NABOKV-L post 0003448, Mon, 26 Oct 1998 10:10:13 -0800

Inspriration for LOLITA?:through the garden again (fwd)
From: michael juliar,

To touch on an old thread regarding Nabokov's claim for the inspiration
of Lolita ("The first little throb of Lolita went through me late in
1939 or early in 1940, in Paris...somehow prompted by a newspaper story
about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by
a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal:
this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage."), has anyone
pointed out the following?

Life Magazine, on page six of its 5 December 1949 issue, published most
of a Nabokov letter about butterfly wings in Hieronymus Bosch's Garden
of Delights. (See Selected Letters, pp. 93-94.) On the facing page,
seven, is a letter from a H. Huber Clark of New York City about the
first photograph ever taken by an "ape". Mr. (or Mrs. or Miss) Clark
writes, "Photographer Bernard Hoffman's Cookie (Life, Nov. 14) was not
the first ape to take a picture. My proteéeé, whose name was also Cookie,
was an advanced shutterbug more than seven years ago when an article
appeared in This Week magazine Oct. 11, 1942…" Accompanying the letter
are two photographs, one of the "first Cookie" examining a box camera (a
Kodak brownie?), and one of humans looking into Cookie's cage, taken, of
course, from Cookie's point of view. The bars of the cage stand out more
than the human heads.

On page ten, the letters continue with one from Seaborn Jones Jr. of
Jacksonville, FL, pointing out that Life had published similar photos in
its "Pictures to the Editors" on 5 September 1938. He says, "
showed two pictures taken by a chimpanzee in a Berlin zoo." Life
reprints the two photos. If both were actually taken by the chimp, as
the letter says, the first photo is of another chimp holding a man-made
object (another camera?). The second is of people staring (chimps point
of view) into a cage. Again, the bars of the cage are clearly visible.

Is it possible that Nabokov was referring to one of these three sets of
photos: one published in 1949, one in 1942, and one in 1938, all
published in the US? Could the 1938 set have been published in Europe in
the late 30's where Nabokov might have seen it before he wrote
Volshebnik? Or was the "initial shiver of inspiration" a reference, not
to Volshebnik, but to Lolita? 1949 is after Lolita was begun, but 1942
isn't. Or did Nabokov see the Life photos of 1949 but later misremember
them as having been published earlier?

Another idea: I don't know French, but does "jardin des plantes" (or
"botanical garden") ever refer to the Garden of Eden, the source of
"life"? And "Eden" means delight or pleasure. I don't know the Bosch
painting, but i assume from its title that it has some kind of reference
to Eden, even though the third panel Nabokov refers to is of Hell.

Many gardens, many paths.

Michael Juliar