Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025604, Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:42:32 +0300

Venezia Rossa, Lute, English tourist in Ada
It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter's lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one's name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)

In Aldanov's Mogila voina ("The Grave of the Warrior," 1938) the action begins in Venice, the city where Lord Byron (the hero of Aldanov's "philosophical fairy tale") lived before sailing off to Greece. Venezia Rossa means "Red Venice." When Byron and his mistress, Countess Teresa Guiccioli, approach the city from the sea in a gondola, Venice is "flooded with red light:"

Гондола подходила к Сакка-сан-Биаджо. Показалась залитая красным светом Ве­неция, и в сотый раз он испытал впечатление чуда при виде этого затопленного го­рода, медленно разрушающегося города дворцов и церквей, города с людьми, не научившимися ходить как следует из-за гондол и каналов, города, в котором лодоч­ники с лицами древних патри­циев, не думая ни о какой литературе, поют строфы Торквато Тассо. (chapter I)

Like Pushkin in his Eugene Onegin (One: XLVIII: 13-14), Aldanov mentions the gondoliers singing the stanzas of Torquato Tasso. The characters of Tasso's Jerusalem Deivered include Erminia, a young woman who is hopelessly in love with Tancred. Erminia was the nickname of E. M. Khitrovo, Kutuzov's daughter who was hopelessly in love with Pushkin. Erminia brings to mind the Erminin twins in Ada. Van's conversation with Greg Erminin, whom Van after a long separation meets in Paris, on the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, parodies the dialogue of Onegin and Prince N. in Eugene Onegin (Eight: XVIII: 1-4):

'Tak ti zhenat (so you are married)? Didn't know it. How long?'
'About two years.'
'To whom?'
'Maude Sween.'
'The daughter of the poet?'
'No, no, her mother is a Brougham.' (3.2)

On Antiterra Paris is also known as Lute (1.28, et passim). In his "Ode to Count Khvostov" (1825) Pushkin mentions lyutyi Pit (fierce Pitt, "the famous English minister and well-known enemy of Freedom") and compares Khvostov to Byron (spelled "Beyron" in a mocking imitation of Kuechelbecker and Ryleev):

Султан ярится. Кровь Эллады
И резвоскачет, и кипит.
Открылись грекам древни клады,
Трепещет в Стиксе лютый пит.
И се - летит продерзко судно
И мещет громы обоюдно.
Се Бейрон, Феба образец.
Притек, но недуг быстропарный,
Строптивый и неблагодарный
Взнёс смерти на него резец.

...Вам с Бейроном шипела злоба,
Гремела и правдива лесть.
Он лорд - граф ты! Поэты оба!
Се, мнится, явно сходство есть.

According to VN (EO Commentary, II, p. 479) , Russians on the whole had less trouble with Byron's and his characters' names than Byron had with Russian ones (he rhymed, for instance "Souvaroff - lover of" and "Suvarrow - sorrow" instead of the correct "Suvorov - more of"). A distant relative of the Count, Suvorov died in Khvostov's St. Petersburg house and was buried in the Alexander Nevski monastery (lavra). Suvorov's epitaph was composed by Derzhavin:

Суворов спросил однажды:
- Какую же ты мне напишешь эпитафию?
- По-моему, много слов не нужно, - ответил Державин. Довольно сказать: здесь лежит Суворов.
6 мая Суворов при нём скончался. (Hodasevich, Derzhavin, 1931)

In his review of Derzhavin (Sovremennye zapiski, XLVI, pp. 496-97) Aldanov compares Hodasevich's prose style to that of Pushkin in The Queen of Spades:

Это чисто пушкинская проза... одной звуковой своей формой вызывает в памяти читателя "Пиковую даму."

Aldanov's "Grave of the Warrior" ends as follows:

На месте дома, в котором умер Байрон, теперь, по словам писателя-очевидца, находит­ся "а public and very promiscuous latrine." Английский турист испытывает чувство позора", -- говорит Николь­сон.
"The English tourist feels shame," [when he sees what had become of the house in Missolonghi where Byron died] Nickolson says.

Like "The Grave of the Warrior," Aldanov's Punshevaya vodka ("The Punch Vodka," 1938) is "philosophical fairy tale:"

"Пуншевая Водка" и "Могила Воина", разумеется, не исторические романы, а "фило­софские сказки". Не следует ли напомнить, что у этого литературного рода должны быть свои законы? (the author's note prefaced to "The Grave of the Warrior")

Baron Klim Avidov (who, according to Walter C. Keyway, Esq., dropped the first letter of his name in order to use it as a nobility particle) and vodka bring to mind Denis Davydov, the poet and soldier who is mentioned by Chekhov in a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin:

Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being, that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father, who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing. Some have more immediate objects—the abolition of serfdom, the liberation of their country, politics, beauty, or simply vodka, like Denis Davydov; others have remote objects—God, life beyond the grave, the happiness of humanity, and so on. The best of them are realists and paint life as it is, but, through every line's being soaked in the consciousness of an object, you feel, besides life as it is, the life which ought to be, and that captivates you.

In his letter Chekhov modestly compares his story Palata No. 6 (1892) to lemonade:

You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productions—the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside "Ward No. 6" and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting.

One of Ada's lovers, the composer Philip Rack (Lucette's music teacher who was poisoned by his wife Elsie) dies in the Kalugano hospital, in Ward Five:

Did Van like music? Sportsmen usually did, didn't they? Would he care to have a Sonorola by his bed? No, he disliked music, but did the doctor, being a concert-goer, know perhaps where a musician called Rack could be found? 'Ward Five,' answered the doctor promptly. Van misunderstood this as the title of some piece of music and repeated his question. Would he find Rack's address at Harper's music shop? Well, they used to rent a cottage way down Dorofey Road, near the forest, but now some other people had moved in. Ward Five was where hopeless cases were kept. (1.42)

6 + 5 = 11. In card games of chance 11 is an ace's value. In his third game of stuss with Chekalinski, Hermann "mispulled" a queen instead of the ace he thought he had taken from his deck.

11 + 6 = 17. Hermann went out of his mind, and is now confined in room Number 17 of the Obukhov Hospital. He never answers any questions, but he constantly mutters with unusual rapidity: "Three, seven, ace! Three, seven, queen!.." ("The Queen of Spades," Epilogue)

According to Tomski (a character in Pushkin's story), his grandmother learnt the secret of three cards from Count St. Germain whom she met in Paris:

She had shortly before become acquainted with a very remarkable man. You have heard of Count St. Germain, about whom so many marvellous stories are told. You know that he represented himself as the Wandering Jew, as the discoverer of the elixir of life, of the philosopher's stone, and so forth. Some laughed at him as a charlatan; but Casanova, in his memoirs, says that he was a spy. (chapter I)

Venice is Casanova's home city. After his first night with Ada in "Ardis the Second" Van tells her:

"I've paid you eight compliments, as a certain Venetian - "
"I'm not interested in vulgar Venetians. You have become so coarse, dear Van, so strange..." (1.31)

According to Van, Casanova had a definitely monochromatic pencil:

What we have now is not so much a Casanovanic situation (that double-wencher had a definitely monochromatic pencil - in keeping with the memoirs of his dingy era) as a much earlier canvas, of the Venetian (sensu largo) school, reproduced (in 'Forbidden Masterpieces') expertly enough to stand the scrutiny of a bordel's vue d'oiseau. (2.8)

This can not be said of Van Veen and his memoirs:

Inset [in Van's palata in the Kalugano hospital], so to speak, was Tatiana, a remarkably pretty and proud young nurse, with black hair and diaphanous skin (some of her attitudes and gestures, and that harmony between neck and eyes which is the special, scarcely yet investigated secret of feminine grace fantastically and agonizingly reminded him of Ada, and he sought escape from that image in a powerful response to the charms of Tatiana, a torturing angel in her own right. Enforced immobility forbade the chase and grab of common cartoons. He begged her to massage his legs but she tested him with one glance of her grave, dark eyes - and delegated the task to Dorofey, a beefy-handed male nurse, strong enough to lift him bodily out of bed. with the sick child clasping the massive nape. When Van managed once to twiddle her breasts, she warned him she would complain if he ever repeated what she dubbed more aptly than she thought 'that soft dangle.' An exhibition of his state with a humble appeal for a healing caress resulted in her drily remarking that distinguished gentlemen in public parks got quite lengthy prison terms for that sort of thing. However, much later, she wrote him a charming and melancholy letter in red ink on pink paper; but other emotions and events had intervened, and he never met her again). (1.42)

Tatiana's charming and melancholy letter in red ink on pink paper brings to mind Tatiana's letter to Onegin in Pushkin's EO - but also Prince N.'s rose-red banknote pocketed by Demon who won a bet with his orchestra-seat neighbor (1.2).

In a letter of March 11, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov criticizes Pisarev's attitude to Tatiana's letter to Onegin:

It is not Pisarev's ideas that are brutalizing, for he has none, but his coarse tone. His attitude to Tatiana, especially to her charming letter, which I love tenderly, seems to me simply abominable. His criticism has the foul aroma of an insolent captious procurator.

In a letter of May 15, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov, answering Suvorin's letter about Paul Bourget, calls the radical critic Pisarev "a belligerent Spanish monk:"

In the middle ages alchemy was gradually in a natural, peaceful way changing into chemistry, and astrology into astronomy; the monks did not understand, saw a conflict and fought against it. Just such a belligerent Spanish monk was our Pisarev in the sixties.

Philip Rack's name seems to hint at the Spanish Inquisition. Rack's wife Elsie brings to mind Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine whose name hints at Elsinore (the royal castle in Hamlet):

Arch and grandiloquent, Ada would be describing a dream, a natural history wonder, a special belletristic device - Paul Bourget's 'monologue interieur' borrowed from old Leo - or some ludicrous blunder in the current column of Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine who thought that Lyovin went about Moscow in a nagol'niy tulup, 'a muzhik's sheepskin coat, bare side out, bloom side in,' as defined in a dictionary our commentator produced like a conjurer, never to be procurable by Elsies. (1.10)

Speaking of uppercuts: as a Cambridge student, Byron participated in boxing matches.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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