à reculons, Judge Bald, Alexis Avenue, Vanda Broom, Professor Lamort & Doc Ecksreher in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 01/23/2020 - 10:18

In the Night of the Burning Barn Van and Ada from the library window see Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis whom Ada has bribed to set the barn on fire) walking à reculons as if taking pictures:


‘Can one see anything, oh, can one see?’ the dark-haired child kept repeating, and a hundred barns blazed in her amber-black eyes, as she beamed and peered in blissful curiosity. He relieved her of her candlestick, placing it near his own longer one on the window ledge. ‘You are naked, you are dreadfully indecent,’ she observed without looking and without any emphasis or reproof, whereupon he cloaked himself tighter, Ramses the Scotsman, as she knelt beside him. For a moment they both contemplated the romantic night piece framed in the window. He had started to stroke her, shivering, staring ahead, following with a blind man's hand the dip of her spine through the batiste.
'Look, gipsies,' she whispered, pointing at three shadowy forms - two men, one with a ladder, and a child or dwarf - circumspectly moving across the gray lawn. They saw the candlelit window and decamped, the smaller one walking à reculons as if taking pictures. (1.19)


In his story La mort de Baldassare Silvande (“The Death of Baldassare Silvande”) included in Les Plaisirs et les Jours (“Pleasures and Days,” 1896) Marcel Proust mentions the universal scandal of these lives that marchant à la mort à reculons, en regardant la vie (were walking backward to death, while still gazing at life):


Ces exemples ne diminuèrent pas l’étonnement où l’attitude de son oncle avait plongé Alexis, mais lui en inspiraient un pareil qui, gagnant de proche en proche, s’étendit comme une stupéfaction immense sur le scandale universel de ces existences dont il n’exceptait pas la sienne propre, marchant à la mort à reculons, en regardant la vie.


These examples did not diminish Alexis’s surprise over his uncle’s attitude. Rather, they inspired more surprise that, one example leading to another, spread like an immense wonderment over the universal scandal of these lives, among which he counted his own, that were walking backward to death, while still gazing at life. (chapter I)


The children of Demon Veen and Marina Durmanov, Van and Ada are brother and sister. Discussing incest in the “library” chapter of Ada, Van mentions Judge Bald and his followers:


In those times, in this country’ incestuous’ meant not only ‘unchaste’ — the point regarded linguistics rather than legalistics — but also implied (in the phrase ‘incestuous cohabitation,’ and so forth) interference with the continuity of human evolution. History had long replaced appeals to ‘divine law’ by common sense and popular science. With those considerations in mind, ‘incest’ could be termed a crime only inasmuch as inbreeding might be criminal. But as Judge Bald pointed out already during the Albino Riots of 1835, practically all North American and Tartar agriculturists and animal farmers used inbreeding as a method of propagation that tended to preserve, and stimulate, stabilize and even create anew favorable characters in a race or strain unless practiced too rigidly. If practiced rigidly incest led to various forms of decline, to the production of cripples, weaklings, ‘muted mutates’ and, finally, to hopeless sterility. Now that smacked of ‘crime,’ and since nobody could be supposed to control judiciously orgies of indiscriminate inbreeding (somewhere in Tartary fifty generations of ever woolier and woolier sheep had recently ended abruptly in one hairless, five-legged, impotent little lamb — and the beheading of a number of farmers failed to resurrect the fat strain), it was perhaps better to ban ‘incestuous cohabitation’ altogether. Judge Bald and his followers disagreed, perceiving in ‘the deliberate suppression of a possible benefit for the sake of avoiding a probable evil’ the infringement of one of humanity’s main rights — that of enjoying the liberty of its evolution, a liberty no other creature had ever known. Unfortunately after the rumored misadventure of the Volga herds and herdsmen a much better documented fait divers happened in the U.S.A. at the height of the controversy. An American, a certain Ivan Ivanov of Yukonsk, described as an ‘habitually intoxicated laborer’ (‘a good definition,’ said Ada lightly, ‘of the true artist’), managed somehow to impregnate — in his sleep, it was claimed by him and his huge family — his five-year-old great-granddaughter, Maria Ivanov, and, then, five years later, also got Maria’s daughter, Daria, with child, in another fit of somnolence. Photographs of Maria, a ten-year old granny with little Daria and baby Varia crawling around her, appeared in all the newspapers, and all kinds of amusing puzzles were provided by the genealogical farce that the relationships between the numerous living — and not always clean-living — members of the Ivanov clan had become in angry Yukonsk. Before the sixty-year-old somnambulist could go on procreating, he was clapped into a monastery for fifteen years as required by an ancient Russian law. Upon his release he proposed to make honorable amends by marrying Daria, now a buxom lass with problems of her own. Journalists made a lot of the wedding, and the shower of gifts from well-wishers (old ladies in New England, a progressive poet in residence at Tennesee Waltz College, an entire Mexican high school, et cetera), and on the same day Gamaliel (then a stout young senator) thumped a conference table with such force that he hurt his fist and demanded a retrial and capital punishment. It was, of course, only a temperamental gesture; but the Ivanov affair cast a long shadow upon the little matter of ‘favourable inbreeding.’ By mid-century not only first cousins but uncles and grandnieces were forbidden to intermarry; and in some fertile parts of Estoty the izba windows of large peasant families in which up to a dozen people of different size and sex slept on one blin-like mattress were ordered to be kept uncurtained at night for the convenience of petrol-torch-flashing patrols — ‘Peeping Pats,’ as the anti-Irish tabloids called them. (1.21)


While Judge Bald brings to mind Baldassare Silvande vicomte de Sylvanie, Alexis (Baldassare’s nephew) reminds one of Alexis Avenue, Cordula’s and Van’s address in Manhattan:


Van spent a medicinal month in Cordula’s Manhattan flat on Alexis Avenue. She dutifully visited her mother at their Malbrook castle two or three times a week, unescorted by Van either there or to the numerous social ‘flits’ she attended in town, being a frivolous fun-loving little thing; but some parties she canceled, and resolutely avoided seeing her latest lover (the fashionable psychotechnician Dr F.S. Fraser, a cousin of the late P. de P.’s fortunate fellow soldier). Several times Van talked on the dorophone with his father (who pursued an extensive study of Mexican spas and spices) and did several errands for him in town. He often took Cordula to French restaurants, English movies, and Varangian tragedies, all of which was most satisfying, for she relished every morsel, every sip, every jest, every sob, and he found ravishing the velvety rose of her cheeks, and the azure-pure iris of her festively painted eyes to which indigo-black thick lashes, lengthening and upcurving at the outer canthus, added what fashion called the ‘harlequin slant.’

One Sunday, while Cordula was still lolling in her perfumed bath (a lovely, oddly unfamiliar sight, which he delighted in twice a day), Van ‘in the nude’ (as his new sweetheart drolly genteelized ‘naked’), attempted for the first time after a month’s abstinence to walk on his hands. He felt strong, and fit, and blithely turned over to the ‘first position’ in the middle of the sun-drenched terrace. Next moment he was sprawling on his back. He tried again and lost his balance at once. He had the terrifying, albeit illusionary, feeling that his left arm was now shorter than his right, and Van wondered wrily if he ever would be able to dance on his hands again. King Wing had warned him that two or three months without practice might result in an irretrievable loss of the rare art. On the same day (the two nasty little incidents thus remained linked up in his mind forever) Van happened to answer the ‘phone — a deep hollow voice which he thought was a man’s wanted Cordula, but the caller turned out to be an old schoolmate, and Cordula feigned limpid delight, while making big eyes at Van over the receiver, and invented a number of unconvincing engagements.

‘It’s a gruesome girl!’ she cried after the melodious adieux. ‘Her name is Vanda Broom, and I learned only recently what I never suspected at school — she’s a regular tribadka — poor Grace Erminin tells me Vanda used to make constant passes at her and at — at another girl. There’s her picture here,’ continued Cordula with a quick change of tone, producing a daintily bound and prettily printed graduation album of Spring, 1887, which Van had seen at Ardis, but in which he had not noticed the somber beetle-browed unhappy face of that particular girl, and now it did not matter any more, and Cordula quickly popped the book back into a drawer; but he remembered very well that among the various more or less coy contributions it contained a clever pastiche by Ada Veen mimicking Tolstoy’s paragraph rhythm and chapter closings; he saw clearly in mind her prim photo under which she had added one of her characteristic jingles:


In the old manor, I’ve parodied

Every veranda and room,

And jacarandas at Arrowhead

In supernatural bloom. (1.43)


The name Vanda Broom (of Ada’s lesbian schoolmate at Brownhill) is secretly present in Ada's poem. In Proust’s Sodom et Gomorrhe Marcel mentions Françoise clutching her broom (le balai) like a scepter, playing her role for tragedy:


Mais il faut savoir aussi ne pas rester insensibles, malgré la banalité solennelle et menaçante des choses qu’elle dit, son héritage maternel et la dignité du «clos», devant une vieille cuisinière drapée dans une vie et une ascendance d’honneur, tenant le balai comme un sceptre, poussant son rôle au tragique, l’entrecoupant de pleurs, se redressant avec majesté. Ce jour-là je me rappelai ou j’imaginai de telles scènes, je les rapportai à notre vieille servante, et, depuis lors, malgré tout le mal qu’elle put faire à Albertine, j’aimai Françoise d’une affection, intermittente il est vrai, mais du genre le plus fort, celui qui a pour base la pitié.


Describing his visit to Brownhill, Van mentions Proust and his perversion:


They talked about their studies and teachers, and Van said:

‘I would like your opinion, Ada, and yours, Cordula, on the following literary problem. Our professor of French literature maintains that there is a grave philosophical, and hence artistic, flaw in the entire treatment of the Marcel and Albertine affair. It makes sense if the reader knows that the narrator is a pansy, and that the good fat cheeks of Albertine are the good fat buttocks of Albert. It makes none if the reader cannot be supposed, and should not be required, to know anything about this or any other author’s sexual habits in order to enjoy to the last drop a work of art. My teacher contends that if the reader knows nothing about Proust’s perversion, the detailed description of a heterosexual male jealously watchful of a homosexual female is preposterous because a normal man would be only amused, tickled pink in fact, by his girl’s frolics with a female partner. The professor concludes that a novel which can be appreciated only by quelque petite blanchisseuse who has examined the author’s dirty linen is, artistically, a failure.’

‘Ada, what on earth is he talking about? Some Italian film he has seen?’

‘Van,’ said Ada in a tired voice, ‘you do not realize that the Advanced French Group at my school has advanced no farther than to Racan and Racine.’

‘Forget it,’ said Van.

‘But you’ve had too much Marcel,’ muttered Ada.

The railway station had a semi-private tearoom supervised by the stationmaster’s wife under the school’s idiotic auspices. It was empty, save for a slender lady in black velvet, wearing a beautiful black velvet picture hat, who sat with her back to them at a ‘tonic bar’ and never once turned her head, but the thought brushed him that she was a cocotte from Toulouse. Our damp trio found a nice corner table and with sighs of banal relief undid their raincoats. He hoped Ada would discard her heavy-seas hat but she did not, because she had cut her hair because of dreadful migraines, because she did not want him to see her in the role of a moribund Romeo.

(On fait son grand Joyce after doing one’s petit Proust. In Ada’s lovely hand.)

(But read on; it is pure V.V. Note that lady! In Van’s bed-buvard scrawl.)

As Ada reached for the cream, he caught and inspected her dead-shamming hand. We remember the Camberwell Beauty that lay tightly closed for an instant upon our palm, and suddenly our hand was empty. He saw, with satisfaction, that her fingernails were now long and sharp.

‘Not too sharp, are they, my dear,’ he asked for the benefit of dura Cordula, who should have gone to the ‘powder room’ — a forlorn hope.

‘Why, no,’ said Ada.

‘You don’t,’ he went on, unable to stop, ‘you don’t scratch little people when you stroke little people? Look at your little girl friend’s hand’ (taking it), ‘look at those dainty short nails (cold innocent, docile little paw!). She could not catch them in the fanciest satin, oh, no, could you, Ardula — I mean, Cordula?’

Both girls giggled, and Cordula kissed Ada’s cheek. Van hardly knew what reaction he had expected, but found that simple kiss disarming and disappointing. The sound of the rain was lost in a growing rumble of wheels. He glanced at his watch; glanced up at the clock on the wall. He said he was sorry — that was his train.

‘Not at all,’ wrote Ada (paraphrased here) in reply to his abject apologies, ‘we just thought you were drunk; but I’ll never invite you to Brownhill again, my love.’ (1.27)


Van suspects Cordula de Prey of being Ada’s lesbian partner. In Proust's Du Côté de chez Swann ("Swann's Way") Marcel describes Mlle Vinteuil's lesbian games (that he saw with his own eyes) and mentions her sophisms (cf. “Les Sophismes de Sophie by Mlle Stopchin in the Bibliothèque Vieux Rose series” at the beginning of Ada’s Burning Barn chapter):


Mlle Vinteuil répondit par des paroles de doux reproche: «Voyons, voyons», qui prouvaient la bonté de sa nature, non qu’elles fussent dictées par l’indignation que cette façon de parler de son père eût pu lui causer (évidemment, c’était là un sentiment qu’elle s’était habituée, à l’aide de quels sophismes? à faire taire en elle dans ces minutes-là), mais parce qu’elles étaient comme un frein que pour ne pas se montrer égoïste elle mettait elle-même au plaisir que son amie cherchait à lui procurer. Et puis cette modération souriante en répondant à ces blasphèmes, ce reproche hypocrite et tendre, paraissaient peut-être à sa nature franche et bonne une forme particulièrement infâme, une forme doucereuse de cette scélératesse qu’elle cherchait à s’assimiler. Mais elle ne put résister à l’attrait du plaisir qu’elle éprouverait à être traitée avec douceur par une personne si implacable envers un mort sans défense; elle sauta sur les genoux de son amie, et lui tendit chastement son front à baiser comme elle aurait pu faire si elle avait été sa fille, sentant avec délices qu’elles allaient ainsi toutes deux au bout de la cruauté en ravissant à M. Vinteuil, jusque dans le tombeau, sa paternité. Son amie lui prit la tête entre ses mains et lui déposa un baiser sur le front avec cette docilité que lui rendait facile la grande affection qu’elle avait pour Mlle Vinteuil et le désir de mettre quelque distraction dans la vie si triste maintenant de l’orpheline.


Mlle Vinteuil is the daughter of the deceased composer whose music – his famous sonata and septet – provides the central musical leitmotiv of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (“In Search of Lost Time"). The characters of Ada include Philip Rack, Lucette's music teacher and composer who was poisoned by his jealous wife Elsie and who dies in Ward Five of the Kalugano hospital (where Van recovers from a wound received in a pistol duel with Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge). Describing his visit to dying Rack, Van mentions the “agony of agony” – Professor Lamort’s felicitous pleonasm (cf. La mort de Baldassare Silvande):


‘I am Van Veen — in case you are no longer lucid enough to recognize somebody you have seen only twice. Hospital records put your age at thirty; I thought you were younger, but even so that is a very early age for a person to die — whatever he be tvoyu mat’ — half-baked genius or full-fledged scoundrel, or both. As you may guess by the plain but thoughtful trappings of this quiet room, you are an incurable case in one lingo, a rotting rat in another. No oxygen gadget can help you to eschew the "agony of agony" — Professor Lamort’s felicitous pleonasm. The physical torments you will be, or indeed are, experiencing must be prodigious, but are nothing in comparison to those of a probable hereafter. The mind of man, by nature a monist, cannot accept two nothings; he knows there has been one nothing, his biological inexistence in the infinite past, for his memory is utterly blank, and that nothingness, being, as it were, past, is not too hard to endure. But a second nothingness — which perhaps might not be so hard to bear either — is logically unacceptable. When speaking of space we can imagine a live speck in the limitless oneness of space; but there is no analogy in such a concept with our brief life in time, because however brief (a thirty-year span is really obscenely brief!), our awareness of being is not a dot in eternity, but a slit, a fissure, a chasm running along the entire breadth of metaphysical time, bisecting it and shining — no matter how narrowly — between the back panel and fore panel. Therefore, Mr Rack, we can speak of past time, and in a vaguer, but familiar sense, of future time, but we simply cannot expect a second nothing, a second void, a second blank. Oblivion is a one-night performance; we have been to it once, there will be no repeat. We must face therefore the possibility of some prolonged form of disorganized consciousness and this brings me to my main point, Mr Rack. Eternal Rack, infinite "Rackness" may not be much but one thing is certain: the only consciousness that persists in the hereafter is the consciousness of pain. The little Rack of today is the infinite rack of tomorrow — ich bin ein unverbesserlicher Witzbold. We can imagine — I think we should imagine — tiny clusters of particles still retaining Rack’s personality, gathering here and there in the here-and-there-after, clinging to each other, somehow, somewhere, a web of Rack’s toothaches here, a bundle of Rack’s nightmares there — rather like tiny groups of obscure refugees from some obliterated country huddling together for a little smelly warmth, for dingy charities or shared recollections of nameless tortures’ in Tartar camps. For an old man one special little torture must be to wait in a long long queue before a remote urinal. Well, Herr Rack, I submit that the surviving cells of aging Rackness will form such lines of torment, never, never reaching the coveted filth hole in the panic and pain of infinite night. You may answer, of course, if you are versed in contemporary novelistics, and if you fancy the jargon of English writers, that a ‘lower-middle-class’ piano tuner who falls in love with a fast ‘upper-class’ girl, thereby destroying his own family, is not committing a crime deserving the castigation which a chance intruder —’ (1.42)


In the first poem (written in 1901) of his collection Paralipomenon Max Voloshin says that youth is merely the agony of dying childhood:


Юность — только агония
Умирающего детства.

Жизнь — бесконечное познание...
Возьми свой посох и иди! —
...И я иду... и впереди
Пустыня... ночь... и звёзд мерцание.


Youth is merely the agony

of dying childhood.

Life is the endless cognition…

Take your crook and go!

And I go… and before me

is the desert… the night… and the twinkling of stars.


Detstvo (“Childhood,” 1852), Otrochestvo (“Boyhood,” 1854) and Yunost’ (“Youth,” 1857) is a trilogy by Leo Tolstoy (the author of "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," 1886) mentioned by Van at the beginning:


‘All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,’ says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)


and at the end of Ada:


Ardis Hall — the Ardors and Arbors of Ardis — this is the leitmotiv rippling through Ada, an ample and delightful chronicle, whose principal part is staged in a dream-bright America — for are not our childhood memories comparable to Vineland-born caravelles, indolently encircled by the white birds of dreams? The protagonist, a scion of one of our most illustrious and opulent families, is Dr Van Veen, son of Baron ‘Demon’ Veen, that memorable Manhattan and Reno figure. The end of an extraordinary epoch coincides with Van’s no less extraordinary boyhood. Nothing in world literature, save maybe Count 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, 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. (5.6)


Professor Lamort’s felicitous pleonasm brings to mind le silence du silence mentioned by Paul Claudel in his ode Les Muses (1900):


             ou dans le

silence du silence 

Mnémosyne soupire.


In his essay on Henri de Reigner, Apollon i mysh’ (Apollo and the Mouse,” 1911), Voloshin quotes Claudel’s poem and offers his theory of Time:


Поль Клодель в своей оде "Музы" так определяет её:


     В молчании молчания

     Мнемосина вздыхает.

     Старшая, та, которая не говорит никогда...

     Она слушает, она созерцает.

     Она чувствует. Она ВНУТРЕННЕЕ ЗРЕНИЕ ДУХА.

     Чистая, единая, ненарушимая, она вспоминает самое себя.

     Она отвес духа! Она соотношение, выраженное прекрасным числом,

     Она неотвратимо поставлена

     У самого ПУЛЬСА БЫТИЯ.


     Она связь того, что не время, с временем, воплощённым в слове.

     Она не будет говорить.

     Ее дело но говорить: она совпадает.

     Она владеет, она помнит, и все сёстры внимательны

     к движению её век.


В этих образах и уподоблениях Клоделя есть нечто, что подводит нас к самой сущности понятия времени. Он говорит о "внутреннем времени", о том, что память есть "внутреннее зрение духа".

Для всякого ясно то несоответствие, которое существует между внутренним ощущением времени и механическим счётом часов. Каждый знает дни, в которые Время, равномерно отсчитываемое часами, внутри нас идёт то бесконечно медленно, то мчится бешеным галопом событий. Мы помним медленные дни детства, когда утро было отделено от вечера как бы полярным днем, длящимся полгода, и быстрые дни зрелых лет, когда мы едва успеваем приметить несколько тусклых лучей, как в декабрьском петербургском дне.

Это происходит потому, что в той внутренней сфере интуитивного сознания, в которой мы ощущаем время, не существует представления ни о количестве, ни о числе; им там внутри соответствуют представления о качестве и о напряженности. Представления внутреннего мира чередуются, не исключая одно другое, но взаимно друг друга проникая, существуя одновременно в одной и той же точке, следуя своими путями друг сквозь друга, как волны эфира или влаги.

Этот мир, текучий и изменяемый в самой своей сущности, не имеет никаких соотношений с числом и с пространственной логикой, построенной на законах несовместимости двух предметов в одной точке и отсюда на законах чередования и числа. Между сферами времени и пространства то же отсутствие соотношений и параллелизма, как между интуитивным знанием и логическим сознанием. Первое постигает изнутри жизненные токи мира, второе снаружи исследует грани форм.

Единственная связь между временем и пространством - это мгновение. Сознание нашего бытия, доступное нам лишь в пределах мгновения, является как бы перпендикуляром, падающим на линию нашего пространственного движения из сфер чистого времени. Счёт этих точек сечения линии её перпендикуляром создает возможность нашего механического счёта часов. Каждый перпендикуляр является поэтому для нашего сознания дверью в бесконечность, раскрывающуюся во мгновение.


A similar theory of Time is proposed by Van in his essay The Texture of Time (Part Four of Ada), in which the marcel wave of fashionable art and the Proustian bed are mentioned. Claudel's le silence du silence brings to mind "the rest is silence," Hamlet's last words in Shakespeare's play.


Telling Van about Rack's death, Dr Fitzbishop mentions Terra (Demonia's twin planet):


Dr Fitzbishop had said, rubbing his hands, that the Luga laboratory said it was the not always lethal 'arethusoides' but it had no practical importance now, because the unfortunate music teacher, and composer, was not expected to spend another night on Demonia, and would be on Terra, ha-ha, in time for evensong. Doc Fitz was what Russians call a poshlyak ('pretentious vulgarian') and in some obscure counter-fashion Van was relieved not to be able to gloat over the wretched Rack's martyrdom. (1.42)


Aréthuse (1895) is a collection of poetry by Henri de Reigner. Van's novel Letters from Terra (written on Alexis Avenue) was reviewed by the First Clown in Elsinore, a distinguished London weekly, and by the poet Max Mispel in a little Manhattan magazine (The Village Eyebrow). Describing a lunch at Ardis, Van mentions Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine:


Weekday lunch at Ardis Hall. Lucette between Marina and the governess; Van between Marina and Ada; Dack, the golden-brown stoat, under the table, either between Ada and Mlle Larivière, or between Lucette and Marina (Van secretly disliked dogs, especially at meals, and especially that smallish longish freak with a gamey breath). Arch and grandiloquent, Ada would be describing a dream, a natural history wonder, a special belletristic device — Paul Bourget’s ‘monologue intérieur’ borrowed from old Leo — or some ludicrous blunder in the current column of Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine who thought that Lyovin went about Moscow in a nagol’nïy tulup, ‘a muzhik’s sheepskin coat, bare side out, bloom side in,’ as defined in a dictionary our commentator produced like a conjurer, never to be procurable by Elsies. Her spectacular handling of subordinate clauses, her parenthetic asides, her sensual stressing of adjacent monosyllables (‘Idiot Elsie simply can’t read’) — all this somehow finished by acting upon Van, as artificial excitements and exotic torture-caresses might have done, in an aphrodisiac sinistral direction that he both resented and perversely enjoyed. (1.10) 


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): monologue intérieur: the so-called ‘stream-of-consciousness’ device, used by Leo Tolstoy (in describing, for instance, Anna’s last impressions whilst her carriage rolls through the streets of Moscow.


Describing a party in “Ardis the Second,” Van mentions Doc Ecksreher (a play on X-rays):


The melancholy young German was in a philosophical mood shading into the suicidal. He had to return to Kalugano with his Elsie, who Doc Ecksreher thought ‘would present him with driplets in dry weeks.’ He hated Kalugano, his and her home town, where in a moment of ‘mutual aberration’ stupid Elsie had given him her all on a park bench after a wonderful office party at Muzakovski’s Organs where the oversexed pitiful oaf had a good job.

‘When are you leaving?’ asked Ada.

‘Forestday — after tomorrow.’

‘Fine. That’s fine. Adieu, Mr Rack.’

Poor Philip drooped, fingerpainting sad nothings on wet stone, shaking his heavy head, gulping visibly.

‘One feels… One feels,’ he said, ‘that one is merely playing a role and has forgotten the next speech.’

‘I’m told many feel that,’ said Ada; ‘it must be a furchtbar feeling.’

‘Cannot be helped? No hope any more at all? I am dying, yes?’

‘You are dead, Mr Rack,’ said Ada. (1.32)


In his preface to the first edition of Les Plaisirs et les Jours Anatole France mentions a bright and shining arrow, a flash of lightning which, like the ray of the German doctor, can go right through bodies:


Il nous attire, il nous retient dans une atmosphère de serre chaude, parmi des orchidées savantes qui ne nourrissent pas en terre leur étrange et maladive beauté. Soudain, dans l'air lourd et délicieux, passe une flèche lumineuse, un éclair qui, comme le rayon du docteur allemand, traverse les corps. D'un trait le poète a pénétré la pensée secrète, le désir inavoué.


He [Proust] lures us into a greenhouse atmosphere and detains us there, amid wild orchids that do not draw the nourishment for their strange and unhealthy beauty from this earth. Suddenly there passes, through the heavy and languid air, a bright and shining arrow, a flash of lightning which, like the ray of the German doctor, can go right through bodies. At a stroke the poet has penetrated secret thoughts and hidden desires.


Anatole France is the author of L'Île des Pingouins ("Penguin Island," 1908). VN's poem Pingvin ("The Penguin," 1917) begins: Karlik bezrukiy vo frake ("The armless dwarf in a tailcoat").


Ada, Cordula and Vanda are the names of orchids. In her entomological notes Ada mentions the noble larva of the Cattleya Hawkmoth (mauve shades of Monsieur Proust):


(At ten or earlier the child had read — as Van had — Les Malheurs de Swann, as the next sample reveals):

‘I think Marina would stop scolding me for my hobby ("There’s something indecent about a little girl’s keeping such revolting pets...," "Normal young ladies should loathe snakes and worms," et cetera) if I could persuade her to overcome her old-fashioned squeamishness and place simultaneously on palm and pulse (the hand alone would not be roomy enough!) the noble larva of the Cattleya Hawkmoth (mauve shades of Monsieur Proust), a seven-inch-long colossus flesh colored, with turquoise arabesques, rearing its hyacinth head in a stiff "Sphinxian" attitude.’ (1.8)


In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) John Ray, Jr. is the author of the Foreword to Humbert Humbert’s manuscript. According to Lolita, they made shadowgraphs in Camp Q:


“We washed zillions of dishes. ‘Zillions’ you know is schoolmarm’s slang for many-many-many-many. Oh yes, last but not least, as Mother says - Now let me see - what was it? I know we made shadowgraphs. Gee, what fun.”

C’est bien tout?”

C’est . Except for one little thing, something I simply can’t tell you without blushing all over.” (1.27)


According to Humbert Humbert, he was not even Lolita's first lover. In the Night of the Burning Barn (when they make love for the first time) Van fails to notice that Ada (who was advised by her total experience to indulge in a cold game) is not as pure as the night sky.