Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027184, Fri, 30 Sep 2016 13:41:45 +0300

Mascodagama & Vanda Broom in Ada
My previous post (“Dorofey, Ardis tap water, teetotalists, torturing angel, Paradox & Christopher Vinelander in Ada”) can be continued as follows:

VN’s University Poem (1927) is written in the reversed Onegin stanza and brings to mind Van’s performance as Mascodagama. As Mascodagama (Van’s stage name that plays on Vasco da Gama) Van performs in variety shows dancing on his hands (1.30). After his duel with Tapper Van loses his ability to walk on his hands:

One Sunday, while Cordula was still lolling in her perfumed bath (a lovely, oddly unfamiliar sight, which he delighted in twice a day), Van 'in the nude' (as his new sweetheart drolly genteelized 'naked'), attempted for the first time after a month's abstinence to walk on his hands. He felt strong, and fit, and blithely turned over to the 'first position' in the middle of the sun-drenched terrace. Next moment he was sprawling on his back. He tried again and lost his balance at once. He had the terrifying, albeit illusionary, feeling that his left arm was now shorter than his right, and Van wondered wrily if he ever would be able to dance on his hands again. King Wing had warned him that two or three months without practice might result in an irretrievable loss of the rare art. On the same day (the two nasty little incidents thus remained linked up in his mind forever) Van happened to answer the 'phone - a deep hollow voice which he thought was a man's wanted Cordula, but the caller turned out to be an old schoolmate, and Cordula feigned limpid delight, while making big eyes at Van over the receiver, and invented a number of unconvincing engagements.

'It's a gruesome girl!' she cried after the melodious adieux. 'Her name is Vanda Broom, and I learned only recently what I never suspected at school - she's a regular tribadka - poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at - at another girl. (1.43)

Grace Erminin has the twin brother Greg whom Van meets in Paris thirteen years later:

On a bleak morning between the spring and summer of 1901, in Paris, as Van, black-hatted, one hand playing with the warm loose change in his topcoat pocket and the other, fawn-gloved, upswinging a furled English umbrella, strode past a particularly unattractive sidewalk café among the many lining the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, a chubby bald man in a rumpled brown suit with a watch-chained waistcoat stood up and hailed him.

Van considered for a moment those red round cheeks, that black goatee.

‘Ne uznayosh’ (You don’t recognize me)?’

‘Greg! Grigoriy Akimovich!’ cried Van tearing off his glove.

‘I grew a regular vollbart last summer. You’d never have known me then. Beer? Wonder what you do to look so boyish, Van.’

‘Diet of champagne, not beer,’ said Professor Veen, putting on his spectacles and signaling to a waiter with the crook of his ‘umber.’ ‘Hardly stops one adding weight, but keeps the scrotum crisp.’

‘I’m also very fat, yes?’

‘What about Grace, I can’t imagine her getting fat?’

‘Once twins, always twins. My wife is pretty portly, too.’

‘Tak tï zhenat (so you are married)? Didn’t know it. How long?’

‘About two years.’

‘To whom?’

‘Maude Sween.’

‘The daughter of the poet?’

‘No, no, her mother is a Brougham.’

Might have replied ‘Ada Veen,’ had Mr Vinelander not been a quicker suitor. I think I met a Broom somewhere. Drop the subject. Probably a dreary union: hefty, high-handed wife, he more of a bore than ever. (3.2)

Van’s conversation with Greg Erminin is a parody of Onegin’s dialogue with Prince N. (Tatiana’s husband) in Chapter Eight (XVIII: 1-4) of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin:

«Так ты женат! не знал я ране!

Давно ли?» — Около двух лет.—

«На ком?» — На Лариной.— «Татьяне!»

— Ты ей знаком? — «Я им сосед».

“So you are married! Didn’t know before.

How long?” “About two years.”

“To whom?” “The Larin girl.” “Tatiana!”

“She knows you?” “I’m their neighbor.”

On Antiterra Paris is also known as Lute (cf. Van’s question to Greg: ‘How long will you be staying in Lute?’). In his Ode to his Excellency Count D. I. Khvostov (1825) Pushkin mentions lyutyi Pit (ferocious Pitt):

Султан ярится. Кровь Эллады

И peзвocкачет, и кипит.

Открылись грекам древни клады,

Трепещет в Стиксе лютый Пит.

The sultan gets furious. Hellas's blood

is galloping fast and boiling.

The Greeks discovered ancient treasures,

ferocious Pitt trembles in Styx.

In a footnotes Pushkin comments on "Pit" as follows:

Г. Питт, знаменитый английский министр и известный противник Свободы.

G. Pitt, the famous English minister and notorious enemy of Freedom.

On the other hand, “Avenue Guillaume Pitt” brings to mind Guillaume de Monparnasse, Mlle Larivière's nom de plume. (According to Lucette’s governess, the leaving out of the 't' made her penname more intime, 1.31; note that Pushkin, too, omits the second t in Pitt's name.) Parnas (“Parnassus,” 1808) is a fable by Krylov. Krylov’s fables include Golik (“The Broom”):

Запачканный Голик попал в большую честь —
Уж он полов не будет в кухнях месть:
Ему поручены господские кафтаны
(Как видно, слуги были пьяны).
Вот развозился мой Голик:
По платью барскому без устали колотит
И на кафтанах он как будто рожь молотит,
И подлинно, что труд его велик.
Беда лишь в том, что сам он грязен, неопрятен.
Что́ ж пользы от его труда?
Чем больше чистит он, тем только больше пятен.

Бывает столько же вреда,
Невежда не в свои дела вплетётся
И поправлять труды ученого возьмётся.

“…Just as much harm is done

when an ignoramus interferes in what is out of his line

and undertakes to correct the work of a man of learning.”

VN’s translation of EO was criticized by Edmund Wilson.

The name Krylov comes from krylo (wing). It was King Wing (Demon’s wrestling master) who taught Van to walk on his hands (1.13).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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