Annotations to Ada (4)

The Kyoto Reading Circle

Part 1
Chapter 14

89.2: kept trying to make an anadem
Being able to finish or leaving unfinished something is a hidden theme. Ada and Van are able to finish things later, such as Ada's peeling Rack's apple (Part 1, Ch. 33, 209:6), Van's finishing his book, and both of them finishing their narrative, but Lucette's life is incomplete to the end. Ada continues making the anadem in the chapter, but at the end of it, the anadem is still unfinished. As mentioned in Boyd's Annotations (The Nabokovian 43, pp. 50-51), Ada and the dackel in the wreath is the last image which fills Lucette when she is dying: "and she saw a girl with long black hair quickly bend in passing to clap her hands over a dackel in a half-torn wreath" (494). The wreath is just "unfinished" in this chapter, but it will be violently "torn" later-linked to the "deflowering" motif. Precisely because Lucette was not deflowered, her life was also torn apart.

89.3: an anadem
includes "a-d-a."

89.9: an immense elm
The failure to distinguish an elm from an oak has meaning. In the beginning of Ch. 8, Mlle Lariviere told Ada to show Van "the white lady…, and the mountain, and the great oak" (50). Later in this chapter, Greg also mistakes the elm for an oak. Oak trees stand for the dull or mundane, like Greg, and elm trees stand for the sensitive and aware. Ada often raises the question of whether a tree is an oak or an elm-an indication, perhaps, based also on her answer to Greg's question (I guess it's your father under that oak, isn't it?), "No, it's an elm," that she rejects oaks, or dull fathers like Dan, who is sitting under the immense elm, and dull boys like Greg in preference for the more supple and graceful Demon and Van. Cf. Part 2, Ch. 7, 403:5: "Love under the Lindens by one Eelmann" (Eelmann includes "elm") mentioned by Ada as a play poor "little Lucette" had to read in college. Ada (or Nabokov) intentionally mistranslates "Elms" of O'Neill's play into "Lindens" because Lucette is neither Demon's daughter nor the girl Van loves. In An Invitation to a Beheading, Cincinnati reads a dull long novel about an oak tree, Quercus, in jail: "This work was unquestionably the best that his age had produced;… what matters to me all this, distant, deceitful and dead… "(Invitation to a Beheading, 123). Quercus is also mentioned in Ada Part 2, Ch. 7, 398:28-29: "the rare oak, Quercus ruslan Chat."

89.11: the samovar (which expressed fragments of its surroundings in demented fantasies of a primitive genre)
Cf. He looked about him and saw the table and the faces of people sitting there, their reflection in the samovar--in a special samovarian perspective--and added with tremendous relief, "So this too is a dream? These people are a dream? …" (The Defense, 133). Dementiy (Demon) could be connected here with being "demented."

90.12: a pistol duel
the first one of the pistol duels in the novel.

90.17: "What are Jews?"
VN's opinions against Anti-semitism is a common subject we often find in papers. Also VN and black people could be an interesting theme. VN's interest in African people might derive from his interest in Pushkin.

91.5: cupola, . . . deserts with bleached camel ribs… the dust and mirages
Oriental images which follow "Moses" in Marina's belief that she had been a dancing girl in India long before Moses. Ardis, that is Eden, should be connected with the Orient. Another Oriental image could be found in the episode of the Jikker as well as that in Ch. 10: "The rope for the fakir's bare-bottomed child to climb up in the melting blue? " (62). Oriental images sometimes appear in VN's novels. Cf. Some Turkish words and images in Pnin: When Pnin tells Joan Clements his past, she says that they might have met in Constantinople. They both remember "su," water in Turkish (Ch. 2); "…a crenulated, cream-colored house which, according to Cockerell, had been thought by my predecessor to be the Turkish Consulate on account of crowds of fez wearers he had seen entering" (Ch. 7).

91.8: the communal mind
VN's favorite word - of course, for the detestable nonsense that suppresses individual genius. Cf. Wind dreamed of a happy world consisting of Siamese centuplets, anatomically conjoined communities, whole nations built around a communicating liver. "It is nothing but a kind of microcosmos of communism…" (Pnin, Ch. 2). Also Cf. "I detest the theatre as being a primitive and putrid form, historically speaking; a form that smacks of stone-age rites and communal nonsense despite those individual injections of genius." (Lolita (Vintage) 200)

91.22: "When I was a little girl," said Marina crossly,
"Crossly" indicates Marina's bad temper and also is a pun on crucifixion, the underlying subject in this scene.

91.22: "Mesopotamian history was taught practically in the nursery."
"Mesopotamian history" refers to the Biblical stories here, leading to the motif of Eden in the following chapter. This remark could be an implicit accusation of Mlle Lariviere for her lack of ability as a governess.

91.24: "Not all little girls can learn what they are taught," observed Ada.
An insinuation to both Lucette and Marina?

91.27: "We are Hippopotamians."
Nomenclator Van. Cf. "Mr. Nymphobottomus" (117.25) "Hippo-potamus" = horse + river. The horse image dominates the following scene.

91.27-28: "We have not yet ploughed today."
Hand-walking evokes strong sexual images here: Lucette's demand for ploughing, her crimson face, indecent posture, her panting.

91.30: her little red palms
In conjunction with Boyd's comment on Van's imitation of crucification, Lucette is also similarly described, suggesting the bloody nailed palms of Christ.

92[5].3: "She also knows my revised monologue of his mad king," said Ada.
Shakespeare's play about the "wicked usurer"(The Merchant of Venice ) referred to by Mlle Lariviere has a relation to the theme of Jews, while the reference to "his mad king" (King Lear ), which is irrelevant to it, is Ada's mere ostentation.

92.17: angel-strong hands
Van learned hand-walking from Demon's wrestling master, "King Wing." (81.24)

92.31-33: "I guess it's your father under that oak, isn't it?" "No, it's an elm."
As Boyd points out, Ada seems to evade the point of Greg's question on purpose. Instead, Van's following remark, "…when Uncle is through with it" clarifies to all who the person under the elm is without confirming that he is Ada's father.

92.5: Veen sick, unable to bat, Riverlane humbled.
Van's absence from "yesterday's cricket game" could mean that he suffered from indigestion after the previous day's picnic lunch. Cf. "Greg said that both Aunt Ruth and Grace were laid up with acute indigestion." (90.4-5)

Part 1
Chapter 15

94.4: grace hoops
the illustration below was scanned from a page in See All, purported to be the "world's first illustrated encyclopedia." It is available at the following site:

94.7: A silver-and-sable...sat sampling
The "s" alliteration suggests the droning of the cicadas - an example of Nabokov's implantation of sound in real time. Also suggestive of the snake entering the garden of Eden.

94.19: the dropped dot of an inverted exclamation point
In addition to Boyd's reference to "Lik" is the following passage from "The Vane Sisters," Stories, Vintage 619: "As I looked up at the eaves of the adjacent garage with its full display of transparent stalactites backed by their blue silhouettes, I was rewarded at last, upon choosing one, by the sight of what might be described as the dot of an exclamation mark leaving its ordinary position to glide down very fast - a jot faster than the thaw-drop it raced. This twinned twinkle was delightful but not completely satisfying; or rather it only sharpened my appetite for other tidbits of light and shade, and I walked on in a state of raw awareness that seemed to transform the whole of my being into one big eyeball rolling in the world's socket." As in "Lik," the image is a call for supreme sensual attention, as an exclamation mark naturally is.

95.19: brocade
probably meant as the product of the silk thread made by the caterpillar imported from Eden National Park.

96.17: Van and Ada met in the passage… both resumed their separate ways
Since we are made aware of the parallel "evolution" of the history of man (Genesis), natural history (larva web), and the history of the novel, the word "passage" refers to the passage through all three, at the end of which they "resumed their separate ways," hinting perhaps that the three threads of history also now part their ways.

Part 1
Chapter 16

97.13: responsible, life
Not only in the sense of life in which one takes responsibility for what one does, but also life which can respond, like a footman that can be punched and punctured.

98.12: dappled tree
The neat insertion of "apple"

98.12: ardilla daintily leavesdropping
The ardilla squirrel is dropping leaves as well as eavesdropping. Of the five senses, the auditory and tactile are emphasized in this passage while the visual fails.

98.13: nothing seemed changed in one sense, all was lost in another
"Lost" refers not only to Paradise Lost but also to all that was lost to the visual sense.

98.14: Such contacts evolve their own texture
A reference to Van's study of textures in time.

98.14-15: a tactile sensation is a blind spot; we touch in silhouette
Cf. 59.8 "blind little cushions" of Ada's palm which Van kisses. The five senses show stages of evolution in Van's "textures-in-time" theory - from a spot to a silhouette or outline, eventually filled in with color. Van is still in the stage of touch, living in contours only, not yet colored in, while Ada proceeds to color in her flowers in this chapter.

98. 17-18: a secret sign was erected, a veil drawn
Cf. 98. 34, "insufferable banalities of shy wooing buried in old romances."

98.18-21: (the use of dashes)
Who inserted the dashes before and after Ada's interruption in parentheses? The editor? Van?

99.15: insect-mimicking orchid
Implied allusion to Oscar Wilde's idea that Art does not imitate Nature; Nature imitates Art.

99.25-26: the fantastic, black-blue-brown-haired child seemed in her turn to mimic the mirror-of-Venus blossom
Echoes of Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" whose heroine is identified with an exotic and poisonous - "her hideous" (101.19-20) - flower like Ada is to the orchid here. Hawthorne's Beatrice calls her hideous flower, "My sister." The color of both flowers is "violet-purple" (see 101.16). Marina also collected orchids.

100.21-22: a little girl, now glistening with sweat
Van is perhaps not alone in unshared satisfying of desire.

100.24-5: simulated a bright moth that in turn simulated a scarab
The flower Ada is drawing is her symbol. She changes and twists the picture to evoke what she feels toward Van; the two mirror each other's desire.

100.24: scarab
a moth with scarab-like mimic is used by Kinbote in the Commentary in Pale Fire.

101.14-15 an ancient Estotian "sign of the cross"
Could "cross" mean "mixing blood"? Ada's flower is "a blend of Ophrys scolopax and Ophrys veenae" (101.16).

101.16 Ophrys scolopax
According to Boyd (Modern Library [Library of America] edition), "Ophrys" is a "genus of insect-mimicking orchids, which are fertilized when male insects attempt to copulate with the flowers" ("Notes" 790). Humans mix with strange animals and vegetation to form the visual effect of Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, which Boyd discusses in his "Afternote." "Scolopax," according to the OED, is a genus of birds in the subfamily scolopacinae which includes the woodcock and the redshank. While Ada's lips are compared to the lobes of the orchid, Van's lips are described as "a long-winged sea bird" (Chapter 17, 101.12). Cf. Pale Fire (Penguin) 178: Kinbote in boyhood finds his confessor's ear is like an orchid. Perhaps an evolving order of mimicry is suggested (orchid - moth - scarab - bird) - referring to the evolution of Ada and Van's love since the moment of their "fall" in the shattal tree. See our note for 96.17.

101.17 Ophrys veenae
The orchid of the Veens.

[To be continued]
Published in KRUG 5. 1 (Fall 2003)

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