NABOKV-L post 0027291, Wed, 1 Feb 2017 02:21:43 +0300

Subject
Bronze Riders, Vinelander & AAA in Ada
Date
Body
As he speaks to Van, Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) mentions Bronze Riders:



‘He is — I mean, Vinelander is — the scion, s,c,i,o,n, of one of those great Varangians who had conquered the Copper Tartars or Red Mongols — or whoever they were — who had conquered some earlier Bronze Riders — before we introduced our Russian roulette and Irish loo at a lucky moment in the history of Western casinos.’ (2.10)



In a letter of Dec. 9, 1890, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions bronzovye zhenshchiny (bronze-skinned women) that he saw in Ceylon:



Сингапур я плохо помню, так как, когда я объезжал его, мне почему-то было грустно; я чуть не плакал. Затем следует Цейлон — место, где был рай. Здесь в раю я сделал больше 100 вёрст по железной дороге и по самое горло насытился пальмовыми лесами и бронзовыми женщинами.

I have no clear memory of Singapore as, for some reason, I felt very sad while I was driving about it, and was almost weeping. Next after it comes Ceylon — an earthly Paradise. There in that Paradise I went more than a hundred versts on the railway and was sated up to the neck with palm forests and bronze-skinned women.



In the same letter to Suvorin Chekhov compares Sakhalin (“a place of the most unbearable suffering that can befall a man, free or shackled”) to ad (hell):



Пока я жил на Сахалине, моя утроба испытывала только некоторую горечь, как от прогорклого масла, теперь же, по воспоминаниям, Сахалин представляется мне целым адом.

While I was staying in Sakhalin, I only had a bitter feeling in my inside as though from rancid butter; and now, as I remember it, Sakhalin seems to me a perfect hell.



The last note of Demon’s wife Aqua (Marina’s mad twin sister) is signed: “My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (‘now is out of hell’)” (1.3). Chekhov’s story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy ("Woman as Seen by a Drunkard," 1885), in which girls under sixteen are compared to distilled water, is signed Brat moego brata (My brother's brother).



In Blok’s poem Neznakomka (Incognita, 1906), directly alluded to in Ada (3.3), p'yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: “In vino veritas!” At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon uses the phrase s glazami (with the eyes) and mentions Dr Krolik (Ada’s beloved lepidopterist and teacher of natural history):



'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)



In her last note Aqua repeats the word chelovek twice:



The hands of a clock, even when out of order, must know and let the dumbest little watch know where they stand, otherwise neither is a dial but only a white face with a trick mustache. Similarly, chelovek (human being) must know where he stands and let others know, otherwise he is not even a klok (piece) of a chelovek, neither a he, nor she, but 'a tit of it' as poor Ruby, my little Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. (1.3)



In Chekhov’s story Duel’ (“The Duel,” 1892) Laevski, as he speaks to Samoylenko, mentions klok zemli (a plot of land) and vinogradnik (a vineyard):



Какая ложь! Мы бежали, в сущности, от мужа, но лгали себе, что бежим от пустоты нашей интеллигентной жизни. Будущее наше рисовалось нам так: вначале на Кавказе, пока мы ознакомимся с местом и людьми, я надену вицмундир и буду служить, потом же на просторе возьмём себе клок земли, будем трудиться в поте лица, заведём виноградник, поле и прочее.



“What a deception! We really ran away from her husband, but we lied to ourselves and made out that we ran away from the emptiness of the life of the educated class. We pictured our future like this: to begin with, in the Caucasus, while we were getting to know the people and the place, I would put on the Government uniform and enter the service; then at our leisure we would pick out a plot of ground, would toil in the sweat of our brow, would have a vineyard and a field, and so on.” (Chapter I)



On the other hand, “Bronze Riders” mentioned by Demon bring to mind Yakov Bronza, the main character in Chekhov’s story Skripka Rotshil'da (“Rothschild's Violin,” 1894), and Pushkin’s poem Mednyi vsadnik (“The Bronze Horseman,” 1833). On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Pushkin’s poem is known as Headless Horseman:



The year 1880 (Aqua was still alive — somehow, somewhere!) was to prove to be the most retentive and talented one in his long, too long, never too long life. He was ten. His father had lingered in the West where the many-colored mountains acted upon Van as they had on all young Russians of genius. He could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin’s ‘Headless Horseman’ poem in less than twenty minutes. With white-bloused, enthusiastically sweating Andrey Andreevich, he lolled for hours in the violet shade of pink cliffs, studying major and minor Russian writers — and puzzling out the exaggerated but, on the whole, complimentary allusions to his father’s volitations and loves in another life in Lermontov’s diamond-faceted tetrameters. He struggled to keep back his tears, while AAA blew his fat red nose, when shown the peasant-bare footprint of Tolstoy preserved in the clay of a motor court in Utah where he had written the tale of Murat, the Navajo chieftain, a French general’s bastard, shot by Cora Day in his swimming pool. What a soprano Cora had been! Demon took Van to the world-famous Opera House in Telluride in West Colorado and there he enjoyed (and sometimes detested) the greatest international shows — English blank-verse plays, French tragedies in rhymed couplets, thunderous German musical dramas with giants and magicians and a defecating white horse. He passed through various little passions — parlor magic, chess, fluff-weight boxing matches at fairs, stunt-riding — and of course those unforgettable, much too early initiations when his lovely young English governess expertly petted him between milkshake and bed, she, petticoated, petititted, half-dressed for some party with her sister and Demon and Demon’s casino-touring companion, bodyguard and guardian angel, monitor and adviser, Mr Plunkett, a reformed card-sharper. (1.28)



Van's angelic Russian tutor, Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (‘AAA’) is a namesake of Andrey Andreevich Vinelander (Ada’s future husband). In Chekhov’s last story Nevesta (“The Bride,” 1903) the name and patronymic of Nadya’s fiancé (who plays the violin) is Andrey Andreevich.



Alexey Sklyarenko


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