torn necklace & codetta in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 09/29/2021 - 07:53

Revisiting Ardis in the summer of 1888, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) brings Ada a diamond necklace but, when he sees Percy de Prey kiss Ada's hand, tears it apart in fury:

 

Before tubbing, Van craned out of his narrow casement to catch sight of the laurels and lilacs flanking the front porch whence came the hubbub of gay departures. He made out Ada. He noticed her running after Percy who had put on his gray topper and was walking away across a lawn which his transit at once caused to overlap in Van’s mind with the fleeting memory of the paddock where he and Van had once happened to discuss a lame horse and Riverlane. Ada overtook the young man in a patch of sudden sunlight; he stopped, and she stood speaking to him and tossing her head in a way she had when nervous or displeased. De Prey kissed her hand. That was French, but all right. He held the hand he had kissed while she spoke and then kissed it again, and that was not done, that was dreadful, that could not be endured.

Leaving his post, naked Van went through the clothes he had shed. He found the necklace. In icy fury, he tore it into thirty, forty glittering hailstones, some of which fell at her feet as she burst into the room.

Her glance swept the floor.

‘What a shame —’ she began.

Van calmly quoted the punchline from Mlle Larivière’s famous story: ‘Mais, ma pauvre amie, elle était fausse’ — which was a bitter lie; but before picking up the spilled diamonds, she locked the door and embraced him, weeping — the touch of her skin and silk was all the magic of life, but why does everybody greet me with tears? He also wanted to know was that Percy de Prey? It was. Who had been kicked out of Riverlane? She guessed he had. He had changed, he had grown swine-stout. He had, hadn’t he just? Was he her new beau?

‘And now,’ said Ada, ‘Van is going to stop being vulgar — I mean, stop forever! Because I had and have and shall always have only one beau, only one beast, only one sorrow, only one joy.’

‘We can collect your tears later,’ he said, ‘I can’t wait.’ (1.31)

 

On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Maupassant’s story La Parure (1884) is known as La Rivière de Diamants, a story that Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess who writes fiction) reads at the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday (1.13). In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Ostap Bender “quotes” Maupassant:

 

– Так вот, – сказал Остап.

– Так вот, – сказал архивариус, – трудно, но можно…

– Потребует расходов? – помог владелец мясохладобойни.

– Небольшая сумма…

– Ближе к телу, как говорил Мопассан. Сведения будут оплачены.

 

"So there you are," said Ostap.

"So there you are," said the record-keeper. "It's difficult, but possible."

"And it involves expense," suggested the refrigeration-plant owner helpfully.

"A small sum . . ."

" 'Is nearer one's heart', as Maupassant used to say. The information will be paid for." (Chapter 11 “The Mirror of Life Index”)

 

Bender tells Korobeynikov (the record-keeper) that he is the son of Vorob’yaninov and Elena Stanislavovna Bour:

 

– А позвольте все-таки узнать, чем обязан? – спросил хозяин, с интересом глядя на гостя.

– Позволю, – ответил гость. – Я Воробьянинова сын.

– Это какого же? Предводителя?

– Его.

– А он что, жив?

– Умер, гражданин Коробейников. Почил.

– Да, – без особой грусти сказал старик, – печальное событие. Но ведь, кажется, у него детей не было?

– Не было, – любезно подтвердил Остап.

– Как же?..

– Ничего. Я от морганатического брака.

– Не Елены ли Станиславовны будете сынок?

– Да. Именно.

– А она в каком здоровье?

– Маман давно в могиле.

– Так, так, ах, как грустно.

И долго еще старик глядел со слезами сочувствия на Остапа, хотя не далее как сегодня видел Елену Станиславовну на базаре, в мясном ряду.

– Все умирают, – сказал он, – вот и бабушка моя тоже… зажилась. А… все-таки разрешите узнать, по какому делу, уважаемый, вот имени вашего не знаю…

– Вольдемар, – быстро сообщил Остап.

– … Владимир Ипполитович? Очень хорошо. Так. Я вас слушаю, Владимир Ипполитович.

 

"And may I ask what I can do for you?" said the host, regarding his visitor with interest.

"You may," answered the visitor. "I am Vorobyaninov's son."

"Whose? The marshal's?"

"Yes."

"Is he still alive?"

"He's dead, Citizen Korobeynikov. He's gone to his rest."

"Yes," said the old man without any particular grief, "a sad event. But I didn't think he had any children."

"He didn't," said Ostap amiably in confirmation.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm from a morganatic marriage."

"Not by any chance Elena Stanislavovna's son? "

"Right!"

"How is she?"

"Mum's been in her grave some time."

"I see. I see. How sad."

And  the  old  man gazed at  Ostap  with tears of sympathy in his eyes, although that very day he had seen Elena Stanislavovna at the meat stalls in the market.

"We all pass away," he said, "and my grandmother, too, is still alive… but please tell me on what business you're here, my dear... I don't know your name."

"Voldemar," promptly replied Ostap.

"Vladimir Ippolitovich, very good." (ibid.)

 

In Stargorod Bender and Vorob’yaninov visit 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”)

 

Vorob’yaninov’s and Elena Stanislavovna’s A vy pomnite ("And do you remember”) brings to mind Van’s and Ada’s ‘And do you remember, a tï pomnish’, et te souviens-tu:

 

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)

 

The bead to be threaded in the torn necklace reminds one of the diamond necklace torn apart by Van. Van and Ada cannot marry, because they are brother and sister:

 

‘My teacher,’ she said, ‘at the Drama School thinks I’m better in farces than in tragedy. If they only knew!’

‘There is nothing to know,’ retorted Van. ‘Nothing, nothing has changed! But that’s the general impression, it was too dim down there for details, we’ll examine them tomorrow on our little island: "My sister, do you still recall..."’

‘Oh shut up!’ said Ada. ‘I’ve given up all that stuff — petits vers, vers de soie...’

‘Come, come,’ cried Van, ‘some of the rhymes were magnificent arcrobatics on the part of the child’s mind: "Oh! qui me rendra, ma Lucile, et le grand chêne and zee big hill." Little Lucile,’ he added in an effort to dissipate her frowns with a joke, ‘little Lucile has become so peachy that I think I’ll switch over to her if you keep losing your temper like that. I remember the first time you got cross with me was when I chucked a stone at a statue and frightened a finch. That’s memory!’

She was on bad terms with memory. She thought the servants would be up soon now, and then one could have something hot. That fridge was all fudge, really.

Why, suddenly sad?’

Yes, she was sad, she replied, she was in dreadful trouble, her quandary might drive her insane if she did not know that her heart was pure. She could explain it best by a parable. She was like the girl in a film he would see soon, who is in the triple throes of a tragedy which she must conceal lest she lose her only true love, the head of the arrow, the point of the pain. In secret, she is simultaneously struggling with three torments — trying to get rid of a dreary dragging affair with a married man, whom she pities; trying to nip in the bud — in the sticky red bud — a crazy adventure with an attractive young fool, whom she pities even more; and trying to keep intact the love of the only man who is all her life and who is above pity, above the poverty of her feminine pity, because as the script says, his ego is richer and prouder than anything those two poor worms could imagine.

What had she actually done with the poor worms, after Krolik’s untimely end?

‘Oh, set them free’ (big vague gesture), ‘turned them out, put them back onto suitable plants, buried them in the pupal state, told them to run along, while the birds were not looking — or alas, feigning not to be looking.

‘Well, to mop up that parable, because you have the knack of interrupting and diverting my thoughts, I’m in a sense also torn between three private tortures, the main torture being ambition, of course. I know I shall never be a biologist, my passion for creeping creatures is great, but not all-consuming. I know I shall always adore orchids and mushrooms and violets, and you will still see me going out alone, to wander alone in the woods and return alone with a little lone lily; but flowers, no matter how irresistible, must be given up, too, as soon as I have the strength. Remains the great ambition and the greatest terror: the dream of the bluest, remotest, hardest dramatic climbs — probably ending as one of a hundred old spider spinsters, teaching drama students, knowing, that, as you insist, sinister insister, we can’t marry, and having always before me the awful example of pathetic, second-rate, brave Marina.’

‘Well, that bit about spinsters is rot,’ said Van, ‘we’ll pull it off somehow, we’ll become more and more distant relations in artistically forged papers and finally dwindle to mere namesakes, or at the worst we shall live quietly, you as my housekeeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, "we shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds."’

‘Did you find them all, Uncle Van?’ she inquired, sighing, laying her dolent head on his shoulder. She had told him everything.

‘More or less,’ he replied, not realizing she had. ‘Anyway, I made the best study of the dustiest floor ever accomplished by a romantic character. One bright little bugger rolled under the bed where there grows a virgin forest of fluff and fungi. I’ll have them reassembled in Ladore when I motor there one of these days. I have lots of things to buy — a gorgeous bathrobe in honor of your new swimming pool, a cream called Chrysanthemum, a brace of dueling pistols, a folding beach mattress, preferably black — to bring you out not on the beach but on that bench, and on our isle de Ladore.’

‘Except,’ she said, ‘that I do not approve of your making a laughingstock of yourself by looking for pistols in souvenir shops, especially when Ardis Hall is full of old shotguns and rifles, and revolvers, and bows and arrows — you remember, we had lots of practice with them when you and I were children.’

Oh, he did, he did. Children, yes. In point of fact, how puzzling to keep seeing that recent past in nursery terms. Because nothing had changed — you are with me, aren’t you? — nothing, not counting little improvements in the grounds and the governess.

Yes! Wasn’t that a scream? Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer! A sensational Canadian bestselling author! Her story ‘The Necklace’ (La rivière de diamants) had become a classic in girls’ schools and her gorgeous pseudonym ‘Guillaume de Monparnasse’ (the leaving out of the ‘t’ made it more intime) was well-known from Quebec to Kaluga. As she put it in her exotic English: ‘Fame struck and the roubles rolled, and the dollars poured’ (both currencies being used at the time in East Estotiland); but good Ida, far from abandoning Marina, with whom she had been platonically and irrevocably in love ever since she had seen her in ‘Bilitis,’ accused herself of neglecting Lucette by overindulging in Literature; consequently she now gave the child, in spurts of vacational zeal, considerably more attention than poor little Ada (said Ada) had received at twelve, after her first (miserable) term at school. Van had been such an idiot; suspecting Cordula! Chaste, gentle, dumb, little Cordula de Prey, when Ada had explained to him, twice, thrice, in different codes, that she had invented a nasty tender schoolmate, at a time when she had been literally torn from him, and only assumed — in advance, so to speak — such a girl’s existence. A kind of blank check that she wanted from him; ‘Well, you got it,’ said Van, ‘but now it’s destroyed and will not be renewed; but why did you run after fat Percy, what was so important?’

‘Oh, very important,’ said Ada, catching a drop of honey on her nether lip, ‘his mother was on the dorophone, and he said please tell her he was on his way home, and I forgot all about it, and rushed up to kiss you!’ (1.31)

 

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): petits vers etc.: fugitive poetry and silk worms.

Uncle Van: allusion to a line in Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya: We shall see the sky swarming with diamonds.

 

At the Columbus Theater Bender and Vorob’yaninov watch Nik. Sestrin’s avant-garde stage version of Gogol’s play Zhenit’ba (“The Marriage,” 1835). The surname Sestrin comes from sestra (sister). One of Van’s and Ada’s petits vers begins with the words Sestra moya (my sister):

 

My sister, do you still recall

The blue Ladore and Ardis Hall?

 

Don’t you remember any more

That castle bathed by the Ladore?

 

Ma sœur, te souvient-il encore

Du château que baignait la Dore?

 

My sister, do you still recall

The Ladore-washed old castle wall?

 

Sestra moya, tï pomnish’ goru,

I dub vïsokiy, i Ladoru?

 

My sister, you remember still

The spreading oak tree and my hill?

 

Oh! qui me rendra mon Aline

Et le grand chêne et ma colline?

 

Oh, who will give me back my Jill

And the big oak tree and my hill?

 

Oh! qui me rendra, mon Adèle,

Et ma montagne et l’hirondelle?

 

Oh! qui me rendra ma Lucile,

La Dore et l’hirandelle agile?

 

Oh, who will render in our tongue

The tender things he loved and sung?

 

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Ma soeur te souvient-il encore: first line of the third 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. The final (fifth) sextet begins with ‘Oh! qui me rendra mon Hélène. Et ma montagne et le grand chêne’ — one of the leitmotivs of the present novel.

sestra moya etc.: my sister, do you remember the mountain, and the tall oak, and the Ladore?

oh! qui me rendra etc.: oh who will give me back my Aline, and the big oak, and my hill?

Lucile: the name of Chateaubriand’s actual sister.

la Dore etc.: the Dore and the agile swallow.

 

One of Ada’s lovers who goes to the Crimean war and dies on the second day of the invasion, Percy de Prey is a stoutish, foppish, baldish young man:

 

Van revisited Ardis Hall in 1888. He arrived on a cloudy June afternoon, unexpected, unbidden, unneeded; with a diamond necklace coiled loose in his pocket. As he approached from a side lawn, he saw a scene out of some new life being rehearsed for an unknown picture, without him, not for him. A big party seemed to be breaking up. Three young ladies in yellow-blue Vass frocks with fashionable rainbow sashes surrounded a stoutish, foppish, baldish young man who stood, a flute of champagne in his hand, glancing down from the drawing-room terrace at a girl in black with bare arms: an old runabout, shivering at every jerk, was being cranked up by a hoary chauffeur in front of the porch, and those bare arms, stretched wide, were holding outspread the white cape of Baroness von Skull, a grand-aunt of hers. Against the white cape Ada’s new long figure was profiled in black — the black of her smart silk dress with no sleeves, no ornaments, no memories. The slow old Baroness stood groping for something under one armpit, under the other — for what? a crutch? the dangling end of tangled bangles? — and as she half-turned to accept the cloak (now taken from her grandniece by a belated new footman) Ada also half-turned, and her yet ungemmed neck showed white as she ran up the porch steps. (1.31)

 

The pathetic main character of Gogol’s story Shinel’ (“The Overcoat,” 1841), Akakiy Akakievich Bashmachkin is neskol'ko ryabovat, neskol'ko ryzhevat, neskol'ko na vid dazhe podslepovat, s nebol'shoy lysinoy na lbu (somewhat pock-marked, somewhat red-haired, even somewhat short-sighted in appearance, with a little bald spot on the forehead). In his fragment Rim ("Rome," 1842) Gogol describes a carnival in Rome and mentions the great dead poet (il gran poeta morto) and his sonnet with a coda (sonetto colla coda):

 

Внимание толпы занял какой-то смельчак, шагавший на ходулях вравне с домами, рискуя всякую минуту быть сбитым с ног и грохнуться насмерть о мостовую. Но об этом, кажется, у него не было забот. Он тащил на плечах чучело великана,
придерживая его одной рукою, неся в другой написанный на бумаге сонет с приделанным к нему бумажным хвостом, какой бывает у бумажного змея, и крича во весь голос: "Ecco il gran poeta morto. Ecco il suo sonetto colla coda!"

 

In a footnote Gogol says that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as sonnet with the tail (con la coda) and explains what a coda is:

 

В итальянской поэзии существует род стихотворенья, известного под именем сонета с хвостом (con la coda), - когда мысль не вместилась и ведет за собою прибавление, которое часто бывает длиннее самого сонета.

 

Codetta (cf. "that implied codetta of ‘and,’ introducing the bead to be threaded in the torn necklace") is a diminutive of coda. Bumazhnyi zmey (the box kite) with its bumazhnyi khvost (tail of paper) brings to mind the farmannikin which Bouteillan (the French butler at Ardis) had helped Van to fly:

 

None of the family was at home when Van arrived. A servant in waiting took his horse. He entered the Gothic archway of the hall where Bouteillan, the old bald butler who unprofessionally now wore a mustache (dyed a rich gravy brown), met him with gested delight — he had once been the valet of Van’s father — ‘Je parie,’ he said, ‘que Monsieur ne me reconnaît pas,’ and proceeded to remind Van of what Van had already recollected unaided, the farmannikin (a special kind of box kite, untraceable nowadays even in the greatest museums housing the toys of the past) which Bouteillan had helped him to fly one day in a meadow dotted with buttercups. Both looked up: the tiny red rectangle hung for an instant askew in a blue spring sky. The hall was famous for its painted ceilings. It was too early for tea: Would Van like him or a maid to unpack? Oh, one of the maids, said Van, wondering briefly what item in a schoolboy’s luggage might be supposed to shock a housemaid. The picture of naked Ivory Revery (a model)? Who cared, now that he was a man? (1.5)

 

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Je parie, etc.: I bet you do not recognize me, Sir.

 

The word “butler” and the name Bouteillan have a common origin: bouteille (“bottle” in French). In Pushkin’s short novel Kapitanskaya dochka (“The Captain’s Daughter,” 1836) M. Beaupré (Grinyov’s French tutor) used to say that he was not vrag butylki (averse to the bottle):

 

Бопре в отечестве своём был парикмахером, потом в Пруссии солдатом, потом приехал в Россию pour être outchitel, не очень понимая значение этого слова. Он был добрый малый, но ветрен и беспутен до крайности. Главною его слабостию была страсть к прекрасному полу; нередко за свои нежности получал он толчки, от которых охал по целым суткам. К тому же не был он (по его выражению) и врагом бутылки, т. е. (говоря по-русски) любил хлебнуть лишнее.

 

Beaupré, in his native country, had been a hairdresser, then a soldier in Prussia, and then had come to Russia to be "outchitel," without very well knowing the meaning of this word. He was a good creature, but wonderfully absent and hare-brained. His greatest weakness was a love of the fair sex. Neither, as he said himself, was he averse to the bottle, that is, as we say in Russia, that his passion was drink. (chapter I)

 

In Pushkin’s novel Grinyov makes a kite of the map that hung against the wall without ever being used:

 

Надобно знать, что для меня выписана была из Москвы географическая карта. Она висела на стене безо всякого употребления и давно соблазняла меня шириною и добротою бумаги. Я решился сделать из нее змей и, пользуясь сном Бопре, принялся за работу. Батюшка вошёл в то самое время, как я прилаживал мочальный хвост к Мысу Доброй Надежды.

 

A map had been procured for me from Moscow, which hung against the wall without ever being used, and which had been tempting me for a long time from the size and strength of its paper. I had at last resolved to make a kite of it, and, taking advantage of Beaupré's slumbers, I had set to work. My father came in just at the very moment when I was tying a tail to the Cape of Good Hope. (ibid.)

 

The Cape of Good Hope (Africa’s southern extremity) brings to mind Mascodagama, Van’s stage name that hints at Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India. As Mascodagama, Van dances tango on his hands:

 

Neither was the sheer physical pleasure of maniambulation a negligible factor, and the peacock blotches with which the carpet stained the palms of his hands during his gloveless dance routine seemed to be the reflections of a richly colored nether world that he had been the first to discover. For the tango, which completed his number on his last tour, he was given a partner, a Crimean cabaret dancer in a very short scintillating frock cut very low on the back. She sang the tango tune in Russian:

 

Pod znóynïm nébom Argentínï,

Pod strástnïy góvor mandolinï

 

‘Neath sultry sky of Argentina,

To the hot hum of mandolin

 

Fragile, red-haired ‘Rita’ (he never learned her real name), a pretty Karaite from Chufut Kale, where, she nostalgically said, the Crimean cornel, kizil’, bloomed yellow among the arid rocks, bore an odd resemblance to Lucette as she was to look ten years later. During their dance, all Van saw of her were her silver slippers turning and marching nimbly in rhythm with the soles of his hands. He recouped himself at rehearsals, and one night asked her for an assignation. She indignantly refused, saying she adored her husband (the make-up fellow) and loathed England. (1.30)

 

In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) Bender dances tango solo to the tune Pod znóynïm nébom Argentínï:

 

И самовар запел:

 

Под знойным небом Аргентины,

Где небо южное так сине...

 

Великий комбинатор танцевал танго.

 

The samovar broke into a song:

 

Under the hot sky of Argentina,

Where the southern skies are blue…

 

The grand strategist was dancing a tango. (chapter XX “The Captain Dances a Tango”)

 

Pod sladkiy lepet mandoliny (“to a mandolin's sweet murmur,” as Bender puts it) the Polish priests Kushakovski and Moroshek (the characters in “The Golden Calf”) try to revert to Roman Catholicism their compatriot, Adam Kozlevich (the driver of the Antelope Gnu car). Serdtse shofyora (“The Chauffeur’s Heart”), a chapter in “The Golden Calf,” brings to mind a scene in Ada (when Van leaves the Kalugano hospital in Cordula’s car):

 

She was a good sport — little Cordula de Prey. Next moment he was sitting beside her in the car, which was backing gateward. Two nurses came running and gesturing toward them, and the chauffeur asked in French if the Countess wished him to stop.

‘Non, non, non!’ cried Van in high glee and they sped away.

Panting, Cordula said:

‘My mother rang me up from Malorukino’ (their country estate at Malbrook, Mayne): ‘the local papers said you had fought a duel. You look a tower of health, I’m so glad. I knew something nasty must have happened because little Russel, Dr Platonov’s grandson — remember? — saw you from his side of the train beating up an officer on the station platform. But, first of all, Van, net, pozhaluysta, on nas vidit (no, please, he sees us), I have some very bad news for you. Young Fraser, who has just been flown back from Yalta, saw Percy killed on the second day of the invasion, less than a week after they had left Goodson airport. He will tell you the whole story himself, it accumulates more and more dreadful details with every telling, Fraser does not seem to have shined in the confusion, that’s why, I suppose, he keeps straightening things out.’

(Bill Fraser, the son of Judge Fraser, of Wellington, witnessed Lieutenant de Prey’s end from a blessed ditch overgrown with cornel and medlar, but, of course, could do nothing to help the leader of his platoon and this for a number of reasons which he conscientiously listed in his report but which it would be much too tedious and embarrassing to itemize here. Percy had been shot in the thigh during a skirmish with Khazar guerillas in a ravine near Chew-Foot-Calais, as the American troops pronounced ‘Chufutkale,’ the name of a fortified rock. He had, immediately assured himself, with the odd relief of the doomed, that he had got away with a flesh wound. Loss of blood caused him to faint, as we fainted, too, as soon as he started to crawl or rather squirm toward the shelter of the oak scrub and spiny bushes, where another casualty was resting comfortably. When a couple of minutes later, Percy — still Count Percy de Prey — regained consciousness he was no longer alone on his rough bed of gravel and grass. A smiling old Tartar, incongruously but somehow assuagingly wearing American blue-jeans with his beshmet, was squatting by his side. ‘Bednïy, bednïy’ (you poor, poor fellow), muttered the good soul, shaking his shaven head and clucking: ‘Bol’no (it hurts)?’ Percy answered in his equally primitive Russian that he did not feel too badly wounded: ‘Karasho, karasho ne bol’no (good, good),’ said the kindly old man and, picking up the automatic pistol which Percy had dropped, he examined it with naive pleasure and then shot him in the temple. (One wonders, one always wonders, what had been the executed individual’s brief, rapid series of impressions, as preserved somewhere, somehow, in some vast library of microfilmed last thoughts, between two moments: between, in the present case, our friend’s becoming aware of those nice, quasi-Red Indian little wrinkles beaming at him out of a serene sky not much different from Ladore’s, and then feeling the mouth of steel violently push through tender skin and exploding bone. One supposes it might have been a kind of suite for flute, a series of ‘movements’ such as, say: I’m alive — who’s that? — civilian — sympathy — thirsty — daughter with pitcher — that’s my damned gun — don’t... et cetera or rather no cetera... while Broken-Arm Bill prayed his Roman deity in a frenzy of fear for the Tartar to finish his job and go. But, of course, an invaluable detail in that strip of thought would have been — perhaps, next to the pitcher peri — a glint, a shadow, a stab of Ardis.) (1.42)

 

In “The Golden Calf” Bender writes a shooting script Sheya (“The Neck”) for the Chernomorsk film company. Mlle Larivière’s novel Les Enfants Maudits (“The Accursed Children”) is made into a movie by Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) and G. A. Vronsky (the movie man):

 

The shooting script was now ready. Marina, in dorean robe and coolie hat, reclined reading in a long-chair on the patio. Her director, G.A. Vronsky, elderly, baldheaded, with a spread of grizzled fur on his fat chest, was alternately sipping his vodka-and-tonic and feeding Marina typewritten pages from a folder. On her other side, crosslegged on a mat, sat Pedro (surname unknown, stagename forgotten), a repulsively handsome, practically naked young actor, with satyr ears, slanty eyes, and lynx nostrils, whom she had brought from Mexico and was keeping at a hotel in Ladore.

Ada, lying on the edge of the swimming pool, was doing her best to make the shy dackel face the camera in a reasonably upright and decent position, while Philip Rack, an insignificant but on the whole likable young musician who in his baggy trunks looked even more dejected and awkward than in the green velvet suit he thought fit to wear for the piano lessons he gave Lucette, was trying to take a picture of the recalcitrant chop-licking animal and of the girl’s parted breasts which her half-prone position helped to disclose in the opening of her bathing suit.

If one dollied now to another group standing a few paces away under the purple garlands of the patio arch, one might take a medium shot of the young maestro’s pregnant wife in a polka-dotted dress replenishing goblets with salted almonds, and of our distinguished lady novelist resplendent in mauve flounces, mauve hat, mauve shoes, pressing a zebra vest on Lucette, who kept rejecting it with rude remarks, learned from a maid but uttered in a tone of voice just beyond deafish Mlle Larivière’s field of hearing.

Lucette remained topless. Her tight smooth skin was the color of thick peach syrup, her little crupper in willow-green shorts rolled drolly, the sun lay sleek on her russet bob and plumpish torso: it showed but a faint circumlocation of femininity, and Van, in a scowling mood, recalled with mixed feelings how much more developed her sister had been at not quite twelve years of age.

He had spent most of the day fast asleep in his room, and a long, rambling, dreary dream had repeated, in a kind of pointless parody, his strenuous ‘Casanovanic’ night with Ada and that somehow ominous morning talk with her. Now that I am writing this, after so many hollows and heights of time, I find it not easy to separate our conversation, as set down in an inevitably stylized form, and the drone of complaints, turning on sordid betrayals that obsessed young Van in his dull nightmare. Or was he dreaming now that he had been dreaming? Had a grotesque governess really written a novel entitled Les Enfants Maudits? To be filmed by frivolous dummies, now discussing its adaptation? To be made even triter than the original Book of the Fortnight, and its gurgling blurbs? Did he detest Ada as he had in his dreams? He did. (1.32)