My previous post “Headless Horseman, Texture of Time, Captain Tapper & Ward Five in Ada” should have ended as follows:


Van and Ada (whom Dr Lagosse makes the last merciful injection of morphine) die in their bed on the same winter day of 1967. The two poets who could not stand each other, Blok and Gumilyov died almost simultaneously in August of 1921. In his poem Ya i vy (“Me and You,” 1918) Gumilyov says that he will die not in his bed, in the presence of a notary and a doctor, but in some wild ravine deep in dense ivy:


И умру я не на постели,
При нотариусе и враче,
А в какой-нибудь дикой щели,
Утонувшей в густом плюще.


I shall die not in my bedroom
with a notary and medicine
but in some old and creasy canyon
Deep and covered by ivy's green.


Gumilyov was arrested soon after his return to Petrograd from the Crimea at the end of July, 1921, and executed a month later. One of Ada’s lovers, Percy de Prey goes to the Crimean War and dies in a ravine near Chufutkale:


Bill Fraser, the son of Judge Fraser, of Wellington, witnessed Lieutenant de Prey’s end from a blessed ditch overgrown with cornel and medlar, but, of course, could do nothing to help the leader of his platoon and this for a number of reasons which he conscientiously listed in his report but which it would be much too tedious and embarrassing to itemize here. Percy had been shot in the thigh during a skirmish with Khazar guerillas in a ravine near Chew-Foot-Calais, as the American troops pronounced ‘Chufutkale,’ the name of a fortified rock. He had, immediately assured himself, with the odd relief of the doomed, that he had got away with a flesh wound. Loss of blood caused him to faint, as we fainted, too, as soon as he started to crawl or rather squirm toward the shelter of the oak scrub and spiny bushes, where another casualty was resting comfortably. When a couple of minutes later, Percy — still Count Percy de Prey — regained consciousness he was no longer alone on his rough bed of gravel and grass. A smiling old Tartar, incongruously but somehow assuagingly wearing American blue-jeans with his beshmet, was squatting by his side. ‘Bednïy, bednïy’ (you poor, poor fellow), muttered the good soul, shaking his shaven head and clucking: ‘Bol’no (it hurts)?’ Percy answered in his equally primitive Russian that he did not feel too badly wounded: ‘Karasho, karasho ne bol’no (good, good),’ said the kindly old man and, picking up the automatic pistol which Percy had dropped, he examined it with naive pleasure and then shot him in the temple. (1.42)


In his poem Krym (“The Crimea,” 1921) VN mentions vkus tyoplykh yagod kizilya (the taste of warm berries of the Crimean cornel), bezmolvnyi kholm Chufutkale (the mute hill of Chufutkale) and voskovaya mushmula (the waxen blossom of medlar):


В краю неласковом скучая,

всё помню: плавные поля,

пучки густые молочая,

вкус тёплых ягод кизиля.

Я любовался мотыльками

степными -- с красными глазками

на тёмных крылышках... Текла

от тени к тени золотистой,

подобна музыке волнистой,

неизъяснимая Яйла!


О грёза, где мы не бродили!

Дни чередились, как стихи...

Баюкал ветер, а будили,

в цветущих сёлах, петухи.

Я видел мёртвый город: ямы

былых темниц, глухие храмы,

безмолвный холм Чуфуткалэ...

Небес я видел блеск блаженный,

кремнистый путь, и скит смиренный,

и кельи древние в скале.


О заколдованный, о дальний

воспоминаний уголок!

Внизу, над морем, цвет миндальный,

как нежно-розовый дымок,

и за поляною поляна,

и кедры мощные Ливана --

аллей пленительная мгла

(любовь любви моей туманной!),

и кипарис благоуханный,

и восковая мушмула...


Van calls the German poet Max Mispel (who wrote a review of Van’s novel Letters from Terra) “Max Mushmula:”


The only other compliment was paid to poor Voltemand in a little Manhattan magazine (The Village Eyebrow) by the poet Max Mispel (another botanical name — ‘medlar’ in English), member of the German Department at Goluba University. Herr Mispel, who liked to air his authors, discerned in Letters from Terra the influence of Osberg (Spanish writer of pretentious fairy tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes, highly esteemed by short-shift thesialists) as well as that of an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine, thus transliterated by Captain de Roux, according to Burton in his adaptation of Nefzawi’s treatise on the best method of mating with obese or hunchbacked females (The Perfumed Garden, Panther edition, p.187, a copy given to ninety-three-year-old Baron Van Veen by his ribald physician Professor Lagosse). His critique ended as follows: ‘If Mr Voltemand (or Voltimand or Mandalatov) is a psychiatrist, as I think he might be, then I pity his patients, while admiring his talent.’

Upon being cornered, Gwen, a fat little fille de joie (by inclination if not by profession), squealed on one of her new admirers, confessing she had begged him to write that article because she could not bear to see Van's 'crooked little smile' at finding his beautifully bound and boxed book so badly neglected. She also swore that Max not only did not know who Voltemand really was, but had not read Van's novel. Van toyed with the idea of challenging Mr Medlar (who, he hoped, would choose swords) to a duel at dawn in a secluded corner of the Park whose central green he could see from the penthouse terrace where he fenced with a French coach twice a week, the only exercise, save riding, that he still indulged in; but to his surprise - and relief (for he was a little ashamed to defend his 'novelette' and only wished to forget it, just as another, unrelated, Veen might have denounced - if allowed a longer life - his pubescent dream of ideal bordels) Max Mushmula (Russian for 'medlar') answered Van's tentative cartel with the warm-hearted promise of sending him his next article, 'The Weed Exiles the Flower' (Melville & Marvell). (2.2)


Voskovaya mushmula (the waxen fruit of medlar) in VN’s poem Krym brings to mind voskovye apel’siny (the oranges filled with wax and used as candles) mentioned by Gumilyov in his poem V etot moy blagoslovennyi vecher… (“On this my Blessed Evening…” 1917):


И светились звёзды золотые,
Приглашённые на торжество,
Словно апельсины восковые,
Те, что подают на Рождество.


In his poem Gumilyov mentions the heroes of his poems and dramas to whom he gave life and who came to him on this evening: Gondla, Hafiz, the Muse of Distant Travels, Zoya, etc. The characters of VN’s novel Kamera obskura (Laughter in the Dark, 1932) include Max Hohenwart (Kretschmar’s brother-in-law) and Dietrich Segelkranz, the writer. In Segelkranz’s novella that he reads to Kretschmar the boy asks his mother to give him apel’sin (an orange):


У окна, на плюшевом стуле, распростёрлась огромная женщина в усах, с могучим бюстом, заставляющим думать о кормилицах великанов, исполинских младенцев, уже зубатых, быть может, уже страдающих, как сейчас страдал Герман. Рядом с этой женщиной сидел, болтая ногами, мальчик, неожиданно щуплый и вовсе не рыжий, - он повторял плачущим голосом: "Дай мне апельсин, кусочек апельсина", - и было чудовищно представить себе кислое, ледяное тело апельсина, попадающее на больной зуб. (Chapter XXVII)


A couple of days ago Segelkranz (whom Horn and Magda mistook for a provincial notary) heard a little boy in his train compartment repeat in French: “Donne - moi une orange, un tout petit bout d’orange:”


Горн сжал ей руку. Она вздохнула и, так как жара её размаяла, положила голову ему на плечо, продолжая нежно ёжиться и говорить, - всё равно французы в купе не могли понять. У окна сидела толстая усатая женщина в чёрном, рядом с ней мальчик, который всё повторял: "Donne - moi une orange, un tout petit bout d’orange!" "Fiche - moi la paiz", - отвечала мать. Он замолкал и потом начинал скулить сызнова. Двое молодых французов тихо обсуждали выгоды автомобильного дела; у одного из них была сильнейшая зубная боль, щека была повязана, он издавал сосущий звук, перекашивая рот. А прямо против Магды сидел маленький лысый господин в очках, с чёрной записной книжкой в руке - должно быть, провинциальный нотариус. (Chapter XXVI)


The characters of VN’s “Family Chronicle” include Mr. Ronald Oranger, the editor of Ada. The boy in Kamera Obskura who wants an orange brings to mind the little chocolate-muncher (Dr Platonov’s grandson) in Cordula’s compartment in Ada:


As he was pushing his unsteady way through one corridor after another, cursing under his breath the window-gazers who did not draw in their bottoms to let him pass, and hopelessly seeking a comfortable nook in one of the first-class cars consisting of four-seat compartments, he saw Cordula and her mother facing each other on the window side. The two other places were occupied by a stout, elderly gentleman in an old-fashioned brown wig with a middle parting, and a bespectacled boy in a sailor suit sitting next to Cordula, who was in the act of offering him one half of her chocolate bar. Van entered, moved by a sudden very bright thought, but Cordula’s mother did not recognize him at once, and the flurry of reintroductions combined with a lurch of the train caused Van to step on the prunella-shod foot of the elderly passenger, who uttered a sharp cry and said, indistinctly but not impolitely: ‘Spare my gout (or ‘take care’ or ‘look out’), young man!’

‘I do not like being addressed as "young man,"’ Van told the invalid in a completely uncalled-for, brutal burst of voice.

‘Has he hurt you, Grandpa?’ inquired the little boy.

‘He has,’ said Grandpa, ‘but I did not mean to offend anybody by my cry of anguish.’

‘Even anguish should be civil,’ continued Van (while the better Van in him tugged at his sleeve, aghast and ashamed).

‘Cordula,’ said the old actress (with the same apropos with which she once picked up and fondled a fireman’s cat that had strayed into Fast Colors in the middle of her best speech), ‘why don’t you go with this angry young demon to the tea-car? I think I’ll take my thirty-nine winks now.’ (1.42)


Van first meets Cordula at the party given by her mother:


‘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.’ (1.27)


“Blindman’s Buff” mentioned by Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) bring to mind Kretschmar, the main character in Kamera Obskura who loses his sight as a result of a car accident. There are three blind characters in Ada. “The babes of Ardis Wood” (as Demon calls Ada and Lucette) remind one of “the flat pale parents of the future Babes” mentioned in Ada’s epilogue:


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 name of Demon’s protégée hints at Cordelia, King Lear’s youngest daughter in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The name Segelkranz brings to mind Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Voltemand (the penname under which Van publishes his first novel) hints at Valtemand, one of the two ambassadors to Norway in Hamlet. Segel is German for “sail” and brings to mind the Vineland-born caravelles mentioned by Van in the novel’s epilogue:


Ardis Hall — the Ardors and Arbors of Ardis — this is the leitmotiv rippling through Ada, an ample and delightful chronicle, whose principal part is staged in a dream-bright America — for are not our childhood memories comparable to Vineland-born caravelles, indolently encircled by the white birds of dreams? (5.6)


In his poem Otkrytie Ameriki (“The Discovery of America,” 1910) Gumilyov mentions karavelly (the caravelles) and parusa (the sails):


Двадцать дней, как плыли каравеллы,

Встречных волн проламывая грудь;

Двадцать дней, как компасные стрелы

Вместо карт указывали путь

И как самый бодрый, самый смелый

Без тревожных снов не мог заснуть.


И никто на корабле, бегущем

К дивным странам, заповедным кущам,

Не дерзал подумать о грядущем —

В мыслях было пусто и темно.

Хмуро измеряли лотом дно,

Парусов чинили полотно. (Canto Two)


According to Van, America was discovered by the fabulous ancestor of Ada’s husband:


The rest of Van’s story turns frankly and colorfully upon his long love-affair with Ada. It is interrupted by her marriage to an Arizonian cattle-breeder whose fabulous ancestor discovered our country. (5.6)


When Van meets Greg Erminin in Paris, Greg asks Van if Ada married Christopher Vinelander or his brother:


‘I really know very little about music but it was a great pleasure to make your chum howl. I have an appointment in a few minutes, alas. Za tvoyo zdorovie, Grigoriy Akimovich.’

‘Arkadievich,’ said Greg, who had let it pass once but now mechanically corrected Van.

Ach yes! Stupid slip of the slovenly tongue. How is Arkadiy Grigorievich?’

‘He died. He died just before your aunt. I thought the papers paid a very handsome tribute to her talent. And where is Adelaida Danilovna? Did she marry Christopher Vinelander or his brother?’

‘In California or Arizona. Andrey’s the name, I gather. Perhaps I’m mistaken. In fact, I never knew my cousin very well: I visited Ardis only twice, after all, for a few weeks each time, years ago.’ (3.2)


Greg’s twin sister Grace married a Wellington (2.6). Bill Fraser (who witnessed Percy de Prey’s death) is the son of Judge Fraser, of Wellington.


Alexey Sklyarenko

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