Part One, Chapter 31
After four years of absence, Van returns to Ardis, knowing this time that it will be a return to Ada. After five wildly centrifugal chapters marking their separation (the breakdown of their complicated epistolary code, the disastrous Brownhill meeting with Ada, Van as card-sharper at Cambridge, the swift feverish tryst at Forest Fork, Van as Mascodagama at Cambridge and beyond), the love story returns to its center.
Van feels a combination of impatient anticipation at the prospect of recapturing the old ardor with Ada, nightmare dread that things will be different, and distance now from the “child” he was four years ago when he had been so uncertain that Ada could ever return his love. Even his mix of eagerness and misgiving of course marks the difference, as well as the continuity of his feelings for Ada, since then he arrived at Ardis with only a vague notion of his two young cousins.
When Van had arrived at Ardis in 1884, although invited, none of the family had been at home to greet him. Now, when he arrives uninvited, far more than the family is there. When he wants to see no one but Ada, a large party is breaking up and he feels a pang at being superfluous; when he does see her, another man is kissing her in more than polite farewell. Throughout the chapter, ominous signs of Ada’s infidelity gather—or are they only signs of the ferocity of Van’s love and therefore his hair-trigger jealousy?
When they are alone together, they are almost at once in passionate embrace but, in a comic reprise of 1884, interrupted almost at once by Lucette. But that night they can make strenuous love all night, despite the interruptions of Blanche and her current or past lovers.
187.01-02: Van revisited Ardis Hall in 1888. He arrived on a cloudy June afternoon: Cf. 160.04-05: “that separation . . . from September, 1884 to June, 1888.”
187.01: cloudy: The day of Van’s arrival at Ardis the First had been sunny: “the white step of a pillared porch shining in the sun” (398.17-18).
187.02: unexpected, unbidden, unneeded: Van dramatizes and romanticizes his melancholy through the triple repetition. Repetitions sounding a similar note of chagrin recur later in the paragraph, at 187.05 (“without him, not for him”) and 187.16 (“with no sleeves, no ornaments, no memories”).
Cf. Van’s summary of his life at Kingston, “Unbeloved . . . unknown . . . unregretted” (507.13-15).
187.02-03: with a diamond necklace coiled loose in his pocket: A gift intended for Ada (see 188.01). Unlike Van arriving at Ardis in 1884, Van arriving in 1888 knows who he wants to see there and why.
Van’s extravagance matches that of his father, who sends Marina 99 orchids on the day of Van’s birth (7.33). The last time we have seen Van with his father, Demon wears “a diamond ring blazing like a Caucasian ridge” (180.15).
MOTIF: diamonds; necklace; La Parure; riches.
187.04-05: a scene out of some new life being rehearsed for an unknown picture: MOTIF: Enfants maudits; movie
187.06-08: Three young ladies in yellow-blue Vass frocks . . . surrounded a stoutish, foppish, baldish young man: Darkbloom: “yellow-blue Vass: the phrase is consonant with ya lyublyu vas (‘I love you’ in Russian).” “Vas,” “you” (plural or polite singular) is written in careful Russian correspondence, unlike any other pronoun, with a capital, so the phrase would often have been written as “ya lyublyu Vas” in old-fashioned letters. Nabokov played with the phrase “yellow blue vase” when teaching Russian to the young women at Wellesley College in the 1940s (see Andrew Field, Nabokov: His Life in Part, New York: Viking, 1977, 248). MOTIF: [adjective] [young/old] man.
Ada, on Van’s first seeing her at Ardis, in 1884, was carrying “a pink-yellow-blue nosegay” (37.33).
Jealous Van here sees (or retrospectively stylizes?) Percy de Prey (as this fop will prove to be) surrounded by young ladies ready to declare their love for him—even at the cost of standing next to two others in identical dresses (and a fourth young woman wears the same frock, 188.33-34).
187.06-188.09: ladies in yellow-blue Vass frocks with fashionable rainbow sashes . . . . She wore, unmodishly, no stockings . . . low cut of her black dress . . . mat whiteness of her skin: The three (and later four) girls in the fashionable, strongly colored dresses with multicolored sashes, who cannot command Percy’s attention, contrast with Ada, unmodish, and decidedly black and white, who commands Percy’s attention and Van’s. The yellow-blue young women also contrast with the red-green Lucette, another contrast to black-and-white Ada. MOTIF: black-white.
187.07: Vass frocks: Plays with the name of the famous American fashion designer, Bill Blass (1922-2002), already prominent in New York in the early 1950s, although he did not set up Bill Blass Limited until 1970. At the picnic for Ada’s birthday in 1884 Mlle Larivière wears “a white satin dress (made by Vass of Manhattan for Marina who had lately lost ten pounds)” (78.22-23). Although he is “Vass of Manhattan,” he is also identified as “the Canadian couturier” (188.33-34).
187.07: rainbow sashes: MOTIF: rainbow.
187.08: stoutish, foppish, baldish: The repeated “-ish” adds an additional note of contempt to these already unflattering adjectives, and perhaps, as Aleksey Sklyarenko suggests (private communication, 9 April 2002) echoes the famous description of Akakiy Akakievich, the hero of Gogol’s “Shinel’” (“The Overcoat,” or as Nabokov sometimes called it, “The Carrick,” 1842), in the story’s opening paragraph: “nizen’kogo rosta, neskol’ko ryabovat, neskol’ko ryzhevat, neskol’ko dazhe na vid podslepovat, s nebol’shoy lysinoy na lbu” (N.V. Gogol, Sobranie sochineniy, Moscow: Khudostvennaya literature, 1984, III.114): “short, somewhat pockmarked, somewhat redhaired, even with a somewhat nearsighted look, slightly bald in front” (The Collected Tales, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, New York: Knopf, 1998, 384); the Russian gogol’, Sklyarenko notes, can mean “fop, beau, philanderer”). Cf. 188.32: “the stout blond fellow (Percy de Prey? . . . )”; 190.10-11: “He had changed, he had grown swine-stout”; 195.07: “fat Percy.”
187.10-15: a girl in black . . . white cape . . . white cape . . . Ada’s new long figure was profiled in black—the black of . . . : Ada’s black silk dress seen first against her great-aunt’s white cape contrasts with her in a white frock with a (borrowed: 398.23) black jacket and a white bow in her hair in Van’s first glimpse of her at Ardis, in 1884 (37.14-15). Her remembered black hair-white skin and black-white clothes coloration stands out uncannily starkly for Van in this first new glimpse. Note the link with the explicitly novelistic black-white contrast at 188.07-10.
Perhaps the white cape of the incidental Baroness Von Skull is meant to stand in contrast to the black cape of Mascodagama that plays such a role in the previous chapter. In his Mascodagama role, Van kicks off and away a false head, perhaps to be linked to the image of an empty skull?
187.10: an old runabout: Van arrived at Ardis in 1884 in what begins as “a hackney coach,” turns into “the old calèche,” and becomes “the sensitive runabout,” then “the old clockwork taxi” and ultimately a horse (34-35).
187.13-14: Baroness von Skull: As the Kyoto Reading Circle note, Baron Von Skull is a villain—and the name of an episode—in the Hanna Barbera television cartoon, Samson and Goliath (1967). An image of the character can be seen at http://webpages.charter.net/superheroes/samsongoliath.html#3.2.2. Nabokov could have come across this “Baron Von Skull” in one of the periodicals he bought in 1967, such as the International Herald Tribune or Time. The Baroness does not recur after this paragraph.
187.14-15: Ada’s new long figure: Ada was twelve when Van last saw her at Ardis, and now, at sixteen, has presumably reached her full adult height.
187.15: figure was profiled in black: Cf. Lucette dressed in black dress and hat, and emphatically in profile (“silhouette . . . sideways . . . in profile . . . in profile, we softly repeat . . . Her Irish profile,” 460-61).
187.15-16: black of her smart silk dress: Cordula, perhaps now imitating Ada’s fashion sense, wears a “black silk dress” (318.19) in the train taking Van away from Ardis at the end of his summer stay.
187.16: no sleeves, no ornaments, no memories: See 187.02 and n.
187.16-20: The slow old baroness stood groping for something under one armpit . . . as she half-turned to accept the cloak (now taken . . . by a belated footman)”: Cf. the photograph of Van’s arrival at Ardis in 1884, showing “Marina, one arm still in the sleeve of the dust coat which a footman (Price) was helping her to remove, stood brandishing her free arm in a theatrical gesture of welcome” (398.18-21).
188.01: her yet ungemmed neck: Without the diamond necklace Van intends to give her (187.02-03).
188.05: cherry ambrozia: Apparently, cherry vodka (188.25). A metaphor: Russian ambrozia means the same as English ambrosia.
188.05: unmodishly, no stockings: Ada also stands out as unmodish in not wearing, like the other young women at the party, Vass frocks with their primary colors and “fashionable rainbow sashes” (187.07).
Cf. 218.09: “her stockingless summer trips to the magic islet.”
188.06-09: strong and pale . . . whiteness of her skin: MOTIF: Ada’s paleness.
188.06-10: (I have a note here, for the ghost of a novel) “the low cut . . . hair-do”): Van’s mental note at the time, as it were? A later reflection, perhaps after Ardis the Second, when he writes Letters from Terra? “Here”? Where? At the time and in the place of his writing Ada?
Cf. 476.01-04: “and he thought that if ever he switched from ponderous factitude to light fiction he would have a jealous husband use binoculars to decipher from where he stood that outpour of illicit affection.”
188.08-10: sharp contrast between the familiar mat whiteness of her skin and the brutal black horsetail of her new hair-do: An exact visual contrast between white and black, cut-away and protruding; but also a subjective contrast for Van between the familiar (the whiteness of Ada’s skin he recalls from 1884) and the disconcertingly unfamiliar (the “horsetail”): cf. 188.15-16.
188.09: brutal black horsetail: The coarse-sounding horsetail rather than usual “ponytail” because longer than usual, or coarser than usual, at least compared with the tenderness of his memory?
188.11-19: Excluding each other, private swoons split him in two: . . . motion picture: Cf. 284.33-285.07: “two secret witnesses. . . . One . . . the other . . . ”; 369.33-370.03: “Two ideas were locked up in a slow dance, a mechanical menuet . . . . ”
188.12-189.05: in the labyrinth of a nightmare . . . that they both were dead or existed only as extras . . . “I think I am dreaming. I think you are Dreaming Too”: The nightmare persists.
188.13-14: a brightly remembered small room with a bed: The room assigned him in 1884, which even then struck him as “more than modest” (42.05-06);
188.14: and a child’s washstand: Cf. 42.19: “a washstand made specially for the bathless.”
188.15-16: the pang and panic of finding her changed: Cf. 192.01-02: “Nothing, nothing has changed!”
188.15: pang and panic: MOTIF: p and p.
188.18-19: or existed only as extras in a house rented for a motion picture: Cf. 523.04-05: “a robed person who looked like an extra in a technicolor incarnation of Vishnu.” Nabokov had been a movie extra in the heyday of the Berlin film industry, for instance on March 12, 1925 (VNRY 239). MOTIF: Enfants maudits; movie.
188.23-24: a stranger who feigned amazement at the singularity of the optical trick: Presumably the stranger merely obsequiously echoes and exaggerates Dan’s surprise without knowing what has occasioned it.
188.24: red-wigged: Marina’s husband is Dan “Red” Veen, and her one daughter by him, Lucette, also has red hair. Cf. Marina a month later, “the glittering net over her strawberry-blond dyed hair” (251.04-05). Van described her hair in 1884 merely as “auburn locks . . . bleached” (38.31). MOTIF: red hair.
188.24-26: very drunk and tearful Marina was gluing . . . lips to his . . . unprotected parts . . . smothered mother-sounds: Drunk as she is, Marina cannot inhibit her eagerness to express her affection for the son she usually dares not acknowledge as fulsomely as she would like.
188.25-27: Marina was gluing cherry-vodka lips . . . with smothered mother-sounds . . . of Russian affection: Cf. 262.22-24: “Marina . . . in the Russian manner kissed her guest [Demon] on his inclined brow as he lifted her hand to his lips.” Marina’s Russianness has always been more marked than Van’s: see 38.14-17; cf. 191.20-23. MOTIF: Marina’s Russianness.
188.25-26: to his jaw and unprotected parts: Van who dislikes his mother, turns his face aside from her advancing lips rather than meeting them, so that she can only kiss other parts of his exposed head. The “unprotected parts” refer especially to his ears (see 188.31, “his wet buzzing ear”), although since “parts” of the body with an adjective occurs most often in the form “private parts,” the phrase has a momentarily misleading shimmer of misimplication.
188.26-27: half-moo, half-moan: Hostile Van does think of his mother as somewhat cow-like.
188.28: He disentangled himself: Van generally remains indifferent to his mother’s affection; all the more so in his current romantic concentration on finding Ada.
188.31: his wet buzzing ear: Cf. 188.25-26 and n.
188.31-32: acknowledged with a nod the raised glass of the stout blond fellow (Percy de Prey?: Cf. 273.18-21: “you were to die very soon, Percy; but that July day . . . with lust in your heart and a sticky glass in your strong blond-haired hand.” On arriving unbidden at the picnic, Percy is poured a glass of wine and turns to Van: “ ‘I’m told you like abnormal positions?’ The half-question was half-mockingly put. Van looked through his raised lunel at the honeyed sun” (271.19-21).
188.32-33: the stout blond fellow (Percy de Prey? Or did Percy have an older brother?): Cf. 455.12-13: “Did she marry Christopher Vinelander or his brother?” MOTIF: de Prey; prey.
188.33: A fourth maiden: Since this is Cordula de Prey, it is highly likely that she is no longer technically a maiden: as Van notes when he meets her by chance on the train on which he flees from Ardis, “Cordula is no longer a virgin!” (303.07).
188.34: corn-and-bluet summer “creation”: Indeed, this describes the exact shades of the yellow-blue Vass dresses (187.06-07), corn yellow and bluet (cornflower) blue. But the double “corn” here suggests the slang corny, “trite, banal, gauche, unsophisticated, ineptly judged.”
189.01-05: a pretty pout . . . Cordula: Cf. Van’s first meeting with Cordula, in September 1884: “Her mouth was doll-pretty when consciously closed in a mannered pout” (165.08-09).
189.02-13: My horse caught a hoof in a hole . . . and had to be shot. I have walked eight miles. . . . His train had broken down . . . , he had walked twenty miles: Out-of-sorts Van, impatient with anyone who obstructs his way to Ada, invents calamities to match his mood. The disparity between the two accounts matches in a different mode the metamorphic journey of his first arrival at Ardis, in 1884 (by train and then by the conveyance that becomes “a hackney coach . . . the old calèche . . . the sensitive runabout . . . the old clockwork taxi . . . his horse” (34-35 and nn., I.5 Afternote), and on his departure from Ardis at the end of that summer (“the family motorcar . . . his favorite black horse,” 156-59).
189.05-06: “No, I’m Cordula!” she cried, but he was off again: Cf. 303.04-05: “‘Another queer thing,’ said Cordula, ‘is that you actually noticed me today. Two months ago you snubbed me.’”
189.09-15: told Bout’s brother, a new valet, to take him to his old room and get him one of those rubber tubs he had used as a child four years ago. . . . said the real Bout: Van appears to mistake a new valet for Bout because of a superficial similarity, and gives him instructions meaningless to someone not present in 1884; the real Bout shows both his knowledge of Van and his own sense of how much things have changed since 1884.
189.10: those rubber tubs he had used as a child: Van has a strong sense of the gulf between his 14-year-old self and himself now, at 18: cf. 188.13-14: “brightly remembered small room with a bed and a child’s washstand.” Nabokov himself used a rubber tub whenever in his Russian childhood and youth he could not have a private bath.
189.11-14: His train had broken down . . . he had walked twenty miles, God knows when they’d send up his bags. “They have just come”: Just as Van dramatized the romantic prospect of Ardis on his first arrival there, in the metamorphic journey of 1884, here he exaggerates the hardships of his second arrival. There has also been a luggage problem at the beginning and end of Ardis the First: in 1884 Van arrives at the station with two suitcases (34.01), but arrives at Ardis, supposedly, on a horse (35); he leaves with a “black trunk and black suitcase, and black king-size dumbbells” (156.18-19) but supposedly flees on his “favorite black horse” (156.09).
Cf. in Mary 72, where Ganin’s first rendezvous with Mary on their second summer together involves a series of mishaps: a burst bicycle tire, a wrong turning, another puncture.
189.12: Ladoga and Ladore: MOTIF: Ladore; -uga.
189.15-16: with a smile both confidential and mournful (Blanche had jilted him): This could seem an omen to unsettled Van. Van leaving Ardis in 1884 had told Bouteillan, Blanche’s former lover, that his son would “knock her up any day now” (157.14-15). Bout will later hint to Van about Blanche’s venereal disease (293.07-08).
189.22-24: the fleeting memory of the paddock where he and Van had once happened to discuss a lame horse and Riverlane: Cf. “They had tea at a neighbor’s, Countess de Prey—who tried to sell them, unsuccessfully, a lame horse” (139.12-14); “Old Countess de Prey’s phrase in praise of a lame mare in her stables in 1884, thence passed on to her son, who passed it on to his girl” (i.e. Ada; 375.04-06).
189.24-25: the young man: MOTIF: [adjective] [young/old] man.
189.26-27: tossing her head in a way she had when nervous or displeased: “and the self-conscious way she tossed back her hair” (50.08-09). MOTIF: tossing hair [Ada].
189.27: De Prey kissed her hand.: MOTIF: de Prey; prey.
189.28-30: He held the hand he had kissed while she spoke and then kissed it again, and that was not done . . . endured: When Van next sees Percy, at the ominous picnic on Ada’s birthday, Percy, provoking Van, says “ ‘Jolly nice to have seen you,’ . . . tapping Van lightly on the shoulder, a forbidden gesture in their milieu” (277.10-11).
189.32-190.05: necklace . . . diamonds: MOTIF: diamonds; necklace.
189.32-33: icy fury . . . glittering hailstones: The ice motif continues.
189.32-33: he tore it into thirty, forty glittering hailstones: Van will later tear his own neckwear, a black bow tie (“he broke his best black butterfly on the wheel of his exasperation,” 287.33-288.01) after he receives an anonymous note that he thinks (correctly) hints at Ada’s relationship with Percy.
190.03-04: the punchline from Mlle Larivière’s famous story: The story, “La Rivière de Diamants,” had not been famous when the children first heard it, at the 1884 picnic on Ada’s birthday; but in the interim Larivière has “blossom[ed] forth . . . as a great writer! . . . Her story ‘The Necklace’ (La rivière de diamants) had become a classic in girls’ schools” (194.17-20). MOTIF: La Parure.
190.03-05: Mlle Larivière’s famous story . . . diamonds: MOTIF: Rivière de Diamants.
190.04-05: “Mais, ma pauvre amie, elle était fausse”—which was a bitter lie: Darkbloom: “but, my poor friend, it was imitation jewelry.” Van’s gift for Ada had of course been genuine diamonds (187.02); but he quotes this line, the famous punchline of Mlle Larivière’s Antiterran version of Maupassant’s most famous story (1884), with a bitter twist. In Mlle Larivière’s version it refers to the necklace, as does the corresponding phrase in Maupassant: “Mme Forestier, fort émue, lui prit les deux mains. - Oh! ma pauvre Mathilde! Mais la mienne était fausse. Elle valait au plus cinq cents francs! . . . ” (“Mme Forestier, deeply moved, took her by both hands. ‘Oh! my poor Mathilde! But mine was false. It was worth five hundred francs at the most! . . . ’”). But taken out of the story’s context and inserted into this scene, the phrase can be Van’s cutting comment on Ada: “But, my dear friend, she [Ada] was false.” The phrase “Elle était fausse,” referring to a woman, does occur in Maupassant’s novel Fort Comme La Mort (Strong as Death, 1889): “ Elle était pareille aux autres, elle aussi ! Pourquoi pas ? Elle était fausse, changeante et faible comme toutes.” (“She too was like the others! Why not? She was false, fickle and weak like them all.”)
190.07-08: why does everybody greet me with tears: Cf. 188.25: “drunk and tearful Marina.”
190.09-11: Percy de Prey . . . swine-stout: Van plays on the “porcine” undertone of Percy’s name. Percy de Prey as “porcine prey” in this tale of almost mythical Veens suggests the boar that Venus’s lover Adonis hunts but that kills him. MOTIF: de Prey; prey; Venus.
190.09: Percy de Prey? . . . Who had been kicked out of Riverlane?: Cf. 168.15-17: “the latest homosexual or rather pseudo-homosexual row at his school (an upper-form boy, Cordula’s cousin, had been caught with a lass disguised as a lad . . . ).” Since this scene occurs in the fall of 1884, Van will not have seen Percy for almost four years by 1888, hence his uncertainty about this stout blond fellow’s identity.
190.14: only one beau, only one beast: Cf. the traditional fairy tale “The Beauty and the Beast,” first printed as “La Belle et la Bête” in a rendering by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (c. 1695-1755), in La jeune Américaine, et les contes marins (1740). Cf. also the “beastly, but beautiful, tryst” (180.03) of Van and Ada’s last clinch at Forest Fork in 1886 before the embrace that her line here triggers. MOTIF: Beauty and the Beast; fairy tale.
190.16: We can collect your tears later: The diamonds of her torn necklace, with an echo of her “weeping . . . tears” just a moment before (190.06-08), which would give a supplementary sense, “We can calm you down later.”
190.19-20: two small fists . . . drumming: MOTIF: Lucette knocking.
190.23: They want Ada, not you: From their first 1888 embrace, Lucette already knows that Ada is behind the closed door with Van. Her first appearance in 1888 is to disrupt the two lovers.
190.23-24: downstairs, Ada: corrected from 1969, "downstairs. Ada."
190.25-29: One of Ada’s gestures . . . consisted of rounding by means of both hands an invisible bowl from rim to base, accompanied by a sad bow: Cf. Laurence Clements’s study of gestures in Pnin, and Pnin’s eager demonstration of typical Russian gestures (Pnin 41-42).
190.27: nichego ne podelaesh’: Darkbloom: “Russ., nothing to be done.”
190.31: The situation was repeated in a much more pleasing strain: The situation of the two lovers being interrupted—but a little later in their proceedings—by another girl who dotes on Van, not Lucette this time but Blanche.
191.03: the same tartan lap robe—thoughtfully brought: ‘Thoughtful” not because it keeps out the night chill but because it pays homage to the “tartan lap robe” Van wore on the night of the Burning Barn, when he and Ada first made love (115.08).
191.04-05: Blanche glided in like an imprudent ghost: Van has seen evidence of Blanche’s nightime assignations in the old toolroom before, where early in Ardis the First he picks up her tortoiseshell comb: “he had seen one, exactly like that, quite recently, but when, in whose hairdo?” (53.19-21). Cf. “several times a phantom Blanche had crept past them” (211.12-13).
191.05-06: a rendezvous with old Sore the Burgundian nightwatchman: Ada1968 has “Danish,” corrected by hand to “Burgundian.” “Sore,” appropriately in this House of Veen or Venus, is a palindrome of “Eros,” and has the “sore” of venereal disease. Cf. 211.10-11: “Sore, the ribald night watchman”; 409.14-16: “Nightwatchmen fought insomnia and the fire of the clap with the weapon’s of Vaniada’s Adventures.” MOTIF: Eros, the sore and the rose.
191.08: pause: Ada 1968: “cover himself,” altered by hand to “pause.”
191.09: bewitching apparition: Cf. 191.05 above, “an imprudent ghost.”
191.10: miniver cloak that Ada had lost in the woods: A1 glosses “miniver” in margin: “white fur.” Combines the fairy-tales “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “The Babes in the Woods.” Cf. Blanche as Cinderella on the Night of the Burning Barn, who “lost a miniver-trimmed slipper on the grand staircase, like Ashette in the English version” (114.16 and see n. for “miniver”); “the flat pale parents of the future Babes, in the brown-leaf Woods, a little book in the Ardis Hall nursery” (588.01-02). MOTIF: Babes in the Woods; Cinderella; fairy tale; in the woods; miniver.
191.10-11: she had become wonderfully pretty: Cf. 226.05: “Pretty Blanche.”
191.11: elle le mangeait des yeux: Darkbloom: “she devoured him with her eyes.” Cf. 398.33-399.02: “Blanche . . . ‘eating with her eyes’ the silhouette of Ivory Revery.” Van in his first hour at Ardis the First had been asked would he like Bouteillan or one of the maids to unpack. “Oh, one of the maids, said Van, wondering briefly what item in a schoolboy’s luggage might be supposed to shock a housemaid. The picture of naked Ivory Revery (a model)? Who cared, now that he was a man?” (36.10-13). Now, Blanche sees Van himself naked, aroused and in full swing. MOTIF: mangeait.
191.17-18: first ray of the morning dabbed a toolbox with fresh green paint: Cf. 53.13-15: “A pointer of sunlight daubed with greener paint a long green box”; 433.34: “recalled with a paint dab of delight.” MOTIF: green [Ardis].
191.19: quietly repaired to the pantry: Wyndham Lewis once charged James Joyce for using the word “repaired” as a verb of motion, claiming that characters “repair” to “outhouses” in second-rate fiction, not in serious literature; in reply Hugh Kenner articulated the “Uncle Charles Principle,” showing that the phrasing accurately reflects Uncle Charles’s pseudo-genteel way of talking, not Joyce’s pseudo-gentility as a writer (Joyce’s Voices, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978, 15-38). But here Nabokov puns rather on the French repas, “meal,” and the idea of restoring or restoration through food (cf. “restaurant”) in “repair.” The two children have quite drained themselves by their exertions.
191.20-23: “Chto vïspalsya, Vahn? . . . ,” beautifully mimicking her mother’s voice . . . continued in her mother’s English: “ . . . brekfest”: For Marina’s “Vahn” pronunciation, see 271.32, 362.25-27. MOTIF: actress; Marina’s Russianness.
191.24: Okh . . . my kneecaps!: Van’s knee will be sore again at the end of Ardis the Second, after his tussles with Percy de Prey at the picnic for Ada’s birthday (274-76; 310.14-16: “Van felt a faint twinge in his knee where he had hit it against a stone when attacked from behind a week ago, in another wood”). Cf. 283.02-03: “His knee had troubled him all night.” Cf. Mary, where on Ganin’s first summer reunion with her, they spend time together on a stone slab in the deepening night, and afterwards he realizes: “the hardness of the stone slab hurt his bare knees” (Mary 73). MOTIF: knee.
191.26-32: They sat, facing each other, at a breakfast table . . . bread . . . butter . . . honey. . . claws: Recalls the scene of their first breakfast with just the two of them together, 75.04-76.06.
191.27: Virginia ham: W2: “A ham from a razorback hog. It has a distinctive flavor from the food given the hog and the method of curing and aging the ham.” Nabokov had once, on June 6, 1944, had severe food poisoning after a meal of Virginia ham (VNAY 73).
191.28: genuine Emmenthaler cheese: W2: “A pressed whole-milk cheese, usually containing holes, of the Emme Valley; Gruyère cheese.” Their cheese is from the Emme valley, not merely in that style.
191.29: honey: MOTIF: honey.
191.29-30: “raiding the icebox” as children in old fairy tales: The Kyoto Reading Circle notes that in Lolita, Humbert refers to a “soi-disant ‘high-class’ resort in a Midwestern state, which advertised ‘raid-the-icebox’ midnight snacks” (Lolita 147). MOTIF: fairy tale.
191.30-32: thrushes were sweetly whistling in the bright-green garden as the dark-green shadows drew in their claws: Cf. Van, on his first morning at Ardis, in June 1884, “was violently aroused by a clamorous caroling—bright warbles, sweet whistles, chirps, trills, twitters, rasping caws and tender chew-chews—which he assumed, not without a non-Audubon’s apprehension, Ada could, and would, break up into the right voices of the right birds” (47.16-20); “Reality, better say, lost the quotes it wore like claws” (220.01); on Van’s last morning at Ardis, “thrushes were singing so richly, with such sonorous force, such fluty fioriture that one could not endure the agony of consciousness, the filth of life, the loss, the loss, the loss” (294.11-14).
191.30: thrushes were sweetly whistling: Birdlover and Adaphiliac D. Barton Johnson observes that the only thrush notable for its song is the Song Thrush (Turdus philomelus), “Nabokov’s Aviary in Ada,” in In the Realm of Slavic Philology: To Honor the Teaching and Scholarship of Dean S. Worth from his UCLA Students, ed. John Dingley & Leon Ferder (Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 1999), 163-80. This phrase identifies one of the bird-calls in the sentence from I.6 quoted in 191.30-32n. The bluebird would seem to be responsible for the warbles (121.26-27: “a bluebird uttered a warning warble”) but the rest are not identified.
191.31: the bright-green garden . . . the dark-green shadows: Cf. “the green reality of the garden” (49.33-34); the next morning, or a couple of days later, “A pointer of sunlight daubed with greener paint a long green box” (53.13-14).
MOTIF: green [Ardis].
191.33-34: the Drama School . . . farces . . . tragedy: MOTIF: actress; dreams of drama.
192.01-02: “Nothing, nothing has changed!”: Cf. 55.14-16: “your round-cheeked script, my love, was a little larger, but otherwise, nothing, nothing, nothing has changed”; 188.15-16: “the pang and panic of finding her changed”; 194.14-15: “nothing had changed . . . nothing.”
192.04: “‘My sister, do you still recall . . . ’”: Cf. the Ardis anthem of 138.01.
MOTIF: my sister; remember.
192.05: “Oh shut up!”: MOTIF: Ada cross.
192.05-06: petits vers, vers de soie: Darkbloom: “fugitive poetry and silkworms.”
192.08: acrobatics: corrected from 1969, "arcrobatics."
192.08: the child’s mind: MOTIF: child.
192.08-09: ‘Oh! qui me rendra, ma Lucile, et le grand chêne and zee big hill.’: Van ends the quotation with a mock-French-accented English. He has fused bits of three couplets from 1884: “Oh! qui me rendra ma Lucile” (139.01) and “Et le grand chêne et ma colline” (138.14), translated there as “And the big oak tree and my hill” [italics added] (138.16). MOTIF: grand chêne; Oh! qui me rendra.
192.09-11: Little Lucile . . . little Lucile: MOTIF: little Lucette.
192.11: little Lucile has become so peachy: Lucette is now older, at 12 years and 5 months, than Ada had been when Van and Ada first fell in love. Cf. Lucette’s “tight smooth skin was the color of thick peach syrup” (198.10-11). MOTIF: peach.
192.12: if you keep losing your temper like that: MOTIF: Ada cross.
192.13-14: the first time you got cross with me was when I chucked a stone at a statue and frightened a finch: In fact he threw a cone, not a stone, but Ada miss-saw it as a stone (50.11-16). MOTIF: Ada cross; first time.
192.18: That fridge was all fudge: Ardeur 163: “Ce frigo ne contenait que des friandises” (“This fridge had nothing but treats”).
192.21-22: her quandary might drive her insane if she did not know that her heart was pure: Cf. “the other [secret witness] had kept insinuating, with spectral insistence, that some nameless trouble was threatening the very sanity of Van’s pale, faithless mistress” (285.04-07).
192.23-34: like the girl in a film he would see soon . . . than anything those two poor worms could imagine: The film possibilities gathering in this chapter (187.04-05: “a scene out of some new life being rehearsed for an unknown picture”; 188.12-19: “nightmare . . . that they both . . . existed only as extras in a house rented for a motion picture”) come to the fore, as they will do even more markedly in the next chapter. Already the parallels between the hypothetical film and Ada’s predicament prove troubling. MOTIF: Enfants Maudits.
192.25: only true love, the head of the arrow, the point of the pain: A play on “ardis” as arrowhead or “point of an arrow” (225.18), and on Cupid’s arrow (and the Venus-Veen echoes). MOTIF: Ardis . . . arrow.
192.25-28: the head of the arrow, the point of the pain . . . to nip in the bud—in the sticky red bud: The obscene overtones anticipate Ada’s doomed letters to Van after their separation, especially that dated “California ? 1890,” 334.
192.26-31: three torments—trying to get of a dreary dragging affair with a married man . . . trying to nip in the bud—in the sticky red bud—a crazy adventure with an attractive young fool . . . and trying to keep intact the love of the only man who is all her life: “Married man”: Philip Rack; “attractive young fool”: Percy de Prey; “the only man”: Van Veen. Cf. 201.08-11, from the plot of Les Enfants maudits: “this Renny, this lover number one, does not know . . . that she is trying to get rid of lover number two, while she’s wondering all the time if she can dare go on dating number three.”
192.33-193.06: those two poor worms. . . . What had she actually done with the poor worms, after Krolik’s untimely end? . . . looking: Van fuses Ada’s image and her mention a moment earlier of having “given up all that stuff-- . . . vers de soie” (192.05-06), but the reference to Krolik here, after the mention of the other men whom we can later recognize have been conducting affairs with Ada, helps stir the suggestion that she has had some kind of sexual relation with him, too. Cf. e.g. 403.33-404.11. MOTIF: butterflies.
193.02: Krolik’s untimely end: He died in 1886, of a heart attack in his garden (219.11-12).
193.04-05: buried them in the pupal state: Ada “had placed all her live pupae in his open coffin where he lay, she said, as plump and pink as in vivo” (219.12-13). Slight puns on “buried in state” and “the papal state.”
193.05-06: told them to run along, while the birds were not looking—or alas, feigning not to be looking: Van, being conducted around Ada’s larvarium early in his 1884 visit, notices “windows standing wide open (so that one heard the screeching and catcalls of an undernourished and horribly frustrated bird population)” (54.16-18).
193.07-10: to mop up that parable . . . I’m in a sense also torn between three private tortures, the main torture being ambition: Ada, having disclosed her real situation via the Enfants Maudits film a moment earlier, now adds some belated camouflage.
193.10-11: my passion for creeping creatures: Cf. 54.24-25: “Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe (I’m crazy about everything that crawls).” With another hint at her affair with Krolik, the “Dr. Krolik . . . dear Crawly” of 55.24-28. MOTIF: Ada’s entomology; raffole . . . rampe . . . crawl .
193.12-14: adore orchids and mushrooms and violets . . . a little lone lily: Cf. 286.33-287.01: “how he ‘ladored,’ he said, the dark aroma of her hair blending with crushed lily stalks”; 287.14-15: “One common orchid . . . was all that wilted in the satchel.” MOTIF: Ada’s botany; adore; orchids.
193.13-16: you will still see me going out alone, to wander alone in the woods and return alone with a little lone lily . . . strength: The insistent “alone” reveals Ada’s eagerness to disguise the fact that her botanical rambles will be cover-ups for her liaisons with Percy: cf. 287.14-15: “One common orchid, a Lady’s Slipper, was all that wilted in the satchel.” Cf. 213.19-20: “in the woods (‘in the woods,’ ‘botanizing’).” MOTIF: in the woods.
193.16-19: Remain the great ambition . . . the dream of the . . . hardest dramatic climbs . . . teaching drama students: MOTIF: actress; dreams of drama.
193.18-19: one of a hundred old spider spinsters teaching drama students: Cf. 426.03-06: “Unsuccessful but gifted actresses . . . gave her private lessons of drama, despair, hope.”
193.18-20: spider spinsters . . . you insist, sinister insister, we can’t marry: Pun on spiders as spinners of webs (and spinsters originally meant “those [women] who spin”), perhaps, via sinister, with an echo of the black widow spider? The play around the word “sister” explains why they can’t marry: Ada is Van’s full sister. MOTIF: sinister.
193.19-25: knowing . . . we can’t marry . . . dwindle to mere namesakes: MOTIF: incest.
193.19-20: insist, sinister insister: Ada 1968: “know,” corrected by hand to “insist, sinister insister.”
193.20-21: having always before me the awful example of pathetic, second-rate, brave Marina: Cf. 427.14-15: “Ever since I planned to go on the stage . . . I was haunted by Marina’s mediocrity.”
193.25-26: we shall live quietly, you as my house-keeper, I as your epileptic: The Kyoto Reading Circle notes that: “The ‘epileptic,’ in spite of ‘as in your Chekhov’ that follows, naturally reminds the reader of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. The ‘spider’ of the wordplay ‘spider-spinster’ and ‘housekeeper,’ as well as ‘torture,’ also [alludes] to Dostoevsky’s The Devils, which Nabokov refers to by its other title, The Possessed. Cf. In Part III Chapter 1 of The Devils, answering Stavrogin, Lisa says, ‘Torture me, kill me, work off your spite on me. . . . I don’t want to be a compassionate hospital nurse for you. Perhaps I will really end up as a hospital nurse if I don’t find a way of dying conveniently this very day; but even if I do become a nurse, I won’t be your nurse; though, of course, you need one more than any legless or armless man. I always imagined that you would take me to some place where there was a huge, wicked spider as big as a man, and we should spend the rest of our lives looking at it and being afraid of it. That’s what our love would be wasted on. You’d better go to Dasha: she will go with you anywhere you like’ (The Devils, translated by David Magarshack, Penguin Classics, 522). As suggested by Lisa, Stavrogin asks Dasha to be his nurse and live with him quietly in Switzerland in his last note (Part III Chapter 8): ‘At one time you wanted to come to me as my nurse and made me promise to send for you when necessary. . . . Last year, like Herzen, I took out naturalization papers in the canton of Ur, and no one knows about it. I have bought a little house there. I have still got twelve thousand roubles; we shall go and live there. . .’ (Ibid, 665). ”
193.25-28: “you as my housekeeper . . . and then, as in your Chekhov, ‘we shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds.’” “Did you find them all, Uncle Van?”: Darkbloom: “allusion to a line in Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya: We shall see the sky swarming with diamonds.” Proffer 262: “Sonya, at the end of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya ([first] produced in 1900), says: “We will rest! We will hear angels; we will see the whole sky covered with diamonds; we will see earthly evil, all our torments disappear in the mercy with which the whole world will be filled, and our whole life will be peaceful, tender, sweet as a caress. . . . ” Van says “your Chekhov” presumably because, both inside and outside Russia, Chekhov is the most frequently staged of Russian dramatists, the playwright whose works a Russian actor would naturally wish to act. In 1891 Ada will play Irina in a production of Chekhov’s Four Sisters (427-30), in the same year, Marina’s last on stage, that her mother plays the fourth sister, Varvara (a role that does not exist in Earth’s Three Sisters), in another production of the same play.
193.27-33: swarm with diamonds. . . One bright little bugger: MOTIF: diamonds.
193.29: dolent: Sorrowful.
193.29-31: She had told him everything. “More or less,” he replied, not realizing she had: The narrating voice is reliable here, although just as Van does not realize she has said everything, the first-time reader still remains torn between hope and fear for Van. In Ada 1968: “She had told him everything and they now sat side by side. ‘I think so, he replied.’” Corrected by hand to final text, including the insert “not realizing she had.”
193.32: the best study of the dustiest floor: Perhaps no guest has occupied this child’s bedroom since Van in 1884.
194.01-06: Ladore . . . cream called Chrysanthemum . . . Ladore: A cream made from Chrysanthemum indicum relieves the skin inflammation rosacea, so perhaps Van has in mind a sun cream, with these other poolside, beach and island accoutrements? Also a play on the etymology of chrysanthemum, from Greek chrysos “gold” and anthemon “flower,” a play on the “gold” (French doré, “golden,” or Spanish dorado) in Ladore at 194.01 (where he would buy the cream) and 194.06 (where he would apply it)? Cf. Ardeur 164: “une crème appelé Théodore.” (In the French, a play on “Ladore” three lines earlier and two lines later?)
194.03: your new swimming pool: First mention of the completion of the swimming pool Dan hired Alonso to design in 1884 (“an ‘artistic’ swimming pool,” 45.30-31), which will be the setting for the next chapter. It certainly will be “artistic” in a sense unanticipated by Dan, as scriptwriter Mlle Larivière, film director G.A. Vronsky, Marina and other actors, and Philip Rack the musician all converge there.
194.03-04: a brace of duelling pistols: With Percy in mind as the potential opponent?
194.04: a folding beach mattress: Cf. 357.31-32: “or the first really cold winter on the beach mattress which she was moaning on now in her drugged daze.”
194.04-05: preferably black: Presumably in commemoration of the black divan in the library (“A kind of divan or daybed covered in black velvet,” 41.13) on which Van and Ada first became lovers (I.19, 117-22).
194.05: to bring you out: To make your whiteness stand out by contrast; cf. Ardeur 164: “pour faire valoir ta blancheur,” “to make your whiteness look good.” MOTIF: black-white.
194.09-10: Ardis Hall . . . arrows: MOTIF: Ardis . . . arrow.
194.10: you remember: MOTIF: remember.
194.11-13: “when you and I were children.” . . . Children, yes. In point of fact, how puzzling to keep seeing that recent past in nursery terms: Decidedly not how they saw themselves then: “one feels very much a man of the world” (33.29-30); “Who cared, now that he was a man?” (36.13). MOTIF: child.
194.14-15: nothing had changed . . . nothing: Cf. 192.01-02: “Nothing, nothing has changed!”
194.15-23: not counting little improvements in the grounds and the governess . . . well known from Quebec to Kaluga: In contrast, Mlle Larivière has not changed for Van, when he sees her at the start of Ardis the First, from his last memory of her as his own French governess (36.32-37.01).
194.17-18: Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer: Cf. 77.17: “Ida Larivière, a bosomy woman”; 289.13-14: “sob on the Larivière bosom.”
194.18-19: A sensational Canadian bestselling author!: She submitted her story for publication to The Quebec Quarterly (83.07).
194.19-20: Her story “The Necklace” (La rivière de diamants) had become a classic in girls’ schools: On Earth, Maupassant’s “La Parure” (“The Necklace”) certainly became a school classic. See 83.06-22 and n. MOTIF: La Parure; La rivière de diamants.
194.20-21: her gorgeous pseudonym “Guillaume de Monparnasse”: Mlle Larivière had thought up the nom de plume at the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday, when Ada drew attention to a butterfly, a Japanese Parnassian (85.27-30). Nabokov has also shaped her nom de plume to match the name of the writer Guy de Maupassant.
194.21-22: “Guillaume de Monparnasse” (the leaving out of the “t” made it more intime): Kyoto Reading Circle: “Leaving out of the ‘t’ from Mont Parnasse (Mt. Parnassus, sacred to Apollo, the home of the muses) makes Monparnasse, which means ‘my’ Parnasse, hence ‘more intime’ and perhaps even more self-glorifying on the part of Mlle. Larivière.” Montparnasse, the district of Paris’s Left Bank around the intersection of the Boulevard de Montparnasse and the Rue de Rennes, was the heart of Paris intellectual and artistic life in the years from about 1910 to 1940. The Parnassian school of French poetry was prominent in the 1860 and 1870s; its flagship journal, Le Parnasse contemporain, included poems by François Coppée, a writer one of whose poems Mlle Larivière has made Ada translate (127, 247).
194.23: Quebec to Kaluga: For Quebec and Mlle Larivière, see 83.07.
194.27-28: platonically and irrevocably in love since she had seen her in “Bilitis”: Cf. 164.28-165.02n. and 165.02n for Pierre Louÿs's (born Louis Pierre) Chansons de Bilitis and its Lesbian and Sapphic elements.
194.29-31: she now gave the child . . . considerably more attention than poor little Ada (said Ada) had received at twelve: Cf. “Ada only hoped the poor little thing would be as happy at Ada’s age as Ada was now” (152.18-19). “Poor little” Lucette is now at twelve the age of Ardis the First’s Ada, whom sixteen-year-old Ada now recalls as “poor little Ada.” Cf. “poor little Ada” (424.14).
194.31-32: after her first (miserable) term at school: Ada began “her first school in 1883” (111.13). She has her schoolmate’s, the lesbian Vanda Broom’s, jacket on when Van first sees her at Ardis (37.14-15 for jacket, 398.23-24 for Vanda as owner, 323.20-23 for Vanda’s lesbianism and her making “constant passes” at Ada, and as “a girl in my school who is in love with me,” 158.32-33). Vanda would seem to be one reason that first term was miserable.
194.32-195.04: Van had been such an idiot: suspecting Cordula. . . . when Ada had explained to him . . . she had invented a nasty tender schoolmate . . . and only assumed—in advance, so to speak—such a girl’s existence: Ada’s attempts to deny the grounds for jealousy she had given him in 1884 are as spurious as her denials about other men in her present.
194.33: Chaste, gentle, dumb, little Cordula de Prey: MOTIF: de Prey; prey.
195.08: a drop of honey: MOTIF: honey.
195.09: dorophone: MOTIF: dorophone.
195.12-13: At Riverlane . . . we used to call that a Doughnut Truth: MOTIF: college slang.
195.15-16: a warning frog face, because Bouteillan had appeared: Presumably she puffs out her cheeks and widens her eyes? Perhaps, in view of Bouteillan’s presence, a nod to the frog-faced footman of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Ch. 6, a character famously illustrated by Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914).
Cf. 393.14-15: “said Ada a moment later, making a frightened frog face.”
Cf. Bouteillan’s appearing when Blanche and Van are together on Van’s first morning at Ardis, in June 1884 (49.23-32).
195.16-17: his mustache shaved: Yet another change since 1884. Cf. the story “Christmas”: “Ivan, the quiet, portly valet, who had recently shaved off his mustache and now looked like his late father” (SoVN 131).
195.23: Six hundred and thirteen times: Van has been unfaithful to Ada since September 1884, therefore, almost once very two days.
195.23-27: at least two hundred whores. . . . I’ve remained absolutely true to you because those were only ‘obmanipulations’ (sham, insignificant strokings by unremembered cold hands): Cf. 110.13-17: “Van, on the contrary, not only could tabulate every informal spasm he had hidden from her before they became lovers, but stressed philosophic and moral distinctions between the shattering force of self-abuse and the overwhelming softness of avowed and shared love.”
195.25-27: ‘obmanipulations’ . . . cold hands): Cf. 562.14-18: “her dear cold hands . . . Obmanshchitsa.” MOTIF: cold hand(s).
195.25-26: ‘obmanipulations’: corrected from 1969, “ “obmanipulations’ ”.A portmanteau word from Russian obman, “deception, sham,” and English manipulation (cf. Proffer).
195.29-30: a picture of Marina being fawned upon by a young Latin actor: MOTIF: actress; woman in picture.
195.30: a young Latin actor: Pedro.
195.31: “Pah!”: A favorite Ada exclamation (38.21), which Lucette will take up and Van will ban her from using (371.32-34).
195.33: a third cup of coffee: “I detest crowds, . . . coffee. . . . ” (SM 286)
196.01-05: a nice stroll in the park; there are one or two places that you might recognize. . . . bladder-senna: Van notes Ada’s implicit suggestion for them to revisit 1884 haunts to make love again in them, as his “bladder senna,” reveals, since it was the site of their first outdoor assignation (128.06 and n.)
196.04-05: my phantom orchid, my lovely bladder senna: [image of bladder senna] Since, as the novel alludes to elsewhere (e.g. 73.29), the word orchid derives from the Greek orchis, “testicle,” its proximity in Ada’s speech to “bladder” also seems to suggest Van’s urinary-reproductive tract. MOTIF: Ada’s botany.
196.04: phantom orchid: W2: “A saprophytic white orchid (Cephalanthera austinae) of the western United States”; “an orchid with the whitest possible flowers, wholly lacking in pigments” (Mason 73). Cf. Nabokov’s 1953 poem “Lines Written in Oregon,” ll. 28-30: “Where the woods get ever dimmer, / Where the Phantom Orchids glimmer— / Esmeralda, immer, immer” (P&P 172). MOTIF: orchids.
196.10: I’ve paid you eight compliments, as a certain Venetian: He has made love to Ada eight times. The Memoirs of the Venetian-born Giacomo Casanova, whom Van and Ada both like as a writer (136.28-29 and n.) are filled with “compliments,” sometimes enumerated (“a thousand compliments”). I’ve paid you eight compliments, as a certain Venetian Aleksey Sklyarenko, “Casanova as Double-Wencher &Local Curio in Ada,” thenabokovian.org, April 20, 2021, citing ch. 5 of Casanova’s Memoirs, in a passage quoted at length in 418.27-29n. “According to Casanova, he ‘paid his first compliments’ to the girl who was lying on his right.” Cf. 198.19: “his strenuous ‘Casanovanic’ night with Ada.”
196.18: Ada was crossly rebuking him: MOTIF: Ada cross.
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 31
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