Describing his childhood, Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins!) mentions his grand-aunt, Baroness Bredow, born Tolstoy:
I saw my parents infrequently. They divorced and remarried and redivorced at such a rapid rate that had the custodians of my fortune been less alert, I might have been auctioned out finally to a pair of strangers of Swedish or Scottish descent, with sad bags under hungry eyes. An extraordinary grand-aunt, Baroness Bredow, born Tolstoy, amply replaced closer blood. As a child of seven or eight, already harboring the secrets of a confirmed madman, I seemed even to her (who also was far from normal) unduly sulky and indolent; actually, of course, I kept daydreaming in a most outrageous fashion.
"Stop moping!" she would cry: "Look at the harlequins!
"What harlequins? Where?"
"Oh, everywhere. All around you. Trees are harlequins, words are harlequins. So are situations and sums. Put two things together--jokes, images--and you get a triple harlequin. Come on! Play! Invent the world! Invent reality!"
I did. By Jove, I did. I invented my grand-aunt in honor of my first daydreams, and now, down the marble steps of memory's front porch, here she slowly comes, sideways, sideways, the poor lame lady, touching each step edge with the rubber tip of her black cane. (1.2)
The surname Bredov comes from bred (delirium; ravings; gibberish). In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (Two: XV: 13-14) Onegin readily forgives Lenski his yunyi bred (young delirium):
Он слушал Ленского с улыбкой.
Поэта пылкий разговор,
И ум, ещё в сужденьях зыбкой,
И вечно вдохновенный взор, —
Онегину всё было ново;
Он охладительное слово
В устах старался удержать
И думал: глупо мне мешать
Его минутному блаженству;
И без меня пора придёт;
Пускай покамест он живёт
Да верит мира совершенству;
Простим горячке юных лет
И юный жар и юный бред.
He listened with a smile to Lenski:
the poet's fervid conversation,
and mind still vacillant in judgments,
and gaze eternally inspired —
all this was novel to Onegin;
the chilling word
on his lips he tried to restrain,
and thought: foolish of me
to interfere with his brief rapture;
without me just as well that time will come;
meanwhile let him live and believe
in the perfection of the world;
let us forgive the fever of young years
both its young glow and young delirium.
In Chapter Six (XX: 14) of EO Pushkin compares Lenski to Baron Delvig (Pushkin’s best friend at the Lyceum):
Домой приехав, пистолеты
Он осмотрел, потом вложил
Опять их в ящик и, раздетый,
При свечке, Шиллера открыл;
Но мысль одна его объемлет;
В нем сердце грустное не дремлет:
С неизъяснимою красой
Он видит Ольгу пред собой.
Владимир книгу закрывает,
Берет перо; его стихи,
Полны любовной чепухи,
Звучат и льются. Их читает
Он вслух, в лирическом жару,
Как Дельвиг пьяный на пиру.
On coming home his pistols he inspected,
then back into their case
he put them, and, undressed,
by candle opened Schiller;
but there's one thought infolding him;
the sad heart in him does not slumber:
Olga, in beauty
ineffable, he sees before him.
Vladimir shuts the book,
takes up his pen; his verses —
full of love's nonsense — sound
and flow. Aloud
he reads them in a lyric fever,
like drunken D[elvig] at a feast.
On the next day Lenski dies in a duel with Onegin. According to VN, “the description of the Lenski-Onegin duel is, on our poet's part, a personal recollection in regard to various details, and, in regard to its issue, a personal prediction.
Pushkin had been out at least three times before his fatal meeting with d'Anthès. His first, with Ryleev, occurred presumably between May 6 and 9, 1820, in the district of Tsarskoe Selo (see my n. to Four: XIX : 5). In his next affair (1822, first week of January, 9 A.M., at a mile and a half from Kishinev), with Colonel Starov, commander of the Chasseur Regiment, for adversary, accurate aim was impaired by a raging snowstorm; the boundary was set at sixteen paces for the first exchange and narrowed to twelve for the second.” (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 45)
The characters of LATH include Count Starov, Vadim’s benefactor who seems to be his real father:
On the gray eve of poverty, the author, then a self-exiled youth (I transcribe from an old diary), discovered an unexpected patron in the person of Count Starov, a grave old-fashioned Mason who had graced several great Embassies during a spacious span of international intercourse, and who since 1913 had resided in London. (1.2)
Count Starov’s name and patronymic, Nikifor Nikodimovich, seems to hint at Nikifor Lyapis-Trubetskoy (“Lapsus”), a character in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stulyev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928), and Nikodim Nevezhdin (as in his article “Several Moscow Men of Letters,” 1830, Pushkin calls the critic Nikolay Nadezhdin). In Chapter Two (VII: 5-6) of EO Pushkin says that in matters of the heart Lenski was milyi nevezhda (a charming dunce) and rhymes nevezhda with nadezhda (hope):
От хладного разврата света
Ещё увянуть не успев,
Его душа была согрета
Приветом друга, лаской дев.
Он сердцем милый был невежда,
Его лелеяла надежда,
И мира новый блеск и шум
Ещё пленяли юный ум.
Он забавлял мечтою сладкой
Сомненья сердца своего;
Цель жизни нашей для него
Была заманчивой загадкой,
Над ней он голову ломал
И чудеса подозревал.
From the world's cold depravity
not having yet had time to wither,
his soul was warmed by a friend's greeting,
by the caress of maidens.
He was in matters of the heart
a charming dunce. Hope nursed him,
and the globe's new glitter and noise
still captivated his young mind.
With a sweet fancy he amused
his heart's incertitudes.
The purpose of our life to him
was an enticing riddle;
he racked his brains
over it and suspected marvels.
In Chapter Ten (destroyed by the author on Oct. 19, 1830) of EO Pushkin describes the Decembrists. One of the leading figures among the Decembrists was Prince Sergey Trubetskoy (who was elected the dictator but who never turned up on the Senate square on the day of insurrection). In “The Twelve Chairs” the reporter Persitski suggests that the poet Nikifor Lyapis-Trubetskoy (“Lapsus”) should change his pseudonym to Nikifor Sumarokov-Elston and uses the word bred (in the sense “a piece of rubbish”):
Да, кстати. Ляпсус, почему вы Трубецкой? Почему вам не взять псевдоним ещё получше? Например, Долгорукий! Никифор Долгорукий! Или Никифор Валуа? Или ещё лучше: гражданин Никифор Сумароков-Эльстон? Если у вас случится хорошая кормушка, сразу три стишка в «Гермуму», то выход из положения у вас блестящий. Один бред подписывается Сумароковым, другая макулатура — Эльстоном, а третья — Юсуповым… Эх вы, халтурщик!..
“Anyway, why are you called Trubetskoy? Why don't you choose an even better name? Nikifor Dolgoruki. Or Nikifor Valois. Or, still better, Citizen Nikifor Sumarokov-Elston. If ever you manage to get some easy job, then you can write three lines for Gerasim right away and you have a marvelous way to save yourself. One piece of rubbish is signed Sumarokov, the second Elston, and the third Yusupov. God, you hack!" (Chapter XXIX “The Author of the Gavriliad”)
Prince Felix Yusupov Count Sumarokov-Elston (whose elder brother Nikolay died in a pistol duel with Count Arvid Manteuffel) was one of Rasputin’s murderers. In his poem K vel’mozhe (“To a Grandee,” 1830) addressed to Prince Nikolay Yusupov (a retired diplomat, Felix’s great-grandfather) Pushkin mentions London (the city where Count Starov resided after 1913) and merry Beaumarchais (the author of “The Marriage of Figaro” who resembles his wondrous hero):
Но Лондон звал твое внимание. Твой взор
Прилежно разобрал сей двойственный собор:
Здесь натиск пламенный, а там отпор суровый,
Пружины смелые гражданственности новой.
Скучая, может быть, над Темзою скупой,
Ты думал дале плыть. Услужливый, живой,
Подобный своему чудесному герою,
Весёлый Бомарше блеснул перед тобою.
In his Memoirs (1953) Felix Yusupov (a descendant of Tartar princes whose family tree goes back to Mohammad’s son-in-law Ali) describes his “canonization” by a member of a religious sect that worships Ali and uses the word bred (delirium):
Моя канонизация явилась для меня полной неожиданностью. Ей-Богу, я и в бреду о таком не помыслил бы! (Book Two, chapter 4)
According to Yusupov, even v bredu (in a delirium) he could not have thought of such a thing [as his canonization]. There is Ali in Stalin. In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen describes his father’s duel with Baron d’Onsky and mentions Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel:
Since prudent Veen preferred killing his man in Europe (decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel was said to be doing his best to forbid duels in the Western Hemisphere — a canard or an idealistic President’s instant-coffee caprice, for nothing was to come of it after all), Demon rented the fastest petroloplane available, overtook the Baron (looking very fit) in Nice, saw him enter Gunter’s Bookshop, went in after him, and in the presence of the imperturbable and rather bored English shopkeeper, back-slapped the astonished Baron across the face with a lavender glove. The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish — a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston — a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2)
VN’s Ada corresponds to Vadim’s Ardis (1970). According to Vadim, his father (whose society nickname was Demon) died in a pistol duel:
My father was a gambler and a rake. His society nickname was Demon. Vrubel has portrayed him with his vampire-pale cheeks, his diamond eyes, his black hair. What remained on the palette has been used by me, Vadim, son of Vadim, for touching up the father of the passionate siblings in the best of my English romaunts, Ardis (1970).
The scion of a princely family devoted to a gallery of a dozen Tsars, my father resided on the idyllic outskirts of history. His politics were of the casual, reactionary sort. He had a dazzling and complicated sensual life, but his culture was patchy and commonplace. He was born in 1865, married in 1896, and died in a pistol duel with a young Frenchman on October 22, 1898, after a card-table fracas at Deauville, some resort in gray Normandy. (2.5)
Vadim’s daughter Bel resembles his first cousin Ada Bredow (apparently, Baroness Bredow’s granddaughter):
I am reduced--a sad confession!--to something I have also used before, and even in this book--the well-known method of degrading one species of art by appealing to another. I am thinking of Serov's Five-petaled Lilac, oil, which depicts a tawny-haired girl of twelve or so sitting at a sun-flecked table and manipulating a raceme of lilac in search of that lucky token. The girl is no other than Ada Bredow, a first cousin of mine whom I flirted with disgracefully that very summer, the sun of which ocellates the garden table and her bare arms. What hack reviewers of fiction call "human interest" will now overwhelm my reader, the gentle tourist, when he visits the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, where I have seen with my own rheumy eyes, on a visit to Sovietland a few years ago, that picture which belonged to Ada's grandmother before being handed over to the People by a dedicated purloiner. I believe that this enchanting little girl was the model of my partner in a recurrent dream of mine with a stretch of parquetry between two beds in a makeshift demonic guest room. Bel's resemblance to her--same cheekbones, same chin, same knobby wrists, same tender flower—can be only alluded to, not actually listed. (4.3)
Speaking of paintings, in “The Fragments of Onegin’s Journey” ([XIX]: 3-4) Pushkin mentions prozaicheskie bredni, flamandskoy shkoly pyostryi sor (prosy divagations, the Flemish School’s variegated dross). Bredni (divagations) comes from bred. In Ada Dorothy Vinelander (Ada’s sister-in-law) marries a Mr Brod or Bred:
After helping her to nurse Andrey at Agavia Ranch through a couple of acrimonious years (she begrudged Ada every poor little hour devoted to collecting, mounting, and rearing!), and then taking exception to Ada's choosing the famous and excellent Grotonovich Clinic (for her husband's endless periods of treatment) instead of Princess Alashin's select sanatorium, Dorothy Vinelander retired to a subarctic monastery town (Ilemna, now Novostabia) where eventually she married a Mr Brod or Bred, tender and passionate, dark and handsome, who traveled in eucharistials and other sacramental objects throughout the Severnïya Territorii and who subsequently was to direct, and still may be directing half a century later, archeological reconstructions at Goreloe (the 'Lyaskan Herculanum'); what treasures he dug up in matrimony is another question. (3.8)
In Voina i mir (“War and Peace,” 1869) Leo Tolstoy mentions Krymskiy Brod (the Crimean Ford Bridge across the Moskva river):
Войска Даву, к которым принадлежали пленные, шли через Крымский брод и уже отчасти вступали в Калужскую улицу. Но обозы так растянулись, что последние обозы Богарне ещё не вышли из Москвы в Калужскую улицу, а голова войск Нея уже выходила из Большой Ордынки.
Davoust's troops, in whose charge the prisoners were, had crossed the Krymskyi Brod, or Crimean Ford Bridge, and already some of the divisions were debouching into Kaluga Street. But the teams stretched out so endlessly that the last ones belonging to Beauharnais's division had not yet left Moscow to enter Kaluga Street, while the head of Ney's troops had already left Bolshaya Ordynka. (Part IV, chapter XIV)
At the dinner in the Bellevue hotel Dorothy Vinelander mentions dear Aunt Beloskunski-Belokonski and asks Van to call her Dasha:
It went on and on like that for more than an hour and Van’s clenched jaws began to ache. Finally, Ada got up, and Dorothy followed suit but continued to speak standing:
‘Tomorrow dear Aunt Beloskunski-Belokonski is coming to dinner, a delightful old spinster, who lives in a villa above Valvey. Terriblement grande dame et tout ça. Elle aime taquiner Andryusha en disant qu’un simple cultivateur comme lui n’aurait pas dû épouser la fille d’une actrice et d’un marchand de tableaux. Would you care to join us — Jean?’
Jean replied: ‘Alas, no, dear Daria Andrevna: Je dois "surveiller les kilos." Besides, I have a business dinner tomorrow.’
‘At least’ — (smiling) — ‘you could call me Dasha.’ (3.8)
The Yusupov-Manteuffel duel took place in the outskirts of St. Petersburg, in the park of the Beloselski-Belozerski family (not far from the place where Rasputin’s dead body was discovered ten years later). Dasha (Daria Dmitrievna Bulavin) is one of the main characters in Alexey Tolstoy’s trilogy Khozhdenie po mukam (“The Road to Calvary, 1921-40). The trilogy’s first part (written in emigration) is entitled Syostry (“The Sisters,” 1921). It seems that the three of Vadim’s three or four successive wives (Iris Black, Annette Blagovo and Louise Adamson) are the daughters of Count Starov. Naturally, even in a delirium Vadim would not have thought that his wives were also his sisters.
As she speaks to Van, Dasha Vinelander mentions the deathbed delirium of Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother):
‘Incidentally, in her deathbed delirium — you don’t mind, Ada, if I divulge to him ces potins de famille? — our splendid Marina was obsessed by two delusions, which mutually excluded each other — that you were married to Ada and that you and she were brother and sister, and the clash between those two ideas caused her intense mental anguish. How does your school of psychiatry explain that kind of conflict?’
‘I don’t attend school any longer,’ said Van, stifling a yawn; ‘and, furthermore, in my works, I try not to "explain" anything, I merely describe.’ (3.8)
Andrey Vinelander (Ada’s husband) dies in 1922:
Steadily but very slowly Andrey’s condition kept deteriorating. During his last two or three years of idle existence on various articulated couches, whose every plane could be altered in hundreds of ways, he lost the power of speech, though still able to nod or shake his head, frown in concentration, or faintly smile when inhaling the smell of food (the origin, indeed, of our first beatitudes). He died one spring night, alone in a hospital room, and that same summer (1922) his widow donated her collections to a National Park museum and traveled by air to Switzerland for an ‘exploratory interview’ with fifty-two-year-old Van Veen. (3.8)
Felix Yusupov met the maharajah and his minister (a sect member who “canonized” him) in 1922. On March 28, 1922, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov (VN’s father) was assassinated in Berlin. According to Vadim, he met his first wife, Iris Black, in July of 1922:
Some time during the Easter Term of my last Cambridge year (1922) I happened to be consulted, "as a Russian," on certain niceties of make-up in an English version of Gogol's Inspector which the Glowworm Group, directed by Ivor Black, a fine amateur actor, intended to stage. He and I had the same tutor at Trinity, and he drove me to distraction with his tedious miming of the old man's mincing ways--a performance he kept up throughout most of our lunch at the Pitt. The brief business part turned out to be even less pleasant. Ivor Black wanted Gogol's Town Mayor to wear a dressing gown because "wasn't it merely the old rascal's nightmare and didn't Revizor, its Russian title, actually come from the French for ‘dream,' rêve?" I said I thought it a ghastly idea. (1.1)
Rêve and “rave, ravings” seem to be related words.