Greg's sob of admiration, Cuba & Hecuba in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 08/10/2022 - 10:22

When Ada recites her revised monologue of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Greg Erminin exclaims ‘Oh, that’s good:’


‘Et pourtant,’ said the sound-sensitive governess, wincing, ‘I read to her twice Ségur’s adaptation in fable form of Shakespeare’s play about the wicked usurer.’

‘She also knows my revised monologue of his mad king,’ said Ada:


Ce beau jardin fleurit en mai,

Mais en hiver

Jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais

N’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert,

n’est vert.


‘Oh, that’s good,’ exclaimed Greg with a veritable sob of admiration. (1.14)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): et pourtant: and yet.

ce beau jardin etc.: This beautiful garden blooms in May, but in Winter never, never, never, never, never is green etc.


Greg’s sob of admiration brings to mind “That's good; 'mobled queen' is good,” Polonius’ words in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (2.2):



This is too long.


It shall to the barber's, with your beard. Prithee,
say on: he's for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he
sleeps: say on: come to Hecuba.

First Player

'But who, O, who had seen the mobled queen--'


'The mobled queen?'


That's good; 'mobled queen' is good.


Describing his meeting with Demon (Van’s and Ada’s father) at the Goodson Airport, Van mentions King Victor (the Antiterran counterpart of Queen Victoria) and his still fairly regular visits to Cuba or Hecuba:


At the Goodson Airport, in one of the gilt-framed mirrors of its old-fashioned waiting room, Van glimpsed the silk hat of his father who sat awaiting him in an armchair of imitation marblewood, behind a newspaper that said in reversed characters: ‘Crimea Capitulates.’ At the same moment a raincoated man with a pleasant, somewhat porcine, pink face accosted Van. He represented a famous international agency, known as the VPL, which handled Very Private Letters. After a first flash of surprise, Van reflected that Ada Veen, a recent mistress of his, could not have chosen a smarter (in all senses of the word) way of conveying to him a message whose fantastically priced, and prized, process of transmission insured an absoluteness of secrecy which neither torture nor mesmerism had been able to break down in the evil days of 1859. It was rumored that even Gamaliel on his (no longer frequent, alas) trips to Paris, and King Victor during his still fairly regular visits to Cuba or Hecuba, and, of course, robust Lord Goal, Viceroy of France, when enjoying his randonnies all over Canady, preferred the phenomenally discreet, and in fact rather creepy, infallibility of the VPL organization to such official facilities as sexually starved potentates have at their disposal for deceiving their wives. The present messenger called himself James Jones, a formula whose complete lack of connotation made an ideal pseudonym despite its happening to be his real name. A flurry and flapping had started in the mirror but Van declined to act hastily. In order to gain time (for, on being shown Ada’s crest on a separate card, he felt he had to decide whether or not to accept her letter), he closely examined the badge resembling an ace of hearts which J.J. displayed with pardonable pride. He requested Van to open the letter, satisfy himself of its authenticity, and sign the card that then went back into some secret pit or pouch within the young detective’s attire or anatomy. Cries of welcome and impatience from Van’s father (wearing for the flight to France a scarlet-silk-lined black cape) finally caused Van to interrupt his colloquy with James and pocket the letter (which he read a few minutes later in the lavatory before boarding the airliner). (2.1)


Demon finds out about his children’s affair by chance, because of Uncle Dan’s death. Demon learns that Dan is dying after leaving one Santiago (Santiago de Cuba?) to view the results of an earthquake in another:


They took a great many precautions — all absolutely useless, for nothing can change the end (written and filed away) of the present chapter. Only Lucette and the agency that forwarded letters to him and to Ada knew Van’s address. Through an amiable lady in waiting at Demon’s bank, Van made sure that his father would not turn up in Manhattan before March 30. They never came out or went in together, arranging a meeting place at the Library or in an emporium whence to start the day’s excursions — and it so happened that the only time they broke that rule (she having got stuck in the lift for a few panicky moments and he having blithely trotted downstairs from their common summit), they issued right into the visual field of old Mrs Arfour who happened to be passing by their front door with her tiny tan-and-gray long-silked Yorkshire terrier. The simultaneous association was immediate and complete: she had known both families for years and was now interested to learn from chattering (rather than chatting) Ada that Van had happened to be in town just when she, Ada, had happened to return from the West; that Marina was fine; that Demon was in Mexico or Oxmice; and that Lenore Colline had a similar adorable pet with a similar adorable parting along the middle of the back. That same day (February 3, 1893) Van rebribed the already gorged janitor to have him answer all questions which any visitor, and especially a dentist’s widow with a caterpillar dog, might ask about any Veens, with a brief assertion of utter ignorance. The only personage they had not reckoned with was the old scoundrel usually portrayed as a skeleton or an angel.

Van’s father had just left one Santiago to view the results of an earthquake in another, when Ladore Hospital cabled that Dan was dying. He set off at once for Manhattan, eyes blazing, wings whistling. He had not many interests in life.

At the airport of the moonlit white town we call Tent, and Tobakov’s sailors, who built it, called Palatka, in northern Florida, where owing to engine trouble he had to change planes, Demon made a long-distance call and received a full account of Dan’s death from the inordinately circumstantial Dr Nikulin (grandson of the great rodentiologist Kunikulinov — we can’t get rid of the lettuce). Daniel Veen’s life had been a mixture of the ready-made and the grotesque; but his death had shown an artistic streak because of its reflecting (as his cousin, not his doctor, instantly perceived) the man’s latterly conceived passion for the paintings, and faked paintings, associated with the name of Hieronymus Bosch. (2.10)


In March, 1905, Demon Veen perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific (Van does not realize that his father died because Ada, who could not pardon Demon his forcing Van to give her up, managed to persuade the pilot to destroy his machine in midair):


Furnished Space, l’espace meublé (known to us only as furnished and full even if its contents be ‘absence of substance’ — which seats the mind, too), is mostly watery so far as this globe is concerned. In that form it destroyed Lucette. Another variety, more or less atmospheric, but no less gravitational and loathsome, destroyed Demon.

Idly, one March morning, 1905, on the terrace of Villa Armina, where he sat on a rug, surrounded by four or five lazy nudes, like a sultan, Van opened an American daily paper published in Nice. In the fourth or fifth worst airplane disaster of the young century, a gigantic flying machine had inexplicably disintegrated at fifteen thousand feet above the Pacific between Lisiansky and Laysanov Islands in the Gavaille region. A list of ‘leading figures’ dead in the explosion comprised the advertising manager of a department store, the acting foreman in the sheet-metal division of a facsimile corporation, a recording firm executive, the senior partner of a law firm, an architect with heavy aviation background (a first misprint here, impossible to straighten out), the vice president of an insurance corporation, another vice president, this time of a board of adjustment whatever that might be —

‘I’m hongree,’ said a maussade Lebanese beauty of fifteen sultry summers.

‘Use bell,’ said Van, continuing in a state of odd fascination to go through the compilation of labeled lives:

— the president of a wholesale liquor-distributing firm, the manager of a turbine equipment company, a pencil manufacturer, two professors of philosophy, two newspaper reporters (with nothing more to report), the assistant controller of a wholesome liquor distribution bank (misprinted and misplaced), the assistant controller of a trust company, a president, the secretary of a printing agency —

The names of those big shots, as well as those of some eighty other men, women, and silent children who perished in blue air, were being withheld until all relatives had been reached; but the tabulatory preview of commonplace abstractions had been thought to be too imposing not to be given at once as an appetizer; and only on the following morning did Van learn that a bank president lost in the closing garble was his father.

‘The lost shafts of every man’s destiny remain scattered all around him,’ etc. (Reflections in Sidra). (3.7)


L’espace meublé brings to mind ‘the mobled queen’ in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Mobled means “being wrapped or muffled in or as if in a hood.” According to Ada, a couple of hours before Demon’s death she and her husband had sudden visitors at their ranch — an incredibly graceful moppet of eight, black-veiled, and a kind of duenna, also in black, with two bodyguards:


‘My upper-lip space feels indecently naked.’ (He had shaved his mustache off with howls of pain in her presence). ‘And I cannot keep sucking in my belly all the time.’

‘Oh, I like you better with that nice overweight — there’s more of you. It’s the maternal gene, I suppose, because Demon grew leaner and leaner. He looked positively Quixotic when I saw him at Mother’s funeral. It was all very strange. He wore blue mourning. D’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around Demon and both wept comme des fontaines. Then a robed person who looked like an extra in a technicolor incarnation of Vishnu made an incomprehensible sermon. Then she went up in smoke. He said to me, sobbing: "I will not cheat the poor grubs!" Practically a couple of hours after he broke that promise we had sudden visitors at the ranch — an incredibly graceful moppet of eight, black-veiled, and a kind of duenna, also in black, with two bodyguards. The hag demanded certain fantastic sums — which Demon, she said, had not had time to pay, for "popping the hymen" — whereupon I had one of our strongest boys throw out vsyu (the entire) kompaniyu.’

‘Extraordinary,’ said Van, ‘they had been growing younger and younger — I mean the girls, not the strong silent boys. His old Rosalind had a ten-year-old niece, a primed chickabiddy. Soon he would have been poaching them from the hatching chamber.’

‘You never loved your father,’ said Ada sadly.

‘Oh, I did and do — tenderly, reverently, understandingly, because, after all, that minor poetry of the flesh is something not unfamiliar to me. But as far as we are concerned, I mean you and I, he was buried on the same day as our uncle Dan.’

‘I know, I know. It’s pitiful! And what use was it? Perhaps I oughtn’t to tell you, but his visits to Agavia kept getting rarer and shorter every year. Yes, it was pitiful to hear him and Andrey talking. I mean, Andrey n’a pas le verbe facile, though he greatly appreciated — without quite understanding it — Demon’s wild flow of fancy and fantastic fact, and would often exclaim, with his Russian "tssk-tssk" and a shake of the head — complimentary and all that — "what a balagur (wag) you are!" — And then, one day, Demon warned me that he would not come any more if he heard again poor Andrey’s poor joke (Nu i balagur-zhe vï, Dementiy Labirintovich) or what Dorothy, l’impayable ("priceless for impudence and absurdity") Dorothy, thought of my camping out in the mountains with only Mayo, a cowhand, to protect me from lions.’

‘Could one hear more about that?’ asked Van.

‘Well, nobody did. All this happened at a time when I was not on speaking terms with my husband and sister-in-law, and so could not control the situation. Anyhow, Demon did not come even when he was only two hundred miles away and simply mailed instead, from some gaming house, your lovely, lovely letter about Lucette and my picture.’

‘One would also like to know some details of the actual coverture — frequence of intercourse, pet names for secret warts, favorite smells —’

‘Platok momental’no (handkerchief quick)! Your right nostril is full of damp jade,’ said Ada, and then pointed to a lawnside circular sign, rimmed with red, saying: Chiens interdits and depicting an impossible black mongrel with a white ribbon around its neck: Why, she wondered, should the Swiss magistrates forbid one to cross highland terriers with poodles? (3.8)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): comme etc.: shedding floods of tears.

N’a pas le verbe etc.: lacks the gift of the gab.

chiens etc.: dogs not allowed.


On the other hand, l’espace meublé seems to combine Aujourd'hui l'espace est splendide! (Today space is magnificent!), the beginning of Baudelaire’s sonnet Le Vin des amants (“The Wine of Lovers”), with des meubles luisants, / polis par les ans (gleaming furniture, / polished by the years), the lines in Baudelaire’s poem L'invitation au voyage (“Invitation to the Voyage”).