red boat Souvenance & Van's lieu de naissance in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 07/12/2021 - 08:08

When Van and Ada look at the photographs in Kim Beauharnais’ album, Ada mentions their red boat Souvenance visible through the rushes:


In an equally casual tone of voice Van said: ‘Darling, you smoke too much, my belly is covered with your ashes. I suppose Bouteillan knows Professor Beauharnais’s exact address in the Athens of Graphic Arts.’

‘You shall not slaughter him,’ said Ada. ‘He is subnormal, he is, perhaps, blackmailerish, but in his sordidity, there is an istoshnïy ston (‘visceral moan’) of crippled art. Furthermore, this page is the only really naughty one. And let’s not forget that a copperhead of eight was also ambushed in the brush’.

‘Art my foute. This is the hearse of ars, a toilet roll of the Carte du Tendre! I’m sorry you showed it to me. That ape has vulgarized our own mind-pictures. I will either horsewhip his eyes out or redeem our childhood by making a book of it: Ardis, a family chronicle.’

‘Oh do!’ said Ada (skipping another abominable glimpse — apparently, through a hole in the boards of the attic). ‘Look, here’s our little Caliph Island!’

‘I don’t want to look any more. I suspect you find that filth titillating. Some nuts get a kick from motor-bikini comics.’

‘Please, Van, do glance! These are our willows, remember?’


‘"The castle bathed by the Adour:

The guidebooks recommend that tour."’


‘It happens to be the only one in color. The willows look sort of greenish because the twigs are greenish, but actually they are leafless here, it’s early spring, and you can see our red boat Souvenance through the rushes. And here’s the last one: Kim’s apotheosis of Ardis.

The entire staff stood in several rows on the steps of the pillared porch behind the Bank President Baroness Veen and the Vice President Ida Larivière. Those two were flanked by the two prettiest typists, Blanche de la Tourberie (ethereal, tearstained, entirely adorable) and a black girl who had been hired, a few days before Van’s departure, to help French, who towered rather sullenly above her in the second row, the focal point of which was Bouteillan, still wearing the costume sport he had on when driving off with Van (that picture had been muffed or omitted). On the butler’s right side stood three footmen; on his left, Bout (who had valeted Van), the fat, flour-pale cook (Blanche’s father) and, next to French, a terribly tweedy gentleman with sightseeing strappings athwart one shoulder: actually (according to Ada), a tourist, who, having come all the way from England to see Bryant’s Castle, had bicycled up the wrong road and was, in the picture, under the impression of accidentally being conjoined to a group of fellow tourists who were visiting some other old manor quite worth inspecting too. The back rows consisted of less distinguished menservants and scullions, as well as of gardeners, stableboys, coachmen, shadows of columns, maids of maids, aids, laundresses, dresses, recesses — getting less and less distinct as in those bank ads where limited little employees dimly dimidiated by more fortunate shoulders, but still asserting themselves, still smile in the process of humble dissolve. (2.7)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): foute: French swear word made to sound ‘foot’.

ars: Lat., art.

Carte du Tendre: ‘Map of Tender Love’, sentimental allegory of the seventeenth century.


At the beginning of his Romance à Hélène Chateaubriand mentions douce souvenance (sweet remembrance):


Combien j'ai douce souvenance ,

Du joli lieu de ma naissance !
Ma soeur, qu'ils étaient beaux les jours
De France !
O mon pays, sois mes amours
Toujours !


The poem’s second line, Du joli lieu de ma naissance, brings to mind the jolies (Ada’s pretty hands):


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.

He had brought her a present, a collection of photographs he had taken in the good old days. He had been hoping the good old days would resume their course, but since he understood that mossio votre cossin (he spoke a thick Creole thinking that its use in solemn circumstances would be more proper than his everyday Ladore English) was not expected to revisit the castle soon — and thus help bring the album up to date — the best procedure pour tous les cernés (‘the shadowed ones,’ the ‘encircled’ rather than ‘concerned’) might be for her to keep (or destroy and forget, so as not to hurt anybody) the illustrated document now in her pretty hands. Wincing angrily at the jolies, Ada opened the album at one of its maroon markers meaningly inserted here and there, glanced once, reclicked the clasp, handed the grinning blackmailer a thousand-dollar note that she happened to have in her bag, summoned Bouteillan and told him to throw Kim out. The mud-colored scrapbook remained on a chair, under her Spanish shawl. With a shuffling kick the old retainer expelled a swamp-tulip leaf swept in by the draft and closed the front door again. (2.7)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): mossio etc.: monsieur your cousin.

jolies: pretty.


and Van’s lieu de ma naissance:


The two young discoverers of that strange and sickening treasure commented upon it as follows:

‘I deduce,’ said the boy, ‘three main facts: that not yet married Marina and her married sister hibernated in my lieu de naissance; that Marina had her own Dr Krolik, pour ainsi dire; and that the orchids came from Demon who preferred to stay by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother.’

‘I can add,’ said the girl, ‘that the petal belongs to the common Butterfly Orchis; that my mother was even crazier than her sister; and that the paper flower so cavalierly dismissed is a perfectly recognizable reproduction of an early-spring sanicle that I saw in profusion on hills in coastal California last February. Dr Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van, have referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the sake of rapid narrative information (you recall Brown, don’t you, Smith?), has determined the example I brought back from Sacramento to Ardis, as the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl’s — an allusion, which your father, who, according to Blanche, is also mine, would understand like this’ (American finger-snap). ‘You will be grateful,’ she continued, embracing him, ‘for my not mentioning its scientific name. Incidentally the other foot — the Pied de Lion from that poor little Christmas larch, is by the same hand — possibly belonging to a very sick Chinese boy who came all the way from Barkley College.’

‘Good for you, Pompeianella (whom you saw scattering her flowers in one of Uncle Dan’s picture books, but whom I admired last summer in a Naples museum). Now don’t you think we should resume our shorts and shirts and go down, and bury or burn this album at once, girl. Right?

‘Right,’ answered Ada. ‘Destroy and forget. But we still have an hour before tea.’ (1.1)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): c’est bien le cas de le dire: and no mistake.

lieu de naissance: birthplace.

pour ainsi dire: so to say.

Jane Austen: allusion to rapid narrative information imparted through dialogue, in Mansfield Park.

‘Bear-Foot’, not ‘bare foot’: both children are naked.

Stabian flower girl: allusion to the celebrated mural painting (the so-called ‘Spring’) from Stabiae in the National Museum of Naples: a maiden scattering blossoms.


Van was born in Ex, Switzerland. In the dreams of poor mad Aqua (the twin sister of Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother Marina) Van’s lieu de naissance is plainly marked X:


At one time Aqua believed that a stillborn male infant half a year old, a surprised little fetus, a fish of rubber that she had produced in her bath, in a lieu de naissance plainly marked X in her dreams, after skiing at full pulver into a larch stump, had somehow been saved and brought to her at the Nusshaus, with her sister’s compliments, wrapped up in blood-soaked cotton wool, but perfectly alive and healthy, to be registered as her son Ivan Veen. At other moments she felt convinced that the child was her sister’s, born out of wedlock, during an exhausting, yet highly romantic blizzard, in a mountain refuge on Sex Rouge, where a Dr Alpiner, general practitioner and gentian-lover, sat providentially waiting near a rude red stove for his boots to dry. 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. Still later, on the last short lap of a useless existence, Aqua scrapped all those ambiguous recollections and found herself reading and rereading busily, blissfully, her son’s letters in a luxurious ‘sanastoria’ at Centaur, Arizona. He invariably wrote in French calling her petite maman and describing the amusing school he would be living at after his thirteenth birthday. She heard his voice through the nightly tinnitus of her new, planful, last, last insomnias and it consoled her. He called her usually mummy, or mama, accenting the last syllable in English, the first, in Russian; somebody had said that triplets and heraldic dracunculi often occurred in trilingual families; but there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever now (except, perhaps, in hateful long-dead Marina’s hell-dwelling mind) that Van was her, her, Aqua’s, beloved son. (1.3)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Nuss: German for ‘nut’.

Khristosik: little Christ (Russ.).

rukuliruyushchiy: Russ., from Fr. roucoulant, cooing.


At the end of Alexander Blok's poem Dvenadtsat' ("The Twelve," 1918) Jesus Christ appears:


Так идут державным шагом —
Позади — голодный пёс,
Впереди — с кровавым флагом,
И за вьюгой невидим,
И от пули невредим,
Нежной поступью надвьюжной,
Снежной россыпью жемчужной,
В белом венчике из роз —
Впереди — Исус Христос.


So they march with sovereign tread ...
Behind them limps the hungry dog,
and wrapped in wild snow at their head
carrying a blood-red flag
soft-footed where the blizzard swirls,
invulnerable where bullets crossed
crowned with a crown of snowflake pearls,
in a white wreath of roses,
ahead of them goes Jesus Christ.


On the other hand, Khristosik (little Christ) seems to hint at Iudushka ("little Judas") Golovlyov, the main character in Saltykov-Shchedrin's novel Gospoda Golovlyovy ("The Golovlyov Family," 1880). In his poem Vozmezdie ("Retribution," 1910-21) Blok mentions the dinners at Borel (a restaurant in the Bolshaya Morskaya street in St. Petersburg), Shchedrin and uha (the fish soup):


Он на обедах у Бореля
Брюжжит не плоше Щедрина:
То — недоварены форели,
А то — уха им не жирна. (Chapter I)


In his poem V restorane ("In a Restaurant," 1910) Blok mentions a black rose in a goblet of Ai, golden as the sky:


Я сидел у окна в переполненном зале.
Где-то пели смычки о любви.
Я послал тебе чёрную розу в бокале
Золотого, как нёбо, аи.


I sat by the window in a crowded room.
Distant bows were singing of love.
I sent you a black rose in a goblet
Of Ai, golden as the sky.


Describing his dinner with Ada and Lucette in "Ursus" (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major), Van mentions the uha , the Ai and Flora (a music-hall dancer whose name brings to mind Prince Vseslav Zemski's Flora Ladorica and Eric Veen's floramors):


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. And there was Flora, a slender, hardly nubile, half-naked music-hall dancer of uncertain origin (Rumanian? Romany? Ramseyan?) whose ravishing services Van had availed himself of several times in the fall of that year. As a ‘man of the world,’ Van glanced with bland (perhaps too bland) unconcern at her talented charms, but they certainly added a secret bonus to the state of erotic excitement tingling in him from the moment that his two beauties had been unfurred and placed in the colored blaze of the feast before him; and that thrill was somehow augmented by his awareness (carefully profiled, diaphanely blinkered) of the furtive, jealous, intuitive suspicion with which Ada and Lucette watched, unsmilingly, his facial reactions to the demure look of professional recognition on the part of the passing and repassing blyadushka (cute whorelet), as our young misses referred to (very expensive and altogether delightful) Flora with ill-feigned indifference. Presently, the long sobs of the violins began to affect and almost choke Van and Ada: a juvenile conditioning of romantic appeal, which at one moment forced tearful Ada to go and ‘powder her nose’ while Van stood up with a spasmodic sob, which he cursed but could not control. (2.8)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): romances, tsiganshchina: Russ., pseudo-Tsigan ballads.


The young author of ‘Villa Venus: an Organized Dream,’ Eric Veen died and was buried in Ex:


In the spring of 1869, David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction (in no way related to the Veens of our rambling romance), escaped uninjured when the motorcar he was driving from Cannes to Calais blew a front tire on a frost-blazed road and tore into a parked furniture van; his daughter sitting beside him was instantly killed by a suitcase sailing into her from behind and breaking her neck. In his London studio her husband, an unbalanced, unsuccessful painter (ten years older than his father-in-law whom he envied and despised) shot himself upon receiving the news by cablegram from a village in Normandy called, dreadfully, Deuil.

The momentum of disaster lost none of its speed, for neither did Eric, a boy of fifteen, despite all the care and adoration which his grandfather surrounded him with, escape a freakish fate: a fate strangely similar to his mother’s.

After being removed from Note to a small private school in Vaud Canton and then spending a consumptive summer in the Maritime Alps, he was sent to Ex-en-Valais, whose crystal air was supposed at the time to strengthen young lungs; instead of which its worst hurricane hurled a roof tile at him, fatally fracturing his skull. Among the boy’s belongings David van Veen found a number of poems and the draft of an essay entitled’ Villa Venus: an Organized Dream.’ (2.3)


It was now all over. The lorry had gone or had drowned, and Eric was a skeleton in the most expensive corner of the Ex cemetery (‘But then, all cemeteries are ex,’ remarked a jovial ‘protestant’ priest), between an anonymous alpinist and my stillborn double. (ibid.)


Ada’s Spanish shawl brings to mind shal’ ispanskaya  (the Spanish shawl) mentioned by Blok in his poem Anne Akhmatovoy (“To Anna Akhmatov,” 1913):


«Красота страшна» — Вам скажут, —
Вы накинете лениво
Шаль испанскую на плечи,
Красный розан — в волосах.


«Красота проста» — Вам скажут, —
Пёстрой шалью неумело
Вы укроете ребенка,
Красный розан — на полу.


Но, рассеянно внимая
Всем словам, кругом звучащим,
Вы задумаетесь грустно
И твердите про себя:


«Не страшна и не проста я;
Я не так страшна, чтоб просто
Убивать, не так проста я,
Чтоб не знать, как жизнь страшна».


Btw., Alexander Blok is the author of Poslednie dni imperatorskoy vlasti (“The Last Days of Imperial Power,” 1921). Ronald Oranger and Violet Knox (Ada's grandchildren who marry after Van's and Ada's death) are sverhimperatorskaya cheta (a super-imperial couple). Old Van’s typist whom Ada calls Fialochka (“little Violet”), Violet Knox brings to mind Blok’s poem in blank verse Nochnaya fialka (“The Night Violet,” 1906) subtitled Son (A Dream). In his humorous poem Esli khochesh’ ty limonu (“If you want a lemon,” 1898) Blok mentions apel’sin (an orange):


Если хочешь ты лимону,

Можешь кушать апельсин.

Если любишь Антигону,

То довольствуйся, мой сын,

Этой Фёклой престарелой,

Что в стряпне понаторела.


If you want a lemon,

You may eat an orange.

If you love Antigone,

Be satisfied, my son,

With this old Fyokla

Who is versed in cooking.