Organized Dream & Vaniada divan in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 08/07/2021 - 12:34

At the beginning of his lecture on dreams Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) asks “what are dreams:”


What are dreams? A random sequence of scenes, trivial or tragic, viatic or static, fantastic or familiar, featuring more or less plausible events patched up with grotesque details, and recasting dead people in new settings. (2.4)


Chto takoe gryoza (“What is a Day-Dream?” 1907) is a poem by Igor Severyanin:


Что такое — грёза? Что такое — грёза?
Это мысль о розе. Но ещё не роза…

Что такое — грёза? Что такое — грёза?
Это бархатисто-нежная мимоза…

Что такое — грёза? Что такое — грёзы?
Это серафима блещущие слёзы!


Russian for “day-dream, reverie,” gryoza brings to mind Eric Veen’s essay ‘Villa Venus: an Organized Dream:”


In the spring of 1869, David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction (in no way related to the Veens of our rambling romance), escaped uninjured when the motorcar he was driving from Cannes to Calais blew a front tire on a frost-blazed road and tore into a parked furniture van; his daughter sitting beside him was instantly killed by a suitcase sailing into her from behind and breaking her neck. In his London studio her husband, an unbalanced, unsuccessful painter (ten years older than his father-in-law whom he envied and despised) shot himself upon receiving the news by cablegram from a village in Normandy called, dreadfully, Deuil.

The momentum of disaster lost none of its speed, for neither did Eric, a boy of fifteen, despite all the care and adoration which his grandfather surrounded him with, escape a freakish fate: a fate strangely similar to his mother’s.

After being removed from Note to a small private school in Vaud Canton and then spending a consumptive summer in the Maritime Alps, he was sent to Ex-en-Valais, whose crystal air was supposed at the time to strengthen young lungs; instead of which its worst hurricane hurled a roof tile at him, fatally fracturing his skull, Among the boy’s belongings David van Veen found a number of poems and the draft of an essay entitled 'Villa Venus: an Organized Dream.'

To put it bluntly, the boy had sought to solace his first sexual torments by imagining and detailing a project (derived from reading too many erotic works found in a furnished house his grandfather had bought near Vence from Count Tolstoy, a Russian or Pole): namely, a chain of palatial brothels that his inheritance would allow him to establish all over ‘both hemispheres of our callipygian globe.’ The little chap saw it as a kind of fashionable club, with branches, or, in his poetical phrase, ‘Floramors,’ in the vicinity of cities and spas. Membership was to be restricted to noblemen, ‘handsome and healthy,’ with an age limit of fifty (which must be praised as very broadminded on the poor kid’s part), paying a yearly fee of 3650 guineas not counting the cost of bouquets, jewels and other gallant donations. Resident female physicians, good-looking and young (‘of the American secretarial or dentist-assistant type’), would be there to check the intimate physical condition of ‘the caresser and the caressed’ (another felicitous formula) as well as their own if ‘the need arose,’ One clause in the Rules of the Club seemed to indicate that Eric, though frenziedly heterosexual, had enjoyed some tender ersatz fumblings with schoolmates at Note (a notorious preparatory school in that respect): at least two of the maximum number of fifty inmates in the major floramors might be pretty boys, wearing frontlets and short smocks, not older than fourteen if fair, and not more than twelve if dark. However, in order to exclude a regular flow of ‘inveterate pederasts,’ boy love could be dabbled in by the jaded guest only between two sequences of three girls each, all possessed in the course of the same week — a somewhat comical, but not unshrewd, stipulation. (2.3)


In Russian, the title of Eric Veen’s essay is "Villa Venera: organizovannaya gryoza." Veneris vena (1924) is a poem by Severyanin. In his Severyanin pastiche U Venery (“At Venus’ Place”) Yakov Korobov mentions okurki “Ady” (the cigarette ends of Ada) on the carpet:


На окнах пышный кустороз,
На страже похоти услады...
В очах наглеется вопрос,
А на ковре окурки «Ады»...


За чуткостеньем мелкосмех,
Гул пробки, пошлозвон стакана.
И Рай. И Ад. И Бог. И Грех.
Ритмично-страстный скрип дивана.


Ritmichno-strastnyi skrip divana (a rhythmically passionate creak of the divan) in the last line brings to mind the Vaniada divan (mentioned by Van’s and Ada’s half-sister Lucette when she visits Van at Kingston) in the library of Ardis Hall:


‘Do you remember Grandmother’s scrutoir between the globe and the gueridon? In the library?’

‘I don’t even know what a scrutoir is; and I do not visualize the gueridon.’

‘But you remember the globe?’

Dusty Tartary with Cinderella’s finger rubbing the place where the invader would fall.

‘Yes, I do: and a kind of stand with golden dragons painted all over it.’

‘That’s what I meant by "gueridon." It was really a Chinese stand japanned in red lacquer, and the scrutoir stood in between.’

‘China or Japan? Make up your mind. And I still don’t know how your inscrutable looks. I mean, looked in 1884 or 1888.’

Scrutoir. Almost as bad as the other with her Blemolopias and Molospermas.

‘Van, Vanichka, we are straying from the main point. The point is that the writing desk or if you like, secretaire —’

‘I hate both, but it stood at the opposite end of the black divan.’

Now mentioned for the first time — though both had been tacitly using it as an orientator or as a right hand painted on a transparent signboard that a philosopher’s orbitless eye, a peeled hard-boiled egg cruising free, but sensing which of its ends is proximal to an imaginary nose, sees hanging in infinite space; whereupon, with Germanic grace, the free eye sails around the glass sign and sees a left hand shining through — that’s the solution! (Bernard said six-thirty but I may be a little late.) The mental in Van always rimmed the sensuous: unforgettable, roughish, villous, Villaviciosa velour.

‘Van, you are deliberately sidetracking the issue —’

‘One can’t do that with an issue.’

‘— because at the other end, at the heel end of the Vaniada divan — remember? — there was only the closet in which you two locked me up at least ten times.’

‘Nu uzh i desyat’ (exaggeration). Once — and never more. It had a keyless hole as big as Kant’s eye. Kant was famous for his cucumicolor iris.’

‘Well, that secretaire,’ continued Lucette, considering her left shoe, her very chic patent-leather Glass shoe, as she crossed her lovely legs, ‘that secretaire enclosed a folded card table and a top-secret drawer. And you thought, I think, it was crammed with our grandmother’s love letters, written when she was twelve or thirteen. And our Ada knew, oh, she knew, the drawer was there but she had forgotten how to release the orgasm or whatever it is called in card tables and bureaus.’

Whatever it is called.

‘She and I challenged you to find the secret chuvstvilishche (sensorium) and make it work. It was the summer Belle sprained her backside, and we were left to our own devices, which had long lost the particule in your case and Ada’s, but were touchingly pure in mine. You groped around, and felt, and felt for the little organ, which turned out to be a yielding roundlet in the rosewood under the felt you felt — I mean, under the felt you were feeling: it was a felted thumb spring, and Ada laughed as the drawer shot out.’

‘And it was empty,’ said Van.

‘Not quite. It contained a minuscule red pawn that high’ (showing its barleycorn-size with her finger — above what? Above Van’s wrist). ‘I kept it for luck; I must still have it somewhere. Anyway, the entire incident pre-emblematized, to quote my Professor of Ornament, the depravation of your poor Lucette at fourteen in Arizona. Belle had returned to Canady, because Vronsky had defigured The Doomed Children; her successor had eloped with Demon; papa was in the East, maman hardly ever came home before dawn, the maids joined their lovers at star-rise, and I hated to sleep alone in the corner room assigned to me, even if I did not put out the pink night-light of porcelain with the transparency picture of a lost lamb, because I was afraid of the cougars and snakes’ [quite possibly, this is not remembered speech but an extract from her letter or letters. Ed.], ‘whose cries and rattlings Ada imitated admirably, and, I think, designedly, in the desert’s darkness under my first floor window. Well [here, it would seem, taped speech is re-turned-on], to make a short story sort of longish —’

Old Countess de Prey’s phrase in praise of a lame mare in her stables in 1884, thence passed on to her son, who passed it on to his girl who passed it on to her half-sister. Thus instantly reconstructed by Van sitting with tented hands in a red-plush chair.

‘— I took my pillow to Ada’s bedroom where a similar night-light transparency thing showed a blond-bearded faddist in a toweling robe embracing the found lamb. The night was oven-hot and we were stark naked except for a bit of sticking plaster where a doctor had stroked and pricked my arm, and she was a dream of white and black beauty, pour cogner une fraise, touched with fraise in four places, a symmetrical queen of hearts.’

Next moment they grappled and had such delicious fun that they knew they would be doing it always together, for hygienic purposes, when boyless and boiling. (2.5)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): coigner etc.: pun (‘to coin a phrase’).

fraise: strawberry red.