A lot of construction work was going on around Witt, scarring and muddying the entire hillside upon which he [Hugh Person] was told he would find Villa Nastia.
Madame Charles Chamar, née Anastasia Petrovna Potapov (a perfectly respectable name that her late husband garbled as "Patapouf"), was the daughter of a wealthy cattle dealer who had emigrated with his family to England from Ryazan via Kharbin and Ceylon soon after the Bolshevist revolution.
"He [Mr. R.] lives somewhere in Switzerland, I think?"
"Yes, at Diablonnet, near Versex."
"Diablonnet always reminds me of the Russian for 'apple trees': yabloni. He has a nice house?"
"I now leave you for some minutes," said Madame Chamar, and in full view of the public ascended with ponderous energy the completely visible and audible stairs leading to a similarly overt second floor, where one could see a bed through an open door and a bidet through another. Armande used to say that this product of her late father's art was a regular showpiece attracting tourists from distant countries such as Rhodesia and Japan.
At last, from the upper part of the transparent house, Madame Chamar warily trudged downstairs, the jelly of a bare forearm wobbling as she clutched at the balustrade rail. (Transparent Things, 12)
In his poem "Ne zhaleyu, ne zovu, ne plachu..." ("I do not regret, I do not call back, I do not shed tears," 1921) Esenin says: vsyo proydyot kak s belykh yablon' dym ("everything, like haze off white apple-trees, will pass). In the fall, 1916, Esenin met the tsar's family:
Поздней осенью 1916 года вдруг распространился и потом подтвердился «чудовищный слух»: — «Наш» Есенин, «душка-Есенин», «прелестный мальчик» Есенин — представлялся Александре Федоровне в царскосельском дворце, читал ей стихи, просил и получил от императрицы разрешение посвятить ей целый цикл в своей новой книге!* (G. Ivanov, Esenin, 1950)
The tsar's family was executed in 1918. In VN's Priglashenie na kazn' (Invitation to a Beheading, 1935) everybody, except Cincinnatus, is transparent. The novel's characters include Roman Vissarionovich, the lawyer. Romanov is the family name of the Russian tsars, Vissarionovich is Stalin's patronymic.
One of the poems in Blok's cycle Zaklyatie ognyom i mrakom ("Incantation with Fire and Dark," 1907) begins:
Перехожу от казни к казни
Широкой полосой огня.
Ты только невозможным дразнишь,
Немыслимым томишь меня...
From execution to execution
I pass with a broad strip of fire.
You're only teasing me with the impossible,
tormenting me with the unthinkable...
In his memoir essay on Blok (in "The St. Petersburg Winters") G. Ivanov compares Blok to a sleep-walker who suddenly woke up, fell from the height and perished:
Как внезапно очнувшийся лунатик, он упал с высоты и разбился. В точном смысле слова он умер от «Двенадцати», как другие умирают от воспаления лёгких или разрыва сердца.
Вот краткий перечень фактов. Врачи, лечившие Блока, так и не могли определить, чем он, собственно, был болен. Сначала они старались подкрепить его быстро падавшие без явной причины силы, потом, когда он стал, неизвестно от чего, невыносимо страдать, ему стали впрыскивать морфий… Но всё-таки от чего он умер? "Поэт умирает, потому что дышать ему больше нечем". Эти слова, сказанные Блоком на пушкинском вечере, незадолго до смерти, быть может, единственно правильный диагноз его болезни.
According to Ivanov, Blok died from The Twelve, as others die from pneumania or heart failure. In his Pushkin speech in February, 1921 (half a year before his death), Blok said: "The poet dies because he has no air to breathe."
In his youth HP suffered attacks of somnambulism:
In the nights of his youth when Hugh had suffered attacks of somnambulism, he would walk out of his room hugging a pillow, and wander downstairs. (7)
HP chokes to death in a fire in the Ascot Hotel in Witt:
The window banged with such force that its panes broke into a torrent of rubies, and he realized before choking to death that a storm outside was aiding the inside fire.
At last, suffocation made him try to get out by climbing out and down, but there were no ledges or balconies on that side of the roaring house. As he reached the window a long lavender-tipped flame danced up to stop him with a graceful gesture of its gloved hand. (26)
She [the prostitute] took him [HP] to one of the better beds in a hideous old roominghouse - to the precise "number," in fact, where ninety-one, ninety-two, nearly ninety-three years ago a Russian novelist had sojourned on his way to Italy. The bed - a different one, with brass knobs - was made, unmade, covered with a frock coat, made again; upon it stood a half-open green-checkered grip, and the frock coat was thrown over the shoulders of the night-shirted, bare-necked, dark-tousled traveler whom we catch in the act of deciding what to take out of the valise (which he will send by mail coach ahead) and transfer to the knapsack (which he will carry himself across the mountains to the Italian frontier). He expects his friend Kandidatov, the painter, to join him here any moment for the outing, one of those lighthearted hikes that romantics would undertake even during a drizzly spell in August; it rained even more in those uncomfortable times; his boots are still wet from a ten-mile ramble to the nearest casino. They stand outside the door in the attitude of expulsion, and he has wrapped his feet in several layers of German-language newspaper, a language which incidentally he finds easier to read than French. The main problem now is whether to confide to his knapsack or mail in his grip his manuscripts: rough drafts of letters, an unfinished short story in a Russian copybook bound in black cloth, parts of a philosophical essay in a blue cahier acquired in Geneva, and the loose sheets of a rudimentary novel under the provisional title of Faust in Moscow. As he sits at that deal table, the very same upon which our Person's whore has plunked her voluminous handbag, there shows through that bag, as it were, the first page of the Faust affair with energetic erasures and untidy insertions in purple, black, reptile-green ink. The sight of his handwriting fascinates him; the chaos on the page is to him order, the blots are pictures, the marginal jottings are wings. (6)
Faust (1855) is a story in nine letters by Turgenev. In Turgenev's Fathers and Children (1861) Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov was in love with Princess R. Turgenev is the author of Dym (Smoke, 1867). According to Esenin, vsyo proydyot kak s belykh yablon' dym (everything, like haze off white apple-trees, will pass). In VN's Lolita (1955) Dolores Haze is Lolita's real name. A Turgenev story is mentioned in Lolita:
As in a Turgenev story, a torrent of Italian music came from an open window - that of the living room: what romantic soul was playing the piano where no piano had plunged and plashed on that bewitched Sunday with the sun on her beloved legs? (2.33)
In an interview in Strong Opinions (p. 195) VN calls the Russian novelist in Chapter Six of TT "a minor Dostoevski." Nasten'ka is the young girl in Dostoevski's White Nights (1848), Nastas'ya Filippovna is the femme fatale in Dostoevski's Idiot (1869), a novel written in Switzerland. According to Kirillov (a character in Dostoevski's Besy, "The Possessed," 1872), "the planet's laws are falsehood and d'yavolov vodevil' (the devils's vaudeville). Diablonnet comes from diable (Fr., devil).
In the first poem in Blok's cycle "Жизнь моего приятеля" ("The Life of my Pal"), "Весь день — как день: трудов исполнен малых..." ("The whole day as a day: full of small works," 1914), there is a stanza:
И тихая тоска сожмет так нежно горло:
Ни охнуть, ни вздохнуть,**
Как будто ночь на всё проклятие простёрла,
Сам дьявол сел на грудь!
And a quiet anguish would tenderly grip my throat:
I can not moan nor sigh,
As though the night had extended her curse on everything,
the devil himself had sat on my chest!
From Mr. R.'s letter to his publisher:
Dear Phil,
This, no doubt, is my last letter to you. I am leaving you. I am leaving you for another even greater Publisher. In that House I shall be proofread by cherubim - or misprinted by devils, depending on the department my poor soul is assigned to. So adieu, dear friend, and may your heir auction this off most profitably. (21)
Mr. R.'s poor soul is assigned to hell where he is misprinted by devils ("Easy, you know, does it, son").
All his life, we are glad to note, our Person had experienced the curious sensation (known to three famous theologians and two minor poets) of there existing behind him - at his shoulder, as it were - a larger, incredibly wiser, calmer and stronger stranger, morally better than he. This was, in fact, his main "umbral companion" (a clownish critic had taken R. to task for that epithet) and had he been without that transparent shadow, we would not have bothered to speak about our dear Person. During the short stretch between his chair in the lounge and the girl's adorable neck, plump lips, long eyelashes, veiled charms. Person was conscious of something or somebody warning him that he should leave Witt there and then for Verona, Florence, Rome, Taormina, if Stresa was out. He did not heed his shadow, and fundamentally he may have been right. We thought that he had in him a few years of animal pleasure; we were ready to waft that girl into his bed, but after all it was for him to decide, for him to die, if he wished. (25)
In the seventh poem of Blok's cycle "The Life of my Pal," Greshi, poka tebya volnuyut... ("Do sin, while you innocent sins..." 1915), the devils speak:
Сверкнут ли дерзостные очи -
Ты их сверканий не отринь,
Грехам, вину и страстной ночи
Шепча заветное «аминь».

...И станешь падать — но толпою
Мы все, как ангелы, чисты,
Тебя подхватим, чтоб пятою
О камень не преткнулся ты...
Should the daring eyes sparkle at you,
do not reject their sparkling,
whispering "amen"
to sins, wine and the amorous night.
...And you'll begin to fall, but in a crowd
we all, pure as angels,
shall pick you up in order to prevent
you to stumble on the stone...
See why HP does not fall from the window, as one would expect him to do?
The precise "number" to which the prostitute takes HP brings to mind Chisla (The Numbers), the magazine in which Ivanov's scurrilous review of Sirin's novels appeared. On the other hand, in his poem Ya nauchilsya ponemnogu... ("I have learnt little by little...") Ivanov says that he remembers his stoznachnyi nomer (hundred-digit number):
Я научился понемногу
Шагать со всеми - рядом, в ногу.
По пустякам не волноваться
И правилам повиноваться.

Встают - встаю. Садятся - сяду.
Стозначный помню номер свой.
Лояльно благодарен Аду
За звёздный кров над головой.
I have learnt little by little,
to march with others, keeping step.
Not to worry about trifles
And to obey the rules.
They stand – I stand. They sit – I sit.
I remember my hundred-digit number.
Am loyally grateful to Hell
for the starry roof over my head.
Blok is the author of Pesn' Ada ("The Song of Hell," 1909) written, like The Divine Comedy, in terza rima and of Ital'yanskie stikhi ("The Italian Verses," 1909).
*According to Esenin, in the palace's backyard he read his poems to Anastasia Romanov and they kissed: «Слушаю рассказ Сергея о том, как он, молодой поэт, сидит на задворках дворца. (Зимнего? Царскосельского? Назвал ли он? Не припомню) на «чёрной лестнице» с Настенькой Романовой, царевной! Читает ей стихи. Целуются, потом паренёк признается, что отчаянно проголодался. И царевна «сбегала на кухню», раздобыла горшочек сметаны («а вторую-то ложку попросить побоялась»), и вот они едят эту сметану одной ложкой поочередно!» (Nadezhda Volpin's memoirs)
**From Krylov's fable "The Wolf and the Crane"
Alexey Sklyarenko
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