Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025812, Sat, 8 Nov 2014 10:38:41 +0300

chronology in TT
Hugh, tilting his head slightly, satisfied himself that he had been right: it was indeed the paperback edition of Figures in a Golden Window.
"One of ours," said Hugh with an indicative nod.
She [Armande] considered the book in her lap as if seeking in it some explanation of his remark. Her skirt was very short.
"I mean," he said, "I work for that particular publisher. For the American publisher of the hard-cover edition. Do you like it?"
She answered in fluent but artificial English that she detested surrealistic novels of the poetic sort. She demanded hard realistic stuff reflecting our age. She liked books about Violence and Oriental Wisdom. Did it get better farther on?
"Well, there's a rather dramatic scene in a Riviera villa, when the little girl, the narrator's daughter - "
"Yes. June sets her new dollhouse on fire and the whole villa burns down; but there's not much violence, I'm afraid; it is all rather symbolic, in the grand manner, and, well, curiously tender at the same time, as the blurb says, or at least said, in our first edition. That cover is by the famous Paul Plam."
She would finish it, of course, no matter how boring, because every task in life should be brought to an end like completing that road above Witt, where they had a house, a chalet de luxe, but had to trudge up to the Drakonita cableway until that new road had been finished. The Burning Window or whatever it was called had been given her only the day before, on her twenty-third birthday, by the author's stepdaughter whom he probably -
Yes. Julia and she had both taught in the winter at a school for foreign young ladies in the Tessin. Julia's stepfather had just divorced her mother whom he had treated in an abominable fashion. What had they taught? Oh, posture, rhythmics - things like that. (9)

Would you permit me to call on you, say Wednesday, the fourth? Because I shall be by then at the Ascot Hotel in your Witt, where I am told there is some excellent skiing even in summer. The main object of my stay here, on the other hand, is to find out when the old rascal's current book will be finished. It is queer to recall how keenly only the day before yesterday I had looked forward to seeing the great man at last in the flesh. (10)

Now we have to bring into focus the main street of Witt as it was on Thursday, the day after her telephone call. It teems with transparent people and processes, into which and through which we might sink with an angel's or author's delight, but we have to single out for this report only one Person. (13)

Armande informed Percy that Julia had come all the way from Geneva to consult her about the translation of a number of phrases with which she, Julia, who was going tomorrow to Moscow, desired to "impress" her Russian friends.
Percy, here, worked for her stepfather.
"My former stepfather, thank Heavens," said Julia. "By the way, Percy, if that's your nom de voyage, perhaps you may help. As she explained, I want to dazzle some people in Moscow, who promised me the company of a famous young Russian poet. Armande has supplied me with a number of darling words, but we got stuck at - " (taking a slip of paper from her bag) - "I want to know how to say:
'What a cute little church, what a big snowdrift.' You see we do it first into French and she thinks 'snowdrift' is rafale de neige, but I'm sure it can't be rafale in French and rafalovich in Russian, or whatever they call a snowstorm."
"The word you want," said our Person, "is congere, feminine gender, I learned it from my mother."
"Then it's sugrob in Russian," said Armande and added dryly: "Only there won't be much snow there in August." (ibid.)

August 4 was Wednesday in 1965. It seems that Hugh Person makes Armande's acquaintance on Monday, August 2.
August 1, 1965, was Armande's twenty-third birthday. So she was born on August 1, 1942. Armande's father, Charles Chamar, died in summer, 1964:

No, her father's family came from Belgium, he was an architect who got killed last summer while supervising the demolition of a famous hotel in a defunct spa; and her mother was born in Russia, in a very noble milieu, but of course completely ruined by the revolution. (9)

Actually, Anastasia Petrovna Potapov (Armande's mother) is a grand-daughter of a country veterinary. She was born in Ryazan before 1917 and dies in February, 1966:

In the second week of February, about one month before death separated them, the Persons flew over to Europe for a few days: Armande, to visit her mother dying in a Belgian hospital (the dutiful daughter came too late), and Hugh, at his firm's request, to look up Mr. R. and another American writer, also residing in Switzerland. (18)

HP is thirty-two in 1965, when he revisits Switzerland:

This was his fourth visit to Switzerland. The first one had been eighteen years before when he had stayed for a few days at Trux with his father. Ten years later, at thirty-two, he had revisited that old lakeside town and had successfully courted a sentimental thrill, half wonder and half remorse, by going to see their hotel. (4)

HP was born in 1933 (the year in which Hitler came to power in Germany). For the first time HP visits Switzerland in 1955 with his father who dies during this visit. (HP's mother died a year before. HP's parents outlived Stalin who died on March 5, 1953.) On the day of his father's death HP moves to much finer lodgings in Geneva, has homard a l'americaine for dinner, and goes to find his first whore in a lane right behind his hotel:

She [the prostitute] took him to one of the better beds in a hideous old roominghouse - to the precise "number," in fact, where ninety-one, ninety-two, nearly ninety-three years ago a Russian novelist had sojourned on his way to Italy. The bed - a different one, with brass knobs - was made, unmade, covered with a frock coat, made again; upon it stood a half-open green-checkered grip, and the frock coat was thrown over the shoulders of the night-shirted, bare-necked, dark-tousled traveler whom we catch in the act of deciding what to take out of the valise (which he will send by mail coach ahead) and transfer to the knapsack (which he will carry himself across the mountains to the Italian frontier). He expects his friend Kandidatov, the painter, to join him here any moment for the outing, one of those lighthearted hikes that romantics would undertake even during a drizzly spell in August; it rained even more in those uncomfortable times; his boots are still wet from a ten-mile ramble to the nearest casino. They stand outside the door in the attitude of expulsion, and he has wrapped his feet in several layers of German-language newspaper, a language which incidentally he finds easier to read than French. The main problem now is whether to confide to his knapsack or mail in his grip his manuscripts: rough drafts of letters, an unfinished short story in a Russian copybook bound in black cloth, parts of a philosophical essay in a blue cahier acquired in Geneva, and the loose sheets of a rudimentary novel under the provisional title of Faust in Moscow. As he sits at that deal table, the very same upon which our Person's whore has plunked her voluminous handbag, there shows through that bag, as it were, the first page of the Faust affair with energetic erasures and untidy insertions in purple, black, reptile-green ink. The sight of his handwriting fascinates him; the chaos on the page is to him order, the blots are pictures, the marginal jottings are wings. Instead of sorting his papers, he uncorks his portable ink and moves nearer to the table, pen in hand. But at that minute there comes a joyful banging on the door. The door flies open and closes again. (6)

1955 - 93 = 1862. In 1862 Turgenev's Otsy i deti ("Fathers and Sons") appeared. Turgenev is the author of Faust (a Story in Nine Letters) (1856). In Turgenev's correspondence there is a strange gap in August, 1856. On July 21/August 2, 1856, Turgenev left St. Petersburg on a steamer sailing to Stettin, completed his Faust abroad and on August 18/30 sent the manuscript to the editors of The Contemporary.

HP strangles Armande in his sleep in March, 1966.

As the person, Hugh Person (corrupted "Peterson" and pronounced "Parson" by some) extricated his angular bulk from the taxi that had brought him to this shoddy mountain resort from Trux, and while his head was still lowered in an opening meant for emerging dwarfs, his eyes went up - not to acknowledge the helpful gesture sketched by the driver who had opened the door for him but to check the aspect of the Ascot Hotel (Ascot!) against an eight-year-old recollection, one fifth of his life, engrained by grief. (2)

HP, aged forty, visits Switzerland again in 1973 or in the beginning of 1974 and dies in a hotel fire. Transparent Things appeared in 1972 (the year of Mr. R.'s death?). The action in the novel ends after the book was finished and published. Skvoznyak iz proshlago (the draft from the past) kills the hero!

Alexey Sklyarenko

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