Golos Feniksa & Dorothy’s contralto in Ada; Mona & Roy in Lolita

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 03/06/2019 - 10:44

When Andrey Vinelander (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Ada’s husband) falls ill, his sister Dorothy reads to him old issues of Golos Feniksa (“The Phoenix Voice,” a Russian-language newspaper in Arizona):


Much to Van’s amusement (the tasteless display of which his mistress neither condoned nor condemned), Andrey was laid up with a cold for most of the week. Dorothy, a born nurser, considerably surpassed Ada (who, never being ill herself, could not stand the sight of an ailing stranger) in readiness of sickbed attendance, such as reading to the sweating and suffocating patient old issues of the Golos Feniksa; but on Friday the hotel doctor bundled him off to the nearby American Hospital, where even his sister was not allowed to Visit him ‘because of the constant necessity of routine tests’ — or rather because the poor fellow wished to confront disaster in manly solitude.

During the next few days, Dorothy used her leisure to spy upon Ada. The woman was sure of three things: that Ada had a lover in Switzerland; that Van was her brother; and that he was arranging for his irresistible sister secret trysts with the person she had loved before her marriage. The delightful phenomenon of all three terms being true, but making nonsense when hashed, provided Van with another source of amusement.

The Three Swans overwinged a bastion. Anyone who called, flesh or voice, was told by the concierge or his acolytes that Van was out, that Madame André Vinelander was unknown, and that all they could do was to take a message. His car, parked in a secluded bosquet, could not betray his presence. In the forenoon he regularly used the service lift that communicated directly with the backyard. Lucien, something of a wit, soon learned to recognize Dorothy’s contralto: ‘La voix cuivrée a téléphoné,’ ‘La Trompette n’était pas contente ce matin,’ et cetera. Then the friendly Fates took a day off. (3.8)


Golos iz khora (“A Voice from Choir,” 1910-14) is a poem by Alexander Blok, the author of Sirin i Alkonost, ptitsy radosti i pechali (“Sirin and Alkonost, the Birds of Joy and Sorrow,” 1899). Sirin was VN’s Russian nom de plume. Like Sirin, Feniks (Russ., Phoenix) is a fairy tale bird. In her essay Nabokov i ego Lolita (“Nabokov and his Lolita,” 1959) and in her memoirs The Italics are Mine (1969) Nina Berberova compares the author of Zashchita Luzhina ("The Luzhin Defense," 1930) to a Phoenix. According to Nina Berberov, a great Russian writer, like a Phoenix, was born from the fire and ashes of revolution and exile.


At the end of VN's novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character) listens to the melody of children at play in a nearby town and realizes that the hopelessly poignant thing is not Lolita’s absence from his side, but the absence of her voice from that concord:


As I approached the friendly abyss, I grew aware of a melodious unity of sounds rising like vapor from a small mining town that lay at my feet, in a fold of the valley. One could make out the geometry of the streets between blocks of red and gray roofs, and green puffs of trees, and a serpentine stream, and the rich, ore-like glitter of the city dump, and beyond the town, roads crisscrossing the crazy quilt of dark and pale fields, and behind it all, great timbered mountains. But even brighter than those quietly rejoicing colorsfor there are colors and shades that seem to enjoy themselves in good companyboth brighter and dreamier to the ear than they were to the eye, was that vapory vibration of accumulated sounds that never ceased for a moment, as it rose to the lip of granite where I stood wiping my foul mouth. And soon I realized that all these sounds were of one nature, that no other sounds but these came from the streets of the transparent town, with the women at home and the men away. Reader! What I heard was but the melody of children at play, nothing but that, and so limpid was the air that within this vapor of blended voices, majestic and minute, remote and magically near, frank and divinely enigmaticone could hear now and then, as if released, an almost articulate spurt of vivid laughter, or the crack of a bat, or the clatter of a toy wagon, but it was all really too far for the eye to distinguish any movement in the lightly etched streets. I stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope, to those flashes of separate cries with a kind of demure murmur for background, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord. (2.36)


Describing his conversation with Mona Dahl (Lolita’s schoolmate at Beardsley) over the telephone, Humbert Humbert mentions Mona’s humblest, sexiest contralto:


Because it supposedly tied up with her interest in dance and dramatics, I had permitted Lo to take piano lessons with a Miss Emperor (as we French scholars may conveniently call her) to whose blue-shuttered little white house a mile or so beyond Beardsley Lo would spin off twice a week. One Friday night toward the end of May (and a week or so after the very special rehearsal Lo had not had me attend) the telephone in my study, where I was in the act of mopping up Gustave’s - I mean Gaston’s - king’s side, rang and Miss Emperor asked if Lo was coming next Tuesday because she had missed last Tuesday’s and today’s lessons. I said she would by all meansand went on with the game. As the reader may well imagine, my faculties were now impaired, and a move or two later, with Gaston to play, I noticed through the film of my general distress that he could collect my queen; he noticed it too, but thinking it might be a trap on the part of his tricky opponent, he demurred for quite a minute, and puffed and wheezed, and shook his jowls, and even shot furtive glances at me, and made hesitating half-thrusts with his pudgily bunched fingers - dying to take that juicy queen and not daring - and all of a sudden he swooped down upon it (who knows if it did not teach him certain later audacities?), and I spent a dreary hour in achieving a draw. He finished his brandy and presently lumbered away, quite satisfied with this result (mon pauvre ami, je ne vous ai jamais revu et quoiqu’il y ait bien peu de chance que vous voyiez mon livre, permiettez-moi de vous dire que je vous serre la main bien cordialement, et que toutes mes fillettes vous saluent). I found Dolores Haze at the kitchen table, consuming a wedge of pie, with her eyes fixed on her script. They rose to meet mine with a kind of celestial vapidity. She remained singularly unruffled when confronted with my discovery, and said d’un petit air faussement contrit that she knew she was a very wicked kid, but simply had not been able to resist the enchantment, and had used up those music hours - O Reader, My Reader! - in a nearby public park rehearsing the magic forest scene with Mona. I said “fine” - and stalked to the telephone. Mona’s mother answered: “Oh yes, she’s in” and retreated with a mother’s neutral laugh of polite pleasure to shout off stage “Roy calling!” and the very next moment Mona rustled up, and forthwith, in a low monotonous not untender voice started berating Roy for something he had said or done and I interrupted her, and presently Mona was saying in her humblest, sexiest contralto, “yes, sir,” “surely, sir” “I am alone to blame, sir, in this unfortunate business,” (what elocution! what poise!) “honest, I feel very bad about it” - and so on and so forth as those little harlots say. (2.14)


The name of Mona’s boyfriend brings to mind snovideniy lozhnyi roy (the false swarm of dreams), the last line of Pushkin’s poem Proserpina (1824). In his poem Pushkin calls Proserpina ada gordaya tsaritsa (the proud queen of Hades) and mentions svody Tartara (the vaults of Tartarus) and koni blednogo Plutona (the horses of pale Pluto):


Плещут волны Флегетона,
Своды Тартара дрожат,
Кони бледного Плутона
Быстро к нимфам Пелиона
Из аида бога мчат.

The waves of the Phlegethon splash,
The vaults of Tartarus tremble,
The horses of pale Pluto
Quickly to the nymphs of Pelion
Rush the god from Hades.


Svody Tartara bring to mind Tartary, a land that on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) occupies the territory of the Soviet Russia:


Actually, Aqua was less pretty, and far more dotty, than Marina. During her fourteen years of miserable marriage she spent a broken series of steadily increasing sojourns in sanatoriums. A small map of the European part of the British Commonwealth — say, from Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia — as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina, might be quite thickly prickled with enameled red-cross-flag pins, marking, in her War of the Worlds, Aqua’s bivouacs. She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health (‘just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black’) in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. Of course, Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive... But her real destination was Terra the Fair and thither she trusted she would fly on libellula long wings when she died. Her poor little letters from the homes of madness to her husband were sometimes signed: Madame Shchemyashchikh-Zvukov (‘Heart rending-Sounds’). (1.3)


In several poems Alexander Blok mentions shchemyashiy zvuk (a heart-rending sound). "An independent inferno" brings to mind Inferno, the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Like Dante’s poem, Blok’s Pesn’ Ada (“The Song of Hell,” 1909) is written in tercets. In his poem Ravenna from the cycle Ital'yanskie stikhi ("Italian Verses," 1909) Blok mentions med' torzhestvennoy latyni (the copper of solemn Latin) that sings on tombstones, like a trumpet, and Dante's shade with eagle profile that sings to him of the New Life:


А виноградные пустыни,
Дома и люди - всё гроба.
Лишь медь торжественной латыни
Поёт на плитах, как труба.

Лишь в пристальном и тихом взоре
Равеннских девушек, порой,
Печаль о невозвратном море
Проходит робкой чередой.

Лишь по ночам, склонясь к долинам,
Ведя векам грядущим счёт,
Тень Данта с профилем орлиным
О Новой Жизни мне поёт.


Blok is the author of Dvenadtsat’ (“The Twelve,” 1918). Koni blednogo Plutona (the horses of pale Pluto) in Pushkin’s “Proserpina” bring to mind koni, lyudi (horses, people) in Lermontov's poem Borodino (1837) and koni (horses) in Ilf and Petrov's novel Dvenadtsat’ stul'yev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928):


Голос у неё был такой силы и густоты, что ему позавидовал бы Ричард Львиное Сердце, от крика которого, как известно, приседали кони.

Her [Mme Petukhov’s] voice was so strong and fruity that it might well have been envied by Richard the Lionheart, at whose shout, as is well known, horses used to kneel. (chapter I “Bezenchuk and The Nymphs”)


Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Van mentions Richard Leonard Churchill’s novel about a certain Crimean Khan, “A Great Good Man:”


Van remembered that his tutor’s great friend, the learned but prudish Semyon Afanasievich Vengerov, then a young associate professor but already a celebrated Pushkinist (1855-1954), used to say that the only vulgar passage in his author’s work was the cannibal joy of young gourmets tearing ‘plump and live’ oysters out of their ‘cloisters’ in an unfinished canto of Eugene Onegin. But then ‘everyone has his own taste,’ as the British writer Richard Leonard Churchill mistranslates a trite French phrase (chacun à son gout) twice in the course of his novel about a certain Crimean Khan once popular with reporters and politicians, ‘A Great Good Man’ ― according, of course, to the cattish and prejudiced Guillaume Monparnasse about whose new celebrity Ada, while dipping the reversed corolla of one hand in a bowl, was now telling Demon, who was performing the same rite in the same graceful fashion. (1.38)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Great good man: a phrase that Winston Churchill, the British politician, enthusiastically applied to Stalin.


Churchill definitely peresolil (“put in too much salt,” as we say of a person who grossly exaggerated something). Peresolil (“Overdoing it,” 1885) is a story by Chekhov, the author of Ustritsy ("The Oysters," 1884). The characters of Chekhov's juvenile Pyesa bez nazvaniya ("A Play without a Title," 1880-81) include Vengerovich père and Vengerovich fils. Van’s conversation with the Vinelanders at the dinner in Bellevue Hotel is a parody of Chekhov’s mannerisms.


According to Mlle Larivière (Lucette's governess who writes fiction under the penname ‘Guillaume de Monparnasse’), the leaving out of the ‘t’ in her gorgeous pseudonym made it more intime (1.31). In his Foreword to "Paul Verlaine. Poems Selected and Translated by F. Sologub" (1908) Maximilian Voloshin says that he can hear the sounds of intimnyi golos (the intimate voice) in Lermontov's poetry, but does not hear them in Pushkin:


Я слышу, например, звуки интимного голоса у Лермонтова, но не слышу их у Пушкина.

Их нет у Тютчева, но есть у Фета и ещё больше у Полонского.

Из современных поэтов этим даром в наибольшей степени владеет Блок.


Voloshin singles out Alexander Blok (whom Anna Akhmatov called tragicheskiy tenor epokhi, "the tragic tenor of the epoch") as a modern poet whose intimate voice can be heard in his verses. In his essay Golosa poetov (“The Voices of Poets,” 1917) Voloshin quotes Théophile Gautier’s poem Contralto:


Сомнения быть не может: в этой лирике звучит тот волнующий и странный голос, о котором Теофиль Готье сказал:


Que tu me plais, o timbre etrange!
Son double, homme et femme a la fois,
Contralto, bizarre melange,
Hermaphrodite de la voix.


Что по-русски можно перевести так:


Меня пленяет это слиянье
Юноши с девушкой в тембре слов -
Контральто! - странное сочетанье -
Гермафродит голосов!


According to Voloshin, golos (the voice) is vnutrenniy slepok dushi (the inner mould of the soul):


Голос - это самое пленительное и самое неуловимое в человеке. Голос - это внутренний слепок души.


In his essay Taynyi smysl tragedii “Otello” (“The Secret Meaning of the tragedy Othello,” 1919) Blok says that Desdemona (Othello's wife) is a harmony, Desdemona is a soul, and the soul can not but saves from the Chaos:


Дездемона - это гармония, Дездемона - это душа, а душа не может не спасть от хаоса.


There is Mona in Desdemona. According to Van, on Desdemonia (as Van calls Demonia) artists are the only gods:


That meeting, and the nine that followed, constituted the highest ridge of their twenty-one-year-old love: its complicated, dangerous, ineffably radiant coming of age. The somewhat Italianate style of the apartment, its elaborate wall lamps with ornaments of pale caramel glass, its white knobbles that produced indiscriminately light or maids, the slat-eyes, veiled, heavily curtained windows which made the morning as difficult to disrobe as a crinolined prude, the convex sliding doors of the huge white 'Nuremberg Virgin'-like closet in the hallway of their suite, and even the tinted engraving by Randon of a rather stark three-mast ship on the zigzag green waves of Marseilles Harbor – in a word, the alberghian atmosphere of those new trysts added a novelistic touch (Aleksey and Anna may have asterisked here!) which Ada welcomed as a frame, as a form, something supporting and guarding life, otherwise unprovidenced on Desdemonia, where artists are the only gods. (3.8)


In his Pushkin speech, O naznachenii poeta (“On a Poet’s Destination,” 1921), Blok says that everybody feels the power of harmony, but mortals feel it differently than god (Mozart) does. In his speech Blok mentions the Chaos (a primeval, elemental anarchy) from which the Cosmos (an organized harmony, culture) was born:


Что такое поэт? Человек, который пишет стихами? Нет, конечно. Он называется поэтом не потому, что он пишет стихами; но он пишет стихами, то есть приводит в гармонию слова и звуки, потому что он — сын гармонии, поэт.

Что такое гармония? Гармония есть согласие мировых сил, порядок мировой жизни. Порядок — космос, в противоположность беспорядку — хаосу. Из хаоса рождается космос, мир, учили древние. Космос — родной хаосу, как упругие волны моря — родные грудам океанских валов. Сын может быть не похож на отца ни в чём, кроме одной тайной черты; но она-то и делает похожими отца и сына.

Хаос есть первобытное, стихийное безначалие; космос — устроенная гармония, культура; из хаоса рождается космос; стихия таит в себе семена культуры; из безначалия создается гармония.


In his essay V zashchitu A. Bloka (“In Defense of A. Blok,” 1931) Berdyaev mentions Dante and points out that poetrys greatest and most painful problem is that it relates but to a small degree to the Logos, it relates rather to the Cosmos:


Можно было бы показать, что все почти поэты мира, величайшие и наиболее несомненные, находились в состоянии «прелести», им не дано было ясного и чистого созерцания Бога и мира умных сущностей, их созерцания всегда почти были замутнены космическим прельщением. Если для Данте сделают исключение, то не за Беатриче, а за ад, в который он столь многих послал. Это есть самая большая и мучительная проблема поэзии: она лишь в очень малой степени причастна Логосу, она причастна Космосу.


It may seem, that almost all the poetry of the world, even the without doubt greatest, is situated in a condition of “prelest’-bewitchment”, that there was not granted it a clear and pure contemplation of God and the world of intelligible entities, their contemplation almost always having been muddled by a cosmic allure. If an exception be made for Dante, then it is not because of Beatrice, but because of the Inferno, into which he dispatched so many. This is a very great and tortuous problem that involves poetry: it relates but to a small degree to the Logos, it relates rather to the Cosmos.


When Van visits Philip Rack (Lucette’s music teacher who was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie) in Ward Five of the Kalugano hospital, male nurse Dorofey (whose name brings to mind Dorothy) reads the Russian-language newspaper Golos (Logos):


Doc Fitz commented on Van’s wonderful recuperational power which was already in evidence, and promised to have him out of disinfectants and bandages in ten days or so if for the first three he remained as motionless as a felled tree-trunk. Did Van like music? Sportsmen usually did, didn’t they? Would he care to have a Sonorola by his bed? No, he disliked music, but did the doctor, being a concert-goer, know perhaps where a musician called Rack could be found? ‘Ward Five,’ answered the doctor promptly. Van misunderstood this as the title of some piece of music and repeated his question. Would he find Rack’s address at Harper’s music shop? Well, they used to rent a cottage way down Dorofey Road, near the forest, but now some other people had moved in. Ward Five was where hopeless cases were kept. The poor guy had always had a bad liver and a very indifferent heart, but on top of that a poison had seeped into his system; the local ‘lab’ could not identify it and they were now waiting for a report, on those curiously frog-green faeces, from the Luga people. If Rack had administered it to himself by his own hand, he kept ‘mum’; it was more likely the work of his wife who dabbled in Hindu-Andean voodoo stuff and had just had a complicated miscarriage in the maternity ward. Yes, triplets — how did he guess? Anyway, if Van was so eager to visit his old pal it would have to be as soon as he could be rolled to Ward Five in a wheelchair by Dorofey, so he’d better apply a bit of voodoo, ha-ha, on his own flesh and blood.

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)


…Van drew in his useless weapon. Controlling himself, he thumped it against the footboard of his wheelchair. Dorofey glanced up from his paper, then went back to the article that engrossed him ― ‘A Clever Piggy (from the memoirs of an animal trainer),’ or else ‘The Crimean War: Tartar Guerillas Help Chinese Troops.’ A diminutive nurse simultaneously stepped out from behind the farther screen and disappeared again. (1.42)


In Kurochkin’s poem Vorchun Dorofey (“The Grumbler Dorofey,” 1860) Dorofey is the name of the author’s conscience. Before accepting the offer of Dick C. (a cardsharp who proposed to substitute for his debt an introduction to the Venus Villa Club), Van tussles with his slightly overweight conscience:

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


In a letter to Van Ada mentions Marina’s new director of artistic conscience:


Marina’s new director of artistic conscience defines Infinity as the farthest point from the camera which is still in fair focus. She has been cast as the deaf nun Varvara (who, in some ways, is the most interesting of Chekhov’s Four Sisters). She sticks to Stan’s principle of having lore and rôle overflow into everyday life, insists on keeping it up at the hotel restaurant, drinks tea v prikusku (‘biting sugar between sips’), and feigns to misunderstand every question in Varvara’s quaint way of feigning stupidity — a double imbroglio, which annoys strangers but which somehow makes me feel I’m her daughter much more distinctly than in the Ardis era. (2.1)


In her essay Iskusstvo pri svete sovesti ("Art by the Light of Conscience," 1932) Marina Tsvetaev says that Gogol burnt the second volume of "Dead Souls" on the fire of his own conscience:


Один проснулся. Востроносый, восковолицый человек, жёгший в камине шереметевского дома рукопись. Вторую часть «Мёртвых Душ».

Не ввести в соблазн. Пуще чем средневековое - собственноручное предание творения огню. Тот само-суд, о котором говорю, что он—единственный суд.

(Позор и провал Инквизиции в том, что она сама жгла, а не доводила до сожжения — жгла рукопись, когда нужно было прожечь душу.)

— Но Гоголь тогда уже был сумасшедшим.

Сумасшедший — тот, кто сжигает храм (которого не строил), чтобы прославиться. Гоголь, сжигая дело своих рук, и свою славу жёг.

И вспоминается мне слово одного сапожника (1920 г. Москва) — тот случай сапожника, когда он поистине выше художника.

—Не мы с вами, М<арина> И<вановна>, сумасшедшие, а они недошедшие.

Эти полчаса Гоголя у камина больше сделали для добра и против искусства, чем вся долголетняя проповедь Толстого.

Потому что здесь дело, наглядное дело рук, то движение руки, которого мы все жаждем и которого не перевесит ни одно «Душевное движение».

Может быть, мы бы второй частью «Мёртвых Душ» и не соблазнились. Достоверно — им бы радовались. Но наша та бы радость им ничто перед нашей этой радостью Гоголю, который из любви к нашим живым душам свои Мёртвые — сжёг. На огне собственной совести.

Те были написаны чернилами.

Эти — в нас — огнём.


In his essay "On a Book Entitled Lolita" (1956) VN says that once or twice he was on the point of burning his manuscript:


The book developed slowly, with many interruptions and asides. It had taken me some forty years to invent Russia and Western Europe, and now I was faced by the task of inventing America. The obtaining of such local ingredients as would allow me to inject a modicum of average "reality" (one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes) into the brew of individual fancy, proved at fifty a much more difficult process than it had been in the Europe of my youth when receptiveness and retention were at their automatic best. Other books intervened. Once or twice I was on the point of burning the unfinished draft and had carried my Juanita Dark as far as the shadow of the leaning incinerator on the innocent lawn, when I was stopped by the thought that the ghost of the destroyed book would haunt my files for the rest of my life.


"Juanita Dark" (as VN calls his novel) brings to mind the Inquisition mentioned by Marina Tsvetaev in "Art by the Light of Conscience" and La bonne lorraine (1924), VN's Russian poem about Joan of Arc.


According to Dr Fitzbishop (the Kalugano surgeon), Ward Five is where hopeless cases are kept. In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Shestov calls Chekhov pevets beznadezhnosti (“a poet of hopelessness):


Чтобы в двух словах определить его тенденцию, я скажу: Чехов был певцом безнадежности. Упорно, уныло, однообразно в течение всей своей почти 25-летней литературной деятельности Чехов только одно и делал: теми или иными способами убивал человеческие надежды. В этом, на мой взгляд, сущность его творчества.


To define his tendency in a word, I would say that Chekhov was the poet of hopelessness. Stubbornly, sadly, monotonously, during all the years of his literary activity, nearly a quarter of a century long, Chekhov was doing one alone: by one means or another he was killing human hopes. Herein, I hold, lies the essence of his creation. (I)


In his essay Shestov points out that in Chekhov’s story “Ward Six” (1892) the doctor dies very beautifully:


И, кажется, “Палату № 6” в своё время очень сочувственно приняли. Кстати прибавим, что доктор умирает очень красиво: в последние минуты видит стадо оленей и т. п.


Chekhov had openly repented and renounced the theory of non-resistance; and, I believe, Ward No. 6 met with a sympathetic reception at the time. In passing I would say that the doctor dies very beautifully: in his last moments he sees a herd of deer... (VI)


At the end of Ada Van (whom Dr Lagosse made the last merciful injection of morphine and who hastens to finish the book before it is too late) mentions a doe at gaze:


Not the least adornment of the chronicle is the delicacy of pictorial detail: a latticed gallery; a painted ceiling; a pretty plaything stranded among the forget-me-nots of a brook; butterflies and butterfly orchids in the margin of the romance; a misty view descried from marble steps; a doe at gaze in the ancestral park; and much, much more. (5.6)


Ada’s last words, "much, much more," bring to mind “much of a muchness” mentioned by the Dormouse in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In 1923 VN translated Lewis Carroll’s book into Russian (as Anya v strane chudes). Describing his and Ada’s old age, Van mentions Ada’s adventures in Adaland:


At least twice a year our happy couple indulged in fairly long travels. Ada did not breed or collect butterflies any more, but throughout her healthy and active old age loved to film them in their natural surroundings, at the bottom of her garden or the end of the world, flapping and flitting, settling on flowers or filth, gliding over grass or granite, fighting or mating. Van accompanied her on picture-shooting journeys to Brazil, the Congo, New Guinea, but secretly preferred a long drink under a tent to a long wait under a tree for some rarity to come down to the bait and be taken in color. One would need another book to describe Ada’s adventures in Adaland. The films — and the crucified actors (Identification Mounts) — can be seen by arrangement at the Lucinda Museum, 5, Park Lane, Manhattan. (5.1)


"Pig and Pepper," a chapter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, brings to mind 'A Clever Piggy' (the article in Dorofey's newspaper) and pereperchil (put in too much pepper), the verb used by VN at the end of his poem O pravitelyakh ("On Rulers," 1944):


Покойный мой тёзка,
писавший стихи и в полоску,
и в клетку, на самом восходе
всесоюзно-мещанского класса,
кабы дожил до полдня,
нынче бы рифмы натягивал
на "монументален",
на "переперчил"
и так далее.


If my late namesake,
who used to write verse, in rank
and in file, at the very dawn
of the Soviet Small-Bourgeois order,
had lived till its noon
he would be now finding taut rhymes
such as “praline”
or “air chill,”
and others of the same kind.


VN’s footnotes: Line 52/my late namesake. An allusion to the Christian name and patronymic of Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovski (1893–1930), minor Soviet poet, endowed with a certain brilliance and bite, but fatally corrupted by the regime he faithfully served.

Lines 58–59/“praline” … “air chill.” In the original, monumentalen, meaning “[he is] monumental” rhymes pretty closely with Stalin; and pereperchil, meaning “[he] put in too much pepper,” offers an ingenuous correspondence with the name of the British politician in a slovenly Russian pronunciation (“chair-chill”).


In his poem Vo ves' golos ("At the Top of my Voice," 1930) Mayakovski mentions voprosov roy (a swarm of questions):


И, возможно, скажет
                                  ваш учёный,
кроя эрудицией

                             вопросов рой,
что жил-де такой
                          певец кипячёной
И ярый враг воды сырой.


Mayakovski calls himself "a poet of the boiled and and ardent foe of unboiled water." According to Van, Marina's poor mad twin sister Aqua believed that she could understand the language of her namesake, water:


She developed a morbid sensitivity to the language of tap water - which echoes sometimes (much as the bloodstream does predormitarily) a fragment of human speech lingering in one's ears while one washes one's hands after cocktails with strangers. Upon first noticing this immediate, sustained, and in her case rather eager and mocking but really quite harmless replay of this or that recent discourse, she felt tickled at the thought that she, poor Aqua, had accidentally hit upon such a simple method of recording and transmitting speech, while technologists (the so-called Eggheads) all over the world were trying to make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and still very expensive, hydrodynamic telephones and other miserable gadgets that were to replace those that had gone k chertyam sobach'im (Russian 'to the devil') with the banning of an unmentionable 'lammer.' Soon, however, the rhythmically perfect, but verbally rather blurred volubility of faucets began to acquire too much pertinent sense. The purity of the running water’s enunciation grew in proportion to the nuisance it made of itself. It spoke soon after she had listened, or been exposed, to somebody talking — not necessarily to her — forcibly and expressively, a person with a rapid characteristic voice, and very individual or very foreign phrasal intonations, some compulsive narrator’s patter at a horrible party, or a liquid soliloquy in a tedious play, or Van’s lovely voice, or a bit of poetry heard at a lecture, my lad, my pretty, my love, take pity, but especially the more fluid and flou Italian verse, for instance that ditty recited between knee-knocking and palpebra-lifting, by a half-Russian, half-dotty old doctor, doc, toc, ditty, dotty, ballatetta, deboletta… tu, voce sbigottita… spigotty e diavoletta… de lo cor dolente… con ballatetta va… va… della strutta, destruttamente… mente… mente… stop that record, or the guide will go on demonstrating as he did this very morning in Florence a silly pillar commemorating, he said, the ‘elmo’ that broke into leaf when they carried stone-heavy-dead St Zeus by it through the gradual, gradual shade; or the Arlington harridan talking incessantly to her silent husband as the vineyards sped by, and even in the tunnel (they can’t do this to you, you tell them, Jack Black, you just tell them…). Bathwater (or shower) was too much of a Caliban to speak distinctly — or perhaps was too brutally anxious to emit the hot torrent and get rid of the infernal ardor — to bother about small talk; but the burbly flowlets grew more and more ambitious and odious, and when at her first ‘home’ she heard one of the most hateful of the visiting doctors (the Cavalcanti quoter) garrulously pour hateful instructions in Russian-lapped German into her hateful bidet, she decided to stop turning on tap water altogether. (1.3)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): ballatetta: fragmentation and distortion of a passage in a ‘little ballad’ by the Italian poet Guido Cavalcanti (1255–1300). The relevant lines are: ‘you frightened and weak little voice that comes weeping from my woeful heart, go with my soul and that ditty, telling of a destroyed mind.’


Guido Cavalcanti is the main character in Gumilyovs story Radosti zemnoy lyubvi ("The Joys of Earthly Love," 1908) in which the inhabitants of the wild Tartary are mentioned:


В то время вся Флоренция говорила о заезжем венецианском синьоре и о его скорее влюблённом, чем почтительном, преклонении перед красотой Примаверы. Этот венецианец одевался в костюмы, напоминающие цветом попугаев; ломаясь, пел песни, пригодные разве только для таверн или грубых солдатских попоек; и хвастливо рассказывал о путешествиях своего соотечественника Марко Поло, в которых сам и не думал участвовать. И как-то Кавальканти видел, что Примавера приняла предложенный ей сонет этого высокомерного глупца, где воспевалась её красота в выражениях напыщенных и смешных: её груди сравнивались со снеговыми вершинами Гималайских гор, взгляды с отравленными стрелами обитателей дикой Тартарии, а любовь, возбуждаемая ею, с чудовищным зверем Симлой, который живёт во владениях Великого Могола, ежедневно пожирая тысячи людей; вдобавок размер часто пропадал, и рифмы были расставлены неверно.


The Russian translator of Gautier's Émaux et Camées ("Enamels and Cameos," 1852), Gumilyov is the author of Telefon ("Telephone," 1918):


Неожиданный и смелый
Женский голос в телефоне,-
Сколько сладостных гармоний
В этом голосе без тела!

Счастье, шаг твой благосклонный
Не всегда проходит мимо:
Звонче лютни серафима
Ты и в трубке телефонной!


The unexpected and bold

female voice in the telephone.

How many sweet harmonies

are there in this voice without body!


Happiness, your benevolent step

not always passes me by:

and in the telephone receiver you are

more sonorous than a seraph's lute!


In his poem Florentsiya ("Florence," 1913) Gumilyov mentions Leonardo's Leda (a painting destroyed by the Inquisition):


Тебе нужны слова иные.
Иная, страшная пора.
…Вот грозно стала Синьория,
И перед нею два костра.

Один, как шкура леопарда,
Разнообразен, вечно нов.
Там гибнет «Леда» Леонардо
Средь благовоний и шелков.


Describing the lounge of Les Trois Cygnes (Van’s hotel in Mont Roux), Van mentions the huge memorable oil — three ample-haunched Ledas swapping lacustrine impressions:


The Three Swans where he had reserved rooms 508-509-510 had undergone certain changes since 1905. A portly, plum-nosed Lucien did not recognize him at once — and then remarked that Monsieur was certainly not ‘deperishing’ — although actually Van had almost reverted to his weight of seventeen years earlier, having shed several kilos in the Balkans rock-climbing with crazy little Acrazia (now dumped in a fashionable boarding school near Florence). No, Madame Vinn Landère had not called. Yes, the hall had been renovated. Swiss-German Louis Wicht now managed the hotel instead of his late father-in-law Luigi Fantini. In the lounge, as seen through its entrance, the huge memorable oil — three ample-haunched Ledas swapping lacustrine impressions — had been replaced by a neoprimitive masterpiece showing three yellow eggs and a pair of plumber’s gloves on what looked like wet bathroom tiling. (Part Four)


Leda (1894) is a poem by Merezhkovski. In his poem Sineet more slishkom yarko... ("The blue sea is too bright..." 1897) Merezhkovski mentions blagoukhannyi apel'sin (the fragrant orange) and bezukhannye fialki (the odorless violets):


Синеет море слишком ярко,
И в глубине чужих долин
Под зимним солнцем рдеет жарко
Благоуханный апельсин.

Но, целомудренны и жалки,
Вы сердцу чуткому милей,
О, безуханные фиалки
Родимых северных полей!


After Van's and Ada's death Ronald Oranger (old Van's secretary) marries Violet Knox, old Van's typist whom Ada calls Fialochka (little violet):


Violet Knox [now Mrs Ronald Oranger. Ed.], born in 1940, came to live with us in 1957. She was (and still is — ten years later) an enchanting English blonde with doll eyes, a velvet carnation and a tweed-cupped little rump […..]; but such designs, alas, could no longer flesh my fancy. She has been responsible for typing out this memoir — the solace of what are, no doubt, my last ten years of existence. A good daughter, an even better sister, and half-sister, she had supported for ten years her mother’s children from two marriages, besides laying aside [something]. I paid her [generously] per month, well realizing the need to ensure unembarrassed silence on the part of a puzzled and dutiful maiden. Ada called her ‘Fialochka’ and allowed herself the luxury of admiring ‘little Violet’ ‘s cameo neck, pink nostrils, and fair pony-tail. Sometimes, at dinner, lingering over the liqueurs, my Ada would consider my typist (a great lover of Koo-Ahn-Trow) with a dreamy gaze, and then, quick-quick, peck at her flushed cheek. The situation might have been considerably more complicated had it arisen twenty years earlier. (5.4)


Nox being Latin for “night,” the name of Van’s typist seems to hint at Blok's poem Nochnaya fialka ("The Night Violet," 1906) subtitled "A Dream." Son ("A Dream," 1841) is a poem by Lermontov. Like Lermontov's poem, Ada seems to be a triple dream (a dream within a dream within a dream).


In a letter of Oct. 4-6, 1888, to Suvorin Chekhov says that the editors of Russkaya mysl’ ("Russian Thought") are kopchyonye sigi (the smoked whitefish) who have as much taste for literature as a pig has for oranges:


Что же касается "Русской мысли", то там сидят не литераторы, а копчёные сиги, которые столько же понимают в литературе, как свинья в апельсинах. К тому же библиографический отдел ведёт там дама. Если дикая утка, которая летит в поднебесье, может презирать свойскую, которая копается в навозе и в лужах и думает, что это хорошо, то так должны презирать художники и поэты мудрость копчёных сигов...


According to Chekhov, artists and poets should despise the wisdom of smoked whitefish, just as a wild duck that flies high in the sky despises a domesticated one that rummages in manure and thinks that it is good. “The Wild Duck” (1884) is a play by Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright mentioned by Nina Berberova in Nabokov i ego Lolita (“Nabokov and his Lolita”):


Эти четыре элемента — интуиция разъятого мира, открытые «шлюзы» подсознания, непрерывная текучесть сознания и новая поэтика, вышедшая из символизма, — можно найти в слабой степени и в книгах ушедших веков, но они не получили развития и были даны лишь в намёках. Интуиция разъятого мира была, например, у Достоевского и не только в его романах, но и в некоторых страницах «Дневника Писателя»; открытыми «шлюзами» он пользовался в «Исповеди Николая Ставрогина» и вообще умел ими оперировать мастерски, как умел это делать уже Сервантес. В «Тристраме Шенди» Стерна можно найти попытки дать непрерывную текучесть сознания, которую позже можно встретить и у великих романистов XIX века Франции и России. Наиболее близкий нам пример — мыслительный процесс Анны Карениной во время ее последней поездки на извозчике, где «куафер Тютькин» нашел своё незабываемое место. Стриндберг, в некотором смысле, раз открыв «шлюзы» так никогда и не закрыл их, видимо уже не чувствуя в этом потребности. Может быть поэтому он и не устарел, как устарел, например, Ибсен, всю жизнь просидевший за собственным «железным занавесом», не подозревая, что можно выйти из-за него и продолжать говорить перед ним, а не за ним. Новая поэтика, пришедшая на смену изжитым формам классицизма, романтизма и реализма (все эти факторы были как бы испепелены символизмом, чтобы дать из пепла возродиться Фениксу), в противоположность трём первым элементам, продукт современности, что естественно: новая поэтика наметилась в первые годы нашего столетия, стала ощутимой в середине десятых годов, была понята и оценена в конце двадцатых. Её путь отчасти совпадает с переменами, происшедшими в живописи и музыке. (I)


According to Nina Berberova, Ibsen all his life had been sitting behind his own iron curtain, without suspecting that one can go out of it and continue to speak before, rather than behind, it. The term "iron curtain" was first introduced by Churchill in his Fulton speech. On Antiterra Tartary is separated from the rest of the world by the Golden Veil:


In contrast to the cloudless course of Demonian history in the twentieth century, with the Anglo-American coalition managing one hemisphere, and Tartary, behind her Golden Veil, mysteriously ruling the other, a succession of wars and revolutions were shown shaking loose the jigsaw puzzle of Terrestrial autonomies. In an impressive historical survey of Terra rigged up by Vitry — certainly the greatest cinematic genius ever to direct a picture of such scope or use such a vast number of extras (some said more than a million, others, half a million men and as many mirrors) — kingdoms fell and dictatordoms rose, and republics, half-sat, half-lay in various attitudes of discomfort. The conception was controversial, the execution flawless. Look at all those tiny soldiers scuttling along very fast across the trench-scarred wilderness, with explosions of mud and things going pouf-pouf in silent French now here, now there! (5.5)


In his poem Neznakomka ("The Unknown Woman," 1906) Blok mentions tyomnaya vual' (the dark veil):


И странной близостью закованный,
Смотрю за тёмную вуаль,
И вижу берег очарованный
И очарованную даль.


And entranced by this strange nearness,
I look through her dark veil,
And see an enchanted shore
And an enchanted distance.


Ocharovannaya dal' (an enchanted distance) in Blok's poem brings to mind "The Enchanted Hunters" (a hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together) and Mona Dahl. In Leonardo's Mona Lisa an idyllic landscape (enchanted distance) can be seen in the window.


Describing his meeting with Lucette in Paris, Van mentions Blok's Incognita:


Upon entering, he stopped for a moment to surrender his coat; but he kept his black fedora and stick-slim umbrella as he had seen his father do in that sort of bawdy, albeit smart, place which decent women did not frequent — at least, unescorted. He headed for the bar, and as he was in the act of wiping the lenses of his black-framed spectacles, made out, through the optical mist (Space’s recent revenge!), the girl whose silhouette he recalled having seen now and then (much more distinctly!) ever since his pubescence, passing alone, drinking alone, always alone, like Blok’s Incognita. (3.3)


Kopchyonye sigi (smoked whitefish) in Chekhov's letter to Suvorin bring to mind Sig Heiler (Aqua's last doctor) and Sig Leymanski (anagram of Kingsley Amis), the main character in Van's novel Letters from Terra:


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. When Leymanski’s obsession turned into love, and one’s sympathy got focused on his enchanting, melancholy, betrayed wife (née Antilia Glems), our author found himself confronted with the distressful task of now stamping out in Antilia, a born brunette, all traces of Ada, thus reducing yet another character to a dummy with bleached hair.
After beaming to Sig a dozen communications from her planet, Theresa flies over to him, and he, in his laboratory, has to place her on a slide under a powerful microscope in order to make out the tiny, though otherwise perfect, shape of his minikin sweetheart, a graceful microorganism extending
transparent appendages toward his huge humid eye. Alas, the testibulus (test tube ― never to be confused with testiculus, orchid), with Theresa swimming inside like a micromermaid, is ‘accidentally’ thrown away by Professor Leyman’s (he had trimmed his name by that time) assistant, Flora, initially an ivory-pale, dark-haired funest beauty, whom the author transformed just in time into a third bromidic dummy with a dun bun.
(Antilia later regained her husband, and Flora was weeded out. Ada’s addendum.) (2.2)


In his review of Van’s novel the poet Max Mispel discerned the influence of Osberg and of an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine:


The only other compliment was paid to poor Voltemand in a little Manhattan magazine (The Village Eyebrow) by the poet Max Mispel (another botanical name ― ‘medlar’ in English), member of the German Department at Goluba University. Herr Mispel, who liked to air his authors, discerned in Letters from Terra the influence of Osberg (Spanish writer of pretentious fairy tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes, highly esteemed by short-shift thesialists) as well as that of an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine, thus transliterated by Captain de Roux, according to Burton in his adaptation of Nefzawi’s treatise on the best method of mating with obese or hunchbacked females (The Perfumed Garden, Panther edition, p. 187, a copy given to ninety-three-year-old Baron Van Veen by his ribald physician Professor Lagosse). His critique ended as follows: ‘If Mr Voltemand (or Voltimand or Mandalatov) is a psychiatrist, as I think he might be, then I pity his patients, while admiring his talent.’ (2.2)


On Antiterra VN's Lolita is known as The Gitanilla, a novel by Osberg (anagram of Borges). According to John Ray, Jr. (the author of the Foreword to Humbert Humbert's manuscript), Mrs. Richard F. Schiller (Lolita's married name) died in childbed, giving birth to a still-born girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Norht-west. In his poem V etot moy blagoslovennyi vecher… (“On this my Blessed Evening…” 1917) Gumilyov compares the golden stars to apel’siny voskovye (the oranges filled with wax and used as candles at Christmas parties):


И светились звёзды золотые,
Приглашённые на торжество,
Словно апельсины восковые,
Те, что подают на Рождество.


In "Art by the Light of Conscience" Marina Tsvetaev calls Gogol vostronosyi, voskovolitsyi chelovek (a sharp-nosed, wax-faced man). Gogol' is a bird goldeneye (Bucephala clangula). The name Ronald Oranger seems to hint at the cartoon character Donald Duck (an anthropomorphic white duck with a yellow-orange bill, legs, and feet).


Antilia Glems + Gerald + vesna + Ada = gitanilla Esmeralda + navsegda


Gerald - Maurice Gerald, the main character in Captain Mayne Reid’s novel Headless Horseman (on Antiterra The Headless Horseman is a poem by Pushkin, the author of Mednyi vsadnik, "The Bronze Horseman," 1833); Gerald Emerald, a character in VN's novel Pale Fire (1962)

vesna - spring

gitanilla Esmeralda - the gypsy girl in Victor Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris (1831); Van and Ada call their half-sister Lucette "our Esmeralda and mermaid"

navsegda - forever