According to Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in VN¡¯s novel Look at the Harlequins!), spying had been his ¡°clyst¨¨re de Tch¨¦khov¡± (a play on violon d¡¯Ingres, ¡°a hobby¡±) even before he married Iris Black (Vadim¡¯s first wife):


Brushing all my engagements aside, I surrendered again--after quite a few years of abstinence!--to the thrill of secret investigations. Spying had been my clyst¨¨re de Tch¨¦khov even before I married Iris Black whose later passion for working on an interminable detective tale had been sparked by this or that hint I must have dropped, like a passing bird's lustrous feather, in relation to my experience in the vast and misty field of the Service. In my little way I have been of some help to my betters. The tree, a blue-flowering ash, whose cortical wound I caught the two "diplomats," Tornikovski and Kalikakov, using for their correspondence, still stands, hardly  scarred, on its hilltop above San Bernardino. But for structural economy I have omitted that entertaining strain from this story of love and prose. Its existence, however, helped me now to ward off--for a while, at least--the madness and anguish of hopeless regret. (5.1)


In a letter of October 22, 1896, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions gromadnye klistiry (huge clysters) that he made to a rich peasant whose bowel was blocked with kal (faeces):


§£§é§Ö§â§Ñ §å §à§Õ§ß§à§Ô§à §Ò§à§Ô§Ñ§ä§à§Ô§à §Þ§å§Ø§Ú§Ü§Ñ §Ù§Ñ§ä§Ü§ß§å§Ý§à §Ü§Ñ§Ý§à§Þ §Ü§Ú§ê§Ü§å, §Ú §Þ§í §ã§ä§Ñ§Ó§Ú§Ý§Ú §Ö§Þ§å §Ô§â§à§Þ§Ñ§Õ§ß§í§Ö §Ü§Ý§Ú§ã§ä§Ú§â§í. §°§Ø§Ú§Ý.

In the same letter to Suvorin Chekhov speaks of the flop of the
first performance of his play Chayka (¡°The Seagull,¡± 1896) in the Aleksandrinsky Theater and compares himself to a man who made a proposal and received a refusal:


§Á §á§à§ã§ä§å§á§Ú§Ý §ä§Ñ§Ü §Ø§Ö §â§Ñ§Ù§å§Þ§ß§à §Ú §ç§à§Ý§à§Õ§ß§à, §Ü§Ñ§Ü §é§Ö§Ý§à§Ó§Ö§Ü, §Ü§à§ä§à§â§í§Û §ã§Õ§Ö§Ý§Ñ§Ý §á§â§Ö§Õ§Ý§à§Ø§Ö§ß§Ú§Ö, §á§à§Ý§å§é§Ú§Ý §à§ä§Ü§Ñ§Ù §Ú §Ü§à§ä§à§â§à§Þ§å §ß§Ú§é§Ö§Ô§à §Ò§à§Ý§î§ê§Ö §ß§Ö §à§ã§ä§Ñ§×§ä§ã§ñ, §Ü§Ñ§Ü §å§Ö§ç§Ñ§ä§î. §¥§Ñ, §ã§Ñ§Þ§à§Ý§ð§Ò§Ú§Ö §Þ§à§× §Ò§í§Ý§à §å§ñ§Ù§Ó§Ý§Ö§ß§à, §ß§à §Ó§Ö§Õ§î §ï§ä§à §ß§Ö §ã §ß§Ö§Ò§Ñ §ã§Ó§Ñ§Ý§Ú§Ý§à§ã§î; §ñ §à§Ø§Ú§Õ§Ñ§Ý §ß§Ö§å§ã§á§Ö§ç§Ñ §Ú §å§Ø§Ö §Ò§í§Ý §á§à§Õ§Ô§à§ä§à§Ó§Ý§Ö§ß §Ü §ß§Ö§Þ§å, §à §é§×§Þ §Ú §á§â§Ö§Õ§å§á§â§Ö§Ø§Õ§Ñ§Ý §£§Ñ§ã §ã §á§à§Ý§ß§à§ð §Ú§ã§Ü§â§Ö§ß§ß§à§ã§ä§î§ð.

I acted as coldly and reasonably as a man who has made an offer, received a refusal, and has nothing left but to go. Yes, my vanity was stung, but you know it was not a bolt from the blue; I was expecting a failure, and was prepared for it, as I warned you with perfect sincerity beforehand.


One of the main characters in ¡°The Seagull¡± is Nina Zarechnyi. Her name brings to mind Mme de Rechnoy (alias Nina Lecerf), Sebastian¡¯s mistress in VN¡¯s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). Describing his first meeting with Iris Black, Vadim mentions Nina Lecerf:


Ivor had gone to fetch my whisky. Iris and I stood on the terrace in the saintly dusk. I was lighting my pipe while Iris nudged the balustrade with her hip and pointed out with mermaid undulations--supposed to  imitate waves--the shimmer of seaside lights in a parting of the india-ink hills. At that moment the telephone rang in the drawing room behind us, and she quickly turned around--but with admirable presence of mind transformed her dash into a nonchalant shawl dance. In the meantime Ivor had already skated phoneward across the parquetry to hear what Nina Lecerf or some other neighbor wanted. We liked to recall, Iris and I, in our later intimacy that  revelation scene with Ivor bringing us drinks to toast her fairy-tale recovery and she, without minding his presence, putting her light hand on my knuckles: I stood gripping the balustrade in exaggerated resentment and was not prompt enough, poor dupe, to acknowledge her apology by a Continental hand kiss. (1.3)


In the first production of ¡°The Seagull¡± Vera Komissarzhevskaya played Nina Zarechnyi. Na smert¡¯ Komissarzhevskoy (¡°On the Death of Komissarzhevskaya,¡± 1910) is a poem by Alexander Blok. In the Introduction to his poem Vozmezdie (¡°Retribution,¡± 1910-21) Blok mentions Komissarzhevskaya, Vrubel and Tolstoy (the tree great artists who died in 1910):


1910 §Ô§à§Õ - §ï§ä§à §ã§Þ§Ö§â§ä§î §¬§à§Þ§Ú§ã§ã§Ñ§â§Ø§Ö§Ó§ã§Ü§à§Û, §ã§Þ§Ö§â§ä§î §£§â§å§Ò§Ö§Ý§ñ §Ú §ã§Þ§Ö§â§ä§î §´§à§Ý§ã§ä§à§Ô§à. §³ §¬§à§Þ§Ú§ã§ã§Ñ§â§Ø§Ö§Ó§ã§Ü§à§Û §å§Þ§Ö§â§Ý§Ñ §Ý§Ú§â§Ú§é§Ö§ã§Ü§Ñ§ñ §ß§à§ä§Ñ §ß§Ñ §ã§è§Ö§ß§Ö; §ã §£§â§å§Ò§Ö§Ý§Ö§Þ - §Ô§â§à§Þ§Ñ§Õ§ß§í§Û §Ý§Ú§é§ß§í§Û §Þ§Ú§â §ç§å§Õ§à§Ø§ß§Ú§Ü§Ñ, §Ò§Ö§Ù§å§Þ§ß§à§Ö §å§á§à§â§ã§ä§Ó§à, §ß§Ö§ß§Ñ§ã§í§ä§ß§à§ã§ä§î §Ú§ã§Ü§Ñ§ß§Ú§Û - §Ó§á§Ý§à§ä§î §Õ§à §á§à§Þ§Ö§ê§Ñ§ä§Ö§Ý§î§ã§ä§Ó§Ñ. §³ §´§à§Ý§ã§ä§í§Þ §å§Þ§Ö§â§Ý§Ñ §é§Ö§Ý§à§Ó§Ö§é§Ö§ã§Ü§Ñ§ñ §ß§Ö§Ø§ß§à§ã§ä§î ¨C §Þ§å§Õ§â§Ñ§ñ §é§Ö§Ý§à§Ó§Ö§é§ß§à§ã§ä§î.


In Blok¡¯s ¡°Retribution¡± the hero¡¯s father was nicknamed Demon. In Chapter Three of his poem Blok mentions Vrubel (the author of The Demon Seated and The Demon Downcast):


§¦§Ô§à §à§á§å§ã§ä§à§ê§Ñ§Ö§ä §¥§Ö§Þ§à§ß,

§¯§Ñ§Õ §Ü§à§Ú§Þ §£§â§å§Ò§Ö§Ý§î §Ú§Ù§ß§Ö§Þ§à§Ô...

§¦§Ô§à §á§â§à§Ù§â§Ö§ß§Ú§ñ §Ô§Ý§å§Ò§à§Ü§Ú,

§¯§à §Ú§ç §Ô§Ý§å§ê§Ú§ä §ß§à§é§ß§Ñ§ñ §ä§î§Þ§Ñ,

§ª §Ó §ã§ß§Ñ§ç §ç§à§Ý§à§Õ§ß§í§ç §Ú §Ø§Ö§ã§ä§à§Ü§Ú§ç

§°§ß §Ó§Ú§Õ§Ú§ä "§¤§à§â§Ö §à§ä §å§Þ§Ñ".


According to Vadim, his father (whose society nickname was Demon) was portrayed by Vrubel:


My father was a gambler and a rake. His society nickname was Demon. Vrubel has portrayed him with his vampire-pale cheeks, his diamond eyes, his black hair. What remained on the palette has been used by me, Vadim, son of Vadim, for touching up the father of the passionate siblings in the best of my English romaunts, Ardis (1970).

The scion of a princely family devoted to a gallery of a dozen Tsars, my father resided on the idyllic outskirts of history. His politics were of the casual, reactionary sort. He had a dazzling and complicated sensual life, but his culture was patchy and commonplace. He was born in 1865, married in 1896, and died in a pistol duel with a young Frenchman on October 22, 1898, after a card-table fracas at Deauville, some resort in gray Normandy. (2.5)


Chekhov is the author of Duel¡¯ (¡°The Duel,¡± 1891). Chekhov¡¯s letter to Suvorin in which he speaks of the flop of ¡°The Seagull¡± is dated October 22, 1896. In a letter of Oct. 17, 1897, to Sobolevski Chekhov says that one of his neighbors in the Pension Russe in Nice turned out to be a spy:


§¨§Ú§Ó§å §Ó§ã§× §Ó §ä§à§Þ §Ø§Ö Pension Russe, §Ó§ã§× §ä§Ñ§Ü §Ø§Ö §ä§Ú§ç§à §Ú §Þ§Ú§â§ß§à, §Ü§Ñ§Ü §Ú §á§â§Ú §£§Ñ§ã. §£§á§â§à§é§Ö§Þ, §Ò§í§Ý§Ñ §Ú §â§Ö§Ó§à§Ý§ð§è§Ú§ñ. §¥§à §Þ§à§Ö§Ô§à §ã§Ó§Ö§Õ§Ö§ß§Ú§ñ §Õ§à§ê§Ý§à, §é§ä§à §Ø§Ú§Ó§å§ë§Ú§Ö §Ó §ä§à§Þ §Ø§Ö §á§Ñ§ß§ã§Ú§à§ß§Ö §ê§á§Ú§à§ß (§Ó§Ñ§â§ê§Ñ§Ó§ã§Ü§Ú§Û §Þ§à§Ý§à§Õ§à§Û §é§Ö§Ý§à§Ó§Ö§Ü §à§Ü§Ñ§Ù§Ñ§Ý§ã§ñ §ä§Ñ§Ü§à§Ó§í§Þ §Ó §Ü§à§ß§è§Ö §Ü§à§ß§è§à§Ó) §Ú §Ù§Ö§Þ§ã§Ü§Ú§Û §ß§Ñ§é§Ñ§Ý§î§ß§Ú§Ü §á§Ý§Ñ§ä§ñ§ä §£§Ö§â§Ö §¥§Þ§Ú§ä§â§Ú§Ö§Ó§ß§Ö §á§à 9 §æ§â§Ñ§ß§Ü§à§Ó §Ó §Õ§Ö§ß§î; §ñ §Ø§Ö §á§Ý§Ñ§é§å 11. §®§Ö§ß§ñ §ï§ä§à §ß§Ö§Þ§ß§à§Ø§Ü§à §á§à§Ü§à§â§à§Ò§Ú§Ý§à, §ñ §ã§ä§Ñ§Ý §Ò§å§ß§ä§à§Ó§Ñ§ä§î §Ú §Þ§ß§Ö §ã§Ò§Ñ§Ó§Ú§Ý§Ú 1 §æ§â. §±§Ý§Ñ§é§å §ä§Ö§á§Ö§â§î 10.

Revolyutsiya (a revolution), as Chekhov calls a reduction of the rent, brings to mind the Bolshevist revolution mentioned by Vadim:


I was eighteen when the Bolshevist revolution struck--a strong and anomalous verb, I concede, used here solely for the sake of narrative rhythm. (1.2)


The Bolshevist coup took place on Oct. 25 (OS), 1917. It means that Vadim was born in the time span between Oct. 25, 1898, and Oct. 25, 1899. Therefore he simply could not have seen his father. But in the same chapter of LATH Vadim says that he did see his parents:


I saw my parents infrequently. They divorced and remarried and redivorced at such a rapid rate that had the custodians of my fortune been less alert, I might have been auctioned out finally to a pair of strangers of Swedish or Scottish descent, with sad bags under hungry eyes. An extraordinary grand-aunt, Baroness Bredow, born Tolstoy, amply replaced closer blood. As a child of seven or eight, already harboring the secrets of a confirmed madman, I seemed even to her (who also was far from normal) unduly sulky and indolent; actually, of course, I kept daydreaming in a most outrageous fashion.              

"Stop moping!" she would cry: "Look at the harlequins!       

"What harlequins? Where?"               

"Oh, everywhere. All around you. Trees are harlequins, words are harlequins. So are situations and sums. Put two things together--jokes, images--and you get a triple harlequin. Come on! Play! Invent the world! Invent reality!"               

I did. By Jove, I did. I invented my grand-aunt in honor of my first daydreams, and now, down the marble steps of memory's front porch, here she slowly comes, sideways, sideways, the poor lame lady, touching each step edge with the rubber tip of her black cane. (ibid.)


The name Bredow comes from bred (delirium; gibberish; nonsense). In Aldanov¡¯s novel Bred (¡°Delirium,¡± 1955) Shell (the main character) is a professional spy. In the opening line of his poem Smychok i struny (¡°The Bow and the Strings¡±) Innokentiy Annenski mentions tyazhyolyi, tyomnyi bred (¡°heavy, dark delirium¡±):


§¬§Ñ§Ü§à§Û §ä§ñ§Ø§×§Ý§í§Û, §ä§×§Þ§ß§í§Û §Ò§â§Ö§Õ!

§¬§Ñ§Ü §ï§ä§Ú §Ó§í§ã§Ú §Þ§å§ä§ß§à-§Ý§å§ß§ß§í!

§¬§Ñ§ã§Ñ§ä§î§ã§ñ §ã§Ü§â§Ú§á§Ü§Ú §ã§ä§à§Ý§î§Ü§à §Ý§Ö§ä

§ª §ß§Ö §å§Ù§ß§Ñ§ä§î §á§â§Ú §ã§Ó§Ö§ä§Ö §ã§ä§â§å§ß§í!


§¬§à§Þ§å §Ø §ß§Ñ§ã §ß§Ñ§Õ§à? §¬§ä§à §Ù§Ñ§Ø§×§Ô

§¥§Ó§Ñ §Ø§×§Ý§ä§í§ç §Ý§Ú§Ü§Ñ, §Õ§Ó§Ñ §å§ß§í§Ý§í§ç...

§ª §Ó§Õ§â§å§Ô §á§à§é§å§Ó§ã§ä§Ó§à§Ó§Ñ§Ý §ã§Þ§í§é§à§Ü,

§¹§ä§à §Ü§ä§à-§ä§à §Ó§Ù§ñ§Ý §Ú §Ü§ä§à-§ä§à §ã§Ý§Ú§Ý §Ú§ç.


"§°, §Ü§Ñ§Ü §Õ§Ñ§Ó§ß§à! §³§Ü§Ó§à§Ù§î §ï§ä§å §ä§î§Þ§å

§³§Ü§Ñ§Ø§Ú §à§Õ§ß§à: §ä§í §ä§Ñ §Ý§Ú, §ä§Ñ §Ý§Ú?"

§ª §ã§ä§â§å§ß§í §Ý§Ñ§ã§ä§Ú§Ý§Ú§ã§î §Ü §ß§Ö§Þ§å,

§©§Ó§Ö§ß§ñ, §ß§à, §Ý§Ñ§ã§ä§ñ§ã§î, §ä§â§Ö§á§Ö§ä§Ñ§Ý§Ú.


"§¯§Ö §á§â§Ñ§Ó§Õ§Ñ §Ý§î, §Ò§à§Ý§î§ê§Ö §ß§Ú§Ü§à§Ô§Õ§Ñ

§®§í §ß§Ö §â§Ñ§ã§ã§ä§Ñ§ß§Ö§Þ§ã§ñ? §Õ§à§Ó§à§Ý§î§ß§à?.."

§ª §ã§Ü§â§Ú§á§Ü§Ñ §à§ä§Ó§Ö§é§Ñ§Ý§Ñ §Õ§Ñ,

§¯§à §ã§Ö§â§Õ§è§å §ã§Ü§â§Ú§á§Ü§Ú §Ò§í§Ý§à §Ò§à§Ý§î§ß§à.


§³§Þ§í§é§à§Ü §Ó§ã§× §á§à§ß§ñ§Ý, §à§ß §Ù§Ñ§ä§Ú§ç,

§¡ §Ó §ã§Ü§â§Ú§á§Ü§Ö §ï§ç§à §Ó§ã§× §Õ§Ö§â§Ø§Ñ§Ý§à§ã§î...

§ª §Ò§í§Ý§à §Þ§å§Ü§à§ð §Õ§Ý§ñ §ß§Ú§ç,

§¹§ä§à §Ý§ð§Õ§ñ§Þ §Þ§å§Ù§í§Ü§à§Û §Ü§Ñ§Ù§Ñ§Ý§à§ã§î.


§¯§à §é§Ö§Ý§à§Ó§Ö§Ü §ß§Ö §á§à§Ô§Ñ§ã§Ú§Ý

§¥§à §å§ä§â§Ñ §ã§Ó§Ö§é... §ª §ã§ä§â§å§ß§í §á§Ö§Ý§Ú...

§­§Ú§ê§î §ã§à§Ý§ß§è§Ö §Ú§ç §ß§Ñ§ê§Ý§à §Ò§Ö§Ù §ã§Ú§Ý

§¯§Ñ §é§×§â§ß§à§Þ §Ò§Ñ§â§ç§Ñ§ä§Ö §á§à§ã§ä§Ö§Ý§Ú.


What heavy, dark delirium!
What dim and moonlit heights!
To touch the violin for years
And not to know the strings by light!

Who needs us now? And who lit up
Two hollow, melancholy faces...
And suddenly the bow felt
Someone take them up, unite them.

"How long it's been! Amidst this gloom
Just tell me this: are you still the same?"
The strings caressed the bow,
Rang out, caressed it slightly trembling.

"Is it not true, that we will never more
Be parted. It's enough..."
Yes, replied the violin,
But pain was throbbing in her heart.

The bow discerned it and grew mute,
The echo still continued in the violin...
What was a torture to them both
The people heard as music.

But the violinist didn't snuff
The candles out 'til dawn...The strings sang on...
The sun found them worn out
On the black velvet of their bed.


¡°To touch the violin for years and not to know the strings by light!¡± Vadim never finds out that the three of his three or four successive wives are the daughters of Count Starov (a diplomat who seems to be Vadim¡¯s real father). Skripka Rotshil¡¯da (¡°Rothschild¡¯s Violin,¡± 1894) is a story by Chekhov. Vadim¡¯s full name seems to be Prince Vadim Vadimovich Yablonski. One of Annenski¡¯s poems begins Pod yablon¡¯koy, pod vishneyu¡­ (¡°Under the apple tree, under the cherry tree¡±). Chekhov is the author of Vishnyovyi sad (¡°The Cherry Orchard,¡± 1904).


Alexey Sklyarenko

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