Part One, Chapter 15
If Van playfully echoes the Biblical Fall in this scene, his echo is not so much of Genesis as of the most famously playful artistic echo of the Fall, The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1500) by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516) (see also Afternote I.9). How central Bosch’s triptych was to his novel Nabokov confirmed two years after Ada’s publication, in his protest against William Woodin Rowe’s treatment of “recurrent words, such as ‘garden’ or ‘water,’ . . . as abstractions, . . . [when] the sound of a bath being filled, say, in the world of Laughter in the Dark, is as different from the limes rustling in the rain of Speak, Memory as the Garden of Delights in Ada is from the lawns in Lolita” (SO 305-06). Within Ada itself Demon will refer at length and in detail to Bosch’s painting as “that tremendous garden of tongue-in-cheek delights” (436.31-32).
As if echoing the Pauline notion of the Fortunate Fall (see 94.14-19n and 95.33n), Bosch in the left panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights shows Christ in the Garden of Eden blessing Eve—as if she will deserve to be blessed for reaching for the apple—while Adam looks on at her. The figure blessing Eve has sometimes been assumed to be God, but iconographically he can only be Christ, and he certainly bears no resemblance to the crowned and white-bearded patriarchal God of the creation scene on the reverse side of the panels. In Genesis I, however, Christ is of course not on the scene, only God: “ 27 God created the human in his image, in the image of God He created them, male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and conquer it, and hold sway over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the heavens and every beast that crawls upon the earth” (trans. Robert Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary, New York: Norton, 1996). In Bosch’s central panel, the Garden of Earthly Delights itself, Adam and Eve have indeed multiplied many-fold; the world of their descendants is utterfly fruitful; they have conquered the earth, now shaped into circular ponds and rectilinear lakes, canals and hedgerows; and they hold sway over the beasts and fowl and fish they ride in procession around their neat little pond. Immediately after the Biblical Fall, Adam and Eve become for the first time conscious of their nakedness and embarrassedly try to cover up (Genesis 3.7), but in Bosch’s tongue-in-cheek Fortunate Fall, crowds of young men and women, lithe and naked, consort casually, displaying their creamy or chocolate charms, amidst fruits that echo the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, including the “woman-sized sized strawberry that you embrace with” the man who tries to clasp it (437.14-15).
In Bosch, the Garden of Earthly Delights echoes and repeats and alters the Garden of Eden. Nabokov develops the idea of endless blithe repetitions of a Fortunate Fall, although what Bosch juxtaposes in space Nabokov mostly overlaps in time, especially in Van and Ada’s tireless couplings with each other. Nevertheless within this scene he finds ways to echo Bosch’s echoes of Genesis without violating surface realism. The plethora of hypertrophied fruits in the central panel of Bosch’s triptych reduces here to the cone being sampled by the squirrel (94.08), the “shower of drupes” (94.15: many of the fruit in Bosch, naturally, are drupes), the “last fruit” that “fell with a thud” (94.18-19) and the “apple tree” (95.23-24). Although Bosch has two couples standing on their heads, one in the central foreground, one in the central background, silhouetted against the dark marble sphere of a fantastic fountain, he does not focus on a physical fall—not, of course, part of the Biblical scene of the Fall either—as Nabokov does in his Fortunate Fall, when first Ada then Van lose their footing within the Tree of Knowledge.
But after the Fall in Genesis, and St. Paul’s reinterpretating it, because of Christ, as a Fortunate Fall, there was still one key element that needed to be added to the medieval Christian notion of the Fall. In the fifth century, St. Augustine developed the doctrine of original sin, according to which Adam’s Fall had tainted all humanity, so that Adam’s sinfulness was inherited from generation to generation. Although the left panel of Bosch’s triptych shows Christ in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and no serpent, and the central panel shows a massive indulgence in fruit and nakedness with no threat of expulsion from this paradise of pleasure, the right panel of the triptych pictures the earth as a dark Hell. In summarizing his past Van of course stresses the “Arcadian innocence [of] the ‘Ardis’ part of the book” (588.15-16), but in Genesis God announces to Adam he “will put enmity between thee and the woman,” and notice here the wrangling between Van and Ada after their Fall: “I refuse to share the ardor of your little canicule. . . . ” (95.16). The ad (Russian “hell”) in Ada’s name (explicit at 29.28 and 332.26), their being the children of Demon, and the alternative name of their planet, Demonia, invite us to notice the hellish dimension of their heavenly pleasures.
If Ardis itself is almost “paradise” for the “Veens, the children of Venus” (410), a paradise of sexual repetition—many times a day, day after summer day—the repeatability of the sexual act will have its hellish side for them in the pain they cause each other through their repeated infidelities. Ardis’s sexual reiteration will be replayed in another key in the Villa Venuses, the “parodies of paradise” (350) that Van at first thinks “an Eden” (353.16) but that soon degenerate into the hellish, in a pointed parody of Ardis itself, and in echo of both the proliferation and repetition of sexuality in the central panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights and of its displacement by Hell-on-Earth in the right-hand panel. Van expects Ada to discount the innumerable other women he avails himself of, especially at the Villa Venuses, but he does not discount her other men; indeed, their very existence makes him feel tortured, and for that reason, he weaves the idea of sex as sometimes hellishly repeatable into his version of the Fortunate Fall itself, deliberately incorporating into the scene Krolik, the first of the other men in Ada’s life.
In the biblical scene of the Fall it is of course the serpent that lures Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge (Genesis 3.1-5), and as a punishment for its role is then cursed to “go” on its belly (Genesis 3.14). In the Christian iconographic tradition, the serpent is depicted as being located in, and usually coiled around a branch of, the Tree of Knowledge, as it tempts Eve. Here in I.15, the caterpillar whose “silk thread of larva web” Van detaches from his lip serves as a comically scaled-down proxy for the serpent—if indeed there was a caterpillar there: Ada challenges Van’s version of their exchange, and Van agrees that he and she could not have said what he has them say (95.25-31), although he then retains the scene just as he wrote it.
Ada ’s reference to Krolik, in the disputed dialogue, seems casual enough:
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.”
But Van’s pun on “your little canicule” (your little “cunny,” as it were) shows the barbedness of his reproach. Cuniculus is Latin for “rabbit,” or krolik in Russian. To put it bluntly, Van as narrator in effect says, through the words he makes Van-as-character say, moments after his lips first brush against Ada’s “V of velvet” (129.11): “I refuse to share your cunt, your sexual arousal, with Krolik.”
Overtly, Van never reproaches Ada for her relationship with Krolik, which presumably becomes sexual, but only in 1886. Van never sees Krolik in the flesh, and indeed it is not until 1892, six years after Krolik’s death, that he learns he has had reason to be jealous of him, as he looks through Kim Beauharnais’s album:
“ . . . look, girl, here I’m glutting your tongue, and there I’m glued to your epiglottis, and--”
“Intermission,” begged Ada, “quick-quick.”
“I’m ready to oblige till I’m ninety,” said Van (the vulgarity of the peep show was catchy), “ninety times a month, roughly.”
“Make it even more roughly, oh much more, say a hundred and fifty, that would mean, that would mean--”
But, in the sudden storm, calculations went to the canicular devils.
“Well,” said Van, when the mind took over again, “let’s go back to our defaced childhood. I’m anxious”—(picking up the album from the bedside rug)—“to get rid of this burden. Ah, a new character, the inscription says: Dr. Krolik.”
“Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van but it’s terribly messy all the same. Okay. Yes, that’s my poor nature teacher.”
Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for “lepidopteron”). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that chase?
“How curious--in the state Kim mounted him here, he looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he’s a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!”
“There’s nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me carry some boxes there and back, and here’s the visual proof. Besides, that’s not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.”
“I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The remote mirage in Effrontery Minor.”
“I’m not lying!”--(with lovely dignity): “He is a doctor of philosophy.”
“Van ist auch one,” murmured Van, sounding the last word as “wann.”
“Our fondest dream,” she continued, “Krolik’s and my fondest dream, was to describe and depict the early stages, from ova to pupa, of all the known Fritillaries, Greater and Lesser, beginning with those of the New World. I would have been responsible for building an argynninarium (a pestproof breeding house, with temperature patterns, and other refinements--such as background night smells and night-animal calls to create a natural atmosphere in certain difficult cases)--a caterpillar needs exquisite care! There are hundreds of species and good subspecies in both hemispheres. . . . (403-04)
Notice “canicular devils” here (with its echo of Ada’s “devilish knees” and her “little canicule” in the Tree of Knowledge), just as Van and Ada are about to make love, and just before the Krolik caption. Ada is evasive, and evidently bluffing, when she decides to claim that this is not Krolik but his brother. In return, Van, telling the story of the shattal tree tumble, will introduce a son of Dr. Krolik’s into Ada’s conversation, and although Ada convinces Van she could not have said what the scene records, since “there was no National Park in Iraq eighty years ago,” he leaves the dialogue as is. Why?
Van is Demon’s son. When Demon calls Marina from Texas, as he recalls to her in a letter,
you said you were in Eve’s state, hold the line, let me put on a penyuar. Instead, blocking my ear, you spoke, I suppose, to the man with whom you had spent the night (and whom I would have dispatched, had I not been overeager to castrate him). Now that is the sketch made by a young artist in Parma, in the sixteenth century, for the fresco of our destiny, in a prophetic trance, and coinciding, except for the apple of terrible knowledge, with an image repeated in two men’s minds. (16)
It had been the Parmigianino sketch of Eve that had allowed Demon to deduce that Baron d’Onsky was having an affair with Marina, and that had led him to duel d’Onsky. But the “apple of terrible knowledge” here prefigures the Tree of Knowledge and the now not-quite-so-fortunate Fall of I.15.
Van discovers in 1892 Ada has had reason to hide Dr. Krolik’s vigor and virility. Krolik dies in 1886, “of a heart attack in his garden” (219), as a result, we feel inclined to infer, of Ada’s insatiable sexual appetite (as she looks through Kim’s album, above, she suggests she and Van make love five rather than Van’s proposed three times a day)—although, six years after Krolik’s death, Van prefers not to open another wound by ascertaining the extent of Ada’s affair with Krolik.
Krolik has in fact been implicitly associated with Ada’s sexual drive from the first time she mentions him. “Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe (I’m crazy about everything that crawls),” she tells Van as she shows him her larvarium (54), and she has recorded in her diary that “Dr. Krolik received from Andalusia and kindly gave me five young larvae of the newly described very local Carmen Tortoiseshell. They . . . breed only on a semi-extinct species of high-mountain willow (which dear Crawly also obtained for me)” (55). Note that Ada wears her “lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg’s novel . . . )”—in other words after Nabokov’s Lolita, in the davenport scene, where Lolita holds that “beautiful, banal, Eden-red apple” and Humbert calls her “Carmen,” the original “little Andalusian gipsy” (see 77.02-06n)—on the day we first see her “tightly straddling the cool limb of a Shattal apple tree” (77-78). The Puss Moth and the comically phallic Cattleya Hawkmoth before and after the “Carmen” entry in Ada’s diary add a still more intense sexual charge to the larvarium, and the “crazy about everything that crawls”-Krolik-Crawly bond already suggests a strong emotional chemistry between Ada and Krolik. In the chapter after the shattal tree incident, Van notes that he “had never had the occasion to witness anything close to virginal revolt on the part of Ada—not an easily frightened or overfastidious little girl (‘Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe’)” (97). “Crawly” also strongly echoes the recurrent concern with “crawling” creatures in Genesis, beginning with 1.26, “all the crawling things that crawl upon the earth,” and culminating in the serpent.
Dr. Krolik gives Ada larvae from Andalusia to breed, and a rare mountain willow to breed them on, and the “Dr. Krolik” in Kim’s album is spuriously identified by Ada as “his brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey.” Almost as if in mocking echo, Van as narrator makes the shattal tree, or rather the larva whose silken web he finds on Ada’s crotch, a gift from a nonce son of Dr. Krolik, a ranger and breeder in Eden National Park. He makes Krolik, in short, the serpent on Ardis’s Tree of Knowledge, the man who inspires in Ada her insatiable passion for “everything that crawls.”
Just as Demon bites into “the apple of terrible knowledge” when he discovers Marina’s infidelity, so Van, who tumbles onto Ada’s naked crotch in their Tree of Knowledge, will find that she too likes to repeat the sexual act with others. And in the case of each of Van’s main rivals, Ada’s passion for natural history seems to provide an impetus or a pretext: in Krolik’s case, his expertise in lepidoptera; in Percy de Prey’s case, Ada continues to visit him during Ardis the Second under cover of “botanizing” “in the woods” (193.12-15, 213.19-20, 285.14-287.16, 408.04-05); in Andrey Vinelander’s case, she can bear to marry him (and thus satisfy Demon’s edict) only because of his passion for birds. The rival whose shadow chiefly darkens Ardis the Second for Van is Percy de Prey; Ada organizes her longest tryst with him, after he has signed up for the second Crimean War, under pretext of consulting with “Dr. Krolik’s cousin, the gynecologist Seitz (or ‘Zayats,’ as she transliterated him mentally since it also belonged, as Dr. ‘Rabbit’ did, to the leporine group in Russian pronunciation)” (230), and it is when that pretext proves hollow that Van’s dread of an impending discovery begins to cast its deepest pall over Ardis the Second.
If Van’s repeated infidelities toward Ada are summed up in the Villa Venus chain and its “parodies of paradise,” Ada’s repeated infidelities toward Van begin with Krolik, the man whose son is said, against the admitted evidence, to be responsible for the creature brought from Eden National Park and crawling on the Tree of Knowledge. Where Bosch seizes on the idea of multiplication in Genesis, and transforms it into the multiplication, proliferation and repetition of naked Adam and Eve and their fruit in the Garden of Earthly Delights, Van in turn transforms in other directions the Boschean idea of blithe repetition, with a possible hellish after-taste, by introducing Krolik into his and Ada’s reenactment of the Fall.
Krolik, of course, as a “rabbit,” has a name associated with rapid breeding, and when Ada shows Van her larvarium, just before she first mentions the name of Krolik, it looks to him like “a glorified rabbitry” (54). Her “fondest dream” is to build a magnificent larvarium in which she and Krolik can breed Fritillaries from “both hemispheres” (404). But that plan (especially in view of the “larva”-“lover” pun: see 95.33n) oddly echoes the Villa Venus project, the “Organized Dream” of adolescent Eric van Veen, put into execution by his grandfather, a chain of high-class brothels or “floramors” to extend over “both hemispheres of our callipygian globe” (348) (italics added). Eric van Veen himself is closely associated with Van Veen, not only through his name but through the fact that he dies late in 1869 in Ex-en-Valais, where Van is born on January 1, 1870. Eric’s name echoes not only Van’s, but that of Venus Erycina, the Roman cult of religious prostitution, and the Dutchness of his name and origins, emphasized throughout the Villa Venus chapter (“of Flemish extraction,” “Ruinen . . . near Zwolle,” “Dudok in Friesland”), links the Villa Venus “parodies of paradise” with the Garden of Earthly Delights of Hieronymus Bosch, whose name pointedly features later in its unfamiliar Dutch form as “Jeroen Anthniszoon van Äken” (438). Both Ada’s dream of the larvarium she and Krolik can construct, and Van’s double Eric’s Villa Venus dream, are grandiose schemes with a world-wide scope to create artificial environments designed for coupling—if not, in the Villa Venus case, for breeding!
The idea of “multiplication” both in Krolik’s “rabbit” name and his role in “breeding” (57, 404) butterflies with Ada will be reflected in another strange way, in the proliferation of doctors with rabbit names, from Dr. Lapiner (from French lapin; Marina’s “own Dr. Krolik, pour ainsi dire,” 8.18), to Dr. Seitz (Russian zayats), Dr. Lagosse (Greek lagos), Dr. Coniglietto (Italian), and “Dr. Nikulin (grandson of the great rodentiologist Kunikulinov—we can’t get rid of the lettuce)” (433; Latin cuniculus). A major reason for this prolification of rabbit doctors is that, like the floramors of the Villa Venus project, Krolik and his larvarium and his array of international namesakes playfully echo the multiplication of pleasures in both Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and the Playboy empire.
Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in the 1950s. By the time Nabokov was writing Ada, his project was thriving in the form of the monthly Playboy magazine and a world-wide series of Playboy clubs (the first club opened in Chicago in 1960). Antiterran readers may not know that the emblem of both the club and the magazine was the Playboy bunny, a busty young woman in a black or white strapless swimsuit-like outfit with a rabbit tail, and with cloth rabbit ears pinned up behind her head. Not only were all the serving staff at Playboy clubs dressed as bunnies, but on each cover of Playboy magazine there would also appear a rabbit in some form, perhaps a Playboy bunny, or a toy, or a sketch, or a stylized version of the bunny logo disguised in, for instance, the knot on the bikini pants of the Playmate of the month (see Russell Miller, Bunny: The Real Story of Playboy). The idea was idea not dissimilar to that of the butterfly that the dandy Eustace Tilley looks at through his pince-nez on the original cover of The New Yorker and on each February anniversary issue, which in Pale Fire and Ada prompted Nabokov to rechristen that magazine The Beau and the Butterfly.
Although the New Yorker had long been the best-paying of American magazines for fiction writers, Playboy began to offer even more generous terms in the 1960s, and by the time Nabokov completed Ada, his work had already appeared in eleven issues of Playboy, none without a bunny cover, and one (April 1966) with a feature article on the Playboy cover. When he completed Ada, Nabokov offered the novel to Playboy, which selected a long excerpt from the Ardis the First section for advance publication. In reply Nabokov wrote Hugh Hefner, asking “Have you ever noticed how the head and ears of your Bunny resemble a butterfly in shape, with an eyespot on one hindwing?” and enclosed his own drawing of a butterfly that indeed resembles the Playboy emblem (see Selected Letters 439-40).
While the link between the worldwide chain of “exclusive” Playboy clubs and the Antiterra-wide chain of high-class Villa Venus floramors is not hard to see (as has often been commented, the clubs allowed Hugh Hefner to lead “a teenage boy’s fantasy life” into adulthood and even old age [Philip Matthews, “Pet Loves,” NZ Listener, 20 May 2000, 34]), the matching link between Playboy and Ada’s “rabbit” doctors may seem much less obvious. The doctors with rabbit names recur in various international guises and disguises to reflect not only the bunny emblem in its various guises on Playboy’s covers, but the preoccupation with sex inside the magazine. Dr. Lagosse, the most important of the “rabbit” doctors after Krolik, and Van and Ada’s physician in their last years, has an interest in obscene literature, gives Van a copy of The Perfumed Garden (344), and comments knowingly on the decor of Van’s first Villa Venus (353). This “ribald physician” (344) with the rabbit name confirms the centrality of Playboy—which in the 1960s had regular columns “Ribald Classics” and “The Playboy Physician”—to both the Krolik and Villa Venus themes.
While Van and Ada seem to experience a Fortunate Fall in Ardis’s Tree of Knowledge, then, Van’s attitude to the endless repetition of lovemaking that will ensue in fact seems as ambiguous as Bosch’s in the apparent Fortunate Fall in the central panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights. Just as Bosch’s garden leads into the right-hand panel of Hell on earth, Van and Ada’s immense sexual appetites, paradisal for them while they both remain at Ardis, introduce overtones of hellish jealousy when they redirect their sexual energies toward others, the whores of Villa Venus, or a Krolik, a de Prey, a Vinelander. Too late to vent his anger at Krolik, as Demon vents his on his rival after tasting “the apple of terrible knowledge,” Van introduces Krolik into the scene, despite Ada’s objections, as a kind of serpent of unfastidious desire in Ada’s Tree of Knowledge, and so as a precursor of the Hell ahead.
But the fall in the shattal tree is not just oddly fortunate for Van at the time, and much more complicated in retrospect. The scene also implicates Lucette.
Mlle Larivière and Lucette are playing grace hoops “just within earshot.” Mlle Larivière may be “pathologically unobservant” (96), but Lucette is certainly not; indeed she dotes on Van, on “Vanichka, who could explain everything” (83), and watches his every move. A “silver-and-sable skybab squirrel sat sampling a cone on the back of a bench” by the shattal tree. Early in the next chapter, Van refers back to that “first contact, so light, so mute, between his soft lips and her softer skin . . . high up in that dappled tree, with only that stray ardilla daintly leavesdropping” (98). Now ardilla is Spanish for “squirrel” (the Spanish reflecting the fact that this squirrel derives from the Kaibab Plateau, in Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, an appropriate accompaniment to the shattal tree from Eden National Park), and happens to be an almost perfect homophone of “Ardelia.” The squirrel therefore doubly recalls Van’s first glimpse of Lucette at Ardis: “a small girl who was picking her nose and examining with dreamy satisfaction her finger before wiping it on the edge of the bench. Van decided she must be ‘Ardelia,’ the eldest of the two little cousins he was supposed to get acquainted with. Actually it was Lucette” (36). Ardelia derives from Latin ardalio, “busybody” (see 36.24-25n), and Lucette will seem a busybody in her eagerness to spy on her big sister and big cousin. The “ardilla . . . leavesdropping” obliquely indicates that she has already eavesdropped on them as they tumble in a “shower of drupes and leaves.”
“Leavesdropping” also connects this passage with another kind of Fall, the season (in Paradise Lost, the Fall of Adam and Eve initiates the first change of seasons: see X.651-706). In François Coppée’s “Matin d’Octobre” (c. 1874), stanza II reads
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 .
Nabokov used this stanza as the epigraph to his unpublished 1917 poem “Osen’” (“Autumn”) (“Nad polem klevernym kruzhitsya yastreb,” “A hawk circles over the clover-field”) in an incomplete typescript verse album of 1916-1917 (VNA, p. 113). Ada translates the stanza for Mlle Larivière in such a way as to replace the gentle fall of leaves with the crashing of a tree (“Their fall is gentle. The woodchopper / Can tell, before they reach the mud, / The oak tree by its leaf of copper, / The maple by its leaf of blood,” 127), thereby doing far worse than Wallace Fowlie, whom she reproaches so confidently in I.10 for merely dropping a flower from his translation of Rimbaud’s “Mémoire.” Four years later Van stylishly redeems her error in his own version,
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. (247)
As will be clear by now, this forms part of the pattern associating Lucette and “deflowering” (see Afternote to I.10 and Boyd 1985/2001: 51-57). Van and Ada’s fortunate fall in high summer at Ardis also evokes another fall, Lucette’s fall from innocence toward knowledge, her tasting forbidden knowledge, as the eight-year-old child hears her big cousin’s reaction to falling face-first between Ada’s legs.
Like Lucette, Ardis’s French maid is also much more curious than Ardis’s French governess, and, in her own romantic and far from innocent way, as fixated as Lucette on the dashing Van. Blanche too will be connected with an eavesdropping theme, partly in parody of the kinds of novels she reads, such as Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago (53), an Antiterran version of Dr. Zhivago—a novel Nabokov thought deeply flawed in, among other things, its use of devices like eavesdropping and coincidence (see 53.22-24n). In I.15, for the first time, Blanche reads from Van’s diary, presumably finding there his “only contribution to Anglo-American poetry,” “Ada, our ardors and arbors” (74) as well as the latest report of his “snatching” that “first shy kiss” (95) in the shattal tree. After this, Blanche will keep an even more curious eye on Van and Ada than she had before, and will be responsible for turning “their first summer in the orchards and orchidariums of Ardis” into “a sacred secret and creed, throughout the countryside”: “Romantically inclined handmaids, whose reading consisted of Gwen de Vere and Klara Mertvago, adored Van, adored Ada, adored Ardis’s ardors in arbors. . . . ” (409) The idea of the repetition of their Fortunate Fall takes on another half-comic, half-macabre dimension in the proliferation of their legend through someone who herself spreads around love, and the pains of love, in her affairs with, among others, old Sore the ribald nightwatchman, and her passing on her venereal disease (see Boyd 1985/2001: 152-58).
Blanche’s role as usual is parodic, but also, as usual, nevertheless pointed. Van returns to his room to find her feigning to make the already made bed, with the unlocked diary lying beside it, just as that other eavesdropper, Lucette, tied up by Van and Ada as they rush off to make love, will be feigning to untie the ropes she has already untied when they return, blithely unaware that she has watched them as they were making love (142-43). Blanche is already experienced in love, and already damaged by it, but Lucette will find her exposure to love, to an almost Boschean Garden of repeated Delights, leads her into a private Hell.
And Van too will be expelled from the paradise of Ardis into “Demonia . . . this terrible Antiterra” (301) when in 1888 he finds out about Ada’s other lovers and what was really behind her “botanizing” “in the woods.” It will be novelettish Blanche, who here, at this early stage “of the Novel’s Evolution in the History of Literature,” reads Van’s diary, who leaves him a message (“One must not berne [deceive] you,” 287), that indeed will cause him to “burn” in the fires of a personal hell of jealousy. As Van wrily comments on the message: “The novelistic theme of written communications has now really got into its stride.” (287)
In the myth of the Fall, the tasting of the Tree of Knowledge condemns humankind to death: “from the tree of knowledge, good and evil, you shall not eat, for on the day you eat from it, you are doomed to die” (Genesis 2:17; cf. Milton’s “that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste / Brought death into the world, and all our woe,” Paradise Lost I.2-3). Van in the last chapter of his memoir says to Ada: “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)” (584). In I.15, a scene sexually intimate if not exactly amorous, the mirage of Krolik’s presence also seems to carry the weight of death. By the time Van returns to Ardis the Second Krolik will be dead of a heart attack in his garden, presumably while making love to Ada. When he dies, Ada places all the live pupae from her larvarium “in his open coffin where he lay, she said, as plump and pink as in vivo” (219): no wonder Van in recounting the shattal tree story can reply to Ada’s “And no caterpillars bred on that tree in our orchard,” “True, my lovely and larveless.” When Van leaves Ardis the Second, having discovered Ada’s infidelities with Philip Rack and Percy de Prey, he heads away from Ada, and carries with him, although he does not turn back, an image of her looking at him as he walks resolutely off, a composite image in which “perhaps, worst of all,” is the occasion when Ada suggested they visit Krolik’s grave and Van “indulged in a brutal outburst . . . ‘You know I abhor churchyards, I despise, I denounce death, dead bodies are burlesque, I refuse to stare at a stone under which a roly-poly old Pole is rotting, let him feed his maggots in peace, the entomologies of death leave me cold, I detest, I despise—’” (297) before falling at her feet and imploring her pardon. The “larva web” and the “caterpillars” both on and not on the Tree of Knowledge and imported by a stand-in for Dr. Krolik seem to refer pointedly to the larvae that Ada deposited with Krolik’s cadaver and that Van recalls (“his maggots,” “the entomologies of death”) in his diatribe.
“Soon after that forestaste of knowledge,” Ada is “on her way to Krolik’s house with a boxful of hatched and chloroformed butterflies and had just passed through the orchard when she suddenly stopped and swore (chort!)” (devil!; 95.34-96.03). The last of the rabbit-doctors to be introduced, Dr. Nikulin, will be the physician attending to Dan Veen in his last days, when the “devil” theme has become much stronger, when Ardis has become a Hell for Dan, an echo of Bosch’s Last Judgement, and Demon arrives to inform Van of Dan’s “dying an odd Boschean death . . . . in Nikulin’s clinic” (436), and then, unexpectedly, to impose his own Last Judgement, his decree of expulsion from paradise, on Van and Ada. As Van phrases it, at the end of this chapter, “everything had gone to the hell curs, k chertyam sobach’im, of Jeroen Anthniszoon van Äken and the molti aspetti affascinati of his enigmatica arte, as Dan explained with a last sigh to Dr. Nikulin and to nurse Bellabestia (‘Bess’)” (438). He notes earlier in the same chapter, “According to Bess (which is ‘fiend’ in Russian), Dan’s buxom but otherwise disgusting nurse, whom he preferred to all others and had taken to Ardis because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of ‘play-zero’ (as the old whore called it) out of his poor body, he had been complaining for some time, even before Ada’s sudden departure, that a devil combining the characteristics of a frog and a rodent desired to straddle him and ride him to the torture house of eternity.” This detail from Bosch’s Last Judgement suggests that the repetition of sexual pleasure at Ardis, inaugurated in the Fortunate Fall in the shattal tree, has degenerated into the hellish (fiend, torture house, hell curs), as if we have now reached the right-hand panel of the Ardis triptych.
Then in the final chapter of the novel, the last of the “rabbit” doctors, Dr. Lagosse, looks after Van and Ada as they die, administering, it seems, the final pain-killers to ease “the thick, steady, solid duration of I-can’t-bear-it pain; nothing gray-gauzy about it, solid as a black bole, I can’t, oh, call Lagosse” (586-87). Lagosse displays “an intense interest in the almost completed but only partly corrected book and drolly said it was not a person or persons but le bouquin which he wanted to see guéri de tous ces accrocs before it was too late. . . . One can even surmise that if our time-racked, flat-lying couple ever intended to die they would die, as it were, into the finished book, into Eden or Hades, into the prose of the book or the poetry of its blurb. . . . ‘Quel livre, mon Dieu, mon Dieu,’ Dr. [Professor. Ed.] Lagosse exclaimed, weighing the master copy. . . . ” (587-88) The “rabbit” pattern that stretches through Van’s life and book, from Dr. Lapiner’s presence at his birth to Dr. Lagosse’s at his death, seems to bespeak fecundity, multiplicity, the repeatability of love, but when Van introduces Dr. Krolik into the fortunate fall in the Tree of Knowledge, he also intimates—through a “larva” that is part serpent, part maggot, through a Krolik who anticipates Nikulin and Lagosse—the death that puts a stop to all our repetitions.
Bosch expressed the idea of the Fortunate Fall with wonderful imaginative energy in his vision of the Garden of Earthly Delights, and the delights, the endless repetitions of love, dominate the triptych. Van records the scene of his and Ada’s fortunate fall, and that “first contact, so light, so mute, between his soft lips and her softer skin” will soon introduce a garden of sensual delights, in their repeated love-making at Ardis the First, in their commemoration and reenactment of the same pleasures in Ardis the Second, in their recollection of their falling in love for another eighty years. But just as in Bosch the Hell on Earth panel stands in an ambiguous relationship to the repeated pleasures of the Garden of Earthly Delights, part continuation, part contrast and conclusion, so in Ada the repeatability of sex that seems at first idyllic turns ominous for Van, as he becomes aware of Krolik, Rack, and especially Percy de Prey, and as Ada’s infidelity expels him from their paradise at Ardis. The Villa Venus chapter, in Part 2, seems to offer “an Eden” (353) of sexual repetition, an Ardis in another key, but soon sinks from the paradisal to the infernal. By the time Ada rejoins Van in Manhattan, they can recall and repeat Ardis the First again, but only via the photographs in Kim Beauharnais’s blackmail album, where Van discovers the first of his rivals, Krolik, “panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka” (403), a moment he returns to, bitterly, later:
“Helen of Troy, Ada of Ardis! You have betrayed the Tree and the Moth!”
“Perestagne (stop, cesse)!”
“Ardis the First, Ardis the Second, Tanned Man in a Hat, and now Mount Russet— ” (530)
At the end of the Manhattan reunion, Demon comes to report Dan’s Boschean death, while in the care of Dr Nikulin, in an Ardis turned hellish, and in his private last judgement, expels Van and Ada from any hope of regaining Ardis. In Part 3, Lucette has inherited Ardis, and asks Van to marry her, and promises to put Ardis at his and Ada’s disposal, but despite her looking so fetching as she “prepared to ardis into the amber” (479) of the Tobakoff’s swimming pool, her dream is impossible, and she ends up diving to her death in the “snaking reflections” (493) of the Atlantic. By now, we are in the right-hand panel, in Hell.
Yet against the odds Van and Ada will reunite and revive Ardis, most successfully of all, in Ada itself. But for all that Van claims to celebrate the “pure joyousness and Arcadian innocence [of] the ‘Ardis’ part of the book” (588), for all that he stresses that his and Ada’s falling in love, and their falling on one another in the shattal tree, is a fortunate fall, he cannot forget the price of knowledge, of the jealousy and death that sex brings into the world—a world that it nevertheless also makes a garden of delights.