Part I Chapter 41


The approach of doom for Van and Ada’s love has been signalled in I.39 (Percy de Prey’s arrival at Ada’s birthday picnic and his attack on his rival) and in I.40 (Percy’s semi-challenge to a duel and the note to Van, presumably from a French-speaking servant, warning that “One must not berne [dupe] you” (287)). Now in I.41 that doom bears down on Van and Ada. Yet for all the arrival of a fate foreseen, the chapter remains full of surprises: the farcical film-folk dinner, which distracts and fizzles; Blanche’s disturbing Van’s sleep in order to offer herself to him; once she admits she put the note in his jacket, her responding to his “tell me the whole story in every detail” (293) by announcing it began the previous August, with Philip Rack; Van’s preparing to flee Ardis in pursuit of Rack, but being met by Ada, and learning, when he mutters “But he exists, he exists” (296), that for Ada, Percy is the lover she has in mind; an impossible last remembered glimpse of Ada, even though Van has already turned his back on her, as he thinks, forever; and his final flight from Ada and Ardis in the company of Blanche and, once she has alighted, a coachman stressing he would never touch Blanche “even through a leathern apron” (300). The surprises keep coming: the narration ends by dissolving into a self-conscious stream of consciousness, strongly reminiscent of Anna Karenin’s roiling thoughts before her suicide, then into a weird mix of word-for-word near-simultaneous translation and private despair. Narrative itself seems to be breaking down as Van faces a life without Ada and Ardis.


291.01-11: Pedro . . . obtained: Cf. 285.32-34: “the ordeal of helping her mother entertain the movie people who were expected later in the evening.”

291.01-02: Hay fever and dark glasses: The dark glasses are to hide eyes inflamed by the hay fever, as Nabokov makes comically explicit in Ada/Ardeur 242: “Un rhume des foins et des lunettes noires” (“A hay-and-dark-glasses fever”).

291.02: G.A. Vronsky’s: Marina’s former lover (26.17-18) and the director of the film, The Accursed Children (197.03), the screenplay of which he reworks by the Ardis swimming pool in I.32.

291.03: Adorno: Not known outside this paragraph. Italian, “adorned.” His name may derive from that of the German philosopher, cultural and aesthetic critic, Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969). Adorno’s name certainly cropped up in intellectual reviews in the 1960s, although his work would have had no appeal to Nabokov, who never references him elsewhere. Nabokov would also have been unlikely to have known of Adorno’s life in Los Angeles in the 1940s and his 1944 work on film music. The name may primarily be simply a play on “adore.” MOTIF: adore.

291.03: Hate: An invented movie; apparently, despite the title, a comedy (see 291.05: Adorno presumably is “a considerably less important comedian”).

291.03-05: his new wife, who turned out to have been one of the old (and most beloved) wives of another guest: The theme of the fickle amours of actors (from Marina in I.2 and I.3, through her current obsession with Pedro), continues, to resume in II.9.

291.05: another guest: Not known outside this sentence and the next.

291.05: comedian: W2: “An actor who plays comedy.”

291.06-07: the arrival of a message necessitating his immediate departure: Seems to echo the message Van receives in 1.40 (287.22-288.02) and will learn to interpret here in I.41.

291.07: Grigoriy Akimovich: Vronsky. His name and patronymic combination has been used once before, in I.32: “’He does not,’ cried G.A., ‘it’s only a half-hearted flashback. Anyway, this Renny, this lover number one, does not know, of course, that she is trying to get rid of lover number two, while she’s wondering all the time if she can dare go on dating number three, the gentleman farmer, see?’ // ‘Nu, eto chto-to slozhnovato (sort of complicated), Grigoriy Akimovich,’ said Marina” (201.07-13).  Van will later address Greg Erminin as “Grigoriy Akimovich” (453.11, 455.05), and be corrected on the second occasion (Greg’s correct patronymic is Arkadievich). Ada will act in a production of Chekhov’s Four Sisters “on the modest stage of the Yakima Academy of Drama” (427.05-06) and at least “flirt” with the actor “Kim (short for Yakim) Eskimossoff” (430.04). Grigoriy Akimovich films The Accursed Children, which seems a distorted version of Van and Ada’s love; Kim Beauharnais records the original amour on his still camera. MOTIF: -kim-.

291.09: Marianne: A near-variant of “Marina,” no stranger to complicated marital entanglements among her theater and film friends.

291.10: biryuch, a variety of whist:The Russian word in fact means “herald,” and seems not to have ever been used to mean “whist.”

291.14: the tartan plaid: The “tartan lap robe” Van drapes himself in (115.08) on the Night of the Burning Barn, and on which he and Ada first properly make love (121.09ff).

291.14: bosquet: Fr. a formal plantation of trees in French formal gardens. Cf. 436.28, “that ducal bosquet.”

291.14-15: bergamask lamps: “Bergamask” (W2): “1. A native or inhabitant of Bergamo, in Italy. 2. A kind of rustic dance;— so called in ridicule of the alleged clownishness of the people of Bergamo.” These lamps seem to be, when lit, those under which Marina much earlier in Ardis the Second has sat with her guests: “under the golden globes of the new garden lamps that glowed here and there in the sudden greenery, and mingled their kerosene reek . . . ” (211.05-07). Why they should be called “bergamask” is unclear. Cancogni 300 suggests an allusion to a famous line in the opening of the poem “Clair de lune,” by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), from his 1869 collection Fêtes Galantes: “Votre âme est un paysage choisi / Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques / Jouant au luth et dansant et quasi / Tristes, sous leurs déguisements fantasques.” (“Moonlight”: “Your soul is a select landscape bewitched by masques and bergamasques playing the lute as they go and dancing and almost sad beneath their fanciful disguises” (William Rees, French Poetry 1820-1950, London: Penguin, 1990, 230).

291.17-18: reviewing such French-speaking domestics as could have slipped him that . . . note: See 287.26-29 for Van’s correct inference that the writer is “French-speaking” (287.27).

291.18-19: that ominous but according to Ada meaningless note: see 287.22-27 for note, 290.04-09 for Ada’s pretense that it is not meant for Van.

292.01: her fear of being “fired”: See 292.29-31 for Blanche’s decision to leave Ardis and her informing Marina by note of her “demission.”

292.02-04: she groveled, pleading for mercy, at the feet of Larivière, who accused her of “stealing” a bauble that eventually turned up in one of Larivière’s own shoes: Cf. 49.04-06: “Mlle Larivière called her ‘Cendrillon’ because her stockings got so easily laddered, see, and because she broke and mislaid things.” Cf. also the loss of the borrowed necklace in Mlle Larivière’s story “La Rivière de Diamants,” 83.06-22. MOTIF: Cinderella; La Parure; La Rivière de Diamants; slipper.

292.06-12: he fell asleep, and saw himself . . . confused nightmare): MOTIF: dream.

292.06-08: saw himself on a mountain smothered in snow, with people, trees, and a cow carried down by an avalanche: The Kyoto Reading Circle suggests that “avalanche” “can be seen as a combination of ‘Ada,’ ‘Van’ and ‘Blanche.’” See also the subsequent echoes of the avalanche in Van’s thoughts, 295.11, 295.15-18, and Ada’s related dream, 296.01-02. In Transparent Things avalanches form a foreboding motif.

292.13: the toolroom: Van discovers the toolroom on his first morning at Ardis (48.17), just before his first exchange with Blanche; he and Ada use it for their tryst on the first night of Van’s Ardis the Second (190.31-191.19).

292.18-19: one stocking gartered, the other down to her ankle; no slippers: Blanche’s slatternliness is often associated with stockings and garters: “Mlle Lavière called her ‘Cendrillon’ because her stockings got so easily laddered” (49.04-05); “‘drunken Ben Wright trying to rape Blanche in the mews—she has quite a big part in this farrago.’ // ‘He’s doing nothing of the sort. You see quite well they are dancing. It’s like the Beast and the Belle at the ball where Cinderella loses her garter’ ” (401.20-25). MOTIF: slipper.

292.22: C’est ma dernière nuit au château: Darkbloom: “this is my last night in the manor.” With the château, and the novelistic theme, cf. the direct and ironic echoes of Blanche in “Romantically inclined handmaids, whose reading consisted of Gwen de Vere and Klara Mertvago, adored Van. . . . Virgin châtelaines in marble-floored manors fondled their lone flames fanned by Van’s romance” (409.05-19).

292.23-24: her quaint English, elegiac and stilted, as spoken only in obsolete novels: MOTIF: novel.

292.24:"’Tis: corrected from Ada 1969, “ ‘T’is.’”

292.29-32: She had made up her mind a couple of days ago to leave Ardis Hall. She had just slipped her demission . . . under the door of Madame. She would go in a few hours: Cf. 16.23-25: “Your runaway maid, by the way, has been found by the police in a brothel here and will be shipped to you as soon as she is sufficiently stuffed with mercury.”

292.30-31: slipped her demission . . . under the door: The Kyoto Reading Circle notes the echoes among the note Blanche left for Van, “a slip of paper sticking out of the heart pocket” (287.23-24), just after Ada has brought back only one common orchid from her supposed botanical ramble, “a Lady’s Slipper” (287.14), Blanche’s “no slippers” here (292.19) and her general Cinderella associations, and this note “slipped . . . under the door.” MOTIF: Cinderella; slipper.

292.30: demission: Blanche may have used the French démission or its rare English equivalent, demission (W2): “Act of demitting; relinquishment; resignation or abdication.”

292.30-31: with a footnote on the young lady’s conduct: Presumably only veiled; not explicit even about Ada’s relations with Philip Rack and Percy de Prey, let alone her relations with Van, which Blanche romanticizes (see 409.05-19, quoted in part above at 292.22n); her indignation is on Van’s behalf. Blurry-headed Marina seems very imperfectly informed when she says to Van as he departs: ““Ada is causing me a lot of worry. . . . Please come back as soon as you can. You have such a good influence upon her” (298.18-21).

292.31: under the door of Madame: either a close translation from Blanche’s French (“sous la porte de madame”) or a direct record of her very Frenchified English.

292.32-33: She loved him, he was her “folly and fever”: Cf. Blanche’s theatrical proclamation, the first time she talks to Van: “were I to fall in love with you—I mean really in love—and I might, alas, if you possessed me rien qu’une petite fois—it would be, for me, only grief, and infernal fire” (49.17-20).

292.34-293.01: The slowness had its uncomfortable cause: Blanche’s undressing, and his lack of desire?

293.04-06: the urge which she took for granted and whose total absence he carefully concealed under his tartan cloak: Cf. Van’s first encounter with Blanche on his first morning at Ardis: “His loose attire revealed his desire; this could not escape a girl’s notice” (49.06-07). 

Van wraps himself “in his tartan lap robe” (115.08) to investigate the noises on the night of the Burning Barn. When he cloaks himself tighter as he looks from the divan in the library with Ada, he refers to himself as “Ramses the Scotsman” (117.06-07)—no absence of an urge that night—and he soon possesses Ada when she goes “on all fours to rearrange the lap robe and cushions” (121.08-09). The first time they make love during Ardis the Second they “were still fiercely engaged (on the same bench covered with the same tartan lap robe—thoughtfully brought) when the outside door noiselessly opened, and Blanche glided in like an imprudent ghost” (191.02-05).

293.06-08: quite aside from the fear of infection (Bout had hinted at some of the poor girl’s troubles): The first morning of Ardis the First, when Van accosts Blanche, she mentions, as a way of putting off his first advances, “I might add that I have the whites and must see le Docteur” (49.21-22); in fact she appears to have not leukorrhoea but gonorrhoea (perhaps caught from or transmitted to Bouteillan, her lover at this point in 1884; Bouteillan’s son Bout becomes her lover by the end of Ardis the First, 157.13-15, but has been jilted by her, 189.16, and succeeded by Sore the nightwatchman by the start of Ardis the Second, 191.05-06). At the end of the current chapter another servant, Trofim Fartukov, will comment on the undesirability of sex with Blanche: 300.12-17. Trofim will nevertheless marry her, and their child will be born blind (408.17-22), presumably as a result of congenital gonorrhoea.

293.08: He diverted her bold hand: Contrast with “He kissed Cendrillon’s shy hand” (299.23-24).

293.10-11: she who had placed that note. . . . It was: But it was her sister Madelon who wrote it (299.15-16).

293.11-12: if he was to remain fooled, deceived, betrayed: In his relationship with Ada, that is; Blanche knows Van knows she knows about his and Ada’s love, which indeed she thinks highly romantic (see 409.05-19). The triple past participle is a Flaubertian intonation that returns in Russian and English in the chapter’s final words: “Kóncheno, zagázheno, rastérzano: finished, fouled, torn to shreds,” (300.18-19 and n).

293.13: she had been sure he always desired her: He had indeed desired her on his first night and morning at Ardis the First: “a young chambermaid whom he had glimpsed (and promised himself to investigate) on the preceding evening” (48.20-22); “His loose attire revealed his desire; this could not escape a girl’s notice” (49.06-07).

293.14: Je suis à toi, c’est bientôt l’aube: Darkbloom: “I’m yours, it’s soon dawn.”

293.16: Parlez pour vous: Darkbloom: “Speak for yourself.” Cf. “Ah, parlez pour vous” (120.08-09), Ada’s comment disagreeing with Van’s recollections and presentation of the Burning Barn scene.

293.19: fear and adoration in her veiled eyes: Handmaid Blanche’s adoration helps spread the legend of Van and Ada’s love: “Romantically inclined handmaids, whose reading consisted of Gwen de Vere and Klara Mertvago, adored Van, adored Ada, adored Ardis’s ardors in arbors.” (409.05-07). MOTIF: adore.

293.20-26: Last August. . . . haystack: August 1887. Cf. “he discovered the pale trace of an inch-long cut which ran parallel to her vertebrae just below the waist and which resulted from a deep scratch caused last August by an erratic hatpin—or rather by a thorny twig in the inviting hay. // (You are merciless, Van.)” (216.24-29).

293.20: Votre demoiselle: Your young miss.

293.21: picking flowers: MOTIF: flowers.

293.22-23: Mais le musician allemand, Monsieur Rack: “The German musician, Mr Rack, of course.”

In George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (see 35.17-18n), Miss Catherine Arrowpoint (whose name chimes oddly with Ardis Hall, given that “ardis” means “the point of an arrow,” 225.17-18), heiress to Quetcham Hall, has a German music teacher, Julius Klesmer, a pianist and composer. They fall in love and marry, despite her parents’ initial opposition. "As to the possibility of her being in love with Klesmer they were not at all uneasy—a very common sort of blindness” (ch. XXII); when he has declared his love, assuming it can have no return, Klesmer announces “I shall go now and pack. I shall make my excuses to Mrs. Arrowpoint" (ch XXII), before Miss Arrowpoint declares her love in return and her readiness to marry.

293.23-24: The eager informer had her own swain lying upon her: Was Blanche’s swain Bout? Sore? Or no longer the first, but not yet the second: someone else altogether? Apparently “two gallants” (293.31)?

293.24: on the other side of the hedge: Bitter Van will shortly exaggerate: “I have just learned qu’on vous culbute behind every hedge” (296.06-07).

293.25: l’immonde: Darkbloom: “unspeakable.”

293.27-28: a very pretty one was once played at a big public ball at the Ladore Casino: Cf. Marina: “nor can I tell my little French maid to stop getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore” (255.06-08).

293.31: two gallants: The ironic title of a story (written 1905) in James Joyce’s Dubliners (1914), about two louche spongers, one of whom, Corley, persuades a maid he has seduced to steal from her employer for him.

293.34-294.01: il la mangeait de baisers dégoûtants: Darkbloom: “he devoured her with disgusting kisses.” MOTIF: mangeait.

294.02-03: he was not as strong as another gentleman—oh, cut it out, said Van: Van thinks Blanche is paying him a compliment, but she probably means burly Philip Rack, whose story she expects to move to next, until Van’s distress cuts her story short.

294.04: and hated his cruel wife: Elsie (202.11), who seems to have fatally poisoned him: 313.16-27, 317.16-20. Ambiguous in the English: in “the young lady learnt he was married, and hated his cruel wife,” does “hated his cruel wife” follow from “he” (“he . . . hated”) or from “the young lady” (“the young lady learnt . . .  and hated”? The French opts for the latter: “et elle se prit à détester sa cruelle rivale” (“and she began to detest her cruel rival”), Ada/Ardeur 245.

294.04-05: in April when he began to give piano lessons to Lucette: Do Dan and Marina move from Manhattan to Ardis Hall as early as April? Would Ada not still be at school at Brown Hill?

294.05: but then—: Blanche’s very next words may have been about to introduce Percy as Ada’s second and main lover, other than Van. Percy becomes Ada’s lover about May 1888 (“early Thargelion, 1888,” 335.09-10).

294.07: stumbled out into the sunlight: Blanche’s “c’est bientôt l’aube” (“it is soon dawn,” 293.14) is already borne out.

294.10: loafers: In this sense, not in W2; W3: “Loafer . . . trademark: . . . a low leather step-in shoe with an upper resembling the moccasin but with a broad flat heel.”

294.11: where thrushes were singing so richly: Cf., on Van’s first morning at Ardis the First, “a clamorous carolling—bright warbles, sweet whistles” (47.16-19); on his first morning at Ardis the Second: “the thrushes were sweetly whistling” (191.30).

294.12: such fluty fioriture: In part an ironic echo of Rack’s main musical instrument, the flute, 293.21-22. Fioritura, W2: “pl. fioriture . . . [It. a flowering] Music. An embellishment; commonly, in pl., florid melodic ornaments, as trills, turns, etc.”

294.12-13: one could not endure the agony of consciousness, the filth of life, the loss, the loss, the loss: Cf. Van’s prepared speech for the dying Rack: “No oxygen gadget can help you to eschew the ‘agony of agony’—Professor Lamort’s felicitous pleonasm” (314.12-14). MOTIF: agony.

294.15-16: the magic method of not allowing the image of Ada to come anywhere near his awareness of himself: Cf. “the current still hummed on and on behind the wall, even if I locked up my brain by an act of self-hypnosis (plain will, or pill, could no longer help) within some other image or meditation—but not Ardis, not Ada, for that would mean drowning in a cataract of worse wakefulness” (359.17-360.02).

294.17-18: a vacuum into which rushed a multitude of trivial reflections: Cf. “nothing is fuller than an empty mind” (244.23). Jansy Mello (Nabokv-L, 19 August 2014) aptly cites a famous passage from SM 139, with a very different mood: “the highest enjoyment of timelessness—in a landscape selected at random—is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern—to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal” (italics added).

294.24: the ants swarming over it: Cf. “causing a slight fourmillement (excited ants) in his foot” (531.27, where the context also involves duelling). Fr. fourmillement actually means “swarming,” from fourmi, “ant.”

294.26: did not allow to challenge: A slightly foreign note; more idiomatic would be “did not allow one to challenge. . . . ”

294.27-28: artists, pianists, flutists: Cf. Rack, “my last flute melody” (316.20).

294.28: you could make his gums bleed: Cf. “the pianist . . . showing his awful gums” (200.11); “Philip Rack was trudging up, . . . gums exposed” (207.18-19); “Herr Rack, who has such delectable gums” (296.26).

294.29-30: thrash him with a strong cane—must not forget to choose one in the vestibule closet:  Cf. Ada/Ardeur 246: “ou . . . de lui romper l’échine avec une canne bien solide” (“or . . . to break his spine with a good solid cane”). Cf. 298.26-27: “thanked Bout for a silver-knobbed cane.” Cf. also the cane a jealous husband uses to thrash Smurov, The Eye, 23-25. MOTIF: cane.

295.04: Van dressed with exquisite care: Both to keep his mind off Ada and to be correctly dressed for a duel, if he can find Rack and if he can then stoop, as he sees it, to duelling him (see 294.25-31).

295.05: dark-gray suit newly pressed: Cf. Van’s arrival at Ardis the First “in his trim gray suit” (37.07).

295.07-08: a score of twenty-dollar gold coins: Cf. Van’s compensation to the porter to whom he deals a piston blow with his elbow, in the scuffle with Captain Tapper as he dismounts from the train at Kalugano, 305.03-04: “Van chose a twenty dollar piece from a palmful of gold.” MOTIF: gold dollars.

295.09: passport, what else? nothing else: Cf. 308.13-14: “a pocket diary—what else?—yes, a small alarm clock.”

295.10: and pinned a note to the pillow: Cf. Lucette’s “note scrawled in Arlen Eyelid Green . . . pinned to the pillow” (420.32-33).

295.11: Son killed by avalanche: Van’s self-dramatizing imagination, conjuring up a physical correlative of his emotional fall, echoes the avalanche he was dreaming of, in his state of apprehension, when the noise of the approaching Blanche waked him an hour or so earlier (292.06-08).

295.12: contraceptives donated to Old Guides’ Home: Probably a play on mountain guides and the Girl Guides (Girl Scouts in some countries), whose motto, like that of the Boy Scouts, was “Be prepared.” Lieutenant-General Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), the inspiration for the rather asexual or presexual Scout movement (Boy Scouts formally founded in 1909, Girl Guides in 1910), probably never thought of “Be prepared” in terms of contraceptives.

295.12: Old Guides’ Home: Cf. perhaps 146.31: “You are the ghost, old guide.”

295.16: cursing his knee: A reminder, just before the revelation that Percy de Prey was also one of Ada’s lovers, of Percy’s assault on Van from behind at Ada’ s birthday picnic, and the painful knee that resulted for Van, 275.27-28ff. MOTIF: knee.

295.16-17: to fix his skis . . . but the skis had vanished: Echo of Van’s avalanche dream, 292.07-08, and his recent imagining of his plight in terms of an avalanche, 295.11-12.

295.23-24: Wristwatch! He returned to the hammock where it was strapped to the netting: Cf. 294.08-09: “It was a quarter to six on the wristwatch hanging from the net of the hammock.”

295.25-26: a black-haired girl of sixteen or so, in yellow slacks and a black bolero: Cf. “Sly Aqua . . .  put on yellow slacks and a black bolero” (28.17-20) on the day of her suicide. MOTIF: black; black-yellow.

295.25-31: girl . . . standing on a third-floor balcony and signaling to him. . . . telegraphically, with expansive linear gestures . . . the cloudless sky . . . (have only to put on my sandals!): Cf. “balcony . . . the cloudless turquoise of the sky. . . One floor below . . . stood Ada engrossed in the view. . . . she made the royal-grant gesture of lifting and offering him the mountains, the mist and the lake with three swans” (561.25-562.07).

295.29: the jacaranda summit in bloom: “Summit” here is highly unusual for the tip or crown of a tree; it may echo the mountain-avalanche imagery at 292.06-08, 295.11-18, and 296.01-02. Cf. “In the old manor, I’ve parodied / Every veranda and room, / And jacarandas at Arrowhead / In supernatural bloom” (324.01-04).

295.29: jacaranda: W2: “A large genus of pinnate-leaved tropical American trees (family Bignoniaceae) with showy paniculate blue flowers.” Having said that if he re-settled in the US it would be in California, Nabokov was asked which part, and answered: “I like it all. I love Los Angeles, where we lived while I was writing the screenplay of Lolita. I had never seen jacaranda trees before, at least in bloom. . . . Do you remember, darling? There was a whole street lined with jacarandas.” Gerald Clarke, “Checking in with Vladimir Nabokov,” Esquire, July 1975, p.133. Cf. PF 93 (n.49): “Disa, our King’s Queen, whose favorite trees were the jacaranda and the maidenhair.”

295.29-30: in bloom (blue! bloom!): Cf. “on the roof terrace (now embellished by shrubs of blue spiraea in invincible bloom)” (390.10-11). Cf. also Joyce, Ulysses, ch. 11(“Lotus-Eaters”), ll. 6, 230-31, 458, p. 210: “Blew. Blue bloom is on the.”; 215: “Bloom. Old Bloom. Blue bloom is on the rye”; 220: “the silent bluehued flowers” (Harmondsworth: Penguin Student Edition, 1986). In this chapter of Ulysses Bloom and Blazes Boylan, the man who is about to cuckold him, cross paths.

295.30: her own bare foot: Cf. 8.26-31: “Dr. Krolik . . . has determined the example I brought back from Sacramento to Ardis, as the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not my foot or yours.”

296.01-02: I must tell you my dream before I forget. You and I were high up in the Alps: A close echo of Van’s mountain-avalanche dream that night, 292.06-08, itself echoed at 295.11-18. Part Five of Ada will open with Van and Ada happily in the Alps: “Today is my ninety-seventh birthday, and I hear from my wonderful new Everyrest chair a spade scrape and footsteps creak in the snow-sparkling garden. . . . the château recently built at Ex, in the Swiss Alps, . . . became their favorite, especially in midwinter” (567.02-13). MOTIF: dream.

296.03: wearing townclothes: Cf. 295.04-05.

296.04: drawled dreamy Van: He was dreamy (harking back to his alpine dream) while putting on his townclothes (295.04-18).

296.05: From a humble but reliable sauce, I mean source: Van’s slip is inadvertent, but perhaps Nabokov adds a pun on Blanche’s name, sauce blanche meaning “white sauce.”

296.05-06: excuse my accent: Vestiges of Blanche’s Canady accent?

296.06: qu’on vous culbute: Darkbloom: “that they tumble you.”

296.06-07: behind every hedge: Cf. 293.23-24: “The eager informer had her own swain lying upon her on the other side of the hedge.”

296.12-13: a rainbow web: Cf. Ada/Ardeur 247: “un debris d’arc-en-ciel, reste d’une toile d’araignée” (“rainbow fragments, the remainder of a spider-web”). Cf. 295.33-296.01: “across the iridescently glistening lawn.” MOTIF: rainbow.

296.13: on the turf: MOTIF: turf.

296.14-17: he left yesterday for some Greek or Turkish port. . . . Those walks in the woods mean nothing: Ada naturally thinks of Percy de Prey, whom she knows Van has suspected and who she knows has challenged and rattled Van, and not of her earlier lover, Philip Rack. Percy has just departed for the Second Crimean War (cf. 284.15-16, 299.13-14). Cf. 260.15-17: “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: in the woods; Turkish tobacco.

296.21-22: We are all doomed, but some are more doomed than others: A variation on the now proverbial “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others,” Animal Farm (1945), ch. 10, by George Orwell (1903-50).

296.24: He adores me to the point of insanity: MOTIF: adore.

296.26: Herr Rack, who has such delectable gums:  Cf. 200.11, 207.19, 294.28.

296.27: also adores you to the point of insanity: Van’s verbal repetition underscores the bitter irony of Ada’s answering about the wrong lover. MOTIF: adore.

296.28: He turned, as they say, on his heel: Why does there seem something threatening or hostile in the “as they say,” introducing this banal idiom? In any case, it prepares for the psychological quirk of Van’s not seeing Ada at Ardis after this but retaining a vivid impression of her looking at him departing Ardis forever (296.30-298.01).

296.31: or in any prism: MOTIF: prism.

296.32-298.09: yet, with dreadful distinction, he retained forever a composite picture of her standing where he left her . . . actual memory: Cf. 391.05-06: “every time he remembered her impossible semi-smile as she adjusted her shoulder blades to the trunk of the final tree.” MOTIF: replay.

296.34-297.02: he retained forever a composite picture of her standing where he left her. The picture—which penetrated him, through an eye in the back of his head, through his vitreous spinal canal, and could never be lived down, never: Cf. Demon’s remembered mental (but unseen) image of Marina at a moment that signifies betrayal: “one image I shall not forget and will not forgive” (16.03-04).

297.02-05: a selection and blend of such random images and expressions of hers that had affected him with a pang of intolerable remorse at various moments in the past: Cf. 489.14-16: “By some stroke of art, by some enchantment of chance, the few brief scenes she was given formed a perfect compendium of her 1884 and 1888 and 1892 looks.”

297.07-08: There was the time she stood with her back against a tree trunk, facing a traitor’s doom: At the picnic on Ada’s birthday, when she pulls Van aside from responding to Percy’s baiting: “Ada stood with her back against the trunk of a tree, like a beautiful spy who has just rejected the blindfold.// ‘I wanted to ask you, incidentally, Van’ (continuing in a whisper, with an angry flick of the wrist)— ‘stop playing the perfect idiot host; he came drunk as a welt, can’t you see?’ // The execution was interrupted . . . ” (272.11-16). At the end of this long day of his departure from Ardis, Van recalls the present composite image: “He wondered if the other girl still stood, arrow straight, adored and abhorred, heartless and heartbroken, against the trunk of a murmuring tree” (308.23-25). Just as he is about to meet Ada again, he recalls this moment again: “every time he remembered her impossible semi-smile as she adjusted her shoulder blades to the trunk of the final tree” (391.05-06).  MOTIF: against trunk.

297.08-10: he had refused to show her some silly Chose snapshots . . . and had torn them up in fury: Cf. Ada’s destroying all the photographs but one of 1888 in Kim Beauharnais’s blackmail album (407.30-408.08).

297.09: some silly Chose snapshots of punt girls: As Eric Naiman noted, Nabokv-L, 31 October 2002, there is no doubt a pun here on the obvious obscene rhyme with “punt,” although the French translation (in A1, Nabokov had marked “punt” as a word for translators to watch) translates literally: “des filles avec qui on se promenait en bateau plat” (“girls one took out riding in a flat boat”), Ada/Ardeur 248. Cf. 219.24-27: “When he recollected caress by caress his Venus Villa sessions, or earlier visits to the riverhouses of Ranta or Livida, he satisfied himself that his reactions to Ada remained beyond all that.”

297.14-17: he challenged her brusquely to find a rhyme to “patio” and she was not quite sure if he had in mind a certain foul word and if so what was its correct pronunciation: There are no pure rhymes for the three syllables of “patio.” “Fellatio” does not rhyme with it.

297.16: a certain foul word: Ada may recoil from the word “fellatio,” but not from the act:  cf. 141.04-21: “that first time. . . . It bruised me.”

297.18-31: a bunch of wild flowers . . .  a roly-oly old Pole: Echoes the death of Polonius in Hamlet, and the effect it has on Ophelia’s sanity, her plucking flowers in a deranged state and falling to a perhaps suicidal death; and, in Van’s mood here, Hamlet’s own morbidity of thought in response to his father’s, Polonius’s, and Ophelia’s deaths. In 1930 Nabokov translated the passage where Queen Gertrude reports the scene of Ophelia’s death (Rul’, 19 October 1930, p. 2), and it remained one of his favorite passages, focused on in Bend Sinister 113-15, and translated again there on p. 118. MOTIF: flowers.

297.18-19: a gentle half-smile: Cf. “her impossible semi-smile as she adjusted her shoulder blades to the trunk of the final tree,” 391.05-06.

297.24-33: a brutal outburst triggered by her suggesting . . . that they visit the late Krolik’s grave . . . (“ . . . I refuse to stare at a stone under which a roly-poly old Pole is rotting, let him feed his maggots in peace, the entomologies of death leave me cold . . . ”); he went on ranting that way for a couple of minutes: Cf. “Her florimania endured, alas; but after Dr. Krolik died (in 1886) of a heart attack in his garden, she had placed all her live pupae in his open coffin where he lay, she said, as plump and pink as in vivo” (219.10-13); “What had she actually done with the poor worms, after Krolik’s untimely end?// ‘Oh, set them free’ (big vague gesture), ‘turned them out, put them back onto suitable plants, buried them in the pupal state. . . ’” (193.01-05).

MOTIF: Van’s tirades.

297.26: on the edge of a bog to see if a certain orchid was out: Cf. the Scrabble play on ORHIDEYa  and TORFYaNUYu, 227.21-228.13, and the orchid Lucette draws, “a red-bearded pogonia, with indecent details of structure, a plant peculiar to the Ladoga bogs” (288.31-33). MOTIF: orchids; peat, bog.

297.28-32: You know I abhor churchyards, I despise, I denounce death . . . the entomologies of death leave me cold: Cf. Gift 309: “There is a lack of metaphysical gallantry in this, but death deserves no more. Fear gives birth to sacred awe, sacred awe erects a sacrificial altar. . . . ”

297.30-31: a stone under which a roly-poly old Pole is rotting, let him feed his maggots in peace: Versus “let him rest in peace.” Echoes of the death of Polonius (a Dane, but his name suggests Poland, and King Hamlet fights “the sledded Polacks”: (cf. Bend Sinister 113: “lusty old King Hamlet smiting with a poleaxe the Polacks skidding and sprawling on the ice”). Hamlet, questioned where Polonius’s body is, after he has killed him and dragged him into a nearby room, answers “At supper.” “Where?” “Not where he eats, but where a is eaten—a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him” (4.3.19-21).

297.32: he went on ranting that way for a couple of minutes: As Hamlet rants at the funeral of Ophelia, Hamlet 5.1.250-288, and obsesses with death also especially in 4.3, on the death of Polonius.

298.02: tessellation: see 296.32-298.09n.

298.04-05: the girl in yellow slacks and black jacket: MOTIF: black-yellow.

298.04-05: black jacket: Any connection with “Jack Black” (24.01)?

298.07: against the tree trunk: MOTIF: against trunk.

298.07: tossing her hair: MOTIF: tossing hair.

298.10: kimono: Cf. “in her oldest kimono . . . Marina” (232.05-06). Probably not a kimono but a similar, much less formal, garment, a yukata. Marina has a taste for things Eastern.

298.16: a bit of business I had been putting off like a fool: Disposing somehow or other of Percy de Prey (whom he has been suspicious of since arriving at Ardis the Second) and Philip Rack.

298.18: Ada is causing me a lot of worry: Marina may be referring to the “footnote on the young lady’s conduct” (292.30-31) that Blanche added to her notice of resignation.

298. 19: a Russian wobble of the cheeks: MOTIF: Marina’s Russianness.

298.20-21: You have such a good influence upon her: Confirms that Blanche’s note has reported at most (and even then obliquely) on Ada’s liaisons only with Rack and Prey, which Blanche disapproves of, and not with Van, which she adores.

298.22-23: The tame silver dragon on her back had an ant-eater’s tongue: In other words, long, thin, rounded. Cf. Ada’s “lolita . . . a rather long, but very airy and ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies, ‘deficient in botanical reality,’ as she grandly expressed it” (77.02-07).

298.24-25: What did poor mother know about P’s and R’s? Next to nothing: Preys and Racks. Blanche’s footnote must have been in general terms. Also a play on the oldfashioned expression “mind your Ps and Qs” (be careful, be circumspect)? Cf. Ada’s mid-September 1888 letter to Van: “I learned on the same day, from three different sources, of your duel in K.; of P’s death; and of your recuperating at his cousin’s . . . . I rang her up, but she said that you had left for Paris and that R. had also died. . . . Neither he nor P. was technically my lover, but both are on Terra now, so it does not matter” (332.26-33).

Note a rare example of Van casually referring to Marina as “mother.”

298.27: a silver-knobbed cane: To beat Philip Rack with: cf. 294.29-31. MOTIF: cane.

298.27: a pair of gloves: Van also wears gloves on his departure from Ardis the First: “his gloves wet with tears,” 159.11.

298.30-31: secured with a criss-crossing cord: Cf. Ada/Ardeur 249: “serrée par une corde vingt fois recroisée” (“closed with a cord crossed over twenty times”).

298.31-32: like a young lady setting out to teach school in a Wild West movie: Cf. Lolita 170: “the prim pretty schoolteacher arriving in Roaring Gulch.” Cf. also: “After some exploration, they tracked down a rerun of The Young and the Doomed (1890) to a tiny theater that specialized in Painted Westerns (as those deserts of nonart used to be called)” (424.01-04).

298.33: the Russian coachman: Trofim Fartukov, first named at 277.07.

298.34: calèche: Presumably the calèche (34.15) on which Van reached Ardis from the nearby “little rural station” (34.02) on his first visit to Ardis. The Kyoto Reading Circle notes:The description of his arrival in Ch. 5 and his departure in Ch. 41 are complementary contrasts. He arrives and departs by a calèche and the landscape he goes through on departing, such as Torfyanka village, is a reversal of his arrival.” 

299.01-02: fields of wheat speckled with the confetti of poppies and bluets: The confetti adds an ironic touch, as if Van were leaving with Blanche as his new bride. Cf. the Flaubert parody: “‘after jogging all day along harvest roads with poppies and bluets catching and twinkle-twining in the wheels of his buggy’ (Floeberg’s Ursula)” (128.23-25) Cf. also the party Van reaches Ardis the Second in the midst of, and Cordula’s approach there to Van: “A fourth maiden in the Canadian couturier’s corn-and-bluet summer ‘creation’ stopped Van to inform him with a pretty pout that he did not remember her, which was true. ‘I am exhausted,’ he said. ‘My horse caught a hoof in a hole in the rotting planks of Ladore Bridge and had to be shot’” (188.33-189.04).

299.02: bluets: W2: “2. a Eng. The bluebottle Centaura cyanus. b U. S. The farkleberry. c Often in pl. A delicate plant (Houstonia caerulea) of the United States, with 4-parted bluish flowers and tufted stems.”

299.03: young chatelaine: MOTIF: chatelaine.

299.04-05: as if en rapport with a dead minstrel’s spirit: Additional implication unclear. Perhaps a pre-echo, given the “chatelaine” in the previous line, and Blanche’s tone here, of the “romance of Van and Ada” at the end of II.7, which echoes especially Blanche’s adulation: “Romantically inclined handmaids, whose reading consisted of Gwen de Vere and Klara Mertvago, adored Van, adored Ada, adored Ardis’s ardors in arbors. Their swains, plucking ballads on their seven-stringed Russian lyres under the racemosa in bloom or in old rose gardens . . . added freshly composed lines . . . to cyclic folk songs. . . . Virgin châtelaines in marble-floored manors fondled their lone flames fanned by Van’s romance” (409.05-19).

299.06: look there, to your right (but he did not look . . . : Cf. Cordula and Van on the train to Kalugano: “She talked on and on, and he lost the thread of her discourse, or rather it got enmeshed in the rapid landscape, which his gaze followed over her shoulder” (303.32-304.02).

299.07: both hands on the knob of his cane: MOTIF: cane.

299.08-09: Monsieur le Comte: The Count (Percy de Prey).

299.09-10: crushing her like a grunting bear as he had also crushed—many times!—Madelon: In view of the “poppies and bluets” (299.02) early in the paragraph, echoing the “poppies and bluets” in “Floeberg’s Ursula” (128.24-25), could this explain the deformation of Emma Bovary’s name, in the direction of ursus, Lat. “bear”?

299.10: Madelon: Perhaps named because of the “ad” or “Adelaida” (Ada’s official name, 6.19) in her first name; perhaps an echo of the character Madelon in Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night, 1932), by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961), “an attractive young girl of easy morals” (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters), lover of both Léon Robinson, the friend of the antihero and narrator Ferdinand Bardamu, and occasionally of Bardamu himself. Cf. 335.11-13: “He did say he could produce witnesses, such as the sister of your Blanche.”

299.11-12: who said she, Blanche, should warn him, Van, because she was a wee bit jealous but she also said—for she had a good heart: The comic profusion of pronouns in second-hand gossip: “she, Blanche . . . she [Madelon] was . . . she [Madelon, presumably, or Blanche?] also said . . . she [Madelon, or Blanche?] had a good heart.” Ada is also a wee bit jealous of Madelon: “Gone also was the bouquet of roses which Ada had ordered to be put back into the boot of the Count’s car—better than waste them on her, let him give them, she said, to Blanche’s lovely sister” (277.02-05).

299.13-14: better put it off until “Malbrook” s’en va t’en guerre, otherwise they would fight: Madelon’s circumspection was wise, since Van would certainly have challenged Percy to a duel. “Malbrook”: see 288.14-16 and n. MOTIF: Malbrook.

299.14: they would fight; he had been shooting a pistol at a scarecrow: MOTIF: duel.

299:15-16: it was in Madelon’s hand, not in hers: “It”: “that note” (293.10). More pronominal run-on.

299.16: Tourbière: Cf. “Yes, Torfyanaya, or, as Blanche says, La Tourbière, is indeed, the pretty but rather damp village where our cendrillon’s family lives” (228.08-10). MOTIF: Tourbière.

299.19: the three sisters: Not Chekhovian (his play is Four Sisters on Antiterra) but fairy-tale, as in “Cinderella” or the fairy-tale-ish King Lear (“No matter how many times we reopen ‘King Lear,’ never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three daughters,” Lolita 265).

299.19-21: a beautiful chestnut-curled little maiden with lewd eyes and bobbing breasts (where had he seen her before?—recently, but where?): The androgynous young messenger who brings Percy de Prey’s note of potential challenge: “a messenger, a slender youth clad in black leather  . . . , chestnut curls escaping from under a vizored cap” (283.07-08); “the pretty messenger” (284.04-05); “‘I would be interested to know—this could be decided in a jiffy behind that tree—what you are, stable boy or kennel girl?’ // The messenger did not reply and was led away by the chuckling Bout. A little squeal suggestive of an improper pinch came from behind the laurels screening their exit” (284.08-13); cf. also Ada’s 1890 letter: “He [Percy] did say he could produce witnesses [to Van and Ada’s amours], such as the sister [Madelon] of your Blanche, and a stable boy who, I suspect, was impersonated by the youngest of the three demoiselles de Tourbe, witches all” (335.11-14).

299.22: birdcage: Why this? Ada at one point remembers a canary in the servants’ quarters (44.09-13).

299.22: a poor shack smothered in climbing roses: Cf., as Van passes through Torfyanka on his way to Ardis the first time, “a smith smothered in jasmine” (35.03). In view of the fairy tale evoked in the next line, evokes the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty.” Percy brings Ada a large bouquet of roses for her birthday, 271.11-14, 277.02-04. MOTIF: fairy tale.

299.23-24: Cendrillon’s shy hand: Blanche as Cendrillon, 49.04 etc. Contrast the “shy hand” here with earlier that day in the toolroom: “He diverted her bold hand” (293.08). MOTIF: Cinderella; fairy tale.

299.24: clearing his throat: MOTIF: clearing throat.

299.25: plucking at his trousers: He has an erection despite the situation and his determined resistance to Blanche.

299.25: Vain Van Veen: In Dutch (in which “Van Veen” can be a surname), “veen” sounds the same as English “vain.” MOTIF: V; Veen.

299.26: Torfyanka: MOTIF: Torfyanaya.

299.27: bog: MOTIF: peat, bog.

299.28-29: Volosyanka.” // His vulgar Russian word for Maidenhair: From Russ. volosyanoy, “hairy.”

299.30-31: Maidenhair. Idiot! Percy boy might have been buried by now!: This comes to Van’s mind here because Percy’s oblique challenge to a duel two days previously had suggested they face off “at dawn tomorrow where the Maidenhair road crosses Tourbière Lane” (283.16-17).

299.32-33: Maidenhair. . . . Thus named because of the huge spreading Chinese tree at the end of the platform: Ginkgo, W2: “a A genus of peculiar gymnospermous trees (family Ginkgoaceae), having as the only known species G. biloba. It is a native of eastern China, was apparently preserved as a temple tree, but is very rare in the wild state. . . . b . . . A tree of the species, often called maidenhair tree.” SO 58-59, in Montreux: “This is a ginkgo—the sacred tree of China, now rare in the wild state.” Cf. PF 93 (n49): “Disa, our King’s Queen, whose favorite trees were the jacaranda and the maidenhair.”

299.33-34: Once, vaguely, confused with the Venus’ hair fern: “Maidenhair,” OED: “1. The name of certain ferns having fine hair-like stalks and delicate fronds. a. Adiantum Capillus-veneris, called also black or true maidenhair. . . . 6. . . . maidenhair-tree, a name for the Gingko.” Maidenhair [W2], “or maidenhair fern. Any fern of the genus Adiantum; esp, in Europe, the Venus’s-hair A. capillus-veneris. . . . ”; maidenhair [W3] “or maidenhair fern. . . . : a fern of the genus Adiantum, as a: venushair. . . . ” MOTIF: Veen; Venus.

299.34-300.01: She walked to the end of the platform in Tolstoy’s novel: Anna Karenin, in Anna Karenina, Bk. 7, ch. 31: “Ona . . . poshla po platforme mimo stantsii. . . . ‘Bozhe moy, kuda mne?—vsyo dal’she i dal’she ukhodya po platforme, dumala ona. U kontsa ona ostanovilas’.” “She . . . walked along the platform past the station. . . . ‘Oh God, where to go?’ she thought, walking farther and farther away along the platform. At the end she stopped.” Van is self-consciously thinking of Ada’s suicide as he is about to step onto the platform of Volosyanka station.

300.01-02: First exponent of the inner monologue: Almost the whole of Part 7 Chapter 30 of Anna Karenin is Anna’s inner monologue as she is driven by carriage to Nizhny station, as is some of the build-up of her restless despair in Part 7 Chapters 28-29. Cf. “Paul Bourget’s ‘monologue intérieur’borrowed from old Leo” (61.08-09 and 61.06-09n). Cf. also VN’s foreword to KQK: “I must admit I was a little surprised to find in my Russian text [on returning to translate it after forty years] so many ‘monologue intérieur’ passages—no relation to Ulysses, which I hardly knew at the time; but of course I had been exposed since tender boyhood to Anna Karenin, which contains a whole scene consisting of those intonations, Eden-new a hundred years ago, now well used” (KQK x). VN wrote this on March 28, 1967, in the midst of writing Ada—and if I may be excused a brief personal digression, I recall writing to him ten years later that I was planning to work on Ada for my doctoral dissertation, which I intended at that moment to call “Eden-new a hundred years ago.” “Is that missing out too much?” I rather absurdly asked.

300.02: later exploited by the French and the Irish: The French: Édouard Dujardin in Les Lauriers sont coupés and Paul Bourget, in Cosmopolis (Ada 61.09: “borrowed from old Leo”); the Irish: James Joyce, in Ulysses (see 61.06-09n).

300.02-03: N’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert: Van’s memory of Ada’s mock translation of Lear’s line “Never, never, never, never, never,” a Shakespeare line which VN particularly admired (see 92.08 and 92.03-09n). Although Ada’s original “revised” translation pays no attention to the context of Lear’s speech, Van’s memories now activate the context. Bearing dead Cordelia, knowing he will never see her alive again, Lear laments: “And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life! / Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, / And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more, / Never, never, never, never, never” (King Lear, 5.3.306-09). Van cannot imagine he will ever choose to see Ada again. But he also thinks of Ada’s translation itself:
Ce beau jardin fleurit en mai,
                      Mais en hiver
           Jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais
   N’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert (92.05-09)

and the prospect of his now never being in the fine garden of Ardis again.

300.03: L’arbre aux quarantes écus d’or: Fr.: “The tree with forty gold écus,” alluding to the ginkgo tree. Cf VN’s diary, November 10, 1967: “Local name ginkho [sic] arbre des 40 ecus” (VNA), referring to the rich golden-yellow hue of ginkgo leaves in the fall.  Ada not only knows Latin botanical names, she has also mastered English, Russian and French popular plant names (see especially 63.21-64.05). Van, whose notions of taxonomy are rudimentary, presumably knows the local French name of the ginkgo only because he has heard it from Ada.

Stephen Blackwell writes (email, 16 May 2021): “In fact, whether or not Nabokov knew it, the French colloquial term for ginkgo refers not [only] to the color, but [especially] to the cost of the initial purchase of a set of the trees when they were first introduced to France: in 1780, a Parisian named Petigny went to London and bought five saplings in one pot for a total of 25 guineas, or about 120 francs/40 écus each, and from this came their nickname.  Summarized from Peter Crane, Ginkgo, [New Haven:] Yale UP, 2013, pp. 219-220; he is quoting John Loudon's 1838 account [in Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum, or the Trees and Shrubs of Britain, London: Longman, 1838, p. 2096] which translates André Thouin.” 

Van is looking at the “maidenhair” tree at the end of the platform (299.31-33), now of course still in summer green, but his mind has moved from one of Ada’s translations, and its “n’est vert” (“is not green” in winter) to another, her translation of François Coppée’s “Matin d’octobre,” with its images of the changed colors of leaves in the fall:

Their fall is gentle. The woodchopper
     Can tell, before they reach the mud,
    The oak tree by its leaf of copper
The maple by its leaf of blood. (127.26-29)
Seeing the now green leaves of the ginkgo, his mind therefore leaps ahead to the French nickname for ginkgo in autumnal foliage.
            John Shade writes a poem on the golden color and the shape of a ginkgo leaf:
The Sacred Tree
The ginkgo leaf, in golden hue, when shed,
            A muscat grape,
            Is an old-fashioned butterfly, ill-spread,
            In shape. (PF 93, C.49)
            Cf. with “quarante écus d’or”: 64.32-33: “The forged louis d’or in that collection of fouled French. . . . ”
MOTIF: gold dollars.

300.03-04: at least in the fall: Van realizes that the French nickname for “ginkgo” must refer only to the tree’s appearance in the fall.

300.04: Never, never shall I hear again her “botanical” voice: Echoes both Ada’s “N’est vert, n’est vert” (and her botanical translation of Lear’s line) echoing rather than translating Lear’s “Never, never . . . ,” and Lear’s line itself; and the motif of Ada’s taxonomy, from Ada’s first speech in the novel (8.21-9.03: “‘common Butterfly Orchis . . . early-spring sanicle . . . Bear-Foot. . . . You will be grateful,’ she continued, embracing him, ‘for my not mentioning its scientific name. Incidentally the other foot—the Pied de Lion from that poor little Christmas larch”) to her response to Van’s “That yellow thingum—is it a buttercup?”: “No. That yellow flower is the common Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris. In this country, peasants miscall it ‘Cowslip,’ though of course the true Cowslip, Primula veris, is a different plant altogether” (63.19-24). MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy.

300.05: fall: The fall of Ada’s voice, but also an echo of his own thought a moment ago, “at least in the fall” (300.03-04).

300.05: biloba . . . Ginkgo: See 299.32-33n. Possibly, especially in view of Ada’s being dressed in the yellow and black of the divan in the library (black divan, yellow cushions), in part an allusion to the poem “Gingo biloba” (1815) in West-östlicher Divan (1819), by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). The first two of three quatrains read:

Dieses Baums Blatt, der von Osten
Meinem Garten anvertraut,
Gibt geheimen Sinn zu kosten,
Wie’s den Wissenden erbaut.

Ist es ein lebendig Wesen,
Das sich in sich selbst getrennt?
Sind es zwei, die sich erlesen,
Daß man sie als Eines kennt?

"The leaf of this tree, entrusted from the east to my garden, offers a secret sense to try, to edify the Knower. // Is it one living being that divides itself in itself? Are they two, who choose themselves to be known as one?”

300.05: biloba: The species name of the ginkgo, G. biloba, which Linnaeus bestowed in 1771 to describe the tree’s unusual leaf shape, “Divided into two lobes” (the W2 definition of “bilobate”).

300.05: “sorry, my Latin is showing”: A play on “sorry, my slip is showing,” an expression still current in the decade in which Ada was written, a woman’s apology for letting a petticoat—an undergarment!—be seen.

300.05: Ginkgo, gingko: Ginkgo is the scientific genus name, but either spelling, -kg- or –gk-, is used as the common name for the species G. biloba.

300.06: ink: Van’s mind probably jumps from the common sound (both “ginkgo” and “gingko” are pronounced the same way) to Ada’s botanical drawings.

300.06: inkog: A near-anagram of “ginko” (a common misspelling of “gingko”) and a play on “incognito” (which, as the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, is inkognito in Russian), “unknown” (person); as the Reading Circle also notes, the next sentence begins, in the next word, with “Known.” Cf. perhaps 460.10: “Blok’s Incognita.”

300.06: Known also as Salisbury’s adiantofolia: English botanist James Edward Smith (1759-1828), founder of the Linnaean Society, in 1797 proposed the name Salisburia adiantifolia for G. biloba to honor another English botanist, Richard Salisbury (1761-1829). The species name adiantifolia means “with leaves like those of Adiantum,” the genus of maidenhair ferns. The first "o" (rather than “i”) of “-ofolia” may simply be VN’s or Van’s error. MOTIF: Ada.

300.06: Ada’s infolio: “Infolio” means a folio volume or page (double quarto size). “Infoliate” also means “To put on leaves, become leafy” (OED), perhaps linking associatively with the “N’est vert” and “fall” themes in the preceding lines, and perhaps with the “botanical atlases, large and small” (288.11) lying about as Ada tries to teach Lucette to draw flowers—the large atlases no doubt being infolio.

300.07: poor Salisburia: sunk: Salisburia adiantifolia Smith 1797 is “sunk” (as taxonomists say), demoted to a junior or invalid synonym of the valid Ginkgo biloba Linnaeus 1771, by “the inexorable law of taxonomic priority” (Ada 57.05-6). “Sunk” is translated in Ada/Ardeur as “nom supprimé” (“name disallowed”), 250.

300.07: poor Stream of Consciousness: Philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910), whose work Nabokov admired, described the ordinary flow of subjective experience as a “stream of consciousness” in his The Principles of Psychology (New York: Henry Holt, 1890). The phrase was first redirected to fictional rendering of subvocal thoughts in 1918 by novelist May Sinclair (1863-1946), discussing the novels of Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957), and was soon widely applied to Joyce’s Ulysses and much else in its wake. Usually seen as equivalent to “inner monologue” (300.01-02), although some would distinguish between, say, Leopold Bloom’s “stream of consciousness,” interrupted by authorial narration, and Molly Bloom’s sustained and uninterrupted “inner monologue.”

Note that Van’s thoughts continue by association from “sunk” to “stream.” This is a very self-conscious stream of consciousness.

300.07: marée noire: Darkbloom: marais noir: black tide.” Curiously, “black tide” correctly translates Ada’s “marée noire,” but not the words that Darkbloom identifies to gloss in his note, “marais noir,” which are not in the text (the error has been corrected in the Vintage edition of Ada), and which would be translated as “black swamp.” Nabokov may have dictated the notes either to Véra or to his French secretary Jaqueline Callier, either of whom could easily have heard “marée noire” and typed “marais noir,” since the phrases are homophonic in French (and Véra would be aware of the peat and bog references in this chapter and earlier that could easily trigger the “marais” interpretation of the word “marée”). Nabokov could be punctilious about details, but could also be absent-minded in checking. Rivers and Williams 286 speculate: “Could it be that Darkbloom decided to perpetrate a Kinbotean distortion and mistranslation of the text in order to suggest that the stream of consciousness technique, which had changed from a stream to an oil slick by the time Ada was written, had changed from an oil slick to a black swamp by the time Darkbloom wrote the notes?” Unlikely, since Nabokov wrote the notes in 1969, the year Ada was published.

300.12-17: Dazhe skvoz’ . . . wench: Ironically, despite his warning, Trofim will end up marrying “that French wench,” Blanche (“Cinderella de Torf (now Madame Trofim Fartukov),” 334.21; also 408.15-23), and will have a child by her, born blind (“They have a blind child,” 408.22), perhaps as a result of the venereal infection against which he seems to be warning Van here (and to which we have heard multiple references: see 293.06n). Trofim’s warning Van not to touch Blanche, because of her venereal disease, echoes Van’s fear in I.4, on the train taking him to Ardis for the first time on his own, that he may have contracted venereal disease.

300.12-15: fartuk . . . fártuk . . . apron: The coachman’s surname has not yet been mentioned; it first occurs in a letter from Ada to Van, referring to Blanche as “Cinderella de Torf (now Madame Trofim Fartukov)” (334.21). Fartukov’s name means “of aprons,” and refers to the leathern apron worn against the cold on Russian coaches, as in for instance. Tolstoy’s Boyhood, ch. 2.

300.14-19: Bárin . . . torn to shreds: MOTIF: translation.

300.16-17: Frantsúzskuyu: French (adj., accus.): “Blanche” itself as a French word is an adjective, and if Trofim had said “etu Blanche” (“that Blanche”) would be in the accusative case. Cf. 227.27-228.14: “TORFYaNUYu . . . ‘Yes, Torfyanaya, or as Blanche says, La Tourbière, is, indeed, the pretty but rather damp village where our cendrillon’s family lives. But, mon petit, in our mother’s tongue—que dis-je, in the tongue of a maternal grandmother we all share—a rich beautiful tongue which my pet should not neglect for the sake of a Canadian brand of French—this quite ordinary adjective means ‘peaty,’ feminine gender, accusative case.” Note the sequence “French . . . adjective . . .  accusative,” repeated here.

300.17-19: Úzhas . . . shreds: Although this purports to be a continuation of the translation of Trofim’s sentence, it is of course instead a record of Van’s unspoken feelings, in Russian and in English, about the end of his idyll with Ada at Ardis.

300.17: Úzhas, otcháyanie: The Kyoto Reading Circle notes that these words are both Russian titles of works by Nabokov, the short story “Uzhas” (“Terror,” 1927) and the novel Otchayanie (Despair, 1934).

300.18-19: Kóncheno, zagázheno, rastérzano: finished, fouled, torn to shreds: Cancogni 265, notes, among Ada’s pastiches of Flaubertian stylistic hallmarks, “the ineluctable repetition of the past participle [in L’Education sentimentale, 1869]: ‘Ruiné, dépouillé, perdu!’ [‘Ruined, skinned, lost!’, Paris: Garnier, 1964, p. 91] follows Frédéric’s loss of inheritance and hope; ‘Honteux, vaincu, écrasé’ [‘Ashamed, defeated, crushed,’ III.v, p. 417], his loss of love and friendship, both of which Ada renders bilingually: “Kóncheno, zagázheno, rastérzano: finished, fouled, torn to shreds’ (p. 300), when Van leaves Ada and Ardis, presumably forever.” Cf. also, earlier in the chapter: “if he was to remain fooled, deceived, betrayed” (293.11-12).

Afternote to Part One, Chapter 41


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