Part Two, Chapter 8


Time and Age
As a philosopher, Van focuses on time and its texture. As a novelist, Nabokov focuses on time, all the time: not only through Van’s images and ideas but also, for instance, in rendering the ages and stages of life. Even more than in The Defense and The Gift, and just as much as in Lolita, Nabokov in Ada tracks the changing scope of possibility as childhood expands toward and into adulthood.

Just four years on from Ardis the Second, in the novel’s only extended scene of Van, Ada, and Lucette’s post-Ardis interaction, they and their circumstances and relationships are remarkably altered. The action extends and echoes what happened at Ardis the Second but also transmutes that past into a present unexpected in every line. Countryside, family manor, summer, and childhood make way for adults out on the city in late fall. In the previous chapter Van and Ada revisited their singularly precocious adolescence in Ardis the First, as starkly recorded in Kim’s album, but now they sweep into elegant entitled-adult assurance, bringing belatedly precocious Lucette along with them: the young women at the glamorous height of fashion, all three awing restaurant guests and staff by their conspicuous and copious consumption of caviar and champagne. “Ursus” may echo “Ardis,” but Manhattan is no Ardis the Third.
The last Veen family dinner had been for Demon, at Ardis the Second, when Lucette was still too young to stay up for a lavish evening meal (and in any case was still away with mishap-prone Dan in Kaluga). Now “all three Veens, the children of Venus” (410) showcase style in a night on the ritzy town. Then father and mother and their two children, together for what would turn out to be the last time, had maintained the awkward pretence of being no closer than cousins, and were either isolated at table by unshared secrets or conjoined by covert complicity. Now the three Veen children, so intimately entangled and mutually aware at Ardis, seem a tight and almost isosceles triangle, with Lucette, once so unlike Ada, not least in her relationship to Van, now remarkably similar in dress, allure, and behavior (both are watchfully jealous of Flora), and in Van’s attention, touch, and possessive pride. That is another irony of time and growth: a four-year gap at one stage can seem enormous, and a few years later appear almost to have closed; Lucette, who had seemed a child at twelve in a way Ada no longer did at that age, has zoomed to catch up or almost pull ahead, at sixteen looking “considerably more dissolute than her sister had seemed at that fatal age” (367).

Time, the Age and the Ageless

In Ada Nabokov explores time in other ways too, not least through the comic anachronisms that distinguish Antiterra from Earth. But by placing Van and Ada’s erotically charged youth in the 1880s and 1890s he also investigates the differences and the commonalities of distinct eras.

In an interview in the summer of 1966, when Ada’s composition was flowing fast, Alberto Ongaro asked Nabokov: “Do you think a love like that of Humbert Humbert and Lolita is still possible? A total abandonment to feeling?” He answered:

Humbert Humbert is a villain and his case is no model. But if by this question you want to know if I believe people still fall in love and in the same
way as before, I will answer yes. You see, I have taught for a long time in universities. I know young people well, I have seen couples who loved
each other, couples who broke up painfully, others who broke up painlessly, as always, as always. The young people I’ve known were no different
in love from the way I was nor from how young people are today or will be like tomorrow. Love and sex, I repeat, are always the same.

Isn’t it risky to say this? If man does not change now, how could he evolve? And it’s not far from saying that man is always the same, regardless
of historical context.

I do not believe that man exists, but men; and men are different from each other and the same in the essential elements that persist through time.
And love is an essential element. Certainly there can be social, moral evolution, but not in love or in the feelings that can be always the same, the
joys or sorrows that love can give. (TWS 346-47)

These comments will have multiple ramifications throughout Ada and perhaps especially in this one chapter.


At the end of the previous chapter, as if to rebuff Kim’s deflatingly prosaic photos, another recurrent eyewitness, Blanche, has elevated the romance of Van and Ada’s “first summer in the orchards and orchidariums of Ardis” into “a sacred secret and creed” (409). Part 2 Chapter 8 segues from there into a different distillation of romance. From the rustic and pastoral, from “seven-stringed Russian lyres under the racemosa in bloom,” “cyclic folk songs,” and herdsmen using “their huge ‘moaning horns’ as ear trumpets to catch the lilts of Ladore,” the scene shifts to “the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major” and its floor show of fashionable “Russian ‘romances,’ with a touch of heartwringing tsiganshchina” (410), romantic urban nostalgia for the countryside, and the “seven-stringed companion” of songs by former friends and Ardis guests of Uncle Ivan.
As early as 1884 an emotional contagion had swept the handmaids and swains of Ladore. That same summer, Lucette, only eight, had begun to catch a much more intimate emotional contagion from Van and Ada’s romance, no matter how much they tried to keep her at bay that year, or both included and excluded her in 1888. Now in 1892 a general and generational emotional contagion fills the air and envelops the Veens in the modish ambience of Russian pseudo-gypsy romance.

Nabokov acknowledges both the common elements in love, romance, and sex—the imitative arousal René Girard calls “mimetic desire” (Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, 1961)—and unique individual experience. He evokes the romantic mood of a particular place and time: the Russia of his youth, and its vogue “of Russian ‘romances’” (410), the gypsy songs, “the so-called tsïganskie romansï beloved of my generation” (SM 224). (For a discussion of the genre of Russian romances, see
Yet even as he emphasizes the musical and emotional atmosphere enjoyed by all three Veens, he also highlights individual differences. Lucette cannot understand her half-siblings’ passionate response to the trite “Uzh gasli v komnatah ogni”—which we know echoes their moment of communion and consummation after the dinner for Demon. And in her own passionate declaration to Van, while Ada is away, Lucette shows her utter difference from the happy love of the two older “children of Venus,” in the desperation and determination of her yearning for Van.
Ada explores the different flavors and flows of romance. But this upwelling of romance at Ursus will be almost its last flourish, before separation (Lucette from Van and Ada, and soon Van and Ada from each other) and suicide.


A first-time reader of II.8 does not know how Van’s relationship with Lucette will unfold. Her looks, still her own (that “lustrous cantharid green”) now also strikingly match Ada’s, in dress, makeup, poise, and chic. Her feelings too in some ways match Ada’s. Van registers attentively “the furtive, jealous, intuitive suspicion with which Ada and Lucette watched, unsmilingly, his facial reactions to the demure look of professional recognition on the part of the passing and repassing blyadushka (cute whorelet), as our young misses referred to (very expensive and altogether delightful) Flora with ill-feigned indifference” (411: italics in original). When Ada has “to go and ‘powder her nose,’” Lucette, her tongue loosened by champagne, declares to Van her passion and, unlike Ada, also her devotion and desperation: “you are Van, all Van, and nothing but Van, skin and scar, the only truth of our only life, of my accursed life, Van, Van, Van” (411).

Van responds, as he had at Kingston, to Lucette’s physical allure. He feels a “state of erotic excitement tingling in him from the moment that his two beauties had been unfurred” (411). As they leave the restaurant, he steers both girls from the table, his left hand on Ada’s long bare back, his right on Lucette’s: “His girl’s ensellure was hot ivory; Lucette’s was downy and damp. He too had had just about his ‘last straw’ of champagne, namely four out of half a dozen bottles . . . and now, as he followed their bluish furs, he inhaled like a fool his right hand before gloving it.” Flora’s alert professional eye sees the equal treatment of both: “I say, Veen, . . . you don’t rally need two, d’you?” (414).

Back at the apartment, while Ada runs her bath, Van begins to undress, and pauses “in virile hesitation” before heading to Lucette’s room, having decided “to kill two finches with one fircone” (414). There, she is “in the process of slipping on her pale green nightdress over her head. Her narrow haunches were bare, and our wretched rake could not help being moved by the ideal symmetry of the exquisite twin dimples that only very perfect young bodies have above the buttocks in the sacral belt of beauty. Oh, they were even more perfect than Ada’s!” (414-15).

But the arrow of Van’s desire follows a different trajectory than readers may have predicted. He wants only to know from Lucette the name of the man who has proposed to Ada, and although he will reward her for the information with “a very special kiss,” that turns out to be only fitting “his working mouth to the hot, humid, perilous hollow” of her armpit (415). And although he does come sexually closer to her the next morning, caressing the russet mound that has so fired his imagination, he does so at Ada’s instigation and with her fingers too caressing “their helpless bed pet” (420).

Distraught Lucette flees after this unexpected unfulfillment of her hopes, and Van writes a note of apology: “We wished to admire and amuse you, BOP (bird of paradise). We went too far. I, Van, went too far. We regret that shameful, though basically innocent scene.” But Ada protests “this pompous, puritanical rot. . . . Why should we apollo for her having experienced a delicious spazmochka?. . . It’s curious—you know, something in the tone of your note makes me really jealous for the first time in my fire [thus in the manuscript, for ‘life.’ Ed.] Van, Van, somewhere, some day, after a sunbath or dance, you will sleep with her, Van!” (421) Given the mounting emotional and sexual tension between Van and Lucette since her arrival at Kingston, Ada’s prophesy, for all a first-time reader knows, could be borne out.

For rereaders the chapter anticipates what is to come in a very different light, by foreshadowing so directly the suicide that Lucette feels driven to.

Lucette’s drunken declaration of adoration and desire for Van ends with a comic twist when Van misconstrues what she means in referring to “the physical red thing—your heart was almost ripped out, my poor dushen’ka (‘darling,’ more than ‘darling’), it looked to me at least eight inches long” (411). That reminder of her stumbling into the penthouse bathroom and catching Van and Ada in flagrante a week ago sums up and consummates, as it were, her role as eyewitness of their ardors at Ardis: her ever closer involvement, from that first moment at the brookside in 1884, when she was playing with the doll that gets swept away, to the azure brook of Pinedale, on Ada’s sixteenth birthday in 1888, to this close-up climax in 1892.

But what Lucette has said just before mentioning Van’s scar will prove ominously near in method and motive to her actual suicide nine years hence: “I will jump into Goodson River if I can’t hope to have you” (411).

Patterns of the Ardis past recur in Manhattan: Lucette as overnight guest and morning plaything still wears a willow-green nightie (414, 417), evocative of the first anticipation of her suicide, in the souci d’eau discussion in I.10 and “Lucette’s nightdress . . . the nuance of willows” (see I.10 Afternote and Boyd 1985/2001: 51-59, 291-96); Lucette as pet, in a way that emphasizes her youth and her subordination to and manipulation by her big sister (“Pop in, pet (it all started with the little one letting wee winds go free at table, circa 1882),” 418); and the “Orchid in an amethystine vaselet” (419) on the table beside the débauche à trois bed, which recalls Ada drawing an orchid as Lucette merely traces one, and setting “aside the crystal vaselet holding the Lady’s Slipper she had picked. Casually, lightly, she went on to explain how the organs of orchids work—but all Lucette wanted to know, after her whimsical fashion, was: could a boy bee impregnate a girl flower through something, through his gaiters or woolies or whatever he wore? . . . ‘you know, that child has the dirtiest mind imaginable and now she is going to be mad at me for saying this and sob on the Larivière bosom, and complain she has been pollinated by sitting on your knee’” (289). Lucette’s concern and confusion then, at Ardis the Second, anticipate her distress now at Van’s touch, interlaced with Ada’s, in Manhattan.

Part 2 Chapter 8 also anticipates Lucette’s death in much more than the stark prediction of jumping into the Goodson River. Van, Ada, and Lucette dine all three together for the last time here, at the Ursus restaurant; Van and Lucette dine together for the last time, just hours before her suicide, and eat “roast bearlet à la Tobakoff” (484). Just as “Goodson” is a retransliteration from the Russian version of the name of an explorer of the American north-east, Henry Hudson, the “Tobak” in “Tobakoff” plays in part on the palindromic reversal of the Russian transliteration of “Cabot” (see 383.01n.), after John Cabot and his son Sebastian (Giovanni and Sebastiano Caboto), who explored the American north-east and, before Hudson, searched for a north-west passage.

At the Manhattan dinner, Lucette in a “very short and open evening gown” whose “lustrous cantharid green” evokes a bird of paradise (410); Lucette at the dinner aboard the Tobakoff wears a dress Van “could describe . . . only as struthious (if there existed copper-curled ostriches), accentuating as it did the swing of her stance, the length of her legs in ninon stockings. Objectively speaking, her chic was keener than that of her ‘vaginal’ sister” (486). Not only does “struthious” echo “lustrous,” but both words contain all the letters of “Ursus.”

At Ursus, Van glares like a bretteur at those admiring Ada and Lucette’s looks (422) and turns round “ready to cuff the gross speaker” who has whinnied “I say, Veen, . . . you don’t rally need two, d’you?” until he sees it is only Flora, teasing (414); at the Tobakoff’s restaurant, Van “saw with gentlemanly displeasure that [Lucette’s] tilted chin and black wings, and free stride, attracted not only blue innocent eyes but the bold stare of lewd fellow passengers. He loudly exclaimed that he would slap the next jackanapes” (486).

Van is aroused by and admiring of Lucette at Ursus and after, in 1892, and in 1901, in the Tobakoff’s cinema, after the restaurant, “She brushed his cheek with her lips in the dark, she took his hand, she kissed his knuckles, and he suddenly thought: after all, why not? Tonight? Tonight. He enjoyed her impatience, the fool permitted himself to be stirred by it, the cretin whispered, prolonging the free, new, apricot fire of anticipation” (488).

At Ursus, Lucette admits “I’m drunk, and all that, but I adore (obozhayu), I adore, I adore, I adore more than life you, . . . and, please, don’t let me swill (hlestat’) champagne any more, not only because I will jump into Goodson River if I can’t hope to have you” (411). Aboard the Tobakoff, just before her fatal jump,she drinks rapidly until her head swims: “She drank a ‘Cossack pony’ of Klass vodka—hateful, vulgar, but potent stuff; had another; and was hardly able to down a third because her head had started to swim like hell. Swim like hell from sharks, Tobakovich!” (493).

Fate is not predetermined in Ada, or in Nabokov in general, but the patterns of the past, patterns of character, context, and consequence, can all too easily recur, no matter how unpredictable details and moments of the future may remain.


Despite Van and Ada’s initiating the pattern that enmeshes Lucette in her doom, Nabokov also stresses the moral complexity of their actions and emotions toward her.

Van feels ambivalent toward Lucette: a strong sexual attraction, evident already at Kingston, and admiration, and an indulgent if also always conflicted pleasure in the devotion he can receive but feels he must not return. He can thoughtlessly play on her affection, as when at Ursus, with Ada briefly absent, he “cruelly stroked Lucette’s apricot-bloomed forearm” (411: notice his later judgment, as narrator), or when he offers “a very special kiss” (415) in return for the name of Ada’s would-be fiancé. But he also exercises what for him at least seems like restraint: kissing her only on the armpit, despite his arousal; next morning in bed with Ada and Lucette, he is “reasonably recalcitrant” before, in his own judgment, “pardonably yielding” (419) when Ada brings his hand over to stroke Lucette.
Elsewhere in life he shows no sexual restraint whenever he and Ada are apart, as II.8 emphasizes: Flora, that “cute whorelet . . . very expensive and altogether delightful” (411), whom he has previously enjoyed and who evokes the many whores he has sampled at the floramors of Villa Venus; Rose, whom in his drunken state he almost imagines he is making love to as he roughly handles Ada, after their return from Ursus; or as he boasts at the very moment he needles Ada for having earned a marriage proposal: “Hundreds of whores and scores of cuties more experienced than the future Mrs. Vinelander have told me that” (420).
But with Lucette, despite having manipulated her, tactically and tactilely, in both Ardis the First and especially Ardis the Second, Van has also shown restraint, mixed with the thoughtless stoking of her desires. Just a week ago, as she was about to leave his Kingston suite, he invited her to test that his admiration for her was not only “painfully strong” but far from “intangible”: “You may gauge it, you may brush it once very lightly, with the knuckles of your gloved hand. I said knuckles. I said once. That will do. I can’t kiss you. Not even your burning face” (387). The same wildly mixed messaging comes in his caressing Lucette’s firebird at Manhattan then apologizing after her distressed parting note—an ambivalence that only annoys Ada. Ada has even less sexual restraint and seems to have enjoyed Lucette’s sexual favors again, immediately after making love with Van, the night before. Troubled by the seriousness of his feelings toward their half-sister, Ada predicts: “Van, Van, somewhere, some day, after a sunbath or dance, you will sleep with her, Van!” (421).
Ada’s prediction here, like Lucette’s that she will jump into the Goodson if she can’t hope to have him, involve a triple invocation of Van’s name (two triple repetitions, in desperate Lucette’s case, 411) and are eerily close to what will happen aboard the Tobakoff: after a sunbath and a dinner (although he and Lucette dine in the grill, rather than the restaurant “with a masturbating jazzband,” 484), Van decides, despite “the torture of self-denial” (485), despite having felt “the stout snake of desire weightily unwind” (478), despite trying to suppress “the ruttish ache” (485) that Lucette’s implorations and invitations arouse, that after all he will sleep with her—until Ada’s coming on screen in the shipboard cinema dispels all his ambivalence.

Débauche à trois
In a novel crammed with erotic scenes, the débauche à trois is the most elaborate, prurient, and detailed, but also the most stylized, riddling, and disturbing.

In the chapter's bravura centerpiece Van and Ada enfold their little sister more dangerously than ever within their desire. Lucette’s subsequent flight in distress should offer a warning, but Ada takes it too lightly and Van, though chastened at the time, proves too self-indulgent to take a consistent position when he encounters an even more unnerved Lucette nine years hence.

Nabokov felt that such key components of life as love and sex should have full expression in adult art. In Lolita he explored the dark links of love and desire even when such a subject might well have remained unpublishably taboo. He welcomed and made the most of the sexual frankness increasingly allowed in serious literature in the late 1950s and after. But he also thought little of pornography, both for its lack of original artistry and its invitation to rudimentary arousal. He famously writes in his afterword to Lolita, when it was still uncertain whether the novel could appear in the United States:

While it is true that in ancient Europe, and well into the eighteenth century (obvious examples come from France),
deliberate lewdness was not inconsistent with flashes of comedy, or vigorous satire, or even the verve of a fine poet
in a wanton mood, it is also true that in modern times the term “pornography” connotes mediocrity, commercialism,
and certain strict rules of narration. Obscenity must be mated with banality because every kind of aesthetic enjoyment
has to be entirely replaced by simple sexual stimulation which demands the traditional word for direct action upon the
patient. Old rigid rules must be followed by the pornographer in order to have his patient feel the same security of
satisfaction as, for example, fans of detective stories feel—stories where, if you do not watch out, the real murderer may
turn out to be, to the fan’s disgust, artistic originality (who for instance would want a detective story without a single
dialogue in it?). Thus, in pornographic novels, action has to be limited to the copulation of clichés. Style, structure,
imagery should never distract the reader from his tepid lust. (Lolita 313)

Ada’s erotic showpiece, its climax of incestuous entanglement, inverts every aspect of commercial pornography that Nabokov outlines, offering not the copulation of clichés but an orgy of originality, with style, structure and imagery constantly distracting readers even as it also directs them to the lurid details.

Where the tsiganshchina music at Ursus characterized romance in a particular time and place, the central frame for the débauche à trois scene, “a much earlier canvas, of the Venetian (sensu largo) school, reproduced (in ‘Forbidden Masterpieces’)” (418), evokes immemorial traditions of erotic art, even as it depicts a hitherto unseen sex scene. As Nabokov had stressed to Ongaro: “The visual depiction of the erotic has always been there. There was no dearth of paintings evoking love in the past. The examples are endless. All the painted Venuses, Leda and the Swan, Susanna and the Elders, to say nothing of the Pompeian frescoes, some of which, in this so-called libertine and shameless age, cannot be seen because they are considered too scandalous” (TWS 346).

Nabokov further multiplies frames to point to the long traditions of both erotic literature (Casanova, for all his notoriety, is dismissed for his insipidity) and erotic commerce (the reflection “in the ciel mirror that Eric had naively thought up in his Cyprian dreams” (418-19) standing, like the Villa Venus scheme in general, for the whole historical and geographical range of prostitution and prurience). He adds the tourist frame, placing readers as if in the position of channeled crowds of superficial novelty-seekers, and compounds this with the nouveau roman to suggest the tension between attention and distraction as the lone reader focuses on detail.

The scene’s ornateness and occasional opaqueness may also reflect in part Nabokov’s wish to ensure that any children who somehow stumble on these pages can be kept from understanding what is going on. In 1959, when Lolita was at last being published in Britain, Nabokov told an interviewer: “I believe that what is called pornography, when it is apt to corrupt the innocent, should be banned, but then pornography has nothing to do with the questions we are discussing” (interview with David Holmes for BBC, 5 November 1959, transcript sent to VN by Raymond Baker of Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 9 November 1959, VNA). Years earlier, when Edmund Wilson’s Hecate County was being prosecuted for indecency, Nabokov had told his then friend “Hecate Co[unty] is as pure as a block of ice in a surgical laboratory” (DBDV 199) and urged him to have his lawyers contrast it with the lecherous male gaze in a would-be humorous story in The Reader’s Digest (“Island Interlude,” August-September 1946, 123-28; condensed from Thomas Heggen, “Mister Roberts”), and another story mentioning the sexual activities of Eskimo adults, as seen and copied by their children, in International Digest (Bruce D. Campbell, “Where the High Winds Blow,” September 1946, 95-114), both of which, he notes, “are eagerly read at all schools” (DBDV 197).

Certainly the débauche à trois scene’s obscure descriptive details would thwart readers of any age seeking titillation. (Invited shortly after Ada’s publication by Kenneth Tynan—at that time the world’s foremost advocate for sexual and linguistic frankness on stage and in print—to contribute to an anthology of pornography, Nabokov sniffily replied: “I have no interest whatever in pornography and cannot imagine myself being titillated by what I write” (letter of July 12, 1969, VNA)). Details like the Loddigesia Hummingbirds on the wallpaper, the Lurid Oncidium Orchid in a vaselet on one bedside table, the “separatum ‘Soft music as cause of brain tumors,’ by Dr. Anbury (young Rattner’s waggish pen-name)” (419) on the other, reflect Van and Ada and the wide range of their interests, for all their frequent and fervent focus on sex on the spacious bed between these tables and in front of that wallpaper. The first of these details, the Loddigesia Hummingbirds, may prove, for the reader who follows the clue, suggestive of aspects of the configuration of the scene’s erotic action (see 419.22-26n.), and the orchid in a vaselet may, for the reader prepared to search backwards, be pointedly reminiscent of a younger Lucette’s naivety and sexual anxiety, while to get the joke in “young Rattner’s waggish pen-name” the reader must thumb through a fat dictionary. All these details will need a curiosity and an effort utterly incompatible with the “simple sexual stimulation” and the “direct action upon the patient” which in the afterword to Lolita Nabokov deplores in pornography. The scene celebrates the free range of thought over art, nature, and knowledge, rather than the forced focus of pornographic gratification.

In the paragraph that follows, Nabokov veils the details of Van’s orgasm and Lucette’s—to cite Ada—“delicious spazmochka” (421) in the most riddling paragraph of the entire novel. In so far as we can solve it, Nabokov seems to suggest that what Van and Ada’s frottage, their caprice, their perverse purpose, their cricket-like or conjurer’s rubbing (see 420.15-16n), has made disappear is Lucette herself. Her consent was never sought: she had “Involuntarily . . . bent her head and frail spine; then she lay back on the outer half of Ada’s pillow in a martyr’s pudibund swoon” (418). The “helpless bed pet” (420) now escapes at the moment of sexual release.

If Nabokov as author has his purposes in rendering the scene as elaborately he does, Van as narrator has his own motives. He presents the scene as a sensory showpiece, a display of the cultural wealth he and Ada so lavishly enjoy, a stylistic equivalent of the four bottles of champagne and the mounds of caviar he downed on the eve of this scene. He does have retrospective regrets, after reading Lucette’s note, and later, after realizing where her distress ultimately leads, and in recounting the episode (“helpless. . . . Involuntarily . . . frail spine . . . martyr’s . . . swoon”) but he still cannot stop himself reliving and savoring the luscious overload of sensation and delectation.
He writes: “Ten eager, evil, loving, long fingers belonging to two different young demons caress their helpless bed pet” (420). He is proud of his father (and Ada’s). On the other hand, when an interviewer quoted Nabokov saying he loathed Van Veen, and asked “What do you hate most about him?,” he answered: “The demonic strain in him” (TWS 431).

Van is not unaware that he evokes the woman whom as a boy he called mother when he writes: “the newly landed eye starts on its northern trip, up the younger Miss Veen’s pried-open legs. A dewdrop on russet moss eventually finds a stylistic response in the aquamarine tear on her flaming cheekbone. Another trip from the port to the interior reveals the central girl’s long white left thigh; we visit souvenir stalls: Ada’s red-lacquered talons, which lead a man’s reasonably recalcitrant, pardonably yielding wrist out of the dim east to the bright russet west, and the sparkle of her diamond necklace, which, for the nonce, is not much more valuable than the aquamarines on the other (west) side of Novelty Novel lane” (419). Van knows that Aqua has been crushed by Demon’s treatment of her, and that Marina, “with perverse vainglory, used to affirm in bed that Demon’s senses must have been influenced by a queer sort of ‘incestuous’ (whatever that term means) pleasure (in the sense of the French plaisir, which works up a lot of supplementary spinal vibrato), when he fondled, and savored, and delicately parted and defiled, in unmentionable but fascinating ways, flesh (une chair) that was both that of his wife and that of his mistress, the blended and brightened charms of twin peris, an Aquamarina both single and double, a mirage in an emirate, a geminate gem, an orgy of epithelial alliterations” (19). On the page following these lines Van records Aqua’s sad progress: “After her first battle with insanity at Ex en Valais she returned to America, and suffered a bad defeat, in the days when Van was still being suckled by a very young wet nurse, almost a child, Ruby Black, born Black, who was to go mad too: for no sooner did all the fond, all the frail, come into close contact with him (as later Lucette did, to give another example) than they were bound to know anguish and calamity, unless strengthened by a strain of his father’s demon blood” (20). (For the Demon-Lucette opposition, see Boyd 1985/2001: 145-46.) Aware of the role he and Ada have played in Lucette’s life and death, as of the role Demon and Marina have played in Aqua’s, Van still has the “perverse vainglory” of his parents as he describes the débauche à trois as it concentrates to a single point that image of Demon fondling, and savoring, and delicately parting and defiling, “in unmentionable but fascinating ways, flesh” of two women so closely related to each other and to him.

Sexual Exclusiveness, Sexual Possessiveness, Sexual Sharing

To Ongaro, Nabokov stressed not only that love and sex are “always the same” (TWS 347) across time but also that they can also be very different for different individuals within the same epoch. He highlights this in the débauche:Ada’s active, heedless, and unapologetic instigation, Van’s “reasonably recalcitrant” hesitation but “pardonably yielding” capitulation and subsequent regret, Lucette’s passive resignation until she recoils in distress from such a travesty of all her hopes for connection with Van.
Throughout this chapter and the wider story Nabokov explores the complex interplay of amatory possessiveness, exclusiveness, voraciousness, and sharing, the varieties and ironies of possession and dispossession in love and sex: the desire to single out, settle, compete for, hoard and defend a single relationship, or to roam and explore, sample, or share. Ada and Van are fiercely concentrated on each other, but also spread their sexual energies widely; Lucette focuses intently on Van, although without expecting to compete with either his singular attachment to Ada or his compulsion for sexual multiplicity.
Jealousy, rivalry, and hypocrisy simmer often in this chapter. At Ursus, Ada and Lucette both monitor Van and Flora: Van notes again the “half-naked” (410) Flora’s charms, which “certainly added a secret bonus to the state of erotic excitement tingling in him from the moment that his two beauties had been unfurred” as “Ada and Lucette watched, unsmilingly, his facial reactions to the demure look of professional recognition on the part of the passing and repassing” Flora (411). Note in the full passage “his two beauties” and the “erotic excitement” amplified by Lucette’s attractions as well as Ada’s, and the vivid memories of Flora’s delights, and the additional spice for Van of recognizing Ada’s and Lucette’s jealousy.

The theme of sharing, and at the same time of jealous possessiveness, recurs as they are about to leave Ursus:

   “I say, Veen,” whinnied a voice near him (there were lots of lechers around), “you don’t rally need
two, d’you?”
Van veered, ready to cuff the gross speaker—but it was only Flora, a frightful tease and admirable mimic. (414)

When they return to the apartment, Van, having drunk four bottles of champagne, rushes to empty his bladder, and urinates “in a sustained stream” (414) in a manner that evokes drunken Percy de Prey pissing into the brook at Ada’s birthday picnic in a “sustained, strongly arched, practically everlasting stream” (274)—Percy, spoiling for, and soon embroiled in, a fight with the Van he sees as his fortunate rival.
After Van starts to undress, he “paused in virile hesitation: Ada, beyond their bedroom and sitting room, was running her bath; to its gush a guitar rhythm, recently heard, kept adapting itself aquatically (the rare moments when he remembered her and her quite rational speech at her last sanatorium in Agavia)” (414). That reminiscence of Aqua recalls a sister crushed by her uncertainties over her sister’s relationship with the man she loves, Demon. Ada running her bath also recalls her filling the bath a week ago, and Lucette’s bursting in on her sister and Van as they made love over the bathtub. Van now

licked his lips, cleared his throat and, deciding to kill two finches with one fircone, walked to the other, southern,
extremity of the flat. . . . In the guest bedroom, Lucette stood with her back to him, in the process of slipping on
her pale green nightdress over her head. Her narrow haunches were bare, and our wretched rake could not help being
moved by the ideal symmetry of the exquisite twin dimples that only very perfect young bodies have above the buttocks
in the sacral belt of beauty. Oh, they were even more perfect than Ada’s! (414-15)

After Van’s “erotic excitement” earlier at Ursus (411), and his “virile hesitation” as he begins to undress (414), his now licking his lips, clearing his throat “and, deciding to kill two finches with one fircone,” and his admiring Lucette’s naked back as even finer than Ada’s (and remember, he has always taken Ada from behind), he seems primed for a sexual advance on his eager half-sister.
But no: he is only after the name of his new rival. Lucette recognizes the risk that Van will pursue Andrey Vinelander once he knows his name, but she cannot resist the bribe of his proffered “very special kiss” (415), and discloses the name: “Vinelander.” Van did not duel or kill Percy, only because he found that recently-evoked rival had already died in the Crimean War; he now does not pursue Andrey Vinelander, only because all too soon his father will have forever barred him from seeing Ada. And just as he took out his thwarted rage against Percy and Rack on Captain Tapper at the end of Part I, so he will release the anger he feels against Vinelander partly through his assault on Kim Beauharnais at the end of Part 2.
In the paragraph that immediately follows his hearing Vinelander’s name from Lucette, and “without the least interruption in the established tension, Van found himself, in a drunken dream, making violent love to Rose—no, to Ada, but in the rosacean fashion, on a kind of lowboy. She complained he hurt her ‘like a Tiger Turk’” (416). In other words, he has the image of Rose on his mind at least some of the time he is making love to Ada, and makes love violently under “the established tension” of having a name, a concrete target, for the man he currently considers his rival.

The ironies of jealousy and hypocrisy compound further when Van, about to doze off, asks Ada “Where was she going? Pet wanted to see the album. ‘I’ll be back in a rubby,’ she said (tribadic schoolgirl slang), ‘so keep awake’” (416). Van mumbles into his pillow “no sapphic vorschmacks” (416)—he is jealous of Lucette, and right to suspect that a tribadic “rubby” is just what Ada has in mind.

Ada evades and deflects:

“ . . . You cannot demand,” she continued—somewhere between the cheeks of his pillow (for Ada had long vanished
with her blood-brown book)—“you cannot demand pudicity on the part of a delphinet! You know that I really love
only males and, alas, only one man.”

There was always something colorfully impressionistic, but also infantile, about Ada’s allusions to her affairs of the flesh,
reminding one of baffle painting, or little glass labyrinths with two peas. . . . (416)

Ada insists that she really loves only males just as she is about to slip into Lucette’s bedroom, “and, alas, only one man,” as Van, drifting into sleep, imagines her excuses that her other sexual encounters are as haphazard, innocent, and meaningless as the ricocheting of a bagatelle ball against pins and hoops.
Van slips further into sleep and dreams of “Mrs. Viner—no, Vingolfer, no, Vinelander” and of Glinka as a broodily jealous Ardis guest in the song they had heard that night at Ursus (“‘Mne snitsa saPERnik SHCHASTLEEVOY!’ (Mihail Ivanovich arcating the sand with his cane, humped on his bench under the creamy racemes). ‘I dream of a fortunate rival!’” (417))—that “cane” pointedly evoking Van’s would-be attacks on his own real rivals at Ardis (for the cane motif, see I.41-42 and commentary).
The débauche à trois shows Ada’s and Van’s sexual voraciousness taken one stage further, as they together fondle their half-sister. Immediately afterward, after Lucette vanishes, Ada comments on Lucette only “‘She’s terribly nervous, the poor kid,” [as she stretches] across Van toward the Wipex.” She adds: “You can order that breakfast now—unless . . . ”—unless, that is, they now make love together. “Oh, what a good sight! Orchids. I’ve never seen a man make such a speedy recovery.” (420)
Stung by her remark, with its implication of the breadth of her sexual sampling, Van in return provokes Ada, simultaneously giving her ample reason for jealousy and venting his own: “Hundreds of whores and scores of cuties more experienced than the future Mrs. Vinelander have told me that.”

Vinelander, Tobak, Lucette

At this point Ada responds wholly unexpectedly. She jumps to the wrong conclusion, that Van has heard Vinelander’s name from Cordula: “I may not be as bright as I used to be, . . . but I know somebody who is not simply a cat, but a polecat, and that’s Cordula Tobacco alias Madame Perwitsky. I read in this morning’s paper that in France ninety percent of cats die of cancer. I don’t know what the situation is in Poland” (420). Ada’s ill-will toward Cordula of course stems as much from jealousy of her as Van’s former live-in partner as from her annoyed supposition that Cordula has given Van a concrete target for his jealousy by disclosing Vinelander’s name.

Ada had also wrongly supposed until a week ago that Van was still living with Cordula. At Kingston, Van invites Lucette to visit him in Manhattan:

“Will you come for a few days? I promise to behave properly. All right?”

“My notion of propriety may not be the same as yours. And what about Cordula de Prey? She won’t mind?”

“The apartment is mine,” said Van, “and besides, Cordula is now Mrs. Ivan G. Tobak. They are making follies
in Florence. . . . His ancestor,” Van pattered on, “was the famous or fameux Russian admiral who had an épée
duel with Jean Nicot and after whom the Tobago Islands, or the Tobakoff Islands, are named, I forget which, it
was so long ago, half a millennium.”

“I mentioned her only because an old sweetheart is easily annoyed by the wrong conclusions she jumps at like
a cat not quite making a fence and then running off without trying again, and stopping to look back.” (382-83)

Lucette here mentions Cordula only because she accepts the assumption made by Ada (“an old sweetheart”) that Van is still living with Cordula in Manhattan. Note the cat imagery and “wrong conclusions” here in Lucette’s explanation that anticipate Ada’s “but I know somebody who is not simply a cat, but a polecat, and that’s Cordula Tobacco,” in response to Van’s post-débauche “the future Mrs. Vinelander.”

Ada’s conclusion is wrong because, as we know, it was Lucette, not Cordula, who disclosed Vinelander’s name to Van, just as, in the Kingston scene, it is Lucette to whom Van first disclosed the name of Cordula’s husband, Ivan Tobak. Something odd connects both Lucette and the eventual husbands of the two women Van lives with in the Manhattan penthouse.

First, the two men, the two (eventual) husbands. Tobak and Vinelander are both associated with navigator-explorers. Tobak descends from the discoverer of “the Tobago Islands, or the Tobakoff Islands” (381) and is therefore linked with tobacco (note his duel with the real historical figure Jean Nicot, who introduced tobacco into France and after whom nicotine is named: see 383.08-10n.), which in turn is linked with Ada’s infidelities with Percy de Prey in Ardis the Second (for tobacco and trysts, see 234.28-33n., 260.12-17n., 286.33-287.02n.). Vinelander descends from the discoverer of Vineland, in Van’s jealous dream, the discoverer of the American wild grape (“Viner—no, Vingolfer, no, Vinelander—first Russki to taste the labruska grape. ‘Mne snitsa saPERnik SHCHASTLEEVOY! . . . I dream of a fortunate rival!’” 417). Two husbands of two of the leading ladies of the novel, both associated with explorers in the Americas (the purely invented Tobak with his palindromic double, the real navigator-explorer Cabot), one with the discovery of American grapes, the other with America’s tobacco: an emphatic but puzzling pattern.

And second, even more puzzling, Lucette’s association with both husbands (though we never see her with either), from the first mention of each in the novel, Tobak mentioned by Van to Lucette, Vinelander disclosed by Lucette to Van.

One key comes early in II.8, although it may not seem to open this door: Lucette’s “not only because I will jump into Goodson River if I can’t hope to have you” (411). Goodson is the Antiterran equivalent of Henry Hudson (see 411.22n.2), another navigator-explorer of the Americas, in fact of the same North Atlantic region as both Vinelander and the Cabot reversed in Tobak (for other links between Tobak and Cabot, see 383.10n. and 456.17-18 and its eventual n.).

But where does this lead? The complex theme of sexual possessiveness, jealousy and rivalry provides the clue. Ada is jealous of Cordula, even though Cordula is now “Mrs. Ivan G. Tobak” (382). Van is jealous of Vinelander, even though Ada is not yet, and seems unlikely to become, “Mrs. Viner—no, Vingolfer, no, Vinelander” (417), “the future Mrs. Vinelander” (420).

To follow this pattern into the future: Van may be jealous of Ada’s partners, but he has not the slightest qualms about giving others cause for jealousy. Meeting Cordula by chance in Paris, he strokes her tight scarlet skirt as she bends to two poodlets and says to her:

"Let’s not squander,” he said, “the tumescence of retrieved time on the gush of small talk. I’m bursting
with energy, if that’s what you want to know. Now look; it may sound silly and insolent but I have an urgent
request. Will you cooperate with me in cornuting your husband? It’s a must!”

“Really, Van!” exclaimed angry Cordula. “You go a bit far. I’m a happy wife. My Tobachok adores me. . . .” (456)

Van persists, she agrees, they find a “drab little hotel across the street”:

Their brisk nub and its repetition lasted fifteen minutes in all, not five. Very pleased with himself, Van walked
with her for a stretch through the brown and green Bois de Belleau in the direction of her osobnyachyok (small mansion). . . .
“Tomorrow I have to be in London and on the third my favorite liner, Admiral Tobakoff, will take me to Manhattan.
Au revoir
. Tell him to look out for low lintels. Antlers can be very sensitive when new.” (457-58)

Van is positively gleeful at cuckolding Tobak. So too will he be in Mont Roux, four years later, when with Ada he cuckolds Andrey Vinelander: “That meeting, and the nine that followed, constituted the highest ridge of their twenty-one-year-old love: its complicated, dangerous, ineffably radiant coming of age. . . . When after three or four hours of frenetic love Van and Mrs. Vinelander would abandon their sumptuous retreat for the blue haze of an extraordinary October which kept dreamy and warm throughout the duration of adultery, they had the feeling of still being under the protection of those painted Priapi that the Romans once used to set up in the arbors of Rufomonticulus.” (521-22)

Tobak’s ancestor is involved in a duel, we learn within a few lines of his name being introduced (383); Lucette has reason to fear that Van might want to duel Vinelander (415), as he had wanted to duel Percy de Prey; Van will give both Tobak and Vinelander good reason, if either were to find out they had been cuckolded, to duel him. Tobak and Vinelander descend from explorers; both, though, seem settled husbands, their sexual territory raided by the gleeful marauder, Van Veen. And Lucette fixates on this sexual explorer so much that if she can’t have him, and only him—she seems even more settled in her inclinations than Tobak or Vinelander—she will jump to her death into a river, she warns, named after one renowned explorer, and without warning, into the sea from a ship named, ironically, for another.

Lucette forms part of the pattern of jealousy, rivalry, possessiveness, and sexual exclusiveness, sexual unreservedness, and sexual sharing, but in special ways.

She is not quite jealous of Ada. She loves her sister, and she loves Van and Ada’s love for each other. But she also loves Van, loves him unswervingly and exclusively, enough to try to win him for herself or die if her efforts fail.

Ada realizes some of the intensity of Lucette’s love for Van, but still thinks nothing of bringing his hand over the bed to fondle their half-sister, with her own hand guiding the way. When Lucette flees in distress at Van’s touch, bestowed under these circumstances, and leaves her “Would go mad if remained” note, Van drafts an apology that Ada denounces, declaring herself “really jealous for the first time” in her life, and predicts Van will “somewhere, some day” sleep with Lucette (421).

After Van’s “brisk nub and its repetition” with Cordula in Paris, Cordula confirms for him which hotel Lucette is staying at in the city. Van searches Lucette out, their first meeting since she fled from the débauche à trois. She still implores him “Oh, try me, Van!” (464) and she offers him a plan that would allow her to have him, without depriving him of Ada, and indeed allowing him access to Ada for the first time since Demon’s edict sundering them:

“Look, Van,” she said (finishing her fourth flute). “Why not risk it? Everything is quite simple. You marry me. You
get my Ardis. We live there, you write there. I keep melting into the background, never bothering you. We invite
Ada—alone, of course—to stay for a while on her estate, for I had always expected mother to leave Ardis to her.
While she’s there, I go to Aspen or Gstaad, or Schittau, and you live with her in solid crystal with snow falling as
if forever all around pendant que je shee in Aspenis. Then I come back like a shot, but she can stay on, she’s welcome,
I’ll hang around in case you two want me. And then she goes back to her husband for a couple of dreary months, see?”

“Yes, magnificent plan,” said Van. “The only trouble is: she will never come. . . . ” (466)

They part, despite Lucette offering herself to him again, despite Van’s sense that had “he not sported so well and so recently [with Cordula], he might not have withstood the temptation, the impardonable thrill” (467).
Van has told Lucette he will be leaving for America in a few days aboard the Admiral Tobakoff.She promptly rings up the Tobaks, and wangles their special suite on their liner “in one minute flat” from them. Although not meanly, selfishly, gloatingly, as Van so decidedly is when cuckolding Tobak and Vinelander, she wants to win Van for herself, to take him “To Ardis . . . for ever and ever” (477) or to take her life if she fails. Again in her plans to bring Van to Ardis as her partner she is generously, even extravagantly, non-exclusive: she tells him, after that “for ever and ever,” that “she would build for him, in the park, several pavilions to house his successive harems, they would gradually turn, one after the other, into homes for aged ladies” (477).
A few hours after divulging her plan, Lucette lies with Van beside the shipboard pool. He admires her diving style, he feels “the stout snake of desire weightily unwind” (478), they both notice “a tall splendid creature with trim ankles and repulsively fleshy thighs . . . [and] slowly and lusciously rolling buttocks, which divulged, in alternate motion, their nether bulges from under the lamé loincloth. Just before disappearing behind a rounded white corner, the Titianesque Titaness half-turned her brown face and greeted Van with a loud ‘hullo!’” and Van insists to Lucette’s question that he does not know her; Lucette invites him, “Come with me, hm?” (479); he rubs “her coccyx to make pussy purr” (481); they see a waiter returning, Van asks what drinks they should have, suspicious and jealous Lucette responds “‘You’ll have them with Miss Condor’ (nasalizing the first syllable) ‘when I go to dress’” (481); she returns to find “Miss Condor” in conversation with Van, who tries to deflect the thrusting stranger:

She hesitated for the flirt of a second, licking her lips, not knowing whether he was being rude or ready—and here
Lucette returned for her Rosepetals.
            “See you aprey,” said Miss Condor.
            Lucette’s gaze escorted to a good-riddance exit the indolent motion of those gluteal lobes and folds.
            “You deceived me, Van. It is, it is one of your gruesome girls!”
            “I swear,” said Van, “that she’s a perfect stranger. I wouldn’t deceive you.”
            “You deceived me many, many times when I was a little girl. If you’re doing it now tu sais que j’en vais mourir.”
            “You promised me a harem,” Van gently rebuked her.
            “Not today, not today! Today is sacred.”
            The cheek he intended to kiss was replaced by her quick mad mouth.
            “Come and see my cabin,” she pleaded as he pushed her away with the very spring, as it were, of his animal reaction
to the fire of her lips and tongue. “I simply must show you their pillows and piano. There’s Cordula’s smell in all the drawers.
I beseech you!” (483)

Notice the interplay of Lucette’s jealousy in practice (Miss Condor) and her generosity in theory (the promised harem). And notice the dizzying pattern of sexual rivalries surrounding her eagerness to get Van to her room—which happens to house the bed that Ivan Tobak, whom Van has recently cuckolded, shares with Cordula, whom Van pursued the very day he fled Ardis in pursuit of his rivals, and whose bedroom in Manhattan becomes first Van’s, then Van’s and somewhat jealous Ada’s, then gets to be shared with Lucette too in the débauche à trois. And Van has just enjoyed sex with the owner of that bed in Manhattan and that bed on the Tobakoff on the very day he sought out Lucette in Paris for their first meeting since her flight from the débauche.
The pattern of bed-sharing and partner-sharing comes to an abrupt end after Van, succumbing to Lucette’s attentions, invites her to cross the threshold he has always forbidden her—

She brushed his cheek with her lips in the dark, she took his hand, she kissed his knuckles, and he suddenly thought:
after all, why not? Tonight? Tonight.
            He enjoyed her impatience, the fool permitted himself to be stirred by it, the cretin whispered, prolonging the free,
new, apricot fire of anticipation:
            “If you’re a good girl we’ll have drinks in my sitting room at midnight.” (488)—

but breaks away from the cinema shortly after Ada comes on screen. When Lucette, having politely sat out the movie with the “old bores of the family” (475), the Robinsons, calls Van’s room:

No doubt he was morally right in using the first pretext at hand to keep her away from his bed; but he also knew, as a
gentleman and an artist, that the lump of words he brought up was trite and cruel, and it was only because she could not
accept him as being either, that she believed him:
            “Mozhno pridti teper’ (can I come now)?” asked Lucette.
            “Ya ne odin (I’m not alone),” answered Van.
            A small pause followed; then she hung up. (491)

She has every reason to think that Van is with “Miss Condor,” the bulging blonde Van had sworn she had no need to be jealous of. In fact the woman who inhibits Van from sharing his bed with Lucette is not Miss Condor but Ada, the woman who had once made Lucette share the bed with Van and herself and who makes no effort to understand Lucette’s frailty, the exclusive force of her desperate desire for Van, or her sexual and social generosity.


Part 2 Chapter 8 prepares for and luridly anticipates Lucette’s death. More immediately, it also prepares for the surprise of her absence from Van’s life for the next nine years until he fatally seeks her out when they both happen to be in Paris.
The end of the chapter also prepares for the surprise of Demon’s arrival, in not the next chapter but the one after, and its consequences. Already the start of II.7 had mentioned Uncle Dan’s declining health—narrative preparation for his death, and therefore for Demon’s calling on Van in II.10 to share the news. The remainder of II.7, with its focus on Kim’s blackmail album of Ardis photographs, and even with its coda celebrating the “sacred secret and creed” that “[r]omantically inclined handmaids” had made of “their first summer in the orchards and orchidariums of Ardis” (409), emphasizes the danger of Van and Ada’s affair becoming widely known: as Van had said at the end of that chapter: “All of which . . . only means that our situation is desperate” (409).
The “children of Venus,” that striking trio, keep no low profile at Ursus, and they are free to make the most of their privacy within the bedroom in the débauche scene. But afterwards, after Ada pens her dissenting P.S. to Van’s response to Lucette’s note, Van feels the need for fresh air, despite Ada’s being keen to make love again:      

"Now let’s go out for a breath of crisp air,” suggested Van. “I’ll order Pardus and Peg to be saddled.”
            “Last night two men recognized me,” she said. “Two separate Californians, but they didn’t dare bow—with that silk-tuxedoed
of mine glaring around. One was Anskar, the producer, and the other, with a cocotte, Paul Whinnier, one of your father’s London
pals. I sort of hoped we’d go back to bed.”
            “We shall now go for a ride in the park,” said Van firmly, and rang, first of all, for a Sunday messenger to take the letter to Lucette’s
hotel—or to the Verma resort, if she had already left.
            “I suppose you know what you’re doing?” observed Ada.
            “Yes,” he answered.
            “You are breaking her heart,” said Ada.
            “Ada girl, adored girl,” cried Van, “I’m a radiant void. I’m convalescing after a long and dreadful illness. You cried over my unseemly
scar, but now life is going to be nothing but love and laughter, and corn in cans. I cannot brood over broken hearts, mine is too recently mended.
You shall wear a blue veil, and I the false mustache that makes me look like Pierre Legrand, my fencing master.”
            “Au fond,” said Ada, “first cousins have a perfect right to ride together. And even dance or skate, if they want. After all, first cousins are
almost brother and sister. It’s a blue, icy, breathless day.” (422-23)

Since Van’s duel ripped into his side and caused him, after a month’s abstinence, to collapse when he attempted to handwalk again on Cordula’s penthouse terrace, he has restricted his exercise, as he has mentioned in referring to the possibility that he might duel a reviewer of his Letters from Terra: “Van toyed with the idea of challenging Mr. Medlar (who, he hoped, would choose swords) to a duel at dawn in a secluded corner of the Park whose central green he could see from the penthouse terrace where he fenced with a French coach twice a week, the only exercise, save riding, that he still indulged in” (344). The riding, the fencing coach, the shadow of the duel, the bright mirage of Central Park, and the penthouse terrace recur in the aftermath above to the débauche.
Van wants to ride, to get away from that complicated bed. Ada, preferring to get back between those sheets, stresses the dangers of their riding out and being seen together, by referring to the risks they ran at Ursus the previous night: two friends of Demon’s, people he knows from California and London, recognized them, but “didn’t dare bow—with that silk-tuxedoed bretteur of mine glaring around.” Van insists, all the same, “We shall now go for a ride in the park,” even if an implied Central Park Sunday outing will expose them all the more to the fashionable crowd.
Ada asks “I suppose you know what you are doing?” Van presumably thinks just of the ride and the risk, and answers simply “Yes,” but Ada has Lucette on her mind: “You are breaking her heart.” Van thinks he can do nothing (and what would Ada have him do?), and returns to the risk of their being seen together in Manhattan: “You shall wear a blue veil, and I the false mustache that makes me look like Pierre Legrand, my fencing master”—and again, that reminder, in his “fencing master,” as in Ada’s bretteur, of the culture of honor in their set that they will run up against when Demon discovers them together. Ada may say “first cousins have a perfect right to ride together. And even dance or skate, if they want. After all, first cousins are almost brother and sister”—but she cannot foresee the risk of being seen not just riding or skating, but emerging from that fatal bedroom, by the one man who knows that they are not just “almost brother and sister.”

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