Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026792, Mon, 11 Jan 2016 18:30:27 +0000

Re: Charlotte's "maroon slacks, yellow silk blouse"
I don't remember what others said on this subject but I tend toward the outfit's having a preparatory structural purpose, like the dog which causes the car accident being noticed the day Humbert moves in, or parenthetical asides that give future events away before they happen (a bad accident is about to happen) or some such is one; he clues us in to the fact Lolita herself will never go back to Lawn St. once she goes off to Camp Q etc. I would guess that Nabokov's killing Charlotte so suddenly required two things: one, by having Charlotte wear the same outfit she wore as the first time, the reader is cued by the kind of neatness we often see on stage or in movies or in books subtly to sense that the scene is a kind of bookend; especially this kind of mechanical reproduced business is an element of farce and comedy, where characters are introduced with certain business and will end with a reprise of that same business, giving a sense lightness and continuity. Although Nabokov's killing of Charlotte is incredibly discordant and outrageous, I always thought, to say it a different way, the reprised first outfit helped ease us into the sudden plot turn through theatrical symmetry and by lightening the horror of the death so that the reader can move on without caring as much as they might if the death felt more "real"--isn't that really why Charlotte is insulted so much by Humbert?

On Monday, January 11, 2016 6:22 AM, Didier Machu <didier.machu@UNIV-PAU.FR> wrote:

My thanks to anyone on the list who answered my query regarding Charlotteʼs “maroon slacks, yellow silk blouse” in Lolita, and suggested clues. Belated thanks as I have been away from my computer for a while. I am personally convinced such details are meaningful and deliberate. And then, with Humbert, a layman in several domains familiar to him, Nabokov may have derived keen pleasure from suggesting to his readers through his narrator shades of meanings quite alien to the latter. Like Malynne Sternstein I had been thinking of Lepidoptera: what I had in mind was not the type species she suggests, though, but Eurema lisa, a sulphur with a yellow ground color and maroon margins. In Pale Fire, one reads about “that vortex of yellow and maroon butterflies that so pleased Chateaubriand on his arrival in America.” Dieter Zimmer conjectures they are Eurema butterflies [or Phoebis sennae eubule]. Despite the help of Brian Boyd, Abdellah Bouazza and Chateaubriand scholars, the specific page referred to could not be found in Chateaubriandʼs writings (an earlier query of mine—admittedly, Kinbote is no reliable authority). But Christopher Columbus, another newcomer to America, saw such yellow-and-maroon swarms off Cuba on his first voyage (they must have been little yellows or cloudless giant sulphurs, Phoebis sennae). In the fall of 1946, in Wellesley, immigrant Nabokov witnessed the same phenomenon, redolent of his childhood. Darwin enjoyed it too from the Beagle off the coast of Northern Patagonia (“the main part [of those butterflies],” he writes, “belonged to a kind very similar to, but not identical with, the common English Colias edusa” but he refers them to the migrations of Vanessa cardui, the painted lady Nabokov alludes to several times in his fiction). Only Eurema lisamatches the yellow-maroon color scheme. It makes sense that Humbert should experience his own version of what met the eyes of quite different conquerors and travelers. Yet, I see no reason why individual Charlotte should be referred to a swarm (though she is “a type”). And I am at a loss to account for her wearing the same outfit on that last day of their shared life as on the first. Puzzled as ever, Didier Machu
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