Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023741, Fri, 8 Mar 2013 15:57:01 +0300

Cardinal Grishkin, Baron d'Onsky, Vatican
...in the course of one miraculous year he [Kithar Sween] had produced The Waistline, a satire in free verse on Anglo-American feeding habits, and Cardinal Grishkin, an overtly subtle yarn extolling the Roman faith. (Ada, 3.7)

R. A. Swanson ("Nabokov's Ada as Science Fiction"): "Cardinal Grishkin" would be a transformation of the Russian woman, Grishkin, in Eliot's "Whispers of Immortality."

Grishka being a form of Grigoriy, "Cardinal Grishkin" reminds the reader of two fatal figures in the Russian history: Grigoriy Otrep'yev (False Dmitri I, 1581-1606) and Grigoriy Rasputin (1869-1916). Both Otrep'yev and Rasputin were often called Grishka.

In Pushkin's Boris Godunov (1825) Grigoriy Otrep'yev (a runaway monk of the Chudov monastery in Moscow) promises to pater Chernikhovsky that before two years all Russians will follow his (the Pretender's) example and become Roman Catholics:

САМОЗВАНЕЦ. Нет, мой отец, не будет затрудненья;
Я знаю дух народа моего;
В нём набожность не знает исступленья:
Ему священ пример царя его.
Всегда, к тому ж, терпимость равнодушна.
Ручаюсь я, что прежде двух годов
Весь мой народ, вся северная церковь
Признают власть наместника Петра.

PRETENDER. Nay, father, there will be no trouble. I know
The spirit of my people; piety
Does not run wild in them, their tsar's example
To them is sacred. Furthermore, the people
Are always tolerant. I warrant you,
Before two years my people all, and all
The Eastern Church, will recognise the power
Of Peter's Vicar. (Cracow. The House of Vishnevetsky)

Grigoriy also loves Latin poetry:

Что вижу я? Латинские стихи!
Стократ священ союз меча и лиры,*
Единый лавр их дружно обвивает.
Родился я под небом полунощным,
Но мне знаком латинской музы голос,
И я люблю парнасские цветы.
Я верую в пророчества пиитов.
Нет, не вотще в их пламенной груди
Кипит восторг: благословится подвиг,
Его ж они прославили заране!

What see I? Verses in Latin!
Blest a hundredfold the tie of sword and lyre;
the selfsame laurel binds them in friendship.
I was born beneath a northern sky,
but yet the Latin muse to me is a familiar voice;
I love the blossoms of Parnassus,
I believe the prophecies of singers.
Not in vain the ecstasy boils in their flaming breast;
Action is hallowed, being glorified
Beforehand by the poets!

...Musa gloriam coronat, gloriaque musam. (ibid.)

Grigoriy Rasputin was the starets (monk-confessor**) invited by Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna as a healer for their only son, Tsarevich Alexey, who suffered from hemophilia. On December 29, 1916, Rasputin was murdered in the Yusupov palace at the Moika river (only some 500 m West of the Nabokov house in the Bolshaya Morskaya street). One and a half year later the Tsar and his family were executed in Ekaterinburg (the city in the Ural Mountains that had received its name after Catherine I).

In a letter of April 29, 1913, to V. V. Rozanov the painter Mikhail Nesterov calls the writer Dmitri Merezhkovski кастрированный Гриша Распутин ("the castrated Grisha Rasputin").

In his memoir essay "The Sinani Family" included in "Шум времени" (The Noise of Time, 1925) Osip Mandelshtam compares young members of the SR Party (whom Boris Sinani, Mandelshtam's classmate at the Tenishev school and a Karaite, called Khristosiki) to Jesus in Nesterov's paintings:

"Христосики” были русачки с нежными лицами, носители “идеи личности в истории”, – и в самом деле многие из них походили на нестеровских Иисусов
"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".

Khristosiki ("little Christs") are also mentioned in Merezhkovski's Peter and Alexey (see my recent post "Khristosik, Kitezh, Tartary") and in Ada: after G. A. Vronsky, the movie man, had left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets... (1.3)

The chief residence of the popes in our world, on Antiterra Vatican is a Roman spa: From a more reliable source Demon learned that the Samurai's [Baron d'Onsky's] real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or so. (1.2)

Nesterov's most famous painting is Videnie otroku Varfolomeyu (Vision to the Youth Bartholomew, 1890: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mikhail_Nesterov_001.jpg). Otrok Varfolomey (the youth Bartholomew) is the future Sergiy Radonezhskiy (Sergius of Radonezh, 1314-92), the monk who blessed Dmitri Donskoy when he went to fight the Tartars in the Battle of Kulikovo (September, 1380). It seems that, on Antiterra, the Russians lost the Battle of Kulikovo and moved to America (presumably, crossing "the ha-ha of a doubled ocean"***) leaving their land to the victorious Khan Mamay.

Varfolomeevskaya noch' (Massacre de la Saint-Barthelemy) in August 1572 was a targeted group of assassinations, followed by a wave of Roman Catholic mob violence, both directed against the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants), during the French Wars of Religion. On Demonia (aka Antiterra) Paris (the city where the massacre began before expanding outward to other urban centres) is also known as Lute. Lyutyi is Russian for "ferocious, fierce, cruel."

Baron Demon Veen and Baron d'Onsky fought a sword duel in Nice: The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish - a kind of American 'Gory Mary' in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas**** d'Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not 'of his wounds' (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston - a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2) Pushkin's little tragedy "The Covetous Knight" ends in a sword duel of two Barons (the father and his son).

The son of Baron d'Onsky has only one arm: at Marina's funeral "D'Onsky's son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around Demon and both wept comme des fontaines." (3.8).

When Van finds out that Percy de Prey and Philip Rack were Ada's lovers, he wants to challenge Percy (a neighboring country gentleman) to a duel and thrash Rack (Lucette's teacher of music and a composer of genius). But Percy went to the Crimean War and Rack, poisoned by his jealous wife, is dying in a hospital. Bill Fraser witnessed Percy's death in a ravine near Chufutkale:

One supposes it might have been a kind of suite for flute, a series of 'movements' such as, say: I'm alive - who's that? - civilian - sympathy - thirsty - daughter with pitcher - that's my damned gun - don't... et cetera or rather no cetera... while Broken-Arm Bill prayed his Roman deity in a frenzy of fear for the Tartar to finish his job and go. (1.42)

The movie man G. A. Vronsky is a namesake of Count Alexey Vronski, a character in Tolstoy's "Anna Karenin". While Pushkin is the author of "The Fountain of Bahchisaray" (1823), Leo Tolstoy is the author of "The Sevastopol Stories" (1855) and "Father Sergius" (1898). The latter story is mentioned in Ada:

In a series of sixty-year-old actions which now I can grind into extinction only by working on a succession of words until the rhythm is right, I, Van, retired to my bathroom, shut the door (it swung open at once, but then closed of its own accord) and using a temporary expedient less far-fetched than that hit upon by Father Sergius (who chops off the wrong member in Count Tolstoy's famous anecdote), vigorously got rid of the prurient pressure as he had done the last time seventeen years ago. (3.5)

In Pushkin's "Mozart and Salieri" (1830) Salieri, as he listens to Mozart's Requiem (after throwing the poison into Mozart's glass), mentions a suffering member that the healing knife had chopped off:

Эти слёзы
Впервые лью: и больно и приятно,
Как будто тяжкий совершил я долг,
Как будто нож целебный мне отсек
Страдавший член!

Such tears as these
I shed for the first time. It hurts, yet soothes,
As if I had fulfilled a heavy duty,
As if at last the healing knife had chopped
A suffering member off.

For the tango, which completed his number on his last tour, he [Van who dances on his hands] was given a partner, a Crimean cabaret dancer in a very short scintillating frock cut very low on the back. She sang the tango tune in Russian:

Pod znoynim nebom Argentini,
Pod strastniy govor mandolini

'Neath sultry sky of Argentina,
To the hot hum of mandolina

Fragile, red-haired 'Rita' (he never learned her real name), a pretty Karaite from Chufut Kale, where, she nostalgically said, the Crimean cornel, kizil', bloomed yellow among the arid rocks, bore an odd resemblance to Lucette as she was to look ten years later. (1.30)

In Ilf and Petrov's "The Golden Calf" (1931), pod sladkiy lepet mandoliny ("to a mandolin's sweet murmur", as Bender puts it) the Catholic priests Kushakovski and Moroshek try to revert their compatriot, Adam Kozlevich (the driver of the Antelope Gnu car), to the Roman faith of his ancestors. They almost succeed but Bender arrives and proves in a brief dispute that Bog (God) does not exist. On Antiterra they sometimes pray to Log (the Greek deity Logos?).

Btw., in "Mozart and Salieri" Vatican is the terminative word:

Сальери. Ты заснёшь
Надолго, Моцарт! Но ужель он прав,
И я не гений? Гений и злодейство
Две вещи несовместные. Неправда:
А Бонаротти? Или это сказка
Тупой, бессмысленной толпы — и не был
Убийцею создатель Ватикана?

Salieri. You will sleep
For long, Mozart! But what if he is right?
I am no genius? "Genius and evildoing
Are incompatibles." That is not true:
And Buonarotti?.. Or is it a legend
Of the dull-witted, senseless crowd -- while really
The Vatican's creator was no murderer?

Michelangelo Bounarotti is a character in Merezhkovski's Resurrection of Gods. Leonardo da Vinci (1900).

Don Juan's Last Fling, the movie Van and Lucette watch in the ship theater, reminds one of Pushkin's little tragedy The Stone Guest (completed, it is supposed, on the morning before the poet's duel with d'Anthes). A Roman Catholic, Baron George Charles d'Anthes was an adopted son of Jacob Theodore Baron van Heeckeren, the Dutch minister. Like Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge (Van's adversary in a pistol duel, 1.42), d'Anthes's adoptive father was a pederast.

*soyuz mecha i liry (the union of sword and lyre); cf. Soyuz mecha i orala (the Union of Sword and Plough), garbled by some as s Mechi i Urala ("from the Mecha and Ural rivers), in Ilf and Petrov's "The 12 chairs"
**strictly speaking, Rasputin was not a monk (and the life he lived was not at all monastic)
***in "The Golden Calf" (Yahrbuch fuer Psychoanalytik) the absence of the Bering Strait on a globe drove mad a teacher of geography
****the fat samovar face of the Hollywood actor Douglas Fairbanks is mentioned in "The Golden Calf"

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/