In The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where Humbert Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together) Lolita confesses that in the previous summer she had a lesbian relationship with Elizabeth Talbot:
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 character,” “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 headand then did a double take.
“Say, how come you know all those kids?”
“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 girl.”
I wanted to know if either mother learned of those sapphic diversions?
“Gosh no,” exhaled limp Lo mimicking dread and relief, pressing a falsely fluttering hand to her chest. (1.32)
The hotel’s name seems to blend Leskov’s Ocharovannyi strannik (“The Enchanted Wanderer,” 1873) with Turgenev’s Zapiski okhotnika (“A Hunter’s Notes,” 1852). Leskov is the author of Ovtsebyk (“Musk-Ox,” 1863). Offering Lolita his sleeping pills, Humbert Humbert tells her that they make one strong as an ox or an ax:
When the dessert was plunked down a huge wedge of cherry pie for the young lady and vanilla ice cream her protector, 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 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 its plump, beautifully colored capsules loaded with Beauty’s Sleep.
“Blue!” she exclaimed. “Violet blue. What are they made of?”
“Summer skies,” I said, “and plums and figs, and the grape-blood of emperors.”
“No, seriously - please.”
“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. (1.27)
“The grape-blood of emperors” brings to mind Miss Emperor, Lolita’s piano teacher:
Because it supposedly tied up with her interest in dance and dramatics, I had permitted Lo to take piano lessons with a Miss 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, where I was in the act of mopping up Gustave’s - I mean Gaston’s - king’s side, rang and Miss Emperor asked if Lo was coming 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. (2.19)
In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856) Mlle Lempereur is Emma’s fake piano teacher. In La légende de Saint-Julien l'hospitalier ("Saint Julian the Hospitalier," 1877) Flaubert mentions le jappement des talbots (the yelps of talbots):
La robe noire des épagneuls luisait comme du satin; le jappement des talbots valait celui des bigles chanteurs. Dans une cour à part, grondaient, en secouant leur chaîne et roulant leurs prunelles, huit dogues alains, bêtes formidables qui sautent au ventre des cavaliers et n'ont pas peur des lions.
The black coats of the spaniels shone like satin; the barking of the setters equalled that of the beagles. In a special enclosure were eight growling bloodhounds that tugged at their chains and rolled their eyes, and these dogs leaped at men's throats and were not afraid even of lions. (chapter I)
Flaubert’s story was translated into Russian by Turgenev (as “Katolicheskaya legenda o svyatom Yuliane Milostivom”). In his translation Turgenev mentions zalivchatoe tyavkanie talbotov (the modulating yelps of talbots):
Чёрная шерсть испанок лоснилась, как атлас; заливчатое тявкание "тальботов" не уступало серебристому лаю английских "биглей". На отдельном дворе рычали, потрясая цепями и ворочая кровавыми зрачками, восемь аланских догов; то были страшные животные, которые впивались в брюхо всадникам и не боялись самого льва.
Ivan Turgenev lived with the family of Pauline Viardot-Garcia, an opera singer who was a lesbian (according to Alexandre Dumas fils whose words are quoted by Boborykin in his memoirs). Elizabeth Talbot’s first name seems to hint at Liza Kalitin, the main female character (who begins the gallery of “the Turgenev girls”) in Turgenev’s novel Dvoryanskoe gnezdo (“Home of the Gentry,” 1859).
In a letter of April 21-22, 1877, to Strakhov Leo Tolstoy calls Flaubert’s story in Turgenev’s translation merzost’ (a nasty thing):
У меня был «Вестник Европы». Потехина повесть хороша; но что за мерзость Флобера, перевод Тургенева. Это возмутительная гадость. А все ругают V. Hugo. A он там говорит в разговоре земли с человеком:
Человек: Je suis ton roi.
Земля: Tu es ma vermine. Ну-ка, отчего они не сказали так?
In the same letter Tolstoy mentions the last part of Anna Karenin (appreciated by Strakhov):
У меня на сердце ещё ваше последнее письмо с одобрением последней части «Карениной».
Charlotte’s death under the wheels of a car in Lolita reminds one of Anna’s death under the wheels of a train in Tolstoy’s novel. Ovtsa being Russian for “sheep; ewe,” Ramsdale (the city where Humbert Humbert meets Lolita and marries her mother) brings to mind Leskov’s Ovtsebyk (a cross, as it were, of ovtsa and byk, “ox”).
According to Humbert Humbert, Quilty (who also spent the night in The Enchanted Hunters when HH and Lolita were there) resembles his uncle Gustave Trapp:
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 resembling Gustave Trapp, a cousin of my father’s in Switzerland - same smoothly tanned face, fuller than mine, with a small dark mustache and a rosebud degenerate mouth. (2.18)
A few paragraphs into the story about Saint Julian Flaubert mentions chausse-trapes (traps):
Des bourses, des hameçons, des chausse-trapes, toute sorte d'engins, furent confectionnés.
Bag-nets, baits, traps and all sorts of snares were manufactured. (chapter I)
In his translation Turgenev renders toute sorte d'engins as vsevozmozhnye zapadni (all sorts of traps):
Всевозможные западни были заготовлены в изобилии: и тенёта, и крюки, и железные ловушки, и подвижные зеркальца для ловли жаворонков.
Zapadni is plural of zapadnya (trap, snare). Zapadnya is the Russian title of Zola’s novel L’Assommoir (1877). Zola’s article in defense of Dreyfus was entitled "J'accuse" (“I accuse,” 1898). Clare Quilty (who is murdered by Humbert Humbert for kidnapping Lolita) is clearly guilty.
Chekhov (who lived at the time in Nice) was keenly interested in the Dreyfus affair. In a letter of February 6, 1898, to Suvorin he writes:
Вы пишете, что Вам досадно на Зола, а здесь у всех такое чувство, как будто народился новый, лучший Зола. В этом своем процессе он, как в скипидаре, очистился от наносных сальных пятен и теперь засиял перед французами в своём настоящем блеске. Это чистота и нравственная высота, каких не подозревали.
You write that you are annoyed with Zola, and here everyone has a feeling as though a new, better Zola had arisen. In his trial he has been cleansed as though in turpentine from grease-spots, and now shines before the French in his true brilliance. There is a purity and moral elevation that was not suspected in him.
Happily for him, Humbert Humbert dies a few days before his trial is scheduled to start. We learn of HH’s death from John Ray’s Foreword. In his memoir essay O Chekhove (“On Chekhov”) included in his book Na kladbishchakh (“At the Cemeteries,” 1921) Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko compares Chekhov’s laughter to a ray in the dark:
Смеялся он редко, но когда смеялся, всем становилось весело, точно луч в потёмках.
He laughed seldom, but when he laughed, everybody was merry, like a ray in the dark.
Luch v potyomkakh (a ray in the dark) brings o mind chuzhaya dusha potyomki (“you cannot read in another’s heart), a saying quoted by Chekhov in a letter of August 30, 1898, to Mme Avilov (who said that talented people live and love only in the word of their fancy):
Что же касается всего прочего — равнодушия, скуки, того, что талантливые люди живут и любят только в мире своих образов и фантазий, — могу сказать одно: чужая душа потёмки.
In the Russian version (1967) of Lolita one of Quilty’s aliases is P. O. Tyomkin:
Я замечал, что, как только ему начинало казаться, что его плутни становятся чересчур заумными, даже для такого эксперта, как я, он меня приманивал опять загадкой полегче. "Арсен Люпэн" был очевиден полуфранцузу, помнившему детективные рассказы, которыми он увлекался в детстве; и едва ли следовало быть знатоком кинематографа, чтобы раскусить пошлую подковырку в адресе: "П. О. Тёмкин, Одесса, Техас". (2.23)
In the English version Quilty puts himself down in the hotel-book G. Trapp:
Such things as ‘G. Trapp, Geneva, NY’ was the sign of treachery on Lolita’s part. (2.23)