NABOKV-L post 0005516, Sat, 7 Oct 2000 11:46:36 -0700

Fw: Dr Byron
EDITOR's NOTE. In California, at least, it is a pleasantly cool, overcast
day. Curling up with Lord Byron sounds most attractive.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Kiran Krishna" <>

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I wish to argue in this email that there might be a very strong connection
between Lolita and Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan. At the
very least, I believe there are some interesting coincidences to be
noted here, though it might very well be that there is no more. I don't
believe I have proved anything, but I do hope to interest someone in
this further. Those who haven't read any of these works might wish to
ignore the rest of this email. Ellipses, unless marked otherwise, are my
own. I have quoted quite extensively from all three works, but I believe
that the nature of my argument requires this.

Don Juan
Canto I

She kept a journal, where his faults were noted,
And open'd certain trunks of books and letters.

Compare this with Charlotte Haze rifling Humbert's desk (Part 1,
Chapter 22), and her being 'crazily jealous of anything in [Humbert's] life
that had not been she' (Part 1, Chapter 19). Also note that there are
other correspondences between Donna Inez and Charlotte. She too, like
Charlotte is an overbearing women, and a model for Homais in her

The darkness of her Oriental eye
Accorded with her Moorish origin;
(Her blood was not all Spanish, by the by;
In Spain, you know, this is a sort of
sin). When proud Granada fell, and forced to fly,
Boabdil wept, of Donna Julia's kin
Some went to Africa, some stay'd in Spain,
Her great great grandmamma chose to remain.

These might be taken to represent Donna Inez's own views, but there
is some doubt here, as there is about Charlotte's views on the subject.
Cf. Charlotte's, and others', doubts about Humbert's "racial purity"
(Prof. Appel's term). In Chapter 18, we are told:

"Charlotte interviewed me on my relations with God. I could have answered
that on that score my mind was open; I said, instead - paying my tribute
to a pious platitude - that I believed in a cosmic spirit. Looking down at
her fingernails, she also asked me had I not in my family a certain
strange strain. I countered by inquiring whether she would still want to
marry me if my maternal grandfather had been, say, a Turk."

That being said, I don't mean to imply that Donna Inez corresponds
exactly to Charlotte. I don't believe Nabokov would have liked fashioning
such exact correspondences. Moreover, there are, I believe,
correspondences between Charlotte and Donna Julia. Charlotte's first
husband is twenty years her senior. Don Alfonso is fifty years old,
to Julia's twenty-three (Stanzas LIX and LXII, Lolita, Part 1, Ch. 16,
Charlotte's 'declaration').

A real husband always is suspicious,
But still no less suspects in the wrong place,
Jealous of some one who had no such wishes,
Or pandering blindly to his own disgrace,
By harbouring some dear friend extremely vicious;

This reminds me of Humbert's jealousy (though he is Lo's 'real'
husband at all), but I think this is merely a conformation to another
pattern, which is also perhaps a recurrent theme in 'literature'.

Don Juan's sexual initiation presumably takes place on June 6 (Stanza
CIII). Humbert enters the Haze household a few days before (not on
the day, as Prof. Carl Proffer has it in his chronology. See Ch. 11, Pg.
40 in AnL) May 30. Most of the important events in Lolita (A significant
one which takes place in August is Humbert's own first intercourse with
Lolita. This would, I admit, be an argument against reading these
correspondences as intentional.) June is the month Humbert meets Annabel,
which realisation started me on this track. In Part 1, Ch. 2, we
are told:

"but alas, in the summer of that year, he was touring Italy with Mme de R.
and her daughter, and I had nobody to complain to, nobody to consult."

I find one similarity between the description of Julia and Juan's
(presumed) first intercourse and that between Hum and Lo, and that is that
his "chaste muse" takes a "liberty" and breaks off narration. Similarly,
Humbert breaks narration saying that he 'is not concerned with so-called
"sex" at all'. This too might just be a coincidence.

(Stanza CXXV)
Sweet is a legacy, and passing sweet
The unexpected death of some old lady
or ntleman of seventy years complete,
Who've made 'us youth' wait too - too long already
For an estate or, or cash, or country seat,
Still breaking, but with stamina so steady
That all the Israelites are fit to mob its
Next owner for their double-damn'd post-obits.

This, filtered through Eugene Onegin (See Lines 1-5, Nabokov's notes on
variants, EO, Volume 2, Pg 34 and 35), might be the source of Humbert's
'oncle d'Amerique' (AnL, Pg. 27, Part1, Chapter 8). Then again, it is
quite possible that Byron and Nabokov are both commenting on the
recurrence of the character in many romantic novels. There is also, in the
category of coincidences, the correspondence between Alfonso's searching
for evidence of Julia's unfaithfulness (Stanza CXXXVIII - Stanza CLXXXVI),
and Humbert's pursuit of 'the shadow' of Lo's infidelity in Part II, Ch.
16 (An.L. Pg 215)

There is, however, another interesting line between these, that might
prove to be more than a coincidence. Stanza CLXXX says:

Alfonso closed his speech, and begg'd her pardon,
Which Julia half withheld, and then half granted,
And laid conditions, he thought very hard, on,
Denying several little things he wanted;

In Part2, Ch. 7 (An.L., Ch 7), we find:

"..she proved to be a cruel negotiator whenever it was in her power to
deny me certain life-wrecking, strange, slow paradisial philters without
which I could not live for more than five days in a row."

In Stanza CXIV, we learn that Julia was sent to a convent. Compare
this with the "reformatory threat" that is used both by Charlotte in her
final letter to Lo, and Humbert. See Part 1, Chapter 23(An.L..Pg 99),
and Part 2, Chapter 1 (An.L. Pg 149). There are also correspondences
between Julia's letter to Juan, and Charlotte's to Humbert. Charlotte

contrasts her passionate nature with Humbert's dispassion.(Part1, Ch. 16)
In Stanzas CXCIV - CXCVII, Julia compares herself (and women in general)
similiarly to Juan. Also note this curious inversion:

'And I must even survive this last adieu,
And bear with life to love and pray for you!'

Charlotte on the other hand says (Part 1, Ch 16) :

"Good-bye dear one. Pray for me - if you ever pray."

Canto II

In Stanza XIX, we are told:

A mind diseased no remedy can physic.

This is a recurrent sentiment in Byron, also occurring in Childe Harold's
pilgrimage, Canto IV, Stanza CXXVI:

Disease, death, bondage - all the woes we see,
And worse, the woes we see not - which throb through
The immedicable soul, with heart-ache ever new.

and might explain Dr. Byron's 'tricking' Humbert with the sleeping
pills (Part II, Ch. 29).

This is certainly no more than a coincidence, but I can't resist
pointing out that the maker of the ship Donny Johnny sails on (See Stanza
XXIX) would emigrate and go on to become one of VN's 'favourite shams in
the hall of false fame'. (See Reply to my Critics)

The surgeon, as there was no other fee,
Had his first choice of morsels for his pains;
But being thirstiest at the moment, he
Preferr'd a draught from the fast-flowing veins..

Cf. Part II, Ch 2 (AnL, Pg 156):

A forest in Arkansas and, on her brown shoulder, a raised purple-pink
swelling (the work of some gnat) which I eased of its beautiful
transparent poison between my long thumbnails and then sucked till I was
gorged on her spicy blood.

Also compare here, a very differentimage from Childe Harold's
Pilgrimage, Canto IV:

An old man, and a female young and fair,
Fresh as a nursing mother, in whose vein
The blood is nectar:-but what doth she there,
With her unmantled neck, and bosom white and bare?

Stanza CL
But here youth offers to old age the food,
The milk of his own gift: it is her sire
To whom she renders back the debt of blood
Born with her birth. No; he shall not expire
While in those warm and lovely veins the fire
Of health and holy feeling can provide
Great Nature's Nile, whose deep stream rises higher
Than Egypt's river: from that gentle side
Drink, drink and live, old man! Heaven's realm holds no such tide.

Once again, in Stanza CXC of Don Juan, Canto II, we come upon what
might just as easily be a coincidence, probably arising from the fact that
both Don Juan and Lolita parody a lot of romantic conventions:

Haidee spoke not of scruples, ask'd no vows,
Nor offer'd any; she had never heard
Of plights and promises by a spouse,
Or perils by a loving maid incurr'd;
She was all which pure ignorance allows,
And flew to her young mate like a young bird,
And never having dreamt of falsehood, she
Had not one word to say of constancy.

Lo, of course, is 'informed' about all of these by the various movies
and magazines she has seen, but as we are told (Part1, Ch. 29, AnL, Pg

"She saw the stark act merely as part of a youngster's furtive world,
unknown to adults. What adults did for purposes of procreation was no
business of hers."

Canto III

Afar, a dwarf buffoon stood telling tales
To a sedate grey circle of old smokers,
Of secret treasures found in hidden vales,
Of magic ladies who, by one sole act,
Transform'd their lords to beasts (but that's a fact).

This bring to mind the fairy tale motif in Lolita, and Humbert's
vision of Lolita as 'nymphic (that is, demonaic)' seems to conform to the
last mentioned stereotype. There are several references to houris (Canto
I, CIV; Canto VIII, CXI - CXV), nymphs (Canto IV, XV) and enchantment in
Don Juan, but they don't seem to form a coherent motif. Another
coincidence, which I don't believe the next one is:

(Canto IV, Stanza XV)
All these were theirs, for they were children still,
And children still they should have been;
They were not made in the real world to fill
A busy character in the dull scene,
But like two beings born from out a rill,
A nymph and her beloved, all unseen
To pass their lives in fountains and on flowers,
And never know the weight of human hours.

There are several points of correspondence here. It corresponds well
to Humbert's view of his childhood love. In fact, Lambro's Isle (Note
too that one of the names considered by Humbert is Lambert Lambert)
corresponds very closely to the enchanted isle of time described by
Humbert in Part 1, Chapter 5. At the end of that chapter, Humbert says,
echoing the sentiment expressed in line 2:

"Ah, leave me alone in my pubescent park, in my mossy garden. Let them
play around me forever. Never grow up."

The last sentiment is also found in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, if
the following (from the dedication) is read literally:

Ah! may'st thou ever be what now thou art

Note too the use of the word nymph, and compare with:

"Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to
certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal
their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and
these chosen creatures I propose to designate as "nymphets".


"In fact, I would have the reader see "nine" and "fourteen" as the
boundaries - the mirrory beaches and the rosy rocks - of an enchanted
island haunted by those nymphets of mine and surrounded by a vast, misty

Byron, or the narrator in Don Juan whom Byron impersonates, in lamenting
the conformism of many of the poets of his day, echoes the line from
Sterne's A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, which is also
alluded to in Humbert's poem.

(Canto IV, XIV)
What! can I prove 'a lion' then no more?
A ball-room bard, a foolscap, hot-press darling?
To bear the compliments of many a bore,
And sigh, 'I can't get out,' like Yorick's starling;

(Part II, Ch. 25, AnL pg255)

Where are you hiding, Dolores Haze?
Why are you hiding, darling?
(I talk in a daze, I walk in a maze,
I cannot get out, said the starling).

Canto V


Her rage was but a minute's, and 'twas well-
A moment's more had slain her; but the while
It lasted 'twas like a short glimpse of hell:
Nought's more sublime than energetic bile,
Though horrible to see, yet grand to tell,
Like ocean warring 'gainst a rocky isle;
And the deep passions flashing through her form
Made her a beautiful embodied storm.

A vulgar tempest 'twere to a typhoon
To match a common fury with her rage,
And yet she did not want to reach the moon,
Like moderate Hotspur on the immortal page;
Her anger pitched to a lower tune,
Perhaps the fault of her soft sex and age-
Her wish was but to 'kill, kill, kill,'like Lear's,
And then her thirst of blood was quench'd in tears

A storm it raged, and like a storm it pass'd,
Pass'd without words - in fact she could not speak;
And then her sex's shame broke in at last,
A sentiment till then in her but weak,
But now it flow'd in natural and fast,
As water through an unexpected leak;
For she felt humbled - and humiliation
Is sometimes good for people in her station.

In Part 2, Ch 3 (AnL, Pg 169), we find:

"I remember the operation was over, all over, and she was weeping in my
arms; - a salutory storm of sobs after one of those fits of moodiness that
had become so frequent with her in the course of that admirable year."

Again, in Part 2, Ch 14 (AnL, Pg 207):

""Okay. Entendu. Now hop-hop-hop, Lenore, or you'll get soaked." (A storm
of sobs was filling my chest.)"

and further, on the same page, at the end of the chapter:

"It may interest physiologists to learn, at this point, that I have the
ability - a most singular case, I presume - of shedding torrents of tears
throughout the other tempest."

Canto VI

In Part I, Ch. 29, Humbert's tremors and gropings are described:

"If I dwell at some length on the tremors and gropings of that distant
night, it is because I insist upon proving that I am not, and never was,
and never could have been, a brutal scoundrel. The gentle and dreamy
regions through which I crept were the patrimonies of poets - not crime's
prowling ground. Had I reached my goal, my ecstasy would have been all
softness, a case of internal combustion of which she would hardly have
felt the heat, even if she were wide awake. But I still hoped she might
gradually be engulfed in a completeness of stupor that would allow me to
taste more than a glimmer of her. And so, in between tentative
approximations, with a confusion of perceptions metamorphosing her into
eyespots of moonlight or a fluffy flowering bush, I would dream I regained
consciousness, dream I lay in wait."

Compare with Stanza XXIV, where the sexes are inverted, and the situations

Gulbeyaz and her lord were sleeping, or
At least one of them! - oh the heavy night,
When wicked wives, who love some bachelor,
Lay down in dudgeon to sigh for some light
Of the grey morning, and look vainly for
Its twinkle through the lattice dusky quite -
To toss, to tumble, doze, revive, and quake
Lest their too awful bed-fellow should wake!

Note Humbert's tremors and Gulbeyaz's quake. Incidentally, chortle,
my dictionary notes was coined by the author of Through the Looking-Glass

In describing the Sultan's harem (XXXIII), lilies are mentioned:

As I said, this goodly row
Of ladies of all countries at the will
Of one good man, with stately march and slow,
Like water-lilies floating down a rill -
Or rather lake - for rills do not run slowly, -
Paced on most maiden-like and melancholy.

As Humbert first sees his nouvelle (Part 1, Ch. 10):

"That was my Lo, " she said, "and these are my lilies."

Perhaps more importantly, in Part1, Ch. 28 (Pg. 124, AnL), we come across:

"We are not surrounded in our enlightened era by little slave flowers that
can be casually picked between business and bath as they used to be in the
days of the Romans; and we do not, as dignified Orientals did in still
more luxurious times, use tiny entertainers fore and aft between the
mutton and the rose sherbet."

And continuing on, in Part II, Ch. 1 (AnL, Pg 151) :

"You will dwell, my Lolita will dwell (come here, my brown flower) with
thirty-nine other dopes in a dirty dormitory (no, allow me, please) under
the supervision of hideous matrons."

Notice here too, that the "mother of the maids", a good approximation to
that projected matron (XXXI):

Whether she was a "mother," I know not,
Or whether they were "maids" who call'd her mother;
But this is her seraglio title, got
I know not how, but good as any other;
So Cantemir can tell you, or De Tott:
Her office was to keep aloof or smother
All bad propensities in fifteen hundred
Young women, and correct them when they blunder'd.

Lolah appears for the first time in Stanza XL. She is "dusk as India,
and as warm"(XLI), hates to sleep alone (XLVIII) and has a small

Canto IX

In Stanza XXII, as in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, we find the echo to
the following statements of Humbert in Part II, Ch 36 (AnL, pg 309):

"One had to choose between [C.Q.] and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to exist
atleast a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you live in the
minds of later generations. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the
secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this
is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita."

The lines from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage are:


Such is thy name with this my verse entwined;
And long as kinder eyes a look shall cast
On Harold's page, Ianthe's here enshrined

Coming back to Don Juan, we find:

And till she doth, I fain must be content
To share her beauty and her banishment.

Canto X

Note that Juan's charge is named Leila (LI).

Here, the topic of Juan's feelings for Leila provide an almost exact
contrast to those of Humbert for Lola (Stanzas LIII-LVII). Stanza LIV is
also remarkable for another reason:

And still less was it sensual; for besides
That he was not an ancient debauchee,
(Who like sour fruit, to stir their veins' salt tides,
As acids rouse a dormant alkali,)

Fruit vert means "green fruit" , and we are told by Nabokov is french
dated slang for "unripe females attractive to ripe gentlemen".

Canto XII

A hazy widower turn'd of forty's sure
(If 'tis not in vain examples to recall)
To draw a high prize: now howe'er he got her, I
See nought more strange in this than t'other lottery.

A nice recall of an event that happened in the second canto, which,
purely as a coincidence, is also an interesting description of Humbert.

Canto XIII, XXV talks of Lord Henry's mansion in Blank-Blank Square, and
I note that, in Part 1, Chapter 11, on page 40, Humbert's diary is
pronounced a product of Blank Blank Co., Blankton, Mass.

In Canto XV, XCVII, I found my favourite little coincidence:

(I sing by night - sometimes an owl,
And now and then a nightingale)

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Lolita, as Prof. Appel notes, begins and ends with Lolita's name. I
believe that this can be traced back to the poem at hand. I have already
mentioned the last stanza of the dedication. It continues:

And long as kinder eyes a look shall cast
On Harold's page, Ianthe's here enshrined
Shall thus be first beheld, forgotten last

Canto III begins and ends on the memory of Ada, and this is
emphasised in Stanza CXV:

My daughter! with thy name this song begun;
My daughter! with thy name thus much shall end;

These lines from Canto I, Stanza III might stand as a commentary on
Humbert's deeds:

Nor florid prose, nor honeyed lies of rhyme,
Can blazon evil deeds or consecrate a crime.

Some of these echoes can be explained purely by the fact that Byron
and Nabokov both mock elements of Romantic literature. Others might
just be products of my fancy, though I have tried to weed most of those
out. However, I do believe that, there are some among these that point to
a deeper relationship between Lolita and Lord Byron, which I hope someone
better acquainted with Byron might tackle. Please forgive me my spelling
mistakes, and the corrections which MS Word might have imposed.