Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024633, Fri, 27 Sep 2013 23:53:39 +0300

incest, insects & Bosch in ADA
'If I could write,' mused Demon, 'I would describe, in too many words no doubt, how passionately, how incandescently, how incestuously - c'est le mot - art and science meet in an insect, in a thrush, in a thistle of that ducal bosquet. Ada is marrying an outdoor man, but her mind is a closed museum, and she, and dear Lucette, once drew my attention, by a creepy coincidence, to certain details of that other triptych, that tremendous garden of tongue-in-cheek delights, circa 1500, and, namely, to the butterflies in it - a Meadow Brown, female, in the center of the right panel, and a Tortoiseshell in the middle panel, placed there as if settled on a flower - mark the "as if," for here we have an example of exact knowledge on the part of those two admirable little girls, because they say that actually the wrong side of the bug is shown, it should have been the underside, if seen, as it is, in profile, but Bosch evidently found a wing or two in the corner cobweb of his casement and showed the prettier upper surface in depicting his incorrectly folded insect. (2.10)

Incest is an anagram of insect (see the game of anagrams played by Ada and Grace Erminin at the picnic party on Ada's twelfth birthday, 1.13). In Gorki's The Life of Klim Samgin Klim makes a cruel pun on nasekomoe (insect): na, sekomoe ("take it, the one who is flogged"). Boris Varavka (Klim's playmate who was flogged at school and whom Klim offers a beetle) drowns in childhood while skating on a frozen river. Years later Klim becomes a lover of Boris's sister Lidiya (by now, Klim's step-sister). Van's and Ada's half-sister Lucette drowns because of her unrequited love for Van.

Hieronymus Bosch is also important in The Life of Klim Samgin (see my article The Fair Invention in Ada and in Gorki's TLKS in The Nabokovian # 58, Spring 2007). Gorki's hero is a namesake of Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), Marina's former lover who gave her children a set of Flavita (Russian Scrabble, 1.36). Baron is a character in Gorki's play Na dne (At the Bottom, 1902).

Gorki is the author of the preface to the Soviet edition of Chateaubriand’s Rene.

Everything is much simpler, after all.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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