mud-colored scrapbook & seven fotochki in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 01/15/2022 - 08:15

Describing Kim Beauharnais’s visit to Ardis, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) calls the album that Kim brings with him “the mud-colored scrapbook:”

 

During her dreary stay at Ardis, a considerably changed and enlarged Kim Beauharnais called upon her. He carried under his arm an album bound in orange-brown cloth, a dirty hue she had hated all her life. In the last two or three years she had not seen him, the light-footed, lean lad with the sallow complexion had become a dusky colossus, vaguely resembling a janizary in some exotic opera, stomping in to announce an invasion or an execution. Uncle Dan, who just then was being wheeled out by his handsome and haughty nurse into the garden where coppery and blood-red leaves were falling, clamored to be given the big book, but Kim said ‘Perhaps later,’ and joined Ada in the reception corner of the hall.

He had brought her a present, a collection of photographs he had taken in the good old days. He had been hoping the good old days would resume their course, but since he understood that mossio votre cossin (he spoke a thick Creole thinking that its use in solemn circumstances would be more proper than his everyday Ladore English) was not expected to revisit the castle soon — and thus help bring the album up to date — the best procedure pour tous les cernés (‘the shadowed ones,’ the ‘encircled’ rather than ‘concerned’) might be for her to keep (or destroy and forget, so as not to hurt anybody) the illustrated document now in her pretty hands. Wincing angrily at the jolies, Ada opened the album at one of its maroon markers meaningly inserted here and there, glanced once, reclicked the clasp, handed the grinning blackmailer a thousand-dollar note that she happened to have in her bag, summoned Bouteillan and told him to throw Kim out. The mud-colored scrapbook remained on a chair, under her Spanish shawl. With a shuffling kick the old retainer expelled a swamp-tulip leaf swept in by the draft and closed the front door again. (2.7)

 

In J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey the narrator mentions seven scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine clippings bracketed in almost incestuously close juxtaposition:

 

The Glasses' living room was about as unready to have its walls repainted as a room can be. Franny Glass lay asleep on the couch, with an afghan over her; the "wall-to-wall" carpet had been neither taken up nor folded in at the borders; and the furniture-seemingly, a small warehouse of it-was in its usual static-dynamic distribution. The room was not impressively large, even by Manhattan apartment-house standards, but its accumulated furnishings might have lent a snug appearance to a banquet hall in Valhalla. There was a Steinway grand piano (invariably kept open), three radios (a 1927 Freshman, a 1932 Stromberg-Carlson, and a 1941 R.G.A.), a twenty-one-inch-screen television set, four table-model phonographs (including a 1920 Victrola, with its speaker still mounted intact, topside), cigarette and magazine tables galore, a regulation-size ping-pong table (mercifully collapsed and stored behind the piano), four comfortable chairs, eight uncomfortable chairs, a twelve-gallon tropical-fish tank (filled to capacity, in every sense of the word, and illuminated by two forty-watt bulbs), a love seat, the couch Franny was occupying, two empty bird cages, a cherry-wood writing table, and an assortment of floor lamps, table lamps and "bridge" lamps that sprang up all over the congested inscape like sumac. A cordon of waist-high bookcases lined three walls, their shelves cram-jammed and literally sagging with books-children's books, textbooks, second-hand books, Book Club books, plus an even more heterogeneous overflow from less communal "annexes" of the apartment. ("Dracula" now stood next to "Elementary Pali," "The Boy Allies at the Somme" stood next to "Bolts of Melody," "The Scarab Murder Case" and "The Idiot" were together, "Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase" lay on top of "Fear and Trembling.") Even if a resolute and unusually stout-hearted team of painters had been able to deal with the bookcases, the walls themselves, directly behind them, might well have made any self-respecting artisan turn in his union card. From the top of the bookcases to within less than a foot of the ceiling, the plaster-a blistery Wedgwood blue, where visible-was almost completely covered with what may very loosely be called "hangings," meaning a collection of framed photographs, yellowing personal and Presidential correspondence, bronze and silver plaques, and sprawling miscellany of vaguely citational-looking documents and trophylike objects of various shapes and sizes, all attesting, one way or another, to the redoubtable fact that from 1927 through most of 1943 the network radio program called "It's a Wise Child" had very rarely gone on the air without one (and, more often, two) of the seven Glass children among its panelists. (Buddy Glass, who, at thirty-six, was the program's oldest living expanelist, not infrequently referred to the walls of his parents' apartment as being a kind of visual hymn to commerical American childhood and early puberty. He often expressed regret that his visits in from the country were so few and far between, and pointed out, usually at enormous length, how much luckier his brothers and sisters were, most of whom still lived in or around New York City.) The decoration scheme for the walls was, in fact, the brain child-with Mrs. Glass's unreserved spiritual sanction and everlastingly withheld formal consent – of Mr. Les Glass, the children's father, a former international vaudevillian and, no doubt, an inveterate and wistful admirer of the wall decor at Sardi's theatrical restaurant. Mr. Glass's perhaps most inspired coup as a decorator was manifest just behind and above the couch where young Franny Glass was now sleeping. There, in almost incestuously close juxtaposition, seven scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine clippings had been bracketed, at the bindings, directly into the plaster. Year after year, plainly, all seven scrapbooks stood ready to be perused or pored over by old close friends of the family and casual visitors alike, as well as, presumably, the odd part-time cleaning woman.

 

Franny and Zooey are two of the seven children of Les and Bessie Glass (therefore seven scrapbooks above Franny’s couch). Describing Kim Beauharnais’s album, Van (Ada’s brother and life-long lover) mentions seven fotochki (little photos) artistically éventail-ed all on one page:

 

Artistically éventail-ed all on one page were seven fotochki (diminutive stills) taken within as many minutes — from a fairly distant lurk — in a setting of tall grass, wild flowers, and overhanging foliage. Its shade, and the folly of peduncles, delicately camouflaged the basic details, suggesting little more than a tussle between two incompletely clad children. (2.7)

 

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): éventail: fan.

 

Ardis is an anagram of Sardi (Franny’s and Zooey’s father, Mr. Les Glass is an inveterate and wistful admirer of the wall decor at Sardi's theatrical restaurant). Describing his journey with Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) on Admiral Tobakoff, Van mentions Mr and Mrs Dairs or Sardi:

 

She was not on the Promenade Deck where blanket-swathed old people were reading the number-one best seller Salzman and awaiting with borborygmic forebubbles the eleven o’clock bouillon. He betook himself to the Grill, where he reserved a table for two. He walked over to the bar and warmly greeted bald fat Toby who had served on the Queen Guinevere in 1889, and 1890, and 1891, when she was still unmarried and he a resentful fool. They could have eloped to Lopadusa as Mr and Mrs Dairs or Sardi! (3.5)

 

The number-one best seller Salzman brings to mind saltines mentioned by Franny as she talks over the 'phone to Zooey:

 

"He said he was-this is exactly what he said-he said he was sitting at the table in the kitchen, all by himself, drinking a glass of ginger ale and eating saltines and reading 'Dombey and Son,' and all of a sudden Jesus sat down in the other chair and asked if he could have a small glass of ginger ale. A small glass, mind you-that's exactly what he said. I mean he says things like that, and yet he thinks he's perfectly qualified to give me a lot of advice and stuff! That's what makes me so mad! I could just spit! I could! It's like being in a lunatic asylum and having another patient all dressed up as a doctor come over to you and start taking your pulse or something.. . . It's just awful. He talks and talks and talks. And if he isn't talking, he's smoking his smelly cigars all over the house. I'm so sick of the smell of cigar smoke I could just roll over and die."

"The cigars are ballast, sweetheart. Sheer ballast. If he didn't have a cigar to hold on to, his feet would leave the ground. We'd never see our Zooey again."

There were several experienced verbal stunt pilots in the Glass family, but this last little remark perhaps Zooey alone was coordinated well enough to bring in safely over a telephone. Or so this narrator suggests. And Franny may have felt so, too. In any case, she suddenly knew that it was Zooey at the other end of the phone. She got up, slowly, from the edge of the bed. "All right, Zooey," she said. "All right."

Not quite immediately: "Beg pardon?"

"I said, all right, Zooey."

"Zooey? What is this? . . . Franny? You there?"

"I'm here. Just stop it now, please. I know it's you."

"What in the world are you talking about, sweetheart? What is this? Who's this Zooey?"

"Zooey Glass," Franny said. "Just stop it now, please. You're not being funny. As it happens, I'm just barely getting back to feeling half-way-"

"Grass, did you say? Zooey Grass? Norwegian chap? Sort of a heavyset, blond, ath-"

"All right, Zooey. Just stop, please. Enough's enough. You're not funny. ... In case you're interested, I'm feeling absolutely lousy. So if there's anything special you have to say to me, please hurry up and say it and leave me alone." This last, emphasized word was oddly veered away from, as if the stress on it hadn't been fully intended.

 

Dombey and Son is a novel by Charles Dickens. Describing the torments of poor mad Aqua (the twin sister of Marina, Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother), Van mentions the Mondefroid bleakhouse horsepittle:

 

Being unwilling to suffer another relapse after this blessed state of perfect mental repose, but knowing it could not last, she did what another patient had done in distant France, at a much less radiant and easygoing ‘home.’ A Dr Froid, one of the administerial centaurs, who may have been an émigré brother with a passport-changed name of the Dr Froit of Signy-Mondieu-Mondieu in the Ardennes or, more likely, the same man, because they both came from Vienne, Isère, and were only sons (as her son was), evolved, or rather revived, the therapistic device, aimed at establishing a ‘group’ feeling, of having the finest patients help the staff if ‘thusly inclined.’ Aqua, in her turn, repeated exactly clever Eleonore Bonvard’s trick, namely, opting for the making of beds and the cleaning of glass shelves. The astorium in St Taurus, or whatever it was called (who cares — one forgets little things very fast, when afloat in infinite non-thingness) was, perhaps, more modem, with a more refined desertic view, than the Mondefroid bleakhouse horsepittle, but in both places a demented patient could outwit in one snap an imbecile pedant. (1.3)

 

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): horsepittle: ‘hospital’, borrowed from a passage in Dickens’ Bleak House. Poor Joe’s pun, not a poor Joycean one.

 

According to Zooey, the cigars he smokes are ballast. Describing his meeting with Lucette in Paris in 1901, Van mentions the author of Agonic Lines (Kithar Sween) and Mr Eliot (the real-estate magnate) comparing cigars:

 

The Bourbonian-chinned, dark, sleek-haired, ageless concierge, dubbed by Van in his blazer days ‘Alphonse Cinq,’ believed he had just seen Mlle Veen in the Récamier room where Vivian Vale’s golden veils were on show. With a flick of coattail and a swing-gate click, Alphonse dashed out of his lodge and went to see. Van’s eye over his umbrella crook traveled around a carousel of Sapsucker paperbacks (with that wee striped woodpecker on every spine): The Gitanilla, Salzman, Salzman, Salzman, Invitation to a Climax, Squirt, The Go-go Gang, The Threshold of Pain, The Chimes of Chose, The Gitanilla — here a Wall Street, very ‘patrician’ colleague of Demon’s, old Kithar K.L. Sween, who wrote verse, and the still older real-estate magnate Milton Eliot, went by without recognizing grateful Van, despite his being betrayed by several mirrors.

The concierge returned shaking his head. Out of the goodness of his heart Van gave him a Goal guinea and said he’d call again at one-thirty. He walked through the lobby (where the author of Agonic Lines and Mr Eliot, affalés, with a great amount of jacket over their shoulders, dans des fauteuils, were comparing cigars) and, leaving the hotel by a side exit, crossed the rue des Jeunes Martyres for a drink at Ovenman’s. (3.3)

 

Kithar Sween is the author of The Waistline, a satire in free verse on Anglo-American feeding habits:

 

The last occasion on which Van had seen his father was at their house in the spring of 1904. Other people had been present: old Eliot, the real-estate man, two lawyers (Grombchevski and Gromwell), Dr Aix, the art expert, Rosalind Knight, Demon’s new secretary, and solemn Kithar Sween, a banker who at sixty-five had become an avant-garde author; in the course of one miraculous year he had produced The Waistline, a satire in free verse on Anglo-American feeding habits, and Cardinal Grishkin, an overtly subtle yam extolling the Roman faith. The poem was but the twinkle in an owl’s eye; as to the novel it had already been pronounced ‘seminal’ by celebrated young critics (Norman Girsh, Louis Deer, many others) who lauded it in reverential voices pitched so high that an ordinary human ear could not make much of that treble volubility; it seemed, however, all very exciting, and after a great bang of obituary essays in 1910 (‘Kithar Sween: the man and the writer,’ ‘Sween as poet and person,’ ‘Kithar Kirman Lavehr Sween: a tentative biography’) both the satire and the romance were to be forgotten as thoroughly as that acting foreman’s control of background adjustment — or Demon’s edict. (3.7)

 

The title of Kithar Sween's poem hints at T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922), but it also brings to mind H. G. Wells' stroy The Truth about Pyecraft (1903). The rotund Mr. Pyecraft (the patron of a London club) annoys Mr. Formalyn with his boring stories and particularly about his obesity troubles. Eventually, Formalyn brings an occult weight-loss recipe of his Hindustani great-grandmother, and Pyecraft tries it for some time. Then, Pyecraft telegraphs Formalyn at the club, calling him to Pyecraft's house in Bloomsbury, where the housekeeper tells him that Pyecraft has been cloistered in his own living room for the last twenty-four hours. There, he is found, as rounded as ever, floating helplessly in the air, against the ceiling. They conclude that the recipe has literally reduced his weight, not his fatness. Formalyn assists with various ingenious devices and techniques to allow Pyecraft to traverse his room while floating. For example, Pyecraft gets down from the bookcase by taking out a couple of heavy tomes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Some time later, it occurs to Formalyn that Pyecraft's garments could be stuffed with heavy lead pieces to keep him on the ground; he even remarks that Pyecraft could sail without fear of a shipwreck, for he could just hover ashore after removing some of the weight.

 

The title of H. G. Wells' story brings to mind The Truth about Terra, a book that Aqua gave to Marina before going back to her Home:

 

The two kids’ best find, however, came from another carton in a lower layer of the past. This was a small green album with neatly glued flowers that Marina had picked or otherwise obtained at Ex, a mountain resort, not far from Brig, Switzerland, where she had sojourned before her marriage, mostly in a rented chalet. The first twenty pages were adorned with a number of little plants collected at random, in August, 1869, on the grassy slopes above the chalet, or in the park of the Hotel Florey, or in the garden of the sanatorium neat: it (‘my nusshaus,’ as poor Aqua dubbed it, or ‘the Home,’ as Marina more demurely identified it in her locality notes). Those introductory pages did not present much botanical or psychological interest; and the fifty last pages or so remained blank; but the middle part, with a conspicuous decrease in number of specimens, proved to be a regular little melodrama acted out by the ghosts of dead flowers. The specimens were on one side of the folio, with Marina Dourmanoff (sic)’s notes en regard.

Ancolie Bleue des Alpes, Ex en Valais, i.IX.69. From Englishman in hotel. ‘Alpine Columbine, color of your eyes.’

Epervière auricule. 25.X.69, Ex, ex Dr Lapiner’s walled alpine garden.

Golden [ginkgo] leaf: fallen out of a book 'The Truth about Terra’ which Aqua gave me before going back to her Home. 14.XII.69.

Artificial edelweiss brought by my new nurse with a note from Aqua saying it came from a ‘mizernoe and bizarre’ Christmas Tree at the Home. 25.XII.69.

Petal of orchid, one of 99 orchids, if you please, mailed to me yesterday, Special Delivery, c’est bien le cas de le dire, from Villa Armina, Alpes Maritimes. Have laid aside ten for Aqua to be taken to her at her Home. Ex en Valais, Switzerland. ‘Snowing in Fate’s crystal ball,’ as he used to say. (Date erased.)

Gentiane de Koch, rare, brought by lapochka [darling] Lapiner from his ‘mute gentiarium’ 5.I.1870.

[blue-ink blot shaped accidentally like a flower, or improved felt-pen deletion] (Compliquaria compliquata var. aquamarina. Ex, 15.I.70.)

Fancy flower of paper, found in Aqua’s purse. Ex, 16.II.1870, made by a fellow patient, at the Home, which is no longer hers.

Gentiana verna (printanière). Ex, 28.III.1870, on the lawn of my nurse’s cottage. Last day here. (1.1)

 

Describing Aqua's torments, Van mentions her War of the Worlds (an allusion to H. G. Wells' novel):

 

Actually, Aqua was less pretty, and far more dotty, than Marina. During her fourteen years of miserable marriage she spent a broken series of steadily increasing sojourns in sanatoriums. A small map of the European part of the British Commonwealth — say, from Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia — as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina, might be quite thickly prickled with enameled red-cross-flag pins, marking, in her War of the Worlds, Aqua’s bivouacs. She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health (‘just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black’) in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. Of course, Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive... But her real destination was Terra the Fair and thither she trusted she would fly on libellula long wings when she died. Her poor little letters from the homes of madness to her husband were sometimes signed: Madame Shchemyashchikh-Zvukov (‘Heart rending-Sounds’). (1.3)

 

In her last note Aqua promises to Van that one day he will ramble in Ardis Park:

 

Her last note, found on her and addressed to her husband and son, might have come from the sanest person on this or that earth.

Aujourd’hui (heute-toity!) I, this eye-rolling toy, have earned the psykitsch right to enjoy a landparty with Herr Doktor Sig, Nurse Joan the Terrible, and several ‘patients,’ in the neighboring bar (piney wood) where I noticed exactly the same skunk-like squirrels, Van, that your Darkblue ancestor imported to Ardis Park, where you will ramble one day, no doubt. The hands of a clock, even when out of order, must know and let the dumbest little watch know where they stand, otherwise neither is a dial but only a white face with a trick mustache. Similarly, chelovek (human being) must know where he stands and let others know, otherwise he is not even a klok (piece) of a chelovek, neither a he, nor she, but ‘a tit of it’ as poor Ruby, my little Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. I, poor Princesse Lointaine, très lointaine by now, do not know where I stand. Hence I must fall. So adieu, my dear, dear son, and farewell, poor Demon, I do not know the date or the season, but it is a reasonably, and no doubt seasonably, fair day, with a lot of cute little ants queuing to get at my pretty pills.

[Signed] My sister’s sister who teper’

iz ada (‘now is out of hell’)

‘If we want life’s sundial to show its hand,’ commented Van, developing the metaphor in the rose garden of Ardis Manor at the end of August, 1884, ‘we must always remember that the strength, the dignity, the delight of man is to spite and despise the shadows and stars that hide their secrets from us. Only the ridiculous power of pain made her surrender. And I often think it would have been so much more plausible, esthetically, ecstatically, Estotially speaking — if she were really my mother.’ (ibid.)

 

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): aujourd’hui, heute: to-day (Fr., Germ.).

Princesse Lointaine: Distant Princess, title of a French play.

 

During Van's first tea party at Ardis Marina says that she loved to identify herself with famous beauties — Lincoln’s second wife or Queen Josephine:

 

They now had tea in a prettily furnished corner of the otherwise very austere central hall from which rose the grand staircase. They sat on chairs upholstered in silk around a pretty table. Ada’s black jacket and a pink-yellow-blue nosegay she had composed of anemones, celandines and columbines lay on a stool of oak. The dog got more bits of cake than it did ordinarily. Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van’s teacher of history, ‘Jeejee’ Jones.

‘He resembles my teacher of history,’ said Van when the man had gone.

‘I used to love history,’ said Marina, ‘I loved to identify myself with famous women. There’s a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties — Lincoln’s second wife or Queen Josephine.’

‘Yes, I’ve noticed — it’s beautifully done. We’ve got a similar set at home.’

‘Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?’ Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.

‘Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),’ replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis’ (with a slight smile). ‘Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.’

‘Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.’

‘Pah,’ uttered Ada. (1.5)

 

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): with a slight smile: a pet formula of Tolstoy’s denoting cool superiority, if not smugness, in a character’s manner of speech.

 

Queen Josephine seems to be the Antiterran counterpart of Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon's first wife, the Empress of the French.