(Annotation) Ada's Koalas, or "Sentiment" versus "Sensitivity"

Submitted by md143rbh7f on Mon, 05/17/2021 - 19:56

Pertaining to the following quote from Ada, Part 1, Chapter 17:

"I am sentimental," she said. "I could dissect a koala but not its baby. I like the words damozel, eglantine, elegant. I love when you kiss my elongated white hand."

In his Lectures on Russian Literature he pointedly makes clear his views on "sentimentality" and "sensitivity"—and the difference therein:

We must distinguish between 'sentimental' and 'sensitive'. A sentimentalist may be a perfect brute in his free time. A sensitive person is never a cruel person. Sentimental Rousseau, who could weep over a progressive idea, distributed his many natural children through various poorhouses and workhouses and never gave a hoot for them. A sentimental old maid may pamper her parrot and poison her niece. The sentimental politician may remember Mother's Day and ruthlessly destroy a rival. Stalin loved babies. Lenin sobbed at the opera, especially at the Traviata.

And given VN's penchant pour le mot juste—not to mention Van and Ada's behaviour during the rest of the novel—this is certainly not not an accident. One is reminded of his quote about loathing Van Veen.

What is interesting about these quotes is that Ada's children (of whose existence Van is not aware) were raised in the families of strangers (who were not rich).

 

Describing the beginning of Demon's affair with Marina, Van mentions a cabinet reculé in which their affair started:

 

Marina’s affair with Demon Veen started on his, her, and Daniel Veen’s birthday, January 5, 1868, when she was twenty-four and both Veens thirty.

As an actress, she had none of the breath-taking quality that makes the skill of mimicry seem, at least while the show lasts, worth even more than the price of such footlights as insomnia, fancy, arrogant art; yet on that particular night, with soft snow falling beyond the plush and the paint, la Durmanska (who paid the great Scott, her impresario, seven thousand gold dollars a week for publicity alone, plus a bonny bonus for every engagement) had been from the start of the trashy ephemeron (an American play based by some pretentious hack on a famous Russian romance) so dreamy, so lovely, so stirring that Demon (not quite a gentleman in amorous matters) made a bet with his orchestra-seat neighbor, Prince N., bribed a series of green-room attendants, and then, in a cabinet reculé (as a French writer of an earlier century might have mysteriously called that little room in which the broken trumpet and poodle hoops of a forgotten clown, besides many dusty pots of colored grease, happened to be stored) proceeded to possess her between two scenes (Chapter Three and Four of the martyred novel). In the first of these she had undressed in graceful silhouette behind a semitransparent screen, reappeared in a flimsy and fetching nightgown, and spent the rest of the wretched scene discussing a local squire, Baron d’O., with an old nurse in Eskimo boots. Upon the infinitely wise countrywoman’s suggestion, she goose-penned from the edge of her bed, on a side table with cabriole legs, a love letter and took five minutes to reread it in a languorous but loud voice for no body’s benefit in particular since the nurse sat dozing on a kind of sea chest, and the spectators were mainly concerned with the artificial moonlight’s blaze upon the lovelorn young lady’s bare arms and heaving breasts. (1.2)

 

A French writer of an earlier century is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. One of the seconds in Demon's sword duel with Baron d'Onsky (Marina's lover) was Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel:

 

Upon being questioned in Demon’s dungeon, Marina, laughing trillingly, wove a picturesque tissue of lies; then broke down, and confessed. She swore that all was over; that the Baron, a physical wreck and a spiritual Samurai, had gone to Japan forever. From a more reliable source Demon learned that the Samurai’s real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or so. Since prudent Veen preferred killing his man in Europe (decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel was said to be doing his best to forbid duels in the Western Hemisphere — a canard or an idealistic President’s instant-coffee caprice, for nothing was to come of it after all), Demon rented the fastest petroloplane available, overtook the Baron (looking very fit) in Nice, saw him enter Gunter’s Bookshop, went in after him, and in the presence of the imperturbable and rather bored English shopkeeper, back-slapped the astonished Baron across the face with a lavender glove. The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish — a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston — a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (ibid.)

 

According to Ada (now married to Andrey Vinelander), at Marina's funeral Demon and d'Onsky's son, a person with only one arm, wept comme des fontaines:

 

‘My upper-lip space feels indecently naked.’ (He had shaved his mustache off with howls of pain in her presence). ‘And I cannot keep sucking in my belly all the time.’

‘Oh, I like you better with that nice overweight — there’s more of you. It’s the maternal gene, I suppose, because Demon grew leaner and leaner. He looked positively Quixotic when I saw him at Mother’s funeral. It was all very strange. He wore blue mourning. D’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around Demon and both wept comme des fontaines. Then a robed person who looked like an extra in a technicolor incarnation of Vishnu made an incomprehensible sermon. Then she went up in smoke. He said to me, sobbing: "I will not cheat the poor grubs!" Practically a couple of hours after he broke that promise we had sudden visitors at the ranch — an incredibly graceful moppet of eight, black-veiled, and a kind of duenna, also in black, with two bodyguards. The hag demanded certain fantastic sums — which Demon, she said, had not had time to pay, for "popping the hymen" — whereupon I had one of our strongest boys throw out vsyu (the entire) kompaniyu.’ 

‘Extraordinary,’ said Van, ‘they had been growing younger and younger — I mean the girls, not the strong silent boys. His old Rosalind had a ten-year-old niece, a primed chickabiddy. Soon he would have been poaching them from the hatching chamber.’

‘You never loved your father,’ said Ada sadly.

‘Oh, I did and do — tenderly, reverently, understandingly, because, after all, that minor poetry of the flesh is something not unfamiliar to me. But as far as we are concerned, I mean you and I, he was buried on the same day as our uncle Dan.’

‘I know, I know. It’s pitiful! And what use was it? Perhaps I oughtn’t to tell you, but his visits to Agavia kept getting rarer and shorter every year. Yes, it was pitiful to hear him and Andrey talking. I mean, Andrey n’a pas le verbe facile, though he greatly appreciated — without quite understanding it — Demon’s wild flow of fancy and fantastic fact, and would often exclaim, with his Russian "tssk-tssk" and a shake of the head — complimentary and all that — "what a balagur (wag) you are!" — And then, one day, Demon warned me that he would not come any more if he heard again poor Andrey’s poor joke (Nu i balagur-zhe vï, Dementiy Labirintovich) or what Dorothy, l’impayable ("priceless for impudence and absurdity") Dorothy, thought of my camping out in the mountains with only Mayo, a cowhand, to protect me from lions.’

‘Could one hear more about that?’ asked Van.

‘Well, nobody did. All this happened at a time when I was not on speaking terms with my husband and sister-in-law, and so could not control the situation. Anyhow, Demon did not come even when he was only two hundred miles away and simply mailed instead, from some gaming house, your lovely, lovely letter about Lucette and my picture.’

‘One would also like to know some details of the actual coverture — frequence of intercourse, pet names for secret warts, favorite smells —’

‘Platok momental’no (handkerchief quick)! Your right nostril is full of damp jade,’ said Ada, and then pointed to a lawnside circular sign, rimmed with red, saying: Chiens interdits and depicting an impossible black mongrel with a white ribbon around its neck: Why, she wondered, should the Swiss magistrates forbid one to cross highland terriers with poodles? (3.8)

 

According to Van, Demon's tear glands were facile in action when no real sorrow made him control himself:

 

‘Your new car sounds wonderful,' said Van.
‘Doesn't it? Yes.' (Ask Van about that gornishon - Franco-Russian slang of the meanest grade for a cute kameristochka). ‘And how is everything, my dear boy? I saw you last the day you returned from Chose. We waste life in separations! We are the fools of fate! Oh let's spend a month together in Paris or London before the Michaelmas term!'
Demon shed his monocle and wiped his eyes with the modish lace-frilled handkerchief that lodged in the heart pocket of his dinner jacket. His tear glands were facile in action when no real sorrow made him control himself. (1.38)

 

At Chose (Van's English University) Van plays poker with Dick C. (a cardsharp who plans to move to Australia) and the French twins Jean and Jacques. As a Chose student, Van begins to perform in variety shows as Mascodagama (Van's stage name), dancing tango on his hands:

 

On February 5, 1887, an unsigned editorial in The Ranter (the usually so sarcastic and captious Chose weekly) described Mascodagama’s performance as ‘the most imaginative and singular stunt ever offered to a jaded music-hall public.’ It was repeated at the Rantariver Club several times, but nothing in the programme or in publicity notices beyond the definition ‘Foreign eccentric’ gave any indication either of the exact nature of the ‘stunt’ or of the performer’s identity. Rumors, carefully and cleverly circulated by Mascodagama’s friends, diverted speculations toward his being a mysterious visitor from beyond the Golden Curtain, particularly since at least half-a-dozen members of a large Good-will Circus Company that had come from Tartary just then (i.e., on the eve of the Crimean War) — three dancing girls, a sick old clown with his old speaking goat, and one of the dancers’ husbands, a make-up man (no doubt, a multiple agent) — had already defected between France and England, somewhere in the newly constructed ‘Chunnel.’ Mascodagama’s spectacular success in a theatrical club that habitually limited itself to Elizabethan plays, with queens and fairies played by pretty boys, made first of all a great impact on cartoonists. Deans, local politicians, national statesmen, and of course the current ruler of the Golden Horde were pictured as mascodagamas by topical humorists. A grotesque imitator (who was really Mascodagama himself in an oversophisticated parody of his own act!) was booed at Oxford (a women’s college nearby) by local rowdies. A shrewd reporter, who had heard him curse a crease in the stage carpet, commented in print on his ‘Yankee twang.’ Dear Mr ‘Vascodagama’ received an invitation to Windsor Castle from its owner, a bilateral descendant of Van’s own ancestors, but he declined it, suspecting (incorrectly, as it later transpired) the misprint to suggest that his incognito had been divulged by one of the special detectives at Chose — the same, perhaps, who had recently saved the psychiatrist P.O. Tyomkin from the dagger of Prince Potyomkin, a mixed-up kid from Sebastopol, Id. (1.30)

 

Like St Alin (one of the two seconds in Demon's duel with d'Onsky), the name of the current ruler of the Golden Horde, Khan Sosso, hints at Stalin (Iosif - or, in Georgian, Soso - Dzhugashvili):

 

On Terra, Theresa had been a Roving Reporter for an American magazine, thus giving Van the opportunity to describe the sibling planet’s political aspect. This aspect gave him the least trouble, presenting as it did a mosaic of painstakingly collated notes from his own reports on the ‘transcendental delirium’ of his patients. Its acoustics were poor, proper names often came out garbled, a chaotic calendar messed up the order of events but, on the whole, the colored dots did form a geomantic picture of sorts. As earlier experimentators had conjectured, our annals lagged by about half a century behind Terra’s along the bridges of time, but overtook some of its underwater currents. At the moment of our sorry story, the king of Terra’s England, yet another George (there had been, apparently, at least half-a-dozen bearing that name before him) ruled, or had just ceased to rule, over an empire that was somewhat patchier (with alien blanks and blots between the British Islands and South Africa) than the solidly conglomerated one on our Antiterra. Western Europe presented a particularly glaring gap: ever since the eighteenth century, when a virtually bloodless revolution had dethroned the Capetians and repelled all invaders, Terra’s France flourished under a couple of emperors and a series of bourgeois presidents, of whom the present one, Doumercy, seemed considerably more lovable than Milord Goal, Governor of Lute! Eastward, instead of Khan Sosso and his ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate, a super Russia, dominating the Volga region and similar watersheds, was governed by a Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics (or so it came through) which had superseded the Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst. Last but not least, Athaulf the Future, a fair-haired giant in a natty uniform, the secret flame of many a British nobleman, honorary captain of the French police, and benevolent ally of Rus and Rome, was said to be in the act of transforming a gingerbread Germany into a great country of speedways, immaculate soldiers, brass bands and modernized barracks for misfits and their young. (2.2)

 

A character in Van's novel Letters from Terra, Theresa is a namesake of Thérèse Levasseur (1721-1801), Rousseau's wife. A graceful microorganism, Van's Theresa swims in Professor Sig Leymanski's testibulus (test tube), like a micromermaid. When Van meets Dick C. in Monte Carlo, Dick mentions a microscopic point of euphorion, a precious metal:

 

He did not ‘twinkle’ long after that. Five or six years later, in Monte Carlo, Van was passing by an open-air café when a hand grabbed him by the elbow, and a radiant, ruddy, comparatively respectable Dick C. leaned toward him over the petunias of the latticed balustrade:

‘Van,’ he cried, ‘I’ve given up all that looking-glass dung, congratulate me! Listen: the only safe way is to mark ‘em! Wait, that’s not all, can you imagine, they’ve invented a microscopic — and I mean microscopic — point of euphorion, a precious metal, to insert under your thumbnail, you can’t see it with the naked eye, but one minuscule section of your monocle is made to magnify the mark you make with it, like killing a flea, on one card after another, as they come along in the game, that’s the beauty of it, no preparations, no props, nothing! Mark ‘em! Mark ‘em!’ good Dick was still shouting, as Van walked away. (1.28)

 

In the second part of Goethe's Faust Euphorion is the son of Faust and Helen of Troy. Asking Ada to leave her sick husband, Van mentions Helen of Troy:

 

As had been peculiar to his nature even in the days of his youth, Van was apt to relieve a passion of anger and disappointment by means of bombastic and arcane utterances which hurt like a jagged fingernail caught in satin, the lining of Hell.

‘Castle True, Castle Bright!’ he now cried, ‘Helen of Troy, Ada of Ardis! You have betrayed the Tree and the Moth!’

‘Perestagne (stop, cesse)!’

‘Ardis the First, Ardis the Second, Tanned Man in a Hat, and now Mount Russet —’

‘Perestagne!’ repeated Ada (like a fool dealing with an epileptic).

‘Oh! Qui me rendra mon Hélène —’

‘Ach, perestagne!’

‘— et le phalène.’

‘Je t’emplie ("prie" and "supplie"), stop, Van. Tu sais que j’en vais mourir.’

‘But, but, but’ — (slapping every time his forehead) — ‘to be on the very brink of, of, of — and then have that idiot turn Keats!’

‘Bozhe moy, I must be going. Say something to me, my darling, my only one, something that might help!’

There was a narrow chasm of silence broken only by the rain drumming on the eaves.

‘Stay with me, girl,’ said Van, forgetting everything — pride, rage, the convention of everyday pity.

For an instant she seemed to waver — or at least to consider wavering; but a resonant voice reached them from the drive and there stood Dorothy, gray-caped and mannish-hatted, energetically beckoning with her unfurled umbrella.

‘I can’t, I can’t, I’ll write you,’ murmured my poor love in tears. (3.8) 

 

"Satin, the lining of Hell," brings to mind Satin, a character (the cardsharp) in Gorky's play Na dne ("At the Bottom," 1902). Stalin famously said that Gorky's Pesnya o burevestnike ("The Song of the Stormy Petrel") was a thing more powerful than Goethe's Faust. The third part of Gorky's autobiographical trilogy is entitled Moi universitety ("My Universities"). The maiden name of Gorky's first wife, Volzhin, comes from the Volga and brings to mind "the Volga regions and similar watersheds" mentioned by Van. Gorky had two granddaughters: Marfa, who was born in 1925, in Sorrento, and Daria, who was born in 1927, in Naples. One wonders if in 1922, when Van and Ada reunite after Andrey Vinelander's death, Ada is not already a grandmother.