BINT & false passport in LATH; Princess Kachurin & Palermontovia in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 05/27/2019 - 13:11

In VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) Vadim Vadimovich visits Leningrad with a false or more-or-less false passport obtained with the help of the BINT (as Soviet agents acronymize the British intelligence service):


My next move--a visit to London--would have been altogether delightful, had I not been overwhelmed all the time by anxiety, impatience, anguished forebodings. Through several venturesome gentlemen--a former lover of Allan Andoverton's and two of my late benefactor's mysterious chums--I had retained some innocent ties with the BINT, as Soviet agents acronymize the well-known, too well-known, British intelligence service. Consequently it was possible for me to obtain a false or more-or-less false passport. Since I may want to avail myself again of those facilities, I cannot reveal here my exact alias. Suffice it to say that some teasing similarity with my real family name could make the assumed one pass, if I got caught, for a clerical error on the part of an absentminded consul and for indifference to official papers on that of  the deranged bearer. Let us suppose my real name to have been "Oblonsky" (a Tolstoyan invention); then the false one would be, for example, the mimetic "O. B. Long," an oblong blursky, so to speak. This I could expand into, say, Oberon Bernard Long, of Dublin or Dumberton, and live with it for years on five or six continents. (Part Five, 1)


In his poem “To Prince S. M. Kachurin” (1947) VN imagines his visit to Leningrad with a false passport:


Качурин, твой совет я принял

и вот уж третий день живу

в музейной обстановке, в синей

гостиной с видом на Неву.


Священником американским

твой бедный друг переодет,

и всем долинам дагестанским

я шлю завистливый привет.


От холода, от перебоев

в подложном паспорте, не сплю:

исследователям обоев

лилеи и лианы шлю.


Но спит, на канапе устроясь,

коленки приложив к стене

и завернувшись в плед по пояс,

толмач, приставленный ко мне.


Kachurin, your advice I’ve accepted

and here I am, living for the third day

in a museumist setup: a blue

drawing room with a view on the Neva.


As an American clergyman

your poor friend is disguised,

and to all the Daghestan valleys

I send envious greetings.


Because of the cold, and the palpitations

of a false passport, I cannot sleep.

To wallpaper investigators

lianas and lilies I send.


But he sleeps (curled up on a canapé,

knees snugly pressed to the wall,

in a plaid rug wrapped up to the waist)

– the interpreter I’ve been assigned. (1)


In a footnote VN says that Line 7 (“and to all the Daghestan valleys”) alludes to Lermontov’s famous poem beginning: “At noontime, in a dale of Daghestan.” Like Lermontov’s poem Son (“A Dream,” 1841) and VN’s poem “To Prince S. M. Kachurin,” VN’s novel Ada (1969) seems to be a triple dream (a dream within a dream within a dream). One of the three dreamers in Ada is Eric Veen, the young author of an essay entitled “Villa Venus: an Organized Dream.” Eric’s project was derived from reading too many erotic works found in a furnished house his grandfather had bought near Vence from Count Tolstoy, a Russian or Pole. Describing his last visit to Villa Venus, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in Ada) mentions a maidservant, Princess Kachurin:


He was thirsty, but the champagne he had brought, with the softly rustling roses, remained sealed and he had not the heart to remove the silky dear head from his breast so as to begin working on the explosive bottle. He had fondled and fouled her many times in the course of the last ten days, but was not sure if her name was really Adora, as everybody maintained - she, and the other girl, and a third one (a maidservant, Princess Kachurin), who seemed to have been born in the faded bathing suit she never changed and would die in, no doubt, before reaching majority or the first really cold winter on the beach mattress which she was moaning on now in her drugged daze. And if the child really was called Adora, then what was she? - not Rumanian, not Dalmatian, not Sicilian, not Irish, though an echo of brogue could be discerned in her broken but not too foreign English. Was she eleven or fourteen, almost fifteen perhaps? Was it really her birthday - this twenty-first of July, nineteen-four or eight or even several years later, on a rocky Mediterranean peninsula? (2.3)


Describing the floramors (a hundred palatial brothels built by David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction, all over the world in memory of his grandson Eric), Van mentions the lovely cul-de-sac south of the viaduct of fabulous Palermontovia:


None could help admiring David van Veen’s knack of making his brand-new Regency mansion look like a renovated farmhouse or of producing a converted convent on a small offshore island with such miraculous effect that one could not distinguish the arabesque from the arbutus, ardor from art, the sore from the rose. We shall always remember Little Lemantry near Rantchester or the Pseudotherm in the lovely cul-de-sac south of the viaduct of fabulous Palermontovia. (2.3)


On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) Palermontovia (a country that blends Palermo with Lermontov) is a part of the British Commonwealth:


Actually, Aqua was less pretty, and far more dotty, than Marina. During her fourteen years of miserable marriage she spent a broken series of steadily increasing sojourns in sanatoriums. A small map of the European part of the British Commonwealth — say, from Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia — as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina, might be quite thickly prickled with enameled red-cross-flag pins, marking, in her War of the Worlds, Aqua’s bivouacs. (1.3)


The War of the Worlds (1898) is a novel by H. G. Wells. In Wells’ Invisible Man (1897) the invisible man’s head is heavily bandaged:


He held a white cloth—it was a serviette he had brought with him—over the lower part of his face, so that his mouth and jaws were completely hidden, and that was the reason of his muffled voice. But it was not that which startled Mrs. Hall. It was the fact that all his forehead above his blue glasses was covered by a white bandage, and that another covered his ears, leaving not a scrap of his face exposed excepting only his pink, peaked nose. It was bright, pink, and shiny just as it had been at first. He wore a dark-brown velvet jacket with a high, black, linen-lined collar turned up about his neck. The thick black hair, escaping as it could below and between the cross bandages, projected in curious tails and horns, giving him the strangest appearance conceivable. This muffled and bandaged head was so unlike what she had anticipated, that for a moment she was rigid. (chapter I)


Bint is Russian for “bandage.” On the other hand, ‘bint’ is an informal or derogatory British word for a girl or woman, originating from Arabic, literally “daughter, girl.” Describing his novel Letters from Terra, Van mentions an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, ben Sirine:


The only other compliment was paid to poor Voltemand in a little Manhattan magazine (The Village Eyebrow) by the poet Max Mispel (another botanical name — ‘medlar’ in English), member of the German Department at Goluba University. Herr Mispel, who liked to air his authors, discerned in Letters from Terra the influence of Osberg (Spanish writer of pretentious fairy tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes, highly esteemed by short-shift thesialists) as well as that of an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine, thus transliterated by Captain de Roux, according to Burton in his adaptation of Nefzawi’s treatise on the best method of mating with obese or hunchbacked females (The Perfumed Garden, Panther edition, p.187, a copy given to ninety-three-year-old Baron Van Veen by his ribald physician Professor Lagosse). His critique ended as follows: ‘If Mr Voltemand (or Voltimand or Mandalatov) is a psychiatrist, as I think he might be, then I pity his patients, while admiring his talent.’ (2.2)


In “To Prince S. M. Kachurin” VN imagines how he would visit his former country place, completely translucent and with a novel of Sirin in his hands:


На этом я не успокоюсь,

тут объясненье жизни всей,

остановившейся, как поезд

в шершавой тишине полей.


Воображаю щебетанье

в шестидесяти девяти

верстах от города, от зданья,

где запинаюсь взаперти,


и станцию, и дождь наклонный,

на тёмном видный, и потом

захлёст сирени станционной,

уж огрубевшей под дождём,


и дальше: фартук тарантасный

в дрожащих ручейках, и все

подробности берёз, и красный

амбар налево от шоссе.


Да, все подробности, Качурин,

все бедненькие, каковы

край сизой тучи, ромб лазури

и крап ствола сквозь рябь листвы.


Но как я сяду в поезд дачный

в таком пальто, в таких очках

и, в сущности, совсем прозрачный,

с романом Сирина в руках)?


On this I can’t rest my case,

here explained is one’s entire life

that has stopped like a train

in the rough-textured stillness of fields.


I imagine the twitter

at a distance of fifty

miles from the city,

from the house where, shut in, I stutter.


And the station, the slanting rain

seen against a dark background, and then

the petticoat toss of the station lilacs

already coarsening under the rain.


Next: the tarantass with its leathern lap cover

crossed by trembling trickles; and all

the details of the birch trees; and the red

barn to the left of the highway.


Yes, all the details, Kachurin,

all the poor little ones, such as

edge of dove-gray cloud, lozenge of azure,

stipple of tree trunk through ripple of leaves.


But how shall I take the local train,

wearing this coat, wearing these glasses

(and in point of fact completely translucent

with a novel of Sirin in my hands)? (3)


VN’s Russian nom de plume, V. Sirin brings to mind V. Irisin, Vadim’s pen name:


As soon as the last sound of poor Oksman's farewells and excuses had subsided, I tore off the striped woollen snake strangling me and wrote down in cipher every detail of my meeting with him. Then I drew a thick line underneath and a caravan of question marks.
Should I ignore the coincidence and its implications? Should I, on the contrary, repattern my entire life? Should I abandon my art, choose another line of achievement, take up chess seriously, or become, say, a lepidopterist, or spend a dozen years as an obscure scholar making a Russian translation of Paradise Lost that would cause hacks to shy and asses to kick? But only the writing of fiction, the endless re-creation of my fluid self could keep me more or less sane. All I did finally was drop my pen name, the rather cloying and somehow misleading "V. Irisin" (of which my Iris herself used to say that it sounded as if I were a villa), and revert to my own family name. (Part Two, 5)


Vadim’s family name (that he forgets after a stroke) seems to be Prince Yablonski. When Berta Stepanov mentions the oxman, Vadim recalls Dr. Moreau's island zoo:


My handwriting was good in fair copies, but I felt more comfortable with a typescript before me, and I was again without an expert typist. To insert the same wanter in the same paper would have been foolhardy: what if it were to bring back Lyuba, flushed with renewed hope, and rewind that damned cycle all over again?  
I rang up Stepanov, thinking he might help; he guessed he could, and after a muffled confabulation with his fussy wife, just on the brim of the membrane (all I made out was "mad people are unpredictable"), she took over.
They knew a very decent girl who had worked at the Russian nursery school "Passy na Rousi" to which Dolly had gone four or five years ago. The girl's name was Anna Ivanovna Blagovo. Did I know Oksman, the owner of the Russian bookshop on rue Cuvier?
"Yes, slightly. But I want to ask you--"
"Well," she went on, interrupting me, "Annette sekretarstvovala for him while his regular typist was hospitalized, but she is now quite well again, and you might--"
"That's fine," I said, "but I want to ask you, Berta Abramovna, why did you accuse me of being an ‘unpredictable madman'? I can assure you that I am not in the habit of raping young women--"
"Gospod' s vami, golubchik! (What an idea, my dear!)" exclaimed Mrs. Stepanov and proceeded to explain that she had been scolding her absentminded husband for sitting down on her new handbag when attending to the telephone. Although I did not believe one word of her version
too quick! Too glib!), I pretended to accept it and promised to look up her bookseller. A few minutes later as I was about to open the window and strip in front of it (at moments of raw widowerhood a soft black night in the spring is the most soothing voyeuse imaginable), Berta Stepanov telephoned to say that the oxman (what a shiver my Iris derived from Dr. Moreau's island zoo--especially from such bits as the "screaming shape," still half-bandaged, escaping out of the lab!) would be up till dawn in his shop, among nightmare-inherited ledgers. She knew, hey-hey (Russian chuckle), that I was a noctambule, so perhaps I might like to stroll over to the Boyan Bookshop sans tarder, without retardment, vile term. I might, indeed. (Part Two, 3)


The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) is a novel by H. G. Wells. The phrase “without retardment” occurs in a letter that Iris Black (Vadim’s first wife) wants to insert in her detective novel:


One afternoon, in March or early April, 1930, she peeped into my room and, being admitted, handed me the duplicate of a typewritten sheet, numbered 444. It was, she said, a tentative episode in her interminable tale, which would soon display more deletions than insertions. She was stuck, she said. Diana Vane, an incidental but on the whole nice girl, sojourning in Paris, happened to meet, at a riding school, a strange Frenchman, of Corsican, or perhaps Algerian, origin, passionate, brutal, unbalanced. He mistook Diana--and kept on mistaking her despite her amused remonstrations--for his former sweetheart, also an English girl, whom he had last seen ages ago. We had here, said the author, a sort of hallucination, an obsessive fancy, which Diana, a delightful flirt with a keen sense of humor, allowed Jules to entertain during some twenty riding lessons; but then his attentions grew more realistic, and she stopped seeing him. There had been nothing between them, and yet he simply could not be dissuaded from confusing her with the girl he once had possessed or thought he had, for that girl, too, might well have been only the afterimage of a still earlier romance or remembered delirium. It was a very bizarre situation.
Now this page was supposed to be a last ominous letter written by that Frenchman in a foreigner's English to Diana. I was to read it as if it were a real letter and suggest, as an experienced writer, what might be the next development or disaster.


I am not capable to represent to myself that you really desire to tear up any connection with me. God sees, I love you more than life--more than two lives, your and my, together taken. Are you not ill? Or maybe you have found another? Another lover, yes? Another victim of your attraction? No, no, this thought is too horrible, too humiliating for us both. My supplication is modest and just. Give only one more interview to me! One interview! I am prepared to meet with you it does not matter where--on the street, in some cafe, in the Forest of Boulogne--but I must see you, must speak with you and open to you many mysteries before I will die. Oh, this is no threat! I swear that i our interview will lead to a positive result, if, otherwise speaking, you will permit me to hope, only to hope, then, oh then, I will consent to wait a little. But you must reply to me without retardment, my cruel, stupid, adored little girl!

Your Jules


"There's one thing," I said, carefully folding the sheet and pocketing it for later study, "one thing the little girl should know. This is not a romantic Corsican writing a crime passionnel letter; it is a Russian blackmailer knowing just enough English to translate into it the stalest Russian locutions. What puzzles me is how did you, with your three or four words of Russian--kak pozhivaete and do svidaniya--how did you, the author, manage to think up those subtle turns, and imitate the mistakes in English that only a Russian would make? Impersonation, I know, runs in the family, but still--"

Iris replied (with that quaint non sequitur that I was to give to the heroine of my Ardis forty years later) that, yes, indeed, I was right, she must have had too many muddled lessons in Russian and she would certainly correct that extraordinary impression by simply giving the whole letter in French--from which, she had been told, incidentally, Russian had borrowed a lot of clichés. (Part One, 12)


The Vane Sisters (1951) is a story by VN. Vadim’s Ardis (1970) corresponds to VN’s Ada. A couple of weeks later Iris is shot dead by her lover, Wladimir Blagidze, alias Starov (the real author of the letter):


Numbers are bleary along rue Despréaux, and the taximan missed our front porch by a couple of house lengths. He suggested reversing his cab, but impatient Iris had already alighted, and I scrambled out after her, leaving Ivor to pay the taxi. She cast a look around her; then started to walk so fast toward our house that I had trouble catching up with her. As I was about to cup her elbow, I heard Ivor's voice behind me, calling out that he had not enough change. I abandoned Iris and ran back to Ivor, and just as I reached the two palm readers, they and I heard Iris cry out something loud and brave, as if she were driving away a fierce hound. By the light of a streetlamp we glimpsed the figure of a mackintoshed man stride up to her from the opposite sidewalk and fire at such close range that he seemed to prod her with his large pistol. By now our taximan, followed by Ivor and me, had come near enough to see the killer stumble over her collapsed and curled up body. Yet he did not try to escape. Instead he knelt down, took off his beret, threw back his shoulders, and in this ghastly and ludicrous attitude lifted his pistol to his shaved head.

The story that appeared among other faits-divers in the Paris dailies after an investigation by the police--whom Ivor and I contrived to mislead thoroughly--amounted to what follows--I translate: a White Russian, Wladimir Blagidze, alias Starov, who was subject to paroxysms of insanity, ran amuck Friday night in the middle of a calm street, opened fire at random, and after killing with one pistol shot an English tourist Mrs. [name garbled], who chanced to be passing by, blew his brains out beside her. Actually he did not die there and then, but retained in his remarkably tough brainpan fragments of consciousness and somehow lingered on well into May, which was unusually hot that year. Out of some perverse dream-like curiosity, Ivor visited him at the very special hospital of the renowned Dr. Lazareff, a very round, mercilessly round, building on the top of a hill, thickly covered with horse chestnut, wild rose, and other poignant plants. The hole in Blagidze's mind had caused a complete set of recent memories to escape; but the patient remembered quite clearly (according to a Russian male nurse good at decoding the tales of the tortured) how at six years of age he was taken to a pleasure park in Italy where a miniature train consisting of three open cars, each seating six silent children, with a battery-operated green engine that emitted at realistic intervals puffs of imitation smoke, pursued a circular course through a brambly picturesque nightmare grove whose dizzy flowers nodded continuous assent to all the horrors of childhood and hell.

From somewhere in the Orkneys, Nadezhda Gordonovna and a clerical friend arrived in Paris only after her husband's burial. Moved by a false sense of
duty, she attempted to see me so as to tell me "everything." I evaded all contact with her, but she managed to locate Ivor in London before he left for the States. I never asked him, and the dear funny fellow never revealed to me what that "everything" was; I refuse to believe that it could have amounted to much--and I knew enough, anyway. (Part One, 13)


Nadezhda Gordonovna's patronymic seems to hint at Byron. In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy... ("No, I'm not Byron, I'm another..." 1832) Lermontov mentions nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) that lies in his soul, as in the ocean:


Нет, я не Байрон, я другой,
Ещё неведомый избранник,
Как он гонимый миром странник,
Но только с русскою душой.
Я раньше начал, кончу ране,
Мой ум немного совершит;
В душе моей как в океане
Надежд разбитых груз лежит.
Кто может, океан угрюмый,
Твои изведать тайны? кто
Толпе мои расскажет думы?
Я - или Бог - или никто!


No, I'm not Byron, I’m another
yet unknown chosen man,
like him, a persecuted wanderer,
but only with a Russian soul.
I started sooner, I will end sooner,
my mind won’t achieve much;
in my soul, as in the ocean,
lies a load of broken hopes.
Who can, gloomy ocean,
find out your secrets? Who
will tell to the crowd my thoughts?
Myself – or God – or none at all!


Lermontov is the author of Geroy nashego vremeni ("A Hero of Our Time," 1840). Describing his fellow writers in Paris, Vadim mentions the honest nonentity Suknovalov, author of the popular social satire Geroy nashey ery ("Hero of Our Era"):


I recognized the critic Basilevski, his sycophants Hristov and Boyarski, my friend Morozov, the novelists Shipogradov and Sokolovski, the honest nonentity Suknovalov, author of the popular social satire Geroy nashey ery ("Hero of Our Era") and two young poets, Lazarev (collection Serenity) and Fartuk (collection Silence). (Part Two, 4)


"Hero of Our Era" brings to mind Dr Ero pursued by the Invisible Albino in one of the greatest novels of English literature whose action is reversed by Van in Ada:


Van left the pool-side patio and strode away. He turned into a side gallery that led into a grovy part of the garden, grading insensibly into the park proper. Presently, he noticed that Ada had hastened to follow him. Lifting one elbow, revealing the black star of her armpit, she tore off her bathing cap and with a shake of her head liberated a torrent of hair. Lucette, in color, trotted behind her. Out of charity for the sisters’ bare feet, Van changed his course from gravel path to velvet lawn (reversing the action of Dr Ero, pursued by the Invisible Albino in one of the greatest novels of English literature). They caught up with him in the Second Coppice. Lucette, in passing, stopped to pick up her sister’s cap and sunglasses — the sunglasses of much-sung lasses, a shame to throw them away! My tidy little Lucette (I shall never forget you…) placed both objects on a tree stump near an empty beer bottle, trotted on, then went back to examine a bunch of pink mushrooms that clung to the stump, snoring. Double take, double exposure. (1.32)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Ero: thus the h-dropping policeman in Wells’ Invisible Man defined the latter’s treacherous friend.


Russian for "harlequin" is arlekin ('h' is dropped). The characters in Blok's play Balaganchik (“The Puppet Show,” 1906) include Arlekin (the Harlequin).


In her memoir essay “Alexander Blok. A Biographical Sketch” (1930) Maria Beketov (the poet’s aunt) mentions Basilevski, a composer who set to music Blok’s drama Roza i krest (“The Rose and the Cross,” 1912):


В конце мая Александр Александрович узнал, что "Роза и Крест" пропущена цензурой без всяких ограничений. Около этого времени он сообщал матери, что написал краткие сведения о "Розе и Кресте" для композитора Базилевского, который написал музыку на его драму и собирался исполнять её в Москве. Сведения нужны были для концертной программы. Тут же Александр Александрович прибавляет: "Базилевский пишет, что Свободный театр думает о постановке "Розы и Креста". (Chapter 11)


In his diary (the entry of Feb. 23, 1913) Blok says that he flipped through "The Rose and the Cross" and disliked its sukonnyi yazyk (insipid language):


не нравится своё — перелистал «Розу и Крест» — суконный язык.


The epithet sukonnyi comes from sukno (cloth), the surname Suknovalov derives from suknoval (fuller). In the same entry of his diary Blok mentions Bely's novel Peterburg ("Petersburg," 1913) that was brought out by the publishing house "Sirin:"


И, при всём этом, неизмерим А. Белый, за двумя словами — вдруг притаится иное, всё становится иным. Какова будет участь романа в «Сирине» — беспокоит меня.


Andrey Bely’s poem Arlekinada (“The Harlequinade,” 1906) is dedicated to sovremennye arlekiny (the modern harlequins).


At the beginning of “The Rose and the Cross” Bertrand mentions yabloni staryi stvol (the trunk of an old apple-tree):


Яблони старый ствол,
Расшатанный бурей февральской!
Жадно ждёшь ты весны...
Тёплый ветер дохнёт, и нежной травою
Зазеленеет замковый вал...
Чем ты, старый, ответишь тогда
Ручьям и птицам певучим?
Лишь две-три бледно-розовых ветви протянешь
В воздух, омытый дождями,
Чёрный, бурей измученный ствол!


Prince Vadim Yablonski and his first three wives (Iris Black, Annette Blagovo and Louise Adamson) seem to be the children of Count Starov whose name comes from staryi (old).


In a footnote to his poem "To Prince S. M. Kachurin" VN says that Kachurin's daughter is married to the composer Tornitsen:


Kachurin, Stephan Mstislavovich. Pronounced “Kachoorin” with the accent on the middle syllable. My poor friend, a former White Army colonel, died a few years ago in an Alaskan monastery. The prince’s golden heart, moderate brain power, and senile optimism, could alone have been responsible for his suggesting the journey depicted here. His daughter is married to the composer Tornitsen.


The composer's name brings to mind Tornikovski and Kalikakov, the two Soviet "diplomats" mentioned by Vadim:


Brushing all my engagements aside, I surrendered again--after quite a few years of abstinence!--to the thrill of secret investigations. Spying had been my clystère de Tchékhov even before I married Iris Black whose later passion for working on an interminable detective tale had been sparked by this or that hint I must have dropped, like a passing bird's lustrous feather, in relation to my experience in the vast and misty field of the Service. In my little way I have been of some help to my betters. The tree, a blue-flowering ash, whose cortical wound I caught the two "diplomats," Tornikovski and Kalikakov, using for their correspondence, still stands, hardly scarred, on its hilltop above San Bernardino. But for structural economy I have omitted that entertaining strain from this story of love and prose. Its existence, however, helped me now to ward off--for a while, at least--the madness and anguish of hopeless regret. (Part Five,1)


Yasen’. Videnie dreva (“The Ash. Vision of a Tree,” 1916) is a collection of poetry by Balmont. In the first sonnet of his cycle “Lermontov” (1921) Balmont calls Lermontov vetrov i bur’ bezdomnykh strannyi brat (a strange brother of homeless winds and storms):


Опальный ангел, с небом разлучённый,
Узывный демон, разлюбивший ад,
Ветров и бурь бездомных странный брат,
Душой внимавший песне звёзд всезвонной, —

На празднике как призрак похоронный,
В затишьи дней тревожащий набат,
Нет, не случайно он среди громад
Кавказских — миг узнал смертельно-сонный.

Где мог он так красиво умереть,
Как не в горах, где небо в час заката —
Расплавленное золото и медь, —

Где ключ, пробившись, должен звонко петь,
Но также должен в плаче пасть со ската,
Чтоб гневно в узкой пропасти греметь.


Vadim’s daughter Bel (whose name brings to mind Lermontov’s Bela) marries Charlie Everett who changes his name to Karl Ivanovich Vetrov and takes his wife to the Soviet Russia:


In the summer of 1960, Christine Dupraz, who ran the summer camp for disabled children between cliff and highway, just east of Larive, informed me that Charlie Everett, one of her assistants, had eloped with my Bel after burning--in a grotesque ceremony that she visualized more clearly than I--his  passport and a little American flag (bought at a souvenir stall especially for that purpose) "right in the middle of the Soviet Consul's back garden";  whereupon the new "Karl Ivanovich Vetrov" and the eighteen-year-old Isabella, a ci-devant's daughter, had gone through some form of mock marriage in Berne and incontinently headed for Russia. (Part Five, 1)


In Tolstoy’s Detstvo (“Childhood,” 1852) and Otrochestvo (“Boyhood,” 1854) Karl Ivanovich is the young hero’s old German tutor. At the beginning of Ada Van mentions Tolstoy’s Detstvo i Otrochestvo:


‘All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,’ says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)


Would not VN's "false" passport name (being one similar sounding to his own surname) be Nikerboker, as noted in Chapter 12 of Drugie berega / Other Shores?

See my post in the Discussion Forum on June 8th: Vladimir Nabokov and Washington Irving.

~Best from the heart of the U.S. to the serdtse of Russia,

Jim Buckingham

Dear Jim,


"The writer's art is his real passport." As to VN's "false" passport and Knickerbocker, the Washington Irving connection in Drugie berega has been pointed out before.


Btw., in VN's novel Dar ("The Gift," 1937) Sukhoshchyokov (the memoirist quoted by Fyodor Konstantinovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev) compares Ch. (Fyodor's grandfather) to a forty-year-old Rip van Winkle:


Возвращаясь теперь к этим моим мечтаниям, вспоминаю, что в юности однажды мне даже было нечто вроде видения. Этот психологический эпизод сопряжен с воспоминанием о лице, здравствующем поныне, которое назову Ч., - да не посетует оно на меня за это оживление далекого прошлого. Мы были знакомы домами, дед мой с его отцом водили некогда дружбу. Будучи в 36 году заграницей, этот Ч., тогда совсем юноша (ему и семнадцати не было), повздорил с семьей, тем ускорив, говорят кончину своего батюшки, героя отечественной войны, и в компании с какими-то гамбургскими купцами преспокойно уплыл в Бостон, а оттуда попал в Техас, где успешно занимался скотоводством. Так прошло лет двадцать. Нажитое состояние он проиграл в экартэ на миссисипском кильботе, отыгрался в притонах Нового Орлеана, снова всё просадил и после одной из тех безобразно-продолжительных, громких, дымных дуэлей в закрытом помещении бывших тогда фашионебельными в Луизиане, - да и многих других приключений, он заскучал по России, где его кстати ждала вотчина, и с той же беспечной легкостью, с какой уезжал, вернулся в Европу. Как-то в зимний день, в 1858 году, он нагрянул к нам на Мойку; отец был в отъезде, гостя принимала молодежь. Глядя на этого заморского щеголя в черной мягкой шляпе и черной одежде, среди романтического мрака коей особенно ослепительно выделялись шелковая, с пышными сборками, рубашка и сине-сиренево-розовый жилет с алмазными пуговицами, мы с братом едва могли сдержать смех, и тут же решили воспользоваться тем, что за все эти годы он ровно ничего не слыхал о родине, точно она куда-то провалилась, так что теперь сорокалетним Рип-ван-Винкелем проснувшись в изменившемся Петербурге, Ч. был жаден до всяческих сведений, которыми мы и принялись обильно снабжать его, причем врали безбожно. На вопрос, например, жив ли Пушкин, и что пишет, я кощунственно отвечал, что "как же, на-днях тиснул новую поэму".


Returning now to these reveries of mine I recall that once in my youth I had something in the nature of a vision. This psychological episode is closely linked with the recollection of a personage still thriving to this very day, whom I shall call Ch.—I trust he will not blame me for this revival of a distant past. We were acquainted through our families—my grandfather had once been friendly with his father. In 1836, while abroad, this Ch. who was then quite young—barely seventeen—quarreled with his family (and in so doing hastened, so they say, the decease of his sire, a hero of the Napoleonic War), and in the company of some Hamburg merchants sailed nonchalantly off to Boston, from there landing in Texas where he successfully took up cattle breeding. In that manner twenty years passed. The fortune he had made he lost playing écarté on a Mississippi keel-boat, won it back in the gaming houses of New Orleans, blued it all over again, and after one of those scandalously prolonged, noisy, smoky duels on closed premises which were then fashionable in Louisiana—and after many other adventures—he became homesick for Russia where, conveniently, a demesne was awaiting him, and with the same carefree easiness with which he had left it, he returned to Europe. Once, on a winter’s day in 1858, he visited us unexpectedly at our house on the Moyka, in St. Petersburg; Father was away and the guest was received by us youngsters. As we looked at this outlandish fop in his soft black hat and black clothes, the romantic gloom of which caused his silk shirt with its sumptuous pleats, and his blue, lilac and pink waistcoat with diamond buttons to stand out particularly dazzlingly, my brother and I could hardly contain our laughter and decided there and then to take advantage of the fact that during all these years he had heard absolutely nothing of his homeland, as if it had fallen through some trap door, so that now, like a forty-year-old Rip van Winkle waking up in a transformed St. Petersburg, Ch. was hungry for any news, the which we undertook to give him plenty of, mixed with our outrageous fabrications. To the question, for instance, was Pushkin alive and what was he writing, I blasphemously replied, “Why, he came out with a new poem the other day.” (Chapter Two)