Van's maternal grandmother Daria ('Dolly') Durmanov was the daughter of Prince Peter Zemski, Governor of Bras d'Or, an American province in the Northeast of our great and variegated country, who had married, in 1824, Mary O'Reilly, an Irish woman of fashion...
The Durmanovs' favorite domain, however, was Raduga near the burg of that name, beyond Estotiland proper, in the Atlantic panel of the continent between elegant Kaluga, New Cheshire, U.S.A., and no less elegant Ladoga, Mayne, where they had their town house and where their three children were born: a son, who died young and famous, and a pair of difficult female twins. (1.1)
"Cold Estotiland" mentioned by Milton in Paradise Lost (Book X, line 686) is an island off Labrador, according to Mercator maps. Bras d'Or Lake is an inland sea, or large body of partially fresh/salt water in the centre of Cape Breton Island in the province of Nova Scotia, Canada.
"Difficult female twins" are Aqua and Marina. On a picture in Marina's bedroom her and Aqua's brother Ivan (the violinist who "died young and famous") is clad in a bayronka:
A formal photograph, on a separate page: Adochka, pretty and impure in her flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit, with slant-striped school tie, facing the kimera (chimera, camera) side by side, at attention, he with the shadow of a forced grin, she, expressionless. Both recalled the time (between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a vivisectional alibi. (2.7)
The formal photograph was taken by Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whose surname hints at Napoleon's first wife.
Byron died in 1824, at the age of thirty six. In his poem K Moryu ("To the Sea," 1824) Pushkin speaks of Napoleon's and Byron's deaths:
О чем жалеть? Куда бы ныне
Я путь беспечный устремил?
Один предмет в твоей пустыне
Мою бы душу поразил.

Одна скала, гробница славы...
Там погружались в хладный сон
Воспоминанья величавы:
Там угасал Наполеон.

Там он почил среди мучений.
И вслед за ним, как бури шум,
Другой от нас умчался гений,
Другой властитель наших дум.

Исчез, оплаканный свободой,
Оставя миру свой венец.
Шуми, взволнуйся непогодой:
Он был, о море, твой певец.

Твой образ был на нем означен,
Он духом создан был твоим:
Как ты, могущ, глубок и мрачен,
Как ты, ничем неукротим.
What's to regret? Toward what far shoal
Could I my madcap voyage chart?
In all your open wilds, one goal
Could still have power to strike my heart,

One cliff...that sepulcher of glory
There a chill slumber in the west
Whelmed memories of a mighty story...
There was Napoleon felled to rest.

There rested he in tribulations.
And, after him as thunder, rolls
Yet one more genius of the nations,
One more commander of our souls

Leaving the world his wreath forever
He vanished, grieved by liberty.
Seethe! Sound! Blow wild with angry weather.
He was your one true bard, O Sea. 

In him your spirit wrought its mark,
In your own image was he framed
Like you was potent, deep and dark.
Like you, an element untamed. (transl. A. Z. Foreman)

According to Pushkin, Byron was pevets* morya (a bard of the Sea). In his poem K Vyazemskomy (To Vyazemski," 1826) Pushkin asks his friend not to praise Neptune's trident and says that upon all elements man is "a tyrant, traitor or prisoner:"
Так море, древний душегубец,
Воспламеняет гений твой?
Ты славишь лирой золотой
Нептуна грозного трезубец.

Не славь его. В наш гнусный век
Седой Нептун Земли союзник.
На всех стихиях человек -
Тиран, предатель или узник.
So 'tis the sea, the ancient assassin
that kindles into flame your genius?
You glorify with golden lyre
Neptune's dread trident?
No, praise him not! In our vile age
gray Neptune is the Earth's ally.
Upon all elements man is a tyrant,
a traitor or a prisoner. (transl. by VN)
The name Zemski comes from zemlya (Earth). Byron is the author of The Prisoner of Chillon (1816). On Antiterra 'She Yawns Castle' is also known as Château de Byron (3.8).
While Napoleon is the hero of Aldanov's St. Helena, a Small Island (1921), Byron is the hero of Aldanov's A Soldier's Grave (1938). Uncle Ivan's bayronka brings to mind Zinoviev's tolstovka on the photograph in Aldanov's Peshchera ("The Cave," 1936; Part Two, Chapter VI):
Всё "письмо из России" великолепно, и особенно описaние, кaк Ленин с шaйкой "снимaлся для потомствa". "Зa его стулом стояли Троцкий во френче и Зиновьев в кaкой-то блузе или толстовке". "...Кaкие Люциферовы чувствa они должны испытывaть к нежно любимому Ильичу..." "А ведь, если б в тaком-то году, нa тaком-то съезде, голосовaть не тaк, a инaче, дa нa тaкую-то брошюру ответить вот тaк, то ведь не он, a я сидел бы "Дaвыдычем" нa стуле, a он стоял бы у меня зa спиной с доброй, товaрищески-верноподдaнической улыбкой!" Это звучит приговором окончaтельным, вечным, тем приговором, который вынесут будущие временa. (from VN's review of "The Cave" in Contemporary Notes, 1936, # 61)
On the photograph taken in Kremlin "for posterity" Zinoviev and Trotsky stand behind Lenin's stul (chair). The characters of Ilf and Petrov's Dvenadtsat' stul'ev ("The Twelve Chairs") include Madame Gritsatsuev, a passionate woman, a poet's dream. Her name brings to mind the Gritz, a hotel in Venezia Rossa where Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov) once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter's lodge:
It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter's lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one's name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)
Venezia Rossa brings to mind "a crag on the Ross, overgrown with wild moss" in a song that Van, Ada and Lucette hear in 'Ursus' (2.8), and that "crag on the Ross" seems to be linked to odna skala, grobnitsa slavy (one cliff... the tomb of glory) in Pushkin's "To the Sea."
Tolstovka (long belted blouse) received its name after Leo Tolstoy. In her memoirs Tolstoy's daughter Aleksandra Lvovna (who helped VN and his family to settle in America) describes her meeting in a Soviet prison with Son'ka Zolotaya Ruchka (Sonya the Golden Hand), the thief who spoke French perfectly and who is believed to be a daughter (or grand-daughter) of the legendary thief (also known as Son'ka Zolotaya Ruchka) whom Chekhov met in the Sakhalin. Bras d'Or means in French "arm of gold." Like Tolstoy's daughter, Aldanov helped VN to leave France and move to the USA.
*In the original pevets rhymes with venets (crown). There is venets in Venetsia (Venice). In Aldanov's Mogila voina ("A Soldier's Grave") the action begins in Venice.
Alexey Sklyarenko
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