cheating poor grubs & popping the hymen in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 08/05/2022 - 20:06

According to Ada, at Marina’s funeral Demon Veen (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Van’s and Ada’s father) told her that he would not cheat the poor grubs:


‘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’): comme etc.: shedding floods of tears.

N’a pas le verbe etc.: lacks the gift of the gab.

chiens etc.: dogs not allowed.


Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s husband) calls Demon Dementiy Labirintovich, because Demon is the son of Dedalus Veen. The legendary creator of a labyrinth in Crete, Dedalus was the father of Icarus (who perished because he flew too close to the sun and his wings made by his father of feathers and wax melted). In his poem Les Plaintes d'un Icare (“The Complaints of an Icarus”) Baudelaire says that he will not give his name to the abyss that will serve him as a tomb:


Les amants des prostituées
Sont heureux, dispos et repus;
Quant à moi, mes bras sont rompus
Pour avoir étreint des nuées.


C'est grâce aux astres nonpareils,
Qui tout au fond du ciel flamboient,
Que mes yeux consumés ne voient
Que des souvenirs de soleils.


En vain j'ai voulu de l'espace
Trouver la fin et le milieu;
Sous je ne sais quel oeil de feu
Je sens mon aile qui se casse;


Et brûlé par l'amour du beau,
Je n'aurai pas l'honneur sublime
De donner mon nom à l'abîme
Qui me servira de tombeau.


The lovers of prostitutes
Are happy, healthy, and sated;
As for me, my arms are weary
Because I have embraced the clouds.


It is thanks to the peerless stars
That flame in the depth of the sky
That my burned out eyes see
Only the memories of suns.


I tried in vain to find
The middle and the end of space;
I know not under what fiery eye
I feel my pinions breaking;


Burned by love of the beautiful
I shan't have the sublime honor
Of giving my name to the abyss
That will serve me as a tomb.

(tr. W. Aggeler)


In March, 1905, Demon Veen perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific. Van does not realize that his father died, because Ada (who could not pardon Demon his forcing Van to give her up) managed to persuade the pilot to destroy his machine in midair.


In a conversation with Van Ada mentions the hag who visited her at the Agavia Ranch and demanded certain fantastic sums — which Demon had not had time to pay, for "popping the hymen." A piece of tissue covering or surrounding part of vaginal opening, “hymen” is an anagram of hymne (“hymn” in French). Hymne à la Beauté (“Hymn to Beauty”) is a poem by Baudelaire:


Viens-tu du ciel profond ou sors-tu de l'abîme,
O Beauté? ton regard, infernal et divin,
Verse confusément le bienfait et le crime,
Et l'on peut pour cela te comparer au vin.


Tu contiens dans ton oeil le couchant et l'aurore;
Tu répands des parfums comme un soir orageux;
Tes baisers sont un philtre et ta bouche une amphore
Qui font le héros lâche et l'enfant courageux.


Sors-tu du gouffre noir ou descends-tu des astres?
Le Destin charmé suit tes jupons comme un chien;
Tu sèmes au hasard la joie et les désastres,
Et tu gouvernes tout et ne réponds de rien.


Tu marches sur des morts, Beauté, dont tu te moques;
De tes bijoux l'Horreur n'est pas le moins charmant,
Et le Meurtre, parmi tes plus chères breloques,
Sur ton ventre orgueilleux danse amoureusement.


L'éphémère ébloui vole vers toi, chandelle,
Crépite, flambe et dit: Bénissons ce flambeau!
L'amoureux pantelant incliné sur sa belle
A l'air d'un moribond caressant son tombeau.


Que tu viennes du ciel ou de l'enfer, qu'importe,
Ô Beauté! monstre énorme, effrayant, ingénu!
Si ton oeil, ton souris, ton pied, m'ouvrent la porte
D'un Infini que j'aime et n'ai jamais connu?


De Satan ou de Dieu, qu'importe? Ange ou Sirène,
Qu'importe, si tu rends, — fée aux yeux de velours,
Rythme, parfum, lueur, ô mon unique reine! —
L'univers moins hideux et les instants moins lourds?


Do you come from Heaven or rise from the abyss,
Beauty? Your gaze, divine and infernal,
Pours out confusedly benevolence and crime,
And one may for that, compare you to wine.


You contain in your eyes the sunset and the dawn;
You scatter perfumes like a stormy night;
Your kisses are a philtre, your mouth an amphora,
Which make the hero weak and the child courageous.


Do you come from the stars or rise from the black pit?
Destiny, bewitched, follows your skirts like a dog;
You sow at random joy and disaster,
And you govern all things but answer for nothing.


You walk upon corpses which you mock, O Beauty!
Of your jewels Horror is not the least charming,
And Murder, among your dearest trinkets,
Dances amorously upon your proud belly.


The dazzled moth flies toward you, O candle!
Crepitates, flames and says: "Blessed be this flambeau!"
The panting lover bending o'er his fair one
Looks like a dying man caressing his own tomb,


Whether you come from heaven or from hell, who cares,
O Beauty! Huge, fearful, ingenuous monster!
If your regard, your smile, your foot, open for me
An Infinite I love but have not ever known?


From God or Satan, who cares? Angel or Siren,
Who cares, if you make, — fay with the velvet eyes,
Rhythm, perfume, glimmer; my one and only queen!
The world less hideous, the minutes less leaden?


Before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon tells Marina that Ada is a pale, heart-breaking beauty:


Puffing rhythmically, Jones set one of his beautiful dragon-entwined flambeaux on the low-boy with the gleaming drinks and was about to bring over its fellow to the spot where Demon and Marina were winding up affable preliminaries but was quickly motioned by Marina to a pedestal near the striped fish. Puffing, he drew the curtains, for nothing but picturesque ruins remained of the day. Jones was new, very efficient, solemn and slow, and one had to get used gradually to his ways and wheeze. Years later he rendered me a service that I will never forget.

‘She’s a jeune fille fatale, a pale, heart-breaking beauty,’ Demon confided to his former mistress without bothering to discover whether the subject of his praise could hear him (she did) from the other end of the room where she was helping Van to corner the dog — and showing much too much leg in the process. Our old friend, being quite as excited as the rest of the reunited family, had scampered in after Marina with an old miniver-furred slipper in his merry mouth. The slipper belonged to Blanche, who had been told to whisk Dack to her room but, as usual, had not incarcerated him properly. Both children experienced a chill of déjà-vu (a twofold déjà-vu, in fact, when contemplated in artistic retrospect).

‘Pozhalsta bez glupostey (please, no silly things), especially devant les gens,’ said deeply flattered Marina (sounding the final ‘s’ as her granddams had done); and when the slow fish-mouthed footman had gone carrying away, supine, high-chested Dack and his poor plaything, she continued: ‘Really, in comparison to the local girls, to Grace Erminin, for example, or Cordula de Prey, Ada is a Turgenevian maiden or even a Jane Austen miss.’

‘I’m Fanny Price, actually,’ commented Ada.

‘In the staircase scene,’ added Van.

‘Let’s not bother about their private jokes,’ said Marina to Demon. ‘I never can understand their games and little secrets. Mlle Larivière, however, has written a wonderful screenplay about mysterious children doing strange things in old parks — but don’t let her start talking of her literary successes tonight, that would be fatal.’

‘I hope your husband won’t be too late,’ said Demon. ‘He is not at his best after eight p.m., summertime, you know. By the way, how’s Lucette?’

At this moment both battants of the door were flung open by Bouteillan in the grand manner, and Demon offered kalachikom (in the form of a Russian crescent loaf) his arm to Marina. Van, who in his father’s presence was prone to lapse into a rather dismal sort of playfulness, proposed taking Ada in, but she slapped his wrist away with a sisterly sans-gêne, of which Fanny Price might not have approved. (1.38)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): devant les gens: in front of the servants.

Fanny Price: the heroine of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.


The two beautiful dragon-entwined flambeaux with which Jones enters the room bring to mind the flambeau in Baudelaire’s poem. At the dinner Demon complaines that Jones' pant made his soup ripple:


‘Marina,’ murmured Demon at the close of the first course. ‘Marina,’ he repeated louder. ‘Far from me’ (a locution he favored) ‘to criticize Dan’s taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I’m above all that rot, I’m...’ (gesture); ‘but, my dear,’ he continued, switching to Russian, ‘the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki — the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) —’

‘Everybody has eyes,’ remarked Marina drily.

‘Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves. But that’s not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It’s depressing. It’s a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.’

‘Look, Dad,’ said Van, ‘Dr Krolik can’t do much, because, as you know quite well, he’s dead, and Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive.’

‘The Veen wit, the Veen wit,’ murmured Demon.

‘Exactly,’ said Marina. ‘I simply refuse to do anything about it. Besides poor Jones is not at all asthmatic, but only nervously eager to please. He’s as healthy as a bull and has rowed me from Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer. You are cruel, Demon. I can’t tell him "ne pïkhtite," as I can’t tell Kim, the kitchen boy, not to take photographs on the sly — he’s a regular snap-shooting fiend, that Kim, though otherwise an adorable, gentle, honest boy; nor can I tell my little French maid to stop getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore.’

‘That’s interesting,’ observed Demon.

‘He’s a dirty old man!’ cried Van cheerfully.

‘Van!’ said Ada.

‘I’m a dirty young man,’ sighed Demon. (1.38)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): ne pïkhtite: Russ., do not wheeze.


After the dinner in 'Ursus' Van and Ada make love and Ada complains that Van hurt her 'like a Tiger Turk:'


He heard Ada Vinelander’s voice calling for her Glass bed slippers (which, as in Cordulenka’s princessdom too, he found hard to distinguish from dance footwear), and a minute later, without the least interruption in the established tension, Van found himself, in a drunken dream, making violent love to Rose — no, to Ada, but in the rosacean fashion, on a kind of lowboy. She complained he hurt her ‘like a Tiger Turk.’ He went to bed and was about to doze off for good when she left his side. Where was she going? Pet wanted to see the album.

‘I’ll be back in a rubby,’ she said (tribadic schoolgirl slang), ‘so keep awake. From now on by the way, it’s going to be Chère-amie-fait-morata’ — (play on the generic and specific names of the famous fly) — ‘until further notice.’

‘But no sapphic vorschmacks,’ mumbled Van into his pillow.

‘Oh, Van,’ she said, turning to shake her head, one hand on the opal doorknob at the end of an endless room. ‘We’ve been through that so many times! You admit yourself that I am only a pale wild girl with gipsy hair in a deathless ballad, in a nulliverse, in Rattner’s "menald world" where the only principle is random variation. You cannot demand,’ she continued — somewhere between the cheeks of his pillow (for Ada had long vanished with her blood-brown book) — ‘you cannot demand pudicity on the part of a delphinet! You know that I really love only males and, alas, only one man.’ (2.8)


A Tiger Turk is Doctor Krolik's brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik, a Doctor of Phylosophy born in Turkey. Because love is blind, Van does not realize that he was not Ada's first lover and that Ada was "deflowered" by Dr Krolik's brother (whose photograph Van sees in Kim Beauharnais' album).