Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027105, Tue, 12 Jul 2016 02:37:46 +0300

horses & hats in Ada
Vitry [the director who made a film of Van’s novel Letters from Terra]
dated Theresa’s visit to Antiterra as taking place in 1940, but 1940 by the
Terranean calendar, and about 1890 by ours. The conceit allowed certain
pleasing dips into the modes and manners of our past (did you remember that
horses wore hats ― yes, hats ― when heat waves swept Manhattan?) and gave
the impression ― which physics-fiction literature had much exploited ― of
the capsulist traveling backward in terms of time. Philosophers asked nasty
questions, but were ignored by the wishing-to-be-gulled moviegoers. (5.5)

At the beginning of his essay on Mayakovski, Dekol’tirovannaya loshad’
(“Decolletted Horse,” 1927), Khodasevich mentions a horse wearing a lady’
s hat that he saw in a circus:

Представьте себе лошадь, изображающую ст
арую англичанку. В дамской шляпке, с цвета
ми и перьями, в розовом платье, с коротким
и рукавами и с розовым рюшем вокруг гиган
тского вороного декольтэ, она ходит на за
дних ногах, нелепо вытягивая бесконечную
шею и скаля жёлтые зубы.

In his essay Khodasevich compares VN’s “late namesake” to a horse
(wearing not a lady’s hat, though, but a Jacobin’s cap):

Не спорю, для этого и для многого "тому под
обного" Маяковский нашел ряд выразительн
ейших, отлично составленных формул. И в на
граду за крылатое слово он теперь жуёт ря
бчиков, отнятых у буржуев. Новый буржуй, д
екольтированная лошадь взгромоздилась з
а стол, точь-в-точь как тогда, в цирке. Если
не в дамской шляпке, то в колпаке якобинц
а. И то и другое одинаково ей пристало.

Like Phrygian caps, the caps of Jacobins were red. In his poem Tovarishcham
(“To my Comrades,” 1817) Pushkin asks his schoolmates to leave him his red
cap (ostav’te krasnyi mne kolpak). In his poem “To V. S. Filimonov at
Receiving his Poem The Dunce’s Cap” (1828) Pushkin says that his old cap
is worn out and thrown away and that red color is not in fashion these days:

Вам музы, милые старушки,
Колпак связали в добрый час,
И, прицепив к нему гремушки,
Сам Феб надел его на вас.
Хотелось в том же мне уборе
Пред вами нынче щегольнуть
И в откровенном разговоре,
Как вы, на многое взглянуть;
Но старый мой колпак изношен,
Хоть и любил его поэт;
Он поневоле мной заброшен:
Не в моде нынче красный цвет.
Итак, в знак мирного привета,
Снимая шляпу, бью челом,
Узнав философа-поэта
Под осторожным колпаком.

…So, as a sign of peaceful salute,

I take off my hat with a bow,

having recognized the poet-philosopher

under his wary cap.

The title of Filimonov’s poem in the original, Duratskiy kolpak, brings to
mind Durak Walter (Marina’s husband who is also known as Red Veen):

On April 23, 1869, in drizzly and warm, gauzy and green Kaluga, Aqua, aged
twenty-five and afflicted with her usual vernal migraine, married Walter D.
Veen, a Manhattan banker of ancient Anglo-Irish ancestry who had long
conducted, and was soon to resume intermittently, a passionate affair with
Marina. The latter, some time in 1871, married her first lover’s first
cousin, also Walter D. Veen, a quite as opulent, but much duller, chap.

The ‘D’ in the name of Aqua’s husband stood for Demon (a form of Demian
or Dementius), and thus was he called by his kin. In society he was
generally known as Raven Veen or simply Dark Walter to distinguish him from
Marina’s husband, Durak Walter or simply Red Veen. (1.1)

Durak is Russian for “fool.” At the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday
Uncle Dan wears a straw hat:

In the meantime, Uncle Dan, very dapper in cherry-striped blazer and
variety-comic straw hat, feeling considerably intrigued by the presence of
the adjacent picnickers, walked over to them with his glass of Hero wine in
one hand and a caviar canapé in the other. (1.39)

Describing Daniel Veen’s death, Van compares him to a crippled steed:

According to Bess (which is ‘fiend’ in Russian), Dan’s buxom but
otherwise disgusting nurse, whom he preferred to all others and had taken to
Ardis because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of
‘play-zero’ (as the old whore called it) out of his poor body, he had been
complaining for some time, even before Ada’s sudden departure, that a devil
combining the characteristics of a frog and a rodent desired to straddle him
and ride him to the torture house of eternity. To Dr Nikulin Dan described
his rider as black, pale-bellied, with a black dorsal buckler shining like a
dung beetle’s back and with a knife in his raised forelimb. On a very cold
morning in late January Dan had somehow escaped, through a basement maze and
a toolroom, into the brown shrubbery of Ardis; he was naked except for a red
bath towel which trailed from his rump like a kind of caparison, and,
despite the rough going, had crawled on all fours, like a crippled steed
under an invisible rider, deep into the wooded landscape. (2.10)

Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father who tells Van about Uncle Dan’s death)
and Baron d’Onsky (Marina’s lover whose nickname, Skonky, is an anagram of
konskiy, “of a horse”) have the same London hatter:

Both men were a little drunk, and Demon secretly wondered if the rather
banal resemblance of that Edenic girl to a young actress, whom his visitor
had no doubt seen on the stage in ‘Eugene and Lara’ or ‘Lenore Raven’
(both painfully panned by a ‘disgustingly incorruptible’ young critic),
should be, or would be, commented upon. It was not: such nymphs were really
very much alike because of their elemental limpidity since the similarities
of young bodies of water are but murmurs of natural innocence and
double-talk mirrors, that’s my hat, his is older, but we have the same
London hatter. (1.2)

The name of Demon’s rival seems to hint at Onegin’s Don stallion in
Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (Two: V: 1-8):

Сначала все к нему езжали;
Но так как с заднего крыльца
Обыкновенно подавали
Ему донского жеребца,
Лишь только вдоль большой дороги
Заслышит их домашни дроги, -
Поступком оскорбясь таким,
Все дружбу прекратили с ним.

At first they all would call on him,

but since to the back porch

there was habitually brought

a Don stallion for him

the moment that along the highway

one heard their homely shandrydans -

outraged by such behavior,

they all ceased to be friends with him.

Demon’s and d’Onsky’s London hatter brings to mind staraya anglichanka
(an old Englishwoman) mentioned by Khodasevich at the beginning of his essay
on Mayakovski:

Imagine a horse impersonating an old Englishwoman…

Alexey Sklyarenko

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