In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert manages to convince the Farlows that he is Lolita’s real father:


"Well, you are the doctor," said John a little bluntly. "But after all I was Charlotte's friend and adviser. One would like to know what you are going to do about the child anyway."

"John," cried Jean, "she is his child, not Harold Haze's. Don't you understand? Humbert is Dolly's real father." (1.23)


Harold Haze’s first name seems to hint at Childe Harold, the title character in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-18), a narrative poem in four parts by Lord Byron. Byron’s poem is dedicated to “lanthe” (the term of endearment Byron used for Lady Charlotte Harley who was about eleven years old when Childe Harold was first published). Lord Byron had been one of the many lovers of Charlotte Harley’s mother, Lady Jane Elizabeth Scott. Jean Farlow’s first name is an anagram of Jane (the first name of Charlotte Harley’s mother). In 1823 Charlotte Harley married Captain Anthony Bacon. Among the writers who have been proposed as the true author of Shakespeare’s works are Bacon and Marlowe. The surname Farlow rhymes with Marlowe.


As he imagines the casual caresses that, as Charlotte’s husband, he would be able to lavish on her daughter, Humbert Humbert quotes two lines from Canto III (CXVI: 5-6) of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:


After a while I destroyed the letter and went to my room, and ruminated, and rumpled my hair, and modeled my purple robe, and moaned through clenched teeth and suddenly— Suddenly, gentlemen of the jury, I felt a Dostoevskian grin dawning (through the very grimace that twisted my lips) like a distant and terrible sun. I imagined (under conditions of new and perfect visibility) all the casual caresses her mother’s husband would be able to lavish on his Lolita. I would hold her against me three times a day, every day. All my troubles would be expelled, I would be a healthy man. ‘To hold thee lightly on a gentle knee and print on thy soft cheek a parent’s kiss…’ Well-read Humbert! (1.17)


Charlotte’s letter to Humbert Humbert (that he destroyed after reading it) is a parody of Tatiana’s letter to Onegin in Chapter Three of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. In Chapter Seven (XXIV) of EO Tatiana visits Onegin’s mansion, reads the books from his library that still preserve the trenchant mark of Onegin’s fingernails and realizes that the man whom she loves is moskvich v garoldovom plashche (a Muscovite in Harold’s mantle):


И начинает понемногу
Моя Татьяна понимать
Теперь яснее - слава богу -
Того, по ком она вздыхать
Осуждена судьбою властной:
Чудак печальный и опасный,
Созданье ада иль небес,
Сей ангел, сей надменный бес,
Что ж он? Ужели подражанье,
Ничтожный призрак, иль еще
Москвич в Гарольдовом плаще,
Чужих причуд истолкованье,
Слов модных полный лексикон?..
Уж не пародия ли он


And my Tatiana by degrees

begins to understand

more clearly now - thank God –

him for whom by imperious fate

she is sentenced to sigh.

A sad and dangerous eccentric,

creature of hell or heaven,

this angel, this arrogant fiend,

what, then, is he? Can it be, he's an imitation,

an insignificant phantasm, or else

a Muscovite in Harold's mantle,

a glossary of alien vagaries,

a complete lexicon of words in vogue?…

Might he not be, in fact, a parody?


The phrase nadmennyi bes (arrogant fiend) in the stanza’s line 7 brings to mind nadmennyi chlen, kotorym bes greshil (the arrogant member with which the Satan sinned) mentioned by Pushkin in the description of Gabriel’s fight with the Satan in Gavriiliada (“The Gavriliad,” 1821):


По счастию, проворный Гавриил
Впился ему в то место роковое
(Излишнее почти во всяком бое),
В надменный член, которым бес грешил.
Лукавый пал, пощады запросил
И в тёмный ад едва нашел дорогу.


But Gabriel, not finished yet, thinks more –

Then bites poor Sathan in that part so vast

That warriors rarely need (at least, in war) –

His pendulous organ prime of generation –

Sathan screams – falls – and squirms back to Damnation.

(transl. Peter Cochran)


In Pushkin’s poem Mary in one and the same day has three lovers: the Satan, Gabriel and God:


Он улетел. Усталая Мария
Подумала: «Вот шалости какие!
Один, два, три! — как это им не лень?
Могу сказать, перенесла тревогу:
Досталась я в один и тот же день
Лукавому, архангелу и богу».


When off he’s flown, she, by now really curried,

Thinks, “One, two, three! What a terrific day!

“No wonder I’m a bit whacked; but I’ve worried

“Myself up to the limit – I’ve had play

“With Sathan, Gabe, and God the dovelet hurried!”


In The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together and make love in the morning) Lolita tells HH about her first lover, Charlie Holmes:


Let us switch to Camp Q,” I said. And presently I got the whole story.

Barbara Burke, a sturdy blond, two years older than Lo and by far the camp’s best swimmer, had a very special canoe which she shared with Lo “because I was the only other girl who could make Willow Island” (some swimming test, I imagine). Through July, every morning - mark, reader, every blessed morning - Barbara and Lo would be helped to carry the boat to Onyx or Eryx (two small lakes in the wood) by Charlie Holmes, the camp mistress’ son, aged thirteen and the only human male for a couple of miles around (excepting an old meek stone-deaf handyman, and a farmer in an old Ford who sometimes sold the campers eggs as farmers will); every morning, oh my reader, the three children would take a short cut through the beautiful innocent forest brimming with all the emblems of youth, dew, birdsongs, and at one point, among the luxuriant undergrowth, Lo would be left as sentinel, while Barbara and the boy copulated behind a bush.

At first, Lo had refused “to try what it was like,” but curiosity and camaraderie prevailed, and soon she and Barbara were doing it by turns with the silent, coarse and surly but indefatigable Charlie, who had as much sex appeal as a raw carrot but sported a fascinating collection of contraceptives which he used to fish out of a third nearby lake, a considerably larger and more populous one, called Lake Climax, after the booming young factory town of that name. Although conceding it was “sort of fun” and “fine for the complexion,” Lolita, I am glad to say, held Charlie’s mind and manners in the greatest contempt. Nor had her temperament been roused by that filthy fiend. In fact, I think he had rather stunned it, despite the “fun.” (1.32)


Lolita becomes HH’s mistress on the next day after leaving Camp Q. On the previous day she probably made love to Charlie Holmes. In The Enchanted Hunters Humbert Humbert drugs Lolita with the sleeping pills that were given to him by Dr. Byron, the Haze family physician. At the end of their cohabitation Lolita is unfaithful to Humbert Humbert with Quilty. HH’s scuffle with Quilty that precedes the latter’s murder seems to be a parody of Gabriel’s fight with the Satan in Pushkin’s “Gavriliad.” Describing it, HH mentions the cowman and the sheepman:


Fussily, busybodily, cunningly, he had risen again while he talked. I groped under the chest trying at the same time to keep an eye on him. All of a sudden I noticed that he had noticed that I did not seem to have noticed Chum protruding from beneath the other corner of the chest. We fell to wrestling again. We rolled all over the floor, in each other’s arms, like two huge helpless children. He was naked and goatish under his robe, and I felt suffocated as he rolled over me. I rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us.

In its published form, this book is being read, I assume, in the first years of 2000 A.D. (1935 plus eighty or ninety, live long, my love); and elderly readers will surely recall at this point the obligatory scene in the Westerns of their childhood. Our tussle, however, lacked the ox-stunning fisticuffs, the flying furniture. He and I were two large dummies, stuffed with dirty cotton and rags. It was a silent, soft, formless tussle on the part of two literati, one of whom was utterly disorganized by a drug while the other was handicapped by a heart condition and too much gin. When at last I had possessed myself of my precious weapon, and the scenario writer had been reinstalled in his low chair, both of us were panting as the cowman and the sheepman never do after their battle. (2.35)


Ovtsa being Russian for “sheep, ewe” and byk meaning “ox, bull,” the cowman and the sheepman bring to mind the hero of Leskov’s novella Ovtsebyk (“Musk-Ox,” 1863). NB: Ovtsebyk is the hero’s nickname. The name of the hotel where HH and Lolita spend their first night together seems to blend Leskov’s “Enchanted Wanderer” with Turgenev’s “A Hunter’s Notes.” Turgenev is the author of Nakanune (“On the Eve,” 1860) and Otsy i deti (“Fathers and Children,” 1862). Describing his visit to Ramsdale in 1952, HH 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)


The Turgenev story that HH has in mind is 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 poem Tri svidaniya (“Three Meetings,” 1897) 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 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 poet’s name comes from kol’tso (ring).


Alexey Sklyarenko

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