Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024717, Sat, 26 Oct 2013 11:52:01 +0300

Captain Tapper & Philip Rack in Ada
The two other places [of a train compartment] were occupied by a stout, elderly gentleman [Dr Platonov] in an old-fashioned brown wig with a middle parting, and a bespectacled boy in a sailor suit sitting next to Cordula, who was in the act of offering him one half of her chocolate bar. (1.42)

Shooting it out with that incidental clown [Captain Tapper] furnished unhoped-for relief, particularly since Rack would no doubt accept a plain thrashing in lieu of combat. (ibid.)

As Arwin clapped his hands, informally signaling the permission to fire at will, Van noticed a speckled movement on his right: two little spectators - a fat girl and a boy in a sailorsuit, wearing glasses, with a basket of mushrooms between them. It was not the chocolate-muncher in Cordula's compartment, but a boy very much like him, and as this flashed through Van's mind he felt the jolt of the bullet ripping off, or so it felt, the entire left side of his torso. (ibid.)

'Ada supposed, at first, that Tapper was an invented name - that you fought your duel with another person [Philip Rack] - but that was before anybody heard of the other person's death in Kalugano. Demon said you should have simply cudgeled him.'
'I could not,' said Van, 'the rat was rotting away in a hospital bed.'
'I meant the real Tapper,' cried Lucette (who was making a complete mess of her visit), 'not my poor, betrayed, poisoned, innocent teacher of music, whom not even Ada, unless she fibs, could cure of his impotence.' (2.5)

Van's pistol duel with Tapper seems to be a parody of Onegin's duel with Lenski in Chapter Six of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. Lenski challenges Onegin to a duel because at the party on Tatiana's name day Onegin dances waltz and mazurka with Olga (on Antiterra, Chaykovski's opera is known as Onegin and Olga by Tschchaikow, 1.25). One of the guests at the party, Monsieur Triquet wears a wig and glasses:

With the family of Panfil Harlikov,
there also came Monsieur Triquet,
a wit, late from Tambov,
bespectacled and russet wigged.
As a true Frenchman, in his pocket
Triquet has brought a stanza for Tatiana
fitting an air to children known:
"Reveillez-vous, belle endormie."
'Mongst the time-worn songs of an almanac
this stanza has been printed;
Triquet - resourceful poet -
out of the dust brought it to light
and boldly in the place of "belle Nina"
put "belle Tatiana." (Five: XXVII)

According to VN (EO Commentary, vol. II, p. 530), the name Triquet ("Mr. Trick") is a comedy one and had been used in a slightly different form by Krylov, in his completely mediocre three-act farce, The Fashion Shop (Modnaya lavka, 1805), in which there is an unscrupulous Frenchman called M. Trichet ("Mr. Trickster").

Krylov's Trichet (in Russian spelling, Trishe) brings to mind Trishatov, a character in Dostoevski's novel Podrostok (The Adolescent, 1875). A member of the Do-Re-La country club, Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Logde, is homosexual. Trishatov (who passionately loves music) is one of the first "pansy" characters in Russian literature. Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who spies on Van's and Ada's love-making and blackmails Ada, 2.7) seems to be the son of Arkadiy Dolgorukiy (the narrator and main character of The Adolescent who, as a boy of eleven, brilliantly recited Krylov's fable Razborchivaya nevesta, "The Fastidious Bride," 1805) and a French girl Alphonsine (a character in the same novel). "Alphonse Cinq" (the nickname Van gave the concierge at Alphonse Four, 3.3) seems to hint at Alfonsinka (as Arkadiy calls Alphonsine). Alfonsinka turns out to be a spy (shpion), and her boyfriend Lambert attempts to blackmail a young woman with whom Arkadiy is in love.

On the other hand, Yuri Lotman (the author of "A. S. Pushkin's Novel Eugene Onegin. The Commentary") affirms that the name Triquet hints at trique ("beaten with a stick, cudgelled"). He explains that "to beat somebody with a stick meant to insult a person who does not deserve to be challenged to a duel and who is therefore excluded from the circle of decent people."

In Ada (1.42), Tatiana is a remarkably pretty and proud young nurse, with black hair and diaphanous skin, whom Van meets in the Kalugano Hospital where he recovers from the wound received in the duel with Tapper. Tatiana's charming and melancholy letter to Van, written in red ink on pink paper, brings to mind Tatiana's letter to Onegin in Chapter Three of Eugene Onegin. Btw., it is Praskovia Larin (Tatiana's and Olga's mother) who used to write in blood in her youth:

Time was, she used to write in blood
in tender maidens' albums
[in a draft: In albums she would write in blood
after the mode of Ryazan maidens] (Two: XXXII: 1-2)

Van's second in his duel with Tapper, Johnny Rafin, Esq., is given to him by his adversary: 'Correct,' said Van. 'I'll put up, I guess, at the Majestic; if not, a note will be left for your second or seconds. You'll have to get me one, I can't very well ask the concierge to do it.' (1.42).

Onegin's second in his duel with Lenski is his French valet Guillot:

Behind a near stump
perturbed Guillot places himself. (Six: XXIX: 8-9)

See also Repin's famous painting (fiercely criticized by VN in his EO Commentary) influenced by Chaykovski's famous opera.

Van to Cordula: 'Tell me something to distract me, though you distract me as it is, un petit topinambour as the Teuton said in the story.' (1.42)
Topinambour: tuber of the girasole; pun on 'pun' ('calembour'). (Vivian Darkbloom, 'Notes to Ada')

He [Tapper] was an expert on maps, horses, horticulture. (1.42)

Lenski's second, Zaretski plants cabbages like Horace (Six: VII: 12). Bessmertnyi trus Goratsiy ("the immortal coward Horace") is mentioned by Pushkin in an epistle to his uncle Vasiliy Lvovich, Skazhi, parnasskiy moy otets... ("Tell me, my Parnassian father..." 1817). The guests at Tatiana's name day party include Buyanov (Pushkin's "first cousin"), the hero of Vasiliy Pushkin's poem Opasnyi sosed ("The Dangerous Neighbor," 1811).

Zaretski brings to mind Nina Zarechnyi, a young actress in Chekhov's play The Seagull (1896). The play's characters include the ageing actress Arkadina, her lover, the writer Trigorin, her son Treplev, a young author who commits suicide in the last scene, and her cynical neighbor, Dr Dorn. Btw., Platonov is the main character in Chekhov juvenile P'esa bez nazvaniya (Play without a Title, 1881).

Can it be that she [Tatiana] has resolved the riddle?
Can it be that "the word" is found? (Seven: XXV: 1-2)

EO Commentary (voll. III, p. 103): the word: A Gallicism, le mot de l'enigme. The key word, the solution. "The word" here is parody.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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