NABOKV-L post 0026901, Sun, 6 Mar 2016 23:53:35 +0300

Subject
Cora Day, soprano, Oxford & hats in Ada
Date
Body
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.
(1.28)



Vivian Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’):



The Headless Horseman: Mayn Reid's title is ascribed here to Pushkin, author
of The Bronze Horseman.

Lermontov: author of The Demon.

Tolstoy etc.: Tolstoy's hero, Haji Murad, (a Caucasian chieftain) is blended
here with General Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law, and with the French
revolutionary leader Marat assassinated in his bath by Charlotte Corday.



In his Memoirs (1953) Prince Felix Yusupov (one of Rasputin’s murderers)
says that a French friend nicknamed him Charlotte Corday:



С продуктами было плохо. Часто приходилос
ь питаться не дома. Чаще всего \xa8C в забегал
овке неподалеку. Кормёжка сносная, цены б
ожеские. Однажды, пообедав с одной нашей п
риятельницей, мы пошли было к выходу, но т
ут хозяйка заведения отвела нашу подругу
в сторону и спросила, не знает ли та, кто м
ы такие.

\xa8C Знаю, разумеется, \xa8C отвечала подруга.

\xa8C Да, да, понятно… Нет, но знаете, о нем тут
у нас такое рассказывают! Говорят, он заре
зал какого-то Марата прямо в ванной! Что х
отите, ему скажите, а только передайте, чт
об ко мне в ватерклозет не ходил!

С тех пор подруга звала меня Шарлоттой Ко
рде. (Book Two, chapter 17)



In the 1900s Felix Yusupov incognito performed in Aquarium (St. Petersburg’
s most fashionable cabaret). Dressed as a girl, he had a tremendous success
singing the latest Parisian songs in a soprano voice:



Прилежно посещая кафешантаны, я знал почт
и все модные песни и сам исполнял их сопра
но. Когда мы вернулись в Россию, Николай р
ешил, что грешно зарывать в землю мой тала
нт и что надобно меня вывести на сцену ?Ак
вариума?, самого шикарного петербургског
о кабаре. Он явился к директору ?Аквариум
а?, которого знал, и предложил ему прослуш
ать француженку-певичку с последними пар
ижскими куплетами.

В назначенный день в женском наряде явилс
я я к директору. На мне были серый жакет с
юбкой, чернобурка и большая шляпа. Я спел
ему свой репертуар. Он пришёл в восторг и
взял меня на две недели. (Book One, chapter 9)



In his poem Berlinskoe (“Berlinian,” 1922) Khodasevich compares a Berlin
street seen through a café window to a blue aquarium in which the trams
float by like fish. In one of the trams’ windows the poet with disgust
recognizes his own decapitated head:



Что ж? От озноба и простуды ―

Горячий грог или коньяк.

Здесь музыка, и звон посуды,

И лиловатый полумрак.



А там, за толстым и огромным

Отполированным стеклом,

Как бы в аквариуме тёмном,

В аквариуме голубом ―



Многоочитые трамваи

Плывут между подводных лип,

Как электрические стаи

Светящихся ленивых рыб.



И там, скользя в ночную гнилость,

На толще чуждого стекла

В вагонных окнах отразилась

Поверхность моего стола,―



И, проникая в жизнь чужую,

Вдруг с отвращеньем узнаю

Отрубленную, неживую,

Ночную голову мою.



As a Chose student, Van performs in variety shows as Mascodagama and visits
Oxford (a women's college nearby):



Mascodagama's spectacular success in a theatrical club that habitually
limited itself to Elizabethan plays, with queens and fairies played by
pretty boys, made first of all a great impact on cartoonists. Deans, local
politicians, national statesmen, and of course the current ruler of the
Golden Horde were pictured as mascodagamas by topical humorists. A grotesque
imitator (who was really Mascodagama himself in an oversophisticated parody
of his own act!) was booed at Oxford (a women's college nearby) by local
rowdies. A shrewd reporter, who had heard him curse a crease in the stage
carpet, commented in print on his 'Yankee twang.' Dear Mr 'Vascodagama'
received an invitation to Windsor Castle from its owner, a bilateral
descendant of Van's own ancestors, but he declined it, suspecting
(incorrectly, as it later transpired) the misprint to suggest that his
incognito had been divulged by one of the special detectives at Chose - the
same, perhaps, who had recently saved the psychiatrist P. O. Tyomkin from
the dagger of Prince Potyomkin, a mixed-up kid from Sebastopol, Id. (1.30)



Felix Yusupov (a descendant of Tartar princes whose family tree goes back to
Ali, a cousin of Mohammad) studied in Oxford. In his Memoirs Yusupov
describes his student years in England. Having completed his education,
Yusupov married Princess Irina Romanov, the niece of Nicholas II (a cousin
of King George V). The Yusupovs’ Moyka palace (where Rasputin was
assassinated in December of 1916) was given by the Empress Catherine II to
Tatiana Engelgardt, Potyomkin’s niece who married Prince Nikolay Yusupov
(Felix’s maternal great-grandfather, the addressee of Pushkin’s poem K
vel’mozhe, “To a Grandee,” 1830).



The society nickname of Van’s father, Demon, brings to mind Khodasevich’s
poem Gostyu (“To a Guest,” 1921):



Входя ко мне, неси мечту,

Иль дьявольскую красоту,

Иль Бога, если сам ты Божий.

А маленькую доброту,

Как шляпу, оставляй в прихожей.



Здесь, на горошине земли,

Будь или ангел, или демон.

А человек - иль не затем он,

Чтобы забыть его могли?



Bring a dream when you visit me

Or bring a devilish beauty,

Or God if you truly believe,

Yet your little kindness do leave

Like a hat on the hall stand.



Here, on this little pea of Earth,

Be an angel or a demon.

As for man - isn't a human

Worth forgetting after death?

(transl. Ian Probstein)



Demon Veen and Baron d’Onsky (Marina’s lover) had the same London hatter:



D'Onsky had the reputation of not showing one sign of esthetic emotion in
the presence of the loveliest masterpiece; this time, nonetheless, he laid
his magnifier aside as he would a mask, and allowed his undisguised gaze to
caress the velvety apple and the nude's dimpled and mossed parts with a
smile of bemused pleasure. Would Mr Veen consider selling it to him there
and then, Mr Veen, please? Mr Veen would not. Skonky (a oneway nickname)
must content himself with the proud thought that, as of today, he and the
lucky owner were the sole people to have ever admired it en connaissance de
cause. Back it went into its special integument; but after finishing his
fourth cup of cognac, d'O. pleaded for one last peep. Both men were a little
drunk, and Demon secretly wondered if the rather banal resemblance of that
Edenic girl to a young actress, whom his visitor had no doubt seen on the
stage in 'Eugene and Lara' or 'Lenore Raven' (both painfully panned by a
'disgustingly incorruptible' young critic), should be, or would be,
commented upon. It was not: such nymphs were really very much alike because
of their elemental limpidity since the similarities of young bodies of water
are but murmurs of natural innocence and double-talk mirrors, that's my hat,
his is older, but we have the same London hatter. (1.2)



Demon fought a sword duel with d’Onsky in Nice (one of the two seconds was
Colonel St. Alin, a scoundrel). In 1908 Felix Yusupov’s elder brother
Nikolay was killed in a pistol duel with Count Arvid Manteuffel (the husband
of Marina Heyden, Nikolay’s mistress who after her lover’s death left the
Count and settled in Nice).



Skonky (d’Onsky’s nickname) is an anagram of konsky (“of a horse”).
According to Van, horses wore hats when heat waves swept Manhattan:



Vitry dated Theresa's visit to Antiterra as taking place in 1940, but 1940
by the Terranean calendar, and about 1890 by ours. The conceit allowed
certain pleasing dips into the modes and manners of our past (did you
remember that horses wore hats - yes, hats - when heat waves swept
Manhattan?) and gave the impression - which physics-fiction literature had
much exploited - of the capsulist traveling backward in terms of time.
Philosophers asked nasty questions, but were ignored by the
wishing-to-be-gulled moviegoers. (5.5)



Vitre is French for “window pane” (cf. vitrine, Russ. vitrina,
“shop-window”).



Alexey Sklyarenko


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