NABOKV-L post 0002249, Wed, 30 Jul 1997 15:16:49 -0700

Re: Lolita's beginnings? (fwd)
In today's issue of London Review of Books (July 31), Julian Evans
begins his Diary with "The Ballad of Longwood Glen" as an oblique
entry to his main subject, Valery Larbaud. After discussing a Larbaud
anniversary for two columns, he shifts towards a "parallel . . . that
has never been clarified. It is to do with Larbaud and the big shot
himself": Nabokov.

He cites from Larbaud's essay "Des Prenoms Feminins" in _Jaune, Bleu,
Blanc_ (1927) this example of the unsurpassed subtlety of
Spanish women's names: "Lolita est une petite fille; Lola est en age
de se marier; Dolores a trente ans; Dona Dolores a soixante ans." He
doesn't quote "Il faut donc quelque chose de plus. Le diminutif:" but
does cite what follows: "Pour tout le monde: Dona Dolores; pour moi
seul: Lolita." Michel Deon suggested the connection to Evans, who
also discusses John Kenneth Simon's letter to VN in February 1971,
which elicited a reply (Selected Letters) in which VN does not recall
"having ever read anything by Valery Larbaud."
Evans also refers to Larbaud's 1923 novella, _Beaute, Mon Beau
Souci_, in which 25-year-old Marc Fournier, a wealthy Frenchman in
London, while "calmly conducting an affair with his housekeeper,
falls in love with her 14-year-old daughter, Queenie"; Evans
translates: "There was a marvelous new name in the world: Queenie.
Why are certain names so beautiful? Who can explain the charm there
is in them that makes one never tire of saying them out loud . . . ?"
Evans does not comment, but there is certainly something anticipatory
of the tensions within the Haze household in the Crosland home,
although as Evans notes: "Queenie is lost to Marc by his negligence.
Larbaud's story, both a homage to the secret transition from girlhood
to womanhood and a self-examination of male vanity, is structurally
quite different from Humbert Humbert's autobiography." Nevertheless
he concludes: "Nabokov invented America, Nabokov invented 'my
Lolita.' But to re-put his own question: did she have a precursor?
She did, indeed she did."

From: Brian Boyd
English Department
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019 Auckland New Zealand
Fax (64 9) 373 7429 Tel (64 9) 373 7599 ext 7480
Home fax: (64 9) 620 6520 Home tel: (64 9) 620 6597