Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 10 (view annotations)

Weekday lunch at Ardis Hall. Lucette between Marina and
the governess; Van between Marina and Ada; Dack, the golden-
brown stoat, under the table, either between Ada and Mlle
Larivière, or between Lucette and Marina (Van secretly dis-
61.05 liked dogs, especially at meals, and especially that smallish
longish freak with a gamey breath). Arch and grandiloquent,
Ada would be describing a dream, a natural history wonder, a
special belletristic device—Paul Bourget’s "monologue intérieur"
borrowed from old Leo—or some ludicrous blunder in the cur-
61.10 rent column of Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine
who thought that Lyovin went about Moscow in a nagol’nïy
tulup, "a muzhik’s sheepskin coat, bare side out, bloom side in,"
as defined in a dictionary our commentator produced like a
conjurer, never to be procurable by Elsies. Her spectacular
61.15 handling of subordinate clauses, her parenthetic asides, her
sensual stressing of adjacent monosyllables ("Idiot Elsie simply
can’t read") all this somehow finished by acting upon Van, as
artificial excitements and exotic torture-caresses might have
done, in an aphrodisiac sinistral direction that he both resented
61.20 and perversely enjoyed.

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"My precious" her mother called her, punctuating Ada’s dis-
course with little ejaculations: "Terribly funny!" "Oh, I adore
that!" but also indulging in more admonitory remarks, such as
"Do sit a wee bit straighter" or "Eat, my precious" (accenting
62.05 the "eat" with a motherly urge very unlike the malice of her
daughter’s spondaic sarcasms).
Ada, now sitting straight, incurving her supple spine in her
chair, then, as the dream or adventure (or whatever she was
relating) reached a climax, bending over the place from which
62.10 Price had prudently removed her plate, and suddenly all elbows,
sprawling forward, invading the table, then leaning back, ex-
travagantly making mouths, illustrating "long, long" with both
hands up, up!
"My precious, you haven’t tried the—oh, Price, bring the—"
62.15 The what? The rope for the fakir’s bare-bottomed child to
climb up in the melting blue?
"It was sort of long, long. I mean (interrupting herself)...
like a tentacle... no, let me see" (shake of head, jerk of features,
as if unknotting a tangled skein with one quick tug).
62.20 No: enormous purple pink plums, one with a wet yellow
"And so there I was—" (the tumbling hair, the hand flying
to the temple, sketching but not terminating the brushing-off-
strand stroke; then a sudden peal of rough-rippled laughter
62.25 ending in a moist cough).
"No, but seriously, Mother, you must imagine me utterly
speechless, screaming speechlessly, as I realized—"
At the third or fourth meal Van also realized something. Far
from being a bright lass showing off for the benefit of a new-
62.30 comer, Ada’s behavior was a desperate and rather clever at-
tempt to prevent Marina from appropriating the conversation
and transforming it into a lecture on the theater. Marina, on the
other hand, while awaiting a chance to trot out her troika of
hobby horses, took some professional pleasure in playing the

[ 62 ]

hackneyed part of a fond mother, proud of her daughter’s charm
and humor, and herself charmingly and humorously lenient
toward their brash circumstantiality: she was showing off—not
Ada! And when Van had understood the true situation, he
63.05 would take advantage of a pause (which Marina was on the
point of filling with some choice Stanislavskiana) to launch Ada
upon the troubled waters of Botany Bay, a voyage which at
other times he dreaded, but which now proved to be the safest
and easiest course for his girl. This was particularly important
63.10 at dinner, since Lucette and her governess had an earlier evening
meal upstairs, so that Mlle Larivière was not there, at those
critical moments, and could not be relied on to take over from
lagging Ada with a breezy account of her work on a new novella
of her composition (her famous Diamond Necklace was in the
63.15 last polishing stage) or with memories of Van’s early boyhood
such as those eminently acceptable ones concerning his beloved
Russian tutor, who gently courted Mlle L., wrote "decadent"
Russian verse in sprung rhythm, and drank, in Russian solitude.
Van: "That yellow thingum" (pointing at a floweret prettily
63.20 depicted on an Eckercrown plate) "—is it a buttercup?"
Ada: "No. That yellow flower is the common Marsh Mari-
gold, Caltha palustris. In this country, peasants miscall it ‘Cow-
slip,’ though of course the true Cowslip, Primula veris, is a
different plant altogether."
63.25 "I see," said Van.
"Yes, indeed," began Marina, "when I was playing Ophelia,
the fact that I had once collected flowers—"
"Helped, no doubt," said Ada. "Now the Russian word for
marsh marigold is Kuroslep (which muzhiks in Tartary mis-
63.30 apply, poor slaves, to the buttercup) or else Kaluzhnitsa, as used
quite properly in Kaluga, U.S.A."
"Ah," said Van.
"As in the case of many flowers," Ada went on, with a mad
scholar’s quiet smile, "the unfortunate French name of our plant,

[ 63 ]

souci d’eau, has been traduced or shall we say transfigured—"
"Flowers into bloomers," punned Van Veen.
"Je vous en prie, mes enfants!" put in Marina, who had been
following the conversation with difficulty and now, through a
64.05 secondary misunderstanding, thought the reference was to the
"By chance, this very morning," said Ada, not deigning to
enlighten her mother, "our learned governess, who was also
yours, Van, and who—"
64.10 (First time she pronounced it—at that botanical lesson!)
"—is pretty hard on English-speaking transmongrelizers
monkeys called ‘ursine howlers’though I suspect her reasons
are more chauvinistic than artistic and moral—drew my at-
tention—my wavering attention—to some really gorgeous
64.15 bloomers, as you call them, Van, in a Mr. Fowlie’s soi-disant
literal version—called ‘sensitive’ in a recent Elsian rave—sensi-
tive!—of Mémoire, a poem by Rimbaud (which she fortunately
and farsightedly—made me learn by heart, though I suspect
she prefers Musset and Coppée)"—
64.20 "...les robes vertes et déteintes des fillettes..." quoted Van
"Egg-zactly" (mimicking Dan). "Well, Larivière allows me
to read him only in the Feuilletin anthology, the same you have
apparently, but I shall obtain his oeuvres complètes very soon,
64.25 oh very soon, much sooner than anybody thinks. Incidentally,
she will come down after tucking in Lucette, our darling cop-
perhead who by now should be in her green nightgown—"
"Angel moy," pleaded Marina, "I’m sure Van cannot be in-
terested in Lucette’s nightdress!"
64.30 "—the nuance of willows, and counting the little sheep
on her ciel de lit which Fowlie turns into ‘the sky’s bed’; in-
stead of ‘bed ceiler.’ But, to go back to our poor flower. The
forged louis d’or in that collection of fouled French is the trans-

[ 64 ]

formation of souci d’eau (our marsh marigold) into the asinine
‘care of the water’although he had at his disposal dozens of
synonyms, such as mollyblob, marybud, maybubble, and many
other nick-names associated with fertility feasts, whatever those
65.05 are."
"On the other hand," said Van, "one can well imagine a
similarly bilingual Miss Rivers checking a French version of,
say, Marvell’s Garden—"
"Oh," cried Ada, "I can recite ‘Le jardin’ in my own trans-
65.10 version—let me see—
En vain on s’amuse à gagner
L’Oka, la Baie du Palmier..."
" win the Palm, the Oke, or Bayes!" shouted Van.
"You know, children," interrupted Marina resolutely with
65.15 calming gestures of both hands, "when I was your age, Ada,
and my brother was your age, Van, we talked about croquet,
and ponies, and puppies, and the last fête-d’enfants, and the next
picnic, and—oh, millions of nice normal things, but never, never
of old French botanists and God knows what!"
65.20 "But you just said you collected flowers?" said Ada.
"Oh, just one season, somewhere in Switzerland. I don’t re-
member when. It does not matter now."
The reference was to Ivan Durmanov: he had died of lung
cancer years ago in a sanatorium (not far from Ex, somewhere
65.25 in Switzerland, where Van was born eight years later). Marina
often mentioned Ivan who had been a famous violinist at eigh-
teen, but without any special show of emotion, so that Ada
now noted with surprise that her mother’s heavy make-up had
started to thaw under a sudden flood of tears (maybe some
65.30 allergy to flat dry old flowers, an attack of hay fever, or
gentianitis, as a slightly later diagnosis might have shown retro-
spectively). She blew her nose, with the sound of an elephant,

[ 65 ]

as she said herself—and here Mlle Larivière came down for
coffee and recollections of Van as a bambin angélique who
adored à neuf ans the precious dear!—Gilberte Swann et la
Lesbie de Catulle (and who had learned, all by himself, to re-
66.05 lease the adoration as soon as the kerosene lamp had left the
mobile bedroom in his black nurse’s fist).

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