Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027021, Wed, 25 May 2016 11:52:19 +0200

Bas and bots in Lolita

Dear List,

I have a query regarding a passage early in /Lolita/, about Monique, the young prostitute Humbert encounters in the Madeleine district:

Stopping before a window display she said with great gusto: ‘/Je vais m’acheter des bas!/ʼ and never may I forget the way her Parisian childish lips exploded on ‘/bas/ʼ, pronouncing it with an appetite that all but changed the ‘aʼ into a brief buoyant bursting ‘oʼ AS IN ‘/BOT/ʼ.

The overall meaning is clear: Monique, a meretricious nymphet avidly eager to make use of her “/petit cadeau/,” is thus about to turn into a woman, buying stockings instead of going bare-legged—or wearing the (sloppy) white socks of bobby-soxers yet to come.

But I am puzzled by the last few words. I cannot decide whether /bot/ should be read as French or English. Translators – when they do not drop the end of the sentence altogether – seem to have been of different minds on this point. In any case no Parisian accent is the matter here.

If /bot/ is French, the allusion would be to « pied-bot » (club foot) and there are quite a few hints or references to Byron in /Lolita/, and some to other, fictional or mythical, club-footed characters, gods, devils, wizards. And some link could be made between a club foot and stockings.

If the word is English, what comes to mind is the larva of the botfly, a repulsive parasite of mammals, endemic to South-Central America. A title chanced upon by Humbert in the /Briceland/ /Gazette/ reads: “The size of certain parasites is one sixth of the host.” And the metaphor of the organism feeding on a host is far from rare in naturalist Nabokovʼs pages, e.g., in /Lectures on Literature/, hydatid Hyde seen as Jekyllʼs parasite, or, of Pninʼs research whose aim matters less than the quest: “a new organism is formed, the parasite so to speak, of the ripening fruit.” And, of course, Sybil sees Kinbote as “a king-sized botfly” and the /king-bot/ is mentioned in the Index, under Botkin.

Could the two hypotheses be conflated? Could one say that /bot/ [« pied-bot »], as a metaphor of Byronʼs abnormal drive, is the bot [larva] hosted by Humbert and ultimately developing into a book that lives beyond his death while the girl he has carried within himself dies when delivered of a stillborn baby? I may be over-interpreting: a new organism is formed…

Didier Machu

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