Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Elsie de Nord

Elaine and I have begun reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor (1969), making cautious, limited use of annotations from the (invaluable) website ADAonline. We traveled there today to check on a name in chapter ten, that of Elsie de Nord. Young Ada Durmanov, “[a]rch and grandiloquent,” is described as speaking of “some ludicrous blunder in the current column of Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine.”

Here is what ADAonline says about “Elsie de Nord”:

In part a reference to Elsinore, the site of Hamlet (as suggested by the Kyoto Reading Circle, Krug 3:2, 29), especially in view of the reference to another person from the literary demimonde, the reviewer of Van’s first book, as “the First Clown in Elsinore ” (343.29). Nevertheless the name invites or tantalizes us with the promise of a particular identification, even if there is no specific reference intended. Perhaps a reference to American poet and translator Babette Deutsch (1895-1982), married to Avrahm Yarmolinsky, with whom she translated Pushkin and other Russians (see 64.16n.), perhaps with a dash of the Russian-born French novelist Elsa Triolet (née Ella Kagan, 1896-1970), who in 1965 edited an Anthologie de la poésie russe ?
There is, I believe, another reference suggested, given the resonance that the name Elsie would likely have for an American reader. Elsie de Nord suggests Elsie the Cow, Elsie the Borden Cow, spokescow for Borden dairy products. Elsie de Nord’s last name nearly anagrams Borden . This hapless critic is, as it were, a cow, or at least cow-like. Two chapters later in Ada, orchestra becomes horsecart. One chapter more and Borges becomes Osberg. Caution: VN at Work.

[Elsie at home. From an advertisement in Life, May 22, 1950.]

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)
Elsie’s Cook Book (A book-sale find)

[Full title: Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle . Cow-like , by the way, appears in Lolita: “in specious chat with her cow-like mother.”]

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