It is believed that the title of VN’s novel Korol’, dama, valet (“King, Queen, Knave,” 1928) suggests a game of cards and refers back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its “characters without thickness.” But nobody seems to have noticed that in Les regrets, rêveries couleur du temps (“Regrets, Reveries the Color of Time”), the penultimate story in Les Plaisirs et les Jours (“Pleasures and Days,” 1896), Marcel Proust speaks of novels and playing cards and mentions dames, rois ou valets (queens, kings or knaves) who were the still guests at her wildest parties:
Cartes, romans, pour avoir tenu si souvent dans sa main, être restés si longtemps sur sa table; dames, rois ou valets, qui furent les immobiles convives de ses fêtes les plus folles; héros de romans et héroïnes qui songiez auprès de son lit sous les feux croisés de sa lampe et de ses yeux votre songe silencieux et plein de voix pourtant, vous n’avez pu laisser évaporer tout le parfum dont l’air de sa chambre, le tissu de ses robes, le toucher de ses mains ou de ses genoux vous imprégna. (chapter VIII “Reliques”)
Cards, novels, you were so often in her hands, or remained for so long on her table; queens, kings or knaves, who were the still guests at her wildest parties; heroes of novels and heroines who, at her bedside, caught in the cross-beam of her lamp and her eyes, dreamt your silent dream, a dream that was nonetheless filled with voices: you cannot have simply let it evaporate – all the perfume with which the air of her bedroom, the fabric of her dresses and the touch of her hands or her knees imbued you.
In his Foreword to the English translation (1967) of Korol’, dama, valet VN compares a shell-shaped cigarette-case (left behind by a businessman) to the famous pastry in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu and mentions “those three court cards, all hearts.”