actress's desinvolture, vibrational vibgyors, sudak, Chose & Eve on Clepsydrophone in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sun, 10/28/2018 - 08:16

At the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday Marina (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) shows to Van and Lucette the exact pine and the exact spot on its rugged red trunk where in old, very old days a magnetic telephone nested and pronounces the words ‘currents’ and ‘circuits’ with an actress’s désinvolture (uninhibitedness):


Marina’s contribution was more modest, but it too had its charm. She showed Van and Lucette (the others knew all about it) the exact pine and the exact spot on its rugged red trunk where in old, very old days a magnetic telephone nested, communicating with Ardis Hall. After the banning of ‘currents and circuits,’ she said (rapidly but freely, with an actress’s désinvolture pronouncing those not quite proper words — while puzzled Lucette tugged at the sleeve of Van, of Vanichka, who could explain everything), her husband’s grandmother, an engineer of great genius, ‘tubed’ the Redmount rill (running just below the glade from a hill above Ardis). She made it carry vibrational vibgyors (prismatic pulsations) through a system of platinum segments. These produced, of course, only one-way messages, and the installation and upkeep of the ‘drums’ (cylinders) cost, she said, a Jew’s eye, so that the idea was dropped, however tempting the possibility of informing a picnicking Veen that his house was on fire. (1.13)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): vibgyor: violet-indigo-blue-green-yellow-orange-red.


Electricity was banned on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) after the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century (1.3). The Antiterran L disaster seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS), in our world. In his essay on Dostoevski (in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers”) Ayhenvald mentions volny i vibratsii (waves and vibrations) that the world is sending to Dostoevski:


Мир посылает ему все свои волны и вибрации, мучит его обнажённые нервы, мир раздражает его. Порог раздражения лежит для него очень низко.


In his essay on Garshin (in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers”) Ayhenvald compares Garshin to Dostoevski and points out that the most red flower is a flower of evil:


У Гаршина - та же стихия, что и у Достоевского; только, помимо размеров дарования, между ними есть и та разница, что первый, как писатель, - вне своего безумия, а последний - значительно во власти своего чёрного недуга.


Самый красный цветок – это цветок зла. Ничто не требует такой душевной силы, такого напряжения и действенности, как именно убийство.


In his story Krasnyi tsvetok (“The Red Flower,” 1883) Garshin mentions Ariman (Ahriman, the evil spirit in the Zoroastrianism):


Цветок в его глазах осуществлял собою всё зло; он впитал в себя всю невинно пролитую кровь (оттого он и был так красен), все слёзы, всю жёлчь человечества. Это было таинственное, страшное существо, противоположность Богу, Ариман, принявший скромный и невинный вид.

In his eyes the flower personified the entire evil; it has absorbed all innocently spilled blood (that’s why it was so red), all the tears and all the bile of humanity. It was a mysterious, terrible creature, God’s opposite, Ahriman, that adopted a humble and innocent disguise. (chapter V)


Ariman = Marina = Armina (Demon Veen's Mediterranian villa where Van was conceived):


Marina arrived in Nice a few days after the duel, and tracked Demon down in his villa Armina, and in the ecstasy of reconciliation neither remembered to dupe procreation, whereupon started the extremely interesnoe polozhenie (‘interesting condition’) without which, in fact, these anguished notes could not have been strung. (1.2)


In his poem Danse macabre (“The Dance of Death”) included in Les Fleurs du mal (“The Flowers of Evil,” 1857) Baudelaire mentions Death’s nonchalance and désinvolture of a skinny coquette and un ruisseau lascif qui se frotte au rocher (a lecherous brook that rubs against the rocks):


Fière, autant qu'un vivant, de sa noble stature
Avec son gros bouquet, son mouchoir et ses gants
Elle a la nonchalance et la désinvolture
D'une coquette maigre aux airs extravagants.


Vit-on jamais au bal une taille plus mince?
Sa robe exagérée, en sa royale ampleur,
S'écroule abondamment sur un pied sec que pince
Un soulier pomponné, joli comme une fleur.


La ruche qui se joue au bord des clavicules,
Comme un ruisseau lascif qui se frotte au rocher,
Défend pudiquement des lazzi ridicules
Les funèbres appas qu'elle tient à cacher...


Proud as a living person of her noble stature,
With her big bouquet, her handkerchief and gloves,
She has the nonchalance and easy manner
Of a slender coquette with bizarre ways.


Did one ever see a slimmer waist at a ball?
Her ostentatious dress in its queenly fullness
Falls in ample folds over thin feet, tightly pressed
Into slippers with pompons pretty as flowers.


The swarm of bees that plays along her collar-bones
Like a lecherous brook that rubs against the rocks
Modestly protects from cat-calls and jeers
The funereal charms that she's anxious to hide...


In the epilogue of Ada Van says that the strange mirage-shimmer standing in for death should not appear too soon in the chronicle and yet it should permeate the first amorous scenes:


Something of the sort. One great difficulty. The strange mirage-shimmer standing in for death should not appear too soon in the chronicle and yet it should permeate the first amorous scenes. Hard but not insurmountable (I can do anything, I can tango and tap-dance on my fantastic hands). By the way, who dies first?

Ada. Van. Ada. Vaniada. Nobody. Each hoped to go first, so as to concede, by implication, a longer life to the other, and each wished to go last, in order to spare the other the anguish or worries, of widowhood. One solution would be for you to marry Violet.

‘Thank you. J’ai tâté de deux tribades dans ma vie, ça suffit. Dear Emile says "terme qu’on évite d’employer." How right he is!’

‘If not Violet, then a local Gauguin girl. Or Yolande Kickshaw.’

Why? Good question. Anyway. Violet must not be given this part to type. I’m afraid we’re going to wound a lot of people (openwork American lilt)! Oh come, art cannot hurt. It can, and how! (5.6)


For the first time Van walks on his hands at the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday:


His reversed body gracefully curved, his brown legs hoisted like a Tarentine sail, his joined ankles tacking, Van gripped with splayed hands the brow of gravity, and moved to and fro, veering and sidestepping, opening his mouth the wrong way, and blinking in the odd bilboquet fashion peculiar to eyelids in his abnormal position. Even more extraordinary than the variety and velocity of the movements he made in imitation of animal hind legs was the effortlessness of his stance; King Wing warned him that Vekchelo, a Yukon professional, lost it by the time he was twenty-two; but that summer afternoon, on the silky ground of the pineglade, in the magical heart of Ardis, under Lady Erminin’s blue eye, fourteen-year-old Van treated us to the greatest performance we have ever seen a brachiambulant give. Not the faintest flush showed on his face or neck! Now and then, when he detached his organs of locomotion from the lenient ground, and seemed actually to clap his hands in midair, in a miraculous parody of a ballet jump, one wondered if this dreamy indolence of levitation was not a result of the earth’s canceling its pull in a fit of absentminded benevolence. Incidentally, one curious consequence of certain muscular changes and osteal ‘reclicks’ caused by the special training with which Wing had racked him was Van’s inability in later years to shrug his shoulders.

Questions for study and discussion:

1. Did both palms leave the ground when Van, while reversed, seemed actually to ‘skip’ on his hands?

2. Was Van’s adult incapacity to ‘shrug’ things off only physical or did it ‘correspond’ to some archetypal character of his ‘undersoul’?

3. Why did Ada burst into tears at the height of Van’s performance? (1.13)


Vekchelo = chelovek (human being). In her last note Aqua (Marina’s poor mad twin sister) mentioned klok (a piece ) of a chelovek (1.3). In his memoir essay Aleksandr Blok kak chelovek (“Alexander Blok as a Person,” 1921) Chukovski says that Blok (the author of Plyaski smerti, “The Dances of Death,” 1912-14) in jest called his collection Nechayannaya radost’ (Inadvertent Joy,” 1907) Otchayannaya gadost’ (“Desperate Filth”) by Alexander Klok. Blok’s poem Nochnaya Fialka (“The Night Violet,” 1906) subtitled Son (“a Dream”) brings to mind Violet Knox, old Van’s typist whom Ada calls Fialochka and who marries Ronald Oranger (old Van’s secretary) 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)


At the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess) reads her story La rivière de diamants (1.13). When Van revisits Ardis four years later, he finds out that Mlle Larivière has written a novel entitled Les Enfants Maudits (“The Accursed Children”):


He had spent most of the day fast asleep in his room, and a long, rambling, dreary dream had repeated, in a kind of pointless parody, his strenuous ‘Casanovanic’ night with Ada and that somehow ominous morning talk with her. Now that I am writing this, after so many hollows and heights of time, I find it not easy to separate our conversation, as set down in an inevitably stylized form, and the drone of complaints, turning on sordid betrayals that obsessed young Van in his dull nightmare. Or was he dreaming now that he had been dreaming? Had a grotesque governess really written a novel entitled Les Enfants Maudits? To be filmed by frivolous dummies, now discussing its adaptation? To be made even triter than the original Book of the Fortnight, and its gurgling blurbs? Did he detest Ada as he had in his dreams? He did. (1.32)


The title of Mlle Larivière’s novel blends un enfant terrible with les poètes maudits. Charles Baudelaire was one of the poètes maudits. In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN describes his father’s visit to England in February 1916, with five other prominent representatives of the Russian press, and calls one of them, Korney Chukovski, “the enfant terrible of the group:”


My father had visited London before—the last time in February 1916, when, with five other prominent representatives of the Russian press, he had been invited by the British Government to take a look at England’s war effort (which, it was hinted, did not meet with sufficient appreciation on the part of Russia’s public opinion). On the way there, being challenged by my father and Korney Chukovski to rhyme on Afrika, the poet and novelist Aleksey Tolstoy (no relation to Count Lyov Nikolaevich) had supplied, though seasick, the charming couplet


Vizhu pal’mu i Kafrika.
(I see a palm and a little Kaffir. That’s Afrika.)


In England the visitors had been shown the Fleet. Dinners and speeches had followed in noble succession. The timely capture of Erzerum by the Russians and the pending introduction of conscription in England (“Will you march too or wait till March 2?” as the punning posters put it) had provided the speakers with easy topics. There had been an official banquet presided over by Sir Edward Grey, and a funny interview with George V whom Chukovski, the enfant terrible of the group, insisted on asking if he liked the works of Oscar Wilde—“dze ooarks of OOald.” The king, who was baffled by his interrogator’s accent and who, anyway, had never been a voracious reader, neatly countered by inquiring how his guests liked the London fog (later Chukovski used to cite this triumphantly as an example of British cant—tabooing a writer because of his morals). (Chapter Thirteen, 1)


Alexey Tolstoy is the author of Pyotr Pervyi ("Peter the First," 1930). In a letter of March 9, 1825, to Pushkin Bestuzhev criticizes the low subject of Eugene Onegin and asks "what can be more poetic than [the history of] Peter [the First] and who wrote it good enough:"


Сладок сок кокоса, но для того, чтоб извлечь его, потребна не ребяческая сила. В доказательство тому приведу и пример: что может быть поэтичественнее Петра? И кто написал его сносно? Нет, Пушкин, нет, никогда не соглашусь, что поэма заключается в предмете, а не в исполнении! — Что свет можно описывать в поэтических формах — это несомненно, но дал ли ты Онегину поэтические формы, кроме стихов? поставил ли ты его в контраст со светом, чтобы в резком злословии показать его резкие черты? — Я вижу франта, который душой и телом предан моде — вижу человека, которых тысячи встречаю наяву, ибо самая холодность и мизантропия и странность теперь в числе туалетных приборов. Конечно, многие картины прелестны, — но они не полны, ты схватил петербургский свет, но не проник в него. Прочти Бейрона; он, не знавши нашего Петербурга, описал его схоже — там, где касалось до глубокого познания людей. У него даже притворное пустословие скрывает в себе замечания философские, а про сатиру и говорить нечего. Я не знаю человека, который бы лучше его, портретнее его очеркивал характеры, схватывал в них новые проблески страстей и страстишек. И как зла, и как свежа его сатира! Не думай, однако ж, что мне не нравится твой «Онегин», напротив. Вся ее мечтательная часть прелестна, но в этой части я не вижу уже Онегина, а только тебя. Не отсоветываю даже писать в этом роде, ибо он должен нравиться массе публики, — но желал бы только, чтоб ты разуверился в превосходстве его над другими. Впрочем, мое мнение не аксиома, но я невольно отдаю преимущество тому, что колеблет душу, что ее возвышает, что трогает русское сердце; а мало ли таких предметов — и они ждут тебя! Стоит ли вырезывать изображения из яблочного семечка, подобно браминам индейским, когда у тебя в руке резец Праксителя?


Sok kokosa (the juice of a cocoanut ) mentioned by Bestuzhev brings to mind "a nice cold Russian kok" that Pedro (Marina's lover, a young Latin actor) offers Van and a cocoanut that Van wants Pedro to get himself:


‘Permit me, Ivan, to get you also a nice cold Russian kok?’ said Pedro — really a very gentle and amiable youth at heart. ‘Get yourself a cocoanut,’ replied nasty Van, testing the poor faun, who did not get it, in any sense, and, giggling pleasantly, went back to his mat. Claudius, at least, did not court Ophelia. (1.32)


According to Marina, Pedro can not be made to recite French poetry:


‘Incidentally,’ observed Marina, ‘I hope dear Ida [Mlle Larivière, whose novel Les Enfants Maudits is to be filmed by G. A. Vronsky and Marina] will not object to our making him not only a poet, but a ballet dancer. Pedro could do that beautifully, but he can’t be made to recite French poetry.’

‘If she protests,’ said Vronsky, ‘she can go and stick a telegraph pole — where it belongs.’

The indecent ‘telegraph’ caused Marina, who had a secret fondness for salty jokes, to collapse in Ada-like ripples of rolling laughter (pokativshis’ so smehu vrode Adï): ‘But let’s be serious, I still don’t see how and why his wife — I mean the second guy’s wife — accepts the situation (polozhenie).’

Vronsky spread his fingers and toes.

‘Prichyom tut polozhenie (situation-shituation)? She is blissfully ignorant of their affair and besides, she knows she is fubsy and frumpy, and simply cannot compete with dashing Hélène.’

‘I see, but some won’t,’ said Marina. (ibid.)


In the same letter of March 9, 1825, to Pushkin Bestuzhev says that it is difficult but possible to graft apples to a pine tree:


Чудно привить яблоки к сосне — но это бывает, это дивит, а всё-таки яблоки пахнут смолою. Трудно попасть горошинкой в ушко иглы, но ты знаешь награду, которую назначил за это Филипп!


In his poem Radost' ("Joy") Chukovski (the author of “Telephone”) mentions roses that grow on birch trees, oranges that grow on aspen trees and raduga-duga (a rainbow):


Рады, рады, рады
Светлые берёзы,
И на них от радости
Вырастают розы.

Рады, рады, рады
Тёмные осины,
И на них от радости
Растут апельсины.

То не дождь пошёл из облака
И не град,
То посыпался из облака

И вороны над полями
Вдруг запели соловьями.

И ручьи из-под земли
Сладким мёдом потекли.

Куры стали павами,
Лысые - кудрявыми.

Даже мельница - и та
Заплясала у моста.

Так бегите же за мною
На зелёные луга,
Где над синею рекою
Встала радуга-дуга.

Мы на радугу
Поиграем в облаках
И оттуда вниз по радуге
На салазках, на коньках!


The rhyme rozy (roses) / beryozy (birch trees) also occurs in a poem by K.R. quoted by Van:


'One of these days,’ he said, ‘I will ask you for a repeat performance. You will sit as you did four years ago, at the same table, in the same light, drawing the same flower, and I shall go through the same scene with such joy, such pride, such — I don’t know — gratitude! Look, all the windows are dark now. I, too, can translate when I simply have to. Listen to this:


Lights in the rooms were going out.

Breathed fragrantly the rozï.

We sat together in the shade

Of a wide-branched beryozï.’


‘Yes, "birch" is what leaves the translator in the "lurch," doesn’t it? That’s a terrible little poem by Konstantin Romanov, right? Just elected president of the Lyascan Academy of Literature, right? Wretched poet and happy husband. Happy husband!’

‘You know,’ said Van, ‘I really think you should wear something underneath on formal occasions.’

‘Your hands are cold. Why formal? You said yourself it was a family affair.’

‘Even so. You were in peril whenever you bent or sprawled.’

‘I never sprawl!’

‘I’m quite sure it’s not hygienic, or perhaps it’s a kind of jealousy on my part. Memoirs of a Happy Chair. Oh, my darling.’

‘At least,’ whispered Ada, ‘it pays off now, doesn’t it? Croquet room? Ou comme ça?’

‘Comme ça, for once,’ said Van. (1.38)


Van and Ada make love after the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” (summer of 1888). Showing to Van Kim Beauharnais’s album, Ada confesses that she destroyed 1888 herself:


Nonchalantly, Van went back to the willows and said:

‘Every shot in the book has been snapped in 1884, except this one. I never rowed you down Ladore River in spring. Nice to note you have not lost your wonderful ability to blush.’

‘It’s his error. He must have thrown in a fotochka taken later, maybe in 1888. We can rip it out if you like.’

‘Sweetheart,’ said Van, ‘the whole of 1888 has been ripped out. One need not bb a sleuth in a mystery story to see that at least as many pages have been removed as retained. I don’t mind — I mean I have no desire to see the Knabenkräuter and other pendants of your friends botanizing with you; but 1888 has been withheld and he’ll turn up with it when the first grand is spent.

‘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.’ (2.7)


In March 1888 Vsevolod Garshin committed suicide by throwing himself over the banisters. The characters of Ada include Mr Arshin, an acrophobe:


Van had satisfied himself that it had nothing to do with clocks or calendars, or any measurements or contents of time, while he suspected and hoped (as only a discoverer, pure and passionate and profoundly inhuman, can hope) that the dread of heights would be found by his colleagues to depend mainly on the misestimation of distances and that Mr Arshin, their best acrophobe, who could not step down from a footstool, could be made to step down into space from the top of a tower if persuaded by some optical trick that the fire net spread fifty yards below was a mat one inch beneath him. (2.6)


Arshin (accented on the last syllable) is a Russian measure equivalent to 28 inches (71 cm) and a rule one arshin in length. In his famous lines Tyutchev says: Umom Rossiyu ne ponyat', arshinom obshchim ne izmerit' ("Russia is a thing of which the intellect cannot conceive. Hers is no common yardstick"). Tyutchev is the author of Silentium! (1833), Bliznetsy ("The Twins," 1850) and Raduga ("Rainbow," 1865). To the picnic on Ada's sixteenth birthday Greg Erminin (Grace's twin brother) comes on his new Silentium motorcycle:


Greg, who had left his splendid new black Silentium motorcycle in the forest ride, observed:

‘We have company.’

‘Indeed we do,’ assented Van. ‘Kto sii (who are they)? Do you have any idea?’

Nobody had. Raincoated, unpainted, morose, Marina came over and peered through the trees the way Van pointed.

After reverently inspecting the Silentium, a dozen elderly townsmen, in dark clothes, shabby and uncouth, walked into the forest across the road and sat down there to a modest colazione of cheese, buns, salami, sardines and Chianti. They were quite sufficiently far from our picnickers not to bother them in any way. They had no mechanical music boxes with them. Their voices were subdued, their movements could not have been more discreet. The predominant gesture seemed to be ritually limited to this or that fist crumpling brown paper or coarse gazette paper or baker’s paper (the very lightweight and inefficient sort), and discarding the crumpled bit in quiet, abstract fashion, while other sad apostolic hands unwrapped the victuals or for some reason or other wrapped them up again, in the noble shade of the pines, in the humble shade of the false acacias.

‘How odd,’ said Marina, scratching her sunlit bald patch. (1.39)


The two pairs of twins in Tyutchev's poem "The Twins" are Smert' i Son (Death and Sleep) and Samoubiystvo i Lyubov' (Suicide and Love). Lady Erminin (Greg's and Grace's mother) committed suicide when she learnt of her husband's affair with her sister Ruth:


The early afternoon sun found new places to brighten and old places to toast. Aunt Ruth dozed with her head on an ordinary bed pillow provided by Mme Forestier, who was knitting a tiny jersey for her charges’ future half-sibling. Lady Erminin, through the bothersome afterhaze of suicide, was, reflected Marina, looking down, with old wistfulness and an infant’s curiosity, at the picnickers, under the glorious pine verdure, from the Persian blue of her abode of bliss. The children displayed their talents: Ada and Grace danced a Russian fling to the accompaniment of an ancient music box (which kept halting in mid-bar, as if recalling other shores, other, radial, waves); Lucette, one fist on her hip, sang a St Malô fisher-song; Greg put on his sister’s blue skirt, hat and glasses, all of which transformed him into a very sick, mentally retarded Grace; and Van walked on his hands. (1.13)


The author of Atala (1801), René (1802) and Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe ("Memoirs from Beyond the Grave," 1849-50), Chateaubriand (1768-1848) was born in Saint-Malo. Describing his first summer in Ardis, Van mentions Chateaubriand's mosquito:


During the last week of July, there emerged, with diabolical regularity, the female of Chateaubriand’s mosquito, Chateaubriand (Charles), who had not been the first to be bitten by it… but the first to bottle the offender, and with cries of vindictive exultation to carry it to Professor Brown who wrote the rather slap-bang Original Description (‘small black palpi… hyaline wings… yellowy in certain lights… which should be extinguished if one keeps open the kasements [German printer!]…’ The Boston Entomologist for August, quick work, 1840) was not related to the great poet and memoirist born between Paris and Tagne (as he’d better, said Ada, who liked crossing orchids).


Mon enfant, ma sœur,

Songe à l’épaisseur

Du grand chêne a Tagne;

Songe à la montagne,

Songe à la douceur —


— of scraping with one’s claws or nails the spots visited by that fluffy-footed insect characterized by an insatiable and reckless appetite for Ada’s and Ardelia’s, Lucette’s and Lucile’s (multiplied by the itch) blood. (1.17)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Ada who liked crossing orchids: she crosses here two French authors, Baudelaire and Chateaubriand.


In Memoires d'Outre-Tombe (Book VIII, Chapter 5) Chateaubriand compares his amorous rival, an American Indian, to a mosquito:


I felt myself to be all the more humiliated in that the Burnt-Wood, my favoured rival, was a mosquito, lean, dark and ugly, having all the characteristics of those insects which, according to the definition of the Grand Lama’s entomologists, are creatures whose flesh is internal, and bones external.


In Chapter Four (XXVI: 1-4) of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin Lenski reads to Olga a moralistic novel in which the author knows nature better than Chateaubriand:


Он иногда читает Оле
Нравоучительный роман,
В котором автор знает боле
Природу, чем Шатобриан,
А между тем две, три страницы
(Пустые бредни, небылицы,
Опасные для сердца дев)
Он пропускает, покраснев.
Уединясь от всех далеко,
Они над шахматной доской,
На стол облокотясь, порой
Сидят, задумавшись глубоко,
И Ленский пешкою ладью
Берет в рассеянье свою.


Sometimes he reads to Olya

a moralistic novel —

in which the author

knows nature better than Chateaubriand —

and, meanwhile, two-three pages

empty chimeras, fables,

for hearts of maidens dangerous)

he blushingly leaves out.

etiring far from everybody,

over the chessboard they,

leaning their elbows on the table,

at times sit deep in thought,

and Lenski in abstraction takes

with a pawn his own rook.

Pustye bredni (empty chimeras) bring to mind bredni (chimeras) and antibredni (antichimeras) mentioned by Saltykov-Shchedrin in the first letter of his Pis'ma k tyoten'ke (Letters to my Aunt, 1882):


О “бреднях” лучше всего позабыть, как будто их совсем не было. Даже в “антибредни” не очень азартно пускаться, потому что и они приедаться стали.


Antibredni bring to mind Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set). Btw., the notion of a Terra planet appeared on Demonia after the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century.


In the same letter Shchedrin mentions koka s sokom:


Покуда я кока с соком был -- я ничего не понимал, теперь же, будучи лишен сока, -- всё понял.


and sudak avablya:


Пришёл я на днях в Летний сад обедать. Потребовал карточку, вижу: судак "авабля"; спрашиваю: да можно ли? -- Нынче всё, сударь, можно! -- Ну, давай судака "авабля"! -- оказалась мерзость.

The other day I came to the Letniy Sad to dinner. I asked for the menu and read in it: sudak avablya (corrupted "au vin blanc").


At the family dinner in "Ardis the Second" Van remarks that the served fish is not real sudak (pike-perch):


‘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.

‘Yes, oh, yes,’ said Demon. ‘Ah, my dear, you should not think up dinners all by yourself. Now about rowing — you mentioned rowing… Do you know that moi, qui vous parle, was a Rowing Blue in 1858? Van prefers football, but he’s only a College Blue, aren’t you Van? I’m also better than he at tennis — not lawn tennis, of course, a game for parsons, but "court tennis" as they say in Manhattan. What else, Van?’

‘You still beat me at fencing, but I’m the better shot. That’s not real sudak, papa, though it’s tops, I assure you.’

(Marina, having failed to obtain the European product in time for the dinner, had chosen the nearest thing, wall-eyed pike, or ‘dory,’ with Tartar sauce and boiled young potatoes.)

‘Ah!’ said Demon, tasting Lord Byron’s Hock. ‘This redeems Our Lady’s Tears.’ (1.38)


In his poem Vozmezdie ("Retribution," 1910-21) Alexander Blok mentions Shchedrin who grumbles at the dinners at Borel (a restaurant in the Bolshaya Morskaya street in St. Petersburg):


Он на обедах у Бореля
Брюжжит не плоше Щедрина:
То — недоварены форели,
А то — уха им не жирна.


At the dinners at Borel

he [the hero's maternal grandfather] grumbles not worse than Shchedrin:

now the trout is undercooked,

now the fish soup is not rich enough. (Chapter One)


and Dostoevski who points out that the hero’s father resembles Byron:


Раз (он гостиной проходил)

Его заметил Достоевский.

«Кто сей красавец? — он спросил

Негромко, наклонившись к Вревской: -

Похож на Байрона».


The ladies were delighted: “He is a Byron, hence he is a demon:”


И дамы были в восхищеньи:

«Он — Байрон, значит — демон...» — Что ж?

Он впрямь был с гордым лордом схож

Лица надменным выраженьем

И чем-то, что хочу назвать

Тяжёлым пламенем печали. (ibid.)


Demon Veen was a Rowing Blue and Van (who prefers football) is a College Blue at Chose (Demon's and Van's English University). In Saltykov-Shchedrin's novel Gospoda Golovlyovy ("The Golovlyov Family," 1880) la chose is mentioned:


A niece of Iudushka Golovlyov and twin sister of Lyubinka, Anninka is a provincial actress who leads a dream-like existence. She “undressed in La belle Helene, appeared drunk in La Prichole, sang all kind of shameless things in the scenes from La grande duchesse de Gerolstein and even regretted that it was not accepted to act on stage “la chose” and “l’amour,” imagining how seductively she would have jerked her waist and how splendidly she would have twirled the tail of her dress.” The reader of Shchedrin’s novel is supposed to know this; still, men in the audience devour with their eyes the curve of Anninka’s naked body hoping that she would explain to them what exactly “la chose” is.


For the first time Demon Veen made love to Marina between the two scenes of a stage play in which Marina played the heroine:


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.

Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the message, Demon Veen had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded to win the wager, the success of his enterprise being assured by the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin, had been in love with him since their last dance on New Year’s Eve. Moreover, the tropical moonlight she had just bathed in, the penetrative sense of her own beauty, the ardent pulses of the imagined maiden, and the gallant applause of an almost full house made her especially vulnerable to the tickle of Demon’s moustache. She had ample time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had goofed — the word ‘samovars’ may have got garbled in the agent’s aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent dance called kurva or ‘ribbon boule’ in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.’s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat. (1.2)


Saltykov's Iudushka (little Judas) brings to mind Khristosik (little Christ), as G. A. Vronsky called all pretty starlets:


Some confusion ensued less than two years later (September, 1871 — her proud brain still retained dozens of dates) when upon escaping from her next refuge and somehow reaching her husband’s unforgettable country house (imitate a foreigner: ‘Signor Konduktor, ay vant go Lago di Luga, hier geld’) she took advantage of his being massaged in the solarium, tiptoed into their former bedroom — and experienced a delicious shock: her talc powder in a half-full glass container marked colorfully Quelques Fleurs still stood on her bedside table; her favorite flame-colored nightgown lay rumpled on the bedrug; to her it meant that only a brief black nightmare had obliterated the radiant fact of her having slept with her husband all along — ever since Shakespeare’s birthday on a green rainy day, but for most other people, alas, it meant that Marina (after G.A. Vronsky, the movie man, had left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets) had conceived, c’est bien le cas de le dire, the brilliant idea of having Demon divorce mad Aqua and marry Marina who thought (happily and correctly) she was pregnant again. Marina had spent a rukuliruyushchiy month with him at Kitezh but when she smugly divulged her intentions (just before Aqua’s arrival) he threw her out of the house. (1.3)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): rukuliruyushchiy: Russ., from Fr. roucoulant, cooing.


Quelques Fleurs (Aqua's and Marina's talc powder) bring to mind Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal. In Gospoda Tashkentsty ("Gentlemen of Tashkent," 1873) Saltykov-Shchedrin uses the verb rukulirovat' (to coo) and mentions de si jolies choses:

Тем не менее более близкое знакомство между матерью и сыном всё-таки было неизбежно. Как ни дичилась на первых порах Ольга Сергеевна своего бывшего «куколки», но мало-помалу робость прошла, и началось сближение. Оказалось что Nicolas прелестный малый, почти мужчина, qu'il est au courant de bien des choses, и даже совсем, совсем не сын, а просто брат. Он так мило брал свою конфетку-maman за талию, так нежно целовал её в щёчку, рукулировал ей на ухо de si jolies choses, что не было даже резона дичиться его. Поэтому минута обязательного отъезда в деревню показалась для Ольги Сергеевны особенно тяжкою, и только надежда на предстоящие каникулы несколько смягчала её горе.
– Надеюсь, что ты будешь откровенен со мною? – говорила она, трепля «куколку» по щеке.
– Maman!
– Нет, ты совсем, совсем будешь откровенен со мной! ты расскажешь мне все твои prouesses; tu me feras un recit detaille sur ces dames qui ont fait battre ton jeune coeur… Ну, одним словом, ты забудешь, что я твоя maman, и будешь думать… ну, что бы такое ты мог думать?.., ну, положим, что я твоя сестра!..
– И, чёрт возьми, прехорошенькая! – прокартавил Nicolas (в экстренных случаях он всегда для шика картавил), обнимая и целуя свою maman.


The name of Demon's and Van's University also seems to hint at the phrase quelque chose ("something" in French). In a footnote to his elegy Andrey Shen’ye ("André Chénier," 1825) Pushkin quotes André Chénier’s last words: "pourtant j'avais quelque chose là" (yet, I did have something here [in my
head]). In Chapter One (V: 1-2) of EO Pushkin says: My vse uchilis' ponemnogu chemu-nibud' i kak-nibud' (We all had a bit of schooling in something and somehow).


Describing a game of poker that he played at Chose with Dick C. (a cardsharp) and the French twins, Van mentions "rosy aurora shivering in green Serenity Court:"


‘Same here, Dick,’ said Van. ‘Pity you had to rely on your crystal balls. I have often wondered why the Russian for it — I think we have a Russian ancestor in common — is the same as the German for "schoolboy," minus the umlaut’ — and while prattling thus, Van refunded with a rapidly written check the ecstatically astonished Frenchmen. Then he collected a handful of cards and chips and hurled them into Dick’s face. The missiles were still in flight when he regretted that cruel and commonplace bewgest, for the wretched fellow could not respond in any conceivable fashion, and just sat there covering one eye and examining his damaged spectacles with the other — it was also bleeding a little — while the French twins were pressing upon him two handkerchiefs which he kept good-naturedly pushing away. Rosy aurora was shivering in green Serenity Court. Laborious old Chose. (1.28)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Shivering aurora, laborious old Chose: a touch of Baudelaire.


At the end of his poem Le Crépuscule du matin Baudelaire mentions l'aurore grelottante en robe rose et verte (the dawn, shivering in her green and rose garment):


L'aurore grelottante en robe rose et verte
S'avançait lentement sur la Seine déserte,
Et le sombre Paris, en se frottant les yeux
Empoignait ses outils, vieillard laborieux.


The dawn, shivering in her green and rose garment,
Was moving slowly along the deserted Seine,
And somber Paris, the industrious old man,
Was rubbing his eyes and gathering up his tools.


Describing Ada's dramatic career, Van mentions Dawn en robe rose et verte, at the end of Act One (of Chekhov's play "The Three Sisters," 1901):


Van glanced through the list of players and D.P.’s and noticed two amusing details: the role of Fedotik, an artillery officer (whose comedy organ consists of a constantly clicking camera)’, had been assigned to a ‘Kim (short for Yakim) Eskimossoff’ and somebody called ‘John Starling’ had been cast as Skvortsov (a sekundant in the rather amateurish duel of the last act) whose name comes from skvorets, starling. When he communicated the latter observation to Ada, she blushed as was her Old World wont.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘he was quite a lovely lad and I sort of flirted with him, but the strain and the split were too much for him — he had been, since pubescence, the puerulus of a fat ballet master, Dangleleaf, and he finally committed suicide. You see ("the blush now replaced by a matovaya pallor") I’m not hiding one stain of what rhymes with Perm.’

‘I see. And Yakim —’

‘Oh, he was nothing.’

‘No, I mean, Yakim, at least, did not, as his rhymesake did, take a picture of your brother embracing his girl. Played by Dawn de Laire.’

‘I’m not sure. I seem to recall that our director did not mind some comic relief.’

‘Dawn en robe rose et verte, at the end of Act One.’

‘I think there was a click in the wings and some healthy mirth in the house. All poor Starling had to do in the play was to hollo off stage from a rowboat on the Kama River to give the signal for my fiancé to come to the dueling ground.’ (2.9)


On Antiterra Chekhov's play is known as The Four Sisters:


The beginning of Ada’s limelife in 1891 happened to coincide with the end of her mother’s twenty-five-year-long career. What is more, both appeared in Chekhov’s Four Sisters. Ada played Irina on the modest stage of the Yakima Academy of Drama in a somewhat abridged version which, for example, kept only the references to Sister Varvara, the garrulous originalka (‘odd female’ — as Marsha calls her) but eliminated her actual scenes, so that the title of the play might have been The Three Sisters, as indeed it appeared in the wittier of the local notices. It was the (somewhat expanded) part of the nun that Marina acted in an elaborate film version of the play; and the picture and she received a goodly amount of undeserved praise. (ibid.)


4 + 3 = 7. Rainbows appear in seven colors because water droplets break white sunlight into the seven colors of the spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). Sem' tsvetov radugi ("Seven Colors of Rainbow," 1915) is a collection by Valeriy Bryusov. In his memoir essay Bryusov (1925) Hodasevich quotes Latin verses written by Bryusov’s younger brother: "Falsus Valerius, duplex lingua!" The characters of Ada include Valerio, a ginger-haired elderly Roman:

Lucette had gone (leaving a curt note with her room number at the Winster Hotel for Young Ladies) when our two lovers, now weak-legged and decently robed, sat down to a beautiful breakfast (Ardis' crisp bacon! Ardis' translucent honey!) brought up in the lift by Valerio, a ginger-haired elderly Roman, always ill-shaven and gloomy, but a dear old boy (he it was who, having procured neat Rose last June, was being paid to keep her strictly for Veen and Dean). (2.6)


In her memoir essay Geroy truda ("The Hero of Toil," 1925) Marina Tsvetaev calls Bryusov trizhdy rimlyanin (a triple Roman):


Три слова являют нам Брюсова: воля, вол, волк. Триединство не только звуковое - смысловое: и воля - Рим, и вол - Рим, и волк - Рим. Трижды римлянином был Валерий Брюсов: волей и волом - в поэзии, волком (homo homini lupus est) в жизни.


Marina Tsvetaev translated into Russian (as Plavanie, 1940) Baudelaire's poem Le Voyage. The surname Tsvetaev comes from tsvet, which means "color" and "flower." In her memoir essay on Maximilian Voloshin, Zhivoe o zhivom ("A Living Word about a Living Man," 1932), Marina Tsvetaev uses the phrase au beau milieu (right in the middle) and mentions Victor Hugo's poem Napoléon II:


И внезапно – au beau milieu Victor Hugo Наполеону II – уже не вкрадчиво, а срочно: – А нельзя ли будет пойти куда-нибудь в другое место? – Можно, конечно, вниз тогда, но там семь градусов и больше не бывает.


Baudelaire’s poem Les Petites Vieilles (“Little Old Women”) is dedicated to Victor Hugo. In the last stanza Baudelaire mentions Eves octogénaires (eighty-year-old Eves):


Ruines! ma famille! ô cerveaux congénères!
Je vous fais chaque soir un solennel adieu!
Où serez-vous demain, Eves octogénaires,
Sur qui pèse la griffe effroyable de Dieu?


Ruins! my family! O kindred minds!
I bid you each evening a solemn farewell!
Octogenarian Eves, upon whom rests
God's terrible claw, where will you be tomorrow?


According to a Bohemian lady, Marina resembles "Eve on the Clepsydrophone" in Parmigianino's famous picture:


Next day Demon was having tea at his favorite hotel with a Bohemian lady whom he had never seen before and was never to see again (she desired his recommendation for a job in the Glass Fish-and-Flower department in a Boston museum) when she interrupted her voluble self to indicate Marina and Aqua, blankly slinking across the hall in modish sullenness and bluish furs with Dan Veen and a dackel behind, and said:
'Curious how that appalling actress resembles "Eve on the Clepsydrophone" in Parmigianino's famous picture.'
'It is anything but famous,' said Demon quietly, 'and you can't have seen it. I don't envy you,' he added; 'the naive stranger who realizes that he or she has stepped into the mud of an alien life must experience a pretty sickening feeling. Did you get that small-talk information directly from a fellow named d'Onsky or through a friend of a friend of his?'
'Friend of his,' replied the hapless Bohemian lady. (1.2)


“Clepsydrophone” blends clepsydra (water-clock) with dorophone (hydraulic telephone, a device used on Antiterra after the ban of electricity). In the penultimate stanza of his poem L'Horloge (“The Clock”) Baudelaire mentions la clepsydre:


Souviens-toi que le Temps est un joueur avide
Qui gagne sans tricher, à tout coup! c'est la loi.
Le jour décroît; la nuit augmente; Souviens-toi!
Le gouffre a toujours soif; la clepsydre se vide.


Remember, Time is a greedy player
Who wins without cheating, every round! It's the law.
The daylight wanes; the night deepens; remember!
The abyss thirsts always; the water-clock runs low.


Bohème (1917) is a poem by Marina Tsvetaev. Ma Bohème (1870) is a sonnet by Arthur Rimbaud (one of the poètes maudit). Bogemski was a penname of Chekhov's brother Mikhail. Chekhov dedicated to the memory of Garshin his story Pripadok ("A Nervous Breakdown," 1888). Its main character is a law student who suffers mental anguish after he was dragged by his friends on a tour of brothels. According to Van, he frequented bordels since his sixteenth year:


I have frequented bordels since my sixteenth year, but although some of the better ones, especially in France and Ireland, rated a triple red symbol in Nugg’s guidebook, nothing about them pre-announced the luxury and mollitude of my first Villa Venus. It was the difference between a den and an Eden. (2.3)


It is Dick C. who offers Van an introduction to the Venus Villa Club (Eric Veen's floramors):


Van fumed and fretted the rest of the morning, and after a long soak in a hot bath (the best adviser, and prompter and inspirer in the world, except, of course, the W.C. seat) decided to pen — pen is the word — a note of apology to the cheated cheater. As he was dressing, a messenger brought him a note from Lord C. (he was a cousin of one of Van’s Riverlane schoolmates), in which generous Dick proposed to substitute for his debt an introduction to the Venus Villa Club to which his whole clan belonged. Such a bounty no boy of eighteen could hope to obtain. It was a ticket to paradise. Van tussled with his slightly overweight conscience (both grinning like old pals in their old gymnasium) — and accepted Dick’s offer. (1.28)