Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027179, Tue, 27 Sep 2016 11:17:15 +0300

Dorofey Road, Lakeview Hospital,
male nurse Dorofey & Dorothy Vinelander in Ada
He shaved, disposed of two blood-stained safety blades by leaving them in a massive bronze ashtray, had a structurally perfect stool, took a quick bath, briskly dressed, left his bag with the concierge, paid his bill and at six punctually squeezed himself next to blue-chinned and malodorous Johnny into the latter’s Paradox, a cheap ‘semi-racer.’ For two or three miles they skirted the dismal bank of the lake — coal piles, shacks, boathouses, a long strip of black pebbly mud and, in the distance, over the curving bank of autumnally misted water, the tawny fumes of tremendous factories.

‘Where are we now, Johnny dear?’ asked Van as they swung out of the lake’s orbit and sped along a suburban avenue with clapboard cottages among laundry-lined pines.

‘Dorofey Road,’ cried the driver above the din of the motor. ‘It abuts at the forest.’

It abutted. Van felt a faint twinge in his knee where he had hit it against a stone when attacked from behind a week ago, in another wood. At the moment his foot touched the pine-needle strewn earth of the forest road, a transparent white butterfly floated past, and with utter certainty Van knew that he had only a few minutes to live. (1.42)

In Lakeview Hospital where he recovers from the wound received in his duel with Tapper Van meets Dorofey, a beefy-handed male nurse:

For half a minute Van was sure that he still lay in the car, whereas actually he was in the general ward of Lakeview (Lakeview!) Hospital, between two series of variously bandaged, snoring, raving and moaning men. When he understood this, his first reaction was to demand indignantly that he be transferred to the best private palata in the place and that his suitcase and alpenstock be fetched from the Majestic. His next request was that he be told how seriously he was hurt and how long he was expected to remain incapacitated. His third action was to resume what constituted the sole reason of his having to visit Kalugano (visit Kalugano!). His new quarters, where heartbroken kings had tossed in transit, proved to be a replica in white of his hotel apartment — white furniture, white carpet, white sparver. Inset, so to speak, was Tatiana, a remarkably pretty and proud young nurse, with black hair and diaphanous skin (some of her attitudes and gestures, and that harmony between neck and eyes which is the special, scarcely yet investigated secret of feminine grace fantastically and agonizingly reminded him of Ada, and he sought escape from that image in a powerful response to the charms of Tatiana, a torturing angel in her own right. Enforced immobility forbade the chase and grab of common cartoons. He begged her to massage his legs but she tested him with one glance of her grave, dark eyes — and delegated the task to Dorofey, a beefy-handed male nurse, strong enough to lift him bodily out of bed. with the sick child clasping the massive nape. (ibid.)

The Russian male given name Dorofey corresponds to the English female given name Dorothy. According to Van, Dorothy Vinelander (Ada’s sister-in-law) is a born nurser:

Dorothy, a born nurser, considerably surpassed Ada (who, never being ill herself, could not stand the sight of an ailing stranger) in readiness of sickbed attendance, such as reading to the sweating and suffocating patient old issues of the Golos Feniksa; but on Friday the hotel doctor bundled him off to the nearby American Hospital, where even his sister was not allowed to visit him ‘because of the constant necessity of routine tests’ — or rather because the poor fellow wished to confront disaster in manly solitude. (3.8)

Dorothy was the name of William Wordsworth’s sister with whom the poet was very close. Wordsworth is the author of a series of five poems known as “the Lucy poems” (1798-1801). At the picnic on her sixteenth birthday Ada calls Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) “Lucy Veen:”

Lucette ran up to Van and, almost kneeling, cosily embraced her big cousin around the hips, and clung to him for a moment, ‘Come along,’ said Van, lifting her, ‘don’t forget your jersey, you can’t go naked.’

Ada strolled up. ‘My hero,’ she said, hardly looking at him, with that inscrutable air she had that let one guess whether she expressed sarcasm or ecstasy, or a parody of one or the other.

Lucette, swinging her mushroom basket, chanted:

‘He screwed off a nipple,

He left him a cripple...’

‘Lucy Veen, stop that!’ shouted Ada at the imp; and Van with a show of great indignation, shook the little wrist he held, while twinkling drolly at Ada on his other side. (1.39)

Van “screwed off a nipple” of Percy de Prey, a bully who at the picnic in “Ardis the Second” attacked him from behind (as a result Van hit his knee against a stone):

He had started to walk back to the picnic glade when a mountain fell upon him from behind. With one violent heave he swung his attacker over his head. Percy crashed and lay supine for a moment or two. Van, his crab claws on the ready, contemplated him, hoping for a pretext to inflict a certain special device of exotic torture that he had not yet had the opportunity to use in a real fight.

One of Ada’s lovers, Percy de Prey goes to the war and perishes on the second day of the invasion of the Crimea. Another lover of Ada, Philip Rack (Lucette’s music teacher) dies in Ward Five of Lakeview Hospital:

Did Van like music? Sportsmen usually did, didn’t they? Would he care to have a Sonorola by his bed? No, he disliked music, but did the doctor, being a concert-goer, know perhaps where a musician called Rack could be found? ‘Ward Five,’ answered the doctor promptly. Van misunderstood this as the title of some piece of music and repeated his question. Would he find Rack’s address at Harper’s music shop? Well, they used to rent a cottage way down Dorofey Road, near the forest, but now some other people had moved in. Ward Five was where hopeless cases were kept. The poor guy had always had a bad liver and a very indifferent heart, but on top of that a poison had seeped into his system; the local ‘lab’ could not identify it and they were now waiting for a report, on those curiously frog-green faeces, from the Luga people. If Rack had administered it to himself by his own hand, he kept ‘mum’; it was more likely the work of his wife who dabbled in Hindu-Andean voodoo stuff and had just had a complicated miscarriage in the maternity ward. Yes, triplets — how did he guess? Anyway, if Van was so eager to visit his old pal it would have to be as soon as he could be rolled to Ward Five in a wheelchair by Dorofey, so he’d better apply a bit of voodoo, ha-ha, on his own flesh and blood. (1.42)

In Vivian Calmbrood’s poem “The Night Journey” (1931) Chenstone (the fictitious poet to whom Pushkin ascribed his little tragedy “The Covetous Knight,” 1830) mentions his neighbor, the young Wordsworth:

Вообразите гладь речную,
берёзы, вересковый склон.

Там жил я, драму небольшую
писал из рыцарских времён;
ходил я в сюртучке потёртом,
с соседом, молодым Вордсвортом,
удил форелей иногда
(его стихам вредит вода,
но человек он милый), -- словом,
я счастлив был -- и признаюсь,
что в Лондон с манускриптом новым
без всякой радости тащусь.

According to Chenstone, in the country he used to fish trout with Wordsworth, a nice person for whose poetry water is harmful, though (like Southey and Coleridge, Wordsworth was a Lake Poet). “Water” mentioned by Chenstone brings to mind Aqua, Marina’s poor mad twin sister whose hands were tied by a male nurse with Demon’s black eyes:

Jigsaw pieces of sky or wall came apart, no matter how delicately put together, but a careless jolt or a nurse’s elbow can disturb so easily those lightweight fragments which became incomprehensible blancs of anonymous objects, or the blank backs of ‘Scrabble’ counters, which she could not turn over sunny side up, because her hands had been tied by a male nurse with Demon’s black eyes. But presently panic and pain, like a pair of children in a boisterous game, emitted one last shriek of laughter and ran away to manipulate each other behind a bush as in Count Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin, a novel, and again, for a while, a little while, all was quiet in the house, and their mother had the same first name as hers had. (1.3)

A namesake of Dolly Oblonski (Anna’s sister-in-law in Tolstoy’s novel), Daria (‘Dolly’) Durmanov gave her daughters the names Aqua and Marina:

Van’s maternal grandmother Daria (‘Dolly’) Durmanov was the daughter of Prince Peter Zemski, Governor of Bras d’Or, an American province in the Northeast of our great and variegated country, who had married, in 1824, Mary O’Reilly, an Irish woman of fashion… Dolly had inherited her mother’s beauty and temper but also an older ancestral strain of whimsical, and not seldom deplorable, taste, well reflected, for instance, in the names she gave her daughters: Aqua and Marina (‘Why not Tofana?’ wondered the good and sur-royally antlered general with a controlled belly laugh, followed by a small closing cough of feigned detachment — he dreaded his wife’s flares). (1.1)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Tofana: allusion to 'aqua tofana' (see any good dictionary).

Aqua tofana was a strong poison widely used in Naples and Rome. In the early 17th century Giulia Tofana, or Tofania, an infamous lady from Palermo, made a good business for over fifty years selling her large production of aqua tofana to would-be widows. The product was sold to lady clients, accompanied by instructions for its use.

In his novel Korol’, dama, valet (King, Queen, Knave, 1928) VN mentions Tofana who sold her voditsa (water) in phials with a Saint’s innocent image:

Тоффана продавала свою водицу в склянках с невинным изображением святого. (chapter 8)

In his hostile article on Sirin (VN’s Russian nom de plume) in the Paris review Chisla (Numbers # 1, 1930) G. Ivanov says that in King, Queen, Knave an average German and in Zashchita Luzhina (“The Luzhin Defense,” 1930) an average French example was copied:

В «Короле, даме, валете» старательно скопирован средний немецкий образец. В «Защите Лужина» — французский.

G. Ivanov calls Sirin poshlyak-zhurnalist (a vulgar journalist):

Это знакомый нам от века тип способного, хлёсткого пошляка-журналиста, «владеющего пером» и на страх и удивление обывателю, которого он презирает и которого он есть плоть от плоти, «закручивает» сюжет «с женщиной», выворачивает тему, «как перчатку», сыплет дешёвыми афоризмами и бесконечно доволен.

According to Van, Doc Fitzbishop (a surgeon in Lakeview Hospital) is a poshlyak:

On Monday around noon he was allowed to sit in a deckchair, on the lawn, which he had avidly gazed at for some days from his window. 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)

Like Dr Fitzbishop, Philip Rack is German. In the doctor’s name there is bishop. Bishop is also a chessman (the characters of VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 1941, include Clare Bishop, Sebastian’s mistress and staunch friend). The main character in VN’s Zashchita Luzhina is a professional chess player. VN is the author of Shakmatnyi kon’ (“The Chess Knight,” 1927), a poem, and Tri shakhmatnykh soneta (“The Three Chess Sonnets,” 1924). Pushkin’s Sonet (“The Sonnet,” 1830) has the epigraph from Wordsworth: “Scorn not the sonnet, critic,” and begins as follows:

Суровый Дант не презирал сонета.

Severe Dante did not scorn the sonnet.

The Russian title of the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Ad (Inferno), needs but one letter to become Ada. According to Van, Aqua’s last note was signed “My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (‘now is out of hell’)” (1.3). As he speaks of poor Aqua’s torments, Van mentions “Tartary, an independent inferno:”

She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health (‘just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black’) in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. Of course, Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive… But her real destination was Terra the Fair and thither she trusted she would fly on libellula long wings when she died. Her poor little letters from the homes of madness to her husband were sometimes signed: Madame Shchemyashchikh-Zvukov (‘Heart rending-Sounds’). (ibid.)

Aqua’s fanciful pseudonym hints at Blok, the author of Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906, a poem directly alluded to in Ada, 3.3), Na pole Kulikovom (“In the Field of Kulikovo,” 1908) and Dvenadtsat’ (“The Twelve,” 1918) who several times uses the phrase shchemyashchiy zvuk (a heart-rending sound) in his verses. According to G. Ivanov, when he, as a boy of fifteen, visited Blok for the first time and asked him if a sonnet needed a coda, Blok replied that he did know what a coda was.

In their old age Van and Ada translate John Shade’s poem Pale Fire into Russian and French (5.6). In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Shade’s poem remained unfinished because the author was murdered by Gradus. It seems that, to be completed, it needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane). Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1914) is a poem by Blok. Coda is also a musical term. According to Greg Erminin (Grace’s twin brother whom Van meets in Paris), Philip Rack was a composer of genius:

‘So odd to recall! It was frenzy, it was fantasy, it was reality in the x degree. I’d have consented to be beheaded by a Tartar, I declare, if in exchange I could have kissed her instep. You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can’t understand that obsession. Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil Rack, a composer of genius — dead, dead, all dead!’ (3.2)

In Blok’s “Incognita” p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: In vino veritas! In his poem (written in Ozerki, a suburb of St. Petersburg) Blok mentions ozero (the lake):

Над озером скрипят уключины

И раздается женский визг,

А в небе, ко всему приученный

Бесмысленно кривится диск.

Out on the lake, oarlocks creak

And a woman starts to squeal,

While up in the sky, inured to it all,

The moon's disk senselessly leers.

In Vivian Calmbrood’s “Night Journey” G. Ivanov was satirized as Johnson whom they had beaten with a candlestick for a marked article:

Дни Ювенала отлетели.
Не воспевать же, в самом деле,
как за краплёную статью
побили Джонсона шандалом?

Vivian Calmbrood is an imperfect anagram of Vladimir Nabokov. Johnson’s “marked article” is G. Ivanov’s abusive review of Sirin’s novels and stories in Chisla. In “The Night Journey” Chenstone mentions adamova golova (Adam’s head) of another hostile critic:

Бедняга! Он скрипит костями,

бренча на лире жестяной,
он клонится к могильной яме
адамовою головой.

Mogil’naya yama (the grave pit) mentioned by Chenstone brings to mind yamy, yamishchi in Aqua’s deranged mind:

It was now the forming of soft black pits (yamï, yamishchi) in her mind, between the dimming sculptures of thought and recollection, that tormented her phenomenally; mental panic and physical pain joined black-ruby hands, one making her pray for sanity, the other, plead for death. (1.3)

VN’s “faithful Zoilus,” G. Adamovich (also known as Sodomovich) was gay. And so are Johnny Rafin, Esq. (Van’s second in his duel with Tapper), Van’s adversary Tapper and his second, Arwin Birdfoot, as well as Kinbote, in PF the mad commentator Shade’s poem who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla. Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda). Botkin is nikto b (“none would”) backwards. In Pushkin’s little tragedy Motsart i Sal’yeri (Mozart and Salieri, 1830) Mozart uses the phrase nikto b:

Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.

If all could feel like you the power of harmony!
But no: the world could not go on then. None
Would bother with the needs of lowly life;
All would surrender to the free art.

(scene II, transl. A. Shaw)

In Pushkin’s drama envious Salieri poisons Mozart. According to Doc Fitzbishop, Philip Rack was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie. Rack’s wife is a namesake of Elsie de Nord, a literary critic despised by Ada:

Arch and grandiloquent, Ada would be describing a dream, a natural history wonder, a special belletristic device - Paul Bourget's 'monologue intérieur' borrowed from old Leo - or some ludicrous blunder in the current column of Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine who thought that Lyovin went about Moscow in a nagol'nïy tulup, 'a muzhik's sheepskin coat, bare side out, bloom side in,' as defined in a dictionary our commentator produced like a conjurer, never to be procurable by Elsies. (1.10)

The critic’s name hints at Elsinore, the royal castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In his famous monologue (translated into Russian by VN) Hamlet mentions “quietus” and “a bare bodkin:”

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? (3.1)

Before jumping to her death into the Atlantic, Lucette takes a Quietus pill given her by the Robinsons. Btw., Bob Robinson calls Lucette “Lucy:”

‘We understand,’ said Robert Robinson going for another supply to his portable fridge, ‘we understand perfectly that Dr Veen is deeply immersed in his Inter Resting Work — personally, I sometimes regret having retired — but do you think, Lucy, prosit! that he might accept to have dinner tomorrow with you and us and maybe Another Couple, whom he’ll certainly enjoy meeting? Shall Mrs Robinson send him a formal invitation? Would you sign it, too?’

‘I don’t know, I’m very tired,’ she said, ‘and the rock and roll are getting worse. I guess I’ll go up to my hutch and take your Quietus. Yes, by all means, let’s have dinner, all of us. I really needed that lovely cold drink.’ (3.5)

In a letter to Ada written after Lucette’s suicide Van compares Lucette to Ophelia (Polonius’ daughter in Hamlet) and himself, to Voltemand:

As a psychologist, I know the unsoundness of speculations as to whether Ophelia would not have drowned herself after all, without the help of a treacherous sliver, even if she had married her Voltemand. (3.6)

In 1891 Van published his first novel, Letters from Terra, under the penname Voltemand (Valtemand is a courtier in Hamlet). Van’s novel was reviewed by the First Clown in Elsinore, a distinguished London weekly:

Statistically speaking no reviews could have been expected, given the unorthodox circumstances in which poor Terra's correspondence had been handled. Curiously enough, as many as two did appear. One, by the First Clown in Elsinore, a distinguished London weekly, popped up in a survey entitled, with a British journalist's fondness for this kind of phoney wordplay, 'Terre à terre, 1891,' and dealt with the year's 'Space Romances,' which by that time had begun to fine off. He sniffed Voltemand's contribution as the choicest of the lot, calling it (alas, with unerring flair) 'a sumptuously fripped up, trite, tedious and obscure fable, with a few absolutely marvelous metaphors marring the otherwise total ineptitude of the tale.' (2.2)

In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin Serpukhovskoy (Vronski’s married comrade-in-arms) tells Vronski that, while men make of love a big thing, women are always terre-à-terre:

— Ты никогда не любил, — тихо сказал Вронский, глядя пред собой и думая об Анне.

— Может быть. Но ты вспомни, что я сказал тебе. И ещё; женщины все материальнее мужчин. Мы делаем из любви что-то огромное, а они всегда terre-à-terre. (Part Three, chapter XXI)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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