Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025945, Mon, 19 Jan 2015 23:20:18 +0300

Vanda Broom & Ragusa in Ada
'It's a gruesome girl!' she [Cordula] cried after the melodious adieux. 'Her name is Vanda Broom, and I learned only recently what I never suspected at school - she's a regular tribadka - poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at - at another girl. There's her picture here,' continued Cordula with a quick change of tone, producing a daintily bound and prettily printed graduation album of Spring, 1887, which Van had seen at Ardis, but in which he had not noticed the somber beetle-browed unhappy face of that particular girl, and now it did not matter any more, and Cordula quickly popped the book back into a drawer; but he remembered very well that among the various more or less coy contributions it contained a clever pastiche by Ada Veen mimicking Tolstoy's paragraph rhythm and chapter closings; he saw clearly in mind her prim photo under which she had added one of her characteristic jingles:

In the old manor, I've parodied
Every veranda and room,
And jacarandas at Arrowhead
In supernatural bloom. (1.43)

The name Vanda Broom is secretly present in Ada's poem. The old manor, in which Ada has parodied every veranda and room, is Ardis.

Vanda Broom + Ardis + Odin + Ragusa = dar + Vanadis + Borodino + grausam

Odin - in the Scandinavian mythology, the chief god; in Vadim (1822) Pushkin mentions surovoe plemya Odena (Odin's severe tribe)
Ragusa - Italian name of Dubrovnik, a seaport in S Croatia; according to Ada, Vanda Broom was "shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night, in Ragusa of all places" (2.6)
dar - gift; Dar is a novel (1937) by VN
Vanadis - one of the names of Freyja, the Scandinavian Venus
Borodino - village W of Moscow, site of the battle against Napoleon in 1812; a poem (1837) by Lermontov
grausam - Germ., gruesome (according to Cordula, Vanda Broom is a gruesome girl)

In Pushkin's poem Poet i tolpa ("The Poet and the Crowd," 1828) Chern' (the Mob) mentions the Poet's dar (gift) and the Poet mentions metla (the broom) with which they sweep the streets:


Нет, если ты небес избранник,
Свой дар, божественный посланник,
Во благо нам употребляй:
Сердца собратьев исправляй.
Мы малодушны, мы коварны,
Бесстыдны, злы, неблагодарны;
Мы сердцем хладные скопцы,
Клеветники, рабы, глупцы;
Гнездятся клубом в нас пороки.
Ты можешь, ближнего любя,
Давать нам смелые уроки,
А мы послушаем тебя.


Подите прочь — какое дело
Поэту мирному до вас!
В разврате каменейте смело,
Не оживит вас лиры глас!
Душе противны вы, как гробы.
Для вашей глупости и злобы
Имели вы до сей поры
Бичи, темницы, топоры; —
Довольно с вас, рабов безумных!
Во градах ваших с улиц шумных
Сметают сор, — полезный труд! —
Но, позабыв своё служенье,
Алтарь и жертвоприношенье,
Жрецы ль у вас метлу берут?
Не для житейского волненья,
Не для корысти, не для битв,
Мы рождены для вдохновенья,
Для звуков сладких и молитв.

The Mob

No, Sir! If you are heaven’s chosen,
Not someone who’s a dime a dozen,
Use divine gift as it befits:
Conduits for useful benefits!
Correct with verse your brethren’s hearts,
For we are cowardly, ungrateful,
Sly, foolish, wicked, shameless, hateful,
Slaves, liars, targets for your dart.
We are cold castrates of the heart!
Berate us then, our vice to lessen,
Loving thy neighbor. We too may love you
If you instill in us your lesson
The while we have a listen of you.

The Poet

Away with you! The peaceful poet
Cares not for your stupidity!
The lyre cannot revive your lot:
Persist in your depravity.
Each of you frightens like a coffin.
Think of the plethora of fine things
You’ve used to exercise your vileness:
Whips, prisons, axes; – enough, mandmen!
Since on your sidewalk townfolk walk,
Sweeping it clean is useful work,
Yet do you ask the altar priests
To ply the broom and sweep the streets?
No, not for mundane trepidation,
Nor mortal gain, nor battleground,
But we were born for inspiration,
For prayerful and wondrous sound.
(transl. Philip Nikolaev)

According to Van, angels, too, have brooms:

Nirvana, Nevada, Vaniada. By the way, should I not add, my Ada, that only at the very last interview with poor dummy-mummy, soon after my premature - I mean, premonitory - nightmare about, 'You can, Sir,' she employed mon petit nom, Vanya, Vanyusha - never had before, and it sounded so odd, so tend... (voice trailing off, radiators tinkling).
'Dummy-mum' - (laughing). 'Angels, too, have brooms - to sweep one's soul clear of horrible images. My black nurse was Swiss-laced with white whimsies.' (5.6)

AAA (Andrey Andreevich Aksakov, Van's angelic Russian tutor) explained to a Negro lad that Pushkin had African blood:

AAA explained, he remembered, to a Negro lad with whom Van had scrapped, that Pushkin and Dumas had African blood, upon which the lad showed AAA his tongue, a new interesting trick which Van emulated at the earliest occasion and was slapped by the younger of the Misses Fortune, put it back in your face, sir, she said. (1.24)

It was Count Sava Raguzinski (1669-1738) who purchased for Peter I a black page, Abram Gannibal, Pushkin's great-grandfather (see Gannibal's German biography and "Abram Gannibal," Appendix I to VN's EO Commentary). The name Raguzinski comes from Ragusa. Btw., one wonders if that girlfriend of a girlfriend who shot dead poor Vanda Broom was not Ada (a girlfriend of Grace Erminin who married a Wellington, 2.6)?

Alexey Sklyarenko

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