Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025518, Sun, 6 Jul 2014 00:18:36 +0300

Magicarpets in Ada, Colonel Gusev in Pale Fire
The attic. This is the attic. Welcome to the attic. It stored a great number of trunks and cartons, and two brown couches one on top of the other like copulating beetles, and lots of pictures standing in corners or on shelves with their faces against the wall like humiliated children. Rolled up in its case was an old 'jikker' or skimmer, a blue magic rug with Arabian designs, faded but still enchanting, which Uncle Daniel's father had used in his boyhood and later flown when drunk. Because of the many collisions, collapses and other accidents, especially numerous in sunset skies over idyllic fields, jikkers were banned by the air patrol; but four years later Van who loved that sport bribed a local mechanic to clean the thing, reload its hawking-tubes, and generally bring it back into magic order and many a summer day would they spend, his Ada and he, hanging over grove and river or gliding at a safe ten-foot altitude above surfaces of roads or roofs. How comic the wobbling, ditch-diving cyclist, how weird the arm-flailing and slipping chimney sweep! (1.6)

On Antiterra the 'jikkers' are also known as Magicarpets:

What pleasure (thus in the MS.). The pleasure of suddenly discovering the right knack of topsy turvy locomotion was rather like learning to man, after many a painful and ignominious fall, those delightful gliders called Magicarpets (or 'jikkers') that were given a boy on his twelfth birthday in the adventurous days before the Great Reaction - and then what a breathtaking long neural caress when one became airborne for the first time and managed to skim over a haystack, a tree, a burn, a barn, while Grandfather Dedalus Veen, running with upturned face, flourished a flag and fell into the horsepond. (1.13)

Volshebnyi kovyor ("The Magic Carpet," 1919) is a story by Kuprin. The action in it takes place in Barzil and the main character is Santos-Dumont (aviation pioneer, 1873-1932) aged twelve. The boy loves to fly kites:

Был он также величайшим мастером в постройке и запускании самых разнообразных воздушных змеев; в этом благородном искусстве не было ему равного между сверстниками не только в Бразилии, но, пожалуй, и во всей Америке, если не во всём свете. Он умел придавать своим поднебесным игрушкам форму парящих острокрылых птиц и лёгких стрекоз, и когда они, полупрозрачные, блестящие, едва видимые на солнце, тянули мощными порывами из руки мальчика шнурок, его чёрные глаза, устремлённые вверх, сверкали буйной радостью.

As a boy Van flew the farmannikin (a special kind of box kite blending Henri Farman, a French aviation pioneer, with "mannikin") with the help of Bouteillan:

He entered the Gothic archway of the hall where Bouteillan, the old bald butler who unprofessionally now wore a mustache (dyed a rich gravy brown), met him with gested delight - he had once been the valet of Van's father - 'Je parie,' he said, 'que Monsieur ne me reconnait pas,' and proceeded to remind Van of what Van had already recollected unaided, the farmannikin (a special kind of box kite, untraceable nowadays even in the greatest museums housing the toys of the past) which Bouteillan had helped him to fly one day in a meadow dotted with buttercups. Both looked up: the tiny red rectangle hung for an instant askew in a blue spring sky. (1.5)

The name Bouteillan (as well as his profession) comes from bouteille (Fr., bottle). VN remembered Kuprin as carrying a bottle of vin ordinaire through the rainy streets of Paris:

I met wise, prim, charming Aldanov; decrepit Kuprin, carefully carrying a bottle of vin ordinaire through rainy streets; Ayhenvald - a Russian version of Walter Pater - later killed by a trolleycar; Marina Tsvetaev, wife of a double agent, and poet of genius, who, in the late thirties, returned to Russia and perished there. (Speak, Memory, Chapter Fourteen, 2)

В тридцатых годах помню Куприна, под дождём и жёлтыми листьями поднимающего издали в виде приветствия бутылку красного вина. (Drugie berega, Chapter 13, 3)

In his review of Kuprin's book Elan' (Belgrade, 1929) VN mentions the story about a magic carpet:

В этом небольшом сборнике есть рaсскaзы не только о лошaдях, но и о собaкaх, о цирке, о волшебной скрипке, о ковре-сaмолёте.
In this small collection there are stories not only about horses, but also about dogs, about circus, about a magic violin, about a magic carpet.

In "The Magic Carpet" Kuprin mentions the Wright brothers (American aviation pioneers):

В конце девяностых годов девятнадцатого столетия братья Райт, американцы, заявили о своём первенстве в свободном полёте на аппарате тяжелее воздуха, продержавшись над землёй в течение пятидесяти девяти секунд.

In Bryusov's poem Komu-to ("To Someone," 1908) beginning Фарман, иль Райт, иль кто б ты ни был! (Farman, or Wright, or whoever you are!) Daedalus is mentioned:

Наш век вновь в Дедала поверил
Our century began to believe in Daedalus again.

Daedalus is an Athenian architect who built the labyrinth for Minos and made wings for himself and his son Icarus to escape from Crete. Ada's husband Andrey Vinelander calls Demon (son of Dedalus Veen) Dementiy Labirintovich:

"Nu i balagur-zhe vi (what a wag you are), Dementiy Labirintovich!" (3.8)

Van's and Ada's father, Demon Veen perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster (3.7).

Kuprin (who lived in Gatchina) is the author of Lyudi-ptitsy ("Men-Birds," 1917), Poteryannoe serdtse ("The Lost Heart," 1931), a story about Russian aviation pioneers, and a memoir essay (1915) on Utochkin, the sprotsman and airman who went mad and died in a mental clinic. The name Utochkin comes from utochka (little duck) and brings to mind Colonel Gusev, a character in Pale Fire whose name comes from gus' (goose):

King Alfin's absent-mindedness was strangely combined with a passion for mechanical things, especially for flying apparatuses. In 1912, he managed to rise in an umbrella-like Fabre "hydroplane" and almost got drowned at sea between Nitra and Indra. He smashed two Farmans, three Zemblan machines, and a beloved Santos Dumont Demoiselle. A very special monoplane, Blenda IV, was built for him in 1916 by his constant "aerial adjutant," Colonel Peter Gusev (later a pioneer parachutist and, at seventy, one of the greatest jumpers of all time), and this was his bird of doom. On the serene, and not too cold, December morning that the angels chose to net his mild pure soul, King Alfin was in the act of trying solo a tricky vertical loop that Prince Andrey Kachurin, the famous Russian stunter and War One hero, had shown him in Gatchina. Something went wrong, and the little Blenda was seen to go into an uncontrolled dive. Behind and above him, in a Caudron biplane, Colonel Gusev (by then Duke of Rahl) and the Queen snapped several pictures of what seemed at first a noble and graceful evolution but then turned into something else. At the last moment, King Alfin managed to straighten out his machine and was again master of gravity when, immediately afterwards, he flew smack into the scaffolding of a huge hotel which was being constructed in the middle of a coastal heath as if for the special purpose of standing in a king's way. This uncompleted and badly gutted building was ordered razed by Queen Blenda who had it replaced by a tasteless monument of granite surmounted by an improbable type of aircraft made of bronze. (Kinbote's note to line 71)

"Duke of Rahl" brings to mind the bronze monument of Duke de Richelieu in Odessa mentioned by Kuprin at the beginning of "Utochkin:"

Я познакомился с ним в Одессе, на Большом Фонтане, летом 1904 года, и с тех пор никогда не мог себе вообразить Уточкина без Одессы и Одессу без Уточкина. И в самом деле, покойный Сергей Исаевич был в этом городе так же известен всем от мала до велика, как знаменитый покойный адмирал Зеленой или как бронзовое изваяние дюка Ришелье на Николаевском бульваре.

Kuprin first met Utochkin in the summer of 1904, in Bolshoy Fontan (a suburb of Odessa). Fontan means "fountain." In his poem about a miragarl Arnor mentions three fountains:

Otar, her lover, said that when you walked behind her, and she [Fleur de Fyler] knew you were walking behind her, the swing and play of those slim haunches was something intensely artistic, something Arab girls were taught in special schools by special Parisian panders who were afterwards strangled. Her fragile ankles, he said, which she placed very close together in her dainty and wavy walk, were the "careful jewels" in Arnor's poem about a miragarl ("mirage girl"), for which "a dream king in the sandy wastes of time would give three hundred camels and three fountains."
/ / / /
On sagaren werem tremkin tri stana
/ / / /
Verbala wod gev ut tri phantana

(I have marked the stress accents.) (Kinbote's note to line 80)

During his heart attack Shade saw a tall white fountain (PF, Canto Three, l. 707). At the beginning and end of his poem Shade compares himself to the shadow of the waxwing. Shade's parents were ornithologists. In his Commentary Kinbote calls Shade's wife (born Irondell) Sybil Lastochkin (in Russian lastochka means what hirondelle does in French, "swallow"). Sirin (VN's Russian nom de plume) is also a man-bird (or, rather, "woman-bird").

Kinbote's Zembla has a lot in common with Ultima Thule of VN's unfinished novel Solus Rex. Ultima Thule is a poem by Bryusov (included in "Seven Colors of Rainbow"). In his memoir essay on Bryusov (included in "Necropolis," 1939) Hodasevich speaks of Bryusov's hope to direct Russian literature under the Bolsheviks and uses the word gradusy (degrees):

А какая надежда на то, что в истории литературы будет сказано: "В таком-то году повернул русскую литературу на столько-то градусов".

Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus (a Jack of small trades and a killer) "Vinogradus" and "Leningradus." Like Marina Tsvetaev, Kuprin returned to Russia and in 1938 died in Leningrad.

In his essay on Bryusov Hodasevich makes a footnote quoting Ayhenvald's letter of August 5, 1926, in which the critic accuses the late Bryusov of his expulsion from Russia:

Покойный критик Ю. И. Айхенвальд, высланный из России в 1922 г., писал мне впоследствии: «О Брюсове… И сам я меньше всего склонен его идеализировать. Он сделал мне не мало дурного и, когда сопричислился к сильным мира сего, некрасиво, т.е. экономически мстил мне за отрицательный отзыв о нём в одной из моих давнишних статей. Самая высылка моя — я это знаю наверное, из источника безукоризненного — произошла при его содействии».

Otar = Arto

Arto - the poodle in Kuprin's story Belyi pudel' ("The White Poodle," 1904). Arto trots along with his long pink tongue lolling out nabok (on one side):

They were strolling players making their way along narrow mountain paths from one summer resort to another, on the south coast of the Crimea. Usually they were preceded by Arto—a white poodle with a lion cut— who trotted along with his long pink tongue lolling out on one side.

VN begins his review of Kuprin's Elan' with a quotation from Kuprin's story about a horse Izumrud ("Emerald," 1907):

«…В гнедых и рыжих надо верить. Не скажу дурного слова и про вороных. Только без нужды горячи и скоро взмыливаются. Относится это отчасти и к караковым и к игреневым…»

The characters of Pale Fire include Izumrudov and Gerald Emerald.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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