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 ‘basʼ, pronouncing it with an appetite that all but changed the ‘aʼ into a brief buoyant bursting ‘oʼ as in ‘botʼ.

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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