Annotations to Ada (1)

The Kyoto Reading Circle


The following members of the Kyoto Reading Circle are equally responsible for the text here: Chizuko Inoue, Gen'ichiro Itakura, Satoko Ito, Izumi Matoba, Yuriko Morita, Akiko Nakata, Keiko Nishiyama, Sumi Ota, Hiroko Sugimura, Tadashi Wakashima, Mikiko Yoshikawa (in alphabetical order).

Page references are to the Vintage International editions.

Family Tree
The idea of this "Family Tree" might have come from the "Pedigree of Russian Territorial Princes in Relation to The Song of Igors Campaign" (Boyd) or the "family tree" theme in Eugene Onegin and in Speak, Memory.

Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Oranger
Mrs. Ronald Oranger is Violet Knox the typist (576-78).

[Ed.]
The editor is Ronald Oranger himself (Boyd), and the "editorial notes" appear in the text (e.g., 79.34, 220.25-27, 332.11). This suggests that Van's original Ada, whatever it is, is supposed to have been heavily edited (by himself, by Ada, and by Oranger) as Humbert's Lolita is supposed to have been edited by "John Ray, Jr". "Ronald Oranger" might be an anagram, as "John Ray, Jr." really is.

Part 1
Chapter 1

3.18 granoblastically
Having a texture in which the fragments are irregular and angular and, under the microscope, appear like a mosaic (Webster 2, "granoblastic"). In OED, the granoblastic structure is referred to as a synonym for the "hornfelsic" one: "Structure is typically granoblastic (hornfelsic) or maculose" (OED "hornfels").

4.10 Why not Tofana?
"Aqua tofana" is a fluid mixed with arsenic. Although Boyd does not cite from OED, it has a curious quotation that contains "Acqua Toffana": "In Italy it was supposed to have been the succession powder mingled with chocolate whilst in the cake, not in the liquid we drink. Acqua Toffana, and succession powder (polvere per successione) were administered, as I have heard, with certain although ill-understood effects" (OED, "succession" v 15).

4.30 bore-baiter
Pun on "bear-baiter".

4.32 somehow or other
Indicates that Dan knows Marina's child is not his?

5.21-22 Manhattan's first ten-floor building
Manhattan Life Building. the first steel-skelton-framed building in Manhattan, was built in 1893-95 (The Encyclopedia of New York City, ed. Kenneth T. Jackson [New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1995]: "skyscraper").

5.23 (Toys)
A department store? Macy's, for example, had already grown to have a large number of departments including furnishings, toys, china, glassware, books, and so on (The Encyclopedia of New York City, "R. H. Macy").

5.29 aerocable
Telegram by means of air, instead of electricity which does not exist.

6.2-3 sweet siblings who shared a narrow bed
Towards the ending, Ada calls herself and Van "lovers and siblings" (583.21; emphasis original).

6.15 bride's ectoplasmic veil
Ectoplasm is "a mysterious, usually light-coloured, viscous substance that is said to exude from the body of a spiritualist medium in trance and may then take the shape of a face, a hand, or complete body" (Encyclopaedia Britannica Micropaedia, "ectoplasm"). It is said to exude, more specifically, from the “navel, mouth or nose” of a medium (Jenny Randles, Strange and Unexplained Mystery of the 20th Century [1994. New York: Sterling Publishing, 1994]: 54). According to Randles, taking photographs at seances, which had begun in the 1920s, became popular in the 1940s with the invention of infra-red film (ibid., 53-54). See Figure A in which a medium is producing ectoplasm in a 1920 experiment. [Sorry, Figure A is not availale.]

6.33 old Archie's premature squitteroo
As Boyd points out, squitteroo is a neulogism coined from the obsolete word squitter. Possibly a shabby, old Mannekin Pis with some urological dysfunction, seeing that "premature squitteroo" is a pun on "premature ejaculation". Possibly an archer statue, on the private parts of which an unknown naughty trick has been done. As this funny thing is referred to as "it", it should be something which looks like a "male member" but is not actually human.

8.20 by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother
Allusion to Ulysses: "Isn't the sea what Algy calls it: a great sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton." (Ulysses 1.77-78) The original Homeric Greek oinopa means wine-coloured or wine-dark, not dark-blue nor snotgreen. Of course the word great--grandmother is practically a joke, having nothing to do with Van's or Stephen Dedalus', the latter of whom does not appear in Ulysses. See 9.13,18.

8.30-31 as the Bear-Foot . . . not my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl's
The so-called "Primavera" by Stabiae in the national Museum of Naples. See Figure B.

8.32 your father, who, according to Blanche, is also mine
Van and Ada has learned the secret of their birth by this time.

9.16-17 the Yaroslav rulers of pre-Tartar times
Allusion to the Tartar invasion. See Chapter 2 of The Gift, "Spring in Fialta", the Tamara chapter of Speak, Memory, et al. The Tartar invasion is documented in Marco Polo's writing, in which Nabokov shows some interest in The Gift 115, 124).

9.31-32 marginal note in Ada Veen's late hand
The first indication that Ada is involved in the book's composition (Boyd).

Chapter 2

10.6-7 the price of such footlights as insomnia, fancy, arrogant art
"the cost (not of the ticket, as one might expect, but) of the composition: the playwright's insomnia, creative imagination and arrogant art" (Boyd)? This seems rather abrupt.

10.9 the great Scott
The name or the nationality of the impresario?

10.12 some pretentious hack
Either Eugene O'Neill (cf. Darkbloom's note for p.317 in the Penguin edition) or Walter Arndt (Boyd)?

11.5 Baron d'O.
"Baron d'O." is Marina's lover in the play who prefigures "Baron d'Onsky" (13.5), Marina's lover in her real life. "Baron d'Onsky" is actually called "D'Onsky," or more simply, "dO" (13.7, 19). Demon gives him a one-way nickname, "Skonky" (13.14).

11.27 Georgian tribesman
Georgia is one of the republics of Russia. The playwright or the producer of the play had mistaken the meaning of the word.

12.3 the lovely loss
The loss of Marina's virginity? Or the absence of Marina? (For she goes back to the stage after her rendezvous with Demon.)

12.6 colorful transfigurants
Ballet dancers. Another example of the playwright's misunderstanding.

12.7 Baron O.
Notice that "Baron d'O" has become "Baron O." here.

12.10-11 that brief abyss of absolute reality between two bogus fulgurations
The rendezvous with Marina.

12.16 metamorphosed Cinderellas
In the original Russian folktale, Cinderellas loses her fur-trimmed shoes, but as a result of mistranslation into French, they had become glass shoes. See Pnin, 158; "Professor Pnin re marked . . . that Cendrillon's shoes were not made of glass but of Russian squirrel fur--vair in French."

13.1 its discoverer
Demon.

13.2-3 perched on the arm of a chair
Cf. "perch" (5.11).

13.18 its special integument
Cf. "special flat case" (12.28-29).

13.27 young bodies of water
Cf. "quite natural body of water" (5.10-11).

13.28-29 that's my hat, his is older, but we have the same London hatter
An example of "double-talk mirrors" (13. 28).

14.4-5 "Eve on the clepsydrophone"
"Clepsydrophone" may be a kind of telephone in Antiterra which harnesses water power. As the prefix "clepsy-" is derived from Greek kleptein which means "conceal," Boyd says "the etymology seems pointed." Cf. "[Marina] muffled the receiver while asking her lover something that he[Demon] could not make out" (13.3-4).

14.16 a spiritual Samurai
Boyd is much puzzled by this expression. He supposes its implication to be the renouncement of women. The word "Samurai" suggests the influence of H. G. Wells (especially his A Modern Utopia) on Nabokov?

14.32 American "Gory Mary"
Cf. "a Bloody Ivan (vodka and tomato juice)" (Transparent Things, 100)

15.15 dupe procreation
To prevent pregnancy.

16.11 rattling my crumpled wings
Cf. "In society he was generally known as Raven Veen" (4.24).

Chapter 3

17.1 the L disaster
Cf. (a) "Van regretted that because Lettrocalamity . . . was banned all over the world, its very name having become a 'dirty word'" (147.1-3). "Lettro" suggests "electric"; (b) "The unmentionable magnetic power denounced by evil lawmakers"(21.22-23); (c) "the banning of an unmentionable 'lammer'"(23.11-12).

17.5 a book addressed to young laymen and lemans
Cf. Sig Leymanski, or Professor Leyman, the hero of "Van's Letters from Terra, 'a philosophical novel'" (338.1-2; 340.4; 340.20; etc.).

17.19 the Arctic no-longer-vicious Circle
A typical example of Nabokov's use of tmesis, "the separation of the elements of a compound word by the interpretation of another word or words"(OED).

17.17-18.3 "Russia". . . was . . . on Terra the name of a country, transferred to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over all of today's Tartary
According to Aqua's notion of Terra, "Russia" (Estotiland) moved from its original place, the northern part of America near Arctic Ocean, across the border to where now Russia is.

18.22 terrology (then a branch of psychiatry)
The study of Terra, the demented Aqua's imaginative land.

19.8 The modest narrator
Van.

19.12 out of spite and pity
"Out of spite," because Demon had a grudge against Marina (cf. his letter for her, 15.33-16.25), and "out of pity" for Aqua.

20.4-5 was touristically unavailable
Could not be traveled over.

20.11 her first battle with insanity at Ex en Valais
Aqua spent at Ex, where Marina picked flowers in August, 1869 (8.2-3), 4 months after her marriage, April, 1869 (19.9).

20.16 as later Lucette did
The first reference to Lucette; "prolepsis"(Boyd).

20.22 the Great Revelation
A "revelation" of the existence of Terra.

20.33 the New Believers
Cf. Old Believer: A member of that section of the Russian Orthodox Church which refused to accept the liturgical reforms of the patriarch Nikon (1605-1681). (OED)

22.34 predormitarily
Before dormition. In Speak, Memory, Nabokov reports of "mild hallucinations" he has been subject to just before falling asleep. "This silly phenomenon seems to be auditory counterpart of certain praedormitary visions, which I also know well" (Speak, Memory, 33; italics added).

23.39-40 the "elmo" that broke into leaf
(a) Referring to some local miracle or legend about some elm tree (Boyd); (b) Erasmus or Elmo, martyr, d. c303 (?), a bishop in Syria. "A later legend said he was put to death by having his intestines wound out of his body on a windlass. Perhaps because of the re sem blance of the windlass to a capstan, Erasmus came to be honoured as a patron saint of saiors"(A Dictionary of Saints, Penguin); (c) St. Elmo's Fire: "The corposant (holy body), a bright light or fire sometimes seen in severe storms at sea on projecting parts of a ship, as at the mast head. . . . One flame portends the worst of the storm is yet to come. When two or more flames appear they are given the names of Helen's twin brothers, Castor and Pollux, and indicate the worst has passed "(Gertrude Jobes, Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore and Symbols).

24.18-19 mental panic and physical pain joined black-ruby hands
Cf. "Van was still being sucked by . . . Ruby Black, born Black, who was to go mad too:" (20.13-14).

25.5 pudendron
Pudendum + rhododendron, or Alpine rose, "artificial edelweis" in Marina's album (7.30).

25.11 an aquamarine prickle
Aquamarine, sea-water coloured thorn-like hair.

25.28-29 in a lieu de naissance plainly marked X in her dream
X is Ex, Van's birth place, where "not yet married Marina and her married sister hibernated" (13.21-22).

26.12 Querques Fleurs
"Some flowers," "flowers that Marina had picked or otherwise obtained at Ex . . . where she had sojourned before her marriage" (7.8-10).

27.2 dracunculi
Dracon , dragon+culi (cf. L. homunculus, -culi, small man, men (dim.)).

28.9 a Dr. Sig Heiler
Alluding to Sigmund Freud; "sig (sigg)": piss; "the observant Siggy" (28.32); Heiler

29.6 (heute-toity!)
G. heute, today + hoity-toity.

29.11 your Darkblue ancestor
Cf. Demon's "dark-blue great-grandmother" (8.20); "Re the 'dark-blue' allusion . . ." (9.13); Darkbloom.

Chapter 4

31.1-8 When . . . bad dream
One of the themes of Van's autobiography is love.

31.1 in the middle of the twentieth century
Van decided to write his memoirs "one afternoon in 1957" (578.12).

31.3-4 (for the special purpose the reconstruction persued)
See 578.20-21; "a match between Inspiration and Design".

31.8 his first bad hurt or bad dream
Not yet known.

31.11-13 such "comforts" . . . a school
Such "comforts" only occur in some introductory ready-made metaphor in a book about a boy and a school; perhaps, novels or stories of upper-class children going to school, bullied by older pupils?

32.1-11 those flowers were artificial . . . he touched a half-opened rose and was cheated of the sterile texture his finger-tips had expected when cool life kissed them with pouting lips. . . . "My daughter . . . always puts a bunch of real ones among the fake pour attraper le client. . ."
Contrasts of the real and the artificial life. Boyd points out that the real roses imitate the fake rather than vice versa.

32.4-5 (unremembered now, eight years later)
1963; Van, 93 years old.

32.14 a frame
See 35.25-27; "Van immediately recognized Ardis Hall as depicted in the two-hundred-year-old aquarelle that hung in his father's dressing room".

32.16-17 he saw her curled up with her schoolbooks in an armchair
A Lolita-like image.

32.16-18 he saw her curled up with her schoolbooks in an armchair domestic item among those for sale
Again, the contrasts between the real and the fake; the girl and the armchair are not for sale, while the other objects in the shop are.

32.24 Riverlane
A school's name: See 156.4-5; "returning to school in cold Luga Mayne".

32.28-29 the round creamy charms of Bronzino's Cupid (the big one, whom a delighted satyr discovers in a lady's bower)
"The painting 'Venus, Satyr and Cupid,' by Angelo di Cosimo di Mariano, called il Bronzino (1503-1572), dated 1550-55, now in Rome's Galleria Colonna, measures 120 x250 cm. See Figure C. The Cupid is not an infantine cherub but a chubby-faced youth of thirteen or so (Boyd). Bronzino's 'Allegory of Venus, Love and Time' is more famous.

33.3, 5, 17 a young helper . . . this fat little wench . . . a fusby pig-pink whorelet
This whorelet is for sale, while the girl in an armchair is not.

33.23-25 he found himself endowing with unsuspected poetry her poor image, the kitchen odor of her arms, the humid eyelashes
An image of a crying girl which reminds us of Lolita's wet and matted eyelashes.

33.30-31 as one surveys the capable landscape capably skimming by
"The capable landscape" refers to the name of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (1716-83), English Landscape gardener and architect, who received his nickname from his discussing the 'capabilities' of a particular area he was working on. He developed an artfully informal manner and devised many parks with wide expanses of lawns, clumps of trees, serpentine lakes, and other improvements that were a far cry from the very formalized gardens of the previous century. His object was to 'tame' nature, and his idyllic parks were bounded by a thick planting of trees to protect the view from the 'unimproved' landscape beyond (The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Avenel Books, 1986). While the picturesque occupied interest in England roughly from 1730 to 1830, the movement was transferred to America considerably later and perhaps reached its apex in the 1840s and 1850s (Kent Ljungquist, The Grand and the Fair: Poe's Landscape Aesthetics and Pictorial Techniques, Scripta Humanistica, 1984, p. 36). Perhaps, Van's narration here is well aware of this background. "The capable landscape," therefore, means a sort of landscape with artificial naturalness. It presents the contrast between the real and the artificial again.

33.34 epithelium
Cf. "a germinate gem, an orgy of epithelial alliterations" (19.22-23).

Chapter 5

34.4-35.31 In a miniature of the imagination, he had seen a saddled horse prepared for him; there was not even a trap. . . . Suddenly a hackney coach drove up . . . seated himself in the old calache. . . . the sensitive runabout swerved lightly to match his gesture. . . the old clockwork taxi . . . A servant in waiting took his horse.
It seems that the carriage is changing its form all the time.

34.14 a chance crease in the texture of time
This is one of the important motifs. Van is to write The Texture of Time in 1924 (579.2-3).

34.18-35.1 Sunflecks and lacy shadows skimmed over his legs and lent a green twinkle to the brass button deprived of its twin on the back of the coachman's coat
Twinkle/twin.

35.1-10 a dreamy hamlet . . . They bounced on the cobblestones of Gamlet
Hamlet motif.

35.13 Ladore, with its ruinous black castle on a crag
This also shows a taste for the picturesqueness of the mid-19th century in America.

35.17-27 At the next turning, the romantic mansion appeared . . . . It was a splendid coun try house, . . . Van immediately recognized Ardis Hall as depicted in the two-hundred-year-old aquarelle that hung in his father's dressing room
Again, the theme of the real and the artificial.

36.3-8 farmannikin . . . box kite . . . tiny red rectangle . . . in a blue spring sky
A model of early airplane. A kind of coined word? An early aviator, Henri Farman (1874-1958) + manikin or mannequin? As for Farman bi plane, see Figure D.

35.16 pneumonia
Lucette dies young in the middle of this book, so it prefigures her death here.

35.36-37 She wore a white frock with a black jacket and there was a white bow in her long hair
Though we've already met Ada earlier at the beginning of the book, Ada is virtually for the first time introduced here. This dress she wears here is Van's initial image of her that he sticks to the last (37.19-20)

36.30: Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno
Quoted from some Russian novel? Or Van might make a display of his learning?

36.33 Ada and I share your extravagant tastes
Ada likes over-sweetening.

37.33-34 his shadow held the bridal crown over her from behind
Ada's wedding makes a fine paralell to Marina's in which "a bride's ectoplasmic veil" is "partly blown by a parvis breeze athwart the groom's trousers" (6.15-16). See also 480.26-27; "Ada's thick white veil was as impervious to light as a widow's weeds".

38.07 "Old-fashioned qualms"
Here Marina secretly fears that Ada and Van may have sexual intercourse in the near future.

[To be continued]
Published in KRUG 1.2 (April 2000)

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