Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023412, Sun, 21 Oct 2012 14:24:31 +0300

insects in Transparent Things and elsewhere
There is in Transparent Things one dead butterfly, namely a birdwing:*

In the third album he [Hugh Person] found, with an enjoyable sense of homecoming, glimpses of his immediate surroundings: the lemon and black cushions of the divan at the other end of the room and the Denton mount** of a bird-wing butterfly on the mantelpiece. (TT, 12)

When HP visits Villa Nastia, Mme Chamar (Armande's mother) shows him her four albums of family photographs: Not only did the snapshots follow Armande through all the phases of the past and all the improvements of amateur photography, but the girl also came in various states of innocent undress. Her parents and aunts, the insatiable takers of cute pictures, believed in fact that a girl child of ten, the dream of a Lutwidgean, had the same right to total nudity as an infant... Another revelation of impuberal softness (its middle line just distinguishable from the less vertical grass-blade next to it) was afforded by a photo of her in which she sat in the buff on the grass, combing her sun-shot hair and spreading wide, in false perspective, the lovely legs of a giantess.

As a young woman, Armande has strange whims and vile temper. If anybody started to say "Shortly before I broke my leg - " she would chime in with the triumphant: "And I broke both in my childhood!" (TT, 17)

The poems of Ignat Lebyadkin, a character in Dostoevski's Besy (The Possessed, 1872), include Tarakan (The Cockroach, a fable) and "In Case she were to Break her Leg:"

With broken limb my beauteous queen
Is twice as charming as before,
And, deep in love as I have been,
To-day I love her even more.***

After his visit to Villa Nastia, HP is "monstrously in love" with Armande (TT, 14). Just before revisiting it, Hugh makes his declaration of love (TT, 15) and soon marries Anastasia Petrovna's daughter (whom he is to kill in his sleep six months later).

From R.'s last letter to his publisher: The last two parts of my Opus are in your hands. I am very sorry that Hugh Person is not there to look after its publication. When you acknowledge this letter do not say a word of having received it, but instead, in a kind of code that would tell me you bear in mind this letter, give me, as a good old gossip, some information about him - why, for example, was he jailed, for a year - or more? - if he was found to have acted in a purely epileptic trance. (TT, 21)

In Dostoevski's The Brothers Karamazov (1880) the epileptic Smerdyakov murders his master (and biological father) Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. But it is Fyodor Pavlovich's eldest son Dmitri who is charged with the patricide and found guily. In a conversation with his cherub-like brother Alyosha, Dmitri quotes Pesn' radosti (Song of Joy), Tyutchev's Russian version of Schiller's An die Freude:

Nasekomym - sladostrast'e,
angel - Bogu predstoit.

To insects - sensual lust,
To angels - vision of God's throne.****

Tyutchev is the author of the famous lines:

О, как убийственно мы любим,
Как в буйной слепоте страстей
Мы то всего вернее губим,
Что сердцу нашему милей!

How we murder while we love!
How, filled with passion's blind fury,
we are so consummately skilled
at destroying what is closest to our hearts! (transl. by F. Jude)

and of the lines on human ego (Я) seducing the mind of man only to dissolve in the impersonal ocean of We (Мы):

О, нашей мысли обольщенье,
Ты, человеческое Я,
Не таково ль твое значенье,
Не такова ль судьба твоя?

Ah, human ego, you seduce
the mind of man!
Is this your only fate?
Is this your only use? (F.J.)

Finally, here are the closing stanzas of Tyutchev's poem Cache-cache (Hide and Seek):

Как пляшут пылинки в полдневных лучах,
Как искры живые в родимом огне!
Видал я сей пламень в знакомых очах,
Его упоенье известно и мне.

Влетел мотылёк, и с цветка на другой,
Притворно-беспечный, он начал порхать.
О, полно кружиться, мой гость дорогой!
Могу ли, воздушный, тебя не узнать?

See the dust dancing in the sun's shimmers,
Like living sparks in kindred flames!
I saw this fire in familiar eyes,
I too know its rapture.

A moth flew in and, pretending to be careless,
began to flutter from flower to flower.
Stop whirling, dear guest, magical being!
How can I not know you're there? (FJ and myself)

Btw., Tyutchev's last words were: "Я исчезаю" ("I vanish").

*According to Wiki, birdwings are papilionid butterflies native to the Indian Subcontinent, mainland and archipelagic Southeast Asia and Australasia, and are usually regarded as belonging to three genera: Ornithoptera, Trogonoptera and Troides. They are typified by large size (up to a maximum body length of 7.6 cm or 3 inches and a wingspan of 28 cm or 11 inches in O. alexandrae), showy coloration (in contrasting shades of green, yellow, black, white, and sometimes blue or orange), and slender, lanceolate forewings.
**Sherman Foote Denton (1856-1937) was a naturalist in the broadest sense. He is known for inventing a special mount for butterflies and, indeed, his butterfly and moth collection was unsurpassed and a large portion was given to Wellesley College later in his life.
***Part Two, Chapter II: Night, 2
****Book Three: The Sensualists, Chapter 3: The Confession of a Passionate Heart - in Verse

Alexey Sklyarenko

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