Part 2 Chapter 9


Ada has dreamed of becoming an actress and a star since the age of fourteen (426). At sixteen, she discloses her dream to Van on his first morning with her at Ardis the Second: “Remains the great ambition and the greatest terror: the dream of the bluest, remotest, hardest dramatic climbs” (193). After Van flees Ada and Ardis the Second, Ada writes to him, repeatedly but in vain, in 1891 spelling out her career hopes in an “innocent sixth letter (Dreams of Drama)” (336). Already in her third letter, from Los Angeles in 1889, she reports on the attractions of Hollywood, where her mother has a role and Ada herself a bit part: Marina

has been cast as the deaf nun Varvara (who, in some ways, is the most interesting of Chekhov’s Four Sisters). She sticks to Stan’s
principle of having lore and rôle overflow into everyday life, insists on keeping it up at the hotel restaurant, drinks tea v prikusku
(“biting sugar between sips”), and feigns to misunderstand every question in Varvara’s quaint way of feigning stupidity—a double
imbroglio, which annoys strangers but which somehow makes me feel I’m her daughter much more distinctly than in the Ardis era.
She’s a great hit here, on the whole. They gave her (not quite gratis, I’m afraid) a special bungalow, labeled Marina Durmanova, in
Universal City. As for me, I’m only an incidental waitress in a fourth-rate Western [The Young and the Doomed, described in the
opening of II.9], hip-swinging between table-slapping drunks, but I rather enjoy the Houssaie atmosphere, the dutiful art, the winding
hill roads, the reconstructions of streets, and the obligatory square, and a mauve shop sign on an ornate wooden façade, and arond noon
all the extras in period togs queuing before a glass booth,
but I have nobody to call. (333)

Ada’s dreams of drama parallel Van’s work as psychologist and philosopher: his career was inspired by Aqua, hers seemingly, but not in fact, by Marina. Ada’s reports of and theories about the theater are comically unappealing to Van (whereas Ada supports his work, even Letters from Terra). Adding to the comedy is the wild distortion of Mlle Larivière’s Les Enfants Maudits in the Hollywood movie The Young and the Doomed, in which Marina stars but Ada’s mere bit part is completely edited out, and the subtler, teasing distortions of Chekhov’s Three Sisters in Antiterra’s Four Sisters, further modified by Marina in her film version, as the nun Sister Varvara, the fourth sister, and in Ada’s case marred by incompetence in the “wretched . . . production” (427) that she takes part in at the Yakima Academy of Drama. The resemblance and difference of The Young and the Doomed to the original Les Enfants Maudits and to Van and Ada’s love-life, the resemblance and difference of the two Antiterran Four Sisters productions to Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and the resemblance and difference of Marina and Ada as actors in versions of Mlle Larivière’s story and Chekhov’s, and even of Ada, playing Irina on stage, to Marina’s co-star Lenore Colline playing Irina on film, make for a tangle of games of discovery and recognition.


424.01-13: The Young and the Doomed. . .  . Thus had Mlle Larivière’s Enfants Maudits (1887) finally degenerated! . . . multiple tamperings . .  . refused to impersonate: Cf. “Vronsky had defigured The Doomed Children” (374.26). This continues the theme of the deformation of Mlle Larivière’s novelette, first featured in the poolside script session of Pt. 1 Ch. 32. MOTIF: adaptation; Enfants Maudits.

424.01-02: The Young and the Doomed: The title suggests how distorted a version of Mlle Larivière’s novella this film has become. It may also evoke The Naked and the Dead, the 1948 novel by Norman Mailer, made into a 1958 film of the same name, directed by Raoul Walsh (1887-1980). Since The Young and the Doomed has been adapted to become a “Painted Western” (424.03), it may also glance at The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, a famous early “spaghetti Western” (Western directed by an Italian and shot in Europe), directed by Sergio Leone (1929-1989), the best-known pioneer of the genre.
Another possible echo is of The Beautiful and Damned (1922), the second novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald , adapted into a film of the same name (1922) directed by William A. Seiter (1890-1964).
Diana Makhaldiani (email of January 29, 2023) suggests also Dostoevsky’s 1861 novel The Insulted and the Injured (Unizhennïe i oskorblyonnïe), noting that the prostitute and the murder in Vronsky’s adaptation “are perhaps another link to Dostoevski and his ‘melodramatic sentimentality’ mixed with ‘the element of criminal reportage’ (LRL 103, 106).”

424.03-04: Painted Westerns (as those deserts of nonart used to be called): Alluding to the obviously painted backdrops of many early Westerns, and to Painted Desert in Arizona.

In Lolita VN mocks the clichés of Westerns: after parodies of Lolita’s other favorite movie genres, “musicals, underworlders, westerners,” “Finally there was the mahogany landscape, the florid-faced, blue-eyed roughriders, the prim pretty schoolteacher arriving in Roaring Gulch, the rearing horse, the spectacular stampede, the pistol thrust through the shivered windowpane, the stupendous fist fight, the crashing mountain of dusty old-fashioned furniture, the table used as a weapon, the timely somersault, the pinned hand still groping for the dropped bowie knife, the grunt, the sweet crash of fist against chin, the kick in the belly, the flying tackle; and immediately after a plethora of pain that would have hospitalized a Hercules (I should know by now), nothing to show but the rather becoming bruise on the bronzed cheek of the warmed-up hero embracing his gorgeous frontier bride” (Lolita II,3: 170-71).

Blanche, leaving Ardis on the same carriage as Van, at the end of his Ardis the Second, resembles a schoolteacher from a Western: “Blanche, standing by in a long gray skirt and straw hat, with her cheap valise painted mahogany red and secured with a crisscrossing cord, looked exactly like a young lady setting out to teach school in a Wild West movie” (298.29-32).

“Painted Desert”: “The Painted Desert is a United States desert of badlands in the Four Corners area, running from near the east end of Grand Canyon National Park and southeast into Petrified Forest National Park. It . . .  is known for its brilliant and varied colors: these include the more common red rock, but also shades of lavender” (Wikipedia, “Painted Desert (Arizona),” accessed January 4, 2023). It was named in 1540 “by a Spanish expedition under Francisco Vázquez de Coronado.”

424.04: Mlle Larivière’s Les Enfants Maudits (1887): Ada 1968: VN adds “(1887)”—perhaps to ensure that despite the leakages between “real life” and Mlle Larivière’s story, “poison their widowed mother” (424.06) will not in any way be confused with the 1888 poisoning of Philip Rack by his wife Elsie.

424.05-07: She had had two adolescents, in a French castle, poison their widowed mother who had seduced a young neighbor, the lover of one of her twins: In the past, in Ardis the Second, the plot divulged of Les Enfants Maudits, despite its having been published in 1887, seemed a comically impossible distorted reflection of ongoing (1888) aspects of Ada’s and Van’s love-life, with a dash of Chateaubriand’s René, rather than a solid stable original story. Van, reporting the poolside script-rewriting scene of I.32, comments: “I do not remember what Les Enfants Maudits did or said in Monparnasse’s novelette—they lived in Bryant’s château, I think, and it began with bats flying one by one out of a turret’s oeil-de-boeuf into the sunset” (205.14-17). Here the lurid “original” version, still in a setting recalling Ladore’s “Bryant’s Castle” (and hence another manifestation of Chateaubriand), now seems to echo the Erminin twins, Greg and Grace, whose mother commits suicide, apparently because her husband has had an affair with his wife’s sister, as disclosed in the Ardis the First picnic chapter where both Chateaubriand (“Lucette, one fist on her hips, sang a St. Malô fisher-song,” 81.14 and n.) and Mlle Larivière’s fiction are introduced.

424.07: the lover of one of her twins: MOTIF: twin.

424.07-08: The author had made many concessions to the freedom of the times: Reflects in part the marked changes in the allowable sexual standards in film and other media during the 1960s, from the guardedness of the Hayes Code that meant Lolita was filmed (1962) with no indication that the heroine was under, say, sixteen, to the sexual frankness and mass nudity of the musical Hair (1967).

424.09-10: the leading lady: Marina, as is clear in I.32. What part she plays in the final film, since she refuses to play the role of the “alcoholic prostitute” (424.12-13), remains uncertain, but the wobbliness of the story in its “multiple tamperings” (424.10) is the comic point.

424.11-13: plot that had now become the story of a murder in Arizona, the victim being a widower about to marry: Since the Arizonian Andrey Vinelander hopes, and others think, he is about to marry Ada (see Demon at 436.10-11, 437.27-33), and Van has hunted down the name of this new rival (after “deciding to kill two finches with one fircone,” 414.29-30) in the previous chapter (415.07-32, 417.04-10), this seems a new distortion of Van and Ada’s love-lives, and a false prolepsis. Arizona, though, is also the scene of Aqua’s suicide (26.28). MOTIF: Arizona

424.14: poor little Ada:Poor little” is a common locution in Ada, applied once elsewhere to Ada herself (Mlle Larivière now gave Lucette, “in spurts of vacational zeal, considerably more attention than poor little Ada (said Ada) had received at twelve,” 194.29-31), and not only to “poor little” Lucette (as she is described at 152.18; 267.18-19; 379.03; 498.10)

424.14-425.06: clung to her bit part, a two-minute scene in a traktir (roadside tavern). During the rehearsals she felt she was doing not badly as a serpentine barmaid.  . . . the barmaid scene of the barroom sequence: Cf. Ada’s 1889 letter to Van from Los Angeles: “As for me, I’m only an incidental waitress in a fourth-rate Western, hip-swinging between table-slapping drunks, but I rather enjoy the Houssaie atmosphere” (333.21-23). In this earlier letter, Ada contrasts Marina’s playing the role of Varvara in a film of Chekhov’s Four Sisters with her own seemingly simultaneous bit part in what appears a very different film, a “fourth-rate Western”; but by II.9, the Western in which Ada is playing this part seems to be none other than the version of Les Enfants Maudits in which Marina is “the leading lady” (424.09-10).

424.15: in a traktir (roadside tavern): Cf. the traktir Van and Ada stop at in Gamlet, after a day of bicycle riding and fervent love-making, near the end of Ardis the First (154.10-23).

424.15-16: During the rehearsals she felt she was doing not badly as a serpentine barmaid—until the director blamed her for moving like an angular “backfish”: Cf. in Laughter in the Dark, where Albinus begins an affair with cinema usherette Margot Peters, who dreams of becoming a film star, and secures her a role in a film. She feels the shooting has gone splendidly, but when she watches the advance screening, seated next to Albinus and her former and future lover Axel Rex, she cannot stand what she sees: “Margot was so horrified that she wrenched her hand away from Rex. Who on earth was that ghastly creature? Awkward and ugly, with a swollen, strangely altered, leech-black mouth, misplaced brows and unexpected creases in her dress, the girl on the screen stared wildly in front of her and then broke in two with her stomach on the window sill and her buttocks to the spectators. Margot thrust away Rex’s groping hand. She wanted to bite someone, or to throw herself on the floor and kick. That monster on the screen had nothing in common with her—she was awful, awful! She was in fact like her mother, the porter’s wife, in her wedding photograph” (Laughter in the Dark, New York: New Directions, 1960,187).

424.17: backfish: W2, Backfisch,“[G., prop. pan fish, small fry. See bake; fish.] An immature girl, of about 15 to 18 years of age; a flapper. Colloq.

424.20: the same director, G. A. Vronsky: Marina, pregnant again by Demon, with Ada this time, had briefly resumed her affair with him in 1871, after being abandoned by G.A. Vronsky: “Marina (after G. A. Vronsky, the movie man, had left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets) had conceived, c’est bien le cas de le dire, the brilliant idea of having Demon divorce mad Aqua and marry Marina who thought (happily and correctly) she was pregnant again”  (26.17-22). The “G. A.” stands for “Grigory Akimovich” (201.12-13), linking this film almost featuring Ada with her appearance as Irina in the Yakima Academy of Drama’s production of Four Sisters (427.04-06). MOTIF: -kim-  

424.20-425.01: G. A. Vronsky, had told her she was always pretty enough to serve one day as a stand-in for Lenore Colline: As Vronsky’s having “left Marina for another long-lashed Khristosik as he called all pretty starlets” (26.18-19) indicates, he has had a predatory eye for pretty starlets, although by this time he is “elderly, baldheaded, with a spread of grizzled fur on his fat chest” (197.03-04).

425.01-04: to serve one day as a stand-in for Lenore Colline, who at twenty had been as attractively gauche as she, raising and tensing forward her shoulders in the same way, when crossing a room: Marina has served as a vocal stand-in for Lenore Colline, who seems to play Irina in the Russian film version of Four Sisters in which Marina plays Varvara: as Ada reports, “Naturally, as would every fine player, mother improvised quite a bit, bless her soul. And moreover her voice—in young tuneful Russian!—is substituted for Lenore’s corny brogue” (428.24-27).
Van and Lucette in Paris in 1901 watch Lenore Colline crossing the room in the restaurant in Lucette’s hotel, and Van notices that the resemblance between the famous actress and Ada, at least as Ada had been during their last time together in Manhattan in 1892-93, has diminished: Lenore Colline enters as “a dark, ivory-pale lady” whom Lucette, “over her propped-up entwined hands . . .  was following with mocking eyes” as she recedes. “‘Must be at least thirty-five,’ murmured Lucette, ‘yet still hopes to become his queen.’ .  . . . That was Lenore Colline. What’s the matter, Van?’ ‘Cats don’t stare at stars, it’s not done. The resemblance is much less close than it used to be—though, of course, I’ve not kept up with counterpart changes’” (465.09-24). But in 1892-93 Lenore had “harrowingly resembled Ada Ardis” (428.33).
Diana Makhaldiani suggests: “Compare with Fyodor’s description of Zina . . . : ‘the weakness of her shoulders and the peculiar forward slant of her graceful body, as if the floor over which, gathering speed like a skater, she hastened, was always gently sloping away’” (Gift, ch.3, 178).

425.01: Lenore Colline: Marina acts in a play called “Lenore Raven” (13.21-23) long before she acts with Lenore Colline in the film of Four Sisters (428.16-33).

425.02: who at twenty:  Lenore Colline must be at least twenty-five by the time of Vronsky’s remark, if Lucette’s “Must be at least thirty-five” at 465.15 is correct.

425.04-05: Having sat through a preliminary P.W. short, they finally got to The Young and the Doomed: P.W. for “Painted Western,” of course, as if this were such a regular usage that it could be understood when abbreviated.

Van and Lucette will sit through “an introductory picture, featuring a cruise to Greenland” (487.17-18) before watching Don Juan’s Last Fling aboard the Admiral Tobakoff.

425.05-08: only to discover that the barmaid scene of the barroom sequence had been cut out—except for a perfectly distinct shadow of Ada’s elbow, as Van kindly maintained: Barbara Wyllie suggests (Nabokv-L, June 10, 2000) that this could be an echo of an interview with Billy Wilder that VN may have read in Playboy, June 1963. Editing The Lost Weekend (1945), in which Wilder’s second wife, Audrey Young, appears as a hat-check girl, “Wilder cut the scene so that only her forearm appeared, and both Wilders agreed that the forearm gave a superb performance” (cited in Ed Sikov, On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder (New York: Hyperion, 1998), p. 224).

425.07: except for a perfectly distinct shadow of Ada’s elbow, as Van kindly maintained: Mary Bellino (Nabokv-L, June 10, 2000) suggests this must really be the shadow of her breast (“Otherwise the appended phrase is meaningless”). This would be a not at all un-Nabokovian comic nuance, but as Camille Scaysbrook replied (Nabokv-L, June 12, 2000), Van could be simply “being kind about the fact that anybody’s elbow looks pretty much like anyone else’s.”

425.09-10: in their little drawing room, with its black divan, yellow cushions: MOTIF: black-yellow; divan

425.11: slow steady straight-falling snowflakes (coincidentally stylized on the cover of the current issue of The Beau & the Butterfly . . . ): The New Yorker (see next note) regularly features cover drawings related to the season or other features of the time of year. Zimmer 2010: 1017 notes an impasto painting by Laura Jean Allen of a large stylized snowflake on the cover of the January 7, 1967 issue, when VN was well into the composition of Ada.
Diana Makhaldiani suggests: “Recall the snowfall in . . . The Gift: ‘the snow used to fall straight and slow, it could fall like that for three days, five months, nine years’” (Gift, Ch. 2, 80).

425.12-13: The Beau & the Butterfly: The New Yorker, after the picture of the magazine’s emblem, dandy Eustace Tilley, gracing one of the February covers each year, usually looking through a lorgnette at a butterfly. See also 344.05n. On p. 424 of A1, VN has drawn a crude sketch of the Eustace Tilley and butterfly logo, and on p. 425 has glossed “New Yorker.” Cf. also PF 192: “the New York magazine The Beau and the Butterfly” (in which Shade’s poem “The Nature of Electricity” appears); LATH 129: “The Beau and the Butterfly, the kindest magazine in the world.” MOTIF: Beauty and the Beast; butterflies

425.14-15: her “dramatic career.” The whole matter secretly nauseated Van: Cf. Demon and Marina: “He pardoned her. He adored her. He wished to marry her very much—on the condition she dropped her theatrical ‘career’ at once. He denounced the mediocrity of her gift” (15.25-28).

425.14-16The whole matter secretly nauseated Van (so that, by contrast, her Natural History passion acquired a nostalgic splendor): Ironic, given his previous distaste at Ardis for her taxonomic expertise and enthusiasm.

MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy

425.16-27: For him the written word existed only in its abstract purity . . . with the former a director could attain, and maintain, his own standards of perfection throughout an unlimited number of performances: These sentiments echo or anticipate VN’s own. Cf. LS ix-x: “By nature I am no dramatist; I am not even a hack scenarist; but if I had given as much of myself to the stage or the screen as I have to the kind of writing which serves a triumphant life sentence between the covers of a book, I would have advocated and applied a system of total tyranny, directing the play or the picture myself, choosing settings and costumes, terrorizing the actors, mingling with them in the bit part of guest, or ghost, prompting them, and, in a word, pervading the entire show with the will and art of one individual—for there is nothing in the world that I loathe more than group activity, that communal bath where the hairy and slippery mix in a multiplication of mediocrity.” Cf. also Lolita II,13: 200: “I detest the theatre as being a primitive and putrid form, historically speaking; a form that smacks of stone-age rites and communal nonsense despite those individual injections of genius, such as, say, Elizabethan poetry which a closeted reader automatically pumps out of the stuff.”

425.16-18: For him the written word existed only in its abstract purity, in its unrepeatable appeal to an equally ideal mind: Cf. VN’s unpublished (1941?) lecture on Soviet Drama: “The authentic writer of genius writes for an ideal audience, for readers or spectators whom he would like to possess the same power of comprehension as his own power of expression. . . . I am only concerned with the written play” (TS, “The Soviet Drama,” pp. 2, 4, VNA); Drama is not a compound collaborative art. It is the art of one man as all art is. What the theatre adds is a lot, but it varies with the age, whereas the artist’s writing is constant” (MS Notebook, Plays, VNA).  

425.21-27: A written play was intrinsically superior to the best performance of it. . . a director could attain, and maintain, his own standards of perfection throughout an unlimited number of performances: Cf. VN’s unpublished lecture on Soviet Drama: “still more vulnerable, however, is the second part of the contention which maintains that a play cannot exist apart from the stage. True, an intelligent interpretation of a playwright’s work in terms of acting, showmanship, color and sound, shows its value more clearly, just as a tree bursting into blossom shows more of itself than through the medium of only leaves and twigs (though the form of the flower may be easily deduced beforehand by a botanist). However, until science has given us all magic boxes in which the best plays can be permanently seen and heard in the best interpretations they ever were blessed with, until then we must be content with the written page for founding our judgment on a play, though I admit it would be a great pleasure to slip a slide into a slit and to see a Chekhov play as it had been staged by the Moscow Art Theatre forty years ago” (TS, “The Soviet Drama,” pp. 2-3, VNA).

425.30: Argus-eyed: W2, “Vigilantly observant; sharp-sighted.” W2, Argus: “2. A monster, human in shape, but with a hundred eyes, of which some were always awake, until Hermes charmed them to sleep and killed him.”

In view of Ada and Lucette’s eyes being made up in “surprised bird-of-paradise style” (410.08) in the previous chapter, when all the Veens are ogled at and Ada is “followed by a thousand eyes” (411.33), and in view of Nabokov’s fascination with eyespots in nature, especially in Lepidoptera, we might note that Argus is also the name of several bird genera, and of several species of butterflies. The argus pheasant (W2) is “Any of several East Indian pheasants of the Genus Argusianus, closely related to the peacocks,” especially Argusianus argus, the Great Argus. The butterfly the brown argus (Aricia agestis) is in Nabokov’s favorite family, Lycaenidae, like Plebejus argus, the silver-studded blue, which belongs to his favorite subfamily, Polyommatinae. In 1922 Van drives from the Dolomites west toward Ada “in a dark-blue Argus, dearer to him than sapphires and morphos because she happened to have ordered an exactly similar one to be ready for her in Geneva” (551.31-34).
Cf. also “‘Argus’—good name for a cinema” (Laughter in the Dark 22).

425.31-32: Hollywood, U.S.A., or Ivydell, England: Hollywood, and its gossip columnists; Ivydell, as a kind of “translation” of Hollywood (the holly and the ivy, wood and dell), a more elegant version of Pinewood, the English film studios set up in the 1930s. Cf. also Barbara Wylie, Nabokov at the Movies (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003), 185: “even the familiar centers of the industry—Hollywood and Pinewood—are included in Van Veen’s fiction as ‘Houssaie’ [hollygrove] and ‘Ivydell’ respectively.”

MOTIF: transatlantic doubling.

425.32: the sugar-white Cohnritz Hotel in Cairo: an elegant (Ritz-like) Jewish (Cohn) hotel in an Arab capital city, with a dash of the Conrad Hilton chain of hotels, expanding worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s, founded by Conrad Hilton (1887-1979). Cf. “the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa” (224.04-05).

425.34: tableau vivant in the lovely dove-blue Manhattan sky: Tableau vivant (W2): “A tableau of grouped persons,” a static scene of people posed in a setting to evoke a historical or literary situation, frequently a high moment in lavish nineteenth-century stage productions.

426.01-03: At fourteen, Ada had firmly believed she would shoot to stardom and there, with a grand bang, break into prismatic tears of triumph: Lolita too, at fourteen, dreams of stardom (“I believe the poor fierce-eyed child had figured out that with a mere fifty dollars in her purse she might somehow reach Broadway or Hollywood” (Lolita II,7: 185); “Elphinstone, gem of a western State where she yearned to climb Red Rock from which a mature screen star had recently jumped to her death” (II,16: 210); “The idea was [Quilty] would take her in September to Hollywood and arrange a tryout for her, a bit part in the tennis-match scene of a movie picture based on a play of his” (II,29: 276))—and has a strong dramatic talent: “You just must allow her to take part in The Hunted Enchanters. She was such a perfect little nymph in the try-out” (II,11: 196); “What a shame it was to tear Dolly away from the play—you should have heard the author raving about her after that rehearsal—” (II,15: 208).

426.01: At fourteen: Ada has none of this ambition at twelve, in Ardis the First, but at fifteen, on the first morning with Van at Ardis the Second, she confides to him: “Remains the great ambition and the greatest terror: the dream of the bluest, remotest, hardest dramatic climbs” (193.16-18).

426.01-06: she would shoot to stardom. . . . Her debut was a quiet little disaster: With a subdued etymological pun on the “star” in Latin astrum or Greek astron still visible in “disaster.”

426.03-06: Unsuccessful but gifted actresses . . . gave her private lessons of drama, despair, hope: Cf. Ada’s anticipating in June 1888 what might happen if her own drama hopes fail: “probably ending as one of a hundred old spider spinsters teaching drama students” (193.18-19).

426.04-05: Stan Slavsky (no relation, and not a stage name): A version of but no relation to the famous Russian director, Konstantin Stanislavsky: see 333.12-13n.

426.08-09: One’s first love . . . is one’s first standing ovation, and that is what makes great artists: Far from VN’s attitude, as seen for instance in his unpublished lecture on Soviet drama: “It has been often suggested and I have found it stated in serious textbooks on drama, that not only the reaction of the audience is the most important of all the collaborative features which must go into the making of a play, but that a play exists only during those moments while it is being presented by actors on a stage before an audience” (TS lecture, The Soviet Drama, pp. 1-2, VNA). Ada is usually a primly pedantic precisian; her opinions on drama in this chapter are VN’s satiric caricatures, rather than representative of her usual self, unless they indicate that she too has been corrupted by the audience-chasing ethos of stage and screen.

426.08-09: one’s first standing ovation: Cf. the “claque third of the sitting ovation” that Marina earns when she re-enters the stage in “Eugene and Lara” as the dance of “the imbecile but colorful transfigurants from Lyaska—or Iveria” disperses (12.05-07).

426.10: Miss Spangle Triangle in Flying Rings: A bizarre surprise, not only for its exuberant sound-play (“Spangle Triangle . . . Flying Rings”) and its sudden visual evocation, but also for its change of tone. The actress who plays Miss Spangle Triangle may not be the most reliable source of advice Ada could get about serious acting.
Oddly, “Miss Spangle Triangle” recalls not only a circus trapeze artist but also the comics superhero Wonder Woman, whose spangled briefs are sometimes sharply triangular in cut; the US flag and the Star-Spangled Banner seem to have determined the color of her outfit (white stars on blue briefs, red strapless swimsuit-like top). She is often depicted with her Magic Lasso twirling above her head in a kind of flying ring. Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston (1893-1947), in 1941, and has been a staple of DC Comics ever since.

Nabokov’s interest in American comics stretches back at least to his humorous June 1942 poem, “The Man of Tomorrow’s Lament” (not published until March 5, 2021, Times Literary Supplement), about the reasons Superman cannot marry Lois Lane. Whether or not VN did indeed have Wonder Woman in mind here, Andrei Babikov, the discoverer and publisher of the Superman poem’s manuscript, rightly links “Miss Spangle Triangle in Flying Rings” in his notes to his translation of Ada (Babikov 2022: 764) to this early passage, which evokes entirely different resonances:

Overhead the arms of a linden stretched toward those of an oak, like a green-spangled beauty flying to meet her strong father
hanging by his feet from the trapeze. Even then did we both understand that kind of heavenly stuff, even then.
            “Something rather acrobatic about those branches up there, no?” he said, pointing.
            “Yes,” she answered. “I discovered it long ago. The teil is the flying Italian lady, and the old oak aches, the old lover
aches, but still catches her every time” (impossible to reproduce the right intonation while rendering the entire sense—after
eight decades!—but she did say something extravagant, something quite out of keeping with her tender age as they looked
up and then down).
Notice especially the “spangled beauty flying” in the first sentence of this passage. The echo of this in “Miss Spangle Triangle in Flying Rings” creates a quirky connection between the themes of Ada’s two intended careers, as naturalist and actress.

The claim that the actress who plays Miss Spangle Triangle makes, that “one’s first standing ovation . . . is what makes great artists” recalls Van as Mascodagama, also an aerial acrobat, and one who receives instant acclaim, “spectacular success” (181.18) and fame if not explicitly worldwide then at least on both sides of the Atlantic (183.04-05). Van’s sense of his art is very different from that of Stan Slavsky’s girlfriend: “the rapture young Mascodagama derived from overcoming gravity was akin to that of artistic revelation in the sense utterly and naturally unknown to the innocents of critical appraisal, the social-scene commentators, the moralists, the ideamongers and so forth. Van on the stage was performing organically what his figures of speech were to perform later in life—acrobatic wonders that had never been expected from them and which frightened children” (185.02-09). 

426.10: Flying Rings: In A1, VN underlines the sound-echoes, “Flying Rings,” as important for a translator to render.     

426.13-14: Bosh! . . . he too: Ada puns on Van’s expostulation, pretending it names painter Hieronymus Bosch (for Bosch, see 5.10-11n, and Part 1 Chapter 15 Afternote). In fact Bosch’s paintings, for all their strange originality, were popular in their time, often commissioned, and widely collected. Bosch will return grimly in the next chapter (“an odd Boschean death . . . ,” 436.18), as will the Bosch/bosh pun, from Demon this time: “the masterpiece-baiter who makes Bosch express some bosh of his time” (437.09-10).

426.14-15: much older Amsterdams: Allusion to the original name of New York, New Amsterdam or in Dutch, Nieuw-Amsterdam; see 222.16-17 and nn.

426.15-16: look how three hundred years later every Poppy Group pup copies him: What does Ada have in mind? Who in the Antiterran 1880s or the earthly 1960s was copying Bosch? Is there a play on “pop group,” and if so, why?

Stephen Blackwell suggests (email of 27 January 2023) a play on poppy seeds as an ingredient of opium and heroin, and perhaps “hippy” and the nakedness and occasional open sex at late-1960s music festivals, reminiscent of the central panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights. VN strongly disliked anything, including art, associated with a group: ““Drug addicts, especially young ones, are conformists flocking together in sticky groups” (SO  114); “It is among the young that the greatest conformists and Philistines are found, e.g., the hippies with their group beards and group protests” (SO  139).
Diana Makhaldiani suggests a reference to the surrealists, especially the surrealist painters, whose dream scenes have affinities with Bosch’s dream distortions. Writer and theorist of surrealism André Breton (1896-1966) “referenced opium in his 1924 Surrealist manifesto to help explain automatic expression: ‘It is true of Surrealist images as it is of opium images that man does not evoke them; rather they come to him spontaneously” (Jeff Goldberg, “The Complicated Relationship Between Opium and Art in the 20th Century,”, May 5, 2018); painter André Masson (1896-1987) regularly used opium and had it at his parties, among whose guests were painter Max Ernst (1891-1976) and artist, painter and photographer Man Ray (1890-1976). VN seems to reference the most famous of the Surrealist painters, Salvator Dalí (1904-1989) in Lolita: Lolita shows Humbert a photograph in a magazine she had read: “a surrealist painter relaxing, supine, on a beach, and near him, likewise supine, a plaster replica of the Venus di Milo, half-buried in sand. Picture of the Week, said the legend. I whisked the whole obscene thing away” (Lolita I,13: 58). Life magazine featured many surrealist-inspired photographs by Philippe Halsman (1906-1979) of Dalí, who used the Venus de Milo as an element in some of his compositions (as in Venus de Milo with Drawers, 1936). Maurice Couturier notes in the Pléiade Lolita that another famous surrealist, René Magritte (1898-1967), painted a whole series on the Venus de Milo, including Quand l’heure sonnera (When the Time Comes, 1932) (Vladimir Nabokov, Oeuvres romanesques completes, II, ed. Maurice Couturier, Paris: Gallimard, 2010, 1649).
Nabokov disliked surrealism simply because it was a group and a movement. Cf.: “When we speak of a literary movement, the very word ‘movement’ shows distinctly that we are speaking of a crowd, while genius is solitary” (from first page of unpublished lecture on Romanticism, for VN’s Russ Survey class at Cornell, folder 6, p.  15, VNA).

In the manner of his death, Dan copies a detail from Bosch’s The Last Judgement, as Demon recognizes in the next chapter (433.20-24, 435.18-25, 436.17-23).

426.16: Poppy Group pup: Why “pup,” apart from the comic sound of “Poppy Group pup copies”?

426.17-19: maybe I’m confusing the right podhod (approach) with talent, which does not give a dry fig for rules deduced from past art: Ada switches from sounding antithetical to Nabokov to sounding, in the last clause, as if she speaks with his voice and vision.

426.20-21: “Well, at least you know that,” said Van; “and you’ve dwelt at length upon it in one of your letters”: A hint that Van has indeed lifted much of Ada’s dialogue in this scene from his memories of her “Dreams of Drama” letter of 1891 (336.21-22; the letter itself was burned in a fire in 1919, 336.22-24). The hint seems to be confirmed by the intonations of the next paragraph, drolly reinforced by Van’s response, “That you also wrote to me once” (427.01), and by the next two paragraphs of Ada’s speech (427.14-428.02), introduced by Van’s “we are using her notes” (427.14-15). Cf. Van’s lifting much of Lucette’s dialogue in the Kingston scene (II.5) from her 1891 letter declaring her passionate and precarious love for Van.

426.24: fokus-pokus of a social theme: Darkbloom: “Russ., bogus magic.” In fact fokus, the Russian for “conjuring trick,” with English “hocus-pocus,” plus Russian fokus (“focus”) in the sense of a thematic focus.

426.24-27: exclusively on the subjective and unique poetry of the author, because playwrights, as the greatest among them has shown, are closer to poets than to novelists: Refers of course to Shakespeare; cf. again Humbert’s “I detest the theatre as being a primitive and putrid form, historically speaking; a form that smacks of stone-age rites and communal nonsense despite those individual injections of genius, such as, say, Elizabethan poetry which a closeted reader automatically pumps out of the stuff” (Lolita II,13: 200).

426.27-31: In ‘real’ life we are creatures of chance in an absolute void—unless we be artists ourselves, naturally; but in a good play I feel authored, I feel passed by the board of censors, I feel secure: Cf. added a novelistic touch (Aleksey and Anna may have asterisked here!) which Ada welcomed as a frame, as a form, something supporting and guarding life, otherwise unprovidenced on Desdemonia, where artists are the only gods” (521.27-30).
Cf. in a slightly different vein Shade’s “It sufficed that I in life could find / Some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind / Of correlated pattern in the game, / Plexed artistry, and something of the same / Pleasure in it as they who played it found” (PF, Poem, ll. 811-15).

426.27: In ‘real’ life: Cf. “It would not be sufficient to say that in his love-making with Ada he discovered the pang, the ogon’, the agony of supreme ‘reality.’ Reality, better say, lost the quotes it wore like claws” (219.32-220.01).  MOTIF: reality

426.27-28: we are creatures of chance in an absolute void: Cf. “You admit yourself that I am only a pale wild girl with gipsy hair in a deathless ballad, in a nulliverse, in Rattner’s ‘menald world’ where the only principle is random variation” (416.14-17).

426.31: our Fourth-Wall Time: Time as a fourth dimension, and fourth wall in theater, “the proscenium opening through which the audience sees the performance” (OED), especially in a realistic domestic interior where the audience is as it were peering through the transparent wall.

426.31-34: I feel cuddled in the embrace of puzzled Will (he thought I was you) or in that of the much more normal Anton Pavlovich: That these were the  playwrights Nabokov most admired, by some distance, can be seen from this note: “My fundamental standpoint: 1a) drama exists, all the ingredients of a perfect play exist, but this perfect play (though there exist perfect novels, short stories, poems, essays) has not been produced yet, neither by Shakespeare nor by Chekhov”  (Tumbler Notebook, [1941], p. [57], VNA).

426.32: puzzled Will: Shakespeare, who is also “Billionaire Bill with his pointed beardlet and stylized bald dome” at 73.05-06.

426.32: he thought I was you . . . the much more normal Anton Pavlovich: Ward Swinson, “Macbeth in Pale Fire” (Nabokovian 46 [Spring 2001], 30-37, discusses (pp. 32-33) Kinbote’s and perhaps Nabokov’s sense of the homosexuality in Shakespeare’s sonnets,  and returns to the subject in a coda:
“‘I feel cuddled in the embrace of puzzled Will (he thought I [Ada] was you [Van]) or in that of the much more normal Anton Pavlovich
[Chekhov]” (Ada 426; my [Swinson’s] italics). Since whatever her faults, Ada, like Van, is acutely one with her author in her judgments about
both those twin deceivers, art and nature, her assumption here of Shakespeare’s homosexuality (and its ‘abnormality’) might well reflect
Nabokov’s own views of the playwright” (37).
I agree that “he thought I was you” appears to allude to the fact that many of Shakespeare’s first 126 sonnets, which when taken out of context seem to refer to a female addressee, in fact address a male. To some this has constituted clear evidence of Shakespeare’s homosexuality or bisexuality, but the question is far from settled. In my book on Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609), I comment:

In his edition of the Sonnets, Stephen Booth famously wrote that ‘William Shakespeare was almost certainly homosexual, bisexual, or
heterosexual. The sonnets provide no evidence on the matter.’ I agree. But whether or not Shakespeare was homosexual, he was at least
extraordinarily ‘gay-friendly,’ as the gay website AfterElton rates heterosexual film directors, like Billy Wilder, who accept rather than
mock homosexual love. As [Stanley] Wells reflects: ‘Shakespeare succeeds in writing verse which, like that of [Marlowe, Drayton, and
Barnfield], can certainly appeal to a homoerotic readership but which transcends the boundaries of subdivisions of human experience to
encapsulate the very essence of human love. As we might have expected of him.’ All the more so if we recognize the deliberate and singular
doubleness of so many of the most memorable sonnets among the first 126—a doubleness of a kind possible only in lyrics, not in story.

(Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012, 111-12)

Nabokov did not usually prefer the average or normal in people (see for instance Invitation to a Beheading,“Cloud, Castle, Lake” and Bend Sinister), but he was more ambivalent about divergences from what we would now call heteronormativity, and often associated male homosexuality with pedophilia (see for instance below, 430.12-13n, 430.13n). John Shade’s supportive tolerance toward his homosexual neighbor, Charles Kinbote, insufferable for other reasons, and made fun of by others in New Wye both for his homosexuality and his importunate egotism, seems to model Nabokov’s own preferred comportment.

426.33: the much more normal Anton Pavlovich: The first name and patronymic of Chekhov.

426.34: always passionately fond of long dark hair: Proffer 274: “A. P. Chekhov was married to an actress with long dark hair.” Olga Knipper (1868-1959) was a founding actress in the Moscow Art Theater, launched by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko (1858-1943) in 1898. The theater became instantly famous that year with the triumphant Moscow premiere of Chekhov’s The Seagull. Olga Knipper met Chekhov in the rehearsal phase of that play; in 1900 he wrote for her the part of Masha in Three Sisters, which premiered at the Moscow Art Theater in 1901, with Knipper receiving high praise for her role. She and Chekhov married that year, three years before his death.

427.01: That you also wrote me once: See 426.20-21n.

427.02: Ada’s limelife: Nice neologism: her life in the limelight.

427.02-03: 1891 . . . the end of her mother’s twenty-five-year-long career: Marina’s career began, therefore, in 1866, when she was 22, and had been going perhaps a year and a half when Demon saw her in “Eugene and Lara” on January 5, 1868, and their affair began (10.01-02).

427.04: Chekhov's Four Sisters: See 333.10-12n. Chekhov’s three sisters are Olga Sergeevna Prozorov, Maria Sergeevna (Masha) Kulygin, and Irina Sergeevna Prozorov. In fact there is in a sense a fourth sister, Natalia Prozorov, their sister-in-law, wife of their brother Andrey, who from a position of humiliation increasingly comes to dominate the family, like a cuckoo ejecting them from the nest of their own home.

VN probably did not know that one of Dickens's Sketches by Boz (1839) was entitled “The Four Sisters,” originally published under that name, subtitled “Sketches of London No. 14” in The Evening Chronicle, June 18, 1835.

427.04: Chekhov’s: The name is spelled “Chehov” at 428.17 and 430.28, closer in sound for an Anglophone than “Chekhov” (the “kh” or “h” requires an aspirated “h” like the ch of Scottish “loch”) and closer to VN’s preferred transliteration practices at this point of his life. The spelling “Chehhov” would be still more indicative for Anglophone readers. See Chekhov’s own spelling of his surname for people writing to him in France at 429.13.

427.04-05: Ada played Irina: The youngest and most idealistic of the sisters. See also 427.32 and n., 427.33-34 and n.

427.05: Yakima: On Earth a city, the seat of Yakima county, in southern Washington State, USA. It had a population of about 45,000 in the mid-1960s (now 97,000, metropolitan area over 250,000). Its name comes from the Yakima Nation Native American tribe, whose reservation is nearby. Zimmer 2010: 1018 notes that it has a number of theaters, especially the Capitol Theater, built in 1919-20.

Cf. “Z, a ruddy, white-whiskered old sport, was driving his Yakima jailers crazy” (339.28-29).
Note that Grigoriy Akimovich Vronsky has directed Marina and Ada in the film adaptation of Les Enfants Maudits (424.01-425.08).
Alexey Sklyarenko notes, “Yakima jailers,” Nabokv-L, August 28, 2012: “Much like a matryoshka doll, there is Kim in Yakim [see 430.02-04 and n.], Yakim in Yakima and Yakima in Yakimanka (a street in Moscow mentioned by Chekhov in several stories and letters).”
Readers should not miss the joke that Ada’s first professional theatrical engagement, in a play about sisters yearning to escape what they feel as the stifling life of a provincial town and to return to the capital, takes place not in a capital or a metropolis but in a provincial town.
MOTIF: -kim-; transatlantic doubling; Yakima.

427.07: Sister Varvara, the garrulous originalka: Of course not in Three Sisters, but as 333.10-12n. notes, there is a fourth sister, Varvara, the daughter of Ivan Nyukhin, the monologuist, mentioned by Nyukhin in Chekhov’s early farcical monologue, O vrede tabaka (On the Harmfulness of Tobacco, or Smoking is bad for you, written 1886, revised 1903).

Here, with the capitalized religious name “Sister Varvara,” VN also perhaps echoes “Major Barbara” (Varvara is the Russian form of “Barbara”), Barbara Undershaft, an officer in the Salvation Army and the heroine of the play Major Barbara (premiered 1905, published 1907), by George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). Major Barbara, if not garrulous, has the ready eloquence of most Shavian heroines.
VN alludes to Shaw (and another dramatic character with a clerical title) in the midst of another concentration of theatrical allusions, in the “cryptogrammic paper chase” (Lolita II,23: 250) that playwright Clare Quilty leaves for Humbert Humbert in the registers of “hotels, motels and tourist homes” (Lolita II,23: 248) along the trail from Beardsley to Elphinstone: “And what about ‘James Mavor Morell, Hoaxton, England’?” (Lolita II,23: 251). The Reverend James Mavor Morell is one of the main characters in Shaw’s play Candida (premiered 1894, published 1898); Hoxton is a district in Hackney, London, in whose north-eastern suburbs the play is set. Quilty has added the hoax “a” to goad and bamboozle Humbert.

427.07-08: the garrulous originalka (“odd female”—as Marsha calls her): Masha would have been the likeliest of Chekhov’s three sisters to make this remark about a fourth: in the original, although the only one of the sisters who is married, she is the most sharply independent and critical of the three.

427.08: Marsha: “Masha,” the commonest diminutive of Maria, is regularly transliterated in this way, without an r, including by VN, as in the opening of the introduction to the translation of his first novel, Mashen’ka: “The Russian title of the present novel, Mashenka, a secondary diminutive of Maria, defies rational transliteration (the accent is on the first syllable with the ‘a’ pronounced as in ‘ask’ and a palatalized ‘n’ as in ‘mignon’)” (Mary xi). As this, and the opening of Lolita, and the subtitle of Ada allshow, VN was fastidious about the pronunciation of the names of heroines. Perhaps he retains the “r” here to ensure an Anglophone reader does not rhyme “Masha” with “masher”? Or is he thinking of the “Veen” name as meaning “bog, marsh, peat”?

427.14-15: “Ever since I planned to go on the stage,” said Ada (we are using her notes): See 426.20-21n.

427.15: haunted by Marina’s mediocrity: Cf. Demon’s “He denounced the mediocrity of her gift” (15.27-28) and Ada’s “having always before me the awful example of pathetic, second-rate, brave Marina” (193.20-21).

427.15-16: au dire de la critique: Darkbloom: “according to the reviewers.”

427.21-24: multiplying and sending out to friends and foes such exasperating comments as ‘Durmanova is superb as the neurotic nun, having transferred an essentially static and episodical part into et cetera, et cetera, et cetera’: Cf. for Marina’s earlier stage name and her earliest attempts to buy her way to acclaim: “la Durmanska (who paid the great Scott, her impresario, seven thousand gold dollars a week for publicity alone, plus a bonny bonus for every engagement)” (10.08-11). For her screen name and a later attempt to buy acting status: “They gave her (not quite gratis, I’m afraid) a special bungalow, labeled Marina Durmanova, in Universal City” (333.19-21).

427.26: while Van swallowed, rather than stifled, a yawn: Cf. 425.14-16. Yawns as well as pauses and non-sequiturs are part of the shock of Chekhov’s stage realism.

427.26-428.01: Marina and three of the men did not need the excellent dubbing which the other members of the cast, who lacked the lingo, were provided with; but our wretched Yakima production could rely on only two Russians. . . . All the rest had a macedoine of accents—English, French, Italian: Perhaps echoes the filming of “spaghetti Westerns”: “These movies were originally released in Italian or with Italian dubbing, but as most of the films featured multilingual casts and sound was post-synched, most ‘western all’italiana’ do not have an official dominant language. // The typical Spaghetti Western team was made up of an Italian director, Italo-Spanish technical staff, and a cast of Italian, Spanish, and (sometimes) West German and American actors” (Wikipedia, Spaghetti Western, accessed January 4, 2023).

427.30: Altshuler: German alt, “old” and Schüler, “schoolboy, pupil, follower.”

427.31-32: Baron Nikolay Lvovich Tuzenbakh-Krone-Altschauer: Talking to Irina, whom he is in love with, in his first speech in Act 2, Tuzenbakh discusses his name: “U menya troynaya familiya. Menya zovut baron Tuzenbakh-Krone-Altschauer, no ya russkiy, pravoslavnïy, kak vï” (“I have a triple surname. My name is Baron Tuzenbakh-Krone-Altschauer, but I am Russian, orthodox, like you”) (Chekhov, Sobranie sochineniy v vos’mi tomakh, Moscow: Pravda, 1970,VII, 269). Despite not finding him attractive, Irina has agreed by Act 4 to marry him, only for him to be killed at the end of the act in a duel by the social misfit Captain Solyony, who from Act 2 at least has been besotted with Irina and jealous of Tuzenbakh’s interest in her.
Note the difference between the Chekhovian “Altschauer” and the name of Ada’s actor of the part, “Altschuler.” Babikov 2022: 764 suggests that “Altshuler” could be a hint at the doctor Isaak Naumovich Altshuller (1870-1943), who had had Chekhov as a tuberculosis patient, and wrote a memoir of him published in 1930 in Sovremennye zapiski (where Nabokov so often published, and which he read assiduously). Babikov notes that VN met Altshuller in Prague in 1932 (LTV 179, 180). He also wonders if there might be a suggestion of shuler (Russian, “card-sharper, cheat”), a word occurring in I.28 (“Mr. Plunkett had been, in the summer of his adventurous years, one of the greatest shuler’s, politely called ‘gaming conjurers,’ both in England and America” (172.12-14), but this seems less likely than that VN is playing with German Schüler in the sense of “follower” in this “protégé” of Stan Slavsky, and with the near-coincidence of this Russo-German name that he happens to know with the “Altschauer” in Chekhov.

427.32: Irina, la pauvre et noble enfant: This Irina, like the Irène de Grandfief of Coppée’s “La Veillée” (see 246.12-14n and 246.12n), is the fiancée of a soldier who does not return. D. Barton Johnson notes the connection between the Irina whom Ada plays, the Irène whose description she cites from Coppée’s poem, and Ada herself, who has lost her lover lieutenant Percy de Prey in the Second Crimean War: “The motif has a third incarnation arising from Ada’s career as an actress. One of her roles, she says, is that of ‘la pauvre et noble enfant’ Irina, the youngest of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. . . . Note Ada’s quote from the Coppée poem specifically links this scene to the family dinner scene with its covert allusion to Percy [246.12-14]. They are also linked by the names Irene and Irina. Chekhov’s Irina, failing to find a meaningful life or love in the provincial garrison town where the sisters live, agrees to marry one of the officers, Baron Tuzenbach, whom she finds decent but little else. As the regiment departs on the eve of her wedding, Lt. Tuzenbach is killed in a duel by a friend, a disappointed suitor” (“Ada and Percy: Bereft Maidens and Dead Officers,” The Nabokovian, 30 (Spring 1993), 55-57, p. 57. But there is yet another irony: in the next chapter Demon will casually refer to Andrey Vinelander, who has indeed made her an offer of marriage, as “Ada’s fiancé” (436.11), and, like Irina agreeing to marry Tuzenbakh, Ada will accept although, to borrow Johnson’s words, she finds Vinelander “decent but little else.”

427.33-34: a telegraph operator in one act, a town-council employee in another, and a schoolteacher in the end: Telegraph operator in Act 2, town-council employee in Act 3, and about to start as a schoolteacher in the final Act 4. Ada is a naturalist in Part 1 of Ada, an actress in Part 2, and a wife, naturalist, and actress in Part 3.

427.34-428.01: a macedoine of accents—English, French, Italian: Macedoine, W2: “A mixture or medley; specif., Cookery, a mixture of neatly cut or small cooked vegetables served as a salad or cocktail or in a jellied dessert, or used in a sauce or as a garnish.”Cf. Lolita I,2: 9: “My father was a gentle, easy-going person, a salad of racial genes: a Swiss citizen, of mixed French and Austrian descent, with a dash of the Danube in his veins.”

428.01-02: English, French, Italian—by the way what’s the Italian for ‘window’?”: A neat segue from Ada’s written “Dreams of Drama” discussion to live speech—segueing in turn into dialogue from Three Sisters.

428.03: Finestra, sestra: Darkbloom (as emended by DN): “Ital., window; Russ., sister.” VN had originally absentmindedly written “Ital., window, sister” (sorella is Italian for “sister”). Van, who knows the text at least as well as Ada (see 428.07-09), says Russian “sestra” after Italian “finestra” simply because of the near-rhyme (finestra is accented on the second syllable, sestra on the last). Outside of the Chateaubriand echoes of “My sister, do you still recall . . . ? . . . Sestra moya . . . ?” (138-1-11) does Van ever address Ada as “sister” elsewhere? MOTIF: family relationship

428.04-06: Irina (sobbing) . . . window: Cited almost verbatim from Act 3 of Three Sisters: “Kuda? Kuda vsyo ushlo? Gde ono? O bozhe moy, bozhe moy! Ya vsyo zabïla, zabïla. . . . U menya pereputalos’ v golove.  . . . Ya ne pomnyu, kak po-ital’yanski okno ili vot potolok” (“Where? Where has it all gone? Where is it? Oh dear, oh dear! All is forgotten, forgotten, . . . my head’s all muddled up. . . . I don’t remember the Italian for window or, say, ceiling”) (Chekhov, Sobranie sochineniy v vos’mi tomakh, Moscow: Pravda, 1970,VII, 291).

428.14: my baron kept fluffing every other line: Andrey Vinelander, who wants to marry Ada, just as Chekhov’s baron wants to marry Irina, is not a baron, but has a pedigree that appeals to the snob in Baron Demon Veen (437.28-32), and has a very poor way with words: “Andrey n’a pas le verbe facile” (523.28).

428.15-16: Ten years and one have gone bye-abye since I left Moscow: In Act 1 of the original there is direct, plain Russian here: “Vershinin: Vï davno iz Moskvï? Irina: Odinnadtsat’ let.”  (“Vershinin: You long out of Moscow? Irina: Eleven years”) (Chekhov, Sobranie sochineniy v vos’mi tomakh, Moscow: Pravda, 1970,VII, 254).

428.17: playing Varvara, copied the nun’s: Alexey Sklyarenko, “okolo istiny: drinking tea v prikusku,” Nabokv-L, April 7, 2013, notes that “In Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard (1904), Mme Ranevski's adopted daughter Varya (diminutive of Varvara) looks like a nun (monashka): ‘Lyubov’ Andreevna: A Varya pro-prezhnemu vsyo takaya zhe, na monashku pokhozha’ (‘And Varya is just as she used to be, just like a nun.’ (Act One)).”

428.17-18: the nun’s “singsongy devotional tone” (pevuchiy ton bogomolki, as indicated by Chehov . . . ): Although Chekhov often does have descriptive speech directions, this comes not from the text of Three Sisters but from other sources in his writings, as Alexey Sklyarenko, “pevuchiy ton bogomolki,” Nabokv-L, January 30, 2013, notes:In a letter of February 2, 1900, to I. L. Leont'yev (Shcheglov) Chekhov apologizes for pevuchiy ton bogomolki (singsongy devotional tone): ‘Prostite, chto ya zagovoril pevuchim tonom bogomolki’ [‘Sorry I spoke in a singsong devotional tone’]. On the other hand, it is Olga, a character in Chekhov's story Muzhiki (‘Peasants’) [1897], who speaks in a sing-song voice and walks like bogomolka (a pilgrim woman): ‘Ol’ga govorila stepenno, naraspev, i pokhodka u neyo byla, kak u bogomolki, bystraya i suetlivaya’ (‘Olga spoke sedately, in a sing-song voice, and she walked like a pilgrim woman, with a rapid, anxious step.)”

428.19-24: ‘Nowadays, Old Basmannaya Street, where you (turning to Irina) were born a score of yearkins (godkov) ago, is Busman Road, lined on both sides with workshops and garages (Irina tries to control her tears). Why, then, should you want to go back, Arinushka? (Irina sobs in reply)’: In the original, Irina follows up her “Eleven years” thus: “Nu, chto tï, Masha, plachesh’, chudachka. (Skvoz’ slyozï.) I ya zaplachu. . . Masha: Ya nichego. A na kakoy vï ulitse zhili? Vershinin: Na Staroy Basmannoy. Olga:  I mï tam tozhe.” (“Oh come now; Masha, you’re crying, you silly. (Through tears.) I’ll start crying too. . .  Masha: Not me. And what street did you live on? Vershinin: Old Basmannaya. Olga: So did we.”) (Chekhov, Sobranie sochineniy v vos’mi tomakh, Moscow: Pravda, 1970,VII, 254).
Pléiade 1482 notes the play with Staraya Basmannaya and Novaya Basmannaya (New Basmannaya), two old roads in Moscow.

428.23: Arinushka: Darkbloom: “Russ., folksy diminutive of ‘Irina.’” Anfisa, the Prozorov girls’ former nurse, still retained in the family at eighty, addresses Irina as “Arinushka” once, in Act 1.

428.24-25: Naturally, as would every fine player, mother improvised quite a bit, bless her soul: The converse of VN’s attitude. Cf. “We may enjoy ‘Romeo and Juliet’ under the unruffled smile of our reading lamp albeit Professor Matthews thinks that the student would enjoy it, oh, so much more if he had seen – or at least [heard] about – Adelaide Neilson who was the first to cause Juliet on the balcony to pluck the flowers from her breast and to throw them down to Romeo. The unruffled reader may console himself by imagining some other actress who offered Romeo half of the fruit she was eating with a spontaneous childish gesture leaning down over the balcony. There is also this important point that even an actor of genius may now and then in his ‘addition’ to the dramatist display a certain colourful vulgarity that is better appreciated by his fans than by the reader. The indefinite and infinite number of such possible gestures and dramatic effects ‘added’ to the play is a very telling contrast with the constant of the immortal written drama. Histrionic accretions cannot save a bad play from oblivion just as they cannot improve a good one. They change, the play remains.” (Tumbler Notebook [1941], p. [46], VNA).

428.25-32: “ . . . her voice—in young tuneful Russian!—is substituted for Lenore’s corny brogue.” Van had seen the picture and had liked it. An Irish girl, the infinitely graceful and melancholy Lenore Colline . . . harrowingly resembled Ada Ardis: It is not explicit, but Lenore Colline presumably plays the part of Irina, the part Ada plays in her version of Four Sisters: not only do the two look harrowingly alike, but they play the same part, and Ada’s mother voices Ada’s lookalike. The Veens themselves are “of ancient Anglo-Irish ancestry” (4.17).

428.26: her voice—in young tuneful Russian!: MOTIF: Marina’s Russianness

428.28-31: An Irish girl, . . . Lenore Colline . . . and my colleen!: Cf. Van inspecting Ada at fifteen: “Her nose had not followed Van’s in the latter’s thickening of Hibernian outline; but the bone was definitely bolder, and the tip seemed to turn up more strongly, and had a little vertical groove that he did not recall having seen in the twelve-year-old colleenette” (216.07-11).

428.30-31: Oh! qui me rendra ma colline / Et le grand chêne and my colleen!: Darkbloom: “Oh! who’ll give me back / my hill and the big oak.”Rivers and Walker 292: “A distortion of vv. 25-26 of the romance from Chateaubriand’s Le Dernier Abencérage. The original reads: ‘Oh! qui me rendra mon Hélène, / Et ma montagne, et le grand chêne?’ (‘Oh! Who will give me back my Helen, / And my mountain, and the big oak?’). The distortion (‘Oh! qui me rendra ma colline / Et le grand chêne and my colleen!’) rhymes French colline (‘hill’) with Anglo-Irish colleen (‘girl’), a near homophone.” See 138.01-139.04nn. MOTIF: Oh! qui me rendra

428.32: harrowingly resembled Ada Ardis: As do Blanche, the females in Letters from Terra (before Van bromidizes them), the child perhaps called Adora, at Van’s last Villa Venus, and the Titianesque Titaness aboard the Tobakoff. MOTIF: Ada; Ada, the ardors and arbors of Ardis; like

428.32-33: Ada Ardis as photographed with her mother in Belladonna, a movie magazine: Cf. Lucette telling Van in 1901 about Ada’s 1893 wedding: “Your father . . . paid a man from Belladonna to take pictures” (481.10-11). Not the photograph that Van mentions here in II.9, since at this point in 1892 or 1893 Ada’s wedding with Vinelander has yet to take place. Lenore, who harrowingly resembles Ada, is in a film with Marina (as Ada has in a sense been in a film with her mother, The Young and the Doomed, at least until she was edited out), where she seems to play the part of Irina that Ada also plays on stage, and before the film of Four Sisters is released, Ada and Marina appear together in a photograph in a movie magazine.

428.33-429.02: which Greg Erminin had sent him, thinking it would delight him to see aunt and cousin: Greg, the well-meaning duffer, and in love with Ada, does not realize either the bond between Van and Ada, or the rift between them now, despite having seen the fury of Van and Percy, fighting fiercely as rivals for Ada at the picnic on her sixteenth birthday, just before Van learns of Ada’s relationship with Percy and the rift suddenly opens wide.

429.03-05: Varvara . . . comes in Act One from her remote nunnery, Tsitsikar Convent: It may or may not be relevant that in Tolstoy’s story “Father Sergius” (written sometime between 1890 and 1898, published in 1911), Varvara is the sister of Prince Stepan Kasatsky, who, after a setback in his brilliant life in the beau monde, retreats into Russian Orthodoxy and retires to a remote hermitage as the monk Father Sergius. For an explicit allusion to Tolstoy’s “famous anecdote,” see 490.25-29 and n.

429.03: the late General Sergey Prozorov’s: In the opening words in Three Sisters Olga mentions that her father died exactly a year ago, and a few lines later in the same speech, mentions (rather unnecessarily to those listening) that he was a general. Cf. the strictures a few lines later in Ada about Chekhov cramming “into the two pages of a ludicrous expository scene all the information he wished to get rid of, great lumps of recollections and calendar dates—an impossible burden to place on the fragile shoulders of three unhappy Estotiwomen” (429.15-18).

429.04-05: from her remote nunnery, Tsitsikar Convent: Ivan Ivanov of Yukonsk, found out as the perpetrator of serial and compound incest, is “clapped into a monastery for fifteen years as required by ancient Russian law” (134.28-29).
Cf. PP 141, VN’s note to his poem “To Prince S.M. Kachurin” (an invented friend): “My poor friend, a former White Army Colonel, died a few years ago in an Alaskan monastery.”

429.04: Tsitsikar: The army doctor Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin in Act Two, reading aloud from a newspaper, as he regularly does, regardless of the subject others are discussing: “Tsitiskar. Zdes’ svirepstvuet ospa” (“Tsitsikar. Smallpox is raging here.”) Alexey Sklyarenko notes, in “in vino veritas,” Nabokv-L, April 5, 2013 that “Tsitsikar” is “the Russian spelling of Qiqihar, a city in NE China).” Situated in Heilongjiang Province, Manchuria, Qiqihar has a current population of almost 1,000,000. Sklyarenko noted in an earlier Nabokv-L post (for which I have an apparently erroneous date of April 9, 2002): “I always used to think (until I saw it on the map of China) that Tsitsikar . . . is somewhere [in] the Russian North . . . and I think I was not the only Russian who was misled that way.”
In the next chapter Demon, trying to gather the family for Dan’s funeral, tells Van: “I’ve managed to trace Marina to Tsitsikar—flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk” (437.19-20).           

429.05: Perm: Chekhov in a letter to his friend Maxim Gorky, 16 October 1900, wrote: “Deystvie proiskhodit v provintsial’nom gorode, vrode Permi” (“The action takes place in a provincial town like Perm”) (Babikov 2022: 765 cites more of the letter). Perm is a city just over 700 miles east of Moscow, on the banks of the Kama River (see 430.26), just west of the Ural Mountains, and capital of the oblast of the same name. Its population in 1897, about the time of the play’s action, was 45,000; in 1967, while VN was writing Ada, it was 800,000 (see Russian Wikipedia, Perm, accessed January 6, 2023). Within Three Sisters, Andrey Prozorov says in Act 4 that the town where they live has 100,000 people.

429.05: also called Permwail: Play both on “sperm whale,” which prepares for Ada a few minutes later, “I’m not hiding one stain of what rhymes with Perm” (430.14-15), and on “permanent wail” (the “permanent” becomes explicit at 429.09-10 and n.), the recurrent but unavailing cries of the Prozorov sisters for “Moscow!” and release from their provincial tedium.

429.05-06: the backwoods of Akimsk Bay, North Canady: Pléiade 1482 identifies Akimiski Island, an uninhabited bird refuge in James Bay, where Ontario and Quebec meet: backwoods indeed. MOTIF: -kim-

429.06-07: to have tea with Olga, Marsha, and Irina on the latter’s name day: That it is Irina’s name day is announced in the opening sentence of Act I, and throughout the Act new guests continue to arrive for the occasion.

429.09-10: “Permanent,” as Irina mockingly dubs it: Because although from the beginning of the play the Prozorov sisters all yearn to move to Moscow, they remain permanently stuck in their Perm-like garrison town.

429.09-10: “Permanent,” as . . . : corrected from 1969, “‘Permanent’ as. . . . ”

429.10: as Irina mockingly dubs it: Invented, of course; Three Sisters never specifies its locale.

429.10-11: for high life in remote and sinful Moscow, . . . the former capital: The contrast between Varvara’s remote nunnery and high life in a remote and sinful capital again seems to echo “Father Sergius” (see 429.03-05n.) The three Prozorov women in Chekhov’s play yearn for Moscow, but not of course for high life in a sinful capital, and Moscow, 700 miles from Perm at least, is hardly remote from the setting Chekhov has imagined.

429.11: Moscow, Id., the former capital: Moscow, Russia, one of the many vassal city-states under the Tatar yoke from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, became capital of Russia from 1485 until 1712, when Peter I moved his capital to the newly founded St. Petersburg. Moscow became the capital of Russia again after the October Revolution of 1917.

429.11: Moscow, Id.: On Earth, a real town in North Central Idaho, USA. In the mid-1960s it had a population of about 13,000. Various accounts of the name of the town exist: that it began as a trading post set up by a native of Moscow, Russia, or that the local postmaster, who happened to be born in Moscow, Pennsylvania, chose the name (see Wikipedia, accessed January 4, 2023). Perhaps a Freudian “id” mingles with the “sinful” in the abbreviation of Idaho?

429.12-13: his play, which never quite manages to heave the soft sigh of a masterpiece: Presumably VN’s judgement as well as Van’s. Cf. “this perfect play (though there exist perfect novels, short stories, poems, essays) has not been produced yet, neither by Shakespeare nor by Chekhov” (Tumbler Notebook, [1940], p. [57], VNA. (All the same, if Nabokov did not consider any of Shakespeare’s plays perfect, he was ready to call some of them—especially Hamlet, King Lear,and The Tempest—masterpieces.)

429.13-14: Tchechoff . . . Pension Russe, 9, rue Gounod, Nice: Chekhov was indeed living at the Russian pension at this address from December 1900. He wrote there Acts 3 and 4 of Three Sisters, and remained there while the play was in rehearsal (see Babikov 2022: 765.) And he did spell his name thus for correspondents.

429.15-22: ludicrous expository scene . . . redistributed that information through a considerably longer scene in which the arrival of the monashka Varvara provides all the speeches needed . . . : The over-eager exposition remains in Chekhov’s play, but is partly deferred until the arrival of the new battery commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Ignatievich Vershinin, whom “Varvara” in a sense replaces in the Antiterran version. “Ludicrous” seems an overstatement, although we do learn from Olga in the opening beat of Act I that the day is May 5, Irina’s name-day, and exactly a year since their father died, and that they left Moscow also in early May eleven years ago, that she is twenty-eight and has been teaching for four years, all common knowledge to her sisters listening.
Nabokov thought carefully, critically, and creatively about the openings of his novels (see Afternote to I.1 for his complex parody of novelistic exposition in Ada itself). Preparing to teach creative writing at Stanford in the summer of 1941, he made notes, still unpublished, about expositions in general and about Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra in particular (everything from its exposition to its dénouement: see 403.05-07n.). In a lecture on The Soviet Drama, he comments drily on An Optimistic Tragedy (1933), by Vsevolod Vishnevksy (1900-1951): “The exposition of these [political] types in the beginning of the play is the usual affair: people telling each other things they know for the audience who doesn’t” (“Gyral” Notebook for Stanford course [1941], p. [157], VNA).
In a sense, II.9is itself exposition, or preparation, for Ada’s appearing onscreen in a pre-release film after Van and Lucette settle into the cinema aboard the Admiral Tobakoff. Is that one playful reason the chapter takes a swing at Chekhov’s cramming “into the two pages of a ludicrous expository scene all the information he wished to get rid of” (429)?

429.20: monashka: See 428.17n for Mme Ranevsky in Act 1 of The Cherry Orchard comparing her adopted daughter Varya (Varvara) to a monashka (nun). 

429.24-25: not until the third, penultimate, act was the author able to bundle her off: A correspondent surnamed Syrovy suggested to me (November 2, 2004) that we could see a link with Lucette bundled off in Part Three of Ada.

429.27-28: “I assume,” said Van (knowing his girl), “that you did not want any tips from Marina for your Irina?”: Van knows Ada’s low opinion of Marina as actress: on first confiding to him her dreams of drama, she makes it clear that they are despite “the awful example of pathetic, second-rate, brave Marina” (193.20-21).

430.01: D.P.’s: Dramatis personae, roles in the play.

430.02-04: Fedotik, an artillery officer (whose comedy organ consists of a constantly clicking camera) had been assigned to a “Kim (short for Yakim) Eskimossoff”: Alexey Petrovich Fedotik is indeed a character in Three Sisters, aptly characterized here. His other “comedy organ” is distributing little presents. Amusing for Van because of Kim Beauharnais’s “constantly clicking camera,” once a comedy organ, now a blackmail threat.

430:04: had been assigned to a “Kim (short for Yakim) Eskimossoff”: Alexey Sklyarenko, “Yakim Eskimossoff,” Nabokv-L, August 28, 2012 notes: “A merchant's son Eskimosov . . . , ‘a parvenu and mauvais genre, swine in a skull-cup [svin’ya v ermolke] and mauvais ton,’ is a fiancé in Chekhov's story ‘Tapyor’ (‘A Ballroom Pianist,’ 1885). // On the other hand, the name Eskimossoff brings to mind the old Eskimo nurse of the young enamored maiden whom Marina plays in a stage versionof the famous Russian romance (Eugene and Lara, a pretentious and tasteless mix of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago: 1.2). . . . // The Hollywood actor Akim Tamiroff . . . is mentioned by Eloise, a character in Salinger's story Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut [1948]: ‘Akim Tamiroff. He's in the movies. He always says, ‘You make beeg joke - hah?’ I love him. . . . ’”

Akim Mikhailovich Tamiroff (1899–1972) was an Armenian-American actor, nominated twice for Academy Awards and winner of the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Orson Welles “praised him as ‘the greatest of all screen actors’” (Wikipedia, Akim Tamiroff, accessed January 7, 2023), and cast him in four of his films, including his “unfinished version of Don Quixote, in which he played Sancho Panza.” Tamiroff starred in Topkapi (1964, directed by Jules Dassin), alongside Peter Ustinov, at that time Nabokov’s neighbor and friend in the Montreux Palace Hotel (see Boyd 1991: 481).

430.05: John Starling: Johnson 2000: 173: “‘Starling’ is a good name for an actor but here something of a joke for, as Ada remarks, he is only the off-stage voice who signals Tuzenbakh that it is time for the fatal duel. He, Skvortsov, is to be Solyony's second. It is Van's observation on the meaning of the Russian equivalent of the name, skvorets, that evokes Ada's response. The ‘skvorets’ is featured in the stock Russian proverb ‘Pereimchiv, kak skvorets,’ meaning ‘imitative as a starling.’ Lucette has already informed us that Ada’s lover, Johnny, is her exact coeval, practically her twin in appearance. . . . (380). But Johnny Starling is imitative in still other respects, for he is bisexual.”
Recall that John Starling hails from one of the Canary Islands, Fuerteventura (380.20 and n.).

430.05: cast as Skvortsov: Skvortsov never appears on stage, and only calls from the wings three times in Act 4, so his part can of course be filled, without casting, by any male voice available backstage.

430.06: sekundant:Darkbloom: “Russ., second.”

430.06: the rather amateurish duel of the last act: Solyony, who has dueled twice before, badgered Tuzenbakh (as he provokes many throughout the play) the previous night; when the Baron lost his temper, Solyony challenged him to a duel. The muddled cause, the inclusion of the unreliable and fatalistic Chebutykin as the attendant doctor, the midday timing, the largely offstage preparations, amid the departure of the regiment from the town, and the call from offstage to the Baron all make the duel seem rather hurried and amateurish, despite its tragic outcome.
MOTIF: duel

430.07: name comes from skvorets, starling: A1: “sturnus / blackbird.”

430.08-09: When he communicated the latter observation to Ada, she blushed as was her Old World wont: Because of her “rather sad little affair” (380.19-20)—in Lucette’s characterization—with the actor John Starling, already disclosed to Van by Lucette at Kingston. For Ada’s unusually substantial and habitual blushes, see 126.32-127.02.

430.08-14: blushed as was her Old World wont . . .‘the blush replaced by a matovaya pallor’: Cf. VN on Anna Karenin, LRL 211-12: “Cases of flushing, blushing, reddening, crimsoning, coloring, etc. (and the opposite action of growing pale), are prodigiously frequent throughout this novel and, generally, in the literature of the time. It might be speciously argued that in the nineteenth century people blushed and blanched more readily and more noticeably than today, mankind then being as it were younger; actually, Tolstoy is only following an old literary tradition of using the act of flushing, etc., as a kind of code or banner that informs or reminds the reader of this or that character's feelings. . . . Even so the device is a little overdone and clashes with such passages in the book where, as in Anna’s case, ‘blushing’ has the reality and value of an individual trait.”

MOTIF: Ada's blushes

430.10: quite a lovely lad:  In Lucette’s words, “a handsome Hispano-Irish boy, dark and pale” (381.18-19).

430.12-13: he had been, since pubescence, the puerulus of a fat ballet master, Dangleleaf, and he finally committed suicide: The plump ballet master Sergey Diaghilev was fond of young male pupils. Zimmer 2010: 1019 notes that “Dangleleaf” combines Sergey Diaghilev, impresario  of the Ballet Russe (see 199.15-16n) and his lead dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky (see 199.15-16 and n), who in his costume for the 1912 Paris ballet, L’Après-midi d’un faune—which Nijinsky choreographed from the symphonic poem for orchestra Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune (1894), by Claude Debussy (1862-1918), a homage to the poem “L’Après-midi d’un faune” (begun 1865, published 1876) by Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898)—scandalized the public by its eroticism, including by the costuming of  Nijinsky with little more than a leaf dangling over his genital area. Mallarmé’s poem provides a motif in BS (see BS xvii); the costumes, sets, and program illustrations for the ballet were designed by Léon Bakst (born Leyb-Khaim Izraelivich Rosenberg, 1866-1924), whose 1910 pastel portrait of VN’s mother is described (SM 190) and reproduced (SM facing p. 161) in his autobiography. Nabokov’s parents owned other Bakst works.

In his first American book review, VN reviewed the English translation of dancer Sergey Lifar’s Serge Diaghilev: An Intimate Biography (1940). He writes there of Diaghilev:

Although not a creative genius in the precise sense of the term, his perfect taste in art, allied to a fascinating personality and to fiery energy in the
promotion of what was finest in art, gives him a prominent place in the history of Russian culture. . . . His real achievement was that he knocked
into shape and then showed the world that exquisite combination of movement, color and sound, the Russian ballet. His portly appearance was so
“gentlemanly and aristocratic” that people turned back to look at him. . . . His morals were frankly abnormal. He could be charming when he chose
to smile. He bullied his dancers, blandly betrayed his friends and vilely insulted women. . . . the “intimate” details of the author’s relations with
Diaghilev (depicted, for instance, as an enormously fat old man clad in an old-fashioned nightgown and imitating for Mr. Lifar’s benefit ballet
steps in a double-bed hotel room) are revolting not merely in themselves, but also by reason of the clumsiness of Mr. Lifar’s pen. (TWS 142-43)

When I interviewed Alfred Appel, Jr., he recalled that Nabokov “disliked and said he could never get close to the Ballets russes because they were ‘pederasts’—which he said with a force that made it sound even worse than it must be” (interview, April 30, 1983).

Cf. “After a year or so she found out that an old pederast kept him and she dismissed him, and he shot himself on a beach at high tide but surfers and surgeons saved him, and now his brain is damaged” (381.24-27).

The “handsome” actor John Starling, kept by Dangleleaf and in a “rather sad little affair” (380.19-20) with Ada, and briefly the target of Van’s jealousy (380.25-381.11), echoes Pedro, the “repulsively handsome, practically naked young actor” (197.07-08) briefly serving as Marina’s toy boy, but arousing Van’s ire because of his attention to Ada (200.18-202.08): another Marina-Ada repetition within the theme of acting and amour. Although Pedro is merely young, not pubescent, the name “Pedro” reinforces the link with the “pederast” Dangleleaf and his Johnny Starling.

430.12: puerulus: Darkbloom: “Lat., little lad.” VN associated pederasty strongly with ancient Greek and Roman practices. Writing about the homosexual émigré writer and critic Georgy Adamovich (1892-1972), VN observes (with a pun on “Sodomites”): “The most important of these mystagogues were the so-called Adamites, an appellation fancifully derived (by the poet Hodasevich, I think) from the name of their leader, a talented critic who strove to combine the greenish twilight of a kind of catacumbal Christianity with the pagan mores of ancient Rome” (CE 213). In his afterword to Lolita, defending his right to be sexually frank, he writes: “That my novel does contain various allusions to the physiological urges of a pervert is quite true. But after all we are not children, not illiterate juvenile delinquents, not English public school boys who after a night of homosexual romps have to endure the paradox of reading the Ancients in expurgated versions” (Lolita 316). In his commentary to Eugene Onegin, he writes: “Victorian translators managed to expurgate, twist, or veil Theocritus in such a way as to conceal completely from gentle readers that lads rather than lassies were pursued by his pastoral characters. The ‘slight liberties’ that such scholars as Andrew Lang admit taking with ‘passages which are offensive to Western morality’ are far more immoral than the liberties Comatas ever took with Lacon” (EO 2,55).

430.14: (‘the blush now replaced by a matovaya pallor’): Is this a highly self-conscious remark made by Ada in the course of her disclosure about her “sort of flirt[ing]” with Johnny Starling? Or a narratorial intrusion by Van, in quotes within the parentheses because parodic? Cf. 430.08-09, n.2, and VN’s comment on “coloring, etc. (and the opposite action of growing pale)” in European fiction.

430.14: matovaya: Darkbloom: “Russ., dull-toned.”

430.14-15: I’m not hiding one stain of what rhymes with Perm: “Sperm,” in other words. Though Ada’s denial of a consummated sexual relation with Johnny is, like all her denials, to be doubted, the graphic manner of her denial here seems likely to inflame rather douse a jealous imagination like Van’s.

430.18-20: Yakim, at least, did not, as his rhymesake did, take a picture of your brother embracing his girl: His rhymesake: Kim Beauharnais, who took many pictures of “your brother,” i.e. Van himself, embracing his girl, Ada. But also, referring to Four Sisters, which here matches Three Sisters, “your (Irina’s, Ada’s role’s) brother,” that is, Andrey Prozorov, embracing his girl, Natasha, at the end of Act 1. In Three Sisters, Fedotik is present, and has been happily snapping pictures of Irina and those attending her name-day feast when embarrassed Natasha runs from the ballroom at the back of the stage to the drawing-room at stage front, where Andrey joins her and they kiss, the last action before the curtain at the end of the Act, except for two unnamed officers entering and stopping in amazement at the kissing couple. This could easily have been a moment for Fedotik to snap the couple, but that is not how Chekhov ends the scene. But as Ada comments in the next lines, her director may have added this comic touch of Fedotik snapping the lovers, perhaps with a camera-like click from the wings—as VN might have witnessed other directors doing.

430.20: Dawn de Laire: As Cancogni 220 notes, derived from an anagram of “Baudelaire,” aub[e] (“dawn”) delaire (or as Cancogni puts it, “Aube de l’air”) , with a play on “l’aurore grelottante” (“shivering dawn”) in the poet’s famous “Le Crépuscule du matin” (see 176.04-05n).

430.23: Dawn en robe rose et verte: Darkbloom: “in a pink and green dress.” Rivers and Walker 292: “A simultaneous reference to Natasha’s pink dress and green sash in act 1 of The Three Sisters (1901) by Anton Chekhov . . .  and to the concluding lines [actually, the first line of the last stanza] of Baudelaire’s ‘Le Crépuscule du matin.” For the latter, see previous note and 176.04-05n. The Prozorov sisters condescend to their sister-in-law, Natasha; Olga tells Natasha abruptly that she has made a mistake wearing a pink dress with a green sash, and Natasha responds with alarm: is it a bad omen? No, it just doesn’t go with her dress. Natasha is tearful in response.

430.26: to hollo off stage from a rowboat on the Kama River: The off-stage hollo is heard three times in Chekhov, but the rowboat and the Kama are Antiterran additions.  The Kama, the chief left tributary of the Volga, runs through Perm (which Three Sisters does not specify as its setting). Probably a play, too, on the Cam, the river which runs through Cambridge, England. The caption (written 1966, while VN was writing Ada)to a photograph reproduced opposite p. 225 in SM reads: “The author in Cambridge, Spring 1920. It was not unnatural for a Russian, when gradually discovering the pleasures of the Cam, to prefer, at first, a rowboat to the more proper canoe or punt.”

430.27: my fiancé: Tuzenbakh and Irina are to marry the next day—until Tuzenbakh dies in the pointless almost-last-minute offstage duel.

430.28-431.10: didactic metaphorism of Chehov’s friend, Count Tolstoy. . . . those old wardrobes. . . creak . . . : Nabokov discusses what he calls the “Functional Ethical Comparison” in Tolstoy in his Cornell lectures (LRL 202-203). Particularly close to this example, with its creak and door, are War and Peace, III.xi (“The concentrated movement that had begun in the Emperor’s headquarters in the morning and gave a push to the whole movement that followed, was like the first movement of the central wheel of a large tower clock. . . . wheels creak on their axles . . . ”) and Anna Karenina III.xxvi (“Every time that Lyovin tried to penetrate further than the doors, open to all, of the reception rooms of Sviyazhsky’s mind. . . . “). VN writes of Tolstoy’s didacticism: “Many people approach Tolstoy with mixed feelings. They love the artist in him and are intensely bored by the preacher; but at the same time it is rather difficult to separate Tolstoy the preacher from Tolstoy the artist—it is the same deep slow voice, the same robust shoulder pushing up a cloud of visions or a load of ideas. What one would like to do, would be to kick the glorified soapbox from under his sandalled feet and then lock him up in a stone house on a desert island with gallons of ink and reams of paper—far away from the things, ethical and pedagogical, that diverted his attention from observing the way the dark hair curled above Anna’s white neck. But the thing cannot be done: Tolstoy is homogeneous, is one, and the struggle which, especially in the later years went on between the man who gloated over the beauty of black earth, white flesh, blue snow, green fields, purple thunderclouds, and the man who maintained that fiction is sinful and art immoral—this struggle was still confined within the same man” (LRL 140).
For the Chekhov-Tolstoy switch, see also 430.30n. Diana Makhaldiani aptly recalls the end of Ch. 2 in The Gift: “The distance from the old residence to the new was about the same as, somewhere in Russia, that from Pushkin Avenue to Gogol Street” (145).

430.30-33old wardrobes . . . . excruciating creak: Cf. “the self-creaking wardrobe” (42.12-13) that Ada shows Van in the bedroom he has been assigned at Ardis.

430.30-31: old wardrobes in old hotels in the Old World subalpine zone: As if they were a species or genus being described by a taxonomist. The Cygne wing of the Montreux Palace Hotel, in which the Nabokovs lived, was indeed an old hotel (it was rebuilt in 1865 on the grounds of a hotel dating from 1837: Boyd 1991: 458), precisely in the Old World subalpine zone, and the Nabokovs’ wardrobes were indeed old.
Cf. Van’s “usual hotel, Les Trois Cygnes” (508.06) in Mont Roux in 1905: “He engaged two spacious rooms, 509 and 510: an Old World salon with golden-green furniture, and a charming bed chamber” (509.01-02). In the hallway of the suite stands a “huge white ‘Nuremberg Virgin’-like closet” (521.22-23). The hotel has a Tolstoyan flavor: “the alberghian atmosphere of those new trysts added a novelistic touch (Aleksey and Anna may have asterisked here!)” (521.26-28). This follows a decidedly Chekhovian interchange, set out as a passage from a play, among Andrey Vinelander, Ada, Van, and Andrey’s sister Dasha (516-18).

431.01: the hellish hinge: MOTIF: hell.

431.04: the rose sore of Eros: MOTIF: Eros, the rose and the sore

431.09: may allay unforgettable agony: MOTIF: agony

431.16-18: all the features and faults we have already been informed of: incompetence of performance, inanity and nonentity: Alleged incompetence of performance, for instance, at 394.27-29: “making the flutist practically impotent (except with his wife) and allowing the gentleman farmer only one embrace, with a premature eyakulyatsiya”; alleged nonentity: 404.05-09: “‘he’s a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!’ ‘There’s nothing to explain. . . .  that’s not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.’”

431.18: nonentity;: corrected from 1969, “nonentity,”.

431.18-21: nothing beyond easy feminine compassion and such considerations of hygiene and sanity as hurt Van more than would a defiant avowal of passionate betrayal: Hardly likely, had he been put to the test.

431.19: such considerations of hygiene: Cf. “Next moment they grappled and had such delicious fun that they knew they would be doing it always together, for hygienic purposes, when boyless and boiling” (375.17-19).

431.23: “soulless” and therefore: emended by DN from 1969 “‘soulless’; therefore." While the original semi-colon may be slightly unusual, it is perfectly acceptable, and the “and” seems superfluous.

431.23-24: the ineffable hereafter that both our young people mutely and shyly believed in: Cf. “‘You believe, you believe in the existence of Terra? Oh, you do! You accept it. I know you!’ ‘I accept it as a state of mind. That’s not quite the same thing.’ ‘Yes, but you want to prove it is the same thing.’ He brushed her lips with another religious kiss” (264.11-16).

431.26the shame and the agony: MOTIF: agony

431.26-28: even while reaching heights of happiness he had not known at his brightest hour before his darkest one in the past: Cf. in Mont Roux, 1905: “That meeting, and the nine that followed, constituted the highest ridge of their twenty-one-year-old love: its complicated, dangerous, ineffably radiant coming of age” (521.15-17).

Afternote to Part Two, Chapter 29