Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024775, Thu, 7 Nov 2013 04:15:45 +0300

Dr Platonov in ADA
As he was pushing his unsteady way through one corridor after another, cursing under his breath the window-gazers who did not draw in their bottoms to let him pass, and hopelessly seeking a comfortable nook in one of the first-class cars consisting of four-seat compartments, he saw Cordula and her mother facing each other on the window side. The two other places were occupied by a stout, elderly gentleman 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. Van entered, moved by a sudden very bright thought, but Cordula’s mother did not recognize him at once, and the flurry of reintroductions combined with a lurch of the train caused Van to step on the prunella-shod foot of the elderly passenger, who uttered a sharp cry and said, indistinctly but not impolitely: ‘Spare my gout (or ‘take care’ or ‘look out’), young man!’
‘I do not like being addressed as "young man,"’ Van told the invalid in a completely uncalled-for, brutal burst of voice.
‘Has he hurt you, Grandpa?’ inquired the little boy.
‘He has,’ said Grandpa, ‘but I did not mean to offend anybody by my cry of anguish.’
‘Even anguish should be civil,’ continued Van (while the better Van in him tugged at his sleeve, aghast and ashamed).
‘Cordula,’ said the old actress (with the same apropos with which she once picked up and fondled a fireman’s cat that had strayed into Fast Colors in the middle of her best speech), ‘why don’t you go with this angry young demon to the tea-car? I think I’ll take my thirty-nine winks now.’
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Cordula as they settled down in the very roomy and rococo ‘crumpeter,’ as Kalugano College students used to call it in the ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties.
‘Everything,’ replied Van, ‘but what makes you ask?’
‘Well, we know Dr Platonov slightly, and there was absolutely no reason for you to be so abominably rude to the dear old man.’ (1.42)

Dr Platonov's cry of anguish ("spare my gout") reminds me of the French phrase (chacun a son gout) mistranslated by Richard Leonard Churchill in his novel about a certain Crimean Khan:

But then ‘everyone has his own taste,’ as the British writer Richard Leonard Churchill mistranslates a trite French phrase (chacun a son gout) twice in the course of his novel about a certain Crimean Khan once popular with reporters and politicians, ‘A Great Good Man’ — according, of course, to the cattish and prejudiced Guillaume Monparnasse about whose new celebrity Ada, while dipping the reversed corolla of one hand in a bowl, was now telling Demon, who was performing the same rite in the same graceful fashion. (1.38)

"A certain Crimean Khan" certainly hints at Stalin whom Churchill praised (after Stalin's death?) as "a great and good man." Stalin was the host of the 1945 Yalta Conference where he met with Roosevelt and Churchill. On the other hand, Yalta is the city where Chekhov lived in the last years of his life.

Platonov is the main character in Chekhov's Play without a Title (also known as "Platonov" and "Fatherlessness"). According to Platonov, the saying "de mortuis aut bene, aut nihil" is wrong. He believes that de omnibus aut nihil, aut veritas and that veritas is better than nihil.

Г л а г о л ь е в 1. De mortuis aut bene, aut nihil*, Михаил
П л а т о н о в. Нет... Это латинская ересь. По-моему: de omnibus aut
nihil, aut veritas. Но лучше veritas, чем nihil, поучительнее, по крайней
мере... Полагаю, что мёртвые не нуждаются в уступке... (Act One, scene V)

He started to caress her [Cordula] under the table, but she gently removed his hand, whispering ‘womenses,’ as whimsically as another girl had done in some other dream. He cleared his throat loudly and ordered half-a-bottle of cognac, having the waiter open it in his presence as Demon advised. She talked on and on, and he lost the thread of her discourse, or rather it got enmeshed in the rapid landscape, which his gaze followed over her shoulder, with a sudden ravine recording what Jack said when his wife ‘phoned, or a lone tree in a clover field impersonating abandoned John, or a romantic stream running down a cliff and reflecting her brief bright affair with Marquis Quizz Quisana. (1.42)

As I pointed out before, 'womenses' and Quizz Quisana bring to mind the joke "mens sana in Quisisana (a restaurant on Nevsky Avenue once popular with drug addicts, prostitutes, etc.)." In Chekhov's Play without a Title the saying mens sana in corpore sano is quoted by Triletski who then says that, one of the five senses, taste is as important as eyesight and hearing. "He who can not eat good is a depraved person:"

А н н а П е т р о в н а. Забрался в мою комнату и не спросясь съел
полпирога! Вы знаете ведь, что это не мой пирог? Свинство, голубчик!
Т р и л е ц к и й. Ничего я не знаю. Знаю только, что он у вас там
прокиснет, если я его не съем. Вы так? Можете-с... А я этак... Если я
много ем, то я, значит, здоров, а если здоров, то, с вашего позволения...
Mens sana in corpore sano. Зачем думаете? Ходите, милая дамочка, не
думая... (Поёт.) Я хочу вам рассказать, рассказать...
А н н а П е т р о в н а. Молчите... Вы мешаете мне думать.
Т р и л е ц к и й. Жаль, что вы, такая умная женщина, ничего не
смыслите в гастрономии. Кто не умеет хорошо поесть, тот урод...
Нравственный урод!.. Ибо... Позвольте, позвольте! Так не ходят! Ну? Куда
же вы? А, ну это другое дело. Ибо вкус занимает в природе таковое же
место, как и слух и зрение, то есть входит в число пяти чувств, которые
всецело относятся к области, матушка моя, психологии. Психологии! (Act One, scene I)

There are in Ada more allusions to Chekhov's Play without a Title but these would suffice. Btw., Pushkin called the Crimea "the cradle of my Onegin."

Alexey Sklyarenko

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