Part One, Chapter 27
In I.26, the first chapter after his first parting from Ada, Van records and even makes us experience the shock of their separation, both through the frustration of the codes that the lovers have to resort to in order to maintain secrecy and through the replacement of the vivid scenes of Ardis the First by arid summaries.
Now in the next chapter after their parting, he emphasizes the shock, disgruntlement and pang of his separation from Ada in another way, through two scenes: 1) the first of his meetings with the first of the “other women” in his life, Cordula de Prey; and 2) his first post-Ardis meeting with Ada, under damp skies and unbearable constraint that could not be more different from the sunny freedoms of Ardis, and under the watchful eye of Cordula. Unable to stop imagining Cordula and Ada fondling one another in a way that he tries to maintain he would find titillating, he cannot stop being rabidly and unfoundedly jealous of the young Countess. He thereby not only ruins his meeting with Ada, but ensures she will never agree to a meeting at Brownhill again.
163.01-05: “Marina gives me a glowing account of you . . . Villa Armina: Marina never realized: Demon, telling Van of his “aunt” Marina’s reports of him, cannot help implying what he wishes to keep secret, Marina’s visit to him, Demon, in 1869, when “in the ecstasy of reconciliation neither remembered to dupe procreation” (15.14-15) and Van was conceived. Demon’s first scenic presence in the novel with Van evokes the situation of Van’s conception, and the discovery Van and Ada make in the Ardis attic, in their first scene in the novel. MOTIF: family relationship.
163.01-02: uzhe chuvstvuetsya osen’: Accurately translated at 163.03, “already-is-to-be-felt-autumn.” Demon is speaking to Van on Van’s joining him in “Ladoga, N.A.” (156.03) for two weeks before returning to his school Riverlane. Presumably this is the day of Van’s departure from Ardis in September 1884 (I.25).
163.02: Which is very Russian: MOTIF: Marina’s Russianness
163.02: Your grandmother: Demon apparently refers to his own mother, Countess Irina Veen, née Garin (1820-1838), one of whose houses was Villa Armina, but who died in the year of Demon’s birth. Is Demon, despite the vividness of the recollection, referring to a family reminiscence, perhaps handed down by his father Dedalus? Or is he referring to Daria Durmanov (1825-1870), who is Van’s ostensible mother Aqua’s mother, as well as his actual mother Marina’s mother, and who would have been only a visitor at Villa Armina, but whom Demon could at least have known until he was 32?
163.02-06: grandmother . . . Villa Armina . . . the sea: Cf. 8.02-20: “Villa Armina . . . the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother.”
163.05-06: Armina: Marina never realized it was an anagram of the sea, not of her: Cf. 365.08, “from ‘nerteros,’ not ‘terra.’” MOTIF: Armenia; Marina; Villa; water.
163.06: sïnok moy: Russ.,“My little son.”
163.10: dear little Lucette: MOTIF: little Lucette.
163.12: excellent widow of an obscure Major de Prey: Countess de Prey is “excellent” to Demon because, as an actress-noblewoman, like Marina, she may be useful in advancing the career of his latest protégée and lover, Cordelia O’Leary: cf. 163.15-16: “that excellent and influential lady.” MOTIF: de Prey; prey.
163.12-15: widow . . . Major de Prey . . . fine shot but the light was bad on the Common, and a meddlesome garbage collector hollered at the wrong moment: Presumably Boston Common, given Demon’s associations with the city (13-15).
Demon’s own duel with Baron d’O. as rival for Marina’s attentions begins and ends, as it were, in Boston, since he picks up the clue to Marina’s infidelity from a Bohemian lady wanting “his recommendation for a job in the Glass Fish-and-Flower department in a Boston museum” (13.32-33) and since the Baron dies as a consequence of the wounds inflicted by Demon in Nice, despite “quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston—a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum” (15.08-12).
Duels in literature are especially associated with Europe but were also common, as it were, in the Americas into the nineteenth century. Nevertheless the “meddlesome garbage collector” and the Americanism “hollered” render in a part-glamorous, part-drab and very American setting the duel motif Nabokov has contributed to in, for instance, his early story “An Affair of Honor” (“Podlets,” 1927), which he later introduced noting that “The story renders in a drab expatriate setting a belated variation on the romantic theme whose decline started with Chekhov’s magnificent novella Single Combat (1891)” (Stories 645).
Demon himself appears to have been a second in the duel that killed “our late neighbor”: “You have all sorts of rather odd neighbors. . . . At the races, the other day, I was talking to a woman I preyed upon years ago, oh long before Moses de Vere cuckolded her husband in my absence and shot him dead in my presence” (242.02-06). This must be the Ladore de Preys, Percy’s mother (particularly associated with horses, at 139.13-14) and father. MOTIF: duel.
163.12-14: widow of an obscure Major de Prey—obscurely related to our late neighbor, a fine shot but the light was bad: The person who has died in the implied duel appears to be not the Major, Cordula’s father (though the Countess is now widowed), but Count de Prey, Percy’s father—although the syntax and Demon’s loose and galloping speech leave the other possibility open. Identities as well as relations are obscure. MOTIF: de Prey; prey.
163.12-14: obscure Major . . . obscurely related . . . the light was bad: Notice the triple play on obscurity.
163.13: obscurely related to our late neighbor: The late neighbor appears to be Count de Prey, father of Percy de Prey (himself identified as a count at 271.18), who should not be confused, despite name and title, with the husband of Major de Prey’s wife, Countess de Prey, mother of “the dumpy little Countess” (168.29) Cordula. Cf. 139.12-13: “tea at a neighbor’s, Countess de Prey,” here Percy’s mother, and a neighbor of Dan and Marina Veen at Ardis, as well as Demon’s neighbor, perhaps at his town house. Easy to lose count.
Cordula de Prey’s aunt appears to be Percy de Prey’s mother (303.10) yet Cordula and Percy are second cousins (321.01).
Cf. 538.32-33: “an illusion obscurely related to the mysteries of growth and gravitation.”
MOTIF: family relationship.
163.16-17: clearing his throat: A habit for father and son at moments of awkwardness. MOTIF: clearing throat.
163.17: a daughter of fifteen summers: A Russism. Although god is the usual Russian for “year,” in the genitive plural it is usually replaced by let, the genitive plural of leto, “summer.”
163.18: Cordula: Given to the name of an orchid by Constantin Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz (Ashenden 2000: 68). Mason 85: “Cordula is the name of another genus of orchid, a much more primitive one than the exceedingly complex Ada.” Cordula Rafinesque is now considered a symptom of Paphiopedium, slipper orchids.
163.18-19: Blindman’s Buff: “A game in which a blindfolded person tries to catch and identify the other players. The buff is the tap on the shoulder that was originally given to the identified person” (Brewer). Demon unwittingly puns on buff as “skin” and in the buff, “naked”—which would describe more closely the games Van and Ada played. MOTIF: games.
163.19: babes of Ardis Wood: The Babes in the Wood is a traditional English tale, first known in print form in a ballad of 1595 by Thomas Millington of Norwich. “The story is that the master of Wayland Hall, Norfolk, left a little son and daughter to the care of his wife’s brother. Both were to have money, but if the children died first the uncle was to inherit. After 12 months the uncle hired two ruffians to murder the babes. One of the men relented and killed the other, leaving the children in a wood. They died during the night, and robin redbreast covered them with leaves. All now went wrong for the wicked uncle: his sons died, his barns were fired, his cattle perished, and he himself finally died in gaol. After seven years the ruffian was arrested for highway robbery and confessed the whole affair.” (Brewer). Cf. 588.01-02: “the future Babes, in the brown-leaf Woods, a little book in the Ardis Hall nursery.” MOTIF: Babes in the Wood; fairy-tale.
163.20: Scrabble and Snap: The only time Snap is mentioned at Ardis is on Ada’s birthday in 1888, when Ada sits down “with Greg and Lucette, for a game of Snap” (272.34-273.01). Scrabble is mentioned, as a later, independently invented version of the Flavita game that Van, Ada and Lucette appear to play in 1884 (“The set our three children received in 1884,” 223.27), but is not mentioned until the discussion of their game in 1888, I.36.
164.01-06: She’s a budding Duse . . . . comedy actress: MOTIF: actress.
164.01: She’s a budding Duse: Italian stage actress Eleonora Duse (1858-1924), who rivaled Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) for acclaim as the leading actress of her time. She toured extensively in Europe and North and South America, impressing Chekhov in a Russian performance as Cleopatra, and perhaps influencing his rendering of the actress Madame Arkadina in his The Seagull. Noted for her Shakespearean performances, she was first widely acclaimed after playing the part of Shakespeare’s Juliet at the age of 14; if Cordelia O’Leary were the same age she would be exactly “in [Van’s] age group” (163.21).
164.02: strictly a ‘prof push.’: A pseudo-idiom; “prof” here abbreviates “professional.” W2, push: “3. a An act in promotion of another’s interests; influence so exerted. . . 5.Slang a A company or set of associations; specif., an influential, limited, or exclusive set; as, the social push; the political push.” Demon has successfully given a “prof push” to the Bohemian lady of 13.31-33 and 15.11-12; Marina as an actress at 143.32-33 is “getting ready to receive a neighbor and his protégé, a young actor, in her best Dame Marina style.”
164.02: You'll stick to Cordula de Prey: MOTIF: de Prey; prey.
164.03: Cordelia O’Leary: The young actress’s name comically evokes one of Shakespeare’s most famous heroines, Cordelia, third daughter of King Lear (King Lear, c. 1605). Duse seems never to have played the part of Cordelia.
164.04: D’accord: Darkbloom: “Okay.” Van’s punning echo of the “Cordula de . . . Cordelia” concord in the previous sentence.
164.05-06: Cordula’s mother, an overripe, overdressed, overpraised comedy actress: Like Marina (10.01ff.), Countess de Prey is a both a noblewoman and an actress.
164.06: Turkish acrobat: Cf. Van’s interest in exotic acrobats, like King Wing, Demon’s wrestling master (81), and Vekchelo, the Yukon professional (82), and other performance professionals, like the card-sharp My. Plunkett (172).
164.08-09: in his circular field: Nabokov enlivens the dead metaphor “in his field” by concretizing it as, in this case, something like a circus ring.
164.09-10: by the training tips he lavished on the eager boy: Van is already a talented brachiambulant (81-83) but presumably incorporates these new tips into his role as Mascodagama (I.30). MOTIF: explorer.
164.12: small, dumpy: Cf. 168.29: “dumpy little Countess.”
164.14: the paternal hand: From Van’s point of view, Demon’s hand is his father’s, and therefore “paternal”; but Demon’s hand rests on Cordelia’s back in a decidedly non-paternal way.
164.16-165.24: Van ran into Cordula in a bookshop . . . Are you a virgin?: Cf. 371.11-17: “‘if you posed the famous Van Question. . . ’ What he had asked little Cordula. In that bookshop. . . . He was known in the beau monde for asking that question the very first time he met a young lady.”
164.17: Van—I can call you that, can’t I?: Rather than the more formal “Ivan.”
164.17-18: my schoolmate: At Brownhill (166.12).
164.20: our Ada gushed: Note that Cordula’s question does not get raised at the party, where it might also have raised Demon’s suspicions about the relationship between his son and daughter. MOTIF: his [my, etc.] Ada.
164.21: irresistible: Cf. 588.28: “swept off her feet by Van, the irresistible rake.”
164.22-26: “When was that?” “In June. . . . evasive, and practically void of Van”: Ada’s initial enthusiastic confidences to Cordula changed abruptly as she and Van fell in love, acted on their feelings, and realized the need for caution.
164.24-165.03: I was quite jealous . . . “garbotosh”: MOTIF: homosexual; lesbian.
164.24: I was quite jealous of you: This prompts Van’s jealous suspicions through the rest of the chapter that Cordula might be the “girl in my school who is in love with me” (158.32-33).
164.26: void of Van: MOTIF: V.
164.28-165.02: read somewhere . . . precise title . . . not Tiltil . . . that a man can recognize a Lesbian . . . yes--Mytilène, petite isle, by Louis Pierre: Trying to remember Mytilène, Van’s mind, waylaid by his search for a “title,” almost the last two syllables (-tite isle) of the title of book he is looking for, Mytilène, petite isle (as noted in part by Jerry Friedman, Nabokv-L, 9 June 2006), first tracks past Mytyl and Tyltyl, the main characters of L’Oiseau bleu (The Blue Bird), a symbolic children’s fairy play (1909) by the Belgian Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949). This brother and sister pair, like Nicolette and Pimprenelle of the French children’s television series Bonne Nuit les Petits (see 6.01-03 and n.), are strikingly innocent, in striking contrast to Van and Ada.
Cf. Lolita II.22, 250: “such assumed names as ‘Arthur Rainbow’—plainly the travestied author of Le Bateau Bleu—let me laugh a little too, gentleman—and ‘Morris Schmetterling,’ of L’Oiseau Ivre fame (touché, reader!),” where Humbert mingles Arthur Rimbaud, author of the poem “Le Bateau ivre,” and Maeterlinck’s play; Lolita 301: “I am a playwright. I have been called the American Maeterlinck. Maeterlinck-Schmetterling, says I.”
164.29: Blue Beard: Ironic distortion of Maeterlinck’s “Blue Bird” (see previous n.) and a famous fairy tale in its own right—very different in tone from Maeterlinck’s play—“La Barbe Bleue,” by Perrault, first published in 1697, the story of an aristocratic husband who has killed seven wives. He forbids his new eighth wife to enter one room in his castle; when her sister prompts her to, she discovers there the remains of Bluebeard’s previous wives. Bluebeard realizes she has seen the room, and is about to kill her when her brothers break in, kill Bluebeard and save their sisters.
Cf. Lolita II.22, 243: “Poor Bluebeard. Those brutal brothers.”
164.30-31: a tailored old pair can fool no one: Van is thinking of an old pair of lesbians in the tailored skirt-and-suit combinations such women often favored. Cf. the “two professors of English, tweedy and short-haired Miss Lester and fadedly feminine Miss Fabian” (Lolita II.5, 179), whose names confirm their lesbian link. Nabokov wrote at a time when most regarded homosexuality as something perverse, shameful, grotesque and/or comical.
165.02: yes, Mytilène, petite isle, by Louis Pierre: Van’s or Antiterra’s twist on Les Chansons de Bilitis (1894), by the French novelist and poet Pierre Louÿs (pseudonym of Pierre Louis, 1870-1925). Les Chansons de Bilitis consisted of prose poems about Sapphic love purporting to be translations from the Greek by a poetess contemporary with Sappho; Louÿs, who had long fooled even the experts, admitted only on his deathbed to having invented the poems himself.
D. Barton Johnson describes the book as “one of the classics of the lesbian canon. The work was something of a mystification since it purported to be the memoir of a sixth century B.C Greek courtesan whose tomb had recently excavated on Cyprus. A prose poem of a hundred and forty-three stanzas in the form of inscriptions on the tomb walls, it recounts [in the first chapter, ‘Bucoliques en Pamphylie’] Bilitis’ girlhood as a goatherd in what is now southern Turkey (then Pamphilia) near the Mediterrean. She is early introduced to sex by a newly-married friend and then a young herdsman. She has an infant whom she deserts at sixteen when [in the second chapter, ‘Élégies à Mytilène’] she moves to Mytilène on the Isle of Lesbos where she is befriended by the poet Sappho and has a ten-year liaison with a beloved but faithless mistress [Mnasidika]. After a painful break-up, she moves on [in the third chapter, [‘Épigrammes dans l’Isle de Chypre’] to Cyprus, then a thriving and decadent community where she establishes herself as a wealthy and famed courtesan par excellence, while not forsaking the pleasures afforded by those of her own sex. At forty, she retires and writes her poetic biography which survives on the walls of her tomb [chapter 4, ‘Le Tombeau de Bilitis’]” (Nabokv-L, August 31, 2003).
Sappho (second half of 7th century BC), the most important lyric poet of classical Greece, was born on Lesbos, in the northeast Aegean Sea, the third largest of the Greek islands. Many of her poems refer to love between women or girls; hence “lesbian” for female homosexual.
Mytilene, long the most important city of Lesbos, was situated on an islet (now, and in Les Chansons de Bilitis, a promontory) adjoining Lesbos’ east coast: hence petite isle, “little island.” In Shakespeare’s and George Wilkins’s play Pericles (1607) the heroine, Marina, is sold into a brothel in Mytilene but preserves her virginity, a fact that may be of relevance in view of Van’s enjoying and speaking to Cordula in 1901 “as you probably do to little whores” (458.11-12).
Nabokov’s father’s library contained both Les Chansons de Bilitis, and Louÿs’s 1906 novel Aphrodite, “a tale of bisexual courtesan life in Alexandria” (Johnson). Nabokov translated into Russian two poems (“La Chevelure,” as “Kudri,” and “Le Tombeau des naiads,” as “Mogila nayad”) from Le Chansons de Bilitis on 15 July 1918, in the Crimea, when he no longer had access to his father’s library—if the library still existed. Cf. Glory 30: “gave him Pierre Louÿs’s Chansons de Bilitis in the cheap edition illustrated with the naked forms of adolescents.”
Jansy Mello notes (Nabokv-L, 10 June 2006) that Lucette’s “‘unmethylated bore’ . . . (Houssaie School, 1890)” (487.14-15) may echo “Mytilène”; the girls’ schools involved in both passages would strengthen the association.
Cf. 194.26-28: “Ida, far from abandoning Marina, with whom she had been platonically and irrevocably in love ever since she had seen her in ‘Bilitis.’”
165.03-04: “garbotosh” (belted mackintosh) over her terribly unsmart turtle: The name alludes to the mackintosh Swedish-born film actress Greta Garbo (1905-1990) wore in her first talking-picture role, as the title character in Anna Christie (1930), adapted by Frances Marion from the play of that name by American playwright Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), directed by Clarence Brown. Anna Christie is a reformed prostitute and man-hater. A photograph of Garbo in mackintosh with turtleneck sweater underneath dominates the most widely-used poster for the film.
Famously private, Garbo was often rumored to be lesbian. According to her biographer Barry Paris (Garbo, New York: Knopf, 1995) she was technically bisexual, predominantly lesbian, and increasingly asexual as the years went by. On the evidence of letters that came to life long after Nabokov wrote Ada, Garbo appears to have remained in love all her life with her drama-school sweetheart, the actress Mimi Pollak, and even to have referred to herself playfully as the “father” of Mimi’s first child ( Andersen Axell, Djävla Älskade Unge [Bloody Beloved Kid], 2005).
165.04-10: held both hands deep in her pockets as she challenged his stare. Her bobbed hair . . . of a neutral shade between dry straw and damp . . . light blue iris . . . doll-pretty . . . mannered pout . . . portaitists . . . two “sickle folds”: The hands deep in pockets, the challenging stare, the bobbed hair, the blue iris (evident not in the black-and-white film of Anna Christie, but in the star’s image in the film poster), the mannered pout, and the “sickle folds” in her cheeks, are all characteristics of Garbo, whose image—she was widely regarded as the most beautiful woman of her time—was frequently captured by “portraitists” and widely reproduced.
165.06: dry straw and damp: Cf. “The Potato Elf,” (Stories 228): “His hair, the hue of damp straw.”
165.12: cheeks of felt-booted apple-cart girls: Cf. PF 76: “apple-cheeked.”
165.14: remembered to shutter: Rather than the normal “shut”: indicative either of a rapid shutting of the mouth, or her hands coming up like shutters to hide her mouth and braces?
165.15: My cousin Ada: Echoes Cordula’s “Your cousin Ada” (164.17) as it reinforces the putative distance between Van and Ada.
165.17-19: I too found her sweet. . . . yes, sweet: Echoes Cordula’s report of Ada’s letter gushing “about how sweet, clever, unusual, irresistible” (164.20-21) Van was.
165.17-18: A trifle on the blue-stocking side: Cf. 335.22 (in a letter from Ada): “in the long ruin [sic! ‘run’ in her blue stocking. Ed.].”
165.22: close the subject, or leave it ajar, or open a new one: “Leave a subject ajar” elegantly varies the expected “close a subject/leave it open.” Perhaps also a suggestion of the fatal curiosity of Bluebeard’s wife (cf. 164.29 and n.), the woman with a potentially fatal curiosity, opening a new door.
165.24: Are you a virgin?: Cf. 164.16-165.24n.
165.25: don’t date hoodlums: Van picks up on this at 165.34.
165.26-27: We are not in the same class, in more ways than one: Metaphorically, Ada is exceptional, Cordula normal; but also literally, since Ada is 12, and Cordula already 15 (163.17).
165.28: plain American ambivert: Cordula’s use of such an unusual word suggests she is not such a “plain American” girl as she claims. Ambivert (W2): “A type of person intermediate between the introvert and the extrovert.”
165.30-34: a dozen blondes, three brunettes and one redhead. . . . The even number means bunks, I guess: A rapid Demon-like deduction, like his and Ada’s in the attic at 8.16-9.05.
165.31: one redhead, la Rousse: “La rousse” can mean “the redhead” in French (or “the Russian [woman]”). Also a pun on Larousse, the French dictionary. Cf. 368.04-05: “the flame of her Little Larousse.” MOTIF: rousse.
165.32: (laughing alone): Echoes “(laughing)” at 165.27.
165.34: as the hoods say: Van’s echo of 165.24.
166.01: In his next coded letter: MOTIF: letters.
166.02-04: the lezbianochka mentioned with such unnecessary guilt. I would as soon be jealous of your own little hand: Refers back to Ada’s “my love, my Van, I’m physical, horribly physical, . . . there’s a girl in my school who is in love with me” (158.31-33) and Van’s “The girls don’t matter” (158.34). Lezbianochka: “little lesbian” (Russian). Cf. 169.10-11: “a normal man would be only amused, tickled pink in fact, by his girl’s frolics with a female partner.” But this is given the lie by Van’s own jealousy at 168.02-169.32. MOTIF: lesbian.
166.04: “What rot, leave what’s-her-name out of it”: Cf. Proust, A la Recherche du temps perdu, III,23: “Est-ce qu’elle [Gilberte] est du genre de femmes que je n’aime pas?’ [Albertine]—Oh! pas du tout, tout le contraire” (“Is she of the kind of women I don’t like? “Oh! Not at all, quite the opposite”).
166.05-06: even though Van did not yet know how fiercely untruthful Ada could be when shielding an accomplice: An unusually strong prolepsis, yet probably discounted for most first-time readers by Van’s completely misplaced jealousy of the thoroughly heterosexual Cordula.
166.08-09: The rules of her school were old-fashioned and strict to the point of lunacy: Cf. Humbert’s contrasting rejection of the laxity of Lolita’s professedly “progressive” school at Beardsley, II.4, 176-79; II.11, 193-98.
166.09-12: reminded Marina nostalgically of the Russian Institute for Noble Maidens in Yukonsk . . . Brownhill: Aqua, Van’s ostensible mother, briefly attends “fashionable Brown Hill College” (21.33-4), apparently not Brownhill high school but a university-level institution. The “Brown” in Brownhill may reflect not only Bryn Mawr (see 21.33-34n.) but also the naturalist Robert Brown (see 105.33-34n.), who named the Vanda genus of orchids (see Afternote to I.17). “ Ada” and “Cordula” are also the names of orchids, but it is Vanda Broom who turns out to be the lezbianochka in love with Ada, as Cordula explains to Van at 320.20-23. MOTIF: Brown; Brown; -konsk; Yukonsk; Marina’s Russianness.
166.16: a certified milk bar: As opposed to a licensed bar (licensed to sell alcohol). The milk bar (selling milkshakes, sundaes and the like) is innocent enough, but the certification adds an extra emphasis to the school’s protectiveness. The Kyoto Reading Circle suggests, perhaps unnecessarily, that “ ‘milk bar’ is a probable allusion to Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962). In both the novel and Kubrick’s film version (1971), for which Kubrick himself wrote the script, the narrator Alex goes to the Korova Milkbar to have a milk drink laced with drugs called ‘milk plus’ which is served from the nippled breasts of coin-operated mannequins and guaranteed to ‘make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.’ ” Both novelists play off against the innocence of milk bars, but in all likelihood do so independently.
166.17: older girl: Cordula is fifteen (163.17).
166.19-21: hoping to use his magic wand for transforming whatever young spinster came along into a spoon or a turnip: The magic wand, transformation and spinster are all favorite fairy-tale motifs, here specifically echoing “Cinderella” (a coach transformed into a pumpkin), a tale often alluded to in Ada, as at 121.31-33, on the night of the Burning Barn: “the cook’s niece Blanche jumped out of a pumpkin-hued police van in her stockinged feet (long, long after midnight, alas).” The turnip also evokes the well-known Russian folktale “The Giant Turnip,” as the Kyoto Reading Circle note, adding “but nobody is transformed into anything in the story.” The spin of “spinster” prompts Van’s spoon, and the -ter prompts turnip. MOTIF: Cinderella; fairy tale; metamorphosis.
166.22-23: Soft-toned Miss Cleft: The description of her voice and the comic matching of the terminal ft sounds evokes a cleft palate, but the “soft Cleft” in the next paragraph (166.33) brings another anatomical cleft to mind, unfortunately for a woman trying to dampen the dangers of her young charges’ sexuality. Cf. the “two professors of English, tweedy and short-haired Miss Lester and fadedly feminine Miss Fabian” (Lolita II.5, 179), and the other comic teachers’ names at Beardsley College: Miss Redock, Miss Cormorant, and Miss Horn and Miss Cole, whose names are presumably the ones Lolita transposes (II.11, 195) into “cornhole,” childhood slang for sodomy. Van says nothing, but he and Nabokov are aware of the obscene fun children have with their teachers’ names.
166.24-29: Ada could not possibly need a chaperone . . . practically brother and sister: Marina’s fears, vivid enough on the day of Van’s arrival at Ardis (39.32-40.06), have been completely allayed, despite all the evidence we readers have seen since.
166.25-26: day-long rambles throughout the summer: Far from innocent of course. “The summer” confirms that Van’s meeting with Ada at Brownhill is some time in the late fall of 1884: late November or early December (167.30-31: “close to three months” since they last met at Forest Fork).
166.27: prone to intertwine: Cf. Van’s mental image of Ada and Cordula “twinned by entwinement” (168.27).
166.28: a thorn is always close to a bud: Actually “Thorns develop from buds as true branches do” (W2, thorn).
166.29-32: practically . . . thinking as many stupid people do that "practically" works both ways—reducing the truth of a statement and making a truism sound like the truth: Cf. 381.12-17: “‘Nu uzh ne znayu (well, I don’t know),’ muttered Lucette (echoing faithfully her mother’s dreary intonation in that phrase, which seemingly implied an admission of error and ignorance, but tended somehow—owing to a hardly perceptible nod of condescension rather than consent—to dull and dilute the truth of her interlocutor’s corrective retort).”
Cf. TT 31: “By the way, indeed! There ought to exist some rhetorical term for that twist of nonlogic”; LATH 186: “not quite as wealthy as, no doubt, I thought she was, a statement representing that knot in Logic: the double-hitch lie which does not make one truth.”
166.33-34; and tell dear Cordula de Prey: MOTIF: de Prey; prey.
166.33: soft Cleft: see 166.22-23 “Soft-toned Miss Cleft” and n.
166.34: adores Ada: MOTIF: Ada; adore.
167.01: zipper: W2: zipper “One who or that which zips; also Colloq. one who is full of energy, vim, dash, or the like.” Not recorded in Eric Patridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 8 th ed., 1984, and probably never used in the sense required here (“outing”?).
167.03: what figli-migli” (mimsey-fimsey): Figli-migli (Russ., pl., tricks); mimsey (W2): “Prim; prudish.”
167.12: La bonne surprise!: Darkbloom: “what a good surprise.”
167.13-14: And how goes it with you, sweet cousin?: Mock-Shakespearean mock-banter: “How goes the world with thee? (Richard III, 3.2.96), “How goes it with my brave Mark Anthony?” (Antony and Cleopatra 1.5.38), “How goes it now, sir” (Winter’s Tale 5.2.27); “And how doth my good cousin Silence?” (2Henry IV, 3.2.3), “How fares our cousin Hamlet?” (Hamlet 3.2.92). Although “sweet” is often used with a vocative in Shakespeare (sweet love, sweet uncle), “sweet cousin” is not. In As You Like It 1.2.1, Celia opens the scene “I pray thee Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry,” and in 1.3 refers to her as “cousin” and “sweet girl,” but not “sweet cousin,” though the phrase is used in Charles and Mary Lamb’s retelling of the earlier scene: “I pray you, Rosalind, my sweet cousin, be merry” (London: Dent, 1906/1990, 60); also Shallow to Slender: “conceive me, sweet coz” (Merry Wives of Windsor, 1.1.242).
167.15-169.30: The sweet cousin sported a shiny black raincoat and a down-brimmed oilcoth hat as if somebody was to be salvaged from the perils of life or sea. . . his trench coat was chic. . . . plain Ada, seasick but doing her duty. . . . her heavy-seas hat: D. Barton Johnson, Nabokv-L, 30 August 2003, explains the continuation of the Greta Garbo theme: “ The Garbo image [in ‘garbotosh,’ 165 above] refers to her role in her first talking film, the 1930 Anna Christie based (fairly closely) on Eugene O’Neill’s play. Garbo’s character, a reformed prostitute and man-hater, has come home to her drunken Swedish father, the captain of a grungy coal barge in New York harbor. Father and daughter have not seen each other since she was five. In a fierce storm at sea, they rescue a brash, handsome sailor. In the rescue scene, Anna appears in her oilskin slicker and hat. The slicker (sans hat but avec turtleneck) appears in the movie poster. . . . Note well VN’s phrase ‘as if someone was to be salvaged from the perils . . . of the sea.’
“Rather than identifying the Garbo-Anna image with only one of his characters, VN assigns elements of it to both girls, drawing on both Garbo’s dramatic role and Garbo herself. In fact, neither Ada nor Cordula bear much physical resemblance to Garbo or Anna. Narrator Van (and author VN) draw on these elements as part of Van’s preoccupation with Cordula and Ada’s lesbian relationship. The Garbo film has no suggestion that Anna has lesbian inclinations. But Garbo herself was widely rumored to have lesbian lovers. . . . ”
Johnson then quotes from the Tim Dirks review of Anna Christie on the Greatest Films website (http://www.filmsite.org/anna.html): “In the famed, immortalized scene that is about sixteen minutes into this over-rated and stagy drama, weary and ailing, man-hating Swedish-American streetwalker Anna Gustafson Christie (Greta Garbo), searching for her estranged barge captain father Chris Gustafson (George F. Marion) to seek redemption, makes her grand entrance into a NY Battery waterfront saloon from a foggy street. The bar’s waiter holds open the door to the Ladies Entrance as she struggles in, lugging an old, weighty suitcase. She shuffles over to a wooden table across from where her father’s boozing companion Marthy (Marie Dressler) sits, and drops her suitcase onto the floor. Anna takes a seat in a chair, crouches down, and finally delivers her famous opening lines. In a deep and husky, heavily-accented voice, she orders:
Anna: Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side . . . and don’t be stingy, baby!
Waiter: (sarcastically) Well, shall I serve it in a pail?
Anna: (bluntly) Ah, that suits me down to the ground. (After the whiskey is served and downed) Gee, I needed that bad all right, all right.”
Van and VN combine for this scene Garbo as suspected lesbian, the boozy “licensed bar” inverted into a primly “certified milk bar,” the rescue at sea and Garbo’s attire. MOTIF: homosexual; lesbian; woman in picture.
167.26-27: The milk bar proved to be so crowded that they decided to walk under The Arcades toward the railway station café: So much for the strict rules about the “certified milk-bar,” 166.16. “The Arcades” stresses the ironically anti-Arcadian atmosphere of this reunion. MOTIF: Arcady.
167.27: railway station café: Van will begin his sexual relationship with Cordula in late summer 1888 in the tea-car of a train, the “roomy and rococo ‘crumpeter’ as Kalugano College students used to call it” (302.30-31).
167.30: his Ada: MOTIF: his [my, etc.] Ada.
167.32-33: the cryptogram’s bubble had burst . . . divine line of uncoded love: See description of the coded correspondence, I.26.
167.33: divine line of uncoded love: MOTIF: divine.
168.02-04: What exactly—not that it mattered but one’s pride and curiosity were at stake—what exactly had they been up to: A stark contrast to Van’s “I would as soon be jealous of your own little hand” (166.03-04).
168.05: in their pajama-tops: Ardeur 142: “dans leur hauts de pyjamas pour tout vêtement” (“dressed only in their pajama tops”).
168.06: amid the murmurs and moans of their abnormal dormitory: The moaning nasal sounds have an onomatopoeic quality in context.
168.08: bed-filly: Play on “bedfellow”; also, a filly who fills her bed.
168.08-09: despised her for kindling a child: Although he has already done the same, and as the Burning Barn episode suggested, Ada bursts into sexual fire at a low combustion point.
168.09: dark-haired and pale: MOTIF: black-white.
168.09: coal and coral: Her hair, her lips (whichever).
168.10: whimpering at the melting peak: “ Ada’s demure little whimper of ultimate bliss” (376.16).
168.11-12: Ada, seasick but doing her duty: See 167.15-169.30n.
168.12: Cordula, apple-cankered but brave: Cf. Cordula’s “ ‘sickle folds’ . . . at their worst, the creases down the well-chilled cheeks of felt-booted apple-cart girls” (165.10-12), but in this case referring to adolescent acne? W2, “apple canker Plant Pathol. Any of several diseases of the apple tree that produce cankers, as bark canker, bitter rot, black rot, blister canker, European canker, fire blight, perennial canker, etc.” And Eden after the fall? MOTIF: apple.
168.15-18: the latest homosexual or rather pseudo-homosexual row at his school (an upper-form boy, Cordula’s cousin, had been caught with a lass disguised as a lad in the rooms of an eclectic prefect): Cf. the homosexuality rampant on Van’s arrival at Riverlane: “Every dormitory had its catamite. One hysterical lad from Upsala . . . ” (32.24-30). The “upper-form boy” is Percy de Prey: cf. 190.08-10: “was that Percy de Prey? It was. Who had been kicked out of Riverlane? She guessed he had.”
168.20-21: dull Cordula . . . dull Ada: He assumes Cordula to be dull in intelligence and/or personality and sees Ada as dull in mood. Cf. 434.06-12: it occurred to Demon “that his son . . . might still be living with dull little Cordula de Prey in the penthouse apartment of that fine building. . . . He had, that’s right, but Cordula was not dull and had not been present.”
168.22-23: by his amour-propre, not by their sale amour. He would die with an old pun on his lips: Darkbloom: “pun borrowed from Tolstoy’s ‘Resurrection.’” “The pun consists in the possible double meaning of amour propre (‘self-love’ and ‘clean love’) and the paradoxical clash of the latter with sale amour (‘dirty love’). It occurs in the following passage from book 1, chapter 27, of Resurrection (1899, quoted in the Traill translation with the French translated by the authors of these notes):
‘What does all this mean? Comme cela m’intrigue [How that intrigues me],’ said Katerína Alexéyevna. ‘I must find out. Probably some affaire d’amour propre, il est très susceptible, notre cher Mitya [affair of amour propre, he is very susceptible, our dear Mitya].’
‘Plutôt une affaire d’amour sale [Rather an affair of amour sale],’ Missy was about to say, but she stopped and looked in front of her with a face from which all the light had gone, quite different from when she looked at Nekhlúdov. She could not utter the vulgar little pun even to Katerína Alexéyevna.”
(Rivers and Walker 281-82)
168.23: with an old pun on his lips: Cf. 4.26-28: “Demon’s twofold hobby was collecting old masters and young mistresses. He also liked middle-aged puns.”
168.23-24: And why “dirty”?: Refers to sale, 168.23. Cf. 126.11-15: “knowing nobody else knew what they had so freely, and dirtily, and delightfully indulged in, less than six hours ago, turned out to be too much for our green lover despite his trying to trivialize it with the moral corrective of an opprobrious adverb.”
168.24: Proustian pangs?: The pangs of jealousy, whether at heterosexual or especially homosexual infidelity, afflict many of Proust’s characters, from his narrator Marcel on.
168.26: perverse gratification: Cf. 507.03: “perverse gratitude.”
168.27: twinned by entwinement: Cf. 166.27, “exceptionally prone to intertwine,” 217.29-30, “entwinements that no longer could be untangled.” MOTIF: twin.
168.28: Corada, Adula: Coradicate (W2, “Having the same root, as ‘two’ and ‘dual’”) and Adula (a mountain group in the Lepontine Alps, SE Switzerland) seem unintended associations of the intended syllabic couplings. But cf. “Cora Day” (171.17-18), two pages later. MOTIF: Ada.
168.29-30: the dumpy little Countess resembled his first whorelet, and that sharpened the itch: The “fubsy pig-pink whorelet” (33.17) Van avails himself of behind the corner shop near Riverlane. After the whorelet and on his way to Ardis for the first time, he experiences a less pleasing itch, which he momentarily imagines might be a venereal symptom: his “eyes paused for a moment as he listened inwardly to a nether itch, which he supposed to be (correctly, thank Log) only a minor irritation of the epithelium” (33.31-34).
168.29: dumpy: Cf. 164.12, Cordula as “small, dumpy.”
168.30: whorelet: MOTIF: -let, whore.
168.31-169.14: Van said: “I would like your opinion . . . Our professor of French literature maintains that there is a grave philosophical, and hence artistic, flaw in the entire treatment of the Marcel and Albertine affair. . . artistically, a failure”: Van’s elaborate question about Proust is itself Proustian in the elaborateness of its dialogue, in its engaging with personal emotions through intellectual and artistic prisms, in its nuanced reproaches, and especially in Marcel’s suffering torments of jealousy because of Albertine Simonet’s lesbian relationship with Andrée. Cf. PF 162: Kinbote on “Proust’s rough masterpiece . . . an absurd, rubber-and-wire romance between a blond young blackguard (the fictitious Marcel), and an improbable jeune fille who has a pasted-on bosom, Vronski’s (and Lyovin’s) thick neck, and a cupid’s buttocks for cheeks.”
Van’s attributing this view to his “professor of French literature” indicates that Nabokov knew it was not original. Indeed the observation was made in print for the first time in 1921, when only half of the novel had been published, by the painter, critic and memoirist Jacques-Emile Blanche, who noted in the preface to his Dates: “Il me semble parfois, et dans vos plus belles pages, que vous empruntiez à un sexe les traits d’un autre” (“It seems to me at times, and in your best pages, that you borrow from one sex the traits of another”). In April 1924, when there were still two volumes to appear, George Barbier wrote in La Gazette du Bon Ton (April 1924, pp. 326-27): “ces anomalies s’expliquent merveilleusement, quand l’on s’aperçoit qu’Albertine est un jeune homme, un petit ami pauvre et peu scrupuleux, don’t l’auteur a changé de sexe par caprice, à moins qu’il ne fût gêné pour conjuguer cette églogue à la première personne” (“these anomalies are marvelously explained, when one realizes that Albertine is a young man, a poor and hardly scrupulous friend, whose sex the author has changed on a whim, unless he was embarrassed to conjugate this eclogue in the first person”). Robert Vigneron, in the Revue d’histoire de la philosophie 17 (15 January 1937), reported on Proust’s relations with Alfred Agostinelli, his chauffeur turned secretary “who died in an aviation accident in May 1914 under the evocative pseudonym of ‘Marcel Swann’” (O’Brien 935), an account that appeared in English in Partisan Review for November-December 1941. Harold March in The Two Worlds of Marcel Proust (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1948) “spoke out clearly about the novelist’s homosexuality and favored the view that he had transposed the sex of Albertine,” but in 1949, Nabokov’s good friend the critic Harry Levin, introducing Letters of Marcel Proust (New York: Random House, p. xxiiii) thought the matter more complex: “To transpose her sex, however, raises more difficulties than it explains” (O’Brien 935-36n.). That same year appeared the first scholarly article devoted to the subject, Justin O’Brien’s “Albertine the Ambiguous: Notes on Proust’s Transposition of Sexes” (PMLA 64 (Dec. 1949), 933-52), from which most of the quotes above derive. Since Nabokov knew Levin well, and prepared In Search of Lost Time to teach in 1951, he would have known of the discussion himself (if he had not already sensed it as a reader) by at least that year.
Searches for the real-life originals of the characters continued as more information about Proust’s life came to light. George D. Painter, Proust’s best early biographer, reports in Proust: The Later Years (Boston: Little, Brown, 1965), p. 208:
“We have seen, however, that the customary total identification of Albertine with [Alfred] Agostinelli goes beyond the facts. She already exists, long before Proust’s first meeting with Agostinelli in 1907, in the heroine of ‘Avant la Nuit’ in 1893, in the Françoise and Charlotte of Jean Santeuil in 1897, and in the 1905-6 version of his novel when the little band was wooed by Swann; and in all these the hero is tortured by jealousy of her Lesbianism. In A la Recherche, until the last episode of her story, she is based primarily upon female originals. In the first holiday at Balbec Albertine’s chief model is Marie Finlay, in her visits to the Narrator’s home she resembles Louisa de Mornard and Marie Nordlinger, and during the second visit to Balbec she is the young girl of Cobourg in 1908 and 1909. It is intrinsically probable, though factual evidence is lacking, that in all these episodes she is reinforced by Proust’s memories of young men, particularly by the obscure incidents of 1892-3 and 1897-8, and by Albert Nahmias in 1911-12; but there is no aspect of her here—except perhaps the Narrator’s jealousy—which cannot be explained by Proust’s known relations with young women. Albertine becomes Agostinelli for the first time in the Agony at Sunrise and the captivity in Paris. Yet even here her origins remain complex and divided. By no possible process of ‘transposition’ can such themes as the project of marriage, the choice of Fortuny gowns, the Narrator’s motionless lovemaking with the sleeping Albertine, be derived from Proust’s relationship with a vigorous young chauffeur. All these come from his abortive engagement to the young girl of Cobourg.”
Painter, p. 271: “The common idea that Albert [Le Cuziat] was one of the chief originals of Albertine is evidently absurd: the two characters have nothing in common, and Albert himself, though he would have boasted if the contrary had been the case, always stated that he had never had physical or emotional relations with Proust. However, it is not impossible that his name was a minor ingredient in the name of Albertine, along with those of Albert Nahmias, Alfred Agostinelli, and various women.”
J.E. Rivers discusses as “Nabokov’s most serious charge against A la recherche” (rather than as Kinbote’s or Van’s stylizedly Proustian outbursts) “his idea that the character of Albertine arises from a sexual transposition and is therefore unconvincing as a portrayal of a woman.” Rivers considers Albertine in terms of “the flux of time and the pluralistic structure of the self as it exists in time. In this regard, she has many identities, many modes of being. Her sexual ambiguity—that she seems to be something other than purely and stereotypically female—is part and parcel of this overall meaning” (“Proust, Nabokov and Ada,” in Phyllis Roth, ed., Critical Essays on Vladimir Nabokov, Boston: G.K. Hall, 1984, 134-57), pp. 140-41.
O’Brien also considers why did Proust “attribute homosexual impulses to so many of the ‘jeunes filles’ he had created precisely for the purpose of avoiding over-insistence on the homosexual” (944). He cites Harold March: “With a homosexual the situation is reversed; he is more or less indifferent to heterosexual behavior in the loved one, and is jealous only of homosexuality. Yet in Proust’s novel the ostensibly heterosexual narrator is jealous only of homosexuality, and wishes that Albertine had instead been unfaithful with Saint-Loup.” O’Brien counters:
The first jealousy Marcel experiences in regard to Albertine is occasioned by Saint-Loup and again by a waiter at Rivebelle. But the more suspicious he becomes of her relations with women, the more his attention centers on a new form of jealousy. And, despite March’s statement, he weighs the two forms, giving a plausible reason for the greater torment of the second jealousy:MOTIF: homosexual.
Cette autre jalousie provoquée par Saint-Loup, par un jeune homme quelconque, n’était rien. J’aurais pu dans ce cas craindre tout au plus un rival sur lequel j’eusse essayé de l’emporter. Mais ici le rival n’était pas semblable à moi, ses armes étaient différentes, je ne pouvais pas lutter sur le meme terrain, donner à Albertine les mêmes plaisirs, ni même les concevoir exactement. Dans bien des moments de notre vie nous troquerions tout l’avenir contre un pouvoir en soi-même insignifiant.
[This other jealousy provoked by Saint-Loup, by some young man, was nothing. In this case I could have at most feared a rival over whom I would have tried to prevail. But here the rival wasn’t like me, her arms were different, I couldn’t struggle on the same ground, give Albertine the same pleasures, not even conceive exactly what they were. In many moments of our life we would swap our whole future for a power in itself insignificant.]
169.03-04: the good fat cheeks of Albertine are the good fat buttocks of Albert: Cf. the first description of Albertine, I.793: “une fille aux yeux brilliants, rieurs, aux grosses joues mates” (“a girl with shining, laughing eyes, with fat matt cheeks”); I.846: “cette jeune fille aux grosses joues” (“that young girl with fat cheeks”).
169.08-11: the detailed description of a heterosexual male jealously watchful of a homosexual female is preposterous because a normal man would be only amused, tickled pink in fact, by his girl’s frolics with a female partner: Yet Van himself, while professing to share these sentiments (“I would as soon be jealous of your own little hand,” 166.03-04) is in fact rabidly jealous (see 168.02-04).
169.13: quelque petite blanchisseuse: Darkbloom : “some little laundress.”Cancogni 298 comments: “ ‘La petite blanchisseuse’ is not just a figure of speech embodying popular ignorance, but rather constitutes a specific allusion to a specific episode in Albertine’s ‘hidden life,’ an episode whose evocation quite sharpens the innuendoes in Van’s little parable. After Albertine’s death, and with the help of a wily and unscrupulous informer (Aimé), Marcel finds out about one more homosexual escapade involving his lover and “une petite blanchisseuse”: ‘Aimé me disait avoir appris d’une petite blanchisseuse de la ville qu’Albertine avait une manière particulière de lui serrer le bras quand celle-ci lui rapportait le linge. ‘Mais, disait-elle, cette demoiselle ne lui avait jamais fait autre chose.’” (III, 524)
[“Aimé told me he had learned of a little laundress in town [Touraine] whose arms she would squeeze in a special way when this woman brought in the washing. ‘But,’ she said, ‘this lady had never done anything else with her.’ ”]
169.14: dirty linen: “To wash one’s dirty linen in public” is to expose to public scrutiny one’s (usually embarrassing) private affairs.
169.15: Some Italian film: Perhaps Nabokov, and through him Cordula, was thinking of the sensuality and complexity of then-recent films of Federico Fellini such as La Dolce Vita (1960) and Otto e Mezzo (8½, 1963).
169.18: Advanced French Group: Cf. 165.28-29.
169.19: Racan: Honorat de Bueil, seigneur de Racan (1589-1670), French aristocrat, soldier, poet and dramatist, and a founding member (1635) of the Académie Française.
169.19: Racine: Jean Racine (1639-99), French tragedian, along with Corneille and Molière one of three great French dramatists of its “classical” century, the seventeenth. Elected a member of the Académie Française in 1672. Nabokov had a low opinion of Racine: cf. 231.29-31: “heard from afar the governess and her wretched pupil recite speeches from the horrible ‘Berenice.’”
169.21: you’ve had too much Marcel: The narrator of Proust’s A la Recherche du temps perdu, Marcel, fanatically jealous of Albertine’s lesbian dallyings (e.g. III, 22-23).
169.22-33: The railway station . . . On fait son grand Joyce: Among the possible Joycean overtones here may be the railway station (the Amiens Railway Station and the Westland Row Station feature in Ulysses), the tearoom (D.B.C., the Dublin Baking Company or “Damn Bad Cakes,” as Bloom recalls the popular joke), and the “tonic bar,” which plays with the musical and the drink sense of both tonic and bar, in a way reminiscent of the “Sirens” chapter of Ulysses. But the main ingredient is the style: see 169.28-33n.
169.24-27: a slender lady in black velvet, wearing a beautiful black velvet picture hat . . . a cocotte from Toulouse: The first of three appearances of a woman who seems like a harlot seen from behind at a bar: cf. 307.15-22, at Kalugano, in 1888: “on one of the red stools of the burning bar, a graceful harlot in black . . . black-velvet picture hat . . . ”; 460.05-461.10, in Paris, in 1901: “headed for the bar . . . the girl whose silhouette he recalled having seen now and then . . . drinking alone, always alone, like Blok’s Incognita. It was a queer feeling—as of . . . a wrong turn of time. . . . her floppy hat of black faille . . . . the vile poster painted by that wreck of an artist for Ovenman.”
“Blok saw the Stranger in the window of a station buffet where he was sitting alone, drinking red wine. . . . By Blok’s contemporaries she was taken for a prostitute, and Annenkov even tells us that Petersburg prostitutes took to dressing exactly like her, even to borrowing her name, so often did they hear tipsy students reciting Blok’s tipsy verses” (Avril Pyman, Alexander Blok: Selected Poems [Oxford: Pergamon, 1972] p. 218).
MOTIF: incognita; picture hat; Toulouse; woman in picture.
169.26: “tonic bar”: A1: Nabokov’s marginal note: “ ‘soft’ drinks only”
169.27: thought brushed him that she was a cocotte from Toulouse: Cf. 379.27-29: “ ‘Yes, you’re right, you behave as a cocotte, Lucette.’ In sad meditation Lucette said: ‘As a rejected cocotte, Van.’ ”
169.27: from Toulouse: Cf. 105.16: “the two-two to Toulouse.” Darkbloom: “Toulouse-Lautrec.”
169.28-33: Our damp trio . . . On fait son grand Joyce: The parody of or homage to Joyce’s Ulysses consists of several traits:
a) the loose recurrence of the word “because,” which Joyce associates with a feminine style, especially in Chapter 13 of Ulysses (“Nausicaa”), whose narrative voice, until Leopold Bloom’s interior monologue resumes, reflects a feminine romance novelette (lines 179-85: “She was wearing the blue for luck, hoping against hope, her own colour and lucky too for a bride to have a bit of blue somewhere on her because the green she wore that day brought grief because his father brought him in to study for the intermediate exhibition and because she thought he might be out because when she was dressing that morning she nearly slipped up the old pair on her inside out and that was for luck”); and Molly Bloom’s monologue Chapter 18 (“Penelope”), in which because serves as a cardinal point (Joyce to Frank Budgen, 16 August 1921: “There are eight sentences in the episode. It begins and ends with the female word yes. It turns like the huge earth ball slowly and surely and evenly round and round spinning, its four cardinal points being the female breasts, arse, womb and cunt expressed by the words because, bottom (in all senses bottom button, bottom of the class, bottom of the sea, bottom of his heart), woman, yes” (Letters of James Joyce, ed. Stuart Gilbert [New York: Viking, 1957], I.170).
b) a specific echo of the end of Chapter 13, ll. 1299-1306, where the style associated with Gerty MacDowell resumes, and one “because” piles on another, and the chapter ends with a hint that Bloom is a cuckold (Blazes Boylan has just been enjoying Bloom’s wife, Molly):
because it was a little canarybird that came out of its little house to tell the time that Gerty MacDowell noticed the time she was there because she was quick as anything about a thing like that, was Gerty MacDowell, and she noticed at once that that foreign gentleman that was sitting on the rocks looking was
c) the solecisms and stylistic tiredness mimicked in Chapter 16 (“Eumaeus”), in the cabman’s shelter under the bridge of the Loop Line railway: the stylistic awkwardness of “Our damp trio . . . their raincoats,” the limp “nice,” the triple “because”; the chapter in the cabman’s shelter chapter is particularly associated with nautical motifs, matched here in Ada’s “heavy-seas hat.”
Cf. the Joyce parody in chapter 6 of BS, in part a homage to the Shakespeare discussion in Chapter 9 (“Scylla and Charybdis”) of Ulysses, but with additional ripples of Finnegans Wake (114).
169.30: her heavy-seas hat: Cf. 167.16-17: “down-brimmed oilcloth hat as if somebody was to be salvaged from the perils of life or sea.”
169.30-32: but she did not, because she had cut her hair because of dreadful migraines, because she did not want him to see her in the rôle of a moribund Romeo: In other words, because she had had dreadful migraines, she had cut her hair short, and feared that with her short hair Van would see her as playing the “butch” partner in a lesbian relationship, so she did not take her hat off.
169.31: dreadful migraines: Cf. Aqua’s “usual vernal migraine,” 4.15-16.
169.32: moribund Romeo: After the hero of Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet (1594), moribund at the end after taking poison. Cf. the buried allusion to Othello (“Morio . . . black”) and the anagram of Romeo (“Moore”) at 159.09-10 (“Morio, his favorite black horse, stood waiting for him, held by young Moore”), discussed in Boyd 1985/2000: 24.
169.33-34: (On fait son grand Joyce after doing one’s petit Proust. In Ada’s lovely hand.): MOTIF: Composition— Ada.
170.01-02: (But read on; it is pure V.V. Note that lady! In Van’s bed-buvard scrawl.): MOTIF: Composition—Van; V.
170.01: pure V.V. Note that lady!: The “slender lady in black velvet,” 169.24. Van acknowledges here that he (Van Veen) has invented or at least highlighted the pattern of time, the texture of time, through the cocotte-like woman in black picture hat at a bar who will recur in 1888 and 1901 (see 169.24-26n. above). This sort of compounding of time, and the compositional interplay of Van and Ada here, is also “pure Vladimir Vladimirovich [Nabokov],” as is the mimicry of others, before suddenly flitting away.
170.02: buvard: French, blotting paper.
170.03-04: As Ada reached for the cream, he caught and inspected her dead-shamming hand: We may do a double-take here, as we imagine the aged Ada by the bed reaching for a cream, until we realize we are back in 1884, at the tea-rooms. “Dead-shamming hand”: because it goes limp when he catches it?
170.04-16: dead-shamming hand. . . . fingernails were now long and sharp. . . . “you don’t scratch little people . . . . look at those dainty short nails . . . could not catch them in the fanciest satin”: MOTIF: fingernails.
170.04-06: We remember the Camberwell Beauty that lay tightly closed for an instant upon our palm, and suddenly our hand was empty: The Camberwell Beauty, Nymphalis (formerly Vanessa) antiopa, “velvet black . . . with creamy borders” (SM 231) is one of the most beautiful of northern hemisphere butterflies. Its common name “mourning cloak” suits the atmosphere here. “On the upperside the wings are maroon with a ragged yellow margin, bordered inwardly by bright azure spots. The underside is purposefully drab so it can merge with dark bark when the butterfly is resting. When disturbed, it will start off very briskly, producing a clicking sound.” (Zimmer 2001: 213).
See the invented, “newly described, fantastically rare vanessian, Nymphalis danaus Nab.” (158.10-11) and the discussion of the relationship between this invented butterfly and the Camberwell Beauty, for Nabokov iconically associated with his love for Valentina Shulgina, Afternote to I.15.
Nabokov wrote a poem on this butterfly (“Babochka,” “A Butterfly,” Gorniy put’, 1922, rpt. Stikhi 60, translated in Nabokov’s Butterflies 103-04), and mentioned it in connection with first love in Mary 60, RLSK 137, SM 231, 239. In the uncompleted Butterflies of Europe, he described its range: “Throughout the Palearctic, except England and the Mediterranean, especially abundant in the birchwoods of the North; much less so among the willows of southern streams. . . . Widely distributed but not particularly common in the Nearctic, southward to Mexico” (Nabokov’s Butterflies, 596).
Notice the bitter irony of the plural pronoun: “We remember . . . our palm . . . our hand.” Van recalls the sense of unity he and Ada shared in summer, and emphasizes the gap between then and now with the jarring “our palm . . . our hand” even as he holds her hand in his inquisitorial grip.
170.09: dura Cordula: Darkbloom: “Russ., fool (fem.).”
170.09: “powder room”: Cf. 411.14: “forced tearful Ada to go and ‘powder her nose.’ ”
170.12-17: “You don’t, he went on, unable to stop, “you don’t . . . Cordula?”: MOTIF: Van’s tirades.
170.15-16: She could not catch them in the fanciest satin: Cf. 530.07-10: “As had been peculiar to his nature even in the days of his youth, Van was apt to relieve a passion of anger and disappointment by means of bombastic and arcane utterances which hurt like a jagged fingernail caught in satin, the lining of Hell.”
170.16-17: Ardula—I mean, Cordula: MOTIF: Ada.
170.22-25: He said he was sorry—that was his train. “Not at all,” wrote Ada (paraphrased here) in reply to his abject apologies: We may first take the “Not at all” to respond to Van’s spoken “sorry” in the previous line, but it turns out to be a reply to his letter of apology to Ada after the Brownhill visit.
170.25-26: but I'll never invite you to Brownhill again, my love. MOTIF: Brown.
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 27
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