Part One, Chapter 17
Ardis the First has been a series of steady steps up to the sunshot terrace of Van and Ada’s love. They are now just one step below the top, after Ada’s unexpected “fresh-rose kiss” on Van’s lips at the end of I.16 initiated the “kissing phase (a not particularly healthy fortnight of long messy embraces)” described here in I.17. Even though strong restraints remain, the young cousins for the first time feel a shared complicity, physical and mental, in all they do, whether leafing through dictionaries in the library or testing and tasting each other’s faces and features with eyes, fingers, tongues, lips.
The closer access Van can now have to Ada occasions another catalogue of her charms, which echoes but can be much more intimate than that of I.9. At the same time, it also anticipates the catalogue four years later in I.35, where Van compares Ada at sixteen with his image of her at twelve, especially here in I.17. While the catalogue of a beloved’s charms is an immemorial feature of romantic literature, there can surely be none with the mix of precision, passion, and parody we see in this chapter.
Even within this catalogue, Van moves easily from immediacy to the distance of memory (memory as pictorial, for instance, a kind of “photo-studio de luxe”); to anticipations of Ada as seen later in life; to comparisons with Lucette now and in later life, a life that for the first time, it is suggested, may not last too long (“at eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty-five, finis,” 104); and to affirmations of Ada’s charms, strangely, in terms of Van’s desire to rediscover them “in all the brothels of the world” (104).
The second half of the chapter flips from Ada’s hands, whose fingernails she had bitten until the picnic on her twelfth birthday, to the just-emerged mosquitoes her hands now scratch compulsively. The mosquito Culex chateaubriandi Brown—the third of Ardis the First’s major insect exhibits, after the colorfully rampant caterpillars of Ada’s larvarium in I.8, and the more haunting fireflies of Van’s nights in the hammock in I.12—parodically plays with the relationships between insects and incest (based not only on that explicit earlier anagram  but also on the pun implicit here on “cousin” and French cousin, “gnat, mosquito”), and between Ada’s compulsive itching of her skin after the insertion of the mosquito’s “absolutely hellish proboscis” (107) and the swelling sexual itch inside her, as Van inserts his mouth parts into and over hers.
102.01-08: The hugest dictionary. . . Littré . . . fat little Russian encyclopedia: Cf. this chapter-opening with the opening of the essay “Inspiration,” SO 308, written three years after Ada’s publication. This too begins with definitions from Webster’s Second, Littré, and a Soviet reference work (in this case Ozhegov’s dictionary, which Ada dubs “moronic Ozhegov,” 225.25), as well as from Dahl’s pre-revolutionary Russian dictionary. MOTIF: dictionary.
102.01: The hugest dictionary in the library . . . under Lip: “Either of a pair of fleshy folds surrounding an orifice”: The Ardis library, like Nabokov’s much more meager one in the Montreux Palace Hotel, appears to contain the 1957 Webster’s Second International Dictionary, Unabridged, first published 1934, Nabokov’s own favorite (see 4.10n) and most-bethumbed English-language dictionary (which he quotes at SO 308, and refers to at SO 251, “the second unabridged edition (1960) of Webster’s, which I really must urge Mr. Wilson to acquire,” and SO 253, “Webster’s great dictionary,” and at PF 166, “a Bible-like Webster”). With 3350 pages, 12 3/ 8 inches by 9 1/ 8 inches (309 x 228 mm), the dictionary is 5½ inches (140mm) thick (so just under 22 7/ 8 inches or 580 mm from side to side when opened out) and weighs 16lbs (7.62 kilos). MOTIF: library (Ardis).
W2 defines lip:
“1. Either of the two fleshy folds which surround the orifice of the mouth in man and many other animals. In man the lips are organs of speech essential to certain articulations. Hence, chiefly in pl., figuratively, this part of the mouth considered as an organ of speech. ‘Thine own lips testify against thee.’ Job xv.6.
“2. Either of a pair of fleshy folds surrounding an orifice.”
But Nabokov also owned Webster’s Third International Dictionary, Unabridged (1961ff.), whose fifth definition of lip is also “either of a pair of fleshy folds surrounding an orifice.”
Cf. SO 251: “And should the translator simply omit any reference to an idea or an object if the only right word—a word he happens to know as a teacher or a naturalist, or an inventor of words—is discoverable in the revised edition of a standard dictionary but not in its earlier edition or vice versa?”
Van chooses the second W2 definition to allow the double-entendre on “labia.” Cf. 378.12-13: “Lucette, whose only crime was to be suffused with the phantasmata of the other’s innumerable lips.” Ada’s nether lips are explicitly referred to at 392.29-30: “was at the suede-soft root, was gripped, was deep between the familiar, incomparable, crimson-lined lips.”
W2’s definition 8 is “Bot. & Zool. Any liplike part or structure; specif. a A labium. b = labellum, 1.” “Labellum” in turn is defined first as “Bot. The lip, or median member of the inner perianth or corolla, of an orchid, often differing markedly from the other two petals in shape and size, and occasionally spurred.” The lip of an orchid is the landing platform for the pollinating insect, and this definition of “lip” harks back to the end of Ada’s previous chapter, where Ada paints orchids and, as she does so, initiates the “kissing phase” of their relationship when she “pressed her lips to his in a fresh-rose kiss that entranced and baffled Van” (101); and it anticipates Van and Ada’s first attempt at intercourse, in the library, when Van murmurs and moans, “crying out in three languages—the three greatest in all the world—pet words upon which a dictionary of secret diminutives was to be based. . . . but impatient young passion . . . burst at the lip of the orchid” (121.16-26).
102.01-103.05: Lip . . . lips against hers: MOTIF: lip.
102.02-04: fleshy folds . . . Partie extérieure et charnue: Cf. 118.15-16: “his fleshy folds, parties très charnues.”
102.03-07: Mileyshiy Emile. . . . Dearest Emile!: Ardeur 87: “L’aimable Emile. . . . Ce cher Emile!” MOTIF: dear Emile.
102.03: Mileyshiy: Darkbloom: “Russ., ‘dearest.’”
102.03: Emile, as Ada called Monsieur Littré: Emile Littré (1801-1881), French philosopher, lexicographer, doctor and politician, whose Dictionnaire de la langue française first appeared in four volumes (1863-1873), with a supplementary volume in 1877. His dictionary is regarded as essentially a dictionary of classical (seventeenth- and eighteenth-century) French. In the epigraphs to “Inspiration,” Nabokov cites the definition of “inspiration” in his own edition, “Littré, ed. intégrale, 1963”: “The enthusiasm that sweeps away (entraîne) poets. Also a term of physiology (insufflation): ‘ . . . wolves and dogs howl only by inspiration; one can easily ascertain this by causing a little dog to howl close to one’s face (Buffon)” (SO 308). Nabokov seems as wrily responsive to Littré’s example as Van and Ada to his definitions: “How exactly was that poor lap dog made to howl in those lace-cuffed hands, close to that periwig?” (SO 314).
102.04-06: Partie extérieure et charnue qui forme le contour de la bouche . . . Les deux bords d’une plaie simple . . . C’est le membre qui lèche: Darkbloom: “exterior fleshy part that frames the mouth . . . the two edges of a simple wound . . . it is the member that licks.” Littré, Dictionnaire de la langue française (Paris: Gallimard, Hachette, 1967), v. 4, p. 1557: “lèvre. . . 1o Partie extérierure et charnue qui forme le contour de la bouche . . .  . . . 4o Terme de chirurgie. Lèvres, les deux bords d’une plaie simple. . . . -E[tymologie]. Provenç. labras; du lat. labrum, lèvre, qui se rapporte à lambère, l a p t e i n, lécher; c’est le membre qui lèche.”
102.08-10: A fat little Russian encyclopedia was solely concerned with guba, lip, as meaning a district court in ancient Lyaska or an arctic gulf: Entsiklopedicheskiy Slovar’ [Encyclopedic Dictionary], ed. B.A. Vvedenskiy et al. (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Nauchnoe Izdatel’stvo “Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya,” 1963-64 (2 vols., 656 and 736 pp.), v. 1, lists only these meanings for guba: “nazvanie daleko vdayushchikhsya v sushu morskikh zalivov na severe SSSR, v k-rye obychno vpadayut krupnye reki (Onezhskaya G., Obskaya G. i dr.)” (“name of coastal bays in the north of the USSR cutting deep inland, into wh. usually flow major rivers (Gulf of Onega, Gulf of Ob and others)”); “sud.-adm. okrug v Rus. gos-ve 16-17 vv., pribl. ravnïy pozdneyshemu uezdu” (“jud[ icial]-adm[inistrative] region in the 16-17C. Russ. state, approx. same as the later uezd”).
102.09: ancient Lyaska: MOTIF: Lyaska.
102.11-18: Their lips . . . in a feminine key: Cf. 58.16-18: “Her features were saved from elfin prettiness by the thickish shape of her parched lips. Her plain Irish nose was Van’s in miniature.” MOTIF: Ada-Van similarity; family resemblance.
102.13-17: the nether lip, fat and sullen . . . the largeness of the lower one with its disdainful prominence and opaque pink: Mason 74 observes that this fat lower lip is pointedly orchid-like. Cf. 104.05-06: “the nether lip too fat for the ideal beauty of marble death” (in Ada and Lucette).
102.17-18: repeated Van’s mouth in a feminine key: Cf. 80.08-11: “Greg’s plain features had been transposed practically intact into his sister’s aura where they acquired a semblance of girlish ‘good looks’ without impairing the close resemblance between sailor boy and maiden.”
102.19-103.01: our children’s kissing phase (a not particularly healthy fortnight of long messy embraces): Cf. the retrospective views of this phase afforded by Kim’s photo album, 403.12-13: “our non-stop three-hour kiss Under the Larches”; 403.19-20: “here I’m glutting your tongue, and there I’m glued to your epiglottis.” The fortnight begins a few days after the picnic on Ada’s birthday, July 21, with Ada’s first “fresh-rose kiss” (101.10-11) while she paints her orchids, and continues to the Night of the Burning Barn (114.07: “July 28? August 4?”), when they move beyond mere kisses. A dating from, say, July 24 to August 4 (allowing twelve days in the kissing phase, taking “fortnight” as an approximate term) would seem the most likely.
102.19: kissing phase: Cf. 148.02: “kissing phase.”
103.01-02: some odd pudibund screen cut them off, so to speak, from each other’s raging bodies: Cf. 98.15-18: “Henceforth, at certain moments . . . a secret sign was erected, a veil drawn between him and her.”
103.10-11: I’d like to be a goblin-size Gulliver and explore that cave: In Book II of Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver (London: B. Motte, 1726), popularly known as Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver is only about a twelfth of the size of the Brobdingnagians. Kyoto Reading Circle: “Nabokov may or may not have seen Richard O. Fleischer’s film, Fantastic Voyage (1966) about a voyage inside the human body, but he would have known about it. Whatever else he does, Swift’s Gulliver does not enter a human body.”
103.12: “I can lend you my tongue,” she said, and did: Cf. 403.19: “But look, girl, here I’m glutting your tongue.”
103.13: A large boiled strawberry, still very hot: Cf. 437.14-16 (Demon on Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights): “the feel and the taste of the woman-sized strawberry that you embrace with him, or the exquisite surprise of an unusual orifice.”
103.18: “I appreciated your tact”: Pun: tactfulness, touch (from Latin tactus, a touching, touch). Cf. 119.05: “In order to explain, tactfully, tactually. . . . ”
103.19: awe that: textual: correct to “awe, that.”
103.21-105.14: He learned her face . . . : Cf. the first inventory Van makes of Ada’s 1884 features, 58.02-59.10, and the comparative inventory he makes of her 1888 features at 215.01-217.23.
103.21-104.02: all possessed such a softness of outline . . . picture hats, and frightfully expensive little courtesans. . . . mawkish admirer. . . . Remembrance, like Rembrandt, is dark but festive. Remembered ones dress up for the occasion . . . the mat white of her neck through the black bronze stream: At one level, Van is talking obliquely of a photographic session with kitchen hand Kim Beauharnais as photographer, the session adumbrated at the end of the previous chapter, 101.17-20: “we must dress up because Marina wants Kim to take our picture,” and echoed, with more reflections on memory and time, at 402.14-27: “Another photograph . . . Ada sat reading. . . . Her hair flowed partly across her collarbone and partly down her back.”
At another, this paragraph anticipates the elaborate description of Lucette, in the pose of a courtesan in a Toulouse-Lautrec poster, as seen by Van in Ovenman’s bar in Paris in 1901 (itself anticipated by other picture-hatted women in black in bars: see Boyd 1985/2001 129-31, 159-68): “sideways to remembrance and reader. . . . from the black soft corolla of which her long neck gracefully rose. . . . all this in profile, we softly repeat. . . . picture hat . . . Her Irish profile sweetened by a touch of Russian softness . . . friends and admirers of my memories” (460.01-461.09). MOTIF: picture hat; woman in picture.
103.21-27: Nose, cheek, chin . . . her profile . . . nose, cheek, chin: MOTIF: profile.
103.22-26: keepsakes . . . her profile: Cf. 204.28: “ Ada, her keepsake profile inclined. . . . ”
103.23-24: frightfully expensive little courtesans in Wicklow: Wicklow, a county town (52o 59'N 6.03oW) and county in Leinster, southeast Ireland. On the following page, Van, still describing Ada, notes: “Eye shape: langourous. The procuress in Wicklow, on that satanic night of black sleet, at the most tragic, and almost fatal point of my life (Van, thank goodness, is ninety now—in Ada’s hand) dwelt with peculiar force on the ‘long eyes’ of her pathetic and adorable grandchild” (104.26-31), but otherwise this Wicklow scene seems not to be described, and its dating and place in the novel’s sequence are unclear. Van does however note: “I had frequented bordels since my sixteenth year, but although some of the better ones, especially in France and Ireland, rated a triple red symbol in Nugg’s guidebook . . . ” (353.12-14).
Perhaps connected with Lucette’s “Irish profile” (461.03) in the matching Ovenman scene (and the Irish element in the Veens in general, Ada’s “plain Irish nose,” 58.17, the “thickening of Hibernian outline” in Van’s nose, 216.07-08, a legacy from great-grandmother Mary O’Reilly, “an Irish woman of fashion,” 3.13); perhaps with Van’s “last visit to one last Villa Venus. A cauliflowered candle was messily burning in its tin cup on the window ledge. . . . ‘Smorchiama la secandela [Let us snuff out the candle],’ mumbled the bawd on the bed” (356.29-358.09); perhaps a pun on wick as “penis”?
In the 1888 catalogue of Ada’s charms, Van comments that “the merest touch of her finger or mouth following a swollen vein produced not only a more potent but essentially different delicia than the slowest ‘winslow’ of the most sophisticated young harlot” (219.27-30). Are the expensive little courtesans of Wicklow and the “winslow” of sophisticated young harlots related? MOTIF: whore.
103.25: the pale plume of a reed, that unthinking man—pascaltrezza: Darkbloom: “pascaltrezza: in this pun, which combines Pascal with scaltrezza (Ital., ‘sharp wit’) and treza (a Provençal word for ‘tressed stalks’), the French ‘pas’ negates the ‘pensant’ of the ‘roseau’ in his famous phrase ‘man is a thinking reed.’” Dmitri Nabokov has corrected the misprint “caltrezza” in the original Darkbloom note. Cf. 71.16-17: “and a few readers, those pensive reeds, and their pens and mental paintbrushes” and n.
103.26: a more childish and sensual digit: The tongue.
103.27-28: Remembrance, like Rembrandt, is dark but festive: Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) certainly painted many dark canvases—he was known for his ability to imply an object or scene with a small gleam of soft golden highlighting—but is generally much less festive than such compatriots and contemporaries as Franz Hals (c.1581-1665) and Jan Steen (1625/6-1679). Van may particularly have in mind the decidedly festive “Self-portrait with Saskia” (1635?, Dresden Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), in which Rembrandt is holding a glass of wine aloft with one hand and has his other arm around his wife Saskia; both have their backs to, but crane their heads around toward, the viewer.
103.28-29: Remembered ones dress up for the occasion and sit still: We accumulate memories of a person’s good features and preserve them thus?
103.29-30: Memory is a photo-studio de luxe on an infinite Fifth Power Avenue: On Earth, as apparently also on Antiterra, Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is the city’s central shopping street and main north-south axis; this symbol of prestige and power has somehow been raised mathematically to the fifth power (or is infinity raised to the fifth power?).
103.31-104.02: her hair . . . . hung lank and long over the neck, its flow disjoined by the shoulder; so that the mat white of her neck through the black bronze stream showed in triangular elegancy: Cf. 216.20-23: “Her neck had been . . . his most delicate, most poignant delight, especially when she let her hair flow freely, and the warm, white, adorable skin showed through in chance separations of glossy black strands”; cf. 489.19-20 (Ada as the gitanilla in Don Juan’s Last Fling): “Her neck shows white through her long black hair, separated by the motion of her shoulder.”
104.03-14: Accentuating her nose’s slight tilt turned it into Lucette’s . . . not kept by the mother): Lucette’s nose is “a freckled button” (36.27). MOTIF: Ada-Lucette similarity; family resemblance.
104.03: Accentuating her nose’s slight tilt: Cf. 216.09: “the tip [of Ada’s nose] seemed to turn up more strongly.” Cf. SM 53: “The Nabokov nose (e.g. my grandfather’s) is of the Russian type with a soft round upturned tip and a gentle inslope in profile: the Korff nose (e.g. mine) is a handsome Germanic organ with a boldly boned bridge and a slightly tilted, distinctly grooved, fleshy end.”
104.04: Samoyed: Probably not the well-known arctic dog originating in Western Siberia, but as Andrei Babikov suggests (private communication) the Samoyed (nowadays Samoyedic) peoples of northern Russia, especially Western Siberia, speakers of Samoyedic languages, including the Nenets, Enets, Nganasans and Selkup peoples. For an image of Lucette’s nose in profile (and by inference Ada’s nose minus Lucette’s tilt and then “smoothed down), see 58.10-12n.
104.05: nether lip too fat: Cf. 102.13.
104.06-07: noses were permanently stuffed: Cf. 390.03: “inexhaustible fluids that stuffed his [Van’s] nose.”
104.07-08: both girls (especially later, at fifteen and twelve): In the early stages of Ardis the Second, in 1888.
104.08-11: The lusterless whiteness of Ada’s skin (at twelve, sixteen, twenty, thirty-three, et cetera) was incomparably rarer than Lucette’s golden bloom (at eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty-five, finis): In Ada’s case, in 1884 (Ardis the First), 1888 (Ardis the Second), 1892 (Manhattan), 1905 (Mont Roux the First), and from 1922 (the second and conclusive Mont Roux reunion); in Lucette’s case, in 1884, 1888, 1892, and 1901 (Paris and mid-Atlantic, her suicide). This is the first clear warning that Lucette’s life will be cut short (although a first-time reader could assume—at least before checking the Family Tree—that the “finis” refers merely to Van’s last sighting of her). MOTIF: Lucette: prolepsis.
104.10-11: Lucette’s golden bloom: MOTIF: Lucette: bloom.
104.12: the long pure line of the throat: Cf. Lucette at Ovenman’s, 460.23-24: “With a rake’s morose gaze we follow the pure proud line of that throat.”
104.15: The eyes. Ada’s dark brown eyes: Cf. 215.16-17: “The eyes. The eyes had kept their voluptuous palpebral creases. . . . ”
104.15-19: What ( Ada asks) are eyes anyway? . . . What (she asks) would they mean to a creature from another corpuscle or milk bubble . . . : Is this Ada at twelve, or at nearly ninety? MOTIF: Composition: Ada.
104.16-19: What (she asks) would they mean to a creature from another corpuscle or milk bubbble whose organ of sight was (say) an internal parasite resembling the written word “deified”?: Cf. 339.11-20: “Elaborating . . . all that . . . ‘physics fiction’ would have been . . . an absurdity, for nobody knew how far Terra, or other innumerable planets . . . might be situated in outer or inner space: ‘inner,’ because why not assume their microcosmic presence in the golden globules ascending quick-quick in this flute of Moët or in the corpuscles of my, Van Veen’s—
(or my, Ada Veen’s)
—bloodstream, or in the pus of a Mr. Nekto’s ripe boil. . . . ”
104.19-21: What, indeed, would a pair of beautiful (human, lemurian, owlish) eyes mean to anybody if found lying on the seat of a taxi?: MOTIF: eyes dissociated.
104.22-23: The iris: black brown with amber specks or spokes placed around the serious pupil: Cf. 58.10: “The iridal dark-brown of her serious eyes.”
104.24: The eyelids: sort of pleaty: Cf. 215.16-17: “The eyes. The eyes had kept their voluptuous palpebral creases.”
104.24-26: v skladochku (rhyming in Russian with the diminutive of her name in the accusative case): Adochka (“little Ada”) in the nominative, Adochku in the accusative. MOTIF: Ada.
104.26-32: The procuress in Wicklow . . . dwelt with peculiar force on the “long eyes” of her pathetic and adorable grandchild. How I used to seek, with what tenacious anguish, traces and tokens of my unforgettable love in all the brothels of the world!: For Wicklow, cf. 103.23-24 and n. Cf. 353.17-18: “I had frequented bordels since my sixteenth year, but although some of the better ones, especially in France and Ireland, rated a triple symbol in Nugg’s guidebook, nothing about them pre-announced the luxury and mollitude of my first Villa Venus. It was the difference between a den and an Eden. // Three Egyptian squaws, dutifully keeping in profile (long ebony eye . . . ).”
Cf. Nabokov’s story “Vozvrashchenie Chorba” (“The Return of Chorb,” 1925), where Chorb after his wife’s death seeks to retrace his short married life with her, and ends back in their nuptial bedroom, where he has to procure the company of a whore to stave off solitude. MOTIF: whore.
104.27: that satanic night: MOTIF: satanic.
104.27-28: most tragic, and almost fatal point: In N1, VN corrected from 1969, “almost,” after toying with omitting the comma after “tragic” then inserting one after “fatal” and inserting one after “hand)” but finally rubbing these all out. Nevertheless as the sentence stands it needs a comma at least after “fatal” (“ most tragic, and almost fatal, point”).
104.28-29: (Van, thank goodness, is ninety now—in Ada’s hand): MOTIF: Composition: Ada.
104.30-32: adorable grandchild. How I used to seek . . . traces and tokens of my unforgettable love: MOTIF: Ada; adore.
104.33-105.14: He discovered her hands . . . : Cf. 58.19-59.10: “Her poor pretty hands. . . . ”
104.33: forget that nail-biting business: Cf. 58.19-59.10. MOTIF: fingernails.
104.34: carpus: Wrist.
104.34: phalanges: Finger-bones.
104.34-105.01: demanding helpless genuflections: Cf. 574.13-14: “An overwhelming tenderness impelled him to kneel suddenly at her feet in dramatic, yet utterly sincere attitudes. . . . ”
105.01-02: agonies of unresolvable adoration: MOTIF: Ada; adore; agony.
105.03-04: he caressed the parallel strokes of the delicate down shading the brunette’s forearm: Cf. 58.08-09: “Even her bare limbs were so free from suntan that one’s gaze, stroking her white shins and forearms, could follow upon them the regular slants of fine dark hairs”; 216.12-14: “In a strong light, a suggestion of darkish silk down (related to that on her forearms) could now be made out between nose and mouth.”
105.06-07: I could dissect a koala but not its baby: [image of koala] Cf. Lolita 14: “The softness and fragility of baby animals caused us the same intense pain.”
105.07: damozel, eglantine, elegant: Damozel is an archaic variant of “damsel,” revived by Sir Walter Scott and other romantics after him “to express a more stately notion than is now conveyed by damsel” (OED). Eglantine, especially the sweetbriar (Rosa eglantera). Edmund Spenser (c.1552-1599) in The Faerie Queene (1590-96) uses both words toward the end of Book III, Canto VI (The Garden of Adonis), “eglantine” in stanza 44, “damozel” in stanza 54.
105.07-08: eglantine, elegant. . . . elongated: Note sound-play.
105.08: my elongated white hand: Cf. 380.10 in next note.
105.09-13: She had on the back of her left hand the same small brown spot that marked his right one. She was sure, she said—either disingenuously or giddily—it descended from a birthmark Marina had had removed surgically from that very place years ago: Cf. 218.12-15: “The right instep and the back of her left hand bore the same small not overconspicuous but indelible and sacred birthmark, with which nature had signed his right hand and left foot.” Cf. 380.08-11: “Oh, I love her hands, Van, because they have the same rodinka (small birthmark), because the fingers are so long, because, in fact, they are Van’s in a reducing mirror.” MOTIF: Ada-Van similarity; birthmark; family resemblance; mirror.
105.13: a cad: Demon (see 105.18-21).
105.15-16: the pre-tunnel toot of the two-two to Toulouse: Nabokov and Van are playing with the doubling of sound, the doubling of siblings, the doubling of partners: Marina and Aqua (both lovers of the “cad” of 105.13 and 105.18-21), Ada and Van. There is also a counterpointing of the train’s “toot in “two two” and the clackety-clack rhythm of a railway. MOTIF: Toulouse.
105.22-23: As he looks, the palm of a gipsy asking for alms fades into that of the almsgiver asking for a long life: MOTIF: gipsy.
105.22-28: palm of a gipsy . . . (When will filmmakers reach the stage we have reached?) . . . explained to her passionate fortuneteller . . . “because the señorita will dance all night”): Cf. the film Don Juan’s Last Fling, in which Ada plays a gitana (gipsy), 487.11-490.06, 498.22-501.08, especially 488.26-28: “A gitana predicts to the gloomy cavalier that before reaching the castle he will have succumbed to the wiles of her sister, Dolores, a dancing girl.” Ada in her own person has predicted to Van, after reading his note to Lucette: “Van, Van, somewhere, some day, after a sunbath or dance, you will sleep with her, Van!” (421.30-32). MOTIF: gipsy.
105.25: green sunshine: Cf. 71.05: “green sun” and n. MOTIF: green [Ardis].
105.25: under a birch tree: MOTIF: under tree.
105.25-28: Ada explained . . . called “waltzes” in California (because the señorita will dance all night”): Ada had visited California in February 1884 (8.25-26). The name of the state and the reference to the waltz may perhaps echo the song “Tennessee Waltz,” which is alluded to at 134.33-34 (“Tennessee Waltz College,” q.v.) and another famous song, “I could have danced all night,” from the musical My Fair Lady (1956), adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion (1913) by Frederick Loewe (music) and Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics).
105.26-27: the circular marblings she shared with Turgenev’s Katya, another innocent girl: Darkbloom: “Katya: the ingénue in Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Children.’” In Ottsy i deti (1861), usually but incorrectly translated as Fathers and Sons, Katya (Katerina Sergeevna Loktev), the younger sister of the widow Anna Odintsov, will eventually marry Arkady Kirsanov, the young hero (see 3.03n. and 3.07-08n). In chapter 16 she is introduced: “Everything in her was still young and fresh: her voice, the down on her whole face, her pink hands with whitish little circles on her palms” (“Vsyo v ney bylo eshchyo molodo-zeleno: i golos, i pushok na vsem litse, i rozovye ruki s belovatymi kruzhkami na ladonyakh”). Later in the chapter, Evgeny Bazarov comments on her as “fresh, and untouched, and timorous, and quiet, and all you could want” (“svezho, i netronuto, i puglivo, i molchalivo, i vsyo chto khochesh’”).
Cf. 248.33-249.03: “Really, in comparison to the local girls, to Grace Erminin, for example, or Cordula de Prey, Ada is a Turgenevian maiden or even a Jane Austen miss.”
105.29-108.12: On her twelfth birthday, July 21, 1884, the child stopped biting her fingernails . . . Oh, please, devour your fingernails!: See I.13, 77.01: “For the big picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday. . . . ,” and 85.09-22: “insect. . . . scient. . . . incest. . . . the first bad mosquito of the season was resonantly slain on Ada’s shin by alert Lucette.”
Cf. 334.05-14: “you are responsible . . . of having let loose something mad in me when we were only children, a physical hankering, an insatiable itch. The fire you rubbed left its brand on the most vulnerable, most vicious and tender point of my body. Now I have to pay for your rasping the red rash too strongly, too soon. . . . the abiding effect of your sting, of your delicious poison.” MOTIF: Chateaubriand; fingernails; insect-incest; itch; mosquito.
105.30: but not her toenails: Cf. 218.12: “she could still suck her big toe.”
105.33-34: Culex chateaubriandi Brown: “Chateaubriand’s mosquito” (106.11). Culex is “a large cosmopolitan genus of mosquitoes, including the house mosquito (C. pipiens) of Europe and North America” (W2).
The species name, chateaubriandi, is invented, but we presume (until two paragraphs later) it is in honor of the French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, whose works have inspired the names of three butterfly taxa. The genus Zegris (see Ada 342.29-30, “two bogus houses, ‘Abencerage’ in Manhattan, and ‘Zegris’ in London,” and 500.27-28, “around which you flutter, my Zegris butterfly”), like that of the species Pseudophilotes abencerragus, derives from Chateaubriand’s Les Aventures du dernier Abencérage (written c. 1814, pub. 1826), which, as Darkbloom notes (see 342.29-30n.), was inspired by the feud between two families of Grenada Moors (the Zegríes and Abencerrajes) (see also Zimmer 282-83). The neotropical butterfly species Eumaeus atala was named after Chateaubriand’s Atala (1801; see 3.08n, 3.11-21n).
The virulence of Chateaubriand’s mosquito could, however, reflect a wildly unscientific passage from Chateaubriand’s Mémoires de l’outre-tombe describing his travels in North America. While in upstate New York, “Il fallait nous coucher horizontalement, le visage contre terre, pour nous mettre les yeux à l’abri de la fumée, dont le nuage, flottant au-dessus de nos têtes, nous garantissait tellement quellement de la piqûre des maringouins. // Les divers insectes carnivores, vus au microscope, sont des animaux formidables, ils étaient peut-être ces dragons ailés dont on retrouve les anatomies; diminués de taille à mesure que la matière diminuait d’énergie, ces hydres, griffons et autres, se trouvaient aujourd’hui à l’état d’insectes. Les géants antédiluviens sont les petits hommes d’aujourd’hui .” (“We had to sleep horizontally, faces on the ground, to shelter our eyes from the smoke, a cloud of which, floating above our heads, protected us thus from the bites of maringouins [which can mean “mosquitoes” or “sand-flies”]. // The various carnivorous insects, seen under the microscope, are formidable animals. Perhaps they were those winged dragons whose skeletons one finds; diminished in size in proportion as matter has diminished in energy, these hydras, griffons and others would now be in the form of insects. Antediluvian giants are the little men of today.” (Mémoires d’outre-tombe, Bk. 7. Ch. 3; Pléiade ed., 1951, I, 234)
The name “Brown” is that of Professor Brown of Boston “who wrote the rather slap-bang Original Description” (106.14-15, 107.27). The professor’s name may echo that of the famous botanist Robert Brown (1773-1858), who of course named many plant genera and species, and that of the Colorado lepidopterist F[rederick] Martin Brown (1903-1993), with whom Nabokov disagreed over the application of statistics to lepidoptery: see “Remarks on F. Martin Brown’s ‘Measurements and Lepidoptera,’” The Lepidopterists’ News, 4 (1950), 75-76, rpt. in Nabokov’s Butterflies, ed. Brian Boyd and Robert Michael Pyle (Boston: Beacon, 2000), 458-60. Darwin took issue with the botanist The Various Contrivances by Which Orchids are Fertilised by Insects , 2 nd ed. (1877; rpt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 54, where he notes that “Robert Brown first observed that the structure of the Bee Ophrys is adapted for self-fertilisation” and adds in a footnote: “Brown erroneously believed that this peculiarity was common to the genus. As far as the four British species are concerned, it applies to this one alone.” He then records: “Long and often as I have watched plants of the Bee Ophrys, I have never seen one visited by any insect. Robert Brown imagined that the flowers resembled bees in order to deter their visits, but this seems extremely improbable” (pp. 55-56).
As Cancogni 306 notes, “Le Petit Larousse defines culex as ‘nom scientifique du moustique appelé vulgairement cousin’ [scientific name of the mosquito popularly called cousin].” The French cousin can also mean the same as English “cousin.” MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy; Brown.
106.02: French mustard: Chauvinist Mlle Larivière would naturally consider no other kind.
106.02-03: green, yellow, orange, red, pink riding hoods: Jay Alan Edelnant, “Nabokov’s Black Rainbow: An Analysis of the Rhetorical Function of the Color Imagery in Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle” (unpub. doctoral diss., Northwestern University, 1979), p. 84, notes that this sequence implies “green thumb” and “pinkie.” MOTIF: rainbow.
106.02-04: yellow . . . yellow index was a trouvaille: Darkbloom: “a trouvaille: a felicitous find”: from the use of yellow paper for indexes (of businesses in telephone books, etc.) and, frequently, of yellow paint for index signs for streets and buildings. Cf. 247.25-26: “That ‘leavesdropper’ is a splendid trouvaille, girl.”
106.03: red, pink riding hoods: MOTIF: fairy tale.
106.10-11: emerged, with diabolical regularity: MOTIF: devil.
106.11: the female of Chateaubriand’s mosquito: Females of the mosquito, but not males, have needlelike organs in the proboscis to puncture the skin of animals and suck on their blood.
106.11-26: Chateaubriand (Charles) . . . the great poet and memoirist born between Paris and Tagne . . .
Mon enfant, ma soeur
Songe à l’épaisseur
Du grand chêne à Tagne;
Songe à la montagne,
Songe à la douceur:
Hybridizes François-René de Chateaubriand, the great memoirist (1768-1848), born in St. Malo (see 3.08, 3.11-21n, and 81.14n) and Charles Baudelaire, the great poet (1821-1867), born in Paris, and their most famous poems, Chateaubriand’s “Romance à Hélène” from Les Aventures du dernier Abencérage (see 105.33-34n, 138.01-139.04), and Baudelaire’s “L’Invitation au voyage” (Les Fleurs du Mal, 1857).
As Rivers and Walker note: “Chateaubriand composed his romance not later than 1804. It appeared in the Mercure on 31 May 1806 and was published separately two more times before finally being incorporated into Les Aventures du dernier Abencérage. As Chateaubriand points out in a footnote to the novella, he wrote the romance to be sung to a traditional mountain tune of the Auvergne.” (275-76)
Stanza 1 begins “Combien j’ai douce souvenance / Du joli lieu de ma naissance! / Ma soeur, qu’ils étaient beaux les jours / De France!,” stanza 3 “Ma soeur, te souvient-il encore / Du château que baignait la Dore,” stanza 5, “Oh! qui me rendra mon Hélène, / Et ma montagne, et le grand chêne?” (“What sweet memory I have / Of the pretty place of my birth! / My sister, how fine they were, those days / Of France! . . . . My sister, do you still recall / The castle bathed by the Dore . . . Oh! who will give me back my Helene, / and my mountain, and the great oak?”).
Baudelaire’s poem also begins by addressing his sister: “Mon enfant, ma soeur, / Songe à la douceur / D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble” (“My child, my sister, / Think of the sweetness / Of going there to live together”).
Darkbloom translates the invented poem: “my child, my sister, think of the thickness of the big oak at Tagne, think of the mountain, think of the tenderness—”. MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy; Mon enfant, ma soeur; my sister; Romance à Hélène.
106.14: Professor Brown: Of Boston, not to be confused with Braun of Philadelphia (107.25-27). MOTIF: Brown.
106.15: the rather slap-bang Original Description: Cf. 107.24-25: “a rather rare and interesting mosquito (described—not quite simultaneously—by two angry old men . . . ).
Nabokov’s own first published “O.D.” was “Lysandra cormion, a new European butterfly,” Journal of the New York Entomological Society, 49 (1941), 265-67, rpt. Boyd and Pyle 2000, 238-41. In some of his subsequent technical papers he would disparage the occasional or inveterate sloppiness of predecessors: “In 1876 W.H. Edwards, working, it may be assumed, in a bad light (note the ‘plumbaginous’), thus described a new ‘Euptychia’: . . . . Weymer’s description of ‘henshawi’ in what Holland politely calls a ‘monograph’ of the Neonympha is much too slapdash and muddled to be taken into any account at all,” (“Some New or Little-Known Nearctic Neonympha (Lepidoptera: Satyridae),” Psyche 49 (1942), 73, 76, rpt. Boyd and Pyle, 259, 262) (but cf. “In 1887, 11 years later, Edwards, in one of the finest works on butterf lies ever published . . . ,” loc. cit., 75, rpt. Boyd and Pyle 261); of Lycaeides argyrognomon alaskensis, first described by the notoriously haphazard (see Boyd and Pyle 446) F.H. Chermock: “To the naked eye the wings produce the effect of being powdered with more or less light greyish blue (the impressionistic O.D. has ‘suffused with greyish brown,’ the ‘brown’ being surely borrowed from the ground)” (“The Nearctic Members of the Genus Lycaeides Hübner (Lycaenidae, Lepidoptera),” Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, 101 (1949), 479-641, p. 501).
106.15-16: palpi . . . hyaline: feelers . . . glassy. Cf. 71.04: “hyaline skin.”
106.17-18: the kasements [German printer!]: Perhaps reflects Nabokov’s dislike of the impact of German methods on lepidopterological classification in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (cf. SM 123-24, Boyd and Pyle 199-202, 209-10, 309-10, 318, 338, 341).
106.18: The Boston Entomologist: Nabokov published more of his scientific papers in Psyche, a Journal of Entomology, Cambridge, Mass., than in any other single source.
106.18-19: for August, quick work, 1840: Since the insect emerged only in the “last week of July” (106.10). Cf. also “Some New or Little-Known Nearctic Neonympha,” 74: “The description of the male is worthless for all purposes of determination and I have ignored it in my bibliographical summary. A light fuscous Neonympha expanding 1.5 inch with no markings, red flush or androconial brand might be, for all one knows, an oversized gemma—although on the other hand it is possible to argue that the describer was merely in a hurry to get to the interesting underside” (rpt. Boyd and Pyle 260).
106.19: not related: MOTIF: relation.
106.20: between Paris and Tagne: There are villages in France with names La Tagnière and Tagnon, but no “Tagne,” which seems a back formation from “montagne” in the poem (106.25), as if it were “mon Tagne,” “my Tagne.” Culex is also Latin for “gnat” (see 73.131-4 and n.: “gnat,” especially in England, means “mosquito”) which we may see in “Tagne.”
106.20: as he’d better: What does this mean in context? Ardeur 90: “entre Paris et Tagne (ou bien Rimatagne, dit Ada . . . )” (“between Paris and Tagne (or else Rimatagne, said Ada . . . )”).
106.20-21: Ada, who liked crossing orchids: Darkbloom: “she crosses here two French authors, Baudelaire and Chateaubriand.” See above, 106.11-26n. For Ada’s crossing orchids when she paints, see 99.17-19, 101.16-17.
106.28-30: insect characterized by an insatiable and reckless appetite for Ada’s and Ardelia’s, Lucette’s and Lucile’s (multiplied by the itch) blood: Cf. the famous lyric “The Flea,” by John Donne (1572-1631) which also focuses on an itch-producing and blood-mingling insect that stands as an emblem of desire: “Mark but this flea, and mark in this, / How little that which thou deny’st me is! / Me it suck’d first, and now sucks thee; / And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be; / Thou know’st that this cannot be said / A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead. // . . . // Cruel and sudden, hast thou since / Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?” As originally printed, the poem had the “long s” (which resembles an f) twice (in initial positions, as always) in line 3. MOTIF: Ada-Lucette similarity.
106.28-30: insatiable . . . itch: Cf. 334.04-08: “Van, you are responsible . . . of having let loose something mad in me when we were only children, a physical hankering, an insatiable itch.”
106.29: Ada’s and Ardelia’s: Ardelia was the name by which Van misidentified Lucette the first time he saw her, confusing her with Ada (full first name “Adelaida”): see 36.24 and n. MOTIF: Ada.
106.29: Lucette’s and Lucile’s: Véra Nabokov, in pointing out the Chateaubriand source for the trilingual poem “My sister, do you still recall / The blue Ladore and Ardis Hall” (138.01-139.04, 141.26-29) notes: “Lucille, incidentally, was the true name of Chateaubriand’s sister, with whom he was in love” (Vladimir Nabokov Research Newsletter, 12 [Spring 1984], 13). See also 81.14 and n. Ardeur 90: “d’Ada et d’Ardélia, de Lucette, Lucinde et Lucile.” MOTIF: Lucette.
107.01: recueilli: Darkbloom: “concentrated, rapt.” Perhaps with a pun on recueillir as “to collect” (cf. 108.09-10: “A short series, all females, replete with their fortunate captor’s blood, has recently been collected”).
107.02: its absolutely hellish proboscis: MOTIF: hell.
107.02-04: the brass crash of a military band. Five minutes after the attack in the crepuscule: Cf. 71.34-73.29: “crepuscule . . . . flying with Photinus ladorensis. . . . a stink-bomb had burst among the instruments in the horsecart. . . . a crash of symbols in an orchal orchestra.” In this Baudelairean atmosphere, “crepuscule” brings to mind his famous poem “Le Crépuscule du soir” (1852) (“The Evening Twilight”).
107.04-08: a fiery irritation would set in . . . which the weak, the adorable, the voluptuous took advantage of to scratch and scratch and scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant): Cf. 334.07-14: “a physical hankering, an insatiable itch. . . . your rasping the red rash too strongly, too soon. . . . Nothing exists any more than the ecstasy of friction, the abiding effect of your sting, of your delicious poison.”
107.07: the adorable: MOTIF: Ada; adore.
107.07-08: to scratch and scratch and scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant): Darkbloom: “canteen: a reference to the ‘scrumpets’ (crumpets) provided by school canteens.” This anticipates Ada’s scratching the red rash with the help of a lesbian lover at Brownhill (cf. 323.20-23). In this context, and with the slang sense of crumpet as “Women regarded collectively as a means of sexual gratification” (OED 4c), we can hear a double entendre on “cant.” In 1884 Van wrongly suspects Ada has been unfaithful with Cordula de Prey, but when he meets Cordula “in the very roomy and rococo ‘crumpeter,’ as Kalugano College students used to call it in the ’Eighties and ’Nineties,” of the express to Kalugano, he knows better, and after sampling a (literal) crumpet, starts to caress her under the table (302-03). MOTIF: college slang; crumpet.
107.08-10: “Sladko! (Sweet!)” Pushkin used to exclaim in relation to a different species: Alexey Sklyarenko explains (Nabokv-L, March 2, 2007): “In a letter of May 20, 1828, Prince Peter Vyazemsky describes to his wife his visit, in the company of the poet Adam Mickiewicz, to Priiutino, the country house of the Olenin family (Olenin père was an amateur painter and the director, if I'm not mistaken, of the St. Petersburg public library) some 17 versts east of St. Petersburg. At the Olenins', they found Pushkin with his ‘amorous grimaces’ (Pushkin was at the time in love with Anette Olenine, whom he even desired to marry). Vyazemsky praises to his wife the picturesque surroundings but adds that mosquitoes turn the place into a veritable hell (sushchiy ad). ‘I never saw such a plenty of them. One can not stop for a moment chasing them away with one's hands. One involuntarily dances the Komarinskaya [a popular Russian dance, whose name comes from komar , a mosquito]. I couldn't have lived one day here. The next day I would have gone mad and fractured my skull against the wall. Mickiewicz said que c’est une journée sanglante. Pushkin was all pimpled and, besieged by mosquitoes, tenderly exclaimed: “sladko!”’ (see Literaturno-khudozhestvennyi sbornik 'Krasnoi panoramy', Nov., Leningrad 1929, p. 49, or "Pushkin v neizdannoi perepiske sovremennikov" in Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vol. 58, 1952, or T. G. Tsiavlovskaya's article Dnevnik A. A. Oleninoi).”
Proffer 258 notes Nabokov’s comments on the expunged stanza 11 of “Onegin’s Journey”
Scarce has Onegin plunged
in memories of former days
when the heat of meridian ray
and clouds of malapert mosquitoes,
from all sides shrilling, humming,
meet him... (EO III, 263)
“The mosquitoes of Astrahan are berated by several travelers. See, for example, Voeykov’s ‘Logbook’ in his magazine Literary News (Novosti literaturï), no. 9 (Aug., 1824). The classic account, however, of the ‘affecting visitation’ of Tatary mosquitoes is that by E.D. Clarke (Travels in Various Countries, II, 59-61), who they almost killed one July night in 1800 on the banks of the Kuban.” (III, 280)
107.19: Samarkand satin: From the city of Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, long a stop on the Silk Road from China.
107.25-27: described—not quite simultaneously . . . Boston professor: Cf. 106.14-19. For the question of taxonomic priority, see also 57.04-06.
107.25-26: two angry old men: The phrase “angry young men,” apparently deriving from Irish writer Leslie Allen Paul’s autobiography Angry Young Man (1951), became a journalistic catch-phrase in Britain, after the production of John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger (1956), to describe Osborne (1929-1994) and other young writers, such as Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), Alan Sillitoe (1928- ) and Colin Wilson (1931- ), who were vocally and stridently dissatisfied with the complacency of the 1950s. Cf. 302.27: “this angry young demon.”
107.26: Braun: Note that his name is the German for “Brown,” and that Professor Brown has a German printer: cf. 106.15-19nn. Robert Brown, the British botanist and discoverer of Brownian motion, and Alexander Braun (1805-1877), German botanist, were both alive on Earth at the time of the Original Description of Culex chateaubriandi Brown. MOTIF: Brown; twin.
107.26: dipterist: Specialist in the large order of Diptera, insects comprising the true or winged flies, mosquitoes, gnats, etc.
108.04-06: Because, perhaps, Van’s lifestream was too bitter . . . Chateaubriand’s mosquito never cared much for him: But other mosquitoes do: cf. 73.11-14: “he felt grateful when foul weather or the fouler gnat—the Kamargsky Komar of our muzhiks and the Moustique moscovite of their no less alliterative retaliators—drove him back to his bumpy bed.”
108.06: Nowadays it seems to be getting extinct: As is the ardilla at Ardis (98.12, 98.19-20).
108.07-08: the moronic draining of the lovely rich marshes in the Ladore region: Near places like Tourbière (“peat”) or Torfyanka (“peaty”). The Veen name also means “peat, bog” in Dutch.
108.08-09: in the Ladore region as well as near Kaluga . . . and Lugano: Cf. 72.05-07: “an allied species, flying with Photinus ladorensis, according to Ada, at Lugano and Luga.” Cf. 213.27-28: “bound volumes of The Kaluga Waters and The Lugano Sun.” Cf. Kalugano, 1.42, the site of Van’s duel and his encounter with Philip Rack. MOTIF: -uga.
108.08: Kaluga, Conn.: Not to be confused with Kaluga, New Cheshire (4.03). Kaluga is Russian for “marsh.”
108.09: Lugano, Pa.: Perhaps a different Lugano from the one near Ardis, 72.07 (“Lugano and Luga”)? Cf. also 26.08: “Lago di Luga.”
108.09-12: (A short series . . . . Ada’s note.): MOTIF: Composition: Ada.
108.11: stations: Nabokov marked equivalents for translators in the margin of N1: “localities / habitats / places of capture.”
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 17