The second Ada Forum was held for about three weeks in July 2003. The Ada Forum is planned to be held twice annually to discuss the Circle's annotations to Ada with the author of the "Annotations to Ada" in The Nabokovian, Brian Boyd, who has already published his own up to Part I, Chapter 21. During this Forum session, we discussed the Circle's annotations for Part I, Chapters 14-16. The page and line number references are to the Vintage International edition. Each contributor's name is given in square brackets. To Brian Boyd who gave us his generous comments, let me speak for the Circle in expressing our sincere gratitude.- Shoko Miura
[Brian Boyd's opening comments on the Circle's annotations to all three chapters]
Part I. Chapter 14
89.3: I had missed including this as "MOTIF: Ada." Thanks. "An anadem" also highlights the ada here: almost as if the "an" of "anadem" is only an indefinite article, and the noun an "adem."
89.9: The great oak of p. 50 is "really an elm" (54.04),
but there is also a real oak nearby (see 51.15 and 51.23).
On what basis can one say "Oak trees stand for the dull or mundanec and elm trees stand for the sensitive and aware": in general? in European iconography? in VN? in this novel? But as a naturalist and an artist VN opposed such symbolism, and nothing here seems to support it. Ada at 51.23 imagines the old oak there as the strong father or lover of the linden stretching towards it, but that's seen very much as a nonce (and a fanciful) interpretation.
I like the "elm" hidden in "Love under the Lindens by one Eelmann," which I hadn't noticed and now reminds me (perhaps irrelevantly) of the forest of tree names in chapter 12 ("Cyclops") of Ulysses, or the famous "Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm" of Finnegans Wake (Ada alludes to the passage after reclassifying the grand chene as an elm, 54.01-02), a book often used for epigraphs in his great biography of James Joyce by Richard Ellmann, whom Nabokov knew at Harvard. O'Neill's Desire under the Elms becomes Love under the Lindens partly because of the fame of the erotically charged love lyric "Unter den linden" ("Under the Lindens") by Germany's great medieval poet, Walther van der Vogelweide (c. 1170-1230) and the Berlin boulevard Unter den Linden.
Wouldn't it be better to make the IB quotation self-contained?
"Quercus ruslan Chat." is an echo of the "great oak" of 50.06 but with allusions to both Chateaubriand and Pushkin.
89.11: I had missed the echo of The Defense, perhaps because for me, peculiarly, the image has always called to mind Wallace Stevens's poem "Anecdote of a Jar," which I have always thought an irrelevant association (Nabokov seems to have barely known Stevens's poetry).
90.17: "is a common subject we often find in papers": not quite sure what the English is meant to mean here. In VN's works? Nor am I sure of the relevance of VN's attitude to those of black African descent. His interest in them stemmed, I think, from an opposition to racism and a dislike of the subservience so often required of "Negroes" (as they were known then) in the USA of the 1940s and 1950s.
91.22: crossly: I had missed this pun, despite relating the whole passage to the MOTIF: cross. Another good example of Nabokov's hiding things under our noses.
92.17: I hadn't made that (undoubted) connection.
92.31-33: A shrewd comment.
92.5: Should read "93.5."
Part I. Chapter 15
94.4: A much more dynamic illustration than that in W2. I wonder was the game played at Vyra?
94.19: Thanks for noting the "Vane Sisters" parallel.
95.19: But no caterpillars did breed in that tree (95.30-31), and Van's removing "a silk tread of larva web from his lip" (95.09-10) therefore can only refer to the floss on Ada's pubescent pudendum.
Part I. Chapter 16
97.13: But the footman is in the dream, not "in real, or at least responsible, life."
99.25-26: "Her hideous flower" at 101.19-20 is not an indication of the flower's poisonous nature but a pun on "orchideous."
101.14-15: "Sign of the cross" here probably refers not so much to "mixing blood" as to a "cross" in biology, that is, a hybrid. The butterfly that Nabokov caught above Moulinet and that he figures in Speak, Memory, he declares there, "[p]ossibly owed its origin to hybridization between Plebejus (Lysandra) coridon Poda (in the large sense) and Plebejus (Meleageria) daphnis Schiffermuller... It may not rank high enough to deserve a name, but whatever it be-a new species in the making, a striking sport, or a chance cross-it remains a delightful rarity" (SM 288). After his death the butterfly turned out indeed to be "a chance cross," a naturally occurring hybrid. Ada here makes the "sign of the cross" on Van with the brush with which she has just painted her deliberate "cross" of Ophrys scolopax and Ophrys veenae." The second pun on "cross" I have missed in this installment!
101.16: not "Modern Library" but "Library of America." Since Ophrys scolopax was the name of a real orchid in this genus Ophrys (which hybridized easily and has the mirror associations Nabokov needs) (see Annotations to Ada, 16: 101.16-17), I don't think it's necessary to bring in a bird genus of the same name.
I began and finished this on a wintry but warm July afternoon with the sun streaming in on the table-but no one sneaking up behind me.
89.9: On what basis can one say "Oak trees stand for the dull or mundanec and elm trees stand for the sensitive and aware": in general? in European iconography? in VN? in this novel? But as a naturalist and an artist VN opposed such symbolism, and nothing here seems to support it. Ada at 51.23 imagines the old oak there as the strong father or lover of the linden stretching towards it, but that's seen very much as a nonce (and a fanciful) interpretation.
I happened to be reading Pushkin and Brian Boyd's note later on on Quercus ruslan gave me confirmation that he also knows about this reference. Let me help elucidate VN's iconography on oak trees. I think that the old oak tree here stands not for the dull and mundane as we thought but for the strong father via Pushkin. In Pnin p. 56 (Penguin and Vintage), Pnin teaches his class "a famous poem" and translates the last lines, "in fight, in travel, or in waves," which is from Pushkin's "Thoughts." The third stanza of the poem reads as follows:
When I look at a solitary oak I think: the patriarch of the woods. It will outlive my forgotten age As it outlived that of my grandfathers.
Oak trees probably caused reverberations for Nabokov not only from Chateaubriand's "le grand chene" in "Romance a Helene" as Brian noted in his annotation 50.06 but also from Pushkin's patriarchal oak. Paternity is a theme shared by Ada and Pnin. Ada's adamant answer to Greg, "No, it's an elm," can be read as her affirmation that Dan is not her real father, but Demon, who should be identified with the oak tree.
I'm afraid there's a more direct and well-signposted route to Pushkin than the interesting one Shoko notes. This oak in I.8, identified in a photo in 1892 by "the big chain around the trunk of the rare oak, Quercus ruslan Chat." (398), alludes (see Proffer 1974: 271) to the oak (Quercus) in the opening lines of Pushkin's mock-epic Ruslan i Lyudmila (1820), which Nabokov calls "the first Russian masterpiece in the narrative genre" (EO 2, 36) and which begins "U lukomor'ya dub zelenyy; / Zlataya tsep' na dube tom": "By the curved seashore [is] a green oak / A golden chain [is] on that oak."
Shoko, thank you for elucidating the theme of patriarchal oaks - wonderful comment! - I completely agree to it.
But I think we were talking about something a little different from VN's iconography or symbolism like that. As I am responsible for the original version of the note, let me explain the problematic "oak trees stand for the dull or mundane etc. " I think we tried to point out that in this novel there is a pattern of mistaking an elm for an oak, and those who make the mistake are dull characters like Mlle. Lariviere and Greg, who are blind to the "nature" of things, while those who distinguish an elm from an oak are the aware and sensitive. And because the unaware mistake an elm for an oak - not vice versa - they do not know elms (they do not exactly know oaks either, though), so elms are trees known only to the aware and sensitive. This is what I think we meant by the note above, the focus was on the pattern of confusing elms and oaks, and two pairs of a tree and characters. Now I think we had better say, "oak trees are the trees for the dull or mundanec" - misleading again? There must be a better explanation. At least, "stand for" is not appropriate. Sorry, originally my fault and I cannot make it clear enough. Dan appears here as "Elm Father," which suggests that Demon is "Oak Father," i.e., the true one. The connection of the aware characters and elms seems waning here, while an elm makes a pair with Dan, but couldn't we say that only the characters who can tell an elm from an oak can also find out some hidden truth? A twist around elms and oaks, I find it interesting.
Since not only the pathologically unobservant (as Van at least thinks her) Mlle Lariviere and the ill-at-ease Greg misidentify things - Ada herself in the scene at the start of I.8 mistakes a stone for a cone, and Van cannot identify the hawfinch she does - the point about the failure to identify the elm correctly can hardly have the suggested power to distinguish a whole class of people.
90.17: "is a common subject we often find in papers": not quite sure what the English is meant to mean here. In VN's works?
In some recent research papers on VN.
92.5: Should read "93.5."
Sorry. You're right, Brian.
May I ask a question (that I asked at a circle meeting before)?
I have been wondering why Lucette sees Ada with the dackel in the "half-torn" wreath when she is dying. Why this scene? Is there anything there that Lucette did not notice then and has been unaware of, but finally recognizes in her last minute? I am sure Brian is going to make a long annotation to it when he discusses Part III, Ch. 5, but I am not sure whether or not I can read it - probably I will be senile or dead.
Akiko, I can't afford to answer ahead of time everything I haven't yet annotated in Ada , or I'll never finish all my other work, but let me say just for you that a) it is of course only Van who imagines that Lucette as she dies sees Ada "bend in passing to clap her hands over a dackel in a half-torn wreath," and b) this remembered scene marks the first time in the novel Van has shown Lucette concentrated attention (by taking her by the ankles to plough around, which of course has sexual connotations via Ada's "behind" motif and the common metaphor of a man "ploughing" a woman).
Published in KRUG 5. 1 (Fall 2003)