Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027183, Thu, 29 Sep 2016 15:12:34 +0300

Dorofey, Ardis tap water, teetotalists, torturing angel,
Paradox & Christopher Vinelander in Ada
His new quarters, where heartbroken kings had tossed in transit, proved to be a replica in white of his hotel apartment — white furniture, white carpet, white sparver. Inset, so to speak, was Tatiana, a remarkably pretty and proud young nurse, with black hair and diaphanous skin (some of her attitudes and gestures, and that harmony between neck and eyes which is the special, scarcely yet investigated secret of feminine grace fantastically and agonizingly reminded him of Ada, and he sought escape from that image in a powerful response to the charms of Tatiana, a torturing angel in her own right. Enforced immobility forbade the chase and grab of common cartoons. He begged her to massage his legs but she tested him with one glance of her grave, dark eyes — and delegated the task to Dorofey, a beefy-handed male nurse, strong enough to lift him bodily out of bed, with the sick child clasping the massive nape. (1.42)

Tatiana is the name of the elder of the two Larin sisters in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. In Rodoslovnaya moego geroya (“The Pedigree of my Hero,” 1836), Pushkin’s poem written in the Onegin stanza, Dorofey is the hero’s ancestor who fathered twelve sons:

Начнём ab ovo: мой Езерский
Происходил от тех вождей,
Чей в древни веки парус дерзкий
Поработил брега морей.
Одульф, его начальник рода,
Вельми бе грозен воевода
(Гласит Софийский Хронограф).
При Ольге сын его Варлаф
Приял крещенье в Цареграде
С приданым греческой княжны.
От них два сына рождены,
Якуб и Дорофей. В засаде
Убит Якуб, а Дорофей
Родил двенадцать сыновей.

Let’s start ab ovo: my Ezerski

was a descendant of those chiefs

whose spirit bellicose and savage

was once the terror of the seas.

The generator of the family,

Odulf “was a most awesome warlord”

-so says the Sophian chronograph.

In Olga’s reign his son Varlaf

embraced the Gospel in Constantinople

together with a dot of a Greek princess.

Two sons were born to them, Yakub

and Dorofey; of these, in ambush

Yakub was slain; while Dorofey

Fathered twelve sons.

The name Ezerski comes from ezero (an obsolete form of ozero, “lake”). Van recovers from the wound that he received in a pistol duel with Tapper in the Kalugano Lakeview Hospital. The name of Van’s adversary brings to mind the Ardis tap water mentioned by Van in his conversation with Demon:

‘Van…,’ began Demon, but stopped — as he had begun and stopped a number of times before in the course of the last years. Some day it would have to be said, but this was not the right moment. He inserted his monocle and examined the bottles: ‘By the way, son, do you crave any of these aperitifs? My father allowed me Lilletovka and that Illinois Brat — awful bilge, antranou svadi, as Marina would say. I suspect your uncle has a cache behind the solanders in his study and keeps there a finer whisky than this usque ad Russkum. Well, let us have the cognac, as planned, unless you are a filius aquae?’
(No pun intended, but one gets carried away and goofs.)
‘Oh, I prefer claret. I’ll concentrate (nalyagu) on the Latour later on. No, I’m certainly no T-totaler, and besides the Ardis tap water is not recommended!’ (1.38)

Officially, Van is the son of Aqua, Marina’s twin sister who married Demon soon after his sword duel with d’Onsky (hence Demon’s unintended pun).

The Robinsons (an elderly couple whom Van meets onboard The Admiral Tobakoff and who invite Lucette to a Coke in their cabin) are “proselytical teetotalists” (sic):

They invited Lucette to a Coke with them - proselytical teetotalists - in their cabin, which was small and stuffy and badly insulated, one could hear every word and whine of two children being put to bed by a silent seasick nurse, so late, so late - no, not children, but probably very young, very much disappointed honeymooners. (3.5)

Robert Robertson calls Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) “Lucy:”

‘We understand,’ said Robert Robinson going for another supply to his portable fridge, ‘we understand perfectly that Dr Veen is deeply immersed in his Inter Resting Work — personally, I sometimes regret having retired — but do you think, Lucy, prosit! that he might accept to have dinner tomorrow with you and us and maybe Another Couple, whom he’ll certainly enjoy meeting? Shall Mrs Robinson send him a formal invitation? Would you sign it, too?’ (ibid.)

Lucy is a cycle of five poems by William Wordsworth, a Lake poet who was very close with his sister Dorothy. In Vivian Calmbrood’s poem “The Night Journey” (1931) Chenstone (the author’s fellow traveler; Pushkin ascribed his little tragedy “The Covetous Knight,” 1830, to Chenstone) mentions his neighbor, the young Wordsworth (“a nice person for whose verses water is harmful, though”):

Вообразите гладь речную,
берёзы, вересковый склон.

Там жил я, драму небольшую
писал из рыцарских времён;
ходил я в сюртучке потёртом,
с соседом, молодым Вордсвортом,
удил форелей иногда
(его стихам вредит вода,
но человек он милый), -- словом,
я счастлив был -- и признаюсь,
что в Лондон с манускриптом новым
без всякой радости тащусь.

The name of Wordsworth’s sister brings to mind not only the male nurse Dorofey but also Dorothy Vinelander, Ada’s sister-in-law. The name of Ada’s husband, Andrey, seems to hint at Ondrey surnamed Ezerski in Pushkin’s “Pedigree of my Hero:”

Ондрей, по прозвищу Езерский,
Родил Ивана да Илью
И в лавре схимился Печерской.
Отсель фамилию свою
Ведут Езерские. При Калке
Один из них был схвачен в свалке,

А там раздавлен, как комар,
Задами тяжкими татар.
Зато со славой, хоть с уроном,
Другой Езерский, Елизар,
Упился кровию татар,
Между Непрядвою и Доном,
Ударя с тыла в табор их
С дружиной суздальцев своих.

Ondrey surnamed Ezerski, fathered

Ivan and Ilya, and took vows

in the Pecherskiy Monastery.

Then the Ezerskis

derive their family name…*

Line 12 of this stanza, mezhdu Nepryadvoyu i Donom (between the Nepryadva and the Don), brings to mind d’Onsky (Marina’s lover with whom Demon fought a sword duel) and filum aquae (‘the thread of the stream’) mentioned by Vivian Darkbloom in his ‘Notes to Ada:’

filius aqua: ‘son of water’, bad pun on filum aquae, the middle way, ‘the thread of the stream’.

It seems that on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet which Ada is set) the Russians (in our world led by Prince Dmitri Donskoy) lost the battle of Kulikovo that took place in September of 1380 between the Nepryadva and Don rivers and, as a result of Khan Mamay’s victory, moved to America having crossed the Bering strait (“the ha-ha of a doubled ocean,” 1.3). Telling about his first novel, Letters from Terra, Van mentions Khan Sosso, the current ruler of Tartary (on Antiterra the land occupying the territory of the Soviet Union), and Athaulf the Future (whose name hints at Adolf Hitler but also brings to mind Odulf, “ a most awesome warlord,” in Pushkin’s Pedigree of my Hero):

Eastward, instead of Khan Sosso and his ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate, a super Russia, dominating the Volga region and similar watersheds, was governed by a Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics (or so it came through) which had superseded the Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst. Last but not least, Athaulf the Future, a fair-haired giant in a natty uniform, the secret flame of many a British nobleman, honorary captain of the French police, and benevolent ally of Rus and Rome, was said to be in the act of transforming a gingerbread Germany into a great country of speedways, immaculate soldiers, brass bands and modernized barracks for misfits and their young. (2.2)

moloko + Sosso + sedlo + tail/lait = molokosos + sosed + Lolita

moloko - milk

sedlo - saddle

lait - Fr., milk;

molokosos - greenhorn

sosed – neighbor

Lolita – a town in Texas mentioned by Demon in his letter to Marina: You had gone to Boston to see an old aunt — a cliché, but the truth for the nonce — and I had gone to my aunt’s ranch near Lolita, Texas. (1.2); Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Lolita, Texas: this town exists, or, rather, existed, for it has been renamed, I believe, after the appearance of the notorious novel.

At the end of Pushkin’s poem Count Nulin (1825) Natalia Pavlovna’s husband says that the Count is durak (a fool) and molokosos and the author mentions Lidin, ikh sosed (their neighbor Lidin):

Он говорил, что граф дурак,
Молокосос; что если так,
То графа он визжать заставит,
Что псами он его затравит.
Смеялся Лидин, их сосед,
Помещик двадцати трёх лет.

He said that the Count was a fool,

a greenhorn; that, if all this was true,

he'll make the Count scream,

he'll hunt him with his dogs.

It was their neighbor Lidin,

a landed gentleman of twenty-three, who laughed.

The name Lidin (in Pushkin’s drafts Lidin’s name was Verin) comes from Lida (a diminutive of Lydia). In VN’s novel Otchayanie (“Despair,” 1934) Lydia is the name Hermann’s wife. Lydia has a cousin Ardalion (a painter who suffers from alcoholism). In Ada Ardelion is the name of Daniel Veen’s father. Marina’s husband, Daniel Veen is known as Durak Walter or simply Red Veen (1.1). Demon tells Van and then Marina that her husband should stop drinking:

‘I must warn Marina,’ said Demon after a gum-rinse and a slow swallow, ‘that her husband should stop swilling tittery, and stick to French and Califrench wines — after that little stroke he had. I met him in town recently, near Mad Avenue, saw him walking toward me quite normally, but then as he caught sight of me, a block away, the clockwork began slowing down and he stopped — oh, helplessly! — before he reached me. That’s hardly normal. Okay. Let our sweethearts never meet, as we used to say, up at Chose. Only Yukonians think cognac is bad for the liver, because they have nothing but vodka. (1.38)

Among the things that Count Nulin brings from Paris is tetrad’ zlykh karikatur (a notebook of caustic cartoons):

В Петрополь едет он теперь
С запасом фраков и жилетов,
Шляп, вееров, плащей, корсетов,
Булавок, запонок, лорнетов,
Цветных платков, чулков à jour,
С ужасной книжкою Гизота,
С тетрадью злых карикатур,
С романом новым Вальтер-Скотта,
С bon-mots парижского двора,
С последней песней Беранжера,
С мотивами Россини, Пера,
Et cetera, et cetera.

he's posting toward Petropolis,
with a vast supply of tail coats and waistcoats,

hats, fans, cloaks, corsets,

pins, cuff-links, lorgnettes,

colored kerchiefs, stockings à jour,

a terrible book of Guizot,

a notebook of caustic cartoons,
a new novel by Walter Scott,
bon-mots of the Paris court,
the last song of Beranger,
the airs of Rossini, Paër,
et cetera, et cetera.

Khan Sosso is a cartoon of Iosif (Soso) Dzhugashvili (Stalin’s real name). In his poem O pravitelyakh (“On Rulers,” 1944) VN compares Stalin to Khan Mamay ("a particularly evil Tartar prince of the fourteenth century"):

Умирает со скуки историк:
за Мамаем все тот же Мамай.

The historian dies of sheer boredom:

On the heels of Mamay comes another Mamay.

and mentions a banquet with Caucasian wine:

Но детина в регалиях или
волк в макинтоше,
в фуражке с немецким крутым козырьком,
охрипший и весь перекошенный,
в остановившемся автомобиле -
или опять же банкет
с кавказским вином -
Покойный мой тёзка,
писавший стихи и в полоску,
и в клетку, на самом восходе
всесоюзно-мещанского класса,
кабы дожил до полдня,
нынче бы рифмы натягивал
на "монументален",
на "переперчил"
и так далее.

But the decorated big fellow or else
the trench-coated wolf
in his army cap with a German steep peak,
hoarse-voiced, his face all distorted,
speaking from immobile convertible,
or, again, a banquet
with Caucasian wine.
No, thank you.
If my late namesake,
who used to write verse, in rank
and in file, at the very dawn
of the Soviet Small-Bourgeois order
had lived till its noon,
he would be now finding taut rhymes
such as "praline"
or "air chill,"
and others of the same kind.

VN's footnote: "praline"... "air chill." In the original, monumentalen, meaning "[he is] monumental" rhymes pretty closely with Stalin; and pereperchil, meaning "[he] put in too much pepper" offers an ingenuouse correspondence with the name of the British plitician in slovenly Russian pronunciation ("chair-chill").

On Antiterra Sir Winston Churchill is known as the British writer Richard Leonard Churchill:

But then 'everyone has his own taste,' as the British writer Richard Leonard Churchill mistranslates a trite French phrase (chacun à son gout) twice in the course of his novel about a certain Crimean Khan once popular with reporters and politicians, 'A Great Good Man' - according, of course, to the cattish and prejudiced Guillaume Monparnasse about whose new celebrity Ada, while dipping the reversed corolla of one hand in a bowl, was now telling Demon, who was performing the same rite in the same graceful fashion. (1.38)

The Good, Great Man is a poem by Wordsworth’s friend S. T. Coleridge, another Lake poet and the author of Kubla Khan:

"How seldom, friend! a good great man inherits
Honour or wealth with all his worth and pains!**
It sounds like stories from the land of spirits
If any man obtain that which he merits
Or any merit that which he obtains."


For shame, dear friend, renounce this canting strain!
What would'st thou have a good great man obtain?
Place? titles? salary? a gilded chain?
Or throne of corses which his sword had slain?
Greatness and goodness are not _means_, but _ends_!
Hath he not always treasures, always friends,
The good great man? _three_ treasures, LOVE, and LIGHT,
And CALM THOUGHTS, regular as infant's breath:
And three firm friends, more sure than day and night,

According to Van, Tatiana is “a torturing angel in her own right.” Much later Tatiana wrote to Van a charming and melancholy letter in red ink on pink paper:

However, much later, she wrote him a charming and melancholy letter in red ink on pink paper; but other emotions and events had intervened, and he never met her again).

Pushkin’s Tatiana marries Prince N. Tatiana’s letter to Van written in red ink on pink paper brings to mind Prince N.'s rose-red banknote in Demon’s pocket:

In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had goofed — the word ‘samovars’ may have got garbled in the agent’s aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent dance called kurva or 'ribbon boule' in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.'s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat. (1.2)

In Eugene Onegin (Three: XXX-XXXI) Pushkin says that he at first wanted to ask Baratynski (“bard of The Feasts arid languorous melancholy”) to translate into Russian verses Tatiana’s letter (written in French) to Onegin:

Певец Пиров и грусти томной,22
Когда б еще ты был со мной,
Я стал бы просьбою нескромной
Тебя тревожить, милый мой:
Чтоб на волшебные напевы
Переложил ты страстной девы
Иноплеменные слова.
Где ты? приди: свои права
Передаю тебе с поклоном...
Но посреди печальных скал,
Отвыкнув сердцем от похвал,
Один, под финским небосклоном,
Он бродит, и душа его
Не слышит горя моего.

Письмо Татьяны предо мною;
Его я свято берегу,
Читаю с тайною тоскою
И начитаться не могу.
Кто ей внушал и эту нежность,
И слов любезную небрежность?
Кто ей внушал умильный вздор,
Безумный сердца разговор,
И увлекательный и вредный?
Я не могу понять. Но вот
Неполный, слабый перевод,
С живой картины список бледный
Или разыгранный Фрейшиц
Перстами робких учениц:

Bard of The Feasts arid languorous melancholy,22

if you were still with me,

I would have with an indiscreet request,

my dear fellow, importuned you:

that into magic strains

you would transpose a passionate maid’s

outlandish words.

Where are you? Come! My rights

with a how transfer to you .. .

But in the midst of woeful rocks,

his heart disused from praise,

alone, under the Finnish sky

he wanders, and his soul

hears not my worry.

Tatiana’s letter is before me;

religiously I keep it;

I read it with a secret heartache

and cannot get my fill of reading it.

Who taught her both this tenderness

and amiable carelessness of words?

Who taught her all that touching [tosh],

mad conversation of the heart

both fascinating and injurious?

I cannot understand. But here’s

an incomplete, feeble translation,

the pallid copy of a vivid picture,

or Freischütz executed

by timid female learners' fingers.

Baratynski is the author of Poslednyaya smert’ (“The Last Death,” 1827) and Smert’ (“Death,” 1828). Baratynski’s poem Bal (“The Ball,” 1828) appeared under one cover with Pushkin’s Count Nulin.

Van arrives to the site of his duel with Tapper in Paradox, Johnny’s cheap semi-racer:

He shaved, disposed of two blood-stained safety blades by leaving them in a massive bronze ashtray, had a structurally perfect stool, took a quick bath, briskly dressed, left his bag with the concierge, paid his bill and at six punctually squeezed himself next to blue-chinned and malodorous Johnny into the latter’s Paradox, a cheap ‘semi-racer.’ For two or three miles they skirted the dismal bank of the lake — coal piles, shacks, boathouses, a long strip of black pebbly mud and, in the distance, over the curving bank of autumnally misted water, the tawny fumes of tremendous factories.

‘Where are we now, Johnny dear?’ asked Van as they swung out of the lake’s orbit and sped along a suburban avenue with clapboard cottages among laundry-lined pines.

‘Dorofey Road,’ cried the driver above the din of the motor. ‘It abuts at the forest.’

It abutted. Van felt a faint twinge in his knee where he had hit it against a stone when attacked from behind a week ago, in another wood. At the moment his foot touched the pine-needle strewn earth of the forest road, a transparent white butterfly floated past, and with utter certainty Van knew that he had only a few minutes to live. (1.42)

A transparent white butterfly that floated past brings to mind Zhukovski’s poems K mimoproletevshemu znakomomu geniyu (“To the Familiar Genius that Flew past me,” 1819) and Motylyok i tsvety (“The Moth and the Flowers,” 1824). In his poem O skol’ko nam otkrytiy chudnykh… (“O how many wondrous discoveries…” 1829) Pushkin calls Geniy (Genius) paradoksov drug (a friend of paradoxes):

О сколько нам открытий чудных
Готовят просвещенья дух
И Опыт, [сын] ошибок трудных,
И Гений, [парадоксов] друг,
[И Случай, бог изобретатель]

In Despair Hermann describes a little story in the Oscar Wilde style that he wrote and mentions “paradoxes:”

Литература неважная, — сам знаю. Покамeст я это писал, мнe казалось, что выходит очень умно и ловко, — так иногда бывает со снами, — во снe великолeпно, с блеском, говоришь, — а проснёшься, вспоминаешь: вялая чепуха. С другой же стороны эта псевдоуайльдовская сказочка вполнe пригодна для печатания в газетe, — редактора любят потчевать читателей этакими чуть-чуть вольными, кокетливыми рассказиками в сорок строк, с элегантной пуантой и с тeм, что невeжды называют парадокс («Его разговор был усыпан парадоксами»).

On the other hand, little story in the Oscar Wilde style would quite suit the literary columns of newspapers, the editors of which, German editors especially, like to offer their readers just such tiny tales of the pretty-pretty and slightly licentious sort, forty lines in all, with an elegant point and a sprinkling of what the ignoramus calls paradoxes (“his conversation sparkled with paradoxes”). (Chapter Six)

The narrator and main character in Despair, Hermann a namesake of the mad gambler in Pushkin’s story Pikovaya dama (“The Queen of Spades,” 1833). Van’s and Ada’s father, Demon Veen is a gambler. Demon’s cousin Daniel is an art dealer. Telling Marina that her husband should stop drinking, Demon mentions Dan’s town car:

‘I was telling Van a moment ago,’ he continued, raising his voice (he labored under the delusion that Marina had grown rather deaf), ‘about your husband. My dear, he overdoes the juniper vodka stuff, he’s getting, in fact, a mite fuzzy and odd. The other day I chanced to walk through Pat Lane on the Fourth Avenue side, and there he was coming, at quite a spin, in his horrid town car, that primordial petrol two-seater he’s got, with the tiller. Well, he saw me, from quite a distance, and waved, and the whole contraption began to shake down, and finally stopped half a block away, and there he sat trying to budge it with little jerks of his haunches, you know, like a child who can’t get his tricycle unstuck, and as I walked up to him I had the definite impression that it was his mechanism that had stalled, not the Hardpan’s.’ But what Demon, in the goodness of his crooked heart, omitted to tell Marina was that the imbecile, in secret from his art adviser, Mr Aix, had acquired for a few thousand dollars from a gaming friend of Demon’s, and with Demon’s blessings, a couple of fake Correggios — only to resell them by some unforgivable fluke to an equally imbecile collector, for half a million which Demon considered henceforth as a loan his cousin should certainly refund him if sanity counted for something on this gemel planet. And, conversely, Marina refrained from telling Demon about the young hospital nurse Dan had been monkeying with ever since his last illness (it was, by the way, she, busybody Bess, whom Dan had asked on a memorable occasion to help him get ‘something nice for a half-Russian child interested in biology’). (1.38)

According to Van, Uncle Dan took Bess (nurse Bellabestia) to Ardis because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of ‘play-zero’ out of his poor body:

According to Bess (which is ‘fiend’ in Russian), Dan’s buxom but otherwise disgusting nurse, whom he preferred to all others and had taken to Ardis because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of ‘play-zero’ (as the old whore called it) out of his poor body, he had been complaining for some time, even before Ada’s sudden departure, that a devil combining the characteristics of a frog and a rodent desired to straddle him and ride him to the torture house of eternity. (2.10)

There is zero in ozero (lake). In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote (Shade’s Commentator) mentions three conjoined lakes called Omega, Ozero, and Zero:

Higher up on the same wooded hill stood, and still stands I trust, Dr. Sutton’s old clapboard house and, at the very top, eternity shall not dislodge Professor C.’s ultramodern villa from whose terrace one can glimpse to the south the larger and sadder of the three conjoined lakes called Omega, Ozero, and Zero (Indian names garbled by early settlers in such a way as to accommodate specious derivations and commonplace allusions). (note to Lines 47-48)

Hazel Shade (whose “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin) drowned in Lake Omega. Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. On the other hand, the lake’s name hints at Onega, a river and a lake in NW Russia. The name Onegin comes from Onega. The name Veen (of almost all main characters of Ada) means in Dutch what Neva means in Finnish: “peat bog.” Like Pushkin’s Onegin, VN was born upon the Neva’s banks.

ozero + nega = Onega + zero

nega – mollitude; sensuousness

In the epilogue of Ada Van speaks of Death and mentions “the crowning paradox of our boxed brain’s eschatologies:”

For you realize there are three facets to it (roughly corresponding to the popular tripartition of Time). There is, first, the wrench of relinquishing forever all one’s memories — that’s a commonplace, but what courage man must have had to go through that commonplace again and again and not give up the rigmarole of accumulating again and again the riches of consciousness that will be snatched away! Then we have the second facet — the hideous physical pain — for obvious reasons let us not dwell upon that. And finally, there is the featureless pseudo-future, blank and black, an everlasting nonlastingness, the crowning paradox of our boxed brain’s eschatologies! (5.6)

In the last day of their long lives Van and Ada rework their translation of a passage in Shade’s poem:

She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the right of making up a future, and in that case one’s very own future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years quickly passed — a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern. They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569–572) in John Shade’s famous poem:

…Sovetï mï dayom

Kak bït’ vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;

On ih vstrechaet — lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,

Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke…

(…We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another…) (ibid.)

Canto Three of Shade’s poem begins as follows:

L'if, lifeless tree! Your great Maybe, Rabelais:
The grand potato.
I.P.H., a lay
Institute (I) of Preparation (P)
For the Hereafter (H), or If, as we
Called it--big if!--engaged me for one term
To speak on death ("to lecture on the Worm,"
Wrote President McAber).
You and I,
And she, then a mere tot, moved from New Wye
To Yewshade, in another, higher state. (ll. 501-509)

Yew Trees (1803) is a poem by Wordsworth. In one of her letters to Van Ada mentions “the flesh of yew, just only yew:”

I love only you, I’m happy only in dreams of you, you are my joy and my world, this is as certain and real as being aware of one’s being alive, but... oh, I don’t accuse you! — but, Van, you are responsible (or Fate through you is responsible, ce qui revient au même) of having let loose something mad in me when we were only children, a physical hankering, an insatiable itch. The fire you rubbed left its brand on the most vulnerable, most vicious and tender point of my body. Now I have to pay for your rasping the red rash too strongly, too soon, as charred wood has to pay for burning. When I remain without your caresses, I lose all control of my nerves, nothing exists any more than the ecstasy of friction, the abiding effect of your sting, of your delicious poison. I do not accuse you, but this is why I crave and cannot resist the impact of alien flesh; this is why our joint past radiates ripples of boundless betrayals. All this you are free to diagnose as a case of advanced erotomania, but there is more to it, because there exists a simple cure for all my maux and throes and that is an extract of scarlet aril, the flesh of yew, just only yew. Je réalise, as your sweet Cinderella de Torf (now Madame Trofim Fartukov) used to say, that I’m being coy and obscene. But it all leads up to an important, important suggestion! Van, je suis sur la verge (Blanche again) of a revolting amorous adventure. I could be instantly saved by you. Take the fastest flying machine you can rent straight to El Paso, your Ada will be waiting for you there, waving like mad, and we’ll continue, by the New World Express, in a suite I’ll obtain, to the burning tip of Patagonia, Captain Grant’s Horn, a Villa in Verna, my jewel, my agony. Send me an aerogram with one Russian word — the end of my name and wit. (2.1)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Grant etc.: Jules Verne in Captain Grant’s Children has ‘agonie’ (in a discovered message) turn out to be part of ‘Patagonie’.

As he speaks to dying Rack, Van mentions the “agony of agony,” Professor Lamort’s felicitous pleonasm:

‘No oxygen gadget can help you to eschew the "agony of agony" — Professor Lamort’s felicitous pleonasm. The physical torments you will be, or indeed are, experiencing must be prodigious, but are nothing in comparison to those of a probable hereafter. The mind of man, by nature a monist, cannot accept two nothings; he knows there has been one nothing, his biological inexistence in the infinite past, for his memory is utterly blank, and that nothingness, being, as it were, past, is not too hard to endure. But a second nothingness — which perhaps might not be so hard to bear either — is logically unacceptable.’ (1.42)

Professor Lamort brings to mind Christopher Mortus, in VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) the critic who writes a negative review of Fyodor’s book on Chernyshevski. When Van meets Greg Erminin in Paris (also known as Lute on Antiterra), Greg asks Van if Ada married Christopher Vinelander or his brother:

‘How long will you be staying in Lute? No, Greg, I ordered it. You pay for the next bottle. Tell me —’

‘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. (3.2)

In Pale Fire Shade’s poem remains unfinished. It seems that, to be completed, it needs two lines (1000-1001):

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By its own double in the windowpane.

The poem’s last line is its coda. In music coda is “a more or less independent passage, at the end of a composition, introduced to bring it to a satisfactory close.” According to Van, he knows very little about music. In the Fragments of Onegin’s Journey [XXVII] Pushkin calls Rossini Evropy baloven’, Orfey (“the pet of Europe, Orpheus”) and compares music to champagne:

Но уж темнеет вечер синий,
Пора нам в Оперу скорей:
Там упоительный Россини,
Европы баловень — Орфей.
Не внемля критике суровой,
Он вечно тот же, вечно новый,
Он звуки льёт — они кипят,
Они текут, они горят,
Как поцелуи молодые,
Все в неге, в пламени любви,
Как зашипевшего Аи
Струя и брызги золотые...
Но, господа, позволено ль
С вином равнять do-re-mi-sol?

But darker grows already the blue evening.

Time to the opera we sped:

there 'tis the ravishing Rossini,

the pet of Europe, Orpheus.

Not harking to harsh criticism

he’s ever selfsame, ever new;

he pours out melodies, they seethe,

they flow, they burn

like youthful kisses,

all sensuousness, in falmes of love,

like, at the fuzzing point, Ay's

stream and gold spurtles...

but, gentlemen, is it permitted

to equalize do-re-mi-sol with wine?

“The pet of Europe” brings to mind pet, Ada’s nickname of Lucette (2.8, et passim).

In the Fragments of Onegin’s Journey [XVII: 13-14] Pushkin confesses that he has admixed a lot of water unto his poetic goblet:

И в поэтический бокал
Воды я много подмешал.

Dorofey + gora = doroga + Orfey

gora – mountain; cf. Sestra moya, ty pomnish' goru, / I dub vysokiy, i Ladoru? (“my sister, do you remember the mountain, and the tall oak, and the Ladore?” 1.22)

doroga – road; cf. Dorofey Road; cf. Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu… (“I go out alone on the road…” 1841), a poem by Lermontov

Orfey – Orpheus; in his poem Ne slav’, obmanutyi Orfey… (“Deceived Orpheus, do not praise…” 1831) Baratynski mentions voda zabveniya (the water of oblivion), teni umershikh (the shades of the dead) and Delvig (the poet who died in January of 1831):

Не славь, обманутый Орфей,
Мне Элизийские селенья:
Элизий в памяти моей
И не кропим водой забвенья.
В нём мир цветущей старины
Умерших тени населяют,
Привычки жизни сохраняют
И чувств её не лишены.
Там жив ты, Дельвиг! там за чашей
Ещё со мною шутишь ты,
Поёшь веселье дружбы нашей
И сердца юные мечты.

In Five: XX: 13-14 of EO Pushkin compares Lenski reading aloud his verses on the eve of his duel with Onegin to drunken Delvig:

Домой приехав, пистолеты

Он осмотрел, потом вложил

Опять их в ящик и, раздетый,

При свечке, Шиллера открыл;

Но мысль одна его объемлет;

В нем сердце грустное не дремлет:

С неизъяснимою красой

Он видит Ольгу пред собой.

Владимир книгу закрывает,

Берет перо; его стихи,

Полны любовной чепухи,

Звучат и льются. Их читает

Он вслух, в лирическом жару,

Как Дельвиг пьяный на пиру.

On coming home his pistols

he inspected, then inserted

them back into the case, and, undressed,

by candle opened Schiller;

but there’s one thought infolding him;

his melancholy heart does not drowse;

in loveliness ineffable

Olga he sees before him.

Vladimir shuts the book,

takes up his pen; his verses—

full of love’s nonsense

sound and flow. He reads them

aloud, in lyric fever,

like drunken D[elvig] at a feast.

The opening lines of the next stanza (“The verses chanced to be preserved; / I have them; here they are”) are quoted by Van before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second:”

‘Old storytelling devices,’ said Van, ‘may be parodied only by very great and inhuman artists, but only close relatives can be forgiven for paraphrasing illustrious poems. Let me preface the effort of a cousin — anybody’s cousin — by a snatch of Pushkin, for the sake of rhyme —’

‘For the snake of rhyme!’ cried Ada. ‘A paraphrase, even my paraphrase, is like the corruption of "snakeroot" into "snagrel" — all that remains of a delicate little birthwort.’

‘Which is amply sufficient,’ said Demon, ‘for my little needs, and those of my little friends.’

‘So here goes,’ continued Van (ignoring what he felt was an indecent allusion, since the unfortunate plant used to be considered by the ancient inhabitants of the Ladore region not so much as a remedy for the bite of a reptile, as the token of a very young woman’s easy delivery; but no matter).

‘By chance preserved has been the poem. In fact, I have it. Here it is: Leur chute est lente and one can know ‘em…’

‘Oh, I know ‘em,’ interrupted Demon:

‘Leur chute est lente. On peut les suivre

Du regard en reconnaissant

Le chêne à sa feuille de cuivre

L’érable à sa feuille de sang

‘Grand stuff!’

‘Yes, that was Coppée and now comes the cousin,’ said Van, and he recited:

‘Their fall is gentle. The leavesdropper

Can follow each of them and know

The oak tree by its leaf of copper,

The maple by its blood-red glow.’

‘Pah!’ uttered the versionist.

‘Not at all!’ cried Demon. ‘That "leavesdropper" is a splendid trouvaille, girl.’ He pulled the girl to him, she landing on the arm of his Klubsessel, and he glued himself with thick moist lips to her hot red ear through the rich black strands. Van felt a shiver of delight. (1.38)

Coppée’s poem translated by Ada and Van brings to mind Padenie list’yev (“The Fall of the Leaves,” 1823), Baratynski’s version of Millevoye’s La chute des feiulles. Ada blushes (i. e. turns red) when Demon mentions a handkerchief forgotten on the piano:

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.

‘Our great Coppée,’ said Van, ‘is awful, of course, yet he has one very fetching little piece which Ada de Grandfief here has twisted into English several times, more or less successfully.’ (ibid.)

Incidentally, the name Coppée brings to mind kopeechnyi piit (dime-a-dozen poetaster), a phrase used by VN in Universitetskaya poema (“The University Poem,” 1927):

Живой душой не правит мода,

но иногда моя свобода

случайно с нею совпадёт:

мне мил фокстрот, простой и нежный...

Иной мыслитель неизбежно

симптомы века в нем найдёт,--

разврат под музыку бедлама;

иная пишущая дама

или копеечный пиит

о прежних танцах возопит;

но для меня, скажу открыто,

особой прелести в том нет,

что грубоватый и немытый

маркиз танцует менуэт.

A living soul yields not to fashion,
but, now and then, for freedom, passion
will coincide with its dictates …
I like the fox trot, forthright, gentle …
Some philosophiser, surely,
will find in it our epoch’s symptoms,
debauchery to bedlam’s music;
some literary lady or
dime-a-dozen poetaster
will bemoan the dances of the past;
but for my part, I’ll say frankly,
I find no special charm at the sight of a boorish and unwashed
marquess dancing a minuet.

The University Poem is written in the reversed Onegin stanza and brings to mind Van’s performance as Mascodagama.

*in his EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 380) VN omits the translation of the rest of the stanza

**the poem’s beginning (the first line and a half of the second) was translated into Russian by Pushkin

Alexey Sklyarenko

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