NABOKV-L post 0024806, Tue, 19 Nov 2013 20:32:25 +0300

Subject
mosquitoes & Turgenev in ADA
Date
Body
Blinking in the green sunshine under a birch tree, Ada explained to her passionate fortuneteller that the circular marblings she shared with Turgenev’s Katya, another innocent girl, were called ‘waltzes’ in California (‘because the senorita will dance all night’).
On her twelfth birthday, July 21, 1884, the child had stopped biting her fingernails (but not her toenails) in a grand act of will (as her quitting cigarettes was to be, twenty years later). True, one could list some compensations — such as a blessed lapse into delicious sin at Christmas, when Culex chateaubriandi Brown does not fly...
During the last week of July, there emerged, with diabolical regularity, the female of Chateaubriand’s mosquito. Chateaubriand (Charles), who had not been the first to be bitten by it… but the first to bottle the offender, and with cries of vindictive exultation to carry it to Professor Brown who wrote the rather slap-bang Original Description (‘small black palpi… hyaline wings… yellowy in certain lights… which should be extinguished if one keeps open the kasements [German printer!]…’ The Boston Entomologist for August, quick work, 1840) was not related to the great poet and memoirist born between Paris and Tagne (as he’d better, said Ada, who liked crossing orchids). (1.17)

Vivian Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Katya: the ingenue in Turgenev’s 'Fathers and Children.'

In a letter of February 24, 1893, to Suvorin Chekhov says that Fathers and Children is a glorious thing and uses the phrase komar nosa ne podtochit* (not a thing can be said against it; literally: "mosquito would not give an edge to its nose"):

Женские отрицательные типы, где Тургенев слегка карикатурит (Кукшина) или шутит (описание балов), нарисованы замечательно и удались ему до такой степени, что, как говорится, комар носа не подточит. Описания природы хороши, но... чувствую, что мы уже отвыкаем от описаний такого рода и что нужно что-то другое.
The negative types of women where Turgenev is slightly caricaturing (Kukshin) or jesting (the descriptions of balls) are wonderfully drawn, and so successful, that, as the saying is, you can't pick a hole in it. The descriptions of nature are fine, but... I feel that we have already got out of the way of such descriptions and that we need something different.

In Ada the descriptions of nature are very different indeed!

At supper Anna Sergeevna again turned the conversation to botany.
"Let us go for a walk tomorrow morning," she said to him [Bazarov]; "I want you to teach me the Latin names of several wild plants and their species."
...The following morning Anna Sergeevna went off botanizing with Bazarov immediately after breakfast and returned just before dinner... She walked through the garden with a rather tired step, her cheeks were burning and her eyes shone more brightly than usual under her round straw hat. She was twirling in her fingers the thin stalk of some wild flower, her light shawl had slipped down to her elbows, and the broad grey ribbons of her hat hung over her bosom. (Fathers and Children," chapter 16)

In VN's Family Chronicle it is Ada who teaches Van the Latin names of wild flowers (1.10 et passim) and who often goes botanizing:

The idea was to have Van fool Lucette by petting her in Ada’s presence, while kissing Ada at the same time, and by caressing and kissing Lucette when Ada was away in the woods (‘in the woods,’ ‘botanizing’). This, Ada affirmed, would achieve two ends — assuage the pubescent child’s jealousy and act as an alibi in case she caught them in the middle of a more ambiguous romp. (1.34)
This would also achieve a third end allowing Ada to meet in the woods her two lovers (Percy de Prey, a local squire, and Philip Rack, Lucette's teacher of music).

After listening to Mashen'ka (Mary, 1926), Sirin's first novel, in the author's reading, the critic Yuli Ayhenvald called VN "our new Turgenev." But in The Silhouettes of Russian Writers Ayhenvald criticizes Turgenev, that "tourist of life" who has deserved Karmazinov (a caricature of Turgenev in The Possessed by Dostoevski). According to the critic, it would be a big mistake to see in the author of Asya and First Love (who could have become "the Russian Boccaccio," if he had courage to speak of love as he desired) a chaste poet:

Это - большое недоразумение считать Тургенева поэтом целомудренным... Вообще, Тургенев, кажется, не имел мужества говорить о любви так, как ему хотелось; он выдумывал женщин, облекал их мнимой значительностью, неискренне идеализировал неидеальную Ирину; что он сведущ в "науке страсти нежной", этого он не скрыл, но ему бы следовало идти дальше и свободнее, и тогда в нем выступили бы скрываемые теперь черты русского Боккаччо.

It is Nabokov, the author of Lolita and Ada, who became the Russo-American Boccaccio. Chapter Four of VN's novel The Gift is Fyodor's book "The Life of Chenyshevski." Chernyshevski is the author of A Russian Man at a Rendezvous,* an article on Turgenev's story Asya (1858).

In Ada (1.27) Van has a rendez-vous with Ada and her school-mate and chaperone Cordula de Prey at Brownhill. Cordula is the daughter of an obscure Major de Prey who is obscurely related to Percy de Prey's late father.

The way Percy de Prey is described ("a stoutish, foppish, baldish young man," 1.31) reminds one of Akakiy Akakievich Bashmachkin,** the main character in Gogol's Shinel' (The Overcoat, 1842). In Gogol's Nose (1836) the acqaintances of Major Kovalyov include Mrs Podtochin (a staff officer's wife) and her pretty daughter. Their name comes from podtochit' (to sharpen slightly, give an edge to), the verb that occurs in the saying quoted by Chekhov in his letter to Suvorin.

The name Philip Rack seems to hint at Philip of Spain who is mentioned by Poprishchin in Gogol's Notes of a Madman (1835). The name of the story's hero comes from poprishche (field; walk of life; profession), the word that brings to mind Uvarov's remark on the occasion of Pushkin's death:

"Для гения недостаточно смастерить Евгения Онегина", -- писал Надеждин, сравнивая Пушкина с портным, изобретателем жилетных узоров, и заключая умственный союз с Уваровым, министром народного просвещения, сказавшим по случаю смерти Пушкина: "Писать стишки не значит ещё проходить великое поприще".
'To be a genius it is not enough to have manufactured Eugene Onegin' wrote the progressive Nadezhdin, comparing Pushkin to a tailor, an inventor of waist-coat patterns, and thus concluding an intellectual pact with the reactionary Uvarov, Minister of Education, who remarked on the occasion of Pushkin's death: 'To write jingles does not mean yet to achieve a great career.' (The Gift, Chapter Four)

Pushkin was mortally wounded in his pistol duel with d'Anthes. Six years after the poet's death his widow married Colonel Lanskoy.
Praskovia de Prey (Percy's mother) was born Lanskoy (1.40). Her husband was killed in a pistol duel on Boston Common (1.14).

In 1852 Turgenev was imprisoned for a month and spent nearly two years in exile for publishing his obituary of Gogol. When Turgenev died in 1883, Garshin (the young writer whom Turgenev had invited to live in his estate Spasskoe-Lutovinovo) dedicated to his memory his story The Red Flower. Its title brings to mind Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil. According to Vivian Darkbloom, Ada, who liked crossing orchids, crosses here two French authors, Baudelaire and Chateaubriand:

Mon enfant, ma s?ur,
Songe a l’epaisseur
Du grand chene a Tagne;
Songe a la montagne,
Songe a la douceur —

— of scraping with one’s claws or nails the spots visited by that fluffy-footed insect characterized by an insatiable and reckless appetite for Ada’s and Ardelia’s, Lucette’s and Lucile’s (multiplied by the itch) blood. (1.17)

Chekhov is the author of Pripadok (A Nervous Breakdown, 1889), a story dedicated to the memory of Garshin (who committed suicide by jumping from a staircase landing). Van's patients at the Kingston Clinic include Mr Arshin, an acrophobe (2.6).

*According to Ayhenvald, Turgenev is "a specialist of rendez-vous."
**The name Bashmachkin comes from bashmak (shoe) and brings to mind Chose, Van's alma mater.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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