Van’s chaste, angelic Russian tutor, Andrey Andreevich Aksakov is also known as AAA:


In 1880, Van, aged ten, had traveled in silver trains with showerbaths, accompanied by his father, his father’s beautiful secretary, the secretary’s eighteen-year-old white-gloved sister (with a bit part as Van’s English governess and milkmaid), and his chaste, angelic Russian tutor, Andrey Andreevich Aksakov (‘AAA’), to gay resorts in Louisiana and Nevada. AAA explained, he remembered, to a Negro lad with whom Van had scrapped, that Pushkin and Dumas had African blood, upon which the lad showed AAA his tongue, a new interesting trick which Van emulated at the earliest occasion and was slapped by the younger of the Misses Fortune, put it back in your face, sir, she said. (1.24)


AAA brings to mind Trief (Three F), as Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko nicknamed Fyodor Fyodorovich Fiedler (1859-1917), a German translator of Russian poets:


Триэф, как я его прозвал (Фед. Фед. Фидлер), брал со стола нож.

-- Вот тебе -- только экспромт.

Не могу забыть, как он поймал Владимира Соловьёва, ёжившегося под дождём в какой-то подбитой собачьим лаем крылатке и ценою предложенного тому зонтика заставил его тут же под этим зонтиком написать ему что-то в альбом.


In Pamyatka o neugasimoy lampade (“A Memento about Inextinguishable Icon-Lamp”), Nemirovich’s memoir essay on Fiedler (included in Na kladbishchakh, “At Cemeteries,” 1921), the author says that Chekhov called Fiedler (an ardent admirer of Russian literature) lampada pered ikonoyu russkoy literatury (“an icon-lamp before the icon of Russian literature”):


В громадном пожарище, охватившем Россию, незаметно погасла казавшаяся ещё недавно яркой "лампада перед иконою русской литературы".

Так А. П. Чехов называл Ф. Ф. Фидлера, благоговевшего перед нашими писателями, переводившего почти всех отечественных поэтов -- и больших, и малых -- на немецкий язык, причём эти переводы порою не только не уступали подлиннику, но, случалось, превосходили его.


The writer whom Chekhov revered most was Tolstoy. According to Van, he struggled to keep back his tears, while AAA blew his fat red nose, when shown the peasant-bare footprint of Tolstoy:


The year 1880 (Aqua was still alive - somehow, somewhere!) was to prove to be the most retentive and talented one in his long, too long, never too long life. He was ten. His father had lingered in the West where the many-colored mountains acted upon Van as they had on all young Russians of genius. He could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin's 'Headless Horseman' poem in less than twenty minutes. With white-bloused, enthusiastically sweating Andrey Andreevich, he lolled for hours in the violet shade of pink cliffs, studying major and minor Russian writers — and puzzling out the exaggerated but, on the whole, complimentary allusions to his father’s volitations and loves in another life in Lermontov’s diamond-faceted tetrameters. He struggled to keep back his tears, while AAA blew his fat red nose, when shown the peasant-bare footprint of Tolstoy preserved in the clay of a motor court in Utah where he had written the tale of Murat, the Navajo chieftain, a French general’s bastard, shot by Cora Day in his swimming pool. What a soprano Cora had been! (1.28)


According to Nemirovich, among the few people who attended Fiedler’s wake was venerable S. A. Vengerov:


Через сорок дней в воскресенье во Владимирской церкви были его сорокадневные поминки. Об этом уже объявили. Я пошёл туда. Думал встретить там хоть половину тех, кто собирался к нему 4 декабря на обычные литературные смотрины и ужины. Особенно его друзей, хотя бы тех, кому он так усердно устраивал юбилеи, сборы, адреса... Увы! Кроме почтенного С. А. Венгерова, А. Е. Кауфмана, Елисеева, Кл. Вл. Лукашевич, Луговой -- никто не пришёл на эту панихиду. Мы видели печальные глаза его дочери. Оглядываясь, она, как мне казалось, думала: А ведь эти дни были сбором всей русской литературы у отца. Куда же делась вся эта русская литература?


Describing the family dinner in “Ardis the Second,” Van mentions his tutor’s great friend, the learned but prudish Semyon Afanasievich Vengerov:


Van remembered that his tutor’s great friend, the learned but prudish Semyon Afanasievich Vengerov, then a young associate professor but already a celebrated Pushkinist (1855-1954), used to say that the only vulgar passage in his author’s work was the cannibal joy of young gourmets tearing ‘plump and live’ oysters out of their ‘cloisters’ in an unfinished canto of Eugene Onegin. (1.38)


On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) S. A. Vengerov lives much longer than he lived in our world. The characters of Chekhov's juvenile Pyesa bez nazvaniya ("A Play without a Title," 1880-81) include Vengerovich père and Vengerovich fils. In Chekhov's play Platonov predicts to Vengerovich père (who is about fifty) that he will live to get twice his current age or even longer and die peacefully:


Венгерович 1. Вы начинаете фантазировать, Михаил Васильич! (Встаёт и садится на другой стул.)
Платонов. На этой голове и громоотводов больше... Проживёт преспокойно ещё столько же, сколько и жил, если не больше, и умрёт... и умрёт ведь спокойно! (Act One, scene XV)


Van’s tutor has the same name and patronymic as Andrey Andreevich Vinelander (Ada’s husband) and Andrey Andreich, Nadya’s fiancé in Chekhov’s last story Nevesta (“The Betrothed,” 1903). In Chekhov’s story Andrey Andreich plays the violin:


После ужина Андрей Андреич играл на скрипке, а Нина Ивановна аккомпанировала на рояле. Он десять лет назад кончил на филологическом факультете, но нигде не служил, определённого дела не имел и лишь изредка принимал участие в концертах с благотворительною целью; и в городе его называли артистом.

Андрей Андреич играл; все слушали молча. На столе тихо кипел самовар, и только один Саша пил чай. Потом, когда пробило двенадцать, лопнула вдруг струна на скрипке; все засмеялись, засуетились и стали прощаться.


After supper Andrey Andreich played the violin, Nina Ivanovna accompanying him on the piano. He had graduated from the philological department of the university ten years before, but had no employment and no fixed occupation, merely playing at occasional charity concerts. In the town he was spoken of as a musician.

Andrey Andreich played and all listened in silence. The samovar steamed quietly on the table, and Sasha was the only one drinking tea. Just as twelve o'clock struck a fiddle-string snapped. Everyone laughed, and there was a bustle of leavetaking. (chapter I)


In German, Fiedler means “street violinist.” The characters of Ada include Mr Alexander Screepatch, a plethoric Russian whose name seems to hint at Sashka Skripach (Sashka the Fiddler), the main character in Kuprin’s story Gambrinus (1906):


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)


Describing King Victor’s last visit to his favorite floramor (Eric Veen’s Villa Venus), Van mentions “the proverbial fiddle:”


In 1905 a glancing blow was dealt Villa Venus from another quarter. The personage we have called Ritcov or Vrotic had been induced by the ailings of age to withdraw his patronage. 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)


Alexander Screepatch’s predecessor as America’s president was good Gamaliel:


The grounds were lividly illuminated and as populous as Park Avenue — an association that came very readily, since the disguises of the astute sleuths belonged to a type which reminded Van of his native land. Some of those men he even knew by sight — they used to patrol his father’s club in Manhattan whenever good Gamaliel (not reelected after his fourth term) happened to dine there in his informal gagality. (3.4)


There is Gama in Gamaliel (in his letters Tolstoy mentions Gamaliel, a character in the Bible). In O Chekhove (“On Chekhov”), the first memoir essay in his book “At Cemeteries,” Nemirovich quotes the words of Chekhov who compared himself to Vasco da Gama:


-- А то ещё куда меня гонят? В Африку. Что я Васко да Гама, что ли? Ведь это, слушайте же, в опере хорошо... Ни за что не поеду. Тоже нашли Стенли. Пусть Василий Иванович едет. Его мамка в детстве ушибла. Ему чем дальше, тем лучше... А я ни за что. Мало я черномази видал! Даже если мне ещё тарелку гречневой каши дадут, не поеду!


Young Van’s stage name, Mascodagama, hints at Vasco da Gama (the Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India).


According to Chekhov (who quotes the words of Lyapkin-Tyapkin, the judge in Gogol’s Inspector*), Nemirovich is strongly drawn towards far lands, because his nurse “knocked him down when he was a child.” Van’s black wet-nurse, Ruby Black, brings to mind chernomaz’ (vulg., black people), a word used by Chekhov (see the quote above).


The surname of Ada’s husband (whose fabulous ancestor “discovered our country”) hints at Vineland or Vinland (a region in E North America variously identified as a place between Newfoundland and Virginia: visited and explored by Norsemen ab. A. D. 1000). In the epilogue of Ada Van compares our childhood memories to Vineland-born caravellas:


Ardis Hall — the Ardors and Arbors of Ardis — this is the leitmotif rippling through Ada, an ample and delightful chronicle, whose principal part is staged in a dream-bright America — for are not our childhood memories comparable to Vineland-born caravellas, indolently encircled by the white birds of dreams? (5.6)


At the beginning of Canto Two of his poem Otkrytie Ameriki (“The Discovery of America,” 1910) Gumilyov mentions’ karavelly (the caravellas) of Christopher Columbus:


Двадцать дней, как плыли каравеллы,

Встречных волн проламывая грудь;

Двадцать дней, как компасные стрелы

Вместо карт указывали путь,

И как самый бодрый, самый смелый

Без тревожных снов не мог заснуть.


One of the memoir essays in Nemirovich’s “At Cemeteries,” Rytsar’ na chas (“Knight for an Hour”), is dedicated to Gumilyov (the poet whom Nemirovich compares to Amerigo Vespucci and Vasco da Gama):


Он тосковал по яркому солнечному югу, вдохновлявшему его заманчивыми далями. По ним ещё недавно он странствовал истинным конквистадором. Рассказывал мне о приключениях в Абиссинии. Если бы поверить в перевоплощение душ, можно было бы признать в нём такого отважного искателя новых островов и континентов в неведомых просторах великого океана времён. Америго Веспуччи, Васко де Гамы, завоевателей вроде Кортеса и Пизарро…


One of Gumilyov’s last poems is Na dalyokoy zvezde Venere… (“On that faraway star, upon Venus…” 1921). The two poets who could not stand each other, Blok and Gumilyov died almost simultaneously in August of 1921. The initials of Van’s tutor, AAA, also bring to mind AAB (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok). Blok is the author of Nochnaya Fialka (“The Night Violet,” 1906). Sergey Aksakov is the author of Alen’kiy tsvetochek ("The Little Scarlet Flower"), a fairy tale appended to Detskie gody Bagrova-vnuka (“The Childhood Years of Bagrov Grandson,” 1858). Aksakov and Bagrov's grandson are Van’s companions in Radugalet (the ‘other Ardis’ where little Van spent summers):


He was out, he imagined, na progulke (promenading) in the gloomy firwood with Aksakov, his tutor, and Bagrov's grandson, a neighbor's boy, whom he teased and pinched and made horrible fun of, a nice quiet little fellow who quietly massacred moles and anything else with fur on, probably pathological. (1.24)


*JUDGE. No, it's quite impossible to get rid of it ; he says his nurse knocked him down when he was a child, and ever since he has smelt of vodka. (Act One, scene 1)


Alexey Sklyarenko

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