The Poling Prize in Lolita

Submitted by Jim Buckingham on Thu, 04/11/2019 - 15:11

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

See Attached. 3 pages.


I really appreciated your post! I continue to be astounded at the depth, breadth and complexity with which Nabokov created his novels. His allusions if you follow them are not just willy-nilly insertions. (pun not intended, but belatedly realized)


"willy-nilly insertions" That's a funny punny!

Yes, I agree, while one can go wrong in finding what is not there in the World of Nabokov and bang that square peg into a round hole, one should not assume that what is not there isn't there. The double negative is a positive. We can feel challenged by our many disadvantages as to language, knowledge and experiences. I know I do. Yet, oh the inevitable yet -- does the Yeti exist? -- the challenge is worth the effort. The mind expansion is swell. The Prize we receive is the satisfaction of learning literature on a much deeper level and getting into the head of the author. Although sometimes it can get a bit crowded inside him or her.  Move over! Yeah yourself, quit pushing!


I enjoyed this chain of associations. Perhaps you are aware that пол (pol) in Russian means "sex." There is a similar pun in Pale Fire regarding "political pollination."

Matt Roth


No I did not know the Russian word pol means floor, ground, earth, gender or sex. But the Russian word, pol(ing), simply confirms the English word, poling, as to the sexual nature of the connotation of the prize. Whether it is a Pricking Prize in English or a Sexing Prize in Russian Translation, either prize apprises as to the subtle sleight of hand exhibited by the author, Ray, Jr. - who is really Nabokov, Jr. Whether it is language (Russian) or one's life (Trinity College), ultimately it will appear. The ultimate question which drives all: What is it?

How much we all can learn from each other and thereby add to our pool of learning. Answer = A lotta Lolita. The water's fine and let's do the dip!

Thanks again, Matt

The Poling Prize in Lolita seems to hint at Linus Pauling (1901-94), an American scientist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954. Humbert Humbert’s landlord, Professor Chem, teaches chemistry at Beardsley College:


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 resemblance 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 arranged 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 College. (2.4)


According to John Ray, Jr. (who is not really Nabokov, Jr.), he had just been awarded the Poling Prize for a modest work (“Do the Senses make Sense?”) wherein certain morbid states and perversions had been discussed.


The chemical senses are the senses of smell (olfaction) and taste (gustation). In Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu the taste of the madeleine acts as the memory-trigger. Gaston Godin decorated the sloping wall of his studio with large photographs of celebrated perverts (including Marcel Proust):


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 André Gide, Tchaikovsky, Norman Douglas, two other well-known English writers, Nijinsky (all 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. (2.6)


In 1919 Proust was awarded prix Goncourt (for À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs). In Le temps retrouvé (“Time Regained”), the seventh and last volume of À la recherche du temps perdu, there is a pastiche of the Goncourt Journal in which Whistler (the painter) and R. L. Stevenson are mentioned. According to Humbert Humbert, at Beardsley Lolita used Treasure Island (a novel by R. L. Stevenson) and Whistler’s ‘Mother’ as hiding places:


Once I found eight one-dollar notes in one of her books (fittingly – Treasure 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 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 somehow 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. (2.7)


In R. L. Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) Dr. Jekyll discovers a chemical combination that releases an alternative personality, his baser side: “Mr. Hyde.” Describing his quarrel with Lolita, Humbert Humbert compares himself to Mr. Hyde:


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 living room, with the blind mercifully down, however; and behind it the damp black night of a sour New England spring had been breathlessly listening to us. I had always thought that type 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 Finton Lebone – had been probably protruding three-quarter-way from her bedroom window as she strove to catch the gist of our quarrel.
“…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? 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 on 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 Fabian's dropsical dackel. Mr. Hyde almost knocked it over. Walk three steps and run three. A tepid rain started to drum on the chestnut 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. (2.14)


Miss Finton Lebon brings to mind the Lebon Academy Prize mentioned by Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN's novel Ada, 1969) in his conversation with Greg Erminin:


Van was about to leave when a smartly uniformed chauffeur came up to inform 'my lord’ that his lady was parked at the corner of rue Saïgon and was summoning him to appear.
‘Aha,’ said Van, ‘I see you are using your British title. Your father preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel.’
‘Maude is Anglo-Scottish and, well, likes it that way. Thinks a title gets one better service abroad. By the way, somebody told me — yes, Tobak! — that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four. I haven’t asked you about your father? He’s in good health?’ (Van bowed,) ‘And how is the guvernantka belletristka?’
‘Her last novel is called L’ami Luc. She just got the Lebon Academy Prize for her copious rubbish.’
They parted laughing. (3.2)


Lebon is Nobel, Luc is cul (Fr., arse) in reverse. There is cul in culpa (Lat., guilt, fault). L’assassin a le prix Goncourt (“The Murderer Receives the Goncourt Prize,” 1951), a novel by Pierre Gamarra, brings to mind Hermann’s failed masterpiece in VN’s novel Otchayanie (“Despair,” 1934). The narrator and main character in “Despair,” Hermann kills Felix, a tramp in whom Hermann sees his perfect double. In Le temps retrouvé Proust uses the phrase felix culpa:


On sait, en effet, que certaines femmes se projettent en quelque sorte elles-mêmes en un autre être avec la plus grande exactitude, la seule erreur est dans le sexe. Erreur dont on ne peut pas dire: felix culpa, car le sexe réagit sur la personnalité, et chez un homme le féminisme devient afféterie, la réserve susceptibilité, etc. N’importe, dans la figure, fût-elle barbue, dans les joues, même congestionnées sous les favoris, il y a certaines lignes superposables à quelque portrait maternel. Il n’est guère de vieux Charlus qui ne soit une ruine où l’on ne reconnaisse avec étonnement sous tous les empâtements de la graisse et de la poudre de riz quelques fragments d’une belle femme en sa jeunesse éternelle.


We know, as a matter of fact, that certain women are reproduced in certain men with complete fidelity, the only mistake being the sex. We cannot qualify this as felix culpa, for sex reacts upon personality and feminism becomes effeminacy, reserve suceptibility and so on. This does not prevent a man’s face, even though bearded, from being modelled on lines transferable to the portrait of his mother. There was nothing but a ruin of the old M. de Charlus left but under all the layers of fat and rice powder one could recognize the remnants of a beautiful woman in her eternal youth.


Miss Lester and Miss Fabian are a Lesbian couple. In À la recherche du temps perdu Marcel (the narrator and main character) suspects Albertine of being a lesbian. The penultimate, sixth, volume of Proust’s novel is entitled Albertine disparue. According to Humbert Humbert, one of the parts of his book might be called “Dolorés Disparue:”


This book is about Lolita; and now that I have reached the part which (had I not been forestalled by another internal combustion martyr) might be called “Dolorés Disparue,” there 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 open in life’s full flight, and a rush of roaring black time drowning with its whipping wind the cry of lone disaster. (2.25)


"The cry of lone disaster” brings to mind the L disaster that happened on Antiterra (aka Demomia, Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) in the middle of the 19th century:


The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans — and not to grave men or gravemen. (1.3)


The Antiterran L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS), in our world. In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN points out that in 1849 Dostoevski was imprisoned in the Peter-and-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg (whose commander was the elder brother of VN's great-grandfather):


My great-great-grandfather, General Aleksandr Ivanovich Nabokov (1749–1807), was, in the reign of Paul the First, chief of the Novgorod garrison regiment called “Nabokov’s Regiment” in official documents. The youngest of his sons, my great-grandfather Nikolay Aleksandrovich Nabokov, was a young naval officer in 1817, when he participated, with the future admirals Baron von Wrangel and Count Litke, under the leadership of Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Vasiliy Mihaylovich Golovnin, in an expedition to map Nova Zembla (of all places) where “Nabokov’s River” is named after my ancestor. The memory of the leader of the expedition is preserved in quite a number of place names, one of them being Golovnin’s Lagoon, Seward Peninsula, W. Alaska, from where a butterfly, Parnassius phoebus golovinus (rating a big sic), has been described by Dr. Holland; but my great-grandfather has nothing to show except that very blue, almost indigo blue, even indignantly blue, little river winding between wet rocks; for he soon left the navy, n’ayant pas le pied marin (as says my cousin Sergey Sergeevich who informed me about him), and switched to the Moscow Guards. He married Anna Aleksandrovna Nazimov (sister of the Decembrist). I know nothing about his military career; whatever it was, he could not have competed with his brother, Ivan Aleksandrovich Nabokov (1787–1852), one of the heroes of the anti-Napoleon wars and, in his old age, commander of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg where (in 1849) one of his prisoners was the writer Dostoevski, author of The Double, etc., to whom the kind general lent books. Considerably more interesting, however, is the fact that he was married to Ekaterina Pushchin, sister of Ivan Pushchin, Pushkin’s schoolmate and close friend. Careful, printers: two “chin”’s and one “kin.” (Chapter Three, 1)


According to Humbert Humbert (who writes his memoirs in imprisonment), in the 1940s he participated in an expedition into arctic Canada. Describing it, Humbert Humbert mentions the wobbly and wandering north magnetic pole and chemical toilets:


Robust outdoor life seemed to promise me some relief. One of my favorite doctors, a charming cynical chap with a little brown beard, had a brother, and this brother was about to lead an expedition into arctic Canada. I was attached to it as a “recorder 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 plankton. A third studied tuberculosis in the tundra. Bert, a film photographeran 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 suppliesthe 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 suppose, 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, 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 matters, 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 he 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 purpose was admirably achieved. (1.9)


Polyus ("The Pole," 1923) is an one-act play by VN. In her essay "Humbert’s Arctic Adventures: Some Intertextual Explorations" (Nabokov Studies 11, 2007/2008) Monica Manolescu quotes Captain Scott's words in VN's play:


Господи, готов я.
Вот жизнь моя, как компасная стрелка,
потрепетав, на полюс указала,
и этот полюс -- Ты...


Lord, I’m ready. My life, just like the needle of a compass,

has quivered and has pointed to the Pole—and

Thou art that Pole.…


and points out that the aphorism inscribed on the pediment of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge establishes a close link between Scott’s polar quest and mystic vision: Quaesivit Arcana Poli Videt Dei(“He sought for the secret of the Pole but found God”).


When he imagines his future life with Charlotte, Humbert Humbert feels a Dostoevskian grin on his lips:


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


Humbert Humbert quotes two lines from Canto III (CXVI: 5-6) of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-18), a narrative poem in four parts by Lord Byron. Lolita is the daughter of Harold Haze. In The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together) Humbert Humbert drugs Lolita with the sleeping pills given to him by Dr. Byron (the Haze family physician). Like VN, Byron was a Cambridge student.


In one of the next paragraphs Humbert Humbert mentions a pharmacopoeial thought that tinkled in his sonorous and clouded brain:


Humbert Humbert sweating in the fierce white light, and howled at, and trodden upon by sweating policemen, is now 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 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, pharmacopoeial thought did tinkle in my sonorous and clouded brain. Why limit myself to the modest masked caress I had tried already? Other visions of venery presented themselves to me swaying and smiling. I saw myself administering a powerful sleeping potion to both mother and daughter so as to fondle the latter though 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. (ibid.)


In The Enchanted Hunters Lolita tells Humbert Humbert the way she had been debauched in Camp Q:


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

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


In the alphabet P (the Poling Prize's initial) is followed by Q. Camp Q brings to mind Clare Quilty, Humbert Humbert's double whom everybody calls Cue. When Lolita tells him the name of her lover, Humbert Humbert feels the satisfaction of logical recognition:


“Come, his name!”

She thought I had guessed long ago. It was (with a mischievous and melancholy smile) such a sensational name. I would never 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 I like a cigarette?

No. His name.

She shook her head with great resolution. She guessed it was too late to raise hell and I would never believe the unbelievably unbelievable

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 other hand, after all”Do you really want to know who it was? Well, it was”

And softly, confidentially, arching her thin eyebrows and puckering her parched lips, she emitted, a little mockingly, somewhat fastidiously, not untenderly, in a kind of muted whistle, the name that the astute 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 everything 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 express 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. (2.29)


The satisfaction experienced by Humbert Humbert brings to mind "the magic precision of a poet's word meeting halfway his, or a reader's recollection" mentioned by VN in Speak, Memory:


I remember the dreamy flow of punts and canoes on the Cam, the Hawaiian whine of phonographs slowly passing through sunshine and shade and a girl’s hand gently twirling this way and that the handle of her peacock-bright parasol as she reclined on the cushions of the punt which I dreamily navigated. The pink-coned chestnuts were in full fan; they made overlapping masses along the banks, they crowded the sky out of the river, and their special pattern of flowers and leaves produced a kind of en escalier effect, the angular figuration of some splendid green and old-rose tapestry. The air was as warm as in the Crimea, with the same sweet, fluffy smell of a certain flowering bush that I never could quite identify (I later caught whiffs of it in the gardens of the southern States). The three arches of an Italianate bridge, spanning the narrow stream, combined to form, with the help of their almost perfect, almost unrippled replicas in the water, three lovely ovals. In its turn, the water cast a patch of lacy light on the stone of the intrados under which one’s gliding craft passed. Now and then, shed by a blossoming tree, a petal would come down, down, down, and with the odd feeling of seeing something neither worshiper nor casual spectator ought to see, one would manage to glimpse its reflection which swiftly—more swiftly than the petal fell—rose to meet it; and, for the fraction of a second, one feared that the trick would not work, that the blessed oil would not catch fire, that the reflection might miss and the petal float away alone, but every time the delicate union did take place, with the magic precision of a poet’s word meeting halfway his, or a reader’s, recollection. (Chapter Thirteen, 5)


Note the sweet, fluffy smell of a certain flowering bush that VN never could quite identify. The sense of smell (olfaction) is a chemical sense. In VN's novels (including Lolita) the senses do make sense. As to the Poling Prize, it combines Pauling with the Nobel Prize (but also hints at a geographical pole and a pole with which one propels a punt).


re: Clarence Choate Clark (CCC), Esq.

the CCC reminds me of  [ Cells - Cells - Cells ] of Pale Fire,    about which i used to write to the NABOKV-L earlier :

                            000 in Lolita and Pale Fire

                       and    00 in FW (Finnegans Wake)

re:  Miss Phalen and The Poling Prize

Falen was a translator of Onegin.  Arndt, winner of the Bollingen Prize. and VN's translation was published in the Bollingen series.  (Maybe Russian P is less aspirated, closer to B)


besides L.Pauling, i thought of PF and FW as deserving of [Pulling] Prize for leg-pulling.


i was more involved in the NABOKV-L earlier
pls see:

(The new Web format is much less inviting.)

i wish it was still possible to receive the posts to  the Forum(s)  as individual emails (like before)


Some quibbles from my viewpoint, although nothing can ever be 100%.

1) Linus Pauling's Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded in 1954 on December 10th, Nobel Day.

   Nabokov's corrected, complete typescript was given to Viking Press in December 1953 (Boyd, Brian Vladimir Nabokov, The American Years p. 255.)

  This is not say it could not have been added or amended afterwards, but I suspect unlikely.

2) The Poling Prize was for "a modest work . . . wherein certain morbid states and perversions have been discussed" (3).

   Key words in play here are: modest, morbid and perversions/perverse. Considering the overall theme of the book, the totality of these three words definitely tie into Sex. Perverse Sex.

   Chemistry is a stretch. Yes, I'm aware of sexual chemistry, but that does not fit the nuances of Lolita.

3) Pauling has a different pronunciation than Poling. Not that this factor alone is exclusionary, but Pauling is more than just a diphthong away.

     You're talking two vowels, au, making a diphthong short sound in Paul(ing) versus the one long vowel sound of o in Pol(ing).

     Poling is the same word, same sound, an exact match. Pauling is not.

     Perhaps you fell in Nabokov's capital trap of capital P's. I did too in the beginning.


And there you have it. I say ta-may-toe and you say, ta-ma-toe. Ta-may-toe, ta-ma-toe, Let's call the whole thing . . .


The Russian spelling of both Poling and Pauling is Полинг (in Russian there are no diphthongs). In the Russian Lolita (translated by VN in 1967) the Poling Prize is премия Полинга.


VN who predicted that John Kennedy would be the next President of the USA could also foresee that sooner or later Linus Pauling would be awarded the Nobel Prize. It so happened that he got it prior to the publication of Lolita. Btw., Pauling (whose theories were criticized in the USSR in the 1940s) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962 and the International Lenin Prize in 1970.


Final thoughts on our back and forth here, on which we probably agree to disagree.

A Summary:

1) Poling Prize does not rely on any print amendments to the text, prior to publication.

    Pauling Prize does rely on a change after the Nobel Prize of 1954.

2) Poling Prize focuses on sex and force (pricking). A hidden allusion to avoid censorship.

    Pauling Prize focuses on chemistry. No need for a hidden allusion to avoid censorship.

3) Poling Prize relies on English, as it was written in English.

    Pauling Prize relies on Russian, as the au is pronounced as o in Russian.

    Pauling as Poling does not work in English.

    Both Poling and Pauling are written the same in Russian.

    This is a draw at best.

4) Other Nabokov sources?

    Poling is specifically attested to in Speak, Memory, as to how one navigates a punt.

    Where is Pauling attested to in other Nabokov works? Mentioning a chemist is not enough.

    In short, Vladimir has a concrete connection to poling a punt. 

    What concrete connections exist between VN and Linus Pauling?

5) The Clincher:

In the early 1950s, the HUAC of Sen. McCarthy was publicly going after Linus Pauling, claiming he was a communist, or at least, a communist sympathizer. Even though Pauling was not an actual member of the Party, even a hint of an association would have been anathema to Nabokov. An avowed anti-communist, VN would not countenance any talk of sympathizing, much less, negotiating with the Soviet Union, which Pauling at times would publicly voice. 

Then there's that button. Would Vladimir give back to William F. Buckley the button Buckley gave him that said "Fuck Communism?" Since VN was delighted by this gift from one conservative to another, that button would not be unbuttoned from his delightful possession.

Knowing Nabokov's very public sentiments on this topic, why in the world would he even give an allusion mention to a Pauling? Know that, NO he wouldn't.

Nor can we rely on Nabokov, the author's, statements as to his writings either. Time and again either through acts of omission, forgetfulness or outright lies, both Vladimir and Vera would bend sinister as to what was behind the mask of words. Ask any of their biographers. Brian Boyd knows full well this. Alfred Appel naively took Nabokov at his word. "Elphinstone and his books are also genuine, according to Nabokov . . . Nabokov recalled finding A Vagabond in Italy in a hospital library, the nearest thing to a prison library" (Lolita 345-6). Why would Nabokov claim this?

A magician doesn't want to reveal every secret. Let his readers find John Ruskin hiding inside "such coruscating [my emphasis] trifles" (31). While this isn't anything new, the problem remains that because of this author's style and nuance that we sometimes try too hard to make fits, when the actual connection is more apparent.

And that Alexey, I feel, sums up the two differing viewpoints here on whether Poling Or Pauling/Poling applies.

Where we both may concur is that the current The Annotated Lolita by Appel falls short many times and part of that blame does lie with Nabokov denying or bypassing any ready explanation to certain vagaries. The other blame rests with the research done, though in fairness, much was researched accurately.

And Th-th-th-that's all folks . . . 





I am not saying 'never,' as I have not read all of Nabokov's works. In the context of Lolita though, for this instance in the Foreword, alluding to a communist makes what kind of sense? Linus Pauling wasn't actually a Communist. But in the early 1950s, he definitely was under the Crucible of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Back in those times to be accused of being a Communist was akin to being a Communist. Guilt by accusation. For years, Pauling spent more time on his very public political views than he did on his chemistry/science work until he later backed away to focus again on his nonpolitical work.

Consider the day and the age and the atmosphere. Linus Pauling was in the news. Accusations made. Why would Vladimir Nabokov associate and/or defend and/or allude to an accused Communist? His lifelong hatred of communism was at the core of his essence. As a newly naturalized and loyal American citizen, to take a side against the U.S., would go against his patriotism. Vladimir was very consistent in this regard. Even after leaving the U.S., he still was a staunch supporter of President Nixon and was for the Vietnam War.

Personal beliefs aside, Nabokov eschewed politics in general in his writings. Yes, I am aware of the dystopia in Bend Sinister and the political implications of the State's all-encompassing power in Invitation to a Beheading. Yet, can anyone honestly argue that there is a scintilla of a political theme or bent in the novel in question, in Lolita?

Context also deals with impact. What is the point in the Foreword about alluding to Linus Pauling? Simply because Humbert Humbert rents a house from a Professor of Chemistry at Beardsley College? That's not enough. What does this add to the story?

To top off the cream to the cake of this back and forth, let's get back to the two words in question: Poling and Pauling. Just because these two words are spelled (and possibly pronounced) the same in Russian does NOT mean they are the same in English, the language of their composition. In English, Poling and Pauling are spelled and pronounced differently, with two entirely different meanings. This argument is akin to a twisted statement that since Pole and Paul are spelled the same in Russian, then they are the same. Yet in English not only do Pole and Paul have different spellings, pronunciations and meanings, they obviously have different etymologies. Pole comes from the Old English pal from the Latin, palus. Paul comes from the Latin, paulus. Palus and Paulus mean two different things, respectively: Stake and Small. Regardless of translation, the "Original" words remain different. A good translation retains the meanings of two different words in the original writing to the translated writing, rather than conflate the two words of origin into the same meaning; the two different English words now being the same one word in the new language (in this case, Russian).

While I can be wrong, in this instance I fail to see the strength of Pauling, Linus over the Poling, Pricking allusion. We also as cautious readers must avoid extrapolation where unmerited. This reminds me of Bible quoters. The Bible as being such a large literary work contains many passages, some of which can directly contradict each other in juxtaposition. In this vein, biblical passages are often quoted by cherry picking passages to back up the picker's viewpoint. So to with Nabokov. Just because there is an instance in one of his works does not automatically equate with the same treatment in each of his works. Yes there are similar themes found in VN's opus, but exercise caution. What is found in one work, does that mean that it also applies here? CONTEXT is all-important. Considering the myriad factors, having Linus Pauling as the possible allusion, adds nothing to the narrative overall of Lolita.

While Vladimir often brought in whimsy, humor and riddles, who can argue that VN would bypass a chance to bring in a deeper meaning behind an easily overlooked allusion? That sums up my argument of Poling Prize is poling prize is poling (pricking) prize is John Ray, Jr.'s prize, but really Humbert Humbert's prize for being the ultimate Prize Prick. And where is the writing style of John Ray, Jr.'s any different than Humbert Humbert's?

Short of something not dawned upon my crimson brain, this may wrap up this long-running episode on the Poling Prize.




The "clincher" if there is one, would Prof. Roth's observation from Pale Fire regarding "political pollination." I believe this is John Shade speaking, (if I remember correctly) rightly dismissive of Freudians. In the context of Lolita, Jim's argument is much stronger and makes definite sense. His chain of associations is pretty unique too, quoting from Speak, Memory and I believe (not for the first time), one arrives at a unique solution through a parallel chain of reasoning. 


One might just as well say that the Poling Prize hints at Polonius (a character in Shakespeare's Hamlet). Describing the first lap of his road trip across the USA with Lolita, Humbert Humbert mentions Polonius:


“My chère Dolores! I want to protect you, dear, from all the horrors that happen to little girls in coal sheds and alley ways, and alas, comme vous le savez trop bien, ma gentille, in the blueberry woods during the bluest of summers. Through thick and thin I will still stay your guardian, and if you are good, I hope a court may legalize that guardianship before long. Let 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; 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 Polonius!). The wise mother (and your poor mother would have been wise, had she lived) will encourage a companionship 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 are 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 immoral purposes, whatever these are. Dolores darling! You are not nine but almost thirteen, and I would not advise you to consider yourself my cross-country slave, and I deplore the Mann Act as lending itself to a dreadful pun, the revenge that the Gods of Semantics take against tight-zippered Philistines. I am your father, and I am speaking English, and I love you. (2.1)


According to John Ray, Jr., "the caretakers of the various cemeteries involved report that no ghosts walk" (an obvious allusion to Hamlet). In his poem She Walks in Beauty (1814) Byron says:


One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.


One of the chapters in Part Two of Lolita ends with a pseudo-Shakespearean quote:


At this solitary stop for refreshments between Coalmont and Ramsdale (between innocent Dolly Schiller and jovial Uncle Ivor), I reviewed my case. With the utmost simplicity and clarity I now saw myself and my love. Previous attempts seemed out of focus in comparison. A couple of years before, under the guidance of an intelligent French-speaking confessor, to whom, in a moment of metaphysical curiosity, I had turned over a Protestant’s drab atheism for an old-fashioned popish cure, I had hoped to deduce from my sense of sin the existence of a Supreme Being. On those frosty mornings in rime-laced Quebec, the good priest worked on me with the finest tenderness and understanding. I am infinitely obliged to him and the great Institution he represented. Alas, I was unable to transcend the simple human fact that whatever spiritual solace I might find, whatever lithophanic eternities might be provided for me, nothing could make my Lolita forget the foul lust I had inflicted upon her. Unless it can be proven 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:


The moral sense in mortals is the duty

We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty. (2.31)


According to John Ray, Jr., he was awarded the Poling Prize for a modest work (“Do the Senses make Sense?”) wherein certain morbid states and perversions had been discussed. In VN's novels (including Lolita) the senses do make sense.


Poling + male/meal/lame = paling + mole

Poling + um + ale = Pauling + mole


um - mind, intellect; wits


In Shakespeare's play (1.5) Hamlet calls the ghost of his father "old mole:"


Ghost.  [Beneath.]  Swear.

Hamlet. Well said, old mole! Canst work i’ the earth so fast?

A worthy pioner! Once more remove, good friends.

It seems that the Poling Prize also hints at Polignac, a French politician (1780-1847) mentioned by Poprishchin in Gogol’s story Zapiski sumasshedshego (“The Notes of a Madman,” 1835):


Судя по всем вероятиям, догадываюсь: не попался ли я в руки инквизиции, и тот, которого я принял за канцлера, не есть ли сам великий инквизитор. Только я все не могу понять, как же мог король подвергнуться инквизиции. Оно, правда, могло со стороны Франции, и особенно Полинияк. О, это бестия Полинияк! Поклялся вредить мне по смерть. И вот гонит да и гонит; но я знаю, приятель, что тебя водит англичанин. Англичанин большой политик. Он везде юлит. Это уже известно всему свету, что когда Англия нюхает табак, то Франция чихает.


Judging by all the circumstances, it seems to me as though I had fallen into the hands of the Inquisition, and as though the man whom I took to be the Chancellor was the Grand Inquisitor. But yet I cannot understand how the king could fall into the hands of the Inquisition. The affair may have been arranged by France — especially Polignac — he is a hound, that Polignac! He has sworn to compass my death, and now he is hunting me down. But I know, my friend, that you are only a tool of the English. They are clever fellows, and have a finger in every pie. All the world knows that France sneezes when England takes a pinch of snuff.


In the preceding entry of his diary Poprishchin (who imagines that he is Ferdinand VIII, the king of Spain) mentions the famous English chemist, Wellington:


Завтра в семь часов совершится странное явление: земля сядет на луну. Об этом и знаменитый английский химик Веллингтон пишет. Признаюсь, я ощутил сердечное беспокойство, когда вообразил себе необыкновенную нежность и непрочность луны. Луна ведь обыкновенно делается в Гамбурге; и прескверно делается. Я удивляюсь, как не обратит на это внимание Англия. Делает её хромой бочар, и видно, что дурак, никакого понятия не имеет о луне. Он положил смоляной канат и часть деревянного масла; и оттого по всей земле вонь страшная, так что нужно затыкать нос. И оттого самая луна - такой нежный шар, что люди никак не могут жить, и там теперь живут только одни носы. И по тому-то самому мы не можем видеть носов своих, ибо они все находятся в луне.


But I feel much annoyed by an event which is about to take place tomorrow; at seven o’clock the earth is going to sit on the moon. This is foretold by the famous English chemist, Wellington. To tell the truth, I often felt uneasy when I thought of the excessive brittleness and fragility of the moon. The moon is generally repaired in Hamburg, and very imperfectly. It is done by a lame cooper, an obvious blockhead who has no idea how to do it. He took waxed thread and olive-oil — hence that pungent smell over all the earth which compels people to hold their noses. And this makes the moon so fragile that no men can live on it, but only noses. Therefore we cannot see our noses, because they are on the moon.


Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo. In an attempt to save his life Clare Quilty tries to seduce Humbert Humbert with his collection of erotica and mentions the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie Weiss:


"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 Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie 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 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 -" (2.35)


In Gogol's Myortvye dushi ("Dead Souls," 1842) Sobakevich (one of the landowners visited by Chichikov) has, among other paintings, a portrait of Prince Bagration (a general who was felled in the battle of Borodino):


Вошед в гостиную, Собакевич показал на кресла, сказавши опять: “Прошу!” Садясь, Чичиков взглянул на стены и на висевшие на них картины. На картинах всё были молодцы, всё греческие полководцы, гравированные во весь рост: Маврокордато в красных панталонах и мундире, с очками на носу, Миаули, Канари. Все эти герои были с такими толстыми ляжками и неслыханными усами, что дрожь проходила по телу. Между крепкими греками, неизвестно каким образом и для чего, поместился Багратион, тощий, худенький, с маленькими знаменами и пушками внизу и в самых узеньких рамках. Потом опять следовала героиня греческая Бобелина, которой одна нога казалась больше всего туловища тех щёголей, которые наполняют нынешние гостиные.


At length they reached the drawing-room, where Sobakevich pointed to an armchair, and invited his guest to be seated. Chichikov gazed with interest at the walls and the pictures. In every such picture there were portrayed either young men or Greek generals of the type of Mavrogordato (clad in a red uniform and breaches), Kanaris, and others; and all these heroes were depicted with a solidity of thigh and a wealth of moustache which made the beholder simply shudder with awe. Among them there were placed also, according to some unknown system, and for some unknown reason, firstly, Bagration - tall and thin, and with a cluster of small flags and cannon beneath him, and the whole set in the narrowest of frames - and, secondly, the Greek heroine, Bobelina, whose legs looked larger than do the whole bodies of the drawing-room dandies of the present day. (chapter V)


Sobakevich brings to mind Tobakovich, as Demon Veen (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Van’s and Ada’s father) calls Tobak (Cordula de Prey’s first husband). Grace Erminin (Greg’s twin sister) marries a Wellington. In Paris (also known on Antiterra as Lute) Van tells Greg Erminin that Mlle Larivière (Lucette’s governess who writes fiction under the penname Guillaume de Monparnasse) had been just awarded the Lebon Academy Prize for her copious rubbish. Lebon is Nobel in reverse. In 1954 Linus Pauling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


According to Poprishchin, the moon is made in Hamburg. Humbert Humbert calls himself Hamburg:


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 reminds 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 I 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 and his group. Passionately I hoped to find preserved the portrait of the artist as a younger brute. An innocent camera catching me on my dark way to Lolita’s bedwhat 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 upat an early morning 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 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 been an Omen Faustum smoker. Husky Hank and his petite bride were to be the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Reginald G. Gore, 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 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 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 guerrilla assault - and, ah, at last, a little figure in white, and Dr. Braddock in black, but whatever spectral shoulder was brushing against his ample form - nothing of myself could I make out. (2.26)


The author of Dark Age who refused to be photographed is Clare Quilty.


In his Foreword to Humbert Humbert's manuscript John Ray, Jr. mentions Dr. Blanche Schwarzmann, whose name is a negative, so to speak, of Melanie Weiss (the author of Bagration Island):


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 term 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, 1933, 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 inpetly accuse of sensuous existence of their own, are the most strictly functional ones in the development of a tragic tale tending unsweri\vingly to nothing less than a moral apotheosis. The cynic may say that commercial pornography makes the same claim; the learned may counter by asserting that "H.H." 's impassioned confession is a tempest in a test tube; that at least 12% of American adult males - a "conservative" estimate according to Dr. Blanche Schwarzmann (verbal communication) - 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 1947, to a competent psychopathologist, there would have been no disaster; but then, neither would there have been this book.


Polignac + mole = Molignac + pole = Poling + Cam + Leo


Molignac - in VN's novel Podvig ("Glory," 1932) the village in Provence where Martin Edelweiss spends a summer working at a farm