Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023614, Mon, 28 Jan 2013 08:06:44 +0300

vivisectional alibi
A formal photograph, on a separate page: Adochka, pretty and impure in her flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit, with slant-striped school tie, facing the kimera (chimera, camera) side by side, at attention, he with the shadow of a forced grin, she, expressionless. Both recalled the time (between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a vivisectional alibi. (Ada, 2.7)

The dead boy on the photo is Marina's brother Ivan, Van's and Ada's Uncle Vanya. The children of Marina and Demon, Van and Ada are officially first cousins. Vivisection (surgery conducted for experimental purposes on a living organism) comes from Latin vivus, "alive," and sectio, "I cut."

Uncle Vanya is a play (1897) by Chekhov. As I pointed out before, alibi is mentioned by a character in Chekhov's story The Swedish Match:

Efrem testified that Nikolashka really did kill a hen every evening and killed it in all sorts of places, and no one had seen the half-killed hen running about the garden, though of course it could not be positively denied that it had done so.
"An alibi," laughed Dyukovsky, "and what an idiotic alibi."

Bayronka comes, of course, from Byron (cf. tolstovka, blouse a la Tolstoi). In a letter (repeatedly quoted by me) of November 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov writes that Byron was as smart as a hundred devils; nevertheless, his talent has survived intact (the author of Gutta-Percha Boy, Grigorovich believed that intellect could overwhelm talent).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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