Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024756, Mon, 4 Nov 2013 19:02:55 -0500

CORRECTION: Cordula Tobak in ADA
[Alexey Sklyarenko has asked permission to share a revised version of his
earlier post. -- SES]

The first husband of Cordula de Prey (Ada's schoolamte at Brownhill who
becomes Van's mistress after he was expelled from Ardis) is the shipowner
Ivan Tobak. According to Cordula, her Tobachok adores her (3.2).

In the closing line of his poem *Krasavitse, kotoraya nyukhala tabak* ("To
the Beauty who Took Snuff," 1814) Pushkin exclaims:

Ах, отчего я не табак!..
(Ah, why am I not tobacco!..)

The beauty's name, Klimena, brings to mind Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of
"Vladimir Nabokov"), Marina's former lover who gave her children a set of
Flavita (Russian Scrabble). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but
touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once
catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the
porter's lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the
first letter of one's name in order to use it as a *particule*, at the
Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)

The apostrophe in d’Avidov (the name imagined by Walter C. Keyway,
Esq., the unfortunate English tourist) seems to correspond to the inverted
comma in the rebus composed by old Sinitsky in Ilf and Petrov’s *The Golden
Calf* (see my post "Good should Have Fists"). On the other hand, it
reminds one of *Sravnenie* (*Comparison*, 1813-17), Pushkin’s epigram on
Boileau-Desprèaux (1636-1711):

Не хочешь ли узнать, моя драгая,
Какая разница меж Буало и мной?
У Депрео была лишь запятая,
А у меня две точки с запятой.

My dear, do you want to know
the difference between Boileau and me?
Desprèaux had only a comma [*,*]
And I have a colon with a comma [*: **,*].

*Depreo* (Desprèaux in Russian spelling) is only one letter longer than *De
Pre *(De Prey in Russian spelling). Cordula de Prey is the second cousin of
Percy de Prey, a country gentleman who lives in the neighborhood of Ardis
(1.42). In *A Letter to the Learned Neighbor* (1880) Chekhov (the author of
two monologues *On the Harm of Tobacco*, 1886, 1903) uses the word
*zapyataya* (comma) in the sense "difficulty, snug; objection:"

“You have invented [in your writings] that man descends from apian tribes
marmosets, orangutans etc. Excuse me, the little old man as I am, I do not
agree with you about this important issue and can raise an objection" (*mogu
Vam zapyatuyu postavit’*).

Ivan Giovannovich Tobak is a descendant of Admiral Tobakoff who "had an *épée
*duel with Jean Nicot and after whom the Tobago Islands, or the Tobakoff
Islands, are named" (2.5). As a plant, tobacco was imported to Europe from
America. In his poem *Pushkinu* (*To Pushkin*, 1815) Baron Delvig
(Pushkin's classmate at the Lyceum) says: "Fleets with treasures untold
from America, / weighty gold that with blood has been purchased / - not for
him do those ships in their wanderings / twice disturb the equator."

In Chekhov's story *Svad'ba s generalom *(*The Wedding with a General*,
1884) and one act play *Svad'ba *(*The Wedding*, 1889) the general turnes
out to be a retired naval officer. As to Ada, she marries "an Arizonian
cattle-breeder [Andrey Vinelander, the brother of Christopher, 3.2] whose
fabulous ancestor discovered our country" (5.6).

kulak + a = kukla + a = akula + k (kulak - fist; kukla - doll; puppet;
akula- shark, a rhyme word of

'When *michman *Tobakoff himself got shipwrecked off Gavaille, he swam
around comfortably for hours, frightening away sharks with snatches of old
songs and that sort of thing, until a fishing boat rescued him - one of
those miracles that require a minimum of cooperation from all concerned, I
imagine.' (3.5)

She [Lucette] drank a 'Cossack pony' of Klass vodka - hateful, vulgar, but
potent stuff; had another; and was hardly able to down a third because her
head had started to swim like hell. Swim like hell from sharks,
Tobakovich!... She did not see her whole life flash before her as we all
were afraid she might have done; the red rubber of a favorite doll remained
safely decomposed among the myosotes of an unanalyzable brook; but she did
see a few odds and ends as she swam like a dilettante Tobakoff in a circle
of brief panic and merciful torpor. (ibid.)

Btw., in Gogol's *Dead Souls* (Chapter Five) Chichikov mentally calls
Sobakevich *kulak* (a tight-fisted man). According to Chichikov, *kto uzh
kulak, tomu ne razognut'sya v ladon' *(he who is tight-fisted can not have
his palm unbent).

Alexey Sklyarenko​

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