Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024349, Sat, 22 Jun 2013 07:17:57 -0700

Re: Vetrov & Oks in LATH
Dear Alexey,

Can you back up your claim that Field was unscrupulous? Perhaps the time has come to discuss Nabokov's first biographer on the List. If this has been discussed here previously it was many years ago and I do not recall it. 

In what way is Andrew Field "a namesake of Andrey Bely"? Oh, you mean the same first name? This is an unusual use of the word. Nowadays only someone who is actually named for another is said to be their namesake - at least that's how I use it. Comments?

Could not Bely's (White's) real name, Bugaev, be derived from the river Bug? To me the name Oks is Hugo von Hoffmansthal's marvelous character in Der Rosenkavalier - but that's neither here nor there. Unless there is some link between HvH and VN? 


From: Alexey Sklyarenko <skylark1970@MAIL.RU>
Sent: Saturday, June 22, 2013 4:47 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] 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
Кювье литературных прахов,
20 На них ссылается
The seventy-five-year-old Vyazemski says good-bye to his muse,
his long-time mistress, before marrying honest and healthy
Пора с серьёзностью суровой
И с прозой
честной и здоровой
Вступить в благочестивый брак.
Остыть, надеть халат
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.
На ногах не стоит человек.
Ветер, ветер -
На всём божьем
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
Перу старинной нет охоты
Марать летучие листы;
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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