Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025648, Wed, 27 Aug 2014 22:49:32 +0300

chute complete in LATH
GERRY Do you ever see this paper, Vadim (accenting "Vadim" incorrectly on the first syllable)? Mister (naming a particularly lively criticule) has demolished your Olga (my novel about the professorsha; it had come out only now in the British edition).
VADIM May I give you a drink? We'll toast him and roast him.
GERRY Yet he's right, you know. It is your worst book. Chute complete, says the man. Knows French, too. (4.1)

Vadim's third English novel, Dr. Olga Repnin (1946) corresponds to VN's Pnin (1957), the novel that consists of seven chapters. Chapters I, III, IV and VI of Pnin were serialized in The New Yorker. Vadim's professorsha is a namesake of Olga Larin, Tatiana's younger sister in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. According to Bulgarin, Chapter Seven of EO is "a complete comedown, chute complete." In a draft of the Foreword to Chapters Eight and Nine of EO (written in Boldino on Nov. 28, 1830) Pushkin quotes Bulgarin's review in The Northern Bee (March 22, 1830):

"Ни одной мысли в этой водянистой VII главе, ни одного чувствования, ни одной картины, достойной воззрения! Совершенное падение, chute complete... Читатели наши спросят, какое же содержание этой VII главы в 57 страничек? Стихи «Онегина» увлекают нас и заставляют отвечать стихами на этот вопрос:

Ну как рассеять горе Тани?
Вот как: посадят деву в сани

И повезут из милых мест
В Москву на ярманку невест!
Мать плачется, скучает дочка:
Конец седьмой главе — и точка!1)

Точно так, любезные читатели, все содержание этой главы в том, что Таню везут в Москву из деревни!"

1) Стихи эти очень хороши, но в них заключающаяся критика неосновательна. Самый ничтожный предмет может быть избран стихотворцем; критике нет нужды разбирать, что стихотворец описывает, но как описывает. (Pushkin's note)

VN's translation in EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 126):

"Not one idea in this watery Chapter Seven, not one sentiment, not one picture worthy of contemplation! A complete comedown, chute complete... Our readers may ask: What is the subject matter of this Chapter Seven consisting of 57 small pages? The verses in Onegin carry us away and force us to answer this question in rhyme:

How then to chase her grief away?
Here's how: place Tanya on a sleigh.
From her dear countryside she rides
"to Moscow, to the mart of brides!"
Daughter is bored, mother laments.
Full stop. Here Chapter Seven ends.*

Exactly, dear readers, the whole subject of the chapter is that Tanya is to be removed from the country to Moscow!"

*These verses are very good, but the criticism they contain is baseless. The most insignificant subject may be selected by the author for his poem. Critics need not discuss what the author describes. They should discuss how he describes it. (Pushkin's note)

Soon after Lenski's death Olga marries an uhlan:

My poor Lenski! Pining away,
she did not weep for long.
Alas! The young fiancee
is to her woe untrue.
Another fascinated her attention,
another her suffering managed
to lull with love's flattery:
an uhlan knew how to captivate her,
an uhlan by her soul is loved;
and lo! with him already at the altar
she modestly meneath the btidal crown
stands with bent head,
fire in her lowered eyes,
a light smile on her lips. (EO, Seven: X)

Soon after Gerry Adamson's death Vadim marries his widow Louise (who became Vadim's mistress just before the dialogue quoted at the beginning of this note).

The historical I. P. Pnin (1773-1805) was an illegitimate son of Count Repnin. In Canto Three of Poltava (1829) Pushkin mentions his ancestor (Anikita Repnin, 1668-1726, a general who participated in the battle of Poltava) as one of the "fledgelings of Peter's nest:"

И Шереметев благородный,
И Брюс, и Боур, и Репнин...

In Chapter Seven of EO (IV: 4) Pushkin mentions "fledgelings of the Lyovshin school." Vasiliy Lyovshin (1746-1826) is "the author of numerous works on rural economy" (Pushkin's Note 41 to EO).

Soon after she was visited by Vadim and Louise in Switzerland (4.7), Vadim's beloved daughter Bel elopes with Charlie Everett ("a charming, good-natured, civilized, sexy young fellow," according to Louise) to the Soviet Russia:

In the summer of 1960, Christine Dupraz, who ran the summer camp fordisabled children between cliff and highway, just east of Larive, informedme that Charlie Everett, one of her assistants, had eloped with my Bel after burning--in a grotesque ceremony that she visualized more clearly than I--his passport and a little American flag (bought at a souvenir stall especially for that purpose) "right in the middle of the Soviet Consul's back garden"; whereupon the new "Karl Ivanovich Vetrov" and the eighteen-year-old Isabella, a ci-devant's daughter, had gone through some form of mock marriage in Berne and incontinently headed for Russia. (7.1)

The name Vetrov comes from veter (wind). In Canto One of Poltava Pushkin compares Karl (the Swedish King Charles XII) to vikhor' (whirlwind):

Венчанный славой бесполезной,
Отважный Карл скользил над бездной.
Он шёл на древнюю Москву,
Взметая русские дружины,
Как вихорь гонит прах долины
И клонит пыльную траву.
Он шёл путем, где след оставил
В дни наши новый, сильный враг,
Когда падением ославил
Муж рока свой попятный шаг.*

*See Byron's Mazeppa (Pushkin's Note 7 to Poltava).

Poltava has an epigraph from Mazeppa (1819):

The power and glory of the war,
Faithless as their vain votaries, men,
Had passed to the triumphant Czar.

In Leningrad Vadim meets Dora, a friend of his daughter, near the monument of Pushkin:

Dora was to meet me Friday morning on the Square of the Arts in front of the Russian Museum near the statue of Pushkin erected some ten years before by a committee of weathermen. (5.2)

Dora is a lame woman who as a girl dreamt of becoming a female clown, 'Madam Byron:'

"Oh, it does not change you one droplet. It's like wigs or green spectacles in old comedies. As a girl I dreamt of becoming a female clown, 'Madam Byron,' or 'Trek Trek.' But tell me, Vadim Vadimovich--I mean Gospodin Long--haven't they found you out? Don't they intend to make much of you? After all, you're the secret pride of Russia. Must you go now?" (ibid.)

Oleg Orlov (a Soviet spy who accompanies Vadim in his trip to Leningrad and back to Paris, 5.3) brings to mind Orlik, Mazepa's minister and accomplice who interrogates and tortures Kochubey (whose daughter eloped with Mazepa).

Vadim's "we'll toast him and roast him" brings to mind the triumphant Czar who toasts his enemies:

Пирует Пётр. И горд, и ясен,
И славы полон взор его.
И царский пир его прекрасен.
При кликах войска своего,
В шатре своём он угощает
Своих вождей, вождей чужих,
И славных пленников ласкает,
И за учителей своих
Заздравный кубок подымает. (Poltava, Canto Three)

Vadim's daughter Isabel is a namesake of Isabella Milbanke (1792-1860) who in 1815 married Lord Byron. Byron's daughter Ada is a namesake of Ada Bredow, Vadim's first cousin with whom he flirted as a boy (4.3). It is Baroness Bredow, born Tolstoy, who summonned little Vadim to look at the harlequins (1.2). Byron had a love affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh. Vadim's first three wives (including Louise) can be his sisters or half-sisters.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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