A Letter from Brian Boyd

to the Kyoto Reading Circle

Dear Reading Circle,
Thanks for the second installment of your Annotations to Ada. Again you have noticed things I haven't or have omitted, and have prompted me to realize more. Here are some additions and corrections to your notes and mine:
41.2: Cf. also (especially in view of "the great libraryc her favorite 'browse'"): Pnin Chapter 3: "Before leaving the library, he decided to look up the correct pronunciation of 'interested'c in the Browsing Room"(78). Reading Rooms are common in libraries and other institutions, but I have never heard of a Browsing Room (although at a book- or other kind of store one could say in response to a shopkeeper's question "I am just browsing, thanks"); it sounds almost as comically misplaced as Pnin's "I only am grazing" (has Pnin misread and misremembered Reading Room as Browsing Room?).
42.30: I had never thought of doorleaf as unusual, but see it is not listed in OED or Webster's Second; I have lived so long with phrases from Ada that sometimes I mistake them for standard English. The word is interesting in conjunction with the associations of Lucette with leaves (the "leavesdropper" motif), and ultimately with the "deflower" motif.
45.23-24: I see the cows as legless merely because viewed from such a distance that their legs cannot be distinguished even if they are standing.
46.19: I do list cojon as well as ojo.
47.01: See Webster's Second, sandman: "The genie of folklore who makes children sleepy; - in allusion to the rubbing of their eyes as if there were sand in them." It's not something just in Hoffman, in other words, although VN's "sandpaper-eyed" is a decidedly new variation on the theme.
47.8-9, 10-11: Note the a-d-v (and Ada-Van) sound play in avidly and adverbs. In general you note phonic patterns more often than I do, but Nabokov's combinations are often camouflaged and perhaps do need to be pointed out.
48.4-5: Surely Van simply hesitates: do I need to go to the toilet right now (and disturb the silence in this part of the house) or can I hold on?
48.22-23: semi-assumed: Note the s-m consonance.
49.22: what I meant in my note is that "Chronique" indicates that Blanche's slip for "Crolique" (the spelling indicates her French pronunciation of Krolik) implies the condition she has consulted him about may be chronic.
55.10: certified colors: colors guaranteed not to fade.
58.9: flat blind little cushions: not without nails, but with nails bitten down so much that there is no free margin of nail.
61.10: Elsie de Nord seems to involve or at least imply a more specific and personal target than Elsinore; but the Elsinore allusion that you note can be strengthened by the connection with another member of the literary demimonde, the reviewer of Van's first book, who is referred to as "the First Clown in Elsinore, a distinguished London weekly" (343.29-30)-where the allusion is probably to the New Statesmen (which Nabokov read and to which he contributed a number of letters in the years he was writing Ada). Hamlet's plot of course turns on the fact that Claudius is the new king or statesman at Elsinore.
64.17: this cannot be a reference to "Le Bateau ivre"; the sentence is quite explicit: "Memoire, a poem by Rimbaud (which she fortunately-and farsightedly-made me learn by heart." The joke is that it is "farsighted" especially because this poem will be the basis of Ada's and Van's code in their first period of separation-something Ada cannot of course know at this point in 1884.

I look forward to meeting you in person next year in Kyoto those of you I didn't have the pleasure of teaching this year in St. Petersburg. By then your notes should have overtaken mine!

Best wishes,

Brian Boyd

Published in KRUG 4. 1 (December 2002)

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