Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024366, Thu, 27 Jun 2013 23:37:59 +0300

Tornikovski & Kalikakov in LATH
Spying had been my clystere de Tchekhov even before I married Iris Black whose later passion for working on an interminable detective tale had been sparked by this or that hint I must have dropped, like a passing bird's lustrous feather, in relation to my experience in the vast and misty field of the Service. In my little way I have been of some help to my betters. The tree, a blue-flowering ash, whose cortical wound I caught the two "diplomats," Tornikovski and Kalikakov, using for their correspondence, still stands, hardly scarred, on its hilltop above San Bernardino. (5.1)

The unappetizing name Kalikakov blends kal (excrement) with kakat' (to defecate) but also seems to hint at kalos k'agathos, a phrase used by classical Greek writers to describe an ideal of personal conduct, especially in a military context. This phrase is mentioned by Andrey Bely in Na rubezhe dvukh stoletiy ("On the Border of Two Centuries", 1930), the first of the three books of Bely's memoirs:

греки имели термин для выражения высшего сочетания положительных качеств: «калос к'агатос» (прекрасно-добрый).
(the Greek had a term for the highest combination of positive qualities: kalos k'agathos ("beautiful and good"). Chapter Four "The Hymnasium Years")

Chapter Two of Na rubezhe is entitled Sreda ("Environment"). Sreda means also "Wednesday" and brings to mind Chekhov's friend and correspondent L. V. Sredin (1860-1909). Vtornik being Russian for "Tuesday", one is tempted to add V to Tornikovski's name which would turn him into "Vtornikovski". In Pushkin's unfinished novel Dubrovski (1833) vtornik is mentioned by Anna Savishna Globov (a neighbor and one of the guests of Kirila Petrovich Troekurov):

...А что слышно про Дубровского? где его видели в последний раз?
- У меня, Кирила Петрович, - пропищал толстый дамской голос, - в прошлый вторник обедал он у меня...
("...Last Tuesday Dubrovski dined at my place..." Chapter Nine)

As has been pointed out before, in Pushkin's tale the hollow in an oak tree is used for communication between Masha Troekurov and Vladimir Dubrovski. On the other hands, dub (an oak tree) is mentioned by Anna Globov (who compares her thievish steward to another tree, a little lime):

Приказчика моего нашли на другой день в лесу, привязанного к дубу и ободранного как липку.
("My steward was found on the nest day [Wednesday] in the forest, bound to an oak tree and fleeced." Ibid.)

During a mass in the new church built by Troekurov in his village the deacon mentions "the builder of this temple":

Началась обедня, домашние певчие пели на крылосе, Кирила Петрович сам подтягивал, молился, не смотря ни на право, ни на лево, и с гордым смирением
поклонился в землю, когда дьякон громогласно упомянул и о зиждителе храма сего. (Ibid.)

During the meeting with Vadim's benefactor, old Count Starov, Iris Black mentions the temple she and her husband are going to build:

"Your bride," he said, using, I knew, the word in the sense of fiancee (and speaking an English which Iris said later was exactly like mine in Ivor's unforgettable version) "is as beautiful as your wife will be!"
I quickly told him--in Russian--that the maire of Cannice had married us a month ago in a brisk ceremony. Nikifor Nikodimovich gave Iris another stare and finally kissed her hand, which I was glad to see she raised in the proper fashion (coached, no doubt, by Ivor who used to take every opportunity to paw his sister).
"I misunderstood the rumors," he said, "but all the same I am happy to make the acquaintance of such a charming young lady. And where, pray, in what church, will the vow be sanctified?"
"In the temple we shall build, Sir," said Iris--a trifle insolently, I thought.
Count Starov "chewed his lips," as old men are wont to do in Russian novels. Miss Vrode-Vorodin, the elderly cousin who kept house for him, made a timely entrance and led Iris to an adjacent alcove (illuminated by a resplendent portrait by Serov, 1896, of the notorious beauty, Mme. de Blagidze, in Caucasian costume) for a nice cup of tea. (LATH, 1.10)

According to Vadim, Serov (whose name comes from seryi, "grey") is also the author of Five-petaled Lilac depicting a girl who is Vadim's first cousin Ada Bredow:

I am thinking of Serov's Five-petaled Lilac, oil, which depicts a tawny-haired girl of twelve or sositting at a sun-flecked table and manipulating a raceme of lilac in search of that lucky token. The girl is no other than Ada Bredow, a first cousin of mine whom I flirted with disgracefully that very summer, the sun of which ocellates the garden table and her bare arms. (4.3)

As to Vadim's father, he was portrayed by Vrubel:

My father was a gambler and a rake. His society nickname was Demon. Vrubel has portrayed him with his vampire-pale cheeks, his diamond eyes, his black hair. What remained on the palette has been used by me, Vadim, son of Vadim, for touching up the father of the passionate siblings in the best of my English romaunts, Ardis (1970). (2.5)

In Bely's Na rubezhe Vrubel is mentioned immediately after kalos k'agathos:

Мне приходилось когда-то слышать едва ли не каждый день подобного рода замечания о Врубеле: "Дикое уродство: несосветимый бред!"
(I once heard nearly every day people say about Vrubel's paintings: "fantastic monstrosity, utter nonsense [bred]!")

Like Vrubel, Serov and Sredin (L. V. Sredin's younger brother, a painter, 1872-1934, who portrayed Chekhov's wife O. L. Knipper) are mentioned in Bely's memoirs. Clystere de Tchekhov is, of course, a play on violon d'Ingres (hobby). Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) is a French painter. As to violins, Smychyok i struny ("The Bow and the Strings") is a famous poem by I. Annenski included in Kiparisovyi larets ("The Cypress Casket", 1910). It begins: Kakoy tyazhyolyi, tyomnyi bred (What a heavy and dark delirium...):

Какой тяжёлый, тёмный бред!
Как эти выси мутно-лунны!
Касаться скрипки столько лет
И не узнать при свете струны!

Кому ж нас надо? Кто зажёг
Два жёлтых лика, два унылых...
И вдруг почувствовал смычок,
Что кто-то взял и кто-то слил их.

"О, как давно! Сквозь эту тьму
Скажи одно: ты та ли, та ли?"
И струны ластились к нему,
Звеня, но, ластясь, трепетали.

"Не правда ль, больше никогда
Мы не расстанемся? довольно?.."
И скрипка отвечала да,
Но сердцу скрипки было больно.

Смычок всё понял, он затих,
А в скрипке эхо всё держалось...
И было мукою для них,
Что людям музыкой казалось.

Но человек не погасил
До утра свеч... И струны пели...
Лишь солнце их нашло без сил
На чёрном бархате постели.

How dark and heavy’s the delirium’s embrace!
How they’re turbid under moon – the heights!
To have touched Violin for so many years
And not distinguish those Strings in light!

Who craves for us? Who, insolent, has set
In flames two faces, yellow and vexed,
And suddenly the saddened Bow felt
That someone took them and forever merged.

‘How long ago it was – as in a dream –
Tell me trough dark: are you the same one, else?’…
And Strings pressed close, caressing, to him,
Ringing and tossing in their fond caress.

‘Is that all true, that it’s enough, God blessed,
That we shall never ever part again?
And poor Violin replied him always ‘yes’,
Though its heart was sinking in sharp pain.

Bow fell silent, understanding, then,
But poor Violin still echoed its complaint,
And what seemed music to the most men,
To both of them was everlasting pain.

The man didn’t blow, till the night was gone,
The candles … And the Strings were singing, yet…
And they were found, drained of strength, by sun
On the black velvet of the sleepless bed.
(transl. E. Bonver)

Alexey Sklyarenko (from lime-blossoming St. Petersburg)

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