'His ancestor,' Van pattered on, 'was the famous or fameux Russian admiral who had an épée duel with Jean Nicot and after whom the Tobago Islands, or the Tobakoff Islands, are named, I forget which, it was so long ago, half a millennium.' (2.5)
Cordula de Prey's first husband, Ivan Tobak, the shipowner ("a splendid broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond chap," 2.10), is a descendant of Admiral Tobakoff, the Russian navigator who founded Viedma, also known on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) as Witch. According to Pushkin's friend Aleksey Vulf (a Dorpat student, rake and diarist, Anna Kern's first cousin and lover), in 1825 in Mikhailovskoe the poet, looking forward to meeting Tolstoy the American in single combat, told him:
"Этот меня не убьёт, а убьёт белокурый, ведьма врать не станет."
"This one won't kill me, a fair-haired one will, ved'ma ("the witch," i. e. Charlotte Kirchhof, a German fortune-teller in St. Petersburg whom Pushkin visited in 1819) would not lie."
'Ada supposed, at first, that Tapper was an invented name - that you fought your duel with another person  - but that was before anybody heard of the other person's death in Kalugano. Demon said you should have simply cudgeled him.'
'I could not,' said Van, 'the rat was rotting away in a hospital bed.'
'I meant the real Tapper,' cried Lucette (who was making a complete mess of her visit), 'not my poor, betrayed, poisoned, innocent teacher of music, whom not even Ada, unless she fibs, could cure of his impotence.' (ibid.)
"The rat" is Philip Rack, Lucette's poor teacher of music. In 1803, while taking part in the first lap of Admiral Krusenstern's famous voyage around the world, Count Tolstoy the American was dumped for insubordination on Rat Island, in the Aleutians (EO Commentary, vol. II, p. 428).
Captain Tapper with whom Van has a pistol duel in the Kalugano forest is an expert on maps (1.42). Fyodor Luginin, a young officer whom Pushkin met in Kishinev, was a cartographer. In his diary (an entry of June 15, 1822) Luginin notes that Pushkin had a duel in St. Petersburg in connection with the spreading of the rumors about his having been whipped in the secret chancellary (EO Commentary, vol. II, p. 431) and that Pushkin wants to call out Count Tolstoy the American who spread these rumors:
Носились слухи, что его (Пушкина) высекли в Тайной канцелярии, но это вздор. В Петербурге имел он за это дуэль. Также в Москву этой зимой хочет он ехать, чтоб иметь дуэль с одним графом Толстым, Американцем, который главный распустил эти слухи...
According to VN's hypothesis, Pushkin had a pistol duel with Ryleev between May 6 and May 9, 1820, at Ryleev's maternal countryseat, Batovo (forty-five miles S of St. Petersburg, near the highway to Luga). The estate of Batovo later belonged to VN's grandparents, Dmitri Nikolaevich Nabokov, Minister of Justice under Alexander II, and his wife Maria Ferdinandovna, née Baroness von Korff. (ibid., p. 433). Maria Ferdinandovna believed that Corfu (one of the Ionian Islands off the NW coast of Greece; in Lolita Annabel Leigh, Humbert Humbert's first love, dies of typhus in Corfu) was named after her ancestor, a crusader:
Бабка же моя, мать отца, рожденная баронесса Корф, была из древнего немецкого (вестфальского) рода и находила простую прелесть в том, что в честь предка-крестоносца был будто бы назван остров Корфу. Корфы эти обрусели ещё в восемнадцатом веке, и среди них энциклопедии отмечают много видных людей. По отцовской линии мы состоим в разнообразном родстве или свойстве с Аксаковыми, Шишковыми, Пущиными, Данзасами. (Drugie berega, 3.1)
According to VN, his paternal ancestors were related to the Aksakov, Shishkov, Pushchin and Danzas families. Aleksandr Shishkov is mentioned in Eugene Onegin. Ivan Pushchin was Pushkin's best friend at the lyceum. Konstantin Danzas was Pushkin's second in his fatal duel with d'Anthès (who was fair-haired). Sergey Aksakov (1791-1859) is the author of The Childhood Years of Bagrov's Grandson and The Family Chronicle (both alluded to in Ada). His namesake, Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (AAA) is Van's Russian tutor:
In 1880, Van, aged ten, had traveled in silver trains with showerbaths, accompanied by his father, his father's beautiful secretary, the secretary's eighteen-year-old white-gloved sister (with a bit part as Van's English governess and milkmaid), and his chaste, angelic Russian tutor, Andrey Andreevich Aksakov ('AAA'), to gay resorts in Louisiana and Nevada. (1.24)
The year 1880 (Aqua was still alive - somehow, somewhere!) was to prove to be the most retentive and talented one in his long, too long, never too long life... He passed through various little passions - parlor magic, chess, fluff-weight boxing matches at fairs, stunt-riding - and of course those unforgettable, much too early initiations when his lovely young English governess expertly petted him between milkshake and bed, she, petticoated, petititted, half-dressed for some party with her sister and Demon and Demon's casino-touring companion, bodyguard and guardian angel, monitor and adviser, Mr Plunkett, a reformed card-sharper. (1.28)
"He [Count Tolstoy the American] was known to cheat at cards... oddly enough, Tolstoy became Pushkin's spokesman in the days of Pushkin's courtship of Natalia Gontcharov." (EO Commentary, vol. II, pp. 428-29)
The Goncharovs' countryseat where Natalia Pushkin used to spend summers, Polotnyanyi Zavod, was situated near Kaluga. Seven years after Pushkin's death his widow married Peter Lanskoy. Percy de Prey's mother (a widow whose husband died in a duel) was born Praskovia Lanskoy (1.40). One of Ada's lovers whom Van nearly challenges to a duel, Percy is the second cousin of Cordula de Prey (who becomes Van's mistress soon after his duel with Tapper, 1.42).
Before she met her husband, A. P. Chekhov, Olga Knipper (a leading actress of the Moscow Art Theatre) had spent a couple of years years in Polotnyanyi Zavod. Chekhov is the author of The Flying Islands. After Jules Verne (1883), The Witch (1886), The Duel (1891), The Lady with the Dog (1899) and two monologue scenes On the Harm of Tobacco (1886, 1903). In his letters to his wife Chekhov often calls her lovingly moya sobaka ("my dog"). When he meets Cordula Tobak in Paris, Van quotes the stale but appropriate lines he had known since the days his schoolmates annoyed him with them:
The Veens speak only to Tobaks
But Tobaks speak only to dogs. (3.2)
If translated back to Russian, these lines are rhymed:
Viny govoryat lish' s Tobakami,
a Tobaki govoryat lish' s sobakami.
Just before he finds out that Van and Ada had been lovers for seven years and a half Demon meets the lady with a dog:
Next day, February 5, around nine p.m., Manhattan (winter) time, on the way to Dan's lawyer, Demon noted - just as he was about to cross Alexis Avenue, an ancient but insignificant acquaintance, Mrs Arfour, advancing toward him, with her toy terrier, along his side of the street. Unhesitatingly, Demon stepped off the curb, and having no hat to raise (hats were not worn with raincloaks and besides he had just taken a very exotic and potent pill to face the day's ordeal on top of a sleepless journey), contented himself - quite properly - with a wave of his slim umbrella; recalled with a paint dab of delight one of the gargle girls of her late husband; and smoothly passed in front of a slow-clopping horse-drawn vegetable cart, well out of the way of Mrs R4. (2.10)
Van's and Ada's father, Demon Veen (the husband of Marina's twin sister Aqua) perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific:
In the fourth or fifth worst airplane disaster of the young century, a gigantic flying machine had inexplicably disintegrated at fifteen thousand feet above the Pacific between Lisiansky and Laysanov Islands in the Gavaille region. (3.7)
One of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Lisianski Island was named after Yuri Lisianski, the commanding officer of the sloop-of-war Neva, an exploratory ship which participated in Admiral Krusenstern's voyage and which ran aground on the island in 1805. Laysan is another island (an atoll of sorts) in the same region.
For Van and Ada their father (who broke his promise given at Marina's cremation not to cheat the poor grubs) was buried on the same day as Uncle Dan:
'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.' (3.8)
Pushkin's Eugene Onegin begins:
"My uncle has most honest principles,
when taken ill in earnest... etc."
The opening line of EO is an echo of l. 4 of Krylov's fable The Ass and the Boor (1818), osyol byl samykh chestnykh pravil (the donkey had most honest principles). In 1819, in Petersburg, Pushkin had heard Krylov recite this fable at the house of Alexey Olenin, the well-known patron of arts. "At this memorable party... twenty-year-old Pushkin hardly noticed Olenin's daughter, Annette (1808-88), whom he was to court so passionately, and so unfortunately, in 1828... but did notice Mrs. Olenin's niece, Anna Kern (Cairn), née Poltoratski (1800-79), to whom at a second meeting (in the Pskovan countryside, July 1825) he was to dedicate his famous short poem beginning "I recollect a woundrous moment," which he presented to her in an uncut copy of the separate edition of Chapter One of EO... in exchange for the sprig of heliotrope from her bosom." (EO Commentary, vol. II, p. 30)
Olenin = O + Lenin
"Anagrams in French of "Annette Olénine" blossom here and there in the margins of our poet's manuscripts." (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 206)
Five minutes after the attack in the crepuscule, between porch step and cricket-crazed garden, a fiery irritation would set in, which the strong and the cold ignored (confident it would last a mere hour) but which the weak, the adorable, the voluptuous took advantage of to scratch and scratch and scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant). 'Sladko! (Sweet!)' Pushkin used to exclaim in relation to a different species in Yukon. (1.17)
It was in Priyutino, the Olenins' estate near St. Petersburg, that Pushkin, bitten by mosquitoes, exclaimed "Sladko!" (see Vyazemski's letters to his wife)
Alexey Sklyarenko
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