Describing his novel Letters from Terra, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions “Cyraniana” and other innumerable planets with cottages and cows that might be situated in outer or inner space:
There were good reasons to disregard the technological details involved in delineating intercommunication between Terra the Fair and our terrible Antiterra. His knowledge of physics, mechanicalism and that sort of stuff had remained limited to the scratch of a prep-school blackboard. He consoled himself with the thought that no censor in America or Great Britain would pass the slightest reference to ‘magnetic’ gewgaws. Quietly, he borrowed what his greatest forerunners (Counterstone, for example) had imagined in the way of a manned capsule’s propulsion, including the clever idea of an initial speed of a few thousand miles per hour increasing, under the influence of a Counterstonian type of intermediate environment between sibling galaxies, to several trillions of light-years per second, before dwindling harmlessly to a parachute’s indolent descent. Elaborating anew, in irrational fabrications, all that Cyraniana and ‘physics fiction’ would have been not only a bore but an absurdity, for nobody knew how far Terra, or other innumerable planets with cottages and cows, might be situated in outer or inner space: ‘inner,’ because why not assume their microcosmic presence in the golden globules ascending quick-quick in this flute of Moët or in the corpuscles of my, Van Veen’s —
(or my, Ada Veen’s)
— bloodstream, or in the pus of a Mr Nekto’s ripe boil newly lanced in Nektor or Neckton. (2.2)
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Cyraniana: allusion to Cyrano de Bergerac’s Histoire comique des Etats de la Lune.
In Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’autre Monde ou les Histoire comique des Etats de la Lune (1657) a philosopher whom the narrator meets in the Moon says:
“Il me reste à prouver qu’il y a des mondes infinis dans un monde infini. Représentez-vous donc l’univers comme un grand animal, les étoiles qui sont des mondes comme d’autres animaux dedans lui qui servent réciproquement de mondes à d’autres peuples, tels qu’à nous, qu’aux chevaux et qu’aux éléphants et que nous, à notre tour, sommes aussi les mondes de certaines gens encore plus petits, comme des chancres, des poux, des vers, des cirons; ceux-ci sont la terre d’autres imperceptibles; ainsi de même que nous paraissons un grand monde à ce petit peuple, peut-être que notre chair, notre sang et nos esprits ne sont autre chose qu’une tissure de petits animaux qui s’entretiennent, nous prêtent mouvement par le leur, et, se laissant aveuglément conduire à notre volonté qui leur sert de cocher, nous conduisent nous-mêmes, et produisent tout ensemble cette action que nous appelons la vie.
Car, dites-moi, je vous prie : est-il malaisé à croire qu’un pou prenne notre corps pour un monde, et que quand quelqu’un d’eux a voyagé depuis l’une de vos oreilles jusqu’à l’autre, ses compagnons disent de lui qu’il a voyagé aux deux bouts du monde, ou qu’il a couru de l’un à l’autre pôle? Oui, sans doute, ce petit peuple prend votre poil pour les forêts de son pays, les pores pleins de pituite pour des fontaines, les bubes et les cirons pour des lacs et des étangs, les apostumes pour des mers, les fluxions pour des déluges; et quand vous vous peignez en devant et en arrière, ils prennent cette agitation pour le flux et reflux de l’océan.
La démangeaison ne prouve-t-elle pas mon dire? Ce ciron qui la produit, est-ce autre chose qu’un de ces petits animaux qui s’est dépris de la société civile pour s’établir tyran de son pays? Si vous me demandez d’où vient qu’ils sont plus grands que ces
autres petits imperceptibles, je vous demande pourquoi les éléphants sont plus grands que nous, et les Hibernois que les Espagnols?”
“It remains to be proved, that there are infinite Worlds, in an infinite World: Fancy to your self then the Universe as a great Animal; and that the Stars, which are Worlds, are in this great Animal, as other great Animals that serve reciprocally for Worlds to other Peoples; such as we, our Horses, etc. That we in our turns, are likewise Worlds to certain other Animals, incomparably less than our selves, such as Nits, Lice, Hand-worms, etc. And that these are an Earth to others, more imperceptible ones; in the same manner as every one of us appears to be a great World to these little People. Perhaps our Flesh, Blood, and Spirits, are nothing else but a Contexture of little Animals that correspond, lend us Motion from theirs, and blindly suffer themselves to be guided by our Will which is their Coachman; or otherwise conduct us, and all Conspiring together, produce that Action which we call Life, “For tell me, pray, is it a hard thing to be believed, that a Louse takes your Body for a World; and that when any one of them travels from one of your Ears to the other, his Companions say, that he hath travelled the Earth from end to end, or that he hath run from one Pole to the other? Yes, without doubt, those little People take your Hair for the Forests of their Country; the Pores full of Liquor, for Fountains; Buboes and Pimples, for Lakes and Ponds; Boils, for Seas; and Defluxions, for Deluges: And when you Comb your self, forwards, and backwards, they take that Agitation for the Flowing and Ebbing of the Ocean. Doth not Itching make good what I say? What is the little Worm that causes it but one of these little Animals, which hath broken off from civil Society, that it may set up for a Tyrant in its Country? If you ask me, why are they bigger than other imperceptible Creatures? I ask you, why are Elephants bigger than we? And the Irishmen, than Spaniards?” (chapter XIII)
Les bubes et les cirons (Buboes and Pimples) bring to mind “bubas and buboes” mentioned by Dr Krolik in a letter that Ada showed Van:
At a nice Christmas party for private librarians arranged under the auspices of the Braille Club in Raduga a couple of years earlier, emphatic Miss Vertograd had noticed that she and giggling Verger, with whom she was in the act of sharing a quiet little cracker (tugged apart with no audible result — nor did the gold paper frilled at both ends yield any bonbon or breloque or other favor of fate), shared also a spectacular skin disease that had been portrayed recently by a famous American novelist in his Chiron and described in side-splitting style by a co-sufferer who wrote essays for a London weekly. Very delicately, Miss Vertograd would transmit through Van library slips to the rather unresponsive Frenchman with this or that concise suggestion: ‘Mercury!’ or ‘Höhensonne works wonders.’ Mademoiselle, who was in the know, too, looked up ‘Psoriasis’ in a one-volume medical encyclopedia, which her late mother had left her and which had not only helped her and her charges on various minor occasions but had suggested suitable illnesses for the characters in the stories she contributed to the Québec Quarterly. In the present case, the cure optimistically advised was to ‘take a warm bath at least twice a month and avoid spices’; this she typed out and passed on to her cousin in a Get-Well envelope. Finally, Ada showed Van a letter from Dr Krolik on the same subject; it said (English version): ‘Crimson-blotched, silver-scaled, yellow-crusted wretches, the harmless psoriatics (who cannot communicate their skin trouble and are otherwise the healthiest of people — actually, their bobo’s protect them from bubas and buboes, as my teacher used to observe) were confused with lepers — yes, lepers — in the Middle Ages, when thousands if not millions of Vergers and Vertograds crackled and howled bound by enthusiasts to stakes erected in the public squares of Spain and other fire-loving countries.’ But this note they decided not to plant in the meek martyr’s index under PS as they had first intended: lepidopterists are over-eloquent on lepidosis. (1.21)
Mlle Larivière (who has the same surname as the old doctor in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary) sent her story “The Necklace” (La rivière de diamants) to the Québec Quarterly. In Cyrano de Bergerac’s novel the narrator’s journey to the moon begins in Quebec:
Je la cherchai longtemps, mais enfin je la trouvai au milieu de la place de Québec, comme on y mettait le feu. La douleur de rencontrer l’ouvrage de mes mains en un si grand péril me transporta tellement que je courus saisir le bras du soldat qui allumait le feu. Je lui arrachai sa mèche, et me jetai tout furieux dans ma machine pour briser l’artifice dont elle était environnée; mais j’arrivai trop tard, car à peine y eus-je les deux pieds que me voilà enlevé dans la nue.
In the mean time I was long in search of it, but found it at length in the Market-place of Kebeck (Quebec), just as they were setting Fire to it. I was so transported with Grief, to find the Work of my Hands in so great Peril, that I ran to the Souldier that was giving Fire to it, caught hold of his Arm, pluckt the Match out of his Hand, and in great rage threw my self into my Machine, that I might undo the Fire–Works that they had stuck about it; but I came too late, for hardly were both my Feet within, when whip, away went I up in a Cloud. (chapter IV)
Bobo (little hurt), bubas and buboes bring to mind babochka (butterfly), a word that Van translates as “lepidopteron:”
Well,’ said Van, when the mind took over again, ‘let’s go back to our defaced childhood. I’m anxious’ — (picking up the album from the bedside rug) — ‘to get rid of this burden. Ah, a new character, the inscription says: Dr Krolik.’
‘Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van but it’s terribly messy all the same. Okay. Yes, that’s my poor nature teacher.’
Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for ‘lepidopteron’). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that chase? (2.7)
Diana is the Roman goddess of hunting and of the moon.