In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) tells his father, Demon Veen, that the Ardis tap water is not recommended:
‘I’ll want,’ said Demon, ‘a bottle of your Château Latour d’Estoc for dinner’; and when the butler, having removed en passant a crumpled little handkerchief from the piano top, had left the room with another salute: ‘How do you get along with Ada? She’s what — almost sixteen now? Very musical and romantic?’
‘We are close friends,’ said Van (who had carefully prepared his answer to a question he had expected to come in one form or another). ‘We have really more things in common than, for instance, ordinary lovers or cousins or siblings. I mean, we are really inseparable. We read a lot, she is spectacularly self-educated, thanks to her granddad’s library. She knows the names of all the flowers and finches in the neighborhood. She is altogether a very amusing girl.’
‘Van…,’ began Demon, but stopped — as he had begun and stopped a number of times before in the course of the last years. Some day it would have to be said, but this was not the right moment. He inserted his monocle and examined the bottles: ‘By the way, son, do you crave any of these aperitifs? My father allowed me Lilletovka and that Illinois Brat — awful bilge, antranou svadi, as Marina would say. I suspect your uncle has a cache behind the solanders in his study and keeps there a finer whisky than this usque ad Russkum. Well, let us have the cognac, as planned, unless you are a filius aquae?’
(No pun intended, but one gets carried away and goofs.)
‘Oh, I prefer claret. I’ll concentrate (nalyagu) on the Latour later on. No, I’m certainly no T-totaler, and besides the Ardis tap water is not recommended!’
‘I must warn Marina,’ said Demon after a gum-rinse and a slow swallow, ‘that her husband should stop swilling tittery, and stick to French and Califrench wines — after that little stroke he had. I met him in town recently, near Mad Avenue, saw him walking toward me quite normally, but then as he caught sight of me, a block away, the clockwork began slowing down and he stopped — oh, helplessly! — before he reached me. That’s hardly normal. Okay. Let our sweethearts never meet, as we used to say, up at Chose. Only Yukonians think cognac is bad for the liver, because they have nothing but vodka. Well, I’m glad you get along so well with Ada. That’s fine. A moment ago, in that gallery, I ran into a remarkably pretty soubrette. She never once raised her lashes and answered in French when I — Please, my boy, move that screen a little, that’s right, the stab of a sunset, especially from under a thunderhead, is not for my poor eyes. Or poor ventricles. Do you like the type, Van — the bowed little head, the bare neck, the high heels, the trot, the wiggle, you do, don’t you?’ (1.38)
Demon wants to tell Van that his mother is not Aqua (Demon’s late wife), but her twin sister Marina (Daniel Veen’s wife), and that Ada is not Dan’s, but his, Demon’s, daughter. Demon does not know that Van and Ada discovered the truth about their birth: that they are brother and sister, not first cousins (their official relationship), thanks to Marina’s old herbarium that they found in attic of Ardis Hall (1.1). In his poem Ty i ya (“You and I,” 1817-20) Pushkin says that he lives in the attic and that he suffers from indigestion ot vody syroy i presnoy (because of unboiled and flavorless water):
Ты богат, я очень беден;
Ты прозаик, я поэт;
Ты румян, как маков цвет,
Я как смерть и тощ, и бледен.
Не имея в век забот,
Ты живёшь в огромном доме;
Я ж средь горя и хлопот
Провожу дни на соломе.
Ешь ты сладко всякой день,
Тянешь вины на свободе,
И тебе не редко лень
Нужный долг отдать природе;
Я же с чёрствого куска,
От воды сырой и пресной,
Сажен за сто с чердака
За нуждой бегу известной.
Окружён рабов толпой.
С грозным деспотизма взором,
Афедрон ты жирный свой
Я же грешную дыру
Не балую детской модой
И Хвостова жесткой одой,
Хоть и морщуся, да тру.
You are rich, I’m very poor;
you are a prose writer, I’m a poet;
you are ruddy, like a poppy flower,
I’m lean and pale, like death.
Having no troubles at all,
you live in a huge house;
as to me, in grief and pains
I spend my days on the straw.
You eat sweetly every day,
sip wines at leisure
and not seldom you are too lazy
to relieve yourself;
as to me, because of stale food,
unboiled and flavorless water,
from my attic I have to run
some two hundred meters to do my needs.
Surrounded by a crowd of slaves,
With a formidable look of despotism,
You wipe up with calico
Your fat Afedron.
As to me, with children’s fashion
I don’t pamper my sinful hole
and wipe it, wincing,
with Khvostov’s tough ode.
In his poem Pushkin mentions viny (the wines) that the tsar Alexander I (“You” of the poem) sips at leisure. If capitalized, the word viny (pl. of vino, “wine”) becomes Viny (the Veens). In Alexander Blok’s poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) cry out: “In vino veritas!” At the family dinner in Ardis the Second Demon uses the phrase s glazami (with the eyes) and mentions Dr Krolik (the local entomologist and Ada’s teacher of natural history):
‘Marina,’ murmured Demon at the close of the first course. ‘Marina,’ he repeated louder. ‘Far from me’ (a locution he favored) ‘to criticize Dan’s taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I’m above all that rot, I’m…’ (gesture); ‘but, my dear,’ he continued, switching to Russian, ‘the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki — the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) —’
‘Everybody has eyes,’ remarked Marina drily.
‘Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves. But that’s not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It’s depressing. It’s a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.’
‘Look, Dad,’ said Van, ‘Dr Krolik can’t do much, because, as you know quite well, he’s dead, and Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive.’
‘The Veen wit, the Veen wit,’ murmured Demon.
‘Exactly,’ said Marina. ‘I simply refuse to do anything about it. Besides poor Jones is not at all asthmatic, but only nervously eager to please. He’s as healthy as a bull and has rowed me from Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer. You are cruel, Demon. I can’t tell him "ne pïkhtite," as I can’t tell Kim, the kitchen boy, not to take photographs on the sly — he’s a regular snap-shooting fiend, that Kim, though otherwise an adorable, gentle, honest boy; nor can I tell my little French maid to stop getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore.’
‘That’s interesting,’ observed Demon.
‘He’s a dirty old man!’ cried Van cheerfully.
‘Van!’ said Ada.
‘I’m a dirty young man,’ sighed Demon. (1.38)
Marina’s little French maid who gets invitations to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore is Blanche (“a remarkably pretty soubrette,” as Demon calls in his conversation with Van). On Van’s last night at Ardis Blanche addresses him “thou” and Van tells Blanche vous:
Something roused him from that state of evil torpor. At first he thought it was the chill of the dying night, then recognized the slight creak (that had been a scream in his confused nightmare), and raising his head saw a dim light in between the shrubs where the door of the tool room was being pushed ajar from the inside. Ada had never once come there without their prudently planning every step of their infrequent nocturnal trysts. He scrambled out of his hammock and padded toward the light doorway. Before him stood the pale wavering figure of Blanche. She presented an odd sight: bare armed, in her petticoat, one stocking gartered, the other down to her ankle; no slippers; armpits glistening with sweat; she was loosening her hair in a wretched simulacrum of seduction.
‘C’est ma dernière nuit au château,’ she said softly, and rephrased it in her quaint English, elegiac and stilted, as spoken only in obsolete novels. ‘‘Tis my last night with thee.’
‘Your last night? With me? What do you mean?’ He considered her with the eerie uneasiness one feels when listening to the utterances of delirium or intoxication.
But despite her demented look, Blanche was perfectly lucid. She had made up her mind a couple of days ago to leave Ardis Hall. She had just slipped her demission, with a footnote on the young lady’s conduct, under the door of Madame. She would go in a few hours. She loved him, he was her ‘folly and fever,’ she wished to spend a few secret moments with him.
He entered the toolroom and slowly closed the door. The slowness had its uncomfortable cause. She had placed her lantern on the rung of a ladder and was already gathering up and lifting her skimpy skirt. Compassion, courtesy and some assistance on her part might have helped him to work up the urge which she took for granted and whose total absence he carefully concealed under his tartan cloak; but quite aside from the fear of infection (Bout had hinted at some of the poor girl’s troubles), a graver matter engrossed him. He diverted her bold hand and sat down on the bench beside her.
Was it she who had placed that note in his jacket?
It was. She had been unable to face departure if he was to remain fooled, deceived, betrayed. She added, in naive brackets, that she had been sure he always desired her, they could talk afterwards. Je suis à toi, c’est bientôt l’aube, your dream has come true.
‘Parlez pour vous,’ answered Van. ‘I am in no mood for love-making. And I will strangle you, I assure you, if you do not tell me the whole story in every detail, at once.’ (1.41)
Ty i vy (“Thou and You,” 1828) is a poem by Pushkin:
Пустое вы сердечным ты
Она, обмолвясь, заменила
И все счастливые мечты
В душе влюблённой возбудила.
Пред ней задумчиво стою,
Свести очей с неё нет силы;
И говорю ей: как вы милы!
И мыслю: как тебя люблю!
She substituted, by a chance,
For empty 'you' - the gentle 'thou';
And all my happy dreams, at once,
In loving heart again resound.
In bliss and silence do I stay,
Unable to maintain my role:
'Oh, how sweet you are!' I say -
'How I love thee!' says my soul.
Ona (she) in Pushkin’s poem is Annette Olenin, a girl whom the poet courted in 1828 (and to whom he proposed in the fall of that year). In his poem Eyo glaza (“Her Eyes,” 1828) Pushkin mentions glaza Oleninoy moey (the eyes of my Olenin). Bitten by mosquitoes in Priyutino (the Olenins’ country estate some 25 miles east of St. Petersburg), Pushkin exclaimed: Sladko! (“Sweet!”). On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Pushkin exclaimed “Sladko!” in Yukon:
The ‘pest’ appeared as suddenly as it would vanish. It settled on pretty bare arms and legs without the hint of a hum, in a kind of recueilli silence, that — by contrast — caused the sudden insertion of its absolutely hellish proboscis to resemble the brass crash of a military band. Five minutes after the attack in the crepuscule, between porch step and cricket-crazed garden, a fiery irritation would set in, which the strong and the cold ignored (confident it would last a mere hour) but which the weak, the adorable, the voluptuous took advantage of to scratch and scratch and scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant). ‘Sladko! (Sweet!)’ Pushkin used to exclaim in relation to a different species in Yukon. During the week following her birthday, Ada’s unfortunate fingernails used to stay garnet-stained and after a particularly ecstatic, lost-to-the-world session of scratching, blood literally streamed down her shins — a pity to see, mused her distressed admirer, but at the same time disgracefully fascinating — for we are visitors and investigators in a strange universe, indeed, indeed. (1.17)
In his sonnet Poetu (“To a Poet,” 1830) Pushkin says that a poet should not demand reward for podvig blagorodnyi (a noble feat). In his novel Podvig (“Glory,” 1932) VN mentions the fact that in England the form “thou” had died out with the bowmen:
Он вышел, тихо закрыв за собою дверь, и Мартын подумал зараз три вещи: что страшно голоден, что такого второго друга не сыскать, и что этот друг будет завтра делать предложение. В эту минуту он радостно и горячо желал, чтобы Соня согласилась, но эта минута прошла, и уже на другое утро, при встрече с Соней на вокзале, он почувствовал знакомую, унылую ревность (единственным, довольно жалким преимуществом перед Дарвином был недавний, вином запитый переход с Соней на ты; в Англии второе лицо, вместе с луконосцами, вымерло; всё же Дарвин выпил тоже на брудершафт и весь вечер обращался к ней на архаическом наречии).
He went out, quietly closing the door behind him, and Martin had three simultaneous thoughts: that he was terribly hungry, that you couldn’t find another friend like that, and that tomorrow this friend would propose. At that moment he joyously and ardently wished that Sonia would accept, but the moment passed, and next morning, when he and Darwin met Sonia at the station, he felt the old familiar, dreary jealousy (his only, rather pathetic advantage over Darwin was his recent, wine-toasted transition to the intimate second-person singular, the Russian “ty,” with Sonia; in England that form had died out with the bowmen; nonetheless Darwin had also drunk auf Bruderschaft with her, and had addressed her all evening with the archaic “thou”). (Chapter 25)
Lukonostsy (the bowmen) bring to mind Pushkin’s epigram (“From the Anthology,” 1827) Luk zvenit, strela trepeshet… (“The Bowstring sounds, the arrow quivers…” 1827):
Лук звенит, стрела трепещет,
И клубясь издох Пифон;
И твой лик победой блещет,
Кто ж вступился за Пифона,
Кто разбил твой истукан?
Ты, соперник Аполлона,
As pointed out by Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess), Ardis means in Greek “the point of an arrow:”
He [Van] found the game [Flavita] rather fatiguing, and toward the end played hurriedly and carelessly, not deigning to check ‘rare’ or ‘obsolete’ but quite acceptable possibilities provided by a loyal dictionary. As to ambitious, incompetent and temperamental Lucette, she had to be, even at twelve, discreetly advised by Van who did so chiefly because it saved time and brought a little closer the blessed moment when she could be bundled off to the nursery, leaving Ada available for the third or fourth little flourish of the sweet summer day. Especially boring were the girls’ squabbles over the legitimacy of this or that word: proper names and place names were taboo, but there occurred borderline cases, causing no end of heartbreak, and it was pitiful to see Lucette cling to her last five letters (with none left in the box) forming the beautiful ARDIS which her governess had told her meant ‘the point of an arrow’ — but only in Greek, alas. (1.36)
In the “Flavita” chapter of Ada Van several times mentions Blanche:
Pretty Blanche, also touched, on earlobe and thumbnail, with the evening’s pink — and redolent with the perfume called Miniver Musk by handmaids — had brought a still unneeded lamp. (ibid.)
‘And now,’ said Ada, ‘Adochka is going to do something even sillier.’ And taking advantage of a cheap letter recklessly sown sometime before in the seventh compartment of the uppermost fertile row, Ada, with a deep sigh of pleasure, composed: the adjective TORFYaNUYu which went through a brown square at F and through two red squares (37 x 9 = 333 points) and got a bonus of 50 (for placing all seven blocks at one stroke) which made 383 in all, the highest score ever obtained for one word by a Russian scrambler. ‘There!’ she said, ‘Ouf! Pas facile.’ And brushing away with the rosy knuckles of her white hand the black-bronze hair from her temple, she recounted her monstrous points in a smug, melodious tone of voice like a princess narrating the poison-cup killing of a superfluous lover, while Lucette fixed Van with a mute, fuming appeal against life’s injustice — and then looking again at the board emitted a sudden howl of hope:
‘It’s a place name! One can’t use it! It’s the name of the first little station after Ladore Bridge!’
‘That’s right, pet,’ sang out Ada. ‘Oh, pet, you are so right! Yes, Torfyanaya, or as Blanche says, La Tourbière, is, indeed, the pretty but rather damp village where our cendrillon’s family lives. But, mon petit, in our mother’s tongue — que dis-je, in the tongue of a maternal grandmother we all share — a rich beautiful tongue which my pet should not neglect for the sake of a Canadian brand of French — this quite ordinary adjective means "peaty," feminine gender, accusative case. Yes, that one coup has earned me nearly 400. Too bad — ne dotyanula (didn’t quite make it).’
‘Ne dotyanula!’ Lucette complained to Van, her nostrils flaring, her shoulders shaking with indignation. (ibid.)
An anagram of alfavit (alphabet), Flavita is the Antiterran name of Russian Scrabble. Vino (wine) is an anagram of ovin (barn) and voin (soldier). It is Blanche who in the night of the Burning Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time) cries that the barn flambait:
Who cried? Stopchin cried? Larivière cried? Larivière? Answer! Crying that the barn flambait?
No, she was fast ablaze — I mean, asleep. I know, said Van, it was she, the hand-painted handmaid, who used your watercolors to touch up her eyes, or so Larivière said, who accused her and Blanche of fantastic sins.
Oh, of course! But not Marina’s poor French — it was our little goose Blanche. Yes, she rushed down the corridor and lost a miniver-trimmed slipper on the grand staircase, like Ashette in the English version. (1.19)
In his poem Cleopatra (1828) Pushkin mentions Flaviy, voin smelyi (Flavius, a brave soldier):
Теперь из урны роковой
Пред неподвижными гостями
Выходят жребии чредой.
И первый — Флавий, воин смелый,
В дружинах римских поседелый;
Снести не мог он от жены
Он принял вызов наслажденья,
Как принимал во дни войны
Он вызов ярого сраженья.
Pushkin’s poem begins: Chertog siyal (“The palace shone”). Describing Ada’s winters in town, Van mentions the former Zemski chertog:
Another time, on a bicycle ride (with several pauses) along wood trails and country roads, soon after the night of the Burning Barn, but before they had come across the herbarium in the attic, and found confirmation of something both had forefelt in an obscure, amusing, bodily rather than moral way, Van casually mentioned he was born in Switzerland and had been abroad twice in his boyhood. She had been once, she said. Most summers she spent at Ardis; most winters in their Kaluga town home — two upper stories in the former Zemski chertog (palazzo). (1.24)
There is Zemski in Vyazemski. In a letter of Sept. 1, 1828, to Vyazemski Pushkin says that he is bespriuten (homeless, an allusion to Priyutino) and mentions tvoya mednaya Venera (“your Bronze Venus,” as Pushkin calls Agrafena Zakrevski):
Я пустился в свет, потому что бесприютен. Если б не твоя медная Венера, то я бы с тоски умер. Но она утешительно смешна и мила. Я ей пишу стихи. А она произвела меня в свои сводники (к чему влекли меня и всегдашняя склонность и нынешнее состоянье моего Благонамеренного, о коем можно сказать то же, что было сказано о его печатном тезке: ей-ей намерение благое, да исполнение плохое).
The Bronze Venus mentioned by Pushkin in his letter to Vyazemski brings to mind Eric Veen’s essay “Villa Venus: an Organized Dream.” According to Van, Eric Veen derived his Villa Venus project from reading too many erotic works found in a furnished house his grandfather had bought near Vence from Count Tolstoy, a Russian or Pole (2.3). On Antiterra Pushkin’s poem Mednyi vsadnik (“The Bronze Horseman,” 1833) is known as “Headless Horseman:”
The year 1880 (Aqua was still alive — somehow, somewhere!) was to prove to be the most retentive and talented one in his long, too long, never too long life. He was ten. His father had lingered in the West where the many-colored mountains acted upon Van as they had on all young Russians of genius. He could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin’s ‘Headless Horseman’ poem in less than twenty minutes. With white-bloused, enthusiastically sweating Andrey Andreevich, he lolled for hours in the violet shade of pink cliffs, studying major and minor Russian writers — and puzzling out the exaggerated but, on the whole, complimentary allusions to his father’s volitations and loves in another life in Lermontov’s diamond-faceted tetrameters. He struggled to keep back his tears, while AAA blew his fat red nose, when shown the peasant-bare footprint of Tolstoy preserved in the clay of a motor court in Utah where he had written the tale of Murat, the Navajo chieftain, a French general’s bastard, shot by Cora Day in his swimming pool. (1.28)
In our world “The Headless Horseman” is a novel (mentioned by VN in his autobiography Speak, Memory, 1951) by Captain Mayne Reid. 1880 was the hardest year in the life of Ivan Ilyich Golovin (the main character in Tolstoy’s story “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” 1886). The name Golovin comes from golova (head).
In “The Bronze Horseman” Pushkin describes the disastrous Neva flood of 1824 and in Part Two mentions Count Khvostov who “in immortal verses already sang the misfortune of the Neva’s banks.” In Finnish neva means what veen means in Dutch: “peat bog.”