Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024701, Sat, 19 Oct 2013 01:57:46 +0300

twins in Ada
In the vast and motley crowd of Ada's characters there are two pairs of twins: Aqua and Marina Durmanov and, in the next generation, Greg and Grace Erminin. Poor mad Aqua's twin sister, Marina is the mother of Van, Ada and Lucette Veen. The Erminin twins are the playmates of Van, Ada and Lucette at Ardis, the family estate of Marina's husband Daniel Veen.

In his poem Bliznetsy ("The Twins," 1850-51) Tyutchev, too, speaks of two pairs of twins:

Есть близнецы — для земнородных
Два божества — то Смерть и Сон,
Как брат с сестрою дивно сходных —
Она угрюмей, кротче он...

Но есть других два близнеца —
И в мире нет четы прекрасней,
И обаянья нет ужасней,
Ей предающего сердца...

Союз их кровный, не случайный,
И только в роковые дни
Своей неразрешимой тайной
Обворожают нас они.

И кто в избытке ощущений,
Когда кипит и стынет кровь,
Не ведал ваших искушений —
Самоубийство и Любовь!

There are twins. For the earthborn
they are gods, Death and Sleep,
like brother and sister wondrously akin,
Death's the gloomier, Sleep is gentler.

But there are two more twins:
there are no finer twins in the world,
and there's no fascination more fearsome
for mortals surrendering their hearts to them.

They're no in-laws. Their union is one of blood,
and only on days ordained by fate,
with their unsolvable mystery
do they charm us, enchant, fascinate,

and who, in an excess of sensation,
when blood boils and freezes in his veins,
can claim he's never tasted your temptations,
Suicide and Love?
(transl. F. Jude)

Tyutchev's most famous poem is Silentium! (not later than 1830). On Ada's sixteenth birthday Greg Erminin arrives to the picnic party on his splendid new black Silentium motorcycle (1.39).

Alexander Herzen's first wife (and first cousin) Natalie used to call their villa in Nice where they sojourned with the Herwegh couple (the poet Georg Herwegh and his wife Emma) gnezdo bliznetsov (the nest of the twins).* Five years after Natalie's early death (May 2, 1852) Herzen married her best friend (and the second wife of his best friend Nikolay Ogaryov), Natalia Tuchkov-Ogaryov. She bore him twins (who died of diphteria at the age of three) and the daughter Liza who at seventeen committed suicide because of unrequited love. Her last note was reproduced by Dostoevski in Dva samoubiystva ("Two Suicides," The Writer's Diary, October, 1876).

Bliznetsy ("The Twins") is also a poem in prose by Turgenev included in Senilia (1882). A close friend of Herzen, Turgenev is the author of Dvoryanskoe gnezdo ("Home [literally, Nest] of the Gentry," 1858), Pervaya Lyubov' ("First Love," 1860) and Otsy i deti ("Fathers and Children," 1861). The characters of the former novel include Liza Kalitin, a young girl with whom Lavretski is in love, and Lavretski's little daughter Ada. It was Turgenev who looked after the publication of Tyutchev's only lifetime book of poetry. In his poem on Pushkin's death (January 29, 1837) Tyutchev says that the poet was Russia's pervaya lyubov' (first love) and Russia's heart will never forget him.

Bliznetsy (the Gemini) is a Zodiacal constellation. Pushkin (b. June 6, 1799, NS) and Hodasevch (b. May 28, 1886, NS) were Gemini. VN's best friend, Hodasevich is the author of a sonnet on the destiny of the Herzen and Ogaryov couples: Chetyre zvyozdochki vzoshli na nebosvod... ("Four tiny stars rose up in the firmament..." 1920). It has an epigraph from Natalia Tuchkov-Ogaryov's letter to Herzen: Мы какие-то четыре звёздочки, и, как их ни сложи, всё выходит хорошо (We are four tiny stars: you may put them together as you like and any constellation will be good).

VN's autobiography Speak, Memory (1967) begins: The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). VN was born in his parents's house in the Morskaya street renamed Herzen street by the Soviets (see the first photograph and text beneath in the Penguin edition of SM, Chapter Six). Chapter Seven of SM also appeared as First Love, a story included in Nabokov's Dozen (1958).

Puzzled Mlle Lariviere [Lucette's governess and novelist] would have consulted the Master of Ardis, but she never discussed with him anything serious since the day (in January, 1876) when he had made an unexpected (and rather halfhearted, really - let us be fair) pass at her. As to dear, frivolous Marina, she only remarked, when consulted, that at Van's age she would have poisoned her governess with anti-roach borax if forbidden to read, for example, Turgenev's Smoke. (1.21)

...Ergo, concluded Van, our missionary goes up in smoke. (ibid.)

Ada to Van: "Then a robed person who looked like an extra in a technicolor incarnation of Vishnu made an incomprehensible sermon. Then she [Marina whose body was cremated] went up in smoke." (3.8)

Dym (Smoke, 1867) is also a poem by Tyutchev (inspired by Turgenev's novel, 1866). According to Derzhavin (whose words are famously quoted by Chatski in Griboedov's Woe from Wit), otechestva i dym nam sladok i priyaten ("even the smoke of fatherland is sweet and pleasant to us"). On the other hand, dym brings to mind Osip Dymov, the good doctor in Chekhov's story Poprygun'ya ("The Grasshopper," 1892). Only after Dymov's death of diphteria does his frivolous wife realize that her husband was a much better person than her foppish lover.

According to Van, the father of Greg and Grace, Colonel Erminin (who died just before "your aunt" as Greg, when he meets Van in Paris in 1901, calls Marina), preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel (3.2). Like Dr Krolik, Greg's and Grace's father never appears in Ada:

Three adult gentlemen, moreover, were expected but never turned up [at the picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday]: Uncle Dan, who missed the morning train from town; Colonel Erminin, a widower, whose liver, he said in a note, was behaving like a pecheneg; and his doctor (and chess partner), the famous Dr Krolik, who called himself Ada's court jeweler, and indeed brought her his birthday present early on the following day - three exquisitely carved chrysalids ('Inestimable gems,' cried throatily Ada, tensing her brows), all of which were to yield before long, specimens of a disappointing ichneumon instead of the Kibo Fritillary, a recently discovered rarity. (1.13)

Pecheneg (The Savage, 1894) is a story by Chekhov (in his apologetic note Colonel Erminin puns on pechen', Russian for "liver").

In a letter of about (not later than) June 27, 1834, to his wife Pushkin informs Natalie that Mme Smirnov gave birth to twins and calls Mr Smirnov krasnoglazyi krolik (a red-eyed rabbit): Смирнова родила благополучно, и вообрази: двоих. Какова бабенка, и каков красноглазый кролик Смирнов?

The name Erminin comes from Erminia, the nickname of E. M. Khitrovo, Kutuzov's daughter who was in love with Pushkin (see in Veresaev Nadezhda Osipovna Pushkin's letter of May 9, 1834, to her daughter Olga, the poet's sister). Pushkin's poem Vertograd moey sestry... ("My sister's garden..." 1825) brings to mind Miss Vertograd, Demon's librarian (1.21). As to Eliza Khitrovo, she was the mother of Daria (Dolly) Fickelmont (born Tiesenhausen), another friend of Pushkin and Vyazemski (whose mother was Irish, born O'Reilly). The twin sisters Aqua and Marina are daughters of Dolly Durmanov (born Zemski):

Van's maternal grandmother Daria ('Dolly') Durmanov was the daughter of Prince Peter Zemski, Governor of Bras d'Or, an American province in the Northeast of our great and variegated country, who had married, in 1824, Mary O'Reilly, an Irish woman of fashion. Dolly, an only child, born in Bras, married in 1840, at the tender and wayward age of fifteen, General Ivan Durmanov, Commander of Yukon Fortress and peaceful country gentleman, with lands in the Severn Tories (Severniya Territorii), that tesselated protectorate still lovingly called 'Russian' Estoty, which commingles, granoblastically and organically, with 'Russian' Canady, otherwise 'French' Estoty, where not only French, but Macedonian and Bavarian settlers enjoy a halcyon climate under our Stars and Stripes. (1.1)

The name Durmanov comes from durman (Datura stramonium; drug, intoxicant). In his poem Tolstomu (1818) addressed to Count Tolstoy the American Prince Peter Vyazemski (whom Turgenev called Prince Kovrizhkin, "Prince Gingerbread," a play on vyazemskiy pryanik, the Vyazma cake) speaks of myatezhnykh sklonnostey durman (the drug of rebellious inclinations) hurling Tolstoy iz raya v ad, iz ada v ray ("from paradise to hell, from hell to paradise"). The name of Daniel Veen's family estate, Ardis hints at paradise.

*see Lidiya Chukovski's Vstuplenie (Introduction) into Herzen's memoirs Byloe i dumy (Bygones and Meditations, Moscow, 1966), as well as E. H. Carr's book on Herzen, Ogaryov and Bakunin The Romantic Exiles (London, 1933). Btw., Bakunin served as a prototype for Turgenev's Rudin (the fact stressed in The Gift). The name Rudin comes from rudoy (red) and brings to mind Karmazinov (from karmazinnyi, "crimson"), a satire on Turgenev in Dostoevski's Besy (The Possessed, 1872). Besy (1830) is a famous poem by Pushkin. E. H. Carr is also the author of Dostoevski's biography.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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