Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025644, Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:47:55 +0300

alas, poor reader!
Ada is a parody of Shakespeare's Hamlet, but it is also a parody of Tolstoy's Anna Karenin. On second thought, VN could also say to those who compared him to Borges:

Нет, я не Борхес, я Толстой,
но с аргентинскою душой.

No, I'm not Borges, I'm Tolstoy,
but with an Argentinian soul.

The rhyme is not sacrificed here. As Mascodagama (Van's stage name) dances tango on his hands, his partner 'Rita' (a pretty Karaite from Chufut Kale, a place in the Crimea) sings the tango tune in Russian:

Pod znoynim nebom Argentini,
Pod strastniy govor mandolini

'Neath sultry sky of Argentina,
To the hot hum of mandolina. (1.30)

The author of The Sevastopol Stories (1855) and War and Peace (1863-69), Tolstoy participated in the Crimean War (1853-56). Voina i mir ("War and Peace") rhymes with Shekspir (Shakespeare).

In Zametki perevodchika II ("A Translator's Notes," Part Two) VN makes fun of Brodsky ("Alas, poor Brodsky!" etc.), but he also points out the mistakes in, say, H. Dupont's French version (1847) of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin:

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, Onegin's bolivar points at certain public opinions 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. Btw., babushka, "grandmother," was Tolstoy's affectionate word for his friend and long-time correspondent Aleksndra Andreevna Tolstoy (1817-1904), a lady-in-waiting of the Imperial Court. Aleksndra Andreevna's father was a brother of Leo Tolstoy's grandfather Il'ya Andreevich.)

Fastidious Dupont also pulls such boners (in his translation of Two: III and VI) as "l'almanach de l'an VIII" and "Lensky, ame vraiment Goethienne." So much for le bon gout. (EO Commentary, II, p. 69).

Lenski has, of course, "a soul really Goettingenian." Lenski's German University brings to mind Hamlet's Wittemberg and Chose, Van's English alma mater. It is at Chose that Van begins to perform as Mascodagama.

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)

The critic's name hints at Elsinore, the royal castle in Hamlet; Lyovin is a character in Anna Karenin. In his letters to Suvorin Chekhov discusses Bourget's novels. The letter to his brother Alexander, in which he describes the unexpected success of his play Ivanov, Chekhov signed "Schiller Shekspirovich Goethe."

Alexey Sklyarenko

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