NABOKV-L post 0011976, Sat, 1 Oct 2005 13:00:09 -0700

"Ulysses and Lolita" by Neil Cornwell
EDNOTE. My thanks to Professor Neil Cornwell, author of the excellent introductory volume VLADIMIR NABOKOV (1999) as well as JAMES JOYCE AND THE RUSSIANS (1992), for allowing NABOKV-L to circulate the article below---one especially appropriate on LOLITA’s Fiftieth Anniversary. [A shorter version of this essay has been published in the James Joyce Broadsheet, 71, June 2005. A fuller version again will appear in the forthcoming Festschrift for Vittorio Strada.]


by Neil Cornwell

What is frequently termed 'the Lolita phenomenon' involves – in addition to the novel itself, its controversial reception and publishing history – increased attention to a widening assortment of 'pre-texts' or sources. These run from anticipatory glimmerings of the Lolita theme in Nabokov's own oeuvre to the nomination of a gamut of predecessors and possible influences. 'Did she have a precursor?' (the opening section of Humbert's narrative: Penguin, The Annotated Lolita 9; hereafter AL) has become a familiar question. Answers have been affirmative and their quantity is growing. The briefest reference might be made to a range of these, before we look in detail at the impact of Ulysses.
Within his own works, Nabokov identified a passage from 'A Nursery Tale' (1926); even earlier, in 1924, he had translated Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland into Russian. Incidents or scenes can be found in The Gift (written 1933-38) and other works, but The Enchanter (written 1939; published only in 1986) is acknowledged as the genuine Nabokovian pre-text to Lolita.
From elsewhere, scenes in Dostoevsky have frequently been indicated (occasionally by Nabokov himself). Other suggested works have included What Maisie Knew (pace Nabokov's declared antipathy to Henry James); The Confessions of Victor X (a Ukrainian obsessive, recorded by Havelock Ellis); and, from within the text of Lolita, a number of authors – most importantly Poe (with Annabel Lee) and Mérimée (Carmen). Additional suggestions have featured Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; Edith Wharton's The Children (1928); and even Cervantes, remembering that Nabokov prepared his Harvard Lectures on Don Quixote in the Lolita days of 1952. According to Guy Davenport's foreword to these, after Lilith, Lulu, Molly, Circe, Odette and other feisty mistresses of Decadence, Nabokov chose the 'Swinburnian' name 'Dolores' – related to a much younger Alice, Ruskin's Rose and of course Annabel Lee – and yet 'her Grandmama was Dulcinea del Toboso'. Lolita's full name (Dolores) means 'pains' (or 'sorrows') in Spanish, while 'Dulcinea', indeed, comes from dulce ('sweet').
A recently suggested possible 'source' for Lolita is a short story of that very name (the only so-titled work preceding Nabokov's novel?), published in 1916 by the little known German writer Heinz von Lichberg (see publicity, and English translation, in TLS, April 2-July 23 2004). The title of von Lichberg's Spanish-set story may now be its most startling effect. Nevertheless, Michael Maar (the work's promoter) wants to know what Dolly Haze's 'little Spanish friend' ('a pale Spanish child, the daughter of a heavy-jawed nobleman': AL 161; 163) is doing in Nabokov's novel.
Elsewhere I have drawn attention to Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved (on ‘A Dorset Yokel’s Knuckles’: see The Nabokovian, Number 54). However, the latest source to be brought into the limelight is one from real life, in Alexander Dolinin’s fascinating account of ‘What Happened to Sally Horner’ (TLS, September 9 2005) – an episode researched by Nabokov in local papers and referred to in the novel by Humbert (AL 289).

* * * *

Certainly Nabokov would not need to have known von Lichberg's story to have arrived at the name 'Dolores' – of which 'Lolita' (along with 'Lola', or 'Lo') is, anyway, the common Hispanic diminutive. In his reference to 'the heroine's ... first name [which] is too closely interwound with the inmost fiber of the book to allow one to alter it' (AL 3-4), we may safely assume that John Ray, Jr. (the purported 'editor' of Humbert Humbert's narrative) is thinking both of the full name and all its diminutives (stemming from 'Dolores on the dotted line': AL 9). We have only to return to another work which Nabokov knew intimately, lectured on, and greatly admired: Joyce's Ulysses (see Lectures on Literature: hereafter LL). Humbert's comment, 'J'ai toujours admiré l'oeuvre ormonde du sublime Dublinois' (AL 207), has been duly recognised (Alfred Appel, AL 407, 207/3) as a tribute to Joyce (as well as an 'hors [de ce] monde' pun); moreover, the (non-existent) French adjective 'ormonde' clearly points to Dublin's Ormond Hotel as the scene of 'Sirens'.
Several other references to 'things Ormond' have been spotted. Many more, though, apparently unnoticed hitherto, arise from the 'trilling' of a song by Ormond barmaid and 'siren' Lydia Douce: another 'sweet' figure. Only nine lines in, we encounter: 'Trilling, trilling: Idolores', prefiguring the trilled line ' – O, Idolores, queen of the eastern seas! ' (U 11.9; 11.226). This is glossed by Gifford as the refrain of the aria 'The Shade of the Palm' ('Oh Idolores, queen of the eastern sea, / Fair one of Eden look to the West for me, / My star will be shining, love, / When you're in the moonlight calm, / So be waiting for me by the Eastern sea, / In the shade of the sheltering palm'), from the 'light opera' Floradora (1899) by Leslie Stuart. On a South-Sea island, 'Idolores, the beautiful and flirtatious heroine, is being pursued (and spoiled) by a host of men, including the nasty villain' (Gifford, UA 291).
South Sea allusions venture into the latter part of Lolita: 'Polynesian' (AL 246), 'Oh the balmy days and the palmy bays' (AL 256), 'far far away, in the coves of evoked islands' (AL 257); Dolly Schiller (later married name of Lolita, or Dolores Haze) makes 'familiar Javanese gestures' (AL 270); Quilty refers to non-existent distant islands (AL 302). This may compare with 'the plash of waves' from the shell held by the Joycean sirens (U 11.936) and the (siren-like, from a 'romantic soul') 'torrent of Italian music' coming from what had been the Haze house, 'where no piano had plunged and plashed on that bewitched Sunday', to which Humbert fondly looks back towards the end of the novel (AL 288). It might also be noted that the Mediterranean ('Riviera') represents an 'eastern' sea from the geographical standpoint of the USA, bordering indeed on the 'Near East'. Polynesian associations in Lolita may also, it has been suggested, arise from Melville's story Omoo.
'Fair one of Egypt' is the next transposition for this Idolores (U 11.383), and Lydia Douce herself takes on the mantle of 'Idolores, a queen, Dolores, silent' (11.518). 'Quine, Dolores' is found by Humbert Humbert in Who's Who in the Limelight (a compendium held in his prison library: AL 31). Lolita is associated with a milk bar named 'The Frigid Queen' (and dubbed 'My Frigid Princess') and soon conflated with the seaside, 'a Kingdom by the Sea, a sublimated Riviera': 'Annabel Haze, alias Dolores Lee, alias Loleeta' (AL 166-7). The chess game in Ramsdale, at the point when Gaston 'swooped down' upon Humbert's queen, while Lo is clandestinely consorting with Quilty, prefigures the latter's subsequent 'taking' of Dolores Haze (AL 203). Miss Douce is also associated (like Lolita and the rose: see AL 362, 52/5) with the 'rose of Castile', title of a light opera by Michael Balfe (U 11.329; 11.1271), and with the colour bronze. 'Bronze by gold, miss Douce's head by miss Kennedy's head' emblematises the two sirens (Lydia and Mina: 11.64). Bronze and gold are conflated in the figure of Edusa Gold, who has 'brilliant bronze hair', and has been one of the intermediaries between Lo and Quilty (AL 208); another such bears the name 'Mona'. Comparison may be made between Medusa, Edusa and Miss Douce [Dublin pronunciation: 'Muz Deuce'], while 'Sirens' and Gorgons (the Medusa) have certain qualities in common. For that matter, 'Schiller' (when pronounced 'Skiller': AL 268) suggests 'Scylla'. Dolly's killer (rather than the Charybdis of abuse sucking her in from the dual form of Humbert-Quilty) turns out, though, to be the natural rock of childbirth.
As Bloom listens to the musical trillings and performances, the lyrics turn his thoughts back to Molly (even now about to betray him with Blazes Boylan: 'the conquering hero') and her Spanish (Gibraltarian, Mediterranean) background: 'Spanishy eyes', 'in old Madrid', 'Dolores shedolores' (U 11.732-4). Under the impact of the fate of The Croppy Boy, Bloom thinks of 'Dolor! o, he dolores!' (U 11.1132). The song-line, 'See the conquering hero comes', is associated with Boylan in 'Sirens' (U 11.340) and (by Lolita) with Humbert in a breakfast in bed advert (featuring a figure said to have 'Irish eyes'); yet it belongs more with Quilty, in 'another picture' underneath the Drome cigarette advert (AL 69). The breakfast ad (reminiscent of Bloom bringing Molly's breakfast – 'one of the greatest passages in all literature': LL 306 – and looking also uncannily like the younger James Mason) is reproduced by Appel (AL 369), who notes the Joycean allusion and the prediction of Quilty's 'victory' (AL 367-8, 69/2). Breakfast in bed, we may note, is reversed and parodied when Lolita leaves a bacon-less tray outside Humbert's door: 'My breakfast tray, lovingly prepared by my landlady, leers at me toothlessly, ready to be taken in. Lola, Lolita!' (AL 50); and it is again parodied with reference to Charlotte Haze (AL 70).
Molly Bloom (née Marion Tweedy), having assumed these dolorous and floral qualities, reveals herself to have been a precocious teenager ('Fifteen she told me', muses Bloom: U 13.890; and this is duly noted by Nabokov: LL 348), the daughter of a mysterious mother, 'whoever she was', named Lunita (U 18.846-8). We might also notice the presence within 'Sirens' of the phrase 'a pin cuts lo' (11.297). This refers back (to 8.630): 'Women won't pick up pins. Say it cuts lo', said to allude to a superstition that this would 'cut love' (UA 176) and remarked in his lecture by Nabokov: 'The ve in love has been cut off to show what happens' (LL 322). One may note 'the black ready-made bow and bobby pins holding [Lo's] hair in place', imitating 'a lady-writer's pen!' (AL 49; said to be part of 'a burst of cheap-fiction clichés': Appel, AL 360, 49/1) that may appear analogous to the opening half of 'Nausicaa'. Noteworthy here too is the street rhyme, 'O, Mairy lost the pin of her drawers' (U 5.281; recalled in 'Sirens': 11.870), and 'pin' – Humbert's name for his favourite drink (gin and pineapple juice: AL 374, 97/1). One [evidently 'lost'] 'three-year-old bobby pin of [Lolita's]' turns up 'in the depths of the glove compartment' of Humbert's car as he drives to shoot Quilty (AL 293). Another (rather more obscene) street rhyme, alluded to in both Ulysses and Lolita, involves the Reverend Rigger (or MacTrigger), noted by Appel (AL 401, 187/1). After several appearances (see U 8.748-9; AL 187, 189, 191, 195), he reapppears as 'the Rev, Rigor Mortis' (AL 252).
There is also the exhortation by poster to: 'Smoke mermaids, coolest whiff of all' (U 11.300-01; cf. the 'colored ad' for Dromes in Lo's room: AL 69),alluding to the advertising slogan for Mermaid cigarettes (UA 298). Charlotte Haze is regarded by Humbert as 'a very mediocre mermaid' (AL 86), while he buys, for Dolores of that ilk, Andersen's The Little Mermaid. References to 'nymphs' and 'seaside girls' appear widely in Ulysses, while Nabokov considered Bloom to be an 'undinist' (see AL 425, 250/3) – although he appears to remain, like the earlier Humbert, but unlike the mature Humbert, 'a law-abiding poltroon' (AL 18); Quilty, though, is denounced by Humbert as 'a repressed undinist' (AL 250).
Julian Moynahan has commented that Humbert's characterisation owes something to Leopold Bloom, just as that of Dolores Haze owes something to Joyce's Gerty. Bloom's interest in the physical development of his fifteen-year-old daughter Milly may appear a trifle over-zealous ('Little paps to begin with. Left one is more sensitive, I think': U 13.1200). In 'Nausicaa', on Sandymount strand that evening, Bloom takes full advantage ('love at a distance [Bloomism]': Nabokov, LL 348) of Gerty's provocative display of her underclothed nether regions, in a sequence much admired by Nabokov: 'the frilly novelette parodies in the Masturbation scene are highly successful; and the sudden junction of its clichés with the fireworks and tender sky of real poetry is a feat of genius' (Strong Opinions 76-7).
Humbert's 'salad of racial genes' included an element of 'Austrian descent' (AL 9); Nabokov had noted 'a blonde Austrian soldier' in Bloom's ancestry (LL 316). Both Bloom and Humbert are suspected, and accused, of 'racial impurity'. And why (other than for pseudo-Joycean allusion) should Humbert describe his looks as 'pseudo-Celtic' (AL 104) and himself as 'the quiet Franco-Irish gentleman' (AL 122), or 'not un-Celtic' (AL 188)? Furthermore, Humbert (somewhat Bloom-like) had worked on 'perfume ads' on his arrival in New York (AL 32) – and stolen Spanish perfume had featured in his (Riviera, Mediterranean) 'unsuccessful first tryst' with Annabel (AL 14-15).
Gerty, 'the girlwoman' (U 13.430 – 'though Gerty would never see seventeen again': 13.172-3), as she limps away ('She's lame!'; 'that little limping devil': 13.771; 13.851-2), is conflated with Milly, and Molly, and (through thoughts on menstruation) 'Molly and Milly together' (13.785; 'Devils they are when that's coming on them': 13.822) – 'The Curse of the Irish' is one of Humbert's names for it (AL 47). According to Appel at least, this is what 'the Mystery of the Menarche', 'the initial menstrual period', is called in Ireland (AL 360, 47/5). As for Milly, she is '[s]traight on her pins anyway not like the other' (U 13.928). And it's back again to Molly, who 'can knock spots off them. It's the blood of the south. Moorish' (13.968-9) – as her perfume ('those spice islands': 13.1018) seems to waft its way to him (Humbert's later girlfriend Rita also probably had 'some Spanish or Babylonian blood': AL 258).
Humbert in Paris, cuckolded like Bloom, looks on while the White Russian colonel-taxi-driver ('Taxovich' or Maximovich: AL 28; 30) helps 'his moll' (Humbert's legal spouse Valeria), and 'child-wife' to be, to pack and leave (AL 29; 28). 'Moll' is used again, in its usual (mock-) gangster mode (AL 62), but the line 'Plowing his ['child wife'] Molly in every State' occurs in Humbert's 'original' poem (AL 256). Humbert is initially ready to flee from Ramsdale to 'the Blazes' (AL 36) – until he spies Lolita. Charlotte Haze has a 'bronze-brown bun' and, in the first sound she makes (siren-like perhaps), her 'contralto voice ... inquired melodiously, "Is that Monsieur Humbert?"' (AL 37; and 'bronze hair': AL 70).
While Dolly Haze's characterisation may owe something to Gerty, there would seem also to be at least a couple of further nods in the latter's direction. 'Move your bottom, you', Lo brazenly orders Humbert, scrambling uninvited into her mother's car (AL, 50); Gerty, on the other hand, 'crimsoned at the idea of [her friend] Cissy saying an unladylike thing like that out loud' (on hearing 'On the beeoteetom': U 13.263-5). Another features the young Parisian prostitute Monique (claiming to be eighteen, but 'no doubt ... adding one or two years to her age'), who declared 'with great gusto': 'Je vais acheter des bas' when Humbert gives her a 'bonus' (AL 22-3). Gerty was wearing 'unusually expensive' transparent stockings (UA 392; U 13.499-502) – a point certainly not lost on Bloom ('Swell of her calf. Transparent stockings, stretched to breaking point': U 13.929-30). A further point is the presence of Ginny McCoo ('Oh, she's a fright. And mean. And lame' – Lolita: AL 41; 'Ginny and her lagging leg' – Humbert: AL 53); she even returns to Humbert's mind at a time of acute distress, on his visit to (the now) Dolly Schiller (AL 279). In Lolita's classlist, we find 'McCoo, Virginia' (AL 52), although any use in Lolita of the name 'Virginia' is also an allusion to Poe and his child bride.
The characterisation of Dolly Haze would seem to owe something too to Milly (who had also lost a young brother), together with (the younger) Molly, and even (shared, appropriately enough, with her own mother) Lydia Douce. The appellation la gitanilla derives, of course, from Mérimée's Carmen, but it could still be indebted as well to the young Molly Bloom, daughter of Lunita. The dreamed Lolita can also appear 'in strange and ludicrous disguises as Valeria or Charlotte, or a cross between them' (AL 254). A 'gloomy girl Marion' makes a late appearance, recollected from one of Lolita's 'trash' books, whose dead mother is being extolled (by an unexpectedly 'young, gay, understanding redhead' of a stepmother: AL 286); Dolly Haze and Molly [Marion] Bloom both wonder about their dead mothers.
If some semblance of an Irish sub-theme can be detected by now in Lolita (at times duly connected with the Spanish), it applies also to Dolly Haze herself; and we should remember that '"Haze" only rhymes with the heroine's real surname' (AL 3-4). While no convincing 'real surname' has yet been suggested, it would appear, we should not perhaps ignore the homonyms 'Hays' (used AL 239) and (the more Irish) 'Hayes', which features in Nabokov's Lolita screenplay as 'Dolores Hayes, H,A,Y,E,S, ... a fat old dame selling homemade Tokay to the Indians'. In addition to anything noted so far, she remains 'the little colleen' and (unlike her Swiss-English step-father, for all his Celtic protestations) 'happened to be half-Irish' (a quality which apparently appealed to her near namesake Mrs Hays: AL 239). On the subject of surnames, one cannot help wondering whether Nabokov was aware that the original Dublin prototype for Bloom was a man named Hunter, and that there is therefore a sense in which Bloom was himself to become 'the enchanted Hunter' (Dolly Schiller, of course, lived on Hunter Road: AL 268). Peter Lubin's seemingly parodic 'interview' with Nabokov ('Kickshaws and Motley', 1971) referred to 'a small field trip to Ireland', making Nabokov 'the most dutiful of Dubliners'. A claim has recently surfaced, however, that the young Nabokov-Sirin may indeed have stayed in Quilty, County Clare: 'for a week or so in the early 1920s', the young Nabokov [if indeed it were he] 'had come to net butterflies'; because of the rain, however, he spent much time indoors, playing chess (letter to TLS, May 28 2004).

* * * *

These proto-tales, pre-texts, and putative ur-texts notwithstanding (and this survey is by no means exhaustive – more will undoubtedly surface1), Lolita, it goes without saying, took on an overwhelming novelistic momentum of its own: a switch from third-person to first-person narration, a new tone in a new world – that of the post-war America which Nabokov had experienced through the 1940s and was now to re-create in fictional form at the age of fifty: what he called 'inventing America' (AL 312).

Neil Cornwell is Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at the University of Bristol, and the author of James Joyce and the Russians (Macmillan, 1992) and Vladimir Nabokov (Northcote House, 1999).