Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023791, Sun, 17 Mar 2013 21:22:28 +0300

arch as Arcady
The vague commonplaces of vague modesty so dreadfully in vogue eighty years ago, the unsufferable banalities of shy wooing buried in old romances as arch as Arcady, those moods, those modes, lurked no doubt behind the hush of his ambuscades, and that of her toleration. (Ada, 1.16)

Russian for "arch", lukavyi can also mean "the Evil One" (i. e. Satan; cf. ot lukavogo, "from the Evil One", "from the devil"). In his Gabriel poem Pushkin calls the Satan (who, trying to seduce Mary, relates his own version of the Fall) lukavyi vrag ("the arch enemy") or simply lukavyi:

Но, старый враг, не дремлет сатана!
Услышал он, шатаясь в белом свете,
Что бог имел еврейку на примете,
Красавицу, которая должна
Спасти наш род от вечной муки ада.
Лукавому великая досада...

But the old enemy, Satan does not sleep!
Roaming in the world he has heard
That God had his eye on a Jewish girl,
The beauty who should save
Mankind from the eternal torment of hell.
The Evil One is in a great vexation...

Ada to Van: 'It is really the Tree of Knowledge - this specimen was imported last summer wrapped up in brocade from the Eden National Park where Dr Krolik's son is a ranger and breeder.' (1.15)

Soon after that foretaste of knowledge, an amusing thing happened. She [Ada] was on her way to Krolik's house with a boxful of hatched and chloroformed butterflies and had just passed through the orchard* when she suddenly stopped and swore (chort!). (ibid.)

It seems that Eden is not as chaste after all (and, besides, it was Eve who seduced Adam). Just as the fourteen-year-old Van is not quite innocent when he comes to Ardis, the twelve-year-old Ada is not a virgin in the night of the Burning Barn (1.19), when she first makes love to Van. As later transpires, her first lover was Dr Krolik's brother, Karol, or Karapars (Turk., "black panther"), Krolik:

'How curious - in the state Kim mounted him here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he's a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!'
'There's nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here's the visual proof. Besides, that's not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.' (2.7)

If my theory is correct, Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who spied on Van and Ada and attempts to blackmail Ada, is the son of Arkadiy Dolgoruki, the hero and narrator in Dostoevski's "The Adolescent" (1875). Kim's mother must be Alphonsine, a character in that novel (her boyfriend Lambert attempts to blackmail Katerina Akhmakov, a young woman with whom Arkadiy is in love). When he finds Alphonsine rummaging in his clothes, Arkadiy exclaims: Alfonsinka - shpion! ("Alphonsine is a spy!")

The Bourbonian-chinned, dark, sleek-haired, ageless concierge, dubbed by Van in his blazer days 'Alphonse Cinq,' believed he had just seen Mlle Veen in the Recamier room where Vivian Vale's golden veils were on show. With a flick of coattail and a swing-gate click, Alphonse dashed out of his lodge and went to see. (3.3)

The father of the twins Greg and Grace, Arkadiy Erminin "preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel". His wife committed suicide when she learnt of her husband's romance with her sister Ruth:

Lady Erminin, through the bothersome afterhaze of suicide, was, reflected Marina, looking down, with old wistfulness and an infant's curiosity, at the picnickers, under the glorious pine verdure, from the Persian blue of her abode of bliss. (1.13)

At the picnic in Ardis the First Aunt Ruth is pregnant. Because we do not see her in Ardis the Second (and Colonel Erminin is now "practically mad"), we can assume that she died in childbirth (narrationally, the young pregnant woman is "a great burden").

Arkadina is the stage name of Irina Nikolaevna Treplev, the actress in Chekhov's play "The Seagull" (1896). Her maiden name, Sorin, differs only in one letter from Sirin (VN's Russian nom de plume). Arkadina's son, Treplev, commits suicide at the end of Chekhov's play.

In Ada (2.2) Ben Sirine is an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams.

Josephine Beauharnais was Napoleon's first wife. In "The Seagull" (Act One) Napoleon is mentioned in Nina Zarechnyi's monologue:

The bodies of all living creatures have dropped to dust, and eternal matter has transformed them into stones and water and clouds; but their spirits have flowed together into one, and that great world-soul am I! In me is the spirit of the great Alexander, the spirit of Napoleon, of Caesar, of Shakespeare, and of the tiniest leech that swims.

Trigorin + Timur = Trimurti + groin

Trigorin - a character in "The Seagull", the writer (Arkadina's lover who has a romance with Nina Zarechnyi); Dorn (flipping through a literary review, to Trigorin): 'Here, a couple of months ago, a certain article was printed... a Letter from America, and I wanted to ask you, incidentally' (taking Trigorin by the waist and leading him to the front of the stage), 'because I'm very much interested in that question...' (1.39)
Timur - Tamerlane; Greg Erminin gives Ada a little camel of yellow ivory carved in Kiev in the days of Timur and Nabok (1.39)
Trimurti - Indian trinity; Lucette to Van: "Dorothy [Vinelander] is a prissy and pious monster who comes to stay for months, orders the meals, and has a private collection of keys to the servants' rooms - which our bumb brunette should have known - and other little keys to open people's hearts - she has tried, by the way, to make a practicing Orthodox not only of every American Negro she can catch, but of our sufficiently pravoslavnaya mother - though she only succeeded in making the Trimurti stocks go up" (3.3) The conversation during Van's dinner with the Vinelanders (3.8) parodies Chekhov's mannerisms (Vivian Darkbloom, "Notes to Ada").
groin - anatomical term; after the sword duel with Demon 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 (1.2); according to Van, a brunette, even a sloppy brunette, should shave her groin before exposing it (1.32)

*Chekhov is the author of "The Cherry Orchard". They've all gone and left me behind, as old Fierce mumbles at the end of the Cherry Orchard (Marina was an adequate Mme Ranevski). (1.19)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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