NABOKV-L post 0027290, Mon, 30 Jan 2017 22:08:42 +0300

Mingo-Bingo vase of immortelles, Dick Cheshire,
Valerio & Herb's diary in Ada; Gradus in Pale Fire
They examined without much interest the objects of pleasure in a display window. Lucette sneered at a gold-threaded swimsuit. The presence of a riding crop and a pickax puzzled Van. Half a dozen glossy-jacketed copies of Salzman were impressively heaped between a picture of the handsome, thoughtful, now totally forgotten, author and a Mingo-Bingo vase of immortelles. (3.5)

A Mingo-Bingo vase seems to hint not only at the Ming dynasty vases, but also at the Hong Kong Vase (the Hong Kong Derby), a horse race held annually since 1873. According to Lucette (whom Dick Cheshire, Van’s schoolmate at Riverlane, sends racing tips, 3.3), there hangs a steeplechase picture above Cordula's and Tobak's bed in their Tobakoff suite:

There hung, she said, a steeplechase picture of 'Pale Fire with Tom Cox Up' above dear Cordula's and Tobak's bed, in the suite 'wangled in one minute flat' from them, and she wondered how it affected the Tobaks' love life during sea voyages. (3.5)

One of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) is Gradus (Shade’s murderer). In a letter of Dec. 9, 1890, to Suvorin Chekhov (who just returned to Moscow from the Sakhalin, a place of penal servitude where Chekhov had spent three months and three days) describes his long sea voyage and mentions Hong Kong and gradusy (degrees):

Когда вышли из Гонг-Конга, нас начало качать. Пароход был пустой и делал размахи в 38 градусов, так что мы боялись, что он опрокинется. Морской болезни я не подвержен — это открытие меня приятно поразило. По пути к Сингапуру бросили в море двух покойников. Когда глядишь, как мёртвый человек, завороченный в парусину, летит, кувыркаясь, в воду, и когда вспоминаешь, что до дна несколько вёрст, то становится страшно и почему-то начинает казаться, что сам умрёшь и будешь брошен в море.

When we left Hong Kong the boat began to rock. The steamer was empty and lurched through an angle of thirty-eight degrees, so that we were afraid it would upset. I am not subject to sea-sickness: that discovery was very agreeable to me. On the way to Singapore we threw two corpses into the sea. When one sees a dead man, wrapped in sailcloth, fly, turning somersaults in the water, and remembers that it is several miles to the bottom, one feels frightened, and for some reason begins to fancy that one will die oneself and will be thrown into the sea.

Lucette tells the Robinsons (the old couple who invited her to their cabin) that the rock and roll are getting worse:

‘We understand,’ said Robert Robinson going for another supply to his portable fridge, ‘we understand perfectly that Dr Veen is deeply immersed in his Inter Resting Work — personally, I sometimes regret having retired — but do you think, Lucy, prosit! that he might accept to have dinner tomorrow with you and us and maybe Another Couple, whom he’ll certainly enjoy meeting? Shall Mrs Robinson send him a formal invitation? Would you sign it, too?’

‘I don’t know, I’m very tired,’ she said, ‘and the rock and roll are getting worse. I guess I’ll go up to my hutch and take your Quietus. Yes, by all means, let’s have dinner, all of us. I really needed that lovely cold drink.’ (3.5)

My vse – Robinzony (“We All are the Robinsons,” 1921) is a poem by Valeriy Bryusov. In his poem Rimlyane v Kitae (“Romans in China. 166 A. D.” 1916) Bryusov mentions “strange vases, more sumptuous that the vases of Etruria.” In several poems Bryusov mentions the immortelles (see my previous post).

In her memoir essay on Bryusov, Geroy truda (“The Hero of Toil,” 1925), Marina Tsvetaev says that Bryusov was trizhdy rimlyanin (a triple Roman):

Три слова являют нам Брюсова: воля, вол, волк. Триединство не только звуковое - смысловое: и воля - Рим, и вол - Рим, и волк - Рим. Трижды римлянином был Валерий Брюсов: волей и волом - в поэзии, волком (homo homini lupus est) в жизни.

In his memoir essay Bryusov (included in Necropolis, 1939) Khodasevich quotes the Latin verses written by Bryusov’s younger brother (Khodasevich’s classmate):

В ту же пору его младший брат написал ему латинские стихи с обращением: Falsus Valerius, duplex lingua!

The characters of Ada include Valerio, a ginger-haired elderly Roman:

Lucette had gone (leaving a curt note with her room number at the Winster Hotel for Young Ladies) when our two lovers, now weak-legged and decently robed, sat down to a beautiful breakfast (Ardis' crisp bacon! Ardis' translucent honey!) brought up in the lift by Valerio, a ginger-haired elderly Roman, always ill-shaven and gloomy, but a dear old boy (he it was who, having procured neat Rose last June, was being paid to keep her strictly for Veen and Dean). (2.6)

Valerio is a waiter at ‘Monaco,’ a restaurant in the entresol of the tall building crowned by the penthouse (Cordula’s former apartment) where Van lives with Ada:

With the simple and, combinationally speaking, neat, thought that, after all, there was but one sky (white, with minute multicolored optical sparks), Demon hastened to enter the lobby and catch the lift which a ginger-haired waiter had just entered, with breakfast for two on a wiggle-wheel table and the Manhattan Times among the shining, ever so slightly scratched, silver cupolas. Was his son still living up there, automatically asked Demon, placing a piece of nobler metal among the domes. Si, conceded the grinning imbecile, he had lived there with his lady all winter.

'Then we are fellow travelers,' said Demon inhaling not without gourmand anticipation the smell of Monaco's coffee, exaggerated by the shadows of tropical weeds waving in the breeze of his brain. (2.10)

Van’s and Ada’s father, Demon Veen is a gambler. In the late 1890s Chekhov lived in Nice and from time to time went to Monte Carlo, a gambling resort in Monaco principality. While the Mingo people are an Iroquoian-speaking group of Native Americans,

Bingo is a casino game of chance. As he speaks to Van, Demon mentions “a lucky moment in the history of Western casinos:”

A propos, I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is somewhere in Italy, but I’ve managed to trace Marina to Tsitsikar — flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk — she will arrive in the late afternoon, wearing, no doubt, pleureuses, very becoming, and we shall then travel à trois to Ladore, because I don’t think —’

Was he perhaps under the influence of some bright Chilean drug? That torrent was simply unstoppable, a crazy spectrum, a talking palette —

‘— no really, I don’t think we should bother Ada in her Agavia. He is — I mean, Vinelander is — the scion, s,c,i,o,n, of one of those great Varangians who had conquered the Copper Tartars or Red Mongols — or whoever they were — who had conquered some earlier Bronze Riders — before we introduced our Russian roulette and Irish loo at a lucky moment in the history of Western casinos.’ (ibid.)

In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901), known on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) as Four Sisters (2.1 et passim), Dr Chebutykin reads in a newspaper that the pox is raging in Tsitsikar (a city in China). Belokonsk is the Russian twin of Whitehorse (city in N. W. Canada).

In his memoir essay on Bryusov Khodasevich mentions Bryusov's interest in horse races:

Так, например, в 1921 г. Брюсов совмещал какое-то высокое назначение по Наркомпросу - с не менее важной должностью в Гукон, т. е.... в Главном Управлении по Коннозаводству (Как ни странно, некоторая логика в этом была: самые первые строки Брюсова, появившиеся в печати, - две статьи о лошадях в одном из специальных журналов: не то "Рысак и Скакун", не то "Коннозаводство и Спорт". Отец Брюсова, как я указывал, был лошадник-любитель. Когда-то я видел детские письма Брюсова к матери, сплошь наполненные беговыми делами и впечатлениями.) Что ж? Он честно трудился и там и даже, идя в ногу с нэпом, выступал в печати, ведя кампанию за восстановление тотализатора.

In his essay Khodasevich speaks of Bryusov's desire to direct Russian literature under the Bolsheviks and uses the phrase stol’ko-to gradusov (so-and-so many degrees):

А какая надежда на то, что в истории литературы будет сказано: "В таком-то году повернул русскую литературу на столько-то градусов".

And what hope that in the history of literature it will be said: “in the year so-and-so he turned Russian literature to so-and-so many degrees.”

In Latin, gradus means “step.” To reach the open deck (from which she jumps to her death into the Atlantic) Lucette has to ascend about ten steps:

Six, seven — no, more than that, about ten steps up. Dix marches. Legs and arms. Dimanche. Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Tout le monde pue. Ma belle-mère avale son râtelier. Sa petite chienne, after too much exercise, gulps twice and quietly vomits, a pink pudding onto the picnic nappe. Après quoi she waddles off. These steps are something. (3.5)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Dimanche etc.: Sunday. Lunch on the grass. Everybody stinks. My mother-in-law swallows her dentures. Her little bitch, etc. After which, etc. (see p.375, a painter’s diary Lucette has been reading).

According to Lucette, Herb’s diary was published by his last duchess:

She returned after a brief swim to the sun terrace where Van lay and said:

‘You can’t imagine’ — (‘I can imagine anything,’ he insisted) — ‘you can imagine, okay, what oceans of lotions and streams of creams I am compelled to use — in the privacy of my balconies or in desolate sea caves — before I can exhibit myself to the elements. I always teeter on the tender border between sunburn and suntan — or between lobster and Obst as writes Herb, my beloved painter — I’m reading his diary published by his last duchess, it’s in three mixed languages and lovely, I’ll lend it to you. You see, darling, I’d consider myself a pied cheat if the small parts I conceal in public were not of the same color as those on show.’ (3.5)

My Last Duchess and Pied Piper are poems by Robert Browning. On Antiterra he is known as Robert Brown, the Poet Laureate whom Demon once pointed out to Van:

Once, for example, when Lucette had made of herself a particular nuisance, her nose running, her hand clutching at Van’s all the time, her whimpering attachment to his company turning into a veritable obsession, Van mustered all his persuasive skill, charm, eloquence, and said with conspiratory undertones: ‘Look, my dear. This brown book is one of my most treasured possessions. I had a special pocket made for it in my school jacket. Numberless fights have been fought over it with wicked boys who wanted to steal it. What we have here’ (turning the pages reverently) ‘is no less than a collection of the most beautiful and famous short poems in the English language. This tiny one, for example, was composed in tears forty years ago by the Poet Laureate Robert Brown, the old gentleman whom my father once pointed out to me up in the air on a cliff under a cypress, looking down on the foaming turquoise surf near Nice, an unforgettable sight for all concerned. (1.23)

On the flyleaf of the anthology that Van gives Lucette as a reward for learning by heart Brown’s poem “Peter and Margaret” there are several profiles of Van’s schoolmates, including Cheshire:

‘Oh, Van, how lovely of you,’ said Lucette, slowly entering her room, with her bemused eyes scanning the fascinating flyleaf, his name on it, his bold flourish, and his own wonderful drawings in ink — a black aster (evolved from a blot), a doric column (disguising a more ribald design), a delicate leafless tree (as seen from a classroom window), and several profiles of boys (Cheshcat, Zogdog, Fancytart, and Ada-like Van himself). (ibid.)

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,,
Nabokv-L policies:
Nabokov Online Journal:"
AdaOnline: "
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada:
The VN Bibliography Blog:
Search the archive with L-Soft:

Manage subscription options :