Describing the difference between Terra and Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set), Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the deepest thinkers, the purest philosophers, Paar of Chose and Zapater of Aardvark:
The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans — and not to grave men or gravemen.
Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless forefathers. For, indeed, none can deny the presence of something highly ludicrous in the very configurations that were solemnly purported to represent a varicolored map of Terra. Ved’ (‘it is, isn’t it’) sidesplitting to imagine that ‘Russia,’ instead of being a quaint synonym of Estoty, the American province extending from the Arctic no longer vicious Circle to the United States proper, was on Terra the name of a country, transferred as if by some sleight of land across the ha-ha of a doubled ocean to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over all of today’s Tartary, from Kurland to the Kuriles! But (even more absurdly), if, in Terrestrial spatial terms, the Amerussia of Abraham Milton was split into its components, with tangible water and ice separating the political, rather than poetical, notions of ‘America’ and ‘Russia,’ a more complicated and even more preposterous discrepancy arose in regard to time — not only because the history of each part of the amalgam did not quite match the history of each counterpart in its discrete condition, but because a gap of up to a hundred years one way or another existed between the two earths; a gap marked by a bizarre confusion of directional signs at the crossroads of passing time with not all the no-longers of one world corresponding to the not-yets of the other. It was owing, among other things, to this ‘scientifically ungraspable’ concourse of divergences that minds bien rangés (not apt to unhobble hobgoblins) rejected Terra as a fad or a fantom, and deranged minds (ready to plunge into any abyss) accepted it in support and token of their own irrationality.
As Van Veen himself was to find out, at the time of his passionate research in terrology (then a branch of psychiatry) even the deepest thinkers, the purest philosophers, Paar of Chose and Zapater of Aardvark, were emotionally divided in their attitude toward the possibility that there existed’ a distortive glass of our distorted glebe’ as a scholar who desires to remain unnamed has put it with such euphonic wit. (Hm! Kveree-kveree, as poor Mlle L. used to say to Gavronsky. In Ada’s hand.) (1.3)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): beau milieu: right in the middle.
Faragod: apparently, the god of electricity.
braques: allusion to a bric-à-brac painter.
Paar of Chose seems to hint at a pair of shoes mentioned by Byron in Canto One (CLXXX: 8, CLXXXI: 1) of Don Juan:
Alfonso closed his speech, and begged her pardon,
Which Julia half withheld, and then half granted,
And laid conditions he thought very hard on,
Denying several little things he wanted:
He stood like Adam lingering near his garden,
With useless penitence perplexed and haunted;
Beseeching she no further would refuse,
When, lo! he stumbled o'er a pair of shoes.
A pair of shoes!--what then? not much, if they
Are such as fit with ladies' feet, but these
(No one can tell how much I grieve to say)
Were masculine; to see them, and to seize,
Was but a moment's act.--Ah! well-a-day!
My teeth begin to chatter, my veins freeze!
Alfonso first examined well their fashion,
And then flew out into another passion.
This pair of shoes belongs to Don Juan (Julia's lover). In one of the next stanzas (One: CLXXXIV: 7) of his poem Byron says that Don Juan was a Tartar:
Dire was the scuffle, and out went the light;
Antonia cried out "Rape!" and Julia "Fire!"
But not a servant stirred to aid the fight.
Alfonso, pommelled to his heart's desire,
Swore lustily he'd be revenged this night;
And Juan, too, blasphemed an octave higher;
His blood was up: though young, he was a Tartar,
And not at all disposed to prove a martyr.
On Demonia the territory of the Soviet Russia is occupied by Tartary, the independent inferno. Don Juan aux enfers ("Don Juan in Hell") is a poem by Baudelaire, the author of Le Spleen de Paris (also known as Paris Spleen or Petits Poèmes en prose). In Paris (also known as Lute on Demonia) Van asks Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) if she is still half-a-martyr:
‘Some people are certainly odd,’ said Van. ‘If you’ve finished that sticky stuff let’s go back to your hotel and get some lunch.’
She wanted fish, he stuck to cold cuts and salad.
‘You know whom I ran into this morning? Good old Greg Erminin. It was he who told me you were around. His wife est un peu snob, what?’
‘Everybody is un peu snob,’ said Lucette. ‘Your Cordula, who is also around, cannot forgive Shura Tobak, the violinist, for being her husband’s neighbor in the telephone book. Immediately after lunch, we’ll go to my room, a numb twenty-five, my age. I have a fabulous Japanese divan and lots of orchids just supplied by one of my beaux. Ach, Bozhe moy — it has just occurred to me — I shall have to look into this — maybe they are meant for Brigitte, who is marrying after tomorrow, at three-thirty, a head waiter at the Alphonse Trois, in Auteuil. Anyway they are greenish, with orange and purple blotches, some kind of delicate Oncidium, "cypress frogs," one of those silly commercial names. I’ll stretch out upon the divan like a martyr, remember?’
‘Are you still half-a-martyr — I mean half-a-virgin?’ inquired Van.
‘A quarter,’ answered Lucette. ‘Oh, try me, Van! My divan is black with yellow cushions.’
‘You can sit for a minute in my lap.’
‘No — unless we undress and you ganch me.’
‘My dear, as I’ve often reminded you, you belong to a princely family but you talk like the loosest Lucinda imaginable. Is it a fad in your set, Lucette?’
‘I have no set, I’m a loner. Once in a while, I go out with two diplomats, a Greek and an Englishman, who are allowed to paw me and play with each other. A corny society painter is working on my portrait and he and his wife caress me when I’m in the mood. Your friend Dick Cheshire sends me presents and racing tips. It’s a dull life, Van.
‘I enjoy — oh, loads of things,’ she continued in a melancholy, musing tone of voice, as she poked with a fork at her blue trout which, to judge by its contorted shape and bulging eyes, had boiled alive, convulsed by awful agonies. ‘I love Flemish and Dutch oils, flowers, food, Flaubert, Shakespeare, shopping, sheeing, swimming, the kisses of beauties and beasts — but somehow all of it, this sauce and all the riches of Holland, form only a kind of tonen’kiy-tonen’kiy (thin little) layer, under which there is absolutely nothing, except, of course, your image, and that only adds depth and a trout’s agonies to the emptiness. I’m like Dolores — when she says she’s "only a picture painted on air."’
‘Never could finish that novel — much too pretentious.’
‘Pretentious but true. It’s exactly my sense of existing — a fragment, a wisp of color. Come and travel with me to some distant place, where there are frescoes and fountains, why can’t we travel to some distant place with ancient fountains? By ship? By sleeping car?’
‘It’s safer and faster by plane,’ said Van. ‘And for Log’s sake, speak Russian.’ (3.3)
Describing the morning after the Night of the Burning Barn (when he and Ada make love for the first time), Van mentions the tiger of happiness:
Next morning, his nose still in the dreambag of a deep pillow contributed to his otherwise austere bed by sweet Blanche (with whom, by the parlor-game rules of sleep, he had been holding hands in a heartbreaking nightmare — or perhaps it was just her cheap perfume), the boy was at once aware of the happiness knocking to be let in. He deliberately endeavored to prolong the glow of its incognito by dwelling on the last vestiges of jasmine and tears in a silly dream; but the tiger of happiness fairly leaped into being. (1.20)
In his story The Country of Elusion (1907) O. Henry says: “Perhaps there is no happiness in life so perfect as the martyr's:”
After breakfast she helped wash the dishes, and then all three sat in straight-back chairs in the bare-floored parlor.
"It is my custom," said the old man, "on the Sabbath day to read aloud from the great work entitled the 'Apology for Authorized and Set Forms of Liturgy,' by the ecclesiastical philosopher and revered theologian, Jeremy Taylor."
"I know it," said Mary blissfully, folding her hands.
For two hours the numbers of the great Jeremy rolled forth like the notes of an oratorio played on the violoncello. Mary sat gloating in the new sensation of racking physical discomfort that the wooden chair brought her. Perhaps there is no happiness in life so perfect as the martyr's. Jeremy's minor chords soothed her like the music of a tom-tom. "Why, oh why," she said to herself, "does some one not write words to it?"
In O. Henry’s story Ships Esteban Delgado, the barber, mentions zapatos (shoes):
The first to perceive the remedy was Esteban Delgado, the barber, a man of travel and education. Sitting upon a stone, he plucked burrs from his toes, and made oration:
"Behold, my friends, these bugs of the devil! I know them well. They soar through the skies in swarms like pigeons. These are dead ones that fell during the night. In Yucatan I have seen them as large as oranges. Yes! There they hiss like serpents, and have wings like bats. It is the shoes--the shoes that one needs! Zapatos--zapatos para mi!"
Describing his tryst with Ada on the morning after the Night of the Burning Barn, Van quotes Jeremy Taylor (the ecclesiastical philosopher and revered theologian mentioned in O. Henry’s The Country of Elusion):
He had resolved to deal first of all with her legs which he felt he had not feted enough the previous night; to sheathe them in kisses from the A of arched instep to the V of velvet; and this Van accomplished as soon as Ada and he got sufficiently deep in the larchwood which closed the park on the steep side of the rocky rise between Ardis and Ladore.
Neither could establish in retrospect, nor, indeed, persisted in trying to do so, how, when and where he actually ‘de-flowered’ her — a vulgarism Ada in Wonderland had happened to find glossed in Phrody’s Encyclopedia as ‘to break a virgin’s vaginal membrane by manly or mechanical means,’ with the example: ‘The sweetness of his soul was deflowered (Jeremy Taylor).’ Was it that night on the lap robe? Or that day in the larchwood? Or later in the shooting gallery, or in the attic, or on the roof, or on a secluded balcony, or in the bathroom, or (not very comfortably) on the Magic Carpet? We do not know and do not care.
(You kissed and nibbled, and poked, and prodded, and worried me there so much and so often that my virginity was lost in the shuffle; but I do recall definitely that by midsummer the machine which our forefathers called’ sex’ was working as smoothly as later, in 1888, etc., darling. Marginal note in red ink.) (1.20)
Because love is blind, Van fails to see that he was not Ada’s first lover (Ada calls Dr Krolik's brother who deflowered her "Tiger Turk," 2.8). When Van meets Greg Erminin (whose ancestors came from Tartary to England five centuries ago) in Paris, Greg mentions Ada’s numerous boyfriends and says that he would have consented to be beheaded by a Tartar, if in exchange he could have kissed Ada’s instep:
On a bleak morning between the spring and summer of 1901, in Paris, as Van, black-hatted, one hand playing with the warm loose change in his topcoat pocket and the other, fawn-gloved, upswinging a furled English umbrella, strode past a particularly unattractive sidewalk café among the many lining the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, a chubby bald man in a rumpled brown suit with a watch-chained waistcoat stood up and hailed him.
Van considered for a moment those red round cheeks, that black goatee.
‘Ne uznayosh’ (You don’t recognize me)?’
‘Greg! Grigoriy Akimovich!’ cried Van tearing off his glove.
‘I grew a regular vollbart last summer. You’d never have known me then. Beer? Wonder what you do to look so boyish, Van.’
‘Diet of champagne, not beer,’ said Professor Veen, putting on his spectacles and signaling to a waiter with the crook of his ‘umber.’ ‘Hardly stops one adding weight, but keeps the scrotum crisp.’
‘I’m also very fat, yes?’
‘What about Grace, I can’t imagine her getting fat?’
‘Once twins, always twins. My wife is pretty portly, too.’
‘Tak tï zhenat (so you are married)? Didn’t know it. How long?’
‘About two years.’
‘The daughter of the poet?’
‘No, no, her mother is a Brougham.’
Might have replied ‘Ada Veen,’ had Mr Vinelander not been a quicker suitor. I think I met a Broom somewhere. Drop the subject. Probably a dreary union: hefty, high-handed wife, he more of a bore than ever.
‘I last saw you thirteen years ago, riding a black pony — no, a black Silentium. Bozhe moy!’
‘Yes — Bozhe moy, you can well say that. Those lovely, lovely agonies in lovely Ardis! Oh, I was absolyutno bezumno (madly) in love with your cousin!’
‘You mean Miss Veen? I did not know it. How long —’
‘Neither did she. I was terribly —’
‘How long are you staying —’
‘— terribly shy, because, of course, I realized that I could not compete with her numerous boy friends.’
Numerous? Two? Three? Is it possible he never heard about the main one? All the rose hedges knew, all the maids knew, in all three manors. The noble reticence of our bed makers.
‘So odd to recall! It was frenzy, it was fantasy, it was reality in the x degree. I’d have consented to be beheaded by a Tartar, I declare, if in exchange I could have kissed her instep. You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can’t understand that obsession. Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil Rack, a composer of genius — dead, dead, all dead!’
‘I really know very little about music but it was a great pleasure to make your chum howl. I have an appointment in a few minutes, alas. Za tvoyo zdorovie, Grigoriy Akimovich.’
‘Arkadievich,’ said Greg, who had let it pass once but now mechanically corrected Van.
‘Ach yes! Stupid slip of the slovenly tongue. How is Arkadiy Grigorievich?’
‘He died. He died just before your aunt. I thought the papers paid a very handsome tribute to her talent. And where is Adelaida Danilovna? Did she marry Christopher Vinelander or his brother?’
‘In California or Arizona. Andrey’s the name, I gather. Perhaps I’m mistaken. In fact, I never knew my cousin very well: I visited Ardis only twice, after all, for a few weeks each time, years ago.’
‘Somebody told me she’s a movie actress.’
‘I’ve no idea, I’ve never seen her on the screen.’
‘Oh, that would be terrible, I declare — to switch on the dorotelly, and suddenly see her. Like a drowning man seeing his whole past, and the trees, and the flowers, and the wreathed dachshund. She must have been terribly affected by her mother’s terrible death.’
Likes the word ‘terrible,’ I declare. A terrible suit of clothes, a terrible tumor. Why must I stand it? Revolting — and yet fascinating in a weird way: my babbling shadow, my burlesque double.
Van was about to leave when a smartly uniformed chauffeur came up to inform’ my lord’ that his lady was parked at the corner of rue Saïgon and was summoning him to appear.
‘Aha,’ said Van, ‘I see you are using your British title. Your father preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel.’
‘Maude is Anglo-Scottish and, well, likes it that way. Thinks a title gets one better service abroad. By the way, somebody told me — yes, Tobak! — that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four. I haven’t asked you about your father? He’s in good health?’ (Van bowed,) ‘And how is the guvernantka belletristka?’
‘Her last novel is called L’ami Luc. She just got the Lebon Academy Prize for her copious rubbish.’
They parted laughing. (3.2)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): So you are married, etc.: see Eugene Onegin, Eight: XVIII: 1-4.
za tvoyo etc.: Russ., your health.
guvernantka etc.: Russ., governess-novelist.
Lucette’s governess, Mlle Larivière writes fiction under the penname Guillaume de Monparnasse (sic, the leaving out of the ‘t’ makes it more intime). Grigoriy Akimovich is the name and patronymic of G. A. Vronsky (the movie man who makes a film of Mlle Larivière’s novel Les Enfants Maudits). According to Ada, poor Mlle L. used to say to Gavronsky “kveree-kveree.”
L’ami Luc seems to blend Bel Ami (1885), a novel by Guy de Maupassant, with the poet Luc Decaunes, the author of Charles Baudelaire, étude et choix de textes (1952). Lebon is Nobel, Luc is cul (ass) in reverse.