The characters in VN’s novel Ada (1969) include Ronald Oranger (old Van’s secretary, the Editor of Ada) and Violet Knox (old Van’s typist whom Ada calls Fialochka and who marries Ronald Oranger after Van’s and Ada’s death):
Violet Knox [now Mrs Ronald Oranger. Ed.], born in 1940, came to live with us in 1957. She was (and still is — ten years later) an enchanting English blonde with doll eyes, a velvet carnation and a tweed-cupped little rump [.....]; but such designs, alas, could no longer flesh my fancy. She has been responsible for typing out this memoir — the solace of what are, no doubt, my last ten years of existence. A good daughter, an even better sister, and half-sister, she had supported for ten years her mother’s children from two marriages, besides laying aside [something]. I paid her [generously] per month, well realizing the need to ensure unembarrassed silence on the part of a puzzled and dutiful maiden. Ada called her ‘Fialochka’ and allowed herself the luxury of admiring ‘little Violet’ ‘s cameo neck, pink nostrils, and fair pony-tail. Sometimes, at dinner, lingering over the liqueurs, my Ada would consider my typist (a great lover of Koo-Ahn-Trow) with a dreamy gaze, and then, quick-quick, peck at her flushed cheek. The situation might have been considerably more complicated had it arisen twenty years earlier. (5.4)
Nox being Latin for “night,” the name of Van’s typist seems to hint at Nochnaya Fialka (“The Night Violet,” 1906), a poem by Alexander Blok. In his poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) Blok mentions p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) who cry out “In vino veritas!” At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) uses the phrase s glazami (with the eyes) and mentions Dr Krolik (the local entomologist, Ada’s beloved 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. (1.38)
According to Ada, Dr Krolik’s son is a ranger and breeder in the Eden National Park:
That might have been true, but according to a later (considerably later!) version they were still in the tree, and still glowing, when Van removed a silk thread of larva web from his lip and remarked that such negligence of attire was a form of hysteria.
‘Well,’ answered Ada, straddling her favorite limb, ‘as we all know by now, Mlle La Rivière de Diamants has nothing against a hysterical little girl’s not wearing pantalets during l’ardeur de la canicule.’
‘I refuse to share the ardor of your little canicule with an apple tree.’
‘It is really the Tree of Knowledge — this specimen was imported last summer wrapped up in brocade from the Eden National Park where Dr Krolik’s son is a ranger and breeder.’
‘Let him range and breed by all means,’ said Van (her natural history had long begun to get on his nerves), ‘but I swear no apple trees grow in Iraq.’
‘Right, but that’s not a true apple tree.’
(‘Right and wrong,’ commented Ada, again much later: ‘We did discuss the matter, but you could not have permitted yourself such vulgar repartees then. At a time when the chastest of chances allowed you to snatch, as they say, a first shy kiss! Oh, for shame. And besides, there was no National Park in Iraq eighty years ago.’ ‘True,’ said Van. ‘And no caterpillars bred on that tree in our orchard.’ ‘True, my lovely and larveless.’ Natural history was past history by that time.) (1.15)
The name Oranger blends “orange” with “ranger.” In VN’s novel Kamera Obskura (1932) the little boy in Horn’s and Magda’s compartment asks his mother to give him an orange:
Горн сжал ей руку. Она вздохнула и, так как жара её размаяла, положила голову ему на плечо, продолжая нежно ёжиться и говорить, – всё равно французы в купе не могли понять. У окна сидела толстая усатая женщина в чёрном, рядом с ней мальчик, который всё повторял: «Donne-moi une orange, un tout petit bout d’orange!» «Fiche-moi la paiz», – отвечала мать. Он замолкал и потом начинал скулить сызнова. Двое молодых французов тихо обсуждали выгоды автомобильного дела; у одного из них была сильнейшая зубная боль, щека была повязана, он издавал сосущий звук, перекашивая рот. А прямо против Магды сидел маленький лысый господин в очках, с чёрной записной книжкой в руке – должно быть, провинциальный нотариус. (chapter XXVI)
One of the three main characters in Kamera Obskura, Robert Horn is a talented but unprincipled cartoonist, the author of Cheepy (a touching guinea pig). The name Ronald Oranger seems to hint at the cartoon character Donald Duck (an anthropomorphic white duck with a yellow-orange bill, legs, and feet).
At the beginning of Kamera Obskura vivisection is mentioned:
Приблизительно в 1925 г. размножилось по всему свету милое, забавное существо – существо теперь уже почти забытое, но в своё время, т. е. в течение трёх-четырёх лет, бывшее вездесущим, от Аляски до Патагонии, от Маньчжурии до Новой Зеландии, от Лапландии до Мыса Доброй Надежды, словом, всюду, куда проникают цветные открытки, – существо, носившее симпатичное имя Cheepy.
Рассказывают, что его (или, вернее, её) происхождение связано с вопросом о вивисекции. Художник Роберт Горн, проживавший в Нью-Йорке, однажды завтракал со случайным знакомым – молодым физиологом. Разговор коснулся опытов над живыми зверьми. Физиолог, человек впечатлительный, еще не привыкший к лабораторным кошмарам, выразил мысль, что наука не только допускает изощренную жестокость к тем самым животным, которые в иное время возбуждают в человеке умиление своей пухлостью, теплотой, ужимками, но еще входит как бы в азарт – распинает живьем и кромсает куда больше особей, чем в действительности ей необходимо. «Знаете что, – сказал он Горну, – вот вы так славно рисуете всякие занятные штучки для журналов; возьмите-ка и пустите, так сказать, на волны моды какого-нибудь многострадального маленького зверя, например, морскую свинку. Придумайте к этим картинкам шуточные надписи, где бы этак вскользь, легко упоминалось о трагической связи между свинкой и лабораторией. Удалось бы, я думаю, не только создать очень своеобразный и забавный тип, но и окружить свинку некоторым ореолом модной ласки, что и обратило бы общее внимание на несчастную долю этой, в сущности, милейшей твари». «Не знаю, – ответил Горн, – они мне напоминают крыс. Бог с ними. Пускай пищат под скальпелем». Но как-то раз, спустя месяц после этой беседы, Горн в поисках темы для серии картинок, которую просило у него издательство иллюстрированного журнала, вспомнил совет чувствительного физиолога – и в тот же вечер легко и быстро родилась первая морская свинка Чипи. Публику сразу привлекло, мало что привлекло – очаровало, хитренькое выражение этих блестящих бисерных глаз, круглота форм, толстый задок и гладкое темя, манера сусликом стоять на задних лапках, прекрасный крап, черный, кофейный и золотой, а главное – неуловимое прелестное – смешное нечто, фантастическая, но весьма определенная жизненность, – ибо Горну посчастливилось найти ту карикатурную линию в облике данного животного, которая, являя и подчеркивая все самое забавное в нем, вместе с тем как-то приближает его к образу человеческому. Вот и началось: Чипи, держащая в лапках череп грызуна (с этикеткой: Cavia cobaja) и восклицающая «Бедный Йорик!»; Чипи на лабораторном столе, лежащая брюшком вверх и пытающаяся делать модную гимнастику, – ноги за голову (можно себе представить, сколь многого достигли ее короткие задние лапки); Чипи стоймя, беспечно обстригающая себе коготки подозрительно тонкими ножницами, – причем вокруг валяются: ланцет, вата, иголки, какая-то тесьма… Очень скоро, однако, нарочитые операционные намеки совершенно отпали, и Чипи начала появляться в другой обстановке и в самых неожиданных положениях – откалывала чарльстон, загорала до полного меланизма на солнце и т. д. Горн живо стал богатеть, зарабатывая на репродукциях, на цветных открытках, на фильмовых рисунках, а также на изображениях Чипи в трех измерениях, ибо немедленно появился спрос на плюшевые, тряпичные, деревянные, глиняные подобия Чипи. Через год весь мир был в неё влюблен. Физиолог не раз в обществе рассказывал, что это он дал Горну идею морской свинки, но ему никто не верил, и он перестал об этом говорить. (chapter I)
Describing Kim Beauharnais’ album, Van mentions a picture of Marina’s brother holding a guinea pig in his hands and providing a vivisectional alibi:
A formal photograph, on a separate page: Adochka, pretty and impure in her flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit, with slant-striped school tie, facing the kimera (chimera, camera) side by side, at attention, he with the shadow of a forced grin, she, expressionless. Both recalled the time (between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a vivisectional alibi. (2.7)
At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Van mentions an Alibi:
Marina helped herself to an Albany from a crystal box of Turkish cigarettes tipped with red rose petal and passed the box on to Demon. Ada, somewhat self-consciously, lit up too.
‘You know quite well,’ said Marina, ‘that your father disapproves of your smoking at table.’
‘Oh, it’s all right,’ murmured Demon.
‘I had Dan in view,’ explained Marina heavily. ‘He’s very prissy on that score.’
‘Well, and I’m not,’ answered Demon.
Ada and Van could not help laughing. All that was banter — not of a high order, but still banter.
A moment later, however, Van remarked: ‘I think I’ll take an Alibi — I mean an Albany — myself.’
‘Please note, everybody,’ said Ada, ‘how voulu that slip was! I like a smoke when I go mushrooming, but when I’m back, this horrid tease insists I smell of some romantic Turk or Albanian met in the woods.’
‘Well,’ said Demon, ‘Van’s quite right to look after your morals.’ (1.38)
According to Ada, Dr Krolik’s brother Karol (who was photographed by Kim Beauharnais) was born in Turkey:
‘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)
It seems that Ada had tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge before the Night of the Burning Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time). Ada’s first lover was Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. Karapars means in Turkish “black panther.” In VN’s story Usta k ustam (“Lips to Lips,” 1931) Galatov mentions Chyornaya pantera (“The Black Panther”), a play:
Он был счастлив. Он выписал ещё пять экземпляров. Он был счастлив. Умалчивание объяснялось косностью, придирки -- недоброжелательством. Он был счастлив. Продолжение следует. И вот, как-то в воскресенье, позвонил Евфратский:
-- Угадайте,-- сказал он,-- кто хочет с вами говорить? Галатов! Да, он приехал на пару дней.
Зазвучал незнакомый, играющий, напористый, сладкоодуряющий голос. Условились.
-- Завтра в пять часов у меня. Жалко, что не сегодня. -- Не могу,-- отвечал играющий голос.-- Меня тащат на "Чёрную Пантеру". Я кстати давно не видался с Евгенией Дмитриевной...
He was happy. He purchased six more copies. He was happy. Silence was readily explained by inertia, detraction by enmity. He was happy. "To be continued." And then, one Sunday, came a telephone call from Euphratski: "Guess," he said, "who wants to speak to you? Galatov! Yes, he's in Berlin for a couple of days. I pass the receiver."
A voice never yet heard took over. A shimmering, urgeful, mellow, narcotic voice. A meeting was settled.
"Tomorrow at five at my place," said Ilya Borisovich, "what a pity you can't come tonight!"
"Very regrettable," rejoined the shimmering voice; "you see, I'm being dragged by friends to attend The Black Panther – terrible play – but it's such a long time since I've seen dear Elena Dmitrievna."
Euphratski calls Galatov russkiy Dzhoys (“the Russian Joyce”):
- Пошлите вашу вещь,- Евфратский прищурился и вполголоса докончил: - "Ариону".
- "Ариону"? - переспросил Илья Борисович, нервно погладив рукопись.
- Ничего страшного. Название журнала. Неужели не знаете? Ай-я-яй! Первая книжка вышла весной, осенью выйдет вторая. Нужно немножко следить за литературой, Илья Борисович.
- Как же так - просто послать?
- Ну да, в Париж, редактору. Уж имя-то Галатова вы, небось, знаете?
Илья Борисович виновато пожал толстым плечом. Евфратский, морщась, объяснил: беллетрист, новые формы, мастерство, сложная конструкция, русский Джойс...
- Джойс,- смиренно повторил Илья Борисович.
"Send your thing" (Euphratski narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice) "to Arion."
"Arion? What's that?" said I.B., nervously patting his manuscript.
"Nothing very frightening. It's the name of the best émigré review. You don't know it? Ay-ya-yay! The first number came out this spring, the second is expected in the fall. You should keep up with literature a bit closer, Ilya Borisovich!"
"But how to contact them? Just mail it?"
"That's right. Straight to the editor. It's published in Paris. Now don't tell me you've never heard Galatov's name?"
Guiltily Ilya Borisovich shrugged one fat shoulder. Euphratski, his face working wryly, explained: a writer, a master, new form of the novel, intricate construction, Galatov the Russian Joyce.
"Djoys," meekly repeated Ilya Borisovich after him.
In one of her notes in the margin Ada mentions son grand Joyce and one’s petit Proust:
The railway station had a semi-private tearoom supervised by the stationmaster’s wife under the school’s idiotic auspices. It was empty, save for a slender lady in black velvet, wearing a beautiful black velvet picture hat, who sat with her back to them at a ‘tonic bar’ and never once turned her head, but the thought brushed him that she was a cocotte from Toulouse. Our damp trio found a nice corner table and with sighs of banal relief undid their raincoats. He hoped Ada would discard her heavy-seas hat but she did not, because she had cut her hair because of dreadful migraines, because she did not want him to see her in the role of a moribund Romeo.
(On fait son grand Joyce after doing one’s petit Proust. In Ada’s lovely hand.)
(But read on; it is pure V.V. Note that lady! In Van’s bed-buvard scrawl.)
According to Van, Proust liked to decapitate rats:
Night, of course, always remained an ordeal, throughout the near-century of his life, no matter how drowsy or drugged the poor man might be — for genius is not all gingerbread even for Billionaire Bill with his pointed beardlet and stylized bald dome, or crusty Proust who liked to decapitate rats when he did not feel like sleeping, or this brilliant or obscure V.V. (depending on the eyesight of readers, also poor people despite our jibes and their jobs); but at Ardis, the intense life of the star-haunted sky troubled the boy’s night so much that, on the whole, he felt grateful when foul weather or the fouler gnat — the Kamargsky Komar of our muzhiks and the Moustique moscovite of their no less alliterative retaliators — drove him back to his bumpy bed. (1.12)
When she visits Van at Kingston (Van’s American University), Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) calls him “Dr V.V. Sector:”
She returned the balled handkerchief of many an old romance to her bag, which, however, remained unclosed. Chows, too, have blue tongues.
‘Mamma dwells in her private Samsara. Dad has had another stroke. Sis is revisiting Ardis.’
‘Sis! Cesse, Lucette! We don’t want any baby serpents around.’
‘This baby serpent does not quite know what tone to take with Dr V.V. Sector. You have not changed one bit, my pale darling, except that you look like a ghost in need of a shave without your summer Glanz.’
And summer Mädel. He noticed that the letter, in its long blue envelope, lay now on the mahogany sideboard. He stood in the middle of the parlor, rubbing his forehead, not daring, not daring, because it was Ada’s notepaper. (2.5)
Describing Lucette’s suicide, Van mentions Oceanus Nox:
The sky was also heartless and dark, and her body, her head, and particularly those damned thirsty trousers, felt clogged with Oceanus Nox, n,o,x. At every slap and splash of cold wild salt, she heaved with anise-flavored nausea and there was an increasing number, okay, or numbness, in her neck and arms. As she began losing track of herself, she thought it proper to inform a series of receding Lucettes — telling them to pass it on and on in a trick-crystal regression — that what death amounted to was only a more complete assortment of the infinite fractions of solitude. (3.5)
Oceano Nox (1840) is a poem by V. Hugo and the title of a heart-rending chapter in Herzen’s memoirs Byloe i dumy (“Bygones and Meditations,” 1870). Herzen is the author of S togo berega (“From the Other Shore,” 1851). The Russian title of VN’s autobiography, Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), is a reference to inye berega, inye volny (other shores, other waves), a line in Pushkin’s poem Vnov’ ya posetil… (“I revisited again…” 1835). But it also brings to mind Herzen’s first book written in the emigration. After the Revolution the Bolshaya Morskaya Street in St. Petersburg where VN was born was renamed the Herzen Street. Like Pushkin’s Onegin, VN was born na bregakh Nevy (upon the Neva’s banks). In Chapter Four (XXXV: 12-14) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions a flock of wild ducks that, scared by the chant of sweet-toned strophes, fly off the banks:
Но я плоды моих мечтаний
И гармонических затей
Читаю только старой няне,
Подруге юности моей,
Да после скучного обеда
Ко мне забредшего соседа,
Поймав нежданно за полу,
Душу трагедией в углу,
Или (но это кроме шуток),
Тоской и рифмами томим,
Бродя над озером моим,
Пугаю стадо диких уток:
Вняв пенью сладкозвучных строф,
Они слетают с берегов.
But I the products of my fancies
and of harmonious device
read but to an old nurse,
companion of my youth;
or after a dull dinner, when a neighbor
strays in to see me — having caught
him by a coat skirt unexpectedly —
I choke him in a corner with a tragedy,
or else (but that's apart from jesting),
haunted by yearnings and by rhymes,
roaming along my lake,
I scare a flock of wild ducks; they, on heeding
the chant of sweet-toned strophes,
fly off the banks.
In Chapter Eight (XLVI: 13-14) of EO Tatiana mentions krest i ten’ vetvey (a cross and the shade of branches) over her nurse’s grave:
А мне, Онегин, пышность эта,
Постылой жизни мишура,
Мои успехи в вихре света,
Мой модный дом и вечера,
Что в них? Сейчас отдать я рада
Всю эту ветошь маскарада,
Весь этот блеск, и шум, и чад
За полку книг, за дикий сад,
За наше бедное жилище,
За те места, где в первый раз,
Онегин, видела я вас,
Да за смиренное кладбище,
Где нынче крест и тень ветвей
Над бедной нянею моей...
“But as to me, Onegin, this magnificence,
a wearisome life's tinsel, my successes
in the world's vortex,
my fashionable house and evenings,
what do I care for them?... At once I'd gladly
give all the frippery of this masquerade,
all this glitter, and noise, and fumes,
for a shelfful of books, for a wild garden,
for our poor dwelling,
for those haunts where for the first time,
Onegin, I saw you,
and for the humble churchyard where
there is a cross now and the shade
of branches over my poor nurse.
In Kim Beauharnais’ album there is a photograph of the cross and the shade of boughs above the grave of Marina’s dear housekeeper:
Another girl (Blanche!) stooping and squatting exactly like Ada (and indeed not unlike her in features) over Van’s valise opened on the floor, and ‘eating with her eyes’ the silhouette of Ivory Revery in a perfume advertisement. Then the cross and the shade of boughs above the grave of Marina’s dear housekeeper, Anna Pimenovna Nepraslinov (1797–1883). (2.7)
The characters in Chekhov’s story Bab’ye tsarstvo (“A Woman’s Kingdom,” 1894) include Anna Akimovna (a rich merchant woman) and Pimenov (a worker at Anna Akimovna’s factory). In a letter of Nov. 12, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov calls his story Uchitel’ slovesnosti (“The Teacher of Literature,” 1894) “an unserious trifle from the life of provincial guinea pigs:”
Посылаю рассказ для фельетона. Несерьёзный пустячок из жизни провинциальных морских свинок. Простите мне баловство... Между прочим, сей рассказ имеет свою смешную историю. Я имел в виду кончить его так, чтобы от моих героев мокрого места не осталось, но нелёгкая дернула меня прочесть вслух нашим; все взмолились: пощади! пощади! Я пощадил своих героев, и потому рассказ вышел так кисел.
In his review of Chekhov’s story Muzhiki (“Peasants,” 1897) V. K. Petersen compares the author to a vivisector:
Автор здесь как личность вполне и всецело отсутствует, изображая полнейшее спокойствие вивисектора и не показывая ни малейшего признака сострадания или негодования по отношению к точно наблюдаемому им явлению.
Describing his visit to an English floramor (Eric Veen’s Villa Venus), Van mentions jolls-joyce (an ancient, plushy, faintly perfumed limousine) and the Albania (Van’s hotel in London):
Nightingales sang, when he arrived at his fabulous and ignoble destination. As usual, he experienced a surge of brutal elation as the car entered the oak avenue between two rows of phallephoric statues presenting arms. A welcome habitué of fifteen years’ standing, he had not bothered to ‘telephone’ (the new official term). A searchlight lashed him: Alas, he had come on a ‘gala’ night!
Members usually had their chauffeurs park in a special enclosure near the guardhouse, where there was a pleasant canteen for servants, with nonalcoholic drinks and a few inexpensive and homely whores. But that night several huge police cars occupied the garage boxes and overflowed into an adjacent arbor. Telling Kingsley to wait a moment under the oaks, Van donned his bautta and went to investigate. His favorite walled walk soon took him to one of the spacious lawns velveting the approach to the manor. The grounds were lividly illuminated and as populous as Park Avenue — an association that came very readily, since the disguises of the astute sleuths belonged to a type which reminded Van of his native land. Some of those men he even knew by sight — they used to patrol his father’s club in Manhattan whenever good Gamaliel (not reelected after his fourth term) happened to dine there in his informal gagality. They mimed what they were accustomed to mime — grapefruit vendors, black hawkers of bananas and banjoes, obsolete, or at least untimely, ‘copying clerks’ who hurried in circles to unlikely offices, and peripatetic Russian newspaper readers slowing down to a trance stop and then strolling again behind their wide open Estotskiya Vesti. Van remembered that Mr Alexander Screepatch, the new president of the United Americas, a plethoric Russian, had flown over to see King Victor; and he correctly concluded that both were now sunk in mollitude. The comic side of the detectives’ display (befitting, perhaps, their dated notion of an American sidewalk, but hardly suiting a weirdly illuminated maze of English hedges) tempered his disappointment as he shuddered squeamishly at the thought of sharing the frolics of historical personages or contenting himself with the brave-faced girlies they had started to use and rejected.
Here a bedsheeted statue attempted to challenge Van from its marble pedestal but slipped and landed on its back in the bracken. Ignoring the sprawling god, Van returned to the still-throbbing jolls-joyce. Purple-jowled Kingsley, an old tried friend, offered to drive him to another house, ninety miles north; but Van declined upon principle and was taken back to the Albania. (3.4)
A ‘gala’ night brings to mind Galatov in “Lips to Lips.” As to Euphratski, he is an émigré journalist "with a name," or, rather, with a dozen pseudonyms. One of Euphratski’s pseudonyms is Tigrin (Tigris):
Вернувшись домой, он бережно разрезал книжку. В ней он нашёл малопонятную вещь Галатова, два-три рассказа смутно-знакомых авторов, какие-то туманные стихи и весьма дельную статью о немецкой индустрии, подписанную "Тигрин". "Никогда не возьмут,-- с тоской подумал Илья Борисович.-- Тут своя компания".
Upon coming home, he took an ivory paperknife and neatly cut the magazine's pages. Therein he found an unintelligible piece of prose by Galatov, two or three short stories by vaguely familiar authors, a mist of poems, and an extremely capable article about German industrial problems signed Tigris.
Oh, they'll never accept it, reflected Ilya Borisovich with anguish. They all belong to one crew.
Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Van mentions the Tigris-Euphrates valley:
Demon popped into his mouth a last morsel of black bread with elastic samlet, gulped down a last pony of vodka and took his place at the table with Marina facing him across its oblong length, beyond the great bronze bowl with carved-looking Calville apples and elongated Persty grapes. The alcohol his vigorous system had already imbibed was instrumental, as usual, in reopening what he gallicistically called condemned doors, and now as he gaped involuntarily as all men do while spreading a napkin, he considered Marina’s pretentious ciel-étoilé hairdress and tried to realize (in the rare full sense of the word), tried to possess the reality of a fact by forcing it into the sensuous center, that here was a woman whom he had intolerably loved, who had loved him hysterically and skittishly, who insisted they make love on rugs and cushions laid on the floor (‘as respectable people do in the Tigris-Euphrates valley’), who would woosh down fluffy slopes on a bobsleigh a fortnight after parturition, or arrive by the Orient Express with five trunks, Dack’s grandsire, and a maid, to Dr Stella Ospenko’s ospedale where he was recovering from a scratch received in a sword duel (and still visible as a white weal under his eighth rib after a lapse of nearly seventeen years). (1.38)
During the family dinner Marina mentions Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis):
‘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. (ibid.)
Describing Kim Beauharnais’ album, Van mentions masked balls:
‘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.
A comparison piece: Ada’s very-much-exposed white thighs (her birthday skirt had got entangled with twigs and leaves) straddling a black limb of the tree of Eden. Thereafter: several shots of the 1884 picnic, such as Ada and Grace dancing a Lyaskan fling and reversed Van nibbling at pine starworts (conjectural identification). (2.7)
At the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess) reads her story La Rivière de Diamants that corresponds to Maupassant’s La Parure (1884). In Chekhov’s story “A Woman’s Kingdom” Lysevich (the lawyer) recommends to Anna Akimovna Maupassant. The name Lysevich comes from lysyi (bald) and brings to mind Segelkranz (in Kamera Obskura the bald writer who imitates Proust and whom Magda calls “Rosencrantz”) and Judge Bald in Ada:
But as Judge Bald pointed out already during the Albino Riots of 1835, practically all North American and Tartar agriculturists and animal farmers used inbreeding as a method of propagation that tended to preserve, and stimulate, stabilize and even create anew favorable characters in a race or strain unless practiced too rigidly. (1.21)
In Laughter in the Dark (1938), the English version of Kamera Obskura, Bruno Kretschmar becomes Albert Albinus and Robert Horn becomes Axel Rex. Latin for “king,” rex brings to mind ‘Sex and Lex,’ the opus mentioned by Van in the “library” chapter of Ada:
In a story by Chateaubriand about a pair of romantic siblings, Ada had not quite understood when she first read it at nine or ten the sentence ‘les deux enfants pouvaient donc s’abandonner au plaisir sans aucune crainte.’ A bawdy critic in a collection of articles which she now could gleefully consult (Les muses s’amusent) explained that the ‘donc’ referred both to the infertility of tender age and to the sterility of tender consanguinity. Van said, however, that the writer and the critic erred, and to illustrate his contention, drew his sweetheart’s attention to a chapter in the opus ‘Sex and Lex’ dealing with the effects on the community of a disastrous caprice of nature. (ibid.)
Les muses s’amusent (a collection of articles that Ada could now consult) reminds one of V. Hugo’s play Le roi s'amuse (“The King Amuses Himself,” 1832).
Van blinds Kim for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada (2.11). In Kamera Obskura Kretschmar loses his sight in a car accident. In his essay The Texture of Time Van mentions Alice in the Camera Obscura, a book that was given to him on his eighth birthday:
The Past, then, is a constant accumulation of images. It can be easily contemplated and listened to, tested and tasted at random, so that it ceases to mean the orderly alternation of linked events that it does in the large theoretical sense. It is now a generous chaos out of which the genius of total recall, summoned on this summer morning in 1922, can pick anything he pleases: diamonds scattered allover the parquet in 1888; a russet black-hatted beauty at a Parisian bar in 1901; a humid red rose among artificial ones in 1883; the pensive half-smile of a young English governess, in 1880, neatly reclosing her charge’s prepuce after the bedtime treat; a little girl, in 1884, licking the breakfast honey off the badly bitten nails of her spread fingers; the same, at thirty-three, confessing, rather late in the day, that she did not like flowers in vases; the awful pain striking him in the side while two children with a basket of mushrooms looked on in the merrily burning pine forest; and the startled quonk of a Belgian car, which he had overtaken and passed yesterday on a blind bend of the alpine highway. Such images tell us nothing about the texture of time into which they are woven — except, perhaps, in one matter which happens to be hard to settle. Does the coloration of a recollected object (or anything else about its visual effect) differ from date to date? Could I tell by its tint if it comes earlier or later, lower or higher, in the stratigraphy of my past? Is there any mental uranium whose dream-delta decay might be used to measure the age of a recollection? The main difficulty, I hasten to explain, consists in the experimenter not being able to use the same object at different times (say, the Dutch stove with its little blue sailing boats in the nursery of Ardis Manor in 1884 and 1888) because of the two or more impressions borrowing from one another and forming a compound image in the mind; but if different objects are to be chosen (say, the faces of two memorable coachmen: Ben Wright, 1884, and Trofim Fartukov, 1888), it is impossible, insofar as my own research goes, to avoid the intrusion not only of different characteristics but of different emotional circumstances, that do not allow the two objects to be considered essentially equal before, so to speak, their being exposed to the action of Time. I am not sure, that such objects cannot be discovered. In my professional work, in the laboratories of psychology, I have devised myself many a subtle test (one of which, the method of determining female virginity without physical examination, today bears my name). Therefore we can assume that the experiment can be performed — and how tantalizing, then, the discovery of certain exact levels of decreasing saturation or deepening brilliance — so exact that the ‘something’ which I vaguely perceive in the image of a remembered but unidentifiable person, and which assigns it ‘somehow’ to my early boyhood rather than to my adolescence, can be labeled if not with a name, at least with a definite date, e.g., January 1, 1908 (eureka, the ‘e.g.’ worked — he was my father’s former house tutor, who brought me Alice in the Camera Obscura for my eighth birthday). (Part Four)
Trofim Fartukov and Blanche (Marina’s little French maid who gets invitations to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore) have a blind child:
‘I destroyed 1888 myself,’ admitted proud Ada; ‘but I swear, I solemnly swear, that the man behind Blanche, in the perron picture, was, and has always remained, a complete stranger.’
‘Good for him,’ said Van. ‘Really it has no importance. It’s our entire past that has been spoofed and condemned. On second thoughts, I will not write that Family Chronicle. By the way, where is my poor little Blanche now?’
‘Oh, she’s all right. She’s still around. You know, she came back — after you abducted her. She married our Russian coachman, the one who replaced Bengal Ben, as the servants called him.’
‘Oh she did? That’s delicious. Madame Trofim Fartukov. I would never have thought it.’
‘They have a blind child,’ said Ada.
‘Love is blind,’ said Van.
‘She tells me you made a pass at her on the first morning of your first arrival.’
‘Not documented by Kim,’ said Van. ‘Will their child remain blind? I mean, did you get them a really first-rate physician?’
‘Oh yes, hopelessly blind. But speaking of love and its myths, do you realize — because I never did before talking to her a couple of years ago — that the people around our affair had very good eyes indeed? Forget Kim, he’s only the necessary clown — but do you realize that a veritable legend was growing around you and me while we played and made love?’ (2.7)
Van repeats the words of the postman in Kamera Obskura, lyubov’ slepa (love is blind):
Швейцар, разговаривавший с почтальоном, посмотрел на Кречмара с любопытством.
«Прямо не верится, – сказал швейцар, когда те прошли, – прямо не верится, что у него недавно умерла дочка».
«А кто второй?» – спросил почтальон.
«Почём я знаю. Завела молодца ему в подмогу, вот и всё. Мне, знаете, стыдно, когда другие жильцы смотрят на эту… (нехорошее слово). А ведь приличный господин, сам-то, и богат, – мог бы выбрать себе подругу поосанистее, покрупнее, если уж на то пошло».
«Любовь слепа», – задумчиво произнёс почтальон. (chapter XXI)
In his unfinished historical novel Arap Petra Velikogo (“The Blackamoor of Peter the Great,” 1828) Pushkin also says that love is blind:
Мервиль первый заметил эту взаимную склонность и поздравил Ибрагима. Ничто так не воспламеняет любви, как ободрительное замечание постороннего. Любовь слепа и, не доверяя самой себе, торопливо хватается за всякую опору. Слова Мервиля пробудили Ибрагима. Возможность обладать любимой женщиной доселе не представлялась его воображению; надежда вдруг озарила его душу; он влюбился без памяти. Напрасно графиня, испуганная исступлению его страсти, хотела противуставить ей увещания дружбы и советы благоразумия, она сама ослабевала. Неосторожные вознаграждения быстро следовали одно за другим. И наконец, увлеченная силою страсти, ею же внушенной, изнемогая под ее влиянием, она отдалась восхищенному Ибрагиму...
Merville was the first to observe their mutual inclination and he congratulated Ibrahim. There is nothing that enflames love more than the encouraging observations of an outsider. Love is blind, and having no confidence in itself, it is quick to grasp at the least support. Merville's words aroused Ibrahim. The possibility of possessing the woman he loved had until then not entered his head; his soul was suddenly lit up with hope; he fell insanely in love. In vain did the Countess, alarmed by the frenzy of his passion, attempt to counter it with friendly admonitions and sensible advice; she herself was beginning to falter. Indiscreet compliments followed one another with speed. Finally, carried away by the strength of the passion she inspired in him and succumbing to its influence, she gave herself to the rapturous Ibrahim... (chapter 1)
Chapter One of Pushkin’s novel has the epigraph from Dmitriev’s Puteshestvie N.N. v Parizh i London, pisannoe za tri dnya do puteshestviya (“The Journey of N.N. to Paris and London Written Three Days before the Journey,” 1803):
Я в Париже:
Я начал жить, а не дышать.
I am in Paris;
I’ve begun to live, not just to breathe.
In his fable Repeynik i Fialka (“The Burdock and the Violet,” 1824) Dmitriev mentions Fiyalochka (the little violet):
Между репейником и розовым кустом
Фиялочка себя от зависти скрывала;
Безвестною была, но горести не знала:
Тот счастлив, кто своим доволен уголком.
Between a burdock and a rose bush
the little violet hid herself from envy;
she was obscure, but knew no grief:
happy is he who is pleased with his corner.
In his essay Dmitriev (1937), written for the centenary of the poet’s death (almost forty years his senior, Dmitriev outlived Pushkin by eight months), Khodasevich (the author of Slepoy, “A Blind Man,” 1923) quotes this fable as a good sample of Dmitriev’s poetry. In his EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 142) VN points out that Dmitriev (who had termed young Pushkin “a beautiful flower that will not fade soon”) was critical of Pushkin’s Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820):
“I find in it a great deal of brilliant poetry and narrative ease; but it is a pity that he often slips into le burlesque, and more pity still that he did not take for motto a famous verse [Piron's], slightly altered: 'La mère en défendra la lecture à sa fille'” (letter to Vyazemski, Oct. 20, 1820).
In Kim Beauharnais’ album there is a photograph of the big chain around the trunk of the rare oak, Quercus ruslan Chat.:
Then came several preparatory views of the immediate grounds: the colutea circle, an avenue, the grotto’s black O, and the hill, and the big chain around the trunk of the rare oak, Quercus ruslan Chat., and a number of other spots meant to be picturesque by the compiler of the illustrated pamphlet but looking a little shabby owing to inexperienced photography. (2.7)
At the beginning of his great introductory poem to Ruslan and Lyudmila Pushkin mentions the learned cat that walks to and fro along the golden chain around the green oak:
У лукоморья дуб зелёный;
Златая цепь на дубе том:
И днём и ночью кот учёный
Всё ходит по цепи кругом;
Идёт направо - песнь заводит,
Налево - сказку говорит.
By the sea stands a green oak tree;
A golden chain strung round it:
And on the chain a learned cat
Day and night circles round it;
Walking right, he sings a song,
Walking left, he tells a tale.