Van's verbal nightmare in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Tue, 07/20/2021 - 06:15

Describing his verbal nightmare that he had a few days before he saw Marina for the last time, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the musky smell in the Miramas (Bouches Rouges-du-Rhône) Villa Venus:


Early in 1900, a few days before he saw Marina, for the last time, at the clinic in Nice (where he learned for the first time the name of her illness), Van had a ‘verbal’ nightmare, caused, maybe, by the musky smell in the Miramas (Bouches Rouges-du-Rhône) Villa Venus. Two formless fat transparent creatures were engaged in some discussion, one repeating ‘I can’t!’ (meaning ‘can’t die’ — a difficult procedure to carry out voluntarily, without the help of the dagger, the ball, or the bowl), and the other affirming ‘You can, sir!’ She died a fortnight later, and her body was burnt, according to her instructions.

Van, a lucid soul, considered himself less brave morally than physically. He was always (meaning well into the nineteen-sixties) to recollect with reluctance, as if wishing to suppress in his mind a petty, timorous, and stupid deed (for, actually, who knows, the later antlers might have been set right then, with green lamps greening green growths before the hotel where the Vinelanders stayed) his reacting from Kingston to Lucette’s cable from Nice (‘Mother died this morning the funeral dash cremation dash is to be held after tomorrow at sundown’) with the request to advise him (‘please advise’) who else would be there, and upon getting her prompt reply that Demon had already arrived with Andrey and Ada, his cabling back: ‘Désolé de ne pouvoir être avec vous.’ (3.1)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): désolé etc.: distressed at being unable to be with you.


Adelaide de Miramas, ou le Fanatisme protestan is a lost historical work by Marquis de Sade. According to Van, he and Ada loathed le sieur Sade and Herr Masoch and Heinrich Müller:


Paradoxically, ‘scient’ Ada was bored by big learned works with woodcuts of organs, pictures of dismal medieval whore-houses, and photographs of this or that little Caesar in the process of being ripped out of the uterus as performed by butchers and masked surgeons in ancient and modem times; whereas Van, who disliked ‘natural history’ and fanatically denounced the existence of physical pain in all worlds, was infinitely fascinated by descriptions and depictions of harrowed human flesh. Otherwise, in more flowery fields, their tastes and titters proved to be much the same. They liked Rabelais and Casanova; they loathed le sieur Sade and Herr Masoch and Heinrich Müller. English and French pornographic poetry, though now and then witty and instructive, sickened them in the long run, and its tendency, especially in France before the invasion, of having monks and nuns perform sexual feats seemed to them as incomprehensible as it was depressing. (1.21)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Heinrich Müller: author of Poxus, etc.


Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother, Marina dies of cancer. Henry Miller (known on Demonia, aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set, as Heinrich Müller) is the author of Tropic of Cancer (1934). After the dinner in ‘Ursus’ and debauche à trois with Lucette in Van's Manhattan flat Ada tells Van that in France ninety percent of cats (whores) die of cancer:


‘She’s terribly nervous, the poor kid,’ remarked Ada stretching across Van toward the Wipex. ‘You can order that breakfast now — unless... Oh, what a good sight! Orchids. I’ve never seen a man make such a speedy recovery.’

‘Hundreds of whores and scores of cuties more experienced than the future Mrs Vinelander have told me that.’

‘I may not be as bright as I used to be,’ sadly said Ada, ‘but I know somebody who is not simply a cat, but a polecat, and that’s Cordula Tobacco alias Madame Perwitsky, I read in this morning’s paper that in France ninety percent of cats die of cancer. I don’t know what the situation is in Poland.’ (2.8)


The title of the de Sade opus (Adelaide de Miramas, ou le Fanatisme protestan) brings to mind a jovial ‘protestant’ priest mentioned by Van when he describes his first visit to Villa Venus:


Because the particular floramor that I visited for the first time on becoming a member of the Villa Venus Club (not long before my second summer with my Ada in the arbors of Ardis) is today, after many vicissitudes, the charming country house of a Chose don whom I respect, and his charming family (charming wife and a triplet of charming twelve-year-old daughters, Ala, Lolá and Lalage — especially Lalage), I cannot name it — though my dearest reader insists I have mentioned it somewhere before.

I have frequented bordels since my sixteenth year, but although some of the better ones, especially in France and Ireland, rated a triple red symbol in Nugg’s guidebook, nothing about them pre-announced the luxury and mollitude of my first Villa Venus. It was the difference between a den and an Eden.

Three Egyptian squaws, dutifully keeping in profile (long ebony eye, lovely snub, braided black mane, honey-hued faro frock, thin amber arms, Negro bangles, doughnut earring of gold bisected by a pleat of the mane, Red Indian hairband, ornamental bib), lovingly borrowed by Eric Veen from a reproduction of a Theban fresco (no doubt pretty banal in 1420 B.C.), printed in Germany (Künstlerpostkarte Nr. 6034, says cynical Dr Lagosse), prepared me by means of what parched Eric called ‘exquisite manipulations of certain nerves whose position and power are known only to a few ancient sexologists,’ accompanied by the no less exquisite application of certain ointments, not too specifically mentioned in the pornolore of Eric’s Orientalia, for receiving a scared little virgin, the descendant of an Irish king, as Eric was told in his last dream in Ex, Switzerland, by a master of funerary rather than fornicatory ceremonies.

Those preparations proceeded in such sustained, unendurably delicious rhythms that Eric dying in his sleep and Van throbbing with foul life on a rococo couch (three miles south of Bedford) could not imagine how those three young ladies, now suddenly divested of their clothes (a well-known oneirotic device), could manage to draw out a prelude that kept one so long on the very lip of its resolution. I lay supine and felt twice the size I had ever been (senescent nonsense, says science!) when finally six gentle hands attempted to ease la gosse, trembling Adada, upon the terrible tool. Silly pity — a sentiment I rarely experience — caused my desire to droop, and I had her carried away to a feast of peach tarts and cream. The Egypsies looked disconcerted, but very soon perked up. I summoned all the twenty hirens of the house (including the sweet-lipped, glossy chinned darling) into my resurrected presence. After considerable examination, after much flattering of haunches and necks, I chose a golden Gretchen, a pale Andalusian, and a black belle from New Orleans. The handmaids pounced upon them like pards and, having empasmed them with not unlesbian zest, turned the three rather melancholy graces over to me. The towel given me to wipe off the sweat that filmed my face and stung my eyes could have been cleaner. I raised my voice, I had the reluctant accursed casement wrenched wide open. A lorry had got stuck in the mud of a forbidden and unfinished road, and its groans and exertions dissipated the bizarre gloom. Only one of the girls stung me right in the soul, but I went through all three of them grimly and leisurely, ‘changing mounts in midstream’ (Eric’s advice) before ending every time in the grip of the ardent Ardillusian, who said as we parted, after one last spasm (although non-erotic chitchat was against the rules), that her father had constructed the swimming pool on the estate of Demon Veen’s cousin.

It was now all over. The lorry had gone or had drowned, and Eric was a skeleton in the most expensive corner of the Ex cemetery (‘But then, all cemeteries are ex,’ remarked a jovial ‘protestant’ priest), between an anonymous alpinist and my stillborn double. (2.3)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Künstlerpostkarte: Germ., art picture postcards.

la gosse: the little girl.


According to Van, all the hundred floramors (palatial brothels built by David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction, all over the world in memory of his grandson Eric, the author of an essay entitled 'Villa Venus: an Organized Dream') opened simultaneously on September 20, 1875:


Eccentricity is the greatest grief’s greatest remedy. The boy’s grandfather set at once to render in brick and stone, concrete and marble, flesh and fun, Eric’s fantasy. He resolved to be the first sampler of the first houri he would hire for his last house, and to live until then in laborious abstinence.

It must have been a moving and magnificent sight — that of the old but still vigorous Dutchman with his rugged reptilian face and white hair, designing with the assistance of Leftist decorators the thousand and one memorial floramors he resolved to erect allover the world — perhaps even in brutal Tartary, which he thought was ruled by ‘Americanized Jews,’ but then ‘Art redeemed Politics’ — profoundly original concepts that we must condone in a lovable old crank. He began with rural England and coastal America, and was engaged in a Robert Adam-like composition (cruelly referred to by local wags as the Madam-I’m-Adam House), not far from Newport, Rodos Island, in a somewhat senile style, with marble columns dredged from classical seas and still encrusted with Etruscan oyster shells — when he died from a stroke while helping to prop up a propylon. It was only his hundredth house!

His nephew and heir, an honest but astoundingly stuffy clothier in Ruinen (somewhere near Zwolle, I’m told), with a large family and a small trade, was not cheated out of the millions of guldens, about the apparent squandering of which he had been consulting mental specialists during the last ten years or so. All the hundred floramors opened simultaneously on September 20, 1875 (and by a delicious coincidence the old Russian word for September, ‘ryuen’,’ which might have spelled ‘ruin,’ also echoed the name of the ecstatic Neverlander’s hometown). By the beginning of the new century the Venus revenues were pouring in (their final gush, it is true). A tattling tabloid reported, around 1890, that out of gratitude and curiosity ‘Velvet’ Veen traveled once — and only once — to the nearest floramor with his entire family — and it is also said that Guillaume de Monparnasse indignantly rejected an offer from Hollywood to base a screenplay on that dignified and hilarious excursion. Mere rumours, no doubt. (ibid.)


In a letter of 7/19 September, 1875, to N. V. Khanykov Turgenev says that on the next day (September 20, 1875, NS) he will move to the new-built chalet at his and Viardot's villa Les frênes ("The Ash Trees") in Bougival:


Я Вас приму в новом своём доме, куда завтра переселяюсь, а г-н и г-жа Виардо будут очень довольны, если Вы при сей оказии останетесь у них обедать, и просят меня пригласить Вас, так же как Салтыкова и Соллогуба.


Maupassant's story La Maison Tellier (1881), in which the action takes place in a brothel, is dedicated to Ivan Turgenev. According to Vivian Darkbloom, Maupassant did not exist on Antiterra and his story La Parure (“The Necklace,” 1884) is known on Demonia as La Rivière de diamants by Guillaume de Monparnasse (the penname of Mlle Larivière, Lucette’s governess who writes fiction). The Spanish title of Maupassant’s story L´Endormeuse (“The Putter-to-Sleep,” 1889), La Dormilona, brings to mind “a fey character out of some Dormilona novel for servant maids” (as Van calls Blanche, a French handmaid at Ardis who told Van about Ada's infidelity):


It was only nine p.m. in late summer; he would not have been surprised if told it was midnight in October. He had had an unbelievably long day. The mind could hardly grasp the fact that this very morning, at dawn, a fey character out of some Dormilona novel for servant maids had spoken to him, half-naked and shivering, in the toolroom of Ardis Hall. He wondered if the other girl still stood, arrow straight, adored and abhorred, heartless and heartbroken, against the trunk of a murmuring tree. He wondered if in view of tomorrow’s partie de plaisir he should not prepare for her a when-you-receive-this-note, flippant, cruel, as sharp as an icicle. No. Better write to Demon.


Dear Dad,

in consequence of a trivial altercation with a Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, whom I happened to step upon in the corridor of a train, I had a pistol duel this morning in the woods near Kalugano and am now no more. Though the manner of my end can be regarded as a kind of easy suicide, the encounter and the ineffable Captain are in no way connected with the Sorrows of Young Veen. In 1884, during my first summer at Ardis, I seduced your daughter, who was then twelve. Our torrid affair lasted till my return to Riverlane; it was resumed last June, four years later. That happiness has been the greatest event in my life, and I have no regrets. Yesterday, though, I discovered she had been unfaithful to me, so we parted. Tapper, I think, may be the chap who was thrown out of one of your gaming clubs for attempting oral intercourse with the washroom attendant, a toothless old cripple, veteran of the first Crimean War. Lots of flowers, please!

Your loving son, Van


He carefully reread his letter — and carefully tore it up. The note he finally placed in his coat pocket was much briefer.



I had a trivial quarrel with a stranger whose face I slapped and who killed me in a duel near Kalugano. Sorry!



Van was roused by the night porter who put a cup of coffee with a local ‘eggbun’ on his bedside table, and expertly palmed the expected chervonetz. He resembled somewhat Bouteillan as the latter had been ten years ago and as he had appeared in a dream, which Van now retrostructed as far as it would go: in it Demon’s former valet explained to Van that the ‘dor’ in the name of an adored river equaled the corruption of hydro in ‘dorophone.’ Van often had word dreams. (1.42)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): partie, etc.: picnic.


Van’s verbal nightmare about ‘You can, sir!’ is one of Van's word dreams.