Sumerechnikov, bayronka & Khristosik in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 10/22/2018 - 11:40

Describing his first visit to Ardis, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the portraits of his ancestors:


They went back to the corridor, she tossing her hair, he clearing his throat. Further down, a door of some playroom or nursery stood ajar and stirred to and fro as little Lucette peeped out, one russet knee showing. Then the doorleaf flew open — but she darted inside and away. Cobalt sailing boats adorned the white tiles of a stove, and as her sister and he passed by that open door a toy barrel organ invitingly went into action with a stumbling little minuet. Ada and Van returned to the ground floor — this time all the way down the sumptuous staircase. Of the many ancestors along the wall, she pointed out her favorite, old Prince Vseslav Zemski (1699–1797), friend of Linnaeus and author of Flora Ladorica, who was portrayed in rich oil holding his barely pubescent bride and her blond doll in his satin lap. An enlarged photograph, soberly framed, hung (rather incongruously, Van thought) next to the rose-bud-lover in his embroidered coat. The late Sumerechnikov, American precursor of the Lumière brothers, had taken Ada’s maternal uncle in profile with upcheeked violin, a doomed youth, after his farewell concert. (1.6)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Sumerechnikov: the name is derived from ‘sumerki’ (‘dusk’ in Russian).


V sumerkakh (“In the Twilight,” 1887) is a collection of stories by Chekhov. On the other hand, in his essay A. A. Blok kak poet (“A. A. Blok as a Poet,” 1921-24) Korney Chukovski (the author of “From Chekhov to Our Days,” 1908) points out that sumerki was one of Blok’s favorite words:


Тут был не случайный, а главный эпитет, поглощающий собою остальные. Слово сумрак было его любимейшим словом. А также – сумерки, мгла, тьма. (II)


In his memoir essay Aleksandr Blok kak chelovek (“Alexander Blok as a Person,” 1921) Chukovski says that Blok was the last Russian poet of gentle birth who could adorn his house with the portraits of his grandfathers and great-grandfathers:


Блок был последний поэт-дворянин, последний из русских поэтов, кто мог бы украсить свой дом портретами дедов и прадедов.


Alexander Blok was a grandson of Andrey Beketov (1825-1902), a celebrated Russian botanist (in 1876-83 Rector of the St. Petersburg University). In his poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) Blok mentions his grandfather Beketov and sick and sad Dostoevski who visited the soirées of Anna Vrevski:


На вечерах у Анны Вревской

Был общества отборный цвет.

Больной и грустный Достоевский

Ходил сюда на склоне лет

Суровой жизни скрасить бремя,

Набраться сведений и сил

Для «Дневника». (Он в это время

С Победоносцевым дружил).

С простёртой дланью вдохновенно

Полонский здесь читал стихи.

Какой-то экс-министр смиренно

Здесь исповедывал грехи.

И ректор университета

Бывал ботаник здесь Бекетов,

И многие профессора,

И слуги кисти и пера,

И также — слуги царской власти,

И недруги ее отчасти,

Ну, словом, можно встретить здесь

Различных состояний смесь. (Chapter One)


During Van’s first tea party at Ardis Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) mentions Dostoevski:


They now had tea in a prettily furnished corner of the otherwise very austere central hall from which rose the grand staircase. They sat on chairs upholstered in silk around a pretty table. Ada's black jacket and a pink-yellow-blue nosegay she had composed of anemones, celandines and columbines lay on a stool of oak. The dog got more bits of cake than it did ordinarily. Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van's teacher of history, 'Jeejee' Jones.
'He resembles my teacher of history,' said Van when the man had gone.
'I used to love history,' said Marina, 'I loved to identify myself with famous women. There's a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties - Lincoln's second wife or Queen Josephine.'
'Yes, I've noticed - it's beautifully done. We've got a similar set at home.'
'Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?' Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.
'Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),' replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis' (with a slight smile). 'Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.'
'Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.'
'Pah,' uttered Ada. (1.5)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): with a slight smile: a pet formula of Tolstoy’s denoting cool superiority, if not smugness, in a character’s manner of speech.


Queen Josephine mentioned by Marina seems to hint at Josephine Beauharnais (Napoleon’s first wife). The characters of Ada include Kim Beauharnais, a kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who is blinded by Van for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada (2.11). Describing Kim Beauharnais’s album, Van mentions a formal photograph in Marina’s bedroom:


A formal photograph, on a separate page: Adochka, pretty and impure in her flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit, with slant-striped school tie, facing the kimera (chimera, camera) side by side, at attention, he with the shadow of a forced grin, she, expressionless. Both recalled the time (between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a vivisectional alibi. (2.7)

Bayronka comes from Bayron (Byron in Russian spelling). In Blok’s “Retribution” Dostoevski points out that the hero’s father resembles Byron:


Раз (он гостиной проходил)

Его заметил Достоевский.

«Кто сей красавец? — он спросил

Негромко, наклонившись к Вревской: -

Похож на Байрона». — Словцо

Крылатое все подхватили,

И все на новое лицо

Свое вниманье обратили.

На сей раз милостив был свет,

Обыкновенно — столь упрямый;

«Красив, умен» — твердили дамы,

Мужчины морщились: «поэт»...

Но, если морщатся мужчины,

Должно быть, зависть их берет...

А чувств прекрасной половины

Никто, сам чорт, не разберет...

И дамы были в восхищеньи:

«Он — Байрон, значит — демон...» — Что ж?

Он впрямь был с гордым лордом схож

Лица надменным выраженьем

И чем-то, что хочу назвать

Тяжелым пламенем печали. (Chapter One)


The ladies were delighted: “He is a Byron, hence he is a demon.” Demon is the society nickname of Van’s and Ada’s father:


On April 23, 1869, in drizzly and warm, gauzy and green Kaluga, Aqua, aged twenty-five and afflicted with her usual vernal migraine, married Walter D. Veen, a Manhattan banker of ancient Anglo-Irish ancestry who had long conducted, and was soon to resume intermittently, a passionate affair with Marina. The latter, some time in 1871, married her first lover’s first cousin, also Walter D. Veen, a quite as opulent, but much duller, chap.

The ‘D’ in the name of Aqua’s husband stood for Demon (a form of Demian or Dementius), and thus was he called by his kin. In society he was generally known as Raven Veen or simply Dark Walter to distinguish him from Marina’s husband, Durak Walter or simply Red Veen. Demon’s twofold hobby was collecting old masters and young mistresses. He also liked middle-aged puns. (1.1)


Durak Walter brings to mind khozyayka - dura i suprug - durak ("the idiot hostess and her husband, a fool"), a line in the first poem of Blok's cycle Plyaski smerti ("The Dances of Death," 1912-14):


В зал многолюдный и многоколонный
Спешит мертвец. На нём — изящный фрак.
Его дарят улыбкой благосклонной
Хозяйка — дура и супруг — дурак.


Demon Veen is a banker. In Blok's poem mertvets (the dead man) raises from his grave and goes to a bank:


Живые спят. Мертвец встаёт из гроба,
И в банк идёт, и в суд идёт, в сенат...
Чем ночь белее, тем чернее злоба,
И перья торжествующе скрипят.


According to Chukovski, in "The Dances of Death" Blok portrayed Arkadiy Rumanov as zhivoy pokoynik (a live dead man):


Помню, что в тех же «Плясках смерти» под видом живого покойника частично выведен наш общий знакомый Аркадий Руманов, талантливо симулировавший надрывную искренность и размашистую поэтичность души.


D + Rumanov = Durmanov (the maiden name of the sisters Aqua and Marina, daughters of General Ivan Durmanov, 1.1). The surname Durmanov comes from durman (thorn-apple; intoxicant). In "A. A. Blok as a Poet" Chukovski compares Blok to a hypnotist and mentions durman (the intoxicant) of Blok's lyric poetry:


Блок был гипнотизёр огромной силы, а мы были отличные медиумы. Он делал с нами всё, что хотел, потому что власть его лирики коренилась не столько в словах, сколько в ритмах. Слова могли быть неясны и сбивчивы, но они являлись носителями таких неотразимо-заразительных ритмов, что, завороженные и одурманенные ими, мы подчинялись им почти против воли.

И не только ритмы, а вся его звукопись, вся совокупность его пауз, аллитераций, ассонансов, пэонов так могуче влияли на наш организм (именно на организм, на кровь и мускулы), как музыка или гашиш, — и кто не помнит того отравления Блоком, когда казалось, что дурман его лирики всосался в поры и отравил кровь? (XI)


Chukovski contrasts Blok with Balmont (a poet who influenced Blok):


Между Блоком и Бальмонтом та же разница, что между Шопеном и жестяным вентилятором.

The difference between Blok and Balmont is that between Chopin and a tin ventilator. (ibid.)


Akvamarin ("The Aquamarine," 1917) is a sonnet by Balmont included in "The Sonnets of Sun, Honey and Moon" (1921).


Marina Durmanova (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother) is a professional actress. In Chekhov's play Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896) Treplev speaks of his mother, the ageing actress Arkadina, and mentions durman (the intoxicant) of stage:

Психологический курьёз - моя мать. Бесспорно талантлива, умна, способна рыдать над книжкой, отхватит тебе всего Некрасова наизусть, за больными ухаживает, как ангел; но попробуй похвалить при ней Дузе! Ого-го! Нужно хвалить только её одну, нужно писать о ней, кричать, восторгаться её необыкновенною игрой в "La dame aux camelias" или в "Чад жизни", но так как здесь, в деревне, нет этого дурмана, то вот она скучает и злится, и все мы - её враги, все мы виноваты. Затем она суеверна, боится трёх свечей, тринадцатого числа.

My mother’s so neurotic. She may be talented, and sensitive and if you’re sick she’s like an angel of mercy; but don’t you dare praise another actress in her presence! Did I mention that she’s competitive? That only she can be applauded, or written about, or raved over. She doesn’t get any of that out here. There’s no that intoxicative praise here in the country, so she gets grumpy and bad-tempered. Then she thinks we’re all out to get her, and claims, “everything’s our fault”. Neurotic and incredibly superstitious. She flips out if someone lights up three cigarettes with one match, or if she realizes it’s Friday the thirteenth, or if someone utters Macbeth backstage. (Act One)


Describing the picnic on Ada's sixteenth birthday, Van makes a reference to a scene in "The Seagull:"


Count Percy de Prey turned to Ivan Demianovich Veen:

‘I’m told you like abnormal positions?’

The half-question was half-mockingly put. Van looked through his raised lunel at the honeyed sun.

‘Meaning what?’ he enquired.

‘Well — that walking-on-your-hands trick. One of your aunt’s servants is the sister of one of our servants and two pretty gossips form a dangerous team’ (laughing). ‘The legend has it that you do it all day long, in every corner, congratulations!’ (bowing).

Van replied: ‘The legend makes too much of my specialty. Actually, I practice it for a few minutes every other night, don’t I, Ada?’ (looking around for her). ‘May I give you, Count, some more of the mouse-and-cat — a poor pun, but mine.’

‘Vahn dear,’ said Marina, who was listening with delight to the handsome young men’s vivacious and carefree prattle, ‘tell him about your success in London. Zhe tampri (please)!’

‘Yes,’ said Van, ‘it all started as a rag, you know, up at Chose, but then —’

‘Van!’ called Ada shrilly. ‘I want to say something to you, Van, come here.’

Dorn (flipping through a literary review, to Trigorin): ‘Here, a couple of months ago, a certain article was printed… a Letter from America, and I wanted to ask you, incidentally’ (taking Trigorin by the waist and leading him to the front of the stage), ‘because I’m very much interested in that question…’

Ada stood with her back against the trunk of a tree, like a beautiful spy who has just rejected the blindfold.

‘I wanted to ask you, incidentally, Van’ (continuing in a whisper, with an angry flick of the wrist) — ‘stop playing the perfect idiot host; he came drunk as a welt, can’t you see?’ (1.39)


In variety shows Van dances on his hands as Mascodagama (1.30). Van's stage name blends maska (Russ., mask) with Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator who discovered the sea route from Portugal around the continent of Africa to India. Maska (1884) is a story by Chekhov; Snezhnaya maska ("The Masc of Snow," 1907) is a cycle of thirty poems by Blok. In his memoir essay O Chekhove (“On Chekhov”) included in his book Na kladbishchakh (“At Cemeteries,” 1921) Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko quotes the words of Chekhov who said that he was not Vasco da Gama or Stanley and would not go to Africa (as recommended to him by doctors):

-- 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!


Mamka (wet-nurse) and chernomaz' (vulg., black people) mentioned by Chekhov bring to mind Ruby Black, Van's black wet-nurse mentioned by Aqua in her last note:


The hands of a clock, even when out of order, must know and let the dumbest little watch know where they stand, otherwise neither is a dial but only a white face with a trick mustache. Similarly, chelovek (human being) must know where he stands and let others know, otherwise he is not even a klok (piece) of a chelovek, neither a he, nor she, but ‘a tit of it’ as poor Ruby, my little Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. (1.3)


In A. A. Blok kak chelovek (“A. A. Blok as a Person”) Chukovski says that Blok in jest called his collection Nechayannaya radost’ (“Inadvertent Joy,” 1907) Otchayannaya gadost’ (“Desperate Filth”) by Alexander Klok:


Сергей Городецкий рассказывает в «Воспоминаниях о Блоке», что Блок в шутку назвал свою «Нечаянную Радость» – «Отчаянной Гадостью», а себя – Александром Клоком.


In Chekhov's story Duel' ("The Duel," 1891) Laevski, as he speaks to Samoylenko, mentions klok zemli (a plot of land) and vinogradnik (vineyard):


Какая ложь! Мы бежали, в сущности, от мужа, но лгали себе, что бежим от пустоты нашей интеллигентной жизни. Будущее наше рисовалось нам так: вначале на Кавказе, пока мы ознакомимся с местом и людьми, я надену вицмундир и буду служить, потом же на просторе возьмём себе клок земли, будем трудиться в поте лица, заведём виноградник, поле и прочее.”


“What a deception! We really ran away from her husband, but we lied to ourselves and made out that we ran away from the emptiness of the life of the educated class. We pictured our future like this: to begin with, in the Caucasus, while we were getting to know the people and the place, I would put on the Government uniform and enter the service; then at our leisure we would pick out a plot of ground, would toil in the sweat of our brow, would have a vineyard and a field, and so on.” (Chapter I)


Vinogradnik brings to mind Andrey Andreevich Vinelander (Ada’s husband). In Chekhov's story Nevesta ("The Bride," 1903) Andrey Andreich is the name and patronymic of Nadya's fiancé (who plays the violin).


Van’s and Ada’s Uncle Ivan (Aqua's and Marina's brother) brings to mind Chekhov’s play Dyadya Vanya (“Uncle Vanya,” 1898). Showing to Van Kim Beauharnais's album, Ada mentions Sumerechnikov who took sumerographs of Uncle Vanya years ago:


A photograph of an oval painting, considerably diminished, portrayed Princess Sophia Zemski as she was at twenty, in 1775, with her two children (Marina’s grandfather born in 1772, and Demon’s grandmother, born in 1773).

‘I don’t seem to remember it,’ said Van, ‘where did it hang?’

‘In Marina’s boudoir. And do you know who this bum in the frock coat is?’

‘Looks to me like a poor print cut out of a magazine. Who’s he?’

‘Sumerechnikov! He took sumerographs of Uncle Vanya years ago.’

‘The Twilight before the Lumières. Hey, and here’s Alonso, the swimming-pool expert. I met his sweet sad daughter at a Cyprian party — she felt and smelt and melted like you. The strong charm of coincidence.’ (2.7)


The "sumerographs" hint at sumerki (twilight), but also bring to mind grafy (the graphs) in Blok's his essay O lirike ("On Lyric Poetry," 1907) quoted by Chukovski in "A. A. Blok as a Poet:"


Прекрасно говорит об этом сам Блок в одной из своих давних статей о поэзии: «Группировка поэтов по школам, по „мироотношению“, по „способам восприятия“ — труд праздный и неблагодарный… Лирика нельзя покрыть крышкой, нельзя разграфить страничку и занести имена лириков в разные графы. Лирик того и гляди перескочит через несколько граф и займёт то место, которое разграфлявший бумажку критик тщательно охранял от его вторжения». (VII)


Uncle Ivan's bayronka (open shirt) hints at Byron, but it is also a play on tolstovka (a kind of blouse). At the end of his review of Aldanov’s novel Peshchera (“The Cave,” 1936) in Sovremennye Zapiski (“Contemporary Notes,” No. 61) VN mentions a photograph of Lenin and his gang being taken in the Kremlin “for posterity:”


Смерть Брауна безукоризненна. Холодок пробегает, когда он ищет «бессмертие» в энциклопедическом словаре. Вообще, если начать выбирать из романа все сокровища наблюдательности, все образцы вдохновения мысли, то никогда не кончишь. Кое-чего все же не могу не привести. Как хорошо скучает Витя в первый день своего пребывания в Париже! «Витя с облегчением повесил трубку; в этом огромном городе нашелся близкий, хоть старый и скучный, человек». Незабываем старый еврей-ювелир, который «с выражением напряженного, почти страдальческого любопытства на лице, полураскрыв рот, читал газету». Все «письмо из России» великолепно, и особенно описание, как Ленин с шайкой «снимался для потомства». «За его стулом стояли Троцкий во френче и Зиновьев в какой-то блузе или толстовке». «...Какие Люциферовы чувства они должны испытывать к нежно любимому Ильичу...» «А ведь, если б в таком-то году, на таком-то съезде, голосовать не так, а иначе, да на такую-то брошюру ответить вот так, то ведь не он, а я сидел бы "Давыдычем" на стуле, а он стоял бы у меня за спиной с доброй, товарищески-верно-подданической улыбкой!» Это звучит приговором окончательным, вечным, тем приговором, который вынесут будущие времена.


Behind Lenin’s chair stand Trotsky wearing french (a jacket) and Zinoviev wearing some blouse or tolstovka. Trotsky’s french brings to mind French (a handmaid at Ardis who appears on the last photograph in Kim Beauharnais’s album):


The entire staff stood in several rows on the steps of the pillared porch behind the Bank President Baroness Veen and the Vice President Ida Larivière. Those two were flanked by the two prettiest typists, Blanche de la Tourberie (ethereal, tearstained, entirely adorable) and a black girl who had been hired, a few days before Van’s departure, to help French, who towered rather sullenly above her in the second row, the focal point of which was Bouteillan, still wearing the costume sport he had on when driving off with Van (that picture had been muffed or omitted). On the butler’s right side stood three footmen; on his left, Bout (who had valeted Van), the fat, flour-pale cook (Blanche’s father) and, next to French, a terribly tweedy gentleman with sightseeing strappings athwart one shoulder: actually (according to Ada), a tourist, who, having come all the way from England to see Bryant’s Castle, had bicycled up the wrong road and was, in the picture, under the impression of accidentally being conjoined to a group of fellow tourists who were visiting some other old manor quite worth inspecting too. The back rows consisted of less distinguished menservants and scullions, as well as of gardeners, stableboys, coachmen, shadows of columns, maids of maids, aids, laundresses, dresses, recesses — getting less and less distinct as in those bank ads where limited little employees dimly dimidiated by more fortunate shoulders, but still asserting themselves, still smile in the process of humble dissolve.


“Davydych” (Trotsky’s patronymic) brings to mind Aleksandr Davidovich Samoylenko (a character in Chekhov’s “Duel”), David van Veen (a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction who built one hundred floramors all over the world in memory of his grandson Eric, the author of an essay "Villa Venus: an Organized Dream," 2.3) and Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), Marina’s former lover who gave her children a set of Flavita (Russian Scrabble):


The set our three children received in 1884 from an old friend of the family (as Marina’s former lovers were known), Baron Klim Avidov, consisted of a large folding board of saffian and a boxful of weighty rectangles of ebony inlaid with platinum letters, only one of which was a Roman one, namely the letter J on the two joker blocks (as thrilling to get as a blank check signed by Jupiter or Jurojin). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter’s lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one’s name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)


During one of the Flavita games Lucette’s letters form the word “Kremlin:”


‘Je ne peux rien faire,’ wailed Lucette, ‘mais rien — with my idiotic Buchstaben, REMNILK, LINKREM...’

‘Look,’ whispered Van, ‘c’est tout simple, shift those two syllables and you get a fortress in ancient Muscovy.’

‘Oh, no,’ said Ada, wagging her finger at the height of her temple in a way she had. ‘Oh, no. That pretty word does not exist in Russian. A Frenchman invented it. There is no second syllable.’

‘Ruth for a little child?’ interposed Van.

‘Ruthless!’ cried Ada.

‘Well,’ said Van, ‘you can always make a little cream, KREM or KREME — or even better — there’s KREMLI, which means Yukon prisons. Go through her ORHIDEYA.’

‘Through her silly orchid,’ said Lucette. (ibid.)


At the beginning of another game Ada’s letters form the word kerosin (kerosene):


Lots had been cast, Ada had won the right to begin, and was in the act of collecting one by one, mechanically and unthinkingly, her seven ‘luckies’ from the open case where the blocks lay face down, showing nothing but their anonymous black backs, each in its own cell of flavid velvet. She was speaking at the same time, saying casually: ‘I would much prefer the Benten lamp here but it is out of kerosin. Pet (addressing Lucette), be a good scout, call her — Good Heavens!’

The seven letters she had taken, S,R,E,N,O,K,I, and was sorting out in her spektrik (the little trough of japanned wood each player had before him) now formed in quick and, as it were, self-impulsed rearrangement the key word of the chance sentence that had attended their random assemblage. (ibid.)


In his essay “Alexander Blok as a Person” Chukovski quotes one of Blok’s last poems in which acetylene and kerosene are mentioned:


После Прекрасной Дамы он пел Белую Даму, Мэри, Фаину, Сольвейг, Незнакомку, Снежную Деву, Деву Звездной Пучины, Кармен, Девушку из Сполето, Катьку,– и вот, в конце этого длинного ряда, появилась у него новая Женщина:

Вплоть до колен текли ботинки,
Являли икры вид колен,
Взгляд обольстительной кретинки
Светился, как ацетилен.


Стихотворение было длинное. Поэт рассказывал, что, возвращаясь со службы, он нёс в руке бутылку с керосином. Обольстительная кретинка была не одна: её сопровождал некий тигроподобный молодой человек:

Когда мы очутились рядом,
Какой-то дерзкий господин
Обжег её столь жарким взглядом,
Что чуть не сжёг мой керосин.
А я, предчувствием взволнован,
В её глазах прочел ответ,
Что он давно деклассирован
И что ему пощады нет.
И мы прошли по рвам и льдинам,
Она – туда, а я – сюда.
Я знал, что с этим господином
Не встречусь больше никогда.


Поэт пробовал смеяться над этой обольстительной кретинкой, но она оказалась сильнее его и вскоре посмеялась над ним. В мае 1921 года я получил от него страшное письмо,– о том, что она победила:


...«Сейчас у меня ни души, ни тела нет, я болен, как не был никогда ещё: жар не прекращается, и всё всегда болит... Итак, здравствуем и посейчас – сказать уже нельзя: слопала таки поганая, гугнивая, родимая матушка Россия, как чушка своего поросёнка». (IX)


Acetylene in Blok’s poem brings to mind Ah, cette Line” (a popular novel mentioned by Van):


She could recollect, of course, when she and her sister played ‘note-comparing,’ much better than Lucette such things as itineraries, spectacular flora, fashions, the covered galleries with all sorts of shops, a handsome suntanned man with a black mustache who kept staring at her from his corner in the restaurant of Geneva’s Manhattan Palace; but Lucette, though so much younger, remembered heaps of bagatelles, little ‘turrets’ and little ‘barrels,’ biryul’ki proshlago. She was, cette Lucette, like the girl in Ah, cette Line (a popular novel), ‘a macédoine of intuition, stupidity, naïveté and cunning.’ (1.24)


The tiger-like young man in Blok's poem whose ardent look nearly burnt the poet’s kerosene brings to mind “a Tiger Turk” mentioned by Ada:


He heard Ada Vinelander’s voice calling for her Glass bed slippers (which, as in Cordulenka’s princessdom too, he found hard to distinguish from dance footwear), and a minute later, without the least interruption in the established tension, Van found himself, in a drunken dream, making violent love to Rose — no, to Ada, but in the rosacean fashion, on a kind of lowboy. She complained he hurt her ‘like a Tiger Turk.’ He went to bed and was about to doze off for good when she left his side. Where was she going? Pet wanted to see the album. (2.8)


‘A Tiger Turk’ seems to hint at Karol, or Karapars, Krolik (Ada’s first lover):


Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for ‘lepidopteron’). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that chase?

‘How curious — in the state Kim mounted him here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he’s a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!’

‘There’s nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here’s the visual proof. Besides, that’s not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.’

‘I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor.’

‘I’m not lying!’ — (with lovely dignity): ‘He is a doctor of philosophy.’

‘Van ist auch one,’ murmured Van, sounding the last word as ‘wann.’ (2.7)


In his poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) Blok mentions p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) who cry out “In vino veritas!” At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon Veen mentions chelovek (the manservant), Dr Krolik and uses the phrase s glazami (with the eyes):


‘Marina,’ murmured Demon at the close of the first course. ‘Marina,’ he repeated louder. ‘Far from me’ (a locution he favored) ‘to criticize Dan’s taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I’m above all that rot, I’m…’ (gesture); ‘but, my dear,’ he continued, switching to Russian, ‘the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki — the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) —’
‘Everybody has eyes,’ remarked Marina drily.
‘Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves.
But that’s not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It’s depressing. It’s a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.’
‘Look, Dad,’ said Van, ‘Dr Krolik can’t do much, because, as you know quite well, he’s dead, and Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive.’
‘The Veen wit, the Veen wit,’ murmured Demon. (1.38)


At the same dinner in "Ardis the Second" Van mentions an Alibi (cf. “vivisectional alibi” provided by the dead boy on the photograph in Marina’s bedroom):


Marina helped herself to an Albany from a crystal box of Turkish cigarettes tipped with red rose petal and passed the box on to Demon. Ada, somewhat self-consciously, lit up too.
‘You know quite well,’ said Marina, ‘that your father disapproves of your smoking at table.’
‘Oh, it’s all right,’ murmured Demon.
‘I had Dan in view,’ explained Marina heavily. ‘He’s very prissy on that score.’
‘Well, and I’m not,’ answered Demon.
Ada and Van could not help laughing. All that was banter — not of a high order, but still banter.
A moment later, however, Van remarked: ‘I think I’ll take an Alibi — I mean an Albany — myself.’
‘Please note, everybody,’ said Ada, ‘how voulu that slip was! I like a smoke when I go mushrooming, but when I’m back, this horrid tease insists I smell of some romantic Turk or Albanian met in the woods.’
‘Well,’ said Demon, ‘Van’s quite right to look after your morals.’ (ibid.)


Some romantic Turk or Albanian whom Ada meets in woods is Percy de Prey (one of Ada’s lovers):


She walked swiftly toward him across the iridescently glistening lawn. ‘Van,’ she said, ‘I must tell you my dream before I forget. You and I were high up in the Alps — Why on earth are you wearing townclothes?’

‘Well, I’ll tell you,’ drawled dreamy Van. ‘I’ll tell you why. From a humble but reliable sauce, I mean source, excuse my accent, I have just learned qu’on vous culbute behind every hedge. Where can I find your tumbler?’

‘Nowhere,’ she answered quite calmly, ignoring or not even perceiving his rudeness, for she had always known that disaster would come today or tomorrow, a question of time or rather timing on the part of fate.

‘But he exists, he exists,’ muttered Van, looking down at a rainbow web on the turf.

‘I suppose so,’ said the haughty child, ‘however, he left yesterday for some Greek or Turkish port. Moreover, he was going to do everything to get killed, if that information helps. Now listen, listen! Those walks in the woods meant nothing. Wait, Van! I was weak only twice when you had hurt him so hideously, or perhaps three times in all. Please! I can’t explain in one gush, but eventually you will understand. Not everybody is as happy as we are. He’s a poor, lost, clumsy boy. We are all doomed, but some are more doomed than others. He is nothing to me. I shall never see him again. He is nothing, I swear. He adores me to the point of insanity.’

‘I think,’ said Van, ‘we’ve got hold of the wrong lover. I was asking about Herr Rack, who has such delectable gums and also adores you to the point of insanity.’

He turned, as they say, on his heel, and walked toward the house. (1.41)


Like Van’s and Ada’s Uncle Ivan, Percy de Prey is a doomed youth. Ivan Durmanov was a gifted violinist. According to Greg Erminin (Grace’s twin brother whom Van meets in Paris), poor Philip Rack (Ada’s lover who was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie) was a composer of genius:


‘So odd to recall! It was frenzy, it was fantasy, it was reality in the x degree. I’d have consented to be beheaded by a Tartar, I declare, if in exchange I could have kissed her instep. You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can’t understand that obsession. Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil Rack, a composer of genius — dead, dead, all dead!’

‘I really know very little about music but it was a great pleasure to make your chum howl. I have an appointment in a few minutes, alas. Za tvoyo zdorovie, Grigoriy Akimovich.’

‘Arkadievich,’ said Greg, who had let it pass once but now mechanically corrected Van.

‘Ach yes! Stupid slip of the slovenly tongue. How is Arkadiy Grigorievich?’

‘He died. He died just before your aunt. I thought the papers paid a very handsome tribute to her talent. And where is Adelaida Danilovna? Did she marry Christopher Vinelander or his brother?’

‘In California or Arizona. Andrey’s the name, I gather. Perhaps I’m mistaken. In fact, I never knew my cousin very well. I visited Ardis only twice, after all, for a few weeks each time, years ago.’

‘Somebody told me she’s a movie actress.’

‘I’ve no idea, I’ve never seen her on the screen.’

‘Oh, that would be terrible, I declare — to switch on the dorotelly, and suddenly see her. Like a drowning man seeing his whole past, and the trees, and the flowers, and the wreathed dachshund. She must have been terribly affected by her mother’s terrible death.’

Likes the word ‘terrible,’ I declare. A terrible suit of clothes, a terrible tumor. Why must I stand it? Revolting — and yet fascinating in a weird way: my babbling shadow, my burlesque double.

Van was about to leave when a smartly uniformed chauffeur came up to inform’ my lord’ that his lady was parked at the corner of rue Saïgon and was summoning him to appear.

‘Aha,’ said Van, ‘I see you are using your British title. Your father preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel.’

‘Maude is Anglo-Scottish and, well, likes it that way. Thinks a title gets one better service abroad. By the way, somebody told me — yes, Tobak! — that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four. I haven’t asked you about your father? He’s in good health?’ (Van bowed,) ‘And how is the guvernantka belletristka?’

‘Her last novel is called L‘ami Luc. She just got the Lebon Academy Prize for her copious rubbish.’

They parted laughing. (3.2)


Colonel Erminin (Greg’s and Grace’s father) was Dr. Krolik’s friend and chess partner (1.13). Shakhmatovo (the name of Blok’s family estate in the Province of Moscow) comes from shakhmaty (chess). In "Retribution" Blok mentions all those who ceased to be a pawn and whom the authorities hasten to turn into rooks or knights:


И власть торопится скорей
Всех тех, кто перестал быть пешкой,
В тур превращать, или в коней... (Chapter I)


Grigoriy Akimovich is the name and patronymic of G. A. Vronsky, the movie man who filmed Mlle Larivière’s novel Les Enfants Maudits as “The Young and the Doomed" (2.9). According to Van, G. A. Vronsky called all pretty starlets Khristosik (little Christ):


Some confusion ensued less than two years later (September, 1871 — her proud brain still retained dozens of dates) when upon escaping from her next refuge and somehow reaching her husband’s unforgettable country house (imitate a foreigner: ‘Signor Konduktor, ay vant go Lago di Luga, hier geld’) she took advantage of his being massaged in the solarium, tiptoed into their former bedroom — and experienced a delicious shock: her talc powder in a half-full glass container marked colorfully Quelques Fleurs still stood on her bedside table; her favorite flame-colored nightgown lay rumpled on the bedrug; to her it meant that only a brief black nightmare had obliterated the radiant fact of her having slept with her husband all along — ever since Shakespeare’s birthday on a green rainy day, but for most other people, alas, it meant that Marina (after G.A. Vronsky, the movie man, had left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets) had conceived, c’est bien le cas de le dire, the brilliant idea of having Demon divorce mad Aqua and marry Marina who thought (happily and correctly) she was pregnant again. (1.3)


At the end of Blok's poem Dvenadtsat' ("The Twelve," 1918) Jesus Christ appears:


Так идут державным шагом —
Позади — голодный пёс,
Впереди — с кровавым флагом,
И за вьюгой невидим,
И от пули невредим,
Нежной поступью надвьюжной,
Снежной россыпью жемчужной,
В белом венчике из роз —
Впереди — Исус Христос.


So they march with sovereign tread ...
Behind them limps the hungry dog,
and wrapped in wild snow at their head
carrying a blood-red flag
soft-footed where the blizzard swirls,
invulnerable where bullets crossed
crowned with a crown of snowflake pearls,
in a white wreath of roses,
ahead of them goes Jesus Christ.


On the other hand, Khristosik seems to hint at Iudushka ("little Judas") Golovlyov, the main character in Saltykov-Shchedrin's novel Gospoda Golovlyovy ("The Golovlyov Family," 1880). In "Retribution" Blok mentions the dinners at Borel (a restaurant in the Bolshaya Morskaya street in St. Petersburg), Shchedrin and ukha (the fish soup):


Он на обедах у Бореля
Брюжжит не плоше Щедрина:
То — недоварены форели,
А то — уха им не жирна. (Chapter I)


Describing his dinner with Ada and Lucette in "Ursus" (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major), Van mentions the uha and Flora (a music-hall dancer whose name brings to mind Prince Zemski's Flora Ladorica and Eric Veen's floramors):


The uha, the shashlik, the Ai were facile and familiar successes; but the old songs had a peculiar poignancy owing to the participation of a Lyaskan contralto and a Banff bass, renowned performers of Russian ‘romances,’ with a touch of heart-wringing tsiganshchina vibrating through Grigoriev and Glinka. And there was Flora, a slender, hardly nubile, half-naked music-hall dancer of uncertain origin (Rumanian? Romany? Ramseyan?) whose ravishing services Van had availed himself of several times in the fall of that year. As a ‘man of the world,’ Van glanced with bland (perhaps too bland) unconcern at her talented charms, but they certainly added a secret bonus to the state of erotic excitement tingling in him from the moment that his two beauties had been unfurred and placed in the colored blaze of the feast before him; and that thrill was somehow augmented by his awareness (carefully profiled, diaphanely blinkered) of the furtive, jealous, intuitive suspicion with which Ada and Lucette watched, unsmilingly, his facial reactions to the demure look of professional recognition on the part of the passing and repassing blyadushka (cute whorelet), as our young misses referred to (very expensive and altogether delightful) Flora with ill-feigned indifference. Presently, the long sobs of the violins began to affect and almost choke Van and Ada: a juvenile conditioning of romantic appeal, which at one moment forced tearful Ada to go and ‘powder her nose’ while Van stood up with a spasmodic sob, which he cursed but could not control.(2.8)


In his poem V restorane ("In a Restaurant," 1910) Blok mentions a black rose in a goblet of Ai, golden as the sky:


Я сидел у окна в переполненном зале.
Где-то пели смычки о любви.
Я послал тебе чёрную розу в бокале
Золотого, как нёбо, аи.


I sat by the window in a crowded room.
Distant bows were singing of love.
I sent you a black rose in a goblet
Of Ai, golden as the sky.