Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027063, Fri, 17 Jun 2016 20:27:54 +0300

furchtbar feeling, dead man, Deuil & Dr Swissair in Ada
Poor Philip drooped, fingerpainting sad nothings on wet stone, shaking his heavy head, gulping visibly.

'One feels... One feels,' he said, 'that one is merely playing a role and has forgotten the next speech.'

'I'm told many feel that,' said Ada; 'it must be a furchtbar feeling.'

'Cannot be helped? No hope any more at all? I am dying, yes?'

'You are dead, Mr Rack,' said Ada. (1.32)

A furchtbar feeling experienced by Philip Rack (Lucette’s music teacher) brings to mind a sentence in German textbooks (or is it a quote?):

Das muss wirklich ein furchtbares Gefühl sein, wenn man bemerkt, dass man das, was man immer dachte zu mögen, doch nicht mag.

It must be really a dreadful feeling, when one notices that one does not actually love what one always thought to love.

When Van revisits Ardis in 1888, he notices that Ada has changed and that he detests her:

He had spent most of the day fast asleep in his room, and a long, rambling, dreary dream had repeated, in a kind of pointless parody, his strenuous ‘Casanovanic’ night with Ada and that somehow ominous morning talk with her. Now that I am writing this, after so many hollows and heights of time, I find it not easy to separate our conversation, as set down in an inevitably stylized form, and the drone of complaints, turning on sordid betrayals that obsessed young Van in his dull nightmare. Or was he dreaming now that he had been dreaming? Had a grotesque governess really written a novel entitled Les Enfants Maudits? To be filmed by frivolous dummies, now discussing its adaptation? To be made even triter than the original Book of the Fortnight, and its gurgling blurbs? Did he detest Ada as he had in his dreams? He did. (1.32)

According to Ada, Mr Rack is dead. After learning that Ada had been unfaithful to him, Van prepares to leave Ardis forever and compares himself to “a dead man going through the motions of an imagined dreamer:”

He ascended the grand staircase. The house was empty, and cool, and smelled of carnations. Good morning, and good-bye, little bedroom. Van shaved, Van pared his toe-nails, Van dressed with exquisite care: gray socks, silk shirt, gray tie, dark-gray suit newly pressed - shoes, ah yes, shoes, mustn't forget shoes, and without bothering to sort out the rest of his belongings, crammed a score of twenty-dollar gold coins into a chamois purse, distributed handkerchief, checkbook, passport, what else? nothing else, over his rigid person and pinned a note to the pillow asking to have his things packed and forwarded to his father's address. Son killed by avalanche, no hat found, contraceptives donated to Old Guides' Home. After the passage of about eight decades all this sounds very amusing and silly - but at the time he was a dead man going through the motions of an imagined dreamer. He bent down with a grunt, cursing his knee, to fix his skis, in the driving snow, on the brink of the slope, but the skis had vanished, the bindings were shoelaces, and the slope, a staircase. (1.41)

It is Blanche (a French handmaid at Ardis) who tells Van about Ada’s romance with Rack. Van made a pass at Blanche on the first morning of his first arrival in Ardis:

In a corner room he found, standing at a tall window, a young chambermaid whom he had glimpsed (and promised himself to investigate) on the preceding evening. She wore what his father termed with a semi-assumed leer 'soubret black and frissonet frill'; a tortoiseshell comb in her chestnut hair caught the amber light; the French window was open, and she was holding one hand, starred with a tiny aquamarine, rather high on the jamb as she looked at a sparrow that was hopping up the paved path toward the bit of baby-toed biscuit she had thrown to him. Her cameo profile, her cute pink nostril, her long, French, lily-white neck, the outline, both full and frail, of her figure (male lust does not go very far for descriptive felicities!), and especially the savage sense of opportune license moved Van so robustly that he could not resist clasping the wrist of her raised tight-sleeved arm. Freeing it, and confirming by the coolness of her demeanor that she had sensed his approach, the girl turned her attractive, though almost eyebrowless, face toward him and asked him if he would like a cup of tea before breakfast. No. What was her name? Blanche — but Mlle Larivière called her ‘Cendrillon’ because her stockings got so easily laddered, see, and because she broke and mislaid things, and confused flowers. His loose attire revealed his desire; this could not escape a girl’s notice, even if color-blind, and as he drew up still closer, while looking over her head for a suitable couch to take shape in some part of this magical manor — where any place, as in Casanova’s remembrances could be dream-changed into a sequestered seraglio nook — she wiggled out of his reach completely and delivered a little soliloquy in her soft Ladoran French:

'Monsieur a quinze ans, je crois, et moi, je sais, j'en ai dixneuf. Monsieur is a nobleman; I am a poor peat-digger's daughter. Monsieur a tâté, sans doute, des filles de la ville; quant à moi, je suis vierge, ou peu s'en faut. De plus, were I to fall in love with you - I mean really in love - and I might, alas, if you possessed me rien qu'une petite fois - it would be, for me, only grief, and infernal fire, and despair, and even death, Monsieur. Finalement, I might add that I have the whites and must see le Docteur Chronique, I mean Crolique, on my next day off. Now we have to separate, the sparrow has disappeared, I see, and Monsieur Bouteillan has entered the next room, and can perceive us clearly in that mirror above the sofa behind that silk screen.'

‘Forgive me, girl,’ murmured Van, whom her strange, tragic tone had singularly put off, as if he were taking part in a play in which he was the principal actor, but of which he could only recall that one scene. (1.7)

As he speaks to Ada, Philip Rack compares himself to a man who is merely playing a role and has forgotten the next speech.

Van learns of Rack’s death from Dr Fitzbishop (a surgeon in the Kalugano hospital where Van recovers from the wound received in a pistol duel with Captain Tapper):

Dr Fitzbishop had said, rubbing his hands, that the Luga laboratory said it was the not always lethal 'arethusoides' but it had no practical importance now, because the unfortunate music teacher, and composer, was not expected to spend another night on Demonia, and would be on Terra, ha-ha, in time for evensong. Doc Fitz was what Russians call a poshlyak ('pretentious vulgarian') and in some obscure counter-fashion Van was relieved not to be able to gloat over the wretched Rack's martyrdom. (1.42)

The name Fitzbishop brings to mind the Bishop of Belokonsk with whom, according to Demon, Marina is flirting in Tsitsikar (while her husband, Daniel Veen, dies in Ardis):

‘A propos, I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is somewhere in Italy, but I've managed to trace Marina to Tsitsikar - flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk - she will arrive in the late afternoon, wearing, no doubt, pleureuses, very becoming, and we shall then travel à trois to Ladore, because I don't think -' (2.10)

Marina’s pleureuses (widow’s weeds) remind one of Deuil (Fr., “mourning”), a village in Normandy near which Eric Veen’s mother died in a car accident:

In the spring of 1869, David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction (in no way related to the Veens of our rambling romance), escaped uninjured when the motorcar he was driving from Cannes to Calais blew a front tire on a frost-blazed road and tore into a parked furniture van; his daughter sitting beside him was instantly killed by a suitcase sailing into her from behind and breaking her neck. In his London studio her husband, an unbalanced, unsuccessful painter (ten years older than his father-in-law whom he envied and despised) shot himself upon receiving the news by cablegram from a village in Normandy called, dreadfully, Deuil.

The momentum of disaster lost none of its speed, for neither did Eric, a boy of fifteen, despite all the care and adoration which his grandfather surrounded him with, escape a freakish fate: a fate strangely similar to his mother's.

After being removed from Note to a small private school in Vaud Canton and then spending a consumptive summer in the Maritime Alps, he was sent to Ex-en-Valais, whose crystal air was supposed at the time to strengthen young lungs; instead of which its worst hurricane hurled a roof tile at him, fatally fracturing his skull. Among the boy's belongings David van Veen found a number of poems and the draft of an essay entitled ‘Villa Venus: an Organized Dream.’ (2.3)

Ada being a triple dream (a dream within a dream within a dream), an imagined dreamer (“he was a dead man going through the motions of an imagined dreamer”) mentioned by Van seems to be Eric Veen (the author ‘Villa Venus: an Organized Dream’). According to Van, Eric died in his sleep:

Three Egyptian squaws, dutifully keeping in profile (long ebony eye, lovely snub, braided black mane, honey-hued faro frock, thin amber arms, Negro bangles, doughnut earring of gold bisected by a pleat of the mane, Red Indian hairband, ornamental bib), lovingly borrowed by Eric Veen from a reproduction of a Theban fresco (no doubt pretty banal in 1420 B.C.), printed in Germany (Künstlerpostkarte Nr. 6034, says cynical Dr Lagosse), prepared me by means of what parched Eric called 'exquisite manipulations of certain nerves whose position and power are known only to a few ancient sexologists,' accompanied by the no less exquisite application of certain ointments, not too specifically mentioned in the pornolore of Eric's Orientalia, for receiving a scared little virgin, the descendant of an Irish king, as Eric was told in his last dream in Ex, Switzerland, by a master of funerary rather than fornicatory ceremonies. (ibid.)

Eric Veen died in Switzerland (whose crystal air was supposed to strengthen his young lungs). As she speaks to Van, Dorothy Vinelander (Ada’s sister-in-law) mentions Dr Swissair of Lumbago:

‘And how many bereavements we've gone through since the new century started! Her mother and my mother; the Archbishop of Ivankover and Dr Swissair of Lumbago (where mother and I reverently visited him in 1888); three distinguished uncles (whom, fortunately, I hardly knew); and your father, who, I've always maintained, resembled a Russian aristocrat much more than he did an Irish Baron.’ (3.8)

The doctor’s name seems to hint at Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), a French-German theologian, organist, philosopher, and physician who studied the music of J. S. Bach and influenced the Organ reform movement (Rack’s wife Elsie had a good job at Muzakovski's Organs, 1.32). Albert (1858) is a story by Leo Tolstoy. The action in it takes place in Switzerland and its main character is a musician. In Ada, Albert is the first name of Bouteillan, the butler at Ardis (1.5). According to Aldanov ("The Cave", Part One, I), only Batiste is better than Albert as a name for a maître d'hotel:

"Метрдотель был опытный, представительный, честный (продукты, правда, ворует, зато денег не трогает), и звали его Альбером, - после Батиста самое лучшее имя для метрдотеля."

VN reviewed Aldanov's Peshchera (“The Cave”) in Sovremennye Zapiski (Contemporary Notes, 1936, #61).

Lumbago (low back pain) rhymes with Mertvago:

There was once a Doctor Mertvago

who lived in a place called Lumbago…

On Antiterra Pasternak’s novel Doktor Zhivago (1957) is known as Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor, and Mertvago Forever (2.5, et passim). A copy of Les Amours must belong to Blanche (in whose chestnut hair Van saw a tortoiseshell comb catching the amber light):

She showed him next where the hammock - a whole set of hammocks, a canvas sack full of strong, soft nets - was stored: this was in the corner of a basement toolroom behind the lilacs, the key was concealed in this hole here which last year was stuffed by the nest of a bird - no need to identify it. A pointer of sunlight daubed with greener paint a long green box where croquet implements were kept; but the balls had been rolled down the hill by some rowdy children, the little Erminins, who were now Van's age and had grown very nice and quiet.

'As we all are at that age,' said Van and stooped to pick up a curved tortoiseshell comb - the kind that girls use to hold up their hair behind; he had seen one, exactly like that, quite recently, but when, in whose hairdo?

'One of the maids,' said Ada. 'That tattered chapbook must also belong to her, Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor.'

'Playing croquet with you,' said Van, 'should be rather like using flamingoes and hedgehogs.'

'Our reading lists do not match,' replied Ada. 'That Palace in Wonderland was to me the kind of book everybody so often promised me I would adore, that I developed an insurmountable prejudice toward it. Have you read any of Mlle Larivière's stories? Well, you will. She thinks that in some former Hindooish state she was a boulevardier in Paris; and writes accordingly. (2.8)

As Darkbloom points out in his ‘Notes to Ada,’ zhiv means in Russian “alive” and mertv, “dead.” In her essay Epos i lirika sovremennoy Rossii ("The Epic and Lyric Poetry of Contemporary Russia: Vladimir Mayakovski and Boris Pasternak," 1932) Marina Tsvetaev speaks of Marcel Proust and uses the words zhiv and mertv:

Когда я на каком-нибудь французском литературном собрании слышу все имена, кроме Пруста, и на своё невинное удивление: “Et Proust?” — “Mais Proust est mort, nous parlons des vivants”, — я каждый раз точно с неба падаю; по какому же признаку устанавливают живость и умершесть писателя? Неужели X. жив, современен и действенен потому, что он может прийти на это собрание, а Марсель Пруст потому, что никуда уже ногами не придёт, — мертв? Так судить можно только о скороходах.

Is X alive because he can attend this meeting and Marcel Proust dead, because he will never come anywhere on foot? One can speak in such terms only of fast runners.

In an entomological entry of her diary Ada mentions “mauve shades of Monsieur Proust:”

'I think Marina would stop scolding me for my hobby ("There's something indecent about a little girl's keeping such revolting pets...," "Normal young ladies should loathe snakes and worms," et cetera) if I could persuade her to overcome her old-fashioned squeamishness and place simultaneously on palm and pulse (the hand alone would not be roomy enough!) the noble larva of the Cattleya Hawkmoth (mauve shades of Monsieur Proust), a seven-inch-long colossus flesh colored, with turquoise arabesques, rearing its hyacinth head in a stiff "Sphinxian" attitude.' (1.8)

In her essay Marina Tsvetaev compares the reader's attempts to talk with Pasternak to the dialogues in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

Попытка беседы читателя с Пастернаком мне напоминает диалоги из "Алисы в стране чудес", где на каждый вопрос следует либо запаздывающий, либо обскакивающий, либо вовсе не относящийся к делу ответ, - очень точный бы, ежели бы, - но здесь неуместный. Сходство объясняется введением в "Алисе" другого времени, времени сна, из которого никогда не выходит Пастернак.

According to Marina Tsvetaev, the resemblance can be explained by the fact that a different kind of time is introduced in Alice, the time of dream within which Pasternak always remains.

According to Blanche, Mlle Larivière calls her ‘Cendrillon.’ In her Povest' o Sonechke ("The Tale about Little Sonya," 1937) Marina Tsvetaev compares Sonya Gollidey to Zolushka (Cinderella):

А вы - Золушка, которая должна золу золить, пока другие танцуют.

According to Van, Blanche (who confuses flowers) is “color-blind.” The name Tsvetaev comes from tsvet, which means in Russian “flower” and “color.” Marina Tsvetaev (whose mother was a talented pianist) is the author of Mat’ i muzyka (“Mother and Music,” 1934), an autobiographical story.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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