Part One, Chapter 30


After showing Van and Ada in the briefest of reunions at Forest Fork in the previous chapter, Nabokov again shifts, as in the chapter before that, back to Van at Chose without Ada. Once again he reveals an even more unexpected side of Van’s rich life without Ada and his casually brilliant accomplishments, both in his role as Mascodagama and in the early success of his work on Terra, insanity and eternal life.                 

We have already seen Van’s skills at handwalking, in the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday, but nothing has prepared us for his sudden world success as a variety artist, or the eerie metaphysical and artistic notes his Mascodagama role seems to sound. And after I.27 introduced Van at Chose only as an expert card-sharper, nothing has prepared us for his intense research and precocious accomplishment in investigating the insane and the Terra-obsessed and their possible relations to a Next World—even if we instantly recognize that Van’s fascination with Aqua’s madness and Terra-fixation underlies his immediate research specialization.

In Part 1 Chapter 30 Van mentions neither Ada nor Ardis. His life may seem empty without Ada, but he also shows it as full of interest, accomplishment, and sexual adventure (“He spent his free time in gross dissipation”!). Once again Nabokov emphasizes the rhythm of Vans’s other occupations in his time away from Ada, and the spiky heterogeneity and centrifugality of his life, despite Ada’s centripetal role—yet at the same time provocative but elusive links somehow connect Van’s Mascodagama routine and his work on Terra, insanity, and eternity.

Most of all, perhaps, this chapter, taking us by surprise in itself, ensures that we will be taken by surprise in another way when the Ada and Ardis theme resurges, unprepared for, as intensely and almost protractedly as in Ardis the First, at the very beginning of the next chapter.


181.01-186.09: On February 5, . . . variety artist: MOTIF: Masgodagama.

181.01: February 5, 1887: On February 5, 1893, Demon stumbles upon Ada living with Van in Manhattan and orders their separation (403.25). On February 5, 1905, Ada writes her letter to Van in response to the news of Lucette’s death (503.02).

181.01: The Ranter: Not only a good pun on “rant.” “Granta” is an old form of the name of the River Cam, which flows through Cambridge, England (see next note and 181.05: “Rantariver”). The Anglo-Saxon name of the town, Grantebrycge, was modified to Cambridge and the river accordingly renamed the Cam. The Granta is still the unofficial name of the Cam and especially the larger of its two main tributaries, until it joins the Rhee a mile south of Grantchester.

As a student at Cambridge from 1919 to 1922 Nabokov liked to punt on the Cam. He also visited Grantchester in May 1921 if not before, partly because it had been celebrated in the poem “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester” (1912), by one of Nabokov’s favorite poets at the time, Rupert Brooke (1887-1915). (See Nabokov’s 1922 Russian essay, “Rupert Bruk”).

Presumably because of the popularity among Cambridge students of punting on the river, a student magazine named The Granta was founded in 1889, a mix of student politics, humor and literary writing. The magazine continued through Nabokov’s years as a student and until, after financial difficulties in the 1970s, it was relaunched to a much wider audience as a literary magazine of new writing, Granta, now England’s leading literary journal.

In view of the Demonic quality of Van’s role as Mascodagama, and the note of “overcoming gravity” (185.02-03) in his stage act, another literary Granta could be relevant. Lord Byron, like Nabokov a student at Trinity College, and in some senses a model for Van Veen, was reputed to have liked swimming at the point of the Cam where it is joined by another minor tributary, Bourn’s Brook (cf. Ada 286.24, “Burnberry Brook”), at a spot now known as Byron’s Pool. One of Byron’s early poems, written while a student, was “Granta: A Medley.” It begins

Oh! could LE SAGE’s demon’s gift
Be realis’d at my desire,
This night my trembling form he’d lift
To place it on St. Mary’s spire.

Byron’s footnote to “Le Sage” explains “The Diable Boiteux [the novel Le Diable boiteux (1707)] of Le Sage [Alain-René Le Sage (1668-1747)], where Asmodeus, the Demon, places Don Cleofas on an elevated situation, and unroofs the houses for inspection” (Hours of Idleness, London: Sherwin, 1820, p. 114). Byron similarly imagines being taken up to see from above what really goes on in Cambridge. His poem ends (ll. 97-100):

Therefore, farewell, old Granta’s spires!
No more like Cleofas, I fly;
No more thy theme my Muse inspires:
The reader’s tir’d, and so am I.

is an anagram of “Terran,” an inhabitant of Terra. Cf. 230.04: “Van layeading Rattner on Terra.”

Cf. “Ranton Brooks” (515.22), the site of a Villa Venus Club referred to in “The Chimes of Chose (a memoir by a former chum of Van’s, now Lord Chose . . . )” (515.18-19).

MOTIF: Rant-; Terra.

181.02: Chose: The Antiterran equivalent of Cambridge (town and university), England: see 18.24n.

181.03-186.15: Mascodagama’s performance . . . not quite sure yet what compromise pride and prudence might arrive at: Van’s singular stage name first evokes the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (c. 1460-1524), the first European to sail to southern and eastern Africa and to India. He is the hero of the epic Os Lusiadas (The Lusiads, 1572) by Portugal’s greatest poet, Luís Vas de Camões (Camoens, c. 1524-1580). There Camões invents a Greek god, Adamastor, as the Spirit of the Cape of Storms (now the Cape of Good Hope), whose domain is the Indian Ocean and who represents the natural dangers Vasco da Gama’s fleet had to face rounding the Cape.
recalls “mask” and, as in the Renaissance instrument the viola da gamba, where gamba means “leg” (Italian), Mascodagama therefore suggests something like “leg mask.” Masco also suggests “masculine” and, given the eeriness of Mascodagama’s performance, there may be overtones of French mascotte, “charm,” ultimately from Medieval Latin masca or mascha, “witch, specter.”
: gam- or gama is a combinatory form (ultimately from the Greek gamos, “marriage,” as in bigamy) that means “united, joined” or “sexual.” There may be overtones also of game, and of gambol or gambado (W2: “A fantastic movement as in dancing”; “To execute a gambado; to bound, to caper” or “A kind of long boot or legging”).
Van’s role as Mascodagama combines elements of Demon’s demonism and Marina’s (and later Ada’s) stage ambitions.

MOTIF: actress; demon; explorer.

181.05: Rantariver Club: Cf. the Villa Venus Club at Ranton Brooks near Chose, 515.22. MOTIF: Rant-.

181.07: “Foreign eccentric”: Cf. 184.14: “variety artists of the ‘eccentric’ race.”

181.11-17: from beyond the Golden Curtain . . . multiple agent . . . defected between France and England: Defections had been a worldwide embarrassment to the Soviet Union, especially the cases of Victor Kravchenko (1905-66) in April 1944 and the cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko (1919-1982) in September 1945. Gouzenko took with him Soviet code books and deciphering materials that made evident the extent of Soviet espionage and infiltration, in what has been called “the first major international event of the Cold War” (see Amy Knight, How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006). His account of his defection, This Was My Choice (Toronto: Dent, 1948), was made into a film, Iron Curtain (1948, directed by William Wellman; see next note). Kravchenko also wrote a book about his defection, I Chose Freedom (1946). When the French Communist weekly Les Lettres françaises attacked his character, Kravchenko brought a libel suit against it. In 1949, in what was billed as “the Trial of the Century,” Margarethe Buber-Neumann, a survivor of both the Gulags and the Holocaust, corroborated Krachenko’s claim of the essential similarities between Stalin’s and Hitler’s dictatorships. (Olga Voronina, researching a Harvard doctoral dissertation on the literary politics of the Cold War, suggested these leads.)
Although not quite so politically damaging, defections of leading performers were also internationally embarrassing to the Soviet Union, especially in the 1960s. Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993), at the time regarded as the world’s leading male ballet dancer, defected in June 1961 at Le Bourget airport in Paris.
In 1964 film director Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) approached Nabokov about writing stories for his future films. He proposed one about an American “scientist who could be a defector” (SL 362). Nabokov replied, inter alia: “While ignorant of the workings of the American intelligence, I have gathered considerable information regarding those of the Soviets. For some time now I have been thinking of writing the story of a defector from behind the Iron Curtain to the United States. The constant danger he is in, the constant necessity to hide and be on the lookout for agents from his native land bent on kidnapping or killing him” (letter of November 28, 1964, SL 366; these were dangers Kravchenko and Gouzenko both faced, despite being given new identities). Elements of this theme had sounded in Nabokov’s mind in 1959, when he notes in his diary on November 30 that he “Began L. to T.” or Letters to Terra; espionage and defection would find their way into other projected story lines in the early and mid-1960s before becoming undertones in Van’s Letters from Terra (see VNAY 401-02).

181.11: Golden Curtain: Play on “the Golden Horde” and “the Iron Curtain.
Cf. 182.02: others including “of course the current ruler of the Golden Horde were pictured as mascodagamas by topical humorists.” In the film version of Van’s Letters from Terra, which revises Antiterran history in the direction of Earth history, “In 1926 . . . the Golden Horde again subjugated Rus” (581.03-05). Golden Horde derives from the Russian zolotaya orda, used to designate the Mongol khanate established in the western part (present-day Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus) of the Mongol Empire after the Mongol invasion of Rus’ in the 1240s.
Cf. 580.12: “Tartary, behind her Golden Veil.”
Throughout much of the twentieth century “the Iron Curtain” was a common designation for the borders behind which Soviet forces screened out Western influences in the countries it had subjugated in Eastern Europe. The phrase is recorded as early as 1920 in Through Bolshevik Russia, by Ethel Snowden (1880-1951), but was popularized by Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) in an address at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946: “An iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”
Olga Voronina notes (private communication) that after Stalin gave his people permission to start an aggressive anti-Western campaign, about spring 1946 (after hopes of a large American reconstruction loan faded), the Soviet press often represented the recently concluded World War II in terms of the Soviet Union saving Europe, as it had saved Europe from the Golden Horde centuries earlier. On the American side, John Dos Passos in Life reported on the damage done in the Russian “liberation” of Eastern Europe:

The Russians came first. The Viennese tell you of the savagery of Russian armies. They came like the ancient Mongol hordes out of the steppes, with the flimsiest supply. The people in the working-class district had felt that when the Russians came they at least would be spared. But not at all. In the working-class districts the troops were allowed to rape and murder and loot at will. When victims complained, the Russians answered: You are too well off to be workers. You are bourgeoisie.

When Americans looted they took cameras and valuables but when Russians looted they took everything. And they raped and killed. From the eastern frontiers a tide of refugees is seeping across Europe bringing a nightmare tale of helpless populations trampled underfoot.

(“Americans are Losing the Victory in Europe. Destitute Nations Feel that the U.S. Has Failed Them.” Life, January 7, 1946, p. 24.)

181.12-14: a large Good-will Circus Company that had come from Tartary . . . on the eve of the Crimean War: In 1919, after Vladimir Lenin expressed a desire for the circus to become “the people’s art-form,” Russian circuses were nationalized. The Moscow State Circus Company began international tours in the 1950s, earning wide acclaim for its high levels of originality and skill. Nabokov comments ironically on Soviet good-will missions by having the Crimean War break out just after the Good-Will Circus Company’s visit.

181.13-14: from Tartary . . . Crimean War: On Earth the Crimean war was fought from October 1853 to February 1856, mainly on the Crimean peninsula, between the Russians on one side and on the other an alliance of the British, French, the Kingdom of Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire. Nabokov was aware of the strong Tatar presence in the Crimea, where he lived from November 1917 to April 1919.

181.14-16: three dancing girls . . . and one of the dancers’ husbands, a make-up man: One of the dancers, wife of “the make-up fellow” (185.31) is “Rita,” whom Van propositions (185.23-32).

181.16-18: between France and England, somewhere in the newly constructed “Chunnel”: “A tunnel under the English channel was first proposed to Napoleon III in 1856 by a French engineer, Thomé de Gamond.” (Encyclopaedia Britannnica, 14th edition.) The proposal was seriously considered on both sides of the channel, but after an agreement was signed in 1875, political pressures halted the project. (The 1887 date Nabokov proposes for the “newly constructed” tunnel is therefore not quite as absurdly anachronistic as it may seem.) The first building on a channel tunnel began in 1922, but digging soon stopped because of political objections. The idea of constructing some kind of channel tunnel was revived in 1957 and much discussed before and after a 1960 report recommending it be built. The project was launched in 1973 but abandoned because of financial difficulties, then relaunched in 1984, with construction completed in 1994 as a three-tunnel rail link between Folkestone in Kent and Coquelles near Calais. At the time Nabokov composed Ada, therefore, the very idea of a tunnel actually being built seemed almost a pipe dream.
The nickname “chunnel” is first recorded by the OED in 1928, but was not in wide circulation until the 1970s.
MOTIF: technology.

181.18-182.01: Mascodagama’s spectacular success in a theatrical club that habitually limited itself to Elizabethan plays, with queens and fairies played by pretty boys, made first of all a great impact on cartoonists: On the Elizabethan public stages women were forbidden to act and female roles were played by boys. Shakespeare’s plays abound in queens of England and elsewhere, including Tatiana, queen of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594). Fairies also feature prominently in The Tempest (1611). Van puns here on “queen” (OED: “A male homosexual, esp. the effeminate partner in a homosexual relationship”) and “fairy” (OED: “A male homosexual”), and also evokes the cross-dressing of characters like Rosalind in As You Like It (1599) and Viola in Twelfth Night (1600), for both of which roles boy actors had to dress as girls who then adopted male attire as a disguise.
In Cambridge the Amateur Dramatic Club (A.D.C.) was founded in 1855 and is still active. The Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, known often just as the Footlights, was founded in 1883, and also still thrives; Nabokov playfully renames it in LATH: “Some time during the Easter Term of my last Cambridge year (1922) I happened to be consulted, ‘as a Russian,’ on certain niceties of make-up in an English version of Gogol’s Inspector which the Glowworm Group, directed by Ivor Black, a fine amateur actor, intended to stage” (3). In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century William Poel (1852-1934) led a movement to revive Elizabethan drama in ways closer to the original staging, without elaborate Victorian pageantry, and to this end founded the Elizabethan Stage Society in 1895. In 1907 a group of Cambridge undergraduates interested in reviving Elizabethan and other early plays very successfully staged Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus with Rupert Brooke in the role of Mephistopheles. This led to the founding the next year of the Marlowe Society, with Brooke (a bisexual and “pretty boy”--in William Butler Yeats’s words “the handsomest young man in England”), as its first president. Women’s parts were played by men until 1934. (Women were not admitted as full members of the University of Cambridge until 1947, although since the late 1800s they had been allowed to study, sit examinations, and earn a titular degree.) In the years Nabokov was a student at Cambridge, the Marlowe Society’s productions (March 1920, John Webster’s The White Devil; November-December 1920, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s The Triumph of Death; also in 1920, A.C. Swinburne’s The Duke of Gandia and John Gay’s The What D’Ye Call It; 1921, the anonymous Arden of Faversham; March 1922, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida) were usually staged at the A.D.C., except for The Triumph of Death at the Footlights. The Marlowe Society also still thrives.
Van is intolerant of homosexuality (see his diatribe to Ada and Cordula, 168.01-169.21 and his treatment of the seconds in his duel, 306.04-34 and 310.09). His phrasing and the cartoonists’ response stress the contrast between the masculinity of Mascodagama (his role is something of a lekking dance) and the feminization of the theatrical club.

182.01-02: Deans, local politicians, national statesmen, and of course the current ruler of the Golden Horde were pictured as mascodagamas: The order suggests the rapid spread of Mascodagama’s fame, from student newspapers to local rags to national oracles, even those with the most international focus.
Alexey Sklyarenko notes (Nabokov-L, February 22, 2013) that “mascodagamas” “rhymes with Valdegamas. [The] Marqués de Valdegamas (Juan-Francisco-Maria de la Salud-Donoso-Cortes, Marqués de Valdegamas [1809-1853], Spanish [author, political theorist, diplomat and] statesman) and masks are mentioned by [Alexander] Herzen in S togo berega (From the Other Shore, 1850):

But the Marqués de Valdegamas bravely set the soldier by the side of the priest, the guardroom next to the altar, the gospel which remits sins beside the army manual which shoots dead for offences. The time has come for us to sing a ‘Requiem’ or, rather, a ‘Te Deum’. This is the end of the church and the end of the army.
At last the masks are off. (chapter VIII, "Donoso-Cortes, Marqués de Valdegamas, and Julian, Roman Emperor")

182.05-06: at Oxford (a women’s college nearby): By road Oxford and its university (which dates back to the twelfth century) is 143 kilometers (89 miles) from Cambridge (which dates back to the beginning of the thirteenth century
“Oxford and Cambridge opened their junior examinations to girls in 1870, and women began to attend special lectures at Oxford in 1873, but there was no opportunity for tuition or examination, nor residential accommodation for women. Girton College (1869) and Newnham (1871) prepared young women for Cambridge examination, and five societies of women students (later women’s colleges) were founded at Oxford between 1879 and 1893. . . Oxford women achieved membership and degrees only in 1920, Cambridge women in 1948.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th edition)

182.08-12: Mr. “Vascodagama”. . . suggest that his incognito had been divulged: Vasco da Gama seems unknown on Antiterra, and Van assumes the “erroneous” V reflects knowledge of his name.
MOTIF: explorer; V.

182.09: invitation to Windsor Castle: In Windsor, Berkshire, one of the three official residents of the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926, queen 1952- ) uses it as often as Buckingham Palace for official entertaining.

182.09-10: its owner, a bilateral descendant of Van’s own ancestors: The noble Veen lineage has close connections even with royalty.
MOTIF: riches.

182.14-15: psychiatrist P.O. Tyomkin . . . Prince Potyomkin, a mixed up kid from Sebastopol, Id.: “Id.,” especially after another place name, would normally be an abbreviation for Idaho. There is no Sebastopol in Idaho but there are towns called Sebastopol in California and Mississippi, and a settlement called Sevastopol in Indiana. (For Sevastopol in the Crimea, see next note.)
But in this psychiatric context (“psychiatrist,” “mixed-up kid”) “Id” refers to one of Freud’s three postulated aspects of the psyche, the id or the unconscious instinctual drives of the self, as opposed to the ego, the organized and realistic parts of the self, and the super-ego, the moralistic and censorious self-monitor.
In attempting to stab the psychiatrist P.O. Tyomkin, young Prince Potyomkin seems to be misapplying Freud’s “death wish” (Todestrieb), first defined in his Jenseits des Lustprinzips (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920), a counter-impulse to the sexual and creative principle, by directing it toward his namesake rather than himself; or to be exhibiting “transference,” an emotional attitude toward his analyst that replays emotions towards another from his past (from “The Dynamic of Transference,” 1912, Standard Edition, vol.12, pp. 97–108) and that therefore, like the death wish, is also a compulsive form of repetition. Nabokov may be asking just who is most mixed up, Prince Potyomkin or Freud.
Nabokov’s John Shade mocks the Freudian death wish in his poem “Pale Fire,” ll. 643-44: “ And to fulfill the fish wish of the womb, / A school of Freudians headed for the tomb.” (PF)
Note the “kid . . . Id” rhyme (if we read “Id” psychoanalytically rather than geographically).
The Kyoto Reading Circle, “Annotations to Ada, Part I Chapter 30,” 8 June 2006, notes: “Some of the girls Lolita meets call her a ‘mixed up kid.’

Dark: (to Fair) I bet her folks are divorced.
Fair: (to Dark) Yah. She looks like one of those mixed-up kids you see on TV.
(Screenplay 132)”

182.14-15: P.O. Tyomkin . . . Prince Potyomkin: Tyomkin is an old Russian name, princely, according to Alexey Sklyarenko, who suggests its “most famous exemplar was the sixteenth-century Prince Grigoriy Tyomkin, whom Ivan the Terrible mentions in his famous letter to Prince Kurbskiy” (Alexey Sklyarenko, private communication, 9 April 2002). Prince Grigori Aleksandrovich Potyomkin (1739-91), was a Russian general and field-marshal, statesman, and “in all senses of the word a favorite of Catherine the Great” (Proffer 261). He annexed the Crimea for Russia and developed Sevastopol (or Sebastopol, as it was still known in English in Nabokov’s day) into a world-class naval citadel.
Possibly also an allusion to the Tyomkin/Potyomkin doubling in another field, film: the Hollywood composer of musical scores, Dmitri Zinovevich Tyomkin or Tiomkin (1894-1979), who won three Academy Awards and seventeen nominations, and the celebrated film Bronenosets Potyomkin (The Battleship Potyomkin or Potemkin, 1925), directed by Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), regarded as one of the most important films ever made. The battleship Potyomkin was part of the Russian Black Sea fleet, whose headquarters were at Sevastopol.
Nabokov did not agree with the wide acclaim for The Battleship Potyomkin. Characteristically, his misremembers the name of someone he does not admire:

I have also a hunch that the general idea that avant-garde literature and art were having a wonderful time under Lenin and Trotsky is mainly due to Eisenstadt films—“montage”—things like that—and great big drops of sweat rolling down rough cheeks. The fact that pre-Revolution Futurists joined the party has also contributed to the kind of (quite false) avant-garde atmosphere which the American intellectual associates with the Bolshevik Revolution. (DBDV 222)

Russians habitually refer to other Russians in a formal context by the initial letters of first name and patronymic and the surname, as in “P.O. Tyomkin” (for Pavel Olegovich Tyomkin, say). “L.N. Tolstoy” or “V.I. Lenin” would be as natural for a Russian as “C.J.H. Di ckens” or “W.S. Churchill” would be unnatural for an Anglophone
Cf. “Gavronsky” (18.28), a play on the name of the film director “G.A. Vronsky” 197.03), whose name is in turn a play on the name of Vronsky, Anna Karenin’s lover, in the novel whose inverted opening sentence begins Ada (3.01-06 and n.)
MOTIF: doubling.

182.16-29: During his first summer vacation . . . dissertation . . . Terra . . . in the same street: MOTIF: Terra.

182.16: During his first summer vacation: Apparently Van’s first summer vacation spent wholly at Chose. Since he “went up” to Chose in 1885 (173.16-17), his first summer vacation while a student would have been in 1886, but he spends at least some of that summer in America (crossing from Dover to Manhattan in mid-July, 1886, 178.01-03).

182.17: at the Chose famous clinic: An odd locution, instead of the normal “at the famous Chose clinic.” A mistake in transcription? An unrecognized joke?

182.18-19: Terra: Eremitic Reality or Collective Dream?:                 

Eremitic means “of a hermit,” perhaps here with a suggestion of “hermetic,” a hermetically-sealed consciousness? After the anti-Freudian thrusts in the previous sentence, “collective dream” suggests the “collective unconscious” of Freud’s one-time disciple, Carl Jung (1875-1961) and his sense that dreams access archetypes in the collective unconscious.

182.19-29: He interviewed numerous neurotics . . . same street: Cf. 338.13-15, where Van describes Letters from Terra as “a compendium of certain inexplicably correlated vagaries observed by him in mental patients, on and off, since his first year at Chose.”

182.20-21: variety artists, and literary men, and at least three intellectually lucid, but spiritually “lost” cosmologists: As Mascodagama, Van himself is explicitly a “variety artist” (186.08). Van is also a literary man (“it suddenly occurred to our old polemicist that all his published works . . . were . . . buoyant and bellicose exercises in literary style,” 578.13-19). As a student of Terra, and a writer of interplanetary science fiction, he is also a cosmologist. Curious.

182.20-29: at least three intellectually lucid, but spiritually “lost,” cosmologists who either were in telepathic collusion . . . or had discovered . . . a green world rotating in space and spiralling in time . . . as three people watching from three separate windows would a carnival show: Cf. 339.22-23: “no direct access could be obtained to the banned, or burned, books of the three cosmologists, Xertigny, Yates and Zotov (pen names), who had recklessly started the whole business half a century earlier causing, and endorsing, panic, demency and execrable romanchiks. All three scientists had vanished now.” These three later cosmologists, who according to this passage started the notion of Terra “half a century earlier,” do not seem to be the same three cosmologists as Van interviews at Chose, although given Van’s findings that, “As earlier experimentators had conjectured, our annals lagged by about half a century behind Terra’s along the bridges of time, but overtook some of its underwater currents” (340.34-341.01), the evidence seems ambiguous or self-contradictory.

182.24-25: forbidden “ondulas” of some kind: Charles Nicol notes that Alexander Graham Bell (see 3.10-11 and n.) “consistently explained that his telephone worked on ‘undulating current’” (“Buzzwords and Dorophonemes: How Words Proliferate and Things Decay in Ada,” in Gavriel Shapiro, ed., Nabokov at Cornell, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003, 91-100: 98). MOTIF: electricity; technology.

182.25: “ondulas”: Wavelets (or gondolas on wavelets?), from Latin unda, “wave,” its French derivative onde, “wave,” and the Late Latin undula, “small wave.”                  
Cf. 342.05: “had they managed to intercept her undissembling ondulas” (from Van’s account of Letters from Terra).

182.25-26: a green world rotating in space and spiraling in time: Cf. Marvell’s “The Garden” (see 65.08 and n., 65.11-13 and n.), ll. 43-48:

The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas,
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Cf. also SM 301: “and if, in the spiral unwinding of things, space warps into something akin to time, and time, in its turn, warps into something akin to thought, then, surely, another dimension follows—a special Space maybe, not the old one, we trust, unless spirals become vicious circles again.”
MOTIF: green [Ardis].

182.31-32: Sometime in August he was offered a contract for a series of matinées and nights in a famous London theater: Van achieves his success on the London stage without the lavish publicity budget Marina seems to need to attain a subdued stardom (10.09-10) on what appears to be the Manhattan stage.

183.04-05: Mascodagama’s fame reached inevitably the backwoods of America: In contrast to the virtual silence that greets his Letters from Terra (344.24-26: “Van’s ‘crooked little smile’ at finding his beautifully bound book so badly neglected”) but in anticipation of his “few years of world fame” (582.14) occasioned by the unauthorized film version of Letters from Terra in 1940.

183.06: a fond relative or faithful retainer: The “fond relative” is most likely to be Ada, for whom “fond” and “relative” are both understatements, although perhaps also Marina, who passes as Van’s aunt but is of course his mother. The “faithful retainer” is most likely to be Bouteillan. Although others like Price are called retainers (116.24, “two last retainers, the cook and the night watchman”; 249.22: “Another Price, a typical, too typical, old retainer”), Bouteillan is “Quite the old comedy retainer” (157.08) and he is “the old retainer” again at 397.10-11. MOTIF: retainer.

183.07: the Ladore, Ladoga, Laguna, Lugano and Luga papers: Laguna appears nowhere else. Cf. 68.14: “ Raduga or Ladoga or Kaluga or Luga”; 72.06-07: “ flying with Photinus ladorensis, according to Ada, at Lugano and Luga”; 158.22: “In Luga? Kaluga? Ladoga?”; 213.27-29: “they locked up Lucette in a closet used for storing bound volumes of The Kaluga Waters and The Lugano Sun.” MOTIF: Ladore; newspapers; -uga

183.09-10: only a poet (“especially of the Black Belfry group” . . . ): Combines, perhaps, the name of the Black Mountain group (as a group of poets; see 133.34 and n.), otherwise irrelevant; the “Graveyard poets, a term applied to 18th-cent. poets who wrote melancholy, reflective works, often set in graveyards, on the theme of human mortality. Examples include T[homas] Parnell’s ‘Night-Piece on Death’ (1721), E[dward] Young’s Night Thoughts (1742), and R[obert] Blair’s The Grave (1743). See also [Thomas] Gray’s Elegy written in a Country Church-Yard (1751), the best-known product of this kind of sensibility” (Oxford Companion to English Literature, 5th ed.); and aspects of dark romanticism. In Nabokov’s brilliant discussion of romanticism in his EO commentary, after noting “I cannot think of any masterpiece the appreciation of which would be enhanced in any degree or manner by the knowledge that it belonged to this or that school,” and before observing that “There is a good deal of overlapping in these concepts,” he describes eleven subspecies or phases of romanticism, including:

(3) The Highland subspecies and the eerie note. To paraphrase Beattie, The Minstrel (1772), “The grotesque and ghostly appearance of a landscape, especially by the light of the moon, diffuses an habitual gloom over the fancy and gives it that romantic cast that disposes to invention and that melancholy which inclines one to the fear of unseen things.” . . .
(5) The German subspecies. . . Reveries, visions, apparitions, tombstones, moonshine. The pictorial grading into the metaphysical. (EO 3.32, 35, 34)

In the Preface to his A Vision of Judgement (1821), Robert Southey (1774-1843) denounced the younger Romantic poets, Shelley, Leigh Hunt, and especially Byron as belonging to the “Satanic School”: “The school which they have set up may properly be called the Satanic school; for though their productions breathe the spirit of Belial in their lascivious parts, and spirit of Moloch in those loathsome images of atrocities and horrors which they delight to represent, they are more especially characterized by a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety, which still betrays the wretched feeling of hopelessness wherewith it is allied.”

183.16: dervish drums: W2, dervish: “A member of any of various Moslem fraternities or orders taking vows of poverty and austerity and, as a rule, either living together in monastic societies or wandering from place to place as friars. The orders spread throughout the Moslem world. They are noted for their practice of sama. [Audition of music, singing, or dancing, leading, as with the dervishes, to trance.] The most popular is that of the Muradiyah, to which most of the fakirs belong who crowd the bazaars of India. The Rufa‘iyah, or ‘howling dervishes,’ the Kalandariyah, or ‘wandering dervishes,’ and the Maulawiyah, the ‘whirling’ or ‘dancing dervishes,’ are other prominent orders.”

183.19-20: nervous little boys and girls relived . . . something similar to the “primordial qualm”: Presumably the first fear of death, but partly echoes the Freudian notion of children witnessing their parents copulating, seeing the “primal scene,” a notion Nabokov ridicules, for instance, in SM 20 (“let me say at once that I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with . . . its bitter little embryos spying, from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents,” soon followed by “It was the primordial cave (and not what Freudian mystics might suppose) that lay behind the games I played when I was four,” SM 22-23) and in PF 94:

Your modern architect
Is in collusion with psychanalysts:
When planning parents’ bedrooms, he insists
On lockless doors so that, when looking back,
The future patient of the future quack
May find, all set for him, the Primal Scene.

Freud interprets the dream of his patient Sergey Pankejeff (1886-1979) (“the Wolfman”) as being about the primal scene (Aus der Geschichte einer infantilen Neurose, From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, written 1914, published 1918).

183.24-26: a masked giant, fully eight feet tall, erupted, running strongly in the kind of soft boots worn by Cossack dancers. A voluminous, black shaggy cloak: Cf. the story “The Potato Elf,” where the dwarf Fred Dobson appears on stage with a “Russian giant. . . . A long frock coat that looked carved out of ebony, elevated heels, and a top hat with a sheen of columnar reflections increased the height of the stately three-hundred-and-fifty pound Siberian” (SoVN 229).
Aleksey Sklyarenko suggested on Nabokv-L, 27 April 2004, that Mascodagama may owe something to a scene in Dostoevsky’s Besy (The Devils or Demons, 1872), Part 3, Chapter 2, where at a charity ball, a masked dancer walks on his hands. Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello suggested on Nabokv-L, 27 September 2003, that Mascodagama may echo Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, 1795-96), in which “The waif Mignon . . . believes that her father was ‘The Big Devil,’ a performing tumbler of great prowess and is unaware of the truth that she is the harper’s daughter from his incestuous union to his sister Sperate.”

183.26-28: black shaggy cloak of the burka type enveloped . . . from neck to knee: W3, burka: “a coarse cloak worn esp. in Russia,” or “a loose enveloping garment with usu. veiled eyeholes that is worn in public by Muslim women esp. of India and Pakistan.”

183.27: inquiétante: Darkbloom: “disturbing.”

183.29: Karakul: W2: “a A broadtail sheep of a hardy breed (Karakul) of unknown origin, from the province of Bokhara. . . b The tightly curled, glossy, black coat of the newborn lambs of this breed, valued as fur.”

183.33: the restless walk of a caged madman: Cf. mad Aqua, “his mother somewhere in a cage of her own” (38.27).

183.34: to a clash of symbols in the orchestra: Cf. 73.28-29: “a crash of symbols in an orchal orchestra.”

184.01-07: Mascodagama turned over . . . and stood on his head. . . and suddenly came apart. Van’s face . . . grinned between the legs of the boots. . . Simultaneously his real feet kicked off and away the false head: In a discussion of Mascodagama on Nabokv-L, Andrew Brown noted on 24 March 2005: “The effect of a dancer who is revealed as standing upright when his or her costumed self was upside down is a Central European, Asian, probably universal entertainment that has seen service from ancient times all the way to vaudeville and beyond. This performance, with its surprises, reminded me of the circus Huck Finn sneaks into and is completely fooled by the blustering drunk who insists on joining the bareback riders' performance, and then rides frantically around the circus ring faster and faster, shedding a blizzard of ragged clothes until he stands revealed, gliding along erect with his arms folded, as the star of the show.”
                  Cf. Ganin, the hero of Mary: “Only a short while ago he could walk on his hands, quite as well as a Japanese acrobat, and with legs elegantly erect move along like a sail” (Mary 8).

184.14: variety artists of the “eccentric” race: Cf. 182.20, “there were variety artists, and literary men . . . ” and 181.05-07: “nothing . . . beyond the definition ‘Foreign eccentric.’”

184.16-18: on the cricket field . . . he was a College Blue: Cf. 93.04-06: “I was supposed to play for my school in yesterday’s cricket game. Veen sick, unable to bat, Riverlane humbled.”

184.18-20: nor earlier physical successes, such as his knocking out the biggest bully on his first day at Riverlane School: Van’s prowess as Mascodagama in fact stems from his desire to more than hold his own at Riverlane: 81.18-25: “Two years earlier, when about to begin his first prison term at the fashionable and brutal boarding school, to which other Veens had gone before him . . . , Van had resolved to study some striking stunt that would give him an immediate and brilliant ascendancy. Accordingly, after a conference with Demon, King Wing, the latter’s wrestling master, taught the strong lad to walk on his hands.” Cf. VNRY 100: “Just as his father boxed and fenced, so Nabokov himself learned boxing and savate, even years before commencing school, so that he need never be cowed or afraid to defend his honor. In the schoolyard these lessons stood him in good stead. Grigory Popov, the strong boy of the school, held back year after year, haunted the imaginations of the younger boys who shared his class. Gorilla-like, malodorous, frowning at a word he could not comprehend, he was the only person Nabokov ever remembers fearing—until their first fight. One day Nikolay Berezin, the geography teacher, unexpectedly informed the entire class that young Nabokov and he were both having boxing lessons from the same coach. At recess Popov grinned: ‘Come on, show us how you box.’ When Popov hit him in the stomach, the younger boy responded with a straight left to the nose, drawing blood. Popov proceeded to maul him—but the satisfaction remained. Nabokov even acquired a taste for the sport, thoroughly enjoying his fistfights with the two or three main bullies.” Nabokov indeed became a boxing coach himself in the late 1920s.

184.21-22: It was not directly related to the warm breath of fulfilled ambition: MOTIF: relation.

184.27-32: belonged rather to the same order as the one he later derived from self-imposed, extravagantly difficult, seemingly absurd tasks when V.V. sought to express something, which until expressed . . . the illusion of the backward shadow of its imminent expression: “V.V.” refers here to Van Veen, in the first place, but also, implicitly, to “V.V.” (Vladimir Vladimirovich) Nabokov. Cf. SM 290-91 on chess problem composition’s “points of connection with other, more overt and fruitful, operations of the creative mind, from the charting of dangerous seas”—by Vasco da Gama, for instance—“to the writing of one of those incredible novels where the author, in a fit of lucid madness, has set himself certain unique rules that he observes, certain nightmare obstacles that he surmounts.”

184.32: It was Ada’s castle of cards: Cf. 113.04-22: “ ‘you were building a house of cards. . . . when your castle toppled . . . ’ . . . ‘It was not a castle. It was a Pompeian Villa with mosaics and paintings inside.’ ”

184.32-185.03: It was the standing of a metaphor on its head not for the sake of the trick’s difficulty, but in order to perceive an ascending waterfall or a sunrise in reverse . . . . Thus the rapture young Mascodagama derived from overcoming gravity was akin to that of artistic revelation: Cf. Nabokov’s lectures on Joyce’s Ulysses: “Each chapter is written in a different style. . . . There is no special reason why this should be. . . but it may be argued that this constant shift of the viewpoint conveys a more varied knowledge, fresh vivid glimpses from this or that side. If you have ever tried to stand and bend your head so as to look back between your knees, with your face turned upside down, you will see the world in a totally different light. Try it on the beach: it is very funny to see people walking when you look at them upside down. They seem to be, with each step, disengaging their feet from the glue of gravitation.” (LL 288-89)
Cf. also SM 301: “Innermost in man is the spiritual pleasure derivable from the possibility of outtugging and outrunning gravity, of overcoming or re-enacting the earth's pull”; in unpublished lecture notes for his Russian survey course, Nabokov writes even more explicitly: “the jumper versus gravitation, man versus the grave” (VNA); from the story “Lance”: “Deep in the human mind, the concept of dying is synonymous with that of leaving the earth. To escape its gravity means to transcend the grave” (SoVN 636).

185.01: a triumph, in a sense, over the ardis of time: MOTIF: Ardis; time.

185.10: maniambulation: Nabokov’s coinage, “handwalking” (cf. 51.03, “brachiate,” 82.21, “brachiambulant,” etymologically, “arm-walker”).

185.11-12: the peacock blotches with which the carpet stained the palms of his hands during his gloveless dance: Cf. 338.05-09, on his pseudonym for Letters from Terra: “Neither did pseudonymity tickle him in reverse—as it did when he danced on his hands. . . . this time his long blue pride feathers remained folded.”

185.14-31: For the tango, which completed his number on his last tour. . . . She indignantly refused, saying she adored her husband (the make-up fellow): Cf. 244.08-15: Demon asks: “‘ Do you like the type, Van—the bowed little head, the bare neck, the high heels, the trot, the wiggle, you do, don’t you?’ ‘Well, sir—’ (Tell him I’m the youngest Venutian? Does he belong, too? Show the sign? Better not. Invent.) ‘—Well, I’m resting after my torrid affair, in London, with my tango-partner whom you saw me dance with when you flew over for that last show—remember?’”
For one of his stage routines Fred Dobson, the dwarf in “The Potato Elf,” has to dance a tango with “a fifteen-year-old female dwarf . . . a bad-tempered, sick, sharp-nosed little thing, The two were presented to the spectators as an engaged couple, and, shivering with disgust, he had to dance an intimate tango with her.” (SoVN 233)

185.14: tango: Tango was developed in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires in the late nineteenth century; the name seems to have been first applied to the dance in the 1890s. Tangos became popular in Europe in the 1900s and in the USA from 1913. The tango is renowned for its eroticism.

185.16-17: a very short scintillating frock cut very low on the back: Cf. “Lucette, looking even more naked in her short evening frock than she had in her ‘bickny’ ” (484.14, on her last night).

185.17-22: She sang the tango tune in Russian . . . mandolina: Don Barton Johnson identifies the first line of the Russian text as the opening “of a famous tango—Poslednee Tango (The Last Tango),” known in Russian also under the title “Pod znoynïm nebom Argentinï,’ and “Argentinskoe tango.” (“Ada’s ‘Last Tango’ in Dance, Song and Film,” Cycnos 24:1 (2007, 55-69: 55). Johnson notes: “Le dernier Tango: Chanson argentine, was assertedly composed in 1913 by Émile Doloire with words by Armand Foucher. In fact, only the lyrics were new since the French ‘composers’ had stolen the melody from a turn-of-the-century tango by Argentine composer Angel Villoldo who had named it El Choclo, literally ‘The Ear of Corn’ but, according to the composer’s sister, the sobriquet of a blond-headed local thug and pimp.’ The opening lines and refrain of the French variant are:

C’est sous le ciel de l’Argentine
Où la femme est toujours divine
Qu’au son des musiques câlines
On danse le tango! [errors in French corrected—BB]

“The lyrics relate the tale of a Paraguayan visitor to Paris who sees the blond Rita, dancing the tango in a supper club. She becomes his adored mistress, lavishly squanders his fortune, then mocks and dumps him. Time passes and one night her abandoned lover appears at a night club she frequents and asks only for a ‘last tango.’ As they dance, he strangles her.

Most Russians know the song with quite different lyrics:

V dalyokoy zonynoy Argentine,
Gde nebo yuzhnoe tak sine,
Tam zhenschiny, kak na kartine,-
Tam Dzho vlyubilsya b Klo. . .

 “In [the] Russian version, Rita is renamed ‘Klo’ (Chloe). Klo and her lover Dzho dance for coins in a sleazy Argentinian bar. There Klo is seen by a wealthy English tourist, a ‘Sir,’ no less, who whisks her off to a life of luxury in Paris. There she lives the high life in glamorous night spots, spending wildly and dancing until her former partner ‘Dzho’ appears on the scene as part of an Argentine tango act. Once again she agrees to a last tango during which Dzho ‘with a diabolical smile plunges his knife into Klo’s throat.’ Nabokov obviously knew the French lyrics (as well as the Russian) since in Ada he (re-)names Van’s dance partner ‘Rita,’ rather than the Klo of the Russian lyric.” (Johnson, 56-57)
“The Russian lyrics were created by the Odessa singer Iza Kremer.” The new lyrics “are credited for the plot line of a silent film starring Vera Kholodnaya, the most famous Russian film star of her era. The film was appropriately called Poslednee Tango. The film, released in May 1918, was silent, but it is safe to assume that the song was used as live musical accomplishment at each showing.” (Johnson 59). Johnson prints the Russian text (66-67) and the French (68-69), and a reproduction of the sheet music for the Russian (58).
Johnson also notes that “the song is known in Russian under three titles: Poslednee tango, Pod znoynim nebom Argentiny, and Argentinskoe tango. There are two sets of Russian lyrics: one by singer Iza Kremer and one by lyricist Pavel German” (55n1).
The first line Van cites echoes the alternative Russian title of the tango, but the second line is Nabokov’s invention.The first line Van cites echoes the alternative Russian title of the tango, and, as Alexey Sklarenko notes, is the form of the title of the tango which Ostap Bender dances in the satirical novel Zolotoy telyonok (The Golden Calf, 1931), by Nabokov’s favorite writers in Soviet Russia, Ilf and Petrov (Ilya Ilf, real name Il’ya Fainzilberg, 1897-1937, and Evgeniy Petrovich Kataev, 1903-1942). As Sklyarenko notes re the second line: in The Golden Calf “the Roman Catholic priests Moroshek and Kushakovski okhmuryayut (try to seduce) their compatriot Adam Kozlevich, the driver of the Antelope Gnu car” 'pod sladkiy lepet mandoliny' (‘to the sweet murmur of the mandolina’). . . . The line was invented by Ilf [and] Petrov and slightly changed by Nabokov (who kept the rhyme).” (Nabokv-L, 27 July 2011). While the tango derives from Argentina, the mandolin has no special Argentinian connection.                  
Proffer 262 identifies this as “‘The Blue Tango’ in Russian,” but Nabokov’s words bear no relation to the lyrics by Mitchell Parish to Leroy Anderson’s highly successful music, published in 1952 (Anderson’s instrumental version rose to number one in the 1952 Billboard charts, and in the same year three other versions reached the top 25).

185.20: Pod strástnïy góvor mandolinï: Aleksey Sklyarenko notes that in Zelyonoy telyonok (The Golden Calf), by Nabokov’s favorite Soviet writers Ilf and Petrov (Ilya Ilf, 1897-1937, and Evgeniy Petrov, 1903-1942), “pod sladkiy lepet mandoliny (‘to a mandolin's sweet murmur,’ as [hero Ostap] Bender puts it) the Catholic priests Kushakovski and Moroshek try to revert their compatriot, Adam Kozlevich (the driver of the Antelope Gnu car), to the Roman faith of his ancestors. They almost succeed but Bender arrives and proves in a brief dispute that Bog (God) does not exist.” 

185.23-27: Fragile, red-haired “Rita” . . . bore an odd resemblance to Lucette as she was to look ten years later: Lucette will be 21 ten years hence. MOTIF: like . . .

185.23: red-haired: MOTIF: red hair.

185.24: Karaite: Crimean Karaites: One of a small ethnic group of Turkic origin (the Karai, as they call themselves) originated from the Crimea, lived in the citadel Dzhuft Kale or Chufut Kale (see next note). Of the 2000 Crimean Karaites in the world, about 800 remain in the Crimea. The religion they traditionally followed, known as Karaism (or Karaimism), is also professed by others (Russians, Arabs, Greeks, etc). W2: Karaism: “The doctrine of a heretical Jewish set which rejects rabbinism and Talmudism, basing its tenets on interpretation of the Scriptures. Karaism was founded in Bagdad about 765 A.D. by Anan ben David . . . , was formerly widespread, but now has only some 12,000 adherents, chiefly in southern Russia.”

“Karaism is characterized by a prophetic passion for individual righteousness, and social justice, puritanical zeal and asceticism. . . . The chief points of difference with the rabbinities were the calendar, Sabbath and marriage laws. . . prohibited degrees of consanguinity were expanded.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed.)

Cf. Andrew Field, Nabokov: His Life in Part, citing Nabokov’s comments on Solomon Samoilovich Krym, a Karaite and Constitutional Democrat who headed the Crimean Regional Provisional Government in 1918-19 in which Nabokov’s father was Minister of Justice; Nabokov also worked for him as a farm laborer in the south of France in 1923: “These people don’t have what is called Jewish blood… They look absolutely like Tartars” (New York: Viking, 1977, 201-02).

Cf. Konstantin Efetov, “V.V. Nabokov i krymskiye karaimy” (“V.V. Nabokov and Crimean Karaites”). Proza.Ru,; also in Krymskiy Nabokovskiy nauchnyy sbornik. Vypusk 5. V. V. Nabokov i literaturnyy protsess XX veka. – Simferopol: Krymskiy Arkhiv, 2011: 98-104.

185.24: Chufut Kale: A historic fortress two miles southeast of Bakhchisaray in the South Crimea, the abandoned dwellings of Chufut Kale (or according to Efetov, originally Dzhuft Kale, Turkic for “Double Citadel,” or according to another, Çufut Qale, Crimean Tatar for “Jews’ City”), the center of Karaites until the eighteenth century.
Cf. 319.18-21: “Percy had been shot in the thigh during a skirmish with Khazar guerrillas in a ravine near Chew-Foot-Calais, as the American troops pronounced ‘Chufutkale,’ the name of a fortified rock.”
In July 1918, while staying with his family at Gaspra on the southern Crimean coast, Nabokov visited Chufutkale and Bakhchisaray on a lepidopterological expedition (EO 3.287, VNRY 148). He recorded his impressions in his 1921 poem “Krym” (“Crimea”), ll. 75-77: “Ya videl myortvy gorod: yamy / bylykh tyomnits, glukhie khramy, / bezmolvnyy kholm Chufutkale” (“I saw a dead city: the pits / of former dungeons, overgrown cathedrals, / the silent hill Chufutkale”).

185.25: the Crimean cornel, kizil’: Cornel (W2): “Any plant of the genus Cornus and related genera, esp.: a. The cornelian cherry b. The European red dogwood.” Kizil’ defines the tree in question as Cornus mascula, the cornelian cherry, a large flowering shrub or small tree, growing from 2 to 6 meters high, with a red acid berry. Its yellow flowers bloom from March to April before the leaves unfold. N1: Cornus mas.

185.28: silver slippers: MOTIF: slipper.

185.31: she adored her husband: Cf. Van with Cordula Tobak (née de Prey) in Paris in late May 1901: “‘I have an urgent request. Will you cooperate with me in cornuting your husband? It’s a must!’ ‘Really, Van!’ exclaimed angry Cordula. ‘You go a bit far. I’m a happy wife. My Tobachok adores me.’” (456.30-33)
MOTIF: adore.

185.31: her husband (the make-up fellow): Cf. 181.14-16: “three dancing girls . . . and one of the dancers’ husbands, a make-up man (no doubt, a multiple agent).”

186.03-05: His college tutor, a decrepit and dour homosexual, with no sense of humor whatever and an innate respect for all the conventions of academic life: Nabokov paints a self-deprecating portrait of his own relations with his tutor at Cambridge, Ernest Harrison (1877-1943): “Thus the college period of my life began on a note of embarrassment, a note that was to recur rather persistently during my three years of residence” (SM 259). He ends the chapter with a comic reprise of the embarrassment, in 1937, SM 273.

186.08-09: if he insisted on becoming a variety artist he would be sent down: “Sent down”: expelled from the university. As a student, Nabokov was actually expelled from Trinity for some prank, according to one source, until his tutor had the expulsion order lifted (VNRY 178).

186.09-11: a letter to Demon asking him to make his son forget Physical Stunts for the sake of Philosophy and Psychiatry: The capitalization makes “Physical Stunts” seem like a mock-subject at university; perhaps it reflects the tutor’s pompous academicism; it highlights the alliteration and consonance; and does the PS on Physical Stunts mentioned in a letter also suggest a Post Script?

186.12-13: Dudley Prize: Significance unknown. Dudley is a distinguished old English name, especially in the Tudor era, particularly Lord John Dudley (1501-1553) first Duke of Northumberland, de facto ruler of England in the latter half of Edward VI’s reign, and his son Robert Dudley (1532/1533-1588), first Earl of Leicester, Queen Elizabeth’s long-standing favorite.

186.13: an essay on Insanity and Eternal Life: Van is still preoccupied with the insanity of the woman whom he thought of as mother until his exploration of the Ardis attic with Ada, and whose insanity took in part the form of over-preoccupation with the idea of Terra as the Other World or Next World (see I.3).

186.14: pride and prudence: The alliterative pairing of abstractions echoes the famous title of Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice (1813), and even her other paired alliterative-abstract title, and the sense of “prudence,” in Sense and Sensibility (1811).

Afternote to Part One, Chapter 30

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