Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027009, Sun, 22 May 2016 13:59:45 +0300

destroy & forget in Ada
'Good for you, Pompeianella (whom you saw scattering her flowers in one of Uncle Dan's picture books, but whom I admired last summer in a Naples museum). Now don't you think we should resume our shorts and shirts and go down, and bury or burn this album at once, girl. Right?’

'Right,' answered Ada. 'Destroy and forget. But we still have an hour before tea.' (1.1)

In Pushkin’s story Pikovaya dama (“The Queen of Spades,” 1833) three ladies at a ball approach Tomski (who dances a mazurka with Lizaveta Ivanovna) with the question “oubli ou regret?” (oblivion or regret?):

Подошедшие к ним три дамы с вопросами — oubli ou regret? — прервали разговор, который становился мучительно любопытен для Лизаветы Ивановны.

Дама, выбранная Томским, была сама княжна ***. Она успела с ним изъясниться, обежав лишний круг и лишний раз повертевшись перед своим стулом.

Three ladies approaching him with the question: "oubli ou regret?" interrupted the conversation, which had become so tantalizingly interesting to Lizaveta Ivanovna.

The lady chosen by Tomski was Princess Polina herself. She succeeded in effecting a reconciliation with him during the numerous turns of the dance, after which he conducted her to her chair. (chapter IV)

The phrase “destroy and forget” rhymes with “oubli ou regret.” Moreover, oublier means in French “to forget.”

According to Tomski, his eighty-year-old grandmother (who sixty years ago was known in Paris as la Vénus muscovite) knows the secret of three cards. Before the Night of the Burning Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time) Ada, using the playing cards of her grandfather, builds a Pompeian Villa:

'Fine,' said Van, 'that's certainly fascinating; but I was thinking of the first time you might have suspected I was also a sick pig or horse. I am recalling,' he continued, 'the round table in the round rosy glow and you kneeling next to me on a chair. I was perched on the chair's swelling arm and you were building a house of cards, and your every movement was magnified, of course, as in a trance, dream-slow but also tremendously vigilant, and I positively reveled in the girl odor of your bare arm and in that of your hair which now is murdered by some popular perfume. I date the event around June 10 - a rainy evening less than a week after my first arrival at Ardis.'

'I remember the cards,' she said, 'and the light and the noise of the rain, and your blue cashmere pullover - but nothing else, nothing odd or improper, that came later. Besides, only in French love stories les messieurs hument young ladies.'

'Well, I did while you went on with your delicate work. Tactile magic. Infinite patience. Fingertips stalking gravity. Badly bitten nails, my sweet. Forgive these notes, I cannot really express the discomfort of bulky, sticky desire. You see I was hoping that when your castle toppled you would make a Russian splash gesture of surrender and sit down on my hand.'

'It was not a castle. It was a Pompeian Villa with mosaics and paintings inside, because I used only court cards from Grandpa's old gambling packs. Did I sit down on your hot hard hand?'

'On my open palm, darling. A pucker of paradise. You remained still for a moment, fitting my cup. Then you rearranged your limbs and reknelt.'

'Quick, quick, quick, collecting the flat shining cards again to build again, again slowly? We were abominably depraved, weren't we?'

'All bright kids are depraved. I see you do recollect -'

'Not that particular occasion, but the apple tree, and when you kissed my neck, et tout le reste. And then - zdravstvuyte: apofeoz, the Night of the Burning Barn!' (1.18)

Van and Ada ascend to the library of Ardis Hall (where they make love in the Night of the Burning Barn) by the spiral staircase:

With the tartan toga around him, he accompanied his black double down the accessory spiral stairs leading to the library. Placing a bare knee on the shaggy divan under the window, Van drew back the heavy red curtains. (1.19)

In Pushkin’s story Hermann goes up a little winding staircase that leads to Lizaveta Ivanovna’s room in the old Countess’ house:

Наконец она бросила ему в окошко следующее письмо:

«Сегодня бал у *** ского посланника. Графиня там будет. Мы останемся часов до двух. Вот вам случай увидеть меня наедине. Как скоро графиня уедет, ее люди, вероятно, разойдутся, в сенях останется швейцар, но и он обыкновенно уходит в свою каморку. Приходите в половине двенадцатого. Ступайте прямо на лестницу. Коли вы найдете кого в передней, то вы спросите, дома ли графиня. Вам скажут нет, — и делать нечего. Вы должны будете воротиться. Но, вероятно, вы не встретите никого. Девушки сидят у себя, все в одной комнате. Из передней ступайте налево, идите всё прямо до графининой спальни. В спальне за ширмами увидите две маленькие двери: справа в кабинет, куда графиня никогда не входит; слева в коридор, и тут же узенькая витая лестница: она ведёт в мою комнату».

At last she threw out of the window to him the following letter:

"This evening there is going to be a ball at the Embassy. The Countess will be there. We shall remain until two o'clock. You have now an opportunity of seeing me alone. As soon as the Countess is gone, the servants will very probably go out, and there will be nobody left but the porter, but he usually goes to sleep in his lodge. Come about half-past eleven. Walk straight upstairs. If you meet anybody in the ante-room, ask if the Countess is at home. You will be told 'No,' in which case there will be nothing left for you to do but to go away again. But it is most probable that you will meet nobody. The maidservants will all be together in one room. On leaving the ante-room, turn to the left, and walk straight on until you reach the Countess's bedroom. In the bedroom, behind a screen, you will find two doors: the one on the right leads to a cabinet, which the Countess never enters; the one on the left leads to a corridor, at the end of which is a little winding staircase; this leads to my room." (chapter III)

The main character of Pushkin’s story, Hermann is a gambler who goes mad:

Германн сошёл с ума. Он сидит в Обуховской больнице в 17-м нумере, не отвечает ни на какие вопросы и бормочет необыкновенно скоро: «Тройка, семёрка, туз! Тройка, семёрка, дама!..»

Лизавета Ивановна вышла замуж за очень любезного молодого человека; он где-то служит и имеет порядочное состояние: он сын бывшего управителя у старой графини. У Лизаветы Ивановны воспитывается бедная родственница.

Томский произведён в ротмистры и женится на княжне Полине.

Hermann went mad, and is now confined in room Number 17 of the Obukhov Hospital. He never answers any questions, but he constantly mutters with unusual rapidity: "Three, seven, ace!" "Three, seven, queen!"

Lizaveta Ivanovna has married a very amiable young man, a son of the former steward of the old Countess. He is in the service of the State somewhere, and is in receipt of a good income. Lizaveta Ivanovna is also supporting a poor relative.

Tomski has been promoted to the rank of captain and soon marries Princess Polina.

Van’s and Ada’s father, Demon Veen is a gambler. Demon’s wife Aqua (the twin sister of Marina, Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) went mad and committed suicide (1.3). In a letter to Demon that he writes before his duel with Captain Tapper Van confesses that he and Ada were lovers and says that he has no regrets:

Dear Dad,

in consequence of a trivial altercation with a Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, whom I happened to step upon in the corridor of a train, I had a pistol duel this morning in the woods near Kalugano and am now no more. Though the manner of my end can be regarded as a kind of easy suicide, the encounter and the ineffable Captain are in no way connected with the Sorrows of Young Veen. In 1884, during my first summer at Ardis, I seduced your daughter, who was then twelve. Our torrid affair lasted till my return to Riverlane; it was resumed last June, four years later. That happiness has been the greatest event in my life, and I have no regrets. Yesterday, though, I discovered she had been unfaithful to me, so we parted. Tapper, I think, may be the chap who was thrown out of one of your gaming clubs for attempting oral intercourse with the washroom attendant, a toothless old cripple, veteran of the first Crimean War. Lots of flowers, please! (1.42)

Van first comes to Ardis in June of 1884. Seventeen years later, in June of 1901, Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) commits suicide (3.5). Seventeen years pass between Van’s and Ada’s meeting in 1905 (soon after Demon’s death in an airplane disaster) in Switzerland and their reunion in 1922 after the death of Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s husband). In Pushkin’s story Hermann ends up in a madhouse where he occupies room Number 17.

Lucette is twenty-five when she jumps from Admiral Tobakoff into the Atlantic. A couple of days earlier she invited Van to her room in Alphonse Four (Lucette’s hotel in Paris):

'You know whom I ran into this morning? Good old Greg Erminin. It was he who told me you were around. His wife est un peu snob, what?'

'Everybody is un peu snob,' said Lucette. 'Your Cordula, who is also around, cannot forgive Shura Tobak, the violinist, for being her husband's neighbor in the telephone book. Immediately after lunch, we'll go to my room, a numb twenty-five, my age. I have a fabulous Japanese divan and lots of orchids just supplied by one of my beaux. Ach, Bozhe moy - it has just occurred to me - I shall have to look into this - maybe they are meant for Brigitte, who is marrying after tomorrow, at three-thirty, a head waiter at the Alphonse Trois, in Auteuil. Anyway they are greenish, with orange and purple blotches, some kind of delicate Oncidium, "cypress frogs," one of those silly commercial names. I'll stretch out upon the divan like a martyr, remember?'

'Are you still half-a-martyr - I mean half-a-virgin?' inquired Van.

'A quarter,' answered Lucette. 'Oh, try me, Van! My divan is black with yellow cushions.' (3.3)

In his poem Byla pora: nash prazdnik molodoy… (“There was a time: our young celebration…” 1836) that he read at his last Lyceum anniversary Pushkin says that he and his schoolmates are celebrating the Lyceum day for the twenty-fifth time and mentions a quarter of the century that had elapsed since the day when the Lyceum was founded:

Всему пора: уж двадцать пятый раз
Мы празднуем лицея день заветный.
Прошли года чредою незаметной,
И как они переменили нас!
Недаром — нет! — промчалась четверть века!
Не сетуйте: таков судьбы закон;
Вращается весь мир вкруг человека, —
Ужель один недвижим будет он?

“The years have passed taking their imperceptible course and how they have changed us!”

In 1892 a considerably changed and enlarged Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whom Ada bribed to set the barn on fire and who decided to blackmail Ada) visited Ada at Ardis:

During her dreary stay at Ardis, a considerably changed and enlarged Kim Beauharnais called upon her. He carried under his arm an album bound in orange-brown cloth, a dirty hue she had hated all her life. (2.7)

Ada admits that she destroyed all but one pictures taken by Kim in 1888 (“Ardis the Second”):

'Sweetheart,' said Van, 'the whole of 1888 has been ripped out. One need not be a sleuth in a mystery story to see that at least as many pages have been removed as retained. I don't mind - I mean I have no desire to see the Knabenkräuter and other pendants of your friends botanizing with you; but 1888 has been withheld and he'll turn up with it when the first grand is spent.'

'I destroyed 1888 myself,' admitted proud Ada; 'but I swear, I solemnly swear, that the man behind Blanche, in the perron picture, was, and has always remained, a complete stranger.' (ibid.)

It was Blanche, a French handmaid at Ardis, who wrote Van an anonymous note warning him that Ada is unfaithful to him. Upon reading this note, Ada tells Van to destroy and forget it:

'Well, what's the matter?' she asked when they met a minute later on the drawing-room terrace.

'I found this in my jacket,' said Van.

Rubbing her big front teeth with a nervous forefinger, Ada read and reread the note.

'How do you know it's meant for you?' she asked, giving him back the bit of copybook paper.

'Well, I'm telling you,' he yelled.

'Tishe (quiet!)!' said Ada.

'I'm telling you I found it here,' (pointing at his heart).

'Destroy and forget it,' said Ada.

'Your obedient servant,' replied Van. (1.40)

The name Kim Beauharnais hints at Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife who is known on Antiterra as Queen Josephine (1.5). In his poem on the Lyceum anniversary Pushkin mentions Napoleon:

Тогда гроза двенадцатого года
Ещё спала. Ещё Наполеон
Не испытал великого народа —
Ещё грозил и колебался он.

In “The Queen of Spades” Hermann resembles Napoleon’s portrait:

Утро наступало. Лизавета Ивановна погасила догорающую свечу: бледный свет озарил ее комнату. Она отерла заплаканные глаза и подняла их на Германна: он сидел на окошке, сложа руки и грозно нахмурясь. В этом положении удивительно напоминал он портрет Наполеона. Это сходство поразило даже Лизавету Ивановну.

The day began to dawn. Lizaveta Ivanovna extinguished her candle: a pale light illumined her room. She wiped her tear-stained eyes and raised them towards Hermann: he was sitting near the window, with his arms crossed and with a fierce frown upon his forehead. In this attitude he bore a striking resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon. This resemblance struck even Lizaveta Ivanovna. (chapter IV)

The concierge at Alphonse Four has a Bourbonian chin:

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 Récamier 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)

According to ‘Miss Condor’ (the mulatto girl onboard Admiral Tobakoff), Van looks like her friend Vivian Vale:

A moment later, as if having spied on his solitude the pava (peahen) reappeared - this time with an apology.

Polite Van, scrambling up to his feet and browing his spectacles, started to apologize in his turn (for misleading her innocently) but his little speech petered out in stupefaction as he looked at her face and saw in it a gross and grotesque caricature of unforgettable features. That mulatto skin, that silver-blond hair, those fat purple lips, reinacted in coarse negative her ivory, her raven, her pale pout.

'I was told,' she explained, 'that a great friend of mine, Vivian Vale, the cootooriay - voozavay entendue? - had shaved his beard, in which case he'd look rather like you, right?'

'Logically, no, ma'am,' replied Van.

She hesitated for the flirt of a second, licking her lips, not knowing whether he was being rude or ready - and here Lucette returned for her Rosepetals.

'See you aprey,' said Miss Condor. (3.5)

Lucette asked Van about Miss Condor kto siya pava (who’s that stately dame)? In Pushkin’s Skazka o tsare Saltane ("The Fairy Tale about Tsar Saltan," 1831) Tsarevna Lebed' (the Swan Princess) is compared to a pava:

Днём свет божий затмевает,

Ночью землю освещает -

Месяц под косой блестит,

А во лбу звезда горит.

А сама-то величава,

Выступает, будто пава;

Сладку речь-то говорит,

Будто реченька журчит.

In the day-time she eclipses the light,

In the night-time she illumines the earth,

The moon shines under her plait,

And the star blazes on her brow;

Stately herself,

She walks like a peahen;

And when she is speaking,

It is like murmur of a rivulet.

In reply to Van's question at the door of the Tobakoff grill bar, Lucette tenderly shakes her jeweled head (3.5). Lucette's demure speech and her walk conscious of Van's gaze, her "struthious" dress, also bring to mind Pushkin's Swan Princess.

In the last sentence of “The Queen of Spades” Pushkin says that Tomski soon marries Princess Polina. In the epilogue of VN’s “Family Chronicle” Ada tells Van that he should have married Lucette:

'Oh, Van, oh Van, we did not love her enough. That's whom you should have married, the one sitting feet up, in ballerina black, on the stone balustrade, and then everything would have been all right - I would have stayed with you both in Ardis Hall, and instead of that happiness, handed out gratis, instead of all that we teased her to death!' (5.6)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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