In the epilogue of Ada Van mentions the flat pale parents of the future Babes:


Their recently built castle in Ex was inset in a crystal winter. In the latest Who’s Who the list of his main papers included by some bizarre mistake the title of a work he had never written, though planned to write many pains: Unconsciousness and the Unconscious. There was no pain to do it now — and it was high pain for Ada to be completed. ‘Quel livre, mon Dieu, mon Dieu,’ Dr [Professor. Ed.] Lagosse exclaimed, weighing the master copy which the flat pale parents of the future Babes, in the brown-leaf Woods, a little book in the Ardis Hall nursery, could no longer prop up in the mysterious first picture: two people in one bed. (5.6)


The word flat is a polyseme. According to Lucette, she wangled from Cordula and her husband their Tobakoff suite “in one minute flat:”


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)


In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Kinbote describes a conversation in the lounge of the Faculty Club and mentions Flatman:


Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla [sarcastically stressing the "Nova"].

"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.

"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).

Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"

"Oxford, 1956," I replied.

"You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other day, talking to--what's his name--oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing his lips].

Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].

Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for 'tire': punoo."

Shade: "Why, sir, I am afraid you have only punctured the difficulty" [laughing uproariously].

"Flatman," quipped I. "Yes," I went on, turning to Pardon, "I certainly do speak Russian. You see, it was the fashionable language par excellence, much more so than French, among the nobles of Zembla at least, and at its court. Today, of course, all this has changed. It is now the lower classes who are forcibly taught to speak Russian." (note to Line 894)


In the same conversation with his colleagues Kinbote calls the slapdash disheveled hag in the Levin Hall cafeteria whom Shade is said to resemble “the third in the witch row:”


A professor of physics now joined in. He was a so-called Pink, who believed in what so-called Pinks believe in (Progressive Education, the Integrity of anyone spying for Russia, Fall-outs occasioned solely by US-made bombs, the existence in the near past of a McCarthy Era, Soviet achievements including Dr. Zhivago, and so forth): "Your regrets are groundless" [said he]. "That sorry ruler is known to have escaped disguised as a nun; but whatever happens, or has happened to him, cannot interest the Zemblan people. History has denounced him, and that is his epitaph."

Shade: "True, sir. In due time history will have denounced everybody. The King may be dead, or he may be as much alive as you and Kinbote, but let us respect facts. I have it from him [pointing to me] that the widely circulated stuff about the nun is a vulgar pro-Extremist fabrication. The Extremists and their friends invented a lot of nonsense to conceal their discomfiture; but the truth is that the King walked out of the palace, and crossed the mountains, and left the country, not in the black garb of a pale spinster but dressed as an athlete in scarlet wool."

"Strange, strange," said the German visitor, who by some quirk of alderwood ancestry had been alone to catch the eerie note that had throbbed by and was gone.

Shade [smiling and massaging my knee]: "Kings do not die--they only disappear, eh, Charles?"

"Who said that?" asked sharply, as if coming out of a trance, the ignorant, and always suspicious, Head of the English Department.

"Take my own case," continued my dear friend ignoring Mr. H. "I have been said to resemble at least four people: Samuel Johnson; the lovingly reconstructed ancestor of man in the Exton Museum; and two local characters, one being

the slapdash disheveled hag who ladles out the mash in the Levin Hall cafeteria."

"The third in the witch row," I precised quaintly, and everybody laughed. (ibid.)


Shakespeare’s Macbeth begins with the meeting of three witches (“hurlyburly” mentioned by the Second Witch brings to mind Prof. Hurley, the head of the English Department at Wordsmith):


First Witch

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch

When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.

Third Witch

That will be ere the set of sun. (Act One, scene 1)


The characters of Macbeth include Banquo, Macbeth's friend and a general in the army of Duncan (the King of Scotland). In Canto the Tenth (XVIII) of Don Juan Byron (the poet who had a daughter named Ada) mentions Banquo's offspring:


As "Auld Lang Syne" brings Scotland, one and all,
Scotch plaids, Scotch snoods, the blue hills, and clear streams,
The Dee -- the Don -- Balgounie's brig's black wall,
All my boy feelings, all my gentler dreams
Of what I then dreamt, clothed in their own pall,
Like Banquo's offspring; -- floating past me seems
My childhood in this childishness of mine:
I care not -- 'tis a glimpse of "Auld Lang Syne."


“Scotch plaids” in the stanza’s second line bring to mind Van’s tartan lap robe in which he drapes himself in the Night of the Burning Barn (1.19). According to Van, all the doctors whom he consulted agreed that he could never hope for an offspring:


What laughs, what tears, what sticky kisses, what a tumult of multitudinous plans! And what safety, what freedom of love! Two unrelated gypsy courtesans, a wild girl in a gaudy lolita, poppy-mouthed and black-downed, picked up in a café between Grasse and Nice, and another, a part-time model (you have seen her fondling a virile lipstick in Fellata ads), aptly nicknamed Swallowtail by the patrons of a Norfolk Broads floramor, had both given our hero exactly the same reason, unmentionable in a family chronicle, for considering him absolutely sterile despite his prowesses. Amused by the Hecatean diagnose, Van underwent certain tests, and although pooh-poohing the symptom as coincidental, all the doctors agreed that Van Veen might be a doughty and durable lover but could never hope for an offspring. How merrily little Ada clapped her hands! (2.6)


In his essay Evgeniy Onegin i ego predki ("Eugene Onegin and his Forefathers," 1887) the historian Klyuchevski speaks of Onegin's bespotomstvennaya smert' (offspringless death). Klyuchevski mentions Childe Harold's mantle on Onegin's shoulders and points out that Onegin is "the heir of all his relatives" and such a heir is usually the last in his family (one is also reminded of Les Aventures du dernier Abencerage, Chateaubriand's story alluded to in Ada):


Припомните, что он "наследник всех своих родных", а такой наследник обыкновенно последний в роде. У него есть и черты подражания в манерах, и Гарольдов плащ на плечах, и полный лексикон модных слов на языке, но все это не существенные черты, а накладные прикрасы, белила и румяна, которыми прикрывались и замазывались значки беспотомственной смерти.


Klyuchevski + sluchay + tan/ant = klyuch + Sluchevski + tayna


sluchay – case, incident, chance

klyuch – key, clue; spring, source

tayna – secret, mystery


In the closing lines of his poem Vospominan’ya vy ubit’ khotite?!.. (“Do you want to kill memories?!..”) Sluchevski (a minor poet, 1837-1904) compares a shameful recollection or a stain in one’s past to Banquo’s shade at table:


Воспоминанья вы убить хотите?!

Но — сокрушите помыслом скалу,

Дыханьем груди солнце загасите,

Огнём костра согрейте ночи мглу!..

Воспоминанья — вечные лампады,

Былой весны чарующий покров,

Страданий духа поздние награды,

Последний след когда-то милых снов.

На склоне лет живёшь, годами согнут,

Одна лишь память светит на пути...

Но если вдруг воспоминанья дрогнут, —

Погаснет всё, и некуда идти...

Копилка жизни! Мелкие монеты!

Когда других монет не отыскать —

Они пригодны! Целые банкеты

Воспоминанья могут задавать.

Беда, беда, когда средь них найдётся

Стыд иль пятно в свершившемся былом!

Оно к банкету скрытно проберётся

И тенью Банко сядет за столом.


At the end of their long lives Van and Ada translate Shade’s poem into Russian and realize that they “teased” Lucette to death:

She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the right of making up a future, and in that case one's very own future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years quickly passed - a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern. They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569-572) in John Shade's famous poem:


...Sovetï mï dayom

Kak bït' vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;

On ih vstrechaet - lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,

Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke...


(...We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another...)


Van pointed out that here was the rub — one is free to imagine any type of hereafter, of course: the generalized paradise promised by Oriental prophets and poets, or an individual combination; but the work of fancy is handicapped — to a quite hopeless extent — by a logical ban: you cannot bring your friends along — or your enemies for that matter — to the party. The transposition of all our remembered relationships into an Elysian life inevitably turns it into a second-rate continuation of our marvelous mortality. Only a Chinaman or a retarded child can imagine being met, in that Next-Installment World, to the accompaniment of all sorts of tail-wagging and groveling of welcome, by the mosquito executed eighty years ago upon one’s bare leg, which has been amputated since then and now, in the wake of the gesticulating mosquito, comes back, stomp, stomp, stomp, here I am, stick me on.

She did not laugh; she repeated to herself the verses that had given them such trouble. The Signy brain-shrinkers would gleefully claim that the reason the three ‘boths’ had been skipped in the Russian version was not at all, oh, not at all, because cramming three cumbersome amphibrachs into the pentameter would have necessitated adding at least one more verse for carrying the luggage.

‘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)


In Shade’s poem the widower’s second love is sitting feet up, in ballerina black, on a stone balustrade:


                                          Time means growth,
And growth means nothing in Elysian life.
Fondling a changeless child, the flax-haired wife
Grieves on the brink of a remembered pond
Full of a dreamy sky. And, also blond,
But with a touch of tawny in the shade,
Feet up, knees clasped, on a stone balustrade
The other sits and raises a moist gaze
Toward the blue impenetrable haze.
How to begin? Which first to kiss? What toy
To give the babe? Does that small solemn boy
Know of the head-on crash which on a wild
March night killed both the mother and the child?
And she, the second love, with instep bare
In ballerina black, why does she wear
The earrings from the other's jewels case?
And why does she avert her fierce young face? (ll. 572-588)

In Ada Van compares Cordula who rose on her toes to kiss him to a ballerina:


Astraddle, she resembled a child braving her first merry-go-round. She made a rectangular moue as she used that vulgar contraption. Sad, sullen streetwalkers do it with expressionless faces, lips tightly closed. She rode it twice. Their brisk nub and its repetition lasted fifteen minutes in all, not five. Very pleased with himself, Van walked with her for a stretch through the brown and green Bois de Belleau in the direction of her osobnyachyok (small mansion).

‘That reminds me,’ he said, ‘I no longer use our Alexis apartment. I’ve had some poor people live there these last seven or eight years — the family of a police officer who used to be a footman at Uncle Dan’s place in the country. My policeman is dead now and his widow and three boys have gone back to Ladore. I want to relinquish that flat. Would you like to accept it as a belated wedding present from an admirer? Good. We shall do it again some day. Tomorrow I have to be in London and on the third my favorite liner, Admiral Tobakoff, will take me to Manhattan. Au revoir. Tell him to look out for low lintels. Antlers can be very sensitive when new. Greg Erminin tells me that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four?’

‘That’s right. And where’s the other?’

‘I think we’ll part here. It’s twenty minutes to twelve. You’d better toddle along.’

Au revoir. You’re a very bad boy and I’m a very bad girl. But it was fun — even though you’ve been speaking to me not as you would to a lady friend but as you probably do to little whores. Wait. Here’s a top secret address where you can always’ — (fumbling in her handbag) — ‘reach me’ — (finding a card with her husband’s crest and scribbling a postal cryptograph) — ‘at Malbrook, Mayne, where I spend every August.’

She looked around, rose on her toes like a ballerina, and kissed him on the mouth. Sweet Cordula! (3.2)


Van first meets Cordula at a cocktail party given by her mother (note “the babes of Ardis Wood” mentioned by Demon):


'My suggestion is, come with me to a cocktail party today. It is given by the excellent widow of an obscure Major de Prey - obscurely related to our late neighbor, a fine shot but the light was bad on the Common, and a meddlesome garbage collector hollered at the wrong moment. Well, that excellent and influential lady who wishes to help a friend of mine' (clearing his throat) 'has, I'm told, a daughter of fifteen summers, called Cordula, who is sure to recompense you for playing Blindman's Buff all summer with the babes of Ardis Wood.'

'We played mostly Scrabble and Snap,' said Van. 'Is the needy friend also in my age group?'

'She's a budding Duse,' replied Demon austerely, 'and the party is strictly a "prof push." You'll stick to Cordula de Prey, I, to Cordelia O'Leary.'

'D'accord,' said Van. (1.27)


The name of Demon’s protégé hints at Cordelia, King Lear’s youngest daughter in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Soon after her twelfth birthday Ada recites her revised version of King Lear’s monologue:


A day or two before, Lucette had demanded that she be taught to hand-walk. Van gripped her by her ankles while she slowly progressed on her little red palms, sometimes falling with a grunt on her face or pausing to nibble a daisy. Dack barked in strident protest.

Et pourtant,’ said the sound-sensitive governess, wincing, ‘I read to her twice Ségur’s adaptation in fable form of Shakespeare’s play about the wicked usurer.’

‘She also knows my revised monologue of his mad king,’ said Ada:


Ce beau jardin fleurit en mai,

Mais en hiver

Jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais

N’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert,

n’est vert.


‘Oh, that’s good,’ exclaimed Greg with a veritable sob of admiration. (1.14)


Leaving Ardis forever, Van recalls the last line of Ada’s revised monologue:


Maidenhair. Idiot! Percy boy might have been buried by now! Maidenhair. Thus named because of the huge spreading Chinese tree at the end of the platform. Once, vaguely, confused with the Venus'-hair fern. She walked to the end of the platform in Tolstoy's novel. First exponent of the inner monologue, later exploited by the French and the Irish. N'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert. L'arbre aux quarante écus d'or, at least in the fall. Never, never shall I hear again her 'botanical' voice fall at biloba, 'sorry, my Latin is showing.' Ginkgo, gingko, ink, inkog. Known also as Salisbury's adiantofolia, Ada's infolio, poor Salisburia: sunk; poor Stream of Consciousness, marée noire by now. Who wants Ardis Hall! (1.41)


Ada’s ambiguous words of apology, “sorry, my Latin is showing,” bring to mind a passage in Klyuchevski’s essay on Onegin’s forefathers:


Прадеда нашего героя надобно искать во второй половине XVII в., около конца Алексеева царствования, в том промежуточном слое дворянских фамилий, который вечно колебался между столичного знатью и провинциальным рядовым дворянством. Отец этого прадеда, какой-нибудь Нелюб-Злобин, сын такой-то, был ещё нетронутый служака вполне старого покроя: он из года в год ходил в походы посторожить какую-нибудь границу отечества с пятком вооруженных холопов, по временам получал неважные воеводства, чтоб умеренным кормом пополнить оскудевшие от походов животы, а на частных деловых его бумагах вместо его подписи ставилась пометка, что отец его духовный, поп Иван, в его, Нелюбово, место руку приложил, затем что он, Нелюб, грамоте не умеет. Его сына ждала менее торная дорога. За бойкость его с 15 лет зачислили в солдатский полк нового, иноземного строя под команду немецких офицеров, за понятливость взяли в подьячие, за любознательность отдали в Спасский монастырь, на Никольской, в Москве, к учёному киевскому старцу "учиться по латиням". С кислою гримасой принимался он за "граматичное ученье" и то твердил по ходячим в то время словарькам исковерканные и вавилонски перемешанные греческие и польско-латинские вокабулы, написанные русскими литерами: ликос -- волк, луппа -- волчица, спириды -- лапти, офира -- молебен, препосит -- болярин, нектар -- пиво; то в ужасе от мысли, что все это ляхо-латинская ересь, неистово рвал свою грамматику и бежал к туземным благочестивым старцам каяться в соблазне, но, успокоенный батогами, снова принимался твердить: онагр -- дикий осёл, претор -- губная изба, фулцгур -- молния, скандализи ме -- соблажняют мя. Киевский старец заставлял молодого подьячего читать переводные космографии, внушал ему католические мнения о пресуществлении св. даров и об исхождении св. духа, обучал его польской речи и искусству слагать хитрые вирши. Набожный выученик, успешно пробегая служебный путь, старался сделать благочестивое употребление из усвоенного иноземного искусства и на досуге перелагал в неуклюжие вирши акафист пресвятой богородице или церковные песнопения о страстях Христовых. Но время шло, разгоралась петровская реформа, и чиновного латиниста с его виршами и всею граматичною мудростью назначили комиссаром для приема и отправки в армию солдатских сапог. Тут-то, разглядывая сапожные швы и подошвы и помня государеву дубинку, он впервые почувствовал себя неловко со своим грузом киевской учёности и со вздохом спрашивал: зачем этот киевский нехай, учивший меня строчить вирши, не показал мне, как шьют кожаные солдатские спириды?


Klyuchevski speaks of Onegin’s praded (great-grandfather) who was made by his Kievan teacher to write Latin verses. In Chapter One (VI: 1-8) of EO Pushkin says that Latin has gone at present out of fashion but that Onegin “had enough knowledge of Latin to make out epigraphs, descant on Juvenal, put at the bottom of a letter vale, and he remembered, though not without fault, two lines from the Aeneid.” According to Klyuchevski, Onegin’s great-grandfather lived in the second half of the 17th century, at the end of the reign (1645-76) of the tsar Aleksey Mikhaylovich (Peter’s father whose name brings to mind Van’s and Cordula’s apartment on Alexis Avenue). An English poet, scholar, and miniaturist (whom Professor Hurley does not know), Thomas Flatman (1635-88) was a contemporary of Onegin’s great-grandfather. In his Index to PF Kinbote deliberately changes the year of Flatman’s birth to 1637, because two hundred years later, in 1837, Pushkin died and Sluchevski was born. Btw., Sluchevski is the author of V snegakh (“In the Snows,” 1878), a narrative poem about a brother-and-sister incest.


Alexey Sklyarenko

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