Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027776, Thu, 31 May 2018 16:46:03 +0300

Elizabeth Talbot, roses & lilies in Lolita
In The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together) Lolita confesses that in the previous summer she had a lesbian relationship with Elizabeth Talbot:

Her astounding tale started with an introductory mention of her tent-mate of the previous summer, at another camp, a “very select” one as she put it. That tent-mate (“quite a derelict character,” “half-crazy,” but a “swell kid”) instructed her in various manipulations. At first, loyal Lo refused to tell me her name.

“Was it Grace Angel?” I asked.

She shook her head. No, it wasn’t it was the daughter of a big shot. He -

“Was it perhaps Rose Carmine?”

“No, of course not. Her father - ”

“Was it, then, Agnes Sheridan perchance?”

She swallowed and shook her head - and then did a double take.

“Say, how come you know all those kids?”

I explained.

“Well,” she said. “They are pretty bad, some of that school bunch, but not that bad. If you have to know, her name was Elizabeth Talbot, she goes now to a swanky private school, her father is an executive.”

I recalled with a funny pang the frequency with which poor Charlotte used to introduce into party chat such elegant tidbits as “when my daughter was out hiking last year with the Talbot girl.”

I wanted to know if either mother learned of those sapphic diversions?

“Gosh no,” exhaled limp Lo mimicking dread and relief, pressing a falsely fluttering hand to her chest. (1.32)

In Henry VI, Part 1 (1591) Shakespeare (a playwright and poet of the Elizabethan era) mentions John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (1384/1387 – 1453). Shakespeare’s history play Henry VI, Part 1 deals with the loss of England’s French territories and the political machinations leading up to the Wars of the Roses, as the English political system is torn apart by personal squabbles and petty jealousy. In the list of names of her class at Ramsdale school Dolores Haze (Lolita’s full name) occupies a place between two Roses (Hamilton, Mary Rose and Honeck, Rosaline):

A poem, a poem, forsooth! So strange and sweet was it to discover this “Haze, Dolores” (she!) in its special bower of names, with its bodyguard of roses – a fairy princess between her two maids of honor. (1.11)

“A fairy princess” brings to mind Titania, the queen of the fairies in Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream (1596). In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stul’yev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Ellochka the Cannibal’s vocabulary is contrasted with that of William Shakespeare:

Словарь Вильяма Шекспира, по подсчёту исследователей, составляет 12 000 слов. Словарь негра из людоедского племени «Мумбо-Юмбо» составляет 300 слов.

Эллочка Щукина легко и свободно обходилась тридцатью.

William Shakespeare's vocabulary has been estimated by the experts at twelve thousand words. The vocabulary of a Negro from the Mumbo Jumbo tribe amounts to three hundred words.

Ellochka Shchukin managed easily and fluently on thirty. (chapter 22 “Ellochka the Cannibal”)

Unlike Ellochka, her friend Fima Sobak is a cultured girl:

И Эллочка с уважением посмотрела на Фиму Собак. Мадмуазель Собак слыла культурной девушкой — в её словаре было около ста восьмидесяти слов. При этом ей было известно одно такое слово, которое Эллочке даже не могло присниться. Это было богатое слово — гомосексуализм. Фима Собак, несомненно, была культурной девушкой.

Ellochka looked admiringly at Fima Sobak. Mlle Sobak was reputed to be a cultured girl and her vocabulary contained about a hundred and eighty words. One of the words was one that Ellochka would not even have dreamed of. It was the meaningful word "homosexuality". (ibid.)

Sobaka is Russian for “dog.” The Talbot was a type of white hunting dog. In La légende de Saint-Julien l'hospitalier ("Saint Julian the Hospitalier," 1877) Flaubert mentions le jappement des talbots (the yelps of the talbots):

La robe noire des épagneuls luisait comme du satin; le jappement des talbots valait celui des bigles chanteurs. Dans une cour à part, grondaient, en secouant leur chaîne et roulant leurs prunelles, huit dogues alains, bêtes formidables qui sautent au ventre des cavaliers et n'ont pas peur des lions.

The black coats of the spaniels shone like satin; the yelps of the talbots equaled those of the beagles. In a special enclosure were eight growling bloodhounds that tugged at their chains and rolled their eyes, and these dogs leaped at men's throats and were not afraid even of lions. (chapter I)

In his Russian translation of Flaubert’s story, Katolicheskaya legenda o svyatom Yuliane Milostivom (1877), Turgenev renders des épagneuls (of the spaniels) as ispanok (Gen. pl. of ispanka):

Чёрная шерсть испанок лоснилась, как атлас; заливчатое тявкание "тальботов" не уступало серебристому лаю английских "биглей". На отдельном дворе рычали, потрясая цепями и ворочая кровавыми зрачками, восемь аланских догов; то были страшные животные, которые впивались в брюхо всадникам и не боялись самого льва.

The author of Zapiski okhotnika (“A Hunter’s Notes,” 1851) and Otsyi i deti (“Fathers and Sons,” 1862), Turgenev lived with the family of Pauline Viardot-Garcia, an opera singer who was ispanka (Spanish) and a lesbian (according to Alexandre Dumas fils whose words are quoted by Boborykin in his memoirs).

Describing his visit to Ramsdale in 1952, Humbert Humbert mentions a Turgenev story, in which a torrent of Italian music comes from an open window:

Should I enter my old house? As in a Turgenev story, a torrent of Italian music came from an open window—that of the living room: what romantic soul was playing the piano where no piano had plunged and plashed on that bewitched Sunday with the sun on her beloved legs? (2.33)

Humbert Humbert has in mind Turgenev story’s Tri vstrechi (“The Three Meetings,” 1852):

Сердце во мне томилось неизъяснимым чувством, похожим не то на ожиданье, не то на воспоминание счастия; я не смел шевельнуться, я стоял неподвижно пред этим неподвижным садом, облитым и лунным светом и росой, и, не знаю сам почему, неотступно глядел на те два окна, тускло красневшие в мягкой полутени, как вдруг раздался в доме аккорд, — раздался и прокатился волною... Раздражительно звонкий воздух отгрянул эхом... я невольно вздрогнул. Вслед за аккордом раздался женский голос... Я жадно стал вслушиваться — и... могу ли выразить мое изумление?.. два года тому назад, в Италии, в Сорренто, слышал я ту же самую песню, тот же самый голос... Да, да...

Vieni, pensando a me segretamente... (chapter I)

The title of Turgenev’s story brings to mind Vladimir Solovyov’s poems Tri svidaniya (“Three Meetings,” 1897), Tri podviga (“Three Heroic Deeds,” 1882) and his “Three Conversation about War, Progress and the End of History, Including a Short Story of the Antichrist” (1900). Solovyov is the author of two epigrams on lesbians:

Придёт к нам, верно, из Лесбоса
Решенье женского вопроса.

The solution of a women’s issue

Apparently will come to us from Lesbos.

Дал вечность Лесбии своей
Катулл, хоть к ней отнёсся строго...
Катуллов нет у нас, ей-ей,
Но Лесбий, батюшки, как много!

Catullus immortalized her Lesbia,

Although he didn’t spare her…

Among us there is not a single Catullus,

But, Goodness, how many lesbians!

In his Pesnya ofitov (“The Song of the Ophites,” 1876) Solovyov mentions a white lily and a red rose:

Белую лилию с розой,
С алою розою мы сочетаем.
Тайной пророческой грёзой
Вечную истину мы обретаем.

Вещее слово скажите!
Жемчуг свой в чашу бросайте скорее!
Нашу голубку свяжите
Новыми кольцами древнего змея.

Вольному сердцу не больно...
Ей ли бояться огня Прометея?
Чистой голубке привольно
В пламенных кольцах могучего змея.

Пойте про ярые грозы,
В ярой грозе мы покой обретаем...
Белую лилию с розой,
С алою розою мы сочетаем.

Sing of the wild storms,

In a wild storm we find repose…

We combine a white lily with the rose,

With a red rose.

Showing to Humbert Humbert her house, Charlotte Haze mentions her Lo and her lilies:

Reluctantly I followed her downstairs again; then through the kitchen at the end of the hall, on the right side of the house - the side where also the dining room and the parlor were (under “my” room, on the left, there was nothing but a garage). In the kitchen, the Negro maid, a plump youngish woman, said, as she took her large glossy black purse from the knob of the door leading to the back porch: “I’ll go now, Mrs. Haze.” “Yes, Louise,” answered Mrs. Haze with a sigh. “I’ll settle with you Friday.” We passed on to a small pantry and entered the dining room, parallel to the parlor we had already admired. I noticed a white sock on the floor. With a deprecatory grunt, Mrs. Haze stooped without stopping and threw it into a closet next to the pantry. We cursorily inspected a mahogany table with a fruit vase in the middle, containing nothing but the still glistening stone of one plum. I groped for the timetable I had in my pocket and surreptitiously fished it out to look as soon as possible for a train. I was still walking behind Mrs. Haze though the dining room when, beyond it, there came a sudden burst of greenery “the piazza,” sang out my leader, and then, without the least warning, a blue sea-wave swelled under my heart and, from a mat in a pool of sun, half-naked, kneeling, turning about on her knees, there was my Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses.

It was the same child - the same frail, honey-hued shoulders, the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair. A polka-dotted black kerchief tied around her chest hid from my aging ape eyes, but not from the gaze of young memory, the juvenile breasts I had fondled one immortal day. And, as if I were the fairy-tale nurse of some little princess (lost, kidnaped, discovered in gypsy rags through which her nakedness smiled at the king and his hounds), I recognized the tiny dark-brown mole on her side. With awe and delight (the king crying for joy, the trumpets blaring, the nurse drunk) I saw again her lovely indrawn abdomen where my southbound mouth had briefly paused; and those puerile hips on which I had kissed the crenulated imprint left by the band of her shorts - that last mad immortal day behind the “Roches Roses.” The twenty-five years I had lived since then, tapered to a palpitating point, and vanished.

I find it most difficult to express with adequate force that flash, that shiver, that impact of passionate recognition. In the course of the sun-shot moment that my glance slithered over the kneeling child (her eyes blinking over those stern dark spectaclesthe little Herr Doktor who was to cure me of all my aches) while I passed by her in my adult disguise (a great big handsome hunk of movieland manhood), the vacuum of my soul managed to suck in every detail of her bright beauty, and these I checked against the features of my dead bride. A little later, of course, she, this nouvelle, this Lolita, my Lolita, was to eclipse completely her prototype. All I want to stress is that my discovery of her was a fatal consequence of that “princedom by the sea” in my tortured past. Everything between the two events was but a series of gropings and blunders, and false rudiments of joy. Everything they shared made one of them.

I have no illusions, however. My judges will regard all this as a piece of mummery on the part of a madman with a gross liking for the fruit vert. Au fond, a m’est bien égal. All I now is that while the Haze woman and I went down the steps into the breathless garden, my knees were like reflections of knees in rippling water, and my lips were like sand, and -

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

“Yes,” I said, “yes. They are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.” (1.10)

To Humbert Humbert Lolita looks like his first Riviera love, Annabel Leigh (who died of typhus in Corfu). Solovyov is the author of an autobiographical story Na zare tumannoy younosti (“At the Hazy Dawn of Youth,” 1892). The story’s title is the first line of Koltsov’s poem Razluka (“Separation,” 1840). The name Koltsov comes from kol’tso (ring), the name Solovyov comes from solovey (nightingale). Solovey i roza (“The Nightingale and the Rose,” 1827) is a poem by Pushkin:

В безмолвии садов, весной, во мгле ночей,
Поёт над розою восточный соловей.
Но роза милая не чувствует, не внемлет,
И под влюблённый гимн колеблется и дремлет.
Не так ли ты поешь для хладной красоты?
Опомнись, о поэт, к чему стремишься ты?
Она не слушает, не чувствует поэта;
Глядишь — она цветёт; взываешь — нет ответа.

In gardens’ muteness, in spring, in the nights’ mist,

Over a rose sings the nightingale of East.

But doesn’t feel anything nor hear this charming rose,

And to the loving hymn just swings and calmly dozes.

Not in this way you sing for beauty, cold and hard?

Come to your senses, bard, where do you stream your heart?

She does not hear nor feel the poet’s soul, fervent;

You look – she is in bloom, you call – the answer’s absent.

(tr. E. Bonver)

In an omitted stanza of Eugene Onegin (Four: IV: 13) Pushkin compares women to butterflies and lilies:

Дознался я, что дамы сами,
Душевной тайне изменя,
Не могут надивиться нами,
Себя по совести ценя.
Восторги наши своенравны
Им очень кажутся забавны;
И, право, с нашей стороны
Мы непростительно смешны.
Закабалясь неосторожно,
Мы их любви в награду ждём.
Любовь в безумии зовём,
Как будто требовать возможно
От мотыльков иль от лилей
И чувств глубоких и страстей!

I have discovered that ladies themselves,

betraying their soul's secret,

cannot stop marveling at us

when in all fairness they appraise themselves.

Our wayward transports

appear to them very amusing;

and really, on our part,

we’re inexcusably absurd.

Self-bondaged rashly,

Their love we in reward expect,

in folly call for love,

as if it were possible to demand

from butterflies or lilies

deep sentiments and passions.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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