A moment later, as happens so often in farces and foreign cities, Van ran into another friend. With a surge of delight he saw Cordula in a tight scarlet skirt bending with baby words of comfort over two unhappy poodlets attached to the waiting-post of a sausage shop. Van stroked her with his fingertips, and as she straightened up indignantly and turned around (indignation instantly replaced by gay recognition), he quoted 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)
In his story Skripka Paganini ("Paganini's Violin," 1929) Kuprin (the author of "The White Poodle," 1904) compares young poverty-stricken Paganini to a black poodle:
Но особенно тяжёлый, проклятый день выпал для него 21 октября. С самого утра шёл непрерывный холодный дождь со снегом. Дырявые башмаки артиста так промокли, что обратились в кисель и хлюпали на каждом шаге, брызжа фонтанами грязи, и сам Паганини был весь мокрый и грязный, как чёрный пудель, вылезший из болота.
A drunken tinsmith gives to hungry Paganini a half-finished mug of beer with the ashes in it that he knocked out of his pipe:
В течение всего дня Паганини не заработал ни гроша. Только уже поздно вечером пьяный лудильщик дал ему недопитую кружку пива, стряхнув в неё, кстати, пепел из своей трубки.
Van meets Cordula after parting with Greg Erminin whom Van saw drinking beer in a sidewalk café:
On a bleak morning between the spring and summer of 1901, in Paris, as Van, black-hatted, one hand playing with the warm loose change in his topcoat pocket and the other, fawn-gloved, upswinging a furled English umbrella, strode past a particularly unattractive sidewalk café among the many lining the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, a chubby bald man in a rumpled brown suit with a watch-chained waistcoat stood up and hailed him.
Van considered for a moment those red round cheeks, that black goatee.
'Ne uznayosh' (You don't recognize me)?'
'Greg! Grigoriy Akimovich!' cried Van tearing off his glove.
'I grew a regular vollbart last summer. You'd never have known me then. Beer? Wonder what you do to look so boyish, Van.'
'Diet of champagne, not beer,' said Professor Veen, putting on his spectacles and signaling to a waiter with the crook of his 'umber.' 'Hardly stops one adding weight, but keeps the scrotum crisp.' (3.2)
It is Greg who informs Van of Lucette's whereabouts:
'By the way, somebody told me - yes, Tobak! - that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four.' (ibid.)
Ivan Giovanovich Tobak is Cordula de Prey's first husband:
'You know whom I ran into this morning? Good old Greg Erminin. It was he who told me you were around. His wife est un peu snob, what?'
'Everybody is un peu snob,' said Lucette. 'Your Cordula, who is also around, cannot forgive Shura Tobak, the violinist, for being her husband's neighbor in the telephone book. (3.3)
As he speaks to the devil, Kuprin's Paganini mentions Guadagnini (Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, 1711-86, one of the finest craftsmen of string instruments in history):
— Это не Страдивариус, — воскликнул восхищённый Паганини, — но это также не Амати, не Гварнеро и не Гваданини! Это идеал скрипки, дальше которого человек не пойдёт, не может пойти! Так, значит, вы позволите мне немного поиграть на ней?
— Да... пожалуйста, — как-то вяло, нехотя и скучно согласился чёрт. — Я вам сказал.
In 1937 in Paris VN had an extramarital affair with Irina Guadanini (1905-76), G. B. Guadagnini's Russian descendant who earned money as a poodle trimmer.
Van remembered that Mr Alexander Screepatch, the new president of the United Americas, a plethoric Russian, had flown over to see King Victor; and he correctly concluded that both were now sunk in mollitude. (3.4)
Skripach being Russian for "violinist," one is reminded of Sashka the fiddler, the main character in Kuprin's story Gambrinus (1907). Like Shura, Sashka is a diminutive of Aleksandr. Gambrinus is a mythical Flemish king, the reported inventor of beer.
During his last visit to Villa Venus King Victor looks "as ruddy as the proverbial fiddle:"
However, one night he suddenly arrived, looking again as ruddy as the proverbial fiddle; but after the entire staff of his favorite floramor near Bath had worked in vain on him till an ironic Hesperus rose in a milkman's humdrum sky, the wretched sovereign of one-half of the globe called for the Shell Pink Book, wrote in it a line that Seneca had once composed:
subsidunt montes et juga celsa ruunt,
- and departed, weeping. (2.3)
One hundred floramors were built by David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction, in memory of his grandson Eric, the author of an essay 'Villa Venus: an Organized Dream.' King Victor seems to be the Antiterran negative of Queen Victoria. In Kuprin's story Viktoriya ("Victoria," 1913) Matvey Kuzmich calls his wife Vitya:
- Витя, предстaвляю тебе тaкого-то, - скaзaл Мaтвей Кузьмич, подводя меня к жене. - Это - студент, будущий Колин репетитор.
A diminitive of Viktor (male given name), Vitya brings to mind Vanya, the girl with whom Smurov is in love in VN's Soglyadatay ("The Eye," 1930). Vanya Smurov is a character in Kuzmin's story Kryl'ya ("The Wings," 1907). Vanya is a diminutive of Ivan. Uncle Vanya (1890) is a play by Chekhov. Van's, Ada's and Lucette's Uncle Ivan was a famous violinist at eighteen (1.10). The author of "The Wings," Kuzmin (1875-1936) was a gay poet and composer.
One clause in the Rules of the Club seemed to indicate that Eric, though frenziedly heterosexual, had enjoyed some tender ersatz fumblings with schoolmates at Note (a notorious preparatory school in that respect): at least two of the maximum number of fifty inmates in the major floramors might be pretty boys, wearing frontlets and short smocks, not older than fourteen if fair, and not more than twelve if dark...
Cherry, the only lad in our next (American) floramor, a little Salopian of eleven or twelve, looked so amusing with his copper curls, dreamy eyes and elfin cheekbones that two exceptionally sportive courtesans, entertaining Van, prevailed upon him one night to try the boy. (2.3)
"Floramor" blends flora with Amor (Cupid). In Kuprin's "Victoria" the Baroness asks her lover (a Georgian Prince) what is his favorite flower:
- А вы, князь? Кaкой цветок вы любите больше всего? - спросилa бaронессa.
Князь, который более всего в мире зaботился о том, чтобы его считaли остряком, и который о кaждой своей остроте предупреждaл смехом, вдруг резко и отрывисто зaхохотaл.
- Я совсем не люблю цветов. Я больше люблю сaмые плоды.
- Animal, que vous etes! - воскликнулa Бэтси и удaрилa Чхеидзе веером по руке. - Говорите серьёзно.
В темноте послышaлся звук, похожий нa поцелуй, и князь скaзaл приторным голосом, кaким всегдa "восточные человеки" говорят комплименты:
- Сaмый прекрaсный цветок розa. Онa похожa нa вaс, Бэтси.
Kuprin is the author of Yama ("The Pit," 1909-15), a novel about brothels, and of two stories entitled "The Violets" (1915) and "The Night Violet" (1933).
Kuprin's Paganini makes a pact with the devil (disguised as a notary) on the evening of October 21.
On Wednesday, October 22, in the early afternoon, Dorothy, 'frantically' trying to 'locate' Ada (who after her usual visit to the Three Swans was spending a couple of profitable hours at Paphia's 'Hair and Beauty' Salon) left a message for Van, who got it only late at night when he returned from a trip to Sorcière, in the Valais, about one hundred miles east, where he bought a villa for himself et ma cousine, and had supper with the former owner, a banker's widow, amiable Mme Scarlet and her blond, pimply but pretty, daughter Eveline, both of whom seemed erotically moved by the rapidity of the deal. (3.8)
'I suggest,' he [Van] added, 'that if you have no other engagements' - (sending a questioning glance that avoided the Vinelanders by leaping across and around the three cinematists, all of whom nodded in idiotic approval) - 'you and I go to see Maitre Jorat, or Raton, name escapes me, my adviser, enfin, in Luzon, half an hour drive from here - who has given me certain papers which I have at my hotel and which I must have you sigh - I mean sign with a sigh - the matter is tedious. (ibid.)
'Platok momental'no (handkerchief quick)! Your right nostril is full of damp jade,' said Ada, and then pointed to a lawnside circular sign, rimmed with red, saying: Chiens interdits and depicting an impossible black mongrel with a white ribbon around its neck: Why, she wondered, should the Swiss magistrates forbid one to cross highland terriers with poodles? (ibid.)
In his review of Kuprin's book Elan'. The Stories (Belgrade, 1929) VN mentions the story about a magic violin:
В этом небольшом сборнике есть рaсскaзы не только о лошaдях, но и о собaкaх, о цирке, о волшебной скрипке, о ковре-сaмолёте.
In this small collection there are stories not only about horses, but also about dogs, about circus, about a magic violin, about a magic carpet.
Per contra, she [Ada] suggested to Van that verbal circuses, 'performing words,' 'poodle-doodles,' and so forth, might be redeemable by the quality of the brain work required for the creation of a great logogriph or inspired pun and should not preclude the help of a dictionary, gruff or complacent. (1.36)
In "Paganini's Violin" Kuprin speaks of Paganini's musical charades:
Нередко он писал свои музыкальные сочинения в таких трудных нотных комбинациях, которые исполнить на скрипке мог только один он, но невольное признание безграничности искусства говорило ему, что некогда придёт другой музыкант и сыграет легче его диавольские шарады и пойдёт дальше него. И этого, будущего, он заранее ненавидел.
Logogriph is a puzzle involving anagrams. It seems to me that Ada is such a puzzle (its solution is "in vino veritas").
Erminin + page + ad/da = Paganini + merde (ad - hell; da - yes)
Joylessly, he [Van] felt the stout snake of desire weightily unwind; grimly, he regretted not having exhausted the fiend in Villa Venus. He accepted the touch of her blind hand working its way up his thigh and cursed nature for having planted a gnarled tree bursting with vile sap within a man's crotch. Suddenly Lucette drew away, exhaling a genteel 'merde.' Eden was full of people. (3.5)
Greg Erminin is Ada's faithful page. On the other hand, Blanche, as she folds the linen, is humming 'Malbrough:'
'Mon page, mon beau page,
- Mironton-mironton-mirontaine -
Mon page, mon beau page...' (1.40)
In Gogol's Dead Souls Nozdryov's stumbling barrel organ plays 'Malbrook.' In Kuprin's story "The White Poodle" there is also an old stumbling barrel organ:
Last of all came the oldest member of the troupe, grandfather Martin Lodyzhkin, with a barrel organ on his bent back.
The organ was an old one, very hoarse, and suffering from a cough; it had undergone, in the century of its existence, some scores of mendings. It played two things: a melancholy German waltz of Lanner and a galop from " A Trip to China," both in fashion thirty to forty years ago, but now forgotten by all...
The name Nozdryov comes from nozdrya (nostril) and brings to mind Van's right nostril full of damp jade. Among the landowners visited by Chichikov in Dead Souls is Sobakevich. His name comes from sobaka (dog). If translated back to Russian, the stale but appropriate lines quoted by Van are rhymed:
Viny govoryat lish' s Tobakami,
a Tobaki govoryat lish' s sobakami.
Note that Demon calls Cordula's husband "Tobakovich:"
'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)
One of Ada's lovers, Percy de Prey, is linked not only to Malbrook, but also to Akakiy Akakievich Bashmachkin (the pathetic hero of Gogol's Overcoat). Another lover of Ada, Philip Rack, is a composer of genius. According to Lucette, the lover of Rack's wife played the triple viol (2.5).
Kuprin's story "The Garnet Bracelet" (1911) has the following epigraph:
L. van Beethoven. 2 Son. (ор. 2, N 2).
Largo Appassionato
Alexey Sklyarenko
Google Search
the archive
the Editors
NOJ Zembla Nabokv-L
Subscription options AdaOnline NSJ Ada Annotations L-Soft Search the archive VN Bibliography Blog

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