The characters in VN’s novel Transparent Things (1972) include Mr. R., the writer. Mr. R. is a Baron. In his essay on Turgenev in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers” Ayhenvald mentions the beautiful madness of Princess R. (a character in Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons,” 1862) and Vera Nikolaevna from “Faust” (Turgenev’s story in nine letters, 1856):


Наш романист облекал любовь в изысканные формы, пренебрегал её великой простотою и естественностью, в противоположность Толстому, и, придумывая разные комбинации любви, искал её магии вне жизни, в каком-нибудь красивом безумии княгини Р. из "Отцов и детей"; он всегда интересовался, любят ли его герои художество, искусство, читают ли они стихи и романы или нет (как не читала их Вера Николаевна из "Фауста"), и это внешне эстетическое мерило играет у него большую роль - большую, чем внутренняя, прирожденная, не книжная красота людей.


In TT the prostitute takes Hugh Person (the novel’s main character) to a hotel room where ninety-three years ago a Russian novelist had worked on a novel under the provisional title of Faust in Moscow:


She took him to one of the better beds in a hideous old roominghouse - to the precise "number," in fact, where ninety-one, ninety-two, nearly ninety-three years ago. The bed - a different one, with brass knobs - was made, unmade, covered with a frock coat, made again; upon it stood a half-open green-checkered grip, and the frock coat was thrown over the shoulders of the night-shirted, bare-necked, dark-tousled traveler whom we catch in the act of deciding what to take out of the valise (which he will send by mail coach ahead) and transfer to the knapsack (which he will carry himself across the mountains to the Italian frontier). He expects his friend Kandidatov, the painter, to join him here any moment for the outing, one of those lighthearted hikes that romantics would undertake even during a drizzly spell in August; it rained even more in those uncomfortable times; his boots are still wet from a ten-mile ramble to the nearest casino. They stand outside the door in the attitude of expulsion, and he has wrapped his feet in several layers of German-language newspaper, a language which incidentally he finds easier to read than French. The main problem now is whether to confide to his knapsack or mail in his grip his manuscripts: rough drafts of letters, an unfinished short story in a Russian copybook bound in black cloth, parts of a philosophical essay in a blue cahier acquired in Geneva, and the loose sheets of a rudimentary novel under the provisional title of Faust in Moscow. As he sits at that deal table, the very same upon which our Person's whore has plunked her voluminous handbag, there shows through that bag, as it were, the first page of the Faust affair with energetic erasures and untidy insertions in purple, black, reptile-green ink. The sight of his handwriting fascinates him; the chaos on the page is to him order, the blots are pictures, the marginal jottings are wings. Instead of sorting his papers, he uncorks his portable ink and moves nearer to the table, pen in hand. But at that minute there comes a joyful banging on the door. The door flies open and closes again. (chapter 6)


The name Kandidatov comes from kandidat (candidate). At the beginning of Ottsy i deti (“Fathers and Sons”) kandidat (a University degree) is mentioned:


В 1835 году Николай Петрович вышел из университета кандидатом, и в том же году генерал Кирсанов, уволенный в отставку за неудачный смотр, приехал в Петербург с женою на житьё.

In 1835 Nikolay Petrovich graduated from the university, and in the same year General Kirsanov was put on the retired list after an unsuccessful review, and came with his wife to live in Petersburg. (chapter 1)


The main character in Turgenev’s novel is Eugene Bazarov. In his reminiscences of Chekhov, Iz zapisnoy knizhki (o Chekhove), “From a Notebook. On Chekhov” (1914), Amfiteatrov (who signed some of his newspaper articles Moskovskiy Faust, “the Moscow Faust”) calls Chekhov “a grandson of Bazarov:”


Медик и физиолог, внук Базарова, сидел в нём крепко и не допускал самообманов.


According to Amfiteatrov, in order to understand Chekhov’s attitude to women one must reread Fathers and Sons and seriously think over Bazarov’s love for Mme Odintsov:


Кто хочет понять Чехова в его ясном и естественном взгляде на женщину, тот должен перечитать "Отцов и детей" и серьёзно вдуматься в любовь Базарова к Одинцовой. Там, в намёке тургеневского проникновения, зарыты корни и исходные точки прекрасной женской галереи, которую завещал нам великий художник Чехов.


In his memoir essay Amfiteatrov quotes what Chekhov once told him: “if the devils exist in nature, let the devils write about the devils:”


Потерпев полное любовное крушение, разбитый по всему фронту, мой Демон произносил над прахом своей погибшей возлюбленной весьма трогательный монолог, в котором, между прочим, имелась такая аттестация:

Была ты,
Как изумруд, душой светла!

Чехов оживился:

- Как? что? как?

- "Как изумруд, душой светла..."

- Послушайте, Байрон: почему же ваш Демон уверен, что у неё душа - зелёная?

Рассмешил меня - и стих умер. А после сказал:

- Стихи красивые, а что не печатаете, ей-ей, хорошо делаете, право... Ни к чему все эти черти с чувствами... И с человеками сущее горе, а ещё черти страдать начнут.

- Так символ же, Антон Павлович!

- Слушайте: что же - символ? Человек должен писать человеческую правду. Если черти существуют в природе, то о чертях пусть черти и пишут.


In TT the narrators seem to be the devils. In his last letter to his publisher Mr. R. mentions the department his poor soul is assigned to:


Dear Phil,

This, no doubt, is my last letter to you. I am leaving you. I am leaving you for another even greater Publisher. In that House I shall be proofread by cherubim – or misprinted by devils, depending on the department my poor soul is assigned to. So adieu, dear friend, and may your heir auction this off most profitably. (chapter 21)


Judging by the gross mistake in the novel’s last sentence (“Easy, you know, does it, son”), Mr. R. went straight to Hell (and became a devil himself).


Btw., among Chekhov’s humorous stories there is Persona (“The Person,” 1886). Its main character has a beautiful handwriting and wants to get the job of an office clerk. In his last letter to his publisher Mr. R. mentions Tom Tam and his boy typists:


Its holographical nature is explained by the fact that I prefer it not to be read by Tom Tam or one of his boy typists. (chapter 21)


Hugh Person is a proofreader who works for Phil (Mr. R.’s publisher). In his last letter Mr. R. asks his publisher to tell him about Hugh Person (who was jailed for strangling his wife):


I am very sorry that Hugh Person is not there to look after its publication. When you acknowledge this letter do not say a word of having received it, but instead, in a kind of code that would tell me you bear in mind this letter, give me, as a good old gossip, some information about him – why, for example, was he jailed, for a year – or more? – if he was found to have acted in a purely epileptic trance; why was he transferred to an asylum for the criminal insane after his case was reviewed and no crime found? And why was he shuttled between prison and madhouse for the next five or six years before ending up as a privately treated patient? How can one treat dreams, unless one is a quack? Please tell me all this because Person was one of the nicest persons I knew and also because you can smuggle all kinds of secret information for this poor soul in your letter about him. (ibid.)


The name of Hugh’s wife is Armande Chamar. Person believes that “Byron uses 'chamar,' meaning 'peacock fan,' in a very noble Oriental milieu.” (chapter 9) According to Amfiteatrov (who read to Chekhov his juvenile Byronic poem), Chekhov ironically called him “Byron” (see the quote above).


The whore accosted by Hugh Person has Italian eyes (chapter 6). According to Amfiteatrov, the heroine of his Byronic poem was an Italian girl:


Поэтому "Демон" мой лишь украдкой печатался в провинциальных изданиях - отрывками и под разными названиями. Имени "Демон" я так и не посмел ему дать: слишком велика казалась претензия. Тем более что - был-таки грех! - хотелось поправить Михаила Юрьевича и сделать нечистого более стойким и логичным революционером, чем лермонтовский Демон, а его смертную пассию (она у меня итальянка была) более духовною и идейно развитою девицею, чем лермонтовская дикарка, грузинка Тамара.

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.