endured, alas; but after Dr Krolik died (in 1886) of a heart attack in his
garden, she [Ada] had placed all her live pupae
in his open coffin where he lay, she said, as plump and pink
as in vivo. (1.35)
If Krolik was buried alive, he may awaken in his
grave. In VN's Kamera obskura (1932) the semiconscious
state of blind Kretschmar is compared to the legendary panic of a man who
has awakened in his grave:
Сознание полной слепоты едва не довело
Кречмара до помешательства. Раны и ссадины зажили, волосы отросли, но адовое
ощущение плотной, чёрной преграды оставалось неизменным. После припадков
смертельного ужаса, после криков и метаний, после тщетных попыток сдёрнуть,
сорвать что-то с глаз он впадал в полуобморочное состояние, а потом снова
начинало нарастать что-то паническое, нестерпимое, сравнимое только с
легендарным смятением человека, проснувшегося в могиле. (chapter
Note adovoe oshchushchenie plotnoy,
chyornoy pregrady (the hellish feeling of a solid
The name Krolik comes from król, Polish for "king." In his
letter to Kretschmar cruel Horn (who becomes Rex in Laughter in the
Dark, the English version of Kamera Obskura; rex is Latin
for "king") says that eyesight is korol' (the king) of
Есть люди (Вы и я принадлежим к их числу),
которые живут именно глазами, зрением, – все остальные чувства только послушная
свита этого короля чувств. (ibid.)
Kretschmar's blindness is a result of the car accident.
One of the three blind characters in Ada is Kim Beauharnais, the
kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who is blinded by Van for spying on
him and Ada and blackmailing Ada. When Ada comes to Manhattan (whose inhabitants
were once called "mad hatters," 1.36) to live with Van, she brings Kim's
album. It has not only the photos of Van's and Ada's love-making, but also the
snapshots of other household members and friends:
Ah, a new character, the inscription says: Dr
'Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van
but it's terribly messy all the same. Okay. Yes, that's my poor nature
Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his
babochka (Russian for 'lepidopteron'). A passion, a sickness. What
could Diana know about that chase?
'How curious - in the state Kim mounted him
here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he's a
big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!'
'There's nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day
to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here's the visual proof.
Besides, that's not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars,
Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.'
'I love the way your eyes
narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor.'
'I'm not lying!' - (with lovely dignity): 'He is a doctor of
'Van ist auch one,' murmured Van, sounding the last
word as 'wann.' (2.7)
Karol, or Karapars, Krolik (whose name combines the author of
Alice in Wonderland* with one of the book's characters, the
Rabbit) must have been Ada's first lover. Before showing Van her
larvarium, Ada (who is not as innocent as Van thinks her to be) tells him
that she has never read Palace in Wonderland:
A pointer of sunlight daubed with greener paint
a long green box where croquet implements were kept; but the balls had been
rolled down the hill by some rowdy children, the little Erminins, who were now
Van's age and had grown very nice and quiet.
'As we all are at that age,' said Van and
stooped to pick up a curved tortoiseshell comb - the kind that girls use to hold
up their hair behind; he had seen one, exactly like that, quite recently, but
when, in whose hairdo?
'One of the maids,' said Ada. 'That tattered
chapbook must also belong to her, Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a
mystical romance by a pastor.'
'Playing croquet with you,' said Van, 'should be
rather like using flamingoes and hedgehogs.'
'Our reading lists do not match,' replied Ada.
'That Palace in Wonderland was to me the kind of book everybody so
often promised me I would adore, that I developed an insurmountable prejudice
toward it. (1.8)
The tortoiseshell comb and the tattered chapbook must
belong to Blanche, a French handmaid at Ardis. Van
meets her on his first morning in Ardis Hall:
In a corner room he found, standing at a tall
window, a young chambermaid whom he had glimpsed (and promised himself to
investigate) on the preceding evening. She wore what his father termed with a
semi-assumed leer 'soubret black and frissonet frill'; a tortoiseshell comb in
her chestnut hair caught the amber light; the French window was open, and she
was holding one hand, starred with a tiny aquamarine, rather high on the jamb as
she looked at a sparrow that was hopping up the paved path toward the bit of
baby-toed biscuit she had thrown to him... What was her name? Blanche - but Mlle
Larivière called her 'Cendrillon' because her stockings got so easily laddered,
see, and because she broke and mislaid things, and confused flowers. His loose
attire revealed his desire; this could not escape a girl's notice, even if
color-blind, and as he drew up still closer, while looking over her head for a
suitable couch to take shape in some part of this magical manor - where
any place, as in Casanova's remembrances could be dream-changed into a
sequestered seraglio nook - she wiggled out of his reach completely and
delivered a little soliloquy in her soft Ladoran French:
'Monsieur a quinze ans, je crois, et moi, je
sais, j'en ai dixneuf. Monsieur is a nobleman; I am a poor peat-digger's
daughter. Monsieur a tâté, sans doute, des filles de la ville; quant à moi,
je suis vierge, ou peu s'en faut. De plus, were I to fall in love with you
- I mean really in love - and I might, alas, if you possessed me rien qu'une
petite fois - it would be, for me, only grief, and infernal fire, and
despair, and even death, Monsieur. Finalement, I might add that I have
the whites and must see le Docteur Chronique, I mean Crolique,
on my next day off. Now we have to separate, the sparrow has disappeared, I see,
and Monsieur Bouteillan has entered the next room, and can perceive us clearly
in that mirror above the sofa behind that silk screen.' (1.7)
Blanche eventually marries Trofim Fartukov, the Russian
coachman in "Ardis the Second." They have a blind child:
By the way, where is my poor little Blanche
'Oh, she's all right. She's still around. You
know, she came back - after you abducted her. She married our Russian coachman,
the one who replaced Bengal Ben, as the servants called him.'
'Oh she did? That's delicious. Madame Trofim
Fartukov. I would never have thought it.'
'They have a blind child,' said
'Love is blind,' said Van.
'She tells me you made a pass at her on the
first morning of your first arrival.'
'Not documented by Kim,' said Van. 'Will their
child remain blind? I mean, did you get them a really first-rate
'Oh yes, hopelessly blind. But speaking of love
and its myths, do you realize - because I never did before talking to her a
couple of years ago - that the people around our affair had very good eyes
indeed? Forget Kim, he's only the necessary clown - but do you realize that a
veritable legend was growing around you and me while we played and made love?'
"Love is blind" is the phrase that in Kamera obskura
the postman utters in his dialogue with the porter:
Швейцар, разговаривавший с почтальоном,
посмотрел на Кречмара с любопытством.
"Прямо не верится, – сказал швейцар, когда те
прошли, – прямо не верится, что у него недавно умерла дочка".
"А кто второй?" – спросил
"Почём я знаю. Завела молодца ему в подмогу, вот
и всё. Мне, знаете, стыдно, когда другие жильцы смотрят на эту… (нехорошее
слово). А ведь приличный господин, сам-то, и богат, – мог бы выбрать себе
подругу поосанистее, покрупнее, если уж на то пошло".
"Любовь слепа", – задумчиво произнёс почтальон.
Kretschmar's companion is Magda's lover Robert Horn. A
talented cartoonist, Horn is the author of a comic streep about Cheepy, the
guinea pig. He begins his strip as a means of enlisting public sympathy on the
side of animals in the fight against vivisection. On the
picture in Marina'a bedroom her late brother cups a guinea pig in his
A formal photograph, on a separate page:
Adochka, pretty and impure in her flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit,
with slant-striped school tie, facing the kimera (chimera, camera) side
by side, at attention, he with the shadow of a forced grin, she, expressionless.
Both recalled the time (between the first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of
kisses) and the occasion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up
in her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or fourteen clad in a
bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig in his gowpen (hollowed
hands); the three looked like siblings, with the dead boy providing a
vivisectional alibi. (2.7)
Marina is Van's mother but, officially, Van is the son of
Marina's twin sister Aqua. Van and Ada discover that they are full brother and
sister thanks to Marina's old herbarium found in the attick of Ardis
The two young discoverers of that strange and sickening
treasure commented upon it as follows:
'I deduce,' said the boy, 'three main facts: that not
yet married Marina and her. married sister hibernated in my lieu de
naissance; that Marina had her own Dr Krolik, pour ainsi
dire; and that the orchids came from Demon who preferred to stay by the
sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother.' (1.1).
Marina's brother Ivan had died in a sanatorium not far from Ex, somewhere
in Switzerland, where Van was born eight years later:
'You know, children,' interrupted Marina resolutely
with calming gestures of both hands, 'when I was your age, Ada, and my brother
was your age, Van, we talked about croquet, and ponies, and puppies,
and the last fête-d'enfants, and the next picnic, and - oh, millions of
nice normal things, but never, never of old French botanists and God knows
'But you just said you collected flowers?' said
'Oh, just one season, somewhere in Switzerland. I don't
remember when. It does not matter now.'
The reference was to Ivan Durmanov: he had died of lung
cancer years ago in a sanatorium (not far from Ex, somewhere in Switzerland,
where Van was born eight years later). Marina often mentioned Ivan who had been
a famous violinist at eighteen, but without any special show of emotion, so that
Ada now noted with surprise that her mother's heavy make-up had started to thaw
under a sudden flood of tears (maybe some allergy to flat dry old flowers, an
attack of hay fever, or gentianitis, as a slightly later diagnosis might have
shown retrospectively). She blew her nose, with the sound of an elephant, as she
said herself - and here Mlle Larivière came down for coffee and recollections of
Van as a bambin angélique who adored à neuf ans - the precious
dear! - Gilberte Swann et la Lesbie de Catulle (and who had learned,
all by himself, to release the adoration as soon as the kerosene lamp had left
the mobile bedroom in his black nurse's fist). (1.10)
An actress, Marina mentions her old hobby in the hope to steer the
conversation to theater:
'Yes, indeed,' began Marina, 'when I was playing
Ophelia, the fact that I had once collected flowers -'
'Helped, no doubt,' said Ada. 'Now the Russian word for
marsh marigold is Kuroslep (which muzhiks in Tartary misapply, poor
slaves, to the buttercup) or else Kaluzhnitsa, as used quite properly
in Kaluga, U.S.A.' (ibid.)
According to Dahl, kuroslep is also a person who suffers from
kurinaya slepota (the night-blindness).
Krolik, who feeds his maggots in peace (1.41), is linked to
Polonius, Ophelia's father in Hamlet. Dr Krolik died in his
garden; Hamlet's father was poisoned while sleeping in his orchard. In a
letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov (the author of The Cherry
Orchard, 1904) mentions the ghost of Hamlet's father and the abolition of
Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for
all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very
important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you
towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being,
that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father, who did not
come and disturb the imagination for nothing. Some have more immediate
objects—the abolition of serfdom, the liberation of their country, politics,
beauty, or simply vodka, like Denis Davydov; others have remote objects—God,
life beyond the grave, the happiness of humanity, and so on.
Van and Ada visit the family dentist in Kaluga:
They traveled to Kaluga and drank the Kaluga Waters,
and saw the family dentist. Van, flipping through a magazine, heard Ada scream
and say 'chort' (devil) in the next room, which he had never heard her
do before. (1.22)
Kretschmar learns about Magda's infidelity
thanks to his friend Segelkranz, the writer who intimately knew the late Marcel
Proust and who reads to Kretschmar a fresh fragment from his new
novella. Its hero visits a dentist:
Зегелькранц кокетливо засмеялся. "Это не роман и не
повесть, - сказал он. - Мне трудно определить... Тема такая: человек с
повышенной впечатлительностью отправляется к дантисту. Вот, собственно говоря, и
всё". (chapter 27)
Magda (who is unlikely to have ever read Hamlet) calls
Kretschmar's friend "Rosencrantz" (in Shakespeare's play Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern are Hamlet's former fellow students who are appointed to look after
"Как тебе угодно, - сказала Магда. - Только ты подумай,
каково мне, - конечно, неважно, что я оскорблена тобой и твоим милым
Розенкранцем. Ну, ладно, ладно, давай укладываться". (chapter 28)
The characters of Kamera Obskura include the movie actress
Dorianna Karenina, whose pseudonym blends the name of Tolstoy's heroine (Horn
asks Dorianna if she ever read Tolstoy) with that of the hero of Oscar
Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ada begins
with the opening sentence of Anna Karenin turned inside
'All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all
unhappy ones are more or less alike,' says a great Russian writer in the
beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina,
transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880).
One of Marina's lovers is G. A. Vronsky, the movie man. In Tolstoy's novel
Aleksey Vronski is Anna's lover.
Onboard Tobakoff, just before Lucette's suicide, Van and
Lucette watch in the ship cinema Don Juan's Last Fling, the
movie in which Ada plays the gitanilla (3.5). After Lucette's death Van writes
in a letter to Ada:
On top of that, somebody she could not
compete with entered the picture. The Robinsons, Robert and Rachel, who, I know,
planned to write to you through my father, were the penultimate people to talk
to her that night. The last was a bartender...
As a psychologist, I know the
unsoundness of speculations as to whether Ophelia would not hove drowned herself
after all, without the help of a treacherous sliver, even if she had married her
Voltemand. Impersonally I believe she would have died in her bed, gray and
serene, had V. loved her; but since he did not really love the wretched little
virgin, and since no amount of carnal tenderness could or can pass for true
love, and since, above all, the fatal Andalusian wench who had come, I repeat,
into the picture, was unforgettable, I am bound to arrive, dear Ada and dear
Andrey, at the conclusion that whatever the miserable man could have thought up,
she would have pokonchila s soboy ('put an end to herself') all
the same. (3.6)
Kretschmar first meets Magda at a cinema where she works. Kretschmar,
who is too shy to speak to Magda, helplessly thinks that an ordinary Don
Juan that very day would have made her acquaintance:
"Дюжинный донжуан сегодня же с ней бы
познакомился," - беспомощно подумал Кречмар. (chapter II)
An art expert, Kretschmar notices Magda's
prodolgovatyi luinievskiy glaz ("the oblong luinesque eye").
Luinesque eyes are mentioned by McGore in VN's story Venetsianka
(La Veneziana, 1924):
"Но самая прелестная из всех Мадонн принадлежит
кисти Бернардо Луини. Во всех его творениях есть тишина и нежность озера, на
берегу которого он родился, - Лаго Маджиоре. Нежнейший мастер... Из имени его
даже создали новое прилагательное - "luinesco"... Луиниевские очи... Боже мой,
как я целовал их..."
"But the most enchanting Madonna of all comes from the brush
of Bernardo Luini. All his creations contain the quiet and the delicacy of the
lake on whose shore he was born, Lago Maggiore. The most delicate of
masters. His name even yielded a new adjective, "luinesco." ... Luinesque
eyes... God, how I kissed them...." (chapter 3)
An old connoiseur of art, McGore affirms that he managed many
times to step into the picture he was facing in a museum:
- Она - как живая, - задумчиво сказал Симпсон. -
Можно поверить в таинственные рассказы об оживающих портретах. Я читал где-то,
что какой-то король сошёл с полотна и как только...
Магор рассыпался тихим трескучим
- Это, конечно, пустяки. Но вот бывает другое, -
обратное, так сказать.
"She looks absolutely real," Simpson said pensively. "It's
enough to make one believe mysterious tales about portraits coming to life. I
read somewhere that some king descended from a canvas, and, as soon as -
Mc Gore dissolved in a subdued, brittle laugh. "That's
nonesense, of course. But another phenomenon does occur - the inverse, so to
"...When I found a painting I particularly liked, I would
stand directly in front of it and concentrate all my willpower on one thought:
to enter it." (ibid.)
In Kamera Obskura Horn mentions Kretschmar's article on
Sebastiano del Piombo:
"Я читал вашу превосходную статью о Себастиано дель
Пиомбо. Вы напрасно только не привели его сонетов, - они прескверные, - но как
раз это и пикантно". (chapter 15)
VN's La Veneziana is a painting ascribed
to Del Piombo. One of the story's characters, Simpson, is compared to a man
who has awakened in his coffin:
Однообразие это особенно остро
ощущал Симпсон. Он чувствовал что-то страшное в том, что и сегодня второй
завтрак последует за первым, обед - за чаем, с ненарушимой правильностью. Когда
он подумал о том, что так будет продолжаться всю жизнь, ему захотелось кричать,
биться, как бьётся человек, проснувшийся в гробу.
Simpson was particularly conscious of this
monotony.He found it somehow terrifying that today, too, breakfast would be
followed by lunch, tea by supper, with inviolable regularity. He wanted to
scream at the thought that things would continue like that all his life, he
wanted to struggle like someone who has awakened in his coffin. (chapter
"Luinesque" brings to mind the adjective Van tries to
form as he speaks to Lucette:
'Your hat,' he said, 'is positively
lautrémontesque - I mean, lautrecaquesque - no, I can't form the adjective.'
In that scene Lucette is compared to Blok's
He [Van] headed
for the bar, and as he was in the act of wiping the lenses of his black-framed
spectacles, made out, through the optical mist (Space's recent revenge!), the
girl whose silhouette he recalled having seen now and then (much more
distinctly!) ever since his pubescence, passing alone, drinking alone, always
alone, like Blok's Incognita. (ibid.)
"In vino veritas!" cry out p'yanitsy s glazami krolikov
(the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) in Blok's poem.
During the family dinner at Ardis Demon mentions
chelovek (the servant) s glazami who should see Dr
'Marina,' murmured Demon at the close of
the first course. 'Marina,' he repeated louder. 'Far from me' (a locution he
favored) 'to criticize Dan's taste in white wines or the manners de vos
domestiques. You know me, I'm above all that rot, I'm...' (gesture); 'but,
my dear,' he continued, switching to Russian, 'the chelovek who brought
me the pirozhki - the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s
'Everybody has eyes,' remarked Marina
'Well, his look as if they were about to octopus
the food he serves. But that's not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from
some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik.
It's depressing. It's a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup
'Look, Dad,' said Van, 'Dr Krolik can't do much,
because, as you know quite well, he's dead, and Marina can't tell her servants
not to breathe, because, as you also know, they're alive.'
'The Veen wit, the Veen wit,' murmured
'Exactly,' said Marina. 'I simply refuse
to do anything about it. Besides poor Jones is not at all asthmatic, but only
nervously eager to please. He's as healthy as a bull and has rowed me from
Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer. You are
cruel, Demon. I can't tell him "ne pïkhtite," as I can't tell Kim, the
kitchen boy, not to take photographs on the sly - he's a regular snap-shooting
fiend, that Kim, though otherwise an adorable, gentle, honest boy; nor can I
tell my little French maid [Blanche] to stop
getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive
bals masqués in Ladore.' (1.38)
It is Jones who later becomes a policeman in Ladore and who
helps Van to blind Kim Beauharnais:
'But, you know, there's one thing I regret,' she
[Ada] added: 'Your use of an alpenstock to
release a brute's fury - not yours, not my Van's. I should never have told you
about the Ladore policeman. You should never have taken him into your
confidence, never connived with him to burn those files - and most of Kalugano's
pine forest. Eto unizitel'no (it is humiliating).'
'Amends have been made,' replied fat Van with a
fat man's chuckle. 'I'm keeping Kim safe and snug in a nice Home for Disabled
Professional People, where he gets from me loads of nicely brailled books on new
processes in chromophotography.' (2.11)
Kalugano blends Kaluga with Lugano, a city in Switzerland.
Lugano is mentioned in La Veneziana:
"Lugano, Como, Venice...," he [Simpson] murmured as he
sat on the bench under a soundless hazelnut tree, and right away he heard the
subdued plashing of sunny towns, and then, closer, the tinkling of bells, the
whistle of pigeon wings, a high-pitched laugh of akin to the laugh of Maureen,
and the ceaseless shuffling of unseen passerby. (chapter 2)
Como brings to mind one of Van's and Ada's
Van thrust his bare toe into a sneaker, retrieving the
while its mate from under the bed; he hurried down, past a pleased-looking
Prince Zemski and a grim Vincent Veen, Bishop of Balticomore and Como.
In his prose piece Vecher u Kantemira ("An Evening at
Kantemir's," 1816) the poet Batyushkov mentions archimandrite Krolik
Jones is a namesake of Van's teacher of history, 'Jeejee'
Price, the mournful old footman who brought the
cream for the strawberries, resembled Van's teacher of history, 'Jeejee'
'He resembles my teacher of history,' said Van
when the man had gone.
'I used to love history,' said Marina, 'I loved
to identify myself with famous women. There's a ladybird on your plate, Ivan.
Especially with famous beauties - Lincoln's second wife or Queen
'Yes, I've noticed - it's beautifully done.
We've got a similar set at home.'
'Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak
Russian?' Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.
'Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly
but quite fluently),' replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis' (with a slight
smile). 'Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.'
'Ada and I share your extravagant tastes.
Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.'
'Pah,' uttered Ada. (1.5)
"Queen Josephine" seems to hint at Napoleon's first wife,
Josephine Beauharnais. "Lincoln's second wife" brings to mind the Amerussia of
Abraham Milton (1.3) and the two wives of John Milton. The author of
Paradise Lost (1667) and Paradise Regained (1671), Milton
For the last time in Ada Krolik is mentioned by Greg
'So odd to recall! It was frenzy, it was
fantasy, it was reality in the x degree. I'd have consented to be
beheaded by a Tartar, I declare, if in exchange I could have kissed her instep.
You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can't understand that obsession. Ah,
those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy
with envy and pity, and Dr Krolik, who, they said, also loved her, and Phil
Rack, a composer of genius - dead, dead, all dead!' (3.2)
It is Bout (Bouteillan's bastard who acts as Van's
valet in "Ardis the Second") who kisses Blanche's bare instep on one
of Kim's photos:
Young Bout devoutedly kissing the veined
instep of a pretty bare foot raised and placed on a balustrade.
The stone balustrade is mentioned by Ada in the book's
'Oh, Van, oh Van, we did not love her enough. That's
whom you should have married, the one sitting feet up, in ballerina black, on
the stone balustrade, and then everything would have been all right - I would
have stayed with you both in Ardis Hall, and instead of that happiness, handed
out gratis, instead of all that we teased her to death!' (5.6)
This is an obvious self-reference to the lines in Pale Fire:
And, also blond,
But with a touch of tawny in the shade,
Feet up, knees clasped, on a stone
The other sits and raises a moist gaze
Toward the blue impenetrable haze. (Canto Three,
Pale Fire is the racehorse in the painting that hangs above
Cordula's and her husband's bed in their Tobakoff cabin:
There hung, she [Lucette] 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)
In Ertel's novel "The Gardenins" Krolik is a
*translated by VN as Anya v strane chudes