Part 2 Chapter 2




Part 2 Chapter 1 presents the letters Ada writes to Van during their separation after Ardis the Second, starting just after the summer of 1888. Although the letters are decidedly one way, although Van refuses to answer them, the last paragraph of 2.1 promises an end to the lovers’ separation, in Van’s response to a seventh letter from Ada, brought to him by Lucette in 1892.
But Part 2 Chapter 2 does not follow that line of development. Instead, the chapter presents us with a very different set of letters: Van’s Letters from Terra, a science fiction novel he writes between his enraged departure from Ardis in July 1888 and his twenty-first birthday, January 1, 1891. Theresa’s letters from Terra to Sig Leymanski are “now mostly going one way, our way, don’t ask Van by what method or principle” (342). Her letters within the fiction bear an odd relation to Ada’s letters to Van in “real life.” Van becomes “pregnant” (325) with the idea for his novel, riddlingly for a first-time reader, on the last page of Part 1, in “early September” (325.08), on the terrace of Cordula’s apartment, before he has received at the Goodson Airport his first post-Ardis-the-Second letter from Ada, written in “early September” (332.01). But those letters continue to arrive as he writes his Letters from Terra.
Van’s careers have already formed part of a counterpoint to the main musical theme of his life, his love for Ada: in his research at Chose and his role as Mascodagama after Ardis the First, and now, after Ardis the Second, in incorporating the result of his researches—“a compendium of certain inexplicably correlated vagaries observed by him in mental patients, on and off, since his first year at Chose” (338)—into another unexpected role, as novelist, again under a showy pseudonym, this time, Voltemand.
Van’s focus on his career, his research and his writing, after the summer of 1888 are also a way of keeping the pain of his loss of Ada at bay, even though his emotions continue to color his imagination: he has to “struggle to keep the writer of the letters from Terra strictly separate from the image of Ada” (339-40), so that he “gilt and carmined Theresa until she became a paragon of banality,” then has to reduce Leymanski’s wife to “a dummy with bleached hair” and his assistant, Flora, to “a third bromidic dummy with a dun bun” (340).
Theresa, the comically microscopic inhabitant of Terra who sends “Professor Leyman” her messages from Terra, reports from Antiterra’s sibling planet in a way that allows Van to offer a clearer picture of Terranean history than has been pieced together before, and in such a way, moreover, as “to suggest that Terra cheated, that all was not paradise there, that perhaps in some ways human minds and human flesh underwent on that sibling planet worse torments than on our much maligned Demonia” (341). This too seems as much a result of Van’s disenchantment with the near-paradise Ardis had been as of the scope of his researches, and leads us through a zany maze of crooked mirrors of earthly history.
As aged narrator of his memoirs, Van has little but condescending deprecation for his youthful effort and amusement at his naivety as an author and at the muted and mixed response of his two reviewers. Ada, however, reading over his memoirs in manuscript in the 1960s, voices her fondness for that “nice, nice little book!” (338). Indeed her four asides in the first five pages of the chapter show her now in close communication and rapport with Van as elderly memoirist, whatever distance separated them as young Van wrote his novel.
The chapter ends with Van’s exploring not Terra but thoughts of train travel through the New World of Antiterra, no longer with Ada as hoped-for companion, but still allowing him to slide night after night into the sleep and dream of the chapter’s final paragraph. And as the chapter closes, “another, unrelated, Veen” (344-45), Eric (345, 346), seems somehow to be intruding into Van’s life and text.


338.01: Ada’s letters . . . Van’s Letters from Terra: MOTIF: letters; Letters from Terra; Terra.

338.01: Ada’s letters breathed: In the first of her recent letters Ada writes: “I implore you for breath [sic! Ed.] of understanding” (332.10-11).

338.01-02: Van’s Letters from Terra, “a philosophical novel,”: MOTIF: novel.

338.02: showed no sign of life whatsoever: Although Van had been “pregnant” with the book (325.09).

338.03: (I disagree . . . Ada’s note.): For Ada’s fond judgement of the book, and the circumstances where she discovers it, see Pt 5 Ch 5: “a considerably earlier and weaker work, the poor little Letters from Terra, . . . was even closer to her heart because of its nonliterary associations with their 1892-93 sojourn in Manhattan” (579.09-14). It is on her bedside table the morning of the threesome she orchestrates in bed with Van and Lucette in Manhattan, November 1892 (419.25-27).

MOTIF: Composition—Ada 

338.04-05: not caring a dry fig: Refreshes the idiom “not care a fig,” in which “a fig” proverbially means something of little value. A dry fig seems worth even less than a fresh one.

338.05-06: Neither did pseudonymity tickle him in reverse—as it did when he danced on his hands: Van’s pseudonym or nom de plume, as author of Letters from Terra, “Voltemand,” will not be disclosed until 342.28. His pseudonym when he dances on his hands—and indeed reverses his position more than once—was of course Mascodagama (I.30, first mentioned 181.03), also adopted during another of his times apart from Ada. The volte in “Voltemand” (French for “vaults” and in English also as volte-face, “about turn”) matches the upside-downness of Van’s role as Mascodagama, especially his most spectacular stunt (183.13-184.12). Motif: Mascodagama

338.06-07: “Van Veen’s vanity”: Cf. “Vain Van Veen,” 299.25. “Veen” pronounced in the Dutch manner (and “van Veen” is a Dutch surname) is a homophone of the English “vain.” MOTIF: Van; Veen.

338.08: fan-wafting ladies: “Fan” is presumably a playful echo of “Van . . . vanity” a line earlier? MOTIF: Van.

338.08-09: this time his long blue pride feathers remained folded: As if he were a peacock in non-display stance. Cf., in his Mascodagama strutting, “the peacock blotches with which the carpet stained the palms of his hands during his gloveless dance routine” (185.11-13). In Mikhail Vrubel’s famous painting “Demon Downcast” ("Fallen Demon" 1902; Tretyakov Gallery) the Demon lies down on his “pride feathers,” which have blue eye-spots but are otherwise drab brown. When Demon Veen sees his son off for Chose at the end of I.29, just before the introduction of Van as Mascodagama in I.30, “His long, black, blue-ocellated wings trailed and quivered in the ocean breeze” (180.16-17). MOTIF: Demon.

338.09-11: to contrive a romance around a subject that had been worried to extinction in all kinds of “Star Rats,” and “Space Aces”: Nabokov did not care for science fiction, especially in its pulp fiction forms—“I loathe science fiction with its gals and goons, suspense and suspensories”(SO 117)—although he did love H. G. Wells and appreciated My (We, written 1920-21, published 1924) by Evgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), and some of the science fiction of Aleksey Tolstoy (1883-1945, see SO 87).

His own story “Lance” (written 1951), the last story he completed, is in part “a flamboyant, explosive dismissal of the gleaming gadgets and tarnished conventions of science fiction” (Boyd 1991: 207), one phrase of the dismissal being “Star tsars” (SoVN, 633), another, on the same page: “Finally, I utterly spurn and reject so-called science fiction.”

The Kyoto Reading Circle notes the palindrome in “Star Rats.” Ardeur 283: “Stars des Astres.

The comma after “Star Rats,” seems an error uncaught in correcting the Vintage text.
MOTIF: romance.

338.10: worried to extinction: The Kyoto Reading Circle notes the intensification of the cliché “worried to death.” The extinction of a species, a planet, or more is a common theme in science fiction.

338.13-15: a pleasurable urge to express through verbal imagery a compendium of certain inexplicably correlated vagaries observed by him in mental patients, on and off, since his first year at Chose: For Van’s studies on Terra at Chose, during his first summer vacation there, see 182.16-29, especially “three intellectually lucid, but spiritually ‘lost,’ cosmologists who either were in telepathic collusion (they had never met and did not even know of one another’s existence) or had discovered, none knew how or where, by means, maybe, of forbidden ‘ondulas’ of some kind, a green world rotating in space and spiraling in time” (182.21-26), who particularly anticipate, in a cracked mirror, “the three cosmologists, Xertigny, Yates and Zotov” at 339.23-33.
The “vagaries” here recall Van’s dictum “No art and no genius would exist without such vagaries, and this is a final pronouncement, damning all clowns and clods” (237.20-22).

Cf. also “Terrestrial politics as obtained by Van with such diligence and skill from extrasensorial sources and manic dreams” and incorporated into his Letters from Terra (581.19-21).

338.16-17: Van had a passion for the insane as some have for arachnids or orchids: Ada of course has a passion for orchids, and if not for arachnids, then for another kind of “crawly,” caterpillars (54-57). There are spider orchids (Mason 92, Ashenden 2000: 68), in the genus Arachnis, also known as scorpion orchids.
The repeated “-ids” here, in conjunction with “a passion for the insane,” may hint at Freud’s classification of the three contesting parts of the psyche, the instinctual, appetitive id, the rationalizing ego, the moralistic superego (translator James Strachey’s equivalents in English for Freud’s das Es, das Ich and das Über-Ich), in his paper Das Ich und das Es (The Ego and the Id), 1923. For Nabokov’s contempt for Freud, see 27.09-10n, 27.13n.
MOTIF: Freud; orchids.

338.17-18: to disregard the technological details: Nabokov was fascinated by the discoveries or hypotheses of physics, and by the philosophical conundrums they raised, but he had little interest in technology: cf. “By science I do not mean those popular or unpopular technological gadgets that impress journalists. I mean natural science and pure mathematics” (TWS 327). MOTIF: technology.

338.18-19: intercommunication between Terra the Fair and our terrible Antiterra: For the idea of Terra, and the communication between those on Antiterra and Terra, see I.3, especially 18.15-20. Cf. “terrible Antiterra” (301.03), terrible for Van because he has just had to flee Ada in jealous rage and despair. MOTIF: Terra.

338.20: mechanicalism: Here, apparently a contemptuous equivalent of “mechanics”; W2 defines as an equivalent of “mechanism,” or “Mechanical action or procedure”; OED calls mechnicalism, in philosophy, a synonym for “mechanism” (whose senses include the now obsolete “action according to the laws of mechanics”) and quotes Ernst Haeckel, “that branch of physics which deals with the grosser and visible processes of motion” (1892); or as “the belief that all phenomena can be reduced to a scientific explanation.” Cf. also: “not only mechanicalism, but also moralism, could hardly be said to constitute something in which he excelled” (342.07-09).

339.01: the scratch of a prep-school blackboard: Cf. Van in The Texture of Time, on physics and time:“no matter how we parse distance on our cloudy blackboards” (560.23-24). Nabokov naturally associates physics with the blackboards (and now whiteboards) that physicists use for their calculations: “it resembles . . . the neat formula a physicist finds to keep people happy . . . until the next chap snatches the chalk” (LATH 253).

339.02: no censor in America or Great Britain would pass the slightest reference to “magnetic” gewgaws: Cf. “The unmentionable magnetic power denounced by evil lawmakers in this our shabby country” (21.22-24). MOTIF: electricity.

339.04-09: what his greatest forerunners (Counterstone, for example) had imagined in the way of a manned capsule’s propulsion, . . . increasing, under the influence of a Counterstonian type of intermediate environment between sibling galaxies, to several trillions of light-years per second: A1: “Anti Einstein.” VN plays on “Einstein” as ein Stein, “one stone,” evoking a kind of counting stone or abacus, ironically, to allude to a physicist whose work required the invention of new mathematics; or a stone counterweight to Einstein. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) proposed the Special Theory of Relativity in 1905, in “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” and the General Theory of Relativity in 1915. The Special Theory of Relativity prohibits motion faster than the speed of light

339.09: sibling galaxies: MOTIF: sibling planet.

339.11: Cyraniana: Darkbloom: “allusion to Cyrano de Bergerac’s Histoire Comique des Etats de la Lune.”Rivers and Walker 288: “In two posthumous works by Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655)—Histoire comique des états et empires de la lune (Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon; 1656) and Histoire comique des états et empires du soleil (Comical History of the States and Empires of the Sun; 1661)—the author visits the moon and the sun and describes their inhabitants and social institutions. Both works use their fantastic settings as vehicles for refracting and commenting upon life on earth, somewhat in the manner of Ada with its Antiterra.” Cyrano’s two books are among the earliest examples of what would become science fiction. As Zimmer 2010: 982 notes, the space traveller in the former leaves in a rocket-propelled flying machine from the marketplace in Québec, and lands near Paradise.

339.13-15: nobody knew how far Terra, or other innumerable planets . . . might be situated in outer or inner space: The first planets outside the Solar System were not identified until 1988 and 1992, long after the composition of Ada. The first inhabited planets outside Earth were not discovered until . . .  (tbc).

339.13-14: other innumerable planets with cottages and cows: The Kyoto Reading Circle compares: “Our [Humbert’s and Annabel’s] brains were turned the way those of intelligent European preadolescents were in our day and set, and I doubt if much individual genius should be assigned to our interest in the plurality of inhabited worlds, competitive tennis, infinity, solipsism and so on” (Lolita I.3; The Annotated Lolita, 12).

339.15: inner space: OED, “inner” 1.o, “inner space” in its third definition as “the part of one’s mind or personality that is not normally experienced or within one’s consciousness,” is first cited from 1958 (the year after Sputnik). The first use of the term in science fiction, as the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, seem to be in the essay, “Which Way to Inner Space?” (1962) by New Wave science fiction writer, Englishman J.G. (James Graham) Ballard (1930-2009).

339.15-16: microcosmic: MOTIF: micro-.

339.16: quick-quick: MOTIF: quick-quick.

339.17: Moët: A famous brand of champagne. When Pushkin invokes it in Eugene Onegin, Nabokov translates and glosses thus:

Of Veuve Clicquot or of Moët
the blesséd wine
in a befrosted bottle for the poet
is brought at once upon the table.
It sparkles Hippocrenelike;
with its briskness and froth
(a simile of this and that)
it used to captivate me. . . .
For Ay I’m no longer fit. (EO IV.xlv.1-8, xlvi.5)
The surname of Jean Remi Moët (1758-1841), founder of the famous champagne firm and genial maire of Epernay,
rhymes in Russian with poét. . . The name of this glorious champagne comes from Aï or Ay, a town in the Marne
Department, northern France, where the original vineyard was situated in the Marne watershed, near Epernay.
(EO II.480-81).

Van too knows his Moët: “During that dismal dinner (enlivened only by the sharlott and five bottles of Moët, out of which Van consumed more than three)” (516.14-16).

339.18: (or my, Ada Veen’s): MOTIF: Composition: Ada

339.19-20: in the pus of a Mr. Nekto’s ripe boil newly lanced in Nektor or Neckton: Darkbloom oddly glosses Nekto as “Russ., quidam,” which Rivers and Walker 288 in turn gloss: “Quidam is Latin (and also, rarely, English) for ‘somebody’ or ‘a certain person.’”
“Nektor” evokes “nectar” (jarring oddly and pointedly with “pus”) and perhaps the river Neckar in southwestern Germany, some of whose valley slopes are now in vineyards. “Neckton” in this context seems not only a town but evokes the neck as the likely locus of Mr. Nekto’s boil, and nekton, the class of aquatic animals that can swim freely, as opposed to the drifting plankton and the bottom-dwelling benthos.
Cf. “Peruvian ‘honeysuckle’ being visited (not only for its nectar, I’m afraid, but for the animalcules stick in it) by marvellous Loddigesia Hummingbirds” (419.22-25).

339.20: lanced: The Kyoto Reading Circle suggests plausibly that in this context the word evokes Nabokov’s science fiction story “Lance” (see 338.09-11n above).

339.23-24: the three cosmologists, Xertigny, Yates and Zotov: An exotic play on the last three letters of the alphabet, as emphasized at 339.27-28. Xertigny is a small village in the Vosges Department of northeastern France; there is a Yates County in upper New York State, flanked on one side by Seneca Lake, not far from Ithaca, where Nabokov lived from 1948 to 1959; Zotov is a modest mountain peak in Rostov Oblast’, Russia, while Vladimir Zotov (1821-1896) was a Russian playwright, novelist, journalist, encyclopedist, and editor. Cf. also “three intellectually lucid, but spiritually ‘lost,’ cosmologists who either were in telepathic collusion (they had never met and did not even know of one another’s existence) or had discovered, none knew how or where, by means, maybe, of forbidden ‘ondulas’ of some kind, a green world rotating in space and spiraling in time” (182.21-26).

339.24-26: had recklessly started the whole business half a century earlier, causing, and endorsing, panic, demency, and execrable romanchiks: As is often the case, VN has Van assume common knowledge in his Antiterran readers—here, “the whole business,” presumably the fascination with the possibility or actuality of Terra (see I.3), “in the beau milieu of last century” (17.01-02).

339.25-26: demency: An obsolete or rare word for “madness,” or “dementia” (from French démence). MOTIF: demon, demonia; insanity.

339.25: causing, and endorsing: Cf. “both causing and cursing the notion of ‘Terra’” (17.03).

339.26: romanchiks: Darkbloom: “Russ., novelette.” MOTIF: romance.

339.28: transported to Tartary: MOTIF: Tartary.

339.29: Yakima: Name of a river, city, and county in south Washington State. Nabokov refers to Yakima as the location of butterfly specimens or series of Lycaeides melissa and Lycaeides argyrognomon in “The Nearctic Forms of Lycaeides Hüb. (Lycaenidae, Lepidoptera),” Psyche 50:3-5, 1943, 89, 91. On Antiterra, in 1891, “Ada played Irina on the modest stage of the Yakima Academy of Drama . . .” (427.04-06). MOTIF: Yakima.

339.30-33: incomprehensible crepitations, ceaseless invention of invisible inks, chameleonizations, nerve signals, spirals of outgoing light and feats of ventriloquism that imitated pistol shots and sirens: The bizarre imaginative energies surrounding this incidental figure seem almost a characterization of Nabokov’s style at its most puckish. Does it also bring to mind the incidental Spencer Muldoon (468-70)?

339.34-340.01: the writer of the letters from Terra: MOTIF: Letters from Terra; Terra.

340.01-02: separate from the image of Ada, he gilt and carmined Theresa: As Mason notes (117), Ada by 1922 has her hair “dyed a brilliant bronze” and has “fat carmined lips” (556.19-23).

340.02: Theresa: In part a play on “Terra.” MOTIF: Terra.

340.04: his anagram-looking name, Sig Leymanski: Darkbloom: “anagram of the name of a waggish British novelist keenly interested in physics fiction.”

Besides his novels (most famously Lucky Jim, 1954, perhaps the grounds for Darkbloom’s “waggish”—but see below), Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) wrote  a critical study, New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction (1961), and co-edited a number of science fiction anthologies with Robert Conquest, Spectrum: A Science Fiction Anthology  (1961), Spectrum II (1962), Spectrum V (1966). VN would also have been likely to come across a discussion by C.S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss, “Unreal Estates: On Science Fiction” (Encounter, March 1965, 61-65) in a magazine he contributed frequently to in the 1960s.  In the discussion, Amis reports amusedly “An instance of this mentality  [of snobbish disdain for science fiction] . . . : somebody referred to ‘Mr. Amis’ I suspect rather affected enthusiasm for science fiction. . . . ’” (64). The title of this piece would also have caught Nabokov’s eye, since he refers to his mother’s lesson in remembering details of the family estate as allowing him to inherit from her “an exquisite simulacrum—the beauty of intangible property, unreal estate” (SM 40).
The Kyoto Reading Circle suggests that the anagram is “also Nabokov’s revenge on Amis for his review of Lolita published in Spectator (6 November 1959, 635-6), in which he compared ‘Colette’ and Lolita: ‘There is nothing in Lolita as fine as the seven pages of “Colette”, a story of his dating from 1948 in which the germ of Lolita is clearly discernible. Here is the same little monkey with the long-toed bare feet and the bruise on her tender skin, inciting the author to a reminiscence of Carmen—in Lolita this reappears in the eerie modernised disguise of a pop song’ (24)” The Kyoto Reading Circle explains that “Amis refers to ‘Colette’ published in The New Yorker, July 31, 1948, reprinted as Chapter 7 in Conclusive Evidence and, with revisions, in Speak, Memory. Nabokov comments on it in Strong Opinions: ‘My Lolita has been compared to Emmie in Invitation, to Mariette in Bend Sinister, and even to Colette in Speak, Memory—the last is especially ludicrous. But I think it might have been simply English jollity and leg-pulling’ (Strong Opinions, 83). In Lolita: A Screenplay, Nabokov makes ‘Professor Amy King’ talk about a pair of doctors Nabokov detests: ‘CHARLOTTE  Then you will certainly want to address our club, of which I am a proud member. Last time we had Professor Amy King, a very stimulating teacher type, talk to us on Dr. Schweitzer and Dr. Zhivago. Now let us take a peek at that room. I’m positive you’re going to love it’ (Lolita: A Screenplay, [Act 1], p. 36, underline added).”

“Sig” also forms part of the “Sig” motif, focused especially on Sigmund Freud, while “Leyman,” as Leymanski trims his name (340.20-21), links with Van’s introduction of the Terra theme in I.3: “The details of the L disaster . . . which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans” (17.01-05). MOTIF: Sig.

340.08: Antilia Glems: Antilia (W2): An imaginary archipelago west of Atlantis, supposedly now represented in part by the Antilles or West Indies.” In Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1962 ed., s.v. “Antilles”: “The term dates traditionally from a period before the discovery of the new world, when it was called Antilia, and referred to semi-mythical lands somewhere west of Europe across the Atlantic. On medieval charts it was sometimes indicated as a continent or large island and sometimes as an archipelago. After discovery of the West Indies by Columbus, the Spanish term Antillas was commonly assigned to the new lands.” Glem (OED) is a Middle English form of “gleam.”
After the clearly-signalled anagram in “Sig Leymanski,” the odd name of his wife, especially with the surname “Glems,” also suggests an anagram. Mason 1974: 117 proposes “A Smiling Tale,” but notes that gitanilla, a motif in Ada, is also embedded in the name. Indeed “Antilia Glems” forms an anagram of “gitanilla Esm[eralda],” Esmeralda being the gitanilla in Notre Dame de Paris (1831) by Victor Hugo (1802-1885); Lucette is both called “Esmeralda” (421.10) and thinks she’s “like Dolores” (464.30), the heroine of The Gitanella.
MOTIF: Atlantis; explorer.

340.12: a dummy with bleached hair: Cf. 340.23: “a third bromidic dummy with a dun bun.”

340.13-19: to place her . . . under a powerful microscope . . . minikin . . . microorganism . . . micromermaid: Pléiade 2020 compares The Incredible Shrinking Man, a 1957 science fiction film, directed by Jack Arnold (1916-1992) and based on the novel The Shrinking Man (1956) by Richard Matheson (1926-2013). The hero, Scott Carey, continues to shrink as a consequence of radiation, although not quite down to microscopic size.  MOTIF: micro-

340.13-16: to place her on a slide under a powerful microscope . . . extending transparent appendages toward his huge humid eye: VN worked up to fourteen hours a day at the microscope while de facto curator of Lepidoptera at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, 1941-1948.
The woman extending her arms toward her lover recalls and anticipates Ada signalling to Van: on their last day together at Ardis in 1888, 295.25-33, and on the first day of the remainder of their lives, in Mont Roux in 1922, 561.34-562.09.
Cf., from Vitry’s film: “came out of her capsule on Antiterra stark naked, though, of course, in miniature, a millimeter of maddening femininity dancing in ‘the charmed circle of the microscope’ like some lewd elf, and revealing, in certain attitudes, I’ll be damned, a pinpoint glint of pubic floss, gold-powdered!” (582.04-08)

340.15-16: his minikin sweetheart: W2 defines minikin as a noun as “1. Anything delicate or diminutive. . . 2. A little darling; a favorite; a minion. Obs.”; as an adjective, “2. Very small; diminutive; miniature; tiny.” MOTIF: mini-

340.16-17: testibulus (test tube—never to be confused with testiculus, orchid): “Testibulus” is VN’s mock-Latin; testiculus is indeed medieval Latin for “orchid” (R.E. Latham, Revised Medieval Latin Word-List From British and Irish Sources (London: British Academy-Oxford University Press, 1965)). The word “orchid” itself derives from “Gk. orchis, testicle, also, from the shape of the tubers, orchid” (W2, Orchis). The conjunction of the orchid and its testicle shape with “testibulus” seems to mark the test tube as phallic.

340.19-21: Theresa . . . Flora: Aleksey Sklyarenko, Nabokv-L 17 April 2013, suggests a link to Russian émigré novelist Dmitri Merezhkovski: “From the opening chapter of Merezhkovski's last unfinished book Malen’kaya Tereza (Little Theresa, 1941):

Если бы великий учёный оказался на другой планете, то делал бы на каждом шагу удивительные открытия, а Маленькая Тереза делает их на нашей старой,
бедной и скучной земле. Ни Канта, ни Эйнштейна, ни Лобачевского не знает она, но есть у неё тончайшие познавательные приборы и точнейший химический
анализ, чем у них.

Had a great scholar found himself on another planet, he would make amazing discoveries at every turn, and Little Theresa [Saint Thérèse of Lisieux] makes them
on our old, poor and dull Earth. She knows neither Kant, nor Einstein, nor Lobachevski, but she has more sophisticated cognitive instruments and more precise chemical
analysis than they have.”

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
 (1873-97) is also known as "The Little Flower of Jesus" or simply, "The Little Flower." The combination of Theresa, “Flower,” and the planetary theme is striking, but without other evidence its relation to Letters from Terra seems almost certainly coincidental.

340.19-20: “accidentally” thrown away: The implication is that Flora, out of jealousy, has thrown away test-tube and Theresa.

340.20: Professor Leyman’s: As a pun on “layman,” a comic oxymoron: Professor (expert) Layman (inexpert). Cf. “laymen and lemans,” 17.05.

340.21: Flora: Also the name of “Flora, a slender, hardly nubile, half-naked music-hall dancer . . . whose ravishing services Van had availed himself of several times in the fall of that year,” the “cute whorelet . . . very expensive and altogether delightful” (410-11) at the Ursus restaurant. MOTIF: Flora; flowers.

340.21-22: initially an ivory-pale, dark-haired . . . beauty: Very strikingly derivative of young Ada, then, until Van transforms her. MOTIF: black-white.

340.22: funest: W2: “Bringing or portending death or evil; fatal; dire; doleful.”

340.23: bromidic: W2: “Characteristic of or characterised by a bromide; tiresome; dull.” Bromide (W2): “2 Slang a A conventional and commonplace or tiresome person; —with reference to the sedative effect of medicinal bromides.”

340. 24-25: (Antilia later regained . . . Ada’s addendum.): Cf. “and all three in me, adds Ada” (281.04).
MOTIF: Composition: Ada; Ada.

340.28: sibling planet’s: MOTIF: sibling planet.

340.29-30: a mosaic of painstakingly collated notes: MOTIF: tessellation

340.33: geomantic: From geomancy, W2: “Divination by means of figures or lines; orig, divination from configurations of earth, whether natural (as topography, crevices, etc.) or artificial (as patterns formed by throwing down a handful of earth, or by marking in sand).”

340.34-341.02: As earlier experimenters had conjectured, our annals lagged by about half a century behind Terra’s along the bridges of time, but overtook some of its underwater currents: Cf. the first discussion of Terra, in terms of Aqua’s madness, 17-18, which describes “a gap of up to a hundred years one way or another” (18.11). And the last discussion of Terra, in terms of Victor Vitry’s film adaptation of Van’s novel fifty years later: “Vitry dated Theresa’s visit to Antiterra as taking place in 1940, but 1940 by the Terranean calendar, and about 1890 by ours.” (580.01-03); and cf. “Our world was, in fact, mid-twentieth-century” (582.23).
For the bridge and underwater currents in this context of time, cf. the passage at 153.17-25: “that maze of the past where the mirror-lined narrow paths not only took different turns, but used different levels (as a mule-drawn cart passes under the arch of a viaduct along which a motor skims by), he found himself tackling, in still vague and idle fashion, the science that was to obsess his mature years—problems of space and time, space versus time, time-twisted space. . . ”

341.02: overtook some of its underwater currents: Cf. “an immemorial habit of speech. We regard Time as a kind of stream” (540.19-20).

341.03-06: the king of Terra’s England, yet another George . . . ruled, or had just ceased to rule: On Earth the last English king was George VI (1895-1952, king 1936-1952). Since Antiterra appears “about half a century” out of time with Terra, and since the story is written in Antiterran 1888-90, it can reflect a 1938-40 Terra. The British Empire was beginning to break up before George VI’s death, starting with India’s winning independence in 1947.

341.06-07: to rule, over an empire that was somewhat patchier (with alien blanks and blots between the British Islands and South Africa): In 1921 the British Empire was continuous if not from the British Isles to South Africa then at least from the British islands of Malta (a British colony from 1813 to 1964, with three populated islands) and down the length of Africa: “from the Cape to Cairo” (a catch-cry of arch-colonizer Cecil Rhodes, 1853-1902), from South Africa, wrested from the Dutch in the Boer War, to Egypt, a British protectorate since the outbreak of World War I.

341.08: the solidly conglomerated one on our Antiterra: Where Britain acquired France’s territories in 1815, and therefore, presumably, much of the non-British part of Africa.

341.09-11: ever since the eighteenth century, when a virtually bloodless revolution had dethroned the Capetians: In contrast to the bloody French Revolution of 1789 and its aftermath, the Reign of Terror. The Capetians had been the ruling house of France from 987 to 1328. “Dethroned the Capetians” almost contains “decapitated”; Louis XVI of France (1754-1793, reigned 1774-1792) was referred to by the revolutionaries, after the fall of the monarchy in late 1792, as Citizen Louis Capet, after Hugh Capet, the founder of the Capetian dynasty. He was decapitated by guillotine on 21 January 1793.

Victor Vitry’s film adaptation Letters from Terra, though a travesty of Van’s researches, comes closer to Earth’s history: “in a flashback to a revolution in former France, an unfortunate extra, who played one of the under-executioners, got accidentally decapitated while pulling the comedian Steller, who played a reluctant king, into a guillotinable position” (581.30-34).

341.11-12: and repelled all invaders, Terra’s France flourished under a couple of emperors: Rather than “repelling all invaders,” France invaded many other countries under Napoleon, who led the First Empire (1804-1814), which was followed eventually by the Second Empire under Louis Napoleon, Napoleon III (1852-1870). Far from flourishing, France had an unstable century: “Every head of state from 1814 to 1873 spent part of his life in exile. Every regime was the target of assassination attempts of a frequency that put Spanish and Russian politics in the shade. Even in peaceful times governments changed every few months. In less peaceful times, political deaths, imprisonments and deportations are literally incalculable” (Robert Tombs, France 1814-1914 (Routledge, 2014, p. 15), quoted in, accessed 28 April 2020).

341.12-13: a series of bourgeois presidents: On Earth France became a republic again (the Third Republic) in 1871, lasting until 1940. Léon-Victor-Auguste Bourgeois (1851-1925) was premier 1895-1896 and president of the Senate 1920-1923.

341.13-14: presidents, of whom the present one, Doumercy, seemed considerably more lovable: Blends Gaston Doumergue (1863-1937), the twelfth President of the Third Republic (1924-1931; referred to in Nabokov’s Mary, 14) and his successor Paul Doumer (1857-1932), the thirteenth President (1931-1932), assassinated by a Russian émigré, Pavel Gorguloff. The portmanteau name also suggests doux (gentle) and merci (mercy).

341.14: Milord Goal, Governor of Lute: On Earth, General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), leader of the French Resistance against Nazi Germany during World War II, chair of the Provisional Government of the Fourth French Republic from 1944 to 1946, and founder of the Fifth Republic, and its President from 1958 to 1969. His restoring Franco-German relations as a counterweight to Anglo-American dominance in the Atlantic made him often less than “lovable” to the Anglophone world, whose representative (“Milord”) he nevertheless seems here to be.
Cf. from Vitry’s film: “Even the governor of France was not Charlie Chose, the suave nephew of Lord Goal, but a bad-tempered French general” (582.29-30).

341.15: Khan Sosso: “Sosso” was the nickname as a child of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), ruthless leader of the Soviet Union (“Sovetsky Soyuz” in Russian, another “Soso”), 1924-1953. “Khan” recalls the title of the Mongol emperors, also famous for their tyrannical control over northern Asia. Stalin also appears in other forms in “Colonel St. Alin, a scoundrel” (15.03) and, less unrecognizably, as the politician “Uncle Joe” (582.20), a nickname given to Stalin during the later stages of World War II, when he was leading the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, by American propagandists and media.

341.15-16: Sosso and his ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate: VN was writing Ada while the Vietnam War was being fought. After the Communist-led Viet  Minh, under Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), a Marxist-Leninist trained in Moscow, expelled the French colonizers in 1954, a new war began in 1955 between North Vietnam, supported by the Soviet Union and China, and South Vietnam, supported by the USA. American military forces were overtly involved from 1964, until the fall of the South’s capital, Saigon, in 1975. As a resolute anti-Communist, VN approved American military involvement on behalf of South Vietnam and against North Vietnam.

341.16-18: a super Russia . . . governed by a Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics: On Earth, the super Russia including also Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Byelorussia, Ukraine and the trans-Caucasian Republics, was the Sovietskiy Soyuz Sotsialisticheskikh Respublikh (SSSR, in English, USSR), and lasted from 1922 to 1991.

341.19: the Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst:Tartary” was used by Europeans to refer to Central, North and East Asia, from the Black Sea east to Manchuria. “Little Tartary” was the Crimean Khanate. “European opinions of the area were often negative, and reflected the legacy of the Mongol invasions that originated from this region. The term originated in the wake of the widespread devastation spread by the Mongol Empire. The adding of an extra ‘r’ to ‘Tatar’ was suggestive of Tartarus, a Hell-like realm in Greek mythology” (Wikipedia, Tartary, accessed 29 April 2020). The Tsars did in a sense conquer Tartary in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the Soviet Union expanded its sphere of influence as far west as Trst (Trieste), parts of which were ceded to then-Communist Yugoslavia after World War II.

341.19: Trst: Slovenian for Trieste, coastal city in northeastern Italy, on a narrow strip between the Adriatic and what is now Slovenia but part of Yugoslavia at the time VN wrote Ada. In VN’s own copy of Ada, A1, he writes “= Balkans.” This identification suggests the history of pan-Slavism, the movement to unite the Slavic peoples of eastern Europe, which Russia under the Tsars used as a pretext for attempted expansion into the Balkans and their liberation from the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century, especially in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.

341.20: Athaulf the Future: Intergalactic corruption of “Adolf the Führer”: Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), leader of the National Socialist (Nazi) Part of Germany, Chancellor in 1933, the Führer of Germany from 1933-45, his territorial expansionism led to World War II and his anti-Semitic ideology to the Holocaust.

The misspelling “Athaulf” evokes also Ataulphus, or Ataulf (d. 415 CE), the chief of the Visigoths, who had wanted to overthrow the Roman empire and replace it with a Gothic one, but then, “recognizing the savagery of his people, he decided to restore Roman power by means of Gothic arms. His ambition to fuse Romans and barbarians together in a revitalized empire was not realized” (Encylopaedia Britannica, 14th ed.)

Since Hitler invoked deep Germanic traditions, the fusion is particularly apt, especially as “Athaulf the Future” alludes also to Hitler’s dream of the Third Reich, as the successor to the Holy Roman Empire (“of the German nation” was sometimes added) from Otto I in 962 to 1806 (the first Reich) and the German Empire of 1871-1918 (the second Reich). Hitler declared his Third Reich would last a thousand years; VN emphasizes his poor futurology, since Germany lost World War II in 1945 and was still divided into West Germany and East Germany at the time he wrote Ada. Cf. “Thinkers, social thinkers, feel the Present as pointing beyond itself toward a not yet realized ‘future’—but that is topical utopia, progressive politics” (560.11-13).

The “h” in “Athaulf” may hint also at Atahualpa (1502-1533), “the last of the Incas,” Emperor of the Incas from May 1532. He was captured by the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro (c. 1471-1546) in November 1532 and executed in July 1533, effectively ending the Incan Empire.

See also Victor Vitry’s distortion of the results of Van’s researches into Terranean history in his film adaptation of Letters from Terra: “In 1933, Athaulf Hindler (also known as Mittler—from ‘to mittle,’ mutilate) came to power in Germany” (581.05-07).

341.20: a fair-haired giant: Hitler’s ideology of Aryan heroism extolled tall blond-haired youths as ideal; Hitler himself was an average 175cm (5ft 9 inches) tall, and dark-haired.

341.21: the secret flame of many a British nobleman: King Edward VIII (1894-1972, reigned 1936) was Duke of Windsor (and his wife, the former Wallis Simpson, by then Duchess of Windsor) when he visited Hitler in his Berghof retreat in Germany in 1937, against the advice of the British government, and gave full Nazi salutes.In Germany, ‘they were treated like royalty . . . members of the aristocracy would bow and curtsy towards her, and she was treated with all the dignity and status that the duke always wanted," according to royal biographer Andrew Morton in a 2016 BBC interview.” (Wikipedia,, accessed 29 April 2020.

341.21-22: honorary captain of the French police: Marshal Philippe Pétain (1856-1951), appointed Premier of France in 1940, agreed to sign an armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940. At Vichy, Pétain established an authoritarian and anti-Semitic government that persisted in force until the liberation of France in August 1944.  During these years northern France was under direct German military occupation, and southeastern France under Italian control. 

341.22: benevolent ally of Rus and Rome: Of the USSR and Italy, under Stalin and Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), respectively, at least until Hitler invaded eastward in 1941. “Benevolent” because of the Stalin-Hitler Pact (or Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, after the foreign ministers) of Non-Aggression, signed 23 August 1939, and violated by Hitler with the beginning of Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941, and the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Is there a hint of “Benito” in “benevolent”? 

341.23-24: transforming a gingerbread Germany into a great country of speedways: “Gingerbread” as a noun can mean (W2) “Something showy but unsubstantial or tasteless; tawdry or superfluous ornament, esp. in architecture”; as an adjective, “Of or like gingerbread; flimsy.” But, as the Kyoto Reading Circle suggests, it also invokes German folk tales such as “Hänsel and Gretel” (recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1812), in which the brother and sister, lost in the woods, find themselves at the gingerbread home of an evil witch, whom they eventually outwit.

Construction of the Reichsautobahn system of national motorways in Germany began under Hitler in 1934. This and similar projects helped Germany emerge from its severe experience of economic depression at the beginning of the 1930s. It became a facile commonplace that Hitler (and Mussolini), whatever else they did, also “made the trains run on time.”

341.24-25: immaculate soldiers, brass bands: Perhaps refers particularly to the Nuremberg Rallies of the Nazi Party, especially from 1933 to 1938, which involved up to half a million well-drilled soldiers, and their record in propaganda such as Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will, 1935), by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003).

341.25: modernized barracks for misfits and their young: Hitler introduced forced sterilizations of the mentally and physically disabled in 1934 and a program of “euthanasia” to exterminate the mentally ill and the handicapped. The program was expanded from 1941 to include the extermination of Jews and Gypsies.  The Kyoto Reading Circle notes that “Nazi propaganda, such as the film The Führer Gives a City to the Jews (1944), presented concentration camps as humane retreats” of the sort euphemized in “modernized barracks”.

341.26: terrapists: Those who believe in Terra are especially the psychologically impaired, so, like Aqua, they naturally come under the care of psychotherapists. For other puns on “therapist,” cf. “the psychotherapist, as well as the rapist”; “The rapist was Charlie Holmes; I am the therapist—a matter of nice spacing in the way of distinction” (Lolita 1.27, 113; II.1, 150).  MOTIF: Terra.

341.30-342.05: Terra cheated . . . Terra might have yanked her back: MOTIF: Terra.

341.30-33: all was not paradise there . . . worse torments than on our much maligned Demonia: For the uncertainty of the relationship between Terra and Antiterra, the Real World and the Next World, angelic spirits versus devils, see 20.27-21.08. For another suggestion of recent Terranean history as tragic, see 580.10-15. MOTIF: Demonia; paradise.

341.32: on that sibling planet: MOTIF: sibling planet.

341.33: her first letters, before leaving Terra: MOTIF: letters; Letters from Terra.

341.34-342.04: nothing but praise for its rulers—especially Russian and German rulers. In her later messages from space she confessed that she had exaggerated the bliss; had been, in fact, the instrument of “cosmic propaganda”—a brave thing to admit, as agents on Terra might have yanked her back or destroyed her in flight: VN is thinking of Soviet and Nazi propaganda and the threats to those who dared debunk it. He may also have been thinking of the idea of the “Soviet space bluff,” the notion that Soviet achievements in space were either (a) fabricated stories; or (b), as detailed in Leonid Vladimirov, The Russian Space Bluff: The Inside Story of the Soviet Drive to the Moon (Dial Press, 1973), a series of rushed efforts to pip the Americans; or (c) flops, like the Soviet Venera probes, which all failed either in flight or communications between 1961 and 1965, and achieved a first very partial success in June 1967. I cannot put my finger on a passage in VN’s archive that suggests he believed in the possibility of the first and most extreme of these possibilities. VN treated the ruthlessness of the Soviet espionage network especially in his story “The Assistant Producer” and, with varying degrees of obliqueness, in The Man from the USSR, Glory, Invitation to a Beheading, Bend Sinister, Pale Fire, and Look at the Harlequins!; he tackled the Nazi propaganda system in “Cloud, Castle, Lake” and also in Bend Sinister.
Cf.  264.09-12, Van first, then Ada: “‘it’s fun to be two secret agents in an alien country. . . . ’ ‘Spies from Terra? You believe, you believe in the existence of Terra?’”

342.05: undissembling ondulas: Cf. the three cosmologists who may have “discovered, none knew how or where, by means, maybe, of forbidden ‘ondulas’ of some kind, a green world rotating in space and spiraling in time” (182.23-26). According to Charles Nicol, Alexander Graham Bell “consistently explained that his telephone worked on ‘undulating current’” (“Buzzwords and Dorophonemes: How Words Proliferate and Things Decay in Ada,” in Gavriel Shapiro, ed., Nabokov at Cornell, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003, 91-100), 98.

342.07: mechanicalism: See 338.20.

342.13-14: mirages which: corrected from Ada 1969, "mirages, which."

342.14-15: when he felt the first pangs of bookbirth on Cordula’s terrace: Cf. 324.10-325.09.

342.15: terrace were: corrected from Ada 1969, "terrace, were."

342.16-18: those wonders which medieval explorers back from Cathay were afraid to reveal to the Venetian priest or the Flemish philistine: “Cathay,” deriving from the name of the nomadic people the Khitan, was a term adopted by medieval Europe for northern China, and was used thus by Marco Polo. Later it morphed into a poetic or exotic term for all of China.

Marco Polo (1254-1354), Venetian merchant, explorer, and travel-writer, ventured across Asia on the Silk Road, later recording and freely extrapolating on his travels in Il Milione (The Travels of Marco Polo, c. 1300). He features in The Gift (114, 124-5).In the latter passage, Marco Polo reveals his reluctance to report all he had encountered:

In the twenties of the fourteenth century when the great explorer was dying, his friends gathered by his bedside and implored
him to reject what in his book had seemed incredible to them—to water down its miracles by means of judicious deletions; but
he responded that he had not recounted even a half of what he had in fact seen.

VN gleaned this from the Dominican friar Jacopo d’Acqui’s Imago Mundi, c. 1330, cited in Zimmer 2010: 983. D’Acqui, incidentally, also reports there on the Tartars (see 341.19n).
Sir John Mandeville is the name ascribed to the author of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which first appeared between 1351 and 1377. The actual author seems to have been Jehan à la Barbe, also known as Jehan de la Bourgogne, a physician from Liège: hence, the “Flemish philistine” (the word “Flemish” had a wider range in Jehan de la Bourgogne’s time than in modern usage). The Travels of Sir John Mandeville were mostly compilation and invention, especially from Odoric of Pordenone (from whom the author especially took the more remote travels, including to China), William of Boldensele, a little Marco Polo, and more, but “Paradoxically, Mandeville’s Travels were more successful in popularizing the geographical and encyclopedic knowledge of medieval explorers than all his sources put together” (Monica Manolescu, “‘Verbal Adventures in the Inky Jungle’: Marco Polo and John Mandeville in Vladimir Nabokov’s The Gift,” Cycnos 24:1 (2007), 119-29, p. 127).

MOTIF: explorer.

342.20: scarecrow scribblings: In what sense? The stiff, angular shape of Van’s handwriting? The threadbare verbal or imaginative quality of the text?
Incidentally, VN’s familiar fondness for foregrounded alliteration seems particularly evident in these pages: Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics; Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst; Rus and Rome; gingerbread Germany; undissembling ondulas; Flemish philistine; scarecrow scribblings. . . .

342.22-23: Bedford . . . secretly typed in triplicate: Bedford is the county town of Bedfordshire, 40 km west of Cambridge, England, the equivalent on Earth of Antiterran Chose: close enough to Chose be not too inconvenient for Van, large enough to have a typing agency, far enough away for the secret of his authorship not to spread. Besides, there is a floramor nearby: “Van throbbing with foul life on a rococo couch (three miles south of Bedford) could not imagine how those three young ladies, now suddenly divested of their clothes (a well-known oneirotic device), could manage to draw out a prelude that kept one so long on the very lip of its resolution. I lay supine and felt twice the size I had ever been . . . when finally six gentle hands attempted to ease la gosse, trembling Adada, upon the terrible tool” (353.34-354.08). Triplication seems to be a Bedford specialty: typing, three miles, those three young ladies, the triple a of “Adada.”

342.23-25: This he disfigured again during his voyage back to America on board the Queen Guinevere. And in Manhattan the galleys had to be reset twice: Van regularly travels on the Queen Guinevere, a much grander ship than the later Admiral Tobakoff (461.22-27), on his annual trips from Manhattan to Chose: he “warmly greeted bald fat Toby who had served on the Queen Guinevere in 1889, and 1890, and 1891” (476.09-11). On the Tobakoff in 1901 Van “attempted to read in bed the proofs of an essay he was contributing to a festschrift on the occasion of Professor Counterstone’s eightieth birthday” (474.09-11, and see also 484.02-12).

In “real life,” the Nabokovs traveled from the US to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth in 1959 and to and from the US in 1963. On the way from Europe to New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth in 1963, and in New York, VN corrected the proofs of his translation of and commentary to Eugene Onegin (SO 7).

As the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, Guinevere, King Arthur’s queen, is Lancelot’s lover in the Arthurian legend. The story “Lance” explicitly invokes the Arthurian Lancelot (see SoVN 637) in its description of Lance Boke’s space exploration, but not the Guinevere theme.
MOTIF: Guinevere; Vere de Vere.

342.28: Letters from Terra: MOTIF: Letters from Terra.

342.28: by Voltemand: Van wittily adopts as nom de plume the obscure name of the courtier in Hamlet, a very minor character, who carries a letter from Claudius of Denmark to the King of Norway (he speaks one line accepting the task at I.ii.40) and later reports back on Norway’s reply (his one other speech, II.ii.60-80), handing Claudius a letter from the Norwegian king.

The name perhaps echoes volteador, which W2 glosses as Spanish for “acrobat,” or English vault, French volte, and therefore Van’s Mascodagama pseudonym, and may also be seen to combine the V of Van’s name with the first names of his father, Walter Demon Veen.

After Lucette’s death, Van writes to Ada (obliquely, since Demon has to inspect the letter before passing it on to her): “I know the unsoundness of speculations as to whether Ophelia would not have drowned herself after all, without the help of a treacherous sliver, even if she had married her Voltemand” (497.26-29).

MOTIF: Voltemand.

342.28-29: on Van’s twenty-first birthday: January 1, 1891. Is there in the reference to the complex proofs and the publication of the book on the author’s birthday a sideways glance at Ulysses, which Joyce added to extensively in the proofs but wanted to be published for his fortieth birthday?

342.29-30: two bogus houses: As the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, “houses” here has a double sense: “publishing houses” and “families” (the Abencerages and the Zegris in the Chateaubriand story in the following lines).

342.31-33: "Abencerage" in Manhattan, and "Zegris" in London.// . . . I would have recognized Chateaubriand's lapochka: Darkbloom: “Families of Granada Moors (their feud inspired Chateaubriand).”  These clans of Moors, who feuded in Granada between 1480 and 1492, inspired Chateaubriand in 1807 to write the novella Les Aventures du dernier Abencérage (published 1821), which includes the romance “Comme j'ai douce souvenance,” a motif for Van and Ada in Ardis the First (138-39, 138.10-139.04n).

In the novella the hero, Aben-Hamet, last of the illustrious tribe of the Abencérages (historically, Abencerrages or Abencerrajes), in 1516 visits Granada, an emirate where Moors had ruled until Boabdil’s exile in 1492. He and the Christian Blanca fall in love, but religion and the history of family hostility doom them to a life apart.
In his foreword (Avertissement), Chateaubriand writes that “Il est souvent fait allusion dans cette nouvelle à l’histoire des Zégris et des Abencérages” (“This novella often alludes to the history of the Zegris and the Abencerrages,” Atala, René, Les Aventures du Dernier Abencérage, ed. Fernand Letessier, Paris: Garnier, 1962, 251-52). Among the Moors exiled in the Maghreb at the start of the story, mothers rock children to sleep with romances about the Zegris and the Abencerrages (“Elles les berçaient avec les romances des Zégris et des Abencérages,” ibid., 255). Aben-Hamet, the hero, bears the name of the Abencerrage who had been accused by the Zegris of having seduced the sultana Alfaïma (“portait le nom de cet Abencérage qui fut accusé par les Zégris d’avoir seduit la sultane Alfaïma,” ibid.,259), and, filled with nostalgia for the country his people have been exiled from, travels to Granada, where he meets Blanca. From there the story follows its own course, although echoing the bloodier confrontation of legend between the original Abencerrage Aben-Hamet and King Boabdil. According to the stories concocted by Ginés Pérez de Hita (1544?-1619?), in his Historia de los bandos de los Zegríes y Abencerrajes (1595–1619), more widely known as Guerras civiles de Granada, and by Jean-Pierre de Florian (1755-1794), in his Gonzalve de Cordoue (1791), when some Zegris surprise this Aben-Hamet at a secret meeting with the sultana, Boabdil has him and other Abencerages massacred in the Alhambra’s Lion Court.
When Van and Ada invented their variations on the theme of “Comme j'ai douce souvenance” from the Dernier Abencérage, the “impossibly pretentious” (43.24) lepidopterist Ada presumably mentioned that Abencerage and Zegris were butterfly names, the species Philotes abencerragus Pierret 1837 the false baton blue, found from Spain and North Africa to the Middle East, in the family Lycaenidae, VN’s specialty, and the quite unrelated pierid genus of Orange Tips, Zegris (named by Jean Baptiste Boisduval in 1836) (Zeugris epheme, the sooty orange tip, pictured, found in North Africa and southern Europe from Spain to Kazakhstan)—named not so much in honor of the real families of Moors as of Chateaubriand’s novella. This adds an extra coil to the insect-incest theme which runs through Ada (a theme which happens to be focussed particularly sharply in Chateaubriand’s mosquito at 105-07), and which Van remembers bitterly when he decides to invent spurious publishing houses whose names would mean more to Ada than to anyone else on Antiterra.
In a kind of reverse homage, Ada adopts the pseudonym “Theresa Zegris” for her role in the film Don Juan’s Last Fling (492.04): she has the novel on her bedside table during her stay with Van at Cordula’s former Manhattan apartment in late 1892, 419.27. In turn Van in 1901 addresses Ada in an unsent letter after Lucette’s death, harking back to Ada’s role in the film that interrupted Van’s and Lucette’s last night together, as “my Zegris butterfly . . . Spanish orange-tip” (500.27-501.01).

342.31-32: (Had I happened . . . at once.): MOTIF: Composition: Ada.

342.31-32: would have recognized Chateaubriand's lapochka and hence your little paw: Proffer 269: “little paw” in Russian, although Ada I.1 provides the other possible gloss: “lapochka [darling] Lapiner” (8.05-06).

342.33-34: His new lawyer, Mr. Gromwell, whose really beautiful floral name: Gromwell (W2), “Any plant of the genus Lithospermum, esp. L. officinale. They have polished, white, stony nutlets,” hence their popular name, the stoneseed. In fact “Gromwell” seems comically unattractive to English ears, with associations like Cromwell (whether the lawyer Thomas Cromwell, 1485-1540, the factotum of Archbishop Wolsey and chief minister of Henry VIII, or Oliver Cromwell, 1599-1658, the Puritan general and Lord Protector of England), grim, grimace, grommet. . . .
Cf. “Mispel (another botanical name),” 344.06.

Mr. Gromwell features once more, at a business dinner in Van’s father’s house, the last time Van sees Demon (505.32).
MOTIF: flowers

343.01: the great Grombchevski: Like Gromwell, Grombchevski is also a lawyer, and also present the last time Van sees his father, at the 1904 business dinner at Demon’s Manhattan home, 505.31-32. On Earth the Polish-born Bronislav Ludvigovich Grombchevski (1855-1926) was, while an officer in the Russian army, a major explorer of Central Asia.

343.04-09: little experience in the intricacies of book-publishing . . . “review copies” . . . advertisements . . . by spontaneous generation: Cf. Fyodor as a first-time author: “His book of poems did not get any reviews after all (somehow he had assumed it would happen automatically and had not even taken the trouble of sending out review copies)” (The Gift, 57).

343.10-11: similar blurbs boosting The Possessed by Miss Love and The Puffer by Mr Dukes: Two critically acclaimed bestsellers of the decade before Ada’s composition.

Although “The Possessed by Miss Love” may seem to allude to Dostoevsky’s 1871-1872 novel, originally Besy, translated in 1916 by Constance Garnett as The Possessed but more recently rendered more accurately as Demons or The Devils, it is actually an Antiterranversion of the best-seller By Love Possessed (1957) by James Gould Cozzens (1903-1978), as VN confirms in his gloss in A1: “By Love Possessed.” Although initially favourably reviewed, By Love Possessed was excoriated by Dwight Macdonald in “By Cozzens Possessed, A Review of Reviews” (Commentary), where he called it “the most alarming literary news of the year” (Wikipedia, By Love Possessed, accessed 4 May 2020).Cozzen’s novel, although widely criticized for its anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and condescension to African Americans, nevertheless won the William Deans Howells Award in 1960 for the most prestigious work of fiction in the last five years—during which Lolita had been published. No wonder VN raised an eyebrow.

“The Puffer
by Mr Dukes” is a version of the novel Herzog (1964; Herzog is German for “duke”) by Saul Bellow (1915-2005), via the sense of “bellows” as a device for puffing air into fires to boost ignition, and the term “puff” meaning (W2) “4. To exalt beyond measure; esp., to praise exaggeratedly or not disinterestedly; to call public attention to by praise,” with the example “ He saw no reason why he should puff the book. Rose Macaulay.” Again, cf. VN’s gloss in A1: “Bellow’s Herzog // [iconic outline sketch of bellows] . . . // (to ‘puff,’ to push a book by means of publicity etc).” Herzog won the National Book Award for Fiction and the Prix International.

Cf. SO  54: “I happen to find second-rate and ephemeral the works of a number of puffed-up writers—such as Camus, Lorca, Kazantzakis, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann, Thomas Wolfe, and literally hundreds of other ‘great’ second-raters.”

343.22: a girl called Terra: The shopgirls as would-be publicists confuse heroine and home planet. MOTIF: Terra.

343.24-26: in twelve months only six copies had been sold—two in England and four in America: Cf. “a considerably earlier and weaker work, the poor little Letters from Terra, of which only half a dozen copies existed—two in Villa Armina and the rest in the stacks of university libraries” (579.09-12).

343.27-28: in which poor Terra’s correspondence: Van as narrator ironically echoes the mistake of the imagined sales pitches of imagined shopgirls (“Here’s a rather fancy novel about a girl called Terra,” 342.22).

343.29-30: One, by the First Clown in Elsinore, a distinguished London weekly: Elsinore is the town (Helsingfors, Helsingør) in Denmark whose castle, Kronberg, Shakespeare turns into the castle where most of the action of Hamlet takes place. The “First Clown” is the speech identifier of the character we think of as the First Gravedigger. The Pléiade editors note that the gravedigger is the one who guesses Ophelia’s death is suicide.

The jokes behind the easy riddle of identification are (1) that a reviewer named after a minor (although memorable) Shakespeare character should review a book whose author has taken as nom de plume another (and unmemorable) character from the same Shakespeare play, and specifically (2) that a reviewer’s nom de plume should signify “gravedigger.” In his fierce response to his former friend Edmund Wilson’s fierce 1965 review of his translation of and commentary to Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (see also 3.04n, 17.06n, 64.12n, 102.01n, 224.15-16n), Nabokov writes: “Mr. Wilson can hardly be unaware that once awriter chooses to youthen or resurrect a word, it lives again, sobs again, stumbles all over the cemetery in doublet and trunk hose, and will keep annoying stodgy gravediggers as long as that writer’s book endures” (SO 252; written January 1966, when VN was in the early throes of Ada). Is it coincidental that the letters of the name “Wilson” are all in “First Clown”?
Elsinore may point to the distinguished London weekly The New Statesman, “A Weekly Review of Politics and Literature,” to cite its original 1913 subtitle. In Hamlet part of the prince’s problem is that a new statesman, Claudius, his uncle, has wrested the crown of Denmark from his brother, King Hamlet, when Prince Hamlet might have expected to succeed his father. VN certainly read the New Statesman in the 1960s, wrote a number of letters to the editor in the years he was composing Ada (January 22, 1965; April 23, 1965; November 17, 1967; January 19, 1968), and at Ada 132.07-08 refers to psoriasis as “described in side-splitting style by a co-sufferer who wrote essays for a London weekly” (Alan Brien, who had a weekly column in the New Statesman).

Cf. “some ludicrous blunder in the current column of Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine” (61.09-10).

343.31-32: a British journalist’s fondness for this kind of phoney wordplay: British newspapers do feature puns in headings much more often than their North American counterparts.

343.32: Terre à Terre: OED: as an adjectival phrase, “Matter-of-fact, unimaginative.” W2: “Without elevation; pedestrian; -- of style.” Littré: “d’une manière dépourvue de toute élévation.” Particularly appropriate not just (1) as a judgment on Van’s book, but also, (2) given the book’s title and (3) its subject, Terra, and (4) communication from “earth to earth”; and also because (5) it echoes the words of the Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer, aptly (6) for the gravedigger-reviewer: “We therefore commit his body to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
MOTIF: Terra.

343.33: “Space Romances”: This quaint-sounding term, the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, may in part echo the older usage of writers such as Nabokov favorite H.G. Wells, whose The Time Machine (1898) was subtitled A Scientific Romance.
MOTIF: romance

343.33: fine off: W2: “fine away, down or off: To become gradually fine; to diminish; to dwindle.”

344.01-03: calling it (alas, with unerring flair) “a sumptuously fripped up . . . fable . . . the otherwise total ineptitude of the tale”: VN comments that “Objective, or at least one-mirror-removed, opinions of Van’s efforts are stated quite clearly in the case of his Letters from Terra” (SO 123).

344.01: fripped up: Not in W2, W3, OED. From frippery, W2: “Finery or a piece of finery, as in dress or ornament, esp. when cheap and tawdry; a cheap article or stock of such finery; also, affected elegance or ostentation.”

344.05: a little Manhattan magazine (The Village Eyebrow): Blend of two prominent weeklies—neither of them, therefore, remotely qualifying as “a little Manhattan magazine”—published in New York City, the Village Voice (1955-2017) and the high-brow New Yorker (founded 1925), whose emblem, the dandy Eustace Tilley, is portrayed each year on one of the February covers, and usually with a raised eyebrow. Part of the joke of the conflation is the gap between the “alternative” ethos of the Village Voice (the voice of once-bohemian Greenwich Village) and the “establishment” ethos of the New Yorker (the voice of the Upper West and East Sides of Manhattan, as it were?).

344.06-07: Max Mispel (another botanical name—“medlar” in English), member of the German Department: Mispel is German for “medlar,” Mespilus germanicus. VN may have been thinking of this shrub or small tree and its fruit in terms of Shakespeare’s Rosalind saying to Touchstone: “I’ll graft it with you, and then I shall graft it with a medlar; then it will be the earliest fruit i’th’ country, for you’ll be rotten ere you be half-ripe, and that’s the right virtue of the medlar” (As You Like It, 3.ii.115-8). Shakespeare also uses “medlar,” with its association with rottenness, to mean “whore”: Lucio tells the disguised Duke he was once before the Duke for getting a wench with child, but denied it: “They would else have married me to the rotten medlar” (Measure for Measure, IV.iii.167).

More prosaically, as the Kyoto Reading Circle cite: “Medlars are a hardy fruit that look like a cross between a small apple and a rosehip. When ripe, they’re hard and green. They’re picked at this stage, but aren’t edible until they’ve become half rotten or ‘bletted,’ when they turn brown and soft. Harvested medlars are stored in sawdust or bran in a cool, dark place until they’re suitably bletted and have developed an aromatic flavour.” (

Is the suggestion that Max Mispel is a rotten reviewer (the Kyoto Reading Circle), that he meddles in books, that he seizes on books ripe enough for publication but not yet ready for consumption, or that reviewing is a whorish occupation?
The “other botanical name” is Gromwell (342.33-34).

Cf. also Bill Fraser, in the Second Crimean War, witnessing “Lieutenant de Prey’s end from a blessed ditch overgrown with cornel and medlar” (319.14-15).

344.07-08: Goluba University: Goluba is Russian for “dove”; Antiterran version of Columbia University, New York, since “dove” in Latin is columba.

344.08-16: to air his authors . . . the influence of Osberg . . . as well as that of an obscene ancient Arab . . . Ben Sirine . . . Perfumed Garden: Osberg and The Perfumed Garden come together oddly once more in II.4, in Van’s lectures on dreams, in the sentence “ ‘Tell me,’ says Osberg’s little gitana to the Moors, El Motela and Ramera” (361.11-12). “El Motela” can mean “the motel” in Spanish, so is appropriate to this reference to Osberg’s The Gitanilla, the Antiterran Lolita  (see next n.), but is also a term, meaning “the ransacker,” in The Perfumed Garden, p. 180 (see nn. 344.11-16 to 344.14-16 below). 

344.08-10: to air his authors . . . the influence of Osberg (Spanish writer: A version of the Argentinian (and therefore Spanish-language) writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), who came to wide recognition in the English-speaking world in the 1960s and in that decade was often compared with Nabokov.

Nabokov must have first read Borges in 1963 (SO 80) and was initially excited. In an interview conducted that year he mentioned the contemporary authors he enjoyed: “I do have a few favorites—for example, Robbe-Grillet and Borges. How freely and gratefully one breathes in their marvelous labyrinths! I love their lucidity of thought, the purity and poetry, the mirage in the mirror” (SO 44). But disenchantment soon set in: “At first, Véra and I were delighted by reading him. We felt we were on a portico, but we have learned that there was no house” (Time, May 23, 1969, 83). He began to bristle at being “superficially linked to a handful of international writers like Beckett and Borges,” as interviewer Allene Talmey prefaced a question in 1969; VN replied: “Oh, I am well aware of those commentators: slow minds, hasty typewriters! They would do better to link Beckett with Maeterlinck and Borges with Anatole France. It might prove more instructive than gossiping about a stranger” (SO 155). In 1971, in response to a question by Paul Sufrin on George Steiner’s comparing him with Beckett and Borges, Nabokov responded: “That playwright and that essayist are regarded nowadays with such religious fervor that in the triptych you mention, I would feel like a robber between two Christs” (SO 184). To his editor Henri Hell at Fayard, Nabokov praised what Hell had written on Pale Fire but added: “I confess, however, to being puzzled by the connection you find between my work and Borges’s flimsy little fables” (17 July 1974, VNA).

In Ada VN mocks the linkage between Borges and himself by attributing to Osberg the novel The Gitanilla (27.33-28.03, 77.02-04, 361.11-12, 488.28-29), the Antiterran version of Lolita (Lolita’s names, both the formal “Dolores” and the informal “Lolita,” are Spanish, and Humbert often associates her with the gypsy Carmen).

Mathematically there are 720 ways of rearranging the letters in “Borges.” Nabokov may have chosen “Osberg” to suggest “iceberg,” a coldness in Borges’s imagination, or “aridity,” via German Berg, “mountain” and Latin os, “bone.”
Note that Max Mispel discerns the influence of Osberg yet “had not read Van’s novel” (344.27), an ironic Nabokovian comment on influence-finders.

MOTIF: Nabokov; Osberg.

344.09-10: Spanish writer of pretentious fairy-tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes: Van says of Osberg’s The Gitanilla: “Never could finish that novel—much too pretentious” (464.32). Cf. also, singling out details from The Gitanilla, Antiterran distortions of details of Lolita: “a plump purple pill reminding her, she had to laugh, of those with which the little gypsy enchantress in the Spanish tale . . . puts to sleep all the sportsmen and all their bloodhounds at the opening of the hunting season” (27.32-28.03).
MOTIF: fairy tale

344.11-16: obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine, . . . in . . . Nefzawi’s . . . The Perfumed Garden, Panther edition, p. 187 . . . ): In The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight, which he wrote, apparently, in what is now Tunisia between 1410 and 1434, Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nefzawi, after offering a couple of dream interpretations, adds (Chapter 9): “By transposing the letters other analogies may be arrived at. These explanations are not here in their place; but I have been induced to give them in this chapter on account of the use to which they may be put. Persons who would wish to know more on this subject have only to consult the treatise of Ben Sirine. I now return to the names given to the sexual parts of woman” (The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi, trans. by Richard Burton, ed. Alan Hull [Frogmore, Hertfordshire: Panther, 1963, repr. 1966], p. 187).

“Ben Sirine” is more accurately known as Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Sirin (654-728/9).

Nabokov as a Russian writer from 1921 to 1940, and occasionally after, had “been Sirin” (Vladimir Sirin) (Mason 1974: 165) or in French transliteration, “Sirine,” adopting the nom de plume in order to distinguish his own writings, especially frequent in the émigré newspaper Rul’, from those of his father, also Vladimir Nabokov (Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov), one of the editors of Rul’. (See 5.09n and Boyd 1990: 180-81.)

MOTIF: Nabokov

344.11: short-shift thesialists: Invented term, from the obsolete and rare thesial, “of or pertaining to a thesis” (W2): those wanting to work short shifts on their little theses and content to give short shrift (W3, “little consideration”) to their subject.

344.12: anagrammatic dreams: Cf. Uncle Van “had awoken once because a stinkbomb had burst among the instruments in the horsecart . . . . sunk back into dreams of prowling black spumas and a crash of symbols in an orchal orchestra” (72.19-73.29). Is it a coincidence that in this anagrammatic dream there are “prowling black spumas” (pumas, spume) and that the “expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine,” is referred to in the Panther edition of The Perfumed Garden?

Cf. “That night, in a post-Moët dream. . . . ‘It’s one of the Vane sisters,’ and he awoke murmuring with professional appreciation the oneiric word-play combining his name and surname” (520.28-521.07). Van of course cannot know of the famous acrostic dream of VN’s story “The Vane Sisters” (written 1951, pub. 1959, see SoVN 631, 681).

MOTIF: dream

344.13: thus transliterated by Captain de Roux: In his edition of Burton’s translation (see 344.11-16n. above), Hull notes (pp. 12, 20) that Burton retains the transliterations of a French officer, known only as “Monsieur le Baron R***, Capitaine d’Etat major,” who discovered the manuscript sometime before 1850. The “Roux” is therefore VN’s addition unless, as Zimmer 2010: 986 suggests, VN had identified “Baron R***” with the infantry captain J.M. Le Roux who in 1886 published in Algeria a Hausa-French dictionary.
MOTIF: rousse.

344.13-14: according to Burton in his adaptation of Nefzawi’s treatise: Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890), writer, explorer, Orientalist and translator, published a translation (edited by Burton from a translation from the Sanskrit by Bhagwan Lal Indraji and others) of the Kama Sutra (1883), an unexpurgated One Thousand and One Nights (translated directly from the Arabic, 1885), and (translated from Isidore Lisieux’s 1886 French publication of Baron R.’s version) The Perfumed Garden (1886), all under the auspices of the bogus publishing house, The Kama Shastra Society of London and Benares.
Cf. “post to Ardis Hall trunkfuls of eighteenth-century libertines, German sexologists, and a whole circus of Shastras and Nefzawis in literal translation with apocryphal addenda” (131.16-18).

“Adaptation”: Burton translated freely, floridly, and exuberantly, and added many interpolations from elsewhere.

VN may or may not have known that Borges in 1930-1934 wrote an essay on “The Translators of The Thousand and One Nights” (1936), where he extols Burton as “incomparable.”

MOTIF: adaptation; translation.

344.14-16: on the best method of mating with obese or hunchbacked females (The Perfumed Garden, Panther edition, p.187 . . . ): The Kyoto Reading Circle notes:It sounds as if the best way to mate with obese or hunchbacked females will be learned on p.187 of the Panther edition, but actually it is not. The method is mentioned on p.142 and p.148 respectively [Chapter 6], and in some other places. On p.187, instead, the reader finds ‘Ben Sirine’ as a probable scholar of dream prognostications. . . . This is the only reference to Ben Sirine.”

344.15-16: The Perfumed Garden, Panther edition: As a sex manual, The Perfumed Garden was much discussed in the 1960s, in that decade’s celebration of overt sexual liberation in life and the media. Panther was a prominent British paperback house in the 1960s; Nabokov himself was published there (The Defense, 1967, King, Queen, Knave, 1970).

344.16-17: a copy given to ninety-three-year-old Baron Van Veen by his ribald physician Professor Lagosse: Van is 93 in 1963, the year of publication of the Panther edition of The Perfumed Garden; Lagosse apparently gives it to him on first publication.
The first mention of Lagosse, who also features at 350.24-26, 353.23-24, 567.01, 570.22-24, 587.02-34. In the penultimate instance, Van discloses he “had detested physicians” before he met “tactful and tender, ribald and learned, Dr. Lagosse” (570.22-24, italics added). Lagosse’s name includes Greek lagos, “hare”: as Darkbloom notes in 7.25n, he belongs to the “leporine” pattern of physicians in the novel, the most prominent being Dr. Krolik.

Cf. “Vulner’s paperback History of English Architecture given me by good Dr. Lagosse” (350.24-26).
MOTIF: Krolik.

344.18-19: Mr. Voltemand (or Voltimand: “Voltemand” is the spelling of Shakespeare’s character in the First Folio, “Voltimand” in the next three editions of the Folio, and “Valtemand” in the Quartos. Note that Herr Mispel (which with its single l looks misspelled to an English eye) draws attention to a possible misspelling.

344.19: Mandalatov: Mandala, W3, “a graphic mystic symbol of the universe, usually in the form of a circle enclosing a square, used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation” and adopted in the psychiatry of Carl Jung (1875-1961; see his The Collective Unconscious and Psychology and Alchemy). The Kyoto Reading Circle notes that both “‘mandala’ and ‘Dr. Jung’ are mentioned in Pnin: ‘Nor did any of Victor’s casual sketches represent the so-called mandala—a term supposedly meaning (in Sanskrit) a magic ring, and applied by Dr. Jung and others to any doodle in the shape of a more or less fourfold spreading structure, such as a halved mangosteen, or a cross, or the wheel on which egos are broken like Morphos, or more exactly, the molecule of carbon, with its four valences—that main chemical component of the brain, automatically magnified and reflected on paper’ (Pnin 92).” Proffer 270 notes that “Manda is one Russian word for private parts.”

344.21: a fat little fille de joie: Darkbloom: “whore.” The Kyoto Reading Circle suggests “a play on the phrase ‘a fat little fee.’”

344.27-29: Van toyed with the idea of challenging Mr. Medlar . . . to a duel at dawn: MOTIF: duel.

344.28-31: who, he hoped, would choose swords . . . fenced with a French coach twice a week:  Van hopes Mispel “would choose swords,” after his own pistol duel with Captain Tapper, whom he had planned to shoot in some “artistic and tricky” manner (308.05), only to have Tapper instead shoot him in the chest, albeit not as dangerously as he had first thought (311.01-03, 312.34-313.02).
Van says to his father in July 1888: “You still beat me at fencing, but I’m the better shot” (255.23). Much later, “He could still click foils at sixty, but a few minutes of practice blinded him with sweat; so fencing soon shared the fate of the table tennis” (571.26-29).

344.29-31: the Park whose central green he could see from the penthouse terrace:  Cf. “on the central green oval of the Park . . . as he stood . . . on the roof terrace” (390.06-10). When he is not pursuing his studies at Chose, Van still lives in what had been Cordula’s apartment in Manhattan. On “the open terrace” (325.04-05) of what had still been her apartment, in 1888, he had first conceived—c’est bien le cas de le dire (“When in early September Van Veen left Manhattan for Lute, he was pregnant,” 325.08-09)—Letters from Terra.
Cf. also the duel on another large American central city park, Boston Common, apparently, in this case: “the excellent widow of an obscure Major de Prey—obscurely related to our late neighbour, a fine shot but the light was bad on the Common” (163.12-14).

344.31: where he fenced with a French coach twice a week: Given that Van writes under the name of Voltemand, the fencing with a French coach seems an echo of Hamlet, whose hero, when he is inveigled into a fencing contest with Laertes, reassures Horatio that “Since he [Laertes] went into France, I have been in continual practice” (V.ii.156-57). The French master of martial arts Lamord has commended Laertes (V.vii.77-85); Nabokov refers to Lamord in BS 115.

344.34: “novelette”: The word Darkbloom uses to translate “romanchik” (as inspired by reports of Terra) at 339.26.

344.34-345.01: just as another, unrelated, Veen might have denounced . . . his pubescent dream of ideal bordels: On a first reading, a riddling comparison, although resolved at the start of the next chapter, in another few lines: Eric van Veen and his “Villa Venus: an Organized Dream” (347.13-348.03). There are more advance mentions of Eric Veen at 345.13-14 and 346.01.
MOTIF: relation; Veen.

345.02: Mushmula: The last of the three versions of Max Mispel’s surname, the German Mispel, at 344.06, the English equivalent, Mr. Medlar, at 344.28, and now the Russian match, Max Mushmula, here at 345.02. Apart from the comic effect, the reason for transposing his name into other languages is unclear. Looking ahead three lines to Mushmula’s article on Melville & Marvell, the Kyoto Reading Circle notes that “All these names have ‘m’ and ‘l’: Mispel, Medlar, Mushmula, Melville and Marvell”; why?

345.03: cartel: W2: “A letter of defiance or challenge, as to single combat.” The word’s “-el” ending matches that of the “bordels” in the previous line, an unusual combination.

345.04-05: “The Weed Exiles the Flower” (Melville & Marvell): Andrew Marvell’s Arcadian images of idyllic gardens and villas (“The Garden” (cf. 65.08n., 161.24-26n.), “Upon Appleton House,” etc.) are answered, or the hints of “one common Ruin” in a poem like “The Mower’s Song” are made dominant, in Herman Melville’s short poem “The Ravaged Villa” (1891):

In shards the sylvan vases lie,
  Their links of dance undone,
And brambles wither by the brim,
  Choked fountain of the sun!
The spider in the laurel spins,
  The weed exiles the flower:
And, flung to kiln, Apollo’s bust
  Makes lime for Mammon’s bower.

Carl Rollyson and Lisa Paddock, Herman Melville A to Z (New York: Checkmark Books, 2001, p. 171) note that “In February and March of 1857, Melville recorded in his travel diary having seen many ruined classical villas in the vicinities of Naples and Rome. He used some of the details he observed then to write this one-stanza  condemnation of materialism, in which classicism itself is allowed to crumble into dust and art is sacrificed to greed.”

VN confirms the identification in A1: “l.6 of Melville’s short poem The Ravaged Villa (1891).”

Zimmer 2010: 986-87 notes that chapter 6 of Melville’s novella Billy Budd (begun 1886, unfinished by Melville, published in various versions since 1924)—in connection with the nickname, “Starry Vere,” of Captain the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere, commander of the ship where most of the action takes place—cites four lines from Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House,” stanza 91:

This ’tis to have been from the first
In a domestic heaven nursed,
Under the discipline severe
Of Fairfax and the starry Vere.
Zimmer points out that we cannot know the focus of Mispel’s article on Melville and Marvell, but that it may again, as in his review of Letters from Terra, make the most of a doubtful or ductile link between two authors.
Again, as in the teasing comparison to “another, unrelated, Veen” earlier in the sentence, there seems to be a link with the floramors of Villa Venus and their falling into ruin (from “Ruinen” at 350.04 to “The ruinous Villa,” 358.21, of Van’s “last visit to one last Villa Venus,” 356.29).

The Kyoto Reading Circle note also, in “Weed,” the echo of “(Antilia later regained her husband, and Flora was weeded out. Ada’s addendum)” (340.24-25).
MOTIF: flowers.

345.08-10: painfully aware how little he knew his own planet while attempting to piece together another one from jagged bits filched from deranged brains: Cf. “a mosaic of painstakingly collated notes from his own reports on the ‘transcendental delirium’ of his patients” (340.29-31).
Readers too, while noticing obvious discrepancies between Terra and our Earth, are made to feel “painfully aware” of how little they know their own planet, given the uncertainties of the resemblances peeping through the mismatches.

345.10-13: after completing his medical studies . . . long travels in South America, Africa, India: Cf. “He traveled, he studied, he taught” (449.01).

345.10-12: after completing his medical studies at Kingston (which he found more congenial than good old Chose): The first mention of Van’s studies in medicine, and beyond Chose. At “Kingston University, Mayne” (365.01) Van is an assistant lecturer (379.16) and a researcher rather than a student.

VN too found the intellectual life of American campuses more congenial than that of Cambridge, England, where, admittedly, he had been as a student less interested in his studies than in chasing women, playing football, and composing poetry: “In America I’m happier than in any other country. It is in America that I found my best readers, minds that are closest to mine. I feel intellectually at home in America. It is a second home in the true sense of the word” (SO 10).

345.13-15: As a boy of fifteen  . . . he had studied with a poet’s passion the time-tables of three great American transcontinental trains: Cf. VN’s reports on his own fascination with real trains, model trains, and train travel, SM 141-46, and his son Dmitri’s, SM 300-302, especially “It might be rewarding to go into the phylogenetic aspects of the passion male children have for things on wheels, particularly railway trains” (SM 300); in Glory, “From that year on [when he is nine] Martin developed a passion for trains. . . . ” (24); from his mother, Virginia, “Sebastian inherited that strange, almost romantic, passion for sleeping-cars and Great European Express Trains” (RLSK 8). The Kyoto Reading Circle adds that Van’s passion for trains also recalls “the dreamy boy Marcel in Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann, who shows a similar enthusiasm for timetables and a specific time for departure. In ‘Noms De Pays: Le Nom’ the narrator says that ‘l’indicateur des chemins de fer’ (timetable) exalts his desire for artistic joy more than anything else (Du côté de chez Swann, Gallimard 384); he also tells how he could not read ‘l’heure de départ’ of his yearned-for train on guidebooks or timetables without his heart palpitating (Du côté de chez Swann, 378).”

345.13-14: fifteen (Eric Veen’s age of florescence): Another advance reference to the still unexplained “another, unrelated, Veen” with “his pubescent dream of ideal bordels” (344.34-345.02). Cf. “Eric, a boy of fifteen” (347.13). “Florescence” puns on the “floramors” that are central to Eric’s “flourishing.”
MOTIF: Flora.

345.15-18: three great American transcontinental trains that one day he would take—not alone (now alone). . . . the dark-red New World Express: “Not alone”: Van at fifteen of course thinks of Ada as his traveling companion; “now alone”: Van by 1891 has renounced Ada; but Ada, in her 1890 letter to Van, has urged him to “Take the fastest flying machine you can rent straight to El Paso, your Ada will be waiting for you . . . and we’ll continue, by the New World Express . . . ” (334.25-28).

345.17: Mephisto: A Mephistophelean (or Demonian) Memphis, Tennessee. MOTIF: devil.

345.17: El Paso: Cf. Ada’s request “Take the fastest flying machine you can rent straight to El Paso” (334.25-26). see also 334.26n.

345.17: Meksikansk: “Mexico” in Russian is Meksika; “Mexican” is Meksikanskiy (or, predicatively, Meksikansk). Cf. also “Yukonsk” just below (345.22). MOTIF: -konsk.

345.17: the Panama Chunnel: A channel tunnel, rather than the Panama Canal (built 1881-1914) on our planet. Cf. the “Chunnel” between France and England existing on Antiterra in 1887 (181.16-18n), although such a project, long proposed, was not realized on Earth until 1994.

North and South America on Antiterra must, therefore, be not quite conjoined but separated by a strait, although no other reference is made to this. This separation between these two continents was the case on Earth until about 3,000,000 years ago. The idea of continental drift was widely known at the time Nabokov was writing Ada (Alfred Wegener (1880-1930) had proposed a detailed hypothesis in 1912), but geologists had remained sceptical, since a mechanism to explain the movement of the continents remained unknown until evidence for plate tectonics began to converge in the 1950s and early 1960s. Between 1965 and 1967 there was a rapid development and corroboration of the new theory. Cf., perhaps: it is “sidesplitting to imagine that ‘Russia,’ instead of being a quaint synonym of Estoty, the American province extending from the Arctic no longer vicious Circle to the United States proper, was on Terra the name of a country, transferred as if by some sleight of land across the ha-ha of a doubled ocean to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over all of today’s Tartary, from Kurland to the Kuriles!” (17.17-18.03)

345.18: the dark-red New World Express: Cf. “by the New World Express . . . ” (334.27-28).

345.18: Brazilia: The country Brazil or its capital, on Earth, Brasília?

345.18-19: Witch (or Viedma, founded by a Russian admiral): Viedma on our planet is the capital of Río Negro Province in south central Argentina. Russian ved’ma  means “witch” (and the palatalized initial v makes it sound almost like viedma).

On Earth the Argentine city was founded not by a Russian admiral but by the Spanish sailor and explorer Francisco de Biedma y Narváez, also known as Francisco de Viedma (1737-1809). Viedma was the first stable Spanish settlement in Patagonia, and for a time capital of Argentine Patagonia.

As Alexey Sklyarenko observes, Nabokv-L, July 12, 2011, “The only Russian admiral mentioned in Ada is Tobakoff.” The Russian admiral could well be the explorer Admiral Tobakoff (as the name is usually spelled), whose sailors founded another town on the Atlantic coast of the Americas: “At the airport of the moonlit white town we call Tent, and Tobakov’s sailors, who built it, called Palatka, in northern Florida” (433.13-15).

Note that Van will be in Agony, Terra del Fuego, when Ada’s wedding takes place (481.03).
MOTIF: explorer.

345.20: Grant’s Horn: See 334.29 and 334.28-29n.

345.22: Yukonsk: MOTIF: -konsk; Yukonsk.

345.25-26: the Cape: Presumably the Cape of Good Hope, often known simply as the Cape.

345.26: Nigero: Niger and Nigeria, with a dash of Togo and Negro?

345.26: Rodosia: Combines Rhodos (Russian Rodos) and Rhodesia (Russian Rodeziya). Cf. “Newport, Rodos Island” (349.32-33).

345.27: Ephiopia: Russian, “Ethiopia.”

345.27: the brown Orient Express: Cf. “arrive by the Orient Express,” 252.02.

345.28: via Turkey and several Chunnels: One presumably under the Bosphorus, others hopping through Indonesia?

345.29-346.07: not clear, when you are falling asleep . . . ninety-seven, night-nine, one hund, red dog—: The “falling asleep” theme persists to the end of the chapter.
MOTIF: dream

345.29-30: why all continents except you begin with an A: Except “Europe,” in Van’s sleepy brain. Cf. Lolita, “the three states beginning with ‘I’” (210); Pale Fire: “Mrs. Shade (who . . . was allergic to artichokes, avocado pears, African acorns—in fact everything beginning with an ‘a’” (230); Waltz Invention: “You find there acacias, aloes, araucarias—in short, all the plants that begin with an ‘a’”(86); Speak, Memory: “in Athens, Antibes, Atlanta” (134).

345.31-33: Those three admirable trains included at least carriages  . . . with . . . a drawing room: Cf. “He liked composing his works . . . in the drawing rooms of great expresses . . . ” (450.07-10).

345.31-346.04: trains . . . when at Eric’s age he imagined the landscapes unfolding . . . Through rain forests and mountain canyons . . . falling asleep: Cf. Martin in his childhood getting himself off to sleep with fantasies of being a crack footballer “or, say, the long, brown, diaphragm-joined cars of an express that he was driving himself, and his mind would gradually catch the rhythm, grow blissfully serene, be cleansed, as it were, and, sleek and oiled, slip into oblivion. Instead of a train, going full tilt (gliding through bright-yellow birch forests . . . ” (Glory 108).

345.33: a drawing room with a piano or a harp: Re-tuned at every station?

346.05-06: but across desertorum or agricultural drearies: Victor Fet, Nabokv-L, 11 July 2011, suggests “This clearly indicates one moving across the North American continent on a fast vehicle.” Certainly appropriate for North America, but for other continents as well.

346.06-07: seventy, ninety-seven, night-nine, one hund, red dog--: “Ninety-seven” hurriedly catches up the “seven” in “seventy,” and then jumps to “night-nine” (“ninety-nine” mixed with the childish “night night”) and right into dreamland as “one hundred” turns the Hund and red into a “red dog.”
Cf. “Van often had word dreams” (309.30).
Near the end of chapter 13 of Ulysses, as night settles and after he has brought himself to ejaculation watching Gerty McDowell, Leopold Bloom muses “Short snooze if I had” and in the next paragraph does seem momentarily to drift into sleep: “under embon señorita young eyes Mulvey plump bubs me breadvan Winkle red slippers . . . showed me her next year in drawers return next in her next her next” (13.1274-86).
As the Kyoto Reading Circle notes, “In Lectures on Literature, Nabokov quotes the more famous end of Chapter 17 (Ithaca) of Ulysses:

The chapter ends with Bloom gradually falling asleep.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   . 
Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler and
Ninbad the Nailer and Finbad the Failer and Binbad the Bailer and Pinbad the Pailer and
Minbad the Mailer and Hinbad the Hailer and Rinbad the Railer and Dinbad the Kailer and
Vinbad the Quailer and Linbad the Yailer and Xinbad the Phthailer.

(Lectures on Literature, Harcourt Brace, 361-62).

The alliteration begins to fail” as the enumeration does at the end of Ada’s Part 2 Chapter 2.


Afternote to Part Two, Chapter 2


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