Part One, Chapter 13
After the private moments of I.12, after all that solitary longing under the star-haunted sky, we turn to a very public scene, in the middle of day: the sunny celebration of Ada’s birthday.
A kaleidoscope of colors and shadows, a mixture of comedy and idyll, the chapter pits its freshness against its novelistic nuances, its built-in novelette and its editorial intrusions, and sets the familiarity of a family picnic against dislocations of time and space and technology (charabanc and motorcar, handwalking and Magicarpets, a pulsating phone and a disconcerting doll).
Since arriving at Ardis, Van has inched nearer and nearer to Ada, yearning for her in the loneliness of his nights, not knowing just how close he is to the center of her thoughts in their first breakfast alone together at the end of I.12. But despite the intensity of his physical desire, he still seems a long way from her bodily, until a series of accidents late in the picnic—a parody of carefully-contrived seating configurations in the carriage rides of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fiction—suddenly place his pantyless cousin on his lap for the rhythmic ride home. Van recognizes the established annual rituals of Ada’s high-summer birthday picnic, but for him, as for us, everything is a surprise, not least in the blissful boon of the picnic ride home.
77.01-06: For the big picnic . . . the child was permitted to wear her lolita . . . ample, black skirt: On the day she commits suicide, Ada’s aunt Aqua loads herself with pills, including “a plump purple pill reminding her . . . of those with which the little gypsy enchantress in the Spanish tale” loads herself (27.33-28.01), and is permitted to attend a picnic in another pinewood, to which she wears another black Spanish item of clothing (see 28.16-21, “permitted . . . picnics . . . black bolero . . . pinewood”). See 79.09 for the “pinewood” of Ada’s picnic.
77.01-02: For the big picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday . . . the child was permitted to wear: Cf. 266.03-04: “For the grand picnic on her birthday sixteen-year-old Ada wore . . . . ”
For the “summer birthdays and namedays” (SM 171) in Nabokov’s own “anniversary-conscious family” (SM 174), see SM 171-72 and the name-day picnic promised in the story “A Bad Day” (1931). Ada’s birthday is the same date as Nabokov’s father’s, and the first version of his autobiography records as its first scene the sunflecked greenery of V.D. Nabokov’s thirty-third birthday, and Nabokov himself “jubilantly celebrating, on that twenty-first of July, 1902, the birth of sentient life” (CE 4). In SM Nabokov listened more carefully to memory’s speech and reassigned the scene to his mother’s birthday in August, and to 1903.
77.01: Ada’s twelfth birthday: Cf. 105.29-30: “On her twelfth birthday, July 21, 1884, the child had stopped biting her fingernails.”
Cf. also 81.28-34: “The pleasure of suddenly discovering the right knack of topsy-turvy locomotion was rather like learning to man . . . those delightful gliders called Magicarpets . . . that were given a boy on his twelfth birthday. . . . ”
77.01: Ada’s . . . and Ida’s: Cf. on Ada’s sixteenth birthday: “The Muscat wine was uncorked, Ada’s and Ida’s healths drunk” (271.15). MOTIF: Ada.
77.02-06: her lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy . . . ) . . . ample, black skirt: Lolita “wore that day a pretty print dress that I had seen on her once before, ample in the skirt, tight in the bodice” (Lolita 59). In Lolita this is the day of the davenport scene, where “the impudent child extended her legs” across Humbert’s lap (60), and, to mask his furtive friction against her, Humbert recites the words of a song about “my Carmen, my little Carmen” as he brings himself to orgasm. Van at the end of this chapter will similarly have Ada’s legs on his lap for the first time, and with the friction supplied by the movement of the calèche, and with Ada’s lack of underwear increasing the directness of the contact, he will have to fight to stop coming to orgasm himself.
The “little Andalusian gipsy” is, on Antiterra, the heroine of Osberg’s The Gitanilla (see 27.33-28.03n.). On Earth she evokes first Carmen, the heroine of Mérimée’s novella (see 55.24-56.29n.), and then Lolita herself (whom Humbert calls “my little Carmen” later in the davenport chapter, Pt. 1 Ch. 13). The light of Humbert’s life has been given a Spanish name and nickname (Dolores and Lolita, respectively) in memento of her conception “on a honeymoon trip to Vera Cruz” (Lolita 59); like Carmen, she is, according to Humbert, something of an enchanter, and inflames his vengeful jealousy by leaving him for another man (the Carmen motif returns in Elphinstone, the town from whence she stages her flight from him). According to the trail of clues laid for the well-read first-time reader, Lolita seems the likely victim of self-confessed murderer Humbert, as Carmen fell victim to her lover, José Lizzarrabengoa, because of her faithlessness (see Carl R. Proffer, Keys to Lolita and Alfred Appel, Jr., The Annotated Lolita). Cf. PF 243: “Lolita . . . a little-used Spanish name.”
Van falls in love with Ada while she is still eleven, and possesses her sexually soon after she turns twelve, Lolita's age when Humbert falls in love with her and possesses her.
Cf. 80.07, “gipsy skirt”; 86.17-18: “her ample pine-smelling skirt.” MOTIF: Andalusia; Carmen; gipsy; gitanilla; Lolita.
77.02-05: her lolita ( . . . little Andalusian gipsy . . . in Osberg’s novel and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish “t,” not a thick English one): Darkbloom: “Osberg: another good-natured anagram, scrambling the name of a writer with whom the author of Lolita has been rather comically compared. Incidentally, that title’s pronunciation has nothing to do with English or Russian (pace an anonymous owl in a recent issue of the TLS).”
The fiction of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) had been somewhat belatedly discovered in the English-speaking world in the 1960s, and during that decade and the next Nabokov and Borges, despite all their differences, were often compared on the basis of their ludically allusive metaphysical metafiction (see, for instance, J.D. O’Hara, “Shadows of a Shadow,” Texas Quarterly, Spring 1966, 19-21; cf. also 27.33-28.03n.). Asked in 1969 about critics who linked his work with Borges, Nabokov replied “They would do better to link . . . Borges with Anatole France” (SO 155). Since Nabokov found Borges rather limited (“At first Véra and I were delighted by reading him. We felt we were on a portico, but we have learned that there was no house,” Time, May 23, 1969, p. 83), perhaps “Osberg” suggests cold (iceberg) or aridity (a mountain, German Berg, of bones, Latin os), or may allude to the so-called Oseberg ship--a Viking ship rediscovered in 1904 at a Norwegian farm of that name—and so evoke its role as a burial ship (see Rivers and Walker 271). For Osberg as the author of The Gitanilla, the Antiterran Lolita, see 27.33-28.03n. For a judgment on Borges via Osberg, see 344.09-11: “Osberg (Spanish writer of pretentious fairy-tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes, highly esteemed by short-shift thesialists).”
In Lolita Humbert’s “Lo-lee-ta : the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta” (11) is partly a pronunciation guide, an indication from her pedantic and self-consciously Latin lover that her name should be pronounced the Spanish way, and not the American (low-leed-uh), as Ada or Ardor indicates that this heroine’s name should be said in the Russian and not the English manner (cf. Title-page n.). The “pronounced, incidentally . . . ” (echoed in the Darkbloom note) is itself an allusive Anglo-Latin pun: incidens, “falling on,” and dentally (from Latin dens, dentis, tooth), in echo of Humbert’s “tongue . . . taking a trip . . . down . . . to tap . . . on the teeth.”
Rivers and Walker identify the review mentioned in the Darkbloom note: “The ‘anonymous owl’ reviewed Carl R. Proffer’s critical book Keys to ‘Lolita,’ his edition of the Letters of Nikolai Gogol, and his translation of Gogol’s Dead Souls. The owl also reviewed Nabokov’s Russian translation of Lolita and the English translation by Dmitri and Vladimir Nabokov of King, Queen, Knave (‘Profferings,’ TLS, 10 October 1969, 1153-54). The offending passage reads in part: ‘Nabokov’s rough and recalcitrant English coruscates with brilliant impurities absent from his exquisitely modulated—but docile—Russian. The essential un-Englishness of Nabokov’s English is emphasized in the lyrical passage at the beginning of Lolita, where he gives instructions about the pronunciation of his heroine’s name (“the tip of the tongue taki ng a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth”). Unfortunately, however, the English ‘t’ does not tap on the teeth at all, being—phonetically speaking—alveolar. Dental ‘ts’ begin, one might note, at Calais.’ ” The reviewer, in other words, simply missed Humbert’s and Nabokov’s point that the name should not be pronounced with an English or American t. Nabokov himself restated the point in other terms in several interviews (SO 25, 53, 138). MOTIF: Osberg.
77.06-07: skirt, with red poppies or peonies, “deficient in botanical reality,” as she grandly expressed it: Cf. 298.22-24: “Holding up her robe . . . The tame dragon on her back had an ant-eater’s tongue according to her eldest daughter, a scientist.” [Images of poppies and peonies.] MOTIF: artificial flowers; flowers; flower-painting.
77.07-09: not yet knowing that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of this, and only this, dream: MOTIF: dream.
77.10: (Nor did you, wise Van. Her note.): MOTIF: Composition--Ada.
77.11-12: She had stepped into it, naked, while her legs were still damp and “piney”: Cf. 86.17-18: “her ample pine-smelling skirt.” MOTIF: pine.
77.11-78.06: stepped into it, naked . . . to Van's disgust: MOTIF: pantyless Ada.
77.12-13: morning baths being unknown under Mlle Larivière’s regime: Cf. 392.18-19: “she must first of all take her morning bath (this, indeed, was a new Ada).”
Cf. SM 84: “Regular baths were taken in the evening. For morning ablutions, the round, rubber English tubs were used”; SM 107: Mlle O’s room, “a kind of hothouse . . . with a heavy, enuretic odor . . . did not seem to belong to our pleasant, well-aired home. In that sickening mist. . . . ”
77.15-16: mains ne te tremousse pas comme ça quand tu mets ta jupe! Une petite fille de bonne maison: Darkbloom: “now don’t fidget like that when you put on your skirt! A well-bred little girl . . . ” In chapter 9 of Tolstoy’s Childhood, the narrator reports: “Ia zametil, chto mnogie devochki imeiut privychku podergivat’ plechami, staraias’ etim dvizheniem privesti spustivsheesia plat’e s otkrytoi sheei na nastoiashchee mesto. Eshche pomniu, chto Mimi vsegda serdilas’ za eto dvizhenie i govorila: ‘C’est une geste de femme de chambre’ ” (“I noticed that many girls had a way of twitching their shoulders to realign an open-necked dress that had slipped. And I remember that Mimi [his sisters’ French governess] would always get cross at this movement and say: C’est une geste de femme de chambre”) (“That’s what a chambermaid would do”).
77.17-78.05: the omission of panties was ignored by Ida . . . concessions to the heat of the dog-days . . . straddling the cool limb of a Shattal apple tree: Cf. 95.12-15: “ ‘Well,’ answered Ada, straddling her favorite limb, ‘as we all know by now, Mlle La Rivière de Diamants has nothing against a hysterical little girl’s not wearing pantalets during l’ardeur de la canicule.’ ”
77.17-78.01: Ida . . . not above making secret concessions to the heat of the dog-days herself: See 80.18-22, Mlle Larivière’s relieving herself without needing to pull down any knickers.
77.17-19: a bosomy woman of great and repulsive beauty (in nothing but corset and gartered stockings at the moment): Cf. 194.17-18: “Yes! Wasn’t that a scream? Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer!”; 289.13-14: “sob on the Larivière bosom.”
Cf. SM 108: in Mademoiselle O’s room stood a photograph of “a slim young brunette. . . . this had been she—but in vain did my eyes probe her familiar form to try and extract the graceful creature it had engulfed. Such discoveries as my awed brother and I did make merely increased the difficulty of that task; and the grown-ups who during the day beheld a densely clothed Mademoiselle never saw what we children saw.”
77.17: the omission of panties: Cf. 489.01: “that slip of a girl qui n’en porte pas.” MOTIF: pantyless Ada.
77.18: a...woman of great and repulsive beauty: Cf. 197.07-08: 'a repulsively handsome, practically naked young actor.' MOTIF: Ada's entomology (see also Ada's taxonomy; butterflies (and moths)
78.01: the heat of the dog-days: Cf. 95.15: “l’ardeur de la canicule.”
78.02-05: The child tried to assuage the rash in the soft arch, with all its accompaniment of sticky, itchy, not altogether unpleasureable sensations, by tightly straddling the cool limb of a Shattal apple tree: Cf. a photograph from Kim Beauharnais’ album, 401.09-11: “Ada’s very-much-exposed white thighs (her birthday skirt had got entangled with twigs and leaves) straddling a black limb of the tree of Eden.” MOTIF: itch.
78.05: Shattal apple tree: A1: “= invented Eden = Tigris & Euphrates.” Shatt al Arab or Shatt al ‘Arab is the name of the river formed by the union of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in southeastern Iraq. Genesis 2.10-14 records the Tigris and Euphrates as two of the four rivers of Eden: “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four heads. . . . And the name of the third river is Hiddekel; that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates” (Hiddekel is the ancient name for the Tigris). Dante writes in the Purgatorio, 33.112-14: “Dinanzi ad esse Ëufratès e Tigri / veder mi parve uscir d’una fontana, / e, quasi amici, dipartirsi pigri” (“In front of them it seemed to me I saw Euphrates and Tigris issue f rom one fountain, and, like friends, slowly part from one another,” trans. Charles S. Singleton, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973). MOTIF: apple; Eden; Shattal.
78.05-06: much to Van’s disgust as we shall see more than once: Cf. 95.09-12: after tumbling with Ada within the shattal tree and landing with his head in her pantyless crotch, “Van removed a silk thread of larva web from his lip and remarked that such negligence of attire was a form of hysteria.”
78.06-07: Besides the lolita: MOTIF: Lolita.
78.07: a short-sleeved white black-striped jersey: Cf. 86.21: “her zebra stripes.” MOTIF: black-white.
78.09-11: Neither hygiene, nor sophistication of taste, were, as Van kept observing, typical of the Ardis household: For evidence that Ada’s standards of personal hygiene have not improved by 1888, see 198.32-34.
78.12-13: She tumbled out of her tree like a hoopoe when they all were ready to start: A hoopoe is any Old World bird of the family Upupidae; all have slender decurved bills. The best-known, Upupa epops, widely distributed in Europe, Asia and North Africa, has a handsome crest but is “filthy in its food and habits” (W2). Ada again tumbles in the Shattal tree, as Lucette plays “grace hoops” with Mlle Larivière (94.04).
78.13: my angel: Marina pleads with Ada at 64.28: “Angel moy.” MOTIF: angel.
78.14: coachman, Ben Wright, was still stone-sober: Cf. 86.11: “her drunken boxfellow.”
78.16: Pineglen: Cf. 392.34: “the azure brook of Pinedale” (recalling a scene from the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday). MOTIF: pine.
78.17-19: now performed the less glamorous duty of carrying away snarling and writhing Dack to her little room in the turret: Cf. 248.24-25, which makes explicit the Cinderella-like situation of Blanche here: “The slipper belonged to Blanche, who had been told to whisk Dack to her room but, as usual, had not incarcerated him properly.” Cf. also 68.28 and n. MOTIF: dackel.
78.20-79.03: charabanc . . . red motorcar: A charabanc is a long open vehicle with “several rows of seats extending across its width and facing forward” (W2). Cf. SM 130: “How often, when a picnic had been arranged, and I would be self-consciously trying to get my humble implements unnoticed into the tar-smelling charabanc (a tar preparation was used to keep flies away from the horses) or the tea-smelling Opel convertible (benzine forty years ago smelled that way), some cousin or aunt of mine would remark: ‘Must you really take that net with you?’ ”
78.22-23: a white satin dress (made by Vass of Manhattan . . . ): Named after leading American fashion designer Bill Blass (1922-2002), of Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. Vas (Nabokov has sometimes transliterated it vass to make clear the short vowel and hard s) is Russian for “you” (plural or polite, like French vous or German Sie ). Vass is also a Hungarian surname, and there are still Vass families in Manhattan (Zsuzsa Hetényi, private communication).
78.24: très en beauté: Darkbloom: “looking very pretty.”
78.24-25: in a white sailor blouse: The sailor suit was fashionable summer attire for the children of the well-to-do: Grace and Greg Erminin both wear one to the picnic (80.07, 80.11); Van at eight had sported “his little white sailor suit” (149.33); Nabokov recalls “my first sailor suit” (SM 28).
78.26: calèche: Darkbloom: “victoria.” For “victoria,” see 37.11n.; it has one two-person seat, apart from the driver’s perch.
78.26: his uncle’s or grand-uncle’s: Dan’s or Ardelion’s.
78.27: bicycles. The forest road: Cf. 152.20-22: “Van hoped the bicycles parked in the bushes did not show . . . on the forest road.”
78.30-31: the taut nacrine silk of Mlle Larivière’s open sunshade: “Nacrine”: mother-of-pearl. Cf. 37.04-06: “the governess . . . under the moiré of her parasol.”
79.03: motorcar of an early “runabout” type: A light roadster, a two-seater open at the front but with a high canopy that can be raised for the back and top.
79.04-05: operated by the butler . . . as if it were some fancy variety of corkscrew: The butler Bouteillan’s name (from Fr. bouteille, “bottle”) recalls the origin of the word “butler” as the servant in charge of the household wines and liquors. In 1888 Marina asks Demon: “where and how can I obtain the kind of old roomy limousine with an old professional chauffeur that Praskovia, for instance, has had for years?” “Impossible, my dear . . . ” (257.14-18).
79.07: knob of a clouded cane: Cf. 84.33: “Briskly walking her long cane.”
79.07: arrived at: corrected from 1969, “arrived to.”
79.08-09: the picnic site, a picturesque glade in an old pinewood cut by ravishingly lovely ravines: Cf. 266.11-14, the 1888 picnic: “While the rustic feast was being prepared and distributed among the sun gouts of the traditional pine glade, the wild girl and her lover slipped away for a few moments of ravenous ardor in a ferny ravine.” MOTIF: pine.
79.09-11: A strange pale butterfly passed from the opposite side of the woods, along the Lugano dirt road, and was followed presently by a landau: Cf., at the end of the picnic, 85.26-27: “the twins with their ancient governess and sleepy young aunt were carried away in the landau. A pale diaphanous butterfly with a very black body followed them.” Cf. 310.15-19, when another sporty car stops at a dirt road in a pine forest near Kalugano: “It abutted. . . At the moment his foot touched the pine-needle strewn earth of the forest road, a transparent white butterfly floated past, and with utter certainty Van knew that he had only a few minutes to live.” MOTIF: butterflies.
79.11: Lugano dirt road: MOTIF: -uga.
79.11: landau: “A four-wheeled covered vehicle with a top divided into two sections, the back of which can be let down or thrown back, while the front section can be removed or left stationary; also, a closed automobile body with provision for opening or folding the rear quarter” (W2).
79.13: Erminin twins: Grace and Greg. See 53.15-17: “the balls had been rolled down the hill by some rowdy children, the little Erminins, who were now Van’s age and had grown very nice and quiet.”
79.13-14: their young pregnant aunt (narrationally a great burden): Ruth. Why is she “narrationally a great burden”? Because her affair with the twins’ father has presumably caused their mother, her sister, to commit suicide (81.05-7)? Because she does nothing but doze (81.04)? Or simply because she is yet another character to introduce, and remains present without doing anything, as Ardeur 67 suggests: “un de ces personnages qui menacent d’encombrer le récit” (“one of those characters who threaten to burden the story”). D. Barton Johnson suggests a pun on Russian beremennaya (pregnant) and bremya (burden).
79.14-16: white-haired Mme Forestier, the school friend of Mathilde in a forthcoming story: Named after Mme Jeanne Forestier in the famous story “La Parure” (“The Finery,” usually translated “The Necklace”) by Guy de Maupassant, a story whose place on Antiterra is taken by Mlle Larivière’s “La Rivière de Diamants” (see 53.30-32 and n., 83.06-22 and n.). See esp. 83.19, from Mlle Larivière’s reading of the story: “white-haired but still young-looking Mme F.”
79.18-19: Uncle Dan, who missed the morning train from town: Cf. 236.15-17: “As usually happened with Dan’s most carefully worked-out plans, something misfired.” MOTIF: Dan's plans.
79.19: Colonel Erminin, a widower: Apparently a very recent one, after his affair with his sister-in-law drove his wife to suicide (81.05-07 and 79.13-14n.).
79.20: behaving like a pecheneg: Darkbloom: “pecheneg: a savage.” A pun on Russian pechen’, “liver.” The Pechenegs were a nation of warrior horsemen of Turkic origin, related to the Kumans who attack Igor’s troops in Slovo o polku Igoreve, which Nabokov translated as The Song of Igor’s Campaign (1960) . At the peak of their pillaging power, between 860 and 1091, “they were the most dreaded and detested of all the nomads; Matthew of Edessa calls them ‘the carrion-eaters, the godless, unclean folk, the wicked, blood-drinking beasts.’ ” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1962, 17:428).
79.23-26: three exquisitely carved chrysalids (“Inestimable gems,” . . . ) . . . instead of the Kibo Fritillary: MOTIF: butterfly-jewel.
79.26: Kibo Fritillary: an invented nymphalid butterfly, on which Nabokov bestows the scientific name Argynnis kiboensis in A1. Permanently snow-capped Kibo is the higher (19,340 feet) of the two volcanic peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania near the Kenyan border. Since Fritillaries often extend to extreme northern or montane climates, as far as Novaya Zemlya, a Kibo species would be possible, rare, and fascinating for the extreme isolation, within Africa, of its snowy habitat.
79.28-29: Stacks of tender crustless sandwiches (perfect rectangles five inches by two): At 90.05-06, they are excused of casuing the indigestion that afflicts Grace and her aunt Ruth after the picnic.
79.30: Gray Bead caviar: The large gray roe of the beluga, this is the most prized and expensive kind of caviar. Cf. at the Ardis dinner for Demon, "the gray beads of fresh caviar" (251.17-18).
79.33-34: --all this is more readily imagined than described: Cf. 246.25: “--all this is easier described than imagined.”
79.34: One found it instructive [thus in the MS. Ed.]: MOTIF: Composition--Editor.
80.07: gipsy skirt: MOTIF: gipsy.
80.08-10: how Greg’s plain features had been transposed practically intact into his sister’s aura where they acquired a semblance of girlish “good looks”: Cf. 102.11-18: “Their lips were absurdly similar in style, tint and tissue. . . . Ada’s lips . . . repeated Van’s mouth in a feminine key.”
80.12-13: the governesses: Note their names, “Forestier” (“forest,” adj.) and “Larivière” (“river”), as the two librarians of Dan and Demon Veen respectively are named Monsieur Verger (“orchard”: he is Mlle Larivière’s cousin) and Miss Vertograd (“garden”) (130.14-131.14).
80.13: Sèvres plate: A costly porcelain from the French national factory at Sèvres.
80.13-14: quickly removed by the servants: Presumably to finish off what is left of the turkey and especially the port wine: at 85.02-03 the half-gallon bottle, which had been touched only by the two governesses, is now empty.
80.18-22: the fully clad lady . . . stood stock-still over a concealed downpour . . . reverted to her normal height: She is apparently not wearing knickers; see 77.17-78.01. Cf. Percy de Prey’s pissing at the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday, 274.21-29.
80.25: grande fille: Darkbloom: “girl who has reached puberty.”
80.30: all bluff and nuns’ nonsense: A play on “all stuff and nonsense.”
81.04-10: Aunt Ruth . . . Mme Forestier . . . knitting a tiny jersey for her charges’ future half-sibling. Lady Erminin, through the bothersome afterhaze of suicide, was, reflected Marina, looking down . . . from the Persian blue of her abode of bliss: Apparently Lady Erminin has committed suicide after pregnancy disclosed the fact of her sister’s affair with her husband. Marina’s own sister Aqua, of course, commits suicide partly as a consequence of Marina’s affairs with Aqua’s husband Demon, and especially her getting pregnant to him with Van. Marriage with a deceased wife’s sister was forbidden in England in the nineteenth century, although agitation to legalize such marriages was active and continuous through the second half of the century, a bill being considered in 28 parliamentary years between 1850 and 1900, until the Deceased Wife’s Sister Marriage Act at last became law in 1907; cf. also 19.15-16n.
81.06-10: Lady Erminin . . . from the Persian blue of her abode of bliss: Cf. 82.19-20: “under Lady Erminin’s blue eye.”
81.06: her charges’ future half-sibling: MOTIF: sibling.
81.09-10: under the glorious pine verdure: MOTIF: pine; under tree.
81.10: Persian blue: A blue of low saturation and high brilliance.
81.10: abode of bliss: Throughout Ulysses runs the ironic advertising jingle: “What is a home without Plumtree’s Potted Meat? Incomplete. With it an abode of bliss” (5: 140-44). Bloom returns home after Molly has had fervid intercourse with Blazes Boylan to find flakes of Plumtree’s Potted Meat between the sheets (17.2124).
81.11-12: Ada and Grace danced a Russian fling: Cf. 401.11-13: “several shots of the 1884 picnic, such as Ada and Grace dancing a Lyaskan fling.” Cf. also “the violent dance” by the “imbecile but colorful transfigurants from Lyaska” (11.33-12.07).
81.12-14: an ancient music box, which kept halting in mid-bar, as if recalling other shores, other, radial waves: Ardeur 69:“ . . . d’autres ondes, radiophoniques peut-être” (“ . . . other waves, radio ones perhaps”).The term “music box” can still mean “barrel organ,” and was used for “radio set” in the 1920s. At 42.33-34, Lucette’s “toy barrel organ invitingly went into action with a stumbling little minuet.” MOTIF: music box.
81.13-14: as if recalling other shores, other, radial, waves: Echoes Pushkin’s famous poem “Vnov’ ya posetil” (“Again I have visited,” 1835), ll. 17-18: “vospominaya s grust’yu / Inye berega, inye volny” (“recalling with sadness / Other shores, other waves”). Nabokov discusses the poem briefly in EO, II, 219, where he suggests that Pushkin meant the ellipsis in the first line to suggest “Mihaylovskoe,” the estate he was revisiting, which fits metrically, and suggests the poem could be called “Mihaylovskoe Revisited.” He translates the first three lines: “[Mihaylovskoe!] I’ve revisited / That little corner of the earth where I / Spent as an exile two unnoticed years.” Alexander Herzen echoed Pushkin’s phrase for his first book in ex ile, S togo berega (From Another Shore, 1850), and Nabokov in turn called the Russian version of his autobiography Drugie berega (Other Shores). The “under the glorious pine verdure” of 81.09-10 may recall ll. 15-16 of Pushkin’s poem (“There’s the wooded hill, on which I’d often sit unmoving”), and the “three pines” of ll. 29-30.
The change to “other shores, other, radial, waves,” suggests not so much the shoreline waves that Pushkin implies but rather waves radiating out from a point, including radio waves: in other words, a recollection of old radio tunes. MOTIF: technology.
81.14: Lucette, one fist on her hip, sang a St. Malô fisher-song: Ardeur 69: “Lucette . . . chanta ‘Les pêcheurs de Saint-Malô” (“Lucette . . . sang ‘The Fishermen of St. Malô’).”Chateaubriand, whose sister Lucile probably committed suicide, was born in the fishing port of St. Malô on the English channel. MOTIF: Chateaubriand.
81.17-82.34: Van walked on his hands . . . seemed actually to “skip” on his hands?: MOTIF: gravity.
81.17: Van walked on his hands: Cf. SM 157: “The next picture looks as if it had come on the screen upside down. It shows our third tutor standing on his head. He was a large, formidably athletic Lett, who walked on his hands”; Mary 8: “Only a short while ago he could walk on his hands, quite as well as a Japanese acrobat, and with legs elegantly erect move along like a sail. He could pick up a chair in his teeth.”
81.18-23: about to begin his first prison term at the fashionable and brutal boarding school . . . some striking stunt that would give him an immediate ascendancy: He need not have feared: cf. 184.19-20: “his knocking out the biggest bully on his first day at Riverlane school”; 200.06-08: “God, how he had beaten him up, though that Vere de Vere was three years older than he.”
81.18: his first prison term: A literal “first term” and a metaphorical “prison term.”
81.19: the fashionable and brutal boarding school: for Riverlane, see Pt. 1 Chapter 4.
81.20-21: “when Washingtonias were Wellingtonias”: A1: “ref. to sequoias.” A play on expressions like the nineteenth-century “when Adam was an oakum-boy in Chatham Dockyard” or the twentieth-century “when Christ was a child,” meaning “indefinitely long ago,” and referring here to the age of giant sequoias (redwoods), which at up to 4,000 years are among the world’s oldest living things. Washingtonia and Wellingtonia are both synonyms of “sequoia.” A bizarre twist to the “transatlantic doubling” theme, since George Washington (1732-1799) and Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), were both revered soldiers and statesmen on opposing sides of the Atlantic, heroes, respectively, of the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars, and president of the United States and prime minister of the United Kingdom, respectively, but both gave their name to the purely American sequoia and to the capital cities of two nations, one American and one Pacific (New Zealand), and both have names in W---ington, with “wash” and “well” both having watery connotations. A school like Riverlane would of course see itself fulfilled if it could produce leaders of the caliber of Washington or Wellington. MOTIF: transatlantic doubling.
81.23-24: after a conference with Demon, King Wing, the latter’s wrestling master: Nabokov’s father had a fencing master, “a wonderful rubbery Frenchman, Monsieur Loustalot,” who gave Nabokov “lessons in boxing and fencing” (SM 181).
81.24: King Wing, the latter’s wrestling master: Cf. the entanglements of the erotic art in a “scroll-painting by Mong Mong, very active in 888, a millennium before Ada said it illustrated Oriental calisthenics” (376.08-10).
81.27: caryatics: A spurious medical term, suggesting muscles or tendons around the shoulder. Caryatic means “pertaining to caryatids,” the draped, usually female, figures supporting an entablature in the place of a column or pilaster, and therefore bearing a great weight on their heads and shoulders. In 1892 Van laments that he can no longer walk on his hands because “a precious sinistral sinew has stopped functioning” (401.15-16).
81.28: What pleasure (thus in the MS.). The pleasure of: MOTIF: Composition--Editor.
81.31-82.03: those delightful gliders . . . flourished a flag: MOTIF: technology.
81.31: those delightful gliders called Magicarpets (or “jikkers”): Cf. 44.23 and n.
81.32-82.02: given a boy on his twelfth birthday . . . . Grandfather Dedalus Veen: Perhaps, despite the Great Reaction, the old custom was followed in this case: Van is twelve in 1882, Dedalus Veen dies in 1883.
81.32-33: in the adventurous days before the Great Reaction: Unexplained, although presumably associated with the “L disaster” (see 17.01 and n.), and “the Great, and to some Intolerable, Revelation” (20.24). Perhaps fears of Terra led to the banning of electricity and of anti-gravity devices—but Nabokov does not take these staples of science fiction too seriously.
81.33-82.03: what a breathtaking long neural caress when one became airborne for the first time and managed to skim over a haystack, a tree, a burn, a barn, while Grandfather Dedalus Veen . . . fell into the horsepond: Instead of the elder figure (Dedalus, the father) flying while the younger (Icarus, the son) falls into the water, Van becomes a kind of reverse Icarus to his grandfather’s Dedalus. The passage also evokes several paintings by Pieter Breugel the Elder (c. 1525-69): The Fall of Icarus (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels), The Nest-Robber (Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna), where the person pointing out the nest-robber to the viewer does not see he is himself about to fall into a pond, and The Blind Leading the Blind (Museo Nazionale, Naples), where a file of blind people holding onto one another will topp le in succession into the village pond their leader has already fallen into. When in 1892 Van and Ada look through an album of 1884 photographs, the photograph that follows one showing Van hand-walking at Ada’s picnic (which elicits from him, on seeing it, a reference to King Wing, as here) captures a boisterous dance, a detail of which Ada describes as “a bruegelish kimbo (peasant prance)” (401.26-27), in honor of Bruegel’s The Wedding Dance (Detroit Institute of Arts) and the even more famous Peasant Dance (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).
81.34: when one became airborne for the first time: MOTIF: first time.
82.01: a burn, a barn: Burn is a mainly Scottish word for “brook.” Cf. 286.23-24: “All their passionate pump-joy exertions, from Burning Barn to Burnberry Brook.” MOTIF: burn; burnberry; Burning Barn.
82.02-83.05: Grandfather Dedalus Veen . . . . His reversed body gracefully curved, his brown legs hoisted like a Tarentine sail, . . . Van gripped with splayed hands the brow of gravity . . . blinking in the odd bilboquet fashion peculiar to eyelids in his abnormal position. . . . King Wing. . . . Questions for study and discussion: 1. Did both palms leave the ground . . . : Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello (Nabokv-L, 25 April 2004) notes that Nabokov here pays tribute to James Joyce, whose Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses is a version of Joyce himself (and a pseudonym Joyce himself used as a young writer). As she observes, the description of Van upside down reflects Nabokov’s images in his Cornell and Harvard lectures in praise of Joyce’s stylistic shifts in Ulysses:
Stephen Dedalus, whose surname is that of the mythical maker of the labyrinth at Knossos, the royal city of Crete; other fabulous gadgets; wings for himself and Icarus, his son. . . . (LL 286; emphasis added)
Each chapter is written in a different style, or rather with a different style predominating. There is no special reason why this should be—why one chapter should be told straight, another through a stream-of-consciousness gurgle, a third through the prism of a parody. There is no special reason, but it may be argued that this constant shift of the viewpoint conveys a more varied knowledge, fresh glimpses from this or that side. If you have ever tried to stand and bend your head so as to look back between your knees, with your face turned upside down, you will see the world in a totally different light. Try it on the beach: it is very funny to see people walking when you look at them upside down. They seem to be, with each step, disengaging their feet from the glue of gravitation, without losing their dignity. Well, this trick of changing the vista, of changing the prism and the viewpoint, can be compared to Joyce’s new literary technique, to the new kind of twist through which you see a greener grass, a fresher world. (LL 289)
In confirmation of Ms de Souza Mello’s link, the first chapter in Ulysses in which the reader can note the change of styles from chapter to chapter that Nabokov is describing is, obviously, chapter 2, which begins with, and remains dominated by, a question-and-answer modus appropriate to the brief glimpse of Stephen Dedalus as a schoolteacher (cf. the “Questions for study and discussion” at the end of the description of Van as handwalker), and specifically with a reference to Tarentum (cf. Van’s to his legs “hoisted like a Tarentine sail”):
--You, Cochrane, what city sent for him?
--Very good. Well?
--There was a battle, sir.
--Very good. Where? (Ulysses, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, 24)
The “him” in question is Pyrrhus, King of Epirus.
The Dedalian myth is important in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man . The last words in the novel include an address from Stephen to his mythical forebear: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience, and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.” Throughout the novel there has been a pattern of rises at the end of one chapter followed by falls at the beginning of the next. The fall of Stephen Dedalus after the apparent apotheosis of this last lofty flight is made explicit in the library chapter of Ulysses: “Fabulous artificer, the hawklike man. You flew. Whereto? Newhaven-Dieppe, steerage passenger. Paris and back. Lapwing. Icarus. Pater, ait. Seabedabbled, fallen, weltering. Lapwing you are. Lapwing be.” (202)
82.02-03: running with upturned face, flourished a flag: As men carrying flags preceded the first automobiles.
82.02: Grandfather Dedalus Veen: His son, Demon Veen, will die, like Dedalus’s son Icarus, by falling from the sky into the ocean, although in Demon’s case when “a gigantic flying machine had inexplicably disintegrated at fifteen thousand feet above the Pacific” (504.31-32) in March 1905.
82.07-08: Four years later Van could stun a man with one blow of either elbow: Cf., in 1888: “Not bothering to turn his head he abolished the invisible busybody with a light ‘piston blow’ delivered by the left elbow” (304.21-23).
82.09-31: . . . the odd bilboquet fashion peculiar to eyelids in his abnormal position . . . the effortlessness of his stance. . . . Vekchelo . . . the pineglade, in . . . Ardis, under Lady Erminin’s blue eye . . . : Cf. Aqua’s suicide note: “I, this eye-rolling toy . . . a landparty [picnic-BB] . . . in the . . . piney wood . . . your Darkblue ancestor . . . Ardis Park, where you will ramble one day, no doubt. . . . chelovek (human being) must know where he stands. . . . I . . . do not know where I stand. Hence I must fall.” (29.06-22)
82.09-19: His reversed body . . . on the silky ground of the pineglade: Cf. 401.11-14: “several shots of the 1884 picnic, such as . . . reversed Van nibbling at pine starworts (conjectural identification).”
82.09-10: his brown legs hoisted like a Tarentine sail: in margin of A1: “brown sail.” Tarentine means “of Tarentum,” the ancient Greek city of ancient Italy, now Taranto, from which derives the wild dance, the tarantella, supposed to drive out the poison of a tarantula’s bite.
82.13-14: in the odd bilboquet fashion peculiar to eyelids in his abnormal position: Bilboquet: a cup and ball: a stick, with a cup at one end, to which a ball is attached by string, for the game cup and ball, in which the ball is thrown to be caught in the cup (see W2 for an illustration, under “cup and ball”). MOTIF: eye dissociated.
82.14: his abnormal position: At the 1888 picnic, Percy de Prey challenges him: “I’m told you like abnormal positions? . . . that walking-on-your-hands trick.” (271.19-23)
82.16-18: King Wing warned him that Vekchelo, a Yukon professional, lost it by the time he was twenty-two: Cf. 323.09-12: “Van wondered wrily if he ever would be able to dance on his hands again. King Wing had warned him that two or three months without practice might result in an irretrievable loss of the rare art”; 401.18-20: “King Wing says that the great Vekchelo turned back into an ordinary chelovek at the age I’m now.” “Vekchelo” stands on its head the Russian for “person,” chelovek. Cf. Van reveals another side of King Wing’s teaching at the 1888 picnic: “Van . . . instantly put him ‘on his omoplates,’ na lopatki, as King Wing used to say in his carpet jargon (275.10-12).
82.18-20: on the silky ground of the pineglade . . . under Lady Erminin’s blue eye: Cf. 81.08-10: “Lady Erminin . . . looking down . . . at the picnickers, under the glorious pine verdure, from the Persian blue of her abode of bliss.” MOTIF: eye dissociated; pine.
82.21: brachiambulant: Cf. 51.03, “brachiate” and 185.10, “maniambulation.”
82.22-27: Now and then, when he detached his organs of locomotion from the lenient ground . . . one wondered if this dreamy indolence of levitation . . . : Cf. 123.11-18: “his recent dream . . . he had learned to levitate and . . . his ability to tread the air with magic ease . . . the stands went wild . . . in consternation and disbelief.”
83.23: his organs of locomotion: His hands, rather than his usual “organs of locomotion,” his legs and feet. A zoologist’s term: see OED, “foot . . . 2.a. Viewed with regard to its function, as the organ of locomotion . . . ; 11.a. Zool. Applied to various organs of locomotion or attachment belonging to certain invertebrate animals; in more precise technical language distinguished by special names, as ambulacrum, podium, pseudopodium, etc.” (See discussion, NABOKV-L, 10-11 August 2005.)
82.32-83.05: Questions for study and discussion: A parody of both the questions in literature textbooks or published student notes on literary classics, and the questions used in old-fashioned novelistic technique. Jane Austen, for instance, parodies the device in her Northanger Abbey (1818), in general, a mild parody of Gothic fiction: “The manuscript so wonderfully found, so wonderfully accomplishing the morning’s prediction, how was it to be accounted for? -- What could it contain? -- to whom could it relate? -- by what means could it have been so long concealed?” (ch. 21; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972, p. 175). Two generations later, George Eliot could still use the device non-parodically, in for instance Daniel Deronda (1876): “ . . . helped to make her heart palpitate newly. Was it at the novelty simply, or the almost incredible fulfilment about to be given to her girlish dreams of being ‘somebody’. . . –being in short the heroine of an admired play without the pains of art? Was it alone the closeness of this fulfilment which made her heart flutter? or was it some dim forecast, the insistent penetration of suppressed experience, mixing the expectation of a triumph with the dread of a crisis?” (ch. 31; Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1967, p. 404).
Cf. also the questions in the 1888 picnic: “How did the scuffle start? . . . ” (274.30-33)
83.01-03: Was Van’s adult incapacity to ‘shrug’ things off only physical or did it ‘correspond’ to some archetypal character of his ‘undersoul’?: A parody of the heavily symbolic readings of literature especially common in the wake of the vogue for Freudian and Jungian psychologies in the United States from the 1920s on. Nabokov attacks them often, as in Pale Fire, where college English professor John Shade declares that there are certain trifles he cannot forgive in students’ papers: “Not having read the required book. Having read it like an idiot. Looking in it for symbols; example: ‘The author uses the striking image green leaves because green is the symbol of happiness and frustration’ ” (156). Later, Kinbote quotes Freudian Erich Fromm, as “used in American colleges”—“The little cap of red velvet in the German version of Little Red Riding Hood is a symbol of menstruation”—and asks: “Do those clowns really believe what they teach?” (271). In his own voice Nabokov offers advice to the “budding literary critic”: “Ask yourself if the symbol you have detected is not your own footprint. Ignore allegories.” (SO 66)
The questions also seem a homage to Gogol’s parody in Dead Souls (1842), a novel Nabokov wrote about extensively in his NG and LL : “Medlenno . . . spuskalsia on s lestnitsy . . . i dolgo pochesyval u sebia rukoiu v zatylke. Chto oznachalo eto pochesyvan’e? I chto voobshche ono znachit? Dosada li na to, chto vot ne udalas’ zadumannaia nazavtra skhodka s svoim bratom v neprigliadnom tulupe, opoiasannom kushakom, gde-nibud’ vo tsarevom kabake, ili uzhe zaviazalas’ v novom meste kakaia zaznobushka serdechnaia i prikhoditsia ostavliat’ vechernee stoian’e u vorot i politichnoe derzhan’e za bely ruchki v tot chas, kak nakhlobuchivaiutsia na gorod sumerki, detina v krasnoi rubakhe brenchit na balalaike pered dvorovoy cheliad’iu i pletet tikhie rechi raznochinnyi otrabotavshiisia narod? Ili prosto zhal’ ostavliat’ otogretoe uzhe mesto na liudskoi kukhne pod tulupom, bliz pechi, da shchei s gorodskim miagkim pirogom, s tem chtoby vnov’ tashchit’sia pod dozhd’, i sliakot’, i vsiakuiu dorozhnuiu nevzgodu? Bog vest’, ne ugadaesh’. Mnogo raznoe znachit u russkogo naroda pochesyvan’e v zatylke” (end of. ch. 10, Gogol, Sobranie sochinenii [ Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1985, V, 202: “Slowly . . . did he go down the stairs . . . and for a long while did he keep scratching away at the nape of his neck. What did this scratching signify? And what is its general significance? Was it vexation that the meeting set for tomorrow with some brother muzhik, in an unprepossessing broad-belted sheepskin jacket, would not now come off in some pot-house licensed by the Czar? Or had he already started an affair in this new place with someone who had pierced him to the very heart, and now he would have to leave off standing of evenings near the gates, leave off a politic holding of white hands at that hour when, as soon as the town had pulled the cowl of dusk over it, some husky lad in a red blouse strums his balalaika before all the house help, and working folk of all callings chat quietly among themselves after the toil of the day? Or, simply, did it signify that it was a pity to leave a place that had already been warmed in the domestics’ quarters, under a sheepskin, near the oven, and cabbage soup served with a soft, city-made meat pie, only to go off anew out in the rain and the mire and all sorts of inclement weather that overtakes one out on the road? God knows—one cannot guess with certainty. Many and sundry are the things signified when the Russian folk scratch the napes of their necks.” (end of ch. 11; trans. Bernard Gilbert Guerney, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1948, p. 264).
But despite the parodic intent, the question Van poses can be answered. After the picnic in 1888, Van springs into action when he discovers Ada’s infidelity, and his seething hostility when he arrives at Kalugano—his inability to shrug off his anger at the sense she has betrayed him—leads directly to his duel and hence to the wound he receives in his left side, which causes lasting damage to “a precious sinistral sinew” (401.15), and so ends his ability to hand-walk and, apparently, to shrug.
83.04-05: Why did Ada burst into tears at the height of Van’s performance?: See 86.24-29 for a kind of answer. The Mascodagama performances that develop out of Van’s handwalking in general “affected . . . the children in the audience . . . with . . . something similar to the ‘primordial qualm’ ” (183.17-20) and “frightened children” (185.09). In 1888 Lucette responds to Van’s walking away on his hands by “shedding the same completely unwarranted tears that Ada had once shed” (206.05-06). In 1892 Ada sniffles when she learns that Van can no longer walk on his hands (401.16-18). MOTIF: explorer.
83.06-22: Mlle Larivière read her La Rivière de Diamants . . . But, my poor Mathilde, the necklace was false: it cost only five hundred francs!”: Darkbloom: “Maupassant and his ‘La Parure’ (p. 87) did not exist on Antiterra.” See 63.13-15 (“a new novella of her composition (her famous Diamond Necklace was in the last polishing stage)”); see 79.14-16 and n.
Rivers and Walker summarize Maupassant’s story: “Mathilde Loisel, the attractive wife of a poor clerk, borrows a diamond necklace from her rich friend Jeanne Forestier to wear to a ball. At the ball she is a great success and is favorably noticed by her husband’s superior, who is their host. But on the way home Mathilde loses the necklace. She and her husband borrow money, buy a new necklace for 36,000 francs, and return it to Jeanne as if nothing had happened. They then work for ten years to pay off the debt. Mathilde’s beauty fades as she does menial chores to earn money, but finally the debt is paid. Soon afterwards she encounters Jeanne, who is still youthful-looking. Proud of her accomplishment, Mathilde tells Jeanne about the substitution and about her years of toil to pay the debt. The twist in the tale arrives when Jeanne exclaims in the story’s final words: ‘Oh! ma pauvre Mathilde! Mais la mienne était fausse. Elle valait au plus cinq cent francs!’ (‘Oh! my poor Mathilde! But mine [i.e., my necklace] was false. It was worth five hundred francs at the most!’)” (273) Rivers and Walker note that although “some of Maupassant’s details are parodically exaggerated (the couple work ‘for thirty or forty horrible years,’ the new necklace costs half a million francs)” in Mlle Larivière’s version, the French words quoted in the summary—mansarde, copie, and à grande eau—“are lifted directly from Maupassant.”
Paul H. Fry (1985: 125) identifies Mlle Larivière as a parody of “a long line of writing governesses that stretches from Lucy Snow in [Charlotte Bronte’s] Villette to the narrator of [Henry James’s] The Turn of the Screw” and Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. MOTIF: necklace; La Parure; Rivière de Diamants.
83.06: Diamants: MOTIF: diamonds.
83.07: Quebec Quarterly: On Earth, “La Parure” first appeared in Le Gaulois. Queen’s Quarterly is a distinguished Canadian periodical, published since 1893 by Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, which from II.5 to III.7 features in veiled form as Van’s university, Kingston, Mayne. Cf. 132.12-17: “Mademoiselle . . . looked up . . . a one-volume medical encyclopedia, which . . . had suggested suitable illnesses for the characters in the stories she contributed to the Québec Quarterly.”
83.17: copie in their mansarde: Darkbloom: “copying in their garret.”
83.18: à grand eau: Darkbloom: “swilling the floors.”
83.19: white-haired but still young-looking Mme F.: Cf. 79.14-16 and n.
83.20-21: “But, my poor Mathilde, the necklace was false”: Cf. 190.03-04: Van, after Ada comes in to see that he has just torn a necklace apart in fury, “calmly quoted the punchline from Mlle Larivière’s famous story: ‘Mais, ma pauvre amie, elle était fausse.’ ”
83.24-84.03: She showed Van and Lucette (the others knew all about it) the exact pine and the exact spot on its rugged red trunk where . . . a magnetic telephone nested . . . (cylinders): Marina obviously cannot refrain from pointing out this slightly racy fact to anybody new: see 273.31-32: “ ‘In a birdhouse fixed to that pine trunk,’ said Marina to her young admirer [Percy de Prey], ‘there was once a ‘telephone.’ ”
Cf. SM 198: “a passage in the servants’ wing . . . where there hung on the sun-stamped wall the remotest and oldest of our country-house telephones, a bulky boxlike contraption which had to be clangorously cranked up to educe a small-voiced operator.”
See 23.09n and Charles Nicol, “Buzzwords and Dorophonemes: How Words Proliferate and Things Decay in Ada,” in Gavriel Shapiro, ed., Nabokov at Cornell, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 91-100, p. 98: “Both electricity and water have currents; indeed [Alexander Graham] Bell [see 3.10n.] consistently explained that his telephone worked on ‘undulating current.’” MOTIF: electricity; pine; technology; telephone; water-speech.
83.27-29: After the banning of “currents and circuits,” . . . those not quite proper words: Cf. 147.01-03: “because Lettrocalamity . . was banned all over the world, its very name having become a ‘dirty word.’ ”
83.28-29: désinvolture: Darkbloom: “uninhibitedness.” Pun on “volt.”
83.30: of Van, of Vanichka: MOTIF: Van.
83.31: her husband’s grandmother: Olga Veen (née Zemski).
83.31-32: an engineer of great genius: MOTIF: of genius.
83.32-33: the Redmont rill (running just below the glade . . . ): Cf. 266.12-15: “the traditional pine glade . . . where a rill dipped from ledge to ledge” (at Ada’s 1888 birthday picnic). MOTIF: red mountain.
83.34: vibrational vibgyors (prismatic pulsations): Darkbloom: “violet-indigo-blue-green-yellow-orange-red.” Cf. also Ulysses: “Roygbiv Vance taught us: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet” (13.1075; see also 15.1604). Alexander Graham Bell (see 3.10-11n. and 83.24-84.03n.) invented not only the telephone but also “the photophone, an instrument for transmitting sound by vibrations in a beam of light” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1962 ed., 3:370). MOTIF: prism.
84.01-02: produced . . . only one-way messages: Cf. Aqua’s feeling “tickled at the thought that she, poor Aqua, had accidentally hit upon such a simple method of recording and transmitting speech, while technologists . . . were trying to make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and still very expensive, hydrodynamic telephones . . . ” (23.05-09).
84.03: cost, she said, a Jew’s eye: A1: “familiar antisemitic remark.” W2: “Something of indefinitely great value; -- so used, as in the old saying ‘worth a Jew’s eye,’ in allusion to the former torture for extortion practiced upon Jews.” The next day, remembering this, Lucette will ask her mother “What are Jews?” (90.17). MOTIF: eye dissociated; torture.
84.06-07: As if to confirm many people’s discontent with national and international policies: In other words, with the ban on electricity. MOTIF: electricity.
84.06-07: national and international policies (old Gamaliel was by now pretty gaga): Cf. 14.21-24: “decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel . . . ”; 472.28-30: “whenever good Gamaliel (not reelected after his fourth term) happened to dine there in his informal gagality.”
84.08: the little red car: Cf. 79.03.
84.09-12: Monsieur . . . Mademoiselle Ada . . . Madame: Dan, Ada, Marina; the Frenchness of Bouteillan is again emphasized, at a time when he is again driving the family car, at 157.03-12.
84.14: We cannot reconstitute: Cf. 392.08: “Neither sibling could ever reconstruct. . . . ”
84.16-22: huge beautiful doll . . . with a braced right leg and a bandaged left arm, and a boxful of plaster jackets . . . . Directions in Russian . . . : The gift is suggested by “the young hospital nurse Dan had been monkeying with ever since his last illness (it was, by the way, she, busybody Bess, whom Dan had asked on a memorable occasion to help him get ‘something nice for a half-Russian child interested in biology’)” (256.19-23).
84.18-19: rubber accessories: Cf. 438.26-28: “Bellabestia (‘Bess’) to whom he bequeathed a trunkful of museum catalogues and his second-best catheter.”
84.20-22: Russian or Bulgarian . . . the old Cyrillitsa, a nightmare alphabet which Dan had never been able to master: Cyrillitsa (or Kyrillitsa), the Cyrillic alphabet, as used in Russian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Serbian. The original (Old Church Slavonic) script was reformed for Russian by Peter the Great; that script in turn (retrospectively called the Old Orthography) was reformed in turn in 1918, as part of the post-1917 modernisation process. The Russian émigré first wave retained the old orthography until after World War II. Cf. Nabokov’s unusual declarations: “This writer fervently hopes that the Cyrillic alphabet, with the even more absurd characters in Asiatic languages, will be completely scrapped some near day” (EO, III, 399); “There is no doubt in my mind that in the revised, and romanized, Russian script of the future . . . ” (EO, III, 492).
84.24-25: nice silk discards her maid had collected in a drawer he had discovered: Blanche’s menstrual rags: cf. Dan’s incomprehension at 68.26-34.
84.28-86.14: “You tell him to . . . carry the whole business to the surgical dump.” . . . her face twitching with nervous resolution, Marina marched toward the vehicle. . . . the twins . . . were carried away in the landau. . . . the rear tire burst with a comic bang. . . Lucette refused to give up her perch. . . . Ada had to content herself with Van’s hard lap: Ada’s rude response makes her mother, who may otherwise have supervised the departure or at least been able to take another passenger in the red motorcar, leave in a huff; the Erminins depart in their landau; Van’s bike bursts a tire; there is no other vehicle, and Lucette refuses to yield her perch, so Ada has to sit on Van’s knee. The whole sequence is a parody of the authorial maneuvrings of character and event in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels in order to position characters, especially men and women, close to one another—although not usually as close as this. It will be followed by a matching sequence in 1888 (277.06-279.14). The pattern occurs, in almost melodramatic form, all the way through Fanny Burney’s Evelina. Jane Austen uses it with masterly subtlety, as when, by placing Mr. Elton and Emma unexpectedly in the same carriage, she has Elton, his caution lowered by drink, seize the opportunity to make an unexpected and unwelcome proposal of marriage to Emma (Emma, ch. 15). Nabokov himself particularly appreciated Austen’s handling of the excursion to Sotherton in Mansfield Park, which he taught between 1950 and 1959 in his Masterpieces of European Literature course at Cornell: see LL 20-31, with its accompanying sketches of a barouche and a curricle. The complex sequence of events determining who rides with whom on the way to Sotherton unfolds in I, 8.
84.31-32: Your cruelty, Ada, is sometimes . . . satanic!: Does Marina come close to saying “demonic,” then checking herself, since Ada is not to know she is Demon’s daughter? MOTIF: satanic.
84.33: her long cane: Cf. 79.07.
84.34: when one became airborne for the first time: MOTIF: first time.
85.02-03: an empty half-gallon bottle: Cf. 79.31: “half a gallon of Goodson white port” and 80.12-14: “the port wine which only the governesses had touched . . . quickly removed by the servants.”
85.03-04: angry burnberry bush: “ Burnberry” is invented, modelled on terms like “bogberry,” or the “bilberry” prominent in the name-day celebrations in “A Bad Day.” Cf. 9.09-10: “bury or burn this album at once.” MOTIF: burnberry.
85.08-19: played anagrams . . . . inventions”: Cf. 266.17-19, Ada’s 1888 picnic: “She said: ‘Speaking as a character in an old novel, it seems so long, long ago, davnïm davno, since I used to play word-games here with Grace and two other lovely girls. ‘Insect, incest, nicest.’ ” MOTIF: games.
85.09-22: insect . . . . Incest. . . . first bad mosquito of the season was resonantly slain on Ada’s shin: Cf. Chateaubriand’s mosquito, 105.33-07.32. MOTIF: insect/incest.
85.09-17: insect . . . Scient. . . . Dr. Entsic was scient in insects. . . . Nicest. . . . Incest: Cf. 436.26-28: “how incandescently, how incestuously—c’est le mot—art and science meet in an insect.” MOTIF: metamorphosis.
85.10-17: Scient. . . . Incest: Cf. 394.20-23: “ ‘Lucette affirmed,’ he said, ‘that she ( Ada) imitated mountain lions.’ He was omniscient. Better say, omni-incest. ‘That’s right,’ said the other total-recaller.”
85.10: Scient: W2: “Knowing; skillful. Now rare. A man of science; a scientist. Rare.” In Paradise Lost, referring to the Tree of Knowledge (akin to the Shattal apple tree of 78.05), Milton writes: “The power . . . whose presence had infused / Into the plant sciential sap” (9.835-37: sciential, “endowed with knowledge,” sap, with a pun on sapience, “knowledge, wisdom”).
85.12-13: Dr. Entsic was scient in insects: Pun on “entomologist” and, as Stephen Blackwell noticed (private communication) on the Russian for “encyclopaedia,” entsiklopedia.
85.17-19: Incest . . . . We need a dictionary to check your little inventions: Cf. the semi-denials of the existence of incest on Antiterra, 133.19-34.06.
Edelnant 43 comments that “The lust of the de Preys and the innocence of the Erminins provide polar extremes between which Van places himself and his love.” Grace and Greg Erminin are indeed decidedly innocent (Greg, though he dotes on Ada, is ignored by her), especially in contrast to the incestuous siblings Ada and Van Veen; Cordula and Percy de Prey are depraved, cousins as Van and Ada seem to be, and sexual partners to, respectively, Van and Ada. MOTIF: dictionary; incest.
85.21: first bad mosquito of the season: Cf. 106.10-11: “During the last week of July, there emerged, with diabolical regularity, the female of Chateaubriand’s mosquito.” On the picnic for Ada’s sixteenth birthday, Van kisses “a mosquito bite” on Lucette’s arm “in pure tribute to the duplication” (280.27-28). MOTIF: mosquito.
85.24: Essex, Middlesex and Somerset: The names of three Southern English counties (Middlesex, however, was absorbed into Greater London and adjacent counties in 1965), but also a play on the homosexuality of novelist, playwright and short-story writer W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965). In the gallery of homosexual writers on Gaston Godin’s walls in Lolita, II.6, there are “two other well-known English writers” (183), “one of whom, W. Somerset Maugham . . . , would have been named had he not been still alive, says Nabokov” (Annotated Lolita 391). Another trio of 1884 Ardis footmen, “Price, Norris, and Ward” (405.10) also have literary associations (their names are those of Miss Ward—Lady Bertram by the time the action starts—and her two sisters, Mrs Price and Mrs Norris, in Austen’s Mansfield Park).
85.27-28: were carried away in the landau. A pale diaphanous butterfly with a very black body followed them: Cf. 79.09-11: “A strange pale butterfly passed . . . and was followed presently by a landau.”
85.27-30: A pale diaphanous butterfly with a very black body . . . Ada . . . explained it was closely related to a Japanese Parnassian:Zimmer 2001: 222 suggests that the Japanese Parnassian this butterfly resembles is Parnassius stubbendorfi (correctly stubbendorfii), but Takashi Araki of Kyoto University notes it is more likely to be Parnassius citrinarius Motschulsky, 1866 (= P. glacialis Butler, 1866), more widely distributed (western Hokkaido, most of Honshu, and Shikoku) than stubbendorfii (central and eastern Hokkaido and Rishiri Island), and with an abdomen with black hairs and strong black maculation on its wings, rather than stubbendorfii's fine gray abdominal hairs and weaker maculation. Zimmer suggests (2001: 222) that "the parnassian referred to could be any of the Japanese subspecies of Parnassius stubbendorfi[i]. . . . Perhaps the blackest of them is geisha, restricted to the province of Shinano." Professor Araki notes that this and other subspecies are not considered valid by Japanese taxonomists, and that P. citrinarius from Shinano (currently, Nagano Prefecture) is not the blackest among Japanese populations, although Nabokov could indeed have been attracted by the geisha subspecies name proposed by Bryk and Eisner in 1932. MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy; butterflies.
85.30-31: Parnassian . . . . a pseudonym when publishing the story: Since it would sound odd for Mlle Larivière to publish a story called “La Rivière de Diamants,” the governess, inspired by Ada’s “Parnassian,” hits on the idea of using the pseudonym “Monparnasse” (194.20-21: “her gorgeous pseudonym ‘Guillaume de Monparnasse’ ”), which is of course close to the Guy de Maupassant we know on Earth.
85.32: sans façons: Darkbloom: “unceremoniously.”
86.03-04: unfamiliar with the itinerary of sun and shade . . . he had left his bicycle to endure the blazing beams: MOTIF: sun-Ardis.
86.05: mounted it, uttered a yelp of pain: MOTIF: pantyless Ada.
86.06: googled: According to W2, a variant of goggle, “to roll; to shake; to stagger. Obs. exc. Dial. Eng.”
86.09-10: Bouteillan Junior, yet another household character: Cf. SM 46: “with a permanent staff of about fifty servants and no questions asked, our city household and country place. . . . ” Among many possible parallels in fiction, Tolstoy in Anna Karenin constantly introduces new characters on the Lyovin estate.
86.10: Lucette refused to give up her perch: Cf., at the 1888 picnic, 278.28-29: “Lucette considered with darkening green eyes the occupation of her habitual perch.”
Cf. “A Bad Day”: “Peter sat on the box of the open carriage, next to the coachman (he was not particularly fond of that seat, but the coachman and everybody at home thought he liked it extremely, and he on his part did not want to hurt people, so this is how he came to be sitting there . . . )” (Stories 264).
86.11: her drunken boxfellow: Coachman Ben Wright, “still stone-sober” at 78.14. Cf. 280.28-30: “Poor Lucette stole a languorous look at him and looked away again—at the red neck of the coachman—of that other coachman who for sevral months had haunted her dreams.”
86.13: strapontin: Darkbloom : “folding seat in front.”
86.13-87.05: Ada had to content herself with Van’s hard lap. It was the children’s first bodily contact and both were embarrassed. . . . the core of the longing which he knew he had to control lest a possible seep perplex her innocence: The proximity and embarrassment are compounded by Ada’s not wearing panties (cf. 77.11-78.07); the reason for Ada’s wearing a “lolita” (77.02) becomes clear in this echo of Lolita’s davenport scene (cf. 77.02-06n.). MOTIF: pantyless Ada.
86.14-87.07: Van’s hard lap . . . . He would have yielded and melted in animal laxity. . . . shifted Ada’s bottom: MOTIF: behind.
86.18: ample pine-smelling skirt: The smell is not from the real pines of the glade but from her morning washcloth, 77.12. Cf. 77.06, “ample, black skirt” and Lolita 59. MOTIF: pine.
86.20-23: Hot gouts of sun . . . : “Hot gouts” at first invites us to read it another way. Cf. also 266.12, at the start of the 1888 picnic: “the sun gouts of the traditional pine glade”; 280.25, on the return ride from the endof the 1888 picnic, “The gouts and glooms of the woodland.” MOTIF: sun-Ardis.
86.21: her zebra stripes: Cf. 78.07. In 1888 unobservant Mlle Larivière, unaware it is Ada’s, presses “a zebra vest on Lucette, who kept rejecting it with rude remarks” (198.06-07). MOTIF: black-white.
86.24: “Why did you cry?”: Cf. 83.04-05: “Why did Ada burst into tears at the height of Van’s performance?”
86.24-25: inhaling her hair and the heat of her ear: Cf. 280.02-03, on the return from the 1888 picnic, when Van has Lucette in his lap: “Her ember-bright hair flew into his face and smelt of a past summer.”
86.27-29: (Did I? . . . A later note.): MOTIF: Composition--Ada.
86.28-29: something dreadful, brutal, dark, and, yes, dreadful, about the whole thing: Cf. 83.04-05 and n.
86.32-33: (By the way, that “for all the world,” . . . Ada’s late hand.): See 86.19. MOTIF: Composition--Ada.
87.03: softly parting in two: Ada is not wearing knickers.
87.03-05: the core of the longing which he knew he had to control lest a possible seep perplex her innocence: Cf. 281.27-28, on the return from the 1888 picnic, “threatened to touch off a private crisis under the solemn load of another child.”
87.07-09: shifted Ada’s bottom to his right knee, blunting what used to be termed in the jargon of the torture house “the angle of agony”: Cf. 61.17-19: “acting upon Van, as artificial excitements and exotic torture-caresses might have done, in an aphrodisiac sinistral direction. . . . ” MOTIF: agony; torture.
87.10-11: watched a row of izbas straggle by as the calèche drove through Gamlet, a hamlet: Cf. 35.01-02: “They passed through Torfyanka, a dreamy hamlet consisting of three or four log izbas”; 35.10: “They bounced on the cobblestones of Gamlet, a half-Russian village”; 282.05-06, on the 1888 picnic: “They were now about to enter Gamlet, the little Russian village.” MOTIF: Gamlet.
87.12-14: Mlle Laparure . . . “the contrast between the opulence of nature and the squalor of human life”: Perhaps a personal echo for Nabokov: “Leafing through my own childhood memories, I find—dim but still legible—the following madrigal, seen in an old songbook or album:
Chérissez ce que la nature
De sa douce main vous donna,
Portez sa brillante parure,
Toujours, toujours, belle Nina.” (EO II, 529)
(“Cherish what nature gave you with its soft hand, wear its brilliant finery, always, always, fair Nina”).
87.12: Mlle Laparure: Since Mlle Larivière has more or less the same name as her story, “La Rivière de Diamants,” she is renamed according to the terrestrial original of her story, “La Parure” (see 79.14-16n.). Mason 58 suggests an additional allusion to the title of another Maupassant story, “Mademoiselle Perle” (1886). MOTIF: La Parure.
87.14: moujik: French transliteration of muzhik.
87.14: décharné: Darkbloom: “emaciated.”
87.15: cabane: Darkbloom: “hut.”
87.15: And see that agile swallow!: Cf. “et l’hirondelle agile” (139.02, “and the agile swallow”), an echo of stanza 4 of Chateaubriand’s “Romance à Hélène”: “Te souvient-il du lac tranquille / Qu’effleurait l’hirondelle agile” (“Do you still recall the peaceful lake / That the agile swallow would skim”): see 138.01-139.04 and n. MOTIF: Romance à Hélène .
87.18-19: “It’s a good fairy tale,” said Van. “It’s a fairy tale,” said careful Ada: MOTIF: fairy tale.
87.20: Allons donc: Darkbloom: “Oh, come.”
87.21-23: the drama of the petty bourgeois, with all his class care and class dreams and class pride: Cf. 270.17-19, Mlle Larivière at the 1888 picnic: “ England! The country where for every poet, there are ninety-nine sales petits bourgeois, some of suspect extraction!”
87.25: pointe assassine: Darkbloom: “The point (of a story or poem) that murders artistic merit.” Cf. 541.04-05, “assassin pun,” and n.
87.25-26: lacked “realism” within its own terms: Cf. LL 146: “all fiction is fiction. All art is deception. Flaubert’s world, as all worlds of major writers, is a world of fancy with its own logic, its own conventions, its own coincidences.”
87.27-28: quitte à tout dire à la veuve: Darkbloom: “even telling it all to the widow if need be.”
87.28: the lost necklace: MOTIF: necklace.
87.32-88.09: slight commotion . . . he does not smell good. . . . Il pue. . . . I doubt strongly he ever was in that Rajah’s service: Cf.140.01-02: “Ben Wright was fired after letting winds go free while driving Marina and Mlle Larivière home from the Vendange Festival at Brantôme near Ladore.”
88.01-07: Mne tut neudobno . . . Il pue: Lucette speaks Russian to Ada, and Ada French to Mlle Larivière, to avoid being understood by the English coachman.
88.07: Il pue: Darkbloom: “He stinks.”
88.08-09: in that Rajah’s service: Cf. 408.18-19: “Bengal Ben, as the servants called him.” MOTIF: Rajah.
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 13