As she speaks to Van, Ada mentions a delicious spazmochka experienced by Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister):
Van walked over to a monastic lectern that he had acquired for writing in the vertical position of vertebrate thought and wrote what follows:
We are sorry you left so soon. We are even sorrier to have inveigled our Esmeralda and mermaid in a naughty prank. That sort of game will never be played again with you, darling firebird. We apollo [apologize]. Remembrance, embers and membranes of beauty make artists and morons lose all self-control. Pilots of tremendous airships and even coarse, smelly coachmen are known to have been driven insane by a pair of green eyes and a copper curl. We wished to admire and amuse you, BOP (bird of paradise). We went too far. I, Van, went too far. We regret that shameful, though basically innocent scene. These are times of emotional stress and reconditioning. Destroy and forget.
Tenderly yours A & V.
(in alphabetic order).
‘I call this pompous, puritanical rot,’ said Ada upon scanning Van’s letter. ‘Why should we apollo for her having experienced a delicious spazmochka? I love her and would never allow you to harm her. It’s curious — you know, something in the tone of your note makes me really jealous for the first time in my fire [thus in the manuscript, for "life." Ed.] Van, Van, somewhere, some day, after a sunbath or dance, you will sleep with her, Van!’
‘Unless you run out of love potions. Do you allow me to send her these lines?’
‘I do, but want to add a few words.’
Her P.S. read:
The above declaration is Van’s composition which I sign reluctantly. It is pompous and puritanical. I adore you, mon petit, and would never allow him to hurt you, no matter how gently or madly. When you’re sick of Queen, why not fly over to Holland or Italy?
‘Now let’s go out for a breath of crisp air,’ suggested Van. ‘I’ll order Pardus and Peg to be saddled.’ (2.8)
Spazmochka is a diminutive of spazm or spazma (spasm). In a letter of August 21, 1825, to Anna Kern Pushkin mentions the spasms that make Anna Kern so interesting and uses the phrase au beau milieu de ma verve (in the midst of my eloquence):
Vous êtes désolante; j’étais en train de vous écrire des folies, qui vous eussent fait mourir de rire, et voilà que votre lettre vient m’attrister au beau milieu de ma verve. Tâchez de vous défaire de ces spasmes qui vous rendent si intéressante, mais qui ne valent pas le diable, je vous en avertis. Pourquoi fait-il donс que je vous gronde? Si vous aviez le bras en écharpe, il ne fallait pas m’écrire. Quelle mauvaise tête!
According to Van, the L disaster happened on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) in the beau milieu of the 19th century:
The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of 'Terra,' are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans - and not to grave men or gravemen. (1.3)
The Antiterran L disaster seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on January 3, 1850 (NS), in our world. In his poem V sluchae esli b ona slomala nogu (“In Case of her Breaking her Leg”) Ignat Lebyadkin, a character in Dostoevski’s novel Besy (“The Possessed,” 1872), says:
Краса красот сломала член
и интересней вдвое стала,
и вдвое сделался влюблен
влюбленный уж немало.
With broken limb my beauteous queen
is twice as interesting as before,
and, deep in love as I have been,
today I love her even more. (Part Two, Chapter Two, II)
Lebyadkin imagines that he is one-armed and that he lost his arm in the Crimean War:
Любви пылающей граната
Лопнула в груди Игната.
И вновь заплакал горькой мукой
По Севастополю безрукий.
- Хоть в Севастополе не был и даже не безрукий, но каковы же рифмы! - лез он ко мне с своею пьяною рожей.
- Им некогда, некогда, они домой пойдут, - уговаривал Липутин, - они завтра Лизавете Николаевне перескажут.
- Лизавете!.. - завопил он опять; - стой-нейди! Варьянт:
И порхает звезда на коне
В хороводе других амазонок;
Улыбается с лошади мне
'A bomb of love with stinging smart
Exploded in Ignaty's heart.
In anguish dire I weep again
The arm that at Sevastopol
I lost in bitter pain!'
Not that I ever was at Sevastopol, or ever lost my arm, but look at the rhymes!" He pushed up to me with his ugly, tipsy face.
"He is in a hurry, he is going home!" Liputin tried to persuade him. "He'll tell Lizaveta Nikolaevna to-morrow."
"Lizaveta!" he yelled again. "Stay, don't go! A variation:
'Among the Amazons a star,
Upon her steed she flashes by,
And smiles upon me from afar,
The child of aris-to-cra-cy!
To a Starry Amazon.” (Part One, Chapter Three, IX)
Van proposes to Ada a ride in the park. One of Ada’s lovers, Percy de Prey, goes to the Crimean War and perishes on the second day of the invasion. Percy’s death was witnessed by “Broken-Arm Bill” (as Van calls Bill Fraser, Percy’s comrade-in-arms):
(One wonders, one always wonders, what had been the executed individual’s brief, rapid series of impressions, as preserved somewhere, somehow, in some vast library of microfilmed last thoughts, between two moments: between, in the present case, our friend’s becoming aware of those nice, quasi-Red Indian little wrinkles beaming at him out of a serene sky not much different from Ladore’s, and then feeling the mouth of steel violently push through tender skin and exploding bone. One supposes it might have been a kind of suite for flute, a series of ‘movements’ such as, say: I’m alive — who’s that? — civilian — sympathy — thirsty — daughter with pitcher — that’s my damned gun — don’t… et cetera or rather no cetera… while Broken-Arm Bill prayed his Roman deity in a frenzy of fear for the Tartar to finish his job and go. But, of course, an invaluable detail in that strip of thought would have been — perhaps, next to the pitcher peri — a glint, a shadow, a stab of Ardis.) (1.42)
The pitcher peri hints at Devushka s kuvshinom (“The Girl with a Pitcher”), a fountain in the park of Tsarskoe Selo. Pushkin describes it in Tsarskoselskaya statuya ("A Statue in Tsarskoe Selo," 1830), a poem in hexameter:
Урну с водой уронив, об утёс её дева разбила.
Дева печально сидит, праздный держа черепок.
Чудо! не сякнет вода, изливаясь из урны разбитой;
Дева, над вечной струёй, вечно печальна сидит.
A miracle! The water doesn’t dry up, pouring off from the broken urn;
over the perpetual current the maiden sits perpetually sad.
According to Ada, at Marina’s funeral Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) and d’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm, wept comme des fontaines:
‘My upper-lip space feels indecently naked.’ (He had shaved his mustache off with howls of pain in her presence). ‘And I cannot keep sucking in my belly all the time.’
‘Oh, I like you better with that nice overweight — there’s more of you. It’s the maternal gene, I suppose, because Demon grew leaner and leaner. He looked positively Quixotic when I saw him at Mother’s funeral. It was all very strange. He wore blue mourning. D’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around Demon and both wept comme des fontaines. Then a robed person who looked like an extra in a technicolor incarnation of Vishnu made an incomprehensible sermon. Then she went up in smoke. He said to me, sobbing: "I will not cheat the poor grubs!" Practically a couple of hours after he broke that promise we had sudden visitors at the ranch — an incredibly graceful moppet of eight, black-veiled, and a kind of duenna, also in black, with two bodyguards. The hag demanded certain fantastic sums — which Demon, she said, had not had time to pay, for "popping the hymen" — whereupon I had one of our strongest boys throw out vsyu (the entire) kompaniyu.’ (3.8)
The name of Demon’s adversary in a sword duel, d’Onsky seems to blend Dmitri Donskoy (the Russian Prince who defeated Khan Mamay in the battle of Kulikovo, 1380) with Onegin’s donskoy zherebets (Don stallion) in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin:
Сначала все к нему езжали;
Но так как с заднего крыльца
Ему донского жеребца,
Лишь только вдоль большой дороги
Заслышат их домашни дроги, —
Поступком оскорбясь таким,
Все дружбу прекратили с ним.
At first they all would call on him,
but since to the back porch
habitually a Don stallion
for him was brought
as soon as one made out along the highway
the sound of their domestic runabouts —
outraged by such behavior,
they all ceased to be friends with him. (Two: V: 1-8)
In Chapter Two of EO Pushkin describes Onegin’s country life and in the last line of the first stanza mentions priyut zadumchivykh driad (the retreat of pensive dryads):
Деревня, где скучал Евгений,
Была прелестный уголок;
Там друг невинных наслаждений
Благословить бы небо мог.
Господский дом уединенный,
Горой от ветров огражденный,
Стоял над речкою. Вдали
Пред ним пестрели и цвели
Луга и нивы золотые,
Мелькали селы; здесь и там
Стада бродили по лугам,
И сени расширял густые
Огромный, запущенный сад,
Приют задумчивых дриад.
The country place where Eugene
moped was a charming nook;
a friend of innocent delights
might have blessed heaven there.
The manor house, secluded,
screened from the winds by a hill, stood
above a river; in the distance,
before it, freaked and flowered, lay
meadows and golden grainfields;
one could glimpse hamlets here and there;
herds roamed the meadows;
and its dense coverts spread
a huge neglected garden, the retreat
of pensive dryads.
In her Vospominaniya o Pushkine (“Reminiscences of Pushkin,” 1859) Anna Kern describes her first visit to Mikhaylovskoe (Pushkin’s country seat in the Province of Pskov where the poet lived in exile) and calls the old neglected garden of Mikhaylovskoe “the retreat of pensive dryads:”
Приехавши в Михайловское, мы не вошли в дом, а пошли прямо в старый, запущенный сад. "Приют задумчивых дриад", с длинными аллеями старых дерев, корни которых, сплетясь, вились по дорожкам, что заставляло меня спотыкаться, а моего спутника вздрагивать. Тётушка, приехавши туда вслед за нами, сказала: "Mon cher Pouchkine faites les honneurs de votre jardin a Madame". Он быстро подал мне руку и побежал скоро, скоро, как ученик, неожиданно получивший позволение прогуляться. Подробностей разговора нашего не помню; он вспоминал нашу первую встречу у Олениных, выражался о ней увлекательно, восторженно и в конце разговора сказал: "Vous aviez un air si virginal; n'est ce pas que vous aviez sur vous quelque chose comme une croix?"
According to the memoirist, she does not remember the details of her conversation with Pushkin who recalled their first meeting in 1819 at the Olenins and at the end of the conversation said: "Vous aviez un air si virginal; n'est ce pas que vous aviez sur vous quelque chose comme une croix?"
In the name Olenin there is Lenin. The Antiterran L disaster also seems to hint at Lermontov who predicted the Russian Revolution of 1917 and Lenin’s October coup in his prophetical poem Predskazanie (“Prediction,” 1830). In 1839 Lermontov wrote a little poem in Anna Olenin’s album.
While quelque chose brings to mind Chose (Van’s English University), une croix reminds one of Lucette’s krestik (little cross):
‘Spotting Bergson,’ said the assistant lecher, ‘rates a B minus dans ton petit cas, hardly more. Or shall I reward you with a kiss on your krestik — whatever that is?’
Wincing and rearranging his legs, our young Vandemonian cursed under his breath the condition in which the image of the four embers of a vixen’s cross had now solidly put him. One of the synonyms of ‘condition’ is ‘state,’ and the adjective ‘human’ may be construed as ‘manly’ (since L’Humanité means ‘Mankind’!), and that’s how, my dears, Lowden recently translated the title of the malheureux Pompier’s cheap novel La Condition Humaine, wherein, incidentally, the term ‘Vandemonian’ is hilariously glossed as ‘Koulak tasmanien d’origine hollandaise.’ Kick her out before it is too late.
‘If you are serious,’ said Lucette, passing her tongue over her lips and slitting her darkening eyes, ‘then, my darling, you can do it now. But if you are making fun of me, then you’re an abominably cruel Vandemonian.’
‘Come, come, Lucette, it means "little cross" in Russian, that’s all, what else? Is it some amulet? You mentioned just now a little red stud or pawn. Is it something you wear, or used to wear, on a chainlet round your neck? a small acorn of coral, the glandulella of vestals in ancient Rome? What’s the matter, my dear?’
Still watching him narrowly, ‘I’ll take a chance,’ she said. ‘I’ll explain it, though it’s just one of our sister’s "tender-turret" words and I thought you were familiar with her vocabulary.’ (2.5)
Krestik is a diminutive of krest (cross). Van, who offers to kiss Lucette on her krestik, does not realize that it comes from English “crest” (not from Russian krest) and makes an unintentional impure pun.
During the debauch à trois in Van’s Manhattan flat (when Van and Ada caress Lucette) Ada calls Van “Garden God:”
‘Pop in, pet (it all started with the little one letting wee winds go free at table, circa 1882). And you, Garden God, ring up room service — three coffees, half a dozen soft-boiled eggs, lots of buttered toast, loads of —’
‘Oh no!’ interrupted Van. ‘Two coffees, four eggs, et cetera. I refuse to let the staff know that I have two girls in my bed, one (teste Flora) is enough for my little needs.’
‘Little needs!’ snorted Lucette. ‘Let me go, Ada. I need a bath, and he needs you.’
‘Pet stays right here,’ cried audacious Ada, and with one graceful swoop plucked her sister’s nightdress off. Involuntarily Lucette bent her head and frail spine; then she lay back on the outer half of Ada’s pillow in a martyr’s pudibund swoon, her locks spreading their orange blaze against the black velvet of the padded headboard.
‘Uncross your arms, silly,’ ordered Ada and kicked off the top sheet that partly covered six legs. Simultaneously, without turning her head, she slapped furtive Van away from her rear, and with her other hand made magic passes over the small but very pretty breasts, gemmed with sweat, and along the flat palpitating belly of a seasand nymph, down to the firebird seen by Van once, fully fledged now, and as fascinating in its own way as his favorite’s blue raven. Enchantress! Acrasia! (2.8)
By “Garden God” Ada means Priapus (a popular figure in Roman erotic art and Latin literature). In her “Reminiscences of Pushkin” Anna Kern quotes from memory Pushkin’s letter of Dec. 8, 1824, to Rodzyanko (Anna Kern’s neighbor and close friend) in which Pushkin calls Rodzyanko namestnik Feba i Priapa (deputy of Phoebus and Priapus) and mentions Apollon (Apollo):
Когда же он узнал, что я видаюсь с Родзянко, то переслал через меня к нему письмо, в котором были расспросы обо мне и стихи:
Наперсник Феба иль Приапа,
Твоя соломенная шляпа
Завидней, чем иной венец,
Твоя деревня Рим, ты папа,
Благослови ж меня, певец!
Далее в том же письме он говорит: "Ты написал Хохлачку, Баратынский Чухонку, я Цыганку, что скажет Аполлон?" и проч. и проч., дальше не помню, а неверно цитировать не хочу.
The poem misquoted by Anna Kern goes as follows:
Прости, украинский мудрец,
Наместник Феба и Приапа!
Твоя соломенная шляпа
Покойней, чем иной венец;
Твой Рим - деревня; ты мой Папа,
Благослови ж меня, певец!
Goodbye, the Ukrainian sage,
deputy of Phoebus and Priapus!
Your straw hat
is more comfortable than some crown;
Your Rome is the country; you are my Pope,
So bless me, the bard!
Describing Demon’s sword duel with d’Onsky, Van mentions smart little Vatican, a Roman spa:
Upon being questioned in Demon’s dungeon, Marina, laughing trillingly, wove a picturesque tissue of lies; then broke down, and confessed. She swore that all was over; that the Baron, a physical wreck and a spiritual Samurai, had gone to Japan forever. From a more reliable source Demon learned that the Samurai’s real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or so. 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)
In spazmochka there is spa. “Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel,” hints at Stalin (who is also represented on Demonia by Khan Sosso, the ruler of the ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate, 2.2)
In her P.S. to Van’s note Ada proposes Lucette to fly over to Holland or Italy. In a MS note Pushkin quotes Sterne’s Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768):
Стерн говорит, что живейшее из наших наслаждений кончится содроганием почти болезненным. Несносный наблюдатель! [Зачем было это говорить?] знал бы про себя; многие [б] того не заметили б.
According to Modzalevski, Pushkin read Sterne in a French translation en regard (a copy that belonged to the poet’s sister Olga Sergeevna), Voyage Sentimental, suivi des Lettres d'Yorick a Elisa", Paris, an VII. Here is the corresponding passage in the original and in a French translation:
"But there is nothing unmixt in the world; and some of the gravest of our divines have carried it so far as to affirm, that enjoyment itself was attended even with a sigh - and that the treatest they knew of, terminated in a general way in little better than a convulsion."
"Je connai de graves theologians qui vont jusqu'a soutenir que la jouissance meme est accompagnee d'un soupir, et que la plus delicieuse qu'ils connaissent, se termine ordinairement par quelque chose approchant de la convulsion".
"Pet" (as Van and Ada call Lucette) brings to mind Pet au diable, a novel perdue by François Villon. In his letter to Anna Kern Pushkin mentions not only the spasms, but also le diable:
Tâchez de vous défaire de ces spasmes qui vous rendent si intéressante, mais qui ne valent pas le diable.
In his poem Monakh ("The Monk," 1813) Pushkin calls Barkov (the author of "A Girl's Plaything" and other obscene poems) "the poet accursed by Apollo" and pairs him with Villon:
А ты поэт, проклятый Аполлоном,
Испачкавший простенки кабаков,
Под Геликон упавший в грязь с Вильоном,
Не можешь ли ты мне помочь, Барков?
С усмешкою даёшь ты мне скрыпицу,
Сулишь вино и музу пол-девицу:
«Последуй лишь примеру моему».
Нет, нет, Барков! скрыпицы не возьму,
Я стану петь, что в голову придётся,
Пусть как-нибудь стих за стихом польётся.
Poet, proklyatyi Apollonom (“the poet accursed by Apollo”) brings to mind the French poètes maudits (accursed poets) and Mlle Larivière’s novel Les Enfants Maudits (“The Accursed Children,” 1.32).
Muza pol-devitsa (the half-virginal muse) promised to Pushkin by Barkov reminds one of "a demi-vierge" (as Ada calls Lucette):
‘I’m a good, good girl. Here are her special pencils. It was very considerate and altogether charming of you to invite her next weekend. I think she’s even more madly in love with you than with me, the poor pet. Demon got them in Strassburg. After all she’s a demi-vierge now’ (‘I hear you and Dad —’ began Van, but the introduction of a new subject was swamped) ‘and we shan’t be afraid of her witnessing our ébats’ (pronouncing on purpose, with triumphant hooliganism, for which my prose, too, is praised, the first vowel à la Russe). (2.6)
and of a very frail muse with whom Van pleaded abjectly:
In the professional dreams that especially obsessed me when I worked on my earliest fiction, and pleaded abjectly with a very frail muse (‘kneeling and wringing my hands’ like the dusty-trousered Marmlad before his Marmlady in Dickens), I might see for example that I was correcting galley proofs but that somehow (the great ‘somehow’ of dreams!) the book had already come out, had come out literally, being proffered to me by a human hand from the wastepaper basket in its perfect, and dreadfully imperfect, stage — with a typo on every page, such as the snide ‘bitterly’ instead of ‘butterfly’ and the meaningless ‘nuclear’ instead of ‘unclear.’ (2.4)
"The dusty-trousered Marmlad kneeling and wringing his hands before his Marmlady" hints at Marmeladov, a character in Dostoevski's Prestuplenie i nakazanie ("Crime and Punishment," 1866).
Van pleaded abjectly with a very frail muse when he wote his novel Letters from Terra. Its characters include Theresa (the writer of the letters from Terra):
Poor Van! In his struggle to keep the writer of the letters from Terra strictly separate from the image of Ada, he gilt and carmined Theresa until she became a paragon of banality. This Theresa maddened with her messages a scientist on our easily maddened planet; his anagram-looking name, Sig Leymanksi, had been partly derived by Van from that of Aqua’s last doctor. When Leymanski’s obsession turned into love, and one’s sympathy got focused on his enchanting, melancholy, betrayed wife (née Antilia Glems), our author found himself confronted with the distressful task of now stamping out in Antilia, a born brunette, all traces of Ada, thus reducing yet another character to a dummy with bleached hair.
After beaming to Sig a dozen communications from her planet, Theresa flies over to him, and he, in his laboratory, has to place her on a slide under a powerful microscope in order to make out the tiny, though otherwise perfect, shape of his minikin sweetheart, a graceful microorganism extending transparent appendages toward his huge humid eye. Alas, the testibulus (test tube — never to be confused with testiculus, orchid), with Theresa swimming inside like a micromermaid, is ‘accidentally’ thrown away by Professor Leyman’s (he had trimmed his name by that time) assistant, Flora, initially an ivory-pale, dark-haired funest beauty, whom the author transformed just in time into a third bromidic dummy with a dun bun. (2.2).
In Dostoevski’s first novel (written in epistolary form) Bednye lyudi (“Poor Folk,” 1846) Tereza is a servant woman who brings Makar Devushkin’s letters to Varenka Dobrosyolov and Varenka’s letters to Makar. In the old Russian alphabet the letter L (cf. the Antiterran L disaster) was called lyudi. In a draft of Pushkin’s EO (Chapter Three) Tatiana Larin signs her letter to Onegin with her initials:
Podumala chto skazhut lyudi?
I podpisala T. L.
she wondered what people would say,
and signed T. L.
In his EO Commentary (vol. II, p.396) VN points out that in Russian this produces an identical rhyme because of the use of special mnemonic names for letters in the old Russian alphabet: the word for L was Lyudi. The reader should imagine that in the English alphabet the letter T were labeled, say, “Tough,” and the letter L, “Little.”
And after pondering a little,
she wrote her signature: Tough, Little.
Podumala chto skazhut lyudi?
I podpisala Tverdo, Lyudi.
In the opening line of “The Monk” Pushkin mentions dukh nechistyi Ada (the unclean spirit of Hell):
Хочу воспеть, как дух нечистый Ада
Оседлан был брадатым стариком;
Как овладел он чёрным клобуком,
Как он втолкнул Монаха грешных в стадо.
Molok (the devil's name in "The Monk") brings to mind molokosos (greenhorn), as in Pushkin's poem Graf Nulin ("Count Null," 1825) Natalia Pavlovna's husband calls Count Nulin:
Он говорил, что граф дурак,
Молокосос; что если так,
То графа он визжать заставит,
Что псами он его затравит.
Смеялся Лидин, их сосед,
Помещик двадцати трёх лет.
He said that the Count was a fool,
a greenhorn; that, if all this was true,
he'll make the Count scream,
he'll hunt him with his dogs.
It was their neighbor Lidin,
a landed gentleman of twenty-three, who laughed.
spa + orgazm = spazm + gora/roga
molokosos + sad = Molok + Sosso + ad/da
orgazm - climax
gora - mountain
roga - antlers, horns (pl. of rog)
sad - garden
Sosso - Khan Sosso; cf. Iosif (Soso) Dzhugashvili, Stalin's real name
ad - hell
da - yes