In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Dorothy Vinelander (Ada's sister-in-law) marries a Mr Brod or Bred who subsequently directs archeological reconstructions at Goreloe (the ‘Lyaskan Herculanum’):
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. (3.8)
In Chekhov’s one-act play Predlozhenie (“The Proposal,” 1888) Lomov and Natalia Stepanovna mention Goreloe boloto (the Burnt Marsh):
Наталья Степановна. Виновата, я вас перебью. Вы говорите «мои Воловьи Лужки»… Да разве они ваши?
Наталья Степановна. Ну, вот еще! Воловьи Лужки наши, а не ваши!
Ломов. Нет-с, мои, уважаемая Наталья Степановна.
Наталья Степановна. Это для меня новость. Откуда же они ваши?
Ломов. Как откуда? Я говорю про те Воловьи Лужки, что входят клином между вашим березняком и Горелым болотом.
Наталья Степановна. Ну, да, да… Они наши…
Ломов. Нет, вы ошибаетесь, уважаемая Наталья Степановна, — они мои.
Наталья Степановна. Опомнитесь, Иван Васильевич! Давно ли они стали вашими?
Ломов. Как давно? Насколько я себя помню, они всегда были нашими.
Наталья Степановна. Ну, это, положим, извините!
Ломов. Из бумаг это видно, уважаемая Наталья Степановна. Воловьи Лужки были когда-то спорными, это — правда; но теперь всем известно, что они мои. И спорить тут нечего. Изволите ли видеть, бабушка моей тетушки отдала эти Лужки в бессрочное и в безвозмездное пользование крестьянам дедушки вашего батюшки за то, что они жгли для неё кирпич. Крестьяне дедушки вашего батюшки пользовались безвозмездно Лужками лет сорок и привыкли считать их как бы своими, потом же, когда вышло положение…
Наталья Степановна. И совсем не так, как вы рассказываете! И мой дедушка, и прадедушка считали, что ихняя земля доходила до Горелого болота — значит, Воловьи Лужки были наши. Что ж тут спорить? — не понимаю. Даже досадно!
NATALYA STEPANOVNA: Excuse my interrupting you. You say, "my Oxen Meadows. ..." But are they yours?
LOMOV: Yes, mine.
NATALYA STEPANOVNA: What are you talking about? Oxen Meadows are ours, not yours!
LOMOV: No, mine, honoured Natalya Stepanovna.
NATALYA STEPANOVNA: Well, I never knew that before. How do you make that out?
LOMOV: How? I'm speaking of those Oxen Meadows which are wedged in between your birchwoods and the Burnt Marsh.
NATALYA STEPANOVNA: Yes, yes. ... They're ours.
LOMOV: No, you're mistaken, honoured Natalya Stepanovna, they're mine.
NATALYA STEPANOVNA: Just think, Ivan Vasilevich! How long have they been yours?
LOMOV: How long? As long as I can remember.
NATALYA STEPANOVNA: Really, you won't get me to believe that!
LOMOV: But you can see from the documents, honoured Natalya Stepanovna. Oxen Meadows, it's true, were once the subject of dispute, but now everybody knows that they are mine. There's nothing to argue about. You see, my aunt's grandmother gave the free use of these Meadows in perpetuity to the peasants of your father's grandfather, in return for which they were to make bricks for her. The peasants belonging to your father's grandfather had the free use of the Meadows for forty years, and had got into the habit of regarding them as their own, when it happened that ...
NATALYA STEPANOVNA: No, it isn't at all like that! Both my grandfather and great-grandfather reckoned that their land extended to Burnt Marsh--which means that Oxen Meadows were ours. I don't see what there is to argue about. It's simply silly!
In a letter of April 7-19, 1887, to his sister Chekhov describes his visit to Taganrog and compares his home town to Herculaneum and Pompeii:
Я в Таганроге. Меня встричаить Егорушка, здоровеннейший парень, одетый франтом: шляпа, перчатки в 1 р. 50 к., тросточка и проч. Я его не узнаю, но он меня узнает. Нанимает извозчика и едем. Впечатления Геркуланума и Помпеи: людей нет, а вместо мумий — сонные дришпаки и головы дынькой. Все дома приплюснуты, давно не штукатурены, крыши не крашены, ставни затворены...
I arrive at Taganrog. . . . It gives one the impression of Herculaneum and Pompeii; there are no people, and instead of mummies there are sleepy drishpaks [uneducated young men in the jargon of Taganrog] and melon-shaped heads. All the houses look flattened out, and as though they had long needed replastering, the roofs want painting, the shutters are closed. . . .
At the beginning of Ada Van calls Ada "Pompeianella:"
The two young discoverers of that strange and sickening treasure [Marina’s herbarium] commented upon it as follows:
‘I deduce,’ said the boy, ‘three main facts: that not yet married Marina and her married sister hibernated in my lieu de naissance; that Marina had her own Dr Krolik, pour ainsi dire; and that the orchids came from Demon who preferred to stay by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother.’
‘I can add,’ said the girl, ‘that the petal belongs to the common Butterfly Orchis; that my mother was even crazier than her sister; and that the paper flower so cavalierly dismissed is a perfectly recognizable reproduction of an early-spring sanicle that I saw in profusion on hills in coastal California last February. Dr Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van, have referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the sake of rapid narrative information (you recall Brown, don’t you, Smith?), has determined the example I brought back from Sacramento to Ardis, as the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl’s — an allusion, which your father, who, according to Blanche, is also mine, would understand like this’ (American finger-snap). ‘You will be grateful,’ she continued, embracing him, ‘for my not mentioning its scientific name. Incidentally the other foot — the Pied de Lion from that poor little Christmas larch, is by the same hand — possibly belonging to a very sick Chinese boy who came all the way from Barkley College.’
‘Good for you, Pompeianella (whom you saw scattering her flowers in one of Uncle Dan’s picture books, but whom I admired last summer in a Naples museum). Now don’t you think we should resume our shorts and shirts and go down, and bury or burn this album at once, girl. Right?
‘Right,’ answered Ada. ‘Destroy and forget. But we still have an hour before tea.’ (1.1)
Pompeianella blends Pompeii with Pimpernella (a comic strip character):
According to the Sunday supplement of a newspaper that had just begun to feature on its funnies page the now long defunct Goodnight Kids, Nicky and Pimpernella (sweet siblings who shared a narrow bed), and that had survived with other old papers in the cockloft of Ardis Hall, the Veen-Durmanov wedding took place on St Adelaida’s Day, 1871. Twelve years and some eight months later, two naked children, one dark-haired and tanned, the other dark-haired and milk-white, bending in a shaft of hot sunlight that slanted through the dormer window under which the dusty cartons stood, happened to collate that date (December 16, 1871) with another (August 16, same year) anachronistically scrawled in Marina’s hand across the corner of a professional photograph (in a raspberry-plush frame on her husband’s kneehole library table) identical in every detail — including the commonplace sweep of a bride’s ectoplasmic veil, partly blown by a parvis breeze athwart the groom’s trousers — to the newspaper reproduction. A girl was born on July 21, 1872, at Ardis, her putative father’s seat in Ladore County, and for some obscure mnemonic reason was registered as Adelaida. Another daughter, this time Dan’s very own, followed on January 3, 1876. (ibid.)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Goodnight Kids: their names are borrowed, with distortions, from a comic strip for French-speaking children.
The Goodnight Kids bring to mind Spokoynoy nochi (Good night), the last words in Chekhov’s story Tysyacha odna strast’, ili Strashnaya noch’ (“A Thousand and One Passions, or The Terrible Night,” 1880):
Она полюбила во мне демона. Я хотел, чтобы она полюбила во мне ангела. «Полтора миллиона франков отдаю бедным!» — сказал я. Она полюбила во мне ангела и заплакала. Я тоже заплакал. Что это были за слёзы!!! Через месяц в церкви св. Тита и Гортензии происходило торжественное венчание. Я венчался с ней. Она венчалась со мной. Бедные нас благословляли! Она упросила меня простить врагов моих, которых я ранее убил. Я простил. С молодою женой я уехал в Америку. Молодая любящая жена была ангелом в девственных лесах Америки, ангелом, пред которым склонялись львы и тигры. Я был молодым тигром. Через три года после нашей свадьбы старый Сам носился уже с курчавым мальчишкой. Мальчишка был более похож на мать, чем на меня. Это меня злило. Вчера у меня родился второй сын... и сам я от радости повесился... Второй мой мальчишка протягивает ручки к читателям и просит их не верить его папаше, потому что у его папаши не было не только детей, но даже и жены. Папаша его боится женитьбы, как огня. Мальчишка мой не лжёт. Он младенец. Ему верьте. Детский возраст — святой возраст. Ничего этого никогда не было... Спокойной ночи!
According to the narrator, his future wife loved the demon in him. Demon is the society nickname of Van’s and Ada’s father, Demian (or Dementius) Veen.
In Chekhov’s story the narrator says that he was a young tiger. After the dinner in ‘Ursus’ Van and Ada make love in Van’s Manhattan flat and Ada complains that Van hurt her like a Tiger Turk:
He heard Ada Vinelander’s voice calling for her Glass bed slippers (which, as in Cordulenka’s princessdom too, he found hard to distinguish from dance footwear), and a minute later, without the least interruption in the established tension, Van found himself, in a drunken dream, making violent love to Rose — no, to Ada, but in the rosacean fashion, on a kind of lowboy. She complained he hurt her ‘like a Tiger Turk.’ He went to bed and was about to doze off for good when she left his side. Where was she going? Pet wanted to see the album. (2.8)
Ursus is a traveling artist in Victor Hugo’s novel L’Homme qui rit (“The Man who Laughs,” 1869). Chekhov’s story “A Thousand and One Passions, or The Terrible Night” is dedicated to Victor Hugo. In Chekhov’s story Babye tsarstvo (“A Woman’s Kingdom,” 1894) the lawyer Lysevich mentions the Duchess Josiana and Gwynplaine (the characters in L’Homme qui rit):
Герцогиня Джосиана полюбила Гуинплена, и это ей позволяется, потому что она герцогиня; вам тоже всё позволяется, потому что вы необыкновенная. Если, милая, захотите любить негра или арапа, то не стесняйтесь, выписывайте себе негра. Ни в чём себе не отказывайте. Вы должны быть так же смелы, как ваши желания. Не отставайте от них.
“The Duchess Josiana loved Gwynplaine, and that was permissible for her because she was a grand duchess. Everything is permissible for you, too, because you are an exceptional woman: if, my dear, you want to love a negro or an Arab, don't scruple; send for a negro. Don't deny yourself anything. You ought to be as bold as your desires; don't fall short of them.” (chapter III, “Dinner”)
The name Lysevich comes from lysyi (bald) and brings to mind Judge Bald (mentioned by Van in the “library” chapter of Ada):
But as Judge Bald pointed out already during the Albino Riots of 1835, practically all North American and Tartar agriculturists and animal farmers used inbreeding as a method of propagation that tended to preserve, and stimulate, stabilize and even create anew favorable characters in a race or strain unless practiced too rigidly. If practiced rigidly incest led to various forms of decline, to the production of cripples, weaklings, ‘muted mutates’ and, finally, to hopeless sterility. Now that smacked of ‘crime,’ and since nobody could be supposed to control judiciously orgies of indiscriminate inbreeding (somewhere in Tartary fifty generations of ever woolier and woolier sheep had recently ended abruptly in one hairless, five-legged, impotent little lamb — and the beheading of a number of farmers failed to resurrect the fat strain), it was perhaps better to ban ‘incestuous cohabitation’ altogether. Judge Bald and his followers disagreed, perceiving in ‘the deliberate suppression of a possible benefit for the sake of avoiding a probable evil’ the infringement of one of humanity’s main rights — that of enjoying the liberty of its evolution, a liberty no other creature had ever known. (1.21)
Albino = Albion. Doch’ Al’biona (“A Daughter of Albion,” 1883) is a story by Chekhov about the imperturbable English governess of an unceremonious Russian landowner’s children.
The characters in Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris (1831) include the gypsy girl Esmeralda. Van and Ada call their half-sister Lucette (the daughter of Daniel Veen and Marina Durmanov) “our Esmeralda and mermaid:”
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. (2.8)
Rusalka (“The Mermaid,” 1829) is an unfinished drama in blank verse by Pushkin (in 1942 VN wrote its conclusion, “The Final Scene of Pushkin’s Mermaid”). In Chekhov’s story Pripadok (“A Nervous Breakdown,” 1888) the medical student sings from Dargomyzhsky’s opera The Mermaid (1855):
«Невольно к этим грустным берегам, — запел медик приятным тенором, — меня влечёт неведомая сила...»
— «Вот мельница... — подтянул ему художник. — Она уж развалилась...»
— «Вот мельница... Она уж развалилась...», — повторил медик, поднимая брови и грустно покачивая головою. Он помолчал, потёр лоб, припоминая слова, и запел громко и так хорошо, что на него оглянулись прохожие:
— «Здесь некогда меня встречала свободного свободная любовь...»
"Against my will an unknown force," hummed the medical student in his agreeable tenor, "has led me to these mournful shores."
"Behold the mill . . ." the artist seconded him, "in ruins now. . . ."
"Behold the mill . . . in ruins now," the medical student repeated, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head mournfully.
He paused, rubbed his forehead, trying to remember the words, and then sang aloud, so well that passers-by looked round:
"Here in old days when I was free,
Love, free, unfettered, greeted me." (chapter I)
The protagonist in Chekhov’s story, the law student Vasiliev, suffers mental anguish after he was dragged by his friends on a tour of brothels. Describing the floramors – one hundred palatial brothels built by David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction, all over the world in memory of his grandson Eric (the author of an essay entitled "Villa Venus: an Organized Dream") – Van mentions a Mr Ritcov:
Demon’s father (and very soon Demon himself), and Lord Erminin, and a Mr Ritcov, and Count Peter de Prey, and Mire de Mire, Esq., and Baron Azzuroscudo were all members of the first Venus Club Council; but it was bashful, obese, big-nosed Mr Ritcov’s visits that really thrilled the girls and filled the vicinity with detectives who dutifully impersonated hedge-cutters, grooms, horses, tall milkmaids, new statues, old drunks and so forth, while His Majesty dallied, in a special chair built for his weight and whims, with this or that sweet subject of the realm, white, black or brown. (2.3)
In 1905 a glancing blow was dealt Villa Venus from another quarter. The personage we have called Ritcov or Vrotic had been induced by the ailings of age to withdraw his patronage. However, one night he suddenly arrived, looking again as ruddy as the proverbial fiddle; but after the entire staff of his favorite floramor near Bath had worked in vain on him till an ironic Hesperus rose in a milkman’s humdrum sky, the wretched sovereign of one-half of the globe called for the Shell Pink Book, wrote in it a line that Seneca had once composed:
subsidunt montes et juga celsa ruunt,
— and departed, weeping. (ibid.)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): subsidunt etc.: mountains subside and heights deteriorate.
Ritcov and Vrotic are the aliases of King Victor, the Antiterran counterpart of Queen Victoria. In a letter of March 28, 1898, to his sister Chekhov (who lived in Nice) says that on this day he saw the English Queen:
Сегодня я видел английскую королеву.
In the same letter to his sister Chekhov complains that the portraitist Braz cannot finish his portrait:
Браз всё ещё продолжает писать меня. Не правда ли, немножко долго? Голова уже почти готова; говорят, что я очень похож, но портрет мне не кажется интересным. Что-то есть в нём не моё и нет чего-то моего.
The portraitist's name brings to mind Bras d'Or, an American province mentioned by Van at the beginning of Ada:
Van’s maternal grandmother Daria (‘Dolly’) Durmanov was the daughter of Prince Peter Zemski, Governor of Bras d’Or, an American province in the Northeast of our great and variegated country, who had married, in 1824, Mary O’Reilly, an Irish woman of fashion. Dolly, an only child, born in Bras, married in 1840, at the tender and wayward age of fifteen, General Ivan Durmanov, Commander of Yukon Fortress and peaceful country gentleman, with lands in the Severn Tories (Severnïya Territorii), that tesselated protectorate still lovingly called ‘Russian’ Estoty, which commingles, granoblastically and organically, with ‘Russian’ Canady, otherwise ‘French’ Estoty, where not only French, but Macedonian and Bavarian settlers enjoy a halcyon climate under our Stars and Stripes. (1.1)
Prince Peter Zemski is the son of Prince Vseslav Zemski, Ada's favorite ancestor whose portrait she points out to Van, and Princess Sofia Temnosiniy:
They went back to the corridor, she tossing her hair, he clearing his throat. Further down, a door of some playroom or nursery stood ajar and stirred to and fro as little Lucette peeped out, one russet knee showing. Then the doorleaf flew open — but she darted inside and away. Cobalt sailing boats adorned the white tiles of a stove, and as her sister and he passed by that open door a toy barrel organ invitingly went into action with a stumbling little minuet. Ada and Van returned to the ground floor — this time all the way down the sumptuous staircase. Of the many ancestors along the wall, she pointed out her favorite, old Prince Vseslav Zemski (1699–1797), friend of Linnaeus and author of Flora Ladorica, who was portrayed in rich oil holding his barely pubescent bride and her blond doll in his satin lap. An enlarged photograph, soberly framed, hung (rather incongruously, Van thought) next to the rose-bud-lover in his embroidered coat. The late Sumerechnikov, American precursor of the Lumière brothers, had taken Ada’s maternal uncle in profile with upcheeked violin, a doomed youth, after his farewell concert. (1.6)
Van's and Ada's uncle Ivan (Aqua's and Marina's brother who died young and famous) is linked to the title character of Chekhov's play Dyadya Vanya ("Uncle Vanya," 1898). The name Sumerechnikov brings to mind Chekhov's collection of stories V sumerkakh ("In the Twilight," 1887). On the other hand, in his essay A. A. Blok kak poet (“A. A. Blok as a Poet,” 1921-24) Korney Chukovski (the author of “From Chekhov to Our Days,” 1908) points out that sumerki was one of Blok’s favorite words:
Тут был не случайный, а главный эпитет, поглощающий собою остальные. Слово сумрак было его любимейшим словом. А также – сумерки, мгла, тьма. (II)
In his memoir essay Aleksandr Blok kak chelovek (“Alexander Blok as a Person,” 1921) Chukovski says that Blok was the last Russian poet of gentle birth who could adorn his house with the portraits of his grandfathers and great-grandfathers:
Блок был последний поэт-дворянин, последний из русских поэтов, кто мог бы украсить свой дом портретами дедов и прадедов.
In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN describes his first love and mentions the verse of Alexander Blok:
WHEN I first met Tamara—to give her a name concolorous with her real one—she was fifteen, and I was a year older. The place was the rugged but comely country (black fir, white birch, peatbogs, hayfields, and barrens) just south of St. Petersburg. A distant war was dragging on. Two years later, that trite deus ex machina, the Russian Revolution, came, causing my removal from the unforgettable scenery. In fact, already then, in July 1915, dim omens and backstage rumblings, the hot breath of fabulous upheavals, were affecting the so-called “Symbolist” school of Russian poetry—especially the verse of Alexander Blok. (Chapter Twelve, 1)
Describing his father's visit to England in February 1916, VN mentions Chukovski and a funny interview with the King:
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). (SM, Chapter Thirteen, 1)
In Speak, Memory VN compares his grandfather Dmitri Nikolaevich to King Lear and mentions the Queen of Belgium or Holland:
At his retirement, Alexander the Third offered him to choose between the title of count and a sum of money, presumably large—I do not know what exactly an earldom was worth in Russia, but contrary to the thrifty Tsar’s hopes my grandfather (as also his uncle Ivan, who had been offered a similar choice by Nicholas the First) plumped for the more solid reward. (“Encore un comte raté,” dryly comments Sergey Sergeevich.) After that he lived mostly abroad. In the first years of this century his mind became clouded but he clung to the belief that as long as he remained in the Mediterranean region everything would be all right. Doctors took the opposite view and thought he might live longer in the climate of some mountain resort or in Northern Russia. There is an extraordinary story, which I have not been able to piece together adequately, of his escaping from his attendants somewhere in Italy. There he wandered about, denouncing, with King Lear-like vehemence, his children to grinning strangers, until he was captured in a wild rocky place by some matter-of-fact carabinieri. During the winter of 1903, my mother, the only person whose presence, in his moments of madness, the old man could bear, was constantly at his side in Nice. My brother and I, aged three and four respectively, were also there with our English governess; I remember the windowpanes rattling in the bright breeze and the amazing pain caused by a drop of hot sealing wax on my finger. Using a candle flame (diluted to a deceptive pallor by the sunshine that invaded the stone slabs on which I was kneeling), I had been engaged in transforming dripping sticks of the stuff into gluey, marvelously smelling, scarlet and blue and bronze-colored blobs. The next moment I was bellowing on the floor, and my mother had hurried to the rescue, and somewhere nearby my grandfather in a wheelchair was thumping the resounding flags with his cane. She had a hard time with him. He used improper language. He kept mistaking the attendant who rolled him along the Promenade des Anglais for Count Loris-Melikov, a (long-deceased) colleague of his in the ministerial cabinet of the eighties. “Qui est cette femme—chassez-la!” he would cry to my mother as he pointed a shaky finger at the Queen of Belgium or Holland who had stopped to inquire about his health. Dimly I recall running up to his chair to show him a pretty pebble, which he slowly examined and then slowly put into his mouth. I wish I had had more curiosity when, in later years, my mother used to recollect those times.
He would lapse for ever-increasing periods into an unconscious state; during one such lapse he was transferred to his pied-à-terre on the Palace Quay in St. Petersburg. As he gradually regained consciousness, my mother camouflaged his bedroom into the one he had had in Nice. Some similar pieces of furniture were found and a number of articles rushed from Nice by a special messenger, and all the flowers his hazy senses had been accustomed to were obtained, in their proper variety and profusion, and a bit of house wall that could be just glimpsed from the window was painted a brilliant white, so every time he reverted to a state of comparative lucidity he found himself safe on the illusory Riviera artistically staged by my mother; and there, on March 28, 1904, exactly eighteen years, day for day, before my father, he peacefully died. (Chapter Three, 1)
The Antiterran counterpart of Queen Victoria, King Victor also brings to mind Victor Hugo, the author of Le roi s’amuse (“The King Amuses Himself,” 1832).
The author of Naturales quaestiones (“Natural Questions”), Seneca died in AD 65, fourteen years before the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum. Chekhov died in 1904, thirteen years before the Lenin coup of 1917. In his essay O Chekhove ("On Chekhov," 1929) written for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the writer's death Hodasevich points out that Chekhov died just before the first seismic shock of the Russian Revolution:
- Лет через двести - триста всё само образуется, - утешал Чехов, и люди теснились к нему толпой. А земля под ними уже готова была колыхнуться. Как раз перед первым толчком Чехов умер.
In Speak, Memory VN describes his meeting in Cambridge with "Nesbit," a fellow student who saw in Lenin’s short reign a kind of glamorous quinquennium Neronis:
In the early twenties Nesbit had mistaken his own ebullient idealism for a romantic and humane something in Lenin’s ghastly rule. Ibsen, in the days of the no less ghastly Stalin, was mistaking a quantitative increase in his own knowledge for a qualitative change in the Soviet regime. The thunderclap of purges that had affected “old Bolsheviks,” the heroes of his youth, had given him a salutary shock, something that in Lenin’s day all the groans coming from the Solovki forced labor camp or the Lubyanka dungeon had not been able to do. With horror he pronounced the names of Ezhov and Yagoda—but quite forgot their predecessors, Uritski and Dzerzhinski. While time had improved his judgment regarding contemporaneous Soviet affairs, he did not bother to reconsider the preconceived notions of his youth, and still saw in Lenin’s short reign a kind of glamorous quinquennium Neronis. (Chapter Thirteen, 5)
Nero’s tutor, Seneca is a character in Apollon Maykov’s lyrical drama Tri smerti ("Three Deaths," 1857). Maykov is the author of Mashen'ka ("Mary," 1846), a narrative poem, and Vesenniy Bred ("The Vernal Delirium," 1853). In Aldanov’s novel Bred (“Delirium,” 1955) Shell is commissioned by the American Colonel (Colonel No. 1) to bring out from Moscow Nikolay Maykov, an old scholar who discovered a means to prolong human life.
Tri smerti (“Three Deaths,” 1859) is a story by Tolstoy (who mentions Krymskiy Brod, the Crimean Ford Bridge in Moscow, in “War and Peace,” 1869). In Part Three of Ada Van describes Marina’s, Lucette’s and Demon’s deaths:
Numbers and rows and series — the nightmare and malediction harrowing pure thought and pure time — seemed bent on mechanizing his mind. Three elements, fire, water, and air, destroyed, in that sequence, Marina, Lucette, and Demon. Terra waited. (3.1)
Van’s novel Letters from Terra (1891) corresponds to VN’s first novel Mashen’ka (“Mary,” 1926). Van’s juvenile novel was made into a film by Victor Vitry:
Ada, who resented the insufficiency of her brother’s fame, felt soothed and elated by the success of The Texture of Time (1924). That work, she said, always reminded her, in some odd, delicate way, of the sun-and-shade games she used to play as a child in the secluded avenues of Ardis Park. She said she had been somehow responsible for the metamorphoses of the lovely larvae that had woven the silk of ‘Veen’s Time’ (as the concept was now termed in one breath, one breeze, with ‘Bergson’s Duration,’ or ‘Whitehead’s Bright Fringe’). But a considerably earlier and weaker work, the poor little Letters from Terra, of which only half a dozen copies existed — two in Villa Armina and the rest in the stacks of university libraries — was even closer to her heart because of its nonliterary associations with their 1892-93 sojourn in Manhattan. Sixty-year-old Van crustily and contemptuously dismissed her meek suggestion to the effect that it should be republished, together with the Sidra reflections and a very amusing anti-Signy pamphlet on Time in Dreams. Seventy-year-old Van regretted his disdain when Victor Vitry, a brilliant French director, based a completely unauthorized picture on Letters from Terra written by ‘Voltemand’ half a century before. (5.5)
Voltemand is a courtier in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Chekhov's essay V Moskve ("In Moscow," 1891) begins: Ya - moskovskiy Gamlet (I'm a Moscow Hamlet). At the end of his essay on Viktor Gofman (a poet who committed suicide in 1911, in Paris) in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers” Yuli Ayhenvald quotes Horatio’s words at the end of Hamlet, “Goodnight, sweet Prince:”
"Покойной ночи, милый принц!" - такими словами напутствовал Горацио в могилу своего друга Гамлета. Покойной ночи и тебе, милый принц поэзии, Виктор Гофман!..
In his essay on Dostoevski in "The Silhouettes of Russian Writers" Ayhenvald says that what Dostoevski lacks is Spokoynoy nochi ("goodnight"):
"Спокойной ночи" - вот чего нет у Достоевского. И днём, и ночью его герои живут усиленно, слишком живут. Они страдают гипертрофией души. Автор смотрит на них сквозь некое увеличительное психологическое стекло, и потому в его глазах всё разрастается, принимает чудовищные размеры, и каждая душевная линия, как бы мала она ни была сама по себе, оказывает роковое влияние на общее построение жизненного целого. Знаменитый писатель-психолог злоупотребляет психикой.
The last word in Ayhenvald's essay on Dostoevski is Ada ("of Hell"):
И гнетущей загадкой встаёт он перед нами, как олицетворенная боль, как чёрное солнце страдания. Были доступны ему глубокие мистерии человеческого, и не случайность он, не просто эпизод психологический, одна из возможных встреч на дороге или на бездорожьях русской жизни, не пугающий мираж чеховского монаха или бредовое приключение ночной души: нет, он - трагическая необходимость духа, так что каждый должен переболеть Достоевским и, если можно, его преодолеть. Трудна эта моральная задача, потому что сам он был точно живая Божественная комедия; в ней же нет сильнее и страшнее - Ада.
According to Ayhenvald, Dostoevski is not a frightening mirage of Chekhov's black monk or bredovoe priklyuchenie (a delirious adventure) of a nocturnal soul. In Dostoevski's novel Brat'ya Karamazovy ("The Brothers Karamazov," 1880) one of the chapters is entitled Bred ("Delirium"). The action in it takes place at Mokroe (Wet), a village whose name brings to mind Goreloe. Skotoprigonievsk (a fictitious city where Dostoevski's novel is set) reminds one of Skotty, Marina's impressario who brought the Russian dancers all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk (the Russian twin of Whitehorse, a city in NW Canada):
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)
In his essay on Dostoevski Ayhenvald calls Dostoevski brat brat'yev Karamazovykh (a brother of the Brothers Karamazov) and compares his novels to zaputannyi labirint (an intricate labyrinth):
Брат братьев Карамазовых, соубийца своих убийц, бес среди своих бесов, он только себя лично, своё солнце и свою ночь, свою Мадонну и свой Содом, выявлял в запутанном лабиринте, в беспокойной ткани своих сочинений.
Andrey Vinelander calls Demon (the son of Dedalus Veen) Dementiy Labirintovich:
‘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.’ (3.8)
Chekhov’s story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy ("Woman as Seen by a Drunkard," 1885), in which girls under sixteen are compared to aqua distillatae (distilled water), is signed Brat moego brata (My brother's brother). The last note of Marina's twin sister Aqua was signed "My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (‘now is out of hell’)" (1.3)
In 1895 Andreevski called Chekhov naslednyi prints nashikh krupnykh pisateley (the Crown prince of our major writers). In his essay Znachenie Chekhova ("The Significance of Chekhov," 1910) Andreevski repeats his words and says that, like most poets, Chekhov ascended the throne only after his death and that now he cannot be dethroned:
Думаю, что в действительности Чехов вступил на престол, - как и большинство поэтов, - только после своей смерти. И теперь его уже нельзя свергнуть!
Part Three of Ada ends in the death of Ada's husband, Andrey Andreevich Vinelander (whose name and patronymic hints at Nadya's fiancé in Chekhov's last story Nevesta, "The Bride," 1903):
Steadily but very slowly Andrey’s condition kept deteriorating. During his last two or three years of idle existence on various articulated couches, whose every plane could be altered in hundreds of ways, he lost the power of speech, though still able to nod or shake his head, frown in concentration, or faintly smile when inhaling the smell of food (the origin, indeed, of our first beatitudes). He died one spring night, alone in a hospital room, and that same summer (1922) his widow donated her collections to a National Park museum and traveled by air to Switzerland for an ‘exploratory interview’ with fifty-two-year-old Van Veen. (3.8)
On March 28, 1922, VN's father Vladimir Dmitrievich (who was born, like Van Veen and Lenin, in 1870) was assassinated in Berlin. VN was reading to his mother Alexander Blok's poems about Florence, when the telephone rang and he learnt of the tragedy in a Berlin lecture hall. The "Lyaskan Herculanum" seems to hint not only at a volcano in Alaska (in Russian spelling, Alyaska), but also at Blok's cycle Plyaski smerti ("Dances of Death," 1912-14). One of the poems from this cycle, Noch', ulitsa, fonar', apteka... ("Night, street, lantern, drugstore..." 1912), brings to mind Chekhov's story Aptekarsha ("A Chemist's Wife," 1886). With Milton Abraham’s invaluable help Aqua organized a Phree Pharmacy in Belokonsk:
In her erratic student years Aqua had left fashionable Brown Hill College, founded by one of her less reputable ancestors, to participate (as was also fashionable) in some Social Improvement project or another in the Severnïya Territorii. She organized with Milton Abraham’s invaluable help a Phree Pharmacy in Belokonsk, and fell grievously in love there with a married man, who after one summer of parvenu passion dispensed to her in his Camping Ford garçonnière preferred to give her up rather than run the risk of endangering his social situation in a philistine town where businessmen played ‘golf’ on Sundays and belonged to ‘lodges.’ The dreadful sickness, roughly diagnosed in her case, and in that of other unfortunate people, as an ‘extreme form of mystical mania combined with existalienation’ (otherwise plain madness), crept over her by degrees, with intervals of ecstatic peace, with skipped areas of precarious sanity, with sudden dreams of eternity-certainty, which grew ever rarer and briefer. (1.3)
When her husband dies in Ardis, Marina in Tsitsikar is firting with the Bishop of Belokonsk:
'A propos, I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is somewhere in Italy, but I've managed to trace Marina to Tsitsikar - flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk - she will arrive in the late afternoon, wearing, no doubt, pleureuses, very becoming, and we shall then travel à trois to Ladore, because I don't think -'
Was he [Demon] perhaps under the influence of some bright Chilean drug? That torrent was simply unstoppable, a crazy spectrum, a talking palette -
'- no really, I don't think we should bother Ada in her Agavia. He is - I mean, Vinelander is - the scion, s,c,i,o,n, of one of those great Varangians who had conquered the Copper Tartars or Red Mongols - or whoever they were - who had conquered some earlier Bronze Riders - before we introduced our Russian roulette and Irish loo at a lucky moment in the history of Western casinos.' (2.10)
In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901), known on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) as Four Sisters, Dr Chebutykin mentions Tsitsikar (Qiqihar, a city in NE China):
ЧЕБУТЫКИН (читает газету). Цицикар. Здесь свирепствует оспа.
CHEBUTYKIN [reads from the newspaper]. Tsitsikar. Smallpox is raging here. (Act Two)
In another poem from his cycle "Dances of Death," Pustaya ulitsa. Odin ogon' v okne... ("Empty street. Only one window is lit..." 1912), Blok mentions a closet marked Venena (Lat., "poison") and a chemist turning to another bok (side) in his sleep:
Пустая улица. Один огонь в окне.
Еврей-аптекарь охает во сне.
А перед шкапом с надписью Venena,
Хозяйственно согнув скрипучие колена,
Скелет, до глаз закутанный плащом,
Чего-то ищет, скалясь черным ртом...
Нашёл... Но ненароком чем-то звякнул,
И череп повернул... Аптекарь крякнул,
Привстал - и на другой свалился бок...
А гость меж тем - заветный пузырек
Сует из-под плаща двум женщинам безносым
На улице, под фонарем белёсым.
Venena + bok + V ovrage = Veen/even + Nabokov + grave
V ovrage ("In the Ravine," 1900) is a story by Chekhov