'The apartment is mine,' said Van, 'and besides, Cordula is now Mrs Ivan G. Tobak. They are making follies in Florence. Here's her last postcard. Portrait of Vladimir Christian of Denmark, who, she claims, is the dead spit of her Ivan Giovanovich. Have a look.'
'Who cares for Sustermans,' observed Lucette, with something of her uterine sister's knight move of specious response, or a Latin footballer's rovesciata.
No, it's an elm. Half a millennium ago.
'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)
In Pushkin’s Kapitanskaya dochka (“The Captain’s Daughter,” 1836) Pyotr Grinyov (the novel’s main character and narrator) has an an épée duel with Aleksey Shvabrin:
Я дожидался недолго. На другой день, когда сидел я за элегией и грыз перо в ожидании рифмы, Швабрин постучался под моим окошком. Я оставил перо, взял шпагу и к нему вышел. «Зачем откладывать? — сказал мне Швабрин, — за нами не смотрят. Сойдём к реке. Там никто нам не помешает». Мы отправились молча. Опустясь по крутой тропинке, мы остановились у самой реки и обнажили шпаги. Швабрин был искуснее меня, но я сильнее и смелее, и monsieur Бопре, бывший некогда солдатом, дал мне несколько уроков в фехтовании, которыми я и воспользовался. Швабрин не ожидал найти во мне столь опасного противника. Долго мы не могли сделать друг другу никакого вреда; наконец, приметя, что Швабрин ослабевает, я стал с живостию на него наступать и загнал его почти в самую реку. Вдруг услышал я своё имя, громко произнесённое. Я оглянулся и увидел Савельича, сбегающего ко мне по нагорной тропинке... В это самое время меня сильно кольнуло в грудь пониже правого плеча; я упал и лишился чувств.
I had not to wait long. The next day whilst I was writing an elegy, and biting my pen in search of a rhyme, Shvabrin rapped at my window. I dropped my pen, snatched up my sword, and went out to him. " Why should we delay," said Shvabrin; " nobody is watching us. Let us go down to the river side. No one will hinder us there." We walked away in silence. Having descended by a steep foot path, we stopped close to the river and bared our swords. Shvabrin was the most expert, but I was stronger and bolder, and M. Beaupré, who had once been a soldier, had given me some lessons in fencing, which had not been lost upon me. Shvabrin had not expected to find such a dangerous adversary in me. For a long time, neither of us could harm the other; at last, perceiving that Shvabrin was losing strength, I thrust at him quickly, and made him retire almost into the river. Suddenly I heard my name called out in a loud voice. I turned and saw Savelich hurrying to me over the hillside path.. .
At that moment, I felt a sharp prick in the chest, a little below the right shoulder. I fell and lost all consciousness. (Chapter Four “The Single Combat”)
The name Shvabrin comes from shvabra (mop, swab) and brings to mind Vanda Broom, Ada’s lesbian schoolmate at Brownhill. “A gruesome girl” (as Cordula calls her), Vanda was shot dead "by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night, in Ragusa of all places" (2.6). Ragusa (the Italian name of Dubrovnik, a city in S Croatia) is mentioned at least four times in Abram Hannibal, VN's article on Pushkin's African ancestor appended to his EO Commentary (1964). In his poem Moya Rodoslovnaya ("My Pedigree," 1830) Pushkin quotes Figlyarin (Faddey Bulgarin) who said that the poet's great-grandfather was bought for a bottle of rum. Pushkin reminds his critic of the fact that the skipper who bought his black ancestor was Peter the Great. After Lucette left his Manhattan apartment (that had belonged to Cordula de Prey, his former mistress who married Ivan G. Tobak), Van mentions Pierre Legrand, his fencing master:
'Ada girl, adored girl,' cried Van, 'I'm a radiant void. I'm convalescing after a long and dreadful illness. You cried over my unseemly scar, but now life is going to be nothing but love and laughter, and corn in cans. I cannot brood over broken hearts, mine is too recently mended. You shall wear a blue veil, and I the false mustache that makes me look like Pierre Legrand, my fencing master.' (2.8)
According to M. Beaupré (Grinyov’s French tutor who gave the boy some lessons in fencing), he is not vrag butylki (averse to the bottle):
Бопре в отечестве своём был парикмахером, потом в Пруссии солдатом, потом приехал в Россию pour être outchitel, не очень понимая значение этого слова. Он был добрый малый, но ветрен и беспутен до крайности. Главною его слабостию была страсть к прекрасному полу; нередко за свои нежности получал он толчки, от которых охал по целым суткам. К тому же не был он (по его выражению) и врагом бутылки, т. е. (говоря по-русски) любил хлебнуть лишнее.
Beaupré, in his native country, had been a hairdresser, then a soldier in Prussia, and then had come to Russia to be "outchitel," without very well knowing the meaning of this word. He was a good creature, but wonderfully absent and hare-brained. His greatest weakness was a love of the fair sex. Neither, as he said himself, was he averse to the bottle, that is, as we say in Russia, that his passion was drink. (chapter I)
Beaupré’s passion brings to mind Bouteillan, the French butler at Ardis whose name comes from bouteille (“bottle”). According to Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father), Bouteillan looks as ruddy as his native vine:
'Good! Ah, the portentous footfall is approaching, I hear. Prascovie de Prey has the worst fault of a snob: overstatement. Bonsoir, Bouteillan. You look as ruddy as your native vine - but we are not getting any younger, as the amerlocks say, and that pretty messenger of mine must have been waylaid by some younger and more fortunate suitor.'
'Proshu, papochka (please, Dad),' murmured Van, who always feared that his father's recondite jests might offend a menial - while sinning himself by being sometimes too curt.
But - to use a hoary narrational turn - the old Frenchman knew his former master too well to be bothered by gentlemanly humor. His hand still tingled nicely from slapping Blanche's compact young bottom for having garbled Mr Veen's simple request and broken a flower vase. After placing his tray on a low table he retreated a few steps, his fingers remaining curved in the tray-carrying position, and only then acknowledged Demon's welcome with a fond bow. Was Monsieur's health always good? Indeed it was. (1.38)
According to Van, Bouteillan had once helped him to fly a box kite:
None of the family was at home when Van arrived. A servant in waiting took his horse. He entered the Gothic archway of the hall where Bouteillan, the old bald butler who unprofessionally now wore a mustache (dyed a rich gravy brown), met him with gested delight - he had once been the valet of Van's father - 'Je parie,' he said, 'que Monsieur ne me reconnaït pas,' and proceeded to remind Van of what Van had already recollected unaided, the farmannikin (a special kind of box kite, untraceable nowadays even in the greatest museums housing the toys of the past) which Bouteillan had helped him to fly one day in a meadow dotted with buttercups. Both looked up: the tiny red rectangle hung for an instant askew in a blue spring sky. (1.5)
In “The Captain’s Daughter” Grinyov makes a kite of the map that hung against the wall without ever being used:
Надобно знать, что для меня выписана была из Москвы географическая карта. Она висела на стене безо всякого употребления и давно соблазняла меня шириною и добротою бумаги. Я решился сделать из нее змей и, пользуясь сном Бопре, принялся за работу. Батюшка вошёл в то самое время, как я прилаживал мочальный хвост к Мысу Доброй Надежды.
A map had been procured for me from Moscow, which hung against the wall without ever being used, and which had been tempting me for a long time from the size and strength of its paper. I had at last resolved to make a kite of it, and, taking advantage of Beaupré's slumbers, I had set to work. My father came in just at the very moment when I was tying a tail to the Cape of Good Hope. (chapter I)
The Cape of Good Hope (Africa’s southern extremity) brings to mind Mascodagama, Van’s stage name that hints at Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India. As Mascodagama, Van dances on his hands (1.30). After his pistol duel with Captain Tapper Van loses his ability to walk on his hands:
One Sunday, while Cordula was still lolling in her perfumed bath (a lovely, oddly unfamiliar sight, which he delighted in twice a day), Van 'in the nude' (as his new sweetheart drolly genteelized 'naked'), attempted for the first time after a month's abstinence to walk on his hands. He felt strong, and fit, and blithely turned over to the 'first position' in the middle of the sun-drenched terrace. Next moment he was sprawling on his back. He tried again and lost his balance at once. He had the terrifying, albeit illusionary, feeling that his left arm was now shorter than his right, and Van wondered wrily if he ever would be able to dance on his hands again. King Wing had warned him that two or three months without practice might result in an irretrievable loss of the rare art. On the same day (the two nasty little incidents thus remained linked up in his mind forever) Van happened to answer the 'phone - a deep hollow voice which he thought was a man's wanted Cordula, but the caller turned out to be an old schoolmate, and Cordula feigned limpid delight, while making big eyes at Van over the receiver, and invented a number of unconvincing engagements.
'It's a gruesome girl!' she cried after the melodious adieux. 'Her name is Vanda Broom, and I learned only recently what I never suspected at school - she's a regular tribadka - poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at - at another girl. (1.43)
There is a mask in Van’s stage name. In a letter of Jan. 14, 1831 (the day of Delvig’s death), to Pushkin Prince Vyazemski mentions Bulgarin and his friends who insisted that all magazine articles should be signed with an author’s or translator’s real name, apparently in the hope that Pushkin and Vyazemski would be ashamed to walk from time to time among them bez maski (without a mask):
Что это за новое дополнение к цензуре, что все статьи в журналах должны быть за подписью автора, или переводчика? Не смешно ли видеть русское самодержавие, которое возится с нашею литтерат(или д)урочкою. Уж и та её пугает. Как не чувствовать им, что есть цензура, есть и всё. Уж и это не штука ли Булгарина против Литтературной Газеты, чтобы заставить нас демаскироваться? Иначе растолковать не умею. Булгарину с братьею огласки бояться нечего, а между тем надеются они, что нам иногда стыдно будет без маски пройти между ими.
Vyazemski substitutes ‘d’ for ‘t’ in literaturochka (little literature), which makes it literadurochka (“literary fool,” Vyazemski’s neologism).
Vanda + tribadka = divan/Dvina + dar + tabak = dva + tri + bank + Ada
drug + raven + Ada = vrag + erunda + ad/da
literaturochka + dochka = literadurochka + tochka
tribadka – a play on tribade (a lesbian)
Dvina – Western Dvina (Russian name of the river Daugava); Northern Dvina, a river in N Russia
dar – gift; a novel (1937) by VN
tabak – tobacco
dva – 2
tri – 3
drug – friend
vrag – enemy; cf. vrag butylki (“enemy of the bottle”)
erunda – nonsense; 'Erunda (nonsense),' said Van. 'She [Mlle Larivière] once saw me carrying Ada across the brook and misconstrued our stumbling huddle (spotïkayushcheesya sliyanie).' 'I do not mean Ada, silly,' said Marina with a slight snort, as she fussed over the teapot. 'Azov, a Russian humorist, derives erunda from the German hier und da, which is neither here nor there. (1.37)
ad – hell
da – yes
dochka – daughter; cf. Kapitanskaya dochka (“The Captain’s Daughter”); when Van and Ada watch the photographs in Kim Beauharnais’ album, Ada calls herself adova dochka: “Old Beckstein's Tabby was a masterpiece in comparison to this - this Love under the Lindens by one Eelmann transported into English by Thomas Gladstone, who seems to belong to a firm of Packers & Porters, because on the page which Adochka, adova dochka (Hell's daughter) happens to be relishing here, "automobile" is rendered as "wagon".” (2.7); Bouteillan drives a car “very warily as if it were some fancy variety of corkscrew” (1.13)
tochka – spot, dot; full stop; point; in his epigram on Boileau-Desprèaux (1636-1711), Sravnenie (“Comparison,” 1813-17), Pushkin explains the difference between Desprèaux and himself and mentions dve tochki s zapyatoy (a colon with a comma):
Не хочешь ли узнать, моя драгая,
Какая разница меж Буало и мной?
У Депрео была лишь запятая,
А у меня две точки с запятой.
My dear, do you want to know
the difference between Boileau and me?
Desprèaux had only ,
And I have : ,
At the end of another poem written at the Lyceum, Krasavitse, kotoraya nyukhala tabak ("To the Beauty who Took Snuff," 1814), Pushkin exclaims:
Ах, отчего я не табак!..
Ah, why am I not tobacco!..