In his review of Van’s novel Letters from Terra the poet Max Mispel (member of the German Department at Goluba University) wonders if the author’s real name is not Mandalatov:


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.’ (2.2)


The name Mandalatov hints at mandala (a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe). In VN’s novel Pnin (1957) “the so-called mandala” is mentioned:


Nothing of the slightest interest to therapists could Victor be made to discover in those beautiful, beautiful Rorschach ink blots, wherein children see, or should see, all kinds of things, seascapes, escapes, capes, the worms of imbecility, neurotic tree trunks, erotic galoshes, umbrellas, and dumb-bells. Nor did any of Victor's casual sketches represent the so-called mandala--a term supposedly meaning (in Sanskrit) a magic ring, and applied by Dr Jung and others to any doodle in the shape of a more or less fourfold spreading structure, such as a halved mangosteen, or a cross, or the wheel on which egos are broken like Morphos, or more exactly, the molecule of carbon, with its four valences--that main chemical component of the brain, automatically magnified and reflected on paper. (Chapter Four, 3)


Pnin also appears as a character in VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962). According to Kinbote (one of the three main characters in PF, Shade’s mad commentator), at Wordsmith University Prof. Pnin is the Head of the bloated Russian Department:


Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 171)


In Ilf and Petrov's novel Dvenadtsat’ stul’yev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Ostap Bender addresses Varfolomey Korobeynikov (the head of the records department in Stargorod) goluba (“my dear”):


-- Голуба,-- пропел Остап,-- ей-богу, клянусь честью покойного батюшки. Рад душой, но нету, забыл взять с текущего счёта.


"My dear," crooned Ostap, "I swear by my late father, I'd be glad to, but I haven't any [money]; I forgot to draw any from my current account." (Chapter Eleven, “The Mirror-of-Life Index”)


The name Korobeynikov comes from korobeynik (pedlar). While korobeynik rhymes with vorobeynik (gromwell), “pedlar” rhymes with “medlar.” Gromwell is the name of Van’s lawyer:


His new lawyer, Mr Gromwell, whose really beautiful floral name suited somehow his innocent eyes and fair beard, was a nephew of the Great Grombchevski, who for the last thirty years or so had managed some of Demon’s affairs with good care and acumen. Gromwell nursed Van’s personal fortune no less tenderly; but he had little experience in the intricacies of book-publishing matters, and Van was an absolute ignoramus there, not knowing, for example, that ‘review copies’ were supposed to go to the editors of various periodicals or that advertisements should be purchased and not be expected to appear by spontaneous generation in full-page adulthood between similar blurbs boosting The Possessed by Miss Love and The Puffer by Mr Dukes. (2.2)


In German, Mispel means “medlar:”


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. (2.2)


Golub’ being Russian for “pigeon, dove,” Goluba University seems to hint at Columbia University in the City of New York (columbus/columba is Latin for "pigeon, dove"). On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) New York is known as Manhattan (or simply Man). On the other hand, New York brings to mind New Wye, the small college town in PF:


Pale Fire, a poem in heroic couplets, of nine hundred ninety-nine lines, divided into four cantos, was composed by John Francis Shade (born July 5, 1898, died July 21, 1959) during the last twenty days of his life, at his residence in New Wye, Appalachia, U.S.A. (Foreword)


In Canto Three of his poem John Shade speaks of IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) and mentions “Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp:”


While snubbing gods, including the big G,
Iph borrowed some peripheral debris
From mystic visions; and it offered tips
(The amber spectacles for life's eclipse)--
How not to panic when you're made a ghost:
Sidle and slide, choose a smooth surd, and coast,
Meet solid bodies and glissade right through,
Or let a person circulate through you.

How to locate in blackness, with a gasp,
Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp. (ll. 549-558)


According to Van, Terra the Fair was the real destination of poor mad Aqua:


Actually, Aqua was less pretty, and far more dotty, than Marina. During her fourteen years of miserable marriage she spent a broken series of steadily increasing sojourns in sanatoriums. A small map of the European part of the British Commonwealth — say, from Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia — as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina, might be quite thickly prickled with enameled red-cross-flag pins, marking, in her War of the Worlds, Aqua’s bivouacs. She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health ('just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black') in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. Of course, Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive... But her real destination was Terra the Fair and thither she trusted she would fly on libellula long wings when she died. Her poor little letters from the homes of madness to her husband were sometimes signed: Madame Shchemyashchikh-Zvukov (‘Heart rending-Sounds’). (1.3)


The phrase shchemyashchiy zvuk (a heart-rending sound) occurs in several poems by Alexander Blok, the author of Dvenadtsat’ (“The Twelve,” 1918) who loved so much Nekrasov’s poem Korobeyniki (“The Pedlars,” 1861).* In his essay Bezvremen’ye (“Hard Times,” 1906) Blok mentions the two demons who lead the third one (a blind titan in constant fear of the eternal torture) by his arms:


Передо мной вырастают два демона, ведущие под руки третьего - слепого и могучего, пребывающего под страхом вечной пытки. Это - Лермонтов, Гоголь и Достоевский.


According to Blok, those three demons are Lermontov, Gogol and Dostoevski. “Palermontovia” blends Palermo (a seaport in and the capital of Sicily) with Lermontov (the author of “The Demon,” 1829-40). Van’s first novel, Letters from Terra, seems to correspond to VN’s first novel Mashen’ka (“Mary,” 1926), but it also brings to mind Bednye lyudi (“Poor Folk,” 1846), Dostoevski’s first novel written in the epistolary form. The letter L being called lyudi in the old Russian alphabet, the Antiterran L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS) in our world. January 3 is the birthday of Van’s and Ada’s half-sister Lucette. Just as Palermontovia has Lermontov in it, there is palach (executioner) in Appalachia (also mentioned in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955). In his farewell letter to Marina Demon Veen (who soon married Marina’s twin sister Aqua) mentioned his aunt’s ranch near Lolita, Texas:


You had gone to Boston to see an old aunt — a cliché, but the truth for the nonce — and I had gone to my aunt’s ranch near Lolita, Texas. (1.2)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Lolita, Texas: this town exists, or, rather, existed, for it has been renamed, I believe, after the appearance of the notorious novel.


On Antiterra VN’s Lolita is known as The Gitanilla by the Spanish writer Osberg (1.13, et passim). In his review of Van’s novel Max Mispel discerned the influence of Osberg:


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). (2.2)


In Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions Hurricane Lolita:


It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane

Lolita swept from Florida to Maine. (ll. 679-680)


According to Van, Eric Veen (the grandson of David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction) died in a hurricane:


After being removed from Note to a small private school in Vaud Canton and then spending a consumptive summer in the Maritime Alps, he was sent to Ex-en-Valais, whose crystal air was supposed at the time to strengthen young lungs; instead of which its worst hurricane hurled a roof tile at him, fatally fracturing his skull. Among the boy’s belongings David van Veen found a number of poems and the draft of an essay entitled ‘Villa Venus: an Organized Dream.’ (2.3)


Eric Veen has the same first name as Eric Wind, Victor’s father in Pnin. But Victor imagines that he is the King’s son:


The King, his more plausible father, had decided not to abdicate. No newspapers were coming out. The Orient Express was stranded, with all its transient passengers, at a suburban station, on the platform of which, reflected in puddles, picturesque peasants stood and gaped at the curtained windows of the long, mysterious cars. The Palace, and its terraced gardens, and the city below the palatial hill, and the main city square, where decapitations and folk dances had already started, despite the weather--all this was at the heart of a cross whose arms terminated in Trieste, Graz, Budapest, and Zagreb, as designated in Rand McNally's Ready Reference Atlas of the World. And at the heart of that heart sat the King, pale and calm, and on the whole closely resembling his son as that under-former imagined he would look at forty himself. Pale and calm, a cup of coffee in his hand, his back to the emerald-and-grey window, the King sat listening to a masked messenger, a corpulent old nobleman in a wet cloak, who had managed to make his way through the rebellion and the rain from the besieged Council Hall to the isolated Palace.

'Abdication! One-third of the alphabet!' coldly quipped the King, with the trace of an accent. 'The answer is no. I prefer the unknown quantity of exile.' (Chapter Four, 4)


On Antiterra the British Commonwealth is governed by King Victor, a member of the first Venus Club Council who visits the floramors (a hundred palatial brothels erected by David van Veen in memory of his grandson) incognito, as Mr Ritcov:


Demon’s father (and very soon Demon himself), and Lord Erminin, and a Mr Ritcov, and Count Peter de Prey, and Mire de Mire, Esq., and Baron Azzuroscudo were all members of the first Venus Club Council; but it was bashful, obese, big-nosed Mr Ritcov’s visits that really thrilled the girls and filled the vicinity with detectives who dutifully impersonated hedge-cutters, grooms, horses, tall milkmaids, new statues, old drunks and so forth, while His Majesty dallied, in a special chair built for his weight and whims, with this or that sweet subject of the realm, white, black or brown. (2.3)


*see Khodasevich’s memoir essay “Gumilyov and Blok” (1931)


Alexey Sklyarenko

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