Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025774, Mon, 20 Oct 2014 04:02:21 +0300

Lute & Lolita in Ada
On a bleak morning between the spring and summer of 1901, in Paris, as Van, black-hatted, one hand playing with the warm loose change in his topcoat pocket and the other, fawn-gloved, upswinging a furled English umbrella, strode past a particularly unattractive sidewalk cafe among the many lining the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, a chubby bald man in a rumpled brown suit with a watch-chained waistcoat stood up and hailed him. (3.2)
Paris is also known on Antiterra as Lute (from 'Lutece,' ancient name of Paris). In his "Ода его сият. гр. Дм. Ив. Хвостову" (Ode to his Excellency Count Dm. Iv. Khvostov, 1825) Pushkin mentions lyutyi Pit (ferocious Pitt):

Султан ярится. Кровь Эллады
И peзвocкачет, и кипит.
Открылись грекам древни клады,
Трепещет в Стиксе лютый Пит.

The sultan gets furious. Hellas's blood
is galloping fast and boiling.
The Greeks discovered ancient treasures,
ferocious Pitt trembles in Styx.

In a footnote Pushkin comments on "Pit:"

Г. Питт, знаменитый английский министр и известный противник Свободы.
G. Pitt, the famous English minister and notorious enemy of Freedom.

In the closing lines of his parodic ode Pushkin mentions, among other gods and goddesses, Cytherea:

И да блюдут твой мирный сон
Нептун, Плутон, Зевс, Цитерея,
Гебея, Псиша, Крон, Астрея,
Феб, Игры, Смехи, Вакх, Харон.

Neptune, Pluto, Zeus, Cytherea,
Hebe, Psiche, Cronus, Astraea,
Phoebus, Ludi, Risi, Bachus, Charon
may keep your peaceful sleep.

In a footnote Pushkin comments on "Cytherea:"

Цитерея (Венера) осыпает цветами своего любимого певца.
Cytherea (Venus) is strewing with flowers her favorite singer.

Cytherea comes from Cythera, one of the Ionian islands where stood a temple of Aphrodite, or Venus, the frail (slabaya, "weak," "delicate") goddess of love.

Pushkin's Vol'nost' ("Ode to Liberty," 1817) begins:

Беги, сокройся от очей,
Цитеры слабая царица!

Begone, be hidden from my eyes,
delicate Queen of Cythera!

In his commentary on Liberty VN points out a curious obsession with "heads" throughout the ninety-six lines of the ode. This proximal part of the body is implied in ll. 5 and 61 and named in 25, 31, 47, 50, 68, and 93. (EO Commentatry, vol. III, p. 342)

Golova (head) is also mentioned by Pushkin in the last footnote to his elegy Andrey Shen'e (Andre Chenier, 1825):

На месте казни он ударил себя в голову и сказал: pourtant j'avais quelque chose la.
On the spot of his execution he hit himself on the head and said: pourtant j'avais quelque chose la.

Quelque chose is French for "something." While chose (thing) brings to mind Chose, Van's University (1.28 et passim), quelque (some) reminds one of Quelque Fleurs, Aqua's favorite talc powder (1.3). Those fleurs bring to mind the flowers with which Cytherea is strewing her favorite singer (Count Khvostov).

The twin sister of Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother), poor mad Aqua is Demon Veen's wife. In his Ode to Count Khvostov Pushkin compares Khvostov to Byron (the poet who had an affair with his half-sister, divorced his wife and had a daughter named Ada) and mentions Khvostov's wife:

Вам с Бейроном шипела злоба,
Гремела и правдива лесть.
Он лорд — граф ты! Поэты оба!
Се, мнится, явно сходство есть. —
Никак! Ты с верною супругой
Под бременем Судьбы упругой
Живёшь в любви — и наконец
Глубок он, но единобразен,
А ты глубок, игрив и разен,
И в шалостях ты впрям певец.

In a footnote Pushkin comments on Khvostov's "faithful spouse:"

Графиня Хвостова, урожденная княжна Горчакова, достойная супруга маститого нашего Певца. Во многочисленных своих стихотворениях везде называет он её Темирою (см. последн. замеч. в оде «Заздравный кубок»).
"In his numerous poems he [Khvostov] throughout calls her [Khvostov's wife, born Princess Gorchakov] Temira (Thamyra)."

In Eugene Onegin (Four: III: 1-4) Pushkin quotes Delvig's Ode to Fani (c. 1815):

Словами вещего поэта
и мне сказать позволено:
Темира, Дафна и Лилета
как сон забыты мной давно.

In the words of a vatic poet
I also am allowed to say:
"Thamyra, Daphne, and Lileta
I've long forgotten, like a dream."

Chapter Four of EO has the epigraph: La morale est dans la nature des choses. Necker.

At the beginning of Four (VIII: 8) a little girl of thirteen years is mentioned:

Кому не скучно лицемерить,
Различно повторять одно,
Стараться важно в том уверить,
В чём все уверены давно,
Всё те же слышать возраженья,
Уничтожать предрассужденья,
Которых не было и нет
У девочки в тринадцать лет!

Who does not find it tedious to dissemble;
diversely to repeat the same;
try gravely to convince one
of what all have been long convinced;
to hear the same objections,
annihilate the prejudices
which never had and hasn't
a little girl of thirteen years!

In Ode to Count Khvostov Pushkin calls himself nevedomyi piita ("an obscure poet") and Khvostov, znamenityi piit ("the famous poet"):

А я, неведомый Пиита,
В восторге новом воспою
Во след Пиита знаменита
Правдиву похвалу свою,
Моляся кораблю бегущу,
Да Бейрона он узрит кущу...

The word piit (also spelt piita, obs., "poet") is also used by Pushkin in Exegi Monumentum (1836):

И славен буду я, доколь в подлунном мире
жив будет хоть один пиит.

and I'll be famed while there remains alive
in the sublunar world at least one poet.

Let's now in Pushkin's lines in EO (Four: III: 1-4) substitute piit for poet:

Словами вещего пиита
и мне сказать позволено:
Тамара, Ада и Лолита
как сон забыты мной давно.

In the words of a vatic poet
I also am allowed to say:
"Tamara, Ada and Lolita
I've long forgotten, like a dream."

Tamara is the hero's beloved in VN's Speak, Memory: an Autobiography Revisited (1967). Lolita is the eponymous little girl in VN's most famous novel (1955). It was first published in Paris. On Antiterra Lolita is the name of a gipsy girl in Osberg's novel The Gitanilla. For the picnic on her twelfth birthday (when Van walks on his hands for the first time) Ada is allowed to wear her "lolita:"

For the big picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday and Ida's forty-second jour de fete, the child was permitted to wear her lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg's novel and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish 't,' not a thick English one), a rather long, but very airy and ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies, 'deficient in botanical reality,' as she grandly expressed it, not yet knowing that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of this, and only this, dream. (1.13)

Osberg's novel is well-known to Aqua:

In less than a week Aqua had accumulated more than two hundred tablets of different potency. She knew most of them - the jejune sedatives, and the ones that knocked you out from eight p.m. till midnight, and several varieties of superior soporifics that left you with limpid limbs and a leaden head after eight hours of non-being, and a drug which was in itself delightful but a little lethal if combined with a draught of the cleansing fluid commercially known as Morona; and a plump purple pill reminding her, she had to laugh, of those with which the little gypsy enchantress in the Spanish tale (dear to Ladore schoolgirls) puts to sleep all the sportsmen and all their bloodhounds at the opening of the hunting season. (1.3)

In her suicide note Aqua promised that one day Van would visit Ardis:

Aujourd'hui (heute-toity!) I, this eye-rolling toy, have earned the psykitsch right to enjoy a landparty with Herr Doktor Sig, Nurse Joan the Terrible, and several 'patients,' in the neighboring bor (piney wood) where I noticed exactly the same skunk-like squirrels, Van, that your Darkblue ancestor imported to Ardis Park, where you will ramble one day, no doubt. (1.3)

When Van meets Greg Erminin in Paris, they recall the picnics at Ardis:

'I last saw you thirteen years ago, riding a black pony - no, a black Silentium. Bozhe moy!'
'Yes - Bozhe moy, you can well say that. Those lovely, lovely agonies in lovely Ardis! Oh, I was absolyutno bezumno (madly) in love with your cousin!'
'You mean Miss Veen? I did not know it. How long -'
'Neither did she. I was terribly -'
'How long are you staying -'
'- terribly shy, because, of course, I realized that I could not compete with her numerous boy friends.'
Numerous? Two? Three? Is it possible he never heard about the main one? All the rose hedges knew, all the maids knew, in all three manors. The noble reticence of our bed makers.
'How long will you be staying in Lute? No, Greg, I ordered it. You pay for the next bottle. Tell me -'
'So odd to recall! It was frenzy, it was fantasy, it was reality in the x degree. I'd have consented to be beheaded by a Tartar, I declare, if in exchange I could have kissed her instep. You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can't understand that obsession. Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil Rack, a composer of genius - dead, dead, all dead!' (3.2)

Van's and Greg's conversation parodies Onegin's dialogue with Prince N. (Tatiana's husband) in Pushkin's EO (Eight: XVIII: 1-4):

'Tak ti zhenat (so you are married)? Didn't know it. How long?'
'About two years.'
'To whom?'
'Maude Sween.'
'The daughter of the poet?'
'No, no, her mother is a Brougham.'
Might have replied 'Ada Veen,' had Mr Vinelander not been a quicker suitor. I think I met a Broom somewhere. Drop the subject. Probably a dreary union: hefty, high-handed wife, he more of a bore than ever. (ibid.)

October 19 (the Lyceum anniversary)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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