Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024522, Sun, 25 Aug 2013 22:47:19 +0300

Oksman in LATH
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)

In Dostoevski's The Village of Stepanchikovo and its Inhabitants (1859) the house serf Falaley almost every night dreams of a white bull. The story's characters include Mizinchikov, whose comedy name comes from mizinets (little finger). In his letter to Annette Blagovo Vadim compares his mental flaw to a missing pinkie:

Voila. Sounds rather tame, doesn't it, en fait de demence, and, indeed, if I stop brooding over the thing, I decrease it to an insignificant flaw--the missing pinkie of a freak born with nine fingers. (2.7)

Before she starts working for Vadim, Annette Blagovo worked as a secretary for Oksman:

Did I know Oksman, the owner of the Russian bookshop on rue Cuvier?
"Yes, slightly. But I want to ask you--"
"Well," she [Berta Stepanov] went on, interrupting me, "Annette sekretarstvovala for him while his regular typist was hospitalized, but she is now quite well again, and you might--" (2.3)

It is "Oks" (Osip Lvovich Oksman, 1885?--1943?) who arranges Vadim's meeting with Annette:

"She'll call you; though, to tell the truth, I do not envy anybody having to use the services of that capricious, absentminded young lady." (2.4)

Vadim's last Russian novel Podarok otchizne (The Dare, 1950) includes "a concise biography and critical appraisal of Fyodor Dostoyevski" (2.5).

On the other hand, "Oks, a tall, bony, elderly man with a Shakespearean pate" (2.4), brings to mind the hero of Leskov's story Ovtsebyk ("The Muskox," 1862). Leskov is the author of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1865). His name comes from les (forest, woods). Les (The Forest, 1871) is a play by Ostrovski, whose name comes from ostrov (island). The Island of Doctor Moreau (cf. "Dr. Moreau's island zoo" mentioned by Vadim) is a novel (1896) by H. G. Wells, Iris Black's favorite writer (1.5).

The only real shock I experienced was when I overheard her [Annette] informing some idiot woman friend that my Dare included biographies of "Chernolyubov and Dobroshevski"! She actually started to argue when I retorted that only a lunatic would have chosen a pair of third-rate publicists to write about--spoonerizing their names in addition! (2.5)

While VN's Dar (The Gift, 1952) includes Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev's biography of Chernyshevski, Dobrolyubov (a character in Fyodor's The Life of Chernyshevski) is the author of Luch sveta v tyomnom tsarstve (A Ray of Light in the Dark Kingdom), an article on Ostrovski's play Groza (The Thunderstorm, 1859). The characters of Groza include Kabanikha (Katerina's mother-in-law whose nickname means "a female boar").

Fyodor's inspiration for writing his book is an article about Chernyshevski (entitled Chernyshevski i shakhmaty) in a Soviet chess magazine:

But a few days later he happened to come across that same copy of 8 ? 8; he leafed through it, looking for unfinished bits, and when all the problems turned out to be solved, he ran his eyes over the two-column extract from Chernyshevski's youthful diary; he glanced through it, smiled, and began to read it over with interest. (The Gift, Chapter Three)

Oksman is associated with chess:

The house [rented by Oksman for his business] was dark except for three windows: two adjacent rectangles of light in the middle of the upper-floor row, d8 and e8, Continental notation (where the letter denotes the file and the number the rank of a chess square) and another light just below at e7. Good God, had I forgotten at home the note I had scribbled for the unknown Miss Blagovo? No, it was still there in my breast pocket under the old, treasured, horribly hot and long Trinity College muffler. I hesitated between a side door on my right--marked Magazin--and the main entrance, with a chess coronet above the bell. Finally I chose the coronet. We were playing a Blitz game: my opponent moved at once, lighting the vestibule fan at d6. One could not help wondering if under the house there might not exist the five lower floors which would complete the chessboard and that somewhere, in subterranean mystery, new men might not be working out the doom of a fouler tyranny. (2.4)

"You have glimpsed," he [Oks] added, "the parturition of a new literary review, Prime Numbers; at least they think they are parturiating: actually, they are boozing and gossiping. Now let me show you something." (ibid.)

In his story Usta k ustam (Lips to Lips, 1931) VN satirizes the editors of Chisla (Numbers), a literary review that came out in Paris. One of the story's characters, Galatov (the editor of Arion), has beautiful ovine eyes. Semantically, ovtsebyk (muskox, Ovibos moschatus) is a "cross" of ovtsa (sheep) and byk (bull, ox).

After a moment of rumination and an upward glance at the lighted windows, Oks beckoned to the night watchman who was stroking the sad little dog of a dog-walking neighbor. (ibid.)

In Leskov's Muskox the narrator's fierce-looking dog has the same name as several dachshunds of the Nabokovs: Box.

Ox is the owner of the Boyan publishing firm:

The "Boyan" publishing firm (Morozov's and mine was the "Bronze Horseman," its main rival), with a bookshop (selling not only emigre editions but also tractor novels from Moscow) and a lending library, occupied a smart three-story house of the hotel particulier type. (ibid.)

The legendary Russian bard Boyan is mentioned and apostrophized at the beginning of The Song of Igor's Campaign. Igor's brother, Wild Bull Vsevolod says to Igor: "Saddle, brother, your swift steeds. / As to mine, they are ready, / saddled ahead, near Kursk; / as to my Kurskers, they are famous knights / swaddled under war-horns, / nursed under helmets, / fed from the point of the lance..." (75-81)

Kursk and its vicinity is the setting of Leskov's Muskox.

Leskov and Dostoevski are among the writers whom Fyodor discusses in his imaginary dialogue with Koncheyev:

'And yet... how about his [Leskov's] image of Jesus "the ghostly Galilean, cool and gentle, in a robe the colour of ripening plum"? Or his description of a yawning dog's mouth with "its bluish palate as if smeared with pomade"? Or that lightening of his that at night illumines the room in detail, even to the magnesium oxide left on silver spoon?' (The Gift, Chapter One)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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