Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023565, Sun, 6 Jan 2013 04:08:15 +0300

Mertvago and Aksakov in Ada
AAA is Andrey Andreevich Aksakov, Van's chaste, angelic Russian tutor (1.24).
AAG is Andrey Andreevich Gromyko (the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Brezhnev's government) and Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Gromeko, the father of Antonina Zhivago in Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago (known on Antiterra as Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago and Mertvago Forever).

D. B. Mertvago (1760-1824) was a god-father of S. T. Aksakov (the author of The Family Chronicle, 1856 and The Childhood Years of Grandson Bagrov, 1858). In 1857 Aksakov published his Reminiscences of Dmitri Borisovich Mertvago (a statesman and author of Zapiski, "Memoirs," 1887). Various members of the Mertvago family are mentioned in The Family Chronicle:

В таком расположении духа приехали они в Старую Мертовщину, где жила в то время замечательно умная старуха Марья Михайловна Мёртвая.*
(In such a mood they arrived in Old Mertovshchina where Maria Mikhalovna Mertvaya,* a remarkably clever old woman, then lived.)

*Aksakov's footnote: Впоследствии правительство позволило изменить это страшное слово, и сыновья её стали называться Мертваго. (The government later allowed her to change that terrible word and her sons received the name Mertvago. Part Four, The Young Couple in Bagrovo)

and in The Childhood Years of Grandson Bagrov.

Van's tutor gently courted Mlle L., wrote 'decadent' Russian verse in sprung rhythm, and drank, in Russian solitude. (1.10)

In 'Ursus' (a Franco-Russian restaurant in Manhattan, 2.8) Van, Ada and Lucette listen, among other songs, to the celebrated pseudo-gipsy guitar piece by Apollon Grigoriev (another friend of Uncle Ivan's):

O you, at least, do talk to me,
My seven-stringed companion,
Such yearning ache invades my soul,
Such moonlight fills the canyon!

The author of Tsyganskaya vengerka (1855), Apollon Aleksandrovich Grigoriev (AAG, 1822-64) traveled to Venice as a tutor of Prince Trubetskoy's children. Grigoriev pil myortvuyu ("drank hard") and eventually died of alcoholism - but it was long before the "decadent" period in Russian poetry. A great admirer of Grigoriev, A. A. Blok (AAB) wrote a book (1915) on him. In Blok's Incognita (1906) the drunks in a restaurant cry out: "in vino veritas!"

Blok is the author of Ital'yanskie stikhi (Italian Verses, 1909). All roads lead to Rome, the city where Gogol wrote Myortvye dushi (Dead Souls, 1842).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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