Part 2 Chapter 4



Like the successive jumps to Cordula’s Manhattan apartment in Pt. 1 Ch. 43, to Goodson Airport and Ada’s unanswered letters in Pt. 2 Ch. 1, to Letters from Terra in Pt. 2 Ch.2, and to Eric Veen’s Villa Venuses in Pt. 2 Ch.3, this chapter surprises with its jump straight into Van’s essay-cum-lecture on dreams. The centrifugality of Van’s life without Ada becomes almost as disconcerting for the reader as it has plainly been for Van.

We enter a discussion of dreams, part personal, part academically impersonal, without knowing for over a page that this is also a lecture, or a stylized report of one, and without our even knowing that Van has become a lecturer or professor. Much of the material is too intimately confessional—"by the memory of Ardis that a thorn in my day had maddeningly revived” (359), “but not Ardis, not Ada, for that would mean drowning in a cataract of worse wakefulness” (359-60)—for the first glimpse of the lecture frame (“not ‘skyscrape,’ as two-thirds of the class will probably take it down,” 360) to come as anything but an eye-popping and smile-rousing surprise.

On the other hand, this chapter follows from the end of Pt. 2 Ch. 2, and Van’s closing lapse into a dream, and from Pt. 2 Ch. 3, with Eric Veen’s “organized dream” (358) of Villa Venus and Van’s desolate and gradually deepening half-dream of “his last visit to one last Villa Venus” (356). After the imaginative dream of Letters from Terra, and the erotic dreams-within-dreams of Villa Venus, we return to waking mode, if still focused on dreams. And whereasVan did not feature in Pt. 2 Ch. 3 until past half-way, in Pt. 2 Ch. 4 we are always in Van’s mind, in the turmoil of his reveries and the clarity of his reflections.

Lucid, colorful, and entertaining in its depiction and analysis of dreams, and charmingly, dreamily inconsistent in its frame-shifting from frank confessional to essay to lecture to faux-coy “family chronicle” (361), this chapter, like its recent predecessors, only more so, is splendidly self-contained and self-justified. But a first-time reader might well begin to wonder, where on earth will the story move next? Where is Ada herself, outside Van’s haunting insomnias and his agonizing dreams?


359.01-364.07: What . . . applause): For the whole chapter: MOTIF: dream.

359.01: What are dreams?: Following on from the end of the previous chapter, this continues from “Eric’s ‘organized dream’” (358.22) of the Villa Venus chain, and Van’s last dreamlike visit to a last Villa Venus: “The ruinous Villa no longer bore any resemblance to Eric’s ‘organized dream,’ but the soft little creature in Van’s desperate grasp was Ada” (358.21-23).
VN was always fascinated by dreams, not least perhaps by their role as a severely compromised form of consciousness compared to the freedoms and lucidity of waking consciousness, as waking consciousness itself might in turn be severely compromised compared to some hardly imaginable consciousness beyond—beyond us, beyond death? For a compilation of VN’s fictional dreams and a record of his experiment with recording and analyzing his real dreams, see his Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, ed. Gennady Barabtarlo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018; see also Boyd 1991: 488). Curiously Barabtarlo does not draw attention to Nabokov’s exact borrowing from his general comments on his own dreams (Insomniac Dreams 34) in Van’s essay on dreams.

359.04-05: recasting dead people in new settings:  Cf. SM 50: “Whenever in my dreams I see the dead, they always appear silent, bothered, strangely depressed, quite unlike their dear, bright selves. I am aware of them, without any astonishment, in surroundings they never visited during their earthly existence, in the house of some friend of mine they never knew. They sit apart, frowning at the floor, as if death were a dark taint, a shameful family secret” (italics added).
Within Ada, Van dreams of live Ada and dead Lucette as “the Vane sisters” “on the talc of a tropical beach” (520.28-521.05).

359.05-09: In reviewing the more or less memorable dreams I have had . . . I can classify them by subject matter into several categories among which two surpass the others in generic distinctiveness. There are the professional dreams and there are the erotic ones: Cf. VN’s classification of his own dreams by subject matter in his 1964-65 research: “Types of dreams // 1. Professional & vocational (in my case: literature, teaching, and lepidoptera). . . . 4. Memories of the remote past (childhood, émigré life, school, parents). . . 6. Erotic tenderness and heart-rending enchantment” (Insomniac Dreams, 34).“Memories of the remote past” are missing in Van’s case, here, although he will later note briefly that “All dreams are affected by the experiences and impressions of the present as well as by memories of childhood” (362.25-27).

359.05-06: dreams I have had during the last nine decades:  A particularly explicit indication of Van’s longevity, although there have been other indications, the earliest being Ada’s editorial query to Van glossed as “Marginal jotting in Ada’s 1965 hand; crossed out lightly in her latest wavering one” (15.22-23).

359.06-07: I can classify them by subject matter into several categories: Richard Smith, of the Kyoto Reading Circle, has made a detailed study (2021) of the many Freudian elements in II.4 (see here). I am grateful for his permission to reproduce his rich material. He writes: “This whole chapter is in ‘conversation’ with Sigmund Freud’s work, particularly The Interpretation of Dreams. . . . Nabokov mimics and parodies not only Freud’s ideas but also his style in this chapter. The Interpretation of Dreams features numerous binaries of this kind (italics mine).

Gruppe speaks of such a classification [ . . . ] “Dreams were divided into two classes; the first class was believed to be influenced only by the present (or the past) [ . . .] The second class of dreams, on the other hand, was determinative of the future. (Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, (3rd ed.). (A. A. Brill, Trans.). Originally published in New York by Macmillan.(Original German work published 1900.) p. 4).

Whenever the sources of dreams are completely enumerated they fall into the following four categories [ . . . ]: (1) external (objective) sensory stimuli; (2) internal (subjective) sensory stimuli; (3) internal (organic) physical stimuli; (4) Purely psychical sources of excitation. (p. 9-10).

Organically determined sensations, he says, "may be divided into two classes: (1) general sensations - those affecting the whole system; (2) specific sensations - those that are immanent in the principal systems of the vegetative organism (p. 14).

These two categories of impressions—the insignificant and the undisposed-of—are essentially the same as those which were emphasized by Robert (p. 28).

We must at once distinguish two classes of such dreams: those in which the dreamer remains unmoved, and those in which he feels profoundly grieved by the death of the beloved person (p. 81).

I feel justified in dividing these dreams roughly into two classes; first, those which always really have the same meaning, and second, those which despite the same or a similar content must nevertheless be given the most varied interpretations (p. 121)”.

359.11-360.03: insomnias conditioned either by the overflow of ten hours of vocational work or by the memory of Ardis that a thorn in my day had maddeningly revived . . . some other image or meditation—but not Ardis, not Ada . . . sweeping me into an abyss: Cf., for the insomnia after work, and “meditation . . . abyss,” Van researching in Manhattan, from Cordula’s apartment, 325.02-07: “When he could not sleep, as now often happened, he retired to the sitting room and sat there annotating his authors or else he would walk up and down the open terrace, under a haze of stars, in severely restricted meditation, till the first tramcar jangled and screeched in the dawning abyss of the city.” Here “severely restricted meditation” means not thinking about the loss of Ada and Ardis.

359.11-13: insomnias conditioned either by the overflow of ten hours of vocational work or by the memory of Ardis that a thorn in my day had maddeningly revived: VN reports: “All my life I have been a poor go-to-sleeper. . . . The strain and drain of composition often force me, alas, to swallow a strong pill that gives me an hour or two of frightful nightmares” (SM 108). See also SO 29, 129, TWS 366, 387 (“There exist several subjects in which I have expert knowledge: certain groups of butterflies, Pushkin, the art of chess problems, translation from and into English, Russian, and French, wordplay, novelism, insomnia, and immortality”), 446, 459, 468, Pnin 21. Hugh Person in TT is particularly troubled by insomnia (e.g. 56-58).

Van in Part Four, “The Texture of Time,” after a failed reunion with Ada, turns to his work and a sleeping pill: “His Work-in-Progress, a sheaf of notes tangling with his pajamas, came to the rescue as it had done at Sorcière. Van swallowed a favodorm tablet and, while waiting for it to relieve him of himself, a matter of forty minutes or so, sat down at a lady’s bureau to his ‘lucubratiuncula’” (558.34-559.04).

359.12-13: the memory of Ardis that a thorn in my day had maddeningly revived: Cf. 367.09-11: “back to the ardors and arbors! Eros qui prend son essor! Arts that our marblery harbors: Eros, the rose and the sore.” MOTIF: rose.

359.20-360.01: but not Ardis, not Ada: Cordula “instinctively realized very soon that she should never mention Ada or Ardis” (324.29-30).

360.01-02: a cataract of worse wakefulness: MOTIF: cataract.

360.05-06: In the professional dreams that especially obsessed me when I worked on my earliest fiction: Alexey Sklyarenko, “lecturing on dreams & dreaming of being a lecturer,” Nabokv-L, June 4, 2013,  notes that in his "Letters of a Russian Traveller" Karamzin tells about the remarkable dream he had in Lausanne after returning from Vevey. He dreamed he was at a lectern in a large hall giving a lecture on temperament and character. When he awoke, he took a pen and quickly wrote down word for word what he remembered himself saying in the dream-lecture, a short paragraph offering a remarkably lucid distinction between temperament and character.

360.06-07: my earliest fiction, and pleaded abjectly with a very frail muse: Letters from Terra seems not only Van’s earliest but his only fiction. Although the inspiration for it comes while he is living with Cordula de Prey in her Manhattan apartment, “In no sense could Cordula be compared to a writer’s muse” (324.16-17), and in no sense is this happily fecund fornicatress “frail.”

360.07-08: “kneeling and wringing my hands” like the dusty-trousered Marmlad before his Marmlady in Dickens: Darkbloom glosses “Marmlad in Dickens: or rather Marmeladov in Dostoevsky, whom Dickens (in translation), greatly influenced.” In Pt. 1 Ch. 2 of Dostoevsky’s Prestuplenie i nakazanie (Crime and Punishment, 1866), in a tavern in a dusty St. Petersburg summer, Raskolnikov meets the garrulous drunk Marmeladov and hears his story: especially, that he has stolen from his wife’s trunk what remained of the salary he had given her, on being briefly employed again, in order to set off on a new bender, which has stopped only now the money has run out. Marmeladov takes Raskolnikov back to his home, where his wife ignores the stranger but went to the entryway to close the door and suddenly gave a cry, seeing her husband kneeling there in the doorway.

‘Ah!’ she cried in a frenzy, ‘he’s come back! The jailbird! The monster! . . . Where’s the money?  . . . Oh Lord, did he
really drink up all of it? There were twelve roubles left in the trunk! . . . ’ And suddenly, in a rage, she seized him by
the hair and dragged him into the room. Marmeladov made her efforts easier by meekly crawling after her on his knees.
'And it’s a delight to me! It’s not painful, it’s a deli-i-ight, my de-e-ear sir,’ he kept crying out, being pulled by the hair
all the while and once even bumping his forehead on the floor.
(Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, London: Vintage, 1993, 26)

(Before this scene, Marmeladov has already confessed to Raskolnikov that his wife’s beatings are a delight to him.)

“Dusty” is a nickname Nabokov applies to Dostoevsky elsewhere, in his Cornell lectures and in his fiction: “old Dusty’s great book, Crime and Slime” (Despair 187). Pléiade 2021 suggests, besides the play on “lad” and “lady” in the Anglicized versions of “Marmeladov,” an echo of the minor comic character Mrs Jellyby in Dickens’s Bleak House, which VN also taught at Cornell (“jelly” being American for English “jam”). In “Marmlady” there is also a pun on “Ma’am” or “marm” and “lady” (or “My lady,” slurred into “M’lady”) as older terms of address, and perhaps also an echo of the slurred “Mlud” for “My Lord,” addressed to the Lord High Chancellor in Chancery Court, in Chapter 1 of Bleak House (which VN taught at Cornell), itself an echo of the “mud” that pervades Dickens’s bravura opening panorama of London.

360.07: wringing my hands: The Kyoto Reading Circle compares:"I had always thought that wringing one's hands was a fictional gesture—the obscure outcome, perhaps, of some medieval ritual; but as I took to the woods, for a spell of despair and desperate meditation, this was the gesture (‘look, Lord, at these chains!’) that would have come nearest to the mute expression of my mood" (Lolita, I.20, 83).

360.13-15: a typo on every page . . . “nuclear” instead of “unclear”: In his dream-record, VN lists “Curious features of my dreams.” Feature 3 is “Verbal details” (Insomniac Dreams 34). The Kyoto Reading Circle points out the famous “fountain/mountain” misprint in Pale Fire (ll.801-02, 62).

360.14: the snide “bitterly” instead of “butterfly”:  Cf. Van leaving Ada at the end of Ardis the First, at Forest Fork: “‘Tomorrow you’ll come here with your green net,’ said Van bitterly, ‘my butterfly’” (158.17-18).

360.14-15: the meaningless “nuclear” instead of “unclear”: Perhaps simply “meaningless” in its context in the proofs; or is “nuclear” meaningless on Antiterra—where there is no threat of nuclear war, except for the belated glimpse of our world that seems to be offered by the distortions that the film version of Letters from Terra makes to Van’s novel: “agents from distant Atomsk. Our world was, in fact, mid-twentieth-century. Terra convalesced after enduring the rack and the stake, the bullies and beasts that Germany inevitably generates when fulfilling her dreams of glory. Russian peasants and poets had not been transported to Estotiland, and the Barren Grounds, ages ago—they were dying, at this very moment, in the slave camps of Tartary” (582.22-29).  

360.15-19: Or I would be hurrying to a reading I had to give . . . and then realize with sudden relief that all I had to do was to strike out the phrase “crowded street” in my manuscript: In his diary entry for September 13, 1967 (not, as far as I can see, in Barabtarlo’s edition of Insomniac Dreams but, lightly corrected, in Boyd 1991, 527), VN hurriedly records: “Dream last nast [sic]: late for my lecture (had to return for my notes). Flock of sheep before me threatening to delay me still more. It occurs to me suddenly than [sic] I can simply cross the whole passage out, especially as I had it used [sic] before and it was too long. This I do—and arrive in time at the lecture hall” (VNA). Cf. EO III,40: “We all know that dream sensation of ‘lateness.’”

360.20: “skyscape” (not “skyscrape,”: Ironically, “skyscape” is not a coinage (W2: “A portion of the sky which can be comprehended in a single view; also, a representation of such portion”)—and neither, even, is “skyscrape” (W3, “to build a skyscraper”).
The Kyoto Reading Circle cites the story “Time and Ebb”: “Upon reaching New York, travelers in space used to be as much impressed as travelers in time would have been by the old-fashioned ‘skyscrapers’; this was a misnomer, since their association with the sky, especially at the ethereal close of a greenhouse day, far from suggesting any grating contact, was indescribably delicate and serene: to my childish eyes looking across the vast expanse of park land that used to grace the center of the city, they appeared remote and lilac-colored, and strangely aquatic, mingling as they did their first cautious lights with the colors of the sunset and revealing, with a kind of dreamy candor, the pulsating inside of their semitransparent structure” (SoVN 582-83).

360.20-21: as two-thirds of the class will probably take it down: The first indication that this is a university lecture, or a stylized report of one. Contrast this with the lecture report that opens The Texture of Time but blends into an essay and a narrative of Van en route to Mont Roux and Ada:Here a heckler asked, with the arrogant air of one wanting to see a gentleman’s driving license, how did the ‘Prof’ reconcile his refusal to grant the future the status of Time with the fact that it, the future, could hardly be considered nonexistent, since ‘it possessed at least one future, I mean, feature, involving such an important idea as that of absolute necessity’” (535.01-06).
Cf. PF 300, C.1000: “Well, folks, I guess many in this fine hall are as hungry and thirsty as me.”

360.23-25: it was in my early pubescence that hardly a night would pass without some old or recent waketime impression’s establishing a soft deep link with my still-muted genius: Cf. the third category in VN’s “Types of dreams”: “Obvious influence of immediate occupations & impressions (Olympic games etc.)” (Insomniac Dreams 34).

360.25-26: my still-muted genius (for we are “van.” . . . : Interesting switch between the personal singular “my” and the authorial plural “we”—and a way of avoiding a confusion of senses had Van written “I am ‘van.’” “For we are one”: that is, a genius. MOTIF: Van.

360.26-27: “van,” rhyming with and indeed signifying “one” in Marina’s double-you-less deep-voweled Russian pronunciation: An accurate description of a strong Russian accent on the English word “one.” For Marina’s “Vahn” pronunciation, see 191.20, 271.32. MOTIF: Marina’s Russianness.

360.27-33: The presence, or promise, of art in that kind of dream would come in the image of an overcast sky . . . only to be recowled by the scud, for I was not yet ready: The last clause confirms that this entire mobile skyscape—one of Nabokov’s very best, which is saying something—is a sustained analogy for the presence or promise of Van’s art, while the whole sentence confirms that in Ada his art has fulfilled its promise. Cf. 578.13-23:it suddenly occurred to our old polemicist that all his published works . . . were not epistemic tasks set to himself by a savant, but buoyant and bellicose exercises in literary style. He was asked why, then, did he not let himself go, why did he not choose a big playground for a match between Inspiration and Design; and with one thing leading to another it was resolved that he would write his memoirs—to be published posthumously.”

360.33: scud: W2: “2. Loose, vapory clouds or fragments of cloud driven swiftly by the wind; hence, something likened to such clouds.” In his analysis of comparative prosody, especially English, French, and Russian, for his commentary to EO, VN introduced and made much of his proposed new term “scud,” to reflect, I now realize, precisely that swift flight of cloud in the original sense (also W2, scud, “1: Act of scudding; a driving along; a rushing”): “We speak of an ‘accent’ in relation to a word and of a ‘stress’ in relation to a metrical foot. A ‘scud’ is an unaccented stress. ‘An inextínguishable fláme’ has two accented and two unaccented stresses. When in verse a weak monosyllabic word (i.e., one not accented in speech) or a weak syllable of a long word happens to coincide with the stressed part (ictus) of a foot, there results a modulation that I term a ‘scud’” (EO III, 454).

361.01-11: dim-doom visions: fatidic-sign nightmares, thalamic calamities, menacing riddles. . . precognitive flavor. . . . the living organism of a new truth: Very close to VN’s report on his own dreams: category 2 of his “Types of dreams” is “Dim-doom dreams (in my case, fatidic-sign nightmares: thalamic calamities, menacing series and riddles)” and category 5: “‘Precognitive’” (Insomniac Dreams, 34).

Cf. Van’s report of a Flavita game:Van took some notes in the hope—not quite unfulfilled—of ‘catching sight of the lining of time’ (which, as he was later to write, is ‘the best informal definition of portents and prophecies’)” (227.04-07).

On his first night aboard the Tobakoff, the eve of Lucette’s suicidal dive to her death in the Atlantic, Van has a dream he takes note of, to identify its sources in his waking life; he does not comment on its fatidic side, discovered too late: “Van managed to sleep soundly, the only reaction on the part of his dormant mind being the dream image of an aquatic peacock, slowly sinking before somersaulting like a diving grebe, near the shore of the lake bearing his name in the ancient kingdom of Arrowroot. Upon reviewing that bright dream he traced its source to his recent visit to Armenia where he had gone fowling with Armborough and that gentleman’s extremely compliant and accomplished niece. He wanted to make a note of it” (474.14-475.02).

Cf. also VN in SO 177: “I am subject to the embarrassing qualms of superstition: a number, a dream, a coincidence can affect me obsessively—though not in the sense of absurd fears but as fabulous (and on the whole rather bracing) scientific enigmas, incapable of being stated, let alone solved.”

The end of VN’s story “The Vane Sisters,” alluded to at Ada 521.05, a riddle in a dream and its report, is not menacing but is indeed “the living organism of a new truth” in that the riddle, when solved, discloses the spectral roles the dead Cynthia and Sybil Vane have played in the narrator’s previous day, his dream, and his writing about it. 

361.01-02: dim-doom: Ada/Ardeur 301: “rêves Erèbe”;  Ada/Verlangen 506: “‘erebischen’ Visionen”: VN’s choice for the French and German editions, Erebus combines “dim” and “doom”: the primordial Greek god of darkness, and according to Hesiod’s Theogony the child of Chaos and brother of Nyx (Night), and also, W2: “Gr. Myth. A place of nether darkness, through which souls passed on their way to Hades.” See also 361.14: “Between the dim-doom and the poignantly sensual. . . . ” MOTIF: dim . . . dim.

361.02: thalamic: W2: “Of or pertaining to the thalamus, esp., Anat., the optic thalamus.” Thalamus, a brain region (W2): “Anat. The largest subdivision of the diencephalon on either side, consisting chiefly of an ovoid nuclear mass in the lateral wall of the third ventricle. . . . (paleothalamus). . . . Clinical evidence indicates that this part of the thalamus is a center for the crude perception of pain and the affective qualities of other sensations. The lateral part (neothalamus) serves as the great relay station of somatic sensory and optic paths to the cerebral cortex. . . .” Rather less opaque (and although more recent than the time of Ada’s composition, its explanations are in keeping with those of that era) is Wikipedia: “It has several functions, such as relaying of sensory signals, including motor signals to the cerebral cortex and the regulation of consciousnesssleep, and alertness. . . . The thalamus has multiple functions, generally believed to act as a relay station, or hub, relaying information between different subcortical areas and the cerebral cortex. . . . The thalamus also plays an important role in regulating states of sleep and wakefulness” (accessed 22 January 2021).

361.05-06: Dunne has explained by the action of “reverse memory”: Aeronautical engineer John William Dunne (1875-1949), in his An Experiment with Time (1927 and numerous subsequent editions), widely read in its time, proposed that past, present, and future were simultaneous, and appeared sequential only within waking human consciousness; but, he posited, some dreams could anticipate what seemed to belong to “the future” by incorporating memories of that already-present future that remained inaccessible within waking consciousness. As Zimmer 2010: 992 notes, Dunne himself believed he had had such a dream when he foresaw in his sleep the eruption of Mount Pelée on Martinique. VN had begun working on an essay-cum-story The Texture of Time in 1959; after stalling on that and before finding the inspiration for Ada (Boyd 1991: 379-80, 472-73, 487, 509), Nabokov read Dunne and himself began on October 14, 1964, as a short-lived experiment (it ended on January 3, 1965), to note down his dreams for any signs of their precognitive power (Boyd 1991: 487-88). See Barabtarlo, ed., Insomniac Dreams, for a detailed discussion of Dunne and citations and analyses from VN’s records of his dreams and commentaries.

361.06-08: for the moment I am not going to enlarge upon the uncanny element particular to dreams: Where does Van enlarge on this explicitly? One case where he records a dream that seems to have predictive power is at 474.14-475.02 (see 361.01-11n. above), but he does not there “enlarge upon the uncanny element.”  Cf. also, later in this “lecture”: “an extremely hazy, hardly existing passing-of-time feeling (this theme I will also reserve for a later chapter)” (362.23-25).

The “uncanny” was the subject of Freud’s 1919 essay “Das Unheimliche” (“The Uncanny”). 

361.08-11: some law of logic should fix the number of coincidences, in a given domain, after which they cease to be coincidences, and form, instead, the living organism of a new truth:  Cf., in a different mode and mood, PF 62-63, ll. 806-10: “this / Was the real point, the contrapuntal theme; / Just this: not text, but texture; not the dream / But topsy-turvical coincidence, / Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense.”

361.11-12: “Tell me,” says Osberg’s little gitana to the Moors, El Motela and Ramera . . . : A1: Osberg’s little gitana: “ref. to Lolita.” For Osberg/Borges and Lolita, see 27.33-28.03n; for Osberg/Borges and Nabokov, see 344.08-10n and 344.09-10n. Humbert refers to Lolita as “My Carmen” or “My Carmencita,” after the gypsy dancer and enchantress in Mérimée’s tale and Bizet’s opera. In Pt. 2 Ch 22, for instance: “‘My Carmen,’ I said (I used to call her that sometimes), ‘we shall leave this raw sore town as soon as you get out of bed.’ ‘Incidentally, I want all my clothes,’ said the gitanilla” (Lolita 244: Humbert’s parenthetical explanation about the nickname is comically unnecessary by this point in the novel). Gitana is Spanish for “gypsy” (and gitanilla for “little gypsy”), el motel for “the motel” and ramera for “whore”; The Perfumed Garden (p. 180; see 344.11-16, 344.13, 344.13-14, 344.15-16 and nn.) also offers “El Motela (the ransacker)” as a ribald name for the penis. “El Motela” in conjunction with Lolita of course evokes other associations: the motels and hotels on Humbert and Lolita’s two trips around the United States, where Humbert was indeed ransacking Lolita’s future.
The Kyoto Reading Circle draws attention to the fact that Borges wrote an essay (“El tiempo y J.W. Dunne,” 1940) that was translated into English, as “Time and J.W. Dunne,” in his Other Inquisitions 1937-1952 (trans. Ruth Simms; Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). It seems more than coincidental that Nabokov refers to Osberg/Borges in the same sentence as he refers to Dunne; perhaps he was prompted to read Dunne, which he did in 1964, because he had read about him in Borges, whom he was certainly reading at this time, initially with pleasure.

MOTIF: gitanilla; Lolita; Osberg.

361.12-13: “what is the precise minimum of hairs on a body that allows one to call it ‘hairy’?”: Nabokov wrote to Altagracia de Jannelli: “you know the sophist’s problem: at what number of remaining hairs does a head begin to be called bald” (January 31,1938, VNA). Alfred Appel, Jr., calls the question in Osberg’s novel “a witty refutation of Borges’ breadth”  (“Ada Described,” in Appel and Newman, 183).

Richard Smith notes (, 2021): “Borges seems to make passing reference to the Sorites paradox in the short story, ‘The Writing of God’:

I dreamed that there was a grain of sand on the floor of my cell. Unconcerned, I went back to sleep; I dreamed
that I woke up and there were two grains of sand. Again I slept; I dreamed that now there were three. Thus the
grains of sand multiplied, little by little, until they filled the cell and I was dying beneath that hemisphere of sand.

Jorge Luis Borges, 'The Writing of God', The Aleph and Other Stories, trans. by A. Hurley, (2004: New York, Penguin) p. 92."

361.14-16: Between the dim-doom and the poignantly sensual I would place “melts” of erotic tenderness and heart-rending enchantment: Category 6 of VN’s “Types of dreams” (see above, 359.05-9n. 360.23-25n and 361.01-11n.) is “Erotic tenderness and heart-rending enchantment” (Insomniac Dreams 34).

361.14: dim-doom: Cf. “‘dim-doom’ visions” (361.01). MOTIF: dim . . . dim.

361.16: frôlements: Darkbloom: “light touchings.”

361.18-19: when series of receding Adas faded away in silent reproach: Recalls especially Van’s composite memorial picture of Ada after he turns away from her at Ardis for the last time, 296.30-298.09. But the Kyoto Reading Circle also notes an echo in Van’s account of Lucette’s death: “As she began losing track of herself, she thought it proper to inform a series of receding Lucettes—telling them to pass it on and on in a trick-crystal regression—that what death amounted to was only a more complete assortment of the infinite fractions of solitude” (494.17-21; italics added).

361.22-24: Van’s sexual dreams are embarrassing to describe in a family chronicle that the very young may perhaps read after a very old man’s death: The “lecture” frame introduced at 360.20-21 gives way again to Ada’s usual memoir or “family chronicle” frame. MOTIF: family chronicle.

361.23: that the very young may perhaps read:  As Ada, for instance, has read Proust (the Antiterran Proust) at ten or less: “At ten or earlier the child had read—as Van had—Les Malheurs de Swann” (55.30-31).

361.23-24: after a very old man’s death: Cf. “his memoirs—to be published posthumously” (578.22-23).

361.25-32: In an intricate arrangement of thematic recollections and automatic phantasmata . . . at once: This dream blends and condenses many previous moments in Ada (see following notes), in a kind of brief and immediately appealing yet pointedly challenging way that avoids the lengthy, often stodgy and labored compacting of history, story, and memory in Joyce’s dream-novel, Finnegans Wake. MOTIF: memory test.

361.25-26: an intricate arrangement of thematic recollections and automatic phantasmata: Cf. VN’s recollection of possible titles for his autobiography, which he also designed as “an intricate arrangement of thematic recollections”:I also toyed with The Anthemion which is the name of a honeysuckle ornament, consisting of elaborate interlacements and expanding clusters, but nobody liked it” (SM 11).

361.26: phantasmata: Cf.“Lucette, whose only crime was to be suffused with the phantasmata of the other’s innumerable lips” (378.12-13).

361.26-29: Aqua . . . Ada has just been delivered of a girl-child whom he is about to know carnally: Cf.“Ivan Ivanov of Yukonsk . . .   managed somehow to impregnate—in his sleep, it was claimed by him and his huge family—his five-year-old great-granddaughter, Maria Ivanov, and, then, five years later, also got Maria’s daughter, Daria, with child, in another fit of somnolence” (134.14-21). Cf. also, in Lolita, Humbert’s fancies of coping with Lolita’s aging: “the thought that with patience and luck I might have her produce eventually a nymphet with my blood in her exquisite veins, a Lolita the Second, who would be eight or nine around 1960, when I would still be dans la force de l’âge; indeed, the telescopy of my mind, or un-mind, was strong enough to distinguish in the remoteness of time a vieillard encore vert—or was it green rot?—bizarre, tender, salivating Dr. Humbert, practicing on supremely lovely Lolita the Third the art of being a granddad. . . . the unintentionally biblical title Know Your Own Daughter” (II.3, 174). MOTIF: incest.

361.26-28: Aqua impersonating Marina or Marina made-up to look like Aqua. . . Ada has just been delivered: Cf. the uncertainty about the identity of Van’s mother, especially in Aqua’s mind, particularly at 25.29-32.

361.26-27: Aqua impersonating Marina or Marina made-up to look like Aqua: For the recurrent theme of the confusion or interchange of Aqua and Marina (as twins with matching names, as nominal and actual mother of Van) see especially “such nymphs were really very much alike because of their elemental limpidity since the similarities of young bodies of water are but murmurs of natural innocence and double-talk mirrors” (13.26-28). MOTIF: sisters confused.

361.27-32: to inform Van, joyfully, that Ada has just been delivered of a girl-child . . .  while under a nearby pine, . . . his dress-coated mother, is trying to make a transatlantic call . . . at once: Cf. Marina’s joyfulness at the transcontinental cable from Pedro that announces his intended return, 272.25-32, and her eager wish a page later to talk to him at once: “‘In a birdhouse fixed to that pine trunk,’ said Marina to her young admirer, ‘there was once a “telephone.” How I’d welcome its presence right now!’” (273.31-33).

361.28-32: Ada has just been delivered of a girl-child . . . while under a nearby pine, his father . . . is trying to make a transatlantic call for an ambulance to be sent from Vence: Echoes Demon’s sending 99 orchids to congratulate Marina, after she has given birth to Van, “Special Delivery, c’est bien le cas de le dire, from Villa Armina, Alpes Maritimes” (8.01-02): note here the pun on “delivery” echoed in “Ada has just been delivered of a girl-child”; the presumably aerocabled (5.29) or hydrogrammed (178.07) or simply cablegrammed (347.10) flowers; and the Alpes Maritimes (the department in which Vence is located). 

361.29-30: about to know carnally on a hard garden bench while under a nearby pine:  Cf. “green bench under the Persian lilacs” (36.19-20); “a rustic seat on the other side of the lawn under an immense elm” (89.08-09); “fiercely engaged (on the same bench. . . . ‘ . . . my kneecaps! That bench was cruel’” (191.02-24). MOTIF: under tree.

361.30-31: under a nearby pine, his father, or his dress-coated mother, is trying to make a transatlantic call: Cf. “the exact pine and the exact spot on its rugged red trunk where in old, very old days a magnetic telephone nested” (83.25-27); “‘In a birdhouse fixed to that pine trunk,’ said Marina to her young admirer, ‘there was once a “telephone.” How I’d welcome its presence right now!’” (273.31-33). The Kyoto Reading Circle suggests this could be also seen as a precognitive dream, anticipating “Lucette’s desperate room-to-room call to Van on a transatlantic liner (491).”

361.30-31: his dress-coated mother: Cf. “Marina . . . . looked unwontedly smart in a man’s gray flannels” (79.03-06).

361.31-32: an ambulance to be sent from Vence at once: Ada/Ardeur 302: “pour réclamer d'urgence une ambulance de Vence” (“to request urgently an ambulance from Vence”): As VN’s slight change in the French indicates, the “-ance . . . Vence . . . once” echoes are an important effect here, with the “Vence” in an English attempt at French pronunciation sounding very like “once.” Recall that Eric Veen’s Villa Venus fantasies were the result of “reading too many erotic works found in a furnished house his grandfather had bought near Vence from Count Tolstoy, a Russian or Pole” (348.06-08). MOTIF: Venus.
361.33: since 1888: Presumably, since the frolic under the Sealyham cedar, 204.16-206.07, when Lucette first became entangled in Van and Ada’s kissing and fondling, or since the ride back from Ada’s sixteenth birthday picnic, when Lucette takes the place on Van’s knee Ada had had exactly four years earlier.

362.01: triple and, in a way, tribadic, idea: Triple because Van, Ada, and Lucette are involved; tribadic (lesbian) because by the end of the dream Ada and Lucette seem to be engaging as much with each other as with Van?Or because Lucette will associate “barleycorn” (374.21) with the clitoris and her lovemaking with Ada?Cf. “triple trip” (5.24).The Kyoto Reading Circle suggests this is precognitive of the “débauche à trois” scene at 418-20.MOTIF: tribad-.

362.02: lewd Lucette: Cf. “lewd, ludicrous” (363.27); “lewd Cordelude” (383.15).

362.02-04: ear of Indian corn . . . as if it were a mouth organ and now it was an organ: Note the dreamlike interplay between body parts: “ear,” “mouth” and “organ” (in the sense of sexual organ, here, penis).
Ada wears “maize-yellow slacks” (266.04) on her sixteenth birthday. As she and Van are about to make love on the brink of the brook, Ada declares “the most extraordinary word in the English language was ‘husked,’ because it stood for opposite things, covered and uncovered, tightly husked but easily husked, meaning they peel off quite easily, you don’t have to tear the waistband, you brute. ‘Carefully husked brute,’ said Van tenderly” (267.01-06).  Lucette watches them as they make love (267.11-20). She also has to sit on Van’s lap on the carriage ride back from the picnic. Van as narrator describes that
we find ourselves more comfortably sitting within Van while his Ada sits within Lucette, and both sit within Van (and all three in me, adds Ada).
            He remembered with a pang of pleasure the indulgent skirt Ada had been wearing then, so swoony-baloony as the Chose young things said,
and he regretted (smiling) that Lucette had those chaste shorts on today, and Ada, husked-corn (laughing) trousers. (281.02-09)

Pléiade 2021 points out that the sexual use of a corncob may also allude to the novel Sanctuary (1931), by William Faulkner. The criminal Popeye, being impotent, rapes Temple Drake, who has hidden in a corn crib in a barn, with a cob of corn. In a television interview Nabokov pours scorn on Faulkner’s “corncobby chronicles” (corny and rustic, but also, more pointedly, probably, featuring this prominent corncob—which recurs later in Sanctuary, stained, as evidence presented in a court trial) (interview with Robert Hughes, September 1965, for Television 13 Educational Program, New York; not included in the text VN presents in SO).
Faulkner surfaces in the next chapter, in connection with Lucette’s declaration that she hasn’t “once kissed male epithelia.” Visiting Van in his Kingston suite, she answers his inquiry by confessing that she is still a virgin, despite a relationship with a precocious, terribly shy and neurotic  fourteen- or fifteen-year-old violinist:

“. . . for almost three months, every blessed afternoon, I had him touch me, and I reciprocated, and after that I could sleep at last without pills, but
otherwise I haven’t once kissed male epithelia in all my love—I mean, life. Look, I can swear I never have, by—by William Shakespeare”
(extending dramatically one hand toward a shelf with a set of thick red books).
         "Hold it!” cried Van. “That’s the Collected Works of Falknermann, dumped by my predecessor.”
         "Pah!” uttered Lucette. (371.23-32)

362.04: now it was an organ: Richard Smith (2021) notes ( “In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud lists objects that, in the dream of a sexually repressed person, might symbolize Van’s ‘organ’:

All elongated objects, sticks, tree-trunks, umbrellas (on account of the opening, which might be likened to
an erection), all sharp and elongated weapons, knives, daggers, and pikes, represent the male member. A
frequent, but not very intelligible symbol for the same is a nail-file (a reference to rubbing and scraping?).

(The Interpretation of Dreams, p. 115)
Van, not being repressed, has no need for any such symbols; he simply sees his 'organ'. ”

362.08-12: their tongues meeting in flicks of fire . . . slaked their thirst in the pool of his blood: The imagery becomes hellish-Boschean.

362.09-10: their tumbled hair, red-bronze and black-bronze: Lucette’s and Ada’s, respectively. Cf. Ada at the Flavita game “brushing away with the rosy knuckles of her white hand the black-bronze hair from her temple” (227.32-33) and, the morning after the Ursus restaurant dinner, her “beloved, beautiful, treacherous blue-black-bronze hair smelt of Ardis, but also of Lucette’s ‘Oh-de-grâce’” (417.01-03). MOTIF: black-red; red hair.

362.09-10: hair . . . delightfully commingling: Is there significance in the echoof the unusual verb from the opening page of the novel (“‘Russian’ Estoty, which commingles, granoblastically and organically, with ‘Russian’ Canady,” 3.18-19)?

362.10-12: their sleek hindquarters lifted high as they slaked their thirst in the pool of his blood: Cf. with this implicitly big-cat imagery Lucette’s description of her lovemaking with Ada: “She taught me practices I had never imagined. . . . We interweaved like serpents and sobbed like pumas” (375.20-22); less than a page earlier, she says that in this Arizona setting she had been “afraid of cougars and snakes” (374.32). Cf. also at Van’s first Villa Venus, after choosing the three belles he will bed, “The handmaids pounced upon them like pards and, having empasmed them with not unlesbian zest, turned the three rather melancholy graces over to me” (354.16-18).

362.13-14: I have some notes here on the general character of dreams. One puzzling feature is the multitude of perfect strangers: Cf. VN’s own general notes on his dreams, in his dream-research diary: “Curious features of my dreams: . . . 2. Many perfect strangers—some in almost every dream” (Insomniac Dreams 34).

362.18-24: or the curious tricks of an agent of Chronos—a very exact clock-time awareness . . . but combined—and that is the curious part—with an extremely hazy, hardly existing passing-of-time feeling: Again, in his dream-research diary: “Curious features of my dreams: 1. Very exact clock-time awareness but hazy passing-of-time feeling” (Insomniac Dreams 34).

362.19: Chronos: Greek, the personification of “time” in ancient Greece; distinct from but also sometimes identified with the Greek god, Kronos or Chronus, one of the Titans. Cf. “the future . . . is but a quack at the court of Chronos” (560.08-11).

362.20-21: with all the pangs (possibly full-bladder pangs in disguise) of not getting somewhere in time: Cf. perhaps “we shall presently dispose of ‘flowing’ time, water-clock time, water-closet time” (539.27-28). Cf. also “We all know that dream-sensation of ‘lateness’” (EO III,40).
Sigmund Freud, An Autobiographical Study (1925, trans. James Strachey, 1950), p. 4221: “It is easy to see that hunger, thirst, or the need to excrete, can produce dreams of satisfaction just as well as any repressed sexual or egoistic impulse.” It is easy for Freud to see it.

362.20-21: the pangs . . . of not getting somewhere in time: The Kyoto Reading Circle recalls V.’s nightmarish attempts to reach his dying half-brother Sebastian Knight, before it is too late, in the last chapter of RLSK

362.24-25: (this theme I will also reserve for a later chapter): Cf. 361.06-08: “for the moment I am not going to enlarge upon the uncanny element particular to dreams.” Presumably the “later chapter” here is Part 4, “The Texture of Time,” but where, specifically?

362.25-28: All dreams are affected by the experiences and impressions of the present as well as by memories of childhood; all reflect, in images or sensations, a draft, a light, a rich meal or a grave internal disorder: Cf. VN’s dream-diary, “Types of dreams . . . 3. Obvious influences of immediate occupations & impressions (Olympic games etc.). 4. Memories of the remote past (childhood, émigré life, school, parents).” Richard Smith (2021) comments ( “Here Nabokov is in agreement with Freud.”

362.29: unimportant or portentous: Note the phonic parallels of these contrasted adjectives.

362.30-32: the presence, in stretches or patches, of fairly logical (within special limits) cogitation and awareness (often absurd) of dream-past events: Cf. VN’s dream-diary: “Curious features of my dreams: . . . 4. Fairly sustained, fairly clear, fairly logical (within special limits) cogitation” (Insomniac Dreams, 34).

362.33-363.01; a dismal weakening of the intellectual faculties of the dreamer: Richard Smith (2021) notes ( “Here Nabokov is, again, in harmony with Freud.

We have seen that the very fact of falling asleep involves a renunciation of one of the psychic activities—namely,
the voluntary guidance of the flow of ideas. [ . . . ] the peculiarities of the dream may be explained by the restricted
activity of the psyche during sleep [ . . . ]. The dream is incoherent; it reconciles, without hesitation, the worst
contradictions; it admits impossibilities; it disregards the authoritative knowledge of the waking state, and it shows
us as ethically and morally obtuse. He who should behave in the waking state as his dreams represent him as behaving
would be considered insane. He who in the waking state should speak as he does in his dreams [ . . . ] would impress
us as a feeble-minded or muddle-headed person. It seems to us, then, that we are merely speaking in accordance with
the facts [ . . . ] when we rate psychic activity in dreams very low, and especially when we assert that in dreams the
higher intellectual activities are suspended or at least greatly impaired. (The Interpretation of Dreams, p. 20)”.

363.01-02: the dreamer, who is not really shocked to run into a long-dead friend: Cf. SM 50: “Whenever in my dreams I see the dead . . . I am aware of them, without any astonishment.” Cf. also PF 55 (ll. 589-94): “For as we know from dreams it is so hard / To speak to our dear dead! . . . / And our school chum killed in a distant war / Is not surprised to see us at his door.”

363.02-03: the dreamer . . . at his worst he’s an imbecile: Cf. TT 60: “Dream-man is an idiot.”

363.03-04: The class (1891, 1892, 1893, 1894, et cetera) will carefully note (rustle of bluebooks): A return to the lecture-and-lecture-report frame. Indicates what is not explicit elsewhere: that Van begins lecturing (presumably at Kingston) in 1891, and therefore at 21.

363.04: rustle of bluebooks: W2: bluebooks: “2. Colloq. U.S. . . .  b. In certain colleges, a blue-covered booklet used for writing examinations.” VN uses it in this sense in SO 22, but beside the phrase in A1, he glosses: “= exercise books.”

363.06-364.07: symbol or allegory or Greek myth . . . expensive confession fests: MOTIF: Freud.

363.06-07: dreams cannot yield any semblance of morality or symbol or allegory or Greek myth: The beginning of Van’s attack on Freud, for his use of (1) “symbols” (like phallic symbols, such as “sticks, umbrellas, posts, trees. . . . knives, daggers, or spears . . . . balloons, flying machines . . . Zeppelin airships . . . . hats, overcoats, neckties (‘which hang down and are not worn by women’), cloaks, reptiles, fishes,” Chandak Sengoopta, “phallic symbols,”, accessed January 23, 2021; see Sigmund Freud, Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams, 1899), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vols 4, 5 (ed. J. Strachey et al.), Hogarth Press, London, 1953, and Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis (1915-16), in Standard Edition, Vol. 15, (ed. J. Strachey et al.), Hogarth Press, London, 1961) and (2) Greek myth, in the Oedipus complex, introduced in The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), and expanded in 1915 (The Theory of Psychoanalysis, New York: Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Co, 1915, p. 69) by Freud’s former collaborator Carl Jung (1875-1961) to include the Electra complex.
Cf. SO 66: “Let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts. . . . Ask yourself if the symbol you have detected is not your own footprint.”
As he was about to publish Ada,VN commented in an interview: “I—or whoever impersonates me—is obviously on Van’s side in the account of his anti-Vienna lecture on dreams” (SO 123).

363.09-16: A writer who likens, say, the fact of imagination’s weakening less rapidly than memory, to the lead of a pencil getting used up more slowly than its erasing end, is comparing two real, concrete, existing things . . . its rubber cap is practically erased by the very action it has been performing too many times: Cf. SO 4: “My pencils outlast their erasers.”

Note that in choosing this example, although dear to his heart, VN is also toying with a classic Freudian phallic symbol: in “Rowe’s Symbols,” his 1971 attack on critic William Woodin Rowe’s “discovering” purportedly hidden sexual references in his works,  and on “the ‘symbols’ of academic jargon, supposedly planted by an idiotically sly novelist to keep schoolmen busy,” VN writes: “Pencil licking is always a reference to you know what” (SO 305). Cf. also, from 1931, the satire on Freud, “What Should Everyone Know?”: “sex rules life. The pen, with which we write to a sweetheart or a debtor, represents the male organ, while the mailbox where we drop our letter is the female organ. That’s how to
understand everyday life” (TWS 103). 

Cf. also, for pencils and Freud: “the batch of crumpled notes in pale pencil which poor speakers are obsessed with in familiar dreams (attributed by Dr. Froid of Signy-Mondieu-Mondieu to the dreamer’s having read in infancy his adulterous parents’ love letters)” (549.01-04).

363.18-19: I compare that real experience to the condition of this real commonplace object. Neither is a symbol of the other: Cf. “A dead and dry hummingbird moth lay on the window ledge of the lavatory. Thank goodness, symbols did not exist either in dreams or in the life in between” (510.12-14). Cf. PF 156 (C.172): “Of students’ papers: ‘I am generally very benevolent [said Shade]. But there are certain trifles I do not forgive.’ Kinbote: ‘For instance?’ ‘Not having read the required book. Having read it like an idiot. Looking in it for symbols; example: ‘The author uses the striking image green leaves because green is the symbol of happiness and frustration.’”

Richard Smith (2021) comments ( “This is very contra Freud:
one naturally asks oneself whether many of these symbols have not a permanently established meaning,
like the signs in shorthand. . . . (The Interpretation of Dreams, p. 114)

Freud then gives examples:

Small boxes, chests, cupboards, and ovens correspond to the female organ; also cavities, ships, and all kinds of vessels.
–A  room in a dream generally represents a woman; the description of its various entrances and exits is scarcely calculated
to make us doubt this interpretation.[ . . . ] The interest as to whether the room is open or locked will be readily understood
in this connection. [ . . . ]  There is no need to be explicit as to the sort of key that will unlock the room [ . . . ]  —The
dream of walking through a suite of rooms signifies a brothel or a harem. [ . . . ]  Steep inclines, ladders and stairs, and
going up or down them, are symbolic representations of the sexual act. [ . . . ]  Smooth walls over which one climbs, facade
s of houses, across which one lets oneself down [ . . . ]  correspond to erect human bodies, and probably repeat in our dreams
childish memories of climbing up parents or nurses. Smooth walls are men; in anxiety dreams one often holds firmly to
projections on houses. Tables, whether bare or covered, and boards, are women [ . . . ]. Wood generally speaking, seems [ . . . ]
to represent feminine matter [ . . . ] —Of articles of dress, a woman's hat may very often be interpreted with certainty as
the male genitals. In the dreams of men, one often finds the necktie as a symbol for the penis [ . . . ] All complicated machines
and appliances are very probably the genitals—as a rule the male genitals [ . . . ]. It is quite unmistakable that all weapons and
tools are used as symbols for the male organ: e.g., ploughshare, hammer, gun, revolver, dagger, sword, etc. Again, many of the
landscapes seen in dreams, especially those that contain bridges or wooded mountains, may be readily recognized as descriptions
of the genitals. [ . . . ] —Children, too, often signify the genitals, since men and women are in the habit of fondly referring to
their genital organs as little man, little woman, little thing. [ . . . ] To play with or to beat a little child is often the dream's
representation of masturbation. [ . . . ] Relatives in dreams generally stand for the genitals [ . . . ] verified examples allow us to
recognize sisters as symbols of the breasts, and brothers as symbols of the larger hemispheres.
[ . . . ] The genitals may even be represented in dreams by other parts of the body: the male member by the hand or the foot,
the female genital orifice by the mouth, the ear, or even the eye. . . (p. 115.)".

363.20-22: when a teashop humourist says that a little conical titbit with a comical cherry on top resembles this or that (titters in the audience) he is turning a pink cake into a pink breast: Note the “conical . . . comical” play and the intentionally obvious puns on “titbit . . . titters” (matched later by “the Titianesque Titaness” aboard the Tobakoff, 479.17). After citing this passage, Maurice Couturier notes: “Freud, whom [Nabokov] despised, had some interesting things to say on the subject in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious: ‘the spheres of sexuality and obscenity offer the amplest occasions for obtaining comic pleasure alongside pleasurable excitement; for they can show human beings in their dependence on bodily needs (degradation) or they can reveal the physical demands behind the claim of mental love (unmasking)’” (Nabokov’s Eros and the Poetics of Desire, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, p. 221)—which to me, I must admit, seems like no explanation.

363.23-24: fraise-like frill or frilled phrase (silence): The zigzag-edged paper cup (sometimes known as a “pattypan”) in which a cupcake or muffin is baked resembles a ruff or frill (in French, fraise) of the kind worn around the neck by the well-to-do in late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Europe. No wonder the students do not understand enough to laugh, despite the comical alliteration on fr; all the more confusing, because a fraise (in its more common French meaning, “strawberry”) can often adorn a cupcake in the place of the “comical cherry.”

363.25-26: Walter Raleigh’s decapitated trunk still topped by the image of his wetnurse: Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1552-1618), English writer, explorer, and courtier, was executed on October 29, 1618. Raleigh naturally wore the ruff of his era, which in this image becomes the cupcake paper, as it were, for his wetnurse’s breast in the place where his head had been. Note the pun on “topped” (which harks back to the “little conical titbit with a comical cherry on top” in the previous sentence): to top can mean both “to take the top off,” to behead” (OED, top v1 II 3, 6; as Raleigh has been beheaded—cf. The Red Top Hat as the comic transformation of Invitation to a Beheading in the list of Other Books by the Narrator in LATH) and “to place on top of” (OED top v1 III) as the wetnurse’s breast is imagined on top of Raleigh’s headless trunk).

The Kyoto Reading Circle further glosses:

"When Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded, his head was taken away by his wife, so only his body was buried in St. Margaret’s Church in London’s Westminster Abbey. The plaque commemorating Sir Walter Raleigh in the church looks like a cake with frills and a red cherry at the top.

(Photo by G. Wilson.

"On the opposite side of the plaque is a stained-glass window commemorating Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I side-by-side. Directly under the larger, central, image of Elizabeth in the west window there is a smaller panel depicting Raleigh kneeling before the Queen. The 'wetnurse' can be explained by the inscription under the image (composed by the American poet James Russell Lowell) which reads: 'The New World’s sons from England’s breast we drew/ Such milk as bids remember whence we came,/ Proud of her past wherefrom our future grew,/ This window we inscribe with Raleigh’s fame.'”

363.25-26: decapitated trunk: Richard Smith (2021) adds ( “From Freud again (italics mine):

The dream-work represents castration by baldness, hair-cutting, the loss of teeth,
and beheading (The Interpretation of Dreams, p 115).”

363.27-30: the mistake . . . of the Signy-Mondieu analysts consists in their regarding a real object . . . as a significant abstraction: Cf. “Freudianism is dangerous for art: symbols kill the thing, the individual dream” (TWS 300). In a 1964 interview VN describes his dreams as “kaleidoscopic arrangements of broken impressions, fragments of day thoughts, and irresponsible mechanical images, utterly lacking any possible Freudian implication or explication” (SO 29).

363.27: lewd, ludicrous: Cf. “lewd Lucette”(362.02).

363.28: Signy-Mondieu analysts: As previously (see 27.11-12 and n.), “Freudian.” MOTIF: Signy-Mondieu.

363.31: a bumpkin’s bonbon: The teashop humorist’s “little conical titbit with a comical cherry on top” (363.20-21).

363.31: one half of the bust: A single breast of the wetnurse.

364.03-04: witch doctor: VN referred to Freud as “the Viennese witch-doctor,” not for the first time, in his foreword to the translation of IB (8).

364.04-06: who can then cure a madman or give comfort to a killer by laying the blame on a too fond, too fiendish or too indifferent parent: Van and, behind him, VN change tone in the midst of the playfully flamboyant rhetoric. VN stressed personal responsibility, and the absurdity of the trio of supposedly damaging parental attitudes here powerfully calls into question attempted exonerations by appeals to imperfect upbringings. All the same “fiendish” here, partly for the alliteration and consonance with “fond,” cannot help, in this novel, also bringing to mind Van’s father, Demon. Van and Demon share a mutual fondness and a frequent ethical irresponsibility.
Cf. SO 116: “I also suggest that the Freudian faith leads to dangerous ethical consequences, such as when a filthy murderer with the brain of a tapeworm is given a lighter sentence because his mother spanked him too much or too little—it works both ways.”

364.06-07: secret festerings that the foster quack feigns to heal by expensive confession fests:  Apart from the flamboyant alliteration and consonance, note the “foster quack”: as if the psychoanalyst is a self-appointed foster-parent, or, in Freudian terms, is inviting the patient to the “transference” (Übertragung) of their feelings toward a parent to the analyst.

364.07: (laughter and applause): Cf. Hruschov/Khrushchev’s visit to Zembla, in Kinbote’s imagining: “( . . . ‘Vï nazïvaete sebya zemblerami, you call yourselves Zemblans, a ya vas nazïvayu zemlyakami, and I call you fellow countrymen!’ Laughter and applause.)” (PF 274, C. 9492). 


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Afternote to Part Two, Chapter 4