Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025678, Tue, 9 Sep 2014 17:11:41 +0300

Vengerov & Sofia Zemski in Ada
Van remembered that his tutor's great friend, the learned but prudish Semyon Afanasievich Vengerov, then a young associate professor but already a celebrated Pushkinist (1855-1954), used to say that the only vulgar passage in his author's work was the cannibal joy of young gourmets tearing 'plump and live' oysters out of their 'cloisters' in an unfinished canto of Eugene Onegin. (1.38)

On Antiterra S. A. Vengerov (1855-1920) is granted a much longer life than the one he lived in our world. In a letter of June 14, 1889, to Vengerov the philosopher and poet Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) wishes to Vengerov to reach if not Methuselah's then at least Galakhov's age in order to complete his enormous bibliographic work ("monumentum aere perennius"):

От души желаю Вам сравняться в долготе дней если не с Мафусаилом, то по крайней мере с Алексеем Дмитриевичем Галаховым, чтобы довести до конца monumentum aere perennius. (В. С Соловьёв — С. А. Венгерову, 14. VI. 1889; Письма, СПб., 1909. т. 2, с. 315).

The historian of literature, compiler of textbooks and anthologies (the so-called khrestomatii), A. D. Galakhov (1807-92) is mentioned by Vyazemski in Literaturnaya ispoved' ("The Literary Confession," 1854) and Pora stikhami zagovet'sya... ("'Tis time to stop writing verses..." 1867). In the latter poem Vyazemski calls Galakhov Kyuv'ye literaturnykh prakhov ("the Cuvier of literary ashes").*

Solovyov is the author of a doctrine about Divine Sophia. Princess Sofia Zemski is Van's, Ada's and Lucette's great-great-grandmother:

A former viceroy of Estoty, Prince Ivan Temnosiniy, father of the children's great-great-grandmother, Princess Sofia Zemski (1755-1809), and a direct descendant of the Yaroslav rulers of pre-Tartar times, had a millennium-old name that meant in Russian 'dark blue.' (1.1)

Sofia's husband, Prince Vseslav Zemski (a friend of Linnaeus and author of Flora Ladorica) also lived almost a century:

Of the many ancestors along the wall, she pointed out her favorite, old Prince Vseslav Zemski (1699-1797), friend of Linnaeus and author of Flora Ladorica, who was portrayed in rich oil holding his barely pubescent bride and her blond doll in his satin lap. (1.6)

'Plump and live' oysters are mentioned by Pushkin in the "Fragments of Onegin's Journey" ([XXVI]: 5-9):

What news of oysters? They have come. O glee!
Off flies gluttonous juventy
to swallow from their sea shells
the cloisterers, plump and alive,
slightly asperged with lemon.

In the next stanza ([XXII]: 1-4) vecher siniy (the blue evening) rhymes with Rossini:

But darker grows already the blue evening.
Time to the opera we sped:
there 'tis the ravishing Rossini,
the pet of Europe, Orpheus.

Pushkin compares Rossini's music to champagne:

he pours out melodies, they seethe,
they flow, they burn
like youthful kisses,
all sensuousness, in falmes of love,
like, at the fuzzing point, Ay's
stream and gold spurtles...
but, gentlemen, is it permitted
to equalize do-re-mi-sol with wine? (7-14)

"It is long since I drank champagne" were Chekhov's last words. The characters of Chekhov's juvenile Pyesa bez nazvaniya ("A Play without a Title," 1880-81) include Vengerovich pere and Vengerovich fils. In Chekhov's play Platonov predicts to Vengerovich pere (who is about fifty) that he will live to get twice his current age or even longer and die peacefully:

Венгерович 1. Вы начинаете фантазировать, Михаил Васильич! (Встаёт и садится на другой стул.)
Платонов. На этой голове и громоотводов больше... Проживёт преспокойно ещё столько же, сколько и жил, если не больше, и умрёт... и умрёт ведь
спокойно! (Act One, scene XV)

On his way to Kalugano (where the composer Philip Rack lives and where Van has a pistol duel with Captain Tapper, a member of the Do-Re-La country club), Van in a train compartment steps on Dr Platonov's foot:

As he was pushing his unsteady way through one corridor after another, cursing under his breath the window-gazers who did not draw in their bottoms to let him pass, and hopelessly seeking a comfortable nook in one of the first-class cars consisting of four-seat compartments, he saw Cordula and her mother facing each other on the window side. The two other places were occupied by a stout, elderly gentleman in an old-fashioned brown wig with a middle parting, and a bespectacled boy in a sailor suit sitting next to Cordula, who was in the act of offering him one half of her chocolate bar. Van entered, moved by a sudden very bright thought, but Cordula’s mother did not recognize him at once, and the flurry of reintroductions combined with a lurch of the train caused Van to step on the prunella-shod foot of the elderly passenger, who uttered a sharp cry and said, indistinctly but not impolitely: ‘Spare my gout (or ‘take care’ or ‘look out’), young man!’ (1.42)

Dr Platonov's cry of anguish ("spare my gout") brings to mind the French phrase (chacun a son gout) mistranslated by Richard Leonard Churchill in his novel about a certain Crimean Khan:

But then 'everyone has his own taste,' as the British writer Richard Leonard Churchill mistranslates a trite French phrase (chacun a son gout) twice in the course of his novel about a certain Crimean Khan once popular with reporters and politicians, 'A Great Good Man' - according, of course, to the cattish and prejudiced Guillaume Monparnasse about whose new celebrity Ada, while dipping the reversed corolla of one hand in a bowl, was now telling Demon, who was performing the same rite in the same graceful fashion. (1.38)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Great good man: a phrase that Winston Churchill, the British politician, enthusiastically applied to Stalin.

On Antiterra Vengerov dies in 1954, outliving Stalin (1879-1953).

"Monumentum aere perennius" (in Solovyov's letter to Vengerov) is an allusion to an ode by Horace (Exegi monumentum aere perennius). Exegi Monumentum ("Ya pamyatnik sebe vozdvig," 1836) is one of Pushkin's greatest poems. Pushkin says in it:

"No, I'll not wholly die. My soul in the sacred lyre
is to survive my dust and flee decay..."

*Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) was a French naturalist, pioneer in the fields of paleontology and comparative anatomy. In VN's LATH Oks (Osip Lvovich Oksman) is the owner of a Russian bookshop on rue Cuvier in Paris (2.3).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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