Part 2 Chapter 8

Bibliographic Note: Now that the Pléiade edition of Nabokov is complete, salient divergences from the English original in the French translation, supervised closely by VN, will be referenced not to the first French edition, Ada ou l’Ardeur (Fayard, 1975) but to the Pléiade version (2020), since this edition will both be more accessible in bookstores than the Fayard edition and more likely to be used by Francophone readers seriously interested in Ada. For similar reasons, the Rowohlt Gesammelte Werke edition of Ada oder Das Verlangen (2010), also supervised by VN (and Véra), will now be the reference text rather than the first German edition (1974).



Part 2 Chapter 8 shows Van, Ada and Lucette together for the first time since Ardis the Second, apart from an overlap of a minute when Lucette burst in on Van and Ada making love on the day of Ada’s arrival in Manhattan and quickly rushed away.

The relations among the trio had changed considerably between Ardis the First—Lucette at eight agog at Van and Ada starting to make love, late in that summer—and Ardis the Second—Lucette at twelve embroiled in their games, picnic, and even caresses. Now they are adults, at twenty-two and twenty, and Lucette at an advanced sixteen can join them for a boozy night out at Ursus restaurant and an even more depraved night and morning in their apartment.

Part 2 Chapter 7 took us back, within the 1892 Manhattan frame, to the blackmail photo album of Ardis the First, where Lucette had appeared just once, to be ignored (“Skip Lucette skipping rope,” 399) and Van and Ada were themselves tentative tyros in love. For that reason the jump forward in time in the next chapter to Van and Ada as fully adult and independent in Manhattan and Lucette as their almost grown-up guest feels all the more striking.

Part 2 Chapter 7 ends with the positive and romantic counterpoint to Kim as blackmailing eyewitness:

"Forget Kim, he’s only the necessary clown—but do you realize that a veritable legend was growing around you and me while
we played and made love?”
She had never realized, she said again and again (as if intent to reclaim the past from the matter-of-fact triviality of the album), t
hat their first summer in the orchards and orchidariums of Ardis had become a sacred secret and creed, throughout the countryside.
Romantically inclined handmaids. . . . (408-09)

Part 2 Chapter 8 opens with both a contrast, from the archaic pastoralism of gardeners and herdsmen with “moaning horns” to the high fashion of the young Veen women at Ursus restaurant, and a segue, from the romantic myth of Van and Ada’s ardors at Ardis, as spread by eyewitness Blanche, to “all three Veens, the children of Venus” (410) amid the saturation of romantic pseudo-gypsy Russian music at the restaurant, and Lucette no longer an eyewitness but a participant.

Music, memory, desire, jealousy, and champagne all flow freely at Ursus. In this heady atmosphere, Van now seems almost as excited by Lucette as by Ada. Back at the penthouse apartment, he pauses “in virile hesitation . . . and, deciding to kill two finches with one fircone,” heads for Lucette’s room while Ada runs her bath. Seeing her just slipping her nightdress on, he notes that her dimpled back seems “even more perfect than Ada’s!” (415). But “our wretched rake” makes no swift advance on Lucette, offering her only a kiss on the armpit, “just that,” in return for the name of Ada’s would-be fiancé. She hesitates, but succumbs to the lure of the kiss.

Informed of Vinelander’s name, Van heads back to Ada, makes rough jealous love with her, and begs her, as she leaves to show the Ardis photo album to Lucette: “no sapphic vorschmacks” (416). Asleep by the time she returns, he awakes next morning, showers, and returns to the bedroom naked and “in full pride” (417) only to see Lucette sitting on the far edge of the bed. Lucette makes to leave, but Ada insists “Pet stays right here,” plucks off Lucette’s nightie, and when Lucette lies back “on the outer half of Ada’s pillow in a martyr’s pudibund swoon” (418), the most erotic and the most artistically veiled scene of the novel, a Forbidden Masterpiece of prurient detail, takes place: Ada leads Van’s hand over to join hers in fondling Lucette, as with her other hand she grips Van’s shaft.
Details blur at the climax, as Van and Lucette both seem to reach orgasm, and Lucette dashes from the bed. A little later, Ada looks into the guest room to find Lucette gone, having left behind a note: “Would go mad if remained one more night shall ski at Verma” (421). Van pens her an apology (“We went too far”), signing it in Ada’s and his name. Ada denounces this as “pompous, puritanical rot. . . . Why should we apollo for her having experienced a delicious spazmochka? I love her and would never allow you to harm her. It’s curious—you know, something in the tone of your note makes me really jealous for the first time in my [life]. . . . Van, Van, somewhere, some day, after a sunbath or dance, you will sleep with her, Van!” (421).
But they reconcile and return to harmony. The erotic tension of the chapter, which seemed to be heading one way between Van and Lucette, has headed in another direction, with Lucette’s inclusion in a most unexpected sexual romp, her flight, and Van and Ada restored to the one-on-one buoyancy of their first falling in love: “Tower,” Ada rates her happiness, in her private symbolism, and Van vouches for his own mood: “A regular ziggurat” (423). Where to from here?



410.01: Knowing how fond his sisters were of Russian fare: Not remarked on previously, although the thoroughly Russian Marina offers decidedly Russian food at Ardis, and Ada avidly devours the simple tea with strawberries, for instance, in their first refreshments after Van’s arrival at Ardis in 1884 (I.5), as she does the fancy fare in the dinner put on for Demon’s visit to Ardis in 1888 (I.38): “Tonight [Marina] contented herself with the automatic ceremony of giving him what she remembered, more or less correctly, when planning the menu, as being his favorite food—zelyonïya shchi, a velvety green sorrel-and-spinach soup, containing slippery hard-boiled eggs and served with finger-burning, irresistibly soft, meat-filled or carrot-filled or cabbage-filled pirozhki—peer-rush-KEY, thus pronounced, thus celebrated here, for ever and ever. After that, she had decided, there would be bread-crumbed sander (sudak) with boiled potatoes, hazel-hen (ryabchiki) and that special asparagus (bezukhanka) which does not produce Proust’s After-effect, as cookbooks say” (254.04-14).

MOTIF: bear

410.01-02: how fond his sisters were of . . . Russian floor shows: Not previously in evidence.

410.02: Ursus: Latin, “bear,” after the famous pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg restaurant, Medved’ (“The Bear”). Pléiade 1476-77 notes that Medved’ was founded in 1878, seated 200, had a 24-piece orchestra, and frequently hosted celebratory dinners honoring the city’s artists, intellectuals, and politicians. Disputing the details of Nina Berberova’s recollection of a 1930s dinner in Paris at L’Ours, VN adds “with which, incidentally, the ‘Ursus’ of Ada and the Medved’ of St. Petersburg have nothing to do” (SO 291).
A bear, of course, has been a long-standing (since the sixteenth century) metonym for Russia (see, accessed October 16, 2022): hence the names of both Medved’ and Ursus.
At Kingston, glimpsing Lucette for the first time, at 16, as no longer a child, Van registers her as “A black bear with bright russet locks” (367.17). That day, a Saturday, about to part from her at Kingston, and having decided to reunite with Ada in Manhattan the next morning, Van had proposed to Lucette “dinner at Ursus next weekend” (386.28-29).
Cf. the last dinner Van and Lucette have, featuring “roast bearlet à la Tobakoff” (484.20).
It seems worth pointing out that like “Ardis,” “Ursus” is a five-letter word on the pattern vowel-R-consonant-vowel-S, and that some of the music the Veen entourage will hear at the restaurant has been composed by former guests at Ardis, Mihail Glinka and Apollon Grigoriev (see 410.15nn.1-2, 412.08-09 and n., 412.09-10 and n., and 413.01-02). “Venus” too is a five-letter word ending in “-us”: cf. the end of the first paragraph: “all three Veens, the children of Venus” (410.10).

410.02-03: the best Franco-Estotian restaurant: Despite its being so very Russian in name (the Russian bear), food and music? A different take on the name URSUS? “URSS” is French for “Union des républiques socialistes soviétiques” (English “USSR”) and “US” is “Estotian” or American for “United States” or French for “Union soviétique.”

410.03: in Manhattan Major: Equivalent to metro New York on earth? The only time a “Manhattan Major” features. Diana Makhaldiani notes (email, October 11, 2022) the proximity of the “Major” here to “Ursus” a line above, covertly evoking the constellation Ursa Major.
MOTIF: Manhattan.

410.04: the very short and open evening gowns: Short skirts in the early 1960s in England and then the US became even shorter (and known as “miniskirts”) by 1966 and shorter still (“microskirts”) by the end of the decade. They were not worn as evening gowns, however, and in these “very short and open evening gowns”—open at the back right down to the sacrum (see 413.33-414.05)—Ada and Lucette seem almost bare. Does their dress replay the pun on “bare” and “bear” in I.1, where Van and Ada are naked and Ada identifies a flower as “the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl’s” (8.30-31)? Lucette dressed for dinner aboard the Tobakoff will look “even more naked in her short evening frock than she had in her ‘bickny’” by the pool (484.14-15).

410.04: Vass: MOTIF: Vass.

410.05: “miraged”: Mirage, as a transitive verb, W2: “To present as a mirage.” Not usual fashion argot, although it might well have become so. Cf. perhaps Van’s “I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor” (404.10-11). More pointedly, as Diana Makhaldiani notes (email, October 11, 2022), “mirage” recurs at 486.27, aboard the Admiral Tobakoff—another restaurant scene, where Van, having drunk a good deal of champagne, is protectively jealous of those ogling his attractive companion, Lucette (“He saw with gentlemanly displeasure that her tilted chin and black wings, and free stride, attracted not only blue innocent eyes but the bold stare of lewd fellow passengers. He loudly exclaimed that he would slap the next jackanapes, and involuntarily walked backward with ridiculous truculent gestures into a folded deck chair (he also running the reel of time backward, in a minor way), which caused her to emit a yelp of laughter. Feeling now much happier, enjoying his gallant champagne-temper, she steered Van away from the mirage of her admirers, back to the lift,” 486.18-27), as he will be shortly at Ursus (cf. Ada’s “Last night two men recognized me. . . . Two separate Californians, but they didn’t dare bow—with that silk-tuxedoed bretteur of mine glaring around,” 422.13-15)

410.06: lustrous cantharid green: Cantharid luster (W2), “Ceramics.A green metallic luster resembling the Spanish fly in color.” Van’s much later recollection, 1926 or 1927, brings to mind “‘Ursus,’ Lucette in glistening green” (575.08). As Liana Ashenden notes (“Mimicry, Mimesis and Desire in Nabokov’s Ada,” unpub. MA thesis, University of Auckland, 2000,58), cantharides in pharmacology is (W2) “A preparation of dried beetles, esp. the blister beetle, or Spanish fly (Cantharis vesicatoria)” (now Lytta vesicatoria) and, as W3 elaborates, “used . . . formerly as an aphrodisiac but . . . toxic when taken internally.” Diana Makhaldiani notes (email, October 11, 2022) the phonic kinship of “lustrous” here and “struthious” describing Lucette’s similar birdlike glamor at the restaurant aboard the Tobakoff: “He could describe her dress only as struthious (if there existed copper-curled ostriches), accentuating as it did the swing of her stance, the length of her legs in ninon stockings. Objectively speaking, her chic was keener than that of her ‘vaginal’ sister” (486.09-13). Moreover, both “lUStRoUS” and “StRUthioUS” contain all the letters of “URSUS.”

MOTIF: green (Lucette).

410.06-07: Their mouths “echoed” in tone (but not tint) each other’s lipstick: Diana Makhaldiani (email, October 11, 2022) picks up the echoes here of “Their lips were absurdly similar in style, tint and tissue” (102.11)—“their” referring in this case not to Ada and Lucette but to Ada and Van—and of “The slenderness of his torso, matching in tint if not in texture, the tan of his tight shorts” (82.05-06).

410.08: “surprised bird-of-paradise”: Lucette is dressed up, with her lustrous green short gown and her dark fur (she has yet to be “unfurred,” 411.03) and green eye makeup, to reflect the coloring of the Superb Bird of Paradise, Lophorina superba. Brian J. Coates, The Birds of Papua New Guinea (Alderley, Qld: Dove, 1990), vol. 2: Passerines, notes: “A medium-sized bird of paradise of the mid-mountains. The male is black with a prominent, diagnostic, delta-shaped metallic blue-green breast-shield and large erectile black cape on the hindneck” (II, 464). The breast-shield can look like a very short skirt.
Lucette’s furs are later identified as “blue” (Ada “found the . . . blue furs gone,” 420.31-32), but Nabokov often notes the blue in black fur or hair: Van refers to Ada’s pubic mound as “his favorite’s blue raven” (418.26), and her black hair can also be described as “blue-black-bronze” (417.02).
D. Barton Johnson, although the best ornithologist among Nabokovians, seems to err in his identification of Lucette with not the Superb but the King Bird of Paradise: “the bird of paradise is not a species, but a family, the Paradisaeidae, containing forty-odd species—all in the New Guinea area. Often described as the world's most beautiful birds, their plumages (males only) are rich in reds, orange, green, yellow, and blue, which are competitively displayed in elaborate courtship rituals. Which bird of paradise does Lucette resemble? While I cannot make a firm identification, it seems likely that Lucette's avian analogue is the King Bird of Paradise [Cicinnurus regius regius]. About six inches in body length, the bird is a glossy crimson on the upper parts with the head and tail becoming more orange. There is a dash of green over the eye (cf. the sisters' ‘bird of paradise’ eye make-up)” (Johnson 2000: 170).
Van declares the “‘surprised bird-of-paradise’ style . . . as fashionable in Los as in Lute” (410.08-09). But does Lucette dress thus, not just in eye make-up, in tribute to Van’s consolatory parting comment, a week ago: “I regard you as a bird of paradise” (387.15)?
MOTIF: bird of paradise; paradise.

410.09: as fashionable in Los as in Lute: Both cities seem particularly associated with Lucette: Los Angeles is usually given its full name, but Lucette has to study “three terrible Toms in her Literature course at Los!” (403.11); Lute or Paris is the location for just one key scene in the novel, featuring Van and Lucette, in III.3.
Cf. “to London or Lute” (173.18).

410.09: Mixed metaphors: Presumably “‘miraged’ . . . ‘echoed’ . . . in a ‘surprised bird-of-paradise’ style” are the mixed metaphors.

410.09-10: double-talk: In what sense? This seems to follow the description of Ada and Lucette as virtual visual doubles. Does it refer to the shared stylizations of their conversation?

Cf. another uncertain shimmer of sense: “such nymphs were really very much alike because of their elemental limpidity since the similarities of young bodies of water are but murmurs of natural innocence and double-talk mirrors, that’s my hat, his is older, but we have the same London hatter” (13.25-29).

Does “double-talk” at Ursus refer forward to the chapter’s climactic scene of venery “as if reflected in the ciel mirror that Eric had naively thought up in his Cyprian dreams” (418.33-419.01)?

410.10: all three Veens, the children of Venus: MOTIF: Veen; Venus.

410.11: uha: (accented on second syllable): or ukha,“a clear Russian soup, made from various types of fish such as bream, wels catfish, northern pike, or even ruffe. It usually contains root vegetables, parsley root, leek, potato, bay leaf, dill, tarragon, and green parsley, and is spiced with black pepper, saffron, nutmeg, and fennel seed” (Wikipedia, s.v. ukha, accessed August 11, 2022).

410.11: shashlik: (accented on second syllable): kebab.

410.11: Ai: Specifically, a champagne from the commune of Aÿ, in the Marne Department, northern France. Its “vineyards are located in the Vallée de la Marne subregion of Champagne, and are classified as Grand Cru (100%) in the Champagne vineyard classification” (Wikipedia, s.v. Aÿ, accessed August 10, 2022). Generically, as Stephen Blackwell points out (email, September 24, 2022), a metonym, especially in the Russian poetic tradition from Pushkin’s time onwards, for all champagne. See Natalia Mazur, “‘Podobie togo-sego’: Konnotatsii shampanskogo v russkoy poezii 1810-1830-kh godov,” Russkaya Literatura 2020: 3, 34-50.

Nabokov calls Ay “this glorious champagne” (Eugene Onegin, II, 481) and translates Pushkin’s reference to it thus: “For Ay I’m no longer fit, / Ay is like a mistress, / glittering, volatile, vivacious, / and wayward, and shallow” (IV.xlvi.5-8).

As Alexander Dolinin notes (private communication) Ay features appositely in Aleksandr Blok’s poem “V restorane” (“In a Restaurant,” 1910): the restaurant setting, love, the trio of crossed desires, the romantic strings counterpointing the action, the sudden move from the table, the bird imagery, the gypsy singing, the “cavalier” (413.11).

Nikogda ne zabudu (on byl, ili ne byl,
I will never forget (it happened, or it didn’t,

Etot vecher): pozharom zari
That evening): the pale sky

Sozzheno i razdvinuto blednoe nebo,
burned and split by the sunset’s blaze,

I na zholtoy zare—fonari.
And against the yellow sunset: streetlamps.


Ya sidel u okna v perepolnennom zale.
I sat by the window in an overcrowded dining-hall.

Gde-to peli smychki o lyubvi.
Somewhere violin-bows were singing of love.

Ya poslal tebe chornuyu rozu v bokale
I sent you a black rose in a goblet

Zolotogo, kak nebo, ai.
Of Ay, golden, like the sky.


Ty vzglyanula. Ya vstretil smushchonno i derzko
You glanced at me. Disconcertedly and boldly, I met

Vzor nadmennïy i otdal poklon.
Your arrogant gaze and replied with a bow.

Obratyas’ k kavaleru, namerenno rezko
Addressing your date, deliberately curtly,

Ty skazala: “I etot vlyublyon.”
You said: "That one's in love, too."

I seychas zhe v otvet chto-to gryanuli struny,
And immediately the strings thundered out something in reply,

Istuplenno zapeli smychki . . .
The bows sang out frenziedly. . .

No byla ty so mnoy vsem prezreniem yunym,
But you were with me in all your youthful disdain,

Chut’ zametnym drozhan’em ruki. . .
In the barely perceptible tremble of your hand. . .

Ty rvanulas’ dvizhen’em ispugannoy ptitsy,
You sprang up with the movement of a startled bird,

Ty proshla, slovno son moy legka . . .
You walked past, light as my dream . . .

I vzdohnuli dukhi, zadremali resnitsy,
And your perfume sighed, your eyelashes began dozing off,

Zasheptalis’ trevozhno shelka.
Your silks began to whisper to one another in alarm.

No iz glubi zerkal ty mne vzory brosala
But from the depth of the mirrors you cast me glances,

I, brosaya, krichala: “Lovi! . . ”
And, while casting them, you shouted : “Catch! . .”

A monisto brenchalo, tsyganka plyasala
And a coin necklace jingled, a gypsy danced

I vizzhala zare o lyubvi.
And shrieked of love to the sunset.

(Translated by Stephen Blackwell with Vadim Liapunov and Brian Boyd)
            See also 410.14-15n. below.

410.13: a Lyaskan contralto: Notice the “contralto” in the quotation from SM at 410.14-15n. below. Possibly alludes, as Diana Mahkhaldiani suggests, to the Russian singer Varvara Panina (1982-1911), of Romany origin, a singer of Gypsy songs and Russian romances, “famous for her deep contralto,” who was admired by the Russian royal family and by writers like Blok, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Alexander Kuprin (1870-1939). See Wikipedia, accessed October 14, 2022.

MOTIF: Lyaska.

410.13: Banff bass: From Banff, a summer and winter resort town in the south part of Banff National Park, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies. The bass is dubbed “Banoffsky” at 412.07, in keeping with the Russian element (Yukonsk, Belokonsk . . . ) in what, on earth, is the Canadian West.

410.14-15: Russian “romances” . . . tsiganshchina: Darkbloom: “Russ., pseudo-Tsigan ballads.” As Proffer 272 notes, “-shchina is a derogatory suffix.” In his autobiography VN refers to “the so-called tsïganskie romansï beloved of my generation”:

The family phonograph, which the advent of the evening set in action, was another musical machine I could hear through my verse.
On the veranda where our relatives and friends assembled, it emitted from its brass mouthpiece the so-called tsïganskie romansï beloved
of my generation. These were more or less anonymous imitations of gypsy songs—or imitations of such imitations. What constituted
their gypsiness was a deep monotonous moan broken by a kind of hiccup, the audible cracking of a lovesick heart. At their best, they
were responsible for the raucous note vibrating here and there in the works of true poets (I am thinking especially of Alexander Blok).
At their worst, they could be likened to the apache stuff composed by mild men of letters and delivered by thickset ladies in Parisian
night clubs. Their natural environment was characterized by nightingales in tears, lilacs in bloom and the alleys of whispering trees
that graced the parks of the landed gentry. Those nightingales trilled, and in a pine grove the setting sun banded the trunks at different
levels with fiery red. A tambourine, still throbbing, seemed to lie on the darkening moss. For a spell, the last notes of the husky contralto
pursued me through the dusk. (SM 224).

Cf. also the story “The Admiralty Spire”:

how I cherished the echoes of modish tziganschina that inclined Katya to singing, and me to composing verse! Well do I know that this
was no longer authentic Gypsy art such as that which enchanted Pushkin and, later, Apollon Grigoriev, but a barely breathing, jaded and
doomed muse; everything contributed to her ruin: the gramophone, the war, and various so-called tzigane songs. It was for good reason
that Blok, in one of his customary spells of providence, wrote down whatever words he remembered from Gypsy lyrics, as if hastening to
save at least this before it was too late. . . . all the senses are dominated by the memory of lost love, that wicked ruler of pseudo-Gypsy
romanticism. (SoVN 351-52).

Cf. also Pnin 133: “He remembered the fads of his and Mira's youth, the amateur theatricals, the gypsy ballads.”
Stephen Blackwell notes that “bears were frequent participants in gypsy troupes in cities” (email, September 24, 2022): yet another reason for the nature of the musical entertainment at Ursus?

MOTIF: gipsy

410.15: Grigoriev: Poet and critic Apollon Grigoriev (1822-1864). Nabokov comments on the setting of Grigoriev’s “Dve gitary” (“Two Guitars”): “the music mimics a gypsy song. Many critics consider Grigoriev’s poem to ‘rank with the most purely and beautifully inspired lyrics in the language’” (Verses and Versions 372). See also previous n. Within the world of Ada, Grigoriev has been a guest of violinist Uncle Ivan’s at Ardis: see 413.02 and n.

410.15: Glinka: Mihail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-57), the first great Russian composer, and, in Ada, “a summer guest at Ardis” when the Veen children’s uncle, the violinist Ivan Veen, “was still alive” (412.08-09). VN ends his 1921 poem “V polnolun’e, v gostinoy pyl’noy i pyshnoy” (“At full moon, in a dusty and sumptuous drawing room”) with the lines “i l’yotsya v okno / golubaya noch’, i stranitsa iz Glinki / na royale beleet davno . . . “ (“and light-blue night streams in the window, and a page of Glinka has long gleamed white on the piano”) (Sobranie sochineniy russkogo perioda v pyati tomakh, St. Petersburg: Symposium, 1999, I, ed. N. Artemenko-Tolstoy, 456).

410.16-18: Flora . . . whose ravishing services Van had availed himself of several times: Flora: “The ancient Italian goddess of flowers. Her festival, the Floralia, was celebrated with much licentiousness. . . . In allegories of the four seasons, Spring is personified by a nude maiden, especially venus. . . . The goddess was a popular vehicle for female portraiture. . . . In Venetian painting, the portraits are very often of comely prostitutes”: James Hall, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (London: John Murray, 1974, 125-26). The “cute whorelet” at 411.09 certainly brings to mind the whores of the Villa Venus floramors.
Flora is also the name of Professor Leymanski/Leyman’s assistant in Van’s Letters from Terra, at least until she is “weeded out” (340.21-25) of the story.

MOTIF: Flora; whore.

410.17-18: of uncertain origin (Rumanian? Romany? Ramseyan?): Cf. the child in Van’s last visit to a last Villa Venus: “And if the child really was called Adora, then what was she?—not Rumanian, not Dalmatian, not Sicilian, not Irish” (357.32-34). Presumably this is not the same girl, but Flora’s “uncertain origin” crisply echoes hers.
“Romany” of course means “gipsy” (cf. also “a tangled composition consisting of clumsy Romany clips and illegal nelsons,” 405.33-34). In context “Ramseyan” poses as a place name or an ethnic origin but seems a mere tease of phonic pattern. The name of Ramsey, a market town 29 miles from Cambridge, where VN was a student at Trinity College from 1919 to 1922, may well have lingered in his memory. And “Ramseyan” is a recognized adjective in philosophy, derived from the name of Frank Ramsey (1903-30), who was a student at Trinity College from 1920 to 1923, therefore overlapping with VN for two years, a fellow of King’s College from 1924, and even the supervisor of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s PhD (for which Wittgenstein submitted the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) on his return to Cambridge in 1929 (see, accessed August 11, 2022). But none of this seems relevant to Flora.
On the night of the Burning Barn, Van wraps himself tighter in his plaid when Ada comments “You are naked, you are dreadfully indecent,” and calls himself “Ramses the Scotsman” (117.04-07). Ramses, as a pharaoh, may offer a connection with the derivation of gypsy from “Egyptian,” and therefore link to the Ursus atmosphere of tsiganshchina. But this too seems to take the sonic caprice too seriously.

In any case Flora “of uncertain origin (Rumanian? . . . )” strongly and pointedly recalls Adora (“not Rumanian, . . . ”) in Van’s last visit to a Villa Venus floramor. And note in view of the tsiganschina (410.15) or “pseudo-gipsy” (413.01) atmosphere here, and Flora’s possible “Romany” origins, that at Van’s first Villa Venus he is offered “Three Egyptian squaws” (353.17), referred to on the next page as “Egypsies” (354.10).

410.19-411.01: As a “man of the world,” Van glanced with bland (perhaps too bland) unconcern at her talented charms: Cf. fourteen-year-old Van, taking the train to Ardis for the first time, and pleased with his loss of virginity to the “fubsy pig-pink whorelet” (33.17) in the corner shop near Riverlane: “one feels very much a man of the world as one surveys the capable landscape capably skimming by” (33.29-31). Indeed the “cute whorelet” (411.09) Flora seems to combine elements of that earlier little wench in the corner shop and the daughter of the shop’s proprietor, who “always puts a bunch of real [flowers] among the fake pour attraper le client” (32.10-11)—which indeed catch Van by surprise—and who captures his adolescent heart when “he saw her curled up with her schoolbooks in an armchair—a domestic item among those for sale. He never spoke to her. He loved her madly. It must have lasted at least one term” (32.16-19).

411.05: diaphanely: Transparently.

411.08-11: the passing and repassing blyadushka (cute whorelet), as our young misses referred to (very expensive and altogether delightful) Flora: When Ada in 1926 or 1927 appreciates Van’s turning down, on second thoughts, the implicit sexual offer made to him by a “beautiful native girl,” she comments: “It’s funny . . . what black, broken teeth they have hereabouts, those blyadushki.” The word instantly triggers Van to recall the present restaurant and its blyadushka: “(‘Ursus,’ Lucette in glistening green, . . . Flora’s bracelets and breasts . . .)” (574.34-575.09).

MOTIF: Flora; -let; whore.

411.11-12: the long sobs of the violins: Translates and echoes the famously melodic opening couplet of “Chanson d’automne” (“Autumn Song,” 1866) by French poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896): “Les sanglots longs / Des violons.” Cf. Van standing up “with a spasmodic sob” later in the sentence (411.15).

411.12-15: began to affect and almost choke Van and Ada: a juvenile conditioning of romantic appeal, which at one moment forced tearful Ada to go and “powder her nose” while Van stood up with a spasmodic sob, which he cursed but could not control: As they are leaving the restaurant, Lucette will ask Ada “why did the first song, Uzh gasli v komnatah ogni, and the ‘redolent roses,’ upset you more than your favorite Fet and the other, about the bugler’s sharp elbow?” (413.23-26). Ada answers evasively, but see 413.23-25n.

411.14: to go and “powder her nose”: Cf. “Cordula, who should have gone to the ‘powder room’—a forlorn hope” (170.09-10).

411.16-17: cruelly stroked Lucette’s apricot-bloomed forearm: Cf. Ada’s urging Van early in Ardis the Second to “fool Lucette by petting her in Ada’s presence, while kissing Ada at the same time, and by caressing and kissing Lucette when Ada was away in the woods” (213.17-19), to provide a confusing cover for their own caresses and a distraction for Van from Ada’s trysts with Percy. A little later in Ardis the Second, after the Flavita game, Van deals with Lucette’s refusal to leave them, when she knows they want to get rid of her to make love again, by playing on her affections:Very gently Van stroked the silky top of her head and kissed her behind the ear; and, bursting into a hideous storm of sobs, Lucette rushed out of the room” (229.21-23).

The “apricot” here pointedly recurs aboard the Tobakoff, when Lucette will prove to be mere hours from her death. She urges Van to leave the shipboard cinema: “She brushed his cheek with her lips in the dark, she took his hand, she kissed his knuckles, and he suddenly thought: after all, why not? Tonight? Tonight. He enjoyed her impatience, the fool permitted himself to be stirred by it, the cretin whispered, prolonging the free, new, apricot fire of anticipation” (488.07-12).

Cf. Lolita’s “apricot-colored limbs” (Lolita 230) and the “smooth tender bloom” of her skin (Lolita 204).

MOTIF: Lucette: bloom.

411.18-21: I’m drunk, and all that . . . and, please, don’t let me swill (hlestat’) champagne any more: Lucette drinks too fast, at least in Van’s presence, as at Kingston, a week ago: “gulping down her third brandy as simply as if it were technicolored water. . . . the liquor was loosening her pretty viper tongue” (370.16-18).

411.18-19: I adore (obozhayu), I adore, I adore, I adore more than life: MOTIF: adore.

411.22-23: not only because I will jump into Goodson River if I can’t hope to have you: Since jumping into the Goodson River can hardly feature frequently in literature, I note Aleksey Sklyarenko’s report in Nabokv-L, 10 May 2012: “In ‘Bruklinskiy most’ (The Brooklyn Bridge, 1925) [Vladimir] Mayakovsky . . . mentions the unemployed jumping into Gudzon (the Hudson):

v Gudzon
              vniz golovoy.

[From here the unemployed threw themselves headfirst into the Hudson.]

The poem's closing line is:

Bruklinskiy most – eto veshch’.
(The Brooklyn Bridge is a thing.)”

Mary Efremov responds, Nabokv-L, 10 May 2012: “the problem with [the] Mayakowsky poem is that the river is not the Hudson but the East River . . . otherwise it is still a grim portrait of the USA, written to please his ‘masters’.”
The Mayakovsky lines seem quite irrelevant to something so centrally pertinent to the characters of Ada.
MOTIF: Goodson; Lucette-prolepsis.

411.22: Goodson River: As noted before (69.10), this is an approximate retransliteration from a Russian transliteration (Gudson) of “Hudson,” via the real but uncommon English surname “Goodson.” The Hudson River arises in the Adirondack Mountains and flows through eastern New York State (eventually also flanking New Jersey) into New York Harbor. It was named in English in 1609 after English explorer Henry Hudson (c. 1565-c.1611) (cf. “we can actually see our own past (Goodson discovering the Goodson and that sort of thing),” 560.17-18), who also gave his name, and apparently his life, to Hudson Bay (see “Goodson Bay,” 404.32-33).

411.23-26: not only because of the physical red thing—your heart was almost ripped out, my poor dushen’ka (‘darling,’ more than ‘darling’), it looked to me at least eight inches long: This is the last Lucette has seen of Van, a week ago, making love to Ada bending over the bath taps: “and Lucette pushed the door open with a perfunctory knuckle knock and stopped, mesmerized by the sight of Van’s hairy rear and the dreadful scar all along his left side” (392.34-393.03). It is the dreadful scar that she now says “looked to me at least eight inches long.”
MOTIF: Van’s scar.

411.27-28: “Seven and a half,” murmured modest Van, whose hearing the music impaired: Van in other words hears “the physical red thing” but not “your heart was almost ripped out,” and assumes Lucette’s “it looked to me at least eight inches long” refers to his erection, which for all he knows she may have glimpsed. “Modest Van,” unsurprisingly, occurs nowhere else in Ada.
Cf. the comically phallic and “noble larva of the Cattleya Hawkmoth (mauve shades of Monsieur Proust), a seven-inch-long colossus, flesh colored, with turquoise arabesques, rearing its hyacinth head in a stiff ‘Sphinxian’ attitude” (56.07-10).

411.29-30: you are Van, all Van, and nothing but Van, skin and scar, the only truth of our only life, of my accursed life, Van, Van, Van: As “the only truth of our only life” indicates, Lucette echoes “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

MOTIF: Accursed Children; Van.

411.32: Here Van stood up again: It seems to be this moment that Van imagines Lucette recalling as she drowns: “she saw Van wiping his mouth before answering, and then, still withholding the answer, throwing his napkin on the table as they both got up” (494.28-31).

411.32-33: as Ada . . . came back followed by a thousand eyes: Cf. “neither could imagine their traveling together to Argus-eyed destinations and living together in Hollywood, U.S.A., or Ivydell, England” (425.29-32), and especially Lucette, bobbing in the tumultuous well of the Atlantic, unable to “make out the lights of the liner, an easily imagined many-eyed bulk mightily receding in heartless triumph” (494.08-09).

411.33-412.02: while the opening bars of a romance (on Fet’s glorious Siyala noch’) started to run over the keys (and the bass coughed à la russe into his fist before starting): Ada 1968: “while the music of a “melodeclamation” <insert> opening bars of a romance <end insert> (<insert> on <insert> Fet’s glorious <insert> Siyala noch’<end insert> lines) started to ripple <insert> run <insert> over the keys (while <insert> and <insert> the bass coughed à la russe into his fist before <insert> starting <insert> the lyrical “Siyala noch’ . . . ”).” The uncharacteristic, apparently unintended, repetition in “started . . . starting” may, as Diana Makhaldiani suggests (email, Otcober 11, 2022) be an oversight resulting from the late-stage  revision.

MOTIF: romance

411.34-412.06: Fet’s glorious Siyala noch’. . . strings in it: “A radiant night” (1877) by poet Afanasiy Fet (1820-1892), begins: “Siyala noch’. Lunoy byl polon sad. Lezhali / Luchi u nashikh nog v gostinoy bez ogney. / Royal’ byl ves’ raskryt, i struny v nyom drozhali, / Kak i serdtsa u nas za pesneyu tvoey.” For VN’s high valuation of Fet (“up to the present day it is a good way to test whether a Russian understands poetry or not by finding out whether he appreciates Fet”), see Verses and Versions, 300-01.

411.34-412.05: started to run over the keys . . . moon-filled . . . Wide open, the grand piano: Cf. the last paragraph of Van at his last Villa Venus:moonlight. . . . The grand piano in the otherwise bare hall seemed to be playing all by itself but actually was being rippled by rats in quest of the succulent refuse placed there” (358.11-19).

412.07-12: Glinka’s great amphibrachs . . . Subside, agitation of passion!: Words by Nestor Kukol’nik (1809-1868) (“Somnenie” [“Doubt,” 1838]: “Uymites’, volneniya strasti”).

“In 1973 Nabokov’s son Dmitri . . . an operatic basso profundo, recorded for BASF an album of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian songs and poems set to music. Always supportive of his son’s vocal career, Vladimir Nabokov wrote the liner notes for the album” (Verses and Versions 366n). (Pléiade 1477 identifies the record as Russische Lieder gesungen von Dmitri Nabokov, Baß, MPS Records, 1974.) In these notes, VN comments on “this splendid piece”: “The incantational flow of the diction, the purity of its ample amphibrachic rhythm, are on a par with Glinka’s plangent music. The poem undulates between torment and hope. At one moment—

I dream of a fortunate rival
Sopernik mne snitsya schastlivïy . . .

and this is followed by a great surge of ecstasy:

The time of darkness will not tarry
Again we’ll embrace one another
And hotly and madly
The heart, resurrected, will throb.” (Verses and Versions 380)

412.08-09: Mihail Ivanovich had been a summer guest at Ardis when their uncle was still alive: The historical Glinka never travelled to America, and if the Antiterran Glinka also died in 1857 he would have had to visit Ardis when Ivan Veen, precocious violinist though he was, was only, at most, fifteen (Ivan was born in 1842). MOTIF: Van

412.09-10: a green bench existed where the composer was said to have sat under the pseudoacacias: Cf. “‘Mne snitsa saPERnik SHCHASTLEEVOY!’ (Mihail Ivanovich arcating the sand with his cane, humped on his bench under the creamy racemes)” (417.07-09). Cf. also “in the noble shade of the pines, in the humble shade of the false acacias” (268.27-29).

MOTIF: green (Ardis); under tree.

412.12: Subside, agitation of passion!: Cf. Van’s later memory flash: “(‘Ursus,’ Lucette in glistening green, ‘Subside, agitation of passion,’ Flora’s bracelets and breasts, the whelk of Time.)” (575.08-09) (and see above, 411.08-11n, for context).

412.14: “The tender kisses are forgotten”: Zabyty nezhnye lobzan’ya” (1903), words and music by Anatoly Lenin. Pléiade 1478 notes that Lenin, an officer of the Russian navy, composed this in honor of the famous early twentieth-century singer, Anastasia Valtsev, who premiered it.

412.14-15: “The time was early in the spring . . . ”: To bylo ranneyu vesnoy” (1871), from a poem by Alexey Tolstoy (1817-1875), as Pléiade 1478 notes, a reworking of Goethe’s 1771 poem “Mailied,” and set to music by Chaikovsky, as the second of his Six romances, op. 38.

412.15-17: “Many songs have I heard . . . gladness”:Dubinushka” (“Mnogo pesen slykhal ya v rodnoy storone”), as Pléiade 1478 notes, a popular song, in 1865 turned by Vasiliy Bogdanov into a revolutionary song, and revised by A. A. Olkhin (Proffer 273) and often sung by the great Russian bass, Fyodor Chaliapin (1873-1938). VN recalls: “My parents had many acquaintances who painted and danced and made music. Our house was one of the first where young Shalyapin sang” (SO 171). In an unpublished note to the story “The Assistant Producer,”  he identifies Chaliapin as “the greatest Russian singer of all time” (LCNA, Box 8, folder 10)."

412.18-19: There’s a crag on the Ross . . . highest:Est’ na Volge utyos, dikim mokhom obros,” the opening line of “Utyos Stenki Razina” (“The Cliff of Stenka Razin,” c. 1864), by Alexander Navrotsky (1839-1914), celebrating the Don Cossack rebel leader Stenka Razin (1630-1671). VN’s free translation mimics and even echoes the internal rhyme of the Russian (“Ross . . . moss” for “utyos [cliff] . . . obros [overgrown]”), in the process losing the specificity of the Volga (literally, the poem begins, “There’s a crag on the Volga”) for a generalized river named, perhaps, after a truncated “Rossiya” (Russia), although Zimmer 2010: 1009 notes that there is a river Ros’ in the Ukraine, a substantial (346km) tributary of the Dnieper, and Pléiade 1478 identifies a Ross River in the Yukon, a small tributary of the Pelly River. (Ros’ river in Ukraine—Ross River in Yukon: the world seems to be playing a Nabokovian trick of phonic-factual doubling.) It has even been suggested that the name “Rus’” for the old Kyivan state, may derive from the Ros’ ( accessed August 11, 2022).
Pléiade 780: “D’un grand fleuve, le Ross des Tartares” (“A big river, the Ross of the Tatars”).

412.20-23: viatic plaints . . . In a monotone tinkles . . . dusting a bit: The Russian popular song “Odnozvuchno gremit kolokol’chik” (late 1840s or early 1850s), words by Ivan Makarov (1820-1852), music by Alexander Gurilev (1803-1858). Translating the first two lines exactly as in Ada,VN comments: “Thus begins this charming piece . . . whose lyrical lilt resembles tzigane, or pseudo-tzigane, ballads more than it does a viatic plaint on a road in the steppes. To the lone traveler in the open carriage the coachman’s song brings back nostalgic visions of his native ‘fields and woods’ in a more northern region of Russia” (Verses and Versions 371).

412.21: anapaestic: In A1, VN deletes the colon after “anapaestic” in Ada 1969.

412.24-26: that obscurely corrupted soldier dit of singular genius // Nadezhda, I shall then be back / When the true batch outboys the riot: A half-translation, half-echo of the opening line of the “heart-rending dit” (Verses and Versions 361) “Sentimental’nïy marsh” (“Sentimental March”) by poet and guitarist-singer Bulat Okudzhava (1924-1997): “Nadezhda, ya vernus’ togda, kogda trubach otboy sygraet.”

In February 1966, just as Ada was beginning to flow, VN sent his editor at the New Yorker, Bill Maxwell, a transliteration and translation (made on February 2) of Okudhzava’s poem, with a note on translation criticising Robert Lowell’s (“a well-known American poet’s”) “impossible travesty of Mandelshtam’s logic and magic.” (See also 3.04n2, 11.27n and 11.33n.) VN also pointed out in his note for publication: “I had to make several minute adjustments in order to preserve its throaty, guitar-like tonalities. It belongs to the popular Russian genre of sung poetry and is especially difficult to translate (which is why I chose it) because its impact upon the senses derives not from direct verbal originality but from an inspired combination of idiomatic clichés. The bilingual reader will note that I could not force myself either to use the name ‘Nadezhda’ (unpronounceable in English) or turn it into the stiff, long-faced, long-aproned ‘Hope,’ hence my ‘Speranza’ which reenacts dazzlingly the eloquent lilt of the original” (Verses and Versions 360). VN’s genuine translation, beginning “Speranza, I’ll be coming back / The day the bugler sounds retreat . . . ,” was turned down by the New Yorker, but for its text see Verses and Versions 365. The version in Ada foregoes most of the sense in line 2 to find English syllables more or less matching the Russian sounds—a practice of homophonic transposition or “translation” followed in all seriousness, not that VN knew, by American poet Louis Zukofsky (1904-78) and his wife Celia (1913-80), in their 1969 Catullus.

412.24: of singular genius: MOTIF: of genius.

412.27-29: Turgenev’s only memorable lyrical poem . . . Morning so nebulous. . . coverings: V doroge” (“On the Road,” 1843), turned into a “gypsy song” by the music of V. V. Abaza, under the title “Utro tumannoe” (“Misty morning”) (Proffer 274). The opening two lines are: “Utro tumannoe, utro sedoe, / Nivy pechal’nïe, snegom pokrïtïe.”

413.01-02: the celebrated pseudo-gipsy guitar piece by Apollon Grigoriev (another friend of Uncle Ivan’s): See 410.15 and n. The poet wrote a poem “Tsiganskaya vengerka” (“Gypsy Hungarian dance,” 1857) for his friend the choirmaster and composer Ivan Vasiliev (1810-1870), who had his own gypsy choir. The song rapidly became popular and was eventually copyrighted in New York in 1925 under the title “Two Guitars.”

413.01: pseudo-gipsy guitar piece: Cf. “The Admiralty Spire”: “pseudo-Gypsy romanticism” (SoVN 352).
MOTIF: gipsy.

413.03-06: O you, at least, . . . canyon: From a stanza variously placed in the song:Pogovori khot’ ty so mnoy, / Podruga semistrunnaya! / Dusha polna takoy toskoy, / A noch’ takaya lunnaya!” The last line here means “And the night is so moonlit”; Nabokov has added the “canyon” for the rhyme (Proffer 274).

413.04: My seven-stringed companion: The traditional but now less common seven-stringed Russian guitar. Cf. “plucking ballads on their seven-stringed Russian lyres” (409.08). Cf. Glory: “Martin would start his own song—hoarsely, boldly, and phenomenally out of tune—and that song would echo the nights when at picnics in the Crimea the baritone Zaryanski, drowned out by the choir, sang about the ‘seven-stringed companion’ . . . ” (163).

413.07-09: “I declare we are satiated with moonlight and strawberry soufflé—the latter, I fear, has not quite ‘risen’ to the occasion,” remarked Ada in her archest, Austen-maidenish manner: Mary Crawford in the Austen novel which Nabokov taught at Cornell in the 1950s, Mansfield Park, is particularly frequently described as “arch” in her speech or facial expressions: “‘I do not think you ever will,’ she [Mary Crawford] said with an arch smile; ‘I am just as surprised now as I was at first that you should intend to take orders” (I.9, 84); “‘If any part could tempt you to act, I suppose it would be Anhalt,’ observed the lady, archly, after a short pause—‘for he is a clergyman you know’” (I.15, 131); “‘The sweets of housekeeping in a country village!’ said Miss Crawford archly” (II.4, 192);“‘or perhaps’—looking archly—‘you suspect a confederacy between us, and that what I am now doing is with his knowledge and at his desire?’” (II.8, 235); “She immediately shook her head at Fanny with arch, yet affectionate reproach” (III.5, 324) (ed. James Kinsley, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).

The “I declare” and “the latter, I fear” have an Austenish ring to them, and even the pun could be made by one of Austen’s wryer characters.
Cf, Ada elsewhere: “Arch and grandiloquent, Ada . . . ” (61.06-07); “She thought, arch Ada said . . . ” (112.27); “‘Oh, Van!’ interjected Ada with unusual archness” (246.20).
MOTIF: Ada—arch.

413.07: satiated with moonlight: From the first line of the first-quoted song (“A radiant night, a moon-filled garden,”412.03)to the last line quoted of the last song (“Such moonlight fills the canyon!,” 413.06).

413.10: our huge bed: Cf. “the tremendous bed” (417.33) and the later recollection: “a bed hardly two-thirds the size of the tremendous one at their unforgettable flat twelve years ago” (509.13-14).

413.10: pet: MOTIF: pet

413.11: yawning ‘fit to declansh his masher’ (vulgar Ladore cant): French déclancher (“release, set in motion, fire”) and mâchoire (“jaw”), with an echo of the French idiom bâiller à s’en décrocher la mâchoire (“yawn enough to put your jaw out”). Pléiade 1479 notes the slang sense of English masher (W3), “a man who makes amorous advances esp. to a strange woman: wolf, flirt,” and suggests, plausibly (especially in view of the “vulgar” hint), and following a hint in Zimmer 2010: 1010, via masher as a kitchen tool, a hint at Van’s erection.

413.13: How (ascension of Mt. Yawn) true: Cf. “from Valvey to the Château de Byron (or ‘She Yawns Castle’)” (522.24-25), especially in view of the likely Byron allusion later in the sentence?

413.13-14: ceasing to palpate the velvet cheek of his Cupidon peach: No such peach variety. Cupidon (W2): “A beau; a cupid. Byron.” From Don Juan (1824), Canto xv stanza xii:

His manner was perhaps the more seductive
  Because he ne’er seem’d anxious to seduce;
Nothing affected, studied, or constructive
  Of coxcombry or conquest. No abuse
Of his attractions marred the fair perspective,
  To indicate a Cupidon broke loose,
And seem to say, ‘Resist us if you can’,
Which makes a dandy while it spoils a man.

(T.G. Steffan, E. Steffan and W.W. Pratt, eds., Lord Byron:
Don Juan
, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973, 500)

The sense of “Cupidon” here closely resembles “masher” (also glossed as “dandy,” “flirtatious dandy” by Partridge) in the previous sentence.
Cf. the Cupid-like Riverlane catamite: “Every dormitory had its catamite. One hysterical lad from Upsala, cross-eyed, loose-lipped, with almost abnormally awkward limbs, but with a wonderfully tender skin texture and the round creamy charms of Bronzino’s Cupid (the big one, whom a delighted satyr discovers in a lady’s bower), was much prized and tortured by a group of foreign boys, mostly Greek and English, led by Cheshire, the rugby ace” (32.24-30).
Van’s stroking the peach here seems not unconnected with his “cruelly strok[ing] Lucette’s apricot-bloomed forearm” (411.16-17) earlier in the evening, or his response to her twelve-year-old self wriggling against him four years ago: “You’re unpleasantly cold, child. . . . Cold as two halves of a canned peach” (205.06-08).

413.16-19: The captain . . . and a crew of waiters had been utterly entranced by the amount of zernistaya ikra and Ai consumed by the vaporous-looking Veens and were now keeping a multiple eye on the tray that had flown back to Van with a load of gold change and bank notes:

MOTIF: riches.

413.16: vinocherpiy: Darkbloom: “Russ., the ‘wine-pourer.’”

413.18: zernistaya ikra: Darkbloom: “‘large-grained’ caviar” (Russ.).

413.18: vaporous-looking Veens: MOTIF: V; Veen.

413.22-23: making swimming gestures behind their backs in search of the furs locked up in the vault or somewhere: Cf. “The slow old Baroness stood groping for something under one armpit, under the other—for what? a crutch? the dangling end of tangled bangles?—and as she half-turned to accept the cloak (now taken from her grandniece by a belated new footman)” (187.16-20).

413.23-25: why did the first song . . . upset you more: Because although Van and Ada think this “a terrible little poem,” Van mockingly quotes it in translation after they have seen Demon off at the end of the family dinner for him at Ardis the Second. Just after Van asks “What was faintly off-key, ne tak, about the whole evening,” Ada answers “We’ll manage, perhaps, to wear our masks always, till dee do us part, but we shall never be able to marry—while they’re both alive,” and they kiss “gently and ‘morally’ as they defined moments of depth,” before making love (263.20-265.12). When the song re-sounds at Ursus, Van and Ada are transported back (411.12-16) to this other emotionally intense family dinner.

413.24: Uzh gasli v komnatah ogni, and the ‘redolent roses’: Darkbloom: “Russ., the lights were already going out in the rooms.” The second line of Grand-Duke Konstantin Romanov’s poem, “Blagouhali rozï” was translated by Van in 1888 as “Breathed fragrantly the rozï” (264.25).

413.25: your favorite Fet: And Nabokov’s; see 411.34-412.06 and nn.

413.26: bugler’s sharp elbow: From the third and fourth lines of Okudzhava’s song (see 412.24-26), “Kogda trubu k gubam priblizit / I ostryy lokot’ otvedyot” (“When to his lips he’ll bring the bugle / And outward his sharp elbow turn”) (Verses and Versions 364-65). These two lines are not cited in the earlier quotation from the song.

413.27: Van, too, was upset: See 411.14-16.

413.29: Detachedly, merely tactually: Cf. the start of the next sentence: “Detachedly” (414.03). The detachment, and the emphatic sound play (“Detachedly, merely tactually”; “sinchilla mantillas”; “the lad or the ladder? Lapse of the lisping lips?”) may reflect Van’s having drunk four bottles of champagne (414.06-07).

413.29-30: as if he had met those two slow-moving, hip-swaying graces only that night: Cf., at Van’s first Villa Venus floramor, “the three rather melancholy graces” (354.17-18) who were turned over to him. Flora at Ursus perhaps makes up a third grace.

413.31-33: the sinchilla mantillas that were being rushed toward them by numerous, new, eager, unfairly, inexplicably impecunious, humans:
MOTIF: riches.

413.31: sinchilla mantillas: A phonic frolic or a plain description of Ada’s and Lucette’s furs?

Visiting Van at Kingston, Lucette wore a fur that made her look like “A black bear” (367.17), as if to anticipate Ursus, and that Van eventually identified as desman (368.14), while Ada, when she reunited with Van in Manhattan, sported over her night-dress “a deep-brown, hoar-glossed coat of sea-otter fur, the famous kamchatstkiy bobr of ancient Estotian traders” (391.13-15). Are they now wearing different furs? Ada’s furs at least are decidedly plural: “Ada’s bobrï (princely plural of bobr) were a gift from Demon” (391.27).

Are the furs they wear at Ursus really chinchilla (W2: “1. A small rodent (Chincilla laniger) of the size of a large squirrel, having very soft fur of a pearly-gray color. . . . 2. The fur or pelt of the chinchilla”)? But they are “bluish furs” at 414.08, “blue furs” at 420.32 (but see 410.08n.); the color does not seem to match a chinchilla coat and its almost striped dark and light gray effect. Zimmer 2010: 1011 suggests that “sinchilla” is an Antiterran animal, although he also notes that in the French translation Nabokov allows “chinchilla.”
Fyodor from his sick bed “sees” his mother “in chinchilla coat” collecting a giant Faber display pencil for him (Gift 23). Lance Boke has two pet chinchillas, Chin and Chilla (“Lance,” SoVN 636).

Is “sinchilla” influenced by “scintilla,” a word Nabokov uses in Lolita (“I could distinguish scintillas of diamond water between the far pines,” II, 33: 287) and in Glory (“There were other vaguer fields, such as the mists of law, government, economics. What scared him away from them was that the scintilla he sought in everything was too deeply buried there,” 62)?

Mantilla (W2): “1. A woman’s light cloak or cape of silk, velvet, lace, or the like.” MOTIF: furs.

414.02-03: quite as naked and long (had she meant the lad or the ladder?: The conjunction of Lucette, “naked,” and “long,” makes Van think back to her comment “it looked to me at least eight inches long” (411.25-26) when she had seen him naked last Sunday: did she refer to the lad (his male organ) or to the ladder of stitches on his side? Cf. Lucette “mesmerized by the sight of Van’s hairy rear and the dreadful scar all along his left side. . . . Ada now saw in her turn Van’s scarlet ladder of sutures” (393.01-11).

Cf. Pléiade 782: “avait-elle pensé suture ou satyre” (“did she have in mind suture or satyr?”) and Rowohlt GW 581: “hatte sie Nadel oder Narbe gemeint?” (“did she mean needle or scar?”).
MOTIF: Van’s scar

414.04: ensellure: The small of the back: cf. “could see down her sleek ensellure as far as her coccyx” (99.32-33).

414.05: Lucette’s was downy and damp: Cf. Van in 1901 lying poolside on the Tobakoff next to Lucette and “passing his hand over her sun-hot back and rubbing her coccyx to make pussy purr” (481.15-16).

414.05-06: He too had had just about his “last straw” of champagne, namely four out of half a dozen bottles: Cf. “In 1817 Pushkin had addressed a poem of sixteen lines to the lyubeznïy (amiable) [Pyotr] Kaverin, advising him to go on leading a happy, thoroughly dissipated life . . . and assured him that one could combine a lofty mind with crazy ventures. Kaverin was able to stow away at one meal four bottles of champagne, one after the other, and leave the restaurant at a casual stroll” (EO II, 72).
Cf. “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).
“Last straw”: “The final annoyance or hurt that breaks one’s patience or resilience. The expression derives from the proverb, ‘It is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back,’ itself alluding to the final, minute addition to the burden that makes it literally unbearable” (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable). Here, the minute extra amount of drink that would have tipped Van beyond tipsiness. Apart from the comic implied image of drinking champagne through a straw, combines with the sense of minuteness and “straw” in rizzom, and also, as Diana Makhaldiani notes, with the Russian idiom poslednyaya kaplya, which means, idiomatically, the equivalent of the English idiom “last straw,” but literally means “last drop”, so taking us back to the champagne.
MOTIF: Van’s drink

414.07: rizzom (as we said at old Chose): Rizzom,W2: “An ear or stalk of grain, a straw; hence, a particle; the least bit. Obs. exc. Dial.

This may imply that Van picked up his penchant for heavy drinking at Chose.
MOTIF: college slang.

414.11: you don’t rally need two: Cf. Dan’s “‘Jolly good fun, rally’ (pseudo-British pronunciation)” (125.18-19). The “I say,” the “whinnied,” and the “d’you” also seem to suggest a consistent pseudo-upper-class-British imitation on Flora’s part.

414.12: Van veered: MOTIF: V; Veen.

414.14: bracelets and breast stars flashing: Cf. again Van’s much later memory spike: “(‘Ursus,’ Lucette in glistening green, ‘Subside, agitation of passion,’ Flora’s bracelets and breasts, the whelk of Time.)” (575.08-09).

414.16-17: Edmund (not Edmond, who for security reasons—he knew Ada—had been sent back to Kingston): Edmond, Van’s chauffeur at Kingston (387.22), who drove him part way to Manhattan (until impatient Van took over, 389.17-19), and whom Van seems to have inherited from Cordula (321.03).

Edmund features only once more, when after visiting the psychiatric case study Spencer Muldoon near Chase, Van gets driven to a nearby Venus Villa: “He saw through the glass partition the fat, healthy, reliable folds of his driver’s neck. Idle images queued by—Edmund, Edmond, simple Cordula, fantastically intricate Lucette, and, by further mechanical association, a depraved little girl called Lisette, in Cannes, with breasts like lovely abscesses, whose frail favors were handled by a smelly big brother in an old bathing machine” (471.05-11).

414.18-22: Ada puffed out her cheeks, making big eyes, and headed for Van’s bathroom. Hers had been turned over to the tottering guest. Van, at a geographical point a shade nearer to the elder girl, stood and used in a sustained stream the amenities of a little vessie (Canady form of W.C.) next to his dressing room: The puffed cheeks, drunkenness, and male urination in front of two witnesses and “sustained stream” echo details and words from Ada’s sixteenth birthday picnic, to which Percy arrives uninvited and “royally drunk after some earlier festivity” (273.20): “‘Okh, nado (I must) passati!’ exclaimed Percy in the Slavic slang he affected, blowing out his cheeks and fumbling frantically at his fly. In all his life, said stolid Greg to Van, he had never seen such an ugly engine, surgically circumcised, terrifically oversized and high-colored, with such a phenomenal coeur de boeuf; nor had either of the fascinated, fastidious boys ever witnessed the like of its sustained, strongly arched, practically everlasting stream” (274.21-28).

414.22: vessie (Canady form of W.C.): MOTIF: Canadian French.

414.24-25: paused in virile hesitation: Ada . . . was running her bath: Recalls the scene of Van’s virile non-hesitation when Ada bends over to run the bath a week earlier: “mad, obstinate Van shed his terry and followed her into the bathroom . . . ” (392.24-25).

414.25-28: running her bath; to its gush a guitar rhythm, recently heard, kept adapting itself aquatically (the rare moments when he remembered her and her quite rational speech at her last sanatorium in Agavia): The “her” changes from Ada (“her bath”) to Aqua (“aquatically . . . remembered her”), because Van, hearing the guitar rhythm in the flow of the water, thinks of Aqua hearing speech in water (22.32-24.10), a mental disturbance soon followed by her difficulties comprehending time and much else: “The effort to comprehend the information conveyed somehow to people of genius by the hands of a timepiece, or piece of time, became as hopeless as trying to make out the sign language of a secret society or the Chinese chant of that young student with a non-Chinese guitar whom she had known at the time she or her sister had given birth to a mauve baby” (24.25-31, italics added).
MOTIF: Aqua; water.

414.27-28: her quite rational speech at her last sanatorium in Agavia: Cf. Aqua’s being “unwilling to suffer another relapse after this blessed state of perfect mental repose, but knowing it could not last” (27.06-07) and her accumulating pills—at her final “luxurious ‘sanastoria’ at Centaur, Arizona” (26.28), “The astorium in St. Taurus, or whatever it was called” (27.19-20)—to end her life. Shortly before she takes them she pens her suicide note, which “might have come from the sanest person on this or that earth” (29.04-05).
Aqua’s final sanatorium is not Agavia (pace Pléiade 1479n24), but it is in Arizona, the state in which Andrey Vinelander’s ranch, itself called Agavia, will prove to be located. Van already knows the suitor Ada has informed him about in the letter Lucette brings to Kingston is “an Arizonian Russian” and that the only thing Ada and he “have in common is a keen interest in many military-looking desert plants, especially various species of agave, hosts of the larvae of the most noble animals in America, the Giant Skippers” (385.04-08), but he does not know Vinelander’s name or the name of his ranch—the latter not mentioned until Demon, visiting Van, assumes Ada must be out West: “I don’t think we should bother Ada in her Agavia. He is—I mean, Vinelander is . . . ” (437.27-28).
When Andrey is diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis in 1905, his sister Dorothy, after helping Ada “to nurse Andrey at Agavia Ranch through a couple of acrimonious years (she begrudged Ada every poor little hour devoted to collecting, mounting, and rearing!), and then taking exception to Ada’s choosing the famous and excellent Grotonovich Clinic (for her husband’s endless periods of treatment) instead of Princess Alashin’s select sanatorium . . . ” (532.04-10, italics added), retires from the scene.        
MOTIF: sanatorium.

414.29-30: deciding to kill two finches with one fircone: Plays on idiom “to kill two birds with one stone,” via Van’s recollection of his throwing a fir cone at what Ada identifies as a hawfinch, early in Ardis the First, only to misidentify the cone as a stone (50.11-18). What two purposes does Van hope to accomplish here via the one move? To learn from Lucette the name of the man who has proposed to Ada (and whom he would like to kill?), and simply to get out of the way saying good night to Lucette, before he makes rough love to Ada? A first-time reader may wonder what other purpose aroused and inebriated Van has in pursuing Lucette to the guest bedroom.

414.31: boudery: Plays on bouderie (W2: “[F.] Pouting; sulks”) and boudoir (W2: “[F., fr. bouder to pout, be sulky.] A small elegantly furnished room to which one may retire to be alone or to receive intimates”).

414.31: manger hall: Salle à manger, “dining room.”

414.31-32: we always tend to talk Canady when haut: Canadian French; haut, French, literally, “high” (but not “intoxicated” or “on drugs” in the English slang sense). The Veens tend to speak Russian, on the other hand, at moments of heightened feeling: “the talk—as so often happened at emotional moments in the Veen-Zemski branch of that strange family . . . —was speckled with Russian” (380.12-15).

414.34: her pale green nightdress: As opposed to the “lustrous cantharid green” (410.06) of her evening dress. Cf. Ada at dinner early in Ardis the First: “‘Lucette, our darling copperhead who by now should be in her green nightgown—’ ‘Angel moy,’ pleaded Marina, ‘I’m sure Van cannot be interested in Lucette’s nightdress!’ ‘—the nuance of willows . . . ’” (64.26-30). Lucette’s 1884 nightie is the same shade as her 1892 one: “her willow green nightie” (417.25).

MOTIF: green [Lucette]

415.03-04: the sacral belt of beauty: Sacral (W2) “2. Anat. Pertaining to, or in the region of, the sacrum”; sacrum (W3): “the dorsal wall of the pelvis . . . consists of five united vertebrae diminishing in size to the apex which bears the coccyx.” Perhaps with a hint or more of the prime sense of sacral (W2): “1. Of, pertaining to, or designed for use in, religious rites and ceremonies,” as if Van worships this part of the female anatomy. A “sacral belt” (or sacroiliac, or lumbosacral) is a spinal brace to support a painful lower back.

415.05: Fortunately, she turned around: Why fortunately? Because, smitten by the beauty of her back, he might have felt tempted to do more—a rear entry being his favorite mode of love-making with Ada?

415.08: Valentian: A mistake for “Valentinian” (Arizonian: see 385.03 and n., 385.12)? “Valencian” (of the province of Valencia, Spain), influenced by the Spanish word following? Ada will get married in “Valentina” (480.22), which on Antiterra may be synonymous with Arizona.

MOTIF: Arizona; Valentine.

415.08: estanciero: W2: “The owner or manager of an estancia. Sp. Amer.”; estancia (W2): “A stock farm; a cattle ranch. Sp. Amer.” Cf. the character remembered by A. N. Suhoshchokov, in The Gift, a Russian, “Ch.,” who in 1836 “quarrelled with his family . . . and in the company of some Hamburg merchants sailed nonchalantly off to Boston, from there landing in Texas where he successfully took up cattle breeding” (Gift 99-100).

415.10-31: “Only she never told you,” said loyal Lucette. . . . “Vinelander,” she answered: Curiously similar, despite all the differences, to the scene (Lolita, II,29)of Humbert’s trying to prise Quilty’s name out of married Lolita, and her initial protective reluctance (in view of his likely vengeance) and eventual capitulation.

415.11-12: your sweetheart and mine: Ada in both cases, or in “mine” is Lucette thinking of Van, and the repercussions for him of killing someone in a duel?

415.12: we know you could hit that keyhole with a pistol: MOTIF: duel.

415.13: Please, little vixen!: Cf. Van’s vivid and immediate imagining of Lucette’s pubic hair on her visit to him at Kingston: “one can’t stroke (as he did now) the upper copper without imagining at once the lower fox cub and the paired embers” (368.08-10).
MOTIF: fox.

415.18: Nikak-s net: Darkbloom: “Russ., certainly not.” The -s is the old Russian particle of polite address, the slovoers: see

415.18: philtrum: W2: “Anat. The vertical groove on the median line of the upper lip.” Perhaps with a drop of philter (W2): “A potion, drug, or charm supposed to be able to excite the passion of love, esp. toward some one person; a love potion or charm.”

415.19: Little vixen’s axilla: At Kingston Van has seemed aroused by the image of Lucette’s armpits: see 368.09-10 (quoted in 415.13n above); “Wincing and rearranging his legs, our young Vandemonian cursed under his breath the condition in which the image of the four embers of a vixen’s cross had now solidly put him” (377.20-22).
Humbert shares a similar taste: “Another time a red-haired school girl hung over me in the métro, and a revelation of axillary russet I obtained remained in my blood for weeks” (Lolita I,5: 20). 

MOTIF: fox.

415.20-21: unless”—(drawing back in mock uncertainty)—“you shave there?”: Mock uncertainty” because he has caught a glimpse of Lucette’s armpits on her visit to Kingston, 368.24-26.

415.24: Point at Paradise! Terra! Venus!: An unusual series of apparent equivalents. Although there is much play on the idea of Terra as a kind of paradise for some New Believers, and on Terra and Antiterra as sibling planets, and on Venus in various forms, there is no clearer suggestion of the identity of Terra (as an idealized Earth or antidote to Antiterra) and Venus.
MOTIF: paradise; Terra; Venus.

415.25-26: for a few synchronized heartbeats, fitted his working mouth to the hot, humid, perilous hollow: Cf., for the conjunction of “beats” and “hollow,” the very different context of The Texture of Time: “Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval. The regular throb itself merely brings back the miserable idea of measurement, but in between, something like true Time lurks. How can I extract it from its soft hollow?” (538.05-11); “Because of its situation among dead things, that dim continuum cannot be as sensually groped for, tasted, harkened to, as Veen’s Hollow between rhythmic beats” (549.13-15).
Cf. Lucette at Kingston: “She threw it off, revealing a sleeveless frilly white blouse. She raised her arms to pass her fingers through her bright curls, and he saw the expected bright hollows” (368.24-26).
Cf. Demon, farewelling his children after the 1888 dinner at Ardis: “He tenderly kissed the children, the girl on one cheek, the boy on the other, then Ada again—in the hollow of the white arm that clasped his neck” (262.34-263.02).
Cf. Fred Dobson in “The Potato Elf”: “when frolicsome Arabella drew him to her and fell backward upon the couch, Fred lost his head and began to wriggle against her, snorting and clasping her neck. In attempting to push him away, she raised her arm and, slipping under it, he lunged and glued his lips to the hot pricklish hollow of her shaven axilla” (SoVN 230).

415.29: Turn off the footlights: “Stop acting, the show’s over.” Cf. the introduction of Marina on stage: “As an actress, she had none of the breath-taking quality that makes the skill of mimicry seem, at least while the show lasts, worth even more than the price of such footlights as insomnia, fancy, arrogant art” (10.04-07).

415.31: Vinelander: Apart from the rather inert presence of Andrey Vinelander at the foot of the Family Tree before the beginning of Ada’s main text,we learn the surname of Ada’s would-be fiancé (and eventual husband) at the same moment as Van does.

’s closing blurb confirms Andrey Vinelander’s direct descent from the European discoverer of “Vineland” and therefore North America: Ada marries “an Arizonian cattle-breeder whose fabulous ancestor discovered our country” (588.32-33).

W2: “Vinland, n. Also Wineland, Vineland. A portion of the coast of North America visited, and so called by Norse voyagers, about the year 1000. It was well wooded, and produced agreeable fruits, esp. grapes. It has been variously located from Labrador to New Jersey.” Such was the common knowledge at the time of W2, 1934.

But in the years before Nabokov completed Ada, the picture was changing. Although in two thirteenth-century Icelandic Vinland Sagas (the Saga of Eric the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders) Leif Erikson (c. 970-c. 1020) was named as having settled in Vineland, the accuracy of the oral traditions was uncertain until the archaeological discovery in 1960 of a Norse settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, by Norwegian couple Anne Stine Ingstad and her explorer husband Helge Ingstad. Anne Stine Ingstad led an international team that continued to excavate until 1968.

Not only was Vineland itself therefore in the news in the decade leading up to Ada’s publication, so was the so-called Vinland map, which surfaced in 1957. That year the keeper of manuscripts at the British Museum declined to bid when it went on sale, having assessed the map as fake, but Paul Mellon bought it and donated it to Yale University. A detailed scholarly analysis was published by Yale University Press in 1965 (R.A. Skelton, Thomas E. Marston and George D. Painter, The Vinland Map and The Tartar Relation), and was widely reviewed and discussed, not least, such was the interest, in a Vinland Map Conference at the Smithsonian Institution in 1966. (See 18.02-03n. for a discussion of the possible relation between Antiterra’s Tartary and the fifteenth-century manuscript, the Tartar Relation, with which the Vinland Map was found.)

One review of the Skelton et. al. volume, by G. R. Crone, Librarian and Map Curator of the Royal Geographical Society, London, appeared under the title “How Authentic is the ‘Vinland Map’?” in Encounter, February 1966, 75-78, in the same issue as “Nabokov’s Reply,” Nabokov’s rejoinder to Edmund Wilson’s review of his Eugene Onegin translation and commentary. Crone was tentatively doubtful that the Vinland Map was pre-Columbian. Skelton responded to Crone’s review in a letter to Encounter, April 1966, 92-93, and Crane to Skelton’s letter, 92-93, in the Letters section immediately following Edmund Wilson’s response (which begins “Mr. Nabokov is hissing and shrieking again”) to “Nabokov’s Reply.” Thomas Marston also wrote on the Crone-Skelton controversy in the Letters section of Encounter, June 1966, 93, the issue after VN’s response (“Nabokov’s Onegin”) to letters by Robert Lowell and Paul Fussell on the Nabokov-Wilson controversy.

The question of the Vinland Map’s authenticity continued to be widely debated, but it was not until 2018 and 2019 that chemical analyses of the ink, and historical analyses of details in the map that were copied not from a 1436 map by Andrea Bianco, but from unique errors introduced into a printed 1782 facsimile of Bianco’s map, established unequivocally that the Vinland Map was a twentieth-century forgery.
Nabokov, who was fascinated for decades by the question of the authenticity of The Song of Igor’s Campaign, must have taken a particular interest in the question whether the Vinland Map was genuine, especially as the discussion was interleaved with his own controversy with Wilson and others about his translation of Eugene Onegin.

MOTIF: explorer; Vineland.

415.32: He heard Ada Vinelander’s voice: Van bitterly tests in thought the prospect of Ada as married to this unknown Vinelander; Demon by contrast eagerly anticipates Ada’s marriage to Andrey Vinelander, over whom he snobbishly gushes, as all but a fait accompli (437.27-33). She is not referred to this way again (but cf. 420.22).
MOTIF: Vineland.

415.32-34: her Glass bed slippers (which, as in Cordulenka’s princessdom too, he found hard to distinguish from dance footwear): On Ada’s first arrival in this apartment Van had fallen “at her feet—at her bare insteps in glossy black Glass slippers” (390.34-391.01).

After being wounded in his duel, Van writes a letter to Cordula “saying he had met with a little accident, was in the suite for fallen princes in Lakeview Hospital, Kalugano” (317.03-05). She then fetches him to her own Manhattan suite, “her princessdom” (or her period of “reigning” there?). Cf. Lolita’s “princedom by the sea” (I,1: 9).
The affectionate diminutive “Cordulenka” (affectionate because of Van’s momentary alienation from the thought of “Ada Vinelander”?) occurs nowhere else in Ada.

“Glass bed slippers . . . princessdom . . . dance footwear” triply foreground the Cinderella theme.

MOTIF: Cinderella; fairy tale; Glass; Vass.

416.01: in the established tension: The tension established by the mention of Vinelander’s name? Or, in view of the remainder of the sentence, not only this but the erotic tension established at the restaurant and amplified in the apartment? Van’s jealousy of Vinelander and his arousal, in part by Lucette, feed into his rough sex with Ada.

416.02-04: found himself, in a drunken dream, making violent love to Rose—no, to Ada. . . . She complained he hurt her “like a Tiger Turk”: The conjunction of dreams and tigers has already occurred twice. The morning after the Night of the Burning Barn, Van’s “nose still in the dreambag of a deep pillow . . . the boy was at once aware of the happiness knocking to be let in. He deliberately endeavored to prolong the glow of its incognito by dwelling on the last vestiges of jasmine and tears in a silly dream; but the tiger of happiness fairly leaped into being” (123.01-09); and Van’s imagining of Marina’s thoughts, at the dinner she puts on for Demon in Ardis the Second, about her torrid past with him: “an insane sister’s threats, helpless, no doubt, but leaving their tiger-marks on the drapery of dreams” (253.18-20).

416.02: making violent love to Rose: “Violent” because of both Van’s drunkenness and his hostility to Ada’s having paid sufficient attention to Vinelander to have induced him to make a marriage proposal.

416.02-03: to Rose—no, to Ada, but in the Rosacean fashion: Rose is “the sportive Negro maid whom [Van] shared in more ways than one with . . . Mr. Dean . . . on the floor below” (390.15-18).
can mean (W2) “Any plant of the Rosaceae,” which W2 defines as “A large family of nearly cosmopolitan trees, shrubs, and herbs.” Here, simply a nonce collateral adjective for “Rose.” Presumably “in the rosacean fashion” suggests that with Rose, too, Van prefers rear-entry lovemaking.
MOTIF: behind; rose.

416.04: like a Tiger Turk: Overtones of dangerously aggressive physicality and possessive patriarchy (harems, sultans, Ottoman imperial hierarchy)? Allusion to the Caspian tiger, a population of Panthera tigris tigris of the regionfrom eastern Turkey through Central Asia to Western China?

416.06: Where was she going? Pet wanted to see the album: Lucette, already in her bedroom, wants to see the Kim Beauharnais photo album, even if she turns out to have a modest role to play in it. Van and Ada had themselves looked “at the album in bed (which we now think lacked taste)” (400.34-401.01).
An interesting example of free indirect speech, involving an immediate change of speakers.

MOTIF: album; pet.

416.07: “ . . . in a rubby,” she said (tribadic schoolgirl slang): Modeled, perhaps, on “in a jiffy,” but with clear implications of clitoral stimulation. Vanda Broom, “a regular tribadka” (323.21), is also associated with an album, albeit a different one: the schoolgirl album from Brownhill, the school linked in Van’s mind with lesbian romps and further reasons for jealousy of Ada.

Cf. Van’s much later “J’ai tâté de deux tribades dans ma vie, ça suffit” (584.15).

MOTIF: college slang; tribad-.

416.08: so keep awake: In view of Ada’s insatiability, that implies “for another round of love-making”—even though she seems fully to intend to make love with Lucette before returning and resuming, albeit now face to face, with Van (see next note). But Van falls asleep before Ada’s return.

416.08-09: From now on . . . it’s going to be Chère-amie-fait-morata’—(play on the generic and specific names of the famous fly): Darkbloom:famous fly: see p. 135, Serromyia.” See 135.20-33n for VN’s invention of the Serromyia amorata (from the genuine Serromyia femorata and the dance flies and scorpion flies in which males present to females a small prey item wrapped in silk to avoid being eaten during copulation), and for the implication that between this scene in the Ardis library where Ada mentionsthe Serromyia amorata in July 1884 and her being taken “like a Tiger Turk” in November 1892 she and Van make love only in rear-entry mode. That position had been adopted partly as a contraceptive measure (“Sole sura metoda . . . por decevor natura . . . ,” 136.02-14), but Van has announced a week before the Tiger Turk scene that he has been diagnosed as “absolutely sterile despite his prowesses” (394.01-02).
Chère-amie-fait-morata,” apart from playing on Serromyia femorata seems also to make a rough macaronic Franco-Latin sense: “dear girl friend makes about to die.”

416.11: vorschmacks: Darkbloom, “Germ., hors-d’oeuvres.” Rivers and Walker 291-92 comment: “Vorschmack does not mean ‘hors-d’oeuvre’ but rather ‘foretaste.’ Perhaps in Van’s use of the word -schmack is intended to suggest English ‘snack.’ Vorschmack is a variant of the usual term, Vorgeschmack, and is extremely rare in modern standard German. However, Grimm’s Deutsches Wörterbuch provides many attestations for the nineteenth century and earlier. Grimm’s opines that Vorschmack has a more figurative connotation than Vorgeschmack and is most often used in theological contexts, as for example, in the notion of a foretaste of heaven—or hell. The plural in -s is an anglicization. The German plural is Vorschmäcke or, facetiously, Vorschmäcker.” But as Diana Makhaldiani notes (email, October 11, 2022) vorschmack or Russ. forshmak is indeed a widespread Eastern European and Russian term for hors d’oeuvres or appetizers, often of salty minced fish or meat, but varying from country to country:  see, accessed October 14, 2022.

416.12-13: one hand on the opal doorknob at the end of an endless room: Cf. “When we remember our former selves, there is always that little figure with its long shadow stopping like an uncertain belated visitor on a lighted threshold at the far end of an impeccably narrowing corridor” (110.19-22).

416.14-15: only a pale wild girl with gipsy hair in a deathless ballad: As Zimmer 2010: 1011-12 notes, in VN’s 1953 poem “The Ballad of Longwood Glen” (revised and published 1957), among the many who come to inspect the tree up which Art Longwood climbed, never to be seen again on earth, are “Explorers, dendrologists—all were there; / And a strange pale girl with gypsy hair” (PP 179). The ballad is doubly “deathless”: after final revision, VN thought it “the best poem I have composed” (letter to Katharine White, March 6, 1957, SL 209), and therefore destined to live on; and Art Longwood vanishes upward, somehow transcending death, as suggested in the couplets: “Up and up Art Longwood swarmed and shinned, / And the leaves said yes to the questiong wind. // What tiaras of gardens! What torrents of light! / How accessible ether! How easy flight!” (PP 178).
MOTIF: gipsy.

416.15: wild girl with gipsy hair: Cf. “Two unrelated gypsy courtesans, a wild girl in a gaudy lolita . . . ” (393.29).

416.16: nulliverse: W2: “A hypothetical world without the presence of a unifying principle.” William James wrote in his 1884 essay “The Dilemma of Determinism”: “Nevertheless, many persons talk as if the minutest dose of disconnectedness of one part with another, the smallest modicum of independence, the faintest tremor of ambiguity about the future, for example, would ruin everything, and turn this goodly universe into a sort of insane sand-heap or nulliverse, no universe at all. Since future human volitions are as a matter of fact the only ambiguous things we are tempted to believe in, let us stop for a moment to make ourselves sure whether their independent and accidental character need be fraught with such direful consequences to the universe as these”: William James, Writings 1878-1899, ed. Gerald E. Myers (New York: Library of America, 1992), 573.

416.16-17: in Rattner’s ‘menald world’ where the only principle is random variation: Menald (W2): “speckled, variegated.” “Menald world” in Rattner’s and Ada’s usage seems closer to “nulliverse” than to the usual sense of the (extremely unusual) word “menald.” Perhaps “menald” serves as a near-anagram of both “Demonia,” the alternative name for Antiterra (301.02-04: “Demonia . . . the multicolored and evil world into which he was born”) and French monde, “world”?
MOTIF: Demonia; Rattner.

416.19: her blood-brown book: Described previously as “an album bound in orange-brown cloth” (396.03), a “mud-colored scrapbook” (397.09). Perhaps a dream-fusion with the “coppery and blood-red leaves” (396.09-10) that provide the backdrop to the scene Ada reports on, in which she acquired the album from Kim Beauharnais.

416.19-20: you cannot demand pudicity on the part of a delphinet: Pudicity: modesty, chastity. Delphinet: a female dolphin; in mythology, the dolphin was an attribute of Venus, and Ada is one of “the children of Venus” (410.10). Presumably dolphins were associated with both Venus and Cupid (often depicted as riding on a dolphin) because of their high degree of sexual activity, including toward humans. In findings VN could not have known in full, but may have seen anticipated, it is reported that “Common bottlenose dolphins have sex frequently—very likely multiple times in a day. Copulation lasts only a few seconds, but social sex, which is used to maintain social bonds, can last much longer, happen more frequently and involve myriad heterosexual and homosexual pairings of dolphins and their body parts. Anything is possible, and, as new research suggests, probably pleasurable for swimmers of both sexes. According to a paper published on Monday in the journal Current Biology, female bottlenose dolphins most likely experience pleasure through their clitorises” (Sabrina Imbler, “Uncovering Mysteries of Female Dolphin Sexual Anatomy,” New York Times, January 10, 2022, See also Patricia L. R.Brennan, Jonathan R. Cowart, and Dara N. Orbach, “Evidence of a functional clitoris in dolphins,” Current Biology 32:1 (2022), PR24-R26, doi:

Venus pudica
in art history is an image of Venus or other female nudes with a hand, hair, or other object modestly concealing her pudendum.

416.22-30: There was always something colorfully impressionistic, but also infantile, about Ada’s allusions to her affairs of the flesh . . . with bix-pix concussions: Cf. for instance 394.25-30 and 430.10-20.

416.24: baffle painting: W2: “Camouflage of a ship to give it a deceptive appearance as to size, form, course, and speed.”

416.25: you remember?: MOTIF: remember.

416.26: tossed up clay pigeons and pine cones to be shot at: Still another echo of the scene of Van throwing a fir cone at a bird at Ardis, 50.10-18?

416.26-27: cockamaroo: W3: “Russian bagatelle.” Russian bagatelle (W3): “a childish variation of bagatelle employing holes, pins, arches, and bells—called also cockamaroo.” With a pun on the obscene sense of “cock”?

416.27: Russian ‘biks’: According to Dal’, biksa (or biksovïy biliard) is a small weighted ball which returns after being struck.

416.29: eburnean: W2: “Made of, relating to, or like, ivory.”

416.30: bix-pix concussions: Perhaps simply imitative of the sound of the ball striking against obstacles?

416.31-32: boxwood maze and bagatelle arches: Not previously mentioned at Ardis. These too seem to be tropes, images, the dreams of speech, the speech of dreams.
Cf. “as Van casually directed the searchlight of backthought into that maze of the past” (153.16-17)? In Mont Roux, 1922: “A boxwood-lined path, presided over by a nostalgic sempervirent sequoia” (522.12-13, drawn to my attention by Stephen Blackwell, email, September 24, 2022). And “Lucette, though so much younger, remembered heaps of bagatelles, little ‘turrets’ and little ‘barrels’” (152.07-08).
MOTIF: dream.

416.33-417.01: She lay curved away from him, with nothing beyond the opened parenthesis, its contents not yet ready to be enclosed: Don Barton Johnson, “Nabokov’s Typographic Poetics: Transparent Things” (2003), comments on this image: “Ada has apparently brought Lucette to their bed after Van has fallen asleep. Strangely, later that morning, the trio find themselves back in bed with Van filling the void between the two halves of the sister parentheses. The open parenthesis has been closed.” Both sentences seem wrong: Lucette appears to have made her own way to the bedroom, and it is Ada, not Van, who lies between the other two in the bed. (Johnson’s otherwise unpublished essay was on the website of the Nabokov Museum, which no longer can be accessed; but it can be found in the body of a Nabokv-L posting of November 20, 2005.)

417.01-03: and the beloved, beautiful, treacherous, blue-black-bronze hair smelt of Ardis, but also of Lucette’s “Oh-de-grâce.”: As “treacherous” indicates, Van presumes on the evidence that Ada has ignored his “no sapphic vorschmacks” (416.11) and has indeed made love with Lucette after their own “Tiger Turk” exertions.
Kissing Lucette’s cheeks on her arrival at Kingston a week earlier, Van “could not help inhaling briefly her Degrasse, smart, though decidedly ‘paphish,’ perfume” (368.02-04). His memory of her fragrance has presumably been refreshed through the course of the evening at Ursus.

417.02: blue-black-bronze hair smelt of Ardis: Ada’s hair is “black-bronze” at 227.33, at the Flavita game, and Lucette’s and Ada’s “tumbled hair, red-bronze and black-bronze,” respectively, at 362.09-10, in an erotic dream featuring them both.

417.03: Oh-de-grâce: Lucette’s Degrasse perfume, after the perfume center of Grasse in southern France (see 368.03n), a pun on “eau de Grasse” that could mean “Oh, thank you” (in response to Ada’s attentions?). Since this seems an oneiric echo of Ada’s bed-romp with Lucette (the “sapphic vorschmack” she did not agree to forgo, 416.11), it may be worth noting that Grace Erminin, like Ada, was a regular target of lesbian Vanda Broom’s attentions at Brownhill (323.20-23).
MOTIF: Degrasse.

417.04-05: Had she cabled him? Canceled or Postponed? Mrs. Viner—no, Vingolfer, no, Vinelander: Van tries to retrieve his dream. Ada had in fact written in the letter Lucette takes to Kingston:If you scorn the maid at your window I will aerogram my immediate acceptance of a proposal of marriage” (385.01-02). Vingolf (W2): “Norse Myth. A great hall in Asgard,” the citadel of the gods.

417.05-06: first Russki to taste the labruska grape: As oneirically suggested, at least, by the sound play on Russki and labrusca. The actual Leif Erikson may have been the first Norseman to taste the wild grapes of Vineland (one common suggestion for the name the Norse settlers would give the region). The labrusca or northern fox grape, Vitis labrusca, one of two species of grapes native to eastern North America, would be introduced to Europe in the nineteenth century and would make the fizzy red, pink, and white wines of Italy’s Emilia region.

417.07-10: Mne snitsa saPERnik SHCHASTLEEVOY!” (Mihail Ivanovich arcating the sand with his cane, humped on his bench under the creamy racemes). “I dream of a fortunate rival!”: From the song beginning “Subside, agitation of passion!”—words by Kukol’nik, music by Glinka: see 412.07-12n above. Van imagines (rather than dreams?) Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka as a summer guest at Ardis, saying these lines on the “green bench . . . where the composer was said to have sat under the pseudoacacias,” whose “creamy racemes” Van now specifies. The capitalization indicates the emphasis of the song and the urgency of the feeling, now Van’s feeling too.

Stanza 2 of the song reads: “Kak son neotstupnïy i groznïy, / mne snitsa sopernik shchastlivïy, / i tayno, i zlobno, / kipyashchaya revnost’ pïlaet! / I tayno, i zlobno / oruzhiya ishchet ruka” (“Like an importunate and threatening dream, I dream of a fortunate rival, and secretly, and maliciously, seething jealousy blazes. And secretly and maliciously my hand seeks for a weapon”). The cane Glinka “arcates” (VN’s coinage as a verb) over the sand echoes this weapon and the canes or cane-like implements or potential weapons (riding crop, umbrella) that Van reaches for in his jealousy of the potential rivals he’ll kill (I.25), of Rack (I.42) and, briefly, of Greg Erminin (III.2).

Diana Makhaldiani (email, October 11, 2022) notes the echo with Fyodor depicting his parents on “the bench on which according to established tradition his parents used to sit on the eve of his father’s regular departures on his travels: . . . Mother was . . . pressing out crunchy little holes in the dumb sand with the tip of her parasol” (Gift 79).
MOTIF: cane; under [tree].

417.11: In the meantime: Until he can get a chance to pursue Vinelander?

417.13: Ada being: corrected from Ada 1969, "Ada, being."

417.15-18: ring from the bathroom for their breakfast to be brought by Valerio, who would roll in the laid table out of the lift into the sitting room next to their bedroom: Cf. Van and Ada on their first morning together in Manhattan “sat down to a beautiful breakfast (Ardis’ crisp bacon! Ardis’ translucent honey!) brought up in the lift by Valerio, a ginger-haired elderly Roman, always ill-shaven and gloomy” (393.21-24); on their last morning together there, Demon rushes to “catch the lift which a ginger-haired waiter had just entered, with breakfast for two on a wiggle-wheel table and the Manhattan Times among the shining, ever so slightly scratched, silver cupolas” (434.16-19).

417.19-21: (he remembered her old craving for cocoa) and being anxious to have an engagement with Ada before the day began: After the 1888 Flavita game, Van proposes that Lucette as the loser should “go straight to bed . . . and stay there, and we shall go down and fetch her—in exactly ten minutes—a big cup (the dark-blue cup!) of cocoa (sweet, dark, skinless Cadbury cocoa!)” (228.28-31). Van and Ada were as anxious for another “engagement” then as he is now.

417.22-23: powdered his groin: With a lavender-scented powder: see “Van’s lavender goat” (420.02)

417.25: Lucette, still in her willow-green nightie: Cf. 414.33-34 and, earlier, 64.27-30 and n. (which notes the Ophelia allusion, reverberating anew here after “because I will jump into Goodson River,” 411.22) and (“willow-green shorts”) 198.11-12.
MOTIF: green [Lucette]; Ophelia; willow green

417.26: concubital: VN’s coinage, a play on “marital” or “connubial” bed and “concubitous,” (W2), “Of or pert. to concubitancy”; concubitancy (W2): “Marriageability; the status or relation of persons who by tribal custom are predestined mates, or eligible to marry each other.” Van and Ada seem predestined mates but ineligible to marry.

417.27: wearing, for ritual and fatidic reasons, his river of diamonds: In a fury of jealousy at Percy de Prey, Van tears apart the diamond necklace—which he had planned to give Ada at the start of Ardis the Second—at the very moment she bursts into the room (189.32-34); she wears “his diamonds for the first time” (288.20), after the necklace has been mended, on what turns out to be Van’s last night at Ardis the Second. What are her “ritual and fatidic reasons” for wearing the necklace now, in bed? It seems to be associated with her making love there (“when Ada, still wearing her diamonds (in sign of at least one more caro Van and a Camel before her morning bath),” 420.29-31), but that appears the most regular of routines for this constantly coupling couple. Atonement for the severance that followed her first wearing the diamonds, that last night of Ardis the Second?

MOTIF: La Parure; La Rivière de Diamants.

417.29-31: the Monaco’s pancakes with Potomac syrup, or perhaps, their incomparable amber-and-ruby bacon: Cf. “an elaborate repast sent up from ‘Monaco,’ a good restaurant in the entresol of the tall building” (324.21-22); “the louts of the ‘Monaco’ lounge” (392.21). Why Potomac? For the phonic recombination, assonance (o, o, a) and consonance (m, c) in two trisyllables? MOTIF: Monaco.

417.32: his imposing deportment: He is “anxious to have an engagement with Ada before the day began” (417.20-21) and, naked after his shower, has “reentered the bedroom in full pride” (417.23-24).

417.33: the tremendous bed: Cf. “our huge bed” (413.10) and the 1905 recollection: “a bed hardly two-thirds the size of the tremendous one at their unforgettable flat twelve years ago” (509.13-14).

417.33: Mississippi Rose: A1: “p. 390”, in other words, “Rose, the sportive Negro maid whom he shared in more ways than one with . . . Mr. Dean” (390.15-17). Rose’s Mississippi provenance has not been mentioned before, but Ruby Black, Van’s “tender young nurse” (241.22), and also a combination of black skin and red(dish) name, “was born in the Mississippi region” (241.23).
MOTIF: rose.

417.34: for progressive visual-education purposes: VN repeatedly deplored the “progressive education” of his time in America. See, e.g., PF 266: “He was a so-called Pink, who believed in what so-called Pinks believe in (Progressive Education, the Integrity of anyone spying for Russia, Fall-outs occasioned solely by US-made bombs . . . )”; LRL 11: “The admirable reader is not concerned with general ideas: he is interested in the particular vision. He likes the novel not because it helps him to get along with the group (to use a diabolical progressive-school cliché).” Especially relevant is SO 25: “And, of course, at nine and ten years of age, in that set, in those times, we knew nothing whatsoever about the false facts of life that are imparted nowadays to infants by progressive parents. Why false? Because the imagination of a small child—especially a town child—at once distorts, stylizes, or otherwise alters the bizarre things he is told about the busy bee, which neither he nor his parents can distinguish from a bumblebee, anyway.”

418.04-05: pet (it all started with the little one letting wee winds go free . . . ): The nickname “pet” for Lucette, in other words, started with her farting “at table, circa 1882” (pet being French for “fart”).
Cf. the Ardis the First coachman: “Ben Wright was fired after letting winds go free while driving Marina and Mlle Larivière home from the Vendange Festival at Brantôme near Ladore” (140.01-03).
MOTIF: little Lucette; pet

418.05: Garden God: As Pléiade 1480 notes, “Priapus.” Priapus was a Greek fertility god, god of vegetable gardens, beehives, livestock, fruit plants; he is characterized visually by his disproportionately large erect phallus.

418.10: one (teste Flora) is enough for my little needs: Teste:W2: “Witness; —often used to indicate that what immediately follows is named as authority for what precedes.” Refers to Flora’s “I say, Veen, . . . you don’t rally need two, d’you?” (414.10-11).

418.10: for my little needs: Cf. “‘Which is amply sufficient,’ said Demon, ‘for my little needs, and those of my friends’” (247.03-04). Not clear exactly what Demon means in this earlier passage, but it is clear that his “needs” (especially when it comes to young mistresses) are not little, any more than Van’s.

418.11: Little needs!” snorted Lucette: A comment on the size of Van’s erection (regularly “seven and a half” inches, according to Van, 411.27).

418.13: Pet stays right here: MOTIF: pet.

418.15-16: lay back on the outer half of Ada’s pillow in a martyr’s pudibund swoon: Cf. “I’ll stretch out upon the divan like a martyr, remember?” (464.03-04).
MOTIF: martyr.

418.16: pudibund: W2: “Bashful, modest.”

418.24: palpitating belly: Diana Makhaldiani (email, October 11, 2022) recalls another erotic scene viewed through the prism of Forbidden Masterpieces painting, with a male’s “palpitating belly”: Ada’s hair “tickled his legs, it crept into his crotch, it spread all over his palpitating belly. Through it the student of art could see the summit of the trompe-l’oeil school, monumental, multicolored, jutting out of a dark background, molded in profile by a concentration of caravagesque light” (141.05-06).

418.24: a seasand nymph: Cf. “our Esmeralda and mermaid” (421.10).

418.24-25: the firebird seen by Van once, fully fledged now: In 1884, when he and Ada imprison Lucette in the bath while they make love around the corner: “Despite her being only in her ninth year and rather underdeveloped, Lucette had not escaped the delusive pubescence of red-haired little girls. Her armpits showed a slight stipple of bright floss and her chub was dusted with copper” (144.05-08).
Cf. “darling firebird” (421.12).

418.26: his favorite’s blue raven: MOTIF: raven.

418.26: Acrasia: W2: “1. Excess; intemperance. Obs. except in Med. 2. In Spenser’s Faerie Queene, a lovely enchantress who, like Circe, turns her victims into beasts.”

Shakespeare’s contemporary, the poet Edmund Spenser, is rarely, if at all, mentioned by Nabokov. Nevertheless, the highly stylized and saturated scene that follows in Ada seems to link pointedly with the Bower of Bliss, the abode of the fair witch Acrasia, in Book 2 Canto xii of The Faerie Queene (published 1590-96). The Bower, like the coming scene in Ada, makes art imitate and even replace nature, in the service of sexual intemperance.

Book II, Canto xii, stanza 42:

Thence passing forth, they shortly do arrive,
 Whereas the Bowre of Blisse was situate;
 A place pickt out by choice of best alive,
 That natures worke by art can imitate:
 In which what ever in this worldly state
 Is sweet, and pleasing unto living sense,
 Or that may dayntiest fantasie aggrate,º                            gratify
 Was poured forth with plentifull dispence,º                     liberality
And made there to abound with lavish affluence.

The artificial lushness is paramount:

Book II, Canto xii, stanza 50:

and goodly beautifide
With all the ornaments of Floraes pride,
Wherewith her mother Art, as halfe in scorne
Of niggardº Nature, like a pompous bride                         miserly
Did decke her, and too lavishly adorne,
When forth from virgin bowre she comes in th'early morne.

This episode from stanzas 63-67 seems especially relevant:

And all the margent round about was set,
With shady Laurell trees, thence to defendº                     ward off
The sunny beames, which on the billowes bet,º               beat
And those which therein bathéd, mote offend.
As Guyon hapned by the same to wend,
Two naked Damzelles he therein espyde,
Which therein bathing, seeméd to contend,
And wrestle wantonly, ne cared to hyde,
Their dainty parts from vew of any, which them eyde.


Sometimes the one would lift the other quight
Above the waters, and then downe againe
Her plong, as over maisteréd by might,
Where both awhile would coveréd remaine,
And each the other from to rise restraine;
The whiles their snowy limbes, as through a vele,
So through the Christall waves appearéd plaine:
Then suddeinly both would themselves unhele,º             disclose
And th'amarous sweet spoiles to greedy eyes revele.


As that faire Starre, the messenger of morne,
His deawy face out of the sea doth reare:
Or as the Cyprian goddesse, newly borne
Of th'Oceans fruitfull froth, did first appeare:
Such seeméd they, and so their yellow heare
Christalline humourº droppéd downe apace.                    moisture
Whom such when Guyon saw, he drew him neare,
And somewhat gan relentº his earnest pace,                    slacken
His stubborne brest gan secret pleasaunce to embrace.


The wanton Maidens him espying, stood
Gazing a while at his unwonted guise;º                             manner
Then th'one her selfe low duckéd in the flood,
Abasht, that her a straunger did avise:º                             regard
But th'other rather higher did arise,
And her two lilly paps aloft displayd,
And all, that might his melting hart entise
'To her delights, she unto him bewrayd:º                           revealed
The rest hid underneath, him more desirous made.


With that, the other likewise up arose, . . .

Hugh McLean, ed., Edmund Spenser’s Poetry (New York: Norton, 1968), pp. 185-91.

418.27-29: not so much a Casanovanic situation (that double-wencher had a definitely monochromatic pencil—in keeping with the memoirs of his dingy era):

D. Barton Johnson, in a truncated message on Nabokv-L, “Van Loves Ada+Lucette; Casanova’s Memoirs; Query/Kveree,” September 16, 2003, offers a three-way sex scene from the Histoire de ma vie  (written 1789-1797, first published, in German, 1822-24) of Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798). Johnson writes:In his notes to Oksana Kirichenko's Russian translation of ADA, Nikolai Mel'nikov identifies the Casanova allusion as the latter's account of a dalliance with --"two delightfully amenable sisters, Nanette and Marton" (592). In the interest of hard core Nabokov scholarship, I located the episode at in the classic London 1894 translation based on Casanova's French manuscripts as translated by Arthur Machen.

Giacomo Casanova

The memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt


An Unlucky Night I Fall in Love with the Two Sisters, and Forget Angela—A Ball at My House—Juliette’s Humiliation—My Return to Pasian—Lucie’s Misfortune—A Propitious Storm

Johnson comments: “There is in fact very little in common between Casanova's account and ADA's description of the Ada/Van/Lucette episode apart from the basic two sister element, [f]or Ada and Lucette are no Nanette and Marton; nor Van, Casanova. Indeed VN specifically rejects Casanova (who was Venetian by birth) as a prototype in favor of an ‘earlier canvas, of the Venetian (sense largo) school, reproduced (in “Forbidden Masterpieces”).’”
Alexey Sklyarenko resumes the topic in his “Casanova as Double-Wencher & Local Curio in Ada,”, April 20, 2021: “In his Memoirs Casanova describes the night on which he lost his virginity to sisters Nanette and Marton (aged fourteen and sixteen and virgins themselves)” and quotes at length from the scene:

“It is very lucky,” I exclaimed, “that I have for you only feelings of friendship; otherwise it would be very hard to pass the night without giving way to the temptation of bestowing upon you proofs of my affection, for you are both so lovely, so bewitching, that you would turn the brains of any man.”

As I went on talking, I pretended to be somewhat sleepy; Nanette being the first to notice it, said, “Go to bed without any ceremony, we will lie down on the sofa in the adjoining room.

“I would be a very poor-spirited fellow indeed, if I agreed to this; let us talk; my sleepiness will soon pass off, but I am anxious about you. Go to bed yourselves, my charming friends, and I will go into the next room. If you are afraid of me, lock the door, but you would do me an injustice, for I feel only a brother’s yearnings towards you.”

“We cannot accept such an arrangement,” said Nanette, “but let me persuade you; take this bed.”

“I cannot sleep with my clothes on.”

“Undress yourself; we will not look at you.”

“I have no fear of it, but how could I find the heart to sleep, while on my account you are compelled to sit up?”

“Well,” said Marton, “we can lie down, too, without undressing.”

“If you shew me such distrust, you will offend me. Tell me, Nanette, do you think I am an honest man?”

“Most certainly.”

“Well, then, give me a proof of your good opinion; lie down near me in the bed, undressed, and rely on my word of honour that I will not even lay a finger upon you. Besides, you are two against one, what can you fear? Will you not be free to get out of the bed in case I should not keep quiet? In short, unless you consent to give me this mark of your confidence in me, at least when I have fallen asleep, I cannot go to bed.”

I said no more, and pretended to be very sleepy. They exchanged a few words, whispering to each other, and Marton told me to go to bed, that they would follow me as soon as I was asleep. Nanette made me the same promise, I turned my back to them, undressed myself quickly, and wishing them good night, I went to bed. I immediately pretended to fall asleep, but soon I dozed in good earnest, and only woke when they came to bed. Then, turning round as if I wished to resume my slumbers, I remained very quiet until I could suppose them fast asleep; at all events, if they did not sleep, they were at liberty to pretend to do so. Their backs were towards me, and the light was out; therefore I could only act at random, and I paid my first compliments to the one who was lying on my right, not knowing whether she was Nanette or Marton. I find her bent in two, and wrapped up in the only garment she had kept on. Taking my time, and sparing her modesty, I compel her by degrees to acknowledge her defeat, and convince her that it is better to feign sleep and to let me proceed. Her natural instincts soon working in concert with mine, I reach the goal; and my efforts, crowned with the most complete success, leave me not the shadow of a doubt that I have gathered those first-fruits to which our prejudice makes us attach so great an importance. Enraptured at having enjoyed my manhood completely and for the first time, I quietly leave my beauty in order to do homage to the other sister. I find her motionless, lying on her back like a person wrapped in profound and undisturbed slumber. Carefully managing my advance, as if I were afraid of waking her up, I begin by gently gratifying her senses, and I ascertain the delightful fact that, like her sister, she is still in possession of her maidenhood. As soon as a natural movement proves to me that love accepts the offering, I take my measures to consummate the sacrifice. At that moment, giving way suddenly to the violence of her feelings, and tired of her assumed dissimulation, she warmly locks me in her arms at the very instant of the voluptuous crisis, smothers me with kisses, shares my raptures, and love blends our souls in the most ecstatic enjoyment.

Guessing her to be Nanette, I whisper her name.

“Yes, I am Nanette,” she answers; “and I declare myself happy, as well as my sister, if you prove yourself true and faithful.”

“Until death, my beloved ones, and as everything we have done is the work of love, do not let us ever mention the name of Angela.”

After this, I begged that she would give us a light; but Marton, always kind and obliging, got out of bed leaving us alone. When I saw Nanette in my arms, beaming with love, and Marton near the bed, holding a candle, with her eyes reproaching us with ingratitude because we did not speak to her, who, by accepting my first caresses, had encouraged her sister to follow her example, I realized all my happiness.

“Let us get up, my darlings,” said I, “and swear to each other eternal affection.”

When we had risen we performed, all three together, ablutions which made them laugh a good deal, and which gave a new impetus to the ardour of our feelings. Sitting up in the simple costume of nature, we ate the remains of our supper, exchanging those thousand trifling words which love alone can understand, and we again retired to our bed, where we spent a most delightful night giving each other mutual and oft-repeated proofs of our passionate ardour. Nanette was the recipient of my last bounties, for Madame Orio having left the house to go to church, I had to hasten my departure, after assuring the two lovely sisters that they had effectually extinguished whatever flame might still have flickered in my heart for Angela. I went home and slept soundly until dinner-time. (Volume I, chapter 5)

418.27: Casanovanic: Ada 1968: “Casanovian <insert>vanic<insert>”

418.28-29: that double-wencher had a definitely monochromatic pencil—in keeping with the memoirs of his dingy era: Van’s comment is VN’s, and well warranted. As the excerpt above shows, Casanova’s plain style, spare detail, abundant titillation, rudimentary psychological sparring and fantastic, almost naïve wish-fulfilment have little indeed to do with the ornate artistic veils, baroque or rococo flourishes and vivid, disconcerting detail of the bedroom scene that Van has just started to frame.
Van’s judgement reflects both the general notion of the eighteenth century as a peak period for erotic literature and Nabokov’s specific antipathy to the eschewal of detail and color in the literature of the Age of Reason.
In Lolita Clare Quilty tries to impress gun-toting Humbert with his artistic achievements: “I have made private movies out of Justine and other eighteenth-century sexcapades” (Lolita II,35: 298). Nabokov did not care at all for Sade (“Have you read the Marquis de Sade? The orgies? Things start with one person, then five, then fifty, then they invite the gardener! (Enormous laugh.) There’s your pornography: quantity without quality. It’s banal, it’s not literature. The intention of art is always pure, always moral. . . . I hate the Marquis de Sade,” TWS 300), but he could appreciate the erotic in literature provided it fused with the artistic: “While it is true that in ancient Europe, and well into the eighteenth century (obvious examples come from France), deliberate lewdness was not inconsistent with flashes of comedy, or vigorous satire, or even the verve of a fine poet in a wanton mood . . . ” (“On a Book Entitled Lolita,” Lolita 313). But he did not think the eighteenth century particularly lascivious: “I don’t believe the eighteenth century was more libertine, or that the era in which we live is particularly libertine. I do not believe such labels. They seem arbitrary and unfounded. In my view, forms of puritanism and freedom have coexisted simultaneously in every era” (TWS 345-36).
On the other hand, VN did think the eighteenth century was on average particularly inartistic, and Casanova a case in point. For him it was a “pedestrian age” (EO III,505), “that most inartistic of centuries” (EO III,506), although he could concede that a minor poet like John Dyer (1700?-1757) was “not as color-blind as most of his grove-and-rill brethren” (ibid.) “That the sky could be pale green at sunrise, or the snow a rich blue on a cloudless day, would have sounded like heretical nonsense to your so-called ‘classical’ writer, accustomed as he was to the rigid conventional color-schemes of the Eighteenth Century French school of literature” (NG 86-87). He disliked intensely the eighteenth century’s own “pathological dislike . . . for the specific ‘unpoetical’ detail and . . . its passion for the generic term” (EO III,290), and he sought in the erotic passage that follows in Ada to render color, detail, and the subjective perspectives that he also felt the eighteenth century too often avoided (“Pushkin . . . remains true to the eighteenth-century concepts of generalized ‘nature,’ and either avoids specific features and subjective details altogether or serves them up with a self-conscious smile as something that might perplex or amuse an ordinary reader,” EO II,204)

418.29-31: as a much earlier canvas, of the Venetian (sensu largo) school, reproduced (in “Forbidden Masterpieces”): In part a play on Casanova’s Venetian origins (hence the sensu largo, “in the broad sense”). The Venetian painters of the high Renaissance, from Jacopo Bellini (1396-1470) to Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), were known for their sumptuous brooding color and texture. Despite the occasional nude bedroom scene, like Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) or his Danaë (various versions, 1544-1560: Zeus coming to Danaë as a shower of gold), or his Pastoral Concert (two backgrounded clothed males between two foregrounded nude females), or the multiple female nudes of Diana and Callisto (1525-28) by Palma Vecchio (c. 1480-1528) or by Titian, again (1556-59), there is nothing in high Venetian painting comparable to the dynamic eroticism of the scene about to unfold among the “three children of Venus.” (For Titian, see 141.17 and n., and the “Titianesque Titaness” aboard the Tobakoff, 479.09-20; for Palma Vecchio, 141.17-18 and n.)

In the multiple stylizations of an early scene of his and Ada’s lovemaking by an Ardis waterfall, Van evokes “Forbidden Masterpieces” (“Anyway . . . he felt himself transferred into that forbidden masterpiece, one afternoon,” 140. 23-25) and Caravaggio, and then, as the action moves on to fellatio, Van teases:

Whose brush was it now? A titillant Titian? A drunken Palma Vecchio? No, she was anything but a Venetian blonde.
Dosso Dossi, perhaps? Faun Exhausted by Nymph? Swooning Satyr? Doesn’t that new-filled molar hurt your own tongue?
It bruised me. I’m joking, my circus Circassian.  

A moment later the Dutch took over: Girl stepping into a pool under the little cascade to wash her tresses. . . . (141)

As this earlier “Forbidden Masterpieces” scene suggests, neither Van nor Nabokov seems to have a particular painting, or painter, or even school, in mind, even here, despite the “Venetian (sensu largo) school.” The scene’s intense eroticism evokes the whole legacy of erotic art, from the Pompeian frescoes he had recently seen, or Bosch’s exuberant configurations, or Japanese shunga (“Geisha with 13 lovers,” 137.17), or the Venetians, who provide an appropriate opulence and saturation here but not the details.

Zimmer 2010: 1012-14 and plate 13 proposes a particular source, a Pompeian fresco, perhaps of the marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne, with attendant zither player, in a collection of “forbidden masterpieces” that was locked away in a vault of the Museo Nazionale di Napoli until 1976 (ten years after VN visited it, almost a century after Van Veen saw there the fresco of the Stabian flower girl, 8.31-9.08 and nn.), but that VN could have seen in a nineteenth-century engraving, reproduced for instance in Colonel Famin, Musée royal de Naples--Peintures, bronzes et statues érotiques du cabinet secret, Paris 1857, rept. Paris 1995, and Louis Barré, Musée secret: Herculaneum et Pompéi, Paris 1860-62. Formal, conventional, monochromatic, and static, this tableau seems a most unlikely inspiration or allusion.
MOTIF: Forbidden Masterpieces.

418.32: bordel’s: MOTIF: brothel.

418.32: vue d’oiseau: Bird’s eye view.

418.33-419.01: the ciel mirror that Eric had naively thought up in his Cyprian dreams: Cf. the Villa Venus clientele’s appreciation of architect David van Veen’sblending local banality (that château girdled with chestnuts, that castello guarded by cypresses) with interior ornaments that pandered to all the orgies reflected in the ceiling mirrors of little Eric’s erogenetics” (351.07-10).
For ciel, cf. Ada’s reference at a famous early Ardis dinner to Lucette, who “by now should be in her green nightgown . . . the nuance of willows, and counting the little sheep on her ciel de lit which Fowlie turns into ‘the sky’s bed’ instead of ‘bed ceiler’” (64.27-32). Note that Lucette was “still in her willow green nightie” (417.25) when she came into Van’s bedroom, until Ada plucked it off at 418.14.

419.01: Cyprian dreams: See 399.20n: “Cyprian: W2, as an adjective: ‘Of or pertaining to Cyprus (the reputed birthplace of Aphrodite), the people of Cyprus, or their language; also (in allusion to Aphrodite worship), licentious.’ As a noun, apart from people of Cyprus, ‘b A lewd woman; a prostitute.’”
Van in the previous chapter recalled the daughter of the architect of Ardis’s swimming pool: “I met his sweet sad daughter at a Cyprian party—she felt and smelt and melted like you” (399.19-20).
Since “Acrasia” is mentioned just as this scene begins, it may be of relevance that in the scene of “Two naked Damzelles” who tempt Guyon in Acrasia’s Bower of Bliss, Spenser refers to “the Cyprian goddesse” (Book 2, Canto xii, Stanza 65, Line 3).

419.04: from our left (Lucette’s right): “Our” here seems to refer to us as audience, seeing in a “vue d’oiseau . . . from above, as if reflected in the ciel mirror.” Despite the precision of the description that follows, things swiftly become unclear: are we “in fact” looking down from above, or looking at the image reflected in the mirror?

419.04-22: a lamp burning with a murmuring incandescence. . . . the now louder-murmuring (et pour cause) dorocene lamp: The murmuring seems to signal a sympathetic erotic arousal in the lamp.

MOTIF: doro, hydro-

419.06-20: at the footboardless south of the island where the newly landed eye starts on its northern trip, up the younger Miss Veen’s pried-open legs. . . . Another trip from the port to the interior . . . . we visit souvenir stalls . . . Novelty Novel lane . . . the island’s east coast . . . considerably more aroused than is good for him or a certain type of tourist: The frames multiply: to “the canvas of the Venetian (sensu largo) school,” and the “bordel’s vue d’oiseau” or ciel mirror,” the scene now adds a travel guide or cruise excursion frame.

419.08-10: A dewdrop on russet moss eventually finds a stylistic response in the aquamarine tear on her flaming cheekbone: Vaginal lubrication on Lucette’s pubic hair, and a tear run down from her eye? The Venetian coloration seems in full force.
Cf. “Lucette’s dewy little contributions” (her kisses, at this point, 205.25-26). And as Diana Makhaldiani notes (email, October 11, 2022) the “aquamarine” here and the impending “diamond . . . aquamarines” (419.15-16), the male Veen with two Veen sisters, and the orgiastic ambience, link with 19.13-23: “Was there some additional spice? Marina, with perverse vainglory, used to affirm in bed that Demon’s senses must have been influenced by a queer sort of ‘incestuous’ (whatever that term means) pleasure (in the sense of the French plaisir, which works up a lot of supplementary spinal vibrato), when he fondled, and savored, and delicately parted and defiled, in unmentionable but fascinating ways, flesh (une chair) that was both that of his wife and that of his mistress, the blended and brightened charms of twin peris, an Aquamarina both single and double, a mirage in an emirate, a geminate gem, an orgy of epithelial alliterations.”

MOTIF: aquamarine; red hair; rousse; russet.

419.12: Ada’s red-lacquered talons: Cf. “But, oh my, oh, the long, languid, rose-and-silver, painted and pointed, delicately stinging onyxes of her adolescent and adult years!” (59.08-10).

419.14: out of the dim east to the bright russet west: Cf. Horatio’s famous lines at the end of the first scene in Hamlet, after the Ghost, in its first on-stage appearance, has vanished: “But look, the morn in russet mantle clad / Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill” (1.1.147-48). (Note the “dew” as well as the “russet” and “eastern.”)

419.14-18: the sparkle of her diamond necklace, which, for the nonce, is not much more valuable than the aquamarines on the other (west) side of Novelty Novel lane: Not much more valuable, in what sense? Lucette is not wearing jewels. Not much more valuable artistically, as highlights on a canvas, or details of a description, or parts of an erotic composition, than the glint from Lucette’s tears? Are the “aquamarines” imagined as cheap imitations purchased from Novelty Novel lane, and does “not much more valuable” bring to mind the punchline of the story “La Rivière de diamants,” where the lost diamonds prove to have been false (83.21), as Van also bitterly pretended the diamonds in his necklace for Ada were, when he ripped it apart in jealous rage (190.04)?

419.14-15: the sparkle of her diamond necklace: Cf. 417.26-27: “Ada, already wearing, for ritual and fatidic reasons, his river of diamonds.”

MOTIF: diamonds Rivière de diamants

419.16: aquamarines: MOTIF: aquamarine.

419.17: Novelty Novel lane: A1: “roman nouveau.” Nabokov makes explicit still another frame: not only the “souvenir stalls” in a “Novelty Novel” lane, but also the French nouveau roman of the 1950s and 1960s, whose most famous representative was Alain Robbe-Grillet. Nabokov admired Robbe-Grillet’s works, and asked to meet him in Paris in 1959. In novels like La Jalousie, perhaps one part of the puzzle of The Slat Sign (see 382.18n), Robbe-Grillet’s meticulously minute physical descriptions often cause readers to lose their bearings in the detail, not least because the details subtly shift as the description continues or a detail is revisited.

419.17-19: The scarred male nude on the island’s east coast is half-shaded, and, on the whole, less interesting, though considerably more aroused than is good for him: The link between Van’s red scar and his erection made at 411.24-28 recurs in Novelty Novel guise.
MOTIF: Van’s scar.

419.20-25: The recently repapered wall immediately . . . ornamented in the central girl’s honor with Peruvian “honeysuckle” being visited (not only for its nectar, I’m afraid, but for the animalcules stuck in it) by marvelous Loddigesia Hummingbirds: The botanical wallpaper has presumably just been hung, in the week since Ada’s arrival—unanticipated a mere eight days ago—in honor of her botanical and ornithological interests and of the neotropical foliage on the wallpaper of the Pisang Palace Hotel from which Ada had written the first three of her imploring post-Ardis letters to Van (332-33). There seems a specific echo of the last paragraph of Ada’s last letter from the Pisang Palace: “Speaking of calls, I saw a truly marvelous ornithological film the other night with Demon. I had never grasped the fact that the paleotropical sunbirds (look them up!) are ‘mimotypes’ of the New World hummingbirds, and all my thoughts, oh, my darling, are mimotypes of yours. I know, I know! I even know that you stopped reading at ‘grasped’—as in the old days” (333.28-34).

419.21: et pour cause: Darkbloom:“and no wonder.” See 419.04-22n.

419.21-22: dorocene: A combination of the “doro-” deriving from Antiterra’s hydraulic substitutes for electricity (cf. “the ‘dor’ in the name of an adored river equaled the corruption of hydro in ‘dorophone,’” 309. 28-30) and “kerosene.”
Cf. Ada at a Flavita game: “‘I would much prefer the Benten lamp here but it is out of kerosin. Pet (addressing Lucette), be a good scout, call her—Good Heavens!’ The seven letters she had taken, S,R,E,N,O,K,I, and was sorting out in her spektrik (the little trough of japanned wood each player had before him) now formed in quick and, as it were, self-impulsed rearrangement the key word of the chance sentence that had attended their random assemblage” (226.14-21).

419.22-26: with Peruvian “honeysuckle” being visited . . . by marvelous Loddigesia Hummingbirds: Loddigesia mirabilis, the marvelous spatuletail, a hummingbird (now endangered) whose natural habitat appears to be confined to one river valley (that of the Utucamba River) in northern Peru. There is no designated “Peruvian honeysuckle,” but many plants around the world with attributes similar to the true honeysuckle, the large northern hemisphere genus Lonicera, are known as “honeysuckle.”
It may be of relevance that Loddigesia mirabilis belongs to the subfamily Lesbiinae (Ludwig Reichenbach 1854).
“The male’s signature feature is its two outer tail feathers with bare shafts that cross each other and end in large purplish black racquets or ‘spatules’. The remaining tail feathers are very short and are supported by two long undertail coverts” (Wikipedia, s.v. Marvelous spatuletail, August 17, 2022). D. Barton Johnson comments: “Two of the tail feathers of this ‘wonder bird’ are enormously elongated, cross over each other, and end in showy fans—a feature it shares with Lucette's King Bird of Paradise” (Johnson 2000: 179). He adds in a note (on what grounds is unclear): “The Peruvian Loddigesia Hummingbird was presumably taken from Adolf Portmann, Animal Forms and Patterns: A Study of the Appearance of Animals. Trans. Hella Czech, Ill. Sabine Baur. (New York: Schocken Books, 1967), fig. 117, 219.”

In her attire at “Ursus,” Lucette seems to be associated with Lophorina superba, the superb bird of paradise, rather than Cicinurrus regius, the king bird of paradise (see 410.08n), although there is an unmistakable association between the spectacular birds of paradise in the opening paragraph of this chapter and the spectacular bird here at its climax.  But what seems most striking in this context is the crossing over of the two extreme tail feathers, which seems to prefigure Ada’s hands crossing two ways across the bed later in this paragraph.

419.23: “honeysuckle”: MOTIF: flowers.

419.23-24: not only for its nectar, I’m afraid, but for the animalcules stuck in it: Unclear whether this is science or fiction.

419.24-25: Loddigesia: Mason 82 notes that this 1847 species name honors two orchidologists, George Loddiges (1786-1846) and his son Conrad (1821-1865). George was a British gardener whose nursery, founded by his father Joachim Loddiges (1738-1826), had the largest hothouses in the world, which were renowned for their tropical plants, especially palms and orchids. From 1818 to 1833 the nursery published a periodical, The Botanical Cabinet, with nearly 2000 colored plates. George Loddiges also had a collection of 200 hummingbirds and planned but never published a book on hummingbirds.

419.26: karavanchik: Darkbloom: “small caravan of camels (Russ.).” A packet (or a row) of Camel cigarettes, Ada’s brand. Cf., a few minutes later: “Ada, still wearing her diamonds (in sign of at least one more caro Van and a Camel before her morning bath)” (420.29-31).
In Lolita Clare Quilty’s brand of cigarettes, which he even helps advertise, is “Dromes” (from “dromedaries”): I,16, 69: “a colored ad. A distinguished playwright was solemnly smoking a Drome. He always smoked Dromes”; I,27, 121: “Does not he look exactly, but exactly, like Quilty? . . . the writer fellow in the Dromes ad”; II,20, 232: “She . . . would have become a real girl champion. Dolores, with two rackets under her arm, in Wimbledon. Dolores endorsing a Dromedary”; II,35, 297: “He kept taking the Drome cigarette apart and munching bits of it”).

419.26-27: a Monaco ashtray: From the restaurant at the foot of the apartment block: see 324.21-26 and n., 324.21-22n. Van seems not to smoke, so this was presumably sent up on the day of Ada’s arrival.
MOTIF: Monaco.

419.27: Voltemand’s poor thriller: Van’s Letters from Terra, published in 1891 (342.28) under the pseudonym Voltemand. Ada, who has not seen a copy (342.31) or even known of the book and its authorship until her arrival in Van’s apartment a week ago, does not think it poor: “I disagree, it’s a nice, nice little book! Ada’s note” (338.03). It is described as “a philosophical novel” (338.02) and a “space romance” (343.33), but nowhere else as a thriller.
MOTIF: Letters from Terra; Voltemand.

419.27-28: Lurid Oncidium Orchid: A butterfly orchid, Oncidium luridum (Lindl.), now known as Trichocentrum luridum,considered at the time VN wrote Ada as belonging to the very diverse (330 species) Central and Southern genus Oncidium. (“There is disagreement as to the taxonomic status of some species that have recently [2001] been moved from Oncidium to Trichocentrum,” Wikipedia, Trichocentrum, accessed August 17, 2022).

(W2): “[NL. dim. fr. Gr. onkos barb of an arrow,—from the shape of the labellum.] Bot. A large genus of tropical American epiphytic or terrestrial orchids, the butterfly orchids, having flowers of great beauty, esp. in the commonly cultivated, West Indian O. papilio and others grown for ornament.” Did VN intend for the Greek etymology of Oncidium (“barb of an arrow”) to link with the Greek etymology of Ardis (“point of an arrow,” 225.18)? Given that Van, wounded in his duel, thinks that he was not protected “from the poisoned point of Ardis. Arrowhead Manor. Le Château de la Flèche, Flesh Hall” (318.06-07), this seems likely.

Lucette will be sent a number of Oncidium orchids in Paris in 1901—perhaps by mistake: “I have a fabulous Japanese divan and lots of orchids just supplied by one of my beaux. Ach, Bozhe moy—it has just occurred to me—I shall have to look into this—maybe they are meant for Brigitte, who is marrying after tomorrow, at three-thirty, a head waiter at the Alphonse Trois, in Auteuil. Anyway they are greenish, with orange and purple blotches, some kind of delicate Oncidium, ‘cypress frogs,’ one of those silly commercial names” (463.30-464.03).

Cf. the close of the novel: “Not the least adornment of the chronicle is the delicacy of pictorial detail: a latticed gallery; a painted ceiling; a pretty plaything stranded among the forget-me-nots of a brook; butterflies and butterfly orchids in the margin of the romance; a misty view descried from marble steps; a doe at gaze in the ancestral park; and much, much more” (589.02-08). There are no butterfly orchids in Ada apart from these two instances of Oncidium.

Ada has always loved flowers, hence the placement of this Lurid Oncidium Orchid on the bedtable. But she subsequently develops a “strange anthophobia (somehow stemming from that debauche à trois thirty years ago)” (554.13-14). The barb of the Ardis arrow?

MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy; flowers; orchids;

419.28: Oncidium Orchid in an amethystine vaselet: Cf. “another orchid . . . the crystal vaselet holding the Lady’s Slipper [orchid] she had picked” (289.03-06).

MOTIF: -let .

419.30: dorophone: MOTIF: dorophone.

419.30: Wipex: Play on “Kleenex”; VN liked toying with brand names (cf. “Dromes,” above) in his fiction; he generally avoided product placement before there was such a concept (but cf. “Cadbury cocoa,” 228.31). In this context Wipex already seems to suggest wiping Van’s sperm, as is confirmed at 420.18.

419.30: a reading loupe: Which Van uses “for deciphering certain details of his lunatics’ drawings” (400.31-32) and which Ada has deployed to look at erotic details in Kim Beauharnais’s blackmailing Ardis album (400.30-31), before she turns “the reading loupe on live Van” (401.01-02).

419.30-31: the returned Ardis album: Which Lucette had wanted to peruse last evening, 416.06.

MOTIF: album.

419.31: separatum: W3: “Offprint.”

419.31-32: “Soft music as a cause of brain tumors”: A reflection on the background music at Ursus? VN disliked music, especially imposed music: “My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music” (SO 3); “I would wring the neck of soft music in public places” (SO 150). In hospital for acute food poisoning in 1944, he was “transferred (in spite of my protests) to the general ward, where the radio kept emitting hot music, cigarette ads (in a juicy voice from the heart) and gags without interruption until (at 10 p.m.) I bellowed to the nurse to have the bloody thing stopped (much to the annoyance and surprise of the staff and of the patients)” (VN to Edmund Wilson, June 8, 1944, Yale, cited in Boyd 1991:75).

419.32-33: Dr. Anbury (young Rattner’s waggish penname): A1: “= tumor.” Anbury (W2): “1. Veter. A soft tumor or bloody wart on a horse or ox. 2.= clubroot”; clubroot (W2): “Plant Pathol. A common disease of cabbages and related plants, caused by the slime mold Plasmodiophora brassicae, producing swellings.” Clubroot, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th. ed., 5:957: “The disease is recognizable by the presence of nodules or warty outgrowths on the roots, which usually become greatly swollen and ultimately rot, emitting unpleasant odours.”
MOTIF: Rattner.

419.33: Sounds have colors, colors have smells: Cf. Van’s “Synesthetia, to which I am inordinately prone, proves to be of great help in this type of task” (549.17-18) (here, the task of probing the texture and rhythm of the hollows of time). Phonemic sounds certainly had colors for VN; for his synesthesia, see ch. 2 of SM. VN never mentions colors having smells for him, but Van visits a man who has chromesthesia (touch sensations from color), 468.01-470.11. See also Ada 98.14-15n.

419.34-420.01: The fire of Lucette’s amber: Cf. “she lay back on the outer half of Ada’s pillow . . . her locks spreading their orange blaze” (418.15-17), and the fire imagery prevalent in II.5, thanks to the warm autumn sun and Van’s vivid imagining of Lucette’s concealed patches of red hair.
MOTIF: amber; ember.

420.01-02: runs through the night of Ada’s odor and ardor: Through Ada’s dark hair (probably, in particular, her pubic hair, given the trajectory of this motion), as well as through her smell and sexual excitement.

For Ada’s odor, cf. “Neither hygiene, nor sophistication of taste, were, as Van kept observing, typical of the Ardis household” (78.09-11) and “Now, at fifteen, she was an irritating and hopeless beauty; a rather unkempt one, too; only twelve hours ago, in the dim toolroom he had whispered a riddle in her ear: what begins with a ‘de’ and rhymes more or less with a Silesian river ant?” (198.31-34). But she now does take morning baths and even, last night, an evening bath.

For her ardor, see Ada, or Ardor, passim.

“The fire . . . runs through the night” probably recalls the Night of the Burning Barn, when Blanche calls “au feu” but Mlle Larivière is “fast ablaze—I mean asleep” (114.07-10).
MOTIF: Ada; Ada, the ardors and arbors of Ardis; ardor.

420.02: at the threshold of Van’s lavender goat: Cf. W2, goat: “2. In medieval bestiary lore, the animal type of lechery; hence, a libidinous man.” Does the “lavender” refer to his having just “powdered his groin” (417.22-23), thus negating the smell, if not the libido, that we associate with “goatishness”?

420.02-03: Ten eager, evil, loving, long fingers belonging to two different young demons caress their helpless bed pet: The fingers of Ada’s right hand and presumably, Van’s left (her left holds Van’s penis). Cf. “no sooner did all the fond, all the frail, come into close contact with him (as later Lucette did, to give another example) than they were bound to know anguish and calamity, unless strengthened by a strain of his father’s demon blood” (20.15-18).
Lucette has been called “pet” for years; but she is now heavily petted by both.
MOTIF: demon; pet.

420.05: the local curio: The tourist-novelty frame (“souvenir stalls . . . Novelty Novel lane,” 419. 12-17) returns.

420.06-07: Unsigned and unframed: A completion and unframing of the “canvas, of the Venetian . . . school” (418.30) frame. Cf. the unframed and apparently unsigned early erotic waterfall scene also described in terms of a canvas in the “Forbidden Masterpieces” collection: “Van could not recollect whose picture it was that he had in mind, but thought it might have been attributed to Michelangelo da Caravaggio in his youth. It was an oil on unframed canvas depicting two misbehaving nudes, boy and girl, in an ivied or vined grotto or near a small waterfall overhung with bronze-tinted and dark emerald leaves, and great bunches of translucent grapes” (140.14-20).

420.08-09: the magical gewgaw liquefied all at once: Presumably, “the local curio [Ada] holds in her left fist.”
That the whole scene makes it difficult to see exactly what is going on, especially at this moment, can be seen in a reference Don Barton Johnson, one of VN’s most astutely precise and least prudish readers, makes to “Ada and Lucette’s caressing Van’s ‘local curio’” (Johnson 2006: 134). Ada certainly has Van’s penis in her left fist, and her hair “accidentally tickles” it (420.04-05), and Ada’s right hand, and presumably Van’s left, fondle Lucette (420.02-04), but there is nothing in the text to indicate that the “helpless bed pet” Lucette caresses Van.

420.08: gewgaw: W2: “A showy trifle; a toy; a pretty but worthless bauble.”

420.09-10: and Lucette, snatching up her nightdress, escaped to her room: A private association, almost sure to be irrelevant: Samuel Beckett’s very short play Come and Go (1965, first performed 1966, between 121 and 127 words, depending on language) features three women seated side by side and doing little more than changing the position of their interlocked hands. VN liked Beckett’s fiction, but not his drama: “Beckett is the author of lovely novellas and wretched plays in the Maeterlinck tradition” (SO 172). But he also said in 1969: “I scarcely know his work” (unpublished answer in James Mossman BBC interview, September 1969, VNA).

420.10: It was only the sort of shop: What does that “it” refer back to? The “souvenir stalls” (419.12) along “Novelty Novel lane” (419.17) where Ada obtained “the local curio” (420.05) that seems to become “the magical gewgaw”(420.08), within the “tourist” frame of the scene?

The sentence that this phrase begins is notoriously obscure (“Eine der schwierigsten Stellen in Ada . . . Der ganze Absatz von ‘Es war nur einer dieser Laden . . . ’ an ist schwer verständlich” (“One of the most difficult passages in Ada. . . . The whole paragraph from ‘It was only the sort of shop . . . ’ on is barely understandable,” Zimmer 2010: 1015-16), and was the subject of an inconclusive discussion on Nabokv-L on October 16-20, 2000, launched with a query by moderator Johnson. In his follow-up research, Johnson sought the help of Dmitri Nabokov, who responded, in an understatement: “This is not terribly easy, and requires several frames (figuratively) of reference besides the overall metaphor-within-a-metaphor of which it is a part” (quoted in Johnson 2006: 133; more below).

420.10-14: where the jeweler’s fingertips have a tender way of enhancing the preciousness of a trinket by something akin to a rubbing of hindwings on the part of a settled lycaenid or to the frottage of a conjurer’s thumb dissolving a coin: Seems to continue the “souvenir stalls” frame, with one eager salesperson now specified as a jeweler (does this refer back to the diamonds and aquamarines of the previous paragraph?). Does the “frottage,” which can mean sexual as well as other kinds of manual rubbing, glance back at Van and Ada’s hands on Lucette or at Ada’s left fist on Van, or does the sentence deliberately blur the action and the outcome?

420.13: lycaenid: Member of the Lycaenidae (W2), “A family of butterflies having the forelegs short in the male, including the blues, coppers and hairstreaks. They are usually small, often brilliantly colored.” Wikipedia s.v. Lycaenidae offers: “Lycaenidae is the second-largest family of butterflies (behind Nymphalidae, brush-footed butterflies), with over 6,000 species worldwide, whose members are also called gossamer-winged butterflies. They constitute about 30% of the known butterfly species. // The family comprises seven subfamilies, including the blues (Polyommatinae), the coppers (Lycaeninae), the hairstreaks (Theclinae), and the harvesters (Miletinae).” (Accessed August 17, 2022)

In the years he was a researcher in Lepidoptera at Harvard (1941-48), VN specialized in the Blues of North and South America, and especially in the genus Lycaeides. In view of his having become the world authority on the Blues in these years, A1’s note is charming in its brevity: “small blue butterfly”

420.14-16: the anonymous picture attributed to Grillo or Obieto, caprice or purpose, ober- or unterart: An obscure Spanish painter, Blas Grillo, worked on the Cathedral in Alcázar in the mid-1590s, and a less obscure Italian miniaturist, Jacopo del Giallo, also recorded as Jacopo del Grillo, from Florence, was active in Rome and Venice the 1530s and until his death, apparently in 1543; he was even said to be equal only to Sebastiano Serlio in architecture and Titian in painting. Nevertheless it seems unlikely that even VN would have known of Jacopo del Giallo, let alone that his name had also been misrecorded as Grillo (, accessed August 17, 2022).
Dmitri Nabokov continues his response to Don Barton Johnson: “On the surface, it is a reference to two painters. They are: 1) real (pretty definitely not the case); or 2) imaginary but real within the context of the book (not so); or 3) totally imaginary but thus named to suggest the degree of dependability of the attribution within the context in which the putative searching artist ferrets. They would presumably be Spanish, and named, at the extreme of least plausibility, Grillo (not in the primary sense of ‘cricket’ but in the more colloquial one of ‘irrational caprice’ as in ‘grillospara la caveza’, literally ‘crickets in one’s head’, the only connection with Italian, the language you propose, being the analogous expression ‘grilli per la testa’), and, at the other extreme, Obieto, or obieto, representing objective existence within the imaginary world of the metaphorical ferreting artist” (Johnson 2006: 133-34)
It is curious that Dmitri Nabokov, an award-winning translator into Italian, should rule out Italian in favor of Spanish, since while grillo can mean “cricket” (the insect) in both languages, it means “caprice,” the meaning the text proposes, only in Italian. And in 1977 I recorded obietto, though rare in current usage,in an Italian dictionary (I did not record which) with the meaning “purpose” (in fact: “object; aim, purpose”).
or unterart may look, to those with almost no German, especially in view of its verbal surroundings—“the anonymous picture attributed to Grillo or Obieto, caprice or purpose . . . is found by the ferreting artist”—as referring to art (high art, low art, perhaps?) but as Darkbloom notes, “oberart etc.: Germ., superspecies, subspecies.”
In other words the sentence has slipped from art to nature, to biology. With that clue, and with grillo meaning “cricket” as well as “caprice,” readers may be able to infer that the sentence plays with the rubbing against each other of the stridulatory organ on forewings that produces the cricket’s loud chirping. (Cicadas produce a louder sound, but generally not by rubbing.) Cf., at the dinner for Demon: “the crickets were stridulating at an ominous speed in the black motionless foliage” (250.01-03).

Johnson has the clue, but seems not to recognize how central it is to this riddling sentence: “Dmitri Nabokov calls attention to ‘the bilingual word play of “Art” (“species” in German) and “art” (English)’. The application of the biological terms extends to works of art. Nabokov forewarns the reader about the cricket-caprice word play in his text. Note that ‘a rubbing of hindwings on the part of a settled lycaenid’ in the Grillo/Obieto sentence. That ‘rubbing of the hindwings’ by a ‘lycaenid’ (the group of butterflies in which Nabokov specialised) is more usually associated with the cricket who produces his song in that fashion. (It, like the frottage of the disappearing coin, is perhaps not unconnected with Ada and Lucette’s caressing Van’s ‘local curio’.)” (Johnson 2006: 134).

I would stress that the preceding section of the sentence, “akin to a rubbing of hindwings on the part of a settled lycaenid or to the frottage of a conjurer’s thumb dissolving a coin” prepares not only for the riddling segue “to Grillo or Obieto,” but also for the sense of the cricket’s rubbing forewings (not hindwings, pace Johnson) as the solution to the riddle: in all these rubbings, something has vanished (including the cricket itself) as if by “the frottage of a conjurer’s thumb,” as Lucette, after being “the helpless bed pet” caressed by “Ten eager, evil, loving, long fingers” (420.02-04), has vanished from the bed, the room, and, it will turn out, from the apartment, and the whole “Forbidden Masterpieces” scene.
Note that Lucette reports copying erotic pictures “from an album of Forbidden Masterpieces” in the very paragraph that describes her first erotic coupling with Ada: “‘and I reading a lot, or copying beautiful erotic pictures from an album of Forbidden Masterpieces that we found, apropos, in a box of korsetov i khrestomatiy (corsets and chrestomathies) which Belle had left behind, and I can assure you, they were far more realistic than the scroll-painting by Mong Mong, very active in 888, a millennium before Ada said it illustrated Oriental calisthenics when I found it by chance in the corner of one of my ambuscades. So the day passed, and then the star rose, and tremendous moths walked on all sixes up the window panes, and we tangled until we fell asleep. And that’s when I learnt—’ concluded Lucette, closing her eyes and making Van squirm by reproducing with diabolical accuracy Ada’s demure little whimper of ultimate bliss” (376.04-16).
Note also that it was Lucette, the art historian, who identified the Pear Peacock moths in copula and the obscure painters active in a Florentine palace in the 1540s, as recorded in the previous chapter. The débauche à trois has beenwritten as a tribute to her interests and knowledge, even if it ends with her disappearing from the picture.
In the Nabokv-L discussion in 2000, Ludger Toldorf made the suggestion that the shop in this passage may link with the shop fourteen-year-old Van visits near Riverlane: “a shop of objets d’art and more or less antique furniture. He visited it on a bright winter day. Crystal vases with crimson roses and golden-brown asters were set here and there in the fore part of the shop. . . . He satisfied himself that those flowers were artificial and thought it puzzling that such imitations always pander so exclusively to the eye instead of also copying the damp fat feel of live petal and leaf. When he called next day for the object (unremembered now, eighty years later) that he wanted repaired or duplicated, it was not ready or had not been obtained. In passing, he touched a half-opened rose and was cheated of the sterile texture his fingertips had expected when cool life kissed them with pouting lips. ‘My daughter,’ said Mrs. Tapirov, who saw his surprise, ‘always puts a bunch of real ones among the fake pour attraper le client. You drew the joker.’ As he was leaving she came in, a schoolgirl in a gray coat with brown shoulder-length ringlets and a pretty face. On another occasion (for a certain part of the thing—a frame, perhaps—took an infinite time to heal or else the entire article proved to be unobtainable after all) he saw her curled up with her schoolbooks in an armchair—a domestic item among those for sale. He never spoke to her. He loved her madly. It must have lasted at least one term” (31.15-32.19).
Johnson moderating the Nabokv-L discussion, commented on Tolkdorf’s suggestion: “Your linkage of the ADA II-8 passage and the ADA I-4 paragraph is excellent. Given the ‘frottage’ element, there can be no doubt. But what is the meaning of the very intentional parallel?” Good question!

420.19: Orchids: MOTIF: orchids

420.19-20: I’ve never seen a man make such a speedy recovery: Cf. Van’s first slightly premature ejaculation with a female partner, “when he tried to bluster his inexperience into quick action but only succeeded in spilling on the welcome mat what she would have gladly helped him to take indoors,” and the improvement, on a rapidly-following second attempt: “Things went better six minutes later, after Cheshire and Zographos were through” (33.10-14); cf. Van with Cordula in Paris, 1901: “Their brisk nub and its repetition lasted fifteen minutes in all, not five” (457.23-24).
MOTIF: riches.

420.22: the future Mrs. Vinelander: As Ada will indeed become, but this is only Van’s jealousy talking: she had stressed she would accept her Arizonian’s proposal only if Van scorned “the maid at your window” (385.01), but he has not, and neither of them can foresee Demon’s intervention in II.10-11. Ada is not referred to as “Mrs. Vinelander” again.

MOTIF: Vineland.

420.23: I may not be as bright as I used to be: Ada here recalls Van’s response to her buying the photograph album off Kim Beauharnais, not realizing Kim can still blackmail her: ‘Tell me, my love, what was your so-called I.Q. when we first met?’ ‘Two hundred and something. A sensational figure.’ ‘Well, by now it has shrunk rather badly. Peeking Kim has kept all the negatives plus lots of pictures he will paste or post later.’” And in view of what follows, note that Ada then asks: “‘Would you say it has dropped to Cordula’s level?’ ‘Lower’” (398.05-12).

420.24-25: I know somebody who is not simply a cat, but a polecat, and that’s Cordula Tobacco alias Madame Perwitsky: Ada mistakenly concludes that Cordula Tobak (née de Prey) has informed Van of the name of Ada’s would-be fiancé.
Cf. Lucette at Kingston explaining why she brought up the name of Cordula de Prey (under the assumption that Van was still living with her): “I mentioned her only because an old sweetheart is easily annoyed by the wrong conclusions she jumps at like a cat not quite making a fence and then running off without trying again, and stopping to look back” (383.11-14).
Cf. Ada’s “‘I’m sure your Cordula still had it in her cosy corner where you sat temple to temple after you jilted me.’ ‘Cat,’ said Van” (402.34-403.03).
MOTIF: tobacco; Tobak.

420.24-27: not simply a cat, but a polecat . . . Cordula Tobacco alias Madame Perwitsky . . . Poland: The Polish associations, apart from Ada’s misdirected rage at Cordula as “polecat,” may also reflect that Cordula’s estate is “their Malbrook castle,” echoing, as 322.20-03n notes, Malbrok Castle in Malbrok, Poland, as Diana Makhaldiani suggests (email to BB, June 10, 2024).

420.24: polecat: W2: “a A European carnivorous mammal (Mustela putorius, syn. Putorius foetidus), of which the ferret is considered a domesticated variety. . . . b U.S. A skunk of the genus Mephitis.” (In view of the “ferreting artist” at 420.16, it seems odd to have “ferret” among the senses of this word so soon after, but there seems no reason for a deliberate connection.)
W3: “5 archaic: a vile or contemptible person; esp: prostitute <out of my door, you witch, you hag, . . . you ~ — Shak.>” (Merry Wives of Windsor, 4.2. 171-2, Ford beating Falstaff disguised as an old woman: “Out of my door, you witch, you rag, you baggage, you polecat, you runnion!”)

A1: “Amer.: cat’”

420.25-27: Perwitsky . . . Poland: Perwitsky, W2: “Zool. A polecat (Vormela sarmaticus), mottled red and white above, and black below, found in eastern Europe and northern Asia; also, esp. the fur of this animal.” Also known as the marbled polecat. The name derives from Polish.

420.28: After a while he adored [sic! Ed.] the pancakes: Presumably a mistake, but for “ordered” or “devoured”—or after all for both, plus “adored”?
Cf. “trying to make her little sister decide whether she would like to try the Monaco’s pancakes” (417.28-30).

Cf. “and how he ‘ladored,’ he said, the dark aroma of her hair blending with crushed lily stalks, Turkish cigarettes and the lassitude that comes from ‘lass’” (286.33-287.02).
MOTIF: adore; Composition—Editor.

420.29-30: still wearing her diamonds (in sign of at least one more caro Van:

MOTIF: diamonds.

420.30-31: in sign of at least one more caro Van and a Camel before her morning bath: Caro, Italian: “dear, beloved.” One more round of lovemaking with Van; pun also on caravan, especially in conjunction with the “Camel” (cf. “a karavanchik of cigarettes,” 419.26) which she likes after sex. Cf. for the “caravan,” the cigarette, and the swift male revival, the Night of the Burning Barn: “She was inspecting from above his tanned body the ant caravan to the oasis of the navel; he was decidedly hirsute for so young a boy. Her young round breasts were just above his face. I denounce the philistine’s postcoital cigarette both as a doctor and an artist. It is, however, true that Van was not unaware of a glass box of Turkish Traumatis on a console too far to be reached with an indolent stretch. The tall clock struck an anonymous quarter, and Ada was presently watching, cheek on fist, the impressive, though oddly morose, stirrings, steady clockwise launch, and ponderous upswing of virile revival” (120.29-121.06).

Cf. “I sort of hoped we’d go back to bed” (422.17).

420.32-33: A note . . . was pinned to the pillow: Cf. Van, after assembling what he needs immediately, and in his haste to leave at the end of Ardis the Second: “and pinned a note to the pillow asking to have his things packed and forwarded to his father’s address” (295.10-11).

420.32-33: Arlen Eyelid Green: A play on the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics empire, founded in 1910 by Elizabeth Arden (1881-1966).

421.01-02: ski at Verma: Perhaps Nabokov had in mind Vermala, a location within the ski resort of Crans-Montana, a ski resort above Sierre, in the Valais, Switzerland, where he hunted for butterflies in August 1962 and July-August 1964 (Boyd 1991: 421, 485). But since Lucette writes her note in Manhattan, perhaps it is Vermont where she intends to ski? Ada adds a PS to Van’s reply to Lucette’s note: “When you’re sick of Queen, why not fly over to Holland or Italy?” (422.08-09); Queenston College is near Kingston (366.16), which is in Mayne (365.01). Van rings “for a Sunday messenger to take the letter to Lucette’s hotel—or to the Verma resort, if she had already left” (422.19-21), which suggests reasonable proximity.

421.02: with other poor woolly worms: Playing onVerma” and vermis, Latin, “worm.”

421.04: Pour Elle: French, “for her” but a homophone of “Poor L.,” Van’s salutation in his note in reply (421.08).
MOTIF: poor L

421.05-06: a monastic lectern that he had acquired for writing in the vertical position of vertebrate thought: Van works at a lectern even in his late eighties: “the avalanche of loose sheets which the great man’s elbow has sent sliding down the lectern-slope” (577.25-26).

In his years in the Montreux Palace (1961-1977) VN also had a lectern at which he would write, at least early in the day: “I generally start the day at a lovely old-fashioned lectern I have in my study. Later on, when I feel gravity nibbling at my calves, I settle down in a comfortable armchair alongside an ordinary writing desk; and finally, when gravity begins climbing up my spine, I lie down on a couch in a corner of my small study” (SO 29).

421.07: follows:: corrected from Ada 1969, "follows;".

421.08: Poor L.: Unlikely to allude to the Russian sentimental tale, wildly popular in its day, "Bednaya Liza" ("Poor Liza," 1792), by Nikolay Karamzin (1766-1826), although poor Liza drowns herself after being seduced and abandoned by a nobleman. For VN's drolly dismissive summary of the story, see EO III,143-44.

421.10: Esmeralda: Spanish for “emerald,” reflecting the “lustrous cantharid green” (410.06) of Lucette’s evening gown the night before (not to mention her green night-dress (414.34, 417.25) plucked off her just before the débauche à trois), and the name of the beautiful gypsy dancing-girl in Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris (1831).
Cf. VN’s poem “Lines Written in Oregon” (1953), which begins: “Esmeralda! Now we rest / Here, in the bewitched and blest / Mountain forests of the West” (PP 171); and in LATH, Vadim Vadimych’s Esmeralda and Her Parandrus (162) combines elements of Bend Sinister, Lolita, and Pale Fire.
MOTIF: gipsy; green [Lucette].

421.10: mermaid: Why does Van call her that? A phonic echo of “Esmeralda”? A memorial echo of her “I will jump into Goodson River if I can’t hope to have you” (411.22-23)? A visual echo of surveying her, after Ada kicks off the top sheet: “the flat palpitating belly of a seasand nymph, down to the firebird seen by Van once, fully fledged now” (418.23-25)?
Cf. future references to Lucette as mermaid: “Lucette, now a mermaid in the groves of Atlantis” (559.15-16), and “maybe a mermaid’s message” (562.21-22).
MOTIF: Lucette-prolepsis.

421.12: darling firebird: Cf. Van’s view of her pubic hair a little earlier: the firebird seen by Van” (418.24-25).

421.12: We apollo: A play on “apologize,” but the evocation of Apollo, Greek god of the sun, also anticipates Lucette by the pool aboard the Admiral Tobakoff: “With glowing cheekbones and that glint of copper showing from under her tight rubber cap on nape and forehead, she evoked the Helmeted Angel of the Yukonsk Ikon whose magic effect was said to change anemic blond maidens into konskiya deti, freckled red-haired lads, children of the Sun Horse” (477.27-32), itself an allusion to Hors, the sun god of pre-Christian Russians.

MOTIF: apollo.

421.12: [apologize]: Who supplies the bracketed expansion? The “Ed.” who intervened on the previous page?

421.12-14: Remembrance, embers and membranes of beauty make artists and morons lose all self-control: What does Van refer to, behind the sound-play? Their remembrances of Lucette as the “clinging, affectionately fussy lassy” (204.34-205.01) of Ardis the Second? The “ember”-like glow of her pubis, as remembered or vividly imagined by Van at Kingston (367.25, 368.07-10, 377.20-22)?
Cf. the similar play in I.17: “Remembrance, like Rembrandt, is dark but festive. Remembered ones dress up for the occasion and sit still” (103.27-29).
MOTIF: ember.

421.14-15: Pilots of tremendous airships: Where does this come from?
MOTIF: technology.

421.15-17: and even coarse, smelly coachmen are known to have been driven insane by a pair of green eyes and a copper curl: Alludes in particular to the farting coachman, Ben Wright (86.11-12: “her drunken boxfellow who was seen to touch her bare knees with a good-natured paw”; 88.07: “Il pue”).

421.16-17: a pair of green eyes and a copper curl: Cf. Lucette’s “copper curls” (226.03).

MOTIF: copper; green [Lucette]; red-green.

421.17-18: BOP (bird of paradise): In tribute not only to Lucette’s “surprised bird-of-paradise” (410.08) eye make-up the night before, and her Superb bird-of-paradise look in her dress (see 410.08n.), but also in echo of Van’s declaration to her at Kingston: “I regard you as a bird of paradise” (387.15)

MOTIF: bird of paradise; paradise.

421.18: I, Van: MOTIF: Van.

421.20-21: These are times of emotional stress and reconditioning: Diana Makhaldiani (email, October 11, 2022) comments: “this phrase in particular sounds like a parody of something. The whole letter is condescending, dismissive, and tone-deaf. And very funny.”

421.21: Destroy and forget: MOTIF: destroy and forget.

421.22-23: A & V. (in alphabetic order): Van wishes Ada to help share his load of remorse by placing her name first, although he is the only one to feel chastened by Lucette’s distress.

421.24: pompous, puritanical rot: As Ada makes explicit to Lucette: “It is pompous and puritanical” (422.06). She sees sexual pleasure as harmless and without consequence.

421.25: Why should we apollo: MOTIF: apollo.

421.26: spazmochka: Darkbloom: “Russ., little spasm.” Whatever her enjoyment of Ada’s touch one on one, Lucette seems to have felt it as anything but “delicious” on this occasion.

421.28-29: for the first time in my fire [thus in the manuscript, for ‘life,’ Ed.]: Why the strange mistake? Cf. Lucette’s “in all my love—I mean, life” (371.26).

MOTIF: Composition—Editor; first time

421.29-31: Van, Van, somewhere, some day, after a sunbath or dance, you will sleep with her, Van!: After sunbath and dinner (in the grill, rather than the restaurant with its dancefloor), aboard the Tobakoff, Van does think “why not ? Tonight? Tonight” (488.09), but then fobs Lucette off, with the result that she carries out her threat of jumping to a watery death (see 411.22 and III.5).

422.06: pompous and puritanical: See 421.24

422.06: I adore you: MOTIF: adore.

422.07: mon petit: “My little one,” but with an echo of Ada’s more domineering “pet”?

422.08: sick of Queen: Of Queenston College.

422.09: why not fly over to Holland or Italy?: For the art, presumably, which Lucette is learning more about, in part, from her “Professor of Ornament” (374.24). Lucette does, indeed, seem to take Ada’s suggestion: by February, she is in Italy, as Demon reports: “I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is somewhere in Italy” (437.18-19).

422.12: Pardus and Peg: Pardus: the leopard (Panthera pardus), in Greek and Roman mythology, sacred to Dionysus and Bacchus respectively, and drawer of his chariot. Two leopards draw Bacchus’s chariot in Titian’s famous Bacchus and Ariadne (1522-23)at the National Gallery, London. Peg: a comically familiar and down-to-earth name for Pegasus, the immortal winged horse of inspiration in Greek mythology. Asked by an interviewer before his seventy-second birthday, “If birthday wishes were horses, what would yours be for yourself?,” VN answered: “Pegasus, only Pegasus” (SO 178).

422.14-15: that silk-tuxedoed bretteur of mine: Darkbloom: “bretteur: duelling bravo.”

422.15: Anskar, the producer: Name and significance unknown, although “Ansgar (Anskar or Anschar), Saint (801-865), Frankish missionary, the first archbishop of Hamburg and the apostle of Scandinavia, was born in 801” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed., I.1016).

422.16: the other, with a cocotte, Paul Whinnier, one of your father’s London pals: Cf. at the same night and place, cocotte Flora’s pseudo-British whinny, and Van’s glaring around for a moment: ‘I say, Veen,’ whinnied a voice near him (there were lots of lechers around), ‘you don’t rally need two, d’you?’ Van veered, ready to cuff the gross speaker—but it was only Flora, a frightful tease and admirable mimic” (414.10-13).

422.17: I sort of hoped we’d go back to bed: Cf. “when Ada, still wearing her diamonds (in sign of at least one more caro Van and a Camel before her morning bath)” (420.29-31).

422.18: We shall now go for a ride in the park: Presumably Central Park or its unnamed Antiterran equivalent: cf. Van’s 1891 reference to a possible “duel at dawn in a secluded corner of the Park whose central green he could see from the penthouse terrace where he fenced with a French coach twice a week, the only exercise, save riding, that he still indulged in” (344.29-32) after his wound.

422.22: I suppose you know what you’re doing?: Ada seems to be referring to the ride in the park, a risk given the chance of recognition, and Van seems to assume this in his simple “Yes” response, and both he and she pick up this theme at 422.29-423.02. But it turns out she is in the first place asking about his sending the note to Lucette.

422.25: Ada girl, adored girl: MOTIF: Ada; adore.

422.27-28: but now life is going to be nothing but love and laughter, and corn in cans: Surprising, like much in this speech: “corn in cans”? Is there a hint of “canned laughter” (clearly a familiar phrase by at least 1910, OED, s.v. “canned”)? And of “corny,” in the sense of “unsophisticated, inferior,” as corn in cans certainly is? There certainly seems an unease underneath the bravado

422.30-31: I the false mustache that makes me look like Pierre Legrand, my fencing master: Van seems to be less than serious in these proposed disguises. After Max Medlar’s review of Letters from Terra “Van toyed with the idea of challenging Mr. Medlar (who, he hoped, would choose swords) to a duel at dawn in a secluded corner of the Park whose central green he could see from the penthouse terrace where he fenced with a French coach twice a week” (344.27-31).

Pierre Legrand seems to echo Lamord, the French master of martial arts whose high rating of Laertes’s skill with his rapier, according to Claudius’s dubious report, “Did Hamlet so envenom with his envy / That he could nothing do but wish and beg / Your sudden coming o’er to play with him” (Hamlet 4.7.86-88). BS 115 mentions Lamord.
Aleksey Sklyarenko suggests (“Pierre Legrand”, Nabokv-L, April 17, 2013) that “Pierre Legrand” refers to Tsar Peter the Great, who certainly had a prominent mustache, and quotes Dmitri Merezhkovsky’s description of the Tsar as having the whiskers of a tomcat (Peter and Alexey, Book Eight ,"The Werewolf", chapter III).
But the real relevance of “Pierre Legrand” as a disguise is surely Peter the Great’s “Grand Embassy” of 1697-98, a diplomatic mission to Western Europe in which he took part incognito, as “Peter Mihailov,” a mere associate of the grand ambassadors, when in fact his height—he was one of the tallest men in Europe, at 6 foot 8 inches (2.03m)—made the disguise, and his actual leadership of the mission, transparent. Cf. “a partly leafless but still healthy old oak (which appeared—oh, I remember, Van!—in a century-old lithograph of Ardis, by Peter de Rast, as a young colossus protecting four cows and a lad in rags, one shoulder bare)” (212.27-30). “Young colossus” here refers to the oak, but for a moment seems to qualify “Peter de Rast,” whose name unscrambles as “Peter de Tsar” (see 212.29n.).  

422.32: Au fond: Darkbloom: “actually.”

422.32-423.01: first cousins have a perfect right to ride together. And even dance or skate, if they want. After all, first cousins are almost brother and sister: Cf. Marina’s “Old-fashioned qualms”: “Presently, as Marina had promised, the two children went upstairs. ‘Why do stairs creak so desperately, when two children go upstairs,’ she thought, looking up at the balustrade along which two left hands progressed with strikingly similar flips and glides like siblings taking their first dancing lesson. ‘After all, we were twin sisters; everybody knows that’” (39.31-40.03).

MOTIF: family relationship.

423.06-08: “Tower,” she murmured in reply to his questioning glance, just as she used to do on those honeyed mornings in the past, when checking up on happiness: For Ada’s “philosophy” or taxonomy of happiness and unhappiness, see 74.20-75.03. For the “honeyed” morning, see the remainder of that chapter, 75.04-76.06, including the exchange: “‘Real thing?’ he asked. ‘Tower,’ she answered” (75.16-17).

MOTIF: honey; tower

423.09: ziggurat: W2: “[Assyr.-Bab. ziqquratu pinnacle, top of a mountain.] Babylon. Antiq. A temple tower of the Babylonians, introduced originally by the Sumerians, consisting of a lofty pyramidical structure, built in successive stages, with outside staircases, and a shrine at the top.”
MOTIF: tower


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Afternote to Part Two, Chapter 8