During his first summer vacation, Van worked under Tyomkin, at the Chose famous clinic, on an ambitious dissertation he never completed, 'Terra: Eremitic Reality or Collective Dream?' He interviewed numerous neurotics, among whom there were variety artists and literary men, and at least three intellectually lucid, but spiritually 'lost,' cosmologists who either were in telepathic collusion (they had never met and did not even know of one another's existence) or had discovered, none knew how or where, by means, maybe, of forbidden 'ondulas' of some kind, a green world rotating in space and spiraling in time, which in terms of matter-and-mind was like ours and which they described in the same specific details as three people watching from three separate windows would a carnival show in the same street. (1.30)


Ada, her silky mane sweeping over his nipples and navel, seemed to enjoy doing everything to jolt my present pencil and make, in that ridiculously remote past, her innocent little sister notice and register what Van could not control. The crushed flower was now being merrily crammed under the rubber belt of his black trunks by twenty tickly fingers. As an ornament it had not much value; as a game it was inept and dangerous. He shook off his pretty tormentors, and walked away on his hands, a black mask over his carnival nose. (1.32)


Van’s “carnival nose” brings to mind Gogol’s story Nos (“Nose,” 1835). In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol describes Roman carnival. Gogol is the author of Zapiski sumasshedshego (“The Notes of a Madman,” 1835). In his essay Karnaval (“Carnival,” 1901) Maximilian Voloshin describes a carnival in Paris and points out that in Hebrew there is a word that strangely resembles “carnival:” Kern-Abal, which means lik bezumiya (the face of madness):


В древнееврейском языке есть слово, странно созвучное со словом "карнавал". Это слово "Kern-Abal", что значит лик безумия - искажение человеческого лица, понятие, имеющее значение жуткое, граничащее почти с проклятием. Было ли это грозное речение действительно прообразом имени Карнавала, было ли это просто окаменевшим ругательством, которое подобрало пляшущее безумие и стало размахивать им, как побрякушкой, но в этом созвучии таится жуткий и таинственный смысл.


On Antiterra (Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Paris is also known as Lute. Lutetia Parisiorum (1915) is a sonnet by Voloshin, the author of Liki tvorchestva (“The Faces of Creation,” 1914) and Posledniy smotr (“The Last Review,” 1916). In the latter essay Voloshin speaks of a documentary by Sasha Guitry, the film director whose name brings to mind Victor Vitry, the director who based a movie on Van’s novel Letters from Terra (5.5).


There is lik (obs., face) in Yuzlik, the film director who dines with Van, Ada, her husband, sister-in-law and the two agents of Lemorio in Bellevue Hotel:


But as Ada, beaming again, made fluttery introductions with an invisible wand, the person Van had grossly mistaken for Andrey Vinelander was transformed into Yuzlik, the gifted director of the ill-fated Don Juan picture. ‘Vasco de Gama, I presume,’ Yuzlik murmured. (3.8)


As a Chose student Van performs in variety shows dancing on his hands as Mascodagama. Van’s stage name blends “mask” with Vasco da Gama. In his essay Voloshin mentions a mask:


"Kern-Abal" стало одним из имён многоликого Диониса.

Те, кто надевал маску, становились воплощением Бога, потому что маска, закрывая лицо, анестезирует стыд нашей индивидуальности. Служение этому весеннему богу совершается танцами и смехом.


According to Voloshin, Kern-Abal became one of the names of mnogolikiy (many-faced) Dionysus. Those who put on a mask, turned into the god’s incarnation, because a mask anaesthetizes the shame of our individuality.


In his essay Voloshin mentions the Montmartre cartoonists who made a historical procession in a heavy carriage of 1830 and in costumes of those times:


Последними язычниками, конечно, как всегда, остаются художники. Вместо традиционной народной процессии "Boeuf gras", которая не состоялась в этом году, монмартрские карикатуристы устроили историческое шествие в тяжёлой колымаге 1830 года и в костюмах той эпохи.


According to Van, Mascodagama’s performance made a great impact on cartoonists:


Mascodagama's spectacular success in a theatrical club that habitually limited itself to Elizabethan plays, with queens and fairies played by pretty boys, made first of all a great impact on cartoonists. Deans, local politicians, national statesmen, and of course the current ruler of the Golden Horde were pictured as mascodagamas by topical humorists. (1.30)


In Pushkin’s Graf Nulin (“Count Null,” 1825) the Count, among other things, brings from Paris a notebook of caustic cartoons. According to Pushkin, in Count Nulin he parodied history and Shakespeare (The Rape of Lucrece). Shakespeare is the author of Hamlet. In his essay on carnival Voloshin mentions Hamlet who puts on a mask of madness and Solon who imitates madness in order to sing a song about the liberation of Salamis:


Весеннее пробуждение творческих сил, дионическая оргия, как Гамлет, надевает маску безумия, как Брут, представляется слабоумной, как Солон, имитирует сумасшествие и пляшет на площади, чтобы спеть отчаявшимся Афинам песню об освобождении Саламина.


In his poem Sobiralis’ elliny voynoyu (“The Greeks planned for war…” 1916) Mandelshtam compares Europe to Hellas and prelestnyi ostrov Salamin (the lovely island of Salamis), to England:


Собирались эллины войною
На прелестный остров Саламин, —
Он, отторгнут вражеской рукою,
Виден был из гавани Афин.

А теперь друзья-островитяне
Снаряжают наши корабли —
Не любили раньше англичане
Европейской сладостной земли.

О, Европа, новая Эллада!
Охраняй Акрополь и Пирей!
Нам подарков с острова не надо —
Целый лес незваных кораблей.


In his poem My zhivyom pod soboyu ne chuya strany (“We live not feeling land beneath us…” 1934) Mandelshtam mentions malina (raspberry): “Whatever the execution, it’s a raspberry to him [Stalin].” In his poem Net, ne spryatat’sya mne ot velikoy mury… (“No, I can’t hide from the great nonsense…” 1931) Mandelshtam mentions kurva-Moskva (Moscow the whore). The blunders in Lowell’s translations of both poems are ridiculed in Ada:


In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had goofed - the word 'samovars' may have got garbled in the agent's aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent dance called kurva or 'ribbon boule' in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.'s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat. (1.2)


In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (1823-31) Tatiana Larin marries Prince N. Van’s conversation with Greg Erminin in Paris is a parody of Onegin’s dialogue with Tatiana’s husband in Chapter Eight (XVIII: 1-4) of EO:


'What about Grace, I can't imagine her getting fat?'

'Once twins, always twins. My wife is pretty portly, too.'

'Tak tï zhenat (so you are married)? Didn't know it. How long?'

'About two years.'

'To whom?'

'Maude Sween.'

'The daughter of the poet?'

'No, no, her mother is a Brougham.' (3.2)


The poet mentioned by Van is Kithar Sween, one of the people who were present during Van’s last meeting with his father:


Demon had recently bought a small, perfectly round Pacific island, with a pink house on a green bluff and a sand beach like a frill (as seen from the air), and now wished to sell the precious little palazzo in East Manhattan that Van did not want. Mr Sween, a greedy practitioner with flashy rings on fat fingers, said he might buy it if some of the pictures were thrown in. The deal did not come off. (3.7)


Demon Veen perishes in an airplane disaster above the Pacific. Reading Van’s palm, Demon predicts his own destiny:


'I say,' exclaimed Demon, 'what's happened - your shaftment is that of a carpenter's. Show me your other hand. Good gracious' (muttering:) 'Hump of Venus disfigured, Line of Life scarred but monstrously long...' (switching to a gipsy chant:) 'You'll live to reach Terra, and come back a wiser and merrier man' (reverting to his ordinary voice:) 'What puzzles me as a palmist is the strange condition of the Sister of your Life. And the roughness!'

'Mascodagama,' whispered Van, raising his eyebrows.

'Ah, of course, how blunt (dumb) of me. Now tell me - you like Ardis Hall?'

'I adore it,' said Van. 'It's for me the château que baignait la Dore. I would gladly spend all my scarred and strange life here. But that's a hopeless fancy.'

'Hopeless? I wonder. I know Dan wants to leave it to Lucile, but Dan is greedy, and my affairs are such that I can satisfy great greed. When I was your age I thought that the sweetest word in the language rhymes with "billiard," and now I know I was right. If you're really keen, son, on having this property, I might try to buy it. I can exert a certain pressure upon my Marina. She sighs like a hassock when you sit upon her, so to speak. Damn it, the servants here are not Mercuries. Pull that cord again. Yes, maybe Dan could be made to sell.' (1.38)


In Aldanov’s novel Bred (“Delirium,” 1955) the Soviet Colonel calls the Englishmen asei (from “I say,” a phrase used by Demon in imitation of some of his London pals). According to Pushkin, England is the home country of cartoon and parody:


Англия есть отечество карикатуры и пародии. Всякое замечательное происшествие подаёт повод к сатирической картинке: всякое сочинение, ознаменованное успехом, подпадает под пародию. Искусство подделываться под слог известных писателей доведено в Англии до совершенства. Вальтер Скотту показывали однажды стихи, будто бы им сочинённые. „Стихи, кажется, мои, — отвечал он, смеясь: — я так много и так давно пишу, что не смею отречься и от этой бессмыслицы!“ Не думаю, чтобы кто-нибудь из известных 10 наших писателей мог узнать себя в пародиях, напечатанных недавно в одном из московских журналов. Сей род шуток требует редкой гибкости слога; хороший пародист обладает всеми слогами, а наш едва ли и одним. Впрочем, и у нас есть очень удачный опыт: г-н Полевой очень забавно пародировал Гизота и Тьерри. (Feb., 1830)


Cartoons, Walter Scott and Guizot mentioned by Pushkin in the above fragment can be found in Count Nulin. In his essay on carnival Voloshin mentions kolymaga (a heavy carriage) of 1830 (the year when Pushkin’s note on parody appeared in Literaturnaya gazeta). Brougham being a four-wheeled, boxlike, closed carriage, the kolymaga mentioned by Voloshin brings to mind the name of Maude Sween’s mother. As Van and Greg sit in a Parisian café, a chauffeur comes up to inform ‘my lord’ that his lady is parked at the corner of rue Saïgon. (3.2)


Sosso + malina/animal = Soso/osso + Salamin = Oslo/solo + Siam + san = son/nos + moss + alia = snos + Somalia

Kern-Abal + Oka + non = Anna Kern + oblako = reka + anon/nona + balkon


Sosso – Khan Sosso (on Antiterra, “the current ruler of the Golden Horde”): Eastward, instead of Khan Sosso and his ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate, a super Russia, dominating the Volga region and similar watersheds, was governed by a Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics (or so it came through) which had superseded the Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst. (2.2)

malina – raspberry

Soso – Soso Dzhugashvili (Joseph Stalin’s real name)

osso – It., bone

Salamin – Russian name of Salamis

san – dignity, office; holy orders

son – sleep; dream

nos – nose

snos – demolition; pulling down

Oka – the Volga’s largest tributary; 'Oh,' cried Ada, 'I can recite "Le jardin" in my own transversion - let me see - En vain on s'amuse à gagner / L'Oka, la Baie du Palmier...' '...to win the Palm, the Oke, or Bayes!' shouted Van. (1.10)

non – Fr., no

Anna Kern – a friend of Delvig and Pushkin, the addressee of Pushkin’s poem “To ***” (1825)

oblako – cloud; cf. Oblako v shtanakh (“The Trousered Cloud,” 1916), a poem by Mayakovski (VN’s “late namesake”); the substitution of M for V in “Mascodagama” can hint at Vladimir Mayakovski and at Maximilian Voloshin, the poet whom VN met in the Crimea; Rita (Van’s partner in a tango that he dances on his hands) is a Crimean girl (1.30)

reka – river

nona – mus., ninth; stanza consisting of nine lines

balkon – balcony


One of the seconds in Demon’s duel with Baron d’Onsky (the art expert who had an affair with Marina) is Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel. Van compares D’Onsky’s magnifier to a mask:


D'Onsky had the reputation of not showing one sign of esthetic emotion in the presence of the loveliest masterpiece; this time, nonetheless, he laid his magnifier aside as he would a mask, and allowed his undisguised gaze to caress the velvety apple and the nude's dimpled and mossed parts with a smile of bemused pleasure. (1.2)


Examining the photographs in Kim Beauharnais’ album, Ada, too, uses a magnifying glass:


Ada examined the pattern of the hammock through a magnifying glass (used by Van for deciphering certain details of his lunatics' drawings).

'I'm afraid there's more to come,' she remarked with a catch in her voice; and taking advantage of their looking at the album in bed (which we now think lacked taste) odd Ada used the reading loupe on live Van, something she had done many times as a scientifically curious and artistically depraved child in that year of grace, here depicted.

'I'll find a mouche (patch) to conceal it,' she said, returning to the leering caruncula in the unreticent reticulation. 'By the way, you have quite a collection of black masks in your dresser.'

'For masked balls (bals-masqués),' murmured Van. (2.7)


Alexey Sklyarenko

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