NABOKV-L post 0027053, Fri, 10 Jun 2016 14:04:20 +0300

Subject
Pandean hum, Cheshire, Fancytart & John Starling in Ada
Date
Body
Despite an athletic strength of will, ironization of excessive emotion, and
contempt for weepy weaklings, Van was aware of his being apt to suffer
uncurbable blubbering fits (rising at times to an epileptic-like pitch, with
sudden howls that shook his body, and inexhaustible fluids that stuffed his
nose) ever since his break with Ada had led to agonies, which his self-pride
and self-concentration had never foreseen in the hedonistic past. A small
monoplane (chartered, if one judged by its nacreous wings and illegal but
abortive attempts to settle on the central green oval of the Park, after
which it melted in the morning mist to seek a perch elsewhere) wrenched a
first sob from Van as he stood in his short 'terry' on the roof terrace (now
embellished by shrubs of blue spiraea in invincible bloom). He stood in the
chill sun until he felt his skin under the robe turn to an armadillo's
pelvic plates. Cursing and shaking both fists at breast level, he returned
into the warmth of his flat and drank a bottle of champagne, and then rang
for Rose, the sportive Negro maid whom he shared in more ways than one with
the famous, recently decorated cryptogrammatist, Mr Dean, a perfect
gentleman, dwelling on the floor below. With jumbled feelings, with
unpardonable lust, Van watched her pretty behind roll and tighten under its
lacy bow as she made the bed, while her lower lover could be heard through
the radiator pipes humming to himself happily (he had decoded again a Tartar
dorogram telling the Chinese where we planned to land next time!). Rose soon
finished putting the room in order, and flirted off, and the Pandean hum had
hardly time to be replaced (rather artlessly for a person of Dean's
profession) by a crescendo of international creaks that a child could
decipher, when the hallway bell dingled, and next moment whiter-faced,
redder-mouthed, four-year-older Ada stood before a convulsed, already
sobbing, ever-adolescent Van, her flowing hair blending with dark furs that
were even richer than her sister's. (2.6)



Pandean is “pertaining to the god Pan, or his pipes.” In his poem Polden’
(“Noon,” 1829) Tyutchev mentions velikiy Pan (great Pan) quietly dozing in
the cave of nymphs:



Лениво дышит полдень мглистый,
Лениво катится река,
В лазури пламенной и чистой
Лениво тают облака.



И всю природу, как туман,
Дремота жаркая объемлет,
И сам теперь великий Пан
В пещере нимф покойно дремлет.



Misty noon breathes idly.

Idly waters play.

Pure skies are sun-scorched.

Cloud-wisps idly melt away.



Clasped in hot embrace,

nature drowns in sultry doze.

Pan himself seeks calm,

deep in the quiet of caves,

deep in nymph-repose.

(transl. F. Jude)



Umer velikiy Pan (“Great Pan is Dead,” 1894) is a poem by Valeriy Bryusov.
It was Valerio, a ginger-haired elderly Roman, who procured neat Rose and
kept her strictly for Veen and Dean:



Lucette had gone (leaving a curt note with her room number at the Winster
Hotel for Young Ladies) when our two lovers, now weak-legged and decently
robed, sat down to a beautiful breakfast (Ardis' crisp bacon! Ardis'
translucent honey!) brought up in the lift by Valerio, a ginger-haired
elderly Roman, always ill-shaven and gloomy, but a dear old boy (he it was
who, having procured neat Rose last June, was being paid to keep her
strictly for Veen and Dean). (2.6)



In her memoir essay on Bryusov, Geroy truda ("The Hero of Toil," 1925),
Marina Tsvetaev (who had an elder half-sister Valeria) says that Bryusov was
trizhdy rimlyanin (a threefold Roman):



Три слова являют нам Брюсова: воля, вол, во
лк. Триединство не только звуковое - смысл
овое: и воля - Рим, и вол - Рим, и волк - Рим. Т
рижды римлянином был Валерий Брюсов: воле
й и волом - в поэзии, волком (homo homini lupus est) в
жизни.



Van tells Ada that he saw her circling above him on libelulla wings (2.6).
Libelulla is Latin for “dragon-fly.” In his poem Vesyolyi zov vesenney
zeleni… ("The merry call of the vernal green…" 1911) Bryusov mentions a
tapir’s heavy gait and the light trepidations of dragon-flies:



Весь блеск, весь шум, весь говор мира,
Соблазны мысли, чары грёз, -
От тяжкой поступи тапира
До лёгких трепетов стрекоз…



As a schoolboy, Van was madly in love with Mrs Tapirov’s daughter (1.4). In
1888, in Kalugano Van recalls his first love and wonders if the girl’s name
was Rose:



When Van arrived in front of the music shop, he found it locked. He stared
for a moment at the harps and the guitars and the flowers in silver vases on
consoles receding in the dusk of looking-glasses, and recalled the
schoolgirl whom he had longed for so keenly half a dozen years ago - Rose?
Roza? Was that her name? Would he have been happier with her than with his
pale fatal sister? (1.42)



Van’s classmates at his boarding-school in Riverlane include Cheshire, the
rugby ace:



The aging woman who sold barley sugar and Lucky Louse magazines in the
corner shop, which by tradition was not strictly out of bounds, happened to
hire a young helper, and Cheshire, the son of a thrifty lord, quickly
ascertained that this fat little wench could be had for a Russian green
dollar. Van was one of the first to avail himself of her favors. (1.4)



Among the profiles of boys that adorn the flyleaf of Van’s anthology of
best short poems in English there is Cheshcat:



'Oh, Van, how lovely of you,' said Lucette, slowly entering her room, with
her bemused eyes scanning the fascinating flyleaf, his name on it, his bold
flourish, and his own wonderful drawings in ink - a black aster (evolved
from a blot), a doric column (disguising a more ribald design), a delicate
leafless tree (as seen from a classroom window), and several profiles of
boys (Cheshcat, Zogdog, Fancytart, and Ada-like Van himself). (1.23)



The Cheshire Cat is a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in
Wonderland (1865). Lewis Carroll wrote this book for Henry Liddell’s
daughter Alice. In 1855-91 Henry Liddell was dean of Christ Church, Oxford.



According to Lucette, Cheshire sends her racing tips:



'Your friend Dick Cheshire sends me presents and racing tips.' (3.3)



In his memoir essay on Bryusov (included in Necropolis, 1939) Khodasevich
mentions Bryusov's interest in horse-races:



Так, например, в 1921 г. Брюсов совмещал како
е-то высокое назначение по Наркомпросу - с
не менее важной должностью в Гукон, т. е....
в Главном Управлении по Коннозаводству (К
ак ни странно, некоторая логика в этом был
а: самые первые строки Брюсова, появившие
ся в печати, - две статьи о лошадях в одном
из специальных журналов: не то "Рысак и Ск
акун", не то "Коннозаводство и Спорт". Отец
Брюсова, как я указывал, был лошадник - люб
итель. Когда-то я видел детские письма Брю
сова к матери, сплошь наполненные беговым
и делами и впечатлениями.)
Что ж? Он честно трудился и там и даже, идя
в ногу с нэпом, выступал в печати, ведя кам
панию за восстановление тотализатора.



The Cheshire Cat is famous for its mischievous grin still visible when its
body disappears. According to Marina Tsvetaev, she realized that Bryusov was
a wolf the moment Bryusov smiled (or, rather, grinned) at her:



- Значит, я теперь - премированный щенок? О
тветный смех залы и - добрая - внезапная - в
олчья - улыбка Брюсова. ?Улыбка? - условнос
ть, просто внезапное обнаружение и такое
же исчезновение зубов. Не улыбка? Улыбка!
Только не наша, волчья. (Оскал, осклаб, още
р.)

Тут я впервые догадалась, что Брюсов - вол
к.



The main character of VN’s story Volshebnik (“The Enchanter,” 1939) is
compared to the wolf in Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood. The
protagonist of “The Enchanter” has a lot in common with Humbert Humbert,
the narrator and main character in VN’s Lolita (1955). Charlotte (Lolita’s
mother) calls her husband “Hum:”



“I have always wanted to ask you,” she said (businesslike, not
coquettish), “why is this thing locked up? Do you want it in this room?
It’s so abominably uncouth.”

“Leave it alone,” I said. I was Camping in Scandinavia.

“Is there a key?”

“Hidden.”

“Oh, Hum…”

“Locked up love letters.” (1.21)



Scandinavia mentioned by Humbert Humbert brings to mind the hysterical lad
from Upsala (“Fancytart”) in Van’s boarding-school:



Every dormitory had its catamite. One hysterical lad from Upsala,
cross-eyed, loose-lipped, with almost abnormally awkward limbs, but with a
wonderfully tender skin texture and the round creamy charms of Bronzino's
Cupid (the big one, whom a delighted satyr discovers in a lady's bower), was
much prized and tortured by a group of foreign boys, mostly Greek and
English, led by Cheshire, the rugby ace; and partly out of bravado, partly
out of curiosity, Van surmounted his disgust and coldly watched their rough
orgies. (1.4)



Van’s adversary in a pistol duel that he fights in Kalugano, Captain
Tapper, and the two seconds are homosexual. The Captain’s name brings to
mind Kuprin’s story Tapyor (“The Ballroom Pianist,” 1900). Its characters
include Anton Rubinstein, the pianist and composer whose most famous opera
is The Demon (1871). Demon is the society nickname of Van’s and Ada’s
father. Captain Tapper (a member of the Do-Re-La country club) asks Van if
he is Demon’s son:



Visiting cards were exchanged. 'Demon's son?' grunted Captain Tapper, of
Wild Violet Lodge, Kalugano. 'Correct,' said Van. 'I'll put up, I guess, at
the Majestic; if not, a note will be left for your second or seconds. You'll
have to get me one, I can't very well ask the concierge to do it.' (1.42)



On the other hand, Tapyor (1885) is a story by Chekhov. Its main character
is a hysterical man who suffers a nervous breakdown. The fiancé in
Chekhov’s story is a merchant's son Eskimosov (“a parvenu and mauvais
genre”). His name brings to mind Kim Eskimossoff, the actor who played
Fedotik in the Yakima stage version of Chekhov’s Four Sisters (as Chekhov’
s play “The Three Sisters” is known on Antiterra):



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 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.' (2.9)



In a poem that he composed in a Quebec sanatorium after Lolita’s abduction
Humbert Humbert mentions the starling that in Sterne’s Sentimental Journey
through France and Italy (1768) repeats “I can’t get out:”



Where are you hiding, Dolores Haze?

Why are you hiding, darling?

(I talk in a daze, I walk in a maze

I cannot get out, said the starling). (2.25)



Alexey Sklyarenko


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