According to Demon Veen (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Van’s and Ada’s father), the sweetest word in the language rhymes with "billiard:"
‘I say,’ exclaimed Demon, ‘what’s happened — your shaftment is that of a carpenter’s. Show me your other hand. Good gracious’ (muttering:) ‘Hump of Venus disfigured, Line of Life scarred but monstrously long…’ (switching to a gipsy chant:) ‘You’ll live to reach Terra, and come back a wiser and merrier man’ (reverting to his ordinary voice:) ‘What puzzles me as a palmist is the strange condition of the Sister of your Life. And the roughness!’
‘Mascodagama,’ whispered Van, raising his eyebrows.
‘Ah, of course, how blunt (dumb) of me. Now tell me — you like Ardis Hall?’
‘I adore it,’ said Van. ‘It’s for me the château que baignait la Dore. I would gladly spend all my scarred and strange life here. But that’s a hopeless fancy.’
‘Hopeless? I wonder. I know Dan wants to leave it to Lucile, but Dan is greedy, and my affairs are such that I can satisfy great greed. When I was your age I thought that the sweetest word in the language rhymes with "billiard," and now I know I was right. If you’re really keen, son, on having this property, I might try to buy it. I can exert a certain pressure upon my Marina. She sighs like a hassock when you sit upon her, so to speak. Damn it, the servants here are not Mercuries. Pull that cord again. Yes, maybe Dan could be made to sell.’
‘That’s very black of you, Dad,’ said pleased Van, using a slang phrase he had learned from his tender young nurse, Ruby, who was born in the Mississippi region where most magistrates, public benefactors, high priests of various so-called’ denominations,’ and other honorable and generous men, had the dark or darkish skin of their West-African ancestors, who had been the first navigators to reach the Gulf of Mexico. (1.38)
“Billiard” and “milliard” (the sweetest word in the language that rhymes with billiard) bring to mind babillard (chatterbox) and braillard (bawling), a rhyming pair in Pushkin’s poem Mon Portrait (1814):
Onc il ne fut de babillard,
Ni docteur en Sorbonne —
Plus ennuyeux et plus braillard,
Que moi-même en personne.
Docteur en Sorbonne brings to mind “a female Sorbonne correspondent” mentioned by Van when he describes his performance as Mascodagama:
The stage would be empty when the curtain went up; then, after five heartbeats of theatrical suspense, something swept out of the wings, enormous and black, to the accompaniment of dervish drums. The shock of his powerful and precipitous entry affected so deeply the children in the audience that for a long time later, in the dark of sobbing insomnias, in the glare of violent nightmares, nervous little boys and girls relived, with private accretions, something similar to the ‘primordial qualm,’ a shapeless nastiness, the swoosh of nameless wings, the unendurable dilation of fever which came in a cavern draft from the uncanny stage. Into the harsh light of its gaudily carpeted space a masked giant, fully eight feet tall, erupted, running strongly in the kind of soft boots worn by Cossack dancers. A voluminous, black shaggy cloak of the burka type enveloped his silhouette inquiétante (according to a female Sorbonne correspondent — we’ve kept all those cuttings) from neck to knee or what appeared to be those sections of his body. A Karakul cap surmounted his top. A black mask covered the upper part of his heavily bearded face. The unpleasant colossus kept strutting up and down the stage for a while, then the strut changed to the restless walk of a caged madman, then he whirled, and to a clash of cymbals in the orchestra and a cry of terror (perhaps faked) in the gallery, Mascodagama turned over in the air and stood on his head. (1.28)
Like Ruby Black (Van’s black wet-nurse), Pushkin had African blood:
In 1880, Van, aged ten, had traveled in silver trains with showerbaths, accompanied by his father, his father’s beautiful secretary, the secretary’s eighteen-year-old white-gloved sister (with a bit part as Van’s English governess and milkmaid), and his chaste, angelic Russian tutor, Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (‘AAA’), to gay resorts in Louisiana and Nevada. AAA explained, he remembered, to a Negro lad with whom Van had scrapped, that Pushkin and Dumas had African blood, upon which the lad showed AAA his tongue, a new interesting trick which Van emulated at the earliest occasion and was slapped by the younger of the Misses Fortune, put it back in your face, sir, she said. He also recalled hearing a cummerbunded Dutchman in the hotel hall telling another that Van’s father, who had just passed whistling one of his three tunes, was a famous ‘camler’ (camel driver — shamoes having been imported recently? No, ‘gambler’). (1.24)
In the last stanza of his poem Mon Portrait Pushkin says that he is vrai démon pour l’espièglerie (a veritable demon in pranks) and vrai singe par sa mine (a veritable monkey in his appearance):
Vrai démon pour l’espièglerie,
Vrai singe par sa mine,
Beaucoup et trop d’étourderie.
Ma foi, voila Pouchkine.
Vrai singe par sa mine brings to mind “simian facial angle,” as in his ‘Notes to Ada’ Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov) translates the phrase gueule de guenon:
Her Irish profile sweetened by a touch of Russian softness, which adds a look of mysterious expectancy and wistful surprise to her beauty, must be seen, I hope, by the friends and admirers of my memories, as a natural masterpiece incomparably finer and younger than the portrait of the similarily postured lousy jade with her Parisian gueule de guenon on the vile poster painted by that wreck of an artist for Ovenman. (3.3)
In another French poem written at the Lyceum, “On peut très bien, mademoiselle…” (1816), Pushkin compares Princess V. M. Volkonski (a lady-in-waiting whom the young poet mistook for her chambermaid and kissed in a dark corridor) to une vieille guenon (an old female monkey):
On peut très bien, mademoiselle,
Vous prendre pour une maquerelle,
Ou pour une vieille guenon,
Mais pour une grâce, — oh, mon Dieu, non.
One may very well mistake you, mademoiselle,
for a procuress,
or for an old female monkey,
but for a grace – oh, my God, no.
Une grâce brings to mind Grace Erminin, une petite juive très aristocratique mentioned by Demon in the same conversation with Van:
‘It is incredible that a young boy should control his father’s liquor intake,’ remarked Demon, pouring himself a fourth shallow. ‘On the other hand,’ he went on, nursing the thin-stemmed, gold-rimmed cup, ‘open-air life may be pretty bleak without a summer romance, and not many decent girls haunt the neighborhood, I agree. There was that lovely Erminin girl, une petite juive très aristocratique, but I understand she’s engaged. By the way, the de Prey woman tells me her son has enlisted and will soon be taking part in that deplorable business abroad which our country should have ignored. I wonder if he leaves any rivals behind?’
‘Goodness no,’ replied honest Van. ‘Ada is a serious young lady. She has no beaux — except me, ça va seins durs. Now who, who, who, Dad, who said that for "sans dire"?’
‘Oh! King Wing! When I wanted to know how he liked his French wife. Well, that’s fine news about Ada. She likes horses, you say?’
‘She likes,’ said Van, ‘what all our belles like — balls, orchids, and The Cherry Orchard.’ (1.38)
Grace Erminin marries a Wellington:
Ada’s bobrï (princely plural of bobr) were a gift from Demon, who as we know, had lately seen in the Western states considerably more of her than he had in Eastern Estotiland when she was a child. The bizarre enthusiast had developed the same tendresse for her as he had always had for Van. Its new expression in regard to Ada looked sufficiently fervid to make watchful fools suspect that old Demon ‘slept with his niece’ (actually, he was getting more and more occupied with Spanish girls who were getting more and more youthful every year until by the end of the century, when he was sixty, with hair dyed a midnight blue, his flame had become a difficult nymphet of ten). So little did the world realize the real state of affairs that even Cordula Tobak, born de Prey, and Grace Wellington, born Erminin, spoke of Demon Veen, with his fashionable goatee and frilled shirtfront, as ‘Van’s successor.’ (2.6)
Cordula de Prey’s married name seems to hint at the last line of Pushkin’s poem (also written at the Lyceum) Krasavitse, kotoraya nyukhala tabak (“To a Beauty who Sniffed Tobacco,” 1814):
Akh, otchego ya ne tabak!
“Ah, why I am not tobacco!”
Greg Erminin (Grace’s twin brother) is hopelessly in love with Ada. Erminia was a nickname (after a character in Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered) of E. M. Khitrovo, Kutuzov's daughter who was hopelessly in love with Pushkin. In a letter of May 9, 1834, to O. S. Pavlishchev (Pushkin's sister) the poet's mother mentions Erminia:
Александр очень занят по утрам, потом он идёт в (Летний) сад, где прогуливается со своей Эрминией.
Alexander is very busy in the mornings, then he goes to the Letniy Sad where he walks with his Erminia. (Veresaev, “Pushkin in Life”)
In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (One: III: 13-14) Monsieur l’Abbé (Onegin’s French tutor) scolded the boy slightly for his pranks and to the Letniy Sad took him for walks. Ada’s bobry (beaver coat) brings to mind Onegin’s bobrovyi vorotnik (beaver collar):
Уж тёмно: в санки он садится.
«Пади, пади!» — раздался крик;
Морозной пылью серебрится
Его бобровый воротник.
К Talon помчался: он уверен,
Что там уж ждет его Каверин.
Вошел: и пробка в потолок,
Вина кометы брызнул ток;
Пред ним roast-beef окровавленный,
И трюфли, роскошь юных лет,
Французской кухни лучший цвет,
И Страсбурга пирог нетленный
Меж сыром лимбургским живым
И ананасом золотым.
'Tis dark by now. He gets into a sleigh.
The cry “Way, way!” resounds.
With frostdust silvers
his beaver collar.
To Talon's he has dashed off: he is certain
that there already waits for him [Kavérin];
has entered — and the cork goes ceilingward,
the flow of comet wine spurts forth,
a bloody roast beef is before him,
and truffles, luxury of youthful years,
the best flower of French cookery,
and a decayless Strasbourg pie
between a living Limburg cheese
and a golden ananas. (One: XVI)
As pointed out by VN in his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 74), Strazburga pirog netlennyi (a decayless Strasbourg pie) is pâte de foie gras. Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the Seecond," Van mentions chaudfroids and foie gras contributed by the French cuisine:
Another Price, a typical, too typical, old retainer whom Marina (and G.A. Vronsky, during their brief romance) had dubbed, for unknown reasons, ‘Grib,’ placed an onyx ashtray at the head of the table for Demon, who liked to smoke between courses — a puff of Russian ancestry. A side table supported, also in the Russian fashion, a collection of red, black, gray, beige hors-d’oeuvres, with the serviette caviar (salfetochnaya ikra) separated from the pot of Graybead (ikra svezhaya) by the succulent pomp of preserved boletes, ‘white,’ and ‘subbetuline,’ while the pink of smoked salmon vied with the incarnadine of Westphalian ham. The variously flavored vodochki glittered, on a separate tray. The French cuisine had contributed its chaudfroids and foie gras. A window was open, and the crickets were stridulating at an ominous speed in the black motionless foliage. (1.38)
Chaudfroids (cooked meat or fish served cold in jelly or sauce) consists of chaud (hot) and froid (cold). In Pushkin's tragedy Boris Godunov (1825) Captain Marzheret exclaims:
Tudieu, il y fait chaud! Ce diable de Samozvanetz, comme ils l'appellent, est un bougre qui a du poil au cul. Qu'en pensez vous, mein herr?
In the penultimate line of his Stances (1814) Pushkin mentions la froide vieillesse (the cold old age):
Eudoxie! aimez, le temps presse;
Profitez de vos jours heureux!
Est-ce dans la froide vieillesse
Que de l'amour on sent les feux?
Describing the torments of Aqua (Marina's poor mad twin sister), Van mentions a Dr Froid (one of the administerial centaurs in Aqua’s luxurious ‘sanastoria’ at Centaur, Arizona):
Being unwilling to suffer another relapse after this blessed state of perfect mental repose, but knowing it could not last, she did what another patient had done in distant France, at a much less radiant and easygoing ‘home.’ A Dr Froid, one of the administerial centaurs, who may have been an émigré brother with a passport-changed name of the Dr Froit of Signy-Mondieu-Mondieu in the Ardennes or, more likely, the same man, because they both came from Vienne, Isère, and were only sons (as her son was), evolved, or rather revived, the therapistic device, aimed at establishing a ‘group’ feeling, of having the finest patients help the staff if ‘thusly inclined.’ Aqua, in her turn, repeated exactly clever Eleonore Bonvard’s trick, namely, opting for the making of beds and the cleaning of glass shelves. The astorium in St Taurus, or whatever it was called (who cares — one forgets little things very fast, when afloat in infinite non-thingness) was, perhaps, more modem, with a more refined desertic view, than the Mondefroid bleakhouse horsepittle, but in both places a demented patient could outwit in one snap an imbecile pedant. (1.3)
Aqua's last note begins with the word aujourd’hui (today):
Aujourd’hui (heute-toity!) I, this eye-rolling toy, have earned the psykitsch right to enjoy a landparty with Herr Doktor Sig, Nurse Joan the Terrible, and several ‘patients,’ in the neighboring bor (piney wood) where I noticed exactly the same skunk-like squirrels, Van, that your Darkblue ancestor imported to Ardis Park, where you will ramble one day, no doubt. (ibid.)
In his Stances Pushkin also uses this word:
Telle à nos yeux, plus belle encore,
Parut Eudoxie aujourd’hui;
Plus d’un printemps la vit éclore,
Charmante et jeune comme lui.
Signy-Mondieu-Mondieu seems to hint at “vrai singe” and “mon Dieu” in young Pushkin’s French poems. On the other hand, in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931) Ostap Bender exclaims mon Dieu! (“my God!”) and then repeats this phrase in German, mein Gott:
Гостиница «Карлсбад» была давно покинута. Все антилоповцы, за исключением Козлевича, поселились в «Вороньей слободке» у Васисуалия Лоханкина, чрезвычайно этим скандализованного. Он даже пытался протестовать, указывая на то, что сдавал комнату не трем, а одному — одинокому холостяку. «Мон дье, Васисуалий Андреевич, — отвечал Остап беззаботно, — не мучьте себя. Ведь интеллигентный-то из всех трёх я один, так что условие соблюдено!»
На дальнейшие сетования хозяина Бендер рассудительно молвил: «Майн Готт, дорогой Васисуалий! Может быть, именно в этом великая сермяжная правда! » И Лоханкин сразу успокоился, выпросив у Остапа двадцать рублей. Паниковский и Балаганов отлично ужились в «Вороньей слободке», и их голоса уверенно звучали в общем квартирном хоре. Паниковского успели даже обвинить в том, что он по ночам отливает керосин из чужих примусов. Митрич не преминул сделать Остапу какое-то ворчливое замечание, на что великий комбинатор молча толкнул его в грудь.
The Carlsbad Hotel had long been abandoned. All the Antelopeans, except Kozlevich, had moved to the Crow’s Nest to stay with Vasisualiy Lokhankin, which scandalized him to no end. He even tried to protest, pointing out that he had offered the room to one person, not three, and to a respectable bachelor at that. "Mon dieu, Vasisualiy Andreevich," said Ostap nonchalantly, "stop torturing yourself. Of the three of us, I'm the only one who's respectable, so your conditions have been met.”
As the landlord continued to lament, Bender added weightily: "Mein Gott, dear Vasisualiy! Maybe that's exactly what the Great Homespun Truth is all about.” Lokhankin promptly gave in and hit Bender up for twenty rubles. Panikovsky and Balaganov fit in very well at the Rookery, and their self-assured voices soon joined the apartment's chorus. Panikovsky was even accused of stealing kerosene from other people's Primus stoves at night. Mitrich, never one to miss an opportunity, made some nitpicking remark to Ostap. In response, the grand strategist silently shoved him in the chest. (Chapter 15 “Antlers and Hoofs”)
Vasisualiy Lokhankin’s favorite book (the only thing that he saves when the Crow’s Nest burns down) is the fat volume Muzhchina i zhenshchina (“Man and Woman”). At the end of Ada Dr Lagosse (old Van’s and Ada’s doctor who gives them the last merciful injection of morphine) exclaims: “Quel livre, mon Dieu, mon Dieu” (“What a book, my God, my God”):
Their recently built castle in Ex was inset in a crystal winter. In the latest Who’s Who the list of his main papers included by some bizarre mistake the title of a work he had never written, though planned to write many pains: Unconsciousness and the Unconscious. There was no pain to do it now — and it was high pain for Ada to be completed. ‘Quel livre, mon Dieu, mon Dieu,’ Dr [Professor. Ed.] Lagosse exclaimed, weighing the master copy which the flat pale parents of the future Babes, in the brown-leaf Woods, a little book in the Ardis Hall nursery, could no longer prop up in the mysterious first picture: two people in one bed. (5.6)
The names Froid and Froit hint at Sigmund Freud. In “The Golden Calf” Bender tells Khvorobyev (the old monarchist who is tormented by Soviet dreams) that he treated his friends using Freud’s methods:
-- Я вам помогу, - сказал Остап. - Мне приходилось лечить друзей и знакомых по Фрейду. Сон - это пустяки. Главное - это устранить причину сна. Основной причиной является самое существование советской власти. Но в данный момент я устранять ее не могу. У меня просто нет времени. Я, видите ли, турист-спортсмен, сейчас мне надо произвести небольшую починку своего автомобиля, так что разрешите закатить его к вам в сарай. А насчет причины вы не беспокойтесь. Я ее устраню на обратном пути. Дайте только пробег окончить.
"I’ll help you,” Ostap said. “I've treated several friends and acquaintances using Freud's methods. Dreams are not the issue. The main thing is to remove the cause of the dream. The principal cause of your dreams is the very existence of the Soviet regime. But I can’t remove right now. I’m in a hurry. I'm on a sports tour, you see, and my car needs a few small repairs. Would you mind if I put it in your shed? As for the cause of your dreams, don't worry, I'll take care of it on the way back. Just let me finish the rally.” (Chapter 8 “The Artistic Crisis”)
One of the chapters of “The Golden Calf” is entitled “Jahrbuch für Psychoanalytik.” In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Ostap Bender dances a tango to the tune “Under the hot sky of Argentina:”
И самовар запел:
Под знойным небом Аргентины,
Где небо южное так сине...
Великий комбинатор танцевал танго.
The samovar broke into a song:
Under the hot sky of Argentina,
Where the southern skies are blue…
The grand strategist was dancing a tango. (chapter XX “The Captain Dances a Tango”)
As Mascodagama, Van dances a tango on his hands to the same tune:
Neither was the sheer physical pleasure of maniambulation a negligible factor, and the peacock blotches with which the carpet stained the palms of his hands during his gloveless dance routine seemed to be the reflections of a richly colored nether world that he had been the first to discover. For the tango, which completed his number on his last tour, he was given a partner, a Crimean cabaret dancer in a very short scintillating frock cut very low on the back. She sang the tango tune in Russian:
Pod znóynïm nébom Argentínï,
Pod strástnïy góvor mandoliny
‘Neath sultry sky of Argentina,
To the hot hum of mandolina
Fragile, red-haired ‘Rita’ (he never learned her real name), a pretty Karaite from Chufut Kale, where, she nostalgically said, the Crimean cornel, kizil’, bloomed yellow among the arid rocks, bore an odd resemblance to Lucette as she was to look ten years later. During their dance, all Van saw of her were her silver slippers turning and marching nimbly in rhythm with the soles of his hands. He recouped himself at rehearsals, and one night asked her for an assignation. She indignantly refused, saying she adored her husband (the make-up fellow) and loathed England. (1.30)
Pod sladkiy lepet mandoliny (“to a mandolin's sweet murmur,” as Bender puts it) the Polish priests Kushakovski and Moroshek (the characters in “The Golden Calf”) try to revert to Roman Catholicism their compatriot, Adam Kozlevich (the driver of the Antelope Gnu car). Serdtse shofyora (“The Chauffeur’s Heart”), a chapter in “The Golden Calf,” brings to mind a scene in Ada (when Van leaves the Kalugano hospital in Cordula’s car):
She was a good sport — little Cordula de Prey. Next moment he was sitting beside her in the car, which was backing gateward. Two nurses came running and gesturing toward them, and the chauffeur asked in French if the Countess wished him to stop.
‘Non, non, non!’ cried Van in high glee and they sped away.
Panting, Cordula said:
‘My mother rang me up from Malorukino’ (their country estate at Malbrook, Mayne): ‘the local papers said you had fought a duel. You look a tower of health, I’m so glad. I knew something nasty must have happened because little Russel, Dr Platonov’s grandson — remember? — saw you from his side of the train beating up an officer on the station platform. But, first of all, Van, net, pozhaluysta, on nas vidit (no, please, he sees us), I have some very bad news for you. Young Fraser, who has just been flown back from Yalta, saw Percy killed on the second day of the invasion, less than a week after they had left Goodson airport. He will tell you the whole story himself, it accumulates more and more dreadful details with every telling, Fraser does not seem to have shined in the confusion, that’s why, I suppose, he keeps straightening things out.’ (1.42)
Van compares Dorofey (the male nurse in the Lakeview hospital where Van recovers from a wound received in a pistol duel with Captain Tapper) to Onegin’s coachman:
That day came soon enough. After a long journey down corridors where pretty little things tripped by, shaking thermometers, and first an ascent and then a descent in two different lifts, the second of which was very capacious with a metal-handled black lid propped against its wall and bits of holly or laurel here and there on the soap-smelling floor, Dorofey, like Onegin’s coachman, said priehali (‘we have arrived’) and gently propelled Van, past two screened beds, toward a third one near the window. There he left Van, while he seated himself at a small table in the door corner and leisurely unfolded the Russian-language newspaper Golos (Logos). (1.42)
In a draft of EO (One: LII: 9) Onegin's coachman Ivan says “Priekhali!” (we have arrived):
Приехали! сказал Иван.
The only Dorofey mentioned by Pushkin is Yezerski's ancestor (who gave birth to twelve sons) in Rodoslovnaya moego geroya (“The Pedigree of my Hero,” 1836):
От них два сына рождены:
Якуб и Дорофей. В засаде
Убит Якуб, а Дорофей
Родил двенадцать сыновей.
The name Yezerski comes from yezero (an obsolete form of ozero, lake). The name Onegin comes from Onega (a river and a lake in NW Russia). Like Pushkin’s Onegin, VN was born upon the Neva’s banks. Neva means “peat bog” in Finnish. The name Veen means “peat bog” in Dutch.
Reading Van’s palm, Demon Veen seems to predict his own death in an airplane disaster (3.7). In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Elena Stanislavovna Bour (Vorob'yaninov’s former mistress) reads Mme Gritsatsuev’s palm:
Набело гадали по руке. Линии руки вдовы Грицацуевой были чисты, мощны и безукоризненны. Линия жизни простиралась так далеко, что конец ее заехал в пульс, и если линия говорила правду, вдова должна была бы дожить до страшного суда. Линия ума и искусства давали право надеяться, что вдова бросит торговлю бакалеей и подарит человечеству непревзойденные шедевры в какой угодно области искусства, науки или обществоведения. Бугры Венеры у вдовы походили на маньчжурские сопки и обнаруживали чудесные запасы любви и нежности. Все это гадалка объяснила вдове, употребляя слова и термины, принятые в среде графологов, хиромантов и лошадиных барышников.
A fair copy of the prediction was made from the widow's hand. The lines of her hand were clean, powerful, and faultless. Her life line stretched so far that it ended up at her pulse and, if it told the truth, the widow should have lived till doomsday. The head line and line of brilliancy gave reason to believe that she would give up her grocery business and present mankind with masterpieces in the realm of art, science, and social studies. Her Mounts of Venus resembled Manchurian volcanoes and revealed incredible reserves of love and affection. The fortune-teller explained all this to the widow, using the words and phrases current among graphologists, palmists, and horse-traders. (Chapter 10 “The Mechanic, the Parrot and the Fortune-Teller”)
"A passionate woman, a poet’s dream," Mme Gritsatsuev brings to mind the Gritz hotel mentioned by Van in the Flavia chapter of Ada:
The set [of Flavita] our three children received in 1884 from an old friend of the family (as Marina’s former lovers were known), Baron Klim Avidov, consisted of a large folding board of saffian and a boxful of weighty rectangles of ebony inlaid with platinum letters, only one of which was a Roman one, namely the letter J on the two joker blocks (as thrilling to get as a blank check signed by Jupiter or Jurojin). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter’s lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one’s name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)
The Antiterran name of Russian Scrabble, Flavita comes from alfavit (alphabet). Baron Klim Avidov is an anagram of Vladimir Nabokov. One of the chapters of "The Twelve Chairs" is entitled Alfavit "Zerkalo zhizni" ("The Mirror-of-Life Index"). In Stargorod (where Bender marries Mme Gritsatsuev) Bender, Vorob'yaninov and Father Fyodor (the three diamond hunters) stop at the Sorbonne Furnished Rooms:
Остановились они в меблированных комнатах «Сорбонна».
They stopped at the Sorbonne Furnished Rooms. (Chapter 11 "The Mirror-of-Life Index")
The name Vorob'yaninov comes from vorobey (sparrow). On his first morning at Ardis Van makes a pass at Blanche, a French handmaid who mentions the sparrow and Monsieur Bouteillan (the French butler):
The front door proved to be bolted and chained. He tried the glassed and grilled side door of a blue-garlanded gallery; it, too, did not yield. Being still unaware that under the stairs an in conspicuous recess concealed an assortment of spare keys (some very old and anonymous, hanging from brass hooks) and communicated though a toolroom with a secluded part of the garden, Van wandered through several reception rooms in search of an obliging window. In a corner room he found, standing at a tall window, a young chambermaid whom he had glimpsed (and promised himself to investigate) on the preceding evening. She wore what his father termed with a semi-assumed leer ‘soubret black and frissonet frill’; a tortoiseshell comb in her chestnut hair caught the amber light; the French window was open, and she was holding one hand, starred with a tiny aquamarine, rather high on the jamb as she looked at a sparrow that was hopping up the paved path toward the bit of baby-toed biscuit she had thrown to him. Her cameo profile, her cute pink nostril, her long, French, lily-white neck, the outline, both full and frail, of her figure (male lust does not go very far for descriptive felicities!), and especially the savage sense of opportune license moved Van so robustly that he could not resist clasping the wrist of her raised tight-sleeved arm. Freeing it, and confirming by the coolness of her demeanor that she had sensed his approach, the girl turned her attractive, though almost eyebrowless, face toward him and asked him if he would like a cup of tea before breakfast. No. What was her name? Blanche — but Mlle Larivière called her ‘Cendrillon’ because her stockings got so easily laddered, see, and because she broke and mislaid things, and confused flowers. His loose attire revealed his desire; this could not escape a girl’s notice, even if color-blind, and as he drew up still closer, while looking over her head for a suitable couch to take shape in some part of this magical manor — where any place, as in Casanova’s remembrances could be dream-changed into a sequestered seraglio nook — she wiggled out of his reach completely and delivered a little soliloquy in her soft Ladoran French:
‘Monsieur a quinze ans, je crois, et moi, je sais, j’en ai dixneuf. Monsieur is a nobleman; I am a poor peat-digger’s daughter. Monsieur a tâté, sans doute, des filles de la ville; quant à moi, je suis vierge, ou peu s’en faut. De plus, were I to fall in love with you — I mean really in love — and I might, alas, if you possessed me rien qu’une petite fois — it would be, for me, only grief, and infernal fire, and despair, and even death, Monsieur. Finalement, I might add that I have the whites and must see le Docteur Chronique, I mean Crolique, on my next day off. Now we have to separate, the sparrow has disappeared, I see, and Monsieur Bouteillan has entered the next room, and can perceive us clearly in that mirror above the sofa behind that silk screen.’ (1.7)
The name Bouteillan comes from bouteille (bottle). In his Couplets (1817) Pushkin mentions vos bouteilles (your bottles):
Mais tête-à-tête avec sa belle,
Ou bien avec des gens d’esprit,
Le vrai bonheur se renouvelle,
On est content, l’on chante, on rit.
Prolongez vos paisibles veilles,
Et chantez vers la fin du soir
À vos amis, à vos bouteilles:
Jusqu’au plaisir de nous revoir.
Blanch marries Trofim Fartukov, the Russian coachman in "Ardis the Second:"
‘Isn’t that wheezy Jones in the second row? I always liked the old fellow.’
‘No,’ answered Ada, ‘that’s Price. Jones came four years later. He is now a prominent policeman in Lower Ladore. Well, that’s all.’
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 early 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.’
‘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)
In Pushkin's poem Ot vsenoshchnoy vechor idya domoy...("Last night, going home from the night service..." 1914-17) Marfushka mentions svat (in-law's father) Trofim:
От всенощной вечор идя домой,
Антипьевна с Марфушкою бранилась;
Антипьевна отменно горячилась.
"Постой, - кричит, - управлюсь я с тобой;
Ты думаешь, что я уж позабыла
Ту ночь, когда, забравшись в уголок,
Ты с крестником Ванюшкою шалила?
Постой, о всем узнает муженёк!"
- Тебе ль грозить! - Марфушка отвечает:
Ванюша - что? Ведь он еще дитя;
А сват Трофим, который у тебя
И день, и ночь? Весь город это знает.
Молчи ж, кума: и ты, как я, грешна,
А всякого словами разобидишь;
В чужой.... соломинку ты видишь,
А у себя не видишь и бревна.
In Chekhov's story Pis'mo k uchyonomu sosedu ("A Letter to the Learned Neighbor," 1880) Vasiliy Semi-Bulatov mentions klyuchnik (steward) Trofim. In a letter of June 12, 1891, to Lika Mizinov Chekhov mentions lomovoy izvozchik (the drayman) Trophim [sic] whose comapny would enrich Lika's vocabulaty with foul words. Instead of signature Chekhov drew a heart pierced with an arrow. As pointed out by Mlle Larivière (Lucette's governess), Ardis means in Greek "point of an arrow" (1.36). The characters in Chekhov's play Vishnyovyi sad ("The Cherry Orchard," 1904) include Petya Trofimov and Gaev (Mme Ranevski's brother who plays billiard). Van tells Demon that Ada likes what all our belles like — balls, orchids, and The Cherry Orchard (1.38). Describing the Night of the Burning Barn (when he and Ada make love for the first time), Van compares Marina to Mme Ranevski and himself, to Firs (the old footman in Chekhov's play):
That night because of the bothersome blink of remote sheet lightning through the black hearts of his sleeping-arbor, Van had abandoned his two tulip trees and gone to bed in his room. The tumult in the house and the maid’s shriek interrupted a rare, brilliant, dramatic dream, whose subject he was unable to recollect later, although he still held it in a saved jewel box. As usual, he slept naked, and wavered now between pulling on a pair of shorts, or draping himself in his tartan lap robe. He chose the second course, rattled a matchbox, lit his bedside candle, and swept out of his room, ready to save Ada and all her larvae. The corridor was dark, somewhere the dachshund was barking ecstatically. Van gleaned from subsiding cries that the so-called ‘baronial barn,’ a huge beloved structure three miles away, was on fire. Fifty cows would have been without hay and Larivière without her midday coffee cream had it happened later in the season. Van felt slighted. They’ve all gone and left me behind, as old Fierce mumbles at the end of the Cherry Orchard (Marina was an adequate Mme Ranevski). (1.19)
Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother, Marina Durmanova is a professional actress. In Chekhov's story Pervyi lyubovnik ("The Jeune Premier," 1886) the actor Podzharov exclaims "Mon Dieu, what women!":
— Да-с, сеньор! — часто говорил он, грациозно болтая ногой и показывая свои красные чулки. — Артист должен действовать на массы посредственно и непосредственно; первое достигается служением на сцене, второе — знакомством с обывателями. Честное слово, parole d’honneur, не понимаю, отчего это наш брат актёр избегает знакомств с семейными домами? Отчего? Не говоря уж об обедах, именинах, пирогах, суарэфиксах, не говоря уж о развлечениях, какое нравственное влияние он может иметь на общество! Разве не приятно сознание, что ты заронил искру в какую-нибудь толстокожую башку? А типы! А женщины! Mon Dieu, что за женщины! Голова кружится! Заберёшься в какой-нибудь купеческий домище, в заветные терема, выберешь апельсинчик посвежее и румянее и — блаженство. Parole d’honneur!
"Yes, signor," he would often say, gracefully swinging his foot and displaying his red socks, "an artist ought to act upon the masses, both directly and indirectly; the first aim is attained by his work on the stage, the second by an acquaintance with the local inhabitants. On my honour, parole d'honneur, I don't understand why it is we actors avoid making acquaintance with local families. Why is it? To say nothing of dinners, name-day parties, feasts, soirees fixes, to say nothing of these entertainments, think of the moral influence we may have on society! Is it not agreeable to feel one has dropped a spark in some thick skull? The types one meets! The women! Mon Dieu, what women! they turn one's head! One penetrates into some huge merchant's house, into the sacred retreats, and picks out some fresh and rosy little peach-- it's heaven, parole d'honneur!"
The surname Podzharov comes from podzharyi (lean). As she speaks to Van, Dorothy Vinelander (Ada's sister-in-law) mentions the podzharye cowboys who were fired because they ogled Ada:
‘How did you like my brother?’ asked Dorothy. ‘On redchayshiy chelovek (he’s a most rare human being). I can’t tell you how profoundly affected he was by the terrible death of your father, and, of course, by Lucette’s bizarre end. Even he, the kindest of men, could not help disapproving of her Parisian sans-gêne, but he greatly admired her looks — as I think you also did — no, no, do not negate it! — because, as I have always said, her prettiness seemed to complement Ada’s, the two halves forming together something like perfect beauty, in the Platonic sense’ (that cheerless smile again). ‘Ada is certainly a "perfect beauty," a real muirninochka — even when she winces like that — but she is beautiful only in our little human terms, within the quotes of our social esthetics — right, Professor? — in the way a meal or a marriage or a little French tramp can be called perfect.’
‘Drop her a curtsey,’ gloomily remarked Van to Ada.
‘Oh, my Adochka knows how devoted I am to her’ — (opening her palm in the wake of Ada’s retreating hand). ‘I’ve shared all her troubles. How many podzharïh (tight-crotched) cowboys we’ve had to fire because they delali ey glazki (ogled her)! And how many bereavements we’ve gone through since the new century started! Her mother and my mother; the Archbishop of Ivankover and Dr Swissair of Lumbago (where mother and I reverently visited him in 1888); three distinguished uncles (whom, fortunately, I hardly knew); and your father, who, I’ve always maintained, resembled a Russian aristocrat much more than he did an Irish Baron. Incidentally, in her deathbed delirium — you don’t mind, Ada, if I divulge to him ces potins de famille? — our splendid Marina was obsessed by two delusions, which mutually excluded each other — that you were married to Ada and that you and she were brother and sister, and the clash between those two ideas caused her intense mental anguish. How does your school of psychiatry explain that kind of conflict?’
‘I don’t attend school any longer,’ said Van, stifling a yawn; ‘and, furthermore, in my works, I try not to "explain" anything, I merely describe.’
‘Still, you cannot deny that certain insights —’ (3.8)
Dorothy Vinelander marries a Mr. Brod or Bred:
After helping her to nurse Andrey at Agavia Ranch through a couple of acrimonious years (she begrudged Ada every poor little hour devoted to collecting, mounting, and rearing!), and then taking exception to Ada’s choosing the famous and excellent Grotonovich Clinic (for her husband’s endless periods of treatment) instead of Princess Alashin’s select sanatorium, Dorothy Vinelander retired to a subarctic monastery town (Ilemna, now Novostabia) where eventually she married a Mr Brod or Bred, tender and passionate, dark and handsome, who traveled in eucharistials and other sacramental objects throughout the Severnïya Territorii and who subsequently was to direct, and still may be directing half a century later, archeological reconstructions at Goreloe (the ‘Lyaskan Herculanum’); what treasures he dug up in matrimony is another question. (ibid.)
Bred ("Delirium," 1955) is a novel by Aldanov. As he speaks to Shell (the novel's main character, a spy), the Soviet Colonel mentions asei (as the Englishmen were once called in Russia; from "I say"):
-- Исчезнет Черчилль, и асеи выйдут в тираж, кончена будет совсем Англия как великая держава, -- говорил полковник. Он произносил имя Черчилля с ударением на втором слоге. "Никто и в России уже лет сто не называет англичан "асеями", там и не знают слов "I say". (chapter IV)
Examining Van's palm, Demon uses the phrase "I say" (presumably, in imitation of some of his London pals). Bred rhymes with vred (harm). Chekhov is the author of the two monologue scenes O vrede tabaka ("On the Harm of Tobacco," 1886, 1903). Ada's husband, Andrey Vinelander is a heavy smoker who dies, like Chekhov, of tuberculosis:
Andrey had had a first copious hemorrhage while on a business trip to Phoenix sometime in August. A stubborn, independent, not overbright optimist, he had ascribed it to a nosebleed having gone the wrong way and concealed it from everybody so as to avoid ‘stupid talks.’ He had had for years a two-pack smoker’s fruity cough, but when a few days after that first ‘postnasal blood drip’ he spat a scarlet gob into his washbasin, he resolved to cut down on cigarettes and limit himself to tsigarki (cigarillos). The next contretemps occurred in Ada’s presence, just before they left for Europe; he managed to dispose of his bloodstained handkerchief before she saw it, but she remembered him saying’ Vot te na’ (well, that’s odd) in a bothered voice. Believing with most other Estotians that the best doctors were to be found in Central Europe, he told himself he would see a Zurich specialist whose name he got from a member of his ‘lodge’ (meeting place of brotherly moneymakers), if he again coughed up blood. The American hospital in Valvey, next to the Russian church built by Vladimir Chevalier, his granduncle, proved to be good enough for diagnosing advanced tuberculosis of the left lung. (ibid.)
In Chekhov's story Khameleon ("Chameleon," 1884) Khryukin put a tsigarka in the dog's face:
— Он, ваше благородие, цыгаркой ей в харю для смеха, а она — не будь дура и тяпни... Вздорный человек, ваше благородие!
"He put a cigarillo in her face, your honour, for a joke, and she had the sense to snap at him. . . . He is a nonsensical fellow, your honour!"
The title of Chekhov's story brings to mind "chameleonizations" mentioned by Van when he describes his first novel Letters from Terra:
Moreover, although reference works existed on library shelves in available, and redundant, profusion, no direct access could be obtained to the banned, or burned, books of the three cosmologists, Xertigny, Yates and Zotov (pen names), who had recklessly started the whole business half a century earlier, causing, and endorsing, panic, demency and execrable romanchiks. All three scientists had vanished now: X had committed suicide; Y had been kidnapped by a laundryman and transported to Tartary; and Z, a ruddy, white-whiskered old sport, was driving his Yakima jailers crazy by means of incomprehensible crepitations, ceaseless invention of invisible inks, chameleonizations, nerve signals, spirals of out-going lights and feats of ventriloquism that imitated pistol shots and sirens. (2.2)
According to Van, he derived the name of the novel's main character from that of Aqua's last doctor (Sig Heiler or "Her Doktor Sig," as Aqua called him in her last note):
Poor Van! In his struggle to keep the writer of the letters from Terra strictly separate from the image of Ada, he gilt and carmined Theresa until she became a paragon of banality. This Theresa maddened with her messages a scientist on our easily maddened planet; his anagram-looking name, Sig Leymanksi, had been partly derived by Van from that of Aqua’s last doctor. (ibid.)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Sig Leymanski: anagram of the name of a waggish British novelist keenly interested in physics fiction.
"A waggish British novelist" is Kingsley Amis, the author of "New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction" (1960). Aqua's last note was signed "My sister's sister who teper' iz ada (now is out of hell)." Chekhov's story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p'yanitsy ("Woman as Seen by a Drunkard," 1885), in which girls under sixteen are compared to distilled water, is signed Brat moego brata (My brother's brother).
The narrator and main character of VN's novel Lolita (1955), Humbert Humbert would disagree with Chekhov's hero. For Humbert Humbert (who loves nymphets, little girls) the sweetest word in the language is certainly Lolita:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. (1.1)
On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) VN's Lolita is known as The Gitanilla, a novel by the Spanish writer Osberg:
For the big picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday and Ida’s forty-second jour de fête, the child was permitted to wear her lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg’s novel and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish ‘t,’ not a thick English one), a rather long, but very airy and ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies, ‘deficient in botanical reality,’ as she grandly expressed it, not yet knowing that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of this, and only this, dream. (1.13)
In our world La Gitanilla is a novella by Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. According to Ada, in his old age Demon Veen looked "positively Quixotic:"
‘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.’ (3.8)
Ada played the gitanilla in Yuzlik's film Don Juan's Last Fling (that Van and Lucette watch in the Tobakoff cinema hall, 3.5). In a letter to Van (written after Lucette's suicide) Demon says that, after the film's release, Osberg complained that the gitanilla sequence was stolen from his novel:
I have followed your instructions, anent that letter, to the letter. Your epistolary style is so involute that I should suspect the presence of a code, had I not known you belonged to the Decadent School of writing, in company of naughty old Leo and consumptive Anton. I do not give a damn whether you slept or not with Lucette; but I know from Dorothy Vinelander that the child had been in love with you.The film you saw was, no doubt, Don Juan’s Last Fling in which Ada, indeed, impersonates (very beautifully) a Spanish girl. A jinx has been cast on our poor girl’s career. Howard Hool argued after the release that he had been made to play an impossible cross between two Dons; that initially Yuzlik (the director) had meant to base his ‘fantasy’ on Cervantes’s crude romance; that some scraps of the basic script stuck like dirty wool to the final theme; and that if you followed closely the sound track you could hear a fellow reveler in the tavern scene address Hool twice as ‘Quicks.’ Hool managed to buy up and destroy a number of copies while others have been locked up by the lawyer of the writer Osberg, who claims the gitanilla sequence was stolen from one of his own concoctions. In result it is impossible to purchase a reel of the picture which will vanish like the proverbial smoke once it has fizzled out on provincial screens. Come and have dinner with me on July 10. Evening dress. (3.6)
Osberg is an anagram of Borges (the Argentinean writer J. L. Borges, 1899-1986). Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (1939) is a story by Borges. Menard rhymes with billard (billiard in French), babillard and braillard. The latter word brings to mind the braille alphabet (after Louis Braille, the inventor of a system of reading and writing for use by the blind). According to Van, Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whom Van blinded for spying on him and Ada and blackmailing Ada) gets from him loads of nicely brailled books on new processes in chromophotography:
‘I would have killed myself too, had I found Rose wailing over your corpse. "Secondes pensées sont les bonnes," as your other, white, bonne used to say in her pretty patois. As to the apron, you are quite right. And what you did not make out was that the artist had about finished a large picture of your meek little palazzo standing between its two giant guards. Perhaps for the cover of a magazine, which rejected that picture. But, you know, there’s one thing I regret,’ she added: ‘Your use of an alpenstock to release a brute’s fury — not yours, not my Van’s. I should never have told you about the Ladore policeman. You should never have taken him into your confidence, never connived with him to burn those files — and most of Kalugano’s pine forest. Eto unizitel’no (it is humiliating).’
‘Amends have been made,’ replied fat Van with a fat man’s chuckle. ‘I’m keeping Kim safe and snug in a nice Home for Disabled Professional People, where he gets from me loads of nicely brailled books on new processes in chromophotography.’ (2.11)
Like Louis Braille, Gogol was born in 1809 and died in 1852. Gogol's story Portet ("The Portrait," 1835) brings to mind Pushkin's poem Mon Portrait.
A Home for Disabled Professional People brings to mind a "Home for Blind Blacks" (in Ada's letter to Van):
I have just read Reflections in Sidra, by Ivan Veen, and I regard it as a grand piece, dear Professor. The ‘lost shafts of destiny’ and other poetical touches reminded me of the two or three times you had tea and muffins at our place in the country about twenty years ago. I was, you remember (presumptuous phrase!), a petite fille modèle practicing archery near a vase and a parapet and you were a shy schoolboy (with whom, as my mother guessed, I may have been a wee bit in love!), who dutifully picked up the arrows I lost in the lost shrubbery of the lost castle of poor Lucette’s and happy, happy Adette’s childhood, now a ‘Home for Blind Blacks’ — both my mother and L., I’m sure, would have backed Dasha’s advice to turn it over to her Sect. (3.7)
and a Home for Stray Females mentioned by Ada at the dinner with Van after their longest separation:
‘When I was a kid,’ said Van, ‘and stayed for the first — or rather, second — time in Switzerland, I thought that "Verglas" on roadway signs stood for some magical town, always around the corner, at the bottom of every snowy slope, never seen, but biding its time. I got your cable in the Engadine where there are real magical places, such as Alraun or Alruna — which means a tiny Arabian demon in a German wizard’s mirror. By the way, we have the old apartment upstairs with an additional bedroom, number five-zero-eight.’
‘Oh dear. I’m afraid you must cancel poor 508. If I stayed for the night, 510 would do for both of us, but I’ve got bad news for you. I can’t stay. I must go back to Geneva directly after dinner to retrieve my things and maids, whom the authorities have apparently put in a Home for Stray Females because they could not pay the absolutely medieval new droits de douane — isn’t Switzerland in Washington State, sort of, après tout? Look, don’t scowl’ — (patting his brown blotched hand on which their shared birthmark had got lost among the freckles of age, like a babe in autumn woods, on peut les suivre en reconnaissant only Mascodagama’s disfigured thumb and the beautiful almond-shaped nails) — ‘I promise to get in touch with you in a day or two, and then we’ll go on a cruise to Greece with the Baynards — they have a yacht and three adorable daughters who still swim in the tan, okay?’
‘I don’t know what I loathe more,’ he replied, ‘yachts or Baynards; but can I help you in Geneva?’
He could not. Baynard had married his Cordula, after a sensational divorce — Scotch veterinaries had had to saw off her husband’s antlers (last call for that joke). (Part Four)
Like billiard and milliard, Baynard (the name of Cordula's second husband) ends in ard. Ardis, ardor (the full title VN's novel is Ada of Ardor: A Family Chronicle) and Ardennes (Signy-Mondieu-Mondieu is a place in the Ardennes) begin with ard.
Alraun or Alruna seem to hint at Alraune (1911), a novel by H. H. Ewers. In his poem Segodnya ("Today," 1922) Bryusov mentions Mandragory (the Mandrakes) dancing all over the countries and in a footnote explains that it is an allusion to a novel popular in the post-war Germany (Alraune is German for "mandrake"). In his poem Bryusov also mentions nash Sovetskiy ostrov (our Soviet island) and zelyonye sklony Gavayi (the green slopes of the Hawaii). Demon Veen perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific in the Gavaille region:
In the fourth or fifth worst airplane disaster of the young century, a gigantic flying machine had inexplicably disintegrated at fifteen thousand feet above the Pacific between Lisiansky and Laysanov Islands in the Gavaille region. (3.7)
According to Van, his father was portrayed by Vrubel:
Ardis, Manhattan, Mont Roux, our little rousse is dead. Vrubel's wonderful picture of Father, those demented diamonds staring at me, painted into me. (3.8)
Mikhail Vrubel is the author of "Demon Seated" and "Demon Thrown Down." Vrubel's last painting is the portrait of Valeriy Bryusov (1906).
In Chapter Three of his poem Vozmezdie ("Retribution," 1910-21) Alexander Blok mentions Vrubel who was devastated by the Demon:
Его опустошает Демон,
Над коим Врубель изнемог...
In the Foreword to "Retribution" Blok mentions "a prophetic article" Blizost' bol'shoy voiny ("The Nearness of a Big War") that appeared in 1911 in one of the Moscow newspapers:
Весной 1911 года П. Н. Милюков прочёл интереснейшую лекцию под заглавием "Вооружённый мир и сокращение вооружений". В одной из
московских газет появилась пророческая статья: "Близость большой войны".
The newspaper was Utro Rossii ("Russia's Morning") and the article's author, A. P. Mertvago. On Antiterra Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago (1957) is known as Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor (1.8), and Mertvago Forever (2.5). The first poem in Pasternak's collection Sestra moya zhizn' (My Sister Life, 1919) is entitled Pamyati Demona ("In Memory of the Demon"). According to Demon Veen, as a palmist, he is puzzled by the strange condition of the Sister of Van's Life.
At the beginning of his essay Vozle "russkoi idei" (Near "the Russian Idea," 1911) Rozanov mentions several extremely interesting and even exciting articles on the present and future of Russia that T. Ardov (a penname of Vladimir Tardov) published in Utro Rossii:
Г-н Т. Ардов напечатал в "Утре России" несколько в высшей степени интересных статей о настоящем и будущем России... И не интересных только, но даже волнующих.
Van and Ada are siblings and life-long lovers. In his diary (the entry of Nov. 14, 1911) Blok mentions Rozanov who persuades his readers to mix their blood with sisters and animals:
Надо найти в арийской культуре взор, который бы смог бестрепетно и спокойно (торжественно) взглянуть в «любопытный, чёрный и пристальный и голый» взгляд — 1) старика в трамвае, 2) автора того письма к одной провокаторше, которое однажды читал вслух Сологуб в бывшем Cafe de France, 3) Меньшикова, продающего нас японцам, 4) Розанова, убеждающего смеситься с сёстрами и со зверями, 5) битого Суворина, 6) дамы на НЕBCKOM, 7) немецко-российского мужеложца...
Rozanov is the author of Opavshie list’ya (“Fallen Leaves,” 1913). On the morning after the Night of the Burning Barn Ada shows to Van her translation from Coppée:
After she too had finished breakfasting, he waylaid her, gorged with sweet butter, on the landing. They had one moment to plan things, it was all, historically speaking, at the dawn of the novel which was still in the hands of parsonage ladies and French academicians, so such moments were precious. She stood scratching one raised knee. They agreed to go for a walk before lunch and find a secluded place. She had to finish a translation for Mlle Larivière. She showed him her draft. François Coppée? Yes.
Their fall is gentle. The woodchopper
Can tell, before they reach the mud,
The oak tree by its leaf of copper,
The maple by its leaf of blood.
‘Leur chute est lente,’ said Van, ‘on peut les suivre du regard en reconnaissant — that paraphrastic touch of "chopper" and "mud" is, of course, pure Lowden (minor poet and translator, 1815-1895). Betraying the first half of the stanza to save the second is rather like that Russian nobleman who chucked his coachman to the wolves, and then fell out of his sleigh.’
‘I think you are very cruel and stupid,’ said Ada. ‘This is not meant to be a work of art or a brilliant parody. It is the ransom exacted by a demented governess from a poor overworked schoolgirl. Wait for me in the Baguenaudier Bower,’ she added. ‘I’ll be down in exactly sixty-three minutes.’ (1.20)
Before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Van recites Ada’s (or, more likely, his own) version of Coppée’s poem, prefacing "the effort of a cousin" by a snatch of Pushkin:
‘Old storytelling devices,’ said Van, ‘may be parodied only by very great and inhuman artists, but only close relatives can be forgiven for paraphrasing illustrious poems. Let me preface the effort of a cousin — anybody’s cousin — by a snatch of Pushkin, for the sake of rhyme —’
‘For the snake of rhyme!’ cried Ada. ‘A paraphrase, even my paraphrase, is like the corruption of "snakeroot" into "snagrel" — all that remains of a delicate little birthwort.’
‘Which is amply sufficient,’ said Demon, ‘for my little needs, and those of my little friends.’
‘So here goes,’ continued Van (ignoring what he felt was an indecent allusion, since the unfortunate plant used to be considered by the ancient inhabitants of the Ladore region not so much as a remedy for the bite of a reptile, as the token of a very young woman’s easy delivery; but no matter). ‘By chance preserved has been the poem. In fact, I have it. Here it is: Leur chute est lente and one can know ‘em...’
‘Oh, I know ‘em,’ interrupted Demon:
‘Leur chute est lente. On peut les suivre
Du regard en reconnaissant
Le chêne à sa feuille de cuivre
L’érable à sa feuille de sang
‘Yes, that was Coppée and now comes the cousin,’ said Van, and he recited:
‘Their fall is gentle. The leavesdropper
Can follow each of them and know
The oak tree by its leaf of copper,
The maple by its blood-red glow.’
‘Pah!’ uttered the versionist.
‘Not at all!’ cried Demon. ‘That "leavesdropper" is a splendid trouvaille, girl.’ He pulled the girl to him, she landing on the arm of his Klubsessel, and he glued himself with thick moist lips to her hot red ear through the rich black strands. Van felt a shiver of delight. (1.38)
Lucette’s governess, Mlle Larivière writes fiction under the penname Guillaume de Monparnasse (the leaving out of the ‘t’ made it more intime). In a letter of March 28, 1820, Pushkin sends to Vyazemski a little poem in which he mentions deux grands auteurs, les héros du Parnasse (two great authors, the heroes of Parnassus):
Deux grands auteurs, les héros du Parnasse
Sont par le monde et choyés et chéris.
En vain leur Muse et détonne et grimace,
Des Visigoths ils sont les favoris.
Certain Quidam distinguant leurs écrits
De ces Messieurs nous désigne la place.
L’un est, dit-il, le chantre du Midi,
L’autre du Nord. Touchez là. C’est bien dit
Tant l’un est sec! et tant l’autre est de glace!
According to Van, Mlle Larivière is a doom-fearing ‘midinette:’
But she was not down yet. In the bright dining room, full of yellow flowers in drooping clusters of sunshine, Uncle Dan was feeding. He wore suitable clothes for a suitably hot day in the country — namely, a candy-striped suit over a mauve flannel shirt and piqué waistcoat, with a blue-and-red club tie and a safety-goldpinned very high soft collar (all his trim stripes and colors were a little displaced, though, in the process of comic strip printing, because it was Sunday). He had just finished his first buttered toast, with a dab of ye-old Orange Marmalade and was making turkey sounds as he rinsed his dentures orally with a mouthful of coffee prior to swallowing it and the flavorous flotsam. Being, as I had reason to believe, plucky, I could make myself suffer a direct view of the man’s pink face with its (rotating) red ‘tashy’, but I was not obliged (mused Van, in 1922, when he saw those baguenaudier flowers again) to stand his chinless profile with its curly red sideburn. So Van considered, not without appetite, the blue jugs of hot chocolate and baton-segments of bread prepared for the hungry children. Marina had her breakfast in bed, the butler and Price ate in a recess of the pantry (a pleasing thought, somehow) and Mlle Larivière did not touch any food till noon, being a doom-fearing ‘midinette’ (the sect, not the shop) and had actually made her father confessor join her group. (1.20)
In his poem Slonyonok (“A Baby Elephant,” 1920) Gumilyov mentions khokhot midinetok (the cackles of the midinettes):
Не плачь, о нежная, что в тесной клетке
Он сделается посмеяньем черни,
Чтоб в нос ему пускали дым сигары
Приказчики под хохот мидинеток.
Don't cry, my sweet, because it will be put
Into a narrow cage, become a joke for mobs,
When salesman blow cigar smoke into its trunk
To the cackles of the midinettes.
(tr. C. Proffer)
Quoting Coppée for comic relief, Demon rhymes enfant with éléphant:
‘Well, no matter,’ said Demon. ‘Observation is not always the mother of deduction. However, there is nothing improper about a hanky dumped on a Bechstein. You don’t have, my love, to blush so warmly. Let me quote for comic relief
‘Lorsque son fi-ancé fut parti pour la guerre
Irène de Grandfief, la pauvre et noble enfant
Ferma son pi-ano… vendit son éléphant’
‘The gobble enfant is genuine, but the elephant is mine.’
‘You don’t say so,’ laughed Ada. (1.38)
Midinette blends midi (noon, midday) with dînette (tea party). In Pushkin’s French poem one of the two authors is le chantre du Midi (the bard of South) and the other le chantre du Nord (the bard of North). Describing a lunch in “Ardis the First,” Van mentions Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine:
Weekday lunch at Ardis Hall. Lucette between Marina and the governess; Van between Marina and Ada; Dack, the golden-brown stoat, under the table, either between Ada and Mlle Larivière, or between Lucette and Marina (Van secretly disliked dogs, especially at meals, and especially that smallish longish freak with a gamey breath). Arch and grandiloquent, Ada would be describing a dream, a natural history wonder, a special belletristic device — Paul Bourget’s ‘monologue intérieur’ borrowed from old Leo — or some ludicrous blunder in the current column of Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine who thought that Lyovin went about Moscow in a nagol’nïy tulup, ‘a muzhik’s sheepskin coat, bare side out, bloom side in,’ as defined in a dictionary our commentator produced like a conjurer, never to be procurable by Elsies. Her spectacular handling of subordinate clauses, her parenthetic asides, her sensual stressing of adjacent monosyllables (‘Idiot Elsie simply can’t read’) — all this somehow finished by acting upon Van, as artificial excitements and exotic torture-caresses might have done, in an aphrodisiac sinistral direction that he both resented and perversely enjoyed. (1.10)
Demimondaine brings to mind “a demi-vierge” (as Ada calls Lucette):
‘I’m a good, good girl. Here are her special pencils. It was very considerate and altogether charming of you to invite her next weekend. I think she’s even more madly in love with you than with me, the poor pet. Demon got them in Strassburg. After all she’s a demi-vierge now’ (‘I hear you and Dad —’ began Van, but the introduction of a new subject was swamped) ‘and we shan’t be afraid of her witnessing our ébats’ (pronouncing on purpose, with triumphant hooliganism, for which my prose, too, is praised, the first vowel à la Russe). (2.6)
Les Demi-vierges (1894) is a novel by Marcel Prévost. In Gorky’s novel Zhizn’ Klima Samgina (“The Life of Klim Samgin,” 1925-36) Marina Zotov mentions Prévost’s poludevy (half-virginal maidens):
"Остались две дочери, эдакие, знаешь, "полудевы", по Марселю Прево, или того хуже: "девушки для радостей", - поют, играют, ну и всё прочее". (Part Three)
The characters of Gorky’s play Na dne (“At the Bottom,” 1902) include the Baron. The Baron in Gorky's play and Klim Samgin in Gorky's novel bring to mind Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), Marina’s former lover who gave her children a set of Flavita (the Russian Scrabble):
The set our three children received in 1884 from an old friend of the family (as Marina’s former lovers were known), Baron Klim Avidov, consisted of a large folding board of saffian and a boxful of weighty rectangles of ebony inlaid with platinum letters, only one of which was a Roman one, namely the letter J on the two joker blocks (as thrilling to get as a blank check signed by Jupiter or Jurojin). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter’s lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one’s name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)
The Gritz blends the luxurious Ritz hotels with the Gritti Palace in Venice. But it also hints at Mme Gritsatsuev, in Ilf and Petrov's "The Twelve Chairs" a passionate woman, a poet's dream whom Bender marries in Stargorod. Flavita is an anagram of alfavit (alphabet). One of the chapters in Ilf and Petrov's novel is entitled Alfavit "Zerkalo zhizni" ("The Mirror-of-Life Alphabet"). In his poem Kiprenskomu ("To Kiprenski," 1827) Pushkin says that in Kiprenski's portrait he sees himself kak v zerkale (as in a mirror), but this mirror flatters him:
Любимец моды легкокрылой,
Хоть не британец, не француз,
Ты вновь создал, волшебник милый,
Меня, питомца чистых муз, —
И я смеюся над могилой,
Ушед навек от смертных уз.
Себя как в зеркале я вижу,
Но это зеркало мне льстит.
Оно гласит, что не унижу
Пристрастья важных аонид.
Так Риму, Дрездену, Парижу
Известен впредь мой будет вид.
Pushkin calls himself pitomets chistykh muz (a nursling of pure muses). In his poem Monakh ("The Monk," 1813) Pushkin mentions muza pol-devitsa (the half-virginal muse):
А ты поэт, проклятый Аполлоном,
Испачкавший простенки кабаков,
Под Геликон упавший в грязь с Вильоном,
Не можешь ли ты мне помочь, Барков?
С усмешкою даёшь ты мне скрыпицу,
Сулишь вино и музу пол-девицу:
«Последуй лишь примеру моему».
Нет, нет, Барков! скрыпицы не возьму,
Я стану петь, что в голову придётся,
Пусть как-нибудь стих за стихом польётся.
Poet, proklyatyi Apollonom (“a poet accursed by Apollo,” as Pushkin calls Barkov, the obscene poet whom Pushkin pairs with Villon and who offers to young Pushkin his half-virginal muse) brings to mind Mlle Larivière’s novel Les Enfants Maudits (“The Accursed Children”).
In the opening line of “The Monk” Pushkin mentions dukh nechistyi Ada (the unclean spirit of Hell):
Хочу воспеть, как дух нечистый Ада
Оседлан был брадатым стариком;
Как овладел он чёрным клобуком,
Как он втолкнул Монаха грешных в стадо.
In his poem Pushkin calls Voltaire sultan frantsuzskogo Parnasa (the sultan of the French Parnassus):
Вольтер! Султан французского Парнаса,
Я не хочу седлать коня Пегаса,
Я не хочу из муз наделать дам,
Но дай лишь мне твою златую лиру,
Я буду с ней всему известен миру.
Ты хмуришься и говоришь: «Не дам».
Describing Demon’s death in an airplane disaster, Van compares himself to a sultan:
Idly, one March morning, 1905, on the terrace of Villa Armina, where he sat on a rug, surrounded by four or five lazy nudes, like a sultan, Van opened an American daily paper published in Nice. In the fourth or fifth worst airplane disaster of the young century, a gigantic flying machine had inexplicably disintegrated at fifteen thousand feet above the Pacific between Lisiansky and Laysanov Islands in the Gavaille region. A list of ‘leading figures’ dead in the explosion comprised the advertising manager of a department store, the acting foreman in the sheet-metal division of a facsimile corporation, a recording firm executive, the senior partner of a law firm, an architect with heavy aviation background (a first misprint here, impossible to straighten out), the vice president of an insurance corporation, another vice president, this time of a board of adjustment whatever that might be —
‘I’m hongree,’ said a maussade Lebanese beauty of fifteen sultry summers.
‘Use bell,’ said Van, continuing in a state of odd fascination to go through the compilation of labeled lives:
— the president of a wholesale liquor-distributing firm, the manager of a turbine equipment company, a pencil manufacturer, two professors of philosophy, two newspaper reporters (with nothing more to report), the assistant controller of a wholesome liquor distribution bank (misprinted and misplaced), the assistant controller of a trust company, a president, the secretary of a printing agency —
The names of those big shots, as well as those of some eighty other men, women, and silent children who perished in blue air, were being withheld until all relatives had been reached; but the tabulatory preview of commonplace abstractions had been thought to be too imposing not to be given at once as an appetizer; and only on the following morning did Van learn that a bank president lost in the closing garble was his father. (3.7)
A maussade Lebanese beauty brings to mind nishchiy starik (a poor old man) in Gumilyov's poem Zabludivshiysya tramvay (“The Lost Tram,” 1921) who had died in Beirut a year ago:
И, промелькнув у оконной рамы,
Бросил нам вслед пытливый взгляд
Нищий старик, - конечно, тот самый,
Что умер в Бейруте год назад.
And slipping by the window frame,
A poor old man threw us an inquisitive glance-
The very same old man, of course,
Who had died in Beirut a year ago.
In his poem Gumilyov mentions three bridges over the Neva, the Nile and the Seine:
Поздно. Уж мы обогнули стену,
Мы проскочили сквозь рощу пальм,
Через Неву, через Нил и Сену
Мы прогремели по трём мостам.
Too late. We had already turned the corner,
We tore through a grove of palms,
Over the Neva, the Nile, the Seine
We thundered across three bridges.
Describing the Night of the Burning Barn, Van mentions the blue Nile:
He discarded his makeshift kilt, and her tone of voice changed immediately.
‘Oh, dear,’ she said as one child to another. ‘It’s all skinned and raw. Does it hurt? Does it hurt horribly?’
‘Touch it quick,’ he implored.
‘Van, poor Van,’ she went on in the narrow voice the sweet girl used when speaking to cats, caterpillars, pupating puppies, ‘yes, I’m sure it smarts, would it help if I’d touch, are you sure?’
‘You bet,’ said Van, ‘on n’est pas bête à ce point’ (‘there are limits to stupidity,’ colloquial and rude).
‘Relief map,’ said the primrose prig, ‘the rivers of Africa.’ Her index traced the blue Nile down into its jungle and traveled up again. ‘Now what’s this? The cap of the Red Bolete is not half as plushy. In fact’ (positively chattering), ‘I’m reminded of geranium or rather pelargonium bloom.’
‘God, we all are,’ said Van.
‘Oh, I like this texture, Van, I like it! Really I do!’
‘Squeeze, you goose, can’t you see I’m dying.’
But our young botanist had not the faintest idea how to handle the thing properly — and Van, now in extremis, driving it roughly against the hem of her nightdress, could not help groaning as he dissolved in a puddle of pleasure.
She looked down in dismay.
‘Not what you think,’ remarked Van calmly. ‘This is not number one. Actually it’s as clean as grass sap. Well, now the Nile is settled stop Speke.’ (1.19)
In the Night of the Burning Barn Van believes that Ada is "utterly ignorant and as pure as the night sky." Actually, "total experience advised her to indulge in a cold game." Similarly, Van does not realize that the airplane disaster in which Demon perished was caused by Ada (who managed to drive insane the pilot). In a letter to Lucette (written after the dinner in ‘Ursus’ and the debauch à trois in Van’s Manhattan flat) Van mentions pilots of tremendous airships:
Van walked over to a monastic lectern that he had acquired for writing in the vertical position of vertebrate thought and wrote what follows:
We are sorry you left so soon. We are even sorrier to have inveigled our Esmeralda and mermaid in a naughty prank. That sort of game will never be played again with you, darling firebird. We apollo [apologize]. Remembrance, embers and membranes of beauty make artists and morons lose all self-control. Pilots of tremendous airships and even coarse, smelly coachmen are known to have been driven insane by a pair of green eyes and a copper curl. We wished to admire and amuse you, BOP (bird of paradise). We went too far. I, Van, went too far. We regret that shameful, though basically innocent scene. These are times of emotional stress and reconditioning. Destroy and forget.
Tenderly yours A & V.
(in alphabetic order).
‘I call this pompous, puritanical rot,’ said Ada upon scanning Van’s letter. ‘Why should we apollo for her having experienced a delicious spazmochka? I love her and would never allow you to harm her. It’s curious — you know, something in the tone of your note makes me really jealous for the first time in my fire [thus in the manuscript, for "life." Ed.] Van, Van, somewhere, some day, after a sunbath or dance, you will sleep with her, Van!’
‘Unless you run out of love potions. Do you allow me to send her these lines?’
‘I do, but want to add a few words.’
Her P.S. read:
The above declaration is Van’s composition which I sign reluctantly. It is pompous and puritanical. I adore you, mon petit, and would never allow him to hurt you, no matter how gently or madly. When you’re sick of Queen, why not fly over to Holland or Italy?
“Coarse, smelly coachmen” bring to mind Ben Wright (Bengal Ben), the smelly coachman in “Ardis the First:”
A slight commotion took place on the box. Lucette turned around and spoke to Ada.
‘I want to sit with you. Mne tut neudobno, i ot nego nehorosho pakhnet (I’m uncomfortable here, and he does not smell good).’
‘We’ll be there in a moment,’ retorted Ada, ‘poterpi (have a little patience).’
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Mlle Larivière.
‘Nothing, Il pue.’
‘Oh dear! I doubt strongly he ever was in that Rajah’s service.’ (1.13)
After the picnic on Ada's twelve birthday Mlle Larivière with the point of her parasol pokes sans façons (unceremoniously) Ben Wright in his fat red neck:
A pale diaphanous butterfly with a very black body followed them and Ada cried ‘Look!’ and explained it was closely related to a Japanese Parnassian. Mlle Larivière said suddenly she would use a pseudonym when publishing the story. She led her two pretty charges toward the calèche and poked sans façons in his fat red neck with the point of her parasol Ben Wright, grossly asleep in the back under the low-hanging festoons of foliage. (ibid.)
In Mon Portrait Pushkin uses the phrase sans façons:
Je suis un jeune polisson,
Encore dans les classes;
Point sot, je le dis sans façon
Et sans fades grimaces.
Sans fades grimaces (without bland grimaces) bring to mind “the grimace of a premature spasm” in the Don Juan film that Van and Lucette watch in the Tobakoff cinema hall:
The Don rides past three windmills, whirling black against an ominous sunset, and saves her from the miller who accuses her of stealing a fistful of flour and tears her thin dress. Wheezy but still game, Juan carries her across a brook (her bare toe acrobatically tickling his face) and sets her down, top up, on the turf of an olive grove. Now they stand facing each other. She fingers voluptuously the jeweled pommel of his sword, she rubs her firm girl belly against his embroidered tights, and all at once the grimace of a premature spasm writhes across the poor Don’s expressive face. He angrily disentangles himself and staggers back to his steed. (3.5)
In a letter of May 21, 1828, to his wife Prince Vyazemski describes his journey to Priyutino (the Olenins’ country seat some twenty miles east of St. Petersburg) where he met Pushkin (who courted Annette Olenin) s ego lyubovnymi grimasami (with his amorous grimaces):
21-го ездил я с Мицкевичем вечером к Олениным в деревню в Приютино, вёрст за семнадцать. Там нашли мы и Пушкина с его любовными гримасами. Деревня довольно мила, особливо же для Петербурга: есть довольно движения в видах, возвышенная, вода, лес. Но зато комары делают из этого места сущий ад. Я никогда не видал подобного множества. Нельзя ни на минуту не махать руками; поневоле пляшешь камаринскую. Я никак не мог бы прожить тут и день один. На другой я верно сошел бы с ума и проломил себе голову об стену. Мицкевич говорил, что это кровавый день. Пушкин был весь в прыщах и, осаждаемый комарами, нежно восклицал: сладко.
Vyazemsky praises the picturesque surroundings but adds that mosquitoes make of the place sushchiy ad (a veritable hell):
I never saw such a plenty of them. One can not stop for a moment chasing them away with one's hands. One involuntarily dances the Komarinskaya [a popular Russian dance, whose name comes from komar, “mosquito”]. I couldn't have lived one day here. The next day I would have gone mad and fractured my skull against the wall. Mickiewicz said que c'est une journee sanglante. Pushkin was all pimpled and, besieged by mosquitoes, tenderly exclaimed: 'sladko!'
On Antiterra Pushkin exclaimed sladko! (sweet!) when he was bitten by mosquitoes in Yukon:
The ‘pest’ appeared as suddenly as it would vanish. It settled on pretty bare arms and legs without the hint of a hum, in a kind of recueilli silence, that — by contrast — caused the sudden insertion of its absolutely hellish proboscis to resemble the brass crash of a military band. Five minutes after the attack in the crepuscule, between porch step and cricket-crazed garden, a fiery irritation would set in, which the strong and the cold ignored (confident it would last a mere hour) but which the weak, the adorable, the voluptuous took advantage of to scratch and scratch and scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant). ‘Sladko! (Sweet!)’ Pushkin used to exclaim in relation to a different species in Yukon. During the week following her birthday, Ada’s unfortunate fingernails used to stay gamet-stained and after a particularly ecstatic, lost-to-the-world session of scratching, blood literally streamed down her shins — a pity to see, mused her distressed admirer, but at the same time disgracefully fascinating — for we are visitors and investigators in a strange universe, indeed, indeed. (1.17)
In Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago the guests at Lara’s wedding shout gor’ko! (bitter!):
Из церкви вернулись прямо на пирушку в мастерскую художника, тогда же обновлённую Антиповыми. Гости кричали: «Горько, не пьётся», – а с другого конца согласным рёвом ответствовали: «Надо подсластить», – и молодые, конфузливо ухмыляясь, целовались. Людмила Капитоновна пропела им величание «Виноград» с двойным припевом «Дай вам Бог любовь да совет» и песню «Расплетайся, трубчата коса, рассыпайтесь, русы волоса».
From the church they went straight to a party in the artist’s studio, which was also the Antipovs’ housewarming. The guests shouted: "Bitter, we can’t drink it!” And in reply from the other end they roared in unison: “Make it sweeter!” And the newlyweds smiled bashfully and kissed. In their honor, Lyudmila Kapitonovna sang “The Grapes” with its double refrain, “God grant you love and concord,” and the song “Be undone, thick braid, fall free, golden hair.” (Book One, Part IV, chapter 3)
The penname of the author of “At the Bottom” and “The Life of Klim Samgin” means “bitter.” At the end of his poem Vospominanie ("Remembrance," 1828) Pushkin twice repeats the word gor'ko:
И с отвращением читая жизнь мою,
Я трепещу и проклинаю,
И горько жалуюсь, и горько слёзы лью,
Но строк печальных не смываю.
And I, repulsed, review the story of my life,
I shudder and I curse,
Weep bitter tears and bitterly complain,
But do not wash the sad lines away.
According to Van, his lifestream was too bitter:
Because, perhaps, Van’s lifestream was too bitter — even in those glad days — Chateaubriand’s mosquito never cared much for him. Nowadays it seems to be getting extinct, what with the cooler climate and the moronic draining of the lovely rich marshes in the Ladore region as well as near Kaluga, Conn., and Lugano, Pa. (A short series, all females, replete with their fortunate captor’s blood, has recently been collected, I am told, in a secret habitat quite far from the above-mentioned stations. Ada’s note.) (1.17)