NABOKV-L post 0026596, Wed, 4 Nov 2015 10:49:26 +0100

Re: The name of Lolita
Dear List,

The debate around the possible sources of the name "Lolita" raises a
question which the participants to the third Nice conference on Nabokov
tried to address. The topic I had chosen was "Annotating vs.
Interpreting Nabokov". The proceedings were published in a special issue
of "Cycnos" (Vol. 24, # 1, 2007). In my introduction, I wrote: "The
whole debate about annotating v. interpreting naturally turns around the
problem of the over determination of the text and the kind of
contribution the reader can, may or must bring to it." Nabokov's
dictatorship (or tyranny) is such that we often prefer to annotate his
works rather than interpreting them for fear of saying things that would
run counter to his recommendations or interdicts (remember what he said
about Rowe's book). Yet, the questions remains: do our annotations
improve our understanding or appreciation of the text?

Let me give you two annotations I contributed myself:

1 - You may remember that I accidentally stumbled across a reference to
an eighteenth-century prostitute named Charlotte Hays in an introduction
to a French edition of "Fanny Hill" written by Guillaume Apollinaire. A
kind Nabokovian, Becky Bowman, even xeroxed for me a copy of the book
Apollinaire was referring to. It is clear in this case that Nabokov had
that prostitute in mind when he named Lolita's mother Charlotte Haze and
a motel keeper Mrs Hays. This annotation says something about Charlotte
and perhaps also about Nabokov's judgment concerning the attitude of a
certain kind of American women around him. I think it it a useful

2 - I also unearthed that "Lolita" written by Henri Houssaye (H.H.), but
I never claimed that it was the source for the name of the nymphet.
Brian confirmed that Nabokov had read it but probably only in 1971. On
the other hand, it tells a story not totally unlike that of "Transparent
Things"; the chief protagonist is named Armand and he kills his wife in
his sleep. It is an interesting annotation proving that Nabokov had,
indeed, read that little book, but it doesn't add anything to the text
itself, unless you wish to accuse him of plagiarism (but I don't for
Nabokov deals with a totally different subject).

Both annotations are appropriate but only the first one really
contributes to a better understanding of the text.

The reason I joined this debate, and was perhaps a little too polemical,
is that I personally feel there are too many extravagant annotations
which add little or nothing to the understanding and appreciation of
Nabokov's marvelous works, and too few genuine interpretations based on
the actual words of his texts. To be sure, every interpretation
mobilizes a particular hermeneutics (Kantian philosophy, for instance,
metaphysics, aesthetics, sociology, narratology, psychoanalysis, and so
on and so forth) of which Nabokov wasn't necessarily cognizant. But
remember the debate about "intentional fallacy"!

Sorry, I have been too long.


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