Three young ladies in yellow-blue Vass frocks with fashionable rainbow sashes surrounded a stoutish, foppish, baldish young man [Percy de Prey] who stood, a flute of champagne in his hand, glancing down from the drawing-room terrace at a girl in black with bare arms... (1.31)
The pathetic main character of Gogol's story Shinel' (The Overcoat, 1842), Akakiy Akakievich Bashmachkin is neskol'ko ryabovat, neskol'ko ryzhevat, neskol'ko na vid dazhe podslepovat, s nebol'shoy lysinoy na lbu (somewhat pock-marked, somewhat red-haired, even somewhat short-sighted in appearance, with a little bald spot on the forehead). True, Percy does not look a bit like Gogol's Akakiy. Yet, the way they are described suggests that they do have something in common.
One of Ada's lovers, Count Percy de Prey is associated with "Malbrook" (John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 1650-1722, British military commander):
Everything appeared as it always used to be, the little nymphs and goats on the painted ceiling, the mellow light of the day ripening into evening, the remote dreamy rhythm of Blanche's 'linen-folding' voice humming 'Malbrough' ( sait quand reviendra, ne sait quand reviendra) and the two lovely heads, bronze-black and copper-red, inclined over the table...
'Mon page, mon beau page,
- Mironton-mironton-mirontaine -
Mon page, mon beau page...' (1.40)
Only the other day from behind that row of thick firs, look there, to your right (but he did not look - sitting silent, both hands on the knob of his cane), she and her sister Madelon, with a bottle of wine between them, watched Monsieur le Comte courting the young lady on the moss, crushing her like a grunting bear as he also had crushed - many times! - Madelon who said she, Blanche, should warn him, Van, because she was a wee bit jealous but she also said - for she had a good heart - better put it off until 'Malbrook' s'en va t'en guerre, otherwise they would fight; he had been shooting a pistol at a scarecrow all morning and that's why she waited so long, and it was in Madelon's hand, not in hers. (1.41)
In Gogol's Dead Souls (Chapter Four) the song "Malbrough Went Off to War" is played by a barrel organ:
After that, a barrel organ appeared before the guests. Nozdryov straightaway ground something out for them. The barrel organ played not unpleasantly, but something seemed to have happened inside it, for the mazurka ended with the song "Malbrough Went Off to War," and "Malbrough Went Off to War" was unexpectedly concluded by some long-familiar waltz. Nozdryov had long stopped grinding, but there was one very perky reed in the organ that simply refused to quiet down, and for some time afterwards went on tooting all by itself. Then pipes appeared—of wood, clay, meerschaum, broken in and un-broken-in, covered with chamois and not covered, a chibouk with an amber mouthpiece recently won at cards, a tobacco pouch embroidered by some countess who had fallen head over heels in love with him somewhere at a posting station, whose hands, according to him, were most subdiminally superflu—a phrase that for him probably meant the peak of perfection.
There is in Ardis a toy barrel organ that comes into action spontaneously:
Further down, a door of some playroom or nursery stood ajar and stirred to and fro as little Lucette peeped out, one russet knee showing. Then the doorleaf flew open - but she darted inside and away. Cobalt sailing boats adorned the white tiles of a stove, and as her sister and he passed by that open door a toy barrel organ invitingly went into action with a stumbling little minuet. (1.6) Btw., this is Lucette's first appearence in the novel. Percy de Prey is for the first time glimpsed by Van (and by the reader), when four years later Van revisits Ardis.
A fourth maiden in the Canadian couturier's corn-and-bluet summer 'creation' stopped Van to inform him with a pretty pout that he did not remember her, which was true. 'I am exhausted,' he said. 'My horse caught a hoof in a hole in the rotting planks of Ladore Bridge and had to be shot. I have walked eight miles. I think I am dreaming. I think you are Dreaming Too.' 'No, I'm Cordula!' she cried, but he was off again. (1.31)
Ada's schoolmate at Brownhill who becomes Van's mistress after he has left Ardis for good, Cordula de Prey is Percy's second cousin. It is from Cordula that Van learns of Percy's death in the Crimean War:
'But, first of all, Van, net, pozhaluysta, on nas vidit (no, please, he sees us), I have some very bad news for you. Young Fraser, who has just been flown back from Yalta, saw Percy killed on the second day of the invasion, less than a week after they had left Goodson airport.'
...One supposes it might have been a kind of suite for flute, a series of 'movements' such as, say: I'm alive - who's that? - civilian - sympathy - thirsty - daughter with pitcher - that's my damned gun - don't... et cetera or rather no cetera... while Broken-Arm Bill prayed his Roman deity in a frenzy of fear for the Tartar to finish his job and go. But, of course, an invaluable detail in that strip of thought would have been - perhaps, next to the pitcher peri - a glint, a shadow, a stab of Ardis. (1.42)
"The pitcher peri" brings to mind Devushka s kuvshinom (the maiden with a pitcher), a statue in the park of Tsarskoe Selo. It is sung by Pushkin in Tsarskoselskaya statuya ("A Statue in Tsarskoe Selo," 1830), the hexameter poem alluded to in LATH. In its turn, kuvshin (pitcher) reminds one of Lieutenant Kuvshinnikov whom Nozdryov met at the fair and who used the phrase (that has become proverbial) polakomit'sya naschyot klubnichki ("going strawberrying"):
"But Kuvshinnikov, I mean, he's such a rascal, he sat himself down next to her [a pretty girl at the fair] and started getting at her with all these compliments in the French language... Would you believe it, he didn't pass by the simple wenches either. That's what he calls 'going strawberrying.'" (DS, Chapter Four)
According to Van, Percy is a cracker of country girls:
Percy, you were to die very soon - and not from that pellet in your fat leg, on the turf of a Crimean ravine, but a couple of minutes later when you opened your eyes and felt relieved and secure in the shelter of the macchie; you were to die very soon, Percy; but that July day in Ladore County, lolling under the pines, royally drunk after some earlier festivity, with lust in your heart and a sticky glass in your strong blond-haired hand, listening to a literary bore, chatting with an aging actress and ogling her sullen daughter, you reveled in the spicy situation, old sport, chin-chin, and no wonder. Burly, handsome, indolent and ferocious, a crack Rugger player, a cracker of country girls, you combined the charm of the off-duty athlete with the engaging drawl of a fashionable ass. I think what I hated most about your handsome moon face was that baby complexion, the smooth-skinned jaws of the easy shaver. I had begun to bleed every time, and was going to do so for seven decades. (1.39)
One wonders, if "ogling" hints at Gogol. Also, cf. Nozdryov's looks:
Of average height and rather well-built, he was a dashing fellow with full, ruddy cheeks, teeth white as snow, and whiskers black as pitch. He was fresh as milk and roses; health, it seemed, was simply bursting from his face. (DS, Chapter Four)
As he speaks to Van, Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father), calls Cordula's first husband, Ivan G. Tobak, "Tobakovich:"
'Come, come,' retorted Demon, dropping and replacing his monocle. 'Cordula won't mind.'
'It's another, much more impressionable girl' - (yet another awful fumble!). 'Damn Cordula! Cordula is now Mrs Tobak.'
'Oh, of course!' cried Demon. 'How stupid of me! I remember Ada's fiancé telling me - he and young Tobak worked for a while in the same Phoenix bank. Of course. Splendid broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond chap. Backbay Tobakovich!' (2.10)
"Tobakovich" seems to hint at Sobakevich, the landowner in Gogol's novel who willingly sells to Chichikov dead souls. Sobakevich's name comes from sobaka (dog). When Van in Paris meets Cordula Tobak, who is bending with baby words of comfort over two unhappy poodlets, he quotes the stale but appropriate lines he had known since boyhood:
The Veens speak only to Tobaks
But Tobaks speak only to dogs. (3.2)
A household member in Ardis is the mischievous dachshund Dack:
The sportive dackel, one ear flapping, the other upturned and showing its gray-mottled pink, rapidly moving his comical legs, and skidding on the parquetry as he executed abrupt turns, was in the act of carrying away, to a suitable hiding place where to worry it, a sizable wad of blood-soaked cottonwool, snatched somewhere upstairs...
'Nehoroshaya, nehoroshaya sobaka,' crooned Ada with great aspiratory and sibilatory emphasis as she gathered into her arms the now lootless, but completely unabashed 'bad dog.' (1.11)
He [Van] started to caress her [Cordula] under the table, but she gently removed his hand, whispering 'womenses,' as whimsically as another girl [apparently, Ada] had done in some other dream. (1.42)
Alexey Sklyarenko
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