old, gray, mad Nijinski in Lolita; Nurjinski leap, Dangleleaf & Lowden in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 06/30/2021 - 07:13

Describing the murder of Clare Quilty, Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955) mentions old, gray, mad Nijinski:

 

Feu. This time I hit something hard. I hit the back of a black rocking chair, not unlike Dolly Schiller’s - my bullet hit the inside surface of its back whereupon it immediately went into a rocking act, so fast and with such zest that any one coming into the room might have been flabbergasted by the double miracle: that chair rocking in a panic all by itself, and the armchair, where my purple target had just been, now void of all life content. Wiggling his fingers in the air, with a rapid heave of his rump, he flashed into the music room and the next second we were tugging and gasping on both sides of the door which had a key I had overlooked. I won again, and with another abrupt movement Clare the Impredictable sat down before the piano and played several atrociously vigorous, fundamentally hysterical, plangent chords, his jowls quivering, his spread hands tensely plunging, and his nostrils emitting the soundtrack snorts which had been absent from our fight. Still singing those impossible sonorities, he made a futile attempt to open with his foot a kind of seaman’s chest near the piano. My next bullet caught him somewhere in the side, and he rose from his chair higher and higher, like old, gray, mad Nijinski, like Old faithful, like some old nightmare of mine, to a phenomenal altitude, or so it seemed, as he rent the air - still shaking with the rich black music - head thrown back in a howl, hand pressed to his brow, and with his other hand clutching his armpit as if stung by a hornet, down he came on his heels and, again a normal robed man, scurried out into the hall. (2.35)

 

In his poem September 1, 1939 W. H. Auden mentions mad Nijinsky and Diaghilev (the famous impressario):

 

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

 

Describing the patio party in "Ardis the Second," Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions a Nurjinski leap: 

 

He had spent most of the day fast asleep in his room, and a long, rambling, dreary dream had repeated, in a kind of pointless parody, his strenuous ‘Casanovanic’ night with Ada and that somehow ominous morning talk with her. Now that I am writing this, after so many hollows and heights of time, I find it not easy to separate our conversation, as set down in an inevitably stylized form, and the drone of complaints, turning on sordid betrayals that obsessed young Van in his dull nightmare. Or was he dreaming now that he had been dreaming? Had a grotesque governess really written a novel entitled Les Enfants Maudits? To be filmed by frivolous dummies, now discussing its adaptation? To be made even triter than the original Book of the Fortnight, and its gurgling blurbs? Did he detest Ada as he had in his dreams? He did.

Now, at fifteen, she was an irritating and hopeless beauty; a rather unkempt one, too; only twelve hours ago, in the dim toolroom he had whispered a riddle in her ear: what begins with a ‘de’ and rhymes more or less with a Silesian river ant? She was eccentric in habits and clothing. She cared nothing for sunbathing, and not a tinge of the tan that had californized Lucette could be traced on the shameless white of Ada’s long limbs and scrawny shoulder blades.

A remote cousin, no longer René’s sister, not even his half-sister (so lyrically anathematized by Monparnasse), she stepped over him as over a log and returned the embarrassed dog to Marina. The actor, who quite likely would run into some body’s fist in a forthcoming scene, made a filthy remark in broken French.

‘Du sollst nicht zuhören,’ murmured Ada to German Dack before putting him back in Marina’s lap under the ‘accursed children.’ ‘On ne parle pas comme ça devant un chien,’ added Ada, not deigning to glance at Pedro, who nevertheless got up, reconstructed his crotch, and beat her to the pool with a Nurjinski leap. (1.32)

 

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Les Enfants Maudits: the accursed children.

du sollst etc.: Germ., you must not listen.

an ne parle pas etc.: one does not speak like that in front of a dog.

 

Nurjinski is a portemanteau combining the names of two ballet dancers: Rudolf Nureyev (1938-93) and Waclaw Nijinski (1889-1950). At the patio party Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother) suggests that they make René or, as G. A. Vronsky calls him, "Renny" (a character in Mlle Larivière's novel Les Enfants Maudits) not only a poet, but a ballet dancer:

 

‘Incidentally,’ observed Marina, ‘I hope dear Ida will not object to our making him not only a poet, but a ballet dancer. Pedro could do that beautifully, but he can’t be made to recite French poetry.’

‘If she protests,’ said Vronsky, ‘she can go and stick a telegraph pole — where it belongs.’

The indecent ‘telegraph’ caused Marina, who had a secret fondness for salty jokes, to collapse in Ada-like ripples of rolling laughter (pokativshis’ so smehu vrode Adï): ‘But let’s be serious, I still don’t see how and why his wife — I mean the second guy’s wife — accepts the situation (polozhenie).’

Vronsky spread his fingers and toes.

‘Prichyom tut polozhenie (situation-shituation)? She is blissfully ignorant of their affair and besides, she knows she is fubsy and frumpy, and simply cannot compete with dashing Hélène.’

‘I see, but some won’t,’ said Marina. (ibid.)

 

The film version of Mlle Larivière's novel is entitled The Young and the Doomed:

 

After some exploration, they tracked down a rerun of The Young and the Doomed (1890) to a tiny theater that specialized in Painted Westerns (as those deserts of nonart used to be called). Thus had Mlle Larivière’s Enfants Maudits (1887) finally degenerated! She had had two adolescents, in a French castle, poison their widowed mother who had seduced a young neighbor, the lover of one of her twins. The author had made many concessions to the freedom of the times, and the foul fancy of scriptwriters; but both she and the leading lady disavowed the final result of multiple tamperings with the plot that had now become the story of a murder in Arizona, the victim being a widower about to marry an alcoholic prostitute, whom Marina, quite sensibly, refused to impersonate. But poor little Ada had clung to her bit part, a two-minute scene in a traktir (roadside tavern). During the rehearsals she felt she was doing not badly as a serpentine barmaid — until the director blamed her for moving like an angular ‘backfish.’ She had not deigned to see the final product and was not overeager to have Van see it now, but he reminded her that the same director, G.A. Vronsky, had told her she was always pretty enough to serve one day as a stand-in for Lenore Colline, who at twenty had been as attractively gauche as she, raising and tensing forward her shoulders in the same way, when crossing a room. Having sat through a preliminary P.W. short, they finally got to The Young and the Doomed only to discover that the barmaid scene of the barroom sequence had been cut out — except for a perfectly distinct shadow of Ada’s elbow, as Van kindly maintained. (2.9)

 

Discussing with Van her dramatic career, Ada mentions Dangleleaf, a fat ballet master:

 

Van had seen the picture [Four Sisters] and had liked it. An Irish girl, the infinitely graceful and melancholy Lenore Colline —

 

Oh! qui me rendra ma colline

Et le grand chêne and my colleen!

 

— harrowingly resembled Ada Ardis as photographed with her mother in Belladonna, a movie magazine which Greg Erminin had sent him, thinking it would delight him to see aunt and cousin, together, on a California patio just before the film was released. Varvara, the late General Sergey Prozorov’s eldest daughter, comes in Act One from her remote nunnery, Tsitsikar Convent, to Perm (also called Permwail), in the backwoods of Akimsk Bay, North Canady, to have tea with Olga, Marsha, and Irina on the latter’s name day. Much to the nun’s dismay, her three sisters dream only of one thing — leaving cool, damp, mosquito-infested but otherwise nice and peaceful ‘Permanent’ as Irina mockingly dubs it, for high life in remote and sinful Moscow, Id., the former capital of Estotiland. In the first edition of his play, which never quite manages to heave the soft sigh of a masterpiece, Tchechoff (as he spelled his name when living that year at the execrable Pension Russe, 9, rue Gounod, Nice) crammed into the two pages of a ludicrous expository scene all the information he wished to get rid of, great lumps of recollections and calendar dates — an impossible burden to place on the fragile shoulders of three unhappy Estotiwomen. Later he redistributed that information through a considerably longer scene in which the arrival of the monashka Varvara provides all the speeches needed to satisfy the restless curiosity of the audience. This was a neat stroke of stagecraft, but unfortunately (as so often occurs in the case of characters brought in for disingenuous purposes) the nun stayed on, and not until the third, penultimate, act was the author able to bundle her off, back to her convent.

‘I assume,’ said Van (knowing his girl), ‘that you did not want any tips from Marina for your Irina?’

‘It would have only resulted in a row. I always resented her suggestions because they were made in a sarcastic, insulting manner. I’ve heard mother birds going into neurotic paroxysms of fury and mockery when their poor little tailless ones (bezkhvostïe bednyachkí) were slow in learning to fly. I’ve had enough of that. By the way, here’s the program of my flop.’

Van glanced through the list of players and D.P.’s and noticed two amusing details: the role of Fedotik, an artillery officer (whose comedy organ consists of a constantly clicking camera)’, had been assigned to a ‘Kim (short for Yakim) Eskimossoff’ and somebody called ‘John Starling’ had been cast as Skvortsov (a sekundant in the rather amateurish duel of the last act) whose name comes from skvorets, starling. When he communicated the latter observation to Ada, she blushed as was her Old World wont.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘he was quite a lovely lad and I sort of flirted with him, but the strain and the split were too much for him — he had been, since pubescence, the puerulus of a fat ballet master, Dangleleaf, and he finally committed suicide. You see ("the blush now replaced by a matovaya pallor") I’m not hiding one stain of what rhymes with Perm.’

‘I see. And Yakim —’

‘Oh, he was nothing.’

‘No, I mean, Yakim, at least, did not, as his rhymesake did, take a picture of your brother embracing his girl. Played by Dawn de Laire.’

‘I’m not sure. I seem to recall that our director did not mind some comic relief.’

‘Dawn en robe rose et verte, at the end of Act One.’

‘I think there was a click in the wings and some healthy mirth in the house. All poor Starling had to do in the play was to hollo off stage from a rowboat on the Kama River to give the signal for my fiancé to come to the dueling ground.’ (ibid.)

 

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): oh qui me rendra etc.: Oh, who’ll give me back

my hill and the big oak.

sekundant: Russ., second.

puerulus: Lat., little lad.

matovaya: Russ., dull-toned.

en robe etc.: in a pink and green dress.

 

On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Robert Lowell and W. H. Auden combine to form Lowden (minor poet and translator, 1815-1895):

 

After she too had finished breakfasting, he waylaid her, gorged with sweet butter, on the landing. They had one moment to plan things, it was all, historically speaking, at the dawn of the novel which was still in the hands of parsonage ladies and French academicians, so such moments were precious. She stood scratching one raised knee. They agreed to go for a walk before lunch and find a secluded place. She had to finish a translation for Mlle Larivière. She showed him her draft. François Coppée? Yes.

 

Their fall is gentle. The woodchopper

Can tell, before they reach the mud,

The oak tree by its leaf of copper,

The maple by its leaf of blood.

 

‘Leur chute est lente,’ said Van, ‘on peut les suivre du regard en reconnaissant — that paraphrastic touch of "chopper" and "mud" is, of course, pure Lowden (minor poet and translator, 1815-1895). Betraying the first half of the stanza to save the second is rather like that Russian nobleman who chucked his coachman to the wolves, and then fell out of his sleigh.’

‘I think you are very cruel and stupid,’ said Ada. ‘This is not meant to be a work of art or a brilliant parody. It is the ransom exacted by a demented governess from a poor overworked schoolgirl. Wait for me in the Baguenaudier Bower,’ she added. ‘I’ll be down in exactly sixty-three minutes.’ (1.20)

 

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): leur chute etc.: their fall is slow... one can follow them with one’s eyes, recognizing —

Lowden: a portmanteau name combining two contemporary bards.

baguenaudier: French name of bladder senna.

 

Before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Van recites Ada’s (or, more likely, his own) English version of François Coppée’s lines:

 

Here Ada herself came running into the room. Yes-yes-yes-yes, here I come. Beaming!

Old Demon, iridescent wings humped, half rose but sank back again, enveloping Ada with one arm, holding his glass in the other hand, kissing the girl in the neck, in the hair, burrowing in her sweetness with more than an uncle’s fervor. ‘Gosh,’ she exclaimed (with an outbreak of nursery slang that affected Van with even more umilenie, attendrissement, melting ravishment, than his father seemed to experience). ‘How lovely to see you! Clawing your way through the clouds! Swooping down on Tamara’s castle!’

(Lermontov paraphrased by Lowden).

‘The last time I enjoyed you,’ said Demon ‘was in April when you wore a raincoat with a white and black scarf and simply reeked of some arsenic stuff after seeing your dentist. Dr Pearlman has married his receptionist, you’ll be glad to know. Now to business, my darling. I accept your dress’ (the sleeveless black sheath), ‘I tolerate your romantic hairdo, I don’t care much for your pumps na bosu nogu (on bare feet), your Beau Masque perfume — passe encore, but, my precious, I abhor and reject your livid lipstick. It may be the fashion in good old Ladore. It is not done in Man or London.’

‘Ladno (Okay),’ said Ada and, baring her big teeth, rubbed fiercely her lips with a tiny handkerchief produced from her bosom.

‘That’s also provincial. You should carry a black silk purse. And now I’ll show what a diviner I am: your dream is to be a concert pianist!’

‘It is not,’ said Van indignantly. ‘What perfect nonsense. She can’t play a note!’

‘Well, no matter,’ said Demon. ‘Observation is not always the mother of deduction. However, there is nothing improper about a hanky dumped on a Bechstein. You don’t have, my love, to blush so warmly. Let me quote for comic relief

 

Lorsque son fi-ancé fut parti pour la guerre

Irène de Grandfief, la pauvre et noble enfant

Ferma son pi-ano... vendit son éléphant’

 

‘The gobble enfant is genuine, but the elephant is mine.’ ‘You don’t say so,’ laughed Ada.

‘Our great Coppée,’ said Van, ‘is awful, of course, yet he has one very fetching little piece which Ada de Grandfief here has twisted into English several times, more or less successfully.’

‘Oh, Van!’ interjected Ada with unusual archness, and scooped up a handful of salted almonds.

‘Let’s hear it, let’s hear it,’ cried Demon as he borrowed a nut from her cupped hand.

The neat interplay of harmonious motions, the candid gayety of family reunions, the never-entangling marionette strings — all this is easier described than imagined.

‘Old storytelling devices,’ said Van, ‘may be parodied only by very great and inhuman artists, but only close relatives can be forgiven for paraphrasing illustrious poems. Let me preface the effort of a cousin — anybody’s cousin — by a snatch of Pushkin, for the sake of rhyme —’

‘For the snake of rhyme!’ cried Ada. ‘A paraphrase, even my paraphrase, is like the corruption of "snakeroot" into "snagrel" — all that remains of a delicate little birthwort.’

‘Which is amply sufficient,’ said Demon, ‘for my little needs, and those of my little friends.’

‘So here goes,’ continued Van (ignoring what he felt was an indecent allusion, since the unfortunate plant used to be considered by the ancient inhabitants of the Ladore region not so much as a remedy for the bite of a reptile, as the token of a very young woman’s easy delivery; but no matter). ‘By chance preserved has been the poem. In fact, I have it. Here it is: Leur chute est lente and one can know ‘em...’

‘Oh, I know ‘em,’ interrupted Demon:

 

‘Leur chute est lente. On peut les suivre

Du regard en reconnaissant

Le chêne à sa feuille de cuivre

L’érable à sa feuille de sang

 

‘Grand stuff!’

‘Yes, that was Coppée and now comes the cousin,’ said Van, and he recited:

 

‘Their fall is gentle. The leavesdropper

Can follow each of them and know

The oak tree by its leaf of copper,

The maple by its blood-red glow.’

‘Pah!’ uttered the versionist.

 

‘Not at all!’ cried Demon. ‘That "leavesdropper" is a splendid trouvaille, girl.’ He pulled the girl to him, she landing on the arm of his Klubsessel, and he glued himself with thick moist lips to her hot red ear through the rich black strands. Van felt a shiver of delight. (1.38)

 

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): passe encore: may still pass muster.

Lorsque etc.: When her fiancé had gone to war, the unfortunate and noble maiden closed her piano, sold her elephant.

Klubsessel: Germ., easy chair.

By chance preserved: The verses are by chance preserved

I have them, here they are:

(Eugene Onegin, Six: XXI: 1-2)

 

In March, 1905, Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) dies in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific. Van never finds out that his father died, because Ada (who could not pardon Demon his forcing Van to give her up) managed to persuade the pilot to destroy his machine in midair. On September 1, 1939 (cf. the title of W. H. Auden’s poem), the World War II began (in our world). Describing Demon’s death, Van mentions the dawn of a placid and prosperous century (more than half of which Ada and he have now seen):

 

He greeted the dawn of a placid and prosperous century (more than half of which Ada and I have now seen) with the beginning of his second philosophic fable, a ‘denunciation of space’ (never to be completed, but forming in rear vision, a preface to his Texture of Time). Part of that treatise, a rather mannered affair, but nasty and sound, appeared in the first issue (January, 1904) of a now famous American monthly, The Artisan, and a comment on the excerpt is preserved in one of the tragically formal letters (all destroyed save this one) that his sister sent him by public post now and then. Somehow, after the interchange occasioned by Lucette’s death such nonclandestine correspondence had been established with the tacit sanction of Demon:

 

And o’er the summits of the Tacit

He, banned from Paradise, flew on:

Beneath him, like a brilliant’s facet,

Mount Peck with snows eternal shone.

 

It would seem indeed that continued ignorance of each other’s existence might have looked more suspicious than the following sort of note:

 

Agavia Ranch

February 5, 1905

 

I have just read Reflections in Sidra, by Ivan Veen, and I regard it as a grand piece, dear Professor. The ‘lost shafts of destiny’ and other poetical touches reminded me of the two or three times you had tea and muffins at our place in the country about twenty years ago. I was, you remember (presumptuous phrase!), a petite fille modèle practicing archery near a vase and a parapet and you were a shy schoolboy (with whom, as my mother guessed, I may have been a wee bit in love!), who dutifully picked up the arrows I lost in the lost shrubbery of the lost castle of poor Lucette’s and happy, happy Adette’s childhood, now a ‘Home for Blind Blacks’ — both my mother and L., I’m sure, would have backed Dasha’s advice to turn it over to her Sect. Dasha, my sister-in-law (you must meet her soon, yes, yes, yes, she’s dreamy and lovely, and lots more intelligent than I), who showed me your piece, asks me to add she hopes to ‘renew’ your acquaintance — maybe in Switzerland, at the Bellevue in Mont Roux, in October. I think you once met pretty Miss ‘Kim’ Blackrent, well, that’s exactly dear Dasha’s type. She is very good at perceiving and pursuing originality and all kinds of studies which I can’t even name! She finished Chose (where she read History — our Lucette used to call it ‘Sale Histoire,’ so sad and funny!). For her you’re le beau ténébreux, because once upon a time, once upon libellula wings, not long before my marriage, she attended — I mean at that time, I’m stuck in my ‘turnstyle’ — one of your public lectures on dreams, after which she went up to you with her latest little nightmare all typed out and neatly clipped together, and you scowled darkly and refused to take it. Well, she’s been after Uncle Dementiy to have him admonish le beau ténébreux to come to Mont Roux Bellevue Hotel, in October, around the seventeenth, I guess, and he only laughs and says it’s up to Dashenka and me to arrange matters.

So ‘congs’ again, dear Ivan! You are, we both think, a marvelous, inimitable artist who should also ‘only laugh,’ if cretinic critics, especially lower-upper-middle-class Englishmen, accuse his turnstyle of being ‘coy’ and ‘arch,’ much as an American farmer finds the parson ‘peculiar’ because he knows Greek.

 

P.S.

 

Dushevno klanyayus’ (‘am souledly bowing’, an incorrect and vulgar construction evoking the image of a ‘bowing soul’) nashemu zaochno dorogomu professoru (‘to our "unsight-unseen" dear professor’), o kotorom mnogo slïshal (about whom have heard much) ot dobrago Dementiya Dedalovicha i sestritsï (from good Demon and my sister).

 

S uvazheniem (with respect),

Andrey Vaynlender (3.7)

 

Furnished Space, l’espace meublé (known to us only as furnished and full even if its contents be ‘absence of substance’ — which seats the mind, too), is mostly watery so far as this globe is concerned. In that form it destroyed Lucette. Another variety, more or less atmospheric, but no less gravitational and loathsome, destroyed Demon.

Idly, one March morning, 1905, on the terrace of Villa Armina, where he sat on a rug, surrounded by four or five lazy nudes, like a sultan, Van opened an American daily paper published in Nice. In the fourth or fifth worst airplane disaster of the young century, a gigantic flying machine had inexplicably disintegrated at fifteen thousand feet above the Pacific between Lisiansky and Laysanov Islands in the Gavaille region. A list of ‘leading figures’ dead in the explosion comprised the advertising manager of a department store, the acting foreman in the sheet-metal division of a facsimile corporation, a recording firm executive, the senior partner of a law firm, an architect with heavy aviation background (a first misprint here, impossible to straighten out), the vice president of an insurance corporation, another vice president, this time of a board of adjustment whatever that might be —

‘I’m hongree,’ said a maussade Lebanese beauty of fifteen sultry summers.

‘Use bell,’ said Van, continuing in a state of odd fascination to go through the compilation of labeled lives:

— the president of a wholesale liquor-distributing firm, the manager of a turbine equipment company, a pencil manufacturer, two professors of philosophy, two newspaper reporters (with nothing more to report), the assistant controller of a wholesome liquor distribution bank (misprinted and misplaced), the assistant controller of a trust company, a president, the secretary of a printing agency —

The names of those big shots, as well as those of some eighty other men, women, and silent children who perished in blue air, were being withheld until all relatives had been reached; but the tabulatory preview of commonplace abstractions had been thought to be too imposing not to be given at once as an appetizer; and only on the following morning did Van learn that a bank president lost in the closing garble was his father. (3.7)

 

On Demonia VN’s Lolita is known as The Gitanilla, a novel by the Spanish writer Osberg (1.13, et passim). In his review Van’s juvenile novel Letters from Terra the poet Max Mispel discerned the influence of Osberg:

 

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)

 

Describing his novel, Van mentions Athaulf the Future, a fair-haired giant in a natty uniform, the secret flame of many a British nobleman, honorary captain of the French police, and benevolent ally of Rus and Rome:

 

On Terra, Theresa had been a Roving Reporter for an American magazine, thus giving Van the opportunity to describe the sibling planet’s political aspect. This aspect gave him the least trouble, presenting as it did a mosaic of painstakingly collated notes from his own reports on the ‘transcendental delirium’ of his patients. Its acoustics were poor, proper names often came out garbled, a chaotic calendar messed up the order of events but, on the whole, the colored dots did form a geomantic picture of sorts. As earlier experimentators had conjectured, our annals lagged by about half a century behind Terra’s along the bridges of time, but overtook some of its underwater currents. At the moment of our sorry story, the king of Terra’s England, yet another George (there had been, apparently, at least half-a-dozen bearing that name before him) ruled, or had just ceased to rule, over an empire that was somewhat patchier (with alien blanks and blots between the British Islands and South Africa) than the solidly conglomerated one on our Antiterra. Western Europe presented a particularly glaring gap: ever since the eighteenth century, when a virtually bloodless revolution had dethroned the Capetians and repelled all invaders, Terra’s France flourished under a couple of emperors and a series of bourgeois presidents, of whom the present one, Doumercy, seemed considerably more lovable than Milord Goal, Governor of Lute! Eastward, instead of Khan Sosso and his ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate, a super Russia, dominating the Volga region and similar watersheds, was governed by a Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics (or so it came through) which had superseded the Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst. Last but not least, Athaulf the Future, a fair-haired giant in a natty uniform, the secret flame of many a British nobleman, honorary captain of the French police, and benevolent ally of Rus and Rome, was said to be in the act of transforming a gingerbread Germany into a great country of speedways, immaculate soldiers, brass bands and modernized barracks for misfits and their young. (ibid.)

 

Van’s novel was made into a film by Victor Vitry:

 

Ada, who resented the insufficiency of her brother’s fame, felt soothed and elated by the success of The Texture of Time (1924). That work, she said, always reminded her, in some odd, delicate way, of the sun-and-shade games she used to play as a child in the secluded avenues of Ardis Park. She said she had been somehow responsible for the metamorphoses of the lovely larvae that had woven the silk of ‘Veen’s Time’ (as the concept was now termed in one breath, one breeze, with ‘Bergson’s Duration,’ or ‘Whitehead’s Bright Fringe’). But a considerably earlier and weaker work, the poor little Letters from Terra, of which only half a dozen copies existed — two in Villa Armina and the rest in the stacks of university libraries — was even closer to her heart because of its nonliterary associations with their 1892-93 sojourn in Manhattan. Sixty-year-old Van crustily and contemptuously dismissed her meek suggestion to the effect that it should be republished, together with the Sidra reflections and a very amusing anti-Signy pamphlet on Time in Dreams. Seventy-year-old Van regretted his disdain when Victor Vitry, a brilliant French director, based a completely unauthorized picture on Letters from Terra written by ‘Voltemand’ half a century before.

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.

In contrast to the cloudless course of Demonian history in the twentieth century, with the Anglo-American coalition managing one hemisphere, and Tartary, behind her Golden Veil, mysteriously ruling the other, a succession of wars and revolutions were shown shaking loose the jigsaw puzzle of Terrestrial autonomies. In an impressive historical survey of Terra rigged up by Vitry — certainly the greatest cinematic genius ever to direct a picture of such scope or use such a vast number of extras (some said more than a million, others, half a million men and as many mirrors) — kingdoms fell and dictatordoms rose, and republics, half-sat, half-lay in various attitudes of discomfort. The conception was controversial, the execution flawless. Look at all those tiny soldiers scuttling along very fast across the trench-scarred wilderness, with explosions of mud and things going pouf-pouf in silent French now here, now there!

In 1905, Norway with a mighty heave and a long dorsal ripple unfastened herself from Sweden, her unwieldy co-giantess, while in a similar act of separation the French parliament, with parenthetical outbursts of vive émotion, voted a divorce between State and Church. Then, in 1911, Norwegian troops led by Amundsen reached the South Pole and simultaneously the Italians stormed into Turkey. In 1914 Germany invaded Belgium and the Americans tore up Panama. In 1918 they and the French defeated Germany while she was busily defeating Russia (who had defeated her own Tartars some time earlier). In Norway there was Siegrid Mitchel, in America Margaret Undset, and in France, Sidonie Colette. In 1926 Abdel-Krim surrendered, after yet another photogenic war, and the Golden Horde again subjugated Rus. In 1933, Athaulf Hindler (also known as Mittler — from ‘to mittle,’ mutilate) came to power in Germany, and a conflict on an even more spectacular scale than the 1914-1918 war was under way, when Vitry ran out of old documentaries and Theresa, played by his wife, left Terra in a cosmic capsule after having covered the Olympic Games held in Berlin (the Norwegians took most of the prizes, but the Americans won the fencing event, an outstanding achievement, and beat the Germans in the final football match by three goals to one).

Van and Ada saw the film nine times, in seven different languages, and eventually acquired a copy for home use. They found the historical background absurdly farfetched and considered starting legal proceedings against Vitry — not for having stolen the L.F.T. idea, but for having distorted Terrestrial politics as obtained by Van with such diligence and skill from extrasensorial sources and manic dreams. But fifty years had elapsed, and the novella had not been copyrighted; in fact, Van could not even prove that ‘Voltemand’ was he. Reporters, however, ferreted out his authorship, and in a magnanimous gesture, he allowed it to be publicized.

Three circumstances contributed to the picture’s exceptional success. One factor was, of course, that organized religion, disapproving of Terra’s appeal to sensation-avid sects, attempted to have the thing banned. A second attraction came from a little scene that canny Vitry had not cut out: in a flashback to a revolution in former France, an unfortunate extra, who played one of the under-executioners, got accidentally decapitated while pulling the comedian Steller, who played a reluctant king, into a guillotinable position. Finally, the third, and even more human reason, was that the lovely leading lady, Norwegian-born Gedda Vitry, after titillating the spectators with her skimpy skirts and sexy rags in the existential sequences, came out of her capsule on Antiterra stark naked, though, of course, in miniature, a millimeter of maddening femininity dancing in ‘the charmed circle of the microscope’ like some lewd elf, and revealing, in certain attitudes, I’ll be damned, a pinpoint glint of pubic floss, gold-powered!

L.F.T. tiny dolls, L.F.T. breloques of coral and ivory, appeared in souvenir shops, from Agony, Patagonia, to Wrinkleballs, Le Bras d’Or. L.F.T. clubs sprouted. L.F.T. girlies minced with mini-menus out of roadside snackettes shaped like spaceships. From the tremendous correspondence that piled up on Van’s desk during a few years of world fame, one gathered that thousands of more or less unbalanced people believed (so striking was the visual impact of the Vitry-Veen film) in the secret Government-concealed identity of Terra and Antiterra. Demonian reality dwindled to a casual illusion. Actually, we had passed through all that. Politicians, dubbed Old Felt and Uncle Joe in forgotten comics, had really existed. Tropical countries meant, not only Wild Nature Reserves but famine, and death, and ignorance, and shamans, and agents from distant Atomsk. Our world was, in fact, mid-twentieth-century. Terra convalesced after enduring the rack and the stake, the bullies and beasts that Germany inevitably generates when fulfilling her dreams of glory. Russian peasants and poets had not been transported to Estotiland, and the Barren Grounds, ages ago — they were dying, at this very moment, in the slave camps of Tartary. Even the governor of France was not Charlie Chose, the suave nephew of Lord Goal, but a bad-tempered French general. (5.5)

 

The surname Vitry brings to mind vitrina nemetskogo magazina (the shop window of a German shop) mentioned by Hodasevich in his essay on Mayakovski (VN's "late namesake") Dekol’tirovannaya loshad’ (“The Horse in a Décolleté Dress,” 1927):

 

"Маяковский -- поэт рабочего класса". Вздор. Был и остался поэтом подонков, бездельников, босяков просто и "босяков духовных". Был таким перед войной, когда восхищал и "пужал" подонки интеллигенции и буржуазии, выкрикивая брань и похабщину с эстрады Политехнического музея. И когда, в начале войны, сочинял подписи к немцеедским лубкам, вроде знаменитого:

С криком: "Дейчланд юбер аллес!" -
Немцы с поля убирались.

И когда, бия себя в грудь, патриотически ораторствовал у памятника Скобелеву, перед генерал-губернаторским домом, там, где теперь памятник Октябрю и московский совдеп! И когда читал кровожадные стихи:

О панталоны венских кокоток
Вытрем наши штыки! --

эту позорную нечаянную пародию на Лермонтова:

Не смеют, что ли, командиры
Чужие изорвать мундиры
О русские штыки?

И певцом погромщиков был он, когда водил орду хулиганов героическим приступом брать немецкие магазины. И остался им, когда, после Октября, писал знаменитый марш: "Левой, левой!" (музыка А. Лурье).
Пафос погрома и мордобоя -- вот истинный пафос Маяковского. А на что обрушивается погром, ему было и есть всё равно: венская ли кокотка, витрина ли немецкого магазина в Москве, схваченный ли за горло буржуй -- только бы тот, кого надо громить.

 

According to Hodasevich, Mayakovski’s blood-thirsty verses “Let’s wipe our bayonets on the knickers of Viennese cocottes” is a shameful inadvertent parody of the lines in Lermontov’s poem Borodino (1837): "Daren't the commanders / rip foreign uniforms / on Russian bayonets?" Like Prince Bagration and Stalin (known on Antiterra as Khan Sosso, the ruler of the ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate), Mayakovski was born in Georgia. A hero of the anti-Napoelon wars, General Bagration was felled in the battle of Borodino. Trying to seduce Humbert with his collection of erotica, Quilty mentions the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie Weiss:

 

"Oh, another thing - you are going to like this. I have an absolutely unique collection of erotica upstairs. Just to mention one item: the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie Weiss, a remarkable lady, a remarkable work - drop that gun - with photographs of eight hundred and something male organs she examined and measured in 1932 on Bagration, in the Barda Sea, very illuminating graphs, plotted with love
under pleasant skies - drop that gun - and moreover I can arrange for you to attend executions, not everybody knows that the chair is painted yellow -"
(2.35)

 

In his memoir essay Mladenchestvo ("Infancy," 1933) Hodasevich speaks of his childhood balletomania:

 

Вряд ли мир видел столь юного балетомана. Однако лет с четырех я стал именно балетоманом и благодаря этой ранней сознательности помню такие балетные времена, каких сверстники мои, разумеется, уж не помнят. Очень скоро, без посторонней помощи, силою лишь любви и внимания, научился я отличать друг от друга не только балеты, но и отдельных артистов и даже тонкости их восхитительного ремесла. Уже весьма пожилую, уже сходящую со сцены Гейтен, признаюсь, помню смутно. Зато отчетливо видятся мне и милая Рославлева с мягкою задушевностью ее танца, и хрупкая Джури с ее игольчатыми движениями, и вся быстрота и огонь - Федорова 2-я, и чистый профиль Домашевой 2-й (той, что позднее перешла в драму), и первые успехи восходящей звезды - Гельцер.

 

Hodasevich's poem Obez'yana ("The Monkey," 1919) that was translated into English by VN ends in the line: V tot den' byla ob'yavlena voyna ("That day the war broke out, that very day").

 

Btw., according to VN, Diaghilev was a model of Prince Adulf (nicknamed Prince Fig) in his unfinished novel Solus Rex (1940).