Part One, Chapter 7
Van’s first morning at Ardis will become part of the key “morning” pattern in the novel, the pattern of the decisive mornings of his and Ada’s conjunctions and disjunctions, and especially, here, of both his first and last morning at Ardis the Second.
Van’s first sexual reunion with Ada after Ardis the First occurs at Forest Fork, near Ardis, in 1886, when in a quick comic echo of I.7 Van again interrupts Blanche, this time not with Bouteillan but with his son, Bout (see 49.31-32n. above).
On his first arrival at Ardis the Second, in 1888, everything seems changed, there is no place for him; but he more than recoups that disappointment during his first passionate and intense night with Ada. In a more protracted comic reprise of I.7, first Blanche (returning from a rendezvous with old Sore) and then Bouteillan interrupt Van and Ada on their first torrid morning reunited at Ardis (see 49.24-32n.). (For more links, see also 47.16-18n., 48.14-17n., 49.04-06n., 49.10-12n., 49.21n., 49.31-34n.)
On Van’s last morning at Ardis the Second, the Blanche who refuses him here offers herself to him, and he turns her down not only because he has heard about her venereal disease but because he wants to have her explain her note that suggested Ada’s infidelity. She does so, in a way that sends Van bitterly reeling from Ada and Ardis. (For the links, see 47.16-18n., 48.14-17n., 49.04-06n., 49.13-28n., 49.21n.)
The reprises of this first morning at Ardis therefore stress both how, despite an initial change, Ardis the Second seems an even richer triumph than Ardis the First, not only a revival but a surpassing of that earlier stay, and with none of Van’s earlier need for his slow, hesitant approach to Ada; and how ultimately it proves a betrayal of Ardis the First.
Blanche provides a comic counterpoint to Van and Ada at Ardis that is second in importance only to Lucette’s. In fact in many ways Blanche and Lucette are paired, as comic and ultimately tragic foils to Van and Ada.
Both repeatedly witness Van and Ada making love, both interrupt them, both are fascinated by them: Lucette watches with a child’s curiosity, Blanche with a romantic maidservant’s glamourized envy and a loose lass’s amused insouciance. Both harbour a passion for Van, Blanche one that is easily compatible with all her other amours, Lucette with a tragic singleness of mind.
Blanche and Lucette in their different ways are Cinderella figures: Blanche as a servant girl, and one of three sisters, Lucette as the youngest and least favoured of three siblings. Blanche offers herself to Van but is turned down, and in her comic way ironically gets her beau: she marries Trofim Fartukov, who says just after Van has turned Blanche down he would never touch her even through a leathern apron; Lucette offers herself to Van but, rejected, hurls herself to her death.
Here in I.7 Blanche tells Van she is a virgin, or almost. In fact, she seems already to be suffering from venereal disease. Lucette will later tell Van she is still “a virgin--well, technically, a virgin, a kokotische virgin, half poule, half puella” (372.10-11), yet she has already been damaged by her initiation into sex. Both think about the consequences of being possessed just once by Van: for Blanche, “it would be, for me, only grief, and infernal fire, and despair, and even death” (49.20); for Lucette, making love to Van seems her only salvation, since her passion would somehow “transform a brief tactile event into an eternal spiritual tie” (485.02-27).
Both Blanche and Lucette suggest the dark side of Van and Ada’s triumphant love: Lucette directly, by her death as a result of her emotional entanglement in their affair, Blanche through a series of black-comic reflections of their myth of love.
The two main Veens evoke Venus, as Ardis (via Greek ardis, “point of an arrow”) suggests Cupid’s arrow; but their surname also means “peat” in Dutch, and Blanche, “a poor peat-digger’s daughter,” from La Tourbière or Torfyanka (Peatbog or Peaty), suggests a danker side to the Venus myth. (Cf. Boyd 1985/2001: 152-55; Boyd 2004.)
On his first morning at Ardis, Van goes to the toilet, a little anxious that his nether itch the day before could signal venereal disease, but here emerges “quite well, quite well!” and in fact brimming with sap on an Ardis summer morning, only to run into Blanche, whom he accosts, and who actually will prove to have venereal disease. Blanche reads romantic novels, and with her novelettish imagination will help turn Van and Ada’s love into a local myth: “their first summer in the orchards and orchidariums of Ardis had become a sacred secret and creed, throughout the countryside. Romantically inclinded handmaids, whose reading consisted of Gwen de Vere and Klara Mertvago, adored Van, adored Ada, adored Ardis’s ardors in arbors” (409.03-07). It is her tone of novelettish tragedy that saves Van on this first morning at Ardis--that and the fact that Blanche already has an assignation with Bouteillan.
Her “whites,” which first seem a light comic twist on her name, and then an ironic undercutting of her claim to near-virginity, eventually take on a much darker shade. Her promiscuity and even her venereal disease seem often a joke, a comic parody of the ardors of Ardis, as when on Van’s last morning at Ardis, when he is smarting from different pains of love, Trofim tells Van after they have dropped Blanche off at Tourbière that he would not touch her “even through a leathern apron.” (300) Yet Trofim marries her, and because of her “clap” (409) their child is born blind. “Love is blind,” Van ghoulishly comments (408).
Blanche seems at first introduced to show Van’s pump is primed, to stand as a comic alternative to--and then a comic witness and parallel and admirer of--Van and Ada’s ardours. Pale, promiscuous, not unlike Ada in features (398.33-34), she appears a natural foil to Ada.
But this servant, whom Van first responds to in the way Demon had shown him, also stands as a complication of the Veen myths of love, like the Lucette fatally trapped between her sister and her sister’s lover, as Aqua had been between Marina and Demon.