Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024618, Tue, 24 Sep 2013 01:15:37 +0300

Bourget, Tolstoy & Chekhov in ADA
Arch and grandiloquent, Ada would be describing a dream, a natural history wonder, a special belletristic device - Paul Bourget's 'monologue interieur' borrowed from old Leo - or some ludicrous blunder in the current column of Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine who thought that Lyovin went about Moscow in a nagol'niy tulup, 'a muzhik's sheepskin coat, bare side out, bloom side in,' as defined in a dictionary our commentator produced like a conjurer, never to be procurable by Elsies. (1.10)

In a letter of December 27, 1889,* to Suvorin Chekhov pairs Paul Bourget (the author of Le Disciple, 1889) and Leo Tolstoy:

Когда я в одном из своих последних писем писал Вам о Бурже и Толстом, то меньше всего думал о прекрасных одалисках и о том, что писатель должен изображать одни только тихие радости. Я хотел только сказать, что современные лучшие писатели, которых я люблю, служат злу, так как разрушают. Одни из них, как Толстой, говорят: «не употребляй женщин, потому что у них бели; жена противна, потому что у неё пахнет изо рта; жизнь — это сплошное лицемерие и обман, так как человек по утрам ставит себе клистир, а перед смертью с трудом сидит на судне, причём видит свои исхудалые ляжки». Другие же, ещё не импотенты, не пресыщенные телом, но уж пресыщенные духом, изощряют свою фантазию до зелёных чёртиков и изобретают несуществующего полубога Сикста и «психологические» опыты. (Apologies, no translation)

...Германия не знает авторов вроде Бурже и Толстого, и в этом её счастье. В ней и наука, и патриотизм, и хорошие дипломаты, и всё, что хотите. Она побьёт Францию, и союзниками её будут французские авторы.
Germany is happy not to know authors like Bourget and Tolstoy. Chekhov predicts that Germany will defeat France. (The World War I began ten years after Chekhov's death in Badenweiler, a German spa.)

Elsie de Nord hints at Elsinore, the royal castle in Shakespeare's Hamlet. In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions the ghost of Hamlet's father:

Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being, that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father, who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing.

On the other hand, Nord is an anagram of Dorn (the doctor in Chekhov's play The Seagull, 1896). The play's characters include the actress Arkadina, whose stage name comes from Arkadiy (a male given name) or Arkady (any real or imaginary place offering peace and simplicity). "Old romances as arch as Arcady" are mentioned by Van:

The vague commonplaces of vague modesty so dreadfully in vogue eighty years ago, the unsufferable banalities of shy wooing buried in old romances as arch as Arcady, those moods, those modes, lurked no doubt behind the hush of his [Van's] ambuscades, and that of her [Ada's] toleration. (1.16)

According to Van, Nothing in world literature, save maybe Count Tolstoy's reminiscences, can vie in pure joyousness and Arcadian innocence with the 'Ardis' part of the book. (5.6)

Tolstoy's semi-autobiographical Detstvo (Childhood, 1852) and Otrochestvo (Boyhood, 1854) are alluded to in the opening paragraph of VN's Family Chronicle:

'All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,' says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R. G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)

Anna's patronymic (otchestvo, not to be confused with otechestvo, "fatherland") is, of course, Arkadievna and the English title of Tolstoy's novel is Anna Karenin (see Vivian Dakbloom's 'Notes to Ada'). It was in the scene of Anna's suicide that Tolstoy used the inner monologue for the first time:

'The express does not stop at Torfyanka, does it, Trofim?'
'I'll take you five versts across the bog,' said Trofim, 'the nearest is Volosyanka.'
His vulgar Russian word for Maidenhair; a whistle stop; train probably crowded.
Maidenhair. Idiot! Percy boy might have been buried by now! Maidenhair. Thus named because of the huge spreading Chinese tree at the end of the platform. Once, vaguely, confused with the Venus'-hair fern. She walked to the end of the platform in Tolstoy's novel. First exponent of the inner monologue, later exploited by the French and the Irish. N'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert. L'arbre aux quarante ecus d'or, at least in the fall. Never, never shall I hear again her 'botanical' voice fall at biloba, 'sorry, my Latin is showing.' Ginkgo, gingko, ink, inkog. Known also as Salisbury's adiantofolia, Ada's infolio, poor Salisburia: sunk; poor Stream of Consciousness, maree noire by now. Who wants Ardis Hall! (1.41)

In a letter of June 12, 1891, to Lika Mizinov Chekhov mentions lomovoy izvozchik (the carter) Trophim: “A good smack,” “rabble,” “overeaten myself.” Your friends — such as Trophim — with their cabmen’s talk certainly have an improving influence on you.
Instead of signature Chekhov drew a heart pierced with an arrow (in Greek, Ardis means "the point of an arrow").

In 1782 the Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich (the future tsar Paul I) and his wife Maria Fyodorovna traveled in western Europe incognito as "Count and Countess du Nord." The unfortunate son of Peter III and Catherine II, Paul I was often called (for instance, by Hodasevich who planned to write a book on him) "the Russian Hamlet." The paulownia tree was named after Paul's daughter Anna, the wife of the Prince of Orange (later King William II of the Netherlands):

On the first floor, a yellow drawing room hung with damask and furnished in what the French once called the Empire style opened into the garden and now, in the late afternoon, was invaded across the threshold by the large leaf shadows of a paulownia tree (named, by an indifferent linguist, explained Ada, after the patronymic, mistaken for a second name or surname of a harmless lady, Anna Pavlovna Romanov, daughter of Pavel, nicknamed Paul-minus-Peter, why she did not know, a cousin of the non-linguist's master, the botanical Zemski, I'm going to scream, thought Van). (1.6)

Van, Ada and their half-sister Lucette are the children of Marina Durmanov, Daniel Veen's "stage-struck wife" (5.6). Her surname comes from durman (thorn-apple, the plant Datura stramonium). On the other hand, durman means "drug, narcotic; intoxicant." According to Treplev (Arkadina's son in The Seagull), his mother can not live without the intoxicant (durman) of stage:

She alone must be praised and written about, raved over, her marvellous acting in "La Dame aux Camelias" or in "Life's Intoxication" [Chad zhizni, a play by Boleslav Markevich] extolled to the skies. As she cannot get all that durman [intoxicant] in the country, she grows peevish and cross, and thinks we are all against her, and to blame for it all. She is superstitious, too. She dreads burning three candles, and fears the thirteenth day of the month. (Act One)

Note that Arkadina's maiden name, Sorin, is but one letter away from Sirin (VN's Russian nom de plume).
The Seagull ends in Treplev's suicide. There is in Ada a reminiscence of the play's last scene:

'Van!' called Ada shrilly. 'I want to say something to you, Van, come here.'
Dorn (flipping through a literary review, to Trigorin): 'Here, a couple of months ago, a certain article was printed... a Letter from America, and I wanted to ask you, incidentally' (taking Trigorin by the waist and leading him to the front of the stage), 'because I'm very much interested in that question...' (1.39)

Among the guests at the picnic party on Ada's sixteenth birthday (1.39) is Greg Erminin, the son of Colonel Arkadiy Erminin. According to Van, Greg's (and his twin sister Grace's) late father (who died just before Marina) preferred to pass for a Chekhovian Colonel (3.2).

In 1901 Chekhov married Olga Knipper, a leading actress of the Moscow Art Theatre, and three years later died of tuberculosis. Like her mother, Ada becomes an actress. Ada's husband, Andrey Andreevich Vinelander, is as modest as Chekhov and, like Chekhov, dies of tuberculosis (3.8). In Chekhov's last story Nevesta (The Bride, 1903) Andrey Andreich is the heroine's unattractive fiance.

The narrator and main character of Ada, Van Veen, lives almost a whole century dying at ninety seven. According to Suvorin, Chekhov wanted to write a novel with the main character who lives hundred years and witnesses all the major events of the 19th century:

Несколько раз он развивал передо мною широкую тему романа с полуфантастическим героем, который живёт целый век и участвует во всех событиях XIX века.

*in the same letter of Dec. 27, 1889, Chekhov criticizes Russian society that hypocritically grieves for Dr Botkin who died recently:

Где вырождение и апатия, там половое извращение, холодный разврат, выкидыши, ранняя старость, брюзжащая молодость, там падение искусств, равнодушие к науке, там несправедливость во всей своей форме. Общество, которое не верует в бога, но боится примет и чёрта, которое отрицает всех врачей и в то же время лицемерно оплакивает Боткина и поклоняется Захарьину, не смеет и заикаться о том, что оно знакомо с справедливостью.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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