----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, November 28, 2002 6:14 AM
Subject: Chose: an alternative solution
Dear all (I particularly salute Brian Boyd and Jerry
Friedman to whom I'm sending this message as a separate copy, because I suspect
there is some trouble with NABOKV-L),
Here is another possible interpretation of this name
that enables one to link it both with the well-known French word and (rather
vaguely) with Cambridge.
Pushkin has famously said (unfortunately, I can't locate this aphorism in
his works; probably it is in his diaries or among some casual notes):
"They say that misfortune (nechshast'e) is a good school. May be. But
happiness (chshast'e) is the best university."
I'm not quite sure, if he hasn't borrowed this thought from some French
writer (Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld or Voltaire, for example).
Anyway, another famous French aphorist (also admired by Pushkin),
Chamfort, has said:
"Le bonheur n'est pas chose aisee; il est tres difficile de le trouver en
nous, et impossible de le trouver ailleurs."
(Happiness is not an easy thing; it is difficult to find in ourselves and
it is impossible to find elsewhere.)
"Chose University in England", where Van's fathers had also gone, can thus
be interpreted as "the University of Happiness".
But how can it be linked to Cambidge? Towards the end of Part I, Chapter
35, there is a long and rather dark sentence, which in part reads: "The
asses... can bray ailleurs, ailleurs, ailleurs (the English word
wouldn't supply the onomatopoeic element; old Veen is kind)..."
The French word (which means "elsewhere" and is used by Chamfort in his
aphorism) is preceded by "can bray" evoking onomatopoeically Cambridge;
moreover, there are "bridges" further in that sentence. Let me also note,
that "the English word" in parenthesis may refer not only to "elsewhere",
but, covertly, to the English counterpart of the French word
chose which, I suspect, has more pronounced
sexual connotations (cf. la force de choses), than the English
"thing", and is therefore chosen for the name of Van's University. Note
that the sentence in question (like the whole chapter) deals with sexual
If I'm right in my conjecture, the whole is a monstrous pun, but isn't
ADA, with all its multilingual rainbows and multi-colored allusions, a
monstrous novel, which only a mad person could have undertaken to translate into
his native idiom? Anyway, let a mad commentator make one last minor note:
Champfort's aphorism, quoted above, is chosen by Arthur Schopenhauer
(1788-1860) for the epigraph to his book Aphorismen zur
Lebensweisheit (1851; if I'm not mistaken, it was translated into English
as two books, The Wisdom of Life and Cousels and
Maxims). This book was not only known to Nabokov, but is clearly alluded to
in ADA (see my little piece "Amor's Poisoned Arrows" on duels and venereal
disease in ADA, about to appear, edited and corrected by maitres of Nabokov
scholarship, in one of the next issues of The Nabokovian).