Part Two, Chapter 1




After the two long sections of Ardis the First and Ardis the Second, which dominate and unify Part 1, Van and Nabokov emphasize the centrifugality of life for Van without Ada in Part 2, especially in its first half, before the lovers are reunited in Manhattan: Ada’s spiky letters, II.1; Letters from Terra, Van’s creative diversion from and compensation for the loss of Ada, II.2; the Villa Venuses, his most colorful sexual diversion, II.3; his lectures on dreams, his professional diversion, II.4; and his visit in the midst of his teaching and research from an almost adult and tautly wound-up Lucette, II.5, a visit that will lure him back to Manhattan to await Ada’s arrival in II.6.
The opening of Part 2, Van’s meeting with Demon at the Goodson Airport, although prepared for quietly in Part 1, catches us off guard, not least because of the wild unpredictability and heterogeneity of Demon’s startlingly oblique first remarks to Van, the first dialogue of Part 2

“Stocks . . . are on the zoom. Our territorial triumphs, et cetera. An American governor, my friend Bessborodko, is to be
installed in Bessarabia, and a British one, Armborough, will rule Armenia. I saw you enlaced with your little Countess near
the parking lot. If you marry her I will disinherit you. They’re quite a notch
below our set.” (330)

Part 2: Beginning and Ending

But Part 2 Chapter 1, despite its centrifugality, also prepares us for the rest of Part 2, and especially its fateful end. Van and Nabokov begin Part 2 with Demon, just leaving Manhattan with his son, in order to prepare for Demon’s ending Part 2: just arrived back in Manhattan, he will discover his son and daughter living together as a couple and bar them from further contact, thereby separating them until he himself dies in 1905.
Ada’s choice of “the phenomenally discreet, and in fact rather creepy, infallibility of the VPL organization” (329) for her letters to Van emphasizes their fear of the discovery of their relationship. So too does the fact that her letter reaches Van in the company of his father, who greets him, indeed, at the very moment Van pockets the letter. Demon, as is evident in the speech quoted just above, takes an alert interest in Van’s love-life and feels a right to monitor and direct his son’s major life choices, even to the point of threatening to disinherit him—although Van can parry this by pointing to the fortune that Aqua has left him and that he will come into in another couple of years. Van also adds: “But you needn’t worry, sir, we have interrupted our affair for the time being—till the next time I return to live in her girlinière” (330). This makes plain Demon’s knowledge of Van’s relationship with Cordula, and of his living with her in her Alexis Avenue apartment, and hence prepares for Demon’s surprise visit to that apartment in February 1893, to inform Van about Dan’s death, and his discovery, in the closing chapters of Part 2 (II.10-11), that Van is living there not with Cordula, now Mrs. Tobak, but with Ada.
Snob that he is, Demon now, in II.1, disapproves of Cordula as a potential wife for Van, Countess though she is. But in II.10, when he is reminded that Cordula has married, he enthuses about her choice, “Backbay Tobakovich!” (436, signifying that Ivan Tobak belongs to one of Boston’s old-established families living in Boston’s elite Back Bay neighborhood). Demon gushes even more about Ada’s “fiancé,” as he calls him, Andrey Vinelander, “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” (437), in other words from an impeccably historic lineage.
Ada’s letters to Van quoted in II.1 try to minimize and explain her affairs with Rack and Percy. Percy threatened her, she reports, with telling Marina about Ada’s affair with Van (which he has found out through his relationship with Madelon, the sister of Blanche—Blanche, who has always been such an eager onlooker on Van and Ada’s romps). Percy did not do so seriously, Ada admits, but she wishes to emphasize to Van “the effect of the threat upon one ready to submit to any infamy rather than face the shadow of disclosure, for (and this, of course, neither he nor his informers could know), shocking as an affair between first cousins might have seemed to a law-abiding family, I refused to imagine (as you and I have always done) how Marina and Demon would have reacted in ‘our’ case” (335). The reaction of the Demon present when the first of these letters reached Van will be all too apparent at the end of Part 2.
Other seemingly casual details from II.1 also anticipate Demon’s discovery of his children’s affair. Van receives Ada’s second VPL letter when standing “in the Louvre right in front of Bosch’s Bateau Ivre” (331). Demon surprises Van in II.10 to tell him that “Dan has died an odd Boschean death” (436), and reports the details of Dan’s last moments, oddly indeed echoing Bosch’s Last Judgement. Made more voluble than ever by his drugs, Demon also raves about details in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (435-37). Van comments in an aside on Bosch’s Bateau Ivre,“poor old Dan thought it had something to do with Brant’s satirical poem” (331); Demon, reporting Dan’s Boschean death, also has a hit at Bosch criticism, when he mentions in passing his annoyance with “the masterpiece-baiter who makes Bosch express some bosh of his time” (437).
At the end of II.1, Van mentions that he has stored the one innocent letter from Ada, of the six he does not answer, in the “little palazzo” (336) at 5 Park Lane, which belongs to his father (he keeps the less innocent ones secure from his father’s and any other prying eyes, in the safe of a Swiss bank, 336). The “little palazzo” later burns down, and Van erects in its blackened lot the Lucinda Villa, with a “collection of microphotographed paintings” (336). In II.11, it will be in this “little palazzo” (445) that Demon issues his edict barring his children from seeing or even communicating with one another. Later, Van will in fact inherit the palazzo; in 1919 it burns down, perhaps because of

the city fathers . . . who could no longer endure their craving for the space that the solid dwarf occupied between two
alabaster colossi; but instead of selling them the blackened area as expected, Van gleefully erected there his famous
Lucinda Villa, a miniature museum just two stories high, with a still growing collection of microphotographed paintings. (336)

While Demon is issuing his edict, Van notices a painter across the lane (439), seeming to paint the palazzo, as Ada much later confirms: “what you did not make out was that the artist had about finished a large picture of your meek little palazzo standing between its two giant guards” (445). The palazzo between two colossi, and the paintings later stored in the building erected in its place, in II.1, anticipate the scene of Demon’s edict, in II.11—on the very morning someone paints the palazzo “between its two giant guards” (445)—and therefore the ensuing separation between Van and Ada for another twelve years.

The Starts of Three Parts
Van links the start of Part 2 with its end. VN also enables him to link the start of Part 2 with the starts of both Part 1 and Part 3. On the first page of Part 1, Van introduces his great-grandfather Prince Peter Zemski, Governor of Bras d’Or (3). On Demon’s first words in Part 2, having just read the newspaper announcing Crimea’s capitulation, he announces that “An American governor, my friend Bessborodko, is to be installed in Bessarabia, and a British one, Armborough, will rule Armenia” (330). On the first page of Part 3, Van, offering samples of his travels, records that “He went shooting with the British Governor of Armenia, and his niece, on Lake Van” (449).
The elaborate pairing and patterning of the Bessborodko-Bessarabia and Armborough-Armenia names recalls nothing so much as, on the second page of Part 1, the introduction of Aqua and Marina, and their respective husbands, Dark Walter, or Raven Veen, or simply Demon, and Durak Walter, or Red Veen, or simply Daniel. Bes in Russian can mean “demon,” and Armina is an old name for Armenia (see 8.02n): Nabokov multiplies pattern on pattern once again, as if to emphasize the parentage that Van and Ada share and that necessitates the high secrecy of Ada’s letters to Van and their worries about their parents’ reactions. Demon will part them in the last chapter of Part 2; in the first chapter of Part 3, Marina dies.
In II.1 Demon, pleased with “his flair” for deduction (330), asks Van if he or his poule is in trouble with the police. In I.1, Van and Ada outdeduce each other in their inferences from the herbarium and other clues they find in the attic, a flair of their own that helps confirm, as the evidence in the attic also does, that they are both the children of Demon the deducer. At Goodson Airport in II.1, Van, looking for the lavatory in which he can read Ada’s letter without Demon’s curiosity intruding, notices a gentian on the Gents and a lady fern on the Ladies, and jokes: “have to go to the herbarium” (331), pointedly recalling the herbarium in Ardis’s attic and Van and Ada’s 1884 discovery there that they are full brother and sister.


Letters naturally feature prominently in a long-lasting love story of two people who can rarely be together for much of their first four decades as lovers.
Letters appear first, albeit only via the code Van and Ada deploy to communicate, in the chapter following Ardis the First, I.26. They recur after Ardis the Second, and the absolute end of Van at Ardis, in II.1, this time with five of Ada’s letters quoted verbatim. Van receives the second letter while standing in front of Bosch’s Bateau Ivre at the Louvre: not in fact the usual name, on Earth at least, of Bosch’s painting, which is Ship of Fools (although Bateau Ivre might actually be a better name: see 331.15-18n), but it is the name of a famous poem by Rimbaud, as famous as his “Mémoire,” one basis of Van and Ada’s codes in their letters during their first, post Ardis the First, separation.
Although Part 2 flaunts its heterogeneity, Ada’s letters lead naturally into Van’s compositional compensation for his separation from Ada, his Letters from Terra, the focus of the next chapter, which indeed begins: “Ada’s letters breathed, writhed, lived; Van’s Letters from Terra, ‘a philosophical novel,’ showed no sign of life whatsoever” (338).
As the end of II.1 announces, Lucette will be the letter-carrier for Ada’s seventh letter, which ends Van’s proud refusal to respond to Ada. The chapter which records Lucette’s visit to Van at Kingston will incorporates into her dialogue much of “a rambling, indecent, crazy, almost savage declaration of love in a ten-page letter” (366) that she had sent him a year earlier; the chapter almost ends by quoting, once again in full, Ada’s seventh and decisive letter. Just over a week later, Lucette spends a drunken and debauched night and morning in Manhattan with reunited Van and Ada, but flees from Ada’s entangling her once again in her intimacy with Van, and leaves a desperate short note, quoted in full, that Van responds to in a letter, also quoted in full.
In the last chapter of Part 2, as he is about to ban Van and Ada from meeting or even communicating, Demon happens to mention being blackmailed by someone who knew that Van as a baby had been substituted for mad Aqua’s still-born child, and annually requests by letter a new instalment of hush money. And Van, told by Demon to break off from Ada, writes her, while she is facing Demon’s judgment, one last farewell note, which is also quoted in full, from “Do what he tells you” to “Good-bye, girl” (444-45).

Secrecy, blackmail, disclosure, involvement

Secrecy and blackmail are themes that are raised by and in Ada’s VPL messages and that utterly pervade Part 2.

Introducing the VPL agency, Van explains in the first paragraph of Part 2 that its

fantastically priced, and prized, process of transmission insured an absoluteness of secrecy which neither torture nor mesmerism had
been able to break down in the evil days of 1859. It was rumored that even Gamaliel on his (no longer frequent, alas) trips to Paris,
and King Victor during his still fairly regular visits to Cuba or Hecuba, and, of course, robust Lord Goal, Viceroy of France, when
enjoying his randonnies all over Canady, preferred the phenomenally discreet, and in fact rather creepy, infallibility of the VPL
organization to such official facilities as sexually starved potentates have at their disposal for deceiving their wives. (329)

Notice how the theme of secrecy is immediately linked with sexual stealth.

Van’s need to conceal his first Ada VPL letter from his father makes still more apparent the reason for her resorting to such an agency. In the last of her VPL letters, Ada writes of Percy as a kind of half-hearted blackmailer, and her sensitivity to his warning, even if she can tell he’s not quite serious: she wishes to stress

the effect of the threat upon one ready to submit to any infamy rather than face the shadow of disclosure, for (and this, of course,
neither he nor his informers could know), shocking as an affair between first cousins might have seemed to a law-abiding family,
I refused to imagine (as you and I have always done) how Marina and Demon would have reacted in “our” case. (335)

The theme of secrecy continues lightly in Letters from Terra—Theresa having to conceal the flaws of life on Terra, and the risk that “agents on Terra might have yanked her back or destroyed her in flight had they managed to intercept her undissembling ondulas, now mostly going one way, our way, don’t ask Van by what method or principle” (342)—and in the Villa Venus chapter, with its precautions for the privacy of the clients—“a private road . . . a labyrinth of hedges and walls with inconspicuous doors to which only the guests and the guards had keys. . . . A system of bells . . . so that no matter how many noblemen were waiting or wenching in any part of the floramor, each felt he was the only cock in the coop” (351), and, on regal visits, “detectives who dutifully impersonated hedge-cutters, grooms, horses, tall milkmaids, new statues, old drunks and so forth” (352).

The theme continues in a much more personal key in Lucette’s letter to Van in 1890, disclosing the secret of her new sexual relations with Ada. Van incorporates that letter into the dialogue of Lucette’s visit, with Ada’s letter, to him at Kingston, where she makes further disclosures, partly by referring back to her spying on Van and Ada making love from the closet where they had locked her in 1888 (372-73).

When Van and Ada are reunited in Manhattan, Ada’s next move after making love is to show Van the photographs Kim Beauharnais took of them making love at Ardis in 1884, the basis of the kitchen-hand’s blackmail threat. But others, Ada confesses, also watched their romps: “do you realize—because I never did before talking to [Blanche] a couple of years ago—that the people around our affair had very good eyes indeed? Forget Kim, he’s only the necessary clown—but do you realize that a veritable legend was growing around you and me while we played and made love?” (408). “‘All of which,’ said Van, ‘only means that our situation is desperate’” (409). They are worried about being seen with one another in Manhattan, and ponder a veil for Ada and a false mustache for Van if they ride out together (422).

But despite their taking “a great many precautions” (432), Demon, seeking his son to inform him of Dan’s death, bribes his way to the floor of Cordula’s apartment and finds Van there “in a delicate situation,” as Van says, hoping to be rid of his father: not with Cordula but “another, much more impressionable girl” (436). Ada, on catching sight of Demon, gives the game away completely with a “Bozhe moy!” and darts back into the bedroom (438). In the last chapter of Part 2, back in his palazzo, Demon lays down his edict, and almost mentions (and Van as narrator elaborates on) “Black Miller,” the long-standing blackmailer who knew of Marina’s new-born Van’s being substituted for mad Aqua’s still-born child. Van adds,

to complete this useful parenthesis, that in early February, 1893, . . . two other less successful blackmailers were waiting in the wings:
Kim who would have bothered Ada again had he not been carried out of his cottage with one eye hanging on a red thread and the
other drowned in its blood; and the son of one of the former employees of the famous clandestine-message agency after it had been
closed by the U.S. Government in 1928, when the past had ceased to matter, and nothing but the straw of a prison cell could reward
the optimism of second-generation rogues. (441)

The second of these blackmailers, the son of one of the VPL agents who brought the letters Ada sends to Van in II.1, surfaces too late, after Dan, Demon, Marina, and Lucette are all long dead, to bother Van and Ada. The first of the blackmailers, Kim, returns a few pages later, at the very end of Part 2: Ada, years later, complains that Van should never have blinded Kim or connived “to burn those files [of his photographic negatives]—and most of Kalugano’s pine forest” (446). Van responds ghoulishly:

“Amends have been made,” replied fat Van with a fat man’s chuckle. “I’m keeping Kim safe and snug in a nice Home for
Disabled Professional People, where he gets from me loads of nicely brailled books on new processes in
chromophotography.” (446)

In the VPL agency, in Percy as a quasi-blackmailer, and in Ada’s fear of the threat of the disclosure of her affair with Van, Part 2’s opening chapter has elaborately and pointedly anticipated this compound close to Part 2. Even Ada’s “innocent sixth letter (Dreams of Drama)” (336) plays its part. Precisely because it is “innocent,” because it discloses nothing of their affair, Van can keep it in a desk in the Park Lane palazzo. But the palazzo burns down, with the letter, and Van builds in its place “his famous Lucinda villa” (336). The fire takes with it this innocent letter from Ada, and her non-innocent but “coded notes (of 1884-88),” meant to preserve the secrecy of their affair, as the fire mentioned at the end of Part 2 destroys Kim’s files on Ada’s sexual activities at Ardis with Van, again to preserve the secret of Van and Ada’s amours.
Kim Beauharnais and Lucette have been the most assiduous spies on Van and Ada’s romps at Ardis. Lucette’s involvement will ultimately lead to her death and thence to the memorial Van erects for her on the grounds of the palazzo, with “microphotographed paintings from all public and private galleries in the world” (336): “microphotographed” pointedly chimes with the poor compensation Van offers Kim, after blinding him and burning his files: books on “chromophotography” (446).

Secrecy versus involvement

The Lucinda Villa, being a “memorial” (337), introduces emphatically if obliquely the fact of Lucette’s death, at some time before 1919 (although it has already been strongly implied at 104). The miniature museum’s being an architectural memorial (“of Parian marble,” 337) for a Veen, and its world-wide eclecticism (“paintings from all public and private galleries in the world,” 336), also makes it oddly anticipate, in the reading experience, or echo, in time, the Villa Venus chain, the “thousand and one memorial floramors . . . all over the world” (349) erected in the 1870s “in brick and stone, concrete and marble” (349) by architect David van Veen to commemorate his grandson Eric. At the same time the Lucinda Villa also oddly anticipates, again in the reader’s but not Van’s experience, Letters from Terra, built as it is on the site where Ada’s coded post-Ardis the First letters and her sixth post-Ardis the Second letter were stored and burned, and with, again, its combination of a worldwide perspective and microscopic reduction (“microphotographed paintings from all public and private galleries in the world,” 336): Theresa is “a graceful microorganism” who has to be placed “on a slide under a powerful microscope” (340) and whose reports allow Sig Leymanski to “form a geomantic picture” (340) of the whole of Terra’s recent past.
But the Lucinda Villa also has an obscurer series of connections with the theme of secrecy and blackmail. Van makes the Lucinda Villa a tribute to his half-sister’s intellectual passion, her art history, her formidable knowledge of European painting. The “irreplaceable little palazzo” (336) on whose site it is built is first introduced in the novel as Van’s “father’s pretty house, in Florentine style, between two vacant lots (5 Park Lane in Manhattan), . . .  Van’s winter home (two giant guards were soon to rise on both sides of it, ready to frog-march it away)” (149). Note how the description of the little building between two skyscrapers closely recurs in the discussion of the Lucinda Villa, built on “the space that the solid dwarf”—“the irreplaceable little palazzo”—“occupied between two alabaster colossi” (336), and anticipates even more closely the end of Part 2, the scene of Demon issuing his edict to Van and Ada, where someone is painting the palazzo, as Ada recalls years later to Van: “what you did not make out was that the artist had about finished a large picture of your meek little palazzo standing between its two giant guards. Perhaps for the cover of a magazine, which rejected that picture” (445: this seems to be either a recollection of a New Yorker cover, or a suggestion for one). For some reason, Lucette’s memory (the Lucinda Villa on the site of the palazzo) seems to be closely connected with the palazzo where Demon issues his edict. Why?
To answer this, let us also note that the palazzo is associated with Lucette’s expert scholarly interest in art. Ada shows Van the album of photographs of Ardis the First that she has paid photographer and blackmailer Kim Beauharnais for. One of the earliest photos in his album is innocent enough, two creatures copulating, but only moths, a kind of pre-emblematizing of Van and Ada:

Two huge common Peacock moths, still connected. Grooms and gardeners brought Ada that species every blessed year; which, in a way,
reminds us of you, sweet Marco d’Andrea, or you, red-haired Domenico Benci, or you, dark and broody Giovanni del Brina (who thought
they were bats) or the one I dare not mention (because it is Lucette’s scholarly contribution—so easily botched after the scholar’s death)
who likewise might have picked up, at the foot of an orchard wall, not overhung with not-yet-imported wisteria (her half-sister’s addition),
on a May morning in 1542, near Florence, a pair of the Pear Peacock in copula, the male with the feathery antennae, the female with the plain
threads, to depict them faithfully (among wretched, unvisualized insects) on one side of a fenestral niche in the so-called “Elements Room”
of the Palazzo Vecchio. (400)
Notice here not only Lucette’s “scholarly contribution” (probably Nabokov’s own identification, in the course of his work for his never-completed Butterflies in Art project), but also the “Palazzo” and “Florence,” echoing the description of Demon’s Manhattan home as both “Florentine” (149) and a “palazzo” (336, 445). Then when Demon arrives in this same apartment with news for Van of Dan’s “odd Boschean death” (436), he digresses, in his exuberant drug-stimulated state, with another detail from a Bosch painting, also dependent on Lucette, and also involving Lepidoptera:

“If I could write,” mused Demon, “I would describe, in too many words no doubt, how passionately, how incandescently, how
incestuously—c’est le mot—art and science meet in an insect, in a thrush, in a thistle of that ducal bosquet. Ada is marrying an outdoor
man, but her mind is a closed museum, and she, and dear Lucette, once drew my attention, by a creepy coincidence, to certain details
of that other triptych, that tremendous garden of tongue-in-cheek delights, circa 1500, and, namely, to the butterflies in it—a Meadow
Brown, female, in the center of the right panel, and a Tortoiseshell in the middle panel, placed there as if settled on a flower—mark the
‘as if,’ for here we have an example of exact knowledge on the part of those two admirable little girls, because they say that actually the
side of the bug is shown, it should have been the underside, if seen, as it is, in profile, but Bosch evidently found a wing or two in
the corner cobweb of his casement and showed the prettier upper surface in depicting his incorrectly folded insect.” (436-37)

A minute later, Ada enters the room—and Demon, recognizing his son and daughter have been living together as lovers, orders them to his palazzo to hear out his edict.
Why this pattern? Throughout Part 2, in Ada’s VPL letters, first handed to Van in Demon’s presence, in Percy de Prey’s perfunctory blackmail mentioned in the final VPL letter, in the coded notes that burn in the palazzo, in Kim’s genuine blackmail, in Demon’s discovery of his children as lovers (and the mention of three separate cases of blackmail, in the midst of his issuing his injunction from the palazzo), the centrality of secrecy, the risk of blackmail, and the dread of discovery hover over all.        

But there is one exception. Van and Ada tried to keep their sexual insatiability from Lucette’s sight in Ardis the First, but were often too impatient to succeed. In
Ardis the Second, Ada tried to confuse Lucette (and buy time to see Percy) by inveigling her in their caresses:

Ada thought up a plan that was not simple, was not clever, and moreover worked the wrong way. Perhaps she did it on purpose.
(Strike out, strike out, please, Van.) The idea was to have 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 the woods,” “botanizing”). This,
Ada affirmed, would achieve two ends—assuage the pubescent child’s jealousy and act as an alibi in case she caught them in the
middle of a more ambiguous romp.
The three of them cuddled and cosseted so frequently and so thoroughly that at last one afternoon on the long-suffering black
divan he and Ada could no longer restrain their amorous excitement, and under the absurd pretext of a hide-and-seek game they
locked up Lucette in a closet used for storing bound volumes of The Kaluga Waters and The Lugano Sun, and frantically made
love, while the child knocked and called and kicked until the key fell out and the keyhole turned an angry green. (213)

This is the scene that Lucette particularly refers to—although she remembers it as “the closet in which you two locked me up at least ten times” (373), just as Van remembers Ada’s five VPL letters as “at least fifty” (336)—when she brings Ada’s seventh letter to Van at Kingston. There she recalls—as she had apparently done in fact in her own earlier letter to Van, her “rambling, indecent, crazy, almost savage declaration of love in a ten-page letter” of 1891 (366), which Van uses to reconstruct the Kingston dialogue—the “minuscule red pawn” in the secretaire at one end of the divan, a clitoris-like object, as Lucette’s puns make clear, which “pre-emblematized . . . the depravation of your poor Lucette at fourteen in Arizona” (374). The confusing partial involvement of Lucette in Van and Ada’s preliminary caresses in 1888 has escalated into the wild erotic intertwinement of Ada and Lucette in late 1890: “‘She taught me practices I had never imagined,’ confessed Lucette in rerun wonder. ‘We interweaved like serpents and sobbed like pumas. We were Mongolian tumblers, monograms, anagrams, adalucindas. She kissed my krestik while I kissed hers” (375).
The background to the “depravation of your poor Lucette” can be seen clearly in Ada’s VPL letters: her complaint in the first 1890 letter that Van is responsible for “having let loose something mad in me when we were only children, a physical hankering, an insatiable itch. The fire you rubbed left its brand on the most vulnerable, most vicious and tender point of my body. Now I have to pay for your rasping the red rash too strongly, too soon, as charred wood has to pay for burning” (334); and in the second letter of that year, which she writes “from Marina Ranch,” where she mentions herself having been earlier “brimming with Van-less vitality and even considering buying the services of some rude, the ruder the better, young muzhik” (335). At Marina Ranch, in a similar state, she avails herself of Lucette, who reports to Van at Kingston: “Oh, it went on practically every night at Marina Ranch” (375).
Reunited with Van in Manhattan, just before she shows him Kim Beauharnais’s blackmail album, Ada observes, after hearing from Van that Lucette has told him about their romps and “the delectations of clitorism” (394): “we shan’t be afraid of her witnessing our ébats” (395).
That is the great contrast between Lucette and those like Percy, Kim, and Demon, involved in theme of secrecy, blackmail, disclosure, running especially strongly through Part 2. There is no reason to fear her knowing about Van and Ada’s amours, when she has not only seen so much by now but has even herself become incestuously involved with Ada. And Ada sees so little danger in this, that when Lucette stays overnight with them in Manhattan, she pulls her into bed with them the next morning, and brings Van’s hand over to stroke Lucette, in the notorious débauche à trois scene.
Indeed Nabokov packs into Ada’s letters quoted in II.1 a number of pointed connections with that scene and the unhappy brief letter Lucette writes after tearing herself away from it. Ada declares, from the Pisang Palace Hotel: “Tï tut stoyal (you stayed here), in this karavansaray, you in the middle of everything, always, when I must have been seven or eight, didn’t you?” (332). The syllable “van” is in the middle of the word, and Van, Ada avers, is “in the middle of everything, always.” In the débauche à trois, while Van and Ada’s hands are together stroking between Lucette’s “pried-open-legs” (419), “a karavanchik of cigarettes” (419, in Darkbloom’s amusing gloss, “small caravan of camels (Russ.),” in other words of Camel cigarettes) lies by Van’s side of the bed. After Van ejaculates, Lucette manages to escape. Van recovers quickly, but

when Ada, still wearing her diamonds (in sign of at least one more caro Van and a Camel before her morning bath)
looked into the guest room, she found the white valise and blue furs gone. A note scrawled in Arlen Eyelid Green
was pinned to the pillow.

Would go mad if remained one more night shall ski at Verma with other poor woolly worms for three weeks
or so miserable

Pour Elle (420-210)

Ada, in other words, expects at least another sexual round with “caro” (dear) Van before she discovers Lucette has fled.

The link between “karavansaray,”“karavanchik,” and “caro Van” could not be more exact, especially with the camels, whether animals or cigarette emblems, linking all three. Ada’s letters affirm her love for Van, but they also try to account for the “insatiable itch” of sexuality Van has let loose in her, his “rasping the red rash too strongly,” so that “nothing exists any more than the ecstasy of friction, . . . . this is why I crave and cannot resist the impact of alien flesh” (334). She uses this in part to explain her past imbroglios with Rack and with Percy, but by the last of the five VPL letters, she is close to starting or already has started to teach Lucette “the delectations of clitorism” (394). And because of this in 1892 she not only thinks nothing of letting Lucette see her and Van in bed together, but brings her into the bed and brings Van’s hand over to Lucette.
Ada also mentions in one of her VPL letters:

I saw a truly marvelous ornithological film the other night with Demon. I had never grasped the fact that the paleotropical
sunbirds (look them up!) are “mimotypes” of the New World hummingbirds, and all my thoughts, oh, my darling,
are mimotypes of yours. (333)

For all Ada’s love of ornithology, hummingbirds occur only once more in Ada: in the description of the débauche à trois scene, where Van notes that “The recently repapered wall immediately west of the now louder-murmuring (et pour cause) dorocene lamp is ornamented in the central girl’s honor with Peruvian ‘honeysuckle’ being visited (not only for its nectar, I’m afraid, but for the animalcules stuck in it) by marvelous Loddigesia Hummingbirds, while the bedtable on that side bears a lowly box of matches, a karavanchik of cigarettes. . . . ” (419). The “marvellous” points specifically to the Peruvian Loddigesia mirabilis, which, with its brilliant turquoise gorget and short wings, recalls the description of Lucette, earlier in the same chapter, in a lustrous cantharid green and made up in a “surprised bird-of-paradise” style (410): in fact, strikingly like Lophorina superba, the Superb bird of paradise, and not unlike Loddigesia mirabilis, the Marvelous Spatuletail. Again, at any rate, Nabokov covertly links the VPL letters to the three-way sex play in Van’s Manhattan apartment.
For robust Ada this may be all good sexual fun. For frail Lucette, desperately in love with Van, and still in terms of heterosexual sexual penetration a virgin, the scene is torment, and she breaks free and leaves that hurried and desperate goodbye note: “Would go mad if remained one more night . . . miserable” (421).
As the VPL letters prove, Ada and Van worry for themselves about others, especially their parents, finding out about their love. But Ada worries too little about the danger to the person mostly intimately aware of and entangled in their love, Lucette, the person whom Van will have to erect a belated memorial to, in the very place where Demon has bid his son and daughter to remain asunder.
One final point. The Lucinda Villa, with its “growing collection of microphotographed paintings from all public and private galleries in the world” (336), commemorates Lucette and her art-historical expertise. In II.1 there is just one mention of a specific (and life-size!) painting in a public gallery, the most famous art museum in the world. Van receives his second message from Ada “in the Louvre right in front of Bosch’s Bateau Ivre” (331)—obviously an event that has no fictional need to occur in that precise location, and a title for the painting that draws attention to itself by its novelty. That painting, with its new title, invites us to look again, to see a number of people drinking, including the “jester drinking in the riggings” (331) and two others outside the boat, in the water.

Lucette will dive to her death from the Admiral Tobakoff after heading to the promenade-deck bar and drinking three “Cossack ponies” of vodka which, added to the five Quietus pills she has taken, ensure “her head had started to swim like hell” (493) even before she lurches to the rail to dive to her death. Some days later, Van will receive a last letter from Lucette, which she has posted to Kingston from Paris “just in case” (146)—just in case she fails to win Van and takes her life instead.

No wonder Part 2 Chapter 1, with its focus on Ada’s letters to Van, ends with a foreannouncement of the letter Lucette will bring from Ada to Van at Kingston. Nabokov, if not Van, is thinking as much of Lucette’s letters—her “rambling, indecent, crazy, almost savage declaration of love” (366), her “would go mad” note (419), and her final, fateful letter—as of Ada’s.


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