Part 1 Chapter 37


At Ardis the Second Van and Ada have been intensely together, even if sometimes, to Van’s frustration, in company with many others, or with just Lucette. Now Van feels the greyness of a whole day without Ada.

He also feels the strangeness of a prolonged scene with his mother, Marina, who thinks he thinks her only his aunt. This scene continues the established comedy of Mlle Larivière’s misdirected suspicion of Van’s overfondness toward Lucette and her blindness toward his actual ardor for Ada, and of Marina’s virtually ignoring her children until she remembers to play her “role” as mother. While Ada has learned ways to silence her mother, “to prevent Marina from appropriating the conversation and transforming it into a lecture on the theater” (62.31-32), Van has not, and after the comedy of his panicked misapprehension that Mlle Lariviére must have seen him with Ada, we witness the comedy of Marina’s unstoppably and skittishly playing the actress, the concerned aunt-mother, the rakish Zemski girl, the jilted woman, the emotional stage sage.

Van’s greyness does not lift on Ada’s return. His suspicion that her trip to Kaluga was more, or less, than a visit to a gynecologist to see whether she is pregnant infects their reunion and his narration, and seems almost confirmed by her false notes in acting the injured party. Van could hardly stop Marina talking; Ada for once has little to say.

The chapter also introduces in passing the theme of the beginning of the Crimean War (Antiterra’s Second Crimean War, that is), which will help shape the near future for Ada and Van, although how is not yet clear: was Van “serious when he said the other day he would enlist at nineteen, the earliest volunteer age” (231-32)?


230.01-11: It was raining. The lawns looked greener . . . Kaluga: Cf. 4.14-15: “drizzly and warm, gauzy and green Kaluga”; 262.31-32: “The night was . . . dripping with what Ladore farmers called green rain.”

230.01-02: raining . . . dull prospect: Cf. 231.04-05: “seemed as dull as the rain.”

230.01-02: the reservoir grayer, in the dull prospect before the library bay window: In contrast to the fiery and torrid outlook from that bay window on the night of the Burning Barn, when Van and Ada first make love (I.19). MOTIF: library (Ardis).

230.03: black training suit, with two yellow cushions: The black divan in the bay window, and its yellow cushions, are central to Ada’s black-yellow motif. MOTIF: black-yellow.

230.03: black training suit: Cf. 234.17-19: “the shortest separation is a kind of training for the Elysian Games. . . And your costume, though very becoming, is, in a sense, traurnïy (funerary).” Note the repeated “training”, and the echo “training . . . traurnïy.” Are we to think of Van in his black training suit as being in training for separation from Ada, in mourning for Ada in advance, as it were?

230.04: reading Rattner on Terra: The first mention of the leading scholar of Terra, “the great Rattner” (317.10); Van will later be elected “to the Rattner Chair of Philosophy in the University of Kingston” (506.25-26).

“Rattner,” although a genuine surname (the surname, for instance, of President Obama’s “Car Czar,” Steven Rattner [1952- ]), is an anagram of “N.T. Terra” or “Antiterra.” Abdel Bouazza notes a character Julius Ratner, “a would-be novelist in Wyndham Lewis’s The Apes of God (1930), ‘a dreadful dull and flat thing,’ as described by VN in his letter of July 23, 1944 to Edmund Wilson [DBDV 154] apropos his dream of Khodasevich and Lewis and Wilson as a hybrid of Churchill and himself” (Nabokv-L, April 23, 2013). (Lewis’s Ratner was based on John Rodker (1894-1955), author of the novella Adolphe 1920 (1929) and a former publisher of Lewis (1882-1957): Mo Cohen, Nabokv-L, April 23, 2013.)

“Rattner” also echoes the name of H.G. Wells’s “The Plattner Story,” in The Plattner Story and Others (1897), which Nabokov, who read Wells avidly as a youth, could have read in his father’s library, whose supplementary catalog (1911) lists this volume (p. 15). “The Plattner Story” describes modern languages teacher (and part-time untrained chemistry teacher) Gottfried Plattner’s being hurled by an explosion into an Other-World for nine days before another explosion there, caused by the same green powder, hurls him back to our world. As the first half of the story emphasizes, in the process he seems to have been rotated through four-dimensional space so that his insides have undergone a mirror-reversal.

The second half of the story focuses on the Other-World into which Plattner reports he was transported. According to Plattner’s account to the narrator, this parallel world, which seems to match our world topologically, is lit by a dim green sun whose rise dims the visions of his home patch of our world. As its sun’s light “grew, the spectral vision of our world became relatively or absolutely fainter. . . . This extinction of our world, when the green sun of this other universe rose, is a curious point upon which Plattner insists.” This other world is filled with globelike drifting heads with tadpole bodies, who observe individuals in our world: “to almost every human being in our world there pertained some of these drifting heads; that everyone in the world is watched intermittently by these helpless disembodiments.”

Wells’s narrator asks: “What are they—these Watchers of the Living? Plattner never learned. But two, that presently found and followed him, were like his childhood's memory of his father and mother. Now and then other faces turned their eyes upon him: eyes like those of dead people who had swayed him, or injured him, or helped him in his youth and manhood. . . . He simply tells this story: he does not endeavour to explain. We are left to surmise who these Watchers of the Living may be, or, if they are indeed the Dead, why they should so closely and passionately watch a world they have left for ever. It may be—indeed to my mind it seems just—that, when our life has closed, when evil or good is no longer a choice for us, we may still have to witness the working out of the train of consequences we have laid. If human souls continue after death, then surely human interests continue after death.” As he draws toward a conclusion, he comments on “this dark
world, with its livid green illumination and its drifting Watchers of the
Living, which, unseen and unapproachable to us, is yet lying all about us” (, accessed March 16, 2013).

The name “Rattner” also nearly scrambles the name of “The Ranter (the usually so sarcastic and captious Chose weekly)” (181.01-02), the newspaper which celebrates Van’s performance as Mascodagama. Just before elaborating on the details of his Mascodagama act, Van reports that “During his first summer vacation, Van worked under Tyomkin, at the Chose famous clinic, on an ambitious dissertation he never completed, ‘Terra: Eremitic Reality or Collective Dream?’ He interviewed numerous neurotics, among whom there were variety artists, and literary men, and at least three intellectually lucid, but spiritually ‘lost,’ cosmologists who either were in telepathic collusion (they had never met and did not even know of one another’s existence) or had discovered, none knew how or where, by means, maybe, of forbidden ‘ondulas’ of some kind, a green world rotating in space and spiraling in time, which in terms of matter-and-mind was like ours and which they described in the same specific details as three people watching from three separate windows would a carnival show in the same street” (182.16-29). This “green world” that Van analyzes at Chose is not identical with Plattner’s, but it seems to bear a close relationship both to Plattner’s and to the beliefs about Terra that Aqua and others succumb to: “Sick minds identified the notion of a Terra planet with that of another world and this ‘Other World’ got confused not only with the ‘Next World’ but with the Real World in us and beyond us” (20.27-30).

Cf. also 283.01-02: “Van was lying in his netted nest under the liriodendrons, reading Antiterrenus on Rattner”; 370.06-08: “‘Rattner on Terra!’ ejaculated Lucette. ‘Van is reading Rattner on Terra. Pet must never, never disturb him and me when we are reading Rattner!’”

MOTIF: Rattner; Rattner on Terra; Terra.

230.04-05: Rattner on Terra, a difficult and depressing work: Cf. 365.06: “old Rattner, resident pessimist of genius”; 416.15-17: “in a nulliverse, in Rattner’s ‘menald world’ where the only principle is random variation.”

230.06: autumnally tocking: As if not emitting the spring-like or spring-caused “tick” of a clock’s tick-tock, and therefore announcing an imminent and early “Fall”? The phrase begins the remarkable tick-tock alliterative run: “autumnally tocking tall clock above the bald pate of tan Tartary.”

230.07-231.27: Tartary . . . old globe . . . As Bout passed by the globe he touched it . . . ‘The world is dusty,’ he said. ‘Blanche should be sent back. . . . ’ . . . Bout’s putting his finger on the rhomboid peninsula where the Allies had just landed . . . Blanch wiping Crimea clean: Cf. 372.33-373.02: “‘But you remember the globe?’ Dusty Tartary with Cinderella’s finger rubbing the place where the invader would fall.”

230.07: Tartary as represented on a large old globe: Cf. 20.03-06, on Aqua’s hopes of escape: “Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive . . . But her real destination was Terra the Fair.” Cf. also 181.13-14: “a large Good-will Circus Company that had come from Tartary just then (i.e., on the eve of the Crimean War)”; 303.08-09: “do you happen to have Percy de Prey’s address? I mean we all know he’s invading Tartary”; 373.01-02: “Dusty Tartary with Cinderella’s finger rubbing the place where the invader would fall.” MOTIF: Tartary.

230.09-10: an unfashionable belted macintosh that he disliked: No wonder: he associates it with Cordula de Prey, “who wore a ‘garbotosh’ (belted mackintosh) over her terribly unsmart turtle” (165.03-04) when she acted the part of Ada’s chaperone on Van’s visit to Ada at Brownhill College. The “garbotosh,” with its implication of Greta Garbo’s supposed lesbianism, recalls, ominously, Van’s jealousy of one of the de Preys. MOTIF: Brownhill.

230.11-12: officially to try on some clothes, unofficially to consult . . . the gynecologist Seitz: Because her period is late starting (235.10-11), Ada fears she may be pregnant.

230.12-15: Dr. Krolik’s cousin, the gynecologist Seitz (or “Zayats,” as she transliterated him mentally since it also belonged, as Dr. “Rabbit” did, to the leporine group in Russian pronunciation): Krolik is Russian for “rabbit”; the German pronunciation of “Seitz,” a genuine German name, is a homophone of zayats, the Russian for “hare.” (See 55.24n for Krolik’s name as derived in part from the lepidopterist Adalbert Seitz.) Rabbits are notoriously fecund breeders; Ada will prove to be infertile (cf. 219.02). The Kyoto Reading Circle notes: “Rabbits were used to test pregnancy. Developed in 1927 by Bernhard Zondek and Selmar Aschheim, the test ‘consisted of injecting the tested woman’s urine into a female rabbit, then examining the rabbit’s ovaries a few days later, which would change in response to a hormone only secreted by pregnant women.’( This became the basis for modern pregnancy tests which no longer require rabbits or other test animals. Thus, the rabbit motif relates to the question of Ada’s possible pregnancy.”

Russian zayats not only means literally “hare,” but also has the colloquial senses of “stowaway” and “gatecrasher.” Krolik is in a sense a gatecrasher on Van’s idyll with Ada at Ardis; Percy de Prey, whom Ada is in fact seeing, will certainly be a gatecrasher of the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday.

MOTIF: Krolik.

230.15: leporine: “Of a rabbit or hare,” from Latin lepus, leporis, a hare.

230.15-17: Van was positive that not once during a month of love-making had he failed to take all necessary precautions: Nevertheless Ada may be aware that Percy de Prey has been less careful.

230.18-20: sheath-like contraceptive device: Condom, or “sheath.” Cf. 275.24-25: “the transparent, tubular thing, not unlike a sea-squirt.”

230.19-20: only barber-shops, for some odd but ancient reason, were allowed to sell: Indeed, condoms have frequently been available through barber-shops.

231.01-05: Rattner, who halfheartedly denied any objective existence to the sibling planet in his text, but grudgingly accepted it in obscure notes (inconveniently placed between chapters): The uncertain status of Terra in Rattner, and the relation of that uncertainty to the book Van is reading, resembles the fluctuatingly uncertain status of Terra and Antiterra within the book we are reading. MOTIF: Rattner; sibling planet; Terra.

231.05-06: pencil lines . . . larch plantation: Cf. 45.22: “the inkline of larches.” MOTIF: larch

231.06: a larch plantation: Cf. 129.13-14: “deep in the larchwood which closed the park on the steep side of the rocky rise between Ardis and Ladore.”

231.06-07: a larch plantation, borrowed, Ada contended, from Mansfield Park: Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (see also 8.25-28n), ch. 9: “The door, however, proved not to be locked, and they were all agreed in turning joyfully through it, and leaving the unmitigated glare of day behind. A considerable flight of steps landed them in the wilderness, which was a planted wood of about two acres, and though chiefly of larch and laurel, and beech cut down, and though laid out with too much regularity, was darkness and shade, and natural beauty, compared with the bowling-green and the terrace.” There is no other mention of larches in Mansfield Park: the prompt here to the curious reader of Ada resembles Nabokov’s notorious exam questions for his Cornell students, like “Describe the wallpaper in the Karenins’ bedroom” (VNAY 358), which is also mentioned only once in Tolstoy’s novel. The Kyoto Reading Circle notes that in Lectures on Literature, Nabokov’s map of Sotherton Court, reproduced on p. 31, shows “The Wilderness”: “a little planted wood, two acres of larch and laurel, about half a mile long.” In an interview, Nabokov comments: “Without a visual perception of the larch labyrinth in Mansfield Park that novel loses some of its stereographic charm” (SO 157).

Ada has obliquely referenced Mansfield Park in I.1 (see 8.25-28 and n.).

MOTIF: novel.

231.08-09: At ten minutes to five, Bout quietly came in with a lighted kerosene lamp: It really must be a dark day for 4:50 p.m. in early July at the latitude of Ardis for a lamp to be needed. For the proleptic implications of the kerosene lamp, see the Afternote to the Annotations to I.36.

231.10-11: As Bout passed by the globe he touched it and looked with disapproval at his smudged finger. “The world is dusty,” he said. “Blanche should be sent back to her native village”: Bout points out Blanche’s failure as housemaid to clean the globe, but his real motive for seeking her dismissal is that he has been jilted by her. Cf. (given 230.07: “Tartary as represented on a large old globe”); 373.01-02: “Dusty Tartary with Cinderella’s finger rubbing the place where the invader would fall.” (Blanche is repeatedly “Cendrillon.”)

231.12-13: Elle est folle et mauvaise, cette fille: Darkbloom: “she is insane and evil [, this girl].”

231.16: from the black divan: MOTIF: divan.

231.19-28: recalling . . . handkerchiefs: Elements that feed into Van’s ten-minute dream include Bout’s reference to Blanche and her village, Tourbière, his message from Marina, Bout’s finger on the globe and his implication that Blanche should have dusted it. MOTIF: dream; replay.

231.21-22: Mlle Ada had again refused to give her a lift to “Beer Tower”: The morning after Blanche’s disclosure to Van of Ada’s infidelity, Van will give Blanche a lift to Tourbière. In the last Scrabble game in the previous chapter, Ada has refused to allow Lucette’s “Kremlin” combination and came up herself with “Torfyanaya, or as Blanche says, La Tourbière” (228.08).

231.22: “Beer Tower,” as local jokers called her poor village: Darkbloom: “pun on ‘Tourbière,’”—which, although it means peaty, can be decomposed into French tour, “tower” and bière, “beer.” It is a damp enough village not to need a water tower. MOTIF: tower .

231.22: her poor village: Cf. 228.09-10: “the pretty but rather damp village where our cendrillon’s family lives.”

231.24-28: even when he recalled Bout’s putting his finger on the rhomboid peninsula where the Allies had just landed (as proclaimed by the Ladore newspaper spread-eagled on the library table), he still clearly saw Blanche wiping Crimea clean with one of Ada’s lost handkerchiefs: Just as recent reality and dream fuse here, so Blanche’s real activity (her opening of the toolroom door) will mingle with Van’s nightmare (“recognized the slight creak (that had been a scream in his confused nightmare)” (292.10-12)) just before she discloses Ada’s infidelity to Van, on his and her last night at Ardis.

231.25-27: the rhomboid peninsula . . . wiping Crimea clean: Crimea is indeed a roughly rhomboid peninsula. On Earth the Crimean War lasted from 1853 to 1856, with the Allies (the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Piedmont-Sardinia) pitted against Russia. The Franco-British expeditionary force landed in the Crimea on 14 September 1854. On Antiterra, the war announced here is the second Crimean War (cf. the 1888 note, 309.13-14: “a toothless old cripple, veteran of the first Crimean War”). Nabokov himself lived through—and in April 1919 narrowly escaped with his family from the dangers of—a second Crimean War of sorts, the civil war between Red and White Russian armies, in which his cousin Baron Yuri Rausch von Traubenberg was killed (see SM 250-51 for VN’s near-involvement in the civil war, and his family’s escape, and SM 200 for Yuri’s death).

For the combination of the Crimean War and newspapers, see 329.04-05: “a newspaper that said in reversed characters ‘Crimea Capitulates.’”

231.26: the Ladore newspaper spread-eagled: Suggests also the spread eagle of the flag of the Russian empire, “the Russian bicephalous eagle” (EO, 3:320). MOTIF: ladore.

231.26-27: on the library table: MOTIF: library (Ardis).

231.27-28: Blanche wiping Crimea clean with one of Ada’s lost handkerchiefs: Cf. the lost slipper of Blanche as Cinderella (114.16-17), and Ada’s lost garter (218.07-09), a sign of her infidelity in early spring with Philip Rack (see 218.07-24n), and “a crumpled little handkerchief” apparently left on the piano top by Ada during a more recent scene with Rack (243.01). MOTIF: Cinderella.

231.30: her wretched pupil: Lucette.

231.30-31: speeches from the horrible “Berenice”: Tragedy (first performed 1670) by Jean Racine (1639-1699). Nabokov expresses his distaste for the French neoclassical drama that his French governess, Cécile Miauton, would recite with him, in SM 108: “the ghastly Jézabel of Racine's absurd play”; SM 113: “Ought one to have minded the shallowness of her culture, the bitterness of her temper, the banality of her mind, when that pearly language of hers purled and scintillated, as innocent of sense as the alliterative sins of Racine's pious verse?”

231.31: contralto croak . . . completely expressionless little voice: Mlle Larivière’s contralto (the lowest female voice), Lucette’s little voice. Presumably Mlle Larivière takes especially the role of Titus, emperor of Rome, and Lucette the role of his beloved Bérénice, the foreign queen he renounces because of his duty to Rome. Lucette will develop rapidly in this as in other respects: not one to boast, she assesses herself by 1892, after Ada has determined in an acting career, as “a better actress than she” (386.31-32).

231.32-33: Blanche or rather Marina: Van is still half in the throes of his dream.

231.33-232.01: Marina probably wished to know if he had been serious when he said the other day he would enlist at nineteen, the earliest volunteer age: Cf. SM 250-51: “during the latter half of my sixteen-month stay in the Crimea, I planned for so long a time to join Denikin's army, with the intention not so much of clattering astride a chamfrained charger into the cobbled outskirts of St. Petersburg (my poor Yuri's dream) as of reaching Tamara in her Ukrainian hamlet, that the army ceased to exist by the time I had made up my mind.” Nabokov would have been 19 during the time when he was considering this.

Cf. Demon speaking, and inadvertently disclosing more than Van wants to hear: 244.34-245.03: “By the way, the de Prey woman tells me her son has enlisted and will soon be taking part in that deplorable business abroad which our country should have ignored. I wonder if he leaves any rivals behind?”

232.02-04: the confusion of two realities, one in single, the other in double, quotes, was a symptom of impending insanity: Cf. 220.01: “Reality, better say, lost the quotes it wore like claws.”

232.05: Naked-faced, dull-haired: In other words, without make-up or hair dye, now that Pedro is not around to entice. The next time Marina has to appear before another man, even if it’s only her old flame Demon, she will sport “strawberry-blond dyed hair, . . . and melodramatic make-up, with too much ochre and maroon in it” (251.04-06).

232.05: her oldest kimono: Cf. 298.10: “Marina, in kimono and curlers.”

232.09: chayku: Darkbloom: “Russ., tea (diminutive).”

232.11: her freckled hand: Cf. 105.25-28: “Ada explained to her passionate fortuneteller that the circular marblings she shared with Turgenev’s Katya, another innocent girl, were called ‘waltzes’ in California (‘because the señorita will dance all night’).”

232.11-12: the ivanilich (a kind of sighing old hassock upholstered in leather): Darkbloom: “a pouf plays a marvelous part in Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich [1886], where it sighs deeply under a friend of the window’s.” Proffer 263: “In Tolstoy’s story ‘The Death of Ivan Ilich,’ a friend comes to pay his respects to the dead Ivan Ilich, and he sits on a hassock the lewd springs of which fight his behind.” In LRL 238, VN, who taught it at Cornell, calls the story “Tolstoy’s most artistic, most perfect, and most sophisticated achievement.” From section I of the story, in the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation: “Peter Ivanovich sighed still more deeply and despondently, and Praskovya Fedorovna pressed his arm gratefully. When they reached the drawing-room, upholstered in pink cretonne and lighted by a dim lamp, they sat down at the table—she on a sofa and Peter Ivanovich on a low pouffe, the springs of which yielded spasmodically under his weight. Praskovya Fedorovna had been on the point of warning him to take another seat, but felt that such a warning was out of keeping with her present condition and so changed her mind. As he sat down on the pouffe Peter Ivanovich recalled how Ivan Ilych had arranged this room and had consulted him regarding this pink cretonne with green leaves. The whole room was full of furniture and knick-knacks, and on her way to the sofa the lace of the widow's black shawl caught on the edge of the table. Peter Ivanovich rose to detach it, and the springs of the pouffe, relieved of his weight, rose also and gave him a push. The widow began detaching her shawl herself, and Peter Ivanovich again sat down, suppressing the rebellious springs of the pouffe under him. But the widow had not quite freed herself and Peter Ivanovich got up again, and again the pouffe rebelled and even creaked. When this was all over she took out a clean cambric handkerchief and began to weep. The episode with the shawl and the struggle with the pouffe had cooled Peter Ivanovich's emotions and he sat there with a sullen look on his face.”

Cf. Demon at 241.17-19: “I might try to buy it [Ardis, for Van]. I can exert a certain pressure upon my Marina. She sighs like a hassock when you sit upon her, so to speak.”

Given that death is so strongly present in Tolstoy’s story, is there some kind of association being made, via her hassock, between Marina and death? She certainly stresses death herself a few minutes later: “gray years, black decades, and then the opéra bouffe of the Christians’ eternity. I think even the shortest separation is a kind of training for the Elysian Games—who said that? I said that” (234.15-18). Her death from cancer, and Van’s last meeting with her, and his premonitory dream of her death, feature at 451-52 and again at 583-84.

232.15-16: the cousinage-dangereux-voisinage adage—I mean ‘adage,’ I always fluff that word: Darkbloom: “cousinhood is dangerous neighborhood.” Marina pronounces “adage” first in the French mode, with a longer initial a, reminiscent of her Russian pronunciation of “Ada.”

The adage occurs in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Bk 1 Pt 1 Chapter 9. Observing the strong attachment between Sonya Rostova and her cousin Nicholas Rostov, Princess Anna Mikhaylovna comments “Cousinage-dangereux voisinage.” The question of Nicholas Rostov’s enlisting for the Russian army to fight against Napoleon has just been the focus of discussion.

For the echo of Mrs Norris in Austen’s Mansfield Park warning against the danger of Fanny Price marrying one of her Bertram cousins should she brought to join them at Mansfield Park, see 8.25-28 and n. See also Rachel Trousdale, “Incest and Intertext: Mansfield Park in Ada” (Nabokovian 61 (Fall 2008), 48-52).

But in fact “Far from being frowned on, cousin marriage—along with other versions of intermarriage among kin—was commonplace in the nineteenth century. Adam Kuper brings an anthropologist’s understanding to what he calls ‘one of the great neglected themes’ of social and literary history: the preference of the English bourgeoisie for marriage with relatives. Emma [Wedgwood’s] brother Joe had already married Charles [Darwin’s] sister Caroline. Wedgwoods and Darwins were to go on marrying each other for more than a century.” Norma Clarke, “Dark corners” (review of Adam Kuper, Incest and Influence: The private life of bourgeois England, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press), Times Literary Supplement, 22 Jan 2010, p. 12.

MOTIF: Ada; family relationship.

232.16-17: complained qu’on s’embrassait dans tous les coins: Darkbloom: “kissing went on in every corner.”

232.21-22: I’m the well-known beggar in the saddest of all stories: Presumably invented. Cf. 281.32-282.02: “Van chided himself for having attempted to use a little pauper instead of the princess in the fairy tale—‘whose precious flesh must not blush with the impression of a chastising hand,’ says Pierrot in Peterson’s version.” MOTIF: fairy-tale.

232.23: Erunda (nonsense): Darkbloom: “Russ., nonsense.” Stressed on the last syllable.

232.27: Azov, a Russian humorist: A Nabokovian challenge to find the joke. Perhaps: a) aza, the plural of az, the Slavonic name of the latter a, colloquially means “ABC, elements, rudiments,” while nachinat’ s azov means “to begin at the beginning” (a reference to the attempted etymology of erunda that follows?), and ne aza ne znat’ means “not to know the first thing about” (which is true of this Azov’s absurd etymology); b) Azov is a port town near (and therefore “in the neighborhood of”: cf. voisinage) Rostov on the Don (and gave its name to the Sea of Azov, an important battle zone in the Crimean War), whose name matches the Rostov cousins in War and Peace who prompted the “Cousinage-dangereux voisinage” remark (see 232.15 and n. above).

232.28: from the German hier und da: Darkbloom: “Germ., here and there.” The proposed etymology is itself nonsense. The agreed etymology is from Lat. gerundium (see A.G. Preobrazhensky, Etymological Dictionary of the Russian Language, New York: Columbia University Press, 1951).

232.28-29: neither here nor there: Cf. 445.02-03: “Yes, right, here and there, not neither here, nor there, as most things are.”

232.29-30: Ada is a big girl, and big girls, alas, have their own worries: Cf. 134.29-31: “Upon his release he [Ivan Ivanov] proposed to make honorable amends by marrying Daria, now a buxom lass with problems of her own” (another story of much wilder incest). Marina’s comment is only a platitude (“Worries of her own? Of her mother’s automatic making? A casual banality?” (235.12-13)); she does not know of the worries Ada has from her period’s being late. For “worries,” see 234.26, 234.28, 235.02, 235.12.

232.30-31: Mlle Larivière meant Lucette, of course. Van, those soft games must stop: Continues the joke of Mlle Larivière’s being an unobservant novelist, blind to the rampant romance of Van and Ada, and supposing the romance is between Van and her charge, Lucette. MOTIF: Larivière unobservant.

232.32-33: delikatno: Proffer 263: “delicately.”

232.33: budding little woman: Probably more than conventional imagery of budding as adolescence and flowering as womanhood. Van writes of Ada, at 12, Lucette’s age now: “the soft woggle of her bud-breasts” (60.15), and of her at 16:
“Her breasts were pretty, pale and plump, but somehow he had preferred the little soft swellings of the earlier girl with their formless dull buds” (217.16-18).

232.33: A propos de coins: French, “A propos of corners.”

232.34-233.04: in Griboedov’s Gore ot uma, ‘How stupid to be so clever,’ a play in verse, written, I think, in Pushkin’s time, the hero reminds Sophie of their childhood games, and says: // How oft we sat together in a corner / And what harm might there be in that?: The Russian writer and diplomat Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboedov (1795-1829) composed the comedy in verse Gore ot uma in 1823, one of the masterpieces of Russian literature. Not approved for censorship, but widely circulated from 1825, it was not published in full until 1861. Like the play itself, the title poses translators problem by its elegant compactness: it has been variously translated as Woe from Wit, The Woes of Wit, Wit Works Woe, The Misfortune of Being So Clever, The Misery of Having a Mind, and could be literally rendered Grief from Mind. Griboedov was not only a contemporary but a friend of Pushkin (1799-1837), as Russians more widely cultured than Marina would usually know.

Proffer 264: “In Act 1, Scene 7 of A.S. Griboedov’s verse comedy Woe from Wit (1825), the hero, [Alexander] Chatsky, says to Sophia [Famusov] in two hexameters: “It would often happen we’d be in the dark corner and what harm might here be in that! / Do you remember? We’d tremble, afraid the table would squeak, the door . . . ”// The possibility for double entendre is clear.”

Act I ll. 342-44 read: “CHATSKIY: My v tyomnom ugolke, i kazhetsa, chto v etom! / Vy pomnite? Vzdrognyom, chut’ skripnet stolik, dver’. . . SOFIYA: Rebyachestvo!” (Sofiya’s response: “Childish stuff!”)

233.05: have another spot, Van?: Cf. 232.09: “have a spot of chayku.”

233.06-07: he shook his head, simultaneously lifting his hand, like his father: MOTIF: family resemblance.

233.10-11: rehearsing that scene with Kachalov: rehearsing Act I, Scene 7 of Gore ot uma. Vasily Ivanovich Kachalov (1875-1948) was a leading actor of the Moscow Art Theater from 1900, renowned for the musicality and magnetism of his voice. Among his most famous roles were Chatsky in 1906, a role revived in 1914 (when VN could have seen him) and in 1938, and his Tuzenbakh in Three Sisters in 1902 (see 235.117 and 235.14-18n. below). According to the Bol’shaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopedia, “His performances in the plays of A. P. Chekhov and M. Gorky made him the favorite actor of the Russian democratic intelligentsia” (,+Vasilii). Nabokov’s father, V.D. Nabokov, an avid theatergoer who wrote a memoir-essay on his own engagement with the theater, “belonged to the Russian émigré community in Berlin which welcomed a splinter group of the Moscow Art Theater under the leadership of Vasilii Kachalov (see Michaela Böhmig, Das russische Theater, 1919-1931 (Munich: Otto Sagner, 1990), 74)” (Siggy Frank, Nabokov’s Theatrical Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012, 19). Shortly after the arrival of this forty-strong group, on October 1, 1921, V.D. Nabokov helped form the Committee to Organize the Reception of the Moscow Art Theater. The actors remained in Berlin at least until mid-March, 1922. The Moscow Art Theatre returned again to Berlin, with Kachalov playing lead roles, for a performance on November 28, 1922 and another on July 1, 1930 (under Kachalov’s direction), when VN was certainly in Berlin (Karl Schlögel, Katharina Kucher, Bernhard Suchy and Gregor Thum, eds., Chronik russischen Lebens in Deutschland 1918-1941, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999).

233.11: the Seagull Theater: A seagull became the emblem of the Moscow Art Theater (Moskovskiy Khudostvenniy Teatr), founded in 1898 by the director Konstantin Sergeevich Stanislavsky (1863-1938) and Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko (1858-1943), in honor of the astonishing impact of their première production of Chekhov’s Chayka (The Seagull), on 29 December 1898, regarded as “one of the greatest events in the history of Russian theatre and one of the greatest new developments in the history of world drama" (Konstantin Rudnitsky, Meyerhold the Director, trans. George Petrov, ed. Sydney Schultze, 1981, 8 (revised transl. of Rezhisser Meyerkhol'd, Moscow: Academy of Sciences, 1969); Jean Benedetti, Stanislavski: An Introduction; 1982; rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1999: 85).

For Chekhov’s play, see 272.05-10.

233.11: Yukonsk: See 134.15n; a kind of Antiterran Moscow, to judge by its frequent recurrence. MOTIF: Yukonsk.

233.11-12: Stanislavski, Konstantin Sergeevich: The great theatre director and theorist and founder of the acting method that bears his name. See 233.11n; Marina’s rendering of the surname followed by first name and patronymic is standard in Russian.

233.15-19: The dog . . . Dackelophobia: Cf. 61.02-06: “Dack, the golden-brown stoat, under the table. . . (Van secretly disliked dogs, especially at meals, and especially that smallish longish freak with a gamey breath).” MOTIF: dackel.

233.15-16: Vanward: MOTIF: Van.

233.20-25: But girls—do you like girls Van . . . . I adore girls: Cf. with his mother’s question about his sexuality, and Van’s response, Demon’s concerned question, and Van’s response, in the next chapter, 244.08-16.

233.21: You are not a pederast, like your poor uncle, are you?: Cf. Uncle Dan “in the act of making his evening plans with the same smelly but nice cicerone” (5.26-27). Dan’s sexual urges, although rarely satisfyingly fulfilled, extend in numerous directions: toward his daughter Lucette, for instance, or the nurse Bellabestia, “whom he preferred to all others . . . because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of ‘play-zero’ (as the old whore called it)” (435.19-21). Ardis, Dan’s manor, has been recorded “in a century-old lithograph . . . by Peter de Rast” (212.28-29).

233.21-22: We have had some dreadful perverts in our ancestry: Apart from her own generation (Dan, with his varied interests, Demon, with his developing attraction to young and younger females), the other known example is Prince Vseslav Zemski, a “rosebud-lover” (43.07) who marries a “barely pubescent bride” (43.05) and has a tape recorder “for every bed of his harem of schoolgirls” (147.11); see also 233.30-33 below.

233.25: I had my first one when I was fourteen. Mais qui me rendra mon Hélène? She had raven black hair and a skin like skimmed milk: Van did indeed have his first girl when he was fourteen (33.09: “fourteen and a virgin”), the “fubsy pig-pink whorelet” (33.17) of the corner shop near Riverlane, but he has in mind Ada, whom he “had” the same year, and in whose honor the “qui me rendra mon Aline . . . mon Adèle” (“who will give me back my Aline . . . my Adele [or my Helen]”) variations (138.01-139.04) become his theme tune, and who is emphatically raven-haired and white skinned. Van’s saying “raven black hair” slyly toys with Marina, since Ada’s hair color takes after that of her father, “Raven Veen” (4.24), who in the next chapter, now that, presumably, he has begun to go grey at fifty, is described: “His hair was dyed a raven black, his teeth were hound-white” (238.08-09). Van in a sense discloses to Marina, in a way that she cannot see, that he loves Ada and knows she too is Demon’s child and his sister. MOTIF: black-white; Oh, qui me rendra.

233.27-28: I kazhetsya chto v etom?: The line from Griboedov’s play (233.08), repeated, in the sense “And what harm might there be in that?” (233.04).

233.30-31: The Zemskis were terrible rakes (razvratniki), one of them loved small girls: Prince Vseslav Zemski: see 233.21-22n.

233.32-33: another raffolait d’une de ses juments: Darkbloom: “was crazy about one of his mares.” Which ancestor felt this way the rest of Ada leaves unspecified. An echo, surely, of the legend of Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796): “A common story states that she died as a result of her voracious sexual appetite while attempting sexual intercourse with a stallion—the story holds that the harness holding the horse above her broke, and she was crushed.” (, accessed 20 March 2013).

Cf. Ada’s comment, provoked by her caterpillars: “Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe (I’m crazy about everything that crawls)” (54.24-25), which later takes additional overtones: “Although Van had never had the occasion to witness anything close to virginal revolt on the part of Ada—not an easily frightened or overfastidious little girl (‘Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe’)” (97.09-12). Cf. perhaps also the sexuality of the horse Drongo, as noticed by innocent young Ada: “She thought, arch Ada said (how truthfully, was another question), that a foal was dangling, with one black rubber leg free, out of Drongo’s belly because she did not understand that Drongo was not a mare at all” (112.27-30).

MOTIF: raffole . . . ramp . . . crawl.

234.02-03: I could never understand how heredity is transmitted by bachelors: Is Marina thinking of something (what?) that Van has inherited from his uncle, and her brother, Ivan? A gene earlier in a bachelor’s family line can of course easily appear in the offspring of his siblings, who may transmit the same gene (even if its not expressed in them) from one of their parents.

234.03-04: unless genes can jump like chess knights. I almost beat you, last time we played: MOTIF: games.

234.07: stilizovanï: MOTIF: Van.

234.07-8: your father . . . an irresistible and hateful man: Cf. 237.10-13: “When Marina, in the late Eighteen-Nineties, in her miserable dotage, used to ramble on, with embarrassing and disgusting details, about dead Demon’s ‘crimes.’”

234.15: and later it’s months, gray years, black decades: Although Van in particular tends to dismiss Marina, her skittery talk here anticipates the accelerating tempo of the latter part of Van’s memoir, and perhaps echoes the “black rainbow” of Van and Ada’s first separation (160.04-05).

234.17: the opéra bouffe of the Christian’s eternity: Marina becomes “irrevocably consecrated . . . to the ultimate wisdom of Hinduism” (451.13-15). Van himself will later note the problem with any kind of mortal eternity: “Van pointed out that here was the rub—one is free to imagine any type of hereafter, of course: the generalized paradise promised by Oriental prophets and poets, or an individual combination; but the work of fancy is handicapped—to a quite hopeless extent—by a logical ban: you cannot bring your friends along—or your enemies for that matter—to the party” (586.03-08).

234.17: opéra bouffe: W2: “Light comic opera with a preponderance of buffoonery or burlesque.” Kyoto Reading Circle: “late 19th-century comic French operettas so-named because many were performed at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens.”

234.16-18: even the shortest separation is a kind of training for the Elysian Games: Apart from the amusing imagery of training and the twist from Olympian to Elysian Games, a commonplace. Cf. Demon: “Partit c’est mourir un peu, et mourir c’est partir un peu trop” (261.32). Cf. also, for example, Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Bk. 9 Ch, 8: “every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, and every absence which follows, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make”; George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life: The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton (1857), Bk 1, Ch. 10: “in every parting there is an image of death.”

234.22: a beautiful, practically new Peruvian scarf, which he left behind: “He” is Pedro, whom Marina “had brought from Mexico” (197.09) and who “had suddenly left for Rio” (232.06).

234.26-235.02: Ada came back just before dinnertime. Worries? He met her as she climbed rather wearily the grand staircase. . . Worries? . . . . No worries?”: Van recollects Marina’s “Ada is a big girl, and big girls, alas, have their own worries” (232.29-30). But the scene also echoes the staircase scene in Mansfield Park: cf. 249.01-05: Marina remarks that compared “‘to the local girls, to Grace Erminin, for example, or Cordula de Prey, Ada is a Turgenevian maiden or even a Jane Austen miss.’ ‘I’m Fanny Price, actually,’ commented Ada. ‘In the staircase scene,’ added Van.” Cf. Mansfield Park, Ch. 27(Vol. 2, Ch. 9): “she saw across the lobby she had just reached Edmund himself, standing at the head of a different staircase. He came towards her. ‘You look tired and fagged, Fanny. You have been walking too far.’”

234.28-33: Worries? She smelled of tobacco . . . or else because (and this she did not say) her unknown lover was a heavy smoker, his open red mouth full of rolling blue fog: Percy de Prey will be associated repeatedly with Turkish tobacco. Cf. 260.12-17: “Van remarked: ‘I think I’ll take an Alibi—I mean an Albany—myself.’ ‘Please note, everybody,’ said Ada, ‘how voulu that slip was! I like a smoke when I go mushrooming, but when I’m back, this horrid tease insists I smell of some romantic Turk or Albanian met in the woods.” MOTIF: Turkish tobacco.

235.01: Tout est bien?: Darkbloom: “everything is all right.”

235.01: after a sketchy kiss: Because Ada turns away, conscious that her mouth smells of smoke? Because Van is already suspicious?

235.01-02: “No worries?”: Van asks about her possible pregnancy, although he has on his mind his jealousy about her, while Ada has other worries about ending the affair with Percy.

235.08: Tant mieux: Darkbloom: “so much the better.”

235.10-11: In fact the blessed thing started on the way home: I.e. her period: the worry of pregnancy, at least, is allayed for the moment. A1: “monthlies.”

235.12: Worries of her own?: Cf. 232.29-30.

235.14-18: “Ada!” . . . “What?” “Tuzenbakh, not knowing what to say: ‘I have not had coffee today. Tell them to make me some.’ Quickly walks away”: Darkbloom: “Tuzenbakh: Van recites the last words of the unfortunate Baron in Chekhov’s Three Sisters who does not know what to say but feels urged to say something to Irina before going to fight his fatal duel.” Proffer 264 draws attention to the fact that in effect the quotation begins even earlier: “This parallels and is partly a direct quotation from Act Four of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Tuzenbakh (upset). No, no! (Quickly moves away, stops in the alley of trees.) Irina!
Irina. What!
Tuzenbakh (not knowing what to say.) I have not had coffee today. Tell them to make me some. . . . (Quickly walks away.)

Three Sisters (written 1900, premiered 1901 at the Moscow Art Theatre, directed by Stanislavsky—see 233.11n—and Nemirovich-Danchenko, with Stanislavsky as Vershinin) will recur at some length in a report of a production of Four Sisters (427.04-430.27) which provides Marina’s last, and Ada’s first, professional stage roles. At 427.29-32, Ada reporting: “our wretched Yakima production could rely on only two Russians, Stan’s protégé Altshuler in the role of Baron Nikolay Lvovich Tuzenbach-Krone-Altschauer, and myself as Irina.” Ada’s account of the production ends with her comment: “All poor Starling had to do in the play was to hollo off stage from a rowboat on the Kama River to give the signal for my fiancé to come to the dueling ground” (430.25-28). The ending of another Chekhov play, Uncle Vanya (1897) has already been echoed, in conjunction with Van’s jealousy at Percy de Prey and his tearing apart the diamond necklace he has brought Ada: “or at the worst we shall live quietly, you as my housekeeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, ‘we shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds.’ ‘Did you find them all, Uncle Van?’ she inquired, sighing, laying her dolent head on his shoulder.” (193.25-29).

235.15: before unlocking her (always locked) door: Cf. 54.10-11: “‘it’s in the room next to mine’ (which he never saw, never—how odd, come to think of it!).” Her always locking her door takes on a new threat in this atmosphere of suspicion.

Afternote to Part One, Chapter 37


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