Ursus, Esmeralda & mermaid in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 08/18/2021 - 15:15

Soon after his reunion with Ada in November, 1892, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) takes Ada and Lucette to ‘Ursus’ (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major):


Knowing how fond his sisters were of Russian fare and Russian floor shows, Van took them Saturday night to ‘Ursus,’ the best Franco-Estonian restaurant in Manhattan Major. Both young ladies wore the very short and open evening gowns that Vass ‘miraged’ that season — in the phrase of that season: Ada, a gauzy black, Lucette, a lustrous cantharid green. Their mouths ‘echoed’ in tone (but not tint) each other’s lipstick; their eyes were made up in a ‘surprised bird-of-paradise’ style that was as fashionable in Los as in Lute. Mixed metaphors and double-talk became all three Veens, the children of Venus. (2.8)


Ursus is the traveling artist in Victor Hugo’s novel L’Homme qui rit (“The Laughing Man,” 1869). In his essay Théophile Gautier (1920) Gumilyov says that Gautier was a pupil of Hugo:


Еще в юности Теофиль Готье объявил себя пажом Гюго и солдатом романтизма и остался верен своему вождю и знамени до конца жизни. Он пришел в литературу позже Ламартина, Виньи и Мюссе, едва ли превосходил их талантом, но его место в истории романтизма первое за учителем. Там, где Гюго произносил лозунги, Готье приводил их в исполненье, где Гюго, как титан, бросал глыбы, Готье складывал из них стройное зданье. (II)


Gumilyov quotes Gautier’s aphorism “of all noises music is the most unpleasant” and mentions the cartoonists who make a series of musical symbols fly out of a musician's trumpet:


Романтики, и Готье больше других, произвели коренной переворот в этой области поэзии. Александриец, сохраняя цезуру после третьей стопы, разбился логическими цезурами на три части и приобрел таким образом небывалое до тех пор разнообразие, выразительность и певучесть. Рифмы, получив опорную согласную, иногда даже лишний слог, перестали только отмечать конец стиха, а сделались могучим музыкальным приемом. Однако верный своему первому призванью — живописи, Теофиль Готье фонетике стиха предпочитал его стиль. Это он пустил в ход знаменитую фразу, что из всех шумов музыка — самый неприятный. И в стихотворении, посвященном балету — «Венецианский карнавал», он рисует звуки в их графическом изображении, подобно тому, как карикатуристы заставляют вылетать из трубы музыканта вереницу нотных знаков. (II)


In ‘Ursus’ music makes Van and Ada sob:


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.’ (2.8)


Lucette speaks of Van’s scar, not of his penis. After his pistol duel with Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, Van loses his ability to dance on his hands. Describing his performance in variety shows as Mascodagama (Van’s stage name), Van mentions the cartoonists:


On February 5, 1887, an unsigned editorial in The Ranter (the usually so sarcastic and captious Chose weekly) described Mascodagama’s performance as ‘the most imaginative and singular stunt ever offered to a jaded music-hall public.’ It was repeated at the Rantariver Club several times, but nothing in the programme or in publicity notices beyond the definition ‘Foreign eccentric’ gave any indication either of the exact nature of the ‘stunt’ or of the performer’s identity. Rumors, carefully and cleverly circulated by Mascodagama’s friends, diverted speculations toward his being a mysterious visitor from beyond the Golden Curtain, particularly since at least half-a-dozen members of a large Good-will Circus Company that had come from Tartary just then (i.e., on the eve of the Crimean War) — three dancing girls, a sick old clown with his old speaking goat, and one of the dancers’ husbands, a make-up man (no doubt, a multiple agent) — had already defected between France and England, somewhere in the newly constructed ‘Chunnel.’ Mascodagama’s spectacular success in a theatrical club that habitually limited itself to Elizabethan plays, with queens and fairies played by pretty boys, made first of all a great impact on cartoonists. Deans, local politicians, national statesmen, and of course the current ruler of the Golden Horde were pictured as mascodagamas by topical humorists. A grotesque imitator (who was really Mascodagama himself in an oversophisticated parody of his own act!) was booed at Oxford (a women’s college nearby) by local rowdies. A shrewd reporter, who had heard him curse a crease in the stage carpet, commented in print on his ‘Yankee twang.’ Dear Mr ‘Vascodagama’ received an invitation to Windsor Castle from its owner, a bilateral descendant of Van’s own ancestors, but he declined it, suspecting (incorrectly, as it later transpired) the misprint to suggest that his incognito had been divulged by one of the special detectives at Chose — the same, perhaps, who had recently saved the psychiatrist P.O. Tyomkin from the dagger of Prince Potyomkin, a mixed-up kid from Sebasntopol, Id. (1.30)


Van’s stage name blends ‘mask’ with Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India. In his poem Vy vse, paladiny Zelyonogo Khrama (“You all, the paladins of the Green Temple,” 1909) Gumilyov mentions de-Gama (sic):


Вы все, паладины Зелёного Храма,
Над пасмурным морем следившие румб,
Гонзальво и Кук, Лаперуз и де-Гама,
Мечтатель и царь, генуэзец Колумб!


The Golden Horde is also known on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as Tartary, a country that occupies the territory of Soviet Russia. In Gumilyov’s story Radosti zemnoy lyubvi ("The Joys of Earthly Love," 1908) a signor from Venice wrote a sonnet for Primavera in which her looks are compared to poisoned arrows of the inhabitants of wild Tartary:


В то время вся Флоренция говорила о заезжем венецианском синьоре и о его скорее влюблённом, чем почтительном, преклонении перед красотой Примаверы. Этот венецианец одевался в костюмы, напоминающие цветом попугаев; ломаясь, пел песни, пригодные разве только для таверн или грубых солдатских попоек; и хвастливо рассказывал о путешествиях своего соотечественника Марко Поло, в которых сам и не думал участвовать. И как-то Кавальканти видел, что Примавера приняла предложенный ей сонет этого высокомерного глупца, где воспевалась её красота в выражениях напыщенных и смешных: её груди сравнивались со снеговыми вершинами Гималайских гор, взгляды с отравленными стрелами обитателей дикой Тартарии, а любовь, возбуждаемая ею, с чудовищным зверем Симлой, который живёт во владениях Великого Могола, ежедневно пожирая тысячи людей; вдобавок размер часто пропадал, и рифмы были расставлены неверно.


The action in Gumilyov’s story takes place in Florence at the end of the 13th century and the main character is the poet Guido Cavalcanti (who is in love with beautiful Primavera). Describing the torments of poor mad Aqua (the twin sister of Marina, Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother), Van mentions Florence and a half-Russian, half-dotty old doctor who quotes Cavalcanti:


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’): 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.’


In his apologetic note to Lucette written after the dinner in ‘Ursus’ and debauch à trois in Van’s Manhattan flat Van calls his and Ada’s half-sister “our Esmeralda and mermaid:”


After a while he adored [sic! Ed.] the pancakes. No Lucette, however, turned up, and when Ada, still wearing her diamonds (in sign of at least one more caro Van and a Camel before her morning bath) looked into the guest room, she found the white valise and blue furs gone. A note scrawled in Arlen Eyelid Green was pinned to the pillow.


Would go mad if remained one more night shall ski at Verma with other poor woolly worms for three weeks or so miserable

Pour Elle


Van walked over to a monastic lectern that he had acquired for writing in the vertical position of vertebrate thought and wrote what follows:


Poor L.

We are sorry you left so soon. We are even sorrier to have inveigled our Esmeralda and mermaid in a naughty prank. That sort of game will never be played again with you, darling firebird. We apollo [apologize]. Remembrance, embers and membranes of beauty make artists and morons lose all self-control. Pilots of tremendous airships and even coarse, smelly coachmen are known to have been driven insane by a pair of green eyes and a copper curl. We wished to admire and amuse you, BOP (bird of paradise). We went too far. I, Van, went too far. We regret that shameful, though basically innocent scene. These are times of emotional stress and reconditioning. Destroy and forget.

Tenderly yours A & V.

(in alphabetic order).


‘I call this pompous, puritanical rot,’ said Ada upon scanning Van’s letter. ‘Why should we apollo for her having experienced a delicious spazmochka? I love her and would never allow you to harm her. It’s curious — you know, something in the tone of your note makes me really jealous for the first time in my fire [thus in the manuscript, for "life." Ed.] Van, Van, somewhere, some day, after a sunbath or dance, you will sleep with her, Van!’

‘Unless you run out of love potions. Do you allow me to send her these lines?’

‘I do, but want to add a few words.’

Her P.S. read:


The above declaration is Van’s composition which I sign reluctantly. It is pompous and puritanical. I adore you, mon petit, and would never allow him to hurt you, no matter how gently or madly. When you’re sick of Queen, why not fly over to Holland or Italy?

A. (2.8)


Esmeralda is a gipsy girl in Victor Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris (1831). Notre Dame (1913) is a poem by Gumilyov’s friend Mandelshtam. Rusalka (“The Mermaid,” 1904) is a poem by Gumilyov addressed to his future wife, Anna Akhmatov:


На русалке горит ожерелье
И рубины греховно-красны,
Это странно-печальные сны
Мирового, больного похмелья.
На русалке горит ожерелье

И рубины греховно-красны.

У русалки мерцающий взгляд,
Умирающий взгляд полуночи,
Он блестит, то длинней, то короче,
Когда ветры морские кричат.
У русалки чарующий взгляд,
У русалки печальные очи.

Я люблю ее, деву-ундину,
Озаренную тайной ночной,
Я люблю ее взгляд заревой
И горящие негой рубины…
Потому что я сам из пучины,
Из бездонной пучины морской.


Rubiny (the rubies) mentioned by Gumilyov in each stanza of his poem bring to mind Ruby Black, Van’s black wet-nurse. Describing his conversation with Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Van mentions his tender young nurse, Ruby:


‘I say,’ exclaimed Demon, ‘what’s happened — your shaftment is that of a carpenter’s. Show me your other hand. Good gracious’ (muttering:) ‘Hump of Venus disfigured, Line of Life scarred but monstrously long...’ (switching to a gipsy chant:) ‘You’ll live to reach Terra, and come back a wiser and merrier man’ (reverting to his ordinary voice:) ‘What puzzles me as a palmist is the strange condition of the Sister of your Life. And the roughness!’

‘Mascodagama,’ whispered Van, raising his eyebrows.

‘Ah, of course, how blunt (dumb) of me. Now tell me — you like Ardis Hall?’

‘I adore it,’ said Van. ‘It’s for me the château que baignait la Dore. I would gladly spend all my scarred and strange life here. But that’s a hopeless fancy.’

‘Hopeless? I wonder. I know Dan wants to leave it to Lucile, but Dan is greedy, and my affairs are such that I can satisfy great greed. When I was your age I thought that the sweetest word in the language rhymes with "billiard," and now I know I was right. If you’re really keen, son, on having this property, I might try to buy it. I can exert a certain pressure upon my Marina. She sighs like a hassock when you sit upon her, so to speak. Damn it, the servants here are not Mercuries. Pull that cord again. Yes, maybe Dan could be made to sell.’

‘That’s very black of you, Dad,’ said pleased Van, using a slang phrase he had learned from his tender young nurse, Ruby, who was born in the Mississippi region where most magistrates, public benefactors, high priests of various so-called’ denominations,’ and other honorable and generous men, had the dark or darkish skin of their West-African ancestors, who had been the first navigators to reach the Gulf of Mexico. (1.38)


Reading Van’s palm, Demon seems to predict his own death in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific in March, 1905. Van does not realize 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.


Gumilyov was an explorer of Africa. His African poem Mik (1914) brings to mind Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whom Van blinds for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada (2.11). At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Marina mentions Kim:


‘Marina,’ murmured Demon at the close of the first course. ‘Marina,’ he repeated louder. ‘Far from me’ (a locution he favored) ‘to criticize Dan’s taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I’m above all that rot, I’m...’ (gesture); ‘but, my dear,’ he continued, switching to Russian, ‘the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki — the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) —’

‘Everybody has eyes,’ remarked Marina drily.

‘Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves. But that’s not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It’s depressing. It’s a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.’

‘Look, Dad,’ said Van, ‘Dr Krolik can’t do much, because, as you know quite well, he’s dead, and Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive.’

‘The Veen wit, the Veen wit,’ murmured Demon.

‘Exactly,’ said Marina. ‘I simply refuse to do anything about it. Besides poor Jones is not at all asthmatic, but only nervously eager to please. He’s as healthy as a bull and has rowed me from Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer. You are cruel, Demon. I can’t tell him "ne pïkhtite," as I can’t tell Kim, the kitchen boy, not to take photographs on the sly — he’s a regular snap-shooting fiend, that Kim, though otherwise an adorable, gentle, honest boy; nor can I tell my little French maid to stop getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore.’

‘That’s interesting,’ observed Demon.

‘He’s a dirty old man!’ cried Van cheerfully.

‘Van!’ said Ada.

‘I’m a dirty young man,’ sighed Demon. (1.38)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): ne pïkhtite: Russ., do not wheeze.


The name of Marina’s little French maid, Blanche, brings to mind Symphonie en blanc majeur ("Symphony in White"), Gautier’s poem mentioned by Gumilyov in his essay:


Стилистом Теофиль Готье является одновременно могучим и изысканным. По привычке образно выражаться, он говорил, что хотел бы иметь столько пиастров или рублей, сколько слов он ввел в обиход поэзии после Малерба. И он же требовал, чтобы была образована особая комиссия, которая допускала бы неологизмы и словарь с той же строгостью, с какой принимают членов в Жокей-клуб. По его мненью, тот, кого захватывает мысль самая сложная или виденье самое сокровенное, но без слов, чтобы их выразить, тот не писатель. Как это далеко от мненья русского поэта, провозгласившего, что «мысль изреченная есть ложь». Теофиля Готье слова учили невидимым ему самому оттенкам мысли, сопоставленья их придавали его образам неожиданную глубину и таинственность. Бессознательно следуя духу своей расы, превыше всего поставившей ясность, он избегал сложных метафор, заменяя их чисто восточным богатством сравнений. На этом он строил целые стихотворения, как, например, «Симфония ярко-белого», где во всех восемнадцати строфах-стансах повторяется эпитет «белый» и дается соответственный ему образ. (II)


According to Gumilyov, Gautier avoided complex metaphors. In ‘Ursus” all three Veens, the children of Venus, become mixed metaphors and double-talk. One of Gumilyov’s last poems (written not long before his arrest) is Na dalyokoy zvezde Venere (“On the distant star Venus,” 1921).


Gumilyov translated into Russian Gautier's Émaux et Camées ("Enamels and Cameos"). Describing Blanche's looks, Van mentions her cameo profile:


The front door proved to be bolted and chained. He tried the glassed and grilled side door of a blue-garlanded gallery; it, too, did not yield. Being still unaware that under the stairs an in conspicuous recess concealed an assortment of spare keys (some very old and anonymous, hanging from brass hooks) and communicated though a toolroom with a secluded part of the garden, Van wandered through several reception rooms in search of an obliging window. In a corner room he found, standing at a tall window, a young chambermaid whom he had glimpsed (and promised himself to investigate) on the preceding evening. She wore what his father termed with a semi-assumed leer ‘soubret black and frissonet frill’; a tortoiseshell comb in her chestnut hair caught the amber light; the French window was open, and she was holding one hand, starred with a tiny aquamarine, rather high on the jamb as she looked at a sparrow that was hopping up the paved path toward the bit of baby-toed biscuit she had thrown to him. Her cameo profile, her cute pink nostril, her long, French, lily-white neck, the outline, both full and frail, of her figure (male lust does not go very far for descriptive felicities!), and especially the savage sense of opportune license moved Van so robustly that he could not resist clasping the wrist of her raised tight-sleeved arm. Freeing it, and confirming by the coolness of her demeanor that she had sensed his approach, the girl turned her attractive, though almost eyebrowless, face toward him and asked him if he would like a cup of tea before breakfast. No. What was her name? Blanche — but Mlle Larivière called her ‘Cendrillon’ because her stockings got so easily laddered, see, and because she broke and mislaid things, and confused flowers. His loose attire revealed his desire; this could not escape a girl’s notice, even if color-blind, and as he drew up still closer, while looking over her head for a suitable couch to take shape in some part of this magical manor — where any place, as in Casanova’s remembrances could be dream-changed into a sequestered seraglio nook — she wiggled out of his reach completely and delivered a little soliloquy in her soft Ladoran French:

Monsieur a quinze ans, je crois, et moi, je sais, j’en ai dixneuf. Monsieur is a nobleman; I am a poor peat-digger’s daughter. Monsieur a tâté, sans doute, des filles de la ville; quant à moi, je suis vierge, ou peu s’en faut. De plus, were I to fall in love with you — I mean really in love — and I might, alas, if you possessed me rien qu’une petite fois — it would be, for me, only grief, and infernal fire, and despair, and even death, Monsieur. Finalement, I might add that I have the whites and must see le Docteur Chronique, I mean Crolique, on my next day off. Now we have to separate, the sparrow has disappeared, I see, and Monsieur Bouteillan has entered the next room, and can perceive us clearly in that mirror above the sofa behind that silk screen.’

‘Forgive me, girl,’ murmured Van, whom her strange, tragic tone had singularly put off, as if he were taking part in a play in which he was the principal actor, but of which he could only recall that one scene. (1.7)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Monsieur a quinze ans, etc.: You are fifteen, Sir, I believe, and I am nineteen, I know.... You, Sir, have known town girls no doubt; as to me, I’m a virgin, or almost one. Moreover...

rien qu’une petite fois: just once.


Old Van's typist whom Ada calls Fialochka (little Violet), Violet Knox has a cameo neck:


Violet Knox [now Mrs Ronald Oranger. Ed.], born in 1940, came to live with us in 1957. She was (and still is — ten years later) an enchanting English blonde with doll eyes, a velvet carnation and a tweed-cupped little rump [.....]; but such designs, alas, could no longer flesh my fancy. She has been responsible for typing out this memoir — the solace of what are, no doubt, my last ten years of existence. A good daughter, an even better sister, and half-sister, she had supported for ten years her mother’s children from two marriages, besides laying aside [something]. I paid her [generously] per month, well realizing the need to ensure unembarrassed silence on the part of a puzzled and dutiful maiden. Ada called her ‘Fialochka’ and allowed herself the luxury of admiring ‘little Violet’ ‘s cameo neck, pink nostrils, and fair pony-tail. Sometimes, at dinner, lingering over the liqueurs, my Ada would consider my typist (a great lover of Koo-Ahn-Trow) with a dreamy gaze, and then, quick-quick, peck at her flushed cheek. The situation might have been considerably more complicated had it arisen twenty years earlier. (5.4)


Because love is blind, Van fails to see that Ronald Oranger and Violet Knox are Ada's grandchildren.


Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal ("The Flowers of Evil") are dedicated to Gautier (the fact mentioned by Gumilyov in his essay). Describing Aqua's torments, Van mentions Marina's talc powder in a half-full glass container marked colorfully Quelques Fleurs:


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)


In one of her little poems Ada crosses Baudelaire with Chateaubriand:


During the last week of July, there emerged, with diabolical regularity, the female of Chateaubriand’s mosquito, Chateaubriand (Charles), who had not been the first to be bitten by it... but the first to bottle the offender, and with cries of vindictive exultation to carry it to Professor Brown who wrote the rather slap-bang Original Description (‘small black palpi... hyaline wings... yellowy in certain lights... which should be extinguished if one keeps open the kasements [German printer!]...’ The Boston Entomologist for August, quick work, 1840) was not related to the great poet and memoirist born between Paris and Tagne (as he’d better, said Ada, who liked crossing orchids).


Mon enfant, ma sœur,

Songe à l’épaisseur

Du grand chêne a Tagne;

Songe à la montagne,

Songe à la douceur —


— of scraping with one’s claws or nails the spots visited by that fluffy-footed insect characterized by an insatiable and reckless appetite for Ada’s and Ardelia’s, Lucette’s and Lucile’s (multiplied by the itch) blood. (1.17)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Ada who liked crossing orchids: she crosses here two French authors, Baudelaire and Chateaubriand.

mon enfant, etc.: my child, my sister, think of the thickness of the big oak at Tagne, think of the mountain, think of the tenderness —


At the beginning of his essay on Gautier Gumilyov mentions Chateaubriand:


Как большинство поэтов начала девятнадцатого века, и Теофиль Готье унаследовал от Шатобриана и огненную меланхолию, и тоску по дальним странам, и ощущенье своего всемогущества. К этому наследству он прибавил только стальную волю и жизнеспособность духа, благодаря которой он неизменно оказывался своим в каждом из сменяющих друг друга поэтических лагерей века. (I)


‘Oh! qui me rendra mon Hélène. Et ma montagne et le grand chêne,’  the beginning of the final (fifth) sextet of Chateaubriand’s Romance à Hélène (‘Combien j’ai douce souvenance’) composed to an Auvergne tune that he heard during a trip to Mont Dore in 1805 and later inserted in his novella Le Dernier Abencerage, is one of the leitmotifs of Ada.