In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Cordula de Prey (Van’s mistress with whom he lives in Manhattan after leaving Ardis forever and fighting a pistol duel in Kalugano) calls Vanda Broom (Ada’s lesbian schoolmate at Brownhill) “a regular tribadka:”
One Sunday, while Cordula was still lolling in her perfumed bath (a lovely, oddly unfamiliar sight, which he delighted in twice a day), Van ‘in the nude’ (as his new sweetheart drolly genteelized ‘naked’), attempted for the first time after a month’s abstinence to walk on his hands. He felt strong, and fit, and blithely turned over to the ‘first position’ in the middle of the sun-drenched terrace. Next moment he was sprawling on his back. He tried again and lost his balance at once. He had the terrifying, albeit illusionary, feeling that his left arm was now shorter than his right, and Van wondered wrily if he ever would be able to dance on his hands again. King Wing had warned him that two or three months without practice might result in an irretrievable loss of the rare art. On the same day (the two nasty little incidents thus remained linked up in his mind forever) Van happened to answer the ‘phone — a deep hollow voice which he thought was a man’s wanted Cordula, but the caller turned out to be an old schoolmate, and Cordula feigned limpid delight, while making big eyes at Van over the receiver, and invented a number of unconvincing engagements.
‘It’s a gruesome girl!’ she cried after the melodious adieux. ‘Her name is Vanda Broom, and I learned only recently what I never suspected at school — she’s a regular tribadka — poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at — at another girl. There’s her picture here,’ continued Cordula with a quick change of tone, producing a daintily bound and prettily printed graduation album of Spring, 1887, which Van had seen at Ardis, but in which he had not noticed the somber beetle-browed unhappy face of that particular girl, and now it did not matter any more, and Cordula quickly popped the book back into a drawer; but he remembered very well that among the various more or less coy contributions it contained a clever pastiche by Ada Veen mimicking Tolstoy’s paragraph rhythm and chapter closings; he saw clearly in mind her prim photo under which she had added one of her characteristic jingles:
In the old manor, I’ve parodied
Every veranda and room,
And jacarandas at Arrowhead
In supernatural bloom.
It did not matter, it did not matter. Destroy and forget! But a butterfly in the Park, an orchid in a shop window, would revive everything with a dazzling inward shock of despair. (1.43)
The name Vanda Broom is secretly present in Ada’s poem. In his poem in octaves Vanda (1908) Igor Severyanin mentions a veranda:
Грустила ночь. При чахлом свете лампы
Мечтала Ванда, кутаясь в печаль;
Ей грезился дурман блестящей рампы,
Ей звуков захотелось, — и рояль
Ее дразнил прелюдией из «Цампы»
Она встаёт, отбрасывая шаль,
И медленно подходит к пианино
Будить его от грезящаго сплина.
А ночь глядит в растворенную дверь,
Вся трепеща и прислонясь к веранде…
Как девушка взволнована теперь!
Как дышит ночь душисто в душу Ванды!
Мотив живит… И если б вечный зверь
Его услышал, если б зверской банде
Он прозвучал, — растроганное зло,
Хотя б на миг, любовью мысль зажгло.
… О, чаровница-музыка, тебе
Крылю восторг, пылаю фимиамы!
О власти мысль внушаешь ты рабе,
Ребёнка устремляешь к сердцу мамы,
Туманишь зло, зовёшь любовь к себе
И браку душ поешь эпиталамы.
Тебе дано пороки побороть,
Гармония, души моей Господь…
In his poem Grustnaya gnus’ (“A Sad Foulness,” 1923) Severyanin describes his visit to the Berlin café Tribad (where he saw dancing lesbians):
Позвал меня один знакомый,
Веселой жизни акробат,
Рокфором городским влекомый,
В берлинское кафэ «Трибад».
Был вечер мглистый и дождливый,
Блестел и лоснился асфальт
С его толпою суетливой.
Мы заказали «Ривезальт».
Смотря на танцы лесбиянок —
Дев в смокингах и пиджачках,
На этих гнусных обезьянок
С животной похотью в зрачках…
И было тошно мне от этой
Столичной мерзости больной,
От этой язвы, разодетой
В сукно и нежный шелк цветной.
Смотря на этот псевдо-лесбос,
На этот цикл карикатур,
Подумал я: «Скорее в лес бы,
В зеленолиственный ажур!»
И церемонно со знакомым
Простясь, я вышел на подъезд,
Уколот городским изломом,
С мечтой: бежать из этих мест.
Severyanin calls his acquaintance who invited him to the café “Tribad” vesyoloy zhizni akrobat (“the acrobat of merry life”). At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) calls Van (who performs in variety shows as Mascodagama, dancing a jig and a tango on his hands) “a sensational acrobat:”
‘What was that?’ exclaimed Marina, whom certicle storms terrified even more than they did the Antiamberians of Ladore County.
‘Sheet lightning,’ suggested Van.
‘If you ask me,’ said Demon, turning on his chair to consider the billowing drapery, ‘I’d guess it was a photographer’s flash. After all, we have here a famous actress and a sensational acrobat.’
Ada ran to the window. From under the anxious magnolias a white-faced boy flanked by two gaping handmaids stood aiming a camera at the harmless, gay family group. But it was only a nocturnal mirage, not unusual in July. Nobody was taking pictures except Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder. In expectation of the rumble, Marina started to count under her breath, as if she were praying or checking the pulse of a very sick person. One heartbeat was supposed to span one mile of black night between the living heart and a doomed herdsman, felled somewhere — oh, very far — on the top of a mountain. The rumble came — but sounded rather subdued. A second flash revealed the structure of the French window. (1.38)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): certicle: anagram of ‘electric’.
A white-faced boy flanked by two gaping handmaid who stands aiming a camera at the harmless, gay family group is Kim Beauharnais, a kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis. His surname seems to hint at Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife who is known on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as “Queen Josephine.” In his memoir essay Groza v Gertsegovine (“A Thunderstorm in Herzegovina,” 1940) Severyanin says that Colonel Slivinski, who in January, 1931, met him at the railway station in Dubrovnik (Ragusa) and invited him to his Adriatic villa Flora Mira, resembled Napoleon very much:
На дебаркадере вокзала к нам подошел господин среднего роста, очень похожий на Наполеона, и представился нам:
– Полковник ген<ерального> шт<аба> А. В. Сливинский. Узнал из газет, что сегодня утром Вы приезжаете в Дубровник, счел своим долгом Вас и Вашу спутницу встретить и просить оказать мне и моей жене честь остановиться у нас в доме. Мы живем по правому берегу моря в трех километрах отсюда. Моя машина – в Вашем распоряжении.
Мы, конечно, с удовольствием приняли его приглашение. Автомобиль быстро понесся по дивно шоссированной дороге на его дачу «Флора мира».
According to Ada, Vanda Broom was shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night in Ragusa of all places:
Would she like to stay in this apartment till Spring Term (he thought in terms of Terms now) and then accompany him to Kingston, or would she prefer to go abroad for a couple of months — anywhere, Patagonia, Angola, Gululu in the New Zealand mountains? Stay in this apartment? So, she liked it? Except some of Cordula’s stuff which should be ejected — as, for example, that conspicuous Brown Hill Alma Mater of Almehs left open on poor Vanda’s portrait. She had been shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night, in Ragusa of all places. It was, Van said, sad. Little Lucette no doubt had told him about a later escapade? Punning in an Ophelian frenzy on the feminine glans? Raving about the delectations of clitorism? ‘N’exagérons pas, tu sais,’ said Ada, patting the air down with both palms. ‘Lucette affirmed,’ he said, ‘that she (Ada) imitated mountain lions.’
He was omniscient. Better say, omni-incest.
‘That’s right,’ said the other total-recaller.
And, by the way, Grace — yes, Grace — was Vanda’s real favorite, pas petite moi and my little crest. She (Ada) had, hadn’t she, a way of always smoothing out the folds of the past — making the flutist practically impotent (except with his wife) and allowing the gentleman farmer only one embrace, with a premature eyakulyatsiya, one of those hideous Russian loanwords? Yes, wasn’t it hideous, but she’d love to play Scrabble again when they’d settled down for good. But where, how? Wouldn’t Mr and Mrs Ivan Veen do quite nicely anywhere? What about the ‘single’ in each passport? They’d go to the nearest Consulate and with roars of indignation and/or a fabulous bribe have it corrected to married, for ever and ever. (2.6)
It seems that the girlfriend of a girlfriend who shot poor Vanda dead was Ada herself. Greg’s twin sister, Grace Erminin marries a Wellington:
As if she had just escaped from a burning palace and a perishing kingdom, she wore over her rumpled nightdress a deep-brown, hoar-glossed coat of sea-otter fur, the famous kamchatstkiy bobr of ancient Estotian traders, also known as ‘lutromarina’ on the Lyaska coast: ‘my natural fur,’ as Marina used to say pleasantly of her own cape, inherited from a Zemski granddam, when, at the dispersal of a winter ball, some lady wearing vison or coypu or a lowly manteau de castor (beaver, nemetskiy bobr) would comment with a rapturous moan on the bobrovaya shuba. ‘Staren’kaya (old little thing),’ Marina used to add in fond deprecation (the usual counterpart of the Bostonian lady’s coy ‘thank you’ ventriloquizing her banal mink or nutria in response to polite praise — which did not prevent her from denouncing afterwards the ‘swank’ of that ‘stuck-up actress,’ who, actually, was the least ostentatious of souls). Ada’s bobrï (princely plural of bobr) were a gift from Demon, who as we know, had lately seen in the Western states considerably more of her than he had in Eastern Estotiland when she was a child. The bizarre enthusiast had developed the same tendresse for her as he had always had for Van. Its new expression in regard to Ada looked sufficiently fervid to make watchful fools suspect that old Demon ‘slept with his niece’ (actually, he was getting more and more occupied with Spanish girls who were getting more and more youthful every year until by the end of the century, when he was sixty, with hair dyed a midnight blue, his flame had become a difficult nymphet of ten). So little did the world realize the real state of affairs that even Cordula Tobak, born de Prey, and Grace Wellington, born Erminin, spoke of Demon Veen, with his fashionable goatee and frilled shirtfront, as ‘Van’s successor.’ (ibid.)
After the dinner in ‘Ursus’ and debauch á trois with Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) in Van’s Manhattan flat Ada calls Cordula “Cordula Tobacco alias Madame Perwitsky:”
‘She’s terribly nervous, the poor kid,’ remarked Ada stretching across Van toward the Wipex. ‘You can order that breakfast now — unless... Oh, what a good sight! Orchids. I’ve never seen a man make such a speedy recovery.’
‘Hundreds of whores and scores of cuties more experienced than the future Mrs Vinelander have told me that,’
‘I may not be as bright as I used to be,’ sadly said Ada, ‘but I know somebody who is not simply a cat, but a polecat, and that’s Cordula Tobacco alias Madame Perwitsky, I read in this morning’s paper that in France ninety percent of cats die of cancer. I don’t know what the situation is in Poland.’ (2.8)
Herzegovina Flora were Stalin’s favorite cigarettes. Describing the dinner in ‘Ursus,’ Van mentions Flora:
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. He went back to whatever he was eating, and cruelly stroked Lucette’s apricot-bloomed forearm, and she said in Russian ‘I’m drunk, and all that, but I adore (obozhayu), I adore, I adore, I adore more than life you, you (tebya, tebya), I ache for you unbearably (ya toskuyu po tebe nevïnosimo), and, please, don’t let me swill (hlestat’) champagne any more, not only because I will jump into Goodson River if I can’t hope to have you, and not only because of the physical red thing — your heart was almost ripped out, my poor dushen’ka (‘darling,’ more than ‘darling’), it looked to me at least eight inches long —’
‘Seven and a half,’ murmured modest Van, whose hearing the music impaired.
‘— but because you are Van, all Van, and nothing but Van, skin and scar, the only truth of our only life, of my accursed life, Van, Van, Van.’ (ibid.)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): romances, tsiganshchina: Russ., pseudo-Tsigan ballads.
According to Van, Ada uses tribadic schoolgirl slang:
He heard Ada Vinelander’s voice calling for her Glass bed slippers (which, as in Cordulenka’s princessdom too, he found hard to distinguish from dance footwear), and a minute later, without the least interruption in the established tension, Van found himself, in a drunken dream, making violent love to Rose — no, to Ada, but in the rosacean fashion, on a kind of lowboy. She complained he hurt her ‘like a Tiger Turk.’ He went to bed and was about to doze off for good when she left his side. Where was she going? Pet wanted to see the album.
‘I’ll be back in a rubby,’ she said (tribadic schoolgirl slang), ‘so keep awake. From now on by the way, it’s going to be Chère-amie-fait-morata’ — (play on the generic and specific names of the famous fly) — ‘until further notice.’
‘But no sapphic vorschmacks,’ mumbled Van into his pillow.
‘Oh, Van,’ she said, turning to shake her head, one hand on the opal doorknob at the end of an endless room. ‘We’ve been through that so many times! You admit yourself that I am only a pale wild girl with gipsy hair in a deathless ballad, in a nulliverse, in Rattner’s "menald world" where the only principle is random variation. You cannot demand,’ she continued — somewhere between the cheeks of his pillow (for Ada had long vanished with her blood-brown book) — ‘you cannot demand pudicity on the part of a delphinet! You know that I really love only males and, alas, only one man.’
There was always something colorfully impressionistic, but also infantile, about Ada’s allusions to her affairs of the flesh, reminding one of baffle painting, or little glass labyrinths with two peas, or the Ardis throwing-trap — you remember? — which tossed up clay pigeons and pine cones to be shot at, or cockamaroo (Russian ‘biks’), played with a toy cue on the billiard cloth of an oblong board with holes and hoops, bells and pins among which the ping-pong-sized eburnean ball zigzagged with bix-pix concussions. (ibid.)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Vorschmacks: Germ., hors-d’oeuvres.
In his Sekstina X (“Sistine X”) Severyanin mentions orgii tribad (the orgies of tribades) and repeats the word tribad six times:
Мне кажется, что сердце биандрии,
Идейной биандрии — виноград.
Она стремится в зной Александрии,
Лед Мурмана в него вместиться рад.
Ему отраден запах малярии,
Ему набатны оргии трибад.
Влиянье винограда на трибад,
Как и на сердце пламной биандрии,
Утонченней миазмов малярии.
Да, в их телах блуждает виноград,
Он опьянять безумствующих рад
Причин немало, что в Александрии
Гораздо больше чувственных трибад,
Чем в Швеции: способствовать им рад
Там самый воздух. Но для биандрии
И выльденный шипучий виноград
На севере — намек о малярии…
В Батуме — там, где царство малярии,
Гордятся пальмы, как в Александрии,
У рощ лимонных вьется виноград,
Зовя к себе мечтания трибад.
Он, родственный инстинктам биандрии,
Припасть к коленям, льнущим к страсти, рад.
О, как турист бывает ярко рад,
Когда ему удастся малярии
Избегнуть, или в зной Александрии
Умерить льдяным взором биандрии
Кокетливой, иль в хохоте трибад
Пить дышущий поляром виноград…
Не для мужчин трибадный виноград, —
Его вкусив, не очень будешь рад:
В нем смех издевкой девственных трибад…
Страшись и биандрийной малярии,
То веющей огнем Александрии,
То — холодом распутной биандрии…