Part 2 Chapter 2


More than half-way through Ada, Part 2 begins with Ardis and, it seems, almost Ada herself, decidedly behind Van.

Nabokov and Van underscore the disorientation through the sudden immersion into an alien, unprepared-for scene: Van catching sight of his father in the mirror of an “old-fashioned waiting room” at the Goodson Airport, and the prim farce of the hitherto unknown VPL agency bringing Van letters from Ada. The disorientation, the sense of expulsion from the paradise of Ardis into an unpredictable world, will persist throughout and beyond Part 2.

The end of Ardis the First had been followed by a chapter, I.26, on the coded correspondence between Ada and Van in the years between Van’s visits to Ardis. That chapter promptly stipulates the length of the “entire period of that separation . . . almost four years . . . from September, 1884 to June, 1888” (160). But this time II.1 persists with Van refusing to answer Ada’s letters, but citing them, in all their desperation and awkwardness, until he intimates that he would answer a seventh letter from Ada in the fall of 1892, when “a sacramental four-year period equaled that of their first separation” (337).
Van’s being with Demon when the first letter from Ada arrives stresses Ada’s need for infallible secrecy in writing to Van. Demon, curious about his son’s love-life and proud of his flair for deduction, tries to winkle out of Van what the detective-looking agent has brought him, but Van throws him off the scent.
            The letters themselves make for uncomfortable, almost grating, reading: Ada’s flashy archness, to appeal to Van’s admiration for her intelligence; her self-consciousness, knowing his hostility and resentfulness at her betrayals; her desire to explain, and even explain away, her infidelity, or lay it partly at Van’s feet, since it was he who “let loose something mad in me when we were only children, a physical hankering” (334); her continuing to write, knowing his proud resolution not to answer, yet desperate enough, and devoted enough in her way, to continue appealing for a response from the void of Van’s silence.
The final third of the chapter looks ahead to Van’s retrieving these five letters in 1940 and to the burning down in 1919 of the Park Lane home where he had stored an innocent sixth letter, and his erecting there, after the palazzo burnt down, a memorial Lucinda Villa. The leap ahead to 1940, when Van will be 70, and the indefinite leap ahead to the erection of the Lucinda Villa themselves disconcert by shifting us out of the slow passage of time so far in the story. They allow us to infer Lucette’s death by at least 1919 and to wonder how long Van’s separation from Ada persists—not all the way to 1940, surely?—until the final paragraph discloses that a seventh letter from Ada, in 1892, and brought by Lucette herself, will end the separation.


329.01-03: At the Goodson Airport . . . Van glimpsed the silk hat of his father: Van is flying to Paris with his father for two weeks before resuming his studies at Chose: “the company of his constantly agitated and fiery father . . . during a fortnight in Paris before the next term at Chose,” 324.25-27. On his July 1888 visit to Ardis, Demon had proposed to Van they “spend a month together in Paris or London before the Michaelmas term!” (239.02-03), and later in the dinner had settled on Paris: “I’m going to have Mascodagama round out his vacation in Paris” (257.31-32).

329.01-02: Goodson Airport . . . old-fashioned waiting room: Rather than an airport lounge. MOTIF: technology

329.01: Goodson Airport: Corresponds approximately on Earth to Newark Airport, in the 1960s still known as Newark Metropolitan Airport (now Newark Liberty International Airport), 14km WSW of Manhattan, and about 6 km W of the Hudson River (Hudson transliterated into Russian phonetically retransposes into English as Goodson.)

Cf. “Young Fraser . . . saw Percy killed on the second day of the invasion, less than a week after they had left Goodson airport” (319.06-09).

“Goodson”: could Van be seen as a “good son” to his Demonic father?

MOTIF: Goodson.

329.01-04: gilt-framed mirrors . . . silk hat . . . imitation marblewood . . . reversed characters: In the French version, Ardeur 275, VN had “silk hat” translated as huit-reflets (“eight reflections”), a French term for a black silk top hat so lustrous one can supposedly see eight reflections in it (Pléiade).

In view of Demon’s hat being seen in the mirror, cf. his hat in this slippery sentence: “the similarities of young bodies of water are but murmurs of natural innocence and double-talk mirrors, that’s my hat, his is older, but we have the same London hatter” (13.26-29).

And notice here the compounding of reflection and imitation: the “imitation marblewood” (a reflection of an imitation of a wood that seems to imitate marble). Perhaps “gilt,” too, is a pun on “guilt”: Demon’s appearance here prepares for his discovery of Van and Ada as lovers in February 1893, when he orders them to come to his house “with the self-control and the clarity of enunciation which so frightened and mesmerized blunderers, blusterers, a voluble broker, a guilty schoolboy” (438.20-22), in order to hear his edict sundering them, as he requires, forever.

329.04-07: newspaper that said in reversed characters “Crimea Capitulates” . . . porcine: A newspaper with a report of the Crimean War features in I.37, “the brief dim dream was so closely fused with the real event that even when he recalled Bout’s putting his finger on the rhomboid peninsula where the Allies had just landed (as proclaimed by the Ladore newspaper spread-eagled on the library table), he still clearly saw Blanche wiping Crimea clean with one of Ada’s lost handkerchiefs” (231.23-28), while Ada is on a tryst with Percy de Prey.

A newspaper with news of the Crimean War and a reference to “A Piggy” features in Kalugano, in I.42: “Dorofey glanced up from his paper, then went back to the article that engrossed him—‘A Clever Piggy (from the memoirs of an animal trainer),’ or else ‘The Crimean War: Tartar Guerillas Help Chinese Troops’ (316.07-11). In the Crimean War, Percy is “shot in the thigh during a skirmish with Khazar guerrillas” (319.19-20) and is then shot dead by a “smiling old Tartar” (319.29).

The “porcine” here, in view of the association of newspapers and the Crimea and “A Clever Piggy” in Dorofey’s newspaper, and Percy’s death, seems connected to Percy as “swine-stout” (190.10-11).

329.05: Crimea Capitulates: In earth history, after two and a half years of war, Russia sued the alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain, and Sardinia, for peace in March 1856 and signed the Treaty of Paris at the end of the month. On Antiterra, the capitulation has come less than two months after the Allies invaded, 231.25-26.
Cf. “Crimea Copulate Bessarmenia” (330.31).

329.05: raincoated:  See 330.01n.

329.08-21: VPL . . . Very Private Letters . . . deceiving their wives: MOTIF: letters.

329.08-14: VPL . . . Very Private Letters . . . absoluteness of secrecy which neither torture nor mesmerism had been able to break down: The absoluteness of secrecy does not last forever: “two other less successful blackmailers were waiting in the wings: Kim  . . . ; and the son of one of the former employees of the famous clandestine-message agency after it had been closed by the U.S. Government in 1928” (441.19-25).

329.13: torture: MOTIF: torture.

329.14: in the evil days of 1859: Otherwise unknown, but perhaps related to the “L disaster . . . in the beau milieu of last century,” 17.01-02.

329.14-21: even Gamaliel . . . King Victor . . . deceiving their wives: Cf. “Gamaliel . . . King Victor . . . sunk in mollitude” (472.28-473.05).

329.14-15: even Gamaliel on his (no longer frequent, alas) trips to Paris: American President, cf. “decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel was said to be doing his best to forbid duels in the Western Hemisphere—a canard or an idealistic President’s instant-coffee caprice” (14.21-23, and see n.). It is now at least nineteen years since Gamaliel earned the epithet “decrepit.”

329.15-17: King Victor . . . Lord Goal, Viceroy: Is there any connection with “mimicking . . . not the Monarch butterfly directly, but the Monarch through the
Viceroy, one of the Monarch’s best known imitators” (158.12-15)?

329.15-16: King Victor: An ironic combination of (1) the famously prudish Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; (2), as Pléiade suggests, her son, the notorious brothel-frequenter the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII (1841-1910, reigned 1901-1910); and (3) King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy (1820-78, king of Sardinia 1849-61 and of Italy, 1861-78), who had children by five mistresses in addition to the mistress who became his second wife. For King Victor’s interest in sex, see the Forbidden Masterpieces in his library, 140.04-08; as a frequenter of the Villa Venus floramors, under the pseudonym Mr. Ritcov, 352.27-353.02.

Aleksey Sklyarenko suggests also (The Nabokovian, January 9, 2019) the writer “Victor Hugo, the author of Le roi s’amuse (‘The King Amuses Himself,’ 1832),” a play about a king (François I of France), also notorious as a womanizer.

In Pnin 84-6, the fourteen-year-old Victor Wind dreams of himself as the son of a king.

329.15: to Cuba or Hecuba: Cf. “while Demon was having a much better time in Cuba than Dan was at Mocuba,” 152.27-28. Demon was presumably having the same sorts of pleasures as King Victor. Mocuba is also a real place name (a town in Zambezia Province, Mozambique), but Hecuba is not, instead being, in Greek legend, the wife of King Priam of Troy and the mother of Paris (the city Paris is mentioned in the previous line).

329.17-18: robust Lord Goal, Viceroy of France . . . enjoying his randonnies all over Canady: A version of General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), President of France 1959-1969. His famous declaration, on July 24, 1967, on a trip to Montreal, “Vive le Québec libre! Vive le Canada français! Et vive la France!” inspired the Quebec sovereignty movement but angered Anglophone Canada and led to a rift between Canada and France.
Cf. Van’s Letters from Terra, where on Terra the present president of France, “Doumercy, seemed considerably more lovable than Milord Goal, Governor of Lute” (341.13-14), and the later success of the film of his novel, which makes many believe in the “secret Government-concealed identity of Terra and Antiterra. . .Even the governor of France was not Charlie Chose, the suave nephew of Lord Goal, but a bad-tempered French general” (582.17-31). 

329.18: randonnies: French randonnées (trips, excursions), with a pun on English randy, in its current sense, “Lustful; eager for sexual gratification; sexually aroused” (OED).

Is there any connection with “the tinted engraving by Randon” (521.24)?

329.20-21: sexually starved potentates: “Potentates” is the mot juste: these leaders are far from “impotent.”

329.21-330.01: The present messenger: Perhaps a play on the clumsy circumlocution “the present writer” used by some writers to avoid the authorial “I”?

330.01-03: James Jones, a formula whose complete lack of connotation made an ideal pseudonym despite its being his real name: Pléiade suggests that with “raincoated” at 329.05 this evokes James Joyce, whose famous riddle “Who is the man in the brown macintosh?” Nabokov solved, to his own satisfaction if not to that of most Joyceans, by identifying him as Joyce himself, in his Lectures on Literature, 316-20. But “raincoated” may not be enough to identify the VPL messenger with Joyce or his riddle.
James Jones (1921-77) was an American novelist, author of the National Book Award-winning bestseller, the World War II novel From Here to Eternity (1951), made into a multi-Academy Award-winning film of the same name (1953: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress), and of its successor The Thin Red Line (1962).

James Jones, the VPL agent, becomes “J.J.” (330.08), “James” (330.14), “Jim or John” (330.29-30), “John James” (331.13-14), “James” again (331.21), and “Jim” (331.29).
Recounting his family’s flight from Bolshevized Petrograd to the Crimea in the winter of 1917-18, Nabokov writes: “My father, who was not harmless, had joined us by this time, after some dangerous adventures, and, in that region of lung specialists, had adopted the mimetic disguise of a doctor without changing his name (‘simple and elegant,’ as a chess annotator would have said of a corresponding move on the board)” (SM 245).

330.03-04: A flurry and flapping had started in the mirror: Demon is closing up his newspaper to set it down, because he has just caught sight of Van (330.11-12). Kyoto Reading Circle suggests that the “flapping” may echo Demon’s nickname, Raven Veen.

330.06-15: her letter . . . read a few minutes later: MOTIF: letters.

330.07-08: an ace of hearts: Cf. “queen of hearts” (375.15-16)?

330.12-13: wearing for the flight to France a scarlet-silk-lined black cape: Cf. Demon’s “long, black, blue-ocellated wings” as he sees Van off, after Ardis the First, on another transatlantic crossing (180.16).  MOTIF: black-red.

330.17: on the zoom: Zoom in W3 can mean “a sharp upward movement (as of a business cycle),” but “on the zoom” clashes comically with the idiomatic “on the rise.”

330.17-18: Our territorial triumphs, et cetera: In other words the capitulation of the Crimea to the Allies has been a major factor in the steep stock-market climb.

330.18: et cetera: A habitual Demon usage, apparently: “she tells me her boy and Ada see a lot of each other, et cetera” (242.10-11).

330.18-20: American governor . . . Bessborodko  . . Bessarabia . . . Armborough . . . Armenia: Since bes is Russian for “demon” (see previous note) and Armenia was once called “Armina” (see 8.02n), the conjunction would appear to echo in part Demon and Marina as parents of Van and Ada.
This is the second paragraph of Part 2; cf. “Prince Peter Zemski, Governor of Bras d’Or, an American province” (3.10-11) in the second paragraph of Part 1, and “He went shooting with the British Governor of Armenia” (449.04-05) in the second paragraph of Part 3.
VN quotes Pushkin’s friend Peter Vyazemski: “ ‘I have recently had a letter from Pushkin, the Arabian devil [bes Arabskiy],’—a pun on bessarabskiy, ‘the Bessarabian’” (EO II,38).
MOTIF: governor of; twinning.

330.18-19: An American governor, my friend Bessborodko, is to be installed in Bessarabia: Prince Alexander Besborodko (1747-1799) was a minister under Catherine the Great (indeed, a virtual prime minister) and Paul I.

Proffer 269 notes that bes(s) means “demon” or “devil” (cf. Ada 435.18-19: “According to Bess (which is ‘fiend’ in Russian, Dan’s buxom but otherwise disgusting nurse”). Bessborodko on the other hand means “beardless” (bez or bes-, “without,” boroda, dim. borodka,“beard”). Sklyarenko (Nabokv-L, June 6, 2016) suggests it also brings to mind the saying sedina v borodu, bes v rebro (“one’s beard is turning grey, a demon settles in one's rib”) quoted by Ostap Bender in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stuliev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928).
“Bessborodko,” an unusual name for an American, plays on the English aristocratic name “Bessborough.” The Bessboroughs have been ennobled since the early eighteenth century, William Ponsonby (1657-1724) having been created Baron Bessborough in 1721 and his son Brabazon the 1st Earl of Bessborough in 1739. Lady Caroline Ponsonby Lamb (1785-1828), Byron’s lover in 1812, was the daughter of Frederick, the third Earl of Bessborough (and it is probably accidental that she wrote a forgotten novel called Ada Reis (1823), whose eponymous hero is male). (Aleksey Sklyarenko notes, Nabokv-L, June 6, 2016, that Byron began to learn Armenian in Venice, as he mentions in a letter of December 5, 1816 to Mr. Moore.) Sir Vere Brabazan Ponsonby, ninth Earl of Bessborough (1880-1956), was Governor-General of Canada (1931-34).

Nabokov knew of Return to the Forest (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962), the autobiography of Frederick Edward Neuflize Ponsonby, the tenth Earl of Bessborough (1913-93), which details Bessborough’s contacts with General de Gaulle and his recent visits to the Soviet Union; Nabokov, a Weidenfeld and Nicolson author, had their catalogue for Spring and Summer 1962, which lists Return to the Forest on p. 8 and describes Bessborough’s “account of his recent visits to the Soviet Union, where he was allowed an unusual degree of freedom in the things he saw and the people he met.”

Cf. “Count Vorontsov had just been made Governor General of New Russia and Bessarabia” (EO, I,62).

MOTIF:  bess; transatlantic doubling.

330.19: Bessarabia: Historical region of eastern Europe, mostly within present-day Moldova and the Ukraine, and defined by VN as “the region between the rivers Dnestr (or Dniester) and Prut, with forts Hotin (or Khotin), Akkerman, Izmail, etc., and the main town of Kishinev” (EO II.37). After the Crimean War, southern areas of Bessarabia were in 1856 returned to Moldavian rule, although the area came within Russian control again in 1878. In 1918 Bessarabia was annexed by Romania, seized by the Soviet Union in 1940, regained by Romania in 1941, regained by Russian troops in 1944 and confirmed as part of the Soviet Union in 1947.

330.19-20: and a British one, Armborough, will rule Armenia: “Armborough” is a genuine English surname, although not a noble one. This name may combine something of (1) Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Lord Snowdon (1930-2017), the celebrity photographer (who photographed Nabokov in 1974) and husband from 1960 to 1978 of Princess Margaret of England, and (2) English aristocratic lineages like the Marlborough (see 288.14-16 and n.) and indeed Bessborough families.
Cf. Van traveling in 1893 and after: “He went shooting with the British Governor of Armenia, and his niece, on Lake Van” (449.04-05).

330.20: Armenia: A country in the Southeast Caucasus, between Turkey and Azerbaijan to west and east, and Georgia and Iran to north and south. Eastern Armenia was ceded to Russia in 1828. Western Armenia remained part of the Ottoman Empire, which instituted a policy of harassment and genocide, culminating in the Armenian genocide of 1915. The Armenians rose in revolt at Van (see 449.05). They were relieved by Russian troops; in 1921 Armenia became a Soviet republic, until Armenia declared its independence in 1991.
Note that the year of the action, 1888, was on Earth a time of nationalistic expansion, and the installation of new governors, in Russia’s Asian empire as in Britain’s; yet the scene is set in airport: almost a comment on the end of imperialism in the 1960s in which VN is writing?
MOTIF: Marina.

330.20-22: I saw you enlaced with your little Countess near the parking lot. If you marry her I will disinherit you. They’re quite a notch below our set: Although it is Demon who has introduced Van to “Cordula, who is sure to recompense you for playing Blindman’s Buff all summer with the babes of Ardis Wood” (163.18-19), her mother is “the excellent widow of an obscure Major de Prey” (163.12).
Contrast this with Demon’s enthusiasm for Ada’s possibly marrying Andrey Vinelander, given his ancestry: “I don’t think we should bother Ada in her Agavia. He is—I mean, Vinelander is—the scion, s,c,i,o,n, of one of those great Varangians who had conquered the Copper Tartars or Red Mongols—or whoever they were—who had conquered some earlier Bronze Riders—before we introduced our Russian roulette and Irish loo at a lucky moment in the history of Western casinos” (437.27-33).

330.21-24: I will disinherit you. . . . ” “In a couple of years,” said Van, “I’ll slide into my own little millions” (meaning the fortune Aqua had left him):  Anticipates Demon’s recognition in II.11: “Demon spoke on: ‘I cannot disinherit you: Aqua left you enough “ridge” and real estate to annul the conventional punishment” (443.17-19).

330.26-27: girlinière (Canady slang): Invented female equivalent of standard French garçonnière, “bachelor apartment.” MOTIF: slang.

330.28: Demon, flaunting his flair: He prides himself on his flair for deduction, as at 246.04-11 (“I’ll show what a diviner I am”). Note that his children, Van and Ada, have the same gift, shown in the attic scene at 8.16-9.08.

330.29: poule: Darkbloom: “tart.”

330.29-30: Jim or John:  James Jones (330.01), if that is indeed his name.

330.30-31: sat glancing through Crime Copulate Bessarmenia: In other words Jones is reading the newspaper that Demon has put down, with the headline “Crimea Capitulates” (329.05) and the news about the new governors of Bessarabia and Armenia.
The Kyoto Reading Circle connects “crime” with James Jones’s looking like a detective (330.11), and “copulate” with “cop” as slang for “police” (330.29).
But if there is an association of Demon with the bes (demon) in Bessarabia and Marina with the old name “Armina” for Armenia (see 330.18-20n above), then perhaps the distortion of the headline says something about its being a crime for Demon to have copulated with Marina (as his first cousin, second cousin, and third cousin)?
MOTIF: Bess.

330.32: Poule,” replied Van: Although he is merely deflecting Demon’s question, Van is presumably thinking of the trouble Ada’s infidelities have occasioned him.

330.32-33: the evasive taciturnity of the Roman rabbi shielding Barabbas: In the New Testament, Mark 15.6-15, the Roman Pontius Pilate, the governor (to continue that theme) of the Roman province of Judaea, tries to shield Jesus while the rabbis incite the populace to demand freedom, for the one prisoner whom Pilate has offered to release on the feast of the Passover, for Barabbas rather than Jesus, with the consequence that Jesus will be crucified. “Roman rabbi” is absurd, of course (and note the rabbi . . . Barabbas echo). Cf. also “the Roman colonists, who crucified Christian jews and Barabbits” (91.15-16).
Cf. also “Pontius Press” (3.08).

331.06: Komsi-komsa: Darkbloom: “comme-ci comme-ça in Russ. mispronunciation: so-so.”

331.06-08: the Kalugano surgeon messed up his job. The rip seam has grown red and raw, . . . and there’s a lump in my armpit: Versus “Dr. Fitzbishop congratulated him on having escaped with a superficial muscle wound, the bullet having lightly grooved or, if he might say so, grazed the greater serratus. Doc Fitz commented on Van’s wonderful recuperational power which was already in evidence” (312.33-313.03).

331.10: mestechko: Darkbloom: “Russ., little place.”

331.11-12: a gentian painted on one door, a lady fern on the other: have to go to the herbarium: Gentian, W2: “Any plant of the genus Gentiana or of the related genus Dasystephana, the latter often called closed or bottle gentians. They are prized for their handsome flowers, usually blue. The handsomest are G. acaulis, G. bavarica, and G. verna of the Old World, and the fringed gentians (G. crinita and G. procera) of the United States.
Lady fern
, W2: “A widely distributed fern (Athyrium filix-foemina) with slender bipinnate fronds showing considerable variation in form.”
A play on the signs “Gents” and “Ladies” on toilet doors, and on the symbols (like top hat for Gents and gloves for Ladies) sometimes used in their place. Apart from the cuteness of the plant names identifying the sex for each part of the toilet, there is the absurdity that most people—including Van, usually—could not identify the plants and hence know which door they should take.
“Have to go to the herbarium”: for the usual excuse-me: “Have to go to the bathroom.” Cf. “the herbarium in the attic” (148.34-149.01) in I.1 (7.06-9.10), which has two gentians (“Gentiane de Koch . . . Gentiana verna,” 8.05-12) and a ginkgo leaf (7.27); the confusion of ginkgo with the maidenhair fern or Venus’-hair fern runs through 299.31-300.07.
MOTIF: -arium

331.13-19: He did not answer her letter . . . answers were included . . . in the price: MOTIF: letters.

331.15-18: in the Louvre right in front of Bosch’s Bateau Ivre, the one with a jester drinking in the riggings (poor old Dan thought it had something to do with Brant’s satirical poem!): Darkbloom glosses Bateau Ivre: “‘sottish ship,’ title of Rimbaud’s poem here used instead of ‘ship of fools.’”

The reference is to Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, known as Ship of Fools (painted c, 1491), now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, the top part of the left panel of a triptych whose central panel has been lost.

The debt to the satirical poem Das Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools,1494), by Sebastian Brant (1457-1521) is not just Dan’s notion but the mainstream art-historical supposition: hence the title given to the painting. Nevertheless VN must have seen the convincing and then-recent evidence that the title and proposed influence were wrong:  “The art historian Hélène Adhémar . . . proposed that Bosch’s painting is not of a ship of fools but is a satire on alcoholism, especially among the clergy (Les Primitifs flamands [: 1. Corpus de la peinture des anciens Pays-Bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, Fasc 5. Le musée national du Louvre, Paris, Brussels: Centre national de recherches ‘Primitif  Flamands,’] 1962). Nabokov too seems to agree with Van in doubting the connection with Sebastian Brant and to consider Adhémar’s hypothesis more plausible, which is probably why he renames the painting the ‘drunken ship.’” (Zimmer 980). The lower part of the same triptych is thought by some to be at the Yale University Art Gallery, under the title Allegory of Gluttony, which would confirm the inaccuracy of the “ship of fools” title. Indeed that the subject is drunkenness is clear from the Louvre painting itself.

Nabokov however substitutes for the Louvre’s title for the painting the title of Rimbaud’s famous poem “Le Bateau ivre” (“The Drunken Boat,” 1871), a hallucinatory hundred-line first-person poem (written from the point of view of the boat). It seems Boschean in its cascade of vivid images, although many derive from Rimbaud’s recent reading of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (1870). Nabokov himself translated Rimbaud’s poem (Rul’, December 16, 1928) into Russian, or as Stanislav Shvabrin phrases it, offered “an imaginative rendition. . . . often endowing it with fresh tinges of exuberance” (Stanislav Shvabrin, Between Rhyme and Reason: Vladimir Nabokov, Translation, and Dialogue, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019, p. 155); see Shvabrin 153-59 for a characteristically subtle analysis of Nabokov’s reinterpretation of Rimbaud’s poem.

Cf. Lolita 163: “ramparts of ancient Europe” (an echo of l. 84 of “Le Bateau ivre”: “Je regrette l’Europe aux anciens parapets,” “I long for Europe with its ancient parapet”).

For Bosch, see also 435.23-438.27 (The Last Judgment and The Garden of Earthly Delights); for Rimbaud, see 64.15-65.05 and 161.26-34 (“Mémoire”).

For the refutation of art-historical criticism of Bosch, cf. Demon’s scorn for “the masterpiece-baiter who makes Bosch express some bosh of his time” (437.09-10).

331.16: Bateau: Corrected here (following Ardeur 276) from “Bâteau,” although the mistake is one native French speakers easily make (by analogy with gâteau).

331.22-24: fanning himself with a third letter . . . stop bringing him messages: MOTIF: letters.

331.23: cottage orné on Ranta River, near Chose: Cf. Van’s discussion of the architecture of Villa Venus floramors, “None could help admiring David van Veen’s knack of making his brand-new Regency mansion look like a renovated farmhouse. . . . We shall always remember Little Lemantry near Rantchester” (350.33-351.05), and his reminiscence: “the particular floramor that I visited for the first time on becoming a member of the Villa Venus Club . . . is today, after many vicissitudes, the charming country house of a Chose don whom I respect” (353.03-07).
For Ranta River, see “the Rantariver Club,” 181.05, and “his Venus Villa sessions, or earlier visits to the riverhouses of Ranta” (219.25-26); for Chose, I.30.

331.23: cottage orné: Literally “decorated cottage,” an artfully rustic building, often asymmetrical, with a thatched roof, elaborate weatherboarding and rough-hewn wooden columns, as built in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century England and France.

331.25-336.23: In the course of the next two years two more letters . . . her coded notes (of 1884-88): MOTIF: letters.

331.27: Albania Palace Hotel: Rather than the more expected Hotel Albion, commemorating the hallowed old name of England; Albania was a particularly repressive and isolated Communist state under leader Enver Hoxha (1908-85) at the time VN was writing Ada. Cf. “the Albania, his London hotel” (470.18-19). Cf. also “the Pisang Palace Hotel in Los Angeles” (317.08-09) and “the Alraun Palace” (552.03).

331.30-31: A sixth came by natural means . . . dealt exclusively with Ada’s stage & screen ventures: Ada did not need to send this “innocent sixth letter (Dreams of Drama)” (336.21) by way of the expensive secrecy of VPL. MOTIF: actress.

332.01: Los Angeles, early September, 1888: Marina has taken Mlle Larivière and her children with her to Hollywood, in pursuit of handsome Pedro (273.04-06, 317.06-09). “Early September”: Van can deduce this date, since he “left Manhattan for Lute” “in early September” (325.08-09) and this letter caught him at the airport.

332.02: poshlïy: Darkbloom: “vulgar.” Nabokov famously discusses the Russian concept of poshlost’, “philistine vulgarity,” or “smug philistinism” (LRL 313) in NG 63-74 (ch. 3 sect. 2) and LRL 309-14.

332.05: When I said I could not speak and would write: Perhaps, on the morning of Van’s departure from Ardis: “Please! I can’t explain in one gush, but eventually you will understand” (296.19-20).

332.09-10: you would simply turn away, as you did, and walk off again, and again, and again: Cf. “He turned, as they say, on his heel, and walked toward the house. He could . . . not . . . have seen her physically as he walked away; and yet, with dreadful distinction, he retained forever a composite picture of her standing where he left her” (296.28-33). Van’s “composite picture” matches Ada’s “again, and again, and again.”

332.10-11: I implore you for breath [sic! Ed.] of understanding: Her pen has slipped on “breadth of understanding”? Or is she as it were begging herself speechless?
MOTIF: Composition-Editor.

332.17-18: the blue snow of this notepaper: Cf. Van at Kingston in the fall of 1892: “He noticed that the letter, in its long blue envelope, lay now on the mahogany sideboard. He stood in the middle of the parlor, rubbing his forehead, not daring, not daring, because it was Ada’s notepaper” (369.23-26).

332.22: pain and passion: MOTIF: p and p.

332.22-23: Tï tut stoyal (you stayed here), in this karavansary . . . when I must have been seven or eight: At the Pisang Palace Hotel in Los Angeles (317.08 and 333.02-03), on Earth the Beverly Hills Hotel (see 317.08-09n). “In 1880, Van, aged ten, had traveled in silver trains . . . accompanied by his father . . . to gay resorts in Louisiana and Nevada” (149.08-13).

332.23-24: karavansaray, you in the middle of everything: Caravansaray, W2: “1. A kind of inn, in the East, where caravans rest at night, being a large bare building surrounding a court. 2. A large hotel or inn.” Van’s name is in the middle of the word (and the first three syllables could almost be Caro Van, “dear Van”), as well as in the middle of Ada’s existence. Cf. “a karavanchik of cigarettes” (419.26) and “one more caro Van and a Camel before her morning bath” (420.30-31). Saray in Russian means “shed, barn,” so Ada presumably intends an allusion to the Burning Barn. MOTIF: burning barn; Van.

332.25: mid-September: Van can date this letter thus because he received it “a fortnight later . . . in the Louvre” (331.13-15).

332.26: howl iz ada (out of Hades): Ada plays with her own name and the Russian ad, genitive (after the preposition iz) ada, “hell.” Cf. Aqua’s last note, a suicide note, which she signs off: “My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (‘now is out of hell’)” (29.27-28). MOTIF: Ada; hell.

332.27-28: of your duel in K.: In Kalugano, see I.42, 304.17-311.30 MOTIF: duel.

332.28-30: of P.’s death. . . . R. had also died: Percy de Prey’s death, 319.06-320.23, Philip Rack’s, 313.19-23, 317.15-20. Knowing the depth of Van’s rage, Ada is reluctant to name Percy and Rack in full (cf. 335.06, “As to P.”). Cf. “What did poor mother know about P’s and R’s?” (298.24-25).

332.28: your recuperating at his cousin’s: Cf. “Van spent a medicinal month in Cordula’s Manhattan flat” (322.01).

332.29: congs, as she and I used to say: “Congrats” is a widespread slang abbreviation of “congratulations,” but “congs” is not. Cf. “Sunrise at Ardis. Congs: naked Van. . . .  ‘Congratulations,’ repeated Van in male language” (400.22-27). MOTIF: college slang; congs.

332.31-32: through that of his wife: See 313.21-23.

332.32: Neither he nor P. was technically my lover: Cf. “R. . . . knew he would die young and was always, in fact, mostly corpse, never once, I swear, rising to the occasion, even when I showed openly my compassionate non-resistance” (334.33-335.04); “I can swear, however, solemn Ada can swear that in the course of our ‘sylvan trysts’ I successfully evaded if not pollution, at least possession before and after your return to Ardis—except for one messy occasion when he [Percy] half-took me by force—the over-eager dead man” (336.03-08); “She (Ada) had, hadn’t she, a way of always smoothing out the folds of the past—making the flutist practically impotent (except with his wife) and allowing the gentleman farmer only one embrace, with a premature eyakulyatsiya,” (394.24-30).

332.33: both are on Terra now: In heaven”? “On earth”?

333.02: the candy-pink and pisang-green albergo: The Pisang Palace Hotel, see 317.08-09n and 332.22-23n. A plantain (pisang) is pale green when ripe. Albergo, Italian, “inn.” Cf. “alberghian” (521.26). For the pink-green combination, cf. Demon buying “a Pacific Island, with a pink house on a green bluff” (506.17-18).

333.03: where you once stayed with your father: In 1880; cf. 332.22-23n.

333.03: your father: And hers too, she knows. Even with the “absoluteness of secrecy” (329.12) that VPL provides, Ada seems reluctant to put on paper her knowledge that she too is Demon’s child.

333.04-06: He and I have gamed at Nevada, my rhyme-name town, but you are also there, as well as the legendary river of Old Rus. Da: Cf. “Van, aged ten, had traveled . . . accompanied by his father . . . to gay resorts in Louisiana and Nevada” (149.08-13); “son of Baron ‘Demon’ Veen, that memorable Manhattan and Reno figure” (588.11-12).

Sklyarenko, Nabokv-L, December 31, 2012, notes: “Nevada blends Neva, the river flowing from Lake Ladoga through St. Petersburg (VN's home city and Russia's former capital) into the Gulf of Finland, with Ada. Nevada obviously has no Van in it. [Mary Efremov correctly responds: it obviously does have.] But Veen being the family name of Demon, Demon's cousin Dan and their children Van, Ada and Lucette, Ada does not make a mistake when she states that Van is also there. For, in Dutch veen means what neva means in Finnish: ‘peat bog.’”

Proffer 269 comments: “The non-legendary Neva River.”

As a curio: there is a ghost town and former mining settlement called Adaven in Nye County, Nevada.

MOTIF: Ada; peat, bog; Van.

333.05: gamed at Nevada, my rhyme-name town: Odd, since Nevada is a state but not a town.

333.10-12: deaf nun Varvara (who, in some ways, is the most interesting of Chekhov’s Four Sisters: There is no Varvara in Chekhov’s Three Sisters (written 1900, performed 1901), as the play is known on Earth. However, like most of Nabokov’s distortions, this has a multiple aptness.

The three sisters in Chekhov’s play have a brother, Andrey, whose “effeminate” weakness could class him as one of “four sisters”; he marries Natasha, who as the sister-in-law of the three sisters becomes a “fourth sister” and the unpleasant dominant force in their family, and certainly in her uncultured encroachments on her three cultured sisters-in-law could be seen as a “barbarian” (from which “Varvara” comes); while none of the four is a “deaf nun,” they are at times comically deaf to one another, and Irina and Olga are, if not nun-like, at least celibate.

But there is a fourth sister, Varvara, in a Chekhov play: Zimmer 981 identifies her in Chekhov’s short early farce, the one-man monologue O vrede tabaka (On the Harmfulness of Tobacco, or Smoking is bad for you, written 1886, revised 1903). In the revised version Ivan Ivan Nyukhin muses on the frustrations of his marriage, and happens to mention “this eye-twitching business started back in September 1889, on the thirteenth of the month—the very day when my wife gave birth, in a manner of speaking, to our fourth daughter Varvara. My daughters were all born on the thirteenth.” As Zimmer notes, we learn nothing else about her. For an English text of both versions, see here.
Gennady Kramer notes (private communication, May 11, 2011) that Mikhail Kuzmin (1872-1936) wrote a poem about four sisters, “Nas bylo chetyre sestry, chetyre sestry nas bylo” (“We were four sisters, four sisters were we”), from the cycle “Aleksandriyskie pesni” (“Alexandrine songs”) in the collection Seti (Nets, Moscow: Scorpion, 1908).

333.12-13: Stan’s principle of having lore and rôle overflow into everyday life: Stan is perhaps “Stan Slavsky” (426.04), who gives Ada “private lessons of drama, despair, hope” (426.05-06), but who is said to be “no relation, and not a stage name” (426.04-05): no relation to Marina’s “new director of artistic conscience,” Stan, here (333.08-09)? Or no relation to Earth’s famous actor, theatre director and production theorist Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938)? In any case this Antiterran Stan’s principle “of having lore and rôle overflow into everyday life” reflects Stanislavsky’s famous acting method, which includes the actor keeping in character outside the performance. Stanislavsky was the director of the first performances of Three Sisters, at the Moscow Art Theater in 1901, and starred as Vershinin.

333.14-15: drinks tea v prikuski (“biting sugar between sips”): Sklyarenko, Nabokv-L, 7 April 2013: “Many a Chekhov character drink[s] tea v prikusku but only one of them is a female. From Chekhov's Notebooks: “Spal’niy vagon 1 klassa. Passazhiry No. No. 5,6, 7, i 8. Govoryat o nevestkakh. V narode stradayut ot svekrovey, a v intelligentsii—ot nevestok. Zhena moego starshego syna obrazovannaya, i v voskresnykh shkolakh, i biblotechki, no bestaktna, sukha, zhestoka, kaprizna i fizicheski protivna; za obedom vdrug isterika, delannaya po povodu kakoy-to gazetnoy stat’i. Drugaya nevestka: v obshchestve derzhitsya nichego, no v domashney zhizni eta khalda, kurit, skup i kogda p’yot chay v prikusku, to beryot sakhar mezhdy gubami i zubami—i pri etom govorit.” (“First class sleeping wagon. Passengers number 5, 6, 7, and 8. They talk about daughters-in-law. Ordinary folk suffer from mothers-in-law, but the intelligentsia from daughters-in-law. The wife of my older son is educated, both in Sunday schools, and little libraries, but she’s tactless, dry, severe, capricious and physically repugnant; at the table, suddenly, hysteria, produced by some newspaper article. Affected. The other daughter-in-law: in society behaves OK, but in the home she’s frumpy, smokes, she’s stingy, and when she drinks tea v prikusku, takes the sugar between her lips and teeth and talks as she does so.”)

333.16: imbroglio: OED: “A state of great confusion and entanglement; a complicated or difficult situation (esp. political or dramatic); a confused misunderstanding or disagreement, embroilment.”

333.19-20: not quite gratis, I’m afraid:  Cf. Marina’s boosting her acting career twenty years earlier by paying “the great Scott, her impresario, seven thousand gold dollars a week for publicity alone, plus a bonny bonus for every engagement” (10.09-11), and her current promotional activity: “And here she was, at the most delicate moment of my career, multiplying and sending out to friends and foes such exasperating comments as ‘Durmanova is superb as the neurotic nun, having transferred an essentially static and episodical part into et cetera, et cetera, et cetera’” (427.20-24).

333.20: labelled Marina Durmanova: Rather than Marina Veen. VN always insisted that the -a ending of Russian feminine surnames should not be rendered in English (thus Anna Karenin, not Anna Karenina: see 3.03n to “Karenina”) unless they belonged to ballet or dramatic stars.

333.21: Universal City: An area in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles County, California, around the Universal Pictures Studio, and designed for film-making and related activities. Nabokov reports in the Foreword to his Lolita screenplay: “On March 1 [1960], Kubrick and I, at his Universal City studio, debated in an amiable battle of suggestion and countersuggestion how to cinemize the novel” (LS viii-ix).

333.21-23: an incidental waitress in a fourth-rate Western, hip-swinging between table-slapping drunks: Ada is cast in The Young and the Doomed (1890), to which Mlle Larivière’s Les Enfants Maudits (1887) has been reduced: “poor little Ada had clung to her bit part, a two-minute scene in a traktir (roadside tavern). . . . the barmaid scene of the barroom sequence had been cut out—except for a perfectly distinct shadow of Ada’s elbow, as Van kindly maintained” (424.14-425.08).

333.23-24: the dutiful art: Interesting word-choice: why?

333.23: Houssaie: Darkbloom in his note to “Houssaie,” 273.04, glosses : “French, a ‘holly wood.’”

333.28-30: Speaking of calls . . . paleotropical sunbirds: Sunbirds (see 333.30-31n) have “Weak calls, faint songs” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., 13:1063).

333.30-34: paleotropical sunbirds . . . you stopped reading at ‘grasped’: Van continues reading, apparently: before his reunion with Ada in fall 1892 he repapers the wall of the bedroom in his (formerly Cordula’s) Alexis Avenue apartment to feature “Peruvian ‘honeysuckle’ being visited (not only for its nectar, I’m afraid, but for the animalcules stuck in it) by marvelous Loddigesia Hummingbirds” (419.22-25).

MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy.

333.30-31: paleotropical sunbirds (look them up!) are “mimotypes” of the New World hummingbirds: VN adds a pointed addendum to “look them up” in Ardeur 279: “cherche-le dans Austin,” which as Pléiade notes, is a reference to the best-selling Birds of the World (1961), in many later editions and translated into seven languages, by the American ornithologist Oliver Luther Austin (1903-1988).

W2 defines mimotype as: “A type of animal life resembling in many respects that of a different country but not closely related to it; as, the hummingbirds of America are mimotypes of the sunbirds.”

In A1 Nabokov glosses “sunbirds” as “Nectariniidae” and for French translators specifies “les Nectariniides ou les Soui-Mangas.”

Zimmer 981 notes that “Sunbirds (Nectariniidae) are confined to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (the Paleotropic)”; hummingbirds occur throughout the subarctic Americas. “Unlike hummingbirds, sunbirds rarely hover while feeding” (Enyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., ix.671). "Most sunbird species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed most of the time" (Wikipedia, Malachite sunbird, accessed November 19, 2020).

The ornithological note prepares for the “revolting amorous adventure” (334.24) mentioned in Ada’s next letter, her relationship with Andrey Vinelander, whom she appears to have nothing in common with but Russianness and a passion for birds, butterflies, and plants (cf. 385.05-08).

333.31: the New World hummingbirds: Cf. “Loddigesia Hummingbirds” (419.24-25).

334.03-04: as certain and real as being aware of one’s being alive: Cf. VN in a late 1969 interview: “What distinguishes us from animals? Being aware of being aware of being”(SO 142).

334.05-06: ce qui revient au même: Darkbloom: “which amounts to the same thing.”

334.06: for having: corrected from 1969, “of having.”

334.07-08: an insatiable itch: Cf. “She had the impression that the insatiable delectations she arrived at, without having expected or summoned them, were experienced by Van only by the time she attained them” (110.06-09), and the parodic “itch” (106.30) of Chateaubriand’s mosquito.

334.08: The fire you rubbed left its brand: Cf. “he continued to fondle the flow of her hair, and to massage and rumple her nightdress, not daring yet to go under and up, daring, however, to mold her nates until, with a little hiss, she sat down on his hand and her heels, as the burning castle of cards collapsed” (117.18-22). Fire is an immemorial topos of desire, as in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, l. 149, “Love is a spirit all compact of fire,” and in Ada’s Burning Barn chapter, I.19.

334.09-11: Now I have to pay for your rasping the red rash too strongly, too soon: Cf. Ada without panties up in the tree of knowledge: “The child tried to assuage the rash in the soft arch, with all its accompaniment of sticky, itchy, not altogether unpleasurable sensations, by tightly straddling the cool limb of a Shattal apple tree” (78.02-05).

334.13-14: the abiding effect of your sting, your delicious poison: Cf. the discussion of Chateaubriand’s mosquito, 106-07, especially: “a fiery irritation would set in, which the strong and the cold ignored (confident it would last a mere hour) but which the weak, the adorable, the voluptuous took advantage of to scratch and scratch and scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant). ‘Sladko! (Sweet!)’” (107.04-09).

334.19: maux: Darkbloom: “aches.”

334.19-20: extract of scarlet aril, the flesh of yew, just only yew: Darkbloom, aril: “coating of certain seeds.” W2, aril: “An exterior covering or appendage of certain seeds. It develops after fertilization as an outgrowth from the funicle, and envelops the seed.” “A special covering of certain seeds. It is often a bright-colored fleshy envelope as in such woody plants as the yews” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., I:513). The fleshy scarlet-red arils of the yew are particularly glans-like, down to the eye of the glans.
Ada of course intends the pun on homophonic “you.”
The imagery, especially after the imagery of fire, rasping, and burning in the previous lines, seems concordant with Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, where the central panel teems with fruit, especially vivid red fruit (redcurrants, cherries, in several places pairs of cherries with a penis-like stalk, strawberries and more), if no yew arils, and the right-hand panel with fire.
In Pale Fire, at the mid-point of his poem, l. 500, Shade puns on the French name of the yew and plays with the tree’s association with cemeteries and death: “L’if, lifeless tree” (PF 52).

334.20: Je réalise: Fuses the French je me rends compte (“I realize”) with the English “I realize,” in Blanche’s supposed “Canady French.” MOTIF: patois.

334.20-21: your sweet Cinderella de Torf (now Madame Trofim Fartukov): I.e. the maid Blanche, whom Van has lusted over in I.7, and who explained there that “Mlle Larivière called her ‘Cendrillon’” (49.04), and that she was “a poor peat-digger’s daughter” (49.15-16); she comes from the village of La Tourbière (228.08) or Torfyanka (299.26). This is the first disclosure that she has married coachman Trofim Fartukov, who on Van’s leaving Ardis swore that “Dázhe skvoz’ kózhanïy fártuk: even through a leathern apron. . . . I would not think of touching . . . this . . . French . . . wench” (300.12-17). MOTIF: Cinderella; peat; turf.

334.23: je suis sur la verge: Ada is both “on the verge” of, according to the English idiom, and, according to the French sense “on the rod (or wand or  penis).” MOTIF: patois.

334.24: a revolting amorous adventure: Presumably her relationship with Andrey Vinelander, from whom she has had a marriage proposal by the time (fall 1892) of her fifth letter to Van in this series (385.01-03).

334.26: El Paso . . . continue, by the New World Express . . . to the burning tip of Patagonia, Captain Grant’s Horn: Cf. “As a boy of fifteen (Eric Veen’s age of florescence) he had studied with a poet’s passion the timetables of three great American transcontinental trains that one day he would take—not alone (now alone). From Manhattan, via Mephisto, El Paso, Meksikansk and the Panama Chunnel, the dark-red New World Express reached Brazilia and Witch (or Viedma, founded by a Russian admiral)” (345.13-19); “or would she prefer to go abroad for a couple of months—anywhere, Patagonia, Angola, Gululu in the New Zealand mountains?” (394.09-11).

334.26: El Paso: On Earth as it is on Antiterra, city in West Texas on the border with Mexico, and a main transport route to Mexico and beyond. Cf. “From Manhattan, via Mephisto, El Paso, Meksikansk and the Panama Chunnel” (345.16-17).

334.26: your Ada: MOTIF: his Ada.

334.28: in a suite I’ll obtain: Cf. Lucette on board the Queen Guinevere: “in the suite ‘wangled’ in one minute flat’” from the Tobakoffs (477.10).

334.28-29: to the burning tip of Patagonia, Captain Grant’s Horn, . . . my agony: Darkbloom, “Grant, etc.”: “Jules Verne in Captain Grant’s Children has ‘agonie’ (in a discovered message) turn out to be part of ‘Patagonie.’”
Rivers and Walker (287-88) add: “Jules Verne’s novel of adventure, exile, and exploration Les Enfants du capitaine Grant (Captain Grant’s Children) was published in 1867. The message to which Darkbloom refers is the leitmotif of Verne’s narrative. The explorer Captain Grant, castaway on an island in the South Pacific, commits the message to the waves in a sealed bottle. It is recovered near his native Scotland and sets off the search leading to his rescue. In part 1, chapter 2, the water-damaged fragments of the three versions of Grant’s message—in English, French, and German—are superimposed by its finders, and the message is reconstructed. But it is reconstructed with mistakes, which lead the rescue party to the Chilean coast of Patagonia. Successive misreadings of the fragments account for the subsequent divagations and adventures, over vast areas of South America, Australia, and New Zealand, until Grant is found and restored to his children. Darkbloom’s agonie, however appropriate to the passage from Ada on which Darkbloom here comments, does not occur in Verne’s description of the fragments. But -gonie does occur in the French fragment, and it is this which is correctly interpreted by the finders as part of Patagonie. (Later on it is reinterpreted—incorrectly—as part of agonie.)
“Darkbloom’s ‘Grant, etc.’ invites a good deal more explicitness than Darkbloom provides. The climactic portion of the letter by Ada containing the reference to Captain Grant begins with the assertion that she is “sur la verge . . . of a revolting amorous adventure.” The phrase sur la verge is a translingual pun suggesting English ‘on the verge.’ The meaning in French is ‘on the penis,’ or, to follow Nabokov’s ribald lead, ‘on the horn.’ The passage continues with references to ‘the burning tip of Patagonia’ and ‘Captain Grant’s Horn.’ The first, taken literally and geographically, is Tierra del Fuego, the “Land of Fire,” and the second, of course, is Cape Horn. Both localities, as well as Patagonia, figure in Les Enfants du capitaine Grant, and all acquire explicitly phallic and erectile associations here—somewhat outrageously, one may feel, given the thoroughly unamorous character of Verne’s narrative.”
Cf. “Captain Grant’s Microgalaxies” (220.18 and n).
When Ada marries Andrey Vinelander, Van is at “a place nicely called Agony, in Terra del Fuego” (481.03) and there receives the invitation to their wedding; cf. also “souvenir shops, from Agony, Patagonia, to Wrinkleballs, Le Bras d’Or” (582.10-11).

334.29: Villa in Verna: Play on name of Jules Verne, meaning here, presumably, a place in South America in the region (Patagonia) that Verne makes those tracking Captain Grant explore; might just possibly perhaps also refer to La Verna, the Tuscan monastery where St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata in 1224. Cf. also “Gentiana verna” in the herbarium in the attic (8.12), andthe Villa Venus chain (II.3). MOTIF: Villa Venus.

334.30-31: the end of my name and wit: Da, Russian “yes.”In other words, Ada is “at her wit’s end” in her attempt to re-establish relations with Van.

334.32: Arizona: Cf. “I’m writing from Marina Ranch—not very far from the little gulch in which Aqua died” (336.09-10), which was near “a luxurious ‘sanastoria’ at Centaur, Arizona” (26.28).
Arizona in 1890 are the place and time Ada began the sexual “depravation of your poor Lucette at fourteen in Arizona” (374.24-25). Indeed “it went on practically every night at Marina Ranch” (375.30).

MOTIF: Arizona.

335.02-03: always, in fact, mostly corpse, never once, I swear, rising to the occasion: Cf. Ada’s “Neither he nor P. was technically my lover” (332.32), and “She (Ada) had, hadn’t she, a way of always smoothing out the folds of the past—making the flutist practically impotent (except with his wife)” (394.25-27); but contrast Blanche’s report to Van, “He must have had her not more than a dozen times” (294.01-02).

335.05: Van-less vitality: Any connection with Vanvitelli (147.01-17), like Rack, a composer?

335.09-10: early Thargelion: In A1, Nabokov glosses “in the spring.” The eleventh month in the ancient Attic calendar, somewhere about mid-May to mid-June of our modern calendar. Nabokov seems to have been following W2, which defines as “The eleventh Attic month (April-May),” although there is a cross-reference to the Greek Calendar, which specifies “May-June.” Blanche, after telling Van of Ada’s affair with Rack, is about to move on to Percy (“and in April . . . the affair was resumed, but then—,” 294.04-05) when Van breaks off her disclosures. On the festival of Thargelia, on the 6th and 7th of the month, two male scapegoats, chosen for their ugliness or other undesirability, were sacrificed by being whipped on their genitals and then stoned to death and burnt (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed.).

335.10-21: by saying that if I stopped seeing him he would divulge my affair with my cousin to my mother. . . in a bantering tone, hardly befitting a genuine blackmailer . . . as soon as his motives and actions were exposed: MOTIF: blackmail.

335.12-14: witnesses, such as the sister of your Blanche, and a stable boy who, I suspect, was impersonated by the youngest of the three demoiselles de Tourbe, witches all: The sister of your Blanche: Madelon, who is jealous of Percy’s relationship with Ada, and writes the warning note for Van, 299.07-16; stable boy impersonator: see 283.06-284.10.

MOTIF: chestnut youth; turf.

335.22: in the long ruin [sic! “run” in her blue stocking. Ed.]: Cf. Van trying to put Cordula off the scent, after the summer of 1884, by calling Ada “A trifle on the blue-stocking side” (165.17-18). Cf., early in Van’s summer at Ardis the Second: “once in a small alder thicket, duplicated in black by the blue stream, they found a garter which was certainly hers, she could not deny it, but which Van was positive she had never worn on her stockingless summer trips to the magic islet” (218.09).
MOTIF: Composition-Editor.

335.24: drill-jar: See W2, drill jar and jar: a device used in deep well boring to allow the drill to be given a sharp blow or jar to loosen it when jammed in the rock.

335.26-33: the effect of the threat upon one ready to submit to any infamy rather than face the shadow of disclosure . . . , for . . . shocking as an affair between first cousins might have seemed to a law-abiding family, I refused to imagine (as you and I have always done) how Marina and Demon would have reacted in “our” case: Cf. 443.02-05: “The awfulness of the situation is an abyss that grows deeper the more I think of it. You force me to bring up the tritest terms such as ‘family,’ ‘honor,’ ‘set,’ ‘law.’”
MOTIF: family relationship.

335.29-31: shocking as an affair between first cousins might have seemed to a law-abiding family: Cf. “By mid-century not only first cousins but uncles and grandnieces were forbidden to intermarry” (135.05-07).

335.33: the jolts and skids of my syntax: Apart from the “long ruin” at 335.23, which is hardly a syntactical error, what is she referring to?

336.03-07: I can swear . . . that in the course of our “sylvan trysts” I successfully evaded if not pollution, at least possession before and after your return to Ardis—except for one messy occasion when he half-took me by force: “She (Ada) had, hadn’t she, a way of always smoothing out the folds of the past— . . . allowing the gentleman farmer only one embrace, with a premature eyakulyatsiya” (394.25-29). The “messy occasion” would seem to have been Ada’s last tryst with Percy, the eve of Blanche’s disclosure and Van’s departure from Ardis: “how [Van] ‘ladored,’ he said, the dark aroma of her hair blending with crushed lily stalks, Turkish cigarettes and the lassitude that comes from ‘lass.’ ‘No, no, don’t,’ she said, I must wash, quick-quick, Ada must wash” (286.33-287.03).

336.09: Marina Ranch: Lucette tells Van at Kingston that her sexual romps with Ada “went on practically every night at Marina Ranch”(375.30).  MOTIF: Marina.

336.09-11: not very far from the little gulch in which Aqua died and into which I myself feel like creeping some day: See 26.26-29.28, specially the “suitable gulch in the chapparal” (28.22) for Aqua’s committing suicide. Cf. Ada’s hints of suicide, or at least her identification with Ophelia, in her final seventh, letter to Van, 384.31-385.17.

336.11-12: returning for a while to the Pisang Hotel: To Houssaie (Hollywood) and the Antiterran version of the Beverly Hills Hotel (see 317.08-09 and 333.02-03). Her next letter, accordingly, deals “exclusively with Ada’s stage & screen ventures” (331.31-32), her “Dreams of Drama” (336.21).

336.13: I salute the good auditor: In A1 Nabokov  notes for French translators “à bon entendeur, salut,” and also, in Russian, puzzlingly, “spasenie” (rescuing, salvation).  Sklyarenko, Nabokv-L, July 22, 2012, notes: “The closing sentence of Ada's letter brings to mind the polite Latin formula: Lectori benevolo salutem (to the kind reader, greeting).” But  why “auditor”?

336.14-17: When Van retrieved in 1940 this thin batch of five letters, each in its VPL pink silk-paper case, from the safe in his Swiss bank where they had been preserved for exactly one half of a century: Fifty years seems more or less the gap between Terranean and Antiterran time, as Van reports in Letters from Terra: “As earlier experimentators had conjectured, our annals lagged by about half a century behind Terra’s along the bridges of time, but overtook some of its underwater currents” 340.34-341.02), and when he adapts Van’s novel for the screen Victor “Vitry dated Theresa’s visit to Antiterra as taking place in 1940, but 1940 by the Terranean calendar, and about 1890 by ours” (580.01-02).

336.20: his Park Lane studio: Formerly “his father’s pretty house, in Florentine style, between two vacant lots (5 Park Lane in Manhattan)” (149.24-26).

336.21-22: only the innocent sixth letter (Dreams of Drama) of 1891, which had perished: Cf. “A sixth came by natural means to Park Lane. . . . dealt exclusively with Ada’s stage & screen ventures” (331.30-32). Yet when Ada’s “Dreams of Drama” become the subject of II.9, Van keeps recalling echoes of her sixth letter: 426.20-21, 427.01, 427.14-15.

336.22-28: which had perished, together with her coded notes (of 1884-88) when the irreplaceable little palazzo burnt down in 1919. Rumor attributed the bright deed to the city fathers . . . who could no longer endure their craving for the space that the solid dwarf occupied between two alabaster colossi: Cf. Van’s “father’s pretty house, in Florentine style, between two vacant lots (5 Park Lane in Manhattan), had been Van’s winter home (two giant guards were soon to rise on both sides of it, ready to frog-march it away)” (149.24-28). The attempted frog-marching seems to have come to pass.
Cf. Glory: “Only in 1918 did Grandfather Edelweiss disappear altogether, for the album went up in flames, as did the table where the album lay, and, in fact, the whole country house, which the peasant chaps from the nearby village foolishly burned to the ground” (2).

336.22-24: perished, together with her coded notes (of 1884-88) when the irreplaceable little palazzo burnt down in 1919: The phrase “her coded notes (of 1884-88)” would seem to refer unequivocally to Ada’s coded letters to Van between Ardis the First and Ardis the Second. Yet this is incompatible with the end of I.26: “No passages from the correspondence can be given here, since all the letters were destroyed in 1889” (162.14-16): a rare but far from unprecedented lapse in Nabokovian consistency.

336.23: the irreplaceable little palazzo: Cf. “your meek little palazzo standing between its two giant guards” (referring to the same building, while it is still Demon’s, 445.28-29).

MOTIF: little palazzo.

336.23-32: little palazzo . . . Lucinda Villa . . . paintings from all public and private galleries in the world: The new building on the site of the old palazzo honors Lucette’s specialization as an art historian, her most important contribution to art history being this: “Lucette’s scholarly contribution . . . a pair of the Pear Peacock in copula, the male with the feathery antennae, the female with the plain threads, to depict them faithfully (among wretched, unvisualized insects) on one side of a fenestral niche in the so-called ‘Elements Room’ of the Palazzo Vecchio” (400.13-21).
It comes to house not only paintings, but also, from her lepidoptery in old age, Ada’s butterfly “films—and the crucified actors (Identification Mounts)—[which] can be seen by arrangement at the Lucinda Museum, 5, Park Lane, Manhattan” (568.08-09).

336.23-24: in 1919: In Ada 1968, VN has “in 1923 1919.” Possibly Nabokov wanted to make the burning of the palazzo occur before rather than after Van and Ada’s reunion in 1922.

336.27-28: two alabaster colossi: Cf. Aqua’s visions of America: “Poor Aqua, whose fancies were apt to fall for all the fangles of cranks and Christians, envisaged vividly a minor hymnist’s paradise, a future America of alabaster buildings one hundred stories high” (21.11-14).

337.01: Parian: A long-prized white marble from the island of Paros in the Aegean.

337.04: one gold dollar: MOTIF: gold dollars.

337.07: shadow, similar to that of a lunar volcano: Because the moon lacks an atmosphere, shadows on its surface are much starker and darker than on Earth. As the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, VN was excited at the moon landing by the American Apollo 11 crew on July 20, 1969, shortly after Ada was published (SO 149-50), and in response to the New York Times’s request for a comment after the landing, he cabled: “TREADING THE SOIL OF THE MOON PALPATING ITS PEBBLES TASTING THE PANIC AND SPLENDOR OF THE EVENT FEELING IN THE PIT OF ONES STOMACH THE SEPARATION FROM TERRA THESE FORM THE MOST ROMANTIC SENSATION AN EXPLORER HAS EVER KNOWN” (SO 217); “he rented a television set to watch every moment of the ‘marvelous adventure’ of the first moon landing” (Boyd 1991, 569).

337.09-10: many years later, when working on his Texture of Time: In 1922; see Part 4.
MOTIF: Texture of Time.

337.11-14: additional proof of real time’s being connected with the interval between events, not with their “passage,” not with their blending, not with their shading the gap wherein the pure and impenetrable texture of time transpires: Cf., in The Texture of Time: “Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval. The regular throb itself merely brings back the miserable idea of measurement, but in between, something like true Time lurks” (538.05-10).  MOTIF: time.

337.14: wherein the pure and impenetrable texture of time transpires:  MOTIF: Texture of Time.

337.15-16: Self-esteem was satisfied: the dying duelist dies a happier man than his live foe ever will be: By this Van seems to mean, in terms of its application to his own case, that his self-esteem, disrupted by Ada’s betrayals, has been satisfied, since he would have duelled Percy de Prey and pummelled the non-duelable Rack had they both not already proved doomed, and since his anger found an outlet in the duel with Captain Tapper; but although his self-esteem has been satisfied, by the deaths of his foes and his challenge to Tapper, the grief at Ada’s infidelity that provoked his urge to duel lingers on, as does the anger that drives him to refuse to answer Ada’s letters.
MOTIF: duel.

337.19-25: seventh letter . . . paranymph: See II.5 and especially, for the text of Ada’s letter, 384.31-385.17.

337.19-20: transmitted to him by Ada’s and his half-sister: MOTIF: family relationship.

337.20: Kingston: “Kingston University, Mayne” (365.01), where Van teaches and researches.

337.21: he knew it was the last in the series: He knows this only from its contents, presumably: Ada warns “If you scorn the maid at your window I will aerogram my immediate acceptance of a proposal of marriage that has been made to your poor Ada a month ago” (385.01-03).

337.22: come from the blood-red érable arbors of Ardis: Cf. the citation by Demon and translation by Van of a line from Coppée’s poem “Matin d’Octobre”: “L’érable à sa feuille de sang . . . The maple by its blood-red glow” (247.16-23 and nn). Lucette, after “sad sad Ardis where I spent one night with” Ada (380.07) before coming to Queenston, near Van’s Kingston, brings him the letter on a “bright November afternoon” (366.10).
MOTIF: Ada, the arbors and ardors of Ardisblood-red; Leur chute est lente.

337.25: paranymph: W2: “1. Gr. Antiq. a. A friend who went with a bridegroom in a chariot to fetch home the bride. b. The bridesmaid who conducted the bride to the bridegroom. 2. Hence: a. A best man or bridesmaid. b. One who solicits or speaks for another; advocate.”


Afternote to Part Two, Chapter 1


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