Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026970, Mon, 2 May 2016 19:26:19 -0300

Humbert Humbert's manuscript,
forty years and Franz Reichelt: HH's spiritual death?
While I was busy trying to figure out more details about Valeria and her "husband's name" Maximovitch (Cf. "the good colonel (Maximovich! his name suddenly taxies back to me)." ) another information started to intrigue me, now in connection to a reference to Franz Reichelt and his doomed project. While reading VN's novel perhaps I should have paid more attention to this suggestion of failure and doom because this may indicate that, at the time of his writing, Humbert Humbert was experiencing some kind of regret related to his transformation of a fantasy into an act during his stay in "The Enchanted Hunters" in 14/15, August, 1947.

There is another interesting detail that I also failed to notice. When Humbert tells his story about a purple pill we find that there "was something the intruder had not expected. The whole pill-spiel (a rather sordid affair, entre nous soit dit) had had for object a fastness of sleep that a whole regiment would not have disturbed, and here she was staring at me [ ] Softly, with a hopeless sigh, Dolly turned away, resuming her initial position. For at least two minutes I waited and strained on the brink, like that tailor with his homemade parachute forty years ago when about to jump from the Eiffel Tower. Her faint breathing had the rhythm of sleep. Finally I heaved myself onto my narrow margin of bed, stealthily pulled at the odds and ends of sheets piled up to the south of my stone-cold heels — and Lolita lifted her head and gaped at me [ ] What mattered, was that I had been deceived. When Lolita opened her eyes again, I realized that whether or not the drug might work later in the night, the security I had relied upon was a sham one. Slowly her head turned away and dropped onto her unfair amount of pillow. I lay quite still on my brink, peering at her rumpled hair, at the glimmer of nymphet flesh...[ ] The science of nympholepsy is a precise science. Actual contact would do it in one second flat. An interspace of a millimeter would do it in ten. Let us wait." V.N has Humbert place the disastrous event at a "forty years" distance.

Matt Roth wrote in his blog that "In part 1, Chapter 29 of Lolita, Humbert, standing above the sleeping girl, says “For at least two minutes I waited and strained on the brink, like that tailor with his homemade parachute forty years ago when about to jump from the Eiffel Tower” (AnLo 128). Oddly, Appel provides no annotation. The tailor in question is Franz Reichelt, and his leap was fatal. VN must have seen this newsreel, as most of it is taken up with ill-fated Franz standing on the brink. Humbert’s image is lively enough on its own, but I have to say that it takes on a new flavor after one watches the film. (Matt Roth) https://kobaltana.wordpress.com/ However, he doesn't refer to the actual dating of the fatal leap. Reichelt jumped from the Eiffel Tower in February 4, 1912 ( <https://britishpathe.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/franz-reichelt-day-february-4th-100th-anniversary-of-eiffel-tower-death-jump/> https://britishpathe.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/franz-reichelt-day-february-4th-100th-anniversary-of-eiffel-tower-death-jump/).

Dieter Zimmer, in his Chronology of Lolita ( Cf. http://www.d-e-zimmer.de/LolitaUSA/LoChrono.htm ) observes that "Facing his trial, Humbert writes Lolita, first in a psychiatric ward, then in jail (p.308). In the third to last paragraph he says that he started to write Lolita "fifty-six days ago" (p.308). As he probably died right after finishing his memoir, he must have written this on the day of his death, that is on November 16. Counting back 56 days brings us to September 21, the day before he received Lolita's letter. If he had begun writing the day after his arrest on September 26, he would have had only 51 days at his disposal. Several critics have understood this to imply that he never went to Coalmont but instead began penning his memoir, at home or in a psychiatric clinic or in jail or anywhere − and that hence all the events after September 21 must be fictional in the second degree, an invention inside the invention. However, considering Humbert's demonstrated laxness in summing up time, it would seem much more parsimonious to take his "56 days" as simply one of several similar mistakes he makes." In his footnote he adds: " I don’t care to open up another revisionist front, but it does seem to me that the real temporal problem of the novel is a more basic one than the missing five days (or three, as some contend). The problem is that it is very unlikely Humbert could have written his memoir in so short a time, whether it was 51 or 56 days [ ] It took Nabokov almost three years of hard work to write the book and he was surely aware that he was imposing an impossible task on Humbert when he made him write it about forty times as fast − and that some readers would notice. So what is one to make of Humbert’s claims, short of discarding them altogether? I personally find it tempting to believe that he "really" is "in legal captivity" and that he "really" didn’t have more than 51 days to complete his book, but that most of it had been written before his arrest, during the three years after Lolita’s disappearance [ ]." Dieter Zimmer, among many other imiportant considerations, notes that Humbert "demonstrated laxness un summing up time" and the Reichelt's date must be a clear example of it. Would HH's choice of "forty-years ago" have any other particular significance?

Humbert Humbert dies in 1952, exactly forty years after Reichelt's death. The reference to the tailor (1947), if it signals doom/regret, indicates the date when Humbert Humbert's "spirit" died following a "nympholepetic's" calendar.

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