Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023697, Sat, 23 Feb 2013 15:42:23 +0300

Castles in Spain
From Van's letter to Ada: I had sat with her through the greater part of a movie, Castles in Spain (or some title like that), and its liberal villain was being directed to the last of them, when I decided to abandon her to the auspices of the Robinsons, who had joined us in the ship's theater. (Ada, 3.6)

"Castles in Spain" often mean "castles in the air" (vozdushnye zamki, as we call in Russian unrealistic plans or hopes). In Merezhkovski's 14 December* (1918) general Benckendorf, as he interrogates the Decembrist S. I. Murav'yov-Apostol, speaks of the latter's chateaux d'Espagne:

- Ce sont vos chateaux d'Espagne, qui vous ont perdu, mon ami, - как изволил пошутить надо мной генерал Бенкендорф на допросе в Следственной комиссии. (Part Four, chapter VI, "The Notes of S. I. Murav'yov-Apostol")

One of the five Decembrists who were hanged, Murav'yov-Apostol was a son of the Russian ambassador in Madrid: Младенчество провёл я в Испании: батюшка мой, Иван Матвеевич Муравьёв-Апостол, был в Мадриде посланником. И вот захотел я повторить младенчество в мужестве, перенести в Россию Испанию. (ibid.) Murav'yov wanted to transfer Spain of his childhood memories to Russia. In Ada VN transfers Russia of his childhood memories to America.

In Merezhkovski's novel Murav'yov is the author of Zapiski (Notes) written during the seven-month-long imprisonment in the Peter-and-Paul Fortress. Murav'yov mentions in them de Salvandi's Don Alonso, ou l?Espagne, Histoire contemporaine (3d edition, 1824): Мысль об оном была почерпнута нами из сочинения господина де Сальванди, "Don Alonso ou l'Espagne", где изложен "Катехизис", коим испанские монахи** в 1809 году возмущали народ против ига Наполеона. (ibid.)

On the evening of his very fisrt day in Ardis Van meets Alonso, an Andalusian architect whom Uncle Dan wanted to plan an 'artistic' swimming pool for Ardis Manor (1.6). When four years later Van revisits Ardis Hall, the swimming pool is there: Ada, lying on the edge of the swimming pool, was doing her best to make the shy dackel face the camera in a reasonably upright and decent position, while Philip Rack, an insignificant but on the whole likable young musician who in his baggy trunks looked even more dejected and awkward than in the green velvet suit he thought fit to wear for the piano lessons he gave Lucette, was trying to take a picture of the recalcitrant chop-licking animal and of the girl's parted breasts which her half-prone position helped to disclose in the opening of her bathing suit. (1.32)

As has been pointed out before, the name Philip Rack hints at the Spanish Inquisition. In Merezhkovski's novel (Part Four, chapter I), when the priest visits Prince V. M. Golitsyn (another Decembrist imprisoned in the Peter-and-Paul Fortress), Golitsyn (who would prefer kazn', execution, to pytka, torture) recalls the Grand Inquisitor in Schiller's Don Carlos:

"Ну, слава Богу, коли поп, значит, не пытка, а казнь", - подумал Голицын и вспомнил Великого Инквизитора в "Дон Карлосе" Шиллера.

Mrs Richard F. Schiller is Dolores Haze's married name. On Antiterra (Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) VN's Lolita is known as Gitanilla by the Spanish writer Osberg. According to Osberg, the gitanilla sequence in Don Juan's Last Fling (the movie Van calls 'Castles in Spain' in his letter to Ada who played the gitanilla in that fatal film) was stolen from his novel. From Demon's letter to Van: The film you saw was, no doubt, Don Juan's Last Fling in which Ada, indeed, impersonates (very beautifully) a Spanish girl. A jinx has been cast on our poor girl's career. Howard Hool argued after the release that he had been made to play an impossible cross between two Dons; that initially Yuzlik (the director) had meant to base his 'fantasy' on Cervantes's crude romance; that some scraps of the basic script stuck like dirty wool to the final theme; and that if you followed closely the sound track you could hear a fellow reveler in the tavern scene address Hool twice as 'Quicks.' Hool managed to buy up and destroy a number of copies while others have been locked up by the lawyer of the writer Osberg, who claims the gitanilla sequence was stolen from one of his own concoctions. (3.6)

In his "Notes" Murav'yov speaks of his boundless Quixotism: О, дон-кишотство беспредельное! Another Decembrist, Prince Trubetskoy is compared to Don Quixote who just woke up of a delirious dream: Дон Кихот от бреда очнувшийся (14 December, Part One, chapter VII).

At the end of his life Don Quixote wakes up of his delirium and becomes again Alonso Quixano. A tiny wizened man in a double-breasted tuxedo, Alonso the architect does not look a bit like the Cervantes hero (it is old Demon who looks "positively Quixotic", 3.8). In his first Villa Venus (Eric Veen's floramors) Van meets Alonso's daughter:

After considerable examination, after much flattering of haunches and necks, I chose a golden Gretchen, a pale Andalusian, and a black belle from New Orleans. The handmaids pounced upon them like pards and, having empasmed them with not unlesbian zest, turned the three rather melancholy graces over to me. The towel given me to wipe off the sweat that filmed my face and stung my eyes could have been cleaner. I raised my voice, I had the reluctant accursed casement wrenched wide open. A lorry had got stuck in the mud of a forbidden and unfinished road, and its groans and exertions dissipated the bizarre gloom. Only one of the girls stung me right in the soul, but I went through all three of them grimly and leisurely, 'changing mounts in midstream' (Eric's advice) before ending every time in the grip of the ardent Ardillusian, who said as we parted, after one last spasm (although non-erotic chitchat was against the rules), that her father had constructed the swimming pool on the estate of Demon Veen's cousin. (2.3)

Van remembers her when he and Ada watch Kim Beauharnais's album:

'The Twilight before the Lumieres. Hey, and here's Alonso, the swimming-pool expert. I met his sweet sad daughter at a Cyprian party - she felt and smelt and melted like you. The strong charm of coincidence.' (2.7)

The brothers Lumiere are inventors of cinematograph and pioneers of color photography. "The Twilight before the Lumieres" is Sumerechnikov (sumerki is Russian for "twilight") who took "sumerographs" of Van's and Ada's Uncle Vanya. He reminds one of the Russian pioneer photographer Levitski, first cousin of Herzen and Herzen's first wife Natalie. According to Lenin (In Memory of Herzen, 1912), the Decembrists awakened Herzen.

*the third novel in Merezhkovski's trilogy Tsarstvo zverya (Kingdom of the Beast)
**in a letter of May 15, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov calls Pisarev (the radical critic of the 1860s) voyuyushchiy ispanskiy monakh ("a Spanish monk at war"); like Chernyshevski, Pisarev was imprisoned in the Peter-and-Paul Fortress (see The Gift)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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