and do you remember, a tï pomnish’, et te souviens-tu in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 09/27/2021 - 05:08

Describing the early stage of his relationship with Ada, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) says that the phrase ‘and do you remember’ in three different languages became with him and Ada the standard device for beginning every other sentence:


Not only in ear-trumpet age — in what Van called their dot-dot-dotage — but even more so in their adolescence (summer, 1888), did they seek a scholarly excitement in establishing the past evolution (summer, 1884) of their love, the initial stages of its revelations, the freak discrepancies in gappy chronographies. She had kept only a few — mainly botanical and entomological — pages of her diary, because on rereading it she had found its tone false and finical; he had destroyed his entirely because of its clumsy, schoolboyish style combined with heedless, and false, cynicism. Thus they had to rely on oral tradition, on the mutual correction of common memories. ‘And do you remember, a tï pomnish’, et te souviens-tu’ (invariably with that implied codetta of ‘and,’ introducing the bead to be threaded in the torn necklace) became with them, in their intense talks, the standard device for beginning every other sentence. Calendar dates were debated, sequences sifted and shifted, sentimental notes compared, hesitations and resolutions passionately analyzed. If their recollections now and then did not tally, this was often owing to sexual differences rather than to individual temperament. Both were diverted by life’s young fumblings, both saddened by the wisdom of time. Ada tended to see those initial stages as an extremely gradual and diffuse growth, possibly unnatural, probably unique, but wholly delightful in its smooth unfolding which precluded any brutish impulses or shocks of shame. Van’s memory could not help picking out specific episodes branded forever with abrupt and poignant, and sometimes regrettable, physical thrills. She had the impression that the insatiable delectations she arrived at, without having expected or summoned them, were experienced by Van only by the time she attained them: that is, after weeks of cumulative caresses; her first physiological reactions to them she demurely dismissed as related to childish practices which she had indulged in before and which had little to do with the glory and tang of individual happiness. Van, on the contrary, not only could tabulate every informal spasm he had hidden from her before they became lovers, but stressed philosophic and moral distinctions between the shattering force of self-abuse and the overwhelming softness of avowed and shared love. (1.18)


In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) A vy pomnite (“And do you remember”) is the question repeated by Vorob’yaninov and his former mistress, Elena Stanislavovna Bour:


Когда женщина стареет, с ней могут произойти многие неприятности: могут выпасть зубы, поседеть и поредеть волосы, развиться одышка, может нагрянуть тучность, может одолеть крайняя худоба, но голос у нее не изменится. Он останется таким же, каким был у нее гимназисткой, невестой или любовницей молодого повесы.

Поэтому, когда Полесов постучал в дверь и Елена Станиславовна спросила: «Кто там?» — Воробьянинов дрогнул. Голос его любовницы был тот же, что и в девяносто девятом году, перед открытием парижской выставки. Но, войдя в комнату и сжимая веки от света, Ипполит Матвеевич увидел, что от былой красоты не осталось и следа.

— Как вы изменились! — сказал он невольно.

Старуха бросилась ему на шею.

— Спасибо, — сказала она, — я знаю, чем вы рисковали, придя ко мне. Вы тот же великодушный рыцарь. Я не спрашиваю вас, зачем вы приехали из Парижа. Видите, я не любопытна.

— Но я приехал вовсе не из Парижа, — растерянно сказал Воробьянинов.

— Мы с коллегой прибыли из Берлина, — поправил Остап, нажимая на локоть Ипполита Матвеевича, — об этом не рекомендуется говорить вслух.

— Ах, я так рада вас видеть! — возопила гадалка. — Войдите сюда, в эту комнату… А вы, Виктор Михайлович, простите, но не зайдете ли вы через полчаса?

— О! — заметил Остап. — Первое свидание! Трудные минуты! Разрешите и мне удалиться. Вы позволите с вами, любезнейший Виктор Михайлович?

Слесарь задрожал от радости. Оба ушли в квартиру Полесова, где Остап, сидя на обломке ворот дома № 5 по Перелешинскому переулку, стал развивать перед оторопевшим кустарем-одиночкою с мотором фантасмагорические идеи, клонящиеся к спасению родины.

Через час они вернулись и застали стариков совершенно разомлевшими.

— А вы помните, Елена Станиславовна? — говорил Ипполит Матвеевич.

— А вы помните, Ипполит Матвеевич? — говорила Елена Станиславовна.

«Кажется, наступил психологический момент для ужина», — подумал Остап. И, прервав Ипполита Матвеевича, вспоминавшего выборы в городскую управу, сказал:

— В Берлине есть очень странный обычай — там едят так поздно, что нельзя понять, что это: ранний ужин или поздний обед!

Елена Станиславовна встрепенулась, отвела кроличий взгляд от Воробьянинова и потащилась в кухню.


When a woman grows old, many unpleasant things may happen to her: her teeth may fall out, her hair may thin out and turn grey, she may become short-winded, she may unexpectedly develop fat or grow extremely thin, but her voice never changes. It remains just as  it was when she was a schoolgirl, a bride, or some young rake's mistress. That was why Vorobyaninov trembled when Polesov knocked at the door and Elena Stanislavovna answered: "Who's that?" His mistress's voice was the same as it had been in 1899 just before the opening of the Paris Exhibition. But as soon as he entered the room, squinting from the glare of the light, he saw that there was not a trace of her former beauty left.

"How you've changed," he said involuntarily.

The old woman threw herself on to his neck. "Thank you," she said. "I know what you risk by coming here to see me. You're the same chivalrous knight. I'm not going – to ask you why you're here from Paris. I'm  not curious, you see."

"But I haven't come from Paris at all," said Ippolit Matveyevich in confusion.

"My colleague and I have come from Berlin," Ostap corrected her, nudging Ippolit Matveyevich, "but it's not advisable to  talk about it too loudly."

"Oh, how pleased I am to see you," shrilled the fortune-teller. "Come in here, into this room. And I'm sorry, Victor Mikhaylovich, but couldn't you come back in half an hour?"

"Oh!" Ostap remarked. "The first meeting. Difficult moments! Allow me to withdraw as well. May I come with you, dear Victor Mikhaylovich?"

The mechanic trembled with joy. They both went off to Polesov's apartment, where Ostap, sitting on a piece of one of the gates of No. 5 Pereleshinsky Street, outlined his phantasmagoric ideas for the salvation of the motherland to the dumbstruck artisan. An hour later they returned to find the old couple lost in reminiscence.

"And do you remember, Elena Stanislavovna?" Ippolit Matveyevich was saying.

"And do you remember, Ippolit Matveyevich?" Elena Stanislavovna was saying.

"The psychological moment for supper seems to have arrived," thought Ostap, and, interrupting Ippolit Matveyevich, who was recalling the elections to the Tsarist town council, said: "They have a very strange custom in Berlin. They eat so late that you can't tell whether it's an early supper or a late lunch."

Elena Stanislavovna gave a start, took her rabbit's eyes off Vorobyaninov, and dragged herself into the kitchen. (Chapter XIV “The Alliance of the Sword and Ploughshare”)


Elena Stanislavovna’s krolichiy vzglyad (rabbit’s glance) and kroliki (the rabbits) bred by Father Fyodor (one of the three diamond hunters in "The Twelve Chairs") bring to mind Dr Krolik, the local entomologist and Ada’s beloved teacher of natural history. In Alexander Blok’s poem Neznakomka (“The Unknown Woman,” 1906) p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out “In vino veritas!” At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) uses the phrase s glazami (with the eyes) and mentions Dr Krolik:


'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.’ (1.38)


Vorob’yaninov’s former mistress is a gadalka (fortune-teller). Before the family dinner Demon reads Van’s palm (predicting his own death in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific in March, 1905):


‘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. (ibid.)


The Gulf of Mexico brings to mind meksikanskiy tushkan (Mexican jerboa), the fur mentioned by Ellochka the Cannibal in “The Twelve Chairs:”


Остап сразу понял, как вести себя в светском обществе. Он закрыл глаза и сделал шаг назад.

- Прекрасный мех! - воскликнул он.

- Шутите! - сказала Эллочка нежно. - Это мексиканский тушкан.

- Быть этого не может. Вас обманули. Вам дали гораздо лучший мех. Это шанхайские барсы. Ну да! Барсы! Я узнаю их по оттенку. Видите, как мех играет на солнце!.. Изумруд! Изумруд!

Эллочка сама красила мексиканского тушкана зелёной акварелью, и потому похвала утреннего посетителя была ей особенно приятна.


Ostap knew at once how he should behave in such high society. He closed his eyes and took a step backwards. "A beautiful fur!" he exclaimed.
"You're kidding," said Ellochka tenderly. "It's Mexican jerboa."
"It can't be. They made a mistake. You were given a much better fur. It's Shanghai leopard. Yes, leopard. I recognize it by the shade. You see how it reflects the sun. Just like emerald!

Ellochka had dyed the Mexican jerboa with green water-colour herself, so the morning visitor's praise was particularly pleasing. (Chapter XXII "Ellochka the Cannibal"):


Ellochka's friend Fima Sobak (a cultured girl whose vocabulary consists of 180 words and includes the word "homosexuality") brings to mind Cordula Tobak, Van's former mistress whom Van suspected of being a lesbian and whom Ada calls "Cordula Tobacco, alias Mme Perwitzky:"


‘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).


Perwitzky is the fur of the rare tiger polecat, Foetorius sarmaticus. In Shakespeare's play The Merry Wives of Windsor "polecat" became a nickname of a promiscuous or loose-moraled woman. In "The Twelve Chairs" the vocabulary of Ellochka the Cannibal is contrasted to that of William Shakespeare:


Словарь Вильяма Шекспира, по подсчету исследователей, составляет 12000 слов. Словарь негра из людоедского племени «Мумбо-Юмбо» составляет 300 слов.
Эллочка Щукина легко и свободно обходилась тридцатью.


William Shakespeare's vocabulary has been estimated by the experts at twelve thousand words. The vocabulary of a Negro from the Mumbo Jumbo tribe amounts to three hundred words.
Ellochka Shchukin managed easily and fluently on thirty. (Chapter XXII)


In Kim Beauharnais’ album Dr Krolik looks much less furry and fat than Van imagined:


Well,’ said Van, when the mind took over again, ‘let’s go back to our defaced childhood. I’m anxious’ — (picking up the album from the bedside rug) — ‘to get rid of this burden. Ah, a new character, the inscription says: Dr Krolik.’

‘Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van but it’s terribly messy all the same. Okay. Yes, that’s my poor nature teacher.’

Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for ‘lepidopteron’). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that chase?

‘How curious — in the state Kim mounted him here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he’s a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!’

‘There’s nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here’s the visual proof. Besides, that’s not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.’

‘I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor.’

‘I’m not lying!’ — (with lovely dignity): ‘He is a doctor of philosophy.’

‘Van ist auch one,’ murmured Van, sounding the last word as ‘wann.’ (2.7)


Wann is German for “when.” Karol, or Karapars (“black panther”), Krolik was Ada’s first lover. When Van and Ada make love after the dinner in ‘Ursus,’ Ada complains that Van hurt her ‘like a Tiger Turk:’


 ‘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. (2.8)


Van never finds out that Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s husband) and Ada have at least two children and that Mr. Ronald Oranger (old Van's secretary, the editor of Ada) and Violet Knox (old Van's typist whom Ada calls Fialochka, "little Violet," and who marries Ronald Oranger after Van's and Ada's death) are Ada's grandchildren.