Zvezdoobraznost' nebesnyh zvyozd in LATH; Zina Mertz in The Gift

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 07/02/2021 - 10:45

Describing his life in Paris in the 1930s, Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins!, 1974) quotes a poem in which zvezdoobraznost' nebesnyh zvyozd (the stellate shape of heavenly stars) is mentioned:

 

After that jarring call, I saw little to choose between the tossings of insomnia and a walk to rue Cuvier which leads to the Seine, where according to police statistics an average of forty foreigners and God knows how many unfortunate natives drown yearly between wars. I have never experienced the least urge to commit suicide, that silly waste of selfhood (a gem in any light). But I must admit that on that particular night on the fourth or fifth or fiftieth anniversary of my darling's death, I must have looked pretty suspect, in my black suit and dramatic muffler, to an average policeman of the riparian department. And it is a particularly bad sign when a hatless person sobs as he walks, being moved not by lines he might have composed himself but by something he hideously mistakes for his own and presently flinches, yet is too much of a coward to make amends:

Zvezdoobraznost' nebesnyh zvyozd
Vidish' tol'ko skvoz' slyozy...

(Heavenly stars are seen as stellate
only through tears.)

I am much bolder now, of course, much bolder and prouder than the ambiguous hoodlum caught progressing that night between a seemingly endless fence with its tattered posters and a row of spaced streetlamps whose light would delicately select for its heart-piercing game overhead a young emerald-bright linden leaf. I now confess that I was bothered that night, and the next and some time before, by a dream feeling that my life was the nonidentical twin, a parody, an inferior variant of another man's life, somewhere on this or another earth. A demon, I felt, was forcing me to impersonate that other man, that other writer who was and would always be incomparably greater, healthier, and cruder than your obedient servant. (2.3)

 

At the beginning of his poem Ogni nebes (“The Lights of Heaven,” 1903-04) Bunin mentions tot serebristyi svet, chto my zovyom mertsan’yem zvyozd nebesnyh (that silvery light that we call the shimmer of heavenly stars):

 

Огни небес, тот серебристый свет,
Что мы зовём мерцаньем звёзд небесных, —
Порою только неугасший свет
Уже давно померкнувших планет,
Светил, давно забытых и безвестных.

 

Та красота, что мир стремит вперёд,
Есть тоже след былого. Без возврата
Сгорим и мы, свершая в свой черёд
Обычный путь, но долго не умрёт
Жизнь, что горела в нас когда-то.

 

И много в мире избранных, чей свет,
Теперь ещё незримый для незрящих,
Дойдёт к земле чрез много, много лет...
В безвестном сонме мудрых и творящих
Кто знает их? Быть может, лишь поэт.

 

In the poem's last stanza Bunin says that only a poet knows those chosen people among our contemporaries whose light, like the light of extinguished stars, will reach the Earth many, many years later.

 

Mertsan’ye zvyozd nebesnyh (the shimmer of heavenly stars) brings to mind Zina Mertz, a character in VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937). In a poem addressed to Zina Mertz Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev (the narrator and main character in “The Gift”) calls her polu-Mnemozina (half-Mnemosyne) and polu-viden’ye (half-fantasy) and mentions polu-mertsan’ye (half-shimmer) in her surname:

 

Как звать тебя? Ты полу-Мнемозина, полу-мерцанье в имени твоём, – и странно мне по сумраку Берлина с полувиденьем странствовать вдвоём. Но вот скамья под липой освещенной… Ты оживаешь в судорогах слёз: я вижу взор сей жизнью изумленный и бледное сияние волос. Есть у меня сравненье на примете, для губ твоих, когда целуешь ты: нагорный снег, мерцающий в Тибете, горячий ключ и в инее цветы. Ночные наши, бедные владения, – забор, фонарь, асфальтовую гладь – поставим на туза воображения, чтоб целый мир у ночи отыграть! Не облака – а горные отроги; костёр в лесу, – не лампа у окна… О поклянись, что до конца дороги ты будешь только вымыслу верна…

 

What shall I call you? Half-Mnemosyne? There’s a half-shimmer in your surname too. In dark Berlin, it is so strange to me to roam, oh, my half-fantasy, with you. A bench stands under the translucent tree. Shivers and sobs reanimate you there, and all life’s wonder in your gaze I see, and see the pale fair radiance of your hair. In honor of your lips when they kiss mine I might devise a metaphor some time: Tibetan mountain-snows, their glancing shine, and a hot spring near flowers touched with rime. Our poor nocturnal property—that wet asphaltic gloss, that fence and that street light—upon the ace of fancy let us set to win a world of beauty from the night. Those are not clouds—but star-high mountain spurs; not lamplit blinds—but camplight on a tent! O swear to me that while the heartblood stirs, you will be true to what we shall invent. (Chapter Three)

 

In the same poem Fyodor mentions the star that sheds on Pulkovo its beam:

 

Люби лишь то, что редкостно и мнимо, что крадется окраинами сна, что злит глупцов, что смердами казнимо; как родине, будь вымыслу верна. Наш час настал. Собаки и калеки одни не спят. Ночь летняя легка. Автомобиль, проехавший, навеки последнего увез ростовщика. Близ фонаря, с оттенком маскарада, лист жилками зелеными сквозит. У тех ворот – кривая тень Багдада, а та звезда над Пулковом висит. О, поклянись что…

 

Love only what is fanciful and rare; what from the distance of a dream steals through; what knaves condemn to death and fools can’t bear. To fiction be as to your country true. Now is our time. Stray dogs and cripples are alone awake. Mild is the summer night. A car speeds by: Forever that last car has taken the last banker out of sight. Near that streetlight veined lime-leaves masquerade in chrysoprase with a translucent gleam. Beyond that gate lies Baghdad’s crooked shade, and yon star sheds on Pulkovo its beam. Oh, swear to me— (ibid.)

 

Pulkovo is the site of a famous observatory near St. Petersburg. To Dick C.’s question ‘What on earth is an artist?’ Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) promptly replies “An underground observatory:”

 

‘I say, Dick, ever met a gambler in the States called Plunkett? Bald gray chap when I knew him.’

‘Plunkett? Plunkett? Must have been before my time. Was he the one who turned priest or something? Why?’

‘One of my father’s pals. Great artist.’

‘Artist?’

‘Yes, artist. I’m an artist. I suppose you think you’re an artist. Many people do.’

‘What on earth is an artist?’

‘An underground observatory,’ replied Van promptly.

‘That’s out of some modem novel,’ said Dick, discarding his cigarette after a few avid inhales.

‘That’s out of Van Veen,’ said Van Veen. (1.28)

 

Before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) mentions his visit to Akapulkovo:

 

Demon shed his monocle and wiped his eyes with the modish lace-frilled handkerchief that lodged in the heart pocket of his dinner jacket. His tear glands were facile in action when no real sorrow made him control himself.

‘You look quite satanically fit, Dad. Especially with that fresh oeillet in your lapel eye. I suppose you have not been much in Manhattan lately — where did you get its last syllable?’

Homespun pun in the Veenish vein.

‘I offered myself en effet a trip to Akapulkovo,’ answered Demon, needlessly and unwillingly recollecting (with that special concussion of instant detail that also plagued his children) a violet-and-black-striped fish in a bowl, a similarly striped couch, the subtropical sun bringing out the veins of an onyx ashtray on the stone floor, a batch of old, orange-juice-stained Povesa (playboy) magazines, the jewels he had brought, the phonograph singing in a dreamy girl’s voice’ Petit nègre, au champ qui fleuronne,’ and the admirable abdomen of a very expensive, and very faithless and altogether adorable young Créole.

‘Did what’s-her-name go with you?’

‘Well, my boy, frankly, the nomenclature is getting more and more confused every year. Let us speak of plainer things. Where are the drinks? They were promised me by a passing angel.’ (1.38)

 

At the beginning of Eugene Onegin (One: II: 1) Pushkin calls Onegin molodoy povesa (a young scapegrace):

 

Так думал молодой повеса,
Летя в пыли на почтовых,
Всевышней волею Зевеса
Наследник всех своих родных.

 

Thus a young scapegrace thought,
with posters flying in the dust,
by the most lofty will of Zeus
the heir of all his relatives.

 

In the Kalugano hospital (where he recovers after his duel with Captain Tapper) Van meets Tatiana, a remarkably pretty and proud young nurse, and Dorofey, a beefy-handed male nurse:

 

For half a minute Van was sure that he still lay in the car, whereas actually he was in the general ward of Lakeview (Lakeview!) Hospital, between two series of variously bandaged, snoring, raving and moaning men. When he understood this, his first reaction was to demand indignantly that he be transferred to the best private palata in the place and that his suitcase and alpenstock be fetched from the Majestic. His next request was that he be told how seriously he was hurt and how long he was expected to remain incapacitated. His third action was to resume what constituted the sole reason of his having to visit Kalugano (visit Kalugano!). His new quarters, where heartbroken kings had tossed in transit, proved to be a replica in white of his hotel apartment — white furniture, white carpet, white sparver. Inset, so to speak, was Tatiana, a remarkably pretty and proud young nurse, with black hair and diaphanous skin (some of her attitudes and gestures, and that harmony between neck and eyes which is the special, scarcely yet investigated secret of feminine grace fantastically and agonizingly reminded him of Ada, and he sought escape from that image in a powerful response to the charms of Tatiana, a torturing angel in her own right. Enforced immobility forbade the chase and grab of common cartoons. He begged her to massage his legs but she tested him with one glance of her grave, dark eyes — and delegated the task to Dorofey, a beefy-handed male nurse, strong enough to lift him bodily out of bed. with the sick child clasping the massive nape. When Van managed once to twiddle her breasts, she warned him she would complain if he ever repeated what she dubbed more aptly than she thought ‘that soft dangle.’ An exhibition of his state with a humble appeal for a healing caress resulted in her drily remarking that distinguished gentlemen in public parks got quite lengthy prison terms for that sort of thing. However, much later, she wrote him a charming and melancholy letter in red ink on pink paper; but other emotions and events had intervened, and he never met her again). His suitcase promptly arrived from the hotel; the stick, however, could not be located (it must be climbing nowadays Wellington Mountain, or perhaps, helping a lady to go ‘brambling’ in Oregon); so the hospital supplied him with the Third Cane, a rather nice, knotty, cherry-dark thing with a crook and a solid black-rubber heel. Dr Fitzbishop congratulated him on having escaped with a superficial muscle wound, the bullet having lightly grooved or, if he might say so, grazed the greater serratus. Doc Fitz commented on Van’s wonderful recuperational power which was already in evidence, and promised to have him out of disinfectants and bandages in ten days or so if for the first three he remained as motionless as a felled tree-trunk. Did Van like music? Sportsmen usually did, didn’t they? Would he care to have a Sonorola by his bed? No, he disliked music, but did the doctor, being a concert-goer, know perhaps where a musician called Rack could be found? ‘Ward Five,’ answered the doctor promptly. Van misunderstood this as the title of some piece of music and repeated his question. Would he find Rack’s address at Harper’s music shop? Well, they used to rent a cottage way down Dorofey Road, near the forest, but now some other people had moved in. Ward Five was where hopeless cases were kept. The poor guy had always had a bad liver and a very indifferent heart, but on top of that a poison had seeped into his system; the local ‘lab’ could not identify it and they were now waiting for a report, on those curiously frog-green faeces, from the Luga people. If Rack had administered it to himself by his own hand, he kept ‘mum’; it was more likely the work of his wife who dabbled in Hindu-Andean voodoo stuff and had just had a complicated miscarriage in the maternity ward. Yes, triplets — how did he guess? Anyway, if Van was so eager to visit his old pal it would have to be as soon as he could be rolled to Ward Five in a wheelchair by Dorofey, so he’d better apply a bit of voodoo, ha-ha, on his own flesh and blood.
That day came soon enough. After a long journey down corridors where pretty little things tripped by, shaking thermometers, and first an ascent and then a descent in two different lifts, the second of which was very capacious with a metal-handled black lid propped against its wall and bits of holly or laurel here and there on the soap-smelling floor, Dorofey, like Onegin’s coachman, said priehali (‘we have arrived’) and gently propelled Van, past two screened beds, toward a third one near the window. There he left Van, while he seated himself at a small table in the door corner and leisurely unfolded the Russian-language newspaper Golos (Logos). (1.42)

 

In a canceled variant of Pushkin’s EO (One: LII: 11) Ivan (apparently, Onegin’s coachman) says: Priehali (Here we are)! In Chapter Four (XIV: 5) of EO Onegin, as he speaks to Tatiana, mentions his sovest’ (conscience):

 

Но я не создан для блаженства;
Ему чужда душа моя;
Напрасны ваши совершенства:
Их вовсе недостоин я.
Поверьте (совесть в том порукой),
Супружество нам будет мукой.
Я, сколько ни любил бы вас,
Привыкнув, разлюблю тотчас;
Начнёте плакать: ваши слёзы
Не тронут сердца моего,
А будут лишь бесить его.
Судите ж вы, какие розы
Нам заготовит Гименей
И, может быть, на много дней.

 

“But I'm not made for bliss;
my soul is strange to it;
in vain are your perfections:
I'm not at all worthy of them.
Believe me (conscience is thereof the pledge),
wedlock to us would be a torment.
However much I loved you,
having grown used, I'd cease to love at once;
you would begin to weep; your tears
would fail to touch my heart —
they merely would exasperate it.
Judge, then, what roses
Hymen would lay in store for us —
and, possibly, for many days!” (Four: XIV)

 

In Kurochkin’s fable Vorchun Dorofey (“The Grumbler Dorofey,” 1860) Dorofey is the name of the author’s conscience. Among the minor writers mentioned by Fyodor in Chapter Four (“The Life of Chernyshevski”) of The Gift is Kurochkin:

 

Чернышевский приходил, садился за столик и пристукивая ладьей (которую называл "пушкой"), рассказывал невинные анекдоты. Приходил Серно-Соловьевич (тургеневское тире) и в уединённом углу заводил с кем-нибудь беседу. Было довольно пусто. Пьющая братия -- Помяловский, Курочкин, Кроль -- горланила в буфете. Первый, впрочем, кое-что проповедовал и своё: идею общинного литературного труда, -- организовать, мол, общество писателей-труженников для исследования разных сторон нашего общественного быта, как то: нищие, мелочные лавки, фонарщики, пожарные -- и все добытые сведения помещать в особом журнале. Чернышевский его высмеял, и пошёл вздорный слух, что Помяловский "бил ему морду". "Это враньё, я слишком вас уважаю для этого",-- писал к нему Помяловский.

 

Chernyshevski would come and sit at a table, tapping upon it with a rook (which he called a “castle”), and relate innocuous anecdotes. The radical Serno-Solovievich would arrive—(this is a Turgenevian dash) and strike up a conversation with someone in a secluded corner. It was fairly empty. The drinking fraternity—the minor writers Pomyalovski, Kurochkin, Krol—would vociferate in the bar. The first, by the way, did a little preaching of his own, promoting the idea of communal literary work—“Let’s organize,” he said, “a society of writer-laborers for investigating various aspects of our social life, such as: beggars, haberdashers, lamplighters, firemen—and pool in a special magazine all the material we get.” Chernyshevski derided him and a silly rumor went around to the effect that Pomyalovski had “bashed his mug in.” “It’s all lies, I respect you too much for that,” wrote Pomyalovski to him.

 

Describing his love for Zina, Fyodor quotes Goethe (who said, pointing with his cane at the starry sky: “there is my conscience”):

 

Если в те дни ему пришлось бы отвечать перед каким-нибудь сверхчувственным судом (помните, как Гёте говаривал, показывая тростью на звёздное небо: "Вот моя совесть!"), то вряд ли бы он решился сказать, что любит её, -- ибо давно догадывался, что никому и ничему всецело отдать душу неспособен: оборотный капитал ему был слишком нужен для своих частных дел; но зато, глядя на нее, он сразу добирался (чтобы через минуту скатиться опять) до таких высот нежности, страсти и жалости, до которых редкая любовь доходит.

 

If, during those days, he had had to answer before some pretersensuous court (remember how Goethe said, pointing with his cane at the starry sky: “There is my conscience!”) he would scarcely have decided to say that he loved her—for he had long since realized that he was incapable of giving his entire soul to anyone or anything: its working capital was too necessary to him for his own private affairs; but on the other hand, when he looked at her he immediately reached (in order to fall off again a minute later) such heights of tenderness, passion and pity as are reached by few loves. (Chapter Three)

 

Before accepting Dick C.’s offer, Van tussles with his slightly overweight conscience:

 

Van fumed and fretted the rest of the morning, and after a long soak in a hot bath (the best adviser, and prompter and inspirer in the world, except, of course, the W.C. seat) decided to pen — pen is the word — a note of apology to the cheated cheater. As he was dressing, a messenger brought him a note from Lord C. (he was a cousin of one of Van’s Riverlane schoolmates), in which generous Dick proposed to substitute for his debt an introduction to the Venus Villa Club to which his whole clan belonged. Such a bounty no boy of eighteen could hope to obtain. It was a ticket to paradise. Van tussled with his slightly overweight conscience (both grinning like old pals in their old gymnasium) — and accepted Dick’s offer. (1.28)

 

Describing Villa Venus (Eric Veen’s floramors), Van mentions King Victor (who visits Villa Venus incognito, as a Mr Ritcov or a Mr Vrotic):

 

Demon’s father (and very soon Demon himself), and Lord Erminin, and a Mr Ritcov, and Count Peter de Prey, and Mire de Mire, Esq., and Baron Azzuroscudo were all members of the first Venus Club Council; but it was bashful, obese, big-nosed Mr Ritcov’s visits that really thrilled the girls and filled the vicinity with detectives who dutifully impersonated hedge-cutters, grooms, horses, tall milkmaids, new statues, old drunks and so forth, while His Majesty dallied, in a special chair built for his weight and whims, with this or that sweet subject of the realm, white, black or brown. (2.3)

 

In 1905 a glancing blow was dealt Villa Venus from another quarter. The personage we have called Ritcov or Vrotic had been induced by the ailings of age to withdraw his patronage. However, one night he suddenly arrived, looking again as ruddy as the proverbial fiddle; but after the entire staff of his favorite floramor near Bath had worked in vain on him till an ironic Hesperus rose in a milkman’s humdrum sky, the wretched sovereign of one-half of the globe called for the Shell Pink Book, wrote in it a line that Seneca had once composed:

 

subsidunt montes et juga celsa ruunt,

 

— and departed, weeping. About the same time a respectable Lesbian who conducted a Villa Venus at Souvenir, the beautiful Missouri spa, throttled with her own hands (she had been a Russian weightlifter) two of her most beautiful and valuable charges. It was all rather sad. (ibid.)

 

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): subsidunt etc.: mountains subside and heights deteriorate.

 

King Victor seems to be the Antiterran counterpart of the British Queen Victoria. On the other hand, Victor is the name of the hero of Vadim’s novel The Dare (that corresponds to VN’s novels Dar and Podvig, “Glory,” 1932):

 

The reader must have noticed that I speak only in a very general way about my Russian fictions of the Nineteen-Twenties and Thirties, for I assume that he is familiar with them or can easily obtain them in their English versions. At this point, however, I must say a few words about The Dare (Podarok Otchizne was its original title, which can be translated as "a gift to the fatherland"). When in 1934 I started to dictate its beginning to Annette, I knew it would be my longest novel. I did not foresee however that it would be almost as long as General Pudov's vile and fatuous "historical" romance about the way the Zion Wisers usurped St. Rus. It took me about four years in all to write its four hundred pages, many of which Annette typed at least twice. Most of it had been serialized in émigré magazines by May, 1939, when she and I, still childless, left for America; but in book form, the Russian original appeared only in 1950 (Turgenev Publishing House, New York), followed another decade later by an English translation, whose title neatly refers not only to the well-known device used to bewilder noddies but also to the daredevil nature of Victor, the hero and part-time narrator.

The novel begins with a nostalgic account of a Russian childhood (much happier, though not less opulent than mine). After that comes adolescence in England (not unlike my own Cambridge years); then life in émigré Paris, the writing of a first novel (Memoirs of a Parrot Fancier) and the tying of amusing knots in various literary intrigues. Inset in the middle part is a complete version of the book my Victor wrote "on a dare": this is a concise biography and critical appraisal of Fyodor Dostoyevski, whose politics my author finds hateful and whose novels he condemns as absurd with their black-bearded killers presented as mere negatives of Jesus Christ's conventional image, and weepy whores borrowed from maudlin romances of an earlier age. The next chapter deals with the rage and bewilderment of émigré reviewers, all of them priests of the Dostoyevskian persuasion; and in the last pages my young hero accepts a flirt's challenge and accomplishes a final gratuitous feat by walking through a perilous forest into Soviet territory and as casually strolling back.

I am giving this summary to exemplify what even the poorest reader of my Dare must surely retain, unless electrolysis destroys some essential cells soon after he closes the book. Now part of Annette's frail charm lay in her forgetfulness which veiled everything toward the evening of everything, like the kind of pastel haze that obliterates mountains, clouds, and even its own self as the summer day swoons. I know I have seen her many times, a copy of Patria in her languid lap, follow the printed lines with the pendulum swing of eyes suggestive of reading, and actually reach the "To be continued" at the end of the current installment of The Dare. I also know that she had typed every word of it and most of its commas. Yet the fact remains that she retained nothing--perhaps in result of her having decided once for all that my prose was not merely "difficult" but hermetic ("nastily hermetic," to repeat the compliment Basilevski paid me the moment he realized--a moment which came in due time--that his manner and mind were being ridiculed in Chapter Three by my gloriously happy Victor. I must say I forgave her readily her attitude to my work. At public readings, I admired her public smile, the "archaic" smile of Greek statues. When her rather dreadful parents asked to see my books (as a suspicious physician might ask for a sample of semen), she gave them to read by mistake another man's novel because of a silly similarity of titles. The only real shock I experienced was when I overheard her informing some idiot woman friend that my Dare included biographies of "Chernolyubov and Dobroshevski"! She actually started to argue when I retorted that only a lunatic would have chosen a pair of third-rate publicists to write about--spoonerizing their names in addition! (2.5)

 

Other books by the narrator in LATH include Ardis (1970), a novel that corresponds to VN’s Ada. During Van’s first tea party at Ardis Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) mentions Dostoevski:

 

They now had tea in a prettily furnished corner of the otherwise very austere central hall from which rose the grand staircase. They sat on chairs upholstered in silk around a pretty table. Ada’s black jacket and a pink-yellow-blue nosegay she had composed of anemones, celandines and columbines lay on a stool of oak. The dog got more bits of cake than it did ordinarily. Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van’s teacher of history, ‘Jeejee’ Jones.

‘He resembles my teacher of history,’ said Van when the man had gone.

‘I used to love history,’ said Marina, ‘I loved to identify myself with famous women. There’s a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties — Lincoln’s second wife or Queen Josephine.’

‘Yes, I’ve noticed — it’s beautifully done. We’ve got a similar set at home.’

‘Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?’ Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.

‘Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),’ replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis’ (with a slight smile). ‘Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.’

‘Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.’

‘Pah,’ uttered Ada. (1.5)

 

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): with a slight smile: a pet formula of Tolstoy’s denoting cool superiority, if not smugness, in a character’s manner of speech.

 

Marina and her twin sister Aqua are the daughters of General Ivan Durmanov. In his poem Durman ("Thorn Apples," 1916) Bunin repeats the word sladko (sweet) three times:

 

Дурману девочка наелась,
Тошнит, головка разболелась,
Пылают щёчки, клонит в сон,
Но сердцу сладко, сладко, сладко:
Всё непонятно, всё загадка,
Какой-то звон со всех сторон...

 

Pushkin exclaimed "Sladko!" ("Sweet!") when he was bitten by mosquitoes in Yukon (in our world, in Priyutino, the Olenins' estate near St. Petersburg). In VN’s play Sobytie (“The Event,” 1938) Pyotr Nikolaevich (the famous writer, one of the guests at Antonina Pavlovna’s birthday party) says that he is an antidulcinist, protivnik sladkogo (enemy of sweet meal):

 

Писатель (Вере). С вами я, кажется, встречался, милая.
Вера. Мы встречались на рауте у Н. Н., дорогой Пётр Николаевич.
Писатель. На рауте у Н. Н. ... А! Хорошо сказано. Я вижу, вы насмешница.
Любовь. Что вам можно предложить?
Писатель. Что вы можете мне предложить... Нда. Это у вас что: кутья? А, кекс. Схож. Я думал, у вас справляются поминки.
Любовь. Мне нечего поминать, Пётр Николаевич.
Писатель. А! Нечего... Ну, не знаю, милая. Настроение что-то больно фиолетовое. Не хватает преосвященного.
Любовь. Чего же вам предложить? Этого?
Писатель. Нет. Я -- антидульцинист: противник сладкого. А вот вина у вас нету?
Антонина Павловна. Сейчас будет моэт, Пётр Николаевич. Любушка, надо попросить Рёвшина откупорить.
Писатель. А откуда у вас моэт? (Любови.) Всё богатеете?
Любовь. Если хотите непременно знать, то это виноторговец заплатил мужу натурой за поясной портрет.
Писатель. Прекрасно быть портретистом. Богатеешь, рогатеешь. Знаете, ведь по-русски "рогат" -- значит "богат", а не что-нибудь будуарное. Ну а коньяку у вас не найдётся?
Любовь. Сейчас вам подадут. (Act Two)

 

Pyotr Nikolaevich is a recognizable portrait of Ivan Bunin (the famous writer’s name-and-patronymic seems to hint at Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy). The portrait painter Troshcheykin (the main character in “The Event”) compares the famous writer to ferz' (the chess queen) and all other guests of Antonina Pavlovna, to peshki (the pawns):

 

Трощейкин. А вот почему вы, Антонина Павловна, пригласили нашего маститого? Всё ломаю себе голову над этим вопросом. На что он вам? И потом, нельзя так: один ферзь, а все остальные -- пешки.
Антонина Павловна. Вовсе не пешки. Мешаев, например. (Act One)

 

In the second of his "Three Chess Sonnets" (1924) VN describes a chess problem and mentions ferz' and its zvezdoobraznye kaverzy (star-shaped intrigues):

 

Движенья рифм и танцовщиц крылатых

есть в шахматной задаче. Посмотри:

тут белых семь, а чёрных только три

на световых и сумрачных квадратах.

 

Чернеет ферзь между коней горбатых,

и пешки в ночь впились, как янтари.

Решенья ждут и слуги, и цари

в резных венцах и высеченных латах.

 

Звездообразны каверзы ферзя.

Дразнящая, узорная стезя

уводит мысль,- и снова мысль во мраке.

 

Но фея рифм - на шахматной доске

является, отблескивая в лаке,

и - лёгкая - взлетает на носке.

 

There are thrashing rhymes and dancers with wings
within such puzzling schemes. Observe:
across the bright and dark squares, of
white has seven pieces, black has only three.


Humpbacked horses flank the black queen,
and the pawn, like amber, sparkles in night.
Both servants and kings wait for the solution,
in fretted crowns and carved cuirasses.

The star-shaped intrigues of the queen,
the titillating patterned path,
leads away thought – anew, into obscurity.

 

But fairy rhyme manifests itself
on the board, shimmering in lacquer,
and – ethereal – soars into a whorl.

(tr. Bill Wall)

 

Fyodor's book on Chernyshevski in The Gift begins and ends with an "inverted" sonnet. The Gift's last paragraph mimics a Eugene Onegin stanza patterned on a sonnet. In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade's mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions Ferz Bretwit, a diplomat whose name means “Chess Intelligence.” Vadim Vadimovich and his first three wives (Iris Black, Annette Blagovo and Louise Adamson) seem to be the children of Count Starov, a retired old diplomat. In VN's novel Pnin (1957) Victor Wind (Liza Bogolepov's son) imagines that his father is a king. In LATH Vadim's daughter Bel marries Charlie Everett who changes his name to Karl Ivanovich Vetrov (from veter, "wind") and takes his wife to the Soviet Russia.