Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023754, Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:51:13 -0700

Re: Percy de Prey
I'm sure it has been noted before, but Alexey's reference to the "same group of
townsmen" as referring to the 12 apostles reminds me that the opening of Ada
makes several references to specifically Christian (New Testament) places and
people. I've never heard anyone discuss this - or, as is quite possible, perhaps
I missed it. [But Alexey, isn't the sacrifice more likely the Christ than the

Percy de Prey is not a bird of prey, as his name suggests, but is the one preyed
upon (that does not look right - prayed upon?) by our own Ada, darling that she

Alexey will be pleased to hear, that at his urgings over these many years, I
have finally acquired not one, but two (in both Russian and English) copies of
the Gift, with its possible second, German, meaning of "poison" [yad in Russian,
renders the irresistible yady Ady - Ada's poisons]. My copy of Dar, the Gift in
Russian, is a copy inscribed to Sonia Slonim, his sister-in-law, along with
butterfly and posey (alas in monochromatic pencil). Although our editor was
disappointed that the inscription is undated, I would assume that the book would
have been a gift (presumably an unambiguous one) presented to the recipient upon
publication of the book.

Until I have finished reading the Gift, I will refrain from adding to any
further discussions of my least favorite Nabokov novel, Ada.


From: Alexey Sklyarenko <skylark1970@MAIL.RU>
Sent: Tue, March 12, 2013 12:49:20 PM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Percy de Prey

Percy de Prey was not invited to the picnic party on Ada's sixteenth birthday.
Nevertheless, he arrives "drunk as a welt":

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, at that very moment Ada emitted a Russian
exclamation of utmost annoyance* as a steel-gray convertible glided into the
glade. No sooner had it stopped than it was surrounded by the same group of
townsmen,** who now seemed to have multiplied in strange consequence of having
shed coats and waistcoats. Thrusting his way through their circle, with every
sign of wrath and contempt, young Percy de Prey, frilled-shirted and
white-trousered, strode up to Marina's deckchair. He was invited to join the
party despite Ada's trying to stop her silly mother with an admonishing stare
and a private small shake of the head. (1.39)

Just before Percy's arrival, Mlle Larivière (the author of "The Accursed
Children") mentions the Tartars: Greg, assuming with touching simplicity that
Ada would notice and approve, showered Mlle Larivière with a thousand little
attentions - helping her out of her mauve jacket, pouring out for her the milk
into Lucette's mug from a thermos bottle, passing the sandwiches, replenishing,
replenishing Mlle Larivière's wineglass and listening with a rapt grin to her
diatribes against the English, whom she said she disliked even more than the
Tartars, or the, well, Assyrians. (Greg Erminin is a Jew, and Mlle Larivière an
Accoding to a Russian saying, nezvanyi gost' khuzhe tatarina (the uninvited
guest is worse than a Tartar). Chapter VIII of Pushkin's short novel "The
Captain's Daughter" (1836), Nezvanyi gost' (The Unexpected Visit), has this
saying for epigraph. In this chapter Grinyov visits Pugachyov, the pretender to
the Russian throne who led the Cossack insurrection impersonating the late
Emperor Peter III. As he speaks to Grinyov, Pugachyov mentions another
Pretender, Grishka Otrep'yev:

Пугачёв взглянул на меня быстро. «Так ты не веришь, — сказал он, — чтоб я был
государь Пётр Федорович? Ну, добро. А разве нет удачи удалому? Разве в старину
Гришка Отрепьев не царствовал?

Pugachyov cast at me a quick glance. "You do not then think that I am the Tsar
Peter Fyodorovich? Well, so let it be. Is there no chance of success for the
bold? In former times did not Grischka Otrep'yev reign?"Grishka Otrep'yev was
anathematized by the Russian Orthodox Church. In Dostoevski's novel Besy (The
Possessed, 1872) Stavrogin hears his mad wife, poor lame Maria Lebyadkin, cry
out after him: Grishka Otrep'yev anafema! The novel ends in Stavrogin's
The Engish text of Gorky's play Na dne is available (as The Lower Depths)

The scene of cheating at cards (cited in my previous post) can be translated as
(Shouts out.) That card was in your sleeve.

(Confused.) Would you like me to hide it in your nose?

Nezvanyi gost' (the uninvited guest) in Na dne is starets (a spiritual
adviser) Luka. Luke (Russ., Luka) is the author of the third Gospel and the
Acts of the Apostles.

*presumably, chyort tebya poberi! (the devil take you!)
**they seem to be the Apostles (their comrade whom they dispatched and buried
must be Judas)

Alexey Sklyarenko
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