Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024603, Thu, 19 Sep 2013 02:37:39 +0300

Oks in LATH vs. Weinstock in The Eye
[Oks to Vadim:] "Thirty-five years ago in St. Petersburg she [Berta Stepanov] and I worked in the same student organization. We were preparing the assassination of the Premier. How far all that is! His daily route had to be closely established; I was one of the observers. Standing at a certain corner every day in the disguise of a vanilla-ice-cream vendor! Can you imagine that? Nothing came of our plans. They were thwarted by Azef, the great double agent." (2.4)

In VN's Soglyadatay (The Eye, 1930) the ghost of Azef appears at a spiritual seance warning Weinstock that he should beware of Smurov:

"He spies, lures, betrays. Be on your guard. Watch out for a small man in black. Do not be deceived by his modest appearance. I am telling the truth..."
"And who is this man?" asked Weinstock.
The answer was slow in coming.
"Please, Azef, tell us who is this man?" (Chapter Three)

Vikentiy Lvovich Weinstock is a Russian bookseller in Berlin. Oks (Osip Lvovich Oksman) is the owner of the Russian bookshop on rue Cuvier in Paris.

Above me, on the top floor, lived a Russian family. I met them through Weinstock, from whom they took books - another fascinating device on the part of fantasy that directs life. (Chapter Two)

It is through Oks that Vadim meets Annette Blagovo. Vadim's second wife (the mother of his beloved daughter Bel) is a namesake of Anyuta Blagovo, a character in Chekhov's story My Life (1896). Like Annette's father, Chekhov was a doctor.* The characters of The Eye include Marianna Nikolaevna, a cultured female doctor. As to Weinstock, he is a namesake of Chekhov's friend and colleage Vikentiy Veresaev (V. V. Smidovich, 1867-1945), the author of the semi-autobiographical Zapiski vracha (Memoirs of a Physician, 1901), the compiler of Pushkin in Life (1926-27) and Gogol in Life (1933).

The hero and narrator of Chekhov's Rasskaz neizvestnogo cheloveka (The Story of an Unknown Man, 1893) is a reformed terrorist.

There exists an old rule--so old and trite that I blush to mention it. Let me twist it into a jingle--to stylize the staleness:

The I of the book
Cannot die in the book. (7.1)

Nevertheless, Smurov, the narrator and main character in The Eye, manages to break that rule by committing suicide in the novella's first chapter.

*Chekhov used to say that medicine was his lawful wife and literature, his mistress. (Slyshal zvon, da ne znaet gde on, as we say when one doesn't know what one is talking about:)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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