Enchanted Hunters, Mona Dahl & John Ray in Lolita; Cora Day in Ada; Queen Disa in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 03/09/2019 - 16:42

Describing his first night with Lolita at The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland), Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN's novel Lolita, 1955) mentions the key in his hot hairy fist:


Gentlewomen of the jury! Bear with me! Allow me to take just a tiny bit of your precious time. So this was le grand moment. I had left my Lolita still sitting on the edge of the abysmal bed, drowsily raising her foot, fumbling at the shoelaces and showing as she did so the nether side of her thigh up to the crotch of her pantiesshe had always been singularly absentminded, or shameless, or both, in matters of legshow. This, then, was the hermetic vision of her which I had locked inafter satisfying myself that the door carried no inside bolt. The key, with its numbered dangler of carved wood, became forthwith the weighty sesame to a rapturous and formidable future. It was mine, it was part of my hot hairy fist. In a few minutessay, twenty, say half-an-hour, sicher its sicher as my uncle Gustave used to say - I would let myself into that “342” and find my nymphet, my beauty and bride, imprisoned in her crystal sleep. Jurors! If my happiness could have talked, it would have filled that genteel hotel with a deafening roar. And my only regret today is that I did not quietly deposit key “342” at the office, and leave the town, the country, the continent, the hemisphere, - indeed, the globe - that very same night.

Let me explain. I was not unduly disturbed by her self-accusatory innuendoes. I was still firmly resolved to pursue my policy of sparing her purity by operating only in the stealth of night, only upon a completely anesthetized little nude. Restraint and reverence were still my motto-even if that “purity” (incidentally, thoroughly debunked by modern science) had been slightly damaged through some juvenile erotic experience, no doubt homosexual, at that accursed camp of hers. Of course, in my old-fashioned, old-world way, I, Jean-Jacques Humbert, had taken for granted, when I first met her, that she was as unravished as the stereotypical notion of “normal child” had been since the lamented end of the Ancient World B. C. and its fascinating practices. We are not surrounded in our enlighted era by little slave flowers that can be casually plucked between business and bath as they used to be in the days of the Romans; and we do not, as dignified Orientals did in still more luxurious times, use tiny entertainers fore and aft between the mutton and the rose sherbet. The whole point is that the old link between the adult world and the child world has been completely severed nowadays by new customs and new laws. Despite my having dabbled in psychiatry and social work, I really knew very little about children. After all, Lolita was only twelve, and no matter what concessions I made to time and placeeven bearing in mind the crude behavior of American schoolchildrenI still was under the impression that whatever went on among those brash brats, went on at a later age, and in a different environment. Therefore (to retrieve the thread of this explanation) the moralist in me by-passed the issue by clinging to conventional notions of what twelve-year-old girls should be. The child therapist in me (a fake, as most of them arebut no matter) regurgitated neo-Freudian hash and conjured up a dreaming and exaggerating Dolly in the “latency” period of girlhood. Finally, the sensualist in me (a great and insane monster) had no objection to some depravity in his prey. But somewhere behind the raging bliss, bewildered shadows conferredand not to have heeded them, this is what I regret! Human beings, attend! I should have understood that Lolita had already  proved to be something quite different from innocent Annabel, and that the nymphean evil breathing through every pore of the fey child that I had prepared for my secret delectation, would make the secrecy impossible, and the delectation lethal. I should have known (by the signs made to me by something in Lolitathe real child Lolita or some haggard angel behind her back) that nothing but pain and horror would result from the expected rapture. Oh, winged gentlemen of the jury!

And she was mine, she was mine, the key was in my fist, my fist was in my pocket, she was mine. In the course of evocations and schemes to which I had dedicated so many insomnias, I had gradually eliminated all the superfluous blur, and by stacking level upon level of translucent vision, had evolved a final picture. Naked, except for one sock and her charm bracelet, spread-eagled on the bed where my philter had felled her - so I foreglimpsed her; a velvet hair ribbon was still clutched in her hand; her honey-brown body, with the white negative image of a rudimentary swimsuit patterned against her tan, presented to me its pale breastbuds; in the rosy lamplight, a little pubic floss glistened on its plump hillock. The cold key with its warm wooden addendum was in my pocket. (1.28)


At the end of his poem Neznakomka ("The Unknown Woman," 1906) Alexander Blok says that in his soul lies a treasure and the key belongs to him alone:


В моей душе лежит сокровище,
И ключ поручен только мне!
Ты право, пьяное чудовище!
Я знаю: истина в вине.


A treasure lies in my soul,
And the key belongs to me alone!
You are right, the drunken beast!
I know: in wine is truth.


In his poem Blok mentions bereg ocharovannyi (an enchanted shore) and ocharovannaya dal' (an enchanted distance):


И странной близостью закованный,
Смотрю за тёмную вуаль,
И вижу берег очарованный
И очарованную даль.


And entranced by a strange nearness,
I look through her dark veil,
And see an enchanted shore
And an enchanted


While bereg ocharovannyi brings to mind Drugie berega ("Other Shores," 1954), the Russian version of VN's autobiography Speak, Memory (1951), ocharovannaya dal' reminds one of Mona Dahl (Lolita’s schoolmate at Beardsley). In his Foreword to Humbert Humbert’s manuscript John Ray, Jr. says that ‘Mona Dahl’ is now a student in Paris (Humbert Humbert's home city):


For the benefit of old-fashioned readers who wish to follow the destinies of “real” people beyond the “true” story, a few details may be given as received from Mr. “Windmuller,” of “Ramsdale,” who desires his identity suppressed so that “the long shadows of this sorry and sordid business” should not reach the community to which he is proud to belong. His daughter, “Louise,” is by now a college sophomore. “Mona Dahl” is a student in Paris. “Rita” has recently married the proprietor of a hotel in Florida. Mrs. “Richard F. Schiller” died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest. ‘Vivian Darkbloom’ has written a biography, ‘My Cue,’ to be published shortly, and critics who have perused the manuscript call it her best book. The caretakers of the various cemeteries involved report that no ghosts walk.


If Mona visits in Paris the Louvre, she may see there Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Behind Mona Lisa’s back an idyllic landscape (enchanted distance) can be seen in the window (painted by the artist). In the Russian version (1967) of Lolita ‘Vivian Darkbloom’ (the name of Clare Quilty’s co-author, anagram of Vladimir Nabokov) becomes Vivian Damor-Blok and a biography she has written, ‘My Cue,’ Kumir moy (“My Idol”):


В угоду старомодным читателям, интересующимся дальнейшей судьбой «живых образцов» за горизонтом «правдивой повести», могу привести некоторые указания, полученные от г-на «Виндмюллера» из «Рамздэля», который пожелал остаться неназванным, дабы «длинная тень прискорбной и грязной истории» не дотянулась до того городка, в котором он имеет честь проживать. Его дочь «Луиза» сейчас студентка-второкурсница. «Мона Даль» учится в университете в Париже. «Рита» недавно вышла замуж за хозяина гостиницы во Флориде. Жена «Ричарда Скиллера» умерла от родов, разрешившись мёртвой девочкой, 25-го декабря 1952 г., в далеком северо-западном поселении Серой Звезде. Г-жа Вивиан Дамор-Блок (Дамор – по сцене, Блок – по одному из первых мужей) написала биографию бывшего товарища под каламбурным заглавием «Кумир мой», которая скоро должна выйти в свет; критики, уже ознакомившиеся с манускриптом, говорят, что это лучшая её вещь. Сторожа кладбищ, так или иначе упомянутых в мемуарах «Г. Г.», не сообщают, встаёт ли кто из могилы.


French for “ray” is rayon. In his poem Kak nad stikhami sily sredney… (“As over not quite first-rate verses,” 1956), the first one in Sem’ stikhotvoreniy (“Seven Poems”), VN quotes André Chénier’s last poem Comme un dernier rayon, comme un dernier zéphyre (1794):


Как над стихами силы средней

        эпиграф из Шенье,

как луч последний, как последний

        зефир... comme un dernier


rayon, так над простором голым

        моих нелучших лет

каким-то райским ореолом

        горит нерусский свет!


As over not quite first-rate verses,

              the epigraph from Chénier,

like the last ray, like the last

              zephyr… comme un dernier


rayon, thus over the bare expanse

                           of my not best years

a non-Russian light burns

                          with some heavenly halo!


By the “not quite first-rate verses” VN means Pushkin’s elegy Andrey Shen’ye (“André Chénier,” 1825). Chénier is the author of an ode to Charlotte Corday (Marat's murderer). Describing his life in Paris with Valeria (his first wife), Humbert Humbert compares himself to Marat:


This state of affairs lasted from 1935 to 1939. Her only asset was a muted nature which did help to produce an odd sense of comfort in our small squalid flat: two rooms, a hazy view in one window, a brick wall in the other, a tiny kitchen, a shoe-shaped bath tub, within which I felt like Marat but with no white-necked maiden to stab me. (1.8)


In a little poem that he composed for Rita Humbert Humbert mentions Enchanted Hunters and a very blood bath of trees:


The place was called Enchanted Hunters. Query:

What Indian dyes, Diana, did thy dell

endorses to make of Picture Lake a very

blood bath of trees before the blue hotel? (2.28)


André Chénier died under the blade of the guillotine. In the last of the seven footnotes that he appended to his elegy Pushkin quotes Chénier’s last words: "pourtant j'avais quelque chose là" (yet, I did have something here [in my head]). In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Chose is Van’s English University. Old Paar of Chose (one of Van's Professors) seems to hint at "old pair of shoes" (cf. a shoe-shaped bath tub in which Humbert Humbert feels like Marat). In Chapter One (V: 1-2) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin says: My vse uchilis’ ponemnogu / chemu-nibud’ i kak-nibud’ (All of us had a bit of schooling / in something and somehow). In Mednyi vsadnik (“The Bronze Horseman,” 1833) Pushkin calls the equestrian statue of Peter I kumir na bronzovom kone (the idol on a bronze horse). On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Pushkin’s poem is known as “The Headless Horseman:”


The year 1880 (Aqua was still alive — somehow, somewhere!) was to prove to be the most retentive and talented one in his long, too long, never too long life. He was ten. His father had lingered in the West where the many-colored mountains acted upon Van as they had on all young Russians of genius. He could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin’s ‘Headless Horseman’ poem in less than twenty minutes. With white-bloused, enthusiastically sweating Andrey Andreevich, he lolled for hours in the violet shade of pink cliffs, studying major and minor Russian writers — and puzzling out the exaggerated but, on the whole, complimentary allusions to his father’s volitations and loves in another life in Lermontov’s diamond-faceted tetrameters. He struggled to keep back his tears, while AAA blew his fat red nose, when shown the peasant-bare footprint of Tolstoy preserved in the clay of a motor court in Utah where he had written the tale of Murat, the Navajo chieftain, a French general's bastard, shot by Cora Day in his swimming pool. What a soprano Cora had been! Demon took Van to the world-famous Opera House in Telluride in West Colorado and there he enjoyed (and sometimes detested) the greatest international shows - English blank-verse plays, French tragedies in rhymed couplets, thunderous German musical dramas with giants and magicians and a defecating white horse. (1.28)


The author of Solntse nad Rossiey ("Sun above Russia," 1908), an essay on Tolstoy's eightieth anniversary, Alexander Blok was born in 1880. In Tolstoy's story Smert' Ivana Ilyicha ("The Death of Ivan Ilyich," 1886) 1880 is the hardest year in the life of Ivan Ilyich Golovin. While Golovin comes from golova (head), the surname Karenin was derived by Tostoy from karenon (Greek for "head"). The author of Anna Karenin (1877), Kreytserova sonata (“The Kreutzer Sonata,” 1889) and Voskresenie ("Resurrection," 1899), Leo Tolstoy died in 1910 (the year of Humbert Humbert's birth). Above Humbert Humbert’s bed in the Haze house there is a reproduction of Rene Prinet’s “Kreutzer Sonata:”


I was led upstairs, and to the left – into “my” room. I inspected it through the mist of my utter rejection of it; but I did discern above “my” bed Rene Prinet’s “Kreutzer Sonata.” (1.10)


Voskresenie also means "Sunday." In Blok's poem Kogda nevznachay v voskresen'ye... ("When unexpectedly on Sunday," 1913) from the cycle Zhizn' moego priyatelya ("The Life of my Pal," 1913-15) the poet's pal loses his soul on Sunday:


Когда невзначай в воскресенье
Он душу свою потерял,
В сыскное не шёл отделенье,
Свидетелей он не искал.

А было их, впрочем, не мало:
Дворовый щенок голосил,
В воротах старуха стояла,
И дворник на чай попросил.

Когда же он медленно вышел,
Подняв воротник, из ворот,
Таращил сочувственно с крыши
Глазищи обмызганный кот.

Ты думаешь, тоже свидетель?
Так он и ответит тебе!
    В такой же гульбе
        Его добродетель!


In his essay Taynyi smysl tragedii “Otello” (“The Secret Meaning of the tragedy Othello,” 1919) Blok says that Desdemona is a harmony, Desdemona is a soul, and the soul can not but saves from the Chaos:


Дездемона - это гармония, Дездемона - это душа, а душа не может не спасть от хаоса. 


At the end of his poem Poet idyot: otkryty vezhdy… (“The poet goes: his eyes are wide-open…”) inserted by the Soviet editors in the gap of Pushkin’s unfinished novella Egipetskie nochi (“The Egyptian Nights,” 1835) Pushkin compares the poet to Desdemona who, without asking anybody, chooses kumir (the idol) for her heart:


Таков поэт: как Аквилон
Что хочет, то и носит он —
Орлу подобно, он летает
И, не спросясь ни у кого,
Как Дездемона избирает
Кумир для сердца своего.


In Desdemona there is Mona. Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone, Queen Disa (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, the wife of Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Shakespeare’s Desdemona.


In his poem Vsyo, ot chego ono szhimaetsya… (“Everything that makes it sink…”) included in “Seven Poems” VN mentions dal’ (distance):


Всё, от чего оно сжимается,

миры в тумане, сны, тоска,

и то, что мною принимается

как должное - твоя рука;


всё это под одною крышею

в плену моём живет, поёт,

но сводится к четверостишию,

как только ямб ко дну идёт.


И оттого, что - как мне помнится -

жильцы родного словаря

такие бедняки и скромницы:

холм, папоротник, ель, заря,


читателя мне не разжалобить,

а с музыкой я незнаком,

и удовлетворяюсь, стало быть,

ничьёй меж смыслом и смычком.



"Но вместо всех изобразительных

приёмов и причуд, нельзя ль

одной опушкой существительных

и воздух передать, и даль?"


Я бы добавил это новое,

но наподобие кольца

сомкнуло строй уже готовое

и не впустило пришлеца.


“But, instead of all decorative

devices and caprices, can you

with one fringe of nouns

convey both air and distance?”


In his poem Zimy li serye smyli… (“Did the grey winters wash off…”), the last one in “Seven Poems,” VN mentions lastochki (the swallows):


Зимы ли серые смыли
очерк единственный? Эхо ли
всё, что осталось от голоса? Мы ли
поздно приехали?
Только никто не встречает нас. В доме
рояль — как могила на полюсе. Вот тебе
ласточки. Верь тут, что кроме
пепла есть оттепель.


In Pale Fire the “real” name of both Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) and Queen Disa seems to be Sofia Botkin, born Lastochkin. The author of Lastochki (“The Swallows,” 1884), Afanasiy Fet was married to Maria Botkin. Fet was a son of Afanasiy Shenshin and Charlotte Becker. The maiden name of Lolita’s mother is Charlotte Becker.


Botkin is nikto b (none would), a phrase used by Mozart in Pushkin’s "Mozart and Salieri" (1830), in reverse. In Pushkin’s little tragedy Salieri says that he cut up music like a corpse and measured harmony by algebra:


                             Звуки умертвив,
Музыку я разъял, как труп. Поверил
Я алгеброй гармонию.


                   Having stifled sounds,
I cut up music like a corpse. I measured
Harmony by algebra.
(scene I)


Zhivoy trup ("The Living Corpse," publ. 1911) is a play by Leo Tolstoy. Humbert Humbert is afraid that Charlotte will bundle off her daughter to St. Algebra.


In his poem Vsyo, ot chego ono szhimaetsya… VN confesses that he is unfamiliar with music and therefore is satisfied with a draw between smysl (the meaning) and smychok (the bow). In his poem Zimy li serye smyli... VN compares the grand piano in a deserted house to a grave on the pole. In the first stanza of his last poem, On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year (1824), Byron says that he cannot be beloved and in the last stanza mentions a Soldier’s Grave: 


'Tis time this heart should be unmoved,

       Since others it hath ceased to move:

Yet though I cannot be beloved,

                                    Still let me love!


Seek out—less often sought than found—

       A Soldier's Grave, for thee the best;

Then look around, and choose thy Ground,

                                    And take thy rest.


At The Enchanted Hunters Humbert Humbert puts Lolita to sleep with Purpills (Vitamin X) that he got from Dr Byron (the Haze family doctor). Mogila voina ("A Soldier's Grave," 1938) is a novella about Byron by Mark Aldanov, the author of Klyuch ("The Key," 1929).


3 + 4 + 2 = 9

36 × 9 = 324

36 × 9,5 = 342

36 × 19 = 342 + 342 (342 Lawn Street is Humbert Humbert's address in Ramsdale; 342 is Humbert Humbert's and Lolita's room at The Enchanted Hunters)

342 + 324 = 666 (number of the Beast)


VN left Russia in April 1919, at the age of nineteen. In Dante's Inferno Hell is depicted as nine concentric circles. In one of his jingles Humbert Humbert compares Lolita to Poe's Vee and Dante’s Bea:


Oh, Lolita, you are my girl, as Vee was Poe’s and Bea Dante's, and what little girl would not like to whirl in a circular skirt and scanties? (1.25)


The third part of Dante's Divine Comedy is entitled Paradiso. According to Humbert Humbert, he dwelled in a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames:


Oh, do not scowl at me, reader, I do not intend to convey the impressin that I did not manage to be happy. Reader must understand that in the possession and thralldom of a nymphet the enchanted traveler stands, as it were, beyond happiness. For there is no other bliss on earth comparable to that of fondling a nymphet. It is hors concours, that bliss, it belongs to another class, another plane of sensitivity. Despite our tiffs, despite her nastiness, despite all the fuss and faces she made, and the vulgarity, and the danger, and the horrible hopelessness of it all, I still dwelled deep in my elected paradise - a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames - but still a paradise. (2.3)


One of the most famous exiled poets, Dante spent his last years and died in Ravenna. At the end of his poem Ravenna from the cycle Ital'yanskie stikhi ("The Italian Verses," 1909) Blok mentions Dante's shade with the eagle profile that sings to him of the New Life:


Лишь по ночам, склонясь к долинам,
Ведя векам грядущим счёт,
Тень Данта с профилем орлиным
О Новой Жизни мне поёт.


Only at night, bending over the vallies
and counting the centuries to come,
Dante's shade with the eagle profile
Sings to me of the New Life.


In his poem Novaya Amerika ("The New America," 1913) Blok compares Russia to the new America and twice (in the first and in the last stanza) mentions zvezda (a star):


Праздник радостный, праздник великий,
Да звезда из-за туч не видна...
Ты стоишь под метелицей дикой,
Роковая, родная страна.


...Уголь стонет, и соль забелелась,
И железная воет руда...
То над степью пустой загорелась
Мне Америки новой звезда!


Blok's poem begins: Prazdnik radostnyi, prazdnik velikiy (Joyful feast, great feast). In the last line Blok mentions Ameriki novoy zvezda (a star of the new America). According to John Ray, Jr., Mrs. “Richard F. Schiller” (Lolita's married name) died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest.


"Joyful feast, great feast" also brings to mind July 4, 1949 (the Independence Day), the day on which Lolita escapes from the Elphinstone hospital with Clare Quilty. To the hospital staff Quilty tells that he is the girl's uncle. The characters in VN's story Scenes from the Life of a Double Monster (1950) include Uncle Novus:


We feared our grandfather and loathed Uncle Novus. Presumably, after a dull forlorn fashion (knowing nothing of life, but being dimly aware that Uncle Novus was endeavoring to cheat Grandfather) we felt we should try to do something in order to prevent a showman from trundling us around in a moving prison, like apes or eagles; or perhaps we were prompted merely by the thought that this was our last chance to enjoy by ourselves our small freedom and do what we were absolutely forbidden to do; go beyond a certain picket fence, open a certain gate.


In the Russian version of Lolita "Clare the Impredictable" (in the scene of Quilty's murder) becomes Klariy Novus:


Я выстрелил. На этот раз пуля попала во что-то твердое, а именно в спинку черной качалки, стоявшей в углу (и несколько похожей на скиллеровскую), причем она тотчас пришла в действие, закачавшись так шибко и бодро, что человек, который вошел бы в комнату, был бы изумлён двойным чудом: движением одинокой качалки, ходуном ходящей в углу, и зияющей пустотой кресла, в котором только что находилась моя фиолетовая мишень. Перебирая пальцами поднятых рук, молниеносно крутя крупом, он мелькнул в соседнее зальце, и в следующее мгновение мы с двух сторон тянули друг у друга, тяжело дыша, дверь, ключ от которой я проглядел. Я опять победил, и с ещё большей прытью Кларий Новус сел за рояль и взял несколько уродливо-сильных, в сущности истерических, громовых аккордов: его брыла вздрагивали, его растопыренные руки напряженно ухали, а ноздри испускали тот судорожный храп, которого не было на звуковой дорожке нашей кинодраки. Продолжая мучительно напевать в нос, он сделал тщетную попытку открыть ногой морского вида сундучок, подле рояля. Следующая моя пуля угодила ему в бок, и он стал подыматься с табурета все выше и выше, как в сумасшедшем доме старик Нижинский, как "Верный Гейзер" в Вайоминге, как какой-то давний кошмар мой, на феноменальную высоту, или так казалось, и, разрывая воздух, ещё сотрясаясь от тёмной сочной музыки, откинув голову, с воем, он одну руку прижал ко лбу, а другой схватился за подмышку, как будто его ужалил шершень; после чего спустился опять на землю и опять, приняв образ толстого мужчины в халате, улепетнул в холл.


Feu. This time I hit something hard. I hit the back of a black rocking chair, not unlike Dolly Schiller’s - my bullet hit the inside surface of its back whereupon it immediately went into a rocking act, so fast and with such zest that any one coming into the room might have been flabbergasted by the double miracle: that chair rocking in a panic all by itself, and the armchair, where my purple target had just been, now void of all life content. Wiggling his fingers in the air, with a rapid heave of his rump, he flashed into the music room and the next second we were tugging and gasping on both sides of the door which had a key I had overlooked. I won again, and with another abrupt movement Clare the Impredictable sat down before the piano and played several atrociously vigorous, fundamentally hysterical, plangent chords, his jowls quivering, his spread hands tensely plunging, and his nostrils emitting the soundtrack snorts which had been absent from our fight. Still singing those impossible sonorities, he made a futile attempt to open with his foot a kind of seaman’s chest near the piano. My next bullet caught him somewhere in the side, and he rose from his chair higher and higher, like old, gray, mad Nijinski, like Old Faithful, like some old nightmare of mine, to a phenomenal altitude, or so it seemed, as he rent the airstill shaking with the rich black musichead thrown back in a howl, hand pressed to his brow, and with his other hand clutching his armpit as if stung by a hornet, down he came on his heels and, again a normal robed man, scurried out into the hall. (2.35)


Blok's poem O doblestyakh, o podvigakh, o slave... (“About valours, about feats, about glory…” 1908) echoes a line in Pushkin's poem "October 19, 1825," O Shillere, o slave, o lyubvi (About Schiller, about glory, about love). Shilleru ("To Schiller," 1855) is a poem by Fet. Podvig ("Glory," 1932) is a novel, Slava ("Fame," 1942) is a poem by VN.


Let me draw your attention to the updated version of my previous post, “Golos Feniksa & Dorothy’s contralto in Ada; Mona & Roy in Lolita” (https://thenabokovian.org/node/35632)