Part One, Chapter 21
Since Van’s arrival at Ardis, we and Van have anticipated eagerly the consummation of his swelling love for Ada. After a series of firsts, first touch, first secret glimpse, first kiss, after their first naïve love-making, after their first meeting afterwards and their first assignation, we reach the end of I.20 knowing that they need no longer fret that the current “first” might be as far as the series goes. From now on, their love can find its ardent outlet whenever they wish.
Abruptly, therefore, the narrative rhythm of mounting expectation suddenly changes. We move from a series of firsts to a series of repetitions, as if from the innocent first panel of Bosch’s Garden of Delights to the indulgent and crowded second panel, from scene to summary, from the singular to the continuous, from action to digression. The final four chapters of Ardis the First, the library (I.21), Van’s and Ada’s Ardis anthem (I.22), Lucette’s intrusions (I. 23), and the interlacing of their passionate present with their probing of their past (I.24) establish quickly the knowing, lasting, comically urgent, tirelessly repeated thrill of Van and Ada’s love-making.
The library offers a first repetition, since it is the room where they first made love, after a fashion. In the parodic excursus of I.21, cocky young Van secures his and Ada’s access to the more adult sections of the library, as to the more adult sections of life. Prohibitions against books tumble in tandem with prohibitions against sex and even incest.
The prohibition against knowing about sex matches the Edenic prohibition against tasting of the Tree of Knowledge, and the theme of Ardis as Garden of Eden somehow resounds even amid the hush of the library. Just as the solitary couple in the left panel of Bosch’s Garden of Delights gives way to the throngs of sensualists, fructivores and sexual acrobats in the triptych’s central panel, in an endless slow merry-go-round of desire, so Van and Ada returning now as lovers to the library sample sex as something endlessly repeated through time: in evolutionary terms, from Serromyia flies and the lowliest farm animals to geishas and Casanovas; in cultural terms, from Oriental erotica, Shastras and Nefzawis, to litterateurs and sexologists.
The strongest prohibition that faces Van and Ada of course is not just against sex but against incestuous sex. Their discovery that they are full brother and sister takes place soon after the Night of the Burning Barn, but we witness snatches of that discovery in the attic out of sequence, in the first full scene of the novel, before we can fully assimilate it. Now the young lovers’ curious but unconcerned discoveries in the library show them in a different key, thoroughly aware of incest and its implications, and of their own amused indifference.Annotations
130.01-131.04: Ada was denied the free use of the library . . . soft fleshed eunuch: In another sense, she has had very free use of the library, making love there with Van (albeit inexpertly) on the night of the Burning Barn (118-21). MOTIF: library (Ardis).
130.01-02: the latest list (printed . . . 14,841 items: Nabokov’s father had a librarian, Lyudmila Grinberg, who maintained a card index of the library in his St. Petersburg home, from which he had a first catalog printed in 1904 (Sistematicheskiy katalog biblioteki Vladimira Dmitrievicha Nabokova [St. Petersburg: Tovarishchestvo khudozhestvennoy pechati), listing almost four thousand items, and a supplement in 1911 adding another seven thousand (VNRY 80).
130.02: May 1, 1884 . . . 14,841 items: The echo of the date (“1, 1884”) in the number of items in the library (which would have been even closer had Nabokov chosen April 1, 1884: 1-4-1884: why did he choose “Mayday” rather than April Fool’s Day?; and see 133.01 and n.) and the palindromic quality of “14841” (which also happens to be the sum of the squares of 120 and 21, the latter the number of the chapter—is this significant, in this self-referential section?—and the former a near palindrome of it, with “nothing” added—was that intended?) reflect Nabokov’s abilities as mathematical prodigy in his infant years, and his preoccupation with pattern in both nature (butterfly wing-markings, for instance) and art (versification, for instance). They also recall Quilty’s numerical clues or taunts for Humbert: “the license of the initial Aztec was a shimmer of shifting numerals, some transposed, others altered or omitted, but somehow forming interrelated combinations (such as ‘WS 1564’ and ‘SH 1616,’ and ‘Q32888’ or ‘CU 88322’) which however were so cunningly contrived as to never reveal a common denominator” (Lolita II.23, 251).
The year after Ada appeared, Peter Lubin proposed the term “capicue (from Spanish capicúa), the numerical equivalent of a palindrome. It has a clean etymology, coming from caput (head) and cola (tail). 14,841 (the number of books in Ardelion Veen’s library) is a capicue” (“Kickshaws and Motley,” in Triquarterly 17 , rpt. as Alfred Appel, Jr. and Charles Newman, eds., Nabokov: Criticism, Reminiscences, Translations and Tributes, Northwestern University Press, 1970, 187-208, p. 192).
130.04: pour ne pas lui donner des idées: Darkbloom: “so as not to put any ideas in her head.”
130.04-06: On her own shelves . . . taxonomic works on botany and entomology as well as her schoolbooks: Nabokov himself as a teenager could avail himself of the books in his father’s large library but also had his own collection of contemporary Russian poets (VNRY 92-93).
130.10: en lecture: Darkbloom: “out.”
130.14: Philippe Verger: The humanist scholar and translator Pierre-Victor Verger (1792-1849), author of a Dictionnaire classique de la langue française (1827-28), was co-editor of a catalogue of the Bibliothèque de Paris, in which he worked from 1840 (J.F. Michaud, Biographie Universelle, 1854- , rpt. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, XLIII: 154).
Verger means “orchard” in French and English (W2: “a garden or orchard”), and in English also “One who carries a verge, or emblem of office,” especially ecclesiastical office, or “An official who takes care of the interior of a church building” (W2). Verge means in French and English “rod, staff, stick, penis.”
In the case of this “morbidly silent and shy” bachelor (130.15), the name also seems to play on French vierge, “virgin.” The first time Blanche talks to Van, she declares “je suis vierge, ou peu s’en faut” (“I’m a virgin, or almost one,” 49.17); when Ada writes to Van, she echoes Blanche’s Canady French: “Van, je suis sur la verge (Blanche again) of a revolting amorous adventure” (334.23-24). In The Perfumed Garden (whose author, Sheikh Nefzawi, is listed among other erotic writers less than a page later, 131.17), one sexual position is described as “a good position for a man with a long verge,” and this on a page (in the edition cited at 344.16, The Perfumed Garden of Shaykh Nefzawi , tr. Sir Richard Burton, ed. Alan Hull Walton [London: Panther, 1963], p. 132) where Nabokov found the word begouri, which he uses later in this chapter (135.18). MOTIF: V.
130.16-131.03: so quiet . . . ladder . . . eerie backward slow-motion swoon . . . such a hush that guilty Ada . . . mistook his fall for the shadow of a door being stealthily opened: Monsieur “Orchard’s” fall parodies the Fall in that other orchard, the Garden of Eden, and its echo in the Shattal Tree of I.15. In Milton’s account of the Fall, unlike this, the sound reverberates around the world:
her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she ate:
Earth felt the wound, and nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. ( Paradise Lost IX.780-84)
For the soundlessness of what would be noisy if not caused by this librarian, see 132.02-03: “sharing a quiet little cracker (tugged apart with no audible result...)” MOTIF: the Fall.
131.02: the utterly unrewarding Arabian Nights: Unrewarding in terms of the sexual titillation that Ada appears to have been seeking. The Arabian Nights Entertainments or The Thousand and One Nights is a ninth-century A.D.-and-after compilation in Arabic of popular tales deriving from Indian, Persian and Arabic sources, first introduced into Western Europe as an ensemble in the early eighteenth century. In Proust’s A la Recherche du temps perdu, Marcel’s mother has doubts about letting Marcel read the Mille nuits et une nuit in the translation (1898-1904) of Joseph-Charles-Victor Mardrus (1868-1949), which was fuller and more colorful than the 1704-17 translation of Antoine Galland (1646-1715): see II.836 (Sodome et Gomorrhe, ch. 2) in the 1954 Gallimard edition that Nabokov used. Ada may have been reading the expurgated and thoroughly Victorian English translation (1839-41) of Edward Lane (1801-1876) rather than the 1885-1888 versions of Sir Richard Burton (1821-90), who had just translated the Kama Sutra (1883) and the Perfumed Garden (1886) and announces in his introduction to the Arabian Nights that he aims at a “full, complete, unvarnished, uncastrated copy of the great original.”
Cf. 29.27-28: “My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada” and n.; 41.03-04, “a Thousand-and-One Best Plays in her boudoir,” and n.; 44.23-31, “blue magic rug with Arabian designs . . . his Ada and he” and n.; 217.26-27: “ ‘Now I’m Scheher,’ he said, ‘and you are his Ada, and that’s your green prayer carpet”: 349.25-26: “the thousand and one memorial floramors he resolved to erect.”
131.03-04: shadow of a door being stealthily opened by some soft-fleshed eunuch: A natural fantasy to enter the mind of someone reading the Arabian Nights.
131.05-06: Her intimacy with her cher, trop cher René, as she sometimes called Van: Darkbloom: “dear, too dear (his sister’s words in Chateaubriand’s René).” See 3.08n. Amélie writes to René: “Quoi, cher et trop cher René, mon souvenir s’effacera-t-il si promptement de ton cœur?” (“What, dear, too dear René, will my memory be so promptly erased from your heart?” (Fernand Letessier, ed., Atala, René, Les Aventures du dernier Abencérage [Paris: Garnier, 1962], 224). In EO, Nabokov cites this phrase in proof of the fact that “A subtle perfume of incest permeates their relationship: ‘cher et trop cher René . . . ’ ” (III,100). MOTIF: Chateaubriand.
131.07-18: Ada was denied the free use of the library . . . the comic relief of life: MOTIF: Forbidden Masterpieces.
131.07-08: Soon upon: A solecism, or sterile idiomatic hybrid, combining “Hard upon” and “Soon after.”
131.10-31: remove from the library . . . that spot of plodding occupation: MOTIF: library (Ardis).
131.10-11: at any time. For any length of time: Cf. 131.10-11: "any time. For any amount of time." MOTIF: time.
131.13: Miss Vertograd: An obsolete Russian word meaning “garden.” In part a match for Verger as “garden, orchard,” (and with the same ver-g-r pattern), in part, as Alexey Sklyarenko suggests (private communication), a play on Alexander Pushkin’s poem “Vertograd moey sestry” (written 1825, published 1829), which in turn echoes the most erotic chapter of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, 4.12-16.
Vertograd moey sestrï, The garden of my sister,
Vertograd uedinennïy, A solitary garden;
Chistïy klyuch u ney s gorï Her pure spring from no hill
Ne bezhit zapechatlennïy. Runs, [being] sealed up.
U menya plodï blestyat I have fruits that shine,
Nalivnïe, zolotïe; Juicy, golden;
U menya begut, shumyat I have waters that run and burble,
Vodï chistïe, zhivïe. Pure and living.
Nard, aloy i kinnamon Nard, aloe and cinnamon
Blagovoniem bogatï: Are rich with fragrance
Lish’ poveet akvilon, Let the north wind blow,
I zakaplyut aromatï. And the perfumes drip.
From the Song of Solomon, 4:12: “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. 13 Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard, 14 Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes; with all the chief spices; 15 A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon. 16 Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that its spices may flow out.”
131.13-15: Vertograd . . . Verger’s: MOTIF: V.
131.15: Verger’s format and presumable date of publication: Verger is a “diminutive old” bachelor (130.14), and both he and Miss Vertograd here seem to be classified with the books they live amongst. Given their “diminutive” stature, we can imagine their format as something like sextodecimo (16 o).
131.16: eighteenth-century libertines: Such as Casanova and the Marquis de Sade, both mentioned at 136.29.
131.17: German sexologists: German and Austrian sexologists from the 1860s to the 1930s led the scientific development of the subject. Nabokov would have known of German Sexualwissenschaft from his father’s library, since in his role as criminologist V.D. Nabokov wrote on the rights of homosexuals, a term invented by Austro-Hungarian sexologist Károly Kertbeny (Karl-Maria Benkert) in 1869. (Thanks to Zsuzsa Hetényi for clarifying the Hungarian and German versions of the name.) Though he could read German only with difficulty, Nabokov would have encountered the German sexologists in Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1896-1928), which he knew well. The best known of them is Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902), whose Psychopathia Sexualis, first published 1886, introduced the terms “sadism” and “masochism.” The Berlin doctor Iwan Bloch (1872-1922) proposed sexology as a discipline in his Das Sexualleben unserer Zeit (The Sexual Life of Our Time, 1907), and carried his studies on in works like Die Prostitution (1912). He was founding editor of Zeistchrift für Sexualwissenschaft with Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), the “Einstein of sex,” who was especially interested in homosexuality, bisexuality and transvestism; V.D. Nabokov’s own works arguing for the decriminalization of adult homosexuality in Russia drew on Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld’s great rival was Albert Moll (1862-1939), author of Die konträre Sexualempfindung (Contrary Sexual Feeling, 1891), Libido Sexualis (1897), and The Sexual Life of the Child (1909).
131.17-18: Shastras and Nefsawis, in literal translation with apocryphal addenda: In A1, Nabokov has glossed “Shastras and Nefsawis”: “erotic works: Kama Shastra (or sutra) and Nefsawi (or Nefzawi).”
The Sanskrit śāstra means “instruction,” and in Hinduism shastra are “the sacred scriptures of Hinduism consisting of four categories of text, the sruti, smriti, purana, and tantra” (W3). As Mason 164 notes, Kama Shastra ( kama means “love, desire, pleasure, sensual gratification”) “is the name of a society for privately printed erotic works, organized by Sir Richard Burton, translator of Nefzawi.” Between 1883 and 1888 the Kama Shastra Society of London and Benares issued English translations of Indian and Arabic erotic classics, including the treatise Kama Sutra of Vatsayana (1883; transl. by Burton and Foster Arbuthnot) and Burton’s translation from a French version of Sheikh Umar Ibn Muhammad al-Nefzawi’s guide to sex, The Perfumed Garden of the Sheikh Nefzaoui or the Arab Art of Love, sixteenth century, was published in 1886. He also translated a third eastern erotic manual, Kalyana Malla’s Ananga-Ranga. MOTIF: translation.
131.20-22: the day (in January, 1876) when he had made an unexpected . . . pass at her: Since this is the month of Lucette’s birth (6.20), Marina may have been in hospital, or would at least have been sexually unavailable.
131.24-26: would have poisoned her governess with anti-roach borax if forbidden to read . . . Turgenev’s Smoke: OED defines borax as “A native salt; the acid borate of sodium, or biborate of soda (Na2B4O7)” and according to W2 it is “used as a flux, cleansing agent and antiseptic, and in soldering metals, making enamels, fixing colors on porcelain, etc.” W3 offers an extension, “cheap shoddy flashy merchandise; esp: cheap poorly constructed ostentatious furniture of a nondescript or hybrid style,” and OED notes, “ ‘so called fr. the reputed custom of a maker of borax soap of giving cheap furniture as a coupon premium (Webster 1961),” and cites an Architecture Review article of 1948 that explains: “ ‘Borax’ . . . is generally restricted to consumer goods where obviously heavy forms and elaborate jazzy ornament are used in order to add spurious eye-appeal.” The unexpected poisoning by “borax” may therefore be Nabokov’s critical comment on Turgenev’s Smoke, perhaps on either the “obviously heavy forms” of its love triangle or the “jazzy ornament” of its satiric echoes of contemporary controversies.
Turgenev wrote Dym (Smoke) between 1865 and 1867, the year it was published. At Baden, Grigory Litvinov, betrothed to Tatyana Shestov, meets again his first love, the beautiful and bewitching Irina Ratmirov, who as a seventeen-year-old in Moscow had renounced her love for him in order to be taken up into high society; from an impoverished princely family, she has in the interim married a rising general and glitters in the beau monde. Irina now revives Litvinov’s old love, and an affair begins before Tatyana’s arrival in Baden. Litvinov hopes for a new life with Irina, and breaks off his engagement with Tatyana, only to discover that Irina will not leave the monde, however much she hates its fatuities, for the prospect of poverty with him. He therefore loses both women, before returning to Russia and eventually winning back his life and even his old prospects with Tatyana. (See also 43.33n.)
Marina’s governess might have wished to forbid her to read Smoke because the reader can infer that Litvinov and Irina make love, although the text each time draws a quick curtain over the action. The first time, ch. 17: “ –Irina!—voskliknul on i vsplesnul rukami. Ona podnyala golovu i upala k nemu na grud’.” A short rule between paragraphs marks the ellipsis, before the next paragraph commences: “Dva chasa spustya on sidel u sebya na divane.” (I.S. Turgenev, Polnoe sobranie sochineniy i pisem, ed. M.P. Alekseev, Moscow-Leningrad: Nauka, 1965, IX, 262) (“ ‘Irina,’ he cried, and his hands splayed out in surprise. . . . She raised her head and fell upon his breast.” Next paragraph: “Two hours later he was sitting in his room on the sofa” [adapted from the Constance Garnett translation, Smoke (1896), London: Heinemann 1930, 203]).
Or there may be a more specific reason for Marina’s thinking she might have been forbidden to read the novel. Litvinov is betrothed to, and despite the rupture of the engagement, eventually marries his second cousin Tatyana (ch. 3: “svoey troyurodnoy sestry i nevesty—Tat’yana Petrovny Shestovoy. On znal ee chut’ ne s detstva . . . moloduyu rodstvennitsu,” IX, 150; “his second cousin and betrothed, Tatyana Petrovna Shestov. He had known her almost from childhood. . . . his young kinswoman,” adapted from Garnett, 11). Marina at 24 falls for her dashing second cousin Demon and two years later marries her drab second cousin Dan.
As Carolyn Kunin points out (NabokvL@listserv.ucsb.edu, 17 June 2003), it is not borax but boric acid that is the anti-roach powder. Silky white, toxic also to humans, causing fever, convulsions, and coma, it is nevertheless often used as an antiseptic. W3: “a white crystalline toxic weak acid H3BO3 that occurs naturally in solution in the fumaroles of Tuscany, that is easily obtained from its salts, and that is used for many of the same purposes as borax and also in electroplating and formerly as a weak antiseptic (as in eyewashes).”
131.29-30: the scatter of a curious snow-white dust: Despite the fairy-tale phrasing, this unmagic dust comes from Verger’s psoriasis. Yet Verger’s “snow-white dust” seems oddly linked with Cinderella-like Blanche (Snow White in Blanche’s native language, French, is Blanche Neige), who has “the whites” and has to consult Dr. Krolik about her condition (49.21-22); Dr. Krolik writes a letter on psoriasis occasioned by Verger’s condition (132.20-32). MOTIF: fairy tale.
131.34: the Braille Club in Raduga: The raised-dot system of writing devised by blind French educationist Louis Braille (1809-1852) was officially adopted two years after his death. Since raduga is Russian for “rainbow” (see 4.01n.), there is a ghoulish version here of the irony sentimentally treated in the famous painting The Blind Girl (1856) by Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896) (a blind beggar girl unable to see the rainbow behind her that has caught the attention of her little sister).
Blanche is mockingly imagined as “color-blind” (49.08), and will have a blind child (408.22-23); the Ardis whose eroticism she in some senses stands for will become a “Home for Blind Blacks” (503.14). After blinding Kim Beauharnais for attempting to use his photographs of himself and Ada for blackmail purposes, Van keeps him “safe and snug in a nice Home for Disabled Professional People, where he gets from me loads of nicely brailled books on new processes in chromophotography” (446.05-07).
MOTIF: blind; rainbow.
132.01-02: Vertograd . . . Verger: MOTIF: V.
132.02-03: sharing a quiet little cracker (tugged apart with no audible result: Cf. the hush of the fall at 130.16-131.03.
132.03-05: cracker . . . no audible result . . . nor . . . any bonbon or breloque or other favor of fate: Suggests, along with their shared psoriasis (132.05-06), the fruitlessness of the relationship of the apparently virginal Vertograd and Verger.
132.05: breloque: W2: “A seal or charm for a watch chain.”
132.05-07: spectacular skin disease . . . portrayed recently by a famous American novelist in his Chiron: Darkbloom : “Chiron: doctor among centaurs: an allusion to Updike’s best novel.” Chiron, the wisest and best of the centaurs, is “a ‘doctor among centaurs’ because he teaches the art of healing to Asclepius” (Rivers & Walker 280) and also tutors Achilles. American novelist and poet John Updike (1932- ), who frequently reviewed Nabokov’s work enthusiastically for the New Yorker in the 1960s, published The Centaur in 1963. The story concerns the relationship between teacher George Caldwell—who, standing at the blackboard, is struck by an arrow as Chiron had been wounded by his unappreciative students—and his artistic son Peter, who suffers from psoriasis. Peter narrates some chapters: “I stood naked. . . . Had the world been watching, it would have been startled, for my belly, as if pecked by a great bird, was dotted with red scabs the size of coins. Psoriasis. The very name of the allergy, so foreign, so twisty in the mouth, so apt to prompt stammering, intensified the humiliation. ‘Humiliation,’ ‘allergy’—I never knew what to call it. It was not a disease, because I generated it out of myself. As an allergy, it was sensitive to almost everything: chocolate, potato chips, starch, sugar, frying grease, nervous excitement, dryness, darkness, pressure, enclosure, the temperate climate—allergic, in fact, to life itself. My mother, from whom I had inherited it, sometimes called it a ‘handicap.’ I found this insulting. After all, it was her fault; only females transmitted it to their children. . . . So I had come to this conclusion about my psoriasis: it was a curse. God, to make me a man, had blessed me with a rhythmic curse that breathed in and out with His seasons. The summer sun mantled my scabs; by September my chest and legs were clear but for a very faint dappling, invisibly pale seeds which the long dry shadow of the fall and winter would bring again to bloom. The curse reached its climax of flower in the spring; but then the strengthening sun promised cure. January was a hopeless time. My elbows and knees, pressure areas of skin, were capped with crust; on my ankles, where the embrace of my socks encouraged the scabs, they angrily ran together in a kind of pink bark. My forearms were mottled enough so that I could not turn my shirt cuffs back, in two natty folds, like other boys. Otherwise, when I was in clothes, my disguise as a normal human being was good. On my face, God had relented. . . . ” (Ch. 2; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966, 51-52). A later passage may have helped trigger the Verter-Vertograd coupling of two matched but unmarried elderly folk with garden or orchard names and psoriasis: “There were two strange facts about Doc Appleton: he was a twin, and like me he had psoriasis. His twin was Hester Appleton, who taught Latin and French at the high school. She was a shy thick-waisted spinster, smaller than her brother and grey-haired whereas he was bald. But their brief hook noses were identical and the resemblance was plain. The idea, when I was a child, of these two stately elderly people having popped together from the same mother had an inexhaustible improbability that made them both seem still, in part, infants. Hester lived with the doctor in this house. He had married but his wife had died or disappeared years ago under dark circumstances” (Ch. 4; 116-17).
In February 1937 Nabokov himself suffered from what he called the “indescribable torments” of acute psoriasis, which was brought on by nervous stress at the start of his affair with Irina Guadanini, and which had driven him “to the border of suicide” (SL 26).
For the association of centaur and illness, cf. 26.28, “a luxurious ‘sanastoria’ at Centaur, Arizona” and 27.19, “The astorium in St. Taurus.”
132.07-08: described in side-splitting style by a co-sufferer who wrote essays for a London weekly: Darkbloom: “a reference to Alan Brien’s New Statesman column.” Brien’s column “Private View” seems to have begun on July 1, 1966. I have not identified a column that touches on psoriasis, but the December 1, 1967 column, “Nabokov’s Doppelgänger,” playfully treats Andrew Field’s Nabokov: His Life in Art (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967) as if it were written by Nabokov.
The New Statesman seems to be alluded to again at 343.29-30: “Elsinore, a distinguished London weekly” (Claudius being a new statesman in Elsinore?).
132.08-12: Very delicately . . . works wonders: MOTIF: library (Ardis).
132.11: Mercury: Best known medicinally as an early cure for syphilis; cf. 16.23-25: “Your runaway maid . . . has been found by the police in a brothel here and will be shipped to you as soon as she is sufficiently stuffed with mercury.” MOTIF: mercury.
132.11: Höhensonne: Darkbloom : “ultra-violet lamp.” Nabokov himself had been prescribed daily radiation treatments for his 1937 psoriasis, and declared himself “pretty much cured” by mid-May 1937 (SL 26).
132.17: Québec Quarterly: Cf. 83.06-07: “Mlle Larivière read her La Rivière de Diamants, a story she had typed out for The Quebec Quarterly” and n.
132.18: take a warm bath at least twice a month: Even as a teenager Nabokov was appalled at a school trip to Finland that he later remembered as “the first time in my more or less conscious life when I spent one day without a bath. It was terrible. I felt filthy. Nobody else seemed to mind” (cited in Andrew Field, Nabokov: His Life in Part [ New York: Viking, 1977] 123). In the Russian version of his autobiography, he writes: “Etot moy rezinovïy tub ya vzyal s soboy v emigratsiyu, i on, uzhe zaplatannïy, byl mne sushchim spaseniem v moikh beschislennïkh evropeyskikh pansionakh: gryaznee frantsuzskoy obshchey vannoy net na svete nichego, krome nemetskoy” (DB 67: “This rubber tub of mine I took with me into the emigration, and it was a real savior to me, patched as it was, in my innumerable European pensions: there is nothing on earth fouler than a French communal bathroom, except a German one”).
132.20: in a Get-Well envelope: Rather than with a Get-Well card.
132.21: (English version): Original presumably in Russian.
132.24-25: bobo’s: Darkbloom: “bobo: little hurt.”
132.25: bubas: W2: “ South America (a) Frambosia. (b) A form of tropical sore endemic in Brazil.” Frambesia, framboesia (W2): “Med. A contagious disease of the skin, having many analogies with syphilis.”
132.25: buboes: W2: “Med. An inflammatory swelling of a lymph gland, due to the absorption of infective material, as in gonorrhea, syphilis, or the plague.”
132.26-30: confused with lepers . . . in the Middle Ages, when thousands if not millions . . . crackled and howled bound by enthusiasts to stakes erected in the public squares of Spain and other fire-loving countries: Appears to combine the Spanish Inquisition (and other medieval and early modern burnings of heretics, witches and the like) with the intense medieval alarm at leprosy: “The medieval urban dweller lived in constant fear of epidemics, and when leprosy reached serious proportions in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, quarantine laws were rigidly enforced. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, in France alone there were about 2,000 leprosaria, and in all of Europe the number probably exceeded 19,000, although many cases were admitted that were not leprous” (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1972 ed., 11:204). MOTIF: torture.
132.27-28: thousands if not millions of Vergers and Vertograds: MOTIF: V.
132.30-31: meek martyr’s: MOTIF: martyr.
132.31: index under PS: Pun on the position of “postscript” (PS) and “index” at the rear of a text.
132.31-32: lepidopterists are overeloquent on lepidosis: Lepidosis is defined in W2: “a Med. Any scaly skin disease, as ichthyosis or psoriasis. b Zool. The arrangement and character of the scales or shields of an animal, as a reptile.” Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) are so named because of the minute scales with which their wings are covered. Krolik is of course a lepidopterist as well as a physician.
The cadence and contour of the clause resemble the dictum “Aphoristicism is a symptom of arteriosclerosis” (SO 79), from an interview in September 1966, when Nabokov was writing Ada.
132.33-133.04: Novels, poems . . . after the poor librarian . . . best readers always do: MOTIF: library (Ardis).
132.34-133.01: demission éplorée: Darkbloom : “tearful notice.”
133.01: on the first of August, 1884: Or 1-8-1884 (see 130.01-02 and n.).
133.02-03: in the manner of the objects carried away by the Invisible Man in Wells’ delightful tale: Alludes to the hero of The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance (1897), a chemist who finds the secret of invisibility. The first explicit reference to H.G. Wells, whose work may nevertheless be implied in many places in this pseudo-nineteenth-century pseudo-science-fiction story: see I.3 forenote (In the Days of the Comet); 19.31-32n. (The War of the Worlds); 71.05n. (“The Plattner Story”); 91.02n. (The New Machiavelli); 118.16n. (The Passionate Friends). Cf. 203.21-23: “changed his course from gravel path to velvet lawn (reversing the action of Dr. Ero, pursued by the Invisible Albino in one of the greatest novels of English literature).”
133.08-135.12: In a story by Chateaubriand . . . . as the anti-Irish tabloids called them: MOTIF: incest.
133.08: In a story by Chateaubriand about a pair of romantic siblings: Invented, although Chateaubriand does touch on the romantic feelings of brother and sister in René and his Mémoires d’Outre-tombe and allows them to color his Amélie. See 3.08n. MOTIF: Chateaubriand; romance; sibling.
133.10-11: les deux enfants pouvaient donc s’abandonner au plaisir sans aucune crainte: Darkbloom: “therefore the two children could make love without any fear.” Cf. 19.15-17: “a queer sort of ‘incestuous’ (whatever that term means) pleasure (in the sense of the French plaisir, which works up a lot of supplementary spinal vibrato)”; 435.21-22: “to extract orally a few last drops of ‘play-zero’ (as the old whore called it).” MOTIF: plaisir.
133.12-13: Les muses s’amusent: The Muses Have Fun: invented. In Lolita II.25 (256) Humbert lifts a line (“bien fol est qui s’y fie”) from Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse (The King Enjoys Himself, 1832).
133.16: his sweetheart’s attention: Ardeur 113: “fit lire à sa petite sœur” (“had his little sister read”). In the French translation, Nabokov chooses to stress Ada as Van’s “sister” just before the novel’s longest discussion of incest, perhaps because so many reviewers of the English-language editions had assumed that Van and Ada were merely cousins?
133.17: Sex and Lex: MOTIF: Ex.
133.19-20: “incestuous” meant not only “unchaste”—the point regarded linguistics rather than legalistics: The English incest derives from Latin incestus, “unchaste, incestuous,” which derives from L. in- and castus, “chaste”; but in English the term has never meant merely “unchaste”: W2: “The crime of cohabitation or sexual commerce between persons related within the degrees wherein marriage is prohibited by law.”
133.21-22: but also implied . . . interference with the continuity of human evolution: Incest avoidance has been biologically selected for in the evolution of many sexually reproducing species, not only humans, because of the high risk of deleterious recessive genes doubling up and leading to defects in development.
133.23-26: History had long replaced appeals to “divine law” . . . incest could be termed a crime only inasmuch as inbreeding might be criminal: Not inaccurate: “In England from the twelfth century until the early nineteenth century, incest was a matter for the church authorities alone. ‘Adultery was not, bigamy was not, incest was not, a temporal crime,’ as Pollock and Maitland [The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, 1895] summed up the English legal tradition; ‘fornication, adultery, incest and bigamy were ecclesiastical offences, and the lay courts had nothing to say about them’ ” (Adam Kuper, “Incest, Cousin Marriage, and the Origin of the Human Sciences in Nineteenth-Century England,” Past and Present 174:1 , 158-83, p. 158). During the course of the nineteenth century, a process of secularisation of the marriage laws occurred in England, as in France and Italy, and as cousin marriages were made legal the incidence began to rise. In families of the middle class and above in England the incidence was quite high by the mid-nineteenth century, prompting concerned investigations by Charles Darwin and his son George (the Darwin and Wedgwood clans were highly intermarried) and others, and producing works like Alfred Henry Huth’s The Marriage of Near Kin: Considered with Respect to the Laws of Nations, the Results of Experience, and the Teachings of Biology (1875), and at the height of the debate, Huth’s bibliography, “Index to Books and Papers on Marriage between Near Kin,” appendix to Report of the First Annual Meeting of the Index Society (London, 1879).
Cf. Humbert Humbert’s attempt to portray relations between adult males and young girls as diversely and arbitrarily (and therefore, he seeks to imply, irrationally and unfairly) prohibited: “soon I found myself maturing amid a civilization which allows a man of twenty-five to court a girl of sixteen but not a girl of twelve. . . . ” (Lolita I.5, 18).
133.26: Judge Bald: A play on the bald eagle as the symbol of the United States?
133.27: the Albino Riots of 1835: Intended perhaps to appear like a kind of “Negro” riot in photographic or verbal negative (at the time Ada was written, there had recently been major race riots in American cities, Watts in Los Angeles, 1965, Cleveland, Newark and Detroit, 1967), but could perhaps refer to the actual “Boston Riot” of October 1835 when British abolitionist George Thompson came to speak to the Female Anti-Slavery Society in Boston. A white mob broke up the meeting, and dragged the leading anti-abolitionist activist, Boston-based William Lloyd Garrison, publisher and editor of The Liberator, through the streets at the end of a rope. There were also riots in Utica, New York in the same month, against an anti-slavery convention being held there. Nabokov could also be using “albino” to evoke the establishment of the Jewish Pale of Settlement by Tsar Nicholas I in April 1835.
One of Sebastian Knight’s short stories is Albinos in Black (RLSK 103). In Le Côté de Guermantes II.ii, M. de Breauté mentions “un jeune nègre natif de la Réunion et nommé Albins, ce qui, entre parenthèses, est assez comique pour un noir puisque cela veut dire blanc” (“a young Negro born in Réunion and called Albins which, by the way, is rather comical for a black since that means white”: A la Recherche du temps perdu, Pléiade 1954 ed., II.516).
133.27-30: practically all North American and Tartar agriculturists and animal farmers used inbreeding as a method of propagation that tended to preserve, and stimulate, stabilize and even create anew favorable characters: Farmers and breeders used selective breeding rather than inbreeding, though some landowners did “believe that the inbreeding of good stock was sound policy” (Kuper 173). Darwin discusses the use of selective breeding to preserve desired characters in the opening of On the Origin of Species (1859).
133.31-33: unless practiced too rigidly. If practiced rigidly incest led to various forms of decline . . . and, finally, to hopeless sterility: Because of the rise of cousin marriages in early- and mid-nineteenth-century Europe, new “medical research began to focus on the consequences of close-kin marriage, and studies were published which indicated that inbreeding might in itself be a cause of deafness, blindness, insanity, infertility, and so on” (Kuper 168).
In The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Darwin considered that “the existence of a great law of nature is almost proved; namely, that the crossing of animals and plants which are not closely related to each other is highly beneficial or even necessary, and that inbreeding prolonged during many generations is highly injurious” (London, 2 vols., 1868, II,144).
This is indeed confirmed by modern research among humans and other animals. Donald E. Brown (Human Universals [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991], 123-24) reports:
Reviewing the scanty literature on the empirical consequences of inbreeding among humans, Sheper (1983) finds that full-sibling or parent-child incest results in about 17 percent child mortality and 25 percent child disability, for a combined result of about 42 percent nonviable offspring. The negative consequences decline rapidly for more distant inbreeding. If the figures Shepher cites are even approximately correct, mechanisms to avoid the costs of incest between close kin are quite expectable.
A study of 38 captive mammalian species found a cross-species average of around 33 percent offspring mortality arising from closely incestuous matings (the range of nonviability—measured rather conservatively in terms of ‘juvenile survival’—was all the way from 0 to nearly 100 percent) (Ralls, Ballou, and Templeton 1988). As the apparent consequence of this widespread phenomenon, equally widespread mechanisms have evolved that enable animals to avoid incest.
Research by Lukas Keller showed that when winter storms caused a 90% population crash in the song sparrows of Mandarte Island, the inbred individuals (matings of first cousins or closer) all died. Since his findings were published in 1994, there has been much new research on inbreeding depression in many species; in some, inbred offspring are 94% less likely to survive to maturity (see Lynn Dicks, “Too close for comfort,” New Scientist, 18 October 2003, 38-41).
134.02-05: somewhere in Tartary fifty generations of ever woollier and woollier sheep had recently ended abruptly in one hairless, five-legged, impotent little lamb—and the beheading of a number of farmers failed to resurrect the fat strain: The “Tartary” and “beheading” here may hit at punitive measures taken after the failure to meet the quotas of Soviet five-year plans and at the disastrous Stalinist program of biological and agricultural research led by Trofim Lysenko (1898-1976), who thought he could improve the spring wheat crop by vernalization (keeping the seeds cool and moist before sowing them). Stalin appointed him head of the Institute of Genetics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1940, after which Lysenko insisted that only his views be taught. His career waned after Stalin’s death in 1953.
However the inbreeding of sheep for wool, with disastrous side-effects, reflects a well-known selective breeding experiment: “In eighteenth-century Britain, agriculture was revolutionised by a group of pioneering entrepreneurs, among them Robert Blakewell of Leicestershire. It was Blakewell’s discovery that sheep and cattle could be rapidly improved by selectively breeding the best specimens with their own offspring to concentrate desirable features. Applied to sheep this inbreeding produced fast-growing, fat lambs with long wool. But it had an unexpected side-effect. Sheep of the Suffolk breed, in particular, began to exhibit symptoms of lunacy in later life. They scratched, stumbled, trotted with a peculiar gait, became anxious and seemed antisocial. They soon died. This incurable disease, called scrapie, became a large problem, often killing one ewe in ten. The scrapie followed Suffolk sheep, and to a lesser extent other breeds, to other parts of the world” (Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, London: Fourth Estate, 2000, 272). Scrapie is now (since the 1980s) understood as the first prion disease to come to notice.
134.11: ever: corrected by VN in A1 from 1969, “even.”
134.13-135.12: much better documented fait divers happened in the U.S.A at the height of the controversy. An American, a certain Ivan Ivanov of Yukonsk . . . as the anti-Irish tabloids called them: May reflect the turning of American public opinion, beginning in the 1860s, “against marriage with cousins. Medical objections to close-kin marriages became widely accepted, perhaps part of a climate of opinion that produced at the same time a growing concern with miscegenation. Before the American civil war there had been no laws against first-cousin marriage in any state in the Union. By the end of the nineteenth century such marriages were prohibited in Arkansas, Illinois, New Hampshire and Ohio. Fourteen other states followed them in the course of the twentieth century” (Kuper 177). Martin Ottenheimer in Forbidden Relatives: The American Myth of Cousin Marriage (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1996), argues that the banning of cousin marriages was a consequence less of perceived biological risk to offspring than of the belief that it would promote more rapid assimilation of immigrants. Life imitates Nabokov’s art. In 2009 came to light the case of the billionaire Antonio Luciano, in Minas Gerais, Brazil, who bought virgins from poor parents to deflower them. He had more than twenty children out of wedlock, two of them later to become his lovers, as also the children they bore incestuously. http://revistaepoca.globo.com/Revista/Epoca/0,,EMI91736-15228,00-FAMILIA+HERANCA+E+HISTORIAS+DE+INCESTO.html [accessed 26 March 2010]
134.13: fait divers: Darkbloom: “news item.”
134.14-15: Ivan Ivanov: “Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov” is the archetypal Russian; see for instance Bernard Guilbert Guerney’s translation of Gogol’s Dead Souls (but not in Gogol himself), ch. 11: “why, on several occasions caricatures had actually been put out depicting Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov talking with John Bull” (1942; New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966, 252.) MOTIF: Van.
134.15: Yukonsk: Fuses the Yukon Territory of Canada with the Russian region and city of Yakutsk (Eastern Siberia) and the city of Omsk ( Western Siberia). MOTIF: -konsk; Yukonsk.
134.17-20: managed somehow to impregnate . . . his five-year-old greatgranddaughter . . . and then, five years later, also got Maria’s daughter, Daria, with child: The Maria-Daria sequence mimics the Mary Zemski-Daria sequence in the Veen family tree, where there is also an Ivan Ivanovich (Van and Ada’s Uncle Ivan Durmanov).
In England, from the 1880s, the term incest “began to be used primarily to mean sexual relations between close kin, and particularly between fathers and daughters, or brothers and sisters. . . . Reformers now pointed to a more specific and sensitive problem: the sexual abuse of girls in the congested family quarters of the large cities. When Beatrice Webb worked in a sweatshop in 1888, she was shocked to find talk of incest commonplace (perhaps missing the irony of her fellow workers). In her diary she describes a seamstress muttering to her that the girls at the next table were a bad lot. ‘Why bless you, that young woman just behind us has had three babies by her father, and another here has had one by her brother.’ . . . In 1906 an internal Home Office memo summed up the official view in blunt terms: ‘Incest is very common among the working classes in the big towns’ ” (Kuper 180-81).
The whole passage echoes Humbert’s fantasy that “ with patience and luck I might have her [Lolita] produce eventually a nymphet with my blood in her exquisite veins, a Lolita the Second, who would be eight or nine around 1960, when I would still be dans la force de l’âge; indeed, the telescopy of my mind, or un-mind, was strong enough to distinguish in the remoteness of time a vieillard encore vert—or was it green rot?—bizarre, tender, salivating Dr. Humbert, practicing on supremely lovely Lolita the Third the art of being a granddad” (II.3, 174).
134.25: not always clean-living: corrected by VN in A1 from 1969, “not always clean-leaving.”
134.26; in angry Yukonsk: MOTIF: Yukonsk.
134.28: clapped into a monastery: Cf. 532.10-11: “Dorothy Vinelander retired to a subarctic monastery town.”
134.29-30: proposed to make honorable amends by marrying Daria, now a buxom lass: Ivan Ivanov would be 75, Daria 20.
134.30-31: now a buxom lass with problems of her own: Cf. 232.29-30: “ Ada is a big girl, and big girls, alas, have their own worries.”
134.33-34: a progressive poet in residence at Tennessee Waltz College: Appears to combine the Black Mountain poets, especially Robert Creeley (1926-2005), Robert Duncan (1919-1988), Charles Olson (1910-1970), and others, who in the 1950s taught at Black Mountain College, a progressive-education college in North Carolina, near the Tennessee border, with the popular song “Tennessee Waltz” (1948), words and music by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King, which in a recording by Patti Page became a multi-million seller in 1950-1951 and in 1965 became the official song of Tennessee.
134.33: Tennessee Waltz: Cf. 105.27-28: “marblings . . . called ‘waltzes’ in California”?
135.01: Gamaliel: Cf. 14.21 and n.
135.04-07: the Ivanov affair cast a long shadow upon the little matter of “favorable inbreeding.” By mid-century not only first cousins but uncles and grandnieces were forbidden to intermarry: But “cousins can marry by special decree, if they promise to sterilize their first five children” (148.15-17).
“Cousin marriage was permitted in ancient Israel . . . as it was also in classical Greece and Rome. In the fourth century the Emperor Theodosius I introduced a ban on cousin marriage, but local variations and problems of definition persisted throughout the Middle Ages. The Lateran Council of 125 ruled that marriages within the fourth degree of consanguinity—that is, between third cousins—were null. . . . Despite local variations, all provinces of the Catholic Church did agree that marriage between first cousins was essentially unacceptable. However, this doctrine was amended in England in 1540, when parliament legalized marriages between first cousins” (Kuper 161-62) in order to allow Henry VIII to marry Catherine Howard, the first cousin of a previous wife, Anne Boleyn.
“In the nineteenth century, cousin marriages became more acceptable among the gentry and middle classes [in England], perhaps particularly after Queen Victoria, a model of propriety, married her first cousin, Albert, her mother’s brother’s son” (Kuper 166). George Darwin’s findings suggest that about 4.5% of aristocratic marriages in England in the 1870s and about 3.5% in the gentry and upper middle classes were between cousins. In the USA, the men of Boston Brahmin families like the Cabots (reversed in Antiterra as the Tobaks, and revolved again as the Vinelanders, into whose family Ada marries), “had a remarkably high level of close kin (mostly first-cousin) marriage from 1680 to 1859, averaging around 25 per cent, but climbing to 66.6 per cent in the middle of the eighteenth century” (Kuper 178). Kuper notes that “In the USA, marriage with cousins declined sharply from the middle of the nineteenth century, but it was only in the late Victorian period that public opinion in the United Kingdom turned against cousin marriage, and such marriages also began to be less common. By the early twentieth century they were very rare, and a matter for remark and concern. . . . By the middle of the twentieth century such unions accounted for only 0.004 per cent of the marriages of a middle-class London sample” (179).
135.07-08: some fertile parts of Estoty: Fertile in terms of soil, or human breeding?
135.09: blin-like: Darkbloom: “blin: Russ., pancake.”
135.11: petrol-torch-flashing: MOTIF: technology.
135.11-12: “Peeping Pats,” as the anti-Irish tabloids called them: Play on “Peeping Toms” and on “Patrick” or “Paddy” as the archetypal Irish name; also alludes to the high proportion of Irish officers in the police forces of New York and Boston, and perhaps also to the intense monitoring of the sexual decency of others by the Irish priesthood and those under their influence, a common theme of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Irish literature.
135.16-17: the missionary position adopted for mating purposes: New Oxford Dictionary of English , s.v. missionary: “a position for sexual intercourse in which a couple lie face to face with the woman underneath the man. – origin said to be so named because early missionaries advocated the position as ‘proper’ to primitive peoples, to whom the practice was unknown.”
135.17-19: so justly derided by the ‘primitive’ but healthy-minded natives of the Begouri Islands: The Begouri Islands are invented, a pun on English buggery and vulgar Arabic begoury: “In vulgar Arabic, this manner of enjoying a woman is called begouri, that is to say, after the fashion of a bull” (The Perfumed Garden of Shaykh Nefzawi, tr. Sir Richard Burton, ed. Alan Hull Walton (London: Panther, 1963), p. 132, n. 79). In Lolita’s murder scene, Quilty tries to tempt or distract Chum-toting Humbert with an almost random spray of often perverse delights: “I have an absolutely unique collection of erotica upstairs. Just to mention one item: the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie Weiss, a remarkable lady, a remarkable work—drop that gun—with photographs of eight hundred and something male organs she examined and measured in 1932 on Bagration, in the Barda Sea, very illuminating graphs, plotted with love under pleasant skies—drop that gun” (II.35, 302). Bagration Island seems also to play on “buggeration,” but it is not clear why in both the Lolita and Ada passages Nabokov associates “buggery,” islands, ethnography and sexology.
135.20-33: the mating habits of the fly Serromyia amorata Poupart. Copulation takes place with both ventral surfaces pressed together. . . the female sucks out the male’s body content. . . . : Nabokov has invented this fly, a biting midge, by a small distortion of the genuine Serromyia femorata Meigen 1804 (synonym, Ceratopogon femorata), which he refers to at 135.31. Liana Ashenden notes that "The story of a predatory female eating the male following sex is applicable to dance flies and scorpion flies. Male dance flies ‘catch a small prey item, wrap it up in silk and present it to a female to pacify her or divert her interest while [they] mate[ ] with her” (Encyclopedia 84)” (“ Ada’s Erotic Entomology,” Nabokov Studies 6 [2000-2001], 129-48, p. 136).
Poupart, the ostensible First Describer of the fly, derives from the French anatomist F. Poupart (1661-1709), after whom Poupart’s ligament in humans is named: “The thickened lower border of the aponeurosis of the external oblique muscle of the abdomen, extending from the anterior superior spine of the ilium to the pubic tubercle. It is continuous below with the fascia lata of the thigh, and forms the external pillar of the abdominal ring, and a part of the anterior boundary of the femoral ring. Called also inguinal ligament” (W2). Note the proximity to the femoral ring here and femoratus as the species name of the real model of the invented fly.
Cf. 136.16-18 (“the Cheramie—or whatever you call it”) and 416.08-10: “ ‘From now on by the way, it’s going to be Chère-amie-fait-morata’ (play on the generic and specific names of the famous fly)—‘until further notice.’ ” Between these two remarks, by Van and Ada respectively, in August 1884 and in late Fall 1892, they appear to make love overwhelmingly in the begouri rather than the Serromyia femorata position. MOTIF: insect-incest.
135.21-31: fly Serromyia amorata Poupart . . . femorata and amorata morons: MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy.
135.29: qui le sait: Darkbloom : “who knows.”
135.34-136.18: Still more amusing . . . on top of it!”: MOTIF: behind.
136.02: Kapuskan patois: Which, judging by the sample, seems to consists of a mix of French, American and Spanish, the European languages (except for Portuguese) of Earth’s Americas. Kapuskasing is a town in northern Ontario (49.25N, 82.26W), in an area of Ontario where French and English are both widely spoken. Perhaps, in the context of On Contraceptive Devices, with a hint of French capuchon, “hood, cowl, muzzle, cap, etc.”? MOTIF: patois.
136.04-09: Sole sura metoda . . . . torovago: This comically transparent macaronic passage yields: “The only sure method of deceiving nature is for a strong-guy to continue-continue-continue until the pleasure brims; and then, at the last moment, to switch to the other groove; but because an ardent or a heavy woman cannot turn over quick enough, the transition is helped by the position of torovago.” (See 136.09-13n.) As Alexey Sklyarenko suggests (personal communication), gropa as “groove” in “switch to the other groove” here puns on the vulgar Russian zhopa, “arse, anus.”
Cf. Lolita I.27 (120): “Seva ascendes, pulsata, brulans, kitzelans, dementissima. Elevator clatterans, pausa, clatterans, populus in corridoro. Hanc nisi mors mihi adimet nemo! Juncea puellula, jo pensave fondissime, nobserva nihil quidquam .”
136.08: ardora andor ponderosa: MOTIF: ardor.
136.09-13: torovago” . . . explained in blunt English as “the posture generally adopted in rural communities by all classes . . . ending with the lowliest farm animals: There is an echo both of tergiversate, “to turn the back,” and of Spanish toro, “bull,” linking this with the begouri, “after the fashion of a bull,” at 135.18 and n.
136.11-12: beginning by: An odd usage, instead of the normal “with.”
136.13-14: from Patagony to Gasp: On Terra, from Patagonia to Gaspé, from the south of South America to the north of North America. Gaspé is the peninsula just to the south of the St. Lawrence River estuary, ending to the east in the Cape and Bay of Gaspé, which could be reimagined as “ Gasp Bay.” A play on agony and gasp. MOTIF: agony.
136.14: Ergo, concluded Van, our missionary goes up in smoke: Seems to imply a decision to avoid the missionary position with Ada, which appears consistent with subsequent glimpses of them making love (see 267.11-17, beside the brook, 392.27-393.03, over the bath at Manhattan) until Ada’s decision “it’s going to be Chère-amie-fait morata . . . until further notice” (416.09-10); but also evokes a missionary burning at the stake. MOTIF: martyr.
136.15: Your vulgarity knows no bounds: Cf. Ada’s complaint at 120.05-06: “I wonder, Van, why you are doing your best to transform our poetical and unique past into a dirty farce?”
136.16-17: slurped up alive by the Cheramie—or whatever you call her: Cf. 135.21 and 416.09-10. Note that Van as usual cannot recall a technical taxonomic term. Ardeur 116: “par une Cheramie—ou Macherie, appelle-la comme tu voudras” (“by a Cheramie—or Macherie, whatever you call her”: pun on mâcher, “chew”). MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy.
136.19: “scient” Ada: Echoes Ada’s “Scient. . . . scient in insects. . . . Incest” anagrams for “insect” at the picnic for her twelfth birthday, 85.09-17.
136.20: woodcuts of organs: Ada at ten or eleven has seen “the profuse woodcuts and photographs, in a three-volume History of Prostitution” (220.15-16).
136.21-22: photographs of this or that little Caesar in the process of being ripped out of the uterus: Caesarean childbirth, in other words.
136.24-25: fanatically denounced the existence of physical pain in all worlds: Cf. Van’s denunciation of death at the end of Ardis the Second, 297.28-33. By 1967 he has no choice but to acknowledge pain: 586.32-587.33.
136.28: Rabelais: François Rabelais (1494?-c. 1553), French physician, humanist and satirist, author of Gargantua et Pantagruel (1532-1552).
136.29: Casanova: See 49.10-12 and n. [Image]
136.29: le sieur Sade: Comte Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade (1740-1814), French libertine and writer, author of Justine ou les malheurs de vertu (Justine or the Troubles of Virtue) and much else, the person after whom sadism was named.
136.29: Herr Masoch: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1835-1895), Austrian writer best known for his novel Die Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs), who also discussed masochist themes in other works such as Emissär (Emissary) and Die Geschiedene Frau, Passionsgeschichtes eines Idealisten (The Divorcee: The Story of an Idealist’s Passion). Krafft-Ebing (131.17n) coined the term “masochism” from Masoch’s name during Masoch’s lifetime.
136.30: Heinrich Müller: Darkbloom: “author of Poxus, etc.” A Germanized version of American novelist Henry Miller (1891-1980). Rivers and Walker 280 comment: “Darkbloom here puts a pox on Henry Miller’s trilogy The Rosy Crucifixion, consisting of Sexus (1949), Plexus (1953), and Nexus (1960).”
136.32-33: in France before the invasion: Antiterran history (in which “Louis the Sixteenth migrated to England,” 157.22-23), a distortion of Earth’s French Revolution (1789), or an echo of the last years (1813-1815) of the Napoleonic Wars?
137.01-19: Oriental Erotica prints . . . inept calisthenically . . . a Mongolian woman . . . gymnasts . . .: Cf. 229.07-08 (Ada): “those Oriental gymnastics which, you remember, Van, you began teaching me”; 375.22-23 (Lucette): “We were Mongolian tumblers, monograms, anagrams, adalucindas”; 376.08-11 (Lucette): “far more realistic than the scroll-painting by Mong Mong, very active in 888, a millennium before Ada said it illustrated Oriental calisthenics when I found it by chance in the corner of one of my ambuscades.” MOTIF: erotic art; woman in picture.
137.13-17: Uncle Dan . . . had penciled a note that gave it the price of the picture and identified it as: “Geisha with 13 lovers”: Cf. Uncle Dan as a Manhattan art dealer, 4.32-5.03; for his penchant for timing and counting, cf. 5.11-12, 67.16-18.
137.20-24: That library had provided . . . the comic relief of life: MOTIF: library (Ardis).
137.21: scene of the Burning Barn: MOTIF: Burning Barn.
137.22-24: might have become a chapter in one of the old novels on its own shelves; a touch of parody: Cf. Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, where Tatyana, on visiting the library in Onegin’s deserted home, pores over his books and marginalia and wonders: “Uzh ne parodiya li on?” (“Might he not be, in fact, a parody?,” VII.xxiv.14). Nabokov also comments on the library chapter (chapter 9) of Ulysses ( LL 326-29). MOTIF: novel.
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 21