Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024504, Tue, 20 Aug 2013 16:46:54 +0300

Diana Vane & Lyuba Savich in LATH
A character in Iris Black's unfinished detective novel, Diana Vane, meets Jules at a riding school:

Diana Vane, an incidental but on the whole nice girl, sojourning in Paris, happened to meet, at a riding school, a strange Frenchman, of Corsican, or perhaps Algerian, origin, passionate, brutal, unbalanced. (1.12)

Iris shows to her husband what is supposed to be Jules's love letter to Diana. After reading it Vadim says: "this is not a romantic Corsican writing a crime passionnel letter; it is a Russian blackmailer knowing just enough English to translate into it the stalest Russian locutions." (ibid.)

In Dostoevski's Besy (The Possessed) Captain Lebyadkin sends a love letter to Liza Tushin. One of Lebyadkin's poems addressed to Liza is entitled Zvezde-amazonke ("To a Star on Horseback"):

И порхает звезда на коне
В хороводе других амазонок;
Улыбается с лошади мне
Ари-сто-кратический ребёнок.

And the star flutters on horseback
in the round dance of other amazons.
An aristocratic child
smiles at me from the horse.

In his article The Poetry of Ignat Lebydkin (1931) Hodasevich says that several years ago in St. Petersburg he asked young poets who was the author of the lines: "And the star flutters on horseback / in the round dance of other amazons" and every time the answer was: "Blok." In his Italian Verses (1909) Blok compares Florence to a smoky iris and in his poem V restorane (At a Restaurant, 1910) Blok mentions a black rose:

Я послал тебе чёрную розу в бокале
Золотого, как небо, аи.
I sent you a black rose in a goblet
Of champagne, golden as the sky.

Lieutenant Starov (who seems to be the real author of the letter that Iris shows to Vadim) murders Iris Black as she returns from Paon d'Or ("The Golden Peacock"), the restaurant where she dined with Vadim and her brother Yvor. (1.13)

In his love letter to Liza Tushin (quoted by Hodasevich in his article) Lebyadkin says: "Вы богиня в древности, а я ничто и догадался о беспредельности" ("you are a goddess in antiquity, and I'm nothing and have guessed about infinity"). Diana is the moon personified as a goddess. In Canto One of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions lik Diany (Diana's face) not reflected by the mirror of the Neva in the white nights:

Как часто летнею порою,
Когда прозрачно и светло
Ночное небо над Невою
И вод весёлое стекло
Не отражает лик Дианы,
Воспомня прежних лет романы,
Воспомня прежнюю любовь,
Чувствительны, беспечны вновь,
Дыханьем ночи благосклонной
Безмолвно упивались мы!
Как в лес зелёный из тюрьмы
Перенесён колодник сонный,
Так уносились мы мечтой
К началу жизни молодой.

How oft in summertide,
when transparent and luminous
is the night sky above the Neva,
and the gay glass of waters
doesn't reflect Diana's visage -
having recalled intrigues of former years,
having recalled a former love,*
Impressible, carefree again,
the breath of the benignant night
we silently drank in!
As to the greenwood from a prison
a slumbering clogged convict is transferred,
so we'd be borne off by a dream
to the beginning of young life. (XLVII)

Pushkin's EO is a novel in verse. Vadim is the author of Plenilune, a novella in verse (1929):

I broke the monastic rules of work on my novella in verse Polnolunie (Plenilune) by riding with her [Iris] in the Bois or dutifully escorting her to fashion-show teases and exhibitions of avant-garde frauds. (1.12)

Diana Vane's surname brings to mind VN's story The Vane Sisters (1959). The name of the elder sister, Cynthia, hints at the goddess Artemis (Apollo's sister who was born on Mt. Cynthus, on Delos). The moon is the emblem of Artemis (Cynthia). The name of the younger sister, Sybil, hints at sibyls, the ancient prophetesses. Dostoevski's Pushkinskaya rech' (the speech at the unveiling of the Pushkin monument in Moscow in June, 1880) begins as follows:

PUSHKIN is an extraordinary phenomenon, and, perhaps, the unique phenomenon of the Russian spirit, said Gogol. I will add, ‘and a prophetic phenomenon.’ Yes, in his appearing there is contained for all us Russians, something incontestably prophetic. Pushkin arrives exactly at the beginning of our true selfconsciousness, which had only just begun to exist a whole century after Peter’s reforms, and Pushkin’s coming mightily aids us in our dark way by a new guiding light. In this sense Pushkin is a presage and a prophecy.

Dostoevski's favorite poem by Pushkin was Prorok (The Prophet, 1826). It begins:

Духовной жаждою томим,
В пустыне мрачной я влачился, -
И шестикрылый серафим
На перепутьи мне явился.

Tormented by a spiritual thirst,
I stumbled through a gloomy waste,
And there a six-winged seraph
Appeared before me at the crossroad.

Shestikrylyi serafim (a six-winged seraph) in Pushkin's poem brings to mind Lyubov' Serafimovna Savich, a reformed terrorist's daughter who works for Vadim as a secretary after Iris Black's death (before Vadim meets Annette Blagovo): Zdraste, and once more zdraste, Lyubov Serafimovna--and, oh, what a delightful amalgam that was, with lyubov meaning "love," and Serafim ("seraph") being the Christian name of a reformed terrorist! (2.2)

Lyuba's father, a famous SR (Social Revolutionist), had recently died in Meudon upon completing his biography of Alexander the First (a tedious work in two volumes entitled The Monarch and the Mystic, now available to American students in an indifferent translation. Harvard, 1970). (ibid.) The author of Kon' blednyi (Pale Horse, 1913, under the pen name V. Ropshin) and Kon' voronoy (Black Horse, 1923), Boris Savinkov (1879-1925, one of the leaders of the SR Party and a reformed terrorist) was less happy: he died a Luzhinesque death in the Lubyanka prison. Savinkov served as a model for Dudkin in Bely's Petersburg (1916).

On the other hand, Seraphim of Sarov (1754/59?-1833, a Russian Saint, contemporary of Alexander the First) brings to mind Count Starov, Vadim's benefactor who can be his (and Iris Black's, and Annette Blagovo's, and Louise Adamson's) father.

Had there been a Miss Russia and had the age of prize misses been prolonged to just under thirty, beautiful Lyuba would have won the title. She was a tall woman with slim ankles, big breasts, broad shoulders, and a pair of gay blue eyes in a round rosy face...
Not only had I never experienced the faintest twinge of desire in regard to beautiful Lyuba, but the indifference of my senses was turning to positive repulsion. The softer her glances fluttered, the more ungentlemanly my reaction became. Her very refinement had a dainty edge of vulgarity that infested with the sweetness of decay her entire personality. (ibid.)

Vadim's aversion to Lyuba Savich reminds one of Onegin's attitude in regard to Olga Larin:

"Я выбрал бы другую,
Когда б я был, как ты, поэт.
В чертах у Ольги жизни нет.
Точь-в-точь в Вандиковой Мадоне:
Кругла, красна лицом она,
Как эта глупая луна
На этом глупом небосклоне".

"I'd have chosen the other,
if I had been like you a poet.
In Olga's features there's no life,
just as in a Vandyke Madonna:
she's round and fair of face
as is that silly moon
up in that silly sky." (EO, Three: V: 6-12)

Btw., Pushkin's term of contradistinctive endearment for his wife was kosaya madonna ("strabismic madonna"). See also Pushkin's poem Madona (1830).

*these lines were used by VN as the epigraph to Mashen'ka (Mary, 1926)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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