Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025643, Mon, 25 Aug 2014 23:23:10 +0300

bayronka & lolita in Ada
On the picture in Marina's bedroom her and Aqua's brother Ivan (who died young and famous) is clad in a bayronka:

Both recalled the time (between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a vivisectional alibi. (2.7)

Uncle Ivan's bayronka seems to be linked to Zinoviev's tolstovka (long belted blouse) in Aldanov's novel Peshchera ("The Cave"). According to Lord Byron (the hero of Aldanov's Mogila voina), the only free and cultured country in the world is now (in 1822) Venezuela of the great Bolivar:

"Свободное и культурное го­сударство суще­ствует в мире теперь только одно: это Венецуэла великого Боливара!" ("A Soldier's Grave," chapter V)

The hero of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin wears a broad bolivar:

Having donned a broad bolivar,
Onegin drives to the boulevard
and there goes strolling unconfined
till vigilant Breguet to him chimes dinner." (One: XV: 10-14)

A character in "A Sailor's Grave," Duke of Wellington, has a watch (repeater) with an ingenious dial made by Breguet:

Недавно Брегет изготовил, по особому его заказу, часы с замысло­ватым циферблатом, -- время можно было определять наощупь. "Пора, пора", -- сказал герцог и показал Брегетовские часы. "Последняя новинка, очень удобно: не надо выни­мать из кармана", -- пояснил он, вставая. (chapter VIII)

In Zametki perevodchika II ("A Translator's Notes, Part Two," 1957) VN speaks of Onegin's vigilant Breguet and bolivar:

47. Недремлющий брегет.
Дюпон, выпустивший в 1847 г. довольно удачный по дикции, но совершенно изуродованный разными промахами прозаический французский перевод ЕО, делает забавную ошибку на своём же языке. Он пишет «son breguet» и при этом поясняет в примечании: «Из уважения к тексту сохраняем это иностранное выражение, которое у нас почитается безвкусным; в Париже говорят: мои часы…» Дюпон, конечно, не прав. И Скриб, и Дюма, и другие парижане употребляли «мой брегет» совершенно так же, как Пушкин. Но вот что мило: по-французски «брегет» не мужского рода — как думает Дюпон, — а женского: «ma breguet».
У того же элегантного Дюпона находим: «Ленский с душою прямо Гётевской»; но зачем смеяться над давно опочившим французским инженером путей сообщения, когда русский комментатор Бродский пишет (1950), что боливар либерала Онегина «указывает на определённые общественные настроения его владельца, сочувствующего борьбе за независимость маленького народа в Южной Америке». Это то же самое, как если бы мы стали утверждать, что американки носят головные платки («бабушки») из сочувствия Советскому Союзу.

According to Brodsky (a Soviet commentator of whom VN makes fun), the bolivar of the liberal Onegin "is evidence of a certain public mood of its owner who sympathizes with the struggle for independence of a small nation in South America." It is as if we would say that American women wear the babushkas out of sympathy with the Soviet Union.

At the picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday Grace Erminin (Greg's twin sister who marries a Wellington, 2.6) wears a sailor suit and Ada, a long gipsy skirt called "lolita:"

For the big picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday and Ida's forty-second jour de fete, the child was permitted to wear her lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg's novel and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish 't,' not a thick English one), a rather long, but very airy and ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies, 'deficient in botanical reality,' as she grandly expressed it, not yet knowing that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of this, and only this, dream. (1.13)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Osberg: another good-natured anagram, scrambling the name of a writer with whom the author of Lolita has been rather comically compared. Incidentally, that title's pronunciation has nothing to do with English or Russian (pace an anonymous owl in a recent issue of the TLS).

Osberg is an anagram of Borges. J. L. Borges (1899-1986) is the Argentinian writer with whom VN was often compared. One is reminded of Lermontov's famous poem:

Нет, я не Байрон, я другой,
Ещё неведомый избранник,
Как он гонимый миром странник,
Но только с русскою душой...

No, I'm not Byron, I'm another
yet undiscovered chosen one,
like him, a persecuted wanderer,
but only with a Russian soul...

It seems to me that in Ada VN is paraphrasing Lermontov:

Нет, я не Борхес, я Шекспир...
но только с русскою душой.

No, I'm not Borges, I'm Shakespeare...
but only with a Russian soul.

Van's and Ada's father Demon Veen married Marina's twin sister Aqua on Shakespeare's (and VN's) birthday (1.3). The Demon (1829-39) is poem by Lermontov. Several times Van, as he speaks of his father, paraphrases the lines from Lermontov's poem:

And o'er the summits of the Tacit
He, banned from Paradise flew on:
Beneath him, like a brilliant's facet
Mount Peck with snows eternal shone. (3.7)

For Dorothy Vinelander (Ada's sister-in-law) Van is le beau tenebreux:

[from Ada's letter to Van:] Well, she's been after Uncle Dementiy [i. e. Demon] to have him admonish le beau tenebreux to come to Mont Roux Bellevue Hotel, in October, around the seventeenth, I guess, and he only laughs and says it's up to Dashenka and me to arrange matters. (ibid.)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): le beau tenebreux: wrapt in Byronic gloom.

Like Lermontov, Pushkin's Tatiana has a Russian soul (EO, Five: IV: 1-2):

Татьяна (русская душою,
Сама не зная, почему)

Tatiana (being Russian, in her soul,
herself not knowing why).

At the end of EO's first chapter (One: LVI: 5-14) Pushkin marks the difference between Onegin and himself and mentions Byron, the poet of pride who in Childe Harold drew his self-portrait:

lest an ironic reader
or else some publisher
of complicated calumny,
collating here my traits,
repeat thereafter shamelessly
that I have scrawled my portrait
like Byron, the poet of pride
- as if for us were no longer possible
to write long poems about anything
than just about ourselves!

In a letter (rough draft) to Nikolay Raevski, Jr., in July, 1825, Mikhaylovskoe, while in the middle of composing Boris Godunov, Pushkin wrote:

La vraisemblance des situations et la verite du dialogue — voila la veritable regle de la tragedie. Quel homme que ce Sch[ekspir]... Comme Byron le tragique est mesquin devant lui!... ce Byron... a partage entre ses personnages tel et tel trait de son caractere; son orgueil a l’un, sa haine a l’autre, sa melancolie au troisieme... ce n’est pas la de la tragedie.... Lisez Sch[ekspir]... (EO Commentary, II, p. 210)

In an amateur parody on Van's seventh birthday Demon made himself up as Boris Godunov (in Pushkin's drama Boris, before dying, tells Feodor to love his sister):

Van, whose finger had been gliding endlessly to and fro along the mute but soothingly smooth edge of the mahogany desk, now heard with horror the sob that shook Demon's entire frame, and then saw a deluge of tears flowing down those hollow tanned cheeks. In an amateur parody, at Van's birthday party fifteen years ago, his father had made himself up as Boris Godunov and shed strange, frightening, jet-black tears before rolling down the steps of a burlesque throne in death's total surrender to gravity. Did those dark streaks, in the present show, come from his blackening his orbits, eyelashes, eyelids, eyebrows? The funest gamester... the pale fatal girl, in another well-known melodrama.... In this one...
"...If you love her [Ada], you wish her to be happy, and she will not be as happy as she could be once you gave her up..." (2.11)

After Van gave her up, Ada marries Andrey Vinelander.

'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.'
Might have replied 'Ada Veen,' had Mr Vinelander not been a quicker suitor. I think I met a Broom somewhere. (3.2)

As pointed out by Darkbloom, Van's conversation with Greg Erminin parodies Onegin's dialogue with Prince N. in Pushkin's EO (Eight: XVIII: 1-4). Van meets Greg in Paris (on Antiterra also known as Lute, 1.28 et passim), on the Avenue Guillaume Pitt. "The famous English minister and well-known enemy of Freedom," lyutyi Pit (fierce Pitt) is mentioned by Pushkin in his Ode to Count Khvostov (1825). On the other hand, in his Zametki perevodchika II ("A Translator's Notes," Part Two), commenting on the line "I'm always glad to mark the difference" (One: LVI: 4), VN points out that Pushkin planned to choose as an epigraph to the first chapter of EO a rather unexpected English phrase from Burke's report to William Pitt: "Nothing is such an ennemy to accuracy of judgement as a coarse discrimination:"

Всегда я рад заметить разность:
Судя по черновикам, относящимся к зиме 1823 г., эпиграфами к первой главе Пушкин собирался выставить стихи 252–253 из “Пиров” и довольно неожиданную английскую фразу, найденную им, вероятно, в альбоме кого-либо из его одесских друзей или приятельниц. Перевожу: “Ничто так не враждебно точности сужденья, как грубость распознаванья. Бёрк”. Мне удалось выяснить, что эта фраза находится в докладе, представленном Бёрком Вильяму Питту в ноябре 1795 г.: в нём идёт речь о ценах на зерно, о зарплате, о бобах и репе и об огородных вредителях — интересовавших Пушкина ещё меньше, чем новороссийская саранча.

Vanda Broom was Ada's lesbian schoolmate at Brownhill. She was shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night, in Ragusa of all places (2.6). Van never met her, but he did speak to her over the 'phone:

On the same day (the two nasty little incidents thus remained linked up in his mind forever) Van happened to answer the 'phone - a deep hollow voice which he thought was a man's wanted Cordula, but the caller turned out to be an old schoolmate, and Cordula feigned limpid delight, while making big eyes at Van over the receiver, and invented a number of unconvincing engagements.
'It's a gruesome girl!' she cried after the melodious adieux. 'Her name is Vanda Broom, and I learned only recently what I never suspected at school - she's a regular tribadka - poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at - at another girl. There's her picture here,' continued Cordula with a quick change of tone, producing a daintily bound and prettily printed graduation album of Spring, 1887, which Van had seen at Ardis, but in which he had not noticed the somber beetle-browed unhappy face of that particular girl, and now it did not matter any more, and Cordula quickly popped the book back into a drawer; but he remembered very well that among the various more or less coy contributions it contained a clever pastiche by Ada Veen mimicking Tolstoy's paragraph rhythm and chapter closings; he saw clearly in mind her prim photo under which she had added one of her characteristic jingles:

In the old manor, I've parodied
Every veranda and room,
And jacarandas at Arrowhead
In supernatural bloom. (1.43)

The name Vanda Broom is secretly present in Ada's poem. "Tolstoy's paragraph rhythm and chapter closings" bring to mind Zinoviev's tolstovka on the "historical" photograph taken in Kremlin in Aldanov's "The Cave." Aldanov's idol, Tolstoy famously disliked Shakespeare.

I had a schoolmate called Vanda. And I knew a girl called Adora, little thing in my last floramor. What makes me see that bit as the purest sanglot in the book? (5.6)

Van visited his last Villa Venus somewhere in Palermontovia (on Antiterra, a part of the British Commonwealth):

He was thirsty, but the champagne he had bought, with the softly rustling roses, remained sealed and he had not the heart to remove the silky dear head from his breast so as to begin working on the explosive bottle. He had fondled and fouled her many times in the course of the last ten days, but was not sure if her name was really Adora, as everybody maintained - she, and the other girl, and a third one (a maidservant, Princess Kachurin), who seemed to have been born in the faded bathing suit she never changed and would die in, no doubt, before reaching majority or the first really cold winter on the beach mattress which she was moaning on now in her drugged daze. And if the child really was called Adora, then what was she? - not Rumanian, not Dalmatian, not Sicilian, not Irish, though an echo of brogue could be discerned in her broken but not too foreign English. Was she eleven or fourteen, almost fifteen perhaps? Was it really her birthday - this twenty-first of July, nineteen-four or eight or even several years later, on a rocky Mediterranean peninsula? (2.3)

According to VN, he wrote the Post Scriptum to the Russian edition of Lolita on November 7, 1965, in Palermo.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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