Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024875, Thu, 12 Dec 2013 15:10:37 +0300

Fialochka in Ada & elsewhere
The name of old Van's pretty secretary, Violet Knox (whom Ada calls 'Fialochka,' 5.4), seems to hint at Blok's poem Nochnaya Fialka (The Night Violet, 1906).
On the other hand, Fialochka (little violet) is the flower in I. I. Dmitriev's fable The Burdock and The Violet (1824). In his essay Dmitriev (1937), written for the centenary of the poet's death,* Hodasevich quotes this fable as a good sample of Dmitriev's poetry:


Между репейником и розовым кустом
Фиялочка себя от зависти скрывала;
Безвестною была, но горести не знала:
Тот счастлив, кто своим доволен уголком.
Between a burdock and a rose bush
the little violet hid herself from envy;
she was obscure, but knew no grief:
happy is he who is pleased with his corner.

Ugolok (corner, dim. of ugol, angle; corner) is mentioned by Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother) who quotes Chatski's words to Sophie in Griboedov's Woe from Wit (1824):

'A propos de coins: in Griboedov's Gore ot uma, "How stupid to be so clever," a play in verse, written, I think, in Pushkin's time, the hero reminds Sophie of their childhood games, and says:

How oft we sat together in a corner
And what harm might there be in that?

but in Russian it is a little ambiguous, have another spot, Van?' (he shook his head, simultaneously lifting his hand, like his father), 'because, you see, - no, there is none left anyway - the second line, i kazhetsya chto v etom, can be also construed as "And in that one, meseems," pointing with his finger at a corner of the room. Imagine — when I was rehearsing that scene with Kachalov at the Seagull Theater, in Yukonsk, Stanislavski, Konstantin Sergeevich,** actually wanted him to make that cosy little gesture (uyutnen’kiy zhest).' (1.37)

At the end of his last monologue Chatski famously exclaims:

Бегу, не оглянусь, пойду искать по свету,
Где оскорблённому есть чувству уголок! -
Карету мне, карету!
I run away, without looking back. I shall go looking for a place in the world
where there is a corner for the insulted feeling!
A carriage for me, a carriage!

Violet Knox marries Ronald Oranger, the editor of Ada. In her old age Ada amused herself by translating (for the Oranger editions en regard) Griboedov into French and English and Baudelaire into English and Russian (5.4). The surname of old Van's old Russian valet, Stepan Nootkin, brings to mind Famusov's words in Woe from Wit (Act Two, scene 2):

Vy, nyneshnie - nu-tka!
You, the present-day men, come on!

Stepan is "deafer than he thinks" (5.1). The characters of Woe from Wit include Prince Tugoukhovski, his wife and their six daughters. A comedy name, Tugoukhovski comes from the phrase tugoy na ukho (hard of hearing). Old Prince Tugoukhovski is deaf.

On the other hand, in Gogol's play Zhenit'ba (The Marriage, 1835) Stepan is Podkolyosin's valet. In Ilf and Petrov's The Twelve Chairs (Chapter XXX "At the Columbus Theatre") the actor who plays Stepan in Nik. Sestrin's avant-garde version of Gogol's comedy gives some of his cues standing on his hands (cf. Van's acrobatic perfomance as Mascodagama, 1.30). In the novel's second chapter ("Mme Petukhov's Demise") a bust to the poet Zhukovski is mentioned:

In the middle of the square, near the bust of the poet Zhukovsky, which was inscribed with the words "Poetry is God in the Sacred Dreams of the Earth,"*** an animated conversation was in progress following the news of Klavdia Ivanovna's stroke.
...When the moon rose and cast its minty light on the miniature bust of Zhukovsky, a rude word could clearly be seen chalked on the poet's bronze back.
This inscription had first appeared on June 15, 1897, the same day that the bust had been unveiled. And despite all the efforts of the tsarist police, and later the Soviet militia, the defamatory word had reappeared each day with unfailing regularity.

In his comedy Urok koketkam, ili Lipetskie vody (A Lesson to Coquettes, or The Lipetsk Waters, 1815) Prince Shahovskoy (mentioned in Chapter One of EO as "caustic Shahovskoy") caricatures Zhukovski in the ballad-maker Fialkin (Mr. Violette).

In Ardis the First Van and Ada traveled to Kaluga and drank the Kaluga Waters, and saw the family dentist (1.22).

'It's funny,' said Ada, 'what black, broken teeth they have hereabouts, those blyadushki.'
('Ursus,' Lucette in glistening green, 'Subside, agitation of passion,' Flora's bracelets and breasts, the whelk of Time). (5.3)

And there was Flora, a slender, hardly nubile, half-naked music-hall dancer of uncertain origin (Rumanian? Romany? Ramseyan?) whose ravishing services Van had availed himself of several times in the fall of that year. As a 'man of the world,' Van glanced with bland (perhaps too bland) unconcern at her talented charms, but they certainly added a secret bonus to the state of erotic excitement tingling in him from the moment that his two beauties had been unfurred and placed in the colored blaze of the feast before him; and that thrill was somehow augmented by his awareness (carefully profiled, diaphanely blinkered) of the furtive, jealous, intuitive suspicion with which Ada and Lucette watched, unsmilingly, his facial reactions to the demure look of professional recognition on the part of the passing and repassing blyadushka (cute whorelet), as our young misses referred to (very expensive and altogether delightful) Flora with ill-feigned indifference. (2.8)

It is after the dinner in 'Ursus' that Van learns from Lucette the name of Ada's fiance: Vinelander. "In vino veritas!" cry out the drunks with the eyes of rabbits (p'yanitsy s glazami krolikov) in Blok's Incognita (1906).

The names Onegin and Lenski come from the rivers Onega and Lena (cf. Lermontov's Pechorin, Chernyshevski's Volgin, etc.). It is Mlle Lariviere (Lucette's governess whose name means "the river") who warns Marina that Van went too far in his relationship with Lucette:

‘Sit down, have a spot of chayku,’ she [Marina] said. ‘The cow is in the smaller jug, I think. Yes, it is.’ And when Van, having kissed her freckled hand, lowered himself on the ivanilich (a kind of sighing old hassock upholstered in leather): ‘Van, dear, I wish to say something to you, because I know I shall never have to repeat it again. Belle, with her usual flair for the right phrase, has cited to me the cousinage-dangereux-voisinage adage — I mean "adage," I always fluff that word — and complained qu’on s’embrassait dans tous les coins. Is that true?’ (1.37)

Ivanilich hints at Ivan Ilyich Golovin, the title character in Tolstoy's story The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886). His surname comes from golova (head). Golova (the still alive head of the knight who was decapitated by his brother, the evil dwarf Chernomor) is a character in Pushkin's poem Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820).**** The city of Chernomorsk (from Chyornoe more, the Black Sea) is the setting in Ilf and Petrov's The Golden Calf (1931).

A rare oak, Quercus ruslan Chat., grows in Ardis (2.7). "Chat." seems to hint not only at Pushkin's learned cat, but also at Chateaubriand, the writer who influenced Pushkin and who is often mentioned in Ada. In one of her petites verses Ada (who liked crossing orchids) crosses Chateaubriand with Baudelaire (1.17). Several poems in Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil (Lesbos, The Accursed Women) are about Lesbians. Violet Knox is one of the three Lesbian girls whom Van knew in his life:

By the way, who dies first?
Ada. Van. Ada. Vaniada. Nobody. Each hoped to go first, so as to concede, by implication, a longer life to the other, and each wished to go last, in order to spare the other the anguish or worries, of widowhood. One solution would be for you to marry Violet.
'Thank you. J'ai tate de deux tribades dans ma vie, ca suffit. Dear Emile says "terme qu'on evite d'employer." How right he is!' (5.6)

"Dear Emile" ("mileyshiy Emile," as Ada calls him in Ardis the First, 1.17) is Emile Littre (1801-88), a French lexicographer and philosopher. His Russian colleague, Vladimir Dahl***** ("my darling dahlia"), helps Ada to win in Flavita (Russian Scrabble). The last round of the last game of Flavita that the three young Veens (Van, Ada and Lucette) ever played together ends in a memorable record for Ada:

'And now,' said Ada, 'Adochka is going to do something even sillier.' And taking advantage of a cheap letter recklessly sown sometime before in the seventh compartment of the uppermost fertile row, Ada, with a deep sigh of pleasure, composed: the adjective TORFYaNUYu which went through a brown square at F and through two red squares (37 x 9 = 333 points) and got a bonus of 50 (for placing all seven blocks at one stroke) which made 383 in all, the highest score ever obtained for one word by a Russian scrambler. 'There!' she said, 'Ouf! Pas facile.' And brushing away with the rosy knuckles of her white hand the black-bronze hair from her temple, she recounted her monstrous points in a smug, melodious tone of voice like a princess narrating the poison-cup killing of a superfluous lover, while Lucette fixed Van with a mute, fuming appeal against life's injustice - and then looking again at the board emitted a sudden howl of hope:
'It's a place name! One can't use it! It's the name of the first little station after Ladore Bridge!'
'That's right, pet,' sang out Ada. 'Oh, pet, you are so right! Yes, Torfyanaya, or as Blanche says, La Tourbiere, is, indeed, the pretty but rather damp village where our cendrillon's family lives. But, mon petit, in our mother's tongue - que dis-je, in the tongue of a maternal grandmother we all share - a rich beautiful tongue which my pet should not neglect for the sake of a Canadian brand of French - this quite ordinary adjective means "peaty," feminine gender, accusative case. Yes, that one coup has earned me nearly 400. Too bad - ne dotyanula (didn't quite make it).'
'Ne dotyanula!' Lucette complained to Van, her nostrils flaring, her shoulders shaking with indignation. (1.36)

Veen is Dutch for "peat bog." But Neva ("the legendary river of Old Rus," 2.1) means the same in Finnish! Like Pushkin's Onegin, VN was born "upon the Neva's banks." Introducing the hero of his novel to the readers, Pushkin addresses the friends of Lyudmila and Ruslan.

in vino veritas - Verin ovin = istina v vine + veto - Venevitinov = Asti
Tolstoy + aleut = stoylo + tualet

in vino veritas - in wine is truth
Verin ovin - Vera's barn
istina v vine - in wine is truth; istina v Vine - in Veen is truth
Venevitinov - Dmitri Venevitinov, a poet (1805-27) in whom some critics see a model of Lenski
Asti - Asti spumante, an Italian wine mentioned by Mandelshtam in one of his poems
Tolstoy - Count Tolstoy the American
aleut - Aleutian
stoylo - stall
tualet - toilet

"Venevitinov, in a letter to Shevyryov, Jan. 28, 1827, accuses Dmitriev of being an envious person, ever ready to lower Pushkin's reputation if given a chance." (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 142). Dmitriev was a friend of Karamzin. Pushkin's friend Vyazemski (Karamzin's brother-in-law whose name makes one think of Prince Peter Zemski, Aqua's and Marina's grandfather) is the author of Dom Ivana Ivanovicha Dmitrieva (The House of I. I. Dmitriev, 1860), a poem in about 200 Alexandrines rhymed aaBB.

In Woe from Wit (Act Four, scene 4) Repetilov describes Count Tolstoy the American (without naming him), who came back from Kamchatka as an Aleutian, thus:

Ночной разбойник, дуэлист,
В Камчатку сослан был, вернулся алеутом,
И крепко на руку нечист;
Да умный человек не может быть не плутом.
Когда ж об честности высокой говорит,
Каким-то демоном внушаем:
Глаза в крови, лицо горит
Сам плачет, и мы все рыдаем.

According to Repetilov, a clever person can not avoid being plut (a cheat). Demon's gambling companion, Mr Plunkett, a reformed card-sharper who taught Van some of his tricks (1.28), brings to mind Tolstoy the American (who, when he speaks of sublime honesty, is inspired by some demon) and plut Zagoretski, another cheat and cardsharp in Griboedov's comedy.

As to stoylo (stall), Marina tells Van that 'The Zemskis were terrible rakes (razvratniki), one of them loved small girls, and another raffolait d’une de ses juments and had her tied up in a special way-don’t ask me how’ (double hand gesture of horrified ignorance) ‘— when he dated her in her stall.' (1.37)

Marina's grandmother liked "qu’on la coiffe au grand air so as to forestall the zephyrs" (1.40). Zefiry i Amury (the serf actors who played Zephyrs and Amours on the stage of a serf theatre and who then were sold separately to different landowners) are mentioned by Chatski in Woe from Wit (Act Two, scene 5):

Или вон тот ещё, который для затей
На крепостной балет согнал на многих фурах
От матерей, отцов отторженных детей?!
Сам погружён умом в Зефирах и в Амурах,
Заставил всю Москву дивиться их красе!
Но должников не согласил к отсрочке:
Амуры и Зефиры все
Распроданы поодиночке!!!
(See Ada's version of Griboedov's play in the Oranger edition en regard:)

Chatski's famous monologue begins: "A sud'i kto?" ("And who are the judges?"). The Russian name of Themis, the ancient Greek goddess of Justice, is Femida. It brings to mind Perikl Femidi, a young man who marries Zosya Sinitski at the end of Ilf and Petrov's The Golden Calf (Chapter XXXV "He was Loved by Housewives, Maids, Widows and Even One Dentist Woman"). When Ostap Bender learns of it, he exclaims: "Uveli devushku!.. Pryamo iz stoyla uveli" ("The girl was abducted!.. Abducted right from the stall").

*Dmitriev (1760-1837) outlived Pushkin to eight months. Dmitriev is mentioned in the omitted lines of EO: "And Dmitrev [sic] was not our detractor" (Eight: II: 5). In a letter of Sept. 19, 1818, to Alexander Turgenev Dmitriev termed young Pushkin "a beautiful flower of poetry that will not fade soon" (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 142). It was A. Turgenev "who, at midnight, on Feb. 1, 1837, after the funeral service at the Konyushennaya Church in St. Petersburg accompanied (with the gendarme Rakeev, who a quarter of a century later was to arrest the radical publicist Nikolay Chernyshevski) Pushkin's coffin to the Svyarye Gory monastery, Province of Pskov, district of Opochka, where the poet was buried on Feb. 6, 1837, on the next day after the last rapid journey that his poor body took" (ibid., pp. 354-55). "On June 11, 1829, when traveling from Georgia, through Armenia, on his way to Erzerum, Pushkin who had known Griboedov since 1817, chanced to meet, at a turn of the road, a cart drawn by two bullocks that was carrying Griboedov's body to Tiflis" (ibid., vol. II, pp. 89-90). A Russian envoy in Teheran, Griboedov was murdered and his body horribly mutilated by a Persian mob.
**Stanislavski (stage name of K. S. Alekseev, 1863-1938) was married to M. P. Lilina (1866-1943), an actress of the Moscow Art Theatre whose stage name comes from liliya (lily). Gubki i lilei (orchids and lilies) are mentioned by Pushkin in the drafts of EO.
***Camoes's words to his son in Zhukovski's version (1839) of Friedrich Halm's play Camoens (1837).
****Dmitriev was critical of Ruslan and Lyudmila: "I find in it a great deal of brilliant poetry and narrative ease; but it is a pity that he often slips into le burlesque, and more pity still that he did not take for motto a famous verse [Piron's], slightly altered: 'La mere en defendra la lecture a sa fille'" (letter to Vyazemski, Oct. 20, 1820). (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 142)
*****Young Dr Dahl witnessed Pushkin's excruciating agony and death on January 29, 1837.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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