"An American governor, my friend Bessborodko, is to be installed in Bessarabia..." (Ada, 2.1)
The name of Demon's friend seems to hint at Aleksandr Andreevich Bezborodko (1747-99), Catherine II's minister of foreign affairs de facto who was promoted to Grand Chancellor and made a prince of the Russian Empire by Paul I. One of the richest men of his time and a big lover of arts, Bezborodko owned a great collection of pictures and statues that he enjoyed showing his guests. When Stahl, the hero of Aldanov's novel Le Pont de Diable, and his young friend Ribaupierre marvel the marble statue of Eros in Bezborodko's St. Petersburg house (Part Three, IV), the former recites the two last stanzas of Krezova Erota ("Croesus' Eros", 1796), Derzhavin's epigram on Bezborodko:
Я у Креза зрел Эрота:
Он расплакавшись сидел
Среди мраморного грота,
Окруженный лесом стрел.
Пуст колчан был, лук изломан,
Опущенна тетива,
Факел хладом околдован,
Чуть струилась синева.
Что, сказал я, так слезами
Льётся сей крылатый бог?
Иль толикими стрелами
В сердце чьё попасть не мог?
Иль его бессилен пламень?
Тщетен ток опасных слез?
Ах! нашла коса на камень:
Знать, любить не может Крез.
"Ah! Creosus has run into a marble wall: he seems unable to love any more" (my paraphase of the two closing lines). In his old age Bezborodko (who tells Ribaupierre in Aldanov's novel that he probably knew more women in his life than there were times Ribaupierre masturbated) was ill and impotent. So his art collection was his only passion. Interestingly, when spelled Bessborodko, the Chancellor's Ukrainian name (that means "beardless") reminds one of Bess, old Daniel Veen's nurse who managed to extract orally a few last drops of ‘play-zero’ out of Dan's poor body (2.10), but also of the Russian saying sedina v borodu, bes v rebro ("one's beard is turning grey - a demon settles in one's rib"). It is quoted by Ostap Bender, the hero of Ilf and Petrov's "The 12 chairs", as he punishes Vorob'yaninov (the wretched old Don Juan) after the failure at the "art" auction (I speak in more detail about it in my "leporine" article that recently appeared in Zembla).
Van's uncle, Daniel Veen, is a Manhattan art dealer. The twofold hobby of Dan's cousin, Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father, a friend of Bessborodko), "was collecting old masters and young mistresses. He also liked middle-aged puns" (1.1). Demon no doubt would remember this one: Vyazemsky called Pushkin, who spent a year or so in Kishinev (Moldavia's capital), bes arapskiy ("the Moorish fiend"), punning on bessarabskiy ("Bessarabian").
Btw., like Van's father in Ada, Pushkin and Vyazemsky were gamblers (cf. "play-zero"). Pushkin was even known to the Moscow police as bankomyot ("banker at cards").
Bessborodko = bes + dobro + sok
bes - Russ., fiend
dobro - Russ., good (as opposed to evil)
sok - Russ., juice; sap
Alexey Sklyarenko
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