Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024465, Sun, 11 Aug 2013 22:19:04 +0300

Mephisto in Ada
From Manhattan, via Mephisto, El Paso, Meksikansk and the Panama Chunnel, the dark-red New World Express reached Brazilia and Witch (or Viedma, founded by a Russian admiral). (2.2)

Mephisto seems to blend Memphis, a city in SW Tennessee, with Mephistopheles, the devil's name in Goethe's Faust. There are witches (Hexen) in Goethe's tragedy.

Stalin famously said that Gorky's Pesnya o sokole (The Song about a Falcon) was more powerful than Goethe's Faust ("veshch' posil'nee Fausta Gyote"). In his essay on New York (the city known on Antiterra as Manhattan and often shortened to Man) Gorky calls New York "gorod zhyoltogo d'yavola" (the city of the yellow devil, i. e. gold). Gorod (city) = gordo (proudly). In Gorky's play Na dne (At the Bottom, 1902) Satin says: Chelovek - eto zvuchit gordo! ("Man, this sounds proudly!") Satin + L = Stalin, Satin + i = istina (truth; istina v vine, in vino veritas)

Ved'ma ("The Witch," 1886) is a story by Chekhov. In Chekhov's one-act play Svad'ba ("The Wedding," 1889) based on his earlier story Svad'ba s generalom ("The Wedding with a General," 1883) the general turns out to be a naval officer (a second-class naval captain, which, according to the table of precedence, corresponds to a lieutenant-colonel). Chekhov is the author of two monologue scenes O vrede tabaka ("On the Harm of Tobacco," 1886, 1903). No doubt, it was Admiral Tobakov (the ancestor of Cordula's first husband, the shipowner) who founded Viedma.*

The characters of Chekhov's Svad'ba include the telegraphist Yat'. In the old Russian alphabet the letter ? (canceled by the reform of 1918) was called yat'. In VN's play Sobytie (The Event, 1938) Troshcheykin says that his ancestor wrote his name with yat' and asks his sister-in-law Vera to write his name with yat' (instead of "e"). Troshcheykin's wife Lyubov' complains that she married letter yat'. While the name-and-patronymic of Lyubov's mother, Antonina Pavlovna Opayashin, hints at Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, Lyubov's husband Aleksey Maksimovich Troshcheykin is a namesake of Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov (Gorky's real name). The demonic killer Barbashin (of whom Trosheykin is mortally afraid) and the private detective Barboshin (hired by Trosheykin to protect him from Barbashin) are but two incarnations of one and the same character, the devil. The devil's weak spot is stupidity. Stalin's above-quoted dictum is a good example of the tyrant's utter stupidity.

*When Van meets Cordula (now Mrs. Tobak) in Paris, she bends with baby words of comfort over two unhappy poodlets attached to the waiting-post of a sausage shop (3.2). In Goethe's Faust Mephistopheles appears to Faust as a black poodle.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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