Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024761, Tue, 5 Nov 2013 23:51:41 +0300

QUERY: S. A. Vengerov in ADA
Dear Brian,

A quick answer (or anser*):

The author of Ustritsy ("Oysters," 1884), Chekhov planned to write a novel whose semi-fantastic hero lives a hundred years and participates in all major events of the 19th century:

????????? ??? ?? ???????? ????? ???? ??????? ???? ?????? ? ?????????????????? ??????, ??????? ????? ????? ??? ? ????????? ?? ???? ???????? XIX ????????. ("????? ?????," 1904, 4 ????)

Suvorin's words (from his obituary essay on Chekhov's death) are quoted in Note 4 to a letter of October 10-12, 1887, of Anton Chekhov to his brother Aleksandr.** In this letter Chekhov addresses his brother "Gusinykh!" ("Mr Gooseman")*** and writes:

???? ???????? ???????? ?? ?????? ??????, ?? ???? ? ???? ???????. ????????.
(Mother is willing to mend not only your shirts, but even your liver. Send it.)

Chekhov's brother Aleksandr was an alcoholic who apparently had liver problems. Foie gras is made from the grotesquely enlarged livers of ducks and geese who have been cruelly force-fed. "A decayless Strasbourg pie" (i. e. foie gras) is another delicacy mentioned in Eugene Onegin (One: 5-14):

To Talon's he has dashed off: he is certain
that there already waits for him [Kaverin];
has entered - and the cork goes ceilingward,
the flow of comet wine has spurted,
a bloody roast beef is before him,
and truffles, luxury of of youthful years,
the best flower of French cookery,
and a decayless Strasbourg pie
between a living Limburg cheese
and a golden ananas.

The meetings of Arzamas (the Arzamas Society of which young Pushkin, nicknamed Sverchyok, "Cricket," was a member) consisted of roast-goose dinners followed by the reading of painfully facetious minuets and trivial verse (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 172). In 1892 in St. Petersburg Chekhov (who recently returned from Sakhalin) attempted to renew the writers' dinners. In a letter of January 25, 1894, to Suvorin Chekhov expresses his regret that writers called their monthly dinners "Arzamas."

Ada's Part One, Chapter 38, is "the family dinner." In vino veritas!

As to Vengerov, he is mainly remembered for Mandelshtam's epigram:

Prosemenil Semyon v proseminariy
("Semyon minced to the beginners' seminar").

Stalin was expelled from dukhovnaya seminariya (a theological college).

Upon the infinitely wise countrywoman's suggestion, she [Marina] goose-penned from the edge of her bed, on a side table with cabriole legs, a love letter and took five minutes to reread it in a languorous but loud voice for no body's benefit in particular since the nurse sat dozing on a kind of sea chest, and the spectators were mainly concerned with the artificial moonlight's blaze upon the lovelorn young lady's bare arms and heaving breasts. (1.2)

The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish - a kind of American 'Gory Mary' in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d'Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not 'of his wounds' (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston - a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (ibid.)

The author of "We live, not feeling land beneath us...", Mandelshtam was arrested for his <Stikhi o Staline> (Verses on Stalin, 1937).

*Lat., goose. Anser is an island in the Solovki (Solovetski Archipelago in the White Sea).
**A. P. Chekhov. Collected Works in Twelve Volumes (Moscow, 1963), vol. 11, p. 620
***sometimes Chekhov addressed his brother in a Greek way: Gusiadi

Alexey Sklyarenko

----- Original Message -----
From: NABOKV-L, English
Sent: Tuesday, November 05, 2013 2:54 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] QUERY: S. A. Vengerov in ADA

Brian Boyd writes:

A quick question:

Does anyone know how the literary scholar Semyon Afanasievich Vengerov died? In Ada, I.38 (p. 259 in the first, Vintage and AdaOnline editions), Nabokov writes:

Van remembered that his tutor’s great friend, the learned but prudish Semyon Afanasievich Vengerov, then a young associate professor but already a celebrated Pushkinist (1855-1954), used to say that the only vulgar passage in his author’s work was the cannibal joy of young gourmets tearing “plump and live” oysters out of their “cloisters” in an unfinished canto of Eugene Onegin.

Vengerov was real, but died not in 1954 but in 1920. Note Vengerov as “a celebrated Pushkinist.” I currently plan to gloss this thus (though there is much more that could be said, for instance about his famous Pushkin seminar):

“Pushkinist”: Vengerov edited the first three volumes of the journal Pushkinist, published in Petrograd from 1914; its final volume, edited in 1923 by Nikolay Vasilievich Yakovlev (a friend of VN’s in the mid and late 1920s), was dedicated to Vengerov’s memory.

I suspect a pointed irony in the Antiterran extension of his life, beyond his 65 years on Earth, to a year short of a century and a year after Stalin’s death. I suspect this especially as the only sentence mentioning him comes between two sentences referring first to mass persecution (linking the persecution of the Old Believers with, as I read it, the tens of thousands who died in Stalin’s White Sea-Baltic Canal project in 1931-33, “on the banks of the Great Lake of Slaves”) and then to Stalin as the “Crimean Khan” praised by Churchill as “A Great and Good Man.” I suspect also that Nabokov heard from Yakovlev—who certainly supplied Nabokov with other information the writer cherished and used, and who as an émigré founded an anti-Bolshevik organization Nabokov joined—something about Vengerov’s death that made Nabokov give him that almost improbably long life, outliving Stalin. Of course Stalin himself was not in power at the time of Vengerov’s death.


Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Co-Editor, NABOKV-L

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