Ardis tap water & Captain Tapper in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 06/10/2021 - 18:01

Before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) tells Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) that the Ardis tap water is not recommended:


‘Van...,’ began Demon, but stopped — as he had begun and stopped a number of times before in the course of the last years. Some day it would have to be said, but this was not the right moment. He inserted his monocle and examined the bottles: ‘By the way, son, do you crave any of these aperitifs? My father allowed me Lilletovka and that Illinois Brat — awful bilge, antranou svadi, as Marina would say. I suspect your uncle has a cache behind the solanders in his study and keeps there a finer whisky than this usque ad Russkum. Well, let us have the cognac, as planned, unless you are a filius aquae?’

(No pun intended, but one gets carried away and goofs.)

‘Oh, I prefer claret. I’ll concentrate (nalyagu) on the Latour later on. No, I’m certainly no T-totaler, and besides the Ardis tap water is not recommended!’

‘I must warn Marina,’ said Demon after a gum-rinse and a slow swallow, ‘that her husband should stop swilling tittery, and stick to French and Califrench wines — after that little stroke he had. I met him in town recently, near Mad Avenue, saw him walking toward me quite normally, but then as he caught sight of me, a block away, the clockwork began slowing down and he stopped — oh, helplessly! — before he reached me. That’s hardly normal. Okay. Let our sweethearts never meet, as we used to say, up at Chose. Only Yukonians think cognac is bad for the liver, because they have nothing but vodka. Well, I’m glad you get along so well with Ada. That’s fine. A moment ago, in that gallery, I ran into a remarkably pretty soubrette. She never once raised her lashes and answered in French when I — Please, my boy, move that screen a little, that’s right, the stab of a sunset, especially from under a thunderhead, is not for my poor eyes. Or poor ventricles. Do you like the type, Van — the bowed little head, the bare neck, the high heels, the trot, the wiggle, you do, don’t you?’

‘Well, sir —’

(Tell him I’m the youngest Venutian? Does he belong, too? Show the sign? Better not. Invent.)

‘— Well, I’m resting after my torrid affair, in London, with my tango-partner whom you saw me dance with when you flew over for that last show — remember?’

‘Indeed, I do. Curious, you calling it that.’

‘I think, sir, you’ve had enough brandy.’

‘Sure, sure,’ said Demon, wrestling with a subtle question which only the ineptitude of a kindred conjecture had crowded out of Marina’s mind, granted it could have entered by some back door; for ineptitude is always synonymous with multitude, and nothing is fuller than an empty mind.

‘Naturally,’ continued Demon, ‘there is a good deal to be said for a restful summer in the country...’

‘Open-air life and all that,’ said Van.

‘It is incredible that a young boy should control his father’s liquor intake,’ remarked Demon, pouring himself a fourth shallow. ‘On the other hand,’ he went on, nursing the thin-stemmed, gold-rimmed cup, ‘open-air life may be pretty bleak without a summer romance, and not many decent girls haunt the neighborhood, I agree. There was that lovely Erminin girl, une petite juive très aristocratique, but I understand she’s engaged. By the way, the de Prey woman tells me her son has enlisted and will soon be taking part in that deplorable business abroad which our country should have ignored. I wonder if he leaves any rivals behind?’

‘Goodness no,’ replied honest Van. ‘Ada is a serious young lady. She has no beaux — except me, ça va seins durs. Now who, who, who, Dad, who said that for "sans dire"?’

‘Oh! King Wing! When I wanted to know how he liked his French wife. Well, that’s fine news about Ada. She likes horses, you say?’

‘She likes,’ said Van, ‘what all our belles like — balls, orchids, and The Cherry Orchard.’ (1.38)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): antranou etc.: Russian mispronunciation of Fr. entre nous soit dit, between you and me.

filius aqua: ‘son of water’, bad pun on filum aquae, the middle way, ‘the thread of the stream’.

une petite juive etc.: a very aristocratic little Jewess.

ça va: it goes.

seins durs: mispronunciation of sans dire ‘without saying’.


The Ardis tap water seems to foreshadow Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge (Van’s adversary in a pistol duel):


A pine forest fizzled out and factory chimneys replaced it. The train clattered past a roundhouse, and slowed down, groaning. A hideous station darkened the day.

‘Good Lord,’ cried Van, ‘that’s my stop.’

He put money on the table, kissed Cordula’s willing lips and made for the exit. Upon reaching the vestibule he glanced back at her with a wave of the glove he held — and crashed into somebody who had stooped to pick up a bag: ‘On n’est pas goujat à ce point,’ observed the latter: a burly military man with a reddish mustache and a staff captain’s insignia.

Van brushed past him, and when both had come down on the platform, glove-slapped him smartly across the face.

The captain picked up his cap and lunged at the white-faced, black-haired young fop. Simultaneously Van felt somebody embrace him from behind in well-meant but unfair restraint. Not bothering to turn his head he abolished the invisible busybody with a light ‘piston blow’ delivered by the left elbow, while he sent the captain staggering back into his own luggage with one crack of the right hand. By now several free-show amateurs had gathered around them; so, breaking their circle, Van took his man by the arm and marched him into the waiting room. A comically gloomy porter with a copiously bleeding nose came in after them carrying the captain’s three bags, one of them under his arm. Cubistic labels of remote and fabulous places color-blotted the newer of the valises. Visiting cards were exchanged. ‘Demon’s son?’ grunted Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, Kalugano. ‘Correct,’ said Van. ‘I’ll put up, I guess, at the Majestic; if not, a note will be left for your second or seconds. You’ll have to get me one, I can’t very well ask the concierge to do it.’

While speaking thus, Van chose a twenty dollar piece from a palmful of gold, and gave it with a grin to the damaged old porter. ‘Yellow cotton,’ Van added: ‘Up each nostril. Sorry, chum.’

With his hands in his trouser pockets, he crossed the square to the hotel, causing a motor car to swerve stridently on the damp asphalt. He left it standing transom-wise in regard to its ordained course, and clawed his way through the revolving door of the hotel, feeling if not happier, at least more buoyant, than he had within the last twelve hours. (1.42)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): on n’est pas etc: what scurvy behavior.

Tapper: ‘Wild Violet’, as well as ‘Birdfoot’ (p.242), reflects the ‘pansy’ character of Van’s adversary and of the two seconds.


According to VN, the first homosexuals in world literature were described by Tolstoy in Anna Karenin (Part Two, chapter 19) where he depicts two officers of Vronski's regiment. On the other hand, ‘Wild Violet’ brings to mind Violet Knox, old Van's typist whom Ada calls Fialochka (little Violet) and who marries Ronald Oranger (old Van's secretary, the editor of Ada) after Van's and Ada's death.


On the night before his duel with Tapper Van dreams of Bouteillan (the French butler at Ardis) who explains to Van that the ‘dor’ in the name of an adored river (Ladore) equals the corruptary tion of hydro in ‘dorophone:’


Van was roused by the night porter who put a cup of coffee with a local ‘eggbun’ on his bedside table, and expertly palmed the expected chervonetz. He resembled somewhat Bouteillan as the latter had been ten years ago and as he had appeared in a dream, which Van now retrostructed as far as it would go: in it Demon’s former valet explained to Van that the ‘dor’ in the name of an adored river equaled the corruption of hydro in ‘dorophone.’ Van often had word dreams.

He shaved, disposed of two blood-stained safety blades by leaving them in a massive bronze ashtray, had a structurally perfect stool, took a quick bath, briskly dressed, left his bag with the concierge, paid his bill and at six punctually squeezed himself next to blue-chinned and malodorous Johnny into the latter’s Paradox, a cheap ‘semi-racer.’ For two or three miles they skirted the dismal bank of the lake — coal piles, shacks, boathouses, a long strip of black pebbly mud and, in the distance, over the curving bank of autumnally misted water, the tawny fumes of tremendous factories.

‘Where are we now, Johnny dear?’ asked Van as they swung out of the lake’s orbit and sped along a suburban avenue with clapboard cottages among laundry-lined pines.

‘Dorofey Road,’ cried the driver above the din of the motor. ‘It abuts at the forest.’

It abutted. Van felt a faint twinge in his knee where he had hit it against a stone when attacked from behind a week ago, in another wood. At the moment his foot touched the pine-needle strewn earth of the forest road, a transparent white butterfly floated past, and with utter certainty Van knew that he had only a few minutes to live. (ibid.)


In Kurochkin’s fable Vorchun Dorofey (“The Grumbler Dorofey,” 1860) Dorofey is the name of the author’s conscience. In Chapter Four (“The Life of Chernyshevski”) of VN's novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Fyodor mentions Kurochkin:


Чернышевский приходил, садился за столик и пристукивая ладьей (которую называл "пушкой"), рассказывал невинные анекдоты. Приходил Серно-Соловьевич (тургеневское тире) и в уединённом углу заводил с кем-нибудь беседу. Было довольно пусто. Пьющая братия -- Помяловский, Курочкин, Кроль -- горланила в буфете. Первый, впрочем, кое-что проповедовал и своё: идею общинного литературного труда, -- организовать, мол, общество писателей-труженников для исследования разных сторон нашего общественного быта, как то: нищие, мелочные лавки, фонарщики, пожарные -- и все добытые сведения помещать в особом журнале. Чернышевский его высмеял, и пошёл вздорный слух, что Помяловский "бил ему морду". "Это враньё, я слишком вас уважаю для этого",-- писал к нему Помяловский.


Chernyshevski would come and sit at a table, tapping upon it with a rook (which he called a “castle”), and relate innocuous anecdotes. The radical Serno—Solovievich would arrive—(this is a Turgenevian dash) and strike up a conversation with someone in a secluded corner. It was fairly empty. The drinking fraternity—the minor writers Pomyalovski, Kurochkin, Krol—would vociferate in the bar. The first, by the way, did a little preaching of his own, promoting the idea of communal literary work—“Let’s organize,” he said, “a society of writer-laborers for investigating various aspects of our social life, such as: beggars, haberdashers, lamplighters, firemen—and pool in a special magazine all the material we get.” Chernyshevski derided him and a silly rumor went around to the effect that Pomyalovski had “bashed his mug in.” “It’s all lies, I respect you too much for that,” wrote Pomyalovski to him.