Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026179, Fri, 15 May 2015 12:29:26 -0700

Re: RES: [NABOKV-L] a book called Lolita
Dear Jansy,
I'm afraid I've read the extensive Mexico-oiserie in Lolita, which you present with casual thoroughness in your note, without much imagination.
HH, a quick study in many ways, picks up the standard U.S. attitude toward Mexico, which is that it is exotic and not that far away ("Mexico is different, as a travel folder says": from "Mexican Divorce," Bob Hilliard and Burt Bachrach, first recorded by The Drifters, 1962). There are Mexican notes all over Lolita's genesis, true. Then during the years of her captivity, her stepfather toys with the idea of escaping "over the border" just as U.S. citizens have been doing since at least the 1850s, when on the lam for any number of reasons. (To see what actually awaits malefactors in Mexico, see The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and March to the Monteria, B. Traven, where fatal justice without tears is meted out by federales in judge-jury-executioner-now-what's-for-breakfast style.)
I tend to see HH's toying with the idea of a Mexican escape as more evidence of his ongoing Americanization. No doubt he and Lo have seen a couple of movies -- probably more than a couple -- where getting over the border is seen as a way out. H badly needs that, beset as he is by intuitions of conspiracy and catastrophe (especially during the second spell of Wanderjahr-ing, post-Beardsley School). Desperate he is, but smart enough to be uneasy at the prospect of what actually might happen south of the border. They would there become more visible to nosy Parkers rather than less. Both of them gringos, neither speaking the lingo...older man with toothsome little girl..."Porque esta en Ciudad Juarez, senor, piensa que hay muchos lugares aqui de ocultarse?"
There is an irony in that getting across borders has been liberating for HH in the past. But now that string is running out for him. Just on the level of a novelist trying to write a shapely fiction: what would N. have gained by giving Lolita a ballooning interior third or fourth act, with equivocal adventures in the land of norteno music and the PRI? HH's encounter with the territorial U.S. is already immensely suggestive. And N. inditing a novel for American readers in 1950-53 was not the same writer who gave us the brilliantly capacious but ungainly, verging on formless, Dar of the 30s. N.'s struggles with editor Katharine White of The New Yorker (her grim and often tuneless impositions of New Yorker house style) and his bemused but alert response to some of the books being published by his post-War contemporaries made him a late-blooming Aristotelian, the Aristotle of the Poetics.
I fear I have failed to answer any of your excellent questions. Please forgive me.
On May 6, 2015, at 9:31 AM, Jansy Mello wrote:

> Robert Roper: Recent exchanges on the subject of Lolita as sex book or not lead me to lift a slightly embarrassed self-promotional pen to announce a modest study of my own, Nabokov in America, due from Bloomsbury early in June. It's about the years 1940-60 with special attention to what N. wrote in that period, or conceived of in those years, and in passing it casts an eye on the "sex book" of the 20th century, a mini-tradition against which N wrote...
> Jansy Mello: Google search informs: [ ] “Nabokov in America finds its narrative heart in his serial sojourns into the wilds of the West, undertaken with his wife, Vera, and their son over more than a decade. Nabokov covered more than 200,000 miles as he indulged his other passion: butterfly collecting. Roper has mined fresh sources to bring detail to these journeys, and traces their significant influence in Nabokov's work: on two-lane highways and in late-'40s motels and cafés, we feel Lolita draw near, and understand Nabokov's seductive familiarity with the American mundane. Nabokov in America is also a love letter to U.S. literature, in Nabokov's broad embrace of it from Melville to the Beats. Reading Roper, we feel anew the mountain breezes and the miles logged, the rich learning and the Romantic mind behind some of Nabokov's most beloved books.” http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/nabokov-in-america-9781632860866/
> I was particularly interested in the information about Robert Roper’s fascination with Nabokov’s “serial sojourns into the wilds of the West”( the title “Nabokov in America” has an additional “On the Road to Lolita”…). I wonder if the author could offer a preview of his ideas about the importance of Mexico to Nabokov, who has Lolita’s conception taking place in Vera Cruz, and to transgressor Humbert Humbert’s qualms about “crossing a border” ? There are other borders being crossed in VN’s novels, is this a parallel to them? Why “Conception Park” is situated in the US, although “in a town on the Mexican border”? What does HH mean by “be happy abroad” in a sentence in which he only mentions, again, the Mexican border?
> In “Lolita” we find:
> “The front hall was graced with door chimes, a white-eyed wooden thingamabob of commercial Mexican origin… 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 wall…”Lolita 1,10;
> “Main character: Humbert the Hummer. Time: Sunday morning 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 engendered 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…” Lolita 1,13;
> “Moreover, we inspected: Little Iceberg Lake, somewhere in Colorado, and the snow banks, and the cushionets of tiny alpine flowers, and more snow…Skeletons of burned aspens, patches of spired blue flowers. The various items of a scenic drive…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…Our hundredth cavern, adults one dollar, Lolita fifty cents…” Lolita 2,2;
> “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 until I could safely marry my little Creole …” Lolita 2,2;
> “We had promised Beardsley School, good old Beardsley School, that we would be back … 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…We had dug out our tour books and maps. She had traced our route with immense zest. Was it thanks to those theatricals that she had now outgrown her juvenile jaded airs and was so adorably keen to explore rich reality? …” Lolita 2,14 ;
> “An additional, abominable, and perfectly gratuitous worry was lovingly prepared for me in Elphinstone…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 desserts, fatamorganas. José Lizzarrabengoa, as you remember, planned to take his Carmen to the Etats Unis…Why did I hope we would be happy abroad? A change of environment is the traditional fallacy upon which doomed loves, and lungs, rely.”Lolita 2,22
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