Part One, Chapter 5


Van's metamorphic journey between station and Ardis helps to frame Ardis the First, since on his departure from Ardis at the end of the summer he leaves in a car driven by Bouteillan, stops for a tryst with Ada at Forest Fork, and resumes his journey on "Morio, his favorite black horse . . . held by young Moore." (159.09-10) In this metamorphosis the departure succumbs, even more blatantly than the arrival, to the allure of romance. (Cf. Boyd 1985: 6-7.)

The eerie repetition of the driver's wave as the coach passes through "Torfyanka, a dreamy hamlet" (35.01) and "Gamlet, a half-Russian village" (35.10-11) seems to prefigure in an odd way the most remarkable of the many repetitions linking Ardis the First and Ardis the Second, Van's ride back from the picnics on Ada's twelfth and sixteenth birthdays, with Ada on his lap on the first occasion--when they drive through "Gamlet, a hamlet" (87.10-11)--and Lucette on his lap on the second--when they drive through "Gamlet, the little Russian village." (282.06)

The passage through Torfyanka, meanwhile, foreshadows Van's departure from Ardis the Second. Late in July 1888 Blanche, who hails from Torfyanka (Tourbière to her, since she speaks French), passes Van a note revealing that Ada has betrayed him. After confirming the allegation Van promptly leaves Ardis forever, in Blanche's company, and the novel passes explicitly through Torfyanka for the second time as he drops Blanche at a "poor shack smothered in climbing roses" (299.22), in pointed echo of Torfyanka's "smithy smothered in jasmine" (35.03) during his first journey to Ardis.

The red-haired lady who leaps out of the hackney coach and makes possible Van's conveyance from the station by a "chance crease in the texture of time" curiously anticipates, just before Van's first meeting with Ada, his last reunion with his sister. The seventeen years of their last long separation end when Van drives toward Ada at Mont Roux as he composes his treatise "The Texture of Time." In his treatise Van wants to sever time from space, and the arrow or "ardis" (from Greek "point of an arrow," 225.17-19) of direction from time, even as he journeys through space and time toward Ada. The metamorphic 1884 journey between station and Ardis seems to be Van's deliberate way not only of stamping Ardis with the mark of romance but also of stressing that it is the experience of Ardis, of his love for Ada, that makes him feel he can refute the notion of time as direction. Redescribing or reinventing his journey from station to manor, he deliberately subverts the bland linearity of time in tribute and anticipation of the treatise he has undertaken to revalue time in a different mode.

But that 1922 treatise reaches an impasse, and Van's last reunion with Ada seems to fail, until Ada, driving away from Van forever, changes her mind and returns to stay with him forever. In the last page of the treatise, which dissolves again into story, Van and Ada attribute Ada's change of mind to the prompting of Lucette, a red-haired lady by this time long drowned and at the bottom of the Atlantic. (Cf. Boyd 1985: 179-82.) Red-haired women in Ada generally point toward Lucette; the red-head at the station in 1884, dashing from her calèche as she runs for a train, especially anticipates Lucette jumping from a calèche and rushing for a train in Nice as Van disembarks (461.28-33). The red-haired lady who offers a fortunate intervention in Van's journey, "a chance crease in the texture of time," seems to prefigure the way the dead Lucette, by ending their separation, snaps the arrow of implacable one-way time both in Van's life with Ada and so in his "Texture of Time."

From the moment Van heads for Ardis, then, he covertly stresses the various ways in which it allows him to challenge "the direction of Time, the ardis of Time, one-way Time." (538.30) Nabokov, similarly, asserts in his own autobiography--which he initially planned to call The House Was Here, after the manor that preserved the radiant summers of childhood for him--that he does "not believe in time."

Van's first glimpse of Ada leads to Ada's first questioning of his memory (until now she has been shown querying only his phrasing). Kim Beauharnais's photograph of the scene (398.14-25) will confirm that she wears the black blazer she denies she could have worn, but neither confirms nor denies the white frock Van remembers. Van's sticking "to his initial image of her to the last" also anticipates his ineradicable last image of Ada at Ardis, which even he acknowledges must be objectively false: "He could swear he did not look back . . . and yet, with dreadful distinction, he retained forever a composite picture of her standing where he left her. . . . a definite picture that he knew he had never seen in reality [and that] remained within him more real than any actual memory." (296.30-298.09)

If Van's first glimpse of Ada links up in this way with his last imagined glimpse of her at Ardis, their first contact--her hair merely brushing his neck--curiously anticipates the whole subsequent pattern of their sexual contact. He stands behind her at this first moment of contact, and their love-making will repeatedly, insistently, adopt this position. (Cf. for the "behind" pattern Boyd 1985: 113-23.)

Ada often investigates the interplay between life and art and between present and past. Often the two oppositions overlap, for as in the matching of Van's recollection and Kim's photograph, the novel stresses the pictorial power of memory: "Remembrance, like Rembrandt, is dark but festive. Remembered ones dress up for the occasion and sit still. Memory is a photo-studio de luxe on an infinite Fifth Power Avenue." (103.27-30) "One image I shall not forget and will not forgive," writes Demon to Marina (16.03-04)--like his son, he cannot forget a fatal though imagined vision of his unfaithful love--and that is the image of her emerged from the shower, blocking the telephone as she talks to another lover while Demon waits at the other end of the line, an image that for Demon evokes the Parmigianino sketch that precipitates their parting.

When Van sees Marina for the first time at Ardis, his mind projects on the screen of the present an image from the past, Marina swooping on him at a park as he watched a cage full of Lady Amherst's pheasants. Now, in the present at Ardis, she tells him she loved to identify with famous women, and draws Van's attention to a ladybird on his plate. Behind her stands her portrait, painted by Tresham and showing her, in the very year of Van's memory, in a picture hat with plumage apparently derived from a pheasant. She seems to be a "lady bird," a famous lady, a Lady Amherst's pheasant, in this painting by Tresham.

"Van, as he recalled the cage in the park and his mother"--Aqua, that is--"somewhere in a cage of her own, experienced an odd sense of mystery as if the commentators of his destiny had gone into a huddle." (38.26-27) Marina ten years ago told him she would replace his mother; Aqua in her cage and Marina as a Lady Amherst's pheasant, like those inside the cage, eerily change places.

Lucette is woven deeper, almost eerily, into the pattern. Van has never visited Ardis before, but “the place swarmed with ghosts!” (36): first Demon’s old butler Bouteillan, then Van’s own former governess, Mlle Larivière, while the footman Price will resemble his teacher of history, “Jeejee” Jones, and “Aunt” Marina, as an echo of herself ten years earlier, and of Aqua, now dead. But just after “the place swarmed with ghosts” Van sees Mlle Larivière reading to a small girl whom Van decided “must be ‘Ardelia,’ the eldest of the two little cousins he was supposed to get acquainted with. Actually it was Lucette . . . [who] had had pneumonia in spring and was still veiled by an odd air of remoteness that children . . . retain for some time after brushing through death.” “Ardelia” is a homonym of ardilla (98), “the silver-and-sable skybab squirrel” (94) eavesdropping, as it were, on Van and Ada in their mock-Fortunate Fall from the Tree of Eden in I.15; the squirrel will become associated with Lucette, who actually eavesdrops on them on this scene and many others that follow (see I.15 Afternote). As Tony Fazio points out (private communication, 5 October 2014), the “silver-and-sable” color in the squirrel combination matches the “great drooping plume of black-banded silver” in Marina dressed in the picture hat adorned by the feathers from Lady Amherst’s pheasant. Marina in picture hat in picture anticipates Lucette in picture hat in Paris, as if in a Toulouse-Lautrec picture, even more precisely.

As discussed in the Forenote, and again at the start of the Afternote, this chapter swarms with anticipations. At the start of the chapter, in the shift from hackney coach to calèche to runabout to clockwork taxi, Van has played with chance creases in the texture of time. Near the end of the chapter, he recounts his first touch with Ada in ways that fold over multiple times in different ways. First, the sudden flaring of his desire, in the wet dreams to come, when that first contact of her hair with his neck is re-enacted in his first dreams of her in ways that “proved to be beyond the dreamer’s endurance and like a lifted sword signaled fire and violent release.” That image itself, and Ada’s tickling hair, anticipate the Night of the Burning Barn. But even before her hair touches him, he foreshadows the fact that Ada will marry another man.

The theme of marriage to the wrong person, as it were, has been sounded earlier in the chapter when Marina, standing with four-year-old Van beside the cage in the park with Lady Amherst’s pheasants, had “told him that if her father wished she would replace his mother” (37). In the short chapter that begins with Van spying Lucette in her picture hat, Lucette, after a little too much too drink, offers herself as a kind of surrogate Ada, though not an obstacle to her: “Look Van, . . . Why not risk it? Everything is quite simple. You marry me. You get my Ardis. We live there, you write there. I keep melting into the background never bothering you. We invite Ada—alone, of course—to stay for a while on her estate, for I had always expected mother to leave Ardis to her. While she’s there, I go to Aspen or Gstaad. . . . ” (466) The confusion of sisters Aqua and Marina for Demon (Aqua in her cage, Marina as if a “lady bird,” a Lady Amherst’s pheasant) foreshadows the confusion of sisters Ada and Lucette for Van.

The “lady bird” on the plate over tea—with Ada’s nosegay of flowers she has gathered, and Marina gushing that she “loved to identify with famous women, There’s a ladybird on your plate, Ivan, Especially with famous beauties—Lincoln’s second wife or Queen Josephine” (38)—anticipates the “Weekday lunch at Ardis Hall” scene in I.10, where Van notes a yellow thingum on his plate that Ada identifies as a Marsh Marigold, and stops her mother’s hushing reminiscence of her theatrical days (“when I was plying Ophelia, the fact that I had once collected flowers”) by her botanical disquisition on the flower and its mistranslation. That Marsh Marigold or souci d’eau itself anticipates in complex ways Lucette’s suicide (see Afternote to I.10).

Nabokov signals behind the ironies of time Van incorporates other ironies of time beyond and behind Van’s control.

This equivalence between the two sisters anticipates the fatal confusion between Ada and Lucette (cf. Boyd 1985: 109-23); the picture hat and riding crop in the painting of Marina prefigure Lucette in a picture hat, with Van behind her holding an umbrella that seems a transformation of all the portentous riding crops in his life (cf. Boyd 1985: 141-52), in a scene that transgresses the boundary between life and art by evoking an event that evokes an advertisement that evokes a Toulouse-Lautrec painting (cf. Boyd 1985: 109-11); and the equation of Marina and the Lady Amherst's pheasant looks forward to the repeated visual and verbal identification of Lucette with a bird of paradise (cf. Boyd 1985: 180-81), an identification repeatedly complicated by an additional confusion with Ada.

On a first reading, the first chapter at Ardis is saturated with anticipations and recapitulations even as it steeps us in the novelty of the moment. But on rereading it produces a density of references to time fore and aft that permit Nabokov to formulate Ada's most puzzling paradox, as he simultaneously demonstrates destiny's design and dismisses the Ardis of time.

Marijeta Bozovic comments on the extension of the Eugene Onegin theme introduced into Demon and Marina’s love affair in the story of Van and Ada:

“another variation on the Onegin theme opens Ada’s central narrative, this time as Van and Ada’s love story. [n: See again Johnson’s “Nabokov’s Ada,” 317-18] A cynical young aristocrat self-modeled on books moves to the country and meets two sisters, the older dark-haired and bookish, the younger fair and ‘normal.’ Pale Ada could be Tatiana’s great-granddaughter: the fact that her mother had been cast as Tatiana underscores the physical resemblance. Van tells Ada that she resembles “the young soprano Maria Kuznetsova in the letter scene of Tschchaikow’s opera Onegin and Olga” (158).” (“From Onegin to Ada: Nabokov and the Transnational Imperative,” in Brian Boyd and Marijeta Bozovic, eds.. Nabokov Upside-Down, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017).


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