsequent career in Lenin’s administration—by bundling her off to a labor camp, where she perished. (Chapter Eight, 4)

Volgin spies upon VN and Tamara: The tutor to whose erratic care my brother and I were entrusted that season used to hide in the bushes in order to spy upon Tamara and me with the aid of an old telescope he had found in the attic; but in his turn, one day, the peeper was observed by my uncle’s purple-nosed old gardener Apostolski (incidentally, a great tumbler of weeding-girls) who very kindly reported it to my mother. (Chapter Twelve, 1)

One is reminded of snoopy Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who spies upon Van and Ada.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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