candies, carpenter & lost cuff link in Invitation to a Beheading & in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 10/24/2019 - 07:10

In VN’s novel Priglashenie na kazn’ (“Invitation to a Beheading,” 1935) Cecilia C. (Cincinnatus's very young mother) brings her son konfetki (candies):


- Вот - я вам принесла (вытянула, вытягивая и подкладку, фунтик из кармана пальто). Вот. Конфеток. Сосите на здоровьице.


‘Here, I brought you this.' (She pulled a pound bag out of her coat pocket, pulling out the lining as well.) ‘Here. Some candy. Suck on it to your heart’s content.' (Chapter XII)


In Gospoda Tashkenttsy (“Gentlemen of Tashkent,” 1873) Saltykov-Shchedrin mentions the hero’s konfetka-maman (the candy of a mother):


Он так мило брал свою конфетку-maman за талию, так нежно целовал её в щёчку, рукулировал ей на ухо de si jolies choses, что не было даже резона дичиться его. ("Gentlemen of Tashkent of the Prep-School")


Cincinnatus’s mother is akusherka (a mid-wife). At the beginning of his Introduction to “Gentlemen of Tashkent” Saltykov-Shchedrin quotes the words of Kukolnik, a writer (Gogol’s schoolmate) who told Glinka (the composer) that he will become akusher (an obstetrician) on the next day, if given an order:


В рассказах Глинки (композитора) занесён следующий факт. Однажды покойный литератор Кукольник, без приготовлений, «необыкновенно ясно и дельно» изложил перед Глинкой историю Литвы, и когда последний, не подозревая за автором «Торквато Тассо» столь разнообразных познаний, выразил своё удивление по этому поводу, то Кукольник отвечал: "Прикажут завтра же буду акушёром."

Ответ этот драгоценен, ибо дает меру талантливости русского человека. Но он ещё более драгоценен в том смысле, что раскрывает некоторую тайну, свидетельствующую, что упомянутая выше талантливость находится в теснейшей зависимости от «приказания». Ежели мы не изобрели пороха, то это значит, что нам не было это приказано; ежели мы не опередили Европу на поприще общественного и политического устройства, то это означает, что и по сему предмету никаких распоряжений не последовало. Мы не виноваты. Прикажут — и Россия завтра же покроется школами и университетами; прикажут — и просвещение, вместо школ, сосредоточится в полицейских управлениях. Куда угодно, когда угодно и всё, что угодно. Литераторы ждут мания, чтоб сделаться акушёрами; повивальные бабки стоят во всеоружии, чтоб по первому знаку положить начало родовспомогательной литературе. Всё начеку, всё готово устремиться куда глаза глядят.


According to Shchedrin, our writers are only waiting for a command to become obstetricians. VN’s novel was written soon after the birth of his son Dmitri.


One of the chapters in Saltykov-Shchedrin’s Melochi zhizni (“Trifles of Life,” 1887) is entitled Advokat (“The Lawyer”). The characters of “Invitation to a Beheading” include Roman Vissarionovich, Cincinnatus’s lawyer whose name seems to hint at the Romanovs (the Russian imperial family) and patronymic, at Stalin. Roman Vissarionovich is upset by the loss of his cuff link:


Но его ещё промучили минуты две. Вдруг дверь отворилась, и, скользя, влетел адвокат.

Он был взлохмачен, потен. Он теребил левую манжету, и глаза у него кружились.

- Запонку потерял, - воскликнул он, быстро, как пёс, дыша. - Задел обо что.. должно быть... когда с милой Эммочкой... шалунья всегда... за фалды... всякий раз как зайду... я, главное, слышал, как кто-то... но не обратил... смотрите, цепочка очевидно... очень дорожил... ну, ничего не поделаешь... может быть ещё... я обещал всем сторожам... а досадно...

- Глупая, сонная ошибка, - тихо сказал Цинциннат. - Я превратно истолковал суету. Это вредно для сердца.

- Да нет, спасибо, пустяки, - рассеянно пробормотал адвокат. При этом он глазами так и рыскал по углам камеры. Видно было, что его огорчала потеря дорогой вещицы. Это видно было. Потеря вещицы огорчала его. Вещица была дорогая. Он был огорчён потерей вещицы.


However, they tortured him for another two minutes or so. Suddenly the door opened, and, gliding, his lawyer rushed in. He was ruffled and sweaty. He was fiddling with his left cuff and his eyes were wandering around.

'I lost a cuff link,’ he exclaimed, panting rapidly like a dog. 'Must have — rushed against some — when I was with sweet little Emmie — she’s always so full of mischief — by the coat-tails — every time I drop in — and the point is that I heard something — but I didn’t pay any — look, the chain must have — I was very fond of— well, it’s too late now — maybe I can still — I promised all the guards — it’s a pity, though.’
'A foolish, sleepy error,’ said Cincinnatus quietly. 'I misinterpreted the fuss. This sort of thing is not good for the heart.’

'Oh, thanks, don’t worry about it, it’s nothing,’ absent-mindedly muttered the lawyer. And with his eyes he literally scoured the comers of the cell. It was plain that he was upset by the loss of that precious object. It was plain. The loss of the object upset him. The object was precious. He was upset by the loss of the object. (Chapter III)


In Saltykov-Shchedrin's Gospoda Golovlyovy ("The Golovlyov Family," 1880) Iudushka Golovlyov is upset by the loss of his dead brother’s golden cuff links:


Все эти неизбежные сцены будущего так и метались перед глазами Арины Петровны. И как живой звенел в её ушах маслянисто-пронзительный голос Иудушки, обращённый к ней:
— А помните, маменька, у брата золотенькие запоночки были… хорошенькие такие, ещё он их по праздникам надевал… и куда только эти запоночки девались — ума приложить не могу!


A namesake of Vera's younger sister in Goncharov's novel Obryv ("The Precipice," 1869), Marfinka (Cincinnatus's wife Marthe) also brings to mind Anninka and Lyubinka, Iudushka’s nieces in "The Golovlyov Family." Iudushka ("little Judas") is a negative, as it were, of Khristosik ("little Christ"), as G. A. Vronsky (the movie man in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) called all pretty starlets:


Some confusion ensued less than two years later (September, 1871 — her proud brain still retained dozens of dates) when upon escaping from her next refuge and somehow reaching her husband’s unforgettable country house (imitate a foreigner: ‘Signor Konduktor, ay vant go Lago di Luga, hier geld’) she took advantage of his being massaged in the solarium, tiptoed into their former bedroom — and experienced a delicious shock: her talc powder in a half-full glass container marked colorfully Quelques Fleurs still stood on her bedside table; her favorite flame-colored nightgown lay rumpled on the bedrug; to her it meant that only a brief black nightmare had obliterated the radiant fact of her having slept with her husband all along — ever since Shakespeare’s birthday on a green rainy day, but for most other people, alas, it meant that Marina (after G.A. Vronsky, the movie man, had left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets) had conceived, c’est bien le cas de le dire, the brilliant idea of having Demon divorce mad Aqua and marry Marina who thought (happily and correctly) she was pregnant again. Marina had spent a rukuliruyushchiy month with him at Kitezh but when she smugly divulged her intentions (just before Aqua’s arrival) he threw her out of the house. (1.3)


Like the twin sisters Anninka and Lyubinka, Aqua’s twin sister Marina is an actress. Rukuliruyushchiy (roucoulant, cooing) brings to mind rukuliroval (cooed), a verb used by Saltykov-Shchedrin in “Gentlemen of Tashkent” (see a quote above). M’sieur Pierre (the executioner in “Invitation to a Beheading”) reminds one of Pierre or Pet’ka, as in “Gentlemen of Tashkent” the hero’s mother calls her late husband. Cincinnatus asks Cecilia C. to tell him about his father:


Я пришла, потому что я ваша мать, - проговорила она тихо, и Цинциннат рассмеялся:

- Нет, нет, не сбивайтесь на фарс. Помните, что тут драма. Смешное смешным - но все-таки не следует слишком удаляться от вокзала: драма может уйти. Вы бы лучше... да, вот что, повторите мне, пожалуй, предание о моем отце. Неужели он так-таки исчез в темноте ночи, и вы никогда не узнали, ни кто он, ни откуда - это странно...

- Только голос, - лица я не видела, - ответила она все так же тихо.

- Во, во, подыгрывайте мне, я думаю, мы его сделаем странником, беглым матросом, - с тоской продолжал Цинциннат, прищелкивая пальцами и шагая, шагая: - или лесным разбойником, гастролирующем в парке. Или загулявшим ремесленником, плотником... Ну, скорей, придумайте что-нибудь.

- Вы не понимаете, - воскликнула она, - (в волнении встала и тотчас села опять), - да, я не знаю, кто он был, - бродяга, беглец, да, все возможно... Но как это вы не понимаете... да, - был праздник, было в парке темно, и я была девчонкой, - но ведь не в том дело. Ведь обмануться нельзя!

Человек, который сжигается живьём, знает небось, что он не купается у нас в Стропи. То есть я хочу сказать: нельзя, нельзя ошибиться... Ах, как же вы не понимаете!

- Чего не понимаю?

- Ах, Цинциннат, он - тоже...

- Что - тоже?

- Он тоже, как вы, Цинциннат...

Она совсем опустила лицо, уронила пенсне в горсточку.


- Откуда вам это известно, - хмуро спросил Цинциннат, - как это можно так сразу заметить...

- Больше вам ничего не скажу, - произнесла она, не поднимая глаз.


‘I came because I am your mother,’ she said softly, and Cincinnatus burst out laughing:

‘No, no, don’t let it degenerate into farce. Remember, this is a drama. A little comedy is all right, but still you ought not to walk too far from the station — the drama might leave without you. You’d do better to . . . yes, I’ll tell you what, why don’t you tell me again the legend about my father. Can it be true that he vanished into the dark of night, and you never found out who he was or where he came from — it’s strange . . .’

‘Only his voice — I didn’t see the face,’ she answered as softly as before.

‘That’s it, that’s it, play up to me — I think perhaps we’ll make him a runaway sailor,’ dejectedly continued Cincinnatus, snapping his fingers and pacing, pacing, ‘or a sylvan robber making a guest appearance in a public park. Or a wayward craftsman, a carpenter . . . Come, quickly, think of something.’

‘You don’t understand,’ she cried (in her excitement she stood up and immediately sat down again). ‘It’s true, I don’t know who he was — a tramp, a fugitive, anything is possible . . . But why can’t you understand . . . yes, it was a holiday, it was dark in the park, and I was still a child, but that’s beside the point. The important thing is that it was not possible to make a mistake! A man who is being burned alive knows perfectly well that he isn’t taking a dip in our Strop. Why, what I mean is, one can’t be wrong... Oh, can’t you understand?’

'Can’t understand what?’

'Oh, Cincinnatus, he too was . . .’

'What do you mean, "he too”?’

'He was also like you, Cincinnatus. . . .’ She quite lowered her face, dropping her pince-nez into her cupped hand.


'How do you know this?’ Cincinnatus asked morosely. 'How can you suddenly notice . . .’

'I am not going to tell you anything more,’ she said without raising her eyes. (Chapter XII)


Cincinnatus suggests that his father was a carpenter. Jesus Christ was a carpenter's son. In his Stansy (“Stanzas,” 1826) Pushkin mentions myatezhi i kazni (rebellions and executions) and calls the tsar Peter I plotnik (a carpenter):


В надежде славы и добра
Гляжу вперёд я без боязни:
Начало славных дней Петра
Мрачили мятежи и казни.

Но правдой он привлёк сердца,
Но нравы укротил наукой,
И был от буйного стрельца
Пред ним отличен Долгорукой.

Самодержавною рукой
Он смело сеял просвещенье,
Не презирал страны родной:
Он знал её предназначенье.

То академик, то герой,
То мореплаватель, то плотник,
Он всеобъемлющей душой
На троне вечный был работник.

Семейным сходством будь же горд;
Во всём будь пращуру подобен:
Как он неутомим и твёрд,
И памятью, как он, незлобен.


In hopes of glory and good will

With fearless gaze I look ahead.

The star of Peter's dawn was ill

With many a rebel's severed head.


But he with truth engaged men's hearts,

With learning gentled uncouth ways,

And honored Dolgorúki's arts 

Against the Musketeers' mad frays.


He bid with autocratic hand

Seeds of enlightenment grow free,

And did not spurn his native land,

Knowing full well its destiny.


Man of the sword, man of the scroll,

As shipmate and as shipwright known,

For with his all-embracing soul

He was a workman on the throne. 


In kinship likeness, then, take pride;

By noble lineage stand defined.

Like him let staunchness be your guide.

Eschew, like him, a vengeful mind. 

(tr. A.Z. Foreman)


Reading Van's palm, Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father) tells Van that his shaftment is that of a carpenter's:


‘I say,’ exclaimed Demon, ‘what’s happened — your shaftment is that of a carpenter’s. Show me your other hand. Good gracious’ (muttering:) ‘Hump of Venus disfigured, Line of Life scarred but monstrously long…’ (switching to a gipsy chant:) ‘You’ll live to reach Terra, and come back a wiser and merrier man’ (reverting to his ordinary voice:) ‘What puzzles me as a palmist is the strange condition of the Sister of your Life. And the roughness!’
‘Mascodagama,’ whispered Van, raising his eyebrows.
‘Ah, of course, how blunt (dumb) of me. Now tell me — you like Ardis Hall?’
‘I adore it,’ said Van. ‘It’s for me the château que baignait la Dore. I would gladly spend all my scarred and strange life here. But that’s a hopeless fancy.’
‘Hopeless? I wonder. I know Dan wants to leave it to Lucile, but Dan is greedy, and my affairs are such that I can satisfy great greed. When I was your age I thought that the sweetest word in the language rhymes with "billiard," and now I know I was right. If you’re really keen, son, on having this property, I might try to buy it. I can exert a certain pressure upon my Marina. She sighs like a hassock when you sit upon her, so to speak. Damn it, the servants here are not Mercuries. Pull that cord again. Yes, maybe Dan could be made to sell.’ (1.38)


As a Chose student, Van performs in variety shows dancing tango as Mascodagama (Van's stage name) on his hands. M'sieur Pierre walks on his hands in Cincinnatus's cell:


Бросив ему платок, м-сье Пьер вскричал по-французски и оказался стоящим на руках. Его круглая голова понемножку наливалась красивой розовой кровью; левая штанина опустилась, обнажая щиколотку; перевёрнутые глаза, - как у всякого в такой позитуре, - стали похожи на спрута.

- Ну что? - спросил он, снова вспрянув и приводя себя в порядок.

Из коридора донёсся гул рукоплесканий - и потом, отдельно, на ходу, расхлябанно, захлопал клоун, но бацнулся о барьер.

- Ну что? - повторил м-сье Пьер. - Силушка есть? Ловкость налицо? Али вам этого ещё недостаточно?

М-сье Пьер одним прыжком вскочил на стол, встал на руки и зубами схватился за спинку стула. Музыка замерла. М-сье Пьер поднимал крепко закушенный стул, вздрагивали натуженные мускулы, да скрипела челюсть.

Тихо отпахнулась дверь, и - в ботфортах, с бичом, напудренный и ярко, до синевой слепоты, освещённый, вошёл директор цирка.

- Сенсация! Мировой номер! - прошептал он и, сняв цилиндр, сел подле Цинцинната.

Что-то хрустнуло, и м-сье Пьер, выпустив изо рта стул, перекувыркнулся и очутился опять на полу. Но, по-видимому, не всё обстояло благополучно. Он тотчас прикрыл рот платком, быстро посмотрел под стол, потом на стул, вдруг увидел и с глухим проклятием попытался сорвать со спинки стула впившуюся в неё вставную челюсть на шарнирах. Великолепно оскаленная, она держалась мёртвой хваткой. Тогда, не потерявшись, м-сье Пьер обнял стул и ушёл с ним вместе.

Ничего не заметивший Родриг Иванович бешено аплодировал. Арена, однако, оставалась пуста. Он подозрительно глянул на Цинцинната, похлопал ещё, но без прежнего жара, вздрогнул и с расстроенным видом покинул ложу.

На том представление и кончилось.


Throwing him the handkerchief, M’sieur Pierre shouted a French exclamation and suddenly was standing on his hands. His spherical head gradually became suffused with beautiful rosy blood; his left trouser leg slid down, exposing his ankle; his upside-down eyes — as happens with anyone in this position — looked like the eyes of an octopus.

‘How about that?' he asked, bouncing back on to his feet and readjusting his clothes. From the corridor came a tumult of applause, and then, separately, the clown began to clap, loose-jointedly, as he walked — before falling over the barrier.

‘Well?' repeated M’sieur Pierre. ‘How’s that for strength? And will my agility do? Or haven’t you seen enough yet?’

In one leap M’sieur Pierre hopped up on the table, stood on his hands, and grasped the back of the chair in his teeth. The music paused breathlessly. M’sieur Pierre was lifting the chair, clenched firmly between his teeth; his tensed muscles were quivering; his jaw was creaking.

The door softly swung open, and there entered — in jack boots, with a whip, powdered and spotlit with blinding violet light — the circus director.

‘Sensational! A unique performance!’ he whispered, and, taking off his top hat, he sat down by Cincinnatus.

Something gave, and M’sieur Pierre, releasing the chair from his mouth, turned a somersault and was again standing on the floor. Apparently, however, not everything was well. He at once covered his mouth with his handkerchief, glanced quickly under the table, then inspected the chair, and, suddenly seeing what he sought, attempted, with a subdued oath, to yank off the back of the chair his hinged denture, which was embedded there. Magnificently displaying all its teeth, it held on with a bulldog grip. Whereupon, without losing his head, M’sieur Pierre embraced the chair and departed with it.

Rodrig Ivanovich, who had noticed nothing, was applauding wildly. The arena, however, remained empty. He cast a suspicious look at Cincinnatus, clapped some more, but without the former ardour, gave a little start and, in obvious distress, left the box.

And thus the performance ended. (Chapter X)


According to Demon, the eyes of Jones (the new servant at Ardis) look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves:


Marina,’ murmured Demon at the close of the first course. ‘Marina,’ he repeated louder. ‘Far from me’ (a locution he favored) ‘to criticize Dan’s taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I’m above all that rot, I’m…’ (gesture); ‘but, my dear,’ he continued, switching to Russian, ‘the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki — the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) —’

‘Everybody has eyes,’ remarked Marina drily.

‘Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves. But that’s not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It’s depressing. It’s a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.’

‘Look, Dad,’ said Van, ‘Dr Krolik can’t do much, because, as you know quite well, he’s dead, and Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive.’

‘The Veen wit, the Veen wit,’ murmured Demon. (1.38)


At the family dinner in "Ardis the Second" Demon asks Ada what she wants for her sixteenth birthday:


‘By the way, Demon,’ interrupted Marina, ‘where and how can I obtain the kind of old roomy limousine with an old professional chauffeur that Praskovia, for instance, has had for years?’

‘Impossible, my dear, they are all in heaven or on Terra. But what would Ada like, what would my silent love like for her birthday? It’s next Saturday, po razschyotu po moemu (by my reckoning), isn’t it? Une rivière de diamants?’

‘Protestuyu!’ cried Marina. ‘Yes, I’m speaking seriozno. I object to your giving her kvaka sesva (quoi que ce soit), Dan and I will take care of all that.’ (ibid.)


Daniel Veen gives Ada a box of mints as a birthday present:


The execution was interrupted by the arrival of Uncle Dan. He had a remarkably reckless way of driving, as happens so often, goodness knows why, in the case of many dour, dreary men. Weaving rapidly between the pines, he brought the little red runabout to an abrupt stop in front of Ada and presented her with the perfect gift, a big box of mints, white, pink and, oh boy, green! He had also an aerogram for her, he said, winking. (1.39)


Describing his scuffle with Percy de Prey at the picnic on Ada's sixteenth birthday, Van mentions a missing cufflink:


Percy was three years older, and a score of kilograms heavier than Van, but the latter had handled even burlier brutes with ease. Almost at once the Count’s bursting face was trapped in the crook of Van’s arm. The grunting Count toured the turf in a hunched-up stagger. He freed one scarlet ear, was retrapped, was tripped and collapsed under Van, who instantly put him ‘on his omoplates,’ na lopatki, as King Wing used to say in his carpet jargon. Percy lay panting like a dying gladiator, both shoulder blades pressed to the ground by his tormentor, whose thumbs now started to manipulate horribly that heaving thorax. Percy with a sudden bellow of pain intimated he had had enough. Van requested a more articulate expression of surrender, and got it. Greg, fearing Van had not caught the muttered plea for mercy, repeated it in the third person interpretative. Van released the unfortunate Count, whereupon he sat up, spitting, palpating his throat, rearranging the rumpled shirt around his husky torso and asking Greg in a husky voice to find a missing cufflink... 


...Presently Greg overtook them, bringing the cufflink — a little triumph of meticulous detection, and with a trite ‘Attaboy!’ Percy closed his silk cuff, thus completing his insolent restoration. (ibid.)


In "Invitation to a Beheading" Emmie finds Roman Vissarionovich's cuff link:


Ну, а нонче как наш симпатичный смертник, - пошутил элегантный, представительный директор, пожимая в своих мясистых лиловых лапах маленькую холодную руку Цинцинната. - Всё хорошо? Ничего не болит? Всё болтаете с нашим неутомимым Романом Виссарионовичем? Да, кстати, голубчик Роман Виссарионович... могу вас порадовать, - озорница моя только что нашла на лестнице вашу запонку. La voici. Это ведь французское золото, не правда ли? Весьма изящно. Комплиментов я обычно не делаю, но должен сказать...


‘Well, and how is our doomed friend today?’ quipped the elegant, dignified director, compressing in his meaty purple paws the cold little hand of Cincinnatus. ‘Is everything all right? No aches or pains? Still gossiping with our indefatigable Roman Vissarionovich? Oh, by the way, dear Roman Vissarionovich, I have some good news for you — my little romp just found your cuff link on the stairs. La voiсi. This is French gold, isn’t it? Very, very dainty. I usually do not make compliments, but I must say . . .’ (Chapter III)


It seems that a dozen elderly townsmen in the adjacent clearing (at the picnic on Ada's sixteenth birthday) are the apostles and one of their comrades whom they dispatched and buried is Judas:


He called for wine — but the remaining bottles had been given to the mysterious pastors whose patronage the adjacent clearing had already lost: they might have dispatched and buried one of their comrades, if the stiff collar and reptilian tie left hanging from a locust branch were his. Gone also was the bouquet of roses which Ada had ordered to be put back into the boot of the Count’s car — better than waste them on her, let him give them, she said, to Blanche’s lovely sister. (1.39)

This was a good read I must say. I'm now confused whether to re-read The Eye (as planned earlier) or Invitation to Beheading. Two comments though:

"shaftment" from "your shaftment is like a carpenter's" is a strange word to use in this context and it inevitably brings to mind "her index traced the Nile down to its jungle and traveled back up again" (from the Burning Barn episode).

I had forgotten all about Mons. Pierre's dance and the pithy epithet "his upside down eyes - the eyes of an octopus" - have to hunt this phrase out. Congrats on linking that to Jones's description in Ada.

And one more thing: there's something vaguely Gogolian about this sentence: "Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive." Something similar, in the lines "of he rushed on breathlessly and felt more dead than alive" - but I can't locate anything right now. What do you think?


I'm glad that you liked it, Shakeeb. I was finishing it in haste and had no time to say that it is the wheezy Jones who helps Van to blind Kim Beauharnais (a kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who spies on Van and Ada and attempts to blackmail Ada). M'sieur Pierre's hobbies are fishing and photography. Describing Kim Beauharnais's album, Van mentions a rare oak, Quercus Ruslan Chat. In the fortress Cincinnatus reads Quercus, a novel whose title hints at Joyce's Ulysses.


In Gogol's "Inspector" Khlestakov mentions a soup that came in a saucepan from Paris. But the sentence you mention looks to me as an example of the Nabokovian, rather than Gogolian, humor.


Describing the family dinner in "Ardis the Second," Van mentions sudak (pike-perch):


'You still beat me at fencing, but I'm the better shot. That's not the real sudak, papa, though it's tops, I assure you.' (1.38)


In the first letter of his Pis'ma k tyoten'ke ("Letters to my Aunt," 1882) Saltykov-Shchedrin mentions sudak avablya (the pike-perch au vin blanc):


Пришёл я на днях в Летний сад обедать. Потребовал карточку, вижу: судак "авабля"; спрашиваю: да можно ли? -- Нынче всё, сударь, можно! -- Ну, давай судака "авабля"! -- оказалась мерзость.


("The other day I came to the Letniy Sad to dinner. I asked for the menu and read in it: sudak avablya.)


In the same letter Saltykov-Shchedrin mentions bredni (fantasies), antibredni (cf. Terra and Antiterra) and koka s sokom (prosperity; literally: "egg with juice"):


О “бреднях” лучше всего позабыть, как будто их совсем не было. Даже в “антибредни” не очень азартно пускаться, потому что и они приедаться стали.


Покуда я кока с соком был -- я ничего не понимал, теперь же, будучи лишён сока, -- всё понял.


Marina's lover Pedro (a young Latin actor) offers Van to bring him a nice cold Russian kok:


In the meantime, Herr Rack swam up again and joined Ada on the edge of the pool, almost losing his baggy trunks in the process of an amphibious heave.

‘Permit me, Ivan, to get you also a nice cold Russian kok?’ said Pedro — really a very gentle and amiable youth at heart. ‘Get yourself a cocoanut,’ replied nasty Van, testing the poor faun, who did not get it, in any sense, and, giggling pleasantly, went back to his mat. Claudius, at least, did not court Ophelia. (1.32)


On the day of the execution Cincinnatus and M'sieur Pierre wear gamletovki (Elsinore jackets). Describing Kim Beauharnais's album, Van mentions the photograph of Ivan Durmanov (Marina's and Aqua's brother who died young and famous) who is clad in bayronka (open shirt).

Yeah, yeah, yeah I know - Jones later become a policeman and helped track down the 'photofiend' Kim. You're right that it's more of the Nabokovian humour (the Veen wit) than Gogol's but I still can't shake off the feeling I've read it somewhere. Maybe it will take a few weeks before I hit upon it.

As for Saltykov, I'm not at all familiar with him - only some vague inklings of The Golovlyov Family.

A rare oak, Quercus ruslan Chat., also brings to mind Glinka's opera "Ruslan and Lyudmila" (1842). Kim Beauharnais vaguely resembles a janizary in some exotic opera:


During her dreary stay at Ardis, a considerably changed and enlarged Kim Beauharnais called upon her. He carried under his arm an album bound in orange-brown cloth, a dirty hue she had hated all her life. In the last two or three years she had not seen him, the light-footed, lean lad with the sallow complexion had become a dusky colossus, vaguely resembling a janizary in some exotic opera, stomping in to announce an invasion or an execution. Uncle Dan, who just then was being wheeled out by his handsome and haughty nurse into the garden where coppery and blood-red leaves were falling, clamored to be given the big book, but Kim said ‘Perhaps later,’ and joined Ada in the reception corner of the hall. (2.7)


In Saltykov-Shchedrin's V bol'nitse dlya umalishyonnykh ("In a Lunatic Asylum," 1872) Vanya Potseluev tells his uncle that, if necessary, he will become a zouave oa a janizary on the next day:


- Mon oncle! - отвечал он мне, - je vous demande bien pardon, но мне кажется, что ваш вопрос прежде всего вопрос праздный. Я гонвед - и ничего больше. Если завтра потребуется, чтоб я был зуавом или янычаром, - я ничего против этого не имею. (I)


Describing his dinner with Ada and Lucette in 'Ursus,' Van twice mentions Glinka:


The uha, the shashlik, the Ai were facile and familiar successes; but the old songs had a peculiar poignancy owing to the participation of a Lyaskan contralto and a Banff bass, renowned performers of Russian ‘romances,’ with a touch of heart-wringing tsiganshchina vibrating through Grigoriev and Glinka. (2.8)


Then Banoffsky launched into Glinka’s great amphibrachs (Mihail Ivanovich had been a summer guest at Ardis when their uncle was still alive — a green bench existed where the composer was said to have sat under the pseudoacacias especially often, mopping his ample brow):


Subside, agitation of passion! (ibid.)


Uymites', volneniya strasti! (Subside, agitation of passion!) is a poem by Kukolnik set to music by Glinka. At the beginning of his Introduction to "Gentlemen of Tashkent" Saltykov-Shchedrin quotes the words of Kukolnik (who said that, if ordered, he will become an obstetrician on the next day) to Glinka. Cecilia C. (Cincinnatus's mother) is a mid-wife.


A green bench mentioned by Van brings to mind the freshly painted defendants’ bench in "Invitation to a Beheading:"


Сначала на чёрном бархате, каким по ночам обложены с исподу веки, появилось, как медальон, лицо Марфиньки: кукольный румянец, блестящий лоб с детской выпуклостью, редкие брови вверх, высоко над круглыми, карими глазами. Она заморгала, поворачивая голову, и на мягкой, сливочной белизны, шее была чёрная бархатка, а бархатная тишина платья, расширяясь книзу, сливалась с темнотой. Такой он увидел её нынче среди публики, когда его подвели к свежепокрашенной скамье подсудимых, на которую он сесть не решился, а стоял рядом и всё-таки измарал в изумруде руки, и журналисты жадно фотографировали отпечатки его пальцев, оставшиеся на спинке скамьи. Он видел их напряженные лбы, он видел ярко-цветные панталоны щеголей, ручные зеркала и переливчатые шали щеголих, - но лица были неясны, - одна только круглоглазая Марфинька из всех зрителей и запомнилась ему. Адвокат и прокурор, оба крашенные и очень похожие друг на друга (закон требовал, чтобы они были единоутробными братьями, но не всегда можно было подобрать, и тогда гримировались), проговорили с виртуозной скоростью те пять тысяч слов, которые полагались каждому. Они говорили вперемежку, и судья, следя за мгновенными репликами, вправо, влево мотал головой, и равномерно мотались все головы, - и только одна Марфинька, слегка повернувшись, неподвижно, как удивленное дитя, уставилась на Цинцинната, стоявшего рядом с ярко-зелёной садовой скамьёй. Адвокат, сторонник классической декапитации, выиграл без труда против затейника прокурора, и судья синтезировал дело.


At first, against the background of that black velvet which lines at night the underside of the eyelids, Marthe’s face appeared as in a locket; her doll-like rosiness; her shiny forehead with its childlike convexity; her thin eyebrows, slanting upward, high above her round hazel eyes. She began to blink, turning her head, and there was a black velvet ribbon on her soft, creamy-white neck, and the velvety quiet of her dress flared at the bottom, blending with the darkness. That is how he saw her among the audience, when they led him up to the freshly painted defendants’ bench on which he did not dare sit, but stood beside it (and still he got emerald paint all over his hands, and the newspaper men greedily photographed the fingerprints he had left on the back of the bench). He could see their tense foreheads, he could see the gaudy pantaloons of the fops, and the hand-mirrors and iridescent scarves of the women of fashion; but the faces were indistinct— of all the spectators he remembered only round-eyed Marthe. The defence counsel and the prosecutor, both wearing makeup and looking very much alike (the law required that they be uterine brothers but such were not always available, and then makeup was used), spoke with virtuoso rapidity the five thousand words allotted to each. They spoke alternately and the judge, following the rapid exchanges, would move his head, right and left and all the other heads followed suit; only Marthe, half-turned, sat motionless like an astonished child, her gaze fixed on Cincinnatus, standing next to the bright green park bench. The defence counsel, an advocate of classic decapitation, won easily over the inventive prosecutor, and the judge summed up the case. (Chapter I)


Ursus is the traveling artist in Victor Hugo's novel L'homme qui rit ("The Laughing Man," 1869). In "Gentlemen of Tashkent" Saltykov-Shchedrin mentions Hugo's novel:


Годы шли, а интересная вдова как канула за границу, так и исчезла там. Слух был, что она короткое время блеснула на водах, в сопровождении какого-то национальгарда (от судьбы, видно, не убежишь!), но потом скоро уехала в Париж и там поселилась на житьё. Потом прошёл и ещё слух: в Париже Ольга Сергеевна произвела фурор и имела несколько шикарных приключений, которые сделали имя её очень громким. La belle princesse Persianoff сделалась предметом газетных фельетонов и устных скандалёзных хроник. Называли двух-трёх литераторов, одного министра (de l'Empire), одного сенатора и даже одного акробата (неизбежное следствие чтения романа "L'homme qui rit").


La belle princesse Olga Sergeevna Persianoff has the same name and patronymic as Pushkin's sister. Pushkin's poem Vertograd moey sestry ("The Garden of my Sisiter," 1825) brings to mind Miss Vertograd (Demon's librarian):


Soon upon his arrival at Ardis, Van warned his former governess (who had reasons to believe in his threats) that if he were not permitted to remove from the library at any time, for any length of time, and without any trace of 'en lecture,' any volume, collected works, boxed pamphlets or incunabulum that he might fancy, he would have Miss Vertograd, his father's librarian, a completely servile and infinitely accommodative spinster of Verger's format and presumable date of publication, post to Ardis Hall trunkfuls of eighteenth century libertines, German sexologists, and a whole circus of Shastras and Nefsawis in literal translation with apocryphal addenda. (1.21).


The characters in "Invitation to a Beheading" include the librarian (who brings books to Cincinnatus, including Quercus).

Hi - Alexey Sklyarenko, you wrote "In the fortress Cincinnatus reads Quercus, a novel whose title hints at Joyce's Ulycess" and I just wondered how you made that connection? Thanks! 

Russian for "oak tree" (Quercus), dub seems to hint at Dublin, the setting of Joyce's novel (I was not the first to notice this).

Best, Alexey