Part One, Chapter 43


On a first reading of Ada, I.43 seems an odd move, an unexpected change in locus and focus: Van cosily and erotically together with Cordula in Manhattan. Although Van is not immune here to this or that “dazzling inward shock of despair” (324) whenever chance details remind him of Ada, this short chapter seems to have very little to with the past with Ada and Ardis that have so dominated Part One, or even with the future, since at the end of the chapter and the first part of the novel Van is headed off across the Atlantic, away even from Cordula.

But for all its seeming centrifugality, this short chapter has multiple links with the rest of Part One and with key phases of the action that will follow.
The chapter ends with a tease, Van “pregnant” with his first book, but with no advance specification about its nature or relevance. By II.1 we and Van encounter Ada’s desperate, hysterically, laboredly playful letters to him, and in II.2 we discover how these letters, and Van’s work on Rattner and others, have been transmuted into Letters from Terra, another distracting compensation for the absence of Ada. Work and other women will be Van’s invariable recourse whenever Ada becomes shut out from his life for one reason or another. In Cordula’s flat, close to Manhattan’s Public Library, Van’s compensation for the loss of Ada and Ardis seems rapid and generous: Cordula’s delighted embraces, Manhattan’s charms for mind and senses, and his research for and “the complicated ecstasies accompanying the making of” his first book (324).
Unlike many of the other women in the “other women” theme in Van’s life, Cordula is no whore, although also, emotionally, no lover (324). But he first meets her just after Ardis the First, and to him then “the dumpy little Countess resembled his first whorelet, and that sharpened the itch” (168). He does not possess her then, and indeed not until the first chapter after Ardis the Second. But the first whorelet, “the fat little wench” in the corner shop, the “fubsy pig-pink whorelet” (33) he encountered at Riverlane, brackets Ardis with Cordula of Brownhill: I.4, the whorelet, just before the start of Ardis the First, and I.43, Cordula, just after the end of Ardis the Second—Cordula, who will cooperate sexually with Van again when they meet in Paris in 1901, and who then agrees “it was fun—even though you’ve been speaking to me not as a you would to a lady friend but as you probably do to little whores” (458).

Part One

The end of Part One links with its start. The structure of the final paragraph, and the paragraph rhythm (especially a long metaphorical paragraph followed by a quick factual one, particularly as a chapter close) echo Tolstoy, and especially the announcement of Kitty’s pregnancy, at the end of Anna Karenin V.xx (see 324.10-325.09n and 325.08-09n above). This matches the echo of the brief opening paragraph of Anna Karenin at the start of Part One. The double allusion, to Flaubert as well as to Tolstoy, at the end of Part One also matches the double allusion, to Tolstoy and to Pushkin, at the start of Part One (see 325.08-09n), as does the element of mistranslation obviously raised at the start of Part One and less obviously entangled also in the “he was pregnant” at the end of Part One (see 325.09n2).
A sequence in the middle of I.43 also links with a sequence within I.1. Van and Ada discover in the attic of Ardis Manor a herbarium album that makes clear to them that they are full brother and sister, although already lovers. Neither child is bothered. Van says: “‘Now don’t you think we should resume our shorts and shirts and go down, and bury or burn this album at once, girl. Right?’ ‘Right,’ answered Ada. “Destroy and forget. But we still have an hour before tea’” (9)—still, in other words, have time to make love again before descending. On the topmost floor of a building not in the countryside but in Manhattan, Van has his attention drawn to another album, from Brownhill, and its recording of a girl who had a crush on Ada—and whom, Van assumes, might have engaged sexually with her—leads him to try to put it out of his mind: “Destroy and forget!” (324).

Ardis the First

Van learns of the existence of Vanda Broom, as the lesbian at Brownhill in love with both Grace Erminin and Ada, only in Cordula’s flat, and catches sight of her in a photograph in the Brownhill album. In I.5 Van reports his first glimpse of Ada at Ardis: “She wore a white frock with a black jacket. . . . He never saw that dress again and when he mentioned it in retrospective evocation she invariably retorted that he must have dreamt it, she never had one like that, never could have put on a dark blazer on such a hot day, but he stuck to his initial image of her to the last” (37). Van and Ada disagree over Van’s first glimpse of her at Ardis the First, but in November 1892 they look together—in this very penthouse apartment, at present Cordula’s, by then Van’s—at another album, the album of photographs taken by Kim Beauharnais in his attempt to blackmail Ada:

The first item in the evil series had projected one of Van’s initial impressions of Ardis Manor at an angle that differed from that of his own recollection. . . . Ada in a black hockey blazer—belonging really to Vanda—spilled her hair over her bare knees as she flexed them (398).

Although Kim’s photograph records the scene from a different vantage point than Van’s memory, it confirms the blazer that Ada had denied, and now, as brother and sister look over the album, discloses a link with Vanda, and the cause of a twinge of jealousy on Van’s part, even retrospectively shading the moment of his first glimpsing Ada in Ardis the First.
At the end of Ardis the First, at Forest Fork, Van asks Ada: “will you be faithful, will you be faithful to me?” She answers: “But, my love, my Van, I’m physical, horribly physical, I don’t know, I’m frank, qu’y puis-je? Oh dear, don’t ask me, there’s a girl in my school who is in love with me, I don’t know what I’m saying” (158). The girl, we learn from I.43, in September 1888, is Vanda. When Van meets Cordula for the first time, apparently later on the very day of Forest Fork, in September 1884, he is comically mistaken—when she says she was quite jealous of Van, after Ada’s letter from Ardis gushing about him—in trying to “recognize a Lesbian” in her (164).

Ardis the Second

I.43 also links with the start and finish of Ardis the Second. Before Van talks to Ada at the Ardis party he arrives toward the end of, he notes Percy de Prey’s raising a glass to him, and then a woman he does not recognize as Cordula: “A fourth maiden in the Canadian couturier’s corn-and-bluet summer ‘creation’ stopped Van to inform him with a pretty pout that he did not remember her, which was true. . . ‘No, I’m Cordula!’ she cried” (188-89). The Cordula of 1.43 is also “fashionable,” “a frivolous fun-loving thing,” a party-goer (322).

The last chapter of Part One connects with end of Ardis the Second in a number of ways: in the reference to Percy, “the late P. de P.” (322), whose death was pre-announced in the picnic for Ada’s sixteenth birthday; in “Malbrook” (322), the name of Cordula’s mother’s castle, which recalls Blanche humming the song “Malbrough” (288) that foreshadows Percy’s death, just after she has planted her warning note in “the heart pocket” of Van’s dinner jacket (287). Ada instructs him to “Destroy and forget” (290) that note, as Van thinks “Destroy and forget” (324) of the mementoes of Ada in Cordula’s flat.  

Ada’s jingle—which Van recalls from the 1887 Brownhill album when Cordula shows him the photograph of Vanda—with its “jacarandas at Arrowhead / In supernatural bloom” (324) recalls Van’s last morning at Ardis, Ada indicating to Van—after he has heard the sickening news of her infidelity—“the jacaranda summit in bloom” (295). “Arrowhead” echoes Van’s thoughts of his wound and its cause at Lakeview Hospital, just minutes before Cordula arrives to take him away:

With the return of health the image of Ada kept rising within him like a bitter and brilliant wave, ready to swallow him. His bandages had been removed; nothing but a special vest-like affair of flannel enveloped his torso, and though it was tight and thick it did not protect him any longer from the poisoned point of Ardis. Arrowhead Manor. Le Château de la Flèche, Flesh Hall. (318)

His failure to handwalk on the terrace of Cordula’s apartment, on the same day Cordula fields Vanda Broom’s call, also ties up with Van’s failure, now, to “triumph, in a sense, over the ardis of time” (185) in his handwalking, in what he now knows has been a doomed attempt to relive Ardis’s 1884 summer of ecstatic love in 1888.

Manhattan: Start

Although details of Van’s time in Cordula’s flat in 1888 confirm the bitter end of Ardis, they also prefigure what at this point seems the unimaginable reunion of Van and Ada, in this very flat, by then Van’s, in November 1892.
The flat itself provides an obvious link—and of course perfectly plausible in “realistic” narrative terms (“Van had recently bought Cordula’s penthouse apartment between Manhattan’s Library and Park,” 365-66, after her marriage to Tobak)—between Van’s stay with Cordula there in 1888 and with Ada in 1892-1893. But there are numerous tighter, more specific, textual echoes.
When he first sights Ada’s plane trying to land, in the early morning, on the oval of the Manhattan park close to his penthouse, Van is standing “on the roof terrace (now embellished by shrubs of blue spiraea in invincible bloom” (390). Ada in the album Van recalled in Cordula’s apartment had written of the “jacarandas at Arrowhead / In supernatural bloom” (324), anticipating Ada indicating to Van from her balcony, on his last morning at Ardis, “the jacaranda summit in bloom (blue! bloom!)” (295)

Ada insists, immediately after her arrival, on taking “her morning bath (this, indeed, was a new Ada)” (392), recalling Van’s pleasure in the same flat in 1888 in seeing “Cordula . . . still lolling in her perfumed bath (a lovely, oddly unfamiliar sight, which he delighted in twice a day)” (322-23). Even before she hops in the bath Ada says she “expected her luggage would be brought up any moment now by the louts of the ‘Monaco’ lounge” (392), recalling Van’s pleasure at eating in with Cordula, in I.43, whenever “they had an elaborate repast sent up from ‘Monaco’” (324). (Notice, on both occasions, something being sent up from the “Monaco.”)
Just after breakfast and making love a second time, Van asks Ada whether she would prefer to travel with him or “Stay in this apartment? So, she liked it? Except some of Cordula’s stuff which should be ejected—as, for example, that conspicuous Brown Hill Alma Mater of Almehs left open on poor Vanda’s portrait” (394).
The name of this lesbian prompts Ada to ask if Lucette has told Van about their lesbian love-making. Van confirms that she has, and Ada adds: “And, by the way, Grace—yes, Grace—was Vanda’s real favorite, pas petite moi and my little crest” (394), clarifying Cordula’s 1888 gloss on Vanda: “she’s a regular tribadka—poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at—at another girl” (323). But the juxtaposition also suggests that Ada has learned from Vanda the repertoire she initiates Lucette into.
Still that morning of her arrival in Manhattan, Ada shows Van the album of photographs that Kim Beauharnais has taken of Ardis the First. The first photo they see, of Ada’s returning to Ardis after Van’s arrival there, shows “Ada in a black hockey blazer—belonging really to Vanda” (398). After seeing the photograph of Vanda in the Brownhill album, and thinking of Ada’s jingle, “In the old manor, I’ve parodied / Every veranda and room, / And jacarandas at Arrowhead,” Van tells himself of these memories: “Destroy and forget!” (324). Explaining how Kim Beauharnais offered her his incriminating photograph album, Ada reports him suggesting it might be best “for her to keep (or destroy and forget, so as not to hurt anybody) the illustrated document now in her pretty hands” (397). Ada had written in the Brownhill album her jingle about parodying “the old manor,” but it is Kim’s photo album that seems a comic parody and reductive revisitation of Ardis the First.


Manhattan: Finish

Brief though it is, the last chapter of Part one not only recalls the start of Part One, the start and finish of Ardis the First and Ardis the Second, and the start of Van and Ada’s Manhattan sojourn, but it also very pointedly anticipates the last chapter of Part Two, the fatal end of their Manhattan idyll—and indeed of their relationship, until Demon dies in 1905.
Van and Ada’s Manhattan sojourn, and their life together, at least while Demon is alive, end on February 5, 1893, when Demon visits Van in his apartment. Crossing Alexis Avenue, having not been able to contact Van to pass on the news of Dan’s death, it occurs to Demon that Van “might still be living with dull little Cordula de Prey in the penthouse apartment of that fine building. He had never been up there—or had he? For a business consultation with Van? On a sun-hazed terrace? And a clouded drink? (He had, that’s right, but Cordula was not dull and had not been present.)” (434). He heads straight up, finds Van living with Ada, not Cordula, and bars his children henceforth from ever seeing or communicating with one another.

While living at Cordula’s apartment in 1888, Van talks several times “on the dorophone with his father (who pursued an extensive study of Mexican spas and spices)” (322). While living in the same apartment with Ada, we learn, in the midst of Van and Ada’s checking that Demon will not be in Manhattan until March, and making sure no one sees them coming and going, that Demon is “in Mexico or Oxmice” (432). Living in the apartment with Cordula, Van finds that “The sweet banality of their little ménage sustained him much more securely than the company of his constantly agitated and fiery father did at their rare meetings in town” (324)—authorial preparation for both Van and Ada’s thinking that they can live together in this apartment in 1892-93 and for Demon’s stumbling upon them there. When Demon does ride up the elevator to Van’s penthouse on that fatal morning, to pass on the news of Dan’s death, he is particularly “agitated and fiery,” indeed emphatically under the influence of some drug (433.31-32, 434.05; 434.13-15, 434.25-26, 437.24-26, 438.01, 438.07-08, 439.01-3).

During his time with Cordula, Van takes her to see “Varangian tragedies” (322). After Demon arrives at the apartment to tell Van about Dan’s death, and just moments before Ada emerges in her pink peignoir to give their secret away, Demon gushe

“I don’t think we should bother Ada in her Agavia. He is—I mean, Vinelander is—the scion, s,c,i,o,n, of one of those great Varangians who had conquered the Copper Tartars or Red Mongols—or whoever they were—who had conquered some earlier Bronze Riders—before we introduced our Russian roulette and Irish loo at a lucky moment in the history of Western casinos.”
“I am extremely, I am hideously sorry,” said Van, “what with Uncle Dan’s death and your state of excitement, sir, but my girl friend’s coffee is getting cold. . . . ” (437-38)

“Varangian” (used only on these two occasions in Ada) and what Vans finds the disturbing “company of his constantly agitated and fiery father . . . at their rare meetings in town” (324) tightly link the last chapter of Part One, Van’s time with Cordula in Manhattan after Ardis, with the end of Part Two, the end of Van’s time with Ada in Manhattan.


As often in Ada, Lucette is not mentioned in I.43 but is pointedly connected with details in the chapter.

In I.43, Vanda Broom’s call raises the subject of lesbianism in connection with Ada, when Cordula explains to Van: “Her name is Vanda Broom, and I learned only recently what I never suspected at school—she’s a regular tribadka—poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at—at another girl” (323). Four years later, Lucette tells Van about her lesbian romps with Ada (“‘Are you horrified, Van? Do you loathe us?’ ‘On the contrary,’ replied Van, bringing off a passable imitation of bawdy mirth. ‘Had I not been a heterosexual male, I would have been a Lesbian,’” 382) when she brings the letter from Ada that convinces Van to arrange to meet Ada again, in Manhattan (386)—romps presumably dependent on techniques Ada acquired from Vanda. In Manhattan, Van, Ada, and Lucette head out to a restaurant and return to the apartment drunk. Van makes rough love to Ada, then

“went to bed and was about to doze off for good when she left his side. Where was she going? Pet wanted to see the album.
            “I’ll be back in a rubby,” she said (tribadic schoolgirl slang), “so keep awake. . . . ”
            “But no sapphic vorschmacks,” mumbled Van into his pillow. (416)

The “pet” who wants to see the album—Kim Beauharnais’s blackmail photograph album—is of course Lucette. Ada’s “‘I’ll be back in a rubby’ . . . (tribadic schoolgirl slang)” (Nabokov’s invented variant on “in a jiffy”) points to Vanda, the tribadic schoolgirl who is identified in I.43 as a tribadka (and is identified a moment later by a photograph in a schoolgirl album), and plays on the etymology of “tribadis,” from the Greek tribein, “to rub.” Van, having heard Lucette’s reports of her and Ada’s romps, and knowing Ada’s insatiability, and aware she is heading to Lucette’s bedroom with the album (he and Ada had themselves made love as they looked through the album, 403), tells her “no sapphic vorschmacks,” no lesbian hors d’oeuvres.
The next morning Van briefly leaves the bedroom and returns to find Lucette sitting on the edge of the bed he shares with Ada. Ada tells Lucette “Pop in, pet” (418), pulls off her nightdress, and sends her eagerly fluttering hands down toward Lucette’s pubic area, pries open her legs, then leads Van’s fingers, with her own, over to Lucette: “Ten eager, evil, loving, long fingers belonging to two different young demons caress their helpless bed pet” (420). By way of baroque analogies the narration emphasises the “rubbing . . . or . . . frottage” (420). When Van, also being “rubbed” by Ada, reaches orgasm, Lucette escapes the bed and the apartment, leaving a note: “Would go mad if remained one more night.” (421)
Beyond the tribadka-tribadic-rubby-rubbing links, this scene is repeatedly linked in other ways with the brief I.43. During his sojourn with Cordula, Van enjoys eating in with her on meals “sent up from ‘Monaco,’ a good restaurant in the entresol” (324). When Van returns to the bedroom and sees Lucette there, Ada is “trying to make her little sister decide whether she would like to try the Monaco’s pancakes with Potomac syrup, or, perhaps, their incomparable amber-and-ruby bacon” (417). While Van and Ada are stroking Lucette, the description of the bed and its surrounds singles out on the bedtable “a Monaco ashtray” (419). After Lucette flees, leaving her note, Van pens an apology to her, ending “Destroy and forget” (421), the very phrase that came to Van’s mind after seeing the album in Cordula’s apartment (324).
When at Forest Fork at the end of Ardis the First, Van had asked Ada would she be faithful to him, she had answered “my love, my Van, I’m physical, horribly physical, I don’t know, I’m frank, qu’y puis-je? Oh dear, don’t ask me, there’s a girl in my school who is in love with me, I don’t know what I’m saying—.” Van responds: “The girls don’t matter, . . . it’s the fellows I’ll kill if they come near you” (158-59). Yet he seems rabidly jealous of Cordula when he visits Ada at Brownhill. Four years later, after seeking to kill the fellows who came near Ada, but discovering his plans superfluous, he learns in Cordula’s apartment the real name of the girl who had been in love with Ada at Brownhill, Vanda Broom. Vanda, Van will learn from Ada when she arrives in his Manhattan apartment, has herself been killed by a jealous lover (“shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend,” 394). 
But Cordula is perfectly unharmed, not even emotionally bruised, by her month with Van, as by her chance double connection with him later, in 1901, in Paris. Van had wrongly suspected Cordula of being Ada’s lover, but happily for both of them makes her his lover, and causes her no distress. But, as I wrote in the Afternote to 1:42, “the one female lover Ada has whom we hear about in detail is Lucette,” and she will be harmed by the way Ada incorporates her in her love-life with and without Van.
I.43 is a kind of anti-Ardis, Van happily ensconced in a vigorous sexual relationship with someone quite unlike Ada in a place quite unlike Ardis. When, unexpectedly, Ada and he set up house together in Manhattan, in Cordula’s old apartment, it will be a kind of reprise of Ardis, via Kim Beauharnais’s photograph album, and through Lucette’s even deeper physical entanglement in Van and Ada’s love. Van will stress, as the tragedy of the end of his time with Ada in Manhattan, Demon’s finding Ada and him as lovers and barring them from seeing each other thereafter. Nabokov, as we will see, stresses two other kinds of harm associated with Manhattan: the deliberate damage Van wreaks on Kim, and the thoughtless damage Van and Ada cause Lucette. The phrase “destroy and forget” occurs in connection with mementoes of Ada and Ardis in Manhattan, in I.43; with the blackmail photograph album which Kim shows Ada, with its mementoes of Ardis, and which will lead to the blinding folded in to the end of the final Manhattan chapter; and with the note Van writes to Lucette after her escape from the bed, a scene that debauchedly intensifies their Ardis entanglements. Ultimately Lucette will not be forgotten, but she has often been forgotten while she is being destroyed between her siblings’ passions.
I.43 shows Van recovering from Ardis in Manhattan, even if he can no longer handwalk, with remarkable ease. But it also looks forward to a darker resumption of Ardis in Manhattan, to a still more final expulsion from Eden.