JM: It's the first time that I hear about this
fascinating idea about Ada and Lucette as having been "slyly described in
terms of types." It clarifies various issues without simplifying
them. And yet, Van's avoidance of Lucette still remains a puzzle since Lucette
was the only "tabbo" he could respect in his overall dissolute
I'm not sure I understand your qualm. Do you mean that you don't understand how my way of reading the book fits with the notion that "Lucette was the only taboo he [Van] could respect in his dissolute life"? Let me put what I meant a different way. First remove the fact Ada, Van and Lucette are siblings; lets think of them as the family tree describes them, cousins. In the ordinary novel the rule is that Van should lose Ada, or leave her and discover that Lucette's his real girl. I believe on the morning after the the weird menage a trois (wish I could recall pages) Van writes an apology note to Lucette for involving her in their sex practices. Ada considers this to be "puritanical rot" and says that for the first time she's almost jealous; she immediately conjurs up a future situation in which Van will one day succumb to Lucette's charms. I don't remember now, and
don't have the time to look it up, but the situation she theorizes sounds very like the one that eventually crops up on the boat, "the Tobakoff" from which Lucette jumps to her death. Now, this scene, after the menage, seems to suggest something sentimental: it reminds me for some reason of a scene in an old movie called Pal Joey. Rita Hayworth runs some sort of club of ill-repute, only everyone's dressed and it's in splashy technicolor. Frank Sinatra is her lover. She hires gorgeous Kim Novak whom Sinatra immediately falls for. Sensing this, Hayworth decides to have Novak do a striptease in front of an audience which includes Sinatra, because if Sinatra doesn't make a jealous fuss to protect the girl's honor then she'll be sure he just thinks of her as another "dame". Of course just as things are getting interesting he halts the striptease and Hayworth realizes that Sinatra has real feelings for her. Ada, like
Hayworth and the audience of both tales, suspect that Van may have fallen for Lucette''s innocent vulnerability and purity without knowing it yet. On the boat, then, Nabokov overturns this assumption in a funny way: ultimately Van doesn't even won't go to bed with her and it's Lucette's ultimate failure. Nabokov said somewhere that atheists and interracial couples were the only real taboos in stories: if you wanted to do something really edgy, he claimed wittily, you'd depict a godless black and white couple's happy marriage resulting in lots of kids, and who die peacefully in their sleep at 110 years of age. In a way, this is just what he's done in Ada. The awful brother and sister couple, who shouldn't work out, are allowed to live happily ever after to a ripe old age convinced that their love is the greatest thing ever! The only thing missing is the kids; since they're brother and sister, though, there's just no getting over the ultimate ickiness of
that prospect, and so they've been deleted. Does that get anywhere near what you're talking about?
* Ian McEwan's novel "Atonement" is a startling example
of successful authorial control over plot and reader. He turns one of his
characters (Briony) into an unreliable narrator and, thorugh her,
he adds a double twist to the process of redemption. Briony deceives the
reader into accepting the veracity of a happy ending in her story only
to reveal, in the end, that she'd been lying about the events related
to her sister and the man both loved. At the same time, she brings
herself to confess her deceit without giving up her project of "atonement"
which, actually, the confession about her second
As I see it, Vladimir Nabokov avoided similar pitfalls when he
recognized, in his Memoir, that redemption, in relation to his obliteration
of Sergey, was impossible.
**Vladimir Nabokov was fascinated by vice: repeated numbers, events,
irrational actions; uncanny (or trivial) coincidences; intimations of
immortality and of the transcendent - as these
are encountered in life's "vicious circles." And, once
again, James Twiggs acquainted me with an instigating essay on Henry
James's "The Turn of the Screw" [ David S. Miall, "Designed Horror: James's
Vision of Evil in The Turn of the Screw," in Nineteenth Century Fiction, vol.
39, No.3, 1984, pp 305-27], in which the essayist compares reports about
apparitions, obtained from the Proceedings of the Society of Psychical
Research, particularly the Morton Case, with the jamesian governess.
Miall's arguments offer valuable insights into the artistic choice
of "ghostly presences," as an aesthetic resource to deal with "Evil"
- as we may also discern in Nabokov's "Pale Fire."
For him Henry James's attempt to express Evil without "the
comparative vulgarity" as encountered in
scientific "ghost-reportings", engenders the feeling of the "uncanny" as an
expression of emotional and aesthetic values
in James's novel. Although Miall dismisses the freudian
theory about "sexual repression," most of his arguments stem
from Freud's articles about "the uncanny" (Unheimlich) and the
"death drive" and his instigating interpretation was also helpful when I
envisioned Lolita's "abduction from normal childhood" and the overall
sense of "evil isolation" I always experience when I read this
All private editorial communications, without
read by both co-editors.