In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) describes his meeting with his half-sister Lucette in Paris and mentions [Toulouse-Lautrec’s] portrait of a lousy jade with her Parisian gueule de guenon:


Her Irish profile sweetened by a touch of Russian softness, which adds a look of mysterious expectancy and wistful surprise to her beauty, must be seen, I hope, by the friends and admirers of my memories, as a natural masterpiece incomparably finer and younger than the portrait of the similarly postured lousy jade with her Parisian gueule de guenon on the vile poster painted by that wreck of an artist for Ovenman. (3.3)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): gueule etc.: simian facial angle.


In his poem “On peut très bien, mademoiselle…” (1816) Pushkin compares Princess V. M. Volkonski (a lady-in-waiting whom the young poet mistook for a chambermaid and kissed in a dark corridor) to une vieille guenon (an old female monkey):


On peut très bien, mademoiselle,
Vous prendre pour une maquerelle,
Ou pour une vieille guenon,
Mais pour une grâce, — oh, mon Dieu, non.


One may very well mistake you, mademoiselle,

for a procuress,

or for an old female monkey,

but for a grace – oh, my God, no.


Une grâce brings to mind Grace, Greg Erminin’s twin sister. Earlier on the same day Van met Greg and asked him about his sister:


On a bleak morning between the spring and summer of 1901, in Paris, as Van, black-hatted, one hand playing with the warm loose change in his topcoat pocket and the other, fawn-gloved, upswinging a furled English umbrella, strode past a particularly unattractive sidewalk café among the many lining the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, a chubby bald man in a rumpled brown suit with a watch-chained waistcoat stood up and hailed him.

Van considered for a moment those red round cheeks, that black goatee.

‘Ne uznayosh’ (You don’t recognize me)?’

‘Greg! Grigoriy Akimovich!’ cried Van tearing off his glove.

‘I grew a regular vollbart last summer. You’d never have known me then. Beer? Wonder what you do to look so boyish, Van.’

‘Diet of champagne, not beer,’ said Professor Veen, putting on his spectacles and signaling to a waiter with the crook of his ‘umber.’ ‘Hardly stops one adding weight, but keeps the scrotum crisp.’

‘I’m also very fat, yes?’

‘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.’

Might have replied ‘Ada Veen,’ had Mr Vinelander not been a quicker suitor. I think I met a Broom somewhere. Drop the subject. Probably a dreary union: hefty, high-handed wife, he more of a bore than ever. (3.2)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): So you are married, etc.: see Eugene Onegin, Eight: XVIII: 1-4.


Now that she is fat, like her brother, no one will mistake Greg’s sister for a grace. Van never met Vanda Broom (Ada’s lesbian schoolmate at Brownhill), but he saw her photograph in Cordula’s graduation album:


‘It’s a gruesome girl!’ she cried after the melodious adieux. ‘Her name is Vanda Broom, and I learned only recently what I never suspected at school — she’s a regular tribadka — poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at — at another girl. There’s her picture here,’ continued Cordula with a quick change of tone, producing a daintily bound and prettily printed graduation album of Spring, 1887, which Van had seen at Ardis, but in which he had not noticed the somber beetle-browed unhappy face of that particular girl, and now it did not matter any more, and Cordula quickly popped the book back into a drawer; but he remembered very well that among the various more or less coy contributions it contained a clever pastiche by Ada Veen mimicking Tolstoy’s paragraph rhythm and chapter closings; he saw clearly in mind her prim photo under which she had added one of her characteristic jingles:


In the old manor, I’ve parodied

Every veranda and room,

And jacarandas at Arrowhead

In supernatural bloom. (1.43)


The name Vanda Broom is secretly present in Ada’s poem. Van’s former mistress, Cordula de Prey marries Ivan G. Tobak (2.5). At the end of another poem written at the Lyceum (in 1811-17), Krasavitse, kotoraya nyukhala tabak (“To a Beauty who Sniffed Tobacco,” 1814), Pushkin exclaims: Akh, otchego ya ne tabak! (“Ah, why I am not tobacco!”). In “Ardis the Second” Ada (who affirms that only in French love stories les messieurs hument young ladies, 1.18) asks Van to stop sniffing her over:


Ada came back just before dinnertime. Worries? He met her as she climbed rather wearily the grand staircase, trailing her vanity bag by its strap up the steps behind her. Worries? She smelled of tobacco, either because (as she said) she had spent an hour in a compartment for smokers, or had smoked (she added) a cigarette or two herself in the doctor’s waiting room, or else because (and this she did not say) her unknown lover was a heavy smoker, his open red mouth full of rolling blue fog.

‘Well? Tout est bien?’ asked Van after a sketchy kiss. ‘No worries?’

She glared, or feigned to glare, at him.

‘Van, you should not have rung up Seitz! He does not even know my name! You promised!’


‘I did not,’ answered Van quietly.

‘Tant mieux,’ said Ada in the same false voice, as he helped her out of her coat in the corridor. ‘Qui, tout est bien. Will you stop sniffing me over, dear Van? In fact the blessed thing started on the way home. Let me pass, please.’

Worries of her own? Of her mother’s automatic making? A casual banality? ‘We all have our troubles’?

‘Ada!’ he cried.

She looked back, before unlocking her (always locked) door. ‘What’!’

‘Tuzenbakh, not knowing what to say:

"I have not had coffee today. Tell them to make me some." Quickly walks away.’

‘Very funny!’ said Ada, and locked herself up in her room. (1.37)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Tuzenbakh: Van recites the last words of the unfortunate Baron in Chekhov’s Three Sisters who does not know what to say but feels urged to say something to Irina before going to fight his fatal duel.


Chekhov is the author of two monologue scenes O vrede tabaka (“On the Harm of Tobacco,” 1886, 1903). The name of Cordula’s first husband brings to mind Fimka Sobak, in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stulyev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Ellochka Shchukin’s cultured friend whose vocabulary consists of one hundred and eighty words. One of the words in Fimka’s rich vocabulary is gomoseksualizm (homosexuality). As he speaks to Vasisualiy Lokhankin, a character in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Zolotoy telyonok (“The Golden Calf,” 1931), Ostap Bender uses the phrase mon Dieu (“my God”) and then repeats it in German, mein Gott:


Гостиница «Карлсбад» была давно покинута. Все антилоповцы, за исключением Козлевича, поселились в «Вороньей слободке» у Васисуалия Лоханкина, чрезвычайно этим скандализованного. Он даже пытался протестовать, указывая на то, что сдавал комнату не трем, а одному — одинокому холостяку. «Мон дье, Васисуалий Андреевич, — отвечал Остап беззаботно, — не мучьте себя.

Ведь интеллигентный-то из всех трех я один, так что условие соблюдено!» На дальнейшие сетования хозяина Бендер рассудительно молвил: «Майн Готт, дорогой Васисуалий! Может быть, именно в этом великая сермяжная правда! » И Лоханкин сразу успокоился, выпросив у Остапа двадцать рублей. Паниковский и Балаганов отлично ужились в «Вороньей слободке», и их голоса уверенно звучали в общем квартирном хоре. Паниковского успели даже обвинить в том, что он по ночам отливает керосин из чужих примусов. Митрич не преминул сделать Остапу какое-то ворчливое замечание, на что великий комбинатор молча толкнул его в грудь.


The Carlsbad Hotel had long been abandoned. All the Antelopeans, except Kozlevich, had moved to the Crow’s Nest to stay with Vasisualiy Lokhankin, which scandalized him to no end. He even tried to protest, pointing out that he had offered the room to one person, not three, and to a respectable bachelor at that. "Mon dieu, Vasisualiy Andreevich," said Ostap nonchalantly, "stop torturing yourself.”

As the landlord continued to lament, Bender added weightily: "Mein Gott, dear Vasisualiy! Maybe that's exactly what the Great Homespun Truth is all about.” Lokhankin promptly gave in and hit Bender up for twenty rubles. Panikovsky and Balaganov fit in very well at the Rookery, and their self-assured voices soon joined the apartment's chorus. Panikovsky was even accused of stealing kerosene from other people's Primus stoves at night. Mitrich, never one to miss an opportunity, made some nitpicking remark to Ostap. In response, the grand strategist silently shoved him in the chest. (Chapter 15 “Antlers and Hoofs”)


Roga i kopyta (“Antlers and Hoofs,” a firm that Bender and his team found in Chernomorsk) bring to mind Van’s words to Cordula (whom Van meets after parting with Greg and who agrees to “cornuate” her husband):


‘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?’ (3.2)


Vasisualiy Lokhankin’s favorite book (the only thing that he saves when the Crow’s Nest burns down) is the fat volume Muzhchina i zhenshchina (“Man and Woman”). At the end of Ada Dr Lagosse exclaims: “Quel livre, mon Dieu, mon Dieu” (“What a book, my God, my God”):


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)


Describing the torments of Marina’s twin sister Aqua (Demon’s poor mad wife), Van mentions Dr Froit of Signy-Mondieu-Mondieu:


Being unwilling to suffer another relapse after this blessed state of perfect mental repose, but knowing it could not last, she did what another patient had done in distant France, at a much less radiant and easygoing ‘home.’ A Dr Froid, one of the administerial centaurs, who may have been an émigré brother with a passport-changed name of the Dr Froit of Signy-Mondieu-Mondieu in the Ardennes or, more likely, the same man, because they both came from Vienne, Isère, and were only sons (as her son was), evolved, or rather revived, the therapistic device, aimed at establishing a ‘group’ feeling, of having the finest patients help the staff if ‘thusly inclined.’ Aqua, in her turn, repeated exactly clever Eleonore Bonvard’s trick, namely, opting for the making of beds and the cleaning of glass shelves. The astorium in St Taurus, or whatever it was called (who cares — one forgets little things very fast, when afloat in infinite non-thingness) was, perhaps, more modem, with a more refined desertic view, than the Mondefroid bleakhouse horsepittle, but in both places a demented patient could outwit in one snap an imbecile pedant. (1.3)


The names Froid and Froit hint at Sigmund Freud. In “The Golden Calf” Bender tells Khvorobyev (the old monarchist who is tormented by Soviet dreams) that he treated his friends using Freud’s methods:


-- Я вам помогу, - сказал Остап. - Мне приходилось лечить друзей и знакомых по Фрейду. Сон - это пустяки. Главное - это устранить причину сна. Основной причиной является самое существование советской власти. Но в данный момент я устранять ее не могу. У меня просто нет времени. Я, видите ли, турист-спортсмен, сейчас мне надо произвести небольшую починку своего автомобиля, так что разрешите закатить его к вам в сарай. А насчет причины вы не беспокойтесь. Я ее устраню на обратном пути. Дайте только пробег окончить.


"I’ll help you,” Ostap said. “I've treated several friends and acquaintances using Freud's methods. Dreams are not the issue. The main thing is to remove the cause of the dream. The principal cause of your dreams is the very existence of the Soviet regime. But I can’t remove right now. I’m in a hurry. I'm on a sports tour, you see, and my car needs a few small repairs. Would you mind if I put it in your shed? As for the cause of your dreams, don't worry, I'll take care of it on the way back. Just let me finish the rally.” (Chapter 8 “The Artistic Crisis”)


Pushkin’s poem to Princess Volkonski ends in the words: “oh, mon Dieu, non.” In reply to the question of Cordula’s chauffeur Van repeats the word non three times:


She was a good sport — little Cordula de Prey. Next moment he was sitting beside her in the car, which was backing gateward. Two nurses came running and gesturing toward them, and the chauffeur asked in French if the Countess wished him to stop.

‘Non, non, non!’ cried Van in high glee and they sped away.

Panting, Cordula said:

‘My mother rang me up from Malorukino’ (their country estate at Malbrook, Mayne): ‘the local papers said you had fought a duel. You look a tower of health, I’m so glad. I knew something nasty must have happened because little Russel, Dr Platonov’s grandson — remember? — saw you from his side of the train beating up an officer on the station platform. But, first of all, Van, net, pozhaluysta, on nas vidit (no, please, he sees us), I have some very bad news for you. Young Fraser, who has just been flown back from Yalta, saw Percy killed on the second day of the invasion, less than a week after they had left Goodson airport. He will tell you the whole story himself, it accumulates more and more dreadful details with every telling, Fraser does not seem to have shined in the confusion, that’s why, I suppose, he keeps straightening things out.’ (1.42)


One of the chapters in “The Golden Calf” is entitled Serdtse shofyora (“The Chauffeur’s Heart”). Another chapter is entitled “Jahrbuch für Psychoanalytik.” Percy de Prey (Ada’s lover whom she meets in the woods and who dies in the Crimean War) was a heavy smoker. In Percy’s last stream of consciousness a pitcher peri pops up:


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. (One wonders, one always wonders, what had been the executed individual’s brief, rapid series of impressions, as preserved somewhere, somehow, in some vast library of microfilmed last thoughts, between two moments: between, in the present case, our friend’s becoming aware of those nice, quasi-Red Indian little wrinkles beaming at him out of a serene sky not much different from Ladore’s, and then feeling the mouth of steel violently push through tender skin and exploding bone. One supposes it might have been a kind of suite for flute, a series of ‘movements’ such as, say: I’m alive — who’s that? — civilian — sympathy — thirsty — daughter with pitcher — that’s my damned gun — don’t… et cetera or rather no cetera… while Broken-Arm Bill prayed his Roman deity in a frenzy of fear for the Tartar to finish his job and go. But, of course, an invaluable detail in that strip of thought would have been — perhaps, next to the pitcher peri — a glint, a shadow, a stab of Ardis.) (ibid.)


In his poem Tsarskosel’skaya statuya (“A Statue at Tsarskoe Selo,” 1830) Pushkin describes The Girl with a Pitcher, a statue in the Catherine Park of Tsarskoe Selo:


Урну с водой уронив, об утёс её дева разбила.
‎Дева печально сидит, праздный держа черепок.
Чудо! не сякнет вода, изливаясь из урны разбитой;
‎Дева, над вечной струёй, вечно печальна сидит.


The maiden dropped the urn against a rock and smashed it,

the maiden sits sadly, holding the useless remains.

A miracle! the water,  pouring from the broken vase, does not stop

and the maiden forever sad, sits over the everlasting stream.


Grace Erminin (whose maiden name hints at Erminia, the nickname of Pushkin’s staunch friend Eliza Khitrovo, Kutuzov’s daughter) married a Wellington (2.6).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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