Part One, Chapter 31
Coming to Ardis the Second, Van eagerly hopes to reprise the ecstasies of Ardis the First. His second summer at Ardis confounds those hopes in disappointment, thereby echoing the story of Nabokov’s first love. The disenchantment, partly obscured in Speak, Memory (see VNRY 117-18), was disclosed in the thinly veiled fiction of Ganin and Mary’s love in Russian in Mary, and transmuted in the doomed second motel journey in Lolita, as well as here.
Just as Van and Ada’s correspondence has broken down (“their letters grew scarcer, dwindling to a mere twenty in Ada’s case (with only two or three in the spring of 1888) and about twice as many coming from Van,” 162.11-14), so had Ganin’s: “At first he thought about [Mary’s planned return in the summer] a lot, imagined a new summer, new meetings, wrote her the same piercing letters and then began to write less often, and when his family moved to their country estate in mind-May he stopped writing altogether” (Mary 71). Just as Van has had some mishap in reaching Ardis again (train? horse? long walk?), so Ganin, eager for his first tryst with Mary in the new summer, has a tire burst on his bicycle, then loses his way, then has the same tire burst again. Just as Ada surprises Van with her new attire, Mary “was wearing a diaphanous white dress which Ganin did not know” (Mary 72). She wears “blue cornflowers in her piled-up hair,” a detail that may be echoed in the “corn-and-bluet summer ‘creation’” (188.34) of the couturier Vass that Cordula and others are wearing as Van arrives at Ardis. And notice, in relation to this “yellow-blue Vass” frock (187.06-07), that at their last encounter, on a suburban train, “Mary must have seen him earlier and boarded a blue carriage on purpose, although she always travelled on a yellow one” (74).
Ganin’s tryst with Mary on their summer reunion has both the ardent hopes and the uncertain undertones of Van’s first night back with Ada: “That night, in the strange stealthily deepening darkness, under the lindens of that spacious public park, on a stone slab sunk deep in moss, Ganin in the course of one brief tryst grew to love her more poignantly than before and fell out of love with her, as it seemed then, forever” (72). Mary has a little of Ada’s eagerness but Ganin, although he too suffers sore knees, has none of Van’s amused indifference to onlookers: “‘I am yours,’ she said, ‘do what you like with me.’ In silence, his heart thumping, he leaned over her, running his hands along her soft, cool legs. But the public park was alive with odd rustling sounds, somebody seemed to be continuously approaching from behind the bushes, the chill and the hardness of the stone slab hurt his bare knees, and Mary lay there too submissive, too still. He stopped; then emitted an awkward short laugh. ‘I keep feeling that someone’s around,’ said Ganin and got up” (73).
Van’s oscillating response to Ada’s oblique confessions and impassioned denials replays in a different key Nabokov’s own response to Valentina Shulgina (“Tamara”) in their second summer, 1916, his bafflement at her “habit of hiding behind some girl friend to whom she would attribute details of a romantic experience which so obviously surpassed my own. . . . I was tolerably certain she did not see other boys; but her gay negations were calculated rather to fan my jealousy than to dispel it” (CE manuscript, cited in VNRY 120). And the party that Van arrives toward the close of, and that anticipates the sense of crowdedness in Ardis the Second—a film crew, an even nosier and more resourceful Lucette, a mooching Philip Rack and a thrusting Percy de Prey—comically exaggerates one obvious difference from the previous year for Vladimir and Valentina: “Uncle Vasily was back at Rozhdestveno, and the pillared porches [of his manor-house] could no longer serve as a safe retreat” (VNRY 120). Van is no poet, but the attitude Nabokov expressed without being aware of it in his first book of poems, for Valentina, seems to foreshadow Van’s apprehensions in I.31: “the same ominous flaw, the banal hollow note, and glib suggestion that our love was doomed since it could never recapture the miracle of its initial moments, the rustle and rush of those limes in the rain, the compassion of the wild countryside” (SM 238).
Nabokov shapes Ardis the Second, and Van’s and Ada’s different hopes and fears, to explore the emotions entangled in time. At moments, they seem to miraculously relive the past, or pluck the now mature fruit of its early promise; at others, their own sense of change distances them from the past or jaundices them against the present. Above all Ardis the Second offers Nabokov’s second-longest fictional treatment —second only to the whole of Lolita— of the irretrievability of time, even when the prospect of its recapture seems almost magically offered.
One of the many challenges and rewards Ardis the Second offers readers is the sustained memory test—another recurrent Nabokovian structural feature, but nowhere else stretched to such length. Van and Ada, who have actually lived the events and inhabited the scenes, and who happen to be prodigies of the past as well as the present, easily pass most of these tests—although they too can disagree about details recollected from only four years before. Van and Nabokov almost invite us to keep tally of Ardis the Second as positive alteration (+1?), positive repetition (+2?), fulfilment (+3?), negative alteration (-1?), failed or ironic repetition (-2?: “Nothing, nothing has changed!,” 192), reversal (-3?), in the way Nabokov himself scored Don Quixote’s victories and defeats when he taught Cervantes’s novel (LDQ)—except that this tally is too fast, too subtle and too slippery to tabulate.
One change Van and Ada record as positive is their sense now, at 18 and almost 16, of themselves at 14 and 12 as being children (189.10, 192.08, 194.11-13)—a natural assessment of a past self, from a new vantage point that seems like maturity. But at those younger ages they certainly did not seem or act remotely like most children. Now in 1888 they treat Lucette at 12 as decidedly a child and disregard the strength of Ada’s sexual and romantic feelings at her sister’s age.
Van, invited to Ardis in 1884, now arrives “unexpected, unbidden, unneeded.” Then, the metamorphic voyage (hackney coach, old calèche, sensitive runabout, old clockwork taxi, horse, 34-35) added a note of enchantment and, with the “servant in waiting [who] took his horse,” a little nostalgic-romantic flair, intensified in the second metamorphic voyage at the close of Ardis the First when Van gallops off on “his favorite black horse” (159). Now, in 1888, his train has broken down (an uncommon occurrence, surely), and his horse, in his non-metamorphic, self-pitying and improbable story, unromantically “caught a hoof in a hole in the rotting planks of Ladore Bridge and had to be shot” (189) and he has had to walk either 8 or 20 miles. No one expects him, he feels like an extra, and although his unexpected presence causes kisses, tears, gasps, and queries, Van sees those at the party, even the woman he knows to be his mother, as just so many obstacles in the way of his single-minded quest for Ada. He pictures himself as the dark, broody, intense, romantic outcast, only for that pose to be deflated when Bout points out that his bags have already come.
I.31 sets the pattern for much of Ardis the Second with its insistent foreshadowing, and its equally insistent discounting, of the possible discovery of Ada’s infidelity. Most readers, aligned with Van as focal character, presumably feel eager to see love triumph, and feel as torn as Van between reassurance and anxiety.
A few lines into Ardis the Second, the first male Van notices is Percy de Prey, still unidentified, and surrounded by women whose “yellow-blue Vass” frocks seem to announce their love for him (see 187.06-08n), as if this “stoutish, foppish, baldish young man,” as vengeful Van unflatteringly describes him, could not help having women flock to him, yet all the same cannot help glancing down at the one woman he really wishes to feast his eyes on, Ada. On the second page, the “stout blond fellow” raises his glass to him, triggering Van’s memory (“(Percy de Prey? Or did Percy have an older brother?)”). On the third, naked Van from his bedroom window watches Percy holding Ada’s hand after he has kissed it, and then kissing it again, and in jealous rage tears the necklace he has brought for Ada. The comic timing of Ada’s entry, as diamonds fall at her feet, seems to mock Van’s romantic gesture. The fury behind his “Was he her new beau?” Ada dispels with magic eloquence (“I had and have and shall always have only one beau, only one beast, only one sorrow, only one joy”) and comically but romantically instantaneous force: (“‘We can collect your tears later,’ he said, ‘I can’t wait.’ Her open kiss was hot and tremulous . . . ”). The rapid emotional ups and downs of these first few moments together, naked Van’s bitter fury and his instant eager ardor, set the stage for the rest of Ardis the Second.
The party Van arrives at, “unbidden,” anticipates the forthcoming party on Ada’s sixteenth birthday, where Percy, uninvited, arrives already “royally drunk after some earlier festivity” (273), and ready to needle or jostle Van into a fight because of his evident resentment at Van’s claim on Ada’s time and love. At breakfast on his first morning at Ardis the Second, Van tells Ada he will motor into Ladore for, inter alia, “a brace of dueling pistols” (194). Ada, sensing his motive, talks him out of it, but Van soon reverts to what troubled him at the party (“why did you run after fat Percy, what was so important?,” 195). He questions the veracity of her answer, but they are interrupted again. But the duelling pistols, and Van’s wariness about Percy, anticipate the needling and the fight at Ada’s birthday picnic (and see 188.32n), the near-duel after, the disclosure of Ada’s affair with Percy, and Van’s flight in pursuit of Percy, and his duel, at the end of Ardis the Second.
Van and Nabokov also prepare from the start of I.31 for the “film” theme that will pervade Ardis the Second, from Van’s sense of the Ardis party as “a scene out of some new life being rehearsed for an unknown picture, without him, not for him” (187) to, a few moments later, his nightmare sense that Ada might explain that they “existed only as extras in a house rented for a motion picture” (188). Perhaps this party scene and Van’s sense of the extraneous anticipate the picnic party at Ada’s birthday, where again there are too many people on the set, “a dozen elderly townsmen” (268). Ada explains the plot of a film—a film that we later realize reflects exactly her situation, and that even immediately we suspect as a disclosure, for although we cannot identify anything to correspond to “a dreary dragging affair with a married man” (192), and do not recognize fat, baldish Percy, as Van depicts him, in “a crazy adventure with an attractive young fool” (192), we do suspect that “a tragedy which she must conceal lest she lose her only true love, the head of the arrow, the point of the pain” can refer only to Ada’s love for Van. Yet having raised that strong suspicion in us, Ada appears to discount it by referring to that plot outline as only an analog of her professional trilemma: should she choose botany, zoology, or acting for her career (193)? Van as character does not suspect how much she has disclosed, and does not react; but Van as narrator does, commenting, and unsettling us: “She had told him everything. ‘More or less,’ he replied, not realizing she had.” (193) The film will gradually materialize—and dissolve into a shimmer again—as the movie Les Enfants Maudits, whose plot, although already settled, seems to morph quietly according to the real-life drama unfolding at Ardis.
Van’s first night back at Ardis in 1888 not only stirs up the vague sense of threat through the film analogies but also anticipates in precise and multiple ways the realized threat on his last night at Ardis. Van arrives back at Ardis in June 1888 to a party where he seems “unexpected, unbidden, unneeded,” and sees “a scene out of some new life being rehearsed for an unknown picture, without him, not for him” (187). In fact the party celebrates the planned filming of the movie of Mlle Larivière’s Les Enfants Maudits, and on Van’s last night at Ardis, in late July 1888, Marina again has arranged a more exclusive party for “the movie people who were expected later in the evening” (285). In June 1888 Van has brought to Ardis for Ada a diamond necklace, but breaks it as he watches Percy kiss, and hold, and re-kiss Ada’s hand. On his last night at Ardis, in late July, he finds in the heart pocket of his dinner jacket a note warning him “‘One must not berne you.’ Only a French-speaking person would use that word for ‘dupe’ ” (287). Already by now intensely suspicious of Percy de Prey, Van, with “a puerile wrench . . . broke his best black butterfly on the wheel of his exasperation” (287-88). After making love to Ada all night on the bench in the toolroom on their first night back together at Ardis, Van grumbles, comically, “Okh, . . . my kneecaps! That bench was cruel” (191). On his last night at Ardis, after he has heard Blanche tell him of Ada’s infidelities with Philip Rack, and just before he hears Ada tell him of her affair with Percy de Prey, he curses his knee (295) which has been hurt in his fight with Percy de Prey at Ada’s birthday picnic, a kind of placeholder for the duel they both itch for but never get to carry out.
The romance, the eroticism and the jealousy of I.31 all have their comic side. Comedy especially intrudes on eros when Lucette knocks on Van’s door, asking for Ada. Her interruption reprises the disruptions she causes the lovers in Ardis the First, and anticipates her persistent intrusions that comically relieve Ardis the Second, but Van’s playful tease that “little Lucile has become so peachy that I think I’ll switch over to her if you keep losing your temper like that” (192) also introduces us, whether we realize or not, to a new tangle of emotional complications. The involvement of Lucette in Van and Ada’s amour links with the film theme, most prominent in the next chapter, I.32. There, the film seems to restate and redirect the jealousy theme, in the “repulsively handsome, practically naked young actor” (197) Pedro, who pays Ada every attention, and in “Philip Rack, an insignificant but on the whole likeable young musician” (197), likeable only because Van thinks he need not fear Rack’s interest in Ada. In fact the chapter also introduces the entanglement of Lucette in Van and Ada’s emotions and caresses, and with its swimming pool and film anticipates the tragedy of Lucette’s last night, after a day beside the swimming pool on the Tobakoff with Van, and a seat beside him watching the film Don Juan’s Last Fling, where Ada’s role suddenly damps the erotic fires Lucette had stoked in Van, thereby precipitating her suicide.
Lucette’s interruption of Van and Ada’s first embrace in Ardis the Second is itself reprised and expanded later within I.31 when, that same night, Blanche comes in upon Van and Ada in flagrante delicto. Blanche, old enough herself to romp freely in Ardis’s Garden of Earthly Delights, sees more of Van and Ada lovemaking because she too so actively occupies the night—here, with “Sore the Burgundian night watchman” (191) whose name mixes a palindrome of Eros and openly shows the venereal “sore” he infects Blanche with (or is it she who gives him “the fire of the clap”, 409?). When Blanche sees naked Van swiving Ada, “elle le mangeait des yeux” (191), an intensification of her first response to Van, on his first day at Ardis the First. Then, Van allowed his bag to be unpacked by “one of the maids” and wondered “briefly what item in a schoolboy’s luggage might be supposed to shock a housemaid. The picture of naked Ivory Revery (a model)? Who cared, now he was a man?” (36), an imagined scene, we later discover, actualized and recorded by Kim Beauharnais’ camera: “Another girl (Blanche!) stooping and squatting exactly like Ada (and indeed not unlike her in features) over Van’s valise opened on the floor, and ‘eating with her eyes’ the silhouette of Ivory Revery in a perfume advertisement” (398-99)—a link that unites the three who spy most obsessively on Van and Ada: Lucette, Blanche and Kim. And just as Blanche comically amplifies the “eavesdropper” or “spy” theme centred on Lucette, she also intensifies the Cinderella theme surrounding Lucette, here in Blanche’s wearing “a miniver cloak that Ada had lost in the woods” (191), no doubt in an assignation, we can deduce later, with Percy de Prey. Blanche has “become wonderfully pretty” (191), just as “little Lucile has become so peachy” (192), although Van returns the passion of neither. However evident their adoration becomes during Ardis the Second, they both remain Cinderellas to Ada.
Blanche’s interruption of Van and Ada on the first night together at Ardis the Second also anticipates her bringing to an end Van’s whole second sojourn at Ardis. Here, on the first night, the passionate siblings make love in the toolroom, in a bench covered with the same tartan lap robe Van had draped his naked body in on the night of the Burning Barn, when Blanche noiselessly opens the outside door, and, on seeing naked Van engaged with Ada, “elle le mangeait des yeux” (191). On his last night at Ardis, Van in his hammock sees the toolroom door pushed ajar and gets up to see Blanche there offering herself to him; he refuses her charms, concealing his “total absence” of desire “under his tartan cloak” (293), and insists that she admit to writing that warning note and explain what it means. She begins to tell him of Ada’s affair, not, as he expects, with Percy de Prey, but with Philip Rack, of whom she reports “il la mangeait de baisers dégoûtants” (293-94). In the toolroom and after on the first night at Ardis the Second, especially surrounding Blanche’s intrusion, hints of Ada’s infidelities with Percy come thick and fast, including Blanche’s wearing the “miniver cloak that Ada had lost in the woods” (191) and Ada’s discussion of her botanizing, “you will still see me going out alone, to wander alone in the woods and return alone with a little lone lily” (193)—where she gives herself licence to use lone botanizing as a cover for assignations with Percy, even as she erects the smokescreen (the biologist-zoologist-actress trilemma, 193) by which she hides her near-confession (the girl in the film facing an amatory trilemma, 192). Ada’s infidelities with Percy indeed prompt Blanche to write the oblique warning note to Van near the end of Ardis the Second, and it is indeed Percy whom Van suspects, so that the shock of hearing Blanche mention Rack’s name takes him by painful surprise—before the further twist of the knife when he confronts Ada, who assumes it is her affair with Percy about which he has been informed.
The de Preys, Percy and his cousin Cordula, do not feature at all in Ardis the First. Cordula appears promptly after Ardis the First, in I.27, just after Van’s farewell in I.25, where Ada, about to part from Van, has admitted:
“my love, my Van, I’m physical, horribly physical, I don’t know, I’m frank, qu’y puis-je? Oh dear, don’t ask me, there’s a girl in my school who is in love with me, I don’t know what I’m saying--”
“The girls don’t matter,” said Van, “it’s the fellows I’ll kill if they come near you.” (158-59)
In I.27, mere days later, Van meets Cordula for the first time and propositions her crudely (165). The chapter in between, I.26, has recorded Van and Ada’s correspondence during the gap between Ardis the First and Ardis the Second, and especially the steep decline in the frequency of Ada’s letters in the spring of 1888, when, as we can deduce later, her affair with Percy de Prey has begun. Later in I.27, Van meets Ada at Brownhill College, chaperoned by Cordula. Although he claims the thought of women making love to one another only excites him, he vents his jealous rage at both.
In Van’s first few minutes back at Ardis in 1888 he already feels anxious about a young man he thinks he recognizes as Percy, and in the same paragraph as Percy’s name features, he encounters but fails to recognize Cordula, so intent is he on pursuing Ada. Later in I.31, Cordula and Percy de Prey again appear juxtaposed. Ada tells Van he “had been such an idiot: suspecting Cordula! Chaste, gentle, dumb, little Cordula de Prey, when Ada had explained to him, twice, thrice, in different codes, that she had invented a nasty tender schoolmate, at a time when she had been literally torn from him, and only assumed—in advance, so to speak—such a girl’s existence” (194-95). Van pounces on the de Prey name:
“but why did you run after fat Percy, what was so important?”
“Oh, very important,” said Ada, catching a drop of honey on her nether lip, “his mother was on the dorophone, and he said please tell her he was on his way home, and I forgot all about it, and rushed up to kiss you!”
“At Riverlane,” said Van, “we used to call that a Doughnut Truth: only the truth, and the whole truth, with a hole in the truth.” (195)
At the end of Ardis the Second Van discovers Ada has indeed been unfaithful with Percy and with Philip Rack, and rushes off to vent his fury on both. But on the train in hot pursuit of his first rival, he meets Cordula, and, while still seething with jealousy at Percy de Prey, caresses willing Cordula de Prey under the dining-car table. He had been barely able to curb his jealous anger toward Ada and Cordula in the tea-room near their boarding school, Brownhill; jealous of Percy, he sneers at Ada’s response as what his boarding-school, Riverlane, refers to as a “Doughnut Truth”; and in the tea-car on the train, “in the very roomy and rococo ‘crumpeter,’ as Kalugano College students used to call it in the ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties” (302), he strokes Cordula, who would be willing for more were she not menstruating. The three boarding-school cafeterias link the three instances in an ironic highlighting of Van’s hypocrisy. Van and Cordula soon become lovers, and in her apartment she all but discloses that Ada has indeed been pursued at Brownhill, and may have responded, to the lesbian Vanda Broom.
Nabokov makes disentangling the relationships between Percy and Cordula, Ada and Van, Riverlane and Brownhill, and jealousy and infidelity, complicated. The pattern may at first seem more overload than meaning: but the meaning—the compulsiveness of desire, the impulse to infidelity, the pain and the hypocrisy of infidelity—remains under perfect authorial control.
The sexual intensity of Ardis the First amplifies in Ardis the Second, reaching a new level of complication and multiplication from the start, and not only in Van and Ada’s making love eight times in their first night, and Blanche returning from her current affair with an inverse Eros. Nabokov, who refers to Ada as a Garden of Delights (SO 306), surely intends a contrast between Ardis the First and Ardis the Second akin to that between the left-hand, paradisal, panel of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, and its teeming central panel, with its proliferation of naked men and women in endless and improbable conjunctions, and fruits both luscious and ominously evocative of the Fall of Man in the opening chapters of Genesis.
Just as Bosch’s central panel remains ambiguous between celebrating the proliferation of sexual treats and succulent fruits and warning of the dangers of an endlessly repeated Fall, so does Ardis the Second. Van and Ada have never made love as intensely as their first night back together in 1888, but nor have they ever had reason, as they have now, to probe one another about possible infidelities. Van confronts Ada with his suspicions: “why did you run after fat Percy, what was so important?” (195) He calls her evasive answer “a Doughnut Truth: . . . the whole truth, with a hole in the truth.” (195) She retorts by asking how often he has been unfaithful since he left Ardis the First, and he replies: “Six hundred and thirteen times. . . . With at least two hundred whores, who only caressed me. I’ve remained absolutely true to you because those were only ‘obmanipulations’ (sham, insignificant strokings by unremembered cold hands” (195)—although the coinage in fact incorporates the Russian obman, “deception.”
The sexual double standard Van’s father has always lived by becomes explicit here, but Ada’s infidelities are no less remarkable—less purely physical and less frequent than Van’s, but more emotionally entangled. On arriving at Ardis the Second, and already having seen enough of Percy’s interest in Ada to be jealous, Van briefly encounters and all but ignores Cordula de Prey, whom two months later he will caress under the table in the midst of his fury at Ada’s unfaithfulness and his vengeful pursuit of her lovers. Here over breakfast Ada tells Van he “had been such an idiot: suspecting Cordula! Chaste, gentle, dumb, little Cordula de Prey, when Ada had explained to him, twice, thrice, in different codes, that she had invented a nasty tender schoolmate, at a time when she had been literally torn from him, and only assumed—in advance, so to speak—such a girl’s existence” (194-95). In fact, as Van later learns from Cordula herself, there had indeed been a lesbian lover of Ada at Brownhill, Vanda Broom (323).
Just as Van claims on his reunification that Ada that despite all his whores he has “remained absolutely true to you” (195), Ada here considers that “her heart was pure” even as she expresses her quandary in terms of the heroine of an imagined film “trying to get rid of a dreary dragging affair with a married man, whom she pities; trying to nip in the bud—in the sticky red bud—a crazy adventure with an attractive young fool, whom she pities even more; and trying to keep intact the love of the only man who is all her life” (192). Elaborating on this covert evocation of Van, she notes that this “only man”
is above pity, above the poverty of her feminine pity, because as the script says, his ego is richer and prouder than anything those two poor worms could imagine.
What had she actually done with the poor worms, after Krolik’s untimely end?
“Oh, set them free” (big vague gesture), “turned them out, put them back onto suitable plants, buried them in the pupal state, told them to run along, while the birds were not looking—or alas, feigning not to be looking.” (192-93)
The “worms” in her elaborate analogy prompt a characteristic knight’s-move of thought on Van’s part, to the “worms” or caterpillars she received from and bred with the encouragement of local lepidopterist Dr. Krolik. In fact we learn a little later that “after Dr. Krolik died (in 1886) of a heart attack in his garden, she had placed all her live pupae in his open coffin where he lay, she said, as plump and pink as in vivo” (219). The odd image conflates the “worms” or caterpillars heralding the emergence of new life, with the worms eating a corpse, and also the worm or serpent or phallic emblem implied in Ada’s earlier “Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe (I’m crazy about everything that crawls)” (54), just before the first mention of “Dr. Krolik . . . dear Crawly” (55). Interrupting Ada’s near-confession, Van’s apparently digressive question on worms and Krolik actually hints at another of Ada’s major infidelities, with Krolik, who, as Van remarks when in 1892 he sees an 1884 photo of the doctor, “looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling, he’s a big, strong, handsome old March Hare!” (404) The implication, indeed, is that Ada has also concealed an affair with Krolik, and perhaps that his heart attack in his garden was brought about by his exertions with the indefatigable fourteen-year-old Ada. In her oblique confession by way of the imagined film, Ada has made veiled reference to her ongoing affairs with Philip Rack and Percy de Prey, but felt no need to refer to another affair that death had already brought to an end, sparing her yet another ongoing complication.
As we have seen, Van and Ada’s first morning at Ardis the Second prefigures ominously Van’s last morning at Ardis. But it also echoes his first morning at Ardis the First, and his and Ada’s first breakfast à deux there, and their first reunion after Ardis, at Manhattan. Time, for Nabokov, as for Van, is not destiny but rather an accumulation of retrospectively discernible patterns. After a night of love-making, Van and Ada sit facing each other at the breakfast table: “—and here’s a pot of transparent honey: two cheerful cousins, ‘raiding the icebox’ as children in old fairy tales, and the thrushes were sweetly whistling in the bright-green garden as the dark-green shadows drew in their claws” (191). This recalls the magic of the “hammock and honey” chapter, I.12, and the first breakfast they have as a twosome, with the key role played by the “classical beauty of clover honey, smooth, pale, translucent, freely flowing from the spoon. . . . A fiery droplet in the wick of her mouth considered him” (75). There we—but not yet Van as character—find out for the first time that Ada is as much in love with Van as he with her. Now in I.31, after a night of fervent love-making, they enjoy something like a replay of that first breakfast together, with Ada “catching a drop of honey on her nether lip” (195)—but this comes in the midst of her oblique confession about her other affairs and Van’s specific challenge about her running “after fat Percy.”
On Van’s first morning at Ardis, he had been “violently aroused by a clamorous caroling—bright warbles, sweet whistles, chirps, trills, twitters, rasping caws and tender chew-chews—which he assumed, not without a non-Audubon’s apprehension, Ada could, and would, break up into the right voices of the right birds” (47) before he steps out “into the green reality of the garden” (49); now in I.31, Van and Ada sit down to breakfast while “the thrushes were sweetly whistling in the bright-green garden as the dark-green shadows drew in their claws” (191). Then, in 1884, on his first morning at Ardis, Van accosts Blanche, but their encounter is interrupted, as Blanche warns Van, by the butler Bouteillan, at that point her lover. Now, in 1888, Van’s first night tryst with Ada had been interrupted by Blanche coming back from her own tryst with another of the Ardis staff, while at breakfast Ada warns Van that, again, Bouteillan is about to enter.
In 1888, Lucette interrupts Van and Ada in their first clinch, asking for Ada even through Van’s closed door: a mark of the contrast between Van and Ada’s hesitant approach to one another in 1884, and their instant resumption now, and between Lucette’s innocent eagerness to see Van and Ada together late in the summer of 1884, and her quiet knowledge from the beginning of 1888 of what to expect between her torrid siblings. And just as Blanche spies Van making love to Ada on their first night back together in 1888, Lucette will also interrupt them making love, in the bathroom at Manhattan, in their first moments together there:
he steadied her lovely lyre and next moment was at the suede-soft root, was gripped, was deep between the familiar, incomparable, crimson-lined lips. She caught at the twin cock crosses, thus involuntarily increasing the sympathetic volume of the water’s noise, and Van emitted a long groan of deliverance, and now their four eyes were looking again into the azure brook of Pinedale, and Lucette pushed the door open with a perfunctory knuckle knock and stopped, mesmerized by the sight of Van’s hairy rear and the dreadful scar all along his left side. (392)
As this passage indicates—with its echo of Lucette’s and Blanche’s interruptions on Van’s first hours back with Ada in Ardis in June 1888, and its echo of other Lucette interruptions, and the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday, and the proto-duel between Van and Percy there, and the scar from Van’s actual duel after leaving Ardis forever—the patterns of time established through Van and Ada’s partings and reunions, their infidelities and jealousies, and their entanglements with Lucette, already complex in Ardis the First, take on a new multidimensionality in Ardis the Second and after. In his 1941 essay “The Tragedy of Tragedy” Nabokov calls for “the creation of a certain unique pattern in life in which the sorrows and passions of a particular man will follow the rules of his own individuality,” allowing accident and chance to play their part in the harmony, “without suggesting anything like the iron laws of tragic fatality” (MUSSR 341; the printed text’s incorrect “passing” has been corrected to the manuscript’s “passions.”) Here at the start of Ardis the Second, Nabokov shows, perhaps better than he ever expected, exactly what he had in mind.