“Itchenor Chat” ( Ada: Part 2,Chapter 3, 350.32

Submitted by William Hegan on Wed, 01/02/2019 - 18:43

 BB suggests in his brief notes for this chapter that there is an “Itchen River” in Hampshire. However I am pretty sure that VN had in mind the town of HITCHIN in the county of HERTFORDSHIRE. Hitchin is just a few miles from LETCHWORTH, which is mentioned earlier in the same sentence. Hitchin and Letchworth are two adjacent stops on a railway line from King’s Cross, London to Cambridge, and no doubt VN used this line many times. Hitchin is a very old town (see Wikipedia entry) with wonderful old buildings. “CHIMNEY BREASTS AND HIPPED GABLES” are there in abundance! I suggest that CHAT is VN’s abbreviation for ‘Château’ , meaning castle. He uses this longer word later in the paragraph – “…( that château girdled with chestnuts....” . Also, following up on the LETCHWORTH LODGE from just before, CHAT should refer to another kind of building used in the Venus Villas. There is a prominent hill in Hitchin ( the railway line is just to its east!). I don’t think there was ever a castle there: it has been used for schools for the past 150 years.However today in Hitchin there is a Castle Taxi firm & also a Castle Court street. Although I live in greater Moncton, NB, I know this area of Hertfordshire very well. My wife’s aunt owned a house in BALDOCK ( the next stop after Letchworth on the railway to Cambridge ) and we now have an apartment there. I hope this note will be useful. I have been reading VN’s novels this year in chronological order, have really enjoyed the notes to Ada ( yes, I know it is kind of cheating for a 1st read ! ) , and look forward to exploring your site. Cheers, William (aka Bill) Hegan

Thanks, Bill, and thanks for adding to our discussions so soon after signing up--exactly what we want to see. I prepared these annotations in the early 1990s, before there was a searchable Internet, and a lot can now be found out by searching or, as in your case, simply knowing, what wasn't remotely Googleable then.

It still seems to me that the River Itchen, flowing into Southampton, must be there. But, to pick up on your suggestion, the proximity of Hitchin (whose river, the Hiz, was originally pronounced "Hitch"--hence the link to the River Itchen) to Letchworth--the proximity of such an old town to one that at the end of the 19C was transformed into a new town, a kind of architectural "parody of paradise" like the whole Villa Venus scheme--must have appealed to VN (and, as you say, known by him through the London-Cambridge railway route), as did the connotations, in this chapter, of (sexual) "itch" and "letch."

When I get round to this chapter in AdaOnline, I'll certainly draw on these suggestions, unknown also to the Kyoto Reading Circle in their work on Ada II.3, and I presume to the annotators of the imminent Pléiade edition of Ada and the other late Nabokov novels.

Brian Boyd