Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024348, Sat, 22 Jun 2013 14:47:56 +0300

Vetrov & Oks in LATH
In Part Five of LATH Vadim Vadimovich describes his trip to Leningrad in an attempt to get out of trouble his daughter Bel who eloped to Soviet Russia with Charlie Everette. But V.V. fails to find in his former home city the wife of Karl Ivanovich Vetrov (Charlie Everette's new name) and comes back to Paris empty-handed. The surname Vetrov comes from veter (wind) reminding one of the saying ishchi vetra v pole ("go and chase the wind in the field", meaning "it is no use searching"). Pole (field), in turn, occurs in the proverbs odin v pole ne voin ("one man is no man") and zhizn' prozhit' - ne pole pereyti ("living life is not just like crossing a field"). (The latter proverb is quoted by Pasternak in the closing line of Hamlet, the opening poem in The Poems of Yuri Zhivago.) The inspiration for LATH was Field's biography of VN full of errors and inaccuracies of all kind.

VN's unscrupulous biographer, Andrew Field is a namesake of Andrey Bely, the author of Petersburg (1916) and Moskva pod udarom ("Moscow under Siege", 1926). Andrey Bely was a pen name of Boris Bugaev (1880-1934). The surname Bugaev comes from bugay (dial., bull), which brings to mind Oks (Osip Lvovich Oksman), a character in LATH. Oksman is the owner of a Russian bookshop on rue Cuvier (2.3). Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) was a French naturalist, pioneer in the fields of paleontology and comparative anatomy. In his poem Pora stikhami zagovet'sya... ("It's time to stop writing verses..." 1867) Vyazemski calls A. D. Galakhov (a historian of literature, 1807-92, compiler of textbooks and anthologies, the so-called khrestomatii) "the Cuvier of literary ashes":

Кювье литературных прахов,
20 На них ссылается Галахов...

The seventy-five-year-old Vyazemski says good-bye to his muse, his long-time mistress, before marrying honest and healthy prose:

Пора с серьёзностью суровой
И с прозой честной и здоровой
Вступить в благочестивый брак.
Остыть, надеть халат домашний
И, позабыв былые шашни,
30 Запрятать голову в колпак.

Прости же, милая шалунья,
С которой пир медоволунья
Так долго праздновали мы.*

Vyazemski's neologism medovolunie (honeymoon) reminds one of Vadim's novel Plenilune (1929). Can it be that Vadim's last love, the "you" of LATH, is honest prose he wants to marry? Or perhaps, vice versa, "you" is the true and faithful muse whom Vadim Vadimovich finally meets in his old age?

As to Oksman, he is also linked to H. G. Wells, Iris Black's favorite writer:

A few minutes later as I was about to open the window and strip in front of it (at moments of raw widowerhood a soft black night in the spring is the most soothing voyeuse imaginable), Berta Stepanov telephoned to say that the oxman (what a shiver my Iris derived from Dr. Moreau's island zoo--especially from such bits as the "screaming shape," still half-bandaged, escaping out of the lab!) would be up till dawn in his shop, among nightmare-inherited ledgers. (2.3)

The Island of Doctor Moreau is a novel (1896) by H. G. Wells. Iris Black is the first of Vadim's three or four successive wives. Note that Bugaev's penname means in Russian "white". Black evening, white snow and veter (wind) occur in the opening lines of Blok's poem Dvenadtsat' ("The Twelve", 1918) set in Revolutionary Petrograd (St. Petersburg's name in 1914-24):

Чёрный вечер.
Белый снег.
Ветер, ветер!
На ногах не стоит человек.
Ветер, ветер -
На всём божьем свете!

Black evening. White snow.
The wind, the wind is blowing!
A man can not stand on his feet.
The wind, the wind is blowing
all over the world!

In his memoir essay on Gorki Hodasevich mentions H. G. Wells's visit to Petrograd. Upon returning to London, Wells wrote Russia in the Shadows (1921) in which he called Lenin "the Kremlin dreamer". "Dreams, dreams! Where is your dulcitude? / Where is (its stock rhyme) juventude?" (EO, Six: XLIV: 5-6)

*an echo of Pushkin's lines in Eugene Onegin (Six: XLIII: 5-14):

Лета к суровой прозе клонят,
Лета шалунью рифму гонят,
И я - со вздохом признаюсь -
За ней ленивей волочусь.
Перу старинной нет охоты
Марать летучие листы;
Другие, хладные мечты,
Другие, строгие заботы
И в шуме света и в тиши
Тревожат сон моей души.

The years to austere prose incline,
the years chase rhyme, the romp, away,
and I - with a sigh I confess -
more indolently dangle after her.
My pen has not its ancient disposition
to scrawl fugitive leaves;
other, chill, dreams,
other, stern, cares,
both in the social hum and in the hush
disturb my soul's sleep.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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