NABOKV-L post 0018660, Mon, 12 Oct 2009 13:05:38 -0300

Fw: [NABOKV-L] [NABOKOV-L] [ Sighting] [QUERY] Ada's first lines:
Tolstoy's ouroborus
JM: No. I simply cannot "remove" the fact that Ada,Van and Lucette are siblings...
J.A: Well, I understand what you mean, but I'm talking about viewing the story from Van's perspective, an Antiterran perspective.

JM: While I was checking about siblings and cousins - and although Brian Boyd indicated AdaOline ( for the Tolstoy references in the first paragraph* - I came across that other one which hasn't yet been included in AdaOnline.
There is an obvious structural symmetry in the novel's beginnings and endings referencing Tolstoy, to shape the "ouroborus" serpent from Alchemy.

I think that it indicates very clearly Tolstoy's second book to reassert Van's boyhood with Ada, as seen from Lucette's father's "fabulous estate," placed in Anti-terran "Arcadian innocence." (ie: linking it to "otrochestvo" [boyhood] and "fatherland" ["otechestvo"]**.
I quote:
"The end of an extraordinary epoch coincides with Van's no less extraordinary boyhood. Nothing in world literature, save maybe [588.15] Tolstoy's reminiscences, can vie in pure joyousness and Arcadian innocence with the "Ardis" part of the book. On the fabulous country estate of his art-collecting uncle, Daniel Veen, an ardent childhood romance develops in a series of fascinating scenes between Van and pretty Ada, a truly unusual gamine, [588.20] daughter of Marina, Daniel's stage-struck wife. That the relationship is not simply dangerous cousinage, but possesses an aspect prohibited by law, is hinted in the very first pages." (underlined by me).

With a little daring I also suggest that the wordplay linking boyhood and fatherland (passing through Toslstoy's early writings in Van Veen's late memoirs) indicates more than the jab against translators (pointed out by Boyd and Connoly). It might serve as an indication about the mood of VN's "Speak, Memory" (first part).

What about VN's stressing the "aspect prohibited by law" in VV's closing words? Would this be a very indirect defiance concerning the Freudian oedipal developments?

* - B.Boyd: 3.07-08: Detstvo . . . Fatherland: Tolstoy's semi-autobiographical novellas Detstvo (Childhood, pub. 1852), Otrochestvo (Boyhood, pub. 1854) and Iunost' (Youth, pub. 1857), first collected edition 1864, are here garbled and fused with Turgenev's Ottsy i deti (Fathers and Children, usually translated as Fathers and Sons) (see 3.03n and 105.26-27 and n)....Once again the Russians mingling with Antiterra's Anglophones ensure a quicker if less accurate translation than on earth. Brian adds another connection in 3.08: Childhood and Fatherland: In light of the prominence of François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) throughout Ada [...]it seems more than accidental that Childhood and Fatherland echoes the phrase "de l'enfance et de la patrie" at the beginning of René (pub. 1802, in Le Génie du christianisme), just where René introduces the subject of his special closeness to his sister:...MOTIF: Chateaubriand.

**Julian Connoly wrote: Early in his career Tolstoy wrote three works with the titles "Detstvo," "Otrochestvo," and "Iunost'", which translate as "Childhood," "Boyhood," and "Youth." Nabokov deliberately mistranslates the word "otrochestvo" [boyhood] as "fatherland," which, in Russian, is "otechestvo" a word that is phonetically close to "otrochestvo." He may be getting in a subtle dig at poor translators.

After all, for Van, Ada is the ultimate girl/woman. I think it's meant to work a little like Lolita does; you're with Humbert long enough that, even while you're rejecting his whole way of looking at love and Lolita, part of you starts coping with it, weighing out his ideas about things, at least partially, in his terms. For instance, the whole Gaston Godin character. He's a mirror of Humbert, only instead of "nymphets" he likes "fauns". He's a character who's only purpose is to make Humbert look better. In Humbert's universe, there is a distinct difference between the two of them--even though, like Godin, he likes sex with children, at least the children he (Humbert) likes are of the opposite sex, and of course he's not as dumb as Godin, so we should therefore sympathize more with him. Part of us may sort of buy into such specious rhetoric, at least temporarily.

Something like this goes on in the perverse world of Van's erotic canvas, don't you think? I know what you mean, though, it wouldn't really be any more acceptable for Van to be with Lucette instead of Ada, but I think part of him does, and Nabokov uses this as a weird way to play what the reader thinks. A personal reaction: While I found Ada, the character, rather charming during the first summer at Ardis (for me, the moment Ada tosses a useless bureau knob out a window with a shrug is one of those impetuous moments that gives her a joyful aliveness that has stayed with me), but then in the second summer, and after that in an urban setting, Ada becomes rather difficult to fathom in any ordinary fictional terms. This is a woman who tells Van that he stimulated her to such an extent when they first became lovers that when he dumped her she was so sexually frustrated she considered paying some guy to service her; she began having relations with Lucette, even after getting married; creepily, she instigated the menage a trois with Lucette. At this point I started to wonder why exactly Van liked her so much (no wonder Nabokov complained about Updike's review of the book). Lucette, as Nabokov through Van describes her, is twice as beautiful, has more depth and is far more sensitive than freaky old Ada. I found myself thinking, well since Van is just so damned determined to be in a sordid incestuous relationship, he might as well pick the better girl--yet it's Ada Van prefers. And I was kind of disappointed by this! It's crazy, but that's what's so extraordinary and so maddening about this fascinating book. Earlier, during the second Ardis summer, Van has a marvelously evoked moment with Marina, where she tells him to stop turning Lucette's head and tries to connect with him as a mother, knowing that there's no real way to make up for what's happened. She seems alive and charming in a way that Van's father, Demon, never does. And even though both Van and Ada insist that she's really nothing more than a philistine dummy, I I understood her at some level, felt for her; to me it was Demon who seemed like an empty and sinister puppet. These kinds of reactions represent a subtle underlayer of the experience of the book; obviously, because I don't accept Van's and Ada's term--who could?--I'd be considered a dummy as well. This is a little threatening, challenges one to try to grasp their sense of things, if only to debate the characters' philosphy, which I presume is why an excellent reader like Mary McCarthy disliked it so much (actually I think Boyd pointed this out in his American Years bio). As in Lolita, before we know it, we've crossed all kinds of lines and quite figure out when. In any case, Nabokov, sensing this readerly reaction (a disapproval of Van's hostility to Marina) has Van tell us he knows he ought to have cared more for Marina than Demon but that due to the vagaries of individuals and geniuses, because life isn't deterministic, he just didn't. (I wish I had time to track all this down in the book.) I think this same thing is going with how he tries to deal with Lucette. Have I gotten where I think I'm going yet?

P.S. I was the one who said Humbert parodied Gone With The Wind, and yes, I meant the movie the movie not the book; and Humbert does not mention it by name, merely describes the scene of a southern Belle walking away from a plantation while her mammy leans out a second story windoow carping at her, an early scene in the film.

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