NABOKV-L post 0018654, Sat, 10 Oct 2009 02:00:21 -0700

Re: [NABOKOV-L] [ Sighting] [QUERY] Ada's first lines: Pontius


JM: No. I simply cannot "remove" the fact that
Ada,Van and Lucette are siblings, nor that Van choosing Lucette would be all
right, whereas the "awful brother and sister couple, who shouldn't work
out, are allowed to live happily ever after to a ripe old age convinced that
their love is the greatest thing ever." 
And yet, I rather like the irony with which you describe Van-and-Ada's
love. It's closer to the theories about "love" than what I read in
NS's reviews (197):
"In Ada, the subject of the sixth chapter, love is central, and it is an
authentic and lasting one, although it originates in sexual desire. But the
desire of Ada and Van is, according to Coutourir, so intense that even
psychoanalysis is unable to account for it [...] their love is a quest for
being-one and ends in the creation of a book..."*  
 Well, I understand what you mean, but I'm talking about viewing the story from Van's perspective, an Antiterran perspective. 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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