architect in The Waltz Invention

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 05/18/2020 - 11:12

In VN's play Izobretenie Val'sa ("The Waltz Invention," 1938) Salvator Waltz wants the architect to build a fairy-tale palace for him in ten days:  


Гриб. Видите ли, ваше... ваше сиятельство, я, собственно, архитектор.

Вальс. А... так бы сразу и сказали. Глупое недоразумение. Мне от него захотелось есть. Отлично. Вам уже сообщили, что мне нужно?

Гриб. Вам нужен дворец.

Вальс. Да, дворец. Отлично. Я люблю громадные, белые, солнечные здания. Вы для меня должны построить нечто сказочное, со сказочными удобствами. Колонны, фонтаны, окна в полнеба, хрустальные потолки... И вот еще, - давняя моя мечта... чтоб было такое приспособление, - не знаю, электрическое, что ли, - я в технике слаб, - словом, проснешься, нажмешь кнопку, и кровать тихо едет и везет тебя прямо к ванне... И еще я хочу, чтоб во всех стенах были краны с разными ледяными напитками... Все это я давно-давно заказал судьбе, - знаете, когда жил в душных, шумных, грязных углах... лучше не вспоминать.

Гриб. Я представлю вам планы... Думаю, что угожу.

Вальс. Но главное, это должно быть выстроено скоро, я вам даю десять дней. Довольно?

Гриб. Увы, одна доставка материалов потребует больше месяца.

Вальс. Ну, это - извините. Я снаряжу целый флот. В три дня будет доставлено...

Гриб. Я не волшебник. Работа займет полгода, минимум.

Вальс. Полгода? В таком случае убирайтесь, - вы мне не нужны! Полгода! Да я вас за такое нахальство...

Входит Сон.

Сон. В чем дело? Отчего крик?

Вальс. Этому подлецу я даю десять дней, а он...

Сон. Пустяки, недоразумение. Разумеется, дворец будет готов в этот срок, - даже скорее. Не правда ли, господин архитектор?

Гриб. Да, в самом деле, я не совсем понял... Да, конечно, будет готов. (Act Three)


A bed that slowly moves and brings one directly to the bath that Waltz asks the architect to make for him is similar to that in which John T. Unger sleeps in F. Scott Fitzgerald's story The Diamond as Big as the Ritz (1922):


Morning. As he awoke he perceived drowsily that the room had at the same moment become dense with sunlight. The ebony panels of one wall had slid aside on a sort of track, leaving his chamber half open to the day. A large negro in a white uniform stood beside his bed.

“Good-evening,” muttered John, summoning his brains from the wild places.

“Good-morning, sir. Are you ready for your bath, sir? Oh, don’t get up—I’ll put you in, if you’ll just unbutton your pajamas—there. Thank you, sir.”

John lay quietly as his pajamas were removed—he was amused and delighted; he expected to be lifted like a child by this black Gargantua who was tending him, but nothing of the sort happened; instead he felt the bed tilt up slowly on its side—he began to roll, startled at first, in the direction of the wall, but when he reached the wall its drapery gave way, and sliding two yards farther down a fleecy incline he plumped gently into water the same temperature as his body.

He looked about him. The runway or rollway on which he had arrived had folded gently back into place. He had been projected into another chamber and was sitting in a sunken bath with his head just above the level of the floor. All about him, lining the walls of the room and the sides and bottom of the bath itself, was a blue aquarium, and gazing through the crystal surface on which he sat, he could see fish swimming among amber lights and even gliding without curiosity past his outstretched toes, which were separated from them only by the thickness of the crystal. From overhead, sunlight came down through sea-green glass. (chapter III)


The magnificent chateau at which John T. Unger is a guest was built by a moving-picture fellow:


John was enchanted by the wonders of the chateau and the valley. Braddock Washington, so Percy told him, had caused to be kidnapped a landscape gardener, an architect, a designer of stage settings, and a French decadent poet left over from the last century. He had put his entire force of negroes at their disposal, guaranteed to supply them with any materials that the world could offer, and left them to work out some ideas of their own. But one by one they had shown their uselessness. The decadent poet had at once begun bewailing his separation from the boulevards in spring—he made some vague remarks about spices, apes, and ivories, but said nothing that was of any practical value. The stage designer on his part wanted to make the whole valley a series of tricks and sensational effects—a state of things that the Washingtons would soon have grown tired of. And as for the architect and the landscape gardener, they thought only in terms of convention. They must make this like this and that like that.

But they had, at least, solved the problem of what was to be done with them—they all went mad early one morning after spending the night in a single room trying to agree upon the location of a fountain, and were now confined comfortably in an insane asylum at Westport, Connecticut.

“But,” inquired John curiously, “who did plan all your wonderful reception rooms and halls, and approaches and bathrooms——?”

“Well,” answered Percy, “I blush to tell you, but it was a moving-picture fella. He was the only man we found who was used to playing with an unlimited amount of money, though he did tuck his napkin in his collar and couldn’t read or write.”

As August drew to a close John began to regret that he must soon go back to school. He and Kismine had decided to elope the following June. (chapter VIII)


In VN’s play Sobytie ("The Event," 1938) Ryovshin tells the portrait painter Troshcheykin and his wife Lyubov that on the eve he met Barbashin (who six and a half years ago attempted to kill Troshcheykin and his wife) on his way home from the cinema:


 Рёвшин. Одним словом... Вчера около полуночи, так, вероятно, в три четверти одиннадцатого... фу, вру... двенадцатого, я шел к себе из кинематографа на вашей площади и, значит, вот тут, в нескольких шагах от вашего дома, по той стороне, - знаете, где киоск, - при свете фонаря, вижу - и не верю глазам - стоит с папироской Барбашин.

Трощейкин. У нас на углу! Очаровательно. Ведь мы, Люба, вчера чуть-чуть не пошли тоже: ах, чудная фильма, ах, "Камера обскура" - лучшая фильма сезона!.. Вот бы и ахнуло нас по случаю сезона. Дальше! (Act One)


The action in “The Event” takes place at the end of the summer:


Любовь. А, чудно. Смотри, погода какая сегодня жалкая. Не то дождь, не то... туман, что ли. Не верится, что еще лето. Между прочим, ты заметила, что Марфа преспокойно забирает по утрам твой зонтик? (ibid.)


Leonid Barbashin and Alfred Barboshin (the half-witted private detective whom Troshcheykin hired to protect himself from Barbashin) seem to be two incarnations of one and same character: the devil. In Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s novel Save me the Waltz (1932) Hastings mentions Russian devils:


“Do you think, Madame, that I am too old?” Alabama persisted.

“Yes,” said the Princess briefly.

“They live on cocaine anyway,” said Miss Douglas.

“And pray to Russian devils,” added Hastings.

“But some of them do lead actual lives, I believe,” said Dickie.

“Sex is such a poor substitute,” sighed Miss Douglas.

“For what?”

“For sex, idiot.”

“I think,” said Dickie surprisingly, “that it would be the very thing for Alabama. I’ve always heard she was a little peculiar—I don’t mean actually batty—but a little difficult. An art would explain. I really think you ought, you know,” she said decisively. “It would be almost as exotic as being married to a painter.” (Part Two, chapter III)


Alabama's husband, David Knight is a successful painter.


A moving-picture fellow who planned all wonderful reception rooms and halls, and approaches and bathrooms for Braddock Washington (in the Fitzgerald story) could not read or write. In VN’s story Istreblenie tiranov (“Tyrants Destryed,” 1936) the narrator mentions the illiteracy of the tyrant’s heart:


Разобрав несколько прошений о помиловании и начертав на них неизменный  отказ, карандашный  крест,-- знак своей сердечной неграмотности -- он до второго завтрака совершает обычную прогулку: как у многих ограниченных, лишенных воображения людей, ходьба любимое его физическое упражнение, а гуляет он по внутреннему саду замка, бывшему некогда большим тюремным двором.


After looking through several petitions for clemency and tracing on them his invariable refusal — a penciled “X” — the symbol of his heart’s illiteracy — he takes his usual walk before lunch: as n the case of many not overbright people devoid of imagination, walking is his favorite exercise; he walks in his walled garden, formerly a large prison yard. (chapter 14)


In VN's story the narrator mentions a peasant genius who invented a new kind of fireworks: 


За окном разгорался праздник, солнце обращало синие сугробы в искристый пух, над дальними крышами играл недавно изобретенный гением из народа фейерверк, красочно блистающий и при дневном свете. Народное ликование, алмазные черты правителя, вспыхивающие в небесах, нарядные цвета шествия, вьющегося через снежный покров реки, прелестные картонажные символы благосостояния отчизны, колыхавшиеся над плечами разнообразно и красиво оформленные лозунги, простая, бодрая музыка, оргия флагов, довольные лица парнюг и национальные костюмы здоровенных девок,-- все это на меня нахлынуло малиновой волною умиления, и я понял свой грех перед нашим великим, милостивым Господином. Не он ли удобрил наши поля, не его ли заботами обуты нищие, не ему ли мы обязаны каждой секундой нашего гражданского бытия? Слезы раскаяния, горячие, хорошие слезы, брызнули у меня из очей на подоконник, когда я подумал, что я, отвратившийся от доброты Хозяина, я, слепо отрицавший красоту им созданного строя, быта, дивных новых заборов под орех, собираюсь наложить на себя руки,-- смею, таким образом, покушаться на жизнь одного из его подданных! Праздник, как я уже говорил, разгорался, и весь мокрый от слез и смеха я стоял у окна, слушая стихи нашего лучшего поэта, которые декламировал по радио чудный актерский голос, с баритональной игрой в каждой складочке:


Хорошо-с,-- а помните, граждане,

Как хирел наш край без отца?

Так без хмеля сильнейшая жажда

Не создаст ни пивца, ни певца.


Вообразите, ни реп нет,

Ни баклажанов, ни брюкв...

Так и песня, что днесь у нас крепнет,

Задыхалась в луковках букв.


Шли мы тропиной исторенной,

Горькие ели грибы,

Пока ворота истории

Не дрогнули от колотьбы!


Пока, белизною кительной

Сияя верным сынам,

С улыбкой своей удивительной

Правитель не вышел к нам.


The festivities were spreading outside my window, the sun transformed the blue snowdrift into sparkling down, and one could see playing over distant roofs, a new kind of fireworks (invited recently by a peasant genius) whose colors blazed even in broad daylight. The general jubilation; the Ruler’s gem-bright likeness flashing pyrotechnically in the heavens; the gay hues of the procession winding across the river’s snowey cover; the delightful pasteboard symbols of the fatherland’s welfare; the slogans, designed with variety and elegance, that bobbed above the marchers’ shoulders; the jaunty primitive music; the orgy of banners; the contented faces of the young yokles and the national costumes of the hefty wrenches — all of it casued a crimson wave of tenderness to surge with mem and I understood my sin against our great and merciful Master. Is it not he who manured our fields, who directed the poor to be shod, he whom we must thank for every second of our civil being? Tears of repentance, hot, good tears, gushed from my eyes onto the window sill when I thought how I had been repudiating the kindness of the Master how blindly I had reneged the beauty of what he had created, the social order, the way of life, the splendid walnut-finished new fences, and how I plotted to lay hand on myself, daring, thus, to endanger the life of one of his subjects! The festivities, as I have said, were spreading; I stood at the window, my whole being drenched with tears and convulsed with laughter, listening to the verses of our foremost poet, declaimed on the radio by an actor’s juicy voice, replete with baritone modulation:


Now then, citizens,

You remember how long

Our land wilted without a Father?

Thus, without hops, no matter how strong

One’s thirst, it is rather

Difficult, isn’t it,

To make both the beer and the drinking song!

Just imagine, we lacked potatoes,

No turnips, no beets could we get:

Thus the poem, now blooming, wasted

In the bulbs of the alphabet!

A well-trodded road we had taken,

Bitter toadstools we ate.

Until by great thumps was shaking

History’s gate!

Until in his trim white tunic

Which upon us its radiance cast,

With his wonderful smile the Ruler

Came before his subjects at last! (chapter 16)


Gor'kie griby (bitter toadsools) in the verses of our foremost poet bring to mind Grib, the architect's name in the Russian original of "The Waltz Invention." The verses in VN's story are a parody of Mayakovski's style. In the Russian original of "The Waltz Invention" the names of the eleven generals (Grib being one of them) can be traced back to Mayakovski's poem Khoroshee otnoshenie k loshadyam ("A Good Attitude to the Horses," 1918):


Били копыта. Пели будто:
— Гриб.
Груб. —


According to Percy (the son of the diamond’s owner), the landscape gardener, the architect, the designer of stage settings, and the French decadent poet who were kidnapped by Braddock Washington) went mad early one morning after spending the night in a single room trying to agree upon the location of a fountain and ended up in a lunatic asylum. In “The Waltz Invention” the Colonel wants to send Waltz to the madhouse:


Вальс. А вы свой портсигар нашли, полковник?

Полковник. Не ваше дело. И вообще - позволю себе сделать маленькое предложение: вы, ваше высокопревосходительство, утомились, вы сейчас отдохнёте, позавтракаете, а я этого господина отправлю в сумасшедший дом. Затем соберём учёную комиссию, и в два счета она дознается до истинной геологической причины катастрофы. (Act One)


The location of a fountain upon which the landscape gardener, the architect, the designer of stage settings, and the French decadent poet failed to agree brings to mind the fountains mentioned by Waltz as he speaks to the architect (see the quote above). These fountains and the mountain blown up by Waltz remind one of the fountain-into-mountain misprint in VN's novel Pale Fire (1962).


As pointed out by Mary Ross, Prince Charles’ bedroom is connected by a jolly chute in the wall with a round swimming pool in the hall below:


The Countess spent a fortune on buying his kamergrum (groom of the chamber), his bodyguard, and even the greater part of the Court Chamberlain. She took to sleeping in a small antechamber next to his bachelor bedroom, a splendid spacious circular apartment at the top of the high and massive South West Tower. This had been his father's retreat and was still connected by a jolly chute in the wall with a round swimming pool in the hall below, so that the young Prince could start the day as his father used to start it by slipping open a panel beside his army cot and rolling into the shaft whence he whizzed down straight into bright water. (Kinbote’s note to Line 80)


Kinbote writes his commentary to Shade's poem in Cedarn, Utana. Cedarn brings to mind Palmora, the island chosen by Waltz for his residence. Utana blends Utah with Montana, a state in which Colonel Washington found the mountain consisting of one solid diamond.

Ah, the architect trope, too! Definitely interesting how many congruencies in "Waltz" and "Diamond"! 

"Architect" is suggestive of the Deity as creator-god, hence of the imagination. Makes me think of Conmal's wonderfully inept poem in PF:


I am not slave! Let be my critic slave.

I cannot be. And Shakespeare would not want thus.

Let drawing students copy the acanthus,

I work with Master on the architrave!


This is really Nabokov's code (in all senses of the word) for PF and all his art. 



The name Conmal seems to blend Joseph Conrad (a Polish novelist who wrote in English) with Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal. In his poem Harmonie du soir ("Evening Harmony") Baudelaire mentions Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige (Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo):


Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!

Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir;
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu'on afflige;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.

Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu'on afflige,
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir;
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.

Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige!
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige...
Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir!


The season is at hand when swaying on its stem
Every flower exhales perfume like a censer;
Sounds and perfumes turn in the evening air;
Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo!

Every flower exhales perfume like a censer;
The violin quivers like a tormented heart;
Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo!
The sky is sad and beautiful like an immense altar.

The violin quivers like a tormented heart,
A tender heart, that hates the vast, black void!
The sky is sad and beautiful like an immense altar;
The sun has drowned in his blood which congeals...

A tender heart that hates the vast, black void
Gathers up every shred of the luminous past!
The sun has drowned in his blood which congeals...
Your memory in me glitters like a monstrance!

(tr. W. Aggeler)


Also, see the updated version of my post "DEMON'S SCARLET-SILK-LINED CAPE IN ADA."