Part One, Chapter 29


Through a few vivid and unexpected glimpses, I.28 makes concrete Van’s time at Chose and therefore the gap in space and time separating him, on the other side of the Atlantic, from Ardis and Ada. Now the story shows them together, and the enduring intensity of their love, despite the four years of separation. As if to affirm that Ardis remains the unequivocal focus of their early amour, they do not make love in the four years between their two immemorial summers together there except for this brisk tryst at Forest Fork, “just beyond Ardis” (157).

I.29 introduces Van and Ada trying to meet between 1885 and 1888 and unable to do so easily, because of their different international travels, under the direction of their parents; because of the pressure of Van’s studies and diversions at Chose; because of the vigilance of their parents, especially the sharp-eyed Demon, and their consequent need for veiled correspondence. In the snatched meeting at Forest Fork, I.29 illustrates the obstacles to Van and Ada’s meeting, their eagerness to meet, and the brevity and ardor of this one rendezvous alone, deliberately arranged by Van to echo their last embrace, at Forest Fork in 1884, as the summer of 1888 will become for him a deliberate attempt to recover the magic of the summer of 1884.


178.01-03: mid-July, 1886 . . . Manhattan from Dover: Van here returns from a first year at Chose University, England (he “went up to Chose” in 1885, 173.16-17) to see his father over summer.

178.01-02: winning the table-tennis tournament: Cf. 571.18-24, on Van’s aging: “Squash and tennis gave way to ping-pong; then, one day, a favorite paddle, still warm from his grip, was forgotten in the playroom of a club, and the club was never revisited.” MOTIF: games; riches.

178.02-03: a “luxury” liner . . . in white dignity: Cf. 450.10: “sundecks of white ships”; 588.8-10: “are not our childhood memories comparable to Vineland-born caravelles, indolently encircled by the white birds of dreams?” MOTIF: explorer.

178.02: a “luxury” liner: Why the quotation marks? An advertising quote? A concealed pun? An ironic disparagement? (Van’s later “favorite liner,” 458.02, is the Admiral Tobakoff, “that not very grand ship” (461.26).) MOTIF: explorer.

178.02-03: liner . . . to reach . . . Manhattan: Cf. 458.02-03: “on the third my favorite liner, Admiral Tobakoff, will take me to Manhattan.” MOTIF: explorer.

178.02-03: liner . . . now took a whole week: In the mid-1880s on earth the fastest transatlantic liner crossing was six days, so by earth standards this is not particularly slow. Antiterran technology, however, seems generally in advance of earth’s. MOTIF: technology.

178.04: two maids: Blanche and French?

178.05-06: Russian influentsa: Cf. 45.32-33: “the Russian ‘hrip’ (Spanish flu).”

178.07-17: A hydrogram . . . “dadaist impatient . . . ” . . . the breakfast room: Cf. 508.01-03: “arriving mont roux bellevue sunday / dinnertime adoration sorrow rainbows. // Van got this bold cable with his breakfast.”

MOTIF: letters.

178.07: hydrogram: No other occurrence of this Antiterran variant on aerogram, the once common thin light-blue-paper air-mail letter-and-envelope in one sheet, a device to keep postal weight low on early planes, although the message seems closer to that of a telegram. Telephones on Antiterra are of course hydrophones. MOTIF: hydro-; technology.

178.07-08: his father’s house: Presumably his father’s Manhattan place.

178.08: July 21 (her dear birthday): “Dear” to Van in 1886 especially because of the memory of his first prolonged close contact with Ada, on the ride back from the picnic on her twelfth birthday, at Ardis in 1884 (I.13). Van’s next picnic for Ada’s birthday, at Ardis in 1888, leaves less pleasant memories. Cf. 6.17 for Ada’s date of birth.

178.08-10: “dadaist impatient patient arriving between twenty-fourth and seventh call doris can meet regards vicinity”: Ada’s message, intentionally obscure to anyone but Van, could be deciphered: “Ada is impatient to see you (and at having to write you in this obscure Dadaist style) and with being a ‘patient’ with influenza. Arriving between 24th and 7th. Call Ardis, Ladore exchange (I can meet you) with regard to a trysting place in the vicinity. Best regards.”

Cf. Aqua’s suicide note, to Demon and Van, which begins: “Aujourd’hui (heute-toity!) I, this eye-rolling toy, have enjoyed the psykitsch right to enjoy a landparty with Herr Doktor Sig, Nurse Joan the Terrible, and several ‘patients,’ in the neighboring bor (piney wood) where I noticed exactly the same skunk-like squirrels, Van, that your Darkblue ancestor imported to Ardis Park” (29.6-11: first noted by Kyoto Reading Circle).

178.08: dadaist: Dada or Dadaism, a short-lived cultural movement that began in Zurich in 1916, in the visual arts, literature and theater, promoting, especially in its manifestoes, an anti-art, challenging old rules of art and standards of rationality. Among its most prominent proponents were Tristran Tzara, Hans Arp, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. Cf. SO 80: “Those manifestoes, those dodoes, die with the dadas.” W2, Dadaism: “ . . . its tenets are intentionally obscure.”

Cf. 350.20-21: “Eric’s grandfather’s range was wide—from dodo to dada, from Low Gothic to Hoch Modern”; 354.07: “trembling Adada.”


178.10: call doris: MOTIF: Ardis; dor(e); Ladore.

178.11-12: Which reminds me painfully of the golubyanki (petits bleus) Aqua used to send me: Darkbloom : “golubyanka: Russ, small blue butterfly”; “petit bleu: Parisian slang for pneumatic post (an express message on blue paper).” Pneumatic post, delivered in metal capsules through pressurized air tubes, developed in the second half of the nineteenth century, in 1853 linking the London Stock Exchange with the city’s main telegraph station. The system was introduced in Paris in 1866 and lasted there until 1984. Since bleu is also French for “blue (butterfly),” both the Russian and French terms evoke the butterfly group, the Blues, on which Nabokov concentrated in his years as a research scientist.

Aqua’s messages could also be rather oblique (cf. 29.06-28 and 178.0810n. above). Since this message comes on a hydrogram, we should recall that, while technologists were trying to develop “hydrodynamic telephones” (23.09) Aqua thought she had discovered the sound of speech in running water.

178.11: Which reminds me: Cf. 140.04: “Which reminds us. Catalogued in the Ardis Library. . . . ”

178.16: Boucher plafond: François Boucher (1703-1770), French painter, engraver and designer of the Rococo period, known for his blue-and-white pastel-hued painting and his decorative, stylized-cherub manner, often amatory or erotic. He worked for Queen Maria and for Louis XV’s mistress Mme de Pompadour at Versailles and elsewhere. Boucher did not paint in the Americas, but the Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, Manhattan, at the corner of Fifth Avenue, has a Boucher Room adorned by panels once thought to have been commissioned by Mme de Pompadour.

Cf. “the tiny red rectangle hung for an instant askew in a blue spring sky. The hall was famous for its painted ceilings” (Ardis, summer 1884, 36.07-08); “Everything appeared as it always used to be, the little nymphs and goats on the painted ceiling” (Ardis, summer 1888: 288.12-13); “Not the least adornment of the chronicle is the delicacy of pictorial detail: a latticed gallery; a painted ceiling; . . . ” (589.03-04).

MOTIF: painted ceiling.

178.16: Van raised his eyes to the Boucher plafond: Alexey Sklyarenko (Nabokv-L, 5 January 2014) cites Nabokov’s friend the Russian émigré novelist Mark Aldanov (1886-1957), Chertov most (The Devil’s Bridge, 1925): “Lamor rasseyano obvodil vzglyadom raspisanniy pod Boucher potolok komnaty, v kotoroy oni uzhinali” (“Lamore absent-mindedly looked at the plafond painted à la Boucher of the room [in the former palace of Marquise de Pompadour] where they [Lamore and Talleyrand] had supper” (Part Two, IV).

178.17: shaking his head in derisive admiration: The syntax allows us to read the derision as being directed at both the cuteness of Boucher’s style and at what Van wants to suggest is only Demon’s would-be “acumen.”

178.18-179.02: He had to travel incontinently to Garders (anagram of “regards,” see?) to a hamlet the opposite way from Letham (see?) to see a mad girl artist called Doris or Odris who drew only gee-gees and sugar daddies: Van’s mock-ingenious mock-decoding of the hydrogram, as if it were a cryptic crossword, is designed to throw Demon off the scent and itself needs decoding: incontinently: cf. 178.09: “impatient patient,” the sense of impatience, and not being able to hold off, yields incontinently; to Garders: (anagram of ‘regards,’ see?): no such place, merely Van’s mocking anagram, although Van has visited “Gardone on Lake Garda” (152.31); to a hamlet the opposite way from Letham: Van professes to see “ham-let,” “little ham,” in the “can meet” (canned meat?) of the telegram, then reads it with syllables transposed; mad girl artist called Doris or Odris: artist, echoing “Dadaist,” but also Ardis, Doris, echoing “Ladore, ” and “odorous,” in view of Ada’s not washing herself often (see Van’s joke about her needing deodorant, 198.33-34); drew only gee-gees: “dada” in “dadaist” derives from the French children’s word dada, “hobby-horse”; sugar daddies: again a mock “interpretation” of the hydrogram’s dadaist, with perhaps a dig at “sugar daddy” Demon.

178.18-19: travel incontinently: Perhaps a pun on “travel intercontinentally” (since Van has just crossed from Europe), and certainly on the multiple senses of “incontinently”: immediately, unchastely, without restraint.

178.19-20: see? . . . see? . . . see: Intentionally grating on Van’s part.

178.20: hamlet the opposite way from Letham: Cf. “Gamlet, a hamlet” (87.11). MOTIF: Gamlet; hamlet; -let.

178.20-179.01: mad girl artist called Doris or Odris: Cf. Ada at 267.01: “Speaking as a botanist and a mad woman. . . . ”

179.01: artist called Doris or Odris: MOTIF: Ardis; dor(e); Ladore.

179.01: Odris: Perhaps a play on “odorous” (or “malodorous”) and Ada’s disinclination to wash: “Neither hygiene, nor sophistication of taste, were, as Van kept observing, typical of the Ardis household” (78.09-11); “he had whispered a riddle in her ear: what begins with a ‘de’ and rhymes more or less with a Silesian river ant?” (198.33-34: answer, deodorant).

179.02: sugar daddies: W3: “a wealthy older man lavishing gifts and luxuries on a young woman whom he squires about or keeps as his mistress.”

179.03-18: Boucher . . . Bout who was connected with Blanche . . . “I’m busy!” . . . A bottle was audibly uncorked (drinking hock at seven in the morning!): The French verb boucher means “to occlude, stop, fill up (gap, etc.)”; boucher une bouteille, “to cork a bottle.” Bout is “busy,” as he says in exasperation to the voice on the phone, because he is “connected with Blanche”; the uncorking noise Van hears over the phone seems not to be that of a cork being pulled, but as “hock” suggests, of Blanche’s lips, one set or another, suddenly disengaging from Bout’s “cock.”

Cf. 49.24-34: early on Van’s first morning he accosts Blanche, who seems to have an assignation with Bout’s father, Bouteillan, whose “hand in the mirror took down a decanter from nowhere and was withdrawn.”

179.04-06: Malahar, a miserable village . . . celebrated mosquito: There are small towns Malahra (in N. Vindhya Pradesh) and Malahar (in Madhya Pradesh) in India, but this village seems to combine malaria and mal (French, “badly,” “evil”) and perhaps malheur (French, “misfortune, bad luck”).

179.06: celebrated mosquito, or its cousin: Darkbloom: “cousin: mosquito” (French). MOTIF: mosquito.

179.07-09: toilet . . . a black hole, with the traces of a fecal explosion, between a squatter’s two giant soles: Cf. 561.18-21: “Van welcomed the renewal of polished structures after a week of black fudge fouling the bowl slope so high that no amount of flushing could dislodge it. Something to do with olive oil and the Italian type water closets.”

179.09: July 25: Van will leave Ardis for the last time on July 25, 1888 (see I.40 for dating).

179.10-11: got connected with Bout who was connected with Blanche: At first view, this may imply that Bout is on the telephone to Blanche—except that at this time that would have been telephonically impossible. His connection with Blanche is sexual.

179.11-13: mistook Van’s voice for the butler’s. “Dammit, Pa”: The butler is Bouteillan, Bout’s father.

179.13: dorophone: MOTIF: dor(e); dorophone.

179.20: on the qui vive: On the alert.

179.21-22: the clearest instrument in the house quivered and bubbled under a dead barometer: MOTIF: dorophone; hydro-; technology.

179.23: Forest Fork in Forty-Five Minutes. Sorry to spit: Van’s deliberate echo of his parting from Ada at the end of Ardis the First, at their rendezvous at Forest Fork (157.19): after Ada asks, “When, my love, when again? In Luga? Kaluga? Ladoga? Where, when?,” Van replies: “That’s not the point . . . the point, the point, the point is—will you be faithful, will you be faithful to me?” “‘You spit, love,’ said wan-smiling Ada, wiping off the P’s and the F’s” (158.22-27).

179.24: Tower: From Ada’s private scale of happiness (see 74.23-75.03).

179.24-25: as an airman . . . might say “Roger!”: Roger: military communications slang since the late 1930s, originally to disambiguate the R in “Message Received and understood” (Partridge). To roger is also slang for “to copulate with” (a woman), not inappropriate in view of Van and Ada’s plans for their reunion.

179.24-25: an airman in heaven blue: Cf. 505.20-22: “The names of those big shots, as well as those of some eighty other men, women, and silent children who perished in blue air” in the plane disaster in which Demon dies.

179.26-29: rented a motorcycle, a venerable machine, . . . drove, bouncing on tree roots along a narrow ‘forest ride’”: Cf. Greg Erminin’s new Silentium motorcycle at the 1888 picnic on Ada’s birthday, 268.09-10: “Greg, who had left his splendid new black Silentium motorcycle in the forest ride . . . ”

179.29-30: first thing he saw was the star gleam of her dismissed bike: Cf. 152.20-22: “Van hoped the bicycles parked in the bushes did not show their sparkling metal through the leaves to some passenger on the forest road”; cf. also the “star” references in the Forest Fork chapter, I.25, which begins with “asters” (156.02) and ends with “stellas” (159.10).

179.30-31: black-haired white angel: MOTIF: angel; black-white.

179.32: a terrycloth robe: She wears this at this time of year because of her influenza. Cf. 390.10: “in his short ‘terry’ on the roof terrace.”

179.33-34: the fever of her body . . . two passionate spasms: Because of her influenza, 178.05-06. Cf. Lolita 198: “At first she ‘ran a temperature’ . . . and I could not resist the exquisite caloricity of unexpected delights—Venus febriculosa—though it was a very languid Lolita that moaned and coughed and shivered in my embrace.”

180.02: gipsies stealing their jeeps: Actually, Van and Ada have brought not jeeps but a motorcycle and a bicycle. Ada’s delirious remarks therefore echo the metamorphic journeys at the beginning and end of Ardis the First, I.5 and I.25. Van wonders whether the dozen mysterious strangers intruding on the picnic at Ada’s birthday in 1888 are “Gipsy politicians, or Calabrian laborers” (268.32). MOTIF: gipsy.

180.03: a beastly, but beautiful, tryst: “La Belle et la Bête” (“Beauty and the Beast”), known in many versions across Europe but first published in a rambling version in La jeune américaine, et les contes marins (1740) by Mme Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (c. 1695-1755). The version best known now derives from Mme Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont ’s 1756 abridgment of Mme de Villeneuve’s work, in Magasin des enfants, ou dialogues entre une sage gouvernante et plusieurs de ses élèves.

Cf. Ada on their first meeting in Ardis 1888: “I had and have and shall always have only one beau, only one beast” (190.13-14). MOTIF: beauty and the beast; fairy tale.

180.05: (That’s right, I can’t either. Ada.): MOTIF: Composition: Ada.

180.09-10: Mademoiselle had une belle pneumonie, mon pauvre Monsieur: Darkbloom: “the young lady has a pretty bad pneumonia, I regret to say, Sir.”

Cf. 36.27-28: Lucette “had had pneumonia in spring” (1884).

180.12: Man: Short for Manhattan, as in “Tanned Man in a Hat,” 530.14. MOTIF: Manhattan.

180.12-13: join a circus tour: Presumably as Mascodagama (see I.30). MOTIF: Explorer

180.14-15: Demon had dyed his hair a blacker black: Demon is after all “Raven Veen or simply Dark Walter” (4.24-25) (Kyoto Reading Circle). MOTIF: Demon’s dye.

180.15-22: diamond ring blazing like a Caucasian ridge. His long, black, blue-ocellated wings. . . . A temporary Tamara, all kohl, kasbek rouge . . . . daemon lover. . . her Caucasian perfume, Granial Maza: Echoes Lermontov’s poem Demon (The Demon): see 4.22n, 171.03-172.04n, 171.04-05n, 171.10-13n. Darkbloom: Granial Maza: “a perfume named after Mt. Kazbek’s ‘gran’ almaza (diamond’s facet) of Lermontov’s The Demon.” The passage echoes ll.31-34 of this long poem, echoed also at 171.10-13 (see note for original and translation). “In Lermontov’s Demon, the outcast from Paradise flies high and:

Beneath him Kazbek, like the facet of a diamond,
Gleamed with all its eternal snows (Part I, iii, 3-4).

. . . Tamara is the temporary of Lermontov’s Demon. Kazbek, one of the highest Caucasian peaks, figures prominently in Russian poetry of the Golden Age (1820-41).” (Proffer)

Some of the images come not directly from Lermontov but via Vrubel΄’s paintings of Demon (see 4.22n), especially the “long, black, blue-ocellated wings,” from the peacock feathers of Demon’s crumpled wings in Demon Fallen or Demon Downcast (oil on canvas, 1902, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow); the “diamond ring blazing” also evokes the diamond-like flash of Demon’s blazing eyes in Demon Sitting (oil on canvas, 1890, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), and the watercolor Demon’s Head (Kiev State Museum), and, generally, the diamond-facet-like fractionation of light in Vrubel΄’s work, most strikingly in The Six-Winged Seraph (oil on canvas, 1904, Russian Museum); “all kohl,” from the dark-rimmed eyes that Vrubel’ invariably gives Demon; “kasbek rouge” from the red hues of Mount Kazbek in the background of the Vrubel’ images and Lermontov’s poem.

MOTIF: demon.

180.15: diamond ring blazing like a Caucasian ridge: MOTIF: diamond facet.

180.16-17: long . . . wings . . .in breeze: MOTIF: Demon’s wings.

180.16: blue-ocellated: MOTIF: eyespot.

180.18: kohl: W2: “A preparation, as of antimony, or soot and other ingredients, used by women of the East to darken the edges of the eyelids.”

180.21: bluebeard’s virility: “Bluebeard” because of the “black, blue” tinge in his description, and the colors of the Vrubel’ images; and because Demon’s infidelities have helped drive Aqua to suicide and because he has a succession of female partners, like the Bluebeard of the famous fairy tale (see 164.29 and n.). In this Van resembles his father: “no sooner did all the fond, all the frail, come into close contact with him (as later Lucette did, to give another example) than they were bound to know anguish and calamity, unless strengthened by a strain of his father’s demon blood” (20.15-18). Cf. Edelnant 49.

Cf. 164.29: “not Tiltil, that’s in Blue Beard.”

MOTIF: fairy tale.

180.22: her Caucasian perfume, Granial Maza: MOTIF: diamond facet.

180.24-27: (You know. . . . In Ada’s fondest hand): MOTIF: Composition: Ada.

180.25-26: your Blanche in her young man’s embrace: See 179.11: “connected with Blanche” and 179.10-11n.

Afternote to Part One, Chapter 29

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