Greg Erminin's British title & delicious goal in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 01/22/2022 - 07:37

In 1901 Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) meets Greg Erminin in Paris (also known as Lute on Demonia, aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set). Just before they part, Van remarks that Greg is using his British title:

 

Van was about to leave when a smartly uniformed chauffeur came up to inform ‘my lord’ that his lady was parked at the corner of rue Saïgon and was summoning him to appear.

‘Aha,’ said Van, ‘I see you are using your British title. Your father preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel.’

‘Maude is Anglo-Scottish and, well, likes it that way. Thinks a title gets one better service abroad. By the way, somebody told me — yes, Tobak! — that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four. I haven’t asked you about your father? He’s in good health?’ (Van bowed,) ‘And how is the guvernantka belletristka?’

‘Her last novel is called L‘ami Luc. She just got the Lebon Academy Prize for her copious rubbish.’

They parted laughing. (3.2)

 

In J. D. Salinger’s story For Esmé – with Love and Squalor Esmé (a thirteen-year-old precocious English girl) tells the narrator that she has a title:

 

I told her absolutely not--very much to the contrary, in fact. I told her my name and asked for hers. She hesitated. "My first name is Esmé. I don't think I shall tell you my full name, for the moment. I have a title and you may just be impressed by titles. Americans are, you know."

I said I didn't think I would be, but that it might be a good idea, at that, to hold on to the title for a while.

 

When Van first meets Ada in the summer of 1884, she hides her badly bitten fingernails:

 

There was not much to remember about that first tea. He noticed Ada’s trick of hiding her fingernails by fisting her hand or stretching it with the palm turned upward when helping herself to a biscuit. She was bored and embarrassed by everything her mother said and when the latter started to talk about the Tarn, otherwise the New Reservoir, he noted that Ada was no longer sitting next to him but standing a little way off with her back to the tea table at an open casement with the slim-waisted dog on a chair peering over splayed front paws out into the garden too, and she was asking it in a private whisper what it was it had sniffed.

‘You can see the Tarn from the library window,’ said Marina. ‘Presently Ada will show you all the rooms in the house. Ada?’ (She pronounced it the Russian way with two deep, dark ‘a’s, making it sound rather like ‘ardor.’)

‘You can catch a glint of it from here too,’ said Ada, turning her head and, pollice verso, introducing the view to Van who put his cup down, wiped his mouth with a tiny embroidered napkin, and stuffing it into his trouser pocket, went up to the dark-haired, pale-armed girl. As he bent toward her (he was three inches taller and the double of that when she married a Greek Catholic, and his shadow held the bridal crown over her from behind), she moved her head to make him move his to the required angle and her hair touched his neck. In his first dreams of her this re-enacted contact, so light, so brief, invariably proved to be beyond the dreamer’s endurance and like a lifted sword signaled fire and violent release. (1.5)

 

 Esmé’s fingernails are bitten down to the quick:

 

About the time their tea was brought, the choir member caught me staring over at her party. She stared back at me, with those house-counting eyes of hers, then, abruptly, gave me a small, qualified smile. It was oddly radiant, as certain small, qualified smiles sometimes are. I smiled back, much less radiantly, keeping my upper lip down over a coal-black G.I. temporary filling showing between two of my front teeth. The next thing I knew, the young lady was standing, with enviable poise, beside my table. She was wearing a tartan dress--a Campbell tartan, I believe. It seemed to me to be a wonderful dress for a very young girl to be wearing on a rainy, rainy day. "I thought Americans despised tea," she said.

It wasn't the observation of a smart aleck but that of a truth-lover or a statistics-lover. I replied that some of us never drank anything but tea. I asked her if she'd care to join me.

"Thank you," she said. "Perhaps for just a fraction of a moment."

I got up and drew a chair for her, the one opposite me, and she sat down on the forward quarter of it, keeping her spine easily and beautifully straight. I went back--almost hurried back--to my own chair, more than willing to hold up my end of a conversation. When I was seated, I couldn't think of anything to say, though. I smiled again, still keeping my coal-black filling under concealment. I remarked that it was certainly a terrible day out.

"Yes; quite," said my guest, in the clear, unmistakable voice of a small-talk detester. She placed her fingers flat on the table edge, like someone at a séance, then, almost instantly, closed her hands--her nails were bitten down to the quick. She was wearing  a wristwatch, a military-looking one that looked rather like a navigator's chronograph. Its face was much too large for her slender wrist. "You were at choir practice," she said matter-of-factly. "I saw you."

I said I certainly had been, and that I had heard her voice singing separately from the others. I said I thought she had a very fine voice.

She nodded. "I know. I'm going to be a professional singer."

"Really? Opera?"

"Heavens, no. I'm going to sing jazz on the radio and make heaps of money. Then, when I'm thirty, I shall retire and live on a ranch in Ohio." She touched the top of her soaking-wet head with the flat of her hand. "Do you know Ohio?" she asked.

I said I'd been through it on the train a few times but that I didn't really know it. I offered her a piece of cinnamon toast.

"No, thank you," she said. "I eat like a bird, actually."

I bit into a piece of toast myself, and commented that there's some mighty rough country around Ohio. "I know. An American I met told me. You're the eleventh American I've met."

 

According to Esmé, the narrator is the eleventh American she has met. There are in Ada eleven main characters:

 

1 Van Veen

2 Ada Veen

3 Lucette Veen

4 Demon Veen

5 Marina Durmanov

6 Aqua Durmanov

7 Daniel Veen (Uncle Dan)

8 Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s husband)

9 Dorothy Vinelander (Ada’s sister-in-law)

10 Ronald Oranger (Ada’s grandson, the editor of Ada)

11 Violet Knox (Ada’s granddaughter who marries Ronald Oranger after Van’s and Ada’s death)

 

Ada is prefaced by the following editorial note:

 

With the exception of Mr and Mrs Ronald Oranger,

a few incidental figures,

and some non-American citizens, all the persons

mentioned by name in this book are dead.

[Ed.]

 

During his meeting with Van in Paris Greg Erminin repeats the word “dead” three times:

 

‘I last saw you thirteen years ago, riding a black pony — no, a black Silentium. Bozhe moy!’

‘Yes — Bozhe moy, you can well say that. Those lovely, lovely agonies in lovely Ardis! Oh, I was absolyutno bezumno (madly) in love with your cousin!’

‘You mean Miss Veen? I did not know it. How long —’

‘Neither did she. I was terribly —’

‘How long are you staying —’

‘— terribly shy, because, of course, I realized that I could not compete with her numerous boy friends.’

Numerous? Two? Three? Is it possible he never heard about the main one? All the rose hedges knew, all the maids knew, in all three manors. The noble reticence of our bed makers.

‘How long will you be staying in Lute? No, Greg, I ordered it. You pay for the next bottle. Tell me —’

‘So odd to recall! It was frenzy, it was fantasy, it was reality in the x degree. I’d have consented to be beheaded by a Tartar, I declare, if in exchange I could have kissed her instep. You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can’t understand that obsession. Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil Rack, a composer of genius — dead, dead, all dead!’

‘I really know very little about music but it was a great pleasure to make your chum howl. I have an appointment in a few minutes, alas. Za tvoyo zdorovie, Grigoriy Akimovich.’

‘Arkadievich,’ said Greg, who had let it pass once but now mechanically corrected Van.

‘Ach yes! Stupid slip of the slovenly tongue. How is Arkadiy Grigorievich?’

‘He died. He died just before your aunt. I thought the papers paid a very handsome tribute to her talent. And where is Adelaida Danilovna? Did she marry Christopher Vinelander or his brother?’

‘In California or Arizona. Andrey’s the name, I gather. Perhaps I’m mistaken. In fact, I never knew my cousin very well: ‘I visited Ardis only twice, after all, for a few weeks each time, years ago.’

‘Somebody told me she’s a movie actress.’

‘I’ve no idea, I’ve never seen her on the screen.’

‘Oh, that would be terrible, I declare — to switch on the dorotelly, and suddenly see her. Like a drowning man seeing his whole past, and the trees, and the flowers, and the wreathed dachshund. She must have been terribly affected by her mother’s terrible death.’

Likes the word ‘terrible,’ I declare, A terrible suit of clothes, a terrible tumor. Why must I stand it? Revolting — and yet fascinating in a weird way: my babbling shadow, my burlesque double. (3.2)

 

In 1900 Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother Marina dies of cancer. In J. D. Salinger’s story De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period the narrator tells M. Yoshoto that his wife died of an ulcération cancéreuse:

 

Instantly, feeling almost insupportably qualified, I got out Bobby's Hermes-Baby typewriter from under his bed and wrote, in French, a long, intemperate letter to M. Yoshoto--cutting all my morning classes at the art school on Lexington Avenue to do it. My opening paragraph ran some three pages, and very nearly smoked. I said I was twenty-nine and a great-nephew of Honore Daumier. I said I had just left my small estate in the South of France, following the death of my wife, to come to America to stay--temporarily, I made it clear--with an invalid relative. I had been painting, I said, since early childhood, but that, following the advice of Pablo Picasso, who was one of the oldest and dearest friends of my parents, I had never exhibited. However, a number of my oil paintings and water colors were now hanging in some of the finest, and by no means nouveau riche, homes in Paris, where they had gagne considerable attention from some of the most formidable critics of our day. Following, I said, my wife's untimely and tragic death, of an ulcération cancéreuse, I had earnestly thought I would never again set brush to canvas. But recent financial losses had led me to alter my earnest resolution. I said I would be most honored to submit samples of my work to Les Amis Des Vieux Maitres, just as soon as they were sent to me by my agent in Paris, to whom I would write, of course, tres presse. I remained, most respectfully, Jean de Daumier-Smith.

 

Marina’s husband, Daniel Veen (Van’s and Ada’s Uncle Dan) is an art dealer. Van’s and Ada’s father, Demon Veen learns about his children’s affair (and makes Van give up Ada) because of Uncle Dan’s odd Boschian death (2.10). According to Esmé, her and her little brother’s father was slain in North Africa:

 

Charles stayed right where he was. He seemed to be holding his breath.

"He misses our father very much. He was s-l-a-i-n in North Africa."

I expressed regret to hear it.

Esmé nodded. "Father adored him." She bit reflectively at the cuticle of her thumb. "He looks very much like my mother--Charles, I mean. I look exactly like my father." She went on biting at her cuticle. "My mother was quite a passionate woman. She was an extrovert. Father was an introvert. They were quite well mated, though, in a superficial way. To be quite candid, Father really needed more of an intellectual companion than Mother was. He was an extremely gifted genius."

 

During his enforced separation with Ada Van travels a lot and visits North Africa:

 

He traveled, he studied, he taught.

He contemplated the pyramids of Ladorah (visited mainly because of its name) under a full moon that silvered the sands inlaid with pointed black shadows. He went shooting with the British Governor of Armenia, and his niece, on Lake Van. From a hotel balcony in Sidra his attention was drawn by the manager to the wake of an orange sunset that turned the ripples of a lavender sea into goldfish scales and was well worth the price of enduring the quaintness of the small striped rooms he shared with his secretary, young Lady Scramble. On another terrace, overlooking another fabled bay, Eberthella Brown, the local Shah’s pet dancer (a naive little thing who thought ‘baptism of desire’ meant something sexual), spilled her morning coffee upon noticing a six-inch-long caterpillar, with fox-furred segments, qui rampait, was tramping, along the balustrade and curled up in a swoon when picked up by Van — who for hours, after removing the beautiful animal to a bush, kept gloomily plucking itchy bright hairs out of his fingertips with the girl’s tweezers.

He learned to appreciate the singular little thrill of following dark byways in strange towns, knowing well that he would discover nothing, save filth, and ennui, and discarded ‘merrycans’ with ‘Billy’ labels, and the jungle jingles of exported jazz coming from syphilitic cafés. He often felt that the famed cities, the museums, the ancient torture house and the suspended garden, were but places on the map of his own madness.

He liked composing his works (Illegible Signatures, 1895; Clairvoyeurism, 1903; Furnished Space, 1913; The Texture of Time, begun 1922), in mountain refuges, and in the drawing rooms of great expresses, and on the sun decks of white ships, and on the stone tables of Latin public parks. He would uncurl out of an indefinitely lengthy trance, and note with wonder that the ship was going the other way or that the order of his left-hand fingers was reversed, now beginning, clockwise, with his thumb as on his right hand, or that the marble Mercury that had been looking over his shoulder had been transformed into an attentive arborvitae. He would realize all at once that three, seven, thirteen years, in one cycle of separation, and then four, eight, sixteen, in yet another, had elapsed since he had last embraced, held, bewept Ada.

Numbers and rows and series — the nightmare and malediction harrowing pure thought and pure time — seemed bent on mechanizing his mind. Three elements, fire, water, and air, destroyed, in that sequence, Marina, Lucette, and Demon. Terra waited. (3.1)

 

According to Ada, she is crazy about everything qui rampe:

 

‘And now,’ she said, and stopped, staring at him.

‘Yes?’ he said, ‘and now?’

‘Well, perhaps, I ought not to try to divert you — after you trampled upon those circles of mine; but I’m going to relent and show you the real marvel of Ardis Manor; my larvarium, it’s in the room next to mine’ (which he never saw, never — how odd, come to think of it!).

She carefully closed a communicating door as they entered into what looked like a glorified rabbitry at the end of a marble-flagged hall (a converted bathroom, as it transpired). In spite of the place’s being well aired, with the heraldic stained-glass windows standing wide open (so that one heard the screeching and catcalls of an undernourished and horribly frustrated bird population), the smell of the hutches — damp earth, rich roots, old greenhouse and maybe a hint of goat — was pretty appalling. Before letting him come nearer, Ada fiddled with little latches and grates, and a sense of great emptiness and depression replaced the sweet fire that had been consuming Van since the beginning of their innocent games on that day.

‘Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe (I’m crazy about everything that crawls),’ she said.

‘Personally,’ said Van, ‘I rather like those that roll up in a muff when you touch them — those that go to sleep like old dogs.’

‘Oh, they don’t go to sleep, quelle idée, they swoon, it’s a little syncope,’ explained Ada frowning. ‘And I imagine it may be quite a little shock for the younger ones.’

‘Yes, I can well imagine that, too. But I suppose one gets used to it, by-and-by, I mean.’

But his ill-informed hesitations soon gave way to esthetic empathy. Many decades later Van remembered having much admired the lovely, naked, shiny, gaudily spotted and streaked sharkmoth caterpillars, as poisonous as the mullein flowers clustering around them, and the flat larva of a local catocalid whose gray knobs and lilac plaques mimicked the knots and lichens of the twig to which it clung so closely as to practically lock with it, and, of course, the little Vaporer fellow, its black coat enlivened all along the back with painted tufts, red, blue, yellow, of unequal length, like those of a fancy toothbrush treated with certified colors. And that kind of simile, with those special trimmings, reminds me today of the entomological entries in Ada’s diary — which we must have somewhere, mustn’t we, darling, in that drawer there, no? you don’t think so? Yes! Hurrah! Samples (your round-cheeked script, my love, was a little larger, but otherwise nothing, nothing, nothing has changed):

‘The retractile head and diabolical anal appendages of the garish monster that produces the modest Puss Moth belong to a most uncaterpillarish caterpillar, with front segments shaped like bellows and a face resembling the lens of a folding camera. If you gently stroke its bloated smooth body, the sensation is quite silky and pleasant — until the irritated creature ungratefully squirts at you an acrid fluid from a slit in its throat.’

‘Dr Krolik received from Andalusia and kindly gave me five young larvae of the newly described very local Carmen Tortoiseshell. They are delightful creatures, of a beautiful jade nuance with silvery spikes, and they breed only on a semi-extinct species of high-mountain willow (which dear Crawly also obtained for me).’ (1.8)

 

In a letter to Van (written a month before Demon’s death in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific) Ada (now married to Andrey Vinelander) mentions Van’s book Reflections in Sidra:

 

He greeted the dawn of a placid and prosperous century (more than half of which Ada and I have now seen) with the beginning of his second philosophic fable, a ‘denunciation of space’ (never to be completed, but forming in rear vision, a preface to his Texture of Time). Part of that treatise, a rather mannered affair, but nasty and sound, appeared in the first issue (January, 1904) of a now famous American monthly, The Artisan, and a comment on the excerpt is preserved in one of the tragically formal letters (all destroyed save this one) that his sister sent him by public post now and then. Somehow, after the interchange occasioned by Lucette’s death such nonclandestine correspondence had been established with the tacit sanction of Demon:

 

And o’er the summits of the Tacit

He, banned from Paradise, flew on:

Beneath him, like a brilliant’s facet,

Mount Peck with snows eternal shone.

 

It would seem indeed that continued ignorance of each other’s existence might have looked more suspicious than the following sort of note:

 

Agavia Ranch

February 5, 1905

I have just read Reflections in Sidra, by Ivan Veen, and I regard it as a grand piece, dear Professor. The ‘lost shafts of destiny’ and other poetical touches reminded me of the two or three times you had tea and muffins at our place in the country about twenty years ago. I was, you remember (presumptuous phrase!), a petite fille modèle practicing archery near a vase and a parapet and you were a shy schoolboy (with whom, as my mother guessed, I may have been a wee bit in love!), who dutifully picked up the arrows I lost in the lost shrubbery of the lost castle of poor Lucette’s and happy, happy Adette’s childhood, now a ‘Home for Blind Blacks’ — both my mother and L., I’m sure, would have backed Dasha’s advice to turn it over to her Sect. Dasha, my sister-in-law (you must meet her soon, yes, yes, yes, she’s dreamy and lovely, and lots more intelligent than I), who showed me your piece, asks me to add she hopes to ‘renew’ your acquaintance — maybe in Switzerland, at the Bellevue in Mont Roux, in October. I think you once met pretty Miss ‘Kim’ Blackrent, well, that’s exactly dear Dasha’s type. She is very good at perceiving and pursuing originality and all kinds of studies which I can’t even name! She finished Chose (where she read History — our Lucette used to call it ‘Sale Histoire,’ so sad and funny!). For her you’re le beau ténébreux, because once upon a time, once upon libellula wings, not long before my marriage, she attended — I mean at that time, I’m stuck in my ‘turnstyle’ — one of your public lectures on dreams, after which she went up to you with her latest little nightmare all typed out and neatly clipped together, and you scowled darkly and refused to take it. Well, she’s been after Uncle Dementiy to have him admonish le beau ténébreux to come to Mont Roux Bellevue Hotel, in October, around the seventeenth, I guess, and he only laughs and says it’s up to Dashenka and me to arrange matters.

So ‘congs’ again, dear Ivan! You are, we both think, a marvelous, inimitable artist who should also ‘only laugh,’ if cretinic critics, especially lower-upper-middle-class Englishmen, accuse his turnstyle of being ‘coy’ and ‘arch,’ much as an American farmer finds the parson ‘peculiar’ because he knows Greek.

P.S.

Dushevno klanyayus’ (‘am souledly bowing’, an incorrect and vulgar construction evoking the image of a ‘bowing soul’) nashemu zaochno dorogomu professoru (‘to our "unsight-unseen" dear professor’), o kotorom mnogo slïshal (about whom have heard much) ot dobrago Dementiya Dedalovicha i sestritsï (from good Demon and my sister).

S uvazheniem (with respect),

Andrey Vaynlender (3.7)

 

After he was made by Demon to give up Ada, Van blinds Kim Beauharnais (a kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis) for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada (2.11). But because love is blind, Van fails to see that his father died because Ada (who could not pardon Demon his forcing Van to give her up) managed to persuade the pilot to destroy his machine in midair. Nor does he realize that Mr. Ronald Oranger and Violet Knox are Ada’s grandchildren.

 

In Salinger’s story Esmé’s little brother Charles asks the narrator his riddle, "what did one wall say to the other wall:"

 

At that point, I felt an importunate tap, almost a punch, on my upper arm, from Charles' direction. I turned to him. He was sitting in a fairly normal position in his chair now, except that he had one knee tucked under him. "What did one wall say to the other wall?" he asked shrilly. "It's a riddle!"

I rolled my eyes reflectively ceilingward and repeated the question aloud. Then I looked at Charles with a stumped expression and said I gave up.

"Meet you at the corner!" came the punch line, at top volume.

 

When he visits Ada at Brownhill (Ada’s school for girls), Van quips “corners are never round:”

 

In a dark mood, unwarned of what to expect (strategic foreknowledge might have helped to face the ordeal), Van waited for Ada in the school lane, a dismal back alley with puddles reflecting a sullen sky and the fence of the hockey ground. A local high-school boy, ‘dressed to kill,’ stood near the gate, a little way off, a fellow waiter.

Van was about to march back to the station when Ada appeared — with Cordula. La bonne surprise! Van greeted them with a show of horrible heartiness (‘And how goes it with you, sweet cousin? Ah, Cordula! Who’s the chaperone, you, or Miss Veen?’). The sweet cousin sported a shiny black raincoat and a down-brimmed oilcloth hat as if somebody was to be salvaged from the perils of life or sea. A tiny round patch did not quite hide a pimple on one side of her chin. Her breath smelled of ether. Her mood was even blacker than his. He cheerily guessed it would rain. It did — hard. Cordula remarked that his trench coat was chic. She did not think it worth while to go back for umbrellas — their delicious goal was just round the corner. Van said corners were never round, a tolerable quip. Cordula laughed. Ada did not: there were no survivors, apparently. (1.27)

 

Immediately after parting with Greg Erminin, Van meets Cordula (now married to Ivan G. Tobak) who tells Van that she is lunching today with the Goals :

 

A moment later, as happens so often in farces and foreign cities, Van ran into another friend. With a surge of delight he saw Cordula in a tight scarlet skirt bending with baby words of comfort over two unhappy poodlets attached to the waiting-post of a sausage shop. Van stroked her with his fingertips, and as she straightened up indignantly and turned around (indignation instantly replaced by gay recognition), he quoted the stale but appropriate lines he had known since the days his schoolmates annoyed him with them:

 

The Veens speak only to Tobaks

But Tobaks speak only to dogs.

 

The passage of years had but polished her prettiness and though many fashions had come and gone since 1889, he happened upon her at a season when hairdos and skirtlines had reverted briefly (another much more elegant lady was already ahead of her) to the style of a dozen years ago, abolishing the interruption of remembered approval and pleasure. She plunged into a torrent of polite questions — but he had a more important matter to settle at once — while the flame still flickered.

‘Let’s not squander,’ he said, ‘the tumescence of retrieved time on the gush of small talk. I’m bursting with energy, if that’s what you want to know. Now look; it may sound silly and insolent but I have an urgent request. Will you cooperate with me in cornuting your husband? It’s a must!’

‘Really, Van!’ exclaimed angry Cordula. ‘You go a bit far. I’m a happy wife. My Tobachok adores me. We’d have ten children by now if I’d not been careful with him and others.’

‘You’ll be glad to learn that this other has been found utterly sterile.’

‘Well, I’m anything but. I guess I’d cause a mule to foal by just looking on. Moreover, I’m lunching today with the Goals.’

‘C’est bizarre, an exciting little girl like you who can be so tender with poodles and yet turns down a poor paunchy stiff old Veen.’

‘The Veens are much too gay as dogs go.’

‘Since you collect adages,’ persisted Van, ‘let me quote an Arabian one. Paradise is only one assbaa south of a pretty girl’s sash. Eh bien?’

‘You are impossible. Where and when?’

‘Where? In that drab little hotel across the street. When? Right now. I’ve never seen you on a hobbyhorse yet, because that’s what tout confort promises — and not much else.’

‘I must be home not later than eleven-thirty, it’s almost eleven now.’

‘It will take five minutes. Please!’

Astraddle, she resembled a child braving her first merry-go-round. She made a rectangular moue as she used that vulgar contraption. Sad, sullen streetwalkers do it with expressionless faces, lips tightly closed. She rode it twice. Their brisk nub and its repetition lasted fifteen minutes in all, not five. Very pleased with himself, Van walked with her for a stretch through the brown and green Bois de Belleau in the direction of her osobnyachyok (small mansion).

‘That reminds me,’ he said, ‘I no longer use our Alexis apartment. I’ve had some poor people live there these last seven or eight years — the family of a police officer who used to be a footman at Uncle Dan’s place in the country. My policeman is dead now and his widow and three boys have gone back to Ladore. I want to relinquish that flat. Would you like to accept it as a belated wedding present from an admirer? Good. We shall do it again some day. Tomorrow I have to be in London and on the third my favorite liner, Admiral Tobakoff, will take me to Manhattan. Au revoir. Tell him to look out for low lintels. Antlers can be very sensitive when new. Greg Erminin tells me that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four?’

‘That’s right. And where’s the other?’

‘I think we’ll part here. It’s twenty minutes to twelve. You’d better toddle along.’

‘Au revoir. You’re a very bad boy and I’m a very bad girl. But it was fun — even though you’ve been speaking to me not as you would to a lady friend but as you probably do to little whores. Wait. Here’s a top secret address where you can always’ — (fumbling in her handbag) — ‘reach me’ — (finding a card with her husband’s crest and scribbling a postal cryptograph) — ‘at Malbrook, Mayne, where I spend every August.’

She looked around, rose on her toes like a ballerina, and kissed him on the mouth. Sweet Cordula! (3.2)

 

The Governor of Lute, Milord Goal is the Antiterran counterpart of General de Gaulle. On the other hand, he brings to mind Van’s, Ada’s and Cordula “delicious goal” at Brownhill and a football goal. At Cambridge VN was a goalkeeper of his college football team. The eleven main characters of Ada make up a football team.

 

Btw., rue Saïgon (Greg Erminin's wife is parked at the corner of rue Saïgon) brings to mind Khan Sosso's ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate mentioned by Van when he describes his novel Letters from Terra:

 

On Terra, Theresa had been a Roving Reporter for an American magazine, thus giving Van the opportunity to describe the sibling planet’s political aspect. This aspect gave him the least trouble, presenting as it did a mosaic of painstakingly collated notes from his own reports on the ‘transcendental delirium’ of his patients. Its acoustics were poor, proper names often came out garbled, a chaotic calendar messed up the order of events but, on the whole, the colored dots did form a geomantic picture of sorts. As earlier experimentators had conjectured, our annals lagged by about half a century behind Terra’s along the bridges of time, but overtook some of its underwater currents. At the moment of our sorry story, the king of Terra’s England, yet another George (there had been, apparently, at least half-a-dozen bearing that name before him) ruled, or had just ceased to rule, over an empire that was somewhat patchier (with alien blanks and blots between the British Islands and South Africa) than the solidly conglomerated one on our Antiterra. Western Europe presented a particularly glaring gap: ever since the eighteenth century, when a virtually bloodless revolution had dethroned the Capetians and repelled all invaders, Terra’s France flourished under a couple of emperors and a series of bourgeois presidents, of whom the present one, Doumercy, seemed considerably more lovable than Milord Goal, Governor of Lute! Eastward, instead of Khan Sosso and his ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate, a super Russia, dominating the Volga region and similar watersheds, was governed by a Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics (or so it came through) which had superseded the Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst. Last but not least, Athaulf the Future, a fair-haired giant in a natty uniform, the secret flame of many a British nobleman, honorary captain of the French police, and benevolent ally of Rus and Rome, was said to be in the act of transforming a gingerbread Germany into a great country of speedways, immaculate soldiers, brass bands and modernized barracks for misfits and their young. (2.2)

 

The characters in the second part of Salinger’s For Esmé – with Love and Squalor, Staff Sergeant X and Corporal Z make one think of the three cosmologists mentioned by Van when he describes his novel:

 

There were good reasons to disregard the technological details involved in delineating intercommunication between Terra the Fair and our terrible Antiterra. His knowledge of physics, mechanicalism and that sort of stuff had remained limited to the scratch of a prep-school blackboard. He consoled himself with the thought that no censor in America or Great Britain would pass the slightest reference to ‘magnetic’ gewgaws. Quietly, he borrowed what his greatest forerunners (Counterstone, for example) had imagined in the way of a manned capsule’s propulsion, including the clever idea of an initial speed of a few thousand miles per hour increasing, under the influence of a Counterstonian type of intermediate environment between sibling galaxies, to several trillions of light-years per second, before dwindling harmlessly to a parachute’s indolent descent. Elaborating anew, in irrational fabrications, all that Cyraniana and ‘physics fiction’ would have been not only a bore but an absurdity, for nobody knew how far Terra, or other innumerable planets with cottages and cows, might be situated in outer or inner space: ‘inner,’ because why not assume their microcosmic presence in the golden globules ascending quick-quick in this flute of Moët or in the corpuscles of my, Van Veen’s —

(or my, Ada Veen’s)

— bloodstream, or in the pus of a Mr Nekto’s ripe boil newly lanced in Nektor or Neckton. Moreover, although reference works existed on library shelves in available, and redundant, profusion, no direct access could be obtained to the banned, or burned, books of the three cosmologists, Xertigny, Yates and Zotov (pen names), who had recklessly started the whole business half a century earlier, causing, and endorsing, panic, demency and execrable romanchiks. All three scientists had vanished now: X had committed suicide; Y had been kidnapped by a laundryman and transported to Tartary; and Z, a ruddy, white-whiskered old sport, was driving his Yakima jailers crazy by means of incomprehensible crepitations, ceaseless invention of invisible inks, chameleonizations, nerve signals, spirals of out-going lights and feats of ventriloquism that imitated pistol shots and sirens. (ibid.)

 

Zotov's Yakima jailers bring to mind the Yakima Academy of Drama mentioned by Van when he discusses Ada's dramatic career:

 

The beginning of Ada’s limelife in 1891 happened to coincide with the end of her mother’s twenty-five-year-long career. What is more, both appeared in Chekhov’s Four Sisters. Ada played Irina on the modest stage of the Yakima Academy of Drama in a somewhat abridged version which, for example, kept only the references to Sister Varvara, the garrulous originalka (‘odd female’ — as Marsha calls her) but eliminated her actual scenes, so that the title of the play might have been The Three Sisters, as indeed it appeared in the wittier of the local notices. It was the (somewhat expanded) part of the nun that Marina acted in an elaborate film version of the play; and the picture and she received a goodly amount of undeserved praise.

Ever since I planned to go on the stage,’ said Ada (we are using her notes), ‘I was haunted by Marina’s mediocrity, au dire de la critique, which either ignored her or lumped her in the common grave with other "adequate sustainers"; or, if the role had sufficient magnitude, the gamut went from "wooden " to "sensitive" (the highest compliment her accomplishments had ever received). And here she was, at the most delicate moment of my career, multiplying and sending out to friends and foes such exasperating comments as "Durmanova is superb as the neurotic nun, having transferred an essentially static and episodical part into et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."

‘Of course, the cinema has no language problems,’ continued Ada (while Van swallowed, rather than stifled, a yawn). ‘Marina and three of the men did not need the excellent dubbing which the other members of the cast, who lacked the lingo, were provided with; but our wretched Yakima production could rely on only two Russians, Stan’s protégé Altshuler in the role of Baron Nikolay Lvovich Tuzenbach-Krone-Altschauer, and myself as Irina, la pauvre et noble enfant, who is a telegraph operator in one act, a town-council employee in another, and a schoolteacher in the end. All the rest had a macedoine of accents — English, French, Italian — by the way what’s the Italian for "window"?’

‘Finestra, sestra,’ said Van, mimicking a mad prompter.

‘Irina (sobbing): "Where, where has it all gone? Oh, dear, oh, dear! All is forgotten, forgotten, muddled up in my head — I don’t remember the Italian for ‘ceiling’ or, say, ‘window.’"’

‘No, "window" comes first in that speech,’ said Van, ‘because she looks around, and then up; in the natural movement of thought.’

‘Yes, of course: still wrestling with "window," she looks up and is confronted by the equally enigmatic "ceiling." In fact, I’m sure I played it your psychological way, but what does it matter, what did it matter? — the performance was perfectly odious, my baron kept fluffing every other line — but Marina, Marina was marvelous in her world of shadows! "Ten years and one have gone by-abye since I left Moscow"’ — (Ada, now playing Varvara, copied the nun’s ‘singsongy devotional tone’ (pevuchiy ton bogomolki, as indicated by Chekhov and as rendered so irritatingly well by Marina). ‘"Nowadays, Old Basmannaya Street, where you (turning to Irina) were born a score of yearkins (godkov) ago, is Busman Road, lined on both sides with workshops and garages (Irina tries to control her tears). Why, then, should you want to go back, Arinushka? (Irina sobs in reply)." Naturally, as would-every fine player, mother improvised quite a bit, bless her soul. And moreover her voice — in young tuneful Russian! — is substituted for Lenore’s corny brogue.’

Van had seen the picture and had liked it. An Irish girl, the infinitely graceful and melancholy Lenore Colline —

Oh! qui me rendra ma colline

Et le grand chêne and my colleen!

— harrowingly resembled Ada Ardis as photographed with her mother in Belladonna, a movie magazine which Greg Erminin had sent him, thinking it would delight him to see aunt and cousin, together, on a California patio just before the film was released. Varvara, the late General Sergey Prozorov’s eldest daughter, comes in Act One from her remote nunnery, Tsitsikar Convent, to Perm (also called Permwail), in the backwoods of Akimsk Bay, North Canady, to have tea with Olga, Marsha, and Irina on the latter’s name day. Much to the nun’s dismay, her three sisters dream only of one thing — leaving cool, damp, mosquito-infested but otherwise nice and peaceful ‘Permanent’ as Irina mockingly dubs it, for high life in remote and sinful Moscow, Id., the former capital of Estotiland. In the first edition of his play, which never quite manages to heave the soft sigh of a masterpiece, Tchechoff (as he spelled his name when living that year at the execrable Pension Russe, 9, rue Gounod, Nice) crammed into the two pages of a ludicrous expository scene all the information he wished to get rid of, great lumps of recollections and calendar dates — an impossible burden to place on the fragile shoulders of three unhappy Estotiwomen. Later he redistributed that information through a considerably longer scene in which the arrival of the monashka Varvara provides all the speeches needed to satisfy the restless curiosity of the audience. This was a neat stroke of stagecraft, but unfortunately (as so often occurs in the case of characters brought in for disingenuous purposes) the nun stayed on, and not until the third, penultimate, act was the author able to bundle her off, back to her convent.

‘I assume,’ said Van (knowing his girl), ‘that you did not want any tips from Marina for your Irina?’

‘It would have only resulted in a row. I always resented her suggestions because they were made in a sarcastic, insulting manner. I’ve heard mother birds going into neurotic paroxysms of fury and mockery when their poor little tailless ones (bezkhvostïe bednyachkí) were slow in learning to fly. I’ve had enough of that. By the way, here’s the program of my flop.’

Van glanced through the list of players and D.P.’s and noticed two amusing details: the role of Fedotik, an artillery officer (whose comedy organ consists of a constantly clicking camera)’, had been assigned to a ‘Kim (short for Yakim) Eskimossoff’ and somebody called ‘John Starling’ had been cast as Skvortsov (a sekundant in the rather amateurish duel of the last act) whose name comes from skvorets, starling. When he communicated the latter observation to Ada, she blushed as was her Old World wont.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘he was quite a lovely lad and I sort of flirted with him, but the strain and the split were too much for him — he had been, since pubescence, the puerulus of a fat ballet master, Dangleleaf, and he finally committed suicide. You see ("the blush now replaced by a matovaya pallor") I’m not hiding one stain of what rhymes with Perm.’

‘I see. And Yakim —’

‘Oh, he was nothing.’

‘No, I mean, Yakim, at least, did not, as his rhymesake did, take a picture of your brother embracing his girl. Played by Dawn de Laire.’

‘I’m not sure. I seem to recall that our director did not mind some comic relief.’

‘Dawn en robe rose et verte, at the end of Act One.’

‘I think there was a click in the wings and some healthy mirth in the house. All poor Starling had to do in the play was to hollo off stage from a rowboat on the Kama River to give the signal for my fiancé to come to the dueling ground.’ (2.9)

 

Kim Eskimossoff reminds one of J. D. Salinger's story Just Before the War with the Eskimos. Like Ada, Esmé blushes at one point:

 

"You seem quite intelligent for an American," my guest mused.

I told her that was a pretty snobbish thing to say, if you thought about it at all, and that I hoped it was unworthy of her.
She blushed - automatically conferring on me the social poise I'd been missing. "Well. Most of the Americans I've seen act like animals. They're forever punching one another about, and insulting everyone, and--You know what one of them did?"
I shook my head.
"One of them threw an empty whiskey bottle through my aunt's window. Fortunately, the window was open. But does that sound very intelligent to you?"

It didn't especially, but I didn't say so. I said that many soldiers, all over the world, were a long way from home, and that few of them had had many real advantages in life. I said I'd thought that most people could figure that out for themselves.

 

My previous two posts, "Russian biks & Dr Hangover revisited" and "spilled diamonds & Russian biks in Ada," have been updated again.