Part One, Chapter 8
After establishing Van’s sexual readiness in I.7, Nabokov now shows Van’s and Ada’s feelings for each other, still pre-sexual, start to stir.
Pushed together by a well-meaning adult, Van and Ada, still near-strangers, remain awkward with each other. Van thinks himself almost a man; Ada knows herself only as bright as children come. At first nonplussed to find a child knowing more than him in any domain, Van warms to the “pretty prig” (51: his first note of admiration) and especially to her love of literature and her play of mind. “In fact he was beginning to like very much arbors and ardors and Adas. They rhymed. Should he mention it?” (54) As responsive to him as he is to her, Ada offers to show him her larvarium.
Despite the shimmer of unreality always present in Ada, the scene is a masterpiece of psychological realism, as Nabokov shows tension shading into attraction via a quicksilver succession of attitudes--awkwardness, reproach, rankling, boasting, priggishness, bossiness, display, imaginative attunement, competitiveness, irritation, apology, acceptance, self-deprecation, casual curiosity, flattery, a sense of mental kinship, and a desire to share more--all seen against intermittent glimpses of Van and Ada’s sharing much, much more in the retrospect of loving old age.
At the same time the chapter establishes the radiant gold-and-green atmosphere around Van and Ada together at Ardis and contrasts the innocence, novelty and hesitancy of their first games together with the impending routine of their passionate amours.
Ada is still innocent, still only a child, but she is about to unfurl towards adulthood. The process of metamorphosis, the tension between innocence and sexual experience, is reflected with comic overtness in the caterpillars she collects. Caterpillars lack sexual organs, and pre-sexual Ada innocently collects them precisely so that she can breed them by hand once they hatch into butterflies or moths. The caterpillars in her collection culminate in the Cattleya Hawkmoth, a parody of all innuendo and a proof of her readiness to respond to Van, as she delights in a seven-inch, purple-headed colossus that rears up in stiff display.
At the start of the chapter, under pressure from Mlle Larivière, Ada and Van hold hands--and abruptly disengage. In the middle, Ada happily holds the grossly phallic Cattleya Hawkmoth in her hand. At the end, she describes how she holds two butterflies, one in each hand, in enforced copulation. Although Van has not even begun to think sexually about Ada, although he will for some time think a sexual consummation of his developing desire for her out of the question, we can guess that things are about to move fast.
Nabokov challenges his readers, but he also offers them rewards. He knows that most of us will have no idea of the caterpillars he describes, or realise that they are invented species in real genera, and he knows that many of us will be daunted by the details or resistant to Lepidoptera as his private passion. For that reason he makes the descriptions as vivid and imagistic as possible, and invites us to compare the before and after of each caterpillar, a teasing test that will have us flicking back and forth from page to page, connecting the “sharkmoth caterpillars” reasonably confidently to the “Cowl (or ‘Shark’) larva,” not quite so sure that the “local catocalid” is indeed the “Lorelei Underwing,” but able to work it out by echo and elimination.
He segues in this chapter from play ( Ada’s games) through art (her reading) to science (her larvarium). Throughout the novel, he insists on the relationship between the three, not least here when he turns the recognition of the caterpillars into a literary game at the same time as he celebrates nature’s creativity, its transformations, its mimetic wit. Despite her explanations, Van had felt no inclination to join Ada’s invented games, but then sensed something stir as she spoke of books, and despite his initial distaste became fascinated by the caterpillars that he now helps her describe. Like Van, we might at first feel daunted, but Nabokov invites us, as Ada invites Van, to join the art and the play of natural science.
50.01: On the same morning, or a couple of days later: Cf. the start of another early chapter, I.14: “Next day, or the day after the next. . . . ” Van suggests he will be as exact as he can but will not pretend to greater precision than memory allows; he can remember sequences, but not intervals.
50.02: Mais va donc jouer avec lui: Darkbloom: “Come on, go and play with him.”
50.04: se morfondre: Darkbloom: “mope.”
50.05: the white lady: The “woman of marble” at 50.12, the “marble fore-image of a Crimean girl” at 399.25.
50.06: and the mountain, and the great oak: An echo of l. 26 (“Et ma montagne, et le grand chêne,” “And my mountain, and the great oak”) of Chateaubriand’s “Romance à Hélène” (see 5.07n and 138.01-139.04 and n.), which will become a personal motif for Van and Ada later in the summer. Cf. 53.34: “we are supposed to go and look at the grand chêne” and 109.11-15: “‘And do you remember, a tï pomnish’, et te souviens-tu’ (invariably with that implied codetta of ‘and,’ introducing the bead to be threaded in the torn necklace).”
There is in fact neither a “mountain” in this scene (it is identified as a hill, 138.09-16, 398.28), nor an oak (as Ada points out at 53.34-54.01, the tree is an elm): Mlle Larivière, who seems unaware of the Chateaubriand echo, is as vague an observer as Nabokov’s own French governess was a remembrer (see SM 107).
The “and . . . and . . . ” intonation--apparently derived from Chateaubriand’s poem-- served Nabokov as a personal stylistic sign of memorial attachment, of retrospective enumeration and delectation, throughout his work, even more in Russian (“i . . . i . . . “) than in English. MOTIF: Chateaubriand; grand chêne; Oh! qui me rendra; Romance à Hélène; wrong tree.
50.07-08: cold fingers: Cf. 59.06, 562.14.
50.08-09: the self-conscious way she tossed back her hair: Cf. 189.26-27: “tossing her head in a way she had when nervous or displeased” and 52.12n. MOTIF: tossing hair [ Ada].
50.11-18: fir cone . . . . threw the cone at a woman of marble. . . . pitching stones. . . . knows a cone from a stone: Van at eighteen triumphantly remembers (finch)--and misremembers (stone)--this scene: “I remember the first time you got cross with me was when I chucked a stone at a statue and frightened a finch. That’s memory!” (192.12-15) A photograph by Kim Beauharnais commemorates the scene (399.23-29), as does a phrase from Van (“deciding to kill two finches with one fircone,” 414.29-30).
Ardeur 44 has “il dégagea sa main captive puis, ne sachant que faire de l’objet, il le lança” (“he disengaged his hand then, not knowing what to do with the object, threw it”).
50.11-13: threw the cone at a woman of marble . . . but only managed to frighten a bird: This seems to echo André Maurois’s Byron, which Nabokov knew and detested: “One day he threw a stone at a bird and accidentally hit a little girl. She cried. They tried to force him to beg her pardon, but he fell into one of his silent rages. ‘Do you know that I am Byron’s son?’ he asked her. An hour later he came back of his own accord, bringing sweets for the victim.” (trans. Hamish Miles, New York: Appleton, 1930, 25-26)
50.12: stamnos: W2: “A kind of wine or water vessel; in modern archaeological usage, a wide-mouthed vase with handles set horizontally on the shoulders.”
50.13-18: a bird . . . a hawfinch . . . knows a cone from a stone: MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy.
50.16: pitching stones at a hawfinch: The “pitching” here later connects with the “daughter with pitcher” (320.14-15) in the Crimean scene linked with this moment via Van’s comment on Kim’s photograph (“greeting his fourteen-year-old self, shirtless, in shorts, aiming a conical missile at the marble-fore-image of a Crimean girl doomed to offer an everlasting draught of marble water to a dying marine from her bullet-chipped jar,” 399.24-27). Cf. Boyd 1985/2001: 170-71 and Afternote below.
50.16: hawfinch: Coccothraustes coccothraustes, the common European hawfinch, does not occur normally naturally in North America. D. Barton Johnson notes it as one of three birds (the others are bulbul and nightingale) associated with Percy de Prey (Johnson 2000).
50.18: I’m not a country lad, who knows a cone from a stone: Rattled by Ada’s reprimand and her specifying the species of the bird he has frightened, Van wreaks his revenge by way of her failure to notice what it was he threw at the bird.
50.18: country lad: Cf. 53.07-08.
50.19-52.26: games. . . . Games I have invented all by myself. . . . most boring and stupid games: Cf. the unfamiliar game and ensuing boredom in the autobiographical story “A Bad Day,” Stories 268. The light-effects, games, stick borrowed from a flower-bed, adolescent amatory awkwardness, and toothbrush-like caterpillar in this chapter all echo “A Bad Day.” MOTIF: games.
50.19: au fond: Darkbloom: “actually.”
50.20: Je l’ignore: Darkbloom: “I don’t know.”
50.20-51.01: I really don’t care very much how her poor mind works. Cache-cache, I suppose, or climbing trees: Ironically, despite Ada’s present contempt for these games, she will soon relish them with Van.
51.01: Cache-cache: Darkbloom: “hide-and-seek.”
51.03: brachiate: W2: “To progress by swinging from one hold to another by the arms, as the gibbon.” Cf. 82.21, “brachiambulant”; 185.10, “maniambulation.”
51.04-07: Games I have invented all by myself. . . . the shadow-and-shine group: Cf. Nabokov’s infant games, also involving light: the divan-tunnel game, and the bedlinen game, SM 21-24, 171. Richard Borden, “Nabokov’s Travesties of Childhood Nostalgia,” Nabokov Studies 2 (1995): 104-34, p. 112, comments on “the flaking or dappling shade and light effect of sun-struck foliage, a visual motif that marks nearly every happy childhood memory or moment of achieved grace in Nabokov’s fiction, reaching its apogee in” this scene in Ada. He lists as other examples, “A Bad Day,” DS 41; Defense 166; and the SM passages.
51.05-06: Games Lucette, I hope, will be able to play next year with me, the poor pet: Presumably it is Lucette’s brush with pneumonia in the spring (36.27-28), rather than her youth, that makes her unavailable now? Lucette will be Ada’s “pet” in much more dangerous games in 1888 at Ardis (205-06, 213), in 1890 in Arizona (see 374-76), in 1892 in Manhattan (417-20). MOTIF: Lucette: prolepsis.
51.06: the poor pet: MOTIF: pet.
51.07-52.23: shadow-and-shine group. . . : MOTIF: sun-Ardis.
51.15-19: Overhead the arms of a linden stretched toward those of an oak, like a green-spangled beauty flying to meet her strong father hanging by his feet from the trapeze: Cf. SM 135: “On a picturesque boulder, a little mountain ash and a still smaller aspen had climbed, holding hands, like two clumsy, shy children.”
51.17-18: green-spangled beauty flying to meet her strong father hanging by his feet from the trapeze: Cf. 426.10: “Miss Spangle Triangle in Flying Rings.”
51.22: teil: Synonym of linden (lime).
51.22-23: flying Italian lady: Perhaps a reminiscence of Gina Lollobrigida (1927- ), who plays a trapeze artist and partner of the character played by Burt Lancaster in Carol Reed's 1956 film Trapeze (Kyoto Reading Circle, Krug 3:2, 28).
51.27-29: as they looked up and then down). Looking down and gesturing . . . : This echo device is used often in Ada: cf. “ ‘Marina wants Kim to take our picture--holding hands and grinning’ (grinning, and then turning back . . . ).” (101.18-20)
51.27: tender age: Cf. 3.14, “tender and wayward age of fifteen.”
51.29-32: gesturing with a sharp green stake . . . roundlets of live light: Cf. 50.19-52.26n. and 53.13-15.
51.30: peonies: MOTIF: flowers.
51.32: roundlets: MOTIF: -let.
52.03: roundlet: MOTIF: -let.
52.04: infusion de tilleul: Darkbloom: “lime tea.” Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello notes (Nabokv-L, 6 April 2014) that the “infusion de tilleul” echoes the most famous moment in Proust’s A la Recherche du temps perdu, at the end of the first section of the novel (Combray, I). For a long time the narrator has not thought of, has barely been able to remember, his childhood at Combray, when he sips a spoonful of tea in which he had softened a madeleine. Seized by a transport of joy, he does not know what occasioned it, until:
"Et tout d’un coup le souvenir m’est apparu. Ce goût, c’était celui du petit morceau de madeleine que le dimanche matin à Combray (parce que ce jour-là je ne sortais pas avant l’heure de la messe), quand j’allais lui dire bonjour dans sa chambre, ma tante Léonie m’offrait après l’avoir trempé dans son infusion de thé ou de tilleul. La vue de la petite madeleine ne m’avait rien rappelé avant que je n’y eusse goûté; peut-être parce que, en ayant souvent aperçu depuis, sans en manger, sur les tablettes des pâtissiers, leur image avait quitté ces jours de Combray pour se lier à d’autres plus récents ; peut-être parce que, de ces souvenirs abandonnés si longtemps hors de la mémoire, rien ne survivait, tout s’était désagrégé ; les formes – et celle aussi du petit coquillage de pâtisserie, si grassement sensuel sous son plissage sévère et dévot – s'étaient abolies, ou, ensommeillés, avaient perdu la force d’expansion qui leur eût permis de rejoindre la conscience." (Pléiade ed., 1954, I, 46-47).
"And suddenly the memory came to me. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those days I would not go out before Mass), when I went to say goodday to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, after having soaked it in tea or lime tea. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had often noticed them since, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, their image had left those Combray days to link itself with others more recent; perhaps because of those memories so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing survived, everything had scattered; the forms – including too that little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them back into my consciousness." (Adapted from C.K Scott Moncrieff translation, I, 61.)
Ada, squatting down a moment later with her hair overhanging her haunches (52.09-12), may call to mind the biblical Mary Magdalene (from whom the name Madeleine derives), who was traditionally seen as a repentant prostitute, through being identified (probably wrongly) with the sinning woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her hair in Luke 7:36-50.
52.09: goldgout: MOTIF: gouts.
52.10: black hair falling over her ivory-smooth moving knees: MOTIF: black-white.
52.12: brushing back bothersome strands of hair: Cf. 62.23-24, 99.31, 227.32-33, and 50.08-09n.
52.25: the most boring and stupid games: Cf. Van’s similar attitude to a report of another of Ada’s even earlier games, 151.05-08.
52.29: a grateful flower: MOTIF: flowers.
52.30-31: He wondered if her walk would be more graceful when she grew up: Cf. 50.3; “ Ada, whose young hips disjointedly jerked from the shock.”
53.01-03: two tulip-tree trunks between which . . . Ivan . . . used to sling a hammock: Since Ardis belonged to Dan, and Marina did not marry Dan until 1871, nine years after Ivan Durmanov’s death, Ivan can only have been a visitor to Ardis, as is confirmed at 72.18-21: “a former summer guest . . . Uncle Van.” MOTIF: under tree.
53.03-10: hammock . . . hammocks: MOTIF: hammock.
53.04: the latitude of Sicily: 37°-38°N, or in our earth’s United States, from Richmond, Virginia, on the east coast to San Francisco on the west. Cf. PF 19: “and this at the latitude of Palermo.”
53.06: do fireflies burn: MOTIF: firefly.
53.07-08: Just a city boy’s silly question: Cf. 50.18: “I’m not a country lad, who knows a cone from a stone.”
53.11-15: a basement toolroom . . . the key . . . croquet implements: Cf. 399.31-32: “a basement door. . . . croquet mallets inside.”
53.13: stuffed by the nest of a bird--no need to identify it: But it will be identified later, wrongly by Van, correctly by Ada, when in 1892 they see Kim’s photograph of the bird: “Ah, the famous first finch. ‘No, that’s a kitayskaya punochka (Chinese Wall Bunting). It has settled on the threshold of a basement door. The door is ajar. There are garden tools and croquet mallets inside.’ ” (399.29-32) MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy.
53.13-15: A pointer of sunlight daubed with greener paint a long green box: Cf. 51.29-32 and 191.17-18. MOTIF: green-Ardis; sun-Ardis.
53.16: Erminins: for the surname, see 92.10-33n.
53.16-17: the little Erminins, who were now Van’s age: Grace and Greg Erminin are twins (79.13).
53.19-22: a curved tortoiseshell comb . . . he had seen one, exactly like that . . . in whose hairdo? “One of the maids,” said Ada: Blanche’s, at 48.23-24, either earlier “On the same morning” (50.01) or a couple of days previously. At 191.05-08 Blanche will use the toolroom to come from her tryst with Sore, and is presumably already using it as a thoroughfare in this way.
53.19-23: comb . . . “One of the maids. . . That tattered chapbook must also belong to her”: For Blanche’s mislaying things, cf. 49.04-06. She leaves a hairpin in Lucette’s cot, 69.14.
53.22-24: tattered chapbook . . . Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor: Darkbloom: “Les amours du Dr. Mertvago: play on ‘Zhivago’ (zhiv means in Russian ‘alive’ and mertv, ‘dead’).” “Pastor” is a pun on Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), who published Doctor Zhivago in 1957, and on what Nabokov thought the book’s “sickly sweet brand of Christianism” (SO 206). Since the 1920s Nabokov had (with reservations) admired Pasternak as a poet, but he found Doctor Zhivago “a sorry thing, clumsy, trivial, and melodramatic, with stock situations, voluptuous lawyers, unbelievable girls, and trite coincidences.” (SO 206) He assigns the book to Blanche, whose speech often reflects stilted novelese, because he thought it “melodramatic and vilely written” (SO 57), “provincial” (letter to Roman Grynberg, January 30, 1965), “dreary conventional stuff” (letter to Jason Epstein, August 26, 1958) that reminded him “very much of novels written by Russians of, I am ashamed to say, the gentler sex” (interview with Penelope Gilliatt, Vogue, December 1966, 279).
Although “Mertvago” sounds improbable as a Russian surname, it is real. A journalist A.P. Mertvago, for instance, wrote a “prophetic” article “Blizost’ Bol’shoy Voyny” [“The Closeness of a Great War”] in the Moscow newspaper Utro Rossii (October 25, 1911) that greatly impressed Alexander Blok (see Blok’s diary—which Nabokov knew well—for June 18, 1921) (Aleksey Sklyarenko, personal communication). Aleksey Sklyarenko noted on Nabokv-L, 6 January 2013: “D. B. Mertvago (1760-1824) was a god-father of S[ergey] Aksakov (the author of The Family Chronicle, 1856 [see AdaOnline title page, n.4] and The Childhood Years of Grandson Bagrov, 1858). In 1857 Aksakov published his Reminiscences of Dmitri Borisovich Mertvago (a statesman and author of Zapiski, ‘Memoirs,’ 1887). Various members of the Mertvago family are mentioned in The Family Chronicle:
‘V takom raspolozhenii dukha priekhali oni v Staruyu Mertovshchinu, gde zhila v to vremya zamechatal’no umnaya starukha Mar’ya Mikhaylovna Mertvaya.’ (‘In such a mood they arrived in Old Mertovshchina where Maria Mikhailovna Mertvaya [“dead”],* a remarkably clever old woman, then lived.’)
*Aksakov's footnote: ‘Vposledstvii pravitel’stvo pozvolilo izmenit’ eto strashnoe slovo, i synov’ya eyo stali nazyvat’sya Mertvago.’ (‘The government later allowed her to change that terrible word and her sons received the name Mertvago.’ Part Four, The Young Couple in Bagrovo).
Sklyarenko noted on Nabokv-L, 7 January 2013, that “The opening poem in Pasternak's Sestra moya zhizn' (My Sister Life, 1919) is Pamyati Demona (In Memory of Demon).”
In view of the facts that Ada could almost be called “My Sister, My Life,” that Van’s and Ada’s father is Demon, and that Ada’s subtitle, “A Family Chronicle,” links to Aksakov’s Family Chronicle and hence to the name Mertvago supplied here as an Antiterran equivalent of Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, Nabokov seems to be suggesting a key connection between Ada and Dr. Zhivago.
Cf. PF 266.
53.25-28: Playing croquet with you . . . . rather like using flamingoes and hedgehogs. . . . Palace in Wonderland: In Chapter 8, “The Queen’s Croquet Grounds,” of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), by Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson, 1832-1898), “Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life: it was all ridges and furrows: the croquet balls were live hedgehogs, and the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches.” Nabokov translated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into Russian in 1922 (published as Anya v strane chudes, 1923).
Cf. 129.17: “ Ada in Wonderland”; 568.06: “ Ada’s adventures in Adaland.” MOTIF: Alice in Wonderland; games.
53.27: Our reading lists do not match: In fact they often do, as the children soon discover: Joyce (54.01-02), Proust (55.30-31), Rimbaud (64.17-21), Marvell (65.08-13), etc.
53.30-32: Have you read any of Mlle Larivière’s stories? . . . She thinks that in some former Hindooish state she was a boulevardier in Paris; and writes accordingly: Mlle Larivière’s work echoes in particular that of Guy de Maupassant (1850-93): cf. 83.06-22 and n. and 87.16-31. “Hindooish”: she believes in reincarnation (among other things: cf. 125.08-10), like Marina (cf. 90.33-34: “ India where she had been a dancing girl long before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus swamp”).
53.34-54.01: grand chêne which is really an elm: Darkbloom: “big oak.” Cf. 50.06 “great oak” and 398.28-29: “and the big chain around the trunk of the rare oak, Quercus ruslan Chat.” Cf. also 92.31-33: “ ‘I guess it’s your father under that oak, isn’t it?’ ‘No, it’s an elm,’ said Ada.” MOTIF: Ada’s taxonomy; grand chêne; wrong tree.
54.01-03: Did he like elms? Did he know Joyce’s poem about the two washerwomen? He did, indeed. Did he like it? He did: The famous lyrical prose passage involving two washerwomen by the Liffey, at the end of the “Anna Livia Plurabelle” chapter (I.viii) of Finnegans Wake (1938)--a passage Joyce recorded in his own voice--includes the refrain “Tell me,” which in its last transformation becomes “Tell me, tell me, tell me elm! Night night! Telmetale of stem or stone.” (216.03-04). Though a great admirer of Ulysses, Nabokov thought Finnegans Wake “a formless and dull mass of phony folklore, a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room. . . . Finnegans Wake’s façade disguises a very conventional and drab tenement house, and only the infrequent snatches of heavenly intonations redeem it from utter insipidity.” (SO 71)
54.03-04: In fact he was beginning to like very much arbors and ardors and Adas: The Westermarck effect (proposed by the Swedish-Finnish psychologist Edward Westermarck, 1862-1939) explains the avoidance of incest by mechanisms normally causing those reared together at a young age to experience no strong sexual attraction for each other. Freud rejected Westermarck’s hypothesis, but it has been confirmed in many case studies in humans and other animals. For an engaging discussion, see Frans de Waal, The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologist ( New York: Basic Books, 2001), ch. 11. Another biological factor in mate choice is homogamy, the tendency for like to mate with like. The combination of the two—the Westermarck effect discouraging sexual attraction among children reared together, homogamy encouraging attraction among those resembling each another—explains “the recent reports that siblings separated at birth and then reunited in adulthood tend (to their distress) to find one another sexually attractive” (Anne Campbell, A Mind of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 16). Van and Ada have been reared apart and, as they are discovering here, are far more alike than most siblings. Nabokov would have known of the Westermarck effect, if nowhere else, through Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1905-36). MOTIF: Ada, the ardors and arbors of Ardis.
54.09-57.26: my larvarium . . . . favorite violet’s reek: For Ada’s plans for the larvarium, see also 404.16-405.02; for the later fate of the larvarium, see 193.01-06, 219.11-13 and 405.04-07. At 535.26-27 Ada donates her collections, which may include these insects, “to a National Park museum.” MOTIF: butterflies.
54.09-10: the real marvel of Ardis Manor; my larvarium, it’s in the room next to mine: Writing of his mother’s love for Vyra, her family’s summer home, Nabokov remarks: “Her special tags and imprints became as dear and as sacred to me as they were to her. There was the room which in the past had been reserved for her mother’s pet hobby, a chemical laboratory” (SM 40).
54.09: larvarium: A place for the rearing of insect larvae. Nabokov reared interesting caterpillars in his youth, and calls this the only autobiographical detail in Ada (interview with Roberto Tabozzi, October 16, 1969, from TS in VNA; cf. also interview with Phyllis Méras, Providence Sunday Journal, May 13, 1962). Cf. PF 52 (poem, ll. 514-15): “Iph / Was a larvorium and a violet.” MOTIF: -arium.
54.09-11: ‘ . . . the room next to mine’ (which he never saw, never--how odd, come to think of it!): Cf. 235.15-16: “before unlocking her (always locked) door.”
54.13: a glorified rabbitry: In view of Dr. Krolik’s role in supplying Ada with larvae, and his name (Russian for “rabbit”), this seems not only to describe the hutches but also to stress his pervasiveness in the larvarium project.
54.15-16: heraldic stained-glass windows: In Nabokov’s nursery bathroom at Vyra, he would look “at the stained-glass window beyond, at its two halberdiers consisting of colored rectangles.” (SM 85) Cf. also, perhaps, Ada 563.07-08: “I wonder if the attempt to discover these things is worth the stained glass.”
54.17-18: an undernourished and horribly frustrated bird population: Frustrated because, despite the open windows, they do not have access to these juicy caterpillars. Cf. 193.01-06, where Ada explains that after Krolik’s death she has turned her pupae 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.”
54.24-29: “Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe. . . . ” “ . . . I rather like those that roll up in a muff when you touch them. . . . ” “ . . . they swoon”: Cf. 449.14-19: “a six-inch-long caterpillar, with fox-furred segments, qui rampait, was tramping, along the balustrade and curled up in a swoon when picked up by Van.”
54.24-25: Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe . . . crawls: MOTIF: raffole . . . rampe . . . crawl.
54.29: quelle idée: Darkbloom : “the idea!”
54.30: syncope: faint, swoon.
55.02-03: naked, shiny, gaudily spotted and streaked sharkmoth caterpillars: Shark moths belong to the Noctuid genus Cucullia. At 56.16-17 a specimen is called a Cowl and is identifiable as Cucullia verbasci Linnaeus. Nabokov told Bernard Pivot in May 1975: “À l’exception de quelques papillons suisses dans Ada, j’ai inventé les espèces mais non les genres . . . et je soutiens que c’est la première fois qu’on a inventé des papillons scientifiquement possible” (Apostrophes interview, France 1, May 30, 1975, from TS in VNA; “Apart from a few Swiss butterflies in Ada, I have invented the species but not the genera . . . and I maintain that it’s the first time butterflies scientifically possible have been invented”).
55.03: mullein: Any herb of the genus Verbascum. Earl Sampson (private communication) suggests this is probably moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria).
55.04-07: the flat larva of a local catocalid whose gray knobs and lilac plaques mimicked the knots and lichens of the twig . . . : A catocalid is a moth of the Noctuid genus Catocala, the caterpillars of which usually mimic the twigs on which they rest by day; this particular species is identified at 56.18 as a “Lorelei Underwing.” Nabokov was fascinated by natural mimicry (see especially Gift 122-23 and SM 124-25 and DB 116-17), and even considered writing a major book on the subject (SL 134). MOTIF: mimicry.
55.07-09: little Vaporer fellow . . . fancy toothbrush . . . : Vaporers or tussock moths belong to the genus Orgyia Ochsenheimer, whose caterpillars all have tufts of hair. Cf. 56.20-22, where this specimen is identified as a Persian Vaporer. Cf. the story “A Bad Day”: “a small caterpillar, with varicolored tufts of hair along its back in toothbrush arrangement” (Stories 268).
55.10-16: And that kind of simile . . . reminds me today of the entomological entries in Ada’s diary . . . . nothing has changed): Cf. 525.01-04: “this and the other comparisons are all Ada’s).” Note that such description is not typical of Nabokov’s scientific writings. Similes such as the following are quite exceptional: “a pair of formidable semi-translucent hooks (the subunci or falces--of a peculiar shape not found in allied genera), produced from the opposite side of the distally twinned uncus and facing each other in the manner of the stolidly raised fists of two pugilists (of the old school) with the uncus hoods lending a Ku-Klux-Klan touch to the picture” (“Notes on the Morphology of the Genus Lycaeides,” Psyche 51:3-4 , 108). MOTIF: Composition--Van.
55.10-56.13: And that kind of simile . . . reminds me . . . of . . . Ada’s diary . . . “that old V.V.!”): MOTIF: diary.
55.15-16: otherwise nothing, nothing, nothing has changed: MOTIF: nothing, nothing has changed.
55.17: diabolical anal appendages: Cf. 56.24-25, “their pitchforks now limply trailing behind them.”
55.18: Puss Moth: A Notodontid moth of the genus Cerura, as Nabokov identifies it in A1. Cf. 56.22-27.
55.24-25: Dr. Krolik received from Andalusia and kindly gave me five young larvae: For Dr. Krolik’s generosity in presenting Ada with larvae, cf. 79.21-27, 404.16-405.02.
55.24: Dr Krolik: The name means “rabbit” in Russian, and forms part of the “Dr. Rabbit/Hare” pattern (see 7.25n3). Dr Seitz has a name that, pronounced correctly in the German way, is a close homonym of Russian zayats, “hare”: “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” (230.13-14; cf. Darkbloom 7.25n). Dr. Krolik, a passionate lepidopterist, appears himself to be named in honor of Adalbert Seitz (1860-1938), the first volumes of whose Die Groß-Schmetterlinge der Erde (The Macrolepidoptera of the World,1906-1954) Nabokov had by 1910 “dreamed [his] way through” (SM 123).
Nevertheless, there is more to Krolik’s name. It derives also from the famous Russian lepidopterist Leonid Konstantinovich Krulikowsky (1864-1930). As lepidopterist Konstantin Efetov notes: “Of course VN knew about him. ‘Krulikovsky’ is a Polish surname. Krolik (in Russian) = krulik (in Polish) = rabbit (in English).” (Cited in BB, “Pinning Down Krolik,” The Nabokovian, 48 (Spring 2002), 23-27.) For Krulikowsky’s specific relation to Nabokov’s childhood activity as a lepidopterist, and its relation to Ada’s relation to Krolik, see 57.05-06n. MOTIF: Krolik.
55.24-29: Andalusia . . . Carmen Tortoiseshell: Cf. 56.29-32, where it is named Nymphalis carmen, an invented species of the nymphalid genus Nymphalis, whose brightly-patterned butterflies, like some others, have the common name Tortoiseshell. Although the story’s heroine is Basque, the action of Carmen (1845) by Prosper Mérimée (1803-70) takes place in Andalusia. Cf. 77.02-06n. Especially in view of the obscene hints in the caterpillars before (Puss Moth) and after (the phallic Cattleya Hawkmoth), and the "very local Carmen Tortoiseshell" it seems that Tortoiseshell contains a pun on the regional sense of concha, which in standard Spanish means "shell, tortoiseshell," but in Andean and Rio-Platensian Spanish can mean "cunt." MOTIF: Carmen.
55.24: Andalusia: MOTIF: Andalusia.
55.28: Crawly: Play on “Krolik,” on his caterpillars, and on Ada’s “I’m crazy about everything that crawls” (54.24-25). In fact she does seem “crazy” about Krolik, with whom she appears to have an affair (cf. 56.29-30n. and especially 403.31-404.09 and 455.01). MOTIF: Krolik; raffole . . . rampe . . . crawl; willow.
55.30-31: At ten or earlier the child had read--as Van had--Les Malheurs de Swann: Darkbloom: “cross between Les malheurs de Sophie by Mme de Ségur (née Countess Rostopchin) and Proust’s Un amour de Swann.” Rivers and Walker comment that Les Malheurs de Swann is “an apt description of Swann’s experiences in Un Amour de Swann, where Swann’s love for Odette is equated with suffering and misfortune.” (269) As a child Nabokov himself read Les Malheurs de Sophie (1859) and others in the Bibliothèque Rose series, by Sophie Rostopchine, Comtesse de Ségur (1799-1874) (SM 105); Rivers and Walker comment that these books are aptly fused with Proust here because despite what Nabokov calls their “awful combination of preciosity and vulgarity” (SM 76) they “had the power of evoking later in [his] life involuntary, Proustian memories of his childhood in Russia.” (269)
In Les Malheurs de Sophie, Sophie’s keeping pets, and their dying off, form prominent themes. Curiously a 1901 English version, simply called Sophie (adapted by Charles Welsh, Boston: D.C. Heath) has an introduction by someone with the astonishing name of Ada Van Stone Harris.
Cf. 114.01-02: “Les Sophismes de Sophie by Mlle Stopchin’; 384.03-04: Lucette: “At the age of ten . . . I was at the Vieux-Rose Stopchin stage.”
Nabokov discovered War and Peace at eleven (SM 199), but the even more precocious and much less innocent Van had at nine read Un Amour de Swann and masturbated over Gilberte, the youthful Marcel’s love: cf. 66.03-06. MOTIF: Ségur.
56.01-04: “I think Marina would stop scolding me for my hobby (‘There’s something indecent about a little girl’s keeping such revolting pets . . . , ’ ‘Normal young girls should loathe snakes and worms,’ et cetera)”: Cf. also Marina’s disapproval at 65.16-19. Nabokov comments how as a youth he would be trying to get his butterfly implements into the charabanc or convertible before a picnic when “some cousin or aunt of mine would remark: ‘Must you really take that net with you? Can’t you enjoy yourself like a normal boy? Don’t you think you are spoiling everybody’s pleasure?’ ” (SM 130)
56.03: should loathe snakes: MOTIF: snake.
56.04-05: her old-fashioned squeamishness: Cf. Marina’s “Old-fashioned qualms” (about incest) at 40.05-06.
56.06-10: the noble larva of the Cattleya Hawkmoth (mauve shades of Monsieur Proust), a seven-inch long colossus, flesh colored, with turquoise arabesques, rearing its hyacinth head in a stiff “Sphinxian” attitude: “Let me also evoke the hawkmoths, the jets of my boyhood!” Nabokov recalls with great fondness in SM (134). Hawkmoths, of the family Sphingidae, are usually largish moths, which, because they hover over the flowers they feed on at dusk, are often confused with hummingbirds. “Sphinx” is “the typical genus of hawkmoths, originally coextensive with the family Sphingidae, but now including only a very small part. The larva often assumes a position suggestive of the Egyptian sphinx.” (W2)
The Cattleya Hawkmoth, called at 56.32 “the Odettian Sphinx,” is an invented hawkmoth Nabokov labels in A1 “Sphinx odetta.” Like many hawkmoths it is presumably named after its foodplant, in this case the Cattleya orchid, any orchid of the genus Cattleya, whose flowers are among the most gorgeous known. In Un Amour de Swann, Swann’s first physical advances towards Odette start when a jolt in their carriage leads to his straightening the cattleyas in her corsage. Even after his first possession of her this becomes a ritual approach; once even the ritual lapses, they still use “la métaphore ‘faire catleya,’ devenue un simple vocable qu’ils employaient sans y penser quand ils voulaient signifier l’acte de la possession physique” ( “the metaphor ‘to cattleya,’ a simple term they used without thinking when they wanted to refer to the act of physical possession”). But that first night, “Il espérait en tremblant . . . que c’était la possession de cette femme qui allait sortir d’entre leurs larges pétales mauves; et le plaisir qu’il éprouvait déjà et qu’Odette ne tolérait peut-être, pensait-il, que parce qu’elle ne l’avait pas reconnu, lui semblait, à cause de cela--comme il put paraître au premier homme qui le goûta parmi les fleurs du paradis terrestre--un plaisir qui n’avait pas existé jusque-là” (“He hoped, trembling, . . . that it would be his possessing this woman that would emerge from their broad mauve petals; and the pleasure that he already experienced and that Odette tolerated perhaps, he thought, only because she hadn’t recognized it, seemed to him for that reason--as it could appear to the first man who tasted it among the flowers of the earthly paradise--a pleasure that hadn’t existed until then”) (I, 234).
Nabokov suggested to Penguin that the cover of its edition of Ada should be a Cattleya orchid, and he drew one for the publisher that was in fact closely followed for the 1970 and 1971 editions.
The comically overt sexual double-entendre in describing the caterpillar is a tribute to the “mauve shades of Monsieur Proust,” for the mauve-pink lip of Cattleya bicolor, with its deep mesial groove, looks strikingly like the labia of the human female. The “seven-inch colossus” anticipates Van’s misunderstanding in a noisy restaurant when he supposes Lucette’s “it looked to me at least eight inches long--” refers not as she intends to his duelling scar but to something else, and he modestly murmurs in reply “Seven and a half.” (411.25-27)
The innuendo recalls a passage from the normally chaste The Gift, where Fyodor anticipates the “beginning (tomorrow night!) of his full life with Zina--the release, the slaking--and meanwhile a sun-charged cloud, filling up, growing, with swollen, turquoise veins, with a fiery itch in its thunder-root, rose in all its turgid, unwieldy magnificence.” (357)
Cf. also with “mauve shades of Monsieur Proust” 9.18-29: “ ‘dark blue’ . . . . Proust . . . favorite purple passage . . . his adjacent ultramarine.” “Hyacinth”is a light to moderate purple. In his lectures on Proust Nabokov points out the “mauve color, the violet tint that runs through the whole book, the very color of time. This rose-purple mauive, a pinkish lilac, a violet flush, is linked in European literature with certain sophistications of the artistic temperament. It is the color of an orchid, Cattleya labiata (the genus called thus after William Catley, a solemn British botanist).” (LL 241)
Cf. also the “Forbidden Masterpiece” painting into which Van feels himself transferred when sunbathing with Ada by the Cascade: 141.13-14: “There was a crescent eaten out of a vine leaf by a sphingid larva.” MOTIF: flowers; orchids.
56.11-13: (Lovely stuff . . . “what a hoaxer, that old V.V.!”): The reference is to Van Veen, but the “V.V.” (Nabokov’s name-and-patronymic was “Vladimir Vladimirovich”), the display of literary allusiveness and lepidopterological arcana, and the suggestion of hoaxing all point to public knowledge and perceptions of Nabokov. MOTIF: Composition--Van; Nabokov; V.
56.15: Ardis . . . adieu . . . Ada’s larvarium: MOTIF: Ada; Ardis; -arium
56.16-57.02: The . . . Cowl . . . achieved its next metamorphosis . . . guermantoid type: MOTIF: metamorphosis.
56.16-17: porcelain-white . . . Cowl (or “Shark”) larva . . . metamorphosis: Cf. 55.02-03 and n.
56.16-17: Cowl . . . larva, a highly prized gem: MOTIF: butterfly-jewel.
56.16: porcelain-white: Cf. 126.32-34: “Van had never seen a girl (as translucently white-skinned as [ Ada]), or indeed anybody else, porcelain or peach, blush so substantially and habitually.”
56.16: eye-spotted: MOTIF: eyespot.
56.18-20: Ada’s unique Lorelei Underwing . . . fungoid smudges: Cf. 55.04-07 and n. Nabokov dubs it in A1 “Catacola lorelei.” As Zimmer 1996:107 notes, “Many Catocalids have names suggestive of the marital status of women (electa, nupta, sponsa, adultera).”
The Lorelei is a maiden who threw herself into the Rhine in despair over a faithless lover and became a siren whose song lures boatmen to their doom. Clemens Brentano (1778-1842) created the legend in its basic form in his romance Godwi (1800-1802); “Die Lorelei” (Ich weiss nicht, was soll es bedeuten) by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) is the legend’s most famous literary avatar. MOTIF: mimicry.
56.19: ichneumon: A fly whose larvae are mostly internal parasites on the larvae of other insects, especially caterpillars.
56.20-22: The multicolored toothbrush . . . Persian Vaporer: Cf. 55.08-10 and n. There are real Vaporers in and around Persia, but Nabokov has invented what he dubs in A1 Orgyia persica. In view of the obtrusive sexual innuendo in this whole passage, it should perhaps be pointed out that Orgyia interrupta Grum-Grzhimaïlo flies in this area. Nabokov knew the work of Grum-Grzhimaïlo well, and as a youth hoped to travel with him on an expedition through Central Asia. Grum-Grzhimaïlo features as a colleague and friend of Konstantin Godunov, the lepidopterist and explorer of Central Asia and father of Fyodor Godunov, hero and narrator of The Gift.
56.22-27: two Puss Moth larvae . . . prepupational locomotion: Cf. 55.17-23 and 55.18n.
56.24-29: their pitchforks now limply trailing behind them . . . “ramping” rapidly all over the floor of their cage in a surge of prepupational locomotion. Aqua had walked though a wood and into a gulch to do it last year: With 55.17, the Puss Moths’ “diabolical anal appendages,” and the reference to Aqua’s suicide, this anticipates the death of Dan Veen, as reported by his nurse Bess and then Demon, whose names are both diabolical: 435.18-436.21: “According to Bess (which is ‘fiend’ in Russian) . . . he had been complaining for some time . . . 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. To Dr. Nikulin [another “Dr. Rabbit,” like Krolik: see Darkbloom 7.25n] Dan described his rider as black, pale-bellied, . . . . On a very cold morning in late January Dan had somehow escaped, through a basement maze and a toolroom, into the brown shrubbery of Ardis; he was naked except for a red bath towel which trailed from his rump like a kind of caparison, and, despite the rough going, had crawled on all fours, like a crippled steed under an invisible rider, deep into the wooded landscape. . . . They found him too late, he expired in Nikulin’s clinic, raving about that detail of the picture” (from the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgement).
56.26: “ramping”: Crawling: cf. 54.24-25. MOTIF: raffole . . . rampe . . . crawl.
56.27-29: their cage . . . Aqua had walked though a wood and into a gulch to do it last year: For Aqua’s suicide, cf. 27.06-28.32. Van has thought of his mother “in a cage of her own” at 38.27.
56.29-30: Nymphalis carmen: Cf. 55.24-29 and n. A play on Lolita, whom Humbert repeatedly calls a “nymphet” and his “Carmen.” For Lolita’s Spanish name, see 27.33-28.03n.; Ada will wear a “lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in Osberg’s novel . . . )” (77.02-04). Krolik, who gives the Nymphalis carmen larvae to Ada, will be a kind of Humbert to her, since he seems to be one of her lovers (cf. 55.28n.) and is much older than her. MOTIF: Carmen; Lolita.
56.32-57.02: Odettian Sphinx had turned, bless him, into an elephantoid mummy with a comically encased trunk of the guermantoid type: Cf. 55.30-56.10 and nn. Nabokov assigns the “Odettian Sphinx” the scientific name Sphinx odetta in A1.
“Guermantoid” puns on the “geometrid” family of moths, but refers much more exactly to Proust: late in À la recherche de temps perdu Odette surprisingly becomes the mistress of the Duc de Guermantes (III.1015-20). Much earlier, Marcel had remarked of Odette: “Physiquement, elle traversait une mauvaise phase: elle épaississait; et le charme expressif et dolent, les regards étonnés et rêveurs qu’elle avait autrefois semblaient avoir disparu avec sa première jeunesse. De sorte qu’elle était devenu si chère à Swann au moment pour ainsi dire où il trouvait précisément bien moins jolie. Il la regardait longuement pour tâcher de ressaissir le charme qu’il lui avait connu, et ne le retrouvait pas. Mais savoir que sous cette chrysalide nouvelle, c’était toujours Odette qui vivait, toujours la même volonté fugace, insaisissable et sournoise, suffisait à Swann pour qu’il continuât de mettre la même passion à chercher à la capter.” (I, 291-92: “Physically she was going through a bad phase: she was filling out; and the expressive, doleful charm, the astonished and dreamy looks she once had seemed to have disappeared with her first youth. So she had become so dear to Swann at the very moment, so to say, that he found her much less pretty. He kept looking at her to try to recapture the charm he had known, and did not find it again. But to know that under this new chrysalid Odette was still living, still the same volatile, sly and elusive will, was enough for Swann to make him continue to put the same passion into trying to catch her.”
Nabokov has constructed Demon and Marina in pointed tribute to Swann and Odette in Proust (see Nabokovian 31 :11-12). In the heat of his passion for Marina, Demon had sent her 99 orchids in honor of Van’s birth (7.33-8.01), and just after recording that fact, Van had linked his family tree with “his favorite purple passage [in Proust] . . . concerning the name ‘Guermantes’” (9.27-28). But just as the Odettian Sphinx turns into “an elephantoid mummy with a comically encased trunk,” just as Odette puts on weight, so Marina fills out in a way that Van sees now fails to stir Demon: “Her singularly coarsened features . . . did not even vaguely remind the man, who had loved her more keenly than any other woman in his philaderings, of the dash, the glamour, the lyricism of Marina Durmanov’s beauty” (251.03-09); and Van records his last sighting of her as of “mummy-wizened Marina” (452.07-08).
As Cancogni 291 points out, the “elephantoid mummy with a comically encased trunk of the guermantoid type” also plays on the Bourbon nose of Proust’s Guermantes line.
57.03-05: a very special orange-tip above timberline, in another hemisphere, Antocharis ada Krolik . . . until changed to A. prittwitzi Stümper: “Antocharis” is a misprint for “Anthocharis.” Orange-tips are pierids of the genera Anthocharis, Synchloe and Zegris with orange-tipped yellow or whitish wings. Krolik will give Ada for her twelfth birthday (July 21, 1884) chrysalids of “the Kibo fritillary, a recently discovered rarity” (79.26-27) which he has perhaps been the first to discover, on the higher of the two peaks of Kilimanjaro, decidedly “above timberline, in another hemisphere”; but he finds this Anthocharis on a later trip, above another or the same timberline, in August or September 1884.
Van will write to Ada of her role in the movie Don Juan’s Last Fling, in which she is “obscurely and fleetingly billed as ‘Theresa Zegris’” (492.03-04): “my Zegris butterfly. . . And to think, Spanish orange-tip, . . . ” (500.33-501.01).
57.05-06: until changed to A. prittwitzi Stümper (1883) by the inexorable law of taxonomic priority: Max von Prittwitz und Gaffron was very briefly the leader of the defeated German Eighth Army on the Eastern Front in World War I. After suffering a repulse at the hands of Rennenkampf on August 20 at Gumbinnen, he was then threatened from the rear by Samsonov and panicked. Hindenburg replaced him on August 22, a mere three weeks after the start of the war. Stümper means “bungler, blunderer.”
Nabokov refers approvingly in his autobiography to “nomenclatorial changes as a result of a strict application of the law of priority” (SM 124)--for which he was a stickler in all his scientific work--but also to the pain of being pipped:
Near the intersection of two carriage roads (one, well-kept, running north-south in between our “old” and “new” parks, and the other, muddy and rutty, leading, if you turned west, to Batovo) at a spot where aspens crowded on both sides of a dip, I would be sure to find in the third week of June great blue-black nymphalids striped with pure white, gliding and wheeling low above the rich clay which matched the tint of their undersides when they settled and closed their wings. Those were the dung-loving males of what the old Aurelians used to call the Poplar Admirable, or, more exactly, they be longed to its Bucovinan subspecies. As a boy of nine, not knowing that race, I noticed how much our North Russian specimens differed from the Central European form figured in Hofmann, and rashly wrote to Kuznetsov, one of the greatest Russian, or indeed world, lepidopterists of all time, naming my new subspecies “Limenitis populi rossica.” A long month later he returned my description and aquarelle of “rossica Nabokov” with only two words scribbled on the back of my letter: “bucovinensis Hormuzaki.” How I hated Hormuzaki! And how hurt I was when in one of Kuznetsov's later papers I found a gruff reference to “schoolboys who keep naming minute varieties of the Poplar Nymph!” (SM 133)
Zoologist Victor Fet comments:
It is important to note that Kuznetsov did not reject the fact that the subspecies Nabokov identified exists in reality—he just pointed out that it was already described by another researcher. . . .
I have not found the “gruff reference to schoolboys” but among Nikolay Kuznetsov’s papers published within the same period is one that is indeed very gruff and quite relevant to the issue (Kuznetsov, [“O stremlenii k nazyvaniyu kak odnomu iz techenii v entomologicheskoi literature (Namengerebei nemtsev)” (“On the passion for naming as one of the trends in entomological literature (Namengeberei of the Germans),” Revue Russe d'Entomologie, 12(2)] 1912[: 256-276]). This “methodological” paper has no research content; it consists only of lengthy complaints against aimless Latin naming of varieties of butterflies by amateurs and irresponsible scientists due to high commercial interest and sheer vanity, creation of minor forms in Staudinger's catalog, etc. It reads much as many similar statements today, with people lamenting the “taxonomic vandalism” of irresponsible namers and self-published journals. Clearly, young Nabokov has read this paper, as a lot of Kuznetsov's “gruff” comments are recognizable in Father’s Butterflies and Drugie berega/Speak, Memory. It is one of the sources of Nabokov’s (and K.K. Godunov-Cherdyntsev’s) opinions incorporated in the same way as Central Asian travelers’ texts are in The Gift.
The issue of Poplar Admirable varieties appears in Kuznetsov (1912, p. 264), in a paragraph that translates: “The overproduction business came to the point when not only among serious opposers but also among the admirers of the nomenclatural enrichment of entomology, some already are perplexed about where their further activity in this direction will lead, as these authors do not know anymore what to do with the names and ‘established’ forms of their favorite Parnassius apollo L. or Limenitis populi L.” A reference follows to a paper by a “splitter”, A. A. Yakhontov, who in turn discusses butterfly varieties described by another fellow “splitter”, Leonid Krulikowsky. Among those varieties we find a form Limenitis populi fruhstorferi Krulikowsky, 1909, described from Siberia.
(“A Few Notes on Nabokov’s Childhood Entomology,” in Stephen Blackwell and Kurt Johnson, eds., Fine Lines: Nabokov’s Art and Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013, forthcoming).
Although this seems the likeliest connection between Nabokov, Krulikowksy and Krolik, another is also possible. In “Pinning Down Krolik” (26-27) I ask:
Could the emphasis on error here (Prittwitz was the German general relieved of his command only three weeks into World War I, after a series of disastrous military defeats, and “Stümper” means “blunderer, bungler”) reflect a mistake VN might have recognized in his own youthful “A Few Notes on Crimean Lepidoptera,” as he was compiling his Butterflies of Europe in 1963-65, just before beginning Ada?
In his 1920 article he had identified one specimen as Euchloe belia ssp. uralensis Bartel, 1902. He had the correct subspecies in mind, but for some reason instead of writing the correct species, Euchloe ausonia (Hübner ), confused it, as Efetov and Zimmer noticed, with Anthocharis belia (Linnaeus, 1767), which belongs to a very closely related Pierid genus.
But the subspecies name uralensis is itself a more recent synonym of Euchloe ausonia ssp. volgensis Krulikowsky, 1897, which, “by the inexorable law of taxonomic priority,” stands as the true subspecies name. A still later synonym, in Krulikowsky’s honor, ssp. krulikowskyi Sheljuzhko, 1928, cedes a fortiori to Krulikowsky’s original subspecies designation.
That tangle perhaps explains the emphasis on error. Why the emphasis on Germany in “prittwitzi (Stümper)”? VN noted the subspecies emerging in April 1918, the month the German army, with defeat not far ahead, occupied the Crimea, and he saw it often “in the parks and gardens of the coast” (Nabokov’s Butterflies 100) during that strangely carefree summer. That may itself suffice to explain the German World War I general who as it were defeats Krolik. Or was it that VN himself was somehow led astray in naming the butterfly by German lepidopterological taxonomy, which he would consistently criticize in later years (see Nabokov’s Butterflies 202: “Germans, ‘masterful collectors, but wretched classifiers,’ as [Konstantin Godunov-Cherdyntsev] put it”; 309: “The complete absurdity which the Germans attain through complete ignorance of the principles of modern taxonomy . . . ”)?
Cf. Chateaubriand’s mosquito, 107.24-27: “a rather rare and interesting mosquito (described--not quite simultaneously--by two angry old men--the second was Braun, the Philadelphian dipterist, a much better one than the Boston professor).”
57.12: leps: Pun on “Lepidoptera” (butterflies and moths, especially, here, fritillaries; lepidopterists’ slang abbreviates the word to “leps”) and “leporine” (of a hare, Krolik being her associate in this plan, and krolik being the Russian for “rabbit”: cf. 230.12-15: “to consult 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).” Pun first noted by Penny McCarthy, “ Nabokov’s Ada and Sidney’s Arcadia: The Regeneration of a Phoenix,” Modern Language Review 99 (Jan 2004), 17-31: 24.
57.12-26: my dream is to have a special Institute of Fritillary larvae . . . : Cf. 404.16-405.07: “ ‘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. . . . ”
57.13: Fritillary: Nymphalid butterflies of Argynnis and related genera, generally with black-dotted, usually brownish, orange or yellow wings. Nabokov in A1 identifies as Argynnis, in which all fritillaries were once grouped.
57.14-26: violets . . . favorite violet’s reek: Of the genus Speyeria, the Greater Fritillaries, Alexander B. Klots writes: “As far as is known all feed only at night, on various species of violets”; of Boloria (now divided into Boloria, Clossiana and Proclossiana), the Lesser Fritillaries, he writes: “Violets are the favorite food” (Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America, East of the Great Plains [Boston: Houghston Mifflin, 1952], 85, 88). MOTIF: flowers; violet.
57.17-18: Prairie Violet: Viola pedatifida.
57.19-20: white violet from a secret marsh near an unnamed lake on an arctic mountain: Invented. Among northern or alpine violets in North America there are the Alpine Marsh Violet, V. palustris, the Marsh Blue Violet, V. cucullata, and the Canada or Tall White Violet, V. canadensis. Cf. 404.26-29.
57.20: an arctic mountain where Krolik’s Lesser Fritillary flies: Invented. Nabokov identifies as Clossiana kroliki in A1. Klots writes of the Lesser Fritillaries that “some are among the most arctic of insects” (88); they include an Arctic Fritillary, a Bog Fritillary, a Polaris Fritillary, a Freija Fritillary and a Saga Fritillary.
57.23-24: ignoring her poor fingernails: MOTIF: fingernails.
Afternote to Part One, Chapter 8