Part I Chapter 40


After Van’s confrontation with Percy de Prey at the picnic, the tension does not let up. As Van nurses the knee damaged when Percy assaulted him from behind, he receives Percy’s offer either to duel or to confirm that there is no grudge. He burns the letter, but as narrator offers explicit forewarnings of an irrevocably impending doom: “When lightning struck two days later (an old image that is meant to intimate a flash-back to an old barn),” at the start of one paragraph, and “On the morning of the day preceding the most miserable one in his life,” at the start of the next. Yet after Ada returns from another “bramble,” their love seems as tender and triumphant as ever, only for Van to find, as he changes for dinner with movie guests, a warning note by a French hand: “One must not berne [dupe] you.” Looking for Ada, he finds her helping Lucette copy flowers, like an image out of Ardis the First. When he can corner Ada alone, she—dressed in ways that portentously recall her appearance just as Van arrived at Ardis the Second, when he first saw Percy kissing and holding her hand—merely dismisses the note: “Destroy and forget.” For the moment, despite the warning signals, doom is postponed.


283.01-02: Van was lying . . . reading Antiterrenus on Rattner: In other words reading something by the scholar Antiterrenus (not otherwise known) in response to something the scholar Rattner has written on Terra. Note the close echo of 230.04-05: “Van lay reading Rattner on Terra, a difficult and depressing work.” Rattner (see 230.04n) is an anagram of “N.T. Terra,” which in its turn is a homonym of Antiterra; this scholar, firmly associated with Antiterra, has a negative attitude to the existence of Terra, even though his name contains it (see also 231.02-04: he “halfheartedly denied any objective existence to the sibling planet in his text, but grudgingly accepted it in obscure notes (inconveniently placed between chapters).” Antiterrenus in turn is presumably hostile to Rattner. When Lucette visits Van in Kingston University, in 1892, he has become a colleague of “Rattner, resident pessimist of genius, for whom life was only a ‘disturbance’ in the rattnerterological order of things—from ‘nerteros,’ not ‘terra’)” (365.06-08), and when Van tells Lucette he has an appointment with Rattner, she “ejaculates”: “‘Rattner on Terra! . . . Van is reading Rattner on Terra. Pet must never, never, disturb him and me when we are reading Rattner!’” (370.06-08).

Ardeur 237: “Suspendu dans le réseau de son reposoir. . . . ” (“Hanging in the net of his resting-place . . . ”).

MOTIF: Rattner; Rattner on Terra; Terra.

283.01-02: in his netted nest under the liriodendrons, reading Antiterrenus on Rattner: Note the sound play (“netted nest” and “Rattner”; “nest” and “Antiterrenus”; “netted nest” in “Antiterrenus” and “Rattner,” compounding the N.T. Terra-Antiterra in Rattner’s name and its echo in Antiterrenus.

283.01: under the liriodendrons: Liriodendrons (mentioned at 68.11) are (W2) “A genus of North American and Asiatic trees of the magnolia family (Magnoliaceae) having only two species L. chinense and the common North American L. tulipifera, known as the tulip tree.” Here, tulip trees, between two of which Van’s hammock is slung (see 52.33-53.03: “she showed him two sturdy hooks passed into iron rings on two tulip-tree trunks between which . . . another boy, also Ivan, her mother’s brother, used to sling a hammock”). MOTIF: under tree.

283.02-03: His knee had troubled him all night: Damaged when Percy lunged at him from the rear at the picnic, 275.27-28 (“a mountain fell upon him from behind”). Although no mention of his injury occurs in that scene, we hear of it as Lucette plumps into his lap on the carriage home: “‘Ouch!’’ grunted Van as he received the rounded load—explaining wrily that he had hit his right patella against a rock” (279.13-14).  “A twinge in his kneecap”(281.31-32) on his way back from the picnic, with Lucette still on his lap, calls him back from the almost orgasmic thoughts triggered by the repetition of the return home from the 1884 picnic, with Ada on his lap. The action in this first scene in 1.40 takes place, then, the next day, July 22, 1888. MOTIF: knee.

283.03-04: Ada had gone on horseback to Ladore: To see Percy de Prey before he leaves for the Crimean War. Cf. Van on Ada and Percy: “Both like horses, and races, but that’s all. There is no et cetera, that’s out of the question” (242.13-14). Percy’s challenge-cum-conciliation presumably comes from Ladore, anticipating the challenge Van issues to Captain Tapper in three days’ time, when he is in pursuit of Philip Rack and Percy de Prey: “The Captain was a first-rate shot, Johnny said, and member of the Do-Re-La country club” (306.14-15).

Note that Van’s ineffectual rival Greg Erminin had come on pony-back to Ardis the day after the 1884 picnic for Ada’s birthday (89.01-18), and offers the pony to her “any time. For any amount of time” (92.25-26); here, the day after the 1888 picnic on her birthday, Ada rides on horseback, as it proves, to the successful rival and unwanted picnic guest whom Van has very good reason to fear.

283.05: the messy turpentine oil Marina had told her to bring him: For Van’s knee.

283.06: His valet: Bout.

283.07-08: a messenger, a slender youth clad in black leather from neck to ankle, chestnut curls escaping: “Youth” is the closest specification of the sex of this ambiguous messenger (cf. 284.04-05: “the pretty messenger”). The messenger proves to be Blanche’s younger sister: two days later Van sees “The youngest of the three sisters, a beautiful chestnut-curled little maiden with lewd eyes and bobbing breasts (where had he seen her before?—recently, but where?)” (299.18-21). As D. Barton Johnson (“Ada’s ‘Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre,” in Lisa Zunshine, ed., Nabokov at the Limits: Redrawing Critical Boundaries (New York: Garland, 1999), 3-20: 6) and the Kyoto Reading Circle note, the sexual ambiguity of the messenger sent by Percy echoes that of the “lass disguised as a lad” (168.17) found in Percy’s room at Riverlane, which leads to his expulsion from the school (190.09).
Johnson also notes (1999: 9) that the “slender youth clad in black leather from neck to ankle” recalls the song “Malbrough,” which Blanche will absent-mindedly (but from our point of view, pointedly) sing a few hours later, at 288.15-16 (see 288.14-16n):

Elle voit venir son Page, 
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine,
Elle voit venir son Page, 
Tout de noir habillé

Beau Page, ah mon beau Page!
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine,
Beau Page, ah mon beau Page!
Quelles nouvelles apportez?

(“She sees her Page coming, / Mironton, mironton, mirontaine / She sees her Page coming /All dressed in black. // My Page, oh my pretty Page! / Mironton, mironton, mirontaine/ My Page, oh my pretty Page! / What news are you bringing?”) In the song, the Page will inform his mistress that Monsieur Malbrough is dead in battle, as Van will soon hear (and as we readers already know) that Percy de Prey is dead in the Second Crimean War.

283.08: chestnut curls: Cf. not only 299.19-20, “a beautiful chestnut-curled little maiden,” a clearer glimpse of Madelon, but also the equally sexually ambiguous “Cherry, the only lad in our next (American) floramor . . . looked so amusing with his copper curls” (355.03-05). Cf. also: “Mount Russet . . . curly ctnut trees” (509.26-28). MOTIF: chestnut curls.

283.10-284.03: a letter . . . Percy de Prey: MOTIF: letters.

283.14-17: I shall be glad to entertain you (and any other gentleman . . . ) at dawn . . . Tourbière Lane: The language of courtesy avoids any explicit reference to a duel but makes the meaning obvious, especially after the near-challenge at 277.12-23. Percy has in fact “been shooting a pistol at a scarecrow all morning” (299.14-15). MOTIF: duel.

283.16-17: where the Maidenhair road crosses Tourbière Lane: Cf. Van’s thoughts as he leaves Ardis for the last time, two days later: “‘The express does not stop at Torfyanka, does it, Trofim?’ ‘I’ll take you five versts across the bog,” said Trofim, ‘the nearest is Volosyanka.’ His vulgar Russian word for Maidenhair; a whistle stop; train probably crowded.// Maidenhair. Idiot! Percy boy might have been buried by now! Maidenhair. Thus named because of the huge spreading Chinese tree at the end of the platform” (299.26-32). (“Maidenhair,” for maidenhair tree, or ginkgo, see 299.29-300.8 and n.; Torfyanka is the Russian for Tourbière, as Ada explains at 228.08.) Note that Percy has been a lover of Blanche’s sister, Madelon (see 299.10), who lives at La Tourbière. MOTIF: ginkgo; TorfyanayaTourbière; Veen-bog.

284.02: your obedient servant: Like the whole of this last sentence, in the style of eighteenth-century epistolary courtesy. Cf. Van’s mocking echo, 290.10, “Your obedient servant” (a phrase Ada presumably does not recognize).

284.06-07: like an extra, waiting for the signal to join the gambaders in the country dance after Calabro’s aria: Echoes the mysterious dozen of the previous chapter, who could be “Gipsy politicians, or Calabrian laborers” (268.32); as they drew deeper into the trees, Marina raised an empty glass and sang “the Green Grass aria” (269.34), which prompted Van to call her “Traverdiata” (270.03). See 269.34-270.03 and n. The mysterious dozen are obscure extras in the picnic scene, almost like an operatic chorus, as the messenger seems like an extra here. The superfluous dozen circle around first Greg’s Silentium then Percy’s steel-gray convertible, as if in support of Van’s sense that these rivals too are or should be utterly extraneous to Ada’s picnic; now another operatic extra comes from Percy, bearing a cartel.
“Calabro’s aria”: an invented aria from a Verdi-like opera, probably an echo of the “Brindisi” (Calabria and Brindisi being the provinces at, respectively, the toe and heel of Italy’s boot), referred to as the “Green Grass aria,” sung by Traverdiata-Marina at the picnic (269.34-270.03 and n.).

284.07: the gambaders: A gambade or gambado is (W2, gambado, 2) “A fantastic movement as in dancing; hence, an antic.” The mix of country dance and opera calls to mind the parodic “longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company . . . merry young gardeners . . . At an invisible sign of Dionysiac origin, they all plunged into the violent dance. . . . ’’ in the Eugene Onegin  travesty at 11.22-33.

284.07: country dance: Cf. 401.27: “peasant prance.”

284.14-21: that clumsy and pretentious missive . . . burnt the letter: MOTIF: duel; letters.

284.17-18: or whether its conciliatory gist had been demanded from Percy by somebody—perhaps a woman (for instance his mother . . . ): Despite the “for instance,” the phrasing clearly implicates Ada, who would have arrived in Ladore to find Percy preparing for a duel with Van, and who has feared this possibility at least since the previous day’s confrontation (see her attempt to separate Van and Percy at 277.15-16).

284.19: his mother, born Praskovia Lanskoy: Cf. Marina’s reference to her as Praskovia, at 257.16; “Prascovie de Prey” (242.16) has told Demon that “her boy and Ada see a lot of each other, et cetera” (242.10-11). Demon refers to her as “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” (242.03-06). The infidelity between a de Prey and a Veen prefigures the “infidelity” of Ada Veen (unfaithful to Van, that is, even if not married to him) and Percy de Prey, while Percy’s mother’s having lost her husband in a duel over infidelity would explain why she might want her son to send a note of conciliation rather than challenge to Van—if indeed she is the woman who prompted the “conciliatory gist” of the note. But the only woman who knows of the near-duel between the two men, and its cause, is Ada.

No other reference to “Lanskoy”; perhaps the name here teasingly half-hints at Lensky, whom Onegin kills in a duel in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, over Onegin’s dancing with Lensky’s fiancée, Olga Larin, whose mother is Praskovia (EO II.xxxiii.3); Praskovia Larin’s name seems to have blended with Vladimir Lensky’s. Another Pushkinian reference, also involving a death by dueling spurred by sexual rivalry, may be even more pertinent: as Alexey Skylarenko points out, seven years after Pushkin died in a duel provoked by Baron d’Anthès’s attentions to his wife, Pushkin’s widow Natalia married a Peter Lanskoy (Nabokov-L, 8 December 2012 and 31 October 2013).

284.20-24: Van’s honor remained unaffected. . . . merely noting that now, at least, Ada would cease to be pestered by the fellow’s attentions: This is the only reason that Van does not accept the duel: that despite his unease he does not think Ada has responded to Percy’s obvious interest.

284.20: He limped: the knee continues to bother Van. MOTIF: knee.

284.21-22: the letter with its crested blue envelope: “Crests” in Ada are associated with cuckoldry; the former Cordula de Prey, by then Cordula Tobak, happily cuckolds her husband with Van’s help, and scribbles a secret address on “a card with her husband’s crest” (458.13-14) for Van to arrange further assignations with her; the passenger list on the Admiral Tobakoff is “pleasingly surmounted by the same crest that adorned Cordula’s notepaper” (475.17-18). MOTIF: crest.

284.25: without the embrocation: The “messy turpentine oil” (283.05) Marina has asked her to obtain for Van’s knee; she returns without it because, presumably, she has been too preoccupied with farewelling Percy.

284.31: When lightning struck two days later: When Blanche begins to clarify, two days hence (293), the import of the note that Van finds one day hence (287) but that Ada tells him (290) to destroy and forget.

284.31-32: (an old image that is meant to intimate a flash-back to an old barn): Ironically, this reference to a flash-back occurs within a flash-forward. The Burning Barn of I.19 was set on fire by lightning. As if the ardor of Ardis that ignited the barn, and Van and Ada’s active sexual life, is about to strike again, disastrously, because Percy too has combusted at Ada’s touch? Note the pun on “flash-back” (and lightning flash), and the anticipation of the inadvertent pun in the fatal note, “One must not berne you,” at 287.26-27.

But the word “flashback” itself offers a clue to how the lightning will strike: it occurs four times in an earlier scene. As Marina reads the screenplay of Les Enfants Maudits early in Ardis the Second, she queries it: “‘Because if it is a flashback—and it is a flashback, I suppose’ (she pronounced it fleshbeck), ‘Renny, or what’s his name, René, should not know what he seems to know.’ // ‘He does not,’ cried G.A. [Vronsky], ‘it’s only a half-hearted flashback. Anyway, this Renny, this lover number one, does not know, of course, that she is trying to get rid of lover number two, while she’s wondering all the time if she can dare go on dating number three, the gentleman farmer, see?’” (201.04-11).

MOTIF: Burning Barn.

284.33-285.07: two secret witnesses . . . . One had been murmuring with averted gaze . . . the other had kept insinuating . . . mistress: Cf. two other instances of Van’s duality of thought, the first at 188.11-19 (“Excluding each other, private swoons split him in two: the devastating certainty that . . . she would join him there in her new smooth long beauty; and, on the shade side, the pang and panic of finding her changed. . . . ”), at the very hour of Van’s return to Ardis, and the start of these two witnesses’ murmurs and insinuations described here; the second at 369.33-370.02: “Two ideas were locked up in a slow dance, a mechanical menuet, with bows and curtseys: one was ‘We-have-so-much-to-say’; the other was ‘We have absolutely nothing to say.’” Cf. this with VN’s criticism of Joyce’s stream of consciousness as offering “too much verbal body to thoughts” (SO 30; and see LL 363, “obviously we do not think continuously in words—we think also in images. . . . some of our reflections come and go, others stay”).

285.05-07: insinuating, with spectral insistence, that some nameless trouble was threatening the very sanity of Van’s pale, faithless mistress: Ada herself, during their first night of Ardis the Second, has indicated the threat to her sanity: “Yes, she was sad, she replied, she was in dreadful trouble, her quandary might drive her insane if she did not know that her heart was pure. She could explain it best by a parable. She was like the girl in a film he would see soon, who is in the triple throes of a tragedy which she must conceal lest she lose her only true love, the head of the arrow, the point of the pain . . . ” (192.20-30), where in fact she is all but explicit about her relations with Percy de Prey, Philip Rack and Van. During this night “Blanche glided in like an imprudent ghost” (191.04-05), perhaps explaining the “spectral” here; a “pale wavering figure” (292.17) in the night, she will deliver the final clarification of the nightmare and the note within another two days.

285.08-09: On the morning of the day preceding the most miserable one of his life: The intimation of impending disaster at the start of the preceding paragraph becomes even more explicit at the start of this. The challenge-and-conciliation comes from Percy on July 22; this morning must be July 23. The sequence of datable days itself adds to the portentousness of the chapter.

285.09-13: he found he could bend his leg without wincing, but . . . walked home with difficulty. A swim in the pool and a soak in the sun helped  . . . and the pain had practically gone: The painful knee dogs him as an insistent reminder of Percy (just as the sentence introduces Ada returning from Percy); the pain Percy has caused him, becoming so insistent after the anticipations of doom (“When lightning struck . . . On the morning of the day preceding the most miserable one of his life”), invites an alert first-time reader to anticipate Percy will cause Van further pain. MOTIF: knee.

285.11: a long-neglected croquet lawn: Cf. 53.14-17: “a long green box where croquet implements were kept; but the balls had been rolled down the hill by some rowdy children, the little Erminins, who were now Van’s age and had grown very nice and quiet.” If the lost balls are the reason the croquet lawn has been neglected, it must be at least six years or so since croquet has been played here. Cf. the story “The Admiralty Spire”: “croquet on a ridiculously overgrown lawn with a dandelion in front of every hoop” (SoVN 348).

285.15: “brambles” as she called her botanical rambles: Cf. 312.28-31: “the stick . . . perhaps, helping a lady to go ‘brambling’ in Oregon”).

285.16: florula: W2: “A flora of a small, restricted area.”

285.16-17: had ceased to yield much beyond the familiar favorites: Because Ada is actually devoting her brambling time to Percy rather than to plants.

285.21-25: Monsieur Violette of Lyon and Ladore . . . as a duelist steadies his hand by walking about with a poker: Invoking the stereotype of male hairdressers as homosexual, as indicated here by the “pansy” (homonym of “violet” and slang for “male homosexual”) surname in a French feminine form. Anticipates the imminent duel with “Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge” (304.32-33) who is a “member of the Do-Re-La country club” (306.14-15) and whose seconds for himself and Van have violet names (Arwin Birdfoot  and Johnny Rafin, Esq., see 306.07-09 and n.). The Kyoto Reading Circle notes that Violet Knox, Van and Ada’s secretary in old age, is lesbian, as Monsieur Violette is gay.

Aleksey Sklyarenko notes (Nabokv-L, 6 June 2014) that Monsieur Violet is the title of an 1843 novel by Captain Frederick Maryatt (1792-1848), but this novel in which the younger Monsieur Violet is accepted as a chief of the Shoshone Indians seems to have nothing beyond its title to connect it, apparently unintentionally, to the hairdresser.

VN writes in his EO commentary: “Pushkin carried an iron club to strengthen and steady his pistol hand in view of a duel he intended to have with Fyodor Tolstoy. . . . the club weighed about eighteen pounds. Another source gives eight pounds as the weight of the club he carried in Mihaylovskoe” (EO 2, 458).

MOTIF: duel.

285.23: qu’on la coiffe au grand air: Darkbloom: “to have her hair done in the open.”

285.26: our best performer: Presumably Marina means in the role of Mascodagama? MOTIF: Mascodagama.

285.26-27: indicating Van to Violette who mistook him for Pedro: Monsieur Violette, thinking Van is Pedro, who has been in a sexual relationship with Marina, mistakes what is actually a mother-son link for a sexual association—ironic, given Marina’s alarms about incest (see 39.31-40.03, Van and Ada; 232.14-33, Van and Lucette).

285.27-28: un air entendu: Darkbloom: “a knowing look.”

285.29-30: a little walk of convalescence: For his knee. MOTIF: knee.

285.31: exhausted and filthy: She does not explain the cause: from lovemaking with Percy de Prey.

285.32-33: the ordeal of helping her mother entertain the movie people who were expected later in the evening: G.A. Vronsky and Adorno, the star of Hate, and his new wife, Marianne, but not Pedro (291.01-04).

286.01: I’ve seen him in Sexico: Pedro is sexy (“repulsively handsome,” 197.07-08), highly sexed (witness his pursuit of Ada in 1.32), a co-star of Marina’s, and sexy company (Sexy Co.) for her, and hails from Mexico, 197.09. Perhaps with a dash of the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy by American novelist Henry Miller (1891-1980), Sexus (1949), Plexus (1953), and Nexus (1959). For Miller, see 261.16-29n.; his short novel Quiet Days in Clichy  (1956) lies behind Ada’s Clichy Clichés, 371.15.

286.08-10: unaccountably and marvelously her dazed look melted into one of gentle glee, as if in sudden perception of new-found release: Presumably because she knows Percy is on his way to war, and he and Van will no longer pose a danger to each other.

286.13: one can paddle with impunity in thawed sky: In puddles of meltwater reflecting the sky.

286.16-18: the park alley where she had once demonstrated to him her sun-and-shade games: See 50.04-52.30. This earlier scene contains a prominent foreshadowing of Percy’s death in the Second Crimean War: see 50.16n. and I.8 Afternote, and Boyd (1985) 2001: 170-71. MOTIF: sun-Ardis.

286.18-19: as if she had returned from a long and perilous journey: In a sense, she has: from her involvement with Percy de Prey, who is just setting off on a long and for him not only perilous but fatal journey, to war in the Crimea.

286.21-22: not the sly demon smile of remembered or promised ardor: Cf. 266.13-14: “a few moments of ravenous ardor” (recall that Demon is also Raven Veen). MOTIF: ardor; demon.

286.23-24: from Burning Barn to Burnberry Brook: Rather ironic, in light of the “berne” warning at 287.27. MOTIF: burn; Burning Barn; burnberry.

286.24-25: this zaychik, this “sun blick” of the smiling spirit: zaychik, Russ. “reflection of a sun ray”; blik, Russ., “patch of light”; English, blick (W2): “[G., flash, glance.] Assaying = fulguration, 2” and fulguration (W2), “2. Assaying. Sudden brightening of a fused globule of gold or silver when the last film of oxide of lead or copper leaves its surface;—called also blick, brightening.” Peter Lubin writes: “sun blick (in Ada), which Anglicizes and sublimes its source—not Russian solnečnij blik, but rather their common stirps, German Sonnenblick. And here we are immediately offered an additional gift of zajchik for the same sun-bunny ray of reflected light” (“Kickshaws and Motley,” in Alfred Appel, Jr. and Charles Newman, eds., Nabokov: Criticism, reminiscences, translations, and tributes, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970, 187-208, p. 191). Lubin’s last remark alludes to the fact that Russian zaychik can mean not only the reflection of a sun ray, but can also be an affectionate diminutive for zayats, “hare.”

286.25-27: Her black jumper and black skirt . . . lost its “in-mourning-for-a-lost flower” meaning: Her black outfit as if in mourning for Percy’s departure? With a hint of defloration, Marina not knowing how long Ada has been deflowered? MOTIF: deflower.

286.30: Lyaskan: MOTIF: Lyaska.

286.31-32: stood brow to brow, brown to white, black to black: Van’s brown skin against Ada’s white, his black hair and eyebrows to hers. With an odd cross-echo of “stood . . . back to back”? MOTIF: black-white.

286.33-287.02: how he “ladored,” he said, the dark aroma of her hair blending with crushed lily stalks, Turkish cigarettes and the lassitude that comes from “lass”: Retrospectively ironic, since (1) in meeting Percy in Ladore, Ada has presumably crushed lily stalks under her while Percy crushed her (Blanche and her sister Madelon “watched Monsieur le Comte courting the young lady [Ada] on the moss, crushing her like a grunting bear as he had also crushed—many times!—Madelon” (299.08-10), and cf. also Ada’s suspicious insistence on her aloneness on botanical walks at the start of Ardis the Second: “I shall always adore orchids and mushrooms and violets, and you will still see me going out alone, to wander alone in the woods and return alone with a little lone lily,” 193.12-14); (2) Turkish cigarettes or tobacco have been associated with the post-coital smoke (121.01-02), with Ada’s infidelity (“She smelled of tobacco, either because (as she said) . . . or else because (and this she did not say) her unknown lover was a heavy smoker, his open red mouth full of rolling blue fog,” 234.28-33), and with her brambling: “Turkish cigarettes. . . ‘I think I’ll take an Alibi—I mean an Albany—myself.’ ‘Please note, everybody,’ said Ada, ‘how voulu that slip was! I like a smoke when I go mushrooming, but when I’m back, this horrid tease insists I smell of some romantic Turk or Albanian met in the woods’” (260.02-17); and (3) “‘the lassitude that comes from ‘lass’” would seem to mean her tiredness after female exertions. MOTIF: Turkish tobacco.

286.33: “ladored”: Cf. 420. 28: “After a while he adored [sic! Ed.] the pancakes.” MOTIF: adore; Ladore.

287.02-03: “No, no, don’t” she said, I must wash quick-quick, Ada must wash: Ada is usually unkempt, and does not wash as often as Van feels she should (78.09-11: “Neither hygiene, nor sophistication of taste, were . . . typical of the Ardis household”; 198.32-199.01). MOTIF: quick-quick.

287.06: at the end of never-ending fairy tales: MOTIF: fairy tale.

287.07-08: That’s a beautiful passage, Van. I shall cry all night (late interpolation).: MOTIF: Composition: Ada.

287.11-13: they must really part . . . and they really parted: The light colloquialism of “must really part” takes on a strange weight with its bitter echo in the narration, “and they really parted,” especially in view of Van and Ada’s imminent and increasingly foreshadowed and seemingly final parting. This will be the last time they are “really together” until 1892.

287.14: One common orchid, a Lady’s Slipper: W2, lady’s slipper: “a Any orchid of the genera Cypripedium and Fissipes, the pouch-shaped labellum, or lip, of which somewhat resembles a slipper. b Any of certain orchids having flowers somewhat resembling a slipper, as Cytherea bulbosa and Peramium giganteum.” Wikipedia, more accurately, notes: “Lady's slipper orchids (also known as lady slipper orchids or slipper orchids) are orchids in the subfamily Cypripedioideae, which comprises the genera Cypripedium, Mexipedium, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium and Selenipedium.

Note the hint of Venus in the generic names Cypripedium (Venus is often referred to as “Cyprian,” because of Aphrodite’s supposed birthplace, Cyprus) and Cytherea (an adjective associated with Aphrodite or Venus) and in the French common name, sabot de Vénus (Venus slipper). Ardeur 240: “un sabot de Vénus.”

MOTIF: Cinderella; orchids; Venus.

287.20: I wonder . . . if I haven’t just seen a tadpole: Significance unknown.

287.21-22: The novelistic theme of written communications has now really got into its stride: MOTIF: novel.

287.22: with a shock of grim premonition: The note of doom re-sounds.

287.22: a slip of paper: The Kyoto Reading Circle nicely notes: “Nicely links with Cinderella-like Blanche and her ‘Lady’s Slipper.’ The slip of paper was ‘slipped’ into his pocket by Blanche.” MOTIF: Cinderella.

287.24: the heart pocket of his dinner jacket: Comically loaded in symbolic significance. Cf. Demon dining at Ardis, “handkerchief lodged in the heart pocket of his dinner jacket,” 239.04-05.

287.24-25: Penciled in a large hand: The hand will prove to be that of Blanche’s sister Madelon, 299.15-16.

287.26: whiffled: W2, whiffle: “ . . . Transitive . . . 2. To wave or shake quickly. Rare. 3 Rare a To cause to whiffle, or vacillate. b To treat with evasions; to utter or answer evasively.”

287.26-27: “One must not berne you.” Only a French-speaking person would use that word for “dupe.”: The Frenchness of the writer is indicated also by the “One must not” construction (“On ne doit pas”). W2 notes that berne can mean “plaid,” thereby recalling the “tartan lap robe” (115.08) or “plaid” (120.23) Van is wearing and discards to reveal to Ada his erection on the Night of the Burning Barn. MOTIF: burn.

287.30-31: after England had annexed their beautiful and unfortunate country in 1815: Antiterran history. On Earth, 1815 marked the year of the final defeat of the French army under Napoleon’s leadership at the battle of Waterloo.

287.31-33: To interview them all—torture the males, rape the females—would be, of course, absurd and degrading: A Demonic confusion of values.

MOTIF: torture.

287.33-288.01: he broke his best black butterfly on the wheel of his exasperation: His black bow tie, in shape like a butterfly (OED: butterfly, 4b: “In full butterfly bow, a bow made up or tied with the loop and end on each side spread apart like the expanded wings of a butterfly. So butterfly tie”). The expression “to break a butterfly on a wheel” has been proverbial for “to use unnecessary force in destroying something fragile” (OED butterfly, 2c) since the “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” (1735) of Alexander Pope (1688-1744), ll. 307-08: “Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel? / Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?” (The wheel is the instrument of torture: OED break, 7b: “to bind a criminal to a wheel, or similar frame, and break his limbs, or beat him to death.”)

288.01-02: The pain from the fang bite was now reaching his heart: Ardeur 240: “Le venin de la vipère” (“The viper’s venom”). MOTIF: snake.

288.06-07: Pembroke table:[Image] W2: “A style of small, square, four-legged table, often profusely ornamental, having on either side a narrow leaf sustained by a swinging bracket. It was much in vogue in the latter half of the 18th century.”

288.07-08: reading with mixed feelings and furious annotations the third shooting script of Les Enfants Maudits: The script has been updated, as it were, to emphasize the rift about to happen between Van and Ada? MOTIF: adaptation; Enfants Maudits.

288.09-11: Lucette under Ada’s direction was trying to learn to draw flowers; several botanical atlases . . . : Cf. the scene of Ada expertly drawing and recombining flowers, 99.11-26: “Ada liked to sit on a cool piano stool of ivoried wood at a white oil-cloth’d table in the sunny music room, her favorite botanical atlas open before her, and copy out in color on creamy paper some singular flower. . . . ” MOTIF: flowers.

288.12-17: Everything appeared as it always used to be . . . and the two lovely heads, bronze-black and copper-red, inclined over the table: The first statement seems to carry the implication “and yet all had changed”; and the closing phrase, with Ada and Lucette inclined over the table, certainly marks one kind of difference: not Van and Ada inclined over the table, but Ada and Lucette.

288.12-13: as it always used to be: the little nymphs and goats on the painted ceiling: Cf. the Ardis hall “famous for its painted ceilings” (36.08), and “Ardis Manor and its painted dining room” (251.14), but there has been no previous mention of a painted ceiling in a nursery parlor. Cf. also “the Boucher plafond” of the breakfast room in Demon’s Manhattan home (178.16-17), and, in the novel’s closing paragraph, with its summary of the book’s “delicacy of pictorial detail”: “a painted ceiling” (589.03-04). MOTIF: painted ceiling.

288.14-16: Blanche’s “linen-folding” voice humming “Malbrough” ( . . . ne sait quand reviendra, ne sait quand reviendra): Darkbloom: “ne sait quand etc: knows not when he’ll come back.” Blanche knows full well that Percy de Prey, the lover of both Ada and her own sister Madelon, has just left for the Second Crimean War; indeed it is Blanche who has left Madelon’s warning note (287.26-27) in the breast pocket of Van’s dinner jacket. And Madelon has written the note “because she was a wee bit jealous but she also said—for she had a good heart—better put it off until ‘Malbrook’ s’en va-t-en guerre, otherwise they would fight” (299.11-14). Blanche here, recalling Madelon’s allusion to the song, naturally sings it herself; the fact that it is a French song, and her singing it follows in the next paragraph after Van wonders which French servant has left the warning note and recognizes the absurdity of raping all the female French servants to find out (287.32), hints that it is Blanche who has left the note.
The anonymous, extremely popular and much-imitated song “Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre” has been thoroughly analyzed in relation to Ada and Percy de Prey by D. Barton Johnson, first in “Ada’s Percy de Prey as the Marlborough Man,” The Nabokovian 27 (Fall 1991), 45-52, then in Johnson 1999 (see 283.07-08n.). Johnson notes the strong connections between Percy, a heavy smoker whose Turkish tobacco smell lingers on Ada on key occasions (see above, 286.33-287.02n and cross references), and Marlboro cigarettes, with their “super macho image” in advertising from 1954 (Johnson 1999: 17-18), and his departure to fight in the Second Crimean War by way of “some Greek or Turkish port” (296.15) that he leaves for on the day that the note is slipped to Van and that Blanche sings “Malbrough.”
As Johnson writes, “Nabokov chose ‘Malbrough’ for Percy de Prey’s motif for obvious reasons: its theme of the death of a lover in foreign battle” (1999: 9). I follow Johnson in giving the first verse in full and then all verses 1-16 and 19 of the song with only the first and last lines, omitting the repeated (and meaningless) refrain and the first line repeated as line 3:

            Malbrouk s’en va-t-en guerre,
            Mironton, mironton, mirontaine,    
            Malbrook s’en va-t-en guerre,
            Ne sait quand reviendra.

            1. Malbrook s’en va-t-en guerre, / Ne sait quand reviendra.
            2. Il reviendra-t-à Pâques, /Ou à la Trinité.
            3. La Trinité se passe, Malbrouk ne revient pas.
            4. Madam à sa tour monte, / Si haut qu’elle peut monter.
            5. Elle voit venir son Page, / De noir habillé.
            6. Beau Page, ah mon beau Page! / Quelles nouvelles apportez?
            7. Aux nouvelles que j’apporte, / Vos beaux yeux vont pleurer.
            8. Quittez vos habits roses, / Et vos sattins brochés.
            9. Mr. d’Malbrouk est mort, / Est mort et enterré.
            10. Je l’ai vu porter en terre /Par quatre officiers.
            11 L’un portoit sa cuirasse, / L’autre son bouclier.
            12. L’un portoit son grand sabre, / L’autre ne portoit rien.
            13. A l’entour de sa tombe, / Rosmarins l’on planta.
            14. Sur la plus haute branche / Le rossignol chanta.
            15. La cérémonie faite, / Chacun s’en fut coucher.
            19. Ainsi finit l’histoire, / De Malbrouk renommé.

            1. Malbrouk goes off to war, / Knows not when he will come back.
            2. He will come back at Easter, / Or on Trinity Sunday.
            3. Trinity Sunday goes by, / Malbrouk does not return.
            4. Madam climbs her tower, / As high as she can climb.
            5. She sees her Page coming, / Dressed in black.
            6. Fair Page, oh my fair Page! / What news do you bring?
            7. At the news I bring, / Your fair eyes will weep.
            8. Leave your pink dresses, / And your brocaded satin.
            9. Mr. d’Malbrouk is dead, / Is dead and buried.
            10. I saw him carried to the earth, / By four officers.
            11. One carried his breast-plate, / Another his shield.
            12. One carried his great sabre, / Another carried nothing.
            13. Around his tomb / They planted rosemary.
            14. On the highest branch, / A nightingale sang.
            15. The ceremony over, / Everyone went off to bed.
            19. Thus ends the story / Of the famous Malbrouk.

Johnson summarizes the obscure origins and cultural spread of the song: “Most commonly, the Marlbrough of the title is assumed to be . . .the Duke of Marlborough, warrior and diplomat, who defeated the forces of Louis XIV at Malplaquet in Flanders in 1709. Although the Duke was unscathed and died in his bed in 1722, a French soldier is supposed to have made up the song of Marlborough’s death the night following the battle” (Johnson 1999: 10). “The earliest version of the melody . . . is thought to date from between 1710 and 1720” (Johnson 1999: 11). The tune spread in life and art into English, German and Russian. The “most famous occurrence of the Marlbrough song in Russian literature is in Tolstoy’s War and Peace when Prince Andrei visits his old father before leaving for the Napoleonic wars. As Andrei discusses the coming campaign, the old prince, distracted, begins to sing ‘Malbrook s’en va-t-en guerre. Dieu sait quand reviendra’ (Book I, chapter 15). Tolstoy places the song in Prince Bolkonsky’s mouth to foreshadow the death of his son. Similarly, Nabokov has Blanche sing ‘Marlborough’ to foreshadow Percy de Prey’s death” (Johnson 1999: 15). VN’s allusion is even more Tolstoyan, since Percy’s death carries strong echoes of Tolstoy’s 1872 story “Kavkazkiy plennik” (“Prisoner of the Caucasus”): see Brian Boyd’s note, in the Library of America edition of Ada (Vladimir Nabokov, Novels 1969-1974: Ada or Ardor, Transparent Things, Look at the Harlequins!, ed. Brian Boyd, New York: Library of America, 1996), p. 798,and forthcoming Annotations to Ada/AdaOnline”note on 319.13-320.20. As Johnson notes, “Malbrough Went off to War” also sounds from a barrel organ in Gogol’s Dead Souls, ch. 4. MOTIF: Malbrook.

288.17: bronze-black and copper-red: MOTIF: black-red; copper; red hair.

288.19: gay: Ada has no Percy to worry about for the first time since Van’s return to Ardis.

288.20: she was wearing his diamonds for the first time: Van destroyed the necklace in his rage at seeing Percy hold Ada’s hand after kissing it and before kissing it again (189.28-34). While it seems appropriate that she can celebrate Percy’s departure by wearing the mended necklace for the first time, she does not know Van’s jealousy will soon have fresh and fiercer grounds for rage. MOTIF: diamonds; necklace; La Parure.

288.20-22: wearing his diamonds for the first time . . . new evening dress . . . and—also for the first time—transparent silk stockings: Cf. the novelties in Ada’s appearance and attire on Van’s first evening at Ardis the Second: “Ada’s new long figure was profiled in black—the black of her smart silk dress with no sleeves, no ornaments, no memories” (187.14-16). MOTIF: first time.

288.22: for the first time—transparent silk stockings: Cf. on Van’s first night at Ardis the Second: “She wore, unmodishly, no stockings” (188.05).

288.25-27: gross orchids . . . “ . . . tomcat”: MOTIF: flowers, orchids.

288.25-27: whose popularity with bees depended, said the text, “on various attractive odors ranging from the smell of dead workers to that of a tomcat”: A1, beside “tomcat”: “musk.” Orchids of the genus Bulbophyllum attract flies and beetles by imitating the stench of rotting meat or dung (although it would be unlikely that bees would be attracted to such pungent orchids). Some “orchids smell like the musk glands of animals (some individuals of Coelogyne ochracea), or even the treats your dog leaves for you in the backyard, like Bulbophyllum echinolabium. . . . Some orchids smell like the skin of a fish or pond scum—like Ancistrochilus rothschildianus or Bulbophyllum psychoon or Gastrochilus calceolaris. Bulbophyllum carunculatum and Masdevallia caesia both smell like rotten brie” (Christopher Croom,  The Good, The Bad and The Stinky: A Profile of Orchids and Their Myriad Fragrances,” San Diego Floral Association,, accessed 14 December 2015).

288.27: dead workers: Dead worker bees, presumably.

288.27-28: Dead soldiers might smell even better: Van takes the “workers” as referring to humans and vents his hostility on Lieutenant de Prey, even before he knows for sure that the note in his breast pocket refers to Percy.

288.29-289.07: In the meantime . . . pogonia . . . another orchid . . . Lady’s Slipper . . . how the organs of orchids work: MOTIF: flowers; orchids.

288.29-33: Lucette . . . easiest way to draw a flower . . . indecent details of structure . . . trace the outline of the thing: Cf. Lucette’s “copying beautiful erotic pictures from an album of Forbidden Masterpieces” (376.04-05).

288.31-32: a red-bearded pogonia, with indecent details of structure: W2, Pogonia “[NL. fr. Gr. pōgōn beard] . . . a. A small genus of terrestrial orchids of the North Temperate Zone. There are two American species, P. ophioglossoides, the snakemouth, and P. divaricata.” The type species, P. ophioglossoides, looks rather vulval.

289.01: Patient Ada: Cf. Ada’s telegram to Van in 1886: “dadaist impatient patient,” 178.08-09.

289.03-06: another orchid that had a brown wrinkled pouch and purple sepals . . . the Lady’s Slipper she had picked: The “One common orchid, a Lady’s Slipper” (287.14) that Ada had brought back from her botanical ramble-cum-farewell tryst with Percy. MOTIF: Cinderella.

289.05-06: the crystal vaselet holding the Lady’s Slipper she had picked: Cf. in the débauche à trois scene, 419.27-28: “a Lurid Oncidium Orchid in an amethystine vaselet.”

289.07-10: could a boy bee impregnate a girl flower through something, through his gaiters or woolies or whatever he wore?: A worry fired by Lucette’s sitting on Van’s knee on the carriage on the way back from the picnic two days earlier, as Ada realizes at 289.13-15. Note that Van nearly did come to orgasm under Lucette (“threatened to touch off a private crisis under the solemn load of another child,” 281.27-28); and that this scene of orchid-drawing echoes the scenes where Ada would draw orchids such as Ophrys veenae, with their pseudo-copulation by bees, while Van took the simulacrum of Ada off to his room to masturbate (as, thirteen years later, he will masturbate to the image of Ada while he tries to keep Lucette’s ardor for him at bay, 490). Note also that the Lady’s Slipper orchid is pollinated by bees.

289.08-09: impregnate a girl flower through something, through his gaiters or woolies: Cf. 64.02: “Flowers into bloomers.” MOTIF: flowers.

289.14: the Larivière bosom: Cf. 77.17-18: “Ida Larivière, a bosomy woman of great and repulsive beauty”; 194.17-18: “Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer!”

289.14-15: and complain she has been pollinated by sitting on your knee: See 279.13-282.02. MOTIF: knee.

289.16-17: “But I can’t speak to Belle about dirty things,” said Lucette quite gently and reasonably: Cf. another innocent girl speaking “very reasonably” of a sexual matter she doesn’t understand: “Irma knew perfectly well that it was not he [not her father whistling four notes in the street below], but a man who had for the last fortnight been visiting the lady on the fourth floor—the porter’s little daughter had told her as much, and had put out her tongue when Irma observed, very reasonably, that it was stupid to come so late” (Laughter in the Dark, New York: New Directions, 1960, 159).

289: 22: those horrible flowers: “Horrible” presumably not only because of his impatience but also because of what he has read and seen in the orchid volume at 288.24-27. MOTIF: flowers.

289.26-28: Mon page, mon beau page . . . : Darkbloom: “mon beau page:My pretty page.” More lines from the song “Malbrough” (see 288.14-16n.) which Van presumably hears Blanche still singing as he descends the stairs. The next line, Mironton-mironton-mirontaine, is a meaningless refrain in the song. The line that follows what Blanche sings is “Quelles nouvelles apportez?” (“What news do you bring?”), as if to confirm again in advance that it is Blanche who has brought the note.

290.06: “Well, I’m telling you”: an interesting example of normally eloquent Van’s sudden inarticulacy at this moment of urgency.

290.09: Destroy and forget: MOTIF: destroy and forget.

290.10: Your obedient servant: An ironic echo, although Ada may not know it, of Percy’s farewell flourish in his note to Van, offering a duel and its withdrawal, 284.02. Van may also be suggesting that he would like to destroy and forget Percy, the man who described himself as “your obedient servant” (as if “your obedient servant,” that is, were the object of “Destroy and forget”); he certainly dashes after his rivals for Ada with murderous intent at the end of the next chapter and the beginning of the next but one.

Afternote to Part One, Chapter 40


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