Part One, Chapter 6


Although this chapter remains in the present, it carries the pointed sting of the future in its tail.

In keeping with its architectural theme, the chapter ends by introducing, through the visit of the architect Alonso, the main physical difference between Ardis the First (1884) and Ardis the Second (1888): the swimming pool that becomes the set for a key scene during Van's second visit. Around that pool, the shooting script of the film of Mademoiselle Larivière's novel Les Enfants Maudits will take its strange shape, as a kind of unwitting commentary on the evolving complications of Ada's love life. As an architectural feature, and a setting for a cast from the movie world, the swimming pool will stress the jump in time--as if from the nineteenth century to the twentieth--in the mere four years between Van's two visits to Ardis, and the ways in which the second visit, for all its intermittent promise of gloriously replaying the first, proves for Van also to be an experience of bewildering and bitter change.

" 'Okay,' said Vronsky. 'Let us get on with this damned script. He leaves the pool-side patio, and since we contemplate doing it on color--' Van left the pool-side patio and strode away. (203)

He leaves the pool-side patio, followed by Ada and then Lucette, who play with him in his swimming-trunks in a way that excites all three and leads to Ada's soon suggesting that Van "fool Lucette by petting her in Ada's presence, while kissing Ada at the same time, and by caressing and kissing Lucette when Ada was away in the woods" in order to "assuage the pubescent child's jealousy and act as an alibi in case she caught them in the middle of a more ambiguous romp." (213) Ada's ploy for distracting Van from her own infidelities will lead to Lucette's fixation on Van, her twisted sexual development, and her suicide.

The swimming pool at Ardis therefore anticipates the swimming pool on the Tobakoff on Lucette's last day alive, as the film in which Marina will star, its script reworked around Ardis's pool, foreshadows the film of Don Juan's Last Fling in which Ada stars and which will provide the occasion both for Lucette's and Van's last moments together and for Van's suddenly leaving Lucette alone and to her doom.

The architect Alonso, the comically insistent Spanish theme at the end of I.6, and the two Spanish pictures Ada and Van mention foreshadow the comic fusion of Don Quixote, Don Juan and Borges (as the author of The Gitanilla, Antiterra's Lolita) in a different kind of picture, Don Juan's Last Fling.


Through its stress on architecture, I.6 also looks forward to II.3, where Eric van Veen's fantasy of a worldwide chain of floramors materializes as much in terms of building styles as of sexual positions, once his grandfather the architect David van Veen decides to construct the Villa Venuses in a wild profusion of modes. In I.6: "Owing to a mixture of overlapping styles and tiles (not easily explainable in non-technical terms to non-roof lovers), as well as to a haphazard continuum, so to speak, of renovations, the roof of Ardis Manor presented an indescribable confusion of angles and levels" (45); in II.3, "Eric's grandfather's range was wide--from dodo to dada, from Low Gothic to Hoch Modern" (350), and he builds floramors equipped with such roofing features as "hipped gables" or looking "like a renovated farmhouse" (350-51).

The earlier chapter opens with Ada showing "her shy guest the great library on the second floor, the pride of Ardis and her favorite 'browse,' which her mother never entered (having her own set of a Thousand-and One Best Plays in her boudoir)"; in the later chapter David van Veen resolves to erect a "thousand and one memorial floramors" (349) in honor of his grandson, and Van ends the chapter in a "last visit to one last Villa Venus" (356) that seems to decay into a squalid dream, in which he reclines "on a rump-tickling coarse couch . . . pensively caressing the pretty head on his chest, flooded by the black hair of a much younger sister or cousin of the wretched florinda on the tumbled bed. . . . It was not Ardis, it was not the library, it was not even a human room, but merely the squalid recess . . . " (357-58). The opening paragraph of I.6 introduces us to the library's divan-"placed in a recess" (41)-on which Van and Ada will first make love, even if "the shag of the couch was as tickly as the star-dusted sky" (121), and which features in Ardis the Second immediately after Ada suggests Van's caressing Lucette as camouflage: "The three of them cuddled and cosseted so frequently and so throughly that at last one afternoon on the long-suffering black divan he and Ada could no longer restrain their amorous excitement. . . . " (213). The phantom candlesticks on the window ledge in I.6 that foreshadow the candlesticks on the window ledge on the Night of the Burning Barn find their last echo on Van's last visit to his "last Villa Venus. A cauliflowered candle was messily burning in its tin cup on the window ledge." (356-57) As if to make quite inescapable the connection between I.6 and II.3, Ardis and Villa Venus, Nabokov evokes "the Andalusian architect" Alonso, when Van choses at one Villa Venus "a pale Andalusian . . . who said as we parted, after one last spasm . . . that her father had constructed the swimming pool on the estate of Demon Veen's cousin." (354)

Like the swimming pool, like Van's sordid last dream-visit to his last Villa Venus, architecture itself points toward Lucette. She will become an art historian, quote her "Professor of Ornament" (374.24), and bamboozle Van with her technical terms ("'Do you remember Grandmother's scrutoir between the globe and the gueridon? In the library?' . . . Scrutoir. Almost as bad as the other with her Blemolopias and Molospermas," 372.29-373.11). Here in this early chapter little Lucette stays, as so often, very much on the margin, only peeping out of a door, one russet knee showing, before she darts away. Yet her presence, signaled by the sound of her toy barrel organ, adds delightfully to the sense of Ardis's childish surprises.

As he has Ada guide "her shy guest" over Ardis, Nabokov in I.6 preserves the innocence and fetchingly disconcerting novelty of the present while allowing Alonso and architecture to suggest that the future might well prompt a much darker reading of Van and Ada's Palace of Earthly Delights.

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