Ardisville, Chose & Yolande Kickshaw in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 01/15/2021 - 07:38

Describing his first summer at Ardis, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions Ardisville (a place near Ladore):


They went boating and swimming in Ladore, they followed the bends of its adored river, they tried to find more rhymes to it, they walked up the hill to the black ruins of Bryant’s Castle, with the swifts still flying around its tower. They traveled to Kaluga and drank the Kaluga Waters, and saw the family dentist. Van, flipping through a magazine, heard Ada scream and say ‘chort’ (devil) in the next room, which he had never heard her do before. They had tea at a neighbor’s, Countess de Prey — who tried to sell them, unsuccessfully, a lame horse. They visited the fair at Ardisville where they especially admired the Chinese tumblers, a German clown, and a sword-swallowing hefty Circassian Princess who started with a fruit knife, went on to a bejeweled dagger and finally engulfed, string and all, a tremendous salami sausage. (1.22)


At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) tells Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) that Jones (the footman in “Ardis the Second”) has rowed her from Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer:


‘Marina,’ murmured Demon at the close of the first course. ‘Marina,’ he repeated louder. ‘Far from me’ (a locution he favored) ‘to criticize Dan’s taste in white wines or the manners de vos domestiques. You know me, I’m above all that rot, I’m...’ (gesture); ‘but, my dear,’ he continued, switching to Russian, ‘the chelovek who brought me the pirozhki — the new man, the plumpish one with the eyes (s glazami) —’

‘Everybody has eyes,’ remarked Marina drily.

‘Well, his look as if they were about to octopus the food he serves. But that’s not the point. He pants, Marina! He suffers from some kind of odïshka (shortness of breath). He should see Dr Krolik. It’s depressing. It’s a rhythmic pumping pant. It made my soup ripple.’

‘Look, Dad,’ said Van, ‘Dr Krolik can’t do much, because, as you know quite well, he’s dead, and Marina can’t tell her servants not to breathe, because, as you also know, they’re alive.’

‘The Veen wit, the Veen wit,’ murmured Demon.

‘Exactly,’ said Marina. ‘I simply refuse to do anything about it. Besides poor Jones is not at all asthmatic, but only nervously eager to please. He’s as healthy as a bull and has rowed me from Ardisville to Ladore and back, and enjoyed it, many times this summer. You are cruel, Demon. I can’t tell him "ne pïkhtite," as I can’t tell Kim, the kitchen boy, not to take photographs on the sly — he’s a regular snap-shooting fiend, that Kim, though otherwise an adorable, gentle, honest boy; nor can I tell my little French maid to stop getting invitations, as she somehow succeeds in doing, to the most exclusive bals masqués in Ladore.’

‘That’s interesting,’ observed Demon.

‘He’s a dirty old man!’ cried Van cheerfully.

‘Van!’ said Ada.

‘I’m a dirty young man,’ sighed Demon.

‘Tell me, Bouteillan,’ asked Marina, ‘what other good white wine do we have — what can you recommend?’ The butler smiled and whispered a fabulous name.

‘Yes, oh, yes,’ said Demon. ‘Ah, my dear, you should not think up dinners all by yourself. Now about rowing — you mentioned rowing... Do you know that moi, qui vous parle, was a Rowing Blue in 1858? Van prefers football, but he’s only a College Blue, aren’t you Van? I’m also better than he at tennis — not lawn tennis, of course, a game for parsons, but "court tennis" as they say in Manhattan. What else, Van?’

‘You still beat me at fencing, but I’m the better shot. That’s not real sudak, papa, though it’s tops, I assure you.’

(Marina, having failed to obtain the European product in time for the dinner, had chosen the nearest thing, wall-eyed pike, or ‘dory,’ with Tartar sauce and boiled young potatoes.)

‘Ah!’ said Demon, tasting Lord Byron’s Hock. ‘This redeems Our Lady’s Tears.’ (1.38)


Like Van, Demon was a Chose student. The name of Van’s and Demon’s University, Chose seems to hint at the French phrase quelque chose (something). According to Pushkin (Eugene Onegin, One: V: 1-2),


Мы все учились понемногу
Чему-нибудь и как-нибудь

All of us had a bit of schooling
in something and somehow.


Before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Van prefaces Ada's (or, more likely, his own) translation of Coppée’s poem by a snatch of Pushkin:


‘Old storytelling devices,’ said Van, ‘may be parodied only by very great and inhuman artists, but only close relatives can be forgiven for paraphrasing illustrious poems. Let me preface the effort of a cousin — anybody’s cousin — by a snatch of Pushkin, for the sake of rhyme —’

‘For the snake of rhyme!’ cried Ada. ‘A paraphrase, even my paraphrase, is like the corruption of "snakeroot" into "snagrel" — all that remains of a delicate little birthwort.’

‘Which is amply sufficient,’ said Demon, ‘for my little needs, and those of my little friends.’

‘So here goes,’ continued Van (ignoring what he felt was an indecent allusion, since the unfortunate plant used to be considered by the ancient inhabitants of the Ladore region not so much as a remedy for the bite of a reptile, as the token of a very young woman’s easy delivery; but no matter). ‘By chance preserved has been the poem. In fact, I have it. Here it is: Leur chute est lente and one can know ‘em...’

‘Oh, I know ‘em,’ interrupted Demon:


‘Leur chute est lente. On peut les suivre

Du regard en reconnaissant

Le chêne à sa feuille de cuivre

L’érable à sa feuille de sang


‘Grand stuff!’

‘Yes, that was Coppée and now comes the cousin,’ said Van, and he recited:


‘Their fall is gentle. The leavesdropper

Can follow each of them and know

The oak tree by its leaf of copper,

The maple by its blood-red glow.’


‘Pah!’ uttered the versionist.

‘Not at all!’ cried Demon. ‘That "leavesdropper" is a splendid trouvaille, girl.’ He pulled the girl to him, she landing on the arm of his Klubsessel, and he glued himself with thick moist lips to her hot red ear through the rich black strands. Van felt a shiver of delight. (1.38)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): By chance preserved: The verses are by chance preserved

                                                                                  I have them, here they are:

                                                                                  (Eugene Onegin, Six: XXI: 1-2)


In his verses (that chanced to be preserved) Lenski mentions strela (the dart):


Стихи на случай сохранились;
Я их имею; вот они:
«Куда, куда вы удалились,
Весны моей златые дни?
Что день грядущий мне готовит?
Его мой взор напрасно ловит,
В глубокой мгле таится он.
Нет нужды; прав судьбы закон.
Паду ли я, стрелой пронзенный,
Иль мимо пролетит она,
Все благо: бдения и сна
Приходит час определенный;
Благословен и день забот,
Благословен и тьмы приход!


The verses chanced to be preserved;

I have them; here they are:

Whither, ah! whither are ye fled,

my springtime's golden days?

“What has the coming day in store for me?

In vain my gaze attempts to grasp it;

in deep gloom it lies hidden.

It matters not; fate's law is just.

Whether I fall, pierced by the dart, or whether

it flies by — all is right:

of waking and of sleep

comes the determined hour;

blest is the day of cares,

blest, too, is the advent of darkness!


Strela can be also translated as “arrow.” As pointed out by Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess), Ardis means in Greek “the point of an arrow:”


He [Van] found the game [Flavita, the Russian Scrabble] rather fatiguing, and toward the end played hurriedly and carelessly, not deigning to check ‘rare’ or ‘obsolete’ but quite acceptable possibilities provided by a loyal dictionary. As to ambitious, incompetent and temperamental Lucette, she had to be, even at twelve, discreetly advised by Van who did so chiefly because it saved time and brought a little closer the blessed moment when she could be bundled off to the nursery, leaving Ada available for the third or fourth little flourish of the sweet summer day. Especially boring were the girls’ squabbles over the legitimacy of this or that word: proper names and place names were taboo, but there occurred borderline cases, causing no end of heartbreak, and it was pitiful to see Lucette cling to her last five letters (with none left in the box) forming the beautiful ARDIS which her governess had told her meant ‘the point of an arrow’ — but only in Greek, alas. (1.36)


Describing Ada’s dramatic career, Van mentions her screen name, Ada Ardis:


Van had seen the picture [the Hollywood version of Four Sisters, as Chekhov's play "The Three Sisters" is known on Demonia, aka Antiterra, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set] and had liked it. An Irish girl, the infinitely graceful and melancholy Lenore Colline —


Oh! qui me rendra ma colline

Et le grand chêne and my colleen!


— harrowingly resembled Ada Ardis as photographed with her mother in Belladonna, a movie magazine which Greg Erminin had sent him, thinking it would delight him to see aunt and cousin, together, on a California patio just before the film was released. Varvara, the late General Sergey Prozorov’s eldest daughter, comes in Act One from her remote nunnery, Tsitsikar Convent, to Perm (also called Permwail), in the backwoods of Akimsk Bay, North Canady, to have tea with Olga, Marsha, and Irina on the latter’s name day. Much to the nun’s dismay, her three sisters dream only of one thing — leaving cool, damp, mosquito-infested but otherwise nice and peaceful ‘Permanent’ as Irina mockingly dubs it, for high life in remote and sinful Moscow, Id., the former capital of Estotiland. In the first edition of his play, which never quite manages to heave the soft sigh of a masterpiece, Tchechoff (as he spelled his name when living that year at the execrable Pension Russe, 9, rue Gounod, Nice) crammed into the two pages of a ludicrous expository scene all the information he wished to get rid of, great lumps of recollections and calendar dates — an impossible burden to place on the fragile shoulders of three unhappy Estotiwomen. Later he redistributed that information through a considerably longer scene in which the arrival of the monashka Varvara provides all the speeches needed to satisfy the restless curiosity of the audience. This was a neat stroke of stagecraft, but unfortunately (as so often occurs in the case of characters brought in for disingenuous purposes) the nun stayed on, and not until the third, penultimate, act was the author able to bundle her off, back to her convent. (2.9)


At the end of VN’s Family Chronicle Ada suggests that, after her death, Van should marry a local Gauguin girl or Yolande Kickshaw:


Nirvana, Nevada, Vaniada. By the way, should I not add, my Ada, that only at the very last interview with poor dummy-mummy, soon after my premature — I mean, premonitory — nightmare about, ‘You can, Sir,’ she employed mon petit nom, Vanya, Vanyusha — never had before, and it sounded so odd, so tend... (voice trailing off, radiators tinkling).

‘Dummy-mum’ — (laughing). ‘Angels, too, have brooms — to sweep one’s soul clear of horrible images. My black nurse was Swiss-laced with white whimsies.’

Sudden ice hurtling down the rain pipe: brokenhearted stalactite.

Recorded and replayed in their joint memory was their early preoccupation with the strange idea of death. There is one exchange that it would be nice to enact against the green moving backdrop of one of our Ardis sets. The talk about ‘double guarantee’ in eternity. Start just before that.

‘I know there’s a Van in Nirvana. I’ll be with him in the depths moego ada, of my Hades,’ said Ada.

‘True, true’ (bird-effects here, and acquiescing branches, and what you used to call ‘golden gouts’).

‘As lovers and siblings,’ she cried, ‘we have a double chance of being together in eternity, in terrarity. Four pairs of eyes in paradise!’

‘Neat, neat,’ said Van.

Something of the sort. One great difficulty. The strange mirage-shimmer standing in for death should not appear too soon in the chronicle and yet it should permeate the first amorous scenes. Hard but not insurmountable (I can do anything, I can tango and tap-dance on my fantastic hands). By the way, who dies first?

Ada. Van. Ada. Vaniada. Nobody. Each hoped to go first, so as to concede, by implication, a longer life to the other, and each wished to go last, in order to spare the other the anguish or worries, of widowhood. One solution would be for you to marry Violet.

‘Thank you. J’ai tâté de deux tribades dans ma vie, ça suffit. Dear Emile says "terme qu’on évite d’employer." How right he is!’

‘If not Violet, then a local Gauguin girl. Or Yolande Kickshaw.’

Why? Good question. Anyway. Violet must not be given this part to type. I’m afraid we’re going to wound a lot of people (openwork American lilt)! Oh come, art cannot hurt. It can, and how! (5.6)


Yolande Ardissone (b. 1927) is a French painter whose vivid, impressionistic style was strongly influenced by Gauguin, Renoir and especially Van Gogh. Her works have been acquired by the Ville de Paris, the Musée de l'Ile de France, the Musée de la Marine, l'Etat, etc. The Ville de Paris has awarded her the Médaille d'Argent. On Antiterra Paris is also known as Lute:


In 1885, having completed his prep-school education, he went up to Chose University in England, where his fathers had gone, and traveled from time to time to London or Lute (as prosperous but not overrefined British colonials called that lovely pearl-gray sad city on the other side of the Channel). (1.28)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Lute: from ‘Lutèce’, ancient name of Paris.


Kickshaw is a corruption of quelque chose.


See also the updated version of my previous post, “local Gauguin girl & Yolande Kickshaw in Ada.”