pied cheat & dappled tree in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 06/20/2022 - 08:34

When they cross the Atlantic on Admiral Tobakoff, Lucette (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) tells Van that she would consider herself a pied cheat if the small parts she conceals in public were not of the same color as those on show:


They met again in the afternoon.

To most of the Tobakoff’s first-class passengers the afternoon of June 4, 1901, in the Atlantic, on the meridian of Iceland and the latitude of Ardis, seemed little conducive to open air frolics: the fervor of its cobalt sky kept being cut by glacial gusts, and the wash of an old-fashioned swimming pool rhythmically flushed the green tiles, but Lucette was a hardy girl used to bracing winds no less than to the detestable sun. Spring in Fialta and a torrid May on Minataor, the famous artificial island, had given a nectarine hue to her limbs, which looked lacquered with it when wet, but re-evolved their natural bloom as the breeze dried her skin. With glowing cheekbones and that glint of copper showing from under her tight rubber cap on nape and forehead, she evoked the Helmeted Angel of the Yukonsk Ikon whose magic effect was said to change anemic blond maidens into konskie deti, freckled red-haired lads, children of the Sun Horse.

She returned after a brief swim to the sun terrace where Van lay and said:

‘You can’t imagine’ — (‘I can imagine anything,’ he insisted) — ‘you can imagine, okay, what oceans of lotions and streams of creams I am compelled to use — in the privacy of my balconies or in desolate sea caves — before I can exhibit myself to the elements. I always teeter on the tender border between sunburn and suntan — or between lobster and Obst as writes Herb, my beloved painter — I’m reading his diary published by his last duchess, it’s in three mixed languages and lovely, I’ll lend it to you. You see, darling, I’d consider myself a pied cheat if the small parts I conceal in public were not of the same color as those on show.’

‘You looked to me kind of sandy allover when you were inspected in 1892,’ said Van.

‘I’m a brand-new girl now,’ she whispered. ‘A happy new girl. Alone with you on an abandoned ship, with ten days at least till my next flow. I sent you a silly note to Kingston, just in case you didn’t turn up.’

They were now reclining on a poolside mat face to face, in symmetrical attitudes, he leaning his head on his right hand, she propped on her left elbow. The strap of her green breast-cups had slipped down her slender arm, disclosing drops and streaks of water at the base of one nipple. An abyss of a few inches separated the jersey he wore from her bare midriff, the black wool of his trunks from her soaked green pubic mask. The sun glazed her hipbone; a shadowed dip led to the five-year-old trace of an appendectomy. Her half-veiled gaze dwelt upon him with heavy, opaque greed, and she was right, they were really quite alone, he had possessed Marion Armborough behind her uncle’s back in much more complex circumstances, what with the motorboat jumping like a flying fish and his host keeping a shotgun near the steering wheel. Joylessly, he felt the stout snake of desire weightily unwind; grimly, he regretted not having exhausted the fiend in Villa Venus. He accepted the touch of her blind hand working its way up his thigh and cursed nature for having planted a gnarled tree bursting with vile sap within a man’s crotch. Suddenly Lucette drew away, exhaling a genteel ‘merde.’ Eden was full of people. (3.5)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Obst: Germ., fruit.


“A pied cheat” hints at the hero of Browning’s poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1842). But it also brings to mind Hopkins’ poem Pied Beauty (1877):


Glory be to God for dappled things –

   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.


All things counter, original, spare, strange;

   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                                Praise him.


“Dappled things” in Hopkins’ poem and a gnarled tree that nature planted within a man’s crotch make one think of “that dappled tree” (as Van calls the Tree of Knowledge that grows in Ardis):


After the first contact, so light, so mute, between his soft lips and her softer skin had been established — high up in that dappled tree, with only that stray ardilla daintily leavesdropping — nothing seemed changed in one sense, all was lost in another. Such-contacts evolve their own texture; a tactile sensation is a blind spot; we touch in silhouette. Henceforth, at certain moments of their otherwise indolent days, in certain recurrent circumstances of controlled madness, a secret sign was erected, a veil drawn between him and her —

(Ada: They are now practically extinct at Ardis. Van: Who? Oh, I see.)

— not to be removed until he got rid of what the necessity of dissimulation kept degrading to the level of a wretched itch.

(Och, Van!)

He could not say afterwards, when discussing with her that rather pathetic nastiness, whether he really feared that his avournine (as Blanche was to refer later, in her bastard French, to Ada) might react with an outburst of real or well-feigned resentment to a stark display of desire, or whether a glum, cunning approach was dictated to him by considerations of pity and decency toward a chaste child, whose charm was too compelling not to be tasted in secret and too sacred to be openly violated; but something went wrong — that much was clear. The vague commonplaces of vague modesty so dreadfully in vogue eighty years ago, the unsufferable banalities of shy wooing buried in old romances as arch as Arcady, those moods, those modes, lurked no doubt behind the hush of his ambuscades, and that of her toleration. No record has remained of the exact summer day when his wary and elaborate coddlings began; but simultaneously with her sensing that at certain moments he stood indecently close behind her, with his burning breath and gliding lips, she was aware that those silent, exotic approximations must have started long ago in some indefinite and infinite past, and could no longer be stopped by her, without her acknowledging a tacit acceptance of their routine repetition in that past. (1.16)


According to Ada, the Tree of Knowledge was imported to Ardis from the Eden National Park:


One afternoon they were climbing the glossy-limbed shattal tree at the bottom of the garden. Mlle Larivière and little Lucette, screened by a caprice of the coppice but just within earshot, were playing grace hoops. One glimpsed now and then, above or through the foliage, the skimming hoop passing from one unseen sending stick to another. The first cicada of the season kept trying out its instrument. A silver-and-sable skybab squirrel sat sampling a cone on the back of a bench.

Van, in blue gym suit, having worked his way up to a fork just under his agile playmate (who naturally was better acquainted with the tree’s intricate map) but not being able to see her face, betokened mute communication by taking her ankle between finger and thumb as she would have a closed butterfly. Her bare foot slipped, and the two panting youngsters tangled ignominiously among the branches, in a shower of drupes and leaves, clutching at each other, and the next moment, as they regained a semblance of balance, his expressionless face and cropped head were between her legs and a last fruit fell with a thud — the dropped dot of an inverted exclamation point. She was wearing his wristwatch and a cotton frock.


‘Yes, of course, I remember: you kissed me here, on the inside —’

‘And you started to strangle me with those devilish knees of yours —’

‘I was seeking some sort of support.’)

That might have been true, but according to a later (considerably later!) version they were still in the tree, and still glowing, when Van removed a silk thread of larva web from his lip and remarked that such negligence of attire was a form of hysteria.

‘Well,’ answered Ada, straddling her favorite limb, ‘as we all know by now, Mlle La Rivière de Diamants has nothing against a hysterical little girl’s not wearing pantalets during l’ardeur de la canicule.’

‘I refuse to share the ardor of your little canicule with an apple tree.’

‘It is really the Tree of Knowledge — this specimen was imported last summer wrapped up in brocade from the Eden National Park where Dr Krolik’s son is a ranger and breeder.’

‘Let him range and breed by all means,’ said Van (her natural history had long begun to get on his nerves), ‘but I swear no apple trees grow in Iraq.’

‘Right, but that’s not a true apple tree.’ (1.15)


In Browning's poem the Piper tells the Mayor that he has promised to visit by dinner time Bagdat (the capital of Iraq):


The Piper's face fell, and he cried,

No trifling! I can't wait, beside!

I've promised to visit by dinner time

Bagdat, and accept the prime

Of the Head Cook's pottage, all he's rich in,

For having left, in the Caliph's kitchen,

Of a nest of scorpions no survivor —

With him I proved no bargain-driver,

With you, don't think I'll bate a stiver!

And folks who put me in a passion

May find me pipe after another fashion.


The Caliph's kitchen brings to mind Van's and Ada's little Caliph island:


Artistically éventail-ed all on one page were seven fotochki (diminutive stills) taken within as many minutes — from a fairly distant lurk — in a setting of tall grass, wild flowers, and overhanging foliage. Its shade, and the folly of peduncles, delicately camouflaged the basic details, suggesting little more than a tussle between two incompletely clad children.

In the central miniature, Ada’s only limb in sight was her thin arm holding aloft, in a static snatch, like a banner, her discarded dress above the daisy-starred grass. The magnifier (now retrieved from under the bed sheet) clearly showed, topping the daisies in an upper picture, the type of tight-capped toadstool called in Scots law (ever since witching was banned) ‘the Lord of Erection.’ Another interesting plant, Marvel’s Melon, imitating the backside of an occupied lad, could be made out in the floral horizon of a third photo. In the next three stills la force des choses (‘the fever of intercourse’) had sufficiently disturbed the lush herbage to allow one to distinguish the details of a tangled composition consisting of clumsy Romany clips and illegal nelsons. Finally, in the last picture, the lower one in the fanlike sequence, Ada was represented by her two hands rearranging her hair while her Adam stood over her, a frond or inflorescence veiling his thigh with the deliberate casualness of an Old Master’s device to keep Eden chaste.

In an equally casual tone of voice Van said: ‘Darling, you smoke too much, my belly is covered with your ashes. I suppose Bouteillan knows Professor Beauharnais’s exact address in the Athens of Graphic Arts.’

‘You shall not slaughter him,’ said Ada. ‘He is subnormal, he is, perhaps, blackmailerish, but in his sordidity, there is an istoshnïy ston (‘visceral moan’) of crippled art. Furthermore, this page is the only really naughty one. And let’s not forget that a copperhead of eight was also ambushed in the brush’.

‘Art my foute. This is the hearse of ars, a toilet roll of the Carte du Tendre! I’m sorry you showed it to me. That ape has vulgarized our own mind-pictures. I will either horsewhip his eyes out or redeem our childhood by making a book of it: Ardis, a family chronicle.’

‘Oh do!’ said Ada (skipping another abominable glimpse — apparently, through a hole in the boards of the attic). ‘Look, here’s our little Caliph Island!’

‘I don’t want to look any more. I suspect you find that filth titillating. Some nuts get a kick from motor-bikini comics.’

‘Please, Van, do glance! These are our willows, remember?’

‘"The castle bathed by the Adour:

The guidebooks recommend that tour."’

‘It happens to be the only one in color. The willows look sort of greenish because the twigs are greenish, but actually they are leafless here, it’s early spring, and you can see our red boat Souvenance through the rushes. And here’s the last one: Kim’s apotheosis of Ardis.’

he entire staff stood in several rows on the steps of the pillared porch behind the Bank President Baroness Veen and the Vice President Ida Larivière. Those two were flanked by the two prettiest typists, Blanche de la Tourberie (ethereal, tearstained, entirely adorable) and a black girl who had been hired, a few days before Van’s departure, to help French, who towered rather sullenly above her in the second row, the focal point of which was Bouteillan, still wearing the costume sport he had on when driving off with Van (that picture had been muffed or omitted). On the butler’s right side stood three footmen; on his left, Bout (who had valeted Van), the fat, flour-pale cook (Blanche’s father) and, next to French, a terribly tweedy gentleman with sightseeing strappings athwart one shoulder: actually (according to Ada), a tourist, who, having come all the way from England to see Bryant’s Castle, had bicycled up the wrong road and was, in the picture, under the impression of accidentally being conjoined to a group of fellow tourists who were visiting some other old manor quite worth inspecting too. The back rows consisted of less distinguished menservants and scullions, as well as of gardeners, stableboys, coachmen, shadows of columns, maids of maids, aids, laundresses, dresses, recesses — getting less and less distinct as in those bank ads where limited little employees dimly dimidiated by more fortunate shoulders, but still asserting themselves, still smile in the process of humble dissolve.

‘Isn’t that wheezy Jones in the second row? I always liked the old fellow.’

‘No,’ answered Ada, ‘that’s Price. Jones came four years later. He is now a prominent policeman in Lower Ladore. Well, that’s all.’

Nonchalantly, Van went back to the willows and said:

‘Every shot in the book has been snapped in 1884, except this one. I never rowed you down Ladore River in early spring. Nice to note you have not lost your wonderful ability to blush.’

‘It’s his error. He must have thrown in a fotochka taken later, maybe in 1888. We can rip it out if you like.’

‘Sweetheart,’ said Van, ‘the whole of 1888 has been ripped out. One need not bb a sleuth in a mystery story to see that at least as many pages have been removed as retained. don’t mind — I mean have no desire to see the Knabenkräuter and other pendants of your friends botanizing with you; but 1888 has been withheld and he’ll turn up with it when the first grand is spent.’

‘I destroyed 1888 myself,’ admitted proud Ada; ‘but I swear, I solemnly swear, that the man behind Blanche, in the perron picture, was, and has always remained, a complete stranger.’

‘Good for him,’ said Van. ‘Really it has no importance. It’s our entire past that has been spoofed and condemned. On second thoughts, I will not write that Family Chronicle. By the way, where is my poor little Blanche now?’

‘Oh, she’s all right. She’s still around. You know, she came back — after you abducted her. She married our Russian coachman, the one who replaced Bengal Ben, as the servants called him.’

‘Oh she did? That’s delicious. Madame Trofim Fartukov. I would never have thought it.’

‘They have a blind child,’ said Ada.

‘Love is blind,’ said Van.

‘She tells me you made a pass at her on the first morning of your first arrival.’

‘Not documented by Kim,’ said Van. ‘Will their child remain blind? I mean, did you get them a really first-rate physician?’

‘Oh yes, hopelessly blind. But speaking of love and its myths, do you realize — because I never did before talking to her a couple of years ago — that the people around our affair had very good eyes indeed? Forget Kim, he’s only the necessary clown — but do you realize that a veritable legend was growing around you and me while we played and made love?’ (2.7)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): éventail: fan.

fotochki: Russ., little photos.

foute: French swear word made to sound ‘foot’.

ars: Lat., art.

Carte du Tendre: ‘Map of Tender Love’, sentimental allegory of the seventeenth century.

Knabenkräuter: Germ., orchids (and testicles).

perron: porch.


Van blinds Kim Beauharnais (the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who spies on Van and Ada and attempts to blackmail Ada) with an alpenstock (2.11). 'The Blind man to the maiden said' is a poem by Robert Browning:


The blind man to the maiden said:
" O thou of hearts the truest,
Thy countenance is hid from me;
Let not my questions anger thee!
Speak, though in words the fewest!

" Tell me what kind of eyes are thine?
Dark eyes, or light ones rather?"
" My eyes are a decided brown
So much, at least — by looking down —
From the brook's glass I gather."

" And is it red — thy little mouth?
That too the blind must care for!"
" Ah, I would tell that soon to thee,
Only — none yet has told it me.
I cannot answer, therefore!

" But dost thou ask what heart I have
There hesitate I never!
In thine own breast 'tis borne, and so
'Tis thine in weal and thine in woe
For life, for death, — thine ever!"


In his poem 'My own heart let me more have pity on' Hopkins mentions blind eyes:


My own heart let me more have pity on; let

Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,

Charitable; not live this tormented mind

With this tormented mind tormenting yet.

I cast for comfort I can no more get

By groping round my comfortless, than blind

Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find

Thirst's all-in-all in all a world of wet.


Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise

You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile

Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size

At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile'

s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather — as skies

Betweenpie mountains — lights a lovely mile.


In his poem Spring (1877) Hopkins mentions Eden garden:


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         

   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         

   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush         

   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush         

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.         


What is all this juice and all this joy?         

   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,         

   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,         

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,         

   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.


Hopkins’ poems are written in sprung rhythm (designed to imitate the rhythm of natural speech). Van’s angelic tutor Aksakov writes ‘decadent’ Russian verse in sprung rhythm:


At the third or fourth meal Van also realized something. Far from being a bright lass showing off for the benefit of a newcomer, Ada’s behavior was a desperate and rather clever attempt to prevent Marina from appropriating the conversation and transforming it into a lecture on the theater. Marina, on the other hand, while awaiting a chance to trot out her troika of hobby horses, took some professional pleasure in playing the hackneyed part of a fond mother, proud of her daughter’s charm and humor, and herself charmingly and humorously lenient toward their brash circumstantiality: she was showing off — not Ada! And when Van had understood the true situation, he would take advantage of a pause (which Marina was on the point of filling with some choice Stanislavskiana) to launch Ada upon the troubled waters of Botany Bay, a voyage which at other times he dreaded, but which now proved to be the safest and easiest course for his girl. This was particularly important at dinner, since Lucette and her governess had an earlier evening meal upstairs, so that Mlle Larivière was not there, at those critical moments, and could not be relied on to take over from lagging Ada with a breezy account of her work on a new novella of her composition (her famous Diamond Necklace was in the last polishing stage) or with memories of Van’s early boyhood such as those eminently acceptable ones concerning his beloved Russian tutor, who gently courted Mlle L., wrote ‘decadent’ Russian verse in sprung rhythm, and drank, in Russian solitude. (1.10)


In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert mentions stippled Hopkins (an allusion to “rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim” in Hopkins’ Pied Beauty):


And I have still other smothered memories, now unfolding themselves into limbless monsters of pain. Once, in a sunset-ending street of Beardsley, she turned to little Eva Rosen (I was taking both nymphets to a concert and walking behind them so close as almost to touch them with my person), she turned to Eva, and so very serenely and seriously, in answer to something the other had said about its being better to die than hear Milton Pinski, some local schoolboy she knew, talk about music, my Lolita remarked:

“You know, what’s so dreadful about dying is that you are completely on your own”; and it struck me, as my automaton knees went up and down, that I simply did not know a thing about my darling’s mind and that quite possibly, behind the awful juvenile clichés, there was in her a garden and a twilight, and a palace gate - dim and adorable regions which happened to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to me, in my polluted rags and miserable convulsions; for I often noticed that living as we did, she and I, in a world of total evil, we would become strangely embarrassed whenever I tried to discuss something she and an older friend, she and a parent, she and a real healthy sweetheart, I and Annabel, Lolita and a sublime, purified, analyzed, deified Harold Haze, might have discussed - an abstract idea, a painting, stippled Hopkins or shorn Baudelaire, God or Shakespeare, anything of genuine kind. Good will! She would mail her vulnerability in trite brashness and boredom, whereas I, using for my desperately detached comments an artificial tone of voice that set my own last teeth on edge, provoked my audience to such outbursts of rudeness as made any further conversation impossible, oh my poor, bruised child. (2.32)


Deified Harold Haze is Lolita’s father. Ada wonders what would eyes mean to a creature from another corpuscle or milk bubble whose organ of sight was an internal parasite resembling the written word ‘deified:’


The eyes. Ada’s dark brown eyes. What (Ada asks) are eyes anyway? Two holes in the mask of life. What (she asks) would they mean to a creature from another corpuscle or milk bubble whose organ of sight was (say) an internal parasite resembling the written word ‘deified’? What, indeed, would a pair of beautiful (human, lemurian, owlish) eyes mean to anybody if found lying on the seat of a taxi? Yet I have to describe yours. The iris: black brown with amber specks or spokes placed around the serious pupil in a dial arrangement of identical hours. The eyelids: sort of pleaty, v skladochku (rhyming in Russian with the diminutive of her name in the accusative case). Eye shape: languorous. The procuress in Wicklow, on that satanic night of black sleet, at the most tragic and almost fatal point of my life (Van, thank goodness, is ninety now — in Ada’s hand) dwelt with peculiar force on the ‘long eyes’ of her pathetic and adorable grandchild. How I used to seek, with what tenacious anguish, traces and tokens of my unforgettable love in all the brothels of the world! (1.17)


Like eye, oko (archaic Russian for “eye”) and ojo (Spanish for “eye”), deified is a palindrome. One of the three Spanish words that Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) knows is an anatomical term with a ‘j’ hanging in the middle:


For some odd reason both children were relieved to learn that a stranger was expected to dinner. He was an Andalusian architect whom Uncle Dan wanted to plan an ‘artistic’ swimming pool for Ardis Manor. Uncle Dan had intended to come, too, with an interpreter, but had caught the Russian ‘hrip’ (Spanish flu) instead, and had phoned Marina asking her to be very nice to good old Alonso.

‘You must help me!’ Marina told the children with a worried frown.

‘I could show him a copy, perhaps,’ said Ada, turning to Van, ‘of an absolutely fantastically lovely nature morte by Juan de Labrador of Extremadura — golden grapes and a strange rose against a black background. Dan sold it to Demon, and Demon has promised to give it to me on my fifteenth birthday.’

‘We also have some Zurbarán fruit,’ said Van smugly. ‘Tangerines, I believe, and a fig of sorts, with a wasp upon it. Oh, we’ll dazzle the old boy with shop talk!’

They did not. Alonso, a tiny wizened man in a double-breasted tuxedo, spoke only Spanish, while the sum of Spanish words his hosts knew scarcely exceeded half a dozen. Van had canastilla (a little basket), and nubarrones (thunderclouds), which both came from an en regard translation of a lovely Spanish poem in one of his schoolbooks. Ada remembered, of course, mariposa, butterfly, and the names of two or three birds (listed in ornithological guides) such as paloma, pigeon, or grevol, hazel hen. Marina knew aroma and hombre, and an anatomical term with a ‘j’ hanging in the middle. In consequence, the table-talk consisted of long lumpy Spanish phrases pronounced very loud by the voluble architect who thought he was dealing with very deaf people, and of a smatter of French, intentionally but vainly italianized by his victims. Once the difficult dinner over, Alonso investigated by the light of three torches held by two footmen a possible site for an expensive pool, put the plan of the grounds back into his briefcase, and after kissing by mistake Ada’s hand in the dark, hastened away to catch the last southbound train. (1.6)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): lovely Spanish poem: really two poems — Jorge Guillén’s Descanso en jardin and his El otono: isla).


An anatomical term with a ‘j’ hanging in the middle is cojon (Spanish for “testicle”). During his first visit to Villa Venus (Eric Veen’s floramors) Van meets Alonso’s daughter:


I have frequented bordels since my sixteenth year, but although some of the better ones, especially in France and Ireland, rated a triple red symbol in Nugg’s guidebook, nothing about them pre-announced the luxury and mollitude of my first Villa Venus. It was the difference between a den and an Eden.

Three Egyptian squaws, dutifully keeping in profile (long ebony eye, lovely snub, braided black mane, honey-hued faro frock, thin amber arms, Negro bangles, doughnut earring of gold bisected by a pleat of the mane, Red Indian hairband, ornamental bib), lovingly borrowed by Eric Veen from a reproduction of a Theban fresco (no doubt pretty banal in 1420 B.C.), printed in Germany (Künstlerpostkarte Nr. 6034, says cynical Dr Lagosse), prepared me by means of what parched Eric called ‘exquisite manipulations of certain nerves whose position and power are known only to a few ancient sexologists,’ accompanied by the no less exquisite application of certain ointments, not too specifically mentioned in the pornolore of Eric’s Orientalia, for receiving a scared little virgin, the descendant of an Irish king, as Eric was told in his last dream in Ex, Switzerland, by a master of funerary rather than fornicatory ceremonies.

Those preparations proceeded in such sustained, unendurably delicious rhythms that Eric dying in his sleep and Van throbbing with foul life on a rococo couch (three miles south of Bedford) could not imagine how those three young ladies, now suddenly divested of their clothes (a well-known oneirotic device), could manage to draw out a prelude that kept one so long on the very lip of its resolution. I lay supine and felt twice the size I had ever been (senescent nonsense, says science!) when finally six gentle hands attempted to ease la gosse, trembling Adada, upon the terrible tool. Silly pity — a sentiment I rarely experience — caused my desire to droop, and I had her carried away to a feast of peach tarts and cream. The Egypsies looked disconcerted, but very soon perked up. I summoned all the twenty hirens of the house (including the sweet-lipped, glossy chinned darling) into my resurrected presence. After considerable examination, after much flattering of haunches and necks, I chose a golden Gretchen, a pale Andalusian, and a black belle from New Orleans. The handmaids pounced upon them like pards and, having empasmed them with not unlesbian zest, turned the three rather melancholy graces over to me. The towel given me to wipe off the sweat that filmed my face and stung my eyes could have been cleaner. I raised my voice, I had the reluctant accursed casement wrenched wide open. A lorry had got stuck in the mud of a forbidden and unfinished road, and its groans and exertions dissipated the bizarre gloom. Only one of the girls stung me right in the soul, but I went through all three of them grimly and leisurely, ‘changing mounts in midstream’ (Eric’s advice) before ending every time in the grip of the ardent Ardillusian, who said as we parted, after one last spasm (although non-erotic chitchat was against the rules), that her father had constructed the swimming pool on the estate of Demon Veen’s cousin. (2.3)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Künstlerpostkarte: Germ., art picture postcards.

la gosse: the little girl.


Describing his novel Letters from Terra, Van mentions his ribald physician Professor Lagosse:


The only other compliment was paid to poor Voltemand in a little Manhattan magazine (The Village Eyebrow) by the poet Max Mispel (another botanical name — ‘medlar’ in English), member of the German Department at Goluba University. Herr Mispel, who liked to air his authors, discerned in Letters from Terra the influence of Osberg (Spanish writer of pretentious fairy tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes, highly esteemed by short-shift thesialists) as well as that of an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine, thus transliterated by Captain de Roux, according to Burton in his adaptation of Nefzawi’s treatise on the best method of mating with obese or hunchbacked females (The Perfumed Garden, Panther edition, p.187, a copy given to ninety-three-year-old Baron Van Veen by his ribald physician Professor Lagosse). His critique ended as follows: ‘If Mr Voltemand (or Voltimand or Mandalatov) is a psychiatrist, as I think he might be, then I pity his patients, while admiring his talent.’ (2.2)


On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) VN’s Lolita is known as The Gitanilla, a novel by the Spanish writer Osberg:


For the big picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday and Ida’s forty-second jour de fête, the child was permitted to wear her lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg’s novel and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish ‘t,’ not a thick English one), a rather long, but very airy and ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies, ‘deficient in botanical reality,’ as she grandly expressed it, not yet knowing that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of this, and only this, dream.

(Nor did you, wise Van. Her note.)

She had stepped into it, naked, while her legs were still damp and ‘piney’ after a special rubbing with a washcloth (morning baths being unknown under Mlle Larivière’s regime) and pulled it on with a brisk jiggle of the hips which provoked her governess’s familiar rebuke: mais ne te trémousse pas comme ça quand tu mets ta jupe! Une petite fille de bonne maison, etc. Per contra, the omission of panties was ignored by Ida Larivière, a bosomy woman of great and repulsive beauty (in nothing but corset and gartered stockings at the moment) who was not above making secret concessions to the heat of the dog-days herself; but in tender Ada’s case the practice had deprecable effects. The child tried to assuage the rash in the sort arch, with all its accompaniment of sticky, itchy, not altogether unpleasurable sensations, by tightly straddling the cool limb of a Shattal apple tree, much to Van’s disgust as we shall see more than once. Besides the lolita, she wore a short-sleeved white black-striped jersey, a floppy hat (hanging behind her back from an elastic around her throat), a velvet hairband and a pair of old sandals. Neither hygiene, nor sophistication of taste, were, as Van kept observing, typical of the Ardis household. (1.13)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Osberg: another good-natured anagram, scrambling the name of a writer with whom the author of Lolita has been rather comically compared. Incidentally, that title’s pronunciation has nothing to do with English or Russian (pace an anonymous owl in a recent issue of the TLS).

mais ne te etc.: now don’t fidget like that when you put on your skirt! A well-bred little girl...


In Don Juan’s Last Fling, the movie that Van and Lucette watch in the Tobakoff cinema hall, Ada played the gitanilla:


The main picture had now started. The three leading parts — cadaverous Don Juan, paunchy Leporello on his donkey, and not too irresistible, obviously forty-year-old Donna Anna — were played by solid stars, whose images passed by in ‘semi-stills,’ or as some say ‘translucencies,’ in a brief introduction. Contrary to expectations, the picture turned out to be quite good.

On the way to the remote castle where the difficult lady, widowed by his sword, has finally promised him a long night of love in her chaste and chilly chamber, the aging libertine nurses his potency by spurning the advances of a succession of robust belles. A gitana predicts to the gloomy cavalier that before reaching the castle he will have succumbed to the wiles of her sister, Dolores, a dancing girl (lifted from Osberg’s novella, as was to be proved in the ensuing lawsuit). She also predicted something to Van, for even before Dolores came out of the circus tent to water Juan’s horse, Van knew who she would be.

In the magic rays of the camera, in the controlled delirium of ballerina grace, ten years of her life had glanced off and she was again that slip of a girl qui n’en porte pas (as he had jested once to annoy her governess by a fictitious Frenchman’s mistranslation): a remembered triviality that intruded upon the chill of his present emotion with the jarring stupidity of an innocent stranger’s asking an absorbed voyeur for directions in a labyrinth of mean lanes.

Lucette recognized Ada three or four seconds later, but then clutched his wrist:

‘Oh, how awful! It was bound to happen. That’s she! Let’s go, please, let’s go. You must not see her debasing herself. She’s terribly made up, every gesture is childish and wrong —’

‘Just another minute,’ said Van.

Terrible? Wrong? She was absolutely perfect, and strange, and poignantly familiar. By some stroke of art, by some enchantment of chance, the few brief scenes she was given formed a perfect compendium of her 1884 and 1888 and 1892 looks.

The gitanilla bends her head over the live table of Leporello’s servile back to trace on a scrap of parchment a rough map of the way to the castle. Her neck shows white through her long black hair separated by the motion of her shoulder. It is no longer another man’s Dolores, but a little girl twisting an aquarelle brush in the paint of Van’s blood, and Donna Anna’s castle is now a bog flower.

The Don rides past three windmills, whirling black against an ominous sunset, and saves her from the miller who accuses her of stealing a fistful of flour and tears her thin dress. Wheezy but still game, Juan carries her across a brook (her bare toe acrobatically tickling his face) and sets her down, top up, on the turf of an olive grove. Now they stand facing each other. She fingers voluptuously the jeweled pommel of his sword, she rubs her firm girl belly against his embroidered tights, and all at once the grimace of a premature spasm writhes across the poor Don’s expressive face. He angrily disentangles himself and staggers back to his steed. (3.5)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): slip: Fr., panties.