NABOKV-L post 0011922, Sun, 18 Sep 2005 21:30:32 -0700

Fwd: Re: VAn & ADA: true siblings?
Dear Penny McCarthy,

Like real people, literary characters can have only one mother and one
(biological) father. Van and Ada make no exception. If you read ADA
carefully, you will see that Van is the son of Demon (and not, say, d'Onsky)
and Marina and that Ada is the daughter of the same parents. However, it is
true that Nabokov makes us question the parentage of the two main characters
and wonder if, for instance, G. A. Vronsky is Ada's father. At a certain
point we learn that Price, a footman at Ardis, was dubbed by Marina and
Vronsky, during their brief romance in 1871, "Grib" (1.38). This should make
us think of Griboedov (who was mentioned in the previous chapter: 1.37), in
whose play Gore ot uma ("Woe from the Wit" or, as Marina puts it, "How
stupid to be so clever") Famusov calculates the pregnancy of a lady friend
(whom he apparently has himself impregnated). Famusov's words are jokingly
quoted during the family dinner in 1.38 by Demon who tries to establish the
exact date of Ada's birthday: "It's next Saturday, po razschyotu po moemu
(by my reckoning), isn't it?" That Demon believes he, and not anybody else,
is Ada's father and that he is making a deliberate playful allusion to
Griboedov is confirmed by Demon's words that he drops still a litttle later
in the conversation:

"You know quite well," said Marina, "that your father disapproves of your
smoking at table."
"Oh, it's all right," murmured Demon.
"I had Dan in view," explained Marina heavily. "He's very prissy on that
"Well, and I'm not," answered Demon.
Ada and Van couldn't help laughing [they had discovered four years ago whose
children they actually are]. All that was banter - not of a high order, but
still banter.

It seems that not only Demon, but also Marina believes that Demon (and not
Vronsky) is Ada's father. But, perhaps, she is "vrong" (there is no 'double
u' sound in Marina's English)? It is tantalizingly unclear why Marina &
Vronsky have dubbed Price "Grib" (could possibly the origin of that
mysterious nickname have anything to do with Griboedov and his play - may be
even with Marina's old attempt to calculate her pregnancy by Vronsky?), and
that makes the situation a little ambiguous. Vronsky's phrase "Prichyom tut
polozhenie ('situation-shituation')?" (1.32) that hints at the Russian way
of speaking about pregnancy and creates a double-entendre here (note, by the
way, that the phrase "interesnoe polozhenie" is used in ADA, 1.2, to
describe Marina's pregnancy - with Ada) is also most intriguing. (You
probably mention some of these facts, or even all of them, in your paper,
which I haven't read because of its inaccessibility to me.) Still, I think
that Ada is Demon's daughter - because she has inherited some of his little
mannerisms (for example, wagging her left fore-finger three times at the
height of the temple). But then, again, genes can jump like chess knights
(as Marina suggests: 1.37). So, theoretically, Ada could have inherited this
habit to wag her left fore-finger not from Demon, but - through Marina (who
is Demon's first cousin, or perhaps even his sister) - from Demon's aunt
Kitty. Perhaps, the strongest evidence that Ada is Demon's daughter is,
after all, the following passage:

"It almost awed one to see the pleasure with which she and Demon distorted
their shiny-lipped mouths in exactly the same way to introduce orally from
some heavenly hight the voluptious ally of the prim lily of the valley,
holding the shaft with an identical bunching of the fingers, not unlike the
reformed 'sign of the cross' for protesting against which (a ridicoulous
little schism measuring an inch or so from thumb to index) so many Russians
had been burnt by other Russians only two centuries earlier on the banks of
the Great Lake of Slaves."

Alexey Sklyarenko

----- Original Message -----
From: "Donald B. Johnson" <>
Sent: Sunday, September 18, 2005 8:05 PM
Subject: VAn & ADA: true siblings?

> ----- Forwarded message from penmc@BTCONNECT.COM -----
> Date: Sun, 18 Sep 2005 08:15:32 -0700
> From: Penny McCarthy <penmc@BTCONNECT.COM>
> Reply-To: Penny McCarthy <penmc@BTCONNECT.COM>
> Subject: true siblings?
> To:
> Dear List,
> Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello raises an interesting question about Ada and
> Van's relatedness. In my MLR 2004 (vol. 99.1) article 'Nabokov's Ada and
> Sidney's Arcadia'- noted with approval by Barbara Wyllie and Donald
> Johnson on 11 Feb. 2005, for which many thanks - I suggested that early in
> the novel Ada (p. 28 of the Penguin) Nabokov obfuscates Van's parentage.
> G.A. Vronsky had an affair with Marina just before Demon became her lover.
> Demon threw her out for some unexplained misdemeanour - had he discovered
> she was pregnant by Vronsky? As the two G.A.'s (G.A. Vronsky and Grigoriy
> Akimovich) merge into each other, so the Erminin family and the Aqua Veen
> branch of the Veens merge. So the harping on triplets from this very point
> in the story becomes suspect: perhaps Van, Greg and Grace are triplet
> children of Aqua. It is not that we are not meant to read the whole novel
> as a story of sibling incest; rather that we are reading a 'quantum
> physics' sort of novel, in which atoms (people) can pass through two
> incompatible histories simultaneously. Van and Ada are and are not true
> siblings.
> Feed-back on the notion of Philip Sidney as Nabokov's inspiration for his
> life and work would be welcome. Surely there is more to add to my
> findings. Penny McC.
> ----- End forwarded message -----

----- End forwarded message -----