The Sweet Melancholy of CivilizationnVladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor:nA Family Chronicle; McGraw-Hill,nInc.; New York, 1969.nby Mary Ellen Foxn”For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair”n— Keats: Ode on a Grecian UrnnIn the “anything goes” cultural eranin which we are living, moral shockninduced by behavior slowly becomes anrarity, even a treat. Titillation, once thenpreserve of the jaded rich, is now a relicnfrom the past—it either means brutalizationnor cruelty, or it means nothing to allnthose to whom being scandalized oncenmeant heightened awareness of their ownnsensitivities. Modern day attempts tonarouse human appetites are today considerednas tantalizing as cold spaghetti.nCast against this unappetizing plat dunjour, Vladimir Nabokov’s erotic masterpiece,nAda, which should be read withnrelish by sensitive sensualists everywhere,nrenders our embattled culture a paramountnservice by reaching a pinnacle ofndelicacy, humaneness and sensuality.nIvan (Van) Veen and Adelaida (Ada)nVeen, fourteen and twelve years old whennthey meet and first cousins, fall passionatelynin love and continue an illicitnaffair for more than eighty years. Thenprecociousness of their amorous relationshipnis given from the outset a subtlynironic irrationality and it is heightenednby their actually being brother and sister,ndue to convolutions in a family tree asncomplexly baroque as their Russian-Irishnancestry. It soon becomes redeemed, evennin a principled eye, by emotional tensionsnand aesthetic piquancy that transcendnthe commonplace reality but do not adverselynaffect our moral tastes. TheirnDr. Fox has contributed to the Chroniclesnof Culture/rofw its beginning.n8nChronicles of Cultttrentender antics are silhouetted againstnArdis, a bucolic never-never land firstncousin to the Shakespearean Forest ofnArden and the Garden of Eden. Theirnfrolics are the embodiment of innocencenand eroticism—Pi2«/e/ Virginie rewrittennby Ovid. The serpents in this Edenn(the lifelong necessity of keeping theirnlove a secret, Ada’s fickleness. Van’snjealousy) never totally disrupt the idyll,nand at the end of their lives together Adanand Van compose a narrative of sharednexperiences and feelings through thenperspectives of Love, Time and Memory.nNabokov borrows the first line oiAdanfrom the introduction of an illustriousncountryman; he writes: “All happy familiesnare more or less dissimilar; all unhappynfamilies are more or less alike,”nattributing it to Anna Karenina. SincenTolstoy actually opened his great novelnof love and guilt and torment with a linenalike in sound but the exact inverse innsense, it is clear that Nabokov is signalingnto us his great preoccupation: memorynas colored by imagination. His novelnis a carefully deliberated weaving togethernof past events and emotions perceivednthrough the illusory scrim of memory.nThus, during the 1880’s Van sportsndungarees and wristwatches, a lipstickednAda romps in bikini and sneakers, assortedncharacters drink cocktails, motornabout in automobiles, cover vast distancesnin airplanes, and make moving pictures.nThese are the playful tricks of memory;ntime does not stand still but we do. Thenjuxtaposition of Van at fourteen wearingndungarees with Van at ninety-four wearingna hearing aid is really the same Van,nloving the same Ada, however “changednconsiderably in contour as well as inncolor.” Nabokov’s touch transforms thesenphysical changes into delicate humanncomedy. When Van, the quintessentialnlibertine, is described as balding, itnarouses a chuckle of tenderness; whennColette’s Cheri returns to Lea and triesnto uncover the beautiful mistresses ofnnnthe past in the corseted feminine bulk, itnbecomes the symbol of his tragedy. WhilenCheri is betrayed by memories, Nabokovnembraces them as a “constant accumulationnof sensa . . . (and) images.” Imagesnbecome memory, memory creates andnrecreates images. These facets of lifen(which Nabokov underlines as pivotal)ngive Ada a lightness and comedic jubilation.nNabokov celebrates the past and transformsnit into a value: it becomes thenPast, complete with tradition, grace,nmeaningfulness and conventions. Thenvery forbidden quality—by natural andnsocial law—of Ada’s and Van’s involvementnand the need to keep it sub rosa donmuch to intensify their ardors and tonprolong for a lifetime something as transientnas passion.nArevalent throughout is a yearning forna bygone age when the world was youngernand fresher. The joyful intimacies of Adanand Van are suited to a pagan worldnbefore the Bible and even before Freud.nTo fully appreciate Nabokov’s daring andnoriginality, imagine the treatment of lovenand lust between brother and sister writtennin contemporary literary conventionalities:nan abundance of anti-erotic mechanicalndescriptions of sexual functions,nresembling a plumber’s manual, alongnwith imprecations against bourgeoisnsocial morality a la Thorstein Veblen.nAnd, of course, the language!nNabokov, master of pun and word play,nfrolics in English, Russian and French,n”the three greatest (languages) in thenworld.” Those one does manage to catchn(Le Chateau de la Fleche, Flesh Hall)nonly underline all that are elusive,nand that Nabokov, like Joyce, is his ownnbest audience and is having a wonderfulntime. There are numerous references tonJoyce in Ada, and even more to Proust.nReferences to Swann and Odette, tonMarcel and Gilberte underlinenNabokov’s awareness of the similarity ofn