Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024673, Sun, 6 Oct 2013 01:04:23 +0300

Montisert Museum revisited
When I asked why he [the narrator's friend who wants to ransom the portrait of his grandfather] did not get in touch with the museum, he replied that he had written several times, but had never received an answer.
(The Visit to the Museum, written in the fall, 1938, and published next year in Sovremennye Zapiski)

Pisat' k praottsam (to write to one's forefathers) is a common euphemism for "to die." In Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (Eight: XXXII: 1-3) Onegin, in love with Princess N.,

is ready to his forefathers [ko pradedam] to write
of an impending meeting.

"What can I do for you?" he [M. Godard, the museum's director] asked, throwing the letter he had just sealed into the wastebasket.
Small wonder that the narrator's friend never received an answer from the museum.

Like Matt Roth, I always had doubts as to whether the narrator managed to escape the tires of a furious red bus.

In his remarkable article Pushkinskiy fon rasskaza Nabokova "Poseshchenie muzeya" (The Pushkin Background of Nabokov's story The Visit to the Museum, Nabokovskiy vestnik, # 1, 1998, pp. 66-71) Vadim Stark compares the narrator of VN's story to Hermann, the mad gambler in Pushkin's Queen of Spades (1833), and to the hero of Jacques Offenbach's opera bouffon* Orpheus in the Underworld (1858). A Russian Nobleman portrayed by Leroy "bore a likeness to Offenbach." Stark points out the similarity of Offenbach's portraits to those of Dmitri Nikolaevich Nabokov, VN's grandfather who died in his pied-a-terre on the Palace Quay in St. Petersburg (but thinking he was still in Nice) "at the time of the Russo-Japanese War:"

...and a bit of house wall that could be just glimpsed from the window was painted a brilliant white, so every time he [DNN] rereverted to a state of comparative lucidity he found himself safe on the illusory Riviera artistically staged by my mother; and there, on 28 March 1904, exactly eighteen years before my father, day for day, he peacefully died. (Speak, Memory, Chapter Three, 1)

The portrait of the grandfather of the narrator's friend is by Gustave Leroy. As pointed out by Stark, the watchmaker Pierre Leroy (1717-85) is mentioned in The Queen of Spades:

Two portraits, painted in Paris by Mme. Lebrun, hang on the wall [of the old Countess's bedroom]. One of them showed a man about forty years old, red-faced and portly, wearing a light green coat with a star; the other a beautiful young woman with an aquiline nose, with her hair combed back over her temples, and with a rose in her powdered locks. Every nook and corner was crowded with china shepherdesses, table clocks made by the famous Leroy, little boxes, bandalores, fans, and diverse other ladies’ toys invented at the end of the last century, along with Montgolfier’s balloon and Mesmer’s magnetism. (chapter III)

Pushkin's "St. Petersburg Tales" - particularly The Queen of Spades - are also important in LATH, whose narrator and main harlequin, Vadim Vadimovich N. (son of Count Starov?), visits Leningrad (the Soviet hell to him) and manages to return to Paris. According to V. V., "the I of the book can not die in the book."

*Misteriya buff (Mystery Bouffe, 1918) is a play in verse by VN's "late namesake," V. V. Mayakovski. According to Stark, Montisert hints at Monte Carlo. In his poem Monte Carlo (1929) Mayakovski mentions eighty-seven-year-old Queens of Spades and calls the inhabitants of the city poganen'kie montekarliki ("vile dwarfish Montecarlians").

Alexey Sklyarenko

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