Thanks to "google" I was able to discover the name of Baroness E.
Orczy, who created The Scarlet Pimpernel series. Among the list of her
other works and several Pimpernel adventures there was a reference to
both Pimpernel and Nicolette as the only works to have been published
by her in 1922 : "Nicolette: A Tale of Old Provence"
and "The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel"
The year of 1922 is very important in ADA: not only Andrey
Vinelander dies, but Van begins to write his essay on Time and both he
and Ada are finally reunited.
Although a reference to future events which would take
place in 1922 being made while the two children are exploring the
attic in 1884 would be in the spirit of "Ada"´s circular time and VN´s
favouring prolepsis, I still think that Nabokov´s mention to Nicolette and
Pimpernel in relation to children´s books written by Mme Orczy is too
complicated and far-fetched. And yet, with time in my hands and the "google" I
decided to pursue it further.
According to the
Sunday supplement of a newspaper that had just begun to feature on its funnies
page the now long defunct Goodnight Kids, Nicky and Pimpernella (sweet
siblings who shared a narrow bed), and that had survived with other old
papers in the cockloft of Ardis Hall, the Veen-Durmanov wedding took place on St
Adelaida’s Day, 1871. Twelve years and some eight months later, two naked
children, one dark-haired and tanned, the other dark-haired and milk-white,
bending in a shaft of hot sunlight that slanted through the dormer window under
which the dusty cartons stood, happened to collate that date (December 16, 1871)
with another (August 16, same year) anachronistically scrawled in Marina’s hand
across the corner of a professional photograph (in a raspberry-plush frame on
her husband’s kneehole library table) identical in every detail — including the
commonplace sweep of a bride’s ectoplasmic veil, partly blown by a parvis breeze
athwart the groom’s trousers — to the newspaper reproduction. A girl was born on
1872, at Ardis, her
putative father’s seat in Ladore
County, and for
some obscure mnemonic reason was registered as Adelaida. Another daughter, this
time Dan’s very own, followed on January 3,
that old illustrated section of the still existing but rather gaga Kaluga
Gazette, our frolicsome Pimpernel and Nicolette found in the same attic a reel
box containing what turned out to be (according to Kim, the kitchen
boy, as will be understood later) a tremendous stretch of microfilm taken by the
globetrotter....(NB: globetrotter "Uncle"
The first reference in ADA to the
year of 1922 appears in connection to uncle Dan and one day after the
Burning Barn. Uncle Dan was also later described as dressing a
cartoonlike striped shirt ( like the drawings of the Goodnight
kids?) and read newspapers assiduosly. He is also associated to a
"but I was not obliged (mused Van, in 1922,
when he saw those baguenaudier flowers again) to stand his
chinless profile with its curly red sideburn..."
The cycle of Van´s meetings with ADA are described
composing his works (Illegible Signatures, 1895; Clairvoyeurism, 1903; Furnished
Space, 1913; The Texture of Time, begun 1922), in mountain
refuges, and in the drawing rooms of great expresses, and on the sun decks of
white ships, and on the stone tables of Latin public parks(...) He would realize
all at once that three, seven, thirteen years, in one cycle of separation, and
then four, eight, sixteen, in yet another, had elapsed since he had last
embraced, held, bewept Ada".
Van muses about
Past, then, is a constant accumulation of images (...) It is now a generous
chaos out of which the genius of total recall, summoned on this summer
morning in 1922, can pick anything he pleases: diamonds scattered
allover the parquet in 1888; a russet black-hatted beauty at a Parisian bar in
1901; a humid red rose among artificial ones in 1883 (...) Does the coloration
of a recollected object (or anything else about its visual effect) differ from
date to date? Could I tell by its tint if it comes earlier or later, lower or
higher, in the stratigraphy of my
The two kids which were compared to Van and Ada in their explorations
of the Ardis Attic were told stories before bed-time by a big bear called
Beside the symbolism of the bear, the suggestion of
the Goodnight-kids ( Bonne nuit les petits: Pimprenelle et
Nicolas ) point to two
different plants ( primprenelle and pimpernel), a botanical fact of
which VN would certainly be aware. Cf. his lines quoted above as "our frolicsome Pimpernel and Nicolette" and
"the now long defunct Goodnight Kids,
Nicky and Pimpernella", instead of
The Primprenelle is a rosacean "Poterium sanguisorba" ("salad burnet)
while the Scarlet Pimpernel - also known as Shepherd's
Barometer. Poor Man's Weatherglass. Adder's Eyes or (Old English)
Bipinella - is a Primulaceae, "Anagallis
The third plant, the "baguenaudier" was brought together by
the link "Uncle Dan´s objects in the attic" ( would there be a "locked chest"
This plant comes from a "bladder-senna tree"
and seems to be important for butterflies. It also gives name
to a mathematical puzzle "involving disentangling a set of rings from a
looped double rod, originally used by French peasants to lock chests
(Steinhaus 1999)" . The word "baguenaudier" means "time-waster" in
French, and the puzzle is also called the Chinese rings or Devil's needle
Is this exploit also a "time-waster" baguenaudier hinting at a
closed chest in the attic?