Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada: In the “Crystal Ball” of Transcultural Utopia

Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Ada or Ardor. A Family Chronicle (1969) is a trilingual  work saturated with literary and pictorial allusions. It is regarded here as a nexus with regard to different branches of Nabokov’s earlier writing. The dystopian/utopian part of Nabokov’s earlier work is expanded in Ada into the genre of the family novel, traditionally anchored in a referential historical and geographical reality. The article discusses images of space in Ada: the planetary utopias of Terra and Anti-Terra, where Anti-Terra is an anachronistic world of trilingual toponyms. The family chronicle is placed within internal smaller “utopias”: the idyllic Ardis Park, Ada’s larvarium—a lepidopterist’s scientific paradise—as well as the parodic erotic utopia of Villa Venus. It will be argued here that there exists a prototype for these hermetic spaces: Nabokov’s image of art as a “crystal ball” (“snow globe”). Finally, the question of a connection between the multilingualism of Nabokov’s Ada and its pictorial “turn” will be discussed: it will be argued that pictorial sources provide images of space, replacing real referential ones. Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Ada or Ardor. A Family Chronicle (1969) is a trilingual  work saturated with literary and pictorial allusions. It is regarded here as a nexus with regard to different branches of Nabokov’s earlier writing. The dystopian/utopian part of Nabokov’s earlier work is expanded in Ada into the genre of the family novel, traditionally anchored in a referential historical and geographical reality. The article discusses images of space in Ada: the planetary utopias of Terra and Anti-Terra, where Anti-Terra is an anachronistic world of trilingual toponyms. The family chronicle is placed within internal smaller “utopias”: the idyllic Ardis Park, Ada’s larvarium—a lepidopterist’s scientific paradise—as well as the parodic erotic utopia of Villa Venus. It will be argued here that there exists a prototype for these hermetic spaces: Nabokov’s image of art as a “crystal ball” (“snow globe”). Finally, the question of a connection between the multilingualism of Nabokov’s Ada and its pictorial “turn” will be discussed: it will be argued that pictorial sources provide images of space, replacing real referential ones.

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author Anna Ljunggren
publication

Slavic and East European Journal 62.3 (2018): 549–565.

published 2018