Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 5, Chapter 6 (annotations forthcoming)

Nirvana, Nevada, Vaniada. By the way, should I not add, my
Ada, that only at the very last interview with poor dummy-
mummy, soon after my premature—I mean, premonitory—
nightmare about, “You can, Sir,” she employed mon petit nom,
583.05 Vanya, Vanyusha—never had before, and it sounded so odd,
so tend... (voice trailing off, radiators tinkling).
“Dummy-mum”—(laughing). “Angels, too, have brooms—
to sweep one’s soul clear of horrible images. My black nurse
was Swiss-laced with white whimsies.”
583.10 Sudden ice hurtling down the rain pipe: brokenhearted sta-
Recorded and replayed in their joint memory was their
early preoccupation with the strange idea of death. There is
one exchange that it would be nice to enact against the green
583.15 moving backdrop of one of our Ardis sets. The talk about
“double guarantee” in eternity. Start just before that.
“I know there’s a Van in Nirvana. I’ll be with him in the
depths moego ada, of my Hades,” said Ada.
“True, true” (bird-effects here, and acquiescing branches,
583.20 and what you used to call “golden gouts”).
“As lovers and siblings,” she cried, “we have a double chance

[ 583 ]

of being together in eternity, in terrarity. Four pairs of eyes
in paradise!”
“Neat, neat,” said Van.
Something of the sort. One great difficulty. The strange
584.05 mirage-shimmer standing in for death should not appear too
soon in the chronicle and yet it should permeate the first amorous
scenes. Hard but not insurmountable (I can do anything, I can
tango and tap-dance on my fantastic hands). By the way, who
dies first?
584.10 Ada. Van. Ada. Vaniada. Nobody. Each hoped to go first,
so as to concede, by implication, a longer life to the other, and
each wished to go last, in order to spare the other the anguish,
or worries, of widowhood. One solution would be for you to
marry Violet.
584.15 “Thank you. J’ai tâté de deux tribades dans ma vie, ça suffit.
Dear Emile says ‘terme qu’on évite d’employer.’ How right he is!”
“If not Violet, then a local Gauguin girl. Or Yolande Kick-
Why? Good question. Anyway. Violet must not be given
584.20 this part to type. I’m afraid we’re going to wound a lot of
people (openwork American lilt)! Oh come, art cannot hurt.
It can, and how!
Actually the question of mortal precedence has now hardly
any importance. I mean, the hero and heroine should get so
584.25 close to each other by the time the horror begins, so organically
close, that they overlap, intergrade, interache, and even if
Vaniada’s end is described in the epilogue we, writers and
readers, should be unable to make out (myopic, myopic) who
exactly survives, Dava or Vada, Anda or Vanda.
584.30 I had a schoolmate called Vanda. And I knew a girl called
Adora, little thing in my last floramor. What makes me see
that bit as the purest sanglot in the book? What is the worst
part of dying?

[ 584 ]

For you realize there are three facets to it (roughly corre-
sponding to the popular tripartition of Time). There is, first,
the wrench of relinquishing forever all one’s memories—that’s
a commonplace, but what courage man must have had to go
585.05 through that commonplace again and again and not give up
the rigmarole of accumulating again and again the riches of
consciousness that will be snatched away! Then we have the
second facet—the hideous physical pain—for obvious reasons
let us not dwell upon that. And finally, there is the featureless
585.10 pseudo-future, blank and black, an everlasting nonlastingness,
the crowning paradox of our boxed brain’s eschatologies!
“Yes,” said Ada (aged eleven and a great hair-tosser), “yes
—but take a paralytic who forgets the entire past gradually,
stroke by stroke, who dies in his sleep like a good boy, and
585.15 who has believed all his life that the soul is immortal—isn’t that
desirable, isn’t that a quite comfortable arrangement?”
“Cold comfort,” said Van (aged fourteen and dying of other
desires). “You lose your immortality when you lose your mem-
ory. And if you land then on Terra Caelestis, with your pillow
585.20 and chamberpot, you are made to room not with Shakespeare
or even Longfellow, but with guitarists and cretins.”
She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the
right of making up a future, and in that case one’s very own
future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years
585.25 quickly passed—a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern.
They had spent most of the morning reworking their transla-
tion of a passage (lines 569–572) in John Shade’s famous poem:
...Sovetï mï dayom
Kak bït’ vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;
585.30 On ih vstrechaet—lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,
Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke...
(...We give advice
To widower. He has been married twice:

[ 585 ]

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both
Jealous of one another...)
Van pointed out that here was the rub—one is free to
imagine any type of hereafter, of course: the generalized para-
586.05 dise promised by Oriental prophets and poets, or an individual
combination; but the work of fancy is handicapped—to a quite
hopeless extent—by a logical ban: you cannot bring your friends
along—or your enemies for that matter—to the party. The
transposition of all our remembered relationships into an Elysian
586.10 life inevitably turns it into a second-rate continuation of our
marvelous mortality. Only a Chinaman or a retarded child
can imagine being met, in that Next-Installment World, to the
accompaniment of all sorts of tail-wagging and groveling of
welcome, by the mosquito executed eighty years ago upon one’s
586.15 bare leg, which has been amputated since then and now, in the
wake of the gesticulating mosquito, comes back, stomp, stomp,
stomp, here I am, stick me on.
She did not laugh; she repeated to herself the verses that
had given them such trouble. The Signy brain-shrinkers would
586.20 gleefully claim that the reason the three “boths” had been
skipped in the Russian version was not at all, oh, not at all,
because cramming three cumbersome amphibrachs into the
pentameter would have necessitated adding at least one more
verse for carrying the luggage.
586.25 “Oh, Van, oh Van, we did not love her enough. That’s
whom you should have married, the one sitting feet up, in
ballerina black, on the stone balustrade, and then everything
would have been all right—I would have stayed with you both
in Ardis Hall, and instead of that happiness, handed out gratis,
586.30 instead of all that we teased her to death!”
Was it time for the morphine? No, not yet. Time-and-pain
had not been mentioned in the Texture. Pity, since an element
of pure time enters into pain, into the thick, steady, solid dura-

[ 586 ]

tion of I-can’t-bear-it pain; nothing gray-gauzy about it, solid
as a black bole, I can’t, oh, call Lagosse.
Van found him reading in the serene garden. The doctor
followed Ada into the house. The Veens had believed for a
587.05 whole summer of misery (or made each other believe) that it
was a touch of neuralgia.
Touch? A giant, with an effort-contorted face, clamping and
twisting an engine of agony. Rather humiliating that physical
pain makes one supremely indifferent to such moral issues as
587.10 Lucette’s fate, and rather amusing, if that is the right word,
to constate that one bothers about problems of style even at
those atrocious moments. The Swiss doctor, who had been
told everything (and had even turned out to have known at
medical school a nephew of Dr. Lapiner) displayed an intense
587.15 interest in the almost completed but only partly corrected book
and drolly said it was not a person or persons but le bouquin
which he wanted to see guéri de tous ces accrocs before it was
too late. It was. What everybody thought would be Violet’s
supreme achievement, ideally clean, produced on special Atticus
587.20 paper in a special cursive type (the glorified version of Van’s
hand), with the master copy bound in purple calf for Van’s
ninety-seventh birthday, had been immediately blotted out by
a regular inferno of alterations in red ink and blue pencil. One
can even surmise that if our time-racked, flat-lying couple ever
587.25 intended to die they would die, as it were, into the finished
book, into Eden or Hades, into the prose of the book or the
poetry of its blurb.
Their recently built castle in Ex was inset in a crystal winter.
In the latest Who’s Who the list of his main papers included
587.30 by some bizarre mistake the title of a work he had never written,
though planned to write many pains: Unconsciousness and the
Unconscious. There was no pain to do it now—and it was high
pain for Ada to be completed. “Quel livre, mon Dieu, mon
Dieu,” Dr. [Professor. Ed.] Lagosse exclaimed, weighing the

[ 587 ]

master copy which the flat pale parents of the future Babes,
in the brown-leaf Woods, a little book in the Ardis Hall nursery,
could no longer prop up in the mysterious first picture: two
people in one bed.
588.05 Ardis Hall—the Ardors and Arbors of Ardis—this is the
leitmotiv rippling through Ada, an ample and delightful chron-
icle, whose principal part is staged in a dream-bright America—
for are not our childhood memories comparable to Vineland-
born caravelles, indolently encircled by the white birds of
588.10 dreams? The protagonist, a scion of one of our most illustrious
and opulent families, is Dr. Van Veen, son of Baron “Demon”
Veen, that memorable Manhattan and Reno figure. The end
of an extraordinary epoch coincides with Van’s no less extraor-
dinary boyhood. Nothing in world literature, save maybe Count
588.15 Tolstoy’s reminiscences, can vie in pure joyousness and Ar-
cadian innocence with the “Ardis” part of the book. On the
fabulous country estate of his art-collecting uncle, Daniel Veen,
an ardent childhood romance develops in a series of fascinating
scenes between Van and pretty Ada, a truly unusual gamine,
588.20 daughter of Marina, Daniel’s stage-struck wife. That the rela-
tionship is not simply dangerous cousinage, but possesses an as-
pect prohibited by law, is hinted in the very first pages.
In spite of the many intricacies of plot and psychology, the
story proceeds at a spanking pace. Before we can pause to take
588.25 breath and quietly survey the new surroundings into which the
writer’s magic carpet has, as it were, spilled us, another attractive
girl, Lucette Veen, Marina’s younger daughter, has also been
swept off her feet by Van, the irresistible rake. Her tragic
destiny constitutes one of the highlights of this delightful book.
588.30 The rest of Van’s story turns frankly and colorfully upon his
long love-affair with Ada. It is interrupted by her marriage to
an Arizonian cattle-breeder whose fabulous ancestor discovered
our country. After her husband’s death our lovers are reunited.
They spend their old age traveling together and dwelling in

[ 588 ]

the various villas, one lovelier than another, that Van has erected
all over the Western Hemisphere.
Not the least adornment of the chronicle is the delicacy of
pictorial detail: a latticed gallery; a painted ceiling; a pretty
589.05 plaything stranded among the forget-me-nots of a brook; butter-
flies and butterfly orchids in the margin of the romance; a misty
view descried from marble steps; a doe at gaze in the ancestral
park; and much, much more.

[ 589 ]

(back to Part Five, Chapter 5)

(This page is part of ADAonline, which depends on frames for navigation. If you have been referred to this page without the surrounding frameset, follow this link.)