Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025639, Sun, 24 Aug 2014 18:16:26 +0300

maids of maids in Ada
The entire staff [on the last photograph in Kim Beauharnais's album] stood in several rows on the steps of the pillared porch behind the Bank President Baroness Veen and the Vice President Ida Lariviere. Those two were flanked by the two prettiest typists, Blanche de la Tourberie (ethereal, tearstained, entirely adorable) and a black girl who had been hired, a few days before Van's departure, to help French, who towered rather sullenly above her in the second row, the focal point of which was Bouteillan, still wearing the costume sport he had on when driving off with Van (that picture had been muffed or omitted). On the butler's right side stood three footmen; on his left, Bout (who had valeted Van), the fat, flour-pale cook (Blanche's father) and, next to French, a terribly tweedy gentleman with sightseeing strappings athwart one shoulder: actually (according to Ada), a tourist, who, having come all the way from England to see Bryant's Castle, had bicycled up the wrong road and was, in the picture, under the impression of accidentally being conjoined to a group of fellow tourists who were visiting some other old manor quite worth inspecting too. The back rows consisted of less distinguished menservants and scullions, as well as of gardeners, stableboys, coachmen, shadows of columns, maids of maids, aids, laundresses, dresses, recesses - getting less and less distinct as in those bank ads where limited little employees dimly dimidiated by more fortunate shoulders, but still asserting themselves, still smile in the process of humble dissolve. (2.7)

"Maids of maids" bring to mind "a servant of servants," as Noah called Ham's son Canaan. Noah "said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren" (Gen. ix, 25).

In Milton's Paradise Lost (Book XII) it is Noah's irreverent son, Ham, who "heard this heavy curse, servant of servants, on his vicious race:"

Tyranny must be,
Though to the tyrant thereby no excuse.
Yet sometimes nations will decline so low
From virtue, which is reason, that no wrong,
But justice, and some fatal curse annext
Deprives them of their outward liberty, [ 100 ]
Their inward lost: witness the irreverent son
Of him who built the ark, who for the shame
Done to his father, heard this heavy curse,
Servant of servants, on his vicious race.

In a letter of September 16, 1891, to Elena Shavrov, Chekhov says that writers should not imitate Ham:

У Ноя было три сына: Сим, Хам и, кажется, Афет. Хам заметил только, что отец его пьяница, и совершенно упустил из виду, что Ной гениален, что он построил ковчег и спас мир. Пишущие не должны подражать Хаму. Намотайте это себе на ус.
Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham only noticed that his father was a drunkard, and completely lost sight of the fact that he was a genius, that he had built an ark and saved the world. Writers must not imitate Ham, bear that in mind.

Chekhov's colleague and protegee, E. M. Shavrov (1874-1937) was one of the three Shavrov sisters. The characters of Chekhov's play "Three Sisters" (known on Antiterra as Four Sisters) include Fedotik, "an artillery officer whose comedy organ consists of a constantly clicking camera." In the Yakima Academy of Drama stage version of Chekhov's play the role of Fedotik was assigned to Kim Eskimossoff:

Van glanced through the list of players and D.P.'s and noticed two amusing details: the role of Fedotik, an artillery officer (whose comedy organ consists of a constantly clicking camera)', had been assigned to a 'Kim (short for Yakim) Eskimossoff' and somebody called 'John Starling' had been cast as Skvortsov (a sekundant in the rather amateurish duel of the last act) whose name comes from skvorets, starling. (2.9)

The name Eskimossoff blends eskimos (Russ., "Eskimo") with "moss." In the American stage version of a famous Russian romance (Pushkin's Eugene Onegin that got confused with Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago) the heroine's nurse is played by an Eskimo woman:

In the first of these [scenes] she [Marina] had undressed in graceful silhouette behind a semitransparent screen, reappeared in a flimsy and fetching nightgown, and spent the rest of the wretched scene discussing a local squire, Baron d'O., with an old nurse in Eskimo boots. Upon the infinitely wise countrywoman's suggestion, she goose-penned from the edge of her bed, on a side table with cabriole legs, a love letter and took five minutes to reread it in a languorous but loud voice for no body's benefit in particular since the nurse sat dozing on a kind of sea chest, and the spectators were mainly concerned with the artificial moonlight's blaze upon the lovelorn young lady's bare arms and heaving breasts.
Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the message, Demon Veen had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded to win the wager, the success of his enterprise being assured by the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin, had been in love with him since their last dance on New Year's Eve. (1.2)

One of Pushkin's last articles is "On Chateaubriand's Translation of Milton's Paradise Lost" (1836). VN's article on his translation of Pushkin's EO is entitled "The Servile Path" (1959).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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