Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024495, Sun, 18 Aug 2013 19:11:57 +0300

Nadezhda Starov et al. in LATH
Nadezhda Gordonovna Starov was the wife of a leytenant Starov (Christian name unimportant), who had served under General Wrangel and now had some office job in the White Cross. I had met him in London recently, as fellow pallbearer at the funeral of the old Count, whose bastard or "adopted nephew" (whatever that meant), he was said to be. (1.11)

"The old Count" is Vadim's benefactor (his real father?), Nikifor Nikodimovich Starov. His patronymic brings to mind "Nikodim Nevezhdin," as Pushkin called* the critic Nikolay Nadezhdin (1804-56) whose pen name was Nikodim Nadoumko. Pushkin mentiones Nadezhdin in an autobiographical note dated March 23, 1830:

I met Nadezhdin at the house of Pogodin. Nadezhdin struck me as most plebeian, vulgar, tedious, bumptious, and devoid of manners. For instance, he picked up the handkerchief I had dropped. (as quoted by VN in his EO Commentary, III, p. 175)

While Nadezhdin comes from nadezhda (hope), Nevezhdin comes from nevezhda (ignoramus). In Pushkin's famous epigram on Count Vorontsov (1824) nevezhda (ignoramus) rhymes with nadezhda (hope):

Полу-милорд, полу-купец,
Полу-мудрец, полу-невежда,
Полу-подлец, но есть надежда,
Что будет полным наконец.

Half-milord, half-merchant,
Half-sage, half-ignoramus,
Half-scoundrel, but there's a hope
Thet he will be a full one at last.

Vorontsov (and later Chernyshevski) famously called Pushkin слабый подражатель лорда Байрона (a weak imitator of Lord Byron; see Chapter Four of The Gift). Nadezhda Starov's patronymic seems to hint at George Gordon, Baron Byron (1788-1824).

The name Pogodin (of the literary man at whose house Pushkin met Nadezhdin) comes from pogoda (weather). In the celebrated stanza L of Canto One of Eugene Onegin Pushkin says that he waits for pogoda (the right weather) to leave Russia:

Придёт ли час моей свободы?
Пора, пора! - взываю к ней;
Брожу над морем, жду погоды,
Маню ветрила кораблей.
Под ризой бурь, с волнами споря,
По вольному распутью моря
Когда ж начну я вольный бег?
Пора покинуть скучный брег
Мне неприязненной стихии
И средь полуденных зыбей,
Под небом Африки моей,
Вздыхать о сумрачной России,
Где я страдал, где я любил,
Где сердце я похоронил.

Will the hour of my freedom come?
'Tis time, 'tis time! To it I call;
I roam above the sea, I wait for the right weather,
I beckon to the sails of ships.
Under the cope of storms, with waves disputing,
on the free crossway of the sea
when shall I start on my free course?
'Tis time to leave the dreary shore
of the element inimical to me,
and 'mid meridian ripples
beneath the sky of my Africa,
to sigh for somber Russia,
where I suffered, where I loved,
where I buried my heart.

In the preceding stanza (XLIX: 6) Pushkin mentions "the proud lyre of Albion" (i. e. Byron's poetry).

Manyu vetrila korabley [I beckon to the sails of ships]: According to Bartenev, who had it from A. Rosset in the 1850's, Pushkin used to call (in 1824?) Countess Eliza Vorontsov [the wife of "Milord Worontsov"] "la princesse Belvetrille," because in Odessa, looking at the sea, she liked to repeat two lines from Zhukovski:

Ne beleet [shows white] li vetrilo [sail],
Ne plyvut li korabli. (EO Commentary, II, p. 191)

"Belvetrille" brings to mind Vadim's daughter Bel and her husband "Karl Ivanovich Vetrov." Also, one is reminded of Lermontov's poem Parus ("The Sail," 1832): Beleet parus odinokiy / v tumane morya golubom ("A solitary sail is showing white in a blue haze of the sea") and the lines from his Demon (1829-40): Na vozdushnom okeane / Bez rulyua i bez vetril (In the aerial ocean / Without ruddder and sails...)

The English locution closest to pogoda in the sense employed here by Pushkin would have been "wind and weather"; but that "wind" is the flatus of a paraphrase unsuitable to my purpose. The harassed translator has to bear in mind that Pushkin's verse Brozhu nad morem, zhdu pogody is based on the common saying sidet' u morya i zhdat' pogody, "to sit by the sea and wait for (suitable) weather," meaning "to wait inertly for circumstances to improve."
And, finally, one cannot afford to overlook the well-known fact that here, as in other poems, Pushkin makes an allusion to his political plight in meteorological terms. (EO Commentary, II, p. 188)

Dora was to meet me Friday morning on the Square of the Arts in front of the Russian Museum near the statue of Pushkin erected some ten years before by a committee of weathermen. An Intourist folder had yielded a tinted photograph of the spot. The meteorological associations of the monument predominated over its cultural ones. Frock-coated Pushkin, the right-side lap of his garment permanently agitated by the Nevan breeze rather than by the violence of lyrical afflatus, stands looking upward and
to the left while his right hand is stretched out the other way, sidewise, to test the rain (a very natural attitude at the time lilacs bloom in the Leningrad parks). (LATH, 5.2)

Vadim's commercially most successful novel is A Kingdom by the Sea (1962). On his way back from Leningrad to New York, in the transit lounge of the Orly airport, he finds a copy of it:

With a hovering grin, I noticed and picked up a paperback somebody had left on a seat next to mine in the transit lounge of the Orly airport. I was the mouse of fate on that pleasant June afternoon between a shop of wines and a shop of perfumes.
I held in my hands a copy of a Formosan (!) paperback reproduced from the American edition of A Kingdom by the Sea. (5.3)

Annabel Lee by E. A. Poe begins:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea.

On the other hand, Poe is the author of The Raven (1845). The name Vorontsov has voron (raven) in it (note that the name Orlov, of the man who accompanies Vadim in his trip to Leningad and back to Paris, comes from oryol, eagle). Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.' When he wrote LATH, VN knew that he would never return to Russia. Btw., VN had left Russia on a small and shoddy Greek ship Nadezhda (Speak, Memory, Chapter Twelve, 5).

*in <Obshchestvo moskovskikh literatorov> ("The Society of Moscow Literary Men," <1829>)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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