NABOKV-L post 0022629, Thu, 22 Mar 2012 20:21:56 +0000

Subject
Johnny Randall, Ramble, Ohio
Date
Body
Dear list,
I have been enjoying the conversation regarding Lolita and the 56/52 days. I’ve learned a lot, and I want to congratulate Anthony Stadlen in particular for clarifying the math, which had been muddied over the years. While checking and rechecking items mentioned on the list, I dipped once again into Quilty’s various pseudonyms from the hotel registries. I thought it curious that A. Appel accepted Nabokov’s winking explanation that “Johnny Randall, Ramble, Ohio” was a real person. After a bit of digging, I think I have found Nabokov’s intention, and perhaps his source. “Johnny Randall” is an Americanized version of the old ballad “Lord Randal,” in which a poisoned man puts his affairs in order (after being poisoned by his “true love”), ending with him damning his poisoner to hell . Frankly, I don’t see any connection to the narrative of Lolita, unless HH had food poisoning in Elphinstone. And “Johnny Randall” is a common enough name that any reference to the ballad would seem tenuous were it not for the following, taken from Louise Strong’s essay on “Oral Literature,” which appeared in several different publications in the first half of the 20th century, including The Cambridge History of American Literature (1921):

Lord Randal . . . appears as Johnny Randall in Colorado, Jimmy Randall in Illinois, Jimmy Ransing in Indiana, Johnny Ramble in Ohio, and Jimmy Randolph in North Carolina.

Given this information, we can now understand the pseudonym to mean “Johnny Randall, [or] Ramble [in] Ohio.” We can also understand the reference as mirroring the way Quilty’s identity changes as he moves from state to state. He is the same, but his name alters, a la Johnny Randall.

(Apologies if all of this has been elucidated elsewhere)

Matt Roth

-----------------------------------

JOHNNY RANDALL

"Where was you last night, Johnny Randall, my son?
Where was you last night, my heart's loving one?"
"A-fishing, a-fowling; mother, make my bed soon,
For I'm sick at my heart, and I fain would lie down."

"What had you for breakfast, my own pretty boy?
What had you for breakfast, my heart's loving joy?"
"Fresh trout and slow poison; mother, make my bed
soon, For I'm sick at my heart, and I fain would lie down."

"What will you will your brother, my own pretty boy?
What will you will your brother, my heart's loving joy?"
"My horse and my saddle; mother, make my bed soon,
For I'm sick at my heart, and I fain would lie down."

"What will you will your sister, my own pretty boy?
What will you will your sister, my heart's loving joy?"
"My watch and my fiddle, mother make my bed soon,
For I'm sick at my heart, and I fain would lie down."

"What will you will your mother, my own pretty boy,
What will you will your mother, my heart's loving joy?"
"A twisted hemp rope, for to hang her up high;
Mother, make my bed easy till I lie down and die."

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