Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025732, Wed, 24 Sep 2014 16:17:15 +0300

Flora, Apollo & Amor in Ada
And there was Flora, a slender, hardly nubile, half-naked music-hall dancer of uncertain origin (Rumanian? Romany? Ramseyan?) whose ravishing services Van had availed himself of several times in the fall of that year. As a 'man of the world,' Van glanced with bland (perhaps too bland) unconcern at her talented charms, but they certainly added a secret bonus to the state of erotic excitement tingling in him from the moment that his two beauties had been unfurred and placed in the colored blaze of the feast before him; and that thrill was somehow augmented by his awareness (carefully profiled, diaphanely blinkered) of the furtive, jealous, intuitive suspicion with which Ada and Lucette watched, unsmilingly, his facial reactions to the demure look of professional recognition on the part of the passing and repassing blyadushka (cute whorelet), as our young misses referred to (very expensive and altogether delightful) Flora with ill-feigned indifference...

'I say, Veen,' whinnied a voice near him (there were lots of lechers around), 'you don't rally need two, d'you?'
Van veered, ready to cuff the gross speaker - but it was only Flora, a frightful tease and admirable mimic. He tried to give her a banknote, but she fled, bracelets and breast stars flashing a fond farewell. (2.8)

'It's funny,' said Ada, 'what black, broken teeth they have hereabouts, those blyadushki.'
('Ursus,' Lucette in glistening green, 'Subside, agitation of passion,' Flora's bracelets and breasts, the whelk of Time). (5.3)

Flora is the Roman goddess of flowers. In Eugene Onegin (One: XXXII: 1-4) Pushkin says that to Diana's bosom and Flora's cheeks he prefers the little foot of Terpsichore:

Дианы грудь, ланиты Флоры
Прелестны, милые друзья!
Однако ножка Терпсихоры
Прелестней чем-то для меня.
Diana's bosom, Flora's cheeks
are charming, dear friends!
However, the little foot of Terpsichore
is for me in some way more charming.

In the next stanza lanit (of cheeks) rhymes with Armid ("of the Armidas," Armida being the enchantress in Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered):

Нет, никогда средь пылких дней
Кипящей младости моей
Я не желал с таким мученьем
Лобзать уста младых Армид
Иль розы пламенных ланит
No, never midst the fiery days
of my ebullient youth
did I long with such torment
to kiss the lips of young Armidas
or the roses of flaming cheeks.

Finally, the next stanza (rounding up the digression on women's feet) ends in the lines:

Слова и взор волшебниц сих
Обманчивы... как ножки их.
the words and gaze of these bewitchers
are as deceptive as their little feet.

Young Armidas are also mentioned by Pushkin in Osen' ("Autumn," 1833), a fragment in octaves (cf. napev torkvatovykh oktav, "the strain of Torquato's octaves," in EO, One: XLVIII: 14):

Нельзя же целый век
Кататься нам в санях с Армидами младыми
but we can not for ages
ride in the sleighs with young Armidas.

At the beginning of Domik v Kolomne ("A Small Cottage in Kolomna," 1830), a mock epic in octaves, Pushkin rhymes zabava (amusement), oktava (octave) and slava (glory):

Четырестопный ямб мне надоел:
Им пишет всякий. Мальчикам в забаву
Пора б его оставить. Я хотел
Давным-давно приняться за октаву.
А в самом деле: я бы совладел
С тройным созвучием. Пущусь на славу!
Ведь рифмы запросто со мной живут;
Две придут сами, третью приведут.
I am sick of iambic tetrameter:
Everybody writes in it. 'Tis time
to leave it to the boys for their amusement.
For a long time I wanted to get down to octave...

In his translation of Chenier's poem Pres des bords ou Venisе est reine de la mer (in which Erminia, another character in Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, is mentioned) Pushkin rhymes zabava and slava (fame):

Он любит песнь свою, поёт он для забавы,
Без дальных умыслов; не ведает ни славы,
Ни страха, ни надежд, и, тихой музы полн,
Умеет услаждать свой путь над бездной волн.
He loves his own song, and sings it for his amusement
Without far-looking plans; he knows neither fame
Nor any fear nor hope; with quiet Muse of his
He can sweeten his cruise over the waters’ deeps.

In his poem K Batyushkovu ("To Batyushkov," 1817) Vyazemski mentions Flora and zabavy (amusements):

Шумит по рощам ветр осенний,
Древа стоят без украшений,
Дриады скрылись но дуплам;
И разувенчанная Флора,
Воздушного не слыша хора,
В печали бродит по садам...

...Любви, небесным вдохновеньям,
Забавам, дружбе, наслажденьям
Дней наших поручая бег,
Судьбе предавшися послушно,
Её ударов равнодушно
Дождёмся мы средь игр и нег.

Ada's favorite ancestor, Prince Vseslav Zemski (1699-1797) was a friend of Linnaeus and author of Flora Ladorica (1.6).

zabava + rabota + slovo + bank = zabota + rab + slava + Nabokov

rabota - work
slovo - word
zabota - care; concern
rab - slave

In "The Poet" (1827) Pushkin mentions Apollo (the Greek and Roman god of light, healing, music, poetry, prophecy, and manly beauty) and zaboty suetnye sveta (the world's vain cares):

Пока не требует поэта
К священной жертве Аполлон,
В заботах суетного света
Он малодушно погружён...
Until the poet by Apollo
To holy sacrifice is called,
In the world’s vain cares
Нe is faint-heartedly enthralled...

In their note to Lucette (who, on the morning following the dinner in 'Ursus' and the debauche a trois in Van's Manhattan appartment, suddenly left for her hotel) Van and Ada use the god's name in the sense "apologize:"

Poor L.
We are sorry you left so soon. We are even sorrier to have inveigled our Esmeralda and mermaid in a naughty prank. That sort of game will never be played again with you, darling firebird. We apollo [apologize]. Remembrance, embers and membranes of beauty make artists and morons lose all self-control. Pilots of tremendous airships and even coarse, smelly coachmen are known to have been driven insane by a pair of green eyes and a copper curl. We wished to admire and amuse you, BOP (bird of paradise). We went too far. I, Van, went too far. We regret that shameful, though basically innocent scene. These are times of emotional stress and reconditioning. Destroy and forget.
Tenderly yours A & V.
(in alphabetic order). (2.8)

An admirable mimic, Flora imitates the British pronunciation ("I say, Veen... you don't rally need two, d'you?"). And so does Van as he speaks to Dick C., a cardsharp at Chose (Van's English University):

'I say, Dick, ever met a gambler in the States called Plunkett? Bald gray chap when I knew him.' (1.28)

In Aldanov's Bred ("Delirium," 1955) Colonel No. 2, as he speaks to Shell, mentions asei (an obsolete Russian word for the English that comes from "I say"). Like Van's Flora, Shell and his mistress Edda are of uncertain origin:

Он, собственно, в точности не знал, кто она по национальности (как в клубе не знали, кто по национальности он). По-русски Эдда говорила с малозаметным неопределенным акцентом, а о своём прошлом рассказывала редко, неясно и всегда по-разному. Говорили они то по-русски, то по-французски, то по-немецки; у обоих были необыкновенные способности к языкам. ("Delirium," chapter III)

It is generous Dick who offers Van an introduction to the Venus Villa Club, Eric Veen's "floramors" (1.28). Floramor (a palatial brothel) blends Flora with Amor (aka Cupid, the Roman god of love). In Daniel Veen's Manhattan office there is a dove hole marked RE AMOR:

In November 1871, as he was in the act of making his evening plans with the same smelly but nice cicerone in a cafe-au-lait suit whom he had hired already twice at the same Genoese hotel, an aerocable from Marina (forwarded with a whole week's delay via his Manhattan office which had filed it away through a new girl's oversight in a dove hole marked RE AMOR) arrived on a silver salver telling him she would marry him upon his return to America. (1.1)

In Pushkin's poem Amur i Gimeney ("Amor and Hymen," 1816) Amor (who is not blind, according to Pushkin) exchanges his blindfold for Hymen's lantern:

"Возьми ж повязку в память, милый,
А мне фонарь свой подари!"
И что ж? Поверил бог унылый.
Амур от радости прыгнул,
И на глаза со всей он силы
Обнову брату затянул.

In Pushkin's poem Amor is also called Erot (Eros, the Greek god of love, in Russian spelling):

Безумие ведёт Эрота:
Но вдруг, не знаю почему,
Оно наскучило ему.

Eros's lantern brings to mind Sore (Eros backwards), the ribald night watchman at Ardis, and his emerald lantern:

At nightfall - if Marina was not around, drinking, say, with her guests under the golden globes of the new garden lamps that glowed here and there in the sudden greenery, and mingled their kerosene reek with the breath of heliotrope and jasmine - the lovers could steal out into the deeper darkness and stay there until the nocturna - a keen midnight breeze - came tumbling the foliage 'troussant la raimee,' as Sore, the ribald night watchman, expressed it. Once, with his emerald lantern, he had stumbled upon them and several times a phantom Blanche had crept past them, laughing softly, to mate in some humbler nook with the robust and securely bribed old glowworm. (1.34)

Hymen is the Greek god of marriage. Marina is unfaithful to her (semi-divorced) husband.

On the other hand, "hymen" is a fold of mucous membrane partly closing the external orifice of the vagina in a virgin (cf. "membranes of beauty" in Van's and Ada's note to Lucette, "a demi-vierge," according to Ada). Soon after Demon's death in an airplane disaster a hag demanded from Ada certain fantastic sums for "popping the hymen:"

[At Marina's cremation] 'He [Demon] said to me, sobbing: "I will not cheat the poor grubs!" Practically a couple of hours after he broke that promise we had sudden visitors at the ranch - an incredibly graceful moppet of eight, black-veiled, and a kind of duenna, also in black, with two bodyguards. The hag demanded certain fantastic sums - which Demon, she said, had not had time to pay, for "popping the hymen" - whereupon I had one of our strongest boys throw out vsyu (the entire) kompaniyu.' (3.8)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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