Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024548, Wed, 4 Sep 2013 23:31:41 +0300

LATH vs. Pushkin's Boris Godunov
I thought I had crossed the frontier when a bare-headed Red Army soldier with a Mongol face who was picking whortleberries near the trail challenged me: "And whither," he asked picking up his cap from a stump, "may you be rolling (kotishsya), little apple (yablochko)? Pokazyvay-ka dokumentiki (Let me see your papers)." (1.2)

Yabloko (apple) is mentioned at the end of of Pushkin's Boris Godunov (1825). A man in the crowd quotes the saying yabloko ot yabloni nedaleko padaet ("like mother, like child"):

ONE OF THE PEOPLE. Brother and sister—poor children, like birds in a cage.
SECOND PERSON. Are you going to pity them? Accursed family!
FIRST PERSON. The father [Boris Godunov] was a villain, but the children are innocent.
SECOND PERSON. The apple does not fall far from the apple-tree. (The Kremlin. House of Boris)

One of the main characters in Boris Godunov is Grigoriy Otrepiev, a fugitive monk who becomes the Pretender to the Throne of Russia (False Dimitry I). Like Pushkin's Grishka, the hero and narrator of LATH, Vadim Vadimovich N., is an impostor. His crossing the frontier reminds one of Grigoriy's escape from Russia:

HOSTESS. They will not catch the old devil; as if there were no other road into Lithuania than the highway! Just turn to the left from here, then by the pinewood or by the footpath as far as the chapel on the Chekansky brook, and then straight across the marsh to Khlopin, and thence to Zakhariev, and then any child will guide you to the Luyov mountains. (BG, "Tavern on the Lithuanian Frontier")

It is Dagmara, Mstislav Charnetski's young mistress, who shows to Vadim a trail leading across the frontier:

One autumn evening poor Mstislav's young mistress showed me a fairy-tale path winding through a great forest where a last aurochs had been speared by a first Charnetski under John III (Sobieski). I followed that path with a knapsack on my back and--why not confess--a tremor of remorse and anxiety in my young heart. Was I right in abandoning my cousin in the blackest hour of Russia's black history? Did I know how to exist alone in strange lands? (1.2)

Years later, a line from Bel's poem, umnitsa tropka (the intelligent trail) serves as a code between Vadim and his daughter. From Dora's letter to Vadim:

In order to convince you that she [Bel] is here, with me, telling me to write you and unable to write herself, I am appending a little clue or token that only you and she can decode: "...and the intelligent trail (i umnitsa tropka)." (5.1)

Bel is the daughter of Vadim and his second wife Annette Blagovo. The latter is a namesake of Anyuta Blagovo, a character Chekhov's story Moya zhizn' (My Life, 1896). The story's hero and narrator has a rare name Misail. Misail and Varlaam are characters in Boris Godunov, the two wandering friars with whom Grishka dines in a tavern on the Lithuanian frontier.

Vadim never tells us his family name, but I think it can be guessed.

Would I despise her [Lyuba Savich] for having an album with reviews of my books pasted in--Morozov's and Yablokov's lovely essays as well as the trash of such hacks as Boris Nyet, and Boyarski? (2.2)

Vadim's friend Boris Morozov, the poet, and Boris Nyet are the namesakes of Boris Godunov. Ньет (Nyet) is an anagram of тень (shade; shadow). In Pushkin's drama Grigoriy tells Marina Mnishek:

Тень Грозного меня усыновила,
Димитрием из гроба нарекла...
The shade of Ivan the Terrible has adopted me,
has from the grave named me Dimitry ...

Boyarskiy means "of or pertaining to boyarin (boyar), a member of the old nobility in Russia (before Peter's reforms)." Prigovor boyarskiy (the boyar verdict) is mentioned in Boris Godunov. Yablokov comes from yabloko (apple). "The apple does not fall far from the apple-tree (yablonya)," and it seems to me that Vadim's real name is Yablonski. Vadim changes only its initial, when he wants us to suppose that his real name is Oblonski:

Let us suppose my real name to have been "Oblonsky" (a Tolstoyan invention); then the false one would be, for example, the mimetic "O. B. Long," an oblong blursky, so to speak. (5.1)

Oblonski is Anna Karenin's maiden name. At the beginning of Tolstoy's novel Anna's brother Stepan Arkadievich ("Stiva") Oblonski wakes up and realizes that his wife Dolly is about to leave him. When he visits Bel (who is to marry soon Charlie Everette with whom she will elope to the Soviet Union where she will become Isabella Vadimovna Vetrov) at her boarding school in Switzerland, Vadim for some reason calls her "Dolly:"

"Come and see us at Quirn soon, soon, Dolly," I said, as we all stood on the sidewalk with mountains outlined in solid black against an aquamarine sky, and choughs jacking harshly, flying in flocks to roost, away, away.
I cannot explain the slip, but it angered Bel more than anything had ever angered her at any time.
"What is he saying?" she cried, looking in turn at Louise, at her beau, and again at Louise. "What does he mean? Why does he call me 'Dolly'? Who is she for God's sake? Why, why (turning to me), why did you say that?"
"Obmolvka, prosti (lapse of the tongue, sorry)," I replied, dying, trying to turn everything into a dream, a dream about that hideous last moment. (4.7)

Vadim feels that a demon is forcing him to impersonate some other writer who was and would always be incomparably greater, healthier, and crueler than he (2.3). That other writer is Nabokov, the author of Lolita. She [Lolita] was Dolly at school. Lolita's (Dolly's) full name is Dolores Haze. According to John Ray, Jr., 'Haze' only rhymes with the heroine's real surname. Similarly, Oblonski rhymes with Vadim's real surname, Yablonski.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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