NABOKV-L discussion


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Star, Starover, Starov

Submitted by MARYROSS on Thu, 05/04/2023 - 17:35

Starover Blue:


We are first introduced to Prof. Blue in Shade’s poem as

 “the index, lean and glum/College astronomer Starover Blue." (L 189)


When I first read the poem, I thought, ‘What’s the point of this children’s hand game?’ The point, of course, is that the astronomer “points” to the stars. Stars are a motif in PF.


Gradus = Grail?

Submitted by MARYROSS on Tue, 04/11/2023 - 15:55


I have been looking into Masonic/Rosicrucian motifs in Pale Fire.  Both secret societies call themselves "gradual,"  and have systems of "graded" "degrees" of initiation and progression towards spiritual knowledge/perfection.  Rather like the well-known textbook on prosody, Gradus ad Parnassus,   which are "steps" to achieving the heights of poetry. 


1948 Newspaper Column, Source for Lolita

Submitted by matthew_roth on Mon, 02/27/2023 - 16:38

Dear list,

Late last year, I was digging around and found this source for much of the Beardsley Star "Column for Teens" that appears in Part 2, Chapter 8 of Lolita. Nabokov borrowed most of the text from a 14 May 1948 column by Elizabeth Woodward. The copy I found was published in the Dayton Herald. I'm including the text below. The capitalized text represents phrases borrowed by VN and the brackets represent VN's slight changes to the column's actual wording.

Matt Roth

Poet Humbert Wolfe

Submitted by William Dane on Thu, 11/17/2022 - 17:54

This TLS review ( mentions a book by one Humbert Wolfe called Cursory Rhymes (1927) (here: Seems like it might be worth looking into. (A brief lit review reveals that some have identified Wolfe in connection with Lolita's protagonist, but I haven't seen anything yet about the content in Cursory Rhymes in particular.)

The Wikipedia page on Wolfe that includes a bibliography is here:

The Thief and the Uncle joke

Submitted by MARYROSS on Tue, 08/23/2022 - 16:07

Hello.  I am trying to remember where I read Nabokov's joke about the Thief and the Uncle. Goes something like this:


There's a thief in the house. A figure comes out from behind the curtain. The children scream, but it is not the thief, it's Uncle and they laugh. The thief gets caught – it is Uncle.

Thanks, Mary

"Hope" springs eternal in Pale Fire

Submitted by MARYROSS on Wed, 07/20/2022 - 23:17

Did anyone see “Jeopardy”* last night?


The question was :


“Alexander Pope wrote this famous axiom in his Essay on Man:”

"_______springs eternal”


That would be “hope” of course. As Alexey Sklyarenko has pointed out many times, “hope” in Russian is “nadezshde” which is a near anagram for “Hazel Shade,” or, as John Shade puts it a “faint hope.”


Reviving the "Virgil in single tone" question in Lolita

Submitted by olinko on Thu, 07/07/2022 - 05:45

Hi, I know this has been discussed already, but the sentence in Chapter 5 of Lolita has been bothering me:

"Here is Virgil who could the nymphet sing in single tone, but probably preferred a lad’s perineum."

I know the consensus is that the "single tone" here is a reference to Robert Corbet Singleton who translated Virgil into English, and I would've been satisfied with that if it weren't for Nabokov's Russian translation:

Invitation to a Beheading film William Dane Tue, 06/21/2022 - 18:57

Sorry if this is old news, but I just came across the article below, which says that last fall a prominent producer got the film rights to make Invitation to a Beheading into a film.

"Soleil Vert" in Lolita

Submitted by sarra_ben_dhia on Sat, 05/28/2022 - 11:07

Hello ! I have a question concerning the French perfume called "Soleil Vert", why this name in particular? I feel like it could be an allusion to something but I can't quite grasp it. It is mentioned in Humbert's poem and in another passage, referred to as "French perfume". 


My Dolly, my folly!

Her eyes were vair,

And never closed when I kissed her.

Know an old perfume called Soleil Vert?

Are you from Paris, mister?




"bas" and "bot" in Lolita

Submitted by sarra_ben_dhia on Sat, 05/21/2022 - 11:13

I am referring to this past note

In this quote from Lolita, Humbert makes a metalinguistic commentary on the pronunciation of "bas" by Monique, the Parisian prostitute with whom he had had relations in his youth. Monique is ecstatic to be able to buy stockings with the money received by Humbert. It's said she pronounces "bas" as "bot".