Using ADAonline
Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle: Composition and Texts
ADAonline: Past and Future

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ADAonline combines the text of Vladimir Nabokov's longest and richest novel, in one frame, and in another, annotations and fore- and afternotes to each chapter by Brian Boyd, hyperlinked to each other and to a third frame incorporating supplementary materials, especially pictorial illustrations and a list of verbal and thematic Motifs in the novel. Jeff Edmunds designed the layout of ADAonline and prepared the Internet version of the texts with the assistance of Aaron Bradford, Stephen Celis, Genevieve de Pont, Sergey Karpukhin, Prokopis Prokopidis, Ludger Tolksdorf, and D. Varè.

Using ADAonline (top)

You should use ADAonline only if you have already read Ada in book form. Otherwise you may spring surprises in the novel that you would be much better to learn in the way and in the order that Nabokov has prepared with such care and imagination.


The forenotes suggest how each chapter of the novel has been designed to work for first-time readers. Although Nabokov wrote especially for re-readers, he was very aware that only those whose interest was engaged and developed on a first reading would ever re-read.


The annotations, keyed to page and line numbers in Ada 1990 (the line numbers are always, and the text virtually always, identical with those of Ada 1969), attempt especially to explain matters of immediate information both outside the novel (geography, biology, history, literature, lexicology, biography, Nabokovology) and inside (recurring phrases, restated subjects, interlocking details). To serve undergraduates and those who are not native speakers of English, the notes are over- rather than under-explicit, but attempt to resist the over-ingenious. They occasionally touch on larger questions of interpretation, although in general such matters are mostly confined to the afternotes.

Both internal connections and occasional interpretations can signal forthcoming developments or as-yet-unseen implications to unwary first-time readers. If you are a first-time reader and feel tempted to use ADAonline, you should at most quickly consult only the annotations, and then only to solve a nagging problem or to check on what you think might be your solution, and then escape back to Ada before spoiling your reading pleasure. Even seasoned readers should probably sample ADAonline only as and where Ada makes them curious, rather than with the intention of reading the notes right through.

Recurrent internal allusions are noted as MOTIFS; users may follow Motifs through the top right frame. Although Van narrates the novel as a whole, from a neutral distance, there are intermittent glimpses of him in the act of composition or revision, and intermittent signs of others at work on the text. These will be listed at the beginning of the MOTIF Index, as MOTIF-COMPOSITION: Ada; Editor; Secretary; Van.


The afternotes attempt to provide the rationale for the chapter for an expert re-rereader of Ada. Here I offer solutions to Ada that I think Nabokov has planted for the "very expert solver" (SM 291). Since he sees his work as affording the challenge of a good chess problem, and since he thinks there can be no surrogate for the excitement of individual discovery, it seems unsporting to offer these solutions to those who have not tried to solve the novel's problems on their own terms. If you do not wish to have Ada's deeper surprises sprung, do not read the Afternotes. They should certainly not be read by first-time readers, and even second-time readers may find them difficult to assimilate.

Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle: Composition and Texts (top)

In 1959 Nabokov began to work on a project he thought of as "The Texture of Time" and to toy with another to be called something like "Letters from Terra." After numerous diversions and frustrations, he had a flash late in 1965 of what would become the story of Van and Ada, but the novel did not surge into life until February 1966, when he saw the specific link between Van and Ada, "The Texture of Time" and "Letters from Terra," and began to compose apace. He completed Ada, his longest, richest, and most inexhaustible novel, in October 1968. For a more detailed account of the novel's sources, genesis, composition and publication, see VNAY 487-535.

Although he wrote it quickly, Nabokov incorporated into Ada the ideas and the knowledge of a lifetime, and relied on his confidence--now that in the mid-1960s he occupied so dominant a place in the literary world--that he could command the serious attention of first-rate readers. If Nabokov is the most allusive of authors after Joyce, Ada is by far the most allusive and demanding of his novels. And the funniest.

It was first published on May 5, 1969 by McGraw-Hill in New York, in an edition of 589 pages, and was reprinted four times in hardback. The first English edition, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in October 1969, was set from the same plates but introduced a few textual changes-such as the correct "descried from marble steps" (instead of "described from marble steps") in the last sentence of the novel, and the incorrect correction "she was pregnant" (instead of "he was pregnant") in the last sentence of Part 1--and printed Van's closing blurb as dust-jacket copy. A 1969 McGraw-Hill book club edition reset the text in 626 pages, introducing many careless new errors.

Since Ada was being rushed into print in an Italian translation in November 1969, Nabokov had marked in the margins of his own copy of the McGraw-Hill first edition phrases that he thought could cause translators to trip. In 1970 in the Commonwealth outside Britain, and in 1971 in Britain itself, he polished these glosses for publication in the first English paperback edition (Harmondsworth: Penguin), entitling them "'Notes to Ada' by Vivian Darkbloom." Confronted with a gaudily "trendy" cover design for the first American paperback edition (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1970), Nabokov offered Penguin his own colored-pencil drawing of the orchid Cattleya labiata, which became the basis for the Penguin front cover, while the rear cover printed most of Van's blurb. The "Notes to Ada" were reprinted in the US for the first time, and themselves annotated, by J.E. Rivers and William Walker, in J.E. Rivers and Charles Nicol, eds., Nabokov's Fifth Arc (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982).

In 1973 and 1974 Nabokov and his wife, Véra, worked briefly with German translators Uwe Friesel and Marianne Therstappen, who translated the novel as Ada oder, Das Verlangen (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1974). He then spent six months in 1974-1975 correcting the translation of Ada, ou l'Ardeur, begun by Gilles Chahine and taken over by Jean-Bertrand Blandenier (Paris: Fayard, 1975), altering allusions and puns as he saw the need and opportunity.

For the Vintage paperback reissue of Nabokov's main works, his son, Dmitri, with the help of Brian Boyd and others, produced a substantially corrected text of Ada (New York, 1990), the first US edition to incorporate "Notes to Ada." Brian Boyd and the editorial staff of the Library of America made further textual emendations, added a Note on the Texts and a list of textual variants, incorporated "Notes to Ada," and added more annotations, in volume 3 of the Library of America edition of Nabokov's English-language fiction and memoirs, Novels 1969-1974: Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, Transparent Things, Look at the Harlequins! (New York, 1996).

ADAonline: Past and Future (top)

I (BB) have had a copious file of glosses to Ada since the late 1970s, but because my work on VNRY and VNAY had priority, had no time to do anything with them. In 1993 I began publishing a series of Annotations to Ada, a chapter at a time, in the semi-annual The Nabokovian, the journal of the International Vladimir Nabokov Society, edited by Stephen Jan Parker, partly in order to solicit corrections and additions. (For subscriptions, contact Vladimir Nabokov Society, Slavic Languages and Literatures, 2134 Wescoe Hall, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045, USA). ADAonline contains an updated version of these annotations, always excluding the instalments in the last two years of The Nabokovian.

I hope readers of ADAonline will also note corrections or additions or make other suggestions, either to ADAonline directly, or through notes published in The Nabokovian (submissions to Professor Priscilla Meyer,, or the Nabokov listserv, NABOKV-L (NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU). All contributions of this nature will be acknowledged.

This collective effort should bring us closer to the kind of completeness impossible from one person's efforts. I believe that the accumulating evidence will justify Nabokov's appeal after Ada's publication: "the main favor I ask of the serious critic is sufficient perceptiveness to understand that whatever term or trope I use, my purpose is not to be facetiously flashy or grotesquely obscure but to express what I feel and think with the utmost truthfulness and perception" (SO 179).

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