Part One, Chapter 11


Although this scene works by its comic lightness and inconsequentiality, it also quietly connects with other parts of Ada.

Dan was last seen in the novel in I.2, as Demon sat down to tea in a Manhattan hotel while Marina and Aqua blankly slunk “across the hall in modish sullenness and bluish furs with Dan Veen and a dackel behind.” (14) Dan Veen indeed seems to be “dogged” by the entangled relations between himself, Marina and Aqua, and Demon. In the scene here in I.11, Dan’s first weekend visit to Ardis during Van’s stay, Dack runs around Ada’s ostensible father with a trophy from Blanche in his mouth; on the one visit Ada’s actual father, Demon, makes to Ardis while Van is there, in 1888, Dack again turns up with a trophy from Blanche in his mouth. Van and Ada try to corner the dog at one end of the room:

Our old friend, being quite as excited as the rest of the reunited family, had scampered in after Marina with an old miniver-furred slipper in his merry mouth. The slipper belonged to Blanche, who had been told to whisk Dack to her room but, as usual, had not incarcerated him properly. Both children experienced a chill of déjà-vu (a twofold déjà-vu, in fact, when contemplated in artistic retrospect). (248)

The initial sense of déjà-vu refers back to I.11, to the chase after Dack here in 1884; but that becomes twofold when Van and Ada recollect another “family reunion,” and another dog.

Dan’s first weekend visit to Ardis after Van’s arrival recalls in various ways his 1878 visit to “Radugalet, the ‘other Ardis’” (149), an estate he owned with Demon, the first time Dan, Marina, Van and Ada are all together. The Anglo-Russian Radugalet means “little rainbow,” and this and Dan’s clocking a perch that takes half an hour to cross its lake (5) find an echo here in Dan’s announcement that the rain will take half an hour to pass from Ladore to Ardis, as it does, before carrying on “its presumable way to Raduga or Ladoga . . . , shedding an uncompleted rainbow over Ardis Hall.” (68)

Dan has hoped his visit to Radugalet will be solo, since he knows Demon is entertaining there the “lovely Irish wild rose,” a “scullery maid who had briefly worked at Ardis Hall” (150), but suspicious Marina insists on coming along with Ada. Cinderella overtones surround their trip—they take a train in which each carriage “consisted of six one-window carosses of pumpkin origin, fused together” (150)—as they also surround Blanche (see 49.04-06 and n., and Blanche’s “miniver-furred slipper” (248) in Dack’s mouth in 1888 [for the Cinderella echoes here, see Pnin 158]). Dack’s dashing around Dan in 1884 also recalls the dog on that earlier visit to Radugalet: recollecting the visit, Ada remembers being “deprived of her crayon (tossed out by Marina k chertyam sobach’im, to hell’s hounds—and it did remind one of Rose’s terrier that had kept trying to hug Dan’s leg).” (151)

Why these quiet links between Dan’s 1878 visit to “the other Ardis,” Dan’s first visit to Ardis in 1884 while Van is there, and Demon’s visit to Ardis in 1888 while Van is there? The presence of Van and Ada with Demon or Dan raises the question of the children’s paternity, a question that troubles Dan, as doubts about whether she is Van’s mother fatally disturb Aqua. The “blood-soaked cottonwool” (25) in which Aqua at times thinks little Van was brought to her after her skiing accident recurs here in the very different “blood-soaked cottonwool” (68) that Dack takes with him as he scampers through the manor. The red cottonwool picks up the color associated with Dan (“Red Veen”), which returns in Lucette’s hair-coloring, while the absence of his coloring in Ada serves as a signal that she is really the child of Demon (“Dark Veen”), not Dan.

When Dan visits “the other Ardis,” hoping to catch a few sexual crumbs from Demon’s full table, he ends up bringing together the two parents and two children who emphasize how his own gullibility has been taken advantage of. During the Radugalet scene, moreover, Dan, who had planned the trip hoping for sexual access to the former maidservant, Rose, finds himself instead on an awkward footing amidst a family outing; now, in the Ardis scene, the sexuality of a servant girl again creates an awkwardness in this family group, and Dan is again most awkward of all. Van feels as much at home as his father had at “the other Ardis,” and the confident sexuality he and Ada will soon enjoy here will plainly owe much to the atmosphere of sexual licence he has lived in while growing up under Demon (“his father’s life, anyway, was a rose garden all the time,” 151).

The sexuality of the Veen manor at Ardis will be parodied and perverted in the Villa Venus, with its “parodies of paradise,” brothels usually in the form of “the idyllic and romantic . . . an honest country house . . . that chateau . . . that castello” (350-51) (see Afternote to I.6, and eventually Afternote to II.3). Dan, who in this 1884 scene has troubles with elementary Dutch, actually has a Dutch surname, Veen (see 4.16n.), and the young founder of the Villa Venuses, Eric Veen, is the grandson of “David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction” (347) (another member of the family is a “Neverlander,” 350). The “other Ardis” of Radugalet, like Ardis itself, seems a sexual paradise--for some. Yet Dan remains ill at ease, persistently mocked by Van and Ada. And just as the Villa Venus chain decays into a series of squalid sexual nightmares, so the bliss of Van and Ada’s first love in 1884 declines into the jealousy that sours their passion in 1888 and then into the feeble after-echoes of their ardor in 1892-1893—while Van and Ada are themselves reunited at Manhattan—as Dan spends his last months at Ardis with “Bess” (which is ‘fiend’ in Russian), Dan’s buxom but otherwise disgusting nurse, whom he preferred to all others and had taken to Ardis because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of ‘play-zero’ (as the old whore called it) out of his poor body.” (435)

Odd details in the scene of Dan’s first visit to Ardis after Van’s arrival in fact anticipate the report Van hears of Dan’s last stay at Ardis or anywhere. Coming to Ardis in June 1884, Dan tries to make out an article in a Dutch illustrated paper “with the aid of one of the dwarf dictionaries . . . which helped him to decipher foreign art catalogues” as Dack flashes past. At the end of the scene where Van hears from Demon of Dan’s death at Ardis, and discovers much worse, Van writes: “Especially so now—when everything had gone to the hell curs, k chertyam sobach’im, of Jeroen Anthniszoon van Äken and the molti aspetti affascinati of his enigmatica arte, as Dan explained with a last sigh to Dr. Nikulin and to nurse Bellabestia (‘Bess’) to whom he bequeathed a trunkful of museum catalogues and his second-best catheter.” (438) Van refers to Dan’s “odd Boschean death” (436), to Dan’s sense that he is becoming a figure from the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Last Judgment (the Vienna triptych), and to Dan’s death as if in echo of that figure, as he makes his forlorn way on all fours from the manor house at Ardis out into the park, with a red bath towel trailing from his rump. The unfamiliar Dutch version of Bosch’s name and the “catalogues” here recall the Dutch and the “catalogues” in the earlier scene, while “to the hell curs, k chertyam sobach’im,” recalls “k chertyam sobach’im, to hell’s hounds” in the still earlier visit to “the ‘other Ardis.’ ” Dan’s visions of the Boschean figure, and the red towel trailing from his rump as he crawls from the manor house at Ardis out into the park and to his death, seem to recall the dachshund’s scurrying out from manor house to park, with the blood-red menstrual wad in his teeth.

As Demon points out to Van the echoes of The Last Judgment in Dan’s death, he also evokes “that other triptych, that tremendous garden of tongue-in-cheek delights” (436), Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, which seems a sustained analogy to Ardis (Nabokov comments on William Woodin Rowe’s Nabokov’s Deceptive World that his fatal flaw in his “treatment of recurrent words, such as ‘garden’ or ‘water,’ is his regarding them as abstractions, and not realizing that the sound of a bath being filled, say, in the world of Laughter in the Dark, is as different from the limes rustling in the rain of Speak, Memory as the Garden of Delights in Ada is from the lawns in Lolita,” SO 305-06). Ardis seems a near-paradise of sexuality to Van and Ada, but like Bosch’s triptychs it has its hellish side; the “parodies of paradise” in the Villa Venuses designed by the Flemish architect David van Veen also collapse into nightmare; “the other Ardis” of sexual promise that Dan had hoped for proves only his awkwardness in the face of Demon’s insouciance; Ardis itself, bringing together Van and Ada, cannot help evoking the torture Aqua feels or the awkwardness Dan must face, or the damage the pursuit of the venereal causes Blanche, or the damage Van and Ada’s frantic venery will inflict on Lucette. Indeed, as I argue in “ Ada, The Bog and the Garden” (Nabokov Studies, 8 [2004]: see 4.16n.) Nabokov has Bosch’s Earthly Delights triptych in mind throughout Ada, with an implication that the paradisiac garden of Ardis (akin to the Eden panel at the left of the triptych) is always at risk of subsiding into a hellish watery bog, a connection stressed by the very name Veen (peat, bog) and by Blanche’s village and surname, Tourbière (peat, bog), but pointing forward especially to Lucette’s watery grave.

In the scene of Dan’s arrival at Ardis, Ada’s chasing Dack and catching him with a flying plunge of the kind cadets play in “ ‘American football’ . . . on the wet turfy banks of the Goodson River” and Mlle Larivière’s incidental complaint about Blanche’s dropping a hairpin in Lucette’s cot that could have wounded her obliquely anticipate Lucette’s death, via Lucette’s later declaration to Van that she “will jump into Goodson River if I can’t hope to have you.” (411) Lucette will indeed die as a result of the carelessness of others at Ardis.

Mlle Larivière accuses Blanche of nearly wounding Lucette by leaving a sharp hairpin in her cot, which could itself therefore have caused bleeding: “a glaring precedent—namely of having dropped a hairpin in Lucette’s cot, un machin long comme ça qui faillit blesser l’enfant à la fesse.” Mlle Larivière is characteristically concerned and admonitory about potential damage to Lucette. This seems absurdly overprotective here, as all her concern for Lucette does to Van and Ada and to most first-time readers, but notice the echo of the machin (“thingumabob”) in the unusual locution of “by midsummer the machine which our forefathers called ‘sex’ was working as smoothly as later” (129.28-30). This comes from a passage that makes light of the deflowering of Ada but also foreshadows the dangers for Lucette’s loss of innocence in Ada’s loss of virginity. Note also Van’s echo of Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia, “Whilst the machine is to him” (379.15) in response to Lucette’s first declaration of love for him. And the idea of Lucette’s being wounded in the buttock links with the whole “behind” motif connecting Van and Ada’s sexuality and Lucette’s naïve vulnerability (see Boyd 1985/2001: 134-36, 139-44).

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