New Believers & long-lashed Khristosik in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Tue, 07/13/2021 - 05:23

Describing the difference between Terra and Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set), Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the New Believers:


Revelation can be more perilous than Revolution. Sick minds identified the notion of a Terra planet with that of another world and this ‘Other World’ got confused not only with the ‘Next World’ but with the Real World in us and beyond us. Our enchanters, our demons, are noble iridescent creatures with translucent talons and mightily beating wings; but in the eighteen-sixties the New Believers urged one to imagine a sphere where our splendid friends had been utterly degraded, had become nothing but vicious monsters, disgusting devils, with the black scrota of carnivora and the fangs of serpents, revilers and tormentors of female souls; while on the opposite side of the cosmic lane a rainbow mist of angelic spirits, inhabitants of sweet Terra, restored all the stalest but still potent myths of old creeds, with rearrangement for melodeon of all the cacophonies of all the divinities and divines ever spawned in the marshes of this our sufficient world.

Sufficient for your purpose, Van, entendons-nous. (Note in the margin.) (1.3)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): entendons-nous: let’s have it clear (Fr.).


The New Believers seem to hint at novovery (the New Believers) mentioned by Ivan Nazhivin in his book Dusha Tolstogo (“The Soul of Tolstoy,” 1930):


Но это были все же редкие исключения, - большинство же толстовцев, а в особенности богатеньких, жили в неизбывной лжи, и все дни их были одним сплошным больным надрывом: того покоя, той радости, которые обещал им учитель, они не нашли. Идеалы, которые они старались поднять на свои хрупкие плечи, были явно не по силам им, и вот долгие годы надрывались они под непосильным бременем, и изворачивались, и лгали и себе, и людям. И Толстой чувствовал это бессилие учеников своих: "вы не нововеры, - писал он раз одному из них в горькую минуту, - вы - неверы...". (Chapter XX)


According to Nazhivin, in a letter to one of his followers Leo Tolstoy wrote: “you are not novovery [the New Believers], you are nevery [Non-Believers].” Nazhivin quotes (not quite correctly) Tolstoy’s letter of Sept. 4, 1907, to M. P. Novikov:


Душевное же приводящее вас к этому состоянию чувство, которое и вызывает во мне сострадание к вам, это то полное неверие в духовную, т. е. истинную жизнь, которое вы много раз, как нечто очень вам дорогое, высказываете в вашем письме. Вы несколько раз, как бы довольные своим открытием, как бы подсмеиваясь, как о деле решенном, говорите о неверности, глупости мысли о том, что «не хлебом одним сыт человек». А между тем, именно оттого, что вы не верите в это, не верите в жизнь духовную, не верите в обязательность требований духовной жизни, не верите в бога, от этого и ваши страдания и ваше несчастие. Вы, между прочим, пишете, что вы испытываете некоторые неудобства от того, что вы «нововер». Я думаю, что вы не нововер, а вы невер. То, чтобы хоронить детей без услуг духовенства, не поститься, не ходить в церковь не есть вера: у вас есть отрицание предрассудков старой веры, а нет веры. И в этом, в том, что вы не верите в духовное начало жизни и в его требования, в этом ваше несчастие, а нисколько не в недостатке земли и в неправильности экономического устройства.


In the same chapter of his book on Tolstoy Nazhivin calls Tolstoy’s followers khristosiki (little Christs):


Словом, несмотря на все высокие слова, толстовцы были люди, и ничто человеческое не было чуждо им. Большой симпатией эти "христосики", всё и всех осуждающие, среди окружающих их людей не пользовались. Но были они о себе мнения очень высокого: они были та закваска, которая поднимает всю квашню, они были тот город, который, стоя наверху горы, не может укрыться, они были то малое стадо, которому суждено спасти грешный мир. Но - мира им так до сих пор спасти и не удалось...


Describing the torments of poor mad Aqua (the twin sister of Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother Marina), Van mentions another long-lashed Khristosik (as G. A. Vronsky, the movie man, called all pretty starlets):


At one time Aqua believed that a stillborn male infant half a year old, a surprised little fetus, a fish of rubber that she had produced in her bath, in a lieu de naissance plainly marked X in her dreams, after skiing at full pulver into a larch stump, had somehow been saved and brought to her at the Nusshaus, with her sister’s compliments, wrapped up in blood-soaked cotton wool, but perfectly alive and healthy, to be registered as her son Ivan Veen. At other moments she felt convinced that the child was her sister’s, born out of wedlock, during an exhausting, yet highly romantic blizzard, in a mountain refuge on Sex Rouge, where a Dr Alpiner, general practitioner and gentian-lover, sat providentially waiting near a rude red stove for his boots to dry. 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. Marina had spent a rukuliruyushchiy month with him at Kitezh but when she smugly divulged her intentions (just before Aqua’s arrival) he threw her out of the house. Still later, on the last short lap of a useless existence, Aqua scrapped all those ambiguous recollections and found herself reading and rereading busily, blissfully, her son’s letters in a luxurious ‘sanastoria’ at Centaur, Arizona. He invariably wrote in French calling her petite maman and describing the amusing school he would be living at after his thirteenth birthday. She heard his voice through the nightly tinnitus of her new, planful, last, last insomnias and it consoled her. He called her usually mummy, or mama, accenting the last syllable in English, the first, in Russian; somebody had said that triplets and heraldic dracunculi often occurred in trilingual families; but there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever now (except, perhaps, in hateful long-dead Marina’s hell-dwelling mind) that Van was her, her, Aqua’s, beloved son. (1.3)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Nuss: German for ‘nut’.

Khristosik: little Christ (Russ.).

rukuliruyushchiy: Russ., from Fr. roucoulant, cooing.


G. A. Vronsky (whom Ada calls “Gavronsky”) is almost a namesake of Aleksey Vronski, Anna’s lover in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin (1875-77). Describing Aqua’s torments and death, Van makes several allusions to Tolstoy’s novel:


Then the anguish increased to unendurable massivity and nightmare dimensions, making her scream and vomit. She wanted (and was allowed, bless the hospital barber, Bob Bean) to have her dark curls shaved to an aquamarine prickle, because they grew into her porous skull and curled inside. Jigsaw pieces of sky or wall came apart, no matter how delicately put together, but a careless jolt or a nurse’s elbow can disturb so easily those lightweight fragments which became incomprehensible blancs of anonymous objects, or the blank backs of ‘Scrabble’ counters, which she could not turn over sunny side up, because her hands had been tied by a male nurse with Demon’s black eyes. But presently panic and pain, like a pair of children in a boisterous game, emitted one last shriek of laughter and ran away to manipulate each other behind a bush as in Count Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin, a novel, and again, for a while, a little while, all was quiet in the house, and their mother had the same first name as hers had. (1.3)


In less than a week Aqua had accumulated more than two hundred tablets of different potency. She knew most of them — the jejune sedatives, and the ones that knocked you out from eight p.m. till midnight, and several varieties of superior soporifics that left you with limpid limbs and a leaden head after eight hours of non-being, and a drug which was in itself delightful but a little lethal if combined with a draught of the cleansing fluid commercially known as Morona; and a plump purple pill reminding her, she had to laugh, of those with which the little gypsy enchantress in the Spanish tale (dear to Ladore schoolgirls) puts to sleep all the sportsmen and all their bloodhounds at the opening of the hunting season. Lest some busybody resurrect her in the middle of the float-away process, Aqua reckoned she must procure for herself a maximum period of undisturbed stupor elsewhere than in a glass house, and the carrying out of that second part of the project was simplified and encouraged by another agent or double of the Isère Professor, a Dr Sig Heiler whom everybody venerated as a great guy and near-genius in the usual sense of near-beer. Such patients who proved by certain twitchings of the eyelids and other semiprivate parts under the control of medical students that Sig (a slightly deformed but not unhandsome old boy) was in the process of being dreamt of as a ‘papa Fig,’ spanker of girl bottoms and spunky spittoon-user, were assumed to be on the way to haleness and permitted, upon awakening, to participate in normal outdoor activities such as picnics. Sly Aqua twitched, simulated a yawn, opened her light-blue eyes (with those startlingly contrasty jet-black pupils that Dolly, her mother, also had), put on yellow slacks and a black bolero, walked through a little pinewood, thumbed a ride with a Mexican truck, found a suitable gulch in the chaparral and there, after writing a short note, began placidly eating from her cupped palm the multicolored contents of her handbag, like any Russian country girl lakomyashchayasya yagodami (feasting on berries) that she had just picked in the woods. She smiled, dreamily enjoying the thought (rather ‘Kareninian’ in tone) that her extinction would affect people about ‘as deeply as the abrupt, mysterious, never explained demise of a comic strip in a Sunday paper one had been taking for years. It was her last smile. She was discovered much sooner, but had also died much faster than expected, and the observant Siggy, still in his baggy khaki shorts, reported that Sister Aqua (as for some reason they all called her) lay, as if buried prehistorically, in a fetus-in-utero position, a comment that seemed relevant to his students, as it may be to mine. (ibid.)


Yagody (“The Berries,” 1906) is a story by Tolstoy. The children in Tolstoy’s story suffer an indigestion after eating too many berries in the woods. Soon after the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday Greg Erminin comes to Ardis and says that both Aunt Ruth and Grace (Greg’s twin sister) were laid up with acute indigestion — because of all those burnberries they picked in the bushes:


Next day, or the day after the next, the entire family was having high tea in the garden. Ada, on the grass, kept trying to make an anadem of marguerites for the dog while Lucette looked on, munching a crumpet. Marina remained for almost a minute wordlessly stretching across the table her husband’s straw hat in his direction; finally he shook his head, glared at the sun that glared back and retired with his cup and the Toulouse Enquirer to a rustic seat on the other side of the lawn under an immense elm.

I ask myself who can that be,’ murmured Mlle Larivière from behind the samovar (which expressed fragments of its surroundings in demented fantasies of a primitive genre) as she slitted her eyes at a part of the drive visible between the pilasters of an open-work gallery. Van, lying prone behind Ada, lifted his eyes from his book (Ada’s copy of Atala).

A tall rosy-faced youngster in smart riding breeches dismounted from a black pony.

‘It’s Greg’s beautiful new pony,’ said Ada.

Greg, with a well-bred boy’s easy apologies, had brought Marina’s platinum lighter which his aunt had discovered in her own bag.

‘Goodness, I’ve not even had time to miss it. How is Ruth?’

Greg said that both Aunt Ruth and Grace were laid up with acute indigestion — ‘not because of your wonderful sandwiches,’ he hastened to add, ‘but because of all those burnberries they picked in the bushes.’

Marina was about to jingle a bronze bell for the footman to bring some more toast, but Greg said he was on his way to a party at the Countess de Prey’s.

‘Rather soon (skorovato) she consoled herself,’ remarked Marina, alluding to the death of the Count killed in a pistol duel on Boston Common a couple of years ago.

‘She’s a very jolly and handsome woman,’ said Greg.

‘And ten years older than me,’ said Marina. (1.14)


“All those burnberries” seem to hint at the burning bush that spoke to Moses (in the Old Testament). Another title of Nazhivin’s book on Tolstoy is Neopalimaya kupina (“The Burning Bush”). In his book Nazhivin compares Tolstoy to the Burning Bush:


И то, что говорил он в ответ на подсказывания либерального биографа, было в тот момент, когда это говорилось, совершенно справедливо, и эти страшные строки в тот момент, когда они писались, были справедливы: он все умел каким-то волшебством сделать правдой. Подобная какой-то неопалимой купине, эта страстная душа своим горением слепила миллионы людей и, точно зачаровав их, заставляла принимать от него все: точно высшая правда его была в этом вот неудержимом горении, а слова, мысли, книги, все это так только, что-то временное и неважное и во всяком случае не главное. (Chapter III)


Before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) mentions Moses de Vere (who killed Count de Prey in a pistol duel on Boston Common):


‘I wonder,’ Demon mused. ‘It would cost hardly more than a couple of millions minus what Cousin Dan owes me, minus also the Ladore pastures, which are utterly mucked up and should be got rid of gradually, if the local squires don’t blow up that new kerosene distillery, the stïd i sram (shame) of our county. I am not particularly fond of Ardis, but I have nothing against it, though I detest its environs. Ladore Town has become very honky-tonky, and the gaming is not what it used to be. You have all sorts of rather odd neighbors. Poor Lord Erminin is practically insane. At the races, the other day, I was talking to a woman I preyed upon years ago, oh long before Moses de Vere cuckolded her husband in my absence and shot him dead in my presence — an epigram you’ve heard before, no doubt from these very lips —’ (1.38)


Describing the conversation about religions in “Ardis the First,” Van uses the phrase “long before Moses:”


Now Lucette demanded her mother’s attention.

‘What are Jews?’ she asked.

‘Dissident Christians,’ answered Marina.

‘Why is Greg a Jew?’ asked Lucette.

‘Why-why!’ said Marina; ‘because his parents are Jews.’

‘And his grandparents? His arrière grandparents?’

‘I really wouldn’t know, my dear. Were your ancestors Jews, Greg?’

‘Well, I’m not sure,’ said Greg. ‘Hebrews, yes — but not Jews in quotes — I mean, not comic characters or Christian businessmen. They came from Tartary to England five centuries ago. My mother’s grandfather, though, was a French marquis who, I know, belonged to the Roman faith and was crazy about banks and stocks and jewels, so I imagine people may have called him un juif.’

‘It’s not a very old religion, anyway, as religions go, is it?’ said Marina (turning to Van and vaguely planning to steer the chat to India where she had been a dancing girl long before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus swamp).

‘Who cares —’ said Van.

‘And Belle’ (Lucette’s name for her governess), ‘is she also a dizzy Christian?’

‘Who cares,’ cried Van, ‘who cares about all those stale myths, what does it matter — Jove or Jehovah, spire or cupola, mosques in Moscow, or bronzes and bonzes, and clerics, and relics, and deserts with bleached camel ribs? They are merely the dust and mirages of the communal mind.’

‘How did this idiotic conversation start in the first place?’ Ada wished to be told, cocking her head at the partly ornamented dackel or taksik.

‘Mea culpa,’ Mlle Larivière explained with offended dignity. ‘All I said, at the picnic, was that Greg might not care for ham sandwiches, because Jews and Tartars do not eat pork.’

‘The Romans,’ said Greg, ‘the Roman colonists, who crucified Christian Jews and Barabbits, and other unfortunate people in the old days, did not touch pork either, but I certainly do and so did my grandparents.’

Lucette was puzzled by a verb Greg had used. To illustrate it for her, Van joined his ankles, spread both his arms horizontally, and rolled up his eyes.

‘When I was a little girl,’ said Marina crossly, ‘Mesopotamian history was taught practically in the nursery.’

‘Not all little girls can learn what they are taught,’ observed Ada.

‘Are we Mesopotamians?’ asked Lucette.

‘We are Hippopotamians,’ said Van. ‘Come,’ he added, ‘we have not yet ploughed today.’

A day or two before, Lucette had demanded that she be taught to hand-walk. Van gripped her by her ankles while she slowly progressed on her little red palms, sometimes falling with a grunt on her face or pausing to nibble a daisy. Dack barked in strident protest. (1.14)


Marina believes that she had been a dancing girl in India long before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus swamp. A professional female dancer in India is called “la bayadere.” At the party given by Bruno Kretschmar (the main character in VN’s novel Camera Obscura, 1934, translated by VN as Laughter in the Dark) Robert Horn speaks of India and mentions bayaderki (dancing girls):


Горн, не обращая внимания ни на неё, ни на Дорианну, имя которой его раздражало, спорил наискосок через стол с писателем Брюком о приёмах художественной изобразительности. Он говорил: "Беллетрист толкует, например, об Индии, где вот я никогда не бывал, и только от него и  слышно, что о баядерках, охоте на тигров, факирах, бетеле, змеях - всё это очень напряженно, очень пряно, сплошная, одним словом, тайна Востока, - но что же получается? Получается то, что никакой Индии я перед собой не вижу, а только чувствую воспаление надкостницы от всех этих восточных сладостей. Иной же беллетрист говорит всего два слова об Индии: я выставил на ночь мокрые сапоги, а утром на них уже вырос голубой лес (плесень, сударыня, - обьяснил он Дорианне, которая поднимала одну бровь), - и сразу Индия для меня как живая, - остальное я уж сам воображу".

"Йоги, - сказала Дорианна, - делают удивительные вещи. Они умеют так дышать, что..."


Horn paid no attention either to her or to Dorianna, whose name annoyed him, but was arguing across the table with Brück, the author, concerning the means of artistic expression.  "A writer for instance," he remarked, "talks about India which I have never seen, and gushes about dancing girls, tiger hunts, fakirs, betel nuts, serpents: the Glamour of the mysterious East. But what does it amount to? Nothing. Instead of visualizing India I merely get a bad toothache from all these Eastern delights. Now, there's the other way as, for instance, the fellow who writes: 'Before turning in I put out my wet boots to dry and in the morning I found that a thick blue forest had grown on them' ("Fungi, Madam," he explained to Dorianna who had raised one eyebrow) and at once India becomes alive for me. The rest is shop."
"Those yogis do marvelous things," said Dorianna. "Apparently they can breathe in such a way that--" (Chapter XV)


To Robert Horn’s (Axel Rex’s) questions how she thought up her pseudonym and if she ever read Tolstoy, Dorianna Karenina (the movie actress) replies that she did not and asks Horn why he wants to know this:


"А вы довольны собой?" - спросил Горн с любопытством.

Дорианна усмехнулась: "Нет, настоящая актриса никогда не бывает довольна".

"Художники тоже, - сказал Горн. - Но вы не виноваты. Роль была глупая. Скажите, кстати, как вы придумали свой псевдоним? Я всё хотел узнать?"

"Ох, это длинная история", - ответила она с улыбкой.

"Нет, вы меня не понимаете. Я  хочу  узнать. Скажите, вы Толстого читали?"

"Толстого?" - переспросила Дорианна Каренина. - "Нет, не помню. А почему вас это интересует?"


Rex got up and stretched himself. Dorianna touched his arm. Beside her stood the man with the stye, yawning.
"A failure," said Dorianna, winking. "Poor little lass."
"And are you satisfied with your performance?" asked Rex curiously.
Dorianna laughed. "I'll tell you a secret: a true actress cannot be satisfied."
"Nor can the public sometimes," said Rex calmly. "By the way, do tell me, my dear, how did you come to hit on your stage name? It sort of disturbs me."
"Oh, that's a long story," she answered wistfully. "If you come to tea with me one day, I shall perhaps tell you more about it. The boy who suggested this name committed suicide."
"Ah--and no wonder. But what I wanted to know ... Tell me, have you read Tolstoy?"
"Doll's Toy?" queried Dorianna Karenina. "No, I'm afraid not. Why?" (chapter XXII)