Part One, Chapter 12
If I had to choose a small sample sachet that offered the full flavor of Ada, I would probably select Part I Chapter 12.
The chapter focuses on the intensity of the children’s falling in love. That theme has been developing, of course, since Van’s arrival at Ardis, especially in the catalogue of Ada’s physical attributes in I.9 and the showcase of her mental attributes in I.10. But here for the first time we see the depth of their desire, Van’s, haunting his nights, Ada’s, brightening her morning.
Here for the first time, too, we encounter the full force of their love’s lasting into old age. At ninety-four, Van has to endure “the small gray hours” of an ashen insomnia and to resort to pills to keep the pains of age at bay. In one sense, then, time proves to be decay, yet Van still has Ada with him and can still retrace and relive the magic of his past with her.
This is also the first time we see how intricately Ada is involved in celebrating the past she shares with Van (hitherto she has merely demurred in the margins) and how readily each can speak for each other. Here too we see the extent of Ada’s arrogance, the inseparability of her and Van’s love from their sense of superiority to a world they think they can exclude, even if billions of other Bills and Jills happen to have also fallen in love. Throughout Ada, Nabokov explores the peculiar balance of similarity and difference in love, and the peculiar tension between transcending the isolation of the self and shutting out the rest of the world in passionate love.
Although the chapter focuses on the intensity of Van’s yearning, it also relates his passion to his metaphysical panic, to his philosophical urge to know his place under the star-haunted skies, an impulse that will drive his whole career as a philosopher, the lifelong counterpoint to his love for Ada.
For the first time, we encounter Ada’s intense response to Van, first in her role as narrator, and then at the end of the chapter in the crumbling of her “tower” when Van leaves the balcony. Her philosophic “system,” so imagistic, so concrete and emotional, so like a transposition onto an intellectual plane of her idiosyncratic childhood sun-and-shade games, reveals in still another way both her similarity and her difference from Van.
Characteristically the chapter ends with a little riddle that we can solve as we read. Van may not know what is the third “real thing” that makes Ada’s “tower,” but in the last line we can deduce that it is Van himself, and anticipate Van’s delight when he discovers that, a surprise he still savors as he relives the scene eighty years later. That is characeristic of the chapter as a whole, and all the earlier parts of the story: it sets the certainty and the mutuality of Van and Ada’s later love against the uncertainty and isolation of their earlier desire.
The texture of the chapter reflects the interpenetration of opposites throughout Ada: scene and summary, digression and development, concentration and dispersal, the local and the cosmic, the exhilarating (the freshness of young love and the tenderness of old love) and the off-putting (Van and Ada’s arrogant exclusiveness). The chapter ends with the vivid and unforgettable scene of breakfast on the balcony, but leads up to it via the digressions about Van and Ada’s uniqueness, about the uniqueness of all detail, about Van’s troubled metaphysics and Ada’s radiant “philosophy,” yet these very digressions nevertheless arise naturally from the hammock and fireflies of haunted night that set the scene for Van’s awakening to find Ada on the balcony one radiant morning. Even as it ranges so freely, the whole chapter focuses vividly on “the young pang of the original joy” of Van’s and Ada’s falling in love, but does so, despite the immediacy of details like the honey staining the butter in its cool crock, by showing these memories filtered through Van's and Ada's recollections. First love and last love, preservation and imminent loss, lose none of their distinctness yet here seem all but inseparable.
70.01-03: Hammock . . . hammock: MOTIF: hammock.
70.01: eighty years later: TS: “eighty years later and even in the slow haze of a final delightful departure.”
70.03: Memory met imagination: TS: “Memory on his deathbed met imagination.”
70.05: not as a dream he had just had: MOTIF: dream.
70.07: between shallow sleep and the first pill of the day: Cf. 359.11-360.04: “insomnias . . . plain will, or pill, could no longer help”; 572.01-19: “Normally, one or two sleeping pills helped him to hold at bay the monster of insomnia. . . . ”
70.07-71.28: Take over, dear, for a little while. Pill, pillow, billow, billions. . . (She). Billions of boys. . . . The males of the firefly (now it’s really your turn, Van). The males of the firefly: This is the first time Van has handed the story over to Ada; previously she has limited herself to marginal comments on Van’s manuscript. MOTIF: Ada-Van similarity; Composition-- Ada.
70.08-13: Pill, pillow, billow, billions . . . . Billions of boys. . . . A billion of Bills . . . . well-meaning Billions, have bared the jillions of their . . . brilliant Jills: Cf. 138.15: “Oh, who will give me back my Jill . . . ?” Cf. also Lolita 141: “Bill’s wife had worshiped him from afar long before they ever met. . . . nothing could be more harmless than to read about Jill, an energetic starlet who made her own clothes and was a student of serious literature”; Lolita 172: “telephone bills ran to billions.” MOTIF: Bill.
70.11: tender and passionate: Cf. 532.12-13: “tender and passionate.”
70.13: jillions: W3 (not in W2): “an indeterminately large number.”
70.15-16: lest the entire report be choked up: Cf. 73.15: “In this our dry report . . . ”; TT 32: “This part of our translucing is pretty boring, yet we must complete our report.”
70.16: choked up by the weeds of statistics: Cf. LL 374: “Statistics pluck up their skirts and sweep out in a huff.”
71.02-03: thematic anthemia . . . denouncer’s article: anthemia (W2): “a flower cluster or mass.” Cf. the flower reference in Van’s denouncer’s article, “The Farce of Group Therapy in Sexual Maladjustment” (577.13-18: “Its founder’s epoch-making confession (‘In my student days I became a deflowerer because I failed to pass my botany examination’) he fixed, as an epigraph, to one of his last papers (1959) entitled The Farce of Group Therapy in Sexual Maladjustment”). Nabokov writes in the Foreword to Speak, Memory that in searching for a title for his autobiography he “toyed with The Anthemion which is the name of a honeysuckle ornament, consisting of elaborate interlacements and expanding clusters, but nobody liked it” (SM 11). That sense (defined by W2 as "An ornament consisting of floral or foliated forms arranged in a radiating cluster . . . the honeysuckle ornament") seems to have influenced the "anthemia" here. MOTIF: flowers.
71.03: denouncer’s article: Cf. 71.13: “to be denounced.” Cf. Van’s own denouncer’s article, “The Farce of Group Therapy in Sexual Maladjustment,” 577.16-19.
71.04: hyaline: W2: “Glassy; resembling or consisting of glass; specif., Bot., transparent or translucent.” Cf. 106.16: “hyaline wings.”
71.05: green sun: Cf. 105.25, “green sunshine.” There is a green sun in “The Plattner Story” (1896; in The Plattner Story, and Others, London: Methuen, 1897), by one of Nabokov’s favorite romancers, H.G. Wells. MOTIF: golden-green; green [Ardis].
71.05: tout ceci, vsyo eto: French, Russian: “all this.”
71.07: ya zaslushalsya: Russian, “I’ve been listening with delight.”
71.07: I’m all enchantment and ears: Peter Lubin defines the play on “I’m all ears” as an example of “phrasal tmesis,” in “Kickshaws and Motley,” Triquarterly 17 (1970), 187-208, p. 194.
71.09: billions of brilliant couples: MOTIF: Bill.
71.09-10: one cross section of what you will allow me to call spacetime: Ada has reason to ask for permission: Van has denounced space-time in his Texture of Time (1922); see especially 540-43, 551. MOTIF: space . . . time; time.
71.16: a few readers, those pensive reeds: Darkbloom: “Pascal’s metaphor of man, un roseau pensant.” From Pensées (1670), Section VI (“Les Philosophes”), 347 (ed. Ch.-M. des Granges, Paris: Garnier, 1964, 162), by Blaise Pascal (1623-1662): “L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature; mais c’est un roseau pensant” (“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature; but a thinking reed”). Cf. 103.24-28.
71.17: Natural history indeed!: Cf. 95.32: “Natural history was past history by that time.”
71.20-24: Tuscan Firecrest . . . Echo Azure . . . other birds, flowers, and butterflies: These are the common names of, respectively, similar European and American species of birds, flowers and butterflies. MOTIF: butterflies; flowers; transatlantic doubling.
71.20: a Tuscan Firecrest or a Sitka Kinglet: D. Barton Johnson, in his “Nabokov’s Aviary in Ada” (2000: 176), notes that although neither “Tuscan” nor “Sitka” is attached to an actual bird name, both are easily identified as birds which do occur, respectively, in Tuscany and Alaska, and which are both crested, both royal.
71.20: Tuscan Firecrest: A1: “bildet triple-bandeau; toscano fiorancino.” W2 glosses “firecrest”: “A small European kinglet (Regulus ignicapillus) with a bright-red crest.”
71.20: Sitka Kinglet: The Sitka are a Tlingit people of the Baranof and Chiganof Islands in Alaska, whose region has given rise to the names of many kinds of flora and fauna, from sitka alder to sitka spruce weevil. W2 defines “kinglet”: “Any of several very small birds of the genus Regulus.” Here, Regulus regulus, the yellow-headed kinglet. MOTIF: -let.
71.21: Summer Savory: Under “savory” W2 explains: “An aromatic European mint (Satureia hortensis), much used in cooking;--called also summer savory.” It has small white or pink flowers in summer.
71.22: Yerba Buena: Although many Latin American plants are called “good herb,” W2 glosses as: “A trailing perennial, evergreen herb (Micromeria chamissonis), family Lamiaceae, of California, having small white flowers.”
71.22-23: the dancing flitter of a Holly Blue or an Echo Azure: Ardeur 61: “la danse ailée d’un Argiolus d’Europe ou du lac Echo en Californie.” Echo Lake is just south of Lake Tahoe.
71.22-23: Holly Blue: An Old World lycaenid butterfly, identified in A1 as “Celastrine argiolus.” Zimmer 1996: “Cela(e)strina (: Lycaena, Lycaenopsis) argiolus Linnaeus (Lycaenidae). A Palearctic Blue with a wingspan of 23 to 30 mm. Both males and females are pale lilac-blue, the males having very narrow black margins and the females very broad ones. It is found in parks and light forests all over Europe, North Africa and across temperate Asia to Japan.” (100)
71.23: Echo Azure: A1: “pseudoargiolus.” Zimmer 1996: “ Celastrina ladon echo W.H. Edwards [Lycaenidae]. A Western American subspecies of the Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon Cramer 1780), restricted to San Francisco by Brown and Clench in 1970. At the time of Ada’s writing, it was still believed to fly all over the west coast, from British Columbia to Texas. . . . Celastrina ladon used to appear in the literature under the name Celastrina (also: Lycaenopsis) argiolus Linnaeus, argiolus being a close Palearctic relative, the Holly Blue.” (86-87)
71.24-25: that has to be heard, smelled and seen through the transparency of death and ardent beauty: Cf. 584.04-07: “The strange mirage-shimmer standing in for death should not appear too soon in the chronicle and yet it should permeate the first amorous scenes.”
71.26-28: The males of the firefly (now it’s really your turn, Van.) The males of the firefly, a small luminous beetle: Van has learnt a lot from Ada since, at fourteen, in a propitiatory gesture, he asks Ada: “By the way, do fireflies burn one if they fly into you? I’m just asking. Just a city boy’s silly question.” (53.06-08)
71.28-72.10: The males of the firefly . . . : Cf. Mary 72-73, where glowworms are first associated with Ganin’s revived first love (“they conversed in a rapturous murmur—about the long time they had not seen each other, about the resemblance of a glowworm that shone in the moss to a tiny semaphore”) and then with the end of his love for Mary.
71.28-73.26: The males of the firefly . . . more like a wandering star than a winged insect . . . ghostly multitude . . . golden ghouls . . . . Venus rose in the sky . . . . Billionaire Bill . . . . while the lucifers fly and throb . . . the old myths . . . situated them within the gray matter of the star-suffused heavens . . . a glowworm of strange truth: Nabokov here associates the fireflies and glowworms with immemorial myths inspired by the stars and planets. A “wandering star” is one of “The seven planets, of ancient astronomy, as distinguished from the fixed stars” (W2). (“Planet” derives from the Greek for “wandering.”) Venus as the morning star was also called “Lucifer,” although the “lucifers” (literally, “light-bringers”) here seem to be simply the fireflies. Van first sees fireflies "in the purple crepuscule of an Italian hotel garden," where they bring golden ghouls to mind. The Italian for firefly or glowworm is lucciola, of which Nabokov uses a variant spelling (luciola) in Pale Fire (106), in a passage that evokes the Ghost's departing words to Hamlet, the glow-worm shows the matin to be near, / And gins to pale his uneffectual fire (1.5.89-90). (For the Hamlet passage in Pale Fire, see Brian Boyd, Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic Discovery, 176-79; for the firefly-glowworm-planet connections generally, see Andrew Caulton, Bend Sinister and Hamlet [unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Otago, Dunedin, 1996], 11-16). MOTIF: firefly
71.28-73.32: The males of the firefly. . . . just while the lucifers fly and throb . . . the Terror of Terra . . . the star-suffused heavens, perhaps, contained, perhaps, a glowworm of strange truth . . . the demon counterpart of divine time: Alexey Sklyarenko notes the combination of Ada (the heroine’s name), Lucifer, fireflies, glowworms, and worlds, in Byron’s Cain (1821), Act 2, Scene 1:
CAIN: Why, I have seen the fire-flies and fire-worms
Sprinkle the dusky groves and the green banks
In the dim twilight, brighter than yon world
Which bears them.
LUCIFER: Thou hast seen both worms and worlds,
Each bright and sparkling—what dost think of them?
CAIN: That they are beautiful in their own sphere,
And that the night, which makes both beautiful,
The little shining fire-fly in its flight,
And the immortal star in its great course,
Must both be guided.
71.33-34: as a child, when, lost in the purple crepuscule of an Italian hotel garden: Van was in Italy ( Rome, Florence, Capri) in June 1881, aged 11 (152.28-30) and in Naples in the summer of 1883 (9.08). Cf. Defense 156: “go to the Italian lakes. . . . the superb hotels at Stresa. . . . And I particularly remember—what do you call them—those insects that light up.”
72.03-09: each flashed his pale-lemon light . . . his own specific rhythm . . . Photinus ladorensis . . . to verify the exact type of light code he used: Photinus is a widespread genus of fireflies; ladorensis means “from Ladore.” “Females of the genus Photuris have ‘discovered’ that they can lure males of the genus Photinus if they imitate the flashing code of a Photinus female. This they do, and when a Photinus male is fooled by the lie into approaching, he is summarily eaten by the Photuris female. Sirens and Lorelei spring to mind as analogies.” (Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976; 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, 65). Summarizing J.E. Lloyd, "Firefly communication and deception: oh, what a tangled web," in R.W. Mitchell and N.S. Thompson, eds., Deception: Perspectives on human and nonhuman deceit (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996), Donald R. Griffin writes:
Of the 130 species Lloyd has studied under natural conditions, the most intriguing patterns have been analyzed in the American genera Photinus and Photuris. Male Photinus pyralis typically begin to search for females by emitting a half-second flash about every six seconds while flying near bushes where females are likely to be found. A responsive female waits about two seconds and then emits her own half-second flash. The male turns toward her, and they exchange similar flashes until he reaches her position, where mating often takes place. Females usually find a mate within a few minutes and then return to their burrows to lay eggs. Males, on the other hand, may search for several nights before finding a responsive female of their own species.
Life is complex and hazardous for male Photinus pyralis fireflies. Their flashes are answered only about half the time by females of their own species. At other times very similar answering flashes come from females of the larger genus Photuris, which are predatory and may catch and eat males that come too close. Yet the “femmes fatales” actually capture only about 10-15 percent of the males that approach them, suggesting that at close range the male Photinus pyralis can detect differences between the flashes of conspecific females and those of the predatory Photuris. . . .
This sounds complicated enough, but the actual situation is much more intricately hazardous for the males. Several other species of fireflies are often present, flashing in somewhat different patterns. And even one well-studied species such as Photinus pyralis changes its flashing under some conditions, such as when aggressive mimics are active. (Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001: 215)
Cf. also Ada 173.29-30: “dissimulated like female fireflies in the undergrowth.”
72.06-07: flying with Photinus ladorensis, according to Ada, at Lugano and Luga: Cf. with these male fireflies, the female mosquitos, now under threat from the draining of the marshes “in the Ladore region as well as near Kaluga, Conn. and Lugano, Pa.” (108.08-09) On Earth, Lugano is a town in Switzerland and a lake on the Swiss-Italian border. MOTIF: Ladore; place-names: additional syllable; -uga.
72.07: grass-domiciled female: The females of many species of firefly are wingless, larviform and luminous, and it is the winged but less luminous males who find them out.
72.15: reticulated his naked body: At 400.22-401.08 there is a description of the photograph Kim Beauharnais takes of Van waking up in the hammock with an erection, and of Ada peering at the photograph under the microscope. At one point she returns “to the leering caruncula in the unreticent reticulation.”
72.15: under the weeping cedar: MOTIF: under tree. This motif has its roots in Ada’s paradisal and pastoral soil: the Edenic tree of knowledge, and the “under a tree” pattern that begins with the first line of Virgil’s Eclogues (37 B.C.: “Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fragi / silvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena: / nos patriae finis et dulcia linquimus arva; / nos patriam fugimus: tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra / formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas”: “Tityrus, you lie under the cover of a spreading beech, wooing the woodland Muse on your slender pipe, while we quit our country’s bounds and sweet fields. We flee our country; you, Tityrus, at ease in the shade, teach the woods to resound ‘fair Amaryllis,’ ” Eclogues I, 1-5). The
72.17-18: or, on safer nights, between two tulip trees: The tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, a large, quick-growing deciduous tree, native to North America from New Hampshire to Arizona, reaches 60 meters (200 feet) in height. Cf. 115.03, “his two tulip trees”; cf. 400.23-24 for hammock and tulip trees. MOTIF: under tree.
72.18-22: where a former summer guest . . . blotching his pillow: Van and Ada’s Uncle Van (Ivan Durmanov), the gifted violinist who dies of tuberculosis at twenty.
72.18: opera cloak: Cf. 358.10: “opera cloak.”
72.19-20: had awoken once because a stink-bomb had burst among the instruments in the horsecart: Darkbloom: “horsecart: an old anagram. It leads here to a skit on Freudian dream charades (‘symbols in an orchal orchestra’).” Cf. 73.26-30 and nn. Both passages anticipate Van’s later work as a psychologist, especially his attack on Freudian and other symbolism in dreams, 363.03-364.07. MOTIF: dream.
72.21: Uncle Van: Cf. 193.28, Ada to Van: “Did you find them all, Uncle Van?” (where there is a clear allusion to Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya); 399.16: “He took sumerographs of Uncle Vanya years ago.”
72.23-24: The windows in the black castle went out in rows, files, and knight moves: Cf. at the end of The Defense, where Luzhin tries to escape what he construes as the encroachment of chess on his life, by jumping out of his apartment, but just as he lets go, looks down and sees that “Some kinds of hasty preparations were under way there: the window reflections gathered together and leveled themselves out, the whole chasm was seen to divide into dark and pale squares . . . ” (256); Dmitri Nabokov's design for the 1967 Panther edition of the novel intensifies the chess image. Cf. also Gift 188: "The massifs of the houses (dark crossword puzzles, in which not everything was yet filled in by yellow light)"; Lolita II.9, 192: "One of the latticed squares in a small cobwebby casement window at the turn of the staircase was glazed with ruby, and that raw wound among the unstained rectangles and its asymmetrical position a knight's move from the top strangely disturbed me"; LATH 91: "The house was dark except for three windows: two adjacent rectangles of light in the middle of the upper-floor row, d8 and e8, Continental notation (where the letter denotes the file and the number the rank of a chess square) and another light just below at e7."
72.23: black castle: Cf. 35.13, “Ladore, with its ruinous black castle on a crag”; 139.07-8: “the black ruins of Bryant’s Castle”; 215.03: “Bryant’s Castle . . . romantically black.” MOTIF: black castle.
72.23: rows, files: Cf. 223.04-05, of Russian “Flavita” (Scrabble): “The object was to make rows and files of words. . . . ”
72.24: knight moves: Cf. 383.03-04: “with something of her uterine sister’s knight move of specious response.”
72.25: lampad: W2: “A lamp or candlestick;--only with reference to Rev. iv.5.”
72.26: buvard: Darkbloom: “blotting pad.”
72.26-27: the hangings of his now infinite chamber: Cf. Rimbaud, “Mémoire,” ll. 7-8: “ayant le Ciel bleu pour ciel-de-lit, appelle / pour rideaux l’ombre de la colline et de l’arche” (“having the blue sky as a canopy, calls up as curtains the shadow of the hill and the arch”).
72.27: Venus rose in the sky; Venus set in his flesh: MOTIF: Venus.
72.28-31: a certain interestingly primitive mosquito . . . : MOTIF: mosquito.
72.31: bogberry-eaters: W2, bogberry: “a In Europe, the small cranberry (Oxycoccus palustris), which grows in bogs. b In America, the dwarf raspberry.” MOTIF: bog.
73.02-04: Night, of course, always remained an ordeal . . . no matter how drowsy or drugged the poor man might be: Cf. 70.07, 359.11-360.04 and 572.01-19. Nabokov himself suffered from insomnia: “All my life I have been a poor go-to-sleeper. . . . Sleep is the most moronic fraternity in the world. . . . It is a mental torture I find debasing. The strain and drain of composition often force me, alas, to swallow a strong pill that gives me an hour or two of frightful nightmares. . . . No matter how great my weariness, the wrench of parting with consciousness is unspeakably repulsive to me. I loathe Somnus, that black-masked headsman binding me to the block” (SM 108-09).
73.05-06: Billionaire Bill with his pointed beardlet and stylized bald dome: A1: “William Shakespeare.” Ardeur 62: “le sublime William.” MOTIF: Bill.
73.06: beardlet: MOTIF: -let.
73.06-07: crusty Proust who liked to decapitate rats when he did not feel like sleeping: Proust had rats brought to him and either pierced with hatpins or pursued and beaten with sticks by young men, according to André Gide, because of his “desire to conjoin the most disparate sensations and emotions for the purposes of orgasm” (George Painter, Proust: The Later Years, Boston: Little, Brown, 1965, 268-69 and n.). “The story of Proust’s sadistic experiments with rats is, of course, one of the most famous bits of gossip in literary history. Proust’s biographer George Painter argues that the story is true, though there remains some room for reasonable doubt. . . . In her article, ‘Proust and Nabokov: The Challenge to Time,’ [Books Abroad, 48 (1974), 469-76] Yvette Louria asserts that the reference to Proust and the rats in Ada is ‘borrowed from Painter’s own descriptions’ (p. 471). This seems extremely doubtful. Painter says that Proust had rats brought to him and pierced with hatpins to indulge a repressed hatred for his parents; Painter says nothing about Proust’s ‘decapitating rats’ as an insomniac diversion (the decapitation seems to be Nabokov’s embellishment of the traditional form of the story). Furthermore, the legend of the rats and the hatpins is well known and is repeated in many sources outside Painter”: J.E. Rivers, “Proust, Nabokov and Ada,” (1977), rpt. in Phyllis Roth, ed., Critical Essays on Vladimir Nabokov (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1984), 155 n.19.
Cf. Ada 150.21-23: “a nice quiet little fellow who quietly massacred moles and anything else with fur on, probably pathological.” Cf. also PF 195: “Southey liked a roasted rat for supper—which is especially comic in view of the rats that devoured his Bishop.”
73.08: this brilliant or obscure V.V.: MOTIF: V.
73.12-14: the fouler gnat—the Komargsky Komar of our muzhiks and the Moustique moscovite of their no less alliterative retaliators: Darkbloom: “Kamargsky: La Camargue, a marshy region in S. France combined with Komar, ‘mosquito,’ in Russian and moustique in French.” Gnat: W2: “any of various small dipterous insects, esp. such as bite. The term is chiefly applied in England to mosquitoes, in America to smaller forms. . . . ” Muzhik: peasant. Moscovite, Fr.: Muscovite. Proffer 257: “A play on the song and dance called the Kamarinsky, the purely folk version of which begins, ‘Oh you son of a bitch, Kamarinsky muzhik’ ” (derived from the name of the town Kamarino). Glinka composed a variation on the folk tune (Stanislav Shvabrin, private communication). Cf. 108.04-06: "Because, perhaps, Van's lifestream was too bitter . . . Chateaubriand's mosquito never cared much for him." MOTIF: mosquito.
73.15: In this our dry report: Cf. 70.15.
73.15: early, too early love: Cf. 148.02-03: “their much too premature and in many ways fatal romance”; 172.08: “those unforgettable, much too early initiations.”
73.17: lucifers: See 71.28-73.32n; 72.03-09n.
73.20: Terror of Terra: In 1888 Van lies in the hammock again reading about others who have written on Terra: “Van was lying in his netted nest under the liriodendrons, reading Antiterrenus on Rattner” (283.01-02), an echo of the earlier “Clad in a black training suit, with two yellow cushions propped under his head, Van lay reading Rattner on Terra, a difficult and depressing work.” (230.02-05) MOTIF: Terra.
73.26-30: His nights in the hammock . . . . career physicians): See 72.19-20 and n. MOTIF: dream.
73.28: dreams of prowling black spumas: pumas in the spume; Cancogni 150 suggests an etymological pun on the derivation of “prowl” from Old French parrouler, intensifier of rouler, “to roll.” In Ulysses on the eve of the action the minor character Haines has been raving in his sleep “about shooting a black panther.” (Chapter I lines 57, 61-62 in the Gabler edition). Cf. Ada 375.21-22: “We interweaved like serpents and sobbed like pumas”; 395.12: “ ‘You do the puma,’ he said. . . . ”
73.28-29: a crash of symbols in an orchal orchestra: symbols: pun on “cymbals”; orchal, “of testicles” (apparently Nabokov’s formation from the rare “orchic” and its source, the Greek orchis, “testicle”), perhaps under the influence of orca, “killer whale,” given the “prowling black spumas” in the previous phrase, since orcas are mostly black and do indeed prowl in the spume for seal lions in shallow water around the coasts of southern South America, also part of the habitat of the puma. Cf. 183.34: “to a clash of cymbals in the orchestra” (Van’s Mascodagama performances).
73.30-32: haunted not so much by the agony of his desire for Ada, as by that meaningless space overhead, underhead, everywhere, the demon counterpart of divine time: Cf. 154.01-02: “ ‘But I want to make sure of our whereabouts and whenabouts,’ said Van. ‘It is a philosophical need.’ ” Cf. SM 225-26: “Overhead . . . the night sky was pale with stars. In those years, that marvelous mess of constellations, nebulae, interstellar gaps and all the rest of the awesome show provoked in me an indescribable sense of nausea, of utter panic, as if I were hanging from earth upside down on the brink of infinite space, with terrestrial gravity still holding me by the heels but about to release me any moment.” Cf. also“Lance”: “The sidereal haze makes the Bokes dizzy—gray incense, insanity, infinity-sickness. But they cannot tear themselves away from the nightmare of space. . . . And presently the planet rises, like a tiny bonfire" (Stories 633). Cf. also Lolita 14: "I doubt if much individual genius should be assigned to our [Annabel Leigh's and Humbert's] interest in the plurality of inhabited worlds, competitive tennis, infinity, solipsism, and so on." Love and metaphysical panic are linked in the story "Terror" and in LATH 25-26.
73.30-31: by the agony of his desire for Ada: MOTIF: agony.
73.31-32: that meaningless space . . . demon counterpart of divine time: MOTIF: space . . . time.
73.32: demon counterpart of divine time: Cf. Demon saying “I’ll show what a diviner I am,” 246.04. Cf. also, as Gennady Kreymer notes (private communication) the echo of the final paragraph of Chapter 6 of Nabokov’s Drugie berega, talking of the metaphysical thrill of being among rare butterflies: “I vysshee dlya menya naslazhdenie—vne d’yavol’skogo vremeni, no ochen’ dazhe vnutri bozhestvennogo prostranstva—eto naudachu vybranniy peyzazh” (Symposium edition, 5.233; “And the highest enjoyment for me—outside demonic time, but very much within divine space—is a landscape selected at random’; in SM 139:“And the highest enjoyment of timelessness—in a landscape selected at random—is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants”). MOTIF: demon; divine; time.
73.33-74.02: as it was to retingle—with a little more meaning fortunately—in the last nights of a life, which I do not regret, my love: MOTIF: Composition—Van.
74.01-02: last nights of a life, which I do not regret, my love: Cf. 309.07-08: “That happiness has been the greatest event in my life, and I have no regrets.” Cf. the first paragraph of the Avant-propos in Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outre-tombe: “il est bien temps que je quitte un monde qui me quitte et que je ne regrette pas” (“it is high time for me to leave a world that is leaving me and that I do not regret,” ed. Maurice Levaillant and Georges Moulinier, Paris: Gallimard, 1951, p.1).
74.04: his dreams were young: MOTIF: dream.
74.05-06: he woke up another man—and very much of a man indeed: MOTIF: man.
74.06: “Ada, our ardors and arbors”: MOTIF: Ada, the ardors and arbors of Ardis.
74.08: Anglo-American poetry: Cf. 19.34: “Anglo-American protectorates.”
74.08-10: Bless the starling and damn the stardust! He was fourteen and a half; he was burning and bold; he would have her fiercely some day!: Seems to anticipate the day he does have her (when of course he is still fourteen and a half): the “burning and bold” here as it were unknowingly points to the night of the Burning Barn; the night of love begins with his looking out at everyone leaving for the fire “against the pale star-dusted firmament” (116.10); he is left alone like “old Fierce” (115.17), he thinks, until Ada comes to join him on the divan. MOTIF: Burning Barn.
74.08-09: Bless the starling and damn the stardust: Ardeur 63: “Maudites les Pléiades et bénies les aubades” (“Curse the Pleiades and bless the aubades”).
74.09: damn the stardust: Cf. 116.10: “the pale star-dusted firmament of practically subtropical Ardis.”
74.09-10: He was fourteen and a half. . . . he would have her fiercely some day!: Cf. 59.17-21.
74.11: One such green resurrection: Pun on “erection.” MOTIF: green [Ardis].
74.16: a flash of crystal, a fleck of color: Cf. 76.01-03: “A three-colored velvet violet . . . its fluted crystal.”
74.17: sa petite collation du matin: Darkbloom : “light breakfast.”
74.23-75.03: her web of wisdom. . . . “real things” which were infrequent and priceless . . . and “ghost things,” also called “fogs,” such as fever, toothache, dreadful disappointments, and death. . . . “broken bridges”: To some extent, this echoes Nabokov’s own attitudes to life, in that the good is real and concrete, the bad an absence: “The world I said was good—and ‘goodness’ is something that is irrationally concrete. . . . ‘goodness’ is round and creamy . . . something in a word just as real as the bread or the fruit to which the advertisement alludes. . . . ‘badness’ is in fact the lack of something rather than a noxious presence; and thus being abstract and bodiless it occupies no real space in our inner world.” (LL 375-76)
74.27-75.03: Three or more things occurring at the same time formed a “tower” . . . . “Real towers” . . . . “ruined towers”: MOTIF: tower.
74.29: a “bridge”: Cf. Van’s use of a bridge for a different philosophical purpose in his Texture of Time, 544-545.
75.02: the ramp of duration: Cf. 536.22: “the ramp of my argument.” As Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello suggests (Nabokv-L, 6 April 2014), especially in view of the link between Ada’s bridges and Van’s example, in “The Texture of Time” (see 74.29 and n.), of an impossible steel bridge between the present and the past, between a modern town and a model town in memory, the “duration” here, which has such a charged significance in Henri Bergson’s and in Van’s philosophy of time, seems to anticipate Van’s scholarly use of the term, especially in “the Texture of Time.” MOTIF: duration.
75.06-07: returning from a much more remote and grim country: Cf. Hamlet, 3.1.77-79: “death, / The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns.”
75.09-10: Her plump, stickily glistening lips smiled. (When I kiss you here . . . ): Van may at first seem to have in mind Ada’s facial lips, but he is probably referring in “here” to her other, nether, lips: cf. 95.02-03 where Ada, recalling the Shattal Tree incident, says “you kissed me here, on the inside.”
Cf. 59.34: Ada’s “fat pale lips.” MOTIF: lips.
75.11: that blue morning on the balcony: Cf. Ada on the last morning of Ardis the Second “standing on a third-floor balcony . . . . indicating the cloudless sky . . . the jacaranda summit in bloom (blue! bloom!)” (295.26-30); the first morning of their Manhattan reunion, as Van stands on a roof terrace “now embellished by shrubs of blue spiraea in invincible bloom” (390.10-11); and the first morning of their second Mont Roux reunion, when Van from his balcony unexpectedly sees Ada on an adjacent one “under the cloudless turquoise of the sky” (561.28).
75.12-15: tartine au miel . . . liquid brass: Cf. their first morning breakfast at Ardis the Second: “and here’s a pot of transparent honey” (191.28-29); and their first breakfast in Manhattan: “Ardis’ crisp bacon! Ardis’ translucent honey!” (393.22) MOTIF: honey.
75.12: tartine au miel: Darkbloom: “bread-and-butter with honey.”
75.17: “Tower,” she answered: MOTIF: tower.
75.34: droplet: MOTIF: -let.
75.34: the wick of her mouth: W2, “wick”: “A corner, esp. of the eye or mouth; an angle. Now Dial[ect].”
76.01-03: A three-colored velvet violet . . . its fluted crystal: Cf. 546.02-03: “at thirty-three, confessing, rather late in the day, that she did not like flowers in vases.”
76.01-02: A three-colored velvet violet, of which she had done an aquarelle on the eve: MOTIF: flower drawing/painting; violet.
76.03-04: She licked her spread fingers, still looking at him: Cf. 545.34-546.01: “a little girl, in 1884, licking the breakfast honey off the badly bitten nails of her spread fingers.”
76.05-06: Softly her tower crumbled in the sweet silent sun: MOTIF: tower.
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 12