Describing the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the muscat wine and his raised lunel:
The muscat wine was uncorked. Ada’s and Ida’s healths drunk. ‘The conversation became general,’ as Monparnasse liked to write.
Count Percy de Prey turned to Ivan Demianovich Veen:
‘I’m told you like abnormal positions?’
The half-question was half-mockingly put. Van looked through his raised lunel at the honeyed sun.
‘Meaning what?’ he enquired.
‘Well — that walking-on-your-hands trick. One of your aunt’s servants is the sister of one of our servants and two pretty gossips form a dangerous team’ (laughing). ‘The legend has it that you do it all day long, in every corner, congratulations!’ (bowing).
Van replied: ‘The legend makes too much of my specialty. Actually, I practice it for a few minutes every other night, don’t I, Ada?’ (looking around for her). ‘May I give you, Count, some more of the mouse-and-cat — a poor pun, but mine.’
‘Vahn dear,’ said Marina, who was listening with delight to the handsome young men’s vivacious and carefree prattle, ‘tell him about your success in London. Zhe tampri (please)!’
‘Yes,’ said Van, ‘it all started as a rag, you know, up at Chose, but then —’
‘Van!’ called Ada shrilly. ‘I want to say something to you, Van, come here.’
Dorn (flipping through a literary review, to Trigorin): ‘Here, a couple of months ago, a certain article was printed... a Letter from America, and I wanted to ask you, incidentally’ (taking Trigorin by the waist and leading him to the front of the stage), ‘because I’m very much interested in that question...’
Ada stood with her back against the trunk of a tree, like a beautiful spy who has just rejected the blindfold.
‘I wanted to ask you, incidentally, Van’ (continuing in a whisper, with an angry flick of the wrist) — ‘stop playing the perfect idiot host; he came drunk as a welt, can’t you see?’ (1.39)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): etc.: Russ., distortion of je t’en prie.
Trigorin etc.: a reference to a scene in The Seagull.
In his poem V kolyaske Esklarmondy (“In the Carriage of Esclarmonde,” 1914) Igor Severyanin coins the word muskat-lyunel’no ("in a muscat-lunel way"):
Я еду в среброспицной коляске Эсклармонды
По липовой аллее, упавшей на курорт,
И в солнышках зеленых лучат волособлонды
Зло-спецной Эсклармонды шаплетку-фетроторт…
Мореет: шинам хрустче. Бездумно и беcцельно.
Две раковины девы впитали океан.
Он плещется дессертно, — совсем мускат-люнельно, —
Струится в мозг и в глазы, по человечьи пьян…
Взорвись, как бомба, солнце! Порвитесь, пены блонды!
Нет больше океана, умчавшегося в ту,
Кто носит имя моря и солнца — Эсклармонды,
Кто на земле любезно мне заменил мечту!
Esclarmonde (1889) is an opera by Jules Massenet. At the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother) sings from La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera known on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as “Traverdiata:”
Gradually their presence dissolved from Van’s mind. Everybody was now having a wonderful time. Marina threw off the pale raincoat or rather ‘dustcoat’ she had put on for the picnic (after all, with one thing and another, her domestic gray dress with the pink fichu was quite gay enough, she declared, for an old lady) and raising an empty glass she sang, with brio and very musically, the Green Grass aria: ‘Replenish, replenish the glasses with wine! Here’s a toast to love! To the rapture of love!’ With awe and pity, and no love, Van kept reverting to that poor bald patch on Traverdiata’s poor old head, to the scalp burnished by her hairdye an awful pine rust color much shinier than her dead hair. He attempted, as so many times before, to squeeze out some fondness for her but as usual failed and as usual told himself that Ada did not love her mother either, a vague and cowardly consolation. (1.39)
In his Poeza o tysyacha pervom znakomstve (“A Poem about the Thousand-and-First Acquaintance,” 1914) also included in his collection Ananasy v shampanskom (“Pineapples in Champagne,” 1915) Severyanin compares himself to Alfred and his hostess, to Traviata:
Лакей и сен-бернар — ах, оба баритоны! —
Встречали нас в дверях ответом на звонок.
Камелии. Ковры. Гостиной сребротоны.
Два пуфа и диван. И шесть безшумных ног.
Мы двое к ней пришли. Она была чужою.
Он знал ее, но я представлен в этот раз.
Мне сдержанный привет, и сен-бернару Джою
Уйти куда-нибудь и не мешать — приказ.
Салонный разговор, удобный для аббата,
Для доблестной ханжи и столь же для гетер.
И мы уже не мы: Альфред и Травиата.
И вот уже оркестр. И вот уже партер.
Так: входим в роли мы совсем непроизвольно.
Но режет сердце мне точеный комплимент.
Как больно говорить! Как нестерпимо больно,
Когда предвидишь вот любой, любой момент!
Все знаем наперед: и будет то, что смято
Когда-то, кем-то, как и где — не все равно ль?
И в ужасе, в тоске, — Альфред и Травиата, —
Мы шутим — как тогда! Лелея нашу боль…
Verdi’s opera La Traviata is based on La Dame aux camélias (1852), a play adapted from the 1848 novel by Alexandre Dumas fils. In Chekhov’s play Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896) Treplev speaks of his mother Arkadina (the ageing actress) and mentions Dumas’s play:
Нужно хвалить только её одну, нужно писать о ней, кричать, восторгаться её необыкновенною игрой в "La dame aux camelias" или в "Чад жизни", но так как здесь, в деревне, нет этого дурмана, то вот она скучает и злится, и все мы - её враги, все мы виноваты.
She alone must be praised and written about, raved over, her marvelous acting in “La Dame aux Camelias” or in “The Fumes of Life” extolled to the skies. As she cannot get all that intoxicant in the country, she grows peevish and cross, and thinks we are all against her, and to blame for it all. (Act One)
At the end of Chekhov’s play Dorn tells Trigorin to somehow get Arkadina away, for Konstantin Gavrilovich has just shot himself. In a picnic scene Van compares Ada to Dorn, identifying himself with Trigorin. One of Ada’s lovers who goes to the Crimean war and dies on the second day of the invasion, Percy de Prey is an adequate Treplev.
In Chekhov’s play Trigorin complains to Nina Zarechny that critics compare him to Tolstoy and Turgenev:
Нина. Позвольте, но разве вдохновение и самый процесс творчества не дают вам высоких, счастливых минут?
Тригорин. Да. Когда пишу, приятно. И корректуру читать приятно, но… едва вышло из печати, как я не выношу и вижу уже, что оно не то, ошибка, что его не следовало бы писать вовсе, и мне досадно, на душе дрянно… (Смеясь.) А публика читает: «Да, мило, талантливо… Мило, но далеко до Толстого», или: «Прекрасная вещь, но „Отцы и дети“ Тургенева лучше». И так до гробовой доски все будет только мило и талантливо, мило и талантливо — больше ничего, а как умру, знакомые, проходя мимо могилы, будут говорить: «Здесь лежит Тригорин. Хороший был писатель, но он писал хуже Тургенева».
Nina. Yes, but look – there is inspiration, the creative process. Does not that give you moments of ecstasy?
Trigorin. Yes, it's a pleasant feeling writing;... and looking over proofs is pleasant too. But as soon as the thing is published my heart sinks, and I see that it is a failure, a mistake, that I ought not to have written it at all; then I am angry with myself, and feel horrible.... [Laughing] And the public reads it and says: "How charming! How clever!... How charming, but not a patch on Tolstoy!" or "It's a delightful story, but not so good as Turgenev's 'Fathers and Sons.'" And so on, to my dying day, my writings will always be clever and charming, clever and charming, nothing more. And when I die, my friends, passing by my grave, will say: "Here lies Trigorin. He was a charming writer, but not so good as Turgenev." (Act Two)
The action in La dame aux camélias takes place in Bougival (near Paris). In a letter of 7/19 September, 1875, to N. V. Khanykov Turgenev says that on the next day (September 20, 1875, NS) he will move to the new-built chalet at his and Viardot's villa Les frênes ("The Ash Trees") in Bougival:
Я Вас приму в новом своём доме, куда завтра переселяюсь, а г-н и г-жа Виардо будут очень довольны, если Вы при сей оказии останетесь у них обедать, и просят меня пригласить Вас, так же как Салтыкова и Соллогуба.
According to Van, all the hundred floramors (palatial brothels built by David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction, all over the world in memory of his grandson Eric) opened simultaneously on September 20, 1875:
Eccentricity is the greatest grief’s greatest remedy. The boy’s grandfather set at once to render in brick and stone, concrete and marble, flesh and fun, Eric’s fantasy. He resolved to be the first sampler of the first houri he would hire for his last house, and to live until then in laborious abstinence.
It must have been a moving and magnificent sight — that of the old but still vigorous Dutchman with his rugged reptilian face and white hair, designing with the assistance of Leftist decorators the thousand and one memorial floramors he resolved to erect allover the world — perhaps even in brutal Tartary, which he thought was ruled by ‘Americanized Jews,’ but then ‘Art redeemed Politics’ — profoundly original concepts that we must condone in a lovable old crank. He began with rural England and coastal America, and was engaged in a Robert Adam-like composition (cruelly referred to by local wags as the Madam-I’m-Adam House), not far from Newport, Rodos Island, in a somewhat senile style, with marble columns dredged from classical seas and still encrusted with Etruscan oyster shells — when he died from a stroke while helping to prop up a propylon. It was only his hundredth house!
His nephew and heir, an honest but astoundingly stuffy clothier in Ruinen (somewhere near Zwolle, I’m told), with a large family and a small trade, was not cheated out of the millions of guldens, about the apparent squandering of which he had been consulting mental specialists during the last ten years or so. All the hundred floramors opened simultaneously on September 20, 1875 (and by a delicious coincidence the old Russian word for September, ‘ryuen’,’ which might have spelled ‘ruin,’ also echoed the name of the ecstatic Neverlander’s hometown). (2.3)
"Marble columns dredged from classical seas" bring to mind Severyanin's poem Klassicheskie rozy ("Classical Roses," 1925):
Как хороши, как свежи были розы
В моем саду! Как взор прельщали мой!
Как я молил весенние морозы
Не трогать их холодною рукой!
В те времена, когда роились грёзы
В сердцах людей, прозрачны и ясны,
Как хороши, как свежи были розы
Моей любви, и славы, и весны!
Прошли лета, и всюду льются слёзы…
Нет ни страны, ни тех, кто жил в стране…
Как хороши, как свежи были розы
Воспоминаний о минувшем дне!
Но дни идут — уже стихают грозы
Вернуться в дом Россия ищет троп…
Как хороши, как свежи будут розы
Моей страной мне брошенные в гроб!
At the picnic on her sixteenth birthday Ada tells Percy de Prey that she loathes roses:
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, at that very moment Ada emitted a Russian exclamation of utmost annoyance as a steel-gray convertible glided into the glade. No sooner had it stopped than it was surrounded by the same group of townsmen, who now seemed to have multiplied in strange consequence of having shed coats and waistcoats. Thrusting his way through their circle, with every sign of wrath and contempt, young Percy de Prey, frilled-shifted and white-trousered, strode up to Marina’s deckchair. He was invited to join the party despite Ada’s trying to stop her silly mother with an admonishing stare and a private small shake of the head.
‘I dared not hope... Oh, I accept with great pleasure,’ answered Percy, whereupon — very much whereupon — the seemingly forgetful but in reality calculating bland bandit marched back to his car (near which a last wonderstruck admirer lingered) to fetch a bouquet of longstemmed roses stored in the boot.
‘What a shame that I should loathe roses,’ said Ada, accepting them gingerly. (1.39)
The young author of an essay entitled ‘Villa Venus: an Organized Dream,’ Eric Veen derived his project from reading too many erotic works found in a furnished house his grandfather had bought near Vence from Count Tolstoy, a Russian or Pole:
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.’
To put it bluntly, the boy had sought to solace his first sexual torments by imagining and detailing a project (derived from reading too many erotic works found in a furnished house his grandfather had bought near Vence from Count Tolstoy, a Russian or Pole): namely, a chain of palatial brothels that his inheritance would allow him to establish all over ‘both hemispheres of our callipygian globe.’ The little chap saw it as a kind of fashionable club, with branches, or, in his poetical phrase, ‘Floramors,’ in the vicinity of cities and spas. Membership was to be restricted to noblemen, ‘handsome and healthy,’ with an age limit of fifty (which must be praised as very broadminded on the poor kid’s part), paying a yearly fee of 3650 guineas not counting the cost of bouquets, jewels and other gallant donations. Resident female physicians, good-looking and young (‘of the American secretarial or dentist-assistant type’), would be there to check the intimate physical condition of ‘the caresser and the caressed’ (another felicitous formula) as well as their own if ‘the need arose,’ One clause in the Rules of the Club seemed to indicate that Eric, though frenziedly heterosexual, had enjoyed some tender ersatz fumblings with schoolmates at Note (a notorious preparatory school in that respect): at least two of the maximum number of fifty inmates in the major floramors might be pretty boys, wearing frontlets and short smocks, not older than fourteen if fair, and not more than twelve if dark. However, in order to exclude a regular flow of ‘inveterate pederasts,’ boy love could be dabbled in by the jaded guest only between two sequences of three girls each, all possessed in the course of the same week — a somewhat comical, but not unshrewd, stipulation.
The candidates for every floramor were to be selected by a Committee of Club Members who would take into consideration the annual accumulation of impressions and desiderata, jotted down by the guests in a special Shell Pink Book. ‘Beauty and tenderness, grace and docility’ composed the main qualities required of the girls, aged from fifteen to twenty-five in the case of ‘slender Nordic dolls,’ and from ten to twenty in that of ‘opulent Southern charmers.’ They would gambol and loll in ‘boudoirs and conservatories,’ invariably naked and ready for love; not so their attendants, attractively dressed handmaids of more or less exotic extraction, ‘unavailable to the fancy of members except by special permission from the Board.’ My favorite clause (for I own a photostat of that poor boy’s calligraph) is that any girl in her floramor could be Lady-in-Chief by acclamation during her menstrual period. (This of course did not work, and the committee compromised by having a good-looking female homosexual head the staff and adding a bouncer whom Eric had overlooked.) (2.3)
Veneris vena (1924) is a poem by Severyanin. “A special Shell Pink Book” and “Etruscan oyster shells” bring to mind dve rakoviny devy (the two shell maidens) who absorbed the ocean in Severyanin’s poem “In the Carriage of Esclarmonde.” In his poem Introduktsiya (“Introduction,” 1919) Severyanin mentions Vervena (a plant whose name comes from Veneris vena, Latin for “Venus’ vein”), ustritsy (oysters), more (the sea), poraboshchyonnyi pesney Demon (the Demon enslaved by the song) and svyatoy Amor (holy Amor):
Вервэна, устрицы и море,
Порабощённый песней Демон —
Вот книги настоящей тема,
Чаруйной книги о святом Аморе.
Она, печалящая ваши грёзы,
Утонченные и больные,
Приобретает то льняные,
То вдруг стальные струнные наркозы.
Всмотритесь пристальнее в эти строки:
В них — обретённая утрата.
И если дух дегенерата
В них веет, помните: всему есть сроки.
Van’s and Ada’s father, Demon Veen was a member of the first Venus Club Council:
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)
Mr. Ritkov and Vrotic are the aliases of King Victor (who often visits Villa Venus incognito). The Antierran counterpart of the British Queen Victoria, King Victor brings to mind Severyanin’s poem Victoria Regia (“Victoria Amazonica,” 1909):
Наша встреча — Виктория Регия:
Редко, редко в цвету…
До и после нее жизнь — элегия
И надежда в мечту.
Ты придешь — изнываю от неги я,
Трепещу на лету.
Наша встреча — Виктория Регия:
Редко, редко в цвету…
In 1905 King Victor withdraws his patronage:
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. (2.3)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): subsidunt etc.: mountains subside and heights deteriorate.
In March, 1905, Demon Veen perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific (3.7). The element that destroys Demon is air:
Numbers and rows and series — the nightmare and malediction harrowing pure thought and pure time — seemed bent on mechanizing his mind. Three elements, fire, water, and air, destroyed, in that sequence, Marina, Lucette, and Demon. Terra waited. (3.1)
Vozdukh – radost’ (“Air is Joy,” 1931) is a poem written by Severyanin at Flora mira, Colonel Slivinski’s Adriatic villa near Dubrovnik (Ragusa):
Это не веянье воздуха,
а дыханье Божества
В дни неземные, надземные
Воздух вздохнешь упояющий, —
разве ж где-то есть зима?
То, что зовется здесь воздухом —
радость яркая сама!
Море и небо столь синие,
розы алые в саду.
Через прозрачные пинии
Бога, кажется, найду,
вижу брызги на весле.
Это же просто немыслимо:
неземное на Земле!
Вилла «Флора мира»
24 дек. 1931 г.
According to Ada, Vanda Broom (Ada’s lesbian schoolmate at Brownhill) 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. Similarly, Van fails to see 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.