Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026722, Wed, 23 Dec 2015 03:04:33 +0300

Hurricane Lolita,
Mars & Sybil's portrait in Pale Fire; lightning,
Aunt Sybil & Charlotte's letter in Lolita
In Canto Three of his poem Shade mentions Hurricane Lolita that in 1958 (the
year of Lolita's publication of in America) swept from Florida to Maine and,
practically in the next line, his wife's portrait:

It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane
Lolita swept from Florida to Maine.

Mars glowed. Shahs married. Gloomy Russians spied.
Lang made your portrait. And one night I died. (ll. 679-682)

In his Commentary (note to Line 682) Kinbote wonders if Shade did not have
in mind a photographic portrait? According to Humbert Humbert (the main
character and narrator in Lolita), his very photogenic mother was killed by

My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when
I was three, and save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of
her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory, over which if you can
still stand my style (I am writing under observation), the sun of my infancy
had set: surely, you all know those redolent remnants of day suspended, with
the midges, about some hedge in bloom or suddenly entered and traversed by
the rambler, at the bottom of a hill , in the summer dusk; a furry warmth,
golden midges. (1.2)

The name of Shade's wife is Sybil. According to Humbert Humbert, he was
brought up by his mother's elder sister Sybil:

My mother's elder sister, Sybil, whom a cousin of my father's married and
then neglected, served in my immediate family as a kind of unpaid governess
and housekeeper. Somebody told me later that she had been in love with my
father, and that he had lightheartedly taken advantage of it on a rainy day
and forgotten it by the time the weather had cleared. I was extremely fond
of her, despite the rigidity--the fatal rigidity--of some of her rules.
Perhaps she wanted to make of me, in the fullness of time, a better widower
than my father. She wrote poetry. She was poetically superstitious. She said
she knew she would die soon after my sixteenth birthday, and she did.

The most superstitious of all poets was, perhaps, Pushkin. In Chapter Six of
Eugene Onegin (the description of the Lenski-Onegin duel) Pushkin predicted
his own fatal duel. In Lolita (1.16), Charlotte's letter to Humbert Humbert
is a parody of Tatiana's letter to Onegin in Chapter Three of EO. According
to Pushkin, Onegin kept in his memory anecdotes of days gone by, from
Romulus to our days (One: VI: 12-14). A son of Mars (the god of War),
Romulus disappeared during a violent thunder storm. A founder of Rome,
Romulus killed his twin brother Remus. In Lolita Humbert Humbert kills his
"brother" Quilty (the playwright who abdicated Lolita from HH). Clare Quilty
is the author (in collaboration with Vivian Darkbloom) of The Lady who Loved
Lightning (1.8).

Incidentally, in Russian old anecdotes are called borodatye ("bearded").
Like Chernomor in Pushkin's Ruslan and Lyudmila and Mr. Barrymore in Conan
Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles, Kinbote has a beard. The name of Shade's
daughter (who asked her mother what grimpen was), Hazel, brings to mind
Lolita's surname.

According to Shchyogolev (Zina Merts' step-father in VN's novel "The Gift,"
1937), he too could have written a novel. Shchyogolev tells Fyodor its plot
that resembles the plot of Lolita. The name Shchyogolev comes from
shchyogol' (fop). In Chapter Ten of EO (destroyed on Oct. 19, 1830) Pushkin
calls the tsar Alexander I pleshivyi shchyogol' ("a baldish fop"):

Властитель слабый и лукавый,

Плешивый щёголь, враг труда,

Нечаянно пригретый славой,

Над нами царствовал тогда.

A ruler weak and wily,

a baldish fop, a foe of toil,

fortuitously by Fame befriended,

over us reigned then. (I: 1-4)

In the same Chapter Ten (XVI: 1) Pushkin calls Lunin (the Decembrist whose
name comes from luna, "moon") "a friend of Mars, Bacchus and Venus."

Alexey Sklyarenko

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