NABOKV-L post 0003454, Tue, 27 Oct 1998 15:19:46 -0800

Query re Ada's character. Brian Boyd responds.
Don Barton Johnson asked on 13 August

"Does it bother anyone else that Ada,
so carefree with her favors, chooses (after her first Swiss reunion
with Van) to return to Arizona with her ailing Andrey until his death 17
YEARS later? This strikes me as inconsistent with her character as
displayed everywhere else in the novel."
BRIAN BOYD <> responds:

There are several kinds of answer:

1. Nabokov of course needs the long separation of Van and Ada for the
rhythm of apparently collapsing time central to the structure of the
novel, and it must be conceded that that is a stronger motive than Ada's
compassion for Andrey. Still, it seems unlikely that with his usual care
in construction Nabokov would not have seen the need to motivate such a
key part of the novel's shape.

2. In fact Ada is consistently shown as having a tender-heartedness as
well as her hard dismissiveness and arrogance. Remember that she responds
to droopy Philip Rack and responds again to far-from-droopy Percy de Prey,
because he faces the danger of war (and indeed dies soon after she sees
him off).

3. Remember also that the description of Andrey that we encounter, like
the account of the feelings Ada has for him, come entirely from Van, not
known for his objectivity or tolerant forbearance in such matters. He sees
Ada's decision only as an incomprehensible waste of (his) time; he never
seems to want to know how Ada sees it. In fact despite their uncanny
relatedness, in various senses, and the intensity and duration of their
passion, there are curious gaps in Van's and Ada's knowledge of each

Brian Boyd
English Department
University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand
FAX + 64 9 373 7429