NABOKV-L post 0022680, Tue, 3 Apr 2012 19:16:23 +0000

VNBIB: Devlin, Relative Intimacy
Devlin, Rachel. Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters, and Postwar American Culture. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Relevant chapter: Ch. 5, "Affection, Identification, Skepticism: Situating Men in Relation to Adolescent Daughters" includes section "Stepfathers, Theater, and Parody in VN's Lolita."

Synopsis from back cover: Celebrated as new consumers and condemned for their growing delinquencies, teenage girls emerged as one of the most visible segments of American society during and after World War II. Contrary to the generally accepted view that teenagers grew more alienated from adults during this period, Rachel Devlin argues that postwar culture fostered a father-daughter relationship characterized by new forms of psychological intimacy and tinged with eroticism. According to Devlin, psychiatric professionals turned to the Oedipus complex during World War II to explain girls' delinquencies and antisocial acts. Fathers were encouraged to become actively involved in the clothing choices and makeup practices of their teenage daughters, thus domesticating and keeping under paternal authority their sexual maturation. In Broadway plays, girls' and women's magazines, and works of literature, fathers often appeared as governing figures in their daughters' sexual coming-of-age. It became the common sense of the era that adolescent girls were fundamentally motivated by their Oedipal needs, dependent upon paternal sexual approval, and interested in their fathers' romantic lives. As Devlin demonstrates, the pervasiveness of depictions of father-adolescent daughter eroticism on all levels of culture raises questions about the extent of girls' independence in modern American society and the character of fatherhood during America's fabled embrace of domesticity in the 1940s and 1950s.

My view: This book is fascinating. Devlin masterfully reconstructs the context out of which Lolita emerged, showing how the relationship between HH and Lo mirrors and parodies common literary, film, and theatrical treatments of fathers and daughters. She particularly focuses on the works of F. Hugh Herbert, especially his collection of short stories, Meet Corliss Archer, and stage and film adaptations of the stories, including the play and film, Kiss and Tell.* (Check out the link to promo below!). Devlin shows how Herbert contributed to the stereotype of teenage girls as seductive, witty, manipulative, and materialistic. His main character, Corliss, "reserves her most potent and sensuous behavior for her father: she kisses him, throws him kisses, hugs him, looks up at him with 'soulful' eyes, and wriggles onto his lap when he is trying to read the paper on a Sunday morning" (149). As an epigraph to the Lolita subsection in Chapter 5, she quotes from the Enchanted Hunters check-in scene, where Humbert says, "The name . . . is not Humberg and not Humbug, but Herbert, I mean Humbert, and any room will do." The implication (convincing, I think) is that this is an allusion to F. Hugh Herbert-that in Lolita Nabokov is parodying Herbert's portrayal of Mr. Archer and his daughter, Corliss.

A small aside: Devlin mentions Humbert's reading a book called Know Your Own Daughter. DB Johnson (I believe) years ago identified the actual book as Do You Know Your Daughter, by Alice Barr Grayson, a fact that Devlin reiterates here, along with a new fact-that Grayson's book can be seen in the March of Time newsreel entitled "Teenage Girls." Those with Facebook accounts can see it here:

Highly recommended!

Matt Roth

Movie ad for Kiss and Tell:

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