Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025656, Sun, 31 Aug 2014 22:50:30 +0300

aqua tofana & belladonna in Ada
Dolly had inherited her mother's beauty and temper but also an older ancestral strain of whimsical, and not seldom deplorable, taste, well reflected, for instance, in the names she gave her daughters: Aqua and Marina ('Why not Tofana?' wondered the good and sur-royally antlered general with a controlled belly laugh, followed by a small closing cough of feigned detachment - he dreaded his wife's flares). (1.3)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Tofana: allusion to 'aqua tofana' (see any good dictionary).

Aqua tofana was a strong poison that was reputedly widely used in Naples and Rome. In the early 17th century Giulia Tofana, or Tofania, an infamous lady from Palermo, made a good business for over fifty years selling her large production of aqua tofana to would-be widows. The product was sold to lady clients, accompanied by instructions for its use. Aqua tofana was mentioned by VN in King, Queen, Knave (1928) and by Heinrich Heine in Ludwig Boerne: in Memoriam (1840). Heine (who appears in Aldanov's Tale about Death) is the author of "The Journey from Munich to Genoa" (1829). Daniel Veen received the news that Marina would marry him upon his return to America in Genoa (1.1). Of all cities he visited abroad Dr Dorn (a character in Chekhov's play The Seagull, 1897) liked Genoa best.

Aldanov's Klyuch ("The Key," 1929) begins like a detective novel, with Fisher's death in the appartment No. 4:

Смерть жильца квартиры № 4 обнаружила крестьянка Дарья Петрова, швейцариха, как все её называли в доме, где она исполняла обязанности своего мужа, в прошлом году взятого на войну. Выйдя в шесть часов утра на крыльцо с ведром, тряпкой, щёткой и фонарём (ещё было совершенно темно), она вдруг с испугом заметила, что два окна квартиры № 4 ярко освещены. (Part One, chapter I)

Daria Petrov, the porter's wife who discovered the dead body, is a namesake of Dolly (Daria Durmanov, Aqua's and Marina's mother). The name Durmanov comes from durman (thorn apple; intoxicant; drug). In Chekhov's Seagull Treplev says that his mother (the actress Arkadina) can not live without the durman (intoxicant) of scene.

On Antiterra Chekhov's play "The Three Sisters" (1901) is known as Four Sisters. In the Hollywood film version of Four Sisters Marina played the deaf nun Varvara, the late General Prozorov's eldest daughter.

Van had seen the picture and had liked it. An Irish girl, the infinitely graceful and melancholy Lenore Colline -

Oh! qui me rendra ma colline
Et le grand chene and my colleen!

- harrowingly resembled Ada Ardis as photographed with her mother in Belladonna, a movie magazine which Greg Erminin had sent him, thinking it would delight him to see aunt and cousin, together, on a California patio just before the film was released. (2.9)

In Aldanov's novel the police believes that Fisher was poisoned with an alkaloid of the belladonna type:

- Алкaлоид родa беллaдонны, - хмурясь и морщa лоб, повторил вслух Яценко. ("The Key," Part One, chapter XXXIII)

Braun questions the results of the post-mortem examination. He suggests that Fisher was poisoned with cantharidin:

"Есть яды, которые веселящимися людьми употребляются с особой целью. Тогда ваше возражение падает. Вполне возможно и правдоподобно, что, отправляясь на ту квартиру, Фишер принял одно из таких средств. Да вот кантаридин. Есть такой яд особого назначения, ангидрид кантаридиновой кислоты… Он вообще мало изучен, и немногочисленные исследователи чрезвычайно расходятся насчёт того, какова смертельная доза этого вещества. Яд этот должен был бы дать при вскрытии приблизительно те же симптомы, что и «белладонна»." ("The Key," Part Two, Chapter XV)

In 'Ursus' (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major) Lucette wears a lustrous cantharid green evening gown. (2.8)

Lucette's music teacher Philip Rack (one of Ada's lovers) was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie (according to Dr Fitzbishop) and dies in the Kalugano hospital where Van recovers from the wound received in a pistol duel with Captain Tapper:

The poor guy had always had a bad liver and a very indifferent heart, but on top of that a poison had seeped into his system; the local 'lab' could not identify it and they were now waiting for a report, on those curiously frog-green faeces, from the Luga people. If Rack had administered it to himself by his own hand, he kept 'mum'; it was more likely the work of his wife who dabbled in Hindu-Andean voodoo stuff and had just had a complicated miscarriage in the maternity ward. Yes, triplets - how did he guess? Anyway, if Van was so eager to visit his old pal it would have to be as soon as he could be rolled to Ward Five in a wheelchair by Dorofey, so he'd better apply a bit of voodoo, ha-ha, on his own flesh and blood. (1.42)

Chekhov is the author of Ward No. 6 (1892). 6 + 3 = 5 + 4 (three Chekhov's sisters vs. four in Ada)

Только родильного отделения не хватает ("only a delivery room is missing") thinks Don Pedro after he had a pony of vodka in the refreshment room of the Duma (Russian Partliament). ("The Key," Part One, chapter XXXII)

Marina's lover Pedro (a young Latin actor) is a "namesake" of Don Pedro (in Aldanov's trilogy, the St. Petersburg journalist who becomes a movie magnate in emigration). Just before his suicide, Braun at the raiway station in Paris sees Don Pedro departing to America (the episode mentioned by VN in his review of "The Cave"):

Итак: счастье Клервиллей распадается, Федосьев удаляется в пещеру, Витя, не без поощрительного кивка автора, бежит на войну, пошляк-газетчик становится фильмовым магнатом: перед самым самоубийством Браун на вокзале как раз видит его — роскошно отбывающего в Америку. Правда, в жизни Дон-Педро уехал бы за семь часов до или четыре дня после, совпадения не получилось бы; но не было бы никаких романов без совпадений, и автор вправе там и сям проглаживать складку судьбы.

"The happiness of the Clarevilles falls apart..." But even before their marriage Musya tells Vivian: "Tu dois etre myope, pauvre cheri. Се sera commode, pour te faire cocu..." ("The Escape," Part Two, chapter II) General Ivan Durmanov, Dolly's husband, was "sur-royally antlered."

Alexey Sklyarenko

p. s. I'm not responsible for the blunders in translations from Gogol in my previous post. "Presence" (prisutstvie) should be "office," "President" (predsedatel') should be "chairman," etc.

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