Part One, Chapter 20


Ada has been building up in a series of “firsts” at each new stage of Van’s love for Ada. Now they have made love, or almost, on the Night of the Burning Barn, and Van wakes up anticipating exhilaration ahead, only to find that there is another awkward and frustrating “first,” their first meeting, in the presence of others, after becoming secret lovers.

Nabokov’s command of poetry and psychology renders Van’s waking confidence with infectious force (“happiness knocking to be let in,” “prolong the glow of its incognito,” “the tiger of happiness fairly leaped into being,” the dream of levitation) while never forgetting the waywardness of the mind even in the midst of overwhelming feeling (the dream not of Ada but of Blanche, and “a heartbreaking nightmare” at that, the comedy of his sly levitation).

Van hopes for “fantastic joy . . . forever,” but he thrills with excited apprehension only to discover Uncle Dan at breakfast driving him wild with dislike and implying that first Ada and then Van had been with him at the Burning Barn. When Ada arrives, her distance, her unresponsiveness, her blush, her irritation, all unnerve Van. When he waylays her after she has finished breakfast, she cannot meet him immediately, and he cannot help scorning the translation she must finish before joining him. But they arrange a first tryst in the Baguenaudier Bower, and Van rushes there early, “telling himself that fact could never quite match fancy”—only to find that this time it does, when they retreat together into the larchwood.

There, at last, he fully deflowers his Ada, or comes very close.

The transition from Van and Ada as innocents to them as experienced lovers occurs between the antepenultimate and penultimate paragraphs of the chapter, the turning point being the sentence “Neither could establish in retrospect, nor, indeed, persisted in trying to do so, how, when and where he actually ‘deflowered’ her.” The structure and texture of the Ardis the First scenes change from this point, from a series of “firsts,” rendered mostly as individual scenes, to a series of repetitions, rendered mostly in summary.

The end of this paragraph lists a number of possible scenes for the “deflowering,” the library, the larchwood, the shooting gallery, the attic, the roof, a balcony, the bathroom, the Magic Carpet. The very range of possibilities stresses the intensity of their desire. So too does Ada’s marginal response: “You kissed and nibbled, and poked, and prodded, and worried me there so much and so often that my virginity was lost in the shuffle.” She ends that she does “recall definitely that by midsummer the machine which our forefathers called ‘sex’ was working as smoothly as later, in 1888, etc., darling.” Again, the image of the smooth machine confirms the sexual repetition within 1884, and leads to the suggestion of a later series of repetitions, “in 1888, etc.,” as well as a series of shared discussions or reminiscences, within 1884, in 1888, and later, that themselves are repeated right up to the point where V an writes down their story and Ada comments in the margin of the typescript. At the very moment where their love at last finds its first full physical expression, Van stresses its enduring physical and emotional intensity.


123.01: his nose still in the dreambag: An example of the tmesis that Peter Lubin calls attention to (see 17.19n): here, the two syllables of “nosebag” are split.

123.01-04: pillow contributed . . . by sweet Blanche (with whom . . . he had been holding hands: An echo, on Van’s first morning with Ada as lover, of his first morning at Ardis, where Van, flush with desire for Blanche, cannot resist clasping her wrist (48.32-33).

123.03-08: with whom, by the parlor-game rules of sleep . . . heartbreaking nightmare . . . silly dream: MOTIF: dream.

123.08: jasmine: Cf. 35.03, “a smithy smothered in jasmine,” in Torfyanka, or Tourbière, Blanche’s home village.

123.08-09: the tiger of happiness fairly leaped into being: Cf. 253.19-20: “leaving their tiger-marks on the drapery of dreams.”

123.10: a newly acquired franchise: In the original sense of “freedom” (cf. 124.12), although with also some sense of a formal right or privilege. Cf. 127.14-15.

123.11-124.01: kept in his sleep . . . dream . . . not diagnostic of glory or passion in dreams: The final sentence anticipates Van’s lecture on dreams in II.4. MOTIF: dream.

123.12-18: learned to levitate . . . disbelief: Cf. 82.25-27: “one wondered if this dreamy indolence of levitation was not a result of the earth’s canceling its pull in a fit of absentminded benevolence.” MOTIF: gravity.

123.14: break all records for the long jump: The Kyoto Reading Circle notes: “On October 18, 1968, the American athlete Bob Beamon won the long jump in the Olympic Games, Mexico City, with an unprecedented 8.90m jump, a record not broken until 1991.” A tribute to Beamon’s astonishing jump—which at one stroke broke by 55 cm a record that had previously increased by only 22 cm in 33 years—would be unlikely here, however: Nabokov finished the fair copy of Part 1 of Ada on February 5, 1968 and of the whole novel on October 16 (Boyd 1991: 531, 534).

123.17-18: Zambovsky of Zambia: Apart from the absurd alliteration, a Russian Zambian sounds comically improbable, but despite the echo of the river Zambesi there is a genuine Russian surname Zambovsky: a Yakov Zambovsky, for instance, was one of the assistants of the doctor who embalmed Lenin (Ilya Zbarsky, Lenin’s Embalmers, London: Harvill, 1999). During the late 1960s the Soviet Union sought to extend its influence in Zambia, led since independence in 1964 by the Marxist-leaning Kenneth Kaunda (1924- ).

123.18: stared, arms akimbo: A play on Kim Beauharnais, who did stare at Van and Ada the previous night, as 117.11-15 makes clear, and will point his camera again at them this morning (see 129.03-14n and 405.15-406.04).

123.19-20: Tenderness rounds out true triumph, gentleness lubricates genuine liberation: And assonance aids aphoristicism: the first letters of “tenderness” and “round” combine in “true” and “triumph”; the first syllables of “gentleness” and “genuine” are followed by the l-b-r-t of the second multisyllabic word in each pair; and “tenderness” is echoed in “gentleness.” Nabokov likes the word “tender” (the Russian equivalent, nezhniy, is more common in Russian than tender in English); his most famous use of “tenderness” is in “On a Book Entitled Lolita”: “For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm” (Lolita 314-15).

123.19-124.01: Tenderness . . . gentleness . . . not diagnostic of glory or passion in dreams: Cf. “At his best the dreamer wears semi-opaque blinkers; at his worst he’s an imbecile” (363.02-03).

124.04: male selfishness: His masturbation, as evoked especially at 100.15-21?

124.06: On weekends: This is a Sunday (124.30).

124.08: suscitated: W2, suscitate: “To excite; uplift; rouse; stimulate; animate.”

124.11-12: Had it really happened?: Dan’s responses will call into question whether it had: 125.14-16, 126.30-31.

124.12-18: Certain caged birds, say Chinese amateurs . . . rest of the time: Source, if any, unknown.

124.12-17: Certain caged birds . . . iridescent prisoners: Cf. 399.06: “a canary in its pretty prison”?

124.13: Chinese amateurs shaking with fatman mirth: “Amateurs” may pun on Amaterasu, in the Japanese religion of Shinto, “the central deity . . . , the fabled ancestress of the imperial house” (W2). “Fatman” probably alludes to Hotei, one of the seven Chinese Gods of Good Luck (Kyoto Reading Circle), but may also involve atman (alluded to by Nabokov in TT 23), which derives from the Sanskrit ātman, “breath, self, individual soul, Universal Self, Supreme Spirit,” and in Hinduism is (W2): “a The life principle, soul, self, or individual essence . . . b [cap.] The universal ego or self which is the ultimate source of all individual selves; Brahma (neuter).”

124.13: fatman mirth: Cf. 446.04-05: “ ‘Amends have been made,’ replied fat Van with a fat man’s chuckle.”

124.15: every blessed morning: Continues the apparent religious undertone. Ardeur 106: “Tous les matins que Dieu fait” (“Every morning God makes”).

124.15-16: an automatic, dream-continuing, dreamlined dash: Cf. 116.03-05: “Lucette lay for a minute awake before running after her dream and jumping in to the last furniture van.” MOTIF: dream.

124.16: dreamlined: Pun on “streamlined.”

124.20-21: past a pleased-looking Prince Zemski and a grim Vincent Veen, Bishop: Past family portraits of these men: cf. 48.07-11. Prince Vseslav Zemski might seem “pleased” at Van’s love for young Ada because she has singled out the Prince as her favorite ancestor (since he was a botanist and author of Flora Ladorica) and because he himself married a “barely pubescent bride” (43.01-08).

Bishop Vincent Veen is otherwise unknown on Antiterra, and presumably looks “grim” in a clergyman’s judgment upon Van’s sexual activities with Ada. But D. Barton Johnson notes (Nabokv-L, 29 January 2003) that his name conflates two earthly religious figures, Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993: the “Vincent” was almost invariably part of the name), a Methodist clergyman, and the Catholic Bishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979), appointed Bishop of Rochester, N.Y. in 1966. The two best-known American religious figures of the 1950s, prominent on radio and the first stars of TV preaching, they were both prolific authors. Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) was, after the Bible, the best-selling book in the USA from 1952 to 1956. Sheen’s Life is Worth Living, which ran from 1952 to 1957, was at times the number 1 rated television program in the US.

Cf. Ivan Turgenev, Ottsy i deti (Fathers and Children), ch. 16: “Nad srednim divanom visel portret obryuzglogo belokurogo muzhchiny—i, kazalos’, nedruzhelyubno glyadel na gostey” (“Over the sofa in the middle hung a portrait of a flabby fair-haired man—and seemed to stare in unfriendly fashion at the guests”), Polnoe sobranie sochineniy i pisem, 12 vols. (Moscow-Leningrad: Nauka, 1964), 8:275.

124.21-22: Vincent Veen, Bishop of Balticomore and Como: Marina Veen, to give her married name, flirts later with the Bishop of Belokonsk (437.19-20). MOTIF: V; Veen; V-n.

124.22: Balticomore and Como: Balticomore suggests the city of Baltimore, Maryland, but also the Russian Baltiiskoe More (Baltic Sea), perhaps with an additional pun on a Bishop’s See, the diocesan center or jurisdiction of a Bishop. Como is the name of a province, city and lake in Italy, north of Milan and on the Swiss border. Lubin (Appel and Newman 194) notes Balticomore as an example of “simple tmesis.” See also 128.12-13. MOTIF: place-names: additional syllable; transatlantic doubling.

124.24: yellow flowers in drooping clusters of sunshine: Identified at 125.03 as baguenaudier (bladder senna) flowers, which have racemes up to 12cm long of 3-8 yellow flowers. Cf. 128.28: “on the drooping clusters of yellow flowers” (not in vases in the dining room but out in the Baguenaudier Bower). MOTIF: flowers; sun-Ardis.

124.24-25: was feeding: As narrator, Van is unsparing toward his uncle.

124.26-30: candy-striped suit . . . comic strip printing: Cf. 273.08-09: “Uncle Dan, very dapper in cherry-striped blazer and variety-comic straw hat.”

124.27: piqué: [image of piqué] W2: “A ribbed cotton fabric, white, plain-colored, or printed, for dresses, waistcoats, etc.”

124.28: safety-goldpinned: Another example Lubin cites of “phrasal tmesis” (Appel and Newman 194), since it disrupts the usual “safety-pinned.”

124.28-30: all his trim stripes and colors were a little displaced, though, in the process of comic strip printing, because it was a Sunday: Allusion to the frequent slippage of color plates in newspaper printing, first used extensively for the color comic supplements in weekend and especially Sunday newspapers. Van imagines Dan subjected to this comic effect because Dan is such an avid and dependent addict of newspapers: see 125.25-26.

Comic historians regard 1896 as the year what we now call the comic strip began, with Richard F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid. In 1889 Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World published the first regular Sunday newspaper supplement, bringing together entertainment features, including humorous drawings and other illustrations. In 1894 the World acquired a new four-color rotary press, and henceforth published its comic drawings in color. Outcault had joined the Sunday World in that year, and his occasional Hogan’s Alley illustrations of comic scenes from New York slum life soon featured a recurrent urchin, with neither shoes nor hair, but a large flowing smock, protruding ears and teeth, and high spirits. Hogan’s Alley developed into a weekly feature by February 1895, and was printed in color from May 5, 1895. By January 1896 the urchin’s smock was consistently rendered in yellow and the illustration began to combine text and dialogue. In October 1896, Outcault was lured to William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, and introduced the title The Yellow Kid, and, gradually, sequential narratives and speech balloons. MOTIF: technology.

124.31: ye-old Orange Marmalade: Marmalade that advertises its traditional style by labelling itself with the archaic spelling “ye-old.” The typographer’s “y” was a way of representing the Anglo-Saxon and Middle English written character þ (thorn); “ye” in this sense therefore was, and still ought to be, pronounced as “the,” but almost never is.

124.32: rinsed his dentures orally: Without taking them out of his mouth.

124.34: Being, as I had reason to believe, plucky: Cf. 451.26-27: “Van, a lucid soul, considered himself less brave morally than physically.”

125.01-04: (rotating) red “tashy” . . . red sideburn: Mustache, rotating as Dan rinses the coffee vigorously around his mouth. MOTIF: red hair.

125.02-03: mused Van, in 1922, when he saw those baguenaudier flowers again: See 124.24 (for the flowers here in the Ardis dining-room in 1884) and 128.28-31 (for the flowers seen with Ada in the Valais, Switzerland, in 1922).

125.03: baguenaudier: See Darkbloom note to 128.06. A1: “Colutea arborescens.” Colutea arborescens, the bladder-senna, is a shrub originating in Southern Europe; for its flowers, see 124.24 and n; for its seedpods, see 128.06n.

125.05: not without appetite: Versus the cliché that falling in love takes away the appetite.

125.08-10: Mlle Larivière did not touch any food till noon, being a doom-fearing “midinette” (the sect, not the shop) and had actually made her father confessor join her group: Apparently a parody of various Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions about activities or foods prohibited on the Sabbath, the weekly day of rest and worship, whose limits shift from Friday for Muslims, Friday evening to Saturday evening for Jews, Saturday for some Christian sects, to Sunday for most Christians. W2 (s.v. Sabbath) notes that “In the Eastern Churches Saturday is a half holiday on which the Liturgy is celebrated and no fasting is allowed.”

A midinette, from French midi, “noon,” is a colloquial term for (W2) “A Parisian shopgirl;—so called because these girls come out of the shops in great numbers at noon.” In the Bible, the Midianites are a tribe usually hostile to the Jews. The combination of midi and a suggestion of “midnight” evokes the darkness at noon on the day of Christ’s crucifixion (Luke 23.44: “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour”: Hebrew reckoning, and therefore from noon to 3p.m. by our clock); for many Christians, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection prefigure his Second Coming, which will usher in the “doom” of the Last Judgment.

“Her father confessor” makes Mlle Larivière sound Roman Catholic, as might be expected from her Frenchness and chauvinism, but cf. 53.30-31: “Have you read any of Mlle Larivière’s stories? . . . She thinks that in some former Hindooish state she was a boulevardier in Paris.”

125.17: “Oh, she went with you, did she?”: Cf. 124.11-12 and n.

125.18-22: “with all the butlers.” . . . “I didn’t realize . . . we had several here—I mean, butlers”: As in his supposition in the previous line that Ada had accompanied him to the Burning Barn, Dan is vague in the extreme. Normally even a great house would have only one butler, and for all Ardis’s oddities, its only butler is Bouteillan.

125.19: “rally” (pseudo-British pronunciation): Matching his outmoded British “Jolly good fun,” Dan affects to pronounce “really” as “rally”—almost a pun here, summing up the tame “rally” on the charabanc. Cf. 414.10-11: “ ‘I say, Veen,’ whinnied a voice near him (there were lots of lechers around), ‘you don’t rally need two, d’you?’ ”

125.27-30: Suddenly Van heard her lovely dark voice on the staircase saying in an upward direction, “Je l’ai vu dans une des corbeilles de la bibliothèque”—presumably in reference to some geranium or violet or slipper orchid: Darkbloom: “I saw it in one of the wastepaper-baskets of the library.” Ada is responding to Blanche’s question (in French) whether anyone has seen her slipper, the miniver-trimmed one she lost “on the grand staircase” (114.16) the night before, where Bout had been kissing her instep (405.11-12) just as cries of “Fire!” broke out. It had been Ada herself who found the slipper there and dropped it in the library wastepaper basket (116.31-32). “Presumably in reference to some geranium or violet or slipper orchid” reflects Van’s ignorance at the time, though as narrator he now knows that it is a slipper, not a flower. Mlle Larivière calls Blanche Cendrillon “because she broke and mislaid things, and confused flowers” (49.04-06). MOTIF: Cinderella; deflower; fairy tale; flowers; slipper.

125.29-30: some geranium or violet or slipper orchid: Cf. Ada in the previous chapter touching the glans of Van’s penis, “I’m reminded of geranium or rather pelargonium bloom” (119.26-27), and Van’s “impatient young passion . . . [that] did not survive the first few blind thrusts; it burst at the lip of the orchid” (121.23-26). MOTIF: orchids; violet.

125.30: slipper orchid: Paphiopedilum is a genus of about sixty species of slipper orchids with two lateral sepals fused in a slipper-like arrangement. The genus name reflects the ancient city of Paphos on Cyprus famed for its temple of Aphrodite and therefore associated with illicit love and prostitution: cf. 368.03-04: “inhaling briefly her Degrasse, smart, though decidedly ‘paphish,’ perfume.” Among the species are the pink-flushed hybrid P. Vanda M. Pearman, the veined P. venustum, the glossy red-brown P. villosum. Cypripedium is a genus of about 35 species of Lady’s Slipper orchids, this genus name too deriving from Venus’s Cyprus: cf. 418.33-419.01: “Thus seen from above, as if reflected in the ciel mirror that Eric had naively thought up in his Cyprian dreams.” Cf . 287.14: “One common orchid, a Lady’s Slipper.”

125.30-31: a “bannister pause,” as photographers say: In other words, a pause with one hand on the banister as one turns and is about to descend the last flight of stairs, often a particularly photogenic pose. In this scene it is Ada who pauses here, but the previous night, in the process of losing her slipper, Blanche had paused at the same spot, having her instep kissed by Bout, while Kim Beauharnais secretly photographed them (405.11-12). “Banister” is elsewhere in Ada spelt correctly; the double n here may well be a simple mistake but could allude to the first person to run the four-minute mile (in 1954), Roger Bannister (1929- ), since Van, before he descends, has been dreaming of his “ability to tread air with magic ease” and so “to break all records for the long jump” (123.13-14).

125.32: had come from the library . . . from the library window: MOTIF: library (Ardis).

125.32-33: Je me demande, I wonder qui l’a mis là, who put it there: Ada herself: see 116.31-32 and 125.27-30n. But she can dispose of things absent-mindedly (see 42.17-18: “handed it to Ada who threw it out of the window”).

125.33: Aussitôt après: Darkbloom : “immediately after.”

126.01: She wore—though not in collusion with him: Why might we have thought that Ada had donned her black shorts and white jersey in collusion with Van?

126.01-02: black shorts, a white jersey: MOTIF: black-white.

126.06: carried a book of verse: By François Coppée (see 127n.25), or an anthology including his work.

126.06-07: My eldest is rather plain but has nice hair: Cf. in Act 3 of Chekhov’s play Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya, 1897), after the beautiful Elena Andreevna Serebryakov tells her step-daughter Sonya “U tebya prekrasnye volosy” (“You have beautiful hair”), Sonya replies: “Net! Net! Kogda zhenshchina nekrasiva to ey govoryat: ‘U vas prekrasnye glaza, u vas prekrasnye volosy’ ” (“No! No! When a woman is plain people tell her: ‘You have beautiful eyes, you have beautiful hair’ ”).

126.07: pretty, but foxy red: MOTIF: fox; red hair.

126.09: adoration: MOTIF: Ada; adore.

126.13-14: our green lover: Green in the sense of inexperienced, but also with a strong sense of Ardis’s green world (and compare Marvell’s “To a green thought in a green shade” in “The Garden,” which Van and Ada know by heart: see 65.8-13, 161.24-25). MOTIF: green.

126.15: an opprobrious adverb: “Dirtily,” 126.12. Cf. 168.22-24: “prompted by his amour-propre, not by their sale amour. He would die with an old pun on his lips. And why ‘dirty’?”

126.17-18: polyphemic: After Polyphemus, the giant, one-eyed Cyclops who in Book 9 of Homer’s Odyssey entraps Odysseus and his crew in his cave and eats many of them before the rest manage to escape.

126.18-19: Mr Veen’s: Not “her father’s,” since Dan is not Ada’s father, and she knows it.

126.21-23: a big cup of chocolate. Though it had been thoroughly sweetened, the child placed a lump of sugar on her spoon: Cf. 38.18-20: “[Van:] ‘Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.’ [Marina:] ‘Ada and I share your extravagant tastes’.”

126.26-27: chased an imaginary insect off his pate: Cf. the story “The Potato-Elf” (1924): “ ‘What you need is a female dwarf,’ said Shock pensively, producing with a familiar flick of finger and thumb a silver coin from the ear of the dwarf, whose little arm went up in a brushing-away curve as if chasing a fly.” (SoVN 230)

126.29-31: Van here is anxious to know . . . What were you doing, my dear, while he and I were taking care of the fire?: Dan misremembers Van’s comment from a minute or two previously, and his tone, and his own reply, and the details of the night before. Cf. 124.11-12, 125.12-20.

126.32-34: Van had never seen a girl . . . blush so substantially and habitually: Cf. 100.12-13: “The vivid crimsoning of an exposed ear”; 257.09-10: “ ‘I wonder,’ said sly Demon, ‘why I’m reminded all at once [by Ada’s response] of our great Canadian’s lovely lines about blushing Irène: “Le feu si délicat de la virginité / Qui something sur son front” ’ ”; 430.08-09: “she blushed as was her Old World wont.” MOTIF: Ada's blushes

127.03: fast ablaze: Cf. 114.10: “No, she [Mlle Larivière] was fast ablaze—I mean, asleep.”

127.06: from the window library: MOTIF: library (Ardis).

127.08: Ménagez vos américanismes: Darkbloom: “Go easy on your Americanisms.” Cf. another Ardis mealtime, with Van’s father: “ ‘Hullo, Dad.’ ‘Oh, hullo, Van.’ Très Américain.” (238.13-15)

127.10-11: with a child’s pink, stiff-bagged butterfly net in her little fist, like an oriflamme: Cf. the story “Terra Incognita” (1931): “He held a long-handled green butterfly net like a banner” (SoVN 293).

127.11: in her little fist, like an oriflamme: Cf. Rimbaud’s poem “Mémoire” (see 64.15-65.02n), ll. 3-4:

la soie, en foule et de lys pur, des oriflammes
the silk of banners, in masses and of pure lilies,
sous les murs dont quelque pucelle eut la défense;
under the walls a maid once defended.

An oriflamme is a standard or ensign in battle, especially if pennant-like. From the twelfth to the fifteenth century, France’s royal flag, and therefore the banner of Joan of Arc, was a red oriflamme.

127.12-13: She showed him the sharp petal of her tongue: Cf. 257.25-26: Ada “very deftly showed the tip of her tongue to Van.”

127.14-15: So much for the franchise: Cf. 123.10.

127.15-16: retired to the mestechko (“little place”) off the front hall: Cf. Van to Demon, 331.10: “Where’s the mestechko here? Oh, I see it.”

127.18: gorged with sweet butter: Cf. 75.14-21: “my love’s bread and butter. . . . it must be gorged to taste good”; 155.09-17: “Ada . . . with invincible appetite started to smear butter all over the yolk-tinted rough surface. . . . ”

127.19-21: it was all, historically speaking, at the dawn of the novel which was still in the hands of parsonage ladies and French academicians, so such moments were precious: As if “the novel” and their “love affair” are the same, as they are in French and Russian (in the word roman). By “parsonage ladies” Van probably has in mind only Jane Austen, who lived in her father’s parsonage at Steventon until she was 25. By “French academicians” he may have in mind Bernardin de Saint Pierre (1737-1814), whose sentimental romance Paul et Virginie (1787) was immensely popular in its time (Emma Rouault, for instance, had read and dreamed of it: Madame Bovary,, though its tragic climax depends on Virginie’s preferring to drown with her clothes on rather than jump into the stormy sea with the naked sailor trying to rescue her. Van and Nabokov are evoking reserve and constraint as much as any particular writers or works. MOTIF: novel.

127.24-128.01: a translation for Mlle Larivière. . . . Betraying the first half of the stanza to save the second: Ada translates from stanza II of “Matin d’Octobre” (“October Morning”) by François Coppée (1842-1908), first published in his volume Le Cahier Rouge, 1874. On Antiterra, Coppée, like much of continental French culture, is Canadian (257.10).

In December 1915, Nabokov translated Musset’s “La Nuit de décembre” and published it in his school magazine, Yunost’ in 1916 (VNRY 118). Then in 1917 he used the very Musset lines that Ada attempts to translate as the epigraph for his poem “Osen’ ” (“Nad polem klevernym kruzhitsya yastreb”) (“Autumn”: “Over a clover field circles a hawk”) in an untitled (because missing the first page) typescript album of his own verse from about August 1916 to August 1917 (Berg Collection, NYPL). Ten years later he translated into Russian Musset’s “La Nuit de mai” (“Mayskaya noch’,” Rul’, 20 November 1927) and once again his “La Nuit de décembre” (“Dekabr’skaya noch’,” Rul’, 7 October 1928).

Matin d’Octobre
October Morning

A Alexandre Pièdaguel
To Alexander Pièdaguel


C’est l’heure exquise et matinale
It is the exquisite morning hour
Que rougit un soleil soudain.
That a sudden sun reddens.
A travers la brume automnale
Through the autumn mist
Tombent les feuilles du jardin.
Fall the garden’s leaves.


Leur chute est lente. On peut les suivre
Their fall is slow. One can follow
Du regard en reconaissant
Them with one’s gaze, recognizing
Le chêne à sa feuille de cuivre,
The oak by its leaf of copper,
L’érable à sa feuille de sang.
The maple by its leaf of blood.


Les derniers, les plus rouillées,
The last, the rustiest,
Tombent des branches dépouillés;
Fall from stripped branches,
Mais ce n’est pas l’hiver encor.
But it’s not winter yet.


Une blonde lumière arrose
A blond light saturates
La nature, et, dans l’air tout rose
Nature, and in the all-pink air
On croirait qu’il neige de l’or.
You could think it’s snowing gold.

Ada’s translations “chopper” and “mud” to keep the “copper” and “blood” of the end of the third and fourth lines of stanza 2 are ingenious (see also following nn.), but as Van points out, they fatally betray “the first half of the stanza to save the second,” since the calm of the reddish mist the poem evokes so attractively is shattered: instead of leaves quietly falling, Ada’s rhymes suddenly imply whole trees crashing to the ground, after a woodchopper’s axe has already disturbed the tranquil morning. For the sake of two rhymes, Ada destroys the poem’s events and tone.

Although Van does quote the French of the mistranslated lines, the reader who does not know Coppée’s poem may not quite appreciate the havoc Ada’s rhymes cause. But Nabokov will supply the full text of the stanza. Four years later, at Ardis the Second, during his one visit to Ardis, Demon happens to quote from another Coppée poem, Van mentions Ada having translated “one very fetching little piece” by Coppée (246.18) and prepares to quote the translation. Demon recites the original stanza, and Van supplies a translation, not Ada’s, in fact, but his own, which keeps the rhyme with “copper” but without destroying the poem’s hush:

Their fall is gentle. The leavesdropper
Can follow each of them and know
The oak tree by its leaf of copper,
The maple by its blood-red glow.

Ada, the supposed translator, pouts “Pah!” because Van’s retranslation has so deftly improved on hers (247.20-24).

MOTIF: translation.

127.24-31: a translation for Mlle Larivière. She showed him her draft. François Coppée? Yes. . . . “Leur chute est lente,” said Van, “on peut les suivre du regard en reconnaisant”: As noted above, Demon will also quote Coppée, and at Van’s “Leur chute est lente and one can know ’em,” will recite the entire stanza (247.10-16). MOTIF: family resemblance.

127.24-25: a translation for Mlle Larivière. She showed him her draft. François Coppée? Yes: In her denunciation of Wallace Fowlie’s translation of Rimbaud (see 64-65 and annotations to I.10), Ada refers to the mistranslations Mlle Larivière pointed out to her in “Mémoire, a poem by Rimbaud (which she fortunately—and farsightedly—made me learn by heart, though I suspect she prefers Musset and Coppée)” (64.17-19); Van then quotes triumphantly from Rimbaud’s poem, as he does here from Coppée’s. Note that Ada’s indignation at Fowlie’s mistranslation of Rimbaud is here followed by her own even more flagrant mistranslation of Coppée.

127.28: its leaf of copper: MOTIF: copper.

127.31-32: that paraphrastic touch of ‘chopper’ and ‘mud’: In EO, Nabokov defines “paraphrastic” translation, as opposed to his notion of literalism: “offering a free version of the original, with omissions and additions prompted by the exigencies of form, the conventions attributed to the consumer, and the translator’s ignorance” (1.vii). Throughout EO and in the years just before and after its publication in 1964, Nabokov attacked rhymed translators of Russian verse. He himself for instance translates another morning scene,

and earth’s rim softly lightens,
and, morning’s herald, the wind whiffs,
and rises by degrees the day. (EO II.xxviii.5-7)

In his commentary, he cites Babette Deutsch’s rhymed version of these lines, ending:

When dawn’s first ray had barely shown;
When the cool messenger of morning,
The wind, would enter, gently warning
That day would soon be on the march
And wake the birds in beech and larch.

He comments: “The sins of omission are too simple to be noted; but there is one sin of commission that is typical of this particular version of EO, in which all kinds of images and details are bountifully added to Pushkin. What, for instance, are those birds and trees doing here: ‘And wake the birds in beech and larch’? Why this, and not, for instance: ‘And take in words to bleach and starch’ or any other kind of nonsense? The charming point is that beeches and larches, not being endemic in west central Russia, are the very last trees that Pushkin would imagine growing in the Larins’ park” (2.286-87).

By 1888, Ada seems to have read Nabokov on Pushkin and translation. Even before Van recites his revised version of Ada’s paraphrase of Coppée—which he offers to “preface . . . by a snatch of Pushkin, for the sake of rhyme” Ada cries out: “For the snake of rhyme! . . . A paraphrase, even my paraphrase, is like the corruption of ‘snakeroot’ into ‘snagrel’—all that remains of a delicate little birthwort.” (246.32-247.02)

127.32-33: pure Lowden (minor poet and translator, 1815-1895): Darkbloom: “Lowden: a portmanteau name combining two contemporary bards”: Robert Lowell and Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973). For Lowell, and Nabokov’s critiques of his translations or imitations of Mandelstam, see 3.04n2 and 11.27n.

Auden published “Four Transliterations” of three Russian poems (by Bella Akhmadulina, Evgeny Vinokurov and Andrey Voznesensky) and one Polish (by Adam Mickiewicz) in About the House (New York: Random House, 1965), the Russian based on literal translations by Max Hayward. The next year, again working from Hayward’s prose versions, he published translations of seven poems by Andrey Voznesensky, in a bilingual edition of Antiworlds and The Fifth Ace, ed. Patricia Blake and Max Hayward (New York: Basic Books, 1966), which also included translations by Jean Garrigue, Max Hayward, Stanley Kunitz, Stanley Moss, Willam Jay Smith and Richard Wilbur; Auden also wrote the foreword, where he admitted to knowing no Russian but ventured the (absurd) opinion that “Russian verse seems to be predominantly trochaic or dactylic” (vi). A few years earlier, Nabokov had privately criticized Auden’s knowledge of French, when complimenting Jason Epstein, then his editor at Doubleday and a main force behind Doubleday’s Anchor Review, on the second number of the journal, which introduced Lolita to American readers: “the rest of the material in the review is excellent (except Auden’s piece [‘The Dyer’s Hand: Poetry and the Poetic Process’]: incidentally somebody ought to have told him that monde in French is masculine so that no French poet could ever have said ‘Le monde est ronde.’ [Anchor Review 2:280] It is the same nonsense as his famous slip in an earlier essay ‘acte gratuite’ instead of ‘acte gratuit.’ . . . . )” (to Esptein, 22 April 1957, VNA). Other than “Lowden” here, Nabokov has never commented on Auden as a verse translator.

The coupling of Lowell and Auden as “Lowden” probably derives from Lowell’s introduction of “Six Poems by Andrei Voznesensky,” the first of which (“The Party”: “Vecherinka”) is translated by Auden, in the New Republic , April 16, 1966, pp. 28-29. In his introduction Lowell cites Auden on Voznesensky (“I am struck first and foremost by his craftsmanship. . . ”).

Note that Van glosses Lowden’s dates as 1815-1895, yet is supposed to be saying this to Ada in 1884!

As the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, the mud-blood rhymes in Ada’s translation echo the repeated rhymes in Lowell’s “Colloquy in Black Rock” ( Lord Weary's Castle, 1946):

Here the jack-hammer jabs into the ocean;
My heart, you race and stagger and demand
More blood-gangs for your nigger-brass percussions,
Till I, the stunned machine of your devotion,
Clanging upon this cymbal of a hand, [5]
Am rattled screw and footloose. All discussions

End in the mud-flat detritus of death.
My heart, beat faster, faster. In Black Mud
Hungarian workmen give their blood
For the martyre Stephen, who was stoned to death [10]

Black Mud, a name to conjure with: o mud
For watermelons gutted to the crust,
Mud for the mole-tide harbor, mud for mouse,
Mud for the armored Diesel fishing tubs that thud
A year and a day to wind and tide; the dustspan [15]
Is on this skipping heart that shakes my house,

House of our Savior who was hanged till death.
My heart, beat faster, faster. In Black Mud
Stephen the martyre was broken down to blood:
Our ransom is the rubble of his death. [20]

Christ walks on the black water. In Black Mud
Darts the kingfisher. On Corpus Christi, heart,
Over the drum-beat of St. Stephen’s choir
I hear him, Stupor Mundi, and the mud
Flies from his hunching wings and beak—my heart, [25]
The blue kingfisher dives on your in fire.

Lowell’s repeated “martyre,” an obsolete spelling, is curious in relation to Ada, where this spelling also occurs, in the “rue des Jeunes Martyres” (459.21); as Boyd 1985/2001: 129-31 and n., notes, that spelling there indicates in French a female martyr, Nabokov’s deliberate change from the “rue des Martyrs” of the cabaret and the original poster, and another pointer to Lucette as martyr.

128.01-02: rather like that Russian nobleman who chucked his coachman to the wolves, and then fell out of his sleigh: Nabokov may have encountered such a story, but has probably transformed one of the many tales, current in the late nineteenth century and after, of Russians sacrificing someone on their sleigh to pursuing wolves.

The earliest known printed version of such a story occurs in Frédéric Lacroix’s Les Mystères de la Russie: Tableau politique et moral de l’Empire russe (Paris: Pagnerre, 1845). I quote from a translation by Paul Schach, “Russian Wolves in Folktales and Literature of the Plains: A Question of Origins,” Great Plains Quarterly 3:2 (Spring 1983), 67-78, p. 76:

It is told that a Russian woman, returning home from a neighboring village with her three children in the middle of a bitterly cold winter, was attacked by famished wolves. In order to escape the pursuit of these dreadful creatures, she lashed the horse hitched to the sled and tried, but in vain, to frighten off the wolves with her cries. The sled sped rapidly over the snow, but the blood-thirsty pack ran just as swiftly, and the peasant woman saw that she had no possibility of escape. In this decisive moment she will doubtless, you assume, lay her children down in the sled, lash the horse vigorously in the hope that it will return to the village by itself, and then, courageous and devoted mother that she is, she will sacrifice herself to the voracious wolves. On the contrary. She lets her children perish.

She first throws out one; then, this prey merely having whetted the appetite of the beasts, she tosses the second one out. Finally the third one soon follows his two brothers; and the mother, safe and sound, triumphantly crosses the threshold of the connubial home. Thus one can see what servitude can make of a woman, of a mother.

Robert Browning (1812-89) elaborates on another version of the tale in his poem “Ivàn Ivànovitch” (published in Dramatic Idylls, 1879), in which a mother has let her three young children be plucked from her, one by one, by wolves (and is promptly beheaded by Ivan Ivanovitch for not having saved them).

Edward Berdoe, in The Browning Cyclopaedia (London: Swann Sonnenschein, 1906, 228), notes: “This is a variant of a Russian wolf-story which, in one form or another, we all heard in our childhood. The poet visited Russia in the course of his great tour in Europe in 1833, and he has told the familiar tale of the unhappy mother who saved her own life by throwing one after another of her children to the pursuing wolves, with all the local colouring and fidelity to the facts to which we are accustomed in the poet’s work.” (The mother does not in fact throw the children to the wolves in Browning’s poem.)

William Clyde DeVane, in A Browning Handbook (New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1955, 438), reports: “Browning thought the story which he used in Ivàn Ivànovitch was an old Russian folk tale. This, however, has recently been shown to be not true [M. Alekseev, “Die Quellen zum Idyl Ivan Ivanovitsch von Robert Browning,” in Jahrbücher für Kultur und Geschichte der Slaven N.S. 5 (1930): 417-27 and “Zur Entstehungs-geshchichte der Dramatic Idyls von Browning,” Englische Studien 66 (1931): 54-56]. The story is not a familiar one in Russian folk-lore, but it has appeared many times in the literatures of other countries concerning Russia. The story probably came to Browning from a book published anonymously in England in 1855, called An Englishwoman in Russia (pp. 174-75): ‘A dreadful anecdote was told me of a peasant woman and her children. . . . [Pursued by wolves, the horse flagging,] the wretched woman, frantic with despair, caught up one of her three children and threw him into the midst of the pack, trusting by this means to gain a little time by which the others might be saved. He was devoured in an instant; and the famished wolves, whose appetites it had only served to whet, again rushed after the retreating family. The second and third infants were sacrificed in the same dreadful manner; but now the village was gained. A peasant came out of an isba, at sight of whom the wolves fell back. The almost insensible woman threw herself out of the sledge, and, when she could find sufficient strength to speak, related the fearful danger in which she had been, and the horrible means she had employed to escape from it. “And did you throw them all to the wolves, even the little baby you held in your arms?” exclaimed the horrorstricken peasant. “Yes, all!” was the reply. The words had scarcely escaped from the white lips of the miserable mother, when the man laid her dead at his feet with a single blow of the axe with which he was cleaving wood when she arrived. He was arrested for murder, and the case was decided by the Emperor, who pardoned him, wisely making allowance for his agitation and the sudden impulse with which horror and indignation at the unnatural act had inspired him.”

Nabokov knew the poetry of Browning well, and sometimes knew the sources and circumstances of its composition (for an example, see his knowledge of Browning’s arriving at the idea for Pippa Passes while walking through Dulwich Wood, cited in Brian Boyd, Nabokov’s Pale Fire [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1999], 87-88, 142, 146-48). He also met the Browning specialist William De Vane at Yale in the early 1940s.

Nabokov seems not to have known the most vivid reworking of this story, by American novelist Willa Cather (1873-1947), in My Antonía (1918), where in Book I (The Shimerdas), ch. 8, Russian Peter and Pavel tell their wolf story. He did however know David Daiches, who wrote Willa Cather: A Critical Introduction (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1951)—which briefly discusses this “remarkable little inset story” [43]—while he served as head of Cornell University’s Division of Literature, and was thus Nabokov’s immediate administrative superior.

Peter and Pavel had been “asked to be groomsmen for a friend who was to marry the belle of another village.” After the ceremony, they leave in the first of seven sledges. In a particularly bad year for wolves, they are pursued by an enormous wolf pack, which manages to catch up with five of the six sledges following. The groom then screams out as he looks back to see “his father’s sledge overturned, with his mothers and sisters. He sprang up as if he meant to jump, but the girl shrieked and held him back. . . . But the groom’s movement had given Pavel an idea.” There are still “Twenty, thirty—enough” wolves following their sledge. “Pavel gave Peter the reins and stepped carefully into the back of the sledge. He called to the groom that they must lighten—and pointed to the bride. The young man cursed him and held her tighter. Pavel tried to drag her away. In the struggle, the groom rose. Pavel knocked him over the side of the sledge and threw the girl after him. He said he never remembered exactly how he did it, or what happened afterward.” Pavel and Peter drive alone into the safety of the village, “and they had been alone ever since. They were run out of their village.” (London: Virago, 1986, 57-60)

Cather’s version of the story in turn may derive from Germanic Russians who settled in the Great Plains. About 1980 Schach’s associate Robert Buchheit recorded a strikingly similar version of the tale, in West-Prussian Low German, from a young Mennonite who claimed to have “heard the story from his grandmother, who came to Nebraska from South Russia in 1880” (Schach 69).

None of these stories involves a nobleman and his coachman. Nabokov may also have had in mind Tolstoy’s story “Khozyain i rabotnik” (“Master and Man,” 1895), which does not involve pursuit by a wolf pack, but does focus on a fatal sleigh ride and on class difference. The “master” is not a nobleman, but a merchant, Vasiliy Andreich Brekhunov; his “man,” a peasant named Nikita, is not his coachman, but a handyman. As a snowstorm develops, they repeatedly lose their way. Going around and around in circles, not knowing which way to head, they have no choice but to stop and try to sleep out the night on their open sleigh. After fitful sleep Vasiliy Andreich wakes, hears the howl of a wolf, and wonders why he decided not to spend the night in the village they passed through. But it is not wolves but the cold that kills him, although by lying on top of the much more lightly-clad Nikita, the master, for all his selfishness, nevertheless manages to save the life of his man.

Ada’s unexpected “woodchopper” may have brought to Nabokov’s mind the woodchopper Ivan Ivanovitch, whose quick beheading of Louscha, the mother, is as central to Browning’s poem as her story of the wolves pursuing her sleigh. And with that image stirred by Ada’s mistranslation, Nabokov may have also recalled a famous image of translation that he had already paid homage to in the introduction to his EO: “Pushkin has likened translators to horses changed at the posthouses of civilization. The greatest reward I can think of is that students may use my work as a pony.” (EO 1.x)

(I would like to thank Alexey Sklyarenko for challenging me to identify the story Van refers to, and Alexander Dolinin for suggesting Browning’s poem.)

128.01-02: rather like that Russian nobleman who chucked his coachman to the wolves: Cf. 69.16-17: “Marina, who had a Russian noblewoman’s morbid fear of ‘offending an inferior.’ ”

128.06: Baguenaudier: Darkbloom : “French name of bladder senna.” See also 124.24 and n, 125.03 and n. Nabokov probably has Van and Ada arrange their first sexual rendezvous in the Baguenaudier Bower because the bladder-like seed-pods of this legume open elastically, discharging their seeds in explosive fashion. Since baguenaudier is Colutea arborescens, note that in one of the first photographs in Kim Beauharnais’s album, among “several preparatory views of the immediate grounds” is “the colutea circle” (398.26-27). But the French slang term baguenauder also means “to fool around, to mooch about, to loaf, to waste time on trifles,” and accordingly has become the French name for a classic ring puzzle of interest to mathematicians and “involving disentangling a set of r ings from a looped double rod, originally used by French peasants to lock chests (Steinhaus 1999). . . . also called the Chinese rings or Devil’s needle puzzle. . . . Culin (1965) attributes the puzzle to Chinese general Hung Ming (A.D. 181-234), who gave it to his wife as a present to occupy her while he was away at the wars.” (Eric W. Weisstein, “Baguenaudier,” MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource.

128.07: “I’ll be down in exactly sixty-three minutes”: Ada appears to have an hour-long class with Mlle Larivière, even though it is a Sunday morning. Apart from Mlle’s herself being a “doom-fearing ‘midinette’ ” (125.09-10), whatever that is, and therefore committed to not eating before noon, there is little sign at Ardis of the religious observances that marked the Sunday rhythms of Nabokov’s parents’ home.

128.08: Her hands were cold: Cf. 50.05-08: “ ‘Take him by the hand. . . . ’ . . . The touch of her cold fingers and damp palm. . . . ”

128.08: her neck was hot: Cf. 118.18: “as he tried to get at her bed-warm splenius” (see 118.18n.)

128.09-10: Bout, a young footman, the butler’s bastard: His father is Albert Bouteillan (see 35.32n). As Nabokov knew, it was a normal practice in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russia to omit the first syllable of a noble surname to form the surname of a bastard son, as in the case of Ivan Petrovich Pnin (1773-1805), bastard son of Field Marshal Prince Nikolay Repnin (1734-1801), who together supplied the name for the hero of his Pnin (see Gennady Barabtarlo, Phantom of Fact: A Guide to Nabokov’s Pnin, Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1989, 56). Here, the end of Bout’s father’s name has been dropped; bout itself means in their native language, French, “end” (as if indicating the part dropped off); and as an English dialect term (W2) can mean “outside” but in regular English usage can still mean “conflict, contest.” By the end of Ardis the First Bout will be in competition with his father for Blanche’s favors (see 157.14-15, 179.14-18).

128.12-13: voluminous Sunday supplements of the papers from Balticomore, and Kaluga, and Luga: Cf. 5.34-6.05: “According to the Sunday supplement of a newspaper . . . the Veen-Durmanov wedding took place on St. Adelaida’s Day, 1871.” The newspaper in question could be the Kaluga Gazette (6.21-22) or The Kaluga Waters (213.28). MOTIF: Kaluga newspapers.

128.12-13: Balticomore, and Kaluga, and Luga: Note that the extra syllable co- added to Baltimore is pronounced in the same way as the ka- in “Kaluga” which therefore seems to have been added to “Luga,” although in this case both Kaluga and Luga are genuine Russian place names (see 4.01-04n, 4.03n). Cf. 124.22. MOTIF: place-names: additional syllable; -uga.

128.13-14: Robin Sherwood . . . bright green uniform: A version of the legendary Robin Hood, of Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham, England, whose story has circulated from the first half of the fourteenth century and may have some basis in historical fact. The color “sherwood green” has been named in his honor. According to the legend, Robin Hood would rob from the rich and redistribute to the poor, but this Robin Sherwood merely distributes the mail. Note, amidst all this, the comparatively subdued absurdity that voluminous Sunday newspapers (we imagine their modern dimensions, in this world of motorcars and movies) are distributed on horseback.

In his EO commentary, Nabokov identifies Pushkin’s reference to Stenka Razin (Onegin’s Journey, x.13-14) thus: “The famous robber chief, hero of several songs, a riparian Robin Hood of sorts, but considerably more sanguinary than the good yeoman. . . . The Soviet policy [was] to represent Robin Razin as an early promoter of the People’s Revolution, . . . ” (EO 3.279).

MOTIF: fairy-tale; technology.

128.15: throughout the somnolent countryside: Cf. 409.05-06: “a sacred secret and creed, throughout the countryside.”

128.15-16: Van, humming his school song—the only tune he could ever carry: Cf. SO 35: “I have no ear for music, a shortcoming I deplore bitterly.” Cf. Ada 149.20-21: “Van’s father, who has just passed whistling one of his three tunes.” MOTIF: family resemblance.

128.19: it was rumoured behind the rose hedges: Cf. 454.22-25: “ ‘I realized that I could not compete with her numerous boy friends.’ Numerous? Two? Three? Is it possible he never heard about the main one? All the rose hedges knew, all the maids knew, in all three manors.” MOTIF: rose.

128.21: Van reached the third lawn: Cf. 69.07: “on the third lawn”; 203.23-24: “They caught up with him in the Second Coppice.”

128.22-25: inspected the stage prepared for the scene, “like a provincial come an hour too early to the opera after jogging all day along harvest roads with poppies and bluets catching and twinkle-twining in the wheels of his buggy” (Floeberg’s Ursula): Darkbloom: “Flaubert’s style is mimicked in this pseudo-quotation.” Earth’s Flaubert becomes Antiterran Floeberg, (ice) floe plus (ice) berg, because of the famously icy objectivity he strove for in his fiction.

In this comparison, as much pastiche as parody, Nabokov may (especially in view of “the stage prepared for the scene”) have a number of passages particularly in mind. First, Emma’s marriage to Charles Bovary, in I.4:

Les conviés arrivèrent de bonne heure dans des voitures, carrioles à un cheval, chars a bancs à deux roués, vieux cabriolets sans capote, tapissières à rideaux de cuir, et les jeunes gens des villages les plus voisins dans des charrettes où ils se tenaient debout, en rang, les mains appuyés sur les ridelles pour ne pas tomber, allant au trot et sécoués dur. . . .

. . . les enfants restaient derrière, s’amusant à arracher les clochettes des brins d’avoine, ou à se jouer entre eux, sans qu’on les vit. La robe d’Emma, trop longue, traînait un peu par le bas; de temps à autre, elle s’arrêtait pour la tirer, et alors, délicatement, de ses doigts gantés, elle enlevait les herbes rudes avec les petits dards des chardons. . . . (ed. Édouard Maynial, Paris: Garnier, 1961, 24, 26)

The guests arrived early in carriages, one-horse chaises, two-wheeled charabancs, old hoodless gigs, wagonettes with leather curtains, and the young people from the nearest villages in carts where they stood in rows, their hands leaning on the rails so as not to fall, going at a trot and thoroughly shaken up. . . .

. . . the children stayed behind, enjoying themselves plucking the bellflowers from oat-ears, or playing among themselves without being seen. Emma’s dress, too long, dragged a little on the ground; from time to time, she would stop to pull it, and then, delicately, with her gloved hands, she would take off the coarse grass and the little barbs of thistles. . . .

In his Cornell lectures, Nabokov referred to Emma’s early daydreaming in Tostes, in I.vii:

elle sortait quelquefois, afin d’être seule un instant et de n’avoir plus sous les yeux l’éternel jardin avec la route poudreuse. . . . Sa pensée, sans but d’abord, vagabondait au hazard, comme sa levrette, qui faisait des cercles dans la campagne, jappait après les papillons jaunes, donnait la chasse aux musaraignes en mordillant les coquelicots sur le bord d’une pièce de blé. Puis ses idées peu à peu se fixaient et, assise sur le gazon, qu’elle foullait à petits coups avec le bout de son ombrelle, Emma se répétait:

—Pourquoi, mon Dieu, me suis-je mariée? (41-42)

Nabokov translates this himself:

she went out sometimes in order to be alone for a moment, and not to see before her eyes the eternal garden and the dusty road. . . . Her thoughts, aimless at first, would wander at random, like her whippet, who ran round and round in the open country, yelping after the yellow butterflies, chasing the shrew-mice, or nibbling the poppies on the edge of some acres of wheat. Then gradually her ideas took definite shape, and sitting on the grass that she dug up with little prods of her sunshade, Emma repeated to herself, “Good heavens! why did I marry?” (LL 138)

Emma and her husband visit the opera in Rouen , II.14-15:

La diligence descendait à l’hôtel de la Croix-Rouge, sur la place Beauvoisine. C’était une de ces auberges comme il y a dans tous les faubourgs de province, avec de grandes écuries et de petites chambres à coucher, où l’on voit au milieu de la cour des poules picorant l’avoine sous les cabriolets crottés des commis-voyageurs . . . et qui, sentant toujours le village, comme des valets de ferme habillés en bourgeois, ont un café sur la rue, et du côté de la campagne un jardin à legumes. Charles, immédiatement, se mit en courses. Il confondit l’avant-scène avec les galleries, le parquet avec les loges, demanda des explications, ne les comprit pas, fut renvoyé du contrôleur au directeur, revint à l’auberge, retourna au bureau, et, plusieurs fois ainsi, arpenta toute la longueur de la ville, depuis le théâtre jusqu’au boulevard.

Madame s’acheta un chapeau, des gants, un bouquet. Monsieur craignait beaucoup de manquer le commencement; et, sans avoir eu le temps d’avaler un bouillon, ils se présentèrent devant les portes du theatre, qui étaient encore fermées.


La foule stationnait contre le mur, parquée symétriquement entre les balustrades. A l’angle des rues voisines, de gigantesques affiches répétaient en caractères baroques: “Lucie de Lammermoor . . . Lagardy . . . Opéra . . . ” (205-06)

The coach stopped at the Croix-Rouge Hotel, on Place Beauvoisine. It was one of those inns on the outskirts of all provincial towns, with large stables and small bedrooms, where you see in the middle of the yard hens picking at oats under the mud-caked gigs of travelling salesman . . . and which, still reeking of the village, like farmboys dressed for town, have a café on the street, and on the country side a vegetable garden. Charles at once set off to sort things out. He confused stage-boxes with galleries, orchestra seats and loges, asked for explanations, didn’t understand them, was sent from the box-office to the manager, came back to the inn, returned to the theater, and so, several times, paced out the length of the town from the theater to the boulevard.

Madame bought herself a hat, gloves, a bouquet. Monsieur was very worried they might miss the beginning; and without even time to gulp down a soup, they presented themselves at the theater doors, which were still closed.


The crowd was lined up against the wall, positioned symmetrically between the entrance rails. At the corner of the neighboring streets, gigantic posters repeated in Gothic letters: “Lucie de Lammermoor . . . Lagardy . . . Opera . . . etc.”

Nabokov also quotes from Emma’s funeral procession, III.10:

Les femmes suivaient, couvertes de mantes noires à capuchon rabattu; elles portaient à la main un gros cierge qui brûlait, et Charles se sentait défaillir à cette continuelle repetition de prières et de flambeaux, sous ces odeurs affadisantes de cire et de soutane. Une brise fraîche soufflait, les seigles et les colzas verdoyaient, des goutelettes de rosée tremblaient au bord du chemin, sur les haies d’épines. Toutes sortes de bruits joyeux emplissaient l’horizon: le claquement d’une charrette roulant au loin dans les ornières, le cri d’un coq qui se répétait ou la galopade d’un poulain que l’on voyait s’enfuir sous les pommiers. Le ciel pur était tacheté de nuages roses; des lumignons bleuâtres se rabattaient sur les chaumières couvertes d’iris. (313)

Nabokov translates:

The women followed in black cloaks with turned-down hoods; each of them carried in her hands a large lighted candle, and Charles felt himself weakening at this continual repetition of prayers and torches, beneath this oppressive odor of wax and of cassocks. A fresh breeze was blowing; the rye and colza [“cabbage seed”] were green, dew-droplets trembled at the roadsides and on the hawthorn hedges. All sorts of joyous sounds filled the air; the jolting of a cart rolling afar off in the ruts, the crowing of a cock, repeated again and gain, or the gamboling of a foal running away under the apple trees. The pure sky was fretted with luminous clouds; a bluish haze rested upon the huts covered with iris. (LL 135-36)

128.24-25: with poppies and bluets catching and twinkle-twining in the wheels of his buggy: Cf. 444.11-12: “My first is a vehicle that twists dead daisies around its spokes.”

128.24: poppies and bluets: Cf. 299.01-02: “fields of wheat speckled with the confetti of poppies and bluets.” MOTIF: flowers.

128.26-33: Blue butterflies nearly the size of Small Whites, and likewise of European origin . . . on the drooping clusters of yellow flowers . . . our lovers were to see again, with wonder and joy, the same insect and the same bladder-senna along a forest trail near Susten in the Valais . . . big bold Blues: The blue butterflies are Iolana iolas, a strictly palearctic (Old World) species whose caterpillar feeds inside the pods of the bladder-senna. With a wingspan of up to 40mm, large for a Blue, it is almost the size of the Small (or Cabbage) White, Pieris rapae, which has a wingspan of 40-55mm. The Small White is also palearctic in origin but has been introduced to North America and Australasia. On Antiterra Iolana iolas seems to have been introduced into at least North America. (See Zimmer 2001.)

Cf. 124.24, 125.02-03 and nn; cf. 552.20-21: “the new Pfynwald road, to Sorcière, where seventeen years ago he had bought a house (now Villa Jolana)” and Darkbloom’s note: “named in honor of a butterfly, belonging to the sub-genus Jolana, which breeds in the Pfynwald (see also p. [128]).”

MOTIF: butterflies; transatlantic doubling.

128.26-28: Blue butterflies nearly the size of Small Whites, and likewise of European origin . . . on the drooping clusters of yellow flowers: MOTIF: yellow-blue.

128.28-31: the drooping clusters of yellow flowers. . . . the same bladder-senna: MOTIF: flowers.

128.28-29: In less complex circumstances, forty years hence: The forty is approximate (125.02-03: “in 1922, when he saw those baguenaudier flowers again”); “less complex circumstances” because Van and Ada by 1922 are together with no one else in their family still alive to worry about or hide from, or perhaps especially by contrast with the adulterous complications that had surrounded Van’s purchase of the villa (528.12-13). Cf. 478.29: “in much more complex circumstances.”

128.29: our lovers: MOTIF: our lovers.

128.30: with wonder and joy: Cf. 368.12: “with wonder and sorrow.”

128.31: near Susten in the Valais: Susten is a village on the left bank of the Rhone, across the river from the larger town of Leuk (French Loèche), 8km east of Sierre. On the left bank, between Susten and Sierre, are the pine-clad hills of the Pfynwald or Forêt de Finges, where Nabokov on 4 July 1963 caught his first specimen of Iolanas iolas (Michel Satori, ed., Les Papillons de Nabokov [Lausanne: Musée cantonal de Lausanne, 1993], 195). The small Valais village should not be confused with the pass of Susten, much more visible on a Swiss map, at the east end of the Bernese Alps, on the border of Bern and Uri cantons, and about five miles beyond the easternmost tip of the Valais.

128.32-33: collecting what he would recollect later: Experiences for later recall. MOTIF: collect . . . recollect.

129.03-14: he returned from a swim in the broad and deep brook beyond the bosquet, with wet hair. . . . between Ardis and Ladore: Cf. 525.04-05: “the black tuft recalled Van’s head when he was fourteen and wet, having just taken a dip in the brook.” The scene between Van and Ada that ensues, not so much in the Bower as in the seclusion of the larchwood, is recorded in seven rapid shots by Kim Beauharnais’s camera, 405.15-406.04. In view of the strongly Edenic overtones of Kim’s photographs (406.02-03: “her Adam stood over her, a frond or inflorescence veiling his thigh with the deliberate casualness of an Old Master’s device to keep Eden chaste”), the “bosquet” at 129.04 seems to evoke the bosquet from which Hieronymus Bosch derived his surname (436.28-32: “that ducal bosquet . . . that other triptych, that tremendous garden of tongue-in-cheek delights”).

129.04-05: the rare treat of finding his foreglimpse of live ivory: Cf. 36.13: “picture of naked Ivory Revery.” Notice the curious echo of the end of Ivory in Revery, and the pre-echo of the first syllable of ivory in live.

129.06-08: changed into the curtal frock . . . that he was so fond of and had so ardently yearned to soil: Ada had been wearing shorts (126.01). Van does not soil the frock on this occasion, since Ada soon discards it: 405.23.

129.07: curtal frock: W2, “curtal . . . adj. . . 2. Made or being short. . . . 3. Wearing a short frock; as, a curtal friar. . . . ; curtal, n. . . . 2. . . . b One wearing a short, or curtal, cloak. c An indecent woman.”

129.08: so ardently yearned: MOTIF: ardor.

129.11: from the A of arched instep to the V of velvet: MOTIF: A; V.

129.13: larchwood: Cf. 45.22, 231.06. MOTIF: larch.

129.16-31: “deflowered” . . . red ink: MOTIF: deflower.

129.17: Ada in Wonderland: Cf. 53.27-28: “ ‘Our reading lists do not match,’ replied Ada. ‘That Palace in Wonderland . . . . ’ ” (and see 53.25-28n). MOTIF: Alice in Wonderland.

129.18: Phrody’s Encyclopedia: In view of the definition that follows, Phrody presumably plays on “Aphrodite” (as suggested by the Kyoto Reading Circle), and perhaps “Freud” and “fraud-y.” MOTIF: Freud; Venus.

129.19-20: with the example: “The sweetness of his soul was deflowered (Jeremy Taylor)”: W2, deflower, cites this example: “He died innocent and before the sweetness of his soul was deflowered and ravished from him. Jer. Taylor.” Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), Anglican preacher, theologian, and devotional writer, died as bishop of Down and Connor, and then also of Dromore, a fact perhaps not unrelated to the “grim Vincent Veen, Bishop of Balticomore and Como” (124.21-22).

129.21: Was it that night on the lap robe?: The Saturday night of the Burning Barn, I.19. MOTIF: that night.

129.21-22: Or that day in the larchwood?: The Sunday morning of this chapter. MOTIF: larch.

129.22: Or later in the shooting gallery, or in the attic, or on the roof, or on a secluded balcony, or in the bathroom, or (not very comfortably) on the Magic Carpet?: Shooting gallery: 148.1-28; attic: 146.12-13, and 6.06-9.12; roof: 45.20-26; balcony: not specified; bathroom: 143.29-145.05; Magic Carpet: not otherwise specified.

129.24: Magic Carpet: MOTIF: magic carpet.

129.26-31: (You kissed . . . . Marginal note in red ink.): MOTIF: Composition: Ada.

129.28-30: by midsummer . . . “sex” was working as smoothly as later: Since the Burning Barn episode is tentatively dated “July 28? August 4?” (114.07), and the second of these dates appears the less unlikely, “midsummer” seems not to refer to the summer solstice, June 21, or to July as middle of the three conventional summer months. Perhaps Ada is thinking of the middle of the summer she shared with Van, from early June 1884 (113.09-10) to some time in September (156.01).

129.29: the machine which our forefathers called “sex”: Cf. 129.18-19: “to break a virgin’s vaginal membrane by manly or mechanical means.” Cf. also 69.15, “un machin long comme ça qui faillit blesser l’enfant à la fesse”; 379.15: “Whilst the machine is to him.”

129.30-31: Marginal note in red ink: In Molly Bloom’s soliloquy: “and they always want to see a stain on the bed to know youre a virgin for them [ . . . ] theyre such fools too you could be a widow or divorced 40 times over a daub of red ink would do” (Joyce, Ulysses 633, 18.1125-28). See also 1.10, Afternote.

Afternote to Part One, Chapter 20

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