Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002252, Thu, 31 Jul 1997 15:31:42 -0700

LOLITA; Girls and Boys (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. Galya Diment <galya@u.washington.edu> has just published
her book PNINIAD, a study of the relationship between Russian emigre
historian Marc Szeftel, and VN, Szeftel's colleague at Cornell. Szeftel
was the prototype for the Pnin character. The book is published by the
University of Washington Press.

---------- Forwarded message ----------

By coincidence, I was contemplating the very same issue that
Juan Martinez brings up only yesterday when, preparing for
my course on the cultures of seaports -- in this case Odessa and
Trieste -- I looked through Umberto Saba's ERNESTO.

For those of you who have not read the book, it's a novel
about a relationship between an older man and a young boy
with rather graphic -- and even quite pornographic -- depiction
of the sexual encounters between the two. Unlike LOLITA,
ERNESTO has no hint of possible "impropriety" of the older man's
actions. To the contrary, the relationship is described as
beautiful and full of poetry, and while the young boy may
be confused at times, he is also obviously enriched by the
experience and by the love that the older man bestows on him.

Saba never finished the novel, and thought it could never
be published, even though at some point he did consider it the
best thing he ever wrote. The novel takes place in Trieste around
1900 but he was writing it at approximately the same time as
Nabokov was writing LOLITA -- he started it in 1953.

ERNESTO was published in the 1970s and has been republished
several times. The publication was accompanied by a certain amount
of scandal, as far as I know, but hardly on the scale that LOLITA has
drawn through the years. As with LOLITA, at some point ERNESTO was
turned into a movie, although I am not sure it ever played in the US
(does anyone know?).

I don't quite know whether I am ready to draw any conclusions here,
since, just like Nabokov's LOLITA, the book was, after all, first
published in Europe (here Italy rather than France) which has been
exhibiting much more tolerance towards "positive" depiction of both
pedophilia and incest in both literature and cinema. (The Murmur of the
Heart, for example, where the sexual encounter between a boy and his
mother is also depicted as full of poetry and pure love. Something tells
me, however, that a father and his daughter, or a father and his son
would have still been much more problematic.) And I am equally certain
that if one were to remake ERNESTO as a movie for distribution in the US,
the problem would have been similar or even worse than what LOLITA is
facing now. So maybe there is, really, no double standard here.

Galya Diment