Mr Brod or Bred, Goreloe, Mayo, Mong Mong & Sterva in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Tue, 02/12/2019 - 09:46

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)


Vesenniy bred (“Vernal Delirium,” 1853) is a poem by Apollon Maykov. In his Filologicheskie zametki (“Philological Notes,” 1885), O mae (“On May”), Chekhov says that maybeetles, majors and poets à la Maykov are born in May:


По мнению россиян, кто женится в мае, тот будет весь век маяться — и это справедливо. У астрономов май занимает в эклиптике третье место и солнце вступает в знак близнецов, у дачниц же он занимает первое место, так как военные выступают в лагери. Если лагери находятся близко к дачам, то знак близнецов может служить предостережением: не увлекайтесь в мае, чтобы зимою не иметь дела с двойнями! В мае родятся майские жуки, майоры и поэты a la Майков.


According to Chekhov, he who marries in May will mayat’sya (pine) all his life. In Chekhov’s one-act play Predlozhenie (“A Marriage 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?

Ломов. Мои-с…

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 in Chekhov’s story, his future wife loved the demon in him. Demon is the society nickname of Van’s and Ada’s father, Demian (or Dementius) Veen. According to Ada, Demon called Dorothy Vinelander l'impayable ("priceless for impudence and absurdity") Dorothy:


'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 vy, 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)


In “Princess Mary,” the fourth novella in Lermontov’s novel Geroy nashego vremeni (“A Hero of Our Time,” 1840), a stout lady at the ball is not pleased with Princess Mary and exclaims c’est impayable! (“its delicious”):


Я стоял сзади одной толстой дамы, осенённой розовыми перьями; пышность её платья напоминала времена фижм, а пестрота её негладкой кожи – счастливую эпоху мушек из чёрной тафты. Самая большая бородавка на её шее прикрыта была фермуаром. Она говорила своему кавалеру, драгунскому капитану:
 Эта княжна Лиговская пренесносная девчонка! Вообразите, толкнула меня и не извинилась, да ещё обернулась и посмотрела на меня в лорнет… Cest impayable!.. И чем она гордится? Уж её надо бы проучить…


I was standing behind a certain stout lady who was overshadowed by rose-colored feathers. The magnificence of her dress reminded me of the times of the farthingale, and the motley hue of her by no means smooth skin, of the happy epoch of the black taffeta patch. An immense wart on her neck was covered by a clasp. She was saying to her cavalier, a captain of dragoons:

“That young Princess Ligovskoy is a most intolerable creature! Just fancy, she jostled against me and did not apologize, but even turned round and stared at me through her lorgnette! . . . C’est impayable! . . . And what has she to be proud of? It is time somebody gave her a lesson” . . . (Pechorin’s Diary, the entry of May 22)


In “Bela” (the first novella in “A Hero of Our Time”) Maksim Maksimych mentions Kamennyi Brod (a fortress in northern Chechnya):


— Жалкие люди! — сказал я штабс-капитану, указывая на наших грязных хозяев, которые молча на нас смотрели в каком-то остолбенении.
— Преглупый народ! — отвечал он. — Поверите ли? ничего не умеют, не способны ни к какому образованию! Уж по крайней мере наши кабардинцы или чеченцы хотя разбойники, голыши, зато отчаянные башки, а у этих и к оружию никакой охоты нет: порядочного кинжала ни на одном не увидишь. Уж подлинно осетины!
— А вы долго были в Чечне?
— Да, я лет десять стоял там в крепости с ротою, у Каменного Брода, — знаете?
— Слыхал.


Wretched people, these!” I said to the staff-captain, indicating our dirty hosts, who were silently gazing at us in a kind of torpor.

“And an utterly stupid people too!” he replied. “Would you believe it, they are absolutely ignorant and incapable of the slightest civilisation! Why even our Kabardians or Chechenes, robbers and ragamuffins though they be, are regular dare-devils for all that. Whereas these others have no liking for arms, and you’ll never see a decent dagger on one of them! Ossetes all over!”

“You have been a long time in the Chechenes’ country?”

“Yes, I was quartered there for about ten years along with my company in a fortress, near Kamennyi Brod [Rocky Ford] Do you know the place?”

“I have heard the name.” (chapter I)


The author of Demon (“The Demon,” 1829-40), Lermontov depicts himself as Mayoshka (the poet’s nickname in the military school, from Mayeux, a popular cartoon character of the 1830s) in his narrative poem Mongo (1836). The nickname of Alexey Stolypin (Lermontov’s friend and relative), Mongo brings to mind “the scroll-painting by Mong Mong” mentioned by Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister):


She taught me practices I had never imagined,’ confessed Lucette in rerun wonder. ‘We interweaved like serpents and sobbed like pumas. We were Mongolian tumblers, monograms, anagrams, adalucindas. She kissed my krestik while I kissed hers, our heads clamped in such odd combinations that Brigitte, a little chambermaid who blundered in with her candle, thought for a moment, though naughty herself, that we were giving birth simultaneously to baby girls, your Ada bringing out une rousse and no one’s Lucette, une brune. Fancy that.’

‘Side-splitting,’ said Van.

‘Oh, it went on practically every night at Marina Ranch, and often during siestas; otherwise, in between those vanouissements (her expression), or when she and I had the flow, which, believe it or not —’

‘I can believe anything,’ said Van.

‘— took place at coincident dates, we were just ordinary sisters, exchanging routine nothings, having little in common, she collecting cactuses or running through her lines for the next audition in Sterva, and I reading a lot, or copying beautiful erotic pictures from an album of Forbidden Masterpieces that we found, apropos, in a box of korsetov i khrestomatiy (corsets and chrestomathies) which Belle had left behind, and I can assure you, they were far more realistic than the scroll-painting by Mong Mong, very active in 888, a millennium before Ada said it illustrated Oriental calisthenics when I found it by chance in the corner of one of my ambuscades. So the day passed, and then the star rose, and tremendous moths walked on all sixes up the window panes, and we tangled until we fell asleep. And that’s when I learnt —’ concluded Lucette, closing her eyes and making Van squirm by reproducing with diabolical accuracy Ada’s demure little whimper of ultimate bliss. (2.5)


In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stulyev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Father Fyodor calls the eagle that stole the remains of the sausage sterva (“bitch of a bird”):


Шли облака. Над отцом Фёдором кружились орлы. Самый смелый из них украл остаток любительской колбасы и взмахом крыла сбросил в пенящийся Терек фунта полтора хлеба. Отец Фёдор погрозил орлу пальцем и, лучезарно улыбаясь, прошептал:
― Птичка божия не знает ни заботы, ни труда, хлопотливо не свивает долговечного гнезда. Орёл покосился на отца Фёдора, закричал ?ку-ку-ре-ку? и улетел.

― Ах, орлуша, орлуша, большая ты стерва!

Через десять дней из Владикавказа прибыла пожарная команда с надлежащим обозом и принадлежностями и сняла отца Федора. Когда его снимали, он хлопал руками и пел лишенным приятности голосом: И будешь ты цар-р-рицей ми-и-и-и-рра, подр-р-руга ве-е-ечная моя! И суровый Кавказ многократно повторил слова М. Ю. Лермонтова и музыку А. Рубинштейна.


Clouds drifted by. Eagles cruised above Father Fyodor’s head. The bravest of them stole the remains of the sausage and with its wings swept a pound and a half of bread into the foaming Terek. Father Fyodor wagged his finger at the eagle and, smiling radiantly, whispered: "God's bird does not know Either toil or unrest, It never builds A long-lasting nest."
The eagle looked sideways at Father Fyodor, squawked cockadoodledoo and flew away.
"Oh, eagle, you eagle, you bitch of a bird!"

Ten days later the Vladikavkaz fire brigade arrived with suitable equipment and brought Father Theodore down.
As they were lowering him, he clapped his hands and sang in a tuneless voice:
"And you will be queen of all the world, My lifelo-ong frie-nd!"
And the rugged Caucuses re-echoed Rubinstein's setting of the Lermontov poem many times.
(chapter 38 “Up in the Clouds”)


Lermontov died in a pistol duel with Martynov in July 1841. In Ob iyune i iyule (“On June and July”) Chekhov points out that for the writers July is an unhappy month:


Для писателей июль несчастный месяц. Смерть своим неумолимым красным карандашом зачеркнула в июле шестерых русских поэтов и одного Памву Берынду.

With its inexorable red pencil Death scratched off in July six Russian poets and one Pamva Berynda.


In Chekhov's play Tri sestry ("The Three Sisters," 1901) known on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) as The Four Sisters (2.1, 2.9) Solyony (the bretteur who kills Baron Tuzenbakh in a pistol duel) imagines that he resembles Lermontov.


According to Cordula Tobak, her husband resembles Vladimir Christian of Denmark:


‘I want to see you again soon,’ said Van, biting his thumb, brooding, cursing the pause, yearning for the contents of the blue envelope. ‘You must come and stay with me at a flat I now have on Alex Avenue. I have furnished the guest room with bergères and torchères and rocking chairs; it looks like your mother’s boudoir.’

Lucette curtseyed with the wicks of her sad mouth, à l'Américaine.

‘Will you come for a few days? I promise to behave properly. All right?’

‘My notion of propriety may not be the same as yours. And what about Cordula de Prey? She won’t mind?’

‘The apartment is mine,’ said Van, ‘and besides, Cordula is now Mrs Ivan G. Tobak. They are making follies in Florence. Here’s her last postcard. Portrait of Vladimir Christian of Denmark, who, she claims, is the dead spit of her Ivan Giovanovich. Have a look.’

‘Who cares for Sustermans,’ observed Lucette, with something of her uterine sister’s knight move of specious response, or a Latin footballer’s rovesciata.

No, it’s an elm. Half a millennium ago.

‘His ancestor,’ Van pattered on, ‘was the famous or fameux Russian admiral who had an épée duel with Jean Nicot and after whom the Tobago Islands, or the Tobakoff Islands, are named, I forget which, it was so long ago, half a millennium.’ (2.5)


The name Tobak rhymes with Sobak (a friend of Ellochka the cannibal in "The Twelve Chairs"). Chekhov is the author of the two monologue scenes O vrede tabaka ("On the Harm of Tobacco," 1886, 1903). Vred (harm) rhymes with bred (delirium).


Like Lermontov’s poem Son (“A Dream,” 1941), VN’s Ada seems to be a triple dream (a dream within a dream within a dream).


I did not finish yesterday my note (“Shade's, Kinbote's & Gradus' birthday in Pale Fire; balagur in Ada”). It is now full and can be recommended to you.