According to Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins!, 1974), it was his extravagant grand-aunt, Baroness Bredow, born Tolstoy, who summoned him to look at the harlequins:
I saw my parents infrequently. They divorced and remarried and redivorced at such a rapid rate that had the custodians of my fortune been less alert, I might have been auctioned out finally to a pair of strangers of Swedish or Scottish descent, with sad bags under hungry eyes. An extraordinary grand-aunt, Baroness Bredow, born Tolstoy, amply replaced closer blood. As a child of seven or eight, already harboring the secrets of a confirmed madman, I seemed even to her (who also was far from normal) unduly sulky and indolent; actually, of course, I kept daydreaming in a most outrageous fashion.
"Stop moping!" she would cry: "Look at the harlequins!”
"What harlequins? Where?"
"Oh, everywhere. All around you. Trees are harlequins, words are harlequins. So are situations and sums. Put two things together--jokes, images--and you get a triple harlequin. Come on! Play! Invent the world! Invent reality!"
I did. By Jove, I did. I invented my grand-aunt in honor of my first daydreams, and now, down the marble steps of memory's front porch, here she slowly comes, sideways, sideways, the poor lame lady, touching each step edge with the rubber tip of her black cane. (1.2)
In Pushkin’s Stsena iz Fausta (“A Scene from Faust,” 1825) Mephistopheles says: ty bredish', Faust, nayavu (Faust, you are daydreaming):
Ты бредишь, Фауст, наяву!
Себя обманываешь ты.
You’re daydreaming, Faust, in the waking life!
With a compliant recollection
you are deceiving yourself.
In Pushkin’s poem Mephistopheles compares himself to arlekin (an harlequin) whom Faust conjured up from the fire:
Но — помнится — тогда со скуки,
Как арлекина, из огня
Ты вызвал наконец меня.
But then, as far as I recall, from sheer boredom,
like an harlequin, from the fire
You finally conjured me up?
In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (Two: XV: 13-14) Onegin readily forgives Lenski his yunyi bred (young delirium):
Он слушал Ленского с улыбкой.
Поэта пылкий разговор,
И ум, ещё в сужденьях зыбкой,
И вечно вдохновенный взор, —
Онегину всё было ново;
Он охладительное слово
В устах старался удержать
И думал: глупо мне мешать
Его минутному блаженству;
И без меня пора придёт;
Пускай покамест он живёт
Да верит мира совершенству;
Простим горячке юных лет
И юный жар и юный бред.
He listened with a smile to Lenski:
the poet's fervid conversation,
and mind still vacillant in judgments,
and gaze eternally inspired —
all this was novel to Onegin;
the chilling word
on his lips he tried to restrain,
and thought: foolish of me
to interfere with his brief rapture;
without me just as well that time will come;
meanwhile let him live and believe
in the perfection of the world;
let us forgive the fever of young years
both its young glow and young delirium.
In “The Fragments of Onegin’s Journey” ([XIX]: 3-4) Pushkin mentions prozaicheskie bredni, flamandskoy shkoly pyostryi sor (prosy divagations, the Flemish School’s variegated dross):
Порой дождливою намедни
Я, завернув на скотный двор...
Тьфу! прозаические бредни,
Фламандской школы пестрый сор!
Таков ли был я, расцветая?
Скажи, фонтан Бахчисарая!
Такие ль мысли мне на ум
Навел твой бесконечный шум,
Когда безмолвно пред тобою
Зарему я воображал
Средь пышных, опустелых зал...
Спустя три года, вслед за мною,
Скитаясь в той же стороне,
Онегин вспомнил обо мне.
The other day, during a rainy spell,
as I had dropped into the cattle yard —
Fie! Prosy divagations,
the Flemish School's variegated dross!
Was I like that when I was blooming?
Say, Fountain of Bahchisaray!
Were such the thoughts that to my mind
your endless purl suggested
when silently in front of you
Zaréma I imagined?...
Midst the sumptuous deserted halls
after the lapse of three years, in my tracks
in the same region wandering,
Onegin remembered me.
While Vadim’s father (a gambler and a rake who, like Lenski, died in a pistol duel) was portrayed by Vrubel, the portrait of Vadim’s first cousin Ada Bredow (apparently, Baroness Bredow’s granddaughter) was painted by Serov:
My father was a gambler and a rake. His society nickname was Demon. Vrubel has portrayed him with his vampire-pale cheeks, his diamond eyes, his black hair. What remained on the palette has been used by me, Vadim, son of Vadim, for touching up the father of the passionate siblings in the best of my English romaunts, Ardis (1970).
The scion of a princely family devoted to a gallery of a dozen Tsars, my father resided on the idyllic outskirts of history. His politics were of the casual, reactionary sort. He had a dazzling and complicated sensual life, but his culture was patchy and commonplace. He was born in 1865, married in 1896, and died in a pistol duel with a young Frenchman on October 22, 1898, after a card-table fracas at Deauville, some resort in gray Normandy. (2.5)
I am reduced--a sad confession!--to something I have also used before, and even in this book--the well-known method of degrading one species of art by appealing to another. I am thinking of Serov's Five-petaled Lilac, oil, which depicts a tawny-haired girl of twelve or so sitting at a sun-flecked table and manipulating a raceme of lilac in search of that lucky token. The girl is no other than Ada Bredow, a first cousin of mine whom I flirted with disgracefully that very summer, the sun of which ocellates the garden table and her bare arms. What hack reviewers of fiction call "human interest" will now overwhelm my reader, the gentle tourist, when he visits the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, where I have seen with my own rheumy eyes, on a visit to Sovietland a few years ago, that picture which belonged to Ada's grandmother before being handed over to the People by a dedicated purloiner. I believe that this enchanting little girl was the model of my partner in a recurrent dream of mine with a stretch of parquetry between two beds in a makeshift demonic guest room. Bel's resemblance to her--same cheekbones, same chin, same knobby wrists, same tender flower—can be only alluded to, not actually listed. (4.3)
Vadim’s Ardis corresponds to VN’s Ada (1969). In VN’s novel Dorothy Vinelander (Ada’s sister-in-law) marries a Mr Brod or Bred:
After helping her to nurse Andrey at Agavia Ranch through a couple of acrimonious years (she begrudged Ada every poor little hour devoted to collecting, mounting, and rearing!), and then taking exception to Ada's choosing the famous and excellent Grotonovich Clinic (for her husband's endless periods of treatment) instead of Princess Alashin's select sanatorium, Dorothy Vinelander retired to a subarctic monastery town (Ilemna, now Novostabia) where eventually she married a Mr Brod or Bred, tender and passionate, dark and handsome, who traveled in eucharistials and other sacramental objects throughout the Severnïya Territorii and who subsequently was to direct, and still may be directing half a century later, archeological reconstructions at Goreloe (the 'Lyaskan Herculanum'); what treasures he dug up in matrimony is another question. (3.8)
In Voina i mir (“War and Peace,” 1869) Leo Tolstoy mentions Krymskiy Brod (the Crimean Ford Bridge across the Moskva river):
Войска Даву, к которым принадлежали пленные, шли через Крымский брод и уже отчасти вступали в Калужскую улицу. Но обозы так растянулись, что последние обозы Богарне ещё не вышли из Москвы в Калужскую улицу, а голова войск Нея уже выходила из Большой Ордынки.
Davoust's troops, in whose charge the prisoners were, had crossed the Krymskyi Brod, or Crimean Ford Bridge, and already some of the divisions were debouching into Kaluga Street. But the teams stretched out so endlessly that the last ones belonging to Beauharnais's division had not yet left Moscow to enter Kaluga Street, while the head of Ney's troops had already left Bolshaya Ordynka. (Part IV, chapter XIV)
As she speaks to Van, Dorothy Vinelander mentions the deathbed delirium of Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother):
‘Incidentally, in her deathbed delirium — you don’t mind, Ada, if I divulge to him ces potins de famille? — our splendid Marina was obsessed by two delusions, which mutually excluded each other — that you were married to Ada and that you and she were brother and sister, and the clash between those two ideas caused her intense mental anguish. How does your school of psychiatry explain that kind of conflict?’
‘I don’t attend school any longer,’ said Van, stifling a yawn; ‘and, furthermore, in my works, I try not to "explain" anything, I merely describe.’ (3.8)
Vadim’s real father seems to be Count Starov (a retired diplomat). Vadim’s first three wives (Iris Black, Annette Blagovo and Louise Adamson) seem to be Vadim’s half-sisters.