Basset range & Mr Brod or Bred in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 06/24/2021 - 10:01

When Ada refuses to leave her sick husband, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) walks some ten kilometers along soggy roads to Rennaz and thence flies to Nice, Biskra, the Cape, Nairobi, the Basset range:


She led him around the hotel to an ugly rotunda, out of the miserable drizzle, and there she attempted to embrace him but he evaded her lips. She was leaving in a few minutes. Heroic, helpless Andrey had been brought back to the hotel in an ambulance. Dorothy had managed to obtain three seats on the Geneva-Phoenix plane. The two cars were taking him, her and the heroic sister straight to the helpless airport.

She asked for a handkerchief, and he pulled out a blue one from his windjacket pocket, but her tears had started to roll and she shaded her eyes, while he stood before her with outstretched hand.

‘Part of the act?’ he inquired coldly.

She shook her head, took the handkerchief with a childish ‘merci,’ blew her nose and gasped, and swallowed, and spoke, and next moment all, all was lost.

She could not tell her husband while he was ill. Van would have to wait until Andrey was sufficiently well to bear the news and that might take some time. Of course, she would have to do everything to have him completely cured, there was a wondermaker in Arizona —

‘Sort of patching up a bloke before hanging him,’ said Van.

‘And to think,’ cried Ada with a kind of square shake of stiff hands as if dropping a lid or a tray, ‘to think that he dutifully concealed everything! Oh, of course, I can’t leave him now!’

‘Yes, the old story — the flute player whose impotence has to be treated, the reckless ensign who may never return from a distant war!’

‘Ne ricane pas!’ exclaimed Ada. ‘The poor, poor little man! How dare you sneer?’

As had been peculiar to his nature even in the days of his youth, Van was apt to relieve a passion of anger and disappointment by means of bombastic and arcane utterances which hurt like a jagged fingernail caught in satin, the lining of Hell.

‘Castle True, Castle Bright!’ he now cried, ‘Helen of Troy, Ada of Ardis! You have betrayed the Tree and the Moth!’

‘Perestagne (stop, cesse)!’

‘Ardis the First, Ardis the Second, Tanned Man in a Hat, and now Mount Russet —’

‘Perestagne!’ repeated Ada (like a fool dealing with an epileptic).

‘Oh! Qui me rendra mon Hélène —’

‘Ach, perestagne!’

‘— et le phalène.’

‘Je t’emplie ("prie" and "supplie"), stop, Van. Tu sais que j’en vais mourir.’

‘But, but, but’ — (slapping every time his forehead) — ‘to be on the very brink of, of, of — and then have that idiot turn Keats!’

‘Bozhe moy, I must be going. Say something to me, my darling, my only one, something that might help!’

There was a narrow chasm of silence broken only by the rain drumming on the eaves.

‘Stay with me, girl,’ said Van, forgetting everything — pride, rage, the convention of everyday pity.

For an instant she seemed to waver — or at least to consider wavering; but a resonant voice reached them from the drive and there stood Dorothy, gray-caped and mannish-hatted, energetically beckoning with her unfurled umbrella.

‘I can’t, I can’t, I’ll write you,’ murmured my poor love in tears.

Van kissed her leaf-cold hand and, letting the Bellevue worry about his car, letting all Swans worry about his effects and Mme Scarlet worry about Eveline’s skin trouble, he walked some ten kilometers along soggy roads to Rennaz and thence flew to Nice, Biskra, the Cape, Nairobi, the Basset range —

And o'er the summits of the Basset — (3.8)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): phalène: moth (see also p.111).

tu sais etc.: you know it will kill me.

Bozhe moy: Russ., oh, my God.


The Basset range does not exist. The basset horn is a member of the clarinet family of musical instruments. Lucien (a concierge at Les Trois Cygnes, Van's hotel in Mont Roux) calls Dorothy Vinelander (Ada's sister-in-law) La Trompette (the trumpet) and mentions her voix cuivrée (brassy voice):


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. (ibid.)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): la voix etc.: the brassy voice telephoned... the trumpet did not sound pleased this morning.


On the other hand, Émile (Emil' Osipovich) Basset was Dostoevski's teacher of French at the Main Military Engineering School housed in the Mikhaylovski Castle (where the tsar Paul I was assassinated in March, 1801) in St. Petersburg. And o'er the summits of the Basset hints at I nad vershinami Kavkaza ("And over the summits of the Caucasus"), a line in Lermontov's poem "The Demon" (1829-40). Van paraphrases Lermontov's lines earlier, just before describing the death of his (and Ada's) father, Demon Veen, in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific:


He greeted the dawn of a placid and prosperous century (more than half of which Ada and I have now seen) with the beginning of his second philosophic fable, a ‘denunciation of space’ (never to be completed, but forming in rear vision, a preface to his Texture of Time). Part of that treatise, a rather mannered affair, but nasty and sound, appeared in the first issue (January, 1904) of a now famous American monthly, The Artisan, and a comment on the excerpt is preserved in one of the tragically formal letters (all destroyed save this one) that his sister sent him by public post now and then. Somehow, after the interchange occasioned by Lucette’s death such nonclandestine correspondence had been established with the tacit sanction of Demon:


And o’er the summits of the Tacit

He, banned from Paradise, flew on:

Beneath him, like a brilliant’s facet,

Mount Peck with snows eternal shone. (3.7)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): And o’er the summits of the Tacit etc.: parody of four lines in Lermontov’s The Demon (see also p.115).


In "The Demon" Lermontov mentions zurna, a Caucasian musical intrument that resembles a сlarinet (according to Lermontov, zurna is v rode volynki, like a bagpipe):


Всегда безмолвно на долины
Глядел с утеса мрачный дом;
Но пир большой сегодня в нём —
Звучит зурна, и льются вины —
Гудал сосватал дочь свою,
На пир он созвал всю семью.


And at the valleys, ever silent,
The clifftop house looked, far from gay;
But there’s a banquet on this day –
The wine is poured, shrieks zurna strident –
For Gudal’s found Tamara’s man,
To daughter’s wedding summoned clan. (VI)

(tr. R. Moreton)


At the beginning of his poem Ne ver' sebe ("Don't Trust Yourself," 1839) Lermontov mentions plennoy mysli razdrazhen'ye (an irritation of captive thought):


Не верь, не верь себе, мечтатель молодой,
Как язвы, бойся вдохновенья...
Оно - тяжёлый бред души твоей больной
Иль пленной мысли раздраженье.


Don't trust, don't trust yourself, young dreamer,
Fear inspiration like the pest:
It is a heavy delirium of your sick soul
or an irritation of captive thought.


At the beginning of his novel Brat'ya Karamazovy ("The Brothers Karamazov," 1880) Dostoevski quotes Lermontov's words:  


Подобно тому и поступок Аделаиды Ивановны Миусовой был без сомнения отголоском чужих веяний и тоже пленной мысли раздражением.


Adelaida Ivanovna Miusov's action was similarly, no doubt, an echo of other people's ideas, and was due to the irritation of captive thought. (Part One,
Book I, chapter 1)


Tyazhyolyi bred dushi tvoey bol'noy (a heavy delirium of your sick soul) in Lermontov's poem brings to mind a Mr Brod or Bred, tender and passionate, dark and handsome, who marries Dorothy Vinelander:


Would she write? Oh, she did! Oh, every old thing turned out superfine! Fancy raced fact in never-ending rivalry and girl giggles. Andrey lived only a few months longer, po pal’tzam (finger counting) one, two, three, four — say, five. Andrey was doing fine by the spring of nineteen six or seven, with a comfortably collapsed lung and a straw-colored beard (nothing like facial vegetation to keep a patient busy). Life forked and reforked. Yes, she told him. He insulted Van on the mauve-painted porch of a Douglas hotel where van was awaiting his Ada in a final version of Les Enfants Maudits. Monsieur de Tobak (an earlier cuckold) and Lord Erminin (a second-time second) witnessed the duel in the company of a few tall yuccas and short cactuses. Vinelander wore a cutaway (he would); Van, a white suit. Neither man wished to take any chances, and both fired simultaneously. Both fell. Mr Cutaway’s bullet struck the outsole of Van’s left shoe (white, black-heeled), tripping him and causing a slight fourmillement (excited ants) in his foot — that was all. Van got his adversary plunk in the underbelly — a serious wound from which he recovered in due time, if at all (here the forking swims in the mist). Actually it was all much duller.

So she did write as she had promised? Oh, yes, yes! In seventeen years he received from her around a hundred brief notes, each containing around one hundred words, making around thirty printed pages of insignificant stuff — mainly about her husband’s health and the local fauna. 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 Bela (the first novella in Lermontov's novel A Hero of Our Time, 1840) 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)


In a letter of October 31, 1838, to his brother Dostoevski (then a student of the Main Military Engineering School) says that he failed his algebra examination and uses the phrase bred serdtsa (a delirium of the heart):


Друг мой! Ты философствуешь как поэт. И как не ровно выдерживает душа градус вдохновенья, так не ровна, не верна и твоя философия. Чтоб больше знать, надо меньше чувствовать, и обратно, правило опрометчивое, бред сердца.


My friend, you philosophize like a poet. And just because the soul cannot be forever in a state of exaltation, your philosophy is not true and not just. To know more one must feel less, and vice versa. Your judgment is featherheaded – it is a delirium of the heart.


Gradus vdokhnoven'ya ("a state of exaltation;" literally: "the degree of inspiration") mentioned by Dostoevski brings to mind Gradus, one of the three main characters in VN's novel Pale Fire (1962). October 31, 1838 (OS), is Dostoevski's seventeenth birthday. In PF July 5 is the birthday of the poet Shade, of Shade's Commentator Kinbote and of Shade's murderer Gradus (while Shade was born in 1898, Kinbote and Gradus were born in 1915). In the MS of Pushkin’s poem <Iz Pindemonti> (“From Pindemonte,” 1836) the date under the text is July 5:


Не дорого ценю я громкие права,
От коих не одна кружится голова.
Я не ропщу о том, что отказали боги
Мне в сладкой участи оспоривать налоги
Или мешать царям друг с другом воевать;
И мало горя мне, свободно ли печать
Морочит олухов, иль чуткая цензура
В журнальных замыслах стесняет балагура.
Все это, видите ль, слова, слова, слова.*
Иные, лучшие, мне дороги права;
Иная, лучшая, потребна мне свобода:
Зависеть от царя, зависеть от народа —
Не всё ли нам равно? Бог с ними. Никому
Отчёта не давать, себе лишь самому
Служить и угождать; для власти, для ливреи
Не гнуть ни совести, ни помыслов, ни шеи;
По прихоти своей скитаться здесь и там,
Дивясь божественным природы красотам,
И пред созданьями искусств и вдохновенья
Трепеща радостно в восторгах умиленья.
Вот счастье! вот права...

*Hamlet. (Pushkin's footnote)


I value little those much vaunted rights

that have for some the lure of dizzy heights;

I do not fret because the gods refuse

to let me wrangle over revenues,

or thwart the wars of kings; and 'tis to me

of no concern whether the press be free

to dupe poor oafs or whether censors cramp

the current fancies of some scribbling scamp.

These things are words, words, words. My spirit fights

for deeper Liberty, for better rights.

Whom shall we serve—the people or the State?

The poet does not care—so let them wait.

To give account to none, to be one's own

vassal and lord, to please oneself alone,

to bend neither one's neck, nor inner schemes,

nor conscience to obtain some thing that seems

power but is a flunkey's coat; to stroll

in one's own wake, admiring the divine

beauties of Nature and to feel one's soul

melt in the glow of man's inspired design

—that is the blessing, those are the rights!

[Translated by V. Nabokov]


A line in Pushkin's poem, V zhurnal'nykh zamyslakh stesnyaet balagura ([censors cramp] the current fancies of some scribbling scamp), brings to mind Nu i balagur-zhe vï, Dementiy Labirintovich (what a wag you are, D. L.), Andrey Vinelander's poor joke:


‘My upper-lip space feels indecently naked.’ (He had shaved his mustache off with howls of pain in her presence). ‘And I cannot keep sucking in my belly all the time.’

‘Oh, I like you better with that nice overweight — there’s more of you. It’s the maternal gene, I suppose, because Demon grew leaner and leaner. He looked positively Quixotic when I saw him at Mother’s funeral. It was all very strange. He wore blue mourning. D’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around Demon and both wept comme des fontaines. Then a robed person who looked like an extra in a technicolor incarnation of Vishnu made an incomprehensible sermon. Then she went up in smoke. He said to me, sobbing: "I will not cheat the poor grubs!" Practically a couple of hours after he broke that promise we had sudden visitors at the ranch — an incredibly graceful moppet of eight, black-veiled, and a kind of duenna, also in black, with two bodyguards. The hag demanded certain fantastic sums — which Demon, she said, had not had time to pay, for "popping the hymen" — whereupon I had one of our strongest boys throw out vsyu (the entire) kompaniyu.’

‘Extraordinary,’ said Van, ‘they had been growing younger and younger — I mean the girls, not the strong silent boys. His old Rosalind had a ten-year-old niece, a primed chickabiddy. Soon he would have been poaching them from the hatching chamber.’

‘You never loved your father,’ said Ada sadly.

‘Oh, I did and do — tenderly, reverently, understandingly, because, after all, that minor poetry of the flesh is something not unfamiliar to me. But as far as we are concerned, I mean you and I, he was buried on the same day as our uncle Dan.’

‘I know, I know. It’s pitiful! And what use was it? Perhaps I oughtn’t to tell you, but his visits to Agavia kept getting rarer and shorter every year. Yes, it was pitiful to hear him and Andrey talking. I mean, Andrey n’a pas le verbe facile, though he greatly appreciated — without quite understanding it — Demon’s wild flow of fancy and fantastic fact, and would often exclaim, with his Russian "tssk-tssk" and a shake of the head — complimentary and all that — "what a balagur (wag) you are!" — And then, one day, Demon warned me that he would not come any more if he heard again poor Andrey’s poor joke (Nu i balagur-zhe vï, Dementiy Labirintovich) or what Dorothy, l’impayable ("priceless for impudence and absurdity") Dorothy, thought of my camping out in the mountains with only Mayo, a cowhand, to protect me from lions.’

‘Could one hear more about that?’ asked Van.

‘Well, nobody did. All this happened at a time when I was not on speaking terms with my husband and sister-in-law, and so could not control the situation. Anyhow, Demon did not come even when he was only two hundred miles away and simply mailed instead, from some gaming house, your lovely, lovely letter about Lucette and my picture.’

‘One would also like to know some details of the actual coverture — frequence of intercourse, pet names for secret warts, favorite smells —’

‘Platok momental’no (handkerchief quick)! Your right nostril is full of damp jade,’ said Ada, and then pointed to a lawnside circular sign, rimmed with red, saying: Chiens interdits and depicting an impossible black mongrel with a white ribbon around its neck: Why, she wondered, should the Swiss magistrates forbid one to cross highland terriers with poodles? (3.8) 


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): N’a pas le verbe etc.: lacks the gift of the gab.


In Knyazhna Meri (“Princess Mary”), the fourth novella in Lermontov’s “Hero of Our Time,” a stout lady at the ball is not pleased with Princess Mary and exclaims c’est impayable! (“it’s 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… C’est 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)


Platok momental'no (Ada's words to Van) brings to mind a hanky dumped on a Bechstein (mentioned by Demon before the family dinner in "Ardis the Second"):


Here Ada herself came running into the room. Yes-yes-yes-yes, here I come. Beaming!

Old Demon, iridescent wings humped, half rose but sank back again, enveloping Ada with one arm, holding his glass in the other hand, kissing the girl in the neck, in the hair, burrowing in her sweetness with more than an uncle’s fervor. ‘Gosh,’ she exclaimed (with an outbreak of nursery slang that affected Van with even more umilenie, attendrissement, melting ravishment, than his father seemed to experience). ‘How lovely to see you! Clawing your way through the clouds! Swooping down on Tamara’s castle!’

(Lermontov paraphrased by Lowden).

‘The last time I enjoyed you,’ said Demon ‘was in April when you wore a raincoat with a white and black scarf and simply reeked of some arsenic stuff after seeing your dentist. Dr Pearlman has married his receptionist, you’ll be glad to know. Now to business, my darling. I accept your dress’ (the sleeveless black sheath), ‘I tolerate your romantic hairdo, I don’t care much for your pumps na bosu nogu (on bare feet), your Beau Masque perfume — passe encore, but, my precious, I abhor and reject your livid lipstick. It may be the fashion in good old Ladore. It is not done in Man or London.’

‘Ladno (Okay),’ said Ada and, baring her big teeth, rubbed fiercely her lips with a tiny handkerchief produced from her bosom.

‘That’s also provincial. You should carry a black silk purse. And now I’ll show what a diviner I am: your dream is to be a concert pianist!’

‘It is not,’ said Van indignantly. ‘What perfect nonsense. She can’t play a note!’

‘Well, no matter,’ said Demon. ‘Observation is not always the mother of deduction. However, there is nothing improper about a hanky dumped on a Bechstein. You don’t have, my love, to blush so warmly. Let me quote for comic relief

‘Lorsque son fi-ancé fut parti pour la guerre

Irène de Grandfief, la pauvre et noble enfant

Ferma son pi-ano... vendit son éléphant’

‘The gobble enfant is genuine, but the elephant is mine.’ ‘You don’t say so,’ laughed Ada. (1.38)


Ada blushes because Lucette's music teacher, Philip Rack, is her lover. Poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie, poor Rack dies in Ward Five (where hopeless cases are kept) of the Kalugano hospital (where Van recovers from a wound received in a pistol duel with Captain Tapper). Van remembers Rack's death, when Demon asks him how long his affair with Ada has lasted:


The first thing Demon said was:

‘I insist that you face me when I’m speaking to you.’

Van realized that the fateful conversation must have already started in his father’s brain, for the admonishment had the ring of a self-interruption, and with a slight bow he took a seat.

‘However, before I advise you of those two facts, I would like to know how long this — how long this has been...’ (‘going on,’ one presumes, or something equally banal, but then all ends are banal — hangings, the Nuremberg Old Maid’s iron sting, shooting oneself, last words in the brand-new Ladore hospital, mistaking a drop of thirty thousand feet for the airplane’s washroom, being poisoned by one’s wife, expecting a bit of Crimean hospitality, congratulating Mr and Mrs Vinelander —)

‘It will be nine years soon,’ replied Van. ‘I seduced her in the summer of eighteen eighty-four. Except for a single occasion, we did not make love again until the summer of eighteen eighty-eight. After a long separation we spent one winter together. All in all, I suppose I have had her about a thousand times. She is my whole life.’

A longish pause not unlike a fellow actor’s dry-up, came in response to his well-rehearsed speech. (2.11)


In 1869 Demon fought a sword duel with Baron d'Onsky (Marina's lover). At the end of his poem "Don't Trust Yourself" Lermontov mentions a tragic actor waving his cardboard sword:


А между тем из них едва ли есть один,
Тяжёлой пыткой не измятый,
До преждевременных добравшийся морщин
Без преступленья иль утраты!..

Поверь: для них смешон твой плач и твой укор,
С своим напевом заучённым,
Как разрумяненный трагический актёр,
Махающий мечом картонным...


But among them is hardly a one
Not crushed by heavy torture
Into early wrinkles
Without crime or loss!..

Believe me: to them are laughable your tears and your blame
With its tune learned by heart,
Like a painted tragic actor
Waving a cardboard sword.


When Demon begins to cry, Van gives him a clean handkerchief to replace the soiled rag:


Demon spoke on: ‘I cannot disinherit you: Aqua left you enough "ridge" and real estate to annul the conventional punishment. And I cannot denounce you to the authorities without involving my daughter, whom I mean to protect at all cost. But I can do the next proper thing, I can curse you, I can make this our last, our last —’

Van, whose finger had been gliding endlessly to and fro along the mute but soothingly smooth edge of the mahogany desk, now heard with horror the sob that shook Demon’s entire frame, and then saw a deluge of tears flowing down those hollow tanned cheeks. In an amateur parody, at Van’s birthday party fifteen years ago, his father had made himself up as Boris Godunov and shed strange, frightening, jet-black tears before rolling down the steps of a burlesque throne in death’s total surrender to gravity. Did those dark streaks, in the present show, come from his blackening his orbits, eyelashes, eyelids, eyebrows? The funest gamester... the pale fatal girl, in another well-known melodrama.... In this one. Van gave him a clean handkerchief to replace the soiled rag. His own marble calm did not surprise Van. The ridicule of a good cry with Father adequately clogged the usual ducts of emotion.

Demon regained his composure (if not his young looks) and said:

‘I believe in you and your common sense. You must not allow an old debaucher to disown an only son. If you love her, you wish her to be happy, and she will not be as happy as she could be once you gave her up. You may go. Tell her to come here on your way down.’ (2.11)


At the end of Pushkin's tragedy Boris Godunov (1825) an incidental character quotes the saying yabloko ot yabloni nedaleko padaet (“like parents, like children”):


Один из народа
Брат да сестра! бедные дети, что пташки в клетке.

Есть о ком жалеть? Проклятое племя!

Отец был злодей, а детки невинны.

Яблоко от яблони недалеко падает.


One of the people
Brother and sister! Poor children, like birds in a cage.

Second person
Are you going to pity them? Goddamned family!

First person
Their father was a villain, but the children are innocent.

Second person
Like parents, like children.


Little Van imagines Aqua (Marina's poor mad twin sister who married Demon Veen) as a caged bird:


Some ten years ago, not long before or after his fourth birthday, and toward the end of his mother’s long stay in a sanatorium, ‘Aunt’ Marina had swooped upon him in a public park where there were pheasants in a big cage. She advised his nurse to mind her own business and took him to a booth near the band shell where she bought him an emerald stick of peppermint candy and told him that if his father wished she would replace his mother and that you could not feed the birds without Lady Amherst’s permission, or so he understood.

They now had tea in a prettily furnished corner of the otherwise very austere central hall from which rose the grand staircase. They sat on chairs upholstered in silk around a pretty table. Ada’s black jacket and a pink-yellow-blue nosegay she had composed of anemones, celandines and columbines lay on a stool of oak. The dog got more bits of cake than it did ordinarily. Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van’s teacher of history, ‘Jeejee’ Jones.

‘He resembles my teacher of history,’ said Van when the man had gone.

‘I used to love history,’ said Marina, ‘I loved to identify myself with famous women. There’s a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties — Lincoln’s second wife or Queen Josephine.’

‘Yes, I’ve noticed — it’s beautifully done. We’ve got a similar set at home.’

‘Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?’ Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.

‘Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),’ replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis’ (with a slight smile). ‘Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.’

‘Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.’

‘Pah,’ uttered Ada.

Marina’s portrait, a rather good oil by Tresham, hanging above her on the wall, showed her wearing the picture hat she had used for the rehearsal of a Hunting Scene ten years ago, romantically brimmed, with a rainbow wing and a great drooping plume of black-banded silver; and Van, as he recalled the cage in the park and his mother somewhere in a cage of her own, experienced an odd sense of mystery as if the commentators of his destiny had gone into a huddle. Marina’s face was now made up to imitate her former looks, but fashions had changed, her cotton dress was a rustic print, her auburn locks were bleached and no longer tumbled down her temples, and nothing in her attire or adornments echoed the dash of her riding crop in the picture and the regular pattern of her brilliant plumage which Tresham had rendered with ornithological skill. (1.5)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Lady Amherst: confused in the child’s mind with the learned lady after whom a popular pheasant is named.

with a slight smile: a pet formula of Tolstoy’s denoting cool superiority, if not smugness, in a character’s manner of speech.


Van never finds out that Aqua went mad, because she was poisoned by Marina, and that Demon dies in an airplane disaster, because Ada (Marina's daughter who becomes, like her mother, an actress) managed to persuade the pilot to destroy his machine in midair. Discussing with Van her dramatic career, Ada mentions mother birds:


‘I assume,’ said Van (knowing his girl), ‘that you did not want any tips from Marina for your Irina?’

‘It would have only resulted in a row. I always resented her suggestions because they were made in a sarcastic, insulting manner. I’ve heard mother birds going into neurotic paroxysms of fury and mockery when their poor little tailless ones (bezkhvostïe bednyachkí) were slow in learning to fly. I’ve had enough of that. By the way, here’s the program of my flop.’

Van glanced through the list of players and D.P.’s and noticed two amusing details: the role of Fedotik, an artillery officer (whose comedy organ consists of a constantly clicking camera)’, had been assigned to a ‘Kim (short for Yakim) Eskimossoff’ and somebody called ‘John Starling’ had been cast as Skvortsov (a sekundant in the rather amateurish duel of the last act) whose name comes from skvorets, starling. When he communicated the latter observation to Ada, she blushed as was her Old World wont.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘he was quite a lovely lad and I sort of flirted with him, but the strain and the split were too much for him — he had been, since pubescence, the puerulus of a fat ballet master, Dangleleaf, and he finally committed suicide. You see ("the blush now replaced by a matovaya pallor") I’m not hiding one stain of what rhymes with Perm.’

‘I see. And Yakim —’

‘Oh, he was nothing.’

‘No, I mean, Yakim, at least, did not, as his rhymesake did, take a picture of your brother embracing his girl. Played by Dawn de Laire.’

‘I’m not sure. I seem to recall that our director did not mind some comic relief.’

‘Dawn en robe rose et verte, at the end of Act One.’

‘I think there was a click in the wings and some healthy mirth in the house. All poor Starling had to do in the play was to hollo off stage from a rowboat on the Kama River to give the signal for my fiancé to come to the dueling ground.’ (2.9)


The characters in Chekhov's play "The Three Sisters" (1901), known on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) as Four Sisters, include Colonel Vershinin (cf. I nad vershinami Kavkaza in Lermontov's "The Demon") and Solyony, the bretteur who imagines that he resembles Lermontov and who kills Baron Tuzenbakh (Irina's fiancé) in a pistol duel. In "Ardis the Second," when Ada is back from a visit to her gynecologist, Van mentions Tuzenbakh and quotes his words before his duel with Solyony:


Ada came back just before dinnertime. Worries? He met her as she climbed rather wearily the grand staircase, trailing her vanity bag by its strap up the steps behind her. Worries? She smelled of tobacco, either because (as she said) she had spent an hour in a compartment for smokers, or had smoked (she added) a cigarette or two herself in the doctor’s waiting room, or else because (and this she did not say) her unknown lover was a heavy smoker, his open red mouth full of rolling blue fog.

‘Well? Tout est bien?’ asked Van after a sketchy kiss. ‘No worries?’

She glared, or feigned to glare, at him.

‘Van, you should not have rung up Seitz! He does not even know my name! You promised!’


‘I did not,’ answered Van quietly.

‘Tant mieux,’ said Ada in the same false voice, as he helped her out of her coat in the corridor. ‘Qui, tout est bien. Will you stop sniffing me over, dear Van? In fact the blessed thing started on the way home. Let me pass, please.’

Worries of her own? Of her mother’s automatic making? A casual banality? ‘We all have our troubles’?

‘Ada!’ he cried.

She looked back, before unlocking her (always locked) door. ‘What’!’

‘Tuzenbakh, not knowing what to say: "I have not had coffee today. Tell them to make me some." Quickly walks away.’

‘Very funny!’ said Ada, and locked herself up in her room. (1.37)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Tuzenbakh: Van recites the last words of the unfortunate Baron in Chekhov’s Three Sisters who does not know what to say but feels urged to say something to Irina before going to fight his fatal duel.


Van is sterile. But, because love is blind, Van fails to see that Andrey Vinelander and Ada have at least two children and that Ronald Oranger (old Van's secretary, the editor of Ada) and Violet Knox (old Van's typist whom Ada calls Fialochka, "little Violet," and who marries Ronald Oranger after Van's and Ada's death) are Ada's grandchildren.


Btw., Ada's birthday, July 21, is the day of Shade's death in Pale Fire.


See also the expanded version of my previous post, "Chose University & balagur in Ada."