The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

The characters define Antiterra, and they are all destructive. They might be roughly divided into victimizers and victims. Demon Veen, Van’s father, is a monstrous egotist and a rake. He seems to feed on live beauty with the same appetite with which he feeds on gourmet meals. Van takes after...

(The entire section contains 1574 words.)

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The characters define Antiterra, and they are all destructive. They might be roughly divided into victimizers and victims. Demon Veen, Van’s father, is a monstrous egotist and a rake. He seems to feed on live beauty with the same appetite with which he feeds on gourmet meals. Van takes after his father—he is a younger and more robust, more spontaneous and less jaded, copy. Ada has a devastating effect on the frail mortals with whom she comes in contact. From childhood on, Van’s and Ada’s appetites are as prodigious as their intellectual gifts—they do not have to work for their conquests, who succumb to them without the least resistance. Nor do the men work for money, or do any drudgery; they live in a world of Swiss bank accounts, of multiple villas on the most desirable spots of the globe with “staffs” of servants filling them. It would seem that there might be an element of wish-fulfilling fantasy here, of self-indulgence bordering on privatism. The “author” (technically, Van) insists that to all of his endeavors Van applies “athletic strength of will, ironization of excessive emotion, and contempt for weepy weaklings.” In this black-and-white world where extremes (incestuously) meet, the victims appear little different from their victimizers; they feel no resentment or rebellion, and no doubt victims would be victimizers if only they had the means.

These values, or antivalues, are reinforced by the narration’s tone. All events are seen through the prism of Van’s hyperbolic disdain, his striking metaphors, constant parody, and trilingual puns. (“Demon’s former valet explained to Van that the dor’ in the name of an adored river equalled the corruption of hydro in dorophone.’ Van often had word dreams.”) The reader is never able to escape this “nasty” tone or point of view; it produces a sense of claustrophobia from which there is no respite. This is the novel’s basic flaw and greatest weakness, its Achilles’ heel. The narration is often sprightly, inventive—but it cloys. It desperately needs a foil, something to be set against, another voice to give relief, or proof that Van’s authorial tone is not Nabokov’s. None, however, is provided.

The saving grace of Antiterra is that its inhabitants long for another “more deeply moral” world to which they might escape. They dream of a paradise called Terra “on the opposite side of the cosmic lane” where cruel appetite and pride have been dispelled. Ironically, it is when the reader encounters these longings that Antiterra seems most like our own world.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1145

Ivan (Van) Veen

Ivan (Van) Veen (ih-VAHN), the fastidious, rakish scion of an aristocratic family. He matures from schoolboy to scholar of psychiatry to retired traveler. Although he has many sexual partners, his life is dominated by a love affair, lasting more than eighty years, with Ada, who is said to be his cousin but actually is his sister. Fourteen-year-old Van, who earns local fame for his unusual skill at walking on his hands, meets twelve-year-old Ada in the idyllic setting of her putative father’s country estate, Ardis. There they fall in love, but Van also attracts the lifelong, obsessive love of his and Ada’s half sister, Lucette. A second summer at Ardis, four years later, reaffirms Van’s love for Ada, but this time the idyll is shattered by Van’s discovery of Ada’s unfaithfulness. Van is wounded in a duel and recovers at the nurturing hands of a family friend, Cordula de Prey, in her Manhattan apartment. Eventually Van and Ada are reunited in the apartment (now Van’s), but a winter of love is interrupted by the abrupt entrance of their father, Demon, who demands that the lovers part. Van spends his adult life in the study and practice of psychiatry, with a special interest in time, space, and insanity. During a transatlantic ocean voyage, Van is surprised to learn that Lucette has contrived to become his fellow passenger. When Van, out of conscientious scruples, rebuffs her advances, she jumps overboard to her death. Van and Ada meet again, in their thirties, in Switzerland, and resume their affair, although Ada is now married. The illness of Ada’s husband forces another separation, but the lovers reunite again in their fifties and spend a happy and active old age together, traveling around the world from one fabulous home to another.

Adelaida (Ada) Veen

Adelaida (Ada) Veen (ah-deh-lah-EE-dah), a pale, dark-haired beauty who is a precocious twelve-year-old with interests in botany and entomology when she first meets and falls in love with Van. As she matures, her sensuality blossoms, and she has many male lovers, as well as, eventually, a bisexual intimacy with her troubled half sister, Lucette. Van is most angered by her brief romances with Lucette’s music teacher, Philip Rack, and with Cordula de Prey’s cousin, Percy. After both men die, Ada spends her young adult years in a tepid career as a film actress. In between her periodic romantic reunions with Van, Ada is married and spends much of her middle age on a ranch in Arizona with her husband. Eventually, she returns to Van and spends her old age traveling with him, photographing butterflies, and helping to edit the story of their life together.

Dementiy (Demon) Veen

Dementiy (Demon) Veen (deh-MEHN-tee), a fabulously wealthy, black-haired womanizer who sires both Van and Ada with his mistress, Marina Durmanov, an actress. He is married to Marina’s mentally ill sister, Aqua. He is the father of record of Van only, with whom he enjoys a warm relationship. The bond is damaged when Demon inadvertently discovers that his two children are lovers. As an older man, Demon enjoys female lovers of steadily diminishing age (ending with a difficult nymphet of ten) and finally dies in a plane crash.

Marina Durmanov Veen

Marina Durmanov Veen (mah-REE-nah DUR-mah-nov), a faded, red-haired stage and film actress of mediocre gifts. She marries Daniel Veen but carries on a stormy love affair with his cousin Demon. As a result, Marina is the mother of Demon’s daughter Ada, Dan’s daughter Lucette, and Demon’s son Van, though all involved pretend that Van was born instead to Marina’s sister Aqua. Marina runs Dan’s country estate, Ardis, and occasionally plays the role of doting mother while combining her acting career with a series of love affairs. Marina, who is looked upon with contempt by both Van and Ada, resolutely ignores the evidence that the siblings are lovers until she reaches her deathbed from cancer.

Aqua Durmanov Veen

Aqua Durmanov Veen, Marina’s twin sister, who is married to Demon Veen and claims to be Van’s mother, though Van actually is Marina’s child by Demon. Aqua’s life is plagued by an escalating series of episodes of mental illness, culminating with her suicide before the age of forty.

Daniel Veen

Daniel Veen, a dull, stodgy art dealer of independent means. He is married to Marina Durmanov, and he is the father of Lucette and the putative father of Ada. He visits Ardis on weekends and has very formal, limited relationships with his wife and family.

Lucinda (Lucette) Veen

Lucinda (Lucette) Veen, a beautiful, troubled redhead, a half sister to Van and Ada. Teased as a youngster by close proximity to Van and Ada’s romance, she comes to love both half siblings obsessively, enjoying sexual intimacy with Ada but finding herself frustrated in her overtures to Van. On one occasion, all three have a brief sexual encounter in Van’s bed. When Lucette’s frantic final attempt to engage Van on board an ocean liner fails, she jumps overboard to her death.

Ida Larivière

Ida Larivière, (lah-rih-vih-EHR), young Ada and Lucette’s governess. She continues in this position even after achieving unexpected literary success with her plays and short stories. She is somewhat in awe of Ada, and her characteristic failure to observe keeps her from perceiving the romantic nature of Ada and Van’s relationship.

Percy de Prey

Percy de Prey, one of Ada’s lovers, a heavyset, hot-tempered rival of Van, and a cousin of Cordula de Prey. He is killed in military service.

Cordula de Prey

Cordula de Prey, a young school friend of Ada. She remains close to Van and Ada all their lives. She nurses Van back to health after he is wounded in a duel, gives him the Manhattan apartment where he and Ada spend a memorable winter, and arranges for Lucette to procure last-minute reservations on the ocean liner from which she plunges to her death.

Philip Rack

Philip Rack, Lucette’s music teacher and another of young Ada’s lovers. A thin, self-effacing man, he eventually is poisoned by his wife and dies in the same hospital where Van is brought after being wounded in a duel.

Andrey Vinelander

Andrey Vinelander, a simple Russian with a ranch in Arizona. He marries Ada after Demon surprises and separates Ada and Van. Ada remains loyal, if not faithful, to Andrey during a lengthy illness that eventually leads to his death, allowing Ada at last to return to Van.

Dorothy Vinelander

Dorothy Vinelander, Andrey’s sister, a prissy, annoying pseudointellectual who is despised by both Van and Ada. In spite of her intrusiveness and inquisitiveness during a family trip to Switzerland, she fails to grasp the true nature of Van and Ada’s relationship.

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Critical Essays