NABOKV-L post 0008968, Tue, 25 Nov 2003 15:39:06 -0800

Fw: Casta Diva? Help with ADA (Cancogni & Rattazzi-Papka)
Re: Casta Diva? Help with ADA (Cancogni & Rattazzi-Papka)
----- Original Message -----
From: Carolyn Kunin
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Tuesday, November 25, 2003 3:19 PM
Subject: Re: Casta Diva? Help with ADA (Cancogni & Rattazzi-Papka)

EDNOTE. Marie Bouchet's suggestion is a good one.. The Cancogni volume is,
alas, extremely hard to find.

----- Original Message -----
From: "marie bouchet" <>
> ----------------- Message requiring your approval (53
lines) ------------------
> Dear Carolyn and list,
> I may bring to your attention an excellent book on Ada that helped me a
> lot understanding its narratorial intricacies and interwoven times and
> stories. Its title is: "The Mirage in the Mirror: Nabokov's Ada and its
> French Pre-texts". by Annapaola Cancogni, published by Garland in 1985.
> Despite what its title reads, it does not only analyzes the intertectual
> references to French literature, but provides very interesting structural
> analyses (ie. chronology, family tree, narratorial structures and the
> problem of "texts"). I hope it will relieve a part of your frustration!
> Marie Bouchet.

Dear Marie Bouchet,

Merci beaucoup -- I have looked at this book (and next time I go to the university library will look at it again) and wasn't impressed apparently.. Could you be a little more specific as to Mme. Cancogni's "interpretation" of Ada? This is a book that demands more than structural analyses.

So far the only idea that has struck me as interesting was the late Claudia Rattazzi-Papka's idea that Van is insane, that the true object of his lust is not Ada (whose existence is doubtful), but Lucette (see abstract below*). Alas, I have not been able to locate the paper itself which apparently was not published, so it is not possible to judge. It is this sort of interpretation that I am interested in. As I said before, I am convinced that Ada is not a love story. But what is it?

As David Morris pointed out, there is reason to believe that the true plot is not perceptible; "that the presumed 'hidden' story in Ada is so obscure that it isn't even recognized to exist by some." One of the scholars who has written of VN (sorry, do not recall who) writes that his writing reverses the ordinary relationship of artistic poetry or prose -- that it is the normally obvious (the story, the nature of characters, even location) becomes the hidden and occult, whereas the metaphoric & poetic lie exposed.

My closest guess as to the real nature of Ada is that it is a text written in code which is to be decoded (just as Pale Fire is a riddle that is to be solved). One of my reasons for thinking this, is that there are several very obscure references to Victor Hugo (whose superimposed initials as he drew them resemble the superimposed initials of VaniAda). Hugo was much given to anagramatising his name and did actually write and publish a book in code that was only intended to be read (i.e. understood) by one person (his future wife).

My guess is that Ada is such an encoded text intended to be understood only by Vera Evseevna. If so -- I guess he has succeeded.


* "The Mirrored Self: Incestuous Fictions in Nabokov's _Ada_"

Claudia Rattazzi Papka,
Columbia University

Vladimir Nabokov's _Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle_ takes
place around the turn of the century in a world called Antiterra, a
planet resembling our own as an mirrored image does. Reflection is
indeed one of the central images of the novel, most simply explicable
as a metaphor for the incestuous love of Van and Ada Veen which the
doublings, anagrams, and allusions which permeate the novel, however,
it becomes possible to argue that the incestuous relationship itself
is but a reflection, and a metaphor, in turn, for the fiction-writing
The Veen family tree, presented in epic fashion at the novel's
beginning, conceals Van and Ada's true, shared parentage, but reveals
a suspicious mirroring in the names and birthdates of their putative
parents, which has led one critic to suggest that the two sets of
parents are simply one set "seen from different perspectives."[1]
That this creation of two from one may be the central _modus operandi_
of the "sibling planet"[2] casts doubt upon Antiterra's own reality, and thus upon the reliability, and sanity, of the narrator himself, Van
Veen. Led by this doubt, I examine the scene of Van and Ada's
adolescent consummation and find in its refelections and doublings,
including the narrative doubling in which Van and Ada debate "in the
margins" about Van's recreation of their shared past, the foundation for another doubt: Does Ada herself really exist, or is she but a
creation of Van's mirroring mind?
The answers to these questions are found in the madness that runs through the impossible mirrorings of Van's family tree; in the echoes
of Van's first summer with Ada in his second, where several scenes are replayed with the crucial substitution of his real cousin, Lucette,
for Ada; and in the mirroring Antiterran parodies of literary works by
Paul Verlaine and Guy de Maupassant, as elucidated by the anagrammatic
alter ego of Nabokov himself in _Notes to_ Ada _by Vivian Darkbloom_. The clues are scattered throughout Van's memoir, and lead me to conclude
that the metatextual analogy Van uses to describe his youthful
maniambulation act is indeed an accurate description of the nature of
Ada's existence--as _Ada_:
The essence of the satisfaction belonged rather to the
same order as the one he later derived from self-imposed,
extravagantly difficult, seemingly absurd tasks when V.V.
sought to express something, which until expressed had
only a twilight existence (or even none at all--nothing
but the illusion of the backward shadow of its immanent

Van has had a incestuous encounter with his cousin, Lucette, and
this transgression has led not only to her suicide, but also to Van's
madness. This madness inspires the rewriting of Van's life, his
family, and his world through a series of doublings which create
Antiterra, Van's antifamily (which includes his sister and double,
Ada), and, finally, the novel itself.


1. Charles Nicol, "_Ada_ or Disorder," in _Nabokov's Fifth Arc_, eds.
J. E. Rivers and C. Nicol (Austin: U. of Texas Press, 1982), 240.

2. Vladimir Nabokov, _Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle_ (New York:
McGraw Hill, 1969), 244.

3. ibid 196