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The Annotated 


Edited, with 

preface, introduction and notes by 


McGraw-Hill Book Company ■ New York • Toronto 


Copyright © by Vladimir Nabokov 1955. 

All rights reserved. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-10755 

This edition copyright © 1970 by McGraw-Hill, Inc. 
All rights reserved. 

Printed in the United States of America. 

No part of this publication may be 
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or 
transmitted, in any form or by any means, 
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, 
recording or otherwise, without the prior 
written permission of McGraw-Hill, Inc. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 75-95819 


12 KPKP 898 



I would like to thank the following for permission to quote: Vladimir 
Nabokov and The New Yorker, in whose pages the poems first ap- 
peared, for “A Discovery” and “Ode to a Model,” Copyright © 19435 
1955 by Vladimir Nabokov; G.P. Putnam’s Sons for passages from 
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, Copyright © 1962 by G.P. Putnam’s 
Sons; G.P. Putnam’s Sons for passages from The Gift by Vladimir 
Nabokov, Copyright © 1963 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons; New Directions, 
for passages from The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir 
Nabokov, Copyright by New Directions, 1941; and Little, Brown and 
Co., for passages from Nabokov: His Life in Art by Andrew Field, 
Copyright © 1967 by Andrew Field. Part II of my own article, 
“Nabokov’s Puppet Show,” is reprinted by permission of The New 
Republic, Copyright © 1967 by Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, Inc. 
The University of Wisconsin Press has kindly allowed me to reprint 
portions of my article, “Lolita: The Springboard of Parody,” Wiscon- 
sin Studies in Contemporary Literature, VIII (Spring 1967), and pas- 
sages from “An Interview with Vladimir Nabokov,” ibid. (© 1967 by 
the Regents of the University of Wisconsin). I also wish to acknowl- 
edge the assistance of Karen Appel, Frank Cady, Eli Cohen, Patricia 
McKea, Raymond Nelson, Professor Fred C. Robinson, and Bruce 

—A. A. 


In the decade since its American publication (in 1958), Vladimir 
Nabokov’s Lolita has emerged as a classic of contemporary litera- 
ture. This annotated edition is designed for the general reader and 
particularly for use in college literature courses. It has developed 
out of my own experiences in teaching and writing about Lolita, 
which have demonstrated that many readers are more troubled by 
Humbert Humbert’s use of language and lore than by his abuse of 
Lolita and law. Their sense of intimidation is not unwarranted; 
Lolita is surely the most allusive and linguistically playful novel in 
English since Ulysses (1922) and Linnegans Wake (1939), and, if 
its involuted and constantly evolving means bring to mind any pre- 
vious novel, it should be that most elusive of works. The Confi- 
dence-Man (1857) by Herman Melville. As with Joyce and Mel- 
ville, the reader of Lolita attempts to arrive at some sense of its 
overall “meaning,” while at the same time having to struggle, often 
page by page, with the difficulties posed by the recondite materials 
and rich, elaborate verbal textures. The main purpose of this edi- 
tion is to solve such local problems and to show how they contrib- 
ute to the total design of the novel. Neither the Introduction nor 
the Notes attempts a total interpretation of Lolita. 

The annotations keep in mind the specific needs of college stu- 
dents. Many kinds of allusions are identified: literary, historical, 

[ ix ] 

mythological, Biblical, anatomical, zoological, botanical, and geo- 
graphical. Writers and artists long out of fashion (e.g., Maeter- 
linck) receive fuller treatment than more familiar names. Selective 
cross references to identical or related allusions in other Nabokov 
works will help to place Lolita in a wider context and, one hopes, 
may be of some assistance to future critics of Nabokov. Many of 
the novel’s most important motifs are limned by brief cross-refer- 
ences. Humbert’s vocabulary is extraordinary, its range enlarged 
by the many portmanteau words he creates. Puns, coinages, and 
comic etymologies, as well as foreign, archaic, rare, or unusual 
words are defined. Although some of the “unusual” words are in 
collegiate dictionaries, they are nevertheless annotated as a matter 
of convenience. Not every neologism is identified (e.g., “truck- 
ster”), but many that should be obvious enough are noted, because 
the rapidly moving eye may well miss the vowel on which such a 
pun depends (speed-readers of the world, beware! Lolita is not the 
book for you). Because many American students have little or no 
French, virtually all the interpolations in French are translated. In a 
few instances, readers may feel an annotation belabors the obvious; 
I well remember my own resentment, as a college sophomore, 
when a textbook reference to Douglas MacArthur was garnished 
by the footnote “Famous American general (1880- ).” Yet 

the commonplace may turn out to be obscure. For instance, early 
in Lolita Humbert mentions that his first wife Valeria was “deep 
in Paris-Soir” (p. 28). When I asked a Stanford University class of 
some eighty students if they knew what Paris-Soir was, sixty of 
them had no idea, twenty reasonably guessed it to be a magazine or 
newspaper, but no one knew specifically that it was a newspaper 
which featured lurid reportage, and that the detail formulates Va- 
leria’s puerility and Humbert’s contempt for her. Several notes are 
thus predicated on the premise that one epoch’s “popular culture” 
may be another’s esoterica (see Notes 150/1 and 256/6). 

Most of the Introduction is drawn from parts of my previously 
published articles in The Neiv Republic (“Nabokov’s Puppet 
Show — Part II,” CL VI [January 21, 1967], 25-32), Wisconsin 
Studies in Contemporary Literature (1967), The Denver Quar- 
terly (1968), and Tri Quarterly (1970). Many Notes are adapted 

[ X ] 

from the two middle articles and my interview with Nabokov in 
Wisconsin Studies (see bibliography for full entries). This edition 
was completed more than two years ago, save for eleventh-hour al- 
lusions to Ada, but the vagaries and vagrancies of publishing de- 
layed its appearance. In the meantime, Carl R. Proffer’s excellent 
Keys to Lolita was published (1968). Two enchanted hunters 
(see Note 110/2) working independently of each other, Mr. 
Proffer and I arrived at many similar identifications, and, excepting 
those which are readily apparent, I have tried to indicate where he 
has anticipated me. 

The text is that of the 1958 Putnam’s edition. Nabokov and the 
editor have made many corrections in the text, all identified 
in the Notes. Like the 1958 edition, this variorum edition concludes 
with Nabokov’s Afterword, which, along with its Notes, should be 
read in conjunction with the Introduction (where the reader will 
be offered exact instructions as to this procedure). 

Given the length of the Notes and the fact that they are at the 
back of the book, the reader would do well to consider the ques- 
tion of how best to use these annotations. An old reader familiar 
with Lolita can approach the apparatus as a separate unit, but the 
perspicacious student who keeps turning back and forth from text 
to Notes risks vertigo. A more balanced method is to read through 
a chapter and then read its annotations, or vice versa. Each reader, 
however, has to decide for himself which is the most comfortable 
procedure. In a more perfect world, this edition would be in two 
volumes, text in one. Notes in the other; placed adjacent to one an- 
other, they could be read concurrently. Charles Kinbote in his 
Foreword to Pale Fire (1962) suggests a solution that closely ap- 
proximates this arrangement, and the reader is directed to his sensi- 
ble remarks, which serve this edition in place of a note on the text. 

Although there are almost nine hundred notes to this text, the in- 
itial annotated edition of a work should never be offered as “defini- 
tive” and that claim will not be made here. As it is, The Annotated 
Lolita is the first annotated edition of a modern novel to have been 
published during its author’s lifetime — A Tale of a Tub for our 
time. Vladimir Nabokov has occasionally been consulted and, in 
some cases, has commented on the annotations. In such instances his 

[ xi ] 

contribution is acknowledged. He wants me to mention that in 
several instances his interpretation of Lolita does not necessarily 
coincide with mine, and I have tried to point out such cases; the 
literary allusions, however, have been deemed accurate. 

This edition, then, is analogous to what Pale Fire might have 
been like if poor John Shade had been given the opportunity to 
comment on Charles Kinbote’s Commentary. Of course, the anno- 
tator and editor of a novel written by the creator of Kinbote and 
John Ray, Jr., runs the real risk of being mistaken for another fic- 
tion, when at most he resembles those gentlemen only figuratively. 
But the annotator exists; he is a veteran and a father, a teacher and 
taxpayer, and has not been invented by Vladimir Nabokov. 

[ xii ] 


Preface ix 

Introduction xv 

Selected Bibliography 

1. Checklist of Nabokov’s writing Ixxii 

2. Criticism of Lolita Ixxiv 

In Place of a Note on the Text — from Pale Fire i 


Foreword 5 

Part One 9 

Part Two 145 

Vladimir Nabokov: On a Book 

Entitled Lolita 3 1 3 





I have tried my best to show the workings of the book, at least 
some of its workings. Its charm, humour and pathos can only be 
appreciated by direct reading. But for enhghtenment of those 
who felt baffled by its habit of metamorphosis, or merely dis- 
gusted at finding something incompatible with the idea of a 
“nice book” in the discovery of a book’s being an utterly new 
one, I should like to point out that The Prismatic Bezel can be 
thoroughly enjoyed once it is understood that the heroes of the 
book are what can be loosely called “methods of composition.” 

It is as if a painter said: look, here I’m going to show you not 
the painting of a landscape, but the painting of different ways of 
painting a certain landscape, and I trust their harmonious fusion 
will disclose the landscape as I intend you to see it. 

Vladimir Nabokov, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight ^ 

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in 
St. Petersburg, Russia. The rich and aristocratic Nabokovs were 
not the “White Russian” stock figures of Western liberal demonol- 
ogy — all monocles, Faberge snuffboxes, and reactionary opinions 
— but rather a family with a long tradition of high culture and pub- 

iNew York, 1941, p. 95. Henceforth, page references will be placed in paren- 
theses in the text, and pertain to the hardcover editions of Nabokov’s books. 

[ XV ] 

lie service. Nabokov’s grandfather was Minister of Justice under 
two tsars and implemented the court reforms, while Nabokov’s 
father was a distinguished jurist, a foe of anti-Semitism, a prolific 
journalist and scholar, a leader of the opposition party (the Ka- 
dets), and a member of the first parliament (Duma). In 1919 he 
took his family into exile, co-editing a liberal emigre daily in Ber- 
lin until his death in 1922 (at age fifty-two), at a political meeting, 
where he was shot while trying to shield the speaker from two 
monarchist assassins. Young Nabokov went to Trinity College, 
Cambridge, in 1922 taking an honors degree in Slavic and Ro- 
mance Languages. For the next eighteen years he lived in Germany 
and France, writing prolifically in Russian. The spectral emigre 
communities of Europe were not large enough to sustain a writer, 
and Nabokov supported himself through translations, public read- 
ings of his works, lessons in English and tennis, and, fittingly, the 
first Russian crossword puzzles, which he composed for a daily 
emigre paper. In 1940 he and his wife and son moved to the 
United States, and Nabokov began to write in English. The fre- 
quently made comparison with Joseph Conrad denies Nabokov his 
signal achievement; for the Polish-born author was thirty when he 
started to write in English, and, unlike the middle-aged Nabokov, 
he had not written anything in his native language, let alone nine 

In America, Nabokov lectured on Russian literature at Wellesley 
(1941-1948) and Cornell (1948-1958), where his Masterpieces 
of European Eiction course proved immensely popular. While at 
Wellesley he also worked on Lepidoptera in the Museum of 
Comparative Zoology at Harvard. Nabokov’s several books in Eng- 
lish had meanwhile earned him the quiet respect of discerning read- 
ers, but Lolita was the first to attract wide attention. Its best-seller- 
dom and film sale in 1958 enabled Nabokov to resign his teaching 
position and devote himself to his writing. Since i960 he has lived 
in Montreux, Switzerland, where he is now working on a new 
novel (entitled Transparent Things) and a history of the butterfly 
in Western art, and planning for the future publication of several 
works, including his Cornell lectures, his screenplay of Lolita 
(only parts of which were used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film), 

[ xvi ] 

and a selection of his Russian poems, translated by Nabokov and 
to be published together with his chess problems. 

Lolita made Lolita famous, rather than Nabokov. Although 
praised by influential critics, Lolita was treated as a kind of miracle 
of spontaneous generation, for Nabokov’s oeuvre was like an ice- 
berg, the massive body of his Russian novels, stories, plays, and 
poems remaining untranslated and out of sight, lurking beneath the 
visible peaks of Lolita and Pnm (1957). But in the eleven years 
since Putnam’s published Lolita, twenty-one Nabokov titles have 
appeared, including seven works translated from the Russian, three 
out-of-print novels, two collections of stories. Pale Fire (1962), the 
monumental four -volume translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin 
(1964), Speak, Memory: Ayi Autobiography Revisited (1966) — a 
considerably revised and expanded version of the memoir first is- 
sued in 1951 as Conclusive Evidence — and Ada (1969), his fif- 
teenth novel, whose publication celebrated his seventieth birthday. 
The publication of Mashenka (1926) and The Exploit (1931), 
now being Englished by his son Dmitri, will complete the transla- 
tion of his Russian novels. 

This extraordinary outburst of Nabokoviana highlights the reso- 
lute and indomitable spirit of the man who pubhshed his master- 
pieces, Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada, at the ages of fifty -six, sixty- three, 
and seventy, respectively. Nabokov endured the exigencies of 
being an emigre writer when the Western world seemed inter- 
ested only in his inferior Soviet contemporaries, and has emerged 
not only as a major Russian writer, but as the most important living 
American novelist. No doubt some academic pigeonholers still 
worry about Nabokov’s nationality and where to “place” him, but 
John Updike solved this synthetic problem when he described Na- 
bokov as “the best writer of English prose at present holding 
American citizenship.” ^ Not since Henry James, an emigre in his 
own right, has an American citizen created so formidable a corpus 
of work. 

Nabokov’s pronounced antipathy to Freud and the novel of so- 
ciety will continue to alienate some critics, but there is a reason for 

1 John Updike, “Grandmaster Nabokov,” Neiv Republic, CLI (September 26, 
1964), 15. Reprinted in Updike’s Assorted Prose (New York, 1965). 

[ xvii ] 

the delay in achieving his proper status more basic than the unavail- 
ability of his books or his failure to conform to some accepted 
school or Zeitgeist pattern: readers trained on the tenets of formal- 
ist criticism have simply not known what to make of works which 
resist the search for ordered mythic and symbolic “levels of mean- 
ing” and depart completely from post-Jamesian requisites for the 
“realistic” or “impressionistic” novel — that a fiction be the imper- 
sonal product of a pure aesthetic impulse, a self-contained illusion 
of reality rendered from a consistently held point of view and 
through a central intelligence from which all authorial comment 
has been exorcised. Quite the opposite happens in Nabokov’s fic- 
tion: his art is artifice or nothing; and the fantastic, a-realistic, and 
involuted forms toward which even his earliest fictions evolve 
make it clear that Nabokov has always gone his own way, and it 
has not been the way of the novel’s Great Tradition according to 
F. R. Leavis. But Nabokov’s present eminence signals a radical shift 
in opinions about the novel and the novelist’s ethical responsibilities. 
A future historian of the novel may one day claim that it was Na- 
bokov, more than any novelist now living, who kept alive an ex- 
hausted art form not only by demonstrating new possibilities for it, 
but by reminding us, through his example, of the variegated aes- 
thetic resources of his great forebears, such as Sterne and the Joyce 
who was a parodist rather than a symbolist. 

In addition to its qualities as a memoir. Speak, Memory serves, 
along with Chapter Five in Gogol (1944), as the ideal introduction 
to Nabokov’s art, for some of the most lucid criticism of Nabokov 
is found in his own books. His most overtly parodic novels spiral 
in upon themselves and provide their own commentary; sections of 
The Gift (1937-1938) and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight 
(1941) limpidly describe the narrative strategies of later novels. 
Nabokov’s preoccupations are perhaps best projected by bringing 
together the opening and closing sentences of Speak, Metnory: “The 
cradle rocks above an, and common sense tells us that our ex- 
istence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of dark- 
ness.” At the end of the book he describes how he and his wife first 
perceived, through the stratagems thrown up to confound the eye, 
the ocean liner waiting to take them and their son to America: “It 

[ xviii ] 

was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs 
and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothes- 
line as something in a scrambled picture — Find What the Sailor Has 
Hidden — that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.” The 
Eye (1930) is well titled; the apprehension of “reality” (a word 
that Nabokov says must always have quotes around it) is first of all 
a miracle of vision, and our existence is a sequence of attempts to 
unscramble the “pictures” glimpsed in that “brief crack of light.” 
Both art and nature are to Nabokov “a game of intricate enchant- 
ment and deception,” and the process of reading and rereading his 
novels is a game of perception, like those E. H. Gombrich writes 
about in Art and lllnsio?! — everything is there, in sight (no symbols 
lurking in murky depths), but one must penetrate the trompe-V oeil, 
which eventually reveals something totally different from what one 
had expected. This is how Nabokov seems to envision the game of 
life and the effect of his novels: each time a “scrambled picture” 
has been discerned “the finder cannot unsee” it; consciousness has 
been expanded or created. 

The word “game” commonly denotes frivolity and an escape 
from the exigencies of the world, but Nabokov confronts the void 
by virtue of his play-concept. His “game of worlds” (to quote 
John Shade in Fale Fire) proceeds within the terrifyingly immuta- 
ble limits defined by the “two eternities of darkness” and is a 
search for order — for “some kind / Of correlated pattern in the 
game” — which demands the full consciousness of its players. The 
author and the reader are the “players,” and when in Speak, Mem- 
ory Nabokov describes the composition of chess problems he is also 
telescoping his fictional practices. If one responds to the author’s 
“false scents” and “specious lines of play,” best effected by parody, 
and believes, say, that Humbert’s confession is “sincere” and that 
he exorcises his guilt, or that the narrator of Fnin is really per- 
plexed by Pnin’s animosity toward him, or that a Nabokov book is 
an illusion of a reality proceeding under the natural laws of our 
world — then one has not only lost the game to the author, but most 
likely is not faring too well in the “game of worlds,” one’s own un- 
scrambling of pictures. 

Speak, Memory rehearses the major themes of Nabokov’s fic- 

[ xix ] 

tion: the confrontation of death; the withstanding of exile; the na- 
ture of the creative process; the search for complete consciousness 
and the “free world of timelessness.” In the first chapter he writes, 
“I have journeyed back in thought— with thought hopelessly taper- 
ing off as I went — to remote regions where I groped for some se- 
cret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and 
without exits.” Nabokov’s protagonists live in claustrophobic, cell- 
like rooms; and Humbert, Cincinnatus in Invitation to a Beheading 
(1936), and Krug in Be 7 id Sinister (1947) are all indeed impris- 
oned. The struggle to escape from this spherical prison (Krug is 
Russian for “circle”) assumes many forms throughout Nabokov; 
and his own desperate and sometimes ludicrous attempts, as de- 
scribed in Speak, Memory , are variously parodied in the poltergeist 
machinations of The Eye, in Hazel Shade’s involvement with “a 
domestic ghost” and her spirit-writing in the haunted barn in Bale 
Fire, and in “The Vane Sisters” (in Nabokov’’ s Quartet [1966]), 
where an acrostic in the final paragraph reveals that two vivid im- 
ages from the story’s opening paragraphs were dictated by the dead 
Vane sisters. 

Although Speak, Memory clearly illuminates the self-parodic 
content of Nabokov’s fiction, no one has fully recognized the aes- 
thetic implications of these transmutations or the extent to which 
Nabokov has consciously projected his own life in his fiction. To 
be sure, this is dangerous talk, easily misunderstood. Of course Na- 
bokov does not write the kind of thinly disguised transcription of 
personal experience which too often passes for fiction. But it is cru- 
cial to an understanding of his art to realize how often his novels 
are improvisations on an autobiographic theme, and in Speak, Mem- 
ory Nabokov good-naturedly anticipates his critics; “The future 
specialist in such dull literary lore as auto-plagiarism will like to col- 
late a protagonist’s experience in my novel The Gift with the origi- 
nal event.” Further on he comments on his habit of bestowing 
“treasured items” from his past on his characters. But it is more 
than mere “items” that Nabokov has transmogrified in the 
“artificial world” of his novels, as a dull specialist discovers by 
comparing Chapters Eleven and Thirteen of Speak, Memory with 
The Gift, or, since it is Nabokov’s overriding subject, by compar- 

[ XX ] 

ing the attitudes toward exile expressed in Speak, Memory with the 
treatment it is given in his fiction. The reader of his memoir learns 
that Nabokov’s great-grandfather explored and mapped Nova Zem- 
bla (where Nabokov’s River is named after him), and in Vale Fire 
Kinbote believes himself to be the exiled king of Zambia. His is 
both a fantastic vision of Nabokov’s opulent past as entertained by 
a madman, and the vision of a poet’s irreparable loss, expressed oth- 
erwise by Nabokov in 1945: “Beyond the seas where I have lost a 
sceptre, / I hear the neighing of my dappled nouns” (“An Evening 
of Russian Poetry”). Nabokov’s avatars do not grieve for “lost 
banknotes.” Their circumstances, though exacerbated by adversity, 
are not exclusive to the emigre. Exile is a correlative for all human 
loss, and Nabokov records with infinite tenderness the constrictions 
the heart must suffer; even in his most parodic novels, such as Lo- 
lita, he makes audible through all the playfulness a cry of pain. 
“Pity,” says John Shade, “is the password.” Nabokov’s are emo- 
tional and spiritual exiles, turned back upon themselves, trapped by 
their obsessive memories and desires in a solipsistic “prison of mir- 
rors” where they cannot distinguish the glass from themselves (to 
use another prison trope, drawn from the story “The Assistant 
Producer” Nabokov’s Dozen [1958]).^ 

'^The transcendence of solipsism is a central concern in Nabokov. 
He recommends no escape, and there is an unmistakable moral res- 
onance in his treatment of the theme: it is only at the outset of 
Lolita that Humbert can say that he had Lolita “safely solipsized.” 
The coldly unromantic scrutiny which his exiles endure is often 
overlooked by critics. In Pnin the gentle, addlepated professor is 
seen in a new and harsh light in the final chapter, when the narrator 
assumes control and makes it clear that he is inheriting Pnin’s job 
but not, he would hope, his existence. John Shade asks us to pity 
“the exile, the old man / Dying in a motel,” and we do; but in the 
Commentary, Kinbote says that a “king who sinks his identity in 
the mirror of exile is guilty of [a regicide].” “The past [is] the 
past,” Lolita tells Humbert toward the end of that novel (p. 274), 
when he asks her to relive what had always been inexorably lost. 
As a book about the spell exerted by the past, Lolita is Nabokov’s 
own parodic answer to his previous book, the first edition of Speak, 

[ xxi ] 

Memory. Mnemosyne is now seen as a black muse, nostalgia as a 
grotesque cul-de-sac. Lolita is the last book one would offer as “au- 
tobiographical,” but even in its totally created form it connects 
with the deepest reaches of Nabokov’s soul. Like the poet Fyodor 
in The Gift, Nabokov could say that while he keeps everything 
“on the very brink of parody . . . there must be on the other hand 
an abyss of seriousness, and I must make my way along this narrow 
ridge between my own truth and a caricature of it” (p. 212). 

An autobiographic theme submitted to the imagination thus takes 
on a new life: frozen in art, halted in space, now timeless, it can be 
lived with. When the clownish Gradus assassinates John Shade by 
mistake, in a novel published forty years after Nabokov’s father 
was similarly murdered, one may remember the butterfly which 
the seven-year-old Nabokov caught and then lost, but which was 
“finally overtaken and captured, after a forty-year race, on an im- 
migrant dandelion ... near Boulder” {Speak, Memory, p. 120). 
One recognizes how art makes life possible for Nabokov, and why 
he calls Invitation to a Beheading a “violin in a void.” His art re- 
cords a constant process of becoming — the evolution of the artist’s 
self through artistic creation — and the cycle of insect metamorpho- 
sis is Nabokov’s controlling metaphor for the process, provided by 
a lifetime of biological investigations which established in his mind 
“links between butterflies and the central problems of nature.” Sig- 
nificantly, a butterfly or moth will often appear at the end of a Na- 
bokov novel, when the artistic “cycle” of that book is complete. 

Speak, Memory only reinforces what is suggested by Nabokov’s 
visibly active participation in the life of his fiction, as in Invitation 
to a Beheading when Cincinnatus strains to look out of his barred 
window and sees on the prison wall the telling, half-erased inscrip- 
tion, “You cannot see anything. I tried it too” (p. 29), written in 
the neat, recognizable hand of the “prison director” — that is, the 
author — whose intrusions involute the book and deny it any reality 
except that of “book.” The word “involution” may trouble some 
readers, but one has only to extend the dictionary definition. An in- 
voluted work turns in upon itself, is self-referential, conscious of its 
status as a fiction, and “allegorique de lui-meme " — allegorical 
of itself, to use Mallarme’s description of one of his own poems. 

[ xxii ] 

An ideally involuted sentence would simply read, “I am a sen- 
tence,” and John Barth’s recent short stories “Title,” “Life-Story,” 
and “iVIenelaiad” (in Lost in the Fimhouse, 1968) come as close to 
this dubious ideal as any fiction possibly can. The components of 
“Title,” for example, sustain a miraculous discussion among them- 
selves, sometimes even addressing the author: “Once upon a time 
you were satisfied with incidental felicities and niceties of tech- 

Characters in involuted works often recognize that their authen- 
ticity is more than suspect. In Raymond Queneau’s Les En^ants du 
Limon (1938), Chambernac is a lycee headmaster who has been 
collecting material for a monumental work on “literary madmen,” 
L’ Encyclopedic des sciences inexactes. By the last chapter he has 
abandoned hope of getting it published, but he then is approached 
in a cafe by “z/w type’’’’ (Queneau, as it turns out, who identifies 
himself by name) and offers to turn the manuscript over for use in 
a novel Queneau is writing, one of whose characters is a headmas- 
ter, and so forth. A similar infinite regress exists in Chapter Four of 
Lewis Carroll’s Through the Lookmg-Glass (1872), the creator’s 
(and Creator’s) role now played by the sleeping Red King. When 
Alice moves to waken the King, Tweedledee stops her: 

“He’s dreaming now,” said Tweedledee: “and what do you 
think he’s dreaming about?” 

Alice said, “Nobody can guess that.” 

“Why, about your Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands 
triumphantly. “And if he left off dreaming about you, where do 
you suppose you’d be?” 

“Where I am now, of course,” said Alice. 

“Not you!” Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. “You’d be 
nowhere. Why you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!” 

“If that there King was to wake,” added Tweedledum, “you’d 
go out — bang! — just like a candle!” 

“I shouldn’t!” Alice exclaimed indignantly. “Besides, if Vm 
only a sort of thing in his dream, what are you, I should like to 

“Ditto,” said Tweedledum. 

“Ditto, ditto!” cried Tweedledee. 

He shouted this so loud that Alice couldn’t help saying “Hush! 
You’ll be waking him. I’m afraid, if you make so much noise.” 

[ xxiii ] 

“Well, it’s no use your talking about waking him,” said Twee- 
dledum, “when you’re only one of the things in his dream. You 
know very well you’re not real.” 

“I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry. 

A similar discussion occurs in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (1957). 
“What is there to keep me here?” asks Clov. “The dialogue,” an- 
swers Hamm. More like the Tweedles than Alice are the three 
aging characters in Queneau’s he Chiendent (1933). Having sur- 
vived the long destructive Franco-Etruscan war, by the final pages 
they are ready for anything. When the queen is complimented, she 
says, “It wasn’t I who said that. . . , It’s in the book.” Asked 
“What book?,” she replies, “Well, this one. The one we’re in now, 
which repeats what we say as we say it and which follows us and 
tells about us, a genuine blotter which has been stuck on our 
lives.” ^ They then discuss the novel of which they are a part and 
agree to try to annihilate time and begin all over again. They go 
back to Paris, back in time. The last two sentences of the book are 
the first two sentences. 

Although the philosophical implications are somewhat less inter- 
esting, the most patent examples of involution are found in comic 
books, comic strips, and animated cartoons. The creatures in car- 
toons used to be brought to life before one’s eyes; first, the tabula 
rasa of an empty screen, which is then seen to be a drawing board, 
over which the artist’s brush sweeps, a few strokes creating the 
characters, who only then begin to move. Or the convention of the 
magical ink bottle, framing the action fore and aft. The characters 
are sucked back into the bottle at the end, just as they had spilled 
out of it at the start. These devices describe the process of Le Chien- 
dent, where one sees a silhouette from the first page fleshed-out 
more and more as the novel progresses, or Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 
Dans le labyrinthe (In the Labyrinth, 1959), where in the stillness 
of his room the narrator contemplates several objects, including a 
steel engraving, which is then “animated,” a fiction spinning out of 
it. “We create ourselves in time,” says one of the characters at the 

1 Raymond Queneau, Le Chiendent (Paris, 1933), p. 294. The above transla- 
tions are mine — A.A. 

[ xxiv ] 

end of Le Chiendent, “and the old book snatches us up right away 
with its funny httle scrawl [handwriting].” ^ 

In involuted works, characters readily communicate with their 
creators, though the relationship is not always ideal. One may re- 
call an early Bugs Bimny animated cartoon (c. 1943) in which 
there is a wild running battle between the rabbit and the artist, 
whose visible hand alternately wields an eraser and a drawing pen- 
cil, terrible weapons which at one moment remove the rabbit’s feet 
so that he cannot escape, and at another give him a duck’s bill so 
that he cannot talk back, not unlike the lot of the characters in In- 
vitation to a Beheading, who are taken apart, rearranged, and reas- 
sembled at will. But characters are not always as uncomplaining as 
Cincinnatus. In the next-to-last box of a 1936 daily strip, Chester 
Gould pictured his hero trapped horribly in a mine shaft, its en- 
trance blocked by a huge boulder. The balloon above Dick Tracy’s 
stricken face said, “Gould, you have gone too far.” The concluding 
box was to have shown a kindly eraser-bearing hand, descend- 
ing to remove the boulder; but The Chicago Tribune's Captain 
Patterson, no doubt a disciple of Dr. Leavis, thought Gould had in- 
deed gone too far, and rejected that strip. Considerably less desper- 
ate is Shakespeare’s direct address to Joyce in Nighttown: “How 
my Oldfellow chokit his Thursdaymomun,” that moment being 
Bloomsday, this book, and Joyce’s stab at greatness.^ “O Jamesy let 
me up out of this,” pleads Molly Bloom to Joyce,^ and in the halluci- 
nated Nighttown section the shade of Virag says, “That suits your 
book, eh?” WTien in acknowledgment his throat is made to twitch, 
Virag says, “Slapbang! There he goes again.” ^ Virag is quite right 
to speak directly to Joyce, because the phantasmagoria of Night- 
town are the artist’s. \^irag accepts the truth that he is another’s 
creation, and does so far more gracefully than Alice or poor Krug 
in Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, who is instantaneously rendered insane 
by the realization. On the other hand, this perception steels Cincin- 

1 ibid. 

2 James Joyce, Ulysses (New York, 1961), p. 567. 
2 ibid., p. 769. 

^ibid., p. 513. 

[ XXV ] 

natus, who is waiting to be beheaded, since it means he cannot 
really “die.” 

Nabokov’s remarks on Gogol help to underscore this analogical 
definition of involution. “All reality is a mask,” he writes (p. 148), 
and Nabokov’s narratives are masques, stagings of his own inven- 
tions rather than re-creations of the naturalistic world. But, since 
the latter is what most readers expect and demand of fiction, many 
still do not understand what Nabokov is doing. They are not accus- 
tomed to “the allusions to something else behind the crudely 
painted screens” (p. 142), where the “real plots behind the obvious 
ones are taking place.” There are thus at least two “plots” in all of 
Nabokov’s fiction: the characters in the book, and the conscious- 
ness of the creator above it — the “real plot” which is visible in the 
“gaps” and “holes” in the narrative. These are best described in 
Chapter Fourteen of Speak, Memory, when Nabokov discusses 
“the loneliest and most arrogant” of the emigre writers, Sirin (his 
emigre pen name): “The real life of his books flowed in his fig- 
ures of speech, which one critic [Nabokov?] has compared to win- 
dows giving upon a contiguous world ... a rolling corollary, the 
shadow of a train of thought.” The contiguous world is the mind 
and spirit of the author, whose identity, psychic survival, and 
“manifold awareness” are ultimately both the subject and the prod- 
uct of the book. In whatever way they are opened, the “windows” 
always reveal that “the poet (sitting in a lawn chair, at Ithaca, 
N.Y.) is the nucleus” of everything. 

From its birth in King, Queen, Knave (1928), to its full matura- 
tion in Invitation to a Beheading (1936), to its apotheosis in the 
“involute abode” of Pale Fire (1962), the strategy of involution 
has determined the structure and meaning of Nabokov’s novels. 
One must always be aware of the imprint of “that master thumb,” 
to quote Frank Lane in Pale Fire, “that made the whole involuted 
boggling thing one beautiful straight line,” for only then does it be- 
come possible to see how the “obvious plots” spiral in and out of 
the “real” ones. Although other writers have created involuted 
works, Nabokov’s self-consciousness is supreme; and the range and 
scale of his effects, his mastery and control, make him unique. Not 
including autobiographic themes, the involution is achieved in six 

[ xxvi ] 

basic ways, all closely interrelated, but schematized here for the 
sake of clarity: 

Parody. As willful artifice, parody provides the main basis for Na- 
bokov’s involution, the “springboard for leaping into the highest re- 
gion of serious emotion,” as the narrator of The Real Life of Se- 
bastian Knight says of Knight’s novels. Because its referents are ei- 
ther other works of art or itself, parody denies the possibility of a 
naturalistic fiction. Only an authorial sensibility can be responsible 
for the texture of parody and self-parody; it is a verbal vaudeville, 
a series of literary impersonations performed by the author. When 
Nabokov calls a character or even a window shade “a parody,” it is 
in the sense that his creation can possess no other “reality.” In a 
novel such as Lolita, which has the fewest “gaps” of any novel 
after Despair (1934), and is seemingly his most realistic, the involu- 
tion is sustained by the parody and the verbal patterning. 

Coincidence. Speak, Memory is filled with examples of Nabokov’s 
love of coincidence. Because they are drawn from his life, these in- 
cidents demonstrate how Nabokov’s imagination responds to coin- 
cidence, using it in his fiction to trace the pattern of a life’s design, 
to achieve shattering interpenetrations of space and time. “Some 
law of logic,” writes Nabokov in Ada (1969), “should fix the num- 
ber of coincidences, in a given domain, after which they cease to 
be coincidences, and form, instead, the living organism of a new 
truth”(p. 368). Humbert goes to live in Charlotte Haze’s house at 
342 Lawn Street; he and Lolita inaugurate their illicit cross-coun- 
try tour in room 342 of The Enchanted Hunters hotel; and in one 
year on the road they register in 342 motels and hotels. Given the 
endless mathematical combinations possible, the numbers seem to 
signal his entrapment by McFate (to use Humbert’s personifica- 
tion). But they are also a patent, purposeful contrivance, like the 
copy of the 1946 Who's Who in the Limelight which Humbert 
would have us believe he found in the prison library on the night 
previous to his writing the chapter we are now reading. The year- 
book not only prefigures the novel’s action, but under Lolita’s 
mock-entry of “Dolores Quine” we are informed that she “Made 

[ xxvii ] 

New York debut in 1904 in Never Talk to Strangers'’’ — and in the 
closing paragraph of the novel, almost three hundred pages later, 
Humbert advises the absent Lolita, “Do not talk to strangers,” a 
detail that exhibits extraordinary narrative control for an allegedly 
unrevised, first-draft confessional, written during fifty-six chaotic 
days. Clearly, “Someone else is in the know,” to quote a mysterious 
voice that interrupts the narration of Bend Sinister. It is no coinci- 
dence when coincidences extend from book to book. Creations 
from one “reality” continually turn up in another; the imaginary 
writer Pierre Delalande is quoted in The Gift and provides the epi- 
graph for Inv'itat'ion to a Beheading (inadvertently omitted from 
the paperback edition); Pnin and another character mention “Vlad- 
imir Vladimirovich” and dismiss his entomology as an affectation; 
“Hurricane Lolita” is mentioned in Pale Fire, and Pnin is glimpsed 
in the university library. Mythic or prosaic names and certain fa- 
tidic numbers recur with slight variation in many books, carrying 
no burden of meaning whatsoever other than the fact that some- 
one beyond the work is repeating them, that they are all part of 
one master pattern. 

Patterning. Nabokov’s passion for chess, language, and lepidop- 
tery has inspired the most elaborately involuted patterning in his 
work. Like the games implemented by parody, the puns, anagrams, 
and spoonerisms all reveal the controlling hand of the logomachist; 
thematically, they are appropriate to the prison of mirrors. Chess 
motifs are woven into several narratives, and even in The Defense 
(1930), a most naturalistically ordered early novel, the chess pat- 
terning points to forces beyond Grandmaster Luzhin’s comprehen- 
sion (“Thus toward the end of Chapter Four an unexpected move 
is made by me in a corner of the board,” writes Nabokov in the 
Foreword). The importance of the lepidopteral motif has already 
been suggested, and it spirals freely in and out of Nabokov’s 
books: in Invitation to a Beheading, just before he is scheduled to 
die, Cincinnatus gently strokes a giant moth; in Pale Fire a butter- 
fly alights on John Shade’s arm the minute before he is killed; in 
Ada, when Van Veen arrives for a duel, a transparent white butter- 
fly floats past and Van is certain he has only minutes to live; in the 

[ xxviii ] 

final chapter of Speak, Memory Nabokov recalls seeing in Paris, 
just before the war, a live butterfly being promenaded on a leash of 
thread; at the end of Bend Sinister the masked author intrudes and 
suspends the “obvious plot,” and as the book closes he looks out of 
the window and decides, as a moth twangs against the screen, that 
it is “A good night for mothing.” Be?id Sinister was published in 
1947, and it is no accident that in Nabokov’s next novel (1955) 
Humbert meets Lolita back in 1947, thus sustaining the author’s 
“fictive time” without interruption and enabling him to pursue that 
moth’s lovely diurnal Double through the substratum of the new 
novel in the most fantastic butterfly hunt of his career. “I confess I 
do not believe in time,” writes Nabokov at the end of the ecstatic 
butterfly chapter in Speak, Memory . “I like to fold my magic car- 
pet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pat- 
tern upon another.” 

The Work-Within-the-Work. The self-referential devices in 
Nabokov, mirrors inserted into the books at oblique angles, are 
clearly of the author’s making, since no point of view within the fic- 
tion could possibly account for the dizzying inversions they create. 
The course of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, which purports 
to be an attempt to gather material for a proposed literary biogra- 
phy of the narrator’s half brother but ends by obfuscating even the 
narrator’s identity, is refracted in Knight’s first novel. The Pris- 
matic Bezel, “a rollicking parody of the setting of a detective tale.” 
Like an Elizabethan play-within-a-play, Quilty’s play within Lo- 
lita, The Enchatited Hmiters, offers a “message” that can be taken 
seriously as a commentary on the progression of the entire novel; 
and Who^s Who in the Limelight and the class list of the Ramsdale 
school magically mirror the action taking place around them, in- 
cluding, by implication, the writing of Lolita. The a-novelistic 
components of Pale Fire — Foreword, Poem, Commentary, and In- 
dex — create a mirror-lined labyrinth of involuted cross references, 
a closed cosmos that can only be of the author’s making, rather 
than the product of an “unreliable” narrator. Pale Fire realizes the 
ultimate possibilities of works within works, already present twen- 
ty-four years earlier in the literary biography that serves as the 

[ xxix ] 

fourth chapter of The Gift. If it is disturbing to discover that the 
characters in The Gift are also the readers of Chapter Four, this is 
because it suggests, as Jorge Luis Borges says of the play within 
Hamlet, “that if the characters of a fictional work can be readers 
or spectators, we, its readers or spectators, can be fictitious.” ^ 

The Staging of the Novel. Nabokov wrote the screenplay of 
Lolita, as well as nine plays in Russian, including one of his several 
forays into science fiction. The Waltz Invention (1938), which 
was translated and published in 1966. It is not surprising, then, that 
his novels should proliferate with “theatrical” effects that serve his 
play-spirit exceedingly well. Problems of identity can be investi- 
gated poetically by trying on and discarding a series of masks. 
And, too, what better way to demonstrate that everything in a 
book is being manipulated than by seeming to stage it? In Invitation 
to a Beheading, “A Summer thunderstorm, simply yet tastefully 
staged, was performed outside.” When Quilty finally dies in Lo- 
lita, Humbert says, “This was the end of the ingenious play staged 
for me by Quilty”; and in Laughter in the Dark (1932), “The 
stage manager whom Rex had in view was an elusive, double, tri- 
ple, self-reflecting Proteus.” Nabokov the protean impersonator is 
always a masked presence in his fiction; as impresario, scenarist, 
director, warden, dictator, landlord, and even as bit player (the 
seventh Hunter in Quilty ’s play within Lolita, a Young Poet who 
insists that everything in the play is his invention) — to name only a 
few of the disguises he has donned as a secret agent who moves 
among his own creations like Prospero in The Tempest. Shake- 
speare is very much an ancestor (he and Nabokov even share a 
birthday), and the creaking, splintering noise made by the stage 
setting as it disintegrates at the end of Invitation to a Beheading is 
Nabokov’s version of the snapping of Prospero’s wand and his 
speech to the players (“Our revels now are ended. These our 
actors, /As I foretold you, were all spirits and /Are melted into 
air, into thin air”; IV. i). 

1 J. L. Borges, “Partial Magic in the Quixote^ in Labyrinths (New York, 1964), 
p. 196. 

[ XXX ] 

Authorial Voice. All the involuted effects spiral into the au- 
thorial voice — “an anthropomorphic deity impersonated by me,” 
Nabokov calls it — which intrudes continually in all of his novels 
after Despair, most strikingly at the end, when it completely takes 
over the book {Lolita is a notable exception). It is this “deity” 
who is responsible for everything: who begins a narrative only to 
stop and retell the passage differently; halts a scene to “rerun” it on 
the chapter’s screen, or turns a reversed lantern slide around to pro- 
ject it properly; intrudes to give stage directions, to compliment or 
exhort the actors, to have a prop moved; who reveals that the char- 
acters have “cotton-padded bodies” and are the author’s puppets, 
that all is a fiction; and who widens the “gaps” and “holes” in the 
narrative until it breaks apart at “the end,” when the vectors are re- 
moved, the cast of characters is dismissed, and even the fiction 
fades away — at most leaving behind an imprint on space in the 
form of a precis of “an old-fashioned [stage] melodrama” the 
“deity” may one day write, and which describes (as in the case of 
Pale Fire) the book we’ve just finished reading. 

The vertiginous conclusion of a Nabokov novel calls for a com- 
plicated response which many readers, after a lifetime of realistic 
novels, are incapable of making. Children, however, are aware of 
other possibilities, as their art reveals. My own children, then three 
and six years old, reminded me of this two summers ago when they 
inadvertently demonstrated that, unless they change, they will be 
among Nabokov’s ideal readers. One afternoon my wife and I built 
them a puppet theater. After propping the theater on the top edge 
of the living room couch, I crouched down behind it and began 
manipulating the two hand puppets in the stage above me. The 
couch and the theater’s scenery provided good cover, enabling me 
to peer over the edge and watch the children immediately become 
engrossed in the show, and then virtually mesmerized by my im- 
provised little story that ended with a patient father spanking an 
impossible child. But the puppeteer, carried away by his story’s vio- 
lent climax, knocked over the entire theater, which clattered onto 
the floor, collapsing into a heap of cardboard, wood, and cloth — 
leaving me crouched, peeking out at the room, my head now visi- 

[ xxxi ] 

ble over the couch’s rim, my puppeted hands, with their naked 
wrists, poised in mid-air. For several moments my children re- 
mained in their open-mouthed trance, still in the story, staring at 
the space where the theater had been, not seeing me at all. Then 
they did the kind of double take that a comedian might take a life- 
time to perfect, and began to laugh uncontrollably, in a way I had 
never seen before — and not so much at my clumsiness, which was 
nothing new, but rather at those moments of total involvement in a 
nonexistent world, and at what its collapse implied to them about 
the authenticity of the larger world, and about their daily efforts to 
order it and their own fabricated illusions. They were laughing, 
too, over their sense of what the vigorous performance had meant 
to me; but they saw how easily they could be tricked and their 
trust belied, and the shrillness of their laughter finally suggested 
that they recognized the frightening implications of what had hap- 
pened, and that only laughter could steel them in their new aware- 

When in 1966 I visited Vladimir Nabokov for four days in Mon- 
treux, to interview him for Wisconsm Studies and in regard to my 
critical study of his work, I told him about this incident, and how 
for me it defined literary involution and the response which he 
hoped to elicit from his readers at “the end” of a novel. “Exactly, 
exactly,” he said as I finished. “You must put that in your book.” 

In parodying the reader’s complete, self-indulgent identification 
with a character, which in its mindlessness limits consciousness, Na- 
bokov is able to create the detachment necessary for a multiform, 
spatial view of his novels. The “two plots” in Nabokov’s puppet 
show are thus made plainly visible as a description of the total de- 
sign of his work, which reveals that in novel after novel his charac- 
ters try to escape from Nabokov’s prison of mirrors, struggling to- 
ward a self-awareness that only their creator has achieved by creat- 
ing them — an involuted process which connects Nabokov’s art 
with his life, and clearly indicates that the author himself is not in 
this prison. He is its creator, and is above it, in control of a book, as 
in one of those Saul Steinberg drawings (greatly admired by Nabo- 
kov) that show a man drawing the very line that gives him “life,” 
in the fullest sense. But the process of Nabokov’s involution, the 

[ xxxii ] 

global perspective which he invites us to share with him, is best de- 
scribed in Speak, Memory, Chapter Fifteen, when he comments on 
the disinclination of 

. . . physicists to discuss the outside of the inside, the where- 
abouts of the curvature; for every dimension presupposes a me- 
dium within which it can act, and if, in the spiral unwinding 
of things, space warps into something akin to time, and time, in 
its turn, warps into something akin to thought, then, surely, an- 
other dimension follows — a special Space maybe, not the old one, 
we trust, unless spirals become vicious circles again. 

The ultimate detachment of an “outside” view of a novel inspires 
our wonder and enlarges our potential for compassion because, “in 
the spiral unwinding of things,” such compassion is extended to in- 
clude the mind of an author whose deeply humanistic art affirms 
man’s ability to confront and order chaos. 


Critics too often treat Nabokov’s twelfth novel as a special case 
quite apart from the rest of his work, when actually it concerns, 
profoundly and in their darkest and yet most comic form, the 
themes which have always occupied him. Although Lolita may still 
be a shocking novel to several aging non-readers, the exact cir- 
cumstances of its troubled publication and reception may not be fa- 
miliar to younger readers. After four American publishers refused 
it, Madame Ergaz, of Bureau Litteraire Clairouin, Paris, submitted 
Lolita to Maurice Girodias’ Olympia Press in Paris. ^ Although 
Girodias must be credited with the publication of several estimable 
if controversial works by writers such as Jean Genet, his main fare 
was the infamous Travellers Companion series, the green-backed 
books once so familiar and dear to the eagle-eyed inspectors of 
the U.S. Customs. But Nabokov did not know this and, because 
of one of Girodias’ previous publishing ventures, the “Editions du 
Chene,” thought him a publisher of “fine editions.” Cast in two 

1 See Nabokov’s article “Lolita and Mr. Girodias,” Evergreen Review, XI (Feb- 
ruary 1967), 37-41. 

[ xxxiii ] 

volumes and bound in the requisite green, Lolita was quietly pub- 
lished in Paris in September 1955. 

Because it seemed to confirm the judgment of those nervous 
American publishers, the Girodias imprimatur became one more 
obstacle for Lolita to overcome, though the problem of its alleged 
pornography indeed seems remote today, and was definitively set- 
tled in France not long after its publication. I was Nabokov’s stu- 
dent at Cornell in 1953-1954, at a time when most undergraduates 
did not know he was a writer. Drafted into the army a year later, I 
was sent overseas to France. On my first pass to Paris I naturally 
went browsing in a Left Bank bookstore. An array of Olympia 
Press books, daringly displayed above the counter, seemed most in- 
viting — and there, between copies of Until She Screams and The 
Sexual Life of Robinson Crusoe^ I found Lolita. Although I 
thought I knew all of Nabokov’s works in English (and had 
searched through out-of-print stores to buy each of them), this 
title was new to me; and its context and format were more than 
surprising, even if in those innocent pre-Grove Press days the 
semi-literate wags on fraternity row had dubbed Nabokov’s Litera- 
ture 3 1 1-3 1 2 lecture course “Dirty Lit” because of such readings 
as Ulysses and Madame Bovary (the keenest campus wits invaria- 
bly dropped the B when mentioning the latter). I brought Lolita 
back to my base, which was situated out in the woods. Passes were 
hard to get and new Olympia titles were always in demand in the 
barracks. The appearance of a new girl in town thus caused a 
minor clamor. “Hey, lemme read your dirty book, man!” insisted 
“Stockade Clyde” Carr, who had justly earned his sobriquet, and 
to whose request I acceded at once. “Read it aloud. Stockade,” 
someone called, and skipping the Foreword, Stockade Clyde began 
to make his remedial way through the opening paragraph. “ ‘Lo 
. . . lira, light ... of my life, fire of my . . . loins. My sin, my soul 
. . . Lo-lee-ta: The ... tip of the . . . tongue . . . taking ... a trip . . .’ 
— Damnr yelled Stockade, throwing the book against the wall, 
“/t’r God-damn LitachureH" Thus the Instant Pornography Test, 
known in psychological-testing circles as the “IPT.” Although in- 
fallible, it has never to my knowledge been used in any court case. 

At a double remove from the usual review media, Lolita went 

[ xxxiv ] 

generally unnoticed during its first six months. But in the winter of 
1956 Graham Greene in England recommended Lolita as one of 
the best books of 1955, incurring the immediate wrath of a colum- 
nist in the Sunday Express, which moved Greene to respond in The 
Spectator. Under the heading of “Albion” (suggesting a quaint 
tempest in an old teapot), The New York Times Book Review of 
February 26, 1956, alluded briefly to this exchange, calling Lolita 
“a long French novel” and not mentioning Nabokov by name. 
Two weeks later, noting “that our mention of it created a flurry of 
mail,” The Times devoted two-thirds of a column to the subject, 
quoting Greene at some length. Thus began the underground exist- 
ence of Lolita, which became public in the summer of 1957 when 
the Anchor Review in New York devoted 1 1 2 of its pages to Na- 
bokov. Included were an excellent introduction by F. W. Dupee, a 
long excerpt from the novel, and Nabokov’s Afterword, “On a 
Book Entitled Lolita.'' When Putnam’s brought out the American 
edition in 1958 they were able to dignify their full-page advertise- 
ments with an array of statements by respectable and even distin- 
guished literary names, though Lolita's fast climb to the top of the 
best-seller list was not exclusively the result of their endorsements 
or the novel’s artistry. “Hurricane / Folita swept from Florida to 
Maine” (to quote John Shade in Pale Fire [ 1 . 680]), also creating 
storms in England and Italy, and in France, where it was banned 
on three separate occasions. Although it never ran afoul of the law 
in this country, there were predictably some outraged protests, in- 
cluding an editorial in The New Republic; but, since these at best 
belong to social rather than literary history, they need not be de- 
tailed here, with one exception. Orville Prescott’s review in the 
daily New York Times of August 18, 1958, has a charm that 
should be preserved: “ ‘Lolita,’ then, is undeniably news in the 
world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two 
equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s atten- 
tion. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and 
archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” ^ Pres- 

1 In a manner similar to Joyce’s, Nabokov four years later paid his respects to 
Prescott, though not by name, by having the assassin Gradus carefully read The 
New York Times: “A hack reviewer of new books for tourists, reviewing his 

[ XXXV ] 

cott’s remarks complement those of an anonymous reviewer in The 
Southern Quarterly Review (January 1852), who found an earlier, 
somewhat different treatment of the quest theme no less intolera- 
ble: “The book is sad stuff, dull and dreary, or ridiculous. Mr. Mel- 
ville’s Quakers are the wretchedest dolts and drivellers, and his 
Mad Captain, who pursues his personal revenges against the fish 
who has taken off his leg, at the expense of ship, crew and owners, 
is a monstrous bore. . . .” 

Not surprisingly, Humbert Humbert’s obsession has moved com- 
mentators to search for equivalent situations in Nabokov’s earlier 
work, and they have not been disappointed. In The Gift (written 
between 1935 and 1937), some manuscript pages on the desk of the 
young poet Fyodor move a character to say: 

“Ah, if only I had a tick or two, what a novel I’d whip off! From 
real life. Imagine this kind of thing: an old dog — but still in his 
prime, fiery, thirsting for happiness — gets to know a widow, and 
she has a daughter, still quite a little girl — you know what I mean 
— when nothing is formed yet but already she has a way of walk- 
ing that drives you out of your mind — A slip of a girl, very fair, 

f )ale, with blue under the eyes — and of course she doesn’t even 
00k at the old goat. What to do? Well, not long thinking, he 
ups and marries the widow. Okay. They settle down the three of 
them. Here you can go on indefinitely — the temptation, the eter- 
nal torment, the itch, the mad hopes. And the upshot — a miscal- 
culation. Time flies, he gets older, she blossoms out — and not a 
sausage. Just walks by and scorches you with a look of contempt. 
Eh? D’you feel here a kind of Dostoevskian tragedy? That story, 
you see, happened to a great friend of mine, once upon a time in 
fairyland when Old King Cole was a merry old soul. . . .’’ (pp. 

Although the passage ^ seems to anticipate Lolita (“It’s queer, I seem 
to remember my future works,” says Fyodor [p. 206]), Laugh- 
ter in the Dark (1932) is mentioned most often in this regard, since 
Albinus Kretschmar sacrifices everything, including his eyesight, 

own tour through Norway, said that the fjords were too famous to need (his) 
description, and that all Scandinavians loved flowers” (Pale Fire, p. 275). This 
was actually culled from the newspaper. 

1 Also pointed out by Andrew Field, in Nabokov: His Life in Art (Boston, 
1967), p. 325, and Carl R. Proffer, Keys to Lolita (Bloomington, 1968), p. 3. 

[ xxxvi ] 

for a girl, and loses her to a hack artist, Axel Rex. “Yes,” agrees 
Nabokov, “some affinities between Rex and Quilty exist, as they do 
benv^een Margot and Lo. Actually, of course, Margot was a com- 
mon young whore, not an unfortunate little Lolita [and, techni- 
cally speaking, no nymphet at all — A. A. ] . Anyway I do not think 
that those recurrent sexual oddities and morbidities are of much in- 
terest or importance. My Lolita has been compared to Emmie in 
Invitation, to Mariette in Betid Sinister, and even Colette in Speak, 
Memory...” (Wisconsin Studies interview, see Bibliography). 
Nabokov is justly impatient with those who hunt for Ur-Lolitas, 
for a preoccupation with specific “sexual morbidities” obscures the 
more general context in which these oddities should be seen, and 
his Afterword offers an urgent corrective. The reader of this Intro- 
duction should turn to that Afterword, “On a Book Entitled Lo- 
lita,” but not before placing a bookmark here, one substantial 
enough to remind him to return — a brightly colored piece of cloth- 
ing would be suitable (the Notes to page 318 are particularly rec- 
ommended). Now please turn to page 313. 

Having just completed the Afterword, the serious reader is fa- 
mihar with Nabokov’s account of Lolita's origins. That “initial 
shiver of inspiration” resulted in a short story, “The Magician” 
(“Volshebnik”), written in Russian in 1939, but never published. 
Nabokov excerpted two passages for Andrew Field’s critical 
study.^ In the first, the magician sees the young girl for the first 
time in the Tuileries Gardens: 

A girl of twelve (he determined age with an unerring eye), 
dressed in a violet frock, was moving step by step her roller 
skates, which did not work on the gravel — lifting each in turn 
and bringing it down with a crunch — as she advanced at a kind 
of Japanese tread, through the striped rapture of the sun, toward 
his bench. Later (as long as that “later” endured) it would seem 
to him that right then, at one glance he had taken her measure 
from head to foot: the animation of her reddish-brown curls 
which had been recently trimmed, the lightness of her large va- 
cant eyes which somehow brought to mind a semi-translucent 
gooseberry, the gay warm color of her face, her pink mouth, 
just barely open so that her two large front teeth were resting 

1 Quoted by Field, op. cit., pp. 328-329. 

[ xxxvii ] 

lightly on the cushion of her lower lip, the summer tan of her 
bare arms with sleek fox-like little hairs running along the fore- 
arms, the vague tenderness of her still narrow but already not at 
all flat chest, the movement of the folds in her skirt, their short 
sweep and light fall back into place, the slenderness and glow of 
her careless legs, the sturdy straps of her roller skates. She stopped 
in front of the amiable woman sitting beside him who, turning to 
rummage in something which she had by her right hand side, 
found and held out to the little girl a piece of chocolate on a 
piece of bread. Chewing rapidly, she undid the straps with her 
free hand, shook off all the heaviness of steel soles on solid wheels 
— and, descending to us on earth, having straightened up with a 
sudden sensation of heavenly nakedness which took a moment to 
grow aware of being shaped by shoes and socks, she rushed off. 

According to Field, Arthur makes no sexual advances until almost 
the final page, soon after the girl’s mother has died: 

“Is this where I sleep?” the little girl asked indifferently, and 
when, struggling with the shutters so as to further close the slits 
between them, he answered, yes, she looked at her cap which she 
was holding in her hand and limply tossed it onto the broad bed. 

“Well,” he said after the old porter who had lugged in their 
suitcases had left, and there remained only the beating of his heart 
and the distant shiver of the night, “Well . . . Now to bed.” 

Unsteady in her drowsiness, she stumbled against the edge of 
the armchair, and, then, simultaneously sitting down, he drew her 
to him by encircling her hip; she, arching her body, grew up like 
an angel, strained all her muscles for a moment, took still another 
half-step, and then lightly sank down in his lap. “My darling, my 
poor little girl,” he murmured in a sort of general mist of pity, 
tenderness, and desire, observing her sleepiness, fuzziness, her wan 
smile, fondling her through her dark dress, feeling the stripe of the 
orphan’s garter through its thin wool, thinking about her defense- 
lessness, her state of abandonment, her warmth, enjoying the ani- 
mated weight of her legs which sprawled loose and then again, 
with an ever so light bodily rustle, hunched themselves up higher 
— and she slowly wound one dreamy tight-sleeved arm around the 
back of his neck, immersing him in the chestnut odor of her soft 

But Arthur fails as both a magician and lover, and soon afterwards 
dies in a manner which Nabokov will transfer to Charlotte Haze. 
While the scene clearly foreshadows the first night at The En- 

[ xxxviii ] 

chanted Hunters hotel, its straightforward action and solemn tone 
are quite different, and it compresses into a few paragraphs what 
will later occupy almost two chapters (pp. 1 21-135). Arthur’s en- 
joyment of the girl’s “animated weight” suggests the considerably 
more combustible lap scene in Lolita (pp. 60-63), perhaps the 
most erotic interlude in the novel- — but it only suggests it. Aside 
from such echoes, one must assume, on the evidence of these two 
long passages, that little beyond the basic idea of the tale subsists in 
Lolita; and the telling is quite literally a world apart. 

“The Magician” went unpublished not because of the forbidding 
subject matter, but rather, says Nabokov, because the girl possessed 
httle “semblance of reality,” ^ In 1949, after moving from Welles- 
ley to Cornell, he became involved in a “new treatment of the 
theme, this time in English.” Although Lolita “developed slowly,” 
taking five years to complete, Nabokov had everything in mind 
quite early. As is customary with him, however, he did not write it 
in exact chronological sequence. Humbert’s confessional diary was 
composed at the outset of this “new treatment,” followed by Hum- 
bert and Lohta’s first journey westward, and the climactic scene in 
which Quilty is killed (“His death had to be clear in my mind in 
order to control his earlier appearances,” says Nabokov). Nabo- 
kov next filled in the gaps of Humbert’s early life, and then pro- 
ceeded ahead with the rest of the action, more or less in chronolog- 
ical order. Humbert’s final interview with Lolita was composed at 
the very end, in 1954, followed only by John Ray’s Foreword. 

Especially new in this treatment was the shift from the third per- 
son to the first person, which created- — obviously — the always for- 
midable narrative problem of having an obsessed and even mad 
character meaningfully relate his own experience, a problem com- 
pounded in this specific instance by the understandable element of 

1 One should remember that the story would have been read by a Russian 
emigre audience, notes Andrew Field. Strongly erotic (as opposed to porno- 
graphic) themes have been used “seriously” far more frequently by Russian 
writers than by their English and American counterparts. Field points to Dos- 
toevsky (the suppressed chapter of The Possessed), Leskov, Sologub, Kuzmin, 
Rozanov, Kuprin, Pilnyak, Babel, and Bunin {ibid., p. 332). Field also sum- 
marizes the plots of two early, untranslated Nabokov stories which treat sexual 
themes, “A Fauytale” (1926) and “A Dashing Fellow” (c. 1936); {ibid., pp. 333- 
334 )- 

[ xxxix ] 

self-justification which his perversion would necessarily occasion, 
and by the fact that Humbert is a dying man. One wonders 
whether Thomas Mann would have been able to make Death in 
Ve7iice an allegory about art and the artist if Aschenbach had been 
its narrator. While many of Nabokov’s other principal characters 
are victims (Luzhin, Pnin, Albinus), none of them tells his own 
story; and it is only Humbert who is both victim and victimizer, 
thus making him unique among Nabokov’s first-person narrators 
(discounting Hermann, the mad and murderous narrator of De- 
spair, who is too patently criminal to qualify properly as victim). 
By having Humbert tell the tale, Nabokov created for himself the 
kind of challenge best described in Chapter Fourteen of Speak, 
Memory when, in a passage written concurrently with the early 
stages of Lolita, he compares the composition of a chess problem 
to “the writing of one of those incredible novels where the author, 
in a fit of lucid madness, has set himself certain unique rules that he 
observes, certain nightmare obstacles that he surmounts, with the 
zest of a deity building a live world from the most unlikely ingredi- 
ents — rocks, and carbon, and blind throbbings.” ^ 

In addition to such obstacles, the novel also developed slowly be- 
cause of an abundance of materials as unfamiliar as they were un- 
likely. It had been difficult enough to “invent Russia and Western 
Europe,” let alone America, and at the age of fifty Nabokov now 
had to set about obtaining “such local ingredients as would allow 
me to inject a modicum of average ‘reality’ (one of the few words 
which mean nothing without quotes) into the brew of individual 
fancy.” “What was most difficult,” he recently told an interviewer, 
“was putting myself ... I am a normal man, you see.” ^ Research 
was thus called for, and in scholarly fashion Nabokov followed 
newspaper stories involving pedophilia (incorporating some into 
the novel), read case studies, and, like Margaret Mead coming 
home to roost, even did research in the field: “I travelled in school 
buses to listen to the talk of schoolgirls. I went to school, on the 

1 And speaking specifically of the writing of Lolita, he says, “She was like the 
composition of a beautiful puzzle — its composition and its solution at the same 
time, since one is a mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look.” 
2 Penelope Gilliatt, “Nabokov,” Vogue, No. 2170 (December 1966), p. 280. 

[ xl ] 

pretext of placing our daughter. We have no daughter. For Lolita, 
I took one arm of a little girl who used to come to see Dmitri [his 
son], one kneecap of another,” ^ and thus a nymphet was born. 

Perspicacious “research” aside, it was a remarkable imaginative 
feat for a European emigre to have re-created America so bril- 
liantly, and in so doing to have become an American writer. Of 
course, those critics and readers who marvel at Nabokov’s accom- 
plishment may not realize that he physically knows America better 
than most of them. As he says in Speak, Memory, his adventures as 
a “lepist” carried him through two hundred motel rooms in forty- 
six states, that is, along all the roads traveled by Humbert and Lo- 
lita. Yet of all of Nabokov’s novels, Lolita is the most unlikely one 
for him to have written, given his background and the rarefied na- 
ture of his art and avocations. “It was hardly foreseeable,” writes 
Anthony Burgess, “that so exquisite and scholarly an artist should 
become America’s greatest literary glory, but now it seems wholly 
just and inevitable.” ^ It was even less foreseeable that Nabokov 
would realize better than any contemporary the hopes expressed by 
Constance Rourke in American Hwnor (1931) for a literature that 
would achieve an instinctive alliance between native materials and 
old world traditions, though the literal alliance in Lolita is perhaps 
more intimate than even Miss Rourke might have wished. But to 
know Nabokov at all personally is first to be impressed by his in- 
tense and immense curiosity, his uninhibited and imaginative re- 
sponse to everything around him. To paraphrase Henry James’s fa- 
mous definition of the artist, Nabokov is truly a man on whom 
nothing is lost — except that in Nabokov’s instance it is true, 
whereas James and many American literary intellectuals after him 
have been so self-conscious in their mandarin “seriousness” and 
consequently so narrow in the range of their responses that they 
have often overlooked the sometimes extraordinarily uncommon 
qualities of the commonplace. 

Nabokov’s responsiveness is characterized for me by the last eve- 
ning of my first visit to Montreux in September 1966. During my 

1 Ibid. 

2 Anthony Burgess, “Poet and Pedant,” The Spectator, March 24, 1967, p. 336. 
Reprinted in Urgent Copy (New York, 1969). 

[ xli ] 

two hours of conversation with the Nabokovs in their suite after 
dinner, Nabokov tried to imagine what the history of painting 
might have been like if photography had been invented in the Mid- 
dle Ages; spoke about science fiction; asked me if I had noticed 
what was happening in Li7 Abner and then compared it, in 
learned fashion, with an analogous episode of a dozen years back; 
noted that a deodorant stick had been found among the many days’ 
siege provisions which the Texas sniper had with him on the tower; 
discoursed on a monstrous howler in the translation of Bely’s St. 
Petersburg; showed me a beautifully illustrated book on humming- 
birds, and then discussed the birdlife of Lake Geneva; talked ad- 
miringly and often wittily of the work of Borges, Updike, Salin- 
ger, Genet, Andrei Sinyavsky (“Abram Tertz”), Burgess, and 
Graham Greene, always making precise critical discriminations; re- 
called his experiences in Hollywood while working on the screen- 
play of Lolita, and his having met Marilyn Monroe at a party (“A 
delightful actress. Delightful,” he said. “Which is your favorite 
Monroe film.^”) ; talked of the Soviet writers he admired, summariz- 
ing their stratagems for survival; and defined for me exactly what 
kind of beetle Kafka’s Gregor Samsa was in The Metamorphosis 
(“It was a domed beetle, a scarab beetle with wing-sheaths, and 
neither Gregor nor his maker realized that when the room was 
being made by the maid, and the window was open, he could have 
flown out and escaped and joined the other happy dung beetles 
rolling the dung balls on rural paths”). And did I know how a 
dung beetle laid its eggs? Since I did not, Nabokov rose and imi- 
tated the process, bending his head toward his waist as he walked 
slowly across the room, making a dung-rolling motion with his 
hands until his head was buried in them and the eggs were laid. 
When Lenny Bruce’s name somehow came up, both Nabokov and 
his wife commented on how sad they had been to hear of Bruce’s 
death; he had been a favorite of theirs. But they disagreed about 
where it was that they had last seen Bruce; Mrs. Nabokov thought 
it had been on Jack Paar’s television show, while her husband — the 
scientist, linguist, and author of fifteen novels, who has written and 
published in three languages, and whose vast erudition is most 
clearly evidenced by the four-volume translation of Pushkin’s Eu- 

[ xlii ] 

gene Onegin, with its two volumes of annotations and one- 
hundred-page “Note on Prosody”- — held out for the Ed Sullivan 

Not only is nothing lost on Nabokov, but, like the title character 
in Borges’s story “Funes the Memorious,” he seems to remember ev- 
erything. At dinner the first evening of my 1966 visit, we remi- 
nisced about Cornell and his courses there, which were extraordi- 
nary and thoroughly Nabokovian, even in the smallest ways (wit- 
ness the “bonus system” employed in examinations, allowing stu- 
dents two extra points per effort whenever they could garnish an 
answer with a substantial and accurate quotation [“a gem”] drawn 
from the text in question) . Skeptically enough, I asked Nabokov if 
he remembered my wife, Nina, who had taken his Literature 3 1 2 
course in 1955, and I mentioned that she had received a grade of 
96. Indeed he did, since he had always asked to meet the students 
who performed well, and he described her accurately (seeing her 
in person in 1968, he remembered where she had sat in the lecture 
hall). On the night of my departure I asked Nabokov to inscribe 
my Olympia Press first edition of Lolita. With great rapidity he 
not only signed and dated it, but added two elegant drawings of 
recently discovered butterflies, one identified as ‘‘‘‘Llammea palida" 
(“Pale Fire”) and, below it, a considerably smaller species, labeled 
“Bonus bonus.” ^ Delighted but in part mystified, I inquired, 
“Why ‘Bonus bonus’.?” Wrinkling his brow and peering over his 
eyeglasses, a parody of a professor, Nabokov replied in a mock- 
stentorian voice, “Now your wife has 100!” After four days and 
some twelve hours of conversation, and within an instant of my 
seemingly unrelated request, my prideful but passing comment had 
come leaping out of storage. So too has Nabokov’s memory been 
able to draw on a lifetime of reading — a lifetime in the most literal 

When asked what he had read as a boy, Nabokov replied: “Be- 
tween the ages of ten and fifteen in St. Petersburg, I must have 
read more fiction and poetry — English, Russian, and French — than 
in any other five-year period of my life. I relished especially the 
works of Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rim- 

lA photograph of these drawings appears in Time, May 23, 1969, p. 83. 

[ xliii ] 

baud, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Alexander Blok. On another level, 
my heroes were the Scarlet Pimpernel, Phileas Fogg, and Sherlock 
Holmes. In other words, I was a perfectly normal trilingual child 
in a family with a large library. At a later period, in Cambridge, 
England, between the ages of twenty and twenty-three, my favor- 
ites were Housman, Rupert Brooke, Joyce, Proust, and Pushkin. 
Of these top favorites, several — Poe, Verlaine, Jules Verne, Em- 
muska Orczy, Conan Doyle, and Rupert Brooke — have faded 
away, have lost the glamour and thrill they held for me. The others 
remain intact and by now are probably beyond change as far as I 
am concerned” {Flay boy interview). The Notes to this edition 
will demonstrate that Nabokov has managed to invoke in his 
fiction the most distant of enthusiasms: a detective story read in 
early youth, a line from Verlaine, a tennis match seen at Wimble- 
don forty years before. All are clear in his mind, and, recorded in 
Lolita, memory negates time. 

When queried about Nabokov, friends and former colleagues at 
Cornell invariably comment on the seemingly paradoxical manner 
in which the encyclopedic Nabokov mind could be enthralled by 
the trivial as well as the serious. One professor, at least twenty 
years Nabokov’s junior and an instructor when he was there, re- 
members how Nabokov once asked him if he had ever watched a 
certain soap opera on television. Soap operas are of course ulti- 
mately comic if not fantastic in the way they characterize the life 
of the typical middle-class housewife as an uninterrupted series of 
crises and disasters; but missing the point altogether, suspecting a 
deadly leg-pull and supposing that with either answer he would 
lose (one making him a fool, the other a snob), Nabokov’s young 
colleague had been reduced to a fit of wordless throat-clearing. Re- 
calling it ten years later, he seemed disarmed all over again. On eas- 
ier terms with Nabokov was Professor M. H. Abrams, who 
warmly recalls how Nabokov came into a living room where a fac- 
ulty child was absorbed in a television western. Immediately en- 
gaged by the program, Nabokov was soon quaking with laughter 
over the furiously climactic fight scene. Just such idle moments, if 
not literally this one, inform the hilarious burlesque of the compa- 
rable “obligatory scene” in Lolita, the tussle of Humbert and 

[ xliv ] 

Quilty which leaves them “panting as the cowman and the sheep- 
man never do after their battle” (p. 301). 

Even though he had academic tenure at Cornell, the Nabokovs 
never owned a house, and instead always rented, moving from year 
to year, a mobility he bestowed on refugee Humbert. “The main 
reason [for never settling anywhere permanently], the background 
reason, is, I suppose, that nothing short of a replica of my child- 
hood surroundings would' have satisfied me,” says Nabokov. “I 
would never manage to match my memories correctly — so why 
trouble with hopeless approximations? Then there are some special 
considerations: for instance, the question of impetus, the habit of 
impetus. I propelled myself out of Russia so vigorously, with such 
indignant force, that I have been rolling on and on ever since. 
True, I have lived to become that appetizing thing, a ‘full profes- 
sor,’ but at heart I have always remained a lean ‘visiting lecturer.’ 
The few times I said to myself anywhere: ‘Now that’s a nice spot 
for a permanent home,’ I would immediately hear in my mind the 
thunder of an avalanche carrying away the hundreds of far places 
which I would destroy by the very act of settling in one particular 
nook of the earth. And finally, I don’t much care for furniture, for 
tables and chairs and lamps and rugs and things — perhaps because 
in my opulent childhood I was taught to regard with amused con- 
tempt any too-earnest attachment to material wealth, which is why 
I felt no regret and no bitterness when the Revolution abolished 
that wealth” (Playboy interview). 

Professor Morris Bishop, Nabokov’s best friend at Cornell, who 
was responsible for his shift from Wellesley to Ithaca, recalls visit- 
ing the Nabokovs just after they had moved into the appallingly 
vulgar and garish home of an absented professor of Agriculture. “I 
couldn’t have lived in a place like that,” says Bishop, “but it de- 
lighted him. He seemed to relish every awful detail.” Although 
Bishop didn’t realize it then, Nabokov was learning about Charlotte 
Haze by renting her house, so to speak, by reading her books and 
hving with her pictures and “wooden thingamabob[s] of commer- 
cial Mexican origin.” These annual moves, however dismal their cir- 
cumstances, constituted a field trip enabling entomologist Nabokov 
to study the natural habitat of Humbert’s prey. Bishop also remem- 

[ xlv ] 

bers that Nabokov read the New York Daily News for its crime 
stories/ and, for an even more concentrated dose of bizarrerie, 
Father Divine’s newspaper, New Day — all of which should recall 
James Joyce, with whom Nabokov has so much else in common. 
Joyce regularly read The Police Gazette, the shoddy magazine Tit- 
bits (as does Bloom), and all the Dublin newspapers; attended bur- 
lesque shows, knew by heart most of the vulgar and comically ob- 
scene songs of the day, and was almost as familiar with the work of 
the execrable lady lending-library novelists of the fin de siecle as 
he was with the classics; and when he was living in Trieste and 
Paris and writing Ulysses, relied on his Aunt Josephine to keep him 
supplied with the necessary sub-literary materials. Of course, 
Joyce’s art depends far more than Nabokov’s on the vast residue of 
erudition and trivia which Joyce’s insatiable and equally ency- 
clopedic mind was able to store. 

Nabokov is very selective, whereas Joyce collected almost at ran- 
dom and then ordered in art the flotsam and jetsam of everyday 
life. That Nabokov does not equal the older writer in this respect 
surely points to a conscious choice on Nabokov’s part, as his Cor- 
nell lectures on Ulysses suggest.^ In singling out the flaws in what 
is to him the greatest novel of the century, Nabokov stressed the 
“needless obscurities baffling to the less-than-brilliant reader,” such 
as “local idiosyncrasies” and “untraceable references.” Yet Nabo- 
kov has also practiced the art of assemblage, incorporating in the 
rich textures of Bend Sinister, Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada a most 
“Joycean” profusion of rags, tags, and oddments, both high and 
low, culled from books or drawn from “real life.” Whatever the 
respective scales of their efforts in this direction, Nabokov and 
Joyce are (with Queneau and Borges) among the few modern fic- 
tion writers who have made aesthetic capital out of their learning. 

1 In Pale Fire, Charles Kinbote spies John Shade seated in his car, “reading a 
tabloid newspaper which I had thought no poet would deign to touch” (p. 22). 

2 The course in question is Literature 31 1-3 12, “Masterpieces of European Fic- 
tion,” MWF, 12 (first term: Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Gogol’s Dead Souls, 
Dickens’ Bleak House, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and Tolstoy’s The Death of 
Ivan Ilyich; second term: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and 
Mr. Hyde, Gogol’s The Overcoat, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Proust’s Swann’s 
fVay, and Ulysses, in that order). The quotations are from the annotator’s class 
notes of 1953-1954. 

[ xlvi ] 

Both include in their novels the compendious stuff one associates 
with the bedside library, the great literary anatomies such as Bur- 
ton’s Anatomy of Mela?icholy or Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary ^ or 
those unclassifiable masterpieces such as Moby -Dick, Tristram 
Shandy, and Gargantua and Panta gruel, in which the writer makes 
fictive use of all kinds of learning, and exercises the anatomist’s 
penchant for collage effected out of verbal trash and bizarre juxta- 
positions — for the digression, the catalogue, the puzzle, pun, and 
parody, the gratuitous bit of lore included for the pleasure it can 
evoke, and for the quirky detail that does not contribute to the 
book’s verisimilar design but nevertheless communicates vividly a 
sense of what it was like to be alive at a given moment in time. A 
hostile review of Nabokov’s Eugene Onegin offered as typical of 
the Commentary’s absurdities its mention of the fact that France 
exported to Russia some 150,000 bottles of champagne per annum; 
but the detail happens to telescope brilliantly the Francophilia of 
early nineteenth-century Russia, and is an excellent example of the 
anatomist’s imaginative absorption of significant trivia and a justifi- 
cation of his methods. M. H. Abrams recalls how early one Mon- 
day morning he met Nabokov entering the Cornell Library, stag- 
gering beneath a run of The Edinburgh Review, which Nabokov 
had pored over all weekend in Pushkin’s behalf. “Marvelous ads! ” 
explained Nabokov, “simply marvelous!” It was this spirit that ena- 
bled Nabokov to create in the two volumes of Onegin Commen- 
tary a marvelous literary anatomy in the tradition of Johnson, 
Sterne, and Joyce — an insomniac’s delight, a monumental, wildly 
inclusive, yet somehow elegantly ordered ragbag of humane dis- 
course, in its own right a transcending work of imagination. 

Nabokov was making expressive use of unlikely bits and pieces 
in his novels as early as The Defense (1930), as when Luzhin’s 
means of suicide is suggested by a movie still, lying on The Veritas 
film company’s display table, showing “a white-faced man with his 
lifeless features and big American glasses, hanging by his hands 
from the ledge of a skyscraper — just about to fall off into the 
abyss” — a famous scene from Harold Lloyd’s 1923 silent film. 
Safety Last. Although present throughout his work of the ’thirties, 
and culminating logically in The Gift, his last novel in Russian, 

[ xivii ] 

Nabokov’s penchant for literary anatomy was not fully realized 
until after he had been exposed to the polar extremes of American 
culture and American university libraries. Thus the richly varie- 
gated but sometimes crowded texture of Bend Sinister (1947), Na- 
bokov’s first truly “American” novel/ looks forward to Lolita, his 
next novel. Bend Sinister'' s literary pastiche is by turns broad and 
hermetic. Titles by Remarque and Sholokov are combined to pro- 
duce All Quiet on the Don, and Chapter Twelve offers this “fa- 
mous American poem”: 

A curious sight — these bashful bears, 

These timid warrior whalemen 

And now the time of tide has come; 

The ship casts off her cables 

It is not shown on any map; 

True places never are 

This lovely light, it lights not me; 

All loveliness is anguish — 

No poem at all, it is formed, says Nabokov, by random “iambic in- 
cidents culled from the prose of Moby-DickA Such effects receive 
their fullest orchestration in Lolita, as the Notes to this volume 
will suggest. 

If the Onegin Commentary (1964) is the culmination, then Lo- 
lita represents the apogee in fiction of Nabokov’s proclivities as ana- 
tomist, and as such is a further reminder that the novel extends and 
develops themes and methods present in his work all along. Rang- 
ing from Dante to Dick Tracy, the allusions, puns, parodies, and 
pastiches in Lolita are controlled with a mastery unequaled by any 
writer since Joyce (who died in 1941). Readers should not be dis- 
armed by the presence of so many kinds of “real” materials in a 
novel by a writer who believes so passionately in the primacy of 
the imagination; as Kinbote says in Pale Fire, “ ‘reality’ is neither 
the subject nor the object of true art which creates its own special 

1 Although published in New York in 1941, a year after Nabokov’s emigration, 
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight was in fact written in Paris in 1938 (in Eng- 
lish). Students of chronology should also note that Lolita precedes Pnin (1957). 
The date of the former’s American publication (1958) has proved misleading. 

[ xlviii ] 

reality having nothing to do with the average ‘reality’ perceived by 
the communal eye” (p. 130). 

By his example, Nabokov has reminded younger American writ- 
ers of the fictional nature of reality. When Terry Southern in The 
Magic Christian (i960) lampoons the myth of American masculin- 
ity and its attendant deification of the athlete by having his multi- 
millionaire trickster, Guy Grand, fix the heavyweight championship 
fight so that the boxers grotesquely enact in the ring a prancing 
and mincing charade of homosexuality, causing considerable 
psychic injury to the audience, his art, such as it is, is quite late in 
imitating life. A famous athlete of the ’twenties was well-known as 
an invert, and Humbert mentions him twice, never by his real 
name, though he does call him “Ned Litam” (p. 234) — a simple 
anagram of “Ma Tilden” — which turns out to be one of the actual 
pseudonyms chosen by Tilden himself, under which he wrote sto- 
ries and articles. Like the literary anatomists who have preceded 
him, Nabokov knows that what is so extraordinary about “reality” 
is that too often even the blackest of imaginations could not have 
invented it; and by taking advantage of this fact in Lolita he has, 
along with Nathanael West, defined with absolute authority the in- 
evitable mode, the dominant dark tonalities — if not the contents — 
of the American comic novel. 

Although Humbert clearly delights in many of the absurdities 
around him, the anatomist’s characteristic vivacity is gone from the 
pages which concern Charlotte Haze, and not only because she is 
repugnant to Humbert in terms of the “plot,” but rather because to 
Nabokov she is the definitive artsy-craftsy suburban lady — the cul- 
ture-vulture, that travesty of Woman, Love, and Sexuality. In 
short, she is the essence of American poshlust, to use the “one piti- 
less [Russian] word” which, writes Nabokov in Gogol, is able to 
express “the idea of a certain widespread defect for which the 
other three European languages I happen to know possess no spe- 
cial term.” Poshlust: “the sound of the ‘o’ is as big as the plop of an 
elephant falling into a muddy pond and as round as the bosom of a 
bathing beauty on a German picture postcard” (p. 63). More pre- 
cisely, it “is not only the obviously trashy but also the falsely im- 
portant, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attrac- 

[ xlix ] 

five” (p. 70).^ It is an amalgam of pretentiousness and philistine 
vulgarity. In the spirit of Mark Twain describing the contents of 
the Grangerford household in Huckleberry Finn (earlier American 
poshlust), Humbert eviscerates the muddlecrass (to wax Joycean) 
world of Charlotte and her friends, reminding us that Humbert’s 
long view of America is not an altogether genial one. 

In the course of showing us our landscape in all its natural 
beauty, Humbert satirizes American songs, ads, movies, magazines, 
brand names, tourist attractions, summer camps, Dude Ranches, ho- 
tels, and motels, as well as the Good-Housekeeping Syndrome 
(Your Home Is You is one of Charlotte Haze’s essential volumes) 
and the cant of progressive educationists and child-guidance 
pontificators.^ Nabokov offers us a grotesque parody of a “good 
relationship,” for Humbert and Lo are “pals” with a vengeance; 
Know Your Own Daughter is one of the books which Humbert 
consults (the title exists). Yet Humbert’s terrible demands notwith- 
standing, she is as insensitive as children are to their parents; sexual- 
ity aside, she demands anxious parental placation in a too typically 
American way, and, since it is Lolita “to whom ads were dedi- 
cated: the ideal consumer, the subject and object of every foul pos- 
ter” (p. 150), she affords Nabokov an ideal opportunity to com- 
ment on the Teen and Sub-teen Tyranny. “Tristram in Movie- 
love,” remarks Humbert, and Nabokov has responded to those var- 
ious travesties of behavior which too many Americans recognize as 
tenable examples of reality. A gloss on this aspect of Lolita is pro- 
vided by “Ode to a Model,” a poem which Nabokov published the 
same year as the Olympia Press edition of Lolita (1955): 

I have followed you, model, 
in magazine ads through all seasons, 
from dead leaf on the sod 
to red leaf on the breeze, 

1 For Nabokov’s most recent description of poshlost (as he now transliterates 
it), see his interview, Paris Review, No. 41 (Sommer-Fall 1967), 103-104. , 

2 Satirized too is the romantic myth of the child, extending from Wordsworth 
to Salinger. “The McCoo girl?” responds Lolita kindly. “Ginny McCoo? Oh, 
she’s a fright. And mean. And lame. Nearly died of polio.” If the origin of mod- 
ern sentimentality about the child’s innocence can be dated at 1760, with the pub- 
lication of Mother Goose's Melodies, then surely Lolita marks its death in 1955. 

[ 1 ] 

from your lily-white armpit 
to the tip of your butterfly eyelash, 
charming and pitiful, 
silly and stylish. 

Or in kneesocks and tartan 
standing there like some fabulous symbol, 
parted feet pointed outward 
— pedal form of akimbo. 

On a lawn, in a parody 
of Spring and its cherry-tree, 
near a vase and a parapet, 
virgin practising archery. 

Ballerina, black-masked, 
near a parapet of alabaster. 

“Can one” — somebody asked — 

“rhyme ‘star’ and ‘disaster’?” 

Can one picture a blackbird 
as the negative of a small firebird? 

Can a record, run backward, 
turn ‘repaid’ into ‘diaper’? 

Can one marry a model? 

Kill your past, make you real, raise a family, 
by removing you bodily 
from back numbers of Sham? 

Although Nabokov has called attention to the elements of parody 
in his work, he has repeatedly denied the relevance of satire. One 
can understand why he says, “I have neither the intent nor the tem- 
perament of a moral or social satirist” (Playboy interview), for 
he eschews the overtly moral stance of the satirist who offers 
“to mend the world.” Humbert’s “satires” are too often effected 
with an almost loving care. Lolita is indeed an “ideal consumer,” 
but she herself is consumed, pitifully, and there is, as Nabokov has 
said, “a queer, tender charm about that mythical nymphet.” More- 
over, since Humbert’s desperate tourism is undertaken in order to 
distract and amuse Lolita and to outdistance his enemies, real and 
imagined, the “invented” American landscape also serves a quite 
functional thematic purpose in helping to dramatize Humbert’s 

[ li ] 

total and terrible isolation. Humbert and Lolita, each in his way, 
are captives of the other, imprisoned together in a succession of 
bedrooms and cars, but so distant from one another that they can 
share nothing of what they see — making Humbert seem as alone 
during the first trip West as he will be on the second, when she has 
left him and the car is an empty cell. 

Nabokov’s denials notwithstanding, many of Humbert’s observa- 
tions of American morals and mores are satirical, the product of his 
maker’s moral sensibility; but the novel’s greatness does not depend 
on the profundity or extent of its “satire,” which is over-empha- 
sized by readers who fail to recognize the extent of the parody, its 
full implications, or the operative distinction made by Nabokov; 
“satire is a lesson, parody is a game.” Like Joyce, Nabokov has 
shown how parody may inform a high literary art, and parody fig- 
ures in the design of each of his novels. The Eye parodies the nine- 
teenth-century Romantic tale, such as V. F. Odoevsky’s “The 
Brigadier” (1844), which is narrated by a ghost who has awakened 
after death to view his old life with new clarity, while Laughter in 
the Dark is a mercilessly cold mocking of the convention of the 
love triangle; Despair is cast as the kind of “cheap mystery” story 
the narrator’s banal wife reads, though it evolves into something 
quite different; and The Gift parodies the major nineteenth-cen- 
tury Russian writers. Invitation to a Beheading is cast as a mock 
anti-utopian novel, as though Zamiatin’s We (1920) had been re- 
staged by the Marx Brothers. Pnm masquerades as an “academic 
novel” and turns out to parody the possibility of a novel’s having a 
“reliable” narrator. Pnin’s departure at the end mimics Chichikov’s 
orbital exit from Dead Souls (1842), just as the last paragraph of 
The Gift conceals a parody of a Pushkin stanza. The texture of 
Nabokov’s parody is unique because, in addition to being a master 
parodist of literary styles, he is able to make brief references to an- 
other writer’s themes or devices which are so telling in effect that 
Nabokov need not burlesque that writer’s style. He not only paro- 
dies narrative cliches and outworn subject matter, but genres and 
prototypes of the novel; Ada parodically surveys nothing less than 
the novel’s evolution. Because Chapter Four of The Gift is a mock 
literary biography, it anticipates the themes of Nabokov’s major 

[ lii ] 

achievements, for he is continuously parodying the search for a 
verifiable truth — the autobiography, the biography, the exegesis, 
the detective story — and these generic “quests” will coalesce in 
one work, especially when the entire novel is conceptually a par- 
ody, as in Lolita and Pale Fire. 

In form. Pale Fire is a grotesque scholarly edition, while Lolita is 
a burlesque of the confessional mode, the literary diary, the Ro- 
mantic novel that chronicles the effects of a debilitating love, the 
Doppelganger tale, and, in parts, a Duncan Hines tour of America 
conducted by a guide with a black imagination, a parodic case 
study, and, as the narrator of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight 
says of his half brother’s first novel. The Prismatic Bezel, “It is also 
a wicked imitation of many other . . . literary habit [s].” Knight’s 
procedures summarize Nabokov’s: 

As often was the way with Sebastian Knight he used parody as a 
kind of springboard for leaping into the highest region of serious 
emotion. J. L. Coleman has called it “a clown developing wings, 
an angel mimicking a tumbler pigeon,” and the metaphor seems 
to me very apt. Based cunningly on a parody of certain tricks of 
the literary trade. The Prismatic Bezel soars skyward. With some- 
thing akin to fanatical hate Sebastian Knight was ever hunting 
out the things which had once been fresh and bright but which 
were now worn to a thread, dead things among living ones; dead 
things shamming life, painted and repainted, continuing to be ac- 
cepted by lazy minds serenely unaware of the fraud, (p. 91) 

“But all this obscure fun is, I repeat, only the author’s springboard” 
(p. 92), says the narrator, whose tone is justifiably insistent, for al- 
though Nabokov is a virtuoso of the minor art of literary bur- 
lesque, which is at best a kind of literary criticism, he knows that 
the novelist who uses parody is under an obligation to engage the 
reader emotionally in a way that Max Beerbohm’s A Christmas 
Garland (1912) does not. The description of The Prismatic Bezel 
and the remainder of Chapter Ten in The Real Life of Sebastian 
Knight indicate that Nabokov is fully aware of this necessity, and, 
like Knight, he has succeeded in making parody a “springboard.” 
There is thus an important paradox implicit in Nabokov’s most au- 
dacious parodies: Lolita makes fun of Dostoevsky’s Notes from 

[ liii ] 

Underground (1864), but Humbert’s pages are indeed notes from 
underground in their own right, and Clare Quilty is both a parody 
of the Double as a convention of modern fiction, and a Double 
who formulates the horror in Humbert’s life. 

With the possible exception of Joyce, Nabokov is alone among 
modern writers in his ability to make parody and pathos converge 
and sometimes coincide. Joyce comes closest to this in Ulysses 
(1922), not in the coldly brilliant “Oxen of the Sun” section, but 
in the “Cyclops” episode in Barney Kiernan’s pub, which oscil- 
lates between parodic passages and a straightforward rendering of 
the dialogue and action; in the “Nausicaa” episode on the beach, 
which first projects Gerty MacDowell’s point of view in a style 
parodying sentimental ladies’ magazine fiction, and midway shifts 
to Bloom’s non-parodic stream-of-consciousness; and in parts of the 
“Hades” Nighttown section, especially the closing apparition of 
Bloom’s dead son, Rudy. Nabokov has gone beyond Joyce in de- 
veloping parody as a novelistic form, for in Lolita and Pale Fire, 
which are totally parodic in form and may be the finest comic nov- 
els since Ulysses, the parody and pathos are always congruent, 
rather than adjacent to one another — -as though the entire “Naus- 
icaa” or “Cyclops” episodes were cast as parody, without in any 
way diminishing our sense of Bloom’s suffering, or that Joyce had 
been able to express something of the humanity of Bloom or Mrs. 
Purefoy in the “Oxen of the Sun” tour de force. Nabokov has sum- 
marized in a phrase his triumph in Lolita and Pale Fire. Just before 
Humbert takes Lolita into their room at The Enchanted Hunters 
hotel in what is to be the most crucial event in his life, Humbert 
comments, “Parody of a hotel corridor. Parody of silence and 
death” (p. 121). To paraphrase Marianne Moore’s well-known line 
that poetry is “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” Nabo- 
kov’s “poem” is a parody of death with real suffering in it. With 
characteristic self-awareness, Nabokov defines in The Gift the es- 
sence of his own art: “The spirit of parody always goes along with 
genuine poetry.” 

This spirit in Nabokov represents not merely a set of techniques, 
bur, as suggested above, an attitude toward experience, a means of 
discovering the nature of experience. The Prismatic Bezel is aptly 

[ liv ] 

titled: a “bezel” is the sloping edge on a cutting tool or the oblique 
side of a gem, and the luminous bezel of Nabokov’s parody can cut 
in any direction, often turning in upon itself as self-parody. 

To stress the satiric (rather than parodic) elements of Lolita 
above all others is as limited a response as to stop short with its sex- 
ual content. “Sex as an institution, sex as a general notion, sex as a 
problem, sex as a platitude — all this is something I find too tedious 
for words,” Nabokov told an interviewer from Playboy, and his 
Cornell lectures on Joyce further indicate that he is not interested 
in sexual oddities for their own sake. On May lo, 1954, in his open- 
ing lecture on Ulysses (delivered, as it turns out, at the time he was 
completing Lolita), Nabokov said of Leopold Bloom, “Joyce in- 
tended the portrait of an ordinary person. [His] sexual deportment 
[is] extremely perverse . . . Bloom indulges in acts and dreams sub- 
normal in an evolutionary sense, affecting both individual and spe- 
cies. ... In Bloom’s (and Joyce’s) mind, the theme of sex is mixed 
with theme of latrine. Supposed to be ordinary citizen: mind of or- 
dinary citizen does not dwell where Bloom’s does. Sexual affairs 
heap indecency upon indecency . . .” Coming from the creator of 
Humbert Humbert, the fervent tone and the rather old-fashioned 
sense of normalcy may seem unexpected. On May 2 8, the last class 
of the term and concluding lecture on Joyce, he discussed the fl^ws 
in Ulysses, complaining that there is an “Obnoxious, overdone 
preoccupation with sex organs, as illustrated in Molly’s stream-of- 
consciousness. Perverse attitudes exhibited.” ^ In spite of the tran- 
scriptions in notebookese, one gets a firm idea of Nabokov’s atti- 
tude toward the explicit detailing of sexuality, and his remarks 
imply a good deal about his intentions in Lolita. The “nerves of 
the novel” revealed in the Afterword underscore these intentions 
by generalizing Humbert’s passion (p. 318). That the seemingly in- 
scrutable Nabokov would even write this essay, let alone reprint it 
in magazines and append it to the twenty-five translations of Lo- 
lita, surely suggests the dismay he must have felt to see how many 
readers, including some old friends, had taken the book solely on 
an erotic level. Those exposed “nerves” should make it clear that 
insofar as it has a definable subject, Lolita is not merely about pe- 

iprom the annotator’s class notes, 1953-1954. 

[ Iv ] 

dophilia. As Humbert says, rather than describing the details of the 
seduction at The Enchanted Hunters hotel, “Anybody can imagine 
those elements of animality. A greater endeavor lures me on: to fix 
once for all the perilous magic of nymphets” (p. 136). Humbert’s 
desires are those of a poet as well as a pervert, and not surprisingly, 
since they reflect, darkly, in a crooked enough mirror, the artistic 
desires of his creator. 

Humbert’s is a nightmare vision of the ineffable bliss variously 
sought by one Nabokov character after another. For a resonant 
summary phrase, one turns to Agaspher (1923), a verse drama 
written when Nabokov was twenty-four. An adaptation of the leg- 
end of the Wandering Jew, only its Prologue was published. Tor- 
mented by “dreams of earthly beauty,” Nabokov’s wanderer ex- 
claims, “I shall catch you / catch you, Maria my inexpressible 
dream / from age to age!” ^ Near the end of another early work, 
the novel King, Queen, Knave (1928), an itinerant photographer 
walks down the street, ignored by the crowd, “yelling into the 
wind: ‘The artist is coming! The divinely favored, der gottbegnad- 
ete artist is coming!’ ” — a yell that ironically refers to the novel’s 
unrealized artist, businessman Dreyer, and anticipates and an- 
nounces the arrival of such future avatars of the artist as the chess- 
player Luzhin in The Defense (1930), the butterfly collector Pil- 
gram in “The Aurelian” (1931), the daydreaming art dealer and 
critic Albinus Kretschmar in Laughter in the Dark (1932), the im- 
prisoned and doomed Cincinnatus in Invitation to a Beheading 
(1935-1936), who struggles to write, the inventor Salvator Waltz 
in The Waltz Invention (1938), and the philosopher Krug in Bend 
Sinister ( 1 947 ) , as well as poets manques such as Humbert Hum- 
bert in Lolita (1955), and such genuine yet only partially fulfilled 
artists as Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev in The Gift (1937-1938), 
Sebastian Knight in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941 ), and 
John Shade in Pale Fire (1962). When perceived by the reader, 
the involuted design of each novel reveals that these characters all 
exist in a universe of fiction arrayed around the consciousness of 
Vladimir Nabokov, the only artist of major stature who appears in 
Nabokov’s work. 

1 Translated and quoted by Andrew Field, op. cit., p. 79. 

[ Ivi ] 

Some readers, however, may feel that works that are in part 
about themselves are limited in range and significance, too special, 
too hermetic. But the creative process is fundamental; perhaps 
nothing is more personal by implication and hence more relevant 
than fictions concerning fiction; identity, after all, is a kind of 
artistic construct, however imperfect the created product. If the 
artist does indeed embody in himself and formulate in his work the 
fears and needs and desires of the race, then a “story” about his 
mastery of form, his triumph in art is but a heightened emblem of 
all of our own efforts to confront, order, and structure the chaos 
of life, and to endure, if not master, the demons within and around 
us. “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pig- 
ments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art,” says Humbert in the 
closing moments of Lolita, and he speaks for more than one of 
Nabokov’s characters. 

It was the major emigre poet and critic Vladislav Khodasevich 
who first pointed out, more than thirty years ago, that whatever 
their occupations may be, Nabokov’s protagonists represent the art- 
ist, and that Nabokov’s principal works in part concern the crea- 
tive process.^ Khodasevich died in 1939, and until recently, his crit- 
icism remained untranslated. If it had been available earlier, Nabo- 
kov’s English and American readers would have recognized his 
deep seriousness at a much earlier date. This is especially true of 
Lolita, where Nabokov’s constant theme is masked, but not ob- 
scured, by the novel’s ostensible subject, sexual perversion. But 
what may have been a brilliant formulation in the ’thirties should 
be evident enough by now, and not because so many other critics 
have said it of Nabokov, but rather because it has become a com- 
monplace of recent criticism to note that a work of art is about it- 
self (Wordsworth, Mallarme, Proust, Joyce, Yeats, Queneau, 
Borges, Barth, Claude Mauriac, Robbe-Grillet, Picasso, Saul Stein- 
berg, and Fellini’s great film, 8V2 — to name but a baker’s dozen). 
What is not so clear is how Nabokov’s artifice and strategies of in- 
volution reveal the “second plot” in his fiction, the “contiguous 

1 Vladislav Khodasevich, “On Sirin” (1937), translated by Michael H. Walker, 
edited by Simon Karlinsky and Robert P. Hughes, TriQuarterly , No. 17 (Win- 
ter 1970). 

[ Ivu ] 

world” of the author’s mind; what it has meant to that mind to 
have created a fictional world; and what the effect of those strate- 
gies is upon the reader, whose illicit involvement with that fiction 
constitutes a “third plot,” and who is manipulated by Nabokov’s 
dizzying illusionistic devices to such an extent that he too can be 
said to become, at certain moments, another of Vladimir Nabo- 
kov’s creations. 


Although Lolita has received much serious attention (see this edi- 
tion’s selected bibliography), the criticism which it has elicited 
usually forces a thesis which does not and in fact cannot accommo- 
date the total design of the novel. That intricate design, described 
in the Notes to this edition, makes Lolita one of the few supremely 
original novels of the century. It is difficult to imagine, say, that 
Lord ]im could have been achieved without the example of Henry 
James’s narrative strategies, or that The Sound and the Fury would 
be the same novel if Faulkner had not read Ulysses. But like The 
Castle, Remembrance of Things Past, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, 
and Pale Fire, Lolita is one of those transcendent works of the im- 
agination which defy the neat continuum maintained so carefully 
by literary historians. At most, it is one of those works which cre- 
ate their own precursors, to use Jorge Luis Borges’s winning 

Because Nabokov continually parodies the conventions of “real- 
istic” and “impressionistic” fiction, readers must accept or reject 
him on his own terms. Many of his novels become all but meaning- 
less in any other terms. At the same time, however, even Nabo- 
kov’s most ardent admirers must sometimes wonder about the 
smaller, more hermetic components of Nabokov’s artifice — the 
multifarious puns, allusions, and butterfly references which prolif- 
erate in novels such as Pale Fire and Lolita. Are they organic? Do 
they coalesce to form any meaningful pattern? Humbert’s wide- 
ranging literary allusions more than “challenge [our] scholarship,” 
as H.H. says of Quilty’s similar performance. Several of Humbert’s 

[ Iviii ] 

allusions are woven so subtly into the texture of the narrative as to 
elude all but the most compulsive exegetes. Many allusions, how- 
ever, are direct and available, and these are most frequently to nine- 
teenth-century writers; an early Note will suggest that this is of 
considerable importance. But unlike the allusions, which are some- 
times only a matter of fun, the patterned verbal cross references 
are always fundamental, defining a dimension of the novel that has 
escaped critical notice. 

The verbal figurae in Lolita limn the novel’s involuted design 
and establish the basis of its artifice. As indicated in the Foreword, 
no total interpretation of Lolita will be propounded here. The fol- 
lowing remarks on artifice and game are not intended to suggest 
that this “level” of the novel is the most important; they are offered 
because no one has yet recognized the magnitude of this verbal pat- 
terning, or its significance.^ Just as Nabokov’s Afterword was read 
in advance of the novel, so the following pages might well be re- 
read after the annotations, many of which they anticipate. 

Although Lolita is less dramatically anti-realistic than Pale Fire, 
in its own way it is as grandly labyrinthine and as much a work of 
artifice as that more ostentatiously tricky novel. This is not imme- 
diately apparent because Humbert is Nabokov’s most “humanized” 
character since Luzhin (1930), and Lolita the first novel since the 
early ’thirties in which “the end” remains intact. Moreover, Nabo- 
kov has said that “The Magician,” the 1939 story containing the 
central idea of Lolita, went unpublished not because of its subject 
matter but rather because “The little girl wasn’t alive. She hardly 
spoke. Little by little I managed to give her some semblance of real- 
ity.” It may seem anomalous for puppeteer Nabokov, creator of 
the sham worlds of Invitation to a Beheading and Bend Sinister, to 
worry this way about “reality” (with or without quotation 
marks) ; yet one extreme does not preclude the other in Nabokov, 
and the originality of Lolita derives from this very paradox. The 
puppet theater never collapses, but everywhere there are fissures, if 

1 1 have elsewhere discussed the novel as a novel, as well as an artifice; see my 
article “Lolita: The Springboard of Parody,” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary 
Literature, VIII (Spring 1967), 204-241. Reprinted in L.S. Dembo, ed., Nabokov: 
The Man and His Work (Madison, 1967), pp. 106-143. Especially see pp. 125-131 
and 139-141. 

C lix ] 

not gaps, in the structure, crisscrossing in intricate patterns and visi- 
ble to the discerning eye — that is, the eye trained on Nabokov fic- 
tions and thus accustomed to novelistic trompe-roeil. Lolita is a 
great novel to the same extent as Nabokov is able to have it both 
ways, involving the reader on the one hand in a deeply moving yet 
outrageously comic story, rich in verisimilitude, and on the other 
engaging him in a game made possible by the interlacings of verbal 
figurations which undermine the novel’s realistic base and distance 
the reader from its dappled surface, which then assumes the aspect 
of a gameboard (the figurations are detailed in the Notes). 

As a lecturer, Nabokov was a considerable Thespian, able to ma- 
nipulate audiences in a similar manner. His rehearsal of Gogol’s 
death agonies remains in one’s mind: how the hack doctors alter- 
nately bled him and purged him and plunged him into icy baths, 
Gogol so frail that his spine could be felt through his stomach, the 
six fat white bloodletting leeches clinging to his nose, Gogol beg- 
ging to have them removed — ''Please lift them, lift them, keep 
them awayP’’ — and, sinking behind the lectern, now a tub, Nabo- 
kov for several moments was Gogol, shuddering and shivering, his 
hands held down by a husky attendant, his head thrown back in 
pain and terror, nostrils distended, eyes shut, his beseechments fill- 
ing the large lecture hall. Even the sea of C-minuses in the back of 
the room could not help being moved. And then, after a pause, Na- 
bokov would very quietly say, in a sentence taken word-for-word 
from his Gogol, “Although the scene is unpleasant and has a 
human appeal which I deplore, it is necessary to dwell upon it a lit- 
tle longer in order to bring out the curiously physical side of Go- 
gol’s genius.” 

A great deal has been written about “unreliable narrators,” but 
too little about unreliable readers. Although editor John Ray, Jr., 
serves fair enough warning to those “old-fashioned readers who 
wish to follow the destinies of ‘real’ people beyond the ‘true 
story,’ ” virtually every “move” in the “true story” of Lolita seems 
to be structured with their predictable responses in mind; and the 
game-element depends on such reflexive action, for it tests the 
reader in so many ways. By calling out “Reader! Bruderl” (p. 
264), Humbert echoes Au Lecteur, the prefatory poem in Les 

[ lx ] 

Fleurs du mal (“Hypocrite reader! — My fellow man — My 
brother!”); and, indeed, the entire novel constitutes an ironic up- 
ending of Baudelaire and a good many other writers who would 
enlist the reader’s full participation in the work. “I want my 
learned readers to participate in the scene I am about to replay,” 
says Humbert (p. 59), but such illicit participation will find the 
reader in constant danger of check, or even rougher treatment: 
“As greater authors than L have put it: ‘Let readers imagine’ etc. 
On second thought, I may as well give those imaginations a kick in 
the pants” (p. 67). Humbert addresses the reader directly no less 
than twenty-seven times,^ drawing him into one trap after another. 
In Nabokov’s hands the novel thus becomes a gameboard on 
which, through parody, he assaults his readers’ worst assumptions, 
pretentions, and intellectual conventions, realizing and formulating 
through game his version of Flaubert’s dream of an E?icyclopedie 
des idees regues, a Dictionary of Accepted Ideas. 

“Satire is a lesson, parody is a game,” says Nabokov, and al- 
though the more obvious sallies in Lolita could be called satiric 
(e.g., those against Headmistress Pratt), the most telling are 
achieved through the games implemented by parody. By creating a 
surface that is rich in “psychological” clues, but which finally re- 

1 See pp. 6, 36, 50, 59, 67, 89, 98, 106, 131, 139, 141, 156, 159, 167, 169, 186, 192, 
205, 212, 218, 228, 249, 252, 255, 259, 260, and 287 — not to mention Humbert’s 
several interjections to the jury (p. 134 is typical), to mankind in general (“Human 
beings, attend!” [p. 126]), and to his car (“Hi, Melmoth, thanks a lot, old fellow” 
[p. 309]). One waxes statistical here because H.H.’s direct address is an im- 
portant part of the narrative, and important too in the way that it demonstrates 
a paradoxically new technique. In regard to literary forms and devices, there is 
almost nothing new under the sun (to paraphrase a poet); it is contexts and 
combinations that are continually being made new. One epoch’s realism is an- 
other’s surrealism. To the Elizabethan playgoer or the reader of Cervantes, the 
work-within-the-work was a convention; to an audience accustomed to nine- 
teenth-century realism, it is fantastic, perplexing, and strangely affecting. The 
same can be said of the reintroduction of “old-fashioned” direct address, revived 
and transmogrified at a moment in literary history when the post-Jamesian novel- 
ists seemed to have forever ruled out such self-conscious devices by refining the 
newer “impressionistic” conventions (the effaced narrator, the “central intelli- 
gence,” the consistent if “unreliable” narrative persona, and so forth). “This 
new technique is that of the deliberate anachronism,” writes J.L. Borges in “Pierre 
Menard, Author of the Quixote,'' an essential text on the subject (Labyrinths, 
p. 44); and cinematic equivalents are readily available in the work of the recent 
directors who have reintroduced silent film techniques (notably Frangois Truf- 
faut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Richard Lester). 

[ Ixi ] 

sists and then openly mocks the interpretations of depth psychol- 
ogy, Nabokov is able to dispatch any Freudians who choose to 
“play” in the blitzkrieg game that is the novel’s first sixty-or-so 
pages. The traps are baited with tempting “false scents” drawn 
from what Nabokov in Speak, Memory calls the “police state of 
sexual myth.” The synthetic incest of Humbert and Lolita seems 
to suggest a classical Oedipal situation, but Humbert later calls it a 
“parody of incest.” Nabokov further implies that the story works 
out the “transference” theory, whereby the daughter transfers her 
affections to another, similar man, but not her father, thus exorcis- 
ing her Oedipal tension. If Freudians have interpreted Lolita’s 
elopement with Quilty in this way, then they stop short in the hos- 
pital scene when Humbert says of the nurse, “I suppose Mary 
thought comedy father Professor Humbertoldi was interfering 
with the romance between Dolores and her father-substitute, roly- 
poly Romeo” (p. 245). The boyish qualities of a nymphet tempt 
the reader into interpreting Humbert’s quest as essentially homosex- 
ual, but we may be less absolute in our judgment and practice of 
pop psychoanalysis when Humbert tells how during one of his in- 
carcerations he trifled with psychiatrists, “teasing them with fake 
‘primal scenes.’ ” “By bribing a nurse I won access to some files and 
discovered, with glee, cards calling me ‘potentially homosexual’ ” 
(p. 36). If the clinical-minded have accepted Humbert’s explana- 
tion of the adolescent “trauma” which accounts for his pedophilia 
— interrupted coitus — then they should feel the force of the attack 
and their own form of loss when Lolita must leave Quilty’s play “a 
week before its natural climax” (p. 21 1). Humbert’s “trauma” af- 
fords a further trap for the clinical mind, for the incident seems to 
be a sly Active transmutation of Nabokov’s own considerably more 
innocent childhood infatuation with Colette (Chapter Seven, 
Speak, Memory')-, and such hints as the butterfly and the Carmen 
allusions shared by that chapter and Lolita only reinforce the more 
obvious similarities. When earnest readers, nurtured on the “stan- 
dardized symbols of the psychoanalytic racket” (p. 287), leap to 
make the association between the two episodes — as several have 
done— and immediately conclude that Lolita is autobiographical in 
the most literal sense, then the trap has been sprung: their wan- 

[ Ixii ] 

tonly reductive gesture justifies the need for just such a parody as 
Nabokov’s. With a cold literary perversity, Nabokov has demon- 
strated the falseness of their “truth”; the implications are consider- 
able. Even the exegetic act of searching for the “meaning” of Lo- 
lita by trying to unfold the butterfly pattern becomes a parody of 
the expectations of the most sophisticated reader, who finds he is 
chasing a mocking inversion of the “normal” Freudian direction of 
symbols which, once identified, may still remain mysterious, ex- 
plain very little, or, like the game of Word Golf in Pale Fire, re- 
veal nothing. 

Until almost the end of Lolita, Humbert’s fullest expressions of 
“guilt” and “grief” are qualified, if not undercut completely, and 
these passages represent another series of traps in which Nabokov 
again parodies the reader’s expectations by having Humbert the 
penitent say what the reader wants to hear: “I was a pentapod 
monster, but I loved you. I was despicable and brutal, and turpid, 
and everything” (p. 286). Eagerly absorbing Humbert’s “confes- 
sion,” the reader suddenly stumbles over the rare word “turpid,” 
and then is taken unawares by the silly catchall “and everything,” 
which renders absurd the whole cluster, if not the reader. It is easy 
to confess, but the moral vocabulary we employ so readily may go 
no deeper than Humbert’s parody of it. 

Humbert’s own moral vocabulary would seem to find an ideally 
expressive vehicle in the person of Clare Quilty. Throughout the 
narrative Humbert is literally and figuratively pursued by Quilty, 
who is by turns ludicrous and absurd, sinister and grotesque. For a 
while Humbert is certain that his “shadow” and nemesis is his Swiss 
cousin, Detective Trapp, and when Lolita agrees and says, “Per- 
haps he is Trapp,” she is summarizing Quilty’s role in the novel 
(p. 221). Quilty is so ubiquitous because he formulates Humbert’s 
entrapment, his criminal passion, his sense of shame and self-hate. 
Yet Quilty embodies both “the truth and a caricature of it,” for he 
is at once a projection of Humbert’s guilt and a parody of the psy- 
chological Double; “Lolita was playing a double game,” says 
Humbert (p. 245), punningly referring to Lolita’s tennis, the Dop- 
pelgdnger parody, and the function of parody as game. 

The Double motif figures prominently throughout Nabokov, 

[ Ixiii ] 

from the early ’thirties in Despair and Laughter in the Dark 
(where the Albinus-Axel Rex pairing rehearses the Humbert- 
Quilty doubling), to The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and on 
through Bend Sinister, the story “Scenes from the Life of a Double 
Monster,” Lolita, Pnin, and Pale Fire, which offers a monumental 
doubling (or, more properly, tripling). It is probably the most in- 
tricate and profound of all Doppelgdnger novels, written at pre- 
cisely the time when it seemed that the Double theme had been ex- 
hausted in modern literature, and this achievement was very likely 
made possible by Nabokov’s elaborate parody of the theme in Lo- 
lita, which renewed his sense of the artistic efficacy of another liter- 
ary “thing which had once been fresh and bright but which was 
now worn to a thread” {Sebastian Knight, p. 91). 

By making Clare Quilty too clearly guilty, ‘ Nabokov is assault- 
ing the convention of the good and evil “dual selves” found in the 
traditional Double tale. Humbert would let some of us believe that 
when he kills Quilty in Chapter Thirty-five, Part Two, the good 
poet has exorcised the bad monster, but the two are finally not to 
be clearly distinguished: when Humbert and Quilty wrestle, “I 
rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We 
rolled over us.” Although the parody culminates in this “silent, 
soft, formless tussle on the part of two literati” (p. 301), it is sus- 
tained throughout the novel. In traditional Doppelgdnger fiction 
the Double representing the reprehensible self is often described as 
an ape. In Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (1871), Stavrogin tells Ver- 
khovensky, “you’re my ape”; in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. 
Hyde (1886), Hyde plays “apelike tricks,” attacks and kills with 
“apelike fury” and “apelike spite”; and in Poe’s “The Murders in 
the Rue Morgue” (1845), the criminal self is literally an ape. But 
“good” Humbert undermines the doubling by often calling himself 
an ape, rather than Quilty, and when the two face one another, 
Quilty also calls Humbert an ape. This transference is forcefully 
underscored when Humbert refers to himself as running along like 
“Mr. Hyde,” his “talons still tingling” (p. 208). In Conrad’s Heart 
of Darkness (1902), Kurtz is Marlow’s “shadow” and “shade.” Al- 
though Humbert calls Quilty his “shadow,” the pun on Humbert’s 

1 The pun is also pointed out by Page Stegner in Escape into Aesthetics: The 
Art of Vladimir Nabokov (New York, 1966), p. 104. 

[ Ixiv ] 

name {ombre = shadow) suggests that he is as much a shadow as 
Quilty, and like the shadow self who pursues the professor in Hans 
Christian Andersen’s “The Shadow” (1850), Humbert is dressed 
all in black. Quilty in fact first regards Humbert as possibly being 
“some familiar and innocuous hallucination” of his own (p. 296); 
and in the novel’s closing moments the masked narrator addresses 
Lolita and completes this transferral: “And do not pity C.Q. One 
had to choose between him and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to 
exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you 
live in the minds of later generations.” The book might have been 
told by “C.Q.,” the doubling reversed; “H.H.” is simply a better 
artist, more likely to possess the “secret of durable pigments.” 

If the Humbert-Quilty doubling is a conscious parody of “Wil- 
liam Wilson” (1839), it is with good reason, for Poe’s story is un- 
usual among Doppelgmger tales in that it presents a reversal of the 
conventional situation: the weak and evil self is the main character, 
pursued by the moral self, whom he kills. Nabokov goes further 
and with one vertiginous sweep stands the convention on its head: 
in terms of the nineteenth-century Double tale, it should not even 
be necessary to kill Quilty and what he represents, for Humbert 
has already declared his love for Lolita bejore he goes to Quilty’s 
Pavor Manor, and, in asking the no longer nymphic Lolita to go 
away with him, he has transcended his obsession. Although Hum- 
bert’s unqualified expression of “guilt” (p. 310) comes at the end 
of the novel, in the chronology of events it too occurs before he 
kills Quilty. As a “symbolic” act, the killing is gratuitous; the par- 
odic design is complete. 

Quilty rightly balks at his symbolic role: “I’m not responsible 
for the rapes of others. Absurd!” he tells Humbert, and his words 
are well taken, for in this scene Humbert is trying to make him to- 
tally responsible, and the poem which he has Quilty read aloud 
reinforces his effort, and again demonstrates how a Nabokov par- 
ody moves beyond the “obscure fun” of stylistic imitation to con- 
nect with the most serious region of the book. It begins as a parody 
of Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” but ends by undercutting all the con- 
fessing in which “remorseful” Humbert has just been engaged: 
“because of all you did / because of all I did not / you have to die” 
(p. 302). Since Quilty has been described as “the American Mae- 

[ bcv ] 

terlinck,” it goes without saying that his ensuing death scene 
should be extravagantly “symbolic.” Because one is not easily rid 
of an “evil” self, Quilty, indomitable as Rasputin, is almost impossi- 
ble to kill; but the idea of exorcism is rendered absurd by his com- 
ically prolonged death throes, which, in the spirit of Canto V of 
The Rape of the Lock, burlesque the gore and rhetoric of literary 
death scenes ranging from the Elizabethan drama to the worst of 
detective novels. Quilty returns to the scene of the crime — a bed — 
and it is here that Humbert finally corners him. When Humbert 
fires his remaining bullets at close range, Quilty “lay back, and a 
big pink bubble with juvenile connotations formed on his lips, 
grew to the size of a toy balloon, and vanished” (p. 306). The last 
details emphasize the mock-symbolic association with Lolita; the 
monstrous self that has devoured Lolita, bubble gum, childhood, 
and all, is “symbolically” dead, but as the bubble explodes, so does 
the Gothic Doppelganger convention, with all its own “juvenile 
connotations” about identity, and we learn shortly that Humbert is 
still “all covered with Quilty.” Guilt is not to be exorcised so readi- 
ly — McFate is McFate, to coin a Humbertism — and the ambiguities 
of human experience and identity are not to be reduced to mere 
“dualities.” Instead of the successful integration of a neatly divisible 
self, we are left with “Clare Obscure” and “quilted Quilty,” the 
patchwork self (p. 308). Quilty refuses to die, just as the recap- 
tured nose in Gogol’s extraordinary Double story of that name 
(1836) would not at first stick to its owner’s face. The reader who 
has expected the solemn moral-ethical absolutes of a Poe, Dostoev- 
sky, Mann, or Conrad Doppelganger fiction instead discovers him- 
self adrift in a fantastic, comic cosmos more akin to Gogol’s. Hav- 
ing hoped that Humbert would master his “secret sharer,” we find 
instead that his quest for his “slippery self” figuratively resembles 
Major Kovaliov’s frantic chase after his own nose through the spec- 
tral streets of St. Petersburg, and that Humbert’s “quest” has its 
mock “ending” in a final confrontation that, like the end of “The 
Overcoat” (1842), is not a confrontation at all. 

The parodic references to R.L. Stevenson suggest that Nabokov 
had in mind Henry Jekyll’s painfully earnest discovery of the 
“truth” that “man is not only one, but truly two. I say two, be- 
cause the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that 

[ Ixvi ] 

point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same 
lines.” The “serial selves” of Pale Fire “outstrip” Stevenson and a 
good many other writers, and rather than undermining Humbert’s 
guilt, the Double parody in Lolita locks Humbert within that 
prison of mirrors where the “real self” and its masks blend into one 
another, the refracted outlines of good and evil becoming terrify- 
ingly confused. 

Humbert’s search for the whereabouts and identity of Detective 
Trapp (Quilty) invites the reader to wend his way through a laby- 
rinth of clues in order to solve this mystery, a process which both 
parallels and parodies the Poe “tale of ratiocination.” When Hum- 
bert finds Lolita and presses her for her abductor’s name. 

She said really it was useless, she would never tell, but on the 
other hand, after all — “Do you really want to know who it was? 
Well it was — ” 

And softly, confidentially, arching her thin eyebrows and puck- 
ering her parched lips, she emitted, a little mockingly, somewhat 
fastidiously, not untenderly, in a kind of muted whistle, the name 
that the asmte reader has guessed long ago. 

Waterproof. Why did a flash from Hourglass Lake cross my 
consciousness? I, too, had known it, without knowing it, all along. 
There was no shock, no surprise. Quietly the fusion took place, 
and evervthing fell into order, into the pattern of branches that 
I have woven throughout this memoir with the express purpose of 
having the ripe fruit fall at the right moment; yes, with the ex- 
press and perverse purpose of rendering — she was talking but I 
sat melting in my golden peace — of rendering that golden and 
monstrous peace through the satisfaction of logical recognition, 
which my most inimical reader should experience now. (pp. 273- 


Even here Humbert withholds Quilty’s identity, though the “astute 
reader” may recognize that “Waterproof” is a clue which leads 
back to an early scene at the lake, in which Charlotte had said that 
Humbert’s watch was waterproof and Jean Farlow had alluded to 
Quilty’s Uncle Ivor (by his first name only), and then had almost 
mentioned Clare Quilty by name: Ivor “told me a completely inde- 
cent story about his nephew. It appears — ” But she is interrupted 
and the chapter ends (p. 91 ). This teasing exercise in ratiocination — 
“peace” indeed! — is the detective trap, another parody of the read- 
er’s assumptions and expectations, as though even the most astute 

[ Ixvii ] 

reader could ever fully discover the identity of Quilty, Humbert, 
or of himself. 

Provided with Quilty’s name, Humbert now makes his way to 
Pavor Manor, that latter-day House of Usher, where the extended 
and variegated parodies of Poe are laid to rest. All the novel’s par- 
odic themes are concluded in this chapter. Its importance is tele- 
scoped by Humbert’s conclusion: “This, I said to myself, was the 
end of the ingenious play staged for me by Quilty” (p. 307). In 
form, of course, this bravura set piece is not a play; but, as a sum- 
mary parodic commentary on the main action, it does function in 
the manner of an Elizabethan play-within-the-play, and its “stag- 
ing” underscores once more the game-element central to the book. 

Simultaneous with these games is a fully novelistic process that 
shows Humbert traveling much further than the 27,000 miles he 
and Lolita literally traverse. Foolish John Ray describes Humbert’s 
as “a tragic tale tending unswervingly to nothing less than a moral 
apotheosis” (p. 7) and, amazingly enough, he turns out to be right. 
The reader sees Humbert move beyond his obsessional passion to a 
not altogether straightforward declaration of genuine love (pp. 
279^280) and, finally, to a realization of the loss suffered not by 
him but by Lolita (pp. 309-310). It is expressed on the next to 
the last page in a long and eloquent passage that, for the first time 
in the novel, is in no way undercut by parody or qualified by 
irony. Midway through this “last mirage of wonder and hopeless- 
ness,” the reader is invoked again, because Humbert’s moral apoth- 
eosis, so uniquely straightforward, constitutes the end game and 
Nabokov’s final trompe-roeil. If the reader has long since decided 
that there is no “moral reality” in the novel, and in his sophisticated 
way has accepted that, he may well miss this unexpected move in 
the farthest corner of the board and lose the game after all. It is the 
last time the reader will be addressed directly, for the game is about 
over, as is the novel. 

In addition to sustaining the game-element, the authorial pattern- 
ing reminds us that Lolita is but one part of that universe of fiction 
arrayed around the consciousness of Nabokov, who would join 
Humbert in his lament that words do indeed have their limitations, 
and that “the past is the past”; to live in it, as Humbert tried, is to 
die. That the author of Speak, Memory should suggest this surely 
[ Ixviii ] 

establishes the moral dimension of Lolita; and in the light of Johan 
Huizinga’s remark that “Play is outside the range of good and 
bad,” ^ Lolita becomes an even more extraordinary achievement. 

When in The Gift Nabokov writes of Fyodor’s poem, “At the 
same time he had to take great pains not to lose either his control 
of the game, or the viewpoint of the plaything,” he is defining the 
difficulties he faced in writing novels whose full meaning depends 
on the reader’s having a spatial view of the book. It should be evi- 
dent by now how the parody and patterning create the distance 
necessary for a clear view of the “plaything,” and Nabokov rein- 
forces one’s sense of the novel-as-garneboard by having an actual 
game in progress within Lolita: the seemingly continuous match 
between Humbert and Gaston Godin — -a localized, foreground ac- 
tion which in turn telescopes both the Humbert-Quilty “Double 
game” being played back and forth across the gameboard of Amer- 
ica and the overriding contest waged above the novel, between the 
author and the reader.^ 

1 Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Flay Element in Culture 
(Boston, 1955 [ist ed. 1944]), p. ii. An excellent introduction to Nabokov, even 
if he is not mentioned. 

2 This aspect of Lolita is nicely visualized in Tenniel’s drawing of a landscaped 
chessboard (or chessbored landscape) for Chapter Two of Lewis Carroll’s 
Through the Looking-Glass, in which a chess game is literally woven into the 
narrative. For more on Carroll and Nabokov, see Note 13 3/1. 

[ Ixix ] 

Humbert and Gaston play chess “two or three times weekly” in 
Humbert’s study, and several times Nabokov carefully links Lolita 
with the Queen in their game (pp. 184-185). One evening while 
they are playing, Humbert gets a telephone call from Lolita’s 
music teacher informing him that Lolita has again missed her lesson, 
the boldest lie he has caught her in, indicating that he is soon to lose 

As the reader may well imagine, my faculties were now impaired, 
and a move or two later, with Gaston to play, I noticed through 
the film of my general distress that he could collect my queen; 
he noticed it too, but thinking it might be a trap on the part of 
his tricky opponent, he demurred for quite a minute, and puffed 
and wheezed, and shook his jowls, and even shot furtive glances 
at me, and made hesitating half-thrusts with his pudgUy bunched 
fingers — dying to take that juicy queen and not daring — and all 
of a sudden he swooped down upon it (who knows if it did not 
teach him certain later audacities?), and I spent a dreary hour in 
achieving a draw. (pp. 204-205) 

In their respective ways, all the players want to capture “that 
juicy queen”: poor homosexual Gaston, quite literally; pornogra- 
pher Quilty, for only one purpose; pervert and poet Humbert, in 
two ways, first carnally but then artistically, out of love; and the 
common reader, who would either rescue Lolita by judging and 
condemning Humbert, or else participate vicariously, which would 
make him of Quilty’s party — though there is every reason to think 
that the attentive reader will sooner or later share Humbert’s 
perspective: “In my chess sessions with Gaston I saw the board as a 
square pool of limpid water with rare shells and stratagems rosily 
visible upon the smooth tessellated bottom, which to my confused 
adversary was all ooze and squid-cloud” (p. 235). 

Humbert is being too modest at the outset of Lolita when he 
says “it is only a game,” for it is one in which everything on the 
board “breath [es] with life,” as Nabokov writes of the match be- 
tween Luzhin and Turati in The Defense. Radical and dizzying 
shifts in focus are created in the reader’s mind as he oscillates be- 
tween a sense that he is by turns confronting characters in a novel 
and pieces in a game — as if a telescope were being spun 360 degrees 

[ Ixx ] 

on its axis, allowing one to look alternately through one end and 
then the other. The various “levels” of Lolita are of course not the 
New Criticism’s “levels of meaning,” for the telescopic and global 
views of the “plaything” should enable one to perceive these levels 
or dimensions as instantaneous — as though, to adapt freely an image 
used by Mary McCarthy to describe Pale Fire, one were looking 
down on three or more games being played simultaneously by two 
chess masters on several separate glass boards, each arranged succes- 
sively above the other. ^ A first reading of Lolita rarely affords this 
limpid, multiform view, and for many reasons, the initially disarm- 
ing and distractive quality of its ostensible subject being foremost. 
But the uniquely exhilarating experience of rereading it on its own 
terms derives from the discovery of a totally new book in place of 
the old, and the recognition that its habit of metamorphosis has 
happily described the course of one’s own perceptions. What Jorge 
Luis Borges says of Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote, surely 
holds for Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita: he “has en- 
riched, by means of a new technique, the halting and rudimentary 
art of reading.” ^ 

Alfred Appel, Jr. 

Palo Alto, California 
January 5/, 1^68 

1 Mary McCarthy, “Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire," Encounter, XIX (October 
1962), p. 76. 

2 Borges, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," op. cit., p. 44. 

[ Ixxi ] 




*Denotes a Russian work that has been translated; date following a title 
indicates year of magazine serialization; parentheses contain date of trans- 
lation into English. 

**Denotes work written in English. No asterisk indicates work is in Russian. 
Not included below are Nabokov's twenty major entomological papers in 
English, nor the vast amount of writing that remains untranslated and un- 
collected from the 'twenties and 'thirties, including approximately too 
poems, seven plays, several short stories, fifty literary reviews and essays, 
and numerous translations of Rimbaud, Verlaine, Yeats, Brooke, Shake- 
speare, Musset, and others. Andrew Field's Nabokov: His Life in Art 
(Boston, contains a comprehensive bibliography. 

Poems. St. Petersburg, 1916. 67 poems, privately printed. 

Two Paths. Petrograd, 1918. 12 poems by Nabokov and 8 by Andrei Bala- 

The Empyrean Path. Berlin, 1923. 147 poems. 

The Cluster. Berlin, 1923. 35 poems. 

Carroll. Alice in Wonderland. Berlin, 1923. Translation. 

Mashenka. Berlin, 1926 (New York, 1970, as Mary). A novel. 

*Kmg, Queen, Knave. Berlin, 1928 (New York, 1968). New York, 1969, 
a facsimile of the Russian first edition. A novel. 

*The Defense. 1929. Berlin, 1930 (New York, 1964). A novel. 

[ Ixxii ] 

The Return of Chorb: Stories and Poems. Berlin, 1930. 15 stories and 24 
poems dated 1924-1928. 

*The Eye. 1930 (New York, 1965). A short novel. 

The Exploit. 1931. Paris, 1932 (New York, 1971, as Glory). A novel. 

*Camera Obscura. Paris and Berlin, 1932 (London, 1936; rev.. New York, 
1938, as Laughter in the Dark). A novel. 

*Despair. 1934. Berlin, 1936 (London, 1937; rev.. New York, 1966). A 

*Invitation to a Beheading. 1935-1936. Berlin and Paris, 1938 (New York, 
1959). Paris, 1966, a reprint of the Russian edition. A novel. 

*The Gift. 1937-1938. New York, 1952, in Russian (New York, 1963). A 

The Eye. Paris, 1938. Short novel and 12 stories. 

The Event. 1938. Drama in 3 acts. 

*The Waltz Invention. 1938 (New York, 1966). Drama in 3 acts. 

Solus Rex. An unfinished novel. Sections published, 1940 and 1942. 

**The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. Norfolk, Conn., 1941. A novel. 

**Three Russian Poets: Translations of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Tiutchev. 
Norfolk, Conn., 1944. 

**Nikolai Gogol. Norfolk, Conn., 1944. A critical study. 

**Nine Stories. Norfolk, Conn., 1947. 4 are translated from the Russian. 

**Bend Sinister. New York, 1947. A novel. 

**Conclusive Evidence. New York, 1951. A memoir. 

Poems ipzp-ipyi. Paris, 1952, in Russian. 15 poems. 

Other Shores. New York, 1954. A Russian version of Conclusive Evidence, 
rewritten and expanded rather than translated. 

**Lolita. Paris, 1955 (New York, 1958). A novel. 

Spring in Fialta and Other Stories. New York, 1956, in Russian. 13 stories, 
4 of which have been translated into English elsewhere. 

**Pnin. New York, 1957. A novel. 

**Lermontov. A Hero of Our Time. New York, 1958. A translation. 

**Nabokov^s Dozen. New York, 1958. Nine Stories and 4 more. 

**Poems. New York, 1959. 14 poems. 

** Lolita. Hollywood, 1960. An unpublished screenplay. 

**The Song of IgoPs Campaign. New York, i960. A translation of the 
twelfth-century epic. 

[ Ixxiii ] 

**Pale Fire. New York, 1962. A novel. 

**Pushkin, Eugene Onegin. New York, 1964. Translation and Commentary 
in 4 volumes, 

* Nabokov's Quartet. New York, 1966. One story was originally written in 

**Speak, Memory. New York, 1966. Definitive version of memoir originally 
published as Conclusive Evidence, including Other Shores and new ma- 

Lolita. New York, 1967. A translation into Russian. 

**Nabokov's Congeries, Page Stegner, ed. New York, 1968. An anthology. 

**Ada. New York, 1969. A novel. 

**The Annotated Lolita. New York, 1970. Alfred Appel, Jr., Preface, In- 
troduction, and Notes. 

* Poems and Problems. New York, 1971. Includes text of Poems, translations 
of Russian poems, and chess problems. 


Aldridge, A. Owen, “Lolita and Les Liaisons Danger euses," Wisconsin 
Studies in Contemporary Literature, II (Fall 1961), 20-26. 

Amis, Kingsley, “She Was a Child and I Was a Child,” The Spectator, 
No. 6854 (November 6, 1959), 635-636. 

Appel, Alfred, Jr., “An Interview with Vladimir Nabokov,” in the Special 
all-Nabokov number, Wisconsin Studies, VIII (Spring 1967), 127-152. 
Reprinted in L. S. Dembo, ed., Nabokov: The Man and His Work. Mad- 
ison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967. Pp. 19-44. 

— , “The Art of Nabokov’s Artifice,” Denver Quarterly, III (Summer 

1968), 25-37. 

, “Lolita: The Springboard of Parody,” Wisconsin Studies, op. cit., 

204-241. Reprinted in Dembo. Pp. 106-143. 

Brenner, Conrad, “Nabokov: The Art of the Perverse,” New Republic, 
CXXXVIII (June 23, 1958), 18-21. 

Bryer, Jackson R. and Thomas J. Bergin, Jr., “Vladimir Nabokov’s Criti- 
cal Reputation in English: A Note and a Checklist, Wisconsin Studies, 
op. cit., 312-364. Reprinted in Dembo, op. cit. Pp. 225-274. 

Butler, Diana, “Lolita Lepidoptera,” New World Writing, No. 16 (1960), 

[ Ixxiv ] 

Dupee, F.W., “Lolita in America,” Encounter, XII (February 1959), 30- 
35. Reprinted in Columbia University Forum, II (Winter 1959), 35-39- 

, “A Preface to Lolita," Anchor Review, No. 2 (1957), 1-13. Re- 
printed in his “The King of the Cats" and Other Remarks on Writers 
and Writing. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965. Pp. 117-141. 
Includes review of The Gift. 

Fiedler, Leslie A., “The Profanation of the Child,” New Leader, XLI 
(June 23, 1958), 26-29. 

Field, Andrew, Nabokov: His Life in Art. Boston: Little, Brown, 1967. 

Pp- 323-351- 

Girodias, Maurice, “Lolita, Nabokov, and I,” Evergreen Review, IX (Sep- 
tember 1965), 44-47, 89-91. Account of first publication of Lolita; for 
Nabokov’s rejoinder, see “Lolita and Mr. Girodias,” Evergreen Review, 
XI (February 1967), 37-41. 

Gold, Herbert, “The Art of Fiction XL: Vladimir Nabokov, An Inter- 
view,” Paris Review, No. 41 (Summer-Fall 1967), 92-1 ii. 

Green, Martin, “The Morality of Lolita," Kenyon Review, XXVIII (June 
1966), 352-377. 

Hicks, Granville, “ ‘Lolita’ and Her Problems,” Saturday Review, XLI 
(August 16, 1958), 12, 38. 

Hollander, John, “The Perilous Magic of Nymphets,” Partisan Review, 
XXIII (Fall 1956), 557-560. Reprinted in Richard Kostelanetz, ed.. On 
Contemporary Literature. New York: Avon Books, 1964. Pp. 477-480. 

Josipovici, G.D., “Lolita: Parody and the Pursuit of Beauty,” Critical 
Quarterly, VI (Spring 1964), 35-48. 

Kael, Pauline, “Lolita,” in 7 Lost It at the Movies. New York; Bantam 
Books, 1966. Pp. 183-188. Reprinted in Andrew Sarris, ed., The Film. 
Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968. Pp. 11-14. The most 
interesting review of the film version of Lolita. 

Meyer, Frank S., “The Strange Fate of ‘Lolita’ — A Lance into Cotton 
Wool,” National Review, VI (November 22, 1958), 340-341. 

Mitchell, Charles, “Mythic Seriousness in Lolita," Texas Studies in Litera- 
ture and Language, V (Autumn 1963), 329-343. 

Nemerov, Howard, “The Morality of Art,” Kenyon Review, XIX (Spring 
1957)1 3 i 3 “ 3 Hi 316-321. Reprinted in his Poetry and Fiction: Essays. 
New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1963. Pp. 260-269. 

Phillips, Elizabeth, “The Hocus-Pocus of Lolita," Literature and Psychol- 
ogy, X (Summer i960), 97-101. 

[ Ixxv ] 

’’'‘Playboy Interview: Vladimir Nabokov,” Playboy, XI (January 1964), 
35-41, 44-45. Reprinted in The Twelfth Anniversary Playboy Reader. 
Chicago: Playboy Press, 1965. 

Prescott, Orville, “Books of The Times,” New York Times, August 18, 
1958, p. 17. 

Proffer, Carl R., Keys to Lolita. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 

Rougemont, Denis de, "Lolita, or Scandal.” In Love Declared — Essays on 
the Myths of Love, tr. Richard Howard. New York: Pantheon Books, 

1963. Pp. 48-54. 

Schickel, Richard, “Nabokov’s Artistry,” The Progressive, XXII (Novem- 
ber 1958), 46, 48-49. 

, “A Review of a Novel You Can’t Buy,” The Reporter, XVII 

(November 28, 1957), 45-47. 

Smith, Peter Duval, “Vladimir Nabokov on His Life and Work,” The 
Listener, LXVIII (November 22, 1962), 856-858. Text of BBC tele- 
vision interview. Reprinted in Vogue, CXLI (March i, 1963), 152-155. 
Stegner, Page, Escape into Aesthetics: The Art of Vladimir Nabokov. 

New York: Dial Press, 1966. Pp. 102-115. 

Trilling, Lionel, “The Last Lover — Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita,’ ” Grif- 
fin, VII (August 1958), 4-21. Reprinted in Encounter, XI (October 
1958), 9-19. 

West, Rebecca, “ ‘Lolita’: A Tragic Book with a Sly Grimace,” London 
Sunday Times, November 8, 1959, p. 16. 

[ Ixxvi ] 


Shade’s poem is, indeed, that sudden flourish of magic: my gray- 
haired friend, my beloved old conjurer, put a pack of index cards 
into his hat — and shook out a poem. 

To this poem we now must turn. My Foreword has been, I trust, 
not too skimpy. Other notes, arranged in a running commentary, 
will certainly satisfy the most voracious reader. Although those 
notes, in conformity with custom, come after the poem, the reader 
is advised to consult them first and then study the poem with their 
help, rereading them of course as he goes through its text, and per- 
haps, after having done with the poem, consulting them a third 
time so as to complete the picture. I find it wise in such cases as this 
to eliminate the bother of back-and-forth leafings by either cutting 
out and clipping together the pages with the text of the thing, or, 
even more simply, purchasing two copies of the same work which 
can then be placed in adjacent positions on a comfortable table — 
not like the shaky little affair on which my typewriter is precari- 
ously enthroned now, in this wretched motor lodge, with that car- 
rousel inside and outside my head, miles away from New Wye. 
Let me state that without my notes Shade’s text simply has no 
human reality at all since the human reality of such a poem as his 
(being too skittish and reticent for an autobiographical work), 
with the omission of many pithy lines carelessly rejected by him, 
has to depend entirely on the reality of its author and his surround- 
ings, attachments and so forth, a reality that only my notes can 
provide. To this statement my dear poet would probably not have 
subscribed, but, for better or worse, it is the commentator who has 
the last word. 

■Charles Kinbote, Pale Fire 



“Lolita, or the Concession of a White Widowed Male,” 
such were the two titles under which the writer of the present i 
note received the strange pages it preambulates. “Humbert 2 
Humbert” their author, had died in legal captivity, of coronary 3 
thrombosis, on November i 6 , i^y2, a few days before his trial 
was scheduled to start. His lawyer, my good friend and relation, 
Clarence Choate Clark, Esq., now of the District of Columbia 
bar, in asking me to edit the manuscript, based his request on a 
clause in his client’s will which empowered my eminent cousin 
to use his discretion in all matters pertaining to the preparation 
of “Lolita” for print. Mr. Clark’s decision may have been 
influenced by the fact that the editor of his choice had just been 
awarded the Poling Prize for a modest work (“Do the Senses 
tnake Sense?”) wherein certain morbid states and perversions 
had been discussed. 

My task proved simpler than either of us had anticipated. 
Save for the correction of obvious solecmns and a careful sup- 4 
pression of a few tenacious details that despite “H.H.” ’s own 
efforts still subsisted in his text as signposts and tombstones 
(indicative of places or persons that taste would conceal and 
compassion spare), this remarkable memoir is presented intact. 5 
Its author’s bizarre cognomen is his own invention; and, of 6 
course, this mask— through which two hypnotic eyes seem to 7 

glow-had to remain unlifted in accordance with its wearer’s 8 
wish. While “Haze” only rhymes with the heroine’s real sur- 

[ 5 ] 

name^ her first name is too closely interwound with the inmost 
fiber of the book to allow one to alter it; nor {as the reader will 
perceive for himself) is there any practical necessity to do so. 
References to “//.H.” ’’s crime may be looked up by the 
inquisitive in the daily papers for September-October 19^2; its 
cause and purpose would have continued to remain a complete 
mystery., had not this memoir been per?nitted to come under 
my reading lamp. 

For the benefit of old-fashioned readers who wish to follow 
the destinies of the ^^rear people beyo?id the "'true''’ story, a 
few details may be given as received from Mr. "Windntullerfi’ 
of "Ramsdale," who desires his identity suppressed so that "the 
long shadow of this sorry and sordid business’’’’ should not reach 
the community to which he is proud to belong. His daughter, 
"Louise,’’’ is by now a college sophomore. "Mona Dahl" is a 
student in Paris. "Rita" has recently married the proprietor of a 
hotel m Florida. Mrs. "Richard F. Schiller" died in childbed, 
giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day ipya, ‘in Gray 
Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest. "Vivian Dark- 
bloom" has written a biography, "My Cue," to be published 
shortly, and critics who have perused the manuscript call it her 
best book. The caretakers of the various cemeteries involved 
report that no ghosts walk. 

Viewed simply as a novel, "Lolita" deals with situations and 
emotions that would remain exasperatingly vague to the reader 
had their expression been etiolated by means of platitudinous 
evasions. True, not a single obscene tertn is to be found in the 
whole work; indeed, the robust philistine who is conditioned by 
modern conventions ‘into accepting without qualms a lavish 
array of four-letter words in a banal novel, will be quite shocked 
by their absence here. If, however, for this paradoxical prude's 
comfort, an editor attempted to dilute or omit scenes that a 
certain type of mind might call "aphrodisiac" {see in this 
respect the monumental decision rendered December 6, ipqq, 
by Hon. John M. Woolsey in regard to another, considerably 
more outspoken, book), one would have to forego the publication 
of "Lolita" altogether, since those very scenes that one might 

[ 6 ] 

ineptly accuse of a sensuous existence of their own, are the most 
strictly functional ones in the development of a tragic tale tend= 
ing unswervingly to nothing less than a moral apotheosis. The i 
cytiic may say that commercial pornography makes the same 
clahn; the learned may counter by asserting that “H.H.” 's im- 
passioned confession is a tempest in a test tube; that at least 
12 % of American adult males— -a ‘’^conservative’’’’ estimate ac- 2 
cording to Dr. Blanche Schwarzmann {verbal communication) 3 
—enjoy yearly, in one way or another, the special experience 
“H.H.” describes with such despair; that had our demented 
diarist gone, in the fatal summer of ip4'l, to a competent psycho- 
pathologist, there would have been no disaster; but then, neither 
would there have been this book. 

This conmientator may be excused for repeating what he 
has stressed in his own books and lectures, namely that ‘‘‘‘of- 
fensive’’’ is frequently but a synonym for ^‘’unusual”; and a great 
work of art is of course always original, and thus by its very 
nature should come as a more or less shocking surprise. I have 
no intention to glorify “H.H.” No doubt, he is horrible, he is 
abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of 
ferocity and jocularity that betrays supretne misery perhaps, but 4 
is not conducive to attractiveness. He is ponderously capricious. 
Many of his casual opinions on the people and scenery of this 
country are ludicrous. A desperate honesty that throbs through 
his confession does not absolve him from sins of diabolical 
cunning. He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman. But how 
magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendresse, a com- 5 
passion for Lolita that makes us entranced with the book while 
abhorring its author! 

As a case history, “’Lolita” will become, no doubt, a classic in 6 
psychiatric circles. As a work of art, it transcends its expiatory 
aspects; and still more important to us than scientific significance 
and literary worth, is the ethical impact the book should have on 
the serious reader; for in this poignant personal study there 
lurks a general lesson; the wayward child, the egotistic mother, 
the panting maniac— these are not only vivid characters in a 
unique story: they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out 

[ 7 ] 

potent evils. '‘’Lolita^’’ should make all of us — parents, social 
workers, educators — apply ourselves with still greater vigilance 
and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a 
safer world. 

Widworth, Mass. 
August 5, 1955 

John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. 



Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul, l 
Lo“lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps 2 
down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. 

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in 3 
one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was 4 
Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. 5 

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of 
fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one 6 
summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. 7 
Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age 
was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a 
fancy prose style. 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what 
the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, en- 8 
vied. Look at this tangle of thorns. 9 


I was born in 1910, in Paris. My father was a gentle, easy-going 
person, a salad of racial genes: a Swiss citizen, of mixed French 
and Austrian descent, with a dash of the Danube in his veins. I 
am going to pass around in a minute some lovely, glossy-blue 
picture-postcards. He owned a luxurious hotel on the Riviera. His 
father and two grandfathers had sold wine, jewels and silk, re- 
spectively. At thirty he married an English girl, daughter of 

[ II ] 

1 Jerome Dunn, the alpinist, and granddaughter of two Dorset 
parsons, experts in obscure subjects — paleopedology and Aeolian 

2 harps, respectively. My very photogenic mother died in a freak 
accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and, save for a 
pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists 
within the hollows and dells of memory, over which, if you can 
still stand my style (I am writing under observation), the sun of 
my infancy had set: surely, you all know those redolent remnants 
of day suspended, with the midges, about some hedge in bloom 
or suddenly entered and traversed by the rambler, at the bottom 

3 of a hill, in the summer dusk; a furry warmth, golden midges. 

4 My mother’s elder sister, Sybil, whom a cousin of my father’s 
had married and then neglected, served in my immediate family 
as a kind of unpaid governess and housekeeper. Somebody told 
me later that she had been in love with my father, and that he 
had lightheartedly taken advantage of it one rainy day and for- 
gotten it by the time the weather cleared. I was extremely 
fond of her, despite the rigidity — the fatal rigidity- — of some of 
her rules. Perhaps she wanted to make of me, in the fullness of 
time, a better widower than my father. Aunt Sybil had pink- 
rimmed azure eyes and a waxen complexion. She wrote poetry. 
She was poetically superstitious. She said she knew she would die 
soon after my sixteenth birthday, and did. Her husband, a great 
traveler in perfumes, spent most of his time in America, where 
eventually he founded a firm and acquired a bit of real estate. 

I grew, a happy, healthy child in a bright world of illustrated 
books, clean sand, orange trees, friendly dogs, sea vistas and smil- 

5 ing faces. Around me the splendid Hotel Mirana revolved as a 
kind of private universe, a whitewashed cosmos within the blue 
greater one that blazed outside. From the aproned pot-scrubber 
to the flanneled potentate, everybody liked me, everybody petted 
me. Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward 
me like towers of Pisa. Ruined Russian princesses who could not 
pay my father, bought me expensive bonbons. He, mon cher petit 

6 papa, took me out boating and biking, taught me to swim and 

7 dive and water-ski, read to me Don Quixote and Les Miserables, 
and I adored and respected him and felt glad for him whenever 

[ 12 ] 

I overheard the servants discuss his various lady-friends, beauti- 
ful and kind beings who made much of me and cooed and shed 


precious tears over my cheerful motherlessness. 

I attended an English day school a few miles from home, and 
there I played rackets and fives, and got excellent marks, and was 
on perfect terms with schoolmates and teachers alike. The only 
definite sexual events that I can remember as having occurred 
before my thirteenth birthday (that is, before I first saw my little 
Annabel) were: a solemn, decorous and purely theoretical talk 
about pubertal surprises in the rose garden of the school with an l 
American kid, the son of a then celebrated motion-picture actress 
whom he seldom saw in the three-dimensional world; and some 
interesting reactions on the part of my organism to certain photo- 
graphs, pearl and umbra, with infinitely soft partings, in Pichon’s 
sumptuous La Beaut e Hiimaine that I had filched from under a 2 
mountain of marble-bound Graphics in the hotel library. Later, 
in his delightful debonair manner, my father gave me all the in- 
formation he thought I needed about sex; this was just before 
sending me, in the autumn of 1923, to a lycee in Lyon (where we 3 
were to spend three winters) ; but alas, in the summer of that year, 
he was touring Italy with Mme de R. and her daughter, and I 
had nobody to complain to, nobody to consult. 


Annabel was, like the writer, of mixed parentage: half -English, 
half-Dutch, in her case. I remember her features far less distinctly 
today than I did a few years ago, before I knew Lolita. There are 
two kinds of visual memory: one when you skillfully recreate an 
image in the laboratory of your mind, with your eyes open (and 
then I see Annabel in such general terms as: “honey-colored 
skin,” “thin arms,” “brown bobbed hair,” “long lashes,” “big 
bright mouth”); and the other when you instantly evoke, with 
shut eyes, on the dark innerside of your eyelids, the objective, 
absolutely optical replica of a beloved face, a little ghost in 
natural colors (and this is how I see Lolita). 

[ 13 ] 

Let me therefore primly limit myself, in describing Annabel, 
to saying she was a lovely child a few months my junior. Her 
parents were old friends of my aunt’s, and as stuffy as she. They 
had rented a villa not far from Hotel Mirana. Bald brown Mr. 

1 Leigh and fat, powdered Mrs. Leigh (born Vanessa van Ness). 
How I loathed them! At first, Annabel and I talked of peripheral 
affairs. She kept lifting handfuls of fine sand and letting it pour 
through her fingers. Our brains were turned the way those of in- 
telligent European preadolescents were in our day and set, and 
I doubt if much individual genius should be assigned to our in- 
terest in the plurality of inhabited worlds, competitive tennis, 

2 infinity, solipsism and so on. The softness and fragility of baby 

animals caused us the same intense pain. She wanted to be a 

nurse in some famished Asiatic country; I wanted to be a famous 

All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly 
in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because that 
frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by 
our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each 
other’s soul and flesh; but there we were, unable even to mate as 
slum children would have so easily found an opportunity to do. 
After one wild attempt we made to meet at night in her garden 
(of which more later), the only privacy we were allowed was to 
be out of earshot but not out of sight on the populous part of the 

3 plage. There, on the soft sand, a few feet away from our elders, 

we would sprawl all morning, in a petrified paroxysm of desire, 
and take advantage of every blessed quirk in space and time to 
touch each other: her hand, half-hidden in the sand, would 
creep toward me, its slender brown fingers sleepwalking nearer 
and nearer; then, her opalescent knee would start on a long 
cautious journey; sometimes a chance rampart built by younger 
children granted us sufficient concealment to graze each other’s 
salty lips; these incomplete contacts drove our healthy and in- 
experienced young bodies to such a state of exasperation that not 
even the cold blue water, under which we still clawed at each 
other, could bring relief. 

Among some treasures I lost during the wanderings of my 
[ 14 ] 

adult years, there was a snapshot taken by my aunt which showed 
Annabel, her parents and the staid, elderly, lame gentleman, a 
Dr. Cooper, who that same summer courted my aunt, grouped 
around a table in a sidewalk cafe. Annabel did not come out 
well, caught as she was in the act of bending over her chocolat 
glace, and her thin bare shoulders and the parting in her hair i 
were about all that could be identified (as I remember that pic- 
ture) amid the sunny blur into which her lost loveliness graded; 
but I, sitting somewhat apart from the rest, came out with a 
kind of dramatic conspicuousness: a moody, beetle-browed boy 
in a dark sport shirt and well-tailored white shorts, his legs 
crossed, sitting in profile, looking away. That photograph was 
taken on the last day of our fatal summer and just a few minutes 
before we made our second and final attempt to thwart fate. 
Under the flimsiest of pretexts (this was our very last chance, 
and nothing really mattered) we escaped from the cafe to the 
beach, and found a desolate stretch of sand, and there, in the 
violet shadow of some red rocks forming a kind of cave, had a 2 
brief session of avid caresses, with somebody’s lost pair of sun- 
glasses for only witness. I was on my knees, and on the point of 3 

po.ssessing my darling, when two bearded bathers, the old man 4 
of the sea and his brother, came out of the sea with exclamations 
of ribald encouragement, and four months later she died of 
typhus in Corfu. 5 


I leaf again and again through these miserable memories, and 
keep asking myself, was it then, in the glitter of that remote 
summer, that the rift in my life began; or was my excessive desire 
for that child only the first evidence of an inherent singularity? 
When I try to analyze my own cravings, motives, actions and so 
forth, I surrender to a sort of retrospective imagination which 
feeds the analytic faculty with boundless alternatives and which 
causes each visualized route to fork and re-fork without end in 
the maddeningly complex prospect of my past. I am convinced, 

[ 15 ] 

however, that in a certain magic and fateful way Lolita began 
with Annabel. 

I also know that the shock of Annabel’s death consolidated 
the frustration of that nightmare summer, made of it a perma- 
nent obstacle to any further romance throughout the cold years 
of my youth. The spiritual and the physical had been blended in 
us with a perfection that must remain incomprehensible to the 
matter-of-fact, crude, standard-brained youngsters of today. Long 
after her death I felt her thoughts floating through mine. Long 
before we met we had had the same dreams. We compared 
notes. We found strange affinities. The same June of the same 
year (1919) a stray canary had fluttered into her house and 
mine, in two widely separated countries. Oh, Lolita, had you 
loved me thus! 

I have reserved for the conclusion of my “Annabel” phase the 
account of our unsuccessful first tryst. One night, she managed 
to deceive the vicious vigilance of her family. In a nervous and 
slender-leaved mimosa grove at the back of their villa we found 
a perch on the ruins of a low stone wall. Through the darkness 
and the tender trees we could see the arabesques of lighted 
windows which, touched up by the colored inks of sensitive 
memory, appear to me now like playing cards — presumably be- 
cause a bridge game was keeping the enemy busy. She trembled 
and twitched as I kissed the corner of her parted lips and the hot 
lobe of her ear. A cluster of stars palely glowed above us, between 
the silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as 
naked as she was under her light frock. I saw her face in the sky, 
strangely distinct, as if it emitted a faint radiance of its own. 
Her legs, her lovely live legs, were not too close together, and 
when my hand located what it sought, a dreamy and eerie expres- 
sion, half-pleasure, half-pain, came over those childish features. 
She sat a little higher than I, and whenever in her solitary ecstasy 
she was led to kiss me, her head would bend with a sleepy, soft, 
drooping movement that was almost woeful, and her bare knees 
caught and compressed my wrist, and slackened again; and her 
quivering mouth, distorted by the acridity of some mysterious 
potion, with a sibilant intake of breath came near to my face. 

[ 16 ] 

She would try to relieve the pain of love by first roughly rubbing 
her dry lips against mine; then my darling would draw away 
with a nervous toss of her hair, and then again come darkly near 
and let me feed on her open mouth, while with a generosity that 
was ready to offer her everything, my heart, my throat, my en- 
trails, I gave her to hold in her awkward fist the scepter of my 

I recall the scent of some kind of toilet powder — I believe she 
stole it from her mother’s Spanish maid — a sweetish, lowly, 
musky perfume. It mingled with her own biscuity odor, and my 
senses were suddenly filled to the brim; a sudden commotion in a 
nearby bush prevented them from overflowing — and as we drew 
away from each other, and with aching veins attended to what 
was probably a prowling cat, there came from the house her 
mother’s voice calling her, with a rising frantic note — and Dr. 
Cooper ponderously limped out into the garden. But that 
mimosa grove — the haze of stars, the tingle, the flame, the honey- i 
dew, and the ache remained with me, and that little girl with 
her seaside limbs and ardent tongue haunted me ever since — 
until at last, twenty-four years later, I broke her spell by incarnat- 2 
ing her in another. 


The days of my youth, as I look back on them, seem to fly 
away from me in a flurry of pale repetitive scraps like those 
morning snow storms of used tissue paper that a train passenger 
sees whirling in the wake of the observation car. In my sanitary 
relations with women I was practical, ironical and brisk. While 
a college student, in London and Paris, paid ladies sufficed me. 

My studies were meticulous and intense, although not partic- 
ularly fruitful. At first, I planned to take a degree in psychiatry 
as many manque talents do; but I was even more 7uanque than 3 
that; a peculiar exhaustion, I am so oppressed, doctor, set in; and 
I switched to English literature, where so many frustrated poets 
end as pipe-smoking teachers in tweeds. Paris suited me. I dis- 

[ I? ] 

1 cussed Soviet movies with expatriates. I sat with uranists in the 

2 Deux Magots. I published tortuous essays in obscure journals. I 

3 composed pastiches: 

. . . Fraulein von Kulp 

may turn, her hand upon the door; 

I will not follow her. Nor Fresca. Nor 
that Gull. 

A paper of mine entitled “The Proustian theme in a letter 

4 from Keats to Benjamin Bailey” was chuckled over by the six 
or seven scholars who read it. I launched upon an ‘‘^Histoire 

5 abregee de la poesie anglaise'’’ for a prominent publishing firm, 
and then started to compile that manual of French literature for 
English-speaking students (with comparisons drawn from Eng- 
lish writers) which was to occupy me throughout the forties — 
and the last volume of which was almost ready for press by the 
time of my arrest. 

I found a job — teaching English to a group of adults in 
Auteuil. Then a school for boys employed me for a couple of 
winters. Now and then I took advantage of the acquaintances I 
had formed among social workers and psychotherapists to visit 
in their company various institutions, such as orphanages and 
reform schools, where pale pubescent girls with matted eyelashes 
could be stared at in perfect impunity remindful of that granted 
one in dreams. 

Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age 
limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain 
bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal 

6 their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, 
demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as 

It will be marked that I substitute time terms for spatial ones. 
In fact, I would have the reader see “nine” and “fourteen” as the 
boundaries — the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks — of an enchanted 
island haunted by those nymphets of mine and surrounded by 
a vast, misty sea. Between those age limits, are all girl-children 
nymphets? Of course not. Otherwise, we who are in the know, 

[ i8 ] 

we lone voyagers, we nympholepts, would have long gone insane. 
Neither are good looks any criterion; and vulgarity, or at least 
what a given community terms so, does not necessarily impair 
certain mysterious characteristics, the fey grace, the elusive, 
shifty, soul-shattering, insidious charm that separates the 
nymphet from such coevals of hers as are incomparably more 
dependent on the spatial world of synchronous phenomena than 
on that intangible island of entranced time where Lolita plays 
with her likes. Within the same age limits the number of true 
nymphets is strikingly inferior to that of provisionally plain, or 
just nice, or “cute,” or even “sweet” and “attractive,” ordinary, 
plumpish, formless, cold-skinned, essentially human little girls, 
with tummies and pigtails, who may or may not turn into adults 
of great beauty (look at the ugly dumplings in black stockings 
and white hats that are metamorphosed into stunning stars of 
the screen). A normal man given a group photograph of school 
girls or Girl Scouts and asked to point out the comeliest one will 
not necessarily choose the nymphet among them. You have to 
be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, 
with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super -voluptuous l 

flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine (oh, how you have 
to cringe and hide!), in order to discern at once, by ineffable 
signs- — the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness 
of a downy limb, and other indices which despair and shame 
and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate — the little deadly 
demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized 
by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power. 

Furthermore, since the idea of time plays such a magic part 
in the matter, the student should not be surprised to learn that 
there must be a gap of several years, never less than ten I should 
say, generally thirty or forty, and as many as ninety in a few 
known cases, between maiden and man to enable the latter to 
come under a nymphet’s spell. It is a question of focal adjust- 
ment, of a certain distance that the inner eye thrills to surmount, 
and a certain contrast that the mind perceives with a gasp of 
perverse delight. When I was a child and she was a child, my 
little Annabel was no nymphet to me; I was her equal, a faunlet 2 

C 19 ] 

in my own right, on that same enchanted island of time; but 
today, in September 1952, after twenty-nine years have elapsed, 

1 I think I can distinguish in her the initial fateful elf in my life. 
We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierce- 
ness that so often destroys adult lives. I was a strong lad and 
survived; but the poison was in the wound, and the wound re- 
mained ever open, and soon I found myself maturing amid a 
civilization which allows a man of twenty-five to court a girl of 
sixteen but not a girl of twelve. 

No wonder, then, that my adult life during the European 
period of my existence proved monstrously twofold. Overtly, I 
had so-called normal relationships with a number of terrestrial 
women having pumpkins or pears for breasts; inly, I was con- 
sumed by a hell furnace of localized lust for every passing 
nymphet whom as a law-abiding poltroon I never dared ap- 
proach. The human females I was allowed to wield were but 
palliative agents. I am ready to believe that the sensations I 
derived from natural fornication were much the same as those 
known to normal big males consorting with their normal big 
mates in that routine rhythm which shakes the world. The 
trouble was that those gentlemen had not, and I had, caught 
glimpses of an incomparably more poignant bliss. The dimmest 

2 of my pollutive dreams was a thousand times more dazzling 
than all the adultery the most virile writer of genius or the most 
talented impotent might imagine. My world was split. I was 
aware of not one but two sexes, neither of which was mine; both 
would be termed female by the anatomist. But to me, through 
the prism of my senses, “they were as different as mist and mast.” 
All this I rationalize now. In my twenties and early thirties, I 
did not understand my throes quite so clearly. While my body 
knew what it craved for, my mind rejected my body’s every plea. 
One moment I was ashamed and frightened, another recklessly 
optimistic. Taboos strangulated me. Psychoanalysts wooed me 

3 with pseudoliberations of pseudolibidoes. The fact that to me 
the only objects of amorous tremor were sisters of Annabel’s, 
her handmaids and girl-pages, appeared to me at times as a fore- 
runner of insanity. At other times I would tell myself that it was 

[ 20 ] 

all a question of attitude, that there was really nothing wrong 
in being moved to distraction by girl-children. Let me remind 
my reader that in England, with the passage of the Children 
and Young Person Act in 1933, the term “girl-child” is defined 1 
as “a girl who is over eight but under fourteen years” (after that, 
from fourteen to seventeen, the statutory definition is “young 
person”). In Massachusetts, U.S., on the other hand, a “way- 
ward child” is, technically, one “between seven and seventeen 
years of age” (who, moreover, habitually associates with vicious 
or immoral persons). Hugh Broughton, a writer of controversy 2,3 
in the reign of James the First, has proved that Rahab was a 4 
harlot at ten years of age. This is all very interesting, and I 
daresay you see me already frothing at the mouth in a fit; but no, 

I am not; I am just winking happy thoughts into a little tiddle 
cup. Here are some more pictures. Here is Virgil who could 
the nymphet sing in single tone, but probably preferred a lad’s 
perineum. Here are two of King Akhnaten’s and Queen 5 
Nefertiti’s pre-nubile Nile daughters (that royal couple had a 6 
litter of six), wearing nothing but many necklaces of bright 
beads, relaxed on cushions, intact after three thousand years, with 
their soft brown puppybodies, cropped hair and long ebony 
eyes. Here are some brides of ten compelled to seat themselves 
on the fascinum, the virile ivory in the temples of classical 7 
scholarship. Marriage and cohabitation before the age of puberty 
are still not uncommon in certain East Indian provinces. Lepcha 8 
old men of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds. 

After all, Dante fell madly in love with his Beatrice when she 
was nine, a sparkling girleen, painted and lovely, and bejeweled, 
in a crimson frock, and this was in 1274, in Florence, at a private 
feast in the merry month of May. And when Petrarch fell madly 9 
in love with his Laureen, she was a fair-haired nymphet of twelve 10 
running in the wind, in the pollen and dust, a flower in flight, 
in the beautiful plain as descried from the hills of Vaucluse. 11 

But let us be prim and civilized. Humbert Humbert tried hard 
to be good. Really and truly, he did. He had the utmost respect 
for ordinary children, with their purity and vulnerability, and 
under no circumstances would he have interfered with the in- 

[ 21 ] 

nocence of a child, if there was the least risk of a row. But how 
his heart beat when, among the innocent throng, he espied a 

1 demon child, "'enfant chnrmante et fourbe,’’^ dim eyes, bright 
lips, ten years in jail if you only show her you are looking at her. 
So life went. Humbert was perfectly capable of intercourse with 

2 Eve, but it was Lilith he longed for. The bud-stage of breast 
development appears early (10.7 years) in the sequence of 
somatic changes accompanying pubescence. And the next matu- 
rational item available is the first appearance of pigmented pubic 

3 hair ( 1 1 .2 years) . My little cup brims with tiddles. 

A shipwreck. An atoll. Alone with a drowned passenger’s 

4 shivering child. Darling, this is only a game! How marvelous 
were my fancied adventures as I sat on a hard park bench pre- 
tending to be immersed in a trembling book. Around the quiet 
scholar, nymphets played freely, as if he were a familiar statue or 
part of an old tree’s shadow and sheen. Once a perfect little 
beauty in a tartan frock, with a clatter put her heavily armed foot 
near me upon the bench to dip her slim bare arms into me and 
tighten the strap of her roller skate, and I dissolved in the sun, 
with my book for fig leaf, as her auburn ringlets fell all over her ' 
skinned knee, and the shadow of leaves I shared pulsated and j 
melted on her radiant limb next to my chameleonic cheek. 

5 Another time a red-haired school girl hung over me in the vietro, 
and a revelation of axillary russet I obtained remained in my 
blood for weeks. I could list a great number of these one-sided 
diminutive romances. Some of them ended in a rich flavor of I 
hell. It happened for instance that from my balcony I would 
notice a lighted window across the street and what looked like a I 
nymphet in the act of undressing before a co-operative mirror. 
Thus isolated, thus removed, the vision acquired an especially i 
keen charm that made me race with all speed toward my lone i 
gratification. But abruptly, fiendishly, the tender pattern of ; 
nudity I had adored would be transformed into the disgusting ; 
lamp-lit bare arm of a man in his underclothes reading his paper 1 
by the open window in the hot, damp, hopeless summer night. 

Rope-skipping, hopscotch. That old woman in black who sat 
down next to me on my bench, on my rack of joy (a nymphet 

[ 22 ] 

was groping under me for a lost marble), and asked if I had 
stomachache, the insolent hag. Ah, leave me alone in my 
pubescent park, in my mossy garden. Let them play around me 
forever. Never grow up. 


A propos: I have often wondered what became of those 
nymphets later? In this wrought-iron world of criss-cross cause 
and effect, could it be that the hidden throb I stole from them 
did not affect their future? I had possessed her — and she never 
knew it. All right. But would it not tell sometime later? Had I 
not somehow tampered with her fate by involving her image in 
my voluptas? Oh, it was, and remains, a source of great and 1 
terrible wonder. 

I learned, however, what they looked like, those lovely, mad- 
dening, thin-armed nymphets, when they grew up. I remember 
walking along an animated street on a gray spring afternoon 
somewhere near the Madeleine. A short slim girl passed me at a 2 
rapid, high-heeled, tripping step, we glanced back at the same 
moment, she stopped and I accosted her. She came hardly up 
to my chest hair and had the kind of dimpled round little face 
French girls so often have, and I liked her long lashes and tight- 
fitting tailored dress sheathing in pearl-gray her young body 
which still retained — and that was the nymphic echo, the chill 
of delight, the leap in my loins — a childish something mingling 
with the professional fretillejnent of her small agile rump. I 3 
asked her price, and she promptly replied with melodious silvery 
precision (a bird, a very bird!) “Cc; 2 t.” I tried to haggle but 4 
she saw the awful lone longing in my lowered eyes, directed so 
far down at her round forehead and rudimentary hat (a band, 
a posy); and with one beat of her lashes: “Tant she said, 5 
^ and made as if to move away. Perhaps only three years earlier I 
I might have seen her coming home from school! That evocation 
[ settled the matter. She led me up the usual steep stairs, with the 
^ usual bell clearing the way for the monsieur who might not care 

[ 23 ] 

to meet another monsieur^ on the mournful climb to the abject 
room, all bed and bidet. As usual, she asked at once for her -petit 

1 cadeau, and as usual I asked her name (Monique) and her age 
(eighteen). I was pretty well acquainted with the banal way of 

2 streetwalkers. They all answer ^‘‘dix-huit’’’ — a trim twitter, a note 
of finality and wistful deceit which they emit up to ten times per 
day, the poor little creatures. But in Monique’s case there could 
be no doubt she was, if anything, adding one or two years to her 
age. This I deduced from many details of her compact, neat, 
curiously immature body. Having shed her clothes with fascinat- 
ing rapidity, she stood for a moment partly wrapped in the 
dingy gauze of the window curtain listening with infantile 
pleasure, as pat as pat could be, to an organ-grinder in the dust- 
brimming courtyard below. When I examined her small hands 
and drew her attention to their grubby fingernails, she said with 

3 a naive frown “Ozri, ce n'est pas bien^’’ and went to the wash- 
basin, but I said it did not matter, did not matter at all. With 
her brown bobbed hair, luminous gray eyes and pale skin, she 
looked perfectly charming. Her hips were no bigger than those 
of a squatting lad; in fact, I do not hesitate to say (and indeed 
this is the reason why I linger gratefully in that gauze-gray room 
of memory with little Monique) that among the eighty or so 

4 gnies I had had operate upon me, she was the only one that 
gave me a pang of genuine pleasure. “// hait rnalin, celui qui a 

5 invente ce triic-la^' she commented amiably, and got back into 
her clothes with the same high-style speed. 

I asked for another, more elaborate, assignment later the same 
evening, and she said she would meet me at the corner cafe at 

6 nine, and swore she had never pose iin lapin in all her young life. 
We returned to the same room, and I could not help saying how 
very pretty she was to which she answered demurely; “Tz/ es 

7 bien gentil de dire pa'' and then, noticing what I noticed too in 
the mirror reflecting our small Eden — the dreadful grimace of 
clenched-teeth tenderness that distorted my mouth — dutiful little 
Monique (oh, she had been a nymphet all right!) wanted to 
know if she should remove the layer of red from her lips avant 

8 qu'on se couche in case I planned to kiss her. Of course, I 

[ 24 ] 

planned it. I let myself go with her more completely than I had 
with any young lady before, and my last vision that night of 
long-lashed Monique is touched up with a gaiety that I find 
seldom associated with any event in my humiliating, sordid, 
taciturn love life. She looked tremendously pleased with the 
bonus of fifty I gave her as she trotted out into the April night 
drizzle with Humbert Humbert lumbering in her narrow wake. 
Stopping before a window display she said with great gusto: 

“/e vais viacheter des basP’’ and never may I forget the way her l 
Parisian childish lips exploded on ^‘bas,’' pronouncing it with an 
appetite that all but changed the “a” into a brief buoyant burst- 
ing “o” as in 

I had a date with her next day at 2.15 p.m. in my own rooms, 
but it was less successful, she seemed to have grown less juvenile, 
more of a woman overnight. A cold I caught from her led me to 
cancel a fourth assignment, nor was I sorry to break an emotional 
series that threatened to burden me with heart-rending fantasies 
and peter out in dull disappointment. So let her remain, sleek, 
slender Monique, as she was for a minute or two: a delinquent 
nymphet shining through the matter-of-fact young whore. 

My brief acquaintance with her started a train of thought that 
may seem pretty obvious to the reader who knows the ropes. An 
advertisement in a lewd magazine landed me, one brave day, in 
the office of a Mile Edith who began by offering me to choose a 
kindred soul from a collection of rather formal photographs in 
a rather soiled album {^‘’Regardez-moi cette belle bruneP’’). 2 
When I pushed the album away and somehow managed to 
blurt out my criminal craving, she looked as if about to show 
me the door; however, after asking me what price I was prepared 
to disburse, she condescended to put me in touch with a person 
qui pourrait arranger la chose. Next day, an asthmatic woman, 3 
coarsely painted, garrulous, garlicky, with an almost farcical 
Provenqal accent and a black mustache above a purple lip, took 
me to what was apparently her own domicile, and there, after 
explosively kissing the bunched tips of her fat fingers to signify 
the delectable rosebud quality of her merchandise, she theat- 
rically drew aside a curtain to reveal what I judged was that part 

[ 25 ] 

of the room where a large and unfastidious family usually slept. 
It was now empty save for a monstrously plump, sallow, repul- 
sively plain girl of at least fifteen with red-ribboned thick black 
braids who sat on a chair perfunctorily nursing a bald doll. When 
I shook my head and tried to shuffle out of the trap, the woman, 
talking fast, began removing the dingy woolen jersey from the 
young giantess’ torso; then, seeing my determination to leave, 

1 she demanded son argent. A door at the end of the room was 
opened, and two men who had been dining in the kitchen joined 
in the squabble. They were misshapen, bare-necked, very swarthy 
and one of them wore dark glasses. A small boy and a begrimed, 
bowlegged toddler lurked behind them. With the insolent logic 
of a nightmare, the enraged procuress, indicating the man in 

2 glasses, said he had served in the police, lui, so that I had better 
do as I was told. I went up to Marie — for that was her stellar 

3 name — who by then had quietly transferred her heavy haunches 
to a stool at the kitchen table and resumed her interrupted soup 
while the toddler picked up the doll. With a surge of pity 
dramatizing my idiotic gesture, I thrust a banknote into her in- 
different hand. She surrendered my gift to the ex-detective, 
whereupon I was suffered to leave. 


I do not know if the pimp’s album may not have been another 
link in the daisy-chain; but soon after, for my own safety, I de- 
cided to marry. It occurred to me that regular hours, home- 
cooked meals, all the conventions of marriage, the prophylactic 
routine of its bedroom activities and, who knows, the eventual 
flowering of certain moral values, of certain spiritual substitutes, 
might help me, if not to purge myself of my degrading and 
dangerous desires, at least to keep them under pacific control. A 
little money that had come my way after my father’s death 
(nothing very grand — the Mirana had been sold long before), in 
addition to my striking if somewhat brutal good looks, allowed 

[ 26 ] 

me to enter upon my quest with equanimity. After considerable 
deliberation, my choice fell on the daughter of a Polish doctor: 
the good man happened to be treating me for spells of dizziness 
and tachycardia. We played chess: his daughter watched me i 
from behind her easel, and inserted eyes or knuckles borrowed 
from me into the cubistic trash that accomplished misses then 
painted instead of lilacs and lambs. Let me repeat with quiet 
force: I was, and still am, despite mes malheurs, an exceptionally 2 
handsome male; slow-moving, tall, with soft dark hair and a 
gloomy but all the more seductive cast of demeanor. Exceptional 
virility often reflects in the subject’s displayable features a sullen 
and congested something that pertains to what he has to conceal. 
And this was my case. Well did I know, alas, that I could obtain 
at the snap of my fingers any adult female I chose; in fact, it had 
become quite a habit with me of not being too attentive to 
women lest they come toppling, bloodripe, into my cold lap. 
Had I been a frangais moyen with a taste for flashy ladies, I 3 
might have easily found, among the many crazed beauties that 
lashed my grim rock, creatures far more fascinating than Valeria. 

My choice, however, was prompted by considerations whose 
essence was, as I realized too late, a piteous compromise. All of 
which goes to show how dreadfully stupid poor Humbert always 
was in matters of sex. 


Although I told myself I was looking merely for a soothing 
presence, a glorified pot-au-feu, an animated merkin, what really 4, 5 
attracted me to Valeria was the imitation she gave of a little 
girl. She gave it not because she had divined something about 
me; it was just her style — and I fell for it. Actually, she was at 
least in her late twenties (I never established her exact age for 
even her passport lied) and had mislaid her virginity under cir- 
cumstances that changed with her reminiscent moods. I, on my 
part, was as naive as only a pervert can be. She looked fluffy and 
frolicsome, dressed d la gamine^ showed a generous amount of 6 

[ ] 

smooth leg, knew how to stress the white of a bare instep by the 
black of a velvet slipper, and pouted, and dimpled, and romped, 
and dirndled, and shook her short curly blond hair in the cutest 
and tritest fashion imaginable. 

1 After a brief ceremony at the mairie, I took her to the new 
apartment I had rented and, somewhat to her surprise, had her 
wear, before I touched her, a girl’s plain nightshirt that I had 
managed to filch from the linen closet of an orphanage. I derived 
some fun from that nuptial night and had the idiot in hysterics 
by sunrise. But reality soon asserted itself. The bleached curl 

2 revealed its melanic root; the down turned to prickles on a 
shaved shin; the mobile moist mouth, no matter how I stuffed 
it with love, disclosed ignominiously its resemblance to the cor- 
responding part in a treasured portrait of her toadlike dead 
mama; and presently, instead of a pale little gutter girl, Humbert 
Humbert had on his hands a large, puffy, short-legged, big- 

3 breasted and practically brainless baba. 

This state of affairs lasted from 1935 to 1939. Her only asset 
was a muted nature which did help to produce an odd sense of 
comfort in our small squalid flat: two rooms, a hazy view in one 
window, a brick wall in the other, a tiny kitchen, a shoe-shaped 
bath tub, within which I felt like Marat but with no white- 

4 necked maiden to stab me. We had quite a few cozy evenings 

5 together, she deep in her Paris-Soir, I working at a rickety table. 
We went to movies, bicycle races and boxing matches. I appealed 
to her stale flesh very seldom, only in cases of great urgency and 
despair. The grocer opposite had a little daughter whose shadow 
drove me mad; but with Valeria’s help I did find after all some 
legal outlets to my fantastic predicament. As to cooking, we 
tacitly dismissed the pot-au-feu and had most of our meals at a 
crowded place in rue Bonaparte where there were wine stains on 
the table cloth and a good deal of foreign babble. And next door, 
an art dealer displayed in his cluttered window a splendid, flam- 
boyant, green, red, golden and inky blue, ancient American 
estampe — a locomotive with a gigantic smokestack, great baroque 
lamps and a tremendous cowcatcher, hauling its mauve coaches 

[ 28 ] 

through the stormy prairie night and mixing a lot of spark- 
studded black smoke with the furry thunder clouds. 

These burst. In the summer of 1939 mon oncle d'Amerique 1 
died bequeathing me an annual income of a few thousand dollars 
on condition I came to live in the States and showed some 
interest in his business. This prospect was most welcome to me. 

I felt my life needed a shake-up. There was another thing, too: 
moth holes had appeared in the plush of matrimonial comfort. 
During the last weeks I had kept noticing that my fat Valeria 
was not her usual self; had acquired a queer restlessness; even 
showed something like irritation at times, which was quite out 
of keeping with the stock character she was supposed to im- 
personate. When I informed her we were shortly to sail for New 
York, she looked distressed and bewildered. There were some 
tedious difficulties with her papers. She had a Nansen, or better 
say Nonsense, passport which for some reason a share in her 2 
husband’s solid Swiss citizenship could not easily transcend; and 
I decided it was the necessity of queuing in the prefecture, and 3 
other formalities, that had made her so listless, despite my 
patiently describing to her America, the country of rosy children 
and great trees, where life would be such an improvement on 
dull dingy Paris. 

We were coming out of some office building one morning, 
with her papers almost in order, when Valeria, as she waddled 
by my side, began to shake her poodle head vigorously without 
saying a word. I let her go on for a while and then asked if she 
thought she had something inside. She answered (I translate 
from her French which was, I imagine, a translation in its turn 
of some Slavic platitude) : “There is another man in my life.” 

Now, these are ugly words for a husband to hear. They dazed 
me, I confess. To beat her up in the street, there and then, as an 
honest vulgarian might have done, was not feasible. Years of 
secret sufferings had taught me superhuman self-control. So I 
ushered her into a taxi which had been invitingly creeping along 
the curb for some time, and in this comparative privacy I quietly 
suggested she comment her wild talk. A mounting fury was suf- 
focating me — not because I had any particular fondness for that 

[ 29 ] 

figure of fun, M7}ie Humbert, but because matters of legal and 
illegal conjunction were for me alone to decide, and here she 
was, Valeria, the comedy wife, brazenly preparing to dispose in 
her own way of my comfort and fate. I demanded her lover’s 
name. I repeated my question; but she kept up a burlesque 
babble, discoursing on her unhappiness with me and announc- 
1 ing plans for an immediate divorce. “Mais qui est-ce?'' I shouted 
at last, striking her on the knee with my fist; and she, without 
even wincing, stared at me as if the answer were too simple for 
words, then gave a quick shrug and pointed at the thick neck of 
the taxi driver. He pulled up at a small cafe and introduced 
himself. I do not remember his ridiculous name but after all 
those years I still see him quite clearly — a stocky White Russian 
ex-colonel with a bushy mustache and a crew cut; there were 
thousands of them plying that fool’s trade in Paris. We sat down 
at a table; the Tsarist ordered wine; and Valeria, after applying 
a wet napkin to her knee, went on talking — mto me rather than 
to me; she poured words into this dignified receptacle with a 
volubility I had never suspected she had in her. And every now 
and then she would volley a burst of Slavic at her stolid lover. 
The situation was preposterous and became even more so when 
the taxi-colonel, stopping Valeria with a possessive smile, began 
to unfold his views and plans. With an atrocious accent to his 
careful French, he delineated the world of love and work into 
which he proposed to enter hand in hand with his child-wife 
Valeria. She by now was preening herself, between him and 
me, rouging her pursed lips, tripling her chin to pick at her 
blouse-bosom and so forth, and he spoke of her as if she were 
absent, and also as if she were a kind of little ward that was in 
the act of being transferred, for her own good, from one wise 
guardian to another even wiser one; and although my helpless 
wrath may have exaggerated and disfigured certain impressions, 
I can swear that he actually consulted me on such things as her 
diet, her periods, her wardrobe and the books she had read or 
should read. “I think,” he said, “she will like ]ean Christophef'’ 
1 Oh, he was quite a scholar, Mr. Taxovich. 

I put an end to this gibberish by suggesting Valeria pack up 

[ 30 ] 

her few belongings immediately, upon which the platitudinous 
colonel gallantly offered to carry them into the car. Reverting to 
his professional state, he drove the Humberts to their residence 
and all the way Valeria talked, and Humbert the Terrible delib- 
erated with Humbert the Small whether Humbert Humbert 
should kill her or her lover, or both, or neither. I remember once 
handling an automatic belonging to a fellow student, in the days 
(I have not spoken of them, I think, but never mind) when I 
toyed with the idea of enjoying his little sister, a most diaphanous 
nymphet with a black hair bow, and then shooting myself. I 
now wondered if Valechka (as the colonel called her) was really 
worth shooting, or strangling, or drowning. She had very vul- 
nerable legs, and I decided I would limit myself to hurting her 
very horribly as soon as we were alone. 

But we never were, Valechka— -by now shedding torrents of 
tears tinged with the mess of her rainbow make-up,- — ^started to 
fill anyhow a trunk, and two suitcases, and a bursting carton, 
and visions of putting on my mountain boots and taking a 
running kick at her rump were of course impossible to put into 
execution with the cursed colonel hovering around all the time. 

I cannot say he behaved insolently or anything like that; on the 
contrary, he displayed, as a small sideshow in the theatricals I, 
had been inveigled in, a discreet old-world civility, punctuating 
his movements with all sorts of mispronounced apologies (fai 
demannde par donne— excuse me — est-ce que fai puis — may I — ■ i 
and so forth), and turning away tactfully when Valechka took 
down with a flourish her pink panties from the clothesline above 
the tub; but he seemed to be all over the place at once, le gredin, i 
agreeing his frame with the anatomy of the flat, reading in my 
chair my newspaper, untying a knotted string, rolling a cigarette, 
counting the teaspoons, visiting the bathroom, helping his moll 
to wrap up the electric fan her father had given her, and carry- 
ing streetward her luggage. I sat with arms folded, one hip on 
the window sill, dying of hate and boredom. At last both were 
out of the quivering apartment^ — the vibration of the door I had 
slammed after them still rang in my every nerve, a poor sub- 
stitute for the backhand slap with which I ought to have hit her 

[ 31 ] 

across the cheekbone according to the rules of the movies. 
Clumsily playing my part, I stomped to the bathroom to check 
if they had taken my English toilet water; they had not; but I 
noticed with a spasm of fierce disgust that the former Counselor 
of the Tsar, after thoroughly easing his bladder, had not flushed 
the toilet. That solemn pool of alien urine with a soggy, tawny 
cigarette butt disintegrating in it struck me as a crowning insult, 
and I wildly looked around for a weapon. Actually I daresay it 
was nothing but middle-class Russian courtesy (with an oriental 
tang, perhaps) that had prompted the good colonel (Maximo- 
1 vich! his name suddenly taxies back to me), a very formal 
person as they all are, to muffle his private need in decorous 
silence so as not to underscore the small size of his host’s 
domicile with the rush of a gross cascade on top of his own 
hushed trickle. But this did not enter my mind at the moment, 
as groaning with rage I ransacked the kitchen for something 
better than a broom. Then, canceling my search, I dashed out of 
the house with the heroic decision of attacking him barefisted; 
despite my natural vigor, I am no pugilist, while the short but 
broad-shouldered Maximovich seemed made of pig iron. The 
void of the street, revealing nothing of my wife’s departure ex- 
cept a rhinestone button that she had dropped in the mud after 
preserving it for three unnecessary years in a broken box, may 
have spared me a bloody nose. But no matter. I had my little 
revenge in due time. A man from Pasadena told me one day that 
Mrs. Maximovich nee Zborovski had died in childbirth around 
1945; the couple had somehow got over to California and had 
been used there, for an excellent salary, in a year-long experi- 
ment conducted by a distinguished American ethnologist. The 
experiment dealt with human and racial reactions to a diet of 
bananas and dates in a constant position on all fours. My in- 
formant, a doctor, swore he had seen with his own eyes obese 
Valechka and her colonel, by then gray-haired and also quite 
corpulent, diligently crawling about the well-swept floors of a 
brightly lit set of rooms (fruit in one, water in another, mats in 
a third and so on) in the company of several other hired quad- 
rupeds, selected from indigent and helpless groups. I tried to 

[ 32 ] 

find the results of these tests in the Review of Anthropology ; 
but they appear not to have been published yet. These scientific 
products take of course some time to fructuate. I hope they will i 
be illustrated with good photographs when they do get printed, 
although it is not very likely that a prison library will harbor 
such erudite works. The one to which I am restricted these days, 
despite my lawyer’s favors, is a good example of the inane eclecti- 
cism governing the selection of books in prison libraries. They 
have the Bible, of course, and Dickens (an ancient set, N. Y., 

G. W. Dillingham, Publisher, MDCCCLXXXVII); and the 
Children's Encyclopedia (with some nice photographs of sun- 
shine-haired Girl Scouts in shorts), and A Murder Is Announced 
by Agatha Christie; but they also have such coruscating trifles as 2 
A Vagabond in Italy by Percy Elphinstone, author of Venice 3 
Revisited, Boston, 1868, and a comparatively recent (1946) 

Who's Who in the Limelight — actors, producers, playwrights, 
and shots of static scenes. In looking through the latter volume, 

I was treated last night to one of those dazzling coincidences 
that logicians loathe and poets love. I transcribe most of the 4 

Pvm, Roland. Born in Lundy, Mass., 1922. Received stage 5 

training at Elsinore Playhouse, Derby, N.Y. Made debut in 6 

Sunburst. Among his many appearances are Two Blocks from 7 

Here, The Girl in Green, Scrambled Husbands, The Strange 
Mushroom, Touch and Go, John Lovely, I Was Dreaming 8 

of You. 

Quiltv, Clare, American dramatist. Born in Ocean City, 9 

N.J., 1911. Educated at Columbia University. Started on a 
commercial career but turned to play writing. Author of The 
Little Nymph, The Lady Who Loved Lightning (in col- 10,11 

laboration with Vivian Darkbloom), Dark Age, The Strange 12,13 

Mushroom, Fatherly Love, and others. His many plays for 14 

children are notable. Little Nymph (1940) traveled 14,000 
miles and played 280 performances on the road during the 
winter before ending in New York. Hobbies; fast cars, pho- 15 
tography, pets. 16 

Quine, Dolores. Born in 1882, in Dayton, Ohio. Studied 17 

[ 33 ] 

for stage at American Academy. First played in Ottawa in 
1900. Made New York debut in 1904 in Never Talk to 
Strangers. Has disappeared since in [a list of some thirty 
plays follows]. 

How the look of my dear love’s name even affixed to some 
old hag of an actress, still makes me rock with helpless pain! 
Perhaps, she might have been an actress too. Born 1935. Appeared 
(I notice the slip of my pen in the preceding paragraph, but 
please do not correct it, Clarence) in The Murdered Playwright. 
Quine the Swine. Guilty of killing Quilty. Oh, my Lolita, I 
have only words to play with! 


Divorce proceedings delayed my voyage, and the gloom of yet 
another World War had settled upon the globe when, after a 
winter of ennui and pneumonia in Portugal, I at last reached 
the States. In New York I eagerly accepted the soft job fate 
offered me: it consisted mainly of thinking up and editing per- 
fume ads. I welcomed its desultory character and pseudoliterary 
aspects, attending to it whenever I had nothing better to do. On 
the other hand, I was urged by a war-time university in New 
York to complete my comparative history of French literature 
for English-speaking students. The first volume took me a couple 
of years during which I put in seldom less than fifteen hours of 
work daily. As I look back on those days, I see them divided 
tidily into ample light and narrow shade: the light pertaining to 
the solace of research in palatial libraries, the shade to my ex- 
cruciating desires and insomnias of which enough has been said. 
Knowing me by now, the reader can easily imagine how dusty 
and hot I got, trying to catch a glimpse of nymphets (alas, always 
remote) playing in Central Park, and how repulsed I was by the 
glitter of deodorized career girls that a gay dog in one of the 
offices kept unloading upon me. Let us skip all that. A dreadful 

[ 34 ] 

breakdown sent me to a sanatorium for more than a year; I went 
back to my work — only to be hospitalized again. 

Robust outdoor life seemed to promise me some relief. One 
of my favorite doctors, a charming cynical chap with a little 1 
brown beard, had a brother, and this brother was about to lead 
an expedition into arctic Canada. I was attached to it as a “re- 
corder of psychic reactions.” With two young botanists and an 
old carpenter I shared now and then (never very successfully) 
the favors of one of our nutritionists, a Dr. Anita Johnson — who 
was soon flown back, I am glad to say. I had little notion of 
what object the expedition was pursuing. Judging by the number 
of meteorologists upon it, we may have been tracking to its lair 
(somewhere on Prince of Wales’ Island, I understand) the 
wandering and wobbly north magnetic pole. One group, jointly 
with the Canadians, established a weather station on Pierre Point 
in Melville Sound. Another group, equally misguided, collected 2 
plankton. A third studied tuberculosis in the tundra. Bert, a 
film photographer — an insecure fellow with whom at one time I 
was made to partake in a good deal of menial work (he, too, had 
some psychic troubles) — maintained that the big men on our 
team, the real leaders we never saw, were mainly engaged in 
checking the influence of climatic amelioration on the coats of 
the arctic fox. 

We lived in prefabricated timber cabins amid a Pre-Cambrian 
world of granite. We had heaps of supplies — the Reader's Digest, 
an ice cream mixer, chemical toilets, paper caps for Christmas. 

My health improved wonderfully in spite or because of all the 
fantastic blankness and boredom. Surrounded by such dejected 
vegetation as willow scrub and lichens; permeated, and, I sup- 
pose, cleansed by a whistling gale; seated on a boulder under a 
completely translucent sky (through which, however, nothing of 
importance showed), I felt curiously aloof from my own self. 

No temptations maddened me. The plump, glossy little Eskimo 
girls with their fish smell, hideous raven hair and guinea pig 
faces, evoked even less desire in me than Dr. Johnson had. 
Nymphets do not occur in polar regions. 

I left my betters the task of analyzing glacial drifts, drumlins, 

[ 35 ] 

, 2 and gremlins, and kremlins, and for a time tried to jot down what 
I fondly thought were “reactions” (I noticed, for instance, that 
dreams under the midnight sun tended to be highly colored, and 
this my friend the photographer confirmed). I was also supposed 
to quiz my various companions on a number of important mat- 
ters, such as nostalgia, fear of unknown animals, food-fantasies, 
nocturnal emissions, hobbies, choice of radio programs, changes 
in outlook and so forth. Everybody got so fed up with this that 
I soon dropped the project completely, and only toward the end 
of my twenty months of cold labor (as one of the botanists 
jocosely put it) concocted a perfectly spurious and very racy 
report that the reader will find published in the Annals of Adult 
Psychophysics for 1945 or 1946, as well as in the issue of Arctic 
Explorations devoted to that particular expedition; which, in 
conclusion, was not really concerned with Victoria Island copper 
or anything like that, as I learned later from my genial doctor; 
for the nature of its real purpose was what is termed “hush- 
hush,” and so let me add merely that whatever it was, that pur- 
pose was admirably achieved. 

The reader will regret to learn that soon after my return to 
3 civilization I had another bout with insanity (if to melancholia 
and a sense of insufferable oppression that cruel term must be 
applied). I owe my complete restoration to a discovery I made 
while being treated at that particular very expensive sanatorium. 
I discovered there was an endless source of robust enjoyment in 
trifling with psychiatrists: cunningly leading them on; never 
letting them see that you know all the tricks of the trade; in- 
venting for them elaborate dreams, pure classics in style (which 
make them, the dream-extortionists, dream and wake up shriek- 
ing); teasing them with fake “primal scenes”; and never allow- 
ing them the slightest glimpse of one’s real sexual predicament. 
By bribing a nurse I won access to some files and discovered, 
with glee, cards calling me “potentially homosexual” and “totally 
impotent.” The sport was so excellent, its results- — in my case — 
so ruddy that I stayed on for a whole month after I was quite 
well (sleeping admirably and eating like a schoolgirl). And then 
I added another week just for the pleasure of taking on a power- 

[ 36 ] 

ful newcomer, a displaced (and, surely, deranged) celebrity, 
known for his knack of making patients believe they had wit- 
nessed their own conception. 



Upon signing out, I cast around for some place in the New 
England countryside or sleepy small town (elms, white church) 
where I could spend a studious summer subsisting on a compact 
boxful of notes I had accumulated and bathing in some nearby 
lake. My work had begun to interest me again — I mean my 
scholarly exertions; the other thing, my active participation in 
my uncle’s posthumous perfumes, had by then been cut down to 
a minimum. 

One of his former employees, the scion of a distinguished 
family, suggested I spend a few months in the residence of his 
impoverished cousins, a Mr. McCoo, retired, and his wife, who 
wanted to let their upper story where a late aunt had delicately 
dwelt. He said they had two little daughters, one a baby, the 
other a girl of twelve, and a beautiful garden, not far from a 
beautiful lake, and I said it sounded perfectly perfect. 

I exchanged letters with these people, satisfying them I was 
housebroken, and spent a fantastic night on the train, imagining 
in all possible detail the enigmatic nymphet I would coach in 
French and fondle in Humbertish. Nobody met me at the toy 2 
station where I alighted with my new expensive bag, and nobody 
answered the telephone; eventually, however, a distraught Mc- 
Coo in wet clothes turned up at the only hotel of green-and- 
pink Ramsdale with the news that his house had just burned 
down — possibly, owing to the synchronous conflagration that had 3 
been raging all night in my veins. His family, he said, had fled 
to a farm he owned, and had taken the car, but a friend of his 
wife’s, a grand person, Mrs. Haze of 342 Lawn Street, offered 4 
to accommodate me. A lady who lived opposite Mrs. Haze’s had 
lent McCoo her limousine, a marvelously old-fashioned, square- 

[ 37 ] 

topped affair, manned by a cheerful Negro. Now, since the only 
reason for my coming at all had vanished, the aforesaid arrange- 
ment seemed preposterous. All right, his house would have to be 
completely rebuilt, so what? Had he not insured it sufficiently? 
I was angry, disappointed and bored, but being a polite Euro- 
pean, could not refuse to be sent off to Lawn Street in that 
funeral car, feeling that otherwise McCoo would devise an even 
more elaborate means of getting rid of me. I saw him scamper 
away, and my chauffeur shook his head with a soft chuckle. En 
route, I swore to myself I would not dream of staying in Rams- 
dale under any circumstance but would fly that very day to the 
Bermudas or the Bahamas or the Blazes. Possibilities of sweetness 
on technicolor beaches had been trickling through my spine for 
some time before, and McCoo’s cousin had, in fact, sharply 
diverted that train of thought with his well-meaning but as it 
transpired now absolutely inane suggestion. 

Speaking of sharp turns: we almost ran over a meddlesome 

1 suburban dog (one of those who lie in wait for cars) as we 
swerved into Lawn Street. A little further, the Haze house, a 
white-frame horror, appeared, looking dingy and old, more gray 
than white — -the kind of place you know will have a rubber tube 
affixable to the tub faucet in lieu of shower. I tipped the chauf- 
feur and hoped he would immediately drive away so that I 
might double back unnoticed to my hotel and bag; but the man 
merely crossed to the other side of the street where an old lady 
was calling to him from her porch. What could I do? I pressed 
the bell button. 

A colored maid let me in- — and left me standing on the mat 
while she rushed back to the kitchen where something was burning 
that ought not to burn. 

The front hall was graced with door chimes, a white-eyed 
wooden thingamabob of commercial Mexican origin, and that 

2 banal darling of the arty middle class, van Gogh’s “Arlesienne.” 
A door ajar to the right afforded a glimpse of a living room, with 
some more Mexican trash in a corner cabinet and a striped sofa 
along the wail. There was a staircase at the end of the hallway, 
and as I stood mopping my brow (only now did I realize how 

[ 38 ] 

hot it had been out-of-doors) and staring, to stare at something, 
at an old gray tennis ball that lay on an oak chest, there came 
from the upper landing the contralto voice of Mrs. Haze, who 
leaning over the banisters inquired melodiously, “Is that Mon- 
sieur Humbert?” A bit of cigarette ash dropped from there in 
addition. Presently, the lady herself — sandals, maroon slacks, 
yellow silk blouse, squarish face, in that order — came down the 
steps, her index finger still tapping upon her cigarette. 

I think I had better describe her right away, to get it over with. 
The poor lady was in her middle thirties, she had a shiny fore- 
head, plucked eyebrows and quite simple but not unattractive 
features of a type that may be defined as a weak solution of 
Marlene Dietrich. Patting her bronze-brown bun, she led me into l 
the parlor and we talked for a minute about the McCoo fire and 
the privilege of living in Ramsdale. Her very wide-set sea-green 
eyes had a funny way of traveling all over you, carefully avoiding 
your own eyes. Her smile was but a quizzical jerk of one eyebrow; 
and uncoiling herself from the sofa as she talked, she kept mak- 
ing spasmodic dashes at three ashtrays and the near fender 
(where lay the brown core of an apple); whereupon she would 
sink back again, one leg folded under her. She was, obviously, 
one of those women whose polished words may reflect a book 
club or bridge club, or any other deadly conventionality, but 
never her soul; women who are completely devoid of humor; 
women utterly indifferent at heart to the dozen or so possible 
subjects of a parlor conversation, but very particular about the 
rules of such conversations, through the sunny cellophane of 
which not very appetizing frustrations can be readily distin- 
guished. I was perfectly aware that if by any wild chance I be- 
came her lodger, she would methodically proceed to do in regard 
to me what taking a lodger probably meant to her all along, and 
I would again be enmeshed in one of those tedious affairs I 
knew so well. 

But there was no question of my settling there. I could not 
be happy in that type of household with bedraggled magazines 
on every chair and a kind of horrible hybridization between the 
comedy of so-called “functional modern furniture” and the 

[ 39 ] 

tragedy of decrepit rockers and rickety lamp tables with dead 
lamps. I was led upstairs, and to the left — into “my” room. I 
inspected it through the mist of my utter rejection of it; but I 
did discern above “my” bed Rene Prinet’s “Kreutzer Sonata.” 
And she called that servant maid’s room a “semi-studio”! Let’s 
get out of here at once, I firmly said to myself as I pretended to 
deliberate over the absurdly, and ominously, low price that my 
wistful hostess was asking for board and bed. 

Old-world politeness, however, obliged me to go on with the 
ordeal. We crossed the landing to the right side of the house 
(where “I and Lo have our rooms” — Lo being presumably the 
maid), and the lodger-lover could hardly conceal a shudder 
when he, a very fastidious male, was granted a preview of the 
only bathroom, a tiny oblong between the landing and “Lo’s” 
room, with limp wet things overhanging the dubious tub (the 
question mark of a hair inside); and there were the expected 
coils of the rubber snake, and its complement — a pinkish cozy, 
coyly covering the toilet lid. 

“I see you are not too favorably impressed,” said the lady 
letting her hand rest for a moment upon my sleeve: she com- 
bined a cool forwardness — the overflow of what I think is called 
“poise” — with a shyness and sadness that caused her detached 
way of selecting her words to seem as unnatural as the intonation 
of a professor of “speech.” “This is not a neat household, I con- 
fess,” the doomed dear continued, “but I assure you [she looked 
at my lips], you will be very comfortable, very comfortable, 
indeed. Let me show you the garden” (the last more brightly, 
with a kind of winsome toss of the voice). 

Reluctantly I followed her downstairs again; then through the 
kitchen at the end of the hall, on the right side of the house — 

the side where also the dining room and the parlor were (under 

“my” room, on the left, there was nothing but a garage). In the 

kitchen, the Negro maid, a plump youngish woman, said, as she 

, took her large glossy black purse from the knob of the door 
leading to the back porch: “I’ll go now, Mrs. Haze.” “Yes, 
Louise,” answered Mrs. Haze with a sigh. “I’ll settle with you 
Friday.” We passed on to a small pantry and entered the dining 

[ 40 ] 

room, parallel to the parlor we had already admired. I noticed 
a white sock on the floor. With a deprecatory grunt, Mrs. Haze 
stooped without stopping and threw it into a closet next to the 
pantry. We cursorily inspected a mahogany table with a fruit 
vase in the middle, containing nothing but the still glistening 
stone of one plum. I groped for the timetable I had in my pocket 
and surreptitiously fished it out to look as soon as possible for a 
train. I was still walking behind Mrs. Haze through the dining 
room when, beyond it, there came a sudden burst of greenery — 
“the piazza,” sang out my leader, and then, without the least 
warning, a blue sea-wave swelled under my heart and, from a 
mat in a pool of sun, half-naked, kneeling, turning about on her 
knees, there was my Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses. 1 

It was the same child — the same frail, honey-hued shoulders, 
the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair. 

A polka-dotted black kerchief tied around her chest hid from my 
aging ape eyes, but not from the gaze of young memory, the 
juvenile breasts I had fondled one immortal day. And, as if I 
were the fairy-tale nurse of some little princess (lost, kidnaped, 2 
discovered in gypsy rags through which her nakedness smiled at 
the king and his hounds), I recognized the tiny dark-brown mole 
on her side. With awe and delight (the king crying for joy, the 
trumpets blaring, the nurse drunk) I saw again her lovely in- 
drawn abdomen where my southbound mouth had briefly 
paused; and those puerile hips on which I had kissed the crenu- 
lated imprint left by the band of her shorts — that last mad im- 
mortal day behind the “Roches Roses.” The twenty-five years I 3 
had lived since then, tapered to a palpitating point, and vanished. 

I find it most difficult to express with adequate force that 
flash, that shiver, that impact of passionate recognition. In the 
course of the sun-shot moment that my glance slithered over the 
kneeling child (her eyes blinking over those stern dark spectacles 
— the little Herr Doktor who was to cure me of all my aches) 
while I passed by her in my adult disguise (a great big hand- 
some hunk of movieland manhood), the vacuum of my soul 
managed to suck in every detail of her bright beauty, and these 
I checked against the features of my dead bride. A little later, of 

[ 41 ] 

1 course, she, this nouvelle, this Lolita, 7 fiy Lolita, was to eclipse 
completely her prototype. All I want to stress is that my dis- 
covery of her was a fatal consequence of that “princedom by the 
sea” in my tortured past. Everything between the two events 
was but a series of gropings and blunders, and false rudiments of 
joy. Everything they shared made one of them. 

I have no illusions, however. My judges will regard all this as a 

2 piece of mummery on the part of a madman with a gross liking 
3,4 for the fruit vert. Au fond, fa m'est bien egal. All I know is 

that while the Haze woman and I went down the steps into the 
breathless garden, my knees were like reflections of knees in 
rippling water, and my lips were like sand, and — 

“That was my Lo,” she said, “and these are my lilies.” 

“Yes,” I said, “yes. They are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!” 


Exhibit number two is a pocket diary bound in black imitation 

5 leather, with a golden year, 1947, en escalier, in its upper left- 
hand corner. I speak of this neat product of the Blank Blank Co., 

6 Blankton, Mass., as if it were really before me. Actually, it was 
destroyed five years ago and what we examine now (by courtesy 
of a photographic memory) is but its brief materialization, a 

7 puny unfledged phoenix. 

I remember the thing so exactly because I wrote it really twice. 
First I jotted down each entry in pencil (with many erasures and 
corrections) on the leaves of what is commercially known as a 
“typewriter tablet”; then, I copied it out with obvious abbrevia- 
tions in my smallest, most Satanic, hand in the little black book 
just mentioned. 

May 30 is a Fast Day by Proclamation in New Hampshire but 
not in the Carolinas. That day an epidemic of “abdominal flu” 
(whatever that is) forced Ramsdale to close its schools for the 
summer. The reader may check the weather data in the Rams- 
dale Journal for 1947. A few days before that I moved into the 

[ 42 ] 

Haze house, and the little diary which I now propose to reel off 
(much as a spy delivers by heart the contents of the note he 
swallowed) covers most of June. 

Thursday. Very warm day. From a vantage point (bathroom 
window) saw Dolores taking things off a clothesline in the 
apple-green light behind the house. Strolled out. She wore a 
plaid shirt, blue jeans and sneakers. Every movement she made 
in the dappled sun plucked at the most secret and sensitive 
chord of my abject body. After a while she sat down next to me 
on the lower step of the back porch and began to pick up the 
pebbles between her feet — pebbles, my God, then a curled bit of 
milk-bottle glass resembling a snarling lip — and chuck them at a 
can. Pmg. You can’t a second time — you can’t hit it — this is 
agony — a second time. Ping. Marvelous skin — oh, marvelous; 
tender and tanned, not the least blemish. Sundaes cause acne. 
The excess of the oily substance called sebum which nourishes 
the hair follicles of the skin creates, when too profuse, an irrita- 
tion that opens the way to infection. But nymphets do not 
have acne although they gorge themselves on rich food. God, 
what agony, that silky shimmer above her temple grading into 
bright brown hair. And the little bone twitching at the side of 
her dust-powdered ankle. “The McCoo girl? Ginny McCoo? 
Oh, she’s a fright. And mean. And lame. Nearly died of polio.” 
Ping. The glistening tracery of down on her forearm. When she 
got up to take in the wash, I had a chance of adoring from afar 
the faded seat of her rolled-up jeans. Out of the lawn, bland 
Mrs. Haze, complete with camera, grew up like a fakir’s fake tree 
and after some heliotropic fussing — sad eyes up, glad eyes down 
— had the cheek of taking my picture as I sat blinking on the 
steps, Humbert le Bel. 

Friday. Saw her going somewhere with a dark girl called Rose. 
Why does the way she walks — a child, mind you, a mere child! 
— excite me so abominably? Analyze it. A faint suggestion of 
turned in toes. A kind of wiggly looseness below the knee pro- 
longed to the end of each footfall. The ghost of a drag. Very 
infantile, infinitely meretricious. Humbert Humbert is also 
infinitely moved by the little one’s slangy speech, by her harsh 

[ 43 ] 

high voice. Later heard her volley crude nonsense at Rose across 
the fence. Twanging through me in a rising rhythm. Pause. “I 
must go now, kiddo.” 

Saturday. (Beginning perhaps amended.) I know it is madness 
to keep this journal but it gives me a strange thrill to do so; and 
only a loving wife could decipher my microscopic script. Let me 
state with a sob that today my L. was sun-bathing on the so- 
called “piazza,” but her mother and some other woman were 
around all the time. Of course, I might have sat there in the 
rocker and pretended to read. Playing safe, I kept away, for I 
was afraid that the horrible, insane, ridiculous and pitiful tremor 

1 that palsied me might prevent me from making my e^itree with 
any semblance of casualness. 

2 Sunday. Heat ripple still with us; a most favonian week. This 
time I took up a strategic position, with obese newspaper and 
new pipe, in the piazza rocker be j ore L. arrived. To my intense 
disappointment she came with her mother, both in two-piece 
bathing suits, black, as new as my pipe. My darling, my sweet- 
heart stood for a moment near me— wanted the funnies — and 
she smelt almost exactly like the other one, the Riviera one, but 
more intensely so, with rougher overtones — a torrid odor that at 
once set my manhood astir — but she had already yanked out of 

3 me the coveted section and retreated to her mat near her phocine 
mamma. There my beauty lay down on her stomach, showing 
me, showing the thousand eyes wide open in my eyed blood, her 
slightly raised shoulder blades, and the bloom along the incurva- 
tion of her spine, and the swellings of her tense narrow nates 
clothed in black, and the seaside of her schoolgirl thighs. Silently, 
the seventh-grader enjoyed her green-red-blue comics. She was 

4 the loveliest nymphet green-red-blue Priap himself could think 
up. As I looked on, through prismatic layers of light, dry-lipped, 
focusing my lust and rocking slightly under my newspaper, I 
felt that my perception of her, if properly concentrated upon, 
might be sufficient to have me attain a beggar’s bliss immediately; 

5 but, like some predator that prefers a moving prey to a motion- 
less one, I planned to have this pitiful attainment coincide with 
one of the various girlish movements she made now and then as 

[ 44 ] 

she read, such as trying to scratch the middle of her back and 
revealing a stippled armpit — but fat Haze suddenly spoiled every- 1 
thing by turning to me and asking me for a light, and starting a 
make-believe conversation about a fake book by some popular 

Monday. Delectatio morosa. I spend my doleful days in 
dumps and dolors. We (mother Haze, Dolores and I) were to 2 
go to Our Glass Lake this afternoon, and bathe, and bask; but 3 
a nacreous morn degenerated at noon into rain, and Lo made a 4 

The median age of pubescence for girls has been found to be 
thirteen years and nine months in New York and Chicago. The 
age varies for individuals from ten, or earlier, to seventeen. 
Virginia was not quite fourteen when Harry Edgar possessed her. 5 
He gave her lessons in algebra. ]e m' imagine cela. They spent 6 
their honeymoon at Petersburg, Fla. “Monsieur Poe-poe,” as 7 
that boy in one of Monsieur Humbert Humbert’s classes in Paris 
called the poet-poet. 

I have all the characteristics which, according to writers on the 
sex interests of children, start the responses stirring in a little 
girl: clean-cut jaw, muscular hand, deep sonorous voice, broad 
shoulder. Moreover, I am said to resemble some crooner or actor 
chap on whom Lo has a crush. 8 

Tuesday. Rain. Lake of the Rains. Mamma out shopping. L., 

I knew, was somewhere quite near. In result of some stealthy 
maneuvering, I came across her in her mother’s bedroom. Prying 
her left eye open to get rid of a speck of something. Checked 
frock. Although I do love that intoxicating brown fragrance of 
hers, I really think she should wash her hair once in a while. For 
a moment, we were both in the same warm green bath of the 
mirror that reflected the top of a poplar with us in the sky. Held 
her roughly by the shoulders, then tenderly by the temples, and 
turned her about. “It’s right there,” she said, “I can feel it.” 
“Swiss peasant would use the top of her tongue.” “Lick it out?” 
“Yeth. Shly try?” “Sure,” she said. Gently I pressed my quivering 
sting along her rolling salty eyeball. “Goody-goody,” she said 
nictating. “It is gone.” “Now the other?” “You dope,” she began, 9 

[ 45 ] 

“there is noth — ” but here she noticed the pucker of my ap- 
proaching lips. “Okay,” she said co-operatively, and bending 
toward her warm upturned russet face somber Humbert pressed 
his mouth to her fluttering eyelid. She laughed, and brushed 
past me out of the room. My heart seemed everywhere at once. 
Never in my life — not even when fondling my child-love in 
France — never — 

Night. Never have I experienced such agony. I would like to 
describe her face, her ways — and I cannot, because my own desire 
for her blinds me when she is near. I am not used to being with 
nymphets, damn it. If I close my eyes I see but an immobilized 
fraction of her, a cinematographic still, a sudden smooth nether 
loveliness, as with one knee up under her tartan skirt she sits 

1 tying her shoe. “Dolores Haze, Tie montrez pas vos zha7nbes" 
(this is her mother who thinks she knows French). 

2 A poet d vies hemes, I composed a madrigal to the soot-black 
lashes of her pale-gray vacant eyes, to the five asymmetrical 
freckles of her bobbed nose, to the blond down of her brown 
limbs; but I tore it up and cannot recall it today. Only in the 
tritest of terms (diary resumed) can I describe Lo’s features: 
I might say her hair is auburn, and her lips as red as licked 
red candy, the lower one prettily plump — oh, that I were a lady 
writer who could have her pose naked in a naked light! But 
instead I am lanky, big-boned, wooly-chested Humbert Hum- 
bert, with thick black eyebrows and a queer accent, and a 
cesspoolful of rotting monsters behind his slow boyish smile. 
And neither is she the fragile child of a feminine novel. What 
drives me insane is the twofold nature of this nymphet — of 
every nymphet, perhaps; this mixture in my Lolita of tender 
dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity, stemming 
from the snub-nosed cuteness of ads and magazine pictures, 
from the blurry pinkness of adolescent maidservants in the 
Old Country (smelling of crushed daisies and sweat); and from 
very young harlots disguised as children in provincial brothels; 
and then again, all this gets mixed up with the exquisite stain- 
less tenderness seeping through the musk and the mud, through 
the dirt and the death, oh God, oh God. And what is most 

[ 46 ] 

singular is that she, this Lolita, 7ny Lolita, has individualized 
the writer’s ancient lust, so that above and over everything i 
there is — Lolita. 

Wednesday . “Look, make Mother take you and me to Our 
Glass Lake tomorrow.” These were the textual words said to 2 
me by my twelve -year-old flame in a voluptuous whisper, as 
we happened to bump into one another on the front porch, I 
out, she in. The reflection of the afternoon sun, a dazzling 
white diamond with innumerable iridescent spikes quivered 
on the round back of a parked car. The leafage of a voluminous 
elm played its mellow shadows upon the clapboard wall of 
the house. Two poplars shivered and shook. You could make 
out the formless sounds of remote traffic; a child calling “Nancy, 
Nan-cy!” In the house, Lolita had put on her favorite “Little 
Carmen” record which I used to call “Dwarf Conductors,” 3 
making her snort with mock derision at my mock wit. 

Thursday. Last night we sat on the piazza, the Haze woman, 
Lolita and I. Warm dusk had deepened into amorous darkness. 
The old girl had finished relating in great detail the plot of a 
movie she and L. had seen sometime in the winter. The boxer 
had fallen extremely low when he met the good old priest (who 
had been a boxer himself in his robust youth and could still 
slug a sinner). We sat on cushions heaped on the floor, and 
L. was between the woman and me (she had squeezed herself 
in, the pet). In my turn, I launched upon a hilarious account 
of my arctic adventures. The muse of invention handed me 
a rifle and I shot a white bear who sat down and said: Ah! All 4 
the while I was acutely aware of L.’s nearness and as I spoke 
I gestured in the merciful dark and took advantage of those 
invisible gestures of mine to touch her hand, her shoulder and 
a ballerina of wool and gauze which she played with and kept 
sticking into my lap; and finally, when I had completely en- 
meshed my glowing darling in this weave of ethereal caresses, 

I dared stroke her bare leg along the gooseberry fuzz of her 
shin, and I chuckled at my own jokes, and trembled, and 
concealed my tremors, and once or twice felt with my rapid 
lips the warmth of her hair as I treated her to a quick nuzzling, 

[ 47 ] 

humorous aside and caressed her plaything. She, too, fidgeted 
a good deal so that finally her mother told her sharply to quit 
it and sent the doll flying into the dark, and I laughed and 
addressed myself to Haze across Lo’s legs to let my hand creep 
up my nymphet’s thin back and feel her skin through her 
boy’s shirt. 

But I knew it was all hopeless, and was sick with longing, 
and my clothes felt miserably tight, and I was almost glad when 
her mother’s quiet voice announced in the dark: “And now we 
all think that Lo should go to bed.” “I think you stink,” said 
Lo. “Which means there will be no picnic tomorrow,” said 
Haze. “This is a free country,” said Lo. When angry Lo with a 
Bronx cheer had gone, I stayed on from sheer inertia, while 
Haze smoked her tenth cigarette of the evening and complained 
of Lo. 

She had been spiteful, if you please, at the age of one, when 
she used to throw her toys out of her crib so that her poor 
mother should keep picking them up, the villainous infant! 
Now, at twelve, she was a regular pest, said Haze. All she wanted 
from life was to be one day a strutting and prancing baton 
twirler or a jitterbug. Her grades were poor, but she was better 
adjusted in her new school than in Pisky (Pisky was the Haze 
home town in the Middle West. The Ramsdale house was her 
late mother-in-law’s. They had moved to Ramsdale less than two 
years ago). “Why was she unhappy there?” “Oh,” said Haze, 
“poor me should know, I went through that when / was a kid: 
boys twisting one’s arm, banging into one with loads of books, 
pulling one’s hair, hurting one’s breasts, flipping one’s skirt. 
Of course, moodiness is a common concomitant of growing 
up, but Lo exaggerates. Sullen and evasive. Rude and defiant. 
Stuck Viola, an Italian schoolmate, in the seat with a fountain 
pen. Know what I would like? If you, monsieur, happened to be 
still here in the fall. I’d ask you to help her with her home- 
work — you seem to know everything, geography, mathematics, 
French.” “Oh, everything,” answered monsieur. “That means,” 
said Haze quickly, “you’ll he here!” I wanted to shout that I 
would stay on eternally if only I could hope to caress now and 

[ 48 ] 

then my incipient pupil. But I was wary of Haze. So I just 
grunted and stretched my limbs nonconcomitantly (le mot 
juste) and presently went up to my room. The woman, how- i 
ever, was evidently not prepared to call it a day. I was already 
lying upon my cold bed both hands pressing to my face Lolita’s 
fragrant ghost when I heard my indefatigable landlady creeping 
stealthily up to my door to whisper through it — just to make sure, 
she said, I was through with the Glance and Gulp magazine I 
had borrowed the other day. From her room Lo yelled she had 
it. W e are quite a lending library in this house, thunder of God. 

Friday. I wonder what my academic publishers would say 
if I were to quote in my textbook Ronsard’s ‘‘‘‘la vermeillette 
jente’’’’ or Remy Belleau’s 'dm petit viont jeutre de inousse i 
delicate, trace sur le milieu dhin fillet escarlatte" and so forth. 3 
I shall probably have another breakdown if I stay any longer in 
this house, under the strain of this intolerable temptation, by 
the side of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride. Has 4 
she already been initiated by mother nature to the Mystery of 
the Menarche? Bloated feeling. The Curse of the Irish. Falling 5 
from the roof. Grandma is visiting. “Mr. Uterus [I quote from 
a girls’ magazine] starts to build a thick soft wall on the chance 
a possible baby may have to be bedded down there.” The tiny 
madman in his padded cell. 

Incidentally; if I ever commit a serious murder . . . Mark the 
“if.” The urge should be something more than the kind of 
thing that happened to me with Valeria. Carefully mark that 
the7i I was rather inept. If and when you wish to sizzle me to 
death, remember that only a spell of insanity could ever give 
me the simple energy to be a brute (all this amended, perhaps). 
Sometimes I attempt to kill in my dreams. But do you know what 6 
happens? For instance I hold a gun. For instance I aim at a bland, 
quietly interested enemy. Oh, I press the trigger all right, but one 
bullet after another feebly drops on the floor from the sheepish 
muzzle. In those dreams, my only thought is to conceal the fiasco 
from my foe, who is slowly growing annoyed. 

At dinner tonight the old cat said to me with a sidelong 
gleam of motherly mockery directed at Lo (I had just been 

[ 49 ] 

describing, in a flippant vein, the delightful little toothbrush 

1 mustache I had not quite decided to grow): “Better don’t, if 
somebody is not to go absolutely dotty.” Instantly Lo pushed 
her plate of boiled fish away, all but knocking her milk over, 
and bounced out of the dining room. “Would it bore you very 
much,” quoth Haze, “to come with us tomorrow for a swim in 
Our Glass Lake if Lo apologizes for her manners?” 

Later, I heard a great banging of doors and other sounds 
coming from quaking caverns where the two rivals were having 
a ripping row. 

She has not apologized. The lake is out. It might have been 

Saturday. For some days already I had been leaving the door 
ajar, while I wrote in my room; but only today did the trap 
work. With a good deal of additional fidgeting, shuffling, scrap- 
ing — to disguise her embarrassment at visiting me without 
having been called — Lo came in and after pottering around, 
became interested in the nightmare curlicues I had penned on 
a sheet of paper. Oh no: they were not the outcome of a belle- 
lettrist’s inspired pause between two paragraphs; they were the 
hideous hieroglyphics (which she could not decipher) of my 
fatal lust. As she bent her brown curls over the desk at which 
I was sitting, Humbert the Hoarse put his arm around her in a 
miserable imitation of blood-relationship; and still studying, 
somewhat shortsightedly, the piece of paper she held, my inno- 
cent little visitor slowly sank to a half-sitting position upon my 
knee. Her adorable profile, parted lips, warm hair were some 
three inches from my bared eyetooth; and I felt the heat of 
her limbs through her rough tomboy clothes. All at once I 
knew I could kiss her throat or the wick of her mouth with 
perfect impunity. I knew she would let me do so, and even close 
her eyes as Hollywood teaches. A double vanilla with hot fudge 
— hardly more unusual than that. I cannot tell my learned 
reader (whose eyebrows, I suspect, have by now traveled all 
the way to the back of his bald head), I cannot tell him how 

2 the knowledge came to me; perhaps my ape-ear had uncon- 
sciously caught some slight change in the rhythm of her respira- 

[ 50 ] 

tion — for now she was not really looking at my scribble, but 
waiting with curiosity and composure — oh, my limpid nymphet! 
— for the glamorous lodger to do what he was dying to do. A 
modern child, an avid reader of movie magazines, an expert in 
dream-slow close-ups, might not think it too strange, I guessed, 
if a handsome, intensely virile grown-up friend — too late. The 
house was suddenly vibrating with voluble Louise’s voice telling 
Mrs. Haze who had just come home about a dead something 
she and Leslie Tomson had found in the basement, and little 
Lolita was not one to miss such a tale. 

Sunday. Changeful, bad-tempered, cheerful, awkward, grace- 
ful with the tart grace of her coltish subteens, excruciatingly 
desirable from head to foot (all New England for a lady-writer’s 
pen!), from the black ready-made bow and bobby pins holding 
her hair in place to the little scar on the lower part of her neat 
calf (where a roller-skater kicked her in Pisky), a couple of 
inches above her rough white sock. Gone with her mother to 
the Hamiltons — a birthday party or something. Full-skirted ging- 
ham frock. Her little doves seem well formed already. Pre- 
cocious pet! 

Monday. Rainy morning. “Cey matins gris si doux . . .” My 
white pajamas have a lilac design on the back. I am like one 
of those inflated pale spiders you see in old gardens. Sitting in 
the middle of a luminous web and giving little jerks to this or 
that strand. My web is spread all over the house as I listen 
from my chair where I sit like a wily wizard. Is Lo in her room? 
Gently I tug on the silk. She is not. Just heard the toilet paper 
cylinder make its staccato sound as it is turned; and no footfalls 
has my outflung filament traced from the bathroom back to her 
room. Is she still brushing her teeth (the only sanitary act Lo 
performs with real zest)? No. The bathroom door has just 
slammed, so one has to feel elsewhere about the house for the 
beautiful warm-colored prey. Let us have a strand of silk 
descend the stairs. I satisfy myself by this means that she is 
not in the kitchen — not banging the refrigerator door or screech- 
ing at her detested mamma (who, I suppose, is enjoying her 
third, cooing and subduedly mirthful, telephone conversation 

[ 51 ] 

of the morning). Well, let us grope and hope. Ray-like, I 
glide in thought to the parlor and find the radio silent (and 
mamma still talking to Mrs. Chatfield or Mrs. Hamilton, very 
softly, flushed, smiling, cupping the telephone with her free 
hand, denying by implication that she denies those amusing 

1 rumors, rumor, roomer, whispering intimately, as she never does, 
the clear-cut lady, in face to face talk). So my nymphet is not in 
the house at all! Gone! What I thought was a prismatic weave 
turns out to be but an old gray cobweb, the house is empty, is 
dead. And then comes Lolita’s soft sweet chuckle through my 
half-open door “Don’t tell Mother but I’ve eaten all your 
bacon.” Gone when I scuttle out of my room. Lolita, where are 
you? My breakfast tray, lovingly prepared by my landlady, leers 
at me toothlessly, ready to be taken in. Lola, Lolita! 

Tuesday. Clouds again interfered with that picnic on that 

2 unattainable lake. Is it Fate scheming? Yesterday I tried on 
before the mirror a new pair of bathing trunks. 

Wednesday . In the afternoon. Haze (common-sensical shoes, 
tailor-made dress), said she was driving downtown to buy a 
present for a friend of a friend of hers, and would I please come 
too because I have such a wonderful taste in textures and per- 
fumes. “Choose your favorite seduction,” she purred. What 
could Humbert, being in the perfume business, do? She had 
me cornered between the front porch and her car. “Hurry up,” 
she said as I laboriously doubled up my large body in order to 
crawl in (still desperately devising a means of escape). She 
had started the engine, and was genteelly swearing at a backing 
and turning truck in front that had just brought old invalid 
Miss Opposite a brand new wheel chair, when my Lolita’s sharp 
voice came from the parlor window: “You! Where are you 
going? I’m coming too! Wait!” “Ignore her,” yelped Haze 
(killing the motor); alas for my fair driver; Lo was already pull- 
ing at the door on my side. “This is intolerable,” began Haze; 
but Lo had scrambled in, shivering with glee. “Move your 
bottom, you,” said Lo. “Lo!” cried Haze (sideglancing at me, 

3 hoping I would throw rude Lo out). “And behold,” said Lo 
(not for the first time), as she jerked back, as I jerked back, as 

[ 5 ^ ] 

the car leapt forward. “It is intolerable,” said Haze, violently 
getting into second, “that a child should be so ill-mannered. 
And so very persevering. When she knows she is unwanted. And 
needs a bath.” 

My knuckles lay against, the child’s blue jeans. She was bare- 
footed; her toenails showed remnants of cherry-red polish and 
there was a bit of adhesive tape across her big toe; and, God, 
what would I not have given to kiss then and there those delicate- 
boned, long-toed, monkeyish feet! Suddenly her hand slipped 
into mine and without our chaperon’s seeing, I held, and stroked, 
and squeezed that little hot paw, all the way to the store. The 
wings of the driver’s Marlenesque nose shone, having shed or 
burned up their ration of powder, and she kept up an elegant 
monologue anent the local traffic, and smiled in profile, and 
pouted in profile, and beat her painted lashes in profile, while 
I prayed we would never get to that store, but we did. 

I have nothing else to report, save, prmio: that big Haze had 
little Haze sit behind on our way home, and secundo: that the 
lady decided to keep Humbert’s Choice for the backs of her 
own shapely ears. 

Thursday. We are paying with hail and gale for the tropical 
beginning of the month. In a volume of the Young People's 
E 7 icyclopedia, I found a map of the States that a child’s pencil 
had started copying out on a sheet of lightweight paper, upon 
the other side of which, counter to the unfinished outline of 
Florida and the Gulf, there was a mimeographed list of names 
referring, evidently, to her class at the Ramsdale school. It is l 
a poem I know already by heart. 

Angel, Grace 
Austin, Floyd 

Beale, Jack 2 

Beale, Mary 

Buck, Daniel 

Byron, Marguerite 

Campbell, Alice 

Carmine, Rose 3 

Chatfield, Phyllis 

[ S3 ] 

Clarke, Gordon 
Cowan, John 
Cowan, Marion 
Duncan, Walter 
Falter, Ted 
Fantasia, Stella 
Flashman, Irving 
Fox, George 
Glave, Mabel 
Goodale, Donald 
Green, Lucinda 
Hamilton, Mary Rose 
Haze, Dolores 
Honeck, Rosaline 
Knight, Kenneth 
McCoo, Virginia 
McCrystal, Vivian 
McFate, Aubrey 
Miranda, Anthony 
Miranda, Viola 
Rosato, Emil 
Schlenker, Lena 
Scott, Donald 
Sheridan, Agnes 
Sherva, Oleg 
Smith, Hazel 
Talbot, Edgar 
Talbot, Edwin 
Wain, Lull 
Williams, Ralph 
Windmuller, Louise 

A poem, a poem, forsooth! So strange and sweet was it to 
discover this “Haze, Dolores” (she!) in its special bower of 
names, with its bodyguard of roses — a fairy princess between her 
two maids of honor. I am trying to analyze the spine-thrill of 
delight it gives me, this name among all those others. What is 
it that excites me almost to tears (hot, opalescent, thick tears 
that poets and lovers shed)? What is it? The tender anonymity 
of this name with its formal veil (“Dolores”) and that abstract 

transposition of first name and surname, which is like a pair 
of new pale gloves or a mask? Is “mask” the keyword? Is it l 
because there is always delight in the semitranslucent mystery, 
the flowing charshaf, through which the flesh and the eye you 2 
alone are elected to know smile in passing at you alone? Or is it 
because I can imagine so well the rest of the colorful classroom 
around my dolorous and hazy darling: Grace and her ripe 
pimples; Ginny and her lagging leg; Gordon, the haggard mas- 
turbator; Duncan, the foul-smelling clown; nail-biting Agnes; 
Viola, of the blackheads and the bouncing bust; pretty Rosaline; 
dark Alary Rose; adorable Stella, who has let strangers touch 
her; Ralph, who bullies and steals; Irving, for whom I am sorry. 3 
And there she is there, lost in the middle, gnawing a pencil, 
detested by teachers, all the boys’ eyes on her hair and neck, 
my Lolita. 

Friday. I long for some terrific disaster. Earthquake. Spec- 
tacular explosion. Her mother is messily but instantly and 
permanently eliminated, along with everybody else for miles 
around. Lolita whimpers in my arms. A free man, I enjoy her 
among the ruins. Her surprise, my explanations, demonstrations, 
ullulations. Idle and idiotic fancies! A brave Humbert would 4 
have played with her most disgustingly (yesterday, for instance, 
when she was again in my room to show me her drawings, school- 
artware); he might have bribed her — and got away with it. A 
simpler and more practical fellow would have soberly stuck to 
various commercial substitutes — if you know where to go, I 
don’t. Despite my manly looks, I am horribly timid. Ady ro- 
mantic soul gets all clammy and shivery at the thought of run- 
ning into some awful indecent unpleasantness. Those ribald sea 
monsters. “Mais allez-y, allez-y!'" Annabel skipping on one foot 5, 
to get into her shorts, I seasick with rage, trying to screen her. 

Same date, later, quite late. I have turned on the light to 
take down a dream. It had an evident antecedent. Haze at 
dinner had benevolently proclaimed that since the weather 
bureau promised a sunny weekend we would go to the lake 
Sunday after church. As I lay in bed, erotically musing before 
trying to go to sleep, I thought of a final scheme how to profit 

[ 55 ] 

by the picnic to come. I was aware that mother Haze hated 
my darling for her being sweet on me. So I planned my lake 
day with a view to satisfying the mother. To her alone would 
I talk; but at some appropriate moment I would say I had left 
my wrist watch or my sunglasses in that glade yonder — and 
plunge with my nymphet into the wood. Reality at this junc- 
ture withdrew, and the Quest for the Glasses turned into a 
quiet little orgy with a singularly knowing, cheerful, corrupt 
and compliant Lolita behaving as reason knew she could not 
possibly behave. At 3 a.m. I swallowed a sleeping pill, and pres- 
ently, a dream that was not a sequel but a parody revealed to 
me, with a kind of meaningful clarity, the lake I had never yet 
visited: it was glazed over with a sheet of emerald ice, and a 
pockmarked Eskimo was trying in vain to break it with a pickaxe, 
although imported mimosas and oleanders flowered on its grav- 

1 elly banks. I am sure Dr. Blanche Schwarzmann would have 

2 paid me a sack of schillings for adding such a libidream to her 
files. Unfortunately, the rest of it was frankly eclectic. Big 
Haze and little Haze rode on horseback around the lake, and I 
rode too, dutifully bobbing up and down, bowlegs astraddle 
although there was no horse between them, only elastic air — 
one of those little omissions due to the absent-mindedness of 
the dream agent. 

Saturday. My heart is still thumping. I still squirm and emit 
low moans of remembered embarrassment. 

3 Dorsal view. Glimpse of shiny skin between T-shirt and white 
gym shorts. Bending, over a window sill, in the act of tearing off 
leaves from a poplar outside while engrossed in torrential talk 
with a newspaper boy below (Kenneth Knight, I suspect) who 
had just propelled the Ramsdale Journal with a very precise thud 
onto the porch. I began creeping up to her — “crippling” up to 
her, as pantomimists say. My arms and legs were convex surfaces 
between which — rather than upon which — I slowly progressed 
by some neutral means of locomotion: Humbert the Wounded 
Spider. I must have taken hours to reach her: I seemed to see 
her through the wrong end of a telescope, and toward her taut 
little rear I moved like some paralytic, on soft distorted limbs, 

[ 56 ] 

in terrible concentration. At last I was right behind her when 
I had the unfortunate idea of blustering a trifle — shaking her 
by the scruff of the neck and that sort of thing to cover my real 
manege, and she said in a shrill brief whine: “Cut it out!” — 1 
most coarsely, the little wench, and with a ghastly grin Humbert 
the Humble beat a gloomy retreat while she went on wisecrack- 
ing streetward. 

But now listen to what happened next. After lunch I was 
reclining in a low chair trying to read. Suddenly two deft little 
hands were over my eyes: she had crept up from behind as if 
re-enacting, in a ballet sequence, my morning maneuver. Her 
fingers were a luminous crimson as they tried to blot out the sun, 
and she uttered hiccups of laughter and jerked this way and 
that as I stretched my arm sideways and backwards without 
otherwise changing my recumbent position. My hand swept 
over her agile giggling legs, and the book like a sleigh left my lap, 
and Mrs. Haze strolled up and said indulgently: “Just slap her 
hard if she interferes with your scholarly meditations. How I love 
this garden [no exclamation mark in her tone]. Isn’t it divine 
in the sun [no question mark either].” And with a sign of 
feigned content, the obnoxious lady sank down on the grass and 
looked up at the sky as she leaned back on her splayed-out hands, 
and presently an old gray tennis ball bounced over her, and 
Lo’s voice came from the house haughtily: ‘‘‘'Fardojmez, Mother. 

I was not aiming at youT Of course not, my hot downy darling. 


This proved to be the last of twenty entries or so. It will be 
seen from them that for all the devil’s inventiveness, the scheme 
remained daily the same. First he would tempt me- — and then 
thwart me, leaving me with a dull pain in the very root of my 
being. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and how to do it, 
without impinging on a child’s chastity; after all, I had had some 
experience in my life of pederosis; had visually possessed dappled 2 
nymphets in parks; had wedged my wary and bestial way into 

[ 57 ] 

the hottest, most crowded corner of a city bus full of strap- 
hanging school children. But for almost three weeks I had been 
interrupted in all my pathetic machinations. The agent of these 
interruptions was usually the Haze woman (who, as the reader 
will mark, was more afraid of Lo’s deriving some pleasure from 
me than of my enjoying Lo). The passion I had developed for 
that nymphet — for the first nymphet in my life that could be 
reached at last by my awkward, aching, timid claws — would have 
certainly landed me again in a sanatorium, had not the devil 
realized that I was to be granted some relief if he wanted to have 
me as a plaything for some time longer. 

The reader has also marked the curious Mirage of the Lake. 
It would have been logical on the part of Aubrey McFate (as 

1 I would like to dub that devil of mine) to arrange a small treat 
for me on the promised beach, in the presumed forest. Actually, 
the promise Mrs. Haze had made was a fraudulent one: she had 
not told me that Mary Rose Hamilton (a dark little beauty in 
her own right) was to come too, and that the two nymphets 
would be whispering apart, and playing apart, and having a 
good time all by themselves, while Mrs. Haze and her handsome 
lodger conversed sedately in the seminude, far from prying eyes. 
Incidentally, eyes did pry and tongues did wag. How queer life 
is! We hasten to alienate the very fates we intended to woo. 
Before my actual arrival, my landlady had planned to have an 

2 old spinster, a Miss Phalen, whose mother had been cook in 
Mrs. Haze’s family, come to stay in the house with Lolita and 
me, while Mrs. Haze, a career girl at heart, sought some suitable 
job in the nearest city. Mrs. Haze had seen the whole situation 
very clearly: the bespectacled, round-backed Herr Humbert 
coming with his Central-European trunks to gather dust in his 
corner behind a heap of old books; the unloved ugly little daugh- 
ter firmly supervised by Miss Phalen who had already once had 
my Lo under her buzzard wing (Lo recalled that 1944 summer 
with an indignant shudder); and Mrs. Haze herself engaged as a 
receptionist in a great elegant city. But a not too complicated 
event interfered with that program. Miss Phalen broke her hip 
in Savannah, Ga., on the very day I arrived in Ramsdale. 

[ 58 ] 


The Sunday after the Saturday already described proved to be 
as bright as the weatherman had predicted. When putting the 
breakfast things back on the chair outside my room for my 
good landlady to remove at her convenience, I gleaned the 
following situation by listening from the landing across which 
I had softly crept to the bannisters in my old bedroom slippers — 
the only old things about me. 

There had been another row. Mrs. Hamilton had telephoned 
that her daughter “was running a temperature.” Mrs. Haze 
informed her daughter that the picnic would have to be post- 
poned. Hot little Haze informed big cold Haze that, if so, she 
would not go with her to church. Mother said very well and left. 

I had come out on the landing straight after shaving, soapy- 
earlobed, still in my white pajamas with the cornflower blue 
(not the lilac) design on the back; I now wiped off the soap, 
perfumed my hair and armpits, slipped on a purple silk dressing 
gown, and, humming nervously, went down the stairs in quest 
of Lo^^ 

T’v^t my learned readers to participate in the scene I am 
about to replay; I want them to examine its every detail and see 
for themselves how careful, how chaste, the whole wine-sweet 
event is if viewed with what my lawyer has called, in a private 
talk we have had, “impartial sympathy.” So let us get started. 
I have a difficult job before me. 

Main character; Humbert the Hummer. Time; Sunday morn- 
ing in June. Place; sunlit living room. Props; old, candy-striped 
davenport, magazines, phonograph, Mexican knickknacks (the 
late Mr. Harold E. Haze — God bless the good man — had en- 
gendered my darling at the siesta hour in a blue-washed room, 
on a honeymoon trip to Vera Cruz, and mementoes, among 
these Dolores, were all over the place). She wore that day a 
pretty print dress that I had seen on her once before, ample in 
the skirt, tight in the bodice, short-sleeved, pink, checkered with 
darker pink, and, to complete the color scheme, she had painted 
her lips and was holding in her hollowed hands a beautiful, 

[ 59 ] 

banal, Eden-red apple. She was not shod, however, for church. 
And her white Sunday purse lay discarded near the phonograph. 

My heart beat like a drum as she sat down, cool skirt balloon- 
ing, subsiding, on the sofa next to me, and played with her 
glossy fruit. She tossed it up into the sun-dusted air, and caught it — 
it made a cupped polished plop. 

Humbert Humbert intercepted the apple. 

“Give it back,” she pleaded, showing the marbled flush of 
her palms. I produced Delicious. She grasped it and bit into it, 
and my heart was like snow under thin crimson skin, and with 
the monkeyish nimbleness that was so typical of that American 
nymphet, she snatched out of my abstract grip the magazine I 
had opened (pity no film had recorded the curious pattern, the 
monogrammic linkage of our simultaneous or overlapping moves). 
Rapidly, hardly hampered by the disfigured apple she held, Lo 
flipped violently through the pages in search of something she 
wished Humbert to see. Found it at last. I faked interest by 
bringing my head so close that her hair touched my temple 
and her arm brushed my cheek as she wiped her lips with her 
wrist. Because of the burnished mist through which I peered 
at the picture, I was slow in reacting to it, and her bare knees 
rubbed and knocked impatiently against each other. Dimly there 
came into view: a surrealist painter relaxing, supine, on a beach, 
and near him, likewise supine, a plaster replica of the Venus di 
Milo, half-buried in sand. Picture of the Week, said the legend. 
I whisked the whole obscene thing away. Next moment, in a 
sham effort to retrieve it, she was all over me. Caught her by 
her thin knobby wrist. The magazine escaped to the floor like 
a flustered fowl. She twisted herself free, recoiled, and lay back 
in the right-hand corner of the davenport. Then, with perfect 
simplicity, the impudent child extended her legs across my lap. 

By this time I was in a state of excitement bordering on in- 
sanity; but I also had the cunning of the insane. Sitting there, 
on the sofa, I managed to attune, by a series of stealthy move- 
ments, my masked lust to her guileless limbs. It was no easy 
matter to divert the little maiden’s attention while I performed 
the obscure adjustments necessary for the success of the trick. 

[ 6o ] 

Talking fast, lagging behind my own breath, catching up with it, 
mimicking a sudden toothache to explain the breaks in my patter 
— and all the while keeping a maniac’s inner eye on my distant 
golden goal, I cautiously increased the magic friction that was 
doing away, in an illusional, if not factual, sense, with the phys- 
ically irremovable, but psychologically very friable texture of 1 
the material divide (pajamas and robe) between the weight of 
two sunburnt legs, resting athwart my lap, and the hidden tumor 
of an unspeakable passion. Having, in the course of my patter, 
hit upon something nicely mechanical, I recited, garbling them 
slightly, the words of a foolish song that was then popular — O 
my Carmen, my little Carmen, something, something, those 
something nights, and the stars, and the cars, and the bars, and 
the barmen; I kept repeating this automatic stuff and holding 
her under its special spell (spell because of the garbling), and 
all the while I was mortally afraid that some act of God might 
interrupt me, might remove the golden load in the sensation of 
which all my being seemed concentrated, and this anxiety forced 
me to work, for the first minute or so, more hastily than was con- 
sensual with deliberately modulated enjoyment. The stars that 
sparkled, and the cars that parkled, and the bars, and the bar- 2 
men, were presently taken over by her; her voice stole and cor- 
rected the tune I had been mutilating. She was musical and 
apple-sweet. Her legs twitched a little as they lay across my live 
lap; I stroked them; there she lolled in the right-hand corner, 
almost asprawl, Lola the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial 
fruit, singing through its juice, losing her slipper, rubbing the 
heel of her slipperless foot in its sloppy anklet, against the pile 
of old magazines heaped on my left on the sofa — and every 
movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to con- 
ceal and to improve the secret system of tactile correspondence 
between beast and beauty — between my gagged, bursting beast 
and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock. 

Under my glancing finger tips I felt the minute hairs bristle 
ever so slightly along her shins. I lost myself in the pungent but 
healthy heat which like summer haze hung about little Haze. 

Let her stay, let her stay ... As she strained to chuck the core 

[ 61 ] 

of her abolished apple into the fender, her young weight, her 
shameless innocent shanks and round bottom, shifted in my 
tense, tortured, surreptitiously laboring lap; and all of a sudden 
a mysterious change came over my senses. I entered a plane of 
being where nothing mattered, save the infusion of joy brewed 
within my body. What had begun as a delicious distension of 
my innermost roots became a glowing tingle which now had 
reached that state of absolute security, confidence and reliance 
not found elsewhere in conscious life. With the deep hot sweet- 
ness thus established and well on its way to the ultimate convul- 
sion, I felt I could slow down in order to prolong the glow. Lolita 

1 had been safely solipsized. The implied sun pulsated in the sup- 
plied poplars; we were fantastically and divinely alone; I watched 
her, rosy, gold-dusted, beyond the veil of my controlled delight, 
unaware of it, alien to it, and the sun was on her lips, and her 
lips were apparently still forming the words of the Carmen- 
barmen ditty that no longer reached my consciousness. Every- 
thing was now ready. The nerves of pleasure had been laid bare. 

2 The corpuscles of Krause were entering the phase of frenzy. The 
least pressure would suffice to set all paradise loose. I had ceased 
to be Humbert the Hound, the sad-eyed degenerate cur clasping 
the boot that would presently kick him away. I was above the 
tribulations of ridicule, beyond the possibilities of retribution. In 

3 my self-made seraglio, I was a radiant and robust Turk, deliber- 
ately, in the full consciousness of his freedom, postponing the 
moment of actually enjoying the youngest and frailest of his 
slaves. Suspended on the brink of that voluptuous abyss (a nicety 
of physiological equipoise comparable to certain techniques in 
the arts) I kept repeating chance words after her — barmen, 
alarmin’, my charmin’, my carmen, ahmen, ahahamen — as one 
talking and laughing in his sleep while my happy hand crept up 
her sunny leg as far as the shadow of decency allowed. The day 
before she had collided with the heavy chest in the hall and — 
“Look, look!” — I gasped — “look what you’ve done, what you’ve 
done to yourself, ah, look”; for there was, I swear, a yellowish- 
violet bruise on her lovely nymphet thigh which my huge hairy 
hand massaged and slowly enveloped— and because of her very 

[ 62 ] 

perfunctory underthings, there seemed to be nothing to prevent 
my muscular thumb from reaching the hot hollow of her groin 
— just as you might tickle and caress a giggling child — just that — 
and; “Oh it’s nothing at all,” she cried with a sudden shrill note 
in her voice, and she wiggled, and squirmed, and threw her head 
back, and her teeth rested on her glistening underlip as she half- 
turned away, and my moaning mouth, gentlemen of the jury, 
almost reached her bare neck, while I crushed out against her left 
buttock the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had 
ever known. 

Immediately afterward (as if we had been struggling and now 
my grip had eased) she rolled off the sofa and jumped to her 
feet — to her foot, rather — in order to attend to the formidably 
loud telephone that may have been ringing for ages as far as I 
was concerned. There she stood and blinked, cheeks aflame, hair 
awry, her eyes passing over me as lightly as they did over the 
furniture, and as she listened or spoke (to her mother who was 
telling her to come to lunch with her at the Chatfields — neither 
Lo nor Hum knew yet what busybody Haze was plotting), she 
kept tapping the edge of the table with the slipper she held in 
her hand. Blessed be the Lord, she had noticed nothing! 

With a handkerchief of multicolored silk, on which her listen- 
ing eyes rested in passing, I wiped the sweat off my forehead, 
and, immersed in a euphoria of release, rearranged my royal 
robes. She was still at the telephone, haggling with her mother 
(wanted to be fetched by car, my little Carmen) when, singing 
louder and louder, I swept up the stairs and set a deluge of 
steaming water roaring into the tub. 

At this point I may as well give the words of that song hit in 
full — to the best of my recollection at least — I don’t think I ever 
had it right. Here goes: 

O my Carmen, my little Carmen! 

Something, something those something nights. 

And the stars, and the cars, and the bars, and the 

[barmen — 

And, O my charmin’, our dreadful fights. 

[ 63 ] 

And the something town where so gaily, arm in 
Arm, we went, and our final row. 

And the gun I killed you with, O my Carmen, 

The gun I am holding now. 

(Drew his .32 automatic, I guess, and put a bullet through his 
moll’s eye.) 


I had lunch in town — had not been so hungry for years. The 
house was still Lo-less when I strolled back. I spent the after- 
noon musing, scheming, blissfully digesting my experience of the 

I felt proud of myself. I had stolen the honey of a spasm with- 
out impairing the morals of a minor. Absolutely no harm done. 
The conjurer had poured milk, molasses, foaming champagne 
into a young lady’s new white purse; and lo, the purse was intact. 
Thus had I delicately constructed my ignoble, ardent, sinful 
dream; and still Lolita was safe — and I was safe. What I had 
madly possessed was not she, but my own creation, another, 
fanciful Lolita — perhaps, more real than Lolita; overlapping, en- 
casing her; floating between me and her, and having no will, no 
consciousness — indeed, no life of her own. 

The child knew nothing. I had done nothing to her. And 
nothing prevented me from repeating a performance that af- 
fected her as little as if she were a photographic image rippling 
upon a screen and I a humble hunchback abusing myself in the 
dark. The afternoon drifted on and on, in ripe silence, and the 
sappy tall trees seemed to be in the know; and desire, even 
stronger than before, began to afflict me again. Let her come 
soon, I prayed, addressing a loan God, and while mamma is in 
the kitchen, let a repetition of the davenport scene be staged, 
please, I adore her so horribly. 

No: “horribly” is the wrong word. The elation with which the 
vision of new delights filled me was not horrible but pathetic. I 

[ 64 ] 

qualify it as pathetic. Pathetic — because despite the insatiable 
fire of my venereal appetite, I intended, with the most fervent 
force and foresight, to protect the purity of that twelve-year-old 

And now see how I was repaid for my pains. No Lolita came 
home — she had gone with the Chatfields to a movie. The table 
was laid with more elegance than usual; candlelight, if you 
please. In this mawkish aura, Mrs. Haze gently touched the silver 
on both sides of her plate as if touching piano keys, and smiled 
down on her empty plate (was on a diet), and said she hoped I 
liked the salad (recipe lifted from a woman’s magazine). She 
hoped I liked the cold cuts, too. It had been a perfect day. Mrs. 
Chatfield was a lovely person. Phyllis, her daughter, was going 
to a summer camp tomorrow. For three weeks. Lolita, it was 
decided, would go Thursday. Instead of waiting till July, as had 
been initially planned. And stay there after Phyllis had left. Till 
school began. A pretty prospect, my heart. 

Oh, how I was taken aback — for did it not mean I was losing 
my darling, just when I had secretly made her mine? To explain 
my grim mood, I had to use the same toothache I had already 
simulated in the morning. Adust have been an enormous molar, 
with an abscess as big as a maraschino cherry. 

“We have,” said Haze, “an excellent dentist. Our neighbor, 
in fact. Dr. Quilty. Uncle or cousin, I think, of the playwright. 
Think it will pass? Well, just as you wish. In the fall I shall have 
him ‘brace’ her, as my mother used to say. It may curb Lo a 
little. I am afraid she has been bothering you frightfully all these 
days. And we are in for a couple of stormy ones before she goes. 
She has flatly refused to go, and I confess I left her with the 
Chatfields because I dreaded to face her alone just yet. The 
movie may mollify her. Phyllis is a very sweet girl, and there is 
no earthly reason for Lo to dislike her. Really, monsieur, I am 
very sorry about that tooth of yours. It would be so much more 
reasonable to let me contact Ivor Quilty first thing tomorrow 
morning if it still hurts. And, you know, I think a summer 
camp is so much healthier, and — well, it is all so much more 
reasonable as I say than to mope on a suburban lawn and use 

[ 6s ] 

mamma’s lipstick, and pursue shy studious gentlemen, and go 
into tantrums at the least provocation.” 

“Axe you sure,” I said at last, “that she will be happy there?” 
(lame, lamentably lame! ) 

“She’d better,” said Haze. “And it won’t be all play either. 

1 The camp is run by Shirley Holmes — you know, the woman who 
wrote Campfire Girl. Camp will teach Dolores Haze to grow in 
many things — health, knowledge, temper. And particularly in a 
sense of responsibility toward other people. Shall we take these 
candles with us and sit for a while on the piazza, or do you want 
to go to bed and nurse that tooth?” 

Nurse that tooth. 


Next day they drove downtown to buy things needed for the 
camp: any wearable purchase worked wonders with Lo. She 
seemed her usual sarcastic self at dinner. Immediately afterwards, 
she went up to her room to plunge into the comic books acquired 

2 for rainy days at Camp Q (they were so thoroughly sampled by 
Thursday that she left them behind). I too retired to my lair, 
and wrote letters. My plan now was to leave for the seaside and 
then, when school began, resume my existence in the Haze 
household; for I knew already that I could not live without the 
child. On Tuesday they went shopping again, and I was asked to 
answer the phone if the camp mistress rang up during their 
absence. She did; and a month or so later we had occasion to re- 
call our pleasant chat. That Tuesday, Lo had her dinner in her 
room. She had been crying after a routine row with her mother 
and, as had happened on former occasions, had not wished me to 
see her swollen eyes: she had one of those tender complexions 
that after a good cry get all blurred and inflamed, and morbidly 
alluring. I regretted keenly her mistake about my private aesthet- 

3 ics, for I simply love that tinge of Botticellian pink, that raw rose 
about the lips, those wet, matted eyelashes; and, naturally, her 
bashful whim deprived me of many opportunities of specious 

[ 66 ] 

consolation. There was, however, more to it than I thought. As 
we sat in the darkness of the veranda (a rude wind had put out 
her red candles). Haze, with a dreary laugh, said she had told 
Lo that her beloved Humbert thoroughly approved of the whole 
camp idea “and now,” added Haze, “the child throws a fit; pre- 
text: you and I want to get rid of her; actual reason: I told her 
we would exchange tomorrow for plainer stuff some much too 
cute night things that she bullied me into buying for her. You 
see, she sees herself as a starlet; / see her as a sturdy, healthy, but 
decidedly homely kid. This, I guess, is at the root of our 

On Wednesday I managed to waylay Lo for a few seconds: 
she was on the landing, in sweatshirt and green-stained white 
shorts, rummaging in a trunk. I said something meant to be 
friendly and funny but she only emitted a snort without look- 
ing at me. Desperate, dying Humbert patted her clumsily on her 
coccyx, and she struck him, quite painfully, with one of the late 1 
Mr. Haze’s shoetrees. “Doublecrosser,” she said as I crawled 
downstairs rubbing my arm with a great show of rue. She did not 
condescend to have dinner with Hum and mum: washed her 
hair and went to bed with her ridiculous books. And on Thursday 
quiet Mrs. Haze drove her to Camp Q. 

As greater authors than I have put it: “Let readers imagine” 
etc. On second thought, I may as well give those imaginations a 
kick in the pants. I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; 
but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita. She would be 
thirteen on January i. In two years or so she would cease being a 
nymphet and would turn into a “young girl,” and then, into a 
“college girl” — that horror of horrors. The word “forever” re- 
ferred only to my own passion, to the eternal Lolita as reflected 
in my blood. The Lolita whose iliac crests had not yet flared, the 2 
Lolita that today I could touch and smell and hear and see, the 
Lolita of the strident voice and the rich brown hair — of the 
bangs and the swirls at the sides and the curls at the back, and 
the sticky hot neck, and the vulgar vocabulary — “revolting,” 
“super,” “luscious,” “goon,” “drip ” — that Lolita, viy Lolita, poor 

[ 67 ] 

1 Catullus would lose forever. So how could I afford not to see her 
for two months of summer insomnias? Two whole months out of 
the two years of her remaining nymphage! Should I disguise my- 
self as a somber old-fashioned girl, gawky Mile Humbert, and 
put up my tent on the outskirts of Camp Q, in the hope that its 
russet nymphets would clamor: “Let us adopt that deep-voiced 
2, 3 D.P.,” and drag the sad, shyly smiling Berthe au Grand Pied to 

their rustic hearth. Berthe will sleep with Dolores Haze! 

Idle dry dreams. Two months of beauty, two months of ten- 
derness, would be squandered forever, and I could do nothing 
4 about it, but nothing, mais rien. 

One drop of rare honey, however, that Thursday did hold in 
its acorn cup. Haze was to drive her to the camp in the early 
morning. Upon sundry sounds of departure reaching me, I rolled 
out of bed and leaned out of the window. Under the poplars, 
the car was already athrob. On the sidewalk, Louise stood shad- 
ing her eyes with her hand, as if the little traveler were already 
riding into the low morning sun. The gesture proved to be pre- 
mature. “Hurry up!” shouted Haze. My Lolita, who was half in 
and about to slam the car door, wind down the glass, wave to 
Louise and the poplars (whom and which she was never to see 
again), interrupted the motion of fate: she looked up — and 
dashed back into the house (Haze furiously calling after her). A 
moment later I heard my sweetheart running up the stairs. My 
heart expanded with such force that it almost blotted me out. 
I hitched up the pants of my pajamas, flung the door open: and 
simultaneously Lolita arrived, in her Sunday frock, stamping, 
panting, and then she was in my arms, her innocent mouth melt- 
ing under the ferocious pressure of dark male jaws, my palpitat- 
ing darling! The next instant I heard her — alive, unraped — clatter 
downstairs. The motion of fate was resumed. The blond leg was 
pulled in, the car door was slammed — was re-slammed — and 
driver Haze at the violent wheel, rubber-red lips writhing in 
angry, inaudible speech, swung my darling away, while un- 
noticed by them or Louise, old Miss Opposite, an invalid, feebly 
but rhythmically waved from her vined veranda. 

[ 68 ] 


The hollow of my hand was still ivory-full of Lolita — full of 
the feel of her pre-adolescently incurved back, that ivory-smooth, 
sliding sensation of her skin through the thin frock that I had 
worked up and down while I held her. I marched into her 
tumbled room, threw open the door of the closet and plunged 
into a heap of crumpled things that had touched her. There was 
particularly one pink texture, sleazy, torn, with a faintly acrid 
odor in the seam. I wrapped in it Humbert’s huge engorged 
heart. A poignant chaos was welling within me — but I had to 
drop those things and hurriedly regain my composure, as I be- 
came aware of the maid’s velvety voice calling me softly from 
the stairs. She had a message for me, she said; and, topping my 
automatic thanks with a kindly “you’re welcome,” good Louise 
left an unstamped, curiously clean-looking letter in my shaking 

This is a confession: I love you [so the letter began; and for 
a distorted moment I mistook its hysterical scrawl for a 
schoolgirl’s scribble]. Last Sunday in church — bad you, who 
refused to come to see our beautiful new windows! — only last 
Sunday, my dear one, when I asked the Lord what to do about 
it, I was told to act as I am acting now. You see, there is no 
alternative. I have loved you from the minute I saw you. 

I am a passionate and lonely woman and you are the love of 
my life. 

Now, my dearest, dearest, mon cher, cher monsieur, you 1 
have read this; now you know. So, will you please, at once, 
pack and leave. This is a landlady’s order. I am dismissing a 
lodger. I am kicking you out. Go! Scram! Departez! I shall be 2 
back by dinnertime, if I do eighty both ways and don’t have 
an accident (but what would it matter?), and I do not wish 
to find you in the house. Please, please, leave at once, now, 
do not even read this absurd note to the end. Go. Adieu. 

The situation, cheri, is quite simple. Of course, I know 
with absolute certainty that I am nothing to you, nothing at 
all. Oh yes, you enjoy talking to me (and kidding poor me), 

[ 69 ] 

you have grown fond of our friendly house, of the books I 
like, of my lovely garden, even of Lo’s noisy ways — but I am 
nothing to you. Right? Right. Nothing to you whatever. But 
if, after reading my “confession,” you decided, in your dark 
romantic European way, that I am attractive enough for you 
to take advantage of my letter and make a pass at me, then 
you would be a criminal — worse than a kidnaper who rapes 

1 a child. You see, cheri. If you decided to stay, if I found you 
at home (which I know I won’t — and that’s why I am able 
to go on like this), the fact of your remaining would only 
mean one thing: that you want me as much as I do you: as 
a lifelong mate; and that you are ready to link up your life 
with mine forever and ever and be a father to my little girl. 

Let me rave and ramble on for a teeny while more, my 
dearest, since I know this letter has been by now torn by you, 
and its pieces (illegible) in the vortex of the toilet. My 

2 dearest, mon tres, tres cher, what a world of love I have built 
up for you during this miraculous June! I know how reserved 
you are, how “British.” Your old-world reticence, your sense 
of decorum may be shocked by the boldness of an American 
girl! You who conceal your strongest feelings must think me 
a shameless little idiot for throwing open my poor bruised 
heart like this. In years gone by, many disappointments came 
my way. Mr. Haze was a splendid person, a sterling soul, but 
he happened to be twenty years my senior, and — well, let us 
not gossip about the past. My dearest, your curiosity must be 
well satisfied if you have ignored my request and read this 
letter to the bitter end. Never mind. Destroy it and go. Do 
not forget to leave the key on the desk in your room. And 
some scrap of address so that I could refund the twelve dol- 
lars I owe you till the end of the month. Good-bye, dear one. 
Pray for me — -if you ever pray. 


What I present here is what I remember of the letter, and 
what I remember of the letter I remember verbatim (including 
that awful French). It was at least twice longer. I have left out 
a lyrical passage which I more or less skipped at the time, con- 
cerning Lolita’s brother who died at 2 when she was 4, and how 
much I would have liked him. Let me see what else can I say? 

[ 70 ] 

Yes. There is just a chance that “the vortex of the toilet” (where 
the letter did go) is my own matter-of-fact contribution. She 
probably begged me to make a special fire to consume it. 

My first movement was one of repulsion and retreat. My 
second was like a friend’s calm hand falling upon my shoulder 
and bidding me take my time. I did. I came out of my daze and 
found myself still in Lo’s room. A full-page ad ripped out of a 
slick magazine was affixed to the wall above the bed, between a 
crooner’s mug and the lashes of a movie actress. It represented 
a dark-haired young husband with a kind of drained look in his 
Irish eyes. He was modeling a robe by So-and-So and holding a 
bridgelike tray by So-and-So, with breakfast for two. The legend, 
by the Rev. Thomas Morell, called him a “conquering hero.” l 
The thoroughly conquered lady (not shown) was presumably 
propping herself up to receive her half of the tray. How her bed- 
fellow was to get under the bridge without some messy mishap 
was not clear. Lo had drawn a jocose arrow to the haggard lover’s 
face and had put, in block letters: H.H. And indeed, despite a 
difference of a few years, the resemblance was striking. Under this 
was another picture, also a colored ad. A distinguished playwright 
was solemnly smoking a Drome. He always smoked Dromes. The 2 
resemblance was slight. Under this was Lo’s chaste bed, littered 
with “comics.” The enamel had come off the bedstead, leaving 
black, more or less rounded, marks on the white. Having con- 
vinced myself that Louise had left, I got into Lo’s bed and reread 
the letter. 


Gentlemen of the jury! I cannot swear that certain motions 
pertaining to the business in hand — if I may coin an expression — 
had not drifted across my mind before. My mind had not re- 
tained them in any logical form or in any relation to definitely 
recollected occasions; but I cannot swear — let me repeat — that I 
had not toyed with them (to rig up yet another expression), in 
my dimness of thought, in my darkness of passion. There may 

[ 71 ] 

have been times — there must have been times, if I know my 
Humbert- — when I had brought up for detached inspection the 
idea of marrying a mature widow (say, Charlotte Haze) with not 
one relative left in the wide gray world, merely in order to have 
my way with her child (Lo, Lola, Lolita). I am even prepared 
to tell my tormentors that perhaps once or twice I had cast an 
appraiser’s cold eye at Charlotte’s coral lips and bronze hair and 
dangerously low neckline, and had vaguely tried to fit her into a 
plausible daydream. This I confess under torture. Imaginary tor- 
ture, perhaps, but all the more horrible. I wish I might digress 

1 and tell you more of the pavor nocturmis that would rack me at 
night hideously after a chance term had struck me in the random 

2 readings of my boyhood, such as peine forte et dure (what a 
Genius of Pain must have invented that!) or the dreadful, mys- 
terious, insidious words “trauma,” “traumatic event,” and “tran- 
som.” But my tale is sufficiently incondite already. 

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, 

3 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 per- 
fect 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 

4 Humbert! 

Then, with all possible caution, on mental tiptoe so to speak, 

5 I conjured up Charlotte as a possible mate. By God, I could make 
myself bring her that economically halved grapefruit, that sugar- 
less breakfast. 

Humbert Humbert sweating in the fierce white light, and 
howled at, and trodden upon by sweating policemen, is now 

6 ready to make a further “statement” {quel mot!) as he turns 
his conscience inside out and rips off its innermost lining. I did 
not plan to marry poor Charlotte in order to eliminate her in 

[ 12 ] 

some vulgar, gruesome and dangerous manner such as killing her 
by placing five bichloride-of-mercury tablets in her preprandial 
sherry or anything like that; but a delicately allied, pharma- 
copoeia! thought did tinkle in my sonorous and clouded brain. 
Why limit myself to the -modest masked caress I had tried al- 
ready? Other visions of venery presented themselves to me sway- 
ing and smiling. I saw myself administering a powerful sleeping 
potion to both mother and daughter so as to fondle the latter 
through the night with perfect impunity. The house was full of 
Charlotte’s snore, while Lolita hardly breathed in her sleep, as 
still as a painted girl-child. “Mother, I swear Kenny never even 
touched me.” “You either lie, Dolores Haze, or it was an 
incubus.” No, I would not go that far. 1 

So Humbert the Cubus schemed and dreamed — and the red 
sun of desire and decision (the two things that create a live 
world) rose higher and higher, while upon a succession of bal- 
conies a succession of libertines, sparkling glass in hand, toasted 
the bliss of past and future nights. Then, figuratively speaking, I 
shattered the glass, and boldly imagined (for I was drunk on 
those visions by then and underrated the gentleness of my 
nature) how eventually I might blackmail — no, that is too strong 
a word — mauvemail big Haze into letting me consort with little 2 
Haze by gently threatening the poor doting Big Dove with deser- 
tion if she tried to bar me from playing with my legal step- 
daughter. In a word, before such an Amazing Offer, before such 
a vastness and variety of vistas, I was as helpless as Adam at the 
preview of early oriental history, miraged in his apple orchard. 

And now take down the following important remark: the artist 
in me has been given the upper hand over the gentleman. It is 
with a great effort of will that in this memoir I have managed to 
tune my style to the tone of the journal that I kept when Mrs. 
Haze was to me but an obstacle. That journal of mine is no more; 
but I have considered it my artistic duty to preserve its intona- 
tions no matter how false and brutal they may seem to me now. 
Fortunately, my story has reached a point where I can cease in- 
sulting poor Charlotte for the sake of retrospective verisimilitude. 

Wishing to spare poor Charlotte two or three hours of sus- 

[ 73 ] 

pense on a winding road (and avoid, perhaps, a head-on collision 
that would shatter our different dreams), I made a thoughtful 
but abortive attempt to reach her at the camp by telephone. She 
had left half an hour before, and getting Lo instead, I told her — 
trembling and brimming with my mastery over fate — that I was 
going to marry her mother. I had to repeat it twice because some- 
thing was preventing her from giving me her attention. “Gee, 
that’s swell,” she said laughing. “When is the wedding? Hold on 
a sec, the pup — That pup here has got hold of my sock. Listen — ” 
and she added she guessed she was going to have loads of fun . . . 
and I realized as I hung up that a couple of hours at that camp 
had been sufficient to blot out with new impressions the image 
of handsome Humbert Humbert from little Lolita’s mind. But 
what did it matter now? I would get her back as soon as a decent 
amount of time after the wedding had elapsed. “The orange 

1 blossom would have scarcely withered on the grave,” as a poet 
might have said. But I am no poet. I am only a very conscientious 

After Louise had gone, I inspected the icebox, and finding it 
much too puritanic, walked to town and bought the richest foods 
available. I also bought some good liquor and two or three kinds 
of vitamins. I was pretty sure that with the aid of these stimu- 
lants and my natural resources, I would avert any embarrassment 
that my indifference might incur when called upon to display a 
strong and impatient flame. Again and again resourceful Hum- 

2 bert evoked Charlotte as seen in the raree-show of a manly 
imagination. She was well groomed and shapely, this I could say 
for her, and she was my Lolita’s big sister — this notion, perhaps, 
I could keep up if only I did not visualize too realistically her 
heavy hips, round knees, ripe bust, the coarse pink skin of her 
neck (“coarse” by comparison with silk and honey) and all the 
rest of that sorry and dull thing: a handsome woman. 

The sun made its usual round of the house as the afternoon 
ripened into evening. I had a drink. And another. And yet an- 
other. Gin and pineapple juice, my favorite mixture, always 
double my energy. I decided to busy myself with our unkempt 

3 lawn. Une petite attention. It was crowded with dandelions, and 

[ 74 ] 

a cursed dog — I loathe dogs — had defiled the flat stones where a 
sundial had once stood. Most of the dandelions had changed 
from suns to moons. The gin and Lolita were dancing in me, and 
I almost fell over the folding chairs that I attempted to dislodge. 
Incarnadine zebras! There are some eructations that sound like 1, 
cheers — at least, mine did. An old fence at the back of the garden 
separated us from the neighbor’s garbage receptacles and lilacs; 
but there was nothing between the front end of our lawn (where 
it sloped along one side of the house) and the street. Therefore 
I was able to watch (with the smirk of one about to perform a 
good action) for the return of Charlotte: that tooth should be 
extracted at once. As I lurched and lunged with the hand mower, 
bits of grass optically twittering in the low sun, I kept an eye on 
that section of suburban street. It curved in from under an arch- 
way of huge shade trees, then sped towards us down, down, 
quite sharply, past old Miss Opposite’s ivied brick house and 
high-sloping lawn (much trimmer than ours) and disappeared 
behind our own front porch which I could not see from where I 
happily belched and labored. The dandelions perished. A reek 
of sap mingled with the pineapple. Two little girls, Marion and 
Mabel, whose comings and goings I had mechanically followed 
of late (but who could replace my Lolita?) went toward the 
avenue (from which our Lawn Street cascaded), one pushing a 
bicycle, the other feeding from a paper bag, both talking at the 
top of their sunny voices. Leslie, old Miss Opposite’s gardener 
and chauffeur, a very amiable and athletic Negro, grinned at me 
from afar and shouted, re -shouted, commented by gesture, that 
I was mighty energetic to-day. The fool dog of the prosperous 
junk dealer next door ran after a blue car — not Charlotte’s. The 
prettier of the two little girls (Mabel, I think), shorts, halter 
with little to halt, bright hair — a nymphet, by Pan! — ran back 3 
down the street crumpling her paper bag and was hidden from 
this Green Goat by the frontage of Mr. and Mrs. Humbert’s 
residence. A station wagon popped out of the leafy shade of the 
avenue, dragging some of it on its roof before the shadows 
snapped, and swung by at an idiotic pace, the sweatshirted driver 
roof-holding with his left hand and the junkman’s dog tearing 

[ 75 ] 

alongside. There was a smiling pause — and then, with a flutter in 
my breast, I witnessed the return of the Blue Sedan. I saw it glide 
downhill and disappear behind the corner of the house. I had a 
glimpse of her calm pale profile. It occurred to me that until she 
went upstairs she would not know whether I had gone or not. A 
minute later, with an expression of great anguish on her face, she 
looked down at me from the window of Lo’s room. By sprinting 
upstairs, I managed to reach that room before she left it. 


When the bride is a widow and the groom is a widower; when 
the former has lived in Our Great Little Town for hardly two 
years, and the latter for hardly a month; when Monsieur wants 
to get the whole damned thing over with as quickly as possible, 
and Madame gives in with a tolerant smile; then, my reader, the 
wedding is generally a “quiet” affair. The bride may dispense 
with a tiara of orange blossoms securing her finger-tip veil, nor 
does she carry a white orchid in a prayer book. The bride’s little 
daughter might have added to the ceremonies uniting H. and H. 
a touch of vivid vermeil; but I knew I would not dare be too 
tender with cornered Lolita yet, and therefore agreed it was not 
worth while tearing the child away from her beloved Camp Q. 

My soi-disant passionate and lonely Charlotte was in every- 
day life matter-of-fact and gregarious. Moreover, I discovered 
that although she could not control her heart or her cries, she 
was a woman of principle. Immediately after she had become 
more or less my mistress (despite the stimulants, her “nervous, 
eager cheri ” — a heroic cheri ! — had some initial trouble, for which, 
however, he amply compensated her by a fantastic display of 
old-world endearments), good Charlotte interviewed mfe about 
my relations with God. I could have answered that on that score 
my mind was open; I said, instead — paying my tribute to a pious 
platitude — that I believed in a cosmic spirit. Looking down at 
her fingernails, she also asked me had I not in my family a cer- 

[ 76 ] 

tain strange strain. I countered by inquiring whether she would 
still want to marry me if my father’s maternal grandfather had 
been, say, a Turk. She said it did not matter a bit; but that, if 1 
she ever found out I did not believe in Our Christian God, she 
would commit suicide. She said it so solemnly that it gave me 
the creeps. It was then I knew she was a woman of principle. 

Oh, she was very genteel: she said “excuse me” whenever a 
slight burp interrupted her flowing speech, called an envelope an 
ahnvelope, and when talking to her lady-friends referred to me as 
Mr. Humbert. I thought it would please her if I entered the 
community trailing some glamor after me. On the day of our 
wedding a little interview with me appeared in the Society 
Column of the Ramsdale Journal, with a photograph of Char- 
lotte, one eyebrow up and a misprint in her name (“Hazer”). 
Despite this contretemps, the publicity warmed the porcelain 2 
cockles of her heart — and made my rattles shake with awful glee. 3 
By engaging in church work as well as by getting to know the 
better mothers of Lo’s schoolmates, Charlotte in the course of 
twenty months or so had managed to become if not a prominent, 
at least an acceptable citizen, but never before had she come 
under that thrilling nihrique, and it was I who put her there, 4 
Mr. Edgar H. Humbert (I threw in the “Edgar” just for the 
heck of it), “writer and explorer.” McCoo’s brother, when tak- 5 
ing it down, asked me what I had written. Whatever I told him 
came out as “several books on Peacock, Rainbow and other 6 
poets.” It was also noted that Charlotte and I had known each 
other for several years and that I was a distant relation of her 
first husband. I hinted I had had an affair with her thirteen 
years ago but this was not mentioned in print. To Charlotte I 
said that society columns should contain a shimmer of errors. 

Let us go on with this curious tale. When called upon to enjoy 
my promotion from lodger to lover, did I experience only bitter- 
ness and distaste? No. Mr. Humbert confesses to a certain titilla- 
tion of his vanity, to some faint tenderness, even to a pattern of 
remorse daintily running along the steel of his conspiratorial 
dagger. Never had I thought that the rather ridiculous, though 
rather handsome Mrs. Haze, with her blind faith in the wisdom 

[ 77 ] 

of her church and book club, her mannerisms of elocution, her 
harsh, cold, contemptuous attitude toward an adorable, downy- 
armed child of twelve, could turn into such a touching, helpless 
creature as soon as I laid my hands upon her which happened on 
the threshold of Lolita’s room whither she tremulously backed 
repeating “no, no, please no.” 

The transformation improved her looks. Her smile that had 
been such a contrived thing, thenceforth became the radiance of 
utter adoration — a radiance having something soft and moist 
about it, in which, with wonder, I recognized a resemblance to 
the lovely, inane, lost look that Lo had when gloating over a new 
kind of concoction at the soda fountain or mutely admiring my 
expensive, always tailor-fresh clothes. Deeply fascinated, I would 
watch Charlotte while she swapped parental woes with some 
other lady and made that national grimace of feminine resigna- 
tion (eyes rolling up, mouth drooping sideways) which, in an 
infantile form, I had seen Lo making herself. We had highballs 
before turning in, and with their help, I would manage to evoke 
the child while caressing the mother. This was the white stomach 
within which my nymphet had been a little curved fish in 1934. 
This carefully dyed hair, so sterile to my sense of smell and 
touch, acquired at certain lamplit moments in the poster bed the 
tinge, if not the texture, of Lolita’s curls. I kept telling myself, 
as I wielded my brand-new large-as-life wife, that biologically this 
was the nearest I could get to Lolita; that at Lolita’s age, Lotte 
had been as desirable a schoolgirl as her daughter was, and as 
Lolita’s daughter would be some day. I had my wife unearth 
from under a collection of shoes (Mr. Haze had a passion for 
them, it appears) a thirty-year-old album, so that I might see how 
Lotte had looked as a child; and even though the light was wrong 
and the dresses graceless, I was able to make out a dim first ver- 
sion of Lolita’s outline, legs, cheekbones, bobbed nose. Lottelita, 

So I tom-peeped across the hedges of years, into wan little 
windows. And when, by means of pitifully ardent, naively las- 
civious caresses, she of the noble nipple and massive thigh pre- 
pared me for the performance of my nightly duty, it was still a 

[ 78 ] 

nymphet’s scent that in despair I tried to pick up, as I bayed 
through the undergrowth of dark decaying forests. 

I simply can’t tell you how gentle, how touching my poor wife 
was. At breakfast, in the depressingly bright kitchen, with its 
chrome glitter and Hardware and Co. Calendar and cute break- 
fast nook (simulating that Coffee Shoppe where in their college 
days Charlotte and Humbert used to coo together), she would 
sit, robed in red, her elbow on the plastic-topped table, her cheek 
propped on her fist, and stare at me with intolerable tenderness 
as I consumed my ham and eggs. Humbert’s face might twitch 
with neuralgia, but in her eyes it vied in beauty and animation 
with the sun and shadows of leaves rippling on the white refrig- 
erator. Aly solemn exasperation was to her the silence of love. 
My small income added to her even smaller one impressed her 
as a brilliant fortune; not because the resulting sum now sufficed 
for most middle-class needs, but because even my money shone 
in her eyes with the magic of my manliness, and she saw our 
joint account as one of those southern boulevards at midday 
that have solid shade on one side and smooth sunshine on the 
other, all the way to the end of a prospect, where pink mountains 

Into the fifty days of our cohabitation Charlotte crammed the 
activities of as many years. The poor woman busied herself with 
a number of things she had foregone long before or had never 
been much interested in, as if (to prolong these Proustian intona- 
tions) by my marrying the mother of the child I loved I had 
enabled my wife to regain an abundance of youth by proxy. 
With the zest of a banal young bride, she started to “glorify the 
home.” Knowing as I did its every cranny by heart — since those 
days when from my chair I mentally mapped out Lolita’s course 
through the house — I had long entered into a sort of emotional 
relationship with it, with its very ugliness and dirt, and now I 
could almost feel the wretched thing cower in its reluctance to 
endure the bath of ecru and ocher and putty-buff-and-snuff that 
Charlotte planned to give it. She never got as far as that, thank 
God, but she did use up a tremendous amount of energy in wash- 
ing window shades, waxing the slats of Venetian blinds, pur- 

[ 79 ] 

chasing new shades and new blinds, returning them to the store, 
replacing them by others, and so on, in a constant chiaroscuro of 
smiles and frowns, doubts and pouts. She dabbled in cretonnes 
and chintzes; she changed the colors of the sofa — the sacred sofa 
where a bubble of paradise had once burst in slow motion within 
me. She rearranged the furniture — and was pleased when she 
found, in a household treatise, that “it is permissible to separate 
a pair of sofa commodes and their companion lamps.” With the 
authoress of Your Home Is You, she developed a hatred for little 
lean chairs and spindle tables. She believed that a room having 
a generous expanse of glass, and lots of rich wood paneling was 
an example of the masculine type of room, whereas the feminine 
type was characterized by lighter-looking windows and frailer 
woodwork. The novels I had found her reading when I moved in 
were now replaced by illustrated catalogues and homemaking 
guides. From a firm located at 4640 Roosevelt Blvd., Phila- 
delphia, she ordered for our double bed a “damask covered 3 1 2 
coil mattress” — although the old one seemed to me resilient and 
durable enough for whatever it had to support. 

A Midwesterner, as her late husband had also been, she had 
lived in coy Ramsdale, the gem of an eastern state, not long 
enough to know all the nice people. She knew slightly the jovial 

1 dentist who lived in a kind of ramshackle wooden chateau be- 
hind our lawn. She had met at a church tea the “snooty” wife 
of the local junk dealer who owned the “colonial” white horror 
at the corner of the avenue. Now and then she “visited with” 
old Miss Opposite; but the more patrician matrons among those 
she called upon, or met at lawn functions, or had telephone chats 
with — such dainty ladies as Mrs. Glave, Mrs. Sheridan, Mrs. 
McCrystal, Mrs. Knight and others, seldom seemed to call on 
my neglected Charlotte. Indeed, the only couple with whom she 

2 had relations of real cordiality, devoid of any arrihe-pensee or 
practical foresight, were the Farlows who had just come back 
from a business trip to Chile in time to attend our wedding, with 
the Chatfields, McCoos, and a few others (but not Mrs. Junk or 
the even prouder Mrs. Talbot). John Farlow was a middle-aged, 
quiet, quietly athletic, quietly successful dealer in sporting goods, 

[ 80 ] 

who had an office at Parkington, forty miles away: it was he who 
got me the cartridges for that Colt and showed me how to use it, 
during a walk in the woods one Sunday; he was also what he 
called with a smile a part-time lawyer and had handled some of 
Charlotte’s affairs. Jean, his youngish wife (and first cousin), was 
a long-limbed girl in harlequin glasses with two boxer dogs, two 
pointed breasts and a big red mouth. She painted — landscapes 
and portraits — and vividly do I remember praising, over cock- 
tails, the picture she had made of a niece of hers, little Rosaline 
Honeck, a rosy honey in a Girl Scout uniform, beret of green 
worsted, belt of green webbing, charming shoulder-long curls — 
and John removed his pipe and said it was a pity Dolly (my 
Dolita) and Rosaline were so critical of each other at school, but 
he hoped, and we all hoped, they would get on better when they 
returned from their respective camps. We talked of the school. 
It had its drawbacks, and it had its virtues. “Of course, too many 
of the tradespeople here are Italians,” said John, “but on the 
other hand we are still spared — ” “I wish,” interrupted Jean with 
a laugh, “Dolly and Rosaline were spending the summer to- 
gether.” Suddenly I imagined Lo returning from camp — brown, 
warm, drowsy, drugged— and was ready to weep with passion and 


A few words more about Mrs. Humbert while the going is 
good (a bad accident is to happen quite soon). I had been al- 
ways aware of the possessive streak in her, but I never thought 
she would be so crazily jealous of anything in my life that had 
not been she. She showed a fierce insatiable curiosity for my past. 
She desired me to resuscitate all my loves so that she might make 
me insult them, and trample upon them, and revoke them 
apostately and totally, thus destroying my past. She made me 
tell her about my marriage to Valeria, who was of course a 
scream; but I also had to invent, or to pad atrociously, a long 
1 series of mistresses for Charlotte’s morbid delectation. To keep 

I [ 8i ] 

her happy, I had to present her with an illustrated catalogue of 
them, all nicely differentiated, according to the rules of those 
American ads where schoolchildren are pictured in a subtle ratio 
of races, with one — only one, but as cute as they make them — 
chocolate-colored round-eyed little lad, almost in the very middle 
of the front row. So I presented my women, and had them smile 
and sway — the languorous blond, the fiery brunette, the sensual 
copperhead — as if on parade in a bordello. The more popular 
and platitudinous I made them, the more Mrs. Humbert was 
pleased with the show. 

Never in my life had I confessed so much or received so many 
confessions. The sincerity and artlessness with which she dis- 
cussed what she called her “love-life,” from first necking to con- 
nubial catch-as-catch-can, were, ethically, in striking contrast 
with my glib compositions, but technically the two sets were 
congeneric since both were affected by the same stuff (soap 
operas, psychoanalysis and cheap novelettes) upon which I drew 
for my characters and she for her mode of expression. I was 
considerably amused by certain remarkable sexual habits that 
the good Harold Haze had had according to Charlotte who 
thought my mirth improper; but otherwise her autobiography 
was as devoid of interests as her autopsy would have been. I never 
saw a healthier woman than she, despite thinning diets. 

Of my Lolita she seldom spoke — more seldom, in fact, than 
she did of the blurred, blond male baby whose photograph to the 
exclusion of all others adorned our bleak bedroom. In one of her 
tasteless reveries, she predicted that the dead infant’s soul would 
return to earth in the form of the child she would bear in her 
present wedlock. And although I felt no special urge to supply 
the Humbert line with a replica of Harold’s production (Lolita, 
with an incestuous thrill, I had grown to regard as my child), it 
occurred to me that a prolonged confinement, with a nice 
Caesarean operation and other complications in a safe maternity 
ward sometime next spring, would give me a chance to be alone 
with my Lolita for weeks, perhaps — and gorge the limp nymphet 
with sleeping pills. 

Oh, she simply hated her daughter! What I thought especially 
[ 82 ] 

vicious was that she had gone out of her way to answer with 
great diligence the questionnaires in a fool’s book she had (A 
Guide to Your Child’s Development)^ published in Chicago. 
The rigmarole went year by year, and Mom was supposed to 
fill out a kind of inventory at each of her child’s birthdays. On 
Lo’s twelfth, January i, 1947, Charlotte Haze, nee Becker, had 
underlined the following epithets, ten out of forty, under “Your 
Child’s Personality”: aggressive, boisterous, critical, distrustful, 
impatient, irritable, inquisitive, listless, negativistic (underlined 
twice) and obstinate. She had ignored the thirty remaining 
adjectives, among which were cheerful, co-operative, energetic, 
and so forth. It was really maddening. With a brutality that 
otherwise never appeared in my loving wife’s mild nature, she 
attacked and routed such of Lo’s little belongings that had 
wandered to various parts of the house to freeze there like so 
many hypnotized bunnies. Little did the good lady dream that 
one morning when an upset stomach (the result of my trying 
to improve on her sauces) had prevented me from accompany- 
ing her to church, I deceived her with one of Lolita’s anklets. 
And then, her attitude toward my saporous darling’s letters! 

Dear Mummy and Hummy, 

Hope you are fine. Thank you very much for the candy. 

I [crossed out and re-written again] I lost my new sweater 

in the woods. It has been cold here for the last few days. 

I’m having a time. Love. 


“The dumb child,” said Mrs. Humbert, “has left out a word 
before ‘time.’ That sweater was all-wool, and I wish you would 
not send her candy without consulting me.” 


There was a woodlake (Hourglass Lake — not as I had thought 
it was spelled) a few miles from Ramsdale, and there was one 
\ week of great heat at the end of July when we drove there daily. 

^ [ 83 ] 

I am now obliged to describe in some tedious detail our last 
swim there together, one tropical Tuesday morning. 

We had left the car in a parking area not far from the road 
and were making our way down a path cut through the pine 
forest to the lake, when Charlotte remarked that Jean Farlow, 
in quest of rare light effects (Jean belonged to the old school 
of painting), had seen Leslie taking a dip “in the ebony” (as 
John had quipped) at five o’clock in the morning last Sunday. 

“The water,” I said, “must have been quite cold.” 

“That is not the point,” said the logical doomed dear. “He is 
subnormal, you see. And,” she continued (in that carefully 
phrased way of hers that was beginning to tell on my health), 
“I have a very definite feeling our Louise is in love with that 

Feeling. “We feel Dolly is not doing as well” etc. (from an 
old school report). 

The Humberts walked on, sandaled and robed. 

“Do you know. Hum: I have one most ambitious dream,” 
pronounced Lady Hum, lowering her head — shy of that dream — 
and communing with the tawny ground. “I would love to get 
hold of a real trained servant maid like that German girl the 
Talbots spoke of; and have her live in the house.” 

“No room,” I said. 

“Come,” she said with her quizzical smile, “surely, chert, you 
underestimate the possibilities of the Humbert home. We would 
put her in Lo’s room. I intended to make a guestroom of that 
hole anyway. It’s the coldest and meanest in the whole house.” 

“What are you talking about?” I asked, the skin of my cheek- 
bones tensing up (this I take the trouble to note only because 
my daughter’s skin did the same when she felt that way: dis- 
belief, disgust, irritation). 

“Are you bothered by Romantic Associations?” queried my 
wife — in allusion to her first surrender. 

“Hell no,” said I. “I just wonder where will you put your 
daughter when you get your guest or your maid.” 

“Ah,” said Mrs. Humbert, dreaming, smiling, drawing out the 
“Ah” simultaneously with the raise of one eyebrow and a soft 

[ 84 ] 

exhalation of breath. “Little Lo, I’m afraid, does not enter the 
picture at all, at all. Little Lo goes straight from camp to a good 
boarding school with strict discipline and some sound religious 
training. And then — Beardsley College. I have it all mapped out, 
you need not worry.” 

She went on to say that she, Mrs. Humbert, would have to 
overcome her habitual sloth and write to Miss Phalen’s sister 
who taught at St. Algebra. The dazzling lake emerged. I said I 
had forgotten my sunglasses in the car and would catch up with 

I had always thought that wringing one’s hands was a fictional 
gesture — the obscure outcome, perhaps, of some medieval ritual; 
but as I took to the woods, for a spell of despair and desperate 
meditation, this was the gesture (“look. Lord, at these chains!”) l 

that would have come nearest to the mute expression of my 

Had Charlotte been Valeria, I would have known how to 
handle the situation; and “handle” is the word I want. In the 
good old days, by merely twisting fat Valechka’s brittle wrist 
(the one she had fallen upon from a bicycle) I could make her 
change her mind instantly; but anything of the sort in regard to 
Charlotte was unthinkable. Bland American Charlotte fright- 
[ ened me. My lighthearted dream of controlling her through her 
I passion for me was all wrong. I dared not do anything to spoil 
the image of me she had set up to adore. I had toadied to her 
when she was the awesome duenna of my darling, and a grovel- 
ing something still persisted in my attitude toward her. The 
only ace I held was her ignorance of my monstrous love for her 
Lo. She had been annoyed by Lo’s liking me; but my feelings 
she could not divine. To Valeria I might have said: “Look here, 

; you fat fool, o' est moi qui decide what is good for Dolores Hum- 2 
: bert.” To Charlotte, I could not even say (with ingratiating 
1 calm): “Excuse me, my dear, I disagree. Let us give the child one 
more chance. Let me be her private tutor for a year or so. You 
once told me yourself — ” In fact, I could not say anything at all 
to Charlotte about the child without giving myself away. Oh, 

. you cannot imagine (as I had never imagined) what these 

C 85 ] 

women of principle are! Charlotte, who did not notice the falsity 
of all the everyday conventions and rules of behavior, and foods, 
and books, and people she doted upon, would distinguish at 
once a false intonation in anything I might say with a view to 
keeping Lo near. She was like a musician who may be an odious 
vulgarian in ordinary life, devoid of tact and taste; but who will 
hear a false note in music with diabolical accuracy of judgment. 
To break Charlotte’s will, I would have to break her heart. If 
I broke her heart, her image of me would break too. If I said: 
“Either I have my way with Lolita, and you help me to keep 
the matter quiet, or we part at once,” she would have turned as 
pale as a woman of clouded glass and slowly replied: “All right, 
whatever you add or retract, this is the end.” And the end it 
would be. 

Such, then, was the mess. I remember reaching the parking 
area and pumping a handful of rust-tasting water, and drinking 
it as avidly as if it could give me magic wisdom, youth, freedom, 
a tiny concubine. For a while, purple-robed, heel-dangling, I 
sat on the edge of one of the rude tables, under the wooshing 
pines. In the middle distance, two little maidens in shorts and 
halters came out of a sun-dappled privy marked “Women.” 
Gum-chewing Mabel (or Mabel’s understudy) laboriously, 
absent-mindedly, straddled a bicycle, and Marion, shaking her i 
hair because of the flies, settled behind, legs wide apart; and, I 
wobbling, they slowly, absently, merged with the light and * 
shade. Lolita! Father and daughter melting into these woods! ‘ 
The natural solution was to destroy Mrs. Humbert. But how? 

No man can bring about the perfect murder; chance, however, 
can do it. There was the famous dispatch of a Mme Lacour in 
Arles, southern France, at the close of last century. An uniden- 
tified bearded six-footer, who, it was later conjectured, had been 
the lady’s secret lover, walked up to her in a crowded street, i 
soon after her marriage to Colonel Lacour, and mortally stabbed 
her in the back, three times, while the Colonel, a small bulldog 
of a man, hung onto the murderer’s arm. By a miraculous and i 
beautiful coincidence, right at the moment when the operator 
was in the act of loosening the angry little husband’s jaws (while i 

[ 86 ] 

several onlookers were closing in upon the group), a cranky 
Italian in the house nearest to the scene set off by sheer accident 
some kind of explosive he was tinkering with, and immediately 
the street was turned into a pandemonium of smoke, falling 
bricks and running people. The explosion hurt no one (except 
that it knocked out game Colonel Lacour); but the lady’s venge- 
ful lover ran when the others ran — and lived happily ever after. 

Now look what happens when the operator himself plans a 
perfect removal. 

I walked down to Hourglass Lake. The spot from which we 
and a few other “nice” couples (the Farlows, the Chatfields) 
bathed was a kind of small cove; my Charlotte liked it because 
it was almost “a private beach.” The main bathing facilities (or 
“drowning facilities” as the Ramsdale Joimial had had occasion 
to say) were in the left (eastern) part of the hourglass, and could 
not be seen from our covelet. To our right, the pines soon gave 
way to a curve of marshland which turned again into forest on 
the opposite side. 

I sat down beside my wife so noiselessly that she started. 

“Shall we go in?” she asked. 

“We shall in a minute. Let me follow a train of thought.” 

I thought. More than a minute passed. 

“All right. Come on.” 

“Was I on that train?” 

“You certainly were.” 

“I hope so,” said Charlotte entering the water. It soon reached 
the gooseflesh of her thick thighs; and then, joining her out- 
stretched hands, shutting her mouth tight, very plain-faced in her 
black rubber headgear, Charlotte flung herself forward with a 
great splash. 

Slowly we swam out into the shimmer of the lake. 

On the opposite bank, at least a thousand paces away (if one 
could walk across water), I could make out the tiny figures of 
two men working like beavers on their stretch of shore. I knew 
exactly who they were: a retired policeman of Polish descent 
and the retired plumber who owned most of the timber on that 
side of the lake. And I also knew they were engaged in building, 

[ 87 ] 

just for the dismal fun of the thing, a wharf. The knocks that 
reached us seemed so much bigger than what could be distin= 
guished of those dwarfs’ arms and tools; indeed, one suspected 
1 the director of those acrosonic effects to have been at odds 
with the puppet-master, especially since the hefty crack of each 
diminutive blow lagged behind its visual version. 

The short white-sand strip of “our” beach— from which by 
now we had gone a little way to reach deep water — was empty 
on weekday mornings. There was nobody around except those 
two tiny very busy figures on the opposite side, and a dark-red 
private plane that droned overhead, and then disappeared in 
the blue. The setting was really perfect for a brisk bubbling 
murder, and here was the subtle point: the man of law and the 
man of water were just near enough to witness an accident and 
just far enough not to observe a crime. They were near enough 
to hear a distracted bather thrashing about and bellowing for 
somebody to come and help him save his drowning wife; and 
they were too far to distinguish (if they happened to look too 
soon) that the anything but distracted swimmer was finishing 
to tread his wife underfoot. I was not yet at that stage; I merely 
want to convey the ease of the act, the nicety of the setting! 
So there was Charlotte swimming on with dutiful awkwardness 
(she was a very mediocre mermaid), but not without a certain 
solemn pleasure (for was not her merman by her side?); and 
as I watched, with the stark lucidity of a future recollection (you 
know — trying to see things as you will remember having seen 
them), the glossy whiteness of her wet face so little tanned 
despite all her endeavors, and her pale lips, and her naked convex 
forehead, and the tight black cap, and the plump wet neck, I 
knew that all I had to do was to drop back, take a deep breath, 
then grab her by the ankle and rapidly dive with my captive 
corpse. I say corpse because surprise, panic and inexperience 
would cause her to inhale at once a lethal gallon of lake, while 
I would be able to hold on for at least a full minute, open-eyed 
under water. The fatal gesture passed like the tail of a falling 
star across the blackness of the contemplated crime. It was 
like some dreadful silent ballet, the male dancer holding the 

[ 88 ] 

ballerina by her foot and streaking down through watery twi- 
light. I might come up for a mouthful of air while still holding 
her down, and then would dive again as many times as would 
be necessary, and only when the curtain came down on her 
for good, would I permit myself to yell for help. And when 
some twenty minutes later the two puppets steadily growing 
arrived in a rowboat, one half newly painted, poor Mrs. Humbert 
Humbert, the victim of a cramp or coronary occlusion, or both, 
would be standing on her head in the inky ooze, some thirty 
feet below the smiling surface of Hourglass Lake. 

Simple, was it not? But what d’ye know, folks — I just could 
not make myself do it! 

She swam beside me, a trustful and clumsy seal, and all the 
logic of passion screamed in my ear: Now is the time! And, 
folks, I just couldn’t! In silence I turned shoreward and gravely, 
dutifully, she also turned, and still hell screamed its counsel, 
and still I could not make myself drown the poor, slippery, 
big-bodied creature. The scream grew more and more remote 
as I realized the melancholy fact that neither tomorrow, nor 
Friday, nor any other day or night, could I make myself put 
her to death. Oh, I could visualize myself slapping Valeria’s 
breasts out of alignment, or otherwise hurting her — and I could 
see myself, no less clearly, shooting her lover in the underbelly 
and making him say “akh!” and sit down. But I could not kill i 
Charlotte — especially when things were on the whole not quite 
as hopeless, perhaps, as they seemed at first wince on that mis- 2 
erable morning. Were I to catch her by her strong kicking foot; 
were I to see her amazed look, hear her awful voice; were I still 
to go through with the ordeal, her ghost would haunt me all 
my life. Perhaps if the year were 1447 instead of 1947 I might 
have hoodwinked my gentle nature by administering her some 
classical poison from a hollow agate, some tender philter of death. 

But in our middle-class nosy era it would not have come off the 
way it used to in the brocaded palaces of the past. Nowadays 
you have to be a scientist if you want to be a killer. No, no, I 
was neither. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the majority of 
sex offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, 

[ 89 ] 

physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child, are 
innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely 
ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically 
harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private 
acts of sexual deviation without the police and society cracking 
down upon them. We are not sex fiends! We do not rape as 
good soldiers do. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, 
sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence 
of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance 
to touch a nymphet. Emphatically, no killers are we. Poets never 
kill. Oh, my poor Charlotte, do not hate me in your eternal 
heaven among an eternal alchemy of asphalt and rubber and 
metal and stone — but thank God, not water, not water! 

Nonetheless it was a very close shave, speaking quite ob- 
jectively. And now comes the point of my perfect-crime parable. 

We sat down on our towels in the thirsty sun. She looked 
around, loosened her bra, and turned over on her stomach to 
give her back a chance to be feasted upon. She said she loved 
me. She sighed deeply. She extended one arm and groped in 
the pocket of her robe for her cigarettes. She sat up and smoked. 
She examined her right shoulder. She kissed me heavily with 
open smoky mouth. Suddenly, down the sand bank behind us, 
from under the bushes and pines, a stone rolled, then another. 

“Those disgusting prying kids,” said Charlotte, holding up 
her big bra to her breast and turning prone again. “I shall have 
to speak about that to Peter Krestovski.” 

From the debouchment of the trail came a rustle, a footfall, 
and Jean Farlow marched down with her easel and things. 

“You scared us,” said Charlotte. 

Jean said she had been up there, in a place of green conceal- 
ment, spying on nature (spies are generally shot), trying to 
finish a lakescape, but it was no good, she had no talent what- 
ever (which was quite true) — “And have you ever tried painting, 
Humbert?” Charlotte, who was a little jealous of Jean, wanted 
to know if John was coming. 

He was. He was coming home for lunch today. He had 
dropped her on the way to Parkington and should be picking 

[ 90 ] 

her up any time now. It was a grand morning. She always felt 
a traitor to Cavall and Melampus for leaving them roped on 1 
such gorgeous days. She sat down on the white sand between 
Charlotte and me. She wore shorts. Her long brown legs were 
about as attractive to me as those of a chestnut mare. She 
showed her gums when she smiled. 

“I almost put both of you into my lake,” she said. “I even 
noticed something you overlooked. You [addressing Humbert] 
had your wrist watch on in, yes, sir, you had.” 

“Waterproof,” said Charlotte softly, making a fish mouth. 2 

Jean took my wrist upon her knee and examined Charlotte’s 
gift, then put back Humbert’s hand on the sand, palm up. 

“You could see anything that way,” remarked Charlotte 

Jean sighed. “I once saw,” she said, “two children, male and 
female, at sunset, right here, making love. Their shadows were 
giants. And I told you about Mr. Tomson at daybreak. Next 
time I expect to see fat old Ivor in the ivory. He is really a 
freak, that man. Last time he told me a completely indecent 
story about his nephew. It appears — ” 3 

“Hullo there,” said John’s voice. 


My habit of being silent when displeased, or, more exactly, 
the cold and scaly quality of my displeased silence, used to 
frighten Valeria out of her wits. She used to whimper and wail, 
saying “Cc qui me rend folle, c'’est que je ne sais a quoi tu penses 
quand tu es comme ga^ I tried being silent with Charlotte — and 4 
she just chirped on, or chucked my silence under the chin. 

An astonishing woman! I would retire to my former room, now 
a regular “studio,” mumbling I had after all a learned opus to 
write, and cheerfully Charlotte went on beautifying the home, 
warbling on the telephone and writing letters. From my window, 
through the lacquered shiver of poplar leaves, I could see her 

[ 91 ] 

crossing the street and contentedly mailing her letter to Miss 
Phalen’s sister. 

The week of scattered showers and shadows which elapsed 
after our last visit to the motionless sands of Hourglass Lake 
was one of the gloomiest I can recall. Then came two or three 

1 dim rays of hope — before the ultimate sunburst. 

It occurred to me that I had a fine brain in beautiful work- 
ing order and that I might as well use it. If I dared not meddle 
with my wife’s plans for her daughter (getting warmer and 
browner every day in the fair weather of hopeless distance), I 
could surely devise some general means to assert myself in a 
general way that might be later directed toward a particular 
occasion. One evening, Charlotte herself provided me with an 

“I have a surprise for you,” she said looking at me with fond 
eyes over a spoonful of soup. “In the fall we two are going to 

I swallowed my spoonful, wiped my lips with pink paper (Oh, 
the cool rich linens of Mirana Hotel! ) and said; 

“I have also a surprise for you, my dear. We two are not going 

to England.” 

“Why, what’s the matter?” she said, looking — with more 
surprise than I had counted upon — at my hands (I was invol- 
untarily folding and tearing and crushing and tearing again the 
innocent pink napkin). My smiling face set her somewhat at 
ease, however. 

“The matter is quite simple,” I replied. “Even in the most 
harmonious of households, as ours is, not all decisions are taken 
by the female partner. There are certain things that the husband 
is there to decide. I can well imagine the thrill that you, a healthy 
American gal, must experience at crossing the Atlantic on ;the 
same ocean liner with Lady Bumble — or Sam Bumble, the 
Erozen Meat King, or a Hollywood harlot. And I doubt not 
that you and I would make a pretty ad for the Traveling Agency 
when portrayed looking — you, frankly starry-eyed, I, controlling 
my envious admiration — at the Palace Sentries, or Scarlet Guards, 

2 or Beaver Eaters, or whatever they are called. But I happen to be 

[ 92 ] 

allergic to Europe, including merry old England. As you well 
know, I have nothing but very sad associations with the Old 
and rotting World. No colored ads in your magazines will change 
the situation.” 

“My darling,” said Charlotte. “I really — ” 

“No, wait a minute. The present matter is only incidental. 
I am concerned with a general trend. When you wanted me to 
spend my afternoons sunbathing on the Lake instead of doing 
my work, I gladly gave in and became a bronzed glamor boy for 
your sake, instead of remaining a scholar and, well, an educator. 
\Vhen you lead me to bridge and bourbon with the charming 
Farlows, I meekly follow. No, please, wait. When you decorate 
your home, I do not interfere with your schemes. When you 
decide — when you decide all kinds of matters, I may be in 
complete, or in partial, let us say, disagreement — but I say 
nothing. I ignore the particular. I cannot ignore the general. 
I love being bossed by you, but every game has its rules. I am 
not cross. I am not cross at all. Don’t do that. But I am one 
half of this household, and have a small but distinct voice.” 

She had come to my side and had fallen on her knees and 
was slowly, but very vehemently, shaking her head and clawing 
at my trousers. She said she had never realized. She said I was 
her ruler and her god. She said Louise had gone, and let us 
make love right away. She said I must forgive her or she would 

This little incident filled me with considerable elation. I told 
her quietly that it was a matter not of asking forgiveness, but 
of changing one’s ways; and I resolved to press my advantage 
and spend a good deal of time, aloof and moody, working at 
my book — or at least pretending to work. 

The “studio bed” in my former room had long been con- 
verted into the sofa it had always been at heart, and Charlotte 
had warned me since the very beginning of our cohabitation 
that gradually the room would be turned into a regular “writer’s 
den.” A couple of days after the British Incident, I was sitting 
in a new and very comfortable easy chair, with a large volume 
in my lap, when Charlotte rapped with her ring finger and 

[ 93 ] 

sauntered in. How different were her movements from those 
of my Lolita, when she used to visit me in her dear dirty blue 
jeans, smelling of orchards in nymphetland; awkward and fey, 
and dimly depraved, the lower buttons of her shirt unfastened. 
Let me tell you, however, something. Behind the brashness of 
little Haze, and the poise of big Haze, a trickle of shy life ran 
that tasted the same, that murmured the same. A great French 
doctor once told my father that in near relatives the faintest 
gastric gurgle has the same “voice.” 

So Charlotte sauntered in. She felt all was not well between 
us. I had pretended to fall asleep the night before, and the night 
before that, as soon as we had gone to bed, and had risen at dawn. 

Tenderly, she inquired if she were not “interrupting.” 

“Not at the moment,” I said, turning volume C of the Girls' 
Encyclopedia around to examine a picture printed “bottom- 
edge” as printers say. 

Charlotte went up to a little table of imitation mahogany 
with a drawer. She put her hand upon it. The little table was 
ugly, no doubt, but it had done nothing to her. 

“I have always wanted to ask you,” she said (businesslike, 
not coquettish), “why is this thing locked up? Do you want it 
in this room? It’s so abominably uncouth.” 

“Leave it alone,” I said. I was Camping in Scandinavia. 

“Is there a key?” 


“Oh, Hum . . .” 

“Locked up love letters.” 

She gave me one of those wounded-doe looks that irritated me 
so much, and then, not quite knowing if I was serious, or how 
to keep up the conversation, stood for several slow pages (Cam- 
pus, Canada, Candid Camera, Candy) peering at the window- 
pane rather than through it, drumming upon it with sharp 
almond-and-rose fingernails. 

Presently (at Canoeing or Canvasback) she strolled up to 
my chair and sank down, tweedily, weightily, on its arm, in- 
undating me with the perfume my first wife had used. “Would 

[ 94 ] 

his lordship like to spend the fall here?’’’’ she asked, pointing 
with her little finger at an autumn view in a conservative Eastern 
State. “Why?” (very distinctly and slowly). She shrugged. 
(Probably Harold used to take a vacation at that time. Open 
season. Conditional reflex on her part.) 

“I think I know where that is,” she said, still pointing. “There 
is a hotel I remember. Enchanted Hunters, quaint, isn’t it? And 
the food is a dream. And nobody bothers anybody.” 

She rubbed her cheek against my temple. Valeria soon got 
over that. 

“Is there anything special you would like for dinner, dear? 
John and Jean will drop in later.” 

I answered with a grunt. She kissed me on my underlip, and, 
brightly saying she would bake a cake (a tradition subsisted from 
my lodging days that I adored her cakes), left me to my idleness. 

Carefully putting down the open book where she had sat 
(it attempted to send forth a rotation of waves, but an inserted 
pencil stopped the pages), I checked the hiding place of the 
key: rather self-consciously it lay under the old expensive safety 
razor I had used before she bought me a much better and cheaper 
one. Was it the perfect hiding place — there, under that razor, 
in the groove of its velvet-lined case? The case lay in a small 
trunk where I kept various business papers. Could I improve 
upon this? Remarkable how difficult it is to conceal things — 
especially when one’s wife keeps monkeying with the furniture. 


I think it was exactly a week after our last swim that the noon 
mail brought a reply from the second Miss Phalen. The lady 
wrote she had just returned to St. Algebra from her sister’s 
funeral. “Euphemia had never been the same after breaking 
that hip.” As to the matter of Mrs. Humbert’s daughter, she 
wished to report that it was too late to enroll her this year; 
but that she, the surviving Phalen, was practically certain that 

[ 95 ] 

if Mr. and Mrs. Humbert brought Dolores over in January, her 
admittance might be arranged. 

Next day, after lunch, I went to see “our” doctor, a friendly 
fellow whose perfect bedside manner and complete reliance 
on a few patented drugs adequately masked his ignorance of, 
and indifference to, medical science. The fact that Lo would 
have to come back to Ramsdale was a treasure of anticipation. 
For this event I wanted to be fully prepared. I had in fact begun 
my campaign earlier, before Charlotte made that cruel decision 
of hers. I had to be sure when my lovely child arrived, that very 
night, and then night after night, until St. Algebra took her 
away from me, I would possess the means of putting two crea- 
tures to sleep so thoroughly that neither sound nor touch should 
rouse them. Throughout most of July I had been experimenting 
with various sleeping powders, trying them out on Charlotte, 
a great taker of pills. The last dose I had given her (she thought 
it was a tablet of mild bromides — to anoint her nerves) had 
knocked her out for four solid hours. I had put the radio at 

1 full blast. I had blazed in her face an olisbos-like flashlight. I 

had pushed her, pinched her, prodded her — and nothing had 

disturbed the rhythm of her calm and powerful breathing. 
However, when I had done such a simple thing as kiss her, she 
had awakened at once, as fresh and strong as an octopus (I 
barely escaped). This would not do, I thought; had to get some- 
thing still safer. At first. Dr. Byron did not seem to believe me 
when I said his last prescription was no match for my insomnia. 
He suggested I try again, and for a moment diverted my atten- 
tion by showing me photographs of his family. He had a fas- 

2 cinating child of Dolly’s age; but I saw through his tricks and 

insisted he prescribe the mightiest pill extant. He suggested I 
play golf, but finally agreed to give me something that, he 
said, “would really work”; and going to a cabinet, he produced 
a vial of violet-blue capsules banded with dark purple at one end, 
which, he said, had just been placed on the market and were 
intended not for neurotics whom a draft of water could calm if 
properly administered, but only for great sleepless artists who 
had to die for a few hours in order to live for centuries. I love 

[ 96 ] 

to fool doctors, and though inwardly rejoicing, pocketed the 
pills with a skeptical shrug. Incidentally, I had had to be careful 
with him. Once, in another connection, a stupid lapse on my 
part made me mention my last sanatorium, and I thought I 
saw the tips of his ears twitch. Being not at all keen for Charlotte 
or anybody else to know that period of my past, I had hastily 
explained that I had once done some research among the insane 
for a novel. But no matter; the old rogue certainly had a sweet 

I left in great spirits. Steering my wife’s car with one finger, 
I contentedly rolled homeward. Ramsdale had, after all, lots 
of charm. The cicadas whirred; the avenue had been freshly 
watered. Smoothly, almost silkily, I turned down into our 
steep little street. Everything was somehow so right that day. 
So blue and green. I knew the sun shone because my ignition 
key was reflected in the windshield; and I knew it was exactly 
half past three because the nurse who came to massage Miss 
Opposite every afternoon was tripping down the narrow sidewalk 
in her white stockings and shoes. As usual. Junk’s hysterical 
setter attacked me as I rolled downhill, and as usual, the local 
paper was lying on the porch where it had just been hurled by 

The day before I had ended the regime of aloofness I had 
imposed upon myself, and now uttered a cheerful homecoming 
call as I opened the door of the living room. With her cream- 
white nape and bronze bun to me, wearing the yellow blouse 
and maroon slacks she had on when I first met her, Charlotte 
sat at the corner bureau writing a letter. My hand still on the 
doorknob, I repeated my hearty cry. Her writing hand stopped. 
She sat still for a moment; then she slowly turned in her chair 
and rested her elbow on its curved back. Her face, disfigured 
by her emotion, was not a pretty sight as she stared at my legs 
and said: 

“The Haze woman, the big bitch, the old cat, the obnoxious 
mamma, the — the old stupid Haze is no longer your dupe. She 
has — she has ...” 

My fair accuser stopped, swallowing her venom and her tears. 

[ 97 ] 

Whatever Humbert Humbert said — or attempted to say — is 
inessential. She went on: 

“You’re a monster. You’re a detestable, abominable, criminal 
fraud. If you come near — I’ll scream out the window. Get back! ” 

Again, whatever H.H. murmured may be omitted, I think. 

“I am leaving tonight. This is all yours. Only you’ll never, 
never see that miserable brat again. Get out of this room.” 

Reader, I did. I went up to the ex-semi-studio. Arms akimbo, 
I stood for a moment quite still and self-composed, surveying 
from the threshold the raped little table with its open drawer, a 
key hanging from the lock, four other household keys on the 
table top. I walked across the landing into the Humberts’ bed- 
room, and calmly removed my diary from under her pillow into 
my pocket. Then I started to walk downstairs, but stopped half- 
way: she was talking on the telephone which happened to be 
plugged just outside the door of the living room. I wanted to 
hear what she was saying: she canceled an order for something 
or other, and returned to the parlor. I rearranged my respiration 
and went through the hallway to the kitchen. There, I opened 
a bottle of Scotch. She could never resist Scotch. Then I walked 
into the dining room and from there, through the half-open door, 
contemplated Charlotte’s broad back. 

“You are ruining my life and yours,” I said quietly. “Let us 
be civilized people. It is all your hallucination. You are crazy, 
Charlotte. The notes you found were fragments of a novel. 
Your name and hers were put in by mere chance. Just because 
they came handy. Think it over. I shall bring you a drink.” 

She neither answered nor turned, but went on writing in a 
scorching scrawl whatever she was writing. A third letter, pre- 
sumably (two in stamped envelopes were already laid out on the 
desk). I went back to the kitchen. 

I set out two glasses (to St. Algebra? to Lo?) and opened the 
refrigerator. It roared at me viciously while I removed the ice 
from its heart. Rewrite. Let her read it again. She will not recall 
details. Change, forge. Write a fragment and show it to her 
or leave it lying around. Why do faucets sometimes whine so 
horribly? A horrible situation, really. The little pillow-shaped 

[ 98 ] 

blocks of ice— -pillows for polar teddy bear, Lo — emitted rasping, 
crackling, tortured sounds as the warm water loosened them in 
their cells. I bumped down the glasses side by side. I poured in 
the whiskey and a dram of soda. She had tabooed my pin. Bark 
and bang went the icebox. Carrying the glasses, I walked through 
the dining room and spoke through the parlor door which was 
a fraction ajar, not quite space enough for my elbow. 

“I have made you a drink,” I said. 

She did not answer, the mad bitch, and I placed the glasses 
on the sideboard near the telephone, which had started to ring. 

“Leslie speaking. Leslie Tomson,” said Leslie Tomson who 
favored a dip at dawn. “Mrs. Humbert, sir, has been run over 
and you’d better come quick.” 

I answered, perhaps a bit testily, that my wife was safe and 
sound, and still holding the receiver, I pushed open the door 
and said: 

“There’s this man saying you’ve been killed, Charlotte.” 

But there was no Charlotte in the living room. 


I rushed out. The far side of our steep little street presented a 
peculiar sight. A big black glossy Packard had climbed Miss 
Opposite’s sloping lawn at an angle from the sidewalk (where 
a tartan laprobe had dropped in a heap), and stood there, 
shining in the sun, its doors open like wings, its front wheels 
deep in evergreen shrubbery. To the anatomical right of this 
car, on the trim turf of the lawn-slope, an old gentleman with 
a white mustache, well-dressed — doublebreasted gray suit, polka- 
dotted bow-tie — lay supine, his long legs together, like a death- 
size wax figure. I have to put the impact of an instantaneous 
vision into a sequence of words; their physical accumulation in 
the page impairs the actual flash, the sharp unity of impression: 
Rug-heap, car, old man-doll, Miss O.’s nurse running with a 
rustle, a half-empty tumbler in her hand, back to the screened 

[ 99 ] 

porch — where the propped-up, imprisoned, decrepit lady herself 
may be imagined screeching, but not loud enough to drown 
the rhythmical yaps of the Junk setter walking from group to 
group — from a bunch of neighbors already collected on the 
sidewalk, near the bit of checked stuff, and back to the car which 
he had finally run to earth, and then to another group on the 
lawn, consisting of Leslie, two policemen and a sturdy man 
with tortoise shell glasses. At this point, I should explain that 
the prompt appearance of the patrolmen, hardly more than a 
minute after the accident, was due to their having been ticket- 
ing the illegally parked cars in a cross lane two blocks down 
the grade; that the fellow with the glasses was Frederick Beale, 
Jr., driver of the Packard; that his 79-year-old father, whom the 
nurse had just watered on the green bank where he lay — a 
banked banker so to speak — was not in a dead faint, but was 
comfortably and methodically recovering from a mild heart 
attack or its possibility; and, finally, that the laprobe on the side- 
walk (where she had so often pointed out to me with disapproval 
the crooked green cracks) concealed the mangled remains of 
Charlotte Humbert who had been knocked down and dragged 
several feet by the Beale car as she was hurrying across the street 
to drop three letters in the mailbox, at the corner of Miss Oppo- 
site’s lawn. These were picked up and handed to me by a pretty 
child in a dirty pink frock, and I got rid of them by clawing 
them to fragments in my trouser pocket. 

Three doctors and the Farlows presently arrived on the scene 
and took over. The widower, a man of exceptional self-control, 
neither wept nor raved. He staggered a bit, that he did; but 
he opened his mouth only to impart such information or issue 
such directions as were strictly necessary in connection with the 
identification, examination and disposal of a dead woman, the 
top of her head a porridge of bone, brains, bronze hair and 
blood. The sun was still a blinding red when he was put to bed 
in Dolly’s room by his two friends, gentle John and dewy-eyed 
Jean; who, to be near, retired to the Humberts’ bedroom for the 
night; which, for all I know, they may not have spent as inno- 
cently as the solemnity of the occasion required. 

[ 100 ] 

I have no reason to dwell, in this very special memoir, on the 
pre=funeral formalities that had to be attended to, or on the 
funeral itself, which was as quiet as the marriage had been. But 
a few incidents pertaining to those four or five days after Char- 
lotte’s simple death, have to be noted. 

My first night of widowhood I was so drunk that I slept as 
soundly as the child who had slept in that bed. Next morning 
I hastened to inspect the fragments of letters in my pocket. They 
had got too thoroughly mixed up to be sorted into three com- 
plete sets. I assumed that “. . . and you had better find it because 
I cannot buy ...” came from a letter to Lo; and other fragments 
seemed to point to Charlotte’s intention of fleeing with Lo to 
Parkington, or even back to Pisky, lest the vulture snatch her 
precious lamb. Other tatters and shreds (never had I thought 
I had such strong talons) obviously referred to an application 
not to St. A. but to another boarding school which was said 
to be so harsh and gray and gaunt in its methods (although 
supplying croquet under the elms) as to have earned the nick- 
name of “Reformatory for Young Ladies.” Finally, the third 
epistle was obviously addressed to me. I made out such items 
as “. . . after a year of separation we may . . .” . . oh, my dearest, 

oh my . . .” “. . . worse than if it had been a woman you kept . . 

“. . . or, maybe, I shall die . . .” But on the whole my gleanings 
made httle sense; the various fragments of those three hasty 
missives were as jumbled in the palms of my hands as their ele- 
ments had been in poor Charlotte’s head. 

That day John had to see a customer, and Jean had to feed 
her dogs, and so I was to be deprived temporarily of my friends’ 
company. The dear people were afraid I might commit suicide 
if left alone, and since no other friends were available (Miss 
Opposite was incommunicado, the McCoos were busy building 
a new house miles away, and the Chatfields had been recently 
called to Maine by some family trouble of their own), Leslie 
and Louise were commissioned to keep me company under 
the pretense of helping me to sort out and pack a multitude of 
orphaned things. In a moment of superb inspiration I showed 
the kind and credulous Farlows (we were waiting for Leslie to 

C lOI ] 

come for his paid tryst with Louise) a little photograph of 
Charlotte I had found among her affairs. From a boulder she 
smiled through blown hair. It had been taken in April 1934, 
a memorable spring. While on a business visit to the States, I 
had had occasion to spend several months in Pisky. We met — 
and had a mad love affair. I was married, alas, and she was 
engaged to Haze, but after I returned to Europe, we corresponded 
through a friend, now dead. Jean whispered she had heard some 
rumors and looked at the snapshot, and, still looking, handed 
it to John, and John removed his pipe and looked at lovely and 
fast Charlotte Becker, and handed it back to me. Then they 
left for a few hours. Happy Louise was gurgling and scolding her 
swain in the basement. 

Hardly had the Farlows gone than a blue-chinned cleric called 
— and I tried to make the interview as brief as was consistent 
with neither hurting his feelings nor arousing his doubts. Yes, 
I would devote all my life to the child’s welfare. Here, inci- 
dentally, was a little cross that Charlotte Becker had given me 
when we were both young. I had a female cousin, a respectable 
spinster in New York. There we would find a good private school 
for Dolly. Oh, what a crafty Humbert! 

For the benefit of Leslie and Louise who might (and did) 
report it to John and Jean I made a tremendously loud and 
beautifully enacted long-distance call and simulated a conver- 
sation with Shirley Holmes. When John and Jean returned, I 
completely took them in by telling them, in a deliberately wild 
and confused mutter, that Lo had gone with the intermediate 
group on a five-day hike and could not be reached. 

“Good Lord,” said Jean, “what shall we do?” 

John said it was perfectly simple — he would get the Climax 
police to find the hikers — it would not take them an hour. In 
fact, he knew the country and — 

“Look,” he continued, “why don’ I drive there right now, 
and you may sleep with Jean” — (he did not really add that 
but Jean supported his offer so passionately that it might be 

I broke down. I pleaded with John to let things remain the 
[ 102 ] 

way they were. I said I could not bear to have the child all 
around me, sobbing, clinging to me, she was so high-strung, the 
experience might react on her future, psychiatrists have analyzed 
such cases. There was a sudden pause. 

“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.” 

“I see,” said John. “I am sorry. Yes, I see. I did not realize 
that. It simplifies matters, of course. And whatever you feel is 

The distraught father went on to say he would go and fetch 
his delicate daughter immediately after the funeral, and would 
do his best to give her a good time in totally different surround- 
ings, perhaps a trip to New Mexico or California — granted, of 
course, he lived. 

So artistically did I impersonate the calm of ultimate despair, 
the hush before some crazy outburst, that the perfect Farlows 
removed me to their house. They had a good cellar, as cellars 
go in this country; and that was helpful, for I feared insomnia 
and a ghost. 

Now I must explain my reasons for keeping Dolores away. 
Naturally, at first, when Charlotte had just been eliminated and 
I re-entered the house a free father, and gulped down the two 
whiskey-and-sodas I had prepared, and topped them with a 
pint or two of my “pin,” and went to the bathroom to get away 
from neighbors and friends, there was but one thing in my 
mind and pulse — namely, the awareness that a few hours hence, 
warm, brown-haired, and mine, mine, mine, Lolita would be 
in my arms, shedding tears that I would kiss away faster than 
they could well. But as I stood wide-eyed and flushed before 
the mirror, John Farlow tenderly tapped to inquire if I was 
okay — and I immediately realized it would be madness on my 
part to have her in the house with all those busybodies milling 
around and scheming to take her away from me. Indeed, unpre- 
dictable Lo herself might — who knows? — show some foolish 

[ 103 ] 

distrust of me, a sudden repugnance, vague fear and the like — 
and gone would be the magic prize at the very instant of triumph. 

Speaking of busybodies, I had another visitor — friend Beale, 
the fellow who eliminated my wife. Stodgy and solemn, looking 
like a kind of assistant executioner, with his bulldog jowls, small 
black eyes, thickly rimmed glasses and conspicuous nostrils, 
he was ushered in by John who then left us, closing the door 
upon us, with the utmost tact. Suavely saying he had twins in 
my stepdaughter’s class, my grotesque visitor unrolled a large 
diagram he had made of the accident. It was, as my stepdaughter 
would have put it, “a beaut,” with all kinds of impressive arrows 
and dotted lines in varicolored inks. Mrs. H. H.’s trajectory was 
illustrated at several points by a series of those little outline 
figures — doll-like wee career girl or WAC — used in statistics as 
visual aids. Very clearly and conclusively, this route came into 
contact with a boldly traced sinuous line representing two con- 
secutive swerves — one which the Beale car made to avoid the 
Junk dog (dog not shown), and the second, a kind of exagger- 
ated continuation of the first, meant to avert the tragedy. A very 
black cross indicated the spot where the trim little outline 
figure had at last come to rest on the sidewalk. I looked for some 
similar mark to denote the place on the embankment where 
my visitor’s huge wax father had reclined, but there was none. 
That gentleman, however, had signed the document as a witness 
underneath the name of Leslie Tomson, Miss Opposite and a 
few other people. 

With his hummingbird pencil deftly and delicately flying 
from one point to another, Frederick demonstrated his absolute 
innocence and the recklessness of my wife: while he was in the 
act of avoiding the dog, she had slipped on the freshly watered 
asphalt and plunged forward whereas she should have flung her- 
self not forward but backward (Fred showed how by a jerk of 
his padded shoulder). I said it was certainly not his fault, and 
the inquest upheld my view. 

Breathing violently through jet-black tense nostrils, he shook 
his head and my hand; then, with an air of perfect savoir vivre 
and gentlemanly generosity, he offered to pay the funeral-home 

[ 104 ] 

expenses. He expected me to refuse his offer. With a drunken 
sob of gratitude I accepted it. This took him aback. Slowly, 
incredulously, he repeated what he had said. I thanked him 
again, even more profusely than before. 

In result of that weird interview, the numbness of my soul 
was for a moment resolved. And no wonder! I had actually 
seen the agent of fate. I had palpated the very flesh of fate — 
and its padded shoulder. A brilliant and monstrous mutation 
had suddenly taken place, and here was the instrument. Within 
the intricacies of the pattern (hurrying housewife, slippery 
pavement, a pest of a dog, steep grade, big car, baboon at its 
wheel), I could dimly distinguish my own vile contribution. 
Had I not been such a fool — or such an intuitive genius — 
to preserve that journal, fluids produced by vindictive anger and 
hot shame would not have blinded Charlotte in her dash to 
the mailbox. But even had they blinded her, still nothing might 
have happened, had not precise fate, that synchronizing phan- 
tom, mixed within its alembic the car and the dog and the sun l 
and the shade and the wet and the weak and the strong and 
the stone. Adieu, Marlene! Fat fate’s formal handshake (as 2 
reproduced by Beale before leaving the room) brought me out 
of my torpor; and I wept. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury — 

I wept. 


The elms and the poplars were turning their ruffled backs 
to a sudden onslaught of wind, and a black thunderhead loomed 
above Ramsdale’s white church tower when I looked around me 
for the last time. For unknown adventures I was leaving the 
livid house where I had rented a room only ten weeks before. 
The shades — thrifty, practical bamboo shades — were already 
down. On porches or in the house their rich textures lend 
modern drama. The house of heaven must seem pretty bare 
after that. A raindrop fell on my knuckles. I went back into 
the house for something or other while John was putting my 

[ 105 ] 

bags into the car, and then a funny thing happened. I do not 
know if in these tragic notes I have sufficiently stressed the 
peculiar “sending” effect that the writer’s good looks — pseudo- 
Celtic, attractively simian, boyishly manly — had on women 
of every age and environment. Of course, such announcements 
made in the first person may sound ridiculous. But every once 
in a while I have to remind the reader of my appearance much 
as a professional novelist, who has given a character of his some 
mannerism or a dog, has to go on producing that dog or that 
mannerism every time the character crops up in the course of 
the book. There may be more to it in the present case. My 
gloomy good looks should be kept in the mind’s eye if my story 
is to be properly understood. Pubescent Lo swooned to Hum- 
bert’s charm as she did to hiccuppy music; adult Lotte loved me 
with a mature, possessive passion that I now deplore and respect 
more than I care to say. Jean Farlow, who was thirty-one and 
absolutely neurotic, had also apparently developed a strong liking 
for me. She was handsome in a carved-Indian sort of way, with a 
burnt sienna complexion. Her lips were like large crimson polyps, 
and when she emitted her special barking laugh, she showed 
large dull teeth and pale gums. 

She was very tall, wore either slacks with sandals or billowing 
skirts with ballet slippers, drank any strong liquor in any amount, 
had had two miscarriages, wrote stories about animals, painted, 
as the reader knows, lakescapes, was already nursing the cancer 
that was to kill her at thirty-three, and was hopelessly unattrac- 
tive to me. Judge then of my alarm when a few seconds before 
I left (she and I stood in the hallway) Jean, with her always 
trembling fingers, took me by the temples, and, tears in her 
bright blue eyes, attempted, unsuccessfully, to glue herself to 
my lips. 

“Take care of yourself,” she said, “kiss your daughter for me.” 

A clap of thunder reverberated throughout the house, and she 

“Perhaps, somewhere, some day, at a less miserable time, we 
may see each other again” (Jean, whatever, wherever you are, in 

[ io6 ] 

minus time-space or plus soul-time, forgive me all this, parenthe- 
sis included). 

x\nd presently I was shaking hands with both of them in the 
street, the sloping street, and everything was whirling and flying 
before the approaching white deluge, and a truck with a mattress 
from Philadelphia was confidently rolling down to an empty 
house, and dust was running and writhing over the exact slab of 
stone where Charlotte, when they lifted the laprobe for me, had 
been revealed, curled up, her eyes intact, their black lashes still 
wet, matted, like yours, Lolita. 


One might suppose that with all blocks removed and a pros- 
pect of delirious and unlimited delights before me, I would have 
mentally sunk back, heaving a sigh of delicious relief. Eh bien, 
pas du tout! Instead of basking in the beams of smiling Chance, 1 
I was obsessed by all sorts of purely ethical doubts and fears. For 
instance: might it not surprise people that Lo was so consistently 
debarred from attending festive and funeral functions in her 
immediate family? You remember — we had not had her at our 
wedding. Or another thing: granted it was the long hairy arm of 
Coincidence that had reached out to remove an innocent 
woman, might Coincidence not ignore in a heathen moment 
what its twin lamb had done and hand Lo a premature note of 
commiseration? True, the accident had been reported only by 
the Ramsdale Joimial — not by the Parkington Recorder or the 
Climax Herald, Camp Q being in another state, and local deaths 2 
having no federal news interest; but I could not help fancying 
that somehow Dolly Haze had been informed already, and that 
at the very time I was on my way to fetch her, she was being 
driven to Ramsdale by friends unknown to me. Still more dis- 
quieting than all these conjectures and worries, was the fact that 
Humbert Humbert, a brand-new American citizen of obscure 
European origin, had taken no steps toward becoming the legal 
guardian of his dead wife’s daughter (twelve years and seven 

[ 107 ] 

months old). Would I ever dare take those steps? I could not 
repress a shiver whenever I imagined my nudity hemmed in by 
mysterious statutes in the merciless glare of the Common Law. 

My scheme was a marvel of primitive art: I would whizz over 
to Camp Q, tell Lolita her mother was about to undergo a major 
operation at an invented hospital, and then keep moving with 
my sleepy nymphet from inn to inn while her mother got better 
and better and finally died. But as I traveled campward my 
anxiety grew. I could not bear to think I might not find Lolita 
there — or find, instead, another, scared, Lolita clamoring for 
some family friend: not the Farlows, thank God — she hardly 
knew them — but might there not be other people I had not 
reckoned with? Finally, I decided to make the long-distance call 
I had simulated so well a few days before. It was raining hard 
when I pulled up in a muddy suburb of Parkington, just before 
the Fork, one prong of which bypassed the city and led to the 
highway which crossed the hills to Lake Climax and Camp Q. 
I flipped off the ignition and for quite a minute sat in the car 
bracing myself for that telephone call, and staring at the rain, at 
the inundated sidewalk, at a hydrant: a hideous thing, really, 
painted a thick silver and red, extending the red stumps of its 

1 arms to be varnished by the rain which like stylized blood 

2 dripped upon its argent chains. No wonder that stopping beside 
those nightmare cripples is taboo. I drove up to a gasoline station. 
A surprise awaited me when at last the coins had satisfactorily 
clanked down and a voice was allowed to answer mine. 

Holmes, the camp mistress, informed me that Dolly had gone 
Monday (this was Wednesday) on a hike in the hills with her 
group and was expected to return rather late today. Would I 
care to come tomorrow, and what was exactly — Without going 
into details, I said that her mother was hospitalized, that the 
situation was grave, that the child should not be told it was 
grave and that she should be ready to leave with me tomorrow 
afternoon. The two voices parted in an explosion of warmth 
and good will, and through some freak mechanical flaw all my 
coins came tumbling back to me with a hitting-the- jackpot clatter 
that almost made me laugh despite the disappointment at hav- 

[ io8 ] 

ing to postpone bliss. One wonders if this sudden discharge, this 
spasmodic refund, was not correlated somehow, in the mind of 
McFate, with my having invented that little expedition before 
ever learning of it as I did now. 

What next? I proceeded to the business center of Parkington 
and devoted the whole afternoon (the weather had cleared, the 
wet town was like silver-and-glass) to buying beautiful things 
for Lo. Goodness, what crazy purchases were prompted by the 
poignant predilection Humbert had in those days for check 
weaves, bright cottons, frills, puffed-out short sleeves, soft pleats, 
snug-fitting bodices and generously full skirts! Oh Lolita, you 
are my girl, as Vee was Poe’s and Bea Dante’s, and what little l 
girl would not like to whirl in a circular skirt and scanties? Did 
I have something special in mind? coaxing voices asked me. 
Swimming suits? We have them in all shades. Dream pink, 
frosted aqua, glans mauve, tulip red, oolala black. What about 2, 3 
playsuits? Slips? No slips. Lo and I loathed slips. 

One of my guides in these matters was an anthropometric 
entry made by her mother on Lo’s twelfth birthday (the reader 4 
remembers that Know-Your-Child book). I had the feeling that 
Charlotte, moved by obscure motives of envy and dislike, had 
added an inch here, a pound there; but since the nymphet had 
no doubt grown somewhat in the last seven months, I thought 
I could safely accept most of those January measurements: hip 
girth, twenty-nine inches; thigh girth (just below the gluteal 
sulcus), seventeen; calf girth and neck circumference, eleven; 
chest circumference, twenty-seven; upper arm girth, eight; waist, 
twenty-three; stature, fifty-seven inches; weight, seventy-eight 
pounds; figure, linear; intelligence quotient, izi; vermiform ap- 
pendix present, thank God. 

Apart from measurements, I could of course visualize Lolita 
with hallucinational lucidity; and nursing as I did a tingle on 
my breastbone at the exact spot her silky top had come level 
once or twice with my heart; and feeling as I did her warm 
weight in my lap (so that, in a sense, I was always “with Lolita” 
as a woman is “with child”), I was not surprised to discover later 
that my computation had been more or less correct. Having 

[ 109 ] 

moreover studied a midsummer sale book, it was with a very 
knowing air that I examined various pretty articles, sport shoes, 
sneakers, pumps of crushed kid for crushed kids. The painted 
girl in black who attended to all these poignant needs of mine 
turned parental scholarship and precise description into com- 
mercial euphemisms, such as ''petite.’’’’ Another, much older 
woman, in a white dress, with a pancake make-up, seemed to be 
oddly impressed by my knowledge of junior fashions; perhaps I 
had a midget for mistress; so, when shown a skirt with two 
“cute” pockets in front, I intentionally put a naive male question 
and was rewarded by a smiling demonstration of the way the 
zipper worked in the back of the skirt. I had next great fun with 
all kinds of shorts and briefs — phantom little Lolitas dancing, 
falling, daisying all over the counter. We rounded up the deal 
with some prim cotton pajamas in popular butcher-boy style. 
Humbert, the popular butcher. 

There is a touch of the mythological and the enchanted in 
those large stores where according to ads a career girl can get a 
complete desk-to-date wardrobe, and where little sister can 
dream of the day when her wool jersey will make the boys in the 
back row of the classroom drool. Lifesize plastic figures of 
snubbed-nosed children with dun-colored, greenish, brown- 
dotted, faunish faces floated around me. I realized I was the 
only shopper in that rather eerie place where I moved about fish- 

1 like, in a glaucous aquarium. I sensed strange thoughts form in 
the minds of the languid ladies that escorted me from counter 
to counter, from rock ledge to seaweed, and the belts and the 
bracelets I chose seemed to fall from siren hands into transparent 
water. I bought an elegant valise, had my purchases put into it, 
and repaired to the nearest hotel, well pleased with my day. 

Somehow, in connection with that quiet poetical afternoon of 
fastidious shopping, I recalled the hotel or inn with the seduc- 

2 tive name of The Enchanted Hunters which Charlotte had hap- 
pened to mention shortly before my liberation. With the help 
of a guidebook I located it in the secluded town of Briceland, a 
four-hour drive from Lo’s camp. I could have telephoned but 
fearing my voice might go out of control and lapse into coy 

[ no ] 

croaks of broken English, I decided to send a wire ordering a 
room with twin beds for the next night. What a comic, clumsy, 
wavering Prince Charming I was! How some of my readers will 
laugh at me when I tell them the trouble I had with the wording 
of my telegram! What should I put: Humbert and daughter? 
Humberg and small daughter? Homberg and immature girl? 
Homburg and child? The droll mistake — the “g” at the end — 
which eventually came through may have been a telepathic echo 
of these hesitations of mine. 

And then, in the velvet of a summer night, my broodings over 
the philter I had with me! Oh miserly Hamburg! Was he not a 
very Enchanted Hunter as he deliberated with himself over his 
boxful of magic ammunition? To rout the monster of insomnia 
should he try himself one of those amethyst capsules? There were 
forty of them, all told — forty nights with a frail little sleeper at 
my throbbing side; could I rob myself of one such night in order 
to sleep? Certainly not: much too precious was each tiny plum, 
each microscopic planetarium with its live stardust. Oh, let me 
be mawkish for the nonce! I am so tired of being cynical. 


This daily headache in the opaque air of this tombal jail is 
disturbing, but I must persevere. Have written more than a 
hundred pages and not got anywhere yet. My calendar is getting 
confused. That must have been around August 15, 1947. Don’t 
think I can go on. Heart, head — everything. Lolita, Lolita, Lolita, 
Lolita, Lolita, Lolita, Lolita, Lolita, Lolita. Repeat till the page 
is full, printer. 


Still in Parkington. Linally, I did achieve an hour’s slumber — 
from which I was aroused by gratuitous and horribly exhausting 
congress with a small hairy hermaphrodite, a total stranger. 

[ III ] 

By then it was six in the morning, and it suddenly occurred 
to me it might be a good thing to arrive at the camp earlier than 
I had said. From Parkington I had still a hundred miles to go, 
and there would be more than that to the Hazy Hills and Brice- 
land. If I had said I would come for Dolly in the afternoon, it 
was only because my fancy insisted on merciful night falling as 
soon as possible upon my impatience. But now I foresaw all 
kinds of misunderstandings and was all a-jitter lest delay might 
give her the opportunity of some idle telephone call to Rams- 
dale. However, when at 9.30 a.m. I attempted to start, I was 
confronted by a dead battery, and noon was nigh when at last 
I left Parkington. 

I reached my destination around half past two; parked my car 

1 in a pine grove where a green-shirted, redheaded impish lad 
stood throwing horseshoes in sullen solitude; was laconically 
directed by him to an office in a stucco cottage; in a dying state, 
had to endure for several minutes the inquisitive commiseration 
of the camp mistress, a sluttish worn out female with rusty hair. 
Dolly she said was all packed and ready to go. She knew her 
mother was sick but not critically. Would Mr. Haze, I mean, 
A-lr. Humbert, care to meet the camp counsellors? Or look at 
the cabins where the girls live? Each dedicated to a Disney 
creature? Or visit the Lodge? Or should Charlie be sent over to 
fetch her? The girls were just finishing fixing the Dining Room 
for a dance. (And perhaps afterwards she would say to some- 
body or other: “The poor guy looked like his own ghost.”) 

Let me retain for a moment that scene in all its trivial and 
fateful detail: hag Holmes writing out a receipt, scratching her 
head, pulling a drawer out of her desk, pouring change into my 
impatient palm, then neatly spreading a banknote over it with 
a bright “. . . and five!”; photographs of girl-children; some gaudy 

2 moth or butterfly, still alive, safely pinned to the wall (“nature 
study”); the framed diploma of the camp’s dietitian; my trem- 
bling hands; a card produced by efficient Holmes with a report 
of Dolly Haze’s behavior for July (“fair to good; keen on swim- 
ming and boating”); a sound of trees and birds, and my pound- 
ing heart ... I was standing with my back to the open door, and 

[ 112 ] 

then I felt the blood rush to my head as I heard her respiration 
and voice behind me. She arrived dragging and bumping her 
heavy suitcase. “Hi!” she said, and stood still, looking at me 
with sly, glad eyes, her soft lips parted in a slightly foolish but 
wonderfully endearing smile. 

She was thinner and taller, and for a second it seemed to me 
her face was less pretty than the mental imprint I had cherished 
for more than a month: her cheeks looked hollowed and too 
much lentigo camouflaged her rosy rustic features; and that first l 
impression (a very narrow human interval between two tiger 
heartbeats) carried the clear implication that all widower Hum- 
bert had to do, wanted to do, or would do, was to give this wan- 
looking though sun-colored little orphan aux yeux battus (and 2 
even those plumbaceous umbrae under her eyes bore freckles) a 3 
sound education, a healthy and happy girlhood, a clean home, 
nice girl-friends of her age among whom (if the fates deigned to 
repay me) I might find, perhaps, a pretty little Mdgdlein for Herr 4 
Doktor Humbert alone. But “in a wink,” as the Germans say, 
the angelic line of conduct was erased, and I overtook my prey 
(time moves ahead of our fancies!), and she was my Lolita 
again — in fact, more of my Lolita than ever. I let my hand rest 
on her warm auburn head and took up her bag. She was all rose 
and honey, dressed in her brightest gingham, with a pattern of 
little red apples, and her arms and legs were of a deep golden 
brown, with scratches like tiny dotted lines of coagulated rubies, 
and the ribbed cuffs of her white socks were turned down at the 
remembered level, and because of her childish gait, or because 
I had memorized her as always wearing heelless shoes, her saddle 
oxfords looked somehow too large and too high-heeled for her. 
Good-bye, Camp Q, merry Camp Q. Good-bye, plain unwhole- 
some food, good-bye Charlie boy. In the hot car she settled 
down beside me, slapped a prompt fly on her lovely knee; then, 
her mouth working violently on a piece of chewing gum, she 
rapidly cranked down the window on her side and settled back 
again. We sped through the striped and speckled forest. 

“How’s Mother?” she asked dutifully. 

I said the doctors did not quite know yet what the trouble 

[ II3 ] 

was. Anyway, something abdominal. Abominable? No, abdomi- 
nal. We would have to hang around for a while. The hospital 
was in the country, near the gay town of Lepingville, where a 
great poet had resided in the early nineteenth century and where 
we would take in all the shows. She thought it a peachy idea 
and wondered if we could make Lepingville before nine p.m. 

“We should be at Briceland by dinner time,” I said, “and 
tomorrow we’ll visit Lepingville. How was the hike? Did you 
have a marvelous time at the camp?” 


“Sorry to leave?” 


“Talk, Lo — don’t grunt. Tell me something.” 

“What thing. Dad?” (she let the word expand with ironic 

“Any old thing.” 

“Okay, if I call you that?” (eyes slit at the road). 

“Quite.” I 

“It’s a sketch, you know. When did you fall for my mummy?” j 

“Some day, Lo, you will understand many emotions and situa- ' 
tions, such as for example the harmony, the beauty of spiritual I 
relationship.” . 

“Bah!” said the cynical nymphet. 

Shallow lull in the dialogue, filled with some landscape. . 

“Look, Lo, at all those cows on that hillside.” 

“I think I’ll vomit if I look at a cow again.” ' 

“You know, I missed you terribly, Lo.” 

“/ did not. Fact I’ve been revoltingly unfaithful to you, but it 
does not matter one bit, because you’ve stopped caring for me, i 
anyway. You drive much faster than my mummy, mister.” 

I slowed down from a blind seventy to a purblind fifty. 

“Why do you think I have ceased caring for you, Lo?” 

“Well, you haven’t kissed me yet, have you?” 

Inly dying, inly moaning, I glimpsed a reasonably wide shoul- 
der of road ahead, and bumped and wobbled into the weeds, i 
Remember she is only a child, remember she is only — 

Hardly had the car come to a standstill than Lolita positively 

[ 114 ] 

flowed into my arms. Not daring, not daring let myself go — not 
even daring let myself realize that this (sweet wetness and trem- 
bling fire) was the beginning of the ineffable life which, ably 
assisted by fate, I had finally willed into being — not daring really 
kiss her, I touched her hot, opening lips with the utmost piety, 
tiny sips, nothing salacious; but she, with an impatient wriggle, 
pressed her mouth to mine so hard that I felt her big front teeth 
and shared in the peppermint taste of her saliva. I knew, of 
course, it was but an innocent game on her part, a bit of back- 
fisch foolery in imitation of some simulacrum of fake romance, 1, 2 
and since (as the psychotherapist, as well as the rapist, will tell 3 

you) the limits and rules of such girlish games are fluid, or at 
least too childishly subtle for the senior partner to grasp — I was 
dreadfully afraid 1 might go too far and cause her to start back 
in revulsion and terror. And, as above all I was agonizingly 
an.\ious to smuggle her into the hermetic seclusion of The En- 
chanted Hunters, and we had still eighty miles to go, blessed 
intuition broke our embrace— a split second before a highway 
patrol car drew up alongside. 

Florid and beetle-browed, its driver stared at me: 

“Happen to see a blue sedan, same make as yours, pass you 
before the junction?” 

“Why, no.” 

“We didn’t,” said Lo, eagerly leaning across me, her innocent 
hand on my legs, “but are you sure it was blue, because — ” 

The cop (what shadow of us was he after?) gave the little 4 
colleen his best smile and went into a U-turn. 

W e drove on. 

“The fruithead!” remarked Lo. “He should have nabbed yoz/.” 

“Why me for heaven’s sake?” 

“Well, the speed in this bum state is fifty, and — No, don’t 
slow down, you, dull bulb. He’s gone now.” 

“We have still quite a stretch,” I said, “and I want to get there 
before dark. So be a good girl.” 

“Bad, bad girl,” said Lo comfortably. “Juvenile delickwent, 
but frank and fetching. That light was red. I’ve never seen such 

C II5 ] 

We rolled silently through a silent townlet. 

“Say, wouldn’t Mother be absolutely mad if she found out 
we were lovers?” 

“Good Lord, Lo, let us not talk that way.” 

“But we are lovers, aren’t we?” 

“Not that I know of. I think we are going to have some more 
rain. Don’t you want to tell me of those little pranks of yours in 

“You talk like a book. Dad.” 

“What have you been up to? I insist you tell me.” 

“Are you easily shocked?” 

“No. Go on.” 

“Let us turn into a secluded lane and I’ll tell you.” 

“Lo, I must seriously ask you not to play the fool. Well?” 

“Well — I joined in all the activities that were offered.” 

1 “EnsuiteF” 

“Ansooit, I was taught to live happily and richly with others 
and to develop a wholesome personality. Be a cake, in fact.” 

“Yes. I saw something of the sort in the booklet.” 

“We loved the sings around the fire in the big stone fireplace 
or under the darned stars, where every girl merged her own 
spirit of happiness with the voice of the group.” 

“Your memory is excellent, Lo, but I must trouble you to 
leave out the swear words. Anything else?” 

“The Girl Scout’s motto,” said Lo rhapsodically, “is also mine. 
I fill my life with worthwhile deeds such as — well, never mind 
what. My duty is — to be useful. I am a friend to male animals. I 
obey orders. I am cheerful. That was another police car. I am 
thrifty and I am absolutely filthy in thought, word and deed.” 

“Now I do hope that’s all, you witty child.” 

“Yep. That’s all. No — wait a sec. We baked in a reflector 
oven. Isn’t that terrific?” 

“Well, that’s better.” 

“We washed zillions of dishes. ‘Zillions’ you know is school- 
marm’s slang for many-many-many-many. Oh yes, last but not 
least, as Mother says — Now let me see — what was it? I know. We 

2 made shadowgraphs. Gee, what fun.” 

[ ii6 ] 


'‘Cest bien tout?’’’’ 

^^Cest. Except for one little thing, something I simply can’t 
tell you without blushing all over.” 

“Will you tell it me later?” 

“If we sit in the dark and you let me whisper, I will. Do you 
sleep in your old room or in a heap with Mother?” 

“Old room. Your mother may have to undergo a very serious 
operation, Lo.” 

“Stop at that candy bar, will you,” said Lo. 

Sitting on a high stool, a band of sunlight crossing her bare 
brown forearm, Lolita was served an elaborate ice-cream con- 
coction topped with synthetic syrup. It was erected and brought 
her by a pimply brute of a boy in a greasy bow-tie who eyed my 
fragile child in her thin cotton frock with carnal deliberation. 
My impatience to reach Briceland and The Enchanted Hunters 
was becoming more than I could endure. Eortunately she dis- 
patched the stuff with her usual alacrity. 

“How much cash do you have?” I asked. 

“Not a cent,” she said sadly, lifting her eyebrows, showing me 
the empty inside of her money purse. 

“This is a matter that will be mended in due time,” I rejoined 
archly. “Are you coming?” 

“Say, I wonder if they have a washroom.” 

“You are not going there,” I said firmly. “It is sure to be a vile 
place. Do come on.” 

She was on the whole an obedient little girl and I kissed her 
in the neck when we got back into the car. 

do that,” she said looking at me with unfeigned sur- 
prise. “Don’t drool on me. You dirty man.” 

She rubbed the spot against her raised shoulder. 

“Sorry,” I murmured. “I’m rather fond of you, that’s all.” 

We drove under a gloomy sky, up a winding road, then down 

“Well, I’m also sort of fond of you,” said Lolita in a delayed 
soft voice, with a sort of sigh, and sort of settled closer to me. 

I (Oh, my Lolita, we shall never get there! ) 

Dusk was beginning to saturate pretty little Briceland, its 

, [ 117 ] 

phony colonial architecture, curiosity shops and imported shade 
trees, when we drove through the weakly lighted streets in search 
of the Enchanted Hunters. The air, despite a steady drizzle 
beading it, was warm and green, and a queue of people, mainly 
children and old men, had already formed before the box office 
of a movie house, dripping with jewel-fires. 

“Oh, I want to see that picture. Let’s go right after dinner. 
Oh, let’s!” 

“We might,” chanted Humbert — knowing perfectly well, the 
sly tumescent devil, that by nine, when his show began, she 
would be dead in his arms. 

“Easy!” cried Lo, lurching forward, as an accursed truck in 
1 front of us, its backside carbuncles pulsating, stopped at a 

If we did not get to the hotel soon, immediately, miraculously, 
in the very next block, I felt I would lose all control over the 
Haze jalopy with its ineffectual wipers and whimsical brakes; 
but the passers-by I applied to for directions were either strangers 
themselves or asked with a frown “Enchanted what?” as if I 
were a madman; or else they went into such complicated expla- 
nations, with geometrical gestures, geographical generalities and 
strictly local clues (. . . then bear south after you hit the court- 
house . . .) that I could not help losing my way in the maze of 
their well-meaning gibberish. Lo, whose lovely prismatic entrails 
had already digested the sweetmeat, was looking forward to a 
big meal and had begun to fidget. As to me, although I had long 
become used to a kind of secondary fate (McFate’s inept secre- 
tary, so to speak) pettily interfering with the boss’s generous 
magnificent plan — to grind and grope through the avenues of 
Briceland was perhaps the most exasperating ordeal I had yet 
faced. In later months I could laugh at my inexperience when 
recalling the obstinate boyish way in which I had concentrated 
upon that particular inn with its fancy name; for all along our 
route countless motor courts proclaimed their vacancy in neon 
lights, ready to accommodate salesmen, escaped convicts, im- 
potents, family groups, as well as the most corrupt and vigorous 
couples. Ah, gentle drivers gliding through summer’s black 

[ ii8 ] 

nights, what frolics, what twists of lust, you might see from 
your impeccable highways if Kumfy Kabins were suddenly 
drained of their pigments and became as transparent as boxes 
of glass! 

The miracle I hankered for did happen after all. A man and a 
girl, more or less conjoined in a dark car under dripping trees, 
told us we were in the heart of The Park, but had only to turn 
left at the next traffic light and there we would be. We did not 
see any next traffic light — in fact, The Park was as black as the 
sins it concealed — but soon after falling under the smooth spell 
of a nicely graded curve, the travelers became aware of a diamond 
glow through the mist, then a gleam of lakewater appeared — 
and there it was, marvelously and inexorably, under spectral 
trees, at the top of a graveled drive — the pale palace of The En- 
chanted Hunters. 

A row of parked cars, like pigs at a trough, seemed at first 
sight to forbid access; but then, by magic, a formidable con- 
vertible, resplendent, rubious in the lighted rain, came into mo- 1 
tion — was energetically backed out by a broad-shouldered driver 
— and we gratefully slipped into the gap it had left. I immediately 
regretted my haste for I noticed that my predecessor had now 
taken advantage of a garage -like shelter nearby where there was 
ample space for another car; but I was too impatient to follow 
his example. 

“Wow! Looks swank,” remarked my vulgar darling squinting 
at the stucco as she crept out into the audible drizzle and with a 
childish hand tweaked loose the frock-fold that had stuck in the 
peach-cleft — to quote Robert Browning. Under the arclights 2 
enlarged replicas of chestnut leaves plunged and played on white 
pillars. I unlocked the trunk compartment. A hunchbacked and 
hoary Negro in a uniform of sorts took our bags and wheeled 
them slowly into the lobby. It was full of old ladies and clergy- 
men. Lolita sank down on her haunches to caress a pale-faced, 
blue-freckled, black-eared cocker spaniel swooning on the floral 3 
carpet under her hand — as who would not, my heart — while I 
cleared my throat through the throng to the desk. There a bald 
porcine old man — everybody was old in that old hotel— examined 4 

[ 119 ] 

my features with a polite smile, then leisurely produced my 
(garbled) telegram, wrestled with some dark doubts, turned his 
head to look at the clock, and finally said he was very sorry, he 
had held the room with the twin beds till half past six, and now 
it was gone. A religious convention, he said, had clashed with a 
flower show in Briceland, and — “The name,” I said coldly, “is 
1 not Humberg and not Humbug, but Herbert, I mean Humbert, 
and any room will do, just put in a cot for my little daughter. 
She is ten and very tired.” 

The pink old fellow peered good-naturedly at Lo — still squat- 
ting, listening in profile, lips parted, to what the dog’s mistress, 
an ancient lady swathed in violet veils, was telling her from the 
depths of a cretonne easy chair. 

Whatever doubts the obscene fellow had, they were dispelled 
by that blossom-like vision. He said, he might still have a room, 
had one, in fact — with a double bed. As to the cot — 

“Mr. Potts, do we have any cots left?” Potts, also pink and 
bald, with white hairs growing out of his ears and other holes, 
would see what could be done. He came and spoke while I un- 
screwed my fountain pen. Impatient Humbert! 

“Our double beds are really triple,” Potts cozily said tucking 
me and my kid in. “One crowded night we had three ladies and 
a child like yours sleep together. I believe one of the ladies was a 
disguised man \my static]. However — would there be a spare cot 
in 49, Mr. Swine?” 

“I think it went to the Swoons,” said Swine, the initial old 

“We’ll manage somehow,” I said. “My wife may join us later 
— but even then, I suppose, we’ll manage.” 

The two pink pigs were now among my best friends. In the 
slow clear hand of crime I wrote: Dr. Edgar H. Humbert and 
2,3 daughter, 342 Lawn Street, Ramsdale. A key (342!) was half- 
shown to me (magician showing object he is about to palm) — 
and handed over to Uncle Tom. Lo, leaving the dog as she would 
leave me some day, rose from her haunches; a raindrop fell on 
Charlotte’s grave; a handsome young Negress slipped open the 

[ 120 ] 

elevator door, and the doomed child went in followed by her 
throat-clearing father and crayfish Tom with the bags. 

Parody of a hotel corridor. Parody of silence and death. l 

“Say, it’s our house number,” said cheerful Lo. 

There was a double bed, a mirror, a double bed in the mirror, 2 
a closet door with mirror, a bathroom door ditto, a blue-dark 
window, a reflected bed there, the same in the closet mirror, 
two chairs, a glass-topped table, two bedtables, a double bed: a 
big panel bed, to be exact, with a Tuscan rose chenille spread, 
and two frilled, pink -shaded nightlamps, left and right. 

I was tempted to place a five-dollar bill in that sepia palm, but 
thought the largesse might be misconstrued, so I placed a quarter. 
Added another. He withdrew. Click. E7ifin seuls. ^ 

“Are we to sleep in one room?” said Lo, her features working 
in that dynamic way they did — not cross or disgusted (though 
plain on the brink of it) but just dynamic — when she wanted to 
load a question with violent significance. 

“I’ve asked them to put in a cot. Which I’ll use if you like.” 

“You are crazy,” said Lo. 

“Why, my darling?” 

“Because, my dahrling, when dahrling Mother finds out she’ll 
divorce you and strangle me.” 

Just dynamic. Not really taking the matter too seriously. 

“Now look here,” I said, sitting down, while she stood, a few 
feet from me, and stared at herself contentedly, not unpleasantly 
surprised at her own appearance, filling with her own rosy sun- 
shine the surprised and pleased closet-door mirror. 

“Look here, Lo. Let’s settle this once for all. For all practical 
purposes I am your father. I have a feeling of great tenderness 
for you. In your mother’s absence I am responsible for your 
welfare. We are not rich, and while we travel, we shall be obliged 
— we shall be thrown a good deal together. Two people sharing 
one room, inevitably enter into a kind — how shall I say — a 
kind — ” 

“The word is incest,” said Lo — and walked into the closet, 
walked out again with a young golden giggle, opened the adjoin- 
ing door, and after carefully peering inside with her strange 

[ I2I ] 

smoky eyes lest she make another mistake, retired to the bath- 

I opened the window, tore off my sweat-drenched shirt, 
changed, checked the pill vial in my coat pocket, unlocked the — 

She drifted out. I tried to embrace her: casually, a bit of con- 
trolled tenderness before dinner. 

She said: “Look, let’s cut out the kissing game and get some- 
thing to eat.” 

It was then that I sprang my surprise. 

Oh, what a dreamy pet! She walked up to the open suitcase 
as if stalking it from afar, at a kind of slow-motion walk, peer- 
ing at that distant treasure box on the luggage support. (Was 
there something wrong, I wondered, with those great gray eyes 
of hers, or were we both plunged in the same enchanted mist?) 
She stepped up to it, lifting her rather high-heeled feet rather 
high, and bending her beautiful boy-knees while she walked 

1 through dilating space with the lentor of one walking under 
water or in a flight dream. Then she raised by the armlets a 
copper-colored, charming and quite expensive vest, very slowly 
stretching it between her silent hands as if she were a bemused 
bird-hunter holding his breath over the incredible bird he spreads 
out by the tips of its flaming wings. Then (while I stood waiting 
for her) she pulled out the slow snake of a brilliant belt and 
tried it on. 

Then she crept into my waiting arms, radiant, relaxed, caress- 
ing me with her tender, mysterious, impure, indifferent, twilight 
eyes — for all the world, like the cheapest of cheap cuties. For 
that is what nymphets imitate — while we moan and die. 

“What’s the katter with misses?” I muttered (word-control 
gone) into her hair. 

“If you must know,” she said, “you do it the wrong way.” 

“Show, wight ray.” 

2 “All in good time,” responded the spoonerette. 

3 Seva ascendes, pulsata, bnilans, kitzelans, de?nentisshm. Ele- 
vator clatterans, pausa, clatterans, populus in corridoro. Hanc 
nisi mors mihi adimet nemo! Juncea puellula, jo pensavo fondis- 

4 shtie, nobserva nihil quidquam; but, of course, in another mo- 

[ 122 ] 

ment I might have committed some dreadful blunder; form- 
nately, she returned to the treasure box. 

From the bathroom, where it took me quite a time to shift 
back into normal gear for a humdrum purpose, I heard, standing, 
drumming, retaining my breath, my Lolita’s “oo’s” and “gee’s” 
of girlish delight. 

She had used the soap only because it was sample soap. 

“Well, come on, my dear, if you are as hungry as I am.” 

And so to the elevator, daughter swinging her old white purse, 
father walking in front (nota bene: never behind, she is not a 
lady). As we stood (now side by side) waiting to be taken down, 
she threw back her head, yawned without restraint and shook her 

“When did they make you get up at that camp?” 

“Half-past — ” she stifled another yawn--=“six” — yawn in full 
with a shiver of all her frame. “Half-past,” she repeated, her 
throat filling up again. 

The dining room met us with a smell of fried fat and a faded 
smile. It was a spacious and pretentious place with maudlin 
murals depicting enchanted hunters in various postures and 
states of enchantment amid a medley of pallid animals, dryads 
and trees. A few scattered old ladies, two clergymen, and a man 
in a sports coat were finishing their meals in silence. The dining 
room closed at nine, and the green-clad, poker-faced serving 
girls were, happily, in a desperate hurry to get rid of us. 

“Does not he look exactly, but exactly, like (guilty?” said Lo in 
a soft voice, her sharp brown elbow not pointing, but visibly 
burning to point, at the lone diner in the loud checks, in the far 
corner of the room. 

“Like our fat Ramsdale dentist?” 

Lo arrested the mouthful of water she had just taken, and put 
down her dancing glass. 

“Course not,” she said with a splutter of mirth. “I meant the 
writer fellow in the Dromes ad.” 

Oh, Fame! Oh, Femina! 

When the dessert was plunked down — a huge wedge of cherry 
pie for the young lady and vanilla ice cream for her protector, 

[ 123 ] 

most of which she expeditiously added to her pie — I produced 
a small vial containing Papa’s Purple Pills. As I look back at 
those seasick murals, at that strange and monstrous moment, I 
can only explain my behavior then by the mechanism of that j 
dream vacuum wherein revolves a deranged mind; but at the | 
time, it all seemed quite simple and inevitable to me. I glanced ' 
around, satisfied myself that the last diner had left, removed the ' 
stopper, and with the utmost deliberation tipped the philter into 
my palm. I had carefully rehearsed before a mirror the gesture of > 
clapping my empty hand to my open mouth and swallowing a ; 
(fictitious) pill. As I expected, she pounced upon the vial with i 
its plump, beautifully colored capsules loaded with Beauty’s I 
Sleep. i 

“Blue!” she exclaimed. “Violet blue. What are they made of?” I 
“Summer skies,” I said, “and plums and figs, and the grape- | 
blood of emperors.” | 

“No, seriously — please.” i 

“Oh, just Purpills. Vitamin X. Makes one strong as an ox or 
an ax. Want to try one?” | 

Lolita stretched out her hand, nodding vigorously. 

I had hoped the drug would work fast. It certainly did. She 
had had a long long day, she had gone rowing in the morning 
with Barbara whose sister was Waterfront Director, as the adora- 
ble accessible nymphet now started to tell me in between sup- 
pressed palate-humping yawns, growing in volume — oh, how 
fast the magic potion worked! — and had been active in other 
ways too. The movie that had vaguely loomed in her mind was, 
of course, by the time we watertreaded out of the dining room, 
forgotten. As we stood in the elevator, she leaned against me, 
faintly smiling — wouldn’t you like me to tell you? — half closing 
her dark-lidded eyes. “Sleepy, huh?” said Uncle Tom who was 
bringing up the quiet Franco-Irish gentleman and his daughter 
as well as two withered women, experts in roses. They looked 
with sympathy at my frail, tanned, tottering, dazed rosedarling. 

I had almost to carry her into our room. There, she sat down on 
the edge of the bed, swaying a little, speaking in dove-dull, 
long-drawn tones. 

[ 124 ] 

“If I tell you — if I tell you, will you promise [sleepy, so sleepy 
— head lolling, eyes going out], promise you won’t make com- 

“Later, Lo. Now go to bed. I’ll leave you here, and you go to 
bed. Give you ten minutes.” 

“Oh, I’ve been such a disgusting girl,” she went on, shaking 
her hair, removing with slow fingers a velvet hair ribbon. “Lemme 
tell you — ” 

“Tomorrow, Lo. Go to bed, go to bed — for goodness sake, to 

I pocketed the key and walked downstairs. 


Gentlewomen of the jury! Bear with me! Allow me to take 
just a tiny bit of your precious time! So this was le grand mo- 
ment. I had left my Lolita still sitting on the edge of the abysmal l 
bed, drowsily raising her foot, fumbling at the shoelaces and 
showing as she did so the nether side of her thigh up to the 
crotch of her panties — she had always been singularly absent- 
minded, or shameless, or both, in matters of legshow. This, then, 
was the hermetic vision of her which I had locked in — after 
satisfying myself that the door carried no inside bolt. The key, 
uith its numbered dangler of carved wood, became forthwith 
the weighty sesame to a rapturous and formidable future. It was 
mine, it was part of my hot hairy fist. In a few minutes — say, 2 
twenty, say half-an-hour, sicher ist sicher as my uncle Gustave 3,4 
used to say — I would let myself into that “342” and find my 
nymphet, my beauty and bride, emprisoned in her crystal sleep. 
Jurors! If my happiness could have talked, it would have filled 
that genteel hotel with a deafening roar. And my only regret 
today is that I did not quietly deposit key “342” at the office, and 
leave the town, the country, the continent, the hemisphere, — 
indeed, the globe — that very same night. 

Let me explain. I was not unduly disturbed by her self- 

[ 125 ] 

accusatory innuendoes. I was still firmly resolved to pursue my 
policy of sparing her purity by operating only in the stealth of 
night, only upon a completely anesthetized little nude. Restraint 
and reverence were still my motto — even if that “purity” (inci- 
dentally, thoroughly debunked by modern science) had been 
shghtly damaged through some juvenile erotic experience, no 
doubt homosexual, at that accursed camp of hers. Of course, in 
my old-fashioned, old-world way, 1, Jean -Jacques Humbert, had 
taken for granted, when I first met her, that she was as un- 
ra\'ished as the stereotypical notion of “normal child” had been 
since the lamented end of the Ancient A'orld b.c. and its fasci- 
nating practices. We are not surrounded in our enlighted era by 
little slave flowers that can be casually plucked between business 
and bath as they used to be in the days of the Romans; and we 
do not. as dignified Orientals did in still more luxurious times, 
use tiuy entertainers fore and aft between the mutton and the 
rose sherbet. The whole point is that the old link benveen 
the adult world and the child world has been completely 
severed nowadavs by new customs and new laws. Despite my 
having dabbled in psychiatry and social work, 1 really knew very 
little about children. After all, Lolita was only twelve, and no 
matter what concessions I made to time and place — even bear- 
ing in mind the crude behavior of American schoolchildren — I 
still was under the impression that whatever went on among 
those brash brats, went on at a later age, and in a different en- 
■\tironment. Therefore (to retrieve the thread of this explanation) 
the moralist in me by-passed the issue by chnging to conventional 
notions of what twelve-year-old girls should be. The child thera- 
pist in me (a fake, as most of them are — but no matter) re- 
onrgitated neo-Freudian hash and conjured up a dreaming and 
exae^eratiny Dolly in the “latency” period of girlhood. Finally, 
the sensuahst in me (a great and insane monster) had no objec- 
tion to some depravin' in his prey. But somewhere behind the 
ra^incr bliss, bewildered shadows conferred — and not to have 
heeded them, this is what 1 regret! Human beings, attend! 1 
should have understood that Lolita had already proved to be 
somethin^ quite different from innocent Annabel, and that the 

[ 126 ] 

nymphean evil breathing through every pore of the fey child 
that I had prepared for my secret delectation, would make the 
secrecy impossible, and the delectation lethal. I should have 
known (by the signs made to me by something in Lolita — ^the 
real child Lolita or some haggard angel behind her back) that 
nothing but pain and horror would result from the expected 
rapture. Oh, winged gentlemen of the jury! 

And she was mine, she was mine, the key was in my fist, my 
fist was in my pocket, she was mine. In the course of the evoca- 
tions and schemes to which I had dedicated so many insomnias, 

I had gradually ehminated all the superfluous blur, and by stack- 
ing level upon level of translucent vision, had evolved a final 
picture. Naked, except for one sock and her charm bracelet, 
spread-eagled on the bed where my philter had felled her — so I 
foreghmpsed her; a velvet hair ribbon was still clutched in her 
hand; her honey-brown body, with the white negative image 
of a rudimentary swimsuit patterned against her tan, presented 
to me its pale breastbuds; in the rosy lamphght, a little pubic 
floss glistened on its plump hillock. The cold key with its warm 
wooden addendum was in my pocket. 

I wandered through various public rooms, glory below, gloom 
above: for the look of lust always is gloomy; lust is never quite 
sure — even when the velvety victim is locked up in one’s dungeon 
— that some rival devil or influential god may still not abolish i 
one’s prepared triumph. In common parlance, I needed a drink; 
but there was no barroom in that venerable place full of per- 
spiring philistines and period objects. 

I drifted to the iVIen’s Room. There, a person in clerical black 
—a “hearty parrv^” comme on dit — checking with the assistance 2 
of Vienna, if it was still there, inquired of me how I had liked 
Dr. Boyd’s talk, and looked puzzled when I (King Sigmund the 3 
Second) said Boyd was quite a boy. Upon which, I neatly 
chucked the tissue paper I had been wiping my sensitive fing er 
tips with into the receptacle provided for it, and sallied lobby- 
ward. Comfortably resting my elbows on the counter, I asked 
iMr. Potts was he quite sure my wife had not telephoned, and 
what about that cot? He answered she had not (she was dead, of 

[ ^■^l ] 

course) and the cot would be installed tomorrow if we decided 
to stay on. From a big crowded place called The Hunters’ Hall 
came a sound of many voices discussing horticulture or eternity. 
Another room, called The Raspberry Room, all bathed in light, 
with bright little tables and a large one with “refreshments,” 
was still empty except for a hostess (that type of worn woman 
with a glassy smile and Charlotte’s manner of speaking); she 
floated up to me to ask if I was Mr. Braddock, because if so. 
Miss Beard had been looking for me. “What a name for a 
woman,” I said and strolled away. 

In and out of my heart flowed my rainbow blood. I would 
give her till half-past-nine. Going back to the lobby, I found 
there a change: a number of people in floral dresses or black 
cloth had formed little groups here and there, and some elfish 
chance oflFered me the sight of a delightful child of Lolita’s age, 
in Lolita’s type of frock, but pure white, and there was a white 
ribbon in her black hair. She was not pretty, but she was a 
nymphet, and her ivory pale legs and lily neck formed for one 

1 memorable moment a most pleasurable antiphony (in terms of 
spinal music) to my desire for Lolita, brown and pink, flushed 
and fouled. The pale child noticed my gaze (which was really 
quite casual and debonair), and being ridiculously self-con- 
scious, lost countenance completely, rolling her eyes and putting 
the back of her hand to her cheek, and pulling at the hem of 
her skirt, and finally turning her thin mobile shoulder blades to 
me in specious chat with her cow-like mother. 

I left the loud lobby and stood outside, on the white steps, 

2 looking at the hundreds of powdered bugs wheeling around 
the lamps in the soggy black night, full of ripple and stir. All 
I would do — all I would dare to do — would amount to such a 
trifle . . . 

Suddenly I was aware that in the darkness next to me there 

3 was somebody sitting in a chair on the pillared porch. I could not 
really see him but what gave him away was the rasp of a screwing 
oflf, then a discreet gurgle, then the final note of a placid screw- 
ing on. I was about to move away when his voice addressed me: 

[ 128 ] 

“Where the devil did you get her?” 

“I beg your pardon?” 

“I said: the weather is getting better.” 

“Seems so.” 

“Who’s the lassie?” 

“My daughter.” 

“You lie—she’s not.” 

“I beg your pardon?” 

“I said: July was hot. Where’s her mother?” 


“I see. Sorry. By the way, why don’t you two lunch with me 
tomorrow. That dreadful crowd will be gone by then.” 

“We’ll be gone too. Good night.” 

“Sorry. I’m pretty drunk. Good night. That child of yours 
needs a lot of sleep. Sleep is a rose, as the Persians say. Smoke?” 1 

“Not now.” 

He struck a light, but because he was drunk, or because the 
wind was, the flame illumined not him but another person, a 
very old man, one of those permanent guests of old hotels — and 
his white rocker. Nobody said anything and the darkness re- 
turned to its initial place. Then I heard the old-timer cough and 
deliver himself of some sepulchral mucus. 

I left the porch. At least half an hour in all had elapsed. I 
ought to have asked for a sip. The strain was beginning to tell. 

If a violin string can ache, then I was that string. But it would 
have been unseemly to display any hurry. As I made my way 
through a constellation of fixed people in one corner of the 
lobby, there came a blinding flash — ^and beaming Dr. Braddock, 
two orchid-ornamentalized matrons, the small girl in white, and 
presumably the bared teeth of Humbert Humbert sidling be- 
tween the bridelike lassie and the enchanted cleric, were im- 
mortalized — insofar as the texture and print of small-town 
newspapers can be deemed immortal. A twittering group had 2 
gathered near the elevator. I again chose the stairs. 342 was near 
the fire escape. One could still- — but the key was already in the 
lock, and then I was in the room. 

[ 129 ] 


The door of the lighted bathroom stood ajar; in addition to 
that, a skeleton glow came through the Venetian blind from 
the outside arclights; these intercrossed rays penetrated the dark- 
ness of the bedroom and revealed the following situation. 

Clothed in one of her old nightgowns, my Lolita lay on her 
side with her back to me, in the middle of the bed. Her lightly 
veiled body and bare limbs formed a Z. She had put both pillows 
under her dark tousled head; a band of pale light crossed her top 

I seemed to have shed my clothes and slipped into pajamas 
with the kind of fantastic instantaneousness which is implied 
when in a cinematographic scene the process of changing is cut; 
and I had already placed my knee on the edge of the bed when 
Lolita turned her head and stared at me through the striped 

Now this was something the intruder had not expected. The 
1 whole pill-spiel (a rather sordid affair, entre nous soil dit) had 
had for object a fastness of sleep that a whole regiment would 
not have disturbed, and here she was staring at me, and thickly 
calling me “Barbara.” Barbara, wearing my pajamas which were 
much too tight for her, remained poised motionless over the 
little sleep-talker. Softly, with a hopeless sigh, Dolly turned away, 
resuming her initial position. For at least two minutes I waited 
and strained on the brink, like that tailor with his homemade 
parachute forty years ago when about to jump from the Eiffel 
Tower. Her faint breathing had the rhythm of sleep. Finally 
I heaved myself onto my narrow margin of bed, stealthily pulled 
at the odds and ends of sheets piled up to the south of my stone- 
cold heels — and Lolita lifted her head and gaped at me. 

As I learned later from a helpful pharmaceutist, the purple 
pill did not even belong to the big and noble family of barbitu- 
rates, and though it might have induced sleep in a neurotic who 
believed it to be a potent drug, it was too mild a sedative to 
affect for any length of time a wary, albeit weary, nymphet. 
Whether the Ramsdale doctor was a charlatan or a shrewd old 

[ 130 ] 

rogue, does not, and did not, really matter. What mattered, was 
that I had been deceived. When Lolita opened her eyes again, 

I realized that whether or not the drug might work later in the 
night, the security I had relied upon was a sham one. Slowly 
her head turned away and dropped onto her unfair amount of 
pillow. I lay quite still on my brink, peering at her rumpled hair, 
at the glimmer of nymphet flesh, where half a haunch and half 
a shoulder dimly showed, and trying to gauge the depth of her 
sleep by the rate of her respiration. Some time passed, nothing 
changed, and I decided I might risk getting a little closer to that 
lovely and maddening glimmer; but hardly had I moved into 
its warm purlieus than her breathing was suspended, and I had 
the odious feeling that little Dolores was wide awake and would 
explode in screams if I touched her with any part of my wretch- 
edness. Please, reader: no matter your exasperation with the 
tenderhearted, morbidly sensitive, infinitely circumspect hero 
of my book, do not skip these essential pages! Imagine me; I 
shall not exist if you do not imagine me; try to discern the doe 
in me, trembling in the forest of my own iniquity; let’s even 
smile a little. After all, there is no harm in smiling. For instance 
(I almost wrote “frinstance”), I had no place to rest my head, 
and a fit of heartburn (they call those fries “French,” grand 
Dieu!) was added to my discomfort. l 

She was again fast asleep, my nymphet, but still I did not 
dare to launch upon my enchanted voyage. La Petite Dormeuse 
ou V Amant Kidicule. Tomorrow I would stuff her with those 2 
earlier pills that had so thoroughly numbed her mummy. In 
the glove compartment — or in the Gladstone bag? Should I 
wait a solid hour and then creep up again? The science of 
nympholepsy is a precise science. Actual contact would do it in 
one second flat. An interspace of a millimeter would do it in ten. 

Let us wait. 

There is nothing louder than an American hotel; and, mind 
you, this was supposed to be a quiet, cozy, old-fashioned, homey 
place — “gracious living” and all that stuff. The clatter of the 
elevator’s gate — some twenty yards northeast of my head but 
as clearly perceived as if it were inside my left temple — alternated 

[ 131 ] 

with the banging and booming of the machine’s various evolu- 
tions and lasted well beyond midnight. Every now and then, 
immediately east of my left ear (always assuming I lay on my 
back, not daring to direct my viler side toward the nebulous 
haunch of my bed-mate), the corridor would brim with cheer- 
ful, resonant and inept exclamations ending in a volley of 
good-nights. When that stopped, a toilet immediately north of 
my cerebellum took over. It was a manly, energetic, deep- 
throated toilet, and it was used many times. Its gurgle and gush 
and long afterflow shook the wall behind me. Then someone 
in a southern direction was extravagantly sick, almost coughing 
out his life with his liquor, and his toilet descended like a 
1 veritable Niagara, immediately beyond our bathroom. And when 
finally all the waterfalls had stopped, and the enchanted hunt- 
ers were sound asleep, the avenue under the window of my 
insomnia, to the west of my wake — a staid, eminently residential, 
dignified alley of huge trees — degenerated into the despicable 
haunt of gigantic trucks roaring through the wet and windy night. 

And less than six inches from me and my burning life, was 
nebulous Lolita! After a long stir less vigil, my tentacles moved 
towards her again, and this time the creak of the mattress did 
not awake her. I managed to bring my ravenous bulk so close 
to her that I felt the aura of her bare shoulder like a warm breath 
upon my cheek. And then, she sat up, gasped, muttered with 
insane rapidity something about boats, tugged at the sheets 
and lapsed back into her rich, dark, young unconsciousness. As 
she tossed, within that abundant flow of sleep, recently auburn, 
at present lunar, her arm struck me across the face. For a second 
I held her. She freed herself from the shadow of my embrace — 
doing this not consciously, not violently, not with any personal 
distaste, but with the neutral plaintive murmur of a child de- 
manding its natural rest. And again the situation remained the 
same: Lolita with her curved spine to Humbert, Humbert resting 
his head on his hand and burning with desire and dyspepsia. 

The latter necessitated a trip to the bathroom for a draft of 
water which is the best medicine I know in my case, except 
perhaps milk with radishes; and when I re-entered the strange 

[ 132 ] 

pale-striped fastness where Lolita’s old and new clothes reclined 
in various attitudes of enchantment on pieces of furniture that 
seemed vaguely afloat, my impossible daughter sat up and in 
clear tones demanded a drink, too. She took the resilient and 
cold paper cup in her shadowy hand and gulped down its con- 
tents gratefully, her long eyelashes pointing cupward, and then, 
with an infantile gesture that carried more charm than any 
carnal caress, little Lolita wiped her lips against my shoulder. 
She fell back on her pillow (I had subtracted mine while she 
drank) and was instantly asleep again. 

I had not dared offer her a second helping of the drug, and 
had not abandoned hope that the first might still consolidate 
her sleep. I started to move toward her, ready for any disappoint- 
ment, knowing I had better wait but incapable of waiting. My 
pillow smelled of her hair. I moved toward my glimmering 
darling, stopping or retreating every time I thought she stirred 
or was about to stir. A breeze from wonderland had begun to 
affect my thoughts, and now they seemed couched in italics, 
as if the surface reflecting them were wrinkled by the phantasm 
of that breeze. Time and again my consciousness folded the 
wrong way, my shuffling body entered the sphere of sleep, 
shuffled out again, and once or twice I caught myself drifting 
into a melancholy snore. Mists of tenderness enfolded moun- 
tains of longing. Now and then it seemed to me that the en- 
chanted prey was about to meet halfway the enchanted hunter, 
that her haunch was working its way toward me under the soft 
sand of a remote and fabulous beach; and then her dimpled 
dimness would stir, and I would know she was farther away from 
me than ever. 

If I dwell at some length on the tremors and gropings of that 
distant night, it is because I insist upon proving that I am not, 
and never was, and never could have been, a brutal scoundrel. 
The gentle and dreamy regions through which I crept were 
the patrimonies of poets — not crime’s prowling ground. Had I 
reached my goal, my ecstasy would have been all softness, a 
case of internal combustion of which she would hardly have felt 
the heat, even if she were wide awake. But I still hoped she 

[ 133 ] 

might gradually be engulfed in a completeness of stupor that 
would allow me to taste more than a glimmer of her. And so, 
in between tentative approximations, with a confusion of per- 
ception metamorphosing her into eyespots of moonlight or a 
fluffy flowering bush, I would dream I regained consciousness, 
dream I lay in wait. 

In the first antemeridian hours there was a lull in the restless 
hotel night. Then around four the corridor toilet cascaded and 
its door banged. A little after five a reverberating monologue 
began to arrive, in several installments, from some courtyard 
or parking place. It was not really a monologue, since the speaker 
stopped every few seconds to listen (presumably) to another 
fellow, but that other voice did not reach me, and so no real 
meaning could be derived from the part heard. Its matter-of-fact 
intonations, however, helped to bring in the dawn, and the 
room was already suffused with lilac gray, when several indus- 
trious toilets went to work, one after the other, and the clatter- 
ing and whining elevator began to rise and take down early 
risers and downers, and for some minutes I miserably dozed, 
and Charlotte was a mermaid in a greenish tank, and somewhere 
in the passage Dr. Boyd said “Good morning to you” in a fruity 
voice, and birds were busy in the trees, and then Lolita yawned. 

Frigid gentlewomen of the jury! I had thought that months, 
perhaps years, would elapse before I dared to reveal myself to 
Dolores Haze; but by six she was wide awake, and by six fifteen 
we were technically lovers. I am going to tell you something 
very strange: it was she who seduced me. 

Upon hearing her first morning yawn, I feigned handsome 
profiled sleep. I just did not know what to do. Would she be 
shocked at finding me by her side, and not in some spare bed? 
Would she collect her clothes and lock herself up in the bath- 
room? Would she demand to be taken at once to Ramsdale — 
to her mother’s bedside — back to camp? But my Lo was a 
sportive lassie. I felt her eyes on me, and when she uttered at 
last that beloved chortling note of hers, I knew her eyes had 
been laughing. She rolled over to my side, and her warm brown 

[ 134 ] 

hair came against my collarbone. I gave a mediocre imitation 
of waking up. We lay quietly. I gently caressed her hair, and 
we gently kissed. Her kiss, to my delirious embarrassment, had 
some rather comical refinements of flutter and probe which 
made me conclude she had been coached at an early age by a 
little Lesbian. No Charlie boy could have taught her that. As 
if to see whether I had my fill and learned the lesson, she drew 
away and surveyed me. Her cheekbones were flushed, her full 
underlip glistened, my dissolution was near. All at once, with 
a burst of rough glee (the sign of the nymphet!), she put her 
mouth to my ear — but for quite a while my mind could not 
separate into words the hot thunder of her whisper, and she 
laughed, and brushed the hair off her face, and tried again, 
and gradually the odd sense of living in a brand new, mad new 
dream world, where everything was permissible, came over me 
as I realized what she was suggesting. I answered I did not know 
what game she and Charlie had played. “You mean you have 
never — — her features twisted into a stare of disgusted incre- 
dulity. “You have never — ” she started again. I took time out by 
nuzzling her a little. “Lay off, will you,” she said with a twangy 
whine, hastily removing her brown shoulder from my lips. (It 
was very curious the way she considered — and kept doing so for 
a long time — all caresses except kisses on the mouth or the stark 
act of love either “romantic slosh” or “abnormal”.) 

“You mean,” she persisted, now kneeling above me, “you 
never did it when you were a kid?” 

“Never,” I answered quite truthfully. 

“Okay,” said Lolita, “here is where we start.” 

However, I shall not bore my learned readers with a detailed 
account of Lolita’s presumption. Suffice it to say that not a trace 
of modesty did I perceive in this beautiful hardly formed young 
girl whom modern co-education, juvenile mores, the campfire 
racket and so forth had utterly and hopelessly depraved. She 
saw the stark act merely as part of a youngster’s furtive world, 
unknown to adults. What adults did for purposes of procreation 
was no business of hers. My life was handled by little Lo in an 

[ 135 ] 

energetic, matter-of-fact manner as if it were an insensate gadget 
unconnected with me. While eager to impress me with the 
world of tough kids, she was not quite prepared for certain 
discrepancies between a kid’s life and mine. Pride alone pre- 
vented her from giving up; for, in my strange predicament, I 
feigned supreme stupidity and had her have her way — at least 
while I could still bear it. But really these are irrelevant matters; 
I am not concerned with so-called “sex” at all. Anybody can 
imagine those elements of animality. A greater endeavor lures 
me on: to fix once for all the perilous magic of nymphets. 


I have to tread carefully. I have to speak in a whisper. Oh 
you, veteran crime reporter, you grave old usher, you once 
popular policeman, now in solitary confinement after gracing 
that school crossing for years, you wretched emeritus read to by 
a boy! It would never do, would it, to have you fellows fall 
madly in love with my Lolita! Had I been a painter, had the 
management of The Enchanted Hunters lost its mind one 
summer day and commissioned me to redecorate their dining 
room with murals of my own making, this is what I might have 
thought up, let me list some fragments: 

There would have been a lake. There would have been an 
arbor in flame-flower. There would have been nature studies — 
a tiger pursuing a bird of paradise, a choking snake sheathing 

1 whole the flayed trunk of a shoat. There would have been a 
sultan, his face expressing great agony (belied, as it were, by 
his molding caress), helping a callypygean slave child to climb 

2 a column of onyx. There would have been those luminous 

3 globules of gonadal glow that travel up the opalescent sides of 
juke boxes. There would have been all kinds of camp activities 

4 on the part of the intermediate group. Canoeing, Coranting, 
Combing Curls in the lakeside sun. There would have been 
poplars, apples, a suburban Sunday. There would have been a 

[ 136 ] 

fire opal dissolving within a ripple-ringed pool, a last throb, a 
last dab of color, stinging red, smarting pink, a sigh, a wincing 


I am trying to describe these things not to relive them in 
my present boundless misery, but to sort out the portion of 
hell and the portion of heaven in that strange, awful, madden- 
ing world — nymphet love. The beastly and beautiful merged at 
one point, and it is that borderline I would like to fix, and I feel 
I fail to do so utterly. Why? 

The stipulation of the Roman law, according to which a girl 
may marry at twelve, was adopted by the Church, and is still 1,2 
preserved, rather tacitly, in some of the United States. And 3 
fifteen is lawful everywhere. There is nothing wrong, say both 4 
hemispheres, when a brute of forty, blessed by the local priest 
and bloated with drink, sheds his sweat-drenched finery and 
thrusts himself up to the hilt into his youthful bride. “In such 
stimulating temperate climates [says an old magazine in this 
prison library] as St. Louis, Chicago and Cincinnati, girls mature 
about the end of their twelfth year.” Dolores Haze was born 
less than three hundred miles from stimulating Cincinnati. I 
have but followed nature. I am nature’s faithful hound. Why 
then this horror that I cannot shake off? Did I deprive her of 
her flower? Sensitive gentlewomen of the jury, I was not even her 
first lover. 


She told me the way she had been debauched. We ate flavor- 
less mealy bananas, bruised peaches and very palatable potato 
chips, and die Kleine told me everything. Her voluble but dis- 5 
jointed account was accompanied by many a droll moue. As I 6 
think I have already observed, I especially remember one wry 

[ 137 ] 

face on an “ugh!” basis: jelly-mouth distended sideways and eyes 
rolled up in a routine blend of comic disgust, resignation and 
tolerance for young frailty. 

Her astounding tale started with an introductory mention of 
her tent-mate of the previous summer, at another camp, a “very 
select” one as she put it. That tent-mate (“quite a derelict char- 
acter,” “half-crazy,” but a “swell kid”) instructed her in various 
manipulations. At first, loyal Lo refused to tell me her name. 

“Was it Grace Angel?” I asked. 

She shook her head. No, it wasn’t, it was the daughter of a 
big shot. He — 

“Was it perhaps Rose Carmine?” 

“No, of course not. Her father—” 

“Was it, then, Agnes Sheridan perchance?” 

She swallowed and shook her head — and then did a double 

“Say, how come you know all those kids?” 

I explained. 

“Well,” she said. “They are pretty bad, some of that school 
bunch, but not that bad. If you have to know, her name was 
Elizabeth Talbot, she goes now to a swanky private school, her 
father is an executive.” 

I recalled with a funny pang the frequency with which poor 
Charlotte used to introduce into party chat such elegant tidbits 
as “when my daughter was out hiking last year with the Talbot 

I wanted to know if either mother learned of those sapphic 

1 diversions? 

“Gosh no,” exhaled limp Lo mimicking dread and relief, 
pressing a falsely fluttering hand to her chest. 

I was more interested, however, in heterosexual experience. 
She had entered the sixth grade at eleven, soon after moving to 
Ramsdale from the Middle West. What did she mean by 
“pretty bad”? 

2 Well, the Miranda twins had shared the same bed for years, 
and Donald Scott, who was the dumbest boy in the school, had 
done it with Hazel Smith in his uncle’s garage, and Kenneth 

[ 138 ] 

Knight— who was the brightest — used to exhibit himself wherever 
and whenever he had a chance, and — 

“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 morn- 
ing — Barbara and Lo would be helped to carry the boat to Onyx 
or Eryx (two small lakes in the wood) by Charlie Holmes, the i 
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.” 

By that time it was close to ten. With the ebb of lust, an 
ashen sense of awfulness, abetted by the realistic drabness of 
a gray neuralgic day, crept over me and hummed within my 
temples. Brown, naked, frail Lo, her narrow white buttocks to 
me, her sulky face to a door mirror, stood, arms akimbo, feet 

[ 139 ] 

(in new slippers with pussy-fur tops) wide apart, and through 
a forehanging lock tritely mugged at herself in the glass. From 
the corridor came the cooing voices of colored maids at work, 
and presently there was a mild attempt to open the door of 
our room. I had Lo go to the bathroom and take a much-needed 
soap shower. The bed was a frightful mess with overtones of 
potato chips. She tried on a two-piece navy wool, then a sleeve- 
less blouse with a swirly clathrate skirt, but the first was too tight 
and the second too ample, and when I begged her to hurry up 
(the situation was beginning to frighten me), Lo viciously sent 
those nice presents of mine hurtling into a corner, and put on 
yesterday’s dress. When she was ready at last, I gave her a lovely 
new purse of simulated calf (in which I had slipped quite a 
few pennies and two mint-bright dimes) and told her to buy 
herself a magazine in the lobby. 

“I’ll be down in a minute,” I said. “And if I were you, my 

1 dear, I would not talk to strangers.” 

Except for my poor little gifts, there was not much to pack; 
but I was forced to devote a dangerous amount of time (was 
she up to something downstairs?) to arranging the bed in such 
a way as to suggest the abandoned nest of a restless father and 

2 his tomboy daughter, instead of an ex-convict’s saturnalia with 
a couple of fat old whores. Then I finished dressing and had 
the hoary bellboy come up for the bags. 

Everything was fine. There, in the lobby, she sat, deep in an 
overstuffed blood-red armchair, deep in a lurid movie magazine. 

3 A fellow of my age in tweeds (the genre of the place had changed 
overnight to a spurious country-squire atmosphere) was staring 
at my Lolita over his dead cigar and stale newspaper. She wore 
her professional white socks and saddle oxfords, and that bright 
print frock with the square throat; a splash of jaded lamplight 
brought out the golden down on her warm brown limbs. There 
she sat, her legs carelessly highcrossed, and her pale eyes skim- 
ming along the lines with every now and then a blink. Bill’s 
wife had worshiped him from afar long before they ever met: in 
fact, she used to secretly admire the famous young actor as he 

4 ate sundaes in Schwab’s drugstore. Nothing could have been 

[ 140 ] 

more childish than her snubbed nose, freckled face or the pur- 
plish spot on her naked neck where a fairytale vampire had i 
feasted, or the unconscious movement of her tongue exploring 
a touch of rosy rash around her swollen lips; nothing could be 
more harmless than to read about Jill, an energetic starlet who 
made her own clothes and was a student of serious literature; 
nothing could be more innocent than the part in that glossy 
brown hair with that silky sheen on the temple; nothing could 
be more naive — But what sickening envy the lecherous fellow 
whoever he was — come to think of it, he resembled a little my 
Swiss uncle Gustave, also a great admirer of le decouvert — would 2 
have experienced had he known that every nerve in me was still 
anointed and ringed with the feel of her body — the body of some 
immortal daemon disguised as a female child. 3 

Was pink pig Mr. Swoon absolutely sure my wife had not 
telephoned? He was. If she did, would he tell her we had gone 
on to Aunt Clare’s place? He would, indeedie. I settled the bill 4 
and roused Lo from her chair. She read to the car. Still reading, 
she was driven to a so-called coffee shop a few blocks south. 

Oh, she ate all right. She even laid aside her magazine to eat, 

but a queer dullness had replaced her usual cheerfulness. I 

knew little Lo could be very nasty, so I braced myself and 
grinned, and waited for a squall. I was unbathed, unshaven, and 
had had no bowel movement. My nerves were a-jangle. I did 

not like the way my little mistress shrugged her shoulders and 

distended her nostrils when I attempted casual small talk. Had 
Phyllis been in the know before she joined her parents in Maine? 

I asked with a smile. “Look,” said Lo making a weeping grimace, 

“let us get off the subject.” I then tried — also unsuccessfully, 
no matter how I smacked my lips — to interest her in the road 
map. Our destination was, let me remind my patient reader 
whose meek temper Lo ought to have copied, the gay town of 
Lepingville, somewhere near a hypothetical hospital. That des- 5 
tination was in itself a perfectly arbitrary one (as, alas, so many 
were to be), and I shook in my shoes as I wondered how to 
keep the whole arrangement plausible, and what other plausible 
objectives to invent after we had taken in all the movies in 

[ 141 ] 

Lepingville. More and more uncomfortable did Humbert feel. 
It was something quite special, that feeling: an oppressive, 
hideous constraint as if I were sitting with the small ghost of 
somebody I had just killed. 

As she was in the act of getting back into the car, an expression 
of pain flitted across Lo’s face. It flitted again, more meaning- 
fully, as she settled down beside me. No doubt, she reproduced 
it that second time for my benefit. Foolishly, I asked her what 
was the matter. “Nothing, you brute,” she replied. “You what?” 
I asked. She was silent. Leaving Briceland. Loquacious Lo was 
silent. Cold spiders of panic crawled down my back. This was 
an orphan. This was a lone child, an absolute waif, with whom 
a heavy-limbed, foul-smelling adult had had strenuous inter- 
course three times that very morning. Whether or not the real- 
ization of a lifelong dream had surpassed all expectation, it had, 
in a sense, overshot its mark — and plunged into a nightmare. 
I had been careless, stupid, and ignoble. And let me be quite 
frank: somewhere at the bottom of that dark turmoil I felt 
the writhing of desire again, so monstrous was my appetite for 
that miserable nymphet. Mingled with the pangs of guilt was 
the agonizing thought that her mood might prevent me from 
making love to her again as soon as I found a nice country road 
where to park in peace. In other words, poor Humbert Humbert 
was dreadfully unhappy, and while steadily and inanely driving 
toward Lepingville, he kept racking his brains for some quip, 
under the bright wing of which he might dare turn to his seat- 
mate. It was she, however, who broke the silence: 

“Oh, a squashed squirrel,” she said. “What a shame.” 

“Yes, isn’t it?” (eager, hopeful Hum). 

“Let us stop at the next gas station,” Lo continued. “I want 
to go to the washroom.” 

“We shall stop wherever you want,” I said. And then as a 
lovely, lonely, supercilious grove (oaks, I thought; American 
trees at that stage were beyond me) started to echo greenly the 
rush of our car, a red and ferny road on our right turned its 
head before slanting into the woodland, and I suggested we 
might perhaps — - 

[ 142 ] 

“Drive on,” my Lo cried shrilly. 

“Righto. Take it easy.” (Down, poor beast, down.) 

I glanced at her. Thank God, the child was smiling. 

“You chump,” she said, sweetly smiling at me. “You revolt- 
ing creature. I was a daisyTresh girl, and look what you’ve done 
to me. I ought to call the police and tell them you raped me. Oh, 
you dirty, dirty old man.” 

Was she just joking? An ominous hysterical note rang through 
her silly words. Presently, making a sizzling sound with her lips, 
she started complaining of pains, said she could not sit, said I 
had torn something inside her. The sweat rolled down my neck, 
and we almost ran over some little animal or other that was 
crossing the road with tail erect, and again my vile-tempered 
companion called me an ugly name. When we stopped at the 
filling- station, she scrambled out without a word and was a 
long time away. Slowly, lovingly, an elderly friend with a broken 
nose wiped my windshield — they do it differently at every place, 
from chamois cloth to soapy brush, this fellow used a pink 

She appeared at last. “Look,” she said in that neutral voice 
that hurt me so, “give me some dimes and nickels. I want to call 
mother in that hospital. What’s the number?” 

“Get in,” I said. “You can’t call that number.” 


“Get in and slam the door.” 

She got in and slammed the door. The old garage man beamed 
at her. I swung onto the highway. 

“Why can’t I call my mother if I want to?” 

“Because,” I answered, “your mother is dead.” 


In the gay town of Lepingville I bought her four books of 
comics, a box of candy, a box of sanitary pads, two cokes, a 
manicure set, a travel clock with a luminous dial, a ring with a 

[ H3 ] 

real topaz, a tennis racket, roller skates with white high shoes, 
field glasses, a portable radio set, chewing gum, a transparent 
1 raincoat, sunglasses, some more garments — swooners, shorts, all 
kinds of summer frocks. At the hotel we had separate rooms, but 
in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and 
we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere 
else to go. 

[ 144 ] 



It was then that began our extensive travels all over the 
States. To any other type of tourist accommodation I soon 
grew to prefer the Functional Motel — clean, neat, safe nooks, 
ideal places for sleep, argument, reconciliation, insatiable illicit 
love. At first, in my dread of arousing suspicion, I would eagerly 
pay for both sections of one double unit, each containing a 
double bed. I wondered what type of foursome this arrangement 
was ever intended for, since only a pharisaic parody of privacy i 
could be attained by means of the incomplete partition divid- 
ing the cabin or room into two communicating love nests. By 
and by, the very possibilities that such honest promiscuity sug- 
gested (two young couples merrily swapping mates or a child 
shamming sleep to earwitness primal sonorities) made me bolder, 2 
and every now and then I would take a bed-and-cot or twin- 
bed cabin, a prison cell of paradise, with yellow window shades 
pulled down to create a morning illusion of Venice and sunshine 
when actually it was Pennsylvania and rain. 

We came to know — nous connwnes, to use a Flaubertian into- 3 
nation — the stone cottages under enormous Chateaubriandesque 
trees, the brick unit, the adobe unit, the stucco court, on 4 
what the Tour Book of the Automobile Association describes 
as “shaded” or “spacious” or “landscaped” grounds. The log 
kind, finished in knotty pine, reminded Lo, by its golden-brown 
glaze, of fried-chicken bones. We held in contempt the plain 
whitewashed clapboard Kabins, with their faint sewerish smell 
or some other gloomy self-conscious stench and nothing to boast 
of (except “good beds”), and an unsmiling landlady always pre- 

[ 147 ] 

pared to have her gift (“. . . well, I could give you . . .”) turned 

Nous connumes (this is royal fun) the would-be enticements 
of their repetitious names — all those Sunset Motels, U-Beam 
Cottages, Hillcrest Courts, Pine View Courts, Mountain View 
Courts, Skyline Courts, Park Plaza Courts, Green Acres, Mac’s 
Courts. There was sometimes a special line in the write-up, such 
as “Children welcome, pets allowed” {You are welcome, you 
are allowed). The baths were mostly tiled showers, with an 
endless variety of spouting mechanisms, but with one definitely 

1 non-Laodicean characteristic in common, a propensity, while 
in use, to turn instantly beastly hot or blindingly cold upon you, 
depending on whether your neighbor turned on his cold or his 
hot to deprive you of a necessary complement in the shower 
you had so carefully blended. Some motels had instructions 
pasted above the toilet (on whose tank the towels were un- 
hygienically heaped) asking guests not to throw into its bowl 
garbage, beer cans, cartons, stillborn babies; others had special 
notices under glass, such as Things to Do (Riding: You will 
often see riders coming down Main Street on their way back 
from a romantic moonlight ride. “Often at 3 a.m.,” sneered 
unromantic Lo). 

Nous connumes the various types of motor court operators, 
the reformed criminal, the retired teacher and the business flop, 
among the males; and the motherly, pseudo-ladylike and ma- 

2 damic variants among the females. And sometimes trains would 
cry in the monstrously hot and humid night with heartrending 
and ominous plangency, mingling power and hysteria in one 
desperate scream. 

We avoided Tourist Homes, country cousins of Funeral ones, 
old-fashioned, genteel and showerless, with elaborate dressing 
tables in depressingly white-and-pink little bedrooms, and photo- 

3 graphs of the landlady’s children in all their instars. But I did 
surrender, now and then, to Lo’s predilection for “real” hotels. 
She would pick out in the book, while I petted her in the parked 
car in the silence of a dusk-mellowed, mysterious side-road, 
some highly recommended lake lodge which offered all sorts of 

[ 148 ] 

things magnified by the flashlight she moved over them, such 
as congenial company, between-meals snacks, outdoor barbecues 
— but which in my mind conjured up odious visions of stinking 
high school boys in sweatshirts and an ember-red cheek pressing 
against hers, while poor Dr. Humbert, embracing nothing but 
two masculine knees, would cold-humor his piles on the damp 
turf. Most tempting to her, too, were those “Colonial” Inns, 
which apart from “gracious atmosphere” and picture windows, 
promised “unlimited quantities of M-m-m food.” Treasured rec- 
ollections of my father’s palatial hotel sometimes led me to 
seek for its like in the strange country we traveled through. I 
was soon discouraged; but Lo kept following the scent of rich 
food ads, while I derived a not exclusively economic kick from 
such roadside signs as Timber Hotel, Children under 14 Free. 
On the other hand, I shudder when recalling that soi-disant 
“high-class” resort in a Midwestern state, which advertised “raid- 
the-icebox” midnight snacks and, intrigued by my accent, wanted 
CO know my dead wife’s and dead mother’s maiden* names. A 
cwo-days’ stay there cost me a hundred and twenty-four dollars! 
And do you remember, Miranda, that other “ultrasmart” rob- 
bers’ den with complimentary morning coffee and circulating 
lice water, and no children under sixteen (no Lolitas, of course)? 

Immediately upon arrival at one of the plainer motor courts 
which became our habitual haunts, she would set the electric 
jfan a-whirr, or induce me to drop a quarter into the radio, or 
(she would read all the signs and inquire with a whine why she 
(could not go riding up some advertised trail or swimming in 
irhat local pool of warm mineral water. Most often, in the slouch- 
ing, bored way she cultivated, Lo would fall prostrate and 
ibominably desirable into a red springchair or a green chaise 
longue, or a steamer chair of striped canvas with footrest and 
(canopy, or a sling chair, or any other lawn chair under a garden 
! umbrella on the patio, and it would take hours of blandishments, 
l^hreats and promises to make her lend me for a few seconds her 
i Drown limbs in the seclusion of the five-dollar room before 
jndertaking anything she might prefer to my poor joy. 

A combination of naivete and deception, of charm and vul- 

[ 149 ] 

garity, of blue sulks and rosy mirth, Lolita, when she chose, could 
be a most exasperating brat. I was not really quite prepared for 
her fits of disorganized boredom, intense and vehement griping, i 
her sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed style, and what is called 
goofing off — a kind of diffused clowning which she thought was 
tough in a boyish hoodlum way. Mentally, I found her to be a j 
disgustingly conventional little girl. Sweet hot jazz, square danc- 
ing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie magazines and so i 
forth — these were the obvious items in her list of beloved things. , 
The Lord knows how many nickels I fed to the gorgeous musics 
boxes that came with every meal we had! I still hear the nasal f 

1 voices of those invisibles serenading her, people with names likc i 
Sammy and Jo and Eddy and Tony and Peggy and Guy and i 
Patty and Rex, and sentimental song hits, all of them as similar, 
to my ear as her various candies were to my palate. She believed, 
with a kind of celestial trust, any advertisement or advice that: 

2 appeared in Movie Love or Screen Land — Starasil Starves Pim- 
ples, or “You better watch out if you’re wearing your shirttaik 
outside your jeans, gals, because Jill says you shouldn’t.” If a 
roadside sign said: Visit Our Gift Shop — we had to visit it, 
had to buy its Indian curios, dolls, copper jewelry, cactus candy. i 
The words “novelties and souvenirs” simply entranced her by 

3 their trochaic lilt. If some cafe sign proclaimed Icecold Drinks, I 
she was automatically stirred, although all drinks everywhere | 
were ice-cold. She it was to whom ads were dedicated: the ideal 
consumer, the subject and object of every foul poster. And she 
attempted — unsuccessfully — to patronize only those restaurants 

4 where the holy spirit of Huncan Dines had descended upon the 

cute paper napkins and cottage-cheese-crested salads. ' 

In those days, neither she nor I had thought up yet the sys-;. 
tern of monetary bribes which was to work such havoc with 
my nerves and her morals somewhat later. I relied on three othen 
methods to keep my pubescent concubine in submission and 
passable temper. A few years before, she had spent a rainy! 
summer under Miss Phalen’s bleary eye in a dilapidated Ap-i 
palachian farmhouse that had belonged to some gnarled Haze, 
or other in the dead past. It still stood among its rank acres j 

[ 150 ] 

of golden rod on the edge of a flowerless forest, at the end of a 
permanently muddy road, twenty miles from the nearest hamlet. 

Lo recalled that scarecrow of a house, the solitude, the soggy 
old pastures, the wind, the bloated wilderness, with an energy 
of disgust that distorted her mouth and fattened her half- 
revealed tongue. And it was there that I warned her she would 
dwell with me in exile for months and years if need be, studying 
under me French and Latin, unless her “present attitude” 
changed. Charlotte, I began to understand you! 

A simple child, Lo would scream no! and frantically clutch 
at my driving hand whenever I put a stop to her tornadoes of 
temper by turning in the middle of a highway with the implica- 
tion that I was about to take her straight to that dark and dismal 
abode. The farther, however, we traveled away from it west, 
the less tangible that menace became, and I had to adopt other 
methods of persuasion. 

Among these, the reformatory threat is the one I recall with 
the deepest moan of shame. From the very beginning of our 
concourse, I was clever enough to realize that I must secure 
her complete co-operation in keeping our relations secret, that 
it should become a second nature with her, no matter what 
grudge she might bear me, no matter what other pleasures she 
might seek. 

“Come and kiss your old man,” I would say, “and drop that 
moody nonsense. In former times, when I was still your dream 
male [the reader will notice what pains I took to speak Lo’s 
tongue], you swooned to records of the number one throb-and- 
sob idol of your coevals [Lo: “Of my what? Speak English”]. 
That idol of your pals sounded, you thought, like friend Flum- 
bert. But now, I am just your old man, a dream dad protecting 
his dream daughter. 

“My chhe Dolores! I want to protect you, dear, from all the i 
lorrors that happen to little girls in coal sheds and alley ways, 
and, alas, comme vous le savez trop bien, ma gentille, in the 2 
olueberry woods during the bluest of summers. Through thick 
and thin I will still stay your guardian, and if you are good, 

[ hope a court may legalize that guardianship before long. Let 

[ 151 ] 

US, however, forget, Dolores Haze, so-called legal terminology, 
terminology that accepts as rational the term ‘lewd and lascivious 
cohabitation.’ I am not a criminal sexual psychopath taking 
indecent liberties with a child. The rapist was Charlie Holmes; 

1 I am the therapist — a matter of nice spacing in the way of 
distinction. I am your daddum, Lo. Look, I’ve a learned book 
here about young girls. Look, darling, what it says. I quote: the 
normal girl — normal, mark you — the normal girl is usually 
extremely anxious to please her father. She feels in him the 
forerunner of the desired elusive male (‘elusive’ is good, by 

2 Polonius!). The wise mother (and your poor mother would 
have been wise, had she lived) will encourage a companionship j 
between father and daughter, realizing — excuse the corny style 
— that the girl forms her ideals of romance and of men from 
her association with her father. Now, what association does this' 
cheery book mean — and recommend? I quote again: Among 
Sicilians sexual relations between a father and his daughter arel 
accepted as a matter of course, and the girl who participates, 
in such relationship is not looked upon with disapproval by 
the society of which she is part. I’m a great admirer of Sicilians,' 
fine athletes, fine musicians, fine upright people, Lo, and great; 
lovers. But let’s not digress. Only the other day we read in the 
newspapers some bunkum about a middle-aged morals offender 
who pleaded guilty to the violation of the Mann Act and to 
transporting a nine-year-old girl across state lines for immoralii 
purposes, whatever these are. Dolores darling! You are not nine| 
but almost thirteen, and I would not advise you to consider} 

3 yourself my cross-country slave, and I deplore the Mann Act as! 

lending itself to a dreadful pun, the revenge that the Gods ofi| 
Semantics take against tight-zippered Philistines. I am youfj 
father, and I am speaking English, and I love you. ' 

“Finally, let us see what happens if you, a minor, accused of 
having impaired the morals of an adult in a respectable inn, 
what happens if you complain to the police of my having kid-ii 
naped and raped you? Let us suppose they believe you. A minoi|j 
female, who allows a person over twenty-one to know her car-jj 
nally, involves her victim into statutory rape, or second-degree] 

[ 152 ] 

sodomy, depending on the technique; and the maximum penalty 
is ten years. So I go to jail. Okay. I go to jail. But what happens 
to you, my orphan? Well, you are luckier. You become the ward 
of the Department of Public Welfare — which I am afraid sounds 
a little bleak. A nice grim matron of the Miss Phalen type, but 
more rigid and not a drinking woman, will take away your lip- 
stick and fancy clothes. No more gadding about! I don’t know 
if you have ever heard of the laws relating to dependent, 
neglected, incorrigible and delinquent children. While I stand 
gripping the bars, you, happy neglected child, will be given a 
choice of various dwelling places, all more or less the same, the 
correctional school, the reformatory, the juvenile detention 
home, or one of those admirable girls’ protectories where you 
knit things, and sing hymns, and have rancid pancakes on Sun- 
days. You will go there, Lolita — my Lolita, this Lolita will leave 
her Catullus and go there, as the wayward girl you are. In i 
plainer words, if we two are found out, you will be analyzed and 
ijnstitutionalized, my pet, c^est tout. You will dwell, my Lolita 2 
will dwell (come here, my brown flower) with thirty-nine other 
dopes in a dirty dormitory (no, allow me, please) under the 
supervision of hideous matrons. This is the situation, this is 
:he choice. Don’t you think that under the circumstances Dolores 
Haze had better stick to her old man?” 

By rubbing all this in, I succeeded in terrorizing Lo, who 
I despite a certain brash alertness of manner and spurts of wit was 
not as intelligent a child as her I.Q. might suggest. But if I 
managed to establish that background of shared secrecy and 
shared guilt, I was much less successful in keeping her in good 
aumor. Every morning during our yearlong travels I had to 
devise some expectation, some special point in space and time 
or her to look forward to, for her to survive till bedtime. Other- 
iwise, deprived of a shaping and sustaining purpose, the skeleton 
af her day sagged and collapsed. The object in view might be 
inything — a lighthouse in Virginia, a natural cave in Arkansas 
converted to a cafe, a collection of guns and violins somewhere 
n Oklahoma, a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes in Louisiana, 
:;habby photographs of the bonanza mining period in the local 

[ 153 ] 

museum of a Rocky Mountains resort, anything whatsoever — 
but it had to be there, in front of us, like a fixed star, although 
as likely as not Lo would feign gagging as soon as we got to it. 

By putting the geography of the United States into motion, I 
did my best for hours on end to give her the impression of 
“going places,” of rolling on to some definite destination, to 
some unusual delight. I have never seen such smooth amiable 
roads as those that now radiated before us, across the crazy quilt 

1 of forty-eight states. Voraciously we consumed those long high- 
ways, in rapt silence we glided over their glossy black dance 
floors. Not only had Lo no eye for scenery but she furiously re- 
sented my calling her attention to this or that enchanting detailij 
of landscape; which I myself learned to discern only after being 
exposed for quite a time to the delicate beauty ever present in 
the margin of our undeserving journey. By a paradox of pictorial 
thought, the average lowland North- American countryside had 
at first seemed to me something I accepted with a shock of 
amused recognition because of those painted oilcloths whichli 
were imported from America in the old days to be hung above j 
washstands in Central-European nurseries, and which fascinated' 
a drowsy child at bed time with the rustic green views they 
depicted — opaque curly trees, a barn, cattle, a brook, the dull 
white of vague orchards in bloom, and perhaps a stone fence or 
hills of greenish gouache. But gradually the models of those ele-i 
mentary rusticities became stranger and stranger to the eye, thei 
nearer I came to know them. Beyond the tilled plain, beyond 

2 the toy roofs, there would be a slow suffusion of inutile loveli-i 
ness, a low sun in a platinum haze with a warm, peeled-peach 
tinge pervading the upper edge of a two-dimensional, dove-gray 
cloud fusing with the distant amorous mist. There might be a 
line of spaced trees silhouetted against the horizon, and hot still 

3 noons above a wilderness of clover, and Claude Lorrain clouds 
inscribed remotely into misty azure with only their cumulus part' 
conspicuous against the neutral swoon of the background. Of 

4 again, it might be a stern El Greco horizon, pregnant with inky 
rain, and a passing glimpse of some mummy-necked farmer, and 
all around alternating strips of quick-silverish water and harsh 

[ 154 ] 

green corn, the whole arrangement opening like a fan, some- 
where in Kansas. 

Now and then, in the vastness of those plains, huge trees 
would advance toward us to cluster self-consciously by the road- 
side and provide a bit of humanitarian shade above a picnic 
table, with sun flecks, flattened paper cups, samaras and dis- 
carded ice-cream sticks littering the brown ground. A great user 
of roadside facilities, my unfastidious Lo would be charmed by 
toilet signs — Guys-Gals, John-Jane, Jack-Jill and even Buck’s- 
Doe’s; while lost in an artist’s dream, I would stare at the honest 
brightness of the gasoline paraphernalia against the splendid 
green of oaks, or at a distant hill scrambling out — scarred but still 
untamed — from the wilderness of agriculture that was trying to 
swallow it. 

At night, tall trucks studded with colored lights, like dreadful 
giant Christmas trees, loomed in the darkness and thundered by 
the belated little sedan. And again next day a thinly populated 
sky, losing its blue to the heat, would melt overhead, and Lo 
would clamor for a drink, and her cheeks would hollow vigor- 
ously over the straw, and the car inside would be a furnace when 
we got in again, and the road shimmered ahead, with a remote 
car changing its shape mirage-like in the surface glare, and seem- 
ing to hang for a moment, old-fashionedly square and high, in 
the hot haze. And as we pushed westward, patches of what the 
garage-man called “sage brush” appeared, and then the mys- 
terious outlines of table-like hills, and then red bluffs ink-blotted 
with junipers, and then a mountain range, dun grading into blue, 
and blue into dream, and the desert would meet us with a steady 
gale, dust, gray thorn bushes, and hideous bits of tissue paper 
mimicking pale flowers among the prickles of wind-tortured 
withered stalks all along the highway; in the middle of which 
rhere sometimes stood simple cows, immobilized in a position 
(tail left, white eyelashes right) cutting across all human rules of 

My lawyer has suggested I give a clear, frank account of the 
|itinerary we followed, and I suppose I have reached here a point 
where I cannot avoid that chore. Roughly, during that mad year 

[ 155 ] 

(August 1947 to August 1948), our route began with a series of 
wiggles and whorls in New England, then meandered south, up 
1 and down, east and west; dipped deep into ce qiCon appelle 
Dixieland, avoided Florida because the Farlows were there, 
veered west, zigzagged through corn belts and cotton belts (this 
is not too clear I am afraid, Clarence, but I did not keep any 
notes, and have at my disposal only an atrociously crippled tour 
book in three volumes, almost a symbol of my torn and tattered 
past, in which to check these recollections); crossed and re- 
crossed the Rockies, straggled through southern deserts where 
we wintered; reached the Pacific, turned north through the pale 
lilac fluff of flowering shrubs along forest roads; almost reached 
the Canadian border; and proceeded east, across good lands and 
bad lands, back to agriculture on a grand scale, avoiding, despite 
little Lo’s strident remonstrations, little Lo’s birthplace, in a 
corn, coal and hog producing area; and finally returned to the 
fold of the East, petering out in the college town of Beardsley. 


Now, in perusing what follows, the reader should bear in mind 
not only the general circuit as adumbrated above, with its many 
sidetrips and tourist traps, secondary circles and skittish devia- 
tions, but also the fact that far from being an indolent partie de 

2 platsir, our tour was a hard, twisted, teleological growth, whose 

3 sole raison d'etre (these French cliches are symptomatic) was 
to keep my companion in passable humor from kiss to kiss. 

Thumbing through that battered tour book, I dimly evoke 
that Magnolia Garden in a southern state which cost me four 
bucks and which, according to the ad in the book, you must 

4 visit for three reasons: because John Galsworthy (a stone-dead 
writer of sorts) acclaimed it as the world’s fairest garden; be- 
cause in 1900 Baedeker’s Guide had marked it with a star; and 
finally, because . . . O, Reader, My Reader, guess! . . . because 
children (and by Jingo was not my Lolita a child!) will “walk 

[ 156 ] 

starry-eyed and reverently through this foretaste of Heaven, 
drinking in beauty that can influence a life.” “Not mine,” said 
grim Lo, and settled down on a bench with the fillings of two 
Sunday papers in her lovely lap. 

We passed and re-passed through the whole gamut of Ameri- 
can roadside restaurants, from the lowly Eat with its deer head 
(dark trace of long tear at inner canthus), “humorous” picture i 
post cards of the posterior “Kurort” type, impaled guest checks, 2 
life savers, sunglasses, adman visions of celestial sundaes, one 
half of a chocolate cake under glass, and several horribly ex- 
perienced flies zigzagging over the sticky sugar-pour on the 
ignoble counter; and all the way to the expensive place with the 
subdued lights, preposterously poor table linen, inept waiters 
(ex-convicts or college boys), the roan back of a screen actress, 3 
the sable eyebrows of her male of the moment, and an orchestra 
of zoot-suiters with trumpets. 

We inspected the world’s largest stalagmite in a cave where 
three southeastern states have a family reunion; admission by 
age; adults one dollar, pubescents sixty cents. A granite obelisk 
commemorating the Battle of Blue Licks, with old bones and 
Indian pottery in the museum nearby, Lo a dime, very reason- 
able. The present log cabin boldly simulating the past log cabin 
where Lincoln was born. A boulder, with a plaque, in memory 
of the author of “Trees” (by now we are in Poplar Cove, N.C., 4 

reached by what my kind, tolerant, usually so restrained tour 
book angrily calls “a very narrow road, poorly maintained,” to 
which, though no Kilmerite, I subscribe). From a hired motor- 
boat operated by an elderly, but still repulsively handsome 
White Russian, a baron they said (Lo’s palms were damp, the 
little fool), who had known in California good old Maximovich 
and Valeria, we could distinguish the inaccessible “millionaires’ 
colony” on an island, somewhere off the Georgia coast. We 
inspected further: a collection of European hotel picture post 
cards in a museum devoted to hobbies at a Mississippi resort, 
where with a hot wave of pride I discovered a colored photo of 
my father’s Mirana, its striped awnings, its flag flying above the 
retouched palm trees. “So what?” said Lo, squinting at the 

[ 157 ] 

1 bronzed owner of an expensive car who had followed us into the | 
Hobby House. Relics of the cotton era. A forest in Arkansas 
and, on her brown shoulder, a raised purple-pink swelling (the 
work of some gnat) which I eased of its beautiful transparent 
poison between my long thumbnails and then sucked till I was 
gorged on her spicy blood. Bourbon Street (in a town named 
New Orleans) whose sidewalks, said the tour book, “may [I 
liked the “may”] feature entertainment by pickaninnies who 
will [I liked the “will” even better] tap-dance for pennies” (what 
fun), while “its numerous small and intimate night clubs are 
thronged with visitors” (naughty). Collections of frontier lore. 
Ante-bellum homes with iron-trellis balconies and hand-worked ; 
stairs, the kind down which movie ladies with sun-kissed shoul- 
ders run in rich Technicolor, holding up the fronts of their 
flounced skirts with both little hands in that special way, and 
the devoted Negress shaking her head on the upper landing. The ; 
Menninger Foundation, a psychiatric clinic, just for the heck of ‘ 
it. A patch of beautifully eroded clay; and yucca blossoms, so . 

2 pure, so waxy, but lousy with creeping white flies. Independence, i 
Missouri, the starting point of the Old Oregon Trail; and 

3 Abilene, Kansas, the home of the Wild Bill Something Rodeo. 
Distant mountains. Near mountains. More mountains; bluish 
beauties never attainable, or ever turning into inhabited hill after 
hill; south-eastern ranges, altitudinal failures as alps go; heart 
and sky-piercing snow-veined gray colossi of stone, relentless 
peaks appearing from nowhere at a turn of the highway; tim- 
bered enormities, with a system of neatly overlapping dark firs, [ 
interrupted in places by pale puflFs of aspen; pink and lilac j| 

4 formations. Pharaonic, phallic, “too prehistoric for words” (blase 
Lo); buttes of black lava; early spring mountains with young- 

5 elephant lanugo along their spines; end-of-the-summer moun- ! 
tains, all hunched up, their heavy Egyptian limbs folded under 
folds of tawny moth-eaten plush; oatmeal hills, flecked with 

6 green round oaks; a last rufous mountain with a rich rug of ' 

7 lucerne at its foot. 

Moreover, we inspected: Little Iceberg Lake, somewhere in | 
Colorado, and the snow banks, and the cushionets of tiny alpine 

[ 158 1 

flowers, and more snow; down which Lo in red-peaked cap tried 
to slide, and squealed, and was snowballed by some youngsters, 
and retaliated in kind comme on dit. Skeletons of burned aspens, i 
patches of spired blue flowers. The various items of a scenic 
drive. Hundreds of scenic drives, thousands of Bear Creeks, Soda 
Springs, Painted Canyons. Texas, a drought-struck plain. Crystal 
Chamber in the longest cave in the world, children under 12 
free, Lo a young captive. A collection of a local lady’s homemade 
sculptures, closed on a miserable Monday morning, dust, wind, 
witherland. Conception Park, in a town on the Mexican border 
which I dared not cross. There and elsewhere, hundreds of gray 
hummingbirds in the dusk, probing the throats of dim flowers. 2 
Shakespeare, a ghost town in New Mexico, where bad man 3 
Russian Bill was colorfully hanged seventy years ago. Fish 
hatcheries. Cliff dwellings. The mummy of a child (Florentine 
Bea’s Indian contemporary). Our twentieth Hell’s Canyon. Our 4,5 
fiftieth Gateway to something or other fide that tour book, the 
cover of which had been lost by that time. A tick in my groin. 
Always the same three old men, in hats and suspenders, idling 
away the summer afternoon under the trees near the public 
fountain. A hazy blue view beyond railings on a mountain pass, 
and the backs of a family enjoying it (with Lo, in a hot, happy, 
wild, intense, hopeful, hopeless whisper — “Look, the McCrystals, 
please, let’s talk to them, please” — let’s talk to them, reader! — 
“please! I’ll do anything you want, oh, please...”). Indian 
ceremonial dances, strictly commercial. ART; American Refrig- 
erator Transit Company. Obvious Arizona, pueblo dwellings, 
aboriginal pictographs, a dinosaur track in a desert canyon, 
printed there thirty million years ago, when I was a child. A 
lanky, six-foot, pale boy with an active Adam’s apple, ogling Lo 
and her orange-brown bare midriff, which I kissed five minutes 
later. Jack. Winter in the desert, spring in the foothills, almonds 
in bloom. Reno, a dreary town in Nevada, with a nightlife said 
to be “cosmopolitan and mature.” A winery in California, with 
a church built in the shape of a wine barrel. Death Valley. 6 
Scotty’s Castle. Works of Art collected by one Rogers over a 7 
period of years. The ugly villas of handsome actresses. R. L. 

[ 159 ] 

1 Stevenson’s footprint on an extinct volcano. Mission Dolores; 

3 good title for book. Surf-carved sandstone festoons. A man having 

4 a lavish epileptic fit on the ground in Russian Gulch State Park. 
Blue, blue Crater Lake. A fish hatchery in Idaho and the State 
Penitentiary. Somber Yellowstone Park and its colored hot 
springs, baby geysers, rainbows of bubbling mud — symbols of 
my passion. A herd of antelopes in a wildlife refuge. Our hun- 
dredth cavern, adults one dollar, Lolita fifty cents. A chateau 
built by a French marquess in N.D. The Corn Palace in S.D.; 
and the huge heads of presidents carved in towering granite. The 
Bearded Woman read our jingle and now she is no longer single. 
A zoo in Indiana where a large troop of monkeys lived on con- 
crete replica of Christopher Columbus’ flagship. Billions of dead, 
or halfdead, fish-smelling May flies in every window of every 
eating place all along a dreary sandy shore. Fat gulls on big 
stones as seen from the ferry City of Cheboygan, whose brown 
woolly smoke arched and dipped over the green shadow it cast 
on the aquamarine lake. A motel whose ventilator pipe passed 
under the city sewer. Lincoln’s home, largely spurious, with 
parlor books and period furniture that most visitors reverently 
accepted as personal belongings. 

We had rows, minor and major. The biggest ones we had took 
place; at Lacework Cabins, Virginia; on Park Avenue, Little 

5 Rock, near a school; on Milner Pass, 10,759 Colo- 

rado; at the corner of Seventh Street and Central Avenue in 
Phoenix, Arizona; on Third Street, Los Angeles, because the 
tickets to some studio or other were sold out; at a motel called 
Poplar Shade in Utah, where six pubescent trees were scarcely 

6 taller than my Lolita, and where she asked, a propos de rien, 
how long did I think we were going to live in stuffy cabins, doing 
filthy things together and never behaving like ordinary people? 
On N. Broadway, Burns, Oregon, corner of W. Washington, 
facing Safeway, a grocery. In some little town in the Sun Valley 
of Idaho, before a brick hotel, pale and flushed bricks nicely 
mixed, with, opposite, a poplar playing its liquid shadows all 
over the local Honor Roll. In a sage brush wilderness, between 
Pinedale and Farson. Somewhere in Nebraska, on Main Street, 

[ 160 ] 

near the First National Bank, established 1889, with a view of 
a railway crossing in the vista of the street, and beyond that the 
white organ pipes of a multiple silo. And on McEwen St., corner 
of Wheaton Ave., in a Michigan town bearing his first name. 1 

We came to know the curious roadside species, Hitchhiking 
Man, Homo pollex of science, with all its many sub-species and 2 
forms: the modest soldier, spic and span, quietly waiting, quietly 
conscious of khaki’s viatic appeal; the schoolboy wishing to go 3 
two blocks; the killer wishing to go two thousand miles; the 
mysterious, nervous, elderly gent, with brand-new suitcase and 
clipped mustache; a trio of optimistic Mexicans; the college 
student displaying the grime of vacational outdoor work as 
proudly as the name of the famous college arching across the 
front of his sweatshirt; the desperate lady whose battery has just 
died on her; the clean-cut, glossy-haired, shifty-eyed, white-faced 
young beasts in loud shirts and coats, vigorously, almost priap- 
ically thrusting out tense thumbs to tempt lone women or sad- 4 
sack salesmen with fancy cravings. 

“Let’s take him,” Lo would often plead, rubbing her knees 
together in a way she had, as some particularly disgusting pollex, 
some man of my age and shoulder breadth, with the face a 
claques of an unemployed actor, walked backwards, practically 5 
in the path of our car. 

Oh, I had to keep a very sharp eye on Lo, little limp Lo! 
Owing perhaps to constant amorous exercise, she radiated, de- 
spite her very childish appearance, some special languorous glow 
which threw garage fellows, hotel pages, vacationists, goons in 
luxurious cars, maroon morons near blued pools, into fits of 
concupiscence which might have tickled my pride, had it not 6 
incensed my jealousy. For little Lo was aware of that glow of 
hers, and I would often catch her coulant un regard in the direc- 7 
tion of some amiable male, some grease monkey, with a sinewy 
golden-brown forearm and watch-braceleted wrist, and hardly 
had I turned my back to go and buy this very Lo a lollipop, than 
I would hear her and the fair mechanic burst into a perfect love 
song of wisecracks, » 

When, during our longer stops, I would relax after a particu- 

[ 161 ] 

larly violent morning in bed, and out of the goodness of my 
lulled heart allow her — indulgent Hum! — to visit the rose garden 
or children’s library across the street with a motor court neigh- 
bor’s plain little Mary and Mary’s eight-year-old brother, Lo 
would come back an hour late, with barefoot Mary trailing far 
behind, and the little boy metamorphosed into two gangling, 
golden-haired high school uglies, all muscles and gonorrhea. The 
reader may well imagine what I answered my pet when — rather 
uncertainly, I admit — she would ask me if she could go with 
Carl and A1 here to the roller-skating rink. 

I remember the first time, a dusty windy afternoon, I did let 
her go to one such rink. Cruelly she said it would be no fun if I 
accompanied her, since that time of day was reserved for teen- 
agers. We wrangled out a compromise; I remained in the car, 
among other (empty) cars with their noses to the canvas-topped 
open-air rink, where some fifty young people, many in pairs, were 
endlessly rolling round and round to mechanical music, and the 
wind silvered the trees. Dolly wore blue jeans and white high 
shoes, as most of the other girls did. I kept counting the revolu- 
tions of the rolling crowd — and suddenly she was missing. When 
she rolled past again, she was together with three hoodlums 
whom I had heard analyze a moment before the girl skaters from 
the outside — and jeer at a lovely leggy young thing who had 
arrived clad in red shorts instead of those jeans or slacks. 

At inspection stations on highways entering Arizona or Cali- 
fornia, a policeman’s cousin would peer with such intensity at 
us that my poor heart wobbled. “Any honey.?” he would inquire, 
and every time my sweet fool giggled. I still have, vibrating all 
along my optic nerve, visions of Lo on horseback, a link in the 
chain of a guided trip along a bridle trail: Lo bobbing at a walk- 
ing pace, with an old woman rider in front and a lecherous red- 
necked dude-rancher behind; and I behind him, hating his fat 
flowery-shirted back even more fervently than a motorist does a 
slow truck on a mountain road. Or else, at a ski lodge, I would 
see her floating away from me, celestial and solitary, in an 
ethereal chairlift, up and up, to a glittering summit where laugh- 
ing athletes stripped to the waist were waiting for her, for her. 

[ 162 ] 

In whatever town we stopped I would inquire, in my polite 
European way, anent the whereabouts of natatoriums, museums, i 
local schools, the number of children in the nearest school and 
so forth; and at school bus time, smiling and twitching a little 
(I discovered this tic nerveux because cruel Lo was the first to 
mimic it), I would park at a strategic point, with my vagrant 
schoolgirl beside me in the car, to watch the children leave 
school — always a pretty sight. This sort of thing soon began to 
bore my so easily bored Lolita, and, having a childish lack of 
sympathy for other people’s whims, she would insult me and my 
desire to have her caress me while blue-eyed little brunettes in 
blue shorts, copperheads in green boleros, and blurred boyish 
blondes in faded slacks passed by in the sun. 

As a sort of compromise, I freely advocated whenever and 
wherever possible the use of swimming pools with other girl- 
children. She adored brilliant water and was a remarkably smart 
diver. Comfortably robed, I would settle down in the rich post- 
meridian shade after my own demure dip, and there I would sit, 
with a dummy book or a bag of bonbons, or both, or nothing but 
my tingling glands, and watch her gambol, rubber-capped, be- 
pearled, smoothly tanned, as glad as an ad, in her trim-fitted 
satin pants and shirred bra. Pubescent sweetheart! How smugly 
would I marvel that she was mine, mine, mine, and revise the 
recent matitudinal swoon to the moan of the mourning doves, 2 
and devise the late afternoon one, and slitting my sun-speared 
eyes, compare Lolita to whatever other nymphets parsimonious 
chance collected around her for my anthological delectation and 
judgment; and today, putting my hand on my ailing heart, I 
really do not think that any of them ever surpassed her in de- 
sirability, or if they did, it was so two or three times at the most, 
in a certain light, with certain perfumes blended in the air — 
once in the hopeless case of a pale Spanish child, the daughter 
of a heavy- jawed nobleman, and another time — mais je divague. 3 

Naturally, I had to be always wary, fully realizing, in my lucid 
jealousy, the danger of those dazzling romps. I had only to turn 
away for a moment — to walk, say, a few steps in order to see if our 
cabin was at last ready after the morning change of linen — and 

[ 163 ] 

Lo and Behold, upon returning, I would find the former, les 

1 yeux perdus, dipping and kicking her long-toed feet in the water i 
on the stone edge of which she lolled, while, on either side of 
her, there crouched a brun adolescent whom her russet beauty 
and the quicksilver in the baby folds of her stomach were sure 

2 to cause to se tor dr e — oh Baudelaire! — in recurrent dreams for 
months to come. 

I tried to teach her to play tennis so we might have more 
amusements in common; but although I had been a good player 
in my prime, I proved to be hopeless as a teacher; and so, in 
California, I got her to take a number of very expensive lessons 

with a famous coach, a husky, wrinkled old-timer, with a harem 

^ of ball boys; he looked an awful wreck off the court, but now 

and then, when, in the course of a lesson, to keep up the ex- 
change, he would put out as it were an exquisite spring blossom 
of a stroke and twang the ball back to his pupil, that divine 
delicacy of absolute power made me recall that, thirty years 

4 before, I had seen him in Cannes demolish the great Gobbert! , 

Until she began taking those lessons, I thought she would never 

learn the game. On this or that hotel court I would drill Lo, and 

try to relive the days when in a hot gale, a daze of dust, and 
queer lassitude, I fed ball after ball to gay, innocent, elegant 
Annabel (gleam of bracelet, pleated white skirt, black velvet 
hair band). With every word of persistent advice I would only 
augment Lo’s sullen fury. To our games, oddly enough, she pre- 
ferred — at least, before we reached California — formless pat ball 
approximations — more ball hunting than actual play — with a 

5 wispy, weak, wonderfully pretty in an ange gauche way coeval. 

A helpful spectator, I would go up to that other child, and inhale 
her faint musky fragrance as I touched her forearm and held her 
knobby wrist, and push this way or that her cool thigh to show 
her the back-hand stance. In the meantime, Lo, bending for- 
ward, would let her sunny-brown curls hang forward as she stuck 
her racket, like a cripple’s stick, into the ground and emitted a 
tremendous ugh of disgust at my intrusion. I would leave them 
to their game and look on, comparing their bodies in motion, a 
silk scarf round my throat; this was in south Arizona, I think — ■■ 

[ 164 ] 

and the days had a lazy lining of warmth, and awkward Lo would 
slash at the ball and miss it, and curse, and send a simulacrum of i 
a serve into the net, and show the wet glistening young down of 
her armpit as she brandished her racket in despair, and her even 
more insipid partner would dutifully rush out after every ball, 
and retrieve none; but both were enjoying themselves beautifully, 
and in clear ringing tones kept the exact score of their ineptitudes 
all the time. 

One day, I remember, I offered to bring them cold drinks from 
the hotel, and went up the gravel path, and came back with two 
tall glasses of pineapple juice, soda and ice; and then a sudden 
void within my chest made me stop as I saw that the tennis court 
was deserted. I stooped to set down the glasses on a bench and 
for some reason, with a kind of icy vividness, saw Charlotte’s 
face in death, and I glanced around, and noticed Lo in white 
shorts receding through the speckled shadow of a garden path in 
the company of a tall man who carried two tennis rackets. I 2 
sprang after them, but as I was crashing through the shrubbery, 

I saw, in an alternate vision, as if life’s course constantly 
branched, Lo, in slacks, and her companion, in shorts, trudging 
up and down a small weedy area, and beating bushes with their 
rackets in listless search for their last lost ball. 

I itemize these sunny nothings mainly to prove to my judges 
that I did everything in my power to give my Lolita a really good 
time. How charming it was to see her, a child herself, showing 
another child some of her few accomplishments, such as for 
example a special way of jumping rope. With her right hand 
holding her left arm behind her untanned back, the lesser 
nymphet, a diaphanous darling, would be all eyes, as the pavo- 3 
nine sun was all eyes on the gravel under the flowering trees, 4 
while in the midst of that oculate paradise, my freckled and 5 
raffish lass skipped, repeating the movements of so many others I 
had gloated over on the sun-shot, watered, damp-smelling side- 
walks and ramparts of ancient Europe. Presently, she would 6 
hand the rope back to her little Spanish friend, and watch in her 
turn the repeated lesson, and brush away the hair from her brow, 
and fold her arms, and step on one toe with the other, or drop 

[ 165 ] 

her hands loosely upon her still unflared hips, and I would 
satisfy myself that the damned staff had at last finished cleaning 
up our cottage; whereupon, flashing a smile to the shy, dark- 
haired page girl of my princess and thrusting my fatherly fingers 
deep into Lo’s hair from behind, and then gently but firmly 
clasping them around the nape of her neck, I would lead my 
reluctant pet to our small home for a quick connection before 

“Whose cat has scratched poor you?” a full-blown fleshy 
handsome woman of the repulsive type to which I was par- 
ticularly attractive might ask me at the “lodge,” during a table 
d’hote dinner followed by dancing promised to Lo. This was one 
of the reasons why I tried to keep as far away from people as 
possible, while Lo, on the other hand, would do her utmost to 
draw as many potential witnesses into her orbit as she could. 

She would be, figuratively speaking, wagging her tiny tail, her 
whole behind in fact as little bitches do — while some grinning 
stranger accosted us and began a bright conversation with a 
comparative study of license plates. “Long way from home!” 
Inquisitive parents, in order to pump Lo about me, would sug- 
gest her going to a movie with their children. We had some 
close shaves. The waterfall nuisance pursued me of course in all 
1 our caravansaries. But I never realized how wafery their wall 
substance was until one evening, after I had loved too loudly, a 
neighbor’s masculine cough filled the pause as clearly as mine 
would have done; and next morning as I was having breakfast 
at the milk bar (Lo was a late sleeper, and I liked to bring her a 
pot of hot coffee in bed), my neighbor of the eve, an elderly fool 
wearing plain glasses on his long virtuous nose and a convention 
badge on his lapel, somehow managed to rig up a conversation 
with me, in the course of which he inquired, if my missus was 
like his missus a rather reluctant get-upper when not on the 
farm; and had not the hideous danger I was skirting almost suf- 
focated me, I might have enjoyed the odd look of surprise on his 
thin-lipped weather-beaten face when I drily answered, as I 
slithered off my stool, that I was thank God a widower. 

How sweet it was to bring that coffee to her, and then deny it 

[ i66 ] 


until she had done her morning duty. And I was such a thought- 
ful friend, such a passionate father, such a good pediatrician, at- 
tending to all the wants of my little auburn brunette’s body! 

My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my 
Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, 
her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her 
lungs, her comely twin kidneys. On especially tropical after- 
noons, in the sticky closeness of the siesta, I liked the cool feel 
of armchair leather against my massive nakedness as I held her 
in my lap. There she would be, a typical kid picking her nose 
while engrossed in the lighter sections of a newspaper, as indif- 
ferent to my ecstasy as if it were something she had sat upon, a 
shoe, a doll, the handle of a tennis racket, and was too indolent 
to remove. Her eyes would follow the adventures of her favorite 
strip characters: there was one well-drawn sloppy bobby-soxer, 1 
with high cheekbones and angular gestures, that I was not above 
enjoying myself; she studied the photographic results of head-on 
collisions; she never doubted the reality of place, time and cir- 
cumstance alleged to match the publicity pictures of naked- 
thighed beauties; and she was curiously fascinated by the photo- 
graphs of local brides, some in full wedding apparel, holding 
bouquets and wearing glasses. 

A fly would settle and walk in the vicinity of her navel or 
explore her tender pale areolas. She tried to catch it in her fist 2 
(Charlotte’s method) and then would turn to the column Let’s 
Explore Your Mind. 

“Let’s explore your mind. Would sex crimes be reduced if 
children obeyed a few don’ts? Don’t play around public toilets. 
Don’t take candy or rides from strangers. If picked up, mark 
down the license of the car.” 

“. . . and the brand of the candy,” I volunteered. 

She went on, her cheek (recedent) against mine (pursuant); 3 
and this was a good day, mark, O reader! 

“If you don’t have a pencil, but are old enough to read — ” 

“We,” I quip-quoted, “medieval mariners, have placed in this 
bottle — ” 

“If,” she repeated, “you don’t have a pencil, but are old 

[ 167 ] 


enough to read and write — this is what the guy means, isn’t it, 
you dope — scratch the number somehow on the roadside.” 

“With your little claws, Lolita.’” 


1 She had entered my world, umber and black Humberland, 

with rash curiosity; she surveyed it with a shrug of amused dis- 

taste; and it seemed to me now that she was ready to turn away 
from it with something akin to plain repulsion. Never did she 
vibrate under my touch, and a strident “what d’you think you 
are doing?” was all I got for my pains. To the wonderland I had 
to offer, my fool preferred the corniest movies, the most cloying 
fudge. To think that between a Hamburger and a Humburger, 
she would — invariably, with icy precision — plump for the former. 
There is nothing more atrociously cruel than an adored child. 
Did I mention the name of that milk bar I visited a moment 
ago? It was, of all things. The Frigid Queen. Smiling a little 

2 sadly, I dubbed her My Frigid Princess. She did not see the 

wistful joke. 

Oh, do not scowl at me, reader, I do not intend to convey the 
impression that I did not manage to be happy. Reader must 
understand that in the possession and thralldom of a nymphet 
the enchanted traveler stands, as it were, beyond happiness. For 
there is no other bliss on earth comparable to that of fondling a 

3 nymphet. It is hors concours, that bliss, it belongs to another 
class, another plane of sensitivity. Despite our tiffs, despite her 
nastiness, despite all the fuss and faces she made, and the vul- 
garity, and the danger, and the horrible hopelessness of it all, I 
still dwelled deep in my elected paradise — a paradise whose skies 
were the color of hell-flames — but still a paradise. 

The able psychiatrist who studies my case — and whom by 
now Dr. Humbert has plunged, I trust, into a state of leporine 

4 fascination — is no doubt anxious to have me take my Lolita to 
the seaside and have me find there, at last, the “gratification” of 

[ i68 ] 

a lifetime urge, and release from the “subconscious” obsession of 
an incomplete childhood romance with the initial little Miss Lee. 

Well, comrade, let me tell you that I did look for a beach, 
though I also have to confess that by the time we reached its 
mirage of gray water, so many delights had already been granted 
me by my traveling companion that the search for a Kingdom 
by the Sea, a Sublimated Riviera, or whatnot, far from being the 
impulse of the subconscious, had become the rational pursuit of 
a purely theoretical thrill. The angels knew it, and arranged 
things accordingly. A visit to a plausible cove on the Atlantic 
side was completely messed up by foul weather. A thick damp 
sky, muddy waves, a sense of boundless but somehow matter-of- 
fact mist — what could be further removed from the crisp charm, 
the sapphire occasion and rosy contingency of my Riviera ro- 
mance? A couple of semitropical beaches on the Gulf, though 
bright enough, were starred and spattered by venomous beasties 
and swept by hurricane winds. Finally, on a Californian beach, 
facing the phantom of the Pacific, I hit upon some rather 
perverse privacy in a kind of cave whence you could hear the 
shrieks of a lot of girl scouts taking their first surf bath on a 
separate part of the beach, behind rotting trees; but the fog was 
like a wet blanket, and the sand was gritty and clammy, and Lo 
was all gooseflesh and grit, and for the first time in my life I had 
as little desire for her as for a manatee. Perhaps, my learned 
readers may perk up if I tell them that even had we discovered 
a piece of sympathetic seaside somewhere, it would have come 
too late, since my real liberation had occurred much earlier: at 
the moment, in point of fact, when Annabel Haze, alias Dolores 
Lee, alias Loleeta, had appeared to me, golden and brown, kneel- 
ing, looking up, on that shoddy veranda, in a kind of fictitious, 
dishonest, but eminently satisfactory seaside arrangement (al- 
though there was nothing but a second-rate lake in the neigh- 

So much for those special sensations, influenced, if not actually 
brought about, by the tenets of modern psychiatry. Conse- 
quently, I turned away — I headed my Lolita away — from beaches 
which were either too bleak when lone, or too populous when 

[ 169 ] 

ablaze. However, in recollection, I suppose, of my hopeless 
hauntings of public parks in Europe, I was still keenly interested 
in outdoor activities and desirous of finding suitable playgrounds 
in the open where I had suffered such shameful privations. Here, 
too, I was to be thwarted. The disappointment I must now 
register (as I gently grade my story into an expression of the 
continuous risk and dread that ran through my bliss) should in 
no wise reflect on the lyrical, epic, tragic but never Arcadian 

1 American wilds. They are beautiful, heart-rendingly beautiful, 
those wilds, with a quality of wide-eyed, unsung, innocent sur- 
render that my lacquered, toy-bright Swiss villages and exhaus- 
tively lauded Alps no longer possess. Innumerable lovers have 
clipped and kissed on the trim turf of old-world mountainsides, 

2 on the innerspring moss, by a handy, hygienic rill, on rustic 

3 benches under the initialed oaks, and in so many cabanes in so 
many beech forests. But in the Wilds of America the open-air 
lover will not find it easy to indulge in the most ancient of all 
crimes and pastimes. Poisonous plants burn his sweetheart’s 
buttocks, nameless insects sting his; sharp items of the forest 
floor prick his knees, insects hers; and all around there abides a 

4 sustained rustle of potential snakes — que dis-je, of semi-extinct 
dragons! — while the crablike seeds of ferocious flowers cling, in 
a hideous green crust, to gartered black sock and sloppy white 
sock alike. 

I am exaggerating a little. One summer noon, just below tim- 
berline, where heavenly-hued blossoms that I would fain call 
larkspur crowded all along a purly mountain brook, we did find, 
Lolita and I, a secluded romantic spot, a hundred feet or so 
above the pass where we had left our car. The slope seemed un- 
trodden. A last panting pine was taking a well-earned breather 

5 on the rock it had reached. A marmot whistled at us and with- 
drew. Beneath the lap-robe I had spread for Lo, dry flowers 

6 crepitated softly. Venus came and went. The jagged cliff crown- 
ing the upper talus and a tangle of shrubs growing below us 
seemed to offer us protection from sun and man alike. Alas, I 
had not reckoned with a faint side trail that curled up in cagey 
fashion among the shrubs and rocks a few feet from us. 

[ 170 ] 

It was then that we came closer to detection than ever before, 
and no wonder the experience curbed forever my yearning for 
rural amours. 

I remember the operation was over, all over, and she was 
weeping in my arms; — a salutory storm of sobs after one of the 
fits of moodiness that had become so frequent with her in the 
course of that otherwise admirable year! I had just retracted 
some silly promise she had forced me to make in a moment of 
blind impatient passion, and there she was sprawling and sob- 
bing, and pinching my caressing hand, and I was laughing 
happily, and the atrocious, unbelievable, unbearable, and, I sus- 
pect, eternal horror that I know nonjo was still but a dot of black- 
ness in the blue of my bliss; and so we lay, when with one of 
those jolts that have ended by knocking my poor heart out of 
its groove, I met the unblinking dark eyes of two strange and 
beautiful children, faunlet and nymphet, whom their identical 
flat dark hair and bloodless cheeks proclaimed siblings if not 
twins. They stood crouching and gaping at us, both in blue play- 
suits, blending with the mountain blossoms. I plucked at the 
lap-robe for desperate concealment — and within the same instant, 
something that looked like a polka-dotted pushball among the 
undergrowth a few paces away, went into a turning motion which 
was transformed into the gradually rising figure of a stout lady 
with a raven-black bob, who automatically added a wild lily to 
her bouquet, while staring over her shoulder at us from behind 
her lovely carved bluestone children. 

Now that I have an altogether different mess on my con- 
science, I know that I am a courageous man, but in those days 
I was not aware of it, and I remember being surprised by my 
own coolness. With the quiet murmured order one gives a sweat- 
stained distracted cringing trained animal even in the worst of 
plights (what mad hope or hate makes the young beast’s flanks 
pulsate, what black stars pierce the heart of the tamer!), I made 
Lo get up, and we decorously walked, and then indecorously 
scuttled down to the car. Behind it a nifty station wagon was 
parked, and a handsome Assyrian with a little blue-black beard, 
un monsieur tres bien, in silk shirt and magenta slacks, pre- 

[ 171 ] 

sumably the corpulent botanist’s husband, was gravely taking 
the picture of a signboard giving the altitude of the pass. It 
was well over 10,000 feet and I was quite out of breath; and 
with a scrunch and a skid we drove off, Lo still struggling with 
her clothes and swearing at me in language that I never dreamed 
little girls could know, let alone use. 

There were other unpleasant incidents. There was the movie 
theatre once, for example. Lo at the time still had for the cinema 
a veritable passion (it was to decline into tepid condescension 
during her second high school year). We took in, voluptuously 
and indiscriminately, oh, I don’t know, one hundred and fifty 
or two hundred programs during that one year, and during some 
of the denser periods of movie-going we saw many of the news- 
reels up to half-a-dozen times since the same weekly one went 
with different main pictures and pursued us from town to town. 
Her favorite kinds were, in this order: musicals, underworlders, 
westerners. In the first, real singers and dancers had unreal stage 
careers in an essentially grief-proof sphere of existence where- 
from death and truth were banned, and where, at the end, white- 
haired, dewy-eyed, technically deathless, the initially reluctant 
father of a show-crazy girl always finished by applauding her 
apotheosis on fabulous Broadway. The underworld was a world 
apart: there, heroic newspapermen were tortured, telephone 
bills ran to billions, and, in a robust atmosphere of incompetent 
marksmanship, villains were chased through sewers and store- 
houses by pathologically fearless cops (I was to give them less 
exercise). Finally there was the mahogany landscape, the florid- 
faced, blue-eyed roughriders, the prim pretty schoolteacher ar- 
riving in Roaring Gulch, the rearing horse, the spectacular 
stampede, the pistol thrust through the shivered windowpane, 
the stupendous fist fight, the crashing mountain of dusty old- 
fashioned furniture, the table used as a weapon, the timely 
somersault, the pinned hand still groping for the dropped bowie 
knife, the grunt, the sweet crash of fist against chin, the kick in 
the belly, the flying tackle; and immediately after a plethora of 
pain that would have hospitalized a Hercules (I should know by 
now), nothing to show but the rather becoming bruise on the 

[ 172 ] 

bronzed cheek of the warmed-up hero embracing his gorgeous 
frontier bride. I remember one matinee in a small airless theatre 
crammed with children and reeking with the hot breath of 
popcorn. The moon was yellow above the neckerchiefed crooner, 
and his finger was on his strumstring, and his foot was on a pine 1 
log, and I had innocently encircled Lo’s shoulder and approached 
my jawbone to her temple, when two harpies behind us started 2 
muttering the queerest things — I do not know if I understood 
aright, but what I thought I did, made me withdraw my gentle 
hand, and of course the rest of the show was fog to me. 

Another jolt I remember is connected with a little burg we 
were traversing at night, during our return journey. Some twenty 
miles earlier I had happened to tell her that the day school she 
would attend at Beardsley was a rather high-class, non-coeduca- 
tional one, with no modern nonsense, whereupon Lo treated 
me to one of those furious harangues of hers where entreaty 
and insult, self-assertion and double talk, vicious vulgarity and 
childish despair, were interwoven in an exasperating semblance 
of logic which prompted a semblance of explanation from me. 
Enmeshed in her wild words (swell chance ... I’d be a sap if I 
took your opinion seriously . . . Stinker ... You can’t boss me . . . 

I despise you . . . and so forth), I drove through the slumbering 
town at a fifty-mile-per-hour pace in continuance of my smooth 
highway swoosh, and a twosome of patrolmen put their spot- 
light on the car, and told me to pull over. I shushed Lo who was 
automatically raving on. The men peered at her and me with 
malevolent curiosity. Suddenly all dimples, she beamed sweetly 
at them, as she never did at my orchideous masculinity; for, in a ^ 
sense, my Lo was even more scared of the law than I — and when 
the kind officers pardoned us and servilely we crawled on, her 
eyelids closed and fluttered as she mimicked limp prostration. 

At this point I have a curious confession to make. You will 
laugh — but really and truly I somehow never managed to find out 
quite exactly what the legal situation was. I do not know it yet. 

Oh, I have learned a few odds and ends. Alabama prohibits a 
guardian from changing the ward’s residence without an order 
of the court; Minnesota, to whom I take off my hat, provides 

[ 173 ] 

that when a relative assumes permanent care and custody of any 
child under fourteen, the authority of a court does not come into 
play. Query; is the stepfather of a gaspingly adorable pubescent 
pet, a stepfather of only one month’s standing, a neurotic 
widower of mature years and small but independent means, with 
the parapets of Europe, a divorce and a few madhouses behind 
him, is he to be considered a relative, and thus a natural guard- 
ian? And if not, must I, and could I reasonably dare notify 
some Welfare Board and file a petition (how do you file a 
petition?), and have a court’s agent investigate meek, fishy me 
and dangerous Dolores Haze? The many books on marriage, 
rape, adoption and so on, that I guiltily consulted at the public 
libraries of big and small towns, told me nothing beyond darkly 
insinuating that the state is the super-guardian of minor children. 
Pilvin and Zapel, if I remember their names right, in an impres- 
sive volume on the legal side of marriage, completely ignored 
stepfathers with motherless girls on their hands and knees. 
My best friend, a social service monograph (Chicago, 1936), 
which was dug out for me at great pains from a dusty storage 
recess by an innocent old spinster, said “There is no principle 
that every minor must have a guardian; the court is passive and 
enters the fray only when the child’s situation becomes con- 
spicuously perilous.” A guardian, I concluded, was appointed 
only when he expressed his solemn and formal desire; but 
months might elapse before he was given notice to appear at 
a hearing and grow his pair of gray wings, and in the meantime 
the fair daemon child was legally left to her own devices which, 
after all, was the case of Dolores Haze. Then came the hearing. 
A few questions from the bench, a few reassuring answers from 
the attorney, a smile, a nod, a light drizzle outside, and the ap- 
pointment was made. And still I dared not. Keep away, be a 
mouse, curl up in your hole. Courts became extravagantly active 
only when there was some monetary question involved: two 
greedy guardians, a robbed orphan, a third, still greedier, party. 
But here all was in perfect order, an inventory had been made, 
and her mother’s small property was waiting untouched for 
Dolores Haze to grow up. The best policy seemed to be to 

[ 174 ] 

refrain from any application. Or would some busybody, some 
Humane Society, butt in if I kept too quiet? 

Friend Farlow, who was a lawyer of sorts and ought to have 
been able to give me some solid advice, was too much occupied 
with Jean’s cancer to do anything more than what he had prom- 
ised- — namely, to look after Charlotte’s meager estate while I 
recovered very gradually from the shock of her death. I had 
conditioned him into believing Dolores was my natural child, 
and so could not expect him to bother his head about the situa- 
tion. I am, as the reader must have gathered by now, a poor 
businessman; but neither ignorance nor indolence should have 
prevented me from seeking professional advice elsewhere. What 
stopped me was the awful feeling that if I meddled with fate 
in any way and tried to rationalize her fantastic gift, that gift 
would be snatched away like that palace on the mountain top 
in the Oriental tale which vanished whenever a prospective owner i 
asked its custodian how come a strip of sunset sky was clearly 
visible from afar between black rock and foundation. 

I decided that at Beardsley (the site of Beardsley College for 2 
Women) I would have access to works of reference that I had 
not yet been able to study, such as Woerner’s Treatise “On the 
American Law of Guardianship” and certain United States 3 
Children’s Bureau Publications. I also decided that anything 
was better for Lo than the demoralizing idleness in which she 
lived. I could persuade her to do so many things — their list might 
stupefy a professional educator; but no matter how I pleaded or 
stormed, I could never make her read any other book than the 
so-called comic books or stories in magazines for American 
females. Any literature a peg higher smacked to her of school, 
and though theoretically willing to enjoy A Girl of the Lhnber- 
lost or the Arabian Nights, or Little Women, she was quite sure 4 
she would not fritter away her “vacation” on such highbrow 
reading matter. 

I now think it was a great mistake to move east again and have 
her go to that private school in Beardsley, instead of somehow 
scrambling across the Mexican border while the scrambling was 
good so as to lie low for a couple of years in subtropical bliss 

[ 175 ] 

until I could safely marry my little Creole for I must confess 

1 that depending on the condition of my glands and ganglia, I 
could switch in the course of the same day from one pole of 
insanity to the other — from the thought that around 1950 I 
would have to get rid somehow of a difficult adolescent whose 
magic nymphage had evaporated — to the thought that with pa- 
tience and luck I might have her produce eventually a nymphet 
with my blood in her exquisite veins, a Lolita the Second, who 
would be eight or nine around i960, when I would still be dans 

2 la force de I'dge; indeed, the telescopy of my mind, or un-mind, 
was strong enough to distinguish in the remoteness of time a 

3 vieillard encore vert — or was it green rot? — bizarre, tender, sali- 
vating Dr. Humbert, practicing on supremely lovely Lolita the 
Third the art of being a granddad. 

In the days of that wild journey of ours, I doubted not that as 
father to Lolita the First I was a ridiculous failure. I did my best; 
I read and reread a book with the unintentionally biblical title 

4 Know Your Own Daughter, which I got at the same store where 
I bought Lo, for her thirteenth birthday, a de luxe volume with 
commercially “beautiful” illustrations, of Andersen’s The Little 

5 Mer?naid. But even at our very best moments, when we sat 
reading on a rainy day (Lo’s glance skipping from the window 
to her wrist watch and back again), or had a quiet hearty meal 
in a crowded diner, or played a childish game of cards, or went 
shopping, or silently stared, with other motorists and their 
children, at some smashed, blood-bespattered car with a young 
woman’s shoe in the ditch (Lo, as we drove on: “That was the 
exact type of moccasin I was trying to describe to that jerk in 
the store”); on all those random occasions, I seemed to myself 
as implausible a father as she seemed to be a daughter. Was, 
perhaps, guilty locomotion instrumental in vitiating our powers 
of impersonation? Would improvement be forthcoming with a 
fixed domicile and a routine schoolgirl’s day? 

In my choice of Beardsley I was guided not only by the fact 
of there being a comparatively sedate school for girls located 
there, but also by the presence of the women’s college. In my 

6 desire to get myself case, to attach myself somehow to some 

[ 176 ] 

patterned surface which my stripes would blend with, I thought 
of a man I knew in the department of French at Beardsley Col- 
lege; he was good enough to use my textbook in his classes and 
had attempted to get me over once to deliver a lecture. I had 
no intention of doing so, since, as I have once remarked in the 
course of these confessions, there are few physiques I loathe 
more than the heavy low-slung pelvis, thick calves and deplor- 
able complexion of the average coed (in whom I see, maybe, 
the coffin of coarse female flesh within which my nymphets are 
buried alive); but I did crave for a label, a background, and a 
simulacrum, and, as presently will become clear, there was a 
reason, a rather zany reason, why old Gaston Godin’s company 
would be particularly safe. 

Finally, there was the money question. My income was crack- 
ing under the strain of our joy-ride. True, I clung to the cheaper 
motor courts; but every now and then, there would be a loud 
hotel de luxe, or a pretentious dude ranch, to mutilate our 
budget; staggering sums, moreover, were expended on sightsee- 
ing and Lo’s clothes, and the old Haze bus, although a still 
vigorous and very devoted machine, necessitated numerous 
minor and major repairs. In one of our strip maps that has 
happened to survive among the papers which the authorities 
have so kindly allowed me to use for the purpose of writing my 
statement, I find some jottings that help me compute the fol- 
lowing. During that extravagant year 1947-1948, August to 
August, lodgings and food cost us around 5,500 dollars; gas, oil 
and repairs, 1,234, various extras almost as much; so that 
during about 150 days of actual motion (we covered about 27,000 
miles!) plus some 200 days of interpolated standstills, this modest l 
reenter spent around 8,000 dollars, or better say 10,000 because, 2 
unpractical as I am, I have surely forgotten a number of items. 

And so we rolled East, I more devastated than braced with 
the satisfaction of my passion, and she glowing with health, 
her bi-iliac garland still as brief as a lad’s, although she had added 3 
two inches to her stature and eight pounds to her weight. We 
had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch 
myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled 

[ 177 ] 

with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enor- 
mous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us 
than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old 
tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the 
moment I feigned sleep. 


When, through decorations of light and shade, we drove up 
to 14 Thayer Street, a grave little lad met us with the keys and 
a note from Gaston who had rented the house for us. My Lo, 
without granting her new surroundings one glance, unseeingly 
turned on the radio to which instinct led her and lay down on 
the living room sofa with a batch of old magazines which in 
the same precise and blind manner she landed by dipping her 
hand into the nether anatomy of a lamp table. 

I really did not mind where to dwell provided I could lock 
my Lolita up somewhere; but I had, I suppose, in the course 
of my correspondence with vague Gaston, vaguely visualized a 
house of ivied brick. Actually the place bore a dejected resem- 
blance to the Haze home (a mere 400 miles distant): it was 
the same sort of dull gray frame affair with a shingled roof and 
dull green drill awnings; and the rooms, though smaller and 
furnished in a more consistent plush-and-plate style, were ar- 
ranged in much the same order. My study turned out to be, 
however, a much larger room, lined from floor to ceiling with 
some two thousand books on chemistry which my landlord 
(on sabbatical leave for the time being) taught at Beardsley 

I had hoped Beardsley School for girls, an expensive day 
school, with lunch thrown in and a glamorous gymnasium, 
would, while cultivating all those young bodies, provide some 
formal education for their minds as well. Gaston Godin, who 
was seldom right in his judgment of American habitus, had 
warned me that the institution might turn out to be one of 

[ 178 ] 

those where girls are taught, as he put it with a foreigner’s love 
for such things: “not to spell very well, but to smell very well.” 

I don’t think they achieved even that. 

At my first interview with headmistress Pratt, she approved 
of my child’s “nice blue eyes” (blue! Lolita!) and of my own 
friendship with that “French genius” (a genius! Gaston!) — and 
then, having turned Dolly over to a Miss Cormorant, she i 
wrinkled her brow in a kind of reciieilleinent and said: 2 

“We are not so much concerned, Mr. Humbird, with having 
our students become bookworms or be able to reel off all the 
capitals of Europe which nobody knows anyway, or learn by 
heart the dates of forgotten battles. What we are concerned 
with is the adjustment of the child to group life. This is why 
we stress the four D’s: Dramatics, Dance, Debating and Dating. 

W e are confronted by certain facts. Your delightful Dolly will 
presently enter an age group where dates, dating, date dress, 
date book, date etiquette, mean as much to her as, say, business, 
business connections, business success, mean to you, or as 
much as [smiling] the happiness of my girls means to me. Dorothy 
Humbird is already involved in a whole system of social life 
which consists, whether we like it or not, of hot-dog stands, 
corner drugstores, malts and cokes, movies, square-dancing, 
blanket parties on beaches, and even hair-fixing parties! Naturally 
at Beardsley School we disapprove of some of these activities; 
and we rechannel others into more constructive directions. But 
we do try to turn our backs on the fog and squarely face the 
sunshine. To put it briefly, while adopting certain teaching tech- 
niques, we are more interested in communication than in com- 
position. That is, with due respect to Shakespeare and others, 
we want our girls to communicate freely with the live world 
around them rather than plunge into musty old books. We are 
still groping perhaps, but we grope intelligently, like a gyne- 
cologist feeling a tumor. We think. Dr. Humburg, in organismal 
and organizational terms. We have done away with the mass 
of irrelevant topics that have traditionally been presented to 
young girls, leaving no place, in former days, for the knowledges 
and the skills, and the attitudes they will need in managing 

[ 179 ] 

their lives and — as the cynic might add — the lives of their hus- 
bands. Mr. Humberson, let us put it this way: the position of 
a star is important, but the most practical spot for an icebox 
in the kitchen may be even more important to the budding 
housewife. You say that all you expect a child to obtain from 
school is a sound education. But what do we mean by educa- 
tion? In the old days it was in the main a verbal phenomenon; 
I mean, you could have a child learn by heart a good encyclo- 
pedia and he or she would know as much as or more than a 
school could offer. Dr. Hummer, do you realize that for the 
modern pre-adolescent child, medieval dates are of less vital 
value than weekend ones [twinkle]? — to repeat a pun that I 
heard the Beardsley college psychoanalyst permit herself the 
other day. We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in 
a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless. 
What on earth can Dorothy Hummerson care for Greece and 
the Orient with their harems and slaves?” 

This program rather appalled me, but I spoke to two intel- 
ligent ladies who had been connected with the school, and they 
affirmed that the girls did quite a bit of sound reading and that 
the “communication” line was more or less ballyhoo aimed at 
giving old-fashioned Beardsley School a financially remunera- 
tive modern touch, though actually it remained as prim as a 

Another reason attracting me to that particular school may 
seem funny to some readers, but it was very important to me, 
for that is the way I am made. Across our street, exactly in front 
of our house, there was, I noticed, a gap of weedy wasteland, 
with some colorful bushes and a pile of bricks and a few scat- 
tered planks, and the foam of shabby mauve and chrome autumn 
roadside flowers; and through that gap you could see a shimmery 
section of School Rd., running parallel to our Thayer St., and 
immediately beyond that, the playground of the school. Apart 
from the psychological comfort this general arrangement should 
afford me by keeping Dolly’s day adjacent to mine, I imme- 
diately foresaw the pleasure I would have in distinguishing from 

[ i8o ] 

my study-bedroom, by means of powerful binoculars, the sta- 
tistically inevitable percentage of nymphets among the other 
girl-children playing around Dolly during recess; unfortunately, 
on the very first day of school, workmen arrived and put up a 
fence some way down the gap, and in no time a construction 
of tawny wood maliciously arose beyond that fence utterly 
blocking my magic vista; and as soon as they had erected a 
sufficient amount of material to spoil everything, those absurd 
builders suspended their work and never appeared again. 


In a street called Thayer Street, in the residential green, 
fawn, and golden of a mellow academic townlet, one was bound 
to have a few amiable fine-dayers yelping at you. I prided myself 
on the exact temperature of my relations with them: never rude, 
always aloof. My west-door neighbor, who might have been a 
businessman or a college teacher, or both, would speak to me 
once in a while as he barbered some late garden blooms or 
watered his car, or, at a later date, defrosted his driveway (I don’t 
mind if these verbs are all wrong), but my brief grunts, just 
sufficiently articulate to sound like conventional assents or inter- 
rogative pause-fillers, precluded any evolution toward chummi- 
ness. Of the two houses flanking the bit of scrubby waste 
opposite, one was closed, and the other contained two professors 
of English, tweedy and short-haired Miss Lester and fadedly 
feminine Adiss Fabian, whose only subject of brief sidewalk 
conversation with me was (God bless their tact!) the young 
loveliness of my daughter and the naive charm of Gaston Godin. 
My east-door neighbor was by far the most dangerous one, a 
sharp-nosed character whose late brother had been attached 
to the College as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds. 
I remember her waylaying Dolly, while I stood at the living- 
room window, feverishly awaiting my darling’s return from 

[ i8r ] 

school. The odious spinster, trying to conceal her morbid in- 
quisitiveness under a mask of dulcet goodwill, stood leaning 
on her slim umbrella (the sleet had just stopped, a cold wet sun 
had sidled out), and Dolly, her brown coat open despite the 
raw weather, her structural heap of books pressed against her 
stomach, her knees showing pink above her clumsy wellingtons, 
a sheepish frightened little smile flitting over and off her snub- 
nosed face, which — owing perhaps to the pale wintry light — 
looked almost plain, in a rustic, German, Magdlein-Yike way, 
as she stood there and dealt with Miss East’s questions “And 
where is your mother, my dear? And what is your poor father’s 
occupation? And where did you live before?’’ Another time the. 
loathsome creature accosted me with a welcoming whine — but 1 
evaded her; and a few days later there came from her a note in 
a blue-margined envelope, a nice mixture of poison and treacle, 
suggesting Dolly come over on a Sunday and curl up in a chair to 
look through the “loads of beautiful books my dear mother gave 
me when I was a child, instead of having the radio on at full 
blast till all hours of the night.” 

I had also to be careful in regard to a Mrs. Holigan, a char-| 
woman and cook of sorts whom I had inherited with the vacuum' 
cleaner from the previous tenants. Dolly got lunch at school, 
so that this was no trouble, and I had become adept at provid- 
ing her with a big breakfast and warming up the dinner that, 
Mrs. Holigan prepared before leaving. That kindly and harm- 
less woman had, thank God, a rather bleary eye that missed 
details, and I had become a great expert in bedmaking; but still 
I was continuously obsessed by the feeling that some fatal stain 
had been left somewhere, or that, on the rare occasions where; 
Holigan’s presence happened to coincide with Lo’s, simple Lo 
might succumb to buxom sympathy in the course of a cozy 
kitchen chat. I often felt we lived in a lighted house of glass,; 
and that any moment some thin-lipped parchment face would! 
peer through a carelessly unshaded window to obtain a free| 
glimpse of things that the most jaded voyeur would have paid a! 
small fortune to watch. 

[ 182 ] 


A word about Gaston Godin. The main reason why I enjoyed i 
— or at least tolerated with relief — his company was the spell of 
absolute security that his. ample person cast on my secret. Not 
that he knew it; I had no special reason to confide in him, and 
he was much too self-centered and abstract to notice or suspect 
anything that might lead to a frank question on his part and a 
frank answer on mine. He spoke well of me to Beardsleyans, 
he was my good herald. Had he discovered mes gouts and 2 
Lolita’s status, it would have interested him only insofar as 
throwing some light on the simplicity of my attitude toward 
him, which attitude was as free of polite strain as it was of 
ribald allusions; for despite his colorless mind and dim memory, 
he was perhaps aware that I knew more about him than the 
burghers of Beardsley did. He was a flabby, dough-faced, melan- 
choly bachelor tapering upward to a pair of narrow, not quite 
level shoulders and a conical pear-head which had sleek black 
hair on one side and only a few plastered wisps on the other. 

But the lower part of his body was enormous, and he ambulated 
with a curious elephantine stealth by means of phenomenally 
stout legs. He always wore black, even his tie was black; he 3 
seldom bathed; his English was a burlesque. And, nonetheless, 
everybody considered him to be a supremely lovable, lovably 
freakish fellow! Neighbors pampered him; he knew by name 
all the small boys in our vicinity (he lived a few blocks away 
from me) and had some of them clean his sidewalk and burn 
leaves in his back yard, and bring wood from his shed, and 
even perform simple chores about the house, and he would 
feed them fancy chocolates, with real liqueurs inside — in the 
privacy of an orientally furnished den in his basement, with 
amusing daggers and pistols arrayed on the moldy, rug-adorned 
walls among the camouflaged hot-water pipes. Upstairs he had 
|a studio — he painted a little, the old fraud. He had decorated its 
sloping wall (it was really not more than a garret) with large 
photographs of pensive Andre Gide, Tchaikovsky, Norman 4 
Douglas, two other well-known English writers, Nijinsky (all 5 

[ 183 ] 

thighs and fig leaves), Harold D. Doublename (a misty-eyed 
left-wing professor at a Midwestern university) and Marcel 
Proust. All these poor people seemed about to fall on you from 
their inclined plane. He had also an album with snapshots of all 
the Jackies and Dickies of the neighborhood, and when I hap- 
pened to thumb through it and make some casual remark, Gas- 
ton would purse his fat lips and murmur with a wistful pout 

1 “Oz/i, Us sont gentils.'’’ His brown eyes would roam around the 
various sentimental and artistic bric-a-brac present, and his own 

2 banal toiles (the conventionally primitive eyes, sliced guitars, 
blue nipples and geometrical designs of the day), and with a 
vague gesture toward a painted wooden bowl or veined vase, he 
would say “Prejiez done une de ces pokes. La bonne dame d’en face 

3 m'en off re plus que je den peux savour er.” Or: ''Mississe Taille 

4 Lore vient de me donner ces dahlias, belles fieurs que fexecre.’’' 
(Somber, sad, full of world-weariness.) 

For obvious reasons, I preferred my house to his for the games 
of chess we had two or three times weekly. He looked like some 
old battered idol as he sat with his pudgy hands in his lap and 
stared at the board as if it were a corpse. Wheezing he would 
meditate for ten minutes — then make a losing move. Or the 

5 good man, after even more thought, might utter: Au rot! with 
a slow old-dog woof that had a gargling sound at the back of it 
which made his jowls wabble; and then he would lift his circum- 
flex eyebrows with a deep sigh as I pointed out to him that he 
was in check himself. 

Sometimes, from where we sat in my cold study I could hear 
Lo’s bare feet practicing dance techniques in the living room 
downstairs; but Gaston’s outgoing senses were comfortably 
dulled, and he remained unaware of those naked rhythms — 
and-one, and-two, and-one, and-two, weight transferred on a 
straight right leg, leg up and out to the side, and-one, and-two, 
and only when she started jumping, opening her legs at the 
height of the jump, and flexing one leg, and extending the other, 
and flying, and landing on her toes — only then did my pale, 
pompous, morose opponent rub his head or cheek as if confusing 
those distant thuds with the awful stabs of my formidable Queen. 

[ 184 ] 

Sometimes Lola would slouch in while we pondered the board 
■—and it was every time a treat to see Gaston, his elephant eye 
still fixed on his pieces, ceremoniously rise to shake hands with 
her, and forthwith release her limp fingers, and without looking 
once at her, descend again into his chair to topple into the trap 
I had laid for him. One day around Christmas, after I had not 
seen him for a fortnight or so, he asked me toutes vos fil- 
lettes, elles vont bienT’’ from which it became evident to me that 1 
he had multiplied my unique Lolita by the number of sartorial 
categories his downcast moody eye had glimpsed during a whole 
series of her appearances; blue jeans, a skirt, shorts, a quilted 

I am loath to dwell so long on the poor fellow (sadly enough, 
a year later, during a voyage to Europe, from which he did not 
return, he got involved in a sale histoire, in Naples of all places!). 2 
I would have hardly alluded to him at all had not his Beardsley 
existence had such a queer bearing on my case. I need him for 
my defense. There he was, devoid of any talent whatsoever, a 
mediocre teacher, a worthless scholar, a glum repulsive fat old 
invert, highly contemptuous of the American way of life, tri- 
umphantly ignorant of the English language — there he was in 
priggish New England, crooned over by the old and caressed by 
the young — oh, having a grand time and fooling everybody; and 
here was I. 


I am now faced with the distasteful task of recording a defi- 
nite drop in Lolita’s morals. If her share in the ardors she 
kindled had never amounted to much, neither had pure lucre 
ever come to the fore. But I was weak, I was not wise, my school- 
girl nymphet had me in thrall. With the human element dwin- 
dling, the passion, the tenderness, and the torture only increased; 
and of this she took advantage. 

Her weekly allowance, paid to her under condition she fulfill 
her basic obligations, was twenty-one cents at the start of the 

[ 185 ] 

Beardsley era — and went up to one dollar five before its end. 
This was a more than generous arrangement seeing she con- 
stantly received from me all kinds of small presents and had for 
the asking any sweetmeat or movie under the moon — although, 
of course, I might fondly demand an additional kiss, or even 
a whole collection of assorted caresses, when I knew she coveted 
very badly some item of juvenile amusement. She was, however, 
not easy to deal with. Only very listlessly did she earn her three 
pennies — or three nickels — per day; and she proved to be a cruel 
negotiator whenever it was in her power to deny me certain life- 
wrecking, strange, slow paradisal philters without which I could 
not live more than a few days in a row, and which, because of 
the very nature of love’s languor, I could not obtain by force. 
Knowing the magic and might of her own soft mouth, she man- 
aged — during one schoolyear! — to raise the bonus price of a fancy 
embrace to three, and even four bucks. O Reader! Laugh not, as 
you imagine me, on the very rack of joy noisily emitting dimes 
and quarters, and great big silver dollars like some sonorous, 
jingly and wholly demented machine vomiting riches; and in the 
margin of that leaping epilepsy she would firmly clutch a hand- 
ful of coins in her little fist, which, anyway, I used to pry open 
afterwards unless she gave me the slip, scrambling away to 
hide her loot. And just as every other day I would cruise all 
around the school area and on comatose feet visit drugstores, 
and peer into foggy lanes, and listen to receding girl laughter 
in between my heart throbs and the falling leaves, so every now 
and then I would burgle her room and scrutinize torn papers 
1 in the wastebasket with the painted roses, and look under the 
pillow of the virginal bed I had just made myself. Once I found 
eight one-dollar notes in one of her books (fittingly — Treasure 
2,3 Island), and once a hole in the wall behind Whistler’s Mother 
yielded as much as twenty-four dollars and some change — say 
twenty-four sixty — which I quietly removed, upon which, next 
day, she accused, to my face, honest Mrs. Holigan of being a 
filthy thief. Eventually, she lived up to her I.Q. by finding a safer 
hoarding place which I never discovered; but by that time I 
had brought prices down drastically by having her earn the 

[ i86 ] 

hard and nauseous way permission to participate in the school’s 
theatrical program; because what I feared most was not that 
she might ruin me, but that she might accumulate sufficient 
cash to run away. I believe the poor fierce-eyed child had figured 
out that with a mere fifty dollars in her purse she might some- 
how reach Broadway or Hollywood — or the foul kitchen of a 
diner (Help Wanted) in a dismal ex-prairie state, with the 
wind blowing, and the stars blinking, and the cars, and the bars, 
and the barmen, and everything soiled, torn, dead. 1 


I did my best, your Honor, to tackle the problem of boys. Oh, 

I used even to read in the Beardsley Star a so-called Column for 2 

Teens, to find out how to behave! 

A word to fathers. Don’t frighten away daughter’s friend. 
Maybe it is a bit hard for you to realize that now the boys 
are finding her attractive. To you she is still a little girl. To 
the boys she’s charming and fun, lovely and gay. They like 
her. Today you clinch big deals in an executive’s office, but 
yesterday you were just highschool Jim carrying Jane’s school 
books. Remember? Don’t you want your daughter, now that 
her turn has come, to be happy in the admiration and com- 
pany of boys she likes? Don’t you want them to have whole- 
some fun together? 

Wholesome fun? Good Lord! 

Why not treat the young fellows as guests in your house? 

Why not make conversation with them? Draw them out, 
make them laugh and feel at ease? 

Welcome, fellow, to this bordello. 

If she breaks the rules don’t explode out loud in front of 
her partner in crime. Let her take the brunt of your dis- 
pleasure in private. And stop making the boys feel she’s the 
daughter of an old ogre. 

[ 187 ] 

First of all the old ogre drew up a list under “absolutely for- | 
bidden” and another under “reluctantly allowed.” Absolutely ’ 
forbidden were dates, single or double or triple — the next step j 
being of course mass orgy. She might visit a candy bar with j 
her girl friends, and there giggle-chat with occasional young ! 
males, while I waited in the car at a discreet distance; and I j 
promised her that if her group were invited by a socially ac- ■ 
ceptable group in Butler’s Academy for Boys for their annual 
ball (heavily chaperoned, of course), I might consider the ques- 
tion whether a girl of fourteen can don her first “formal” (a | 
kind of gown that makes thin-armed teen-agers look like fla- 
mingoes). Moreover, I promised her to throw a party at our 
house to which she would be allowed to invite her prettier girl ; 
friends and the nicer boys she would have met by that time at ■ 
the Butler dance. But I was quite positive that as long as my 
regime lasted she would never, never be permitted to go with ' 
a youngster in rut to a movie, or neck in a car, or go to boy-girl 
parties at the houses of schoolmates, or indulge out of my earshot i 
in boy-girl telephone conversations, even if “only discussing his 
relations with a friend of mine.” 

Lo was enraged by all this — called me a lousy crook and worse 
— and I would probably have lost my temper had I not soon 
discovered, to my sweetest relief, that what really angered her 
was my depriving her not of a specific satisfaction but of a 
general right. I was impinging, you see, on the conventional 
program, the stock pastimes, the “things that are done,” the 
routine of youth; for there is nothing more conservative than 
a child, especially a girl-child, be she the most auburn and russet, 
the most mythopoeic nymphet in October’s orchard-haze. 

Do not misunderstand me. I cannot be absolutely certain that 
in the course of the winter she did not manage to have, in a 
casual way, improper contacts with unknown young fellows; of 
course, no matter how closely I controlled her leisure, there 
1 would constantly occur unaccounted-for time leaks with over- 
elaborate explanations to stop them up in retrospect; of course, 
my jealousy would constantly catch its jagged claw in the fine ■ 
fabrics of nymphet falsity; but I did definitely feel — and can now j 

[ i88 ] 

vouchsafe for the accuracy of my feeling — that there was no rea- 
son for serious alarm. I felt that way not because I never once 
discovered any palpable hard young throat to crush among the 
masculine mutes that flickered somewhere in the background; 
but because it was to me “overwhelmingly obvious” (a favorite 
expression with my aunt Sybil) that all varieties of high school 
boys=~from the perspiring nincompoop whom “holding hands” 
thrills, to the self-sufficient rapist with pustules and a souped-up 
car — equally bored my sophisticated young mistress. “All this 
noise about boys gags me,” she had scrawled on the inside of a 
schoolbook, and underneath, in Mona’s hand (Mona is due 
any minute now), there was the sly quip: “What about Rigger?” 
(due too). 

Faceless, then, are the chappies I happened to see in her 
company. There was for instance Red Sweater who one day, the 
day we had the first snow — saw her home; from the parlor win- 
dow I observed them talking near our porch. She wore her first 
cloth coat with a fur collar; there was a small brown cap on my 
favorite hairdo — the fringe in front and the swirl at the sides 
and the natural curls at the back — and her damp-dark moccasins 
and white socks were more sloppy than ever. She pressed as usual 
her books to her chest while speaking or listening, and her feet 
gestured all the time: she would stand on her left instep with 
her right toe, remove it backward, cross her feet, rock slightly, 
sketch a few steps, and then start the series all over again. There 
was Windbreaker who talked to her in front of a restaurant one 
Sunday afternoon while his mother and sister attempted to walk 
me away for a chat; I dragged along and looked back at my only 
love. She had developed more than one conventional manner- 
ism, such as the polite adolescent way of showing one is literally 
“doubled up” with laughter by inclining one’s head, and so 
(as she sensed my call), still feigning helpless merriment, she 
walked backward a couple of steps, and then faced about, and 
walked toward me with a fading smile. On the other hand, I 
greatly liked — perhaps because it reminded me of her first un- 
forgettable confession — her trick of sighing “oh dear!” in humor- 
ous wistful submission to fate, or emitting a long “no-o” in a 

[ 189 ] 

deep almost growling undertone when the blow of fate had ^ 
actually fallen. Above all — since we are speaking of movement * 
and youth — I liked to see her spinning up and down Thayer j 
Street on her beautiful young bicycle: rising on the pedals to I 
work on them lustily, then sinking back in a languid posture ! 
while the speed wore itself off; and then she would stop at our 
mailbox and, still astride, would flip through a magazine she 
found there, and put it back, and press her tongue to one side 
of her upperlip and push off with her foot, and again sprint ^ 
through pale shade and sun. i 

On the whole she seemed to me better adapted to her sur- ' 
roundings than I had hoped she would be when considering : 
my spoiled slave-child and the bangles of demeanor she naively ! 
affected the winter before in California. Although I could never i 
get used to the constant state of anxiety in which the guilty, the ! 
great, the tenderhearted live, I felt I was doing my best in the 
way of mimicry. As I lay on my narrow studio bed after a session , 
of adoration and despair in Lolita’s cold bedroom, I used to i 
review the concluded day by checking my own image as it® 
prowled rather than passed before the mind’s red eye. I watched i 
dark-and-handsome, not un-Celtic, probably high-church, pos- 
sibly very high-church. Dr. Humbert see his daughter off to 
school. I watched him greet with his slow smile and pleasantly 
arched thick black ad-eyebrows good Mrs. Holigan, who smelled 
of the plague (and would head, I knew, for master’s gin at the 
first opportunity). With Mr. West, retired executioner or writer 
of religious tracts — who cared? — I saw neighbor what’s his name, 

I think they are French or Swiss, meditate in his frank-windowed 
study over a typewriter, rather gaunt-profiled, an almost Hitlerian ^ 
cowlick on his pale brow. Weekends, wearing a well-tailored over- 
coat and brown gloves. Professor H. might be seen with his 
daughter strolling to Walton Inn (famous for its violet-ribboned 
china bunnies and chocolate boxes among which you sit and wait 
for a “table for two” still filthy with your predecessor’s crumbs). 
Seen on weekdays, around one p.m., saluting with dignity Argus- 
eyed East while maneuvering the car out of the garage and around 
the damned evergreens, and down onto the slippery road. Raising 

[ 190 ] 

a cold eye from book to clock in the positively sultry Beardsley 
College library, among bulky young women caught and petrified 
in the overflow of human knowledge. Walking across the campus 
with the college clergyman, the Rev. Rigger (who also taught 
Bible in Beardsley School). “Somebody told me her mother was 
a celebrated actress killed in an airplane accident. Oh? My mis- i 
take, I presume. Is that so? I see. How sad.” (Sublimating her 
mother, eh?) Slowly pushing my little pram through the laby- 
rinth of the supermarket, in the wake of Professor W., also a 
slow-moving and gentle widower with the eyes of a goat. Shovel- 
ing the snow in my shirt-sleeves, a voluminous black and white 
muffler around my neck. Following with no show of rapacious 
haste (even taking time to wipe my feet on the mat) my school- 
girl daughter into the house. Taking Dolly to the dentist — pretty 
nurse beaming at her — old magazines — ne vi07itrez pas vos 
zhaiubes. At dinner with Dolly in town, Mr. Edgar H. Humbert 2 , 3 
was seen eating his steak in the continental knife-and-fork 
manner. Enjoying, in duplicate, a concert: two marble-faced, be- 
calmed Erenchmen sitting side by side, with Monsieur H. H.’s 
musical little girl on her father’s right, and the musical little boy 
of Professor W. (father spending a hygienic evening in Provi- 
dence) on Monsieur G. G.’s left. Opening the garage, a square 4 
of light that engulfs the car and is extinguished. Brightly paja- 
maed, jerking down the window shade in Dolly’s bedroom. Satur- 
day morning, unseen, solemnly weighing the winter-bleached 
lassie in the bathroom. Seen and heard Sunday morning, no 
churchgoer after all, saying don’t be too late, to Dolly who is 
bound for the covered court. Letting in a queerly observant 
schoolmate of Dolly’s: “First time I’ve seen a man wearing a 
smoking jacket, sir — except in movies, of course.” 


Her girl friends, whom I had looked forward to meet, proved 
on the whole disappointing. There was Opal Something, and 
Linda Hall, and Avis Chapman, and Eva Rosen, and Mona Dahl 5 

[ 191 ] 

1 (save one, all these names are approximations, of course). Opal 
was a bashful, formless, bespectacled, bepimpled creature who 
doted on Dolly who bullied her. With Linda Hall the school 
tennis champion, Dolly played singles at least twice a week: I 
suspect Linda was a true nymphet, but for some unknown reason 
she did not come — was perhaps not allowed to come — to our 
house; so I recall her only as a flash of natural sunshine on an 
indoor court. Of the rest, none had any claims to nymphetry 
except Eva Rosen. Avis was a plump lateral child with hairy legs, 
while Mona, though handsome in a coarse sensual way and only 
a year older than my aging mistress, had obviously long ceased to 
be a nymphet, if she ever had been one. Eva Rosen, a displaced 
little person from France, was on the other hand a good example 
of a not strikingly beautiful child revealing to the perspicacious 
amateur some of the basic elements of nymphet charm, such as 
a perfect pubescent figure and lingering eyes and high cheek- 
bones. Her glossy copper hair had Lolita’s silkiness, and the fea- 
tures of her delicate milky- white face with pink lips and silverfish 
eyelashes were less foxy than those of her likes — the great clan of 
intra-racial redheads; nor did she sport their green uniform but 
wore, as I remember her, a lot of black or cherry dark — a 
very smart black pullover, for instance, and high-heeled black 
shoes, and garnet-red fingernail polish. I spoke French to her 
(much to Lo’s disgust). The child’s tonalities were still admi- 
rably pure, but for school words and play words she resorted to 
current American and then a slight Brooklyn accent would crop 
up in her speech, which was amusing in a little Parisian who went 
to a select New England school with phoney British aspirations. 
Unfortunately, despite “that French kid’s uncle” being “a mil- 
lionaire,” Lo dropped Eva for some reason before I had had time 
to enjoy in my modest way her fragrant presence in the Hum- 
bert open house. The reader knows what importance I attached 
to having a bevy of page girls, consolation prize nymphets, around 
my Lolita. For a while, I endeavored to interest my senses in 
Mona Dahl who was a good deal around, especially during the 
spring term when Lo and she got so enthusiastic about dramatics. 
I have often wondered what secrets outrageously treacherous 

[ 192 ] 

Dolores Haze had imparted to Mona while blurting out to me 
by urgent and well-paid request various really incredible details 
concerning an affair that Mona had had with a marine at the sea- 
side. It was characteristic of Lo that she chose for her closest 
chum that elegant, cold, lascivious, experienced young female 
whom I once heard (misheard, Lo swore) cheerfully say in the 
hallway to Lo — who had remarked that her (Lo’s) sweater was of 
virgin wool: “The only thing about you that is, kiddo . . She 
had a curiously husky voice, artificially waved dull dark hair, 
earrings, amber-brown prominent eyes and luscious lips. Lo said 
teachers had remonstrated with her on her loading herself with 
so much costume jewelry. Her hands trembled. She was burdened 
with a 1 50 I.Q. And I also know she had a tremendous chocolate- 
brown mole on her womanish back which I inspected the night 
Lo and she had worn low-cut pastel-colored, vaporous dresses for 
a dance at the Butler Academy. 

I am anticipating a little, but I cannot help running my mem- 
ory all over the keyboard of that school year. In meeting my at- 
tempts to find out what kind of boys Lo knew. Miss Dahl was 
elegantly evasive. Lo who had gone to play tennis at Linda’s 
country club had telephoned she might be a full half hour late, 
and so, would I entertain Mona who was coming to practice with 
her a scene from The Taming of the Shrew. Using all the modu- 
lations, all the allure of manner and voice she was capable of 
and staring at me with perhaps — could I be mistaken? — a faint 
gleam of crystalline irony, beautiful Mona replied: “Well, sir, 
the fact is Dolly is not much concerned with mere boys. Fact is, 
we are rivals. She and I have a crush on the Reverend Rigger.” 
(This was a joke — I have already mentioned that gloomy giant of 
a man, with the jaw of a horse: he was to bore me to near murder 
with his impressions of Switzerland at a tea party for parents that 
I am unable to place correctly in terms of time.) 

How had the ball been? Oh, it had been a riot. A what? A 
panic. Terrific, in a word. Had Lo danced a lot? Oh, not a fright- 
ful lot, just as much as she could stand. What did she, languor- 
ous Mona, think of Lo? Sir? Did she think Lo was doing well at 
school? Gosh, she certainly was quite a kid. But her general be- 

[ 193 ] 

havior was — ? Oh, she was a swell kid. But still? “Oh, she’s a 
doll,” concluded Mona, and sighed abruptly, and picked up a 
book that happened to lie at hand, and with a change of expres- 
sion, falsely furrowing her brow, inquired: “Do tell me about 
1 Ball Zack, sir. Is he really that good?” She moved up so close to 
my chair that I made out through lotions and creams her un- 
interesting skin scent. A sudden odd thought stabbed me: was my 
Lo playing the pimp? If so, she had found the wrong substitute. 
Avoiding Mona’s cool ga7X, I talked literature for a minute. 
Then Dolly arrived — and slit her pale eyes at us. I left the two 
friends to their own devices. One of the latticed squares in a 
small cobwebby casement window at the turn of the staircase was 
glazed with ruby, and that raw wound among the unstained 
rectangles and its asymmetrical position — a knight’s move from 
the top — always strangely disturbed me. 


Sometimes . . . Come on, how often exactly, Bert? Can you 
recall four, five, more such occasions? Or would no human heart 
have survived two or three? Sometimes (I have nothing to say in 
reply to your question), while Lolita would be haphazardly pre- 
paring her homework, sucking a pencil, lolling sideways in an 
easy chair with both legs over its arm, I would shed all my 
pedagogic restraint, dismiss all our quarrels, forget all my mascu- 
line pride — and literally crawl on my knees to your chair, my 
2 Lolita! You would give me one look — a gray furry question mark 
of a look: “Oh no, not again” (incredulity, exasperation) ; for you 
never deigned to believe that I could, without any specific de- 
signs, ever crave to bury my face in your plaid skirt, my darling! 
The fragility of those bare arms of yours — how I longed to enfold 
them, all your four limpid lovely limbs, a folded colt, and take 
your head between my unworthy hands, and pull the temple- 
skin back on both sides, and kiss your chinesed eyes, and — 
“Pulease, leave me alone, will you,” you would say, “for Christ’s 

[ 194 ] 

sake leave me alone.” And I would get up from the floor while 
you looked on, your face deliberately twitching in imitation of 
my tic nerveux. But never mind, never mind, I am only a brute, 
never mind, let us go on with my miserable story. 


One Monday forenoon, in December I think, Pratt asked me 
to come over for a talk. Dolly’s last report had been poor, 1 
knew. But instead of contenting myself with some such plausible 
explanation of this summons, I imagined all sorts of horrors, and 
had to fortify myself with a pint of my “pin” before I could face 
the interview. Slowly, all Adam’s apple and heart, I went up the 
steps of the scaffold. 

A huge woman, gray-haired, frowsy, with a broad flat nose and 
small eyes behind black-rimmed glasses — “Sit down,” she said, 
pointing to an informal and humiliating hassock, while she 
perched with ponderous spryness on the arm of an oak chair. 

For a moment or two, she peered at me with smiling curiosity. 

She had done it at our first meeting, I recalled, but I could 
afford then to scowl back. Her eye left me. She lapsed into 
thought- — probably assumed. Making up her mind she rubbed, 
fold on fold, her dark gray flannel skirt at the knee, dispelling a 
trace of chalk or something. Then she said, still rubbing, not 
looking up: 

“Let me ask a blunt question, Mr. Haze. You are an old- 
fashioned Continental father, aren’t you?” 

“Why, no,” I said, “conservative, perhaps, but not what you l 
would call old-fashioned.” 

She sighed, frowned, then clapped her big plump hands to- 
gether in a let’s-get-down-to-business manner, and again fixed her 
beady eyes upon me. 

“Dolly Haze,” she said, “is a lovely child, but the onset of 
sexual maturing seems to give her trouble.” 

' I bowed slightly. What else could I do? 

[ 19s ] 

“She is still shuttling,” said Miss Pratt, showing how with her ! 
liver-spotted hands, “between the anal and genital zones of 
development. Basically she is a lovely — ” 

“I beg your pardon,” I said, “what zones?” 

“That’s the old-fashioned European in you!” cried Pratt de- i 
livering a slight tap on my wrist watch and suddenly disclosing , 
her dentures. “All I mean is that biologic and psychologic drives | 
— do you smoke? — are not fused in Dolly, do not fall so to speak j 
into a — into a rounded pattern.” Her hands held for a moment ' 
an invisible melon. 

‘^She is attractive, bright though careless” (breathing heavily, i 
without leaving her perch, the woman took time out to look at 
the lovely child’s report sheet on the desk at her right). “Her 
marks are getting worse and worse. Now I wonder, Mr. Haze — ” 
Again the false meditation. 

“Well,” she went on with zest, “as for me, I do smoke, and, 
as dear Dr. Pierce used to say: I’m not proud of it but I jeest 
love it.” She lit up and the smoke she exhaled from her nostrils 
was like a pair of tusks. 

“Let me give you a few details, it won’t take a moment. Now 
let me see [rummaging among her papers]. She is defiant toward 
Miss Redcock and impossibly rude to Miss Cormorant. Now 
here is one of our special research reports: Enjoys singing with 
group in class though mind seems to wander. Crosses her knees 
and wags left leg to rhythm. Type of by-words: a two-hundred- 
forty-two word area of the commonest pubescent slang fenced in 
by a number of obviously European polysyllables. Sighs a good 
deal in class. Let me see. Yes. Now comes the last week in No- 
vember. Sighs a good deal in class. Chews gum vehemently. 
Does not bite her nails though if she did, this would conform 
better to her general pattern — scientifically speaking, of course. 
Menstruation, according to the subject, well established. Be- 
longs at present to no church organization. By the way, Mr. 
Haze, her mother was — ? Oh, I see. And you are — ? Nobody’s 
business is, I suppose, God’s business. Something else we wanted 
to know. She has no regular home duties, I understand. Making 
a princess of your Dolly, Mr. Haze, eh? Well, what else have we 

[ i9<5 ] 

got here? Handles books gracefully. Voice pleasant. Giggles 
rather often. A littly dreamy. Has private jokes of her own, trans- 
posing for instance the first letters of some of her teachers’ names, l 
Hair light and dark brown, lustrous — well [laughing] you are 
aware of that, I suppose. Nose unobstructed, feet high-arched, 
eyes — let me see, I had here somewhere a still more recent re- 
port. Aha, here we are. Miss Gold says Dolly’s tennis form is 
excellent to superb, even better than Linda Hall’s, but concen- 
tration and point-accumulation are just “poor to fair.” Miss 
Cormorant cannot decide whether Dolly has exceptional emo- 
tional control or none at all. Miss Horn reports she — I mean, 
Dolly- — cannot verbalize her emotions, while according to Miss 
Cole Dolly’s metabolic efficiency is superfine. Miss Molar thinks 2 
Dolly is myopic and should see a good ophthalmologist, but 
Miss Redcock insists that the girl simulates eye-strain to get 
away with scholastic incompetence. And to conclude, Mr. Haze, 
our researchers are wondering about something really crucial. 
Now I want to ask you something. I want to know if your poor 
wife, or yourself, or anyone else in the family — I understand she 
has several aunts and a maternal grandfather in California? — oh, 
had! — I’m sorry — well, we all wonder if anybody in the family 
has instructed Dolly in the process of mammalian reproduction. 
The general impression is that fifteen-year-old Dolly remains 
morbidly uninterested in sexual matters, or to be exact, re- 
presses her curiosity in order to save her ignorance and self- 
dignity. All right — fourteen. You see, Mr. Haze, Beardsley School 
does not believe in bees and blossoms, and storks and love birds, 
but it does believe very strongly in preparing its students for 
mutually satisfactory mating and successful child rearing. We 
feel Dolly could make excellent progress if only she would put 
her mind to her work. Miss Cormorant’s report is significant in 
that respect. Dolly is inclined to be, mildly speaking, impudent. 

But all feel that priino, you should have your family doctor tell 
her the facts of life and, semndo, that you allow her to enjoy the 
company of her schoolmates’ brothers at the Junior Club or in 
Dr. Rigger’s organization, or in the lovely homes of our parents.” 

“She may meet boys at her own lovely home,” I said. 

[ 197 ] 

“I hope she will,” said Pratt buoyantly. ‘“When we questioned 
her about her troubles, Dolly refused to discuss the home situa- 
tion, but we have spoken to some of her friends and really — 
well, for example, we insist you un-veto her nonparticipation in 
the dramatic group. You just must allow her to take part in The 
Himted Enchanters. She was such a perfect little nymph in the 
try-out, and sometime in spring the author will stay for a few 
days at Beardsley College and may attend a rehearsal or two in 
our new auditorium. I mean it is all part of the fun of being 
young and alive and beautiful. You must understand — ” 

“I always thought of myself,” I said, “as a very understanding 

“Oh no doubt, no doubt, but Miss Cormorant thinks, and I 
am inclined to agree with her, that Dolly is obsessed by sexual 
thoughts for which she finds no outlet, and will tease and martyr- 
ize other girls, or even our younger instructors because they do 
have innocent dates with boys.” 

Shrugged my shoulders. A shabby hnigre. 

“Let us put our two heads together, Mr. Haze. What on earth 
is wrong with that child?” 

“She seems quite normal and happy to me,” I said (disaster 
coming at last? was I found out? had they got some hypnotist?). 

“What worries me,” said Miss Pratt looking at her watch and 
starting to go over the whole subject again, “is that both teachers 
and schoolmates find Dolly antagonistic, dissatisfied, cagey — 
and everybody wonders why you are so firmly opposed to all the 
natural recreations of a normal child.” 

“Do you mean sex play?” I asked jauntily, in despair, a cor- 
nered old rat. 

“Well, I certainly welcome this civilized terminology,” said 
Pratt with a grin. “But this is not quite the point. Under the 
auspices of Beardsley School, dramatics, dances and other natural 
activities are not technically sex play, though girls do meet boys, 
if that is what you object to.” 

“All right,” I said, my hassock exhaling a weary sigh. “You 
win. She can take part in that play. Provided male parts are 
taken by female parts.” 

[ 198 ] 

“I am always fascinated,” said Pratt, “by the admirable way 
foreigners — or at least naturalized Americans — use our rich 
language. I’m sure Miss Gold, who conducts the play group, will 
be overjoyed. I notice she is one of the few teachers that seem 
to like — I mean who seem to find Dolly manageable. This takes 
care of general topics, I guess; now comes a special matter. We 
are in trouble again.” 

Pratt paused truculently, then rubbed her index finger under 
her nostrils with such vigor that her nose performed a kind of 
war dance. 

“I’m a frank person,” she said, “but conventions are conven- 
tions, and I find it difficult . . . Let me put it this way . . . The 
Walkers, who live in what we call around here the Duke’s 
Manor, you know the great gray house on the hill — they send 
their two girls to our school, and we have the niece of President 
Moore with us, a really gracious child, not to speak of a number 
of other prominent children. Well, under the circumstances, it 
is rather a jolt when Dolly, who looks like a little lady, uses 
words which you as a foreigner probably simply do not know or 
do not understand. Perhaps it might be better— Would you like 
me to have Dolly come up here right away to discuss things? No? 
You see — oh well, let’s have it out. Dolly has written a most 
obscene four-letter word which our Dr. Cutler tells me is low- 
Mexican for urinal with her lipstick on some health pamphlets 
which Miss Redcock, who is getting married in June, distributed 
among the girls, and we thought she should stay after hours — 
another half hour at least. But if you like — ” 

“No,” I said, “I don’t want to interfere with rules. I shall talk 
to her later. I shall thrash it out.” 

“Do,” said the woman rising from her chair arm. “And per- 
haps we can get together again soon, and if things do not im- 
prove we might have Dr. Cutler analyze her.” 

Should I marry Pratt and strangle her? 

“. . . And perhaps your family doctor might like to examine 
her physically — just a routine check-up. She is in Mushroom — 1 

the last classroom along that passage.” 

Beardsley School, it may be explained, copied a famous girls’ 

[ 199 ] 


school in England by having “traditional” nicknames for its 
various classrooms: Mushroom, Room-In 8, B-room, Room-BA 

1 and so on. Mushroom was smelly, with a sepia print of Reynolds’ 
“Age of Innocence” above the chalkboard, and several rows of 
clumsy-looking pupil desks. At one of these, my Lolita was read- 

2 ing the chapter on “Dialogue” in Baker’s Dramatic Technique, 
and all was very quiet, and there was another girl with a very 
naked, porcelain-white neck and wonderful platinum hair, who ' 
sat in front reading too, absolutely lost to the world and inter- 
minably winding a soft curl around one finger, and I sat beside 
Dolly just behind that neck and that hair, and unbuttoned my 
overcoat and for sixty-five cents plus the permission to participate 
in the school play, had Dolly put her inky, chalky, red-knuckled 
hand under the desk. Oh, stupid and reckless of me, no doubt, 
but after the torture I had been subjected to, I simply had to 
take advantage of a combination that I knew would never occur 


Around Christmas she caught a bad chill and was examined by 

3 a friend of Miss Lester, a Dr. Use Tristramson (hi. Use, you were 

a dear, uninquisitive soul, and you touched my dove very gently). \ 
She diagnosed bronchitis, patted Lo on the back (all its bloom ' 
erect because of the fever) and put her to bed for a week or i 
longer. At first she “ran a temperature” in American parlance, 

4 and I could not resist the exquisite caloricity of unexpected de- i 

5 lights — Venus febriculosa — though it was a very languid Lolita 
that moaned and coughed and shivered in my embrace. And as 
soon as she was well again, I threw a Party with Boys. 

Perhaps I had drunk a little too much in preparation for the 
ordeal. Perhaps I made a fool of myself. The girls had decorated 
and plugged in a small fir tree — German' custom, except that 
colored bulbs had superseded wax candles. Records were chosen 
and fed into my landlord’s phonograph. Chic Dolly wore a nice 
gray dress with fitted bodice and flared skirt. Humming, I retired 

[ 200 ] 

to my study upstairs — and then every ten or twenty minutes I 
would come down like an idiot just for a few seconds; to pick 
up ostensibly my pipe from the mantelpiece or hunt for the news- 
paper; and with every new visit these simple actions became 
harder to perform, and I was reminded of the dreadfully distant 
days when I used to brace myself to casually enter a room in the 
Ramsdale house where Little Carmen was on. 

The party was not a success. Of the three girls invited, one 
did not come at all, and one of the boys brought his cousin Roy, 
so there was a superfluity of two boys, and the cousins knew all 
the steps, and the other fellows could hardly dance at all, and 
most of the evening was spent in messing up the kitchen, and 
then endlessly jabbering about what card game to play, and 
sometime later, two girls and four boys sat on the floor of the 
living room, with all windows open, and played a word game 
which Opal could not be made to understand, while Mona and 
Roy, a lean handsome lad, drank ginger ale in the kitchen, sitting 
on the table and dangling their legs, and hotly discussing Pre- 
destination and the Law of Averages. After they had all gone 
my Lo said ugh, closed her eyes, and dropped into a chair with all 
four limbs starfished to express the utmost disgust and exhaus- 
tion and swore it was the most revolting bunch of boys she had 
ever seen. I bought her a new tennis racket for that remark. 

January was humid and warm, and February fooled the for- 
sythia: none of the townspeople had ever seen such weather. 
Other presents came tumbling in. For her birthday I bought her 
a bicycle, the doe-like and altogether charming machine already 
mentioned — and added to this a History of Modern American 
fainting: her bicycle manner, I mean her approach to it, the hip 
movement in mounting, the grace and so on, afforded me su- 
preme pleasure; but my attempt to refine her pictorial taste was 
a failure; she wanted to know if the guy noon-napping on Doris 
Lee’s hay was the father of the pseudo-voluptuous hoyden in the 
foreground, and could not understand why I said Grant Wood 
or Peter Hurd was good, and Reginald Marsh or Frederick 
Waugh awful. 1 

[ 201 ] 


By the time spring had touched up Thayer Street with yellow 
and green and pink, Lolita was irrevocably stage-struck. Pratt, 
whom I chanced to notice one Sunday lunching with some 
people at Walton Inn, caught my eye from afar and went 
through the motion of sympathetically and discreetly clapping 
her hands while Lo was not looking. I detest the theatre as being 
a primitive and putrid form, historically speaking; a form that 
smacks of stone-age rites and communal nonsense despite those 

1 individual injections of genius, such as, say, Elizabethan poetry 
which a closeted reader automatically pumps out of the stuff. 
Being much occupied at the time with my own literary labors, I 
did not bother to read the complete text of The Enchanted 
Hujiters, the playlet in which Dolores Haze was assigned the part 
of a farmer’s daughter who imagines herself to be a woodland 

2 witch, or Diana, or something, and who, having got hold of a 
book on hypnotism, plunges a number of lost hunters into 
various entertaining trances before falling in her turn under the 
spell of a vagabond poet (Mona Dahl). That much I gleaned 
from bits of crumpled and poorly typed script that Lo sowed all 
over the house. The coincidence of the title with the name of an 
unforgettable inn was pleasant in a sad little way; I wearily 
thought I had better not bring it to my own enchantress’s notice, 
lest a brazen accusation of mawkishness hurt me even more than 
her failure to notice it for herself had done. I assumed the playlet 
was just another, practically anonymous, version of some banal 
legend. Nothing prevented one, of course, from supposing that 
in quest of an attractive name the founder of the hotel had been 
immediately and solely influenced by the chance fantasy of the 
second-rate muralist he had hired, and that subsequently the 

3 hotel’s name had suggested the play’s title. But in my credulous, 
simple, benevolent mind I happened to twist it the other way 
round, and without giving the whole matter much thought really, 
supposed that mural, name and title had all been derived from a 
common source, from some local tradition, which I, an alien 
unversed in New England lore, would not be supposed to know. 

[ 202 ] 

In consequence I was under the impression (all this quite 
casually, you understand, quite outside any orbit of importance) 
that the accursed playlet belonged to the type of whimsey for 
juvenile consumption, arranged and rearranged many times, such 
as Hajjsel and Gretel by Richard Roe, or The Sleeping Beauty 1,2 
by Dorothy Doe, or The Emperor'’ s New Clothes by Maurice 
Vermont and Marion Rumpelmeyer — all this to be found in any 3 
Plays for School Actors or LePs Have a Play! In other words, I 
did not know — and would not have cared, if I did — that actually 
The Enchanted Hunters was a quite recent and technically 
original composition which had been produced for the first 
time only three or four months ago by a highbrow group in New 
York. To me — inasmuch as I could judge from my charmer’s 
part — it seemed to be a pretty dismal kind of fancy work, with 
echoes from Lenormand and Maeterlinck and various quiet 4, 5 
British dreamers. The red-capped, uniformly attired hunters, of 6 
which one was a banker, another a plumber, a third a policeman, 
a fourth an undertaker, a fifth an underwriter, a sixth an escaped 
convict (you see the possibilities!), went through a complete 
change of mind in Dolly’s Dell, and remembered their real lives 
only as dreams or nightmares from which little Diana had 
aroused them; but a seventh Hunter (in a gree?! cap, the fool) 7 
was a Young Poet, and he insisted, much to Diana’s annoyance, 
that she and the entertainment provided (dancing nymphs, and 
elves, and monsters) were his, the Poet’s, invention. I under- 8 
stand that finally, in utter disgust at this cocksureness, barefooted 
Dolores was to lead check-trousered Mona to the paternal farm 
behind the Perilous Forest to prove to the braggard she was not 
a poet’s fancy, but a rustic, down-to-brown-earth lass — and a last- 
minute kiss was to enforce the play’s profound message, namely, 
that mirage and reality merge in love. I considered it wiser not 
to criticize the thing in front of Lo: she was so healthily en- 
grossed in “problems of expression,” and so charmingly did she 
put her narrow Florentine hands together, batting her eyelashes 
and pleading with me not to come to rehearsals as some ridicu- 
lous parents did because she wanted to dazzle me with a perfect 
First Night — and because I was, anyway, always butting in and 

[ 203 ] 

saying the wrong thing, and cramping her style in the presence 
of other people. 

There was one very special rehearsal . . . my heart, my heart . . . 
there was one day in May marked by a lot of gay flurry — it all 
rolled past, beyond my ken, immune to my memory, and when 
I saw Lo next, in the late afternoon, balancing on her bike, press- 
ing the palm of her hand to the damp bark of a young birch tree 
on the edge of our lawn, I was so struck by the radiant tenderness 
of her smile that for an instant I believed all our troubles gone. 
“Can you remember,” she said, “what was the name of that 
hotel, yoic know [nose puckered], come on, you know — with 
those white columns and the marble swan in the lobby? Oh, you 
know [noisy exhalation of breath] — the hotel where you raped 
me. Okay, skip it. I mean, was it [almost in a whisper] The En- 
1 chanted Hunters? Oh, it was? [musingly] Was it?” — and with 
a yelp of amorous vernal laughter she slapped the glossy bole and 
tore uphill, to the end of the street, and then rode back, feet at 
rest on stopped pedals, posture relaxed, one hand dreaming in 
her print-flowered lap. 


Because it supposedly tied up with her interest in dance and 
dramatics, I had permitted Lo to take piano lessons with a Miss 

2 Emperor (as we French scholars may conveniently call her) to 
whose blue-shuttered little white house a mile or so beyond 
Beardsley Lo would spin off twice a week. One Friday night 
toward the end of May (and a week or so after the very special 
rehearsal Lo had not had me attend) the telephone in my study, 

3 where I was in the act of mopping up Gustave’s — I mean Gas- 
ton’s — king’s side, rang and Miss Emperor asked if Lo was com- 
ing next Tuesday because she had missed last Tuesday’s and 
today’s lessons. I said she would by all means — and went on with 
the game. As the reader may well imagine, my faculties were now 
impaired, and a move or two later, with Gaston to play, I noticed 

[ 204 ] 

through the film of my general distress that he could collect my 
queen; he noticed it too, but thinking it might be a trap on the 
part of his tricky opponent, he demurred for quite a minute, 
and puffed and wheezed, and shook his jowls, and even shot 
furtive glances at me, and made hesitating half-thrusts with his 
pudgily bunched fingers — dying to take that juicy queen and not 
daring — and all of a sudden he swooped down upon it (who knows 
if it did not teach him certain later audacities?), and I spent a 
dreary hour in achieving a draw. He finished his brandy and 
presently lumbered away, quite satisfied with this result {mon 
paiivre ami, je 7ie voiis ai jai/iais revii et quoiqii’il y ait bien peu 
de chance que vous voyiez mon livre, permettez-moi de vons 
dire qiie je vons serre la tnain bien cordialeme7it, et que toutes 
77ies fillettes vous saluetit). I found Dolores Haze at the kitchen l 
table, consuming a wedge of pie, with her eyes fixed on her 
script. They rose to meet mine with a kind of celestial vapidity. 

She remained singularly unruffled when confronted with my 
discovery, and said d'trn petit air jaussetnent contrit that she 2 
knew she was a very wicked kid, but simply had not been able to 
resist the enchantment, and had used up those music hours — O 
Reader, My Reader! — in a nearby public park rehearsing the 
magic forest scene with Mona. I said “fine” — and stalked to the 3 
telephone. Mona’s mother answered: “Oh yes, she’s in” and re- 
treated with a mother’s neutral laugh of polite pleasure to shout 
off stage “Roy calling!” and the very next moment Mona rustled 
up, and forthwith, in a low monotonous not untender voice 
started berating Roy for something he had said or done and I 
'nterrupted her, and presently Mona was saying in her humblest, 
sexiest contralto, “yes, sir,” “surely, sir,” “I am alone to blame, 
sir, in this unfortunate business,” (what elocution! what poise!) 
‘‘honest, I feel very bad about it” — and so on and so forth as 
i :hose little harlots say. 

So downstairs I went clearing my throat and holding my 
peart. Lo was now in the living room, in her favorite overstuffed 
i'shair. As she sprawled there, biting at a hangnail and mocking 
Ijne with her heartless vaporous eyes, and all the time rocking a 
‘tool upon which she had placed the heel of an outstretched 

I [ 205 ] 

shoeless foot, I perceived all at once with a sickening qualm how 
much she had changed since I first met her two years ago. Or had 
this happened during those last two weeks? Tendresse? Surely 
that was an exploded myth. She sat right in the focus of my 
incandescent anger. The fog of all lust had been swept away 
leaving nothing but this dreadful lucidity. Oh, she had changed! 
Her complexion was now that of any vulgar untidy highschool 
girl who applies shared cosmetics with grubby fingers to an un- 
washed face and does not mind what soiled texture, what pustu- 
late epidermis comes in contact with her skin. Its smooth tender 
bloom had been so lovely in former days, so bright with tears, 
when I used to roll, in play, her tousled head on my knee. A 
coarse flush had now replaced that innocent fluorescence. What 
was locally known as a “rabbit cold” had painted with flaming 
pink the edges of her contemptuous nostrils. As in terror I 
lowered my gaze, it mechanically slid along the underside of her 
tensely stretched bare thigh — how polished and muscular her 
legs had grown! She kept her wide-set eyes, clouded-glass gray ’ 
and slightly bloodshot, fixed upon me, and I saw the stealthy 
thought showing through them that perhaps after all Mona 
was right, and she, orphan Lo, could expose me without getting 
penalized herself. How wrong I was. How mad I was! Every- 
thing about her was of the same exasperating impenetrable order ■ 
— the strength of her shapely legs, the dirty sole of her white j 
sock, the thick sweater she wore despite the closeness of the ! 
room, her wenchy smell, and especially the dead end of her 
face with its strange flush and freshly made-up lips. Some of the 
red had left stains on her front teeth, and I was struck by a 
ghastly recollection — the evoked image not of Monique, but 
of another young prostitute in a bell-house, ages ago, who had 
been snapped up by somebody else before I had time to decide 
whether her mere youth warranted my risking some appalling 
disease, and who had just such flushed prominent pommettes 
and a dead 7naman, and big front teeth, and a bit of dingy red 
ribbon in her country-brown hair. 

“Well, speak,” said Lo. “Was the corroboration satisfactory?” 

[ 206 ] 

“Oh, yes,” I said. “Perfect. Yes. And I do not doubt you two 
made it up. As a matter of fact, I do not doubt you have told her 
everything about us.” 

“Oh, yah?” 

I controlled my breath and said; “Dolores, this must stop right 
away. I am ready to yank you out of Beardsley and lock you up 
you know where, but this must stop. I am ready to take you away 
the time it takes to pack a suitcase. This must stop or else any- 
thing may happen.” 

“Anything may happen, huh?” 

I snatched away the stool she was rocking with her heel and 
her foot fell with a thud on the floor. 

“Hey,” she cried, “take it easy.” 

“First of all you go upstairs,” I cried in my turn, — and simul- 
taneously grabbed at her and pulled her up. From that moment, 
I stopped restraining my voice, and we continued yelling at each 
other, and she said unprintable things. She said she loathed me. 
She made monstrous faces at me, inflating her cheeks and pro- 
ducing a diabolical plopping sound. She said I had attempted to 
violate her several times when I was her mother’s roomer. She 
said she was sure I had murdered her mother. She said she would 
sleep with the very first fellow who asked her and I could do 
nothing about it. I said she was to go upstairs and show me all 
her hiding places. It was a strident and hateful scene. I held 
her by her knobby wrist and she kept turning and twisting it this 
way and that, surreptitiously trying to find a weak point so as to 
wrench herself free at a favorable moment, but I held her quite 
hard and in fact hurt her rather badly for which I hope my heart 
may rot, and once or twice she jerked her arm so violently that I 
feared her wrist might snap, and all the while she stared at me 
with those unforgettable eyes where cold anger and hot tears 
struggled, and our voices were drowning the telephone, and 
when I grew aware of its ringing she instantly escaped. 

With people in movies I seem to share the services of the 
machina telephonica and its sudden god. This time it was an 
irate neighbor. The east window happened to be agape in the 

, [ 207 ] 

living room, with the blind mercifully down, however; and be- 
hind it the damp black night of a sour New England spring had 
been breathlessly listening to us. I had always thought that type 
1 of haddocky spinster with the obscene mind was the result of 
considerable literary inbreeding in modern fiction; but now I am 
convinced that prude and prurient Miss East — or to explode her 
incognito. Miss Eenton Lebone — had been probably protruding 
three-quarter-way from her bedroom window as she strove to 
catch the gist of our quarrel. j 

“. . . This racket . . . lacks all sense of . . .” quacked the receiver,! 
“we do not live in a tenement here. I must emphatically ...” 

I apologized for my daughter’s friends being so loud. Young 
people, you know — and cradled the next quack and a half. | 

Downstairs the screen door banged. Lo? Escaped? l! 

Through the casement on the stairs I saw a small impetuous^ 
ghost slip through the shrubs; a silvery dot in the dark — hub of 
bicycle wheel — moved, shivered, and she was gone. , 

It so happened that the car was spending the night in a repair} 
shop downtown. I had no other alternative than to pursue ori 
foot the winged fugitive. Even now, after more than three years 
have heaved and elapsed, I cannot visualize that spring-night 
street, that already so leafy street, without a gasp of panic. Before 
their lighted porch Miss Lester was promenading Miss Eabian’si 
2, 3 dropsical dackel. Mr. Hyde almost knocked it over. Walk three 
steps and run three. A tepid rain started to drum on the chest- 
nut leaves. At the next corner, pressing Lolita against an iron; 
railing, a blurred youth held and kissed — no, not her, mistake 
My talons still tingling, I flew on. 

Half a mile or so east of number fourteen, Thayer Street 
tangles with a private lane and a cross street; the latter leads tc 
the town proper; in front of the first drugstore, I saw — with wha^ 
melody of relief! — Lolita’s fair bicycle waiting for her. I pusheq 
instead of pulling, pulled, pushed, pulled, and entered. Loot 
out! Some ten paces away Lolita, through the glass of a tele! 
phone booth (membranous god still with us), cupping the tube! 
confidentially hunched over it, slit her eyes at me, turned awa^ 

[ 208 ] 

with her treasure, hurriedly hung up, and walked out with a i 

“Tried to reach you at home,” she said brightly. “A great 
decision has been made. But first buy me a drink, dad.” 

She watched the listless pale fountain girl put in the ice, pour 
in the coke, add the cherry syrup — and my heart was bursting 
with love-ache. That childish wrist. My lovely child. You have a 
lovely child, Mr. Humbert. We always admire her as she passes 
by. Mr. Pirn watched Pippa suck in the concoction. 2 

}'ai tonjours admire Pceuvre ormonde du sublime Dublinois. 3 
And in the meantime the rain had become a voluptuous shower. 

“Look,” she said as she rode the bike beside me, one foot 
scraping the darkly glistening sidewalk, “look. I’ve decided some- 
thing. I want to leave school. I hate that school. I hate the play, 

I really do! Never go back. Find another. Leave at once. Go for 
a long trip again. But this time we’ll go wherever / want, won’t 

I nodded. My Lolita. 

“I choose? Cest entendu?’’'’ she asked wobbling a little beside 4 
me. Used French only when she was a very good little girl. 

“Okay. Entendu. Now hop-hop-hop, Lenore, or you’ll get 5 
soaked.” (A storm of sobs was filling my chest.) 

She bared her teeth and after her adorable school-girl fashion, 
leaned forward, and away she sped, my bird. 

Miss Lester’s finely groomed hand held a porch-door open for 
1 waddling old dog qtd prejiait son temps. 6 

Lo was waiting for me near the ghostly birch tree. 

“I am drenched,” she declared at the top of her voice. “Are 
/ou glad? To hell with the play! See what I mean?” 

An invisible hag’s claw slammed down an upper-floor window. 

In our hallway, ablaze with welcoming lights, my Lolita 
oeeled off her sweater, shook her gemmed hair, stretched towards 
ne two bare arms, raised one knee: 

“Carry me upstairs, please. I feel sort of romantic to-night.” 

It may interest physiologists to learn, at this point, that I have 
he ability — a most singular case, I presume — of shedding tor- 
ents of tears throughout the other tempest. 

[ 209 ] 


The brakes were relined, the waterpipes unclogged, the valves 
ground, and a number of other repairs and improvements were 
paid for by not very mechanically-minded but prudent papa 
Humbert, so that the late Mrs. Humbert’s car was in respectable 
shape when ready to undertake a new journey. 

We had promised Beardsley School, good old Beardsley 
School, that we would be back as soon as my Hollywood engage- 
ment came to an end (inventive Humbert was to be, I hinted, ' 
chief consultant in the production of a film dealing with “ex- 
istentialism,” still a hot thing at the time). Actually I was toying 
with the idea of gently trickling across the Mexican border — I 
was braver now than last year — and there deciding what to do 
with my little concubine who was now sixty inches tall and 
weighed ninety pounds. We had dug out our tour books and i 
maps. She had traced our route with immense zest. Was it thanks i 
to those theatricals that she had now outgrown her juvenile 
jaded airs and was so adorably keen to explore rich reality? I 
experienced the queer lightness of dreams that pale but warm i 

1 Sunday morning when we abandoned Professor Chem’s puzzled 
house and sped along Main Street toward the four-lane highway, i 
My Love’s striped, black-and-white, cotton frock, jaunty blue I 
cap, white socks and brown moccasins were not quite in keeping 
with the large beautifully cut aquamarine on a silver chainlet, j 
which gemmed her throat: a spring rain gift from me. We passed I 
the New Hotel, and she laughed. “A penny for your thoughts,” i 
I said and she stretched out her palm at once, but at that 
moment I had to apply the brakes rather abruptly at a red light. 
As we pulled up, another car came to a gliding stop alongside, ! 
and a very striking looking, athletically lean young woman , 
(where had I seen her?) with a high complexion and shoulder- i 
length brilliant bronze hair, greeted Lo with a ringing “Hi!” — i 

2 and then, addressing me, effusively, edusively (placed!), stressing ■ 
certain words, said: “What a shai?ie it was to tear Dolly away , 

3 from the play — you should have heard the author raving about j 
her after that rehearsal — ” “Green light, you dope,” said Lo t 

[ 210 ] 

under her breath, and simultaneously, waving in bright adieu a 
bangled arm, Joan of Arc (in a performance we saw at the local 
theatre) violently outdistanced us to swerve into Campus 

“Who was it exactly? Vermont or Rumpelmeyer?” 

“No — Edusa Gold — the gal who coaches us.” i 

“I was not referring to her. Who exactly concocted that play?” 

“Oh! Yes, of course. Some old woman, Clare Something, I 2 
guess. There was quite a crowd of them there.” 

“So she complimented you?” 

“Complimented my eye — she kissed me on my pure brow” — 
and my darling emitted that new yelp of merriment which — 
perhaps in connection with her theatrical mannerisms — she had 
lately begun to affect. 

“You are a funny creature, Lolita,” I said — or some such words. 
“Naturally, I am overjoyed you gave up that absurd stage busi- 
ness. But what is curious is that you dropped the whole thing 
only a week before its natural climax. Oh, Lolita, you should be 3 
careful of those surrenders of yours. I remember you gave up 
Ramsdale for camp, and camp for a joyride, and I could list 
other abrupt changes in your disposition. You must be careful. 
There are things that should never be given up. You must per- 
severe. You should try to be a little nicer to me, Lolita. You 
should also watch your diet. The tour of your thigh, you know, 
should not exceed seventeen and a half inches. More might be 
fatal (I was kidding, of course). We are now setting out on a 
long happy journey. I remember — ” 


1 remember as a child in Europe gloating over a map of North 
A.merica that had “Appalachian Mountains” boldly running 
from Alabama up to New Brunswick, so that the whole region 
:hey spanned — Tennessee, the Virginias, Pennsylvania, New 
York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, appeared to my 

[ 211 ] 

imagination as a gigantic Switzerland or even Tibet, all moun- 
tain, glorious diamond peak upon peak, giant conifers, le 

1 montagnard hnigre in his bear skin glory, and ¥elis tigris gold- 
2, 3 smithi, and Red Indians under the catalpas. That it all boiled 
down to a measly suburban lawn and a smoking garbage incinera- 
tor, was appalling. Farewell, Appalachia! Leaving it, we crossed 
Ohio, the three states beginning with “I,” and Nebraska — ah, 

4 that first whiff of the West! We travelled very leisurely, having : 
more than a week to reach Wace, Continental Divide, where ; 
she passionately desired to see the Ceremonial Dances marking ! 
the seasonal opening of Magic Cave, and at least three weeks to 
reach Elphinstone, gem of a western State where she yearned to j 

5 climb Red Rock from which a mature screen star had recently | 
jumped to her death after a drunken row with her gigolo. 

Again we were welcomed to wary motels by means of inscrip- ; 
tions that read: j 

“We wish you to feel at home while here. All equipment was 
carefully checked upon your arrival. Your license number is on 
record here. Use hot water sparingly. We reserve the right to 
eject without notice any objectionable person. Do not throw 
waste material of a7iy kind in the toilet bowl. Thank you. Call 
again. The Management. P.S. We consider our guests the Finest i 
People of the World.” 

In these frightening places we paid ten for twins, flies queued 
outside at the screenless door and successfully scrambled in, the * 
ashes of our predecessors still lingered in the ashtrays, a woman’s j 
hair lay on the pillow, one heard one’s neighbor hanging his coat ! 
in his closet, the hangers were ingeniously fixed to their bars by i 
coils of wire so as to thwart theft, and, in crowning insult, the 
pictures above the twin beds were identical twins. I also noticed 
that commercial fashion was changing. There was a tendency 

6 for cabins to fuse and gradually form the caravansary, and, lo 
(she was not interested but the reader may be), a second story 
was added, and a lobby grew in, and cars were removed to a com- 
munal garage, and the motel reverted to the good old hotel. 

I now warn the reader not to mock me and my mental daze. 
It is easy for him and me to decipher now a past destiny; but a 

[ 212 ] 

destiny in the making is, believe me, not one of those honest 
mystery stories where all you have to do is keep an eye on the 
clues. In my youth I once read a French detective tale where l 

the clues were actually in italics; but that is not McFate’s way — 
even if one does learn to recognize certain obscure indications. 

For instance: I would not swear that there was not at least one 
occasion, prior to, or at the very beginning of, the Midwest lap 
of our journey, when she managed to convey some information 
to, or otherwise get into contact with, a person or persons un- 
known. We had stopped at a gas station, under the sign of 2 

Pegasus, and she had slipped out of her seat and escaped to the 3 

rear of the premises while the raised hood, under which I had 
bent to watch the mechanic’s manipulations, hid her for a 
moment from my sight. Being inclined to be lenient, I only 
shook my benign head though strictly speaking such visits were 
taboo, since I felt instinctively that toilets — as also telephones — 
happened to be, for reasons unfathomable, the points where my 
destiny was liable to catch. We all have such fateful objects — it 
may be a recurrent landscape in one case, a number in another — 
carefully chosen by the gods to attract events of special signifi- 
cance for US: here shall John always stumble; there shall Jane’s 
heart always break. 

Well — my car had been attended to, and I had moved it 
away from the pumps to let a pickup truck be serviced — when the 
growing volume of her absence began to weigh upon me in the 
windy grayness. Not for the first time, and not for the last, had 
I stared in such dull discomfort of mind at those stationary 
trivialities that look almost surprised, like staring rustics, to find 
themselves in the stranded traveller’s field of vision: that green 
garbage can, those very black, very whitewalled tires for sale, 
those bright cans of motor oil, that red icebox with assorted 
drinks, the four, five, seven discarded bottles within the incom- 
aleted crossword puzzle of their wooden cells, that bug patiently 4 
vvalking up the inside of the window of the office. Radio music 
was coming from its open door, and because the rhythm was not 
synchronized with the heave and flutter and other gestures of 
iwind-animated vegetation, one had the impression of an old 

[ 213 ] 

scenic film living its own life while piano or fiddle followed a 
line of music quite outside the shivering flower, the swaying 
branch. The sound of Charlotte’s last sob incongruously vibrated 
through me as, with her dress fluttering athwart the rhythm, 
Lolita veered from a totally unexpected direction. She had found 
the toilet occupied and had crossed over to the sign of the 

1 Conche in the next block. They said there they were proud of 
their home-clean restrooms. These prepaid postcards, they said, i 
had been provided for your comments. No postcards. No soap. 
Nothing. No comments. 

That day or the next, after a tedious drive through a land of! 
food crops, we reached a pleasant little burg and put up at| 

2 Chestnut Court — nice cabins, damp green grounds, apple trees,! 
an old swing — and a tremendous sunset which the tired child | 
ignored. She had wanted to go through Kasbeam because it was 
only thirty miles north from her home town but on the following 
morning I found her quite listless, with no desire to see again the 
sidewalk where she had played hopscotch some five years before. 
For obvious reasons I had rather dreaded that side trip, evenj 
though we had agreed not to make ourselves conspicuous in anyi 
way — to remain in the car and not look up old friends. My relief | 
at her abandoning the project was spoiled by the thought that 
had she felt I were totally against the nostalgic possibilities of 
Pisky, as I had been last year, she would not have given up soj 
easily. On my mentioning this with a sigh, she sighed too and 
complained of being out of sorts. She wanted to remain in bed, 
till teatime at least, with lots of magazines, and then if she felt; 
better she suggested we just continue westward. I must say she' 
was very sweet and languid, and craved for fresh fruits, and I 
decided to go and fetch her a toothsome picnic lunch in Kas-^ 
beam. Our cabin stood on the timbered crest of a hill, and from 
our window you could see the road winding down, and then 
running as straight as a hair parting between two rows of chest- 
nut trees, towards the pretty town, which looked singularly 
distinct and toylike in the pure morning distance. One could 

3 make out an elf-like girl on an insect-like bicycle, and a dog, a 
bit too large proportionately, all as clear as those pilgrims and 

[ 214 ] 

mules winding up wax-pale roads in old paintings with blue hills 
and red little people. I have the European urge to use my feet 
when a drive can be dispensed with, so I leisurely walked down, 
eventually meeting the cyclist — a plain plump girl with pigtails, 
followed by a huge St. Bernard dog with orbits like pansies. In 
Kasbeam a very old barber gave me a very mediocre haircut: he 
babbled of a baseball-playing son of his, and, at every explodent, 
spat into my neck, and every now and then wiped his glasses on 
my sheet-wrap, or interrupted his tremulous scissor work to pro- 
duce faded newspaper clippings, and so inattentive was I that it 
came as a shock to realize as he pointed to an easeled photo- 
graph among the ancient gray lotions, that the mustached young 
ball player had been dead for the last thirty years. 

I had a cup of hot flavorless coffee, bought a bunch of bananas 
for my monkey, and spent another ten minutes or so in a delica- 
tessen store. At least an hour and a half must have elapsed when 
• this homeward-bound little pilgrim appeared on the winding 
road leading to Chestnut Castle. 1 

, The girl I had seen on my way to town was now loaded with 
linen and engaged in helping a misshapen man whose big head 
and coarse features reminded me of the “Bertoldo” character in 
low Italian comedy. They were cleaning the cabins of which 2 
there was a dozen or so on Chestnut Crest, all pleasantly spaced 
amid the copious verdure. It was noon, and most of them, with 
,2. final bang of their screen doors, had already got rid of their 
occupants. A very elderly, almost mummy-like couple in a very 
new model were in the act of creeping out of one of the con- 
tiguous garages; from another a red hood protruded in some- 3 
,what cod-piece fashion; and nearer to our cabin, a strong and 4 
handsome young man with a shock of black hair and blue eyes 
was putting a portable refrigerator into a station wagon. For 
some reason he gave me a sheepish grin as I passed. On the grass 
expanse opposite, in the many-limbed shade of luxuriant trees, 
the familiar St. Bernard dog was guarding his mistress’ bicycle, 
and nearby a young woman, far gone in the family way, had 
seated a rapt baby on a swing and was rocking it gently, while a 
jealous boy of two or three was making a nuisance of himself by 

[ 215 ] 

trying to push or pull the swing board; he finally succeeded ir 
getting himself knocked down by it, and bawled loudly as he lay 
supine on the grass while his mother continued to smile gently 
at neither of her present children. I recall so clearly these! 
minutiae probably because I was to check my impressions sc! 
thoroughly only a few minutes later; and besides, something in! 
me had been on guard ever since that awful night in Beardsley,! 
I now refused to be diverted by the feeling of well-being that my* 
walk had engendered — by the young summer breeze that envel- 
oped the nape of my neck, the giving crunch of the damp gravel 
the juicy tidbit I had sucked out at last from a hollow tooth, and 
even the comfortable weight of my provisions which the general' 
condition of my heart should not have allowed me to carry; but 
even that miserable pump of mine seemed to be working sweetly, 

1 and I felt adolori d' amoureuse langueur, to quote dear old Ron-] 
sard, as I reached the cottage where I had left my Dolores. 

To my surprise I found her dressed. She was sitting on the edge'i 
of the bed in slacks and T-shirt, and was looking at me as if she, 
could not quite place me. The frank soft shape of her small 
breasts was brought out rather than blurred by the limpness of 
her thin shirt, and this frankness irritated me. She had not| 
washed; yet her mouth was freshly though smudgily painted,- 
and her broad teeth glistened like wine-tinged ivory, or pinkish 
poker chips. And there she sat, hands clasped in her lap, and 

2 dreamily brimmed with a diabolical glow that had no relation- 
to me whatever. 

I plumped down my heavy paper bag and stood staring at the 
bare ankles of her sandaled feet, then at her silly face, then again 
at her sinful feet. “You’ve been out,” I said (the sandals were 
filthy with gravel). ' 

“I just got up,” she replied, and added upon intercepting my 
downward glance: “Went out for a sec. Wanted to see if you 
were coming back.” 

She became aware of the bananas and uncoiled herself table- 

What special suspicion could I have? None indeed — but thosei 
muddy, moony eyes of hers, that singular warmth emanatingl 

[ 216 ] 

from her! I said nothing. I looked at the road meandering so 
distinctly within the frame of the window . . . Anybody wishing 
to betray my trust would have found it a splendid lookout. With 
rising appetite, Lo applied herself to the fruit. All at once I 
remembered the ingratiating grin of the Johnny nextdoor. I 
stepped out quickly. All cars had disappeared except his station 
wagon; his pregnant young wife was now getting into it with her 
baby and the other, more or less cancelled, child. 

“What’s the matter, where are you going?” cried Lo from the 

I said nothing. I pushed her softness back into the room and 
went in after her. I ripped her shirt off. I unzipped the rest of her. 

[ tore off her sandals. Wildly, I pursued the shadow of her 1 
nfidelity; but the scent I travelled upon was so slight as to be 
practically undistinguishable from a madman’s fancy. 


'■'jTOS Gaston, in his prissy way, had liked to make presents — 2 

presents just a prissy wee bit out of the ordinary, or so he prissily 
! bought. Noticing one night that my box of chessmen was 
oroken, he sent me next morning, with a little lad of his, a copper 
:ase: it had an elaborate Oriental design over the lid and could 
)e securely locked. One glance sufficed to assure me that it was 
)ne of those cheap money boxes called for some reason “luizet- 
as” that you buy in Algiers and elsewhere, and wonder what to 3 
lo with afterwards. It turned out to be much too flat for holding 
ny bulky chessmen, but I kept it — using it for a totally different 

In order to break some pattern of fate in which I obscurely 
elt myself being enmeshed, I had decided — despite Lo’s visible 
nnoyance — to spend another night at Chestnut Court; definitely 
vaking up at four in the morning, I ascertained that Lo was still 
pund asleep (mouth open, in a kind of dull amazement at the 
-uriously inane life we all had rigged up for her) and satisfied my- 

[ 217 ] 

. I 



self that the precious contents of the “luizetta” were safe. There, 
snugly wrapped in a white woollen scarf, lay a pocket auto- 
matic: caliber .32, capacity of magazine 8 cartridges, length a 
little under one ninth of Lolita’s length, stock checked walnut, 
finish full blued. I had inherited it from the late Harold Haze, 
with a 1938 catalog which cheerily said in part: “Particularly 
well adapted for use in the home and car as well as on the per- 
son.” There it lay, ready for instant service on the person or 
persons, loaded and fully cocked with the slide lock in safety 
position, thus precluding any accidental discharge. We must re- 
member that a pistol is the Freudian symbol of the Ur-father’s 
central forelimb. j 

I was now glad I had it with me — and even more glad that I 
had learned to use it two years before, in the pine forest around 
my and Charlotte’s glass lake. Farlow, with whom I had roamed 
those remote woods, was an admirable marksman, and with his 
.38 actually managed to hit a hummingbird, though I must say 
not much of it could be retrieved for proof — only a little iri- 
1 descent fluff. A burley ex-policeman called Krestovski, who in 
the twenties had shot and killed two escaped convicts, joined us 
and bagged a tiny woodpecker — completely out of season, inci- 
dentally. Between those two sportsmen I of course was a novice) 
and kept missing everything, though I did wound a squirrel on 
a later occasion when I went out alone. “You lie here,” I whis-| 
pered to my light-weight compact little chum, and then toasted I 
it with a dram of gin. 


2 The reader must now forget Chestnuts and Colts, and ac-' 
company us further west. The following days were marked by a' 
number of great thunderstorms — or perhaps, there was but one! 
single storm which progressed across country in ponderous frog-| 
leaps and which we could not shake off just as we could not shake! 
off detective Trapp: for it was during those days that the problem 

[ 218 ] 

of the Aztec Red Convertible presented itself to me, and quite i 
overshadowed the theme of Lo’s lovers. 

Queer! I who was jealous of every male we met — queer, how I 
misinterpreted the designations of doom. Perhaps I had been 
lulled by Lo’s modest behavior in winter, and anyway it would 
have been too foolish even for a lunatic to suppose another 
Humbert was avidly following Humbert and Humbert’s nymphet 
with Jovian fireworks, over the great and ugly plains. I surmised, 2 
done, that the Red Yak keeping behind us at a discreet distance 3 
mile after mile was operated by a detective whom some busy- 
body had hired to see what exactly Humbert Humbert was doing 
with that minor stepdaughter of his. As happens with me at 
periods of electrical disturbance and crepitating lightnings, I had 4 
hallucinations. Maybe they were more than hallucinations. I 
do not know what she or he, or both had put into my liquor but 
one night I felt sure somebody was tapping on the door of our 
cabin, and I flung it open, and noticed two things — that I was 
)tark naked and that, white-glistening in the rain-dripping dark- 
ness, there stood a man holding before his face the mask of Jut- 
ring Chin, a grotesque sleuth in the funnies. He emitted a muffled 5 
guffaw and scurried away, and I reeled back into the room, and 
fell asleep again, and am not sure even to this day that the visit 
was not a drug-provoked dream: I have thoroughly studied 
Trapp’s type of humor, and this might have been a plausible 
iample. Oh, crude and absolutely ruthless! Somebody, I imag- 
ned, was making money on those masks of popular monsters 
ind morons. Did I see next morning two urchins rummaging in 
i garbage can and trying on Jutting Chin? I wonder. It may all 
lave been a coincidence — due to atmospheric conditions, I 

Being a murderer with a sensational but incomplete and un- 
irthodox memory, I cannot tell you, ladies and gentlemen, the 
:xact day when I first knew with utter certainty that the red 
ronvertible was following us. I do remember, however, the first 
ime I saw its driver quite clearly. I was proceeding slowly one 
fternoon through torrents of rain and kept seeing that red ghost 
dimming and shivering with lust in my mirror, when presently 

[ 219 ] 

the deluge dwindled to a patter, and then was suspended alto- 
gether. With a swishing sound a sunburst swept the highway, 
and needing a pair of new sunglasses, I pulled up at a filling 
station. What was happening was a sickness, a cancer, that could 
not be helped, so I simply ignored the fact that our quiet pur- 
suer, in his converted state, stopped a little behind us at a cafe 
or bar bearing the idiotic sign: The Bustle: A Deceitful Seatful. 
Having seen to the needs of my car, I walked into the office to 
get those glasses and pay for the gas. As I was in the act of signing 
a traveller’s check and wondered about my exact whereabouts, I 
happened to glance through a side window, and saw a terrible 
thing. A broad-backed man, baldish, in an oatmeal coat and! 
dark-brown trousers, was listening to Lo who was leaning out of , 
the car and talking to him very rapidly, her hand with outspread | 
fingers going up and down as it did when she was very serious i 
and emphatic. What struck me with sickening force was — how 
should I put it? — the voluble familiarity of her way, as if they had 
known each other — oh, for weeks and weeks. I saw him scratch 
his cheek and nod, and turn, and walk back to his convertible, a; 
broad and thickish man of my age, somewhat resemblingj 
Gustave Trapp, a cousin of my father’s in Switzerland — samel 
smoothly tanned face, fuller than mine, with a small dark mus- 
tache and a rosebud degenerate mouth. Lolita was studying a 
road map when I got back into the car. 

“What did that man ask you, Lo?” 

“Man? Oh, that man. Oh yes. Oh, I don’t know. He won- 
dered if I had a map. Lost his way, I guess.” 

We drove on, and I said: 

“Now listen, Lo. I do not know whether you are lying or not, 
and I do not know whether you are insane or not, and I do not 
care for the moment; but that person has been following us all| 
day, and his car was at the motel yesterday, and I think he is a 
cop. You know perfectly well what will happen and where you; 
will go if the police find out about things. Now I want to know 
exactly what he said to you and what you told him.” 

She laughed. 

“If he’s really a cop,” she said shrilly but not illogically, “the 
[ 220 ] 

worst thing we could do, would be to show him we are scared. 
Ignore him, Dad” 

“Did he ask where we were going?” 

“Oh, he knows that” (mocking me). 

“Any\^’ay,” I said, giving up, “I have seen his face now. He is 
not pretty. He looks exactly like a relative of mine called Trapp.” 

“Perhaps he is Trapp. If I were you — Oh, look, all the nines 
are changing into the next thousand. When I was a little kid,” 
she continued unexpectedly, “I used to think they’d stop and go 
back to nines, if only my mother agreed to put the car in reverse.” 

It was the first time, I think, she spoke spontaneously of her 
pre-Humbertian childhood; perhaps, the theatre had taught her 
that trick; and silently we travelled on, unpursued. 

But next day, like pain in a fatal disease that comes back as the 
drug and hope wear off, there it was again behind us, that glossy 
red beast. The traffic on the highway was light that day; nobody 
passed anybody; and nobody attempted to get in between our 
humble blue car and its imperious red shadow — as if there were 
some spell cast on that interspace, a zone of evil mirth and 
magic, a zone whose very precision and stability had a glass-like 
virtue that was almost artistic. The driver behind me, with his 
stuffed shoulders and Trappish mustache, looked like a display 
dummy, and his convertible seemed to move only because an 
invisible rope of silent silk connected it with our shabby vehicle. 

We were many times weaker than his splendid, lacquered ma- 
chine, so that I did not even attempt to outspeed him. O lente 
currite noctis equi! O softly run, nightmares! We climbed long 1 
grades and rolled downhill again, and heeded speed limits, and 
.spared slow children, and reproduced in sweeping terms the 
black wiggles of curves on their yellow shields, and no matter 
how and where we drove, the enchanted interspace slid on intact, 
mathematical, mirage-like, the viatic counterpart of a magic 2 
carpet. And all the time I was aware of a private blaze on my 
right: her joyful eye, her flaming cheek. 

A traffic policeman, deep in the nightmare of crisscross streets 
at half-past-four p.m. in a factory town — was the hand of 
!chance that interrupted the spell. He beckoned me on, and then 

[ 221 ] 

with the same hand cut off my shadow. A score of cars were 
launched in between us, and I sped on, and deftly turned into a 
narrow lane. A sparrow alighted with a jumbo bread crumb, was 
tackled by another, and lost the crumb. 

When after a few grim stoppages and a bit of deliberate 
meandering, I returned to the highway, our shadow had dis- 

Lola snorted and said: “If he is what you think he is, how 
silly to give him the slip.” 

“I have other notions by now,” I said. 

“You should — ah — check them by — ah — keeping in touch with 
him, fahther deah,” said Lo, writhing in the coils of her own 
sarcasm. “Gee, you are mean,” she added in her ordinary voice. 

We spent a grim night in a very foul cabin, under a sonorous 
amplitude of rain, and with a kind of prehistorically loud thunder 
incessantly rolling above us. 

1 “I am not a lady and do not like lightning,” said Lo, whose 
dread of electric storms gave me some pathetic solace. 

2 We had breakfast in the township of Soda, pop. looi. 

“Judging by the terminal figure,” I remarked, “Fatface is al- 
ready here.” 

“Your humor,” said Lo, “is sidesplitting, deah fahther.” 

We were in sage-brush country by that time, and there was a 
day or two of lovely release (I had been a fool, all was well, that 

3 discomfort was merely a trapped flatus), and presently the mesas 
gave way to real mountains, and, on time, we drove into Wace. 

Oh, disaster. Some confusion had occurred, she had misread 
a date in the Tour Book, and the Magic Cave ceremonies were 
over! She took it bravely, I must admit — and, when we dis- 

4 covered there was in kurortish Wace a summer theatre in full 
swing, we naturally drifted toward it one fair mid-June evening. 
T really could not tell you the plot of the play we saw. A trivial 
affair, no doubt, with self-conscious light effects and a mediocre 
leading lady. The only detail that pleased me was a garland of 
seven little graces, more or less immobile, prettily painted, bare- 
limbed — seven bemused pubescent girls in colored gauze that had 
been recruited locally (judging by the partisan flurry here and 

[ 222 ] 

there among the audience) and were supposed to represent a 
living rainbow, which lingered throughout the last act, and 
rather teasingly faded behind a series of multiplied veils. I re- 
member thinking that this idea of children-colors had been lifted 
by authors Clare Quilty and Vivian Darkbloom from a passage l 
in James Joyce, and that two of the colors were quite exasperat- 
ingly lovely — Orange who kept fidgeting all the time, and 2 
Emerald who, when her eyes got used to the pitch-black pit 
where we all heavily sat, suddenly smiled at her mother or her 

As soon as the thing was over, and manual applause — a sound 
my nerves cannot stand — began to crash all around me, I started 
to pull and push Lo toward the exit, in my so natural amorous 
impatience to get her back to our neon-blue cottage in the 
stunned, starry night: I always say nature is stunned by the 
sights she sees. Dolly-Lo, however, lagged behind, in a rosy daze, 
her pleased eyes narrowed, her sense of vision swamping the 
rest of her senses to such an extent that her limp hands hardly 
came together at all in the mechanical action of clapping they 
still went through. I had seen that kind of thing in children 
before but, by God, this was a special child, myopically beaming 
at the already remote stage where I glimpsed something of the 
joint authors — a man’s tuxedo and the bare shoulders of a hawk- 
like, black-haired, strikingly tall woman. 

“You’ve again hurt my wrist, you brute,” said Lolita in a small 
voice as she slipped into her car seat. 

“I am dreadfully sorry, my darling, my own ultraviolet 
darling,” I said, unsuccessfully trying to catch her elbow, and I 
added, to change the conversation — to change the direction of 
fate, oh God, oh God: “Vivian is quite a woman. I am sure we 
>aw her yesterday in that restaurant, in Soda pop.” 

“Sometimes,” said Lo, “you are quite revoltingly dumb. First, 
Vivian is the male author, the gal author is Clare; and second, 

>he is forty, married and has Negro blood.” 

“I thought,” I said kidding her, “Quilty was an ancient flame 

yours, in the days when you loved me, in sweet old Ramsdale.” 

“What?” countered Lo, her features working. “That fat den- 

[ 223 ] 

tist? You must be confusing me with some other fast little 

And I thought to myself how those fast little articles forget 
everything, everything, while we, old lovers, treasure every inch 
of their nymphancy. 


With Lo’s knowledge and assent, the two post offices given to 
the Beardsley postmaster as forwarding addresses were P.O. Wacel 
and P.O. Elphinstone. Next morning we visited the former and: 
had to wait in a short but slow queue. Serene Lo studied thei 
rogues’ gallery. Handsome Bryan Bryansk!, alias Anthony Bryan, 
alias Tony Brown, eyes hazel, complexion fair, was wanted for 
kidnaping. A sad-eyed old gentleman’s faux-pas was mail fraud,, 
and, as if that were not enough, he was cursed with deformed! 
arches. Sullen Sullivan came with a caution: Is believed armed,! 
and should be considered extremely dangerous. If you want toi 
make a movie out of my book, have one of these faces gently 
melt into my own, while I look. And moreover there was a 
smudgy snapshot of a Missing Girl, age fourteen, wearing brown 
shoes when last seen, rhymes. Please notify Sheriff Buller. 

I forget my letters; as to Dolly’s, there was her report and a 
very special-looking envelope. This I deliberately opened and 
perused its contents. I concluded I was doing the foreseen since: 
she did not seem to mind and drifted toward the newsstand neat 
the exit. ' 

“Dolly-Lo: Well, the play was a grand success. All three! 
hounds lay quiet having been slightly drugged by Cutler, I 
suspect, and Linda knew all your lines. She was fine, she had 
alertness and control, but lacked somehow the responsiveness^ 
the relaxed vitality, the charm of my — and the author’s — Diana: 
but there was no author to applaud us as last time, and the ter- 
rific electric storm outside interfered with our own modest off- 
stage thunder. Oh dear, life does fly. Now that everything is overJl 

[ 224 ] 

school, play, the Roy mess, mother’s confinement (our baby, 
alas, did not live!), it all seems such a long time ago, though 
practically I still bear traces of the paint. 

“We are going to New York after to-morrow, and I guess I 
can’t manage to wriggle out of accompanying my parents to 
Europe. I have even worse news for you. Dolly-Lo! I may not be 
back at Beardsley if and when you return. With one thing and 
another, one being you know who, and the other not being who 
^ou think you know, Dad wants me to go to school in Paris for 
one year while he and Fullbright are around. 

“As expected, poor Poet stumbled in Scene III when arriving 
at the bit of French nonsense. Remember? Ne manque pas de 
dire d ton amant, Chimhie, comme le lac est beau car il faut 
qudl fy mene. Lucky beau! QuHl t’y — What a tongue-twister! i 
Well, be good, Lollikins. Best love from your Poet, and best 
regards to the Governor. Your Mona. P.S. Because of one thing 
and another, my correspondence happens to be rigidly con- 
trolled. So better wait till I write you from Europe.” (She never 
did as far as I know. The letter contained an element of mys- 
cerious nastiness that I am too tired to-day to analyze. I found 2 
It later preserved in one of the Tour Books, and give it here 
d titre documentaire. I read it twice.) 3 

I looked up from the letter and was about to— There was no 
Lo to behold. While I was engrossed in Mona’s witchery, Lo had 4 
shrugged her shoulders and vanished. “Did you happen to see — 
il asked of a hunchback sweeping the floor near the entrance. He 
,iad, the old lecherer. He guessed she had seen a friend and had 
lurried out. I hurried out too. I stopped — she had not. I hurried 
in. I stopped again. It had happened at last. She had gone for 

In later years I have often wondered why she did not go for 
bver that day. Was it the retentive quality of her new summer 
‘clothes in my locked car? Was it some unripe particle in some 
{general plan? Was it simply because, all things considered, I 
inight as well be used to convey her to Elphinstone — the secret 
yerminus, anyway? I only know I was quite certain she had left 
|ue for ever. The noncommittal mauve mountains half encircling 

\ [ 225 ] 

the town seemed to me to swarm with panting, scrambling, 
laughing, panting Lolitas who dissolved in their haze. A big W 
made of white stones on a steep talus in the far vista of a cross 
street seemed the very initial of woe. 

The new and beautiful post office I had just emerged from 
stood between a dormant movie house and a conspiracy of 
poplars. The time was 9 a.m. mountain time. The street was 
Main Street. I paced its blue side peering at the opposite one: 
charming it into beauty, was one of those fragile young summer 
mornings with flashes of glass here and there and a general air 
of faltering and almost fainting at the prospect of an intolerably 
torrid noon. Crossing over, I loafed and leafed, as it were, 
through one long block: Drugs, Real Estate, Fashions, Auto ; 
Parts, Cafe, Sporting Goods, Real Estate, Furniture, Appliances, \ 
Western Union, Cleaners, Grocery. Officer, officer, my daughter | 
has run away. In collusion with a detective; in love with a black- 1 
mailer. Took advantage of my utter helplessness. I peered into I 
all the stores. I deliberated inly if I should talk to any of the j 
sparse foot-passengers. I did not. I sat for a while in the parked] 
car. I inspected the public garden on the east side. I went back 
to Fashions and Auto Parts. I told myself with a burst of furious 1 
sarcasm — un ricane 7 nent — that I was crazy to suspect her, that ' 
she would turn up in a minute. 

She did. 

I wheeled around and shook off the hand she had placed on 
my sleeve with a timid and imbecile smile. 

“Get into the car,” I said. 

She obeyed, and I went on pacing up and down, struggling 
with nameless thoughts, trying to plan some way of tackling her 

Presently she left the car and was at my side again. My sense 
of hearing gradually got tuned in to station Lo again, and I be- 
came aware she was telling me that she had met a former girl 

“Yes? Whom?” 

“A Beardsley girl.” 

“Good. I know every name in your group. Alice Adams?” 

[ 226 ] 

“This girl was not in my group.” 

“Good. I have a complete student list with me. Her name 

“She was not in my school. She is just a town girl in 

“Good. I have the Beardsley directory with me too. We’ll look 
up all the Browns.” 1 

“I only know her first name.” 

“Mary or Jane?” 

“No — Dolly, like me.” 

“So that’s the dead end” (the mirror you break your nose 
against). “Good. Let us try another angle. You have been absent 
twenty-eight minutes. What did the two Dollys do?” 

“We went to a drugstore.” 

“And you had there — ?” 

“Oh, just a couple of Cokes.” 2 

“Careful, Dolly. We can check that, you know.” 

“At least, she had. I had a glass of water.” 

“Good. Was it that place there?” 


“Good, come on, we’ll grill the soda jerk.” 

“Wait a sec. Come to think it might have been further down 
— just around the corner.” 

“Come on all the same. Go in please. Well, let’s see.” (Open- 
ing a chained telephone book.) “Dignified Funeral Service. 
No, not yet. Here we are; Druggists-Retail. Hill Drug Store. 
Larkin’s Pharmacy. And two more. That’s all Wace seems to 
have in the way of soda fountains — at least in the business sec- 
tion. Well, we will check them all.” 

“Go to hell,” she said. 

“Lo, rudeness will get you nowhere.” 

“Okay,” she said. “But you’re not going to trap me. Okay, so 
we did not have a pop. We just talked and looked at dresses in 
show windows.” 

“Which? That window there for example?” 

“Yes, that one there, for example.” 

“Oh Lo! Let’s look closer at it.” 

[ 227 ] 

It was indeed a pretty sight. A dapper young fellow was 
vacuum-cleaning a carpet of sorts upon which stood two figures 
that looked as if some blast had just worked havoc with them. 
One figure was stark naked, wigless and armless. Its compara- 
tively small stature and smirking pose suggested that when 
clothed it had represented, and would represent when clothed 
again, a girl-child of Lolita’s size. But in its present state it was 
sexless. Next to it, stood a much taller veiled bride, quite perfect 

1 and Intacta except for the lack of one arm. On the floor, at the 
feet of these damsels, where the man crawled about laboriously 
with his cleaner, there lay a cluster of three slender arms, and a 
blond wig. Two of the arms happened to be twisted and seemed 
to suggest a clasping gesture of horror and supplication. 

“Look, Lo,” I said quietly. “Look well. Is not that a rather 
good symbol of something or other? However” — I went on as we 
got back into the car — “I have taken certain precautions. Here 
(delicately opening the glove compartment), on this pad, I 

2 have our boy friend’s car number.” 

As the ass I was I had not memorized it. What remained of 
it in my mind were the initial letter and the closing figure as if 
the whole amphitheatre of six signs receded concavely behind a 
tinted glass too opaque to allow the central series to be deci- 
phered, but just translucent enough to make out its extreme 
edges— a capital P and a 6. I have to go into those details (which 
in themselves can interest only a professional psychologue) be- 
cause otherwise the reader (ah, if I could visualize him as a 

3 blond-bearded scholar with rosy lips sucking la pomnie de sa 

4 canne as he quaffs my manuscript!) might not understand the 
quality of the shock I experienced upon noticing that the P had 
acquired the bustle of a B and that the 6 had been deleted alto- 
gether. The rest, with erasures revealing the hurried shuttle 
smear of a pencil’s rubber end, and with parts of numbers 
obliterated or reconstructed in a child’s hand, presented a tangle 
of barbed wire to any logical interpretation. All I knew was the 
state — one adjacent to the state Beardsley was in. 

I said nothing. I put the pad back, closed the compartment, 
and drove out of Wace. Lo had grabbed some comics from the 

[ 228 ] 

back seat and, mobile-white-bloused, one brown elbow out of 
the window, was deep in the current adventure of some clout or 
clown. Three or four miles out of Wace, I turned into the 
shadow of a picnic ground where the morning had dumped its 
litter of light on an empty table; Lo looked up with a semi-smile 
of surprise and without a word I delivered a tremendous back- 
hand cut that caught her smack on her hot hard little cheek- 

And then the remorse, the poignant sweetness of sobbing 
atonement, groveling love, the hopelessness of sensual reconcilia- 
tion. In the velvet night, at Mirana Motel (Mirana!) I kissed i 
the yellowish soles of her long-toed feet, I immolated myself . . . 

But it was all of no avail. Both doomed were we. And soon I was 
to enter a new cycle of persecution. 

In a street of Wace, on its outskirts . . . Oh, I am quite sure it 
was not a delusion. In a street of Wace, I had glimpsed the 
Aztec Red Convertible, or its identical twin. Instead of Trapp, 
it contained four or five loud young people of several sexes — but 
I said nothing. After Wace a totally new situation arose. For a 
day or two, I enjoyed the mental emphasis with which I told 
myself that we were not, and never had been followed; and then 
I became sickeningly conscious that Trapp had changed his 
tactics and was still with us, in this or that rented car. 

A veritable Proteus of the highway, \tdth bewildering ease he 2 
switched from one vehicle to another. This technique implied 
the existence of garages specializing in “stage-automobile” opera- 
tions, but I never could discover the remises he used. He seemed 3 
to patronize at first the Chevrolet genus, beginning with a 
Campus Cream convertible, then going on to a small Horizon 
Blue sedan, and thenceforth fading into Surf Gray and Drift- 
wood Gray. Then he turned to other makes and passed through 
a pale dull rainbow of paint shades, and one day I found myself 
attempting to cope with the subtle distinction between our own 
Dream Blue Melmoth and the Crest Blue Oldsmobile he had 4 
rented; grays, however, remained his favorite cryptochromism, 5 
and, in agonizing nightmares, I tried in vain to sort out properly 

[ 229 ] 

such ghosts as Chrysler’s Shell Gray, Chevrolet’s Thistle Gray, 
Dodge’s French Gray . . . 

The necessity of being constantly on the lookout for his little 
moustache and open shirt — or for his baldish pate and broad 
shoulders — led me to a profound study of all cars on the road — i 
behind, before, alongside, coming, going, every vehicle under the 
dancing sun: the quiet vacationist’s automobile with the box of 
Tender-Touch tissues in the back window; the recklessly speed- 
ing jalopy full of pale children with a shaggy dog’s head pro- 
truding, and a crumpled mudguard; the bachelor’s tudor sedan 
crowded with suits on hangers; the huge fat house trailer weav- 
ing in front, immune to the Indian file of fury boiling behind j 
it; the car with the young female passenger politely perched in j 
the middle of the front seat to be closer to the young male I 
driver; the car carrying on its roof a red boat bottom up . . . The i 
gray car slowing up before us, the gray car catching up with us. 

We were in mountain country, somewhere between Snow 
and Champion, and rolling down an almost imperceptible grade, 
when I had my next distinct view of Detective Paramour Trapp. 
The gray mist behind us had deepened and concentrated into the 
compactness of a Dominion Blue sedan. All of a sudden, as if 
the car I drove responded to my poor heart’s pangs, we were i 
slithering from side to side, with something making a helpless 
plap-plap-plap under us. 

“You got a flat, mister,” said cheerful Lo. 

I pulled up — near a precipice. She folded her arms and put her 
foot on the dashboard. I got out and examined the right rear 
wheel. The base of its tire was sheepishly and hideously square. 
Trapp had stopped some fifty yards behind us. His distant face : 
formed a grease spot of mirth. This was my chance. I started to ; 
walk towards him — with the brilliant idea of asking him for a 
jack though I had one. He backed a little. I stubbed my toe 
against a stone — and there was a sense of general laughter. Then 
a tremendous truck loomed from behind Trapp and thundered 
by me — and immediately after, I heard it utter a convulsive 
honk. Instinctively I looked back — and saw my own car gently 
creeping away. I could make out Lo ludicrously at the wheel, I 

[ 230 ] 

and the engine was certainly running — though I remembered I 
had cut it but had not applied the emergency brake; and during 
the brief space of throb-time that it took me to reach the croak- 
ing machine which came to a standstill at last, it dawned upon 
me that during the last two years little Lo had had ample time 
to pick up the rudiments of driving. As I wrenched the door 
open, I was goddam sure she had started the car to prevent me 
from M^alking up to Trapp. Her trick proved useless, however, 
for even while I was pursuing her he had made an energetic 
U-turn and was gone. I rested for a while. Lo asked wasn’t I 
going to thank her — the car had started to move by itself and — 
Getting no answer, she immersed herself in a study of the map. 

I got out again and commenced the “ordeal of the orb,” as 1 
Charlotte used to say. Perhaps, I was losing my mind. 

We continued our grotesque journey. After a forlorn and 
useless dip, we went up and up. On a steep grade I found myself 
behind the gigantic truck that had overtaken us. It was now 
groaning up a winding road and was impossible to pass. Out of 2 
its front part a small oblong of smooth silver — the inner wrap- 
ping of chewing gum — escaped and flew back into our wind- 
shield. It occurred to me that if I were really losing my mind, I 
might end by murdering somebody. In fact — said high-and-dry 
Humbert to floundering Humbert — it might be quite clever to 
prepare things — to transfer the weapon from box to pocket — so 
as to be ready to take advantage of the spell of insanity when it 
does come. 


By permitting Lolita to study acting I had, fond fool, suflFered 
her to cultivate deceit. It now appeared that it had not been 
merely a matter of learning the answers to such questions as 
what is the basic conflict in “Hedda Gabler,” or where are the 
climaxes in “Love Under the Lindens,” or analyze the prevailing 3 
mood of “Cherry Orchard”; it was really a matter of learning to 
betray me. How I deplored now the exercises in sensual simula- 

[ 231 ] 

tion that I had so often seen her go through in our Beardsley 
parlor when I would observe her from some strategic point 
while she, like a hypnotic subject or a performer in a mystic rite, 
produced sophisticated versions of infantile make-believe by 
going through the mimetic actions of hearing a moan in the 
dark, seeing for the first time a brand new young stepmother, 
tasting something she hated, such as buttermilk, smelling 
crushed grass in a lush orchard, or touching mirages of objects 
with her sly, slender, girl-child hands. Among my papers I still 
have a mimeographed sheet suggesting; 

Tactile drill. Imagine yourself picking up and holding; a 
pingpong ball, an apple, a sticky date, a new flannel-fluffed 
tennis ball, a hot potato, an ice cube, a kitten, a puppy, a 

1 horseshoe, a feather, a flashlight. 

Knead with your fingers the following imaginary things; a 
piece of bread, india rubber, a friend’s aching temple, a 
sample of velvet, a rose petal. 

You are a blind girl. Palpate the face of; a Greek youth, 
Cyrano, Santa Claus, a baby, a laughing faun, a sleeping 

2 stranger, your father. 

But she had been so pretty in the weaving of those delicate 
spells, in the dreamy performance of her enchantments and 
duties! On certain adventurous evenings, in Beardsley, I also had 
her dance for me with the promise of some treat or gift, and 
although these routine leg-parted leaps of hers were more like 
those of a football cheerleader than like the languorous and 

3 jerky motions of a Parisian petit rat, the rhythms of her not quite 
nubile limbs had given me pleasure. But all that was nothing, 
absolutely nothing, to the indescribable itch of rapture that her 
tennis game produced in me — the teasing delirious feeling of 
teetering on the very brink of unearthly order and splendor. 

Despite her advanced age, she was more of a nymphet than 
ever, with her apricot-colored limbs, in her sub-teen tennis togs! 
Winged gentlemen! No hereafter is acceptable if it does not 
produce her as she was then, in that Colorado resort between 
Snow and Elphinstone, with everything right; the white wide 

[ 232 ] 

little-boy shorts, the slender waist, the apricot midriff, the white 
breast-kerchief whose ribbons went up and encircled her neck to 
end behind in a dangling knot leaving bare her gaspingly young 
and adorable apricot shoulder blades with that pubescence and 
those lovely gentle bones, and the smooth, downward-tapering 
back. Her cap had a white peak. Her racket had cost me a small 
fortune. Idiot, triple idiot! I could have filmed her! I would have 
had her now with me, before my eyes, in the projection room of 
my pain and despair! 

She would wait and relax for a bar or two of white-lined time 
before going into the act of serving, and often bounced the ball 
once or twice, or pawed the ground a little, always at ease, al- 
ways rather vague about the score, always cheerful as she so 
seldom was in the dark life she led at home. Her tennis was the 
highest point to which I can imagine a young creature bring- 
ing the art of make-believe, although I daresay, for her it was 
the very geometry of basic reality. 

The exquisite clarity of all her movements had its auditory 
counterpart in the pure ringing sound of her every stroke. The 
ball when it entered her aura of control became somehow whiter, 
its resilience somehow richer, and the instrument of precision 
she used upon it seemed inordinately prehensile and deliberate 
at the moment of clinging contact. Her form was, indeed, an 
absolutely perfect imitation of absolutely top-notch tennis — 
without any utilitarian results. As Edusa’s sister, Electra Gold, a 
marvelous young coach, said to me once while I sat on a pulsat- 
ing hard bench watching Dolores Haze toying with Linda Hall 
(and being beaten by her): “Dolly has a magnet in the center 
of her racket guts, but why the heck is she so polite?” Ah, Electra, 
what did it matter, with such grace! I remember at the very first 
game I watched being drenched with an almost painful convul- 
sion of beauty assimilation. My Lolita had a way of raising her 
bent left knee at the ample and springy start of the service cycle 
when there would develop and hang in the sun for a second a 
vital web of balance between toed foot, pristine armpit, burnished 
arm and far back-flung racket, as she smiled up with gleaming 
teeth at the small globe suspended so high in the zenith of the 

[ 233 ] 

powerful and graceful cosmos she had created for the express 
purpose of falling upon it with a clean resounding crack of her 
golden whip. 

It had, that serve of hers, beauty, directness, youth, a classical 
purity of trajectory, and was, despite its spanking pace, fairly 
easy to return, having as it did no twist or sting to its long elegant 

That I could have had all her strokes, all her enchantments, 
immortalized in segments of celluloid, makes me moan to-day 
with frustration. They would have been so much more than the 
snapshots I burned! Her overhead volley was related to her 
service as the envoy is to the ballade; for she had been trained, 
my pet, to patter up at once to the net on her nimble, vivid, 
white-shod feet. There was nothing to choose between her fore- 
hand and backhand drives: they were mirror images of one 
another — my very loins still tingle with those pistol reports re- 
peated by crisp echoes and Electra’s cries. One of the pearls of 

1 Dolly’s game was a short half-volley that Ned Litam had taught 
her in California. 

She preferred acting to swimming, and swimming to tennis; 
yet I insist that had not something within her been broken by 
me — not that I realized it then! — she would have had on the top 
of her perfect form the will to win, and would have become a 
real girl champion. Dolores, with two rackets under her arm, in 

2 Wimbledon. Dolores endorsing a Dromedary. Dolores turning 
professional. Dolores acting a girl champion in a movie. Dolores 
and her gray, humble, hushed husband-coach, old Humbert. 

There was nothing wrong or deceitful in the spirit of her game 
— unless one considered her cheerful indifference toward its out- 
come as the feint of a nymphet. She who was so cruel and crafty 
in everyday life, revealed an innocence, a frankness, a kindness of 
ball-placing, that permitted a second-rate but determined player, 
no matter how uncouth and incompetent, to poke and cut his way 
to victory. Despite her small stature, she covered the one thou- 

3 sand and fifty-three square feet of her half of the court with 
wonderful ease, once she had entered into the rhythm of a rally 
and as long as she could direct that rhythm; but any abrupt 

[ 234 ] 

attack, or sudden change of tactics on her adversary’s part, left 
her helpless. At match point, her second serve, which — rather 
typically — was even stronger and more stylish than her first (for 
she had none of the inhibitions that cautious winners have), 
would strike vibrantly the harp-cord of the net — and ricochet out 
of court. The polished gem of her dropshot was snapped up and 
put away by an opponent who seemed four-legged and wielded a 
crooked paddle. Her dramatic drives and lovely volleys would 
candidly fall at his feet. Over and over again she would land an 
easy one into the net — and merrily mimic dismay by drooping in 
a ballet attitude, with her forelocks hanging. So sterile were her 
grace and whipper that she could not even win from panting me 
and my old-fashioned lifting drive. 

I suppose I am especially susceptible to the magic of games. 

In my chess sessions with Gaston I saw the board as a square i 

pool of limpid water with rare shells and stratagems rosily visible 2 

upon the smooth tessellated bottom, which to my confused 3 
adversary was all ooze and squid-cloud. Similarly, the initial 
tennis coaching I had inflicted on Lolita — prior to the revela- 
tions that came to her through the great Californian’s lessons — 
remained in my mind as oppressive and distressful memories — 
not only because she had been so hopelessly and irritatingly 
irritated by every suggestion of mine— but because the pre- 
cious symmetry of the court instead of reflecting the harmo- 
nies latent in her was utterly jumbled by the clumsiness and 
lassitude of the resentful child I mistaught. Now things were 
different, and on that particular day, in the pure air of ChampioU, 
Colorado, on that admirable court at the foot of steep stone 
stairs leading up to Champion Hotel where we had spent the 
night, I felt I could rest from the nightmare of unknown be- 
trayals within the innocence of her style, of her soul, of her 
essential grace. 

She was hitting hard and flat, with her usual effortless sweep, 
feeding me deep skimming balls — all so rhythmically coordinated 
and overt as to reduce my footwork to, practically, a swinging 
stroll — crack players will understand what I mean. My rather 
heavily cut serve that I had been taught by my father who had 

C 235 ] 

1 learned it from Decugis or Borman, old friends of his and great 
champions, would have seriously troubled my Lo, had I really 
tried to trouble her. But who would upset such a lucid dear? Did 
I ever mention that her bare arm bore the 8 of vaccination? 
That I loved her hopelessly? That she was only fourteen? 

2 An inquisitive butterfly passed, dipping, between us. 

Two people in tennis shorts, a red-haired fellow only about 
eight years my junior, with sunburnt bright pink shins, and an 
indolent dark girl with a moody mouth and hard eyes, about 
two years Lolita’s senior, appeared from nowhere. As is common 
with dutiful tyros, their rackets were sheathed and framed, and 
they carried them not as if they were the natural and com- 
fortable extensions of certain specialized muscles, but hammers 

3 or blunderbusses or wimbles, or my own dreadful cumbersome 
sins. Rather unceremoniously seating themselves near my pre- 
cious coat, on a bench adjacent to the court, they fell to admir- 
ing very vocally a rally of some fifty exchanges that Lo innocently 
helped me to foster and uphold — until there occurred a syncope 

4 in the series causing her to gasp as her overhead smash went 
out of court, whereupon she melted into winsome merriment, 
my golden pet. 

I felt thirsty by then, and walked to the drinking fountain; 
there Red approached me and in all humility suggested a mixed 
double. “I am Bill Mead,” he said. “And that’s Fay Page, ac- 

5 tress. Maffy On Say” — he added (pointing with his ridiculously 
hooded racket at polished Fay who was already talking to 
Dolly). I was about to reply “Sorry, but — ” (for I hate to have 
my filly involved in the chops and jabs of cheap bunglers), when 
a remarkably melodious cry diverted my attention: a bellboy was 
tripping down the steps from the hotel to our court and making 
me signs. I was wanted, if you please, on an urgent long distance 
call — so urgent in fact that the line was being held for me. Cer- 
tainly. I got into my coat (inside pocket heavy with pistol) and 
told Lo I would be back in a minute. She was picking up a ball 
— in the continental foot-racket way which was one of the few 
nice things I had taught her, — and smiled — she smiled at me! 

An awful calm kept my heart afloat as I followed the boy up 

[ 236 ] 

to the hotel. This, to use an American term, in which discovery, 
retribution, torture, death, eternity appear in the shape of a 
singularly repulsive nutshell, was it. I had left her in mediocre 
hands, but it hardly mattered now. I would fight, of course. Oh, 

I would fight. Better destroy everything than surrender her. Yes, 
quite a climb. 

At the desk, a dignified, Roman-nosed man, with, I suggest, 
a very obscure past that might reward investigation, handed me 
a messag^e in his own hand. The line had not been held after 
all. The note said: 

“Mr. Humbert. The head of Birdsley (sic! ) School called. 
Summer residence — Birdsley 2-8282. Please call back immedi- 
ately. Highly important.” 

I folded myself into a booth, took a little pill, and for about 
twenty minutes tussled with space-spooks. A quartet of propo- 
sitions gradually became audible: soprano, there was no such 
number in Beardsley; alto. Miss Pratt was on her way to Eng- 
land; tenor, Beardsley School had not telephoned; bass, they 
could not have done so, since nobody knew I was, that particular 
day, in Champion, Colo. Upon my stinging him, the Roman 
took the trouble to find out if there had been a long distance 
call. There had been none. A fake call from some local dial was 
not excluded. I thanked him. He said: You bet. After a visit to 
the purling men’s room and a stiff drink at the bar, I started on 1 

my return march. From the very first terrace I saw, far below, 
on the tennis court which seemed the size of a school child’s 
ill-wiped slate, golden Lolita playing in a double. She moved 
like a fair angel among three horrible Boschian cripples. One of 2 
these, her partner, while changing sides, jocosely slapped her on 
her behind with his racket. He had a remarkably round head 
and wore incongruous brown trousers. There was a momentary 
flurry — he saw me, and throwing away his racket — mine! — scuttled 
up the slope. He waved his wrists and elbows in would-be comi- 
cal imitation of rudimentary wings, as he climbed, bow-legged, 
to the street, where his gray car awaited him. Next moment he 
and the grayness were gone. When I came down, the remaining 
trio were collecting and sorting out the balls. 

[ 237 ] 

“Mr. Mead, who was that person?” 

Bill and Fay, both looking very solemn, shook their heads. 

That absurd intruder had butted in to make up a double, 
hadn’t he, Dolly? 

Dolly. The handle of my racket was still disgustingly warm. 
Before returning to the hotel, I ushered her into a little alley 
half-smothered in fragrant shrubs, with flowers like smoke, and 
was about to burst into ripe sobs and plead with her imper- 
turbed dream in the most abject manner for clarification, no 
matter how meretricious, of the slow awfulness enveloping me, 
when we found ourselves behind the convulsed Mead twosome 
— assorted people, you know, meeting among idyllic settings in 
old comedies. Bill and Fay were both weak with laughter^ — we 
had come at the end of their private joke. It did not really matter. 

Speaking as if it really did not really matter, and assuming, 
apparently, that life was automatically rolling on with all its 
routine pleasures, Lolita said she would like to change into her 
bathing things, and spend the rest of the afternoon at the swim- 
ming pool. It was a gorgeous day. Lolita! 


“Lo! Lola! Lolita!” I hear myself crying from a doorway into 
the sun, with the acoustics of time, domed time, endowing my i 
call and its tell-tale hoarseness with such a wealth of anxiety, j 
passion and pain that really it would have been instrumental in ll 
wrenching open the zipper of her nylon shroud had she been j 
dead. Lolita! In the middle of a trim turfed terrace I found her 
at last — she had run out before I was ready. Oh Lolita! There 
she was playing with a damned dog, not me. The animal, a i 
terrier of sorts, was losing and snapping up again and adjusting 
between his jaws a wet little red ball; he took rapid chords with 
his front paws on the resilient turf, and then would bounce 
away. I had only wanted to see where she was, I could not swim 
with my heart in that state, but who cared — and there she was, ! | 

[ 238 ] i| 

and there was I, in my robe — and so I stopped calling; but sud- 
denly something in the pattern of her motions, as she dashed 
this way and that in her Aztec Red bathing briefs and bra, struck i 
me . . . there was an ecstasy, a madness about her frolics that 
was too much of a glad thing. Even the dog seemed puzzled 
by the extravagance of her reactions. I put a gentle hand to my 
chest as I surveyed the situation. The turquoise blue swimming 
pool some distance behind the lawn was no longer behind that 
lawn, but within my thorax, and my organs swam in it like 
excrements in the blue sea water in Nice. One of the bathers had 
left the pool and, half-concealed by the peacocked shade of 
trees, stood quite still, holding the ends of the towel around his 
neck and following Lolita with his amber eyes. There he stood, 
in the camouflage of sun and shade, disfigured by them and 
masked by his own nakedness, his damp black hair or what was 
left of it, glued to his round head, his little mustache a humid 
smear, the wool on his chest spread like a symmetrical trophy, 
his naval pulsating, his hirsute thighs dripping with bright drop- 
lets, his tight wet black bathing trunks bloated and bursting 
with vigor where his great fat bullybag was pulled up and back 
like a padded shield over his reversed beasthood. And as I looked 2 
at his oval nut-brown face, it dawned upon me that what I had 
recognized him by was the reflection of my daughter’s counte- 
nance — the same beatitude and grimace but made hideous by 
his maleness. And I also knew that the child, my child, knew 
he was looking, enjoyed the lechery of his look and was putting 
on a show of gambol and glee, the vile and beloved slut. As 
she made for the ball and missed it, she fell on her back, with 
her obscene young legs madly pedalling in the air; I could sense 
the musk of her excitement from where I stood, and then I saw 
(petrified with a kind of sacred disgust) the man close his eyes 
and bare his small, horribly small and even, teeth as he leaned 
against a tree in which a multitude of dappled Priaps shivered. 
Immediately afterwards a marvelous transformation took place. 

He was no longer the satyr but a very good-natured and foolish 
Swiss cousin, the Gustave Trapp I have mentioned more than 
once, who used to counteract his “sprees” (he drank beer with 

[ 239 ] 

milk, the good swine) by feats of weight-lifting — tottering and 
grunting on a lake beach with his otherwise very complete bath- 
ing suit jauntily stripped from one shoulder. This Trapp noticed 
me from afar and working the towel on his nape walked back 
with false insouciance to the pool. And as if the sun had gone 
out of the game, Lo slackened and slowly got up ignoring the 
ball that the terrier placed before her. Who can say what heart- 
breaks are caused in a dog by our discontinuing a romp? I started 
to say something, and then sat down on the grass with a quite 
monstrous pain in my chest and vomited a torrent of browns 
and greens that I had never remembered eating. 

I saw Lolita’s eyes, and they seemed to be more calculating 
than frightened. I heard her saying to a kind lady that her father 
was having a fit. Then for a long time I lay in a lounge chair 
swallowing pony upon pony of gin. And next morning I felt 
strong enough to drive on (which in later years no doctor 


The two-room cabin we had ordered at Silver Spur Court, 

1 Elphinstone, turned out to belong to the glossily browned pine- 
log kind that Lolita used to be so fond of in the days of our 
carefree first journey; oh, how different things were now! I am 
not referring to Trapp or Trapps. After all — well, really . . . After 
all, gentlemen, it was becoming abundantly clear that all those 
identical detectives in prismatically changing cars were figments 
of my persecution mania, recurrent images based on coincidence 

2 and chance resemblance. Soyons logiques, crowed the cocky 
Gallic part of my brain — and proceeded to rout the notion of a 
Lolita-maddened salesman or comedy gangster, with stooges, 
persecuting me, and hoaxing me, and otherwise taking riotous 
advantage of my strange relations with the law. I remember 
humming my panic away. I remember evolving even an explana- 
tion of the “Birdsley” telephone call . . . But if I could dismiss 
Trapp, as I had dismissed my convulsions on the lawn at 

[ 240 ] 

Champion, I could do nothing with the anguish of knowing 
Lolita to be so tantalizingly, so miserably unattainable and be- 
loved on the very eve of a new era, when my alembics told me 
she should stop being a nymphet, stop torturing me. 

An additional, abominable, and perfectly gratuitous worry 
was lovingly prepared for me in Elphinstone. Lo had been dull 
and silent during the last lap — two hundred mountainous miles 
uncontaminated by smoke -gray sleuths or zigzagging zanies. She 
hardly glanced at the famous, oddly shaped, splendidly flushed 
rock which jutted above the mountains and had been the take-off 
for nirvana on the part of a temperamental show girl. The town 
was newly built, or rebuilt, on the flat floor of a seven-thousand- 
foot-high valley; it would soon bore Lo, I hoped, and we would 
spin on to California, to the Mexican border, to mythical bays, 
saguaro deserts, fatamorganas. Jose Lizzarrabengoa, as you re- i, 2 , 3 
member, planned to take his Carmen to the Etats Unis. I con- 4 
jured up a Central American tennis competition in which 
Dolores Haze and various Californian schoolgirl champions 
would dazzlingly participate. Good-will tours on that smiling 
level eliminate the distinction between passport and sport. Why 
did I hope we would be happy abroad? A change of environ- 
ment is the traditional fallacy upon which doomed loves, and 
lungs, rely. 

Mrs. Hays, the brisk, brickly rouged, blue-eyed widow who 
ran the motor court, asked me if I were Swiss perchance, be- 
cause her sister had married a Swiss ski instructor. I was, whereas 
my daughter happened to be half Irish. I registered. Hays gave 
me the key and a twinkling smile, and, still twinkling, showed 
me where to park the car; Lo crawled out and shivered a little: 
the luminous evening air was decidedly crisp. Upon entering the 
cabin, she sat down on a chair at a card table, buried her face 
in the crook of her arm and said she felt awful. Shamming, I 
thought, shamming, no doubt, to evade my caresses; I was pas- 
sionately parched; but she began to whimper in an unusually 
dreary way when I attempted to fondle her. Lolita ill. Lolita 
dying. Her skin was scalding hot! I took her temperature, orally, 
then looked up a scribbled formula I fortunately had in a jotter 

[ 241 ] 

and after laboriously reducing the, meaningless to me, degrees 
Fahrenheit to the intimate centrigrade of my childhood, found 
she had 40.4, which at least made sense. Hysterical little nymphs 
might, I knew, run up all kinds of temperature — even exceed- 
ing a fatal count. And I would have given her a sip of hot 
spiced wine, and two aspirins, and kissed the fever away, if, upon 
an examination of her lovely uvula, one of the gems of her 
body, I had not seen that it was a burning red. I undressed her. 
Her breath was bittersweet. Her brown rose tasted of blood. 
She was shaking from head to toe. She complained of a painful 
stiffness in the upper vertebrae — and I thought of poliomyelitis 
as any American parent would. Giving up all hope of inter- 
course, I wrapped her up in a laprobe and carried her into the 
car. Kind Mrs. Hays in the meantime had alerted the local 
doctor. “You are lucky it happened here,” she said; for not only 

1 was Blue the best man in the district, but the Elphinstone hos- 
pital was as modern as modern could be, despite its limited 

2 capacity. With a heterosexual Erlkonig in pursuit, thither I 
drove, half-blinded by a royal sunset on the lowland side and 
guided by a little old woman, a portable witch, perhaps his 
daughter, whom Mrs. Hays had lent me, and whom I was never 
to see again. Dr. Blue, whose learning, no doubt, was infinitely 
inferior to his reputation, assured me it was a virus infection, 
and when I alluded to her comparatively recent flu, curtly said 
this was another bug, he had forty such cases on his hands; all 

3 of which sounded like the “ague” of the ancients. I wondered 
if I should mention, with a casual chuckle, that my fifteen-year- 
old daughter had had a minor accident while climbing an awk- 
ward fence with her boy friend, but knowing I was drunk, I 
decided to withhold the information till later if necessary. To 
an unsmiling blond bitch of a secretary I gave my daughter’s 
age as “practically sixteen.” While I was not looking, my child 
was taken away from me! In vain I insisted I be allowed to 
spend the night on a “welcome” mat in a corner of their damned 
hospital. I ran up constructivistic flights of stairs, I tried to 
trace my darling so as to tell her she had better not babble, espe- 
cially if she felt as lightheaded as we all did. At one point, I 

[ 242 ] 

was rather dreadfully rude to a very young and very cheeky 
nurse with overdeveloped gluteal parts and blazing black eyes 
— of Basque descent, as I learned. Her father was an imported 
shepherd, a trainer of sheep dogs. Finally, I returned to the car 
and remained in it for I do not know how many hours, hunched 
up in the dark, stunned by my new solitude, looking out open- 
mouthed now at the dimly illumed, very square and low hos- 
pital building squatting in the middle of its lawny block, now 
up at the wash of stars and the jagged silvery ramparts of the 
haute viontagne where at the moment Mary’s father, lonely l 
Joseph Lore, was dreaming of Oloron, Lagore, Rolas — que sais-je! 2 
— or seducing a ewe. Such-like fragrant vagabond thoughts have 
been always a solace to me in times of unusual stress, and only 
when, despite liberal libations, I felt fairly numbed by the 
endless night, did I think of driving back to the motel. The old 
woman had disappeared, and I was not quite sure of my way. 
Wide gravel roads criss-crossed drowsy rectangular shadows. I 
made out what looked like the silhouette of gallows on what 
was probably a school playground; and in another wastelike 
block there rose in domed silence the pale temple of some local 
sect. I found the highway at last, and then the motel, where 
millions of so-called “millers,” a kind of insect, were swarming 
around the neon contours of “No Vacancy”; and, when, at 
3 A.M., after one of those untimely hot showers which like some 
mordant only help to fix a man’s despair and weariness, I lay 
on her bed that smelled of chestnuts and roses, and peppermint, 
and the very delicate, very special French perfume I latterly 3 
allowed her to use, I found myself unable to assimilate the 
dmple fact that for the first time in two years I was separated 
from my Lolita. All at once it occurred to me that her illness 
vvas somehow the development of a theme — that it had the same 
:aste and tone as the series of linked impressions which had 
ouzzled and tormented me during our journey; I imagined that 
;ecret agent, or secret lover, or prankster, or hallucination, or 4 
whatever he was, prowling around the hospital — and Aurora had 5 
lardly “warmed her hands,” as the pickers of lavender say in 6 
■:he country of my birth, when I found myself trying to get into 

[ 243 ] 

that dungeon again, knocking upon its green doors, breakfast- 
less, stool-less, in despair. 

This was Tuesday, and Wednesday or Thursday, splendidly 
reacting like the darling she was to some “serum” (sparrow’s 
sperm or dugong’s dung), she was much better, and the doctor 
said that in a couple of days she would be “skipping” again. 

Of the eight times I visited her, the last one alone remains 
sharply engraved on my mind. It had been a great feat to come 
for I felt all hollowed out by the infection that by then was 
at work on me too. None will know the strain it was to carry 
that bouquet, that load of love, those books that I had traveled 
sixty miles to buy: Browning’s Dramatic Works, The History 
of Dancing, Clowns and Columbines, The Russian Ballet, 
Flowers of the Rockies, The Theatre Guild Anthology , Tennis 
by Helen Wills, who had won the National Junior Girl Singles 
at the age of fifteen. As I was staggering up to the door of my 
daughter’s thirteen-dollar-a-day private room, Mary Lore, the 
beastly young part-time nurse who had taken an unconcealed 
dislike to me, emerged with a finished breakfast tray, placed it 
with a quick crash on a chair in the corridor, and, fundament 
jigging, shot back into the room — probably to warn her poor 
little Dolores that the tyrannic old father was creeping up on 
crepe soles, with books and bouquet: the latter I had composed 
of wild flowers and beautiful leaves gathered with my own 
gloved hands on a mountain pass at sunrise (I hardly slept at 
all that fateful week). 

Feeding my Carmencita well? Idly I glanced at the tray. On 
a yolk-stained plate there was a crumpled envelope. It had con- 
tained something, since one edge was torn, but there was no 
address on it — nothing at all, save a phony armorial design with| 
“Ponderosa Lodge” in green letters; thereupon I performed a| 
chasse-croise with Mary, who was in the act of bustling out- 
again — wonderful how fast they move and how little they do, 
those rumpy young nurses. She glowered at the envelope I hadji 
put back, uncrumpled. 

“You better not touch,” she said, nodding directionally. 
“Could burn your fingers.” 

[ 244 ] 

Below my dignity to rejoin. All I said was: 

croyais que c'etait un bill — not a billet doux." Then, l 
entering the sunny room, to Lolita: ^‘’Bojijour, mon petit. ’’’’ 

“Dolores,” said Mary Lore, entering with me, past me, 
through me, the plump whore, and blinking, and starting to 
fold very rapidly a white flannel blanket as she blinked: “Dolores, 
your pappy thinks you are getting letters from my boy friend. 

It’s me (smugly tapping herself on the small gilt cross she wore) 
gets them. And my pappy can parlay-voo as well as yours.” 

She left the room. Dolores, so rosy and russet, lips freshly 
painted, hair brilliantly brushed, bare arms straightened out on 
neat coverlet, lay innocently beaming at me or nothing. On the 
bed table, next to a paper napkin and a pencil, her topaz ring 
burned in the sun. 

“What gruesome funeral flowers,” she said. “Thanks all the 
same. But do you mind very much cutting out the French? It 
annoys everybody.” 

Back at the usual rush came the ripe young hussy, reeking 
of urine and garlic, with the Deseret News, which her fair 2 
patient eagerly accepted, ignoring the sumptuously illustrated 
Volumes I had brought. 

“My sister Ann,” said Mary (topping information with after- 3 
thought), “works at the Ponderosa place.” 

Poor Bluebeard. Those brutal brothers. Est-ce que tu ne 
m'ahnes plus, ma Carmen? She never had. At the moment I 4 
knew my love was as hopeless as ever — and I also knew the two 
girls were conspirators, plotting in Basque, or Zemfirian, against 5,6 
my hopeless love. I shall go further and say that Lo was playing 
a double game since she was also fooling sentimental Mary 7 
whom she had told, I suppose, that she wanted to dwell with 
her fun-loving young uncle and not with cruel melancholy me. 

And another nurse whom I never identified, and the village 
idiot who carted cots and coffins into the elevator, and the 
idiotic green love birds in a cage in the waiting room— all were 
in the plot, the sordid plot. I suppose Mary thought comedy 
father Professor Humbertoldi was interfering with the romance 

I O 

between Dolores and her father-substitute, roly-poly Romeo (for 8 

[ 245 ] 


you njoere rather lardy, you know, Rom, despite all that “snow” 
and “joy juice”). 

My throat hurt. I stood, swallowing, at the window and stared 
at the mountains, at the romantic rock high up in the smiling 
plotting sky. 

“My Carmen,” I said (I used to call her that sometimes), 
“we shall leave this raw sore town as soon as you get out of bed.” 

1 “Incidentally, I want all my clothes,” said the gitanilla, hump- 
ing up her knees and turning to another page. 

“. . . Because, really,” I continued, “there is no point in stay- 
ing here.” 

“There is no point in staying anywhere,” said Lolita. 

I lowered myself into a cretonne chair and, opening the at- 
tractive botanical work, attempted, in the fever-humming hush 
of the room, to identify my flowers. This proved impossible. 
Presently a musical bell softly sounded somewhere in the 

I do not think they had more than a dozen patients (three 
or four were lunatics, as Lo had cheerfully informed me earlier) 
in that show place of a hospital, and the staff had too much 
leisure. However — likewise for reasons of show — regulations were 
rigid. It is also true that I kept coming at the wrong hours. Not 
without a secret flow of dreamy malice, visionary Mary (next 

2 time it will be une belle dame toute en bleu floating through 
Roaring Gulch) plucked me by the sleeve to lead me out. I 
looked at her hand; it dropped. As I was leaving, leaving volun- 
tarily, Dolores Haze reminded me to bring her next morning . . . 
She did not remember where the various things she wanted 
were . . .“Bring me,” she cried (out of sight already, door on the 
move, closing, closed), “the new gray suitcase and Mother’s 
trunk”; but by next morning I was shivering, and boozing, and 
dying in the motel bed she had used for just a few minutes, 
and the best I could do under the circular and dilating circum- 
stances was to send the two bags over with the widow’s beau, a 
robust and kindly trucker. I imagined Lo displaying her treas- 
ures to Mary . . . No doubt, I was a little delirious — and on the 
following day I was still a vibration rather than a solid, for 

[ '=46 ] 

when I looked out of the bathroom window at the adjacent 
lawn, I saw Dolly’s beautiful young bicycle propped up there 
on its support, the graceful front wheel looking away from me, 
as it always did, and a sparrow perched on the saddle — but it 
was the landlady’s bike, and smiling a little, and shaking my 
poor head over my fond fancies, I tottered back to my bed, and 
lay as quiet as a saint — l 

Saint, forsooth! While brown Dolores, 

On a patch of sunny green 
With Sanchicha reading stories 
In a movie magazine — 

— which was represented by numerous specimens wherever 
Dolores landed, and there was some great national celebration 
in town judging by the firecrackers, veritable bombs, that ex- 
ploded all the time, and at five minutes to two p.m. I heard 
the sound of whistling lips nearing the half-opened door of my 
cabin, and then a thump upon it. 

It was big Frank. He remained framed in the opened door, 
one hand on its jamb, leaning forward a little. 

Howdy. Nurse Lore was on the telephone. She wanted to 
know was I better and would I come today? 

At twenty paces Frank used to look a mountain of health; 
at five, as now, he w^as a ruddy mosaic of scars — had been blown 
through a wall overseas; but despite nameless injuries he was 
able to man a tremendous truck, fish, hunt, drink, and buoy- 
antly dally with roadside ladies. That day, either because it was 
such a great holiday, or simply because he wanted to divert a 2 
sick man, he had taken off the glove he usually wore on his 
left hand (the one pressing against the side of the door) and 
revealed to the fascinated sufferer not only an entire lack of 
fourth and fifth fingers, but also a naked girl, with cinnabar 
nipples and indigo delta, charmingly tattooed on the back of 
his crippled hand, its index and middle digit making her legs 
while his wrist bore her flower-crowned head. Oh, delicious . . . 
reclining against the woodwork, like some sly fairy. 

I asked him to tell Mary Lore I would stay in bed all day 

[ 247 ] 

and would get into touch with my daughter sometime to- 
morrow if I felt probably Polynesian. 

He noticed the direction of my gaze and made her right hip 
twitch amorously. 

“Okey-dokey,” big Frank sang out, slapped the jamb, and 
whistling, carried my message away, and I went on drinking, 
and by morning the fever was gone, and although I was as limp 
as a toad, I put on the purple dressing gown over my maize 
yellow pajamas, and walked over to the office telephone. Every- 
thing was fine. A bright voice informed me that yes, everything 
was fine, my daughter had checked out the day before, around 
two, her uncle, Mr. Gustave, had called for her with a cocker 
, 2 spaniel pup and a smile for everyone, and a black Caddy Lack, 
and had paid Dolly’s bill in cash, and told them to tell me I 
should not worry, and keep warm, they were at Grandpa’s ranch 
as agreed. 

Elphinstone was, and I hope still is, a very cute little town. 

3 It was spread like a maquette, you know, with its neat green-i 
wool trees and red-roofed houses over the valley floor and I 
think I have alluded earlier to its model school and temple 
and spacious rectangular blocks, some of which were, curiously 
enough, just unconventional pastures with a mule or a unicorn 
grazing in the young July morning mist. Very amusing: at one 
gravel-groaning sharp turn I sideswiped a parked car but said 

4 to myself telestically — and, telephathically (I hoped), to its ges- 
ticulating owner — that I would return later, address Bird School, 

5 Bird, New Bird, the gin kept my heart alive but bemazed my 
brain, and after some lapses and losses common to dream 
sequences, I found myself in the reception room, trying to beat 
up the doctor, and roaring at people under chairs, and clamor- 
ing for Mary who luckily for her was not there; rough hands 
plucked at my dressing gown, ripping off a pocket, and some- 
how I seem to have been sitting on a bald brown-headed patient, 
whom I had mistaken for Dr. Blue, and who eventually stood 
up, remarking with a preposterous accent: “Now, who is 
nevrotic, I ask?” — and then a gaunt unsmiling nurse presented 
me with seven beautiful, beautiful books and the exquisitely 

[ 248 ] 

folded tartan lap robe, and demanded a receipt; and in the 
sudden silence I became aware of a policeman in the hallway, 
to whom my fellow motorist was pointing me out, and meekly 
1 signed the very symbolic receipt, thus surrendering my Lolita 
to all those apes. But what else could I do? One simple and 
stark thought stood out and this was: “Freedom for the mo- 
ment is everything.” One false move — and I might have been 
made to explain a life of crime. So I simulated a coming out 
of a daze. To my fellow motorist I paid what he thought was 
fair. To Dr. Blue, who by then was stroking my hand, I spoke 
in tears of the liquor I bolstered too freely a tricky but not 
necessarily diseased heart with. To the hospital in general I 
apologized with a flourish that almost bowled me over, adding 
however that I was not on particularly good terms with the rest 
of the Humbert clan. To myself I whispered that I still had my 
gun, and was still a free man — free to trace the fugitive, free to 
destroy my brother. 1 


A thousand-mile stretch of silk-smooth road separated Kas- 
beam, where, to the best of my belief, the red fiend had been 
scheduled to appear for the first time, and fateful Elphinstone 
which we had reached about a week before Independence Day. 
The journey had taken up most of June for we had seldom 
made more than a hundred and fifty miles per traveling day, 
spending the rest of the time, up to five days in one case, at 
various stopping places, all of them also prearranged, no doubt. 

It was that stretch, then, along which the fiend’s spoor should 2 
be sought; and to this I devoted myself, after several unmen- 
tionable days of dashing up and down the relentlessly radiating 
roads in the vicinity of Elphinstone. 

Imagine me, reader, with my shyness, my distaste for any 
ostentation, my inherent sense of the comrne il faut, imagine 3 
me masking the frenzy of my grief with a trembling ingratiating 
smile while devising some casual pretext to flip through the 

[ M9 ] 

hotel register: “Oh,” I would say, “I am almost positive that 
I stayed here once— let me look up the entries for mid-June 
— no, I see I’m wrong after all — what a very quaint name for 

1 a home town, Kawtagain. Thanks very much.” Or: “I had a 
customer staying here — I mislaid his address — may I . . . ?” And 
every once in a while, especially if the operator of the place 
happened to be a certain type of gloomy male, personal inspec- 
tion of the books was denied me. 

I have a memo here: between July 5 and November 18, 
when I returned to Beardsley for a few days, I registered, if 

2 not actually stayed, at 342 hotels, motels and tourist homes. 
This figure includes a few registrations between Chestnut and 
Beardsley, one of which yielded a shadow of the fiend (“N. Petit, 

3 Larousse, 111 .”); I had to space and time my inquiries carefully 
so as not to attract undue attention; and there must have been 
at least fifty places where I merely inquired at the desk — but 
that was a futile quest, and I preferred building up a foundation 
of verisimilitude and good will by first paying for an unneeded 
room. My survey showed that of the 300 or so books inspected, 
at least 20 provided me with a clue: the loitering fiend had 
stopped even more often than we, or else — he was quite capable 
of that — he had thrown in additional registrations in order to 
keep me well furnished with derisive hints. Only in one case 
had he actually stayed at the same motor court as we, a few 

4 paces from Lolita’s pillow. In some instances he had taken up 
quarters in the same or in a neighboring block; not infrequently 
he had lain in wait at an intermediate spot between two be- 
spoken points. How vividly I recalled Lolita, just before our 
departure from Beardsley, prone on the parlor rug, studying tour 
books and maps, and marking laps and stops with her lipstick! 

I discovered at once that he had foreseen my investigations 
and had planted insulting pseudonyms for my special benefit. 

5 At the very first motel office I visited, Ponderosa Lodge, his 
entry, among a dozen obviously human ones, read: Dr. Gratiano 

6 Forbeson, Mirandola, NY. Its Italian Comedy connotations 
could not fail to strike me, of course. The landlady deigned to 
inform me that the gentleman had been laid up for five days 

[ 250 ] 

with a bad cold, that he had left his car for repairs in some 
garage or other and that he had checked out on the 4th of 
July. Yes, a girl called Ann Lore had worked formerly at the 
Lodge, but was now married to a grocer in Cedar City. One 
moonlit night I waylaid white-shoed Mary on a solitary street; 
an automaton, she was about to shriek, but I managed to 
humanize her by the simple act of falling on my knees and with 
pious yelps imploring her to help. She did not know a thing, she 
swore. Who was this Gratiano Forbeson? She seemed to waver. 

I whipped out a hundred-dollar bill. She lifted it to the light 
of the moon. “He is your brother,” she whispered at last. I 1 
plucked the bill out of her moon-cold hand, and spitting out 
a French curse turned and ran away. This taught me to rely on 
myself alone. No detective could discover the clues Trapp had 
tuned to my mind and manner. I could not hope, of course, 
he would ever leave his correct name and address; but I did 
hope he might slip on the glaze of his own subtlety, by daring, 
say, to introduce a richer and more personal shot of color than 
was strictly necessary, or by revealing too much through a quali- 
tative sum of quantitative parts which revealed too little. In one 
thing he succeeded: he succeeded in thoroughly enmeshing me 
and my thrashing anguish in his demoniacal game. With in- 
finite skill, he swayed and staggered, and regained an impossible 
balance, always leaving me with the sportive hope — if I may use 2 
such a term in speaking of betrayal, fury, desolation, horror and 
hate — that he might give himself away next time. He never did 
— though coming damn close to it. We all admire the spangled 
acrobat with classical grace meticulously walking his tight rope 
in the talcum light; but how much rarer art there is in the sag- 
ging rope expert wearing scarecrow clothes and impersonating a 
grotesque drunk! / should know. 

The clues he left did not establish his identity but they re- 
flected his personality, or at least a certain homogenous and 
striking personality; his genre, his type of humor — at its best at 
least — the tone of his brain, had affinities with my own. He 
mimed and mocked me. His allusions were definitely highbrow. 

He was well-read. He knew French. He was versed in logodaedaly 

[ 251 ] 


and logomancy. He was an amateur of sex lore. He had a femi- 
nine handwriting. He would change his name but he could not 
disguise, no matter how he slanted them, his very peculiar t’s, 

2 w’s and I’s. Quelquepart Island was one of his favorite resi- 
dences. He did not use a fountain pen which fact, as any psycho- 
analyst will tell you, meant that the patient was a repressed 
undinist. One mercifully hopes there are water nymphs in the 

3 Styx. 

His main trait was his passion for tantalization. Goodness, 
what a tease the poor fellow was! He challenged my scholar- 
ship. I am sufficiently proud of my knowing something to be 
modest about my not knowing all; and I daresay I missed some 

4 elements in that cryptogrammic paper chase. What a shiver 
of triumph and loathing shook my frail frame when, among the 
plain innocent names in the hotel recorder, his fiendish conun- 
drum would ejaculate in my face! I noticed that whenever he 
felt his enigmas were becoming too recondite, even for such a 
solver as I, he would lure me back with an easy one. “Arsene 

5 Lupin” was obvious to a Frenchman who remembered the de- 
tective stories of his youth; and one hardly had to be a Coleridg- 

6 ian to appreciate the trite poke of “A. Person, Porlock, Eng- 
land.” In horrible taste but basically suggestive of a cultured 
man — not a policeman, not a common goon, not a lewd sales- 
man — were such assumed names as “Arthur Rainbow” — plainly 
the travestied author of Le Bateau Bleu — let me laugh a little 
too, gentlemen — and “Morris Schmetterling,” of UOiseau Ivre 

1 fame {touche, reader!). The silly but funny “D. Orgon, Elmira, 

8 NY,” was from Moliere, of course, and because I had quite 
recently tried to interest Lolita in a famous 18th-century play, 

9 I welcomed as an old friend “Harry Bumper, Sheridan, Wyo.” 
An ordinary encyclopedia informed me who the peculiar look- 

10 ing “Phineas Quimby, Lebanon, NH” was; and any good 
Freudian, with a German name and some interest in religious 
prostitution, should recognize at a glance the implication of 

11 “Dr. Kitzler, Eryx, Miss.” So far so good. That sort of fun 
was shoddy but on the whole impersonal and thus innocuous. 
Among entries that arrested my attention as undoubtable clues 

[ 252 ] 

per se but baffled me in respect to their finer points I do not 
care to mention many since I feel I am groping in a border-land 
mist with verbal phantoms turning, perhaps, into living vaca- 
tionists. Who was “Johnny Randall, Ramble, Ohio”? Or was l 
he a real person who just happened to write a hand similar to 
“N.S. Aristoff, Catagela, NY”? What was the sting in “Cata- 2 
gela”? And what about “James Mavor Morell, Hoaxton, Eng- 3 
land”? “Aristophanes,” “hoax” — fine, but what was I missing? 

There was one strain running through all that pseudonymity 
which caused me especially painful palpitations when I came 
across it. Such things as “G. Trapp, Geneva, NY.” was the sign 4 
of treachery on Lolita’s part. “Aubrey Beardsley, Quelquepart 5 
Island” suggested more lucidly than the garbled telephone mes- 
sage had that the starting point of the affair should be looked ' 
for in the East. “Lucas Picador, Merrymay, Pa.” insinuated that 6 
my Carmen had betrayed my pathetic endearments to the im- 7 
postor. Horribly cruel, forsooth, was “Will Brown, Dolores, 

Colo.” The gruesome “Harold Haze, Tombstone, Arizona” 8, 9 
(which at another time would have appealed to my sense of 
humor) implied a familiarity with the girl’s past that in night- 
mare fashion suggested for a moment that my quarry was an 
old friend of the family, maybe an old flame of Charlotte’s, 
maybe a redresser of wrongs (“Donald Quix, Sierra, Nev.”). 10 

Bur the most penetrating bodkin was the anagramtailed entry H 
in the register of Chestnut Lodge “Ted Hunter, Cane, NH.”. 12, l 

The garbled license numbers left by all these Persons and 
Orgons and Morells and Trapps only told me that motel keepers 
omit to check if guests’ cars are accurately listed. References — 
incompletely or incorrectly indicated — to the cars the fiend had 
hired for short laps between Wace and Elphinstone were of 
course useless; the license of the initial Aztec was a shimmer of 
shifting numerals, some transposed, others altered or omitted, 
but somehow forming interrelated combinations (such as “WS 14 
1564” and “SH 1616,” and “Q32888” or “CU 88322”) which 
however were so cunningly contrived as to never reveal a com- 
mon denominator. 15 

[ 253 ] 

It occurred to me that after he had turned that convertible 
over to accomplices at Wace and switched to the stage-motor 
car system, his successors might have been less careful and might 
have inscribed at some hotel office the archtype of those inter- 
related figures. But if looking for the fiend along a road I knew 
he had taken was such a complicated vague and unprofitable 
business, what could I expect from any attempt to trace un- 
known motorists traveling along unknown routes? 


By the time I reached Beardsley, in the course of the har- 
rowing recapitulation I have now discussed at sufficient length, 
a complete image had formed in my mind; and through the— 
always risky — process of elimination I had reduced this image 
to the only concrete source that morbid cerebration and torpid 
memory could give it. 

Except for the Rev. Rigor Mortis (as the girls called him), 
and an old gentleman who taught non-obligatory German and 
Latin, there were no regular male teachers at Beardsley School. 
But on two occasions an art instructor on the Beardsley College 
faculty had come over to show the schoolgirls magic lantern 
pictures of French castles and nineteenth-century paintings. I 
had wanted to attend those projections and talks, but Dolly, 
as was her wont, had asked me not to, period. I also remem- 
bered that Gaston had referred to that particular lecturer as a 
1 brilliant gargon; but that was all; memory refused to supply 
me with the name of the chateau-lover. 

On the day fixed for the execution, I walked through the sleet 
across the campus to the information desk in Maker Hall, 
Beardsley College. There I learned that the fellow’s name was 
Riggs (rather like that of the minister), that he was a bachelor, 
and that in ten minutes he would issue from the “Museum” 
where he was having a class. In the passage leading to the audi- 
torium I sat on a marble bench of sorts donated by Cecilia 

[ 254 ] 

3 alrymple Ramble. As I waited there, in prostatic discomfort, 
irunk, sleep-starved, with my gun in my fist in my raincoat 
Docket, it suddenly occurred to me that I was demented and 
vas about to do something stupid. There was not one chance 
n a million that Albert Riggs, Ass. Prof., was hiding my Lolita 
It his Beardsley home, 24 Pritchard Road. He could not be the 
/illain. It was absolutely preposterous. I was losing my time 
md my wits. He and she were in California and not here at all. 

Presently, I noticed a vague commotion behind some white 
>tatues; a door — not the one I had been staring at — opened 
briskly, and amid a bevy of women students a baldish head 
and two bright brown eyes bobbed, advanced. 

He was a total stranger to me but insisted we had met at a 
lawn party at Beardsley School. How was my delightful tennis- 
playing daughter? He had another class. He would be seeing me. 

Another attempt at identification was less speedily resolved: 
through an advertisement in one of Lo’s magazines I dared to 
get in touch with a private detective, an ex-pugilist, and merely 
to give him some idea of the inethod adopted by the fiend, I 
acquainted him with the kind of names and addresses I had 
collected. He demanded a goodish deposit and for two years — 
two years, reader! — that imbecile busied himself with checking 
those nonsense data. I had long severed all monetary relations 
with him when he turned up one day with the triumphant in- 
formation that an eighty-year-old Indian by the name of Bill 
Brown lived near Dolores, Colo. 1 


This book is about Lolita; and now that I have reached the 
part which (had I not been forestalled by another internal com- 
bustion martyr) might be called “Do/orcy Disparue,” there 2 
would be little sense in analyzing the three empty years that 
followed. While a few pertinent points have to be marked, the 
general impression I desire to convey is of a side door crashing 

[ 255 ] 

open in life’s full flight, and a rush of roaring black time drown- 
ing with its whipping wind the cry of lone disaster. 

Singularly enough, I seldom if ever dreamed of Lolita as I ' 
remembered her — as I saw her constantly and obsessively in my 

1 conscious mind during my daymares and insomnias. More pre- 
cisely: she did haunt my sleep but she appeared there in strange i 
and ludicrous disguises as Valeria or Charlotte, or a cross be- 
tween them. That complex ghost would come to me, shedding 
shift after shift, in an atmosphere of great melancholy and dis - 1 
gust, and would recline in dull invitation on some narrow board ' 
or hard settee, with flesh ajar like the rubber valve of a soccer ' 
ball’s bladder. I would find myself, dentures fractured or hope- 1 

2 lessly mislaid, in horrible chambres garnies where I would bc' 
entertained at tedious vivisecting parties that generally ended 
with Charlotte or Valeria weeping in my bleeding arms and 
being tenderly kissed by my brotherly lips in a dream disorder 

3 of auctioneered Viennese bric-Vbrac, pity, impotence and the 
brown wigs of tragic old women who had just been gassed. 

One day I removed from the car and destroyed an accumula-t 
tion of teen-magazines. You know the sort. Stone age at heart; 
up to date, or at least Mycenaean, as to hygiene. A handsome, 
very ripe actress with huge lashes and a pulpy red underlip, 
endorsing a shampoo. Ads and fads. Young scholars dote on 

4 plenty of pleats — que c'etait loin, tout cela! It is your hostess’ 
duty to provide robes. Unattached details take all the sparkle 
out of your conversation. All of us have known “pickers” — one 
who picks her cuticle at the office party. Unless he is very elderly 
or very important, a man should remove his gloves before 
shaking hands with a woman. Invite Romance by wearing the 
Exciting New Tummy Flattener. Trims turns, nips hips. Tris- 
tram in Movielove. Yessir! The Joe-Roe marital enigma is mak- 
ing yaps flap. Glamourize yourself quickly and inexpensively. 

5 Comics. Bad girl dark hair fat father cigar; good girl red hair 
handsome daddums clipped mustache. Or that repulsive strip 

6 with the big gagoon and his wife, a kiddoid gnomide. Et mol 

7 qui foffrais mon genie ... I recalled the rather charming non- 

[ 256 ] 

sense verse I used to write her when she was a child: “nonsense,” 
she used to say mockingly, “is correct.” 

The Squirl and his Squirrel, the Rabs and their Rabbits 

Have certain obscure and peculiar habits. 

Male hummingbirds make the most exquisite rockets. 

The snake when he walks holds his hands in his pockets . . . 

Other things of hers were harder to relinquish. Up to the end 
of 1949, I cherished and adored, and stained with my kisses and 
merman tears, a pair of old sneakers, a boy’s shirt she had worn, l 

some ancient blue jeans I found in the trunk compartment, a 
crumpled school cap, suchlike wanton treasures. Then, when 
I understood my mind was cracking, I collected these sundry 
belongings, added to them what had been stored in Beardsley — 
a box of books, her bicycle, old coats, galoshes — and on her 
fifteenth birthday mailed everything as an anonymous gift to a 
home for orphaned girls on a windy lake, on the Canadian 

It is just possible that had I gone to a strong hypnotist he 
might have extracted from me and arrayed in a logical pattern 
certain chance memories that I have threaded through my book 
with considerably more ostentation than they present them- 
selves with to my mind even now when I know what to seek in 
the past. At the time I felt I was merely losing contact with 
reality; and after spending the rest of the winter and most of the 2 
following spring in a Quebec sanatorium where I had stayed 
before, I resolved first to settle some affairs of mine in New York 
and then to proceed to California for a thorough search there. 

Here is something I composed in my retreat: 3 

Wanted, wanted: Dolores Haze. 

Hair: brown. Lips: scarlet. 

Age: five thousand three hundred days. 

Profession: none, or “starlet.” 

Where are you hiding, Dolores Haze? 

' Why are you hiding, darling? 

(I talk in a daze, I walk in a maze, 

I cannot get out, said the starling). 4 

[ 257 ] 

Where are you riding, Dolores Haze? 
What make is the magic carpet? 

Is a Cream Cougar the present craze? 

And where are you parked, my car pet? 

Who is your hero, Dolores Haze? 

Still one of those blue-caped star-men? 

Oh the balmy days and the palmy bays. 
And the cars, and the bars, my Carmen! 

Oh Dolores, that juke-box hurts! 

Are you still dancin’, darlin’? 

(Both in worn levis, both in torn T-shirts, 
And I, in my corner, snarlin’). 

Happy, happy is gnarled McFate 
Touring the States with a child wife. 
Plowing his Molly in every State 
Among the protected wild life. 

My Dolly, my folly! Her eyes were vair, 
And never closed when I kissed her. 

Know an old perfume called Soleil Vert? 
Are you from Paris, mister? 

U autre soir un air froid d' opera m'alita: 
Son fe/c — bien fol est qui s'y fie! 

II fieige, le decor s^ecroide, Lolita! 

Lolita, qu'ai-je fait de ta vie? 

Dying, dying, Lolita Haze, 

Of hate and remorse. I’m dying. 

And again my hairy fist I raise. 

And again I hear you crying. 

Officer, officer, there they go — 

In the rain, where that lighted store is! 
And her socks are white, and I love her 
And her name is Haze, Dolores. 

Officer, officer, there they are — 

Dolores Haze and her lover! 

Whip out your gun and follow that car. 

Now tumble out, and take cover. 

Wanted, wanted: Dolores Haze. 

Her dream-gray gaze never flinches. 

Ninety pounds is all she weighs 
With a height of si.xty inches. 

Mv car is limping, Dolores Haze, 

And the last long lap is the hardest. 

And I shall be dumped where the weed decays. 

And the rest is rust and stardust. 

By psychoanalyzing this poem, I notice it is really a maniac’s 
masterpiece. The stark, stiff, lurid rhymes correspond very ex- 
actly to certain perspectiveless and terrible landscapes and 
figures, and magnified parts of landscapes and figures, as drawn 
by psychopaths in tests devised by their astute trainers. I wrote 
many more poems. I immersed myself in the poetry of others. 
But not for a second did I forget the load of revenge. 

I would be a knave to say, and the reader a fool to believe, 
that the shock of losing Lolita cured me of pederosis. My 
accursed nature could not change, no matter how my love for 
her did. On playgrounds and beaches, my sullen and stealthy 
eye, against my will, still sought out the flash of a nymphet’s 
limbs, the sly tokens of Lolita’s handmaids and rosegirls. But 
one essential vision in me had withered: never did I dwell now 
on possibilities of bliss with a little maiden, specific or synthetic, 
in some out-of-the-way place; never did my fancy sink its fangs 
into Lolita’s sisters, far far away, in the coves of evoked islands. 
That was all over, for the time being at least. On the other 
hand, alas, two years of monstrous indulgence had left me 
with certain habits of lust: I feared lest the void I lived in might 
drive me to plunge into the freedom of sudden insanity when 
confronted with a chance temptation in some lane between 

[ 259 ] 

school and supper. Solitude was corrupting me. I needed com- 
pany and care. My heart was a hysterical unreliable organ. This 
is how Rita enters the picture. 


She was twice Lolita’s age and three quarters of mine: a very 
slight, dark-haired, pale-skinned adult, weighing a hundred and 
five pounds, with charmingly asymmetrical eyes, an angular, 

1 rapidly sketched profile, and a most appealing enselhire to her 

2 supple back — I think she had some Spanish or Babylonian blood. 

3 I picked her up one depraved May evening somewhere between 
Montreal and New York, or more narrowly, between Toyles- 

4 town and Blake, at a darkishly burning bar under the sign of 

5 the Tigermoth, where she was amiably drunk: she insisted we 
had gone to school together, and she placed her trembling little 
hand on my ape paw. My senses were very slightly stirred but I 
decided to give her a try; I did — and adopted her as a constant 
companion. She was so kind, was Rita, such a good sport, that 
I daresay she would have given herself to any pathetic creature 
or fallacy, an old broken tree or a bereaved porcupine, out of 
sheer chumminess and compassion. 

When I first met her she had but recently divorced her third 
husband — and a little more recently had been abandoned by her 

6 seventh cavalier servant — the others, the mutables, were too 
numerous and mobile to tabulate. Her brother was — and no 
doubt still is — a prominent, pasty-faced, suspenders-and-painted- 
tie-wearing politician, mayor and booster of his ball-playing, 
Bible-reading, grain-handling home town. For the last eight 
years he had been paying his great little sister several hundred 
dollars per month under the stringent condition that she would 
never never enter great little Grainball City. She told me, with 
wails of wonder, that for some God-damn reason every new boy 
friend of hers would first of all take her Grainball-ward: it was a 
fatal attraction; and before she knew what was what, she would 

[ 260 ] 

find herself sucked into the lunar orbit of the town, and would 
be following the flood-lit drive that encircled it — “going round 
and round,” as she phrased it, “like a God-damn mulberry 
moth.” 1 

She had a natty little coupe; and in it we traveled to California 
so as to give my venerable vehicle a rest. Her natural speed was 
ninety. Dear Rita! We cruised together for two dim years, from 
summer 1950 to summer 1952, and she was the sweetest, sim- 
plest, gentlest, dumbest Rita imaginable. In comparison to her, 
Valechka was a Schlegel, and Charlotte a Hegel. There is no 2,3 
earthly reason why I should dally with her in the margin of this 
sinister memoir, but let me say (hi, Rita— -wherever you are, 
drunk or hangoverish, Rita, hi!) that she was the most soothing, 
the most comprehending companion that I ever had, and cer- 
tainly saved me from the madhouse. I told her I was trying to 
trace a girl and plug that girl’s bully. Rita solemnly approved of 
the plan — and in the course of some investigation she undertook 
on her own (without really knowing a thing), around San Hum- 
ibertino, got entangled with a pretty awful crook herself; I had 
the devil of a time retrieving her — used and bruised but still 
cocky. Then one day she proposed playing Russian roulette with 
my sacred automatic; I said you couldn’t, it was not a revolver, 
and we struggled for it, until at last it went off, touching off a very 
thin and very comical spurt of hot water from the hole it made 
in the wall of the cabin room; I remember her shrieks of laughter. 

The oddly prepubescent curve of her back, her ricey skin, her 
slow languorous columbine kisses kept me from mischief. It is 
not the artistic aptitudes that are secondary sexual characters as 
some shams and shamans have said; it is the other way around: 4 
sex is but the ancilla of art. One rather mysterious spree that had 5 
interesting repercussions I must notice. I had abandoned the 
search; the fiend was either in Tartary or burning away in my 6 
cerebellum (the flames fanned by my fancy and grief) but cer- 
tainly not having Dolores Haze play champion tennis on the 
Pacific Coast. One afternoon, on our way back East, in a hideous 
hotel, the kind where they hold conventions and where labeled, 
fat, pink men stagger around, all first names and business and 

[ 261 ] 

booze^ — dear Rita and I awoke to find a third in our room, a 
blond, almost albino, young fellow with white eyelashes and 
large transparent ears, whom neither Rita nor I recalled having 
ever seen in our sad lives. Sweating in thick dirty underwear, and 
with old army boots on, he lay snoring on the double bed beyond 
my chaste Rita. One of his front teeth was gone, amber pustules 
grew on his forehead. Ritochka enveloped her sinuous nudity in 
my raincoat — the first thing at hand; I slipped on a pair of candy- 
striped drawers; and we took stock of the situation. Five glasses 
had been used, which, in the way of clues, was an embarrassment 
of riches. The door was not properly closed. A sweater and a pair 
of shapeless tan pants lay on the floor. We shook their owner 
into miserable consciousness. He was completely amnesic. In an 
accent that Rita recognized as pure Brooklynese, he peevishly 
insinuated that somehow we had purloined his (worthless) 
identity. We rushed him into his clothes and left him at the 
nearest hospital, realizing on the way that somehow or other 
after forgotten gyrations, we were in Grainball. Half a year later 
Rita wrote the doctor for news. Jack Humbertson as he had been 
tastelessly dubbed was still isolated from his personal past. Oh 

1 Mnemosyne, sweetest and most mischievous of muses! 

I would not have mentioned this incident had it not started 
a chain of ideas that resulted in my publishing in the Cmtrip 

2 Review an essay on “Mimir and Memory,” in which I suggested 
among other things that seemed original and important to that 
splendid review’s benevolent readers, a theory of perceptual time 
based on the circulation of the blood and conceptually depend- 
ing (to fill up this nutshell) on the mind’s being conscious not 
only of matter but also of its own seif, thus creating a continuous 
spanning of two points (the storable future and the stored past). 
In result of this venture — and in culmination of the impression 

3 made by my previous travanx — I was called from New York, 
where Rita and I were living in a little flat with a view of gleam- 
ing children taking shower baths far below in a fountainous arbor 
of Central Park, to Cantrip College, four hundred miles away, 
for one year. I lodged there, in special apartments for poets and 
philosophers, from September 1951 to June 1952, while Rita 

[ 262 ] 

whom I preferred not to display vegetated — somewhat indeco- 
rously, I am afraid — in a roadside inn where I visited her twice 
a week. Then she vanished — more humanly than her predecessor 
had done: a month later I found her in the local jail. She was 
trh digiie, had had her appendix removed, and managed to con- 1 
vince me that the beautiful bluish furs she had been accused of 
stealing from a Mrs. Roland MacCrum had really been a spon- 
taneous, if somewhat alcoholic, gift from Roland himself. I 
succeeded in getting her out without appealing to her touchy 
brother, and soon afterwards we drove back to Central Park 
West, by way of Briceland, where we had stopped for a few 
hours the year before. 

A curious urge to relive my stay there with Lolita had got hold 
of me. I was entering a phase of existence where I had given up 
all hope of tracing her kidnaper and her. I now attempted to fall 
back on old settings in order to save what still could be saved in 
the way of souvenir, souvenir que me veux-tu? Autumn was ring- 2 
ing in the air. To a post card requesting twin beds Professor 
Hamburg got a prompt expression of regret in reply. They were 
full up. They had one bathless basement room with four beds 
which they thought I would not want. Their note paper was 

The Enchanted Hunters 

NEAR churches NO DOGS 

All legal beverages 

I wondered if the last statement was true. All? Did they have 
for instance sidewalk grenadine? I also wondered if a hunter, 
enchanted or otherwise, would not need a pointer more than a 
pew, and with a spasm of pain I recalled a scene worthy of a 
great artist: petite nymphe accroupie; but that silky cocker 3 
ipaniel had perhaps been a baptized one. No — I felt I could not 4 
;endure the throes of revisiting that lobby. There was a much 
better possibility of retrievable time elsewhere in soft, rich- 
colored, autumnal Briceland. Leaving Rita in a bar, I made for 
the town library. A twittering spinster was only too glad to help 

: [ ^63 ] 

me disinter mid-August 1947 from the bound Briceland Gazette^ 
and presently, in a secluded nook under a naked light, I was 
turning the enormous and fragile pages of a coffin-black volume 
almost as big as Lolita. 

1 Reader! Bruder! What a foolish Hamburg that Hamburg was! 
Since his supersensitive system was loath to face the actual scene, 
he thought he could at least enjoy a secret part of it — which re- 
minds one of the tenth or twentieth soldier in the raping queue 
who throws the girl’s black shawl over her white face so as not 
to see those impossible eyes while taking his military pleasure in 
the sad, sacked village. What / lusted to get was the printed 
picture that had chanced to absorb my trespassing image while 
the Gazette's photographer was concentrating on Dr. Braddock 

2 and his group. Passionately I hoped to find preserved the portrait 

3 of the artist as a younger brute. An innocent camera catching me 
on my dark way to Lolita’s bed — what a magnet for Mnemosyne! 
I cannot well explain the true nature of that urge of mine. It was 
allied, I suppose, to that swooning curiosity which impels one to 
examine with a magnifying glass bleak little figures — still life 
practically, and everybody about to throw up — at an early morn- 
ing execution, and the patient’s expression impossible to make 
out in the print. Anyway, I was literally gasping for breath, and 
one corner of the book of doom kept stabbing me in the stomach 

4 while I scanned and skimmed . . . Brute Force and Possessed 
were coming on Sunday, the 24th, to both theatres. Mr. Purdom, 
independent tobacco auctioneer, said that ever since 1925 he had 

5 been an Omen Faustum smoker. Husky Hank and his petite 
bride were to be the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Reginald G. Gore, 

6 58 Inchkeith Ave. The size of certain parasites is one sixth of 
the host. Dunkerque was fortified in the tenth century. Misses’ 
socks, 39 c. Saddle Oxfords 3.98. Wine, wine, wine, quipped the 

7 author of Dark Age who refused to be photographed, may suit 
a Persian bubble bird, but I say give me rain, rain, rain on the 

8 shingle roof for roses and inspiration every time. Dimples are 
caused by the adherence of the skin to the deeper tissues. Greeks 
repulse a heavy guerilla assault — and, ah, at last, a little figure in 
white, and Dr. Braddock in black, but whatever spectral shoulder 

[ 264 ] 

was brushing against his ample form — nothing of myself could I i 
make out. 

I went to find Rita who introduced me with her vin triste smile 2 
to a pocket-sized wizened truculently tight old man saying this 
was — what was the name again, son? — a former schoolmate of 
hers. He tried to retain her, and in the slight scuffle that fol- 
lowed I hurt my thumb against his hard head. In the silent 
painted park where I walked her and aired her a little, she sobbed 
and said I would soon, soon leave her as everybody had, and I 
sang her a wistful French ballad, and strung together some 
fugitive rhymes to amuse her: 

The place was called EnchaJited Hunters. Query: 

What Indian dyes, Diana, did thy dell 
endorse to make of Picture Lake a very 
blood bath of trees before the blue hotel? 

She said: “Why blue when it is white, why blue for heaven’s 3 
sake?” and started to cry again, and I marched her to the car, and 
we drove on to New York, and soon she was reasonably happy 
again high up in the haze on the little terrace of our flat. I notice 
I have somehow mixed up two events, my visit with Rita to 
Briceland on our way to Cantrip, and our passing through Brice- 
land again on our way back to New York, but such suffusions of 
swimming colors are not to be disdained by the artist in recol- 


My letterbox in the entrance hall belonged to the type that 
allows one to glimpse something of its contents through a glassed 
slit. Several times already, a trick of harlequin light that fell 
through the glass upon an alien handwriting had twisted it into 
a semblance of Lolita’s script causing me almost to collapse as 
I leant against an adjacent urn, almost my own. Whenever that 

[ 265 ] 

happened — whenever her lovely, loopy, childish scrawl was hor- 
ribly transformed into the dull hand of one of my few cor- 
respondents — I used to recollect, with anguished amusement, 
the times in my trustful, pre-dolorian past when I would be 
misled by a jewel-bright window opposite wherein my lurking 
eye, the ever alert periscope of my shameful vice, would make out 
from afar a half-naked nymphet stilled in the act of combing her 

1 Alice-in-Wonderland hair. There was in the fiery phantasm a 
perfection which made my wild delight also perfect, just because 
the vision was out of reach, with no possibility of attainment to 
spoil it by the awareness of an appended taboo; indeed, it may 
well be that the very attraction immaturity has for me lies not so 
much in the limpidity of pure young forbidden fairy child beauty 
as in the security of a situation where infinite perfections fill the 
gap between the little given and the great promised — the great 

2 rosegray never-to-be-had. Mes fenetres! Hanging above blotched 
sunset and welling night, grinding my teeth, I would crowd all 
the demons of my desire against the railing of a throbbing 
balcony: it would be ready to take off in the apricot and black 
humid evening; did take off — whereupon the lighted image would 
move and Eve would revert to a rib, and there would be nothing 
in the window but an obese partly clad man reading the paper. 

Since I sometimes won the race between my fancy and nature’s 
reality, the deception was bearable. Unbearable pain began when 
chance entered the fray and deprived me of the smile meant for 

3 me. ‘’^Savez-vous qii’a dix ans via petite halt folle de vous?’’’’ said 
a woman I talked to at a tea in Paris, and the petite had just 
married, miles away, and I could not even remember if I had 
ever noticed her in that garden, next to those tennis courts, a 
dozen years before. And now likewise, the radiant foreglimpse, 
the promise of reality, a promise not only to be simulated se- 
ductively but also to be nobly held — all this, chance denied me 
— chance and a change to smaller characters on the pale beloved 
writer’s part. My fancy was both Proustianized and Procrus- 

4,5 teanized; for that particular morning, late in September 1952, 
as I had come down to grope for my mail, the dapper and bilious^ 
janitor with whom I was on execrable terms started to complain 

[ 266 ] 

that a man who had seen Rita home recently had been “sick like 
a dog” on the front steps. In the process of listening to him and 
tipping him, and then listening to a revised and politer version 
of the incident, I had the impression that one of the two letters 
which that blessed mail brought was from Rita’s mother, a crazy 
little woman, whom we had once visited on Cape Cod and who 
kept writing me to my various addresses, saying how wonderfully 
well matched her daughter and I were, and how wonderful it 
would be if we married; the other letter which I opened and 
?canned rapidly in the elevator was from John Farlow. 

I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our friends 
v^dth the stability of type that literary characters acquire in the 
reader’s mind. No matter how many times we reopen “King 
Lear,” never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in i 
ligh revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three 
daughters and their lapdogs. Never will Emma rally, revived by 
•rhe sympathetic salts in Flaubert’s father’s timely tear. What- 2 
wer evolution this or that popular character has gone through 
oetween the book covers, his fate is fixed in our minds, and, 
dmilarly, we expect our friends to follow this or that logical and 
:onventional pattern we have fixed for them. Thus X will never 
:ompose the immortal music that would clash with the second- 
•ate symphonies he has accustomed us to. Y will never commit 
nurder. Under no circumstances can Z ever betray us. We have 
t all arranged in our minds, and the less often we see a particular 
person the more satisfying it is to check how obediently he con- 
orms to our notion of him every time we hear of him. Any 
ieviation in the fates we have ordained would strike us as not 
)nly anomalous but unethical. We would prefer not to have 
mown at all our neighbor, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if 
t turns out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his 
ige has seen. 

I am saying all this in order to explain how bewildered I was 
)y Farlow’s hysterical letter. I knew his wife had died but I 
certainly expected him to remain, throughout a devout widow- 
lood, the dull, sedate and reliable person he had always been. 
Yow he wrote that after a brief visit to the U.S. he had returned 

[ 267 ] 

to South America and had decided that whatever affairs he had 
controlled at Ramsdale he would hand over to Jack Windmuller 
of that town, a lawyer whom we both knew. He seemed par- 
ticularly relieved to get rid of the Haze “complications.” He had 
married a Spanish girl. He had stopped smoking and had gained 
thirty pounds. She was very young and a ski champion. They 

1 were going to India for their honeymonsoon. Since he was “build- 
ing a family” as he put it, he would have no time henceforth foi 
my affairs which he termed “very strange and very aggravating.” 
Busybodies — a whole committee of them, it appeared — had in- 
formed him that the whereabouts of little Dolly Haze were un- 
known, and that I was living with a notorious divorcee in Cali- 
fornia. His father-in-law was a count, and exceedingly wealthy. 
The people who had been renting the Haze house for some 
years now wished to buy it. He suggested that I better produce 
Dolly quick. He had broken his leg. He enclosed a snapshot of 
himself and a brunette in white wool beaming at each other 
among the snows of Chile. 

I remember letting myself into my flat and starting to say: 

2 Well, at least we shall now track them down — when the other 
letter began talking to me in a small matter-of-fact voice: 

Dear Dad: 

How’s everything? I’m married. I’m going to have a baby. 

I guess he’s going to be a big one. I guess he’ll come right for * 
Christmas. This is a hard letter to write. I’m going nuts be- 
cause we don’t have enough to pav our debts and get out of 
here. Dick is promised a big job in Alaska in his very special- 
ized corner of the mechanical field, that’s all I know about 
it but it’s really grand. Pardon me for withholding our home 
address but you may still be mad at me, and Dick must not 
know. This town is something. You can’t see the morons for 
the smog. Please do send us a check. Dad. We could manage 
with three or four hundred or even less, anything is welcome, 
you might sell my old things, because once we get there the 
dough will just start rolling in. Write, please. I have gone 
through much sadness and hardship. 

Yours expecting, 

Dolly (Mrs. Richard F. Schiller) 

[ 268 ] 


; was again on the road, again at the wheel of the old blue 
;edan, again alone. Rita had still been dead to the world when I 
‘ead that letter and fought the mountains of agony it raised 
I vvithin me. I had glanced at her as she smiled in her sleep and 
lad kissed her on her moist brow, and had left her forever, with 
' L note of tender adieu which I taped to her navel — otherwise 
he might not have found it. 

' “Alone” did I say? Pas tout a fait. I had my little black chum i 
vith me, and as soon as I reached a secluded spot, I rehearsed 
, vir. Richard F. Schiller’s violent death. I had found a very old and 
, ^ery dirty gray sweater of mine in the back of the car, and this I 
I lung up on a branch, in a speechless glade, which I had reached 
)y a wood road from the now remote highway. The carrying out 
' if the sentence was a little marred by what seemed to me a cer- 
■ ain stiffness in the play of the trigger, and I wondered if I should 
ret some oil for the mysterious thing but decided I had no time 
I o spare. Back into the car went the old dead sweater, now with 
I idditional perforations, and having reloaded warm Chum, I 
t .'ontinued my journey. 

The letter was dated September i8, 1952 (this was Septem- 
ber 22), and the address she gave was “General Delivery, Coal- 
; nont” (not “Va.,” not “Pa.,” not “Tenn.” — and not Coalmont, 

I nyway — I have camouflaged everything, my love). Inquiries 
howed this to be a small industrial community some eight 
i lundred miles from New York City. At first I planned to drive 
11 day and all night, but then thought better of it and rested for 
! couple of hours around dawn in a motor court room, a few 
niles before reaching the town. I had made up my mind that the 
iend, this Schiller, had been a car salesman who had perhaps 
rot to know my Lolita by giving her a ride in Beardsley — the day 
ler bike blew a tire on the way to Miss Emperor — and that he 
lad got into some trouble since then. The corpse of the executed 
weater, no matter how I changed its contours as it lay on the 
)ack seat of the car, had kept revealing various outlines pertain- 
ng to Trapp-Schiller — the grossness and obscene bonhommie of 

[ 269 ] 

his body, and to counteract this taste of coarse corruption I re- 
solved to make myself especially handsome and smart as I 
pressed home the nipple of my alarm clock before it exploded at 
the set hour of six a.m. Then, with the stern and romantic care 
of a gentleman about to fight a duel, I checked the arrangement 
of my papers, bathed and perfumed my delicate body, shaved, 
my face and chest, selected a silk shirt and clean drawers, pulled 
on transparent taupe socks, and congratulated myself for having 
with me in my trunk some very exquisite clothes — a waistcoat 
with nacreous buttons, for instance, a pale cashmere tie and 
so on. 

I was not able, alas, to hold my breakfast, but dismissed that 
physicality as a trivial contretemps, wiped my mouth with a 

1 gossamer handkerchief produced from my sleeve, and, with a 
blue block of ice for heart, a pill on my tongue and solid death 
in my hip pocket, I stepped neatly into a telephone booth ir 

2 Coalmont (Ah-ah-ah, said its little door) and rang up the only 
Schiller — Paul, Furniture — to be found in the battered book, 
Hoarse Paul told me he did know a Richard, the son of a cousin 
of his, and his address was, let me see, lo Killer Street (I am not 
going very far for my pseudonyms). Ah-ah-ah, said the little door, 

At lo Killer Street, a tenement house, I interviewed a number 
of dejected old people and two long-haired strawberry-blond 
incredibly grubby nymphets (rather abstractly, just for the heck 
of it, the ancient beast in me was casting about for some lightly 
clad child I might hold against me for a minute, after the killing 
was over and nothing mattered any more, and everything wa‘ 

3 allowed). Yes, Dick Skiller had lived there, but had moved when 
he married. Nobody knew his address. “They might know at the 
store,” said a bass voice from an open manhole near which 1 
happened to be standing with the two thin-armed, barefoot little 
girls and their dim grandmothers. I entered the wrong store ano 
a wary old Negro shook his head even before I could ask any -I 
thing. I crossed over to a bleak grocery and there, summoned b)l 
a customer at my request, a woman’s voice from some wooden 
abyss in the floor, the manhole’s counterpart, cried out: Huntej 

4 Road, last house. 

[ 270 ] 

Hunter Road was miles away, in an even more dismal district, 
ill dump and ditch, and wormy vegetable garden, and shack, and 
yray drizzle, and red mud, and several smoking stacks in the dis- 
ance. I stopped at the last “house” — a clapboard shack, with 
wo or three similar ones farther away from the road and a waste 
)f withered weeds all around. Sounds of hammering came from 
)ehind the house, and for several minutes I sat quite still in my 
)ld car, old and frail, at the end of my journey, at my gray goal, 
mis, my friends, finis, my fiends. The time was around two. 
vly pulse was 40 one minute and 100 the next. The drizzle 
Tepitated against the hood of the car. My gun had migrated to 
ny right trouser pocket. A nondescript cur came out from be- 
lind the house, stopped in surprise, and started good-naturedly 
voof-woofing at me, his eyes slit, his shaggy belly all muddy, 
nd then walked about a little and woofed once more. 


got out of the car and slammed its door. How matter-of-fact, 
ow square that slam sounded in the void of the sunless day! 
y oof, commented the dog perfunctorily. I pressed the bell 
'utton, it vibrated through my whole system. Personne. Je 
•esonne. Reperso?me. From what depth this re-nonsense? Woof, 1 
lid the dog. A rush and a shuffle, and woosh-woof went the door. 
Couple of inches taller. Pink-rimmed glasses. New, heaped-up 
air do, new ears. How simple! The moment, the death I had 
ept conjuring up for three years was as simple as a bit of dry 
/ood. She was frankly and hugely pregnant. Her head looked 
mailer (only two seconds had passed really, but let me give them 
s much wooden duration as life can stand), and her pale- 
■eckled cheeks were hollowed, and her bare shins and arms had 
!)st all their tan, so that the little hairs showed. She wore a 
rOwn, sleeveless cotton dress and sloppy felt slippers. 

I “We — e — ell!” she exhaled after a pause with all the emphasis 
f wonder and welcome. 

[ 271 ] 

“Husband at home?” I croaked, fist in pocket. 

I could not kill her, of course, as some have thought. You see. 
I loved her. It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever 

“Come in,” she said with a vehement cheerful note. Against 
the splintery deadwood of the door, Dolly Schiller flattened her- 
self as best she could (even rising on tiptoe a little) to let mt 
pass, and was crucified for a moment, looking down, smiling dowr 
at the threshold, hollow-cheeked with round pomniettes, hei 
watered-milk-white arms outspread on the wood. I passed with- 
out touching her bulging babe. Dolly-smell, with a faint friec 
addition. My teeth chattered like an idiot’s. “No, you stay out’ 
(to the dog). She closed the door and followed me and her belly 
into the dollhouse parlor. 

“Dick’s down there,” she said pointing with an invisible tenni; 
racket, inviting my gaze to travel from the drab parlor-bedroorr 
where we stood, right across the kitchen, and through the back- 
doorway where, in a rather primitive vista, a dark-haired young 
stranger in overalls, instantaneously reprieved, was perched witbj 
his back to me on a ladder fixing something near or upon thtij 
shack of his neighbor, a plumper fellow with only one arm, whci 
stood looking up. 

This pattern she explained from afar, apologetically (“Meri 
will be men”) ; should she call him in? i 

No. I 

Standing in the middle of the slanting room and emitting! 
questioning “hm’s,” she made familiar Javanese gestures witlij 
her wrists and hands, offering me, in a brief display of humorou'j 
courtesy, to choose between a rocker and the divan (their bee 
after ten p.m.). I say “familiar” because one day she had welj; 
corned me with the same wrist dance to her party in Beardsleyli 
We both sat down on the divan. Curious: although actually hei^ 
looks had faded, I definitely realized, so hopelessly late in the 
day, how much she looked — had always looked — like Botticelli’'} 
russet Venus — the same soft nose, the same blurred beauty. Ir|’ 
my pocket my fingers gently let go and repacked a little at th( 
tip, within the handkerchief it was nested in, my unused weapon} j 

[ 272 ] 

“That’s not the fellow I want,” I said. 

The diffuse look of welcome left her eyes. Her forehead 
muckered as in the old bitter days: 

“Not who?'" 

“Where is he? Quick!” 

“Look,” she said, inclining her head to one side and shaking 
t in that position. “Look, you are not going to bring that up.” 

“I certainly am,” I said, and for a moment — strangely enough 
he only merciful, endurable one in the whole interview — we 
vere bristling at each other as if she were still mine. 

A wise girl, she controlled herself. 

Dick did not know a thing of the whole mess. He thought I 
vas her father. He thought she had run away from an upper- 
dass home just to wash dishes in a diner. He believed anything. 
ATy should I want to make things harder than they were by 
•aking up all that muck? 

But, I said, she must be sensible, she must be a sensible girl 
'with her bare drum under that thin brown stuff), she must 
mderstand that if she expected the help I had come to give, I 
nust have at least a clear comprehension of the situation. 

“Come, his name!” 

She thought I had guessed long ago. It was (with a mischie- 
vous and melancholy smile) such a sensational name. I would 
lever believe it. She could hardly believe it herself. 

His name, my fall nymph. 

It was so unimportant, she said. She suggested I skip it. Would 
like a cigarette? 

No. His name. 

■ She shook her head with great resolution. She guessed it was 

00 late to raise hell and I would never believe the unbelievably 
inbelievable — 

I said I had better go, regards, nice to have seen her. 

She said really it was useless, she would never tell, but on the 
jither hand, after all — “Do you really want to know who it was? 
Veil, it was — ” 

1 And softly, confidentially, arching her thin eyebrows and 
I'uckering her parched lips, she emitted, a little mockingly, some- 

[ 273 ] 


what fastidiously, not untenderly, in a kind of muted whistle, th( 
name that the astute reader has guessed long ago. 

1 Waterproof. Why did a flash from Hourglass Lake cross mj 
consciousness? I, too, had known it, without knowing it, al 
along. There was no shock, no surprise. Quietly the fusion tool 
place, and everything fell into order, into the pattern of branche 
that I have woven throughout this memoir with the express pur 
pose of having the ripe fruit fall at the right moment; yes, witl 
the express and perverse purpose of rendering — she was talking 
but I sat melting in my golden peace — of rendering that goldei 
and monstrous peace through the satisfaction of logical recogni 

2 tion, which my most inimical reader should experience now. 

She was, as I say, talking. It now came in a relaxed flow. Hi' 
was the only man she had ever been crazy about. What abou 
Dick? Oh, Dick was a lamb, they were quite happy together 
but she meant something different. And / had never counted, o 

She considered me as if grasping all at once the incredible— - 
and somehow tedious, confusing and unnecessary — fact that thu 

3 distant, elegant, slender, forty-year-old valetudinarian in velve’ 
coat sitting beside her had known and adored every pore am 
follicle of her pubescent body. In her washed-out gray eye; 
strangely spectacled, our poor romance was for a moment re 
fleeted, pondered upon, and dismissed like a dull party, like 
rainy picnic to which only the dullest bores had come, like 
humdrum exercise, like a bit of dry mud caking her childhood 

I just managed to jerk my knee out of the range of a sketch' 
tap — one of her acquired gestures. 

She asked me not to be dense. The past was the past. I hai 
been a good father, she guessed — granting me that. Proceec 
Dolly Schiller. 

Well, did I know that he had known her mother? That he wa 
practically an old friend? That he had visited with his uncle i: 

4 Ramsdale? — oh, years ago — and spoken at Mother’s club, an 
had tugged and pulled her, Dolly, by her bare arm onto his la 

■ in front of everybody, and kissed her face, she was ten an 
furious with him? Did I know he had seen me and her at the in 

[ 274 ] 

/here he was writing the very play she was to rehearse in Beards- 
;y, two years later? Did I know — It had been horrid of her to 
detrack me into believing that Clare was an old female, maybe 1 

relative of his or a sometime lifemate — and oh, what a close 
have it had been when the Wace Journal carried his picture. 

The Bricelaiid Gazette had not. Yes, very amusing. 

Yes, she said, this world was just one gag after another, if 
omebody wrote up her life nobody would ever believe it. 

At this point, there came brisk homey sounds from the kitchen 
■ito which Dick and Bill had lumbered in quest of beer. Through 
le doorway they noticed the visitor, and Dick entered the parlor. 

“Dick, this is my Dad!” cried Dolly in a resounding violent 
oice that struck me as totally strange, and new, and cheerful, 
nd old, and sad, because the young fellow, veteran of a remote 
/ar, was hard of hearing. 

Arctic blue eyes, black hair, ruddy cheeks, unshaven chin. We 
took hands. Discreet Bill, who evidently took pride in working 
mnders with one hand, brought in the beer cans he had opened. 
Vanted to withdraw. The exquisite courtesy of simple folks. 

Vas made to stay. A beer ad. In point of fact, I preferred it that 
,^ay, and so did the Schillers. I switched to the jittery rocker, 
widly munching, Dolly plied me with marshmallows and potato 
hips. The men looked at her fragile, frileux, diminutive, old- 2 
mrld, youngish but sickly, father in velvet coat and beige vest, 
laybe a viscount. 

They were under the impression I had come to stay, and 
hck with a great wrinkling of brows that denoted difficult 
lought, suggested Dolly and he might sleep in the kitchen on 
spare mattress. I waved a light hand and told Dolly who trans- 
litted it by means of a special shout to Dick that I had merely 
topped in on my way to Readsburg where I was to be enter- 
ined by some friends and admirers. It was then noticed that 
le of the few thumbs remaining to Bill was bleeding (not such 
I wonder-worker after all). How womanish and somehow never 
cn that way before was the shadowy divison between her pale 
I'easts when she bent down over the man’s hand! She took him 
i)r repairs to the kitchen. For a few minutes, three or four little 

[ 275 ] 

eternities which positively welled with artificial warmth, Dicl( 
and I remained alone. He sat on a hard chair rubbing his fore-, 
limbs and frowning. I had an idle urge to squeeze out the black- 
heads on the wings of his perspiring nose with my long agate 
claws. He had nice sad eyes with beautiful lashes, and very 
white teeth. His Adam’s apple was large and hairy. Why don’t 
they shave better, those young brawny chaps? He and his Dolly ' 
had had unrestrained intercourse on that couch there, at least e 
hundred and eighty times, probably much more; and before that 
— how long had she known him? No grudge. Funny — no grudge 
at all, nothing except grief and nausea. He was now rubbing hi; 
nose. I was sure that when finally he would open his mouth, he 
would say (slightly shaking his head); “Aw, she’s a swell kid 
Mr. Haze. She sure is. And she’s going to make a swell mother.’ 
He opened his mouth — and took a sip of beer. This gave hin 
countenance — and he went on sipping till he frothed at the 

1 mouth. He was a lamb. He had cupped her Florentine breasts 
His fingernails were black and broken, but the phalanges, the, 
whole carpus, the strong shapely wrist were far, far finer thar^^ ^ 
mine: I have hurt too much too many bodies with my twistec; 
poor hands to be proud of them. French epithets, a Dorset | 

2 yokel’s knuckles, an Austrian tailor’s flat finger tips — that’ 

Humbert Humbert. ! 

Good. If he was silent I could be silent too. Indeed, I couk i 
very well do with a little rest in this subdued, frightened-to-deatl' 

3 rocking chair, before I drove to wherever the beast’s lair was— |i 
and then pulled the pistol’s foreskin back, and then enjoyed th( |i 
orgasm of the crushed trigger: I was always a good little followe: |l 

4 of the Viennese medicine man. But presently I became sort) |l 

5 for poor Dick whom, in some hy^pnotoid way, I was horribly ‘ 

preventing from making the only remark he could think uj jl 
(“She’s a swell kid .. .”). s 

“And so,” I said, “you are going to Canada?” | ( 

In the kitchen, Dolly was laughing at something Bill had sak f 
or done. ! i 

“And so,” I shouted, “you are going to Canada? Not Canada' ' 
— I re-shouted— “I mean Alaska, of course.” s 

[ 276 ] 

He nursed his glass and, nodding sagely, replied: “Well, he 
;ut it on a jagger, I guess. Lost his right arm in Italy.” 

Lovely mauve almond trees in bloom. A blown-ofF surrealistic 
rrm hanging up there in the pointillistic mauve. A flowergirl 
:attoo on the hand. Dolly and band-aided Bill reappeared. It 
jccurred to me that her ambiguous, brown and pale beauty ex- 
ited the cripple. Dick, with a grin of relief stood up. He guessed 
3ill and he would be going back to fix those wires. He guessed 
\Ir. Haze and Dolly had loads of things to say to each other. He 
j'uessed he would be seeing me before I left. Why do those 
people guess so much and shave so little, and are so disdainful 
:)f hearing aids? 

“Sit down,” she said, audibly striking her flanks with her 
3alms. I relapsed into the black rocker. 

i “So you betrayed me? Where did you go? Where is he now?” 

She took from the mantelpiece a concave glossy snapshot. Old 
voman in white, stout, beaming, bowlegged, very short dress; 

)ld man in his shirtsleeves, drooping mustache, watch chain. Her 
ndaws. Living with Dick’s brother’s family in Juneau. 

“Sure you don’t want to smoke?” 

( She was smoking herself. First time I saw her doing it. Streng 
^berboten under Humbert the Terrible. Gracefully, in a blue i 
:nist, Charlotte Haze rose from her grave. I would find him 
' hrough Uncle Ivory if she refused. 

“Betrayed you? No.” She directed the dart of her cigarette, 
ndex rapidly tapping upon it, toward the hearth exactly as her 
nother used to do, and then, like her mother, oh my God, with 2 
ler fingernail scratched and removed a fragment of cigarette 
oaper from her underlip. No. She had not betrayed me. I was 
mong friends. Edusa had warned her that Cue liked little girls, 3 
lad been almost jailed once, in fact (nice fact), and he knew 
he knew. Yes . . . Elbow in palm, puff, smile, exhaled smoke, 
larting gesture. Waxing reminiscent. He saw — smiling — through 
I'verything and everybody, because he was not like me and her 
)ut a genius. A great guy. Full of fun. Had rocked with laughter 
ivhen she confessed about me and her, and said he had thought 
o. It was quite safe, under the circumstances, to tell him . . . 

[ 277 ] 


Well, Cue — they all called him Cue — 

Her camp five years ago. Curious coincidence — . . . took hei 
to a dude ranch about a day’s drive from Elephant (Elphin- 

2 stone). Named? Oh, some silly name — Duk Duk Ranch — yoi 
know just plain silly — but it did not matter now, anyway, be- 
cause the place had vanished and disintegrated. Really, sht 
meant, I could not imagine how utterly lush that ranch was 
she meant it had everything but everything, even an indooi 

3 waterfall. Did I remember the redhaired guy we (“we” wa; 
good) had once had some tennis with? Well, the place really 
belonged to Red’s brother, but he had turned it over to Cue foi| 
the summer. When Cue and she came, the others had therr 
actually go through a coronation ceremony and then — a terrific 
ducking, as when you cross the Equator. Y on know. 

Her eyes rolled in synthetic resignation. 

“Go on, please.” 

Well. The idea was he would take her in September to Holly- 
wood and arrange a tryout for her, a bit part in the tennis-match| 
scene of a movie picture based on a play of his — Golden Guts — 
and perhaps even have her double one of its sensational starlets' 
on the Klieg-struck tennis court. Alas, it never came to that. 

“Where is the hog now?” 

He was not a hog. He was a great guy in many respects. But it 
was all drink and drugs. And, of course, he was a complete freah 
in sex matters, and his friends were his slaves. I just could not 
imagine (I, Humbert, could not imagine!) what they all did at 
Duk Duk Ranch. She refused to take part because she loved 
him, and he threw her out. 

“What things?” 

“Oh, weird, filthy, fancy things. I mean, he had two girls and 
two boys, and three or four men, and the idea was for all of us 
to tangle in the nude while an old woman took movie pictures.” 

4 (Sade’s Justine was twelve at the start.) 

“What things exactly?” 

“Oh, things . . . Oh, I — really I” — she uttered the “I” as a 
subdued cry while she listened to the source of the ache, and for 
lack of words spread the five fingers of her angularly up-and- 

[ 278 ] 

lown-moving hand. No, she gave it up, she refused to go into 
)articulars with that baby inside her. 

That made sense. 

. “It is of no importance now,” she said pounding a gray 
ushion with her fist and then lying back, belly up, on the divan. 
Crazy things, filthy things. I said no, I’m just not going to [she 
'.sed, in all insouciance really, a disgusting slang term which, in 
■ literal French translation, would be souffler] your beastly l 
toys, because I want only you. Well, he kicked me out.” 

There was not much else to tell. That winter 1949, Fay and 
he had found jobs. For almost two years she had — oh, just 
Irifted, oh, doing some restaurant work in small places, and 
hen she had met Dick. No, she did not know where the other 
vas. In New York, she guessed. Of course, he was so famous she 
vould have found him at once if she had wanted. Fay had tried 
0 get back to the Ranch — and it just was not there any more — 

: had burned to the ground, nothing remained, just a charred 
eap of rubbish. It was so strange, so strange — 

She closed her eyes and opened her mouth, leaning back on 
he cushion, one felted foot on the floor. The wooden floor 
lanted, a little steel ball would have rolled into the kitchen. I 
new all I wanted to know. I had no intention of torturing my 
arling. Somewhere beyond Bill’s shack an afterwork radio had 
egun singing of folly and fate, and there she was with her ruined 
Doks and her adult, rope-veined narrow hands and her goose- 
esh white arms, and her shallow ears, and her unkempt arm- 
its, there she was (my Lolita!), hopelessly worn at seventeen, 2 
/ith that baby, dreaming already in her of becoming a big shot 
nd retiring around 2020 a . d . — and I looked and looked at her, 3 
nd knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more 
lan anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for 
nywhere else. She was only the faint violet whiff and dead leaf 
cho of the nymphet I had rolled myself upon with such cries in 
le past; an echo on the brink of a russet ravine, with a far wood 
nder a white sky, and brown leaves choking the brook, and one 
!ist cricket in the crisp weeds . . . but thank God it was not that 

[ 279 ] 


echo alone that I worshiped. What I used to pamper among thi 

1 tangled vines of my heart, mon grand peche radieux, hac 
dwindled to its essence: sterile and selfish vice, all that I cancelei 
and cursed. You may jeer at me, and threaten to clear the court 
but until I am gagged and half-throttled, I will shout my poo 
truth. I insist the world know how much I loved my Lolita, thi 
Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but stil 
gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Car 
mencita, still mine; Changeons de vie, ma Carmen, allojts vivr> 

2 quelque part oil nous ne serons jamais separes; Ohio? The wild 
of Massachusetts? No matter, even if those eyes of hers wouk 
fade to myopic fish, and her nipples swell and crack, and he 
lovely young velvety delicate delta be tainted and torn — evei 
then I would go mad with tenderness at the mere sight of you 
dear wan face, at the mere sound of your raucous young voice 
my Lolita. 

“Lolita,” I said, “this may be neither here nor there but 
have to say it. Life is very short. From here to that old car yoi 
know so well there is a stretch of twenty, twenty-five paces. It i 
a very short walk. Make those twenty-five steps. Now. Righ 

3 now. Come just as you are. And we shall live happily ever after.' 

4 Carmen, voulez-vous veiiir avec moi? 

“You mean,” she said opening her eyes and raising hersel 
slightly, the snake that may strike, “you mean you will give u 
[us] that money only if I go with you to a motel. Is that wha 
you mean?” 

“No,” I said, “you got it all wrong. I want you to leave you 
incidental Dick, and this awful hole, and come to live with me 
and die with me, and everything with me” (words to that effect) 

“You’re crazy,” she said, her features working. 

“Think it over, Lolita. There are no strings attached. Excepi 
perhaps — well, no matter.” (A reprieve, I wanted to say but dii 
not.) “Anyway, if you refuse you will still get your . . . trousseau. ^ 

“No kidding?” asked Dolly. 

I handed her an envelope with four hundred dollars in cas ' 
and a check for three thousand six hundred more. 

[ 280 ] 

Gingerly, uncertainly, she received mon petit cadeau; and l 
[len her forehead became a beautiful pink. “You mean,” she 
aid, with agonized emphasis, “you are giving us ^our thousand 
■ucks?'’’ I covered my face with my hand and broke into the 
ottest tears I had ever shed. I felt them winding through my 
ngers and down my chin, and burning me, and my nose got 
logged, and I could not stop, and then she touched my wrist. 

“I’ll die if you touch me,” I said. “You are sure you are not 
oming with me? Is there no hope of your coming? Tell me only 

; “No,” she said. “No, honey, no.” 

She had never called me honey before. 

, “No,” she said, “it is quite out of the question. I would sooner 
,o back to Cue. I mean — ” 

She groped for words. I supplied them mentally (“i7e broke 
ly heart. You merely broke my life”). 

“I think,” she went on— “oops” — the envelope skidded to the 
oor — she picked it up— “I think it’s oh utterly grand of you to 
ive us all that dough. It settles everything, we can start next 
^eek. Stop crying, please. You should understand. Let me get 
ou some more beer. Oh, don’t cry. I’m so sorry I cheated so 
luch, but that’s the way things are.” 

I wiped my face and my fingers. She smiled at the cadeau. 
he exulted. She wanted to call Dick. I said I would have to leave 
ii a moment, did not want to see him at all, at all. We tried to 
link of some subject of conversation. For some reason, I kept 
.ieing- — it trembled and silkily glowed on my damp retina — a 
idiant child of twelve, sitting on a threshold, “pinging” pebbles 

an empty can. I almost said — trying to find some casual remark 
-“I wonder sometimes what has become of the little McCoo 
,irl, did she ever get better?”— but stopped in time lest she 
ejoin: “I wonder sometimes what has become of the little Haze 
jirl . . .” Finally, I reverted to money matters. That sum, I said, 
jpresented more or less the net rent from her mother’s house; 
jie said: “Had it not been sold years ago?” No (I admit I had 
)ld her this in order to sever all connections with R.); a lawyer 

[ 281 ] 


would send a full account of the financial situation later; it wa 
rosy; some of the small securities her mother had owned hai 
gone up and up. Yes, I was quite sure I had to go. I had to gc 
and find him, and destroy him. 

Since I would not have survived the touch of her lips, I kep 
retreating in a mincing dance, at every step she and her belh 
made toward me. 

She and the dog saw me off. I was surprised (this a rhetorics 
figure, I was not) that the sight of the old car in which she ha* 
ridden as a child and a nymphet, left her so very indifferent. Ai 
she remarked was it was getting sort of purplish about the gilk^ 
I said it was hers, I could go by bus. She said don’t be silly, the> 

1 would fly to Jupiter and buy a car there. I said I would buy thi 
one from her for five hundred dollars. 

“At this rate we’ll be millionnaires next,” she said to th' 
ecstatic dog. 

2 Carmencita, lui demandais-je . . . “One last word,” I said ii' 
my horrible careful English, “are you quite, quite sure that— 
well, not tomorrow, of course, and not after tomorrow, but— 
well — some day, any day, you will not come to live with me? 
will create a brand new God and thank him with piercing cries 
if you give me that microscopic hope” (to that effect). 

“No,” she said smiling, “no.” 

“It would have made all the difference,” said Humber 

Then I pulled out my automatic — I mean, this is the kind o 

3 fool thing a reader might suppose I did. It never even occurrec 
to me to do it. 

“Good by-aye!” she chanted, my American sweet immorta 

4 dead love; for she is dead and immortal if you are reading this, 
mean, such is the formal agreement with the so-called authorities 

Then, as I drove away, I heard her shout in a vibrant voice t( 
her Dick; and the dog started to lope alongside my car like a fa 
dolphin, but he was too heavy and old, and very soon gave up 

And presently I was driving through the drizzle of the dyinj 
day, with the windshield wipers in full action but unable to cope 
with my tears. 

[ 282 ] 


^caving as I did Coalmont around four in the afternoon (by 
loute X — I do not remember the number), 1 might have made 
lamsdale by dawn had not a short-cut tempted me. I had to 
jet onto Highway Y. My map showed quite blandly that just 
)eyond Woodbine, which I reached at nightfall, I could leave 
)aved X and reach paved Y by means of a transverse dirt road. 
it was only some forty miles long according to my map. Other- 
vise I would have to follow X for another hundred miles and 
hen use leisurely looping Z to get to Y and my destination, 
dowever, the short-cut in question got worse and worse, bumpier 
nd bumpier, muddier and muddier, and when I attempted to 
urn back after some ten miles of purblind, tortuous and 
ortoise-slow progress, my old and weak Melmoth got stuck in 
leep clay. All was dark and muggy, and hopeless. My head- 
ights hung over a broad ditch full of water. The surrounding 
.'ountry, if any, was a black wilderness. I sought to extricate my- 
elf but my rear wheels only whined in slosh and anguish, 
mrsing my plight, I took off my fancy clothes, changed into 
lacks, pulled on the bullet-riddled sweater, and waded four l 

rules back to a roadside farm. It started to rain on the way 
>ut I had not the strength to go back for a mackintosh. Such 
ticidents have convinced me that my heart is basically sound 
iespite recent diagnoses. Around midnight, a wrecker dragged 
ny car out. I navigated back to Highway X and traveled on. 
Jtter weariness overtook me an hour later, in an anonymous 
ttle town. I pulled up at the curb and in darkness drank deep 
rom a friendly flask. 

The rain had been cancelled miles before. It was a black 
;k^arm night, somewhere in Appalachia. Now and then cars 
■assed me, red tail-lights receding, white headlights advancing, 
i'Ut the town was dead. Nobody strolled and laughed on the 
idewalks as relaxing burghers would in sweet, mellow, rotting 
purope. I was alone to enjoy the innocent night and my ter- 
ible thoughts. A wire receptacle on the curb was very particular 
bout acceptable contents: Sweepings. Paper. No Garbage. 

C 283 ] 

Sherry-red letters of light marked a Camera Shop. A large ther 
mometer with the name of a laxative quietly dwelt on thi 
front of a drugstore. Rubinov’s Jewelry Company had a display 
of artificial diamonds reflected in a red mirror. A lighted greei 
clock swam in the linenish depths of Jiffy Jeff Laundry. On th 
other side of the street a garage said in its sleep — genuflexioi 

1 lubricity; and corrected itself to Gulflex Lubrication. An air 
plane, also gemmed by Rubinov, passed, droning, in the velve 
heavens. How many small dead-of-night towns I had seen! Thi 
was not yet the last. 

2 Let me dally a little, he is as good as destroyed. Some wa] 
further across the street, neon lights flickered twice slower thai 
my heart: the outline of a restaurant sign, a large coffee-pot 
kept bursting, every full second or so, into emerald life, an( 
every time it went out, pink letters saying Fine Foods relayec 
it, but the pot could still be made out as a latent shadow teasing 
the eye before its next emerald resurrection. We made shadow 

3 graphs. This furtive burg was not far from The Enchantec' 
Hunters. I was weeping again, drunk on the impossible past. 


At this solitary stop for refreshments between Coalmont anc 
Ramsdale (between innocent Dolly Schiller and jovial Unck 
Ivor), I reviewed my case. With the utmost simplicity am 
clarity I now saw myself and my love. Previous attempts seemec 
out of focus in comparison. A couple of years before, undei 
the guidance of an intelligent French-speaking confessor, tc 
whom, in a moment of metaphysical curiosity, I had turnec 
over a Protestant’s drab atheism for an old-fashioned popisl 
cure, I had hoped to deduce from my sense of sin the existence 
of a Supreme Being. On those frosty mornings in rime-lacef 
Quebec, the good priest worked on me with the finest tender' 
ness and understanding. I am infinitely obliged to him and th( 
great Institution he represented. Alas, I was unable to transcenc 

[ 284 ] 

the simple human fact that whatever spiritual solace I might 
find, whatever lithophanic eternities might be provided for me, i 
nothing could make my Lolita forget the foul lust I had in- 
flicted upon her. Unless it can be proven to me — to me as I am 
now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction 
—that in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North 
American girl-child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of 
her childhood by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it 
can, then life is a joke), I see nothing for the treatment of my 
misery but the melancholy and very local palliative of articulate 
art. To quote an old poet: 2 

The moral sense in mortals is the duty 

We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty. 


There was the day, during our first trip — our first circle of 
paradise — when in order to enjoy my phantasms in peace I 
firmly decided to ignore what I could not help perceiving, the 
fact that I was to her not a boy friend, not a glamour man, not 
a pal, not even a person at all, but just two eyes and a foot of 
engorged brawn — to mention only mentionable matters. There 
was the day when having withdrawn the functional promise I 
had made her on the eve (whatever she had set her funny little 
heart on — a roller rink with some special plastic floor or a movie 
matinee to which she wanted to go alone), I happened to 
glimpse from the bathroom, through a chance combination of 
mirror aslant and door ajar, a look on her face . . . that look I 
cannot exactly describe ... an expression of helplessness so per- 
fect that it seemed to grade into one of rather omfortable 
inanity just because this was the very limit of injustice and 
frustration — and every limit presupposes something beyond it — 
hence the neutral illumination. And when you bear in mind that 
these were the raised eyebrows and parted lips of a child, you 

[ 285 ] 

may better appreciate what depths of calculated carnality, what 
reflected despair, restrained me from falling at her dear feet and 
dissolving in human tears, and sacrificing my jealousy to what- 
ever pleasure Lolita might hope to derive from mixing with dirty 
and dangerous children in an outside world that was real to her. 

And I have still other smothered memories, now unfolding 
themselves into limbless monsters of pain. Once, in a sunset- 
ending street of Beardsley, she turned to little Eva Rosen (I 
was taking both nymphets to a concert and walking behind them 
so close as almost to touch them with my person), she turned 
to Eva, and so very serenely and seriously, in answer to some- 
thing the other had said about its being better to die than hear 
Milton Pinski, some local schoolboy she knew, talk about music, 
my Lolita remarked: 

“You know, what’s so dreadful about dying is that you are 
completely on your own”; and it struck me, as my automaton 
knees went up and down, that I simply did not know a thing 
about my darling’s mind and that quite possibly, behind the 
awful juvenile cliches, there was in her a garden and a twi- 

1 light, and a palace gate — dim and adorable regions which hap- 
pened to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to me, in my 
polluted rags and miserable convulsions; for I often noticed that 
living as we did, she and I, in a world of total evil, we would 
become strangely embarrassed whenever I tried to discuss some- 
thing she and an older friend, she and a parent, she and a real 
healthy sweetheart, I and Annabel, Lolita and a sublime, puri- 
fied, analyzed, deified Harold Haze, might have discussed — an 
,3 abstract idea, a painting, stippled Hopkins or shorn Baudelaire, 

4 God or Shakespeare, anything of a genuine kind. Good will! 
She would mail her vulnerability in trite brashness and bore- 
dom, whereas I, using for my desperately detached comments an 
artificial tone of voice that set my own last teeth on edge, pro- 
voked my audience to such outbursts of rudeness as made any 
further conversation impossible, oh my poor, bruised child. 

5 I loved you. I was a pentapod monster, but I loved you. I 

6 was despicable and brutal, and turpid, and everything, niais je 

7 t’aimais, je faimais! And there were times when I knew how 

[ 286 ] 

you felt, and it was hell to know it, my little one. Lolita girl, 
brave Dolly Schiller. 

I recall certain moments, let us call them icebergs in paradise, 
when after having had my fill of her — after fabulous, insane ex- 
ertions that left me limp and azure-barred — I would gather her 
in my arms with, at last, a mute moan of human tenderness 
(her skin glistening in the neon light coming from the paved 
court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black lashes matted, 
her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever — for all the world a 
little patient still in the confusion of a drug after a major opera- 
tion) — and the tenderness would deepen to shame and despair, 
and I would lull and rock my lone light Lolita in my marble 
arms, and moan in her warm hair, and caress her at random 
and mutely ask her blessing, and at the peak of this human 
agonized selfless tenderness (with my soul actually hanging 
around her naked body and ready to repent), all at once, ironi- 
cally, horribly, lust would swell again — and “oh, no^’’ Lolita 
would say with a sigh to heaven, and the next moment the 
tenderness and the azure — all would be shattered. 

Mid-ru^entieth century ideas concerning child-parent relation- 
ship have been considerably tainted by the scholastic rigmarole 
and standardized symbols of the psychoanalytic racket, but I 
hope I am addressing myself to unbiased readers. Once when 
Avis’s father had honked outside to signal papa had come to 
take his pet home, I felt obliged to invite him into the parlor, 
and he sat down for a minute, and while we conversed. Avis, 
a heavy, unattractive, affectionate child, drew up to him and 
eventually perched plumply on his knee. Now, I do not remem- 
ber if I have mentioned that Lolita always had an absolutely 
enchanting smile for strangers, a tender furry slitting of the 
eyes, a dreamy sweet radiance of all her features which did not 
mean a thing of course, but was so beautiful, so endearing that 
one found it hard to reduce such sweetness to but a magic gene 
automatically lighting up her face in atavistic token of some 
ancient rite of welcome — hospitable prostitution, the coarse 
reader may say. Well, there she stood while Mr. Byrd twirled 
his hat and talked, and — yes, look how stupid of me, I have left 

[ 287 ] 

out the main characteristic of the famous Lolita smile, namely: 
while the tender, nectared, dimpled brightness played, it was , 
never directed at the stranger in the room but hung in its own | 
remote flowered void, so to speak, or wandered with myopic 
softness over chance objects — and this is what was happening 
now: while fat Avis sidled up to her papa, Lolita gently beamed 
at a fruit knife that she fingered on the edge of the table, 
whereon she leaned, many miles away from me. Suddenly, as 
Avis clung to her father’s neck and ear while, with a casual ^ 
arm, the man enveloped his lumpy and large offspring, I saw I 
Lolita’s smile lose all its light and become a frozen little shadow 
of itself, and the fruit knife slipped off the table and struck her i 
with its silver handle a freak blow on the ankle which made 
her gasp, and crouch head forward, and then, jumping on one [ 
leg, her face awful with the preparatory grimace which children 
hold till the tears gush, she was gone — to be followed at once i 
and consoled in the kitchen by Avis who had such a wonderful 
fat pink dad and a small chubby brother, and a brand-new j 
baby sister, and a home, and two grinning dogs, and Lolita had ; 
nothing. And I have a neat pendant to that little scene — also in 
a Beardsley setting. Lolita, who had been reading near the fire, 
stretched herself, and then inquired, her elbow up, with a grunt: 
“Where is she buried anyway?” “Who?” “Oh, you know, my 
murdered mummy.” “And you know where her grave is,” I 
said controlling myself, whereupon I named the cemetery — just 
outside Ramsdale, between the railway tracks and Lakeview 
Hill. “Moreover,” I added, “the tragedy of such an accident is i 
somewhat cheapened by the epithet you saw fit to apply to it. j 
If you really wish to triumph in your mind over the idea of ^ 
death — ” “Ray,” said Lo for hurray, and languidly left the room, j 
and for a long while I stared with smarting eyes into the fire. ' 
Then I picked up her book. It was some trash for young people. : 
There was a gloomy girl Marion, and there was her stepmother | 
who turned out to be, against all expectations, a young, gay, j 
understanding redhead who explained to Marion that Marion’s j 
dead mother had really been a heroic woman since she had de- 
liberately dissimulated her great love for Marion because she was 

[ 288 ] 

dying, and did not want her child to miss her. I did not rush 
up to her room with cries. I always preferred the mental hygiene 
of noninterference. Now, squirming and pleading with my own 
memory, I recall that on this and similar occasions, it was 
always my habit and method to ignore Lolita’s states of mind 
'while comforting my own base self. When my mother, in a 
livid wet dress, under the tumbling mist (so I vividly imagined 
her), had run panting ecstatically up that ridge above Moulinet 1 
to be felled there by a thunderbolt, I was but an infant, and in 
'retrospect no yearnings of the accepted kind could I ever graft 
upon any moment of my youth, no matter how savagely psycho- 
therapists heckled me in my later periods of depression. But I 
admit that a man of my power of imagination cannot plead 
personal ignorance of universal emotions. I may also have relied 
too much on the abnormally chill relations between Charlotte 
and her daughter. But the awful point of the whole argument 
is this. It had become gradually clear to my conventional Lolita 
I during our singular and bestial cohabitation that even the most 
miserable of family lives was better than the parody of incest, 
which, in the long run, was the best I could offer the waif. 


Ramsdale revisited. I approached it from the side of the lake. 
The sunny noon was all eyes. As I rode by in my mud-flecked 
car, I could distinguish scintillas of diamond water between the 2 
far pines. I turned into the cemetery and walked among the 
long and short stone monuments. Bonzhur, Charlotte. On some 3 
of the graves there were pale, transparent little national flags 
slumped in the windless air under the evergreens. Gee, Ed, that 
was bad luck — referring to G. Edward Grammar, a thirty-five- 
year-old New York office manager who had just been arrayed 4 
on a charge of murdering his thirty-three-year -old wife, Dorothy. 
Bidding for the perfect crime, Ed had bludgeoned his wife and 
put her into a car. The case came to light when two county 

[ 289 ] 

policemen on patrol saw Mrs. Grammar’s new big blue Chrysler, . 
an anniversary present from her husband, speeding crazily down 
a hill, just inside their jurisdiction (God bless our good cops!). 
The car sideswiped a pole, ran up an embankment covered with ' 
beard grass, wild strawberry and cinquefoil, and overturned. 
The wheels were still gently spinning in the mellow sunlight 
when the officers removed Mrs. G’s body. It appeared to be a 
routine highway accident at first. Alas, the woman’s battered , 
body did not match up with only minor damage suffered by ‘ 
the car. I did better. 

I rolled on. It was funny to see again the slender white church . 
and the enormous elms. Forgetting that in an American sub- 
urban street a lone pedestrian is more conspicuous than a lone 
motorist, I left the car in the avenue to walk unobtrusively past 
342 Lawn Street. Before the great bloodshed, I was entitled to 
a little relief, to a cathartic spasm of mental regurgitation, jj 
Closed were the white shutters of the Junk mansion, and some- ! 
body had attached a found black velvet hair ribbon to the | 
white FOR SALE sign which was leaning toward the sidewalk, j 
No dog barked. No gardener telephoned. No Miss Opposite sat 
on the vined porch — where to the lone pedestrian’s annoyance 
two pony-tailed young women in identical polka-dotted pina- 
fores stopped doing whatever they were doing to stare at him: 
she was long dead, no doubt, these might be her twin nieces ; 
from Philadelphia. ] 

1 Should I enter my old house? As in a Turgenev story, a tor- | 
rent of Italian music came from an open window — ^that of the Ij 
living room: what romantic soul was playing the piano where 

2 no piano had plunged and plashed on that bewitched Sunday !; 
with the sun on her beloved legs? All at once I noticed that ij 
from the lawn I had mown a golden-skinned, brown-haired 
nymphet of nine or ten, in white shorts, was looking at me with 
wild fascination in her large blue-black eyes. I said something 
pleasant to her, meaning no harm, an old-world compliment, 
what nice eyes you have, but she retreated in haste and the 
music stopped abruptly, and a violent-looking dark man, glis- ! 
tening with sweat, came out and glared at me. I was on the i 

[ 290 ] ! 

point of identifying myself when, with a pang of dream- 
embarrassment, I became aware of my mud-caked dungarees, my 
filthy and torn sweater, my bristly chin, my bum’s bloodshot 
eyes. Without saying a word, I turned and plodded back the way 
I had come. An aster-like anemic flower grew out of a remem- 
bered chink in the sidewalk. Quietly resurrected. Miss Opposite 
was being wheeled out by her nieces, onto her porch, as if it 
were a stage and I the star performer. Praying she would not 
call to me, I hurried to my car. What a steep little street. What 
a profound avenue. A red ticket showed between wiper and 
windshield; I carefully tore it into two, four, eight pieces. 

Feeling I was losing my time, I drove energetically to the 
downtown hotel where I had arrived with a new bag more than 
five years before. I took a room, made two appointments by 
telephone, shaved, bathed, put on black clothes and went down 
for a drink in the bar. Nothing had changed. The barroom was 
suffused with the same dim, impossible garnet-red light that in 
Europe years ago went with low haunts, but here meant a bit 
of atmosphere in a family hotel. I sat at the same little table 
where at the very start of my stay, immediately after becoming 
Charlotte’s lodger, I had thought fit to celebrate the occasion by 
suavely sharing with her half a bottle of champagne, which had 
fatally conquered her poor brimming heart. As then, a moon- 
faced waiter was arranging with stellar care fifty sherries on a 
round tray for a wedding party. Murphy-Fantasia, this time. It l 
was eight minutes to three. As I walked through the lobby, 

I had to skirt a group of ladies who with 7 nille graces were 2 
taking leave of each other after a luncheon party. With a harsh 
cry of recognition, one pounced upon me. She was a stout, 
short woman in pearl-gray, with a long, gray, slim plume to her 
small hat. It was Mrs. Chatfield. She attacked me with a fake 
smile, all aglow with evil curiosity. (Had I done to Dolly, per- 
haps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to 
eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?) Very soon I had that 
avid glee well under control. She thought I was in California. 
How was — ? With exquisite pleasure I informed her that my 
stepdaughter had just married a brilliant young mining engineer 

[ 291 ] 

with a hush-hush job in the Northwest. She said she disapproved 
of such early marriages, she would never let her Phyllis, who 
was now eighteen — 

“Oh yes, of course,’^ I said quietly. “I remember Phyllis. Phyllis 
and Camp Q. Yes, of course. By the way, did she ever tell 
you how Charlie Holmes debauched there his mother’s little 

Mrs. Chatfield’s already broken smile now disintegrated com- 

“For shame,” she cried, “for shame, Mr. Humbert! The poor , 
boy has just been killed in Korea.” 

1 I said didn’t she think '"‘'vient tfc,” with the infinitive, ex- 

pressed recent events so much more neatly than the English 
“just,” with the past? But I had to be trotting off, I said. , 

There were only two blocks to Windmuller’s office. He greeted ; 
me with a very slow, very enveloping, strong, searching grip. i 
He thought I was in California. Had I not lived at one time i 
at Beardsley? His daughter had just entered Beardsley College. 
And how was — ? I gave all necessary information about Mrs. 
Schiller. We had a pleasant business conference. I walked out 
into the hot September sunshine a contented pauper. 

Now that everything had been put out of the way, I could 
dedicate myself freely to the main object of my visit to Rams- 
dale. In the methodical manner on which I have always prided 
myself, I had been keeping Clare Quilty’s face masked in my 
dark dungeon, where he was waiting for me to come with barber 

2 and priest: ‘‘‘'Reveillez-vous, Laqueue, il est temps de mourirr 
I have no time right now to discuss the mnemonics of physiog- 
nomization — I am on my way to his uncle and walking fast — 
but let me jot down this: I had preserved in the alcohol of a 

3 clouded memory the toad of a face. In the course of a few 
glimpses, I had noticed its slight resemblance to a cheery and 
rather repulsive wine dealer, a relative of mine in Switzerland. 
With his dumbbells and stinking tricot, and fat hairy arms, 
and bald patch, and pig-faced servant-concubine, he was on the 
whole a harmless old rascal. Too harmless, in fact, to be con- 
fused with my prey. In the state of mind I now found myself, 

[ 292 ] 

; had lost contact with Trapp’s image. It had become com- 
i aletely engulfed by the face of Clare Quilty — as represented, 
kvith artistic precision, by an easeled photograph of him that 
I ;tood on his uncle’s desk. 

I In Beardsley, at the hands of charming Dr. Molnar, I had l 
landergone a rather serious dental operation, retaining only a 
' few upper and lower front teeth. The substitutes were dependent 
3n a system of plates with an inconspicuous wire affair run- 
j ning along my upper gums. The whole arrangement was a 
; masterpiece of comfort, and my canines were in perfect health. 

I However, to garnish my secret purpose with a plausible pretext, 

; I told Dr. Quilty that, in hope of alleviating facial neuralgia, 

I I had decided to have all my teeth removed. What would a 
I complete set of dentures cost? How long would the process take, 

, assuming we fixed our first appointment for some time in No- 
ivember? Where was his famous nephew now? Would it be pos- 

' sible to have them all out in one dramatic session? 

A white-smocked, gray-haired man, with a crew cut and the 
big flat cheeks of a politician. Dr. Quilty perched on the corner 
of his desk, one foot dreamily and seductively rocking as he 
launched on a glorious long-range plan. He would first provide 
me with provisional plates until the gums settled. Then he 
would make me a permanent set. He would like to have a look 
at that mouth of mine. He wore perforated pied shoes. He had 
not visited with the rascal since 1946, but supposed he could be 
found at his ancestral home, Grimm Road, not far from Park- 
ington. It was a noble dream. His foot rocked, his gaze was 
inspired. It would cost me around six hundred. He suggested 2 
he take measurements right away, and make the first set before 
starting operations. My mouth was to him a splendid cave full 
of priceless treasures, but I denied him entrance. 

“No,” I said. “On second thoughts, I shall have it all done by 
Dr. Molnar. His price is higher, but he is of course a much 
better dentist than you.” 

I do not know if any of my readers will ever have a chance 
to say that. It is a delicious dream feeling. Clare’s uncle re- 

[ 293 ] 

mained sitting on the desk, still looking dreamy, but his foot 
had stopped push-rocking the cradle of rosy anticipation. On the 
other hand, his nurse, a skeleton-thin, faded girl, with the tragic 
eyes of unsuccessful blondes, rushed after me so as to be able 
to slam the door in my wake. 

Push the magazine into the butt. Press home until you hear 
or feel the magazine catch engage. Delightfully snug. Capacity: 1 
1 eight cartridges. Full Blued. Aching to be discharged. 


A gas station attendant in Parkington explained to me very 
clearly how to get to Grimm Road. Wishing to be sure Quilty 
would be at home, I attempted to ring him up but learned that 
his private telephone had recently been disconnected. Did that 
mean he was gone? I started to drive to Grimm Road, twelve, 
miles north of the town. By that time night had eliminated most 
of the landscape and as I followed the narrow winding highway, 
a series of short posts, ghostly white, with reflectors, borrowed 
my own lights to indicate this or that curve. I could make out 
a dark valley on one side of the road and wooded slopes on 
the other, and in front of me, like derelict snowflakes, moths 
drifted out of the blackness into my probing aura. At the twelfth 
mile, as foretold, a curiously hooded bridge sheathed me for a 
moment and, beyond it, a white -washed rock loomed on the 
right, and a few car lengths further, on the same side, I turned 
off the highway up gravelly Grimm Road. For a couple of min- 
2 utes all was dank, dark, dense forest. Then, Pavor Manor, a 
wooden house with a turret, arose in a circular clearing. Its win- 
dows glowed yellow and red; its drive was cluttered with half a 
dozen cars. I stopped in the shelter of the trees and abolished 
my lights to ponder the next move quietly. He would be sur- 
rounded by his henchmen and whores. I could not help seeing 
the inside of that festive and ramshackle castle in terms of 
“Troubled Teens,” a story in one of her magazines, vague 

[ m ] 

“orgies,” a sinister adult with penele cigar, drugs, bodyguards, i 
At least, he was there. I would return in the torpid morning. 

Gently I rolled back to town, in that old faithful car of mine 
which was serenely, almost cheerfully working for me. My Lolita! 2 
There was still a three-year-old bobby pin of hers in the depths 
of the glove compartment. There was still that stream of pale 
moths siphoned out of the night by my headlights. Dark barns 
still propped themselves up here and there by the roadside. 
People were still going to the movies. While searching for night 
lodgings, I passed a drive-in. In a selenian glow, truly mystical 3 
in its contrast with the moonless and massive night, on a gigantic 
screen slanting away among dark drowsy fields, a thin phantom 
raised a gun, both he and his arm reduced to tremulous dish- 4 
water by the oblique angle of that receding world, — and the 
next moment a row of trees shut off the gesticulation. 


I left Insomnia Lodge next morning around eight and spent 5 
some time in Parkington. Visions of bungling the execution 
kept obsessing me. Thinking that perhaps the cartridges in the 
automatic had gone stale during a week of inactivity, I removed 
them and inserted a fresh batch. Such a thorough oil bath did 
I give Chum that now I could not get rid of the stuff. I band- 
aged him up with a rag, like a maimed limb, and used another 
rag to wrap up a handful of spare bullets. 

A thunderstorm accompanied me most of the way back to 
Grimm Road, but when I reached Pavor Manor, the sun was 
visible again, burning like a man, and the birds screamed in the 
drenched and steaming trees. The elaborate and decrepit house 
s^^emed to stand in a kind of daze, reflecting as it were my own 
state, for I could not help realizing, as my feet touched the 
springy and insecure ground, that I had overdone the alcoholic 
stimulation business. 

A guardedly ironic silence answered my bell. The garage, how- 

[ 295 ] 

ever, was loaded with his car, a black convertible for the nonce. 

I tried the knocker. Re-nobody. With a petulant snarl, I pushed 
the front door — and, how nice, it swung open as in a medieval 

1 fairy tale. Having softly closed it behind me, I made my way 

across a spacious and very ugly hall; peered into an adjacent i 
drawing room; noticed a number of used glasses growing out of ; 
the carpet; decided that master was still asleep in the master I 
bedroom. , 

So I trudged upstairs. My right hand clutched muffled Chum 
in my pocket, my left patted the sticky banisters. Of the three 
bedrooms I inspected, one had obviously been slept in that 
night. There was a library full of flowers. There was a rather 

2 bare room with ample and deep mirrors and a polar bear skin 
on the slippery floor. There were still other rooms. A happy 
thought struck me. If and when master returned from his con- 
stitutional in the woods, or emerged from some secret lair, it 
might be wise for an unsteady gunman with a long job before 
him to prevent his playmate from locking himself up in a room.i 
Consequently, for at least five minutes I went about — lucidly, 
insane, crazily calm, an enchanted and very tight hunter — turn- 
ing whatever keys in whatever locks there were and pocketing 

3 them with my free left hand. The house, being an old one, had 
more planned privacy than have modern glamour-boxes, where 
the bathroom, the only lockable locus, has to be used for the 
furtive needs of planned parenthood. 

Speaking of bathrooms — I was about to visit a third one when 

4 master came out of it, leaving a brief waterfall behind him. 
The corner of a passage did not quite conceal me. Gray-faced, 
baggy-eyed, fluffily disheveled in a scanty balding way, but still 
perfectly recognizable, he swept by me in a purple bathrobe, 
very like one I had. He either did not notice me, or else dis- 
missed me as some familiar and innocuous hallucination — and, 
showing me his hairy calves, he proceeded, sleepwalker-wise, 
downstairs. I pocketed my last key and followed him into the 
entrance hall. He had half opened his mouth and the front door, 
to peer out through a sunny chink as one who thinks he has 
heard a half-hearted visitor ring and recede. Then, still ignoring 

[ 296 ] 

the raincoated phantasm that had stopped in midstairs, master 
walked into a cozy boudoir across the hall from the drawing 
room, through which — taking it easy, knowing he was safe — I 
now went away from him, and in a bar-adorned kitchen gingerly 
unwrapped dirty Chum, taking care not to leave any oil stains 
on the chrome — I think I got the wrong product, it was black 
and awfully messy. In my usual meticulous way, I transferred 
naked Chum to a clean recess about me and made for the little 
boudoir. My step, as I say, was springy — too springy perhaps for 
success. But my heart pounded wnth tiger joy, and I crunched 
a cocktail glass underfoot. 

Master met me in the Oriental parlor. 

“Now who are you?” he asked in a high hoarse voice, his 
hands thrust into his dressing-gown pockets, his eyes fixing a 
point to the northeast of my head. “Are you by any chance 

By now it was evident to everybody that he was in a fog and 
completely at my so-called mercy. I could enjoy myself. 

“That’s right,” I answered suavely, “/e suis Monsieur Brustere. 
Let us chat for a moment before we start.” 

He looked pleased. His smudgy mustache twitched. I removed 
my raincoat. I was wearing a black suit, a black shirt, no tie. 
We sat down in two easy chairs. 

“You know,” he said, scratching loudly his fleshy and gritty 
gray cheek and showing his small pearly teeth in a crooked grin, 
“you don’t look like Jack Brewster. I mean, the resemblance is 
not particularly striking. Somebody told me he had a brother 
with the same telephone company.” 

To have him trapped, after those years of repentance and 
rage . . .To look at the black hairs on the back of his pudgy 
hands ... To wander with a hundred eyes over his purple silks 
ind hirsute chest foreglimpsing the punctures, and mess, and 
music of pain . . . To know that this semi-animated, subhuman 
trickster who had sodomized my darling — oh, my darling, this 
was intolerable bliss! 

“No, I am afraid I am neither of the Brewsters.” 

He cocked his head, looking more pleased than ever. 

[ 297 ] 


“Guess again, Punch.” 

“Ah,” said Punch, “so you have not come to bother me about 
those long-distance calls?” 

“You do make them once in a while, don’t you?” 

“Excuse me?” 

I said I had said I thought he had said he had never — 

“People,” he said, “people in general. I’m not accusing you 
Brewster, but you know it’s absurd the way people invade thi; 

2 damned house without even knocking. They use the vaterre 
they use the kitchen, they use the telephone. Phil calls Phila 

3 delphia. Pat calls Patagonia. I refuse to pay. You have a funny 
accent. Captain.” 

“Quilty,” I said, “do you recall a little girl called Dolorei 

4 Haze, Dolly Haze? Dolly called Dolores, Colo.?” i 

“Sure, she may have made those calls, sure. Any place. Para, 

5 dise. Wash., Hell Canyon. Who cares?” 

“I do, Quilty. You see, I am her father.” 

“Nonsense,” he said. “You are not. You are some foreign liter] 
ary agent. A Frenchman once translated my Proud Flesh as Li\ 

6 Fierte de la Chair. Absurd.” 

“She was my child, Quilty.” i 

In the state he was in he could not really be taken aback by 
anything, but his blustering manner was not quite convincing! 
A sort of wary inkling kindled his eyes into a semblance of life| 
They were immediately dulled again. ! 

“I’m very fond of children myself,” he said, “and fathers ar(i 
among my best friends.” 

He turned his head away, looking for something. He beat hil 
pockets. He attempted to rise from his seat. 

“Down!” I said — apparently much louder than I intended. 

“You need not roar at me,” he complained in his strangt 
feminine manner. “I just wanted a smoke. I’m dying for ; 
smoke.” j 

“You’re dying anyway.” i 

“Oh, chucks,” he said. “You begin to bore me. What do yoJ 

7 want? Are you French, mister? Woolly-woo-boo-are? Let’s g« 

to the barroomette and have a stiff — ” I 

[ 298 ] 

He saw the little dark weapon lying in my palm as if I were 
)ffering it to him. 

“Say!” he drawled (now imitating the underworld numbskull 
)f movies), “that’s a swell little gun you’ve got there. What 
I’you want for her.^” 

I slapped down his outstretched hand and he managed to 
mock over a box on a low table near him. It ejected a handful 
)f cigarettes. 

“Here they are,” he said cheerfully. “You recall Kipling; une 
emine est une femme^ mats un Caporal est une cigarette? Now l 
ve need matches.” 

“Quilty,” I said. “I want you to concentrate. You are going 

0 die in a moment. The hereafter for all we know may be an 
ternal state of excruciating insanity. You smoked your last 
ugarette yesterday. Concentrate. Try to understand what is 
lappening to you.” 

He kept taking the Drome cigarette apart and munching bits 
)f it. 

“I am willing to try,” he said. “You are either Australian, or 
L German refugee. Must you talk to me? This is a Gentile’s 
louse, you know. Maybe, you’d better run along. And do stop 2 
lemonstrating that gun. I’ve an old Stern-Luger in the music 

I pointed Chum at his shppered foot and crushed the trigger, 
t clicked. He looked at his foot, at the pistol, again at his foot, 
made another awful effort, and, with a ridiculously feeble and 
uvenile sound, it went off. The bullet entered the thick pink 
:ug, and I had the paralyzing impression that it had merely 
rickled in and might come out again. 

“See what I mean?” said Quilty. “You should be a little more 
:areful. Give me that thing for Christ’s sake.” 

He reached for it. I pushed him back into the chair. The rich 
oy was waning. It was high time I destroyed him, but he 
oust understand why he was being destroyed. His condition 
rifected me, the weapon felt limp and clumsy in my hand. 

1 “Concentrate,” I said, “on the thought of Dolly Haze whom 
mu kidnaped — ” 

[ 299 ] 

“I did not!” he cried. “You’re all wet. I saved her from j 
beastly pervert. Show me your badge instead of shooting at m) 
foot, you ape, you. Where is that badge? I’m not responsibh 
for the rapes of others. Absurd! That joy ride, I grant you, wa: 
a silly stunt but you got her back, didn’t you? Come, let’s hav( 
a drink.” 

I asked him whether he wanted to be executed sitting o: 

“Ah, let me think,” he said. “It is not an easy question. In ' 
cidentally — I made a mistake. Which I sincerely regret. You see 
I had no fun with your Dolly. I am practically impotent, to tell 
the melancholy truth. And I gave her a splendid vacation. Shi i 
met some remarkable people. Do you happen to know — ” 

And with a tremendous lurch he fell all over me, sending thi 
pistol hurtling under a chest of drawers. Fortunately he was mot' 
impetuous than vigorous, and I had little difficulty in shovinj 
him back into his chair. 

He puffed a little and folded his arms on his chest. 

“Now you’ve done it,” he said. ^‘‘V ous voild dans de beau: 

1 draps, inon vieuxT 

His French was improving. 

I looked around. Perhaps, if — Perhaps I could — On my hand 
and knees? Risk it? 

2 ^‘‘Alors, que ^ait-on?'''' he asked watching me closely. 

I stooped. He did not move. I stooped lower. 

“My dear sir,” he said, “stop trifling with life and death, 
am a playwright. I have written tragedies, comedies, fantasie; 

3 I have made private movies out of Justine and other eighteenth 

century sexcapades. I’m the author of fifty-two successft 
scenarios. I know all the ropes. Let me handle this. Ther 
should be a poker somewhere, why don’t I fetch it, and the 
we’ll fish out your property.” I 

Fussily, busybodily, cunningly, he had risen again while h ; 
talked. I groped under the chest trying at the same time to kee | 
an eye on him. All of a sudden I noticed that he had notice 
that I did not seem to have noticed Chum protruding from b( 
neath the other corner of the chest. We fell to wrestling agaii j 

[ 300 ] j 

IVe rolled all over the floor, in each other’s arms, like two huge 
aelpless children. He was naked and goatish under his robe, and 
[ 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 
:he 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. 

I decided to inspect the pistol — our sweat might have spoiled 
something — and regain my wind before proceeding to the main 
item in the program. To fill in the pause, I proposed he read 
his own sentence — in the poetical form I had given it. The term 
“poetical justice” is one that may be most happily used in this 
respect. I handed him a neat typescript. 

“Yes,” he said, “splendid idea. Let me fetch my reading 
glasses” (he attempted to rise). 


“Just as you say. Shall I read out loud?” 


“Here goes. I see it’s in verse. 

, Because you took advantage of a sinner 

because you took advantage 
because you took 

because you took advantage of my disadvantage . . . 

; “That’s good, you know. That’s damned good.” 

. . . when I stood Adam-naked 

before a federal law and all its stinging stars 

[ 301 ] 

“Oh, grand stuff!” 

. . . Because you took advantage of a sin 
1 when I was helpless moulting moist and tender 

hoping for the best 

dreaming of marriage in a mountain state 
aye of a litter of Lolitas . . . 

“Didn’t get that.” 

Because you took advantage of my inner 
essential innocence 
because you cheated me — ■ 

“A little repetitious, what? Where was I?” 

Because you cheated me of my redemption 

because you took 

her at the age when lads 

play with erector sets 

“Getting smutty, eh?” 

a little downy girl still wearing poppies 
still eating popcorn in the colored gloam 
where tawny Indians took paid croppers 
because you stole her 

from her wax-browed and dignified protector 
spitting into his heavy-lidded eye 
2 ripping his flavid toga and at dawn 

leaving the hog to roll upon his new discomfort 

the awfulness of love and violets 

remorse despair while you 

took a dull doll to pieces 

and threw its head away 

because of all you did 

because of all I did not 

you have to die 

“Well, sir, this is certainly a fine poem. Your best as far as 
I am concerned.” 

He folded and handed it back to me. 

[ 302 ] 

I asked him if he had anything serious to say before dying. 
The automatic was again ready for use on the person. He looked 
at it and heaved a big sigh. 

“Now look here, Mac,” he said. “You are drunk and I am a 
sick man. Let us postpone the matter. I need quiet. I have to 
nurse my impotence. Friends are coming in the afternoon to 
take me to a game. This pistol-packing farce is becoming a 
frightful nuisance. We are men of the world, in everything— 
sex, free verse, marksmanship. If you bear me a grudge, I am 
ready to make unusual amends. Even an old-fashioned rencontre^ 1 
sword or pistol, in Rio or elsewhere — is not excluded. My mem- 
ory and my eloquence are not at their best today but really, 
my dear Mr. Humbert, you were not an ideal stepfather, and 
I did not force your little protegee to join me. It was she made 
me remove her to a happier home. This house is not as modern 
as that ranch we shared with dear friends. But it is roomy, cool 
in summer and winter, and in a word comfortable, so, since I 
intend retiring to England or Elorence forever, I suggest you 
move in. It is yours, gratis. Under the condition you stop point- 
ing at me that [he swore disgustingly] gun. By the way, I do 
not know if you care for the bizarre, but if you do, I can offer 
you, also gratis, as house pet, a rather exciting little freak, a 
young lady with three breasts, one a dandy, this is a rare and 
delightful marvel of nature. Now, soyons raisonnables. You will 2 
only wound me hideously and then rot in jail while I recuper- 
ate in a tropical setting. I promise you, Brewster, you will be 
happy here, with a magnificent cellar, and all the royalties from 
my next play — I have not much at the bank right now but I 
propose to borrow — you know, as the Bard said, with that cold 3 
in his head, to borrow and to borrow and to borrow. There 
are other advantages. We have here a most reliable and bribable 
charwoman, a Mrs. Vibrissa — curious name — who comes from 4 
the village twice a week, alas not today, she has daughters, 
granddaughters, a thing or two I know about the chief of police 
makes him my slave. I am a playwright. I have been called 
the American Maeterlinck. Maeterlinck-Schmetterling, says I. 5 
Come on! All this is very humiliating, and I am not sure I am 

[ 303 ] 

1 doing the right thing. Never use herculanita with rum. Now 
drop that pistol like a good fellow. I knew your dear wife 
slightly. You may use my wardrobe. Oh, another thing — you are 
going to like this. I have an absolutely unique collection of 
erotica upstairs. Just to mention one item: the in folio de-luxe 
Bagration Isla7id by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie 

2 Weiss, a remarkable lady, a remarkable work — drop that gun — ! 
with photographs of eight hundred and something male organs 
she examined and measured in 1932 on Bagration, in the Barda ! 

3 Sea, very illuminating graphs, plotted with love under pleasant 
skies — drop that gun — and moreover I can arrange for you to 
attend executions, not everybody knows that the chair is painted 
yellow — ” 

4 Fen. This time I hit something hard. I hit the back of a 
black rocking chair, not unlike Dolly Schiller’s — my bullet hit 
the inside surface of its back whereupon it immediately went ' 
into a rocking act, so fast and with such zest that any one coming ; 
into the room might have been flabbergasted by the double , 
miracle: that chair rocking in a panic all by itself, and the arm- 
chair, where my purple target had just been, now void of all 
live content. Wiggling his fingers in the air, with a rapid heave 
of his rump, he flashed into the music room and the next second 
we were tugging and gasping on both sides of the door which 
had a key I had overlooked. I won again, and with another 

5 abrupt movement Clare the Impredictable sat down before the 
piano and played several atrociously vigorous, fundamentally 
hysterical, plangent chords, his jowls quivering, his spread hands 
tensely plunging, and his nostrils emitting the soundtrack snorts 
which had been ^absent from our fight. Still singing those im- 
possible sonorities, he made a futile attempt to open with his 
foot a kind of seaman’s chest near the piano. My next bullet 
caught him somewhere in the side, and he rose from his chair 
higher and higher, like old, gray, mad Nijinski, like Old Faith- 
ful, like some old nightmare of mine, to a phenomenal altitude, 
or so it seemed, as he rent the air — still shaking with the rich 
black music — head thrown back in a howl, hand pressed to his 
brow, and with his other hand clutching his armpit as if stung 1 

by a hornet, down he came on his heels and, again a normal 
robed man, scurried out into the hall. 

I see myself following him through the hall, with a kind of 
double, triple, kangaroo jump, remaining quite straight on 
straight legs while bouncing up twice in his wake, and then 
bouncing between him and the front door in a ballet-like stiff 
bounce, with the purpose of heading him off, since the door 
was not properly closed. 

Suddenly dignified, and somewhat morose, he started to walk 
up the broad stairs, and, shifting my position, but not actually 
following him up the steps, I fired three or four times in quick 
succession, wounding him at every blaze; and every time I did 
It to him, that horrible thing to him, his face would twitch in 
in absurd clownish manner, as if he were exaggerating the pain; 
he slowed down, rolled his eyes half closing them and made a 
feminine “ah!” and he shivered every time a bullet hit him as 1 
if I were tickling him, and every time I got him with those slow, 
ffumsy, blind bullets of mine, he would say under his breath, 
with a phoney British accent — all the while dreadfully twitch- 
ing, shivering, smirking, but withal talking in a curiously de- 
:ached and even amiable manner: “Ah, that hurts, sir, enough! 

-\h, that hurts atrociously, my dear fellow. I pray you, desist. 
.\h-— very painful, very painful, indeed . . . God! Hah! This is 
ibominable, you should really not — ” His voice trailed off as he 
■eached the landing, but he steadily walked on despite all the 
ead I had lodged in his bloated body — and in distress, in dismay, 
i understood that far from killing him I was injecting spurts 
Df energy into the poor fellow, as if the bullets had been cap- 
mles wherein a heady elixir danced. 

■ I reloaded the thing with hands that were black and bloody — 
ji had touched something he had anointed with his thick gore. 
Then I rejoined him upstairs, the keys jangling in my pockets 
ike gold. 

He was trudging from room to room, bleeding majestically, 2 
Tying to find an open window, shaking his head, and still trying 
;o talk me out of murder. I took aim at his head, and he retired 

[ 305 ] 

to the master bedroom with a burst of royal purple where hh 
ear had been. 

“Get out, get out of here,” he said coughing and spitting: 
and in a nightmare of wonder, I saw this blood-spattered but 
still buoyant person get into his bed and wrap himself up in the 
chaotic bedclothes. I hit him at very close range through the j 
blankets, and then he lay back, and a big pink bubble with I 
juvenile connotations formed on his lips, grew to the size of £ j 
toy balloon, and vanished. ^ 

I may have lost contact with reality for a second or two — oh i 
nothing of the I-just-blacked-out sort that your common crimi * 
nal enacts; on the contrary, I want to stress the fact that I wa: j 
responsible for every shed drop of his bubbleblood; but a kinc I 
of momentary shift occurred as if I were in the connubial bed j 
room, and Charlotte were sick in bed. Quilty was a very sicl 
man. I held one of his slippers instead of the pistol — I was sit ' 
ting on the pistol. Then I made myself a little more comfortabk ! 
in the chair near the bed, and consulted my wrist watch. Th(, I 
crystal was gone but it ticked. The whole sad business hat I 
taken more than an hour. He was quiet at last. Far from feeling 
any relief, a burden even weightier than the one I had hopec 
to get rid of was with me, upon me, over me. I could not brinj 
myself to touch him in order to make sure he was really dead , 
He looked it: a quarter of his face gone, and two flies besidt : 
themselves with a dawning sense of unbelievable luck. Mj 
hands were hardly in better condition than his. I washed up a 
best I could in the adjacent bathroom. Now I could leave. A 
I emerged on the landing, I was amazed to discover that : 
vivacious buzz I had just been dismissing as a mere singing ii 
my ears was really a medley of voices and radio music comin* 
from the downstairs drawing room. 

I found there a number of people who apparently had jus 
arrived and were cheerfully drinking Quilty’s liquor. There wa 
a fat man in an easy chair; and two dark-haired pale youni 
beauties, sisters no doubt, big one and small one (almost 
child), demurely sat side by side on a davenport. A florid-facei 
fellow with sapphire-blue eyes was in the act of bringing tw' |i 

[ 306 ] 

glasses out of the bar-like kitchen, where two or three women 
;v^ere chatting and chinking ice. I stopped in the doorway and 
'.aid: “I have just killed Clare Quilty.” “Good for you,” said the 
forid fellow as he offered one of the drinks to the elder girl. 
■‘Somebody ought to have done it long ago,” remarked the fat 
nan. “What does he say, Tony?” asked a faded blonde from the 
5ar. “He says,” answered the florid fellow, “he has killed Cue.” 
‘Well,” said another unidentified man rising in a corner where 
le had been crouching to inspect some records, “I guess we 
ill should do it to him some day.” “Anyway,” said Tony, “he’d 
jetter come down. We can’t wait for him much longer if we 
:vant to go to that game.” “Give this man a drink somebody,” 

-aid the fat person. “Want a beer?” said a woman in slacks, 
howing it to me from afar. 

Only the two girls on the davenport, both wearing black, 
he younger fingering a bright something about her white neck, 
only they said nothing, but just smiled on, so young, so lewd. 

\s the music paused for a moment, there was a sudden noise 
)n the stairs. Tony and I stepped out into the hall. Quilty of 
ill people had managed to crawl out onto the landing, and 
here we could see him, flapping and heaving, and then subsid- 
ng, forever this time, in a purple heap. 1 

“Hurry up. Cue,” said Tony with a laugh. “I believe, he’s 
till — ” He returned to the drawing room, music drowned the 
est of the sentence. 

This, I said to myself, was the end of the ingenious play 
taged for me by Quilty. With a heavy heart I left the house 2 
nd walked through the spotted blaze of the sun to my car. Two 
')ther cars were parked on both sides of it, and I had some 
.rouble squeezing out. 



The rest is a little flattish and faded. Slowly I drove downhill, 
jud presently found myself going at the same lazy pace in a 
lirection opposite to Parkington. I had left my raincoat in the 

[ 307 ] 

boudoir and Chum in the bathroom. No, it was not a house 
I would have liked to live in. I wondered idly if some surgeon 
of genius might not alter his own career, and perhaps the whole 
destiny of mankind, by reviving quilted Quilty, Clare Obscure, 
Not that I cared; on the whole I wished to forget the whole 
mess — and when I did learn he was dead, the only satisfaction 
it gave me, was the relief of knowing I need not mentally accom- 
pany for months a painful and disgusting convalescence inter-, 
rupted by all kinds of unmentionable operations and relapses^ 
and perhaps an actual visit from him, with trouble on my pan 
to rationalize him as not being a ghost. Thomas had something 
It is strange that the tactile sense, which is so infinitely less| 
precious to men than sight, becomes at critical moments out 
main, if not only, handle to reality. I was all covered with Quiltyj 
— with the feel of that tumble before the bleeding. i 

The road now stretched across open country, and it occurrecj 
to me — not by way of protest, not as a symbol, or anything like 
that, but merely as a novel experience — that since I had dis^i 
regarded all laws of humanity, I might as well disregard the 
rules of traffic. So I crossed to the left side of the highway anc 
checked the feeling, and the feeling was good. It was a pleasant 
diaphragmal melting, with elements of diffused tactility, all thi; 
enhanced by the thought that nothing could be nearer to thf 
elimination of basic physical laws than deliberately driving oij 
the wrong side of the road. In a way, it was a very spiritual itchi| 
Gently, dreamily, not exceeding twenty miles an hour, I drov(|j 
on that queer mirror side. Traffic was light. Cars that now ancj 
then passed me on the side I had abandoned to them, honketj 
at me brutally. Cars coming towards me wobbled, swerved, an(|| 
cried out in fear. Presently I found myself approaching popuj! 
lated places. Passing through a red light was like a sip of fori 
bidden Burgundy when I was a child. Meanwhile complicationj 
were arising. I was being followed and escorted. Then in fron| 
of me I saw two cars placing themselves in such a manner a| ’ 
to completely block my way. With a graceful movement I turneil | 
off the road, and after two or three big bounces, rode up | 
grassy slope, among surprised cows, and there I came to a gentlj 

[ 308 ] 

ocking stop. A kind of thoughtful Hegelian synthesis linking i 
ip two dead women. 

I was soon to be taken out of the car (Hi, Melmoth, thanks 
lot, old fellow) — and was, indeed, looking forward to sur- 
ender myself to many hands, without doing anything to co- 
’perate, while they moved and carried me, relaxed, comfortable, 
urrendering myself lazily, like a patient, and deriving an eerie 
njoyment from my limpness and the absolutely reliable support 
iven me by the police and the ambulance people. And while I 
i^as waiting for them to run up to me on the high slope, I evoked 
last mirage of wonder and hopelessness. One day, soon after 
.er disappearance, an attack of abominable nausea forced me to 
lull up on the ghost of an old mountain road that now accom- 
lanied, now traversed a brand new highway, with its population 
f asters bathing in the detached warmth of a pale-blue after- 
noon in late summer. After coughing myself inside out, I rested 
while on a boulder, and then, thinking the sweet air might do 
he good, walked a little way toward a low stone parapet on the 
irecipice side of the highway. Small grasshoppers spurted out of 
he withered roadside weeds. A very light cloud was opening its 
rms and moving toward a slightly more substantial one belong- 
ig to another, more sluggish, heavenlogged system. As I ap- 
roached the friendly abyss, I grew aware of a melodious unity of 
ounds rising like vapor from a small mining town that lay at my 
eet, in a fold of the valley. One could make out the geometry of 2 
he streets between blocks of red and gray roofs, and green puffs 
f trees, and a serpentine stream, and the rich, ore-like glitter of 
le city dump, and beyond the town, roads crisscrossing the crazy 
uilt of dark and pale fields, and behind it all, great timbered 
lountains. But even brighter than those quietly rejoicing colors 
-for there are colors and shades that seem to enjoy themselves 
1 good company — both brighter and dreamier to the ear than 
ley were to the eye, was that vapory vibration of accumulated 
3unds that never ceased for a moment, as it rose to the lip of 
ranite where I stood wiping my foul mouth. And soon I realized 
lat all these sounds were of one nature, that no other sounds 
ut these came from the streets of the transparent town, with the 

[ 309 ] 

women at home and the men away. Reader! What I heard wa: 
but the melody of children at play, nothing but that, and s( 
limpid was the air that within this vapor of blended voices 
majestic and minute, remote and magically near, frank anc 
divinely enigmatic — one could hear now and then, as if released 
an almost articulate spurt of vivid laughter, or the crack of a bat 
or the clatter of a toy wagon, but it was all really too far for th( 
eye to distinguish any movement in the lightly etched streets, 
stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope, t( 
those flashes of separate cries with a kind of demure murmur fo 
background, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thinj 
was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of heil 
voice from that concord. ! 

This then is my story. I have reread it. It has bits of marrov: 
sticking to it, and blood, and beautiful bright-green flies. At thi 
or that twist of it I feel my slippery self eluding me, gliding inn 
deeper and darker waters than I care to probe. I have camou 
flaged what I could so as not to hurt people. And I have toyec 
with many pseudonyms for myself before I hit on a particularly 
1 apt one. There are in my notes “Otto Otto” and “Mesme 
2,3 Mesmer” and “Lambert Lambert,” but for some reason I thinl 
my choice expresses the nastiness best. 

4 When I started, fifty-six days ago, to write Lolita, first in thi 
psychopathic ward for observation, and then in this well-heated 
albeit tombal, seclusion, I thought I would use these notes ii 
toto at my trial, to save not my head, of course, but my soul. Ii 
mid-composition, however, I realized that I could not parad' 
living Lolita. I still may use parts of this memoir in hermetii 
sessions, but publication is to be deferred. [ 

For reasons that may appear more obvious than they realh 
are, I am opposed to capital punishment; this attitude will be, 
trust, shared by the sentencing judge. Had I come before mysell 
I would have given Humbert at least thirty-five years for rape 
and dismissed the rest of the charges. But even so, Dolly Schille 
will probably survive me by many years. The following decision 
make with all the legal impact and support of a signed testament 

[ 310 ] I 

wish this memoir to be published only when Lolita is no longer 

Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book, 
lut while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you 
re still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still 
alk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not 
it other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you l 
v'ill love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of 
ours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my 
pecter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented 
iant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C. Q. 

)ne had to choose between him and H. H., and one wanted 2 
L H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have 
im make you live in the minds of later generations. I am think- 
ig of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, pro- 
hetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality 
ou and I may share, my Lolita. 

[ 311 ] 



A.fter doing my impersonation of suave John Ray, the character in 
Lolita who pens the Foreword, any comments coming straight from 
me may strike one — may strike me, in fact — as an impersonation of 
V^ladimir Nabokov talking about his own book. A few points, how- 
ever, have to be discussed; and the autobiographic device may induce 
mimic and model to blend. 

Teachers of Literature are apt to think up such problems as “What 
is the author’s purpose?” or still worse “What is the guy trying to 
5ay?” Now, I happen to be the kind of author who in starting to work 
Dn a book has no other purpose than to get rid of that book and who, 
when asked to explain its origin and growth, has to rely on such 
ancient terms as Interreaction of Inspiration and Combination — 
which, I admit, sounds hke a conjurer explaining one trick by per- 
forming another. 

The first little throb of Lolita went through me late in 1939 or 
early in 1940, in Paris, at a time when I was laid up with a severe 
attack of intercostal neuralgia. As far as I can recall, the initial shiver 
Df inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an 
ape in the Jar din des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by a 
scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: 
this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage. The impulse 2 
[ record had no textual connection with the ensuing train of thought, 
which resulted, however, in a prototype of my present novel, a short 
story some thirty pages long. I wrote it in Russian, the language in 
which I had been writing novels since 1924 (the best of these are not 
translated into English, and all are prohibited for political reasons in 3 

[ 313 ] 

Russia). The man was a Central European, the anonymous nymphet 
was French, and the loci were Paris and Provence. I had him marry 
the little girl’s sick mother who soon died, and after a thwarted at- 
tempt to take advantage of the orphan in a hotel room, Arthur (for 
that was his name) threw himself under the wheels of a truck. I read 
the story one blue-papered wartime night to a group of friends — Mark 
Aldanov, two social revolutionaries, and a woman doctor; but I was 
not pleased with the thing and destroyed it sometime after moving to 

1 America in 1940. 

Around 1949, in Ithaca, upstate New York, the throbbing, which 
had never quite ceased, began to plague me again. Combination 
joined inspiration with fresh zest and involved me in a new treatment 
of the theme, this time in English — the language of my first governess , 
in St. Petersburg, circa 1903, a Miss Rachel Home. The nymphet, 
now with a dash of Irish blood, was really much the same lass, and 
the basic marrying-her-mother idea also subsisted; but otherwise the 
thing was new and had grown in secret the claws and wings of a novel. 

2 The book developed slowly, with many interruptions and asides. It ;! 
had taken me some forty years to invent Russia and Western Europe, 
and now I was faced by the task of inventing America. The obtaining 
of such local ingredients as would allow me to inject a modicum of 
average “reality” (one of the few words which mean nothing without; 

3 quotes) into the brew of individual fancy, proved at fifty a much 
more difficult process than it had been in the Europe of my youth 
when receptiveness and retention were at their automatic best. Other 
books intervened. Once or twice I was on the point of burning the 
unfinished draft and had carried my Juanita Dark as far as the shadow 
of the leaning incinerator on the innocent lawn, when I was stopped 
by the thought that the ghost of the destroyed book would haunt my 
files for the rest of my life. 

Every summer my wife and I go butterfly hunting. The specimens 
are deposited at scientific institutions, such as the Museum of Com- ! 
parative Zoology at Harvard or the Cornell University collection. The i 
locality labels pinned under these butterflies will be a boon to some ! 
twenty-first-century scholar with a taste for recondite biography. It I 
was at such of our headquarters as Telluride, Colorado; Afton, Wyo- 
ming; Portal, Arizona; and Ashland, Oregon, that Lolita was ener- 
getically resumed in the evenings or on cloudy days. I finished copying - 
the thing out in longhand in the spring of 1954, and at once began j 
casting around for a publisher. 

[ 314 ] 

At first, on the advice ot a wary old friend, I was meek enough to 
stipulate that the book be brought out anonymously. I doubt that I 
■shall ever regret that soon afterwards, realizing how likely a mask was 
:o betray my own cause, I decided to sign Lolita. The four American 
publishers, W, X, Y, Z, who in turn were offered the typescript and 
lad their readers glance at it, were shocked by Lolita to a degree that 
even my wary old friend F.P. had not expected. 

While it is true that in ancient Europe, and well into the eight- 
eenth century (obvious examples come from France), deliberate 
lewdness was not inconsistent with flashes of comedy, or vigorous 
satire, or even the verve of a fine poet in a wanton mood, it is also 
true that in modern times the term “pornography” connotes medioc- 
rity, commercialism, and certain strict rules of narration. Obscenity 
must be mated with banality because every kind of aesthetic enjoy- 
ment has to be entirely replaced by simple sexual stimulation which 
demands the traditional word for direct action upon the patient. Old 
rigid rules must be followed by the pornographer in order to have his 
I patient feel the same security of satisfaction as, for example, fans of 
i detective stories feel — stories where, if you do not watch out, the real 
murderer may turn out to be, to the fan’s disgust, artistic originahty 
(who for instance would want a detective story without a single dia- 
logue in it?). Thus, in pornographic novels, action has to be hmited 
to the copulation of cliches. Style, structure, imagery should never 
distract the reader from his tepid lust. The novel must consist of an 
; alternation of sexual scenes. The passages in between must be reduced 
to sutures of sense, logical bridges of the simplest design, brief exposi- 
tions and explanations, which the reader will probably skip but must 
know they exist in order not to feel cheated (a mentality stemming 
from the routine of “true” fairy tales in childhood). Moreover, the 
sexual scenes in the book must follow a crescendo line, with new varia- 
tions, new combinations, new sexes, and a steady increase in the 
number of participants (in a Sade play they call the gardener in), 
and therefore the end of the book must be more replete with lewd 
lore than the first chapters. 

Certain techniques in the beginning of Lolita (Humbert’s Journal, 
for example) misled some of my first readers into assuming that this 
was going to be a lewd book. They expected the rising succession of 
erotic scenes; when these stopped, the readers stopped, too, and felt 
bored and let down. This, I suspect, is one of the reasons why not all 
the four firms read the typescript to the end. Whether they found it 

[ 315 ] 

pornographic or not did not interest me. Their refusal to buy the j 
book was based not on my treatment of the theme but on the theme , 
itself, for there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as ! 
far as most American publishers are concerned. The two others are: | 
a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success 
resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist 
who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age 
of io6. 

Some of the reactions were very amusing: one reader suggested 
that his firm might consider publication if I turned my Lolita into a 
twelve-year-old lad and had him seduced by Humbert, a farmer, in aj 
barn, amidst gaunt and arid surroundings, all this set forth in short, 
strong, “realistic” sentences (“He acts crazy. We all act crazy, I guess, j 
I guess God acts crazy.” Etc.). Although everybody should know that 
I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old feud 
with Freudian voodooism and partly to my loathing of generaliza- 
tions devised by literary mythists and sociologists), an otherwise intel-i 
ligent reader who flipped through the first part described Lolita asl 
“Old Europe debauching young America,” while another flipper saw 
1 in it “Young America debauching old Europe.” Publisher X, whose! 
advisers got so bored with Humbert that they never got beyond pagej 
1 88, had the naivete to write me that Part Two was too long. Pub- 
lisher Y, on the other hand, regretted there were no good people in 
the book. Publisher Z said if he printed Lolita, he and I would go to 

No writer in a free country should be expected to bother about the 
exact demarcation between the sensuous and the sensual; this is 
preposterous; I can only admire but cannot emulate the accuracy of, 
judgment of those who pose the fair young mammals photographed: 
in magazines where the general neckline is just low enough to pro-j 
voke a past master’s chuckle and just high enough not to make a post-, 
master frown. I presume there exist readers who find titillating the 
display of mural words in those hopelessly banal and enormous novelsj 
which are typed out by the thumbs of tense mediocrities and calledj 
“powerful” and “stark” by the reviewing hack. There are gentle soulsj 
who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach; 
them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction,; 
and, despite John Ray’s assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For mei 
a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall; 
bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, some-| 

[ 316 ] 

vhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, 
enderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such 
)ooks. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Litera- 
ure of Ideas, which very often is topical trash coming in huge blocks 
I )f plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until some- 
I )odv comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, 

I .t Gorki, at Mann. 

I Another charge which some readers have made is that Lolita is 
} inti- American. This is something that pains me considerably more 
han the idiotic accusation of immorality. Considerations of depth 
ind perspective (a suburban lawn, a mountain meadow) led me to 
mild a number of North American sets. I needed a certain exhilarat- 
ng milieu. Nothing is more exhilarating than philistine vulgarity. 

3ut in regard to philistine vulgarity there is no intrinsic difference 
,oetween Palearctic manners and Nearctic manners. Any proletarian 1 
Tom Chicago can be as bourgeois (in the Flaubertian sense) as a 
iuke. I chose American motels instead of Swiss hotels or English inns 
inly because I am trying to be an American writer and claim only 
:he same rights that other American writers enjoy. On the other 
aand, my creature Humbert is a foreigner and an anarchist, and there 
lire many things, besides nymphets, in which I disagree with him. 
A^nd all my Russian readers know that my old worlds — Russian, 

I British, German, French — are just as fantastic and personal as my 
lew one is. 

Lest the little statement I am making here seem an airing of 
grudges, I must hasten to add that besides the lambs who read the 
typescript of Lolita or its Olympia Press edition in a spirit of “Why 
did he have to write it?” or “Why should I read about maniacs?” 
there have been a number of wise, sensitive, and staunch people who 
jnderstood my book much better than I can explain its mechanism 

Every serious writer, I dare say, is aware of this or that published 
book of his as of a constant comforting presence. Its pilot light is 
steadily burning somewhere in the basement and a mere touch ap- 
plied to one’s private thermostat instantly results in a quiet little 
explosion of familiar warmth. This presence, this glow of the book 
in an ever accessible remoteness is a most companionable feeling, and 
the better the book has conformed to its prefigured contour and color 
the ampler and smoother it glows. But even so, there are certain 
loints, byroads, favorite hollows that one evokes more eagerly and 

[ 317 ] 

enjoys more tenderly than the rest of one’s book. I have not rereac' 

1 Lolita since I went through the proofs in the spring of 1955 but Ij 
find it to be a delightful presence now that it quietly hangs about th( 
house like a summer day which one knows to be bright behind the 
haze. And when I thus think of Lolita, I seem always to pick out foiij 

2 special delectation such images as Mr. Taxovich, or that class list 
3^4 of Ramsdale School, or Charlotte saying “waterproof,” or Lolita ir 

5 slow motion advancing toward Humbert’s gifts, or the picture? 

6 decorating the stylized garret of Gaston Godin, or the Kasbean 
7,8 barber (who cost me a month of work), or Lolita playing tennis, oi 

the hospital at Elphinstone, or pale, pregnant, beloved, irretrievabk 

9 Dolly Schiller dying in Gray Star (the capital town of the book), 01 
the tinkling sounds of the valley town coming up the mountain trai 
(on which I caught the first known female of Lycaeides subliven: 

10 Nabokov). These are the nerves of the novel. These are the secrei 
points, the subliminal co-ordinates by means of which the book i< 
plotted — although I realize very clearly that these and other scene?: 
will be skimmed over or not noticed, or never even reached, by thost! 
who begin reading the book under the impression that it is something 
on the lines of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure or Les Amours de, 
Milord Grosvit. That my novel does contain various allusions to the 
physiological urges of a pervert is quite true. But after all we are not 
children, not ilhterate juvenile delinquents, not English public school 
boys who after a night of homosexual romps have to endure the 
paradox of reading the Ancients in expurgated versions. 

It is childish to study a work of fiction in order to gain information; 
about a country or about a social class or about the author. And yet' 
one of my very few intimate friends, after reading Lolita, was sincerely 
worried that I (I!) should be living “among such depressing people” 
— when the only discomfort I really experienced was to live in my 
workshop among discarded limbs and unfinished torsos. i 

After Olympia Press, in Paris, published the book, an American critic 
suggested that Lolita was the record of my love affair with the roman- 
tic novel. The substitution “English language” for “romantic novel’ 
would make this elegant formula more correct. But here I feel myj 
voice rising to a much too strident pitch. None of my American!! 
friends have read my Russian books and thus every appraisal on thej 
strength of my English ones is bound to be out of focus. My private! 
tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody’s concernJi 
is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich,| 

[ 318 ] 


ind infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of 
l^nglish, devoid of any of those apparatuses — the baffling mirror, the 
I’jlack velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions — which 
khe native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend 1 
fie heritage in his own way. 



t November 12, 1956 

[ 319 ] 


( The word or passage in the text to which each annotation refers is indi- 
! cated by two numbers, the first giving the page and the second the number 
i !72 the margin of the text. The numbering begins anew on each ptige, and 
[ disregards chapter divisions. All page references to other Nabokov books 
\are to the first American editions {hardcover). 


j 5/1 two titles: the term “white widowed” occurs in the case histories of 
I psychiatric works, while the entire subtitle parodies the titillating con- 
I fessional novel, such as John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure 
1 (1749), and the expectations of the reader who hopes Lolita will provide 

I the pleasures of pornography (see 278/2). Although Nabokov could 
I hardly have realized it at the time of writing, there is no small irony in 
I the fact that the timidity of American publishers resulted in the novel’s 
i being first brought out by the Olympia Press, publishers of The Sexual 
Life of Robinson Crusoe and other “eighteenth-century sexcapades” (to 
I use Clare Quilty’s description of Sade’s Justine, ou, Les Infortunes de la 
vertu [. . . The Misfortunes of Virtue]; see p. 300). 

5/ 2 preambulates: to make a preamble, introduce. 

5/3 ''^Humbert Humbert": in his Playboy interview (1964), Nabokov says, 
“The double rumble is, I think, very nasty, very suggestive. It is a hate- 
ful name for a hateful person. It is also a kingly name, but I did need 
a royal vibration for Humbert the Fierce and Humbert the Humble. 

[ 321 ] 


Lends itself also to a number of puns.” Like James Joyce, Nabokov fash- 
ions his puns from literary sources, from any of the several languages 
available to him, from obsolete words, or the roots of arcane words. If 
the associations are rich enough, a pun succeeds in projecting a theme 
central to the fiction, in summarizing or commenting on the action. In 
both The Gift (1937) and the 1959 Foreword to the English translation 
of Invitation to a Beheading (1935-1936), Nabokov mentions Discours 
sur les ombres, by Pierre Delalande, “the only author whom I must 
gratefully recognize as an influence upon me at the time of writing this 
book . . . [and] whom I invented.” Delalande’s Discours provided the 
epigraph for Invitation — “Comme un fou se croit Dieu, nous nous 
croyons mortels’’’' [“As a madman deems himself God, we deem our- 
selves mortal”] — and Nabokov’s entire corpus might be described as a 
“Discourse on Shadows, or Shades.” John Shade is the author of the 
poem Bale Fire. In a rejected draft of his poem, he writes, “I like my 
name: Shade, Ombre, almost ‘man’ / In Spanish...” — an accurate ety- 
mological pairing (hombre> ombre) and a resonant pun that figuratively 
places hombre in ombre — a card game popular in the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries — and sets man to playing in Nabokov’s “game of! 
worlds” (see 22/4). Humbert was brought up on the French Riviera; 
pronounced with a French accent, his name partakes of these shadows 
and shades. By “solipsizing” Lolita (p. 62), Humbert condemns her to 
the solitary confinement of his obsessional shadowland. “She had en- 
tered my world, umber and blank Humberland,” says Humbert (p. 168), 
who, by choosing to chase the figurative shadows that play on the walls 
of his “cave,” upends Plato’s famous allegory. Although Humbert has 
had the benefit of a journey in the sunny “upper world” — a Riviera boy- 
hood, in fact, and a full-sized wife or two — he nevertheless pursues the 
illusion that he can recapture what is inexorably lost. As Humbert dem- 
onstrates, illusions are realities in their ability to destroy us. “I was the 
shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the windowpane,” 
writes John Shade in the opening lines of Pale Fire, while in Nabokov’s 
poem “An Evening of Russian Poetry” (1945), the speaker says: 

My back is Argus-eyed. I live in danger. 

False shadows turn to track me as I pass 
and, wearing beards, disguised as secret agents, 
creep in to blot the freshly written page 
and read the blotter in the looking-glass. 

And in the dark, under my bedroom window, 
until, with a chill whirr and shiver, day 
presses its starter, warily they linger 

C 3^2 ] 



or silently approach the door and ring 
the bell of memory and run away. 

I Seventeen years later in Pale Fire the Shadows are the Zemblan “regi- 
I cidal organization” who dispatch Gradus, one of whose aliases is d’Argus, 
to assassinate the exiled King Charles (Kinbote). But the Shadows’ secret 
j agent accidentally kills Shade instead. Lolita offers the converse, for 
“Shade” (Humbert) purposely kills his “shadow” (Clare Quilty). Thus 
■ the delusive namre of identity and perception, the constricting burdens 
•. of memory, and a haunting sense of mutability are all capsuled in a re- 
verberating pun. 

r/4 solecism: an irregularity or impropriety in speech and diction, gram- 
mar or syntax. Also in conduct, and therefore not an unwarranted defi- 
! nition in Humbert’s instance. 

■i/s Presented intact: it is important to recognize how Nabokov belies the 
! illusion of “realism” which both Ray and Humbert seem to create. See 
I i/i and 34/ 7. 

t/6 cognomen: its current definition, “a distinguishing nickname,” is fun- 
damental, and the humorous incongruity of using so high-toned a Latin- 
ate word is heightened by its original meaning: “The third or family 
name of a Roman citizen.” 

3/7 this mask: “Is ‘mask’ the keyword?” Humbert later asks (p. 55). In 
his Foreword to Pale Fire, Kinbote says of Shade: “His whole being 
constituted a mask.” 

5/8 remain unlifted: not quite; although the “real” name is never revealed, 
the mask does slip. See Chapter Twenty-six, the shortest in the book 

(p. III). 

5/1 her first name: Lolita’s given name is “Dolores.” See 11/5. 

6/2 .H y ’’ s crime: the murder of Clare Quilty (pp. 295-307), Humbert’s 

grotesque alter ego and parodic Double. Humbert will henceforth be 
identified by his initials. 

6/3 ig$2: a corrected author’s error (“September-October 1952,” instead 
of the 1958 edition’s “September”). The following pages in the text con- 
tain corrections which are detailed in the Notes: pp. 6 (below), 8, 21, 
25^ 33> 34> 54> 62, 1 19, 123, 140, 152, 164, 187, 195, 197, 199, 201, 206, 227, 
232, 234, 255, 261, 264, 266, 316, and 318. The 1958 Putnam’s edition was 
set in type from the 1955 Olympia Press edition. The latter contains 
many minuscule mistakes (e.g., punctuation) which were carried over 

[ 3H ] 



into the Putnam’s edition and identified only when the present text was ^ 
in page proof. Although these errors have been corrected, it was impos- 1 
sibie to describe them separately in the Notes. However, since the pres- 
ent edition follows the Putnam’s format exactly, assiduous students ol 
such textual matters can easily identify these corrections by collating 
the two texts, as follows: p. 7, line sixteen; p. 33, line fourteen; p. 42, Iasi 
line; p. 65, lines three and twenty-six; p. 75, line nineteen; p. 84, last line: 
p. 1 13, line seventeen; p. 138, line thirteen; p. 143, lines six and seven; p 
152, line twenty-five; p. 158, line six; p. 163, line fifteen; p. 166, line nine; 
p. 181, line three; p. 182, line nine; p. 220, line ten; p, 228, line seven; p, 
241, line thirteen; p. 245, line twenty-three; p. 257, line five; p. 264, line 
twenty-five; p. 277, line four; and p. 278, line thirty-three. 

6/4 “red people” . . . “true story”: in the Afterword, Nabokov mentions:! 
his “impersonation of suave John Ray” (p. 313); but by mocking thej 
conventional reader’s desire for verisimilitude, as Nabokov does in the ' 
opening paragraphs of Laughter in the Dark, Despair, Invitation to a. 
Beheading, and The Gift, Dr. Ray here expresses the concerns of a' 
novelist rather than psychologist, suggesting that the mask has not re- 
mained totally in place. There are subtle oscillations between the shrill 
locutions and behavioristic homilies of Ray and the quite reasonable" 
statements of an authorial voice projected, as it were, from the wings. 
Note 6/9 underlines this, while 7/1 and 7/3-775 suggest other instances 
of that presence. 

6/5 sophomore: a corrected misprint (a period instead of the 1958 edition’s 
semicolon after “sophomore”). 

6/6 Mrs. “Richard F. Schiller”: Lolita’s married name, first revealed on p. 
268. The covert disclosure of Lolita’s death is significant, for the an-i 
nouncement that the three main characters are now dead challenges the! 
“old-fashioned reader” ’s idea of “story”: to reveal the outcome before: 
the story even begins is of course to ruin it. The heroine of “The Beauty”' 
(1934), an untranslated Nabokov story, also dies in childbirth withini 
a year after her marriage (noted by Andrew Field, Nabokov: His Life] 
in Act [Boston, 1967], p. 330). | 

6/7 ipS2: for a hermetic allusion to this crucial year, see 253/14. | 

6/8 Gray Star: it is most remote, for there is no town by this name any-l 
where in the world. Nabokov calls it “the capital town of the book” (p.j 
318). A gray star is one veiled by haze (Lolita’s surname), and H.H.' 
recalls “the haze of stars” that has always “remained with me.” See 17/1 
and 282/1. 

[ 324 ] 


6/9 '’’’Vivian Darkbloom " . . . ’’’’My Cue": “Vivian Darkbloom” is Clare 
Quilty’s mistress and an anagram of “Vladimir Nabokov” (see my 1967 
Wisconsin Studies article, p. 216, and my 1968 Denver Quarterly article, 
p. 32 [see bibliography]). Among her alphabetical cousins are “Vivian 
Bloodmark, a philosophical friend of mine,” who appears in Speak, 
Memory (p. 218), and “Mr. Vivian Badlook,” a photographer and 
teacher of English in the 1968 translation of the 1928 novel King, Queen, 
Knave (p. 153) — and they all descend from “Vivian Calmbrood” (see 
Field, op. cit., p. 73), the alleged author of The Wanderers, an uncom- 
pleted play written by Nabokov in Russian (the anagram is helped along 
by the fact that in Cyrillic, the c is a k). One act of it was published 
in the emigre almanac Facets (1923), as an English play written by 
Vivian Calmbrood in 1768 and translated by V. Sirin (the pen name 
under which all of Nabokov’s Russian work appeared). In a discussion 
in Ada (1969) of Van Veen’s first novel. Letters from Terra, mention 
is made of the influence “of an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of ana- 
grammatic dreams, Ben Sirine” (p. 344). 

As for H.H. and John Ray, unless characters in a novel can be said 
to have miraculously fashioned their creators, someone else must be re- 
sponsible for an anagram of the author’s name, and such phenomena un- 
dermine the narrative’s realistic base by pointing beyond the book to 
Nabokov, the stage manager, ventriloquist, and puppeteer, who might 
simply state, “My cue.” Because Nabokov considered publishing Lolita 
anonymously (see p. 315), there was also a purely utilitarian reason for 
anagrammatizing his name, as proof of authorship. “Cue” is also the 
cognomen of Clare Quilty, who pursues H.H. throughout the novel. 
But who is Quilty? — a question the reader will surely ask (see the In- 
troduction, pp. xiii-bcviii, and 33/9). As with H.H. and Lolita (nee 
Dolores Haze), Quilty’s name lends itself to wordplay by turns jocose 
(see 225/1) and significant, since H.H. suggests that Clare Quilty is 
clearly guilty. Clare is also a town in Michigan (see 161/1), and, al- 
though Nabokov did not know it until this note came into being, Quilty 
is a town in County Clare, Ireland, appropriate to a verbally playful 
novel in which there are several apt references to James Joyce. See 6/1 1. 

6/10 etiolated: to blanch or whiten a plant by exclusion of sunlight. 

6/11 outspoken book: Ulysses (1922), by James Joyce (1882-1941), Irish 
novelist and poet. Judge Woolsey’s historic decision paved the way for 
the 1934 American publication of Ulysses, and his decision, along with 
a statement by Morris Ernst, prefaces the Modern Library edition of 
the novel. Ray’s parenthetical allusion echoes and compresses its com- 

[ 3^5 ] 


plete title; "the monumental decision of the united states district 

THE BAN ON ‘uLYSSES.’ ” Ray’s FoTcword in part burlesques the expert 
opinions which have inevitably prefaced subsequent “controversial” 
novels. For other allusions to Joyce, see 71/1, 122/4, 189/1, 200/3, 209/3, 
223/1, 252/3, 264/3, ^rid 286/4. 

7/ 1 moral apotheosis: a just description of H.H.’s realization at the end 
of the novel: “the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence 
from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord” (p. 310). 

7/2' 12%: such “sextistics” (as H.H. or Quilty might call them) poke fun 
at the work of Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956) and his Indiana University 
Institute for Sex Research. 

7/ 3 Blanche Schwarzmann: schwarz is German for “black”; her name is 1 
“White Blackman,” because, to Nabokov, Freudians figuratively see no 
colors other than black and white (see 7/6). For a similarly hued lady, 
see p. 304 and “Melanie Weiss.” 

7/4 a mixture of ...supreme misery: an accurate description of the pain ' 
at the center of H.H.’s playfulness. 

7/5 his singing violin: another gap in the texture of Ray’s rhetoric reveals 
the voice of his maker. In his Foreword to Invitation to a Beheading, j 
Nabokov calls the novel a “violin in a void,” and in Speak, Memory he j 
calls the poet Boris Poplavski “a far violin among near balalaikas” (p. 1 

’j/6 a case history: among other things, Lolita parodies such studies, and I 
Nabokov’s quarrel with psychoanalysis is well-known. No Foreword to 
his translated novels seems complete unless a few words are addressed 
to “the Viennese delegation,” who are also invoked frequently through- 
out the works. Asked in a 1966 National Educational Television inter- 
view why he “detest[ed] Dr. Freud,” Nabokov replied: “I think he’s 
crude, I think he’s medieval, and I don’t want an elderly gentleman from 
Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me. I don’t have the 1 
dreams that he discusses in his books. I don’t see umbrellas in my dreams, j 
Or balloons” (this half-hour interview may be rented for a nominal fee ;| 
from the Audio-Visual Center, Indiana University, Bloomington, In- 
diana 47401; the film, notes their catalog, is “available to responsible in- I 
dividuals and groups both in and out of Indiana”). When I queried j 
Nabokov about Freud (by now a trite question), just to see if he could 
rise to the occasion once more, he obliged me; “Oh, I am not up to; 

[ 326 ] 


discussing again that figure of fun. He is not worthy of more attention 
than I have granted him in my novels and in Speak, Memory. Let the 
credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can 
be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts. 
I really do not care” {Wisconsin Studies interview). 

In Speak, Memory, Nabokov recalls having seen from a Biarritz window 
“a huge custard-colored balloon . . . being inflated by Sigismond Lejoy- 
eux, a local aeronaut” (p. 156); and “the police state of sexual myth” 
(p. 300) is in Ada called “psykitsch” (p. 29). The good doctor’s parono- 
mastic avatars are “Dr. Sig Heiler” (p. 28), and “A Dr. Froid...who 
may have been an emigre brother with a passport-changed name of the 
Dr. Froit of Signy-Mondieu-Mondieu” (p. 27). Since no parodist could 
improve on Erich Fromm’s realization that “The little cap of red velvet 
in the German version of Little Red Riding Hood is a symbol of men- 
struation” (from The Forgotten Language, 1951, p. 240), or Dr. Oskar 
Pfister’s felicitously expressed thought that “When a youth is all the 
time sticking his finger through his buttonhole . . . the analytic teacher 
knows that the appetite of the lustful one knows no limit in his phan- 
tasies” (from The Psychoanalytical Method, 1917, p. 79), Nabokov the 
literary anatomist simply includes these treasures in Pale Fire (p. 271). 
See Lolita, pp. 36, 169, 196-197, 252, and 287; and 37/1, 127/3, 
and 276/4. 

8/1 John Ray, Jr.: the first John Ray (1627-1705) was an English natural- 
ist famous for his systems of natural classification. His system of plant 
classification greatly influenced the development of systematic botany 
{Historia plantarium, 1686-1704). He was the first to attempt a defini- 
tion of what constitutes a species. His system of insects, as set forth in 
Methodus insectorum (1705) and Historia insectorum (1713), is based 
on the concept of metamorphosis (see 18/6). The reference to Ray is 
no coincidence (it was first pointed out by Diana Butler, in “Lolita 
Lepidoptera,” New World Writing 16 [i960], p. 63). Nabokov is a 
distinguished lepidopterist, worked in Lepidoptera as a Research Fellow 
in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard (1942-1948), and 
has published some twenty papers on the subject. While I was visiting 
him in 1966, he took from the shelf his copy of Alexander B. Klots’s 
standard work, A Field Guide to the Butterflies (1951), and, opening it, 
pointed to the first sentence of the section on ‘‘‘'Genus Lycaeides Scudder: 
The Orange Margined Blues,” which reads; “The recent work of Na- 
bokov has entirely rearranged the classification of this genus” (p. 164). 
“That’s real fame,” said the author of Lolita. “That means more than 

[ 327 ] 


anything a literary critic could say.” In Speak, Memory (Chapter Six), | 
he writes evocatively of his entomological forays, of the fleeting mo- 
ments of ecstasy he experiences in catching exquisite and rare butter- | 
flies. These emotions are perhaps best summarized in his poem “A Dis- | 
covery” (1943; from Poems, p. 15), its twentieth line echoing what he I 
said to me more than two decades later: j 


I found it in a legendary land 
all rocks and lavender and tufted grass, 
where it was settled on some sodden sand 
hard by the torrent of a mountain pass. 

The features it combines mark it as new 
to science: shape and shade — the special tinge, 
akin to moonlight, tempering its blue, 
the dingy underside, the checquered fringe. 

My needles have teased out its sculptured sex; 
corroded tissues could no longer hide 
that priceless mote now dimpling the convex 
and limpid teardrop on a lighted slide. 

Smoothly a screw is turned; out of the mist 
two ambered hooks symmetrically slope, 
or scales like battledores of amethyst 
cross the charmed circle of the microscope. 

I found it and I named it, being versed 
in taxonomic Latin; thus became 

godfather to an insect and its first ! 

describer — and I want no other fame. 

Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep), 
and safe from creeping relatives and rust, 
in the secluded stronghold where we keep 
type specimens it will transcend its dust. 

Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss, 
poems that take a thousand years to die 
but ape the immortality of this 
red label on a little butterfly. 

There are many references to butterflies in Lolita, but it must be re- 
membered that it is Nabokov, and not H.H., who is the expert. As Na-, 
bokov says, “H.H. knows nothing about Lepidoptera. In fact, I went 

[ 328 ] 


out of my way to indicate [p. 112 and p. 159] that he confuses the hawk- 
moths visiting flowers at dusk with ‘gray hummingbirds.’ ” The author 
has implored the unscientific annotator to omit references to Lepidoptera, 
“a tricky subject,” and this is at least one instance when, in spite of 
Kinbote’s ringing final phrase in the epigraph, the annotator has not had 
the last word. Only the most specific lepidopterological allusions will be 
noted, though even this modest trove will make it clear how the butterfly 
motif enables Nabokov to leave behind on H.H.’s pages a trail of his 
own phosphorescent fingerprints. For entomological allusions, see 11/5, 
12/3, 14/1, 18/6, 44/5, 48/1, 58/2, 112/3, 114/1, 128/2, 143/1, 158/2, 
159/2, 191/5, 211/1, 212/2, 213/4, 229/4, 233/1, 236/2, 260/5, 261/1, 
264/6, 303/5, 3 1 7/ 1, and 318/10. 

8/2 /pjj: a corrected author’s error (the date was not included in the 
1958 edition). 


Chapter 1 

ii/i Lolita, light of my life: her name is the first word in the Foreword, 
as well as the first and last words of the novel. Such symmetries and 
carefully effected alliterations and rhythms undermine the credibility of 
H.H.’s “point of view,” since the narrative is presented as an unrevised 
first draft, mistakes intact, started in a psychiatric ward and completed 
in a prison cell, the product of the fifty-six frenzied final days of H.H.’s 
life (see his reminder, p. 310, and 34/7 and 36/3). When asked how her 
name occurred to him, Nabokov replied, “For my nymphet I needed a 
diminutive with a lyrical lilt to it. One of the most limpid and lumin- 
ous letters is ‘L.’ The suffix ‘-ita’ has a lot of Latin tenderness, and this 
I required too. Hence: Lolita. However, it should not be pronounced 
as . . . most Americans pronounce it: Low-lee-ta, with a heavy, clammy 
‘L’ and a long ‘O.’ No, the first syllable should be as in ‘lollipop,’ the 
‘L’ liquid and delicate, the ‘lee’ not too sharp. Spaniards and Italians 
pronounce it, of course, with exactly the necessary note of archness and 
caress. Another consideration was the welcome murmur of its source 
name, the fountain name: those roses and tears in ‘Dolores’ [see 11/5]. 
My little girl’s heart-rending fate had to be taken into account together 
with the cuteness and limpidity. Dolores also provided her with another, 
plainer, more familiar and infantile diminutive: Dolly, which went nicely 

[ 329 ] 


with the surname ‘Haze,’ where Irish mists blend with a German bunny 
— I mean a small German hare [=tee]” (Playboy interview). Since most 
everything is in a name, Nabokov both memorializes and instructs in 
Ada: “For the big picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday . . . the child was 
permitted to wear her lolita (thus dubbed after the little Andalusian 
gipsy [see Carmen note, 246/1 — A.A.] of that name in Osberg’s novel 
and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish ‘t,’ not a thick English 
one) ...” (p. 77). Lolita’s name is lovingly celebrated by Anthony Bur- 
gess in his poem, “To Vladimir Nabokov on His Seventieth Birthday,” 
in TriQuarterly, No. 17 (Winter 1970): 

That nymphet’s beauty lay less on her bones 
Than in her name’s proclaimed two allophones. 

A boned veracity slow to be found 
In all the channels of recorded sound. 

1 1/2 Lo-lee-ta: the middle syllable alludes to “Annabel Lee” (1849), by 
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). H.H. will lead one to believe that “Anna- 
bel Leigh” is the cause of his misery; “Annabel Haze, alias Dolores Lee, 
alias Loleeta,” he says on p. 169. References to Poe are noted in 33/5, 
45/51 77/51 109/1, 120/2, 191/3, and 294/2; while “Annabel Lee” is vari- 
ously invoked on pp. 42, 127, and 232, and otherwise as noted 11/7, 11/8, 
14/1, 15/4, 41/1, 44/3, 49/41 55/51 and 168/2. But rather than identify 
every “Annabel Lee” echo occurring in the first chapter and elsewhere, 
the text of the poem is provided: 

It was many and many a year ago, 

In a kingdom by the sea, 

That a maiden there lived whom you may know 
By the name of Annabel Lee;— 

And this maiden she lived with no other thought 
Than to love and be loved by me. 

She was a child and I was a child. 

In this kingdom by the sea. 

But we loved with a love that was more than love — 

10 I and my Annabel Lee — 

With a love that the winged seraphs of Heaven 
Coveted her and me. 

And this was the reason that, long ago. 

In this kingdom by the sea, 

A wind blew out of a cloud by night 
Chilling my Annabel Lee; 

[ 330 ] 


So that her high-born kinsmen came 

And bore her away from me, 

To shut her up in a sepulchre 
20 In this kingdom by the sea. 

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven, 

Went envying her and me: — 

Yes! that was the reason (as all men know. 

In this kingdom by the sea) 

That the wind came out of the cloud, chilling 
And killing my Annabel Lee. 

But our love it was stronger by far than the love 
Of those who were older than we — 

Of many far wiser than we — 

30 And neither the angels in Heaven above 

Nor the demons down under the sea 
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul 

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: — 

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams 
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 

And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes 
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side 
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride 
40 In her sepulchre there by the sea — 

In her tomb by the sounding sea. 

Poe is referred to more than twenty times in Lolita, far more than any 
other writer (followed by Merimee, Shakespeare, and Joyce, in that 
order). Not surprisingly, Poe allusions have been the most readily iden- 
tifiable to readers and earlier commentators (I pointed out several in 
my 1967 Wisconsin Studies article, “Lolita: The Springboard of Parody” 
[see bibliography] ) . See also the earlier articles by Elizabeth Phillips 
(“The Hocus-Pocus of Lolita," Literature and Psychology, X [Summer 
i960], 97-101) and Arthur F. DuBois (“Poe and Lolita," CEA Critic, 
XXVI [No. 6, 1963], I, 7). Most recent is Carl R. Proffer’s thorough 
compilation in Keys to Lolita (henceforth called Keys), pp. 34-45. 

Although my Notes rarely discuss in any detail the significance of 
the literary allusions they limn, Poe’s conspicuous presence surely calls 
for a few general remarks; subsequent Notes will establish the most 
specific — and obvious — links between H.H. and Poe (e.g., their “child 
brides”; see 45/5). Poe is appropriate for many reasons. He wrote the 


kind of Doppelganger tale (“William Wilson”) which the H.H.-Quilty 
relationship seemingly parallels but ultimately upends, and he of course 
“fathered” the detective tale. Although, as a reader, Nabokov today ab- 
hors the detective story, he is not alone in recognizing that the genre’s 
properties are well-suited to the fictive treatment of metaphysical ques- 
tions and problems of identity and perception. Thus — along with other 
contemporary writers such as Graham Greene {Brighton Rock, 1938), 
Raymond Queneau (Pierrot mon ami [Pierrot], 1942), Jorge Luis Borges 
(“Death and the Compass,” “An Examination of the Work of Herbert : 
Quain,” “The Garden of Forking Paths” [first published in Ellery ; 
Queen's Mystery Magazine], and “The South”), Alain Robbe-Grillet 
(Les Gommes [The Erasers], 1953), Michel Butor (L'Emploi du temps 
[Passing Time], 1956), and Thomas Pynchon {V., 1963)- — Nabokov has ' 
often transmuted or parodied the forms, techniques, and themes of the i 
detective story, as in Despair, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Lolita, 
and, less directly, in The Eye, where, Nabokov says, “The texture of the 
tale mimics that of detective fiction.” The reader of Lolita is invited to 
wend his way through a labyrinth of clues in order to solve the mystery , 
of Quilty’s identity, which in part makes Lolita a “tale of ratiocination,” 
to use Poe’s phrase (see 33/9). Early in the novel one is told that H.H. ; 
is a murderer. Has he killed Charlotte? Or Lolita? (See also Keys, p. 39.) 
The reader is led to expect both possibilities, and his various attempts at 
ratiocination should ultimately tell the reader as much about his own j 
mind as about the “crimes,” “identities,” or “psychological development” 
of fictional characters. For allusions to detective story writers other 
than Poe, see 33/2 (Agatha Christie), 66/1 (Conan Doyle), and 213/1 1 
and 252/5 (Maurice Leblanc). ] 

It is also in part through Poe that Nabokov manages to suggest some 
consistently held attitudes toward language and literature. H.H. says of 
his artistic labors, “The beastly and beautiful merged at one point, and i 
it is that borderline I would like to fix, and I feel I fail to do so utterly. 
Why?” (p. 137). The rhetorical question is coy enough, because he | 
has answered it at the beginning of his narrative; he hasn’t failed, but) 
neither can he ever be entirely successful, because “Oh, my Lolita, I 
have only words to play with!” (p. 34) — an admission many Romantic | 
and Symbolist writers would not make. Nabokov’s remark about Joyce’s ) 
giving “too much verbal body to words” (Playboy interview) succinctly! 
defines the burden the post-Romantics placed on the word, as though j I 
it were an endlessly resonant object rather than one component in a 
referential system of signs (see 122/4 for a parody of Joycean stream- 
of-consciousness writing). H.H.’s acknowledgment of the limitations of 

[ 33 ^ ] 


language leaves many writers open to criticism, especially Romantic 
poets such as Poe. “When I was young I liked Poe, and I still love 
Melville,” says Nabokov; “I tore apart the fantasies of Poe,” writes John 
Shade in Pale Fire (line 632 of the poem); the implications are clear 
enough. In Lolita, his choice of both subject matter and narrator parody 
Poe’s designation, in “The Philosophy of Composition,” of the “most 
poetical topic in the world”: “the death of a beautiful woman . . . and 
equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are 
those of a bereaved lover” (see also my 1967 Wisconsin Studies article, 
op. cit., p. 236). Both Annabel Lee and Lolita “die,” the latter figura- 
tively as well as literally, in terms of her fading nymphic qualities and 
escape from H.H., who seems to invoke yet another of Poe’s lost ladies 
when he calls Lolita “Lenore” (though the primary allusion is to Burger’s 
poem, says Nabokov; see 209/5). 

The speaker in Poe’s “Lenore” gropes for the right elegiac chord: 
“How shall the ritual, then, be read? — the requiem how be sung / By 
you — by yours, the evil eye, — by yours, the slanderous tongue / That 
did to death the innocence that died, and died so young?” How shall 
it be “sung” is also the main question in Lolita, and Nabokov found his 
answer in a parodic style that seems to parody all styles, including the 
novel’s own. “You talk like a book. Dad,” Lolita tells H.H.; and, in 
order to protect his own efforts to capture her essence, he tries to ex- 
haust the “fictional gestures,” such as Edgar Poe’s, which would reduce 
the nymphet’s ineffable qualities to a convention of language or litera- 
ture. “Well-read Humbert” thus toys with one writer after another, as 
though only through parody and caricature can he rule out the possi- 
bility of his memoir’s finally being nothing more than what the author- 
ial voice in Invitation to a Beheading suggests to its captive creation: 
“Or is this all but obsolete romantic rot, Cincinnatus? ” (p. 139). 

:/3 four feet ten: see 264/6 for an involuted conversion to inches. 

:/4 Lola: in addition to being a diminutive of “Dolores,” it is the name 
of the young cabaret entertainer who enchants a middle-aged professor 
in the German film. The Blue Angel (1930), directed by Josef von 
Sternberg. Nabokov has never seen the film (though he has seen still 
photos from it) and doubts that he had the association in mind. Lola 
was played by Marlene Dietrich (1904- ), and it is worth noting that 

H.H. describes Lolita’s mother as having “features of a type that may 
be defined as a weak solution of Marlene Dietrich” (p. 39) and, after he 
reports her death, bids “Adieu, Marlene!” (p. 105). In Ada, Van Veen 
visits a don and his family, “a charming wife and a triplet of charming 

[ 333 ] 


twelve-year-old daughters, Ala, Lola and Lalage — especially Lalage” 
[“the age” — twelve, a nymphet’s prime (p. 353)]. 

1/5 Dolores: derived from the Latin, dolor: sorrow, pain (see 45/2). 
Traditionally an allusion to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, 
and the Seven Sorrows concerning the life of Jesus. H.H. observes a 
church, “Mission Dolores,” and takes advantage of the ready-made pun; 
“good title for book” (p. 160). Less spiritual are the sorrows detailed 
in “Dolores” (1866), by Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909), English poet 
(see also Keys, p. 28). “Our Lady of Pain” is its constant refrain, and 
her father is Priap, whom H.H. mentions several times (see 44/4). The 
name Dolores is in two ways “closely interwound with the inmost 
fiber of the book,” as John Ray says on p. 6. When in the Afterword 
Nabokov defines the “nerves of the novel,” he concludes with “the 
tinkling sounds of the valley town coming up the mountain trail (on 
which I caught the first known female of Lycceides sublivens Nabokov)”' 
(p. 318). Diana Butler, in “Lolita Lepidoptera,” op. cit., p. 62, notes thatjj 
this important capture was made at Telluride, Colorado (see p. 314)^! 
and that in his paper on it, Nabokov identifies Telluride as a “cul-de-|i' 
sac ... at the end of two converging roads, one from Placerville, theji 
other from Dolores” {The Lepidopterists' News, VI, 1952). Dolores Ej 
in fact everywhere in that region: river, town, and county are so. 
named. When H.H. finally confronts Quilty, he asks, “do you recall a 
little girl called Dolores Haze, Dolly Haze? Dolly called Dolores, Colo.?’ [ 
(p. 298). “Dolly” is an appropriate diminutive (“you/ took a dull dollj 
to pieces /and threw its head away,” writes H.H. of Quilty [p. 302]) 
For the entomological allusions, see 8/ 1. On shipboard in Ada, Var' 
Veen sees a film of Don Juan’s Last Fling in which Dolores the dancj 
ing girl turns out to be Ada (pp. 488-490). Ada later gives Van “a 
sidelong ‘Dolores’ glance” (p. 513). 

1/6 in point of fact: the childhood “trauma” which H.H. will soon offef 
as the psychological explanation of his condition (see p. 15). H.H.’:, 
first chapter is so extraordinarily short in order to mock the traditional 
novel’s expository opening. How reassuring, by comparison, are th(| 
initial paragraphs of those conventional novels — so anachronistic to Na) 
bokov— which prepare the reader for the story about to unfold by supi 
plying him with the complete psychological, social, and moral prehis: 
tories of the characters. Anticipating such needs, H.H. poses the reader’: 
questions (“Did she have a precursor?”; “Oh when?”), and parodie| 
more than that kind of reader dependence on such exposition. It maj 
seem surprising in a supposedly “confessional” novel that this shoulo 
be the narrator’s initial concern; but it is by way of a challenge to play 

C 334 ] 


like the good-humored cry of ^‘'Avantr with which Luzhin greets Turati 
in The Defense, before they begin their great match game. H.H.’s “point 
of fact” mocks the “scientific” certitude of psychiatrists who have turned 
intensely private myths and symbols — in short, fictions — into hard fact. 
The H.H. who is the subject of a case study immediately undercuts the 
persuasiveness of his own specific “trauma” by projecting it in fragments 
of another man’s verse; literary allusions, after all, point away from the 
unique, inviolable, formative “inner reality” of a neurotic or psychotic 
consciousness. Annabel Leigh, the object of H.H.’s unconsummated love, 
has no reality other than literary. See also Keys, p. 45. 

1/7 princedo 7 n by the sea: a variant of the most famous line in “Annabel 
Lee.” Poe’s “kingdom” has been changed to accommodate the fact that 
H.H. is always an aspirant, never an absolute monarch. On p. 168 he 
calls Lolita “My Frigid Princess.” 

1/8 noble-wmged seraphs, envied: a pastiche composed of a phrase from 
line II of “Annabel Lee” and a verb from line 22. “Seraphs” are the 
highest of the nine orders of angels; in the Bible they have six wings, 
as well as hands and feet, and a human voice (Isaiah, 6:2). “The seraph 
with his six flamingo wings” is invoked by John Shade in Pale Fire (line 
225 of the poem). 

!i/9 tangle of thorns: another H.H., the penitent, confessor, and martyr 
to love, calls attention to his thorns, the immodest reference to so sacred 
an image suggesting that the reader would do well to judge H.H.’s tone 
I rather than his deeds. When H.H. addresses the “Ladies and gentlemen 
of the jury,” as he will do so often, he summarizes the judicial proclivi- 
I ties of those literal-minded and moralistic readers who, having soberly 
! considered what John Ray, Jr., has said, already hate “Humbert the Hor- 

Chapter 2 

2/ 1 Jerome Dunn, the alpinist: in a novel so allusive as Lolita it is only 
natural to be suspicious of the most innocuous references, and to search 
for allusions under every bush. Anticipating the efforts of future exe- 
' getes, I will occasionally offer non-notes — “anti-annotations” which sim- 
ply state that Nabokov intends no allusion whatsoever. Thus, “Jerome 
j Dunn” is non-allusive, as are “Clarence Choate Clark,” H.H.’s lawyer 
• (p. 5), and John Ray’s residence of “Widworth, Mass.” (p. 8). For im- 
portant caveats in Nabokov’s own words, see 58/1 and 223/2. 

[ 335 ] 


12/2 paleopedotogy and Aeolian harps: respectively, the branch of pedol- 
ogy concerned with the soils of past geological ages, and a box-shapec 
musical instrument on which the wind produces varying harmonies (af- 
ter Aeolus, Greek god of the winds). A favorite Romantic metaphor foi 
the poet’s sensibility. 

12/3 midge: a gnat-like insect. For entomological allusions, see 8/i. 

12/4 Sybil: or sibyl, from the Greek; any of several prophetesses creditec 
to widely separate parts of the ancient world. H.H.’s aunt is well-named 
since she predicts her own death. 

12/5 Mirana: a heat-shimmer blend of “mirage,” “rc mirer" (French; tc 
look at oneself; admire oneself), “Mirabella,” and “Fata Morgana” (::' 
kind of mirage most frequently seen in the Strait of Messina, and for 
merly considered the work of fairies who would thus lure sailori'i 
aground). Bewitching Lolita is often characterized as a fairy (see 33/3)' 
the latter word is derived from the Latin word jatum (fate, destiny) 
and H. H. is pursued by bedeviling “Aubrey McFate” (see 58/1). I 

12/6 Mon... papa: French; my dear little Daddy. 1 

12/7 Don Quixote: the famous novel (1605, 1615) by Miguel Cervante; 
(1547-1616); see 253/10. Les Miserables (1862) is by Victor Hugo (1802- 
1885), French novelist, playwright, and poet; see 258/3. 

1 3/ 1 rose garden: see 54/5 and 58/1. 1 


13/2 La Beaute Humaine: French; “The Human Beauty.” The book is in 
vented, as is its author, whose name is a play on ‘‘‘'nichon" a Frencl 
(slang) epithet for the female breast. 

13/3 lycee: the basic institution of French secondary education; a studen 
attends a Lycee for seven years (from age eleven to eighteen). 

Chapter 3 , 

14/ 1 powdered Mrs. Leigh ... Vanessa van Ness: Poe’s “Annabel Lee”l 
on p. 169 it is spelled Lee. The Red Admirable (or Admiral) butterfly 
which figures throughout Nabokov, is Vanessa atalanta, family Nympha 
lidae (for more on “nymph,” see 18/6); and butterflies, as well as women; 
are “powdered.” H.H. is also alluding to Jonathan Swift’s (1667- 
1745) “Vanessa,” as he called the young woman whose passion he awak j 
ened (for the Swift allusion, see also Keys, p. 96). Nabokov expands th<j 
dual allusion in Pale Fire. John Shade addresses “My dark Vanessa, Grim; 

[ 336 ] 

NOTES FOR PAGES 1 4 - 1 5 

son-barred, my blest / My Admirable butterfly!...” (lines 270-271); 
and, in his note to these lines, Charles Kinbote quotes from Swift’s 
“Cadenus and Vanessa,” though he doesn’t identify it by name; “When, 
lo! Vanessa in her bloom / Advanced like Atalanta's star.” He also al- 
ludes to “Vanessa” ’s actual name thusly: “Fawhomrigh, Erther!” (p. 172) 
— thereby underscoring at least the alphabetical arrangement of Swift’s 
^ anagramour (let me laugh a little, too, gentlemen, as H.H. says on p. 
j-|252). But in his succinct way, H.H. has already anticipated Kinbote 
1 . (“van Ness”). A Red Admirable lands on Shade’s arm the minute before 
: he is killed (see lines 993-995 and Kinbote ’s note for them) and the insect 
I appears in King, Queen, Knave just after Nabokov has withdrawn his 
I' omniscience (p. 44). In the final chapter of Speak, Memory Nabokov re- 
calls having seen in a Paris park, just before the war, a live Red Admirable 
r being promenaded on a leash of thread by a little girl; “there was some 
^ vaguely repulsive symbolism about her sullen sport,” he writes (p. 306). 
k! When Van Veen casually mentions Ada’s having pointed out “some ac- 
(' cursed insect,” the offended heroine parenthetically and angrily adds, 
' “Accursed? Accursed? It was the newly described, fantastically rare 
vanessian, Nymphalis danaus Nab., orange-brown, with black-and-white 
foretips, mimicking, as its discoverer Professor Nabonidus of Babylon 
r College, Nebraska, realized, not the Monarch butterfly directly, but the 
Monarch through the Viceroy, one of the Monarch’s best known imita- 
tors” (p. 158). See 8/1. 

4/2 solipsism: a central word in Lolita. An epistemological theory that 
the self knows only its present state and is the only existent thing, and 
I, that “reality” is subjective; concern with the self at the expense of social 
^ relationships. See 62/1. 

4/3 plage: French; beach. 

5/1 chocolat glace: French; in those days, an iced chocolate drink with 
whipped cream (today it means “chocolate ice cream”). 

5/2 red rocks: see 41/3 and 58/1. 

5/ 3 lost pair of sunglasses: the sunglasses image connects Annabel and 
, Lolita. H.H. first perceives her as his “Riviera love peering at me over 
dark glasses” (see 41/1). See also Keys, p. 43 and p. i43n. 

5/4 point of possessing: for a comment on the “traumatic” nature of this 
experience, see 21 1/3. “My darling” echoes line 39 of “Annabel Lee” 
(see 49/4 for the entire line, and 11/2 for the poem itself). 

5/5 Corfu: Greek island. 

[ 337 ] 


Chapter 4 

17/ 1 haze of stars: see 6/8. In one sense, the novel begins and ends in “Gray 
Star.” ' 

17/2 her spell: “spells” and “enchantments” are fundamental in Lolita. See 
18/6, 47/3, and 262/2. 

Chapter 5 

17/3 manque: French; unfulfilled. 

18/ 1 uranists: H.H.’s own variant of the uncommon English word, uran- 
ism, derived from a Greek word for “spiritual” and meaning “homO" 
sexual.” Havelock Ellis uses it in Chapter Five of Psychology of Sex 
(1938), and claims the term was invented by the nineteenth-century 
legal official Karl Ulrichs. 

18/2 Deux Magots: the famous Left Bank cafe in Paris, where intellectualsj' 
congregate. Magot is a kind of monkey, but “magots de Saxe” meanS; 
“statuettes of saxe [porcelain]” (eighteenth-century). Nabokov purposely' 
seats his uranists in this particular cafe, because he wants to invoke 
the simian association and the image of the grotesque Chinese porcelain, 

18/3 pastiches: the “quotation” is an assemblage including bits and pieces, 
of “Gerontion” (1920), by T.S. Eliot, the Anglo-American poet (1888- 
1965): “. . . Fraulein von Kulp / Who turned in the hall, one hand on 
the door” (lines 27-28); “. . . De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, 
whirled...” (line 66); “...Gull against the wind, in the windy straits/: 
Of Belle Isle...” (lines 69-70). See 260/3 and 301/1 for other allusions 
to Eliot. Having small sympathy with some of Eliot’s social prejudices. 
Nabokov ironically describes in Ada a “Mr. Eliot, a Jewish businessman”! 
(p. 5), who later meets the late-blooming banker (Eliot’s early vocation): 
Kithar Sween (=Eliot’s “Sweeney”), author of “The Waistline, a satire, 
in free verse on Anglo-American feeding habits, and Cardinal Grishkin' 
[^Eliot’s “Whispers of Immortality”], an overtly subtle yarn extolling 
the Roman faith” (p. 506). For The Four Quartets, see Pale Fire, lines 
368-379. Nabokov says, “I was never exposed in the ’twenties and ’thirtiesj 
as so many of my coevals have been, to the poetry of Eliot and Pound. I 
read them late in the season, around 1945, in the guest room of an Ameri- 
can friend’s house, and not only remained completely indifferent to them. 

[ 338 ] 


but could not understand why anybody should bother about them. But I 
suppose that they preserve some sentimental value for such readers as dis- 
covered them at an earlier age than I did” (Playboy interview). 

3/4 ^Troustia?i theme ... Bailey’’’’: the letters of the English poet John 
Keats (1795-1821) to his close friend Benjamin Bailey (1791-1853) are 
among the important statements of Keats’s poetic theory. In Pale Fire, 
Kinbote measures the progress of poetry “from the caveman to Keats” 
(p. 289). H.H.’s “Proustian theme” is no doubt on the nature of time 
and memory. Marcel Proust (1871-1922) — the great French novelist, 
the first half of whose A la Recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance 
of Thmgs Past, 1913-1927) is to Nabokov one of the four “greatest 
masterpieces of twentieth century prose” (see 209/3) — is also mentioned 
on pp. 79 and 184, and as noted 255/2 and 266/4. appears too in 

Pale Fire, pp. 87, 161-163, and 248, as well as in line 224 of Shade’s 
poem (p. 41), where he envisions eternity, and “... talks / With Soc- 
rates and Proust in cypress walks.” In T he Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 
Knight’s hack biographer, Mr. Goodman, mentions “the French author 
M. Proust, whom Knight consciously or subconsciously copied” (p. 
1 16); and Knight himself parenthetically remarks in a letter, “I am 
[not] apologizing for that Proustian parenthesis” (p. 54) — a device H.H. 
consciously indulges, as when he parenthetically “prolong[s] these 
Proustian intonations” (p. 79). There are also many allusions to Proust 
in Ada (see pp. 9, 55-56, 66, 73, 168-169, 254, and 541). 

8/5 “Histoire . . . anglaise’”: French; “A Short History of English Poetry.” 

8/6 not huma?!, but nymphic: like Sinclair Lewis’s “Babbitt” (Babbitt, 
1922), Nabokov’s “nymphet” has entered the language, though the lat- 
est dictionary entries which Lolita has inspired are as inelegant as they 
are inaccurate: nymph: “a woman of loose morals” (Webster's Third 
New International, echoed by the Random House Dictionary). The 
Penguin English Dictionary , G. N. Garmonsway, ed., gives under nym- 
phet: “(coll.) very young but sexually attractive girl” (H.H., who strives 
so desperately to expropriate idiomatic English, would appreciate that 
“colloquial”). As for nymph, the mythological and zoological defini- 
tions are primary. In Greek and Roman mythology, a nymph is “One 
of the inferior divinities of nature represented as beautiful maidens 
dwelling in the mountains, waters, forests, etc.” Nympholepsy, H.H.’s 
malady (hence, “nympholept” [p. 19]), is “a species of demoniac en- 
thusiasm supposed to seize one bewitched by a nymph; a frenzy of 
emotion, as for some unattainable ideal” (more specifically, in Blakistotfs 

1 339 ] 


New Gould Medical Dictionary, it is defined as “ecstasy of an eroti( 
type”). Under the entry for “The Nymphs” in The Book of Imaginary 
Beings (1969), Jorge Luis Borges notes that “Paracelsus limited thei 
dominion to water, but the ancients thought the world was full o 
Nymphs . . . [some] Nymphs were held to be immortal or, as Plutarc) 
obscurely intimates, lived for above 9,720 years . . . The exact number o 
the Nymphs is unknown; Hesiod gives us the figure three thousand . . 
Glimpsing them could cause blindness and, if they were naked, death 
A line of Propertius affirms this.” H.H. echoes these definitions. Her 
and on the following pages he alludes to “spells,” “magic,” “fantasth 
powers,” and “deadly demons” (for various enchantments, see i 2/5 [Fat 
Morgana], 22/2 [Lilith], 33/3 [elves], 47/3 [Carmenf, 73/1 [an incubus] 
and 242/2 [king of the elves]). Lolita’s “inhuman” and “bewitchin] 
charms” suggest that she is Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” (1819 
in bobby socks (Nabokov translated the poem into Russian in The Em 
pyrean Path, 1923), and that the novel is in part a unique variant of th 
archetypal tale of a mortal destroyed by his love for a supernatural femm 
fatale, “The Lovely Lady Without Pity” of ballad, folk tale, and fair; 
tale. Nabokov has called Lolita a “fairy tale,” and his nymph a “fair; 
princess” (p. 54); see 33/3. 

One of Nabokov’s lepidopterological finds is known as “Nabokov’ 
Wood-Nymph” (belonging to the family Nymphalidae; see 14/1), am 
he is not unaware that a “nymph” is also defined as “a pupa,” or “th 
young of an insect undergoing incomplete metamorphosis.” Crucial ti 
an understanding of Lolita is some sense of the various but simultaneou 
metamorphoses undergone by Lolita, H.H., the book, the author, ani 
the reader, who is manipulated by the novel’s game-element and illu 
sionistic devices to such an extent that he too can be said to becomt 
at certain moments, another of Vladimir Nabokov’s creations — an ex 
perience which is bound to change him. The butterfly is thus a con 
trolling metaphor that enriches Lolita in a more fundamental and or 
ganic manner than, say, the Odyssey does Joyce’s Ulysses. Just as th 
nymph undergoes a metamorphosis in becoming the butterfly, so every 
thing in Lolita is constantly in the process of metamorphosis, includin 
the novel itself — a set of “notes” being compiled by an imprisoned ma 
during a fifty-six-day period for possible use at his trial, emerging a 
a book after his death, and then only after it has passed through yd 
another stage, the nominal “editorship” of John Ray, Jr. As Lolita turn 
from a girl into a woman, so H.H.’s lust becomes love. His sense of j 
“safely solipsized” Lolita (p. 62) is replaced by his awareness that sh 
was his “own creation” with “no will, no consciousness — indeed, no lif 

[ 340 ] 


of her own” (p. 64), that he did not know her (p. 286), and that their 
sexual intimacy only isolated him more completely from the helpless 
girl. These “metamorphoses” enable H.H. to transform a “crime” into 
a redeeming work of art, and the reader watches the chrysalis come to 
life. “And a metamorphosis is a thing always exciting to watch,” says 
Nabokov in Gogol (p. 43), referring to etymological rather than en- 
tomological phenomena (see 120/3 and 214/2; also follow the multi- 
farious permutations of “Humbert”). 

On his first night with Lolita at The Enchanted Hunters hotel, H.H. 
iexperiences “a confusion of perception metamorphosing her into eye- 
spots of moonlight or a fluffy flowering bush” (p. 134), and, anticipating 
the design and progression of Lolita, the narrator of The Real Life of 
\Sebastian Knight (1941) mentions the readers who “felt baffled by [The 
Prismatic Bezel's] habit of metamorphosis” (p. 95; for the complete pas- 
sage, see the epigraph to the Introduction). When Nabokov in his lec- 
tures at Cornell discussed “the theme of transformation” in R.L. 
Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Gogol’s The Overcoat, and Kafka’s 
The Metamorphosis, he said that Stevenson’s tale is a “thriller and mys- 
tery only in respect to artistic creativity. It is a phenomenon of style, 
a transformation through the art of writing.” He likened the Jekyll- 
Hyde transformation to the metamorphosis of the larva into the pupa 
' into the butterfly, and imagined Jekyll’s final emergence from the melt- 
ing and blackened features of the evil Hyde as “the rush of panic” which 
’ must accompany “the feeling of hatching.” Once again, as in his book 
on Gogol, Nabokov has described his own performance by defining the 
art of another. As a metaphor for the artistic process, the nymph’s cycle 
suggests a transcendent design. See Introduction, p. xxii. For entomolog- 
ical allusions, see 8/1. 

)/ 1 bubble of hot poison: see 306/1; the bubble breaks. 

9/2 faunlet: in mythology, the faun is a woodland deity represented as 
a man having the ears, horns, tail, and hind legs of a goat; a satyr. The 
diminutive form is H.H.’s coinage. See Nabokov’s letter in Hevo States- 
! man, Nov. 17, 1967, p. 680. 

d/ I fateful elf: see 33/3. 

0/2 pollutive: H.H.’s variant of pollution; the less common meaning, 
“emission of semen at other times than in coitus.” 

0/3 pseudolibidoes: H.H.’s usage (see p. 56 for “libidream”) of libido: 
• the sexual impulse; to Freud, the instinctual drive behind all human ac- 

[ 341 ] 


2i/i Children ... the Act actually reads: “‘Child’ means a perso i 

under the age of fourteen years . . . ‘Young Person’ means a person wh j 
has attained the age of fourteen years and is under the age of seventeeij j 
years.” From Children m 7 d Young Persons Act of 23 & 24 Gee'! 

5, c. 12, §107 (i). No specific definition of girl-child is given; but, eveif) 
if H.H.’s quotation is wrong, he is a sound legal scholar, for a child, 
must be eight years old to incur criminal liability. Sec p. 137. | 

21/2 Massachusetts .. .“a wayward child" ... humoral persons: an accurat , 
transcription; the parenthetical phrase is also a direct quotation fron 
Mass. Anno. Laws ch. 119 §52 (1957). 


21/3 Hugh Brotighton: controversial Puritan divine and pamphleteer (i549!j 
1612). The allusion is to his A Consent of Scripture (1588), an eccentru* 
discourse on Biblical chronology. I 

21/4 Rahab: the Canaanite prostitute of Joshua 2; 1-21. i 

2i,/5 Virgil ... perineum: the Latin poet (70-19 b.c.). The perinetim inj 
eludes the urinogenital passages and the rectum. In the 1958 edition if 
read peritonium (the double serous membrane which lines the cavit)|! 
of the abdomen). Although H.H.’s grotesque error is intentional on Na 
bokov’s part, he decided to correct it here because the mistake, if dis 
cerned, might be taken for the author’s, or remain ambiguous. ' 

21/6 Kmg Akhnaten’ s . . . N He daughters: Akhnaten of Egypt (reigneej 
1375-1358 B.c.) and Nefertiti had a total of seven daughters. On hi; 
monuments, the king is shown with six. H.H. also loses a “daughter.” j| 

21/7 fascinum: Latin; a penis of ivory used in certain ancient erotic ritesjj 

21/8 East India?! provinces: the Lepchas are a Mongoloid people of Sikkin;; 
and the Darjeeling district of India. What H.H. says is true, and Na^! 
bokov thinks H.H. may have got it from somewhere in Havelock Ellis’: 
monumental, many-volumed Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1891). 


21/9 Dante . . .month of May: Dante was born between May 15 and June 
15, 1265. He was therefore nine years old when he met Beatrice in 1274 
and she was supposedly eight. There was no romance. 

21/10 Petrarch . . . Laureen: Petrarch was born July 20, 1304. He was there- 
fore twenty-three when he met Laura on April 6, 1327. She remains un- 
known to this day, and all attempts to identify her with historical perj 
sons are purely speculative. Her age therefore can not be determined 

21/11 hills of V aucluse: an area in Southeastern France, the capital oi 

[ 342 ] I 


: which is Avignon. It was Petrarch’s favorite home, but he found that 

( , natural beauty there only added to the sense of his loss of Laura. 

2/1 “enfa 77 t . . . fo2irbe'\ French; “sly and lovely child.” 

2/2 it was Lilith: in Jewish legend, Lilith was Adam’s wife before Eve. 
Also a female demon who attacked children and a famous witch in 
the demonolog}’ of the Middle Ages. In Pale Fire, a Zemblan “society 
sculptor” finds in Charles the Beloved’s sister “what he sought and . . . 

' used her breasts and feet for his Lilith Callmg Back Ada?)!" (p. io8). See 
18/6 for more on enchantments. 

2/ 3 tiddles: “trifles”; from tiddle, an obsolete verb except in dialect or 
slang; to fondle, to fuss or trifle. 

2/4 this is 077 ly a gaiiie: in the Wisconsin Studies interview, Nabokov says 
“Satire is a lesson, parody is a game.” The pun on H.H.’s name includes 
the game of ombre (see 5/3), which is played in Canto III of Alexander 
Pope’s The Rape of the Lock ( 1714); see lines 87-100. Also see the games 
H.H. plays on pp. 184-185, 204-205, and 235. 

2/5 metro: the Paris subway. 

Chapter 6 

3/ 1 voluptas: Latin; sensual pleasures. 

3/2 the Madeleine: a church in Paris (a very prominent landmark). 

3/ 3 frhilleitient: French; a wiggle. 

3/4 ''''Cent": French; one hundred (francs). 

3/5 "'Taitt pis": French; “Too bad!” 

4/ 1 petit cadeau: French; small gift. 

4/2 "dix-huit": French; “eighteen” (years old). 

4/ 3 '''Oui, ce ti’est pas biett": French; “Yes, that is not nice.” 

4/4 grues: French; slang word for prostitutes. 

;4/5 “11 hait 777 alm . . . truc-la": French; “The man who invented this trick 
was a smart one.” 

4/6 poser im lapi 77 : French; to stand someone up. 

;4/7 “Tm es . . . de dire fa": French; “You are very nice to say that.” 

[ 343 ] 


24/8 avant qu'on se couche: French; before we go to bed. 

25/ 1 “/e vais m'acheter des has”: French; “I am going to buy myself son 

25/2 ‘■'Regardez-vwi . . . brune": French; “Take a look at this beautif, 
brunette.” The 1958 edition omitted the period after the parenthesis. 

25/3 qui pourrah arranger la chose: French; who could fix it. 

26/ 1 son argent: French; her money. 

26/2 lui: French; himself (pronoun which is redundant and serves to en 
phasize a noun). 

26/ 3 Marie . . . stellar name: derived from the Virgin’s name; to Biblic 
commentators, it means stellamaris, star of the sea. H.H. has more fti 
with “stellar” later (see 291/ 1). ! 

Chapter 7 ■ 

27/1 tachycardia: a term from pathology; abnormal rapidity of the heart 
action. ' 

27/2 mes malheurs: French; my misfortunes. 

27/3 jrangais moyen: French; the average Frenchman, the man in the streej 

Chapter 8 | 

27/4 pot-au-feu: French; a common stew, containing meat, vegetables, an^ 
almost anything else. 

27/5 merkin: an artificial female pudendum, or its false hair. 

27/6 d la gamine: French; in imitation of a cute young girl. 

28/1 mairie: French; town hall. 

28/2 melanic: pigmented; hence, black or dark. i 

28/ 3 baba: although it is Franco-Russian for a ring-shaped pastry imbue 

with rum, Nabokov intends it otherwise: “ ‘Baba’ colloquially means i 
Russian any female on the common side; a blousy, vulgar woman. It 
also used metaphorically for certain thick, sturdy, columellar, menhi^ 
like, compact things, such as the pastry romovaya baba (but this h: 
nothing to do with its meaning here). Originally, baba meant a peasar 

[ 344 ] 


8/4 I felt like Marat... stab me: Jean Paul Marat (1743-1793), French 
revolutionist stabbed to death in his bath by Charlotte Corday; the sub- 
ject of a famous painting by Jacques-Louis David, Marat assassine (1793). 
The “original” tub can be seen at both Madame Tussaud’s Wax Works in 
i London and at Paris’s wax museum, Musee Grevin. In Pale Fire, John 
Shade imagines how his biographer would describe him shaving in his 
bath: . . he’d / Sit like a king there, and like Marat bleed” (lines 893- 

894). On his travels, student Van Veen is shown “the peasant-bare foot- 
print of Tolstoy preserved in the clay of a motor court in Utah where 
he had written the tale of Murat, the Navajo chieftain, a French general’s 
bastard, shot by Cora Day in his swimming pool” (Ada, p. 171) — a com- 
bination of Murad (from Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad), General Murat (Na- 
poleon’s brother-in-law and king of Naples), and Marat. 

8/5 Paris-Soir: a sensationalistic daily newspaper; now France-Soir. 

9/1 mon oncle d'Amerique: French; the proverbial rich American uncle 
who dies, leaving one a fortune; a curtain line in many old-fashioned 

9/ 2 Nansen . . . passport: the special passport issued to emigres in Europe 
before World War II; the document figures prominently in the story, 
“‘That in Aleppo Once...’” in Nabokov's Dozen (1958). 

9/3 prefecture: French; police headquarters. 

o/i “Mais qui est-ce?": French; “But who is it?” 

0/2 quite a scholar: the ten-volume Jean Christophe (1904-1912), by the 
Frenchman Romain Rolland (1866-1944), is a panoramic novel of so- 
ciety, admired no more by Nabokov than by H.H. (see Pnin, p. 142). 

i/i j'ai demannde pardonne: French; “I beg your pardon.” The tense is 
incorrect (should be “je"); and the wrong spelling — an extra n in both 
words — indicates a Russian accent. 

1/2 gredin: French; scoundrel, villain. 

2/ 1 Maximovich . . . taxies back to me: see bottom of p. 30. 

3/ 1 fructuate: rare; to bear fruit, to fructify. 

3/2 Agatha Christie: A Murder Is Announced is the actual title of a 1950 
' novel by Agatha Christie (1891- ), the well-known English mystery 

‘ writer. A murder is announced on the next page (Clare Quilty’s; see 


[ 345 ] 


33/3 Percy Elphinstone: Elphinstone and his books are also genuine, ac 
cording to Nabokov, though it has been impossible to document thi 
Nabokov recalls finding A Vagabond in Italy “in a hospital library, th 
nearest thing to a prison library.” But the town of Elphinstone (pj 
240-249) is invented. H.H. calls Annabel “the initial fateful elf in m 
life” (p. 20); and Lolita’s original home town in the Midwest Wc 
“Pisky,” another form of pixie or elf (p. 48). When H.H. deposit 
Lolita in the Elphinstone Hospital, it is the last time he will see th 
nymphic incarnation of his initial “elf” (p. 248); for him, the “fair 
tale” (and he imagines himself a “fairy-tale nurse” [p. 41]) ends i 
Elph’s Stone just as it had begun in the town of “elf.” Quilty in pui 
suit is seen as the “Erlkonig,” the king of the elves in Goethe’s poei 
of that name (see 242/2). At The Enchanted Hunters hotel, on the nigl 
that H.H. first possesses Lolita, he notes, “Nothing could have been moi 
childish than . . . the purplish spot on her naked neck where a fairy tal 
vampire had feasted” (p. 141). Quilty’s Pavor [Latin: fear, panic] Mane 
turns out to be on Grimm Road (p. 293), and when H.H. goes to ki 
him, the door “swung open as in a medieval fairy tale” (p. 296). As 
birthday present, H.H. gives Lolita a de luxe edition of Hans Christia 
Andersen’s The Little Merrtiaid (176/5); and allusions are made to Ha? 
sel and Gretel, The Sleeping Beauty, The Emperor's New Clotht 
(203/1), and Bluebeard (245/3). The simplicity of Lolita's “story,” sue 
as it is — “plot,” in the conventional sense, may be paraphrased in thre 
sentences — and the themes of deception, enchantment, and metamorphos 
are akin to the fairy tale (see 18/6); while the recurrence of places an 
motifs and the presence of three principal characters recall the forma 
istic design and symmetry of those archetypal tales (see 267/2). But th 
fate of Nabokov’s “fairy princess” (p. 54) and the novel’s denouemer 
reverse the fairy-tale process, even though H.H. offers Lolita the oj 
portunity of a formulaic fairy-tale ending: “we shall live happily evei 
after” (p. 280). 

The fairy-tale element has a significance far greater than its local in 
portance to Lolita. Several of Nabokov’s novels, stories, and poems at 
“fairy tales” in the sense that they are set in imaginary lands. The? 
lands extend from five of his untranslated Russian works (1924-1940 
to Bend Sinister's Padukgrad (1947), to Pale Fire's kingdom of Zemb 
(1962), culminating in Ada (1969), where the entire universe has bee 
reimagined. Held captive in his own Zemblan palace. King Charl(| 
helplessly looks down upon “lithe youths diving into the swimming pof 
of a fairy tale sport club” (p. 119); after making his escape, he stops \ 
a warm farmhouse where he is “given a fairy-tale meal of bread ari 

[ 346 ] 


cheese” (p. 140). Because it is Nabokov’s most extensive fantasia, Ada 
naturally abounds in fairy-tale references (see pp. 5 [“Lake Kitezh”], 87, 
143, 164, 180, 191, 228 [“Cendrillon”: Cinderella: “Ashette” on pp. 114 
and 397], 281, and 287). God is called “Log” in Ada, and Hermann in 
Despair (1934) says that he cannot believe in God because “the fairy tale 
about him is not really mine, it belongs to strangers, to all men . . 

' (p. III). When in Invitation to a Beheading (1936) Cincinnatus extolls 
the powers of the imagination, M’sieur Pierre answers, “Only in fairy 
tales do people escape from prison” (p. 114). “The Fairy’s Daughter,” an 
untranslated fantasy in verse for children, is collected in The Empyrean 
Path (1923, the same year that Nabokov translated Alice in Wonderland 
into Russian [see 133/1]); and the untranslated story “A Fairytale” 
(1926) tells of a timid, erotically obsessed man who imagines a harem for 
himself. He makes an arrangement with a woman who turns out to be the 
devil. She offers him a choice of as many women as he desires, so long as 
the total number is odd. But his hopes are dashed when he chooses the 
same girl twice (a nymphet), for a total of twelve instead of thirteen (the 
story is summarized from Andrew Field, op. cit., pp. 333-334). Before 
describing Hazel Shade’s final poltergeist vigil, as imagined in his playlet 
The Haunted Barn, Kinbote notes “There are always ‘three nights’ in 
fairy tales, and in this sad fairy tale there was a third one too” (Pale 
Fire, p. 190). “Speaking of novels,” Kinbote says to Sybil Shade, “you 
remember we decided once, you, your husband and I, that Proust’s rough 
masterpiece was a huge, ghoulish fairy tale” (pp. 161-162); and men- 
tioned in Ada are “the pretentious fairy tales” of “Osberg” (Borges; an 
anagram [p. 344]). 

At Cornell (where the annotator was his student in 1953-1954), Na- 
bokov would begin his first class by saying, “Great novels are above all 
great fairy tales. . . . Literature does not tell the truth but makes it up. 
It is said that literature was born with the fable of the boy crying, ‘Wolf! 
Wolf!’ as he was being chased by the animal. This was not the birth of 
literature; it happened instead the day the lad cried ‘Wolf!’ and the 
tricked hunters saw no wolf . . . the magic of art is manifested in the 
dream about the wolf, in the shadow of the invented wolf.” As suggested 
in the Introduction, Nabokov goes to great lengths to show the reader 
that the boy has been crying “Wolf!” all along, and that the subject of 
Nabokov’s art is in part the relationship between the old boy and the 
nonexistent wolf. See 34/7. 

3/4 dazzling coincidences . . . poets love: evident everywhere in Nabokov’s 
work is his “poet’s love” of coincidence. The verbal figurations and 

[ 347 ] 


“coincidences” limned in Who's Who in the Limelight are of great con- 
sequence, for H.H. alludes to “actors, producers, playwrights, and shots 
of static scenes” which prefigure the action of the novel. The three en- 
tries in this imaginary yearbook represent H.H., Lolita, and, obviously, 
Quilty. Although no “producer” is listed, it will shortly be seen that he 
reveals his name covertly (33/12), and shows his hand throughout. The 
importance of Who's Who in the Limelight is also discussed in Part Two 
of my 1967 New Republic article, op. cit., p. 27, included in the Intro- 
duction, pp. xxvii-xxviii. 

33/5 Pym, Roland: Pym is the title character in Edgar Allan Poe’s The 
Narrative of A. Gordon Pym (1838); he is also mentioned in Nabokov’s 
poem, “The Refrigerator Awakes” (1942), in Poems (p. 12). The name 
suits H.H. well, because, like Pym’s, his is a first-person narrative that 
begins in the spirit of hoax but evolves into something very different. 
See 253/3 for “Hoaxton.” As for “Roland,” Nabokov intends no allu- 
sions to the medieval Chanson de Roland, to the character in Ariosto’s 
Orlando Furioso, or to Browning’s Childe Roland. For Poe, see 11/12. 

33/6 Elsinore Playhouse, Derby, N.Y.: both exist. The former, invoking 
Hamlet’s castle, is a common name for a theater. Hamlet is often re- 
ferred to in Nabokov. In Invitation to a Beheading, M’sieur Pierre and 
Cincinnatus are “identically clad in Elsinore jackets” (p. 182); in Ada,,, 
a reviewer of Van Veen’s first book is called “the First Clown in £/-i 
sinore, a distinguished London weekly” (p. 343); and in Gogol, ‘‘‘'Hamlet 
is the wild dream of a neurotic scholar” (p. 140). Nabokov’s own con- 
siderable Shakespearean scholarship is evident in Chapter Seven of Bend 
Sinister, which offers a totalitarian state version of the play. Nabokov 
himself has glossed this chapter in his valuable Introduction to the Time 
Reading Program edition (reprinted in Nabokov's Congeries, Page Steg- 
ner, ed. [New York, 1968], and in my own Twentieth Century Views 
edition, Nabokov: A Collection of Critical Essays [Englewood Cliffs. 
1970]). The narrator of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, who is Se-| 
bastian’s half-brother, demolishes a biography of Knight by demonstrat-' 
ing that the biographer, Mr. Goodman, has incorporated several bogus 
stories into his book, simply because the leg-pulling Sebastian had said 
they were so: “Third story: Sebastian speaking of his very first novel 
(unpublished and destroyed) explained that it was about a fat young 
student who travels home to find his mother married to his uncle; this 
uncle, an ear-specialist, had murdered the student’s father. Mr. Good- 
man misses the joke” (p. 64). Recognizing that Sebastian’s trap telescopes 
Nabokov’s methods, some readers will no doubt sympathize with hapless 

[ 348 ] j 


Mr. Goodman. For another Ha?nlet allusion in Lolita, see 152/2. For 
further Shakespeare allusions, see pp. 179, 193 (The Taming of the 
Shrew), 245 (Romeo and Juliet), and 267 (King Lear), as well as 159/3, 
253/14, 303/3 (Macbeth), and, for a summary note, 286/4. 

3/7 Made debut in Sunburst: see p. 92, where H.H. refers to Charlotte 
Haze’s impending death as “the ultimate sunburst,” for it will indeed 
allow him to make his debut with her daughter. Unless they are an- 
notated, the titles in the Who's Who entries are non-allusive and of no 

53/8 The Strange Mushroom: it is a “dazzling coincidence” that “Pym” 
' should appear in a play authored by Quilty (see next entry). As for 
' the specific origin of the “mushroom” image, literary history may be 
served by the strange fact related by Nabokov: “Somewhere, in a col- 
‘ lection of ‘cases,’ I found a little girl who referred to her uncle’s organ 
as ‘his mushroom.’ ” The plant is in fact a sex symbol in many cultures. 

13/9 Quilty, Clare: although alluded to by John Ray, Jr., in the “Fore- 
word” (see 6/9), this is the first time that the omnipresent Quilty will 
be identified by his complete name (Quilty’s role is discussed in the In- 
troduction, p. Ixiii ff. ). H.H. withholds Quilty’s identity until almost 
the end of Lolita, and adducing it by virtue of the trail of clues is one 
of the novel’s special pleasures. His importance is most vividly demon- 
strated by gathering together all the Quilty references and hints as fol- 
lows: pp. 6, 33, 34, 45, 65, 66, 71, 80, 91, 1 19, 123, 128-129, 132. 140, 141; 
[Part Two] 154, 161, 165, 172, 188, 198, 202-204, 205, 209-211, 213, 215, 
217, 219-225, 226, 228-230, 234, 237, 238-240, 242, 243-245, 248-254, 264, 
273-279, 281, 284, 292-294, 295-307, 308, and 3 1 1. Each appearance or 
allusion to Quilty will be duly noted below, but a reader armed only 
with this telescopic list should be able to identify Quilty whenever he 
appears or is evoked on a page. This compilation also appears in mv 1967 
Wisconsin Studies article, “Lolita: The Springboard of Parody” (p. 225), 
and there is more on Quilty in my 1968 Denver Quarterly article, “The 
Art of Nabokov’s Artifice” (see bibliography). See also Keys, pp. 57-78. 
An excellent ancillary text is Stories of the Double, Albert J. Guerard, ed. 

The killing of Quilty (pp. 295-307) was written well out of sequence, 
early in the composition of Lolita. “His death had to be clear in my 
mind in order to control his earlier appearances,” says Nabokov. Na- 
bokov removed from the final version of Lolita three scenes in which 
Quilty figured conspicuously: a talk before Charlotte Haze’s club (see 
80/1); a meeting with Lolita’s friend Mona; and an appearance at a re- 


hearsal of his own play, featuring Lolita. All three scenes were omittec 
because such foreground appearances interrupted the structure anc' 
rhythm of Quilty’s pursuit of Lolita, and undermined the mystery sur 
rounding his identity. Moreover, the latter two scenes created a mos 
awkward narrative problem. Since H.H. couldn’t narrate these scenes 
Nabokov had to wait and let Lolita do it during their important con- 
frontation scene (pp. 271 ff.), and that proved unwieldy. See 37/3 foj 
mention of another omitted scene. 

33/10 The Little Nymph: like Fatherly Love (in the same entry), this is 
an appropriate work for H.H.’s sinister alter ego to have authored. 

33/11 The Lady Who Loved Lightning: Nabokov confirms the deductior'' 
that this is the unnamed play which H.H. and Lolita attend in Wace 
pp. 222-223. See p. 222; Lolita says, “I am not a lady and do not like 
lightning” (see also my 1967 Wisconsin Studies article, op. cit., p. 216) 
Although H.H.’s mother was killed by lightning (p. 12), Nabokov in- 
tends no cross reference; he grants, however, that “the connection i; 
cozy and tempting.” The Who in the play’s title was not capitalized in| 
the 1958 edition; the error has been corrected. 

33/12 in collaboration with Vivian Darkbloom: at the very least she must 
be called Quilty’s collaborator, since “she” is an anagram of “Vladimii 
Nabokov” (6/9). 

33/13 T>ark Age: see 264/7, where H.H. alludes to its author. 

33/14 The Strange Mushroom: see above, 33/8. 

33/15 traveled 14, 000... New York: H.H. “doubles” Quilty for a changeJ 
for he will travel some 27,000 miles with the little nymph (see p. 177). 
while Quilty’s “play” of that name consumes virtually half of that dis-, 

33/16 Hobbies .. .pets: the three “hobbies” prefigure Quilty’s pursuit of 
H.H. and Lolita (“fast cars”), his love of dogs (see 248/1), and the| 
pornographic movies he will force his favorite “pet” to act in (see 278/2).! 

33/17 Quine, Dolores: “Dolores” is Lolita’s given name (see ii/s), while 
“Quine” echoes Quilty, sets up an internal rhyme which condemns him; 
(34/6), and is French for two fives at a game of tric-trac (a form of 
backgammon). Although Nabokov says he did not intend any allusion,' 
“t 722 e quine a la loterie” is a bid prize, an advantage, which describes the 
way H.H. and Quilty variously bid for Lolita, und the way the book’s| 
game-element manipulates the reader (see p. 301); Quilty reads aloud 
from H.H.’s poem, “because you took advantage of my disadvantage”.! 

[ 350 ] 


\/ \ Never Talk to Strangers: this is no idle title. See p. 140 (“I would 
not talk to strangers,” H.H. advises Lolita) and 311/1, where he repeats 
and expands upon this excellent fatherly advice: “Be true to your [hus- 
band]. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers.” 

I./2 Has disappeared: see next note, and p. 255, where H.H. says, “I have 
reached the part which ... might be called ‘Do/orer Disparue' " (a play 
on Albertine disparue, the title of the penultimate volume of the original 
French edition of Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du temps perdu). An 
error in the 1958 edition has been corrected (the transposing of the con- 
cluding bracket and period after “follows”). 

4/ 3 I notice . . . in the preceding paragraph: the “slip” refers to “Has dis- 
appeared” instead of “Has appeared,” another foreshadowing of his loss. 
Lolita will be cast in a play by Quilty, The Enchanted Hunters. See pp. 
202-204. It is central to a full sense of the novel. 

4/4 Clarence: H.H.’s lawyer, to whom the manuscript of this “unrevised” 
draft is entrusted. See p. 5. 

4/5 The Murdered Playwright: the prefiguration of the murder an- 
nounced above is completed here (33/2). H.H. now explicitly refers 
to his killing of Quilty (pp. 295-307), which is prefigured several more 
times (see 47/4 and 49/6). By strategically placing Who^s Who in the 
Limelight early in Lolita — like Black Guinea’s list of the avatars of the 
confidence man in Chapter Three of Herman Melville’s The Confidence- 
Man: His Masquerade (1857) — Nabokov gives the reader an opportunity 
to make at least some of these connections as the novel unfolds. 

4/6 Quine the Swine . . . my Lolita: Quilty, and for “my Lolita,” see 47/ 1 
and 194/2. 

4/7 / have only words to play with: even if H.H. has only words, the 
reader must consider the implications of his extraordinary control of 
them. The interlacements which lead in and out of this veritable nerve 
center reveal a capacity for design and order that, given the conditions 
under which his narrative has allegedly been composed, is only within 
the reach of the manipulative author above the book. By no accident is 
Who^s Who in the Limelight a theatrical yearbook, for the involutions 
which spiral out of it demonstrate that playwright Quilty, H.H., and 
Lolita, as well as the actor and actress who serve as their stand-ins in 
Who'’s Who, are all performing in another of Nabokov’s puppet shows. 
“Guess again. Punch,” H.H. tells Quilty (p. 298); and, of their fight, 
H.H. says, “He and I were two large dummies, stuffed with dirty cot- 
ton and rags” (p. 301). The novel’s first reference to Quilty thus offers 
a summary phrase (6/9); for the countless involuted verbal figurations 

[ 351 ] 


and cross references in Lolita all represent “Vivian Darkbloom” ’s “cue,’ 
and suggest that the authorial consciousness is somehow profoundly in 
volved in a tale that in every literal way is surely separate from it. 

Having recognized the novel’s verisimilar disguise, the reader is af 
forded a global view of the book qua book, whose dappled surface nov 
reveals patterns that seem almost visual. In the Foreword to the i<) 6 ( 
version of Speak, Memory, Nabokov says that in looking for a title foj 
the first edition, he “toyed with The Anthevnon which is the name oi 
a honeysuckle ornament, consisting of elaborate interlacements and ex- 
panding clusters, but nobody liked it”; it would be a fitting, if precious 
subtitle for Lolita (as well as for several other Nabokov works). A grant 
anthemion entwines H.H.’s narrative, like some vast authorial watermark 
and its outlines are traced by the elegantly ordered networks of allitera- 
tion, “coincidences,” narrative “inconsistencies,” lepidopterological refer- 
ences, “cryptocolors,” and shadows and glimpses of Quilty. 

Chapter 9 

35/1 charming ... chap: the cascade of alliterations in this paragraph, sc 
carefully controlled, underscores the significance of Who's Who, as doe; 
a remark on the next page (36/3). Compare the often comic alliteration; 
of Lolita with the stately and sonorous effects achieved in Speak, Memory 
(as in the opening and closing paragraphs of Chapter Six). 

35/2 Pierre Point in Melville Sound: H.H.’s invention, from Pierre (1852) 
by Herman Melville (1819-1891). 

36/1 gremlin: a mischievous little gnome reported by World War II air- 
men as causing mechanical trouble in airplanes. “Drumlins” (bottom oi 
p. 35) is H.H.’s diminutive of drum. 

36/2 kremlin: the name of the governing center of Russia completes thi; 
sequence of phonological pairings. The best example is found in Pale 
Fire (note to line 803). Nabokov continually manipulates the basic lin- 
guistic devices — auditory, morphological, and alphabetical, the latter most 
conspicuously. In Pale Fire, Zemblan is “the tongue of the mirror” (p 
242); and the fragmentation or total annihilation of the self reverberate; 
in the verbal distortions in Bend Sinister'^ police state, “where everybody 
is merely an anagram of everybody else,” as well as in the alphabetical 
and psychic inversions and reversals of Pale Fire — such as Botkin-Kinbott 
and the Index references to W^ord Golf and “Sudarg of Bokay, a mirroi 
maker of genius,” the latter an anagrammatic reflection and poetic de- 
scription of omnipresent death, represented in Pale Fire by the Zemblar 

[ 35 ^ ] 


assassin J[y]akob Gradus, who throws his shadow across the entire novel, 
I its creations, creator, and readers. 

6/3 The reader will regret to learn . . .1 had another bout with insanity: 
'• H.H. is right, readers do regret to hear this from a narrator; and H.H. 
' virtually encloses his narrative within reminders of this “unreliability,” 
' for, toward the end (p. 257), he casually says he retired to another sana- 
' torium (“I felt I was merely losing contact with reality” [merely ! — 
A.A.]). Several of Nabokov’s narrators are mad. Among other things, 
■ their madness functions as a parody of critical dogma about fiction, and a 
telling parody of the reader’s own delusory “contact with reality.” Of 
course H.H.’s is not a credible point of view in the terms laid down by 
' Henry James, refined by Percy Lubbock, put into practice by Ford Ma- 
* dox Ford and Joseph Conrad, institutionalized by two generations of crit- 
' ics, and enforced by thousands of creative writing instructors — and the 
involuted, patterned surface of Lolita makes this even clearer. H.H.’s copy 
of Who'’s Who and QuUty’s “cryptogrammic paper chase” (pp. 252-253), 
the two most important concentrations of authorial inlays, typical in 
method and effect, are thus symmetrically located at the beginning and 
near the end of the novel, almost next to those declarations of insanity 
which seem to frame it, though these symmetries cannot hope to be as 
exact as the one formed by the first and final words of the novel (“Lo- 
' lita”). See Notes 53/1 through 54/3 for another concentration of involu- 

Chapter 10 

7/1 patients . . . had witnessed their own conception: Nabokov’s attacks 
! on Freud are consistent. Kinbote includes in his Commentary lines deleted 
I in the draft of the poem Pale Fire: 

* ... Your modern architect 

1' Is in collusion with psychanalysts: 

When planning parents’ bedrooms, he insists 
' On lockless doors so that, when looking back. 

The future patient of the future quack 
; May find, all set for him, the Primal Scene, [p. 94] 

■ In Speak, Memory, Nabokov similarly “reiect[s] completely the vulgar, 
' shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with its crankish quest 
‘for sexual symbols (something like searching for Baconian acrostics in 
I Shakespeare’s works) and its bitter little embryos spying, from their 
' natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents” (p. 20); while in Ada 

: [ 353 ] 



he notes the “pale pencil which poor [public] speakers are obsessed wit 
in familiar dreams (attributed by Dr. Froid of Signy-Mondieu-Mondie 
to the dreamer’s having read in infancy his adulterous parents’ love le 
ters)” (p. 549). For Freud, see 7/6. 

37/2 Humbertish: H.H.’s coinage; after any language ending in the -h 
suffix (Finnish, English, Lettish). 

37/3 house . . . burned dow?7: Nabokov omitted from the last draft of Loli 
a hilarious scene describing H.H.’s arrival by taxi at the charred-out, b( 
puddled, roped-off ruins of the McCoo residence. A large crowd aj 
plauds H.H. as he grandly alights from the cab; only an encycloped 
has survived the holocaust. He recognizes that the lost opportunity 1 
coach “the enigmatic [McCoo] nymphet” is no loss at all (see p. 43 
Nabokov reinstated the scene in his screenplay of Lolita, but directc 
Stanley Kubrick dropped it from the final version. It eventually will f 
seen when Nabokov publishes the complete original screenplay, a “pro 
ect I have been nursing for some time,” he says. “Although there are ju 
enough borrowings from it in [Kubrick’s] version to justify my leg, 
position as author of the script, the final product is only a blurred skimp 
glimpse of the marvelous picture I imagined and set down scene by seer 
during the six months I worked in a Los Angeles villa. I do not wis 
to imply that Kubrick’s film is mediocre; in its own right, it is first-rat 
but it is not what I wrote. A tinge of poshlost [see Introduction, pp. xlix 
1] is often given by the cinema to the novel it distorts and coarsens in i 
crooked glass. Kubrick, I think, avoided this fault in his version, but 
shall never understand why he did not follow my directions and dream, 
It is a great pity; but at least I shall be able to have people read m 
Lolita play in its original form” (Paris Review interview, 1967). Speakin 
more positively three years earlier, Nabokov said, “The four main acto 
deserve the very highest praise. Sue Lyon bringing that breakfast tra 
or childishly pulling on her sweater in the car — these are moments c 
unforgettable acting and directing. The killing of Quilty [Peter Sellers 
is a masterpiece, and so is the death of Mrs. Haze [Shelley WinteT 
James Mason was H.H.]. I must point out, though, that I had nothin 
to do with the actual production. If I had, I might have insisted 0 
stressing certain things that were not stressed — for example, the differei 
motels at which they stopped” (Playboy interview). The highways an 
motels were so little in evidence because the film, released in 1962, w; 
shot in England. 

37/4 ^42: for “coincidences,” see 120/3 250/2- , 

38/ 1 suburban dog: a foreshadowing of Charlotte Haze’s death, for M 
[ 354 ] 


Beale will run over her when he swerves to avoid hitting what may well 

' be this dog (see p. 104). See also Keys, p. 6. 

38/2 van Gogh: the “Arlesienne” (1888) is a famous portrait of a woman 
from the town of Arles in Provence, by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). 
Mass-produced reproductions of it are quite popular in America. H.H.’s 
low opinion of van Gogh is shared by other Nabokov characters. In 
Pnin, the art teacher Lake thinks “That van Gogh is second-rate and 
Picasso supreme, despite his commercial foibles” (p. 96); and Victor 
Wind acknowledges “with a nod of ironic recognition” a framed repro- 
duction of van Gogh’s “La Berceuse” (p. 108). 

39/1 Marlene Dietrich: see 11/4. Also pp. 53 and 103. 

40/ 1 Rene Prinet: “The Kreutzer Sonata” was dedicated by Beethoven to 
Rodolphe Kreutzer in 1805 (Nabokov intends no allusion to Tolstoy’s 
story of that name). Prinet’s painting (1898) today illustrates the Tabu 
perfume advertisement, often found in The New Yorker and chic ladies’ 
magazines. It shows, in Nabokov’s words, an “ill-groomed girl pianist 
rising like a wave from her stool after completing the duo, and being 
kissed by a hirsute violinist. Very unappetizing and clammy, but has 
‘camp’ charm.” 

41/ 1 Riviera love... over dark glasses: the confluence of sunglasses and 
H.H.’s Riviera love suggest that H.H. has stumbled upon a veritable 
Lost-and-Found Department (see 15/3). 

41/2 fairy-tale: see 18/6 and 33/3. 

41/3 “Roches Roses'\ the “red rocks” of p. 15. See 58/1. Both H.H.’s and 
Poe’s “Annabel Lee” are alluded to on this and the next page. 

42/1 nouvelle: French; new one. For “this Lolita, my Lolita, see 47/ 1. 

42/2 rtmmmery: the performance of an actor in a dumb show; muinmer 
is obsolete slang for a play-actor. 

42/3 fruit vert: “green fruit”; French (dated) slang for “‘unripe’ females 
attractive to ripe gentlemen,” notes Nabokov. 

42/4 Au fond, ga m'est bien egal: French; “Really, I don’t care at all.” 

Chapter 11 

42/5 en escalier: set-up in an oblique typography; French for “staircase 

[ 355 ] 


42/6 Blank ... Blafikton, Mass.: there is no such town. The “blanks” mak( 
fun of the “authenticity” of the pages of both the diary and the entin 
novel, H.H.’s “photographic memory” notwithstanding. Thus Lolita’; 
parodic design also includes the literary journal or diary. Nabokov re- 
gards with profound skepticism the possibilities of complete autobio- 
graphical revelation. When Fyodor shaves himself in The Gift, “A palt 
self-portrait looked out of the mirror with the serious eyes of all self- 
portraits” (p. 120); Nabokov does not abide such portraits. “Manifolc 
self-awareness” (as he calls it in Speak, Memory) is not to be achievec 
through solemn introspection, certainly not through the diarist’s com- 
pulsive egotism, candid but totally self-conscious self-analysis, carefully 
created “honesty,” willful irony, and studied self-deprecation. Nabokov 
has been burlesquing the literary diary since as far back as 1934. Neai 
the end of Despair, Hermann’s first-person narrative “degenerates intc 
a diary” — “the lowest form of literature” (p. 218) — and this early parody 
is fully realized in Lolita, especially in the present chapter. For more or 
the confessional mode, see 72/ 3. 

42/7 phoenix: a legendary bird represented by the ancient Egyptians as liv- 
ing for five or six centuries, being consumed in fire by its own act, and 
then rising from its ashes; an emblem of resurrection and immortality. 

43/1 sebum: the material secreted by the sebaceous glands. 

43/2 Humbert le Bel: Humbert the Fair; a kingly epithet (e.g., Charles le 
Bel of France). 

44/1 entree: appearance on a stage; grand entrance. 

44/2 favonian: of or pertaining to the west wind; thus, gentle. 

44/3 phocine: pertaining to the zoological sub-family which includes the 
common seal, the image against which H.H. measures “the seaside of 
[Lolita’s] schoolgirl thighs” — an allusion to the lost “kingdom” of Anna- 
bel (see 1 1/2). 

44/4 Priap: son of Dionysus and Aphrodite, Priapus was the Greco-Romar 
god of procreation and fertility, usually portrayed in a manly state. Alsc 
mentioned on pp. 161, 239, and less mythically, on p. 215. See 11/5. 

44/5 predator . . . prey: H.H. often characterizes himself as a predator, most 
often as an ape or spider (prominent among the butterfly’s natural ene- 
mies). For further discussion, see my 1967 Wisconsin Studies article, op': 
cit., pp. 222 and 228. 

45/1 stippled: engraved, by means of dots rather than lines; in painting. 

[ 356 ] 


refers to the use of small touches which coalesce to produce gradations 
of light and shade. See 286/2. 

1.5/2 Delectatio morosa . . . dolors: Latin; morose pleasure, a monastic term. 
In the next sentence, as on p. 55, H.H. toys with the Latin etymology 
of “Dolores” (see 11/5). 

^5/3 Our Glass Lake: see 83/2. 

1.5/4 nacreous: having a pearly iridescence. 

35/5 Virginia ... Edgar: Poe was born January 19, 1809. He was therefore 
twenty-seven when in 1836 he married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Vir- 
ginia Clemm, who died of a lingering disease in 1847. She was the in- 
spiration for many of his poems. For his first conjugal night with Lolita, 
H.H. appropriately registers as “Edgar” (see 120/2). He also employs 
the name on pp. 77 and 191 (see also Keys, p. 37). For a summary of the 
Poe allusions, see 11/2. 

35/6 Je ni'imagine cela: French; 1 can imagine that. 

^5/7 “Monsieur Poe-poe": H.H. puns on “poet,” but the schoolboy had in 
mind “popo" (or “popotin"), French slang for the posterior. 

^5/8 resemble . . . actor chap: Clare Quilty. They do resemble one another. 
For a summary of Quilty allusions, see 33/9. 

^5/9 nictating: rare; winking. 

136/1 “ne montrez pas vos zhambes”: French; “don’t show your legs” 
(jambes is misspelled to indicate an American accent). See 19 1/2. 

36/ 2 a mes heures: French; when in the right mood. 

37/ 1 the writer's ancient lust: H.H. sees himself in a line descending from 
the great Roman love poets, and he frequently imitates their locutions. 
The intonational stresses of “this Lolita, my Lolita” are borrowed from 
a donnish English translation of a Latin poem (see pp. 42, 67-68, 153, 
279, 280, 295). H.H.’s “ancient” models include Propertius (c. 50-16 
B.c.) on Cynthia, Tibullus (c. 55-19 b.c.) on Delia, and Horace (65- 
8 B.c.) on any of the sixteen women to whom he wrote poems. See 194/ 2. 

37/2 Our Glass Lake: a “mistake”; see 83/2. 

37/3 “Little Carmen": a pun: little [trainjmen, or “Dwarf Conductors” 
(see also Keys, p. 1440). The allusions to Carmen have nothing to do 
with Bizet’s opera. They refer only to the novella ( 1 845 ) by Prosper 
Merimee (1803-1870). For a pun on his name, see 253/7. Like H.H., 

[ 357 ] 


Jose Lizzarrabengoa, Carmen’s abandoned and ill-fated lover (see 241/3), 
tells his story from prison (but not until the third chapter, when the 
narrative frame is withdrawn). The story of love, loss, and revenge is 
appropriate. The Carmen allusions also serve as a trap for the sophisti- 
cated reader who is misled into believing that H.H., like Jose, will mur- 
der his treacherous Carmen; see p. 282, where H.H. springs the trap, 
H.H. quotes Merimee (245/4, ^80/2, 280/4) ^^d frequently calls Lolita 
“Carmen,” the traditional name of a bewitching woman (pp. 61, 62, 63. 
244-245, 253, 258, 280, 282). Carl R. Proffer discusses the Carmen allu- 
sions in Keys, pp. 45-53. In Latin, carmen means song, poetry, and charm,. 
“My charmin’, my Carmen,” says H.H. (p. 62), thus demonstrating that 
he knows its etymology and original English meaning: the chanting of 
a verse having magic power; “to bewitch, enchant, subdue by magic 
power.” See 18/6. H.H. calls himself “an enchanted hunter,” takes Lolita 
to the hotel of that name, speaks of an “enchanted island of time” (p. 
20), and so forth. Nabokov told his lecture classes at Cornell that a great 
writer was at once a storyteller, a teacher, and, most supremely, an en- 
chanter. See 1 10/2. 

47/4 I shot . . . said: Ah!: a prevision of Quilty’s death; see 89/ 1 and 305/ 1 

48/1 Fishy: “Pixie”; see 33/3. The town is invented. Also means “moth’ 
in rural England. For entomological allusions, see 8/1. 

49/1 le mot juste: French; the right word; a phrase made famous by the 
French novelist Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), who often took a week 
to find le mot juste. For other allusions to Flaubert, see 147 / 3 , 204/2, and 

49/2 Ronsard's ‘da vermeillette fente": Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), the 
greatest poet of the French Renaissance. H.H. alludes to a sonnet entitled 
L.M.F., and its first line, “Je te salue, 0 vermeillette fante” {“jente" is 
the modern spelling): “I salute [or hail] you, oh little red slit” {“Blaso% 
du sexe jeminin,'’’ Edition Pleiade, II, 775). A “blason" is a short poen" 
in praise or criticism of a certain subject. For another allusion to Ron- 
sard, see 216/1. During his emigre period in Germany in the ’twenties 
and early ’thirties, Nabokov published Russian translations of many of 
the writers alluded to by H.H., including Ronsard, Verlaine, Byron 
Keats, Baudelaire, Shakespeare, Rimbaud, Goethe, Pushkin, Carroll, anc 
Romain Rolland. 

49/3 Remy Belleau's “un petit ... escarlatte”: Belleau (1528-1577), Ron- 
sard’s colleague in the Pleiade group, also writes a “blason" in praise of 

[ 358 ] 


the external female genitalia; “the hillock velveted with delicate moss, / 
traced in the middle with a little scarlet thread [labia].” For obvious 
reasons, the poem is rarely anthologized and is difficult to find. It ap- 
pears in the Leyden reprint (1865) of the rare anthology Recueil de 
pieces choisies rassernblees par les sows du cosmopolite, due d’Aiguillon, 
ed. (1735). The Cornell Library owns a copy, notes Nabokov. 

j/4 of my darling ... my bride: line 39 of Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” See 11/2 
for the poem. 

p/5 Mystery of the Menarche: the menarche is the initial menstrual period. 
In Ireland it is called “The Curse of the Irish.” 

p/6 kill in my dreams: another prevision of Quilty’s death scene; see p. 

o/i toothbrush mustache: Quilty has one too; see p. 220. Poe also had 
one, but Nabokov says that no allusion is intended here. 

0/2 ape-ear: H.H. several times characterizes himself this way. See p. 
313 for a most resonant ape image. 

1/ 1 Ces matins gris si doux: French; “Those gray mornings, so soft . . .” 

2/1 rumor, roomer: a homophone. In The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 
the narrator speaks of “mad Sebastian, struggling in a naughty world of 
Juggernauts, and aeronauts, and naughts, and what-nots” (p. 65). 

2/2 Is it Fate: “McFate” is quietly introduced; see 54/3 and 58/1. 

2/ 3 “And behold’’’': Lolita completes her mother’s “Lo,” and H.H. later 
twists the epithet (225/4). 

3/ 1 her class at . . . school: in Pnin, young Victor Wind sees in the glass 
headlight or chrome plating of a car “a view of the street and himself 
comparable to the microcosmic version of a room (with a dorsal view 
of diminutive people) in that very special and very magical small con- 
vex mirror that, half a millennium ago. Van Eyck and Petrus Chrisms 
and Memling used to paint into their detailed interiors, behind the sour 
merchant or the domestic madonna” (pp. 97-98). Like Who’’s Who in 
the Limelight (pp. 33-34) and the “cryptogrammic paper chase” (pp. 
252-253), the “poetic” class list serves as a kind of magical mirror. The 
list is printed on the back of an unfinished map of the U.S., drawn by 
Lolita, suggesting the scale of the gameboard on which the action is 
played. The image of the map secreted in the Young People’s Encyclo- 

[ 359 ] 


pedia prefigures their journeys (on which H.H. will “finish” the map 
by showing Lolita the country), just as the class list prefigures and mir- 
rors an extraordinary number of other things. 

53/2 Beale: the Beales’ father kills Charlotte Haze (p. loo), and they arei 
the first of no less than four sets of twins in Lolita’s class (the Cowans, 
the Talbots, and the incestuous Mirandas [see p. 138]), a microscopic, 
vision of the doubling (H.H. and Quilty) and mirroring that occurs in j 
the roomy interior of the entire book (including Ray’s Foreword), 
where even cars have their twins (p. 229); “the long hairy arm of 
coincidence” is said to have its unpredictable “twin limb” (p. 107); and 1 
obscure women of science mirror one another in spite of the almost ' 
300 pages separating them (Blanche Schwarzmann: “White Blackman,” 
and Melanie Weiss: “Black White”; see p. 304). ; 

Double names, initials, and phonetic effects prevail throughout Lolita, 
whether the twinning is literal (Humbert Humbert, Vanessa van Ness, 
Quilty’s Duk Duk Ranch, and H.H.’s alternate pseudonyms of “Otto ' 
Otto,” “Mesmer Mesmer,” and “Lambert Lambert”); or alliterative 
(Clare Quilty, Gaston Godin, Harold Haze, Bill Brown, and Clarence; 
[Choate] Clark); or trickily alphabetical (John Ray, Jr.: J.R., Jr.). The 
double consonants of the almost infinite succession of humorously al- 
literative place names and points of interest H.H. visits are thus the- 
matically consistent (Pierre Point, Hobby House, Hazy Hills, Kumfy , 
Kabins, Raspberry Room, Chestnut Court, and so forth). Numbers even 
adhere to the pattern; H.H. imagines Lolita’s unborn child “dreaming 
already in her of becoming a big shot and retiring around 2020 a.d.” (p. 
279). The name of “Harold D. Doublename” represents a summary 
phrase (p. 184), but the annotator’s double initials are only a happy 
coincidence. For more on mirrors, see 12 1/2. | 

53/3 Carmine, Rose: see 58/1. 

54/ 1 Falter: German; butterfly — and a companion of “Miss Phalen” 
(phalene: moth [58/2]) and the playwright “Schmetterling” (butterfly; 
[303/5]). For a summary of the entomological allusions, see 8/1. 

54/2 Fantasia: a corrected misprint {s instead of z in the 1958 edition).! 
She is married on p. 291 (the “Murphy-Fantasia” wedding party). 

54/3 McFate, Aubrey: a vagrant auditor, rather than a member of the; 
class (see 58/1), though the reader may not realize it for four more' 

pages. McFate’s appearance in the middle of the class list undercuts the 
inviolable “reality” of much more than just the list. By placing the ; 
McFate allusions back-to-back on pp. 54 and 58, Nabokov gives the 1 

[ 360 ] 


reader a fighting chance to make the association, and to realize its im- 
j plications. It would be “easier” on the reader, of course, if the class list 
> came after p. 58 (notes 253/1 and 255/1 limn similar effects). McFate’s 
I first name suggests Aubrey Beardsley (see 253/5), the “decadent” Art 
’ Nouveau artist (1872-1898) quite out of fashion when Lolita was writ- 

I ten, and reveals another mother lode of verbal figurations: the invented 
town of “Beardsley,” its school and college, and Gaston Godin (see 

, 54/4 Windmuller: Louise and her father appear on p. 6; he on p. 292. 

i 54/ 5 bodyguard of roses: classmates “Rose” and “Rosaline” serve as Lolita’s 
rosy page-girls. The rose is of course the flower traditionally associated 
j with gems, decorations, wine, perfume, and women of great charm and / 
‘ or virtue. Lolita is continually linked with the flower. See 58/1. See also 
Keys, p. 1 18. 

55/ 1 Is “mask” the keyword?: yes, because the masked author has just been 
mirrored, as it were, in the class list; see the Introduction and Chapter 
Twenty-six (iii/i). 

55/2 charshaf: a veil worn by Turkish women. 

' 55 / 3 Irving: the reader may wonder why H.H. is sorry for “Flashman, 
Irving” (p. 54). “Poor Irving,” says Nabokov, “he is the only Jew among 
all those Gentiles.” See 263/4. 

55/4 ullulations: or ululation; a loud, mournful, rhythmical howl. 

55/5 ribald sea monsters: the intrusive bearded bathers of p. 15. “Annabel” 
and H.H.’s seasickness refers to Poe’s poem. See 11/2. 

55/6 “Mais allez-y, allez-y!”: French; “But go ahead, go!” 

56/1 Dr. Blanche Schwarzmann: mentioned by John Ray. See 7/3. 

56/ 2 libidream: H.H.’s portmanteau of “libido” and “dream.” 

56/3 Dorsal: belonging to, or situated on or near the back of an animal. 

57/1 manege: French; tactics. 

Chapter 12 

, 57/ 2 pederosis: H.H.’s description of his condition. Although rare, the 
term exists; from the Greek paid-, meaning “child,” plus erds, “sexual 
love” (akin to erasthai: “to love, desire ardently”), plus Latin suffix, 

[ 361 ] 


from Greek, -osis, an “abnormal or diseased condition” (e.g., sclerosis). 
Pedophilia is the more common word for H.H.’s malaise. 

58/ 1 Aubrey McFate . . . devil of mine: the devilish “force” responsible for ; 
H.H.’s misfortunes is invoked on pp. 54, 109, 118, 212, 213, 258. When 
H.H. perceives Quilty — the worst aspect of his McFate — as a “red-beast” 
or “red fiend,” Nabokov is parodying that archetypal Double, the Devil. | 
Red is Quilty ’s color, just as rose is associated with Annabel (41/3) and | 
Lolita; her classmate’s name, “Rose Carmine” (p. 53), defines the two j 
motifs nicely. Its significance, however, has nothing to do with “sym- 
bolism”; the red and rose stipplings are the work of the author, rather 
than McFate, and add some vivid touches of color to the anthemion (see ' 
34/7). Once pointed out, the color motif need not be identified further; ^ 
but the reader is reminded again that Nabokov is no “symbolist.” After i 
reading the first draft of these Notes, Nabokov thought that this point 
had not been made clear enough, and, moved too by the annotator’s 
loose play with some “red” images, wrote the following for my informa- | 
tion, under the heading “A Note about Symbols and Colors re ‘Anno- : 
rated Lolita.' ” It is included here because I think it is one of the most \ 

significant statements Nabokov has made about his own art. He writes: i 


There exist novelists and poets, and ecclesiastic writers, who de- 
liberately use color terms, or numbers, in a strictly symbolic sense. 
The type of writer 1 am, half-painter, half-naturalist, finds the use 
of symbols hateful because it substitutes a dead general idea for a 
live specific impression. I am therefore puzzled and distressed by 
the significance you lend to the general idea of “red” in my book. 
When the intellect limits itself to the general notion, or primitive 
notion, of a certain color it deprives the senses of its shades. In dif- 
ferent languages different colors were used in a general sense before 
shades were distinguished. (In French, for example, the “redness” of 
hair is now expressed by “roux" meaning rufous, or russet, or fulvous 
with a reddish cast.) For me the shades, or rather colors, of, say, 
a fox, a ruby, a carrot, a pink rose, a dark cherry, a flushed cheek, 
are as different as blue is from green or the royal purple of blood 
(Fr. “pourpre") from the English sense of violet blue. I think your 
students, your readers, should be taught to see things, to discriminate 
between visual shades as the author does, and not to lump them un- 
der such arbitrary labels as “red” (using it, moreover, as a sexual sym- 
bol, though actually the dominant shades in males are mauve — to 
bright blue, in certain monkeys). ... Roses may be white, and even ' 
black-red. Only cartoonists, having three colors at their disposal, use 
red for hair, cheek and blood. 

See 223/2 for further remarks on color. 

[ 362 ] 


58/2 Miss Phalen: from the French phalene: moth. For the entomological 
allusions, see 8/ 1. 

Chapter 13 

6i/i friable: easily crumbled or pulverized. 

61/2 parkled: H.H.’s coinage. 

62/1 safely solipsized: see 14/2. An important phrase (see second half of 
18/6). The verbal form of solipsist is of course H.H.’s coinage — a most 
significant portmanteau suggesting that Lolita has been reduced in more 
than size, as H.H. comes to realize. 

62/2 corpuscles of Krause: after the German anatomist: minute sensory 
particles occurring in the mucous membranes of the genitalia. An au- 
thor’s error has been corrected (r in Krause instead of z in the 1958 

62/ 3 seraglio: the portion of a Moslem house reserved for the wives and 

64/ 1 Drew his .52; the revenge murder of Lolita which doesn't take place; 
see p. 282. 

Chapter 14 

64/2 loan God: from a cultural sequence (e.g., Greek-Roman, Hebrew- 
Christian); “lone” in the paperback edition, and thus an “existential 
image” to one critic. 

65/1 Dr. Quilty: the “playwright” is his nephew (or cousin), Clare Quilty. 
For a summary of Quilty allusions, see 33/9. 

66/1 Shirley Holmes: after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s (1859-1930) famous 
detective hero, Sherlock Holmes (see 252/5). Between the ages of ten 
and fifteen, Nabokov was a Holmes devotee. That enthusiasm has faded, 
though traces remain. “I spent a poor night in a charming, airy, prettily 
furnished room where neither window nor door closed properly, and 
where an omnibus edition of Sherlock Holmes which had pursued me for 
years supported a bedside lamp,” writes the narrator of Fnin, at the end 
of the novel (p. 190). The narrator of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight 
“use[s] an old Sherlock Holmes stratagem” (p. 153); and, in Despair, 
Hermann addresses Conan Doyle directly: “What an opportunity, what 

[ 363 ] 


a subject you missed! For you could have written one last tale conclud- 
ing the whole Sherlock Holmes epic; one last episode beautifully setting 
off the rest; the murderer in that tale should have turned out to be 
not the one-legged bookkeeper, not the Chinaman Ching and not the 
woman in crimson, but the very chronicler of the crime stories. Dr. 
Watson himself — Watson, who, so to speak, knew what was Whatson. 
A staggering surprise for the reader” (pp. 1 31-132) — and a figurative 
description of several of Nabokov’s own narrative strategies. “Was he 
in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose / Tracks pointed back when he 
reversed his shoes?” wonders John Shade in Canto One of Fale Fire 
(lines 27-28). After identifying Holmes in the Commentary, Kinbote 
says he “suspect [s] that our poet simply made up this Case of the Re- 
versed Footprints” (p. 78). Right or wrong, his suspicion summarizes 
the way that Nabokov frequently parodies and transmutes the methods 
and themes of that genre, just as “Shirley Holmes” is a jocular reminder 
that Lolita is, among other things, a kind of mystery story demanding 
a considerable amount of armchair detection. See the remarks on Poe 
and the detective story, 11/2. For the penultimate moment in this “tale of 
ratiocination,” see 274/1; and for a telling allusion to Holmes, drawn 
from The Defense, see 274/2. 

Chapter 15 

66/2 Camp Q: “Cue” is Quilty’s nickname. “The ‘Q,’ ” notes Nabokov, 
“had to be changed to ‘Kilt’ in the French translation because of the 
awful pun, Q = cuir 

66/ T, Botticellian pink: Sandro Botticelli (1444 or 1445-15 10), master of 
the early Italian Renaissance, known for his tender renderings of sensual 
but melancholy femininity. That pink is most manifest in the vision of 
the three graces in his painting “Primavera,” while the “wet, matted eye- 
lashes” suggest his famous “The Birth of Venus,” which H.H. invokes 
on pp. 272 and 276. 

67/1 her coccyx: the end of the vertebral column. 

67/2 iliac: anatomical word; pertaining to the ilium, “the dorsal and upper 
one of the three bones composing either lateral half of the pelvis.” 

68/1 Catullus .. .forever: Gains Valerius Catullus (c. 84-54 b.c.), Roman 
lyric, erotic, and epigrammatic poet. H.H.’s ‘‘^that Lolita, my Lolita” 
(p. 67) echoes Catullus’ evocation of his enchanting Lesbia, as well as 
imitations such as “My sweetest Lesbia” (1601), by Thomas Campion 
(1567-1620), English poet. See 47/1 and 153/1- 

[ 364 ] 


68/2 D.P.: during and shortly after World War II, refugees were officially 
described as “Displaced Persons”; hence “D.P.”s. 

68/3 Berthe au Grand Pied: Bertha (or Bertrade) with the Big Feet (or 
Bigfoot Bertha); the epithet is not pejorative. A French historical figure 
(d. 783), she was Pepin le Bref’s wife and Charlemagne’s mother, and is 
alluded to by Francois Villon in his ballad with the refrain ‘^Mais ou 
sont les neiges d'antan?'’’ 

68/4 mais rien: French; but nothing. 

Chapter 16 

69/1 mon cher, cher monsieur: French; my dear, dear sir. 

69/2 Departez: the wrong French for “leave!” Correct: Partez! 

70/ 1 cheri: French; darling. 

70/2 mon tres, tres cher: French; my very, very dear. 

71/ 1 Morell: Thomas Morell (1703-1784), an English classical scholar, 
wrote the song “See the Conquering Hero Comes.” George Frederick 
Handel (1685-1759) used it in his oratorios Joshua and Judas Maccabeus. 
Sung by a Chorus of Youths in Joshua, it begins, “See the conquering hero 
comes! Sound the trumpet, beat the drums” (Act III, scene 2). It was 
also used in later versions of Nathaniel Lee’s (1653-1692) tragedy. The 
Rival Queens (1677), ^^d is quoted in Joyce’s Ulysses in reference to 
Molly’s seducer. Blazes Boylan (1961 Random House edition, p. 264). 
It is apt that the “conquering hero” should be above Quilty’s picture, 
since that motto predicts his victory. For Joyce, see 6/1 1. 

71/2 A distinguished playwright .. .Drome: Quilty. A dromedary is a 
one-humped camel, and H.H. is both playing with the familiar brand 
name and correcting the manufacturer’s error: the beast on the cigarette 
wrapper is not a camel, stricdy speaking. H.H.’s aside, “The resemblance 
was slight,” refers to 45/8, where he is said to resemble Quilty. Note, 
too, that “Lo’s chaste bed” is under Quilty. See 33/9 for a summary of 
Quilty allusions. 

Chapter 17 

72/ 1 pavor nocturnus: Latin; night panic. Quilty lives in “Pavor Manor” 
(p. 295). 

72/ 2 peine forte et dure: French; strong and hard torture. 

[ 3*55 ] 


72/3 Dostoevskian grin: Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), the famous Rus- 
sian novelist, has long been one of Nabokov’s primary targets. In the 
Playboy interview he says, “Non-Russian readers do not realize two 
things; that not all Russians love Dostoevsky as much as Americans do, 
and that most of those Russians who do, venerate him as a mystic and 
not as an artist. He was a prophet, a claptrap journalist and a slapdash 
comedian. I admiit that some of his scenes, some of his tremendous, farci- 
cal rows are extraordinarily amusing. But his sensitive murderers and 
soulful prostitutes are not to be endured for one moment — by this reader 
anyway.” “Heart-to-heart talks, confessions in the Dostoevskian manner 
are also not in my line,” he writes in Speak, Memory (p. 284). But H.H. 
is the ultimate in “sensitive murderers,” and by casting his tale as a “con- 
fession,” Nabokov lets Dostoevsky lay down the rules and then beats 
“old Dusty” at his own game. See 42/6 for remarks on another conven- 
tion allied with the confession- — the literary diary. 

72/4 Well-read Humbert: the lines he quotes are from Canto III, stanza 
1 16 of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812, 1816, 1818), by George Gordon, 
Lord Byron (1788-1824), English poet. These lines occur almost at the 
end of the Canto (lines io8o-io8i), and are addressed to Ada, Harold’s 
absent daughter. Byron was in Italy at this time, estranged from the 
wife he had married for the sake of tranquility and respectability — a ges- 
ture H.H. would no doubt appreciate, as he would sympathize with the 
difficulties occasioned by the amorous poet’s incestuous relationship with 
his half sister. Dr. Byron is the Haze family physician, and he too has 
a daughter (see 96/2). But, as an unwitting accomplice to a seduction, 
he belies his name, for the sleeping pills he dispenses prove ineffective 
at The Enchanted Hunters hotel (see p. 130). Byron’s works and Byron’s 
Augusta Ada, a gifted girl in her own right, resonate in Nabokov’s latest 
novel, as does the “Byronic” (and Chateaubriandesque) theme of incest; 
Ada Veen even has a bit part in a film called Don Juan's Last Fling. Na- 
bokov’s deep knowledge of Byron is made evident throughout his Eugene 
Onegin Commentary (see the “Byron” entry in the Index, Vol. IV). 

72/5 Charlotte: the name of Werther’s tragic love in The Sorrows of 
Young Werther (1774), by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). 
The choice of a name is clearly ironic, since Goethe’s Charlotte marries 
another. Weepy Werther, an artist of sorts, remains hopelessly in love 
with her and eventually takes his own life. “A faded charm still clings 
about this novel, which artistically is greatly inferior to Chateaubriand’s 
Rene and even to Constant’s Adolphe," writes Nabokov in his Eugene 
Onegin Commentary (Vol. II, p. 345). See 78/1. Goethe is also invoked 
on 242/2. For Chateaubriand, see 147/4. 

[ 366 ] 

NOTES FOR PAGES ~j 2 -’}’] 

"ji /6 quel mot: French; what a word. 

73/ 1 incubus: an evil spirit or demon, originally in personified representa- 
tions of the nightmare, supposed to descend upon persons in their sleep, 
and especially to seek sexual intercourse with women. In the Middle Ages 
their existence was recognized by ecclesiastical and civil law. The epithet 
“Humbert the Cubus” is of course his own variant. For more on enchant- 
ments, see 18/6. 

73/2 mauvemail: H.H.’s coinage; mauve is pale pinkish purple. 

74/1 “Tfie orange ... grave’'': a parody of a “poetic” quotation. 

74/2 raree-show, a show carried about in a box; a peep show. 

74/3 Une petite attention: a nice thought (a favor). 

75/ 1 Incarnadine: flesh-colored or bright pink. This word appears in a 
stanza from The Rubaiyat; see 264/8. 

75/2 eructations: violent belches. 

75/3 by Pan!: H.H.’s “by God!” In Greek mythology, a god of forests, 
flocks, and shepherds, having the horns and hoofs of a goat. 

Chapter 18 

76/1 soi-disant: French; so-called (also used on p. 149). 

-j-j/i a Turk: Charlotte is not quite sure of H.H.’s “racial purity.” Neither 
is Jean Farlow, who intercepts an anti-Semitic remark (p. 81), nor The 
Enchanted Hunters’ management (p. 120). See 260/2 and 263/4. 

77/ 2 contretemps: French; an embarrassing or awkward occurrence. 

77/ 3 rattles: the sound-producing organs on a rattlesnake’s tail. 

77/4 rubrique: a newspaper section. 

77/5 “EdgaP’ .. ."^writer and explorer’’’: Edgar A. Poe, whose Narrative 
of A. Gordon Pym was the product of an alleged polar expedition (see 
33/5). For the Poe allusions, see 11/2. 

77/6 Peacock, Rainbow: Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), English poet 
and novelist, whose name recalls the “Rainbow,” or Arthur Rimbaud 
(1854-1891), Erench poet. After abandoning literature at the age of 
eighteen, Rimbaud traveled widely. In 1888 in Abyssinia, where he sold 
guns, the English called the ex-poet “trader Rainbow,” as Nabokov notes 

[ 367 ] 


in his Eugene Onegin Commentary (Vol. Ill, p. 412). For further allu- 
sions, see 165/6, 174/1, 252/7, and 280/1. 

78/ 1 Lottelita, LoUtchen: H.H. toys with “Lotte,” a diminutive of “Char- 
lotte,” and discerns Lolita in Lotte (“Lottelita”), which is also a phonetic 
transcription of American idiom and diction (Lot of {Lo~\lita). LoUtchen 
is formed with the German diminutive ending -chen. H.H. no doubt re- 
calls that Goethe’s Werther calls his Charlotte “Lotte” and “Lottchen.” 
See 72/5. 

79/1 ecru and ocher: ecru is a grayish yellow that is greener and paler than 
chamois or old ivory. Ocher is a dark yellow color derived from or re- 
sembling ocher, a hydrated iron oxide. 

80/1 the jovial dentist: Clare Quilty’s Uncle Ivor. Much later H.H. will 
learn from Lolita herself that Quilty met her through this association. 
On p. 274, H.H. recapitulates their confrontation; “Well, did 1 know 
that he was practically an old friend? That he had visited with his 
uncle in Ramsdale? — oh, years ago^ — and spoken at Mother’s club, and 
had tugged and pulled her, Dolly . . . onto his lap . . .” An earlier draft 
of the novel contained Quilty’s appearance before the ladies. See 33/9 
for a summary of his appearances. 

80/2 arriere-pensee: French; hidden thoughts, ulterior motives. 

81/1 interrupted Jean: John is about to say “Jews,” and Jean, suspecting 
that H.H. may be Jewfsh, tactfully interrupts. See 263/4. 

Chapter 19 

83/1 A Guide to . . . Development: the titles H.H. mentions are by turns 
invented (Who's Who in the Limelight [p. 33]; Clowns and Columbines 
[244/1]), actual (the other titles on p. 244; Brute Force [264/4]), 
close approximations of existing works, as in this instance. A plethora 
of actual titles circle about this “fool’s book” (e.g.. Guide to Child De- 
velopment through the Beginning School Years [1946]), and Nabokov 
seems to have created a central, summary title (though the exact title 
may yet exist). See 176/4. 

Chapter 20 

83/2 Hourglass Lake ... spelled: earlier it was “Our Glass Lake” (see 45/3 
and 47/2). H.H. doesn’t correct “errors” in his “unrevised” draft. 

[ 368 ] 


Whether right or wrong, both the names are significant, underscoring 
H.H.’s solipsism (the circumscribing mirror of “our glass”) and obses- 
sion with time (“hourglass”). 

85/1 the gesture: it inspires the mock quotation, “look. Lord . . .” as if to 
demonstrate one’s chains. 

85/ 2 c'est mot qui decide: French; it is I who decide. 

88/ 1 acrosonic: a noise reaching to or past the sonic barrier. It would seem 
to be H.H.’s own word. 

89/1 shooting her lover ... making him say “akh!”: a preview of Quilty’s 
death. See 47/4 and 305/1. He may indeed have been “her lover,” how- 
ever fleetingly; “I knew your dear wife slightly,” Quilty later admits to 
H.H. (p. 304). 

89/2 at first wince: H.H.’s variant of “at first glance.” 

90/1 Krestovski: to give them one kind of scare or another; see 218/1. 

91/1 Cavall and Melampus: the Farlows’ dogs. “Cavall” comes from cavallo 
(a horse), and “Melampus” from the seer in Greek mythology who un- 
derstood the tongue of dogs and introduced the worship of Dionysus. 
More specifically, notes Nabokov, the dogs are named after those of a 
famous person, though he is not certain who owned them. He thinks it 
was Lord Byron, who had many bizarrely named dogs. In any event, 
these allusions are hardly within the cultural reach of the Farlows. 

91/2 Waterproof: the wristwatch. See 274/1, where H.H. offers this inter- 
lude as a central clue to Quilty’s identity. 

91/3 old Ivor ...his nephew: Clare Quilty. For a summary of allusions to 
Quilty, see 33/9. 

Chapter 21 

91/4 “Ce qui . . . comme ga": French; “What drives me crazy is the fact 
that I do not know what you are thinking about when you are like 

92/1 the ultimate sunburst: in Who's Who in the Limelight, “Roland Pym” 
is said to have “Made debut in Sunburst" (see 33/7). 

92/2 Beaver Eaters: a portmanteau of “Beefeaters” (the yeomen of the 
British royal guard ) and their beaver hats. 

[ 369 ] 


Chapter 22 

95/ 1 Euphe?nia: from the Greek euphhnos; auspicious, sounding good. 

96/ 1 olisbos: the leather phallos worn by participants in the Greek Dionysia. 

96/2 child of Dolly's age: “Byron, Marguerite” (see p. 53). For Dr. Byron’s 
namesake, see 72/4. 

Chapter 23 

104/1 savoir vivre: French; good manners, good breeding. 

105/ 1 alembic: anything used to distill or refine. 

105/2 Adieu, Marlene: Dietrich; see 11/4. 

Chapter 24 

106/1 simian: monkey- or apelike. 

Chapter 25 

107/1 Eh bien, pas du tout!: French; Well, not at all! 

107/2 Climax: however broad the joke may be, there happen to be seven 
towns in the United States by this name (as well as a Lolita, Texas). 
Demon Veen, the father of Ada's hero, retreats to his “aunt’s ranch 
near Lolita, Texas” (p. 16), a town which doubtless boasts no bookstore 
or library. 

108/ 1 stylized blood: everything red is “stylized.” 

108/2 argent: archaic; silver, silvery, shining — as in French. 

109/1 Vee ...and Bea: see 45/5 and 21/9. For a summary of Poe allusions, 
see 1 1/2. 

109/2 glans: anatomical word; the conical vascular body which forms the 
extremity of the penis. 

109/3 oolala black: pseudo-French epithet for “sexy” black frills. 

109/4 anthropometric entry: anthropometry is the science of measuring the 
human body and its parts. 

[ 370 ] 


cio/i glaucous: a pale yellowish-green hue. 


[ [10/2 The Enchained Hunters: note the plural (H.H., Quilty, and, in an- 
other sense, the author). For “enchantment,” see 47/3. Quilty names his 
: play after the hotel (pp. 202-204) adapts an anagram of it for one of 
■ his many pseudonyms (253/13); the married Lolita ends up living on 
i “Hunter Road” (p. 270). See also my 1967 Wisconsin Studies article, 
• op. c/i., p. 2 10. 

' Chapter 26 

iii/i Heart, head — everything: “Is ‘mask’ the keyword?” H.H. asked on 
p. 55 (see 6/4). As his narrative approaches the first conjugal night with 
Lolita, H.H. is overcome by anguish, and in the bare six lines of Chapter 
Twenty-six — the shortest “chapter” in the book — he loses control, and 
for a moment the mask drops. Not until the very end of the passage does 
the voice again sound like our Hum the Hummer, when the desperation 
of “Heart, head — everything” suddenly gives way to the resiliently comic 
command to the printer. In that one instant H.H.’s masking takes place 
before the reader, who gets a fleeting look into those “two hypnotic 
eyes” (to quote John Ray [p. 5]) and sees the pain in them. Lolita is 
so deeply moving a novel because of our sharp awareness of the great 
tension sustained between H.H.’s mute despair and his compensatory 
jollity. “Crime and Pun” is one of the titles the murderous narrator of 
Despair considers for his manuscript, and it would serve H.H. just as 
well, for language is as much a defense to him as chess is to Grandmaster 
Luzhin. But even when H.H. lets the mask slip, one glimpses only his 
desperation, not the “real” H.H. or the manipulative author. As Nabokov 
says in Chapter Five of Gogol, analogously discussing Akaky Akakyevich 
and the “holes” and “gaps” in the narrative texture of The Overcoat: “We 
did not expect that, amid the whirling masks, one mask would mrn out 
to be a real face, or at least the place where that face ought to be" 
[italics mine — A.A.]. 

Chapter 27 

1 1 2/1 redheaded .. .lad: Charlie Holmes turns out to be Lolita’s first lover 
(p. 139). 

1 1 2/2 moth or butterfly: a reminder that H.H. is no entomologist. See 8/1. 
Nabokov stresses “Humbert’s complete incapacity to differentiate be- 
tween Rhopalocera and Heterocera.” 

[ 371 ] 


1 1 3/ 1 lentigo: a freckly skin pigmentation. 

1 1 3/2 aux yeux battus: French; with circles round one’s eyes. 

113/3 plumbaceous umbrae: Latin; leaden shadows. 

113/4 rnagdlein: German; little girl. 

114/1 Lepingville ... nineteenth century: as to the “identity” of this poet. 
Nabokov responded, “That poet was evidently Leping who used to go 
lepping (i.e. lepidoptera hunting) but that’s about all anybody knows 
about him.” See 143/1. 

1 1 5/ 1 backfisch: German; an immature, adolescent girl; a teenager. 

1 1 5/2 simulacrum: a sham; an unreal semblance. 

1 15/3 psychotherapist .. .rapist: H.H. calls our attention to the rapist in 
the therapist. Nabokov similarly employs semantic constituents in Des- 
pair, when he poses a sensible question: “What is this jest in majesty? 
This ass in passion?” (p. 56). 

1 1 5/4 what shadow . . . after?: in traditional Doppelgdnger fiction the re- 
prehensible self is often imagined as a shadow, as in Hans Christian 
Andersen’s “The Shadow.” H.H. constantly toys with the convention. 

1 1 6/1 Ensuite?: French; then? 

116/2 shadowgraphs: amateur X-ray pictures. The girls made pictures of 
each other’s bones; not invented, but actual “educational” recreation at 
“progressive” camps c. 1950. 

1 1 7/1 “C’m bien tout?": “Is that all?” The answer “C’eit” (“It is”) is 
incorrect French, a direct translation from English syntax. 

1 1 8/ 1 carbuncles: medical; “a painful local inflammation of the subcu- 
taneous tissue, larger and more serious than a boil; a pimple or red spot, ; 
due to intemperance.” Originally, a jewel such as a ruby. H.H. is of 
course referring to the truck’s parking lights. 

119/1 magic .. .rubious: a corrected misprint (“robous” in the 1958 edi- 
tion). The ruby-like convertible is Quilty’s, a dark red shining in the 
rain and the night. His appearances are summarized in 33/9. 

1 19/2 frock-fold .. .Browning: not a quotation, but an allusion to Pippa 
Passes (1842), a verse drama by Robert Browning,, the English poet 1 
(1812-1889): ’ 

[ 372 ] 


On every side occurred suggestive germs 
Of that — the tree, the flower — or take the fruit — 

Some rosy shape, continuing the peach. 

Curved beewise o’er its bough; as rosy limbs. 

Depending, nestled in the leaves; and just 

From a cleft rose-peach the whole Dryad sprang, [lines 87-92] 

See 209/2. A Dryad is a wood nymph (see 123/2). For nymph, see 18/6. 

119/3 cocker spaniel: the old lady’s dog (p. 120). See 248/1 and 263/4. 

1 19/4 porcine: swinelike; the pig image is introduced in the first sentence 
of the previous paragraph. 

1 20/ 1 not Humber g: H.H. corrects the desk clerk, who has coldly bestowed 
on him a Jewish-sounding name. The hotel is euphemistically restrictive 
(see 263/4). “Professor Hamburg” finds them “full up” (p. 263). 

120/2 Dr. Edgar H. Humbert and daughter: H.H.’s nom de registration 
is in deference to Edgar A. Poe and his child bride (see 45/5). H.H. also 
uses the “Edgar” elsewhere (see 77/5 and 191/3). For the Poe allusions, 
see 1 1/2. 

120/3 although H.H. is trying not to lose control of the 

language, as he did on p. iii, he (or someone else) is here managing to 
tell how H.H. was served by Mr. Swine, who is assisted by Mr. Potts, 
who can’t find any cots, because Swine has dispatched them to the 
Swoons (see 214/2). A “key” to the meaning of this extraordinary verbal 
control is immediately provided by another “coincidence”: the room 
number is the same as the Haze house number. H.H. will shortly offer 
a figurative key by placing the number within quotation marks, which is 
of course the only proper way to treat a fiction (p. 125). “McFate” pro- 
duces “342” once more; see 250/2. Such coincidences serve a two-fold 
purpose: they at once point to the authorial consciousness that has plot- 
ted them, and can also be imagined as coordinates situated in time and 
space, marking the labyrinth from which a character cannot escape. The 
“342” confluence is also discussed in my article, “Nabokov’s Puppet Show 
— Part 11 ,” The New Republic, CL VI (January 21, 1967), 27, included 
above; see Introduction, p. xxvii. 

121/1 Parody of a hotel corridor ... and death: parody to H.H. because 
nothing seems “real” to him on this most crucial of nights; parody to 
Nabokov because the world within a work of art is “unreal” (see Intro- 
duction, ibid.). But to repeat Marianne Moore’s well-known line, poetry 

[ 373 ] 


is “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” and Nabokov’s novel is 
a parody of death with real suffering in it — H.H.’s and Lolita’s. 

1 2 1/2 a mirror: the room is a little prison of mirrors, a metaphor for his 
solipsism and circumscribing obsession. “ ‘So that’s the dead end’ (the 
mirror you break your nose against),” an overwrought H.H. tells Lolita 
after catching her in a lie (p. 227). See 53/2 and 296/2. “In our earthly 
house, windows are replaced by mirrors,” writes Nabokov in The Gift 
(p. 322). His characters continually confront mirrors where they had 
hoped to find windows, and the attempt to transcend solipsism is one of 
Nabokov’s major themes. As a literal image and overriding metaphor, 
the mirror is central to the form and content of Nabokov’s novels; in 
Ada, it describes the universe, for Antiterra’s sibling planet Terra is 
imagined as a “distortive glass of our distorted glebe” (p. 18). If one 
perceives Pale Fire spatially, with John Shade’s poem on the “left” and 
Charles Kinbote’s Commentary on the “right,” the poem is seen as an 
object to be perceived, and the Commentary becomes the world seen 
through the distorting prism of a mind — a monstrous concave mirror 
held up to an objective “reality.” The narrator of Despair loathes mir- 
rors, avoids them, and comments on those “monsters of mirrors,” the 
“crooked ones,” in which a man is stripped, squashed, or “pulled out like 
dough and then torn in two” (p. 31). Nabokov has placed these crooked 
reflectors everywhere in his fiction: Doubles and mock-Doubles, parodies 
and self-parodies (literature trapped in a prison of amusement-park mir- 
rors), works within works, worlds refracting worlds, and words distort- 
ing words — that is, translations (art’s “crazy-mirror,” says Nabokov) 
and language games (see 36/2). Pale Fire's invented language is “the 
tongue of the mirror,” and the portmantoid pun is the principal mirror- 
language of Lolita. See 5/3. 

1 2 1/3 Enfin seuls: French for “alone at last,” the trite phrase of the honey- 

1 2 2/ 1 lentor: archaic; slowness. 

122/2 Spooner ette: a spoonerism is the accidental transposition of sounds in 
two or more words (“wight ray”). By acknowledging his spoonerisms, 
H.H. reminds us what a wordsmith he is (in Pale Fire John Shade 
teaches at Wordsmith University). The affectionate suffix -ette may re- 
call majorette, as well as the slang meaning of Spooner, one who “necks” 
(or, as one dictionary archly puts it, “act[s] with silly and demonstrative 
fondness”). The suffix also parodies a recognizable and overused pre- 
ciosite of Ronsard’s, who in fact employed “nymphette" in one of his 
poems. See “vermeillette” (49/2) and Quilty’s “barroomette” (p. 298). 

[ 374 ] 

NOTES FOR PAGES I 2 2- 1 24 

122/3 kitzelans: lusting; from the German kitzel, “inordinate desire,” and 
kitzler, “clitoris.” See 252/11. 

122/4 seva ascendes . . . quidquam: the language of Horace, Catullus, et al. 
(see 47/1) is appropriate to this modern, if hysterical, elegiast, whose 
“Latin” here turns out to be a curious mishmash of Latin, English, French, 
German, and Italian; “The sap ascendeth, pulsates, burning \brulans, 
from the French bruler, “to burn”], itching, most insane, elevator clat- 
tering, pausing, clattering, people in the corridor. No one but death 
would take this one [Lolita] away from me! Slender little girl, I thought 
most fondly, observing nothing at all.” At moments of extreme crisis, 
H.H. croaks incomprehensibly, losing more than his expropriated En- 
glish; for his attempts “to fix once for all the perilous magic of nymphets” 
(p. 136) almost resist language altogether, carrying him close to the edge 
of non-language and a figurative silence. Thus H.H. significantly an- 
nounces this scene as a “Parody of silence” (p. 121), and, far from being 
nonsensical, the ensuing “Latin” is a parodic stream-of-consciousness 
affording a brief critical comment on a technique Nabokov finds un- 
satisfactory, even in the novels of Joyce, whom he reveres (“poor Stream 
of Consciousness, maree noire by now,” writes Nabokov toward the end 
of a similar parody in Ada [p. 300]). “We think not in words but in 
shadows of words,” Nabokov says. “James Joyce’s mistake in those 
otherwise marvelous mental soliloquies of his consists in that he gives 
too much verbal body to thoughts” (Playboy interview). To Nabokov, the 
unconnected impressions and associations that impinge on the mind are 
irrational until they are consciously ordered and to order them in art is 
to fulfill virtually a moral obligation, for without rational language man 
has “grown a very / landfish, languageless, / a monster,” as Thersites says 
of Ajax in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Even the imprisoned Cin- 
cinnatus, under sentence of death, is “already thinking of how to set up 
an alphabet” which might humanize the dystopian world of Invitation 
to a Beheading (p. 139). See the second half of 11/2. 

123/1 nota bene: Latin; mark well. The 1958 edition incorrectly ran the 
two words together. 

123/2 dryads and trees: see 119/2. 

123/3 writer fellow . . . ad: Clare Quilty (see 71/2). “Dromes” is a corrected 
misprint (“Droms” in the 1958 edition). For allusions to Quilty, see 33/9. 

123/4 hemina: Latin; woman. 

1 24/1 Pur pills: a contraction of “Papa’s Purple Pills” from the previous 

[ 375 ] 

NOTES FOR PAGES 1 2 5- 1 29 

Chapter 28 

125/ 1 le grand moment: French; the great moment. 

125/2 hot hairy fist: Quilty also has conspicuously hairy hands (p. 297). 

125/3 richer ist sicher: German; sure is sure. 

125/4 '^y uncle Gustave: Gustave Trapp, sometimes a “cousin,” whom 
H.H. mistakes for Quilty (see p. 141). A cousin of one’s mother is both 
one’s cousin and, in a sense, uncle. 

126/1 Jean-Jacques Humbert: after Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), 
Swiss-born French philosopher and author of the famous Confessions. 

1 27/1 one^s dungeon ... some rival devil: Quilty, H.H.’s “rival devil,” is 
staying at The Enchanted Hunters, and appears on the next page. The 
lust figuratively emanating from H.H.’s “dungeon” is objectified much 
later; “I had been keeping Clare Quilty ’s face masked in my dark dun- 
geon” (see 292/2). 

127/2 comme on dit: French; as they say. ; 

127/3 King Sigmund: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), founder of psycho- 
analysis. See 7/6 and 37/1. 

128/1 antiphony: a musical response; a musical piece alternately sung by a 
choir divided into two parts. 

128/2 powdered bugs: Nabokov says “The ‘powdered bugs’ wheeling 
around the lamps are noctuids and other moths which look floury on the 
wing (hence ‘millers,’ which, however, may also come from the verb), 
as they mill in the electric light against the damp night’s background. 
‘Bugs’ is an Americanism for any insect. In England, it means generally 
bedbugs.” For entomological allusions, see 8/1. 

128/3 somebody sitting ... porch: Quilty. Their verbal sparring on p. 129 
telescopes their pursuit of one another and prefigures the physical struggle 
of pp. 295-307. The allusions to Quilty are summarized in 33/9. 

1 29/1 a rose, as the Persians say: the fatidic flower and an allusion to The'' 
Rubaiyat (see 264/8). 

129/2 a blinding flash ... can be deemed immortal: for the photograph in 
question, see 265/ 1. H.H. was not immortalized. 

[ 376 ] 


Chapter 29 

1 30/ 1 entre nous soil dit: French; just between you and me. 

1 31/ 1 grand Dieu: French; good God! 

1 3 1/2 La Petite . . .Ridicule: The Sleeping Maiden or the Ridiculous Lover. 
There is no picture by this name. The mock-title and subject matter 
parody eighteenth-century genre engravings. 

132/1 sotneone ... beyond our bathroom: Clare Quilty (see 250/4). Quilty 
also creates a “waterfall” on 296/4. For a summary of his appearances, 
see 33/9. 

133/1 A breeze from wonderland: there are several references to Alice in 
Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of Charles L. 
Dodgson (1832-1898), English writer, mathematician, and nympholept 
(see 266/1). “I always call him Lewis Carroll Carroll,” says Nabokov, 
“because he was the first Humbert Humbert.” Nabokov translated Alice 
into Russian (Berlin, 1923). “I got five dollars (quite a sum during the 
inflation in Germany),” he recalls (Speak, Memory, p. 283). In The Real 
Life of Sebastian Ktiight, a character speaks “in the elenctic tones of 
Lewis Carroll’s caterpillar” (p. 123), while in Nabokov’s latest novel, 
“Ada in Wonderland” (p. 129), “Ada’s adventures in Adaland” (p. 568), 
and the “titles” Palace in Wonderland (p. 53) and Alice in the Camera 
Ob s cur a (p. 547) are variously invoked (the latter a play on the original 
title of Laughter in the Dark). “In common with many other English 
children (I was an English child) I have been always very fond of 
Carroll,” he says in the Wisconsin Studies interview. “No, I do not think 
his invented language shares any roots with mine [in Bend Sinister and 
Pale Fire]. He has a pathetic affinity with H.H. but some odd scruple 
prevented me from alluding in Lolita to his wretched perversion and to 
those ambiguous photographs he took in dim rooms. He got away with 
it, as so many other Victorians got away with pederasty and nympho- 
lepsy. His were sad scrawny little nymphets, bedraggled and half-un- 
dressed, or rather semi-undraped, as if participating in some dusty and 
dreadful charade.” But it might seem as though Nabokov did allude to 
Carroll in Lolita, through what might be called “the photography theme”: 
H.H. cherishes his worn old photograph of Annabel, has in a sense been 
living with this “still,” tries to make Lolita conform to it, and often 
laments his failure to capture her on film. Quilty’s hobby is announced as 
“photography,” and the unspeakable films he produces at the Duk Duk 

[ 377 ] 


Ranch would seem to answer Carroll’s wildest needs. Asked about this 
Nabokov replied, “I did not consciously think of Carroll’s hobby wheil 
I referred to the use of photography in Lo/iru.” 

“I have only words to play wuth,” moans H.H. (p. 34), and severa 
readers have been tempted to call the ensuing wordplay “Joycean”— 
loosely enough, since “Carrollian” might do almost as well, given Na 
bokov’s fondness for auditory wordplay and portmanteau words, anc 
the fact that the latter usage was coined by Carroll. The family line i 
nicely established on Sebastian Knight’s neatest book shelf, where AIic> 
in W onderland and Ulysses stand side by side, along with works bj 
some of Nabokov’s other favorite writers (Stevenson, Chekhov, Flaubert 
Proust, Wells, and Shakespeare, who encloses the shelf at either em 
with Hamlet and King Lear [p. 41]). For Shakespeare, see 286/4. 

1 34/1 metamorphosing: see 18/6. 

Chapter 30 

136/ 1 emeritus read to by a boy: an echo of the opening of Eliot’s “Geron 
tion”: “Here I am, an old man in a dry month,/Being read to by a boy . . . 
See 18/3. 

136/2 a young pig; a hog. | 

1 36/3 callypygean slave . . . onyx: or callipygmt; “having shapely buttocks,! 
Onyx is a variety of agate, a semiprecious stone. H.H. is no doubt henj 
referring to onyx marble (alabaster). See 139/1. j 

136/4 gonadal glow: a gonad is a sexual gland; an ovary or testis. 

136/5 canoeing, Coranting: the latter is the participle of H.H.’s variant c 
courant, “a dance of Italian origin marked by quick running steps,” anc 
also dialectal English for “romping” and “carousing.” H.H. is still ii; 
Volume C of the Girls’’ Encyclopedia (see p. 94). 

Chapter 3 1 ‘ 

137/1 Roman law ... girl may marry at twelve: the legal opinions offereij 
in this paragraph move from fact to fiction (see 21/1). The first is trucj 
though the legal question and its history are far more complex than H.H 
would suggest. See Corbett, The Roman Law of Marriage (1930), pfj 

51-52. I 

137/2 adopted by the Clnirch: also true; see Bouscaren and Ellis, Cano 
Law: A Text and Commentary (1957), p. 513. 

137/3 still preserved ... in some of the United States: only in ten state 
(Colorado, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virj 

[ 378 ] ! 


' ginia, Idaho, Kansas, and Louisiana). See Vernier, American Family 
\ La-ivs (1931), pp. 115-117. 

37/4 fifteen is lawful everywhere: not in Alaska, Arizona, California, 
. Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, 
Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or 
I Wyoming, where the age is sixteen, or in New Hampshire or New 
I Jersey, where it is eighteen. But there are exceptions granted if the girl 
, is pregnant or if she is willing, over twelve, and the marriage has been 
1 consummated. Since none of these (save the consummation) apply to 
I Lolita, it seems that H.H.’s confident legal scholarship has given way to 
I dissembling. See Vernier, ibid., pp. ii6-ii8. 

57/5 die Kleine: German; the little one. 


■57/6 moue: grimace, facial contraction. 

iS/i sapphic diversions: reference to the reputed lesbianism of the group 
^associated with Sappho, Greek lyric poetess of Lesbos (c. 600 b.c.). 

jS/A Miranda twins: in Lolita’s class list, p. 54 (see 53/2). 

19/ 1 boat to Onyx or Eryx: there are no such lakes. Onyx is often used 
for cameos, while Eryx refers to the ancient cult of Aphrodite (Venus) 
of Eryx, an Elymian settlement on a mountain above Drepana in western 
Sicily, built below their temple of Aphrodite (the goddess of love and 
beauty, to whom Lolita is often compared; “Venus came and went,” says 
H.H. on p. 170; and the magazine picture of a surrealistic “plaster replica 
of the Venus di Milo, half-buried in sand” metaphorically projects Lolita’s 
life with him [p. 60]). See 252/11, where scholarly H.H. obliquely in- 
forms the reader that the priestesses at the Temple of Eryx were prosti- 
( tutes. 

.0/ 1 1 would not talk to strangers: see 34/ 1 and 31 i/i. 

.0/2 saturnalia: the festival of Saturn in ancient Rome, celebrated with 
feasting and revelry; a licentious spectacle. 

.0/3 A fellow of my age: Quilty (see 33/9); the “blood-red armchair” 
should alert the reader. H.H. stresses their similar ages; see 220/1. 

.0/4 SchwaEs drugstore: an author’s error has been corrected {a instead 
of o in the 1958 edition). The Schwab’s chain drugstores in Hollywood 

[ 379 ] 


are a meeting place for film people and young aspirants. In the ’thirties 
and ’forties several subsequent stars were discovered there, some — accord- 
ing to folklore — while eating sundaes or drinking sodas. | 

141/1 a fairytale vampire: for the fairy tale theme, see 33/3. 

141/2 le decouvert: French; the nude. ; 

1 4 1/3 immortal daemon . . . child: see 18/6. ‘ 

141/4 Aunt Clare'’s place: by mentioning Quilty’s first name, H.H., a sly 
teaser, throws the reader something more than a hint. See 33/9 for aj 
summary of Quilty allusions. 

1 4 1/5 hypothetical hospital: “hypothetical” is the best word to use, since 
its name would be whatever H.H. chose to make it. ,i 

1 ' 

Chapter 3 3 I 

143/1 gay . . . Lepingville: see 114/1. H.H.’s “lepping” is over; the town’s, 
name and gaiety mark the fact that, as Part One ends, H.H. secures his 
capture. I 

1 44/ 1 swooners: H.H.’s variant of the noun, its meaning expanded to in-: 
elude some garment that evokes a swoon. I 



Chapter 1 



1 47/ 1 Pharisaic: self-righteous and censorious; resembling the Pharisees, aj 
sect of the ancient Jews famed for its strict observance of ceremonies]' 
rites, and traditions. 


147/2 earvoitness: H.H.’s coinage. 

147/3 ttous connumes: Flaubert uses the verb connaitre in the literary tense|| 
passe simple when in Madatne Bovary (1857) he is describing her un-i> 
happy experiments with all kinds of diversions, especially her lovers anc 
their activities together. For other allusions, see 49/1, 204/2 and 267/2 
Nabokov intends no allusion to Frederic Moreau’s travels in UEducatiot 
sentimentale (1869); “Not the education of the senses,” he says, “a pool 
novel which I only vaguely remember.” Bovary is funned in King': 

[ 380 ] 


Queen, Knave and “Floeberg” burlesqued briefly in Ada (p. 128). Al- 
though Kinbote synchronizes Gradus’ travels through space and time 
and the stages of Shade’s composition of the poem Pale Fire, he never- 
theless complains when Shade similarly alternates two themes: “the 
synchronization device has been already worked to death by Flaubert 
and Joyce” (p. 196). 

{.7/4 Chateaubriandesque trees: the first European writers and painters 
who visited America were impressed by its great trees, and FI.H. no 
doubt drew the image from Atala (1801), a separately published episode 
from Le Genie du christianisme (1802) by Frangois-Rene de Chateau- 
briand (1768-1848), whose arrival in America is mentioned in Pale Fire 
(p. 274). In the Eugene Onegin Commentary, Nabokov calls Rene, an- 
other episode from Le Genie, “a work of genius by the greatest French 
writer of his time” (Vol. Ill, p. 98). See 72/5. Though unlabeled, there 
are many “Chateaubriandesque trees” in Ada's, Ardis Park, and by design, 
for Chateaubriand is to Ada what Poe and Merimee are to Lolita. Van 
Veen reads Ada’s copy of Atala (p. 89), and Rene, with its “subtle per- 
fume of incest” {Onegin Commentary, Vol. Ill, p. 100), is alluded to 
directly (pp. 13 1 and 133). Mile. Lariviere, the Veens’ grotesque gov- 
erness, writes a novel and film scenario whose hero is named “Rene” (see 
pp. 198-199, 217, 249, and 424), and since “incest” and “insect” are ana- 
gramma tically linked (p. 85), a mosquito is named after Chateaubriand 
— Charles Chateaubriand, that is, “not related to the great poet and mem- 
oirist” (p. 106). For further discussion of Chateaubriand and Ada, see 
my article, '^''Ada described,” TriQuarterly, No. 17 (Winter 1970). For 
another Chateaubriand allusion in Lolita, see 21 2/1. 

48/1 non-Laodicean: in Revelation hi, 14-16, the Laodicean church is 
characterized as “lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold” in matters of 

48/2 madamic: H.H.’s coinage, referring to the madam, or proprietress, 
of a brothel. 

48/ 3 instars: an insect or other anthropod in one of the forms assumed 
between molts. The pupa of a butterfly is an instar. 

49/ 1 do you remember, Miranda: an echo of the opening lines and refrain 
of “Tarantella” (1923), a poem by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953); “Do you 
remember an Inn,/ Miranda? / Do you remember an Inn?” See p. 187. 

50/ 1 the nasal voices: because “this book is being read, I assume, in the 
first years of 2000 a.d.” (as H.H. says [p. 301]), readers not having had 
the benefit of a 1947-1952 adolescence may not be able to complete the 

[ 381 ] 


names of the “invisibles” who serenaded Lolita. They include Jo Staffori 1 
(date of birth a secret), Edwin Jack “Eddie” Fisher (1928- ), Ton | 

Bennett (1926- ), Peggy Lee (born Norma Egstrom: 1920- 

Guy Mitchell (1925- ), and Patti Page (1927- ), whose most 

successful recording, “The Tennessee Waltz” (c. 1950), is commemorate f 
in Ada with the mention of “a progressive poet in residence at Tennesse f 
Waltz College” (p. 134). As Joyce says in Finnegans Wake, “Wipe you 
glosses with what you know.” 

150/2 Starasil: an actual ointment. \ 

150/3 trochaic lilt: in prosody, a trochee is a foot of two syllables, th 
first stressed or half-stressed, and the second unstressed. 

150/4 Huncan Dines: the spoonerism hardly conceals Duncan Hines (i88a 
1959), author of such guidebooks as Adventures in Good Eating, Lodgin,, 
for a Night, and Duncan Hines' Food Odyssey. 

1 51/ 1 chere Dolores: French; dear Dolores. 

1 5 1/2 comme . . . gentille: French; as you know too well, my sweet one, 

152/1 rapist ... therapist: a slight variation of earlier wordplay; see 115/3' 
In Ada, thinkers who speculate on the existence of Terra are called “ter 
rapists” (p. 341). 

152/2 by Polonius: the talkative and complacent old man of Hamlet. Th''l 
reference is probably to the warnings he gives his daughter, Ophelia 
about the slippery ways of men. See 33/6. 

152/3 Mann Act: the obvious “dreadful pun” is Mann: man. “Act” was no 
capitalized in the 1958 edition; the error has been corrected here. 

1 53/1 my Lolita... her Catullus: the Latin love-poem motif; see 68/1. 

153/2 c'est tout: French; that is all. ! 

1 54/ 1 crazy quilt of forty-eight states: it is appropriate that Part Two’; 
first allusion to Quilty should be this geographic metaphor, since H.H 
and his nemesis pursue each other back and forth across “the craz) j 
quilt.” When all the journeys are ended, he is “quilted Quilty” (p. 308) | 

154/2 inutile: French; useless, unprofitable. q 

154/3 Lorrain clouds: Claude Gelee, known as Claude Lorrain (i6oo-i682)l 
French painter who settled in Rome and established landscape paintinfj 
as a respectable form. His open vistas and lyrical evocations of light an^ 

[ 382 ] : 


atmosphere influenced Poussin, among others. A character in King, 
Queen, Knave (1928) points at something “with the air of Rembrandt 
indicating a Claude Lorrain” (p. 91), a reminder of the consistency of 
Nabokov’s vision. 

^54/4 El Greco horizon: the famous painter ( I54i?-i6i4? ), bom in Greece, 

, schooled in Italy, resident of Spain. H.H. discovers in Kansas the turbu- 
lent Toledo landscapes of Greco. Since many readers, especially the 
British and French, think Lolita is resolutely “anti-American,” one should 
note the book’s tender landscape details, and the tribute paid to “the 
lovely, trustful, enormous country” (p. 178). 

[55/ 1 samara: a dry, winged fruit, usually one-seeded, as in the ash or elm. 

156/1 ce qu'on appelle: French; what one calls. 

Chapter 2 

156/2 partie de plaisir: French; outing, picnic. 

156/3 raison d'etre: French; the reason for being, the justification. 

156/4 John Galsworthy: English novelist (1867-1933), author of The 
Forsyte Saga (1922). 

1 5 7/ 1 canthus: the inner corner of the eye where the upper and lower eye- 
lids meet. 

157/2 ^^Kurort" type: German; health resort, watering place. 

157/3 Toan back: a color: chestnut interspersed with gray or white — said 
of a horse; also a low-grade sheepskin tanned and colored to imitate un- 
grained Morocco. 

157/4 author of ‘‘^Trees'': Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918), American poet, best 
known for the sentimental poem which H.H. refers to here. 

158/1 bronzed owner of an expensive car: although Quilty-hunters may find 
this man suspect, Nabokov says it is definitely not Quilty. 

158/2 lousy with .. .flies: notes Nabokov: “The insects that poor Hum- 
bert mistakes for ‘creeping white flies’ are the biologically fascinating 
little moths of the genus Fronuba whose amiable and indispensable fe- 
males transport the pollen that fertilizes the yucca flowers (see, what 
Humbert failed to do, ‘Yucca Moth’ in any good encyclopedia).” For 
entomological allusions, see 8/ 1. 

[ 383 ] 


158/3 Independence . . .Abilene: also a juxtaposition of the “starting points” 
of successive American presidents: Harry S Truman (1884- ) and 

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969). 

158/4 lilac . . . phallic: H.H. continually reminds us that he has “only words 
to play with” (p. 34). His phallic is built on the semantic constituents of 
lilac and Pharaonic (of or pertaining to Pharaoh, the title of the sov- 
ereigns of ancient Egypt). 

158/5 lanugo: anatomical word; in a restricted sense, the downy growth 
which covers the young of otherwise non-hairy animals. 

158/6 Tujous: a bright russet or brownish-orange hue. 

158/7 lucerne: a deep-rooted European herb with bluish-purple flowers; 
in the U.S. usually called alfalfa. 

1 59/ 1 comme on dit: French; as they say. 

159/2 hundreds of .. .hummingbirds: these are not birds, notes Nabokov, 
“but hawkmoths which do move exactly like hummingbirds (which are 
neither gray nor nocturnal).” For entomological allusions, see 8/1. 

159/3 Shakespeare .. .N ew Mexico: not invented; a mining town founded 
c. 1870 on property that had previously been involved in one of the 
largest unsuccessful mining speculations of the period in the Southwest. 
Now a “ghost town,” it is no longer listed in any atlas. 

159/4 Florentine Bea's ... contemporary: Dante’s Beatrice (see 21/9). A 
thirteenth-century mummy. 

159/5 F)ur twentieth HeWs Canyon: see 298/5. 

159/6 winery in Calif or nia .. .wine barrel: it exists. Crossing over into 
Death Valley from Nevada, H.H. and Lolita travel down to Los Angeles 
and then wend their way northward up the California coast to Oregon 
(Crater Lake, p. 160). These Notes seldom comment on H.H.’s topo- 
graphical observations; the field remains wide-open. A generous grant 
from the Guggenheim Foundation or the American Council of Learned 
Societies will no doubt one day enable some gentle don to retrace meticu- 
lously H.H.’s foul footsteps. 

159/7 Scotty's Castle: an enormous and grotesque structure built in the 
’twenties by Waiter (“Death Valley”) Scott, formerly with Buffalo 
Bill’s Wild West Show. 

160/1 R.L. Stevenson's footprint on an extinct volcano: the Scottish writer 
(1850-1895) followed the woman he loved to California, where he lived 

[ 384 ] 


for a year (1879-1880). In From Scotland to Silverado, James D. Hart, 

■ ed. (1966), collects his writing about the state. Stevenson is buried on 
the volcanic Mount Vaea in Samoa; but H.H., who may or may not 
know that, is here referring to his honeymoon stay on Mount St. Helena, 
California, generally thought to be an extinct volcano (it is in fact not 
one). There is a Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial there, but he left no 
acmal footprint. H.H., having just noted “The ugly villas of handsome 
actresses,” was no doubt more impressed by the footprints and handprints 
of movie stars immortalized in the cement pavements outside Grauman’s 
Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. For further Stevenson allusions, see 
186/2 and 208/3. 

[60/2 Mission Dolores: good title for book: this book, of course. The 
mission observed by H.H. exists, in San Francisco. 

160/3 festoons: in architecture, a molded or carved ornament representing 
a festoon (a garland or wreath hanging in a curve). H.H. is observing 
the coastline of Monterey. 

160/4 Russian Gulch State Park: in Sonoma, California; named by Russian 

160/5 Little Rock, near a school: rereading this passage in 1968, Nabokov 
called it “nicely prophetic” (the larger “row” over school desegregation, 
September 1957). For further “prophecy,” see 228/3. 

160/6 a propos de rien: French; not in relation to anything else; casually. 

i6i/ 1 town . . . first name: “his” refers to QuUty. Clare, Michigan; an ac- 
tual town. 

161/2 species ... Homo pollex: H.H. combines the familiar Latin homo, 
“the genus of mammals consisting of mankind,” with pollex, or “thumb.” 

161/3 'viatic: H.H. sustains his “scientific” vocabulary; a coinage from the 
Latin root via. Viaticum is English — an allowance for traveling expenses 
— but H.H. has gone back to the Latin word viaticus, which specifically 
refers to the road. 

161/4 priapically: from Priapus, the god of procreation; see 44/4. 

161/5 of my age... face a claques: Quilty, with a “face that deserves 
to be slapped; an ugly, mischievous face.” For an index to his appear- 
ances, see 33/9. 

161/6 concupiscence: lustfulness. 

[ 385 ] 


161/7 coulant un regard: French; casting a sly glance. 

162/1 slow truck .. .road: see 231/2; after an encounter with “Trapp” 
(Quilty), H.H. finds himself behind such a truck. 

163/1 natatoriums: swimming pools. 

163/2 matitudinal: H.H.’s coinage, from matin, an ecclesiastical duty per- 
formed early in the morning; or, though its usage is rare, a morning 
call or song (of birds). 

163/3 “tnais je divague: French; but I am wandering away from the point; 

164/ 1 les yeux perdus: YrtncW, a lost look in the eyes. 

164/2 oh Baudelaire!: Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), French poet. The 
image of the dream and the French phrases, ‘‘“'brun adolescent'’’ (“dark 
[brown-haired] adolescent”) and “re tordre" (“to undergo contortions” 1 
[erotic]), are drawn from Baudelaire’s Le Crepuscule du matin, or 
“Morning Twilight” (1852): ‘'^C'etait I'heure ou I'essaim des reves mal- 
faisants / Tord sur leurs oreillers les bruns adolescents" (“It was the hour'' 
when a swarm of evil dreams contorts [or twists] dark [or swarthy] j 
adolescents on their pillows”). For other Baudelaire allusions, see 264/1 
and 286/3. “Poor Baudelaire” is evoked in a variant from Shade’s poem 
in Pale Fire (p. 167); and Kinbote’s gardener aspires “to read in the I 
original Baudelaire and Dumas” (p. 291). The title of Invitation to a 
Beheading is drawn from Baudelaire’s L'lnvitation au voyage, and the 
poem’s opening lines are quoted and toyed with in Ada (p. 106). 

164/3 ^ jamous coach .. .with a harem of ball boys: a tennis star of the 
’twenties (1893-1953), as famous in his sport as Red Grange and Babe 
Ruth were in theirs; winner of the American championship seven times, 
the Wimbledon title three times, and the U.S. doubles championship five 
times. In 1946 he was jailed on a morals charge, and H.H. and Lolita 
meet him after his tragic double life has become public knowledge, and 
only a few years before his death. Given the context, the prosaic phrase 
and vocation of “ball boy” becomes a pun. When asked if the deceased 
player should be identified by name, Nabokov imagined him now “con- 
sorting with ball boys . . . on Elysian turf. Shall we spare his shade?” 

164/4 Gobbert: a corrected author’s error (one b in the 1958 edition). 
Andre H. Gobbert was a French tennis champion c. World War I. “I 
saw him beaten by Patterson in 1919 or 1920 at Wimbledon,” recalls 
Nabokov. “He had a tremendous (old-fashioned) serve, but would 

[ 386 ] 


double fault up to four times in a game. Big dark fellow, doubled with 
Decugis against Brookes and Patterson, I think” (see 236/1). 

64/5 ange gauche: French; awkward angel. 

65/1 simulacrum: an unreal semblance (a favorite word of H.H.’s; see 
pp. 1 15 and 177). 

65/2 a tall man: a mirage of Quilty. The subsequent teasing ambiguity 
as to whether H.H.’s pursuer is “real” or an autoscopic hallucination 
(see p. 219) parodies Golyadkin, Jr., and the central problem of Dos- 
toevsky’s The Double (the narrator of Despair considers The Double as 
a title for his book, “But Russian literature possessed one already,” he 
says [p. 21 1]). For Quilty, see 33/9. 

65/3 diaphanous: delicate to the extent of being transparent or translucent. 

65/4 pavonine: like a peacock; iridescent. 

65/5 oculate: eye-spotted. 

65/6 ramparts of ancient Europe: translation and paraphrase of line 84 of 
Rimbaud’s Le Bateau ivre (“The Drunken Boat” [1871]); “/c regrette 
VEurope aux Anciens parapets” (“I long for Europe with its ancient 
quays” [ramparts]). Rimbaud’s use of “parapets” is shortly reinforced 
in an echo of the phrase (174/1). See for another allusion to this 

poem. Nabokov translated it into Russian in The Rudder, December 16, 
1928. Rimbaud’s poem is transmuted, along with almost everything else, 
in Ada's antiworld; Van Veen receives a message “in the Louvre right 
in front of Bosch’s Bateau Ivre, the one with a jester drinking in the 
riggings (poor old Dan [Veen] thought that it had something to do 
with Brant’s satirical poem!)” (p. 331). Ada and Van know by heart 
Rimbaud’s Memoire, and it is one of two texts they use for their 
coded letters (p. 161). For more on Rimbaud, see 77/6. 

166/ 1 caravansaries: from a Persian word; in the East, an inn in the form 
of a bare building surrounding a court, where caravans stop for the night. 

167/ 1 well-drawn . . . bobby-soxer: Fenny, the comic strip created by Harry 
Haenigsen in 1943. For other allusions to comic strips, see 219/5, 
and 256/6. As responsive as he is scholarly, Nabokov the literary anatom- 
ist is also amused and delighted by “lower” forms of art, and is not above 
making selective use of such materials in his writing. No one, he laments 
in the Foreword to the revised Speak, Memory, “discovered the name 
[in the first edition] of a great cartoonist and a tribute to him in the 

[ 387 ] 


last sentence of Section Two, Chapter Eleven. It is most embarrassing 
for a writer to have to point out such things himself” (p. 15). The 
tribute is to Otto Soglow, creator of The Little King: “The ranks of 
words I reviewed were again so glowing, with their puffed-out little 
chests and trim uniforms ... [italics mine — A.A.]” (p. 219). “Who will 
bother to notice,” wonders Nabokov in the Introduction to the Time 
Reading Program edition of Bend Sinister, “that the urchins in the yard 
(Chapter Seven) have been drawn by Saul Steinberg” (p. xvii). In Ada, 
an 1871 Sunday supplement of the Kaluga Gazette “feature[s] on its 
funnies page the now long defunct Goodnight Kids, Nicky and Pimper- 
nella (sweet siblings who shared a narrow bed)” — based, in reality, on 
an old French comic strip (p. 6). At the end of Ada, ninety-seven-year- 
old Van Veen describes how he “look[s] forward with juvenile zest to the 
delightful effect of a spoonful of sodium bicarbonate dissolved in water 
that was sure to release three or four belches as big as the speech balloons 
in the ‘funnies’ of his boyhood” (p. 570). 

167/2 areolas: the more-or-Iess shaded narrow areas around the nipples. 

167/3 recedent: a heraldic term, to match pursuant. 

167/4 ^^ this bottle'^: the “quip” derives from the fact that the 
mariners could not possibly know they lived in the Middle Ages, just 
as the reader of this annotation has no idea what the twenty-sixth cen- 
tury will call our epoch. 

Chapter 3 

168/1 umber ... Humberland: the pun (see 5/3) turns on the not-uncom- 
mon place name of Northumberland (England; New Hampshire; Vir- 
ginia; Pennsylvania). 

168/2 Frigid Queen .. .Frincess: the actual name of a milk bar, recorded 
by Nabokov in a little black notebook. The “Princess” alludes to “Anna- 
bel Lee” (11/7), who, fused with Freud, is once more in the novel’s 
foreground: “the search for a Kingdom by the Sea, a Sublimated Riviera, 
or whamot” (p. 169). 

168/3 hors cone ours: out of the competition: when something is exhibited 
at a show (e.g., livestock, tulips) but is so superior to the rest of the ex- 
hibition that it is barred from receiving the awards or prizes. 

168/4 leporine fascination: like a hare. The “able psychiatrist” is being 
hypnotized as a rabbit is by a serpent (H.H.). 

[ 388 ] 

NOTES FOR PAGES 1 69- 1 76 

69/1 manatee: any of several aquatic mammals, such as the sea cow. 

70/1 Arcadian .. .wilds: from Arcadia, the idyllic rural region of Greece 
and the classic image of pastoral simplicity. “Even in Arcady am I, says 
Death in the tombal scripture,” notes Kinbote in Fale Fire (p. 174). 

70/2 rill: a very small brook. 

70/3 cabanes: huts; simple dwellings. 

70/4 que dis-je: French; what am I saying? 

70/5 ?narmot: any rodent of the genus Marmota, such as the woodchuck. 

70/6 Venus came and went: H.H. is being verbally playful about a sexual 

71/1 un monsieur tres bien: French; a proper gentleman (a very pomp- 
ous and bourgeois expression). 

72/1 hospitalized . . . by now: reference to H.H.’s Western-style fight with 
Quilty on p. 301. 

73/ 1 strumstring: H.H.’s coinage; the crooner is Gene Autry ( 1907- ). 

73/2 harpies: from classical mythology; foul creatures, part woman, part 
bird, that stole the souls of the dead, or defiled or seized their victims’ 

73/3 orchideous ?msculinity: belonging to the natural order of plants akin 
to genus Orchis. Its Greek etymology adds a comic dimension, for orchis 
means “testicle” as well as the plant. The hideous increases the humor. 

74/1 parapets of Europe: a Rimbaud echo; see 165/6. 

75/ 1 Oriental tale: invented by Nabokov. 

75/2 Beardsley: after Aubrey Beardsley; see 54/3. 

75/3 WoerneFs Treatise: it exists. 

75/4 A Girl of the Limberlost: by Gene Stratton Porter (1863-1924), it 
was once a great favorite of schoolgirls (published 1914). Little Women 
(1869), by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1882), continues to be read. 

76/ 1 ganglia: plural of ganglion, an anatomical and zoological word; “a 
mass of nerve tissue containing nerve cells, a nerve center”; a center of 
strength and energy. 

[ 389 ] 


176/2 dans . . . Page: French; in a mature age (when he is most robust). 

176/3 vieillard encore vert: French; literally, “an old man still green”- 
that is, sexually potent. 

176/4 Know Your Own Daughter: the “biblical title” is real, says Nabokov 
although it has been impossible to document. Many similar titles exist 
all lending themselves to double-entendre: Frances K. Martin, Kno% 
Your Child (1946); C. Lewis, How Well Can We Know Our Children: 
(1947); C.W. Young, Know Your Pupil (1945); and E.D. Adlerblum 
Know Your Child Through His Play (1947). See 83/1.