Part One, Chapter 3


Even on a first reading, Van invites us to recall Aqua's agony when we reach the scene of Lucette's death. The sheer fact of suicide, the cause (a woman's entanglement with a "cousin's" love for her sister), the circumstances (the striking combination of yellow and black they both wear) all ensure that we make the connection even before we notice more subdued links like those noted above (27.26-28.03n., 27.33-28.03n., 28.03-04n., 29.07n.).

Nevertheless the extent to which Lucette's fate pervades I.3 and the whole Terra-Antiterra theme, the extent to which she shapes the whole novel's world, will not be at all evident, even on a rereading. But it is there to be discovered.

The novel's prologue prompts us first to focus on Demon and Marina; only after we have enjoyed the operatic intensity of their amour do we see Aqua's anguish. That prefigures the whole novel, where the idyll of Van's and Ada's love at first makes us dismiss Lucette as a mere nuisance, an impediment to their triumph, until like Van and Ada themselves we see too late the mistake we have made. (See Boyd 1985/2001: 113-24.)

Aqua's fate puts in starker terms the moral responsibility of Van and Ada toward Lucette. In the course of Demon's callous amours, two sisters are tragically and inextricably entangled; Van and Ada are less ruthless, but little less thoughtless, equally unready to consider their sister according to the Kantian imperative, as an end in herself. Neither Demon nor his two children are monsters; they do not deliberately hound anyone to suicide; Aqua and Lucette are frail and fixated; but the responsibility for their deaths nevertheless lies heavily with Demon and with his children. (See Boyd 1985/2001: 146-52.)

Aqua's very name points ahead to Lucette. Initially a comic and bizarrely overt echo of Marina's, Aqua's name also has a tragic and covert side, since it indicates the mirroring or the confluence of two sisters that will also happen in the case of Ada and Lucette. (See Boyd 1985/2001: 125-44.) At the same time, Aqua's and Marina's names embody the element in which Lucette will drown herself.

Even the Terra-Antiterra theme seems to revolve around Lucette. The "L disaster" may indeed merely refer with comic coyness to "electricity." But events on Terra and Antiterra, we discover, can often lag behind the other planet "by about half a century" (341). The "L disaster" occurs right in the middle of the nineteenth century; fifty years later, in 1901, the woman Van writes to as "Poor L." (421) jumps to her death in the central tragedy of the novel's world.

In the first throes of her instability, Aqua thinks she can envisage life on Terra, can hear the "magic-music boxes" of a world where electricity has not been banned, a world that nevertheless she, like her co-believers, also sees as a kind of Next World. As she disintegrates further, she imagines she can hear the water around her talking and feels "tickled at the thought that she, poor Aqua, had accidentally hit upon such a simple method of recording and transmitting speech, while technologists . . . all over the world were trying to make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and still very expensive hydrodynamic telephones . . . that were to replace those that had gone . . . 'to the devil' . . . with the banning of an unmentionable" electricity (23). Later we will discover that there seem to be messages being sent to Van and Ada, whether or not they are aware of them, from Lucette's watery grave, in a manner eerily anticipated in the messages from another world in Van's novel Letters from Terra. Electricity when banned has to be coyly referred to as "lammer" (23) a Scottish term for "amber," which for the Greeks also provided their word for "electricity"; but "lammer" also evokes the French la mer (the sea), in which Lucette drowns.

Aqua's tragedy, in short, seems to prefigure both the ethical and the metaphysical centrality of Lucette to Ada.

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