Gran D. du Mont & Magicarpets in Ada; Demoiselle & Amphitheatricus in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 07/17/2021 - 01:20

Describing the childhood travels of Ada and Lucette with their mother, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions Marina’s friend, the theatrical big shot, Gran D. du Mont:


Now what about 1881, when the girls, aged eight-nine and five, respectively, had been taken to the Riviera, to Switzerland, to the Italian lakes, with Marina’s friend, the theatrical big shot, Gran D. du Mont (the ‘D’ also stood for Duke, his mother’s maiden name, des hobereaux irlandais, quoi), traveling discreetly on the next Mediterranean Express or next Simplon or next Orient, or whatever other train de luxe carried the three Veens, an English governess, a Russian nurse and two maids, while a semi-divorced Dan went to some place in equatorial Africa to photograph tigers (which he was surprised not to see) and other notorious wild animals, trained to cross the motorist’s path, as well as some plump black girls in a traveling-agent’s gracious home in the wilds of Mozambique. She could recollect, of course, when she and her sister played ‘note-comparing,’ much better than Lucette such things as itineraries, spectacular flora, fashions, the covered galleries with all sorts of shops, a handsome suntanned man with a black mustache who kept staring at her from his corner in the restaurant of Geneva’s Manhattan Palace; but Lucette, though so much younger, remembered heaps of bagatelles, little ‘turrets’ and little ‘barrels,’ biryul’ki proshlago. She was, cette Lucette, like the girl in Ah, cette Line (a popular novel), ‘a macédoine of intuition, stupidity, naïveté and cunning.’ By the way, she had confessed, Ada had made her confess, that it was, as Van had suspected, the other way round — that when they returned to the damsel in distress, she was in all haste, not freeing herself, but actually trying to tie herself up again after breaking loose and spying on them through the larches. ‘Good Lord,’ said Van, ‘that explains the angle of the soap!’ Oh, what did it matter, who cared, Ada only hoped the poor little thing would be as happy at Ada’s age as Ada was now, my love, my love, my love, my love. Van hoped the bicycles parked in the bushes did not show their sparkling metal through the leaves to some passenger on the forest road. (1.24)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): hobereaux: country squires.

biryul’ki proshlago: Russ., the Past’s baubles.


Gran D. du Mont seems to hint at vrai grand monde (real high society), as Leo Tolstoy called common people. In his book Dusha Tolstogo (“The Soul of Tolstoy,” 1927) Ivan Nazhivin mentions Tolstoy’s favorite hero, Prince D. I. Nekhlyudov (the main character in Resurrection, 1899), who often uses the phrase vrai grand monde:


И часто сердце Левушки тепло откликалось на зовы жизни и запоминало ее уроки на долгие годы. В его столкновениях с простым народом, с vrai grand monde, как будет потом говорить его любимый герой, князь Д. И. Нехлюдов, он как-то инстинктивно точно выделял то, что в этом мире было особенно ценного с моральной стороны. Потом он вспоминал, например, о Митьке Копылове, который был у его отца стремянным, охотником, кучером и, главное, "неоценимым форейтором". Так "вот этот самый Митька после уменьшения расходов был отпущен на оброк. Богатые купцы наперебой приглашали его к себе и взяли бы на большое жалование, так как Дмитрий уже щеголял в шелковых рубашках и бархатных поддевках. Случилось, что брат его по очереди должен был быть отдан в солдаты, а отец его, уже старый, вызвал его к себе на барщинную работу. И этот маленький ростом, щеголь Дмитрий чрез месяц превратился в серого мужика в лаптях, правящего барщину и вообще несущего все тяжелое тягло тогдашнего времени. И все это без малейшего ропота, с сознанием, что это так должно быть и не может быть иначе". Тень этого Митьки легла потом на всю жизнь, на все творчество Толстого... (Chapter II)


In the preceding paragraph Nazhivin mentions the fairy tales of “A Thousand and One Nights” (also known as “The Arabian Nights”) among the books that made a great impact on Tolstoy’s soul in childhood:


И он уже ищет в безбрежном царстве книги каких-то ему еще не совсем ясных откровений. Потом, вспоминая, он называет целый ряд книг, которые произвели на него в эти годы особенное впечатление, и отмечает силу их влияния на его душу: история Иосифа из Библии - огромное, сказки "Тысячи и одной ночи"; "Сорок разбойников и Принц Камаральзаман" - большое, "Черная курица" Погорельского - очень большое, русские былины: Добрыня Никитич, Илья Муромец, Алеша Попович - огромное, народные сказки - огромное, "Наполеон" А. С. Пушкина - большое. (ibid.)


In her boudoir Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) has her own set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays:


Ada showed her shy guest the great library on the second floor, the pride of Ardis and her favorite ‘browse,’ which her mother never entered (having her own set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays in her boudoir), and which Red Veen, a sentimentalist and a poltroon, shunned, not caring to run into the ghost of his father who had died there of a stroke, and also because he found nothing so depressing as the collected works of unrecollected authors, although he did not mind an occasional visitor’s admiring the place’s tall bookcases and short cabinets, its dark pictures and pale busts, its ten chairs of carved walnut, and two noble tables inlaid with ebony. In a slant of scholarly sunlight a botanical atlas upon a reading desk lay open on a colored plate of orchids. A kind of divan or daybed covered in black velvet, with two yellow cushions, was placed in a recess, below a plate-glass window which offered a generous view of the banal park and the man-made lake. A pair of candlesticks, mere phantoms of metal and tallow, stood, or seemed to stand, on the broad window ledge. (1.6)


In the same chapter of Ada Van describes his visit to the attic of Ardis Hall and mentions an old ‘jikker’ or skimmer, a blue magic rug with Arabian designs:


The attic. This is the attic. Welcome to the attic. It stored a great number of trunks and cartons, and two brown couches one on top of the other like copulating beetles, and lots of pictures standing in corners or on shelves with their faces against the wall like humiliated children. Rolled up in its case was an old ‘jikker’ or skimmer, a blue magic rug with Arabian designs, faded but still enchanting, which Uncle Daniel’s father had used in his boyhood and later flown when drunk. Because of the many collisions, collapses and other accidents, especially numerous in sunset skies over idyllic fields, jikkers were banned by the air patrol; but four years later Van who loved that sport bribed a local mechanic to clean the thing, reload its hawking-tubes, and generally bring it back into magic order and many a summer day would they spend, his Ada and he, hanging over grove and river or gliding at a safe ten-foot altitude above surfaces of roads or roofs. How comic the wobbling, ditch-diving cyclist, how weird the arm-flailing and slipping chimney sweep! (ibid.)


Describing the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday, when he walks on his hands for the first time, Van mentions those delightful gliders called Magicarpets (or ‘jikkers’):


What pleasure (thus in the MS.). The pleasure of suddenly discovering the right knack of topsy turvy locomotion was rather like learning to man, after many a painful and ignominious fall, those delightful gliders called Magicarpets (or ‘jikkers’) that were given a boy on his twelfth birthday in the adventurous days before the Great Reaction — and then what a breathtaking long neural caress when one became airborne for the first time and managed to skim over a haystack, a tree, a burn, a barn, while Grandfather Dedalus Veen, running with upturned face, flourished a flag and fell into the horsepond. (1.13)


Grandfather Dedalus Veen (Demon’s father) brings to mind Steven Dedalus, a character in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922). Like the author of Dubliners (1914), Gran D. du Mont’s mother was Irish.


According to Van, the ‘D’ in Gran D. du Mont also stood for Duke, his mother’s maiden name. In his book on Tolstoy Nazhivin says that Tolstoy’s letter to Nicholas II was transmitted to the tsar by the Grand Duke Nikolay Mikhaylovich (“the only intelligent Romanov”):


"Любезный брат, у вас только одна жизнь в этом мире, и вы можете мучительно потратить ее на тщетные попытки остановки установленного Богом движения человечества от зла к добру, от мрака к свету, и можете, вникнув в нужды и желания народа и посвятив свою жизнь исполнению их, спокойно и радостно провести ее в служении Богу и людям".

Отправляя это письмо чрез великого князя Николая Михайловича, Толстой просил, чтобы оно было передано царю непосредственно - не получило огласки. И вот царь, прочитав письмо, приказал передать Толстому, чтобы он... не беспокоился: "письма он никому не покажет!".

И это было всё! (Chapter XXXI)


A few paragraphs later Nazhivin again mentions vrai grand monde, repeating this phrase twice:


Толстовцы упорно твердят, что никаких противоречий у Толстого нет. Но сопоставьте это вот утверждение с философией "Войны и мира" или даже с воинственностью яснополянских школьников по отношению к их учителю-немцу, и вы увидите, что из противоречий он не выходит и что желание его приспособиться к унтер-офицеру ему даром не проходит... И во всех этих его обращениях к vrai grand monde по-прежнему ясно видна крайняя идеализация этого vrai grand monde. Ему - и всем нам - казалось, что все эти унтер-офицеры, рабочие, солдаты и прочие чрезвычайно озабочены мировой справедливостью... (ibid.)


Describing the conflict in Tolstoy's family that made the writer leave his home (on Nov. 7, 1910, Tolstoy died in the house of a railway station master), Nazhivin again twice mentions vrai grand monde:


Разделяющая линия между двумя борющимися лагерями - чертковским и графини - выступила с беспощадной резкостью, а между этими ослепленными враждой и ненавистью лагерями - был бедный, старый Толстой, с которым ни тот, ни другой лагерь - я это очень подчеркиваю - совершенно уже не считался. До какой степени мелочности, глупости и паскудства доходили все эти люди в борьбе, нельзя себе и представить. Чертков с упорством маньяка защищает Толстого от его домашних врагов и никак не может догадаться, что старику прежде всего нужен полный покой и что для этого прежде всего нужно ему, Черткову, уйти, исчезнуть. Он исчезать не хочет, он толкает Толстого на подвиг нелепый, в его годы страшный, на уход во vrai grand monde, но сам он уходить в этот vrai grand monde, имея к тому полные возможности, никак не торопится: ему это не нужно, ему нельзя, на его руках слишком важные дела в этом мире. Графиня, ревнуя к его влиянию, боясь его, ненавидя его, в рабочей комнате старика переставляет портреты так, что на первом месте оказываются портреты ближайших людей Толстому, по родству, по крови, а портрет Черткова отдаляется на второй план. Александра Львовна, взбалмошная, толстовская натура, сперва с азартом ведущая линию Черткова, а потом с таким же азартом поведшая линию против Черткова, снова переставляет фотографии так, как они стояли раньше, и закатывает отцу чудовищный скандал за то, что он, уступая просьбам жены, позволил себе в день 48-летия их свадьбы - сняться с нею! (Chapter XXXI) 


In the epilogue of Ada Van mentions Count Tolstoy’s reminiscences and the writer’s magic carpet:


Ardis Hall — the Ardors and Arbors of Ardis — this is the leitmotiv rippling through Ada, an ample and delightful chronicle, whose principal part is staged in a dream-bright America — for are not our childhood memories comparable to Vineland-born caravelles, indolently encircled by the white birds of dreams? The protagonist, a scion of one of our most illustrious and opulent families, is Dr Van Veen, son of Baron ‘Demon’ Veen, that memorable Manhattan and Reno figure. The end of an extraordinary epoch coincides with Van’s no less extraordinary boyhood. Nothing in world literature, save maybe Count Tolstoy’s reminiscences, can vie in pure joyousness and Arcadian innocence with the ‘Ardis’ part of the book. On the fabulous country estate of his art-collecting uncle, Daniel Veen, an ardent childhood romance develops in a series of fascinating scenes between Van and pretty Ada, a truly unusual gamine, daughter of Marina, Daniel’s stage-struck wife. That the relationship is not simply dangerous cousinage, but possesses an aspect prohibited by law, is hinted in the very first pages.

In spite of the many intricacies of plot and psychology, the story proceeds at a spanking pace. Before we can pause to take breath and quietly survey the new surroundings into which the writer’s magic carpet has, as it were, spilled us, another attractive girl, Lucette Veen, Marina’s younger daughter, has also been swept off her feet by Van, the irresistible rake. Her tragic destiny constitutes one of the highlights of this delightful book.

The rest of Van’s story turns frankly and colorfully upon his long love-affair with Ada. It is interrupted by her marriage to an Arizonian cattle-breeder whose fabulous ancestor discovered our country. After her husband’s death our lovers are reunited. They spend their old age traveling together and dwelling in the various villas, one lovelier than another, that Van has erected all over the Western Hemisphere.

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)


In Kuprin's story Volshebnyi kovyor ("The Magic Carpet," 1919) the main character is Santos Dumont (an aviation pioneer, 1873-1932). The action in Kuprin's story takes place in Brazil in 1885, when Santos Dumont is twelve years old (Magicarpets were given to Van on his twelfth birthday). In his story Kuprin mentions Demoiselle (Santos Dumont's aircraft) and compares Santos Dumont's first flight in Paris, between the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame, to izyashchnaya vos’myorka (an elegant figure of eight) in the sky:


Первый настоящий полёт, мы думаем, совершил всё-таки несколько месяцев спустя Сантос Дюмон, очертивший на своём аэроплане "Demoiselle" изящную восьмерку между двумя парижскими вершинами - башней Эйфеля и собором Парижской богоматери.
Надо сказать, что к этому времени он окончательно забыл о волшебном ковре с арабской надписью и о своём сказочном полёте. Но есть, однако, в этом удивительном аппарате, в человеческом мозгу, какие-то таинственные кладовые, в которых, независимо от нашей воли и желания, хранится бережно всё, что мы когда-либо видели, слышали, читали, думали или чувствовали - всё равно, было ли это во сне, в грёзах или наяву.


In his poem (1904) I. Annenski compares the infinity symbol  to oprokinutoe 8 (a figure of eight toppled over):


Девиз Таинственной похож
На опрокинутое 8:
Она - отраднейшая ложь
Из всех, что мы в сознаньи носим.


The infinity symbol is sometimes called “lemniscate.” In Canto One of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN's novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions a lemniscate left upon wet sand by nonchalantly deft bicycle tires:


In sleeping dreams I played with other chaps

But really envied nothing - save perhaps

The miracle of a lemniscate left

Upon wet sand by nonchalantly deft

Bicycle tires. (ll. 135-139)


Tolstoy learned to ride a bike at the age of sixty-seven, around 1896. In the epilogue of his book on Tolstoy Nazhivin mentions Tolstoy's fourteen-year-old great-grandson Vanya who stole a bike and was confined in a juvenile correctional home:


Трегубов умер от удара в ссылке. Милый С. Д. Николаев ушел от нас среди вихрей гражданской войны. Переписчик Толстого, еврей Беленький - он был черен, как таракан, - был сослан большевиками в глушь Сибири и умер там. Булгаков с уже белой головой тихонько бедствует в Праге. Кн. Николай Леонидович Оболенский, зять Льва Николаевича, женатый на его дочери Марье Львовне, один из милейших, обаятельнейших людей, своей волей передавший свои земли крестьянам еще при царе, в большой нужде недавно умер в Бельгии в приютившем его католическом монастыре под Брюгге, а его сыновья приняли монашество в том же ордене. Маленький, 14-летний правнук Льва Великого, - кажется, его звали Ваней, - был пойман в краже велосипеда, заключен в исправительный дом, и только поднятый мною по этому делу шум заставил родственников добиваться его спасения... А автор этих строк, тоже уже с белой головой, нашел свое маленькое Астапово - если бывают Астаповы маленькие... - в Бельгии, где среди развалин всей своей жизни, в нужде, доживает свои уже последние дни... (Chapter XLII)


In his essay Ob Annenskom (“On Annenski,” 1921) Hodasevich compares Annenski to Ivan Ilyich Golovin, the main character in Tolstoy’s story Smert’ Ivana Ilyicha (“The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” 1886) and points out that Annenski’s penname Nik. T-o ("Mr. Nobody") is a translation of Greek Outis, the pseudonym under which Odysseus conceals his identity from the Cyclops Polyphemus in Homer's Odyssey:


Чего не додумал Иван Ильич, то знал Анненский. Знал, что никаким директорством, никаким бытом и даже никакой филологией от смерти по-настоящему не загородиться. Она уничтожит и директора, и барина, и филолога. Только над истинным его "я", над тем, чтo отображается в "чувствах и мыслях", над личностью -- у неё как будто нет власти. И он находил реальное, осязаемое отражение и утверждение личности -- в поэзии. Тот, чьё лицо он видел, подходя к зеркалу, был директор гимназии, смертный никто. Тот, чьё лицо отражалось в поэзии, был бессмертный некто. Ник. Т-о -- никто -- есть безличный действительный статский советник, которым, как видимой оболочкой, прикрыт невидимый некто. Этот свой псевдоним, под которым он печатал стихи, Анненский рассматривал как перевод греческого "outis", никто, -- того самого псевдонима, под которым Одиссей скрыл от циклопа Полифема своё истинное имя, свою подлинную личность, своего некто. Поэзия была для него заклятием страшного Полифема -- смерти. Но психологически это не только не мешало, а даже способствовало тому, чтобы его вдохновительницей, его Музой была смерть.


According to Hodasevich, Annenski's muse was death itself. Describing King Alfin’s passion for flying apparatuses, Kinbote (Shade's mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions a beloved Santos Dumont Demoiselle:


King's Alfin's absent-mindedness was strangely combined with a passion for mechanical things, especially for flying apparatuses. In 1912, he managed to rise in an umbrella-like Fabre "hydroplane" and almost got drowned in the sea between Nitra and Indra. He smashed two Farmans, three Zemblan machines, and a beloved Santos Dumont Demoiselle. A very special monoplane, Blenda IV, was built for him in 1916 by his constant "aerial adjutant" Colonel Peter Gusev (later a pioneer parachutist and, at seventy, one of the greatest jumpers of all time), and this was his bird of doom. On the serene, and not too cold, December morning that the angels chose to net his mild pure soul, King Alfin was in the act of trying solo a tricky vertical loop that Prince Andrey Kachurin, the famous Russian stunter and War One hero, had shown him in Gatchina. Something went wrong, and the little Blenda was seen to go into an uncontrolled dive. Behind and above him, in a Caudron biplane, Colonel Gusev (by then Duke of Rahl) and the Queen snapped several pictures of what seemed at first a noble and graceful evolution but then turned into something else. At the last moment, King Alfin managed to straighten out his machine and was again master of gravity when, immediately afterwards, he flew smack into the scaffolding of a huge hotel which was being constructed in the middle of a coastal heath as if for the special purpose of standing in a king's way. This uncompleted and badly gutted building was ordered razed by Queen Blenda who had it replaced by a tasteless monument of granite surmounted by an improbable type of aircraft made of bronze. The glossy prints of the enlarged photographs depicting the entire catastrophe were discovered one day by eight-year-old Charles Xavier in the drawer of a secretary bookcase. In some of these ghastly pictures one could make out the shoulders and leathern casque of the strangely unconcerned aviator, and in the penultimate one of the series, just before the white-blurred shattering crash, one distinctly saw him raise one arm in triumph, and reassurance. The boy had hideous dreams after that but his mother never found out that he had seen those infernal records. (note to Line 71)


Describing his last visit to Villa Venus (Eric Veen's floramors), Van mentions Princess Kachurin (a maidservant):


He was thirsty, but the champagne he had bought, with the softly rustling roses, remained sealed and he had not the heart to remove the silky dear head from his breast so as to begin working on the explosive bottle. He had fondled and fouled her many times in the course of the last ten days, but was not sure if her name was really Adora, as everybody maintained — she, and the other girl, and a third one (a maidservant, Princess Kachurin), who seemed to have been born in the faded bathing suit she never changed and would die in, no doubt, before reaching majority or the first really cold winter on the beach mattress which she was moaning on now in her drugged daze. And if the child really was called Adora, then what was she? — not Rumanian, not Dalmatian, not Sicilian, not Irish, though an echo of brogue could be discerned in her broken but not too foreign English. Was she eleven or fourteen, almost fifteen perhaps? Was it really her birthday — this twenty-first of July, nineteen-four or eight or even several years later, on a rocky Mediterranean peninsula? (2.3)


Ada's birthday, July 21 is the day of Shade's death. Shade’s poem is almost finished when the author is killed by Gradus. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade's poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”).


Shade's, Kinbote's and Gradus' "real" name seems to be Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda, Hazel Shade's "real" name). Among the people who were executed with the family of the last Russian tsar was Dr. Evgeniy Botkin. Describing King Alfin's absent-mindedness, Kinbote mentions the emperor of a great foreign realm:


Alfin the Vague (1873-1918; regnal dates 1900-1918, but 1900-1919 in most biographical dictionaries, a fumble due to the coincident calendar change from Old Style to New) was given his cognomen by Amphitheatricus, a not unkindly writer of fugitive poetry in the liberal gazettes (who was also responsible for dubbing my capital Uranograd!). King Alfin's absent-mindedness knew no bounds. He was a wretched linguist, having at his disposal only a few phrases of French and Danish, but every time he had to make a speech to his subjects - to a group of gaping Zemblan yokels in some remote valley where he had crash-landed - some uncontrollable switch went into action in his mind, and he reverted to those phrases, flavoring them for topical sense with a little Latin. Most of the anecdotes relating to his naïve fits of abstraction are too silly and indecent to sully these pages; but one of them that I do not think especially funny induced such guffaws from Shade (and returned to me, via the Common Room, with such obscene accretions) that I feel inclined to give it here as a sample (and as a corrective). One summer before the first world war, when the emperor of a great foreign realm (I realize how few there are to choose from) was paying an extremely unusual and flattering visit to our little hard country, my father took him and a young Zemblan interpreter (whose sex I leave open) in a newly purchased custom-built car on a jaunt in the countryside. As usual, King Alfin traveled without a vestige of escort, and this, and his brisk driving, seemed to trouble his guest. On their way back, some twenty miles from Onhava, King Alfin decided to stop for repairs. While he tinkered with the motor, the emperor and the interpreter sought the shade of some pines by the highway, and only when King Alfin was back in Onhava, did he gradually realize from a reiteration of rather frantic questions that he had left somebody behind ("What emperor?" has remained his only memorable mot). Generally speaking, in respect of any of my contributions (or what I thought to be contributions) I repeatedly enjoined my poet to record them in writing, by all means, but not to spread them in idle speech; even poets, however, are human. (note to Line 71)


Amphitheatricus clearly hints at Aleksandr Amfiteatrov, the author of Gospoda Obmanovy ("The Obmanovs," 1902), a satire on the Russian imperial family. Its title comes obman (fraud, deception) and brings to mind "obmanipulations" mentioned by Van after his first night with Ada in "Ardis the Second:" 


Yes! Wasn’t that a scream? Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer! A sensational Canadian bestselling author! Her story ‘The Necklace’ (La rivière de diamants) had become a classic in girls’ schools and her gorgeous pseudonym ‘Guillaume de Monparnasse’ (the leaving out of the ‘t’ made it more intime) was well-known from Quebec to Kaluga. As she put it in her exotic English: ‘Fame struck and the roubles rolled, and the dollars poured’ (both currencies being used at the time in East Estotiland); but good Ida, far from abandoning Marina, with whom she had been platonically and irrevocably in love ever since she had seen her in ‘Bilitis,’ accused herself of neglecting Lucette by overindulging in Literature; consequently she now gave the child, in spurts of vacational zeal, considerably more attention than poor little Ada (said Ada) had received at twelve, after her first (miserable) term at school. Van had been such an idiot; suspecting Cordula! Chaste, gentle, dumb, little Cordula de Prey, when Ada had explained to him, twice, thrice, in different codes, that she had invented a nasty tender schoolmate, at a time when she had been literally torn from him, and only assumed — in advance, so to speak — such a girl’s existence. A kind of blank check that she wanted from him; ‘Well, you got it,’ said Van, ‘but now it’s destroyed and will not be renewed; but why did you run after fat Percy, what was so important?’

‘Oh, very important,’ said Ada, catching a drop of honey on her nether lip, ‘his mother was on the dorophone, and he said please tell her he was on his way home, and I forgot all about it, and rushed up to kiss you!’

‘At Riverlane,’ said Van, ‘we used to call that a Doughnut Truth: only the truth, and the whole truth, with a hole in the truth.’

‘I hate you,’ cried Ada, and made what she called a warning frog face, because Bouteillan had appeared in the doorway, his mustache shaved, coatless, tieless, in crimson braces that were holding up to his chest his well-filled black trousers. He disappeared, promising to bring them their coffee.

‘But let me ask you, dear Van, let me ask you something. How many times has Van been unfaithful to me since September, 1884?’

‘Six hundred and thirteen times,’ answered Van. ‘With at least two hundred whores, who only caressed me. I’ve remained absolutely true to you because those were only "obmanipulations" (sham, insignificant strokings by unremembered cold hands).’ (1.31)


For the first time Mlle Larivière reads her story La rivière de diamants at the picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday. Van calls Mlle Larivière story (that corresponds to Maupassant's La Parure, 1884) "a good fairy tale:"


‘I can never get used (m’y faire)’ said Mlle Laparure, ‘to the contrast between the opulence of nature and the squalor of human life. See that old moujik décharné with that rent in his shirt, see his miserable cabane. And see that agile swallow! How happy, nature, how unhappy, man! Neither of you told me how you liked my new story? Van?’

‘It’s a good fairy tale,’ said Van.

‘It’s a fairy tale,’ said careful Ada.

‘Allons donc!’ cried Mlle Larivière, ‘On the contrary — every detail is realistic. We have here the drama of the petty bourgeois, with all his class cares and class dreams and class pride.’

(True; that might have been the intent — apart from the pointe assassine; but the story lacked ‘realism’ within its own terms, since a punctilious, penny-counting employee would have found out, first of all, no matter how, quitte à tout dire à la veuve, what exactly the lost necklace had cost. That was the fatal flaw in the Larivière pathos-piece, but at the time young Van and younger Ada could not quite grope for that point although they felt instinctively the falsity of the whole affair.)

A slight commotion took place on the box. Lucette turned around and spoke to Ada.

‘I want to sit with you. Mne tut neudobno, i ot nego nehorosho pakhnet (I’m uncomfortable here, and he does not smell good).’

‘We’ll be there in a moment,’ retorted Ada, ‘poterpi (have a little patience).’

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Mlle Larivière.

‘Nothing, Il pue.’

‘Oh dear! I doubt strongly he ever was in that Rajah’s service.’ (1.13)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): décharné: emaciated.

cabane: hut.

allons donc: oh, come.

pointe assassine: the point (of a story or poem) that murders artistic merit.

quitte à tout dire etc.: even telling it all to the widow if need be.

il pue: he stinks.