Part I Chapter 39


In deciding to revisit Ardis in the summer of 1888, Van has wanted to recapture the magic and relive the thrill of his first summer with Ada in 1884. Nothing else that happens at Ardis in 1888 offers a more complete revival of the past than the picnic for Ada’s birthday. Not only are the occasion and location the same, and many of the personnel, but another chance combination of departures means that Van has once again to sit with a sister on his lap on the little carriage taking them back to the manor. Even if this time it is Lucette rather than Ada perched on his lap, Van can relive in memory the first picnic ride, and the thrill of his first prolonged contact with Ada.

But despite the replay of the past, time has also marched on. Van and Ada are lovers, and slip off to make love while the picnic is being readied in the glade. Lucette has become an insatiably curious spy, and secretly observes them in flagrante. Greg Erminin again turns up, still hopelessly and meekly infatuated with Ada, but a more dangerous new rival to Van gatecrashes the party, the burly, drunken Percy de Prey, ready to challenge Van in a fight and perhaps even in a duel. Van oscillates between anxious antagonism toward Percy and security in his power over Percy’s body and Ada’s heart.


266.01-282.32: Although fairly eclectic . . . out of the carriage: Cf. the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday, in 1884, Pt. 1 Ch. 13. MOTIF: replay

266.03: her birthday: July 21, 1888.

266.04: maize-yellow: The “maize” anticipates Ada’s referring to her “husking” her trousers off, 267.02-6. Cf. 281.08-09: “husked-corn (laughing) trousers.”

266.06: country comfort: Possibly echoes Hamlet’s famous and obscene quip, just before the performance of the play-within-the-play:

Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap? Ophelia: No, my lord.
Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ophelia: Ay, my lord.
Hamlet: Do you think I meant country matters?
Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.
Hamlet: That's a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs. (Hamlet, 3.2.112-19)

Cf. also Mansfield Park, ch. 48: “country pleasures.”

266.10: “creepers”: Sneakers (because “sneak up” and “creep up” can be synonymous?). W2 lists creepers (sense 6d) as an equivalent of “sneakers.”

266.12: sun gouts: Cf. 86.20: “Hot gouts of sun.” MOTIF: gouts.

266.12: the traditional pine glade: Traditional for Ada’s birthday, since it occurs in high summer (cf. 79.08-09: “the picnic site, a picturesque glade in an old pinewood”); traditional also in novels, perhaps (there is a frequent tone of parodic narrative complacency in this chapter); and traditional for the Nabokov family. In a written interview with Andrew Field (1970), Nabokov notes that “the festive picnics” in his family’s Russian past “are depicted in ADA (with some incrustations, of course).” Although VN’s father had the same birthday as Ada, the closest of the festive occasions was the namesday on July 15 (Old Style) of three Sergeys (VN’s uncle, cousin and brother) and two Vladimirs (his father and himself).

At 392.34, the glade is named for the first and only time as “Pinedale.”

266.12: the wild girl:  Cf. 393.29: “Two unrelated gypsy courtesans, a wild girl in a gaudy lolita . . . ”; 416.14-15: “I am only a pale wild girl with gipsy hair in a deathless ballad.”

266.13-14: a few moments of ravenous ardor in a ferny ravine: Note not only the play on ravenous . . . ravine, but also the hint of Demon (“Raven”) Veen, and of Ada Veen in ardour . . . ravine. Cf. 79.08-09: “a picturesque glade in an old pinewood cut by ravishingly lovely ravines.” Note how the sound-play in each introduction to the picnic, in 1884 and 1888, closely echoes yet also pointedly varies in ways that mark the change in Van and Ada’s relations. Cf. also 286.21-22: “sly demon smile of remembered or promised ardour.” MOTIF: Ada, the ardors and arbors of Ardis; Veen

266.14-15: a rill . . . tall burnberry bushes: Cf. 83.32-33: “the Redmont rill (running just below the glade from a hill above Ardis).” The location is later identified (by retrospecting Van at least) as “Burnberry Brook” (286.24).

266.15: burnberry bushes: Cf. 85.03-04: “angry burnberry bush.” MOTIF: burnberry.

266.16: cicada: With another play on “Ada,” coming so soon after “a few moments of ravenous ardour” (266.13-14)? MOTIF: Ada.

266.17: Speaking as a character in an old novel: MOTIF: novel.

266.18-20: since I used to play word-games here with Grace and two other lovely girls: As the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, in I.13, “on her twelfth birthday picnic, there were only three girls. Ada played the word-game with Lucette and Grace. The fourth girl in her memory is Greg: the latter then ‘put on his sister’s blue skirt, hat and glasses, all of which transformed him into a very sick, mentally retarded Grace’ (81.15-16).” MOTIF: games.

266.19-20: Insect, incest, nicest: Cf. 85.08-19. MOTIF: incest.

267.01: Speaking as a botanist and a mad woman: Cf. 266.16 above. Cf. also Lolita 17: “You have to be an artist and a madman.” Decoding the 1886 telegram from Ada to their Manhattan house, in July 21, Ada’s fourteenth birthday, Van intentionally misleads his father by deciphering “dadaist impatient patient . . . call doris” as referring to “a mad girl artist called Doris or Odris” (178.20-179.01). MOTIF: as an X and a Y.

267.02-06: “husked,” . . . stood for opposite things, covered and uncovered, tightly husked but easily husked. . . . “Carefully husked brute”: Cf. Ada’s “maize-yellow slacks,” 266.04. W2: “husked adj. Covered with a husk; also, stripped of its husk; deprived of husks.”  MOTIF: husked.

267.08: this adored creature: MOTIF: adore.

267.08-09: whose haunches had grown more lyrate: Cf., in a scene pointedly recalling this (see next note), 392.28: “he steadied her lovely lyre.”

267.11-19: As they crouched . . . Van, at the last throb . . . little Lucette: Cf. 392.31-34: “and Van emitted a long groan of deliverance, and now their four eyes were looking again into the azure brook of Pinedale, and Lucette pushed the door open.” MOTIF: Lucette-eavesdropper/spy.

267.11-14: on the brink of one of the brook’s crystal shelves . . . the reflection of Ada’s gaze: Cf. 274.16-17: “Van found himself standing on the brink of the brook (which had reflected two pairs of superposed eyes. . . ). ” MOTIF: behind; brook-brink.

267.11-13: brook’s crystal shelves, where, before falling, it stopped to have its picture taken and take pictures itself: Cf. 304.04-05: “or a romantic stream running down a cliff and reflecting her brief bright affair.” Cf. also: SM 119: “the sight of a sullen day sitting for its picture in a puddle.”

267.14-15: Something of the sort had happened somewhere before: Cf. 190.18-19, 212.14-18. And something uncannily like it will happen again (and will clarify just how much Lucette sees here): 392.24-393.01.

267.19: little Lucette: MOTIF: little Lucette.

267.20: Flushed and flustered: Cf. Marina on the night Demon first possesses her, 12.04: “as she ran, flushed and flustered, in a pink dress into the orchard.”

267.24-25: she husked out of her sweat shirt: MOTIF: husked.

267.25-26: green shorts . . . . russet ground: Cf. 509.24-26: “Mont Roux, our little rousse is dead. . . . Mount Russet.” MOTIF: green-Lucette; red-green.

267.27-28: Ada had declined to invite anybody except the Erminin twins: In 1884, not only the Erminin twins but also “their young pregnant aunt (narrationally a great burden), and a governess” appear (79.13-14), and Uncle Dan, Colonel Erminin and Dr. Krolik are expected but do not show (79.18-21).

267.28-29: the brother without the sister: Greg and Grace Erminin.

267.30: New Cranton: Invented; perhaps echoes the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, near the border with New York state, and not far from Ithaca, New York, where Nabokov lived from 1948 to 1959?

 267.30-31: see a young drummer, her first boy friend: Is this the Wellington she later marries (392.04-05)? It will be Bill Fraser, of Wellington (319.13), who reports on the death of that other volunteer heading off to war, Percy de Prey. If this young drummer is the person Grace eventually marries, note the ironic association with the soldier and statesman, the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, 1769-1852), who calls to mind another famous duke-general, the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough, 1650-1722), associated with the “Malbrook s’en va t’en guerre” motif (see 299.13 and n.), itself associated with Percy de Prey’s death in war.

267.31: sail off into the sunrise: Ada 1968: “sail off into the sunset.” Play on the cliché “sail off into the sunset,” referring especially to a happy new beginning promised for hero and/or heroine at the end of a story.

267.33-34: bringing a “talisman” from his very sick father: Cf. 242.02-3: “Poor Lord Erminin is practically insane,” according to Demon. The “talisman” has not helped him (although Lord Erminin does not die until about 1901, 455.10). We can suspect that Greg, who had eagerly offered Ada his black pony, the day after her twelfth birthday, “for a ride any time. For any amount of time” (92.25-26), has used the talisman as a pretext to have himself invited to Ada’s birthday, when no invitation has been forthcoming.

268.01-02: a little camel of yellow ivory carved in Kiev, five centuries ago, in the days of Timur and Nabok: Timur (1336?-1405), also known as Tamerlane, the Turko-Mongol warrior and ruler, and  Nabok, a forebear of the Nabokov clan (SM 52: “the founder of our family was Nabok Murza, (floreat 1380), a Russian Tatar prince in Muscovy”). There seems to be some link with Baron Klim Avidov (an anagram of “Vladimir Nabokov”), who gave Marina’s children a Flavita game, named after the game’s golden-yellow squares on the board (and not after its tiles, which are ebony): see 223.27-224.05.

268.03-04: Van did not err in believing that Ada remained unaffected by Greg’s devotion: In 1901 Greg will tell Van that he “was absolyutno bezumno (madly) in love with your cousin! . . . You were her cousin, almost a brother, you can’t understand that obsession. Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her, and drove me crazy with envy and pity” (454.17-34).

268.04-07: He now met him again with pleasure—the kind of pleasure, immoral in its very purity, which adds its icy tang to the friendly feelings a successful rival bears toward a thoroughly decent fellow: An echo of Van’s gloating at the end of I.14, when he has seen the first signs of Greg’s devotion to Ada and seen her pointed rebuff (92-93), and a sharp contrast to the rage Van will feel shortly when drunken Percy de Prey, completely uninvited, arrives and treats Van as a rival for Ada.

268.09-10: Greg, who had left his splendid new black Silentium in the forest ride: Cf. Greg, arriving on the day after Ada’s twelfth birthday on his “black pony . . . ‘Greg’s beautiful new pony’” (89. 18-19). Cf. also Van to his father, 257.04-05: “I tried to find a Silentium with a side car and could not”; and Van’s recollection to Greg, in 1901: “I last saw you thirteen years ago, riding a black pony—no, a black Silentium. Bozhe moy!” (454.14-15). Van on his tryst with Ada in 1886, after a telegram from her on her fourteenth birthday, heads to meet her at Forest Fork: “He rented a motorcycle, a venerable machine . . . and drove, bouncing on tree roots along a narrow ‘forest ride’” (179.26-29).

For the immediate irony of the name Silentium for a motorcycle, cf. Van “groaned, on the tympanic rack . . . when a subhuman young moron let loose the thunder of an infernal motorcycle” (571. 11-13).

Behind the comic immediate irony is a deeper and poignant irony. The word silentium is famous in Russian literature as the name of the most famous poem, “Silentium” (c. 1825-29), of one of Nabokov’s favorite Russian poets, Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev (1803-73). It opens, in Nabokov’s translation: “Speak not, lie hidden, and conceal / the way you dream, the things you feel. //. . . How can a heart expression find? / How should another know your mind? / Will he discern what quickens you?” (“Molchi, skryvaysya i tai/ I chuvtsva i mechty svoi!// . . . . Kak serdtsu vyskazat’ sebya? / Drugomu kak ponyat’ tebya? / Poymyot li on, chem ty zhivyosh’?”; trans. first published 1944; Verses and Versions 237). Greg Erminin is silently in love with Ada, and his heart cannot “expression find” (he voices his feelings explicitly for the first time to Van, many years later: see 268.03-04n above, or 454.17-34), although his behavior, including his offering Ada the black pony the day after her twelfth birthday, and his managing to secure an invitation to her sixteenth birthday, and offering Ada every service while two cockier rivals contend for Ada, speaks silent volumes.

268.10-277.02: “We have company.” . . . reverently . . . . a dozen elderly townsmen, in dark clothes, shabby and uncouth . . . sat down there to a modest colazione of cheese, buns, salami, sardines and Chianti. . . . ritually . . . . sad apostolic hands. . . . receded like a fishing boat . . . a most melancholy and meaningful picture—but meaning what, what? . . . convertible . . . . was surrounded by the same group of townsmen . . . collation of shepherds. . .  A canvas from Cardinal Carlo de Medici’s collection, author unknown. . . . the mysterious pastors . . . stiff collar and reptilian tie left hanging from a locust branch: An elaborate riddle, not easily solved, despite and even because of the abundance of resonant clues.

268.13: Raincoated, unpainted, morose, Marina: She is actually wearing a “pale raincoat or rather ‘dustcoat’ she had put on for the picnic” (269.30). She is unpainted and morose because she has not heard from her Pedro, and feels herself an old lady (269.33), and soon
changes mood completely when she receives an aerogram from him (272.31-273.06).

268.15-25: reverently . . . . a dozen elderly townsmen, in dark clothes, shabby and uncouth . . . sat down there to a modest colazione of cheese, buns, salami, sardines and Chianti. . . . ritually . . . . sad apostolic hands . . . victuals: A continuation of the riddle. Note the Italianate air, and the religious air, and the antique air.

268.18: colazione: In North Italy, “lunch.” Cf. 274.02-03, Dan’s misunderstanding: “It was, he understood, a collation of shepherds.”

268.19: buns, sardines: Perhaps, given the hints of the twelve apostles (“a dozen elderly townsmen . . . . apostolic hands”) surrounding these strangers, a whiff of the miracle of the loaves and fishes (in the Christian gospels, Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15), in which Christ feeds a multitude of five thousand with five loaves and two fish.

268.19: buns . . . and Chianti: Perhaps, given the apostolic hints, a suggestion of Christ’s Last Supper, his meal with his disciples shortly before the Crucifixion, in which he asked that the bread be remembered as his body and the wine as his blood (1 Corinthians 11:23-24), the beginning of the ritual of the Mass, or Communion. At the Last Supper, Christ predicted that one of the disciples present would betray him.

268.20: no mechanical music boxes: Ardeur 225: “boîtes à musique du type ‘transistor.’” MOTIF: music-box.

268.23-25: crumpling brown paper . . . and discarding the crumpled bit: Cf. 269. 24: “politely removed the crumpled wrappings.”

268.27-29: in the noble shade of the pines, in the humble shade of the false acacias: False acacias: probably Robinia pseudoacacia: cf. Mikhail Lermontov,  A Hero of Our Time, trans. VN with DN (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958), 208: “not the true acacia but the American Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia of Linnaeus, introduced into Europe by the French herbalist Robin in the Seventeenth century’; “the sweetly perfumed American Robinia pseudoacacia Linn., cultivated in the Ukraine and sung by hundreds of Odessa rhymesters” (EO 3:12). A tree native to the southeastern United States, “with pinnate leaves and drooping racemes of fragrant white flowers” (W2, s.v. locust 3a), it can grow up to 50 meters tall.  Cf. 412.09-11: “a green bench existed where the composer [Glinka] was said to have sat under the pseudoacacias.”

268.27-28: in the noble shade of the pines: Cf. Gift 343: “the pines become nobler.”

268.30: scratching her sunlit bald patch: Cf. 270.02-05: “Van kept reverting to that poor old patch on [Marina’s] poor old head, to the scalp burnished by her hairdye an awful pine rust color much shinier than her dead hair.”

268.32-274.03: Gipsy politicians, or Calabrian laborers. . . . townsmen . . . a collation of shepherds: Perhaps (VN knew Jonson’s work) an allusion to the masque Gypsies Metamorphosed (1622), by Ben Jonson (1572-1637). Gary Taylor summarizes that the masque contains “(a) a troupe of ‘gypsies’ that does not contain a single genuine gypsy, but is entirely composed of aristocrats in disguise, (b) a series of ironic prophecies, given by the fake gypsies to various real aristocrats” (“Thomas Middleton, The Spanish Gypsy, and Collaborative Authorship,” in Brian Boyd, ed., Words That Count: Essays on Early Modern Authorship in Honor of MacDonald P. Jackson, Wilmington, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 2004, 241-73, p. 262). Ada’s troupe of “gipsies” who may not be gipsies seems also to be prophetic, but, as Van writes at 269.27, “meaning what, what?”

268.32: Gipsy politicians: MOTIF: gipsy.

268.32: Calabrian laborers: Calabria, a region of Italy, the “toe” of Italy’s boot- shaped peninsula. Cf. 284.06-07: “to join the gambaders in the country dance after Calabro’s aria.”

268.32-34: Squire Veen would be furious if he discovered trespassers camping in his woods: When he arrives at the picnic glade, Squire Veen (Uncle Dan), who finds it hard to retain conversational companions, in fact proves delighted to talk to the “exquisitely polite group” (274.01-02), even though neither party can understand much of what the other says.

268.33-34: if he discovered trespassers camping in his woods: Cf. VN, in SM 135-36, Ch. 6 (“Butterflies”), describing his family’s Russian country estate, Vyra: “Other more elusive trespassers—lost picnickers or merry villagers—would drive our hoary gamekeeper Ivan crazy by scrawling ribald words on the benches and gates.”

269.03-05: Vulgar Latin, French, Canadian French, Russian, Yukonian Russian, very low Latin again: Vulgar Latin and very low Latin are presumably precursors of Italian (in which “private property” is indeed “proprieta privata”), the likeliest language of these people drinking Chianti with their colazione (and Dan at 274.02 boasts of having “recognized at least a dozen Italian words” in their conversation with him). The other languages are those of the Ladore region (and, with English, which the mysterious strangers do not understand, of the great nineteenth-century novels), and their northern (Canadian, Yukonian) neighbors. Cf. Pale Fire, note to l. 615 (“two tongues”): “English and Zemblan, English and Russian, English and Lettish, English and Estonian, English and Lithuanian, English and Russian, English and Ukrainian, English and Polish, English and Czech, English and Russian, English and Hungarian, English and Rumanian, English and Albanian, English and Bulgarian, English and Serbo-Croatian, English and Russian, American and European.”

269.04: Yukonian Russian: Puns on Antiterran and earthly chronogeographies, Antiterra’s Russophone Yukon, and earth’s Ukrainian Russians.

269.12: burdocks: W2: “Any plant of the genus Arctium, the species of which arecoarse biennials with burlike flower heads. A. lappa is the common burdock.”

269.21: à reculons: French, “backwards.”

269. 24: politely removed the crumpled wrappings: Cf. 268.23-25: “crumpling brown paper . . . and discarding the crumpled bit.”

269.26-27: a most melancholy and meaningful picture—but meaning what, what?: See 268.10.-277.02n and Afternote to this chapter.

269.32: fichu: W2, fichu: “A kind of ornamental three-cornered cape, usually of lace, muslin or silk, worn by women for the head, shoulders, or neck.”

269.34-270.03: the Green Grass aria: “Replenish, replenish the glasses with wine! Here’s a toast to love! To the rapture of love!” . . . Traverdiata’s poor old head: Alludes to the famous brindisi, or drinking song, “Libiamo, libiamo ne'lieti calici,” sung by Alfredo Germont, Violetta Valéry, and the chorus, during a late-night party in Violetta’s house, in the first act of the opera La Traviata (1853), by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and librettist Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876). The opera was based on the novel La Dame aux Camélias (1848) and its stage version (1852), both by Alexandre Dumas the younger (1824-1895). Alfredo’s opening lines are:

Libiamo, libiamo ne'lieti calici
che la bellezza infiora.
E la fuggevol, fuggevol ora
s'inebrii a voluttà
Libiam ne'dolci fremiti
che suscita l'amore,
poiché quell'occhio al core onnipotente va.
Libiamo, amore, amor fra i calici
più caldi baci avrà.

Let's drink, let's drink from the joyous wine-cups
that beauty enhances.
And may the brief moment
be inebriated with voluptuousness.
Let's drink for the ecstatic feeling
that love arouses.
Because this eye aims at the heart, omnipotently.
Let's drink, my love, and the love among the chalices
will make the kisses warmer.

The nonce name “Traverdiata” that Van assigns his mother as she sings the song combines La Traviata and Verdi; the “Green Grass aria” links, as Alexey Sklyarenko notes (Nabokv-L, 16 August 2012), the Italian word for “green,” verde, and the Russian for “grass,” trava, within La Traviata (with, perhaps, a weird echo of “green grass area”). La Traviata (from traviare, “go astray”) means “The Fallen Woman”; Marina is both crestfallen, without Pedro, though trying to buck herself up, and fallen low in Van’s sympathies.

Note that a brindisi takes its name from Brindisi, the city and province at the “heel” of Italy’s boot, as Calabria is the “toe” of the boot, and the mysterious strangers intruding on the party are said to be “Gipsy politicians, or Calabrian laborers” (268.32). When a pretty messenger boy or girl comes to Van the next day with Percy de Prey’s challenge to a duel, he or she waits for the answer “with one hand on the hip and one knee turned out like an extra, waiting for the signal to join the gambaders in the country dance after Calabro’s aria” (284.05-07).  

Perhaps this links with the veiled evocation of Verdi’s opera Nabucco detected in 158.03-15 (see especially 158.13-15n).
In Mary, Mary quotes in a letter Ganin receives:

Let me get rid of the shackles of love
And let me try to stop thinking!
Replenish, replenish the glasses with wine—
Let me keep drinking and drinking! (92)

269.34: the Green Grass aria: Ardeur 226, “l’aria de Vert-Vert.”

269.34-270.01: “Replenish, replenish the glasses with wine!: Cf. 270.13-14: “replenishing, replenishing Mlle Larivière’s wineglass.”

270.05-07: attempted . . . to squeeze out some fondness for her but as usual failed and as usual told himself that Ada did not love her mother either: A rare almost explicit affirmation that Marina is Van’s real mother. MOTIF: family relationship; Van’s distaste for Marina.

270.11: her mauve jacket: Cf. 198.05-06: “our distinguished lady novelist resplendent in mauve flounces, mauve hat, mauve shoes.”

270.13-14: replenishing, replenishing Mlle Larivière’s wineglass: Cf. Marina’s “Replenish, replenish the glasses with wine!” (269.34-270.01).

270.15-16: even more than the Tartars or the, well, Assyrians: Alexey Sklyarenko notes (Nabokov-L, 12 March 2013): “(Greg Erminin is a Jew, and Mlle Larivière an antisemite.) According to a Russian saying, ‘nezvanyi gost' khuzhe tatarina’ (‘the uninvited guest is worse than a Tartar’). Chapter VIII of Pushkin's short novel The Captain's Daughter (1836), ‘Nezvanyi gost'’ (‘The Unexpected Visitor’), has this saying for epigraph.’

270.18: sales petits bourgeois: Darkbloom: “dirty little Philistine[s].” Defending her story “La Parure” (“The Necklace”) against Van’s and Ada’s criticism that it is a fairy tale, Mlle Larivière at the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday argues that “every detail is realistic. We have here the drama of the petty bourgeois . . . ” (87.21-22).

270.19: England dares ape France!: Mlle Larivière is happy for France to ape (or surpass?) the English: “I read to her [Lucette] twice Ségur’s adaptation in fable form of Shakespeare’s play about the wicked usurer” (91.34-92.02).

270.19-20: in that hamper there an English novel of high repute: Cf. 274.08-10: “a hamper that contained . . . an English novel by Quigley.”

270.20-26: English novel of high repute. . . . ‘je regrette!”: MOTIF: translation.

270.21: a perfume . . . called ‘Ombre Chevalier,’ which is really nothing but a fish: W2, ombre chevalier, “= saibling.” W2, saibling: “A char [Any trout of the genus Salvelinus] (Salvelinus alpinus) of mountain streams of Europe. b. The Sunapee trout.”
The English novelist had clearly intended “nightshade” or rather “knight” (chevalier) “shade” (ombre). Nightshade is (W2): “a Any of various species of Solanum; esp., the cosmopolitan weed S. nigrum, commonly distinguished as black nightshade (called also African nightshade), and S. dulcamara, the bittersweet. b The belladonna. c The henbane.”

Deadly nightshade” or belladonna (Atropa belladonna) is the famous poisonous nightshade, once used cosmetically by women to dilate the pupils (but now rarely used this way because of its side-effects), but never as a perfume. Cf. 428.32-33: “harrowingly resembled Ada Ardis as photographed with her mother in Belladonna.”
Cf., for the “fish”-“perfume” combination, 368.03-04: “her Degrasse, smart, though decidedly ‘paphish,’ perfume.”
Cf. also, perhaps, “the gloomy cavalier” (488.26).

270.24-25: a soi-disant philosopher mentions ‘une acte gratuite’ as if all acts were feminine: The French noun acte, “act,” is masculine, not feminine, as here wrongly indicated in the feminine adjectival ending (the final e) on gratuite. (The correct French would be un acte gratuit.) VN refers here to the poet Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973). In a letter to Jacob Epstein of Doubleday, on 22 April 1957, Nabokov comments on the second issue of Anchor Review, in which his “On a Book Entitled Lolita” had just appeared: “the rest of the material in the review is excellent (except Auden’s piece: incidentally, somebody ought to have told him that monde in French is masculine so that no French poet could ever have said ‘Le monde est ronde.’ It is the same nonsense as his famous slip in an earlier essay ‘acte gratuite’ instead of ‘acte gratuit’. Moreover, the slogan ‘highbrows and lowbrows, unite!,’ which he had spouted already, is all wrong since true highbrows are highbrows because they do not unite).” Auden’s essay was “The Dyer’s Hand: Poetry and the Poetic Process,” pp. 255-301; the slogan formed the closing paragraph of the essay.
Auden writes about the “acte gratuit” (the spelling was corrected in later editions) in an essay on Othello, “The Joker in the Pack,” in The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays (1962). An “acte gratuit” is “a gratuitous or inconsequent action performed on impulse, possibly to gratify a desire for sensation. The term occurs in the writings of André Gide . . . , part of whose doctrine is that in order to learn how to keep our desires in check we should first yield to them without inhibition” (Oxford Companion to French Literature, ed. Sir Paul Harvey and J.E. Heseltine, Oxford: Clarendon, 1959, 5). A famous example occurs in the novel Les Caves du Vatican (1914), by André Gide (1869-1951); it is also discussed in the novels La Nausée (Nausea, 1938), by Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and L’Étranger  (The Stranger,1942) by Albert Camus (1913-1960), where it becomes part of an existentialist outlook. In 1949 VN reviewed very negatively the English translation of La Nausée (“Sartre’s First Try,” New York Times Book Review, 24 April 1949, pp. 3, 19; rept. in SO, 228-30). VN wrote to Epstein in the letter quoted above that “The piece about Sartre” in Anchor Review (Herbert Lüthy, “The Void of Jean-Paul Sartre,” 241-54) “is simply marvellous. I chuckled all the way, especially as I was probably the first writer in America to debunk him.”
“Soi-disant philosopher” may therefore aim at Sartre as well as Auden.

270.26:je me regrette’ for ‘je regrette’: “I am sorry for myself” for “I’m sorry.”

270.27: D’accord: Darkbloom: “Okay” (French).

270.27-29: such atrocious bloomers in French translations from the English as for example—: Cf. Ada’s discussion of the mistranslation of souci d’eau (marsh marigold) into “the care of the water” (63.34-65.05), and Van’s quip, during her diatribe, “Flowers into bloomers,” 64.02. At 65.06-08 Van responds to Ada’s attack on an English translation from the French: “On the other hand . . . one can well imagine a similarly bilingual Miss Rivers checking a French version of, say, Marvell’s Garden—.” Like the matching 1888 example, Van’s 1884 counterexample breaks off before he can complete it.

270.32-271.04: steel-grey convertible glided into the glade . . . Marina’s deckchair: Whereas Greg will also “glide” away from the glade (278.03: “He adjusted his goggles and glided away”), Percy will depart thunderously (277.19-20: “Click-click went the motor, then broke into thunder”). Cf. Van at the hospital in Kalugano: “He was on the point of returning to the deckchair when a smart, pale-gray four-door salon glided in and stopped before him” (318.12-14). The gliding “grey” convertible brings Percy de Prey to Marina and especially Ada; the gliding “gray” sedan brings Cordula de Prey to Van.

270.32-271.01: surrounded by the same group of townsmen, who now seemed to have multiplied in strange consequence of having shed coats and waistcoats: Given the echoes of the Gospels surrounding these mysterious strangers, there seems an echo of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, itself possibly evoked in their connection in 268.18.

270.33-34: the same group of townsmen: Ardeur 227: “les mystérieux voisins.”

271.03: frilled-shirt: Cf. Percy’s “casually ruffled shirt” (276.11-12) after his fight with Van.

271.11-12: a bouquet of longstemmed roses stored in the boot: Cf. Van’s “last visit to one last Villa Venus”: “next to the guitar-shaped paper-wrapped bunch of long roses for which nobody had troubled to find, or could have found, a vase” (356.29-33).

271.13: What a shame that I should loathe roses: Cf. “Roses she never liked anyway” (554.14). Cf. also Ada’s brusque displeasure with another birthday offering in 1884: “You should tell him to take a pair of tongs and carry the whole business to the surgical dump” (84.28-29). She also refuses Greg’s offer of the loan of his new black pony, the day after her twelfth birthday (92.28-29), a move Van correctly interrupts as her rejection of Greg’s interest in her, in favour of Van, as he can also interpret Ada’s brusque rejection of Percy’s roses here in 1888.

271.15-21: muscat wine . . . through his raised lunel at the honeyed sun: Muscat de Lunel is a sweet white wine, since 1957 an Appellation d’origine contrôlée, a specialty of the area around Lunel, near Montpellier, in the département of Hérault (see 273.11). Ardeur 227: “le muscat de Lunel.”

271.15: Ada’s and Ida’s healths: Cf., in 1884, “the big picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday and Ida’s forty-second jour de fête” (77.01-02).

271.16: The conversation became general: Cf. 68.11-12: “the conversation became general and loud.” MOTIF: conversation . . . general.

271.16: Monparnasse: MOTIF: Monparnasse.

271.18: Ivan Demianovich Veen: In the Family Tree, Demon’s name is recorded as “Dementiy (Demon)” (ix); Van, accordingly, addresses a photo of himself, “Zdraste, Ivan Dementievich” (399.22). Why the patronymic here should be Demianovich is unclear, unless it reflects Percy’s misapprehension. MOTIF: Ivan Dem—vich.

271.19: I’m told you like abnormal positions?: Ostensibly (see 271.23) a reference to Van’s topsy-turvy role as Mascodagama, privately a thrust at reports of his liking rear-entry sex with Ada, reports of which Percy has received via Blanche and her sister (and also Percy’s occasional sexual partner) Madelon. The first glimpse of Van as handwalker had been at Ada’s twelfth-birthday picnic, when he blinked “in the odd bilboquet fashion peculiar to eyelids in his abnormal position” (82.13-14). MOTIF: Masgodagama.

271.21: lunel: W2: “A variety of muscatel wine.” See 271.15-21 for Muscat de Lunel as an appellation d’origine contrôlée.

271.23: that walking-on-your-hands trick: See 81-82 (the first instance, at the 1884 picnic) and the Mascodagama chapter, I.30 (181-86).

271.23-24: One of your aunt’s servants is the sister of one of our servants: Marina’s servant Blanche is the sister of Countess de Prey’s servant Madelon, who has also been a sexual partner of Percy’s, 299.08-10: “as he had also crushed—many times!—Madelon.”

271.24: two pretty gossips: Blanche by 1888 “had become wonderfully pretty” (191.10-11); “Pretty Blanche” (226.05); Ada calls Madelon “Blanche’s lovely sister” (277.05). Both are indeed gossips, Blanche especially in passing on to Van Madelon’s warning (see 287.21-33, 293.10-12), and as recorded parodically in 409.05-19.

271.31: the mouse-and-cat: I.e. the muscat wine, but hinting at “playing cat-and-mouse,” with a pun on mus, Latin for “mouse,” and cat. Cf. also PF 93: “A muscat grape. . . . I do not know if it is relevant or not but there is a cat-and-mouse game in the second line.”

271.32-33: who was listening with delight to the handsome young men’s vivacious and carefree prattle: The style mimics the obtuse imperceptiveness of Marina, who fails to notice the men’s immediate verbal jostling.

271.33-34: tell him about your success in London: In his role as Mascodagama; see I.31. MOTIF: Mascodagama.

271.34: Zhe tampri (please)!: Darkbloom, “Russ., distortion of je t’en prie” (“please,” “I beg you”). Marina’s Russianness repeatedly inflects her English and French.

272.01: a rag, you know, up at Chose: W2: rag,“n. Slang. . . . b An outbreak of boisterous, mischievous merrymaking, orig. of students at English universities; a jollification, rumpus.”

272.05-10: Dorn (flipping through a literary review, to Trigorin): “ . . . I wanted to ask you, incidentally. . . in that question. . . . ”: Darkbloom: “Trigorin, etc: a reference to a scene in The Seagull.” Chekhov’s Chayka  (The Seagull, 1895), Act IV. Proffer 267: “An exact quotation from Dorn’s last speech in Chekhov’s The Seagull, just before he tells Trigorin that Treplev has shot himself.” The parallel is immediately to Ada’s calling Van aside to tell him something others are not to overhear; but the ominousness of Chekhov’s conclusion also seeps in.

272.05: Dorn (flipping through a literary review . . . ): Cf. 139.10: “Van, flipping through a magazine.”

272.11-12: Ada stood with her back against the trunk of a tree, like a beautiful spy who has just rejected the blindfold: Cf. 297.07-08: “There was the time she stood with her back against a tree trunk, facing a traitor’s doom”; 308.22-25: “He wondered if the other girl still stood, arrow straight, adored and abhorred, heartless and heartbroken, against the trunk of a murmuring tree.” MOTIF: spy; against trunk.

272.15: drunk as a welt: While the general sense is clear, Ada’s word choice is not, since the ordinary senses of “welt” do not seem relevant. Obsolete senses of the verb “welt” include, used intransitively,  “to sway or be unsteady,” or, used transitively, “to throw to the ground” (OED), both of which are appropriate to Percy’s state and fate. Cf. 273.20: “royally drunk after some earlier festivity.”

272.16: the arrival of Uncle Dan: Dan never reaches the party for Ada’s twelfth birthday, and his present arrives late (84.15-16).

272.19-20: the little red runabout: In which Marina had arrived at the party on Ada’s twelfth birthday: “Marina came in a red motorcar of an early ‘runabout’ type” (79.03).

272.22-25: an aerogram . . . . for her mother: Cf. the letter for Marina from Dan brought to her at the 1884 picnic (82.12-25). Both messages precipitate her early departure from the picnic (84.22-85.04, 274.10-13). 

272.24-25: not for her from dismal Kalugano, as she had feared: Ada had feared, in other words, that it might be from her ex-lover Philip Rack, who lives there (202.10). Cf. 202.12: “He hated Kalugano”; 303.14-15: “‘Kalugano.’ ‘That’s a gruesome place.’”

272.28-29: Larivière-Monparnasse: MOTIF: Monparnasse.

272.31: cried (gurgled, rippled) Marina: Recalls the phone bubbling and palpitating when Marina thinks it is Pedro calling, 260.33-261.02.

272.32: her calm daughter: Van registers Ada’s calmness at the communication from Pedro, just to be sure: Pedro had, after all, been flirting with her at the poolside, 200.18-31.

272.34-273.01: sat down with Greg and Lucette, for a game of Snap: Cf. the displays and games at Ada’s party in 1884, with Greg, Grace, Lucette, and Van, 81.11-85.19.

273.04: Houssaie, Gollivud-tozh: Darkbloom: “French[,] a ‘holly wood’. Gollivud-tozh means in Russian ‘known also as Hollywood.’” (The “hollywood” in the early versions was corrected by DN to “holly wood” in the Vintage edition.) VN notes on his copy of the first printing of Proffer’s notes, “Ada as Wonderland: A Glossary of Allusions to Russian Literature,” Russian Literature Triquarterly 3 (1972), 399-430: "added to villages means that the village is also known by this name."

273.07: I wish but I can’t: He wishes because Marina has suggested Ada will go with her; he can’t because he has enlisted.

273.08-09: Uncle Dan, very dapper in cherry-striped blazer and variety-comic straw hat: Cf. Dan at 124.26-30: “a candy-striped suit over a mauve flannel shirt and piqué waistcoat . . . (all his trim stripes were a little displaced, though, in the process of comic strip printing, because it was Sunday).”

273.11: Hero wine: Hérault, as pronounced in careless Anglophone French, with the h sounded, becomes a homophone of “Hero.”  Hérault, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of the south of France, is the biggest wine-producing département in France. “Hero” is an ironic wine for the unheroic Dan, but perhaps the pointed misspelling leads into the foreshadowing of Percy’s death a few lines below: he too has “a sticky glass in [his] strong blond-haired hand” (273.21).

273.13: The Accursed Children: Percy has asked the name of the film to be made from Mlle Larivière’s novel Les Enfants Maudits. “The Accursed Children” is a straight translation of the original from Mlle Larivière’s language into the language of Hollywood, which she deplores. MOTIF: adaptation; Enfants Maudits.

273.15-19: Percy, you were to die very soon . . . you were to die very soon, Percy: Van learns of Percy’s death from Cordula de Prey within a fortnight, 319.06-320.12. The chiastic repetition indicates Van’s gloatingly lingering insistence. As the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, “Van as narrator here deliberately announces Percy's death with a gloating rancor as part of his attempt to portray his imminent fight with Percy as a substitute for the duel that Percy's death made impossible.” Cf. Boyd 1985/2001: 171.

273.15-16: Cf. 319.18-19: “Percy had been shot in the thigh.”

273.16: on the turf of a Crimean ravine: Cf. 275.08-09: “The grunting Count toured the turf in a hunched-up stagger.” The verbal link emphasizes that Van’s counterattack is a prefiguration of Percy’s death described here, or that the advance introduction of Percy’s death offers a kind of fulfilment of Van’s punishment of him, had he known at the time of their attack and counterattack that Percy had been Ada’s lover. Wet “turf” in Russian can be torfyanaya (peat, bog, turf); in French it can be tourbière, the home town of Blanche, who informs Van about Percy’s relations with Ada; in Dutch it can be veen, as if to confirm that “no sooner did all the fond . . . come into close contact with [Van] . . . than they were bound to know anguish and calamity, unless strengthened by a strain of his father’s demon blood” (20.15-18). The wound in Percy’s leg seems to have echoes of the death of Adonis, gored in the leg by a boar, for Aphrodite’s, or in Shakespeare’s version, Venus’s (Venus and Adonis, 1593), love for him. MOTIF: Torfyanaya; Veen.

273.17-18: but a couple of minutes later when you opened your eyes and felt relieved: Cf. 319.22-28: “He had immediately assured himself, with the odd relief of the doomed, that he had got away with a flesh wound. . . . When a couple of minutes later, Percy . . . regained consciousness. . . . ” Percy’s false relief in the Crimean battle seems to be prefigured by his relief after Van’s fierce response to Percy’s attack by the brook, at 275.12-16, before Van’s even fiercer second reponse.

273.18: in the shelter of the macchie: W3, “macchia . . . , pl. macchie [It—more at maquis].” W3, maquis: “1 a: thick scrubby underbrush profuse along the shores of the Mediterranean and esp. profuse in the island of Corsica b: an area or zone marked by such underbrush 2 often cap a: a member of an underground movement or organization; esp : a French guerrilla fighter in World War II  b: a band or unit of maquis.” VN may have deployed the Italian (which he could have learned from DN, who was fluent in Italian, or from his own 1963 trip to Corsica) rather than the more familiar French spelling in order to avoid confusion with the well-known sense of maquis as French resistance fighters. Or the Italian spelling could be another way of connecting the picnic scene and Percy’s death, if we take the Chianti-drinking strangers, perhaps “Calabrian laborers” (268.32), as something like a misplaced maquis band.

273.21: a sticky glass in your strong blond-haired hand: Cf. 188.31-33: “the raised glass of the stout blond fellow (Percy de Prey? . . . )” The visual image reminds Van of the first minutes of his return to Ardis, and his jealousy of Percy then; but he seems also to be staring now at Percy’s hateful hands with all the intensity of his detestation.

273.24: old sport: As if a hearty address from one male to another known from a shared male milieu. Percy’s cousin is a sport in another sense: “She was a good sport—little Cordula de Prey” (318.27).

273.24: chin-chin: W3: “used to express greeting or farewell.”

273.25-26: a crack Rugger player, a cracker of country girls: Cf. another Riverlane pupil, “Cheshire, the rugby ace” (32.30) who leads the sexual romps at Riverlane (32.30, 33.14). The “Rugger” adds to the English private school tone (Rugby School itself, for instance, founded 1567) of the North American Riverlane.

273.28: handsome moon face: W2, moon face: “A round face like a full moon,—regarded by Orientals as beautiful.”

273.29-30: the easy shaver. I had to begun to bleed every time, and was going to do so for seven decades: Cf. 204.26-28: Lucette “pitying his tender skin for the inflamed blotches and prickles between neck and jaw where shaving caused the most trouble”; and cf. also 547.09-22 for Van, reporting from his 80s and 90s, on his shaving. The contrast between Percy’s shaving here in I.39 and Van’s reinforces the contrast that Percy dies soon, Van lives long.

273.31-32: “In a birdhouse fixed to that pine trunk,” said Marina to her young admirer, “there was once a ‘telephone’”: Cf., at the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday, in the same spot, Marina “showed Van and Lucette (the others knew all about it) the exact pine and the exact spot on its rugged red trunk where in old, very old days a magnetic telephone nested” (83.24-27). As the parenthesis on the earlier occasion and the repetition now both indicate, Marina repeatedly enjoys disclosing this to newcomers to the glade. MOTIF: replay; technology; telephone.

273.32-33: How I’d welcome its presence right now: In order to call Pedro in California: cf. 274.10-12: “Marina explained, however, that professional obligations demanded she call up California without delay.”

273.34-274.08: Her husband . . . strolled back bringing wonderful news. They were an “exquisitely polite group.” . . . the little man said he insisted the servants take viands and wine to his excellent new friends: Versus 268.32-33: “Squire Veen would be furious . . . .

274.02: He had recognized at least a dozen Italian words: Cf. Dan’s limitations as a linguist at 69.01-03.

274.03-04: a collation of shepherds. They thought, he thought, he was a shepherd too: Presumably the key word is the Italian pastore (shepherd, pastor, minister), which may also evoke the Renaissance literary tradition of pastoral, as in the tragicomedy Il Pastor Fido (1590) by Giovanni Battista Guarini (1538-1612), and echoes of it such as in Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It (1599).

274.03: a collation of shepherds: Cf. W2, collation: “1. Obs. A conference or consultation, esp. one held informally. . . . . 4. A light meal or repast.” Cf. also their colazione, 268.18.

274.05: Carlo de Medici’s collection: Carlo de’ Medici (1596-1666) was made a cardinal in 1615 and became Dean of the College of Cardinals in 1652. He employed the painter Matteo Rosselli (1578-1650) and other artists to fresco some of the rooms of the Palazzo del Buontalenti (Casino di San Marco), which he filled with pictures (Janet Ross, Florentine Palaces and their Stories, London: J. M. Dent, 1905, p. 61). Carlo di Cosimo de’ Medici (also known as simply Carlo de’ Medici, c. 1420-1492) became an abbot, a papal tax collector and nuncio. He collected medallions, but is not known as a collector of paintings. The Medici family, especially from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, included major patrons of architecture and art in Florence and beyond.

The mention of a Renaissance art collection certainly strengthens the hints of the Last Supper surrounding the mysterious strangers. Among the many Renaissance paintings of the Last Supper were works by Duccio (in 1308-11), Fra Angelico (in 1442), Domenico Ghirlandaio (in 1480), Perugino (in 1493-46), Tintoretto (in 1594) and Rubens (in 1632). Van cannot be referring specifically to the most famous of such paintings, Il Cenacolo (The Last Supper), painted 1495-98, by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), since that painting is tempera and oil on plaster, and not a canvas, and was painted on the refectory wall of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Gerard de Vries notes that “No other painting has been admired as much and as enduringly by Nabokov as Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and references and allusions to this painting . . . are numerous. His attachment to Leonardo’s masterpiece dates from an early age. In 19198 he composed a poem entitled, ‘The Last Supper’” (Gerard de Vries and D. Barton Johnson, Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Painting, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006, p.87).

MOTIF: painting location.

274.08-10: seizing an empty bottle . . . Quigley and a roll of toilet paper: With his unflappable knack for defeating his own purposes, Dan arms himself with an empty bottle, a hamper without food and a novel in a language the “shepherds” do not understand. The toilet paper adds to the grotesquerie—and its absence could have caused trouble for his own family’s party.

274.09-10: hamper that contained . . . an English novel by Quigley:  The “English novel of high repute” that Mlle Larivière has in the picnic hamper, 270.19-20. Nabokov may have fused a fictional and a real Quigl(e)y. Miss Quigley is a governess (like Mlle Larivière) in the novel The Newcomes (1853-55), by the English writer William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863). For Lucette, and often for Marina—see 91.02, 155.19—Mlle Larivière’s first name, although officially Ida, is Belle, often a derivative of “Isabel.” The real Isabel Quigly, born in Spain, is an author, a novelist (The Eye of Heaven, 1955), translator (most prominently, in 1965, of the 1962 novel The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani, 1916-2000), and film critic for the Spectator (which VN often read). Bassani won the prestigious Viareggio Prize for Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini, and was considered a kind of Proustian specialist in decadence and nostalgia, not inappropriate to evoke in Ada. DN, living in Italy at the time of Ada’s compositionand later an award-winning translator of his father’s work into Italian, may have brought to his parents’ attention bloomers in Quigley’s translation that lie behind Mlle Larivière’s denunciation in 270.19-26.

274.10: Marina explained: To Dan.

274.11-12: professional obligations demanded she call up California: Her sense of obligation clearly has little to do with her professional relationship with Pedro.

274.11: she call up: Ardeur 229: “qu’elle dorophonât” (“she dorophone”).

274.16-17: on the brink of the brook: MOTIF: brook-brink.

274.16-18: the brook (which had reflected two pairs of superposed eyes earlier in the afternoon): Van’s and Ada’s: see 267.13-14. MOTIF: behind.

274.17: pairs: a correction from 1969, "pair," to "pairs" is signaled in A1.

274.18-20: chucking pebbles with Percy and Greg at the remnants of an old, rusty, indecipherable signboard on the other side: An echo of Van throwing a cone (which Ada mistakes for a stone) “at a woman of marble bending over a stamnos” (50.10-18), which itself prefigures Percy de Prey’s death (for the details of the connection, see I.8 Afternote). The signboard, although not the same one, recalls 216.31-33: “a notice-board calmly proclaimed that ‘trespassers might get shot by sportsmen from Ardis Hall.’” Van has asked Marina “did she want him to use force” on the mysterious strangers (269.18) whom he has told: “Please go away, this is private property” (269.03). Percy himself, as an uninvited guest, is from Van’s point of view trespassing on the party, and he will soon use force on him.

274.21-22: passati . . . the Slavic slang he affected: Darkbloom: “pseudo-Russian pun on ‘pass water.’” Nado pisat’ (stress on the first syllable of pisat’) would be “I have to piss.” Note that Mlle Larivière is described pissing (though more discreetly) at the picnic at Ada’s twelfth birthday, 80.17-22.  MOTIF: patois.

274.26: coeur de boeuf: Darkbloom: “bull’s heart (in shape)” (French). Here the expression refers to the shape of Percy’s glans, with some of the image source’s size and high color also carrying over to the image’s target. Cf. PF 208, “a phenomenally endowed young brute . . . Curdy Buff.”

274.27-28: its sustained, strongly arched, practically everlasting stream: Percy has been drinking enough to be “royally drunk” (273.20); Van too will pee in a “sustained stream” (414.21) after drinking heavily. Cf. the “Crimean girl doomed to offer an everlasting draught of marble water to a dying marine” (399.25-26).
Presumably Percy’s pissing display is meant to evoke the idea of a pissing contest, defined in the OED Online as “a competition to see who can urinate the furthest or highest; (in extended use) any contest which is futile or purposeless, esp. one pursued in a conspicuously aggressive manner.” The OED’s first record of the term dates to 1943, but there is an example of the contest, if not the term, in The Dunciad (1728, 1729, 1743) by Alexander Pope (1688-1744); the practice is presumably an immemorial reflection of male competitive display.

274.29: repacked: Cf. Lolita, when Humbert visits Lolita, thinking her husband must be the one who whisked her away from him: “In my pocket my fingers gently let go and repacked a little at the tip, within the handkerchief it was nested in, my unused weapon” (272).

274.30-33: How did the scuffle start?  . . . A wrist gripped and freed?: For question or question-and-answer lists, see 82.32-83.05 (at the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday, and just after Van has applied the King Wing techniques he is about to apply now), 237.23-30, 258.01-05, and 475.23-26.

275.02: plus-fours: Used for sporting attire, especially golf, since the 1860s, although for a few years after 1924 a popular fashion in other situations.

275.03-04: on the brink of the brook: MOTIF: brook-brink.

275.05: Percy was three years older: Cf. 200.06-08, at Riverlane: “and, God, how he [Van] had beaten him up, though that Vere de Vere was three years older than he.”

275.05-07: a score of kilograms heavier than Van, but the latter had handled even burlier brutes than he: Cf. 190.10-11: “he [Percy] had grown swine-stout”; 273.24-25: “Burly, handsome, indolent, and ferocious . . . . ”

275.08: The grunting Count toured the turf: Cf. 273.15-16: “Percy, you were to die very soon . . . on the turf of a Crimean ravine.” MOTIF: Torfyanaya.

275.10-11: who instantly put him “on his omoplates”: W2, omoplate: “The scapula. Rare.” Cf. Madame Bovary, Part 1 Chapter 2: “entre les omoplates” (“between the shoulderblades”).

275.12-13: as King Wing used to say: Cf., at the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday, “Accordingly, after a conference with Demon, King Wing, the latter’s wrestling master, taught the strong lad to walk on his hands by means of a special play of the shoulder muscles” (81.23-26).

275.11-12: in his carpet jargon: Versus the normal “mat” when referring to wrestling. This is a plusher, if not necessarily more merciful, version of the sport.

275.12: like a dying gladiator: Cf. W2, Dying Gaul, or Dying Gladiator: “A marble statue of the Pergamene school in the Capitoline Museum at Rome, representing a fallen Gaul, dying from a spear-wound.” Wikipedia, accessed 22 October 2014: “an ancient Roman marble copy of a lost Hellenistic sculpture thought to have been executed in bronze. The original may have been commissioned some time between 230 and 220 BC by Attalus I of Pergamon to celebrate his victory over the Galatians, the Celtic or Gaulish people of parts of Anatolia (modern Turkey). The identity of the sculptor of the original is unknown, but it has been suggested that Epigonus, court sculptor of the Attalid dynasty of Pergamon, may have been the creator. The celebrated copy was most commonly known as The Dying Gladiator until the 20th century on the assumption that it depicted a wounded gladiator in a Roman amphitheatre. Scholars had identified it as a Gaul or Galatian by the mid-19th century, but it took many decades for the new title to achieve popular acceptance.”

275.15-16: Percy with a sudden bellow of pain intimated he had had enough: Cf. Greg Erminin in 1901: “ ‘Ah, those picnics! And Percy de Prey who boasted to me about her. . . . ’ ‘ . . . it was a great pleasure to make your chum howl’ ” (454.31-455.04).

275.18-19: the third person interpretative: Parody of the grammatical term “third person indicative.”

275.21: around his husky torso and asking Greg in a husky voice: These two senses of husky as an adjective (“burly” and “hoarse”), though quite different from husked as a past participle (and therefore adjectival), call to mind the two contrasting senses of husked (267.02-06), also “on the brink of the brook” (275.03-04; cf. 267.11).

275.21-22: asking Greg in a husky voice to find a missing cufflink: Cf. 276.14-16.

275.22-26: missing cufflink . . . transparent, tubular thing . . . caught in its downstream course in a fringe of forget-me-nots, good name, too: Greg will find Percy’s missing cufflink (276), but the condom forgotten and washed a little downstream recalls Van on “the bank of a brook” “searching for his wristwatch that he thought he had dropped among the forget-me-nots (but which Ada, he forgot, was wearing” (142.15-143.02), while Lucette plays with a rubber doll that gets “swept away by the current” (143.08), causing Van to shed his pants to swim after it, only for Ada, roused by his lack of attire, to suggest they tie Lucette up under a pretext, in order to make love out of her sight—only for her, then, to untie herself and spy on them for the first time (143.02-22 and I.23 Afternote). Sea-squirt, watch and doll are ironically fused in Ada’s final paragraph: “a pretty plaything stranded among the forget-me-nots of a brook” (589.04-05).

275.24-26: recognized . . . the transparent, tubular thing . . . that had got caught in its downstream course: A condom. Cf. 230.18-20: Van “had lately acquired the sheath-like contraceptive device that in Ladore county only barber-shops, for some odd but ancient reason, were allowed to sell.”

275.25: not unlike a sea-squirt: A sea-squirt indeed looks strikingly like a condom. W2, sea squirt: “A simple ascidian.” W2, ascidian: “Any simple or compound tunicate of the order Ascidiacea; a sea squirt. A typical ascidian is saclike in form, with an anterior branchial or oral opening, and a dorsal atrial one. Entering at the former, the water passes into the branchial sac, whose perforated walls function as gills, and through them into the surrounding atrial chamber, then out at the atrial orifice. . . . ” Given the plays on the names Van and Ada throughout the novel, in phrases like “the Vaniada divan” (373.28-29), and the hints of their being almost one, and the likelihood of a further play, in the background conception of the novel, as it were, on the name of the chemical element vanadium, it may be of interest to note that sea-squirts concentrate in their bodies the very rare vanadium in the water around them, so that they contain ten million times more vanadium than the concentration in the surrounding sea (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Macropaedia, s.v. Elements, Physiological Concentration of.)
Cf. the book title Squirt (459.09).

275.26: in a fringe of forget-me-nots, good name, too: MOTIF: forget-me-nots.

275.27-28: He had started to walk back to the picnic glade when a mountain fell upon him from behind: Not mentioned here, but as a result of this attack Van hurts his knee: “Van felt a faint twinge in his knee where he had hit it against a stone when attacked from behind a week ago” (310.14-15). MOTIF: knee.

275.32: special device of exotic torture: Cf. 276.30-31: “a most bracing exhibition of Oriental Skrotomoff or whatever the name may be.”

276.02-03: young devil: MOTIF: devil.

276.09-10: he caught himself limping and correcting the limp: MOTIF: knee.

276.11-12: casually ruffled shirt: Cf. 271.03: “frilled-shirted.”

276.14-15: bringing the cufflink—a little triumph of meticulous detection: Cf. 275.21-22. Greg eagerly accepts his subordinate position in the contest between the two much more virile youths.

276.19-20: two stipple-stemmed red boletes in one hand and three in the other: As Edelnant 142 notes: "The first thing to which Ada compared Van's penis was a red bolete”: “The cap of the Red Bolete is not half as plushy” (119. 25-26). The numbers of boletes may suggest, teasingly, Van and Percy in one hand, and Van, Percy and Greg in the other, or perhaps Van and Percy in one hand, Van, Percy and Philip Rack in the other? MOTIF: bolete.

276.21-24: the sound of his thudding hooves . . . Sir Greg . . . the young knight: As if he is performing knightly service, rushing in to inform his lady or his queen. “Sir Greg” may suggest Sir Galahad of Arthurian legend, who in the course of his pursuit of the Holy Grail saves Sir Percival from twenty knights; Greg merely finds Percy’s cufflink. Aleksey Sklyarenko notes (Nabokv-L, 20 November 2012): “Greg's noble surname, Erminin, comes from ‘ermine.’ Ermines do not have hooves, but horses certainly do. In Turgenev's story Lebedyan' (included in A Hunter's Notes, 1852), Gornostay (Russ., ‘ermine’) is a horse.”

276.23: Miss Veen: As Van will coldly—jealously—refer to Ada after Greg, in 1901, discloses that he has been “‘absolyutno bezumno (madly) in love with your cousin!’ ‘You mean Miss Veen?’” (454.17-19).

276.23-27: “He’s all right!” . . . the beau and the beast. “Indeed I am,’ said the former: Percy’s affirmation assumes he must be the “he” whose fate Ada would have worried about. “The former” also casts him as the beau. On Van’s first afternoon back at Ardis in 1888, after witnessing Percy holding Ada’s hand while he continues to kiss it, Van asks: “Was he her new beau?” Ada replies indignantly: “I had and have and shall always have only one beau, only one beast” (190.11-14).

276.26: between the beau and the beast: MOTIF: beauty and the beast.

276.28: her toadstools, the girl’s favorite delicacy: Given Ada’s seeing the glans penis as akin to the plushy cap of the red bolete (119.25-26), this detail becomes almost Boschean.

276.30: Oriental Skrotomoff or whatever the name may be: “Karate,” as an Oriental form of martial arts, plus “scrotum off,” with a Russian tang.

276.32-277.03: He called for wine—but the remaining bottles had been given to the mysterious pastors. . . . Gone also was the bouquet of roses: Possibly a suggestion of the famous phrase “the days of wine and roses,” from a poem by Ernest Dowson (1867-1900), whom VN quotes (from another poem, “Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae”) in Bend Sinister:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

(The second and final stanza of “Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam,” 1896.)

277.01-02: if the stiff collar and reptilian tie left hanging from a locust branch were his: In view of the apostolic overtones of the twelve “mysterious pastors” (276.32), and the “hanging,” the locust branch recalls the Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum, popularly supposed to be the species of tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself after betraying Jesus (Matthew 27:3-10). Although not actually a locust tree, the Judas tree, like many trees bearing pods, can be popularly termed thus. Botanically, the tree here is probably one of the “false acacias” (268.28-29) or Black Locusts encountered earlier at the glade.

277.04-05: better than waste them on her, let him give them, she said, to Blanche’s lovely sister: Madelon. Ada appears to have noted, with a stab of jealousy, Percy’s “One of your aunt’s servants is the sister of one of our servants and two pretty gossips form a dangerous team” (271.23-25). Blanche’s sister Madelon has indeed been one focus of Percy’s sexual energy: the sisters have secretly witnessed him crushing Ada “like a grunting bear as he had also crushed—many times!—Madelon”(299.09-10).

277.07: Trofim: First mention of Trofim Fartukov, who has replaced Ben Wright, their coachman in 1884.

277.08-09: Ada reclenched her boletes and all Percy could find for his Handkuss was a cold fist: Van’s last glimpse of Ada with Percy, his attempting to kiss her hand but connecting only with a cold fist, echoes his first glimpse of them, at the beginning of Ardis the Second, where Percy holds Ada’s hand after kissing it once, before kissing it again (189.27-30), and Van, watching, tears apart the necklace he has bought for Ada. MOTIF: bolete.

277.10-11: tapping Van lightly on the shoulder, a forbidden gesture in their milieu: Cf. 189.28-30: “He held the hand he kissed while she spoke and then kissed it again, and that was not done, that was dreadful, that could not be endured.”

277.12-23: “ . . . I wonder,” he added in a lower voice, “if you shoot as straight as you wrestle.” . . . “Is that a challenge, me faites-vous un duel?” . . . using the terrible second person singular of duelists in old France: MOTIF: duel.

277.20: then broke into thunder: In contrast to the silence in the name of Greg’s Silentium motorcycle, 268.08, and Percy’s own arrival at the picnic site: “a steel-gray convertible glided into the glade” (270.31-32).

277.29-30: a clean match of Korotom wrestling: Echoes the karate in “Skrotomoff,” 276.31.

277.30: as used in Teristan and Sorokat: Invented place-names, the first apparently on the model of Turkestan, Central Asia, maybe with a dash of Terinam Tso, “lake in central Tibet” (Columbia-Lippincott Gazetteer), the second modelled perhaps on the White Sea village of Soroka (until 1933), now integrated into Belomorsk, in the Karelian Republic, Russia. The Kyoto Reading Circle notes that Teristan and Sorokat resemble the Russian word tridtsat’ (“thirty”) and sorok (“forty”).

277.31: my father, I’m sure, could tell you all about it: Why? Unclear.

277.32-33: I don’t think your brain works too well: Cf. the 1884 picnic, where “Greg put on his sister’s blue skirt, hat and glasses, all of which transformed him into a very sick, mentally retarded Grace” (81.15-16)

278.01: mounted his black silent steed: His Silentium motorcycle, in fact, but echoes “the sound of his thudding hooves . . . good Sir Greg . . . the young knight” (276.21-24). The switch from motorcycle to “black silent steed” recalls in reverse Van’s arriving at Forest Fork in 1884 by the Veen family motorcar, and departing on “Morio, his favourite black horse” (159.09), and his arrival at Forest Fork for another tryst with Ada in 1886 on a rented motorcycle, 179.26. Van recalls in 1901: “I last saw you thirteen years ago, riding a black pony—no, a black Silentium” (454.14-15).

278.03: glided away: Cf. Percy’s arrival as his “steel-gray convertible glided into the glade” (270.32).

278.04: gig: W2, gig: “A light carriage with one pair of wheels, drawn by one horse; a kind of chaise.”

278.13: her mushroom basket: MOTIF: bolete.

278.19: a carefree-looking young trio: Van and Ada are certainly no more carefree than Van and Percy in what Marina thinks “the handsome young men’s vivacious and carefree prattle” (271.33).

278.20: victoria: W2, victoria: “A kind of low four-wheeled pleasure carriage, with a calash top, designed for two passengers, with a raised seat in front for the driver.”

278.20-282.32: Slapping his thighs in dismay . . . . to hand Ada out of the carriage: A replay of the confusion of the return from the 1884 picnic, where Ada had to sit on Van’s lap, as now Lucette does. MOTIF: replay.

278.21: the coachman: Trofim.

278.23: Tattersalia: W2, Tattersall’s, “A famous horse market in London, established in 1706 by Richard Tattersall, also used as the headquarters of credit betting on English horse races; hence, a large horse market elsewhere.” Cf., perhaps, Tales of the Turf and Ring, by “A Member of Tattersall’s” (London: Kingswood, 1936). ‘Tattersall’s” has also been the name of horse-racing magazines, including Tattersall’s Club Magazine (Sydney, Australia) and City Tattersall’s Club magazine (also Sydney). In Tattersalia is there a hint also of Saturnalia, W2, “A period of general license, as in excesses of vice of crime”?

278.23-24: with pictures of tremendous, fabulously elongated race horses: This was certainly a norm of equestrian art in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, as in the work of John Wootton (c. 1682-1764; see for instance his “Bumper”), James Seymour (1702-52), and even Edgar Degas (1843-1917; see his “Le Faux Départ,” 1869-71). Is there any connection with the fabulous elongation of the horse Drongo’s penis, 112.23-33?

278.27-29: He climbed onto the box . . . while Lucette considered with darkening green eyes the occupation of her habitual perch: Cf. 86.10, on the return from Ada’s 1884 birthday picnic: “Lucette refused to give up her perch.”

278.29: with darkening green eyes: Playing on green as the conventional hue of jealousy. Cf. 213.30-31: “the keyhole turned an angry green” as Lucette looked through it at Van and Ada in flagrante. MOTIF: green [Lucette].

278.30: on your half-brotherly knee: MOTIF: family relationship.

278.31: aparte: Aside (Latin, current in French).

278.32: La maudite rivière: “The cursed river,” i.e. Mlle Larivière, author of Les Enfants maudits, who is very wary of the dangers of Lucette’s infatuation with Van (see 232.14-30), and who has written about accursed families, and who was on the victoria in 1884 when Ada was on Van’s lap. MOTIF: Enfants maudits.

279.01-02: “Larivière can go and” (and Ada’s sweet pale lips repeated Gavronski’s crude crack): Cf. “ ‘If she protests,’ said Vronsky, ‘she can go and stick a telegraph pole—where it belongs’” (201.22-23). The initial joke is said to have been “salty” because of the “indecent ‘telegraph’” (201.24-25); this joke too has extra salt because of the interplay between “crack” (in a physiological sense) and “go and stick it . . . where it belongs.”

279.04: Vos ‘vyragences’ sont assez lestes: Darkbloom: “Franco-Russ., your expressions are rather free.” The Russian for “expressions” is vyrazhenia.

279.04: assez: corrected from 1969, "asssez."

279.07-08: Older than grandmother at the time of her first divorce: Dolly Zemski “married in 1840, at the tender and wayward age of fifteen, General Ivan Durmanov” (3.14-15). According to the Family Tree (p. [viii]), however, she continued having children by him until 1844, when she was 19.

279.09-10: You love me. Greg loves me. Everybody loves me: Ada pointedly does not mention Percy de Prey or Philip Rack. Cf. Greg’s declaration that “I was absolyutno bezumno (madly) in love with your cousin!”—which is followed by his elaboration that “Neither did she” (know this) (454.17-20).

279.10-11: or she’ll pull that cock off: The “cock” being ostensibly the boy on the box seat Lucette prefers. Cf. W3, cock, “3a : one occupying a position of success and control.” More obviously a play on cock as “penis” and therefore “pull oneself off” meaning “masturbate” (common low slang in the nineteenth as well as twentieth centuries, according to Partridge, 7th ed., 1970).

279.13-14: “Ouch!” grunted Van as he received the rounded load—explaining wrily that he had hit his right patella against a rock: Has she in fact sat her “rounded load” too heavily on his private parts? Or is it the “little pencil in your back pocket” (282.16-17)? Cf. 275.27-28 for the rock incident (which does not mention the knee, explicit at 310.14-15). MOTIF: knee.

279.13-282.28: the rounded load . . . “You’re awfully fidgety”: MOTIF: behind.

279.13: the rounded load: Cf. 280.01-02: “Her remarkably well-filled green shorts.”

279.15: Of course, if one goes in for horseplay: With an unintended echo of the footboy with the “tattered copy of Tattersalia” (278.23)? Ada, reminded of Van’s fight with Percy, opens her book to snub him. This will allow Van to sink almost uninterrupted into his memories of the 1884 ride home, as he sat under Ada.

279.16-17: opened, at its emerald ribbon, the small brown, gold-tooled book: Identified at 280.22-23 as “Ombres et couleurs, an 1820 edition of Chateaubriand’s short stories.” The “emerald”—Lucette’s hallmark green—may indicate here too Lucette’s central role in Ada’s Chateaubriand allusions (see Boyd 1985/2001: 125-28). MOTIF: Chateaubriand.

279.17: the passing sun flecks: Cf. 367.01: “sun-flecked Ardis.”

279.21-23: “I saw you—horseplaying,” said Lucette, turning her head. “Sh-sh,” uttered Van. “I mean you and him”: Van, “riding” Ada from behind, has noticed Lucette noticing them at the brink of the brook, and tries to silence her; he has not noticed Lucette noticing his tussle with Percy.

279.25: carriage-sick: Versus the usual “car-sick.”

279.27: Jean qui tâchait de lui tourner la tête: Darkbloom: “who was trying to turn her head.” Jean (Ivan, Van: to his distaste, like everything else she does, Dorothy Vinelander addresses Van as “Jean” at 519.33) is indeed turning Lucette’s head, even without trying.

279.29-30: —when the road ‘runs out of you’: This image of time receding from one’s position in the present prefigures the image of time in terms of a journey, in Part 4, The Texture of Time. On their transatlantic journey, Lucette recalls: “Yes, it’s always I in your lap and the receding road. Roads move?” “Roads move” (482.15-17).

279.32-33: She had been prevailed upon to clothe her honey-brown body: Cf. 278.08-09: “don’t forget your jersey, you can’t go naked.”

280.01: Her remarkably well-filled green shorts: Cf. 279.13: “the rounded load.” MOTIF: green [Lucette].

280.01-02: stained with burnberry purple: As a consequence of her stumble and slip “on a granite slab in a tangle of [burnberry] bushes” (267.17-20) while being too preoccupied with watching Van and Ada’s lovemaking. MOTIF: burnberry.

280.02: . . . burnberry purple. Her ember-bright hair: The “burn” in the berries seems to have set alight the “ember” in Lucette’s glowing red hair.

280.03: smelt of a past summer: Cf. Van’s “inhaling her hair” (86.24)—Ada’s, that is, as she sits on his lap on the way back from the 1884 picnic.

280.08: if the mushrooms had been taken: MOTIF: bolete.

280.12-15: Ada . . . more somberly ardent: MOTIF: ardor.  

280.18: in two different color prints: In one sense, Lucette’s honey-brown and Ada’s milk-white skins. But Van may also be thinking of his theories of time and memory: cf., in The Texture of Time,546.10-33: “Does the coloration of a recollected object (or anything else about its visual effect) differ from date to date? Could I tell by its tint if it comes earlier or later, lower or higher, in the stratigraphy of my past? Is there any mental uranium whose dream-delta decay might be used to measure the age of a recollection? The main difficulty, I hasten to explain, consists in the experimenter not being able to use the same object at different times (say, the Dutch stove with its little blue sailing boats in the nursery of Ardis Manor in 1884 and 1888) because of the two or more impressions borrowing from one another and forming a compound image in the mind; but if different objects are to be chosen (say, the faces of two memorable coachmen: Ben Wright, 1884, and Trofim Fartukov, 1888), it is impossible, insofar as my own research goes, to avoid the intrusion not only of different characteristics but of different emotional circumstances, that do not allow the two objects to be considered essentially equal before, so to speak, their being exposed to the action of Time. . . . how tantalizing, then, the discovery of certain exact levels of decreasing saturation or deepening brilliance—so exact that the ‘something’ which I vaguely perceive in the image of a remembered but unidentifiable person, and which assigns it ‘somehow’ to my early boyhood rather than to my adolescence.”

280.19: Through strands of coppery silk: MOTIF: copper.

280.22-33: her vellum-bound little volume, Ombres et couleurs, an 1820 edition of Chateaubriand’s short stories: Invented. The closest Chateaubriand came to short stories would be in the novellas Atala (1801), René (1802), and Les Aventures du dernier Abencérage (1826). MOTIF: Chateaubriand.

280.22-23: Ombres et couleurs: Darkbloom: “shadows and colors.” Cf. 280.33-34: “thoughts are much more faintly remembered than shadows or colors.” Cf. also, perhaps, another literary title, 302.26, the play Fast Colors.

280.24-25: with hand-painted vignettes and the flat mummy of a pressed anemone: Cf. Marina’s herbarium, with its drawings or deletions, and its flat-pressed flowers (7-8); and Marina is Van and Ada’s “mummy.” Note also the anemone in Ada’s 1884 nosegay, 38.01.

280.25: The gouts and glooms: Cf., on the 1884 picnic ride home, 86.20: “Hot gouts of sun moved fast across her zebra stripes and the backs of her bare arms.”

280.26-28: Lucette’s right arm, on which he could not help kissing a mosquito bite in pure tribute to the duplication: Cf., just before the 1884 picnic ride home: “the glow of the afternoon had entered its most oppressive phase, and the first bad mosquito of the season was resonantly slain on Ada’s shin by Lucette” (85.20-21).

280.28: Poor Lucette: MOTIF: poor L.

280.29-30: of that other coachman who for several months had haunted her dreams: Cf. Ben Wright, on the 1884 picnic ride home: “her drunken boxfellow who was seen to touch her bare knees with a good-natured paw” (86.11-12).

280.34: shadows or colors: Cf. 280.22-23: “Ombres et couleurs.”

281.01: a green snake in a dark paradise: MOTIF: green [Ardis]; paradise; snake.

281.03: his Ada: MOTIF: his Ada.

281.04: (and all three in me, adds Ada): MOTIF: Composition—Ada.

281.04: adds Ada: MOTIF: Ada.

281.08-09: Ada, husked-corn (laughing) trousers: Cf. 267.01-06. MOTIF: husked.

281.09-13: In the fatal course of the most painful ailments . . . slipped us the drug: Readers have by this time seen enough of the circumstances of Van writing Ada (at 70.04-10, 73.02-04, 121.23-25, 122.04-05, 220.22-26) to recognize that Van’s generalization closely reflects his present state at the time of his writing, in the 1960s. MOTIF: Composition—Van.

281.15: golden flood of swelling joy: Cf., on the 1884 picnic, “Hot gouts of sun . . . . ” (86.20) and “the boiling and brimming lad” (87.01).

281.18: the piercing and preying ache: The ache of jealous suspicion of Percy de Prey.

281.22: her full lips, parted in profile: Cf., on the 1884 picnic ride home: “the boiling and brimming lad relished her weight as he felt it responding to every bump of the road by softly parting in two” (87.01-03). Cf. Lucette, in Paris, in Ovenman’s bar in 1901: “”The glossy red lips are parted . . . . all this in profile, we softly repeat” (460.25-30).

281.27-28: threatened to touch off a private crisis under the solemn load of another child: Cf. 87.04-05: “lest a possible seep perplex her innocence.”

281.31-32: A twinge in his kneecap also came to the rescue: Cf., on the 1884 picnic ride home, when Van had also been approaching ejaculation: “He would have yielded and melted in animal laxity had not the girl’s governess saved the situation by addressing him” (87.05-07). MOTIF: knee.

281.32-34: Van chided himself for having attempted to use a little pauper instead of the princess in the fairy tale: Disparities of rank, especially if magically transcended, are a commonplace in fairy tale (Cinderella and her Prince, for instance), but Van plays here especially on The Prince and the Pauper (1881) by Mark Twain (1835-1910), where the title characters change places. Lucette, regularly associated with Cinderella, is no pauper (indeed, she will inherit Ardis), except in terms of emotional fulfillment; but Ada is Van’s princess or queen. Perhaps there is also an echo of the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea” (1835), by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75): the fact that the princess cannot sleep on a bed with a pea placed on it, despite twenty mattresses and twenty featherbeds being piled on top of the pea, proves she is a princess and deserves to marry the prince. Sensitive Lucette certainly seems more alert to Van under her than Ada had been in 1884. MOTIF: Cinderella; fairy tale.

281.34-282.01: the princess in the fairy tale—“whose precious flesh must not blush with the impression of a chastising hand”: In part an echo of “The Princess and the Pea” (see note above), in part Nabokov’s invention. He liked to claim that great novels were fairy tales (LL 2: “The truth is that great novels are great fairy tales—and the novels in this series are supreme fairy tales”; DQ 1), and in his own greatest novels he liked to insert invented fairy tales; cf. for instance Lolita 173, II.3:  “that gift would be snatched away like that palace on the mountain top in the Oriental tale which vanished whenever a prospective owner asked its custodian how come a strip of sunset sky was clearly visible from afar between black rock and foundation.”

282.01-02: says Pierrot in Peterson’s version: Evokes Perrault (a near-homophone of Pierrot): Charles Perrault (1628-1703), French recorder and teller of fairy-tales, in Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé: Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Stories or Tales of the Past: Tales of Mother Goose, 1697). “Pierrot,” a baby-talk version of “Pierre” (Peter), became a stock character in pantomime and the Commedia dell’Arte, the sad clown pining for Columbine.

282.05-07: They were now about to enter Gamlet, the little Russian village, from which a birch-lined road lead quickly to Ardis: Cf. 35.10-12: “Gamlet, a half-Russian village. . . . Birches separated to let them pass. . . . ” As they return from the 1884 picnic, Van, in “the mournful dullness of unconsummated desire . . . watched a row of izbas straggle by as the calèche drove through Gamlet, a hamlet” (87.10-11). MOTIF: Gamlet.

282.07-11: A small procession of kerchiefed peasant nymphs . . . walked past through a coppice: Familiar from Russian life and
literature, not least from the serf-girls’ berry-picking dance in EO, Chapter 3 (between stanzas 39 and 40). Cf. VN’s translation of EO III.xxxix.07-09: “Girl servants, in the garden, on the beds, / were picking berries in the bushes / and singing by decree in chorus.” Cf. SM 80: “kerchiefed peasant girls.”

282.08-10: peasant nymphs . . . with . . . high-divided plump breasts: Cf. 299.19-20: “a beautiful chestnut-curled little maiden with lewd eyes and bobbing breasts.”

282.08-09: adorably pretty: MOTIF: adore.

282.12-15: Thorns and nettles / For silly girls: / Ah, torn the petals, / Ah spilled the pearls!: The maidens’ ditty has overtones of something endangering, tearing, perhaps, at the maidenheads, pricks (of thorns or nettles) deflowering them (“torn the petals”). Blanche, on her first appearance, stresses (unconvincingly) her virginity and talks of breaking things, and confusing flowers (49.05-06).

282.16: You have a little pencil in your back pocket: No wonder Van “ouched” when she sat down on him, 279.13.

282.19: reached for Ada’s book and wrote on the fly leaf: MOTIF: Chateaubriand.

282.21-23: I don’t wish to see him again. . . . Tell M. not to receive him: Him: Percy; M.: Marina.

282.28: You’re awfully fidgety: Cf. “Stop fidgeting, please” (also in a coach), in the story “A Bad Day” (SoVN 264).

282.31: the tiny blue-coated reader: the tousled footboy with the “tattered copy of Tattersalia” (278.23).


Afternote to Part One, Chapter 39


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