During the last week of July, there emerged, with diabolical regularity, the female of Chateaubriand’s mosquito, Chateaubriand (Charles), who had not been the first to be bitten by it... but the first to bottle the offender, and with cries of vindictive exultation to carry it to Professor Brown who wrote the rather slap-bang Original Description (‘small black palpi... hyaline wings... yellowy in certain lights... which should be extinguished if one keeps open the kasements [German printer!]...’ The Boston Entomologist for August, quick work, 1840) was not related to the great poet and memoirist born between Paris and Tagne (as he’d better, said Ada, who liked crossing orchids).


Mon enfant, ma sœur,

Songe à l’épaisseur

Du grand chêne a Tagne;

Songe à la montagne,

Songe à la douceur —


— of scraping with one’s claws or nails the spots visited by that fluffy-footed insect characterized by an insatiable and reckless appetite for Ada’s and Ardelia’s, Lucette’s and Lucile’s (multiplied by the itch) blood. (1.17)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Ada who liked crossing orchids: she crosses here two French authors, Baudelaire and Chateaubriand.


mon enfant, etc.: my child, my sister, think of the thickness of the big oak at Tagne, think of the mountain, think of the tenderness —


Baudelaire’s poem L'invitation au voyage (“Invitation to the Voyage”) begins:


Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur


In his poem Baudelaire mentions des meubles luisants, polis par les ans (gleaming furniture, polished by the years). Baudelaire’s sonnet Le Vin des amants (“The Wine of Lovers”) begins: Aujourd'hui l'espace est splendide! (Today space is magnificent!)


Describing his father’s death in an airplane disaster, Van mentions l’espace meuble:


Furnished Space, l'espace meuble (known to us only as furnished and full even if its contents be 'absence of substance' - which seats the mind, too), is mostly watery so far as this globe is concerned. In that form it destroyed Lucette. Another variety, more or less atmospheric, but no less gravitational and loathsome, destroyed Demon. (3.7)


Van’s and Ada’s affair is resumed in 1905, after their father’s death. Describing their hotel suite, Van mentions the huge white ‘Nuremberg Virgin’-like closet in the hallway:


That meeting, and the nine that followed, constituted the highest ridge of their twenty-one-year-old love: its complicated, dangerous, ineffably radiant coming of age. The somewhat Italianate style of the apartment, its elaborate wall lamps with ornaments of pale caramel glass, its white knobbles that produced indiscriminately light or maids, the slat-eyes, veiled, heavily curtained windows which made the morning as difficult to disrobe as a crinolined prude, the convex sliding doors of the huge white ‘Nuremberg Virgin’-like closet in the hallway of their suite, and even the tinted engraving by Randon of a rather stark three-mast ship on the zigzag green waves of Marseilles Harbor — in a word, the alberghian atmosphere of those new trysts added a novelistic touch (Aleksey and Anna may have asterisked here!) which Ada welcomed as a frame, as a form, something supporting and guarding life, otherwise unprovidenced on Desdemonia, where artists are the only gods. (3.8)


As he listens to Demon (who wants him to give up Ada), “the Nuremberg Old Maid’s iron sting” pops up in Van’s stream of consciousness:


‘However, before I advise you of those two facts, I would like to know how long this — how long this has been…’ (‘going on,’ one presumes, or something equally banal, but then all ends are banal — hangings, the Nuremberg Old Maid’s iron sting, shooting oneself, last words in the brand-new Ladore hospital, mistaking a drop of thirty thousand feet for the airplane’s washroom, being poisoned by one’s wife, expecting a bit of Crimean hospitality, congratulating Mr and Mrs Vinelander —) (2.11)


Apparently, Van regrets that his father (who just flew over from Santiago) did not mistake a drop of thirty thousand feet for the airplane’s washroom. One wonders what was the reason of the mysterious airplane disaster in which Demon perishes twelve years later. Perhaps, it was Ada who somehow managed to arrange it? In his apologetic note to Lucette Van mentions the pilots of tremendous airships who were driven insane by a pair of green eyes and a copper curl:


Poor L.


We are sorry you left so soon. We are even sorrier to have inveigled our Esmeralda and mermaid in a naughty prank. That sort of game will never be played again with you, darling firebird. We apollo [apologize]. Remembrance, embers and membranes of beauty make artists and morons lose all self-control. Pilots of tremendous airships and even coarse, smelly coachmen are known to have been driven insane by a pair of green eyes and a copper curl. We wished to admire and amuse you, BOP (bird of paradise). We went too far. I, Van, went too far. We regret that shameful, though basically innocent scene. These are times of emotional stress and reconditioning. Destroy and forget.


Tenderly yours A & V.

(in alphabetic order). (2.8)


Describing Ada’s eyes, Van calls her “Mlle Hypnokush:”


The eyes. The eyes had kept their voluptuous palpebral creases; the lashes, their semblance of jet-dust incrustation; the raised iris, its Hindu-hypnotic position; the lids, their inability to stay alert and wide open during the briefest embrace; but those eyes’ expression — when she ate an apple, or examined a found thing, or simply listened to an animal or a person — had changed, as if new layers of reticence and sadness had accumulated, half-veiling the pupil, while the glossy eyeballs shifted in their lovely long sockets with a more restless motion than of yore: Mlle Hypnokush, ‘whose eyes never dwell on you and yet pierce you.’ (1.35)


Describing Demon’s sword duel with d’Onsky, Van mentions “an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement” (1.2). D’Artagnan is the main character in “The Three Musketeers.” In Dumas’ novel Milady persuades her jailer, a Puritan, to kill Duke of Buckingham. In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote’s black gardener wants to study French in order to read in the original Baudelaire and Dumas:


He had worked for two years as a male nurse in a hospital for Negroes in Maryland. He was hard up. He wanted to study landscaping, botany and French (“to read in the original Baudelaire and Dumas”). (note to Line 998)


In my previous post (“aujourd’hui, l'espace meuble & eye-rolling toy in Ada; Baudelaire & Terra the Fair in Pale Fire”) I forgot to say that in his poem Ya vezhliv s zhizn’yu sovremennoyu… (“I am polite with modern life…” 1916) Gumilyov compares himself to idol metallicheskiy (an idol of metal) sredi farforovykh igrushek (amidst the toys of china):


Но нет, я не герой трагический,
Я ироничнее и суше,
Я злюсь, как идол металлический
Среди фарфоровых игрушек.


But no, I'm no tragic hero,
I am more ironic and dried-up,

I’m angry, like an idol of metal
Amidst the toys of china.


In his poem Gumilyov mentions slava (glory; fame) and podvig (a heroic deed):


Победа, слава, подвиг — бледные
Слова, затерянные ныне,
Гремят в душе, как громы медные,
Как голос Господа в пустыне.


Victory, glory, heroic deeds - the pale

words that are lost nowadays
resound in my soul like thunders,
Like Voice of Heaven in the desert.


Slava (“Fame,” 1942) is a poem by VN, Podvig (“Glory,” 1932) is a novel by VN.


Also, it seems that I mistranslated the opening line of Gumilyov’s poem Shestoe chuvstvo (“The Sixth Sense”), Prekrasno v nas vlyublyonnoe vino (“Fine is the wine that is in love with us”). I saw many people who were fond of alcohol, but I never saw liquor that would be in love with a person.


Alexey Sklyarenko

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