Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027008, Sat, 21 May 2016 23:33:45 -0300

Rack's dental problems
"Dr Fitzbishop had said, rubbing his hands, that the Luga laboratory said it
was the not always lethal 'arethusoides' but it had no practical importance
now, because the unfortunate music teacher, and composer, was not expected
to spend another night on Demonia, and would be on Terra, ha-ha, in time for
evensong. Doc Fitz was what Russians call a poshlyak ('pretentious
vulgarian') and in some obscure counter-fashion Van was relieved not to be
able to gloat over the wretched Rack's martyrdom." (1.42): A.Sklyarenko
informs that "Arethusoides comes from Arethusa, a nymph who fled from her
home in Arcadia beneath the sea and came up as a fresh water fountain on the
island of Ortygia in Syracuse, Sicily." He adds: "Btw., Arethusa bulbosa is
an orchid and Arethusana arethusa is a butterfly from the subfamily

Jansy Mello: Van's jealous impulse to punish Ada's lovers has a blend of
sadism and snobbery (how dare other mortals compete with him for his love?).

An initial reference linked to Rack in the chapter selected by A.Sklyarenko
has Van inquire about "dentists":

"Do you know Kalugano? Dentist? Best hotel? Concert hall? My cousin's music
teacher?"[ ]She had not been aware that Ada took music lessons. How was
Ada?"Lucette," he said, "Lucette takes or took piano lessons. '

and later, in an imaginary speech, we discover how he tries to multiply
Rack's present suffering, including the piano teacher's "web of toothaches":

"We must face therefore the possibility of some prolonged form of
disorganized consciousness and this brings me to my main point, Mr Rack.
Eternal Rack, infinite "Rackness" may not be much but one thing is certain:
the only consciousness that persists in the hereafter is the consciousness
of pain. The little Rack of today is the infinite rack of tomorrow - ich bin
ein unverbesserlicher Witzbold. We can imagine - I think we should imagine -
tiny clusters of particles still retaining Rack's personality, gathering
here and there in the here-and-there-after, clinging to each other, somehow,
somewhere, a web of Rack's toothaches here, a bundle of Rack's nightmares
there ... I submit that the surviving cells of aging Rackness will form such
lines of torment, never, never reaching the coveted filth hole in the panic
and pain of infinite night. You may answer, of course, if you are versed in
contemporary novelistics, and if you fancy the jargon of English writers,
that a 'lower-middle-class' piano tuner who falls in love with a fast
'upper-class' girl, thereby destroying his own family, is not committing a
crime deserving the castigation which a chance intruder -'( I,42).

Poor Rack's gums, too, had been a matter of depreciatory comments by Van: "
Presently the pianist, floating up and showing his awful gums in a servile
grin, tried to draw Ada into the pool from her outstretched position..."
(1,32) ...Philip Rack was trudging up, Adam's apple bobbing,ill-shaven,
livid, gums exposed, one hand on his chest, the other clutching a roll of
pink paper (1,33) ... 'I think,' said Van, 'we've got hold of the wrong
lover. I was asking about Herr Rack, who has such delectable gums and also
adores you to the point of insanity." (1,41). *

When A.S brought up the associations to the word "arethusoides" he mentioned
a water nymph named Arethusa and he also added information about butterflies
and orchids.
I can now offer another tidbit related to Rack thanks to his initial

According to a few sources the "
<http://www.henriettes-herb.com/plants/arethusa/bulbosa.html> Arethusa
bulbosa's bruised bulbs (are) useful for the tooth ache, and in cataplasms
fur tumors. [ Cf. Schoepf" and
<http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/rafinesque/index.html> Medical
Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North
America, Vol. 2, 1830, written by C. S. Rafinesque."

Data on this kind of medical application for the orchid's crushed bulbs
could have been part of VN's knowledge about orchids - and he was, most
certainly, equally aware of the mythological Arethusa. If these elements
inspired him to compound Dr. Fitzbishop's explanation for Philip Rack's
afflictions, he must have juggled with their almost hidden associations to
dental problems and, therefore, they must carry no further connections to
the plot. He'd be playing like Van, perhaps, who saw himself as "ein
unverbesserlicher Witzbold."


*- <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada133.htm#207.19> 207.19: gums exposed:
Cf. Rack "showing his awful gums" (200.11); Van contemplating attacking
Rack, since he is not born a gentleman and therefore not duellable: "you
could make his gums bleed with repeated slaps or, still better, thrash him
with a strong cane" (294.28-29); "I was asking about Herr Rack, who has such
delectable gums" (296.25-26). Cf. Brian Boyd - Ada Online annotations.

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