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Literature / Ada, or Ardor

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Ada, or Ardor: a Family Chronicle is a 1969 novel by Vladimir Nabokov, taking the form of the longnote  memoirs of a psychiatrist around 1967 looking back at his 97 years of life. Rather than his career or philosophical thinking, however, the bulk of it concerns his over 80-year-long love affair with his "cousin" (actually sister), Ada from the title.

Ada contains examples of:

  • Aloof Darkhaired Girl: Ada
  • Alternate History: Most of the world is under Anglo-American dominion, with the notable exception of Tartary, and electrical power is taboo, just for a start. The Golden Horde still rules, so it can be inferred that the point of divergence was in the 14th century, but this is unsure.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Lucette to Van and Ada.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The Veen family whose male members have a long history of sexually fixating on very young girls. They are also contemptuous of ordinary people to the point where they often feel physical disgust around them.
  • Band of Brothels: Villa Venus, a chain of exclusive brothels with a select aristocratic clientele.
  • Big Fancy House: Ardis, which subtly parodies the manors that are a stock feature of much nineteenth and eighteenth century literature.
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  • Brother–Sister Incest: The meat of the plot.
  • Bungled Suicide: Van tries to shoot himself after his father warns him to stop his romance with Ada. However, the gun fails to fire.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Played with. Van Veen shows no chivalry towards sexually attractive women he considers low class, such as Blanche and the "fubsy pig-pink whorelet" who relieved him of his virginity. However he does shows some tenderness and gallantry towards women whose class matches his such as his half-sister Lucette and the child prostitutes at the Villa Venus which (in theory anyway) recruits from the aristocracy only.
    • His father Demon Veen despite his taste for young girls is very concerned for Ada when he finds out she and Van are commiting incest and tries to force Van to end the relationship.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The book purports to be the dictated memoirs of Ivan Veen (the main character), with assistance from Ada. There's also an appendix by "Vivian Darkbloom".
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: There's quite a bit of Russian and French interpolated, including a two paragraph letter entirely in French. Vivian Darkbloom's appendix provides translations for all of this, though it's usually understandable enough from context.
  • I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: Van to Lucette, with tragic results.
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  • In Spite of a Nail: Despite some apparently rather large changes in 15th-century European geopolitics, the United States seems to be pretty much the same, or at least the continental 48 states. There are still Spanish and Native American place names, and all the mentioned states and cities seem to be the same.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Lucette as a child frequently and deliberately interrupts Van and Ada's lovemaking.
  • Kinky Spanking: Ada suggests Van that he should spank Lucette when she is being particularly annoying. Lucette is very disappointed when Van refuses to.
  • Kissing Cousins: In theory.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Van is hurt and bothered by Ada's affairs, whereas he sees no problem with his own. Of course, in all fairness, she had many more, hers were continuous whereas his were on-and-off and she blatantly lied about them.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Ada as a young girl is obsessed with entomology and botany, and virtually every man in her vicinity wants to bed her.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Averted, especially with Van who treats the hired help as subhuman.
  • One Steve Limit: Two characters are named "Walter D. Veen", so they're distinguished by their middle names.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Religion exists, but it's much less popular and treated far more disdainfully than in reality. Marina, admittedly not very smart, is even unaware that Judaism predates Christianity.
  • Parental Incest: Mention is made of a man who impregnates his 5-year-old granddaughter (while asleep, supposedly). Five years later, he impregnates the resulting girl, again supposedly while asleep.
  • Redhead In Green: Lucette seldom wears any other color.
  • Russia Is Western: Most of the world is ruled by a Russo-Anglo-American dominion (North America is settled extensively by Russians, and Russian is one of its languages, along with English and French). They are fighting the Golden Horde in this world's version of the Cold War.
  • Spoiled Brat: Van, very frequently.
  • Shout-Out: The nonfiction work The Ambidextrous Universe by Martin Gardner quoted John Shade; Nabokov returned the favor by having Van mention John Shade being quoted by the "invented philosopher" Gardiner [sic] in that book.
  • Steampunk: Very minor case, but blimps are more prominent, there are clockwork horseless carriages, and telecommunication is done through "hydrophones" (later corrupted to "dorophones").
  • Suicide Pact: Van and Ada at the end of the book. Probably (it's kind of ambiguous).
  • Tangled Family Tree: Walter D. Veen marries Aqua Durmanov, his second cousin, while his cousin, also named Walter D. Veen, marries Aqua's twin sister, Marina. A chart is included with the book.
  • Teen Genius: Ada and Van are both very precocious; the latter gets a master's degree at 19.
  • Three-Way Sex
  • The Unfavorite: Lucette to Van
  • Upper-Class Twit: Pampered, arrogant and fastidious Van Veen.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Van and Ada find each other annoying at first. Van's feelings start to change when he slips while climbing a tree, and his face lands on Ada's crotch.