Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 21 (view annotations)

Ada was denied the free use of the library. According to the
latest list (printed May 1, 1884), it contained 14,841 items, and
even that dry catalogue her governess preferred not to place
in the child's hands—"pour ne pas lui donner des idées." On her
130.05 own shelves, to be sure, Ada had taxonomic works on botany
and entomology as well as her schoolbooks and a few innocuous
popular novels. But not only was she not supposed to browse
in the library unsupervised, but every book she took out to
read in bed or bower had to be checked by her mentor and
130.10 charged "en lecture" with name and stamped date in the index-
card files kept in a careful mess by Mlle Larivière and in a kind
of desperate order (with the insertion of queries, calls of distress,
and even imprecations, on bits of pink, red or purple paper) by
a cousin of hers, Monsieur Philippe Verger, a diminutive old
130.15 bachelor, morbidly silent and shy, who moused in, every other
week, for a few hours of quiet work—so quiet, in fact, that
one afternoon when a tallish library ladder suddenly went
into an eerie backward slow-motion swoon with him high up
on it embracing a windmill of volumes, he reached the floor,
130.20 supine, with his ladder and books, in such a hush that guilty

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Ada, who had thought she was alone (pulling out and scanning
the utterly unrewarding Arabian Nights), mistook his fall for
the shadow of a door being stealthily opened by some soft-
fleshed eunuch.
131.05 Her intimacy with her cher, trop cher René, as she sometimes
called Van in gentle jest, changed the reading situation entirely
—whatever decrees still remained pinned up in mid-air. Soon
upon his arrival at Ardis, Van warned his former governess
(who had reasons to believe in his threats) that if he were not
131.10 permitted to remove from the library at any time, for any
length of time, and without any trace of "en lecture," any
volume, collected works, boxed pamphlets or incunabulum that
he might fancy, he would have Miss Vertograd, his father's
librarian, a completely servile and infinitely accommodative
131.15 spinster of Verger's format and presumable date of publication,
post to Ardis Hall trunkfuls of eighteenth-century libertines,
German sexologists, and a whole circus of Shastras and Nefsawis
in literal translation with apocryphal addenda. Puzzled Mlle
Larivière would have consulted the Master of Ardis, but she
131.20 never discussed with him anything serious since the day (in
January, 1876) when he had made an unexpected (and rather
halfhearted, really—let us be fair) pass at her. As to dear,
frivolous Marina, she only remarked, when consulted, that at
Van's age she would have poisoned her governess with anti-
131.25 roach borax if forbidden to read, for example, Turgenev's
Smoke. Thereafter, anything Ada wanted or might have wanted
to want was placed by Van at her disposal in various safe nooks,
and the only visible consequence of Verger's perplexities and
despair was an increase in the scatter of a curious snow-white
131.30 dust that he always left here and there, on the dark carpet, in
this or that spot of plodding occupation—such a cruel curse on
such a neat little man!
At a nice Christmas party for private librarians arranged un-
der the auspices of the Braille Club in Raduga a couple of years

[ 131 ]

earlier, emphatic Miss Vertograd had noticed that she and
giggling Verger, with whom she was in the act of sharing a
quiet little cracker (tugged apart with no audible result—nor
did the gold paper frilled at both ends yield any bonbon or
132.05 breloque or other favor of fate), shared also a spectacular skin
disease that had been portrayed recently by a famous American
novelist in his Chiron and described in side-splitting style by a
co-sufferer who wrote essays for a London weekly. Very deli-
cately, Miss Vertograd would transmit through Van library
132.10 slips to the rather unresponsive Frenchman with this or that
concise suggestion: "Mercury!" or "Höhensonne works won-
ders." Mademoiselle, who was in the know, too, looked up
"Psoriasis" in a one-volume medical encyclopedia, which her
late mother had left her and which had not only helped her and
132.15 her charges on various minor occasions but had suggested suit-
able illnesses for the characters in the stories she contributed to
the Québec Quarterly. In the present case, the cure optimis-
tically advised was to "take a warm bath at least twice a month
and avoid spices"; this she typed out and passed on to her cousin
132.20 in a Get-Well envelope. Finally, Ada showed Van a letter from
Dr. Krolik on the same subject; it said (English version):
"Crimson-blotched, silver-scaled, yellow-crusted wretches, the
harmless psoriatics (who cannot communicate their skin trouble
and are otherwise the healthiest of people—actually, their bo-
132.25 bo's protect them from bubas and buboes, as my teacher used
to observe) were confused with lepers—yes, lepers—in the
Middle Ages, when thousands if not millions of Vergers and
Vertograds crackled and howled bound by enthusiasts to stakes
erected in the public squares of Spain and other fire-loving
132.30 countries." But this note they decided not to plant in the meek
martyr's index under PS as they had first intended: lepidop-
terists are overeloquent on lepidosis.
Novels, poems, scientific and philosophical works wandered
out unnoticed after the poor librarian gave his démission

[ 132 ]

éplorée on the first of August, 1884. They crossed lawns and
traveled along hedges somewhat in the manner of the objects
carried away by the Invisible Man in Wells' delightful tale, and
landed in Ada's lap wherever she and Van had their trysts. Both
133.05 sought excitement in books as the best readers always do; both
found in many renowned works pretentiousness, tedium and
facile misinformation.
In a story by Chateaubriand about a pair of romantic siblings,
Ada had not quite understood when she first read it at nine or
133.10 ten the sentence "les deux enfants pouvaient donc s'abandonner
au plaisir sans aucune crainte." A bawdy critic in a collection of
articles which she now could gleefully consult (Les muses
s'amusent) explained that the "donc" referred both to the in-
fertility of tender age and to the sterility of tender consanguin-
133.15 ity. Van said, however, that the writer and the critic erred, and
to illustrate his contention, drew his sweetheart's attention to
a chapter in the opus "Sex and Lex" dealing with the effects on
the community of a disastrous caprice of nature.
In those times, in this country "incestuous" meant not only
133.20 "unchaste"—the point regarded linguistics rather than legalistics
but also implied (in the phrase "incestuous cohabitation," and
so forth) interference with the continuity of human evolution.
History had long replaced appeals to "divine law" by common
sense and popular science. With those considerations in mind,
133.25 "incest" could be termed a crime only inasmuch as inbreeding
might be criminal. But as Judge Bald pointed out already dur-
ing the Albino Riots of 1835, practically all North American
and Tartar agriculturists and animal farmers used inbreeding as
a method of propagation that tended to preserve, and stimulate,
133.30 stabilize and even create anew favorable characters in a race
or strain unless practiced too rigidly. If practiced rigidly incest
led to various forms of decline, to the production of cripples,
weaklings, "muted mutates" and, finally, to hopeless sterility.
Now that smacked of "crime," and since nobody could be

[ 133 ]

supposed to control judiciously orgies of indiscriminate in-
breeding (somewhere in Tartary fifty generations of ever
woolier and woolier sheep had recently ended abruptly in one
hairless, five-legged, impotent little lamb—and the beheading of
134.05 a number of farmers failed to resurrect the fat strain), it was
perhaps better to ban "incestuous cohabitation" altogether.
Judge Bald and his followers disagreed, perceiving in "the de-
liberate suppression of a possible benefit for the sake of avoiding
a probable evil" the infringement of one of humanity's main
134.10 rights—that of enjoying the liberty of its evolution, a liberty
no other creature had ever known. Unfortunately after the
rumored misadventure of the Volga herds and herdsmen a
much better documented fait divers happened in the U.S.A. at
the height of the controversy. An American, a certain Ivan
134.15 Ivanov of Yukonsk, described as an "habitually intoxicated
laborer" ("a good definition," said Ada lightly, "of the true
artist"), 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
134.20 got Maria's daughter, Daria, with child, in another fit of
somnolence. Photographs of Maria, a ten-year-old granny with
little Daria and baby Varia crawling around her, appeared in
all the newspapers, and all kinds of amusing puzzles were pro-
vided by the genealogical farce that the relationships between
134.25 the numerous living—and not always clean-living—members
of the Ivanov clan had become in angry Yukonsk. Before the
sixty-year-old somnambulist could go on procreating, he was
clapped into a monastery for fifteen years as required by an
ancient Russian law. Upon his release he proposed to make
134.30 honorable amends by marrying Daria, now a buxom lass with
problems of her own. Journalists made a lot of the wedding, and
the shower of gifts from well-wishers (old ladies in New
England, a progressive poet in residence at Tennesee Waltz
College, an entire Mexican high school, et cetera), and on the

[ 134 ]

same day Gamaliel (then a stout young senator) thumped a
conference table with such force that he hurt his fist and de-
manded a retrial and capital punishment. It was, of course,
only a temperamental gesture; but the Ivanov affair cast a long
135.05 shadow upon the little matter of "favorable inbreeding." By
mid-century not only first cousins but uncles and grandnieces
were forbidden to intermarry; and in some fertile parts of
Estoty the izba windows of large peasant families in which up
to a dozen people of different size and sex slept on one blin-like
135.10 mattress were ordered to be kept uncurtained at night for the
convenience of petrol-torch-flashing patrols—"Peeping Pats,"
as the anti-Irish tabloids called them.
Another hearty laugh shook Van when he unearthed for
entomologically-minded Ada the following passage in a reliable
135.15 History of Mating Habits. "Some of the perils and ridicule
which attend the missionary position adopted for mating pur-
poses by our puritanical intelligentsia and so justly derided by
the 'primitive' but healthy-minded natives of the Begouri Is-
lands are pointed out by a prominent French orientalist [thick
135.20 footnote, skipped here] who describes the mating habits of the
fly Serromyia amorata Poupart. Copulation takes place with
both ventral surfaces pressed together and the mouths touching.
When the last throb (frisson) of intercourse is terminated the
female sucks out the male's body content through the mouth of
135.25 her impassioned partner. One supposes (see Pesson et al.) [an-
other copious footnote] that the titbits, such as the juicy leg
of a bug enveloped in a webby substance, or even a mere token
(the frivolous dead end or subtle beginning of an evolutionary
process—qui le sait!) such as a petal carefully wrapped up and
135.30 tied up with a frond of red fern, which certain male flies (but
apparently not the femorata and amorata morons) bring to the
female before mating, represent a prudent guarantee against the
misplaced voracity of the young lady."
Still more amusing was the "message" of a Canadian social

[ 135 ]

worker, Mme de Réan-Fichini, who published her treatise,
On Contraceptive Devices, in Kapuskan patois (to spare the
blushes of Estotians and United Statians; while instructing
hardier fellow-workers in her special field). "Sole sura metoda,"
136.05 she wrote, "por decevor natura, est por un strong-guy de
contino-contino-contino jusque le plesir brimz; et lors, a lultima
instanta, svitchera a l'altra gropa [groove]; ma perquoi una
femme ardora andor ponderosa ne se retorna kvik enof, la
transita e facilitata per positio torovago"; and that term an
136.10 appended glossary explained in blunt English as "the posture
generally adopted in rural communities by all classes, beginning
by the country gentry and ending with the lowliest farm
animals throughout the United Americas from Patagony to
Gasp." Ergo, concluded Van, our missionary goes up in smoke.
136.15 "Your vulgarity knows no bounds," said Ada.
"Well, I prefer to burn than to be slurped up alive by the
Cheramie—or whatever you call her—and have my widow lay
a lot of tiny green eggs on top of it!"
Paradoxically, "scient" Ada was bored by big learned works
136.20 with woodcuts of organs, pictures of dismal medieval whore-
houses, and photographs of this or that little Caesar in the
process of being ripped out of the uterus as performed by
butchers and masked surgeons in ancient and modern times;
whereas Van, who disliked "natural history" and fanatically
136.25 denounced the existence of physical pain in all worlds, was
infinitely fascinated by descriptions and depictions of harrowed
human flesh. Otherwise, in more flowery fields, their tastes and
titters proved to be much the same. They liked Rabelais and
Casanova; they loathed le sieur Sade and Herr Masoch and
136.30 Heinrich Müller. English and French pornographic poetry,
though now and then witty and instructive, sickened them in
the long run, and its tendency, especially in France before the
invasion, of having monks and nuns perform sexual feats seemed
to them as incomprehensible as it was depressing.

[ 136 ]

The collection of Uncle Dan's Oriental Erotica prints turned
out to be artistically second-rate and inept calisthenically. In the
most hilarious, and expensive, picture, a Mongolian woman with
an inane oval face surmounted by a hideous hair-do was shown
137.05 communicating sexually with six rather plump, blank-faced
gymnasts in what looked like a display window jammed with
screens, potted plants, silks, paper fans and crockery. Three of
the males, contorted in attitudes of intricate discomfort, were
using simultaneously three of the harlot's main orifices; two
137.10 older clients were treated by her manually; and the sixth, a
dwarf, had to be contented with her deformed foot. Six other
voluptuaries were sodomizing her immediate partners, and one
more had got stuck in her armpit. Uncle Dan, having patiently
disentangled all those limbs and belly folds directly or indirectly
137.15 connected with the absolutely calm lady (still retaining some-
how parts of her robes), had penciled a note that gave the
price of the picture and identified it as: "Geisha with 13 lovers."
Van located, however, a fifteenth navel thrown in by the
generous artist but impossible to account for anatomically.
137.20 That library had provided a raised stage for the unforgettable
scene of the Burning Barn; it had thrown open its glazed doors;
it had promised a long idyll of bibliolatry; it might have become
a chapter in one of the old novels on its own shelves; a touch
of parody gave its theme the comic relief of life.

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