Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003325, Sat, 22 Aug 1998 12:06:06 -0700

VN, E.B. White & _Charlotte's Web_
Nabokov Scholarship Forges Ahead.

Most Nabokovians know that Katharine White was VN's editor at "The
New Yorker" and most "New Yorker" readers, (at least of my generation)
know that K. White was married to E. B. White who, inter alia, wrote and
edited "The Talk of the Town" for the magazine. Boyd (II 86) recounts
Nabokov's affection for both Whites, mentioning an evening spent together
in Boston and Nabokov's intentional echoing of the phrase "blue snow on a
red barn" (E.B. White's definition of a miracle.)

White, born in 1899 and a Cornell man), was a brilliant and
versatile writer, who did a number of books for young people. Perhaps the
most famous, and now a "classic" of the genre, is the 1952 _Charlotte's
Web_. Knowing that VN finished _Lolita_ in December 1953, I had often
wondered whether Charlotte Haze might, in some small way, echo the heroine
of White's _Charlotte's Web_ -- the hypothetical link being
marriage-minded Charlotte's scheme to "entrap" Humbert in her web.

I am now in a position to lay this profound speculation to rest. I
have just read _Charlotte's Web_. I quote from the jacket flaps: "This is
the story of a little girl named Fern who loved a little pig named Wilbur
-- and of Wilbur's dear friend Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large
grey spider who lived in the barn. With the help of Templeton, the rat who
never did anything for anybody unless there was something in it for him,
and by a wonderfully clever plan of her own, Charlotte saved the life of
Wilbur, who by this time had grown up to be quite a pig." Charlotte, the
spider, is a thoroughly virtuous and admirable character.

I have now reread _LOLITA_ with special attention to "webs,"
"spiders," and "Charlotte." The major occurrences of _Lolita_'s "web
theme" are in Part I, chapter 11 (pp. 51-51 in Appel.) Humbert (not Charlotte)
is depicted as the spider who through his web senses the presence and motion
throuhout the house of his prey Lo.

I conclude that there is no connection between E.B. White's
"classic" and Nabokov's -- at least in so far as "Charlotte, spiders, and
webs are concerned.

D. Barton Johnson
Department of Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies Phelps Hall University
of California at Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, CA 93106 Phone and Fax:
(805) 687-1825 Home Phone: (805) 682-4618