NABOKV-L post 0004503, Mon, 18 Oct 1999 13:34:58 -0700

Re: QUERY: Hairy Hermaphrodite in Lolita? (fwd)
From: Marilyn Edelstein <>

>From Marilyn Edelstein

In addition to the sexual connotations of the passage, already noted by
several post-ers, in which the passage would allude to masturbation (in
which, I suppose, a man might think of his hand as a "total stranger" to
make the fantasy more "real"), there's the possibility that it refers to a
dream that is "arousing" HH from slumber. If it were an allusion to a
dream, it might also be a sly dig at Freud. So, if HH's guilt and anxiety
regarding sex with Lolita were weighing on his unconscious (if not his
conscience, or super-ego, as Freud called it), he might be repressing
those in whch case they would need to emerge in dreams (or other
expressions of the unconscious).
So congress with a hermaphrodite (but not Aphrodite) might be an even
more grotesque version of HH's own "perverse" taste for nymphets. And
nymphets seem to exist on the border between pre-pubescence and
pubescence, in which they are emerging from a somewhat androgynous state
into a sexualized and gendered one as females (but not the sort of females
like Charlotte, who HH loathes as full-sized, overly mature, over-ripe
fleshy and anti-erotic creatures). So a Freudian could interpret HH as
awaking from this weird dream caused by his desires and fears (since the
passage doesn't say he was already awake and implies the "congress" woke
him). And a reader well-versed in VN's oft-expressed anti-Freudianism
might see VN as challenging readers to make something of this dream/scene.
When I've discussed Lolita in class, at least once a student asked
about this very passage, and I've suggested a range of possible meanings,
including those suggested here and in the other postings re: masturbation
(and even in an "insect" reading, it would seem more likely to be a spider
than a mosquito). Marilyn Edelstein

Beth Sweeney> 10/18/99 >>>
------------------ I posed this question to Zoran Kuzmanovich at the
Cornell conference, but we could not resolve it to our (or at least my)

In Part 1 of Lolita, at the very beginnning of Chapter 27 (p. 109 in the
rev. ed. of The Annotated Lolita), Humbert says:

"Finally, I did achieve an hour's slumber--from which I was aroused by
gratuitous and horribly exhausting congress with a small hairy
hermaphrodite, a total stranger."

What's the literal meaning of this sentence? I had always assumed that
Humbert was being bitten by a mosquito (it is August, after all), but my
husband the biologist assures me that hermaphroditic insects are extremely
rare. Nabokov, needless to say, knew his insects. Any ideas?

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Holy Cross College
Worcester, MA 01610