Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024588, Mon, 16 Sep 2013 13:24:55 +0300

labor camp in Vadim
[Oleg Orlov to Vadim Vadimovich:] The reason Mister (it rhymed with 'Easter' in his foul serpent-mouth) Vetrov was permitted to leave a certain labor camp in Vadim--odd coincidence--so he might fetch his wife, is that he has been cured now of his mystical mania--cured by such nutcrackers, such shrinkers as are absolutely unknown in the philosophy of your Western sharlatany. (LATH, 5.3)

Vadim as a place name seems to hint at Vladimir, the old Russian city about 100 miles northeast of Moscow infamous for its prison for political prisoners of the Soviet regime. But even before the Revolution Vladimirka (the Vladimir Highway, see Levitan's painting below) was known as the road leading to sinister Siberia and Sakhalin (the places of exile and penal servitude).

Anton Chekhov (the author of The Island of Sakhalin, 1893-94) used to call his numerous female fans antonovki (pl. of antonovka), a play on antonovskie yabloki. Antonovskie yabloki (Antonov Apples, 1900) is a famous short story by Ivan Bunin. In one of his letters to Aldanov VN complains that in his collection of stories Tyomnye allei (Dark Avenues, 1944) Bunin pereebunil (has fucked) too many ladies.

Vadim Vadimovich's surname that we never learn from him seems to be Yablonski. It comes from yablonya (apple tree) and allows of licentious puns (e. g. Yablonski - paren' na yat', "Yablonski is a first-rate chap"). Changing its initial (transliterated as Ya*) to E would make Vadim's princely family name completely indecent.

Vladimir is also the first name of Lenin, Lenski and VN's father. According to Oks (Osip Lvovich Oksman, the owner of the "Boyan" publishing firm, who confuses Vadim with VN and Vadim's father with VDN and who is to perish in a Nazi concentration camp), "we can't all be Lenskis:"

"Bon," he said upon rejoining me. "If you don't want a taxi, let us set out on foot. He will take care of my imprisoned visitors. There are heaps of things I want you to tell me about your work and your life. Your confreres say you are 'arrogant and unsocial' as Onegin describes himself to Tatiana but we can't all be Lenskis, can we? Let me take advantage of this pleasant stroll to describe my two meetings with your celebrated father. The first was at the opera in the days of the First Duma. I knew, of course, the portraits of its most prominent members. From high up in the gods I, a poor student, saw him appear in a rosy loge with his wife and two little boys, one of which must have been you. The other time was at a public discussion of current politics in the auroral period of the Revolution; he spoke immediately after Kerenski, and the contrast between our fiery friend and your father, with his English sangfroid and absence of gesticulation--"
"My father," I said, "died six months before I was born." (2.4)

Note that "Mister Vetrov" (Bel's husband Charlie Everett who in Soviet Russia becomes Karl Ivanovich Vetrov) is a namesake of Karl Marx. After selling his works to Adolf Marx (a famous St. Petersburg publisher) Chekhov used to say that he was a Marxist.

*ya is also Russian first person pronoun; Yablonski = ya + Blonski (cf. Was that really I, Prince Vadim Blonsky, who in 1815 could have outdrunk Pushkin's mentor, Kaverin? 6.2)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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