EDNote: a quick search of the archive of "Pym Poe Lolita" brings up eight or nine results, but none as detailed as Bruce's below. ~SB

Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym and the "true" story in Lolita
Bruce Stone <bstone41@hotmail.com>
Fri, 21 Sep 2012 19:27:07 +0000

I'm hesitant to rouse a sleeping dog, but I thought that the list members might find this interesting. This was news to me. If it's not for others, please disregard.
Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym bears some strange resemblances, eerie affinities, with Nabokov's Lolita. I'll list the most pertinent.
1) Pym starts with a Preface, written by Pym himself, that tries in part to account for the fact that the first two chapters of the narrative were published elsewhere by E.A. Poe. Pym's Preface ends like this: "Even to those readers who have not seen the Messenger [where Poe's chapters appeared], it will be unnecessary to point out where his portion ends and my own commences; the differences in point of style will be readily perceived." (Here, the editor of the Norton Critical edition points out in a footnote that there is no evident change in the prose styles.) This passage is reminiscent of the debate concerning Humbert's and Ray's prose styles in Lolita.
2) There are times in the book when Pym changes narrative tacks, from more conventionally elaborated chapters to a diary/journal form, about which he is forced to concede in a footnote: "The terms morning and evening, which I have made use of to avoid confusion in my narrative, as far as possible, must not, of course, be taken in their ordinary sense. For a long time past we had had no night at all, the daylight being continual. The dates throughout are according to nautical time, and the bearings must be understood as per compass. I would also remark in this place, that I cannot, in the first portion of what is here written, pretend to strict accuracy in respect to dates, or latitudes and longitudes, having kept no regular journal until after the period of which this first portion treats. In many instances I have relied altogether upon memory." This passage calls to mind Humbert's own efforts as a diarist, and his struggle to keep the dates accurate in his confession.
3) Pym ends with a Note, an afterword written by a fictional editor (much like John Ray). The Note begins by telling us that Pym has died prior to the book's publication, thus leaving the manuscript unfinished. The fact of Pym's death, he writes, is "already well known to the public through the medium of the daily press." The unnamed "writer of this appendix" also mentions his efforts to contact Pym's sole surviving companion, to get details about the journey from him, and he suggests that readers will likely find Pym's story corroborated by a "governmental expedition now preparing for the Southern Ocean." Here, the echoes with Ray's Foreword--his announcement of Lolita's death, his contact with Windmuller and news of Rita et al.--are clear, and I'm also reminded of Humbert's own efforts to point to corroborating evidence in his confession. 
4) Pym's editor also attempts to get in touch with Poe "to fill the vacuum" in the narrative, but Poe, apparently, refuses to get involved "for reasons connected with the general inaccuracy of the details afforded him, and his disbelief in the entire truth of the latter portions of the narration [my italics]." Those last words seem to capture the position of some critics with regard to Lolita's concluding chapters.
More broadly, Poe scholars have also noted how his book's chronology is problematic in other ways, and all of this has made Pym a subject of vigorous debate, much like Nabokov's Lolita. 
These coincidences might suggest a precedent for the existential sleight-of-hand that some readers see in Lolita, but it's hard to know how much weight to give them. Poe's presence haunts Lolita, obviously, but Pym is referenced only once, if at all. The entries from Who's Who in the Limelight begin with "Pym, Roland." Appel suggests that a reference to Poe's text is evident in the last name, and the timing of the reference would be exquisite, preceding as it does the coded annoucement of Quilty's murder and pointing from the start to the dubious nature of that murder. But then again, a web search reveals that there was a British painter named Roland Pym, who had been active around the time that Nabokov was writing Lolita. (He did the artwork for a few pop-up books of fairy tales, among other things.) So maybe the reference to Poe's Pym is itself problematic. Suffice it to say that Poe's narrative seems to prefigure some of what we find in Lolita.
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