Clarence & Dick in Lolita

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 06:29

In his Foreword to Humbert Humbert’s manuscript John Ray, Jr. mentions his good friend and relation, Clarence Choate Clark, Esq. (Humbert Humbert’s lawyer):


“Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male,” such were the two titles under which the writer of the present note received the strange pages it preambulates. “Humbert Humbert,” their author, had died in legal captivity, of coronary thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days before his trial was scheduled to start. His lawyer, my good friend and relation, Clarence Choate Clark, Esq., now of the District of Columbia bar, in asking me to edit the manuscript, based his request on a clause in his client’s will which empowered my eminent cousin to use the discretion in all matters pertaining to the preparation of “Lolita” for print. Mr. Clark’s decision may have been influenced by the fact that the editor of his choice had just been awarded the Poling Prize for a modest work (“Do the Senses make Sense?”) wherein certain morbid states and perversions had been discussed.


In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part Two (Act IV, scene 2) Dick the Butcher says:


The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.


Dick Schiller (Lolita’s husband whom Humbert Humbert plans to kill before he realizes that Dick is not the man who abducted Lolita from the Elphinstone hospital) is a namesake of Dick the Butcher.


Describing his road trip with Lolita across the USA, Humbert Humbert mentions his lawyer Clarence:

My lawyer has suggested I give a clear, frank account of the itinerary we followed, and I suppose I have reached here a point where I cannot avoid that chore. Roughly, during that mad year (August 1947 to August 1948), our route began with a series of wiggles and whorls in New England, then meandered south, up and down, east and west; dipped deep into ce qu’on appelle  Dixieland, avoided Florida because the Farlows were there, veered west, zigzagged through corn belts and cotton belts (this is not too clear I am afraid, Clarence, but I did not keep any notes, and have at my disposal only an atrociously crippled tour book in three volumes, almost a symbol of my torn and tattered past, in which to check these recollections); crossed and recrossed the Rockies, straggled through southern deserts where we wintered; reached the Pacific, turned north through the pale lilac fluff of flowering shrubs along forest roads; almost reached the Canadian border; and proceeded east, across good lands and bad lands, back to agriculture on a grand scale, avoiding, despite little Lo’s strident remonstrations, little Lo’s birthplace, in a corn, coal and hog producing area; and finally returned to the fold of the East, petering out in the college town of Beardsley. (2.1)


Clarence is a principal character in two of Shakespeare’s history plays: Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III. It is believed that the historical Clarence (1449-78) was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine. Describing the first lap of their American journey, Humbert Humbert mentions “Shakespeare, a ghost town in New Mexico,” and “a winery in California, with a church built in the shape of a wine barrel:”


Moreover, we inspected: Little Iceberg Lake, somewhere in Colorado, and the snow banks, and the cushionets of tiny alpine flowers, and more snow; down which Lo in red-peaked cap tried to slide, and squealed, and was snowballed by some youngsters, and retaliated in kind comme on dit.  Skeletons of burned aspens, patches of spired blue flowers. The various items of a scenic drive. Hundreds of scenic drives, thousands of Bear Creeks, Soda Springs, Painted Canyons. Texas, a drought-struck plain. Crystal Chamber in the longest cave in the world, children under 12 free, Lo a young captive. 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. Shakespeare, a ghost town in New Mexico, where bad man Russian Bill was colorfully hanged seventy years ago. Fish hatcheries. Cliff dwellings. The mummy of a child (Florentine Bea’s Indian contemporary). Our twentieth Hell’s Canyon. Our fiftieth Gateway to something or other vide that tour book, the cover of which had been lost by that time. A tick in my groin. Always the same three old men, in hats and suspenders, idling away the summer afternoon under the trees near the public fountain. A hazy blue view beyond railings on a mountain pass, and the backs of a family enjoying it (with Lo, in a hot, happy, wild, intense, hopeful, hopeless whisper – “Look, the McCrystals, please, let’s talk to them, please” – let’s talk to them, reader!”please! I’ll do anything you want, oh, please…”). Indian ceremonial dances, strictly commercial. ART: American Refrigerator Transit Company. Obvious Arizona, pueblo dwellings, aboriginal pictographs, a dinosaur track in a desert canyon, printed there thirty million years ago, when I was a child. A lanky, six-foot, pale boy with an active Adam’s apple, ogling Lo and her orange-brown bare midriff, which I kissed five minutes later, Jack. Winter in the desert, spring in the foothills, almonds in bloom. Reno, a dreary town in Nevada, with a nightlife said to be “cosmopolitan and mature.” A winery in California, with a church built in the shape of a wine barrel. Death Valley. Scotty’s Castle. Works of Art collected by one Rogers over a period of years. The ugly villas of handsome actresses. R. L. Stevenson’s footprint on an extinct volcano. Mission Dolores: good title for book. Surf-carved sandstone festoons. A man having a lavish epileptic fit on the ground in Russian Gulch State Park. Blue, blue Crater Lake. A fish hatchery in Idaho and the State Penitentiary. Somber Yellowstone Park and its colored hot springs, baby geysers, rainbows of bubbling mudsymbols of my passion. A herd of antelopes in a wildlife refuge. Our hundredth cavern, adults one dollar, Lolita fifty cents. A chateau built by a French marquess in N. D. The Corn Palace in S. D.; and the huge heads of presidents carved in towering granite. The Bearded Woman read our jingle and now she is no longer single. A zoo in Indiana where a large troop of monkeys lived on concrete replica of Christopher Columbus’ flagship. Billions of dead, or halfdead, fish-smelling May flies in every window of every eating place all along a dreary sandy shore. Fat gulls on big stones as seen from the ferry City of  Cheboygan , whose brown woolly smoke arched and dipped over the green shadow it cast on the aquamarine lake. A motel whose ventilator pipe passed under the city sewer. Lincoln’s home, largely spurious, with parlor books and period furniture that most visitors reverently accepted as personal belongings. (2.2)


In the list of Lolita’s class (that Humbert Humbert learnt by heart) there is Vivian McCrystal, a namesake of Vivian Darkbloom (Clare Quilty’s co-author). The surname McCrystal brings to mind magicheskiy kristal (a magic crystal) mentioned by Pushkin in the penultimate line of the penultimate stanza of Eugene Onegin (Eight: L: 13):


Прости ж и ты, мой спутник странный,
И ты, мой верный идеал,
И ты, живой и постоянный,
Хоть малый труд.
Я с вами знал
Всё, что завидно для поэта:
Забвенье жизни в бурях света,
Беседу сладкую друзей.
Промчалось много, много дней
С тех пор, как юная Татьяна
И с ней Онегин в смутном сне
Явилися впервые мне ―
И даль свободного романа
Я сквозь магический кристалл
Ещё не ясно различал.


You, too, farewell, my strange traveling companion,
and you, my true ideal,
and you, my live and constant,
though small, work. I have known with you
all that a poet covets:
obliviousness of life in the world's tempests,
the sweet discourse of friends.
Rushed by have many, many days
since young Tatiana, and with her
Onegin, in a blurry dream
appeared to me for the first time ―
and the far stretch of a free novel
I through a magic crystal
still did not make out clearly.


Dal’ svobodnogo romana (the far stretch of a free novel) brings to mind ocharovannaya dal' (an enchanted distance) in Alexander Blok’s poem Neznakomka (“The Unknown Woman,” 1906):


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


In his poem Blok mentions p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) who cry out “In vino veritas!”:


А рядом у соседних столиков

Лакеи сонные торчат,

И пьяницы с глазами кроликов

"In vino veritas!" кричат.


And drowsy lackeys lounge about

Beside the adjacent tables

While drunks with rabbit eyes cry out

"In vino veritas!"


At the end of his poem 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.


Describing his stay with Lolita at The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where he and Lolita spend their first night together), Humbert Humbert 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 panties - she 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 in - after 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 minutes - say, 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 place - even bearing in mind the crude behavior of American schoolchildren - I 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 are - but 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 conferred - and 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 Lolita - the 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)


In the updated version of my previous post, “Enchanted Hunters, Mona Dahl & John Ray in Lolita; Cora Day in Ada; Queen Disa in Pale Fire” ( I offer my interpretation of “342.” Here it is again, briefly:


At The Enchanted Hunters Humbert Humbert puts Lolita to sleep with Purpills (Vitamin X) that he got from Dr Byron (the Haze family doctor). At the end of his last poem, On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year (1824), Byron mentions a Soldier’s Grave:


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.


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, Humbert Humbert's and Lolita’s address in Ramsdale, is “mirrored” by their room 342 at The Enchanted Hunters)

342 + 324 = 666 (number of the Beast)


Btw., Coalmont (a small industrial community where Lolita lives with her husband and where she is visited by Humbert Humbert) brings to mind Chyornyi ugol’ (Black Coal), “the underground Messiah, king and fiancé” in Blok’s poem Novaya Amerika ("The New America," 1913):


Чёрный уголь - подземный мессия,

Чёрный уголь - здесь царь и жених,

Но не страшен, невеста, Россия,

Голос каменных песен твоих!


Уголь стонет, и соль забелелась,

И железная воет руда...

То над степью пустой загорелась

Мне Америки новой звезда!


Ameriki novoy zvezda (a star of the New America) in the last line of Blok’s poem brings to mind Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest where, according to John Ray, Jr., Mrs. “Richard F. Schiller” died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952. Lolita outlives Humbert Humbert (who died in legal captivity, of coronary thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days before his trial was scheduled to start) only by forty days. In his poem O net! ne raskolduesh' serdtsa ty ("Oh no! You cannot disenchant my heart…” 1912) Blok mentions his shade that will appear on the ninth and fortieth day after his death:


И тень моя пройдёт перед тобою
В девятый день, и в день сороковой -
Неузнанной, красивой, неживою.
Такой ведь ты искала? - Да, такой.


And suddenly you'll see my shade appear
Before you on the ninth and fortieth day:
Unrecognized, uncomely, plain and drear,
The kind of shade you looked for, by the way!


In the Russian version (1967) of Lolita the name of Clare Quilty's co-author, Vivian Darkbloom, becomes Vivian Damor-Blok and a biography she has written, "My Cue," Kumir moy ("My Idol"):


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.


In his poem Dusha! Kogda ustanesh' verit'? ("My soul! When will you get tired of believing?" 1908) Blok mentions tayna priotkrytoy dveri (the secret of a slightly open door) and kumirnya zolotogo sna (a heathen temple of the golden dream):


Душа! Когда устанешь верить?
Весна, весна! Она томна,
Как тайна приоткрытой двери
В кумирню золотого сна...

Едва, подругу покидая,
Ушёл я в тишину и тень,
И вот опять — зовёт другая,
Другая вызывает день...

Но мглой весеннею повито
Всё, что кипело здесь в груди...
Не пой, не требуй, Маргарита,
В моё ты сердце не гляди...


Kumirnya (heathen temple) comes from kumir (idol), a word that has mir (world; peace) in it. Btw., mir is Rim (Rome) in reverse.