Vladimir Nabokov

Notes to Ada, Part 1

By john_cho, 28 March, 2021

The following are notes that I took while recently re-reading Part 1 of Ada. Brian Boyd was kind enough to include some of them in his online annotations. Apologies if there are any redundant remarks vis-à-vis previous posts by others.

John Nagamichi Cho


Chapter 1

5.31: dove hole marked RE AMOR: “RE AMOR” aptly anagrams to “ORA MER” meaning “now wed” in Italian, given the content of Marina’s message (agreement to marriage) and Dan’s location (Italy).


Chapter 3

18.15-20: It was owing…minds bien rangés (not apt to unhobble hobgoblins) rejected Terra…token of their own irrationality: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” is a famous quote from “Self-Reliance,” an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841. The implication here is that a deranged mind, not hobbled by insistent consistency, is able to accept the irrational notion of Terra.

23.31: “elmo”: Exaggerated stereotypical Italian pronunciation of English word “elm.”


Chapter 10

61.10-14: Elsie de Nord, a vulgar literary demimondaine…never to be procurable by Elsies: “Elsie de Nord” = “LC d’ignor,” in other words, ignorant Literary Critic. In the plural form, “Elsies” = “literary critics.” Cf. The “vulgar” descriptor relates to another Elsie, Philip Rack’s wife, whose “LC” completes the transformation of Philip Rack’s anagram “PHALIC PRIK” into “PHALLIC PRICK” (197.13).


Chapter 13

81.13-14: as if recalling other shores, other, radial, waves. Lucette, one fist on her hip sang a St. Malô fisher-song: Evokes a solitary plunge into the water, i.e., Lucette’s suicidal jump generating radial waves out to the American and European shores of the Atlantic, especially since “Lucette” begins the next sentence that links her to Chateaubriand’s sister Lucile (from St. Malô), who may have committed suicide. This paragraph also alludes to Lady Erminin’s suicide (81.07) as well as mention a “half-sibling” (81.06), which Lucette is to Van and Ada.


Chapter 21

133.26-27: Judge Bald…Albino Riots of 1835: Possibly a reference to William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930) of “spoonerism” fame, given Nabokov’s proclivity to word play, Spooner’s presence at Oxford during VN’s Cambridge (U.K.) years, and as Spooner was described as an albino (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Archibald_Spooner, accessed 31 December 2020). Since the discussion here is about incest, the “Albino Riots” may play on the myth that inbreeding causes albinism.


Chapter 24

148.10-11: the year of the obsolete brand being 1842: 1842 was a red-letter year for beer lovers, as that is when the pilsner, the “original golden lager,” was first produced by Josef Groll in the Bohemian city of Pilsen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilsner, accessed 31 December 2020). On Earth, at least, the 1842 brand could have been called obsolete in 1884, because “The brewery registered Pilsner Bier B. B. name in 1859. In 1898, they also registered names Original Pilsner Bier 1842 Plzeňský pramen, Prapramen, Měšťanské Plzeňské, Plzeňský pravý zdroj and finally Pilsner Urquell and Plzeňský Prazdroj, which are in use today” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilsner_Urquell, accessed 31 December 2020).

152.09-10: She was, cette Lucette, like the girl in Ah, cette Line (a popular novel): Perhaps a reference to The Princess Aline by Richard Harding Davis, published in 1895, which was the 5th-best-selling novel in the U.S. that year (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Princess_Aline, accessed 31 December 2020). The title character was based on Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, who married Tsar Nicholas II to become Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918), the last Empress of Russia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandra_Feodorovna_(Alix_of_Hesse), accessed 31 December 2020). Note the closeness of “Ah, cette, Line” to “hachette Aline,” which could be translated as “little ax Aline,” which, in turn, might be crunched to “little Alix.” The transformation of “hachette” to “Ashette” also echoes the Lucette-as-Cinderella motif. The murder of Alexandra by the Bolsheviks in 1918 makes her a martyr (although not officially recognized as such by the Russian Orthodox Church until 1981), which parallels Lucette’s role as “martyr” to Van and Ada’s “persecutions.”


Chapter 25

156.03: N.A.: Possibly New Amsterdam (as a state name rather than a city name). “New Amsterdam” occurs once in Ada, in connection with “Madhatters” (222.16-17), implying that the term was used similarly in Antiterra as on our Earth.


Chapter 27

168.09: coral: Consonant with the presumed (oral) act.


Chapter 31

187.10-12: a girl in black with bare arms: an old runabout, shivering at every jerk, was being cranked up by a hoary chauffeur: The sentence is constructed here so that the old runabout could refer to the girl in black with bare arms, i.e., Ada. Interpreted that way, it could be read, “an old runabout [a girl who ‘gets around’], shivering [presumably in delight] at every jerk, was being cranked up by a hoary [whoring] chauffeur [driver or stoker, one who ‘warms up’]”; thus, foreshadowing Ada’s multiple infidelities. Cf. “horsetail” [whore’s tale] (188.09).

188.09: brutal black horsetail: Or, whore’s tale, another foreshadowing of Ada’s infidelities. Cf. “runabout” (187.10-12).

193.25-27: we shall live quietly, you as my housekeeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, “we shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds”: Quite apart from the Chekhov reference, the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was released on 26 May 1967, during Nabokov’s composition of Ada. It was part of their landmark album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Therefore, this sentence could be taken as a foretelling of the final years of Van and Ada’s life, the pair living quietly, infirm Van being taken care of by Ada, with the spirit of long-dead Lucy (Lucette) looking down on them from a starry sky. John Lennon based the style of the song lyrics on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_in_the_Sky_with_Diamonds, accessed 1 January 2021).


Chapter 32

197.06: Pedro: Given the high density of comic sexual wordplay in this chapter and the abundance of disguised phalluses (Cf. Philip Rack, 197.13, pianist, 200.11, kok, 202.04), it is worth noting that Peter, the English equivalent of Pedro, is slang for penis.

197.13: Philip Rack: Anagram of “PHALIC PRIK.” Poorly spelled on its own; however, it can be corrected to “PHALLIC PRICK” with the addition of “L” and “C” from his wife’s name, Elsie. Cf. Elsie = LC = literary critic (61.10-14). The phallic nature of Rack is obscured in his name, just as his real identity as a rival for Ada’s attentions are hidden behind a pathetic appearance from vain Van’s view. Cf. Pedro (197.06), pianist (200.11), kok (202.04).

199.33-200.07: chlorinated celestino (“blues your bath”)…that Vere de Vere: The yellow urine mixed with the celestino blue of the pool water results in green (verde or vert from Vere de Vere).

200.11: the pianist, floating up: “pianist” => “penis” Cf. Pedro (197.06), Philip Rack (197.13), kok (202.04).

201.1: Herr Rack swam up again and joined Ada: Her Rack…joined Ada, a subtle hint that the relationship between the two is more than meets the eye.


Chapter 35

217.24-26: One day he brought his shaving kit along and helped her to get rid of all three patches of body hair: “Now I’m Scheher,” he said, “and you are his Ada”: Shaving pubic and armpit hair is prescribed under Islamic law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_hygienical_jurisprudence, accessed 1 January 2021).


Chapter 36

222.04-05: mildly romantic in a maidenly headcocking way: Could be restructured in a strongly sexual way as “maidenhead” and “cock.”


Chapter 39

266.16: The smallest pine had its cicada: “pine had its cicada” anagrams to “picnic site had Ada”

267.05-06: you don’t have to tear the waistband, you brute. “Carefully husked brute,” said Van tenderly: “husked brute” anagrams to “rebuked thus”—which makes perfect sense in this context, since Van was just rebuked by Ada for being too rough.

271.15: Ada’s and Ida’s healths: Ada + Ida = Aïda, a continuation of the Verdi (“Traverdiata” singing the Green Grass aria) theme (Cf. 269.34-270.03).

275.07-19: the Count’s bursting face…grunting Count…unfortunate Count: Van the narrator adds (veiled) insult to injury here by the repeated use of “Count” in reference to Percy, as it is phonetically close to “cunt.”

281.09-10: In the fatal course of the most painful ailments, sometimes (nodding gravely): “nodding gravely”—a pun on nodding toward the grave.


Chapter 40

287.20: I wonder…if I haven’t just seen a tadpole: An anagram of “tadpole” is “old peat,” or, in other words Old Veen. The butler sees a tadpole-Van in his naïve youthful state still unaware of Ada’s infidelities, yet the anagrammatic transformation lets him foresee a Van made older and more worldly by the upcoming discovery of his love’s unfaithfulness.


Chapter 42

310.12: Dorofey Road: Three paragraphs earlier, Van recounts a dream of Bouteillan explaining that the “dor” of the Ladore equaled the corruption of hydro in “dorophone” (309.29-30). Thus, together with the meaning of “fey” as (W2) “1 Fated or doomed to die; dying, also, enfeebled; delirious. Archaic & Scot.," Dorofey can be read as someone fated to die by water, i.e., Lucette, who commits suicide by drowning. The word “fey” occurs only twice in Ada: The first instance is earlier in this chapter, where it is used to describe Blanche (308.20), presumably in the sense of (W2) "4 Having the air of one under a doom or spell; otherworldly; elfin." As Brian Boyd’s annotations and afternotes make clear, Lucette and Blanche are thematically associated in many ways. In the second occurrence, Lucette’s lips are described as fey in the Ovenman’s Bar scene (460.26). The name Dorofey, therefore, is quite clearly linked to Lucette. The character Dorofey, Van’s “beefy-handed male nurse” (Cf. 312.17), gets substituted for Tatiana, a “secret of feminine grace” that reminds Van of Ada, when he begs her to massage his legs. In this sense also, Dorofey is closely linked to Lucette, since, for Van, she is an undesired substitute for Ada. Finally, there are shades of the golden-skinned Lucette as Ophelia in d’or, Ophé[lie].

312.17: Dorofey, a beefy-handed male nurse: If Tatiana is a stand-in for Ada, then Dorofey, as an unwanted substitute for Tatiana is a stand-in for Lucette. The name Dorofey, read as doro = water and fey = fated to die, would mean “one fated to die by water,” an apt descriptor for Lucette. Cf. Dorofey Road (310.12).

312.29-30: must be climbing nowadays Wellington Mountain: Perhaps the Antiterran equivalent of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, the highest peak in the northeastern U.S. and a popular hiking destination, given the transatlantic doubling “when Washingtonias were Wellingtonias” remark in I.13 (81.20-21).

316.17: Baron von Wien: This makes Van a “wiener,” a fitting epithet for the poorly behaving (sexually harassing) Veen of this chapter.

318.07: Flesh Hall: Can be spoonerized to “Flash Hell,” another apt item in Van’s list of pain-inducers. Also, perhaps, a touch of Kim Beauharnais’s flash camera.


Chapter 43

323.14-20: a deep hollow voice…Vanda Broom: Hollow, as in Halloween, plus broom, suggests a witch, reflecting Van’s fear that she might have been bewitching to Ada.