NABOKV-L post 0023004, Mon, 2 Jul 2012 08:20:20 -0400

THOUGHTS: ADA, Van, and the "cory door"
Mike Marcus writes:

Alfred Appel Jr, in his May 4 1969 review of Ada in the NYTimes, wrote that the first part of the book " ... details Van's youth, travels and incestuous romance with Ada at Arcadian Ardis Hall, the opulent country-estate ...". The reviewer may have been more perspicacious than perhaps he knew, since there are a number of indications that when writing about Ardis, VN indeed had in mind the location where Sir Philip Sidney's own 'Arcadia' was written in the late 1570's and revised shortly thereafter -- Wilton House. This was the home of Sidney's sister, Lady Mary Sidney Pembroke. The Latin word Ardis means arrowhead, and the arrowhead -- in heraldic terms the "pheon azure", or azure broad arrow -- is the outstanding feature of the Sidney coat of arms The very name Ardis seems not unrelated -- [Arc]Ardis / Arcadia.

There is what appears to be a rather obscure phrase in Ada that confirms this identification with Wilton House. On p.376 of the first edition, Van is communicating via the "brass campophone"with Polly. Interrupting to deal with an unruly soda bottle, we read that Van "(Yells down the 'cory door', as they called the long second-floor passage at Ardis)". There is no such thing as a cory door, which is why it's in inverted commas. Here is the explanation:

In the mid-19th century the Pembroke family still occupied Wilton House. The son of the house had a tutor in Greek, who wrote a well-known letter in 1865 quoting his employer's wife, the then Lady Pembroke. He quoted her as saying that they had in their possession a letter, which would at that time have been around 262 years old, written by Philip Sidney's sister Lady Mary Sidney Pembroke, saying that "we have the man Shakespeare with us". Since Shakespeare is notably elusive, this would have been quite a find; unfortunately that letter, which would have been dated around 1603, never turned up, and its very existence is doubted by most, though not by all scholars. But the point of this is that the name of the Greek tutor was William Cory.

Ardis Hall / arrowhead / Wilton Hall was the literary retreat of the Sidney-Pembroke clan in early modern times. Generations later the family employed a William Cory. It therefore makes sense that the Hall might have had a 'cory door', in recognition of the family's Greek tutor who had haunted its cory-doors in his professional capacity.

It may be worth pointing out that rumors of incest between Philip Sidney and his sister Mary circulated in the 17th century.

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