Describing his work on Letters from Terra, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions a flute of Moët:
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. (2.2)
In Chapter Four (XLV: 1-2) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions of Veuve Cliquot or of Moët the blesséd wine:
Вдовы Клико или Моэта
В бутылке мёрзлой для поэта
На стол тотчас принесено.
Оно сверкает Ипокреной; 25
Оно своей игрой и пеной
Меня пленяло: за него
Последний бедный лепт, бывало,
Давал я. Помните ль, друзья?
Его волшебная струя
Рождала глупостей не мало,
А сколько шуток и стихов,
И споров, и весёлых снов!
Of Veuve Clicquot or of Moët
the blesséd wine
in a chilled bottle for the poet
is brought at once upon the table.
It sparkles Hippocrenelike;25
with its briskness and froth
(a simile of this and that)
it used to captivate me: for its sake
my last poor lepton I was wont
to give away — remember, friends?
Its magic stream engendered
no dearth of foolishness,
but also lots of jokes, and verses,
and arguments, and merry dreams!
In note 25 Pushkin quotes his poem in which poeticheskiy ai (the poetical Ay) is mentioned:
В лета красные мои
Нравился мне пеной шумной,
Сим подобием любви
Или юности безумной, и проч.
(Послание к Л. П.)
In my rosy years
the poetical Ay
pleased me with its noisy foam,
with this simile of love,
or of frantic youth…
(“Epistle to L. P.”)
Ai is the champagne that Van, Ada and Lucette drink at ‘Ursus:’
Knowing how fond his sisters were of Russian fare and Russian floor shows, Van took them Saturday night to ‘Ursus,’ the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major. Both young ladies wore the very short and open evening gowns that Vass ‘miraged’ that season — in the phrase of that season: Ada, a gauzy black, Lucette, a lustrous cantharid green. Their mouths ‘echoed’ in tone (but not tint) each other’s lipstick; their eyes were made up in a ‘surprised bird-of-paradise’ style that was as fashionable in Los as in Lute. Mixed metaphors and double-talk became all three Veens, the children of Venus.
The uha, the shashlik, the Ai were facile and familiar successes; but the old songs had a peculiar poignancy owing to the participation of a Lyaskan contralto and a Banff bass, renowned performers of Russian ‘romances,’ with a touch of heart-wringing tsiganshchina vibrating through Grigoriev and Glinka. And there was Flora, a slender, hardly nubile, half-naked music-hall dancer of uncertain origin (Rumanian? Romany? Ramseyan?) whose ravishing services Van had availed himself of several times in the fall of that year. As a ‘man of the world,’ Van glanced with bland (perhaps too bland) unconcern at her talented charms, but they certainly added a secret bonus to the state of erotic excitement tingling in him from the moment that his two beauties had been unfurred and placed in the colored blaze of the feast before him; and that thrill was somehow augmented by his awareness (carefully profiled, diaphanely blinkered) of the furtive, jealous, intuitive suspicion with which Ada and Lucette watched, unsmilingly, his facial reactions to the demure look of professional recognition on the part of the passing and repassing blyadushka (cute whorelet), as our young misses referred to (very expensive and altogether delightful) Flora with ill-feigned indifference. (2.8)
The characters in Van’s Letters from Terra include Flora, Professor Leyman’s assistant:
Poor Van! In his struggle to keep the writer of the letters from Terra strictly separate from the image of Ada, he gilt and carmined Theresa until she became a paragon of banality. This Theresa maddened with her messages a scientist on our easily maddened planet; his anagram-looking name, Sig Leymanksi, had been partly derived by Van from that of Aqua’s last doctor. When Leymanski’s obsession turned into love, and one’s sympathy got focused on his enchanting, melancholy, betrayed wife (née Antilia Glems), our author found himself confronted with the distressful task of now stamping out in Antilia, a born brunette, all traces of Ada, thus reducing yet another character to a dummy with bleached hair.
After beaming to Sig a dozen communications from her planet, Theresa flies over to him, and he, in his laboratory, has to place her on a slide under a powerful microscope in order to make out the tiny, though otherwise perfect, shape of his minikin sweetheart, a graceful microorganism extending transparent appendages toward his huge humid eye. Alas, the testibulus (test tube — never to be confused with testiculus, orchid), with Theresa swimming inside like a micromermaid, is ‘accidentally’ thrown away by Professor Leyman’s (he had trimmed his name by that time) assistant, Flora, initially an ivory-pale, dark-haired funest beauty, whom the author transformed just in time into a third bromidic dummy with a dun bun.
(Antilia later regained her husband, and Flora was weeded out. Ada’s addendum.) (2.2)
In Chapter One (XXXII: 1) of EO Pushkin mentions Diany grud’, lanity Flory (Diana’s bosom, Flora’s cheeks):
Дианы грудь, ланиты Флоры
Прелестны, милые друзья!
Однако ножка Терпсихоры
Прелестней чем-то для меня.
Она, пророчествуя взгляду
Влечёт условною красой
Желаний своевольный рой.
Люблю её, мой друг Эльвина,
Под длинной скатертью столов,
Весной на мураве лугов,
Зимой на чугуне камина,
На зеркальном паркете зал,
У моря на граните скал.
Diana's bosom, Flora's cheeks, are charming,
dear friends! Nevertheless, for me
something about it makes more charming
the small foot of Terpsichore.
By prophesying to the gaze
an unpriced recompense,
with token beauty it attracts the willful
swarm of desires.
I like it, dear Elvina,
beneath the long napery of tables,
in springtime on the turf of meads,
in winter on the hearth's cast iron,
on mirrory parquet of halls,
by the sea on granite of rocks.
Diana is the Roman goddess of hunting and of the moon. In Chapter Three (V) of Pushkin’s EO Onegin compares Olga (Tatiana’s younger sister) to the moon:
Скажи: которая Татьяна?"
- Да та, которая, грустна
И молчалива, как Светлана,
Вошла и села у окна. -
"Неужто ты влюблен в меньшую?"
- А что? - "Я выбрал бы другую,
Когда б я был, как ты, поэт.
В чертах у Ольги жизни нет.
Точь-в-точь в Вандиковой Мадоне:
Кругла, красна лицом она,
Как эта глупая луна
На этом глупом небосклоне".
Владимир сухо отвечал
И после во весь путь молчал.
Tell me, which was Tatiana?”
“Oh, she's the one who, sad
and silent like Svetlana,
came in and sat down by the window.”
“Can it be it's the younger one
that you're in love with?” “Why not?” “I’d have сhosen
the other, had I been like you a poet.
In Olga's features there's no life,
just as in a Vandyke Madonna:
she's round and fair of face
as is that silly moon
up in that silly sky.”
Vladimir answered curtly
and thenceforth the whole way was silent.
“Cyraniana” mentioned by Van hints at Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’autre Monde ou les Histoire comique des Etats de la Lune (“The Other World or The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon,” 1657). Describing Kim Beauharnais’ album, Van mentions Diana:
‘Well,’ said Van, when the mind took over again, ‘let’s go back to our defaced childhood. I’m anxious’ — (picking up the album from the bedside rug) — ‘to get rid of this burden. Ah, a new character, the inscription says: Dr Krolik.’
‘Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van but it’s terribly messy all the same. Okay. Yes, that’s my poor nature teacher.’
Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for ‘lepidopteron’). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that chase?
‘How curious — in the state Kim mounted him here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he’s a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!’
‘There’s nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here’s the visual proof. Besides, that’s not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.’
‘I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor.’
‘I’m not lying!’ — (with lovely dignity): ‘He is a doctor of philosophy.’
‘Van ist auch one,’ murmured Van, sounding the last word as ‘wann.’ (2.7)
Krolik is Russian for “rabbit.” In his poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) Alexander Blok mentions p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) who cry out: “In vino veritas!” (in wine is truth). In Chapter Six of EO Pushkin says that Zaretski (Lenski’s second in his duel with Onegin) every morning drank champagne on credit at Véry's (Parisian restaurateur):
Бывало, льстивый голос света
В нем злую храбрость выхвалял:
Он, правда, в туз из пистолета
В пяти саженях попадал,
И то сказать, что и в сраженье
Раз в настоящем упоенье
Он отличился, смело в грязь
С коня калмыцкого свалясь,
Как зюзя пьяный, и французам
Достался в плен: драгой залог!
Новейший Регул, чести бог,
Готовый вновь предаться узам,
Чтоб каждым утром у Вери37
В долг осушать бутылки три.
Time was, the monde's obsequious voice
used to extol his wicked pluck:
he, it is true, could from a pistol
at twelve yards hit an ace,
and, furthermore, in battle too
once, in real rapture, he distinguished
himself by toppling from his Kalmuk steed
boldly into the mud,
swine drunk, and to the French
fell prisoner (prized hostage!) —
a modern Regulus, the god of honor,
ready to yield anew to bonds
so as to drain on credit at Véry's37
two or three bottles every morning.
Bouteille being French for “bottle,” butylki tri (two or three bottles) bring to mind Bouteillan, the French butler at Ardis who once helped Van to fly a box kite:
None of the family was at home when Van arrived. A servant in waiting took his horse. He entered the Gothic archway of the hall where Bouteillan, the old bald butler who unprofessionally now wore a mustache (dyed a rich gravy brown), met him with gested delight — he had once been the valet of Van’s father — ‘Je parie,’ he said, ‘que Monsieur ne me reconnaît pas,’ and proceeded to remind Van of what Van had already recollected unaided, the farmannikin (a special kind of box kite, untraceable nowadays even in the greatest museums housing the toys of the past) which Bouteillan had helped him to fly one day in a meadow dotted with buttercups. Both looked up: the tiny red rectangle hung for an instant askew in a blue spring sky. The hall was famous for its painted ceilings. (1.5)
At the beginning of Pushkin’s short novel Kapitanskaya dochka (“The Captain’s Daughter,” 1836) the hero mentions a kite that he made out of a map:
Надобно знать, что для меня выписана была из Москвы географическая карта. Она висела на стене безо всякого употребления и давно соблазняла меня шириною и добротою бумаги. Я решился сделать из неё змей и, пользуясь сном Бопре, принялся за работу. Батюшка вошёл в то самое время, как я прилаживал мочальный хвост к Мысу Доброй Надежды.
It must be mentioned that a map had been obtained for me from Moscow and had been hanging on the wall of my room without being of the slightest use to anyone; it had been tempting me with the breadth and quality of its paper for a long time. I decided to make it into a kite and, taking advantage of Beaupré’s sleep, had set about the task. At the time my father entered the room I was just fixing a bast tail to the Cape of Good Hope. (chapter I)
According to Beaupré (Grinyov’s tutor), he is not vrag butylki (enemy of the bottle):
Бопре в отечестве своём был парикмахером, потом в Пруссии солдатом, потом приехал в Россию pour être outchitel, не очень понимая значение этого слова. Он был добрый малый, но ветрен и беспутен до крайности. Главною его слабостию была страсть к прекрасному полу; нередко за свои нежности получал он толчки, от которых охал по целым суткам. К тому же не был он (по его выражению) и врагом бутылки, т. е. (говоря по-русски) любил хлебнуть лишнее.
In his homeland Beaupré had been a barber; then he did some soldiering in Prussia; and finally he came to Russia pour être ouchitel, though he did not quite understand the meaning of that title. He was a good-natured fellow, but irresponsible and dissolute in the extreme. His main weakness was a passion for the fair sex; his amorous advances frequently earned him raps and knocks that would make him groan for days. Moreover, he was (as he himself put it) “no enemy of the bottle” – that is (in plain speech), he loved to take a drop too much. (ibid.)
The name Beaupré (“bowsprit” in French) and the Cape of Good Hope bring to mind Mascodagama, Van’s stage name that hints at Vasco da Gama (the Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India). Mascodagama reminds one of masked balls mentioned by Van as he describes Kim Beauharnais’ album:
Ada examined the pattern of the hammock through a magnifying glass (used by Van for deciphering certain details of his lunatics’ drawings).
‘I’m afraid there’s more to come,’ she remarked with a catch in her voice; and taking advantage of their looking at the album in bed (which we now think lacked taste) odd Ada used the reading loupe on live Van, something she had done many times as a scientifically curious and artistically depraved child in that year of grace, here depicted.
‘I’ll find a mouche (patch) to conceal it,’ she said, returning to the leering caruncula in the unreticent reticulation. ‘By the way, you have quite a collection of black masks in your dresser.’
‘For masked balls (bals-masqués),’ murmured Van. (2.7)
At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) mentions chelovek s glazami (a footman with the eyes) and Dr Krolik and Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) mentions the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore:
‘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.
‘Tell me, Bouteillan,’ asked Marina, ‘what other good white wine do we have — what can you recommend?’ The butler smiled and whispered a fabulous name. (1.38)
In Lermontov’s drama in verse Maskarad (“The Masquerade,” 1835) Arbenin mentions vysokaya turchanka (a tall Turkish woman) who can be a proud Countess or Princess, Diana v obshchestve, Venera v maskerade (Diana in society, Venus in the masquerade):
Да маски глупой нет:
Молчит... таинственна, заговорит... так мило
Вы можете придать её словам
Улыбку, взор, какие вам угодно...
Вот, например, взгляните там –
Как выступает благородно
Высокая турчанка.. как полна,
Как дышит грудь её и страстно и свободно!
Вы знаете ли, кто она?
Быть может, гордая графиня иль княжна,
Диана в обществе... Венера в маскераде,
И также может быть, что эта же краса
К вам завтра вечером придёт на полчаса.
В обоих случаях вы, право, не внакладе. (scene II)
In Chapter One (XXV: 12-14) of EO Pushkin compares Onegin to vetrenaya Venera (giddy Venus) and mentions maskarad (a masqued ball):
Быть можно дельным человеком
И думать о красе ногтей:
К чему бесплодно спорить с веком?
Обычай деспот меж людей.
Второй Чадаев, мой Евгений,
Боясь ревнивых осуждений,
В своей одежде был педант
И то, что мы назвали франт.
Он три часа по крайней мере
Пред зеркалами проводил
И из уборной выходил
Подобный ветреной Венере,
Когда, надев мужской наряд,
Богиня едет в маскарад.
One can be an efficient man -
and mind the beauty of one's nails:
why vainly argue with the age?
Custom is despot among men.
My Eugene, a second [Chadáev],
being afraid of jealous censures,
was in his dress a pedant
and what we've called a fop.
Three hours, at least,
he spent in front of glasses,
and from his dressing room came forth
akin to giddy Venus
when, having donned a masculine attire,
the goddess drives to a masqued ball.
In Chapter One (XXII: 1) of EO Pushkin mentions amury (amors):
Ещё амуры, черти, змеи
На сцене скачут и шумят;
Ещё усталые лакеи
На шубах у подъезда спят;
Ещё не перестали топать,
Сморкаться, кашлять, шикать, хлопать;
Ещё снаружи и внутри
Везде блистают фонари;
Ещё, прозябнув, бьются кони,
Наскуча упряжью своей,
И кучера, вокруг огней,
Бранят господ и бьют в ладони:
А уж Онегин вышел вон;
Домой одеться едет он.
Still amors, devils, serpents
on the stage caper and make noise;
still the tired footmen
sleep on the pelisses at the carriage porch;
still people have not ceased to stamp,
blow noses, cough, hiss, clap;
still, outside and inside,
lanterns shine everywhere;
still, feeling chilled, the horses fidget,
bored with their harness,
and the coachmen around the fires
curse their masters and beat their palms together;
and yet Onegin has already left;
he’s driving home to dress.
Flora, amors and Venus bring to mind one hundred floramors (palatial brothels) built by David van Veen (a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction) all over the world (except Tartary) in memory of his grandson Eric, the author of an essay entitled “Villa Venus: an Organized Dream” (2.3). Like Lermontov’s poem Son (“A Dream,” 1841), Ada seems to be a triple dream (a dream within a dream within a dream). The three dreamers in Ada are Eric Veen, Van Veen and VN himself.