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

Anna Ljunggren


Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 62, no.3 (Fall 2018), pp. 549–565


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.


Ада Владимира Набокова: в “хрустальном шаре” транскультурной утопии

Анна Юнггрен

Поздний роман Вл. Набокова Ада (1969) в последнее время привлекает к себе все больше внимания как образец транскультурной и даже трансмедийной литературы, т. е. как ранний предшественник тенденций, которые мы видим в современной культуре. В статье обсуждаются образы пространства многоязычного мира Ады: планетарные утопии Терры и Антитерры, в котором Антитерра конструируется из трехъязычных топонимов. Утопическая /дистопическая линия более ранних произведений Набокова, переносится в Аде на семейный роман, традиционно помещаемый на фоне и географической реальности. Небольшие замкнутые топосы встроены в семейную хронику и поддерживают ее утопический модус: это идиллическое видение Ардиса, поместья и парка, ларварий Ады, научный рай энтомолога, а также эротическая утопия Виллы Венус. Источником последней мог быть дом Венеры в Помпеях. Как будет показано, прототипом всех этих герметических пространств служит один образ Набокова: хрустальный шар как сфера искусства. Утопии находятся вне времени: эту черту они разделяют с изобразительными цитатами, зрительными фрагментами памяти и прототипическими ядрами произведений Набокова.


Anna Ljunggren is Professor of Russian at Stockholm University. Her main area of research has been nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, predominantly poetry (Boris Pasternak, Elena Guro, Innokentii Anneskii, Fedor Tiutchev). She currently participates in the Swedish national research program “Cosmopolitan and Vernacular Dynamics in World Literatures” and has earlier conducted a project dedicated to contemporary Russian prose at the turn of the millennium. She is originally from St. Petersburg, where she received her MA in Romance languages.