After the dinner in ‘Ursus’ with Ada and Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister), Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) asks Lucette to tell him the name of Ada’s fiancé and promises to reward her with a very special kiss:
‘My dear,’ said Van, ‘do help me. She told me about her Valentian estanciero but now the name escapes me and I hate bothering her.’
‘Only she never told you,’ said loyal Lucette, ‘so nothing could escape. Nope. I can’t do that to your sweetheart and mine, because we know you could hit that keyhole with a pistol.’
‘Please, little vixen! I’ll reward you with a very special kiss.’
‘Oh, Van,’ she said over a deep sigh. ‘You promise you won’t tell her I told you?’
‘I promise. No, no, no,’ he went on, assuming a Russian accent, as she, with the abandon of mindless love, was about to press her abdomen to his. ‘Nikak-s net: no lips, no philtrum, no nosetip, no swimming eye. Little vixen’s axilla, just that — unless’ — (drawing back in mock uncertainty) — ‘you shave there?’
‘I stink worse when I do,’ confided simple Lucette and obediently bared one shoulder.
‘Arm up! Point at Paradise! Terra! Venus!’ commanded Van, and for a few synchronized heartbeats, fitted his working mouth to the hot, humid, perilous hollow.
She sat down with a bump on a chair, pressing one hand to her brow.
‘Turn off the footlights,’ said Van. ‘I want the name of that fellow.’
‘Vinelander,’ she answered.
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.’ (2.8)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Nikak-s net: Russ., certainly not.
famous fly: see p.109, Serromyia.
Vorschmacks: Germ., hors-d’oeuvres.
In a pastiche entitled Igor Severyanin (1911) Arlekin (Harlequin) says: “I want to caress your armpit!.. Yes, only your armpit:”
— Медикаменты —
— Не вижу зги!
Твой взгляд вспаляет
Хочу подмышку твою ласкать!..
Да, лишь подмышку.
На шерамыжку, —
Как пса Амишку,
В кровь исхлестать!
In Harlequin’s verses podmyshku (Acc. of podmyshka, “armpit”) rhymes with na sheramyzhku (freebies) and psa Amishku (the dog Ami). The idiom na sheramyzhku and the noun sharomyzhnik (parasite) come from cher ami (“dear friend”), a phrase that was often used by starving French soldiers when they addressed Russian peasants in the cold winter of 1812-13. Ada’s “Chère-amie-fait-morata” is a play on the generic and specific names of the famous fly whose mating habits were described by a prominent French orientalist:
Another hearty laugh shook Van when he unearthed for entomologically-minded Ada the following passage in a reliable History of Mating Habits. ‘Some of the perils and ridicule which attend the missionary position adopted for mating purposes by our puritanical intelligentsia and so justly derided by the "primitive" but healthy-minded natives of the Begouri Islands are pointed out by a prominent French orientalist [thick footnote, skipped here] who describes the mating habits of the fly Serromyia amorata Poupart. Copulation takes place with both ventral surfaces pressed together and the mouths touching. When the last throb (frisson) of intercourse is terminated the female sucks out the male’s body content through the mouth of her impassioned partner. One supposes (see Pesson et al.) [another copious footnote] that the titbits, such as the juicy leg of a bug enveloped in a webby substance, or even a mere token (the frivolous dead end or subtle beginning of an evolutionary process — qui le sait!) such as a petal carefully wrapped up and tied up with a frond of red fern, which certain male flies (but apparently not the femorata and amorata morons) bring to the female before mating, represent a prudent guarantee against the misplaced voracity of the young lady.’
Still more amusing was the ‘message’ of a Canadian social worker, Mme de Réan-Fichini, who published her treatise, On Contraceptive Devices, in Kapuskan patois (to spare the blushes of Estotians and United Statians; while instructing hardier fellow-workers in her special field). ‘Sole sura metoda,’ she wrote, ‘por decevor natura, est por un strong-guy de contino-contino-contino jusque le plesir brimz; et lors, a lultima instanta, svitchera a l’altra gropa [groove]; ma perquoi una femme ardora andor ponderosa ne se retorna kvik enof, la transita e facilitata per positio torovago’; and that term an appended glossary explained in blunt English as ‘the posture generally adopted in rural communities by all classes, beginning by the country gentry and ending with the lowliest farm animals throughout the United Americas from Patagony to Gasp.’ Ergo, concluded Van, our missionary goes up in smoke.
‘Your vulgarity knows no bounds,’ said Ada.
‘Well, I prefer to burn than to be slurped up alive by the Cheramie — or whatever you call her — and have my widow lay a lot of tiny green eggs on top of it!’ (1.21)
M. Poupart is the doctor in Flaubert’s story Un coeur simple (“A Simple Heart,” 1877). On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary (1857) is known as Floeberg’s Ursula:
Van reached the third lawn, and the bower, and carefully inspected the stage prepared for the scene, ‘like a provincial come an hour too early to the opera after jogging all day along harvest roads with poppies and bluets catching and twinkle-twining in the wheels of his buggy’ (Floeberg’s Ursula). (1.20)
Ursula + ours + sestra = Ursus + la Rousse + art/rat
ours - Fr., bear
sestra – sister
Ursus – the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major; the traveling artist in Victor Hugo’s novel L’Homme qui rit (“The Laughing Man,” 1869)
la Rousse - Fr., red-haired woman/girl; Pierre Larousse, a French lexicographer (1817-75)
The "primitive" but healthy-minded natives of the Begouri Islands bring to mind the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie Weiss, an item in Clare Quilty’s collection of erotica in VN’s novel Lolita (1955):
“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)
General Bagration was felled in the battle of Borodino (Sept. 7, 1812). In Gogol's Myortvye dushi ("Dead Souls," 1842) Sobakevich (one of the landowners visited by Chichikov) has, among other paintings, a portrait of Prince Bagration:
Вошед в гостиную, Собакевич показал на кресла, сказавши опять: "Прошу!" Садясь, Чичиков взглянул на стены и на висевшие на них картины. На картинах всё были молодцы, всё греческие полководцы, гравированные во весь рост: Маврокордато в красных панталонах и мундире, с очками на носу, Миаули, Канари. Все эти герои были с такими толстыми ляжками и неслыханными усами, что дрожь проходила по телу. Между крепкими греками, неизвестно каким образом и для чего, поместился Багратион, тощий, худенький, с маленькими знаменами и пушками внизу и в самых узеньких рамках. Потом опять следовала героиня греческая Бобелина, которой одна нога казалась больше всего туловища тех щёголей, которые наполняют нынешние гостиные.
At length they reached the drawing-room, where Sobakevich pointed to an armchair, and invited his guest to be seated. Chichikov gazed with interest
at the walls and the pictures. In every such picture there were portrayed either young men or Greek generals of the type of Mavrogordato (clad in a
red uniform and breaches), Kanaris, and others; and all these heroes were depicted with a solidity of thigh and a wealth of moustache which made the
beholder simply shudder with awe. Among them there were placed also, according to some unknown system, and for some unknown reason, fi rstly,
Bagration - tall and thin, and with a cluster of small flags and cannon beneath him, and the whole set in the narrowest of frames - and, secondly,
the Greek heroine, Bobelina, whose legs looked larger than do the whole bodies of the drawing-room dandies of the present day. (chapter V)
Sobakevich brings to mind Tobakovich, as Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father) calls Cordula de Prey's first husband:
‘I beg you, sir,’ said Van, ‘go down, and I’ll join you in the bar as soon as I’m dressed. I’m in a delicate situation.’
‘Come, come,’ retorted Demon, dropping and replacing his monocle. ‘Cordula won’t mind.’
‘It’s another, much more impressionable girl’ — (yet another awful fumble!). ‘Damn Cordula! Cordula is now Mrs Tobak.’
‘Oh, of course!’ cried Demon. ‘How stupid of me! I remember Ada’s fiancé telling me — he and young Tobak worked for a while in the same Phoenix bank. Of course. Splendid broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond chap. Backbay Tobakovich!’
‘I don’t care,’ said clenched Van, ‘if he looks like a crippled, crucified, albino toad. Please, Dad, I really must —’
‘Funny your saying that. I’ve dropped in only to tell you poor cousin Dan has died an odd Boschean death. He thought a fantastic rodent sort of rode him out of the house. They found him too late, he expired in Nikulin’s clinic, raving about that detail of the picture. I’m having the deuce of a time rounding up the family. The picture is now preserved in the Vienna Academy of Art.’ (2.10)
and k chertyam sobach’im (to the devil), a phrase used by Van at the end of the same chapter of Ada:
And here Ada entered. Not naked — oh no; in a pink peignoir so as not to shock Valerio — comfortably combing her hair, sweet and sleepy. She made the mistake of crying out ‘Bozhe moy!’ and darting back into the dusk of the bedroom. All was lost in that one chink of a second.
‘Or better — come at once, both of you, because I’ll cancel my appointment and go home right now.’ He spoke, or thought he spoke, with the self-control and the clarity of enunciation which so frightened and mesmerized blunderers, blusterers, a voluble broker, a guilty schoolboy. Especially so now — when everything had gone to the hell curs, k chertyam sobach’im, of Jeroen Anthniszoon van Äken and the molti aspetti affascinati of his enigmatica arte, as Dan explained with a last sigh to Dr Nikulin and to nurse Bellabestia (‘Bess’) to whom he bequeathed a trunkful of museum catalogues and his second-best catheter. (ibid.)
According to Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in Lolita), on the tennis court Lolita (who played a double) moved like a fair angel among three horrible Boschian cripples:
I folded myself into a booth, took a little pill, and four about twenty minutes tussled with space-spooks. A quartet of propositions gradually became audible: soprano, there was no such number in Beardsley; alto, Miss Pratt was on her way to England; tenor, Beardsley School had not telephoned; bass, they could not have done so, since nobody knew I was, that particular day, in Champion, Colo. Upon my stinging him, the Roman took the trouble to find out if there had been a long distance call. There had been none. A fake call from some local dial was not excluded. I thanked him. He said: You bet. After a visit to the purling men’s room and a stiff drink at the bar, I started on my return march. From the very first terrace I saw, far below, on the tennis court which seemed the size of a school child’s ill-wiped slate, golden Lolita playing in a double. She moved like a fair angel among three horrible Boschian cripples. One of these, her partner, while changing sides, jocosely slapped her on her behind with his racket. He had a remarkably round head and wore incongruous brown trousers. There was a momentary flurryhe saw me, and throwing away his racketminescuttled up the slope. He waved his wrists and elbows in a would-be comical imitation of rudimentary wings, as he climbed, blow-legged, to the street, where his gray car awaited him. Next moment he and the grayness were gone. When I came down, the remaining trio were collecting and sorting out the balls.
“Mr. Mead, who was that person?”
Bill and Fay, both looking very solemn, shook their heads.
That absurd intruder had butted in to make up a double, hadn’t he, Dolly? (2.20)
That absurd intruder is, of course, Clare Quilty (who later abducts Lolita from the Elphinstone hospital posing as Lolita's uncle). On Demonia VN’s Lolita is known as The Gitanilla by the Spanish writer Osberg:
For the big picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday and Ida’s forty-second jour de fête, the child was permitted to wear her lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg’s novel and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish ‘t,’ not a thick English one), a rather long, but very airy and ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies, ‘deficient in botanical reality,’ as she grandly expressed it, not yet knowing that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of this, and only this, dream.
(Nor did you, wise Van. Her note.) (1.13)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Osberg: another good-natured anagram, scrambling the name of a writer with whom the author of Lolita has been rather comically compared. Incidentally, that title’s pronunciation has nothing to do with English or Russian (pace an anonymous owl in a recent issue of the TLS).
Osberg is an anagram of Borges. An Argentinean writer, J. L. Borges is the author of Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (1939). Pierre Menard brings to mind Pierre Legrand (Van’s fencing master whose name hints at the tsar Peter the Great) and Rattner’s "menald world" mentioned by Ada. In his review of Van’s 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)
Arlekin (Harlequin) was the penname of Ivan Ignatiev (1892-1914), a futurist poet who committed suicide (by cutting his throat with a razor) on the next day after his wedding. Among Van’s published works is Suicide and Sanity (1912). Like poor mad Aqua (the twin sister of Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother Marina), Lucette commits suicide (by jumping into the Atlantic from Admiral Tobakoff, 3.5).
Another Severyanin pastiche worth citing, U Venery (“At Venus’ Place”), was written by Yakov Korobov (1874-1928):
На окнах пышный кустороз,
На страже похоти услады...
В очах наглеется вопрос,
А на ковре окурки «Ады»...
За чуткостеньем мелкосмех,
Гул пробки, пошлозвон стакана.
И Рай. И Ад. И Бог. И Грех.
Ритмично-страстный скрип дивана.
Note na kovre okurki “Ady” (the cigarette ends of Ada on the carpet) in the fourth line. Ritmichno-strastnyi skrip divana (a rhythmically passionate creak of the divan) in the last line brings to mind the Vaniada divan in the library of Ardis Hall.
According to G. Ivanov, the futurist poet Konstantin Olimpov (1889-1940) called his father, the poet Konstantin Fofanov (1862-1911), mramornaya mukha (the marble fly). The pseudonym Olimpov comes from Mount Olympus and brings to mind stone-heavy-dead St. Zeus in Aqua's delirium:
She developed a morbid sensitivity to the language of tap water — which echoes sometimes (much as the bloodstream does predormitarily) a fragment of human speech lingering in one’s ears while one washes one’s hands after cocktails with strangers. Upon first noticing this immediate, sustained, and in her case rather eager and mocking but really quite harmless replay of this or that recent discourse, she felt tickled at the thought that she, poor Aqua, had accidentally hit upon such a simple method of recording and transmitting speech, while technologists (the so-called Eggheads) all over the world were trying to make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and still very expensive, hydrodynamic telephones and other miserable gadgets that were to replace those that had gone k chertyam sobach’im (Russian ‘to the devil’) with the banning of an unmentionable ‘lammer.’ Soon, however, the rhythmically perfect, but verbally rather blurred volubility of faucets began to acquire too much pertinent sense. The purity of the running water’s enunciation grew in proportion to the nuisance it made of itself. It spoke soon after she had listened, or been exposed, to somebody talking — not necessarily to her — forcibly and expressively, a person with a rapid characteristic voice, and very individual or very foreign phrasal intonations, some compulsive narrator’s patter at a horrible party, or a liquid soliloquy in a tedious play, or Van’s lovely voice, or a bit of poetry heard at a lecture, my lad, my pretty, my love, take pity, but especially the more fluid and flou Italian verse, for instance that ditty recited between knee-knocking and palpebra-lifting, by a half-Russian, half-dotty old doctor, doc, toc, ditty, dotty, ballatetta, deboletta... tu, voce sbigottita... spigotty e diavoletta... de lo cor dolente... con ballatetta va... va... della strutta, destruttamente... mente... mente... stop that record, or the guide will go on demonstrating as he did this very morning in Florence a silly pillar commemorating, he said, the ‘elmo’ that broke into leaf when they carried stone-heavy-dead St Zeus by it through the gradual, gradual shade; or the Arlington harridan talking incessantly to her silent husband as the vineyards sped by, and even in the tunnel (they can’t do this to you, you tell them, Jack Black, you just tell them...). Bathwater (or shower) was too much of a Caliban to speak distinctly — or perhaps was too brutally anxious to emit the hot torrent and get rid of the infernal ardor — to bother about small talk; but the burbly flowlets grew more and more ambitious and odious, and when at her first ‘home’ she heard one of the most hateful of the visiting doctors (the Cavalcanti quoter) garrulously pour hateful instructions in Russian-lapped German into her hateful bidet, she decided to stop turning on tap water altogether. (1.3)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): lammer: amber (Fr: l’ambre), allusion to electricity.
my lad, my pretty, etc: paraphrase of a verse in Housman.
ballatetta: fragmentation and distortion of a passage in a ‘little ballad’ by the Italian poet Guido Cavalcanti (1255-1300). The relevant lines are: ‘you frightened and weak little voice that comes weeping from my woeful heart, go with my soul and that ditty, telling of a destroyed mind.’
After the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century electricity was banned on Demonia. Severyanin is the author of Elektricheskie stikhi ("Electric Verses," 1911), a fact stressed by Harlequin in the subtitle of his pastiche:
Автор электрических и прочих осветительных материалов, то бишь «стихов») «Керосино-калильные (я?!?) поэзы)
See also the updated version of my previous post, “Tokay wine & Gradus in Pale Fire.”