Van begins in Part 1 Chapter 5 the account of his first, 1884, summer with Ada at Ardis, which will occupy the narrative until Part 1 Chapter 25. The chapter is the first devoted to a single scene; indeed, the afternoon that unfurls here begins the first prolonged scene in the novel. This new rhythm of expansiveness will last for the duration of Ada's two sojourns at Ardis.
In this first chapter of Ardis the First, Van and his maker need to establish both the atmosphere of Ardis and the newness of Ardis and Ada for Van. The "sunflecks and lacy shadows" that skim over Van's legs on the way from the station and lend "a green twinkle to the brass button deprived of its twin on the back of the coachman's coat" (34.18-35.07) prepare us for Ardis's green-golden world of luminous and wayward detail. Van's assumption that Lucette "must be 'Ardelia,' the eldest of the two little cousins he was supposed to get acquainted with" (36.24-25) establishes how vague is his notion of either. But just as Van's and Ada's love will at the same time feel breathtakingly unprecedented and a triumphant part of the age-old saga of love, Van's sense of the novelty of Ardis is strangely heightened by the surprise of old associations in a place so new to him: the aquarelle image of Ardis he suddenly recollects from his father's bedroom, Bouteillan and the farmannikin they both recall, his old governess Mlle Larivière.
The whole chapter combines anticipation and retrospection--not to mention retrospected anticipations and anticipated retrospections--in ways so varied they continue to catch our imaginations off guard. The aquarelle Van recalls shows an architect's projection two hundred years ago of what Ardis would look like; the trees have since grown in a way that outstrips the projection, but once Van sees the park itself, the sight triggers off a recollection of something he had forgotten would offer a foreglimpse of his destination. The frock and blazer that Ada wears, we discover immediately, she will later deny that she could have worn, and the one sentence that tells us that (37.15-20) also tells us that Van and Ada will later come to value so much the moment they first meet, in itself seemingly unmomentous; that they will continue to return to it later in life; that Ada will see her past differently from Van; that Van will nevertheless stick "to his initial image of her to the last": he will acknowledge the frailty, but also the vividness and the ineradicability of memory. As Van bends toward Ada at the window, one sentence loops wildly forward to her marriage to someone else, and the next anticipates on a much more immediate scale Van's forthcoming dreams of "this re-enacted contact" (39.27) which implicitly form a stage of their relationship that is soon transcended. Marina's anxiety at the end of the chapter about her son and daughter climbing up toward the bedrooms at Ardis runs absurdly ahead of events but is already outpaced by Van's retrospective and our anticipatory awareness: we already know that her fear, unfounded at present, will be more than justified, and will be dismissed with lighthearted unconcern by Van and Ada.
The most elaborate and amusing, although the least noticeable, of the patterns of anticipation and recapitulation involve Van's journey from the station to Ardis. He expects to see a saddled horse waiting for him at the station; there is not even a trap. But a chance arrival of another passenger in a hackney coach provides him with a way of reaching Ardis unannounced (which makes possible his mistake about Lucette's identity). Taking advantage of our fluctuating attention and our ignorance of horse-drawn carriages, Nabokov identifies the hackney coach as "the old caleche" before referring to it as "the sensitive runabout" and then, rather strangely, as "the old clockwork taxi." When Van reaches Ardis, "A servant in waiting took his horse." Somehow, the hackney coach has metamorphosed into the saddlehorse he had foreseen. What is this? A joke? A warning that as we move toward Ardis, we move toward wish-fulfilment and romance? A subversion of the bland continuum of time?
If anticipation subverts itself on this brief journey, so does recapitulation. There is nothing very odd about a local driver waving to someone he knows first in one village, then in another. But Torfyanka is a "hamlet" and "Gamlet, a half-Russian village" named after the Russian equivalent of "Hamlet." Van describes the lucky arrival of the woman in the hackney coach as "a chance crease in the texture of time." Is this another crease in time's texture, or are the two salutations, the two settlements, really distinct?
34.01: In the early afternoon: late in the first week in June, 1884 (cf. 113.09-10: "around June 10--a rainy evening less than a week after my first arrival to Ardis"). Van's trip to Ardis had been proposed on Demon's most recent visit there, on April 23, 1884 (237.23-25).
34.03: Ardis Hall, which he was visiting for the first time: MOTIF: first time.
34.04-35.31: Van imagines a saddled horse waiting for him, but there is not even a trap (34.04-05); he takes a hackney coach that happens to deposit someone just as he needs it (34.10-15); identified as an "old calèche" (34.15), this then becomes "the sensitive runabout" (35.04) and "the old clockwork taxi" (35.07) before, on Van's arrival, turning into the horse he had foreseen. (35.30-31) MOTIF: metamorphic journey.34.05: not even a trap: a trap is "a two-wheeled one-horse carriage on springs" (W2); there is no trap at the station, but there is one ready for the reader. 34.06: station master: he recurs at 115.33. 34.10-15: hackney coach . . . red-haired lady . . . made for the train and just managed to board it . . . chance crease in the texture of time . . . calèche: The "chance crease in the texture of time" refers immediately to the conjunction of the woman's departure and Van's arrival; but it also indicates an overlap with a much more distant moment. In 1901 Van recalls seeing red-haired Lucette "two years ago, at a railway station. You had just left Villa Armina and I had just arrived. . . . you moved so fast--jumping out of a green caleche and up into the Ausonian Express that had brought me to Nice." (461.28-33) This in turn links with Van and Ada's attempts to discover whether they overlapped in time and space in childhood: "it was not impossible that somewhere along a winding Riviera road they passed each other in rented victorias that both remembered were green, with green-harnessed horses, or perhaps in two different trains. . . . as Van casually directed the searchlight of backthought into that maze of the past . . . he found himself tackling, in still vague and idle fashion, the science that was to obsess his mature years--problems of space and time, space versus time, time-twisted space. . . . " (153.05-23) 34.11: red-haired lady: MOTIF: red hair. 34.14-15: a chance crease in the texture of time: MOTIF: texture of time; time. 34.15: the old calèche: "A four-wheeled open carriage with a folding hood. . . . the true French calèche" (EO 3, 74). 34.17-18: with birds and other animals singing: the vagueness (just what "other animals" could be singing in the undergrowth?) shows that, unlike his sister, Van is no naturalist. 34.18-19: Sunflecks and lacy shadows . . . green twinkle: MOTIF: sun-Ardis. 34.20: deprived of its twin: MOTIF: twin. 35.01: Torfyanka: from Russian torfyanik, "peat-bog." On one side of Vyra, the summer estate of Nabokov's childhood, lay the village of Rozhdestveno; on the other side was the even smaller settlement of Gryazno (see SM 40), whose name derives from gryaz', "mud." MOTIF: peat; Torfyanaya. 35.01: dreamy hamlet: MOTIFS: hamlet; -let. 35.02: izbas: huts. 35.03: smithy smothered in jasmine: [image of jasmine]Cf. "from under the jasmins" (in the hamlet of Gamlet, 154.22-23), and "a poor shack smothered in climbing roses" (in the hamlet of Torfyanka, or as Blanche calls it, La Tourbière, 299.22). 35.04: runabout: A "light uncovered wagon" or, if an automobile, "a light roadster" (W2). The ambiguity of the term allows it to act as a transition to the next name for the vehicle, at 35.07.
35.07: the old clockwork taxi: Such contraptions do operate in the area: cf. 115.32-34: "even the clockwork luggage carts with which the stationmaster supplied the family in memory of Erasmus Veen, their inventor." Cf. IB 217: "Dandies on their shiny clockwork cycles passed the carriage. . . . " MOTIF: technology.
35.10-11: Gamlet, a half-Russian village: : Gamlet, a half-Russian village: "Gamlet" is the Russian name for "Hamlet" (the character and play; a "hamlet" would be derevnya); it will be referred to as "Gamlet, a hamlet" at 87.11. Levinton 1997: 336-37 sees a pun on Turgenev's story "Gamlet Shchigrovskogo uezda," whose title means "The Hamlet of Shchigrovsky District" but looks as if it could mean "A Village in the Shchigrovsky District." MOTIFS: hamlet; -let .
35.11: the chauffeur waved again: Cf. 35.03: "The driver waved."35.13: Ladore . . . ruinous black castle: Cf. 139.05-08: "Ladore . . . ruins . . . Bryant's Castle." MOTIF: black castle.
35.15: to be seen again many times much later in life: except in memory, Van does not in fact visit the Ladore "much later in life."35.16: the vegetation assumed a more southern aspect: than the pines (34.17) and birches (35.12) of the road from the station.
35.17-18: the romantic mansion appeared on the gentle eminence of old novels: Manor-houses positioned to lord it over their landscape are as much part of architectural life as of fictional art. Nabokov himself inherited at seventeen his uncle's estate "with its white-pillared mansion on a green, escarped hill" (SM 72). Among innumerable examples from the nineteenth-century novels that so often revolve around country mansions, we could pick Doctor Thorne (1858), by Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), ch. 19: “Nevertheless, Gatherum Castle is a very noble pile; and, standing as it does on an eminence, has a very fine effect when seen from many a distant knoll and verdant-wooded hill”; or Daniel Deronda (1876) by George Eliot (Marian Evans, 1819-1880), ch. 10: "Brackenshaw Park, where the Archery Meeting was held, looked out from its gentle heights far over the neighbouring valley to the outlying eastern downs and the broad slow rise of cultivated country hanging like a vast curtain towards the west." In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), vol. 3, ch. 1 (ch.43 in continuous numbering) Elizabeth Bennet and her uncle and aunt, the Gardiners, visting Darcy’s estate, “gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley. . . . a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground. . . . ”
Of course most nineteenth-century novels did not treat their settings as backdrops borrowed from old novels. But some did. Catherine Morland's mistake in Austen's Northanger Abbey (1818) is to suppose that the Abbey resembles the dark manors of Gothic fiction. Tolstoy expresses his disapproval of Vronsky's idle wealth by having Dolly see his estate as embodying "the new European kind of luxury which she had only read about in English novels." (Anna Karenina, Bk. 6 Ch. 19)
But Ada's joke stems from our awareness of the gap between the naturalness of mansions in nineteenth-century novels and the irony of their self-conscious occurrence in a novel such as this (Ardis's larch plantation, Ada claims, is "borrowed . . . from Mansfield Park," 231.06-07). Compounding the obvious joke, however, is the concealed allusion: the phrase "gentle eminence" comes in fact from that most twentieth-century of novels, Ulysses, and refers not to a mansion but to Bloom's snug dream of owning "a thatched bungalowshaped 2 storey dwellinghouse . . . stucco front with gilt tracery at eaves and gable, rising, if possible, upon a gentle eminence with agreeable prospect." (Ulysses 17:1504-10). Cf. also Kinbote, describing his temporary home in suburban New Wye: "the slight eminence on which my rented castle stood" (PF 20).35.21-29: the variety, amplitude and animation of great trees . . . two-hundred-year-old aquarelle: In his autobiography Nabokov describes the Rozhdestveno estate he inherited in 1916, a "huge, dense, two-century-old park with its classical cripples of green-stained stone in the main avenue. . . . " (SM 232). 35.22-29: great trees that had long replaced the two regular rows of stylized saplings . . . Ardis Hall as depicted in the two-hundred-year-old aquarelle . . . stylized cow: Cf. 212.28-30: "Baldy, a partly leafless but still healthy old oak (which appeared--oh, I remember, Van!--in a century-old lithograph of Ardis . . . as a young colossus protecting four cows and a lad in rags"). Cf. also Mansfield Park, Ch. 5: "a spacious, modern-built house, so well placed and well screened as to deserve to be in any collection of engravings of gentlemen's seats in the kingdom." 35.28: in cocked hats: Ardeur 30: "coiffés de tricornes" ("wearing tricornes"). 35.31: his horse: the journey ends with Van arriving in the saddled horse he had foreseen. Cf. 34.04-35.31n. 35.32: Bouteillan: Albert Bouteillan, from French, bouteiller, "butler." 35.33: now wore a mustache: he has shaved it off again by the time Van sees him in 1888 (195.16-17). 35.34: gested: "Embellished, or done, with gestures" (W2). 35.34-36.01: had once been the valet of Van's father: Cf. 242.17-26. 36.01-02: Je parie . . . que Monsieur ne me reconnaît pas: Darkbloom: "I bet you do not recognise me, Sir." 36.03-08: farmannikin . . . box kite . . . tiny red rectangle . . . in a blue spring sky: a model of an early airplane, since a manikin or mannequin is a model of the human body, especially as used by artists, tailors or dressmakers, and Henri Farman (1874-1958) was an early aviator, who with his brother Maurice in 1908 modified a Voisin biplane, on which in 1909 he broke the world's endurance and speed records. The Farman plane did indeed look remarkably like a box-kite, with its biplane wing and tail sections, including covered uprights boxing in both sections, and linking box-frame fuselage. The Farman brothers continued to manufacture airplanes together during the 1910s. 36.06: buttercups: see illustration. MOTIF: flowers.
36.07-08: tiny red rectangle . . . . famous for its painted ceilings: Cf. the famous trompe-l'oeil ceiling at the end of the first chapter of Nabokov's autobiography (SM 31-32). MOTIF: painted ceiling.
36.09-12: him or a maid to unpack? . . . shock a housemaid . . . picture of naked Ivory Revery: It is Blanche who unpacks and "'eat[s] with her eyes' the silhouette of Ivory Revery in a perfume advertisement." (398.33-399.02)
36.12: Ivory Revery: a play on French rêve, "dream," and the Greek legend that false dreams emerge through the gate of ivory, true dreams through the gate of horn (see Homer, Odyssey xix.562, and Virgil, Aeneid, vi.894). On his first tryst with Ada after the Night of the Burning Barn, "Van got the rare treat of finding his foreglimpse of live ivory accurately reproduced." (129.04-05)
36.13: Who cared, now that he was a man?: MOTIF: man.
36.14-15: tour du jardin: Darkbloom: "a stroll in the garden."
36.18-19: former French governess (the place swarmed with ghosts!): Mlle Ida Larivière (modelled in physique and profession on Nabokov's own French governess, Cécile Miauton). "Swarmed with ghosts" because she too, like Bouteillan, the aquarelle image of Ardis and the farmannikin, had once been part of Van's childhood in Demon's and Aqua's home and seems surprising here in the home of Marina and Dan. However, although the manor now belongs to Dan, it has been in the family since the Temnosiniys, forebears of Demon and Aqua as well as Dan and Marina. No wonder it swarms with ghosts.
36.19-20: under the Persian lilacs: MOTIF: under tree.
36.20: Persian lilacs: A1: "Syringa persica." "A handsome Asiatic shrub . . . cultivated for its showy, terminal panicles of fragrant, lilac-colored flowers" (W2). A cultivated cross between S. afghanica and S. laciniata, it is a compact, bushy shrub, growing to 6 feet high and wide, "with lance-shaped . . . dark-green leaves. . . . In late spring, profusely bears fragrant purple flowers in small, dense panicles," Royal Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, ed. Christopher Brickell (London: Dorling Kindersley, 1996). Not Melia azedarach, also known as "Persian lilac."
36.24-25: "Ardelia" . . . Lucette: Van thinks this must be Ada, who was registered at birth as "Adelaida" (6.19), and, he seems to presume, must have been named after the father (Ardelion) of her ostensible father Dan. The mistake confirms both Van's ignorance of his sister and of the fact, at this stage, that she is his sister.
But the mistake is prophetically apt: "Ardelia" derives from Latin ardalio, "busybody," which is exactly what, from Van's and Ada's point of view, Lucette will prove to be. (Cf. Mason 94)
Since Lucette will become a frequent eavesdropper on Van and Ada, and "ardilla" is a homophone of "Ardelia," this "Ardelia" sitting on a bench examining something on her finger links up with the squirrel (referred to at 98.12 as "that stray ardilla daintily leavesdropping") that "sat sampling a cone on the back of a bench." (94.07-08)
Cf. for the confusion of the names "an insatiable and reckless appetite for Ada's and Ardelia's, Lucette's and Lucile's (multiplied by the itch) blood" (106.28-30).
Just as Ada's official name is actually "Adelaida," Lucette's is "Lucinda." The combination just possibly owes something to the odd link between St. Adelia and St. Lucy, both of whom are depicted as having their eyes plucked out: St. Adelia, by herself, to reject her own lustfulness, and St. Lucy, by others, for refusing to marry when she insisted on remaining a virgin.
MOTIFS: Ada; ardilla; sisters confused.
36.27-37.06: reddish-blond hair . . . Lucy gratingly dragging a garden hoe: An echo of Marcel's first glimpse of his childhood love, Gilberte, in Proust's In Search of Lost Time: "Une fillette d'un blond roux, qui avait l'air de rentrer de promenade et tenait à la main une bêche de jardinage" ("A girl with reddish-blond hair, who looked as if she was coming back from a walk and was holding in her hand a garden hoe," A la recherche du temps perdu, I, 140). (Cancogni 283)
36.27: reddish-blond hair: MOTIF: red hair.
36.27: a freckled button for nose: Cf. her and Ada’s noses compared, 104.03-04.
36.27-30: had had pneumonia in spring . . . still veiled by an odd air of remoteness that children . . . retain for some time after brushing through death: Nabokov himself had severe pneumonia at the age of eight, and in his autobiography associates it with a puzzling experience of clairvoyance on his part (SM 37-39). In the story "Ultima Thule" Falter has passed not through death but perhaps through the shock of death's secret, and comments: "Truth, the instant reaction of one's whole being, remains an unfamiliar, little-studied phenomenon. Oh, well, sometimes in children--when a boy wakes up or regains his senses after a bout with scarlet fever and there is an electric discharge of reality, relative reality, no doubt, for you, humans, possess no other." (RB 170) As a boy Pale Fire's John Shade has a series of sublime visions in a sequence of seizures that he introduces thus: "A thread of subtle pain, / Tugged at by playful death, released again, / But always present, ran through me. One day, / When I'd just turned eleven. . . " (PF 38)
36.28-29: veiled by an odd air of remoteness: cf. 22.26: "The rosy remoteness of Terra was soon veiled for her. . . . "
36.32-33: In contrast to Albert, she had not changed: In contrast to Bouteillan's new mustache, 35.33. By contrast, again, she will have changed radically by the time Van returns to Ardis in 1888, as she burgeons into a famous writer (cf.194.14-19: "nothing had changed . . . not counting little improvements in the grounds and the governess . . . " ).
37.02: poodlet: MOTIF: -let.
37.05: reminiscent grief: For the poodlet, rather than for Aqua, who died a year ago but whom she would have hardly seen?
37.06: parasol,: corrected from 1969, "parasol;".
37.06: Lucy: Van is not sure yet what to call her.
37.07: trim gray suit: he will wear a "dark-gray suit" (295.05) when he leaves Ardis for the last time.
37.11: victoria: "A kind of low four-wheeled pleasure carriage, with a calash top, designed for two passengers, with a raised seat in the front for the driver." (W2)
37.11-20: A lady, . . . to the last: Kim Beauharnais photographs this scene from another angle, 398.14-25. Kim's snapshot confirms the black jacket (borrowed from Vanda Broom), despite Ada's denial, but neither confirms nor denies the disputed white frock.
The confusion of images of a remembered first impression may echo another aspect of Marcel's first meeting with Gilberte (cf. 36.27-37.06n), now transferred from Lucette to Ada: "Ses yeux noirs brillaient et, comme je ne savais pas alors, ni ne l'ai appris depuis, réduire en ses éléments objectifs une impression forte . . . pendant longtemps, chaque fois que je repensai à elle, le souvenir de leur éclat se présentait aussitôt à moi comme celui d'un vif azur, puisqu'elle était blonde: de sorte que, peut-être si elle n'avait pas eu des yeux aussi noirs--ce qui frappait tant la première fois qu'on la voyait--je n'aurais pas été, comme je le fus, plus particulièrement amoureux, en elle, de ses yeux bleus" ("Her black eyes gleamed, and as I did not then know, and have not learned since, how to reduce a strong impression to its objective elements, . . . for a long time afterwards, each time I thought about her again, the memory of their brilliance immediately presented itself to me as that of a vivid azure, since she was blonde; so that, perhaps if she had not had eyes so black--so striking the first time one saw her--I would not have been, as I was, especially fond of her for her blue eyes," A la recherche du temps perdu, I, 140-41).
37.11-12: A lady, who resembled Van's mother: Marina, who resembles Aqua, whom Van at this point has no reason to suppose not his mother. MOTIFS: family relationship; resemblance.
37.11-13: A lady, who resembled Van's mother, . . . preceded by a fluid dackel: Marina and Aqua were seen followed by a dackel at 14.02-03.
37.13: fluid dackel: Ardeur 31: "dachshund coulant comme une couleuvre" ("dachshund flowing like a snake"). MOTIF: dackel.
37.13-14: untidy bunch of wild flowers: anemones, celandines and columbines (38.01). Cf. 110.23, where Ada recalls herself in 1884 as a a "waif with a bedraggled nosegay." MOTIF: flowers.
37.14-15: She wore a white frock with a black jacket and there was a white bow in her long hair: White-skinned, black-haired Ada will regularly be dressed in black and white. On Van's first glimpse of her on his second, 1888, visit to Ardis she will be in a black dress ("with no sleeves, no ornaments, no memories") and holding outspread a white cape, which, like Vanda's black blazer, is also not hers (187.13-16). MOTIF: black-white.
37.21: ten years ago: Cf. 38.22-39.02 and n.
37.22-24: his mother's long stay in a sanatorium, "Aunt" Marina . . . big cage: Cf. 38.26-27. MOTIF: family relationship.
37.23: swooped upon him in a public park: As Tony Fazio notes (personal communication, 5 October 2014), the association of Marina with the Lady Amherst’s pheasants in the cage (and with the Hunting Scene portrait by Tresham ,where she sports a picture hat plumed with Lady Amherst’s pheasants’ feathers, 38.22-39.02; see Afternote) “is strengthened by the bird-of-prey verb Van employs to describe the incident.”
Cf. Marina's encounter with Demon near a cage in Lincoln Park, 253.09-11.
37.27-28: if his father wished she would replace his mother: MOTIF: family relationship.
37.28-29: you could not feed the birds without Lady Amherst's permission, or so he understood: Darkbloom: "Lady Amherst: confused in the child's mind with the learned lady after whom a popular pheasant is named." "Lady Amherst's pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) is named after Sarah, first wife of William Pitt Amherst (1773-1857), second Baron Amherst. William Pitt Amherst served as governor-general and viceroy of India, and the bird was introduced into England in 1828 from the mountainous regions of southwest Burma." (Rivers & Walker, 267). W2 describes it as "a handsome pheasant, native of western China and Tibet . . . , having a green crown, red crest, black-barred white cape, and a white breast and abdomen."
37.28-29: the birds without Lady Amherst's: Cf. 38.08-10: "I loved to identify myself with famous women. There's a ladybird on your plate, Ivan."
37.30-31: the otherwise very austere central hall: Cf. in Van's "last visit to one last Villa Venus" (356.29) "the otherwise bare hall" (358.16-17).
37.33-38.01: pink-yellow-blue nosegay she had composed of anemones, celandines and columbines: Ada later recalls in Ardis the First as "a wonder-eyed waif with a bedraggled nosegay" (110.22).
On Van's arrival at Ardis Hall in 1888, there will be "Three young ladies in yellow-blue Vass frocks" (187.06-07) surrounding Percy de Prey. Nabokov played on the similarity of sound in ya lyublyu vas ("I love you") and "yellow-blue vase" as early as 1947, when he used a vase as a prop in his first elementary Russian class at Wellesley: "On the first day of class, we came into the room. There were only three of us. On his desk there was a yellow vase with blue flowers. He asked us what it was, and we said, 'Yellow blue vase,' of course. He said to us, 'That is almost "I love you" in Russian [repeating the words to himself], and that is probably the most important phrase that I will teach you" (Jean Handke Proctor, quoted in Barbara Breasted and No?lle Jordan, "Vladimir Nabokov at Wellesley," Wellesley Alumnae Magazine, Summer, 1971, 25). V?ra Nabokov recalled the incident, but as part of the course of a lecture, not an opening gambit. MOTIF: flowers; MOTIF: yellow-blue.
38.03-05: Price . . . resembled Van's teacher of history, "Jeejee" Jones: Van later confuses Price with another Ardis servant, this time named Jones, who does not arrive until 1888: cf. 407.24-27.
38.04-06: resembled . . . resembles my teacher of history: MOTIF: resemblance.
38.05: "Jeejee": from his initials, G.G., with a play on the child's name for "horse." MOTIF: J . . . Jones.
38.08-13: I used to love history . . . ladybird on your plate . . . similar set at home: Van later realizes that Ada's learned disquisitions are desperate attempts "to prevent Marina from appropriating the conversation" (62.31) as she does here; during another three-way conversation he will block Marina by feeding Ada a query about the "yellow thingum," a marsh marigold, painted on a plate (62.28-65.22).
38.09-11: I loved to identify myself with famous women. There's a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties—Lincoln's second wife or Queen Josephine: Abraham Lincoln was married only once, in 1842, to Mary Todd, who survived her husband's death and was officially declared insane in 1875. Their engagement in 1841 was broken off before they were reconciled and married.
Since "Abraham Milton" seems a famous figure in Antiterran "political . . . poetical" history (18.04-07), it is worth noting that the real poet John Milton, after marrying his first wife, Mary Powell, in 1642 and promptly becoming separated from her, published the next year his celebrated pamphlet on the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. She rejoined him in 1645 but died in 1652. In 1656, already blind, Milton married Katherine Woodcock, who died in 1658. In 1662 he married Elizabeth Minshull, who survived him. Milton's undated sonnet "Methought I saw my late espoused saint" has been thought to be about either his first wife or, more probably, his second; in a dream after her death, "Her face was veiled, yet to my fancied sight, / Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shined / So clear, as in no face with more delight."
But the joke here is that at the time Nabokov was writing one of the most famous women in the world was the wife of current US president Lyndon B. Johnson, always known as Lady Bird (born Claudia Alta Taylor, 1912- 2007 ), who was no beauty, but who in 1963, on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, replaced as First Lady Jackie Kennedy (née Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, 1929-1994), who was a famous beauty. (Peter Hayes, firstname.lastname@example.org, NABOVK-L September 23, 2003). Since Lincoln and Kennedy were both charismatic US presidents assassinated in the 60s of their respective centuries (1865, 1963), and since Ladybird Johnson became First Lady at the end of the term for which Kennedy had been elected, she approximates "Lincoln's second wife."
Marina's identifying herself "with famous women" and her apparently irrelevant "ladybird" is triply or quadruply deceptive: it is not a real insect but a painting on the plate; it hides Lady Bird Johnson and Jackie Kennedy behind the named "famous beauties"; it links up with Lady Amherst of Lady Amherst's pheasant fame (37.23-29), with whom Van's memory identifies her-a lady bird indeed-and with the painting of Marina by Tresham (a mirrored "Amherst") hanging above her on the wall and apparently capturing the very scene Van recalls from early childhood.
38.11: Queen Josephine: Empress of France as the consort of Napoleon I, she was born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie in 1763, and married Alexandre, vicomte de Beauharnais in 1779. Beauharnais was guillotined in 1794; Josephine married Napoleon in a civil service in 1796. Despite her numerous infidelities, a feature also of her marriage to Beauharnais, Napoleon crowned her empress in 1804. In 1810 the marriage was annulled because of her failure to bear a male heir. She died in 1814.
38.17: slegka ulïbnuvshis' (with a slight smile): Darkbloom: "a pet formula of Tolstoy's denoting cool superiority, if not smugness, in a character's manner of speech."
38.18-19: "lots of cream and three lumps of sugar." "Ada and I share your extravagant tastes": Cf. 126.22-23 for Ada's sweetening an already sweet cup of hot chocolate.
38.19-20: Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup: novelist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski (1821-1881).
38.21: Pah: Ada's first word in Van's hearing resembles Molly Bloom's first utterance in Ulysses, "Mn" (in response to Bloom's "You don't want anything for breakfast?," 3.55-57). Ada's low opinion of Dostoevski matches Nabokov's more explicit dismissals (cf. for example SO 42, 148, 229, NWL 172, LectsR 98).
38.22-39.02: rather good oil by Tresham . . . ornithological skill: Although there was a painter, designer and member of the Royal Academy named Henry Tresham (1749-1814), this Tresham is primarily an anagram of "Amherst," and the whole painting--made "ten years ago" (38.24), showing Marina (who loves "to identify myself with famous women") in a picture hat with "brilliant plumage which Tresham had rendered with ornithological skill" and bringing to Van's mind his meeting with Marina as he looked at Lady Amherst's pheasants "ten years ago" (37.21)--seems to blur the boundary between life and art, painting and remembered image, play and reality. MOTIF: art-life.
38.22-39.02: Marina's portrait . . . ornithological skill: MOTIF: woman in picture.
38.23: picture hat: "A woman's broad-brimmed hat, usually black and adorned with ostrich plumes, modelled on hats seen in famous pictures. See GAINSBOROUGH HAT, Illust." (W2) MOTIF: picture hat.
38.25: black-banded silver: Accurately describes the tail-feathers of Lady Amhert’s pheasant; perhaps cf. also, as Tony Fazio notes (personal communication, 5 October 2014), the colors of the “silver-and-sable skybab squirrel” (94.07).
38.27: his mother somewhere in a cage of her own: Cf. Van strutting in his role as Mascodagama with "the restless walk of a caged madman" (183.33).
38.31: her auburn locks were bleached: by 1888 they will be hidden under a red wig (188.24-25).
38.33: riding crop: MOTIF: riding crop.
39.01: tegular: as if tiled. VN hints that we should rearrange the letters of “Tresham,” as if with the letters on Scrabble tiles, to spell “Amherst.” MOTIF:
39.04: trick of hiding her fingernails: because they are "badly bitten" (546.01). MOTIF: fingernails.
39.14: You can see the Tarn from the library window: as Van and Ada do a few minutes later (41.15-16), and on the night they first make rudimentary love (116.13-14). MOTIF: library (Ardis).
39.16-17: "Ada?" (She pronounced it the Russian way with two deep, dark "a"s, making it sound rather like "ardor."): Nabokov gives a second lesson to the English-speaking reader (after the first lesson in the subtitle) on the pronunciation of his heroine's name. Cf. title page n. MOTIFS: Ada; Ada, the ardors and arbors of Ardis; ardor.
39.19: pollice verso: Darkbloom: "Lat., thumbs down."
39.22-24: As he bent toward her (he was three inches taller and the double of that when she married a Greek Catholic . . . ): Since Van at fourteen is already six feet tall (67.07), Ada at eleven, nearly twelve, is a surprising five feet nine inches (the Veen children are precocious in everything else, but has Nabokov made a mistake here?); either she does not grow taller, or Van ends up more than six feet three.
39.22-29: went up to the dark-haired, pale-armed girl. . . . violent release: MOTIF: behind.
39.23-24: when she married a Greek Catholic: she marries Andrey Vinelander in 1893.
39.24-25: his shadow held the bridal crown over her from behind: a regular part of the Greek Catholic or Russian Orthodox marriage ceremony. Ada tells Van that "one of her shafer's (bachelors who take turns holding the wedding crown over the bride's head) looked momentarily . . . exactly like you" (480.30-481.01).
39.26-29: In his first dreams of her . . . violent release: MOTIF: dream.
39.26-29: her hair touched . . . violent release: Cf. "The texture, gloss and odor of those brown silks had once inflamed his senses at the very beginning of that fatal summer" (140.32-34).
39.28-29: like a lifted sword signaled fire and violent release: Ardeur 33: "déchaînait, telle une épée brandie, la salve salvatrice" ("released, like a lifted sword, the saving salvo").
39.31: Presently, as Marina had promised: Cf. 39.15: "Presently Ada will show you all the rooms in the house."
39.31-40.02: the two children went upstairs . . . two left hands . . . like siblings taking their first dancing lesson: Cf. 253.24-30: "the trick-work closeup of two left hands . . . doing what? Marina could no longer recall . . . playing à quatre mains?--no, neither took piano lessons-- . . . Climbing a tree? The polished trunk of a tree?"
40.01-03: strikingly similar flips and glides like siblings taking their first dancing lessons . . . twin sisters . . . : MOTIF: family relationship; sibling.
40.04: same slow heave, she in front, he behind: MOTIF: behind.
40.05-06: Old-fashioned qualms: Cf. 56.05: "old-fashioned squeamishness."
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 5