Part One, Chapter 19
Ada has been mounting toward this scene from the start. In the opening chapter, we see Van and Ada together in Ardis in 1884, already making love, but as we move past this preview in the attic into the “real time” of 1884, to Van arriving on his own at Ardis, his dawning desire for Ada, his sense of her unattainability, his gradually quickening hope, their compulsive but constrained caresses, we cannot imagine how these bright children can possibly shift to the next stage that we know they soon reach.
The Burning Barn provides the perfect occasion: a fairytale night (the Cinderella echoes surrounding Blanche’s lost slipper); summer advancing naturally from the itches aroused by late July’s first mosquitoes to August’s first sheet lightning; the clear coast (the manor vacated except for the oblivious Mlle Larivière); the natural meeting-place (the divan as the vantage point from which Van and Ada can survey the fire); their flimsy coverings, allowing their caresses to progress easily to the next stage, and the next; and, as it turns out, Ada’s unabashed curiosity at Van’s arousal, or, as Van remarks almost a century later, “your—how shall I put it?—lack of restraint” (122). At the same time, the fire offers Nabokov a pretext for parody, a “symbol” of ardent desire, of Ardis’s ardours, that he treats with quirky comedy and new nightscape nuances.
Particularly important for our attitude to this fourteen-year-old and twelve-year-old making love is that we see in this chapter more clearly than in any other to date that they are still together over eighty years later, still reliving their past, handing the narrative back and forth to each other in a way that we cannot keep track of for long (who is it who “takes over” at 116.07-09, 120.17-19?), since each has already heard the other’s side of the story so often. The eager questionings, the bickerings and memorial discrepancies, the narrative stutters in their impatience to tell the story (“ ‘That night because of the blink—’ That night because of the bothersome blink”) add a psychological plausibility that affirms the reality of a long-cherished past without ever dispelling the flicker of fantasy. Yet the multiple layerings—the night of the Burning Barn already part of Van and Ada’s memorial mythology even within Ardis the First, and then recounted again and again (“And do you remember . . . ?”) before and during the years of writing Ada—never impair the immediacy of the scene:
“I stayed home on purpose, because I hoped you would too—it was a contrived coincidence,” she said, or said later she’d said—while 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)
114.01-07: A sort of hoary riddle . . . did the Burning Barn come before the Cockloft . . . July 28? August 4?: Cf. 109.01-20: “Not only in ear-trumpet age . . . Calendar dates were debated, sequences sifted and shifted. . . . ” The evidence suggests July 28 is correct, since it is “on the first of August, 1884” that the Ardis librarian, Monsieur Verger, gives “his demission éplorée” (132.34-133.01), an event that seems to be precipitated by Van and Ada together examining the library for information on sex, incest and other matters suddenly of common interest. The sequence would then be: Saturday July 28, Burning Barn, Sunday July 29, Baguenaudier Bower, Monday July 30-Tuesday July 31 (with Dan now back in town), Van and Ada’s forays back into the forbidden sections of the library, Wednesday August 1, Verger gives notice.
114.01-02: Les Sophismes de Sophie by Mlle Stopchin in the Bibliothèque Vieux Rose series: Darkbloom: “Mlle Stopchin: a representative of Mme de Ségur, née Rostopchine, author of Les Malheurs de Sophie (nomenclatorially occupied on Antiterra by Les Malheurs de Swann).” See 55.30-31 and n.
Earth’s Mme de Ségur presumably becomes Antiterra’s Mlle Stopchin in honour of novelist Mlle Larivière.
Notice that in becoming Stopchin, the Countess Rostopchin seems to have lost her “rose,” as is highlighted by Lucette’s comment on her childhood reading: “At the age of ten . . . I was at the Vieux-Rose Stopchin stage” (384.03-04).
The series Bibliothèque rose illustrée (Illustrated Pink Library), was founded by the publisher Hachette (a homophone of “Ashette” below, 114.16-17) in 1859, the year Les Malheurs de Sophie was published. Cf. “A Russian Beauty” (1934): “Her childhood passed festively, securely, and gaily, as was the custom in our country since the days of old. A sunbeam falling on the cover of a Bibliothèque Rose volume at the family estate, the classical hoarfrost of the Saint Petersburg public gardens. . . . ” (SoVN 381) Cf. also VN’s reminiscence of the “‘Bibliothèque Rose’ volumes, with their stories about boys and girls who led in France an idealized version of the vie de château which my family led in Russia . . . ” (SM 76). MOTIF: deflower; Ségur.
114.02-03: did the Burning Barn come before the Cockloft or the Cockloft come first: Did they first make love, that is, before or after they discovered in the Cockloft (the attic scene in Pt. 1 Ch. 1) that they were full brother and sister?
Van is quite sure of the sequence later: “soon after the night of the Burning Barn, but before they had come across the herbarium in the attic” (148.33-149.01). In the cockloft, looking at a newspaper photograph of Marina’s wedding to Dan, Van and Ada can recall the false date of that photograph on the library table (5.34-6.16) because they have recently explored the library so intensively together on the night of the Burning Barn and in the days that follow.
Kyoto Reading Circle : “A joke on the old riddle: ‘Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?’ Note that the chicken is changed to a cock here.” Van certainly comes first (120-21) amid other puns on “cock.”
Alexey Sklyarenko points out (private communication) that “cockloft,” as a pun on a penis becoming erect (aloft), would in that sense have “come before” the Burning Barn.
114.02-03: Burning Barn: The Burning Barn provides a naturalistic occasion for Van and Ada’s first making love, parodies the literary use of fire as a symbol of passion (already parodied in Lolita, Pt. 1 Ch. 10: “a distraught McCoo in wet clothes turned up at the only hotel of green-and-pink Ramsdale with the news that his house had just burned down—possibly, owing to the synchronous conflagration that had been raging all night in my veins” as Humbert envisaged his installation in the McCoo house and the chance it would give him to fondle the twelve-year-old daughter of McCoos, and later in Ada, 334.08-09: “The fire you rubbed left its brand on the most vulnerable, most vicious and tender point of my body”), and may pay wry homage to such famous burning barns in literature as those in Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), and As I Lay Dying (1930), by William Faulkner (1897-1962).
In 1971 Nabokov told Andrew Field of a barn fire that occurred overnight while he was a farm laborer at Domaine-Beaulieu, Solliès-Pont, in the Var: he gradually woke to what he realized were cries of “Fire!” and rushed outside towards a pandemonium of buckets being passed. When Field connected the incident with the Burning Barn in Ada, Nabokov insisted: “It has nothing to do with the Burning Barn (in ADA) - which is not even shown burning – and anyway my fictions do not work that way. Without that handle the incident is too trivial (and too badly described) to keep” (VN notes to Field, February 20, 1973, p. 121, Berg Collection, NYPL; cf. Field, Nabokov: His Life in Part [New York: Viking, 1977], 203.) MOTIF: burn; Burning Barn.
114.03: Cockloft: “in the cockloft of Ardis Hall” (6.04).
114.03-115.01: Oh, first! . . . bothersome blink: Contextually “Oh, first!” seems to mean the Burning Barn came first (the correct answer), although verbally it could seem to point the other way.
Ada here appears to answer Van, the usual narrator, and to keep narrating until the end of 114.07, as the narration becomes a back-and-forth process, without overt attributions, for some lines: Van seems to ask the questions at 114.08-09, Ada to answer at the beginning of 114.10, Van to reply at 114.10-13, Ada to reply as narrator in 114.14-17 and then ask the direct question at 114.18 that prompts Van’s direct answer at 114.19-20 and the shift to his resuming narration at 115.01. But the lines blur and the voices blend. MOTIF: Composition: Ada; Van.
114.04-06: We had long been kissing cousins . . . chapped lips: “Long” by the standards of impatient youth: cf. “our children’s kissing phase (a not particularly healthy fortnight of long messy embraces)” (102.19-103.01). MOTIF: lip.
114.04: kissing cousins: Kissing cousin: “A relative close enough to be kissed on formal occasions” (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, ed. Adrian Room [ London: Cassell, 2001]). MOTIF: incest.
114.05-06: some Château Baignet cold cream from Ladore: Named as if this cold cream were wine, perhaps a good Bordeaux, from a celebrated estate. Cf. “Ma soeur, te souvient-il encore / Du château que baignait la Dore?” (138.05-06). MOTIF: château que baignait la Dore.
114.06: for my poor chapped lips: After too much kissing, in their recent “kissing phase” (102.19).
114.07: au feu!: Darkbloom: “fire!”
114.09: flambait: Darkbloom: “was in flames.”
114.10: fast . . . asleep: Cf. 115.34-116.01: “Only the governess (as Ada, not Van, had by then discovered) slept on through everything”: typical of Mlle Larivière’s knack for not noticing what happens around her.
114.11: hand-painted handmaid: Cf.Ardeur 98: “boniche bichonnée” (young maidservant tarted up).
114.11-16: handmaid . . . Blanche . . . miniver-trimmed slipper: Cf. 226.05-08: (recalling an 1884 scene, although in the midst of the account of 1888): “Pretty Blanche . . . redolent with the perfume called Miniver Musk by handmaids.”
114.11-14: handmaid . . . her. . . not Marina’s poor French: Despite the misleading phrase “ Marina’s poor French,” this refers, for the first time, to the maid identified at 401.26 as Mrs. French.
114.16-17: lost a miniver-trimmed slipper on the grand staircase, like Ashette in the English version: Of the Cinderella story. Darkbloom: “Ashette: ‘Cendrillon’ in the French original.” “‘Ashette,’ like ‘Cendrillon’ and ‘Cinderella,’ means ‘little cinder’ or ‘little ash’” (Rivers and Walker 278).
Cinderella loses a glass slipper in the English version, and a pantoufle de verre in the 1697 “original,” “Cendrillon, ou La petite Pantoufle de verre,” by Charles Perrault (1628-1703).
Many have proposed that French verre, “glass,” may have originally been vair, a kind of fur. Professor Pnin, for instance, notes: “Cendrillon’s shoes were not made of glass but of Russian squirrel fur—vair, in French. It was, he said, an obvious case of the survival of the fittest among words, verre being more evocative than vair, which, he submitted, came not from varius, variegated, but from veveritsa, Slavic for a certain beautiful, pale, winter-squirrel fur” (Pnin 158). Cf. BS 140: “a girl’s tiny slipper trimmed with moth-eaten squirrel-fur.”
Miniver (W2): “A fur esteemed in the Middle Ages as a part of costume. It is uncertain whether it was the fur of some particular animal or of different animals. Officially, in England, the word has recently been used to mean a plain white fur.”
Cinderella’s slipper is famously small, as Van echoes in the mini- of “miniver.”
A photograph by Kim Beauharnais shows why Blanche has no slipper when she raises the cry of “Au feu!”: “Young Bout devotedly kissing the veined instep of a pretty bare foot raised and placed on a balustrade” (405.11-12, between shots of the footmen as firemen and Van and Ada peering from the library window).
Cf. 116.28-32: “ Ada . . . passing by with a lighted candle in one hand and a shoe in the other. . . . It was only her reflection in the glass. She dropped the found shoe in a wastepaper basket”; 125.28: “ ‘Je l’ai vu dans une des corbeilles de la bibliothèque’—presumably in reference to some geranium or violet or slipper orchid”; 494.27-28: “She [Lucette] saw a pair of new vair-furred bedroom slippers, which Brigitte had forgotten to pack.”
On Van’s first night at Ardis the Second, Blanche glides in wearing “a miniver cloak that Ada had lost in the woods” (191.09-10). MOTIF: Cinderella; fairy-tale; mini-; miniver; slipper.
114.18-115.10: And do you remember . . . rattled a matchbox, lit his bedside candle: Cf. at the end of this chapter: 122.04-06: “‘And do you remember,’ . . . . bedside table and rattled a yellow-blue matchbox.” The beginning and ending of the chapter, framing as it were the beginning and ending of their love? MOTIF: and do you remember; remember.
114.19: Eshchyo: corrected from 1969, “Eshcho.”
114.19-115.01: That night because of the blink—” That night because of the bothersome blink: MOTIF: that night.
115.01-03: That night because of the bothersome blink of remote sheet lighting . . . Van had abandoned his two tulip trees and gone to bed in his room: Normally on a hot night he sleeps in a hammock between two tulip trees if the night promises to keep dry, or under the weeping cedar if a light shower looks likely: 72.14-18.
The thunderstorm that has given rise to “remote sheet lightning” is evidently the cause of the Barn’s Burning. Cf. 226.22-23: “on a thundery evening (a few hours before the barn burned)”; 284.31-32: “When lightning struck two days later (an old image that is meant to intimate a flash-back to an old barn). . . . ”
115.02: black hearts: The “black hearts” are presumably the leaves of the nearby paulownia tree (rather than the tulip trees overhead, whose leaves have a different shape) against the flash of the lightning. Also a play on playing cards, with their red hearts and black, heart-like spades?
115.03: his two tulip trees: Cf. 72.17-18: “between two tulip trees.”
115.04-06: interrupted a rare, brilliant, dramatic dream, whose subject he was unable to recollect later, although he still held it in a saved jewel box: MOTIF: dream.
115.06: although he still held it in a saved jewel box: Cf. 585.06-07: “accumulating again and again the riches of consciousness.” MOTIF: riches.
115.08: tartan lap robe: Cf. 191.02-03: “They were still fiercely engaged (on the same bench covered with the same tartan lap robe—thoughtfully brought)” (on the first night of Ardis the Second); 291.11-12: “Van changed back to shorts, cloaked himself in the tartan plaid” (on the last night of Ardis the Second); 293.06: “his tartan cloak.” Cf. Lolita II.22, 249, “tartan lap robe”; Pnin 163, “tartan lap robe.”
115.09-10: rattled a matchbox, lit his bedside candle: Cf. 122.05-06: “took a Cannabina cigarette from his bedside table and rattled a yellow-blue matchbox.”
115.11-12: somewhere the dachshund was barking ecstatically: Safe in Marina’s arms, he is “deriding the watchdogs” (115.24). MOTIF: dackel.
115.13-14: “baronial barn” . . . on fire: Although Van is occasionally called Baron Veen (306.19, by Johnny Rafin, Esq., 316.17, by Philip Rack), the Veens do not usually seem to be barons (but cf. 406.33, “Bank President Baroness Veen”). A play on Russian barin, “lord, master” as well as on baron? MOTIF: burn; Burning Barn.
115.16-18: They’ve all gone and left me behind, as old Fierce mumbles at the end of the Cherry Orchard (Marina was an adequate Mme Ranevski): In the final speech of Vishnyoviy sad (The Cherry Orchard, written 1903, published 1904), Firs (pronounced like English “fierce”), the 87-year-old servant, emerges on the empty stage to find his mistress, Mme Ranevski, has finally left with her family after the selling of her estate. He goes up to the door: “Locked. They’ve gone. (Sits on the divan.) They forgot about me. . . . Never mind. . . . I’ll sit here a bit.” Lyubov’ Alexandrovna Ranevski, in her forties, the bright and well-meaning owner of the estate she loses over the course of the play, is one of the central characters of the play.
On their first night of love-making at Ardis the Second, Van echoes the final speech in Chekhov’s Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya, written 1890-96, published 1897): “we shall live quietly, you as my housekeeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, ‘we shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds’” (193.25-27). Sonya in her final speech in the play, in Act 4, says: “My uslyshim angelov, my ividim vsyo nebo v almazakh” (“We will hear the angels, we will see the whole sky in diamonds”).
In 1888, updating his father about Ada, Van explains that “She likes . . . what all our belles like—balls, orchids, and The Cherry Orchard” (245.10-11). In 1891, Marina will play with Ada in a production of Chekhov’s Four Sisters (427.02-430.27). MOTIF: actress.
115.17: old Fierce: Cf. 74.08-10, with its multiple anticipations of the night of the Burning Barn: “ Bless the starling and damn the stardust! He was fourteen and a half; he was burning and bold; he would have her fiercely some day!”
115.19: tartan toga: A piquant mix of the Scottish and Roman; cf. 117.06-07 and n.
115.19-20: his black double: The shadow thrown by his candle acquires a Gothic cast.
115.20: the accessory spiral stairs leading to the library: Cf. 42.02-03: “a semi-secret little staircase spiralled them from behind a rotatory bookcase. . . .” . MOTIF: library (Ardis).
115.21: on the shaggy divan: Cf. 121.07: “the shag of the couch was as tickly.” Cf. Van’s dream of one last Villa Venus: “on a rump-tickling coarse couch, Van reclined. . . . It was not Ardis, it was not the library, it was not even a human room” (357.15-358.14).
The children played Scrabble earlier this evening, Van and Ada seated on this very divan, Lucette wanting to join them there: “Another time, in the bay of the library, on a thundery evening (a few hours before the barn burned), a succession of Lucette’s blocks formed the amusing VANIADA, and from this she extracted the very piece of furniture she was in the act of referring to in a peevish little voice: ‘But I, too, perhaps, would like to sit on the divan.’” (226.22-27): MOTIF: divan.
115.23-24; with Dack . . . watchdogs,: MOTIF: dackel.
115.26: the runabout—as red as a fire engine: Cf. 79.03: “ Marina came in a red motorcar of an early ‘runabout’ type.”
115.27-28: three English footmen on horseback with three French maids en croupe: Darkbloom : “en croupe: riding pillion.”
“Footmen on horseback” recalls a similar joke in Lolita, describing a young girl skating: “her heavily armed foot.” (Lolita I.5, 22)
The footmen are identified in a photograph taken in the course of this night by Kim Beauharnais: “Three footmen, Price, Norris and Ward dressed up as grotesque firemen” (405.10-11), although the three footmen at the picnic on Ada’s birthday are identified as “Essex, Middlesex and Somerset” (85.24). Price, Norris, and Ward are named after the three sisters in Austen’s Mansfield Park (see 8.25-28n.), Miss Maria Ward, soon married as Lady Bertram, her sister, who marries as Mrs Norris, and her youngest sister, Frances, who marries as Mrs Price, and gives birth to the heroine Fanny, who becomes Lady Bertram’s charge and Mrs Norris’s bête noire. Fanny, brought up at Mansfield Park with her cousins, will end up marrying one of them, Edmund, but both consanguinity and habitual proximity throw formidable obstacles in the way of their union, as Van and Ada have seemed to have formidable obstacles in way of theirs until the fire takes everyone else except the sleeping Mlle Larivière away from Ardis.
The three French maids include Blanche but not French, who appears to be English.
115.31-34: telegas, teleseats, roadboats and even the clockwork luggage carts . . . in memory of Erasmus Veen, their inventor: MOTIF: technology.
115.31: telegas, teleseats: A trap for the Anglophone reader, since in the context of the invented teleseats (Nabokov’s aptly bumpy translation of the French télésiege, “chairlift”), telegas suggests tele-gas but is in fact the English plural of the Russian telega (W2), “[Russ.] A rude four-wheeled, springless wagon, used among the Russians.”
115.31: roadboats: A comic nonce-word, invented on the model of the genuine but shortlived roadcar, roadwagon? Amphibian vehicles? Boats for a roadstead (W2, “A protected place where ships may ride at anchor”), since some at least reach the barn by crossing the reservoir, 116.13-17? A sort of “past tense” (rowed) of rowboats? Ardeur 99: “canots à roulettes” (dinghies on casters).
115.32-34: even the clockwork luggage carts with which the stationmaster supplied the family in memory of Erasmus Veen, their inventor: Cf. 34.04-35.08: “In a miniature of the imagination, he had seen a saddled horse prepared for him; there was not even a trap. The station master . . . . The road dipped and humped again, and at every ascent the old clockwork taxi would slow up.”
The fictional Erasmus Veen (1760-1852), Dan and Demon’s grandfather, was not only an inventor himself but married to “an engineer of great genius” (83.31-32), Olga née Zemski, who “ ‘tubed’ the Redmont rill. . . . made it carry vibrational vibgyors (prismatic pulsations)” (83.32-34).
The real Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), physician, poet, amateur botanist, and early evolutionary theorist, was grandfather of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the great biologist and theorist of evolution by natural selection. Erasmus Darwin was “also an inventor of designs for carriages” (Mason 170).
115.34-116.01: Only the governess . . . slept on through everything: Cf. 96.10-11: “the governess presented no threat, being pathologically unobservant’; 114.10: “she was fast ablaze—I mean asleep.”
116.02: harkle: Invented. Onomatopoeic, a harsh gargle, with a dash of hark-le (a little hark)? A harsh gargling sound, therefore, that one would expect threatens to wake its owner up, yet doesn’t?
116.03: little Lucette: MOTIF: little Lucette.
116.03-04: before running after her dream: MOTIF: dream.
116.04-05: jumping into the last furniture van: Cf. 121.32: “jumped out of a pumpkin-hued police van.”
116.04-07: last furniture van. Van, kneeling . . . vanish: MOTIF: Van.
116.06: kneeling at the picture window: Cf. 392.11-15: “he swept her couch-ward, gallantly proud to manifest his immediate reaction to her being as scantily gowned (under her hot furs) as she had been when carrying her candle through that magic picture window.”
116.06-07: the inflamed eye of the cigar: Perhaps in part an echo of Ulysses. In Chapter 12 (originally called Cyclops by Joyce), Bloom smokes a cigar in a chapter saturated with references to eyes; in Joyce’s Homeric parallel, the cigar Bloom smokes corresponds to the heated stick Odysseus and his men thrust into the Cyclops’ one eye.
116.07-09: That multiple departure . . . Take over. // That multiple departure: Is it Ada who now takes over from Van, although she doesn’t join him in the room for almost another two paragraphs? The narrator says at 116.13: “which I could make out,” which suggests Van, since Ada is not yet here; but she was not present at all in the scenes narrated by a single narrator, from 115.01 to 116.08. The identity of the narrator seems to blur, the identities of Van and Ada seem to merge, as one hands the narration to the other. MOTIF: Composition: Ada, Van.
116.10: against the pale star-dusted firmament: Cf. 74.08-10: “Bless the starling and damn the stardust! . . . he would have her fiercely some day!” and n.; 121.07: “the shag of the couch was as tickly as the star-dusted sky.”
116.11-12: flamingo flush: Pun, in this context, on “flaming”: cf Ardeur 99: “ce lointain flamboiement, ce rose flamant” (“this distant flaming, this pink flamingo”).
116.12: where the Barn was Burning: MOTIF: burn; Burning Barn.
116.15: hostler: Or ostler, (W2) “one who takes care of horses.”
116.15: water skis: Cf. 555.16-17: “A distant idiot leaning backward on waterskis behind a speedboat started to rip the canvas.” These 1922 waterskis behind a speedboat seem less jarring technochronologically than waterskis in 1884, when Antiterra’s automobile technology, for instance, seems, although precocious by Terran standards, a long way short of 1922. Yet these waterskis, with no boat reported as towing them, seem to cut silently across the black water. MOTIF: technology.
116.16: Rob Roy: W2: “3. A kind of short, light, flat-decked canoe for river cruising, invented in 1865 by John McGregor (Rob Roy), a writer on canoeing.”
116.16-17: typical raft ripples like fire snakes in Japan: The image is suggested to Van by the lampshade in the library: “the lampshade’s parchment (a translucent lakescape with Japanese dragons)” (228.24-25).
116.18-19: the AB bank of that rectangular lake: Not to be confused with the other estate Dan has, “up north on Lake Kitezh, near Luga, comprising, and practically consisting of, that large, oddly rectangular though quite natural body of water . . . ” (5.08-11).
116.21: in a dim and diminished aspect: MOTIF: dim . . . dim.
116.24: the cook: According to 121.31, Blanche’s uncle; but at 407.09-10 “the fat, flour-pale cook” at Ardis (at least at the beginning of September 1884) is “Blanche’s father.” Perhaps another case of Veen-like incest (if her father is also her mother’s brother, as Ada’s father is also her mother’s first, second and third cousin), especially since Blanche’s surname, “de la Tourberie” (407.02) means peat, bog, as does “Veen” itself; more likely, a rare slip on Nabokov’s part.
116.24: the night watchman: Presumably already “Sore the Burgundian night watchman” who has become one of Blanche’s lovers by 1888 (191.06).
116.25: break: W2, break, brake: “A bodiless carriage frame used for breaking in horses.”
116.26: thills: shafts.
116.27-33: Japanese . . . divan: MOTIF: divan japonais.
116.27-31: Van was delighted . . . to distinguish . . . Ada in her long nightgown passing by with a lighted candle. . . . It was only her reflection in the glass: Cf. 119.09-10: “he cried as if she were far away, a reflection in a dark window.” Cf. 392.11-15: “he swept her couch-ward, gallantly proud to manifest his immediate reaction to her being as scantily gowned (under her hot furs) as she had been when carrying her candle through that magic picture window.”
116.30-33: a shoe in the other. . . . She dropped the found shoe in a wastepaper basket: Blanche’s “lost . . . slipper,” 114.16. No wonder Ada can say “ ‘Je l’ai vu dans une des corbeilles de la bibliothèque’—presumably in reference to some geranium or violet or slipper orchid” (125.28-30). MOTIF: Cinderella; slipper.
116.31: ignicolists: Worshippers of fire.
116.32-33: joined Van on the divan: Cf. 226.26-27: “But I, too, perhaps, would like to sit on the divan.”MOTIF: divan; Van.
116.34-117.02: “Can one see anything . . . ?” the dark-haired child kept repeating, and a hundred barns blazed in her amber-black eyes, as she beamed and peered in blissful curiosity: Kim Beauharnais photographs this scene: “Nocturnal outdoor shot of two small white ghosts pressing their noses from the inside to the library window” (405.13-14).
117.01: a hundred barns blazed: MOTIF: Burning Barn.
117.02-04: He relieved her of her candlestick, placing it near his own longer one on the window ledge: When Ada first shows Van around the manor house, he sees “A kind of divan . . . below a plateglass window which offered a generous view of the banal park and the man-made lake. A pair of candlesticks, mere phantoms of metal and tallow, stood, or seemed to stand, on the broad window ledge.” (41.13-18)
117.06-07: he cloaked himself tighter, Ramses the Scotsman: He is in a tartan robe, wrapping himself as tight as a mummy; hence (?) he can be seen as one of the twelve pharaohs called Ramses (or Rameses). Ramsay or Ramsey is a common Scottish name. Pun also on ram, given his state? With this mix of Egyptian and Scottish, cf. the mix of Scottish and Roman in 115.19, “tartan toga.”
117.08: the romantic night piece: MOTIF: romance.
117.10: batiste: W2: “Orig., linen cambric or lawn; now, a fine cotton fabric of similar texture.”
117.11: Look, gipsies: MOTIF: gipsy.
117.12-15: two men, one with a ladder, and a child or dwarf. . . . the smaller one walking à reculons as if taking pictures: The small person is kitchenhand and “photo-fiend” (205.20) Kim Beauharnais, whom we have already seen taking official pictures (101.18) but who has not previously been noticed taking clandestine snaps. Kim will be seen on a similar night in 1888, with what Van suggests is sheet lightning but Demon correctly guesses is a photographer’s flash: Kim lurks outside, flanked on this occasion by two handmaids, 258.06-25. He will last be sighted when his photographic files are themselves the object of a fire, laid by Van (446.02-03). MOTIF: Kim’s photography.
117.14-15: à reculons: Darkbloom: “backwards.”
117.20: nates: Buttocks.
117.21-22: as the burning castle of cards collapsed: As the Burning Barn collapsed? Or is this only a metaphor and echo of 113.18-30? MOTIF: burn; Burning Barn; castle of cards.
117.23-24: pushing against her like that soldier behind in the queue: MOTIF: behind.
117.25: First time I hear about him: MOTIF: first time.
117.25-26: First time I hear about him. I thought old Mr. Nymphobottomus had been my only predecessor: “Nymphobottomus” is Van’s nonce name for the painter Paul J. Gigment, alias “Pig Pigment,” who has a fondness for nymphet bottoms, including Ada’s (111.15-112.19): he “drew his diminutive nudes invariably from behind—fig-picking, peach-buttocked nymphets straining upward” (111.21-23).
The comical suspicion of a series of “predecessors” strongly recalls Bloom’s fears of Molly’s unfaithfulness in Joyce’s Ulysses, exaggerated by the exhaustiveness of Chapter 17’s question-and-answer method. After Bloom discovers flakes of potted meat in the bed on his return—evidence of Molly’s assignation that afternoon with Blazes Boylan—the chapter asks: “If he had smiled why would he have smiled?” and answers: “To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.” The next question-and-answer follows:
What preceding series?
Assuming Mulvey to be the first term of his series, Penrose, Bartell d’Arcy, professor Goodwin, Julius Mastiansky, John Henry Menton, Father Bernard Corrigan, a farmer at the Royal Dublin Society’s Horse Show, Maggot O’Reilly, Matthew Dillon, Valentine Blake Dillon (Lord Mayor of Dublin), Christopher Callinan, Lenehan, an Italian organgrinder, an unknown gentleman in the Gaiety Theatre, Benjamin Dollard, Simon Dedalus, Andrew (Pisser) Burke, Joseph Cuffe, Wisdom Hely, Alderman John Hooper, Dr Francis Brady, Father Sebastian of Mount Argus, a bootblack at the General Post Office, Hugh E. (Blazes) Boylan and so each and so on to no last term.
(Ulysses, [London: Penguin, 1986], pp. 601-02, 17.2126-42).
117.27: Last spring. Trip to town: This implies Ada tells Van about this predecessor during 1884, although not, presumably, during this scene itself.
117.27-28: French theatre matinée. Mademoiselle had mislaid the tickets: Mlle Larivière, anxious to introduce her charge to the best of French culture.
117.28-31: probably thought “Tartuffe” was a tart or a stripteaser. . . . not so dumb after all: The hero-villain of Le Tartuffe (1664), by the French comic dramatist Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, 1622-73). Tartuffe uses a façade of extreme piety to serve his predatory and manipulative ends, losing his hold over his main victim, the credulous Orgon, only when Orgon’s wife, Elmire, arranges for her husband to watch Tartuffe’s attempt to seduce her.
In the “cryptogrammic paper chase” that Clare Quilty prepares for Humbert Humbert’s frustration, and loads with theatrical allusions, Humbert discovers: “The silly but funny ‘D.Orgon, Elmira, NY,’ was from Molière, of course” (Lolita II.23, 252).
117.31-34: Okay. In that scene of the Burning Barn— // Yes? // Nothing/ Go on. // Oh, Van, that night, that moment . . . : MOTIF: Composition: Ada, Van; that night.
117.31: that scene of the Burning Barn: MOTIF: burn; Burning Barn.
118.01: like Praying Children in a very bad picture: The evoked scene of childhood innocence undercut by what is actually happening recalls the “Nicky and Pimpernella” (6.02) allusions in I.1.
118.02: once arboreal-animal, soles: An unexpected allusion to the idea of humanity’s evolutionary descent from tree-dwelling apes, which leads here into the Serpent of the Biblical scene of the fall (see also I.15).
118.03-04: to the surprised and pleased Serpent: Because these “soles” or souls will lose their innocence, as in the biblical Fall in Genesis 3. MOTIF: Fall; snake.
118.07-08: will be worse in a moment: As his erect penis becomes still more engorged? Or after orgasm?
118.10: the night sky—now drained of its fire color: Seems to confirm that “as the burning castle of cards collapsed” (117.21-22) refers at least in part to the collapse of the Barn.
118.15-16: with his fleshy folds, parties très charnues: In other words, with his lips; echoes of the Webster’s and Littré definitions of lip at 102.01-02 and 102.04. Parties très charnues: “very fleshy parts.” MOTIF: lip.
118.16: our passionate siblings: Perhaps an echo of the title The Passionate Friends (1913), by Herbert George (H.G.) Wells (1866-1946), which Nabokov singled out as “my most prized example of the unjustly ignored masterpiece” in response to a journal’s request: “Reputations Revisited,” Times Literary Supplement, 21 January, 1977, 66. “I must have been fourteen or fifteen when I went through its author’s fictions after some five winters of tacit access to my father’s library. Today at seventy-seven I clearly remember how affected I was by the style, the charm, the cream of the book, while not bothering about its ‘message’ or ‘symbols’ if any. (I have never reread it and now I see it as a coloured haze leaving only some final details—growing a little closer to me in time—still com ing through.)” There seems no specific allusion to the contents of the novel, a fictional argument against sexual jealousy. MOTIF: incest; sibling.
118.17: lumbus-length: Lumbus (Latin), “loin”; used medically adjectivally (lumbar) or in compounds such as lumbosacral.
118.18: splenius: W2: “Anat. A flat muscle of each side of the back of the neck and upper thoracic region.”
118.18-22: (It is not necessary . . . . In Ada’s late hand.): MOTIF: Composition: Ada.
118.26: his ramping palm: Cf. Ada’s “Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe (I’m crazy about everything that crawls)” (54.24-25). MOTIF: raffole . . . rampe . . . crawl.
118.28-31: ringing for the maid in Georgian novels—inconceivable without the presence of elettricità— // (I protest. You cannot. It is banned even in Lithuanian and Latin. Ada’s note.): Van evokes the button and hemispherical surround of an old-style domestic electrical bell as a comically exact match for nipple and breast, just as he will do parodically with a pink cake, “a little conical titbit with a comical cherry on top” (363.21-22), in his lecture against reading symbols into dreams.
Georgian: here, of English novels of the period of King George V (reigned 1910-1936); a glance at the earthly rather than the usual Antiterran timescale of electrification.
Notice the L pattern here: the “L disaster” (17.01) which has led to the banning of elettricità “even in Lithuanian and Latin.” MOTIF: electricity; L; novel; technology.
118.30-31: (I protest. You cannot. It is banned even in Lithuanian and Latin. Ada’s note.): MOTIF: Composition: Ada.
119.01-02: one flame crepitated: One flame in the two candles crackles as the breath from Ada’s urgent question reaches it?
119.05: tactfully, tactually: Cf. 103.18: “I appreciated your tact” (Van’s comment on Ada’s withdrawing her hand quickly from his pocket, where she had sought a handkerchief but detected an erection, and her asking him to give her the handkerchief himself).
119.05: belly-danced: Cf. 217.22: “to borrow from the vocabulary of the belly dancer’s art.”
119.09-10: as if she were far away, a reflection in a dark window: Cf. 116.29-31.
119.12-13: MOTIF: Accursed Children.
119.18: pupating puppies: Pupating: becoming pupa.
119.21: You bet . . . on n’est pas bête à ce point: Note the repetition. The French could also be translated “No one’s that stupid.” Cf. 304.14-15: “On n’est pas goujat à ce point.”
119.24: traced the blue Nile down into its jungle: The main vein on the penis. European explorers in the nineteenth century sought to establish the source of the Nile; Speke (see 120.03-04 and n.) actually traced the source of the White rather than the Blue Nile. MOTIF: explorer.
119.25: The cap of the Red Bolete: A bolete is any fungus of the family Boletaceae, with a smooth rounded, soft-spongy cap. The Red Bolete here may be Boletus aurantiacus. Cf. 276.19-21: “ Ada, facing him with two stipple-stemmed red boletes in one hand and three in the other.”
Collecting mushrooms is, Nabokov notes in SM, a “very Russian sport.” His mother was a particularly avid collector, whose “quest had its rules. Thus, no agarics were taken; all she picked were species belonging to the edible section of the genus Boletus (tawny edulis, brown scaber, red aurantiacus, and a few close allies), called ‘tube mushrooms’ by some and coldly defined by mycologists as ‘terrestrial, fleshy, putrescent, centrally stipitate fungi.’ Their compact pilei—tight-fitting in infant plants, robust and appetizingly domed in ripe ones—have a smooth (not lamellate) undersurface and a neat, strong stem.” (SM 43)
In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin, Pt. 5 Ch, 5, Sergey Ivanovich is about to propose to Varenka when a conversation about boletes reveals to them that the crucial question will not get asked: “ ‘What’s the difference between the white and the birch one?’ Varenka’s lips trembled with agitation, as she answered: ‘There’s no difference in the cap, only the stem.’ ”
Cf. Ada’s later, more deliberate, evocation of Van’s glans in terms of botany: “an extract of scarlet aril, the flesh of yew, just only yew” (334.19-20). One of Kim’s early shots of Van and Ada making love among the long grasses of Ardis shows, under a magnifying glass, “topping the daisies in an upper picture, the type of tight-capped toadstool called in Scots law . . . ‘the Lord of Erection’ ” (405.25-27). MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy; bolete.
119.27: geranium or rather pelargonium bloom: The gardeners’ “geranium” usually belongs indeed to the family Geraniaceae but, within it, not to the genus Geranium but to the genus Pelargonium.
Geranium (W2), “1. Bot. a A large and widely distributed genus of plants, typifying the geranium family (Geraniaceae).” There are about 300 species.
Pelargonium (W2, s.v. geranium, “2. [not cap.] Hort. A plant or flower of the allied genus Pelargonium”) has about 230 species of mainly evergreen perennials, with many cultivars, derived mainly from about twenty species. Most garden cultivars have purple, red or pink flowers, some with velvety-textured leaves.
Cf. 125.28-30: “ ‘Je l’ai vu dans une des corbeilles de la bibliothèque’—presumably in reference to some geranium or violet or slipper orchid.” MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy; flowers.
119.30: “Squeeze, you goose, can’t you see I’m dying”: Kyoto Reading Circle : “In light of the Egyptian theme, Van’s words have a certain echo from Antony’s famous cry, ‘I am dying, Egypt, dying’ ” (Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra [1606?], 4.15.41). In view of the Nile theme, in relation to Van’s penis, one might also wonder if Nabokov is thinking of Cleopatra’s question to the rustic who brings her the asp concealed in a basket: “Hast thou the pretty worm of Nilus there, That kills and pains not?” and the rustic’s parting comment, “I wish you joy o’ the worm” (5.2.243-79).
120.03-04: the Nile is settled stop Speke: corrected from 1969, “the Nile is settled stop Stanley.”
Darkbloom : “a famous telegram sent by an African explorer.”
John Hanning Speke (1827-1864) and Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) had been together searching for the source of the Nile since late 1856, and while Burton was ill, Speke travelled on to a lake he named Victoria in July 1858. He returned to England claiming this was the source, but Burton and others championed Lake Tangayika, which Speke and Burton had together reached in February 1858.
Sir Roderick Murchison, president of the Royal Geographic Society, supported the Lake Victoria claim, and Speke was invited to lead another expedition to confirm his findings. He arrived at the spot where the White Nile issued from Ukerewe Sea, which he renamed Lake Victoria, on July 28, 1862. On February 15, 1863, he reached Gondokoro, the Egyptian post on the Nile marking the limits of its navigability from the north. Arriving in Khartoum, Speke sent London the exultant cable: “Inform Sir Roderick Murchison that all is well, and that the Nile is settled.” (See Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed.; Alan Moorehead, The White Nile [London: Hamish Hamilton, 1960], p. 60; Alexander Maitland, Speke [London: Constable, 1971], p. 177.) Even after Speke’s return, some geographers had remained sceptical, and Burton especially disputed the case bitterly. Speke shot himself (apparently accidentally) in September 1864 on the eve of a public debate with Burton about the river’s source.
Nabokov’s father’s library included French versions of the letters of Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904), Lettres ( Paris, 1881) and his In Darkest Africa (Dans les ténèbres de l’Afrique [Paris, 1890]). Stanley circumnavigated Lake Victoria in 1875 and, by establishing the size and importance of the lake, proved Speke’s identification correct.
Cf. BS 174: “this Nile is settled.” MOTIF: explorer.
120.05-17: (I wonder, Van . . . Please, take over: Cf. 583.12: “Recorded and replayed in their joint memory.” Is the final “Please, take over” said by Ada to Van? MOTIF: Composition: Ada, Van.
120.08-09: parlez pour vous: Darkbloom: “speak for yourself.” Cf. 293.16: “‘Parlez pour vous,’ answered Van. ‘I am in no mood for love-making.’”
120.13-17: Think and dream are the same in French. Think of the douceur . . . all douceur, my child, my rhyme: The verb songer à means “think of,” songer de, “dream of.” Ada’s “Think of the douceur” echoes the “Songe à la douceur” of Baudelaire’s “L’Invitation au Voyage,” and Van’s “my child, my rhyme” echoes the Baudelairean “Mon enfant, ma soeur, / Songe à la douceur” (106.22, 26 and 106.11-26n.) MOTIF: dream; Mon enfant, ma soeur.
120.18-19: now motionless candlelight: Versus 119.01: “one flame crepitated.”
120.22: trempée: Darkbloom : “soaked.”
120.26: her hair-shaking head: Ada tosses her hair when self-conscious (cf. 50.08-09). MOTIF: tossing hair.
120.27-28: A bad boil had left a pink scar between two ribs: Cf. 216.24-25: “Boils and mosquito bites had stopped pestering her.” Ada often shows her descent from Demon, but not usually in accidental injuries too: Demon, absurdly, has, as a result of his sword duel, “a white weal under his eighth rib after a lapse of nearly seventeen years” (252.05-06). MOTIF: family resemblance.
120.30: the ant caravan to the oasis of the navel: Cf. BS47: “an ant trail, a narrow capillary caravan, went up the middle of his abdomen to end at the brink of his navel.”MOTIF: Van.
120.30-33: caravan . . . I denounce the philistine’s post-coital cigarette both as a doctor and an artist: In 1892, Van says to Ada, post-coitally: “Darling, you smoke too much, my belly is covered with your ashes” (406.05-06); Ada still wears her diamonds “in sign of at least one more caro Van and a Camel before her morning bath” (420.30-31).
121.01-02: Turkish Traumatis: Turkish cigarettes whose name, reflecting centuries of contact and conflict between Greek and Turk, derives from Greek traumatos, a wound, or from its English derivative traumatic. MOTIF: Turkish tobacco.
121.03-06: The tall clock struck . . . clockwise launch, and ponderous upswing of virile revival: In this pre-Cockloft scene (114.03), puns on “cock.”
121.03: The tall clock struck: Cf. 230.05-06: “the autumnally ticking tall clock” that Van glances at while reading in the library bay window, just as news of the second Crimean War arrives, on the next page: “When he looked up again at the clock, it was gathering its strength to strike. . . . the rhomboid peninsula where the Allies had just landed . . . wiping Crimea clean” (231.18-27).
121.03: an anonymous quarter: Cf. 358.06-14, in Van’s last dream of a last Villa Venus, “A very distant church clock, never audible except at night, clanged twice and added a quarter. . . . It was not Ardis, it was not the library. . . . ”
121.07: the shag of the couch was as tickly as the star-dusted sky: Cf. 115.21: “the shaggy divan”; 116.10: “pale star-dusted firmament.” Cf. Van’s dream of one last Villa Venus: “on a rump-tickling coarse couch, Van reclined. . . . It was not Ardis, it was not the library, it was not even a human room” (357.15-358.14).
121.09: Native girl imitating rabbit: Cf. 574.34-575.02: "the beautiful native girl smoking on the back porch would offer her mangoes to Master." In view of the latter's almost certain reference to Paul Gauguin, "Native girl imitating rabbit" may well allude to Gauguin's Otahi (1893).
121.10-11: cupped her hot little slew from behind, then frantically scrambled into a boy’s sandcastle-molding position: MOTIF: behind.
121.10: slew: W2: “A wet or marshy place; a pool or pond; a river inlet.”
121.12-13: the way Juliet is recommended to receive her Romeo: Before Juliet even meets Romeo, just before her mother notes that she has now come of age (at fourteen) and that Paris wishes to marry her, her garrulous, bawdy Nurse reminisces about Juliet as an infant:
She could have run and waddled all about;
For even the day before, she broke her brow,
And then my husband—God be with his soul,
’A was a merry man—took up the child.
‘Yea,’ quoth he, ‘dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit.
Wilt thou not, Jule?’ And by my holidam,
The pretty wretch left crying, and said ‘Ay.’
To see now how a jest shall come about!
I warrant, and I should live a thousand years,
I never should forget it: ‘Wilt thou not, Jule?’ quoth he,
And, pretty fool, it stinted, and said ‘Ay.’
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
‘Yea,’ quoth my husband, ‘fall’st upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou comest to age,
Wilt thou not, Jule?’ It stinted, and said ‘Ay.’”
(Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet [1594-96?], 1.3.38-58)
121.14: For the first time in their love story: MOTIF: first time.
121.14-15: the blessing, the genius of lyrical speech descended upon the rough lad: Cf. the story “Bachmann” (1924): “I think that this was the only happy night in Mme. Perov’s life. I think that these two, the deranged musician and the dying woman, that night found words the greatest poets never dreamt of.” (SoVN 123).
121.17: three languages—the three greatest in all the world: Russian, English, and French. Asked “Which of the three languages you speak do you consider the most beautiful?” Nabokov answered: “My head says English, my heart, Russian, my ear, French.” (SO 49).
121.18-20: upon which a dictionary of secret diminutives was to be based and go through many revisions till the definitive edition of 1967: Apparently a reference to Ada itself? MOTIF: dictionary.
121.22-23: in all our dreams: MOTIF: dream.
121.23-25: (brimming like Van’s overflowing bath while he is reworking this, a crotchety gray old wordman on the edge of a hotel bed): MOTIF: Composition: Van.
121.26: burst at the lip of the orchid: MOTIF: flowers; lip; orchids.
121.28: firefly signals: MOTIF: firefly.
121.31-33: Blanche jumped out of a pumpkin-hued police van in her stockinged feet (long, long after midnight, alas): Blanche as Cinderella, who has lost her slipper, and who if she had been late for her carriage—after midnight—would have seen it turn back into a pumpkin.
Cf. 116.04-05: “jumping into the last furniture van.” MOTIF: Cinderella; fairy-tale; slipper.
121.33-122.01: our two naked children: Cf. 6.06-08: “two naked children, one dark-haired and tanned, the other dark-haired and milk-white.”
122.02-03: pattered back with their candlesticks to their innocent bedrooms: Cf. 209.23-30: “he recalled with anguish, as something fantastically ravishing and hopelessly irretrievable, her hurrying up with her candlestick on the night of the Burning Barn, capitalized in his memory forever—he with his dancing light behind her hurdies and calves and mobile shoulders and streaming hair, and the shadows in huge surges of black geometry overtaking them, in their winding upward course, along the yellow wall.”
122.04-15: “And do you remember . . . unknown dreamers: MOTIF: Composition: Van.
122.04: “And do you remember”: MOTIF: and do you remember; remember.
122.04: gray-moustached Van: Ada had made him shave off his moustache in 1905 (511.20, 522.29-30) but he has since had over half a century to regrow it.
122.05: Cannabina: Play on cannabis, but why? Cannabis, W2, is “A genus of herbs, the type of the family Cannabinaceae, having as the only known species C. sativa, the hemp.” “If Van had lighted a ‘Cannabina’ during his final months, when the pain was insufferable, this could be attributed to the well-known analgesic properties of the herb. . . . between 1840 and 1900 more than one hundred articles were published in medical journals about the therapeutic use of cannabis. Therefore, not only Dr Lagosse would know of such uses, but Van himself should be familiar with the matter as a result of his psychiatric training. During the summer of 1960, however, Van is only 90 years old and apparently in good health.” (Jorio Dauster, private communication).
122.05-06: from the bedside table and rattled a yellow-blue matchbox: Cf. 115.09-10: “rattled a matchbox, lit his bedside candle.”
122.06: yellow-blue matchbox: Cf. 37.34-38.01 and n. MOTIF: yellow-blue.
122.07: Larivière stopped snoring: Cf. 48.04: “the snore coming from the governess’ room.”
122.12-13: between Ex and Ardez: For Ex, see 7.09 and n. Cf. 537.20: “between Ardez and Somethingsoprano.” On his way to Ada at Mont Roux in 1922, Van “collected three additional villas, two in the Adriatic and one at Ardez in the Northern Grisons” (551.34-552.02). Ardez is indeed a town in the Northern Grisons, in the extreme east of Switzerland, 46˚47΄N, 10˚13΄E. If Ex is an Antiterran equivalent or approximation of Chateau d’Oex, “between Ex and Ardez” would cover most of Switzerland’s west-east axis. MOTIF: Ardis.
122.15: my unknown dreamers: A tantalizing substitution for “readers.”
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 19