red top hat in LATH; krasnyi tsilindr in Invitation to a Beheading

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Tue, 09/03/2019 - 09:19

In VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) Other Books by the Narrator include The Red Top Hat (1934):

 

Since 1925 I had written and published four novels; by the beginning of 1934 I was on the point of completing my fifth, Krasnyy Tsilindr (The Red Top Hat), the story of a beheading. None of those books exceeded ninety thousand words but my method of choosing and blending them could hardly be called a timesaving expedient. (2.2)

 

The title of Vadim Vadimovich’s fifth Russian novel hints at the euphemism in VN’s seventh novel Priglashenie na kazn’ (“Invitation to a Beheading,” 1935):

 

Обрывки этих речей, в которых, как пузыри воды, стремились и лопались слова "прозрачность" и "непроницаемость", теперь звучали у Цинцинната в ушах, и шум крови превращался в рукоплескания, а медальонное лицо Марфиньки всё оставалось в поле его зрения и потухло только тогда, когда судья, - приблизившись вплотную, так что можно было различить на его круглом смуглом носу расширенные поры, одна из которых, на самой дуле, выпустила одинокий, но длинный волос, - произнёс сырым шёпотом: "с любезного разрешения публики, вам наденут красный цилиндр", - выработанная законом подставная фраза, истинное значение коей знал всякий школьник.

 

Fragments of these speeches, in which the words ‘translucence’ and ‘opacity’ rose and burst like bubbles, now  sounded in Cincinnatus’s ears, and the rush of blood became applause, and Marthe’s locket-like face remained in his field of vision and faded only when the judge — who had moved so close that on his large swarthy nose he could see the enlarged pores, one of which, on the very extremity, had sprouted a lone but long hair — pronounced in a moist undertone, ‘with the gracious consent of the audience, you will be made to don the red top hat’ — a token phrase that the courts had evolved, whose true meaning was known to every schoolboy. (Chapter One)

 

The characters of Yuri Olesha’s fairy tale Tri tolstyaka (“The Three Fat Men,” 1927) include tolstyi kucher v golubom tsilindre s bantikom (a fat coachman in a light-blue top hat with a ribbon on it):

 

На углу, где горел трёхрукий фонарь, вдоль тротуара  стояли  экипажи. Цветочницы продавали розы. Кучера переговаривались с цветочницами.

- Его протащили в петле через весь город. Бедняжка!

- Теперь его посадили в железную клетку. Клетка стоит во Дворце Трёх Толстяков, - сказал толстый кучер в голубом цилиндре с бантиком.

 

There was a street lamp on the corner and carriages were lined up along the sidewalk. Flower girls were selling roses, and coachmen were talking to them.

“He was dragged through the town with a rope round his neck. Poor man!”

“They’ve put him in an iron cage. And the cage is in the Palace of the Three Fat Men,” said a fat coachman in a light-blue top hat with a ribbon on it. (Chapter II “Ten Scaffolds”)

 

In Priglashenie na kazn’ Cincinnatus mentally calls the jailer Rodion, the director Rodrig Ivanovich and the lawyer Roman Vissarionovich (all of whom turn out to be one and the same man) kukla, kucher, krashenaya svoloch’ (rag doll, coachman, painted swine):

 

- Позвольте вас от души поздравить, - маслянистым басом сказал директор, входя на другое утро в камеру к Цинциннату.

Родриг Иванович казался ещё наряднее, чем обычно: спина парадного сюртука была, как у кучеров, упитана ватой, широкая, плоско-жирная, парик лоснился, как новый, сдобное тесто подбородка было напудрено, точно калач, а в петлице розовел восковой цветок с крапчатой пастью. Из-за статной его фигуры, - он торжественно остановился на пороге, - выглядывали с любопытством, тоже праздничные, тоже припомаженные, служащие тюрьмы. Родион надел даже какой-то орденок.

- Я готов. Я сейчас оденусь. Я знал, что сегодня.

- Поздравляю, - повторил директор, не обращая внимания на суетливые движения Цинцинната. - Честь имею доложить, что у вас есть отныне сосед, - да, да, только что въехал. Заждались небось? Ничего, - теперь, с наперсником, с товарищем по играм и занятиям, вам не будет так скучно. Кроме того, - но это, конечно, должно остаться строго между нами, могу сообщить, что пришло вам разрешение на свидание с супругой: demain matin.

Цинциннат опять опустился на койку и сказал:

- Да, это хорошо. Благодарю вас, кукла, кучер, крашенная сволочь... Простите, я немножко...

 

“Please accept my sincerest congratulations” said the director in his unctuous bass as he entered Cincinnatus’s cell next morning.

Rodrig Ivanovich seemed even more spruce than usual: the dorsal part of his best frock coat was stuffed with cotton padding like a Russian coachman’s, making his back look broad, smooth, and fat; his wig was glossy as new; the rich dough of his chin seemed to be powdered with flour, while in his buttonhole there was a pink waxy flower with a speckled mouth. From behind his stately figure — he had stopped on the threshold — the prison employees peeked curiously, also decked out in their Sunday best, also with their hair slicked down; Rodion had even put on some little medal.

“I am ready. I shall get dressed at once. I knew it would be today.”

'Congratulations,” repeated the director, paying no attention to Cincinnatus’s jerky agitation. “I have the honour to inform you that henceforth you have a neighbour — yes, yes, he has just moved in. You have grown tired of waiting, I bet? Well, don't worry — now, with a confidant, with a pal, to play and work with, you won’t find it so dull. And, what is more — but this, of course, must remain strictly between ourselves — I can inform you that permission has come for you to have an interview with your spouse, demain matin?

Cincinnatus lay back down on the cot and said, ‘Yes, that’s fine. I thank you, rag doll, coachman, painted swine. . . Excuse me, I am a little… (Chapter Five)

 

The characters of “The Three Fat Men” include Suok, a dancing girl at the circus who impersonates the golden-haired kukla (doll) of Tutti the Heir (Suok's twin brother) and who helps Prospero the Gunsmith to escape from an iron cage in the palace. Rodrig Ivanovich’s little daughter Emmie promises to save Cincinnatus:

 

Эммочка, возясь, уткнулась лбом ему в грудь; из-под ее рассыпавшихся и в сторону свесившихся буклей обнажилась в заднем вырезе платья верхняя часть спины, со впадиной, менявшейся от движения лопаток, и вся ровно поросшая белесоватым пушком, казавшимся симметрично расчёсанным.

Цинциннат погладил ее по теплой голове, стараясь ее приподнять. Схватила его за пальцы и стала их тискать и прижимать к быстрым губам.

- Вот ластушка, - сонно сказал Цинциннат, - ну, будет, будет. Расскажи мне...

Но ею овладел порыв детской буйности. Этот мускулистый ребенок валял Цинцинната, как щенка.

- Перестань! - крикнул Цинциннат. - Как тебе не стыдно!

- Завтра, - вдруг сказала она, сжимая его и смотря ему в переносицу.

- Завтра умру? - спросил Цинциннат.

- Нет, спасу, - задумчиво проговорила Эммочка (она сидела на нём верхом).

- Вот это славно, - сказал Цинциннат, - спасители отовсюду! Давно бы так, а то с ума сойду. Пожалуйста, слезь, мне тяжело, жарко.

- Мы убежим, и вы на мне женитесь.

- Может быть, - когда подрастешь; но только жена у меня уже есть.

- Толстая, старая, - сказала Эммочка.

 

Fidgeting, Emmie buried her forehead in his chest; her curls tumbling and hanging to one side, revealed the bare upper part of her back, which had a hollow that moved with her shoulder blades and was evenly covered with a blonde down, which looked as though it had been combed in a symmetrical pattern.

Cincinnatus stroked her warm head, trying to raise it. She snatched at his fingers and began pressing them to her quick lips.

‘What a snuggling pet you are,’ said Cincinnatus drowsily. ‘That will do, enough now. Tell me . . .’

But she was seized by an outburst of childish boisterousness. The muscular child rolled Cincinnatus about like a puppy. ‘Stop it!’ cried Cincinnatus. ‘Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?’

‘Tomorrow,’ she said suddenly, squeezing him and gazing at him between the eyes.

‘Tomorrow I’ll die?’ asked Cincinnatus.

‘No, I’ll rescue you,’ Emmie said pensively (she was seated astride him).

‘That’s very nice indeed,’ said Cincinnatus. ‘Saviors from all sides! This ought to have happened sooner — I’m nearly insane. Please get off, you are heavy and hot.’

‘We’ll run away and you’ll marry me.’

‘Maybe when you are a little older; only I already have one wife.’

‘A fat, old one,’ said Emmie. (Chapter Fourteen)

 

Emmie in Invitation to a Beheading corresponds to graceful little Amy, the condemned man's ambiguous consoler in Vadim’s Red Top Hat:

 

Every afternoon, at the same hour, a silent push opened the door wider, and the granddaughter of the Stepanovs brought in a tray with a large glass of strong tea and a plate of ascetic zwiebacks. She advanced, eyes bent, moving carefully her white-socked, blue-sneakered feet; coming to a near stop when the tea tossed; and advancing again with the slow steps of a clockwork doll. She had flaxen hair and a freckled nose, and I chose the gingham frock with the glossy black belt for her to wear when I had her continue her mysterious progress right into the book I was writing, The Red Top Hat, in which she becomes graceful little Amy, the condemned man's ambiguous consoler.
Those were nice, nice interludes! One could hear the Baroness and her mother playing á quatre mains in the salon downstairs as they had played and replayed, no doubt, for the last fifteen years. I had a box of chocolate-coated biscuits to supplement the zwiebacks and tempt my little visitor. The writing board was put aside and replaced by her folded limbs. She spoke Russian fluently but with Parisian interjections and interrogatory sounds, and those bird notes lent something eerie to the responses I obtained, as she dangled one leg and bit her biscuit, to the ordinary questions one puts to a child; and then quite suddenly in the midst of our chat, she would wriggle out of my arms and make for the door as if somebody were summoning her, though actually the piano kept stumbling on and on in the homely course of a family happiness in which I had no part and which, in fact, I had never known.
My stay at the Stepanovs' had been supposed to last a couple of weeks; it lasted two months. At first I felt comparatively well, or at least comfortable and refreshed, but a new sleeping pill which had worked so well at its beguiling stage began refusing to cope with certain reveries which, as suggested subsequently by an incredible sequel, I should have succumbed to like a man and got done with no matter how; instead of that I took advantage of Dolly's removal to England to find a new dwelling for my miserable carcass. This was a bed-sitting-room in a shabby but quiet tenement house on the Left Bank, "at the corner of rue St. Supplice," says my pocket diary with grim imprecision. An ancient cupboard of sorts contained a primitive shower bath; but there were no other facilities. Going out two or three times a day for a meal, or a cup of coffee, or an extravagant purchase at a delicatessen, afforded me a small distraction. In  the next block I found a cinema that specialized in old horse operas and a tiny brothel with four whores ranging in age from eighteen to thirty-eight, the youngest being also the plainest.
I was to spend many years in Paris, tied to that dismal city by the threads of a Russian writer's livelihood. Nothing then, and nothing now, in backcast, had or has for me any of the spell that enthralled my compatriots. I am not thinking of the blood spot on the darkest stone of its darkest street; that is hors-concours in the way of horror; I just mean that I regarded Paris, with its gray-toned days and charcoal nights, merely as the chance setting for the most authentic and faithful joys of my life: the colored phrase in my mind under the drizzle, the white page under the desk lamp awaiting me in my humble home. (2.1)

 

Vadim’s romance with Dolly Borg (the Stepanovs’ granddaughter who served as a model of graceful little Amy in “The Red Top Hat”) in America ruins his marriage with Annette Blagovo, the second of Vadim’s three or four successive wives, Bel’s mother whose name seems to hint at Anyuta Blagovo, Misail’s good friend in Chekhov’s story Moya zhizn’ (“My Life,” 1896). At the beginning of Chekhov’s story Pari (“The Bet,” 1889) smertnaya kazn’ (capital punishment) is mentioned:

 

Была тёмная, осенняя ночь. Старый банкир ходил у себя в кабинете из угла в угол и вспоминал, как пятнадцать лет тому назад, осенью, он давал вечер. На этом вечере было много умных людей и велись интересные разговоры. Между прочим, говорили о смертной казни. Гости, среди которых было немало ученых и журналистов, в большинстве относились к смертной казни отрицательно. Они находили этот способ наказания устаревшим, непригодным для христианских государств и безнравственным. По мнению некоторых из них, смертную казнь повсеместно следовало бы заменить пожизненным заключением.
- Я с вами не согласен,- сказал хозяин-банкир. - Я не пробовал ни смертной казни, ни пожизненного заключения, но если можно судить a priori, то, по-моему, смертная казнь нравственнее и гуманнее заключения. Казнь убивает сразу, а пожизненное заключение медленно. Какой же палач человечнее? Тот ли, который убивает вас в несколько минут, или тот, который вытягивает из вас жизнь в продолжение многих лет?

 

It was a dark autumn night. The old banker was walking up and down his study and remembering how, fifteen years before, he had given a party one autumn evening. There had been many clever men there, and there had been interesting conversations. Among other things they had talked of capital punishment. The majority of the guests, among whom were many journalists and intellectual men, disapproved of the death penalty. They considered that form of punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian States. In the opinion of some of them the death penalty ought to be replaced everywhere by imprisonment for life. "I don't agree with you," said their host the banker. "I have not tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if one may judge a priori, the death penalty is more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?"

 

The parallels between VN’s Priglashenie na kazn’ and Olesha’s “Three Fat Men” are discussed by Nora Buks in her essay Eshafot v khrustal’nom dvortse (“A Scaffold in a Crystal Palace”). But, as far as I know, she ignores in it the numerous allusions in “Invitation to a Beheading” to Olesha’s novel Zavist’ (“Envy,” 1927). For example, Cincinnaus is condemned to death for gnoseologicheskaya gnusnost’ (gnostical turpitude). In “Envy” Nikolay Kavalerov (the narrator and main character) mentions his otvratitel’noe, gnusnoe prestuplenie (abject foul crime):

 

А может быть, всё же когда-нибудь в великом паноптикуме будет стоять восковая фигура странного человека, толстоносого, с бледным добродушным лицом, с растрепанными волосами, по-мальчишески полного, в пиджаке, сохранившем только одну пуговицу на пузе; и будет на кубе дощечка:

НИКОЛАЙ КАВАЛЕРОВ 

И больше ничего. И всё. И каждый увидевший скажет: «Ах!» И вспомнит кое-какие рассказы, может быть, легенды: «Ах, это тот, что жил в знаменитое время, всех ненавидел и всем завидовал, хвастал, заносился, был томим великими планами, хотел много сделать и ничего не сделал - и кончил тем, что совершил отвратительное, гнусное преступление...» (chapter VI)

 

Kavalerov’s foul crime brings to mind Dostoevski’s novel Prestuplenie i nakazanie (“Crime and Punishment,” 1867). Vadim’s sixth novel The Dare (1950) that corresponds to VN’s Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) includes a concise biography and critical appraisal of Fyodor Dostoevski:

 

The reader must have noticed that I speak only in a very general way about my Russian fictions of the Nineteen-Twenties and Thirties, for I assume that he is familiar with them or can easily obtain them in their English versions. At this point, however, I must say a few words about The Dare (Podarok Otchizne was its original title, which can be translated as "a gift to the fatherland"). When in 1934 I started to dictate its beginning to Annette, I knew it would be my longest novel. I did not foresee however that it would be almost as long as General Pudov's vile and fatuous "historical" romance about the way the Zion Wisers usurped St. Rus. It took me about four years in all to write its four hundred pages, many of which Annette typed at least twice. Most of it had been serialized in émigré magazines by May, 1939, when she and I, still childless, left for America; but in book form, the Russian original appeared only in 1950 (Turgenev Publishing House, New York), followed another decade later by an English translation, whose title neatly refers not only to the well-known device used to bewilder noddies but also to the daredevil nature of Victor, the hero and part-time narrator.

The novel begins with a nostalgic account of a Russian childhood (much happier, though not less opulent than mine). After that comes adolescence in England (not unlike my own Cambridge years); then life in émigré Paris, the writing of a first novel (Memoirs of a Parrot Fancier) and the tying of amusing knots in various literary intrigues. Inset in the middle part is a complete version of the book my Victor wrote "on a dare": this is a concise biography and critical appraisal of Fyodor Dostoyevski, whose politics my author finds hateful and whose novels he condemns as absurd with their black-bearded killers presented as mere negatives of Jesus Christ's conventional image, and weepy whores borrowed from maudlin romances of an earlier age. The next chapter deals with the rage and bewilderment of émigré reviewers, all of them priests of the Dostoyevskian persuasion; and in the last pages my young hero accepts a flirt's challenge and accomplishes a final gratuitous feat by walking through a perilous forest into Soviet territory and as casually strolling back. (2.5)

 

Memoirs of a Parrot Fancier bring to mind not only Gresset’s Ver-Vert, but also popugay (the parrot) in “The Three Fat Men:”

 

А попугай продолжал делать свой донос. Он передавал действительно то, что слышал ночью. Так что если вас интересует история освобождения  оружейника Просперо, то слушайте всё, что будет кричать попугай.

О! Это была действительно редкая порода попугая. Не говоря уже о красивой красной бороде, которая могла сделать честь любому генералу, попугай искуснейшим образом передавал человеческую речь.

 

Meanwhile, the parrot continued its squawking betrayal. It repeated everything it had heard during the night. If you want to know how Prospero the Gunsmith was freed, listen to what the parrot screeched.

Oh, it was really a very rare bird. It could repeat anything a human being said, and, to top it all, It had a long red beard that was the envy of ail the other parrots. (chapter XIV: “Victory”)

 

In his essay Veer gertsogini (“The Duchess’s Fan,” 1927) Mandelshtam praises Olesha’s Tri tolstyaka and mentions his khrustal’no-prozrachnaya proza (crystal-clear prose):

 

Не так давно вышла книга Юрия Олеши — «Три толстяка». Олеша — писатель на виду. После «Зависти» он выпустил «Толстяков». Если бы «Толстяки» Олеши были переводной книгой, то всякий внимательный читатель сказал бы: как странно, что я до сих пор не знал этого замечательного иностранного автора. Наверное, у себя на родине он считается классиком, спасибо, что его хоть поздно, но перевели. Между тем у нас чуть не единственным откликом на «Толстяков» была рецензия в «Читателе и писателе» под заголовком: «Как не следует писать книги», с высокомерным и неумным брюзжанием и боязнью захвалить молодого автора. Между тем «Толстяками» уже зачитываются и будут зачитываться и дети, и взрослые. Это хрустально-прозрачная проза, насквозь пронизанная огнём революции, книга европейского масштаба.

 

Prozrachnyi means “transparent.” In Invitation to a Beheading everybody, except Cincinnatus, is transparent for his/her fellow countrymen.

 

Little Emmie who promises to save Cincinnatus brings to mind the girl in Lermontov’s poem Sosedka (“Neighbor,” 1840). In “Envy” Kavalerov mentions the widow Prokopovich, his forty-year-old sosedka (neighbor):

 

Я не буду уже ни красивым, ни знаменитым. Я не приду из маленького города в столицу. Я не буду ни полководцем, ни наркомом, ни ученым, ни бегуном, ни авантюристом. Я мечтал всю жизнь о необычайной любви. Скоро я вернусь на старую квартиру, в комнату со страшной кроватью. Там грустное соседство: вдова Прокопович. Ей лет сорок пять, а во дворе ее называют «Анечка». Она варит обеды для артели парикмахеров. Кухню она устроила в коридоре. В темной впадине – плита. Она кормит кошек. Тихие худые кошки взлетают за ее руками гальваническими движениями. Она расшвыривает им какие-то потроха. Пол поэтому украшен как бы перламутровыми плевками. Однажды я поскользнулся, наступив на чье-то сердце – маленькое и туго оформленное, как каштан. Она ходит опутанная кошками и жилами животных. В её руке сверкает нож. Она раздирает кишки локтями, как принцесса паутину. (chapter VI)

 

Pautina (spider’s web) mentioned by Kavalerov brings to mind pauk (the spider) in Cincinnatus’s cell, the prisoner's official friend that resembles Marthe in some way. According to little Emmie, Cincinnatus's wife is fat and old.

 

The action in "Envy" takes place in Moscow; but Olesha hails from Odessa, a city in which Pushkin began to write Eugene Onegin and, a century later, Eyzenshteyn made a movie Bronenosets Potyomkin ("Battleship Potyomkin," 1925). In a letter of Feb. 18, 1889, to Leontiev-Shcheglov (a fellow writer who nicknamed Chekhov Potyomkin) Chekhov says that he is not Potyomkin, but Cincinnatus:


Голова моя занята мыслями о лете и даче. Денно и нощно мечтаю о хуторе. Я не Потёмкин, а Цинцинат. Лежанье на сене и пойманный на удочку окунь удовлетворяют моё чувство гораздо осязательнее, чем рецензии и аплодирующая галерея. Я, очевидно, урод и плебей.

Thanks for the gloss on CCL from Tyutchev (A thought once uttered is untrue) which is missing from Stories. I have been meaning to read Envy but haven't found the time to do so.