Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027174, Wed, 21 Sep 2016 18:07:56 +0300

la feve de Diane, romantic Turk & Bob Bean in Ada
At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon calls a globule of
birdshot in the roast hazel-hen “la fève de Diane” (“the bean of

The roast hazel-hen (or rather its New World representative, locally called
‘mountain grouse’) was accompanied by preserved lingonberries (locally
called ‘mountain cranberries’). An especially succulent morsel of one of
those brown little fowls yielded a globule of birdshot between Demon’s red
tongue and strong canine: ‘La fève de Diane,’ he remarked, placing it
carefully on the edge of his plate. ‘How is the car situation, Van?’

In Lermontov’s drama in verse Maskarad (“The Masquerade,” 1835) Arbenin
tells Prince Zvezdich that a tall beauty in the masquerade dressed up as a
Turkish woman is perhaps a proud Countess or Princess, Diana v obshchestve…
Venera v maskerade (Diana in society, Venus in masquerade), but she also can
be a girl who will come to you tomorrow for half an hour:

Вот, например, взгляните там-

Как выступает благородно

Высокая турчанка… как полна,

Как дышит грудь её и страстно и свободно!

Вы знаете ли, кто она?

Быть может, гордая графиня иль княжна,

Диана в обществе... Венера в маскераде,

И также может быть, что эта же краса

К вам завтра вечером придёт на полчаса.

В обоих случаях вы, право, не внакладе. (Scene

A little later at the dinner Ada (who meets one of her lovers, Percy de
Prey, in the woods) mentions “some romantic Turk or Albanian:”

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

‘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.’

After the deaths of Percy de Prey and Philip Rack (Lucette’s music teacher)
and the suicide attempt of Johnny Starling (yet another lover of Ada), Van
compares Ada to Diana (the Roman goddess of the moon and of hunting):

Driblets? Driblets? Now who pronounced it that way? Who? Who? A dripping
ewes-dropper in a dream? Did the orphans live?’ But we must listen to

‘After a year or so she found out that an old pederast kept him and she
dismissed him, and he shot himself on a beach at high tide but surfers and
surgeons saved him, and now his brain is damaged; he will never be able to

‘One can always fall back on mutes,’ said Van gloomily. ‘He could act the
speechless eunuch in "Stambul, my bulbul" or the stable boy disguised as a
kennel girl who brings a letter.’

‘Van, I’m boring you?’

‘Oh, nonsense, it’s a gripping and palpitating little case history.’

Because that was really not bad: bringing down three in as many years ―
besides winging a fourth. Jolly good shot ― Adiana! Wonder whom she’ll bag
next. (2.5)

Ada bags next Vanda Broom, her lesbian schoolmate at Brownhill. According to
Ada, poor Vanda had been shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a
starry night, in Ragusa of all places (2.6). The name Zvezdich (of a
character in “The Masquerade”) comes from zvezda (star). Zvezdich is a
Balkan name. Ragusa is the Italian name of Dubrovnik (a seaport in S
Croatia, on the Adriatic).

At the family dinner Demon considers Marina’s pretentious ciel-étoilé
(starry sky) hairdress:

The alcohol his vigorous system had already imbibed was instrumental, as
usual, in reopening what he gallicistically called condemned doors, and now
as he gaped involuntarily as all men do while spreading a napkin, he
considered Marina’s pretentious ciel-étoilé hairdress and tried to
realize (in the rare full sense of the word), tried to possess the reality
of a fact by forcing it into the sensuous center, that here was a woman whom
he had intolerably loved, who had loved him hysterically and skittishly, who
insisted they make love on rugs and cushions laid on the floor (‘as
respectable people do in the Tigris-Euphrates valley’), who would woosh
down fluffy slopes on a bobsleigh a fortnight after parturition, or arrive
by the Orient Express with five trunks, Dack’s grandsire, and a maid, to Dr
Stella Ospenko’s ospedale where he was recovering from a scratch received
in a sword duel (and still visible as a white weal under his eighth rib
after a lapse of nearly seventeen years). (1.38)

When Marina bobsleighed in Switzerland after giving birth to Van, her twin
sister Aqua (Demon’s wife) suffered a miscarriage after skiing at full
pulver into a larch stump:

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. (1.3)

There is bob in “bobsleigh.” In Russian, bob means what fève does in
French: “bean.” Bob Bean is the hospital barber who shaved Aqua’s dark

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. (ibid.)

In Lermontov’s drama Arbenin poisons his innocent wife Nina. Poor mad Aqua
committed suicide by taking poison.

In my previous post, “bals masqués, passing angel & Cendrillon in Ada” I
forgot to mention Tyutchev’s poem December 14, 1825 written in 1826, after
the execution of five Decembrists:

Вас развратило Самовластье,

И меч его вас поразил, -

И в неподкупном беспрестрастье

Сей приговор Закон скрепил.

Народ, чуждаясь вероломства,

Поносит ваши имена -

И ваша память от потомства,

Как труп в земле, схоронена.

О жертвы мысли безрассудной,

Вы уповали, может быть,

Что станет вашей крови скудной,

Чтоб вечный полюс растопить!

Едва, дымясь, она сверкнула,

На вековой громаде льдов,

Зима железная дохнула -

И не осталось и следов.

Tyranny itself seduced you.

Its sword has mown you like reeds.

The Law is incorruptibly impartial.

The Law’s infallible in word and deed.

Disloyalty is shunned by our people.

They’ll scorn your names. Abuse will heap.

Your sons will never know your exploit,

hidden in time, a rotten carcass buried deep!


Victims of foolish notions!

Perhaps you had a youthful vision!

Perhaps you thought you saw

your thin blood trickling,

covering the ice-caps

as if alone it could thaw

that age-old polar face.

Why, it would scarce have time to sparkle

when up there’d gust a breath of iron winter

to murder every tiny trace!

(transl. F. Jude)

Also, the name of Khodasevich’s first wife was Marina Ryndin.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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