Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024734, Thu, 31 Oct 2013 20:26:30 -0700

Re: Percy de Prey, Cordula Tobak & dogs in Ada
Marlborough s'en va-t-en guerre has for its famous melody "For he's a jolly good fellow". Loads of info including appearance in classical music (Beethoven and Tchaikovsky) and War and Peace, etc. to be found in the wikipedia article. Don Johnson also wrote about the song's appearance in Ada. 

From: Alexey Sklyarenko <skylark1970@MAIL.RU>
Sent: Thursday, October 31, 2013 12:05 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Percy de Prey, Cordula Tobak & dogs in Ada

Three young ladies in yellow-blue Vass
frocks with fashionable rainbow sashes surrounded a stoutish, foppish, baldish
young man [Percy de Prey] who stood, a flute of
champagne in his hand, glancing down from the drawing-room terrace at a girl in
black with bare arms... (1.31)
The pathetic main character of Gogol's
story Shinel' (The Overcoat, 1842), Akakiy Akakievich
Bashmachkin is neskol'ko ryabovat, neskol'ko ryzhevat, neskol'ko
na vid dazhe podslepovat, s nebol'shoy lysinoy na lbu (somewhat
pock-marked, somewhat red-haired, even somewhat short-sighted in appearance,
with a little bald spot on the forehead). True, Percy does not look a bit
like Gogol's Akakiy. Yet, the way they are described suggests
that they do have something in common.
One of Ada's lovers, Count Percy de Prey is associated with
"Malbrook" (John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 1650-1722, British military
Everything appeared as it always used to
be, the little nymphs and goats on the painted ceiling, the mellow light of the
day ripening into evening, the remote dreamy rhythm of Blanche's 'linen-folding'
voice humming 'Malbrough' (...ne sait quand reviendra, ne sait quand
reviendra) and the two lovely heads, bronze-black and copper-red, inclined
over the table...
'Mon page, mon beau page,
- Mironton-mironton-mirontaine
Mon page, mon beau page...' (1.40)
Only the other day from behind that row of
thick firs, look there, to your right (but he did not look - sitting silent,
both hands on the knob of his cane), she and her sister Madelon, with a bottle
of wine between them, watched Monsieur le Comte courting the young lady on the
moss, crushing her like a grunting bear as he also had crushed - many times! -
Madelon who said she, Blanche, should warn him, Van, because she was a wee bit
jealous but she also said - for she had a good heart - better put it off until
'Malbrook' s'en va t'en guerre, otherwise they would fight; he had been
shooting a pistol at a scarecrow all morning and that's why she waited so long,
and it was in Madelon's hand, not in hers. (1.41)
In Gogol's Dead Souls (Chapter Four) the song
"Malbrough Went Off to War"is played by a barrel
After that, a barrel organ appeared before
the guests. Nozdryov straightaway ground something out for them. The barrel
organ played not unpleasantly, but something seemed to have happened inside it,
for the mazurka ended with the song "Malbrough Went Off to War,"and "Malbrough Went Off to War" was unexpectedly concluded by some
long-familiar waltz. Nozdryov had long stopped grinding, but there was one very
perky reed in the organ that simply refused to quiet down, and for some time
afterwards went on tooting all by itself. Then pipes appeared—of wood, clay,
meerschaum, broken in and un-broken-in, covered with chamois and not covered, a
chibouk with an amber mouthpiece recently won at cards, a tobacco pouch
embroidered by some countess who had fallen head over heels in love with him
somewhere at a posting station, whose hands, according to him, were most
subdiminally superflu—a phrase that for him probably meant the peak of
There is in Ardis a toy barrel organ that comes into action
Further down, a door of some playroom or
nursery stood ajar and stirred to and fro as little Lucette peeped out, one
russet knee showing. Then the doorleaf flew open - but she darted inside and
away. Cobalt sailing boats adorned the white tiles of a stove, and as her sister
and he passed by that open door a toy barrel organ invitingly went into action
with a stumbling little minuet. (1.6) Btw., this is
Lucette's first appearence in the novel. Percy de Prey is for the
first time glimpsed by Van (and by the reader), when four years
later Van revisits Ardis.
A fourth maiden in the Canadian
couturier's corn-and-bluet summer 'creation' stopped Van to inform him with a
pretty pout that he did not remember her, which was true. 'I am exhausted,' he
said. 'My horse caught a hoof in a hole in the rotting planks of Ladore Bridge
and had to be shot. I have walked eight miles. I think I am dreaming. I think
you are Dreaming Too.' 'No, I'm Cordula!' she cried, but he was off
again. (1.31)
Ada's schoolmate at Brownhill who becomes Van's
mistress after he has left Ardis for good, Cordula de Prey is
Percy's second cousin. It is from Cordula that Van learns of Percy's death in
the Crimean War:
'But, first of all, Van, net,
pozhaluysta, on nas vidit (no, please, he sees us), I have some very bad
news for you. Young Fraser, who has just been flown back from Yalta, saw Percy
killed on the second day of the invasion, less than a week after they had left
Goodson airport.'
...One supposes it might have been a kind
of suite for flute, a series of 'movements' such as, say: I'm alive - who's
that? - civilian - sympathy - thirsty - daughter with pitcher - that's my damned
gun - don't... et cetera or rather no cetera... while
Broken-Arm Bill prayed his Roman deity in a frenzy of fear for the Tartar to
finish his job and go. But, of course, an invaluable detail in that strip of
thought would have been - perhaps, next to the pitcher peri - a glint, a shadow,
a stab of Ardis. (1.42)
"The pitcher peri" brings to mind Devushka s
kuvshinom (the maiden with a pitcher), a statue in the park
of Tsarskoe Selo. It is sung by Pushkin in Tsarskoselskaya statuya ("A Statue in Tsarskoe Selo,"
1830), the hexameter poem alluded to in LATH. In its
turn, kuvshin (pitcher) reminds one of Lieutenant
Kuvshinnikov whom Nozdryov met at the fair and who used the phrase
(that has become proverbial) polakomit'sya naschyot klubnichki ("going strawberrying"):
"But Kuvshinnikov, I mean, he's such a
rascal, he sat himself down next to her [a pretty girl at
the fair] and started getting at her with all these compliments in
the French language... Would you believe it, he didn't pass by the simple
wenches either. That's what he calls 'going strawberrying.'" (DS, Chapter
According to Van, Percy is a cracker of country
Percy, you were to die very soon - and not
from that pellet in your fat leg, on the turf of a Crimean ravine, but a couple
of minutes later when you opened your eyes and felt relieved and secure in the
shelter of the macchie; you were to die very soon, Percy; but that July day in
Ladore County, lolling under the pines, royally drunk after some earlier
festivity, with lust in your heart and a sticky glass in your strong
blond-haired hand, listening to a literary bore, chatting with an aging actress
and ogling her sullen daughter, you reveled in the spicy situation, old sport,
chin-chin, and no wonder. Burly, handsome, indolent and ferocious, a crack
Rugger player, a cracker of country girls, you combined the charm of the
off-duty athlete with the engaging drawl of a fashionable ass. I think what I
hated most about your handsome moon face was that baby complexion, the
smooth-skinned jaws of the easy shaver. I had begun to bleed every time, and was
going to do so for seven decades. (1.39)
One wonders, if "ogling" hints at Gogol. Also, cf. Nozdryov's
Of average height and rather well-built,
he was a dashing fellow with full, ruddy cheeks, teeth white as snow, and
whiskers black as pitch. He was fresh as milk and roses; health, it seemed, was
simply bursting from his face. (DS, Chapter Four)
As he speaks to Van, Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's
father), calls Cordula's first husband, Ivan G. Tobak, "Tobakovich:"
'Come, come,' retorted Demon, dropping and
replacing his monocle. 'Cordula won't mind.'
'It's another, much more impressionable girl' -
(yet another awful fumble!). 'Damn Cordula! Cordula is now Mrs
'Oh, of course!' cried Demon. 'How stupid of me!
I remember Ada's fiancé telling me - he and young Tobak worked for a while in
the same Phoenix bank. Of course. Splendid broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond
chap. Backbay Tobakovich!' (2.10)
"Tobakovich" seems to hint at
Sobakevich, the landowner in Gogol's novel who willingly sells to
Chichikov dead souls. Sobakevich's name comes from sobaka (dog). When Van in Paris meets Cordula Tobak, who is bending with baby
words of comfort over two unhappy poodlets, he quotes the stale but appropriate
lines he had known since boyhood:
 The Veens speak only to Tobaks
But Tobaks speak only to dogs. (3.2)
A household member in Ardis is the mischievous dachshund Dack:
The sportive dackel, one ear flapping, the other
upturned and showing its gray-mottled pink, rapidly moving his comical legs, and
skidding on the parquetry as he executed abrupt turns, was in the act of
carrying away, to a suitable hiding place where to worry it, a sizable wad of
blood-soaked cottonwool, snatched somewhere upstairs...
'Nehoroshaya, nehoroshaya sobaka,' crooned Ada
with great aspiratory and sibilatory emphasis as she gathered into her arms the
now lootless, but completely unabashed 'bad dog.' (1.11)
He [Van] started to
caress her [Cordula] under the table, but she
gently removed his hand, whispering 'womenses,' as whimsically as another girl [apparently, Ada] had done in some other
dream. (1.42)
Alexey Sklyarenko
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