Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002246, Mon, 28 Jul 1997 09:16:35 -0700

Three from Dmitri N.:tennis, "risque business," & LOLITA film
From: Dmitri Nabokov via Sandy Pallot Klein <taxi@flinet.com>
Subject #1: item about which Galya Diment contacted me a few days ago.

If Bud Collins can affirm that Vladimir was "very pleased" in 1997, he
must be hearing celestial voices. Do give me the number, Bud -- I,
too, would like to chat with Father, who died in 1977.

As for the "pegging," I don't think VN would have cared much, since
it's pretty silly. If tennis needed a Lolita, a much more appropriate
choice would have been, say, the charming Martina Hingis when she
exploded onto the championship scene at 14.


Subject #2: "Risque Business"

This reprint, whose original I saw in some periodical many weeks ago,
is so error-ridden and so thoroughly superseded that it does not merit


Subject #3: Some up-to-date thought prepared in lieu of interviews in
response to ever more frequent requests from journalists.

The new LOLITA is a sensitively conceived, beautifully produced film.
Far from being the explicit shocker some feared and others craved, it
achieves a cinematic dimension of poetry far closer to the novel than
Stanley Kubrick's distant approximation of a screenplay for which
Vladimir Nabokov was contractually credited and awarded an Oscar
nomination. In his foreword to its published version, VN generously
praises the first film and its actors but says it has little to do with
his book, making him feel like a supine patient is an ambulance,
watching powerless as the landscape goes by.

Lyne's LOLITA, on the other hand, as well as Stephen Schiff's script,
tend to let the viewer's fancy fend for itself, as Nabokov's prose did
for the reader, disappointing those who expected dirty words and dirty
deeds, or even bought only the first volume of the original two-tome
edition because it was supposedly sexier.

It is odd that some of the few who have seen the new film are too awed
by the religious right or the politically correct left to praise art
for art's sake, and that includes the same _New Yorker_ that launched
Nabokov and has long published Schiff. Or perhaps it's a different
_New Yorker_. People are perhaps too blinded by grizzly current events
to remember that pubescent girls have been marriageable and mateable in
many cultures, from those of the pharaohs, of Dante, of Petrarch to the
Tokyo of today, where fourteen-year-old prostitutes are common and
legal. The kiddie in the corner of the rap video emulating the pelvic
thrusts of his elders goes unnoticed. The mother who invites disaster
by Barbie-Dolling her daughter of six and showing her off goes
scot-free. And the harshest critics of LOLITA in general are those who
have neither read the book nor seen either film, such as a British
ecclesiastic journalist named Oddie who affirmed that Humbert kills his
wife Charlotte (she is hit by a car), united, in his ignorance of the
plot at least, with the Italian edition of _Penthouse_.

Nabokov made artistic studies of sundry obsessions, and I have long
been amused by those who cannot imagine that a good writer can imagine,
like the Ohio hostess with a very thin veneer of culture who inquired
how it felt to have a dirty old man for a father, a Florida one who
joyously announced she'd seen my father's "show" (Evita) or the new
Russians who are often as ignorant as they are voracious in their
literary consumption, and who claim they've seen my father's "play"
(Albee's grotesque caricature of _Lolita_).

Speaking of plays, if contractual complications could be resolved, I'd
really like to see a stage version of my father's unfairly ma-Lyned
script. Having reread it closely and worked on the Italian translation
-- soon to be published by Bompiani -- for a week, I find it a superb,
hilarious, eminently theatrical distillation, in some ways even more
enjoyable than the novel.

VN was not a message-sending moralizer. Yet art can condemn turpitude
more pungently than any learned tract. Style, as Martin Amis said, is
Nabokov's arrow. Of course if one insists on seeking a moral, there is
that too: crude Quilty is gradually, grotesquely shot; refined Humbert
is driven by his guilt to a horrid natural death. Quilty the generic
pervert, Humbert the pedophile -- but is he really that? Lyne's film
restores a symmetry present in the book but absent in the Kubrick film.
In a flashback as artfully dimmed as the opening of the novel, he
evokes the genesis of Humbert's fixation: the infatuation with a
childhood coeval named Annabel on a French beach. After decades spent
searching for a reincarnation of that girl, vanished in fact but
stopped in time, he has a last glimpse of surrogate nymphet
Lolita -- now pregnant, shabbily housewifely -- and, in a sense, time
starts moving again, for he knows he will love her forever.

Perhaps it would have been easier had Nabokov made Lolita a bicycle or
a little boy, as some recommended. He would have avoided tickling the
Humbert in those who contain one, and lots of ecclesiasts would have
loved the boy. Then again, the bicycle, when it was invented, was
accused of provoking lubricious excitement. For some, it still may.
So what?

The latest LOLITA is splendid. The Italians, who will have its world
premiere in September, are in luck.

Copyright (c) 1997 Dmitri Nabokov