Part One, Chapter 14
When Ada has to sit on Van’s lap on their return from the picnic at the end of the previous chapter, the two children enjoy a sustained physical contact that, for Van at least, marks a major advance toward Ada. After that deliciously protracted intimacy, we see them next in this chapter, having once again to function amidst other people. Like Van, we want to know now whether the experience of the picnic ride has made any difference to Ada’s feelings for him, but at this early stage he dare not ask her openly. He, and we, can only deduce her feelings from what she reveals in the company of others.
Part I Chapter 14, a day or two after the picnic, answers his question and ours when Greg Erminin arrives to return the cigarette lighter his aunt had inadvertently taken from the picnic. What follows is a rarity in Nabokov, a chapter that is one sustained scene and that consists almost entirely of conversation, and a six- or seven- or eight-way one at that (Dan contributes only with a silent shake of the head and withdrawal into the background, Dack stays in the foreground and barks his one line). After the mounting intimacy of the picnic, this second scene of refreshments on the grass seems light, colorful, relaxed, inconsequential, quietly comic.
The conversation is stylized, but not in the way of an Oscar Wilde or a Henry James, where all speak with the voice of the author. True, the conversation has the rococo exuberance and unexpectedness endemic in Ada, but it is also diverse and finely observed, ranging all the way from the wordless, the intended but unsaid, the curt, and the direct, through to the voluble and ornate. Van’s wit shifts from relaxed to tense to strained, Ada is quietly cutting, Marina vague, fussily maternal when she remembers that role, and spottily Russian, Mlle Larivière heavily French and ponderously narrow-minded, Lucette fetchingly naïve, Greg assured and polite, quietly dignified under attack but abject in his devotion to Ada.
Although Van and Ada do not even talk to one another, the scene marks a significant advance in their love, through the comic image of the gap between their giftedness and the ordinariness of the others (intellectually, in the conversation, and even physically, in the gulf between Van’s breathtaking brachiambulation and Lucette’s charmingly childish hand-walking), and especially through the evidence, as the scene ends, of Van’s specialness to Ada, as she brusquely dismisses Greg’s advances and Van, seeing this, exults in a burst of ebullient adolescent exhibitionism.
89.01: Next day, or the day after the next: Cf. 50.01: “On the same morning, or a couple of days later”; 91.29: “A day or two before.” Van can remember the sequence exactly, but cannot be sure of the interval, a theme that he will take up in a different way in The Texture of Time.
89.02: high tea: W2: “Tea (a meal) with meats and extra relishes.”
89.02-03: Ada, on the grass, kept trying to make an anadem of marguerites for the dog: Cf. 92.28-29. Cf. SM 240: “the crowns of flowers that, like all little Russian mermaids, she was so fond of weaving.” Greg, who will arrive in a moment, in 1901 thinks of Ada as an actress: “Oh, that would be terrible, I declare—to switch on the dorotelly, and suddenly see her. Like a drowning man seeing his whole past, and the trees, and the flowers, and the wreathed dachshund.” (455.20-23); Lucette when she drowns “did not see her whole life flash before her as we all were afraid she might have done . . . but she did see a few odds and ends. . . . she saw a girl with long black hair quickly bend in passing to clap her hands over a dackel in a half-torn wreath.” (494.22-32)
89.03: anadem: OED: “A wreath for the head, usually of flowers; a chaplet, a garland”; W2: “A garland or fillet; chaplet; wreath. Poetic.” As the Kyoto Circle suggests, the phrasing “an anadem” highlights the near-“ada” in anadem. MOTIF: Ada.
89.03: marguerites: OED: “1. The common daisy (Bellis perennis). rare. . . . 2. The Ox-eye Daisy, Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum.” MOTIF: flowers.
89.04: munching a crumpet: [Image of crumpets.] MOTIF: crumpet.
89.06-09: straw hat . . . glared at the sun that glared back . . . retired . . . under an immense elm: Cf. 5.06, Dan “spent only a few carefully shaded summer weekends at Ardis.”
89.06-07: glared at the sun that glared back: The slight pun, or revival of a dead metaphor, becomes in Ardeur 76: “jeta un regard incendiare au soleil qui le lui rendit bien” (“threw a fiery look at the sun, which gave it right back to him”).
89.08: Toulouse Enquirer: Cf. 93.03. MOTIF: Toulouse.
89.09: under an immense elm: Cf. 92.33. MOTIF: under tree.
89.10: “I ask myself who can that be”: Mlle Larivière as usual makes few concessions to English: the French for “I wonder” is “Je me demande,” lexically, “I ask myself.”
89.11-12: the samovar (which expressed fragments of its surroundings in demented fantasies of a primitive genre): Cf. “He looked about him and saw the table and the faces of people sitting there, their reflection in the samovar—in a special samovarian perspective—and added with tremendous relief, ‘So this too is a dream? These people are a dream? Well, well. . . ’ (Defense 133) (Kyoto Reading Circle).
89.13: pilasters: [image of pilasters] W2: “An upright architectural member, rectangular in plan, structurally a pier . . . , but architecturally treated as a column, with capital, shaft, and base. Usually the projection from the wall is one third of its width, or less.”
89.14: open-work gallery: Cf. perhaps 584.22, “openwork American lilt.”
89.15: his book (Ada’s copy of Atala): Darkbloom: “a short novel by Chateaubriand.” (See 3.11-21n.) The edition illustrated by Gustave Doré (1832-83) was in Nabokov’s father’s library. On her return from the 1888 picnic, as Van sits under Lucette, Ada reads from a “little volume, Ombres et couleurs, an 1820 edition of Chateaubriand’s short stories” (280). MOTIF: Chateaubriand.
89.16: rosy-faced youngster: Seventeen years later, in 1901, Van “considered for a moment those red round cheeks” (453.08) before recognizing Greg Erminin.
89.17-18: black pony . . . . Greg’s beautiful new pony: At the 1888 picnic Greg arrives on a “splendid new black Silentium motorcycle” (268.08-09), and in 1901 Van recalls: “I last saw you thirteen years ago, riding a black pony—no, a black Silentium” (454.14-15).
89.18: “It’s Greg’s beautiful new black pony,” said Ada: Although this may at first seem to register the surprise of novelty quite innocently, as a response to Mlle Larivière’s “I ask myself who can that be” Ada’s identification in fact pointedly overlooks Greg himself, an indifference that anticipates her more overt snub at 92.33.
90.01: platinum lighter: MOTIF: riches.
90.04-07: Ruth and Grace . . . all those burnberries they picked in the bushes: Appears to echo Ophelia’s flower scene (cf. “‘Yes indeed,’ began Marina, ‘when I was playing Ophelia, the fact that I had once collected flowers—’ ‘Helped, no doubt,’ said Ada” ): “There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we may call it herb of grace a’ Sundays” (Hamlet 4.5.180-82). As recorded in the Hamlet Variorum (ed. Horace Howard Furness, 1877; rpt. New York: Dover, 1963), which Nabokov mined for chapter 7 of Bend Sinister, the great eighteenth-century Shakespeare editor George Steevens notes: “there is a quibble meant in this passage, ‘rue’ anciently signifying the same as ruth, i.e. sorrow.” Nabokov was fascinated by the flowers Ophelia picks (see his “The Art of Translation,” The New Republic, 4 August 1941, 160, and Bend Sinister 113-15, 118).
90.05-07: indigestion . . . those burnberries they picked in the bushes: As if they are heartburn-berries. See 85.03-04 for “an angry burnberry bush” by the picnic site. Ardeur 76: “ces baies de Bengale qu’elles ont ramassées dans les buissons” (“those Bengal berries they picked in the bushes ”), punning on “Baie de Bengale” (“Bay of Bengal”) and “feu de Bengale” (“ Bengal light, signal light, flare”).
90.06-34: those burnberries they picked in the
bushes . . . “Why
is Greg a Jew?”. . . . before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus swamp: This link between Greg’s sister and aunt eating
burnberries, the family’s Jewishness, and Marina’s thought of Moses in the
lotus swamp, strengthens the likelihood that Nabokov has the biblical Burning
Bush partly in mind (as well as the fruit of the Fall in Genesis) here (and Van
will explicitly link his and Ada’s love-making “from Burning Barn to Burnberry
Brook,” 286.23-24). In Exodus 3, following the chapter reporting Moses’s birth
and preservation in the reeds of the Nile, the adult Moses sees a burning bush
which is not consumed by fire. God is in the bush, and commands Moses to lead
his people out of the land of Egypt. The scene starts, in the King James
Version, Exodus 3.2-4: “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame
of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned
with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside
and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that
he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and
said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.”
90.06: burnberries: N1: “invented word.” Berries that grow by the “burn” or brook first mentioned, generically, at 82.01, then as a rill at the picnic site, 83.32, 266.14-15, 286.24 (“Burnberry Brook”). MOTIF: burn; burnberry.
90.09-12: a party at the Countess de Prey’s. . . . pistol duel: The Countess is the mother not of Cordula de Prey, whom we and Van meet in I.27 (where Mrs de Prey also throws a party), but of Percy de Prey, whom we meet in I.31, and who arrives uninvited to join Ada’s 1888 birthday party picnic, and nearly finds himself in a duel with Van. Pré is French for “meadow,” as Veen is Dutch for “bog, turf.” MOTIF: de Prey; prey.
90.12-13: alluding to the death of the Count killed in a pistol duel on Boston Common a couple of years ago: Cf. 163.13-15: “our late neighbor, a fine shot but the light was bad on the Common, and a meddlesome garbage collector hollered at the wrong moment.” Demon wounds Baron d’Onsky of Aardvark and Boston, Massa., in a duel in 1869 (13-15). MOTIF: duel.
90.17-18: “What are Jews?” . . . “Dissident Christians,” answered Marina: Marina is always inclined to vagueness, since Christians could better be characterized as “dissident Jews,” although this kind of mistake is not uncommon among those in predominantly Christian countries with vague notions of their own culture’s history. Cf. also BS 192: “that wonderful Jewish sect whose dream of the gentle young rabbi dying on the Roman crux had spread over all Northern lands”; EO, 2.356, on the legend of Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew: “Historically, the survival of an obscure apocryphon is mainly owing to its having been frequently used as a mysterious and fatalistic excuse by dominant sects for the persecution of an older but less fortunate one.”
Lucette’s first question is partly prompted by a recollection of Marina’s saying the previous day that the installation and upkeep of the magnetic telephone in the Ardis grounds “cost . . . a Jew’s eye” (84.03) The theme of Jewishness, anti-Semitism and aristocratic snobbery is prominent in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
90.19: “Why is Greg a Jew?”: For the reason for her question, see 91.13-14.
90.21: arrière grandparents: Great-grandparents.
90.24-26: not Jews in quotes—I mean, not comic characters or Christian businessmen: Cf. 5.19-20, “their Raduga place (later sold to Mr. Eliot, a Jewish businessman),” an Antiterran version of the emphatically Anglican and anti-Semitic T.S. Eliot, and 459.11-18, “a Wall Street, very ‘patrician’ colleague of Demon’s, old Kithar K.L. Sween, who wrote verse, and the still older real-estate magnate Milton Eliot. . . . the author of Agonic Lines and Mr. Eliot. . . . ” Kithar Sween, the author of Agonic Lines, is a version of Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes. Curiously, Greg will later marry “Maude Sween,” news which prompts Van to ask “The daughter of the poet?” (“No, no, her mother is a Brougham.”) (454.07-09)
90.26: Tartary: MOTIF: Tartar.
90.27-30: French marquis . . . Roman faith . . . crazy about banks and stocks and jewels, so I imagine people may have called him un juif: Perhaps a stylized version of the Rothschilds, the Jewish banking family, originating in Germany in the eighteenth century but prominent in Naples, Paris and London in the nineteenth.
90.30: un juif: Darkbloom : “A Jew.”
90.31-34: “It’s not a very old religion, anyway, as religions go, is it?” . . . vaguely planning to steer the chat to India where she had been a dancing girl long before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus swamp: Marina, whose soul even on her deathbed “remained irrevocably consecrated . . . to the ultimate wisdom of Hinduism” (451.13-15), is indeed vague.
Judaism can first be distinguished as the monotheistic worship of Yahweh by the Hebrews at the time of Moses, 13th century B.C.E., and is therefore old in comparison with all other major continuing religious traditions--such as Buddhism (and its coeval Confucianism, to the limited extent that that can be seen as a religion), Christianity and Islam--except for Hinduism, which began to acquire some of its present shape about four thousand years ago. W2 notes: “Probably Hinduism is as old as, or older than, the Vedas and represents an unbroken development from the Stone Age to the present day.”
Marina’s “India where she had been a dancing girl long before Moses” reflects the key Hindu belief in the rebirth and transmigration of souls (cf. Mlle Larivière’s belief, according to Ada, “that in some former Hindooish state she was a boulevardier in Paris,” 53.31-32), a belief which was not yet present in the Vedic hymns (c. 1500-500 B.C.E.) and in that sense was not “long before Moses.”
Marina’s “dancing girl” may reflect the multiple arms of various Hindu deities, such as Vishnu in some incarnations, or the Goddess (variously Durga, Kali, Devi) linked with Shiva as his Sakit or energy.
Her “before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus swamp” combines both the story of the birth of Moses, the major human figure of the beginning of the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, with the lotus in Egyptian, Hindu and Buddhist religion. The first five books of Tanakh, the Jewish Holy Scriptures, as of the Old Testament in the Christian Bible, are regarded as the Books of Moses, since they form a continuous narrative from the creation of the world to the death of Moses, and have a special foundational authority within both traditions. In the second of the books, Exodus, the Pharoah decrees that the male children of Israel are to be killed at birth; the mother of Moses hides him in an ark of bulrushes among the reeds of the Nile bank, where he is seen and saved by the Pharoah’s daughter (Exodus 1-2). Because of its association with the Nile and the fertility it brought, the Egyptian white lotus, Nymphaea lotus, was sacred in ancient Egypt . The East Indian lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is an emblem of Vishnu; in some traditions, the god Brahma is born from a lotus that springs from Vishnu’s navel. To Buddhists the lotus stands “for purity and divine birth. Like the lotus, which germinates under the water and arises to the surface to unfold, so too the Buddha is born in the impure world but through his enlightenment rises above it.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1972 ed, 14:238). “Padmasambhava (lit. ‘Lotus-Born’), also known as the Second Buddha, was a sage guru from Oddiyana, northwestern Classical India (in the modern-day Swat Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan). Padmasambhava is said to have transmitted Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet, Bhutan and neighboring countries in the 8th century AD. In those lands, he is better known as Guru Rinpoche (lit. "Precious Guru") or Lopon Rinpoche or as Padum in Tibet, where followers of the Nyingma school regard him as the second Buddha” (Wikipedia, accessed 22 April 2014). MOTIF: flowers.
90.33-34: long before Moses or anybody: Cf. 242.04, “long before Moses de Vere” (noted by Alexey Sklyarenko, Nabokv-L, July 10, 2012).
91.02: Belle” (Lucette’s name for her governess): See also 289.16, 374.11, 374.25, 376.07. Marina also calls Mlle Larivière “Belle” at 155.19 and 232.14, as does Ada, mimicking Lucette, at 210.11, and Van at 236.02. The name would appear to be short for “Isabelle,” although Mlle Larivière’s first name is Ida (77.01, 77.17, 407.01), but it could refer to the fact that she is a “woman of great and repulsive beauty” (77.18), or to the fact that she is a “belletrist” who as an Antiterran stand-in for Maupassant also rewrites his novel Bel-Ami (1885) as L’ami Luc (see 456.04-05). An Isabel Rivers features in The New Machiavelli (1911), by one of Nabokov’s favorite writers, H.G. Wells.
91.03: dizzy Christian: Lucette’s garbling of “Dissident Christians” (90.18). Ardeur 77: “une chrétienne saucissoniste” (in response to Marina’s “Des chrétiens sécessionistes”) (“secessionist Christians” into “sausagist Christian”).
91.04-17: Who cares . . . so did my grandparents.' One is reminded of the conversation in Saltykov-Shchedrin's Gospoda Golovlyovy ("The Golovlyovs"):
At the funeral repast Iudushka (whose brother Pavel just died) remarks that Jews and Tartars do not eat pork. The priest replies that Jews are mocked "a pig's ear" for that. Iudushka adds that during the siege of Paris people are said to have eaten rats. "Well, those were the French!" the priest says.
91.04-08: Who cares . . . Jove or Jehovah, spire or cupola, mosques in Moscow, or bronzes and bonzes . . . merely the dust and mirages of the communal mind: The images suggest some traditional oppositions, Greek and Jew (Jove or Jehovah), Protestant and Catholic (spire or cupola), Islamic and Eastern Orthodox (mosques in Moscow). The “bronze bell” of 90.08 may have prompted the last pairing (cf. Van’s comment on surroundings as a verbal prompt in Chekhov’s Four Sisters, 428.01-12); a “bonze” is “A Buddhist monk of the Far East, originally one of Japan” (W2).
Ardeur 77 adds after “Jove or Jehova” “de Stabat ou mastaba” (the Stabat mater, “the mother was standing,” a thirteenth-century Latin hymn evoking Mary at the foot of the cross, a recurrent theme in Christian pictorial and musical iconography; and mastaba,W2, “Egypt. Archeol., A type of tomb, of the time of the Memphite dynasties, oblong in shape with sloping sides and connected with a mummy chamber in the rock beneath”).
This tirade is the first example of a singular trait in Van, described at 530.07-10: “As had been peculiar to his nature even in the days of his youth, Van was apt to relieve a passion of anger and disappointment by means of bombastic and arcane utterances which hurt like a jagged fingernail caught in satin, the lining of Hell.” These tirades are particularly likely to be brought on by last or ultimate things: “You know I abhor churchyards, I despise, I denounce death, dead bodies are burlesque, I refuse to stare at a stone under which a roly-poly old Pole is rotting, let him feed his maggots in peace, the entomologies of death leave me cold” (297.28-32). (See also 380.25-381.30.) The trait has similarities with Ada’s more exhibitionistic displays (43, 61-65) and Demons’s verbal torrents (e.g. 436-37).
Van’s impatience here is something he shares with his maker (“in my metaphysics, I am a confirmed non-unionist and have no use for organized tours through anthropomorphic paradises,” SM 297), although “old myths” produce a less impatient response at Ada 73.17-26. MOTIF: Ada-Van similarity; family resemblance; Van’s tirades.
91.07: deserts with bleached camel ribs: The desert is naturally a common image in religions that emerged in the Middle East, and leads on to the following images, but is there a more specific reference?
91.08: the communal mind: Cf. “I detest the theatre as being a primitive and putrid form, historically speaking; a form that smacks of stone-age rites and communal nonsense despite those individual injections of genius, such as, say, Elizabethan poetry” (Lolita 200) (Kyoto Reading Circle).
91.10: Ada wished to be told: The unusual speech direction suggests the intonation of ironic exasperation.
91.10: Ada . . . cocking her head: Cf. “which could be, she conceded, mildly romantic in a maidenly headcocking way” (222.04-05).
91.10-11: cocking her head at the partly ornamented dackel or taksik: Ornamented with Ada’s “anadem of marguerites” (89.03); cf also Lucette’s supposed final memories of “ a girl with long black hair quickly bend in passing to clap her hands over a dackel in a half-torn wreath.” (494.22-32). Taksa is Russian for “dachshund,” and taksik a Russian, as “Dackel” is a German, diminutive. MOTIF: dackel.
91.14: Jews and Tartars do not eat pork: Greg is both Jew and “Tartar” (90.24-26). MOTIF: Tartar.
91.15-16: the Roman colonists, who crucified Christian Jews and Barabbits, and other unfortunate people: N1: Barabbits: “follower of Barabbas.”
Employed by the Assyrians, Scythians, Phoenicians and Persians as a particularly cruel and humiliating punishment, crucifixion was taken over by Alexander the Great and especially by the Romans, who reserved it for robbery and rebellion. “Jews and Barabbits,” as Bodenstein in part suggests (App. 6.2), combines “Jews and Arabs,” Barabbas, rabbis and (by way of the association of Easter and bunnies) rabbits. “Christian Jews and Barabbits” refers in particular to the story of Christ’s crucifixion in Mark 15. After the Sanhedrin delivered Christ to Pilate as a rebel, Pilate offered the Jewish crowd the right customary on that feast day to choose one condemned prisoner to set free. They opted for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Christ, who died on his cross between two robbers.
Cf. 330.32-33: “ . . . replied Van with the evasive taciturnity of the Roman rabbi shielding Barabbas.” MOTIF: martyr.
91.15-30: crucified . . . puzzled by a verb. . . . joined his ankles, spread both arms horizontally. . . . gripped her by her ankles: For the association of Lucette and crucifiction, see also, for instance, cf. 567.17-568.08: “ Ada did not breed or collect butterflies any more, but . . . loved to film them. . . . The films—and the crucified actors (Identification Mounts)—can be seen by arrangement at the Lucinda Museum, 5 Park Lane, Manhattan.” Aleksey Sklyarenko (Nabokv-L, 29 December 2013), draws attention to the relation between upside-down Lucette, with her ankles joined, and the crucifixion of the apostle Peter: “According to Christian tradition, Peter [the apostle] is said to have been crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar. It is traditionally held that he was crucified upside down at his own request, since he saw himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus Christ. MOTIF: cross.
91.22: crossly: Pun on the cross of the Crucifixion, which Van is just demonstrating (Kyoto Reading Circle).
91.22-23: Mesopotamian history: Mesopotamia (“the country between two rivers,” from Greek mesos middle + potamos river), identified with the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates, features several times in the Bible, but the great Mesopotamian civilizations, Sumeria, Assyria, and Babylon, had been no more for at least half a millennium before Christ. Marina has not retained a very clear memory of the history she was taught.
91.24: Not all little girls can learn what they are taught: Cf. Ada’s disparaging comments on Lucette’s memory at 145.24-25.
91.26-27: “Are we Mesopotamians?” asked Lucette. “We are Hippopotamians,” said Van: Cf. 83.30-31: “puzzled Lucette tugged at the sleeve of Van, of Vanichka, who could explain everything.”
“We are Mesopotamians” in the sense that the Biblical garden of Eden is traditionally located in Mesopotamia (Genesis 2.14: see 94.01n.), and Ardis itself has many Edenic overtones, as in the next chapter’s shattal tree (94.01 and n.), which itself alludes to Shatt-al Arab, the river formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, by the two rivers that define Mesopotamia (see etymologically, 91.22-23n.). Aleksey Sklyarenko notes (Nabokv-L, 12 June 2014): “In the scripture examination at school Anfim Baryba, the main character In Zamyatin's tale Uezdnoe ("In the Backwoods," 1912), mentions mesopotamy ("the Mesopotams") and other antediluvian animals that lived in paradise, a huge garden between Tigris and Euphrates:
[russian text to come]
In the front rows prompters whispered: - The Tigris and Euphrates. . . The garden, where there lived ... Mesopotamia. Me-so-po-ta. . . Deaf sod! Baryba began to speak, began to chip out words, one after the other, like stones, weighty, rare. - Adam and Eve. Between the Tigris and . . . this . . . Euphrates. Heaven was a huge garden. In which there were mesopotams. And other animals ... The priest nodded, as if very approvingly. Baryba perked up. - Who are these mesopotams, then? Eh, Anfim? Explain for us, Anfimushka. - Mesopotams. . . They’re like this. Animals before the flood. Very ravenous. And here they are in paradise. They lived side by side . . . The priest grunted with laughter and covered himself with his beard, curved backward, the children collapsed on their desks.
“Hippopotamians” could also echo a famous nineteenth-century controversy. In the wake of the suggestion by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) that man had evolved from the apes (The Descent of Man, 1871), anatomist Richard Owen “maintained that certain brain structures, including the hippocampus minor, were present only in humans and were responsible for our special status. However, Thomas Henry Huxley, Charles Darwin’s great friend and protagonist, showed conclusively that all apes possess these structures. As a consequence of the debate between Huxley and Owen, the hippocampus was the object of some befuddled ridicule among their contemporaries. In The Water Babies (1886), Charles Kingsley satirized Huxley . . . as follows: ‘You may think that there are other more important differences between you and an ape, such as being able to speak, and make machines, and know right from wrong, and say your prayers, and other little matters of that kind; but that is a child’s fancy, my dear. Nothing is to be depended on but the great hippopotamus [sic] test.’ ” (Michael C. Corballis, The Lopsided Ape: Evolution of the Generative Mind [New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991], p. 9; Kingsley , p. 154.)
Matthew Brillinger suggests (Nabokov’s Humor: The Play of Consciousness, unpub. doctoral diss., University of Auckland, 2004, Appendix) that the “hippopotamus” and the Edenic overtones of Mesopotamia recur on the Admiral Tobakoff, where Van and Lucette lie together by the liner’s pool, but just as Lucette’s hand works up Van’s thigh and gets him aroused, she draws away, “exhaling a genteel ‘merde.’ Eden was full of people. . . . Out of the water a bald head emerged by spontaneous generation and snorted” (479.03-08). While the bald head emerging from the water and the snorting could evoke a hippopotamus, there seems nothing to confirm a link.
91.27-28: “We are Hippopotamians,” said Van. “Come, . . . we have not yet ploughed today”: “Hippopotamus” derives from the Greek hippos “horse” + potamos “river”; when Van ploughs with Lucette, he turns her in play into a horse, and because she dies by drowning, in a chain of events that begins by a river, Lucette is strongly associated with rivers and especially the river in Rimbaud’s “Mémoire” (see notes to I.10).
91.27: Hippopotamians: Cf. 117.25-26: “Mr. Nymphobottomus.”
91.27-92.24: “Come, we have not yet ploughed today.” . . . her panties showed from under the hem of her skirt, yet she still urged the ploughboy on. . . . She lay for a moment, panting: Rabelais, a favorite of Van and Ada’s (136.28), uses labourer (to plough) to mean “fuck” ; cf. 18.23-24n (John A. Rea, Nabokv-L 23 February 2002). MOTIF: behind.
91.29: A day or two before: Cf. 89.01, “Next day, or the day after the next.”
91.29-30: Lucette had demanded that she be taught to hand-walk: More or less immediately after Van’s first demonstration of his hand-walking at the picnic on Ada’s birthday (81-83). MOTIF: Lucette as imitatrix.
91.32-33: pausing to nibble a daisy. Dack barked in strident protest: Presumably Dack barks merely out of excitement that something is happening at his level, but the phrasing allows the implication that he is protesting at Lucette’s consumption of the flowers that Ada could have added to the garland she is weaving for him. Lucette is again imitating Van: in 1892 Ada shows Van photographs “of the 1884 picnic, such as . . . reversed Van nibbling at pine starworts” (401.13-14). MOTIF: deflower; flowers; Lucette as imitatrix; dackel.
91.34-92.02: Et pourtant . . . I read to her twice Ségur’s adaptation in fable form of Shakespeare’s play about the wicked usurer: Still feeling stung by Marina’s comment at 91.22-23, as if it were a reproach to her teaching, Mlle Larivière offers this, as if an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice (1597?) read as part of a French lesson would have informed Lucette about Jews and “Mesopotamian history.” Anatole-Henri-Philippe Ségur, the second son of Sophie (née Rostopchine), comtesse de Ségur (see 55.30-31n), wrote Fables (1848). MOTIF: Ségur.
91.34: Et pourtant: Darkbloom: “and yet.”
92.03-09: my revised monologue of his mad king . . . . Ce beau jardin fleurit en mai, / . . . / N’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert: Darkbloom: “This beautiful garden blooms in May, but in Winter, never, never, never, never, never is green, etc.”
Ada ’s “revised” is an understatement: her version introduces an abab rhyme not even present in the original, a patterning entirely inappropriate to Lear’s terminally distraught last speech, after Cordelia has been killed. In any case Ada’s translation does not even approach Lear’s lament in sense, although it almost echoes one famous line in sound: “And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life! / Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, / And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more, / Never, never, never, never, never” (King Lear, 5.3.306-09).
Nabokov was fascinated by this last line. In Despair he echoed Hamlet, then King Lear, then Macbeth, when he ironically has Hermann argue against immortality by drawing on some of Shakespeare’s most immortal lines: “There is the rub, there is the horror; the more so as the acting will go on and on, endlessly; never, never, never, never, never will your soul in that other world be quite sure that the sweet gentle spirits crowding about it are not fiends in disguise, and forever, forever, and forever shall your soul remain in doubt” (Despair 112; the allusions are there, though not quite so vividly highlighted—only three nikogda’s, for instance—in the Russian, p. 98). In the course of their dispute about the relative flexibility of English and Russian versification, Edmund Wilson wrote to Nabokov: “Beside the verse of Shakespeare’s later plays, Pushkin seems pedantically regular. He almost never varies the iamb, whereas with Shakespeare any substitution is possible. I don’t remember in Pushkin even any such verse as ‘Never, never, never, never, never’ in King Lear” (letter of August 20, 1942, misdated “April 20” in NWL 59-60). Nabokov replied: “You say that you don’t remember in Pushkin e v e n any such verse as the five never’s in Lear; do you mean that you remember a similar kind of line anywhere else in Shakespeare (come, come, Bunny)?” (letter of August 24, 1942, NWL 72). In his discussion of meter in his “Appendix on Prosody” to Eugene Onegin, Nabokov wrote: “In reference to an iambic line, a typical or unqualified ‘tilt’ denotes a sequence of accented depression and unaccented stress . . . . coinciding with any foot in the line,” adding in a note: “Even within the last one, if we regard the famous (perhaps, accidentally fivefold, or, perhaps, meant as a prose interpolation) ‘Never, never, never, never, never!’ in King Lear (V, iii, 309) as a masculine line in iambic pentameter, entirely consisting of five tilted scuds and thus representing a maximal disembodiment of meter” (EO 3.462-463 and n.).
As Rivers and Walker point out, Ada’s translation “puns on ‘n’est vert’ (‘is not green) and the similar-sounding ‘never.’ It helps the pun to imagine the trochee of ‘never’ being pronounced as an iamb and changed into ‘n’est vert’ by a speaker with a French accent” (Rivers and Walker 274).
This is one of four key translations from French to English or vice versa that involve the loss of flowers or leaves: Fowlie’s translation of Rimbaud’s “Mémoire” (63-65), which Ada attacks, her own translation of Marvell’s “The Garden” (65), Ada’s King Lear, here, and Coppée’s “Matin d’octobre,” translated by Ada (127) and then Van (247). Standing on a railway platform, and feeling near-suicidal, Van in 1888 will recall Anna Karenin and Ada: “She walked to the end of the platform in Tolstoy’s novel. First exponent of the inner monologue, later exploited by the French and the Irish. N’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert. L’arbre aux quarante écus d’or, at least in the fall. Never, never shall I hear again her ‘botanical’ voice.” (299-300)
Ada ’s translation “en hiver . . . n’est vert” (“in winter . . . not green”) for her French governess will be answered by the name of her English drawing teacher, “Miss Wintergreen” (111). MOTIF: deflower; flowers; green; translation.
92.10-33: veritable sob of admiration . . . ‘No, it’s an elm”: This passage discloses that Greg Erminin is hopelessly in love with Ada, as he will be still in 1888 and as he admits to at 454.17-18: “I was absolyutno bezumno (madly) in love with your cousin!” As Alexey Sklyarenko notes (Nabokv-L, December 7, 2012): “Erminia is a character in Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered. She is hopelessly in love with Tancred. But Erminia was also a nickname of E[lizaveta] M[ikhailovna] Khitrovo [1783-1839], [General Mikhail] Kutuzov's daughter who was hopelessly in love with Pushkin. In a letter of May 9, 1834, to O. S. Pavlishchev (Pushkin's sister) the poet's mother mentions Erminia: “Aleksandr ochen’ zanyat po utram, potom on idyot v (Letniy) sad, gde progulivaetsya so svoey Erminiey.” (“Alexander is very busy in the mornings, then he goes to the Letniy Sad where he walks with his Erminia.” [Vikenty Vikentovich] Veresaev, [Pushkin v zhizni] Pushkin in Life [1926-27]). Alexander Dolinin showed that in “Gathering material for The Gift, Nabokov carefully studied Vikentii Veresaev’s compilation Pushkin in Life” (“Pushkinian Subtexts in Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading,” http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/dolininpush.htm).
92.12: energichno: Russ., “energetically.”
92.15-16: I sustain that these indecent gymnastics are no good for her: Mlle Larivière, with her usual poor powers of observation and penchant for misconstruction, will later warn Marina about Van and Lucette, as Marina reports: “Belle, with her usual flair for the right phrase, has cited to me the cousinage-dangereux voisinage adage—I mean ‘adage.’” Van assumes the warning is about himself and Ada, but Marina corrects him: “Mlle Larivière meant Lucette, of course.” (232)
92.15: I sustain: From French je soutiens (“I maintain”).
92.17: angel-strong hands: “Van learned hand-walking from Demon’s wrestling master, ‘King Wing’ (81.24)” (Kyoto Reading Circle). MOTIF: angel.
92.18-19: “ploughing around”: Pun on “playing around” and “horsing around.”
92.19: sullow: W2: “A plow. Obs. exc. Dial.”
92.25: “I mean, I would love lending him to you”: The sudden cut to this conversation for a moment makes Greg’s offer seem to refer to Van riding around with Lucette.
92.25-26: any time. For any amount of time. Cf. 131.10-11: "at any time, for any length of time." MOTIF: time.
92.28-29: she shook her head, she shook her bent head, while still twisting and twining her daisies: Cf., for the daisies, 89.02-03 and n., and for Ada’s “bent head,” 100.02, and “the indelible vision of a bent bare neck” at 490.33.
92.31-33: “I guess it’s your father under that oak, isn’t it? “No, it’s an elm”: “isn’t it?” corrected from 1969, “isn’t?”
Ada’s evasion of Greg’s helpless advances echoes Act I of Chekhov’s The Seagull (Chayka, 1896), where Treplyov manages to kiss Nina, only for her to change the subject immediately: “What kind of tree is that?” “It’s an elm.” (“Eto kakoe derevo?” “Vyaz.”) Greg is not the only one to mistake the tree: earlier, Ada, in a much more interested mood, notes for Van: “We can squirm from here into the front hall by a secret passage, but I think we are supposed to go and look at the grand chêne which is really an elm” (53-54).
Nabokov, who had once lived with his family at 6 Elm Park Gardens in London, installs Sebastian Knight at the London address of 36 Oak Park Gardens and plays with the common confusion (“a couple of elms, not oaks, in spite of the street-name’s promise,” RLSK 37). He would later recall: “Among fifty college students whom I once happened to ask (in planned illustration of the incredible ignorance concerning natural objects that characterizes young Americans of today) the name of a tree, an American elm, that they could see through the classroom window, none was able to identify it: some hesitantly suggested it might be an oak, others were silent” (EO 3.9).
When Ada evades Greg’s “I guess it’s your father,” she probably knows already that according to Blanche her father is not Dan but Demon (8.32), so her reply, besides being a conversational put-down, might also be read as a refusal to identify her father.
Cf. 383.03-06: “‘Who cares for Sustermans,’ observed Lucette, with something of her uterine sister’s knight move of specious response, or a Latin footballer’s rovesciata.
“No, it’s an elm. Half a millennium ago.”
Cf. 399.29-30: “Ah, the famous first finch. ‘No, that’s a kitayskaya punochka (Chinese Wall Bunting).’ ”
The “oak”-“elm” confusion, so soon after Ada’s mistranslation of Shakespeare into French, recalls her mistranslation of Marvell into French, where “the palm, the oak or bays” of Marvell’s “The Garden” become lost in Ada’s version (65.06-13). MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy; under tree; wrong tree.
93.03: Two-Lice sheet: The Toulouse Enquirer which Dan is reading “on the other side of the lawn under an immense elm” (89). Van anglicizes each syllable of “Toulouse,” “tou” by sound into “two,” and “louse” by letters as the parasitic insect, which he then, because of the “two,” assigns its usual English plural. As Demon sighs later: “The Veen wit, the Veen wit.” (254) Cf. 105.16: “the two-two to Toulouse.” The hyphenated “Two-Lice” also anticipates the hyphenated Toulouse-Lautrec. Lucette will be strongly associated with Toulouse-Lautrec (see III.3), and the Toulouse Enquirer her red-headed but unenquiring father is reading in the shade seems associated with red-headed Lucette as the inveterate enquirer she has just become (83.30-31: “puzzled Lucette tugged at the sleeve of Van, of Vanichka, who could explain everything”; 90.17-19: “'What are Jews?' . . . 'Why is Greg a Jew'”; 91.19-20: “Lucette was puzzled by a verb Greg had used. To illustrate it [crucify] Van joined his ankles. . . . ”) MOTIF: Toulouse.
93.03-04: when Uncle is through with it: Clarifies who it is under the elm, without confirming that it is Ada’s father (Kyoto Reading Circle).
93.04-06: I was supposed to play for my school in yesterday’s cricket game. . . . Riverlane humbled: Cf. 184.16-18: “Neither a miraculous catch on the cricket field, nor a glorious goal slammed in at soccer (he was a College Blue in both those splendid games). . . . ”
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 14