Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 5, Chapter 4 (annotations forthcoming)

Violet Knox [now Mrs. Ronald Oranger. Ed.], born in 1940,
came to live with us in 1957. She was (and still is—ten years
later) an enchanting English blonde with doll eyes, a velvet
carnation and a tweed-cupped little rump [.....]; but such de-
576.05 signs, alas, could no longer flesh my fancy. She has been re-
sponsible for typing out this memoir—the solace of what are,
no doubt, my last ten years of existence. A good daughter, an
even better sister, and half-sister, she had supported for ten
years her mother’s children from two marriages, besides laying
576.10 aside [something]. I paid her [generously] per month, well
realizing the need to ensure unembarrassed silence on the part
of a puzzled and dutiful maiden. Ada called her “Fialochka
and allowed herself the luxury of admiring “little Violet” ’s
cameo neck, pink nostrils, and fair pony-tail. Sometimes, at
576.15 dinner, lingering over the liqueurs, my Ada would consider my
typist (a great lover of Koo-Ahn-Trow) with a dreamy gaze,
and then, quick-quick, peck at her flushed cheek. The situation
might have been considerably more complicated had it arisen
twenty years earlier.
576.20 I do not know why I should have devoted so much attention

[ 576 ]

to the hoary hairs and sagging apparatus of the venerable Veen.
Rakes never reform. They burn, sputter a few last green
sparks, and go out. Far greater importance must be attached
by the self-researcher and his faithful companion to the un-
577.05 believable intellectual surge, to the creative explosion, that
occurred in the brain of this strange, friendless, rather repulsive
nonagenarian (cries of “no, no!” in lectorial, sororial, editorial
More fiercely than ever he execrated all sham art, from the
577.10 crude banalities of junk sculpture to the italicized passages
meant by a pretentious novelist to convey his fellow hero’s
cloudbursts of thought. He had even less patience than before
with the “Sig” (Signy-M.D.-M.D.) school of psychiatry. Its
founder’s epoch-making confession (“In my student days I be-
577.15 came a deflowerer because I failed to pass my botany examina-
tion”) he prefixed, as an epigraph, to one of his last papers
(1959) entitled The Farce of Group Therapy in Sexual Mal-
adjustment, the most damaging and satisfying blast of its kind
(the Union of Marital Counselors and Catharticians at first
577.20 wanted to sue but then preferred to detumefy).
Violet knocks at the library door and lets in plump, short,
bow-tied Mr. Oranger, who stops on the threshold, clicks his
heels, and (as the heavy hermit turns with an awkward sweep
of frieze robe) darts forward almost at a trot not so much to
577.25 stop with a masterful slap the avalanche of loose sheets which
the great man’s elbow has sent sliding down the lectern-slope,
as to express the eagerness of his admiration.
Ada, who amused herself by translating (for the Oranger
editions en regard) Griboyedov into French and English,
577.30 Baudelaire into English and Russian, and John Shade into Rus-
sian and French, often read to Van, in a deep mediumesque
voice, the published versions made by other workers in that
field of semiconsciousness. The verse translations in English
were especially liable to distend Van’s face in a grotesque grin

[ 577 ]

which made him look, when he was not wearing his dental
plates, exactly like a Greek comedial mask. He could not tell
who disgusted him more: the well-meaning mediocrity, whose
attempts at fidelity were thwarted by lack of artistic insight as
578.05 well as by hilarious errors of textual interpretation, or the pro-
fessional poet who embellished with his own inventions the
dead and helpless author (whiskers here, private parts there)—
a method that nicely camouflaged the paraphrast’s ignorance
of the From language by having the bloomers of inept scholar-
578.10 ship blend with the whims of flowery imitation.
As Ada, Mr. Oranger (a born catalyzer), and Van were dis-
cussing those matters one afternoon in 1957 (Van’s and Ada’s
book Information and Form had just come out), it suddenly
occurred to our old polemicist that all his published works—
578.15 even the extremely abstruse and specialized Suicide and Sanity
(1912), Compitalia (1921), and When an Alienist Cannot Sleep
(1932), to cite only a few—were not epistemic tasks set to
himself by a savant, but buoyant and bellicose exercises in
literary style. He was asked why, then, did he not let himself
578.20 go, why did he not choose a big playground for a match be-
tween Inspiration and Design; and with one thing leading to
another it was resolved that he would write his memoirs—to
be published posthumously.
He was a very slow writer. It took him six years to write
578.25 the first draft and dictate it to Miss Knox, after which he re-
vised the typescript, rewrote it entirely in long hand (1963–
1965) and redictated the entire thing to indefatigable Violet,
whose pretty fingers tapped out a final copy in 1967. E, p, i—
why “y,” my dear?

[ 578 ]

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