Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023479, Tue, 27 Nov 2012 13:06:55 +0300

Khristosik, Venus, Pegasus, quarter of a horse
...for most other people, alas, it meant that Marina (after G. A. Vronsky, the movie man, had left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets) had conceived, c'est bien le cas de le dire, the brilliant idea of having Demon divorce mad Aqua and marry Marina who thought (happily and correctly) she was pregnant again. (Ada, 1.3)

As I pointed out before, the word Khristosik* (little Christ) was coined by Boris Sinani, Osip Mandelshtam's friend and schoolmate,** son of the celebrated psychiatrist who attempted to cure the writer Gleb Uspenski (1843-1902) of his mental illness. In The Silhouettes of Russian Writers Ayhenvald compares Uspenski, the author of Nravy Rasteryaevoy ulitsy (The Morals of Rasteryaev Street, 1866) and Vlast' zemli (The Power of the Land, 1882), to Ibsen, who was thrown by his winged horse (Pegasus): К Успенскому могли бы быть приложены горькие слова, сказанные про Ибсена: "В жизненной битве пал под ним крылатый конь поэзии" (note the phrase gor'kie slova, "bitter words"). On the other hand, Ayhenvald speaks of Venus of Milo (adored by Tyapushkin, the country school teacher in Vypryamila, "She Straightened him out") rising in Uspenski's stories from the foam of life: его рассказы не готовы, но, читая их, вы присутствуете при самом таинстве художественного созидания, вы как бы видите пред собою рождение беллетристики. Из пены жизни выходит его любимая Венера Милосская, прекрасная богиня красоты.

According to Marina Zotov, a character in Gorky's The Life of Klim Samgin, Samgin bears a physical resemblance to Gleb Uspenski. In my article Alexander Blok's Dreams as Enacted in Ada by Van Veen and Vice Versa, I compare Van in his last Villa Venus, with a girl named Adora asleep on his chest (2.3), to Blok holding in his lap a sleeping prostitute - as described by Gorky in Notes from a Diary. Reminiscences (Berlin, 1923). It seems to me that VN modeled Van's looks on those of Blok, with "his stern face and the head of a Renaissance Florentine."

Blok's poem The Twelve (1921) ends in the words "Jesus Christ:"

So they march with sovereign tread ...
Behind them limps the hungry dog,
and wrapped in wild snow at their head
carrying a blood-red flag -
soft-footed where the blizzard swirls,
invulnerable where bullets crossed -
crowned with a crown of snowflake pearls,
a flowery diadem of frost,
ahead of them goes Jesus Christ.***

The poem's title reminds one of Ilf & Petrov's The Twelve Chairs (btw., in The Golden Calf, the sequel novel, Ostap Bender says that he once impersonated Jesus Christ). Horses, knights (chess pieces) and Venus (the planet) are mentioned in it: "Chess thinking - which has turned a regional centre into the capital of the world - will become an applied science and will invent ways of interplanetary communication. Signals will be sent from Vasyuki to Mars, Jupiter and Neptune. Communications with Venus will be as easy as going from Rybinsk to Yaroslavl." (The 12 chairs, chapter 34: The Interplanetary Chess Tournament) For the Vasyuki chess section (which for some reason or other is located in the corridor of the horse-breeding administration) Ostap Bender proposes the new name: Shakhklub chetyryokh koney (The Four Knights Chess Club).

Kon' being Russian for "horse" and "knight" (chessman), one wonders: how many horses/knights are there in Ada? One also recalls the lines in Blok's Retribution (partly quoted in my recent post):

И власть торопится скорей
Всех тех, кто перестал быть пешкой,
В тур превращать, или в коней...
А нам, читатель, не пристало
Считать коней и тур никак
(And the authorities hasten
to promote to rooks or to knights
all those who ceased to be a pawn...
But it does not befit us, reader,
to count knights and rooks)

Most interestingly, in Living Numbers Uspenski speaks of chetvert' loshadi (quarter of a horse). Ayhenvald: Вот она, житейская действительность, отражённая Успенским в строгой форме публицистического рассуждения, - но вы не успели оглянуться, как эта статья, эта статистика, эта "чёрная мошкара или крупа" цифр под руками автора вдруг обращается в осязательные картины, в живые образы, и, например, нелепая статистическая дробь, "четверть лошади" на "каждую там квадратную, что ли, или ревизскую душу" - эта дробь, таящая в себе человеческое целое, "человеко-дробь", сейчас же выступает в своей горестной реальности и принимает фигуру согбенной крестьянской женщины, в семье которой нет лошади и которая поэтому, отправляясь за две версты на покос, мучительно задумывается, как ей донести своего ребёнка, когда в одной руке у неё полушубок и подстилка, а в другой - коса и обед для мужа; и вот Успенский видит, что к этой женщине подходит добрый сосед-крестьянин и, после долгих опытов и раздумья, с шутливыми прибаутками кое-как прилаживает девочку к матери на шею; и баба медленно, не шевелясь ни вправо, ни влево, трогается с места, и писатель мысленно идёт вслед за нею и слушает её прерывистый, задыхающийся рассказ и провожает её на покос, где так трудно работается с четвертью лошади. (apologies, no translation)

Uspenski is the author of Garshin's obituary. Garshin = G + Arshin (a patient in the Kingston Clinic, acrophobe: 2.6; arshin is the Russian measure, equivalent to 28 inches). Roman G corresponds to Cyrillic Г. In Russian we say of the chess piece: kon' khodit bukvoy Г (the knight's moves resemble letter Г).

*Sinani used to call thus certain members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party: the Khristosiks were soft-faced young Russians, the bearers of "the idea of an individual's role in history" - and, indeed, many of them resembled Jesus in Nesterov's paintings.
**like VN, Mandelshtam and Sinani had graduated from the Tenishev school
***this rhymed translation is all wrong, of course

Alexey Sklyarenko

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