Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 5, Chapter 3 (annotations forthcoming)

During the years of their last separation, his libertinism had
remained essentially as implacable as before; but sometimes
the score of love-making would drop to once in four days, and
sometimes he would realize with a shock that a whole week
573.05 had passed in unruffled chastity. The series of exquisite harlots
might still alternate with runs of amateur charmers at chance
resorts and might still be broken by a month of inventive love
in the company of some frivolous Women of fashion (there
was one red-haired English virgin, Lucy Manfristan, seduced
573.10 June 4, 1911, in the walled garden of her Norman manor and
carried away to Fialta on the Adriatic, whom he recalled with
a special little shiver of lust); but those false romances only
fatigued him; the indifferently plumbed palazzina would soon
be given away, the badly sunburnt girl sent back—and he would
573.15 need something really nasty and tainted to revive his manhood.
Upon starting in 1922 a new life with Ada, Van firmly re-
solved to be true to her. Save for a few discreet, and achingly
draining, surrenders to what Dr. Lena Wien has so aptly termed
“onanistic voyeurism,” he somehow managed to stick to his
573.20 resolution. The ordeal was morally rewarding, physically pre-

[ 573 ]

posterous. As pediatricians are often cursed with impossible
families, so our psychologist presented a not uncommon case of
subdivided personality. His love for Ada was a condition of
being, a steady hum of happiness unlike anything he had met
574.05 with professionally in the lives of the singular and the insane.
He would have promptly plunged into boiling pitch to save
her just as he would have sprung to save his honor at the drop
of a glove. Their life together responded antiphonally to their
first summer in 1884. She never refused to help him achieve
574.10 the more and more precious, because less and less frequent,
gratification of a fully shared sunset. He saw reflected in her
everything that his fastidious and fierce spirit sought in life.
An overwhelming tenderness impelled him to kneel suddenly
at her feet in dramatic yet utterly sincere attitudes, puzzling
574.15 to anyone who might enter with a vacuum cleaner. And on
the same day his other compartments and subcompartments
would be teeming with longings and regrets, and plans of
rape and riot. The most hazardous moment was when he and
she moved to another villa, with a new staff and new neighbors,
574.20 and his senses would be exposed in icy, fantastic detail, to the
gipsy girl poaching peaches or the laundry woman’s bold
In vain he told himself that those vile hankerings did not
differ, in their intrinsic insignificance, from the anal pruritis
574.25 which one tries to relieve by a sudden fit of scratching. Yet he
knew that by daring to satisfy the corresponding desire for a
young wench he risked wrecking his life with Ada. How hor-
ribly and gratuitously it might hurt her, he foreglimpsed one
day in 1926 or ’27 when he caught the look of proud despair
574.30 she cast on nothing in particular before walking away to the
car that was to take her on a trip in which, at the last moment,
he had declined to join her. He had declined—and had simu-
lated the grimace and the limp of podagra—because he had just
realized, what she, too, had realized—that the beautiful native

[ 574 ]

girl smoking on the back porch would offer her mangoes to
Master as soon as Master’s housekeeper had left for the Film
Festival in Sindbad. The chauffeur had already opened the car
door, when, with a great bellow, Van overtook Ada and they
575.05 rode off together, tearful, voluble, joking about his foolishness.
“It’s funny,” said Ada, “what black, broken teeth they have
hereabouts, those blyadushki.”
(“Ursus,” Lucette in glistening green, “Subside, agitation of
passion,” Flora’s bracelets and breasts, the whelk of Time).
575.10 He discovered that a touch of subtle sport could be derived
from constantly fighting temptation while constantly dreaming
of somehow, sometime, somewhere, yielding to it. He also dis-
covered that whatever fire danced in those lures, he could not
spend one day without Ada; that the solitude he needed to sin
575.15 properly did not represent a matter of a few seconds behind an
evergreen bush, but a comfortable night in an impregnable
fortress; and that, finally, the temptations, real or conjured up
before sleep, were diminishing in frequency. By the age of
seventy-five fortnightly intimacies with cooperative Ada, mostly
575.20 Blitzpartien, sufficed for perfect contentment. The successive
secretaries he engaged got plainer and plainer (culminating in a
coconut-haired female with a horse mouth who wrote love
notes to Ada); and by the time Violet Knox broke the lack-
luster series Van Veen was eighty-seven and completely im-
575.25 potent.

[ 575 ]

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