Annotations to Ada
25: Part I Chapter 25
The end of summer, the lovers’ parting: a scène a faire, an obligatory scene, an emotional high point? Yes and no. It suddenly comes, in unexpected fashion, suddenly goes—and reverberates.
Van and Ada’s love has been associated with sun and summer and Ardis, as if these things would never end. Although we and they have been very conscious of the successive stages of their love, they also seem to have rapidly transcended time, in the last few chapters of endless repetition of their ardor. Now comes a change of season, and the prospect of a change of place, a first expulsion for Van from his paradise with Ada. They have seemed in command of their world, while their world was just Ardis and each other. Now they are only schoolchildren, who have no choice but to return to school and to keep in touch at a distance while keeping their love hidden.
Yet Ada is not even there as the Ardis household, family and staff, see Van off. And as Van heads for the station, the contrast with his arrival from his school could not be more striking. He was hardly lacking in confidence then, but no one was waiting for him, he had to take a chance cab, everything was new. Now he is completely and comically in control, as Dan, the master of Ardis, could never be, telling Bouteillan “‘remouvez votre bottom, I will drive’—and the summer of 1884 was over.” At fourteen, he drives the car himself, at speed, and when the butler offers a word of caution about Ada, Van feigns incomprehension and assuredly, woundingly deflects Bouteillan’s advice with his own warning that Blanche’s favors are no longer Bouteillan’s but his son’s.
Then suddenly we understand. Van and Ada have arranged a last tryst at the last possible moment, and offer a triumphant last laugh, with the code that feigns to draw the veil over their last pulse of passion. The parting becomes a reunion—and yet even Van and Ada cannot stop their separation.
There is a new note in Van’s bitter jealousy. For now his concern seems unnecessary, unwarranted, only more evidence of his romantic intensity, even if, as Ada admits, she’s “horribly physical.” And that romantic intensity, certainly, is the note on which Ardis the First ends, as Van embraces Ada one last time, and, fleeing without looking back, rides off with “his gloves wet with tears.”
156.01: September: Cf. Mary 69: “On that September day fate gave him an advance taste of his future parting from Mary, his parting from Russia. . . . it seemed incredible that next spring he would see those fields again.”
156.02: asters: W2: aster: “A large genus of chiefly fall-blooming, leafy-stemmed herbaceous plants of the thistle family (Carduaceae) . . . . common in the United States.” The flowers of this 250-species genus are daisy-like in appearance. Cf. Defense 68: “the country autumn drizzling on the asters. . . . the journey back to town, . . . the return to school.”
Cf. 159.02, in the second to last line of the chapter: “stellas,” from the Latin for “star,” as aster derives from the Greek. There seems no specific allusion to the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella (pub. 1591) of Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86).
156.02: fleabanes: W2: “Any of various plants (family Carduaceae) supposed to drive away fleas, as Pulicaria dysenterica of Europe . . . or any of various erigerons, artemisias, etc.” Most commonly, any plant of the large genus (about 200 species) Erigeron (also in the family Asteraceae), also daisy-like in flower, and usually summer-flowering.
156.02: dalk: W2: “A cavity or depression in the ground. Obs.exc. Dial.” See 17.06n for Nabokov’s “once a writer chooses to youthen or resurrect a word, it lives again” (SO 252).
156.03: Ladoga, N.A.: [Ladoga, N.A.]Not (?) to be confused with “Ladoga, Mayne” (4.04).
156.03: N.A: N.A: New Hampshire, pronounced in Cockney or French fashion? Close to “N.E.” for New England? For "North America" or “North Atlantic”? Or an Antiterran New (or North) Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas? Or are all these Not Applicable?
156.04-05: cold Luga, Mayne: See 5.09 and n. For Nabokov the real Luga, 85 miles SSW of St. Petersburg, was associated with his summers, since Vyra, the Nabokov summer home, was about halfway along the St. Petersburg-Luga highway. Cf. “Ladoga, N.A. . . . cold Luga, Mayne” here and “ Kaluga, New Cheshire . . . Ladoga, Mayne” (4.03-04).
MOTIF: place names: additional syllable; -uga.
156.06-07: kissed Lucette on each dimple . . . and winked to prim Larivière who looked at Marina: Mlle Larivière will warn Marina on Van’s return to Ardis in 1888 about his dangerously close relation to Lucette, and the risk of turning her head: 232.14-33.
Cf. 210.10-11: “ ‘And now, my sweet,’ she added, kissing Lucette on her dimpled cheek . . . ”; 414.34-415.13: “Her narrow haunches were bare, and our wretched rake could not help being moved by the ideal symmetry of the exquisite twin dimples that only very perfect young bodies have above the buttocks in the sacral belt of beauty. Oh, they were even more perfect than Ada’s! . . . ‘Please, little vixen! I’ll reward you with a very special kiss.’ ‘Oh, Van,’ she said over a deep sigh.”
156.08-14: They saw him off . . . Kim with his camera)—practically the entire household . . . : Kim takes a photograph of the assembled household, “Kim’s apotheosis of Ardis” (406.30-407.26), the final photograph Van sees in the blackmail album Ada shows him in 1892. Cf. SM 210: “when the whole array of country servitors would be seeing us off to town for the winter on a crisp September morning.” MOTIF: Kim’s photography.
156.08: shlafrok: Darkbloom: “Russ., from German Schlafrock, dressing gown.”
156.09: Lucette petting (substitutionally) Dack: Lucette, already attached to Van, pets the dachshund in compensation for Van’s departure.
MOTIF: pet; dackel.
156.10-11: an inscribed book she had given him on the eve: Perhaps a book of her own stories, including “La Rivière de Diamants” (83-87), and her story about Rockette (142), although she had only typed up the first by July 21 and is still composing the latter in August. Perhaps an earlier volume of her work?
156.11-12: a score of copiously tipped servants: Cf. 159.10: “He thanked the groom with a handful of stellas”; 305.14-17: “He asked for a room with a bath, was told all were booked by a convention of contractors, tipped the desk clerk in the invincible Veen manner, and got a passable suite of three rooms”; 393.08: “ ‘Please, tip them, pet,’ said Van, a compulsive tipper’”; 471.32-472.03: “the numerous donations which (in a kind of extension of his overtipping the haggard beggars who cleaned rooms, manned lifts, smiled in hotel corridors) he kept showering upon worthwhile donations and students.” MOTIF: vans tips and bribes.
156.12-13: kitchen Kim with his camera: Note the ki . . . Kim . . . cam pattern.
156.13-14: Blanche who had the headache: Echoes Blanche’s French idiom. Has she been crying all night because of Van’s imminent departure? Or is she merely offering a pretext, so as not to be seen crying as he leaves?
156.14: dutiful Ada: Ironic: her actual “duty” (and pleasure) is one (or two) final round(s) of love-making at Forest Fork before Van leaves the neighborhood.
156.15: having promised to visit an infirm villager: Cf. EO II, 393: “A sentimental fashion of the times. One thinks of such French prints as La bonne Châtelaine: young lady from castle—small basket of provisions on arm—bottle of wine sticking out—doorway of hovel—rag-bedded old villager inside vigorously raising eyes and arms to heaven—wife clasping her hands piously—child receiving a doll.” The “fashion,” as Nabokov calls it, lasted a long time in fiction, from Austen’s Emma through Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin to Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Ada’s “promise” is in fact to visit a decidedly firm Van Veen.
156.15-17: she had a heart of gold, that child, really—as Marina so willingly, so wisely used to observe: Marina happily plays the stage role of the proud, fond, wise mother, when in fact she barely knows her older daughter.
156.18-19: black trunk and black suitcase, and black king-size dumbbells: Cf. 81.23-26: “after a conference with Demon, King Wing, the latter’s wrestling master”—hence in part the insistently Demonian blackness here, and the “king-size dumbbells”—“taught the strong lad to walk on his hands by means of a special play of the shoulder muscles”; 82.06-07: “the handsome boy’s abnormally developed deltoids and sinewy forearms.” MOTIF: black.
156.19: the family motorcar: The red runabout, 79.03-05.
156.20: captain’s cap: Note sound-play.
157.01: remouvez votre bottom, I will drive: Mock-Franglais for “remove your” bottom (remuez would be less incorrect French). Cf. Glory 133: “Hardly had the house disappeared from view when Martin changed places with the chauffeur.”
157.03-17: She rolls sweetly . . . said nothing: Bouteillan’s warning to Van about his relationship with Ada, and Van’s feigning to misconstrue it as a warning about Blanche, as they drive Van away from Ardis in 1884, will be matched by coachman Trofim Fartukov’s comment as he drives Van away from Ardis in 1888: as the text translates Trofim’s Russian, “Master, even through a leathern apron I would not think of touching this French wench” (300.09-17). Where Bouteillan’s relationship with Blanche is already over by now, Trofim’s has yet to begin when he issues his warning—and he will ignore it himself.
157.03: She rolls sweetly, sir: Bouteillan’s English often derives word-for-word from his idiomatic French: “Elle [la voiture, la machine, l’auto] roule doucement, monsieur.”
157.04: Tous les pneus sont neufs: Darkbloom: “all the tires are new.”
157.05: youth drives fast: More natural in French, “la jeunesse [=young people] conduit vite.”
157.06-14: The winds of the wilderness are indiscreet. Tel un lis sauvage confiant au désert . . . you’d better quote Delille: Darkbloom : “Thus a wild lily entrusting the wilderness.”From Abbé Jacques Delille (1735-1813), Les Trois Règnes de la Nature (1808), V: “Tel un sauvage lis / Confiant au désert le parfum qu’il exhale, / Cache aux vents indiscrets sa beauté virginale” (“Thus a wild lily / Entrusting to the wilderness the perfume it exhales, / Hides its virginal beauty from the indiscreet winds”). These three lines are quoted in Littré’s dictionary, s.v. lis, which may be Nabokov’s immediate source (see 102.03n.). In his EO commentary Nabokov disparages “Delille’s rational trash” (II, 209) in general and “Delille’s uncommonly dreary L’Homme des champs” (II, 366) in particular. Delille as cited by Nabokov comes closest to Bouteillan’s sage advice to youth in a gloss to Pushkin’s phrase yunosti myatezhnoy . . . pora (“tumultuous youth’s season,” EO I:4:1-2): “A French cliché; cf. Jacques Delille, Epître sur la ressource contre la culture des arts et des letters (1761): Dans l’age turbulent des passions humaines / Lorsqu’un fleuve de feu bouillonne dans nos veines . . . ” (“In the turbulent age of human passions / When a river of fire boils in our veins,” EO II, 42).
157.08: Quite the old comedy retainer: The comic servant has long been a staple of drama and fiction. In drama, since at least Aristophanes’ Plutus (388 BCE), through the Roman comedy of Plautus, the Commedia dell’Arte (where Zanni was the archetypal comic servant, and Harlequin the most famous), the Spanish drama of the so-called Golden Age (where the comic servant was known as the gracioso) to the operas of Mozart (Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, 1786, Leporello in Don Giovanni, 1787, often crookedly reflected in Ada, and Papageno in Der Zauberflöte, 1791) and beyond. Often the ingenious ruses of the endlessly resourceful servant aid his master to win true love. Here Bouteillan aims to warn Van rather than help him with Ada—and Van in reply warns him that his own love is none too true.
In fiction, Sancho Panza sallies forth as comic servant at the dawn of the Western novel, in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, often alluded to in Ada. Lecturing on the novel at Harvard, Nabokov noted that “Sancho Panza’s main characteristic is that he is a sackful of proverbs, a sack of half-truths that rattle in him like pebbles. . . . The Don is certainly not funny. His squire, with all his prodigious memory for old saws, is even less funny than his master” (LDQ 24). Nabokov here briefly revives, parodies and redeems the role.
The most celebrated comic servant of Nabokov’s own time was the Jeeves of P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975). Jeeves’s master, Bertie Wooster, writes of his omniscient valet in The Inimitable Jeeves (1924): “Right from the first day he came to me, I have looked on him as a sort of guide, philosopher, and friend” (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967, p.8). Van is rather less enamored than Bertie Wooster of his servant’s attempt to act the guide to his young master.
157.10-12: Non, Monsieur. . . . Non. Tout simplement j’aime bien Monsieur et sa demoiselle: Darkbloom: “No, Sir, I simply am very fond of you, Sir, and of your young lady.”
157.13: “If,” said Van, “you’re thinking of little Blanche . . . ”: Since Bouteillan saw Van make a pass at Blanche on his first morning at Ardis (cf. 408.24-25) and heard from her a virtual declaration of her availability—although at that time Bouteillan himself seemed to be availing himself of Blanche (48-49). The mention of Blanche is a red herring, Van’s deliberate deflection of any allusion to Ada, but in another way she is relevant as well as irrelevant, since it is Blanche who more than anyone has spread the gossip about Van and Ada’s amours to the other servants: see 408.15-409.22.
157.13: little Blanche: Cf. 408.15: “where is my poor little Blanche now?”
157.14-15: your son, who’ll knock her up any day now: Bout’s amour with Blanche dates from at least the Night of the Burning Barn, as recorded by Kim’s camera: “Young Bout devotedly kissing the veined instep of a pretty bare foot raised and placed on a balustrade” (405.11-13). “Knock her up”: get her pregnant. In fact it will be Trofim Fartukov who fathers her child, and not until at least 1889 (408.22).
157.16-17: pozheval gubami (chewed his lips): Bouteillan is smarting at Van’s brazen deflection of his well-meant advice, as if Van has no idea Ada could be meant, and at his sharp thrust at the butler’s losing Blanche’s favors to his son.
157.18-34: “One will stop here . . . klv zdB AoyvBno . . . “like a good little spy”: Van and Ada’s rendezvous by the forest road, and the code that records their last embrace of 1884, appear, as John A. Rea notes (Nabokv-L, 11 Oct 1998), to allude to the central incident of the Lai de Chèvrefeuille, the best-known work of Marie de France (fl. 1170?), whose work Nabokov encountered as a student of medieval and modern French at Cambridge. A lai usually tells a single episode within the larger multi-episode stories of medieval romance, in this case, the story of Tristan and Iseult. There is only one, briefer, version, of the incident recorded in the Lai de Chèvrefeuille.
By slaying a dragon, Tristran has won Iseult as the bride for his uncle, Mark, King of Cornwall, but by mistake the two young people have drunk a love potion prepared for the wedding night, and become lovers. Here, after his banishment from Cornwall, Tristran secretly returns, unable to live without Iseult. Beside a forest road that he knows she must take, he cuts a hazel branch and writes on it with his knife in a way that she—alert for any sign of him—notices and immediately recognizes as his secret signal. The text has been interpreted two ways here: as if a) the lines which follow are part of an earlier letter he has sent to prime her for a message, or b) they record what he inscribes on the hazel: he has tried to find out how to see her,
kar ne pot nent vivre sanz li;
d’euls dues fu il (tut) autresi
cume del chevrefoil esteit
ki a la codre se perneit:
quant il s’i est laciez e pris
e tut entur le fust s’est mis,
ensemble poënt bien durer;
mes ki puis les volt desevrer,
li codres muert hastivement
e li chevrefoil ensement.
“bele amie, si est de nus:
ne vus sanz mei, ne mei sanz vus!” (ll. 67-78)
“for he cannot live without her; the two of them are just like the honeysuckle that would twine around the hazel: when it has caught her up and entwined itself around her, and placed itself right around her trunk, they can last well together. But if someone should then sever them, the hazel dies swiftly, and the honeysuckle too. ‘Sweet love, that’s like us: Not you without me, nor me without you!’ ”
The last few lines above are Marie de France’s most famous.
On seeing the hazel, Iseult knows what its message means, stops her escorts, dismounts, and with one loyal servant, makes her way through the wood to Tristan:
dedenz le bois celui trova
que plus l’amot que rein vivant.
entre eus meinent joie (mut) grant
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
mes quant ceo vient al desevrer,
dunc commenc(er)ent a plurer (ll. 92-96, 103-04)
“within the wood she found that one whom she loved more than any living thing. Between them they transacted very great joy. . . . But when it came to separating, then they began to weep.” (John Rea’s translation)
For text, see Jean Rychner, Les Lais de Marie de France (Paris: Henri Champion, 1966).
157.18: One will stop here: In Bouteillan’s presence, Van’s English has become inflected by French: “On s’arrêtera ici” is more idiomatic French than Van’s equivalent is idiomatic English.
157.19: Forest Fork: Cf. 179.23: “Forest Fork in Forty-Five minutes.”
157.19-20: I intend to pick some boletes: An interesting variation on Ada’s botanizing, especially as a pretext for other activities. MOTIF: bolete.
157.20-21: for Father to whom I shall certainly . . . transmit your salute: Cf. 35.32-35.01: “Bouteillan . . . had once been the valet of Van’s father.”
157.20-21: Bouteillan having sketched a courteous gesture: Cf. 35.32-34: “Bouteillan . . . met him with gested delight.”
157.21-23: handbrake must have been . . . in use before Louis the Sixteenth migrated to England: Louis the Sixteenth (1754-1793) did not emigrate to England but was guillotined on 21 January 1793. The stiff handbrake seems to have sparked an association in Van’s (or his maker’s) mind with a paper guillotine’s handle, and the tendency of its blade to stick. Van, however, is thinking of Antiterran history, rather than Earth’s: cf. 136.32-33: “in France before the invasion.” On Earth, Charles I of England (1600-49) was beheaded in 1649, and his son (1630-85), who would become Charles II in 1660, was exiled to Holland and France. MOTIF: technology.
157.26-27: He wore a silk shirt, a velvet jacket, black breeches, riding boots: The text prepares quietly for Van’s riding away on horseback, by which time, at least, he also has a riding crop and gloves (159.08-11).
157.27: star spurs: Cf. the “asters” of 156.02 and the “stellas” of 159.10. Cf. also, in Forest Fork the Second, the “star gleam of her dismissed bike” (179.29-30). MOTIF: astor.
157.28-30: making klv . . . mujzikml: The code is the one they agree to at this tryst, and use for their first correspondence after they part (see 160.10-161.11). Although the passage looks at first as if it is too licentious to print undraped, it decodes as merely “making his way through the brush and crossing a brook to reach Ada in a natural bower of aspens; they embraced.” Tadashi Wakashima, of the Kyoto Reading Circle, suggests that the italicized words could be read also, after the comic disappointment of the decoding, “as an ordinary pornographic metaphor of their sexual intercourse.” When this chapter appeared in serial from in Playboy, in April 1969, the coded text appeared only decoded, since I.26, with the description of the code, was not included in Playboy’s selection. MOTIF: letters.
157.29: wjfhm: Misprinted as wifhm in some editions, including in the Ada 1990 (Vintage) and Library of America (1996) editions.
157.30: xliC: Corrected from Ada 1969, “xlic.” VN corrected it in A1.
157.32-158.15: formula for our correspondence . . . . at least three letters a week . . . . the letter scene . . . . Monarch through the Viceroy: Cf. 329.07-20: “a famous international agency, known as the VPL, which handled Very Private Letters . . . . King Victor . . . and, of course, robust Lord Goal, Viceroy of France, . . . preferred the phenomenally discreet, and in fact rather creepy, infallibility of the VPL organization.”
157.32-158.02: formula for our correspondence . . . at least three letters a week: MOTIF: letters.
157.33-34: Learn this by heart and then eat it up like a good little spy: Cf. 145.25-26: “a full hour to learn these lines by heart.”
Cf., as the Kyoto Reading Circle notes: “But Chernyshevski immediately returned, his Adam’s apple convulsively bobbing as he washed something down with cold tea ( swallowed papers according to Antonovich’s sinister guess), . . .” ( Gift 269); “the little diary which I now propose to reel off (much as a spy delivers by heart the contents of the note he swallowed)” ( Lolita 41); “A slip of paper was now produced on which Izumrudov, shaking with laughter (death is hilarious), wrote out for Gradus their client’s alias, the name of the university where he taught, and that of the town where it was situated. No, the slip was not for keeps. He could keep it only while memorizing it. This brand of paper (used by macaroon makers) was not only digestible but delicious” ( PF 256).
158.01-02: at least three letters a week: For the actual frequency, at least in 1886-88, see 162.08-14.
158.03: It was the first time he had seen her in that luminous frock: MOTIF: first time.
158.04-06: flimsy as a nightgown . . . Maria Kuznetsova in the letter scene in . . . Onegin and Olga: Cf. 11.03-08: “flimsy and fetching nightgown. . . . Baron d’O . . . love letter.”
158.05-06: resembled the young soprano Maria Kuznetsova in the letter scene: Soprano Maria Nikolaevna Kuznetsova (1880-1966) initially trained as a dancer, but made her operatic debut at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in 1905. Her many roles included Tatiana in Chaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin (for which see 10.11-12.20 and nn.). She emigrated in 1920 to Paris.
158.06: the letter scene in Tschaikow’s opera Onegin and Olga: Nabokov mocks here the inaccuracies of theatrical adaptations of literary texts, including the Chaikovsky adaptation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (see 10.11-12.20 and nn. and 511.34: “the preposterous libretto”). The letter scene, itself specifically parodied at 11.02-20 (and nn.), of course focuses on Tatiana as letter-writer. A version that had misconstrued Pushkin’s story enough to have her sister Olga share the title with Onegin might even omit Tatiana altogether. In Pt. 1 Ch. 2 the show in which Marina plays the letter-writing role seems to be called Eugene and Lara (13.22), which at least preserves as well as distorts some of Tatiana’s surname (Larina); but by now, the disintegration has become even more complete, as the other Larina girl takes over the title role.
“Tschaikow” combines a fusion of “Chekhov” (whose Olga is one of his Three Sisters) with Chaikovsky, in the manner of “Anna Karamazov” (Pnin 10), and a parody of old transliteration schemes, which still burden “Tchaikovsky’s” name with a superfluous T. Many Russian names came into English through Russia’s nearer neighbors, Germany and France. Germans use tsch and French tch to transliterate the character whose sound is easily, and correctly, represented as ch (as in “church”) in English. The w of “Tchaikow” also suggests a Germanic origin for the transliteration. MOTIF: adaptation; letters; sisters confused.
158.09-15: some accursed insect . . . imitators: MOTIF: butterflies.
158.09-10: accursed insect . . . Accursed?: MOTIF: Enfants maudits; insect/incest.
158.10-16: (Accursed? . . . In Ada’s angry hand.): MOTIF: Composition: Ada.
158.11-15: rare vanessian, Nymphalis danaus Nab. . . . mimicking . . . not the Monarch butterfly directly, but the Monarch through the Viceroy, one of the Monarch’s best known imitators:
“Vanessian” is defined by W2 as the adjective formed from the butterfly genus Vanessa, which includes the Vanessa atalanta, the Red Admirable, a butterfly which plays a major part in PF.
The invented Nymphalis danaus belongs to the genus Nymphalis, closely related to the genus Vanessa: the butterfly that is now known as Nymphalis antiopa, for instance, was earlier known as Vanessa antiopa. “The genus . . . makes it clear that it [ Ada’s rare vanessian] belongs to one of the more showy members of the nymphalid family” (Zimmer 2001: 214). Its species name derives from the genus name of the Monarch, Danaüs plexippus, whose most famous imitator is indeed the Viceroy, Limenitis (Basilarchia) archippus. All four genera, Vanessa, Nymphalis, Danaüs and Basilarchia, belong to the family Nymphalidae.
“Nab.” in the name indicates that its first describer and namer was Professor Nabonidus. The name of the first describer, like the year of the published description, may be attached to the binomial genus-and-species name, especially in technical publications. The fact that “Nab.” is abbreviated indicates that it is a name well known to those in this field. Nabokov’s own name would often be reduced to “Nab.” because he was well enough known to other lepidopterists.
The Monarch is “America’s most famous butterfly. It is especially known for its extraordinary migratory capabilities. The large (wingspan 89-102mm) and black-and-amber Monarch was strictly N American” (Zimmer 2001: 140) but is now found in Europe and the South Pacific.
The Viceroy is “an American admiral with a wingspan of 67-76mm, russet-orange with black veins above and below and white-spotted black margins. . . The Viceroy presents a case of true mimicry. It mimics the Monarch . . . , which is not a limenitidine but a danaine nymphalid, almost to the point of perfection. The Viceroy mimicks the Monarch not only in appearance but also in behavior . . .’ (Nabokov). The mark that does distinguish it from its model is a black line running down across the fore- and hindwings. Also, it just reaches the size of the smaller Monarchs. Its distribution is from S Canada down to Mexico and the West Indies.” (Zimmer 2001: 114). Alexander B. Klots notes, in a book Nabokov thought “important and delightful” (SO 319): “The Viceroy departs radically from the colors of its relatives to ‘mimic’ the Monarch. Thereby it presumably gains protection, for the distasteful Monarch is seldom attacked by predators” (A Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America East of the Great Plains, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951: 114).
MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy; mimicry; Nabokov.
158.11: orange-brown: Cf. 396.03: “an album bound in orange-brown cloth.”
158.13-15: Nabonidus of Babylon College, Nebraska . . . not the Monarch butterfly directly, but . . . through the Viceroy: Nabonidus was a monarch, the last Semitic king (556-539 BCE) of Babylon. The most famous king of Babylon was Nebuchadnezzar (reigned 605-562 BCE), whose name Nabonidus may seem to imitate, as, in a different way, does Nebraska. But especially in view of the “opera Onegin and Olga” above, Nabokov also seems to be invoking the opera Nabucco (1842) by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), whose title character is a form of Nebuchadnezzar or Nabucodonosor. When Dmitri Nabokov performed the basso role of Zaccaria in this opera, his colleagues jokingly called him “Nabucco” (Nabokv-L, 10 November 2003).
158.17-18: said Van bitterly, “my butterfly”: Cf. 360.13-14: “a typo on every page, such as the snide ‘bitterly’ instead of ‘butterfly.’” MOTIF: butterflies.
158.18-19: “my butterfly.” She kissed him all over: Play on “butterfly kiss,” a light brushing of the lips.
158.22: In Luga? Kaluga? Ladoga?: MOTIF: place-name: additional syllable; -uga.
158.26-27: “You spit, love,” . . . wiping off the P’s and the F’s: Cf. 179.23-24: “ ‘Forest Fork in Forty-Five Minutes. Sorry to spit.’ ‘Tower!’”
158.26-27: wiping off the P’s and the F’s: As the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, a comic variation on the phrase “mind your Ps and Qs” (to be careful, to be circumspect).
158.27-29: I adore you. I shall never love anybody in my life as I adore you . . . neither in Ladore: MOTIF: adore; Ladore.
158.28-29: neither in eternity, nor in terrenity, neither in Ladore, nor on Terra: MOTIF: Terra.
158.30-31: I’m physical, horribly physical: Cf. 176.20-21: “I’m not speaking of abject physicalities, we are all organized that way.”
158.31-32: qu’y puis-je?: Darkbloom: “What can I do about it?”
158.32-33: there’s a girl in my school who is in love with me: This turns out not to be Cordula de Prey, whom Van first suspects, but Vanda Broom (see 323.20-23).
MOTIF: homosexual; lesbian.
159.02-03: I can’t write verse . . . Ada, our ardors and arbors: Cf. 74.06-08: “‘ Ada, our ardors and arbors’—a dactylic trimeter that was to remain Van Veen’s only contribution to Anglo-American poetry’; 588.05-06: “Ardis Hall—the Ardors and Arbors of Ardis—this is the leitmotiv rippling through Ada.” MOTIF: Ada, the ardors and arbors of Ardis.
159.05: They embraced: Cf. 157.30: “xliC mujzikml” (they embraced), which suggests just what the embrace entails.
159.07-08: Stumbling on melons, fiercely beheading the tall arrogant fennels with his riding crop: Darkbloom: “allusions to passages in Marvell’s ‘Garden’ and Rimbaud’s ‘Mémoire.’”
Stanza 5, ll. 33-40, of Marvell’s “The Garden” reads:
What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarene, and curious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
For the text of Rimbaud’s “Mémoire,” of which Van here echoes parts of Stanza 3, ll. 18-19, see 64.15n.
For the Rimbaud-Marvell conjunction, see 64.15-65.13 and nn. and 161.23-34 and nn.
Cf. 405.27-28: “Another interesting plant, Marvel’s Melon, imitating the backside of an occupied lad. . . . ”
159.08: riding crop: MOTIF: riding crop.
159.09-10: Morio . . . Moore: In TT there will be an elaborate anagrammatic motif involving Moore, Romeo, mores, more, Borromeo, and more. Cf. here 169.32: “moribund Romeo.”
159.10: thanked the groom with a handful of stellas: W2, stella, “An experimental four-dollar gold piece struck by the United States in 1879-80; from the device (a star) on the reverse.” Cf. 156.11-12: “a score of copiously tipped servants.” MOTIF: astor; gold dollars; riches.
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 25