Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023555, Thu, 3 Jan 2013 13:53:55 +0300

Anna Aptekar, Rostislav Strannyy, Foma Mur
Of the writers, there were also: Rostislav Strannyy - a rather dreadful person with a bracelet on his hairy wrist; the parchment pale, raven-haired poetess, Anna Aptekar (The Gift, Chapter Five)

Aptekar' is Russian for "chemist, druggist." According to Poprishchin (the narrator and main character in Gogol's Notes of a Madman, 1835), pis'ma pishut aptekari (only chemists write letters). Gogol is the author of The Selected Passages from the Correspondence with Friends (1846). Gogol's pompous style in this book full of moral preachments is parodied by Dostoevski in The Village Stepanchikovo and its Inhabitants (1859). One of its main characters, Foma Opiskin (opiska means "slip of the pen"), is a caricature of Gogol in his late period:

Фома Фомич был огорчён с первого литературного шага и тогда же окончательно примкнул к той огромной фаланге огорчённых, из которой выходят потом все юродивые, все скитальцы и странники.
Foma Fomich was upset right from his debut in literature and it was then that he definitively joined the huge army of upset people which later produces all God's fools, all wanderers (skital'tsy) and tramps (stranniki).

Foma Opiskin is a namesake of Foma Mur in The Gift (Chapter Five): Next to him [Fyodor]... sat a satirist from the Gazeta, whose pseudonym, Foma Mur, contained according to his own assertion 'a complete French novel (femme, amour), a page of English literature (Thomas Moore), and a touch of Jewish scepticism (Thomas the Apostle).' It seems to me that Rostislav Strannyy (pen name of the poet Kron) hints at skital'tsy and stranniki mentioned by Dostoevski in The Village of Stepanchikovo. Note that Skitalets is a pen name of Stepan Petrov (1869-1941), a minor poet mentioned in VN's story Lips to Lips. On the other hand, Skital'tsy (The Wanderers, 1923) is a play in verse by VN.

Note the mention of Dostoevski in Chapter Five of The Gift: But even Dostoevski always brings to mind somehow a room in which a lamp burns during the day. The author of The Hoary Abyss, Shirin is a grotesque shade of Sirin.

Kron's strange pen name seems to correspond to Strannolyubski ("a Mr Strangelove"), Chernyshevski's fictitious biographer in Chapter Four of The Gift. As to Rostislav, it was the pen name of Feofil Tolstoy (1809-81), a music critic and composer who was also satirized by Dostoevski in The Village Stepanchikovo.

Quite apart from the above: Chernyshevski's What to Do? was a favorite book of V. V. Mayakovski, who is mentioned as "my late namesake" in VN's poem O pravitelyakh (On the Rulers, 1945). In her memoir essay Chuzhie stikhi (Others's Verses, 1940), Lilya Brik (sister of Elsa Triolet, Louis Aragon's wife) says that What to Do? was the last book Mayakovski read before committing suicide. VN is unlikely to have known this when he conceived Yasha Chernyshevski but he certainly has learnt it by the time he worked on the translation of Dar into English. Btw., What to Do? was also the favorite book of Lenin (who disliked Mayakovski).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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