Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025619, Tue, 19 Aug 2014 18:55:22 +0300

victory & horseplay in Ada
'Vos "vyragences" sont assez lestes,' remarked Van. 'Are you very mad at me?'
'Oh Van, I'm not! In fact, I'm delighted you won. But I'm sixteen today. Sixteen! Older than grandmother at the time of her first divorce. It's my last picnic, I guess. Childhood is scrapped. I love you. You love me. Greg loves me. Everybody loves me. I'm glutted with love. Hurry up or she'll pull that cock off - Lucette, leave him alone at once!' (1.39)

Van's scuffle with Percy de Prey near the picnic glade is watched by Greg Erminin and Lucette. Greg's twin sister Grace marries a Wellington (2.6). In Aldanov's Mogila voina ("A Soldier's Grave") Lord Castlereagh remembers the aphorism of his friend, Duke of Wellington:

Министр иностранных дел с раздражением подумал, что многие британские по­литические деятели, в том числе и сам Каннинг, были бы не прочь втравить Англию в войну с Турцией. "Пока я у власти, этого во всяком случае не произойдёт!" -- твёрдо сказал себе он и решил при случае напомнить врагам в палате выражение своего друга, герцога Веллингтона: "Nothing is more tragical than a victory, except a defeat". (chapter VI)

According to Ada, Percy adores her "to the point of insanity" (1.41). Lord Castlereagh goes mad and commits suicide. According to the Austrian general, Castlereagh imagined that horses were plotting against him:

-- Я никак не мог бы подумать, что этот гигант -- тяжело больной человек, -- ре­шился сказать Нессельроде, отступая от официальной версии. -- До меня доходили слухи, что несчастный маркиз в последние дни бредил: ему всё казалось, что против него состав­лен заговор.
-- Да, то же слышал и я, -- сказал со вздохом генерал и нерешительно сообщил по­дробности, которые, очевидно, исходили не от герцога Веллингтона. В них ничего весё­лого не было. Тем не менее, как всегда бывает при рассказах о сумасшедших, слу­шателям стало смешно. Говоря о лошадином заговоре австрийский генерал не мог сдержать улыб­ки. ("A Soldier's Grave," chapter XIII)

Ada calls Van's fight with Percy "horseplay:"

'Ouch!' grunted Van as he received the rounded load - explaining wrily that he had hit his right patella against a rock.
'Of course, if one goes in for horseplay...' murmured Ada - and opened, at its emerald ribbon, the small brown, gold-tooled book (a great success with the passing sun flecks) that she had been already reading during the ride to the picnic.
'I do fancy a little horseplay,' said Van. 'It has left me with quite a tingle, for more reasons than one.'
'I saw you - horseplaying,' said Lucette, turning her head.
'Sh-sh,' uttered Van.
'I mean you and him.' (1.39)

The book Ada is reading is an 1820 edition of Chateaubriand's short stories with hand-painted vignettes and the flat mummy of a pressed anemone. Like Duke of Wellington, Chateaubriand participated in the 1822 Congress in Verona. Alexander I asks what a person Chateaubriand (whom the tsar almost does not know) is:

-- Француз­ская делегация, с Мон­моранси и Шатобрианом, остановилась в Палаццо Родольфи...
-- Ах, да, в ней Шатобриан, -- сказал царь, подавляя зевок. -- Что он за человек? Я почти его не знаю.
-- Могу только сказать вашему величеству, что по внешности он человек весьма не­взрачный, -- с улыбкой ответил австрийский генерал-адъютант и покраснел, поду­мав, что этого не следовало говорить при карлике Нессельроде. ("A Soldier's Grave," chapter XIII)

Karlik ("the dwarf") Nesselrode (the Russian foreign minister who accompanies the tsar) brings to mind Chernomor, the dwarf and evil sorcerer in Pushkin's "Ruslan and Lyudmila" (1820).

Ada's book reminds one of "a moralistic novel - in which the author has more knowledge of nature than Chateaubriand" - that in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (Four: XXVI: 1-4) Lenski reads to Olga. Playing chess with Olga, Lenski with a pawn takes in abstraction his own rook (ibid., 13-14).

'Really, I assure you,' Greg was saying to her, 'your cousin is not to blame. Percy started it - and was defeated in a clean match of Korotom wrestling, as used in Teristan and Sorokat - my father, I'm sure, could tell you all about it.'
'You're a dear,' answered Ada, 'but I don't think your brain works too well.'
'It never does in your presence,' remarked Greg, and mounted his black silent steed, hating it, and himself, and the two bullies. (1.39)

In "Ardis the First" Percy's mother, Praskovia de Prey (born Lanskoy), tries to sell to Van and Ada a lame horse:

They had tea at a neighbor's, Countess de Prey - who tried to sell them, unsuccessfully, a lame horse. (1.22)

The hero of "A Soldier's Grave," Lord Byron was lame. This did not prevent him to be a good sportsman. In his country place Onegin imitates Byron (who swam across Hellespont in order to lose weight):

he rose in summer between six and seven
and, lightly clad, proceeded
to the river that ran below the hill;
the songster of Gulnare imitating,
across this Hellespont he swam... (EO, Four: XXXVII: 6-10).

Pushkin also compares his hero to Childe Harold:

Onegin like a regular Childe Harold
lapsed into pensive indolence:
right after sleep he takes a bath with ice... (ibid., XLIV: 1-3)

'Jolly nice to have seen you, old boy,' he said, tapping Van lightly on the shoulder, a forbidden gesture in their milieu. 'Hope to play with you again soon. I wonder,' he added in a lower voice, 'if you shoot as straight as you wrestle.'
Van followed him to the convertible.
'Van, Van come here, Greg wants to say good-bye,' cried Ada, but he did not turn.
'Is that a challenge, me faites-vous un duel?' inquired Van.
Percy, at the wheel, smiled, slit his eyes, bent toward the dashboard, smiled again, but said nothing. Click-click went the motor, then broke into thunder and Percy drew on his gloves.
'Quand tu voudras, mon gars,' said Van, slapping the fender and using the terrible second person singular of duelists in old France.
The car leapt forward and disappeared. (1.39)

Van finds out that Percy was one of Ada's lovers after Percy had left for some Greek or Turkish port:

'Well, I'll tell you,' drawled dreamy Van. 'I'll tell you why. From a humble but reliable sauce, I mean source, excuse my accent, I have just learned qu'on vous culbute behind every hedge. Where can I find your tumbler?'
'Nowhere,' she answered quite calmly, ignoring or not even perceiving his rudeness, for she had always known that disaster would come today or tomorrow, a question of time or rather timing on the part of fate.
'But he exists, he exists,' muttered Van, looking down at a rainbow web on the turf.
'I suppose so,' said the haughty child, 'however, he left yesterday for some Greek or Turkish port. Moreover, he was going to do everything to get killed, if that information helps. (1.41)

Byron died in Missolonghi (a port in W Greece).

In Pushkin's EO (chapter Six) Onegin kills Lenski in a pistol duel. Demon's son, Van regrets that he missed the chance to kill Percy in a duel. The name of Demon's adversary in a sword duel, Baron d'Onsky (nicknamed Skonky, 1.2), seems to hint at Onegin's Don stallion (donskoy zherebets, EO, Two: V: 4). Skonky is a near-anagram of konskiy ("of a horse"). Skoropostizhnaya konskaya smert', ili velikodushie russkogo naroda ("A Horse's Premature Death, or the Magnanimity of the Russian People," 1889) is a story by Chekhov. The phrase sto chertey ("a hundred devils") is used in it:

Любвин (обнимая и восторгаясь ее неземной красотой). О, моя дорогая! Скоро, скоро уже тот час, когда ты будешь принадлежать всецело мне, но отнюдь не мужу! (Оглядываясь, с ужасом.) Твой муж догоняет нас! Я его вижу! Извозчик, погоняй! Скорей, мерзавец, сто чертей тебе за воротник! (Лупит Нила в спину.)

In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov says that Byron was as smart as sto chertey:

Sir Grigorovich thinks that intellect can overwhelm talent. Byron was as smart as a hundred devils; nevertheless his talent has survived intact. If we say that X talked nonsense because his intellect overwhelmed his talent or vice versa, then I say that X had neither brains, nor talent.

Chekhov was born (in 1860) in Taganrog, the city where Alexander I had died (in 1825). Verona is the setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1599). The name of Van's groom, Moore, is anagram of Romeo:

Stumbling on melons, fiercely beheading the tall arrogant fennels with his riding crop, Van returned to the Forest Fork. Morio, his favorite black horse, stood waiting for him, held by young Moore. He thanked the groom with a handful of stellas and galloped off, his gloves wet with tears. (1.25)

Morio, Van's favorite black horse, brings to mind Othello (the Moor of Venice) and Pushkin (a great-grandson of Abram Gannibal, "the Blackamoor of Peter the Great").

Alexey Sklyarenko

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