Part One, Chapter 34

 

Forenote

For the second time, Lucette comes to the fore for a whole chapter, again as an obstacle to Van and Ada’s ardor, as in I.23 in 1884.

I.34 turns I.33’s single scene of a comedy of frustration into a repeated pattern. Where Van’s frustrations in I.33, interlarded as they were with his jealousy of Philip Rack, had a rankling effect on the chapter’s style, here the spirit of frustration is more comic (as in the repetitions at 213: “Lucette . . . followed them from lawn to loft, from gatehouse to stable, from a modern shower near the pool to the ancient bathroom upstairs. Lucette-in-the-Box came out of a trunk . . . ”), however exasperating Van depicts it as having been at the time. Van and Ada’s irritation with Lucette is in one sense only another index of their ardor: they cannot wait until the cover of darkness, when Lucette would be asleep, but need to slake their sexual appetite as often during the day as they can get away with.

The repetition of the theme of Lucette as obstacle from I.23 to I.34 marks another way in which Ardis the First repeats Ardis the Second, as well as accentuating the rampant repetitiveness of her siblings’ lovemaking. For Van such repetitions are usually a positive, a sign that his and Ada’s ardor is unchanged. But here the end of the chapter introduces a new note, in the embroiling of twelve-year-old Lucette in the embraces and emotions of Van and Ada. Van, jealous since his return to Ardis of other males’ interest in Ada, here finds Ada jealous of her own sister’s adoration of him.

Annotations

211.01: That frolic under the sealyham cedar . . . a mistake: See the threesome at I.32, 204.16-206.07 (“The three of them formed a pretty Arcadian combination as they dropped on the turf under a great weeping cedar”). Play on “Sealyham terrier,” a breed of small white welsh terriers bred first in 1908 and recognized in 1910, that has a long coat which can extend to the ground, like the “great weeping cedar” at 204.17. W2, Sealyham terrier, “so bred that its short legs, strong jaw, and long, supple body, would give it an advantage in tackling the badger underground.”Nabokov compares weeping tree and terrier also at RLSK 81: “the constant readiness to discern . . . the likeness between a weeping-willow and a Skye terrier”; PF 165: “Skye terrier (the breed called in our country ‘weeping-willow dog’).”
            Rowe 1979: 100 tries unconvincingly to associate dogs with Lucette’s death.

211.01: under the sealyham cedar: MOTIF: under tree.

211.02: her schizophrenic governess: Probably reflects the common 1960s-ish conception of schizophrenia as indicating a “split personality,” with Mlle Larivière at one moment the self-engrossed writer and at another the governess overcompensating for her neglect of her charge: cf. 194.28-31: “accused herself of neglecting Lucette by overindulging in Literature. . . . ”

211:05-06: guests . . . golden globes . . . garden lamps . . . glowed . . . greenery: The emphatic alliteration on g is compounded by the initial rhyme of globes . . . glowed. Cf. 451.31-32: “green lamps greening green growths.”

211.05-07: golden globes . . . mingled their kerosene reek: Cf. Pnin 132: “kerosene lamps” (in Russia, at nightfall).

211.05: golden globes: Since Marina is an actress, and has a track record of dispensing gold for publicity purposes (10.08-10: “paid the Great Scott, her impresario, seven thousand gold dollars a week for publicity alone”), presumably a wry allusion to the Golden Globe Awards, awarded by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for film since 1944 and also for television since 1956. Marina’s meager acting talents suggest that despite her entertaining those in the entertainment industry, she will win no such awards.

211.07: breath of heliotrope: Heliotropes are plants of the genus Heliotropium, especially the garden heliotrope, Heliotropium arborescens, prized for the vanilla-like scent of their flowers. They commonly perfume scenes in Russian nineteenth-century fiction, especially the novels and stories of Turgenev. Cf. Pale Fire, note to line 70: "by six in the morning was planting heliotropes (Heliotropium turgenevi). This is the flower whose odor evokes with timeless intensity the dusk, and the garden bench, and a house of painted wood in a distant northern land."

211.09: nocturna—a keen midnight breeze: From the Latin for “of the night,” but perhaps with a pun on “at the turn” of “night” (Latin nox, noctis); and with a pun on keen as “sharp, penetrating, forceful” (of wind) and as “enthusiastic” (of their lovemaking).

211.10-12: tumbling . . . stumbled: Note echo.

211.10: tumbling the foliage, “troussant la raimée,”: Corrected from 1969, “foliage ‘troussant . . . ’”. Sore is French. Raimée combines ramée (“green boughs, foliage”), and raimée (as feminine past participle: “[woman] loved again”). While troussant la ramée can mean, literally, “tumbling the foliage,” troussant can also mean “tumbling” a woman in the slang sexual sense.

211.10-11: Sore, the ribald night watchman: Cf. 191.05-06: Blanche “back from a rendezvous with old Sore the Burgundian night watchman.“Sore” is a genuine if rare French surname (more commonly spelled “Saur”). An echo of Nabokov as an amorous youth, in love with his “Tamara” (real name, Valentina Shulgina) and spied on by his tutor, until the “the peeper was observed by my uncle’s purple-nosed old gardener Apostolski (incidentally, a great tumbler of weeding girls) . . . old Priapostolski” (SM 231-32). MOTIF: Eros.

211.12-13: a phantom Blanche had crept past them: Cf. 191.04-05: “Blanche glided in like an imprudent ghost.”

211.13-14: to mate in some humbler nook: Perhaps with a pun on the slang nooky, “sexual intercourse” (from late nineteenth-century: Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 8th ed., ed. Paul Beale [London: Routledge, 2000], 801).

211.15: glowworm: Echoes 211.05-06, “golden globes . . . of the new garden lamps that glowed.” MOTIF: firefly.

211.15-16: our impatient lovers: MOTIF: our lovers.

211.20-212.01: tried the attic, but noticed, just in time, a rent in its floor: As kitchen-hand, photographer and blackmailer Kim Beauharnais has also apparently noticed in 1884, for in 1892, as Van and Ada look through Kim’s blackmail photograph album: “‘Oh do!’ said Ada (skipping another abominable glimpse—apparently, through a hole in the boards of the attic)” (406.19-20).

212.02: French, the second maid: Cf. 114.11-15: “she, the hand-painted handmaid. . . . But not Marina’s poor French—it was our little goose Blanche.”

212.06-07: green imp with coppery limbs: MOTIF: copper; red-green.

212.09-10: the shooting gallery, with its Orientally draped recess: Cf. 148.04-05: “Shooting Gallery . . . tiny, Oriental-style room,” on the way to which in 1884 Van and Ada are also “watched by Lucette, whom I’ll strangle some day” (Ada, at 148.12-13).

212.12: the little divan: MOTIF: divan.

212.13: his new Ada: Cf. 215.04-05: “his new Ada.” MOTIF: his Ada.

212.12-14: All Van saw there of his new Ada were her ivorine thighs and haunches: MOTIF: behind.

212.14: and the very first time he clasped them: MOTIF: first time.

212.17-18: Lucette was approaching—skipping rope: Cf., as Van and Ada flick through the Kim Beauharnais photograph album: “Skip Lucette skipping rope” (399.28)

212.20-21: chanterelle: The common edible mushroom Cantharellus cibarius, or other species in the genus Cantharellus, of which this is the best known. W2: “A widely distributed edible mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius), rich yellow in color, with a pleasant aroma.”

212.27: partly leafless but still healthy old oak: Cf. 51.23: “the old oak aches, the old lover aches”;

            “Oh! qui me rendra mon Aline
            Et le grand chêne et ma colline?

            Oh, who will give me back my Jill
            And the big oak tree and my hill?” (138.13-16);

and also, perhaps: 146.32: “Oats and oaks may be dead.”

212.28: oh, I remember, Van!: MOTIF: remember.

212.28-30: in a century-old lithograph of Ardis . . . four cows and a lad in rags: Cf. 35.25-29: “Van immediately recognized Ardis Hall as depicted in the two-hundred-year-old aquarelle . . . two tiny people . . . conversing not far from a stylized cow.”

212.29: Peter de Rast: Appears to combine (1) the Russian tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725, ruled from 1682; as the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, “Rast” is Tsar in reverse, and Peter the Great was himself “a ‘colossus,’ having grown to almost two meters in height”); (2) Percy de Prey; (3) Philip Rack; (4) Pedro, a star in Marina’s next movie; and (5) a hint of pederast. For this latter, cf. “an old pederast kept him” (381.24-25: of Johnny Starling).

212.31: our lovers (you like the authorial possessive . . . ): Used most recently at 211.15-16: “our impatient lovers.” MOTIF: our lovers.

212.31-32: our lovers (you like the authorial possessive, don’t you, Van?): Cf. 161.07-08: “If the description of our lovers’ code (the ‘our’ may constitute a source of irritation in its own right . . . ”; 384.04-06: “but our (using, that day, that year, the unexpected, thronal, authorial, jocular, technically loose, forbidden, possessive plural in speaking of her to him) sister.” MOTIF: Composition—Ada.

212.32-213.03: the glum dackel, . . . door. MOTIF: dackel.

213.01-02: as if never having done it yet: ironic double entendre.

213.03-04: Ada and her cavalier: MOTIF: behind.

213.05-06: the round rosy face with all its freckles aglow . . . and two green eyes: MOTIF: red-green.

213.07: astounding tandem: MOTIF: behind.

213.08: Lucette, the shadow: Puns on the etymology of Lucette (“little light”) and shadow as “stealthy or close follower, spy, detective.”

213.09: modern shower booth near the pool: MOTIF: technology.

213.10: Lucette-in-the-Box: MOTIF: games.

213.12: “leaptoad”: Lucette’s verbal mistake matches her mistake about the activity Van and Ada have been engaging in. Ardeur 179: “sautebique” (“jump-shegoat,” instead of the normal saute-mouton, lexically “jump-sheep”).MOTIF: behind; games.

213.16: (Strike out, strike out, please, Van.): MOTIF: Composition—Ada.

213.17: petting her in Ada’s presence: MOTIF: pet.

213.19: in the woods (“in the woods,”: MOTIF: in the woods.

213.23-31: The three of them . . . divan . . . locked up Lucette . . .  the keyhole turned an angry green: Cf. 373.28-32: “‘at the heel end of the Vaniada divan . . . there was only the closet in which you two locked me up. . . . ’ ‘. . . It had a keyless hole. . . . ’”

213.24-26: on the long-suffering black divan he and Ada could no longer restrain their amorous excitement: MOTIF: divan.

213.25-26: could no longer restrain their amorous excitement: Plays on phrase “could not contain their excitement.” Cf. 122.09: “by your . . . lack of restraint.”

213.26-27: a hide-and-seek game: MOTIF: games.

213.27-28: bound volumes of The Kaluga Waters and The Lugano Sun: Cf. 6.21-22: “that old illustrated section of the still existing but rather gaga Kaluga Gazette”; 128.11-13: “the voluminous Sunday supplements of the papers from Balticomore, and Kaluga, and Luga.” MOTIF: Kaluga newspapers; -uga.

213.27-28: the Kaluga Waters: Cf. 139.09: “They travelled to Kaluga and drank the Kaluga Waters.”

213.29: the child knocked: MOTIF: Lucette knocking.

213.30-31: the keyhole turned an angry green: Combines the color of Lucette’s eyes and the tradition of jealousy as green-eyed: “green-eyed jealousy” (The Merchant of Venice [1596-97], 3.2.110); “jealousy / It is the green-eyed monster” (Othello [1603-04], 3.3.169-70). Cf. also 144.33-34: “the sea-green eye of the bathroom looking-glass could not reach.”

213.30: keyhole turned: In A1, Nabokov notes “turned” as an item for translators to watch. Perhaps this indicates a pun in “keyhole turned” on a key turning in its keyhole?

214.04-05: as they floated downstream in a red boat, toward a drape of willows: Ada later names the boat: “our red boat Souvenance” (406.29-30). Souvenance means “memory,” and underscores the echo of Rimbaud’s poem “Mémoire” (see I.10 and afternote): “appelle / pour rideaux . . . Les robes vertes et déteintes des fillettes / font les saules . . . / ô canot immobile!” “calls up / for curtains . . . / The green faded dresses of girls / make willows . . . / O motionless boat” (trans. Wallace Fowlie, 1966, in Boyd 1985/2001: 318-21). MOTIF: Willow.

214.05-06: on a Ladore islet: MOTIF: Ladore.

214.07: foozle: W2: “a bungling stroke, as in golf.”

214.08: criminally in love with you: MOTIF: incest.

214.09: her uterine brother: Cf. 372.13-15: “‘vaginal brother. . . . ’  Uterine—but close enough.”

214.12: should be protected from nightmares and stallions: Cf. “O lente currite noctis equi! O softly run, nightmares! “(Lolita, II.18, 219). “Stallions” recalls Drongo and his erection, which a very young Ada watches with surprise, 112.23-33.

214.15-16: Perhaps she excites you? Yes?: Yes: 205.25-28: “Lucette’s dewy little contributions augmented rather than dampened Van’s invariable reaction to the only and main girl’s lightest touch.”


Afternote to Part One, Chapter 34

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