In The Enchanted Hunters (in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955, 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 head - and 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)
In Henry VI, Part 1 (1591) Shakespeare (a playwright and poet of the Elizabethan era) mentions John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (1384/1387 – 1453). Shakespeare’s history play Henry VI, Part 1 deals with the loss of England’s French territories and the political machinations leading up to the Wars of the Roses, as the English political system is torn apart by personal squabbles and petty jealousy.
In her class list at Ramsdale school Dolores Haze (Lolita’s full name) occupies a place between two Roses (Hamilton, Mary Rose and Honeck, Rosaline):
A poem, a poem, forsooth! So strange and sweet was it to discover this “Haze, Dolores” (she!) in its special bower of names, with its bodyguard of roses – a fairy princess between her two maids of honor. (1.11)
In his poem To Helen (1848) E. A. Poe mentions the upturned faces of a thousand roses that grew in an enchanted garden:
I SAW thee once — once only — years ago:
I must not say how many — but not many.
It was a July midnight; and from out
A full-orbed moon that, like thine own soul, soaring,
Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven,
There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,
With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber,
Upon the upturned faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,
Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe —
Fell on the upturned faces of these roses
That gave out, in return for the love-light,
Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death —
Fell on the upturned faces of these roses
That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted
By thee and by the poetry of thy presence.
One of E. A. Poe’s poems is The Sleeper (1831). On the porch of The Enchanted Hunters Quilty tells Humbert Humbert that his child needs a lot of sleep and that sleep is a rose, as the Persians say:
I left the loud lobby and stood outside, on the white steps, looking at the hundreds of powdered bugs wheeling around the lamps in the soggy black night, full of ripple and stir. All I would do - all I would dare do - would amount to such a trifle… Suddenly I was aware that in the darkness next to me there was somebody sitting in a chair on the pillared porch. I could not really see him but what gave him away was the rasp of a screwing off, then a discreet gurgle, then the final note of a placid screwing on. I was about to move away when his voice addressed me:
“Where the devil did you get her?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said: the weather is getting better.”
“Who’s the lassie?”
“You lie - she’s not.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said: July was hot. Where’s her mother?”
“I see. Sorry. By the way, why don’t you two lunch with me tomorrow. That dreadful crowd will be gone by then.”
“We’ll be gone too. Good night.”
“Sorry. I’m pretty drunk. Good night. That child of yours needs a lot of sleep. Sleep is a rose, as the Persians say. Smoke?”
He struck a light, but because he was drunk, or because the wind was, the flame illumined not him but another person, a very old man, one of those permanent guests of old hotelsand his white rocker. Nobody said anything and the darkness returned to its initial place. Then I heard the old-timer cough and deliver himself of some sepulchral mucus. (1.28)
In an interview to the Briceland Gazette Clare Quilty (“the author of Dark Age”) mentioned a Persian bubble bird and roses:
Wine, wine, wine, quipped the author of Dark Age who refused to be photographed, may suit a Persian bubble bird, but I say give me rain, rain, rain on the shingle roof for roses and inspiration every time. (2.26)
“A Persian bubble bird” is the nightingale. At the beginning of his poem Solovey i roza (“The Nightingale and the Rose,” 1827) Pushkin mentions bezmolvie sadov (the muteness of the gardens):
В безмолвии садов, весной, во мгле ночей,
Поёт над розою восточный соловей.
Но роза милая не чувствует, не внемлет,
И под влюблённый гимн колеблется и дремлет.
Не так ли ты поешь для хладной красоты?
Опомнись, о поэт, к чему стремишься ты?
Она не слушает, не чувствует поэта;
Глядишь — она цветёт; взываешь — нет ответа.
In gardens’ muteness, in spring, in the nights’ mist,
Over a rose sings the nightingale of East.
But doesn’t feel anything nor hear this charming rose,
And to the loving hymn just swings and calmly dozes.
Not in this way you sing for beauty, cold and hard?
Come to your senses, bard, where do you stream your heart?
She does not hear nor feel the poet’s soul, fervent;
You look – she is in bloom, you call – the answer’s absent.
(tr. E. Bonver)
Myatlev’s poem Rozy (“Roses,” 1834) begins: Kak khoroshi, kak svezhi byli rozy / v moyom sadu! (“How beautiful, how fresh were the roses / in my garden!”) The first line of Myatlev’s poem is the title of a poem in prose by Turgenev (included in Senilia, 1882). The author of Zapiski okhotnika (“A Hunter’s Notes,” 1851) and Otsyi i deti (“Fathers and Childrens,” 1862), Turgenev translated into Russian (as Katolicheskaya legenda o svyatom Yuliane Milostivom) Flaubert’s La légende de Saint-Julien l'hospitalier ("Saint Julian the Hospitalier," 1877), a story in which le jappement des talbots (the yelps of the talbots) is mentioned:
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 yelps of the talbots equaled those 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)
According to Alexandre Dumas fils, Pauline Viardot-Garcia (an opera singer in whose family Turgenev lived) was un gouine (a lesbian). Describing his visit to Ramsdale in 1952, Humbert Humbert mentions a Turgenev story, in which a torrent of Italian music comes from an open window:
Should I enter my old house? As in a Turgenev story, a torrent of Italian music came from an open window—that of the living room: what romantic soul was playing the piano where no piano had plunged and plashed on that bewitched Sunday with the sun on her beloved legs? (2.33)
Humbert Humbert has in mind Turgenev’s story Tri vstrechi (“Three Meetings,” 1852):
Сердце во мне томилось неизъяснимым чувством, похожим не то на ожиданье, не то на воспоминание счастия; я не смел шевельнуться, я стоял неподвижно пред этим неподвижным садом, облитым и лунным светом и росой, и, не знаю сам почему, неотступно глядел на те два окна, тускло красневшие в мягкой полутени, как вдруг раздался в доме аккорд, — раздался и прокатился волною... Раздражительно звонкий воздух отгрянул эхом... я невольно вздрогнул. Вслед за аккордом раздался женский голос... Я жадно стал вслушиваться — и... могу ли выразить мое изумление?.. два года тому назад, в Италии, в Сорренто, слышал я ту же самую песню, тот же самый голос... Да, да...
Vieni, pensando a me segretamente... (chapter I)
The title of Turgenev’s story brings to mind Vladimir Solovyov’s poems Tri svidaniya (“Three Meetings,” 1897), Tri podviga (“Three Heroic Deeds,” 1882) and his “Three Conversation about War, Progress and the End of History, Including a Short Story of the Antichrist” (1900). Solovyov (whose name comes from solovey, “nightingale”) is the author of two epigrams on lesbians. In his Pesnya ofitov (“The Song of the Ophites,” 1876) Solovyov mentions a white lily and a red rose:
Белую лилию с розой,
С алою розою мы сочетаем.
Тайной пророческой грёзой
Вечную истину мы обретаем.
Вещее слово скажите!
Жемчуг свой в чашу бросайте скорее!
Нашу голубку свяжите
Новыми кольцами древнего змея.
Вольному сердцу не больно...
Ей ли бояться огня Прометея?
Чистой голубке привольно
В пламенных кольцах могучего змея.
Пойте про ярые грозы,
В ярой грозе мы покой обретаем...
Белую лилию с розой,
С алою розою мы сочетаем.
Sing of the wild storms,
In a wild storm we find repose…
We combine a white lily with the rose,
With a red rose.
Showing to Humbert Humbert her house, Charlotte Haze mentions her Lo and her lilies:
Reluctantly I followed her downstairs again; then through the kitchen at the end of the hall, on the right side of the house - the side where also the dining room and the parlor were (under “my” room, on the left, there was nothing but a garage). In the kitchen, the Negro maid, a plump youngish woman, said, as she took her large glossy black purse from the knob of the door leading to the back porch: “I’ll go now, Mrs. Haze.” “Yes, Louise,” answered Mrs. Haze with a sigh. “I’ll settle with you Friday.” We passed on to a small pantry and entered the dining room, parallel to the parlor we had already admired. I noticed a white sock on the floor. With a deprecatory grunt, Mrs. Haze stooped without stopping and threw it into a closet next to the pantry. We cursorily inspected a mahogany table with a fruit vase in the middle, containing nothing but the still glistening stone of one plum. I groped for the timetable I had in my pocket and surreptitiously fished it out to look as soon as possible for a train. I was still walking behind Mrs. Haze though the dining room when, beyond it, there came a sudden burst of greenery “the piazza,” sang out my leader, and then, without the least warning, a blue sea-wave swelled under my heart and, from a mat in a pool of sun, half-naked, kneeling, turning about on her knees, there was my Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses.
It was the same child - the same frail, honey-hued shoulders, the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair. A polka-dotted black kerchief tied around her chest hid from my aging ape eyes, but not from the gaze of young memory, the juvenile breasts I had fondled one immortal day. And, as if I were the fairy-tale nurse of some little princess (lost, kidnapped, discovered in gypsy rags through which her nakedness smiled at the king and his hounds), I recognized the tiny dark-brown mole on her side. With awe and delight (the king crying for joy, the trumpets blaring, the nurse drunk) I saw again her lovely indrawn abdomen where my southbound mouth had briefly paused; and those puerile hips on which I had kissed the crenulated imprint left by the band of her shorts - that last mad immortal day behind the “Roches Roses.” The twenty-five years I had lived since then, tapered to a palpitating point, and vanished.
I find it most difficult to express with adequate force that flash, that shiver, that impact of passionate recognition. In the course of the sun-shot moment that my glance slithered over the kneeling child (her eyes blinking over those stern dark spectacles - the little Herr Doktor who was to cure me of all my aches) while I passed by her in my adult disguise (a great big handsome hunk of movie-land manhood), the vacuum of my soul managed to suck in every detail of her bright beauty, and these I checked against the features of my dead bride. A little later, of course, she, this nouvelle, this Lolita, my Lolita, was to eclipse completely her prototype. All I want to stress is that my discovery of her was a fatal consequence of that “princedom by the sea” in my tortured past. Everything between the two events was but a series of gropings and blunders, and false rudiments of joy. Everything they shared made one of them.
I have no illusions, however. My judges will regard all this as a piece of mummery on the part of a madman with a gross liking for the fruit vert. Au fond, a m’est bien égal. All I now is that while the Haze woman and I went down the steps into the breathless garden, my knees were like reflections of knees in rippling water, and my lips were like sand, and -
“That was my Lo,” she said, “and these are my lilies.”
“Yes,” I said, “yes. They are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.” (1.10)
To Humbert Humbert Lolita looks like his first Riviera love, Annabel Leigh (who died of typhus in Corfu). Annabel Lee (1849) is a poem by E. A. Poe alluded to by Humbert Humbert at the beginning of his manuscript:
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns. (1.1)
In the Russian version (1967) of Lolita Gumbert Gumbert calls the seraphs (“the wingèd seraphs of Heaven” mentioned by Poe in Annabel Lee) Edgarovy serafimy (Edgar’s seraphs):
Уважаемые присяжные женского и мужеского пола! Экспонат Номер Первый представляет собой то, чему так завидовали Эдгаровы серафимы - худо осведомленные, простодушные, благороднокрылые серафимы... Полюбуйтесь-ка на этот клубок терний.
Among Lolita’s classmates are Edgar and Edwin Talbots (Elizabeth’s brothers).
As I pointed out before, The Enchanted Hunters hint not only at Turgenev’s “Notes of a Hunter,” but also at Leskov’s Ocharovannyi strannik (“The Enchanted Wanderer,” 1873). 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.