Sometime during the winter of 1886-7, at dismally cold Chose, in the course of a poker game with two Frenchmen and a fellow student whom we shall call Dick, in the latter's smartly furnished rooms in Serenity Court, he noticed that the French twins were losing not only because they were happily and hopelessly tight, but also because milord was that 'crystal cretin' of Plunkett's vocabulary, a man of many mirrors - small reflecting surfaces variously angled and shaped, glinting discreetly on watch or signet ring, dissimulated like female fireflies in the undergrowth, on table legs, inside cuff or lapel, and on the edges of ashtrays, whose position on adjacent supports Dick kept shifting with a negligent air - all of which, as any card sharper might tell you, was as dumb as it was redundant. (1.28)
The unfortunate twins were passing to each other a fountain pen, thumb-pressing and re-pressing it in disastrous transit as they calculated their losses, which exceeded Van's. (ibid.)
He now constatait avec plaisir, as he told his victims, that only a few hundred pounds separated him from the shoreline of the minimal sum he needed to appease his most ruthless creditor, whereupon he went on fleecing poor Jean and Jacques with reckless haste, and then found himself with three honest aces (dealt to him lovingly by Van) against Van's nimbly mustered four nines. (ibid.)
The French twins's names seem to hint at Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78). Van and Ada are the children of Demon Veen and Marina Durmanov (the twin sister of poor mad Aqua whom Demon marries "out of spite and pity, a not unusual blend," 1.3). Demon's affair with Marina begins in a theatre's cabinet reculé:
As an actress, she [Marina] had none of the breath-taking quality that makes the skill of mimicry seem, at least while the show lasts, worth even more than the price of such footlights as insomnia, fancy, arrogant art; yet on that particular night, with soft snow falling beyond the plush and the paint, la Durmanska (who paid the great Scott, her impresario, seven thousand gold dollars a week for publicity alone, plus a bonny bonus for every engagement) had been from the start of the trashy ephemeron (an American play based by some pretentious hack on a famous Russian romance) so dreamy, so lovely, so stirring that Demon (not quite a gentleman in amorous matters) made a bet with his orchestra-seat neighbor, Prince N., bribed a series of green-room attendants, and then, in a cabinet reculé (as a French writer of an earlier century might have mysteriously called that little room in which the broken trumpet and poodle hoops of a forgotten clown, besides many dusty pots of colored grease, happened to be stored) proceeded to possess her between two scenes (Chapter Three and Four of the martyred novel). (1.2)
The "martyred novel" is, of course, Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. In his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 340) VN discusses Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse (Amsterdam, 1761), the epistolary novel by J. J. Rousseau in which a cabinet reculé is mentioned:
The preoccupation with tipsiness is very curious throughout the novel: after Saint-Preux gets badly drunk one day and uses abominable language in her presence (pt. I, Letter LII), she enforces upon him "dans ses repas l'usage sobre du vin témperé par le cristal de fontaines" (water). Saint-Preux, however, succumbs again in Paris, where, not realizing that his companions have led him to a brothel (as he writes Julie in detail), he mistakes white wine for water and when he regains his senses is amazed to find himself "dans un cabinet reculé, entre les bras d'une de ses créatures" (pt. II, Letter XXVI). After saving her little boy Marcellin from falling into the dangerous lake on another occasion, Julie dies very gently of shock in one of the least credible scenes of the novel. Her death is very Socratic, with long speeches, assembled guests, and a good deal of drinking - indeed, she all but gets intoxicated during those last hours.
VN was born in 1899, one hundred years after Pushkin (who was, horoscopically, Gemini). An illegitimate son of the rich landowner Ivan Yakovlev, Herzen was born one hundred years after Jean Jacques, in 1812 (the year of Napoleon's invasion of Russia). In his poem Cicero (not later than 1830) Tyutchev says: "Blest is he who visited this world in its fateful moments!" There is a gap of up to a hundred years between the two Earths (Terra and its twin planet, Antiterra). (1.3). Rousseau was born in Geneva. In exile Herzen became a Swiss citizen. Van and Ada spend their last years in Switzerland. So did VN.
"Soft snow falling beyond the plush and the paint" brings to mind the first snow in Chapter Five of EO ("Snow only fell in January, / on the night of the second." I: 3-4) and in Chekhov's story Pripadok ("A Nervous Breakdown," 1888) whose hero visits brothels for the first time in his life. In a letter of December 23, 1888, to Suvorin Chekhov writes: Literary society, students, Pleshcheyev, young ladies, etc., were enthusiastic in their praises of my “Nervous Breakdown,” but Grigorovich is the only one who has noticed the description of the first snow.
"A Nervous Breakdown" is dedicated to the memory of Garshin, the talented author of The Red Flower (a story dedicated to the memory of Turgenev) and Nadezhda Nikolaevna (a story whose title character is a prostitute) who committed suicide by jumping from a staircase landing. Van's patients at the Kingston Clinic include Mr Arshin, an acrophobe (person with pathological fear of heights). (2.6)
Van accepts Dick's offer to substitute for his debt an introduction to the Venus Villa Club (a chain of palatial brothels, or "floramors," built all over Antiterra by David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction, in memory of his grandson Eric, 2.3): 
As he was dressing, a messenger brought him a note from Lord C. (he was a cousin of one of Van's Riverlane schoolmates), in which generous Dick proposed to substitute for his debt an introduction to the Venus Villa Club to which his whole clan belonged. Such a bounty no boy of eighteen could hope to obtain. It was a ticket to paradise. Van tussled with his slightly overweight conscience (both grinning like old pals in their old gymnasium) - and accepted Dick's offer. (1.28)
Erminin + god/dog = Gemini + Nord/Dorn (god - Russ., year; Dorn - the doctor in Chekhov's play The Seagull)
Alexey Sklyarenko
Google Search the archive Contact the Editors Visit "Nabokov Online Journal" Visit Zembla View Nabokv-L Policies Manage subscription options Visit AdaOnline View NSJ Ada Annotations Temporary L-Soft Search the archive

All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.